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´╗┐Title: Aletta - A Tale of the Boer Invasion
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 "Aletta - A Tale of the Boer Invasion" ***

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Aletta, by Bertram Mitford.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
ALETTA, BY BERTRAM MITFORD.



CHAPTER ONE.

BOOK I--THE TRANSVAAL EMISSARY.

The delegate from Pretoria was in full blast.

The long room was packed full--full of male Boers of all ages: that is
to say, from those in earliest manhood to the white-bearded
great-grandfathers of the community--Boers of every type, Boers hairy,
Boers shaven, moleskin-clad and collarless Boers, and Boers got up with
near approach to European neatness; Boers small, dark, and wiry, still,
after generations, preserving the outward characteristics of their
Huguenot and French ancestry; Boers tall, large-limbed, fair, of Saxon
aspect and descent.

What sitting accommodation the room held was absorbed by the older of
those present, for the patriarchal tradition is very strong among that
old-world and conservative race.  The residue stood in a closely packed
mass, literally hanging on the words of the orator.

The latter was a tall, elderly man, all fire and energy both as to
speech and words.  His face, strong and bronzed and lined, was of the
Roman type, and the brown of his short beard was just beginning to show
threads of grey.  Standing there in his suit of black broadcloth, his
sinewy figure seemed hardly in keeping with such attire.  It seemed to
demand the easier and more picturesque hunting costume of the veldt.
Andries Erasmus Botma was his name, and he ranked among his
fellow-countrymen as a "Patriot," second to none as deserving their
closest attention and deepest veneration.

On the table before him stood two lighted candles, throwing out the
lines of his strong, rugged countenance, and between them a ponderous
Dutch Bible, upon the closed cover of which one great hand constantly
rested.  On one side of him sat "Mynheer," as the local _predikant_, or
minister, is commonly known among his flock; on the other Jan Marthinus
Grobbelaar--or Swaart Jan, as he was popularly termed--the owner of the
farm on which the gathering was taking place.  The minister was a puffy,
consequential-looking man, with long, shaven upper lip and a light beard
cut after the pattern of that worn by the world-famed President, a white
tie, reaching nearly from shoulder to shoulder, standing aggressively
forth from the clerical black.  The farmer was a wizened individual,
with a pronounced stoop, and, at first sight, of retiring temperament;
but a long nose and deep-set eyes, together with two teeth projecting
tusk-like from each corner of the mouth out upon a lank, grizzled beard,
imparted to him an utterly knowing and foxy aspect, in keeping with the
reputation "Swaart Jan" actually held among his kinsfolk and
acquaintance.

The delegate from Pretoria was in full blast.  The meeting, which had
opened with long prayer by the _predikant_ and a long speech of
introduction and welcome from Swaart Jan Grobbelaar, was now just
beginning to become of intense interest--to the meeting itself.
Beginning far back, with the insurrection under Adrian van Jaarsveldt
and the capitulation of the Cape by General Janssens, the orator had
hitherto been rather academical.  Even the emancipation of the slaves,
with its wholly farcical system of compensation, did not appeal over
much to a younger generation, to whom it was all ancient history of
rather too ancient date.  But when he came to the Slagter's Nek tragedy,
he had got his finger on a chord that would never cease to vibrate.  The
tense attitude of his listeners was that of one mind, of one
understanding.

"Brothers," he went on.  "Brothers--and sons--for many are here to-night
who are the men of the future--the men of the very near future--to whom
the one long life-struggle of their fathers in days of old is but a
name; to whom, however, the righting of the wrongs of their fathers is
bequeathed; to whom life--yea, even life itself, has been given and
allowed by the Lord above that they may carry out the solemn bequest of
righteous vengeance which their fathers have handed down to them; that
they may have ever before them, ever in their thoughts, the deliverance
of this their dear land, their splendid fatherland, from the hated
English yoke.  You then--you younger men especially--stand up day by day
and bless God for the noble privilege which is yours, the privilege of
the patriot, of the man who sacrifices all, worldly possessions, even
life itself, for the sake of his beloved fatherland.  Not many days
since I stood upon that spot, that holy ground, where five of your
fathers were cruelly done to death for no other crime than repudiating
the rule of a bloody-minded king, an English king who was not their
king, whose sovereignty they had never owned.  There they were hung up
to the infamous gallows where they died the most ignominious of deaths,
with every circumstance of barbarity which could have been practised by
the savage heathen against whom they have ever striven.  Standing upon
that spot I could see the whole of it again.  I could see those five men
hauled beneath the English gallows-tree, I could see the brave and noble
fortitude wherewith they went to their death.  I could see the weeping
crowd of their fellow-countrymen--of Our fellow-countrymen--and women--
gathered to witness their sufferings.  And the five patriots--the five
martyrs--were dragged up by ropes to their doom.  But, brothers, God
intervened.  Heaven intervened.  Even as the lions' mouths were shut to
Daniel--as the fiery furnace kindled by the idolatrous king passed over
the three servants of God unhurt--even so Heaven intervened to render
the slaughter instruments of the cruel English king of no effect.  The
apparatus of death gave way, and the five patriot martyrs fell to the
earth unharmed.  What then?  What then, sons and descendants of those
great ones?  Did the English recognise the hand of God?  Did they
recognise that even their puny mockery of justice had to bow before the
manifestation of His will?  They did not.  In the face of the tears and
supplications and bitter grief of those who beheld; of those in whose
veins ran the blood of the martyred men, those five patriots were once
more put through the bitterness of death.  This time Heaven did not
intervene.  And why?  In order that the death agonies of those tortured
patriots should be held in remembrance; that they should be ever before
the eyes of their descendants as an earnest of the death agonies of the
hated and hateful race which was their oppressor and is ours.  Brothers,
I stood upon that ground, that very spot, that holy ground, and I prayed
and gained strength that I might fulfil the purpose for which I am here.
Slagter's Nek!  The infamous name which was given to that holy spot has
gone down to generations in its infamy, and ever will.  Is there here a
Bezuidenhout, is there a Meyer, is there a Faber, is there a Snyman--
yea, and I could name a score of others, a hundred others, a thousand
others--in the veins of whom runs the blood of the patriot martyrs?  Let
them not forget the English butchery of Slagter's Nek; then, when their
rifles are pointing straight, let their watchword be `Slagter's Nek'!"

The speaker paused.  Utterly carried away by his own feeling; his whole
frame was in a quiver.  His eyes were flashing, and the sinews of his
great hand resting upon the holy volume leapt out into knots.  The
_predikant_, seated at his right, poured out a glass of water from an
earthenware carafe on the table, and thrust it into his hand, and he
swallowed the contents as with an effort, and in choking gulps.  The
effect upon the audience was marvellous.  Thoroughly overawed, its
feeling was expressed by exclamations deep rather than loud, and several
of the old men present uncovered--for all wore their hats except the
orator himself--and mumbled a fervid prayer.  The fact that the
historical tragedy had been enacted eighty-three years previously was
quite lost to view.  It might have taken place yesterday for the effect
the recalling of it produced upon the gathering.

The orator proceeded.  He drew vivid pictures of the exodus of the
original Dutch settlers, sacrificing all to be free from the hated
English rule; of their intrepid and simple and God-fearing lives; of
their daily hardships and toil; of their peril at the hands of fierce
and warlike tribes; and while setting forth their endurance and heroism,
he never wandered far from the main point, the text of his whole
discourse--viz. how all that their fathers, the old Voortrekkers, had to
endure was the outcome of the oppressive rapacity of the English yoke.
The myrmidons of England would not leave them in peace and quietness
even when they had avenged the bloodshed and treachery of the Zulu
despot, and had reason to believe they had at last found the land of
promise.  Let them look at Natal to-day.  They, the Dutch, had bought it
from Dingane, and had occupied it.  But the English had come and had
seized it from them, had robbed them of the fruit of their labours and
of their toil, and of their outpoured blood.  Let them look at the
Transvaal of to-day.  It was the same there.  A horde of English
bloodsuckers had poured in, fevered by the lust of gold, and still more
and more, until the land was overrun by them, as the land of Pharaoh
under the plague of locusts.  And not only that, but they had brought
with them every life and soul destroying vice which Satan and his
hell-kingdom, Europe, could bring to bear to contaminate and utterly
corrupt a God-fearing people.

The speaker went on to portray in lurid colours the vices of
Johannesburg, a town, he put it, purely English, which those emissaries
of Satan had raised in their midst, contriving to put his finger, with
considerable native astuteness, on the darker spots inseparable from the
advance of European methods and progress.  He further drew contrasts
between the simple life of the young Boer of a quarter of a century
back, and the smart, educated, English-speaking, English-dressing, young
Boer up to date, so vivid and so little to the advantage of the latter,
as to cause several there present perceptibly to wince.

"Brothers," he went on, "the time for purging away these iniquities is
at hand.  The eye of God is ever upon His people, and His wrath upon
their oppressors.  Who turned back England's might, now nineteen years
ago?  Who turned the hearts of her trained and drilled soldiers into
water, so that they fled down the sides of Majuba like hunted bucks
before us--before a few farmers, whom they despised as so many ignorant
Boers?  Who smote them hip and thigh at Schuins Hoogte, and, indeed,
everywhere, down to the wicked attempt upon our land--our beloved land,
two years ago?  Not the arm of our brave burghers, but the arm of the
Lord.  His arm brought us in triumph forth from the midst of our
enemies, and assured our peace and safety, and prosperity, in the land
wherein we dwell.  And as the might of the Lord was over us then, so is
it now.  England may send out her ships, as she is doing--may pour her
soldiers into our land, as she is doing--may threaten our noble
President, as she is doing--but what is that to us?  When a nation, a
God-fearing nation, is in peril, God will raise up for that nation a
deliverer.  He has raised up one for this nation, and the name of that
deliverer is Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger."

The roar of applause which went up at the mention of the great name--
held in veneration by every Dutchman from the Zambesi to Cape Agulhas--
would have drowned the speaker's voice, even if he had not been
sufficiently master of his craft to pause in order to allow this touch
to have its full effect.  It was long before he could continue, and then
with his right hand impressively laid upon the holy book before him, he
thundered forth a volley of passages therefrom, deftly applied so as to
work upon his audience, in such wise that many among it were by no means
sure that the President of the South African Republic was not actually
mentioned by name therein, while a few were quite certain he was.  The
whole constituted a strange and instructive scene, for these enthusiasts
were, with the exception of the orator himself, all British subjects,
dwelling and prospering within a British colony, enjoying a responsible
government and equal rights and representation for all.

At length arose shouts for order and silence, and the speaker was able
to resume:

"Brothers, I have heard it said that ye are our brethren no more; that
we of the two Republics are of another nation, of a different blood;
that you on this side of the Groote Rivier have become English now--"

"_Nee, nee_!" burst from the audience, in roaring negative.

"--That you will not raise a rifle in the holy cause of your brethren, I
believe it not.  Our watchword is not `Africa for the Transvaal,' or
`Africa for the Free State,' but `Africa for the Afrikanders'."

Again a shout of acclamation greeted the words.

"Brothers, I have been in England; I have seen her millions of people,
her splendour, and her enormous wealth.  But I have seen more.  I have
seen her weakness.  I have seen her large cities, and their vice and
squalor.  I have seen the frivolous luxury of her rich, and the hideous
misery and want and desperation of her poor; and I tell you that for all
her outward strength she is a weak nation, a rotten nation, with all her
best blood poisoned by disease, and her common blood turned to water by
foul air and hunger and drunkenness.  And this is the nation which is
greedy for our land, is ravening to steal the gold which it contains."
Then, raising his powerful voice to thunder pitch: "Brothers, shall this
go on?  Now, nay, it shall not, I tell you.  All is in readiness.  For
years _we_ have been in readiness, increasing our armed might, and now
we are ready to strike--to strike with a force and terror that shall
amaze the whole world.  Be in readiness, too, brave burghers, patriots
all; and to deliver this message to you am I here to-night God does not
will that this rotten, frivolous, and enfeebled nation shall rule over
you any longer.  Be ready, for the day is at hand.  `Africa for the
Afrikanders!' is our watchword, and the flag that shall wave over that
United Africa is this."

With the celerity of a conjurer he produced the four-coloured flag of
the Transvaal Republic, and with one fierce jerk of the hand unfurling
it, he waved it above his head.  Instantly every hat was off, and round
after round of deafening cheering hailed the symbol.  Then, led by the
emissary himself, the whole assembly struck up the "Volkslied," the
national hymn of the Transvaal, roaring it forth in a manner that left
nothing to be desired in the way of fervour, but much in the way of time
and tune, and which must have impressed the numerous baboons infesting
the crags and krantzes of the surrounding Wildschutsbergen with the
instinct that it was high time to quit that section of country, never to
return.

When the singing and cheering had subsided the emissary invited any of
those present to express their opinions, but few cared to do so.  One or
two of the old men got up, but their remarks were mere quavering
comments--interspersed with pious aspirations--upon all that the speaker
had said, and fell woefully flat after the fiery periods and power of
eloquence of the delegate from Pretoria.  And the secret of that power
lay in the fact that the man was so terribly in earnest.  No
timeserving, self-seeking stump-agitator was Andries Botma.  Every word
he uttered he implicitly believed, and that the whole Dutch race in
South Africa were under special Divine protection, and the Anglo-Saxon
under the Divine curse, he no more doubted than that the sky was above
and the earth beneath.  Though a hopelessly fanatical patriot, he was
essentially an honest one, and this his hearers knew.

The _predikant_ having made a speech to high Heaven, in the guise of a
long prayer thoroughly in accordance with the prevailing sentiment of
the meeting, the latter broke up.  A few, mostly the older men, remained
behind, talking over the ideas they had just heard with all seriousness,
but most of them had crowded into another room where Vrouw Grobbelaar,
aided by her trio of fine and rather pretty daughters, was dispensing
coffee and other refreshment.  These, too, were talking over the
situation, but with a breezy boisterousness which was absent in their
elders.

"It's coming now, Tanta, it's coming now," cried one young fellow,
thrusting his way to the front.  The old lady looked at him across the
table.

"What is coming now?" she repeated shortly--a way she had with those of
the speaker's age and type.

"Why, the war, of course.  We are going to drive the English out of the
country.  The Patriot says so."

The old lady snorted.

"_You_ look like driving anybody out of the country, Theunis Venter,
even the English.  You'd be afraid to lie behind an antheap waiting to
shoot _rooi-baatjes_ for fear of spoiling that pretty waistcoat of
yours"--looking him up and down contemptuously.  "And his tight
riding-breeches--oh!--oh! wouldn't they split?  And the rings!  And yet
you don't look like an Englishman, Theunis, not even in your grand
English clothes."

A roar of applause and derision from that section of her hearers which
had not enjoyed the advantage of a South African College education and a
parent with advanced ideas and generous bank-balance greeted the old
woman's scoffing words.

"_Ja, Ja_, Theunis, that is just what the Patriot said," they chorussed.
But the young fellow looked sulky--very much so.  He was one of that
type of young Boer who no longer thinks it the mark of a man and a
patriot to sleep in his clothes and wear his hat in the house.  Nor was
he the only one of that type there present.  Others took his side, and
hurled corresponding gibes at the conservative party, and the uproar
became simply deafening, all talking and bellowing at once.

But if it be imagined that this turn of affairs caused the slightest
uneasiness or alarm to the fair sex as there represented, the notion can
be dismissed forthwith.  There was a twinkle of mirth in the old lady's
eyes which belied the sardonic droop of her mouth, and as for the girls
they looked as placid and unconcerned as though some thirty odd
infuriated males were not bawling the very house down within a couple of
yards of them.

"There--there!" sang out Vrouw Grobbelaar when she had had enough of it.
"Make not such a row, for dear Heaven's sake!  Theunis, you are not
such a bad sort of boy after all, for all your trimmed moustache and
English clothes.  Hendrina, give him a _soepje_--that is to say, if he
does not turn up his nose at the good liquor his father drank before
him.  I'm told that the English get drunk on stuff made from smoked
wood, down in Cape Town.  Only one, though--I won't encourage young men
to drink, but the night is cold, and he has a long way to ride.  After
all, it isn't his fault they tried to make an Englishman of him."

Boer brandy, when pure and well matured, is about the best liquor in the
world, and this was the best of its kind; wherefore under its influence,
aided by the smiles of the ministering Hendrina, the youth's ruffled
feathers were soon smoothed down, and three or four of his sympathisers
claiming to join in the privilege, good-humour was restored and plenty
of mirth and good-fellowship prevailed before they separated for their
long ride home over the moonlit veldt; for Boers are by nature sociable
folk among themselves, and the younger ones, at any rate, addicted to
chaff and practical joking.

In the other room, where refreshment had been taken in for their
physical weal, sat the more serious-minded.

"Jan," said Andries Botma, turning to his host, "where is Stephanus De
la Rey?  Is he sick?"

"No!"

"Why is he not here to-night?"

Swaart Jan shrugged his shoulders and grinned, his two tusks protruding
more than ever.

"How do I know, brother?  Only we must not forget that his wife is half
an Englishwoman."

"Ah!" said the delegate, who appeared to be struck with the idea.

"Oom Stephanus would not come," put in a young man reverentially.  "That
is all I know about it."

The speaker had been one of the most fervid listeners to the "Patriot's"
discourse, and with much trepidation had lingered behind among his
elders, preferring their conversation to the boisterous merriment in the
other room.

"It is Stephanus' nephew, Adrian De la Rey," said Jan Grobbelaar.

"Ah! a good name.  A good name," declared the delegate.  "Bear it
worthily, nephew, when the time comes."  Then, turning to the
_predikant_, "We must win over Stephanus De la Rey, Mynheer.  We must
win him over."

"He is the only `good' man here whom we have not won," was the reply,
given dubiously.

"_Ja, ja_!" assented Swaart Jan, shaking his head softly.  "_Ja, ja_! we
must win over Stephanus De la Rey."



CHAPTER TWO.

SIDELIGHTS.

Down by the river bed a girl was standing.  The river bed was dry.  So,
too, was the wide, flat expanse of veldt stretching before and around
her, and the slopes of two low cliff-crowned mountains which at some
distance off relieved the dead level of the arid plain were brown where
they should have been green.  The only green spot visible upon the whole
landscape was formed by an extensive cultivated patch lying around a
farmhouse half a mile away, and this was the result of irrigation, not
of the opening of the windows of heaven.  But, although the sun shone
down from a cloudless sky in the full glory of his midday splendour, his
rays were without power, for there was a keen icy edge upon the air,
stirred by a light breeze that was suggestive of exhilaration combined
with warm clothing, and imparted a very entrancing touch of additional
colour to the cheeks of the girl standing there.

She is a pretty girl, the large pupils of whose blue eyes lend to those
attractive orbs a velvety softness which is in strange contradiction to
the firm cut of the chin and the full though decided lips.  She is of
medium height, and her well-rounded figure is arrayed in a blouse and
skirt, about as neat and serviceable a form of feminine attire as
exists--on the veldt or elsewhere; but her hair, wavy and golden, is,
save for a rebellious lock or two over the forehead, concealed within an
ample white _kapje_, or sunbonnet--so becoming a framework to a pretty
face.

Standing there among the dry mimosa bushes which fringe the river bank,
her eyes wander meditatively forth over the brown and treeless plains
beyond.  Here and there, black dots moving near or far represent the
staple wealth of that section of country, in the shape of male ostriches
in full plumage, and now and again the stillness is broken by a triple
booming, as that most truculent of bipeds lifts up his voice; but these
are everyday sights and sounds and of them the girl takes not the
smallest notice, nor yet of the antics of one great savage bird, who,
with all his jetty plumage bristling in wrath, towers up to a formidable
height as he presses against the wires of the dividing fence in his
futile efforts to reach her and kick her into smithereens.

Suddenly her eyes dilate and she gives a slight start--even losing a
little of her colour.  For this yon black demon stalking up and down in
impotent menace but a few yards off is in no wise responsible.  The
fence will take care of him.  Can such an effect be produced by the
sight of that tourniquet of dust, far away over the plain, yet whirling
nearer and nearer?  Perchance, for no mere erratic "dust-devil" is
yonder cloud.  It is raised by the hoofs of a horse.

Yet no assignation is this.  Not for the purpose of meeting anybody is
this girl here to-day.  For all that her breast heaves somewhat, and her
forsaking colour returns with a little more added as she glances round
nervously towards the farmhouse, and finds herself wishing she had on
headgear less conspicuous than the snowy whiteness of a _kapje_.

On comes the dust-cloud, powdering up from the road at each hoof-stroke
as the horseman advances at a canter.  He, whoever it may be, is yet a
great way off, and a speculation, in which hope is about equal to
disappointment and disgust combined, escapes those pretty lips:

"Only some Dutchman, I suppose."

But a very few minutes of further watching suffices to bring back the
light to her face, and an eager, expectant look, which she strives to
repress, shines from her eyes.  For the rider is very near now, and
instinctively she moves a little further down the river bank in such
wise that the dip in the ground where the drift lies conceals her
effectually, white _kapje_ and all, from view of the homestead.

The horseman, who is now descending into the drift, perceives her and
turns his steed, so as to join her among the thorns.

"Why, May, this is good of you," he says, as he joins her.  Seen
dismounted he is a tall, well-set-up man of about five-and-thirty, with
clean-cut features and a dark moustache.  His brown eyes are clear and
searching, and there is a certain quickness about his speech and
movements which is totally disassociated with any suggestion of flurry.

"What is `good of' me?  You don't suppose I came down here on purpose to
meet you, I hope?" is the characteristic rejoinder, uttered with a
certain tinge of defiance.

"Why not?  It would have been very nice of you--very sweet of you, in
fact, and I should have appreciated it.  Don't you run away with the
idea that the faculty of appreciation is exclusively vested in the
softer sex."

They were still holding each other's hands--holding them a good deal
longer than the usages of social greeting exacted.

"Well, I'm glad I came, anyhow," she answered, in a softer tone,
relaxing her grasp of his with ever so perceptible a final pressure.
"The slowness of this place gets upon my nerves."

"You've spoilt it now," he laughed, looking her in the eyes.  "For
penalty you deserve what I'm about to tell you.  I haven't time to
off-saddle.  I'm going straight on."

She started.  The bright face clouded over.  The new arrival, who had
never removed his eyes from it, needed all his self-command to refrain
from an uncontrollable burst of merriment.

"If you pass our door to-day or any other day without off-saddling I'll
never speak to you again," she declared.

"Why should I not when you indignantly vow you would not come this
little way to meet me?" he rejoined, still with a faint smile playing
round the corners of his mouth.

"You know I would," she flashed forth impulsively.  "Don't be horrid,
Colvin!  I didn't, exactly come to meet you, but I did walk down here on
the--offchance that--that you might be coming.  There.  Why is it that
you always make me say everything right out--things I don't in the least
want to say?  Nobody else could.  Yet you do."

For answer Colvin Kershaw deliberately placed one arm around the
speaker, and, lifting her face with his other hand, kissed her on the
lips.  He did not hurry over the process either, nor did she seem
anxious that he should.  Yet these two were not lovers in the recognised
and affianced sense of the term.

"How pretty you look in that white _kapje_!" he said, as he released
her.  "It suits you so well.  If it hadn't been for the glint of the
white catching my eye I believe I should have passed you without seeing.
And of course you would have let me?"

"Of course I should.  But we had better go back to the house now,
because if Frank or mother saw you ride down to the drift, they will be
wondering how it is you are so long in getting to the other side.
Come!"

They strolled up the stony river bank together, he leading his horse.
But a sort of constraint fell upon the girl as they drew near the house.
She had noticed her mother looking at her strangely of late when the
talk had turned upon the man now at her side.  He, for his part, felt no
constraint at all.  In point of fact, he never did.

No dogs heralded their approach with loud-mouthed clamour.  No
self-respecting dog given to erratic movement, and poking his nose into
every corner where he should not, could live a day on a well-organised
ostrich farm by reason of the poisoned morsels--carefully planted out of
the way of the birds themselves--wherewith the run is strewn; for the
benefit of cats and jackals, and leopards.  One ancient and wheezy cur,
however, incapable of any lengthier peregrination than a hundred yards,
greeted their approach with sepulchral barks, and behind it came the
owner, with his coat half on half off.

"Hallo, Colvin!" he sang out.  "Why, you're quite a stranger these days.
Haven't been here for weeks.  Plotting treason with your friends the
Dutchmen, I believe?"

"That's it, Frank.  We're going to hold your place up for arms and
ammunition first thing.  Then they're going to make me State Secretary
of the new Cape Colony Republic on condition I do the shooting of you
with my own hand.  So now you're warned."

The point of these amenities lay in the fact that Colvin Kershaw was not
without pronounced Dutch sympathies at a time of strong political
tension.  Whereas Frank Wenlock, though on good enough terms with his
Dutch neighbours individually, was one of those not uncommon types who
labour under a firm conviction that the Powers above built this planet
Earth primarily for the benefit of--and eventually to be solely and
absolutely ruled from north to south, and from east to west by--England,
and England only.

Personally considered Frank Wenlock was a presentable young fellow
enough.  Externally of medium height, strong and energetic, his face,
lighted up by a pair of blue eyes not unlike those of his sister, though
not handsome, was open and pleasing.  In character, though somewhat
quick-tempered, he was the soul of good-nature, but withal no part of a
fool.  He and Colvin Kershaw had been fellow-pioneers together in
Rhodesia, and had fought side by side throughout the grim struggle of
the Matabele rebellion.

"Now, Mr Kershaw, can't you and Frank get together for a moment without
fighting about the Boers?" interrupted a brisk, not unpleasing, and yet
not altogether refined voice.  "But where did you pick up May?"

Colvin turned to greet its owner; a well-preserved, middle-aged woman,
not so many years his senior, good-looking too, after a fine, fresh,
healthy type.

"Oh, we haven't begun upon them yet, Mrs Wenlock," he replied, ignoring
the last query.  "We'll worry that out after dinner."

"You're not going on to-night?"

"Yes, I must I want to get to Stephanus De la Rey's.  There's a joker
there I want to meet."

"Is that the Transvaal emissary?" said Frank, looking up quickly from
his plate, for they had sat down to dinner.

"I suppose that's what you'd call him.  But, do you know, all this
rather interests me.  I like to hear all there is to be said on both
sides."

"Why they'll hold a meeting and simply spout treason all night,"
rejoined Frank vehemently.  "Good Lord, if I were Milner, I'd have that
fellow arrested and shot as a spy."

"My dear chap, you can't shoot `spies' when we are not at war with
anybody, and Botma, I suppose, has about as much right to hold a meeting
among his countrymen here as a British labour delegate has to organise a
strike.  These are among the advantages of a free country, don't you
know?"

"Did you come straight here from your place to-day?" said Mrs Wenlock,
by way of covering the angry growl with which her son had received the
other's words.

"No.  I slept at Swaart Jan Grobbelaar's."

"That's the old buck who brought away a lot of British skulls from
Majuba," burst in Frank.  "They say he sticks one up at a couple of
hundred yards every Majuba Day, and practises at it until there isn't a
bit left big enough for a bullet to hit."

"He must have brought away about a waggonload of them, then, considering
that Majuba happened eighteen years ago," said Colvin.  "But I don't
know that it isn't all a yarn.  People will say anything about each
other just now."

"I hear there's a lot of war-talk among the Dutch in the
Wildschutsbergen now, Mr Kershaw," said Mrs Wenlock.  "You must hear
it, because you're right in among them all."

"Oh, they talk a good bit about war, but then what do we do?  When I was
down at the Port Elizabeth show all the English were busy taking the
Transvaal.  It was the same thing along Fish River and Koonap.  If two
or three fellows got together on any given farm they were bound to spend
the evening taking the Transvaal.  In fact, no Boer could give a shoot
on his place without his English neighbours swearing he was
rifle-practising for the great upheaval.  We talk nothing but the war,
but if the Dutchmen do it becomes menace, sedition, and all the rest of
it right away."

Those were the days subsequent to the failure of the Bloemfontein
Conference, and racial feeling was near attaining its highest pitch.
Frank Wenlock, as we have said, got on with his Dutch neighbours more
than passably, which was as well, considering that his English ones were
but few and at long distances apart.  But even upon him the curse of a
far-off dissension had fallen.  Colvin Kershaw, on the other hand, was a
man of the world, with a well-balanced mind, and somewhat unconventional
withal.  He took a judicial view of the situation, and, while
recognising that it had two sides, and that there was a great deal to be
said for both, he distinctly declined to allow any political
considerations to make any difference to the relationship in which he
stood towards his Boer neighbours and their families, with several of
whom he was on very good terms indeed.

A wild effort was made to abandon the burning subject, and for awhile,
as they sat upon the stoep smoking their pipes--the conversation ran
upon stock and local interests, and the prospects of rain to carry them
through the winter.  But it soon came round again, as, indeed, in those
days it was bound to do, and the hotter and hotter grew Frank Wenlock on
the subject, the cooler and cooler remained his opponent.  May, for her
part, sat and listened.  She mostly shared her brother's prejudices on
that particular subject; but here was one whose opinion on most subjects
she held in the highest regard.  Clearly, then, there was something to
be said on the other side.

"Why need you go on to-night, Mr Kershaw?" struck in Mrs Wenlock.
"Your room is always ready, you know, and it's quite a long while since
you were here."

"It won't be so long again, Mrs Wenlock.  But I must be at Stephanus De
la Rey's to-night, because, over and above the delegate, I made an
appointment with Piet Lombard over a stock deal."

"Not to mention other attractions," cut in May, with a mischievous look
in her blue eyes.  "Which is the favoured one--Andrina or Condaas?"

"How can one presume upon a choice between two such dreams of
loveliness?  Both, of course," was the mirthful rejoinder.  But there
was no real merriment in the mind of the girl.  She had hoped he would
stay, had mapped out a potential afternoon's stroll--it might be, by
great good luck, the two of them alone together.  And things were so
slow, and times so dull, there where they saw no one month in month out,
save an occasional Boer passer-by, or a travelling _smaus_, or
feather-buyer, usually of a tolerably low type of Jew--and therefore,
socially, no acquisition.  Yes, after all, that was it.  Times were so
dull.

"Don't be so long finding your way over again," was the chorus of
God-speed which followed the departing guest as his steed ambled away.

He, for his part, seemed to find a good deal to think about as he held
on over the wide brown plains, dismounting absently to let himself
through a gate every few minutes, for the whole veldt was a network of
wire fencing.  Ostriches, grazing, lifted their long necks, some in
half-frightened, some in half-truculent curiosity, to gaze at him, then
dropped them again to resume their picking at the dried sprigs of Karroo
bush.

His acquaintance with the Wenlocks dated from just a year back: with the
family that is, for he and Frank had, as we have said, campaigned
together in Rhodesia.  On returning to the Colony at the close of the
rebellion he had come to visit his former comrade-in-arms at the
latter's own home, and had spent three months there while looking about
for a place of his own.  He had soon found one to his liking, and now
owned a 5,000-morgen farm in the Wildschutsberg range, where report said
he got through more game-shooting than farming.  If so, it didn't seem
to matter greatly, for Colvin Kershaw was one of those phenomena
occasionally encountered--an habitually lucky man.  What he undertook in
a small and careless way was wont to turn out better results than ten
times the carefully prepared labour and forethought exercised by other
people.  Furthermore he was uncommunicative as to his own affairs, and
whatever was known about him among his neighbours amounted to just
nothing at all.

"Come again soon," had been May's parting words, and the blue eyes
uplifted to his during that last handclasp had been wondrously soft and
appealing.

Was it upon this his thoughts were dwelling so intently as he rode along
mile after mile?  Perhaps.  Yet he had often bidden her farewell before.



CHAPTER THREE.

A BOER FARM.

Ratels Hoek, the farm owned by Stephanus De la Rey, was situated in a
broad, open basin, surrounded by the craggy, cliff-crowned hills of the
Wildschutsberg range.

It was a prosperous-looking place.  The homestead was large and roomy,
and not unpicturesque, with its deep verandah shaded by growing
creepers, which, however, at that time of year were destitute of
leafage.  A well-kept flower garden, which was a blaze of bright colour
in good seasons, went round two sides of the house, and behind, abundant
stabling and shearing sheds and kraals and dipping tank testified to the
up-to-date ideas and enterprise of its owner.  Beyond these again large
patches of cultivated lands, shut in by high quince hedges, sloped down
to the Sneeuw River, which took its rise in the Wildschutsberg, and
which, normally dry or the merest trickle, could roar down in a terrific
torrent at very short notice what time thunderstorms were heavy and
frequent in the mountains beyond.  Away over the veldt, which, until
joining the grassy slopes of the surrounding heights, was gently
undulating and fairly covered with mimosa bush, ostriches grazed, or
stalked defiantly up and down the wire fencing which divided one large
"camp" from another.

If Ratels Hoek was a creditable example of the better class of Dutch
farm, no less was its owner an excellent specimen of the better type of
Dutch farmer.  Stephanus De la Rey was a tall, handsome man of about
fifty.  He had a fine forehead, blue eyes, and straight, regular
features, and the masses of his full brown beard had hardly yet begun to
show threads of grey.  His character was in keeping with his general
appearance, for though quiet-mannered, he was the most straight forward
and genial of men, and was immensely looked up to and respected far and
wide by such few English as the neighbourhood contained, no less than by
his own compatriots.

His wife was a bright, cheerful, brisk-mannered little woman, who, as we
have already heard it stated, was half English in that she had owned an
English mother.  Their family consisted of a liberal eight, of which
those now at home represented the younger two of each sex.

Stephanus De la Rey was seated on his stoep, smoking a meditative pipe
and thinking deeply.  He had just been reading the newspapers, and there
was enough in them at that time to give a thoughtful man plenty to think
about.  His own sympathies were not unnaturally with the Transvaal,
where two of his sons had settled, and for its President he entertained
a very warm admiration.  But he was no fiery patriot.  War was a
terrible thing, and war between two white nations--two Christian
nations, in a land swarming with heathen barbarians--seemed to him
hardly justifiable under any circumstances whatever.  Even if the worst
came to the worst, let the Republic fight its own battles.  He and his
neighbours had no grievance against the English Government under which
they dwelt--save grievances which were purely sentimental and belonging
to ancient history; and as he gazed around upon his own prosperous lands
the gravity of his thoughts deepened.  This was momentarily diverted by
the approach of two of his sons--who had just come in from the veldt--
tall, light-haired, quiet-looking youths of two- and three-and-twenty
respectively.  They seemed to be under the influence of some unwonted
excitement.

"We heard some news to-day, Pa," said the elder of the two.  "We are to
have a visitor to-night.  Who do you think it is?"

"I cannot guess.  Who is it?"

"The Patriot," burst forth the other.  "_Ja_, that is good!  I have
wanted so much to see him."

Both looked furtively at each other and then at their father.  The
latter did not seem overjoyed at the news.  In point of fact he was not.
Personally the presence in his house of the Transvaal delegate would
have afforded him the keenest gratification but that he knew as surely
as though he had been told that the latter's visit would be purely of a
political nature, and Stephanus De la Rey preferred to leave politics
severely alone.  Not only that, but that his own conversion to the ranks
of the secret agitators was the motive of the visit he more than
suspected.

"Where did you hear that, Jan?" he said.

"Adrian told us, Pa.  We saw him as we passed Friedrik Schoemann's.  He
is coming up to-night too.  _Ja_! you should hear him talk of the
Patriot.  He heard him two nights ago at Jan Grobbelaar's.  The Patriot
spoke to him too--to him, Adrian.  He says in a month or two we shall
have driven all the English out of the country.  See, Cornelis," turning
to his brother, "I wonder if that second post from the gate away yonder
were an Englishman how long it would be standing there," and he levelled
his long Martini as though to put the matter to the test.  But the reply
which this demonstration elicited from their habitually easy-going and
indulgent father both surprised and startled the two youths, and that
mightily.

"Are you not ashamed of yourself, Jan, to stand there before me and talk
such wicked nonsense?  Is that the sort of Christianity the teaching of
Mynheer, as well as of your own parents, has implanted in you, that you
can talk about shooting men--Christian men like ourselves, remember--as
you would talk of shooting buck?  I have nothing to do with Adrian's
movements or ideas, although he is my nephew, but I have with yours; so
listen to me.  There is a great deal of wild talk being flung around
just now, but I wish you to have nothing to do with it.  Of course you
cannot help hearing it from time to time, there is too much of it
everywhere unfortunately; but I enjoin you not to take part in it.  It
is shameful the light way in which such weighty and serious subjects are
discussed.  When our fathers took up arms to defend their rights and
liberties and their lives they did so prayerfully and with the full
weight of their solemn responsibilities, and that is why they were
victorious.  But now such matters are bragged and chattered about by a
herd of thoughtless boys.  Leave them alone.  The times are quite
troublous enough, and things may come right or may not, but the only way
in which we can help is to be quiet and to attend to our own business."

"_Oh, goeije_!  What are you giving those children such a scolding
about, father?" chimed in a cheery voice, whose owner came bustling out
on to the stoep.

Stephanus De la Rey turned his head, with a smile.

"I am giving them a little good advice," he said, relighting his pipe.
"And I don't think I've ever given them any bad.  Have I, boys?"

"No, Pa," they answered, meaning it, too, but not sorry that their
mother had come to the rescue: yet profoundly impressed by the stern
earnestness of the paternal expostulation.

"Here come people," said Stephanus, gliding easily from the subject,
which he had no wish to prolong.  "Can you make them out, Cornelis?"

"I think so," replied the youth, shading his eyes, and gazing at two
distant but rapidly approaching horsemen.  "One is Adrian, and the
other--I believe it's an Englishman from the way he holds his feet in
the stirrups.  _Ja_--it is.  It must be Colvin Kershaw."

"Is it?"

"Where?"

And the utterers of both queries came forth on to the stoep, causing
their brothers to break into a splutter of mirth.  The younger of the
two girls took after her mother.  She was short and dark, and rather too
squat for her seventeen years, but had fine eyes.  The other, who was a
year older, was taller, fair and blue-eyed, and rather pretty.

"Which _is_ it, Andrina?" whispered Jan to this one mischievously.  "The
Englishman, of course!  You all go mad over him."

"Do we?  Who's `we,' and who is `all,' I should like to know?" retorted
Andrina, with a toss of her golden head.

"I know I don't," said the other girl.  "Why, we fight too much for
that.  But I like fighting him.  I wish all Englishmen were like him
though.  He is so full of fun."

Stephanus welcomed both arrivals with his usual geniality, not allowing
the fact that he disapproved of his nephew politically to make the
slightest difference in his manner.  The young Boer, however, whose
self-confidence was lacking in the presence of one to whom he looked up
so much, felt somewhat constrained.  However, his message had to be
delivered, so he jerked out:

"The Patriot will be here at sundown, Oom Stephanus."

"So?"

"He addressed us for nearly three hours at Jan Grobbelaar's two nights
ago.  _Ja_, it was magnificent to hear him," went on the speaker, losing
himself in his enthusiasm for The Cause.  "I wish you would hear him,
Oom Stephanus.  He would soon convince you."

"Make a `patriot' of me, you mean, Adrian.  I am that already in the
real meaning of the word.  Well, Colvin, what have you been doing
lately?  It's a long time since I've seen you."

"That so, Stephanus?  Oh, all sorts of things--farming, and hunting, and
taking it easy generally."

"And making love to that pretty Miss Wenlock," said Condaas, the younger
girl, in a sly undertone.

Colvin turned, with a laugh.  He and this household were upon quite
intimate terms, and he had been exchanging greetings all-round during
the colloquy between uncle and nephew.

"There would be every excuse, wouldn't there?" he answered, entering
into the joke, and, moreover, hugely amused, remembering that almost the
last words May had spoken to him had been to chaff him about these very
girls, and now almost their first words had been to chaff him about her.

"You ought not to say that in our presence," said Andrina, with a mimic
pout.

"Of course not.  But if you had not interrupted me I was going to
add--`but for the fact of the propinquity of Ratels Hoek and the
entrancing but utterly perplexing choice of counter-attractions it
affords.'"

"Why will you make those girls talk such a lot of nonsense, Mr
Kershaw?" laughed Mrs De la Rey.  "They always do whenever you come
here.  I declare you are making them very dreadful."

"Didn't know I exercised such influence over the young and tender mind.
It isn't I who do it, Mrs De la Rey.  It's Adrian there.  Depend upon
it, he is the delinquent."

Now Adrian was a good-looking, well-set-up young fellow, who, his fiery
"patriotism" notwithstanding, had his clothes built by an English tailor
and talked English fluently.  Indeed, in the De la Rey household it was
spoken almost as frequently as the mother tongue, and the above
conversation had been carried on about equally in both languages,
gliding imperceptibly from one to the other and back again.

"Adrian?  Why, there isn't a grain of fun left in Adrian these days,"
said Condaas, mischievously.  "See how solemn he looks.  I believe he
thinks about nothing but fighting the English."

"Well, we have just ridden two solid hours together, and he didn't want
to fight me," said Colvin.

But the young "patriot" was not enjoying this form of chaff, for he
turned away, indignantly muttering to the effect that some matters were
too high and too great to be made fun of by a pair of giggling girls.

"Now we have made him _kwaatj_," said Andrina.  "See now, I'll get him
to laugh again."  Then, raising her voice, "Adrian!  Adrian! wait.  I
want to stroll round the garden with you and hear about The Cause."

"That has made him more _kwaat_ than ever," whispered Condaas; for the
badgered one, who had hesitated, turned away again with an angry jerk,
scenting more chaff on his sacred subject.  Andrina looked knowing.

"Adrian!" she hailed again--"Wait.  I want to tell you about Aletta.
Really.  You know, I heard from her yesterday."

The effect was magical, also comical.  The affronted "patriot" stopped
short.  There was no irresolution now about his change of front.

"Come, then," he said.

With a comical look at the other two, Andrina tripped off, and that she
had satisfactorily carried out her stated intention was manifest by the
animated way in which they appeared to be conversing.

"That drew him," chuckled Condaas.  "You know, Mr Kershaw, he was
awfully mashed on Aletta the last time she came home."

"Condaas, what sort of expressions are you using?" said her mother
reprovingly.  "I don't know where you learnt them, or what Mr Kershaw
will think."

"Why we learnt them from him, of course, Ma," replied the girl.  "You
don't suppose we picked up that kind of thing from the very solemn old
maid you got for us as English governess."

"Not from me.  Maybe it was from Frank Wenlock," said Colvin, who was
speculating how the object of their present merriment could pass by the
charms of Andrina, who was undeniably a pretty girl, in favour of her
elder sister.  The latter he had never seen.  She had been absent in
Cape Town, at school or with relatives, ever since his own arrival in
that part of the country, but there were photographic portraits of her,
decking the wall of the sitting-room and the family album.  These, to
his impartial eye, conveyed the impression of rather a heavy-looking
girl, at the awkward stage, with bunched-up shoulders and no pretensions
whatever to good looks.  To be sure, he had heard a great deal on the
subject of the absent one, her attainments and attractiveness, but such
he unhesitatingly attributed to family bias.

Struck with a sudden idea, he moved into the sitting-room, and casually,
as it were, drew up in front of a framed portrait which stood upon the
piano.

"That is the latest of Aletta," said Condaas, who had followed him in.
"She sent it up to us only a post or two ago; since you were here."

"So?"

He bent down and examined it intently.  It represented a girl of about
nineteen or twenty.  The idea of awkwardness conveyed by the other
portraits was no longer there, but in looks he failed to detect any
improvement Aletta De la Rey was plain, assuredly plain, he decided.

"_Oh, goeije_! here come a lot of people," exclaimed Condaas.  "The
`Patriot,' I suppose."

A rumbling sound was audible, drawing nearer and nearer.  Both made for
the window.  A cavalcade of Boers was approaching the house, and in the
midst, as though escorted by it, moved the white tent of a Cape cart.



CHAPTER FOUR.

THE CONVERSION OF STEPHANUS DE LA REY.

A striking contrast no less than a striking personality was offered by
the two leading figures in this group as Stephanus De la Rey advanced to
welcome his noted visitor.  Both were fine types of their nationality
and class--the one calm-faced, reposeful, with the air of a thoroughly
contented and prosperous man; the other bright-eyed, restless, alert,
with the nervous rapidity of movement of one existing in a state of
chronic tension.  The greeting between the two was cordial enough, and
there was much handshaking, as the others, to the number of a round
dozen, dropped in by twos and threes.

"Why, who is this?" exclaimed the delegate, a shade of distrust coming
into his face as he shook hands with Colvin Kershaw--for among Boers the
ceremony of introduction is but seldom performed.  "An Englishman, I
believe?"

"That is so, Mynheer Botma.  And one who is very proud to make the
acquaintance of so famous and gifted a man as yourself," replied Colvin,
who spoke the _taal_ very fairly well.

The delegate shot a keen glance at the speaker, then he became quite
cordial.  He hated the English, but it suddenly occurred to him that
this particular Englishman had a look of one who might be turned to some
account.  Accordingly he engaged him in conversation, during which
Colvin adroitly contrived to insinuate that his sympathies were all with
the Transvaal cause, and that for the person of Oom Paul in particular
he entertained feelings of the profoundest admiration.

"That is good," said Jan Grobbelaar, showing his tusks approvingly.  "We
were having much talk about this only last evening, brother," Turning to
the delegate: "Colvin is a neighbour of mine.  He is not like other
English."

Whether the object of this comment was gratified thereby or not, he made
no sign; but one result of the voucher thus made was that the assembled
Boers, to most of whom he was well known, conversed with far less
restraint--both then and during the course of the evening.  And the
burden of their conversation was confined well-nigh entirely to the very
strained relations then existing between the Transvaal and the suzerain
Power, and what was going to be done upon the final and certain rupture
thereof.

Not much was said during the evening meal, and that little was mainly
confined to local and farming matters and the prospects or the reverse
of a speedy rain.  The Boer guests fell to with a will, and did ample
justice to the springbuck stew and other delicacies of the veldt as
there set forth in abundance; for Mrs De la Rey had anticipated just
such an inroad as had taken place.  Moreover, she was a model housewife,
and possessed of wonderful Dutch recipes of old-time Cape and Batavian
origin, and within her domain here were none of the insipid and
over-sweetened dishes which prevailed in the ordinary and rougher class
of Boer household.  After supper--when pipes were in full blast, in such
wise, indeed, that it was hardly possible to see across the room--it was
not long before the subject engrossing all minds came to the fore.

"_So_, Colvin.  _You_ smoke Transvaal tobacco, then?" said one young
Boer with a wink at his neighbours, and affecting surprise.

"Rather, Marthinus.  Why not?"

"Why, because you're an Englishman, to be sure."

"Ha-ha.  But then, Marthinus, I happen to be an Englishman who smokes
what he likes.  And I like Transvaal tobacco.  Shall I tell you what
else I like?  I like _dop_.  So just send along that decanter that's at
the other side of Barend Van Zyl's elbow, will you?"

There was a great laugh at this, and Barend Van Zyl aforesaid made
believe to withhold the decanter on the ground that its contents might
impair the speaker's patriotism.  It led to a lot of chaff with regard
to the political situation, some of which, albeit good-humoured, was
keen enough to have thrown some Englishmen, Frank Wenlock, for instance,
into a real fighting rage.  This one, however, was made of different
stuff.  It didn't ruffle him in the least.  Moreover, he knew that they
were merely "taking the measure of his foot."

"And they say that we can't shoot any more, we young ones," said another
Boer.  "I saw it in a Cape English newspaper which Piet Lombard had sent
him.  They say that we are all going off in our shooting, and are good
for nothing; that we cannot bring down game like out fathers could."

"_Maagtig_! but they are liars, those English newspaper men," assented
somebody else.  "_Nee wat_.  I would like to get the miserable
ink-squirter who wrote that, and make him run at five hundred yards from
my Martini.  We would soon show him whether we young ones are so
_sleg_."

"Hallo, Marthinus, that's a little too loud," cut in Colvin Kershaw with
a laugh.  "Why, man, how about that old springbuck ram I saw you miss
twice running that shoot we had at Tafelfontein at the end of last
season there, _oerkant_, by the vlei?  He wasn't a step over four
hundred yards.  Come now, what would you do with your runaway man at
five hundred?"

"That's true," assented Marthinus a little crestfallen.  Then
brightening up: "But then the English newspaper man would be running too
hard.  _Ja, kerelen_.  Now, an English newspaper man _would_ run!"

"Do you know how I was taught to shoot, Colvin?" asked a wiry,
middle-aged Boer with a long light beard, pushing his tobacco bag made
of dressed buckskin across to the Englishman.  "When I was eight years
old my father used to put a loaded rifle into my hand.  It was a
muzzle-loader--we had no Martinis or Mausers in those days.  _Maagtig_--
no.  He didn't give me a second charge for reloading either.  He would
start me out into the veldt at daybreak, and if I returned without
having shot a buck I got no breakfast.  Then he would start me off
again, and if I returned a second time without having shot a buck I was
allowed some dinner, but first of all I got plenty of `strop.'  Then I
was turned out again, and if I failed again I got still more `strop,'
and went to bed without any supper.  But it was not more than two or
three times that happened.  _Nee, kerelen_!  Well, that is the way to
teach a youngster to shoot."

"That's all very well, Izaak," replied Colvin; "but it might be the way
to teach some youngsters not to shoot.  The fact of knowing they hadn't
another chance might get upon their nerves and make them miss."

But the other, whose name was Izaak van Aardt, and who was known amongst
his neighbours as second to none for a sure and deadly game shot, only
shook his head, unconvinced.

"But," struck in the young Dutchman who had started the chaff about the
Transvaal tobacco, "it is only English youngsters who have nerves.  Boer
youngsters have no nerves."  And he winked at the others as at first.

"Haven't they?" responded Colvin Kershaw, with a tranquil smile.  "No,
especially when you tell them some yarn about the _spoek_ that comes out
of the waggon-house at night and yells."

They laughed somewhat foolishly at this, the point being that Boer
children, filled up as they are with all sorts of Hottentot stories,
weird and grotesque, are no more intrepid under the circumstances named
than would be other children.

The above conversation, however, was significant of two things.  One was
the high-pitched tension to which racial feeling had attained among the
northern border Dutch.  It bristled with sly digs, and open ones too, at
the English.  They could no more keep such out of their conversation
than could Mr Dick keep King Charles's head out of his classic
memorial.  The second was the exceedingly friendly terms upon which this
one Englishman, alone in their midst, stood towards them.  Had it been
otherwise, while they would have refrained from intentionally saying
anything that might have been offensive to their fellow-guest, and one
held in so much esteem by the people under whose roof they found
themselves, they would have sat taciturn and constrained, confining the
conversation for the most part to heavy monosyllables.  And as
emphasising these two points it is worthy of record.

Now the talkers began to break up, some, however, remaining rooted to
their chairs, talking out the situation with increasing vehemence.
Others went out to see after their horses, while others again had
convened music in the other room.  The Boer, as a rule, is fond of
music, even if it takes no more aspiring form than the homely strains of
a concertina; and whereas both the De la Rey girls could play, and one
could sing, fairly, well, their audience listened with a whole-hearted
appreciation not always to be found under like circumstances in the
drawing-rooms of the fashionable and of the would-be artistic.  Colvin
Kershaw likewise was in great request, for he had a smattering of ear
knowledge which enabled him to rattle off snatches from most of the
comic operas of the day, and these were hugely in favour with his
somewhat primitive hearers.  He could, too, on occasions, as when
performing for the benefit of some old-fashioned and highly orthodox old
"Tanta" who deemed all secular music an invention of Satan for the
snaring of souls, turn such and similar lively strains, by an alteration
of time and expression, into the most solemn and soul-stirring of psalm
tunes; to the convulsive, because concealed, delight of Andrina and
Condaas and others in the know, and to the ecstatic edification of the
antiques aforesaid, who would go away thinking that if only "Mynheer"
would induce the performer to play on the harmonium in church on Sunday,
what a long way they would travel in order to be present.

But the lighter side of life is never far removed from the momentous,
and this was represented in another part of the house, whose owner was
closeted in long and earnest conversation with "the Patriot."

"You are the man we want, Brother De la Rey," the latter was saying in
his quick, emphatic voice, having spent an hour setting forth his
mission in all its fulness, and that with the convincing earnestness of
a man who thoroughly believes in it.  "Just consider.  The whole of this
district is with us, and not merely the whole of this district but the
whole of the Northern border.  Others, too, as far as the seaboard on
one side and the Cape on the other.  You cannot stand aloof.  You cannot
be the only one to refuse to side with your countrymen, those of your
own blood, in their struggle for freedom and power."

"We had better not talk too much about freedom," was the reply, with a
grave head-shake, "I should like to know, Brother Botma, under what
Government we could enjoy greater freedom than that under which we are
now living."

"`Under which?'  Yes, that is just it.  `Under which.'  But we ought not
to be living `under' any Government but our own.  Our independence--that
is the star to which our eyes turn.  That you yourself dwell happy and
in comfort here, Stephanus De la Rey, is but an unworthy way of looking
at it.  Are the ties of blood-brotherhood nothing?  Are the ties of
nationality nothing?  Is our independence nothing?  Selfish
considerations must be thrown away now.  Why, even you have two sons
with us.  They will fight in our ranks.  Will you, then, fight in those
of the enemy?"

