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´╗┐Title: Renshaw Fanning's Quest - A Tale of the High Veldt
Author: Mitford, Bertram, 1855-1914
Language: English
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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.

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Renshaw Fanning's Quest, by Bertram Mitford.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
RENSHAW FANNING'S QUEST, BY BERTRAM MITFORD.



PROLOGUE.

"Just consider!  You would soon get to hate me.  I should be the ruin of
you."

Thus the owner of the bright, sparkling face which was turned, half
mockingly, half ruefully, upon that of her companion.  Looking out
killingly from under the broad-brimmed hat, the dark, lustrous eyes
seemed to melt into his.

"How can you say such a thing?" was the reply, in the deep,
half-tremulous tone of a man who is in dead earnest.  "How can you say
such a thing?" he repeated involuntarily, driving a spur into his
horse's flank with a dig that made that spirited animal curvet and
prance beneath the restraining curb.

"Oh, take care! you are making my horse restive.  And I am such a bad
rider, as you know!"  And the lithe, graceful figure in the well-fitting
habit was thrown into the relief involved by a real physical effort.
"How can I say so?" she went on; "how can I say so?  Why, it is only
candid on my part.  Do you seriously think a butterfly like me is cut
out for a life on the High Veldt?"

The man's bronzed features faded to a ghastly paleness.  He averted his
head for some moments, as though with a wild instinctive idea of
breaking the spell that was upon him.  Overhead towered the stately cone
of a great mountain, soaring aloft in the summer haze.  Around, in
undulating sweep, the bushclad slopes shut in the tortuous, stony road.
Birds piped and called to one another in the lustrous sunlight, and the
rich sensuous air was alive with the drowsy boom of bees and the
metallic plash of the river in its rocky bed beneath.

"There are other and pleasanter places in this country than the High
Veldt," he said at last, but in the tone of an advocate pleading a
hopeless cause, and that cause his own.

"But even then," she rejoined, her voice softening as though in
compunction over the final stab she was about to inflict, "even then--no
one is less qualified to make you happy than I am, believe me.  Why, you
don't really know me as I am!  Sometimes I think I hardly know myself."

"You do yourself injustice," he said.  "Give me the opportunity of
proving it."

A curious passing spasm--a kind of a stormy look--shot across the
beautiful face.

"You are too generous," she replied vehemently, "and far too good to be
made miserable for life by such a little wretch as I am.  Better, far,
feel a little sorry now than that."

"And you are underrating yourself.  But I will not hurry you.  Take
time; but oh, my darling, don't tell me that what you said just now is
your final answer."

"I must tell you that very thing.  It cuts me to the heart to give you
pain; and that is more than I have been able to say before to any man
living.  But--there are reasons--if you only knew.  There.  Forget that
I ever said that.  But I know that with you anything I may say is as
safe as death itself."

This time he made no reply.  For one brief instant their eyes met, and
in that instant he understood her; understood, too, that her first
answer was final.

Yet he was goodly to look upon, this man, with his splendid physique,
and refined, noble countenance.  Many a feminine heart, we trow, would
have beat quicker--but with vivid joy--at such words as he had addressed
to his present companion.  Many a pair of eyes would have brightened
gladsomely into a quick love-light.  Many another would have desired no
better protector and stay until her life's end than this man now riding
by the side of her who had rejected him.

To propose on horseback is the very worst place a man can choose wherein
to propose, says some one or other, by reason of both the proposer and
proposee being in a measure subject to the precarious whims of one or a
pair of wholly unreliable quadrupeds.  He who now rode there had either
never heard that salutary axiom or had forgotten it for the occasion;
but now he was made to feel its force by a male voice, some little
distance ahead, hallooing--

"Now, you two good people, spur up, or we shall never get there
to-night!"

And a bend in the road brought into view other horsemen--other
"habits"--stationary, and obviously and provokingly awaiting the arrival
of the two laggards.

And the equestrians, now merged into one group, rode on their way in the
golden sunlight of that lovely afternoon, rejoicing in the exquisite
glories of the wild and romantic mountain road.  But, in the prevailing
mirth, one among them bore no part, for he carried within his breast the
dead burden of a sore and aching heart.



CHAPTER ONE.

THIRST-LAND.

The heat was terrible.

Terrible, even for the parched, burning steppes of the High Veldt, whose
baked and crumbling surface lay gasping in cracks and fissures beneath
the blazing fierceness of the African sun.  Terrible for the stock,
enfeebled and emaciated after months of bare subsistence on such
miserable wiry blades of shrivelled grass as it could manage to pick up,
and on the burnt and withered Karroo bushes.  Doubly terrible for those
to whom the wretched animals, all skin and bone, and dying off like
flies, represented nothing more nor less than the means of livelihood
itself.

Far away to the sky-line on every side, far as the eye could travel,
stretched the dead, weary surface of the plain.  Not a tree, not a bush
to break the level.  On the one hand a low range of flat-topped hills
floated, mirage like, in mid-air, so distant that a day's journey would
hardly seem to bring you any nearer; on the other, nothing--nothing but
plain and sky, nothing but the hard red earth, shimmering like a furnace
in the intolerable afternoon heat; nothing but a frightful desert,
wherein, apparently, no human being could live--not even the ape-like
Bushman or the wild Koranna.  Yet, there stands a house.

A house thoroughly in keeping with its surroundings.  A low one-storied
building, with a thatched roof and walls of sun-baked brick.  Just a
plain parallelogram; no attempt at ornamentation, no verandah, not even
a _stoep_.  No trace of a garden either, for in this horrible desert of
drought and aridity nothing will grow.  Hard by stand the square stone
kraals for the stock, and a little further on, where the level of the
plain sinks into a slight depression, is an artificial dam, its liquid
store at present reduced to a small patch of red and turgid water lying
in the middle of a surrounding margin of dry flaky mud, baked into a
criss-cross pattern of cracks, like a huge mosaic.

On a low, stony _kopje_, a few hundred yards distant from this
uninviting homestead, sits its owner.  Nobody but a Boer could dwell in
such a place, would be the first thought succeeding that of wonder that
any white man could be found to inhabit it at all.  But a glance would
suffice to show that he now sitting there is not a member of that dogged
and pachydermatous race.  The face is a fine--even a noble--one, whose
features the bronzed and weatherworn results of a hard life have failed
to roughen.  A broad, lofty brow, and pensive dark eyes stamp their
owner as a man of intellect and thought, while the peculiar curve of the
well-formed nostrils betokens a sensitive and self-contained nature.
The lower half of the face is hidden by a dark silky beard and
moustache.

One brown, sinewy hand grasps a geologist's hammer, with which it chips
away listlessly at the ground.  But, although the action is now purely
mechanical, it is not always so, as we shall see if we use our
story-teller's privilege and dip into his inner thoughts.  Briefly
rendered, they run in this wise:

"Oh, this awful drought!  When is it going to end?  Not that it much
matters, either way, now, for there's hardly a sound hoof left on the
place; and, even if a good rain did come, it would only finish off the
whole fever-stricken lot.  Well, I'll have to clear out, that's one
consolation.  I've held on as long as any man could, and now I'll just
have to go."

His gaze wanders over the arid plain.  Far away through the shimmer it
rests on a multitude of white specks--a flock of Angora goats, striving
in desperation to pick up what miserable subsistence it may.

"There's nothing to be done with the place--nothing," he muses, bringing
his hammer down upon a boulder with a despairing whack.  "It won't sell
even for an old song--no one will so much as touch land now, nor will
they for a long time to come, and there isn't a `stone' [`Diamond' in
digger parlance] on the whole farm, for I've dug and fossicked in every
likely place, and unlikely one, too.  No; I'll shut up shop and get
away.  The few miserable brutes left are not worth looking after--not
worth their _brand ziek_ [Scab-affected] skins.  Yet I'll have one more
search, one more crazy fool's errand, after the `Valley of the Eye,'
before I trek.  This 'll make the fifth--but, no matter.  One may as
well make an ass of oneself five times as four.  I can't exactly believe
old Greenway took all that trouble to dictate an infernal lie on his
death-bed; and, if his yarn's true, I'm a rich man for life--if I can
only find the place, that is," he adds bitterly.  "And I've had four
shies at it.  Well, perhaps the fifth is going to be lucky."

With which consoling reflection the thinker rises from his stony
resting-place, revealing as he does so a tall, straight figure,
admirably proportioned.  Suddenly he starts, and a sallow paleness comes
over the bronzed, handsome features.  For he is conscious of a strange
giddiness.  A mist seems to float before his eyes, shutting out
completely the glare of the burning veldt.

"Never that cursed up-country fever again?" he murmurs, to himself, in
real alarm.

And for the latter there is reason--reason in the abnormal and unhealthy
heat of the terrible drought--reason in his utter isolation, the vast
distance between himself and a fellow-countryman--let alone such
considerations as medical aid.

Recovering himself with an effort, he strolls on towards the house.
There is no sign of life about the place as he approaches, unless a
couple of miserable, fever-stricken sheep, panting and wheezing in the
shade of the kraal wall, constitute such.  But, dead and tomb-like as it
looks outside, there is something refreshing in the coolness of the
inner room as he enters.  A rough tablecloth is laid, and a knife and
fork.  The walls are papered with pictures from illustrated prints, and
are hung with swinging shelves containing a goodly number of books of
all sorts.  A few chairs and a couch, the latter much the worse for
wear, constitute the furniture; and, on the whole, what with pipes,
stray bits of saddlery, and miscellaneous odds and ends of every
description, the place is about as untidy as the average bachelor abode
is apt to be within the pale of civilisation, let alone away on the High
Veldt.  The floor is of hardened clay, and there is no ceiling--nothing
between the inmate of the room and the bare and ragged thatch, one
drawback to which arrangement being that a fine, lively tarantula will
occasionally drop down upon the head or shoulder of the said inmate.

A call of "Kaatje.  Dinner bring," is soon productive of that meal, in
so far as the remnant of a half-starved and wholly unnutritious chicken,
dressed up with so insipid an ingredient as some plain boiled rice, can
be said to constitute dinner.  It is productive, simultaneously, of an
extraordinary specimen of humanity.

A creature of mahogany hue and parchment hide, the latter hanging in
flaps around her perspiring and scantily-attired person.  A creature of
the hideosity of one of Bunyan's fiends--a frightful grin, horn-like
ears, and a woolly skull--waddling on the abnormal hip-development of
the native Bushman or Koranna.  A nice sort of being to bring in one's
dinner, not of itself over-inviting!  But one gets used to queer things
on the High Veldt, and this hideous and repulsive object is only a
harmless Koranna woman, and according to her lights a good old soul
enough; and she officiates as cook and general factotum to this rough
and ready household of one.

The swarming flies buzz around.  The windows are black with them; the
table is black with them; the air is thick with them.  In they sail
through open windows and open doors, fresh from the foetid stew-pans of
the kitchen; fresh from the acrid, pungent dust of the goat kraals;
fresh from the latest garbage, which they have been sharing with carrion
birds, in the veldt.  They light on the diner's head, crawl about his
face, crowd over plates and dishes and tablecloth--mix themselves up
with the food, drown themselves in the drink.  Everywhere flies.

The South African house-fly is identical with the British, but he is a
far greater pest.  He is more aggressive, and he brings to bear upon his
victims the solid weight of numbers.  Go where you will, you cannot
shake him off.  If you fit up a waggon, and dive into the far interior,
there also will the common fly be with you--and with you in swarms.

Renshaw Fanning looks disgustedly at his uninviting meal, and plays with
it rather than eats.  Then he pushes back his chair.  He has no
appetite.

Again he seeks the open air.  A restless mood is upon him, and broiling,
stifling as the heat is outside, he cannot remain in the house.
Suddenly a winged object appears fluttering in the sunlight.  A quick
exclamation escapes him, as he shades his eyes to watch it.

"Ha, of course!  The last straw!  Locusts.  Here they come, by Jove!
thicker and thicker to put the finishing touch on what the drought has
begun.  By this time to-morrow there won't be a blade of grass left on
the place, nor a hoof either."

He stands watching the flying insects.  Barely five minutes after the
discovery of the first one, the air is thick with them.  They seem to
spring out of nowhere.  Thicker and thicker they come, their gauzy wings
fluttering in the sunlight, blundering into the spectator's face,
colliding with the walls, falling to the ground.  It is an ill wind that
blows nobody good.  A few starved fowls at the back of the house perk up
into new life as they rush forth to fill their emaciated carcases with
this unlooked-for and abundant dainty.  But the watcher withdraws
indoors again, as if to shut out all sight and sound of these new and
fatal intruders, and, as he does so, he is conscious of terrible
shooting pains in his limbs.

Though of Irish parentage on one side, Renshaw Fanning is South African
born.  His life, so far--and he is now thirty-five--has been a hard one.
Few, indeed, are the wilder, rougher phases of South African life of
which he has not had more or less experience.  He has farmed and has
ridden transport [Carriage of goods by waggon], he has hunted and traded
in the far interior, he has been a treasure-seeker, and has also fought
in the border warfare which now and then breaks out between the
colonists and their savage neighbours.  But profitable as some of these
avocations frequently are, somehow or other Renshaw Fanning has never
seemed to make a success of anything, and this is mainly owing to the
extraordinary unselfishness of the man.  He will divest himself of his
last shilling to help a friend in need, or even a mere acquaintance--
indeed, he owes the possession of his arid and uninviting desert farm to
this very failing, in that he has been forced to accept it in
satisfaction of a bad debt which would otherwise completely have ruined
him.  As a matter of course, his friends and acquaintances vote him a
fool, but deep down in their hearts lies a mine of respect for the only
thoroughly unselfish man they have ever known; and even the unscrupulous
ones who have traded upon and profited by his failing did so with
compunction.

But with all his soft-heartedness and sensitive and retiring
temperament, none who knew him have ever for a moment mistaken Renshaw
Fanning for a muff.  No cooler brain exists, no steadier hand or keener
eye in times of danger or dangerous sport--whether at a critical moment,
at the mercy of some treacherously disposed barbarian tribe in the far
interior, or with finger on trigger awaiting the lightning-like charge
of a wounded and infuriated lion.  Or on treasure-seeking enterprise,
when physical obstacles combined with failure of water and scarcity of
provisions to render advance or retreat a work of almost superhuman
difficulty, the post of hardship and privation was that which he
unobtrusively assumed; and, indeed, there are men still living who, but
for this, would long since have left their bones in the desert--
occupants of unknown graves.  No, assuredly none who know him can ever
mistake Renshaw Fanning for a muff.

Such is the man whom we see, solitary, depressed, and in breaking
health, contemplating, on his desert farm, the approach of ruin--which
ruin all efforts on his part are powerless to avert.



CHAPTER TWO.

A FRIEND IN NEED.

Down, down to the far horizon sinks the westering sun, the malignant
fierceness of his blazing countenance abating somewhat, for he is within
an hour of his rest.  Yet the earth still gives forth its shimmering
heat, and on every side the red surface of the parched-up plain assumes
a hue of blood beneath the golden glow of sunset, which, contrasted with
the vivid blue of the heavens, is productive of a strangely weird and
unearthly effect.

So thinks, at any rate, a horseman, toilsomely making his way over its
inhospitable expanse.  His steed, suffering terribly from want of water,
as well as from a lack of nutritious food, can hardly drag its limbs
along, and more than once has the rider endeavoured to relieve the poor
beast by undertaking long spells of walking.  But who can indulge in
protracted exercise under such difficulties?  Consequently the horseman,
though of fine and powerful build, is nearly as fagged and used up as
his unfortunate steed.  Now and again a flying locust raps him in the
face as he rides.

"What an infernal country!" he exclaims aloud, wiping his dripping
forehead.  "Nearly sunset, no sort of habitation in sight, and not even
a drop of water in this howling desert.  By Jove! the situation is
getting serious," he adds, in a tone bordering on alarm.

His alarm is not without reason.  Since quitting last night's camp
beside a nearly dry waterhole, containing a noisome mixture, and that of
the consistency of pea-soup, he has found no trace of the indispensable
fluid.  And he is lost.  A worn-out horse under him, foodless,
waterless, in the midst of an apparently interminable desert, he has
every excuse for beginning to feel excessively concerned.

He is a fine, tall, well set-up man, this stranger.  No partiality could
define him as handsome.  His features have no regularity, and his
light-blue eyes are a trifle too small and deep set; but there is a
certain power about his countenance, whose square, resolute jaw the
short, fair, pointed beard and heavy, sweeping moustache can only half
hide.  Though his face and hands are burnt red brown, there is a subtle
something which tells at a glance he is not colonial born, and that,
too, quite apart from the newness of his travelling dress prematurely
worn by rough usage, and of the serviceable valise which is strapped in
front of his saddle.

A stony _kopje_, the only eminence for five miles around, rises before
the traveller.  This he has been using as a landmark, and through its
agency steering in a straight line.  It, too, having reached, he now
ascends, and immediately there escapes him a pretty forcible ejaculation
of relief.  Away in front, breaking the deadly monotony of this horrible
plain, lies a house--a homestead.

It is still three or four miles distant, though apparently nearer.  But
the horse has espied it as soon as his rider, and, pricking forward his
ears, he picks up his head and steps out with something of an approach
to briskness.

The first elation--at the certainty of finding necessaries, such as food
and drink--over, the traveller's thoughts turn to considerations of
comfort.  After all, the welcome haven is in all probability a mere
rough Boer homestead, the abode of dirt and fleas, a place wherein
comfort is an unknown quantity.  And at such a prospect, hungry,
thirsty, thoroughly wearied as he is, his spirits droop.

But his musings are interrupted in a sufficiently startling manner, by
nothing less than the "whiz" of a bullet unpleasantly close to his head,
simultaneously with the "bang" of the piece whence it was discharged.

Looking up, he finds that he has approached within a few hundred yards
of the homestead.  In the doorway of the same stands a tall man, clad in
a shirt and trousers, with a gun in his hand, from which he is
extracting the still smoking cartridge shell.  Barely has he mastered
these details than another bullet sings past his ear, this time nearer
than the first, while the report rings out upon the evening air.

To say that the wayfarer begins to feel exceedingly uncomfortable is to
express little.  Here he is, a perfectly peaceable, unoffending person,
about to seek the much-needed hospitality of yonder domicile, and
suddenly, and without an iota of provocation, its owner proceeds to make
a target of him in the most cold-blooded fashion.  True, he has heard
that many of the up-country Boers are a wild and lawless set, holding an
Englishman in utter detestation.  But this open and unprovoked "act of
war" surpasses anything he may have been led to expect.

"Here, hallo!  You, sir!  What are you blazing away at me for?" he sings
out, his tone betraying a degree of anger which prudence should have
induced him to suppress.

His hand instinctively goes to the revolver slung round him in a holster
under his coat.  But of what use is a six-shooter against an enemy many
hundred yards distant, and armed with a rifle?  Therefore, it is with
considerable relief that he beholds his unexpected adversary ground his
piece, stare at him for a moment, then disappear indoors.

The feeling is but transitory, however, as it occurs to him that the
fellow has probably gone in to get more cartridges, and that any moment
he may find himself once more raked by the enemy's fire.  He judges it
prudent to try the effect of a parley before venturing any nearer.

"Hi!  Hallo, friend!" he shouts, "just drop that target practice, will
you?  There isn't an ounce of harm about me.  I'm nothing but a poor
devil of a traveller lost in the veldt, and pretty well dead for want of
a drink.  D'you understand?"

Then it strikes him that if the inhospitable householder is, as he
expects, a Boer, he will probably not understand.

"What _is_ to be done?" exclaims the wayfarer in sheer despair.  "Well,
here goes.  May as well be shot as starve in the veldt; and perhaps the
fellow's only playing the fool--trying what I'm made of--and, if I were
only within fifty, or even a hundred yards of him, the `trying' wouldn't
be all on one side."

Thus musing, he continues his advance upon the homestead, walking his
horse, and whistling in an attempt to appear thoroughly unconcerned,
although, in point of actual fact, he feels pretty much as the Six
Hundred must have done on receipt of the historic and idiotic order.
But no more leaden greetings reach him, nor does the enemy appear.  All
is silent as the grave as he rides up to the house.

The front door stands wide open, exactly as the shooter had left it on
retiring therefrom.  There is not a sound of anybody moving inside.  The
place might have been uninhabited.  Just then the sun, which all this
time has gradually been sinking, and has already touched the horizon,
disappears.

Something like a chill creeps over the traveller at the sudden gloom
which falls upon the tenement just as he is about to cross its
threshold.  Standing at the door, he raps it, somewhat impatiently, with
the handle of his whip.  No answer.

Cautiously, and with hand on his pistol, he enters.  There is no
passage; the door opens straight into the sitting-room.  At the sight
which meets his eyes he starts, and involuntarily falls back.

In a corner of the room stands a tall figure.  Leaning with one shoulder
against the wall, its eyes are fixed upon the intruder, great hollow
eyes, which seem to glitter strangely, and the deathly pallor of the
face is enhanced by its framing of dark hair and beard.  Though
otherwise motionless, both hands and lips are working slightly, but no
sound escapes the latter.  The wayfarer, though not by any means a man
of weak nerves, is conscious of something horribly uncanny about this
ghostlike figure, so silent and immovable, glowering at him in the
shades of the fast-gathering twilight.

But at the same time he recognises his recent assailant.  No ghost this,
but--a madman.

For a moment both stand staring at each other.  Then the strange-looking
figure speaks.

"Welcome, friend--welcome.  Come in, come in.  Make yourself at home.
Have you brought any locusts with you?  Lots of them--swarms, to eat up
what little grass the drought has left.  Have you brought them, I say?
Aha--fine things, locusts!  Don't know how we should get on without
them.  Grand things for this Country!  Fine country this!  Green as an
emerald.  Emeralds, no, diamonds.  But there isn't a `stone' on the
place, devil a `stone.'"

"Locusts!  Emeralds!  Diamonds!" echoes the stranger in amazement.
"Scott, but the poor chap's clean off his chump--clean off it!  What on
earth am I to do with him, or with myself either for the matter of
that?"

"Not a `stone' on the place!" goes on the speaker, in a mournful tone.
"I've fossicked high and low, and there isn't one--not one.  Ah, but--
the Valley of the Eye!  Come, friend.  We will start at once.  You shall
make your fortune.  Dirk!  Dirk!" he shouts, passing the wondering
stranger, and gaining the doorway.

A withered old Koranna, clad in a mangy sheep-skin kaross, who has just
finished penning a flock of Angora goats in one of the kraals, comes
running up at the summons.  At sight of his master his parchment visage
assumes a look of deep concern.

"_Die Baas is reegte zick_!"  ["The master is properly ill."] he says,
turning to the stranger.

"I should rather think he was," assents the latter, who, although his
acquaintance with colonial Dutch is extremely limited, has no difficulty
in grasping the old fellow's meaning.  "Stones, locusts, Valley of the
Eye!  Pho!  The sooner we get him to bed the better.  I say, Old man,"
he breaks off persuasively, laying a hand on the shoulder of his
unconscious host, "you're not quite the thing, you know.  Come along and
turn in.  I'll give you a hand at getting your togs off."

The other looks at him vacantly, and seems to comprehend.  He suffers
himself to be led into the inner room quite docilely, and there and then
to be assisted into bed.  Once there, however, the blood rushes to his
face, and he begins raving horribly, though his violence finds
expression in speech rather than in action.

The stranger sits at his bedside carefully watching him.

"Not mad--only fever," he remarks to himself at the close of one of
these paroxysms.  "Bush fever, I suppose, and plenty of it.  He's got a
pulse like a steam hammer, by Jove!"

He has.  Not for nothing has that unwonted giddiness, those shooting
pains in the limbs, attacked him a few hours earlier.  By nightfall
Renshaw Fanning is in a burning fever, raving in the throes of delirium.



CHAPTER THREE.

RENSHAW FANNING'S SECRET.

The stranger's wants had been attended to by the old Koranna woman
already described; which may be taken to mean that he had found time to
snatch a hurried meal during one of the sick man's quiet intervals.
Then he had returned to his post.

His inhospitable, not to say dangerous, reception stood now accounted
for, and with a vivid recollection of the same he took an early
opportunity of carefully hiding all the firearms he could lay hands on.
Old Dirk and his wife kept coming in on tiptoe to see how their master
was getting on, and, in fact, betrayed an amount of concern for his
well-being hardly to be looked for in the scions of a wild and degraded
race.  But Renshaw Fanning was a man to command attachment, from
untutored and degraded savages no less than from a dog.

The night wore on, and these humble and faithful retainers, seeing that
their master was in better hands than theirs, had retired to roost.  The
stranger, having dragged a capacious armchair into the bedroom, sat and
watched.  Who could this man be, he wondered, dwelling alone in this
desert place, stricken with mortal sickness, and no one to tend him save
a couple of miserable specimens of a miserable race, were it not that
providentially he himself, in the character of a lost and starving
wayfarer, had chanced upon the scene?  His gaze wandered round the room.
Its white-washed walls were bare and cracked, and devoid of ornament,
save for a small but massive silver crucifix hanging above the bed, and
an artistically carved statuette of the Blessed Virgin on a bracket.
These objects, at any rate, pointed to their owner's creed, a heritage
received with his Irish descent, and the plainness, or roughness rather,
of the domicile in general seemed to point to a hard and struggling
existence.