"I do not desire any fighting.  I deplore this trouble.  If the Kafirs
were to rise, for instance, I do not think you would find me backward.
Ask those who know me if I am not speaking true.  But this is a struggle
between white men, and in a land, too, where they ought to be brothers."

"Brothers?  We and the English can never be brothers.  Listen,
Stephanus," laying an impressive hand upon the other's arm.  "It is a
struggle for life and death between us and them.  To this end they have
been working.  To this end have they been throwing all their adventurers
into our land.  Yes; how many from this country, this very British
colony you are so proud to belong to, have come to us without a penny--
unable even so much as to make a living under the British flag--have
come to us on the very verge of bankruptcy, and actually through it--to
make not merely a living, but in many cases large fortunes?  And these
are the people with a grievance!  These are the people who fatten on our
land, and then want to seize it because it is richer than theirs.  That
is why they desire the franchise, that they may oust the burghers who
fought for their independence; whose fathers shed their blood like water
in withstanding the heathen savage, who went forth determined never
again to submit to the English yoke."

"That is true," rejoined the other.  "Yet it seems to me that it is
because of them that the country has become rich.  Had they not come
there, what then?  Who would have worked the gold and the mines?"

"We could have done without the gold and the mines," was the fiery
response.  "We did not desire them.  We were better as we were.  And
look, brother.  Did these Uitlanders come into our land to benefit our
land?  If so, why do they not stay there when they have enriched
themselves out of it?  Do they?  Not so.  They return to spend the
wealth they have made out of us among the Babylon sinks of vice, the
large cities of Europe.  They came into the land to enrich themselves,
certainly not to enrich our land.  But now that it is rich they want to
seize it."

The listener made no immediate reply.  He sat in troubled meditation,
his brow clouded.  The speaker, watched him the while with a kind of
hungering anxiety.  This was the man he desired to win over, a man of
weight and standing, whose influence thrown into the scale would bring
hundreds to the Afrikander cause and confirm hundreds more who might be
wavering.  He went on:

"Everything is ready now.  The President will never yield to their
demands, and even if he would the burghers will never allow it.  If we
gave them the five years' franchise they would then ask for two, then
for none at all.  And where would we be?  Where would we be, I ask you,
remembering the shameful attempt upon us three years ago?  Mark now,
brother.  We are about to put forth our strength.  We know our strength,
they do not.  They know not that we are ten times stronger than they
think.  They boast that by the end of the year the English flag will
wave over Pretoria.  Will it?  We shall see.

"They think that they have only to threaten us and we shall collapse.
They have forgotten the lessons of 1881.  A God-protected people
fighting for its liberties is a terrible thing, Stephanus, and that is
what we were then and what we are now.  We have for years been
collecting arms and ammunition which will render us strong enough for
the whole British Army.  And then when the whole British Army is hurled
against us there are European nations who will hurl themselves upon
England.  They will not lose their opportunity.  They hate England too
much for that.  Then is our time.  Now, Stephanus, will you be the only
man who refuses to join his own nationality?  I go from here to-morrow,
for my mission is at an end, and it has been fruitful beyond my hopes.
When I return it will be with our conquering forces to help plant the
`Vierkleur' over our new Republic, which shall extend from the Zambesi
to the Cape.  My dear brother, think.  We want you; we want such men as
you among our leaders.  Throw selfish considerations away, and link
yourself with the holy army of patriots."

The speaker ceased.  Carried away by his own fervour, he could hardly
any longer bring out his words with sufficient coherence.  And that very
fervour had carried his listener with him.  Stephanus De la Rey was, to
tell the truth, deeply impressed.  True, he himself had no reason to be
otherwise than perfectly contented; but had he any right to consider his
own prosperity, his own well-being, when the cause of his countrymen was
at stake?  Transvaal, Free State, or Cape Colony, were they not all of
one blood--all Dutch?  Many a man would have considered what advantages
might accrue to himself by joining the movement, what risk, even danger,
was incurred by abstaining; but this one was honest to the core.  The
patriotic side was what appealed to him, that and that only.  And
looking at him as though reading his thoughts, Andries Botma, the
Transvaal delegate, was filled with a whole-souled elation.  He knew he
had won, and that however much time and thought he might give to the
situation between this and then, the moment the forces of the allied
Republics crossed the border Stephanus De la Rey would be upon their
side.

But this Stephanus De la Rey did not know himself, not, at any rate, at
that time.



CHAPTER FIVE.

SIGNS.

"_Jij verdomde Engelschman!  Stil maar!  Ik saal nit nou jou kop
afslaan_!"  [Note 1.]

The speaker is a big Dutchman, the scene the stoep of a roadside hotel
in the Karroo, the spoken-to Frank Wenlock.  We regret, however, to be
obliged to record that our friend has taken on board a glass or two more
than he can stow with absolute regard either to equilibrium or strict
decorum.  A Cape cart and a buggy, the harness hung loosely to the
splashboard, stand out-spanned by the broad dusty road, and three or
four horses with their saddles on are grouped beneath a stumpy,
spreading mimosa, as rooted to the spot by the mere fact of two or three
inches of their bridles trailing on the ground as though tied fast to
anything solid and tangible.

For reply to the threat, Frank Wenlock utters a defiant laugh, then once
more lifts up his voice in song:

  "Ta-ra-ra-ra Boom-de-ay!
  Oom Paul op een vark gerij,
  Af hij val en zier gekrij,
  Toen klim op en veg gerij."

With a growl and a curse the big Boer comes at him.  He is nearly a head
the taller and far the heavier and more powerful man; but Frank Wenlock
knows how to use his hands a bit, and, "sprung" as he is, he parries the
sledge-hammer blow aimed at him by his large assailant, and stands
ready.  The latter begins to parley:

"What do you insult our President for, then?" he growls.

"Can't I sing a song if I want?" returns Frank.  "Besides, Oom Paul
isn't your President."

"Ah, but he soon will be.  And won't he make the _rooineks_ run?"

"Well, here's a _rooinek_ you can't make run, Hermanus Delport, elephant
as you are.  Come along and have a try, will you?  What?  You won't?
You're a bally coward then--and you're twice my size.

  "Ta-ra-ra-ra Boom-de-ay,
  Oom Paul op een vark gerij--"

he begins again in a tone that is insulting and defiant to the last
degree.

There are other Dutchmen on the stoep.  These, who have laughed
hitherto, expecting to see their huge compatriot simply double up the
smaller but foolhardy Englishman, now spring to their feet with incensed
shouts.

"Go at him, Hermanus.  Knock him down and lay your _sjambok_ about him.
Cut him into _riempjes_.  We'll give him Oom Paul!" are some of the
cries wherewith they nerve their champion on to war.

There is no backing out of it now.  Delport hurls himself upon Frank,
who stands there, squaring up, and still singing the nonsensical--and to
Boer susceptibilities offensive--quatrain.  But a very hard right- and
lefthander meets him, and that in each eye, causing him to stagger back.
Frank, however, has not come off unscathed, for the big Boer's fist has
more than grazed his cheekbone.  The others crowd up behind their
champion, renewing their shouts of encouragement.

"Come on, come on!  I'll take the bally lot of you, when I've polished
off that elephant there," shouts Frank in English, waltzing towards the
group, his hands up and ready.

"No, you jolly well won't, Frank," cuts in another English voice, whose
owner tranquilly steps in between the combatants.  "Come now, stop
making a fool of yourself, of all yourselves."

"I shan't.  Get out of this, Colvin, and--mind your own business,"
retorted Frank, speaking none too articulately.  "Old elephant Hermanus
said he could make rooineks run.  I want him to make this _rooinek_
run--if he can."

"He insulted the President," shouted the Boers.  "_Ja_, he sang an
insulting song."

"Now, Frank, you know you did, for I heard you while I was getting ready
to inspan," said Colvin Kershaw in his most persuasive tones.  "And look
here, old chap, fair-play you know is fair-play.  If one of them had
sung such stuff as that about the Queen--rotten, contemptible stuff as
it is--how long would it be before you sailed into him?"

"Not one bally second," replied Frank briskly.

"Well, then--you've trodden on these chaps' corns pretty hard, and you
might as well tell them you were only larking."

The speaker was on tenterhooks, for he knew by experience what a
difficult customer Frank Wenlock was to manage on the few occasions when
he had had a drop too much.  The chances that he would become
obstreperous and provoke a general row or not were about even.  But
either the moral influence of his mentor was paramount, or some glimmer
of the logical faculty had worked its way into Frank's thoughtless but
good-natured mind, and he was amenable.

"_Toen, kerelen_, I didn't mean anything," he called out in Dutch; "I
was only larking.  Let's have another drink all-round."

"No, you don't, Frank," said Colvin quickly and in an undertone.
"You've quite enough of that cargo on board already."

By this time the horses were inspanned, and the two went among the group
of Boers to bid farewell.  Some put out a paw with more than half a
scowl on their faces, others turned into the house to avoid the
necessity of shaking hands with Englishmen at all.  Among these was
Hermanus Delport.

"_Ja_, wait a bit!" he growled, half aloud.  "Wait a bit, friend
Wenlock!  If I don't put a bullet through you before this year is dead,
I'll--I'll become an Englishman."

And he rubbed some raw spirit on his now fast-swelling bruises, a dark
and vengeful scowl upon his heavy face.  The seed scattered by Andries
Botma had been well sown.

Chucking a sixpence to the ragged, yellow-skinned Hottentot, who sprang
away from the horses' heads, Colvin whipped up, sending the buggy
spinning over the flat Karroo road, the dust flying up obliquely from
the hoofs and wheels in a long, fan-like cloud.  They were returning
from Schalkburg, the district town, and had a good two hours of smart
driving to reach Spring Holt, the Wenlocks' farm, before dark--for they
had made a late start from the township.  For the first hour Frank was a
bit drowsy, then, when he had pulled himself together a bit, his guide,
philosopher, and friend judged it time to deliver something of a
lecture.

"Frank, you know this won't do.  I thought you had more self-control.
The last two times we have been into Schalkburg together you've come out
boozy."

"Oh, hang it, old chap, it was so beastly hot!  If we had started before
breakfast instead of at twelve, it would have been all right.  But
Schalkburg is such a dry hole, and you get such a thirst on!"

"I don't.  But you will get liquoring up with every man Jack who speaks
to you."

"Well, but--you can't refuse.  And then you only go in there once in a
blue moon.  Surely one can have a bit of a spree."

"No, you needn't--not that sort of spree.  And you can refuse.  I often
do.  No--no--old chap, you can't afford to make a Hottentot of yourself,
and remember, you've got womenkind to look after."

"Er--I say, Colvin, you know.  Don't let go anything to them about this,
will you?"

"Of course not.  Don't you know me better than that?  But squarely,
Frank, unless you undertake to get on another tack I'll never go into
Schalkburg with you again."

"Anyone would think I was a regular boozer," said Frank, sulkily.

"That's just what I don't want you to become.  And look here, you jolly
near got up the devil's own row at Reichardt's.  Those Dutchmen will
spread all over the country that we were both roaring tight.  Besides,
what if that row had come off--we should come home nice objects with our
noses broken and our teeth kicked down our throats?  For remember they
were a round dozen, and we only two, and some of these very ones, I
happen to know, are pretty tough customers.  Here, Frank.  Take the
reins, so long.  There are a couple of fine _pauw_.  Think we can get
any nearer?"

"No.  Let go at them from the cart."

They had just topped a light swell, and there, about two hundred and odd
yards from the road, stalked the great bustards.  Quickly Colvin slipped
from the buggy, and keeping on its other side, rifle in hand, watched
his chance.  Taking a careful and steady aim, he fired.  Both birds
rose, and winged their flight, but, after a few yards, the hindermost
half dropped, then, flopping along a little further, came heavily to the
earth, where it lay with wings outspread and quite dead.

"That's good!" observed Colvin; "I knew he'd got it, heard the bullet
`klop'."

They picked up the splendid bird and regained the road.  But before they
had gone half a mile they made out a horseman riding furiously after
them as though in pursuit.

"It's old Sarel Van der Vyver," said Frank, looking back.  "Let's give
him a gallop, eh?  He looks in a devil of a rage."

"No--no!  We must smooth him down," answered Colvin, drawing the pace in
to a slow trot.  Very soon their pursuer galloped up, and they made out
an old Boer in a weather-beaten white chimney-pot hat, and wearing a
bushy grey beard.  He seemed, as Frank had said, "in a devil of a rage,"
and brandished in his hand a long-barrelled Martini.

"_Daag_, Oom Sarel!" called out the two in the buggy.

But the old man met this amenity with a torrent of abuse.  What did they
mean by coming into his veldt and shooting his game without his leave,
and scaring his ostriches all over the place?  He did not keep game to
be shot by _verdomde rooineks_, not he.  And much more to the same
effect.

Both were rather surprised.  They had never been on other than the
friendliest of terms with this old man, and now he was rating them as
though he had never seen them before in their lives.  Well, here was
another very significant sign of the times.  But it gave Colvin an idea.

"Take the bird, Oom Sarel," he said, making as though he would pull it
out from the back of the buggy.  "I only shot it for the fun of the
thing--and besides, it was possible that Andries Botma might be at
Spring Holt when we got back, and a fine _pauw_ might come in handy for
the supper of the Patriot."

The effect of the name was magical.

"_Kyk_!  Do you know Mynheer Botma, then?" asked the old Boer, in
round-eyed astonishment.

"We had a great talk together at Stephanus De la Rey's the other night,
Oom Sarel," responded Colvin; "but come along with us, and see if he has
arrived at Wenlock's to-night."

This invitation the old man declined, though somewhat reluctantly.  "He
could not leave home," he said.  "But the bird--of course they must keep
it.  A friend of the Patriot!  Well, well, Colvin must not mind what had
been said at first.  He," the speaker, "had been a little put out that
day, and was growing old."  Then exchanging fills out of each other's
pouch, they literally smoked the pipe of peace together, and parted amid
much cordial handshaking.

"There's a sign of the times for you, Frank," said Colvin as they
resumed their way.  "Andries Botma's name is one to conjure with these
days.  But note how his influence crops up all along the line!  Even old
Sarel Van der Vyver was prepared to make himself disagreeable.  Not a
Dutchman round here will hesitate to join the Transvaal, if things go at
all wrong with us."

"I'd cut short his influence with a bullet or a rope if I were Milner,"
growled Frank.

Soon, in the distance, the homestead came in sight Colvin dropped into
silence, letting his thoughts wander forth to the welcome that awaited
him, and the central figure of that welcome spelt May Wenlock.  He was
not in love with her, yet she appealed to more than one side of his
nature.  She was very pretty, and very companionable; and girls of whom
that could be said were very few and far between in the Wildschutsberg
surroundings.  Several of the Boer girls were the first, but few of them
had any ideas, being mostly of the fluffy-brained, giggling type.  May
was attractive to him, undeniably so, but if he tried to analyse it he
decided that it was because they had been thrown so much together; and
if he had evoked any partiality in her, he supposed it was for the same
reason--there was no one else.

"Who's that likely to be, Frank?" he said, as they drew near enough to
make out a male figure on the stoep.

"Eh?  Who?  Where?" returned Frank, starting up, for he was drowsy.
"_Maagtig_, it looks like Upton, the scab-inspector.  _Ja_.  It is."

No--there was nothing lacking in the welcome that shone in May's eyes,
thought Colvin, as they exchanged a hand-pressure.  And he was conscious
of a very decided feeling of gratification; indeed he would not have
been human were it otherwise.

"Well, Upton, what's the news?" said Frank, as they were outspanning,
and unpacking the contents of the buggy.  "Is it going to be war?"

"Don't know.  Looks like it.  The troops in Grahamstown and King are
getting ready for all they know how.  Man, but things are looking nasty.
The Dutchmen up in the Rooi-Ruggensberg are as bumptious as they can
be.  Two of them wouldn't let me look at their flocks at all.  I shall
have to summon them, I suppose."

The duties of the speaker being to overhaul periodically the flocks of
all the farmers, Dutch and British, within a large area, in search of
the contagious and pestilential scab, it followed that he was in the way
of gauging the state of feeling then prevalent.  Personally, he was a
very popular man, wherefore the fact of his having met with active
opposition was the more significant as to the state of the country.

"They're just the same here," said Frank.  "For my part, the sooner we
have a war the better.  I wish our farm was somewhere else, though.  We
are too much in among the Dutch here for things to be pleasant for the
mother and May when the fun does begin."

Now Master Frank, though carefully omitting to specify what had led up
to the incident of the road wherewith this chapter opens, expatiated a
great deal upon the incident itself in the course of the evening,
thereby drawing from his mother much reproof, uttered, however, in a
tone that was more than half an admiring one.  But in that of May was no
note of admiration.  It was all reproving.

"You are much too quarrelsome, Frank," she said; "I don't see anything
particularly plucky in always wanting to fight people.  It's a good
thing you had someone to look after you."  And the swift glance which
accompanied this should have been eminently gratifying to the "someone"
who had looked after him.

"Oh, if you're all down upon a chap, I shall scoot.  I'm going round to
give the horses a feed.  Coming, Upton?"

"_Ja_," replied that worthy; and they went out.  So did Mrs Wenlock,
having something or other to see to in the kitchen.

There was silence between the two thus left.  Colvin, sitting back in a
cane chair, was contemplating the picture before him in the most
complacent state of satisfaction.  How pretty the girl looked bending
over the ornamental work she was engaged in, the lamplight upon her wavy
golden hair, the glow of freshness and health in her cheeks, the thick
lashes half veiling the velvety-blue eyes!

"Well?" she said softly, looking up.  "Talk to me."

"Haven't got anything to say.  I'm tired.  I prefer to look at you
instead."

"You are a dear to say so," she answered.  "But all the same I want
livening up.  I am getting a dreadful fossil--we all are--stuck away
here, and never seeing a soul.  I believe I shall get mother to let me
go away for quite a long time.  I am horribly tired of it all."

"And of me?"

"You know I am not."

The blue eyes were very soft as they met his.  A wave of feeling swept
over the man.  Looking at her in her winning, inviting beauty as she sat
there, an overwhelming impulse came upon him to claim her--to take her
for his own.  Why should he not?  He knew that it lay entirely with him.
He made a movement to rise.  In another moment she would be in his
arms, and he would be pouring words of passion and tenderness into her
ear.  The door opened.

"Haven't those two come in yet?" said Mrs Wenlock briskly, as she
re-entered, and quietly resumed her seat, thus unconsciously affecting a
momentous crisis in two lives.  Was it for good or for ill?  We shall
see.

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

Note 1.  "You d--d Englishman!  Be quiet.  I'll knock your head off just
now."

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

Note 2.

  "Oom Paul is riding on a pig--
  He falls off and hurts himself,
  Then climbs up and rides away--"

A nonsensical bit of popular doggerel.  In Dutch it makes a jingling
rhyme.



CHAPTER SIX.

COLVIN MAKES A DISCOVERY.

"Gert."

"Baas?"

"Saddle up Aasvogel after breakfast.  I am going over to Krantz Kop."

Thus Colvin Kershaw to his henchman, Gert Bondelzwart.  The latter was a
bastard Griqua--an elderly man, of good height and powerful build.  He
had taken part in the Langeberg rising, but had been "slim" enough to
slip away just in time, and had contrived to put a large section of
country between himself and the scene of his former misdeeds.  At this
man Colvin's neighbours looked askew.  He had "schelm" writ large all
over his yellow personality, they declared.  Colvin himself thought them
likely to be right; but then Gert suited him.  He was a good servant,
and had never given him any trouble.  Moreover, he had an idea that the
fellow had, for some unaccountable reason, conceived an attachment for
himself.  Anyway, he did not choose to part with him to please anybody.

"Did you hear what I said, Gert?"

"_Ja_, sir."

"Then why the devil don't you answer, and go and do what I tell you,
instead of standing there shaking your silly head as if a bee had stung
you in the ear?"

"Krantz Kop is up at the far end of the _berg_, sir.  Boer _menschen_ up
there very _kwaai_."

"Well?  What's that to you?  I didn't say I wanted an after-rider."

"Gideon Roux very _schelm_ Boer, sir.  Strange things happen at Krantz
Kop."

"Oh, go away, Gert.  Get in Aasvogel from the camp--no, he's still in
the stable.  Well, give him another bundle, so long."

"What am I to ride, sir?"

"You to ride?  Confound you, I said I didn't want an after-rider."

"I would like to go with Baas."

Something about the persistency of the man struck Colvin.  This
yellow-skinned henchman of his was a wonderful fellow, and there was
precious little he didn't know.  Well, he would take him.

"You can go then, Gert.  You'll have to ride Pansy, and she's in a camp
full of _kwaai_ birds.  Cobus and the others can help get her out--but
hurry up, for I don't want to be kept waiting."

Colvin turned into his house and sat down to his solitary breakfast,
waited upon by Gert's wife, a middle-aged well-looking woman, as neat in
her attire and person as the table arrangements were scrupulously clean
and well served; a very jewel of a housekeeper, he was wont to declare,
for a miserable bachelor establishment in the Karroo.  The house itself
was of no great pretensions--being merely a type of a not very
well-to-do farmer's residence--it having just passed out of the
possession of that class of Boer.  But there was plenty of room in it,
and it could easily be improved, if its present owner made up his mind
to remain on in it.  And, indeed, it was a matter not very far from
foreign to the question of improving and remaining on in it that was
occupying the said owner's mind as he sat alone at breakfast that
morning.

How would May Wenlock look in her bright, sweet freshness, making a
second at that solitary table?  Her personality seemed to be creeping
more and more into his life.  Why did he not ask her to share it, the
more so that he had no doubt as to what the answer would be?  He was not
a conceited man, but he was a fairly experienced and clear-sighted one,
and would have been a born fool had he failed to perceive that the girl
was more than partial to him.

Propinquity--that is, opportunity--has much to answer for.  They had
been thrown together a great deal, for have we not said that he had
spent some time with the Wenlocks while looking about for a farm of his
own?  Moreover, he had come there handicapped by a kind of spurious
heroic glamour, in that he was supposed to have saved Frank's life on
one occasion in the Matopo Hills, what time they were hotly pressed by
the Matabele, and that rash youth had chosen to hang back when he should
have been retiring with the column.  He had collected half a dozen
volunteers and brought him out just in time.  To his own mind it had
been all in the day's work, but others had seen fit to make a great deal
more of it than it seemed to deserve.  Of course the girl had begun by
making a sort of hero of him.  Again, he himself personally was the kind
of man that women take to--cultured, travelled, well-bred, and full of
_savoir vivre_.  It would have been strange if, considering the life the
girl led, the few men she saw, of her own nationality at least--for
although several of the young Dutch men around were both well-looking
and well educated, she could not take to them--she should come to think
a great deal of her brother's friend, and their only English neighbour.
Hence the intimacy that had grown and ripened between them.

Now he sat there thinking everything out.  How near he had been only the
evening before last to asking her to share his life!  A fraction of a
moment more would have done it, but for the interruption--timely or
otherwise.  Which was it?  He loved her--how indeed could he help doing
so, when in addition to all her attractions she was always so sweet and
lovable to him?  But he was not _in love_ with her.  He had passed the
age for "falling in love;" had reached that wherein men become
wholesomely critical.  May Wenlock _as_ May Wenlock was one
personality--and a very charming and alluring personality at that May
Wenlock with a proprietary interest, and a legally signed and sealed
vested right in himself, was another.  He had not been slow to descry in
her a very strong spice of natural temper and wilfulness; and although
now her demeanour towards himself was invariably sweet and winning,
would it always be so?  And this was a side of the picture which did not
allure.

Propinquity!  He had seen repeated instances, of the results of this,
had even experienced some.  The girl or, woman who "could not live
without you" to-day might be voting you a bore of the first water by
this time next year, or even earlier.  Personally he had never felt
disposed to find fault with this development.  It cut both ways, as
often as not in point of fact, his experience told him.  But on one
occasion, long years ago, it had not.  He had been hard hit, and the
process had left a bruise, a scar, not readily obliterated.  Now,
however, applying the recollection of that case to this, he decided that
the symptoms were wanting.  He was not in love with May, much as her
presence appealed to him, and yet the consciousness of what he knew his
presence meant to her afforded him a gratification he would not have
been human had he not experienced.

Preferentially, too, he was not inclined to embark in matrimony.  He had
seen too much of it--too many instances of the weary humdrum chain thus
riveted, the welding together of two lives into a deteriorating round of
petty frictions which it furnished.  But in this instance there was a
still greater and, to his mind, more fatal bar.  With all the
advantages, the free and easy social code, and republican waiving of
social distinctions which colonial life afforded, the fact remained that
the Wenlocks were some little way from being his social equals.  And he
was a great believer in birth and breeding.  In which connection he
could not but admit to himself that the mere fact of the interruption by
Mrs Wenlock of their _tete-a-tete_ the other evening had jarred less
upon him than a something in her tone and speech when effecting it.
More uneasily still, he was constrained to admit that he had on certain
rare occasions detected manifestations of lack of breeding in May
herself, such indeed as he had never traced a sign of, at any time or
under any circumstances, in the De la Rey girls for instance, or in any
member of that family.  And yet Stephanus de la Rey was "only a Boer."

At this juncture the sound of horse hoofs outside cut short his
meditations.  The morning air was fresh and keen, and Aasvogel, a tall,
deep-shouldered iron-grey, having been stabled for some days, gave him
plenty to take care of when first mounted.  But Colvin was fond of
riding, so presently, letting out the powerful animal for all he wanted
over the wide Karroo plains, a sense of keen joyous exhilaration
scattered all serious thought to the four winds of heaven.

Soon the plain was left behind, giving way to a steep, rugged
mountain-road winding between the spurs.  Higher and higher it led,
overhung by craggy cliffs, resonant with the shrill scream of the
_dasje_ and the loud hoarse bark of the sentinel baboon.

"Look there, Baas," said Gert Bondelzwart, pointing to a cleft which ran
up into a krantz where the slope ended not very high overhead.  "That is
where Gideon Roux shot a Kafir.  He is a _schelm_ Boer is Gideon Roux."

"Was it during the war?"

"_Nee, nee_, sir.  The Kafir had come to take away a girl Gideon Roux
had on his place.  Gideon did not want her to go, but the Kafir
insisted--said he had been sent by her people to fetch her.  So Gideon
had him tied to the waggon-wheel and thrashed him with an _agter os
sjambok_, till he should promise not to ask for the girl any more.  He
would not; so Gideon left him tied up all night, promising him some more
sjambok in the morning.  But by then the Kafir had managed to get loose.
He hadn't much start, though, and they hunted him with dogs.  He tried
to hide in that hole there, but Gideon and Hermanus Delport they called
to him to come out.  He wouldn't.  He had climbed on a rock inside to
escape the dogs and was afraid to move.  So they shot him dead."

"When was this, Gert, and what did they do with the body?"

"About three years ago, Baas, or it might have been four.  Do with the
body?  _Maagtig_, sir!  There are holes and pits in these mountains
where you or I might conveniently disappear and never be heard of
again."

"Are you cooking up a yam, Gert, just to pass the time; for don't you
know that in this country you can't shoot even a Kafir and stow him
comfortably away without being tried for murder and hanged?"

The man shook his head, with a very humorous look upon his yellow face.
It bordered almost upon amused contempt.

"It can be done, sir, and it was done.  All the country knows it.
Gideon Roux and Hermanus Delport only laugh.  Not a man in the
Wildschutsberg or the Rooi-Ruggensberg would dare accuse them, or dare
come forward to give evidence.  _Nee_, sir, not a man, white, brown, or
black.  There are very _schelm_ Boers in these mountains, and whoever
tried to stir up that affair his life would not be worth a tickey.  They
would shoot him as they did the Kafir."

Colvin reined in his horse to the slowest of foot-paces, and stared at
the cleft as though struck with an idea.

"Have you ever been into that hole, Gert?"

"_Nee_, sir."

"Then how do you know there is a rock in there the Kafir could jump on
to escape Gideon Roux's dogs?"

"That is the story, Baas."

"Well, I'm going to have a look inside there.  You remain here with the
horses, and if anyone passes you can say I have gone after a reebok
under the krantz."

The ascent, though steep, was not long, and soon Colvin was standing
within the mouth of the hole.  It was a jagged fissure--running about
twenty feet into the cliff, then narrowing to a low tunnel of about ten
more.

Yes, this was quite correct.  There was a rock--or rather a boulder.
Colvin pictured, by the light of a flaming vesta, the hunted man
standing gingerly on the apex of this to avoid the excited springs and
snaps of the dogs.  There was no sign, however, of any human remains--
but--wait.  Hallo! what was this?

The tunnel, which narrowed in from the end of the fissure, was half
blocked.  Colvin lighted another vesta, and bent down.  Through the
piled-up dust he made out what looked like a square rectangular stone.
Stone?  No--it was wood.  It was one of three long flat packing-cases,
piled one on top of the other.  His nerves tingled with excitement.
What discovery was he on the point of making?  At any rate, whatever it
might be, he would make it.

Now that his vision was accustomed to the semi-gloom he had no need of
artificial light.  The glimmering that entered from the outer day was
sufficient.  He hauled out the uppermost case.  But how to open it?
That might be done.  Fortunately, he was provided with a large
pocket-knife, containing various appliances which included a strong
screwdriver.  What was he going to discover?  Human remains?  Perhaps.
Why, there might be others stowed away in like manner; victims of the
wild and lawless inhabitants of this remote mountain district.

Then it occurred to him that the chest was very heavy.  What on earth
could it contain, and, by the way, what right had he to pry into its
contents?  For a moment he paused.  But the curiosity and excitement
attending upon this discovery were too great.  Possibly, even, these
chests and their contents had lain there for years and years unknown to
anybody--even to the owner of the wild, and stony, and scattered
stock-run on which they were hidden, but remembering Gert's story that
did not seem likely.  Anyway, he would share the mystery with whoever
held it.  That could do no harm to anybody.

The lid was strongly screwed down.  A few minutes of vigorous perspiring
work and it was up.  Whatever the contents were, they were protected by
a thick wrapper of oilskin.  This he proceeded to unwind, but carefully,
so as to be able to replace it readily.  Then a quantity of tow, also
well oiled, and then--

No human remains, no shining coins, no old and massive silver, no
treasure of any kind met his eager gaze.  But there, in the top of the
box, lay several rifles in a row.

He took one out, carried it as near the light of day as he dared go, and
examined it.  The weapon was one of the newest pattern--a Mauser.  The
others on the top layers were all alike.  Allowing for the depth of the
chest, he reckoned that it must contain at least a couple of dozen
rifles.  Here was a discovery.  What was the meaning of this secret
armoury?  There could be only one.  For only one purpose could these
weapons be stowed away thus in the caves of the rocks--for the arming of
the rebel Boers when the word went forth for them to rise, and join
their brethren in the Transvaal and Free State, to throw off the British
yoke from the Zambesi to Cape Agulhas.

Replacing the rifle, he rapidly screwed down the case, and stowed it
away in the hole whence he had taken it, carefully piling up the dust
and loose earth against it and the others so as to obviate all trace of
interference.  Hardly had he done so than the sound of hoof-strokes and
harsh voices without struck upon his ear.  Peering cautiously forth, he
beheld, down upon the track from which he had ascended, two armed and
mounted Boers, and they were in close confabulation with Gert
Bondelzwart, his retainer.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

AN EVIL AMBUSH.

Standing there within the cave, which had now become his hiding-place,
Colvin Kershaw was conscious of very mingled feelings.  His
hiding-place!  Why should he be in hiding? why should he not go forth?
Only that to do so would place his life in very serious jeopardy--not at
the moment perhaps, for they would hardly venture to murder him openly
and in broad daylight; besides, he had his revolver on.  No, it would be
afterwards, when they could waylay him at some unexpected part of the
track--and what was the use of a revolver against the rifles of two or
more cleverly ambushed foes?  They could shoot him down without the
slightest risk to themselves, and shoot him down he knew they would, and
that without a moment's hesitation, once they became aware that he had
discovered their perilous because treasonable secret.  He would never
get out of the mountains alive.

Nor was it reassuring when he satisfied himself as to the identity of
the new arrivals, for they were none other than Gideon Roux himself and
Hermanus Delport, the big Dutchman who had fallen foul of Frank Wenlock
at the roadside inn.  Both bore characters of evil repute.

Would they never go on?  They were talking voluminously, but were too
far off for the burden of their words to travel.  The big man was
holding his rifle aloft as though threatening Gert with the butt
thereof; but the Griqua stood his ground, calm and unintimidated.  Would
they never go on?  Colvin felt his position growing more and more
ignominious.  Then again, what if they should conclude to come up and
investigate?  But they did not.  To his intense relief they put their
horses into the track again and cantered off in the direction whither he
himself was bound.

"Very _schelm_ Boer, Gideon Roux, sir," said Gert, in reply to his
master's questioning.  "They asked where my Baas was, and I told them
gone after a reebok.  They laughed over an Englishman shooting reebok
with a revolver, when he could not even shoot anything with a rifle.
Then, Baas, Hermanus he said I was a lying Hottentot, and threatened to
knock my brains out with the butt of his gun.  He said Hottentots and
Englishmen were equally liars."

"Well, it's of no consequence.  But I'm afraid the chances of getting my
money out of Gideon Roux to-day are very poor."

"Does Baas want to get money out of Gideon Roux, then?"

"Of course _I_ do, you ass.  He hasn't paid for those sheep yet."

"One hundred and twenty-five pounds, Baas.  If I had ten pounds I would
not offer it for the chance of that hundred and twenty-five pounds;" and
Gert shook his head, puckering his face into the most whimsical
expression.

"Well, Gert, I believe you're right.  However, I may get some of it.
But I don't think we shall see Gideon.  Now that he knows I'm coming up
he won't be at home."

The contrast between Ratels Hoek and Gideon Roux' farm was about in
proportion to that between their respective owners.  A long, low
building, with dirty whitewashed walls and thatched roof, standing
against a bleak and desolate hill-slope--the front door opening in two
parts--dilapidated stone kraals, situated on the slope aforesaid, so
that in time of the rains all the drainage thence rushed round the back
wall of the house--some draggle-tailed poultry, and two or three
fever-stricken sheep--this is what Colvin saw as he rode up to his
destination.  The while, the air was thick with an awful combination of
adjacent dead goat and a partly decomposed oxhide, in process of
preparation for the making of reims.

Even as he had expected, Gideon Roux was not at home.  His wife, a
large, fat, and albeit quite young, already shapeless person, untidy and
slatternly of attire, came forward and tendered a moist paw, with the
simple salutation "_Daag_!" or "good-day"--an example followed by her
sister, who was a replica of herself though a trifle more shapely and
less slovenly but not less awkward.  Several brats, in varying stages of
dirt, hung around, finger in mouth, gaping at the new arrival.  There
were some strange Boers there too, with whom Colvin exchanged greetings;
but their manner was awkward and constrained.  It was a relief to him
when his hostess declared that dinner was ready.

It was an appalling meal to the civilised palate and digestion that to
which they now sat down.  There was a stew, fearfully and wonderfully
made, of leathery goat, sweetened to a nauseating point with quince jam,
and, for vegetable, boiled pumpkin, containing almost as much water as
pumpkin.  The cloth was excessively grimy, and, worse still, bore many
an ancient stain which showed that the day of its last washing must have
been lost in the mists of antiquity, and there was no salt.  The coffee,
moreover, tasted like a decoction of split peas, and was plentifully
interwoven with hair, and straw as from the thatch.  The women did not
sit down to table with them, but handed in the dishes from the kitchen,
and then sat and waited until the men had done.

Through all her natural stolidity it struck Colvin that both the
countenance and manner of his hostess wore a flurried, not to say
scared, look.  She seemed to try and avoid conversation with him; and it
squared with the fact of Gideon Roux being from home.  Could any
information be got out of her?  To this end he began to question her in
an artless conversational way.

"Gideon will be in directly, Juffrouw?"

"_Nee_, Mynheer Kershaw.  He will not be in.  He left home yesterday
morning and I do not expect him back until to-morrow night."

"_So_?  That is strange.  Why, I thought I saw him just now, the other
side of the _poort_--just half an hour's ride from here.  He was coming
in this direction too."

"_Nee, nee_--that cannot be."  And the look of alarm upon the woman's
face seemed to deepen.

"Strange that.  Why, I even recognised the man who was riding with him.
It looked like Hermanus Delport."

There was no mistaking the effect this time.  She looked downright
hideously scared.  It could not be, she reiterated.  He must have been
mistaken.  And then to cover her confusion she turned away to a
cupboard, and, unlocking it, brought out a decanter of Boer brandy,
which she placed upon the table.

"_Maagtig, kerel_!" cried one of the Dutchmen, seizing the bottle
gleefully, and pouring out a copious _soepje_.  "It is true you must
have been seeing _spoeks_.  The _poort_ is said to be haunted, you
know."

Colvin fell into the humour of the thing seemingly, and replied in like
bantering vein.  But he was thinking the while, and thinking hard.  The
fear evinced by Gideon Roux' wife would not be manifested by a stolid
practical Boer woman under the mere circumstances of a neighbour having
come to press her husband for the payment of a by no means ruinous debt.
It was something deeper than that.  It was more like the demeanour of a
naturally respectable and law-abiding person who was made the
involuntary sharer of some grim and terrible secret, which she dared
neither to divulge nor even hint at.  It set him thinking, and the
burden of his thoughts was that his return home should be effected as
much as possible by daylight, and as far as possible by a different
route.

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

Now, Gideon Roux was no fool of a Boer, neither was his confederate
Hermanus Delport, consequently, having disappeared over the neck in the
direction of the former's home, they proceeded to execute a backward
manoeuvre.  Leaving their horses standing about twenty yards the other
side, and well out of sight, they stealthily retraced their steps until
they could gain a point which commanded a view of Gert Bondelzwart and
the two horses under his charge.  Not long had they been there before
they saw all they wanted to see.  They saw Colvin emerge from the cave
under the krantz, and descend to where he had left his servant.  But
they did not wait until he had rejoined the latter.  Mounting their
horses, they sent those astonished animals along at a break-neck gallop,
which brought them to the homestead fully twenty minutes earlier than
the expected visitor.  It took them less than five to execute their next
move, which was to exchange their long Martinis for a Mauser rifle
apiece--a weapon which had not then, openly at any rate, reached the
Wildschutsberg section of country, and which they fished out from some
hidden recess.  Cartridges and a bottle of `dop' they placed in a
haversack, and with a significant injunction to their fellow-countrymen
there gathered, to keep the Englishman talking and making merry as late
as possible, they rode off into the veldt again, taking a line which
would put them out of sight of the house in about three minutes.

"He knows too much, that damned Englishman," snarled Gideon Roux,
shading a match to light his pipe, while his steed took him along at a
fast "triple."  He was a sinister-looking, swarthy-faced Boer, with a
short black beard and a great hooked nose like the beak of a bird of
prey.  "We must teach him--him and his Hottentot--not to come pushing
his snout into other people's affairs."

"That is so," assented the other.  "But, Gideon, what if there is a
noise made about it, and they are found afterwards?  The English will
hang us.  And he is a friend of Oom Stephanus."

"_Maagtig_!  By the time they are found the English will not be here to
hang anybody, and we, _ou' maat_ [old chum]--we shall have deserved the
thanks of all true patriots for having put out of the way an enemy of
our country.  Oom Stephanus--well, he is a patriot now, his own nephew,
Adrian De la Rey, told me so.  What is one cursed Englishman more than
another to a good patriot.  He cannot be a friend to such."

"That is so," replied the big Boer laconically.

For about an hour they kept on their way, and their way was a rough one,
for they avoided the regular track, winding in and out among the
mountains, now putting their horses up a steep boulder-strewn slope,
then being obliged to dismount in order to lead the animals down a kind
of natural rock staircase.  Finally, they drew rein upon a neck, where,
lying between two great boulders, themselves utterly invisible from
below, they could command the broken, winding, rocky track for some
little distance, either way.

"He cannot be here yet," said Gideon Roux as he scanned the road, which,
like a snake, wound along the valley beneath.  "Hans Vermaak will see to
that.  Only, I hope Katrina will not let them have too much to drink.
Hans is quite fool enough to get drunk and jolly, and insist on the
Englishman stopping the night Hans is the devil to drink, and then he
becomes jolly.  That is where he is such a fool."

They hid the horses well down over the other side of the ridge, lest the
approach of the other animals should cause them to neigh, then returned
to their positions under the rocks.  The road was about three hundred
yards beneath, and on the other side of it was the river bed, now dry.
This circumstance, too, came into the strategy of the murderous pair.

"See now, Mani," [Hermanus abbreviated], said Gideon Roux.  "If we shoot
as we always shoot, both will drop into the river bed.  And to-night,"
looking upward at a black cloud which was thickly and gradually
spreading, "the river will come down.  I will take the Englishman, and
you take the Hottentot."

"_Ja_, but I am not so sure with these damned Mausers," growled Hermanus
Delport, looking up and down his weapon.  "I might miss--then where
would we be?  We had better have kept to our old Martinis.  We
understand them."

"_Nee, nee_.  It comes to the same thing, I tell you, and if you miss
you can go on shooting until you _raak_.  I know _I_ shan't miss.
_Maagtig, kerel_!  What are you doing?  Put away that pipe!"

But Hermanus protested he was not going to do without his smoke for all
the adjectival English in Africa or in England either, and it took at
least ten minutes of his confederate's time and talk to persuade him
that not only the spark but the smoke of a pipe was visible for any
distance in the clear, yet half-gloomy atmosphere then prevailing.  For
the leaden lour of the heavens pointed to the coming of a storm.

In effect the surroundings were very much in harmony with the dark deed
of blood which these two miscreants were here to perpetrate.  The wild
and rugged recesses of the Wildschutsbergen, sparsely inhabited and but
seldom travelled, spread around in grim, forbidding desolation.  Great
krantzes towered skyward, rearing up from the apex of smooth
boulder-strewn grass slopes, and here and there a lofty coffee-canister
shaped cone, turret-headed, and belted round with the same smooth
cliff-face, stood like a giant sentinel.  Below, the valleys, deep and
rugged, seamed with dongas, and that through which the track lay,
skirting the now dry bed of the Sneeuw River.  No sign of life was upon
this abode of desolation; no grazing flock, or stray _klompje_ of
horses, not even a bird, springing chirruping from the grass; and away
yonder the further crags stood against a background of inky cloud,
which, gradually working nearer, amid low mutterings of thunder, was
bringing the storm which should act as accomplice in hiding the slain
victims of the two ambushed murderers.

"That is right," chuckled Gideon Roux, rubbing his hands.  "The river
will come down to-night like the devil.  By this time to-morrow the
Englishman and his Hottentot will be nearly at the sea.  It is hundreds
of miles off, but a flooded river travels as quick as a train."

"What if they are stranded half-way?" said the other, with an evil
sneer.

"Then the jackals will eat them.  Either way it matters nothing."

Darker and darker it grew.  The storm cloud began to throw out loose
masses of flying scud, through which the moon now and again shone out in
fitful gleam.  Still, to these two their prey came not in sight.

"I like not this," growled Hermanus.  "This is no light to shoot by.  We
may miss one or both, and to miss one is as bad as to miss both.
Besides, the river may not take them down after all.  We two may be
hanged for to-night's work, Gideon."

"Hanged?  Oh, yes!  See now, Mani, why I would have it done with
Mausers.  Their bullet makes a small hole, our Martini bullet makes a
large hole.  And there is not a Mauser or a Lee-Metford in the
Wildschutsberg.  Afterwards our guns are examined, and they are the old
Martinis.  Our bullet does not fit the hole.  Now, do you not see, you
_eselkop_?"

"_Ja_, I see.  But--_stil, man_.  Here they come."

A clink of the hoof of a shod horse coming down the track was borne
faintly upward.  The two assassins crouched in their ambush, a tigerish
glare in their eyes.  Their pieces were levelled.

"Ready, Hermanus," whispered Gideon Roux.  "When they come six paces the
other side of yon white stone, then shoot."



CHAPTER EIGHT.

TRAGICAL--AND ALETTA.

Hans Vermaak had and had not carried out his instructions; which is to
say that in so far as he had he had done so by halves.

By nature he was a genial soul was Hans Vermaak, by inclination a jovial
one.  He would not wantonly have hurt a fly or an Englishman, let alone
so companionable a one as Colvin Kershaw; but then the terrible point to
which racial hatred was worked up had engendered a feverish thirst for
conspiring that was almost Celtic, in the stolid and pre-eminently
practical Boer.  The discovery of the concealed arms would be a serious
thing, a very serious thing, but of its seriousness, great as that was,
they took an exaggerated view.  Inherently the Boer is a great respecter
of the law and of the person of its representative or representatives,
and most of these were sufficiently unsophisticated to look upon their
undoubtedly treasonable proceeding as a hanging matter if brought to the
notice of the authorities.  Hence none felt any qualm as to the strong
measures to be adopted towards the hostile sharer of the secret.

_In vino Veritas_!  When we say that none felt a qualm we should have
exempted Hans Vermaak--in his cups.  The misgiving expressed by Gideon
Roux as to the potential liberality of his spouse in the matter of the
grog was not unfounded.  There was enough in the bottle to make three
Dutchmen--two would not partake--very lively, and the liveliest of all
was Hans Vermaak.  He became, moreover, enormously fraternal towards
Colvin, who was deftly drawing him out, and finally did exactly as
Gideon Roux had predicted, insisted upon his remaining the night, for
he, Hans, was Gideon's brother-in-law, and therefore one of the family.
He forgot the patriot cause, and only remembered it to declare that this
was too good an Englishman to be shot, and so forth, which declaration
under ordinary circumstances might mean nothing, but read by the light
of subsequent events and the speaker's manner, Colvin took to mean
rather a great deal.

The latter made several futile attempts at getting away, and at length
succeeded.  He himself, although he had borne his share, was in no wise
affected by the liquor he had been taking--for the matter of that he
could have drunk the lot of them under the table over and over again--
and throughout the talk, which became more and more boisterous and
unguarded, had kept an ear open and an eye keenly alive to every sign.
But by the time he did break loose, and Gert was standing before the
door with the horses saddled up, he realised that the more prudential
side of his resolution had failed and that an infinitesimal portion of
his homeward journey would be accomplished by daylight.

He had bidden good-bye all-round--not failing to observe during the
process the awful look of scare upon the face of his hostess as she just
touched his hand with a limp, moist paw.  He had paced his horse about a
hundred yards from the door, not sorry to see the last of the frowsy,
dirty place, when he heard his name called.  Turning in the saddle, he
beheld the genial Hans hurrying towards him.

"Which way do you go home by?" said the Dutchman, somewhat flurriedly.

"Oh, the usual way, Hans."

"_So_?  You are going home, then."

"Oh yes."

"But you must not.  Klip Poort is bad to go through at night _Ja_, it is
bad, very bad.  Go some other road.  There is the road to Stephanus De
la Rey's, for instance.  Go by it."

"But it is about twice the distance," objected Colvin, who began to read
considerable meaning into the other's anxiety regarding his movements.

"That matters nothing.  Look, you are a good sort of Englishman and I
like you.  Klip Poort is bad to go through at night, very bad."

"Very well, Hans, I'll take your advice.  So long."

Klip Poort, the point referred to, was a narrow, rugged defile overhung
with large rocks, about five miles on his homeward way.  As well as the
road passing through, it likewise gave passage to the Sneeuw River,
which, when full to any great extent, flooded the roadway to some depth.
It might very well be to this form of danger that the Boer's hidden
warning applied, and yet some unaccountable instinct warned Colvin that
it was not.

"Gert."

"Baas?"

"Did you hear what Hans Vermaak was saying just now?"

"Part of it, sir."

"Why do you think he wanted us not to go back by way of Klip Poort?"

"I don't know, sir."

"Gert, you are an ass."

"Perhaps he thought the river might be `down,' sir.  The clouds are very
thick and black up in the _bergen_."

"Yes."

An indescribable feeling of helpless apprehensiveness came over Colvin,
and indeed it is a creepy thing the consciousness that at any step
during the next half-dozen miles or so you are a target for a concealed
enemy whose marksmanship is unerring.  For this was about what he had
reduced the situation to in his own mind, and within the same heartily
anathematised the foolish curiosity which had moved him to go up and
explore the hiding-place of the concealed arms.  That Gideon Roux and
his confederate were aware that he shared their secret he now believed.
They must have waited to watch him, and have seen him come out of the
cave; and with this idea the full force of Vermaak's warning came home
to him.

But was that warning genuine?  Was it not destined rather to induce him
to take the other way?  It was impossible to determine.  Sorely
perplexed, he rode on, thinking the matter over, and that deeply.  The
sky overhead grew darker and darker with the spread of a great cloud--
the earth with the fall of evening.  There was a moon, but it was
obscured.  By the time the rocks which marked the entrance to the poort
came into view it was already night.

Two ways branched here--one his ordinary way home, the other that which
Hans Vermaak had urged him to take.  Some twenty feet down, at the
bottom of a precipitous slope, was the river bed, dry save for a
shallow, stagnant reach here and there.  Which way should he take?  Now
was the time to decide.

"Get on, Aasvogel, you fool!  Ah, would you, then?"

This to his horse, accompanied by a sharp rowelling with each heel.  For
the animal had stopped short with a suddenness calculated to unseat and
certainly irritate the rider, and was backing and shying like the
panic-stricken idiot it was; the cause of all this fluster being a white
stone standing almost vertically up from the roadside, in the gloom
looking for all the world like the traditional ghost.

"Whigge--whirr!"  Something hummed through the air, and that so near he
could feel the draught.  Two jets of flame had darted forth from the
hillside above, simultaneously with a dry, double crack.  Two more
followed, but had it been a hundred Colvin was utterly powerless to
investigate, for his horse, which had already sprung forward beneath the
sharp dig of the spurs, now took to wild and frantic flight, and for
some moments was completely out of hand.  By the time he got it in hand
again he had been carried a good mile from the scene of this startling
though not wholly unexpected occurrence.

Two things came into Colvin's mind, as eventually he reined in his
panting, snorting steed.  One of the bullets, at any rate, had missed
him very narrowly, but by just the distance the animal had backed when
shying from the ghostly object which had scared it; and but for the fact
of his being a first-rate rider the suddenness of the bolt would have
unseated him, and he would now be lying in the road at the mercy of his
would-be assassins.  But--where was Gert?

He looked around.  The clouds had parted a little and the moon was
visible through a rift thus formed; indeed it was the sudden flash of
the moonlight upon the white stone that had so terrified the horse at
first.  The light revealed the mountain slopes rising up around, but of
his servant there was no sign.  He listened intently.  No sound, save
the creaking of the saddle, caused by the violently heaving flanks of
his panting steed, and now and again a mutter of distant thunder away up
in the mountains.  Where was Gert?

Dismounting, he led the animal a little way off the road, and sat down
under a large boulder to think out the situation.  The warning of Hans
Vermaak again came into his mind.  It looked genuine as viewed by
subsequent lights, but whether it was so or not, it was useless, for the
murderers had altered their original plan, clearly resolving to provide
against the contingency of his choosing the other of the two roads, by
shooting him before he should come to the point where these parted.
Well, they had not shot him, but it had been a narrow shave--very.

But if they had not shot him had they shot Gert?  It looked uncommonly
like it.  Only the four shots had been fired--of that he felt certain--
but since his horse had taken matters into its own hands, or, rather,
legs, he had obtained neither sight nor sound of Gert.  Seated there in
the darkness, he was conscious of a very considerable feeling of
indignation begotten of a dual reason--that he had had a mean advantage
taken of him, and that his property, in the person of Gert Bondelzwart,
had been interfered with.

What was to be done next?  Should he go back?  To do so would be to
commit an act of fatal rashness, for it would be to expose himself once
more to the fire of his concealed cowardly foes, who would not be likely
to let slip a second opportunity.  True, he had his revolver, but not
for a moment would they be likely to come near enough to give him any
chance of using it.  No--to go back would be simply throwing away his
life.  Had it been a white man and a comrade, he would unhesitatingly
have done so.  But Gert was a Griqua, and, though not exactly a savage,
had all the cunning and resource and endurance of generations of savage
ancestry.  If he were alive, why then, amid the rocks and the darkness,
he would soon elude his enemies; if he were dead, Colvin did not see any
sense in throwing away his own life merely to ascertain that fact.

The moon had gone in, and a misty scud-wrack spreading itself overhead
was creeping around the dim crags on high.  There was a smell of rain in
the air, and a fitful puff of wind came singing down the valley, laden
with an icy breath.  Colvin shivered, and as he looked anxiously skyward
a large drop or two of rain plashed down on his face.  There would be a
deluge in a moment, and he had nothing to meet it with save the clothes
in which he stood up.

Suddenly the horse, which had been standing with its head down still
panting after its race and scare, pricked up its ears and snorted, then
began backing away.  Colvin had just time to seize the bridle-rein, or
it would have been off in wild stampede.  And now every vein in his body
quivered with excitement.  His revolver was in his hand.  Let them come.
The chances now were something like equal.

But it is not a pleasant thing to know that you are being stalked in the
dark by a persistent and murderous foe; and as for some minutes no
further sign occurred the excitement became dashed with something like
apprehension, then succeeded a feeling of relief.  The horse had been
scared by one of the ordinary sights of the veldt--a sneaking jackal--
perhaps a meerkat--in short, anything moving will startle a horse in the
dark, let alone one so thoroughly "in the dispositions" for panic as
this one now was.  But just then a renewed snort, accompanied by a
plunge and a violent tugging at the bridle-rein, set all Colvin's pulses
bounding again; and though he endeavoured to do so silently, so as not
to betray his exact whereabouts, the hammer of his pistol, as he drew it
up, gave forth a sharp click upon the stillness.

Out of the darkness came a voice--a beseeching voice--saying in Boer
Dutch:

"Nay, Baas, don't shoot.  My well-loved Baas, don't shoot."

"Gert, you fool, come here."

"Yes, it is Gert, Baas," answered the voice in a tone of intense delight
and relief.  "_Maagtig_!  I thought it was those _schelm_ Boers.  I
thought you were shot.  I thought I was shot.  I thought we were all
shot."

"Well, we are not.  But where is Pansy?"

"She was shot, Baas.  Ah, the poor mare!  She just sank down in the road
with her legs under her.  I had hardly time to roll off when she was up
again, gave a stagger, and toppled over into the river bed.  I crouched
down in the _sluit_ by the roadside and lay perfectly still--still as a
hare--until the moon went in again.  Then I crept away.  _Ja_, it was a
fearful time.  I thought I could feel the bullets through me every
minute.  _Maagtig_! but he is a _schelm_ Boer is Gideon Roux."

"Gideon Roux?  Why do you think it was Gideon Roux, Gert?"

"It was, Baas.  He and Hermanus Delport.  I would swear to it," rejoined
the Griqua excitedly.  "They looked murder when they were talking to me.
There was murder in their faces, _Ja_, it is those two."

Colvin cursed to himself, and vowed revenge.  He was fond of his horses,
and these two rascals had shot one of his best.  At the same time he
owned to himself ruefully that the chance of carrying out such vengeance
was remote.  At present he was far more an object for their vengeance
than they for his.

"Come now, Gert, we must get along.  Lay hold of my stirrup-leather and
trot alongside."

They got into the road again, but with the moon behind the cloud and the
rain that was beginning to fall it became very dark.  What if the
vindictive Dutchmen, guessing they had failed, were to take a short cut
behind the ridge and _voerlij_ them further down?  The thought was
unpleasant, to put it mildly.

Now there was a whirl and a roar in the air, and, in an icy blast, the
rain swooped down in torrents.  Colvin, destitute of macintosh or wrap
of any kind, was soaked through and through in about two minutes, and
shivered exceedingly.  Fortunately the deluge was behind him, or, coming
down obliquely as it did, Aasvogel could hardly have made headway
against it.  Now and then a vivid flash of lightning gleamed forth,
showing the sheer of the great crags overhead and the glistening slopes
studded with wet stones.

"Hurry up, Gert.  Put your best foot forward, man.  We have to race the
river this shot.  The Ratels Hoek drift will be running twelve feet deep
before we get there if we don't look smart."

And the Griqua, puffing and perspiring, did put his best foot forward.

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

Stephanus De la Rey, having just finished his supper, had come out on to
the stoep to look at the weather.  The deluge of the last hour had
subsided, but the clouds, black as ink and unbroken, gave promise of a
repetition of the same.

"Aha!" he said, gleefully to himself.  "The drought is at an end.  The
river is already coming down well, and the dams must be overflowing.  I
shall pump a lot of water on to the lucerne beds to-morrow.  But--What
is that?"

The clink of shod horse hoofs came upon the wind through the swirl and
roar of the fast-swelling river.  He stood listening intently.  The
sound ceased, then arose again, now on this side of the drift.  The next
moment a very soaked and dripping horseman emerged into the light of the
windows, and beside him trotted a pedestrian, no less soaked and
dripping, but very much blown.

"Why, Colvin, where are you from?  _Maagtig, kerel_! but you are wet,"
he cried.  Then raising his voice: "Windvogel, Swaartbooi.  Turn out,
you _schepsels_, and take the Baas' horse."

"Wet?  I'm nearly dead with cold, Stephanus.  So bring along a _soepje_,
old chap, and let's get to a fire and dry myself."

"Dry yourself?  It's dry clothes you have to get into.  Come this way.
My _volk_ will see to your horse.  Here now, what can we get you into?
My things are too wide for you, Cornelis' and Jan's are too small.  You
will have to get into some of mine."

And having dragged out of a drawer a complete refit for his guest, whom
he had marched straight into his own room, the genial Dutchman went out
and reappeared in a moment with a decanter of excellent "dop" and
glasses.

"That's grand!" ejaculated Colvin, fortifying himself with a liberal
_soepje_ during the changing process.  But not yet was he going to
impart his adventures to his host.  The latter had a great laugh over
his attempts to carry off the fit of clothes that were both too long and
too wide.

"Well, no matter," he said.  "You are dry, at any rate, and by this time
warm.  So come along in and have some supper."

Colvin followed his host into the dining-room.  The evening meal was
just over, but already a place had been cleared and laid for him.  As he
shook hands with Mrs De la Rey, he noticed a girl--one he did not
recollect ever having seen before.  She was just receiving a dish from a
Hottentot servant, and arranging it on the table at the place laid for
him.  Then, turning, she came up to him, with outstretched hand, and a
bright smile of cordial welcome on her face.

"Oh, I had forgotten," said Stephanus.  "You two have not met before.
Colvin, this is my eldest girl--Aletta."



CHAPTER NINE.

"ONLY A BOER GIRL."

A vision of the portraits flashed through Colvin's mind--the portraits
at which he had so often looked, with but faint interest, representing
as they did a heavy-looking awkward girl, with hunched shoulders, whom
he had set down in his own mind as a mere squat, ugly replica of
Condaas.  One of the portraits itself stared him in the face even now,
over and beyond the shoulder of its original.  And this was the
original!  He saw before him a tall and graceful girl, straight as a
dart.  Her head, slightly thrown back, as she greeted him with frank and
self-possessed composure, was beautifully poised, and crowned with a
bounteous coil of silky brown hair.  She had lustrous hazel eyes, which
could light up in a wonderful way when animated, and a fresh and
delicate colour.  He noticed, too, that the hand which he took in his
was long and soft and tapering--in short, she looked thoroughbred from
head to heel, and yet, judged by the most ordinary canons of beauty, he
recognised that Aletta De la Rey was not even pretty.

Her features were lacking.  They were not regular, and the mouth was
somewhat too large.  But it was redeemed by white and even teeth, and a
way of rippling into a sudden, whole-hearted, and very musical laugh;
indeed, the whole expression of her face would light up in a way that
rendered it subtly but most unequivocally taking and attractive.

Now, as she greeted Colvin Kershaw for the first time a gleam of just
that sudden mirth shot from her eyes.  He, reading it aright, became
alive to the fact that he did not show to his best advantage, rigged out
in a suit of her father's clothes, which was both too long and too wide
for him, and, for once in a way, he owned, within his inner self, to a
consciousness of feeling ever so slightly disconcerted.  But he said
quietly:

"Be merciful, Miss De la Rey.  At any rate, I am dry and warm after my
soaking, for which I feel devoutly grateful."

The colour rushed into Aletta's face as a very wave, but the laugh did
not go out of her eyes; on the contrary, it intensified in its struggle
not to break forth.

"What a thought-reader you are, Mr Kershaw!" she answered.  "But,
don't--please don't think me very rude, but--I've--I've heard so much
about you that--I seem to know you well already--"

And then the laugh would no longer be kept down.  It broke forth in a
merry, hearty, silvery peal.

"Aletta!" cried her mother, horror-stricken.  "How can you be so rude?
What will Mr Kershaw think of you?  And when are you going to begin and
pour out his coffee for him?"

But, whatever Colvin thought or did not think, there was something so
entirely infectious in that laugh that he was joining in it himself with
a whole-heartedness which left nothing to be desired; and there was the
strange spectacle of two people who had just met for the first time,
laughing--as they afterwards put it to each other--like a pair of
idiots, one at the other, and that other joining heartily in the joke
against himself.

"It's--it's all right, Miss De la Rey," said the latter, when
sufficiently recovered to be able to speak coherently.  "I am glad to
hear you say you seem to know me so well already, because in that case
you wilt know that I like nothing better than to be treated as one of
the family."

It was a tactful speech, and the girl looked thoroughly capable of
appreciating it.  So, too, was her mother, who remarked:

"It's so good of you to say so, Mr Kershaw.  Really, I don't know what
has come over Aletta.  They don't seem to have improved at all in Cape
Town."

Colvin, to himself, opined that they rather had; indeed, exhaustively
so, remembering the weird impression of her set up within his mind by
the portraits taken before she left for that capital.  He knew, however,
that the tone in which this reproach was conveyed took the sting out of
the words, which, indeed, it clean belied.

"I didn't know that your eldest daughter was even expected back, Mrs De
la Rey," he said.

"No?  Aletta came back rather suddenly, and she has come back with all
sorts of notions she had better have left behind.  Of course, all our
people down there belong to the Bond, and we support the Bond ourselves.
Yet politics and war-talk over and over again are not fit subjects for
girls."

"Now, mother, you are far too old-fashioned.  I am going to brush you
quite up to date," answered Aletta brightly, but in a sort of caressing
tone.  "And you must not start Mr Kershaw with a bad opinion of me,
like that.  It isn't fair."

Colvin owned to himself that that would be difficult, inasmuch as he had
started with too good a one on sight and his own responsibility.  He had
been observing her narrowly while he sat there thoroughly enjoying an
excellent supper, and already had not failed to notice that she had a
soft and perfectly refined voice and pretty ways.  Unlike the others,
her English was without accent, save for the little tricks of speech by
which you may pick out a born Cape Colonist in any crowd, such as
clipping the final "r," or ever so slight a hardening of the vowel at
the beginning of the word, and others; tricks of speech which are not
unpleasing, and are, moreover, as fully prevalent among children born in
the Colony, of emigrated English parents and without a drop of Dutch
blood in them.

"But where are the other girls, Mrs De la Rey?" he asked.

"Away.  They went to stay with their uncle, Piet Venter, for a few days
just before we knew Aletta was coming back.  They will be home
to-morrow, or as soon as he can bring them."

"Who is that talking over there?" croaked a feminine voice from a far
corner, in Dutch--a voice that sounded both irritable and antique.  "It
seems like that of an Englishman.  Nay--I don't know what this good land
of ours is coming to.  The tongue our fathers spoke with before us was
good enough for me in my young days.  Now everybody must be chattering
in English--a tongue only fit for baboons."

"It is Tant' Plessis," said Mrs De la Rey in English and an undertone,
"a sort of distant cousin of Stephanus'; I had forgotten she was in the
room.  She doesn't say a word for a whole day, sometimes."

Colvin, who had now finished his meal, went over to the speaker, who was
seated in a huge armchair in a dark corner.  She was a typical old-time
Boer _vrouw_, large-faced, heavy, and shapeless.  She had small eyes,
and her thin hair, which, however, was still almost black, was plastered
down flat upon her head.

"_Daag, Tanta_," [Good-day, Aunt] he said, extending his hand.  The old
woman stared at him for a moment in a sort of semi-distrustful,
semi-resentful way, then touched it with a flabby paw.

"_Daag, Neef_," [Good-day, nephew] she replied, then subsided, leaving
the other to carry on the conversation--which he did, descanting mainly
upon the fine rain which was still falling.  She cut him short
ruthlessly by calling out:

"Gertruida, who is he?"

Mrs De la Rey, thus invoked, came over to explain.

"Ah, yes.  An Englishman!  I could have seen that by the way he talks.
He does not talk well."

Colvin, glancing round sedately, caught the flash of mirth which had
begun to light up Aletta's face.  He thought there was some fun coming
directly.

"Who is he?  What is his name?" she went on.

"It's Mr Kershaw, Tanta," explained Mrs De la Rey.  "He often comes
here."

"I asked what his name was," shrilled the old woman, bringing the end of
her stick down hard upon the floor.  "Is it Abram Kershaw, or Izaak
Kershaw, or what is it?"

"No, Tanta.  It's Colvin--Colvin Kershaw," replied that worthy himself,
conscious of something between a gurgle and a sob in the direction of
Aletta.

"Calvin.  Oh, yes.  Calvin--Calvinus, that is.  You have a good name,
nephew.  _Ja_, I have often heard the _predikant_ talk of Calvinus--and
preach about him too.  Johan was his first name.  _Ja_, he was a good
man was Calvinus.  He killed a great many Roman Catholics--burnt them
all.  I have often heard Mynheer say so."

The gurgling in Aletta's direction was now becoming convulsive.  Colvin
himself was inconveniently infected.

"Perhaps you are of his family, nephew," went on Tant' Plessis.  "His
grandson, perhaps?  You must be of his family if you have his name.
Well, follow in his footsteps--though to be sure there could not be such
a good and great man as Calvinus.  He burnt ever so many Roman
Catholics.  I've heard Mynheer say so; and if he does not know, who
does?"

This was too much.  Aletta fairly broke down, and, striving to flee from
the room in blind precipitation, was brought up in the doorway by the
stalwart and substantial proportions of her father, who was entering,
and against whom she collided violently.

"So--so!  What fun is on now?" cried Stephanus, at once infected by her
mirth.  "Aletta, you are a very wicked little girl.  You are always
laughing.  Only wicked little girls always laugh, and at their elders
too, I believe.  What is it, Tanta?  You have been amusing the child?"

This was carrying the war into the enemy's camp with a vengeance.

"_Nee_--_nee_!  I have not been amusing anybody," replied the old lady
very testily.  "I do not know what girls are coming to in these days--
jabbering nothing but English--a tongue only fit for baboons--and
laughing at their elders."

"Softly, softly, Tanta.  There is an Englishman here!" expostulated
Stephanus, with a wink at Colvin.

"_Ja_, I know there is," was the still more testy reply.  "But he is not
like other Englishmen.  His name is Calvin.  He is of the family of that
good man Calvinus, who burnt ever so many Roman Catholics.  He did.  Ask
Mynheer if he did not.  I have heard him say so ever so many times, both
in church and out.  And he ought to know.  I have been telling this
Englishman I hoped he would ever remember his grandfather's example."

"Let the joke stand, Stephanus," said Colvin in an undertone.  "It's
about the very best I've heard for such a long time."

But the next utterance put forward by this weird old party was destined
to prove somewhat less amusing--to the object thereof, at any rate.

"When is this Englishman going to marry Wenlock's sister?" she blared
out, during an interval of profound silence, and talking sublimely past
the object of the remark.  "When is it to be, Gertruida?"

Poor Mrs De la Rey grew red with confusion.

"What are you saying, Tanta?" she stammered.

"What am I saying?  Why, he is engaged to her.  Several people have told
me.  Of course he is.  She is the only English girl here, and he is the
only Englishman.  So of course they are engaged.  That settles it."

"But, Tanta, I assure you I am not engaged to anybody," struck in
Colvin.  Coming on the top of his own meditations only that morning the
remark jarred on him.  Somehow, being made as it was this evening, it
more than doubly jarred on him, why, he could not have told then, but he
knew afterwards.

"Not engaged to her?" repeated this antique terror.  "Then you ought to
be.  All young men ought to be married as soon as possible; it is a duty
they owe to themselves and the community, and you are rather an old
young man.  _Nee_, I do not believe you.  Your grandfather, the great
and good Calvinus, would not have said what was not true; and I have
heard this from many people, so it must be true."

"Well, it is not true, Tanta, however many people say it," said Colvin,
with emphasis, and an unpleasant consciousness of feeling ever so
slightly foolish.  Aletta, he could see, was in the wildest throes of
suppressed mirth, and Stephanus had to flee the room and go and stand
out in the pouring rain and laugh till he cried.  "I tell you it is
absolutely true that I am not engaged to anybody, and am not in the
least likely to be."

"Then you ought to be ashamed of yourself, nephew," retorted the old
woman, whacking the floor with her stick.  "What do you suppose the good
God gave you health and strength for--"

"No, this is getting too thick," said Colvin in an undertone.

"Good-night, Tanta.  I want to see Stephanus upon some very important
business before he goes to bed.  Good-night"; and he made for the door.

The old woman subsided, nodded a little, and then made up her mind to go
to bed.  When she had done so Colvin returned, accompanied by Stephanus.
Aletta's bright face lit up at sight of him, and with the consciousness
that she could now laugh unrestrained.

"Upon my word, Miss De la Rey," he said, "your respected relative is
something of a terror.  First, she wants to make me three or four
hundred years old by assigning me for grandfather some historic old bore
who flourished in the sixteenth or seventeenth century, I forget which.
Then she is eager to rush me into a haphazard matrimonial contract.  No,
really it is laying it on just a little too thick."

"Oh, it was awfully funny.  But, do you know, Mr Kershaw, we had heard
just the same thing?  _We_ didn't tell her, you know, but we had heard
it," said Aletta, her face brimming over with mischief.

"Well, you heard what has no foundation in fact, what is entirely
untrue," he answered, with some vague stirring over the emphasis
wherewith he did answer, remembering the psychological moment of two or
three nights ago.

"You met the Patriot here not long since, did you not, Mr Kershaw?"
said Aletta, changing the subject with perfect ease.

"Which Patriot?  There are so many patriots now," he replied.

"Why, _the_ Patriot.  The one from Pretoria, of course."

"Andries Botma?  Oh yes, I met him.  We had some very interesting talk
together.  I had long wanted to see him."

"But--but--you are not of us," said the girl, looking up quickly from
her work-basket.

"This little girl is a red-hot patriot, Colvin," said Stephanus, resting
a large hand lightly upon the silky brown coil.  "But, to be serious, I
hope this will all quiet down and find its level."

"Of course; are we not all jolly good friends together, Stephanus?  We
don't want to be at each other's throats at the bidding of other
people."

This remark brought Aletta up.

"But you said you had long wanted to meet the Patriot, Mr Kershaw.  Why
did you want to see him, then?"

"Because he is something unique--a really honest agitator.  He means
what he says and believes every word of it most thoroughly.  He is full
of _verve_ and fire--in a word, a strong man.  His is an immensely
striking personality."

"Well done, well done," cried Aletta, clapping her hands
enthusiastically.  "I shall make a convert of you yet.  Oh yes, I
shall."

It became bedtime.  As she gave him his candle Colvin once more could
not help being struck with the refined grace of Aletta's every
movement--the soft, clear, thoroughbred tone of her voice.  She seemed
somehow to have been cast in a different mould from her sisters, to whom
he had always pictured her as inferior both in looks and presence.  It
fairly puzzled him.  The tones of her voice seemed to linger long after
he had retired.  He had had a long, tiring, exciting day--had undergone
a very narrow escape for his life--which circumstance, by the way, he
had not yet mentioned to his host, being desirous to sleep on it first,
and having enjoined strict silence upon his retainer--yet, now that he
should have dropped into a sound, recuperative slumber, he could not.
And the sole reason that he could not--as he must perforce admit to
himself in the darkness and privacy of his chamber--was the recollection
of this girl whom he had met but the first time that night--here, on a
remote Dutch farm in the Wildschutsbergen.  And she was "only a Boer
girl!"



CHAPTER TEN.

"IF--."

"Well, child, and what do you think of `our only Englishman'?" said Mrs
De la Rey, as they were putting away the "early coffee" things the
following morning.

"I like him, mother," replied Aletta.  "I oughtn't to because I have
heard so much about him.  That is sure to start one with a prejudice
against anybody.  Still, I think I shall.  Oh, wasn't Tant' Plessis
killing about `the only Englishman' and `the only English girl'?  By the
way, was there anything in it?"

"Don't ask me.  _I_ don't know," laughed her mother.  "Only he seemed a
little too anxious to deny it.  One can never tell.  May Wenlock is a
very pretty girl."

"Is she?  I never saw her.  I remember Frank Wenlock--a good sort of
boy, but something of a lout.  Now, this one is ever so different."

"_Oh, mijn Vaterland_!" grunted a voice from the armchair.  "There they
are, jabbering English again--a tongue only fit for baboons."

Mother and daughter looked round quickly, exchanged a meaning smile, and
went on with their subject.  They were accustomed to the old woman's
growls, and took no more notice of them than if she had been a
discontented child.

"Let's drive over and see the Wenlocks one day, mother," said Aletta.
"I am curious to see the only English girl here.  Besides, I shall be
able to see in a moment whether there is really any fire beneath Tant'
Plessis' smoke.  Yes--that will be great fun."

"What sort of ideas have you brought back with you from Cape Town,
child?" cried Mrs De la Rey, apparently shocked though really intensely
amused.

"That's all right, old mother.  I have become `advanced'--in fact, down
there everybody took me for an English girl.  And I have learnt to ride
a bicycle.  No, really, I wish I had one here.  Only imagine Tanta's
face if I went skimming along the road there down to the gate and back
on two wheels.  Heavens, I believe it would kill her.  She'd get a fit,"
And again that silvery peal rang out long and clear.

"Aletta!  Don't make such a noise, child.  Why, you have quite startled
Mr Kershaw--look, away down there at the bottom of the garden.  He is
looking up this way, quite startled."

"Is he?  Where?  Oh, I see," following her mother's glance through the
window.  "I think I'll go and talk to him.  He is going to be fun, I
believe.  You know, I like the English--those of the better sort--
although I am a thorough patriot.  This one is of the better sort--you
can tell directly you see him, and you can hear it directly he opens his
mouth.  Oh _yes_, I've seen lots of them.  Yes, I shall go and talk to
him."

Away she went, singing to herself.  Her mother could see her through the
window, stopping here and there to pick a flower or train up a drooping
bough.  Colvin did not seem aware of her approach.  His head was bent
down, and he seemed to be filling a pipe.

"Gertruida!"

Mrs De la Rey turned with a start.

"What is it, Tanta?"

"Where has the girl gone?"

"Who?  Aletta?"

"Who?  Aletta?  What other girl has just gone out, I would like to
know?" snapped Tant' Plessis, bringing down her stick hard upon the
floor.  "Where has she gone?"

"Gone?  Only to look at the garden after the rain," answered poor Mrs
De la Rey, somewhat guiltily.

"Now you are lying, Gertruida," rapped out the old woman.  "Ah, if I
could only give you the _strop_ again as I used to do when you were a
child!" shaking her stick viciously.  "You, a mother of a grown-up
family, to lie like that.  Really you are a case to bring before Mynheer
and the Kerkraad [Church Council].  You know perfectly well that that
girl has gone out to flirt with the Englishman."

"She has not, Tant' Plessis.  You have no right to say such things,"
retorted Mrs De la Rey, stung to momentary wrath.  "It is you who are
saying what is not true about my child."

"_Stil, stil_!  So that is the result of all the _strop_ I used to give
you, Gertruida--to call your elders liars!  You think I know no English.
I do, although I would sooner die than speak the accursed tongue.  I
heard Aletta say she was going out to flirt with the Englishman."

"She didn't say `flirt,' Tanta.  She said `talk.'"

"Well, well!  What is the difference, I would like to know?  To go out
like that--to go up to a man and talk with him all alone in a garden!
So that is the result of sending her to learn English ways.  English
ways, indeed!  No wonder the English were made, like the heathen of old,
to fall before the rifles of the Patriots.  They were.  I have heard
Mynheer say so, and if he doesn't know, who does?"

"I don't care what Mynheer says--or thinks, Tanta.  I shall bring up my
children in my own way," flashed out Mrs De la Rey, losing patience.

"In the devil's own way you mean, Gertruida," said the other, waxing
very portentous and solemn.  "Look at my own children--five girls and
seven boys.  My girls got plenty of _strop_"--("Surely they did!"
interpolated the listener to herself)--"and now that they are married
they give theirs plenty too.  For what says the Prophet Solomon in the
Holy Book: `Spare the _strop_ and you spoil the girl.'  The Prophet did
say that, for I have heard Mynheer read it out in church."  The speaker
herself could scarcely read.  "Look at my girls.  _They_ learnt no
English ways."

In imagination Mrs De la Rey did so look, and beheld five women who
were exact counterparts of their proud parent, albeit younger
presentments, and each owning a large brood as heavy as herself.  But
she had had enough of this lecture, and began to cast about for a
pretext to depart.

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

Aletta the while was tripping down the garden path, pausing, as we have
said, as though to tend the flowers had been her sole object in coming
out, and as she walked she sang:

  "Spreek, Bronkersspruit,
  Met eerbied uit;
  Noem Potchefstrom by naam.
  Pretoria en Langsnek pas,
  Ingogo en Majuba vas,
  Waar ons Verlosser met ons was,
  Vermeld die al te saam.
  Vermeld die al te saam."

Colvin Kershaw pricked up his ears, but did not raise his head.  For
that which she was singing was a snatch of the Transvaal "Volkslied,"
the Republican National Anthem.  She was singing it _at_ him, of course.
This was really getting funny.  She was quite close to him now.

  "Ons vrye vlag
  Geef nou onstag,
  Die vierkleur waal in eer,
  En wapper oer die Republiek;
  Geen mag, geen lis, geen politiek
  Van Kaffer, Brit, of Jingo-kliek,
  Haal ooit die vlag weer neer.
  Haal ooit die vlag weer neer!"

  [Note 2.]

"Good morning, Mr Kershaw.  You are up early.  Englishmen are not fond
of early rising as a rule."

"Good morning, Miss De la Rey.  You seem in a vastly patriotic mood this
morning.  Can a poor Englishman by any chance do anything that comes
within measurable distance of being right?"

Aletta laughed, but not quite in the same whole-hearted way she usually
did.  There was something in the look of this man, standing there, easy,
good-humoured, smiling, which seemed to strike her.  She had been
favourably impressed with him the evening before, when he had not shown
externally to the best advantage, and, whatever cheap ethicists may
propound to the contrary, externals and impressions go very much hand in
hand.  Now he was clad in his own clothes, not in scratch garments many
sizes too wide for him.  As she had just been telling her mother, she
had seen at a glance that he was thoroughbred; now he looked more so
than ever.

"Oh yes, he can--sometimes," she said.  "You know, I like the English of
a certain sort, though I detest those of another."

"Well, why do you bear down upon me singing an aggressive war-song--at
me?  _At_ me, of course."

"Was I?"

"You know you were.  You were rubbing in Bronker's Spruit, and Ingogo,
and Majuba, and all that."

"It's rather chilly after the rain," she said, looking around with a
shiver.  "But it is going to be a lovely day."

Her irrelevant prediction was true enough.  Not a cloud remained in the
sky, which was deepening more and more to its vivid daylight blue, as
the sun, just rising over a great ironstone krantz which crested the
range beyond the river, flooded the wide valley, dissipating the faint
mist engendered by the night's moisture, and causing the raindrops still
lingering on the Karroo bushes and scattered mimosa to scintillate like
the purest diamonds.  Birds twittered among the willows by the dam, and
in the quince hedges, and away over the wide veldt, the cock koorhaans
answered each other in their shrill, barking crow, as though rejoicing
in the glowing splendour of the newly-born day.

"Yes, I think it is," he answered.  "But, to come back to what we were
saying.  I don't think that `Volkslied' is much of a song, you know.
For instance, `Van Kaffer, Brit, of Jingo-kliek' is a pretty good sample
of doggerel.  Then, again, the whole thing is a little too pietistic for
ordinary use.  The tune is a fine one, but the words--well, they are a
trifle poor."

"Are they?  Oh yes--and what about `God Save the Queen'?  Isn't that
just as pietistic?  And `Confound their politics, frustrate their
knavish tricks'--how is that for doggerel, eh?"  And, firing up with her
subject, Aletta's face became quite animated, and the colour rushed over
it in such wise as to render it very attractive--at least, so thought
the onlooker, and secretly rejoiced in the situation, enjoying it
hugely.

"H'm, well, perhaps.  But, doesn't it strike you, Miss De la Rey, that
you are wasting your cartridges by blazing them into me?  Why, I am more
than half of your way of thinking already.  Ask your father if I am
not."

The girl's face changed entirely, taking on a wondrously pleased
expression.  The defiant one had utterly vanished.  Colvin began
fumbling for a match wherewith to relight his pipe, which had gone out.
In reality he was thinking what there was about this girl which appealed
to him so strongly.  She was not even pretty.  Yet, standing there, tall
and graceful and fresh, in the early morning; a very soul of mind
looking out of her eyes with the enthusiasm born of a cherished subject,
she was more--she was marvellously attractive.  The strange, lingering
feeling which her presence had left upon him the night before was
intensified here in the prosaic morning hour.  What was it?

"There are patriots, however," he went on, "who are not always shining
angels of light.  Listen now, and I'll tell you what happened to me
yesterday in that connection.  Would you like to hear?"

"Of course I would."

Then he told her--told her everything, from the discovery of the
concealed arms to the suspicious non appearance of the man he had gone
to see; of Hans Vermaak's mysterious warning, and the subsequent ample
justification thereof--the narrow escape he and his servant had had for
their lives when fired upon murderously in the darkness by ambushed
assailants--up to the time of his arriving at Ratels Hoek, when she had
first seen him.  Told her the whole story--her--this girl whom twelve
hours ago he had never seen--this girl only just out of her teens.  Told
her, when as yet he had not told her father, a strong man of mature age,
and one of his most intimate friends.  Why did he do it?  He hardly knew
himself, unless it were that something in her personality appealed to
him as marking her out not merely from the rest of her sex, but from the
general ruck.

She listened attentively, absorbedly; her eyes fixed upon his face.

"Yes, that was bad," she said.  "But then, you know, Mr Kershaw, as you
English say--there are black sheep in every flock, and the people back
there in the Wildschutsberg are a low class of Boer, very little removed
from _bijwoners_ [squatter labourers].  But"--as if she had said too
much and was trying to cover it--"do you not think they may have been
only wanting to frighten you; to play a joke on you?"

"It was a joke that cost me an uncommonly good mare," he answered.  "The
poor brute was plugged through and rolled into the river.  I dare say
she is half-way down to the sea by this time--as I and Gert would have
been but for, I suppose, Providence."

She was looking grave enough now, and for a few moments made no reply.

"What are you going to do about it?" she asked.

"Nothing."

He fancied a look of relief came into her face.  She must be intensely
imbued with the cause of her countrymen, with racial partisanship, he
decided.

"Nothing?  But if you think they tried to murder you?"

"Oh, I don't think much of that.  I'm not going to bother any more about
it.  Why should I?"

"But you English are always such a--well, vindictive race.  It is one of
your favourite boasts that you never let anybody get the better of you--
that you are always even with them--I think that is the phrase," she
said, and there was a strange look upon her face which rather puzzled
him.

"Are we?  Well, here's an exception then.  Life is too short to bother
oneself about trifles merely for the sake of `being even with' somebody.
Likely one of these days Gideon Roux will be the first to be sorry he
shot at me.  He needn't have done it.  The cave affair and the rifles
didn't concern me.  I shouldn't have given it away.  But he won't come
down with the value of the mare, because I believe the poor devil is
none too flush at any time.  So what does it matter?"

That strange look upon Aletta's face deepened.  He did not quite know
how to read it.

"Have you told father about this?" she said.

"Not yet.  I had meant to.  I don't think I shall at all now.  It
doesn't seem worth while."

"Then why did you tell me?"

"I don't know."

Again they stood looking at each other in silence, as though reading
each other.  He was thinking of how he had seen her last night--bright,
sparkling, girlish--full of humour and merriment; yet even then he had
judged her temperament to have another side.  Now his judgment was borne
out.  She could show herself serious, grave, judicious--in short, full
of character when a matter of moment was under discussion.  She for her
part was thinking that of all the men she had met, and she had met
many--for Stephanus De la Rey was connected with some of the best old
Dutch families at the Cape, and in the society of the capital, Dutch or
English, Aletta had not merely had the _entree_, but had been in
request--she had never come into contact with one who was quite like
this.  He was right outside her ordinary experience.

A sound of approaching hoof-strokes aroused them--on Aletta's part with
something of a start.  A bridle path threaded the garden here, affording
a considerable short cut up from the river drift, and the horseman now
advancing along this had come out through the quince hedge almost upon
them.  In him they recognised Adrian De la Rey.

"_Daag_, Aletta.  I have only just heard you were home again," he said
in Dutch, as he sprang from his horse and shook hands with her.  But
Colvin did not fail to notice that the young Boer's greeting of himself
was markedly cold, not to say grim.

"So ho!" said he to himself.  "That is the way the cat jumps?  I see."
Then aloud, "What sort of rifle have you there, Adrian?"  For the latter
was clad and armed as though for the chase, and had a bandolier full of
cartridges slung round him.

"One of the new kind," was the crisp reply.  "A Mauser.  _Ja_, you can
kill a man at thousands of yards with this."

"So you could, if you could only see him," was the perfectly
good-humoured reply.

"I shall see him plainly enough, at whatever distance.  _Ja_, at
whatever distance," repeated the young Boer with meaning; and, looking
as black as thunder, he turned his back upon the other in rather a
pointed manner, and began to converse with his cousin.

"Yet," said Colvin to himself, "yet we have always been the best of
friends.  But that would prove a very awkward customer if--Yes," he
repeated, always to himself.  "If--"

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

Note 1.

  "Speak, Bronkersspruit,
  With pride speak out;
  Call Potchefstrom by name.
  Pretoria and Langnek's Pass,
  Ingogo and Majuba,
  Where our Deliverer was with us,
  Proclaim them all together."

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

Note 2.

"Our freedom's flag Give now its praise, `Four colours' hold in renown;
It waves above the Republic.  No force, intrigue, no politics Of Kafir,
Briton, Jingo clique, Shall e'er that flag again haul down."



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

LOVE--AND SOME SPORT.

"You are in no hurry to go on, are you, Colvin?" said Stephanus De la
Rey, while they were at breakfast.  "Because, if not, we might take guns
and go down to the _hoek_.  It's swarming with duiker and blekbok."

"Haven't got my gun along, Stephanus, and Aasvogel won't stand fire."
The speaker deemed he had grim reason to know that, and exchanged a
glance with Aletta, who had looked up quickly, at the allusion.

"Oh, that is soon got over.  You can have your pick of four horses that
will, and you can either take my shot-gun or one of the rifles.  There
will be four of us--you and I and Cornelis and Adrian--and we can drive
out that _hoek_ thoroughly."

"I don't care to hunt to-day, Oom Stephanus," said Adrian.  "I must get
back.  I have many things to do at home."

Stephanus looked narrowly at his nephew, whose manner struck him as
strange.  He had replied in Dutch, whereas the conversation hitherto had
been in English, but that might be due to his new-born and exuberant
patriotism.

"Of course, then, you must see to them, nephew," he said.  "The reason
why so many of us don't get on is, that we are too fond of sitting on
the stoep and smoking our pipes."  He himself and his son had been at
work in the "lands" and at the goatkraals ever since sunrise.  At the
same time he was rather surprised at the refusal of his nephew, who was
a keen sportsman, and would have had a chance of testing his new rifle,
which had already been inspected and its points critically discussed.

But Adrian had an object in his refusal, and the name of that object was
Aletta.  Hardly had the other three men got out of sight than he tried
to persuade the girl to take a turn in the garden with him.  Ordinarily
she would have needed no persuasion, but to-day a sort of instinct
rendered the idea distasteful to her.  But he waxed eloquent upon their
common topic--The Cause--and she yielded.

He told her about the delegate from Pretoria--"the Patriot," as he
reverentially termed him, and how that Olympian Jupiter had talked with
him--had it been the President himself he could hardly have felt more
proud.  He told her how the seed had been sown on well-watered and
well-prepared ground, and she listened with real interest, for they had
an ideal in common, these two young people, and were both burning with a
lofty enthusiasm.  Besides, the girl was really very fond of Adrian, who
was a fine, manly fellow.  Now she predicted great things for him.  He
would rise to be one of the most prominent men in the new Dutch South
Africa.  There was no limit to the dazzling honours she beheld in store
for him.

Yes, the conspiracy was nearly complete.  There was not a Dutchman
within a radius of fifty miles, he told her, who was not ready to rise,
who would not muster at the appointed time and place, rifle in hand, to
throw off the English yoke.  Those cursed English!  He trusted that
their future rulers would not allow one single Englishman to remain in
the country--no, not one.  He hated them all.

This brought a meaning smile to Aletta's face.  She remembered Adrian's
manner when he had first come upon her--and the Englishman--but an hour
or two before.

"But, Adrian," she said, "why are you so bitter against the English now?
You used not to be.  Of course we must get the land back from them, but
we need not drive them all out.  Some of the better ones might remain."

"There are no `better ones,'" he replied, vehemently.

"I would not say that.  Our English neighbours round here, what few
there are, seem nice enough.  There is Mrs Wenlock, for instance, and
Frank--I haven't seen the daughter yet.  And then there is that Mr
Kershaw--he seems a particularly pleasant sort of man."

At this the resentful scowl on Adrian's face deepened.  His strong hand
opened and shut once or twice as though gripping at somebody's throat.

"So you seemed to think when I came upon you this morning," he answered
in a sort of growl.  Aletta started, and gazed at him in wide-eyed
astonishment.

"Why, Adrian, I never saw the man until last evening," she said, gently,
but conscious that the colour was flowing over her face in waves.  For
the blunt retort had, as it were, in a flash opened her mind to herself,
and what she saw therein had frightened her.

"So?  Then you have turned your time to very quick use," he answered.
Then, seeing her start away from him with a cold, yet hurt, look, his
tone changed entirely.  "Forgive me, Aletta, darling.  I am jealous, I
suppose, and, of course, a fool.  But I love you.  I always have since
we were children together.  And I have been longing and longing for you
to come back, and have been counting the weeks to it.  Ask Andrina if I
have not.  Then when you do come back, and I see you for the first time,
it is with this Englishman.  Forgive me if I have said anything to
offend you, Aletta, and say you will marry me.  I love you so."

His tone was deep and soft and pleading, and the listener, stealing a
look at his face, could not but feel much moved.  He was so intensely in
earnest.  And he was a really fine-looking young fellow was this young
Dutchman, a lover of whom any girl might feel the reverse of ashamed.
As a matter of fact this one did so feel, and her voice was very soft as
she answered:

"Oh, Adrian, why did you ask me?  I don't see how I can."

It was a pretty lame answer, and she felt it to be.  He, for his part,
proceeded to improve the occasion and to urge his cause again and again
with all the arguments he could find.  She, for hers, was dangerously
tempted to temporise, but by some merciful instinct rejected that refuge
for the weak.  She answered him to the same effect as before, but this
time more clearly, more decidedly.

Then he began to press her for reasons.  Why did she persist in refusing
him?  He was well off, and could make her thoroughly comfortable.  He
defied anyone to say a word against his character or life.  He was sure
his uncle would approve, and so on.  Then, waxing bitter, he hinted that
since she had been away at Cape Town she had forgotten her own people.
Only the English were good enough now.

Adrian had better have let that side alone.  It spoiled the good effect
he was already producing in that it was first of all somewhat childish--
in the second place unjust.

"That is not true, Adrian," she answered gravely, but without anger,
"and you ought not to say it.  I am of my own people as much as ever.  I
have seen English people, too, whom I like and admire.  Those of good
blood are second to no race in the world--for good blood is good blood
all the world over.  But you ought not to say some of the things you
have been saying.  You wound me and--insult me."

"So?  I wound you and insult you?  Forgive me, Aletta.  I would not do
that for all the world.  But look!  As you say, you have only known this
Englishman since last evening.  That is good.  But the man who comes
between you and me--Englishman or who ever he is--had better take care,
great care, for it will mean life or death to him or to me.  The time is
coming when every man's rifle will be his law--the avenger of his own
wrongs."

The tone was quiet now.  There was that in it which was so earnest, so
free from vehemence as to redeem it from mere bounce or melodramatics.
Aletta, listening, was secretly impressed, and secretly more than
respected him.

"You would not do murder, surely, Adrian?" she said, the narrative she
had heard only that morning rising luridly before her mind.

"No, not murder, only justice.  The time is coming when we can call upon
those who have wronged us to face us, man to man.  That is not murder."

"N-no.  But does it not strike you, Adrian, that you may be doing your
best to kill all the liking and regard I have always felt for you?  And
are you not taking a great deal too much upon yourself?"  Then, with a
considerable flash of spirit, "Who gave you any right to take possession
of me in this cool and calm manner?  What right have you to tell me whom
I am not to be friendly with--yes, and even more, if I choose that it
shall be so?  I think you are taking a great deal too much upon
yourself, and I tell you so.  But there, do not let us quarrel," she
added, with sudden softening.  "And I think it is time we returned to
the house."

"As you will, Aletta.  But I could not help saying that I did, for I
mean it--every word of it.  Of course we will not quarrel.  How could I
quarrel with you?"

The tone was sad and grave, but there was a dignity about it that
appealed to Aletta.  She did not fail to notice, either, that the other
had not come off badly under somewhat difficult and delicate
circumstances.

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

The while those upon slaughter intent were pursuing their way.  Colvin
Kershaw was a very keen sportsman, and reckoned that life was never so
thoroughly well worth living as at moments like this--when mounted on a
good shooting-horse, an excellent gun in his hand, the whole day before
him, and, spreading around, as fine a bit of veldt for providing a mixed
bag as one could wish to range over--just rolling enough to be
picturesque--the Karroo bush and the mimosa, which grew in solitary
ragged clumps or lined along the river banks, affording plenty of cover
for birds or the smaller kind of buck.  The sun flamed down from a blue
and cloudless vault, but without much power, for it was about midwinter,
and the atmosphere of the high veldt was clear and exhilarating to the
last degree.

Two Kafir boys had been sent round to the further side of the "camp,"
with instructions to lure thither and keep occupied such vicious male
ostriches as would otherwise have interfered with, and, so far as their
jurisdiction extended, entirely prevented sport; and the three horsemen
were riding abreast, fifty yards or so apart, at a slow foot's pace.
Behind them walked Gert, armed with a formidable thorn _tack_ in case
any of the aggressive bipeds should assail them in preference to being
fooled by the diversion aforesaid.  But just before they took up their
positions, Cornelis being out of earshot, Stephanus remarked:

"I wonder what is the matter with Adrian, Colvin?  I have never known
him not want to hunt before.  He was looking very strange, too."

"He was," replied the other, who had his own ideas upon that head.

"So? you noticed it, then?  Well, my notion is this," sinking his voice.
"Adrian is _slim_.  I believe he remained at home only to have a quiet
talk with Aletta."

"Yes?"

"I think so.  They were always devoted to each other as children and
then as they grew up together.  I thought it good for her to go away and
see something of the world and of people, so I sent her to some
relatives of mine to Cape Town."

"She has done them credit I don't mind telling you, Stephanus, that even
the little I've seen of your eldest daughter justifies me in saying she
would show to advantage anywhere--_yes_, to the greatest advantage--in
London or anywhere you like."

"So?" said Stephanus, hugely delighted.  "You think so, eh?"

"Think so?  I'm sure of it," replied Colvin, whimsically thinking with
what whole-heartedness he was now eulogising one who that time yesterday
had existed in his mind as a plain, heavy-looking and absolutely
uninteresting girl.  So libellous can be the photographer's art.

"I am delighted to hear you say so, Colvin.  You are from England and
have seen a great deal of the world and ought to know.  But I believe
you are right.  Yes, I am sure you are right.  Well, now, my idea is
that Adrian has remained behind to try his luck with Aletta."

"By Jove!  Has he?"  Then changing the quick tone of vivid interest into
which he had been momentarily betrayed, he went on tranquilly: "And do
you think he will succeed?"

"I cannot say.  Aletta has seen a great many people, a great many men
down at the Cape.  She may not care to marry a farmer.  But she might do
worse than take Adrian.  I have a great opinion of him.  He is a fine
fellow and no fool.  But she must please herself."

"Yes, but--are they not--er--rather nearly related?"

"I had thought of that side of it, too.  It is a disadvantage.  Look
out!  There is a koorhaan running just on your left.  He will be up in a
second."

Hardly were the words out than the bird rose, shrilling forth his loud,
alarmed cackle.  Colvin dropped the bridle--his gun was at his shoulder.
Crack! and down came the noisy little bustard, shot fair and square
through the head.  Two more rose, but out of range, and the air for the
next minute or two was noisy with their shoutings.

Colvin dismounted to pick up the bird, and as he did so up got another.
It was a long shot, but down came this bird also.

"Get there quick, man!  He's running," cried Stephanus.

The warning was not unneeded.  The bird seemed only winged and had the
grass been a little thicker would have escaped.  As it was, it entailed
upon its destroyer a considerable chase before he eventually knocked it
out with a stone, and then only as it was about to disappear within an
impenetrable patch of prickly pear.

"Well, Stephanus, I believe I'm going to score off you both to-day,"
said Colvin, as he tied the birds on to the D of his saddle with a bit
of _riempje_.  "Nothing like a shot-gun in this sort of veldt."

Boers, as a rule, seldom care for bird-shooting, looking upon it as
sport for children and Englishmen.  Birds in their opinion are hardly
worth eating, guinea-fowl excepted.  When these are required for table
purposes they obtain them by the simple process of creeping stealthily
up to their roost on a moonlight night, and raking the dark mass of
sleeping birds--visible against the sky on the bare or scanty-leaved
boughs--with a couple of charges of heavy shot Stephanus laughed
good-humouredly, and said they would find buck directly.  Then they
would see who had the better weapon.

They had got into another enclosure, where the ground was more open.
Colvin had already bagged another koorhaan and a brace of partridges,
and so far was not ill-satisfied.  Suddenly Cornelis was seen to
dismount.  A buck was running across the open some three hundred yards
away.  Bang!  A great splash of dust nearly hid the animal for a moment.
A near thing, but yet not quite near enough.  On it went, going like
the wind, now behind a clump of bushes now out again.  Cornelis had
another cartridge in, and was kneeling down.  A wire fence stretched
across the line of the fleeing animal, which would have to slacken speed
in order to get through this.  Watching his moment, Cornelis let go.
The "klop" made by the bullet as it rushed through the poor little
beast--through ribs and heart--was audible to them there at upwards of
four hundred yards.  It never moved afterwards.

"Oh, fine shot!" cried Colvin, with a grim afterthought to himself,
viewing it by the light of the failure of the Bloemfontein Conference.

"It's a duiker ram, Pa," sang out the young Dutchman.  Then he shouted
to the Kafirs to bring it along, and the three moved onward.  Soon
Colvin got his chance.  A blekbok, started by the tread of Stephanus'
horse, raced right across him at about forty-five yards, broadside on.
Up went the gun, a second's aim, and the pretty little animal turned a
most beautiful somersault, and lay kicking convulsively, struck well
forward in the head.

"Well done, well done!  _Maagtig kerel_! but you can do something with
shot!" cried Stephanus, approvingly.

Presently the metallic grating cackle of guinea-fowl was borne to their
ears.  They were near the banks of the Sneeuw River, where the mimosa
cover and prickly pear _klompjes_ were a favourite haunt of those
splendid game birds.  By dint of manoeuvring Colvin got right in among
them, their attention being diverted by the other horseman.  Up rose
quite a number.  Bang, bang! right and left, down they came.  More rise.
Bang, bang!  One miss, one more bird down.  Then they get up, more and
more of them, by twos and threes, and by the time there are no more of
them, and Colvin has picked up eight birds and is beginning to search
for three more that have run, he is conscious that life can hold no
improvement on the sheer ecstasy of that moment.

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

And then, when they return to the homestead in the roseate afterglow of
the pearly evening--and the spoils are spread out:

"Five bucks, and eighteen birds," cries Stephanus, counting the bag.
"Not so bad for a mixed shoot--and only one bird gun among us.  Aletta,
this is an Englishman who can shoot."

Colvin is conscious of enjoying this small triumph, as the girl's bright
face is turned towards him approvingly, and she utters a laughing,
half-bantering congratulation.

"Where is Adrian?" he says, looking around.

"Adrian?  Oh, he went long ago--soon after you did."

Keenly watching her face, while not appearing to, he does not fail to
notice the tinge of colour which comes into it as she answers.  So
Adrian has been trying his luck then; but, has he succeeded?  How shall
he find out?  But why should he find out?  What on earth can it matter
to him?

Yet throughout the evening the one question he is continually asking
himself, and trying to deduce an answer to, is--

Has he succeeded?



CHAPTER TWELVE.

"THE ONLY ENGLISH GIRL."

May Wenlock was in a temper.

She had got up in one, and throughout the morning her mother and brother
had had the full benefit of it.  Why she was in it she could not have
told, at least with any degree of definitiveness.  She was sick of home,
she declared; sick of the farm, sick of the very sight of everything to
do with it; sick of the eternal veldt.  The mountains in the background
were depressing, the wide-spreading Karroo plains more depressing still,
although, since the rain, they had taken on a beautiful carpeting of
flower-spangled green.  She wanted to go away--to Port Elizabeth, or
Johannesburg; in both of which towns she had relatives; anywhere, it
didn't matter--anywhere for a change.  Life was too deadly monotonous
for anything.

Well, life on a farm in the far Karroo is not precisely a state of
existence bristling with excitement, especially for the ornamental sex,
debarred both by conventionality and inclination from the pleasures of
the chase.  But May was not really so hardly used as she chose to
imagine.  She was frequently away from home visiting, but of late,
during almost the last year, she had not cared to go--had even refused
invitations--wherein her brother saw another exemplification of feminine
unreasonableness and caprice.  Her mother, a woman and more worldly
wise, was not so sure on that head.

"What's the row, anyhow?" said Frank, bluntly.  "What do you want to
scoot away for, and leave mother and me to entertain each other?  Girls
are always so beastly selfish."

"Girls selfish?  Men, you mean," she flashed back.  "Men are the most
selfish creatures in existence.  I hate them--hate them all."

"Why, only the other day you were saying that you had come round to the
idea that it was much jollier in the country, and that you hated towns,"
went on Frank.  "You've said it over and over again, and now--"

"Oh, go away, Frank, can't you, and leave her alone," said his mother.
"Why do you take such a delight in teasing her when you see she's out of
sorts?"

"Out of sorts, eh?  That's what women always say when they're in a
beastly bad temper.  Oh, well, thank goodness I've no time for that sort
of thing."  And cramming his pipe he went out.

Frank was right, if somewhat inconsiderate.  May was in a bad temper--a
very bad temper indeed.  Hardly had he gone than she flung on her white
_kapje_, the same we first saw her in, and which became her so well, and
went out too, but not after him.  She went round among her fowl-houses,
then strolled along the quince hedges to see if any of the hens had been
laying out and in irregular places for the benefit of the egg-loving
_muishond_, or similar vermin, but her mind some how was not in it.  She
gazed out over the surrounding veldt.  A little cloud of dust away in
the distance caused her to start and her eyes to dilate.  But it passed
away and was gone.  It heralded the approach of nobody.  The distant
flying cackle of a cock koorhaan alarmed had the same effect, but no
sign of life, far or near, save the slow movement of black ostriches
grazing, and the occasional triple boom as they lifted up their voices.
The sun, flaming down in the cloudless forenoon, caused the great
expanse of plains to shimmer and glow with mirage-like effect, giving to
each distant table-topped mountain an appearance of being suspended in
mid-air.

Her eyes filled as she stood thus gazing, and two shining tears rolled
down.

"Oh, I must get away from here," she said to herself.  "All this is
weighing upon my nerves.  I hate men--selfish, cruel, heartless
wretches!"

She caught her voice, and was conscious that the pulsations of her heart
had undergone an acceleration.  Away in the distance a large dust-cloud
was advancing, and with it the white tilt of a Cape cart.

"Only some tiresome Dutch people," she said to herself, with a weary
sigh.  "I hope to goodness they won't come here, that's all."

But her wish was doomed to non-fulfilment, for very soon the cart was
seen to turn off the road that should have taken it by and to strike the
branch track leading direct to the house.  A flutter of feminine
garments within it betokened the nature of the visit.

"May, where are you?  May?" shouted Frank, in stentorian tones.  "Oh,
there you are.  Here's a whole crowd coming down into the drift.  Looks
like the De la Reys.  They'll be here in a minute."

"I wish they'd be somewhere else in a minute, then," muttered May to
herself with a frown that quite transformed the pretty, winning face
within the ample white _kapje_.

Frank's surmise proved correct.  The occupants of the cart were the
three De la Rey girls and their brother Jan.  As they drove up Mrs
Wenlock came out in a flutter of excitement and welcome.

"How good of you to come over!" she said.  "I am so glad to see you.  We
don't get many visitors just now.  Why, Aletta, I should hardly have
known you.  My, but you must have been away quite a long time.  I
suppose you have been having grand times down at the Cape.  And how tall
you have grown!  Well, I always say it does a girl good to send her
about among folks and to see a little of the world.  Let's see, I don't
think you and my May have ever met.  She was not with us when we first
came up."

May, who had already been exchanging greetings with the other girls, now
turned to this one.

"No, we haven't," she said.  "How do you do, Miss De la Rey?"  And as
the two clasped hands each was mentally reading the other.

"What a figure!" thought May to herself.  "How easily and with what
unconscious grace she moves!  I wish I had it instead of being fat and
dumpy"--which she wasn't--"and beautifully dressed, yet quite plainly.
Well, she isn't pretty, that's one thing.  Oh no, she isn't in the least
pretty."