The night brought with it but little respite from the broiling heat of
the day.  Not a breath stirred the air.  Even with the house door and
all the windows wide open the oppressive stuffiness of the room seemed
wellnigh unbearable.  Winged insects, attracted by the light, found
their way in by swarms, and a huge tarantula, leaving his lair in the
thatch, began to walk leisurely down the wall.  With something like a
shudder of disgust, the stranger picked up a slipper and shied it at the
hairy monster, with the effect of making him scuttle back to the shelter
of the friendly thatch as fast as his legs could carry him.

The sick man tossed restlessly from side to side, now moaning, now
talking to himself.  Listening intently, the watcher noted that the
patient's wildly spoken thoughts seemed to run strongly in two grooves--
diamond seeking, and a member of the other sex.  As to the latter, his
voice would assume a thrilling tenderness as he passionately and oft
seemed to be abjuring somebody of the name of Violet.  As to the former,
he was alternately despondent and fiercely sanguine, as he alluded again
and again to a certain "Valley of the Eye."

"The Valley of the Eye, by Jove!" muttered the watcher to himself.
"Why, that's the very thing he began about directly I came in.  Said it
was going to make our fortunes.  There must be something in it--and--
I'll bet a guinea that thing he wears round his neck holds the secret,
or the clue, to it," he added, starting up in excitement over the idea.

He went softly over to the patient.  The latter's left hand was
clutching a flat pouch or bag of buckskin which lay upon his chest.  It
was suspended from his neck by a stout lanyard of raw hide.

The watcher stood for a few minutes, his eyes glittering with a strange
excitement.  A temptation, which was well-nigh irresistible, had come
upon him.  Why should he not obtain possession of the pouch, and thus
share in the secret which might lead to boundless wealth?  He need not
retain it long, only long enough to master its contents.  He could
easily return it.

Then his instincts of good seemed to get the upper hand.  He was not a
blackguard, he told himself, and surely to take advantage of this man's
helplessness to steal his secrets would be a blackguardly and dishonest
act.  But, alas and alas!  When the possibility opens of acquiring
wealth, a man's best instincts are sure to be heavily handicapped, and
so it was here.

He took a cup of milk which stood by the bedside, and, raising the
patient's head, put it to his lips.  It was only goat's milk, and thin
stuff at that, thanks to the parched state of the veldt; but poor
Renshaw drank eagerly, then fell back quiet and composed.  It seemed as
though the delirium had departed.

Watching him thus for a moment the stranger left him and sought the
house door.  He seemed to feel an irresistible longing for the open air.
But so close, so stifling was the night that, as he stood outside, he
hardly realised the change into the outer air.  Not a living thing was
moving, not a sound was heard, save now and then the trumpet-like sneeze
of a goat in the kraals.  Overhead, the dark vault of heaven seemed
literally to flash and grow with constellations.  Shooting stars darted,
rocket-like, across the zenith in numbers unknown to our colder skies;
and, as he looked, a bright meteor shot athwart the velvety space,
leaving a red sinuous trail.  But in the dead still solitude a voice
seemed to whisper to his now heated imagination, "The Valley of the Eye!
The Valley of the Eye!"

Re-entering, he stole a glance at his patient.  The latter was now
slumbering peacefully.  His hand had relaxed its convulsive grasp of the
buckskin pouch, and was resting beside him.  Now was the time.

The stranger bent over him; then the deft "snick" of a sharp knife.  The
pouch was in his hand.

For the moment he felt like a common footpad.  His heart beat violently
as he regained his seat near the window and the light.  For some minutes
he sat watching the sick man.  But the latter slept on peacefully.  Now
for the secret!

He ripped open one side of the pouch in such wise that it could easily
be sewn up again.  Then came a waterproof wrapper which, being unrolled,
disclosed a large sheet of parchment-like paper covered with writing.

Down this he hurriedly ran his eye prior to a more careful perusal of
its contents.  But even this cursory glance was enough to make his face
flush and his eye glisten.  His hand shook so that it could scarcely
hold the paper.  Here was the key to wealth illimitable.

And then a strange and startling thing happened.  The paper was suddenly
snatched from his grasp.

So quickly was this done, so absolutely terrifying was his abrupt and
wholly unlooked-for turn in the state of affairs, that his glance was
hardly quick enough to mark the paper disappearing through the open
window beside which he was seated, or the black, claw-like hand which
had seized it.  Yet he did only just see both.

He fell back in his chair in a cold sweat.  Such a thing to happen in
the dead midnight, with not a soul but himself astir.  Small wonder
that, unnerved by the dastardly act of robbery he had just committed,
his thoughts should revert straight to Satan himself.  The sick man was
still slumbering peacefully.

Recovering his nerve to some extent, he rushed to the door and gained
the outer air.  All was still as death.  As his sight became used to the
modified gloom of the starlight he went round to the back of the house--
made the complete circuit of it.  Not a living thing was astir.  He went
even further afield, peering here, there, and everywhere.  In vain.
Then, with nerve and system shaken as they had never been before in his
life, he returned indoors.

For long he sat motionless, pondering over this extraordinary
occurrence.  The first shock of surprise, the first involuntary access
of superstition past, two considerations obtruded themselves.  The
prospect of possible wealth had been snatched from his grasp, literally
strangled at its birth, for the paper looked genuine, and was certainly
lucid enough, but it required studying, and that carefully.  For the
rest, how should he eventually account to its owner for its
disappearance?  And at this thought he began to feel exceedingly
uncomfortable.

Not for long, however.  The bag could easily be replaced, and the
chances were that its owner would take for granted the security of its
contents, and not go to the trouble of opening it to ascertain.  Or he
himself might be far enough away by that time, but that he was loth to
abandon a fellow-countryman on a lonely sick-bed in that frightful
wilderness; and we must, in justice to the man, record that this
consideration was genuine and wholly untinged by his own reluctance to
turn his back on the place until every effort to recover the precious
document had been tried.  Should, however, the worst come to the worst,
and Renshaw be moved to assure himself of the safety of his secret, what
could be easier than to persuade him that he had himself insisted on
destroying it in his delirium?

He rose softly to hunt for a needle and some twine.  Having found them
he re-stitched the pouch, carefully copying the mode of stitching which
had held it together before.  Then he went over to the bedside to
re-fasten it to the sick man's neck.

This was no easy task.  Poor Renshaw began to grow restless again, as
though a glimmer of inspiration across his clouded and enfeebled brain
warned him that his cherished secret had been tampered with.  At last,
however, through the exercise of consummate patience and care, the thing
was done.

With a feeling of relief the stranger once more sought the outer air.

"What a fool the man must be!" he said to himself.  "From the date of
that paper he must have been in possession of the clue for at least two
years, and yet he hasn't turned it to account.  The place should be easy
to find, too; anyway, I'll lay a guinea I'd have ferreted it out long
before this.  Rather!  Long before!"

Thus he decided, overlooking the trifling probability that if Renshaw
Fanning, with lifelong experience as a hunter, treasure-seeker, and
adventurer in general, had failed to hit upon the mysterious locality,
it was hardly to be supposed that he, Maurice Sellon, new arrival in
South Africa, who, for instance, had been unable to travel across the
Karroo plains without losing himself, would fare any better.

But then an under-estimate--either habitual or occasional--of his own
merits or abilities did not rank among the failings of the said Maurice
Sellon.



CHAPTER FOUR.

SUNNINGDALE.

A wild, deep, romantic valley, winding between lofty bush-clad hills,
their summits broken into many a rugged cliff, which echoes back the
muffled roar of a mountain torrent foaming and hissing through its
pent-up rocky channel.  A lovely valley as travelled in the morning
sunshine, melodious with the piping of birds from the cool shade of
tangled brake and sylvan recesses on either side.  Overhead a sky of the
most brilliant blue; around a fresh, clear atmosphere, revivifying as
wine; for it is mountain air and the day is yet young.

At its head the valley opens out into a wide basin, where the stream
winds and curves through a green fertile bottom, whose rich soil for
many acres is covered with growing crops of wheat and maize.  Higher up
still, in vivid contrast to the darker-hued foliage around, stands forth
a group of tall willows, their trailing feathery boughs--affording a
nesting-place to a perfect colony of noisy and chattering finks--shading
the glassy surface of a large dam.  Between this and an extensive
orchard, whose well-cared-for trees are groaning beneath the weight of
their ripening loads--peaches and apricots, the delicate nectarine, and
the luscious pear--stands the homestead.

No bare, rough-and-ready shanty of sun-baked bricks this, but a good and
substantial house, rendered picturesque by its surrounding of orange
trees and pomegranates; of great red cactus, glowing prismatically, now
crimson, now scarlet; of many-hued geraniums; of the royal passion
flower twining up the pillars of the _stoep_, spreading over the roof of
the verandah itself.  No dead, drear, arid thirst-land this, but a
veritable garden of Eden; the murmur of running water in the air, the
fruits of the earth glowing and ripening around, the sunlight glinting
in a network through the foliage, and a varying chorus of gladsome
bird-voices echoing around from far and near.  Such is Sunningdale--
Christopher Selwood's farm in the Umtirara Mountains.  Nor was it
inappropriately named.

Seated on the _stoep_ aforesaid, under the cool shade of the verandah,
are two young women--one busily engaged on a piece of needlework, the
other reading, or, to be more accurate, pretending to read.  Not less
dissimilar in appearance are these two than in their present occupation.
One tall, fair, grave; the Other of smaller build, dark, _espiegle_.
One deliberate of speech and movement; the other all mirth and vivacity
upon any or no provocation.

"How much longer are you going on with that eternal stitch, stitch,
stitch, Marian?" cries the latter, dropping her book for the twentieth
time and yawning.

She addressed smiles slightly.

"Why?  What would you rather I did?" she says.  "You generally say it's
too hot to stroll in the morning."

"Do I?  Well, perhaps it is.  But you were looking so preternaturally
solemn, and so silent, that I believe you were thinking of--some one.
Who was it?  Come, out with it!"

"You shouldn't judge everybody from your own standpoint, Violet," is the
good-humoured reply.  "Now, my private opinion is you are developing
quite a fidgety vein because we only get a post here once a week."

A close observer, watching the countenance of her thus bantered, might
have thought there was a hit underlying this perfectly innocent remark,
but if so it escaped the speaker, for she never looked up from her
sewing.

"Ha, ha, ha!  Oh, wise Marian.  The post, indeed!  You should see the
cartload of astonishing effusions I get.  I believe I will let you see
them one of these days.  They'd astonish you considerably, if only as
evidence of what a lot of idiots there are among men.  No; your sagacity
is at fault.  You haven't hit the right nail this time."

"Don't you get rather tired of that kind of fun?" said Marian, biting
off the end of her thread.  "I should have thought there was a great
deal of sameness in it."

"Sameness!  So there is.  But what is one to do?  I can't help it.  I
don't ask them to come swarming round me.  They do it.  I see a man for
the first time to-day, forget his very existence to-morrow, and the day
after that he tells me he can't live without me.  It isn't my fault.
Now, is it?"

"Since you ask me, I tell you I firmly believe it is.  You're a
hard-hearted little--wretch, and one of these days you'll find your own
wings singed--mark my words."

"A truce to your platitudes," laughed the other.  "I've heard that said
so often--and--sometimes I almost wish it would come true.  It would be
such a novel sensation."

By the above it will be manifest to the reader that the enunciator of
these sentiments could be nothing less than an arrant flirt; as, indeed,
was the case.  Violet Avory was as proud of her conquests, and the
multifold trophies of a substantial nature which accompanied them, as a
Cheyenne war-chief of his scalps, and she looked upon them in the same
light--legitimate tributes to her own prowess.  She had begun to flirt
when she was fourteen, and had carried it on, seriously and without a
break, up to date, and she was now twenty-two.  And Nature had endowed
her with bountiful facilities in that line.  Her face conformed to the
strictest canons of beauty--oval, high-bred, with regular and delicate
features, melting dark eyes, and a winsome little mouth with a smile
ever hovering around its corners; and her quick, vivacious manner was
forcibly if unconventionally defined by a large section of her admirers,
especially the younger ones, as "awfully fetching."  She was a sort of
distant connection of the Selwoods, whose acquaintance she had made
during their last visit to England.  They had been immensely taken with
her, and now she was fulfilling a long-standing invitation to visit them
in their South African home.

But with all her dazzling beauty and winning arts some men would not
have looked twice at Violet Avory when Marian Selwood was by.  The fair
sweet face of the latter, with its large sleepy eyes, its red, smiling
lips, parting from a row of white regular teeth, could grow very lovely;
indeed, it was one of those faces which gain upon the observer with its
owner's further acquaintance.  Nor was its normal gravity other than on
the surface, for to cause the great blue eyes to sparkle with fun and
mischief was no difficult matter.  And Marian's disposition was as sweet
as her face, her mind that of a refined gentlewoman.  She was born in
the colony, and had lived the greater part of her life where we now see
her, helping to keep house for her brother and his wife.