"So this is `the only English girl,'" Aletta was thinking.  "She is
pretty.  Yes, mother was right, she is very, very pretty.  Those blue
eyes--like Table Bay when the sun shines on it at noon--I wish I had
them.  And the gold of her hair, and her beautiful colouring.  I do
believe old Tant' Plessis must be right.  Frank, too, has improved since
I saw him.  He has grown quite good-looking."

The said Frank, having shouted ineffectually for one of the boys,
presumably away on some other business, was helping Jan to outspan.

"Well, Jan," said Mrs Wenlock as they all went inside, "you have been a
long time bringing your sister over to see us."

"Andrina and I have only just got back ourselves, Mrs Wenlock," struck
in Condaas.  "Aletta has had a lot to do at home.  And we have had old
Tant' Plessis there and ever so many people."

"Ever so many people.  Yes, I think you have had some people you would
have been better without, if report speaks true," replied Mrs Wenlock,
shaking a finger at the speaker with a good-humoured laugh.  "There are
those who come a long way to breed sedition and discontent and
differences among folks who are quite happy and contented.  We quite
thought you had deserted us nowadays because we were English."

Mrs Wenlock, you see, was one of those good souls who pride themselves
on speaking their minds--in this case an utterly tactless operation.  A
momentary frost lay upon the whole party.  But the situation was
relieved by the readiness of Aletta.

"Why, Mrs Wenlock, you are forgetting that there is some English blood
in us," she said.

"To be sure I was, child.  And your father, although there is no English
in him, he is a man for whom I have the greatest regard.  He is the last
man to listen to agitators and sedition-mongers--of that I am quite
sure.  How is he, by the way, and your mother?"  They reassured her as
to the perfect state of health and well-being enjoyed by both parents,
which had the effect of leading the conversation away from a very
delicate subject.  May, the while, had been out of the room to see about
getting tea ready, and now returned in time to hear the following:--

"Why don't you bring your gun over, Frank?"  Jan was saying.  "Man,
there is a fine lot of guinea-fowl down along the river--if Colvin has
left any, that is.  _Maagtig_, but he is fond of shooting birds.  One
_klompje_ down on the _draai_ by the white rock had nearly sixty birds
in it, and now there are nine.  Colvin has shot all the rest.
Guinea-fowl are not easy to get at, you know.  There are other
_klompjes_, but he will do the same with them, so you had better be
quick or there will be none left."

"He must have been shooting a lot at your place, Jan."

"He has.  Rather.  He comes over nearly every other day to have a shoot.
Why, we shall soon have hardly anything left if he goes on at that
rate.  But the season will soon be over now.  Not that we care much
about season or no season if we want a buck to eat."

"Tut-tut, Jan!  What's that you're saying?  And your father
Field-cornet, too!" struck in Mrs Wenlock.

May, who was presiding at the tea-tray, hearing this apparently harmless
dialogue, felt it to be just about all she could do to restrain the ugly
frown which threatened to cloud her face.  "He comes over nearly every
other day," Jan had said, yet he had not been near them for about three
weeks, or close upon it--not, indeed, since that evening he and Frank
had returned from Schalkburg together.  He had never been away from them
so long as that since he had been settled on his own farm, nor anything
like it.  What _did_ it mean?  What was the attraction?  The sport?
Well, the sport wasn't bad at Spring Holt.  No--a darker thought gripped
her mind and heart, making her miserable.  The time corresponded, within
a day or two, to that of Aletta's return.  Well, what then?  Surely she
was tormenting herself unnecessarily.  Surely she could hold her own
against a Dutch girl--an ugly Dutch girl--she added spitefully to
herself.  But just then, as she was discharging her duties of deputy
hostess mechanically while thus thinking, the voice of the "ugly Dutch
girl" broke in upon her broodings, with a remark addressed to herself.

"You have been in the Transvaal lately, I hear, Miss Wenlock?"

"Not quite lately; not for a year.  I have some relations in
Johannesburg, and was stopping with them."

"Ah!  I have some there too.  I may be going up there soon, but have
never been.  It is a very wonderful place, is it not?"

"Oh, yes.  Miles ahead of any other in South Africa.  It hasn't got the
Sleepy Hollow sort of look all these other musty old places have.
English capital and energy have put it in the forefront."

This was no sort of remark to make under the circumstances, and herein
was another instance of May's lack of breeding which would now and again
crop up.  It may have been that she was stung by a new discovery which
had been brought home to her with the first utterance.  This "ugly Dutch
girl" had a beautiful voice, soft, well modulated, thoroughly refined.

It was a time when people were wont to rave at and wrangle with each
other over the rights and wrongs of the political situation then nearly
at its most acute stage, on far less challenge than May's tone and words
implied.  This Dutch girl, however, did nothing of the kind.  She went
on talking pleasantly as though no such remark had been made--asking
questions about the place under discussion, and seeming to take a vivid
interest in the answers.  Poor May felt very small, very inferior.  She
was honest enough to own to herself that she had transgressed against
the laws of good breeding, and to admire the other's self-possession and
ready tact, though, as constituting another attraction, she loved not
the possessor of these qualities any the more.

Then Frank and Jan went out to smoke a pipe or two together, and talk
shop, and about sport, and the latest rumours from the Transvaal--though
this guardedly.  The girls, left behind, were chatting, and looking at
things, notably some English fashion papers which May had got out.  Then
they, too, took a stroll out to look at May's fowl-houses, and finally
all met at dinner.

There was no lack of conversation.  Aletta was telling them about her
experiences at the capital--where none of her hearers, save Frank, had
ever been--moved thereto by many questions from Mrs Wenlock, and all
the good times she had been having--balls, and bicycle picnics, and
Government House receptions, and dances on board one or other of the
warships at Simonstown.  May, listening with vivid interest, almost
forgot her ill-humour, only failing where she was reminded of it by
envy.  That was the sort of life her own soul hankered after, instead of
being stuck away on a dismal up-country farm.  That was life--this
stagnation.  Yet could she at that moment have been offered her choice,
whether she would be there or here, she would have elected to remain
where she was.

"I thought Cape Town a beastly place," declared Frank.  "Nothing on
earth to do there, and they wanted me to wear a bell-topper hat on
Sunday."

Aletta broke into one of her whole-hearted laughs.

"That's the best definition I've ever heard," she said.  "No, really, I
shall have to tell it to some of them next time I am down there again--
if ever I am."

"It's true, all the same," persisted Frank, looking remarkably pleased
with himself and the consciousness of having said a good thing.  But his
mother told him he was talking nonsense, and proceeded with her
cross-examination of Aletta.  Had she seen the Governor, and was he like
his portraits? and so on.

Oh, yes, she had seen him pretty often.  Spoken to him?  He had once or
twice, in a kindly conventional way, spoken to her, but she was certain
he would not know her from Eve if he were to see her again.  There were
so many people he had to talk to in the same way at officially social
functions.  But the point in this qualification was lost upon her
questioner, whose honest middle-class soul swelled with a congenial
respect for one who had actually talked with the Governor.

"Hallo! by George, there's someone coming!" exclaimed Frank, as the
raucous coughs of the one decrepit cur whose acquaintance we have
already made, together with a sound of hoofs, gave notice of the fact.
"Wonder who it is?"

May looked up quickly, a whole world of eager expectancy, of forestalled
disappointment in her glance.  And as she did so she met the eyes of
Aletta.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

TWO VERDICTS AND SOME RANCOUR.

"Hallo, Colvin!" cried Frank, going out on the stoep.  "Why, man, we had
begun to think you were dead."

"So?" said Colvin Kershaw, who was busy loosening the girths preparatory
to off-saddling.  "Whose cart is that, Frank?  Looks like Stephanus'."

"It is."

"Is he here then?"

"No; only the girls."

"Which of them?"

"All three."

"Oh--.  No, don't have him put in the camp," as a Hottentot came up to
take the horse.  "Just knee-halter him, and let him run.  He can pick up
enough round the house."

As he entered, and greeted the girls, a subtle instinct told him that
two of them were watching each other and him.  May's reception of him
was somewhat brusque and rather too studiously off-handed.  He read her
face like the page of a book.  She, keenly observant, noticed that he
greeted the other three with the easy friendliness of people who know
each other well, but without the faintest difference of tone or
inflection in talking to each and all of them.

"Why, Mr Kershaw, we were thinking you were dead," said Mrs Wenlock,
in her cordial, breezy way.  "It is a long time since we saw you last."

"So Frank was saying, Mrs Wenlock.  But I am not.  Death has not given
me a call yet."

None there knew how very near truth their jesting words came--save one.
One knew it, and with her Colvin, for the life of him, could not help
exchanging a look.  It was an exchange, and, swiftly as it flashed
between them in its fulness of meaning, it did not go unobserved--by
one.

"Hallo, Colvin, you've got your rifle along this time," cried Frank,
through the open window, who was examining the piece.  "Why, I thought
you never carried anything but a shot-gun down here."

"I don't generally.  But I might be going up into the Wildschutsberg,"
and again he brought his eyes round to those of Aletta.  "Now and then
you get a long shot at a reebok up there."

"Why, this is the same old gun you had up in Matabeleland," went on
Frank, sighting the weapon and pointing and recovering it.  "Nothing
like these Lee-Metfords with the Martini block.  By George, Miss De la
Rey, how he used to make the niggers skip in the Matopos with this same
pea-shooter!"

"Yes?" said Aletta, brightly, with simulated interest, but with a dire
chill at her heart.  What if this weapon should come to be pointed at
others than dark-skinned barbarians, and that soon?  Truth to tell for
some occult reason the patriotic enthusiasm had cooled a little of late.

"Adrian had one of the new guns round at our place the other day," said
Jan.  "A Mauser.  He said it would shoot three miles.  It is wonderful.
I can hardly believe it."

"Well, try a shot or two out of that, Jan," said Colvin.  "Only leave a
few cartridges, in case I should come in for a good chance, riding
along."

Jan did--making some excellent practice, at ant-heaps scattered at
varying distances over the veldt.  Then his sisters declared that he had
better see about inspanning, for it was time they were getting home.

"I shall have to be moving soon myself," said Colvin.  "I want to be in
Schalkburg to-night."

"In Schalkburg?" echoed Mrs Wenlock.  "Why, you are in a hurry--and we
haven't seen you for such a time."

"Yes; it's a pity.  But I have to do some business there first thing in
the morning, so it's as well to get there over-night."

"I thought you said you might be going up to the Wildschutsberg," said
Aletta, with a spice of mischief.  "Isn't that rather a long way round?"

"It is rather.  Only in the opposite direction.  But I won't go that
way."

And then, the cart being inspanned, they exchanged farewells.  The
handclasp between Colvin and Aletta was not one fraction more prolonged
than that which he exchanged with the other two girls--if anything
shorter.  May, watching, could not but admit this, but did not know
whether to feel relieved or not.

"So that is `the only English girl'!" said Aletta to herself as they
drove off.  "Old Tant' Plessis was both right and wrong.  They are not
engaged, but still there is a sort of something between them, and that
something is all, or nearly all, on her side.  She would not make him
happy, either--or be happy with him.  She is pretty, very pretty, but
common.  She is gusty-tempered, has no self-command, and would be
horribly jealous.  No.  She could never make him happy."

Those whom she had left, however, were at that very moment formulating
their opinions upon her, but aloud.

"What a nice girl Aletta has grown into!"  Mrs Wenlock was saying.
"She used to be shy and awkward, and nothing to look at, before she went
away, and now she's so bright, and smart, and stylish, and almost
pretty.  It's wonderful what her stay at Cape Town has done for her."

"I don't think she's pretty at all," said May decisively.  "I call her
ugly."

"No, I'll be hanged if she's ugly," said Frank.

"No, indeed," agreed his mother; "look what pretty hair she has, and
pretty hands, and then her manner is so delightful.  And there is such a
stylish look about her, too!  Don't you agree with me, Mr Kershaw?"

"Yes; I do," was the reply, made as evenly as though the subject under
discussion had been Andrina or Condaas, or any other girl in the
district.

"Well, I think she's a horrid girl," persisted May.  "Style, indeed?
What you call style, I call `side.'  She puts on a kind of
condescending, talk-down-to-you sort of manner.  These Dutch girls,"
with withering emphasis on the national adjective, "are that way.  They
go away from home for a little and come back as stuck-up as they can be.
That one is too grand for anything--in her own estimation.  A horrid,
stuck-up thing."

Colvin, listening, winced.  The idea expressed, the very wording of its
expression, grated upon him horribly, apart from the identity of the
subject thereof.  In such wise would May from time to time lapse, and
become, as Aletta had put it to herself, "common."

He made no comment upon her vehement and ill-natured dictum, knowing
perfectly well that it was uttered quite as much as a challenge to
himself as to relieve the utterer's feelings; and he was far too old and
experienced to be drawn by any such transparent device.  But as they
re-entered the sitting-room the jarring effect of the words was
intensified, bringing back in vivid contrast the last time he was there;
that evening when he had been so near turning the most momentous corner
which could meet him within the career of life.  He had not turned it.
A warning hand had, so to speak, been held up.  This girl--he could see
her as she was then, in her sweet alluring beauty, soft-voiced,
appealing.  He could see her now, hard-eyed, vindictive, and expressing
herself in a manner that savoured of the wash-tub.  What a near thing it
had been--how narrow his escape!

He would have been tied fast, bound hand and foot.  Even now there was a
certain length of loose coil around him, which would need some care and
judgment entirely to cast off.  Still there was no hard-and-fast bond,
and looking backward over the events of the past three weeks or so, he
felt lost in thankfulness because of the trivial, fortuitous incident
which had availed to stay his tongue when it had so nearly spoken.

"You are not particularly lively, after all this time, Colvin."

He started, and put down the paper he had pretended to read, while the
above reflections were coursing through his brain.  They were alone
together in the room, he and May.  Frank, divested of his coat and
waistcoat, could be seen in the distance doing odd jobs, and Mrs
Wenlock had withdrawn for an afternoon nap.  Her visitors, she declared,
although dear girls, had tired her.

"No, I'm afraid I'm not," he said.  "I believe I'm tired.  Well, let's
talk."

Something in the words brought back that last evening they were thus
alone together.  The recollection softened her, but only for a moment.

"I can imagine it seems dull now that your Dutch friends are gone," she
began, in a crisp, gunpowdery way which was more than a declaration of
war.  It was in fact the firing of the first shell.

"Oh, bother it, May, why will you harp on that insane prejudice of
nationality?" he expostulated, but quite good-humouredly, purposely
ignoring her real drift.  "A good sort is a good sort, no matter what
his or her nationality.  And I think you'll allow that old Stephanus and
his crowd come under that heading."

"So you seem to think," was the acid reply.  "You have been there a good
deal of late, haven't you?"

"Yes, I like them very much, and the shoot is choice."  And then he went
on to tell her about the bags he had made, and old Tant' Plessis and her
absurd perversities, and the ridiculous muddle the old woman had made
between his name and that of the sixteenth-century Reformer.  His object
was to keep her attention away from personalities.  But that object she
saw through.

"You were not so fond of them three or four weeks ago," she said, half
turned away from him, and beginning to speak quickly, while the sea-blue
eyes filled.  "That is just the time that girl has been back.  Goodness!
I never thought to see you--_you_--running after an ugly Dutch girl."

Every word grated upon Colvin's mind--grated intensely, so much so
indeed as to leave no room for anger, only disgust and disillusionment.
At that moment, too, there flashed vividly through his mind a vision of
the speaker, as contrasted with this "ugly Dutch girl" here in this very
room but a few minutes ago, and the contrast was all in favour of the
latter--yes, a hundred times over in her favour, he told himself.  And
now this one was going to make a scene; so much was evident.  She was
crudely, unsophisticatedly jealous, and had no self-control whatever.

Heavens! what an escape he had had!

"See here, May," he said.  "That sort of remark is not to my liking at
all.  It is--well, exceedingly unpleasant, and really I don't care about
listening to all this.  I am responsible to nobody for my actions,
remember, and there is not one living soul who has the slightest right
or title to call me to account for anything I do or don't do.  And I am
a little too old to begin to obey orders now.  So if you will kindly
give up abusing people I like, and with whom I happen to be very
friendly, I shall be grateful.  I don't like to hear it, and it doesn't
come well from you."

But the girl made no answer.  She had dropped her face into her hands,
and was silently sobbing.  He, watching her, was softened directly.  His
first impulse was to take her in his arms and strive to comfort her.  He
still had a very weak place for her, although the scales had fallen from
his eyes, owing to two causes.  But an instinct of prudence and a great
deal of cynicism born of experience rose up to restrain him.  He had
gone through this sort of thing before.  He had seen women utterly
miserable and heart-broken seemingly, on his account, as they said,
meaning it, too, at the time; but six months or a year thence had found
them laughing in his face, if not playing the same game with somebody
else; but he himself had not taken them seriously, wherefore it didn't
matter.  Yet it was all part of an education, and of what use was an
education save to be applied?

"Don't cry like that, little one," he said gently.  "Why should we say
hard things to each other, you and I?  We never used to."

The gentle tone melted her at once.  She dropped her hands.  All the
hardness had gone out of her face, and the sea-blue eyes were limpid and
tender and winning.

"No, we used not.  I have become very bad-tempered--very quarrelsome.
But--oh, Colvin, I am so tired of life--of life here.  It gets upon my
nerves, I think.  And I have hardly any friends, and you--you the
greatest of them all, hardly seem to care for me--for us--now.  I--we--
never see you in these days, and--I feel it somehow."

Colvin's heart smote him.  He need not have stayed away so long and so
markedly, but there was a reason, and he had acted with the best
intentions.  Wherein he had blundered, as people invariably do when they
suffer their actions to be guided by such tissue-paper motives, instead
of by the hard and safe rule of judiciousness, expediency, and knowledge
of human nature.

"Poor little girl!  You must not run away with all those ideas," he
said.  "And, you are flattering me.  Well, I will come over again soon,
and have a talk, but I must go now.  There, will that do?"

He was talking to her quite gently, quite soothingly, just as he used to
do, and the effect was wonderful.  All the dejection, the sullenness,
disappeared from her face, dispelled by a bright, almost happy smile.

"Good-bye, then," she said.  "I don't think I'll come and see you start
this time.  Good-bye, dear."

Her eyes shone soft and dewy in the upturned face.  Her lips were raised
invitingly.  It was not in mortal man to refuse them, however stern
rectitude under the circumstances might dictate such a course.  This one
did not refuse them.

"Good-bye, my darling!" she breathed into his ear, in a voice so barely
audible as to be almost inarticulate.  And as he left her and went out
to find his horse and see about saddling up, it was with a vague
misgiving that the loose coil, to which he had made allusion in his own
mind, had, within the last few moments, very perceptibly tightened.

We made use just above of the expression "under the circumstances."  The
"circumstances" were, that by that time this cautious, and cynical and
experienced man of the world was deeply, devotedly, and entirely in love
with Aletta De la Rey.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

JELF--CIVIL COMMISSIONER.

Nicholas Andrew Jelf was Civil Commissioner and Resident Magistrate for
the town and division of Schalkburg.

In person he was a tall, middle-aged, rather good-looking man, with dark
hair, and a grizzled, well-trimmed moustache, and whose general
appearance fostered an idea which constituted one of his favourite
weaknesses--that he resembled a retired military man.  When mistaken for
such openly, he positively beamed; and more than one shrewd rogue got
the benefit of the doubt, or obtained material mitigation of the penalty
due to his misdeeds, by appealing, with well-feigned ignorance, to the
occupant of the Bench as "Colonel."  By disposition he was easy-going
and good-natured enough, and bore the reputation among his brother Civil
servants of being something of a duffer.

By these the magistracy of Schalkburg was regarded as anything but a
plum.  It was very remote, the district large, and peopled almost
entirely by Dutch farmers.  The town itself was a great many miles from
the nearest railway station; moreover, it was a dull little hole, with
the limited ideas and pettifogging interests common to up-country
townships.  It boasted a large Dutch Reformed church--an unsightly,
whitewashed parallelogram with staring, weather-beaten windows--item
about a dozen stores, a branch of the Standard Bank, and two "hotels,"
designed to afford board and lodging, of a kind, to such of the
storekeepers' clerks or bank clerks--to whom means, or inclination or
opportunity, denied the advantages and felicities of the connubial
state, for a stranger was an exceeding rarity.  Half of its houses were
untenanted, save for a few days on the occasion of the quarterly
_Nachtmaal_ [The Lord's Supper] when the township would be filled with a
great multitude of Boers and their families from far and near, those who
did not own or hire houses, camping with their waggons on the town
commonage.  But it boasted no natural beauty to speak of, just dumped
down, as it were, on a wide, flat plain.  Some few of the houses had an
_erf_ or two of garden ground attached, which in the spring constituted
by contrast a pleasing spot of green amid the prevailing red dust, but
for the rest the impression conveyed was that of a sun-baked,
wind-swept, utterly depressing sort of place.

Nicholas Andrew Jelf was seated at his office table amid a pile of
papers, and his countenance wore a very worried expression indeed.  The
post had just been delivered, and the contents of the bag had consisted
of a greater crop than usual of Government circulars, eke requests for
returns, as it seemed, upon every subject under heaven.  Moreover, the
newspapers, through which he had glanced hurriedly, were mainly
remarkable for the number and conspicuousness of their scare headlines.
Sensation was the order of the day, and out of the chances of a rupture
with the two Republics the canny editor managed to suck no small
advantage.  But poor Mr Jelf could lay to himself no such consolation.
His thoughts were for his already large and still increasing family, and
the ruinous hole it would make in the by no means extravagant pay of a
Civil servant were he obliged to send it away to a safer locality, as he
greatly feared he ought to lose no time in doing.

He turned to his correspondence.  The Government desired to be informed
of this--or the member for Slaapdorp had moved for a return of that--or
Civil Commissioners were requested to obtain the opinion of the leading
farmers of their divisions as to how far rinderpest microbes were likely
to affect donkeys, given certain conditions of temperature and
climate... and nearly a dozen more of like practical utility.  Mr Jelf
threw down the papers with a grunt of disgust and swore mildly to
himself.

"They seem to think a Civil Commissioner must be a whole damned walking
`Encyclopaedia Britannica,'" he growled.  "What's this?  More of the
same stuff, I suppose."

But, as he read, his attention became more riveted and his face anxious
and graver.  For the official communication, marked "Confidential," was
one urgently requesting information as to the tone and disposition of
the Dutch farmers in his division as bearing upon the present state of
affairs, and desiring a full and circumstantial report at the very
earliest opportunity.  The effect of this was to deepen the worried look
upon his face and to cause him to swear a little more.  Just then a tap
came at the door, and his clerk entered.

"Anything by the post that wants seeing to, sir?"

"Anything?  I should think so.  Just look at all this, Morkel," pointing
to the heap of stuff upon the table.

Morkel did look at it--looked somewhat blue, moreover.  He was fond of
sport and had intended to ask for a day or two's leave to join a buck
hunt on one of the farms, and was fully capable of grasping the amount
of work all that confounded correspondence was going to entail.  He was
a well-set-up, good-looking young fellow of five and twenty, very proud
of his fair proportions and waxed moustache and somewhat dandified
attire; for there were three or four passable-looking girls in
Schalkburg, and the Civil Commissioner's clerk was Somebody in the
place.

"One would think, at such a time as this, Government would have plenty
to do without off-loading all these insane circulars upon us," went on
his chief, irritably.  "It isn't as if the things they want to know were
of any practical use--they might as well move for a return of the number
of buttons on every prisoner's breeches over at the gaol as some of the
things they do ask, but we've got to humour them.  By the way, though,
there's one thing they want to know that has a practical side, and that
ought to be looked after by a special department manufactured for this
emergency.  _We_ have quite enough to do without going on the stump, so
to say.  Look at this."

He handed the letter marked "Confidential" to his subordinate.  The
latter read it through carefully, and as he did so he saw light.  He
thought he was going to get his shoot after all, and a good deal more of
it than he had at first hoped for.

"The thing is so unreasonable," went on Mr Jelf.  "Every mortal fad
sprung on the House by some tin-pot country member, some retired
canteen-keeper and proportionately consequential, is off-loaded on the
Civil Commissioner.  The Civil Commissioner is requested to do this, and
the Civil Commissioner is desired to supply information upon that--as if
we hadn't quite enough to do with our financial and judicial duties.
Why the deuce can't Government have its own Secret Service department as
Oom Paul is supposed to have?"

Morkel listened sympathetically, as he always did when his chief
indulged in a grumble.  The two were on very good terms.  Jelf had a
liking for his subordinate, who officially was smart and well up to his
work, and socially was the only man in the place with whom he could
associate on even terms, except the District Surgeon, who was a trifle
too fond of his glass, and inclined to be dictatorial.  Morkel, for his
part, reciprocated the liking.  His chief was easy-going, and
good-natured in the matter of leave officially, and socially took a sort
of paternal and friendly interest in him.  These two Civil servants,
therefore, got on admirably together.

"Well, the thing has got to be done," went on Jelf, "and the only way to
find out Dutch feeling is to go around among the Dutch.  I haven't the
time to do it, and if I had it wouldn't help, because they'd all shut up
like oysters before me.  But with you it would be different, Morkel.
They'd look upon you as one of themselves."  He little thought how hard
he was stamping on the corns of his subordinate; the fact being that,
although born of Dutch parentage on either side, Morkel's weakness was
to imagine himself thoroughly and intensely English.  "You would have to
affect Boer sympathies, though, and we know that under the present
Ministry that doesn't damage a Civil servant at headquarters, eh?  What
do you think of the idea?"

"It's a first-rate one, sir.  I might go around as if on a sort of
wandering shoot."

"Yes.  Take your gun with you.  That'll give colour to the affair.  You
can have my trap and horses, only spare the springs all you can in going
through some of those bad drifts.  You'd better take a week of it.
Harvey can do a lot of your work for you.  He's almost too good a man
for a chief constable.  You'd better get as far up into the
Wildschutsberg part as you can; they say the Boers up that way are the
worst--especially since that firebrand, Andries Botma, has been his
rounds.  Look up Kershaw too; they say the fellow is three parts Boer in
his sympathies.  You might be able to get something out of him."

A knock at the door and the Court constable, being bidden to enter,
announced that Mynheer Stephanus De la Rey wanted to see the Civil
Commissioner.

"The very man," exclaimed the latter.  "You must get to his farm,
Morkel.  You're sure to hear something there.  Show him in, Hendrik."

Stephanus entered, and as he did so Morkel went out, laden with the
circulars that needed attention.

Left alone with the magistrate, Stephanus looked a trifle ill-at-ease.
His frank geniality seemed to have left him as he replied to that
official's inquiries after his family and concerns wherewith the Boer is
wont to preface any and every interview if on anything like friendly
terms with his interlocutor.  Then he came to the point.  He wished to
resign his field-cornetcy.

Jelf looked annoyed, and felt it too.  What was the reason, he asked.  A
reliable, influential man like Stephanus was just the man for the
office.  He would be hard to replace.  Would he not reconsider his
decision?

But Stephanus was firm; the fact being that since he had become
converted to the "patriot" cause he was too honest to continue holding a
post under the British Government, honorary as such might be.  He did
not, however, desire to say as much to the Government representative
before him.

But the latter saw through his constraint, and went straight to the root
of the thing.  He was irritated at the obstinacy, as he called it, of
this Boer, and the latter, to his amazement and indignation, found
himself being roundly lectured.  The Civil Commissioner had heard
reports of disaffection among some of the farmers--notably those in the
Wildschutsberg district, but he had never expected to find among the
disloyal a man so universally respected as the one before him, and much
more to the same effect Stephanus, however, kept both his temper and his
dignity.

If that was the way the representative of the Government regarded him,
he replied, all the more reason why he should adhere to his original
resolve, and resign the field-cornetcy in favour of somebody who would
be more acceptable.  Would Mynheer kindly receive his formal
resignation?

Yes, Mynheer would, in that case.  But the farewell greeting between the
two was stiff and unfriendly.

Left alone, Jelf felt rather small.  He had failed in judiciousness, in
tact, and he knew it.  He had rubbed his interviewer the wrong way, just
at a time when it was essential to keep such a man well disposed and
friendly.  At any rate, here was one item for his report.  If Stephanus
De la Rey was disaffected, why, then, the whole of the Wildschutsberg
district must be a hotbed of seething sedition.

Thus he expressed matters to his subordinate, as, Stephanus having
departed, he called Morkel in to talk over their plan.

"He has all but come round, sir," said the latter.  "I talked him over a
good deal, and his is one of the places I'm to go to.  He won't give way
about the field-cornetcy, though."

"Oh, well, we must find somebody else, I suppose.  They are all rebels
at heart, I believe, and he's as great a rebel as any.  Yes?  Come in."

Again the Court constable entered.

"Mynheer Grobbelaar wishes to see you, sir."

"Grobbelaar?  Is it Jan Grobbelaar?"

"Yes, sir."

"Show him in.  This is getting warm, Morkel.  Another damned
Field-cornet.  I suppose _he_ wants to resign now."

Swaart Jan entered, his projecting buck-teeth more prominent than ever
in an oily grin, as he shook hands with the two officials.  Jelf's
manner was short, and he wasted no time in preliminaries.

"Well, Mynheer Grobbelaar, and what can I do for you?"

"Nay, Mynheer, thank you.  I have not called on business; just to make a
little friendly visit."

"Oh, not on business?" said the magistrate, greatly relieved in his own
mind, yet wishing his visitor at the devil, bothering in like that
during office hours.  But he changed his mind when the Boer explained
that he had been shooting a few springbuck lately, and he had brought in
a little matter of a saddle and a couple of haunches, which Mrs Jelf
might find good for roasting.  It was from a young buck, and would eat
well--he went on, in his shambling, diffident way.

Jelf thawed at once, and thanked his visitor.  Here was another
opportunity of getting at the state of Dutch feeling; and by way of
preliminary he told the other about Stephanus' resignation, adding, with
a laugh:

"I thought you had come to resign too, Mynheer Grobbelaar."

But the little man deprecated the possibility of any such idea having
entered his head.  It was a pity Stephanus had resigned, though.  In
answer to other questions--yes, there was some foolish talk among the
Boers around him, but it was only talk, and they were young men.  The
Patriot?  Oh, yes, he had visited some of them, but only on a flying
visit.  Held meetings?  Oh, no--and here Swaart Jan's hands went up in
pious horror.  What did Mynheer think of him, and those around him, to
imagine that he, or they, would countenance such a thing for a single
moment?

Jelf felt intensely relieved.  Here was loyalty at last, anyhow--another
item for his report.  And he and his visitor parted with the most
cordial of farewells; and Field-cornet Jan Marthinus Grobbelaar, _alias_
Swaart Jan, went out grinning till his tusks nearly came below the level
of his chin, as he thought of the cases of Mauser rifles snugly stored
in a safe recess within his house, and the ammunition, a quantity
sufficient to blow up half the mountain, which was stowed away in a
cleft of an adjacent krantz, conveyed and deposited thither by authority
of no permit given under the hand of Nicholas Andrew Jelf, Resident
Magistrate.

Here was loyalty at last, anyhow! as that astute official had put it to
himself.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

SOLUTION.

How had it all come about?  What was there in this girl that had seized
and held his mind--his every thought--ever since he had first set eyes
on her, all unexpectedly, that evening when he had come in, wet and
dripping, having barely escaped with his life?  Colvin Kershaw, putting
the question to himself twenty times a day, could find no definite
answer to it.

No definite answer--no.  Therein lay all the charm surrounding Aletta.
It was so indefinite.  From the moment he had first beheld her the charm
had taken hold upon him.  He had been unconsciously stirred by her
presence, her personality.  Yet it was no case of love at first sight.
A strange, potent weaving of the spell had been on him then, and,
gradual in its development, had enchained him and now held him fast.

Day after day in his solitary dwelling he had recognised it, and
analysed it, and striven with its influence, yet had never attempted to
throw it off--had never shrunk instinctively from the weaving of its
coils around him.  It was not born of solitude, as perhaps that other
coil, from which he would heartily fain be now entirely and
conscientiously free, had been.  No matter under what circumstances, or
in what crowd they had met, he realised that the result would have been
the same; that the spell would still have been woven just the same.

He thought upon the conditions of life, and how such are apt to focus
themselves into a very small groove--the groove in which one happens,
for the time being, to run.  Might it not be that the circumscribed area
into which life had resolved itself with him of late had affected his
judgment, and led him to take a magnified, a vital view of that which,
looked at from the outside world, would have struck him as a passing
fancy, and untenable save as such?  Judgment, reason, heart, alike cried
out to the contrary, and cried aloud.

He might leave this remote habitation on the High Veldt, this region
outwardly so unattractive to the casual passer-through with a mind
absorbed by the state of the share market in Johannesburg or London, but
so enriveting to those who make it their home.  He might return to the
world he knew so well; might do so to-morrow, without inconvenience or
loss.  What then?  He would merely be measuring the length of his chain,
or, if he succeeded in breaking it, would be relinquishing the pearl of
great price which he had found here in a far corner of the earth when
least expecting any such marvellous discovery, any such unspeakable
blessing to be obtained by mortal man.

For so he had come to regard it.  Yes, the symptoms this time were
there.  Nothing was wanting to them now.  He had been under the delusion
that that which they had represented was, for him, a thing of the past,
and in his solitary life and unconscious craving for sympathy and
companionship--yes, and even for love, had almost acted upon that idea.
But for a timely diversion he would so have acted.  Now he could hardly
formulate to himself a sufficiency of gratitude to Heaven, or
circumstances, or whatever it might be, that he had not.

The narrowness of his escape he realised with a mental shudder.  What if
this strange new experience, opening as it did such an irradiating vista
of possibilities, had come upon him a day too late, had discovered him
bound--bound, too, by a chain he well knew there would be no loosening
once its links enfolded him?  His usual luck had stood him in good stead
once more, and the thought suggested another.  Would that luck continue?

Would it?  It should.  He would soon put it to the test.  He went over
in his mind the whole period of his acquaintanceship with Aletta.  It
was short enough in actual fact--only a matter of weeks, yet viewed by
the aspect of the change it had wrought it seemed a lifetime.  He
recalled how he had first beheld her, and indeed many a time since,
bright, laughing, infecting everyone, however unconsciously, with the
warmth of her sunny light-heartedness.  No outcome was this either of a
shallow unthinking temperament.  She could be serious enough on
occasions, as he had more than once observed during their many talks
together, that, too, with a quick sympathy which pointed to a rich depth
of mind.  He reviewed her relationship towards her own people, which, as
an intimate friend of the house, he had enjoyed every opportunity of
observing, and here again he found no flaw.  It was clear that the whole
family came little short of worshipping her, and through this ordeal too
she had come utterly unspoiled.  The idea brought back the recollection
of the sort of good-humoured, faintly contemptuous indulgence with which
he had listened to the singing of her praises by one or other of its
members, what time her personality represented to him simply the
original of those unprepossessing portraits which adorned the
sitting-room; and he acknowledged that the laugh now was completely
turned against himself.

Then his thoughts took a new vein, and he seemed to hear the comments of
those among whom he had sometime moved--"Colvin Kershaw?  Oh yes.
Married some farm girl out in Africa and turned Boer, didn't he?" and
more to the same effect, uttered in a languid, semi-pitying tone by this
or that unit of a society whose shibboleth was the mystical word
"smart," a society he had been in but not of.  Well, so be it.  Let them
drawl out their banal inanities.  In this case he hoped they would do so
with reason.

Hoped?  For he was not sure, far from it; and herein lay one of the
"symptoms," Not that he would have loved Aletta one iota the less had he
been sure.  He was not one of those to whom the joy of possession is
measured by the excitement and uncertainty of pursuit; and there are
some of whom this holds good, however difficult it may be to persuade,
at any rate the ornamental sex, that such can possibly be the case.  On
the contrary, he would feel grateful to one who should spare him the
throes and doubts calculated to upset even an ordinarily well-balanced
mind under the circumstances, and proportionately appreciative.  But
whatever of diffidence or anxiety might take hold upon his own mind,
Colvin Kershaw was not the man to display it in the presence of its
first cause.  The cringing, adoring, beseeching suitor of not so very
old-fashioned fiction struck him as somewhat contemptible, and as of
necessity so appearing to the object of his addresses, no matter how
much she might really care for him at heart.  He must run his chance to
win or lose, and if he lost, take it standing.  There was none of the
_ad misericordiam_, wildly pleading element about him.

"_Pas op, Baas_!  The bird!"

The words, emanating from his henchman, Gert Bondelzwart, brought him
down to earth again; for the occupation in which he had been engaged
during the above reverie was the prosaic one of attending to his daily
business, which in this case consisted in going round the ostrich camps
and inspecting such nests as he knew of, or discovering indications of
prospective ones.  To a certain extent mechanical and routine, it was
not incompatible with reflection upon other matters.  Now he turned to
behold a huge cock ostrich bearing down upon him with hostility and
aggressiveness writ large all over its truculent personality.

"Here, Gert.  Give me the _tack_!" he said.  "That old brute is properly
_kwaai_."

Now the cock ostrich resembles the aggressive and nagging human female,
in that the respective weakness of either protects it, though differing,
in that in the first instance the said weakness may be read as "value"
and, in the second, proportionately the reverse.  For a creature of its
size and power for mischief there is no living thing more easy to kill
or disable than an ostrich, wherein again comes another diametrical
difference.  A quick, powerful down-stroke or two with the sharp-pointed
toe may badly injure a man or even kill him, if surprised in the open by
the ferocious biped, tenfold more combative and formidable during the
nesting season.  And this one, which now came for its lawful owner,
looked formidable indeed, towering up to its great height, the feathers
round the base of its neck bristling at right angles, and flicking its
jet-black wings viciously.  It was a grand bird, whose pink shins and
beak, and flaming, savage eye proclaimed it in full season, as it
charged forward, hissing like an infuriated snake.

Colvin grasped the long, tough mimosa bough not a moment too soon.
Standing firm yet lightly, so as to be able to spring aside if
necessary, he met the onrush in the only way to meet it.  The sharp
pricking of the clusters of spiky thorns met the savage bird full in the
head and neck, but chiefly the head, forcing it to shut its eyes.  For a
moment it danced in powerless and blinded pain, then backed, staggering
wildly.  Forward again it hurled itself, emitting an appalling hiss,
again to meet that inexorable cluster of thorny spikes.  In blind rage
it shot out a terrible kick, which its human opponent deftly avoided,
the while holding his thorn _tack_ high enough to avoid having it struck
from his hand--a precaution many a tyro in the ways of the gentle
ostrich has been known to forget, to his cost.  Again it charged, once
more only to find itself forced to shut its eyes and stagger back
giddily.  Then it came to the conclusion that it had had enough.

"I think he will leave us alone, so long, Gert," said Colvin, panting
somewhat from the exertion and excitement, for even the thorn-tack means
of defence requires some skill and physical effort to wield with effect
against a full-grown and thoroughly savage male ostrich.

"_Ja_, Baas.  He is real _schelm_," returned Gert, who had been standing
behind his master throughout the tussle.  "But he has had enough."

It seemed so.  The defeated monster, baulked and cowed, sullenly
withdrew, and, shambling off, promptly encountered a weaker rival in the
shape of one of his own kind, which he incontinently went for, and
consoled himself for his own rout by rushing his fleeing inferior all
over the camp, and then, gaining the wire fence, went down on his
haunches, and wobbled his silly head and fluttered his silly wings in
futile challenge to another cock-bird on the further side of that
obstruction, whose attention had been attracted by the row, and who was
coming down to see what it was all about.

"Now to look at that jackal-trap, Gert.  Ah, here it is--and, sure
enough, here's Mr Jack."

There came into view an iron trap, which, when set, had been level with
the ground, deftly covered with loose earth, and baited with half a
hare.  It was placed in the thick of a bush so as to be inaccessible to
ostriches, to protect whom it was there, and as they came up, a jackal,
securely caught by the forelegs, struggled wildly to get free, snarling
in fear and pain, and displaying all its white teeth.

"Poor little brute," said Colvin.  "Here, Gert, give it a whack on the
head with your kerrie and send it to sleep.  _Toen_! look sharp.

"That's the worst of these infernal traps," he went on, as a
well-directed blow terminated the destructive little marauder's hopes
and fears.  "But it has got to be, or we shouldn't have an egg left."

"_Ja_, Baas.  That is quite true," assented the Griqua, to whose
innermost mind, reflected through those of generations of barbarian
ancestry, the idea of feeling pity for a trapped animal, and vermin at
that, represented something akin to sheer imbecility.

"Gert," said Colvin, as they got outside the ostrich camps, "get up one
of the shooting-horses--Punch will do--and saddle him up.  I am going
over to Ratels Hoek."

"Punch, sir?  Not Aasvogel?"

"_Jou eselkop_!  Did I not say a shooting-horse?  Aasvogel would run to
the devil before if he heard a shot.  He'd run further now since the
joke up yonder with Gideon Roux."

"_Ja_, sir.  That is true"; and the Griqua went away chuckling.  He had
been poking sly fun at his master, in that Aasvogel was by far the
showiest horse in the place.  Gert had been putting two and two
together.  For about once a week that his master had gone over to Ratels
Hoek formerly, now he went thither at least twice or three times.  Of
course it could only be with one object, and with that object no Boer
would have thought of riding any other than his showiest horse.
Wherefore Gert had suggested Aasvogel.

Likewise, no Boer would have thought of riding forth on such an errand
without getting himself up with much care and all the resources at his
disposal.  Colvin, needless perhaps to say, did nothing of the kind.  He
got into a clean and serviceable shooting-suit, and with his favourite
shot-gun, a sufficiency of cartridges, and a few trifling necessaries in
a saddle-bag, he was ready.

Just then his housekeeper, Katrina, Gert's wife, met him in the door
with a note.  It had just been brought, she said.  Baas Wenlock's boy
was waiting for an answer.

He opened the note.  It was in May's handwriting, wanting to know if he
would come over and spend Sunday with them.  What should he reply?  This
was Friday; yet, one way or the other, he was under no doubt whatever
that in forty-eight hours he would not be precisely inclined to put in
the day at Spring Holt--no--no matter how things went.  Yet to refuse
would seem unfriendly, and, viewed from one aspect, somewhat brutal.  So
he left the matter open, pleading hurry in his reply.

Then as he passed out of his door a chill feeling came over him.  How
would he re-enter it--elate, happy, or--only to calculate how soon he
could make arrangements for leaving it altogether, for shutting down
this volume of the book of his life?  And with a sense of darkling
superstition upon him the delivery of that message as he passed the
threshold seemed to sound a note of ill augury.

He was destined to meet with another such.  When nearly half-way on his
ride he came in sight of another horseman cantering along the flat at
some distance off, travelling towards him.  A few minutes more and he
made out Adrian De la Rey.

It was rather a nuisance, he decided.  He did not want to meet Adrian
just then.  Adrian was too addicted to making himself disagreeable in
these days.  Formerly they had been very friendly, but now, since Adrian
had come upon them that morning in the garden, his manner had changed.
It had displayed towards Colvin, upon such occasions as they had met, a
brusqueness akin to rudeness.

"_Daag_!  Adrian!" cried the latter, reining in.

"_Daag_!" answered the young Boer gruffly, without reining in, and
continuing his way.

"You want a lesson in manners, my young friend," said Colvin to himself,
feeling excusably nettled.  "Well, well!" he added.  "The poor devil's
jealous, and of course hates me like poison.  I suppose I should do the
same."

Thus lightly did he pass it off.  He would not have done so perhaps
could he at that moment have seen the other's face, have read the
other's mind.  A savage scowl clouded the former, black and deadly
hatred seethed through the latter.

"Wait a bit, you _verdomde rooinek_!" snarled the Boer to himself.
"Your days are told.  They may be counted by weeks now, and not many of
_them_.  These accursed English--is it not enough that they rule our
land and treat us like Kafirs, without coming between us and those we
love?  Their time of reckoning will be here directly--and of this one
too.  He little knows--he little knows, that he will be dead in a few
weeks.  No-no!"

He said truly.  The object of this murderous though not altogether
unjustifiable hatred was holding on his way through the sweet golden
sunshine, little thinking of the dread ordeal of blood and horror
through which he, and some of those with whom his fate was bound up,
were soon--and very soon--to pass.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

"OF GREAT PRICE."

That visit to the Wenlocks had been productive of result in more
directions than one; still, why should it have affected Aletta De la Rey
of all people?  Yet affect her it did, inasmuch as, after it, she became
more happy and light-hearted than ever.

Little had she thought at the time of carelessly suggesting the idea to
her mother that such could possibly be the result.  But weeks had gone
by since the suggestion was made, and the lapse of weeks has sometimes a
curious way of bringing about changes and developments by no means to be
foreseen by those most concerned therein; which for present purposes may
be taken to mean that she and Colvin Kershaw had by this time seen a
great deal of each other.  And this period Aletta, for her part, looked
back upon with vivid and unalloyed pleasure.

He had been a great deal at Ratels Hoek during that time, so much so as
to lay her open to considerable chaff at the hands of her sisters,
notably at those of Condaas, who declared that it was "a case," in that
he had never been known to favour them with anything like so much of his
company before.  Even old Tant' Plessis had remarked upon it, appending
by way of rider the query as to when he was going to marry Wenlock's
sister, "the only English girl" and so forth, which joke had become a
standing one by then.  But Aletta could afford to laugh at it now, in
the most whole-souled manner, which development was among the results of
that memorable visit.

All their talks together--now grave, now semi-serious, now wholly gay--
she delighted to dwell upon.  This man was entirely outside her previous
experience.  Nothing he said ever jarred, even in the slightest degree.
There was no question they discussed together to which he could not find
a perfectly intelligible side, even if differing; no show of impatience
or of humouring her; everything treated from a philosophical,
well-thought-out point of view.  Or, if the topic were of lighter
import, the exact point where the humour came in would somehow strike
them simultaneously.  There was a subtle vein of sympathy between them,
and to dwell upon it thrilled her with a blissful and exquisite delight.

Other considerations apart, it was intensely flattering, the more so as
she realised that the attitude was genuine.  She had met with plenty of
attention during her absence from home, but her head had not been in the
least turned thereby.  But of all the attention she had met, none had
been so grateful, so satisfying, and indeed so sweet as this.
Sometimes, in fact, she would wonder if she were not over-estimating its
burden, but the momentary misgiving would be quenched.  Tone, glance,
everything told her that such was not the case.

Yet what could he see in her, to take so much pleasure in talking with
her, he who had seen so much of the world what time she herself was
running about in short frocks, not so very long able to talk distinctly?
How could he give so much consideration to her crude ideas--acquired
and fostered, she supposed, during a not very long sojourn in a
fifth-rate capital--he who had seen all the mighty capitals of both
worlds, and knew some of them intimately?  Personally, too, where did
the attraction lie?  She was not even pretty, like her sister Andrina,
or May Wenlock.  Yet, comparing herself with the latter, a smile spread
over her face, rippling out into a low, whole-hearted laugh, all alone
as she was.

Now the above reflections constituted just about as full and complete a
tribute as Aletta De la Rey could have given to any man.  She had no
poorer an opinion of herself than had other girls of her quality and
circumstance.  She was aware--normally, that is--that what she lacked in
attractiveness in one direction was counterbalanced by different
advantages in another.  Yet now she found herself magnifying her
defects, and almost entirely losing sight of their compensations.  Of a
truth here too were "symptoms."

Thus meditating, not quite for the first time, Aletta strolled along
through the willows by the river bed--much more bed than "river" now,
although a faint trickle had kept some of the deeper reaches fairly
supplied.  She was given to an occasional solitary stroll.  It was good
for the individual to retire sometimes into private life, was her
explanation.  But the other girls put--or pretended to put--a different
construction upon it.  They declared mischievously that there was
something on between her and somebody in Cape Town, and she wanted to go
and have a good think about him.  She, for her part, only laughed, and
let them think so if they wanted to.  But they humoured her and her
inclinations all the same, for, as we said elsewhere, Aletta occupied a
sort of metaphorical pedestal within her own family circle.

It was a lovely morning--blue and golden and cloudless.  A mirage-like
shimmer arose from the veldt, and the sunlight slanted upon the facets
of near rock-walls engirdling turret-shaped cone, or flat-topped mount,
as though sweeping over patches of gems.  A "kok-a-viek," the yellow
African thrush, was calling to his mate in his melodious triple hoot
among the willows hard by, and the sounds of workaday life--mellowed by
distance--the lowing of cattle, and the shout of native voices, were
borne to the girl's ears as she stood there, revelling, though half
unconsciously, in the glow of her youth and vitality, in the sheer joy
and delight of living.

Suddenly an old koorhaan concealed somewhere among the thorns on the
opposite river bank opened his head, and emitted his long, strident
crowing.  Another answered further off, then another, and presently the
whole veldt was alive with the shrill barkings of the clamourous little
bustards.  Then the first offender rose with an uproarious suddenness
that startled Aletta, and put up about ten more, which could be seen
winging their way, far and near, adding their alarmed cacklings to his.

Something had scared the bird--something or somebody.  Who could it be?
Aletta's face flushed.  Was it Adrian back again?  He had been there
that morning and had ridden off, very moody and sullen.  Had he thought
better of it and returned?  Was it Adrian--or--And then the flush which
had spread over her cheeks and throat deepened, and her eyes shone with
a glad light, for there was a hoof-stroke or two hard by--on this side,
not on the opposite bank where she had expected the new-comer, whoever
it might be, first to show, and then the identity of the latter was
exactly as she could have wished.

"I am in luck's way this morning," said Colvin, dismounting.  "Are you
indulging in a solitary meditation, Miss De la Rey?"

She answered in the affirmative.  The while he had taken in at a glance
the whole picture: the tall, graceful figure against the background of
trees, the lighting up of the hazel eyes, the flush of colour which
rendered the face, framed within an ample white "kapje," wonderfully
soft and winning, as its owner stood, with her head thrown ever so
slightly back, there before him.  Something or other--perhaps it was the
"kapje" she was wearing--recalled to his mind a somewhat similar meeting
in which May Wenlock constituted the other party to the transaction;
but, if so, it was only to think what a long time ago that seemed, and
what a change had come into and over his life since.

Then, as her glance fell upon his horse, and some birds dangling from
the saddle:

"Why, you have been shooting already.  Tell me, do you even go to bed
with a cartridge-belt on?  How many birds have you got?"

"Brace of partridges and two koorhaan.  One is a _vaal_ koorhaan, and a
fine one too.  It took an astonishingly long shot to bring him down.  I
could have brought along a blekbok, but thought I'd let him go."

"Why?"

"Oh, I didn't want the bother of loading him up--and the rest of it.  He
got up right under Punch's feet just after I turned into the gate of the
third camp.  It was impossible to have missed him, for Punch is as
steady as a rock.  So he stood, or rather ran, reprieved.  No.  I
couldn't be bothered with him to-day."

"Why--to-day?"

But with the words she dropped her eyes.  Was it before something in his
glance?  Immediately, however, she raised them again and met his fully,
bravely.

"Listen, Aletta.  I have something to tell you, and it strikes me first
as a splendid augury that I should have found you like this all alone.
It is of no use beating about the bush, but--give me your hand, dear,
then perhaps I shall be able to tell you better."

Without removing her eyes from his, she put forth her hand.  Augury
Number 2, he thought, as the long, soft tapering fingers slipped into
his.  She, for her part, thought how firm, and tender, and speaking was
that gaze which she met; and it was of a piece with the manner.  No
exuberant over-confidence which would have jarred, none of the
self-effacing, stuttering diffidence, which would have sapped ever so
little, even if but momentarily, the high estimation in which she held
this man.  Could she herself be as self-possessed?

"I love you, darling," he said.  "I have come over this morning on
purpose to tell you so.  We have not known each other very long, but I
have learnt to love you as I never thought it possible to love.  Have
you not seen it?"

"I don't know," she whispered.  But the hand that was within his seemed
to close around it with a perceptible pressure.

"Listen now, Aletta"; and there was a softened tenderness about the mere
sounding of her name that sent a thrill of delight through her whole
being.  "I am rather a weather-worn hulk, I fear some people might say,
for you in your sweet, bright youth to condemn yourself to go through
life with.  Yet, if you could bring yourself to face that ordeal, I
believe we should make each other very happy.  Tell me, now, do you
think you can bring yourself to face it--to love an old fogey like me?"

Her eyes answered him.  They had never left his, and now the love-light
that beamed from them was not to be mistaken.

"Yes, Colvin," she said softly.  "I think I can.  But--don't call
yourself names."  And with the words she was gathered to him while they
exchanged their first kiss.  "Can I love you?" she murmured unsteadily,
yielding in his embrace.  "Can I love you, did you say?  Can I help it?
My darling one, you are made to be loved," she uttered, in a very
abandonment of passionate tenderness.  "But I--why should you love me--
you who have seen so much of the world?  I am so inexperienced, so
ignorant.  I am not even decent-looking.  How can I ever make you
happy?"

"Ignorant?  Inexperienced?  My Aletta, you would more than hold your own
anywhere--perhaps will some day," he added, as though to himself.  "Not
even decent-looking!" he echoed banteringly, and, holding her from him
at arm's length, he affected to scan her up and down.  "No.  No
presence, no grace, supremely awkward--hands like the sails of a
fishing-smack."

"There, that will do," laughed the girl, giving him a playful tap with
one of the libelled hands, a hand which would have served as a model in
a sculpture of Iseult of Brittany.  "You are only _beginning_ to sum up
my imperfections, and I am frightened already.  No, really; I feel
hardly inclined for a joke even.  I am far, far too happy."