"Hot or cool, I vote we stroll somewhere," cried Violet, starting up
from her chair with a restlessness and energy she seldom displayed at
that time of the day, when the sun made himself very definitely felt,
even at that elevation.

"Very well," acquiesced the other, gathering up her work.  Then she
added, with a smile, "You had better get a sunshade, Violet, or you'll
be taking back quite a stock of freckles.  The now disconsolate ones
will all cry off then."

"Will they!  But--are you not going to take one?"

"No.  I'm about burnt enough already.  Besides, there are no
disconsolate ones in my case to doom to disillusion, so it doesn't
matter."

"Oh yes!  Very likely!  I'm sure to believe that."

"Go away, and get your hat on," interrupted Marian.

"Come now, Marian," said Violet, as the two girls wandered down the
shady walk under the fruit-trees.  "It's all very well for you to affect
the solemn, and all that kind of thing; but I don't believe in it a bit,
let me tell you.  No--not one bit."

"Oh, don't you?"

"No, I don't.  I believe, for all that quiet way of yours, you are just
as dangerous as they pretend I am.  You're deep; that's what you are.
Now, there's that nice Mr Fanning.  You flirted with him shockingly.
You know you did!"

"I wasn't aware of it," was the calm response.  And then came a pause.
It was finally broken by Marian.

"Poor Renshaw!  He and I were--well, not exactly children together, for
he is about a dozen years my senior, but we have known each other all
our lives.  And, by the way, Violet, I hope you have not been
intentionally adding him to the list of your captives; but I am
tolerably certain he has fallen a victim.  Whether it is your doing, or
pure accident, I don't undertake to guess.  But he is not the sort of
man you ought to make a fool of."

Violet laughed--mockingly, maliciously.

"Why, Marian, you're jealous.  I've struck the right chord at last.
Never mind; it isn't too late now.  I won't stand in your light, I
promise you."

Most women under the circumstances would have fired up--repelled the
insinuation angrily.  But Marian Selwood was not of that sort.

"Poor Renshaw is quite unlucky enough, without having a--well--damaged
heart thrown into the scale," she went on.  "His life is hard enough in
all conscience, and is just now a well-nigh hopeless struggle, I don't
mind telling you in confidence.  I dare say you think there isn't much
in him because he is reserved; but more than once his cool courage has
been the means of saving not one life, but many.  I have heard men say,
not once, not yet twice, that in any undertaking involving peril or
enterprise there is no man they would rather have at their side than
Renshaw Fanning.  And he is the most unselfish of men.  His is a
splendid character, and one not often met with in these days."

"Well done!  Well done, Marian!" cried Violet, mischievously.  "The
secret is out at last.  I know where Mr Fanning's trumpeter lives.
But, joking apart, he is awfully nice, only a trifle too solemn, you
know, like yourself; in fact, you would suit each other admirably.
There now, don't get huffy.  I assure you I quite missed him for ever so
long after he left.  How long is it since he left?"

"Just over five weeks."

"As long as that, is it?  Well, I wish he'd come again; there, is that
an adequate tribute to your Bayard?  But I suppose he won't be able to
come all that distance again--hundreds of miles, isn't it?--for ever so
long--and then I shall be gone--Oh!  Look there!  Look, Marian, look!"
she broke off, her voice rising to a scream, as she pointed,
terror-stricken, to an object rising out of the grass some twenty yards
distant.



CHAPTER FIVE.

A SUSPICIOUS TREK.

Marian, startled by the terrified shriek of her companion, followed the
latter's gaze, and the object that met her own produced a qualm of
repulsion mingled with involuntary alarm.

They had reached a secluded corner of the garden where the sunshine fell
in a network of light through the overshadowing foliage of a group of
tall fig-trees, which cast quite a semi-gloom in contrast to the glare
without.  On one side was a thick pomegranate hedge.  The cause of
Violet's terror became unpleasantly manifest in the shape of a hideous
black head rearing itself up from the ground.  It was followed by the
gliding sinuous body of a huge snake.

Shriek after shriek arose from Violet's lips.

"It's coming straight at us!" she screamed, and mastering an impulse to
faint, she turned and fled from the spot as hard as she could run.

It certainly was coming straight at them, and that with a velocity and
determination abnormal to its kind.  Another peculiarity was that it
came on in a straight, smooth glide, without a writhe, without even a
wrathful hiss.  In fact, the reptile's behaviour, to anybody but a brace
of badly frightened women, was singular to a degree.

"It's only a rinkhaals," cried Marian, bravely standing her ground.
"Lend me your Sunshade, Violet."

But the latter was already a hundred yards off, where, half ashamed of
her panic, half secure in the distance she had covered, she turned to
see what would happen.  Suddenly a sound of suppressed laughter reached
Marian's ears.  It seemed to come from the pomegranate hedge.
Simultaneously the snake came to an abrupt standstill, and lay
motionless.

Any misgivings Marian may have felt vanished on the instant.  She knew
that laugh, and recognising it became alive to something which in her
not unnatural alarm had escaped her before.  The snake was as dead as a
pickled herring, and there was a noose of thin twine round its neck.

"Chris!  How can you?" she cried.  "You have nearly frightened Violet to
death!"

"Have I?" laughed Christopher Selwood, emerging from his hiding-place.
"No, no!  That won't do.  Why, wasn't it Miss Avory who was sticking out
the other day that no snake in this country could scare her?  Ho, ho,
ho!"

The speaker was a well-built, good-looking man of middle age, with a
heavy brown beard, just beginning to show a streak of grey here and
there, and keen, fun-loving eyes.  His face was tanned and burnt,
likewise his hands, which latter were rough and horny through much hard
manual labour.  He was dressed in cord trousers and a flannel shirt, and
carried his jacket under his arm.

"Ho, ho, ho!" he roared again! picking up the dead snake by its late
motive power--the twine to wit.  "Where's the young lady who isn't
afraid of snakes?"

"Really, Chris, what a great schoolboy you are!" said his sister.  "If I
were Violet, I should never forgive you.  You had no business to
frighten her like that!"

"No, you hadn't," said Violet, who now came up.  "But I'll forgive you,
Mr Selwood, because--I'll be even with you yet."

"Hallo!  That's a rum sort of forgiveness.  Well, Miss Avory, I won't
grumble; you shall work your wicked will, how, when, and where you
please."

"Ugh!  What a hideous thing!" said Violet, contemplating the dead
reptile with a shudder, "But--joking apart--they can't be very
plentiful, can they?  Ever since I've been here I've only seen one, and
it was dead."

"There's a proverb here, Miss Avory," said Selwood, with a twinkle in
his eye, "that if you come across one snake, you are dead certain to run
against at least two more in the course of the day.  So be careful."

"Nonsense, Violet.  Don't believe a word of it," said Marian.  "Chris,
you ought to be ashamed of yourself.  Where did you get that rinkhaals
from?"

"This end wall of the land.  He was coiled up, basking in the sun.  Saw
him before he saw me--slunk round t'other side of the wall, and dropped
a stone bang on the top of him.  Like to have the skin to hang up in
your bedroom, Miss Avory?"

"Ugh!  No, I wouldn't.  But wait a bit, Mr Selwood.  You'll live to
wish you hadn't played me this trick yet," retorted Violet,
mischievously.

Selwood laughed again.

"Hallo!  What's all this?" he exclaimed, as the lowing of cattle,
mingled with the bleating of sheep and goats, together with a
considerable cloud of pungent dust, announced the arrival of a trek of
some sort.

They had reached the garden-gate and emerged close to the group of huts
forming the quarters of the native farm servants.  Before and around
these were about twenty head of cattle, old and young, and quite a
considerable number of sheep and goats, upon all of which Selwood's
experienced eye fell with no approving gaze.

Two Kafirs, arrayed in red blankets and tattered trousers, stepped
forward.

"_'Ndaag, Baas_--_'ndaag, missis_!"  [Abbreviation of "Good day"] began
one of the two, a tall, unprepossessing looking fellow, with one eye and
pock-marked countenance; and speaking in Boer Dutch, he asked leave to
rest his stock for a few hours.

Selwood ran his eye down the greasy, red-clay-smeared document (Kafirs
travelling within the Cape Colony are compelled by law to provide
themselves with passes), which set forth that Muntiwa and Booi--Hlambi
Kafirs--were authorised to remove so many head of cattle and so many
sheep and goats to Siwani's location in Kaffraria, travelling by such
and such a road.  It went on to enumerate particulars of the stock, the
various earmarks, and sundry other details, and seemed perfectly in
order.  A glance or two having sufficed to effect a comparison between
the said particulars and the animals themselves, Selwood replied--

"I can't let you stop here, Muntiwa.  Your sheep are the most infernally
scabby lot I ever saw in my life, and I don't half like the look of your
cattle.  See there," he went on, pointing to a particularly
dejected-looking cow, whose miserable aspect and filmy eye denoted
anything but rude health; "that looks uncommonly like a case of
red-water.  So you must trek on.  I can't have my stock infected."

"_Whau!  Siya qoka_!"  ["Ah, you lie!"] cried the Kafir, savagely,
advancing within a couple of yards of Selwood, his kerries shaking in
his grasp with his suppressed rage.  "There is nothing the matter with
the cattle, and you know it.  We shall rest here whether you like it or
not."

Things began to look pretty serious.  Christopher Selwood was as good a
man as most men of his age and training.  But the Kafir, too, was of
powerful build, and was evidently a turbulent, quarrelsome fellow; and
an ugly customer all round.  Moreover, he had a mate, rendering the odds
two to one.  Then Selwood was handicapped by the two girls, but for
whose presence he would instantly have knocked the insolent native down.
Yet for all these disadvantages he was not the sort of man to stand any
nonsense; least of all from a native.

"Go indoors.  I'll be with you in a minute," he said to the girls, by
way of clearing the decks for action.

Violet, looking alarmed, made a step to obey.  But Marian did not stir,
and there was a dangerous gleam in her blue eyes.  It was possible that
in the event of a collision the Kafirs might not have found the odds so
overwhelmingly in their favour as they expected.

"Look here," he went on: "if there's any more _indaba_ you'll find
yourself in the _tronk_ to-night at Fort Lamport.  Do you imagine for a
moment I'm going to be bossed by a couple of Kafirs, and on my own
place, too?  You must be mad!  Now, trek at once!"

The spokesman of the two, stung by the other's calmness, came closer,
shaking his kerries unpleasantly near Selwood's nose.  But the latter
never moved.

The other native said something in a low, quick, warning tone.  It was
effective.  Both Kafirs turned, and, walking away, began collecting
their stock, aided by their women and children, who, laden with mats and
cooking-pots, and other household gear, had, up till now, been squatting
in the background.

"Hey, _umlungu_!"  [White man] cried the one-eyed savage, turning to
fire a parting shot, "we shall meet one of these days.  Take care of
yourself!" he added, with significant irony.

"Ha! ha!  So we shall, my friend.  But it will be in the magistrate's
court.  Bad hats both of them," he added, turning to the girls.  "Queer
that they should own all that stock.  But the pass was all right.  Yet
there are such things as forged passes.  By Jove!  I've a good mind to
send over and warn the Mounted Police.  Not worth the trouble, though.
I'll just ride down after dinner and make sure that they are clear off
the place.  Impudent dog, that wall-eyed chap.  If you two hadn't been
there I'd have given him the best hammering he ever had in his life, or
he'd have given me one."

With which remark the speaker characteristically dismissed the affair
from his mind altogether.

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

"I've had a letter from Renshaw," said Mrs Selwood, as they sat down to
dinner.

"A letter!" cried Violet, suddenly interested.  "Why, it isn't post-day!
How did you get it?"

"Theunis Bezuidenhout brought it out from Fort Lamport.  He says the
drought up there is something fearful--"

"Who?  Theunis Bezuidenhout?" struck in Christopher.

"--Something fearful," went on his wife, clean ignoring this flippant
remark.  "There isn't a blade of grass left on the place, and hardly a
drop of water.  All the sheep and goats have died except about five
hundred."

"Poor chap!" said Selwood.  "What an unlucky dog he is!  He'd better
have cleared out of that dried-up Bushmanland place long ago, even if he
had to give it away for a song.  Well, he'll have to now, anyhow.  Write
and ask him to come down here when he does, Hilda.  He might hit on
something about here to suit him."

"Oh yes, mamma--do!" exclaimed Effie, aged twelve, with whom Renshaw was
a prime favourite.

"But that isn't all," continued Mrs Selwood.  "The poor fellow has been
ill--fearfully ill--believes he would have died, but for a stranger who
turned up quite unexpectedly, but just in the nick of time, and nursed
him through it.  It was a return of his old fever."