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

"Kwaa-kwak-kwak!  Kwaa-kwak-kwak!"

Both started, then laughed.  The old koorhaan, first disturbed across
the river bed, was returning, as though some instinct notified him that
the fell destroyer was harmless to-day.  Right overhead he came, an easy
twenty-five yards' shot.  Instinctively Colvin reached for the gun,
which he had rested against an adjoining bush; but as quickly he
recovered himself.

"We'll grant the old squawker an amnesty to-day," he said with a laugh.
"I don't think I could have missed that shot either."

"Kwaa-kwak-kwak!  Kwaa-kwak-kwak!" yelled the bird, as, hovering for a
moment, it dropped down among the thorns on the very spot whence it had
been first roused.  Then they talked on, those two, happy in the
happiness which cannot often come in a lifetime--happy in the golden
sunshine and the glowing summer of their lives--happy amid the rejoicing
surroundings of Nature, in their vastness and peace and calm.  Yet, away
there to the North--what?  The gathering cloud, black as night, sweeping
down, steadily, surely--whirled along on the spreading demon-wings of
war--the cloud which, bursting into lurid thunders, should overwhelm all
with its blasting breath in a vortex of hideous hate and red slaughter,
and woe and destitution.  No; for the contemplation of this they had no
mind.

Suddenly Aletta gave a start, uttering a little cry of consternation.

"There's the dinner-bell, and you haven't even off-saddled.  How late we
shall be!"

"We shall, rather.  But what does it matter?  Good Lord, though, how the
last hour has flown?"

Was it a suspicion born of the fact that these two shared a momentous
secret that made them think Stephanus exchanged more than one
significant glance with his wife while they sat at dinner?  He began to
talk about his nephew Adrian.  The latter never came near them now.  He
had changed entirely, and seemed to have run patriotism mad.  Moreover,
he had taken to associating with certain Boers of a particularly low and
disreputable type, such as Hermanus Delport, Gideon Roux, and others.

The while Condaas and Andrina were kicking each other under the table,
and Aletta was feeling supremely uncomfortable.  Then the worthy
Stephanus, suddenly becoming aware that he was romping gaily over mined
ground, abruptly changed the subject.

But thereafter was surprise in store for him, when Colvin took him aside
and imparted the events of the morning.  Stephanus was delighted, and an
additional fact, not at present to be divulged, which the other imparted
to him, did not lessen his satisfaction.

"_Maagtig_!  Colvin.  You are a _slim kerel_," he cried, shaking his
son-in-law-elect warmly by the hand.  "Why, you have kept it dark
between you.  Well, I don't know anybody I would rather give my little
girl to.  Besides, she is almost English in her ways.  But, say; it
seems a strange thing that you, with ample means to live where you like,
should prefer to bury yourself in an out-of-the-way place like this.  Of
course, for us who are born to it, why it's different.  We couldn't get
on anywhere else."

"Oh, I like the life, Stephanus.  Since I have known Aletta, I have
liked it more.  By the way, I am under no sort of a cloud at home, if
that is what you are thinking about.  I could go and set up in London
to-morrow if I wanted."

"I was not thinking otherwise, _ou' maat_," said Stephanus heartily.
"Let us go in and tell the wife."

Mrs De la Rey gave both of them a good-humoured scolding.  She ought to
have been told first, not Stephanus.  Girls belonged first of all to
their mother.  She, too, was delighted.  But the cream of the joke came
when they broke the news to old Tant' Plessis.

"Colvin going to marry Aletta?" cried the latter sharply.  "What
nonsense are you telling me, Gertruida?  Why, Colvin is going to marry
Wenlock's sister.  She is the only English girl here, and he is the only
Englishman, so of course he is going to marry her.  I have heard
Mynheer--no, I mean everybody--say so."

"But it isn't true, Tanta, I tell you," explained Mrs De la Rey.  "It
is Aletta--our Aletta."

"Aletta?" ejaculated the old woman, upon whom it began to dawn.
"Aletta!  _Oh, mijn Vaterland_!  Why, he is nearly old enough to be her
father!"

"That's a nasty one!" whispered Colvin to Stephanus, who was nearly
losing his life in his superhuman efforts to repress a great roar.  It
was too much for Andrina and Condaas, who at the other end of the room
were pretending to work.  They precipitately fled, and, in a moment,
splutters and squeals, muffled by a closed door, became faintly audible
to those who remained.  Aletta had made herself scarce long before.

"Nearly old enough to be her father, and an Englishman!" repeated Tant'
Plessis, wagging her head.  "An Englishman!  _Oh, goeije_!  Was not one
of her father's people good enough for her?  There, Gertruida.  See what
comes of sending her among the English to learn their ways.  She comes
home, and wants to marry an Englishman."

The air, half of horror, half of resignation, wherewith the old woman
uttered these words was irresistibly comic.

"Well, Tanta, he isn't a bad sort of an Englishman, as Englishmen go,"
cut in Stephanus, winking the while at his wife.  "Besides, remember
whom he is descended from, and shake hands and congratulate him,"
shoving Colvin forward as he spoke.

"_Ja_, that is true," replied Tant' Plessis, somewhat mollified.  "After
all, his grandfather was the great and good Calvinus.  Well, nephew,
follow in his footsteps, and you will be happy.  But--Aletta!  _Oh, mijn
lieve Heer_! who would have thought it--Aletta!"



CHAPTER ONE.

BOOK II--THE REFUGEE TRAIN.

The last refugee train was drawn up at the down-country departure
platform at Park Station, Johannesburg.

The scene upon the platform was one of indescribable hubbub and
confusion.  Passengers, representing all ages and sexes, vociferated in
various tongues, and tumbled over piles of luggage, and swore, or
snapped or whimpered according to sex or age.  Some, belated, thanks to
a final call at the refreshment bar, charged furiously through the
clamourous crowd by main force, panic-stricken lest they should lose
their seats.  Seats?  They were lucky to get any accommodation at all.
Carriages and compartments, cattle vans and open trucks alike, were
literally crammed.  The enforced republicanism of the hour and the
situation crowded all classes together indiscriminately; and the man of
wealth and luxurious living was jostled and shouldered by the roughest
mine hand, who in habits and ideas rose little, if at all, above the
level of the savage.  The densely packed compartments afforded scenes
and sounds of wild weird Babel, being resonant with the squalling of
children and the altercations of hustled and excited women, and in the
open trucks men elbowed and cursed and fought for mere standing room.
The while, jeering Zarps, [Note 1], posted about the platform by twos
and threes, stood enjoying the fun.  They felt no call to keep the peace
on this occasion, to interfere in quarrels between the enemies of their
land.  Let these accursed Uitlanders settle their own differences.  They
would have plenty of time to do it in before they got clear of the
country, decided the guardians of law and order with a certain grim
satisfaction.

The train, which was of vast length, began to move slowly out of the
station, and as it did so somebody, with more patriotism than sense of
humour, conceived the idea of striking up "Rule, Britannia."  It took,
and the chorus rolled forth lustily from the fleeing crowd, mighty in
volume, but varied--exceedingly--as to time and tune, causing the Zarps,
who understood English, to break into boisterous and derisive laughter,
and to call out after the singers that, whatever Britannia ruled, it was
not the Transvaal, and if she thought otherwise she had better hurry up
her _rooi-baatjes_ [Redcoats] and try.  Which comment, after all, was
not without pertinence.

Upon others, however, the effect of the parting challenge was different.
A group of armed burghers had been standing at the end of the platform,
surveying, with glances of hatred and contempt, the swirling confusion
of the crowd of refugees.  Now, as they grasped the burden of the song,
several were seen to slap cartridges into their rifles, with many a
threatening scowl in the direction of the train.  The latter, very
fortunately, had got sufficiently under way, for already several rifles
were pointed at the receding trucks full of packed fugitives.  The
burghers were in an ugly mood, and racial feeling had reached its
highest point of tension.  Something of a massacre might easily at that
moment have resulted from the display of rash and ill-timed defiance.
The result of a volley poured into those closely crowded trucks would
have been too ghastly for anything.

Few indeed were the Uitlanders who remained upon the platform as the
train disappeared, and such as did wore a grave and anxious expression
of countenance; and well they might, for the hour of retreat was past,
and they had deliberately and of their own free will elected to stay in
the Republic and face the horrors and risks of war, and that at the
mercy of the enemies of their countrymen.  Such being the case, it may
be imagined that the seeing-off contingent attendant upon the departure
of the last train was not large.

Conspicuous among it were two persons--a man and a girl.  They were not
together.  They were not, apparently, acquainted, and they were
unmistakably English.  Yet they were looking at each other--and had been
for some time--now furtively, now openly, now in a would-be casual
fashion that deceived neither.

The man's attention was drawn to the girl because she was very pretty.
The girl's attention might have been drawn to the man, because he
represented the masculine equivalent of that form of attractiveness in
her.  He was of a good height, well set up, with clean-cut features and
brown eyes, clear and searching, lighting up a healthy sun-browned face;
a good-looking man beyond the ordinary, and one likely to attract the
attention of the other sex.

But the expression of countenance worn by this member of the other sex
seemed to convey more than the idea of a mere casual attraction, for it
passed through varying phases.  Now a puzzled frown knitted the brows,
now the velvety-blue eyes dilated in a gaze of fixed scrutiny, then
brightened into a gleam as of one who has solved a perplexing riddle,
and has solved it to her complete satisfaction.  Then she came right up
to the other, putting forth her hand, as she said demurely:

"Well, this is a surprise!  Why, whenever did you come up here?"

But the stranger responded with something of a stark.  The expression of
his face conveyed astonishment, plain and undiluted.

"Pardon me," he said, slightly raising his hat.  "I think there must
be--er--some mistake."

It was the girl's turn to exhibit amazement.  Then her face flushed,
hardening into a set look of sullen indignation.

"Some mistake?" she echoed.  Then witheringly, "Yes, I think there must
be.  Pardon _me_, Mr Kershaw.  I am very dense.  I ought to have seen
that you did not wish to know your friends in another country and under
different circumstances."

"Yes, that is my name.  But--er--really it is very remiss of me--but--
Where did we meet?"

May Wenlock stared, as well she might.

"What part are you trying to act now?" she blazed forth indignantly.
Then softening: "But only tell me, Colvin.  Is it perhaps that you have
reasons for not wanting them to know who you are?" with a quick anxious
side glance around, as though fearful of being overheard.

"Pardon me again," was the reply.  "But my name is not Colvin."

"Not Colvin?" was all poor May could gasp in her bewilderment.
"Certainly not I was christened Kenneth."

"But--you said your name was Kershaw?"

"So it is.  Kenneth Kershaw.  Now you mention it, though, I have a
relative named Colvin: er--a first cousin."

"First cousin?  Why, you might be his twin brother," burst forth May
impulsively.  "Why, the voice--even your way of talking--No, I never saw
such a wonderful likeness in my life."  And then, catching a curious
expression in the other's eyes, she suddenly remembered the position,
and flushed hotly, realising how completely she must have given herself
away.  The man, looking at her, was thinking to himself, "What a pretty
girl!  What a devilish pretty girl!  Lucky Colvin, wherever he may be!
Lucky as usual."  But aloud he said:

"Is that so?  I believe we used to be considered rather alike, but we
haven't seen each other for quite a number of years.  Have you seen him
lately, Miss--er--Miss--"

"Wenlock," supplemented May.

"Miss Wenlock--thanks.  Now we know each other, and I cannot
sufficiently appreciate the good fortune that drew me here this morning
to see that trainload of fools off."

Even then May could hardly believe her senses.  The look, the voice, the
easy and perfectly unembarrassed manner, every inflection of tone even,
was simply Colvin reproduced.  Could it really be himself, trying how
completely he could take her in?  Yet something told her it could not
be.  He was not addicted to practical jokes--indeed, rather disliked
them.

"Why do you call it a trainload of fools, Mr Kershaw?" she said; "I am
more inclined to think that is the word for some of us who are left
behind."

"Oh, they are.  For instance, it is strange how sparsely distributed is
a sense of humour and of the eternal fitness of things!  As if race
feeling is not at sufficiently high pressure already, those idiots must
needs flourish the red rag in the Dutchmen's faces.  The patriotic song
may be all right in its proper place, but it doesn't come well from a
crowd engaged in running away as fast as its legs--or, in this case its
wheels--can carry it.  For two pins those fellows over there,"
designating the group of sullen, scowling burghers, "would have blazed
into the whole mob."

The group referred to comprised one unit to whom the speaker was clearly
an object of very great interest indeed; not on account of the words
just uttered, for they had been spoken in by no means a loud tone, and
the distance was great enough to render them quite inaudible.  This man
had been among the first to level his rifle at the receding train, and
the contemptuous hatred stamped upon the countenances of the group had
in no instance been shown more plainly and uncompromisingly than upon
that of this one.  But from the moment he had caught sight of these two
conversing at the other end of the platform, that sinister expression
had perceptibly deepened.  At the same time he had drawn back into the
centre of his fellow-burghers, as though desirous of remaining
unobserved, while continuing to watch, and that narrowly, the object of
his rancour.  The latter, serenely unconscious of being a disturbing
factor in the equanimity of anybody, went on:

"I suppose you and my--er--cousin are pretty friendly--eh, Miss
Wenlock?"

"Oh yes.  We lived next door to each other down in the Colony, and so of
course we saw a good deal of each other."  And then she coloured again,
remembering how readily and naturally she had addressed this man by his
supposed Christian name.  What must he be thinking of her?

"I see," he answered, tranquilly.  "And so you took me for him.  That
isn't so very strange either."

Strange!  Great Heavens!  Even yet May was hardly quite sure the whole
thing was not a make-believe.  Strange?  Why, even this man's way of
accepting the situation, passing over all detail, taking everything for
granted, was Colvin's way.

"Now that we have made each other's acquaintance in this very unexpected
manner, Miss Wenlock, perhaps you will allow me to see you, at any rate,
a part of your way home.  You might tell me a little about my relative.
Where are you staying, by the way?"

"Just this side Doornfontein.  Yes.  I shall be delighted, if I am not
taking you out of your way."

"Who are you, _kerel_, and have you a permit to remain here?"
interrupted, in Dutch, the peremptory voice of a Zarp.

Now "kerel"--meaning in this context "fellow"--is a pretty familiar, not
to say impudent, form of address as proceeding from a common policeman.
The tone, too, was open to objection on the same ground.  But May,
glancing at her new friend, noticed that he seemed in no wise ruffled
thereby.  He merely glanced at his interlocutor as though the latter had
asked him for the time.

"I have applied for a permit and am awaiting it," he answered, in the
same language.  "So, my good friend, don't bother, but go and drink my
health with your mates."

The Zarp's hand closed readily upon the image and superscription of Oom
Paul, and Kenneth Kershaw and his companion passed out of the station.

"Oh, you are so like Col--er--your cousin," was May's comment on the
above transaction.  "That is exactly how he would have treated matters
under the circumstances.  Now, Frank would have wanted to go for the man
at once, and then what a row there would have been!  And I hate rows."

"So do I.  But--who's Frank?"

"My brother.  He is perfectly rabid ever since this trouble has begun.
He says he never can look at a Dutchman now without wanting to fight
him."

"So?  Well, now is his opportunity.  Is he up here?"

"Oh no.  Down in the Colony.  I am staying up here with some relatives.
I wanted to go back, but they wouldn't let me.  They have interest with
the Government at Pretoria, and say that it is safer, if anything, here
than down in the Colony."

As they walked along, taking the road which runs parallel with the
railway line in the direction of Doornfontein, something of the state of
affairs was apparent in the utter stagnation that prevailed.  A deserted
look was upon everything.  The tram service had ceased, and there was
not a vehicle to be seen down the long vista of road.  Houses shut up
and abandoned, their blinds down, and in many cases with broken windows,
spoke eloquently of the prevailing desolation, and save for a
subdued-looking native or two the street was deserted; while, dominating
all, the fort on Hospital Hill frowned down flat and threatening, ready
to let loose its thunders of ruin and of death.

Turning a corner suddenly, a troop of armed burghers debouched into the
road--hard, weather-beaten, bearded men, wearing wide hats and
bandoliers full of cartridges and with rifle on thigh.  They were riding
in no particular order, and most of them were smoking pipes.

Many a head was turned, and shaggy brows were knit in sullen hatred, at
the sight of the tall Englishman and his very attractive companion, as
they rode by.  For a moment their leader seemed disposed to halt and
call the pedestrians to account, then appeared to think better of it.
But that speculation was rife as to their identity was only too clear.

May Wenlock chatted brightly to her new acquaintance as they walked.
She was naturally of a communicative disposition, and it was not long
before she had put him into possession of the main facts and
circumstances and surroundings of her life.  Without the least
consciousness of the fact on her part, without seemingly vivid interest
on his, he had yet manoeuvred the conversation so that it was confined
mainly to the time during which she had known Colvin, on the subject of
whom, before she had uttered a dozen sentences, she had, to the
practised eye and ear of her companion, completely given herself away.
Where was Colvin now?  Why, at home, she supposed, on his own place,
close to theirs.  No wonder she had been so startled at the
extraordinary likeness.  Anyhow, the mistake was very excusable.  Was it
not?

"It was a very fortunate mistake for me," Kenneth replied.  "I hope we
may meet again," he went on, for by this time they were at her own door.
He could even read what was passing in her mind--how she was treading
down an impulse to ask him in, remembering that, after all, their
introduction had been startlingly unconventional.

"Yes, indeed, I hope we may," she answered.  "At any rate, you know
where I'm staying.  Good-bye.  Thanks so much for bringing me back."

Kenneth Kershaw turned away, and as he strolled along his thoughts were
busy.

"By Jove, that _is_ a pretty little girl," he was saying to himself.
"Not quite up to the mark in other ways perhaps, but pretty enough even
to make up for that," with a recollection of the bright smile, and the
look in the sea-blue eyes, which had accompanied the farewell handclasp.
"And Colvin?  She let go a lot about him.  Likely to turn up here, is
he?  Reputed to stand in too much with the Boers!  Suspicion of
entanglement with a Boer girl--She shut up like an oyster when she came
to that part, though.  Well, well.  This day's work may turn out not
bad.  Colvin on this side, the two peas likeness between us, that dear
little girl in there whom I can simply twist round my finger, and turn
to any account, _and_ the war!  Strange if my luck doesn't take a sudden
turn in the right direction.  Colvin, the only obstacle, worth reckoning
on, that is.  Obstacles have to be removed sometimes.  Yes, his luck has
run too long.  Hurrah for the war?"

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

Note 1.  From the letters Z.A.R.P. (Zuid Afrikaansche Republieke
Politie--South African Republic's Police).  The joke has passed into a
recognised popular term.



CHAPTER TWO.

A TRANSVAAL OFFICIAL.

Petrus Johannes Stephanus Gerhardus Du Plessis, commonly known to his
kinsfolk and acquaintance and to the crowd at large as Piet Plessis, was
a high official in not the least important department of the Transvaal
Civil Service.

Born in the Free State, and educated--well educated--in Holland, he
combined the _slim_ qualities of the Boer with the shrewd, technical,
worldly-wisdom of the Hollander.  He was now of middle age and somewhat
portly of person, and withal a jolly, genial Dutchman, whose ringing
laugh and jovial manner conveyed the idea of open-hearted frankness to
the last degree.  Those who ran away with that impression had their
education in character-studying to complete.  For all his apparent
open-heartedness, Piet Plessis was never known by word or wink to "give
away" anything.  And he could have given away some "things" of a very
strange and startling nature had he so chosen.

Did a transport rider bringing up loads of Government goods from the
Swaziland border succumb to the indiscretion of peeping into certain of
the cases, and subsequently babble thereon in his cups, it was not
strange that he should be murdered by his own Kafirs on the return
journey, because that sort of thing does happen sometimes, though not
often.  Was the dead body of a mysterious foreigner found one morning in
the Grand Stand on the racecourse at Johannesburg, the hand grasping a
revolver pointed at the heart, through which was a neatly drilled
bullet-hole, with no burn of powder about the clothing?  This was not
strange, for does not everybody know that the hand of a dead person will
sometimes grasp an object tightly for hours after death--though not
often?  And doctors will sometimes disagree, though not often?  Did a
prominent member of the Upper Raad, who owned a chattering wife, make an
over-protracted sojourn in the Cape Peninsula for the benefit of the
lady's health?  That too was not strange, for it happens sometimes.  And
if Piet Plessis' private office had very thick walls and double doors--
padded--this was not strange either, for is not the climate of the
Transvaal fairly bleak during quite half the year?  On many an incident,
strange, suspicious, or startling--or all three, had his acquaintance
striven to pump Piet Plessis--in club, or bar, or society drawing-room;
but they might as well have expected to dig sovereigns out of the
billiard cues in the one or real ten-year-old out of the "special
Scotch" bottles in the other, or the precise ages of any three ladies of
a middle time of life in the third.  Tact and readiness of resource are
highly important official ingredients.  Piet Plessis possessed both to a
consummate degree, which may have had to do with the fact that he was
now a very important official indeed.

Piet Plessis and Stephanus De la Rey were second cousins.  It is
significant of the wide ramifications through which relationship extends
among the Dutch inhabitants of South Africa, that the high Transvaal
official and the well-to-do Cape Colony Boer should be so near akin.
They had hardly seen each other for some years, but intercourse between
them had been renewed in the shape of a cordial invitation to Aletta to
come up and spend some time in the Transvaal.

The girl was delighted.  Her patriotic enthusiasm, though somewhat
sobered down of late, yielding to more personal and individual
considerations, was not dead by any means.  To visit Pretoria under the
auspices of one who knew all the secrets of the Government, opened out
before her unbounded possibilities in the way of a vivid daily interest
at that critical period.  She pictured herself in the confidence of her
kinsman, and he was in the confidence of the President.  What would she
not hear!--what would she not know!  But, as a preliminary, she little
knew her kinsman aforesaid.

But Piet while keeping his own secrets and those of the President to
himself, gave her a welcome that left nothing to be desired.  So, too,
did his wife, a quiet woman, half-way through the thirties, rather
good-looking, but retiring and domesticated--not at all the sort of wife
for a public man, declared his acquaintance; wherein they were wrong,
for Mrs Plessis made all the better hostess, in that she cared nothing
for state affairs, desiring only to be left to look after her household
in peace and quietness.  Piet, himself, moreover had good reason to
prefer her that way, inasmuch as he could seek the repose of his
domestic circle without being harried by all sorts of questions he had
no intention of answering.

He received the news of Aletta's engagement with a burst of genial
laughter, evoked less by reason of the fact itself than by the
particulars thereof.

"So, Aletta?" he said.  "An Englishman!  And that is the culmination of
all your exuberant patriotism, is it?  An Englishman?  Well, it might be
worse.  You might have got taken by one of those _rooi-baatje_
officers--so many of you girls down at the Cape seem to go mad on them.
Bah, they are too often an impecunious lot, all debts and gold
stripe"--(the reader must bear in mind that racial animus was at its
highest tension, and that the speaker was a Transvaal official).  "You
should see them a few years later, as I have seen them, with very little
half-pay and very large family, living cheap at some wretched Belgian
town.  Still--an Englishman!"

"But there are Englishmen and Englishmen, Cousin Piet," returned Aletta,
laughing as one could afford to do who was supremely conscious that the
laugh was all on her own side.  "Wait till you see this one.  He is not
in the least like the rest."

"Oh no.  Of course not.  How could he be, if your choice has fallen upon
him?  Well, well.  We thought we could have done much better for you up
here, but you have taken the bit between your teeth so there's an end of
it.  Is he coming up here, then?"

"Yes, in a day or two.  He came with me as far as Bloemfontein--wouldn't
come all the way yet--thought I had better have a little while alone
with you and Anna, so that we might get sort of acquainted.  You see, we
hardly know each other yet."

"Why, I feel that we rather do already, Aletta," replied her kinsman
heartily, for he was charmed with her taking manner and general
appearance.  He had expected her to prove presentable, if a bit shy.
But there was nothing of the latter about her.  What an acquisition she
would be to that unpretentious but pretty house of his just outside
Pretoria!

And in it Aletta was destined to pass some very happy days.  To begin
with, the capital of the principal Dutch Republic stood to her as a kind
of Mecca, viewed in the light of her former lofty ideals; to others, of
course, it was just a pretty, leafy little town, nestling between its
surrounding hills.  Brother officials of Piet's would often come to the
house--men who hitherto had been but names to her; genial, highly
cultured gentlemen, differing pole-wide from the black-browed conspiring
Guy Fawkes--such as the Colonial papers had delighted in painting them.
Uitlanders too, with a grievance of course, would frequently show up:
jolly, jovial, well-to-do looking, grievance and all; and at first it
fairly puzzled her to note on what excellent terms they appeared to
stand with their theoretical tyrants and oppressors.  Sometimes, too,
she got more than a passing glimpse of the President himself.  Here
again she failed to identify the perfidious ogre she had so often seen
portrayed, both in type and pencil, by the newspapers aforesaid.  Nay,
more, she was even heretical enough to wonder whether if that
personality, with all its shrewd intelligence, had been on the English
side, ample tribute would not have been paid even to the outward aspect
of the man--so far only described to be held up to repulsion and
ridicule--the strong face, the impassive reticence, wherein alone lay a
world of diplomatic might--the long stern record of pioneer,
_voortrekker_, leader of men; the opening up of wild uncivilised lands--
bearing a man's part in wresting the wilderness from the inheritance of
savagery to render it the heritage of posterity, and the unwavering
fixity of purpose wherewith he had devoted every energy to preserving it
for his own people and their children's children.  If her sojourn in
Cape Town had been a liberal education to Aletta, truly Pretoria
constituted a worthy continuation of the same.

"Now look at that, Piet," she said, a day or two after her arrival,
exhibiting an excellent portrait of her _fiance_.  "Didn't I tell you
there were Englishmen _and_ Englishmen.  Now, this one is not like the
rest.  Is he?"

"No.  I don't know that he is," replied Piet Plessis, scanning the
likeness intently.  But to himself he was saying, "_So_!  I must have a
few inquiries made.  I have seen that worthy before.  Oh yes, I have."
But to her, "So he has been a neighbour of yours the last year or so,
Aletta?"

"Yes.  He was already settled down on his own place some time before I
came home."

"Was he?  Never went off it, I suppose?"

"No"--wonderingly.  "He has been there since he came back from Rhodesia,
he and Frank Wenlock together.  At least, he was looking out for a farm
at first, while he was staying with the Wenlocks.  Then he got one and
hasn't been off it since."

"Not?"

"No--except to go into Schalkburg now and then, or to come and see us."

"Oh yes.  To come and see you?" rejoined Piet, jocosely.  "Hasn't been
up here at all of late, eh?"

"He has been up here before, but not lately, not within the last year.
I think longer, because he served through the Matabele rising.  But he
was up in Rhodesia some little while after that."

"Was he?  Oh yes," said the diplomatic Piet, in a tone as though by now
only politely interested in the subject.  But the while he was, to all
outward appearances, turning the photograph round and round listlessly,
but in reality scrutinising it keenly, now obliquely from the top
corner, now sideways.  "How long did you say you had been engaged,
Aletta?"

"Just over two months," answered the girl, her eyes brightening.

"_Ach_! he isn't listening to you at all, Aletta," struck in the partner
of Piet's joys and sorrows, looking up from her book.  "He has forgotten
all about Mr Kershaw by this time, and is thinking over the last
political move.  What did you say his name was--Mr Kershaw's, I mean?"

"Colvin.  It's a family surname turned into a Christian name.  Oh, and
such a joke, Anna!  You should have heard Tant' Plessis on that very
thing," And she proceeded to narrate how that perverse old relative had
insisted on saddling upon her _fiance_ a historic Protestant Reformer of
the sixteenth-century for grandfather.  Piet fairly shouted with mirth.

"Old Tant' Katrina!  _Ja_, she was a _kwaai vrouw_!" he cried.  "I have
good reason to remember her.  When we were young ones, at Rondavel, the
other side Heilbron, she would come and stop there for any time.  She
was always saying we didn't get enough _strop_ and worrying the _Ou'
Baas_ to give us more.  He only laughed at her--and one day she wanted
to give us some herself.  But we wouldn't take it.  We snatched the
_strop_ from her and ran away.  But we had to spend a week dodging her.
She had got a broomstick then.  She shied it at us one day, and hit my
brother Sarel--the one that is in Bremersdorp now--over the leg.  He
couldn't walk straight for about six months after.  Then she and the
_Ou' Baas_ had words, and she cleared out _Ja_, she _was_ a _kwaai
vrouw_.  And now she is with Stephanus!  Well, well.  But Aletta, what
did she say to your being engaged to an Englishman?"

"Oh, she consoled herself that his grandfather was the great Calvinus,"
answered Aletta, breaking into a peal of laughter over the recollection.
"Mynheer had said so: that was enough for her."

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

A few days after this Colvin arrived in person, and then it seemed to
Aletta that she had nothing left to wish for.  But he would not allow
her to give him all her time exclusively.  She had certain social calls
upon it, and, in justice to her entertainers, these must not be set
aside.  Piet Plessis had been the first to notice this, and was capable
of appreciating it, for he himself was astonished at the brightening
effect the presence of Aletta had shed within his home.

"Did I not tell you," she would cry triumphantly, "that this Englishman
was not like other Englishmen?"

And Piet would laughingly agree.

Colvin himself did not fail to note the pride and delight wherewith she
would "produce" him--as he put it--to every fresh batch of people whose
acquaintance he made.  Once or twice he took her to task for it.

"You know, darling," he would say, with a lurking amusement in his eyes,
"it is not `up to date' to show feeling.  You ought, for instance, to
appear just languidly tolerant of my presence at all--rather as if I
were of no account in the world's scheme except to fetch and carry."

"Oh, ought I?" she would answer.  "Well, when I see you want me to, I
will try and begin."

Those were happy days--for these two at any rate.  For those outside the
enchanted portal they were days of dark anxiety; yet on the surface
little of this appeared.  People came and went as usual.  To judge from
the ordinary manner of Piet Plessis, no one would have suspected the
mind of that inscrutable official to be working and scheming to its
utmost capacity.  He was a good deal away from home, returning late, or
not at all, and then with a cheerful breezy apology for the calls upon
his time entailed by a confoundedly serious political outlook.  But he
had at once made Colvin free of the house, and the latter was grateful
for the quiet uninterrupted retreat thus afforded from the turmoil of
excitement and wild talk outside; and not the least happy hours were
those he spent in the cool, bosky garden, while Aletta sat at her work,
and talked to him, and they grew to know each other more and more, and
every day served but to deepen their mutual understanding, and love, and
appreciation.  So the days wore on, and then from the bright, halcyon
blue, now constituting the lives of the twain, the bolt fell, and the
name thereof was written in but three letters--lurid letters traced in
blood--

War!

Yes, the storm had burst at last.  The preliminary clouding over, the
flashes and mutterings, distant but drawing nearer, had culminated in a
great and terrible outburst, in the thunder roar of cannon along nearly
a thousand miles of border.  The historical "ultimatum" had been
delivered.  The land which but few years ago, comparatively speaking,
had been inhabited, and that hot too thickly, by a population of
primitive farmers, had thrown down the gauntlet in the face of the
valour and wealth and boundless resource of the Empire on which the sun
never sets.  And the challenge had been met in the only possible way,
and once more two Christian and civilised races were shedding each
other's blood like water, while countless swarms of dark-skinned and
savage heathen stood by and looked on.



CHAPTER THREE.

HIS HONOUR THE PRESIDENT.

"We shall have to turn you into a prisoner of war, Colvin," said Piet
Plessis a week or so after the breaking out of hostilities.  "And, as I
feel sort of responsible for your safe custody, my orders to you as your
custodian are to go over to the Grand, now, at once, and pack up your
traps and bring them here.  I'd have suggested it before, but everything
was so _uit-makaar_, and I didn't know whether you might not have been
wanting to go down-country again."

Whereby it is manifest that the inquiries we heard Piet promise to set
afloat had turned out satisfactory, albeit their burden and the result
he had characteristically kept to himself.

"No.  I don't feel that way inclined, Piet," answered Colvin.  "I am a
sort of cosmopolitan rover, without ties--except such as are here," he
added significantly.  "Besides, it's more interesting watching the row
from behind your lines than from behind those of the other side.  By the
way, we are quite alone, just the two of us.  What show do you think
your crowd has got?"

"What show?" said the other, after an instinctive glance on either side.
"Look here, Colvin.  You're one of us now.  If anybody who wasn't had
asked me that question I should have said: `It is all in the hands of
Providence, and our cause is just.'  Now I say: `It is all within the
potentialities of politics, and the potentialities of politics spell
Uncertainty.'  What show?  Every show.  We shall see.  But if you really
are wanting to go down-country any time later, I dare say I could always
get you through the lines."

"Oh, we'll think of that later.  I might feel inclined to go and see
some of the fighting--"

"What's that?  What might you feel inclined to do?" interrupted the
voice of Aletta, who with Mrs Plessis had just come out on the back
_stoep_, where the above conversation was taking place.  "Colvin, I am
astonished at you!  See some of the fighting indeed!  Do you think I
shall let you?"

She had locked her hands together round his arm, just resting her head
against his shoulder, and stood facing the other two, with the prettiest
air of possession.  Piet Plessis spluttered:

"Ho, ho!  Colvin!  A sort of cosmopolitan rover without ties; isn't that
what you were saying just now?  Without ties?  Ho, ho, ho!"  And the
jolly Dutchman shouted himself into a big fit of coughing.

"He is one of us now, is he not, Piet?" went on the girl, a tender pride
shining from her eyes.  "Yet he talks about going to fight against us.
Yes, you were saying that, Colvin.  I heard you when we came out."

"Little termagant!" he rejoined lovingly, drawing one of the hands which
was linked round his arm into his.  "I wasn't talking about fighting
against anybody.  I said I might go and _see_ some of the fighting.  You
may go and see a bull-fight, you know, but you needn't necessarily be
taking part in it.  In fact, the performers on both sides would object,
and that in the most practical manner, to your doing so.  Now, I meant
to go as a non-combatant.  Sort of war-correspondent business."

"Well, we are not going to let you do anything of the sort," answered
Aletta decisively.  "Are we, Piet?  Why don't you make a prisoner of war
of him, then he can't do as he pleases?"

"`He is one of us now,'" quoted Colvin, innocently.  "I believe those
were the words.  How can `one of us' be a prisoner of war?"

Piet laughed at this deft turning of the tables.

"Go away and get your traps, man," he said, "then you'll be all snug and
fixed up here by lunch-time.  Here's the buggy," as the sound of wheels
came through from the front of the house.  "I must get back to office.
So long?"

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

Every day some fresh news from the seat of war came flowing in--
beginning with the capture of the armoured train at Kraaipan, historical
as the first overt act of hostility, the investment of Kimberley and
Mafeking, the reverse at Elandslaagte, and the death of the British
general, and, later on, the arrival of a good many British prisoners.
And over and above authenticated news, of course wild rumour was busy,
magnifying this or that skirmish into a Boer victory, diminishing
losses, and playing general skittles with most of the facts of the
particular event reported, as is invariably the case on either side of
the contested field.  But what struck Colvin Kershaw after the first
week of excitement was the calm, matter-of-fact way in which it was
received by the crowd at large.  News which would have thrown Cape Town
or Durban into a perfect delirium, was treated in Pretoria as so much
matter of course, and only to be expected.

Day after day, he would watch the muster of burghers or the entraining
of the guns, great and small, of the Staats Artillerie, and here again
the sober, almost phlegmatic demeanour of the combatants was remarkable.
Rough, weather-beaten, somewhat melancholy-looking men were these
mounted burghers--many of them large and powerful of stature.  They
bestrode wiry, undersized nags--which bore besides their riders the
frugal ration of biltong and biscuit, with which the Boer can get along
for days.  Slung round with well-filled bandolier, rifle on thigh, and
mostly wearing weather-worn broad-brimmed hats--though some of the older
ones were crowned with the white chimney-pot--they would muster in front
of the Dutch Reformed church, and pace forth, singing perhaps a Dutch
hymn or a snatch of the "Volkslied"--most of them smoking their pipes,
tranquil, phlegmatic, as though they were all going home again.  The
hooraying and handshaking and handkerchief-waving and flag-wagging which
would have accompanied a British combatant force under like
circumstances, would be conspicuous by its absence.

While watching such a muster, a man, who was standing among the
spectators, turned at her voice and, lifting his hat, shook hands with
Aletta.  He was a tall gentlemanly-looking man, with a fair beard and
moustache worn after the Vandyke cut, and was a Hollander with a
Portuguese name.  He, too, had been a high Government official.

"I haven't seen you for a long time, Dr Da Costa," said Aletta.  "I
thought you had gone to the front."

"No.  I am going very soon, though."  Then, following the direction of
his glance, she introduced him to Colvin.

"What do you think of our main line of defence?" he went on, speaking
English with hardly an accent.  "Those men have the most perfect faith
in themselves and their cause."

"Yes, they look business-like," replied Colvin, critically scanning the
long string of mounted burghers as they filed past, most of them smoking
their pipes, and chatting to each other in a placid undertone.  "We had
some of their kind in Matabeleland during the rising in '96, and they
were right good men."

"Ah!  So you were out in the Matabele rebellion?" said Da Costa, looking
at the other with newly-awakened interest.

"Yes, had to be."

"I see.  And are you, may I ask, likely to be out in this campaign?"

"Not in the least, unless as a spectator.  Here I am not needed--there I
was:--which makes all the difference."

"If you are, I hope we may meet in the field.  I shall be pleased to
show you all you may be wishing to see to the best advantage."

"Now, Dr Da Costa, you are not to encourage him," struck in Aletta.
"Mr Kershaw is not going to be shot at at all.  He is not needed, as he
says, and--you are not to encourage him."

The other, who had heard of Piet Plessis' attractive kinswoman and her
English _fiance_, smiled good-naturedly.  Then, to change the
conversation, he went on:

"Did you make a long stay at Johannesburg, Mr Kershaw?"

"At Johannesburg?" echoed Colvin.

"Yes.  Didn't I see you in the Rand Club about a fortnight ago?  And
again on Pritchard Street.  Someone told me it was a Mr Kershaw."

"Someone told you all wrong then, doctor, for I came right through
Johannesburg.  I never even got out of the train there."

"That's odd," said Da Costa, with a momentary twinkle in his eye, as
though he didn't believe a word of this statement.  "It must have been
only a likeness," he added tactfully.

"But the name," went on Aletta, opening her eyes.  "It's strange they
should have got hold of the name."

"Very, because, as I said, I didn't so much as get out of the train, let
alone take a stroll as far as Pritchard Street, let alone the Rand Club,
which is farther," said Colvin.  "Well, we most of us have a `double'
somewhere."

Which was precisely the remark made by the jovial Piet, when the
occurrence was narrated to him on their return home.  But for once his
official instinct of reticence, even in trifling matters, was misplaced,
had he but known it.  Had he imparted the results of those enquiries he
had caused to be made, what a deal of sorrow, and mistrust, and
heart-wringing might have been thereafter saved!

"Is that man we met to-day going out with the ambulance department?"
asked Colvin.

"Who, Da Costa?  Ambulance department?" echoed Piet, wonderingly.  "Oh,
I see," with a shout of laughter.  "No fear.  He's not a medico.  He's a
lawyer--running hard for a judgeship.  But I say, Colvin, would you like
to go up and see the President this afternoon?  I think we could get at
the old man to-day."

"Just what I would like."

"And, Colvin," struck in Aletta, "you are not to look upon Oom Paul as
an old bear, as most English do.  Remember, I have a great admiration
for him."

Colvin promised to keep this fact in mind when forming his opinion, and
in due course they arrived at the unpretentious-looking bungalow which
was the private residence of one of the most famed personalities of
modern times.  As they went up between the stone lions which guarded, as
it were, the entrance, they passed a German officer coming down the
steps, a straight martial figure, with upward-pointing moustaches _a la_
Kaiser Wilhelm, and wearing the uniform of the Staats Artillerie.  He
exchanged a salute with Piet, and the latter halted and took him aside
for a minute's conversation.

"That's all right, Colvin," he said, rejoining him, while with a parting
salute the German strode on.  "He has just come out.  Says the old man
is in a pretty good-humour."

The President was seated in a substantial armchair as they were shown
in.  He was likewise smoking a substantial pipe.  This looked homely.
As Piet introduced Colvin, His Honour did not rise, but merely extended
a massive hand, uttering a single monosyllabic word of greeting.

"_Daag_!"

"_Daag, Oom_," responded Colvin, as he shook the Presidential dexter,
right heartily.  His Honour, however, subsided into silence, during
which Piet Plessis entertained him with a running comment on the lighter
aspect of day-to-day events, ignoring _the_ situation of the hour.

"Who is the Englishman?" said the old man at last, designating Colvin
with a wave of his pipe-stem.

Piet explained that he was engaged to be married to a near kinswoman of
his who was staying with him.  The Presidential features displayed some
faint show of interest.

"Your kinswoman!" he said.  "Whose daughter is she?"

"Stephanus De la Reys, Mynheer.  He lives in the Cape Colony."

"De la Rey!  _Ja_, that is a good name, De la Rey," replied the
President, nodding approvingly.  "But--an Englishman!"  Then, turning to
Colvin, he said, still speaking in Dutch.

"Can you talk our language?"

"_Ja, Oom_," came the hearty response.  During the conversational
nothings fired off so volubly by Piet Plessis, he had been studying this
wonderful old man before him, and in the strong massive face could read
the extraordinary and iron will-power which had made its owner the
prominent figure in history that he was.  Something of Aletta's thoughts
came into his mind, and he too was wondering whether, had this born
leader of men thrown in his gigantic influence on the British side, he
would not have met with greater appreciation, nay would not his very
defects be held to be rugged virtues?  Being thus immersed, he failed to
observe a grim tightening of the mouth, as he uttered that hearty and,
as he thought, deferential reply.

"Have you been here before?" repeated his catechiser.

"_Ja, Oom_," replied Colvin.  And then there was no mistaking the change
which came over His Honour's countenance.  He flushed, and a heavy frown
darkened his brows, as removing his pipe from his mouth, he rolled out
in deep, chest notes, like the bark of an angry mastiff.

"_Is nie jou Oom nie.  Ik is die President_!"

["I am not your uncle.  I am the President."]

The tone went up on an ascending scale, ending loud and staccato.
Colvin, for a moment dumfoundered, hastened to apologise, then with the
utmost suavity of assurance proceeded to explain that he himself owned
an uncle whom he deeply revered, and who bore a most extraordinary
resemblance to "Mynheer President."  Then, he deftly went on to inquire
about His Honour's earlier experiences in the old _Voortrekker_ days,
expressing boundless admiration for those wonderful pioneers, and as he
was really well up in their history, the old man, quite mollified, was
soon descanting with unusual volubility on the subject of his early
doings.  Mean while coffee was brought in, and, as soon after as he
could, astute Piet Plessis, seeing the conversation was taking a turn
likely to excite His Honour, took the opportunity of terminating the
visit.

"Look after him, Piet," said the old man as he gave them his hand, and
there was the nearest approach to a smile lurking about his mouth.
"Look after him.  He is an Englishman, but he is going to marry your
cousin.  See that he does not get into any mischief."

"Say, Piet?" said Colvin when they were well out in the street again, "I
believe I put my foot in it some."

"Oh, rather!" answered the other, who could hardly speak for
spluttering.  "You're not the only one, though, if the truth were known.
You see it was all very well twenty years ago and all that to call him
Oom Paul.  But now the old man is rather sick of it.  Only think, every
dirty little Jew `winkler' calling him `Oom.'  Besides, he's a much
bigger man now and likes to be treated with a certain amount of state."

But not until he got safely home could Piet give full vent to his mirth,
and then he literally laughed till he cried.

"You should have seen him, Anna," he spluttered between his tears.  "Oh,
Aletta, you should have heard him.  Telling the _Ou' Baas_, so sweetly
too, that he reminded him of an uncle of his whom he deeply revered.
Oh, oh, you should have been there!  I simply didn't dare look up.  I
should have disgraced myself for ever if I had."

"Well, it had its effect," protested Colvin, who was laughing over the
recollection almost as hard as Piet.  "It smoothed his feathers at
once."

"Really?  No, really did it?" cried Aletta, who for her part had gone
off into rippling peals.

"Rather, it did," confirmed Piet.  "Oh, oh, oh!  `_Is nie jou Oom nie.
Ik is die President_!'  Oh, oh, oh!  I shall choke directly."

And he very nearly did.



CHAPTER FOUR.

THAT OTHER KERSHAW.

Since that strange chance meeting on the platform at Park Station, life
seemed much brighter for May Wenlock.

She had come up there in a fit of the dolefullest dumps, as she herself
put it, and in fact those with whom she sojourned hardly recognised her
for the blithe, light-hearted girl she had been the year before.  They
even tentatively rallied her, but she brusquely disclaimed any reason
other than that she was utterly and entirely sick of the farm, that its
eternal monotony got upon her nerves, and a very little more of it would
have driven her crazy.  Yet she might about as well have stayed where
she was, for the erewhile great whirling gold town was now as a city of
the dead.  All who could do so had cleared out--tumbling over each
other's heels in their eagerness to get away--as we have seen.

Of all the war-talk and excitement she was heartily sick.  There was
nothing to take her out of herself, no fun, no gaiety, no life; the
streets, lines upon lines of abandoned houses and shuttered-up shops.
It was as a city ravaged by pestilence from end to end.

James Dixon, her relative's husband, was a broker, and had been a
contractor.  He had been regarded of late with somewhat of a suspicious
eye--by his own countrymen that is--and dark hints were not wanting to
the effect that he stood in too well with the Government, as against
British interests.  In what particular way he did so was never
formulated, but it was sufficient in those days to hint.  Anyway he
remained on, serene and untroubled, what time others had fled.  This, of
course, to the minds of the hinters, confirmed every suspicion.

May had never been particularly fond of these people, although she had
got on with them well enough.  But then there had been plenty of outside
life and diversion.  Now that she was thrown upon them almost entirely,
she wondered how she could ever have found Mary Dixon other than the
tiresome woman she was--without an idea outside her brood, the four
units composing which were always noisy and quarrelsome, never too
clean, and generally and all-round ill behaved.  She had come up to
Johannesburg just before the crisis had reached a climax--and now, there
she was and there she must stay.

Of course there was that beneath her _ennui_ and restlessness which she
did not impart to her relatives.  In her hours of solitude--and these
were too many for one of her age and temperament and abundant
attractions--there always arose in her mind a vivid recollection of what
she had felt on hearing of Colvin Kershaw's engagement.  It was not so
entirely unexpected, for her jealous misgivings had been gnawing into
and corroding her mind for some time past.  Yet, when it came, the shock
had been hardly the less acute.  He had treated her shamefully--she
declared to herself--yes, wickedly, cruelly, abominably.  Why had he
made her care for him, only to--do as he had done?  If only she could
make him suffer for it--but--how could she?  Wild, revengeful plans
scorched through her brain--among them that of revealing everything to
Aletta.  Then the ugly Dutch girl could have the reversion of his kisses
and soft words.  But the only consideration that kept her from this was
a conviction that such a course would not weigh with Aletta, would
defeat its own object, and turn herself into a laughing stock.  It
certainly would if Aletta loved him as she herself had done--and how
could Aletta do otherwise? thought poor May to herself with a sob, and a
filling of the eyes like a rain shower breaking upon a stormy sunset.
She hated him now, she told herself again and again.  But--did she?
That sob would often repeat itself to give the lie to the illusion.

She had not seen him since hearing the--to her--baleful news; but this,
to do him justice, was not his fault.  He had come over to Spring Holt
to bid them good-bye before leaving for the Transvaal, but she had not
appeared--pleading a headache which was not all pretence--the fact being
that she dared not trust herself.  But of late an intense longing had
been upon her to behold him once more, and when her glance had lighted
upon him at the railway station among the crowd, she forgot everything
in the joy of the moment.  And--it was not he after all.

Even then somehow her disappointment was less keen than she could have
thought possible.  Could it be that the other was so exactly his
counterpart that at times, even subsequent to their first acquaintance,
she could hardly believe it was not Colvin himself, for some motive of
his own, playing a part?

For their first acquaintance had grown and ripened.  Kenneth Kershaw had
lost no time in calling, in fact he had a slight acquaintance with Jim
Dixon already, and as time went on his visits became more and more
frequent till they were almost daily.  Whereupon Jim Dixon began to
rally his very attractive young kinswoman.

This, at first, annoyed the latter.  He was not a refined man, and his
jests were on his own level.  More than once he fired them off on the
object of them personally, and Kenneth had looked much as Colvin would
have looked under the circumstances.  Then May had affected to take them
in good part, with an eye to information.  Who was this Mr Kershaw, she
asked, and what was he doing up there?  But Jim Dixon's reply was vague.
He had been there some two years, he believed, but he must have been
longer in the country, because he could talk Dutch quite well.  What was
his business?  Nobody knew.  He was one of those customers who didn't
give themselves away.  Like a good many more up there he had got along
sort of "scratch"; but it was said he had made a tidyish bit in the
boom, end of last year.  But he was a tip-top swell, any one could see
that.  "Nothing like capturing one of these English swells, May,"
concluded Jim, with a knowing wink.  "Make hay while the sun shines."
And we dare not swear that the aspirate in that fragrant foodstuff for
the equine race was over distinctly sounded.

Kenneth, for his part, was genuinely attracted by the girl.  Her
relatives he at once set down in his own mind as unmitigated outsiders,
but there was the making of something good about May herself.  Times,
too, were desperately dull.  He hardly knew why he had elected to remain
in the Transvaal, except on the principle of "sitting on the fence."  It
was by no means certain that Oom Paul would not remain cock of the walk,
in which eventuality he thought he saw the road to some valuable
pickings.  And now this girl had come into his way to brighten it.  And
she did brighten it.

She was so natural, so transparent.  He could turn her mind inside out
any moment he chose.  He had very quickly, and with hardly a question,
discovered the _raison d'etre_ of her partiality for himself, the
pleasure she had seemed to take in being with him.  She had talked about
Colvin, then, when designedly, he had led the conversation to some other
subject, she had always brought it back to Colvin, in a lingering
wistful way that told its own tale over and over again.  But this, too,
had ceased, and she gradually talked less and less of Colvin, and seemed
to listen with increased interest to Colvin's facsimile.

"There's where I score," said Kenneth to himself, "and I am going to
work the circumstance for all it is worth."

This working of the circumstance was to be a means to an end, and that
end was that he meant to marry May Wenlock.

Why did he?  She was not quite of his class.  He had seen her
surroundings, as represented immediately, at any rate, and they had
revolted him.  Well, he could raise her above her surroundings, besides
the very fact of her coming of the stock she did was not without its
advantages.  She would be all the more fitted to bear her part in the
adventure he was planning: would have no superfine scruples or
misgivings as to accepting the splendid--the really dazzling destiny he
had mapped out for her--to share with him.  She, in a measure, had
supplied the key to the opening of that golden possibility of the
future, had brought it within really tangible reach, therefore she
should share it.  And this possibility, this adventure, was worth
staking all for--even life itself.  It needed boldness, judgment, utter
unscrupulousness, and he possessed all three.  It was vast--it was
magnificent.

And then the beauty of the girl appealed powerfully to his physical
nature.  Those sea-blue velvety eyes, those waves of hair in rippling
heavy gold, those full red lips, the smooth skin, a mixture of sun-kiss
and the healthy flush of blood underneath, the firm rounded figure--that
should all be his, he would think when alone with his own reflections in
a perfect whirl of passion, after one of those long interviews or walks
with May that had now become so frequent, and to himself so amazingly
sweet.  Yet towards her he was ever careful to veil any indication of
feeling.  Colvin himself could hardly have been more utterly indifferent
so far as all outward manifestations were concerned.

One day, however, he slipped.  They had been out together and May had
been more than ordinarily sweet and winning.  It was dusk, and he was
bidding her farewell within her temporary home.  They had the house to
themselves, moreover, save for the native boy in the kitchen.  The
others were out somewhere.  It seemed to him that in the face looking up
into his the lips were raised temptingly.  His blood was in a whirl.  In
a moment she was in his embrace, and he kissed them full and
passionately.

He was hardly prepared for what followed.  She wrenched herself from him
with a sinuous strength for which he would scarcely have given her
credit.

"Why did you do that?" she blazed forth, and he could see that her face
grew white and quivering as she confronted him in the dusk.  "Why did
you?  Heavens! are all men alike that they think a girl is only made to
be their plaything?  I hate them.  Yes, I hate them all."

The fierce bitterness of her tone was so incisive, so genuine, that most
men under the circumstances would have felt extremely foolish, and
looked correspondingly abject.  Into Kenneth Kershaw's very heart her
words seemed to cut like so many whip lashes.  By a mighty effort he
restrained himself from pleading provocation, feeling, any mitigation
whatever; which would have been the worst line he could possibly have
taken.  Instead he adopted a kind of quietly resigned tone, with just a
touch of the dignified; apologetic, yet without a trace of abjectness--
which was the best.