"By Jove!" said Christopher, "that up-country fever is the very mischief
once you get it on you.  But, Hilda, write and tell him to come down
here sharp--whether he leaves his few goats or not.  They're bound to
die anyhow.  This air will set him up on his legs again in no time--and
meanwhile he can be looking around.  Tell him to bring his friend too.
By the way, what's the other man's name?"

"He doesn't say--only that he's a man from England.  I'll write this
very evening," she answered.

Violet Avory's prettily expressed concern was but the foreground to an
instinctive inward conjecture as to what the stranger would be like.
Poor Renshaw's illness was not an event to move her much, and poor
Renshaw himself faded into background beside the possibilities opening
out before her in the advent of a stranger--a stranger from England too.
Truth to tell, she was becoming a trifle bored.  The incense of male
adoration, as essential to her as the very breath of life, had not
floated much in her direction of late; for the Umtirara range, though
scenically and climatically a comparative Eden, was yet to all purposes,
as far as she was concerned, an Adamless one.  A stranger--lately from
England!  There was something delightfully exciting in the
potentialities here opening out.

"Tell him he must come, Hilda!" said Marian, with, for her, a strange
eagerness.  "Poor--poor Renshaw!  He'll never shake off that horrible
fever up there in such an awful drought-stricken desert.  Tell him he
must come, and come at once!"

And yet of these two it was for her who was moved to excitement over the
possible arrival of a stranger, that the absent man would have given his
very life--blindly, as with regard to the treasure for which he had been
so blindly and so often seeking--hitherto in vain.



CHAPTER SIX.

RELAPSE.

The sun was at least four hours high when the stranger awoke.

His night of watching coming upon the exhaustion and fatigue of his long
and arduous journey of the previous day had gradually overpowered him,
and towards dawn he had sunk into a series of dozes, troubled and
uneasy; for the events of the night kept chasing each other in wild
medley through his slumbers, assuming every form of weird and
exaggerated monstrosity, till at last he had subsided into a heavy,
dreamless sleep.

Now, however, he awoke with a start.  The sick man's eyes were wide
open, and were fixed upon him with an inquiring and puzzled expression.
He felt horribly guilty beneath their searching gaze--horribly mean--in
fact, he felt himself to be something next door to a thief.

Facts can assume a very cold and impartial aspect when they confront us
at our waking hour.  Maurice Sellon felt strongly akin to a thief.

He had stolen his host's secret--nay, more--he had robbed him of actual
property.  And it was beyond his power to make restitution, for he
himself had been arbitrarily deprived of such power; and at the
recollection of that ghostly, mysterious claw snatching the document
from him in the dead midnight, he shuddered inwardly.  The whole
business smacked of witchcraft, and something abominably uncanny.  He
could not account for it, any more than he could account for the fact
that he, Maurice Sellon, had crept on tiptoe to the bedside of the man
who lay at his mercy--ill and helpless--and had there and then robbed
him like a common thief.

All this time the two had been staring at each other, one from his
sick-bed, the other from his armchair.  Sellon was the first to break
the silence.

"Well, old chap, how do you feel now?" he said, striving to throw into
his tone a bluff heartiness he was far from feeling.  "Had a bad night
of it, I'm afraid?"

"Yes, I have rather," said Renshaw, slowly.  "But--when did you come?
Have they looked after your horse?"  And with the instinctive
hospitality characteristic of his class, he made a move as though to
rise and personally look to the supplying of the stranger's wants.

"Don't move.  Don't think of moving, I beg!" cried the latter, putting
out his hand as if to arrest the attempt.  "The fact is, I arrived last
evening, and found you--er--well, not quite the thing; so I just thought
I'd sit here in case you might want anything during the night."

"How very good of you!  I must have had a touch of my old enemy--
up-country fever.  I picked it up years ago in the Lembombo Mountains,
through staying on there too late at the end of a winter hunting trip,
and the worse of that sort of infernal business is that you are always
liable to a return of it.  Yes, I remember now.  I did feel most
uncommonly queer yesterday.  And then you arrived and took care of me?
It is more than probable you have saved my life, for I need hardly tell
you that to be taken ill in a place like this is apt to turn out no
joke."

"Well, you were in a baddish way, certainly," interrupted the other,
rather hurriedly.  "And now, look here.  I'm not much of a doctor, but I
seem to have a pretty strong notion that when a fellow's feverish the
best thing he can do is to keep as quiet as possible.  Which, done into
plain English, means that you've talked quite enough, and you'd better
turn over and try to go to sleep again."

"I believe you're right," said Renshaw, for he was beginning to feel bad
again.  "But first of all oblige me by going to the door and shouting
`Dirk!'"

Sellon complied, and, in obedience to the call, the old goatherd came
trotting up.  A grin of satisfaction puckered up his parchment visage as
he saw his master so much better and able to talk rationally again.

"Dirk," said the latter, when the Koranna's cheery congratulations were
exhausted, "you keep the goats near, round the house to-day, so as to be
within call--it wouldn't make much difference if they stayed in the
kraal for all the poor brutes find to eat in the veldt--however, I
suppose they find something.  What have you done with the stranger Baas'
horse?"

"He's in the stable, Baas."

"All right.  See that he's well fed--luckily we have plenty of mealies.
And there are a few bundles of oat-hay left.  Let him have them, Dirk."

"Ja, Baas.  That shall be done."

"And tell Kaatje to see that the stranger Baas has everything he wants--
as far as the resources of the establishment will permit," added Renshaw
in English, turning to his guest with a rueful smile.  "I've been
telling old Dirk to see that you have everything you want, so be sure
you keep him up to the mark, and see that you get it.  He can grind out
a few words of English, and his wife a few more, so you'll be able to
make them understand.  And now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll lie
quiet a little, for I'm feeling most confoundedly played out."

"My dear fellow--certainly, certainly.  I think you've been talking far
too much already," answered Sellon, effusively.  "It's awfully good of
you to think about me, but don't bother yourself on my account."

His unfamiliarity with the Boer dialect--the habitual medium of speech
between Cape colonists and natives--had left him necessarily ignorant of
his host's solicitude on his behalf, as conveyed in the foregoing
instructions.  Renshaw Fanning, lying there miserably ill, had no
thought--uttered no word--on behalf of his own interests during those
directions to his servant.  All his anxiety was for the comfort and
well-being of the stranger within his gates.  It was only a part of that
unselfishness which was characteristic of the man--which had become, in
fact, second nature.

Presently he turned again to Sellon.

"I beg a thousand pardons," he said.  "How very thoughtless of me, but
it never seems to have occurred to me all this time that you may have
business of your own to attend to.  If that is the case, even at the
risk of appearing inhospitable, I beg you will not delay your journey
here on my account.  I shall be on my legs again in a day or two--one
thing about this complaint, its attacks though sharp are frequently
short--and apart from necessity it must be very tedious for you to feel
yourself tied down in a rough and comfortless place such as this."

"My dear fellow, don't you bother yourself about me," replied the other,
decisively.  "I'm going to see you through it before I move on.  When a
fellow's ill in an out-of-the-way hole like this he wants a `man and a
brother' about him; and I'm going to stick to you like a leech until
you're yourself again.  So don't jaw any more, there's a good chap, but
just snooze off right away."

In announcing this resolution the speaker was fully alive to what he had
undertaken.  It was the outcome of no mere passing impulse of
generosity.  And really, to make up one's mind deliberately to dwell for
an indefinite period in a very rough and uncomfortable tenement, in the
midst of a burnt-up starving wilderness, destitute not only of the
ordinary comforts of life, but almost of anything fit to eat or drink--
this, too, alone with a perfect stranger in for a possibly long bout of
severe fever--is something of an act of self-sacrifice, which we hope,
virtuous reader, you will remember to set off against the man's other
failings and derelictions.

If circumstances had rendered Maurice Sellon a bit of a scamp--if a
further combination of the same might conceivably render him a still
greater one--yet he was, according to the definition of those who knew
him, "not half a bad fellow in the main."  His resolution to see his
newly found acquaintance through what would certainly prove a tedious if
not a dangerous illness, was purely a generous one, dashed by no selfish
motive.  A subsequent idea, which flashed upon him like an inspiration,
that even if the precious document relating to the mysterious treasure
were lost beyond recovery, his newly made friend was almost sure to know
its contents by heart, and might be brought to share the knowledge with
him, was entirely an afterthought, and this we desire to emphasise.  To
slightly tamper with the proverb, "_Want_ of money is the root of all
evil," and Maurice Sellon, in common with many worthier persons, stood
sorely and habitually in need of that essential article.

But scamp or no scamp, his presence there was a very fortunate thing for
his fever-stricken host.  By nightfall poor Renshaw had a relapse; and
for three days he lay, alternatively shivering and burning--
intermittently raving withal in all the horrors of acute delirium.  Then
the presence of a strong, cheery, resourceful fellow-countryman was
almost as that of a very angel of succour; and even then nothing but a
fine constitution, hardened by a life of activity and abstemiousness,
availed to snatch the patient from the jaws of Death himself.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

"OUR OBJECT IS THE SAME."

"Do you know, Fanning, you gave me the very warmest reception hero I
ever met with in my life?" said Sellon, one day, when his patient was
fairly convalescent and able to talk freely.

Renshaw looked puzzled.

"It's very good of you to say so," he answered.  "You know by this time
what the resources of the place are--or, rather, are not.  Still, you
were warmly welcome, and--I can never thank you enough, Sellon, for the
unselfish way in which you have stayed here doing the good Samaritan for
a perfect stranger, I owe my life to you."

The other burst into a shout of laughter.

"That's not what I meant, old chap.  Stop.  I'll explain.  But, first of
all, where are your guns?"

Surprised at the question, Renshaw opened the Chest where the firearms
were usually kept.  It was empty.

"Now, look behind that big box under the sofa," said the other, with a
laugh.

This was done, and lo! there were the missing weapons, carefully rolled
in sacking.  Choking with laughter over the recollection, Sellon
proceeded to narrate the circumstances under which he had been made a
target of, as we have seen.

"And I'll tell you what it is, old man," he concluded; "if you can make
such good shooting at five hundred yards when you're off your chump,
it's sorry I'd be to do target for you at six hundred when you're not."

Renshaw whistled, and shook his head.

"I must have been bad," he said.  "Well, you saw how bad I was.  But, I
say, Sellon, did I--er--talk much--talk bosh, you know?  Fellows often
do when they're that way."

"Well, the fact is, you did, rather, You seemed to wander a good deal--
talked a lot about `stones,' and a certain `Valley of the Eye,' which
was going to make all out fortunes."

Renshaw started.

"Did I?" he said, passing his hand over his eyes, as if to clear his
recollection.  Then he was silent for a while, and seemed to be thinking
deeply.  The other, though affecting the greatest unconcern, watched him
narrowly.

"Look here, Sellon," he went on, "it isn't in the least odd that I
should have talked about that.  I firmly believe in the existence of the
place, though I've made no less than four careful attempts at finding
it.  It's not so very far from here, I believe, and sooner or later I
shall hit upon it."

"Well, and what then?"

"What then?" repeated Renshaw, slowly.  "Only that we are something near
millionaires."

But for the fact that his own eyes had rested on the clue to the
mystery, Sellon would have suspected that his friend's mind was
wandering still, that from long dwelling upon this one idea it was
following a chimera with all the blind faith which accompanies a
self-wrought delusion.  Now, however, as he listened, there was an
intensity of eagerness in his face, which, try as he would, he could
hardly suppress.

"_We_?" he said.  "Do you want me to help you to hunt for this Golconda,
then, old chap?"

"I do.  You have saved my life, Sellon, and you may possibly find that
it was the best day's work you ever did in yours.  You shall share the
knowledge that will make rich men of us.  We will search for the
`Valley' together."

"I'm your man, Fanning.  That sort of thing will suit me down to the
ground.  Now, look sharp and get strong on your pins again, and we'll
start."

The other smiled.

"What a mercurial fellow you are, Sellon!  No; that isn't how to go to
work.  How, I ask you, are we going to set out expedition on foot, now?
Look at that, for instance,"--pointing through the open door to the bare
veldt.  Shimmering in the fiery forenoon, "And it's worse country over
there than here.  We must wait until the drought breaks up."

"Must we?  And, meanwhile, somebody else may hit upon the place."

"Make your mind easy on that point.  But for the clue I possess, it
would never be found--never.  Didn't I tell you I had searched for it
four times, and even with the key hadn't managed to find it, and I've
spent my life on the veldt, knocking about the Country on and off?  But
this time I believe I shall find it."

"Do you?  Now, why?"

"Look around.  Whether the drought lasts or not, I'm practically a
ruined man.  Now it is time my luck turned.  This will be, I repeat, the
fifth search, and five is a lucky number.  Like many fellows who have
led a wandering and solitary life, I am a trifle superstitious in some
things.  This time we shall be successful."

"Well, you seem to take the thing mighty coolly," said Sellon, refilling
his pipe.  "I should be for starting at once.  But what do you propose
doing meanwhile?"

"Take my word for it, it's a mistake to rush a thing of this sort,"
answered Renshaw.  "It'll bear any amount of thinking out--the more the
better."

"Well, but you seem to have given it its full share of the last, anyhow.
There's one thing, though, that you haven't mentioned all this time.
If it is a fair question, how the deuce did you come to know of the
existence of the place?"

"From the only man who has ever seen it.  The only white man, that is."

"Oh!  But--he may have been lying."

"A man doesn't tell lies on his death-bed," replied Renshaw.  "My
informant turned up here one night in a bad way.  He was mortally
wounded by a couple of Bushman arrows, which, I suppose you know, are
steeped in the most deadly and virulent poison.  The mystery is how he
had managed to travel so far with it in his system, and the only
explanation I can find is that the poison was stale, and therefore less
operative.  He died barely an hour after he got here, but not before he
had left me the secret, with all necessary particulars.  He had
discovered it by chance, and had made three expeditions to the place,
but had been obliged to give it up.  There was a clan of Bushmen living
in the krantzes there who seemed to watch the place as though it
contained something sacred.  They attacked him each time, the third with
fatal effect, as I told you."

"By Jove!" cried Sellon, ruefully, his treasure-seeking ardour
considerably damped by the probability of having to run the gauntlet of
a flight of poisoned arrows.  "And did they ever attack you?"

"Once only--the attempt before last I made," replied the other,
tranquilly.  "That made me think I was nearer hitting upon it than I had
ever been."

"By Jove!" cried Sellon again.  "That's just about enough to choke one
off the whole thing.  A fellow doesn't mind a fair and square fight,
even against long odds.  But when it comes to poisoned arrows, certain
death coming at you in the shape of a dirty little bit of stick, that
otherwise couldn't hurt a cat--faugh!  I suppose these little devils
sneak up behind, and let you have it before you so much as know they're
there?"

"Generally; yes.  Well, you know, every prize worth winning involves a
proportionate amount of risk.  And there may be some about this
business, it's only fair to warn you, though, on the other hand, there
may not."

"All serene, old chap.  I'll chance it."

"Right," said Renshaw.  "Now, my plan is this.  It's of no use sticking
on here.  I can do no good at present, or I'm afraid for some time to
come.  I propose that we go and look up some friends of mine who live
down Kafirland way.  They've a lovely place in the Umtirara Mountains--a
perfect paradise after this inferno.  We'll go and have a good time--
it'll set me on my legs again, and enable you to see an entirely
different part of the country.  Afterwards, we'll come back here, and
start on our search."

"That's not half a bad plan of yours, Fanning.  But, see here! old chap.
These friends of yours don't know me.  Isn't it slightly calm my
rolling in upon them unasked?"

"Pooh! not at all.  Chris Selwood's the best fellow in the world--
except, perhaps, his wife, I was going to say.  We were boys together.
If we were brothers, I couldn't be more at home anywhere than at his
place--and any friend of mine will be as welcome as a heavy rain would
have been here a month ago."

"That's a good note, anyhow.  But--to come back for a minute to the
`Valley of the Eye'--what are we going to find when we get there?  You
didn't happen to mention just now."

"There are only two things to be picked up in this country--and plenty
of both, if only one knew exactly where to look for them--gold and
`stones.'  And we shan't find gold."

"Diamonds!  By Jove!  Millionaires indeed--if we only find enough of
them.  Well, I don't mind telling you, Fanning, that I stand uncommonly
in need of something realisable--and plenty of it.  At present there
exists a powerful reason for that necessity.  And, I say, Fanning, I
believe the same thing holds good as regards yourself."

"Do you?"

"Yes, when fellows get a bit off their chump, they are apt to talk.  Eh,
you dog?  Own up, now.  Who is she?"

"And that's your reason for wanting to make a pile, is it, Sellon?" said
Renshaw, tranquilly.

"I didn't say so," laughed the other.  "Perhaps our object is the same,
for all that."

"Perhaps it is," was the good-humoured reply; "as you are bent on
thinking so."



CHAPTER EIGHT.

QUITS.

The days went by, and Renshaw steadily gained in health and strength.
He was now able to walk about at will, to take short rides in the early
morning, and towards sundown, carefully avoiding the heat of the day,
and to begin looking after his stock again.  Not that the state of the
latter afforded him much encouragement, poor fellow, for each day
witnessed an alarming decrease in the few hundred starving animals the
drought had left him.  Meanwhile, the burning, brassy heavens were
without a cloud, save an occasional one springing suddenly from the
horizon, as though to mock at the terrible anxiety of the dwellers in
this desert waste, and as suddenly melting away, together with many an
eager, unspoken hope for the longed-for rain.  Not a breath of air, save
now and again one of those strange whirlwinds which, heaving up bits of
dried stick and dust from the baked and gasping earth, and spinning them
round in its gyrating course, moves in a waterspoutlike column along the
plain, to vanish into empty air as suddenly as it arose--sure sign of
drought, or the continuance of the same, say the stock-growers, out of
the plenitude of their experience.  The veldt was studded with the
shrivelled, rotting carcases of dead animals, scattered about here and
there in little clumps of tens and twenties, to the advantage of clouds
of great white vultures wheeling aloft ere settling down upon the
plentiful repast.  Even the very lizards peering forth from the cracks
and crannies of the walls, or basking on the clay summit of old Kaatje's
outdoor oven, seemed gasping for air, for moisture.

All this Renshaw contemplated with the recklessness of a player who has
staked his last napoleon.  Every day increased the unrest that was upon
him, the feverish longing to get away.  It was not the mere run-down
feeling of one who desires a change, or the eagerness of a sensitive
mind to see the last of a detested locality.  There was more than this
underlying it, and Maurice Sellon, watching him narrowly, though
unobtrusively, noted the circumstance, shrewdly guessing, moreover, that
anxiety on behalf of the mysterious Golconda was not the prevailing
motive this time.  But, whatever it was, Renshaw, habitually reserved,
was closer than death itself.

Sellon, for his part, was as anxious to get away as his host.  He was
thoroughly sick of his present quarters, and of the daily occupation of
seeing a few more wretched Angoras pay the debt of Nature--of staring at
the glassy, shimmering horizon, and wondering when it was going to rain.
Thoroughly sick, too, of swarming flies and of rough food none too
appetisingly displayed--of a sofa-bed, and falling asleep to the
accompaniment of the ticking rustle of the tarantulas hunting their prey
in the thatch overhead, and occasionally running over his ear in the
night.  It was all very well for Fanning.  He was used to that sort of
thing--Sellon was not; therefore small wonder that he should begin to
get sick of it.  There wasn't even anything to shoot on the place, for
the springbok had trekked in quest of more favoured regions.

Sellon, however, was blessed with a mercurial temperament, as his host
had remarked, and the same now stood him in good stead, for, though
bored to death, he did not wax quarrelsome--the usual development of
that unenviable condition.  But there was one matter which, haunting his
mind day and night, bade fair even to drive him into that.

He was racked by an hourly dread lest his friend should discover the
loss of the missing paper.  Maurice Sellon was constitutionally as far
from being a coward as the average Englishman, well endowed with thews,
habitually is.  But the consciousness that he had been guilty of a mean
and dishonest action tended to demoralise his easy self-reliance.  A man
like Renshaw, the possessor of a secret of fabulous value, the clue to
which he had cherished for years, and patiently; and at the cost of
untold hardship and possible peril, had repeatedly attempted to solve,
would, he reasoned, prove a desperate man when he should come to realise
that his hopes were for ever shattered--a dangerous one, should he ever
arrive at the conviction that he had been deliberately robbed.  The idea
of persuading him that he had himself insisted on destroying it during
his delirium seemed the only way out of the difficulty; but that
expedient now struck Sellon as a particularly thin one.  Such a state of
mental nervousness had he reached, that he felt sure the other would at
once detect it as a lie.  True, he had probably saved Fanning's life, as
the latter had himself declared.  But at the moment of his terrible
discovery that consideration was not likely to count for much.

They were alone here together.  Not a living soul had they seen during
all these weeks, except the family of Korannas, who officiated as
servants--both field and domestic--to the establishment.  They were
alone together--cut off from the outside world as thoroughly as though
shut up on a desert island.  What deadly, terrible penalty might not
Fanning exact from the man who had so deeply injured him?  He was no
longer weak and tottering with illness; he had, in fact, nearly
recovered his normal vigour.  The more Sellon looked at the situation
the less he liked it.

What a fool he had been to meddle with the thing!  He would have given
worlds to be able to replace it.  But it was gone irrevocably.

At one time his suspicions had rested on the Koranna servants.  But the
narrow watch he had kept upon them, as also the immediate and careful
search he had made around the house at the time of the occurrence, had
forced him to abandon this idea.  Dismissing the Satanic theory at first
formed, he had hit upon another--to a dweller in Southern Africa, almost
as wild and chimerical; but then it must be remembered that Sellon was
not a dweller in that country--only a "raw Englishman," in fact, as the
Boers define a recent importation.  That black claw which had reft the
paper from his hand in the dead midnight must have belonged to some huge
baboon, who, attracted by the light, had approached the open window, and
having accomplished his mischievous and monkey-like manoeuvre, had
decamped forthwith to his native wilds.  Anyhow, the precious clue had
disappeared, and in all human probability would never again be lighted
on by mortal eye.

Mingled with his apprehensions on the above counts, however, were the
misgivings of cupidity, and there were times when he suspected Renshaw
of regretting his offer.  The latter, since first mentioning the subject
of the treasure, had hardly reverted to it, and this reticence struck
him (Sellon) in an unfavourable light, and the reason assigned for it as
a mere excuse.

"Take my word for it," Renshaw had said, one day, "we had better leave
the subject entirely for a little longer--till we get down country, say.
You see, the long and short is, it's an exciting one to me, and my head
is by no means clear yet.  It'll be better to put it off, and there's
plenty of time."

And this answer, judging the speaker by himself, and, indeed, it is fair
to say, by his knowledge of the world, struck Sellon as eminently
unsatisfactory.  At the risk of a rebuff, a rupture even, he had more
than once adroitly tried to "draw" his host, but with so little success
as to leave him ignorant as to whether the latter was sufficiently
familiar with its contents as to render him independent of the document
itself.

Outwardly, the intercourse between the two men was pleasant and friendly
enough, and though they had little to do but smoke Boer tobacco and
wonder whether it would ever rain again, they had not yet exhausted
their subjects of conversation, Sellon was a lively talker, and full of
shrewd worldly wisdom, and the other's natural reserve admirably fitted
him for the part of a good listener.  Or, on the other hand, more than
one strange wild incident, evolved out of the reticent, lonely man's own
experiences, was of vivid interest to the globe-trotting _viveur_.

Then it was that the latter came to impart snatches of his own history.
He had migrated to South Africa as a pure speculation, and ready for any
adventure that might come to hand--mining, treasure-seeking, a trip up
country, anything that promised possible profit.  He had half arranged
an up-country trip, and it was while journeying to a distant township to
interview the other partner in the scheme that he had lost himself, and
accident had landed him so opportunely at Renshaw Fanning's door.

One night they had been thus chatting, and retired to bed, having
decided to make a start, at all risks, the day after the morrow.  The
heat was something fearful.  A dead, sultry, boding stillness reigned
over everything, productive of that strange nervous depression which is
wont to afflict mankind prior to an approaching convulsion of Nature.
Every door and window of the house stood open, as if to keep up the
fiction that there was any air to come in.

"I believe there's going to be an earthquake, at least," said Sellon, as
he turned in.

"Or a big thunderstorm, only--no such luck!" answered Renshaw.

It was not the night to bear the weight of a blanket, or even of a
sheet, had the latter luxury been among the resources of the
establishment.  Sellon, after tossing uneasily for an hour, dropped off
into a heavy sleep, and dreamed.

He was alone in a deep, craggy gorge.  Beetling rocks reared high above
his head, just discernible in the gloom, for it was night.  It was the
"Valley of the Eye."

Yes; and there was the "Eye" itself--gleaming out of the darkness,
seeming to transfix him with the cold stare of a basilisk.  Somehow he
felt no exaltation on having gained the place--no triumph over treasure
trove.  Instead of putting forth his efforts to reach the shining stone,
his chief desire was to flee from the spot.  But he could not--he was
rooted to the ground, shivering, trembling, with a chill shrinking of
mortal dread.  Nearer, nearer, drew that gleaming Eye, and, lo! beside
it flashed forth another.  There were two--a pair of eyes.  Then before
them came shadowy hands holding a bow.  It was drawn.  It was pointed
full at him.  Still he could not move.  The poisoned arrows.  Oh,
Heaven!