"May, dear, forgive me," he said.  "I was not thinking, I suppose.  Have
I offended you beyond recall?  Well, I must pay the penalty; for of
course you are going to tell me you never want to set eyes on me again."

He knew how to play his cards.  Even then his words seemed to open a
dreadful blank before her mind's eye.  Not to set eyes on him again?  He
seemed to mean it, too.  That air of sad self-composure with which he
had spoken them disarmed her, and her anger melted.

"No, no, I don't mean that," she answered, slowly, in a dazed kind of
manner.  "But why did you do it?  We were such friends before."

"And are we not to be again?" is the reply that would have arisen to
most men's lips.  But this one knew when to let well alone.

"Forget it, May," he said.  "Believe me, I never wanted to offend you.
And don't think hard things of me when I am away, will you?  Good-bye."

"No, no.  But you had better go now.  Good-bye."

Her tone was flurried, with an admixture of distress.  It was just the
time not to answer.  He went out, and as he walked away from the house,
he felt not ill-satisfied with himself and his doings in spite of his
very decided repulse.  As touching this last some men might have felt
rather small.  Not so this one.  A subtle, unerring instinct told him
that he had come out with all the honours of war.

"It is only the first step," he said to himself.  "You were frightened
at first, my darling, but the time will come, and that sooner than you
think, when you shall kiss me back again, and that with all the sweet
ardour and passion wherewith I shall kiss you."

Then a very blank thought took hold upon his mind.  What if all the
sympathy he had created in her was reflex--if whatever feeling she had
for him or would come to have was due solely to his complete likeness to
that other?  Why the mere sight of Colvin, a chance glimpse in some
public place such as when they two had first met, might shatter his own
carefully calculated chances.  It was a horrid thought--that at any
moment that unpalatable relative of his might appear and spoil
everything.

Not everything, at any rate.  The greater scheme, apart from the
incidental one of love, would always remain untouched.  Colvin, he had
already discovered, was in Pretoria.  So far he was within the toils, or
at any rate within appreciable distance of so being.

"It will make the working out of it so much the easier," he said to
himself.  "Great God alive! why should Colvin have all the good things
of earth?  And the ungrateful dog isn't capable of appreciating them
either.  Well, well, thanks to this benevolent war, his luck is now on
the turn, while mine--Oh, damn!"

The last aloud.  A big powerful native, armed with a heavy stick,
swinging along the sidewalk at a run, utterly regardless of the bye-law
which rendered him liable to the gaoler's lash for being on the sidewalk
at all, had cannoned right against him.  Quick as thought, and yielding
to the natural ire of the moment, Kenneth shot out his right fist,
landing the native well on the ear with a force that sent him
staggering.  Recovering his balance, however, the fellow turned and
attacked him savagely.  At the same time, two others who seemed to
spring out of nowhere--also armed with sticks--came at him from the
other side, uttering a ferocious hiss through the closed teeth.

Save for a walking-stick Kenneth was unarmed.  In the existing state of
affairs the road was utterly lonely, and the odds against him were three
to one, three wiry desperate savages, armed with clubs, which they well
understood how to use.  Instinctively once more he let out, and landed
another, this time between wind and water, doubling him up in the road,
a squirming kicking shape.  The remaining pair sprang back a step or two
with knobsticks raised, ready to rush him both at once, when--suddenly
both took to their heels.

The cause of this welcome diversion took the form of a horseman.  He was
armed with rifle and revolver, and had a full bandolier of cartridges
over his shoulder.  As he stepped out to meet him, Kenneth could see he
was young, and well-looking.  His first words showed that he was a
Dutchman.

"_Wie's jij_?" he asked, sharply, as his horse started, and backed from
the approaching figure.  Then peering down, and catching sight of the
face, he cried, in would-be jovial tones:

"_Maagtig_, Colvin.  You, is it?  Ah, ah, I know where you have just
come from.  Ah, ah!  You are _slim_!"



CHAPTER FIVE.

SOMETHING OF A PLOT.

Kenneth Kershaw narrowly scanned the face of this very opportune new
arrival, and decided that he didn't know him from Adam.  The other
looked at him no less fixedly, and it was clear that he did not know him
from Colvin.

Colvin, again?  What the deuce was the game now?  But he decided to play
up to the _role_.  He might get at something.

"So you know where I have just come from, eh, _ou' maat_?" he said.
"Now where is that?"

"Ah! ah!  Miss Wenlock is a pretty girl, isn't she?" rejoined the other
meaningly.  "_Ja_, Colvin, you are a _slim kerel_.  Prettier girl than
Aletta, isn't she?"

Aletta?  That must be the Boer girl Colvin was supposed to be entangled
with, decided Kenneth quickly.  But what was her other name, and who the
devil was this good-looking young Dutchman who talked English so well?
Aletta's brother possibly.  He just replied "H'm," which might have
meant anything, and waited for the other to continue.

"What will Aletta say when she knows?" went on the Boer, and his
bantering tone, through which the smouldering glow of malice underlying
it could not entirely be kept from showing, gave Kenneth his cue.

"Say?  Oh, but she need not know," he answered with just a touch of
well-simulated alarm.

"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the other.  "Need not know?  I think, friend
Colvin, I have got you on toast, as you English say, for I shall take
very good care she does know.  The fact is I have been watching you for
some time--from the time you met Miss Wenlock at Park Station right up
till now, and I fancy Aletta won't have very much more to say to you
when she hears about it all."

"Oh, but look here," went on Kenneth, still affecting alarm.  "You're
not going to give the show away, old sportsman.  Dash it all, it isn't
cricket!"

"Not, eh?  You just wait and see," jeered the other.  "Aha, you seem a
bit scared out of your high and mighty English `side' now.  You chose to
come between me and Aletta.  We grew up together, and I always looked
upon her as mine!  She would have been but for you.  Curse you!  I could
shoot you now as you stand there," growled the Dutchman, fingering the
breech of his rifle.  "But I won't, because I want to see Aletta turn
away from you in scorn, as she will, directly.  That will be a far
greater punishment for you--a far better revenge for me."

"By Jove!" said Kenneth to himself.  "There's sultry weather sticking
out for Colvin, anyhow."  This young Boer was evidently a discomfited
rival--his own words let that be understood.  Then, with lightning
swiftness, two aspects of the situation flashed through his scheming
brain.  He could let the delusion which the other was under as to his
identity continue, in which case Colvin would probably appeal to May
herself to disprove his alleged visits.  But then the two would be
brought together again, and that was just what he did not want.  Or he
could frankly offer his aid to this Dutchman, who would certainly jump
at any method, however unscrupulous, by which to discomfit his rival.
Colvin would assuredly try reprisals, and in that case the probabilities
were he would be shot by the Boers, which was just what he did want.  It
would end matters comfortably for all concerned.  So he decided upon the
latter plan.

"See here, my friend," he said, coolly.  "All this time you have been
holding on hard to the wrong end of the stick.  My name is not Colvin."

"Not--not Colvin Kershaw?" ejaculated the Boer, open-mouthed.

"No.  Devil a bit is it!"

"Now you are lying.  There is only one Colvin Kershaw.  There cannot be
two!"

"Quite right.  But I am not that one.  There may be other Kershaws,
though.  Eh!  Try again."

"Are you his brother?" said the Boer, suspiciously.

"Well, I am--er--a relative of his.  Nor are you the only person who has
taken me for him.  The fact is, we are as like as two peas.  I don't
wonder you have been obligingly giving me all your plans.  No, don't be
afraid.  I have no wish to upset them.  On the contrary, I am going to
offer you my help towards carrying them out."

It was time to make some such declaration.  The Boer's hand had been
stealing towards his revolver holster, and his face was fell with a
deadly meaning.  It was almost dark, and the road lonely and deserted.
Dead men tell no tales, and a dead Englishman found there in the morning
would cause no concern whatever to the authorities.

"What help can you give me, and why should you wish to?" he said
dubiously, his ingrained suspicion forbidding him to trust the other
overmuch.

"It can bring about the very thing that would have happened had I been
the real Colvin.  For my motive--well, that is my business.  I may or
may not tell it you later, but somehow I think not."

"Do you hate him, then?" said the Dutchman, still suspiciously.

"Not in the least.  I am perfectly indifferent to him.  But he stands in
my way, and must get out of it.  That is all."

"He must get out of my way, too," said the other, with a dark scowl.

"Quite so.  And if I help you to get him out of your way, you will help
me to get him out of mine?"

"Can I trust you?"

"Well, you've got to," answered Kenneth cheerfully, for he saw that the
other was nibbling around the bait.  "Don't be afraid, though.  You
won't regret it; and now, excuse me, but I'll be hanged if I know
exactly who you are."

"My name is Adrian De la Rey," replied the other.  "And yours?"

"Kenneth Kershaw.  And now we know each other, there's no need to stand
talking out here where we may be overheard, so come along to my
diggings, and we'll find something to drink, and have the show to
ourselves for weaving a plan of campaign.  Say though, it was a
fortunate thing you happened up when you did.  Those niggers were one
too many for me."

Kenneth's quarters were not very much further on, and were situated in
the abode of a Polish Jew who had retired to the back premises.  At
sound of the voices and horse hoofs, this worthy put out his head, then
at sight of the armed and mounted burgher, scurried back like a
frightened rabbit into its burrow.

"It's all right, Svinsky," called out Kenneth.  "Roll up, man.  Nobody's
going to eat you or commandeer you."

Thus reassured, the child of Israel came forth, bowing and cringing.

"Goot evening, sairs.  Let dot I shall take de Police chentleman's
'orse.  I haf a shtable und still some forage."

"Right," said Kenneth.  "After that, Svinsky, we want the house to
ourselves.  See that we are not interrupted."

"_Ja_, Mishter Kershaw.  Dot shall be done."

Having thus disposed of his Hebraic landlord, Kenneth led the way inside
and lit up.  Then he got out the materials for a rough-and-ready cold
supper, and some excellent "square-face," with the apology that it was
only "war-fare," the point of which joke was lost on the Dutchman.  The
latter, however, after a couple of glasses began to grow more genial and
less suspicious.

"_Maagtig_!" he burst forth, eyeing his host.  "I never thought one
world could contain two people so exactly alike.  Here in the light, the
likeness is even more wonderful."

"Take a good look at me, De la Rey, and make sure.  Now, is there
nothing, no mark or anything, that distinguishes me from my--er--
relative?"

"_Ja_, now I do see something.  You have a scar, a very slight one--
still I see it--just in front of the parting of your hair.  Colvin has
not got that.  But the colouring, the voice--everything.  _Maagtig_! it
is wonderful."

Over the meal they began to arrange their plans.  Then they lit their
pipes and talked on, far into the night, arranging details.

"You know the young lady, Adrian, and I don't," said Kenneth at last.
"If she believes your statement, we needn't go any further.  If she
doesn't, or doesn't want to, we must give her the most convincing
evidence of all--ocular evidence.  There will be no going behind that, I
fancy."

"_Ja_, that is a fine idea of yours, Kenneth"--under the influence of
`square-face' and a mutual plot these two had become quite fraternal.
"A really fine idea.  Aletta will never doubt the evidence of her own
eye sight."

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

Just then, however, Aletta had something to think about on her own
account, and a few days after the concocting of this delectable plot saw
her seated in the back garden of Piet Plessis' house, engaged in a
serious discussion with her _fiance_.  For the latter had made up his
mind to proceed to the seat of war, and had just been announcing the
fact.

Those long weeks spent at Pretoria had been very happy, very sweet.  But
the sheer restfulness of them had become a trifle enervating.  News had
kept coming in: news of the stirring events along the border.  The flame
had spread, and was still spreading.  Kimberley was invested, so too was
Mafeking, and Vryburg had fallen.  Ladysmith was cut off from the
outside world, and the burghers of the Republics had successfully
carried their arms well into the Cape Colony.  He could not sit still,
through it all.  He must, at any rate, see something of what was going
on, and to that end had obtained special permission to join Cronje's
force as a non-combatant spectator.

Not easily had this been obtained though.  It had taken all Piet
Plessis' influence, backed up by that of Andries Botma, with whom Colvin
had renewed acquaintance during his stay in the Transvaal.  Further, he
had to give the most solemn undertaking not to use his position in any
way whatever for the benefit of his own countrymen.

"Don't you remember that first evening we met, Aletta?" he was saying.
"You promised yourself to make a convert of me?  Well, now I am
interested in your side, I want to see how it fights."

"No, no, dearest I can't spare you," she replied, stroking the brown
hand which lay in one of her long white ones, with the other.  "Oh,
and--what if I were to lose you?"

"Leave me alone to take care of that.  Life is too well worth having
just now," he rejoined.  "And, as a non-combatant, the risk will be
infinitesimal."

They were alone together.  Piet and his wife were both out, and even if
anybody called, here in this bosky garden retreat they would remain
undisturbed.

Would they, though?  Even then both started, and looked up, as the tread
of heavy footsteps coming down the garden path arrested their attention.

"Oh, there you are, Aletta," said a man's voice.  "The boy said he
thought you were out here.  How are you, Colvin?"

"Why, it is Adrian!" she cried, colouring somewhat as she remembered
under what circumstances he had last seen her alone.  She was surprised
and delighted, too, to notice that he spoke with all his old cordiality
of tone, and was shaking hands with Colvin quite as he used to do at
Ratels Hoek.  He had got over it, then?  That was sensible and manly of
him, and, the interruption notwithstanding, she showed herself quite
pleased at his visit.

He sat down and chatted away freely enough, telling them about himself
and his moves, also the latest news from the Wildschutsberg and Ratels
Hoek; how all the Boers in that neighbourhood had risen, and under the
leadership of Swaart Jan Grobbelaar had marched into Schalkburg and
having made a prisoner of Mr Jelf had seized the Court-house over which
now waved the Free State flag, and had set up a Free State man as
Landdrost.  Oom Stephanus?  Well no, he had not joined openly, but his
sympathies were all with them.  He preferred to sit quietly at home
attending to his farm.

Her "patriotism" notwithstanding, Aletta could not but secretly rejoice
at this intelligence: If things should go wrong for their side, her
father at any rate would be safe.  Then Adrian remarked carelessly:

"By the way, Colvin, is Miss Wenlock staying at Johannesburg long?"

"Didn't even know she was there at all, Adrian."

"Didn't even know!  Why, man, you were having quite a long talk with her
at Park Station the other day.  Take care you don't make Aletta
jealous," he added, with a genial laugh.

"That's very odd, considering I haven't set eyes on her since I left the
Wildschutsberg," answered Colvin.

"I must have a double somewhere, for another Johnnie declared he saw me
in Johannesburg too.  You remember, Aletta?  That man Da Costa?  But is
May Wenlock staying in Johannesburg?"

"Well, rather"--with a whimsical expression of countenance.  "Now, look
here, Colvin.  I suppose you were not walking down Commissioner Street
with her one day last week?  She saw me, and bowed, but you didn't see
me.  Well, you were better employed.  But don't make Aletta jealous."

The tone was so good-humouredly chaffing that it was impossible to take
offence.  Yet Colvin did not like it.  As a matter of fact, he had been
over at Johannesburg at the time just named.  But he only replied:

"I've never been in Commissioner Street, or in any other street in
Johannesburg with May Wenlock in my life, Adrian, nor did I know she was
even there.  You must have seen double, man."

"Oh yes, I suppose I must," answered Adrian in the same bantering tone,
which, however, he contrived to make convey that he supposed nothing of
the sort.  And then they talked of other matters.

The thing was perfectly clear.  Colvin had simply scouted the other's
statement as impossible.  Yet why should Aletta somehow feel a vague
misgiving, as though the air had turned chill and the sun were not
shining quite so brightly?  Dr Da Costa's remark, too, came back to
her.  Perish the thought!  It was unworthy of her, and an affront to
Colvin.  Yet somehow the tiny verjuice drop had been instilled.  And as
Adrian talked on, apparently in high good-humour, she thought that after
all his visit had not been quite a success.

Did Adrian himself think so?  We wonder.



CHAPTER SIX.

IN THE ROAR OF THE BATTLE.

It was beginning to get rather exciting.  The big gun, just below, had
roared forth its message, and the spectators on the kopje had their
field-glasses glued to their eyes, as they watched the progress of the
great projectile.  Splash! there it was.  A cloud of dust flew up from
the red-brown veldt, away in the distance, but harmlessly.  Then, hard
by where it had fallen, a British gun barked, and, immediately, a huge
mass of the earth's surface, bitten into, leaped in mid-air on the
further side of the river, falling back in great chunks--clods and
stones--and gyrations of dust.  Further along the line, another gun
spoke, then another and another, as though passing the word along the
vast length, until the farthest voices, miles away, sounded quite
faintly.  Then ever and again would arise the crackling roll of
rifle-fire.

The sun was now well up over the eastern horizon, sweeping his joyous
morning rays in golden warmth over this warring drama of blood and of
wounds and of death.  Cleaving the great expanse of red-brown veldt the
river bed, bush-fringed, with high muddy banks, yawned; and away further
down, the clustering buildings of the little township, and the straight
thread of the railway line tailing away on either side.  Beyond the said
banks, lines of trenches, where lay the Boer riflemen, grim and earnest,
awaiting their turn, which would soon come.

Again the big gun below loosed off, with a tremendous reverberation.
Those on the kopje, watching the missile, descried a certain amount of
confusion where it struck, a scurrying or scattering behind its redoubt.
Heads went up eagerly from behind the Boer earthworks to watch the
result, but little or no remark escaped the lips of the stolid burghers.
Then the English battery barked in return, and the vast thud of the
lyddite shell striking one end of the earthwork, blowing up the same
great cloud of dust and fragments, reached the spectators with something
like the tremor of an earthquake.  At the same time the latter could see
that, where it had fallen, several forms were lying, while others
bending over them were trying to draw them out of the dust and _debris_.

Colvin Kershaw's hand shook slightly as he lowered his glasses, and his
face wore the look of one who has gazed upon a peculiarly horrifying
sight.  And well might it, for the projectile had done its work with
fell and awful completeness, and the powerful lens afforded him a view
of every detail, of writhings and agony and terrible mutilation.

"Guess you're not used to it, Kershaw," said a voice at his side.  "Made
me look sick, too, first time I saw it.  You ever see a fight before?"

The speaker was an American war-correspondent "doing" the battle from
within the Boer lines.

"Yes, I served in Matabeleland," answered Colvin.  "But with niggers
it's different.  Then, you see, we hated the brutes so because they'd
butchered a lot of women and children at the outbreak of the rebellion.
Even with them, though, you didn't see such a wholesale bust-up as that.
Faugh!"

"Well, there's worse to come yet.  Here, you take a draw at this"--
tendering him a large field flask.  Colvin accepted, and the nip of
excellent Boer brandy just steadied his nerves, which had been
momentarily shaken.

"You try a little, Commandant," went on the owner of the flask.

But Commandant Andries Botma declined.  He seldom touched stimulants, he
said, and now, if he did so at the beginning of a fight, would it not be
said that he required a dose of what the English call "Dutch courage"--
with a whimsical look at Colvin, at whom he was poking sly fun?

The quondam emissary to the Colonial Boers, among whom we first made his
acquaintance, was no mere frothy stump orator.  The name by which he was
deferentially known among these--"The Patriot"--he had subsequently done
everything to justify.  He was not the man to preach others into peril
he dare not face himself, and when his crusade had culminated in an
appeal to arms, he had always been among the foremost where hard knocks
were given or received.  Now he was in command of an important wing of
General Cronje's force.

A mighty engine of destruction or defence this--its lines extending for
miles and miles--waiting there grim, dogged, resolute, to give battle to
the richest, most resourceful, and determined Power in the world.  A
terrible force to reckon with; its impelling factor, a calm fanaticism
born of an unswerving conviction of the justice of the cause and the
sure and certain alliance of Heaven.

In the simplicity of his veldt attire, with little or nothing to mark
him out from those whom he commanded, Andries Botma looked even more a
born leader of men than when last we saw him, swaying his countrymen
with all the force of his fiery oratory.  His strong rugged face, eager,
yet impassive, was bent upon the scene of battle, as though not to lose
a detail, not to miss a chance.  He was surrounded by a little knot of
middle-aged and elderly Boers, most of them holding subordinate commands
under himself.

"Whirr!"  The screech of a shrapnel sailing over the foremost lines.  It
falls into the river, throwing up the mud with a tremendous splash.
Another and another.  This last, better aimed, strikes among the rear
lines--result as before: agony, wounds, death.  At the same time another
hits the kopje not many yards below, exploding in all directions with
appalling effect.

The splinters fly from an ironstone boulder not two yards distant, but
Andries Botma does not move a muscle.  One Boer in the group utters a
mild ejaculation, and then is seen to be winding a bit of oiled rag,
kept for gun-sponging purposes, around his middle finger.  Through this
rude bandage the blood slowly oozes, but nobody seems to think the
circumstance worthy of remark.  Colvin is conscious of a creeping
sensation in the region of the spine, as the jagged iron explodes around
him with vicious metallic hiss.  And the voices of the long-range duel
undergo no diminution, the deep-mouthed boom of the heavy guns, and the
sharp, snapping bark of the smaller ones.

Things, however, are not destined to continue that way.  As the hours
wear on the advance of the attacking force is made out.  From this part
of the field the latter can be seen in skirmishing order, drawing nearer
and nearer; those khaki-clad dots on the great brown expanse affording
but an insignificant mark.  And then there begins the sound of
rifle-shooting, literally as "the crackling of thorns under a pot."
Down and along the lines it sweeps, in waves of sharp staccato sounds,
and the spludges of dust, before and behind those khaki lines of
advancing skirmishers, but mostly before, are like the dropping of water
on red-hot iron.  Now, too, it is near enough to mark the effect of
those deadly volleys.  That inexorable advance continues, but as it does
it leaves behind lines of dead and dying and grievously wounded.  Not
all on one side, though, is the red slaughter.  Here among the patriot
trenches men are falling, and falling fast.  Shell after shell, too,
drops into the little township, and the crash of shattered brickwork,
and the shrill clangour of battered-in corrugated iron, mingles with the
gradating roar of projectiles, as they leave each grim nozzle
sentinelling miles and miles of that sullen river front.

Those on the kopje are now well within the line of fire.  More than
frequently a shrill vicious "whigge" as the Lee-Metford bullets clip the
air, or shatter to a flattened lead mushroom against a stone, causes an
involuntary duck.  The American is taking plentiful notes in shorthand.
Colvin, who is without this resource, also devoid of the natural
excitement of the combatant of firing at the enemy as well as being
fired at by him, takes longer to get used to the hum of bullets and the
bursting of shrapnel than would otherwise have been the case, for he is
totally unarmed, a precaution taken against the eventuality of capture
by his own countrymen.  And the effect of this precaution is strange.
He feels out of it.  Needless to say he has no desire to draw trigger on
his said countrymen, yet the consciousness that he is being shot at--no
matter whom by--without the power of replying, is strange and novel.
But his nerves at last become attuned to the hum of missiles, and he
watches the whole arena of the battle with a vivid and increasing
interest.

Higher and higher mounts the sun, more blistering and scorching his
rays, giving forth from the ironstone of the kopje as though reflected
from an oven.  A strange mirage, watery, crystallised, hangs over the
brown expanse of veldt, going off into limpid blue on the far horizon,
where the distant flat-topped hills seem to be suspended in mid-air.
Whether it is that this lake-like liquid tranquillity emphasises the
torrid heat or not, those on the kopje feel what the burning of thirst
means.  They have water-bottles from which they refresh, but sparingly.
Those in the trenches feel it too, but their attention is on the dire,
stern business of the day.  No time have they to dwell upon mere
corporeal cravings.

Whigge!  Crash!  Shell after shell is breaking within their lines.  Men
writhe, shattered, screaming, where the hideous dismemberment of the
human frame is beyond all human endurance, however willing the spirit,
the dogged, stern, manly, patriotic spirit--proof against mere ordinary
pain--agony even.  One of the group round Andries Botma sinks to the
earth as a Nordenfelt missile, crashing and splintering among the stones
which form his cover, buries a great fragment of jagged iron deep in his
thigh.  All run to him, foremost among them the Commandant, reckless of
the perfect hailstorm of bullets which already, although at long-range,
is beginning to spray the kopje, while some signal wildly to the
ambulance waggons away and below in the rear.  But Field-cornet Theunis
Van Wyk has got his death-blow, and his wife and children--he has three
sons fighting below in the trenches--and grandchildren will see him at
home smoking the pipe of peace no more.  The flow of blood is already
rendering him faint, and with a hasty jerked-out message delivered to
his old friend and Commandant to carry to them, and a quavering attempt
at singing a Dutch hymn upon his lips, he passes out like a brave man,
without complaint or rancour, as many and many a one has done and will
do before this day of striving and of carnage is over.

And as the advancing host draws nearer, now in quick intrepid rushes
over open ground where the leaden hail sweeps in its remorseless shower,
now prone and in skirmishing formation, the roar of battle waxes louder
and louder.  On both sides the crackling din of volleys is well-nigh
incessant--as the rifles speak from trench or temporary cover, with dire
effect.  But there is very little smoke, although the plain on either
side is simply spurting puffs of dust where each bullet finds its mark--
save where such mark is not mother earth.  In the background the
ambulances hover, their heroic attendants darting in now and again, and
rescuing the maimed victims under the leaden shower itself.  And above
the ceaseless crackle of small arms, the heavier boom of artillery rolls
out more continuous, more unbroken than ever.

Colvin has got over his first shrinking of nerves.  He hears the humming
of missiles overhead and around with something of equanimity, he sees
the splash of lead against rock--or the dust-cloud leaping out of the
ground as the bursting iron of shell tears up the surface.  Two more of
those upon the kopje fall, one stone dead, the other dying.  It may be
his turn next.  And then, as even the excitement of the day-long battle
begins to wane and go flat, his thoughts refer to that last parting with
Aletta.  What a parting that had been--as though he had been going to
his death, to his execution!  He realises the burden of it now, as he
looks on the sad havoc of human life below and around him--the swift
sudden fate leaping out of nowhere--the mangled, the mutilated, moaning
for the boon of death--of being put out of their sufferings; the
lifeless--a moment ago rejoicing in their youth and strength with all
their years before them.  Ah yes--and this is war--glorious war!--and at
this very moment there are tens of thousands in the vigour of their
youth and strength now panting and longing for the opportunity to become
such as these.

"Oh, Kershaw.  Guess the British'll bust our centre right now.  They're
coming right through the river."

It was the voice of the American.  Chewing a cigar in the corner of his
mouth, he was calmly and unconcernedly taking his notes, while keenly
watching each new development of the day.  Colvin, following his glance,
could make out a crowd of forms in the river bed some distance down.
Then the rattle of rifle-fire became one long deafening roll, as all the
energies of the Republican forces, anywhere within reasonable range,
became concentrated on this new attempt.  But the result he could not
determine.  The whole thing had more than begun to bewilder him.  His
ears were deafened by the unintermittent roll and crackle, his eyes dim
and dizzy with watching, or trying to watch, the movements of both lines
of striving combatants.  He heard Andries Botma give orders, and then
saw a great mass of mounted Boers, stealthily keeping cover as far as
possible, dash forth and pour volley after volley into the waggons and
trek-animals of the opposing force; hanging on the outskirts of the
latter, with the result of throwing it for the while into hideous
confusion.  He saw frightful sights of dying men, mangled and
shell-ripped; but by then his susceptibilities were blunted, the whole
world seemed changed into a hell.  The voice of his American friend
again aroused him.

"Mind me, Kershaw.  Next time you come to view this sample of scrimmage,
you get something to do.  You got nothing to report for, and of course
you can't shoot at other English, so it's bound to get on your nerves."

"There's something in what you say, Acton," replied Colvin.  "There's a
sort of passive helpless feeling about it all to me.  I seem to realise
what the ambulance people's work is like; but even they have work.  Now
I have nothing but to sit and look on."

"Pity," said the other.  "But we haven't got the best ground.  Too much
near the end of the line.  Well, it's no great matter.  I'll make it all
read beautiful," glancing with pride down his columns of notes.  "You
have a cigar?"

"Thanks," lighting up the weed.  "But--what's on now?"

They were, as the American had said, near the end of the line.  Now they
could see, confusedly, and in the distance, that the British were in and
through the river, forcing the centre of the opposing line.  And the
wild cheers of the soldiers reached them through the incessant din and
roar of fire.  At the same time those in the trenches on the further
side of the river had abandoned their position and retired across.

The sun was sinking now.  It was hard to realise that a whole day had
been passed in the turmoil of this unending rattle and noise.  Yet to
Colvin the effect was almost as though he had spent his whole life in
it.  His mind represented but a confused notion of what he had
witnessed, of what he had been through; and when at nightfall the word
was silently passed to retire, to evacuate the position, and take up
another, some miles in the rear, where everything was more favourable to
meet and again withstand a sorely tried but valorous and persistent foe,
he seemed to regard it as no more of an out-of-the-way circumstance than
the order to inspan a waggon or two.  Yet he had spent that day
witnessing one of the fiercest and most stubbornly contested battles in
which his country's arms had been engaged within the current century.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

OCULAR EVIDENCE.

Not until Colvin had gone did Aletta actually realise all that that
parting meant.

Why had she let him go? she asked herself, a score of times a day.  She
could have restrained him had she put forth all her influence.  Why were
men so restless?  Why could not this one have sat still and made the
most of the happiness that was his--that was theirs?  Ah, and now those
happy times--and they had been happy times--were in the past.  Never to
come again, perhaps--her heart added with a sinking chill.

If the English would but make peace; and then she remembered, with sad
amusement, her patriotic enthusiasms in the old days at Ratels Hoek, and
how condescendingly she had been willing that her countrymen should
allow a few English to remain, during her discussions with Adrian--yes,
and even with Colvin himself.  What now was the patriotic cause to her?
She was only conscious of an empty, aching, and utterly desolate heart.

"Aletta is fretting, Piet," said the latter's consort one day--the
subject of the remark not being present.  "She is fretting terribly.  I
can see it, although she is very brave, and tries not to show it.  I did
not think she had it in her to allow herself to be so entirely wrapped
up in one man, and that an Englishman.  What can we do to cheer her up?"

"Get the `one man' back, I suppose," rejoined the practical official.
"_Maagtig_, Anna--if ever any man had reason to sit still and be
thankful, that man was Colvin.  But, no.  Off he must go, not because
he's wanted for fighting purposes, but just to see the fun--as he calls
it.  Well, he'll see a great deal that he won't find fun at all.  But
these English are all alike, fussy, restless--must have a finger in
everything that goes on--in a fight most of all."

Yes, Aletta was fretting, if a pale and careworn look upon her face was
any index to the mind within.  Now, with a rush, all came back--all that
this man was to her.  She recalled the hours they had spent together--
every tone and every look--all that he had ever said, and how time had
fled like a streak of sunbeam when she was in his presence--how, too,
her first thought on awaking to another day, again and again, had been
one of half-incredulous, blissful gratitude that in this way she was to
go through life.  And now he was gone, and at any moment, for all she
knew, he might be lying dead and still for ever upon the veldt.  Oh, it
would not bear thinking on!  She had not known what love was before, she
told herself.  She knew now, and when he returned to her he should know
too.  This separation had taught her.  Surely, too, it had taught him.

Among those who frequently visited at Piet Plessis' to try to cheer her
up was, somewhat to her surprise, her cousin Adrian; remembering how
badly he had taken her refusal in the first instance, and the dire
threats he had used towards whosoever should usurp what he chose to
imagine was his place.  Then she reflected that, after all, he had
justified the good opinion she had always held of him, in that he had
accepted the inevitable in a sensible and manly way.  True, once or
twice it occurred to her uneasily that he might be taking the
opportunity of ingratiating himself once more in view of possible
accidents; but she put the thought from her Another source of surprise
was the way in which she found herself talking to Adrian about the
absent one.  At first she had shrunk from so doing, deeming the topic an
unpalatable one to him.  But he had not seemed to regard it as such, and
she soon lost her constraint on that head.  Then Adrian's visits became
of daily occurrence, and Piet and his wife, seeing they seemed to
brighten Aletta up, encouraged them.

One day she asked him how it was he still remained in Pretoria.  Now
that the war was an accomplished fact, his place, she should have
thought, would be at the front.  News kept coming in--together with more
prisoners--news of brilliant engagements, and successful stands made
against the foes of the Republic--yet Adrian, who had always been so
energetic in his advocacy of an appeal to arms, dallied here, instead of
marching with those who were fighting for the patriot cause.  To this he
had replied that there was time enough before him.  The struggle was
young yet; long before it reached its culminating point, he would be in
the midst of it--yes, and would have made his mark too.  Thus he told
her.

The while, however, he was playing his own game, and that necessitated
more than one trip over to Johannesburg, more than one conference with
that other Kershaw.  The plot concocted by these worthies was nearly
mature.

The time had now come for playing a new card.  When Aletta waxed
eloquent over her absent lover, Adrian, hitherto kindly and
considerately responsive, now preserved silence; indeed he lapsed into
silence with just sufficient markedness as to move her to notice it.
This he did some few times, until one day she asked him the reason,
point-blank.

"Oh, it's nothing, Aletta," he answered.  And then he abruptly took his
leave.

But at the very next of his visits she returned to the subject, as he
knew she would, and intended she should.

Why had he become so markedly constrained? she asked, a sudden deadly
fear blanching her face.  Had he heard anything--any bad news?

"From the front, you mean?  No, no; nothing of that sort," quailing
involuntarily before the set, stony look of anguish, and half wavering
in his plan.  Then, recovering himself, "Well then, Aletta, it's of no
use keeping it to oneself any longer; besides, you ought to know.  Are
you sure there is anyone at the front in whom you have any interest at
all?"

"Why, of course!  Why, what do you mean, Adrian?  Is not Colvin at the
front?" she said, bringing out her words with a kind of gasp.

"At the front?  Well, I don't think he is, considering I saw him only
this morning at Johannesburg."

"Oh, then, he is on his way back," cried Aletta, her face lighting up
with such a radiancy of joy as confirmed the other more than ever in his
purpose.

"I think not," he said; "for to-day is not the only time I have seen him
there.  I saw him the day before yesterday, and one day last week."

"Adrian, think what you are saying.  It is impossible."  But as she
stood looking him in the face as though her gaze would pierce and lay
bare every secret of his brain, a cold and terrible misgiving smote her.
She remembered the positive assertion made by Adrian before on this
head, and in Colvin's own presence.  Dr Da Costa's remark, too, she
remembered; likewise her own misgiving, which act of distrust she had
since lamented to herself with bitter and remorseful tears.  What if
this thing should be too true?

"But I have letters from him," she went on.  "I have heard from him
twice--from Bloemfontein before he joined Commandant Botma.  You must
have seen that extraordinary `double' of his, Adrian."

But Adrian was armed at this point too.

"See you now, Aletta?" he said.  "It is very easy to get anything posted
in Bloemfontein.  Plenty of people travel down there from Johannesburg.
As for that `double' idea, I thought at the time that the story was too
weak altogether.  But now, I ask, does his `double' also know Miss
Wenlock?  Anyhow, she seemed to be bidding him a very lingering farewell
on the _stoep_ of a house."

This seemed improbable.  Still, grasping at the chance, Aletta flatly
refused to believe the statement.  And then she rounded upon her cousin,
and for a space that estimable youth had a very bad time indeed.  He had
invented this scandalous falsehood, she declared, had invented it out of
malice.  She remembered his threats that day at Ratels Hoek; but such,
at any rate, had pointed to a more manly course than this traducing of
the absent.  No, she did not and would not believe one word of the
story.  Adrian could get away out of her sight and never look upon her
face again.

But she did believe it partly, and Adrian knew she did.  He felt quite
secure now.

"Very well, Aletta," he answered, with a quiet dignity, "I will do as
you wish, and you need not be troubled with me any more.  That is the
treatment I might have expected for opening your eyes to the--well,
trick that has been played upon you.  Yet I don't see why you should
think me a liar; so it is only fair to give me the chance of proving my
words."

"But how are you going to prove them?" she asked, speaking quickly.

"In the best possible way.  Will the evidence of your own eyes satisfy
you, Aletta?"

"I cannot refuse to believe my own eyes," she answered slowly.  "That
is, in broad daylight," she added.

"Yes, of course.  If you will go over to Johannesburg with me to-morrow
you shall be amply convinced.  Will you come?"

"Yes.  And mind this, Adrian.  If you fail to prove this lie--I mean
this charge of yours--by the evidence of my own eyes, you shall never
receive a word from me again--from any of us, indeed.  Never."

"Oh, I am not uneasy about that.  And now I must go.  So long.
To-morrow, mind."

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

The road in which stood Jim Dixon's abode was well-nigh as deserted at
midday as in the dusk of the evening when Adrian had first come into
contact with Kenneth Kershaw.  Now as he walked slowly along, with
Aletta beside him, he could hardly answer her save at random.  What if
the plan failed?  A miscalculation of time on the part of one or both
confederates and such might easily be the case.  His first idea, which
indeed would have been a safer one, was to take up a position in, or
concealed by, one of the deserted houses opposite, of which there was a
whole row, and watch; but even if he could have got Aletta to consent to
this plan, one very important move in the game--the most checkmating
move of all, as we shall see--must of necessity be omitted.

The girl was looking pale and worn, for she had had but little sleep.
Her determination and spirit, the very vitality of the matter at stake,
had kept her up.  There were times, too, when she said to herself that
this thing could not be, that she was about to discover what a mistake
Adrian had made; and in the gladness of the thought she was going to be
forgiving to Adrian in that event, not, however, until she had most
severely lectured him.

He for his part had affected a demeanour that was gravely compassionate.
If he seemed now and then ill at ease, why that struck Aletta as
natural--having regard to the delicate nature of the errand on which
they were bound.  And he had some reason for his uneasiness, for they
would soon be right opposite Dixon's house, and he did not desire to be
seen by, at any rate, one of its inmates.  What was that cursed fool
about, he said to himself, not to show?  It was past the time, and they
could not patrol up and down for ever.

"Look now, Aletta!" he said, suddenly.  "Look!  Was I mistaken?"

The front door of a house about a hundred yards further down on the
other side of the road had opened, and two figures came out on to the
_stoep_.  Aletta recognised them instantly.  One was that of May
Wenlock, but the other--

No.  There was no mistaking it.  There he stood, and he was looking down
into May's eyes as he talked to her, was holding her hand in his for a
considerably longer time than was necessary for the purpose of bidding
farewell.  There he stood, her perfidious lover--he who had left her
with such words of sworn affection upon his lips, that would be with her
until her dying day--he, the thought of whom, hourly, momentarily, it
might be in peril of death on the battle field, had filled her mind
waking and sleeping--while all the while here he was in quiet safety,
carrying on his intrigue with this girl.  There he stood; there could
not be two Colvin Kershaws in the world, that ingenious story of the
"double" notwithstanding.  This was the "double" then?  Yet it was
wearing exactly the same clothes, exactly the same hat, even, as when
taking that last farewell of herself--that farewell whose memory had
thrilled her heart ever since.

"Courage, Aletta!  Courage!" she heard Adrian say, but his voice sounded
as from another world.  "Keep up a little longer.  Now we will make
certain.  Look!"

The man had parted from his companion now, and as he came down to the
front gate, his head was half turned, as with a last loving look towards
May, who was still on the _stoep_.  Then he came out into the road, and
the door of the house closed.

He walked slowly along at first, not looking up.  Then suddenly he did
look up, and caught the eyes of the two on the opposite side.  The
effect was magical.  With a bewildered start he half stopped as though
irresolute, then, averting his eyes, he trebled his pace and walked
rapidly away.  But during that swift second his glance had met that of
Aletta straight and full; and if ever a human countenance showed dismay,
consternation, guilt, utter confusion, assuredly all these emotions were
stamped upon this man's countenance in that brief moment.

"Well now, was I mistaken?" said Adrian again, his voice sounding even
farther away this time.  "Can you believe your own eyes now, Aletta?
You have seen?"

"Oh yes," she gasped.  "I must believe my own eyes.  Yes--yes, I have
seen."

The girl's face was colourless, her lips livid and shaking.  Her steps
even seemed unsteady.  Adrian feared that she would faint.  But she did
not.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

VERY LIKE A PRISONER.

Colvin was beginning to have enough of it.

He had spent some weeks with Cronje's force, and into that short space
about half a lifetime of strange and stirring experience seemed to have
crowded itself.  Besides the Modder River battle, he had witnessed the
British repulse at Magersfontein, and had seen several desultory
skirmishes.  More than one narrow escape had he known, and had been
slightly cut about the hand by the splinter of a spent shell.  But he
had become inured to the rush and whirr of missiles, and now paid no
heed whatever to them.  He had likewise adopted the American's
suggestion, and started in to take notes on his own account.  He might
make some use of them after the war, he declared, and, at any rate, as
Acton had said, the taking of them gave him something to do.  By this
time, too, he had become indurated to the ghastly and horrifying sights
which had so got upon his nerves at first.  Yet he had had quite enough
of it, and thought longingly that he would gladly be back at Pretoria.
And what stimulated this longing was the fact that during all the time
he had been away he had received neither line nor word from Aletta.

At first he had thought but little of this, attributing it to a natural
delay consequent on the hurry and bustle of the times.  But as days
became weeks he began to think it strange and to feel uneasy.  Several
of the burghers had received letters from their people, and plenty of
messages and despatches reached the various field commandants from
headquarters.  Surely the influence of Piet Plessis would suffice to
command means of sending through the communication for which he now
began so ardently to long.

Even then no idea approaching suspicion of the real state of affairs
crossed his mind.  Some technical difficulty might be standing in the
way--Piet might not be able to use his official position for such
purposes.  No, that did not seem to account for it either.  Colvin began
to feel anxious--he hardly knew why.  He had wanted to see the fighting,
and he had seen a great deal of it--enough, he thought, to last him for
life.  The fierce glare of summer midday, with its dust-clouds and
chronic and tormenting thirst--the bitter chill of night on the high
veldt--lying out under the stars, while every now and then the
searchlight in the beleaguered town away in the distance swept round its
fan-like ray, now and then drawing the muffled boom of a shot--of all
this he had had enough.  He made up his mind to obtain Commandant
Botma's permission to return to Pretoria.

Hardly had he done so than a letter was put into his hand.  Ah, the
longed-for communication at last! and the thrill of delight that went
through him almost made up for the long, wearing anxiety.  But this was
nipped in the bud by a second glance at the envelope.  It was not
directed in Aletta's handwriting.

He tore it open.  A glance at the end of the sheet showed that the
handwriting was that of Piet Plessis' wife.  At the same time an
enclosure fell out.  This at any rate was from Aletta.  Eagerly he
picked it up--then, as he mastered the contents, a look of the blankest
dismay and bewilderment came over his features.  For the contents were
very brief, and they ran thus:

"I am going home at once.  No explanations are needed, are they?  For,
remember--_I saw_.

"Good-bye, Aletta."

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

He stared at the sheet of paper, and his look of bewilderment grew
blanker and blanker.  What did it mean?  What on earth _could_ it mean?
No explanations needed?  But they very much _were_ needed, he thought.
And what on earth mystery lay covered by those words, so significantly
underlined--"_I saw_?"  What did the writer see?  The thing passed
comprehension.  He turned to the other letter with some wild hope of
finding enlightenment there.

It did not afford him much.  Aletta had asked her to enclose this note
to him, wrote Mrs Plessis, and was going back home to Ratels Hoek at
once.  "I hope there is nothing wrong," she went on, "but the child has
been very strange during the last two or three days.  I don't know what
to make of it.  She will not give me her confidence, and made me promise
faithfully not so much as to hint to Piet that anything had upset her.
She leaves us to-morrow, and travels back home in charge of Adrian.  But
I trust there is nothing really the matter."

In charge of Adrian!  Ah, now he began to see light.  Adrian was behind
whatever had happened.  Why, of course.  His every motive made that way.
All that cordiality of his had not altogether gone down with Colvin.
There was a suggestion of malice underlying it, which should have put
him more on his guard.  Adrian had played him some dirty trick in his
absence, though what it might be he could as yet form no idea.

He glanced at the letter, also at the note.  Both bore a date some ten
days old.  Why, Aletta would have been home now for days.  Well, his
mind was made up.  Instead of returning to Pretoria, he would proceed
straight to Ratels Hoek.  No explanation needed!  It struck him that
that very thing was most urgently needed.

He applied to Andries Botma for facilities, which, being English, he
would need to prosecute his journey and to ensure his safe passage
through any of the Republican forces he might fall in with.  These were
readily granted, and the Commandant bade him a kind and cordial
farewell.

"I need not remind you, Mynheer Kershaw," he said, in Dutch, for "The
Patriot" never spoke English, although perfectly able to do so, unless
positively obliged--"I need not remind you that you have pledged your
solemn word of honour to divulge nothing that you may have seen or heard
during the time you have been with us.  But it is not entirely the other
side I distrust, and therefore I would impress upon you the necessity of
using the greatest caution in conversing with those who, by nationality,
are our own people.  But many of them (with shame I say it) are not
really our own people--that is, they are not heart and soul with us.
They will not strike a blow for the sacred cause--at least not yet.
They are waiting to see which will prove the victorious side--as if
there could be any doubt.  These are the people I would warn you
against, when you are back once more across the river.  But you are one
of us now, for I hear you are to marry Stephanus De la Rey's daughter.
In that receive my most cordial wishes--and carry my compliments to
Stephanus and all our good friends in the Wildschutsberg.  And if
hereafter I can be of service to you at any time--why, it will be to me
an agreeable duty.  Farewell."

Colvin shook hands warmly with the kindly Dutch Commandant, and, armed
with his credentials, went forth.  At the moment he little thought of
the weight of that last promise, still less what it might or might not
be destined to mean for him in the not distant future.  He thought more
on the subject of the other's congratulations, for they stirred up a
very real and desolating misgiving.  What if events should already have
rendered them devoid of meaning?

His journey to the border seemed to him intolerably long and depressing,
but its monotony was varied more than once by meeting with a party of
burghers patrolling the country or on their way to join Cronje's force.
These would scan his credentials narrowly and suspiciously, but the name
of Andries Botma was as a very talisman, and they allowed him to
proceed.  At the passage of the Orange River, some delay occurred.
This, however, was at last surmounted, but it was towards the close of
the third day that he found himself--riding a very tired horse--entering
the Wildschutsberg range, just beyond which lay his own home, and, yet
nearer, Ratels Hoek.

Straight to the latter he intended to proceed, and now, as he drew so
near, for the hundredth time he was cudgelling his brains over the
mystery of Aletta's strange behaviour, and for the hundredth time was
forced to own himself no nearer finding a clue to it than before--except
that he still connected it in some way with the evil influence or
trickery of Adrian.  Well, two or three hours more would clear it up,
for he and Aletta would talk face to face, and in her own home.

Ah, but would they?  With a dire chill the thought struck him--what if
she were no longer there? had left home, perhaps, and gone away to Cape
Town, as she had done before?  Well, even thither he would follow her,
if necessary, and claim an explanation.

What was this which had come between them?  Had their times been too
bright, too unclouded, rendering some such trial needful?  They
certainly had been that Day by day, so far from stagnating, from turning
into the easy matter-of-fact groove, their love had grown--had
intensified--right up to the moment of parting, so ardently mutual had
it been.  It had seemed that nothing could add to it--that no margin was
left for any further extension of it.  Yet as he rode along now,
saddened, heart-desolate, almost bereaved, Colvin thought to himself
that this ordeal had seemed needed to prove that there was.

As he entered the mountains, the roll as of an approaching storm had
boomed sombrely away on his left.  Now, in the opposite direction,
beyond the range, came faint and far, other deep thunder voices.  This
was not thunder though.  It was a sound he had become tolerably familiar
with of late, the distant roll of guns.  A battle was in progress in
that direction.  Well, it did not concern him.  He was nearly at home
again.

He looked up.  The shadows of evening were already lowering.  In the
dusk something white attracted his glance.  A white stone--and then,
with a rush, the familiarity of the surroundings swept in upon his mind.
He had reason to know that white stone, for it was while passing that
very object he had been fired at on the night he had first seen Aletta.
The track he had been following here struck the main road, just where it
forked, in the direction of his own home, and in that of Ratels Hoek.
Well, he would soon be at the latter place now, and then--and then--Ah,
how that other evening came back!

This stage of his meditations received a shock, being, in fact,
disturbed by a loud, harsh voice calling upon him in Dutch, and very
peremptorily, to halt.  It proceeded from in front and above.  Looking
up, Colvin became alive to the startling discovery that some twenty
rifles were levelled straight at him, at a distance of about that number
of yards.  There was no disputing such a summons.

"Dismount!" repeated the voice.

Again there was no alternative but to comply, and, as he did so, several
Boers, still keeping him covered, arose from their concealment, and came
towards him.  Some two or three were men from the surrounding district,
whom he knew by sight, but most of them were strangers.

"Who are you?" asked the leader crisply, in Dutch.  "And where are you
from?"

Colvin told him.  The news that he had come straight from Cronje's force
in the field, and had witnessed several engagements, impressed them
somewhat.  They began to look at him with considerable interest and
increased respect.

"_Daag_, Gideon," he exclaimed, suddenly becoming aware of the presence
of Gideon Roux among the party.  The Boer came forward and greeted him
as though nothing had happened.  They chatted a minute or two together
as to the local news and so forth.  Then Colvin said:

"Well now, friends, I must bid you good-night.  I am going on to
Stephanus De la Rey's."

"You cannot go on to Stephanus De la Rey's to-night," rejoined the
leader promptly.

"Why not?"

"Because you have to go with us--to Commandant Schoeman's camp at Krantz
Kop."

This was a terrible facer, but Colvin was forced to accept the situation
with what grace he could.  At first he tried expostulation, urging every
reason he could think of for being suffered to pursue his way.  In vain.
Even the magic name of The Patriot seemed to fail in its power here.
The burghers got their concealed horses from behind the rocks and they
started.

It was quite dark when they reached the camp, which had been pitched
around Gideon Roux' farmstead.  How well Colvin remembered the last time
he had visited this place--the discovery of the concealed arms, the
squalid household and his doubtful reception, Hans Vermaak's warning and
its ample justification.  Now, as he saw the place again, under
circumstances suspiciously like being made a prisoner of, a great
despondency came upon him.  He had beguiled the journey chatting with
his escort, or captors, or whatever they were, and learned that for the
past day or two fighting had been going on with the British forces out
beyond Schalkburg, and that a few prisoners had been taken, most of whom
would be forwarded to Bloemfontein.  There was one, however, who was
exceedingly obstreperous.  If he was not careful he would very likely be
shot.

They were challenged by vedettes as they reached the outskirts of the
camp, but allowed to pass through.  In the darkness Colvin could make
out a few waggons and several tents pitched without any particular
regard to order.  In one or two of these some men were singing Dutch
hymns in a slow, droning tone--but, early as it was, most of the
burghers had turned in for the night.  Once, as he passed the farmhouse,
he thought to detect an English voice, proceeding from the stable,
cursing and swearing, its owner the while kicking vigorously against the
door, and supposed this must be the obstreperous prisoner they had been
telling him about.  He was shown to a tent, which he found he had to
share with three other men, who were already asleep.

The Commandant?  Oh, he could not be disturbed that night.  He was
asleep.  So there was nothing for it but to put the best face on things.
And yet it was not with pleasant foreshadowings that Colvin Kershaw at
last closed his tired yet sleepless eyes in the burgher camp, realising
that he was something very like a prisoner.



CHAPTER NINE.

COMMANDANT SCHOEMAN'S CAMP.

"Who on earth is making all that row?" was Colvin's first remark on
awakening from sleep the following morning to the well-worn strains of
"Ta-ra-Boomdeay" bellowed in stentorian tones, yet somewhat muffled as
though by distance and obstruction.

"It must be the Englishman--one of the prisoners," yawned another
occupant of the tent, sitting up and rubbing his eyes sleepily.  "He is
very violent and noisy, so they have shut him up in Gideon Roux' stable
away from the others."

"Is he mad?"

"No.  Only violent.  Wants to fight everybody with his fists."

"_Nouwja_.  I would cure that `madness' with a _sjambok_ if I were the
Commandant," growled another, sitting up and listening.  "He gives all
the trouble he can."

The hour was that of sunrise, and although midsummer, the air at that
altitude was raw and chilly when Colvin turned out, shivering, to look
after his horse, which had been picketed among the steeds of the
burghers.  As he did so the sun, mounting above the surrounding heights
into the fresh clear air, seemed to shed around a new hope, to light up
a new exhilaration in his mind.  His own atmosphere would clear, even as
the dewy mists of night had done before the great flaming luminary.  He
would now seek out the Commandant, explain matters, and resume his way.
And having so decided, he was straightway confronted by a couple of
burghers summoning him to the presence of that official without delay.

Commandant Schoeman was an elderly man with a hard, wooden-faced
expression.  He wore a straight lank beard, a chimney-pot hat, once
white, and weather-beaten moleskin clothes, which looked as if they had
not been off him for a month, which indeed was very near the truth.  He
was a Boer of the most unprogressive type, and as entirely dissimilar to
one of the stamp of Stephanus De la Rey as could possibly be imagined.
He was lacking in the good qualities of Andries Botma, who, however
fiery and perfervid as a patriotic orator, was a kindly and courteous
gentleman beneath.  This man was brusque and uncouth, and cordially
hated everything English, both in season and out of season.