The string twanged.  With a shrill hiss the arrow sped--the poisoned
arrow.  A loud hiss, a deafening hiss, and, lo! the gloom of the valley
was lighted up with a blinding glare, and--

"Close shave that, old chap!" said a voice.

The spell was broken--broken by that well-known voice.  Starting up in
his bed, bathed in the sweat of deadly horror, Sellon beheld a strange
sight.

The room _was_ lighted up with a blinding glare.  In the middle of it
stood Renshaw Fanning, holding up a huge snake by the tail.  The reptile
was quite dead, its head shattered by the hard oaken table, but its
hideous length was still undulating with a convulsive writhe.  The glare
was the result of a continuous succession of vivid lightning flashes.
Just then a mighty rolling peal of thunder shook the house, making the
doors and windows rattle like castanets.  Then followed pitch darkness.

"Strike a light, if you have any handy, but don't come too near me in
the dark," said Renshaw.  "This joker's fangs may still be of some
account, albeit he's stone dead."

As though still dreaming, Sellon obeyed.

"What the very deuce is the meaning of it all?" he said, as by the light
of the candle he sat surveying the situation.

"Only this--that you were as near passing on your checks as you ever
will be," was the reply, "And you may thank this thunderstorm for it
that you didn't.  The thunder awoke me at once, though it didn't you,
and of course I went outside to look at the weather.  Then, by the glare
of a flash of lightning, I spotted this brute.  He was lying bang across
both your legs, with his head against the wall.  The flash lasted just
long enough for me to lay hold of his tail, and I knew the geography of
the room well enough to whirl him up and bring his head down upon the
hardest part of the table."

Sellon stared at the speaker, then at the hideous, writhing body of the
reptile, without a word.  He seemed stupefied.

"Scott!" he burst forth at last.  "Well, we are quits now, at any rate.
But that's something like a nightmare."

This, then, was the interpretation of his bloodcurdling dream.  The
terrible eyes, the frightful riveting spell, the shrill hiss, the
poisoned arrow.  He felt clean knocked out of time.

"Green cobra--and a big un at that," said Renshaw, throwing the carcase
through the open house-door.  "See how it was?  The beggar knew a big
rain was coming, and sneaked in here for shelter.  It's never altogether
safe to sleep with open doors.  And now, unless you can sleep through a
shower-bath, it's not much use turning in again.  This old thatch will
leak like a sieve after all these months of dry weather.  Better have a
`nip' to steady your nerves."

The storm broke in all its fury; every steel-blue dazzling flash, in
unintermittent sequence, lit up the darkness with more than the
brightness of noonday, while the thunderclaps followed in that series of
staccato crashes so appalling in their deafening suddenness to one
belated in the open during these storms on the High Veldt.  Then came a
lull, followed by the onrushing roar of the welcome rain.  In less than
five minutes the dry and shrunken thatch was leaking like a shower-bath,
even as its owner had predicted, and having covered up everything worth
so protecting, the two men lit their pipes and sat down philosophically
to wait for the morning.

It came.  But although the storm had long since passed on the rain
continued.  No mere thunder-shower this, but a steady, drenching
downpour from a lowering and unbroken sky; a downpour to wet a man to
the skin in five minutes.  The drought had at length broken up.

Too late, however.  The rain, as is frequently the case under the
circumstances, turned out a cold rain.  Throughout that day all hands
worked manfully to save the lives of the remnant of the stock--for the
Angora is a frail sort of beast under adverse conditions--and as it grew
bitterly cold, packing the creatures into stables, outhouses, even the
Koranna huts, for warmth.  In vain!  The wretched animals, enfeebled by
the long, terrible drought, succumbed like flies to the sudden and
inclement change.  Save for about two score of the hardiest among the
flock, by nightfall of the following day Renshaw Fanning was left
without a hoof upon the farm.



CHAPTER NINE.

TWO "SELLS."

"Heard anything of Renshaw?" said Christopher Selwood, coming in hot and
tired from his work, for a cup of tea late in the afternoon.

"Not a word," answered his wife, looking up from the last of a batch of
letters that had just come in with the weekly post.  "Why--you don't
think--?" she began, alarmed at the grave look which had come over her
husband's face.

"Well, I don't know," he replied.  "I hope there's nothing seriously
wrong.  How long is it since you wrote?"

"More than a fortnight now."

"Ah, well.  I dare say it's all right.  Now I think of it, they've had
big rains up that end of the country.  Big rains mean big floods, and
big floods mean all the drifts impassable.  The post carts may have been
delayed for days."

"You think that's it?" she said anxiously.

"Why, yes.  At first, I own, I felt a bit of a scare.  You see, the poor
chap was desperately ill when he wrote--though, to be sure, he must have
got over the worst even then--and I've been feeling a little anxious
about him of late.  Well, he'll come when he can, and bring his friend
with him, I hope.  It'll liven the girls up, too.  Miss Avory must be
getting properly tired of having no one to flirt with."

The soft afternoon air floated in through the open windows in balmy
puffs, bringing with it a scent of flowers, of delicate jessamine twined
round the pillars of the _stoep_, of rich roses now bursting into full
bloom.  A long-waisted hornet rocketed to and fro just beneath the
ceiling, knocking his apparently idiotic head against the same, and the
twittering of finks darting in and out of their pendulous nests above
the dam in all their habitual fussiness, mingled with the melodious
whistle of spreuws holding contraband revel among the fast-ripening figs
in the garden.

For a few minutes Mrs Selwood plied her sewing-machine in silence,
then--

"Talking of Violet, Chris, did it never occur to you that she had flung
her net over poor Renshaw?"

"Flung her net--Renshaw!  No, by Jove, it never did!  Why, he's the most
sober-going old chap in the world.  Confound it, he must be past that
sort of thing--if he ever went in for it.  Why, he's only two or three
years my junior."

"And what if he is?" was the reply of calm superiority.  "He needn't be
Methuselah for all that.  And then remember the hard, struggling,
solitary life his has been.  He's just the man to fall over head and
ears in love at middle age."

"Pho!  Not he!  What matchmakers women are.  Bryant and May are nothing
to them.  But, I say, Hilda, supposing it is as you say, why shouldn't
he go in and win, eh?"

"Do you think Violet is the sort of girl to go and end her days in a
wattle-and-daub shanty away in the wilds of Bushmanland?  Come now.  Do
you think for a moment she's that sort?"

"N-o.  Perhaps not.  But there's no reason why she should.  Renshaw
might find some farm to suit him somewhere else--down here, for
instance.  I don't see why it shouldn't be done.  He's a fellow who
thoroughly understands things, and would get along first-rate at
whatever he turned to.  If he's come into low water up there it's more
the fault of that infernal country than his own, I'll bet fifty pounds.
No, I don't at all see why he shouldn't go in and win, and, by Jove, he
shall."

"Who's the matchmaker now?" retorted his wife with a smile of conscious
superiority.  "But there are several things to be got over.  First of
all, I believe he must be in very low water; in fact, pretty well at the
end of his tether.  That drought can't have left him much to the good.
And I am tolerably certain Violet has nothing--at least, nothing to
speak of."

"Well, that might be got over--living's cheap enough,--and here we never
get any downright bad seasons."

"Then there's the difference in their creeds."

"Pho!  That doesn't count for much in these parts, where there's
precious little opportunity of running any creed in particular."

"No, unfortunately; but there ought to be," replied Woman, the born
devotee.  "But the most fatal obstacle of all you seem to overlook.  It
usually takes two to make a bargain."

"What!  Do you mean to say she wouldn't have him?  Well, that's another
story, of course.  But Renshaw's an uncommonly fine follow all round--
and she might do worse."

"That I won't attempt to deny.  But I'm afraid the impression left upon
my mind is that she doesn't care twopence about him."

"Only making a fool of him, eh?"

"I won't say that.  Violet is a girl who has been accustomed to a great
deal of admiration, and has an extremely fascinating manner.  It is
quite possible that poor Renshaw may have walked into the trap with his
eyes open."

"Not he.  He isn't such an ass.  She must have been trying to make a
fool of him," growled Selwood, with whom Violet Avory was, nevertheless,
a prime favourite.  "Just like you women!  You're all alike, every one
of you."

His wife vouchsafed no reply, and the whirr of the sewing machine went
blithely on.  Soon the silence was broken by an unmistakable snore.  The
slumbrous warmth of the afternoon had told upon Selwood.  His head had
fallen back, his pipe had slipped on to the floor.  He was fast asleep.

An hour went by.  It was getting nearly time to go to the kraals and
count in the sheep.  Still he snored steadily on.  His wife, drowsy with
the continual whirr of the sewing machine, felt more than half inclined
to follow his example.

Suddenly there was a sound of wheels on the grassy plot outside the
front garden, then a voice exclaiming in dubious tone--

"Here's a take in.  I believe they're all away from home."

The voice proceeded from one of the two occupants of a very travel-worn
buggy standing at the gate.

"No, they're not!" cried Mrs Selwood, to whom that voice was well
known.  "Come--wake up, Chris.  Here is Renshaw himself!"

"Eh--what!  I believe I've been asleep!" cried Selwood, starting
up--"Renshaw--is it!  Hallo, old chap.  This is first-rate," he added,
rushing out.  And the two men's hands wore locked in a close grip.
"Allamaghtag!  But you are looking pulled down--isn't he, Hilda?--though
not quite so much as I should have expected.  How are you, sir?  We are
delighted to see you," he went on as Renshaw duly introduced his friend.

["Allamaghtag!"  "Almighty!"  A common ejaculation among the Boers.  It
and similar colloquialisms are almost equally frequent among their
colonial brethren.]

Then Marian appeared--her sweet face lighting up with a glow of glad
welcome for which many a man might have given his right hand--and then
the children, who had been amusing themselves diversely after the manner
of their kind, anywhere outside and around the house, came crowding
noisily and gleefully around "Uncle Renshaw," as they had always been in
the habit of calling him.  To the lonely man, fresh from his rough and
comfortless sick-bed, this was indeed a home-coming--a welcome to stir
the heart.  Yet that organ was susceptible of a dire sinking as its
owner missed one face from the group,--realised in one quick, eager
glance that the presence he sought was not there.

Violet's room was at the back of the house, consequently she had heard
but faintly the sounds attendant on the arrival of the visitors.  She
instinctively guessed at the identity of the latter, but it was clean
contrary to Violet Avory's creed to hurry herself on account of any man.
So having sacrificed a few moments of curiosity to this principle, and,
needless to say, taken the indispensable look at herself in the glass,
she issued leisurely forth.

Now, as she did so, Selwood was ushering in his stranger guest--was, in
fact, at that moment standing back to allow the latter to enter before
him.  Thus they met face to face.

Then was her self-possession tried in such wise as no member of that
household had yet witnessed.  She halted suddenly, her face deadly
white.  A quick ejaculation escaped the stranger's lips.

It died as quickly, and his half-outstretched hand dropped to his side
in obedience to her warning glance; for her confusion was but a
momentary flash.  It entirely escaped Selwood, who was walking behind
his guest, the broad shoulders and fine stature of the latter acting as
an opportune screen, and all the others were still outside.

"Miss Avory," introduced honest Chris, becoming aware of her presence.
"Mr--er--I really beg your pardon, but I'm afraid I didn't quite catch
your name just now--and Renshaw didn't happen to mention it in his
letter?"

"Sellon," supplied the other.

"By Jove!  We hold half our names in common.  We are both `Sells,' but
there we branch off--ho--ho!  Sellon and Selwood, both `Sells,'"
repeated Chris, who was fond of a joke.

An unimportant, not to say trivial remark.  But like many such, it was
destined in the fulness of time to be brought back pretty vividly to the
memory of its originator and his hearers.

Violet acknowledged the introduction with a queenly sort of bow, and
turning preceded them into the sitting-room.

"Where's Mr Fanning?" she asked, rising almost as soon as she was
seated.  "I must go and say `How do you do?' to him."

Sellon muttered an oath to himself as she slipped from the room, not
loud enough to be heard by his host, however, who proceeded to ply him
with questions as to his journey--and brandy-and-water.

Meanwhile Violet, in pursuance of her expressed intent, was greeting the
other arrival with a pretty cordiality that was perfection itself, and
when she tuned her voice to the requisite minor key as she asked all
manner of questions and expressed all manner of sympathy with regard to
his late illness, and whether he ought to have undertaken such a long
journey so soon, and if he had taken _great_ care of himself during the
same, the effect on her victim was such a reaction from his first
feeling of dismay at her non-appearance that he could have thrown up his
hat and hoorayed aloud.  Whereby we fear it is only too obvious that
friend Renshaw was as big a fool as the general run of his fellow-men.

"Well, and what do you think of this country, Mr Sellon?" came the
inevitable query, as they were gathered together after the first fuss
and flurry of greeting.