He was seated in his tent as Colvin came up.  The flaps were folded back
so that those surrounding him who could not find room inside could still
assist at what was going on in the way of official business.  These
consisted almost entirely of Boers holding subordinate commands under
him.  They wore their bandoliers, and their rifles lay on the ground
beside them.

"_Daag_, Mynheer Commandant," said Colvin, mindful of the way in which a
greater than this had received a less formal mode of address.

"_Daag_," replied Schoeman curtly, tendering a cold lifeless paw, and
just touching the other's outstretched hand.

The same ceremony was gone through with the others.  Two old
acquaintances Colvin recognised--Swaart Jan Grobbelaar and old Sarel Van
der Vyver.  These responded to his greeting characteristically--the
first showing his tusks with a sort of oily, half-satirical grin, the
other infusing a heartiness into his reply, and then drawing back as
though half-frightened.  There was a third present, however, whom he
recognised--recognised, moreover, with some astonishment--Morkel, the
Civil Commissioner's clerk.

"Hallo, Morkel!" he exclaimed in English.  "I never expected to see you.
Why, what on earth are _you_ doing here?"

"I am acting as secretary for the Commandant," answered Morkel, making
believe to be wondrously busy with some papers on the rough wooden table
in front of him.  His momentary embarrassment was not lost upon Colvin,
nor a look he fancied he detected, warning him not to ask questions.

"I do not know why we need talk English here," said the Commandant
curtly.  "Sit."

Colvin obeyed, and subsided on to the floor of the tent by Swaart Jan,
who made room for him, at the same time offering his tobacco bag, for
they were all smoking.  The great man and his "secretary" were the only
ones who occupied seats, and these consisted of inverted packing-cases.
The rest squatted primitively on mother earth.

Then turning to Colvin, the Commandant began to put him through a pretty
close cross-examination, causing Morkel to take down the answers, partly
with a view to impressing the others with his magisterial dignity,
partly from a genuine motive, for he was an illiterate man, and had all
the suspiciousness which characterises such.  He questioned Colvin with
regard to all as to which he had been an eye-witness when with Cronje's
force, and with regard to a great deal as to which he had not, the
others listening with vivid interest.

And here Colvin began to feel himself in somewhat of a quandary,
remembering the parting injunctions and warnings of Andries Botma.  The
latter had especially cautioned him against revealing matters even to
the burghers on this side of the Orange River, and now the warning rose
clear in his mind.  Who could say that there might not be spies among
those here present, or, at any rate, but lukewarm adherents of the
Republican cause?  And the result of such misgiving was that his answers
were somewhat constrained, and to the distrustful ears of the Boer
Commandant more than suspicious.

"Be careful, Englishman," said the latter bluntly.  "You are telling us
the truth, are you?  You had better tell the truth--oh, much better."

The rudeness of the other's words and manner angered Colvin, but he
yielded to the expediency of restraining too great a manifestation of
resentment.

"Look, Mynheer Commandant," he said.  "I have been courteously received
by His Honour the President, I can call Andries Botma my friend and Piet
Plessis'"--and he named half a dozen other prominent Transvaal
officers--"but it has remained to me to return here to be called a liar
by a man of whom I never heard before."

"All Englishmen are liars," interpolated a grim old burgher on the
opposite side of the tent, spitting on the ground.  Schoeman, however,
received the reply with a wooden-faced silence.  But Colvin did not miss
a look of dismay and warning darted at him by Morkel, and at the same
time, with anything but satisfaction, he realised that he had probably
made a deadly enemy of the Commandant.

"Well then," he continued, "the whole square truth of the matter is that
Andries Botma particularly urged upon me not to talk of what I had seen
with Cronje's force, not even on this side of the river.  Does that
satisfy all here?"  And he looked around the circle.

"_Ja_, _ja_," assented most of them, Swaart Jan adding:

"It is true, Commandant Colvin is a true man.  I know him.  He is a
friend of `The Patriot'.  Besides, he is one of us now.  He is going to
marry Stephanus De la Rey's daughter."

"Quite right, Oom Jan," said Colvin, with alacrity.  Then, judging that
this was exactly the moment for preferring his request, he represented
to the Commandant that it was while on his way to Ratels Hoek that he
had been detained and brought here.  Might he not now proceed thither?

This request was backed up by most of the assembled Boers.  Schoeman,
beginning to think it would save trouble, was inclined to yield, when a
contretemps occurred, one of those freaks of fate which have an impish
and arbitrary way of skipping forward just at the right moment to divert
and ruin the course of human affairs when such course is beginning to
run smoothly.  A considerable hubbub had arisen outside; curses and
threats in Dutch and English, with the sound of scuffling, and, over and
above all, a voice lifted in song, bellowing stentoriously, if somewhat
jerkily:

  "Ta-ra-ra-ra Boomdeay!
  Oom Paul op een vark gerij,
  Af hij val en rier gekrij,
  Toen klim op en weg gerij."

The concluding words were hurled, so to say, right into the tent, for a
group of burghers had appeared, and in their midst was the singer.  The
latter was receiving somewhat rough usage--though, truth to tell, he was
bringing it upon himself.  His arms were tightly pinioned to his sides
with a long coil of reim, and he was being hustled forward with varying
degrees of roughness.  But the more they hustled and cursed him the more
defiantly he shouted his idiotic and, under the circumstances, insulting
doggerel.  Colvin, with dismay and consternation, had recognised the
stuff and had recognised the singer, and, even before the latter had
been dragged into sight, knew that it could be no other than Frank
Wenlock.  So this was the obstreperous prisoner?  Well, Frank Wenlock
could be pretty obstreperous, as he knew by experience.

"Still, man, still!" growled one of his escort, shaking him violently.
Here again was an old acquaintance, in the shape of Hermanus Delport.
But the big Dutchman's face was considerably damaged, one eye being
totally closed.  Frank had been using his fists to some purpose.  Now he
let off a volley of perfectly unprintable expletives.

"You'd dare lay a finger on me but for this _reim_, wouldn't you?" he
yelled.  "I'd plug up your other eye for two pins, and every man's
blanked eyes in this camp."  And more to the same effect.

"Still, man, do you hear?" repeated Hermanus, administering another
shake.  "The Commandant is speaking to you.  Do you hear?"

"Is he?  Well, then, I don't care a little damn for Mr bally Commandant
or the whole lot of infernal rebels and traitors in that tent.  Aha,
Swaart Jan! you may well look sick, you old liar; there's a nice rope
waiting for you.  Old Sarel, too?  What a hanging of rebels and traitors
there'll be by-and-by!  And Morkel?  _Ja_, you will dangle, too."  Then
becoming alive to the presence of Colvin, he burst into a very roar of
derisive hatred.  "Good-day, Mister Kershaw--or should I say Commandant
Kershaw?--the biggest blanked traitor of the lot.  You'll be blown from
a gun, I should think."

These ravings, uttered half in English, half in Dutch, were not without
effect upon most of those within the tent.  They had about concluded
that the violence and insolence of this prisoner had reached limits.

"Let him taste the _sjambok_" growled the old burgher who had expressed
the opinion antagonistic to British veracity.  But Commandant Schoeman
gave no sign of perturbation.  Save for a stern and ominous look in his
cold, snaky eye, he might not have heard.

"Frank--Frank!  Do be quiet, man," said Colvin earnestly.  "Don't make a
silly ass of yourself.  You are doing yourself no good."

"Not, eh?  I'd do you some good though if I could get at you; I'd give
you the jolliest hammering you ever had.  Look at Mani Delport's mug
there.  That's nothing to what yours would be, you infernal traitor."

"It might not be so easy, Frank.  But do be reasonable.  How can you
expect decent treatment if you will persist in behaving like a lunatic?"

"Would you be reasonable if you had seen your home sacked and gutted by
a lot of rebels and traitors, and your mother turned out homeless,
Mister Dutchman Kruger Kershaw?" snarled Frank.  "No fear though.  Your
place wasn't interfered with.  You're one of them, you know."

Colvin was not disposed to deny this in the faces of those present,
intending to use that very argument in favour of being allowed to
proceed on his way.  But he was deeply concerned on behalf of Frank.
The fool was simply committing suicide.  Yet--how prevent him?  He had
seen Frank very uproarious more than once, in his cups, but here that
motive power was lacking.  The silly chap seemed to have gone half off
his head with racial antagonism.  But his own endeavours to persuade the
Boer authorities to that effect drew forth a renewed outburst from the
man he was striving to befriend.  The Dutch Commandant lost patience.

"Be still, Englishman," he said, very sharply and sternly.  "I am going
to speak, and if you open your mouth again until I have finished, you
will have that thrust into it which will quiet you.  Well, then, you
were treated no worse than others in your position until you brought
rough treatment upon yourself.  You have been as violent; as a drunken
Bastard Hottentot, without his excuse.  You have assaulted and struck
our burghers, and you have only opened your mouth to shout out insults
to His Honour the President and horrid blasphemies to Almighty God.
There can be no place for such a man as you among our God-fearing
burghers, and we are not going to release you while so many of our brave
comrades are rotting on your English prison ships.  It may be that you
have not many hours left in this world, and I advise you to think over
and ask pardon of Heaven for all your blasphemous words."  Then to the
guards, "Take him back whence he came while we deliberate."

"That for your cant, you cursed, whining old snuffle-nose," yelled
Frank, spitting in the direction of the Commandant.  "You can shoot me
if you like, but you'll all hang--every man jack of you--infernal rebels
and traitors.  Hurrah!  God save the Queen!"  And thus vociferating, he
was hustled away.

"Do not hold him responsible for what he says or does, Mynheer
Commandant," said Colvin earnestly.  "I think his misfortunes have
turned his brain.  He was always excitable.  We cannot hold a man
responsible when he is off his head, can we?"

To this plea Commandant Schoeman made no reply.  He turned a cold, fishy
eye upon the pleader, then remarked to the others:

"_Toen, Heeren_.  We had better discuss, under the guidance of Heaven,
what our best course will be with regard to this violent and blasphemous
prisoner.  For yourself, Mynheer"--to Colvin--"you would doubtless
prefer the rest and quiet of your tent--or to see if some of your
friends are in our camp."

Colvin promptly acted upon this more than hint.  But with all his
anxiety to reach Ratels Hoek, a kind of instinct on Frank Wenlock's
account reconciled him to a further sojourn in Schoeman's camp.  He
suspected that Frank stood in grave peril of his life; and if so he must
exert all and whatever influence he himself possessed on behalf of his
friend and former comrade.

His instinct proved an accurate one, and his worst fears were justified.
Not until near evening, however, did he learn that Frank Wenlock had
been sentenced to be shot, and would meet his death at daybreak.



CHAPTER TEN.

THE NET DRAWS IN.

It was Morkel who brought the news.  Their deliberations on Frank's fate
had lasted for some hours, being interspersed with a sort of impromptu
prayer-meeting or two--and in the result he had been brought before the
Commandant again, and being asked if he had any thing to say in excuse
for having repeatedly insulted the President, blasphemed Almighty God,
and taken up arms against the Republic, part of whose territory this had
now been proclaimed by annexation, replied simply by a savage renewal of
all the abuse he had already been foolish enough to heap upon those in
whose power he was.  So he was condemned to be shot at daybreak on the
following morning.

Not all had been in favour of that extreme measure, said Morkel.  Swaart
Jan Grobbelaar for one, and old Sarel Van der Vyver for another, had
spoken on the side of mercy; possibly with an uneasy eye to
eventualities.  But Commandant Schoeman, who was a Free State Boer, and
whose own position as a mere belligerent was secure in any event, had
overruled them, and by that time to-morrow poor Frank Wenlock would no
longer exist.  "What can be done, Morkel?" said Colvin, very much moved.
"Do you think they really intend to do it?"

"Dead certain," was the gloomy reply.  "You know the poor devil simply
brought it upon himself.  You saw how he behaved this morning, Kershaw.
Why he was simply committing suicide."

"Would it be any use if I were to try and talk over Schoeman?  Might
persuade him to let the chap off with a bit of a fright.  I am in with
some of the big bugs up at Pretoria, you know."

"Not an atom of use," said Morkel decidedly.  "You are in fairly bad
odour yourself, you see, Kershaw."

"It's ghastly.  I can't believe they really intend to shoot the poor
chap.  But, by-the-by, Morkel, how is it you are up here among them?  I
thought you were so rigidly--er--Imperialist?"

Morkel looked embarrassed.

"So I am--er--was, I mean," he answered, speaking low.  "But it's all
Jelf's fault.  He took on a fad to collect the state of feeling among
the farmers, and was always wanting me to go round and find it out.  I
went once too often; for when Olivier and Schoeman crossed from the Free
State, and the whole of the Wildschutsberg and the Rooi-Ruggensberg rose
as one man, why they simply commandeered me."

"But as a Government servant--"

"_Ja_--a fat lot they cared about the Government servant part of it.  A
man of my name could not be on the English side, they said.  So they
just gave me my choice--to join them or be shot as a spy.  I was a spy,
of course, they swore.  They knew I had been sent out by the Civil
Commissioner to find out things.  So there it was."

"But it'll come rather awkward for you when all this is over, Morkel?"

"I'll have to chance that.  It, at any rate, is a chance, but the other
was a dead cert.  _Maagtig_!  Kershaw, when you see half a dozen fellows
with rifles step out, all ready to let daylight through you in ten
minutes' time, why you prefer the chances of the remote future to the
certainty of the immediate present.  If you don't think so--why, you
just find yourself in my shoes, and see."

This was undeniable--and then the _ci-devant_ Civil Commissioner's clerk
went on to explain that he was by no means certain that things were
going to turn out so favourably for the English as had at first seemed
probable.  The Republics might get the better of it practically, in
which event he would likely drop in for something worth having--anyway,
he couldn't help himself.  Besides, it would have happened in any case,
for the burghers had jumped Schalkburg and commandeered every man there
who bore a Dutch name, as well as all the stores.  But with regard to
the De la Rey household Morkel could give no reliable information.  He
had heard that Stephanus and his wife were away in the Free State, but
even that he did not know for certain, nor whether the girls were at
home or not.

"But how did Frank manage to get captured, Morkel?  Was he fighting?"

"No.  They went to his place, and started in to commandeer all his
stuff.  You know what a violent beggar he is when his monkey is up--and
he started punching heads by the half-dozen.  What could he do against a
crowd?  The wonder to me is they didn't shoot him then and there.  But
they broke up everything in the house, and turned the old lady out of
doors and locked her own doors on her.  Good job that pretty sister of
his was away from home, for they were the lowest down type of Boer--of
the Mani Delport sample."

Both men puffed gloomily at their pipes for some minutes in silence.
Then Colvin said:

"Look here, Morkel.  I am going to have another try at old Schoeman.
You must persuade him to see me.  So cut along, old chap, and do so.  By
the way, if the worst comes to the worst, he must let me see Frank."

"I'll try, Kershaw," said Morkel.  "I'll try my darnedest, but I'm not
over sanguine."

Nor was Colvin, and his despondency was fully justified when, after
nearly an hour, Morkel returned.  Commandant Schoeman flatly refused to
see him that night, nor would he authorise him to hold an interview with
the prisoner, or any communication whatever, on peril of the utmost
penalty.

"The infernal old brute!" was the only comment Colvin could make.

"Yes, he is," rejoined Morkel gloomily.  "And now I must clear out--for
he has a lot of `secretarial' work for me to-night, he says.  Well, we
have done all we could, and if we can't help the poor chap we can't.
It's the fortune of war.  Good-night."

Left to himself Colvin sat for a while thinking hard, and as he did so
his despondency deepened.  Poor Frank!  Was there no way out of it?  His
memory went back over the period of their acquaintance--over the old
days when they had campaigned together as comrades--over the times they
had spent together since, under more peaceful auspices--by what a mere
chance it had come about that they were not much more nearly related.
With all his weaknesses, Frank was far too good a fellow to come to such
pitiable grief as this.  What could be done?  And still the inexorable
answer--Nothing.

Rising in the sheer restlessness of desperation, he went outside the
tent.  It was nearly dark now, and the cooking fires of the camp were
ablaze in all directions, and the deep-toned voices of the burghers
buzzed forth on all sides.  As he stepped outside, a figure looming out
of the dusk barred his way.

"Stand!  Go no further."

"What is the meaning of this?  You hardly seem to know me," said Colvin.

"I know you, Mynheer Kershaw," was the reply.  "But the Commandant's
orders are that you do not wander about the camp to-night."

"The Commandant's orders?"

"_Ja_, the Commandant's orders," repeated the Boer.  "Go in again, if
you please."

There was nothing for it but compliance.  As he re-entered the tent,
Colvin realised that he was indeed a prisoner, and guarded by an armed
sentry.  What did it mean?  Why, simply that for any power he might have
to help Frank Wenlock that night--by fair means or foul--he might as
well have been in Patagonia or Pekin.  More, a very uneasy feeling had
come over him that he might ere long stand sorely in need of aid
himself.

These precautions seemed to point that way too.  Here he was as much a
prisoner as the man to whom death would come with the morning light.  It
struck him in a passing way as singular that the men who shared this
tent with him were not here to-night, and he was alone.  Hour after hour
wore on, and still he racked his brains.  Once before he had saved Frank
Wenlock's life in the heat and excitement of warfare.  He could not save
it now.  That wily old fox Schoeman had seen to that.

Colvin was very tired.  The strain of the previous day had told upon
him--the strain of those long night hours too.  He could not have told
approximately at what hour his eyes had closed, and a whirling round of
confused dreams were chasing each other through his slumbering brain.
Now he was back again in peace and quietness at Piet Plessis' with
Aletta, radiant and happy.  Now he was at Ratels Hoek, but Aletta was
not there.  A cold blank void seemed to take her place, and then into it
floated the form of May Wenlock, her face turned from him in horror and
loathing, as though requiring her brother's blood at his hands.  Then he
awoke with a cold start, wondering confusedly whether all that had
happened the day before were but a dream--awoke to the light of another
day, with the beams of a newly risen sun pouring into the tent--awoke to
behold three armed burghers standing over him.  Even then he noticed
that the expression of their faces was grim and ominous, and that they
replied to his morning salutation as curtly as possible.

"So!  You are awake at last," said one.  "We were about to awaken you.
You must come before the Commandant at once."

"Before the Commandant?" echoed Colvin, still hardly awake.  "By the
way--the prisoner?  What about the prisoner?  The Commandant has
pardoned him, has he?"

The men exchanged a very strange look with each other at the words.

"It is about the prisoner that the Commandant needs you, Mynheer," said
the spokesman.  And Colvin's heart sank.  He was wanted to receive the
doomed man's last wishes, he supposed, being the latter's
fellow-countryman.  Poor Frank--poor Frank!

"I am ready," he said, springing up.  "But--tell me.  Are they really
going to shoot him after all?  Surely--surely not!"

The men looked more strangely than ever.

"You ought to know best whether that can now be done or not, Mynheer,"
was the enigmatical reply.  "Come!"

Colvin went forth with his guards--one of whom walked on each side of
him, and the third behind.  This was being under arrest with a
vengeance, he thought.  As they passed through the camp he noticed that
the burghers were gathered in groups, conversing in very subdued tones,
which at sight of him would become suddenly hushed.  There was something
solemn and cold-blooded about these preliminaries to the execution he
was about to witness that got upon his nerves.  As we have pointed out,
he had witnessed many a ghastly and horrifying sight during the last few
weeks.  But this, he felt, was going to be more trying than any.

Commandant Schoeman was seated in his tent, surrounded by his handful of
subordinate officers, exactly the same as on the day before.  To-day,
however, in addition, a few burghers were grouped outside the tent, the
butts of their rifles grounded, as they watched the proceedings.  But
where was the prisoner?  Where was Frank Wenlock?

A dire sinking gripped Colvin's mind.  Had they done it already?  Surely
the volley would have awakened him, or had he slept too soundly?
Involuntarily he gazed from side to side.

"Stand there," said his guard, halting him in front of the Commandant's
table.

The latter looked up at Colvin's greeting, barely returning it; then he
said:

"What have you to say?"  Colvin looked fairly puzzled.

"To say?" he echoed.  "I do not understand, Mynheer Commandant."

"The prisoner Wenlock has escaped."

Colvin started, and his whole face lit up with satisfaction.

"Escaped, has he?  Well then, Mynheer, all I can say is, I think you are
well rid of him.  Frank is a good fellow ordinarily, but he can make
himself most infernally objectionable at times--as yesterday, for
instance."

He thought it politic to make no allusion to the death sentence.  But at
heart he was overjoyed.

"_You_ it was who helped him to escape," said Schoeman, and the tone,
and the look of fell menace on his face, suddenly revealed to Colvin
that he was standing on the brink of a yawning abyss.  It behoved him to
keep his head.

"Look now, Mynheer," he said, "I would ask how I could have helped him
to escape when I never left my tent the whole night."

"That we shall see," rejoined Schoeman.

"But how could I have left it, when I was kept in it by an armed guard
placed there by your own orders?" retorted Colvin.

"I know nothing of such a guard, and I gave no such orders.  It is now
time for prayers, also for breakfast.  There are those here who are
ready to prove that you helped the prisoner to escape.  In an hour's
time I shall require you here again.  I warn you, Mynheer, that unless
you can disprove the statements of these, things will be very serious
for you.  Retire now to your tent."

Escorted, as before, Colvin went; and as he went he reflected.  The
extreme gravity of his position became plain in all its peril.  It
occurred to him that somebody or other desired to be rid of him.  Yet,
why?  He had no enemies in the camp that he knew of.  True, he had
somewhat wounded the Commandant's self-esteem at first, but surely
Schoeman's vindictiveness would not be carried to such a length.  Well,
there was no telling.  Either Frank Wenlock had been allowed to escape,
in order that the charge of aiding and abetting might be fastened upon
himself, or he had been quietly made away with--always with the same
object.  And looking at it in this light, Colvin realised the trap he
was in, and that his own life was in very considerable danger.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

TO TAKE HIS PLACE.

It was a curious court-martial this before which he was now convened,
thought Colvin, the ridiculous side of things striking him, as an hour
later he stood once more before the Commandant's tent, having washed and
got some breakfast in the interim.  This old Dutch farmer, clad in
greasy moleskins, and crowned with a weather-worn, once white
chimney-pot hat, was his judge, with absolute power of life and death,
and looked moreover as solemn as though he thoroughly realised it.
Those others too, squatting on the ground, smoking pipes, and very
frequently spitting: on their good word depended to a very great extent
his own life.

"Do you confess to having assisted the prisoner to escape?" asked the
Commandant.  "It will save trouble and lighten the guilt upon your soul
if you do."

"Certainly I do not, Mynheer," returned Colvin.  "How can I have
assisted any prisoner to escape when I was a prisoner myself?"

"_Maagtig_!  Said I not that all Englishmen were liars?" grunted the old
burgher, for the benefit of those within the tent.

Morkel, too, Colvin had not failed to observe occupying the same seat as
yesterday.  But Morkel had turned on a wooden expression of countenance,
and avoided catching his eye.  Clearly Morkel believed in the maxim
anent self-preservation.  He had a wholesome fear of drawing suspicion
upon himself.

"We will first hear the testimony of Adrian De la Rey," said the
Commandant.

Colvin managed to repress the astonishment he felt as Adrian came
forward.  The latter differed in outward trappings from the other
burghers only in the fact that his get-up was smarter.  He, too, avoided
Colvin's glance.

"Tell your story," said the Commandant shortly.  But before the other
had said half a dozen words, Colvin interposed:

"Excuse me, Mynheer Commandant.  But in taking evidence it is usual and
indispensable to take it on oath--to swear the witness to tell the
truth.  Now this has not yet been done."

It was just possible some advantage might be gained by this formula
being observed, but Colvin did not reckon it would amount to much.
Morkel, however, put in a word in favour of the suggestion, and
accordingly Adrian was sworn after the usual Dutch method, with his
right hand held up.  Then he proceeded to tell his story.

As one of the field-captains of the burgher force it had been his duty
to go the round of the sentries.  Two mounted guard over the place
wherein Frank Wenlock was confined, namely, the stable at the back of
Gideon Roux' house.  The door was locked with a strong padlock, and
there was one window, which was iron barred, and fairly strong.  One
sentry was stationed beneath this, and the other before the door.  When
he arrived at the stable he was surprised that the sentries gave him no
recognition, but, on examining further into the matter, he found they
were both asleep.  Moreover, he could hardly wake them, and when he did,
they excused themselves by saying that the Englishman in the camp--not
the prisoner, but the other Englishman--had given them a _soepje_ out of
his flask.  His first thought being for the security of the prisoner--
the witness had ordered the door to be opened.  But the key could not be
found.  It had been in the first sentry's keeping.  Then having called
several times to the prisoner inside, and receiving no answer, the
witness had caused the door to be broken open.  The prisoner had
vanished.

This had happened at about twelve o'clock.  But half an hour earlier he
had met Colvin Kershaw wandering through the camp, and they had stood
chatting for a while.  Kershaw had told him he had been at Gideon Roux'
house, and was returning to his tent.  After his discovery of the escape
he, Adrian, had thought of arresting the accused, but had placed his
tent under guard until the morning.

"The accused man says it was under guard all night," said the
Commandant.  "Do you know anything of such a guard?"

"Nothing whatever, Mynheer."

Now, indeed, the whole mystery was clearing up, decided Colvin, but
clearing in such wise as would be disastrous, if not fatal, for himself,
Adrian De la Rey was the prime mover then in this matter.  Adrian had
every motive for destroying him, and now Adrian had concocted this plot
for his destruction.  He saw through it now, and his heart sank within
him.  Schoeman and his crew would be willing accomplices.  He had no
friends here in this camp, and he knew, all too well, that no chance
would be allowed him of communicating with those he had elsewhere.  Now
he claimed his right of cross-examining witnesses.  At first the "court"
was not inclined to allow this.  Of what use was it?  It savoured of the
blasphemous.  God-fearing burghers, who had sworn to tell the truth, and
had called God to witness, could not lie.  But he pressed his point and,
being supported by Morkel, carried it.

Not much good did it do him, however, with this witness.  Not all his
cross-examination could shake this tissue of amazing lies which Adrian
reeled off with a glibness which imposed on his hearers up to the hilt.
Everything he had said he stuck to; doing it, too, with a sorrowful and
against-the-grain air.  This Englishman with all his lawyer tricks could
not shake that honest and simple testimony, decided these
unsophisticated burghers, and all his efforts at doing so only served to
deepen the adverse feeling.

The two sentries were then called, and their testimony exactly
corresponded with that of Adrian!  They were somewhat heavy-looking
young men--brothers, named Hattingh.  Asked what the drink consisted of,
they thought it was whisky.  It was not square-face or _dop_?  No; they
were sure it was whisky.  All Englishmen drank whisky; therefore,
decided the hearers, the man who gave them the drink must have been this
Englishman.

Both brothers had the same tale to tell, and they told it so glibly, so
naturally, as to puzzle even the accused himself.  They were of the type
that do not make good liars--that is, in the sense of ability to sustain
a series of consistent and circumstantial lies; indeed, had he been an
impartial auditor of their testimony, instead of one vitally concerned
therewith, he was forced to own to himself that he would have believed
it.  Such being the case, it was hardly to be wondered at if those who
heard it believed every word.

These witnesses knew this Englishman, but not very well.  They had seen
him sometimes about the camp, and when he came up and chatted to them,
and offered them something to drink, they were only too glad, for the
nights up here in the Wildschutsberg were chilly, and a drop of
something warmed a man.

And here we will digress briefly to explain that what would have been a
very serious offence for all concerned, in the British regular, or even
irregular forces, constituted just no offence at all in a Boer commando.
For a Boer commando represents a chronic state of "marching-at-ease,"
and the fact of a couple of sentries having a chat with a comrade and a
"nip" out of his flask was nothing.

Both these men Colvin cross-questioned, not at any length, and in a
conciliatory tone, and his main points were as to how they could be sure
of his identity in the dark, especially as they had owned to being
personally unacquainted with him.  But the questions seemed genuinely to
surprise them.  For one thing, it was not so dark.  The stars were
shining very brightly.  A Boer was not an Englishman that he could not
see out of doors by starlight.

Then followed Gideon Roux, who testified that Colvin had spent at least
two hours at his house the evening before.  He would have left about the
time named by Adrian De la Rey, but he could not say for certain within
half an hour or so.

What had the accused to go upon?  One after another of these men came
forward unhesitatingly to swear away his life, for that is what he fully
realised this mock trial to have for its object.  The net was winding
itself more fatally about him, and by nothing short of a miracle now
could he be extricated from its entangling meshes.  In Gideon Roux'
malignant face a gleam of devilish exultation seemed to lurk, as though
he recognised that this was a safer, surer method of disposing of an
obnoxious and inconvenient person than shooting at him in the dusk from
behind a rock.  Those around listened in solemn and impressive silence.
The groups of bystanders had been steadily augmenting, and now nearly
the whole camp stood crowded around, in a strangely picturesque armed
assembly.

After Gideon Roux followed that worthy's _vrouw_, looking quite as
slatternly and rather more frightened than on that occasion when Colvin
had partaken of her somewhat grudging hospitality.  She emphatically
confirmed all that her husband had said.  The course the accused took
with her was to remind her as impressively as he was able of the oath
she had taken, and to suggest that she had better think well over her
testimony lest she should have been mistaken.  Sheer waste of words.

Colvin realised that he was doomed, and that every man in that camp
believed every word that had been stated with regard to him.  So when
Hermanus Delport, and one or two others, came forward to corroborate
that he had spent the evening at Gideon Roux' house, he simply refused
to waste time or trouble asking any more questions.  What he would ask,
however, was that the man who had mounted guard over him should be put
forward the man who had kept him a prisoner all night--that was, from
just after sundown--by the Commandant's orders.

"I gave no such orders, as I have said before," said Commandant
Schoeman.  "Were any such orders given, _Heeren_, by any of yourselves?"
turning towards the other occupants of the tent.

"_Nee_--_nee_," came forth the reply, universal and emphatic.  "We know
of no guard being placed over the accused during the first part of the
night."

Colvin had thought they had now got more than ample testimony--false
testimony--to afford them all the pretext they wanted.  But he reckoned
without Commandant Schoeman.  Said the latter:

"Mynheer Morkel.  Will you kindly stand where the others have stood, and
tell what you know of this matter?"

Morkel fairly started, a great look of dismayed consternation
overspreading his features.

"But I know nothing about it, Mynheer Commandant," he protested.  "I
have not seen or spoken to Kershaw since I begged you to grant him an
interview last night."

"Just so, Mynheer Morkel.  But we want to know what passed between you
and the accused man _before_ that.  Stand up.  The exigencies of the
Republics imperatively require it."

This was a command there was no disobeying, so Morkel stood up, and was
duly sworn.  He would willingly have perjured himself up to the scalp in
such a cause, but he knew it would be useless.  There might have been
spies overhearing all that had passed between him and Kershaw relative
to Frank's condemnation, or even if not there would be no difficulty in
putting forward sufficient witnesses to swear that they had overheard
it, giving of course their own version.

Bidden by the Commandant to state exactly what passed between himself
and the accused with regard to Frank Wenlock, Morkel said that he
himself had brought Kershaw the news that the other was condemned to
death.  How had the accused received it?  He had been very much shocked
and distressed naturally, the other having been a great friend of his--
Morkel left out "fellow-countryman" just in time.  But even with all his
Court experience he made the mistake of expatiating on what had led to
that friendship, realising with dire dismay, when too late, that he had
furnished an additional motive for Colvin to act as was alleged.

"Did he not ask what could be done for the condemned man?" inquired
Schoeman.

"He did, Mynheer Commandant.  But--"

"He asked that question more than once?" interrupted the remorseless
voice.

"Naturally, Mynheer.  That was why he so urgently wished for an
interview with yourself--to plead the cause of his friend."

"And when he found that he could not obtain that interview, what then?"

"He was disappointed, naturally.  But he said it would all come right.
He could not believe that brave men--burghers fighting for their
liberties and independence, civilised Christian men, could take the life
of a man, especially a young man, by nature hot-headed and foolish,
simply because he had made some rude and insulting remarks," added
Morkel, somewhat mendaciously, and indeed he seemed to have scored a
strong point, for a murmur, not unsympathetic, went up from the
audience.  "The behaviour of Frank Wenlock was insulting and offensive,
the accused had said, but surely not a crime worthy of death," went on
Morkel, waxing eloquent.

"That will do, Mynheer Morkel.  You can now take your place again," said
the Commandant.  Then to Colvin, "What have you to say?  Now we have
heard all the witnesses, what have you to say?"

"Very little, Mynheer.  This is a plot.  Adrian De la Rey has a grudge--
a bitter grudge--against me, the reason of which does not matter.  I
believe he has manufactured the whole of this accusation.  I believe he
himself let Wenlock escape so as to fasten it on to me.  Gideon Roux
owes me money, and therefore would naturally turn against me.  His
_vrouw_ looked frightened enough to satisfy even you that she was
talking under compulsion.  Hermanus Delport is a friend of and related
to Gideon Roux.  As for the two men who were on guard over Frank
Wenlock, I believe they are under some extraordinary delusion and were
speaking the truth as far as they knew.  Morkel has stated the burden of
our conversation quite correctly.  But there is one witness we have not
heard, and that is the man who turned me back into my tent last night."

"There is no such man," retorted Schoeman shortly.  "It is all a
fabrication.  Well, then, that is enough.  You came into our camp, and
enjoyed our hospitality."

"No, I was brought here by force," interrupted Colvin.

"Still, still!  Do not interrupt.  You then took advantage of your
position here to commit a hostile act--an act of hostility against the
Republics, which have sheltered and shielded you--by aiding and abetting
the escape of a prisoner."

"That is not true," retorted Colvin.  "Before God, in whose presence we
stand, I know no more of Frank Wenlock's escape, have had no more to do
with it, than the President himself."

"Do not add lying and blasphemy to your offence," said Schoeman
unctuously.  "For the crime of which ample testimony has convicted you,
you will take the escaped prisoner's place.  You will be shot at
sundown."

A gasp went up from the listeners.  The proceedings had impressed them
deeply.

"Not yet," said Colvin, in a loud firm voice.  "I appeal to the
President.  In the presence of you all I appeal for justice to His
Honour the President of the Transvaal Republic."

Schoeman smiled coldly.  "His Honour is not _our_ President--not yet.
We are not of the Transvaal Republic.  Do you wish to converse with a
minister of the Gospel to prepare you to meet your Creator?" he added,
still unctuously.

"Yes," answered Colvin, unwilling to let slip any potential loophole,
however minute.  "Mynheer Albertyn, of Schalkburg, is a good man.  Can
he be fetched?"

The Commandant looked surprised, then conferred in a low tone with his
subordinate commanders.

"He can be fetched," he answered.  "And as you have shown a proper frame
of mind, instead of blaspheming God--as your fellow-countryman did--more
time for preparation shall be allowed you.  Instead of at sundown, you
must be ready for death an hour after sunrise to-morrow.  That will
allow you some hours to pray with the _predikant_."

"I am grateful for that, Mynheer Commandant.  But now, hear me.
Standing here, on the threshold of death, I proclaim Adrian De la Rey a
liar and perjurer--a perjurer who has taken the name of the great God to
witness his falsehood.  Out there," waving his hand in the direction of
the far-off British entrenchments, "is possible death for any man--
glorious for the patriot, but for the liar and perjurer what--?  I see
you, Adrian.  Do not try and skulk out of sight among honester men than
yourself.  Well, then, look me in the face, liar!  So sure as I stand
here will death find you.  Within three days death will find you out.
Now, liar and coward, well may you grow pale."

Adrian, white as a sheet, was trying to meet his denouncer's gaze, but
for the life of him could not at that moment.  Muttering something, he
slipped away.  And Colvin Kershaw followed his guards to his final
prison, well knowing that his hours were numbered.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

GERT BONDELZWART'S NEWS.

The town of Schalkburg was still in possession of the enemy.  The Free
State flag waved above the Court-house, and the "patriot" burghers,
whether of the Free State commando or rebel colonial Boers, had things
all their own way, and a great time generally, for they proceeded to
"commandeer" all the necessaries of life, and a good many of its
luxuries, from the temporarily conquered people, and to make themselves
very much at home among them, mostly at the expense of the latter.  For
these the only thing to do, however, was to accept the situation, and
make the best of it.

There was one to whom this course recommended itself, and that was Mr
Jelf.  He would laugh ruefully over his enforced suspension--ruefully
because he was sure the Colonial Office would hold him responsible,
since for what is a long suffering Civil Commissioner not responsible--
and play whist with his superseder, a Free State attorney, who had been
set up by the burghers to administer the law as Landdrost.  But there
was practically no law to administer in Schalkburg, for now every man
did what was right in his own eyes, unless some misguided and
commandeered native shirked or strove to abscond.  In such cases the
newly fledged Landdrost did administer the law, resulting in vehement
contact between raw hide and the aboriginal cuticle.

Jelf was not a little anxious on the score of his absent subordinate,
who had been away on one of those semi-official investigations what time
the town was captured.  He hoped Morkel had not come to grief with those
fiery English aspirations of his; and then he would smile to himself as
he reflected that such sentiments were patient of sudden metamorphosis
under stress of circumstances.  No, Morkel would turn up again sooner or
later, he supposed.

He had felt very disgusted at the behaviour of Jan Grobbelaar.  This was
the ultra-loyal Field-cornet then!  Stephanus De la Rey, at any rate,
had been an honest man, but Swaart Jan was a snake in the grass, and he,
Jelf, had not hesitated to tell him so when he had ridden up beside
Commandant Schoeman to demand the keys of the offices.  But the little
man had merely shown his tusks in a deprecating grin.  "What would
Mynheer have?" he said.  "A man must march with his own countrymen.  But
Mynheer and he need be none the less friends for all that."

As a matter of fact, Jelf had no reason to complain of his treatment
under the circumstances.  He was a good-natured man and not unpopular
among the Dutch farmers of his district, and now these showed him
respect and consideration.

Schalkburg just then comprised another inmate, and that a personage not
the least important in the unfolding of our narrative, namely, Aletta De
la Rey.  She was staying with some relatives, an old couple who had
retired from farming, to settle in the township on their own _erf_; and
she had been obliged to seek shelter with them because on reaching home
she had found that all the family were away in the Free State--a fact
which had not been known to her, partly owing to her sudden and
unexpected homeward move, partly that, thanks to the war, communication
was frequently interrupted and always uncertain.  But, as it happened,
she welcomed the discovery with a feeling of intense relief.  She had
shrunk in anticipation from the questionings of her own family, now she
would be spared these for a while longer.  The Van Heerdens, her
relatives, were a very old couple with hardly an idea outside their own
_erf_ and the covers of the family Bible.  They were not likely to
bother her with inconvenient questions.

Poor Aletta!  She had indeed gone through the fire since the day of that
horrible discovery.  What a bright Paradise had she been living in--and
now?  Her ideal vanished--her idol fallen and shattered--what more did
life hold out for her!  Ah, to think of it, this man who had been to her
as a very god--who was not as other men--who had come into her life to
take possession of it, and to whom she had surrendered, a willing, happy
captive--for him to deceive her, to make her the victim of such a
commonplace, petty form of deception!  Surely that discovery had killed
her love.

Why had he done it?  It was so needless, so commonplace, so cruel!  Why
had he left her to endure the agony of apprehension on his account for
days, for weeks--the while he was safe and sound within a few hours of
her, carrying on this intrigue?  She would rather--infinitely rather--
that that agony had met with its worst and fatal fulfilment, that he had
been brought back to her dead.  To think that he, her god, could stoop
_so_ low, could place himself in such a contemptible, pitiable light
before her.  That look in his face as he met her glance--the startled
shame and consternation at being found out--that would haunt her to her
dying day.

Why had he ever professed love for herself?  And having done so, why--if
he had found such profession premature--did he not say so openly?  It
would have been a cruel insult; still she thought she could have borne
it better.  She had never grudged May Wenlock her bright physical
attractions; indeed, she had recognised them openly and to the full.
She remembered how often they had laughed over old Tant' Plessis'
favourite saying as to May being the only English girl, and now she
concluded that the old lady was not such a fool as they had supposed.
Possibly nationality did count in the long run, though, where love was
the consideration, Aletta, for her part, could not understand how
nationality should make a hairsbreadth of difference.  And, again, she
thought, she herself was not even decent-looking--well she remembered
how that statement had been received by him to whom it was addressed--
whereas this English girl was bounteously dowered by Nature with outward
attractiveness, and, after all, she supposed this was what weighed with
men.  Well, she must get this man out of her mind.  With time and
determination she supposed it could be done.  She must grow to regard
him as one who had passed out of her life, as one who was as completely
dead to her as though actually so to this world, and must contemplate
the fact with equanimity, with utter indifference.  Oh yes, that would
come--in time.

Would it?  This was a very changed Aletta now, and the merry, happy,
spontaneous peal of laughter was never now heard--even the faint and
ghostly semblance of it but seldom.  The sweet, bright, radiant spirits
seemed to have found a grave.  Yes, on the whole, perhaps it was as well
that these relatives of hers were too old, and other people too
preoccupied with the movement of events around, to notice the
difference.

"Missis, I have something to say," exclaimed a voice in Dutch.  Looking
up, Aletta saw a tall, ragged, travel-worn looking yellow man.  His
hands were trembling as he fumbled with the catch of the garden gate.
She came quickly down the garden path to meet him, realising as she did
so, that her walk was somewhat unsteady.  For in the man who had thus
suddenly broken in upon her meditations she recognised Colvin's Griqua
servant, Gert Bondelzwart.

"I have dreadful news for you, Missis," jerked forth the latter, his
voice shaking with excitement.  "They are--going to shoot him!"

Aletta could feel her cheeks grow pale and icy.

"Who is going to shoot whom?" her bloodless lips managed to gasp forth.

"Baas Colvin.  _Die Boeren mensche_," he answered.  "_Ja_, they have
sent in now for the _predikant_ to come out to the Baas.  He is to be
shot to-morrow morning."

"Oh, good God!"--No, she must not faint, she must act.  "Where, Gert?"
she went on.  "Where?"

"At Krantz Kop, Missis.  Gideon Roux' place--Schoeman's commando."

"Has Mynheer started yet?  Quick!  Say."

"_Nee_, Missis, not yet.  Four burghers came to escort him out, and they
have off-saddled while the _predikant_ is inspanning.  Oh, _mijn lieve
Baas_--_mijn lieve Baas_!  What can be done, Missis?  What can be done?"

The fellow was actually weeping.  Even in the agony of the moment the
thought flashed through Aletta's mind that this man could command such
devoted attachment from even a Hottentot.

"What can be done!" she repeated.  "This is what you have to do, Gert.
Saddle up the _rooi-schimmel_ there in the stable.  Put a man's saddle
on him, for _you_ will have to ride him, and come round with me to the
_predikants_ house--now at once."

"_Ja_, Missis."  And Gert departed with willing alacrity.  Aletta ran
quickly to her room.  A couple of minutes sufficed for her to get into
such travelling attire as she deemed necessary.  But one article of her
outfit where with she provided herself would have struck with wild
amazement and misgiving anyone who should have seen her.  She felt
devoutly thankful that the old couple had toddled off to exchange gossip
with a neighbour, for not only had she the house to herself, but was
spared the vexation and delay of explaining her movements.

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

Mynheer Lukas Albertus Albertyn, V.D.M. resident minister of the Dutch
Reformed Church at Schalkburg, was a fair type of the average country
_predikant_, which is to say that he performed all the duties of his
office with ordinary conscientiousness, had a keen eye to the customary
emoluments of the said office, both in currency and in kind, and was
regarded with veneration by the female side of his flock, and the older
and less progressive of the male.  His political sympathies were all
with his own countrymen and the cause of the Republics, and his outward
appearance we know, for we have already made his acquaintance during the
opening event of this narrative--at the political meeting gathered to
hear the fervid oratory of Andries Botma, to wit.

Mynheer was seated in his dining-room snatching a hasty lunch prior to
setting forth upon his errand of mercy.  Truth to tell, he was rather a
puzzled _predikant_ at that moment.  What on earth did they want to
shoot this Englishman for?  He was well known to many of them, was in
sympathy with them, too, and moreover was engaged to the daughter of one
of their most prominent burghers.  Again, it was odd that an English man
should send for him at such a time.  Englishmen of Colvin Kershaw's
class, when they did not hanker after Popery, scoffed at all religion,
was Mynheer's experience.  There was an English _predikant_ at
Schalkburg, too--one who set up candles and brazen idols, and called
those of the Reformed creed ugly names--why did this Englishman not send
for him?

Perhaps because of the candles and idols.  And at this point Mynheer's
reflections were suddenly and somewhat unceremoniously interrupted, for
a quick knock sounded on the door-panel, followed by the entrance of its
perpetrator almost before he had time to call out "Come in!"

"Why, Aletta!" he exclaimed.  And then the words of welcome died in his
throat.  This girl was engaged to the Englishman who was to be shot on
the following morning!

"I am going out to Krantz Kop with you, Mynheer." she began.  "I know
you will not refuse me a seat in your trap--remembering"--and her voice
was caught back by a sob, which, however, she manfully suppressed.

"But, Aletta, my child, only think.  You can be of no use, I fear.  Had
you not better resign yourself to the will of the Almighty and remain at
home and pray--while there is yet time?"

Hollow sounding as this commonplace was--claptrap even--it had asserted
itself as a mere veil to mask the speaker's own feelings.  Anti-English
or not, he was a good-hearted man, this _predikant_, and then, too,
Aletta had been one of the most brilliant and satisfactory of his
confirmees.  He had a great partiality for her.

"_Nee_, Mynheer," she answered, "the time for mere praying has not yet
come.  And even if it had, I must _see_ him once more.  Don't you
understand?  But if you refuse me, I can still go by myself.  I have a
horse here, and I will ride all the way, even if I kill the animal."

Her quick, eager decisiveness, the utter misery depicted in her face,
showed him that here was no mere weak girl to be reasoned with and
advised, but a resourceful, determined woman.  Here was a side to Aletta
De la Rey's character which was a revelation to the worthy _predikant_.

"Well, well, of course you must go with me, my child," he answered very
kindly.  "They are nearly ready for us."

"I have just time to write a line to my father," said Aletta, moving to
a writing table without ceremony.  This was no time for trivial
observances she felt.  She dashed off a few hasty lines, hasty but
emphatic, and thoroughly lucid and to the point.  Her father was not
very far from the Free State border.  By an effort he might arrive in
time, and his influence was great.

The _predikant's_ Cape cart was already inspanned, and the attendant
burghers, who were seated in their saddles, stolidly waiting, saluted
her as she appeared.  Gert Bondelzwart, too, was all ready.

"Gert," she said in a low tone, "you know your shortest, straightest
way.  Do not lose a minute, even if you kill the horse.  A minute may
mean a life remember.  No one will attempt to stop you, for I have put
that upon the letter which will open a way for you anywhere."

"_Ja_, Missis," said Gert, and away he went.  Then she got into the cart
beside Mynheer, and they, too, started.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

AT THE PRICE OF HERSELF.

Up till now Aletta had asked no questions.  She had accepted Gert's
assurance, of which the man's obvious distress was sufficient
confirmation.  Her quick-witted, practical nature had asserted itself.
That was no time for questions.  She must act, and that promptly.  Now,
however, that they were well on their way, and covering the ground at
the best pace the _predikants_ excellent horses could put on, she
reckoned the time had come to know more.  Why was Colvin Kershaw to be
murdered--for it was murder she declared?  What had he done?

But Mynheer could not tell her much beyond the bare facts of the case as
he knew them, for the burghers who had come to fetch him had been
extremely reticent.

"Helping a prisoner to escape.  But that is not a thing to shoot a man
for," she said.  "Oh, I will plead with the Commandant, and you will,
too, will you not, Mynheer?  Ah, if only father were here, they would
not dare do it then.  But--who was the prisoner, and did he escape?"

"He escaped--yes.  It was Frank Wenlock, and he was to be shot for
insulting the President and the patriot cause, and assaulting one of the
burghers.  He was very violent, and very blasphemous--_Ja_, that I can
quite believe, for did not he and some of the worst characters in
Schalkburg disturb our service one evening at Nachtmaal time, by ringing
the bell which hangs outside, and running away?  And he gets drunk and
rowdy when he comes into the town.  No, he is a bad character.  Kershaw
ought not to have exchanged his life for the life of such a man as
that."

They conversed in English so that Mynheer's native groom might not
understand.  The burgher escort, too, were mostly close to the vehicle.

So it was for Frank Wenlock's sake that Colvin was throwing away his
life, thought Aletta.  Mynheer had spoken truly indeed, as to the vast
disparity of such an exchange.  But--he was May's brother.  That
explained it all.  How Colvin must have loved that other girl, to make
the greatest sacrifice that human being can make--for her sake!  And the
thought had a kind of hardening effect upon Aletta, for she was but a
woman after all, not an angel.  Why should she continue to pour out her
love upon one who had proved so faithless?  Only an hour or two ago she
had been telling herself that he was practically dead to her.  Yet the
moment she had heard that he was soon likely to be actually so, here she
was moving Heaven and earth to save him, or, at any rate, to see him
once more.  Well, she would still do all she could to save him, but she
would not see him again, in any event.  No, from that resolve she would
not swerve.

"But how did he get to Krantz Kop, Mynheer?" she said, in continuation
of her thoughts.  "He was at Pret--Johannesburg when I saw him last."

"They say he had come from Cronje's force, and had seen a lot of the
fighting near Kimberley.  I don't know this Schoeman, but Jan Grobbelaar
and the others ought to be able to do something for him between them."

"He _had_ been with Cronje's force, then?" echoed Aletta, as though a
new idea had come to her.  But it was quickly dashed.  He had had plenty
of time to have gone there afterwards, after that day when she with her
own eyes had seen him making love to May Wenlock.  With her own eyes!
There was no getting round that fact.

And the hours wore on, bringing these two nearer and nearer to their sad
and mournful goal.

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

Night had fallen upon the burgher camp at Krantz Kop, and most of its
inmates, habituated to rising with the sun and retiring with the going
down of the same, or not long after it, were in the land of dreams.
They were under no fear of surprise, for besides the fact of their
sentries being well posted there was a strong commando, with artillery,
entrenched below on the outer slope of the mountains, and between them
and the far British lines.  So the camp slumbered in peace and security.

In one tent, however, a light was still burning, throwing the shadows of
men--huge, distorted, grotesque, out upon the canvas.  Adrian De la Rey
and his two now boon companions--Gideon Roux and Hermanus Delport--sat
within.  A bottle of _dop_, the contents of which had nearly reached
vanishing point, stood on a waggon box in the centre.

"_Toen_, Adrian!" the last of these was saying.  "All is going well now.
The Englishman will be out of your way to-morrow for ever--out of all
our ways, hey, Gideon?  We will come to your wedding soon, _ou' maat_--
when we have shot a few more of these cursed English.  Do you think Oom
Stephanus will be glad to see us?"

"Finish up, and go away and sleep," growled Adrian, pushing the bottle
towards him, "or you'll be too shaky for anything in the morning, both
of you.  You'll miss him at ten paces, like you did before at two
hundred."

"_Nee_, _kerel_, _nee_.  But that was in the dark," replied Hermanus,
grabbing the bottle and his tin pannikin, which rattled against the
glass neck in the drunken shakiness of his big hand.

"_Maagtig_! leave some for me, Mani," cried Gideon Roux, striving to
wrest the bottle from the other.  By the time he had succeeded there was
precious little in it, and then this noble pair went forth, rejoicing in
anticipation of the act of butchery which was to fall to their lot on
the morrow.

Left to himself Adrian let fly an ejaculation of mingled thankfulness
and disgust.  He had indeed fallen, to have become the boon companion of
such as these.  They were of the very lowest type--hardly removed from
the _bijwoner_ class--drunken, coarse brutes at that; but now they were
his accomplices in his act of murderous villainy--his tools.  His tools?
Yes, but they would soon become his masters.

No, that they should not--he told himself.  Let to-morrow's deed be done
and over, and they would soon see that he was not a man to be trifled
with.  Reveal the conspiracy?  Would they?  And if so, who was going to
take the word of two such shady characters as they?  No, indeed.  But
after to-morrow he would turn over a new leaf--would make a fresh start.

A fresh start?  What sort of a fresh start could be made with murder for
its foundation?  Yes--murder!  Alone there in the silent night, alone
with his evil conscience, the words of his victim uttered that morning--
uttered, too, with the semblance of a prophecy--came back to him: "So
sure as I stand here death will find you.  Within three days death will
find you out."  He shivered.  Men on the brink of the grave were, he had
heard tell, at times gifted with supernatural foresight.  And then in
letters of fire upon the darkness of his thoughts seemed to blaze forth
those other words: "They who take the sword shall perish by the sword."
For "sword" read "bullet" Colvin Kershaw was to die in the morning, with
several bullets through him.  He, Adrian, had murdered him--by means of
a fiendish plot, and abundance of false testimony.  The next few weeks--
months even--would bring with them a series of hard-fought battles, and
then should _he_ escape?

"Bah!" he exclaimed, pulling himself together.  "These are all old
women's tales.  I must take my chance, and I dare say it is as good as
any other's.  What is the use of a college education if I get the funks
over old exploded superstitions only good enough for those two pigs who
have just gone out?  I wish they had left me something in this bottle
all the same," holding it up, as though still vainly hoping, and then
pitching it outside the tent.  "Wheels!" listening a moment.  "The
_predikant_ must be arriving.  Well, much good may _he_ do."

He could hear the trap draw up at Gideon Roux' house over the way and
the sound of voices, could see a light or two, as the people were
outspanning.  Then he re-entered his tent, and again his thoughts
reverted to the doomed man.  "Within three days death will find you
out," the latter had said, and again Adrian's heart failed him as he
remembered how likely of fulfilment this prophecy was.  Out yonder in
the low country the British were advancing, and now their own forces
were lying massed ready to give battle.  "Within three days!"

A voice outside, drawing nearer, broke in upon his reverie.

"That is his tent," it was saying.  "We will see if he is there.
Adrian!" and with the call the flap of the tent was parted and a bearded
face appeared.  "I have brought you a visitor, Adrian."

The man made way for a second person, a tall, female figure wearing a
long cloak.

"Aletta!" cried Adrian in amazement, as a throwing back of the hood
revealed the features.  "Well, and what brings you up here?" he went on
in a hard tone, trying to hide the mortification, the jealous rage he
was feeling.

"I am here to save you from blood-guilt--to save you from heaping a
black and cruel murder on your soul," answered the girl, her eyes
shining bright and stedfast upon his face as she stood confronting him.

"No, no.  You have come to save this faithless hound--this lover of
yours.  But you can't.  We are taking too good care of him for that,"
sneered Adrian, stung by jealousy and hatred.  No conscience qualms
inconvenienced him now.

"But I must say, Aletta," he went on, "that I see you here with very
great surprise.  After what you saw--saw with your own eyes mind--at
Johannesburg I wonder you can give this fellow a further thought."

"I will not have him murdered.  Listen, Adrian.  _You_ let Frank Wenlock
escape in order to fix the blame upon Colvin and so compass his death.
Yes, you ought to be in this place."

For the life of him the other could not repress the amazement, dismay,
guilt, which leaped into his face.  Aletta spoke with such confidence,
such knowledge.  How could she know? he thought.  Had Roux or Delport
been bragging in their cups?  As a matter of fact, however, she was
merely shooting a random bolt.

"I think you must have taken leave of your senses, Aletta," he answered.
Then changing his tone, as the sight of her standing before him stirred
up all the old jealous rage against this English interloper, he went on:
"And what if I did?  What if I did?  He will be shot anyhow."

"Adrian, I never thought to have to name you a cowardly murderer--one
who kills not openly, but by lies and plots."

"I don't mind that.  What about this valiant Englishman who sneaks in
between you and me, and steals away your love from me, only to make a
plaything of it?  Yes, for it would have been mine, I know it would.
And we should have been happy--ah yes, happy.  This English dog!  What
name have you for such as he?  And have you forgotten, Aletta, that
little talk we had one day in the garden at Ratels Hoek?  I told you
then that the man who should come between you and me had better look
after himself, whoever he might be.  I told you that, did I not?  Well,
this man has come between you and me, and in less than twelve hours he
will be dead!--Dead--do you hear?"

His voice had taken on a sort of growl, and his face was hard and set
with hate and passion.

"No, he will not be," she answered.  "For I will save him.  Yes--I.
This very night I will go and plead with the Commandant.  He will listen
to me for my father's sake.  If the worst comes to the worst, I will
denounce you as the real offender.  For I can convince him that you
are."

"No--no.  I think not," replied Adrian jeeringly.  "Schoeman is as hard
as iron, and you might plead with him until the Day of Judgment for all
you would effect.  The fact of you being your father's child would not
move him an inch.  He would be more likely to say it was a shameful and
scandalous thing for a girl to thrust herself forward in such a matter.
But if you want to make perfectly sure, come with me and I will take you
to his tent now.  All the same, by going there you will be destroying
any slender chance Colvin might have."

His words, his confident manner, had their weight with Aletta.  It was
exceedingly probable she might fail to move the Commandant.  She had
another card in her hand--a better trump she thought--and she decided to
throw it.

"Oh, Adrian, I fear you are right," she said softly, still talking in
English, as they had been doing all the time, by way of precaution
against prying ears.  "But do not let us quarrel and say hard things to
each other.  I thought _you_ would help me if anybody would."  Her eyes
filled, and she hardly seemed able to go on.  The sight softened Adrian!
who was as madly, passionately in love with her as ever.  "Do help me,
Adrian.  You are able if anybody is.  I want to save his life for the
sake of what he has been to me.  Listen.  I never want to see or speak
with him again--only to save his life.  Oh, it is horrible--horrible
that such things should be done!  Help me, Adrian!  It is only to save
his life, and you from murder."

Ah, she had come down now from her judgment seat.  She was the pleader
now.  Adrian, whose sombre eyes had never left her face throughout this
appeal, was conscious of the wave of a new hope surging through his
being.

"You only want to save his life?  Never to see or speak with him again?"
he repeated.

"Yes--yet no.  I must just see him to satisfy myself that he is really
alive and safe--but not to speak to him."

For fully a minute they stood there gazing into each other's face in the
dull light of the tent lantern.  Then Adrian said:

"You are right, Aletta.  I can help you.  I can save his life.  But"--
and his words were slow and deliberate, and full of meaning--"if I do
what is to be my reward?"

She understood, but she did not flinch.

"If you do--if you save his life, if you let him escape, I will marry
you, Adrian!  That is what you wish, I suppose?"

"Great God, it is!" he answered fervently, his dark face flushing with
intense joy.  "You will soon forget this Englishman, my darling--you,
whom I have loved ever since we were children.  But--swear that you will
keep this compact, Aletta."

"I swear it," she answered, hardly recognising her own voice.

"I will keep my side.  I will show you this Englishman alive and free,
and then you will marry me?"

"But how--how will you do it?"

"That is my affair--leave that to me.  Kiss me, Aletta, to seal our
compact."

"No--no.  Not here, not now," holding up a warning hand.  "Do you not
see?  The light throws our shadows on the tent.  I am going now.
Remember, I trust to you.  No--do not come with me.  I prefer to be
alone."

It was only a hundred yards across to Gideon Roux' house, where Aletta
was to sleep.  She had sacrificed herself to save the life of the man
who had faithlessly made a plaything of her love, and her heart was cold
and heavy within her, for she had bought that life at a great price--
even the price of herself.

Adrian from his tent door watched her retreating form, and his triumph
and delight were unbounded.  He had won all along the line; and Aletta
had immolated herself all to no purpose.  For he had no intention of
fulfilling his side of the compact.  Even though he won her, his peace
and happiness in her possession would never be secure while Colvin
Kershaw lived; therefore, Colvin should die at dawn, and in a few days
he would satisfy Aletta that he had fulfilled his bargain by showing her
that other Kershaw whose likeness had deceived her before, but under
circumstances which would preclude speech--even as upon that other
occasion.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

IN THE SHADOW OF DOOM.

"Curious sort of `condemned cell' this," whimsically thought Colvin
Kershaw to himself, as he gazed around the place wherein he was
confined, and whence Frank Wenlock had escaped.  For Commandant
Schoeman's promise that he should take the late prisoner's place had
been carried out to the letter, and here he was, shut up within Gideon
Roux' stable, only to leave it to go forth and meet his death.

He had pleaded to be allowed the use of the tent he had hitherto
occupied--at any rate, until nightfall.  Not many more hours of God's
air and sunshine would be his, he had urged.  But a decided refusal had
been returned--a refusal tinged with characteristic sanctimoniousness.
He would be better in confinement.  There he would find nothing to
distract his thoughts in his preparation for the great and solemn
change, he was told, as would be the case if he were where he could see
and hear everyday sights and sounds, and others moving about him.  So
here he was, under a strong guard, locked up within a not very clean or
sweet-smelling stable for the few remaining hours of his life.

He looked around.  Even then he could hardly realise it.  More than once
he had been in here before, seeing to his horse, on such occasions as he
visited Gideon Roux.  The worm-eaten and much bitten crib, the pile of
old forage ends, and stamped-in grains of stale mealies underneath it,
and a curry-comb and brush, and an old headstall or two hanging from a
peg--the forage cutter had been taken away--all looked so home-like and
everyday.  It seemed incredible, incongruous, even absurd to try and
realise that this place was for him as truly a condemned cell as the
massive walls and stone floor of the preliminary living tomb in old
Newgate or Holloway.

He could hear the sounds of the camp--the hum of harsh voices, and now
and then the tramp of a horse.  Sounds, too, redolent of peaceful and
everyday life--the clucking of poultry, the bleat of a goat, the fretful
yelp of a child, and the now monotonous, now querulous voices of women,
for the house was but a few score yards away.  Yes, it was hard to
realise that these four brick walls constituted but the ante-room to the
far narrower walls of earth, which by that time to-morrow would have
closed round his bloody and lifeless remains.

Was there no prospect of escape?  Again and again, while pacing up and
down his strange prison, had he calculated his chances.  Frank Wenlock
had escaped, but only through aid from without.  Who would aid him, and
if any would, how could they?  As for any efforts of his own, of what
avail?  The window was strongly barred, and two guards, armed with
magazine rifles, were posted immediately beneath, as he was reminded by
the frequent appearance of a face at the said bars.  Two more were
before the door, and as for drilling an aperture in the wall, why he had
nothing to do it with.  The possibility, too, of tunnelling under the
foundation of the further wall occurred to him, and here his eye once
more rested on the old curry-comb.  But the floor of the place was stone
paved, and the noise inevitable to the undertaking would betray him
twenty times over, even at night.  Moreover, he was only too well aware
that in view of the former escape the vigilance of his custodians would
be more than doubled.

He remembered Andries Botma's final offer of assistance, and his first
appeal had been that the judgment upon himself should be postponed until
he had communicated with the man for whom these here professed such
profound veneration.  But this proposal Schoeman had curtly negatived,
nor would he permit any communication whatever with the outside world.
Such farewell words as the prisoner had to leave for relatives or
friends he might remit to the _predikant_, but even these must be
written in the presence of Mynheer himself.

Once the thought of sending for Adrian De la Rey crossed his mind.  An
appeal to Adrian's superstitions and a solemn warning to him to withdraw
from this deliberate act of murder might be effectual.  But the idea was
scouted as soon as conceived.  Adrian had everything to gain by his
destruction--and was he likely to throw away the crowning triumph of his
plot at the very moment of grasping it?  Not in the very least likely,
and besides, the barrier of pride rose up against any such course.

And what of Aletta?  Never now would he get at the mystery which had
dictated that enigmatical message, never now ascertain what had caused
her great love to fail and waver in distrust and doubt.  That Adrian was
behind this, too, he was equally certain.  He had not been mistaken in
Aletta.  Her nature was no ordinary one to be disturbed and shaken by a
mere ordinary motive for doubt, however craftily suggested.  Yet what
was the secret of that doubt?  Try, rack his brains as he would, he got
no nearer to it than before.  Her words were always in his mind:
`Remember, _I saw_,' but never suggesting even the feeblest glimmer of
explanation.  What had she seen--when, where, and how?  Nothing that
regarded him.  On that point his conscience was perfectly clear.  Since
they had exchanged their mutual love vows his conscience, as towards
her, was as clear as the sky above them at that moment.  Yes, looking
back now upon those long and happy months, he realised that the latter
end of his life, at any rate, had contained for him all that was worth
living for.  And now that he had touched its outer edge, a strange
philosophical feeling of satisfaction that she, at any rate, would not
have her life spoiled by his memory, if she had already learned to
distrust him, came over him--a satisfaction that well-nigh quenched the
bitterness and disillusioning that she had done so.  Almost, but not
quite--for, after all, he was but human.

The hours wore on.  His guards thrust food and drink--of the coarsest
description--into his prison, and retired without a word, carefully
relocking the door.  It was evident that they were under very special
orders, and would answer no questions.  He was left once more to his own
thoughts.

Colvin stood in no greater fear of death than most other men who have
more than once seen it very near; yet that helpless sense of being shut
up, to meet it in cold blood at a given time, was a trifle creepy and
unnerving.  More than once, in his dreams, he had been under sentence of
death, had even come to the steps of the scaffold, and each time had
seemed every bit as realistic as the last, or, if possible, more so.
Was this, too, a dream?  Should he wake up directly and find himself
back again at Pretoria, or at Ratels Hoek, or his own farm?  He looked
around.  Was he really awake--or was this, too, only another nightmare?
Ah no.  It was very real.

About his worldly affairs he felt but scant anxiety.  They were all in
order.  He was a fairly methodical man, and before leaving for the
theatre of battle and hourly risk he had seen to all that.  After all,
some would be the gainers by his end--some perhaps who needed to be,
very sorely--some who would even in consequence remember him with a
little kindness and gratitude.  Yet there was but little of the last in
this world, he reflected, tolerantly cynical.

The sun dropped, and the shadows of evening darkened his place of
confinement, and then with the deepening gloom a feeling of great
desolation came over the man, a feeling of forsakenness, and that never
again would his ears receive a word of sympathy or friendship, let alone
love.  He hungered for such then.  It was the bitterest moment he had
known yet.  Seated there on an old wheelbarrow in the close, fusty
smelling stable, with the long night before him, he well-nigh regretted
that he had been allowed the extension of time.  It would all have been
over by now.  He would have sunk to rest with the evening's sun.  Then
upon the black gloom of his mind came the consciousness of approaching
voices--then the rattle and rasping of the padlock, and the door was
opened.  One of the guards entered, ushering in three men.  He was
bearing, moreover, a lantern and a chair, which having set down, he
retired.

By the somewhat dingy light of the lantern Colvin recognised his
visitors: Schoeman, Jan Grobbelaar, and the _predikant_.  He greeted the
last-named, with whom he was already acquainted.  Then a thrill of hope
went through his heart.  Had they thought better of it and were here to
offer him deliverance?

"We have given your case every consideration, nephew," began the
Commandant in his dry, emotionless, wooden tones.  "You have professed
yourself one of us, and by way of proving yourself to be so have
committed the act of a traitor, in that you have set one of our enemies
at large."

"Pardon me, Mynheer Commandant," interrupted Colvin.  "I have done no
such thing.  I deny it here on the brink of the grave.  I will be candid
enough to say that I might have done so had it been in my power.  But
you know perfectly well it was not."

"You have committed the act of a traitor," went on Schoeman, ignoring
the protest as completely as though the other had not spoken, "and
therefore you have been adjudged to meet a traitor's doom.  But our good
brother Mynheer Grobbelaar here and others have pleaded for you, and so
we have decided to remit that judgment upon you, subject to one
condition.  You are to have a chance of proving your good faith.  You
are to undertake to serve in arms with the Republican forces where and
whenever required, until it shall please the good God to bring this
cruel and unrighteous war to an end and give victory unto those who
serve Him.  And to this end you will sign this declaration."

Colvin took the paper, and by the light of the lantern closely scanned
it--not without eagerness.  It was written in Dutch and contained an
oath of submission to the South African Republics and an undertaking to
bear arms on their behalf even as Schoeman had set forward.

"And if I sign this your sentence is not to be carried out, Mynheer
Commandant?" he said quickly.

"In a word, this is the price of my life?"

"That is so," said Schoeman.

"Then I refuse the conditions.  I will not sign it.  I refuse to draw
trigger on my own countrymen!"

"_Toen_, Colvin.  Sign it, man.  Sign it!" broke in Swaart Jan eagerly.
"We don't want you to be shot, _kerel_."

"Thanks, Oom Jan.  I don't believe _you_ do.  But I can subscribe to no
such declaration, be the consequences what they may."

Then Jan Grobbelaar, who was really well disposed towards the prisoner,
became voluble.  Why would he persist in throwing away his life in that
foolish manner?  He was one with them now, why not throw in his lot with
them openly?  It did not matter in the long run.  The Republics were
bound to win, since God and justice were on their side--and so on, and
so on.  All in vain.

"It is of no use, Oom Jan.  I'm grateful to you all the same.  But under
no circumstances whatever can I consent to fire on my own countrymen."

The little man was really distressed, and was pouring forth his
volubility once more.  But Schoeman interrupted.

"Then you refuse the chance we offer you?"

"On those terms--absolutely."

"Be it so.  Your blood be upon your own head.  And now we will leave you
with Mynheer, for your hours are but few indeed."

And the two went out--Swaart Jan shaking his head lugubriously over the
astonishing obstinacy of the man he would fain befriend.

Colvin was not one of those who sneer at religion, though his views upon
the subject were broad enough to have earned the thorough disapproval of
the professors of more dogmatic creeds.  As we have already hinted, his
motive in sending for the _predikant_ was primarily one of policy,
partly in order to gain time, partly to placate those in whose hands he
was.  Yet now that Mynheer had come he was not sorry, in that he had
someone to talk to, and, as we have said, his loneliness had been
getting terribly upon his nerves.  So he listened while _the predikant_
read some Scripture and said a few prayers, and when the latter asked
him if he forgave those at whose door lay his death, he answered that he
had no feeling against them; that if they were doing him to death
unjustly--well, he supposed he had done things to other people some time
or other in his life, which they didn't like, and this might go as a
set-off against such.  Adrian De la Rey was the hardest nut to crack,
but, on the other hand, he had a grievance which he, Colvin, ought to be
the first person to make allowances for.  No--he didn't think he wanted
Adrian to come to grief, although he had said so that morning.  It
didn't matter to himself anyhow.

Then he wrote some final letters relating to his worldly affairs, the
_predikant_ having obtained for him, at some difficulty, the requisite
materials.  He left a few lines for Stephanus De la Rey, and more than a
few for Aletta.  Even then of the girl's presence in the camp Mynheer
Albertyn did not inform him, and the reason lay in Aletta's own wish.
She had decided not to see him.  She had saved him--as she thought--and
it were better not to see him.  It was part of the bargain with Adrian,
likewise it would bring back all too forcibly the last time she had seen
him.

"Well, Mynheer," said Colvin at length, "now we have put all that
straight we can chat for a little.  It seems rather selfish keeping you
up all night like this, and it was very good of you to come.  You won't
regret it either.  But you don't have to sit up every night with a poor
devil who's going to be shot at sunrise anyhow."

This cheerful calmness under the circumstances was clean outside the
_predikant's_ experience.  He felt as though he must be dreaming.  It
was unreal.  Here was a man whose life had reached the limits of a few
hours, who was to be led forth to die in cold blood, in the full glow of
his health and strength, yet chatting away as unconcernedly as if he
were at home in his own house.  Jesting, too, for Colvin had touched on
the comic element, not forgetting to entertain Mynheer with the joke
about old Tant' Plessis and Calvinus.  So the night wore on.

The doomed man slept at last, slumbering away the fast waning hours that
remained to him of life.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

LOVE'S TRIUMPH.

The sun had mounted above the eastern end of the Wildschutsberg, and now
an arrowy beam, sweeping down from the gilded crags, pierced like a
searchlight the cold grey mists of early dawn.

The burgher camp was astir, roused by no bugle call or roll of drum;
opening the day by no parade of flashing accoutrements or inspection of
arms.  Yet every unit in that force was alert and ready, prepared to
receive the orders of the day and act upon them with unparalleled
celerity and absence of fuss.

This morning a solemn and awed tone seems to pervade the camp, a
demeanour perhaps to be explained by the approach of a great and
terrible battle; yet not altogether, for most of these men have been
through such and it has not so affected them.  There is, however,
another explanation, for among the first of the orders of the day is
that decreeing the taking of the life of Colvin Kershaw.

The life of one man!  But they have counted their own dead by dozens
already in battle, those of the enemy too.  Yet the anticipation of the
extinction of this one man is sufficient to move the whole camp to awe.
Ah! but there it is.  The excitement of the strife is wanting: the
combative instinct dashed by the loftier motive of patriotism.  This man
is to be done to death in cold blood.

Beyond Gideon Roux' homestead, on the side furthest from the tents, is
an open space, backed by the steep slope of the hillside.  Here the
whole camp is collected.  The burghers, all armed, are standing in two
great lines, not in any order except that the ground between these lines
is kept rigidly clear for about twenty yards of width, and the reason
thereof is now apparent.  The doomed man, escorted by half a dozen
guards with loaded rifles, is drawing near.

Colvin's demeanour is calm and self-possessed, but entirely free from
bravado or swagger.  His clear searching eyes wander quickly over the
assemblage, and a faint, momentary surprise lights them as he notices
the presence of a few women among this crowd of armed men.  They are
placed, too, at the further end, quite close to where he himself shall
stand.

As he enters the avenue thus left open for him, every head is bared.  He
lifts his own hat in acknowledgment of this salutation, and proceeds to
the place pointed out, which is marked by a _reim_ placed on the ground.
It is the line which he is to toe.  The _predikant_ is not beside him,
in compliance with his own wish.

As he stands facing his slayers, a dead hush of silence is upon the
crowd.  Through it rises the voice of Commandant Schoeman, hard,
emotionless, yet crisp and clear.

"Even now, Colvin Kershaw, even now, as you stand upon the brink of your
grave and are about to pass into the presence of Almighty God, even now
we have decided to offer you one more chance.  Will you sign and abide
by the declaration which was tendered you last night?"

"I refused to purchase my life at such a price last night, Mynheer
Commandant, and I refuse again.  Here, as you say, upon the brink of my
grave, I will die rather than draw trigger on my own countrymen.  My
sympathies with the Republics and their cause are great, as many here
know.  But I will not fight against my own countrymen."

The tone was firm, the answer clear and audible to every soul there
present, and the effect thereof did not differ greatly.  Some were
inclined to resent what they called the obstinacy of the prisoner, but
to the minds of most the words carried increased respect.

"One thing more I desire to say," went on Colvin, holding up his hand as
he noticed that the Commandant was about to give the signal.  "Here, on
the brink of the grave, I solemnly repeat I am being put to death for an
act which I never committed.  I do not say I would not have committed it
had opportunity afforded, for the man was my friend.  But I did not.  I
die the victim of false swearing."

"You have refused our mercy, even at the twelfth hour," said Schoeman.
"So be it."

He made a signal.  Three men stepped forward, each slapping a cartridge
into his rifle, confronting the doomed one at about twenty paces.  In
that dread and critical moment Colvin recognised two of them--Gideon
Roux and Hermanus Delport.  The third was unknown to him.

"Where is Adrian De la Rey?" he said, in a tone of good-humoured satire.
"_He_ should have been the third.  It would have made the plot more
complete."

Up went the three rifles to the shoulder, then down again immediately.
A gasp of horror arose--of dismay, amazement, consternation.  Something
had happened.

The doomed man no longer stood alone.  Between him and the deadly,
levelled weapons--screening him from them--stood a tall female figure,
whose graceful lines were shrouded by a long cloak.  Just a fraction of
a second more, and the murderous bullets would have transpierced two
bodies instead of one.

Among the onlookers the thrill of horror and amazement deepened as the
hood was thrown back, revealing the head and features of the wearer, who
was known to many of them.  The countenance of the doomed man lighted up
with a glow of such unutterable affection as to leave room for no other
emotion.

"Aletta!  So you have come to take leave of me!" he said.  "My darling
one, and yet the sight of you once more adds a hundredfold to the
bitterness of death."

"Of death?  No, no, you shall not die, unless we both do.  Not a bullet
shall reach you that does not go through me first."

She clung to him in such wise as to render the truth of her words
obvious.  The appointed executioners had lowered their weapons and stood
irresolute, as though looking for orders.

"Remove her!" cried Commandant Schoeman.

But nobody seemed over eager to obey.  Then, after a hurried
consultation with three or four of his subordinate commanders, he went
on:

"You will have a respite of exactly five minutes, Kershaw.  Not one
second longer."

"We have but a short time, Aletta," resumed Colvin, in English and a low
tone.  "Tell me quickly--why did you write that strange
message--`Remember--_I saw_'?  What did it mean?  What did you see?"

"Ah, let us forget that.  Love--love!  That is as nothing now.  You
shall not die."

"Tell me--tell me!  Time is flying," he urged.

Quickly she told him--how Adrian had warned her that she was being
deceived; had proved it to her through the agency of her own eyesight,
that day at Johannesburg.

"Adrian was lying.  Yet there must be somebody bearing a wonderful
likeness to me.  Look me in the eyes, Aletta.  Here at the grave's edge
I tell you, this story is absolutely untrue.  I went straight to
Cronje's column, and did not even leave the train at Johannesburg.
Afterwards you will learn this for yourself.  Sweetheart, I have never
deceived you in word or deed.  Do you believe me now?"

"Implicitly!  Oh love, love!  I am not fit to live after you, and I will
not.  Say you forgive me!"

Though they could neither hear nor understand what was said, there was
such a wail of despair and loss in her tone as to reach the hearts of
the bystanders.  Some turned away with wet eyes and a lump in their
throats.  One or two actually blubbered.

"Forgive?" he repeated.

Only the one word--he too seemed choked for utterance.  But it conveyed
all--all she would fain have heard.  In the face of the whole assembly,
she drew down his head, and pressed her lips to his in one long
despairing kiss.  One or two more of the burghers turned away and
blubbered aloud.

"The time has gone," said Schoeman, in his iron voice.  But he might as
well not have spoken for all the effect his words seemed to have on the
two prominent figures in this heart-rending drama.  They were locked in
each other's embrace, as though alone in the world together.

"Remove her!" repeated the pitiless tones.  "It is a scandal for a woman
to make such a scene as this, and at such a time.  Why are my orders not
obeyed?"

"She is the daughter of one of our most respected neighbours,
Commandant," growled a burgher from the Sneeuw River.  "We cannot lay
hands on her."

"_Ja_, _Ja_.  That is true," echoed several voices.

Schoeman was nonplussed.  As Aletta had said, the prisoner could only be
shot at the price of her life!  Then a bright idea struck him.

"You have shown yourself a brave man hitherto, Kershaw," he called out.
"Will you now show yourself a coward and shield yourself behind a woman?
If not, put her away from you and stand forth."

"You hear what he says, Aletta?  One more good-bye kiss, my very own,
and then leave me.  Ah God--how are we to part like this?"

"We will not part.  If they shoot you they shall shoot me.  But--they
dare not, the cowards.  They dare not.  See!"

Now her tone rang hard and steely.  Still clinging to him, so that he
could not move from her side without using force, and yet leaving
herself the freedom of her right hand, she had drawn a revolver--a very
nasty looking and business-like one at that.

"Now come, brave burghers," she cried.  "Advance.  The first man who
makes a move on us I will shoot--will shoot dead.  Then the next, and
the next, and then myself.  As God is in Heaven above I will do this."

Not a move was made.  They stared at each other stupidly, this crowd of
armed men.  She would be every bit as good as her word--the flash of her
eyes told them so much, for it was that of a tigress when her cubs are
threatened.  Things were at a deadlock.

"The paper, Commandant!  Ask him if he will sign the paper now," was one
of the suggestions thrown out.

"_Ja, ja_.  He will sign it now," cried several voices.  "The paper!
The paper!"

But Commandant Schoeman was in a cold, quiet sort of rage.  He was being
set at defiance in the face of his whole command, and that by a girl.
He rejected this way out of the difficulty--rejected it curtly and
uncompromisingly.

"Remove her," he said again.

One or two of the older men stepped forward, intending to try the effect
of remonstrance.  But the revolver covered them instantly, aimed low,
they noted, and there was such a deadly gleam in Aletta's eyes that they
stopped short and retired.  Schoeman was white with rage.  But before he
could decide on what to do next, a diversion occurred, unlooked for and
startling.

The sound of many hoofs clattering up the road over beyond the _nek_ was
borne to their ears.  Whoever the new arrivals were, they were advancing
at a furious gallop.  The cry went up that the English were upon them,
and for a moment the assembly was in a state of tumult.

Only for a moment, though.  Schoeman, as cool and brave a man as ever
lived, quelled the confusion by a word or two.  For his ears had caught
the challenge of their own vedette on the ridge, and the answer thereto
in the _taal_.  These were not enemies, he decided.

A few moments more a score of horsemen appeared on the _nek_, and rode
straight into their midst without drawing rein.  A largely built man
with a full brown beard was riding at their head.

"_Maagtig_!  It is Stephanus De la Rey!" was muttered from mouth to
mouth.  Aletta heard it, at the same time that she recognised her
father.

"We are safe, sweetheart," she murmured, beginning to tremble now that
danger was over, as she supposed.  "I said you should not die.  Yes, God
is good.  We are safe now."

But those there assembled had not reached the limit of their surprises
for that day yet.  The party consisted of about a score of armed Boers
who had volunteered to accompany Stephanus De la Rey to Schoeman's camp,
but riding beside Stephanus was one who was not a Boer, being none other
than Frank Wenlock, the escaped prisoner.

The burghers crowded around the new arrivals, the general feeling being
that of intense relief.  For now that the original offender was
recaptured, there was no need to shoot this other.

"Where was he caught?  Who captured him?" were some of the questions
showered upon the party.

"Nobody captured me," replied Frank, in a loud clear voice.  "I have
come in of my own accord, because I heard--no matter how--that Colvin
was to be shot instead of me.  So I came back as quickly as I could, and
seem to be only just in time."

"Is that true, brother De la Rey?" said Schoeman.

Stephanus assured them it was.  Frank had joined him entirely of his own
accord.

"You were to have been shot at sunrise yesterday morning, and it is past
sunrise this morning," went on Schoeman, turning to Frank.  "It is you
or the man yonder.  Are you prepared to undergo our judgment on you?"

"Why, of course," answered Frank bravely.  "I am not going to allow
Colvin to die in my place.  Englishmen don't do that sort of thing."

"Guard him," said Schoeman.  "In ten minutes, be ready."



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

THE FALLING OF THE SCALES.

At the end of the prescribed time Frank Wenlock was marched before the
Commandant.  His demeanour was very different now to what it had been
upon the last occasion.  All the swagger and aggressiveness had
disappeared.  His manner was quiet without subserviency.

Schoeman read him a long lecture upon his former shameful conduct and
the magnanimity of the burghers of the Republics.  Did he wish to
apologise for his behaviour and the insulting references he had made to
the President?

"Certainly, Mynheer Commandant," replied Frank.  "I'm a rough and ready
harum-scarum sort of a chap, and I must have said some rather beastly
things about people you all think a lot of.  Well, I am sorry."

"That is good," said Schoeman.  "Mynheer De la Rey has been pleading for
you, and some others who have known you at home.  Their esteemed words,
and remembering that you are little more than a foolish boy, and the
only son of your widowed mother, have decided us to spare the life which
you had forfeited.  But there are two courses, one of which we must
exact from you--to be sent to Bloemfontein as an ordinary prisoner of
war, or to pledge yourself not to serve against the Republics or those
in arms on their behalf.  In which case you may go free.  Which do you
choose?"

Frank's face clouded a moment, wherein is a paradox.  A moment ago he
was expecting immediate death--now he was disappointed because denied
the opportunity of meeting it every day or so.

"Choose your freedom, man," said Stephanus kindly.  "Remember you have a
mother to take care of."

"Very well.  I will give you the pledge, Mynheer Commandant," Frank
answered.  "But of course you will not have Colvin shot?"

"Under the circumstances, no," was the cold reply.

"Hooroosh!  You are gentlemen, you are, all of you!" cried Frank, his
exuberance getting the better of him.  "Wait till we meet in Schalkburg
again.  We'll drink old Pritchett's bar dry.  But, now for Colvin."

The latter had not moved from the spot on which he had stood to meet his
death, and Aletta had not moved from him.  She still held the revolver
in her right hand, keeping jealous watch on the possibility of a
suspicious move towards them.  But for the moment the attention of
everybody was riveted in the other direction.  Not until her father
approached her alone did she begin to feel reassured.

"Aletta, my child, you may put away that plaything," called out
Stephanus.  "Colvin is safe now.  I have Schoeman's word for that.
Besides, I am able to ensure his safety myself."

"Aletta has saved me, Stephanus," answered Colvin as they exchanged a
great handgrip.  "Look at this child of yours.  But for her you would
have been here just ten minutes too late.  They had actually levelled
the rifles when Aletta deliberately shielded me with herself.  It just
turned on the merest hairsbreadth of a pressure on the trigger.  Look at
her, Stephanus, and you will be looking on the bravest, sweetest, truest
woman that ever brightened God's world, and be as proud, to your dying
day, that she is your own daughter as I am that she is to be my wife."

"Er--I say, Colvin, old chap--how are you?  I don't want to intrude--
only just to wring your flipper."  And Frank Wenlock, looking from one
to the other, edged in, and performed that somewhat syllogistically
described feat with a will.  "It wasn't my fault, Miss De la Rey," he
exclaimed.  "I hadn't the ghost of an idea they'd dream of meaning to
shoot him till I heard it--well, by accident.  When he got me safe off
the premises yonder, he swore again and again that he wasn't running the
slightest risk himself--that he stood too much in with them--and so on.
Otherwise I wouldn't have budged.  I have my faults, but I wouldn't have
allowed another fellow to get shot instead of me, and that's why I came
back now."

"Look here, Frank," said Colvin, "would you mind explaining precisely
what on earth you are talking about?"

"Oh, come, that's rather too good.  Ain't I talking about the night
before last, when I was going to be shot in a few hours, and you came in
and turned me loose.  Eh?"

"Then you are talking of what never took place.  As sure as I stand
here, the last time I saw you was when you were playing the fool there
in front of Schoeman and the rest, simply committing suicide like the
consummate ass you were, and always have been.  As for turning you
loose, I couldn't have done so even if I'd wanted to.  Old Schoeman took
jolly good care of that by putting me under arrest myself."

Frank stared, whistled, then shook his head.

"All I can say is then, that if it wasn't you, it was your bally ghost.
That's all," he said.

"Well, you'd better not talk about it any more, Frank," said Stephanus.
"Don't you see, man?  It's a thing to forget now."

"Oh--um--ah--of course, I see," assented Frank readily.

"That may be, Stephanus," said Colvin, "but I have assured the whole of
this crowd upon my honour that I had no more to do with Frank's escape
than the man in the moon.  And no more I had."

"No--no--of course not, old chap," cheerfully rejoined Frank, who didn't
believe a word of the other's denial.  "Well, after all, what's the odds
now?  All's well that ends well."

"There's some mystery behind all this," said Colvin in a low tone to
himself.  But Aletta heard it.  And then her own doubts came back to
her.  What if they had all been mistaken?  There was evidently someone
about who bore an extraordinary likeness to Colvin.  Her own eyes had
deceived her once.  Yes, it was extraordinary.

"_Mijn Baas!  Mijn lieve Baas_!"

Just outside the group stood Gert Bondelzwart.  He had watched his
opportunity to sidle up, for in a Boer laager native servants were not
wont to move about with the same free and independent swagger as, say,
in the suburbs of Cape Town.  Colvin turned:

"Hullo, Gert, how did you get here?"

"Ah!" cried Stephanus, "you have to thank this rascal that I am here at
all, Colvin.  He it was who brought Aletta's note telling me of the fix
you were in, and killed one of my best horses in doing so, but that's
nothing.  The wonder to me is he got through at all."

"_Ja_, _Baas_.  It was a wonder," put in the Griqua.  "Twice I had a
volley fired at me, but I knew what delay would mean, so I wouldn't
stop.  Ah, well, we came in time--we came in time.  And the _klein
missis_ told me it didn't matter if I killed the horse if only we did
that."

"Gert, you are a fine fellow, and I won't forget in a hurry," said
Colvin, turning a very kindly glance upon his faithful servitor.  "Why,
what is all this about?"

For a new diversion had occurred.  Was there to be no end to the events
of that day?  A party of burghers were riding up, but--Great Heaven!
what was this?  What did it mean?  Who was that in their midst?  Colvin
Kershaw?  Yet, there stood Colvin Kershaw.  But--here he was too!  Not a
face in that crowd but was agape with wild amaze.  What on earth did it
mean?  Was this man the devil in disguise, they asked, that he could be
present in two bodies at the same time?  Even the stolid philosophical
Dutch nature was stirred to the core, as in breathless excitement the
burghers awaited the explanation of the new arrivals with this exact
replica of Colvin Kershaw in their midst.

The latter had dismounted with the rest, and, pulling out his pipe,
began to fill it.  Those looking on could not fail to note that in
manner, in every movement, the resemblance between the two men was
faultless.  He, for his part, not yet having descried his duplicate, was
lazily wondering what the deuce all these Dutchmen were looking so
scared about.

Aletta, from where she stood, could see the stranger, and a perfect maze
of bewilderment flitted across her countenance as she gazed at him.
Then a sudden light leaped into her eyes.

"Colvin," she murmured.  "Is that your twin brother?"

"N-no.  I have a half-brother somewhere in the world, last heard of in
Vancouver.  I haven't seen him for years, but he wasn't like me then.
But brother or not, Aletta, I have an idea we have run my `double' to
earth at last."

"I think so too--darling," she whispered.

The stranger's glance had now swept round to where they stood.  He gave
a start and a whistle of surprise; then approached them.

"I believe I must have struck the real Colvin at last," he began,
without ceremony.  Here, again, standing together as they were, the
height, the features, even the voices of the two men, were inimitably
alike.  Yet Aletta, with the eyes of love, and hearing sharpened by its
spell, could detect a difference.  Nobody else could, however.

"Yes, that is my name," replied Colvin.  "But--you are not Kenneth,
surely?"

"I am, though.  Look here," fishing out two or three directed envelopes.
"But--I'm rather glad to run into you at last.  People are always
hailing me as `Colvin,' and abusing me for not wanting to know them
again--you know--when I tell them I'm somebody else.  It's becoming a
bore."

"Well, Kenneth.  I'm glad to see you, too, after all these years.  You
shall tell me about yourself by-and-by.  But, first of all, would you
mind telling me one thing.  Have you been staying in Johannesburg some
little while of late?"

"Rather--only just left it.  Why?  Oh, I suppose people have been
mistaking me for you, is that it?  Has its awkward sides sometimes,
hasn't it?"

"It easily may have," replied Colvin, with a meaning in his tone, which
one, at any rate, standing beside him thoroughly grasped.

"The Commandant wants you.  Come!"

Kenneth Kershaw turned leisurely.  Two armed burghers stood waiting.

"Oh, all right, I was forgetting.  So-long, Colvin.  We'll have a great
pow-pow by-and-by."

They watched his retreating form.

"I think the mystery is for ever clear now, sweetheart," said Colvin.

But Aletta could not speak.  She could only press his arm in silence.
All the agony she had suffered came back to her, as in a wave.

"I know what you are thinking, my darling one," he went on softly.  "But
I don't wonder you were taken in by the likeness.  It is quite the most
remarkable thing I ever saw."

"Yet, I doubted you.  _You_!"

"Love, think no more of that.  Have you not really and truly drawn me
out of the very jaws of death this morning?  Ah! but our sky is indeed
clear--dazzlingly clear now."

"Tell me about this half-brother of yours, Colvin," said Aletta
presently.  "Had you no idea he was in this country?"

"None whatever.  For years we had lost sight of each other.  The fact
is, Aletta, I may as well tell you--though I wouldn't anybody else--but
the chap was rather a bad bargain--on two occasions, indeed, only
escaped by the skin of his teeth from coming to mortal grief.  I would
even bet something he'll come down on me to help him now, and if it'll
do him any good I will.  But he may have improved by now.  Some of us do
with time, you know."

It turned out even as Colvin had said.  When Kenneth rejoined him for a
little talk apart--after his interview with the Commandant--he spoke of
his own affairs.  He had been very much of a rolling stone, he
explained, and now he wanted to settle down.  He was going to turn over
a new leaf entirely.  Would Colvin help him a little?

The latter laughed drily.

"Whom are you going to settle down _with_, Kenneth?" he asked.

"The sweetest, prettiest, dearest little girl in the world."  ("That of
course," murmured the listener).  "You know her, Colvin.  It was thanks
to my likeness to you that I did."

"Name?"

"May Wenlock."

"So?  Do you know, Kenneth, this infernal likeness has put me to very
serious inconvenience, and came within an ace of costing me my life?  I
suppose it was you who let out Frank Wenlock."

"Of course it was.  But don't give it away."

"No--no.  But how did you manage to get here at all to do it without
being spotted?"

"Oh, Adrian De la Rey fixed up all that.  Of course I had no notion you
were anywhere around."

"I see," said Colvin, on whom the whole ingenuity of the plot now
flashed.  All these witnesses against him were not perjured, then.  They
had been genuinely deceived.  The other, watching him, had no intention
of giving away his own share, direct or indirect, in the transaction, or
his partnership with Adrian in that other matter.  In the course of his
somewhat eventful and very wandering life Kenneth Kershaw had never
found overmuch scruple a paying commodity.

"Well, Kenneth, I'll do what I can for you," went on Colvin, "but I'm
afraid it won't be much.  And the feet is I'm just taking on an
`unlimited liability' myself."

"Yes, so I concluded just now, from appearances.  Well, Colvin, I
congratulate you heartily."

They talked a little about money matters, and then Kenneth broke out:

"Hang it, Colvin; you are a good chap after all.  I had always somehow
figured you as a priggish and cautious and miserly sort, which was the
secret of your luck; but I don't believe there's a man jack on earth who
would have been as splendid and as generous under the circumstances."

Colvin's face softened.  "Oh, it's all right, old man.  Don't get making
a speech," he said.  "I wish I could do more, but, as you see, I can't."

"See!  Rather.  And now, look here.  I believe I am the bearer of some
pretty good news.  I didn't tell you at first, because I wanted to see
what sort of chap you were.  Not, mind you," he added, somewhat
vehemently, "that I have any interested motive now, not a bit of it.
Well--read that--and that."

Fumbling in his pocket-book, he got out some slips of paper.  They were
press cuttings from English newspapers, and bore dates of about six
weeks previously:

  "By the death of Sir Charles Kershaw, Bart, of Slatterton Regis,
  Dorset, and Terracombe, Devon, which took place suddenly the day
  before yesterday, the title and both properties, together with
  considerable sums in personalty, devolve upon his next-of-kin, Mr
  Colvin Kershaw, at present believed to be in the Transvaal."

In substance the notices were alike, albeit somewhat different in
wording.  Colvin reflected for a moment.  Then he said:

"I suppose there's no mistake.  It's rather sooner than I expected,
Kenneth, but of course I did expect it sooner or later.  I am glad
enough for its emoluments, but personally I don't care about the title.
I fancy I shall grow awfully sick of hearing every cad call me by my
Christian name.  I say, though, Kenneth, we shall be able now to make a
bigger thing of that scheme of ours, eh?"

"By Jove, you are a good chap, Colvin," burst forth the other,
understanding his meaning.  But he did not let candour carry him far
enough to own to the daring scheme he had formed for personating Colvin
in the event of the fortune of war going against the latter, as it had
so nearly and fatally done.  Like scruple, candour was not always a
paying commodity.

Colvin, for his part, was thinking with heartfelt gratitude and love,
what a bright future he had to lay before Aletta.  Kenneth, for his, was
thinking, with a glow of satisfaction, that he was going to be very
happy with May Wenlock, under vastly improved circumstances, and that
such a state of things was, after all, much more satisfactory than life
on a far larger scale, but hampered with the recollection of a great
deed of villainy, and the daily chances of detection as a fraud and
impostor liable to the tender mercies of the criminal law.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

CONCLUSION.

Midnight.

The wind, singing in fitful puffs athwart the coarse grass belts which
spring from the stony side of ridge or kopje, alone breaks the dead
eerie silence, for the ordinary voices of the night, the cry of bird and
beast, are stilled.  Wild animate Nature has no place here now.  The
iron roar of the strife of man, the bellowing, crackling death message
from man to man, spouting from steel throats, has driven away all such.

Silent enough now are the bleak, stony hillsides, albeit the day through
they have been speaking, and their voice has been winged with death.
Silent enough, too, are the men crouching here in long rows, cool,
patient, alert; for on the success or failure of their strategy depends
triumph or disaster and death.  Silent as they are, every faculty is
awake, ears open for the smallest sound, eyes strained through the far
gloom where lies the British camp.

Hour upon hour has gone by like this, but most of these are men who live
the life of the veldt, whose trained eyesight is well-nigh cat-like on
such a night as this.  They have measured the ground, too, and so
disposed matters that they know within a yard and to a minute exactly
where and when to open fire upon the advancing British whom their
trustworthy emissaries shall guide into sure and wholesale destruction.

Adrian De la Rey, lying there in the darkness, is waiting and longing,
as no other, for the deadly work to begin.  How he will pour lead into
these hated English, how every life taken shall be as the life of his
hated English rival!  No quarter shall any receive from his hand when
the slaughter begins.  In the darkness and wild confusion none will see,
and if they do, what matter?  He will shoot down these cursed _rooineks_
like springbuck, he tells himself, even though they should bellow for
mercy.

He has heard of the well-nigh miraculous escape of that rival, and the
inopportune appearance of his own accomplice; has heard of it, not
witnessed it, because he had sought to be despatched on outpost duty in
the early hours of that morning which was to have brought his rival's
death.  Well, he would console himself with the thought that at any rate
he had won Aletta.  She had given him her promise, and he knew her well
enough to be sure she would keep it.  But what of his side of the
bargain unfulfilled?  He had thought of that.  He would persuade her
that the firing was to be a sham, and that the firing party were using
blank cartridge.  He could easily induce Roux and Delport to swear to
this.  Yet, it was inconvenient that Aletta had mustered up the courage
to act as she had done.  He ought not to have overlooked such a
contingency.  Still, she could not go back upon her promise.

Then, in the darkness, those words return to him--words spoken by his
victim on the very threshold of the tomb.  "Within three days will death
find you."  Words and tone alike appealed to the superstitious side of
his nature then, and the effect remains now.  Perhaps, however, the fact
of his intended victim having escaped death might have robbed the
forecast of its prophetic nature.

A barely audible whisper from his next door neighbour, and then but one
thought alone can find place in Adrian's mind.  The moment has come.
Gripping his Mauser in fierce, eager delight, he brings it forward on to
the rest which he has already arranged for it.  Pitch dark as it is, he
knows to a yard where the first bullet will strike.  At the same time,
ever so faint a spark away in the blackness catches his glance and the
glance of many another.  It might be the friction of metal--momentary
and accidental--upon a stone lying on the slope, or it might be a
signal.

Soon a stealthy sound reaches each listening ear--the sound of footsteps
drawing near in the darkness.

Nearer--nearer--and then--The whole ridge bursts into a line of flame
and a deafening crackle as of a mighty hailstorm upon myriad iron roofs.
Yet, great in volume as it is, not so great as to drown the wild,
ringing British cheer as the khaki-clad figures, dimly visible in the
unceasing flash of musketry, come surging up the slope, leaping,
stumbling, falling, dropping down suddenly, only to spring up again and
press on, the dreaded bayonet fixed, for the world-renowned charge
before which nothing can stand.  But the grim dwellers in these wild
wastes are not to be turned so easily.  A kopje hard by, silent
hitherto, is now ringed with flame, and, caught in this terrible
crossfire, the intrepid assailants are literally mown down, and for a
few moments the slaughter is terrific.

Adrian De la Rey, lying in his shelter, is pouring in his shots--cool,
well-directed and telling.  The expression of hate and blood-lust upon
his set features is well-nigh devilish; yet his mind preserves a
murderous coolness, as he watches every chance, and never fails to take
it.  But he is in the very forefront of the fray, and in the wild
confusion a knot of desperate British, not hearing, or disregarding, the
"retire," have charged with irresistible dash headlong on to his
position.  Their wild slogan is in his ears, and in the ears of those
beside him.  The points of the deadly bayonets gleam in the sheeting
flashes, and then--and then--with the hard sickening pang which wrenches
his very life away--he discharges his Mauser full in the face of the
tall soldier, who topples heavily back with a hole through his brain--
and Briton and Boer lie feet to feet--facing each other as they fell.

Morning light--a truce--white flags here and there--the Red Cross symbol
everywhere.  The hillsides strewn with dead and dying and wounded, and
up yonder, in their strongly entrenched laager in the background,
Commandant Schoeman and the grim Republican leaders are viewing their
many prisoners, impassive, laconic, and manifesting neither surprise nor
elation over the efficiency of the trap so carefully laid for the
discomfiture of a respected and brave enemy.

Below, on the ridge, Adrian De la Rey is lying--lying where he fell, the
bayonet which had let out his life in a great gaping gash resting across
his body as it had fallen from the dying grip of the soldier--his dead,
rigid face staring upward to the sky.

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

Ratels Hoek again, peaceful and prosperous--the blue smoke curling up
from its chimneys, the flocks and herds scattered over their grazing
grounds in the broad valley, black ostriches, with snowy wing-plumes,
stalking truculently along the wire fences in the "camps"--Ratels Hoek
peaceful and prosperous, as though no stern fratricidal war were going
on not so very many miles away.

Down by the river bank two persons are wandering in easy restful
happiness, and these two we should recognise, for they have borne their
part throughout the time of trial and of storm, which for them, at any
rate, has come to an end--has found its climax in the dawn of a lifelong
joy and peace.

Around, the sunlight bathes, in a misty shimmer, the roll of veldt, and
the slope of mountain and iron-faced cliff.  The air, clear and fragrant
and balmy, is redolent of the _very_ breath of a new life, and the sky,
arching above in unbroken and cloudless blue, is even as their own clear
and dazzling horizon.  They are talking of many things, these two--of
the dark days of doubt and trial, and peril--all of which have but
served to refine and cement their great and mutual love--of the wedding
which took place but a few days ago in Schalkburg, on such a scale never
before witnessed in that somnolent _dorp_.  "One would have thought it
Nachtmaal time" had been the comment of more than one of the guests, so
extensive was the gathering assembled to do honour to that most
substantial and respected burgher, Stephanus De la Rey; and indeed the
gathering had been as homogeneous as extensive--for every conceivable
relative of the bride, whether on the paternal or maternal side, and
every casual acquaintance or even stranger, had flocked into Schalkburg
to witness it.  The church, tightly packed as it was, would not hold
them all, nor yet would Ratels Hoek, whither all who could, subsequently
repaired to spend the next two days and nights in uninterrupted
festivity.

Of all this they were talking now, these two--and of the hundred and one
droll and ludicrous incidents which had so appealed to the humorous side
of both of them--the outspoken comments of the blunt old farmers and
their _vrouws_ as to Stephanus De la Rey marrying his eldest girl to an
Englishman, under the palliative circumstances, however, that perhaps a
rich Englishman was a better match than an impoverished Boer, after all;
of the hopeless efforts to convince many of them that Colvin was not the
Governor, merely because he had the right to prefix his name with "Sir";
of old Tant' Plessis and her conviction that the great Calvinus was a
greater man than even she had thought, since he had been able to leave
his grandson so much money; of Kenneth Kershaw, who while making a most
efficient "best man," had given rise to endless chaff to the effect that
he ought to be branded and ear-marked, lest at the last moment Mynheer
should marry _him_ to Aletta by mistake; of Frank Wenlock, who waxed so
exuberant amid all the festivities, that he came near starting a little
war of his own right in the midst of the convivialities; of Mynheer
Albertyn himself, who while congratulating the pair, and fingering
gratefully by far the biggest fee he had ever seen in the whole of his
professional career, had remarked drily, and not altogether jocosely,
that he vastly preferred starting a man on fresh terms in this life to
seeing him off into another; of the exceeding attractiveness in their
array of bridesmaids of Andrina and Condaas, and a bevy of girl
relatives pressed into the service for the occasion; of the absence of
May Wenlock, and the future before her and Kenneth.

This brought them down to serious matters and the fate of Adrian.

"Poor chap," Colvin was saying.  "Honestly, I don't bear him the
slightest ill-feeling.  I suppose I did come between you and him,
dearest, and if that is not enough to justify him in hating me worse
than Satan, will you tell me what is?"

Aletta pressed his arm lovingly and for a moment said nothing.  Then:

"That is so like you, Colvin," she said.  "You are generosity itself, my
darling.  Yes, we can afford to think kindly of poor Adrian now.  But,
oh Colvin--what if you find afterwards that I am not able to make you
happy?  Remember, I did not know who you were.  I thought you were here
among us to settle for life and farm."

"Would it have made any difference if you had known, Lady Kershaw?" he
asked quizzically, slipping an arm round her, and looking down into her
eyes.

"Not in my loving you," she answered.  "But remember, I am only a Boer
girl, after all."

"Only a what?  Only the bravest, truest, sweetest, most refined and
lovable specimen of womanhood I ever encountered in a tolerably wide
experience.  Only--"

"Kwaak--kwaak--kwaa!  Kwaak--kwaak--kwaa!"

Shrilling forth his harsh call, an old cock koorhaan sprang upward from
the thorn bushes on the opposite river bank, and went circling away over
the ostrich camps, yelling up half a dozen others in his flight.  The
eyes of these two people met, and both broke into a hearty laugh.

"Why, I believe that's the same old joker I spared when we were here
together that day, Aletta," said Colvin, turning to watch the
disappearing bird.

"Yes, it must be, for we are on the same spot.  Colvin, my darling, our
happiness first came to us on this very spot where we are standing.  Do
you remember?  And now that we stand here again, it is complete for
ever.  Is it not?"

"For ever," he answered, a grateful solemnity in his voice.

And here, reader, we will leave them.

The End.





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