"I think various things, Mrs Selwood," was the ready reply.  "Parts of
it are lovely, and parts of it are grand, and one gets a fine
opportunity of seeing it all during a fortnight's journey behind three
horses.  But other parts, on the other hand, and notably the latitudes
inhabited by friend Fanning here, reminded me forcibly of the Yankee's
reply to the same question."

"And what was that?"

"Why, he was travelling in that awful Karroo during a drought, and
somebody asked him what he thought of the country, `What do I think of
your country?' says he.  `See here, stranger, if I owned a section of
your country I guess I'd enclose that section well around, and send out
for a paint-pot and paint it green.'"

This tickled Selwood amazingly, and he burst into a roar.

"Well, that wouldn't hold good of our part," he said when he had
recovered.

"Oh no, no," assented the stranger, hurriedly.  "Let me clear myself of
that charge of heresy without delay.  Words are inadequate to describe
the beauties of the road as soon as we got into these mountains.  I'm
serious, mind."

"Well, we must contrive to show you more of them," said his hostess.
"Are you fond of shooting, Mr Sellon?"

"He just is," put in Renshaw.  "He kept us in game all along the road,
and in chronic hot water with all the Dutchmen whose places we passed,
by knocking over springboks under their very windows without so much as
a `by your leave.'"

"Well, it's better to be the shooter than the shootee, eh, Fanning?  But
that joke'll keep," laughed Sellon, significantly.

"We can show you plenty of fun in that line here," said Christopher.
"The mountains are swarming with rhybok, and there are any amount of
partridges and quail.  Plenty of bushbucks, too, in the kloofs, and
guinea-fowl.  Hallo, by Jove! it's time to go and count in," he added,
jumping up from his chair.

Then the three men started off to do the regulation evening round of the
kraals, while the ladies went their ways, either to give a supervising
eye to the preparation of supper, or to while away an idle half-hour
prior to that comfortable repast.

"Well, Violet, and what do you think of the stranger?" said Marian, when
they were left to themselves.

"Oh, I think him rather a joke.  Likely to turn out very good fun, I
should say," was the careless reply.

"Sure to, if you take him in hand, you abominable girl.  But I've a sort
of idea the `fun' will be all on one side.  I suppose you think you can
reduce him to utter and insane subjection in less than a week."

For response Violet only smiled.  But the smile seemed to convey more
plainly than words the conviction that she rather thought she could.



CHAPTER TEN.

ON THORNS.

When Maurice Sellon awoke the next morning it took him some little while
to remember exactly where he was.

The cool delicious air was wafting in at the open window--the murmur of
leaves, and the plash of running water--the half-rasping, half-whistling
call of the yellow thrush, and the endless chattering of finks--the
lowing of cattle, and the deep bass hum of Kafir voices--all struck upon
his ears as strange after the exhausting heat; the treeless, waterless
wastes, the burnt-up silent plains so destitute of bird and animal life,
which were the leading features of the scene of his late sojourn.  Then
with all the strong animal rejoicing of a mercurial temperament combined
with a sound constitution, he leaped out of bed, and snatching up a
towel, sallied forth in quest of a convenient place for a swim.

It was early yet, but the household was astir--seemed to have been for
some time.  Sellon spied his host in the cattle kraal, giving a
supervising eye to the milking and other operations therein going
forward.

"Want to swim, eh?" said the latter.  "Well, follow that fence a couple
of hundred yards till you come to a big tree-fern on the hedge of the
bush; turn in there and you'll find a grand hole."

Away went Sellon, looking about him as he walked.  What a fine place
this was, he thought, and what a rattling good time of it he was going
to have.  The shooting must be splendid.  It was a lovely morning, and
the man's spirits rose over the prospect of present enjoyment, and a
brightening future.  And there was another cause at work tending to send
up the mercury, as we shall see anon.

He had no difficulty in finding the water-hole--a fine `reach' of the
river about a hundred yards by twenty, thickly shaded with overhanging
scrub.  In he went with a header and a splash, and after a couple of
vigorous swims up and down was just coming out when something caught his
eye.

A long rakish narrow object lying along the almost horizontal trunk of a
half-fallen tree, not more than a yard from the ground--so motionless
that were it not for the scintillation of the eye you could hardly have
told the creature was alive.  The squab, clinging paws, the hideous
crocodile head, the long tapering tail, seemed all exaggerated in the
half-gloom of the thick scrub, and in the start which the sight inspired
in the beholder.

Sellon stood transfixed, and a cold chill of horror and repugnance ran
through him.  In his newness to the country it occurred to him that the
river might contain a fair population of alligators.  Anyway, the beast
looked hideous and repulsive enough--even formidable.  And it lay almost
between himself and the spot where he had left his clothes.

Just then he could have sworn he heard a smothered splutter of laughter.
The reptile must have heard it too, for it raised its head to listen.
Then a crack and a puff of smoke.  The creature rolled from the trunk,
and lay snapping and writhing, and making every effort to reach the
water.

"Stop him, Mr Sellon.  Don't let him get into the water," cried a
shrill boy's voice, and the youthful shooter came crashing through the
brake, armed with a saloon rifle, and followed by another youngster
about the same age.

"Stop him!  How am I to stop him, you young dog?" growled Sellon, who
was standing up to his middle in water.

But the boys had wrenched up a stout stick, and deftly avoiding alike
snapping jaws and lashing tail, managed to hold the great lizard on the
bank where he lay, until his struggles had entirely ceased.

"Gave you rather a _schrek_, didn't it, Mr Sellon?" said the elder of
the two, maliciously, with a wink at his brother, and there was a broad
grin on each face that made Sellon long to cuff the pair.  For the
average colonial urchin has scant respect for his elders as such;
scantier still if those elders happen to be "raw Englishmen."

"An ugly brute, anyhow," he answered, wading out to look at the carcase.
"What is he, eh?"

"Only an iguana, Mr Sellon.  My! but he's a big un; five feet at least,
I expect.  I don't wonder you took him for a crocodile."

"Took him for--You cheeky young dog, how do you know what I took him
for?"

"Come now, that's good!" retorted the urchin, unabashed, "My!  Mr
Sellon, but if you could only have seen yourself standing there in the
water in a blue funk!" and both cubs thereupon burst into shrill and
undisguised laughter.

"I tell you what, youngster, that was an uncommonly good shot of yours,"
said wily Sellon, on the principle of agreeing with his adversary
quickly, for he guessed the young scamps would presently go in full of
the story, and equally was conscious of having truly been in something
of a funk, as they had said.  "But how did you manage to get it in?"

"Oh, we spotted him long before you did; Fred cut back for the saloon
gun while I waited here.  My, though, but he's about the biggest
_lygovaan_ [Iguana] I've ever seen."

But although by the time they returned home Sellon and the boys had
become great friends; a number of swimming dodges which he taught them
having in a measure established him in their respect; yet when he
appeared at the breakfast-table he found the joke public property
already.  But he was a man who could stand chaff--which was fortunate--
for he was destined to hear enough of it on the subject of the iguana
episode.

But he had matters to think of this morning beside which the above
incident was the merest thistledown for triviality; an undertaking on
hand, the key to which lay snug in his pocket in the shape of the
tiniest of notes; slipped into his hand, deftly and surreptitiously,
though under everybody's nose, during the process of exchanging
good-nights the evening before.  Thus it ran--

"To-morrow.  The garden.  Middle of the morning.  Watch me.--V."

The barest outline, but sufficient for all purposes.  It had come, too,
just at the right time.  He had felt nettled, annoyed, sore, at Violet's
light-heartedness.  She had treated him as the merest stranger, and when
she talked to him, had rattled away at the veriest commonplaces.  All
her captivating glances, all her dangerous modulations of tones, he had
kept for Fanning.  Fanning it was who had engrossed the lion's share of
her attention throughout the evening.  He had mentally cursed Fanning.
He could not make it out.  He began to hate Fanning.  Then, sore and
angry, that tiny bit of paper had come in the nick of time, and he had
slept soundly and risen in the best of spirits, as we have seen.

Yet as the time drew near his spirits sustained a check.  That Violet
would find her opportunity he had no sort of doubt.  Let her alone for
that.  But would he be equally fortunate?

After breakfast he was taken possession of by his host.  With accurate
instinct he realised that at any rate during the earlier half of the
morning, when the ladies were busy with household details, the presence
of a man and a stranger whom they would feel more than half bound not to
neglect, could be nothing other than an unmitigated nuisance.  So he
submitted to his host's "showing around" with the best grace he could
muster, and the three men hindered forth, strolling around in that easy,
pleasant, dawdling fashion, dear to the heart of the prosperous colonial
farmer who can afford to take it easy from time to time when he has a
congenial guest and an appreciative listener--and Christopher Selwood
had both on his hands that morning.

Yes, it was pleasant enough wandering around in the sunshine, looking at
this and looking at that, stopping every now and then for a lounge
against a wall, or in some shady nook while fresh pipes were filled and
lighted.  It was all pleasant enough, but by the time they had inspected
the stables and the kraals, the garden and the cultivated lands, and had
visited certain traps and spring-guns placed along the fences of the
latter for the benefit of invading bucks or porcupines, and had,
moreover, talked stock and wild sport unlimited, it was uncommonly near
the "middle of the morning," and they were some distance from the house.
Sellon began to feel at his wits' end.

"_The middle of the morning.  Watch me.  V_."  It was already the first,
and as for the second, how could he watch her when he was nearly a mile
away, pinned fast on the top of a stone wall, listening to an otherwise
interesting disquisition from his host upon the habits of certain wild
game?  Renshaw it was who came to the rescue.

"I expect we are boring Sellon to death, with all the `shop' we've been
talking," he said, noting the "cornered" expression in the latter's
face.

"Not a bit--not in the least," was the hurried reply; "quite the
contrary.  Only--the fact is, though I don't like owning to it, I'm a
trifle headachy this morning."

"Well, you were out rather early, which I dare say you're not much used
to," said Christopher.  "Look here, now, Sellon.  If you're tired cut
off to the house and take it easy.  You'll find the drawing-room cool
and quiet, and there's a lot of stuff to read in the shelves."

"Well, I think I will, if you don't mind."

"Mind--mind?  No.  Make yourself at home, man--make yourself at home.
That's what you've got to do here," was the hearty reply.

Now, skirting the way our artful manoeuvrer has to travel is a high
quince hedge, and in this hedge is a gate, and not very far inside this
gate is a rustic bench, and upon this rustic bench is a cool, tasteful
dress of light material, surmounted by a very broad-brimmed straw hat.
There is also upon the said bench a book, but it is not altogether lying
on it, for it is still held by a well-shaped little hand.  But for the
thoroughfare aforesaid the spot is a secluded one, as it certainly is a
pleasant one, and shady withal; thanks to the foliage of the large,
well-grown fruit trees.  Now, what does our manoeuvring scamp do but
steal softly up behind this attractive figure, and throw both arms
around it, while with equal want of ceremony the scampish countenance is
inserted beneath that very broad-brimmed straw hat, and there it remains
during the few moments of faint, because feigned, scuffle in which its
wearer sees fit to indulge.

"At last, my darling!" he exclaims gleefully, seating himself on the
bench beside her.  "At last!"



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

"AMORIS INTEGRATIO."

"On, Maurice, how could you be so imprudent?"

"Imprudent be--somethinged!  If you only knew the difficulty I've had to
cut loose from the other fellows at all."

"Yes, imprudent," she went on, ignoring the last remark.  "Supposing any
of those wretched children had been about--and they're just like little
savages, always jumping out upon you unexpectedly from nowhere.  And we
are quite by a pathway, too."

"Then the sooner we get away from it the better, for I intend repeating
the operation with interest before we rejoin the merry crowd."

"How did you find me out, Maurice?  How did you know where I was?"

"Aha, you couldn't hide from me, you see," he replied.  "No good, was
it?"

She made no answer.  She seemed to be undergoing a struggle with
herself.  Then at last--

"Why did you break through our agreement?  We were not to see each other
for six months.  It is not four yet."

"Violet!  Do you mean to tell me you are sorry I have not kept that
boshy arrangement of ours.  Look me straight in the face and tell me you
are--if you can."

He turned her face towards him.  The dark soft eyes were brimming, the
delicate features were working with a wild yearning, which its owner was
in vain striving to suppress.

"Sorry to see you?  Oh, Maurice, my darling, I have thought of late I
should never see you again," she cried, breaking into a storm of sobs as
she threw herself on his breast.

And this was the girl who, but a few days before, and almost on that
very spot, had made an utter mock of all that savoured of real feeling.
"I almost wish it would come true.  It would be such a novel sensation,"
had been her words to Marian.  Ah, but it had come true--and that long
before she uttered them.  Certain it is that none there at Sunningdale
had ever seen this side of Violet Avory; had ever suspected this secret
chapter in her history.

"Don't cry, little one," said Maurice, soothingly, drawing her further
within the recesses of the garden, and away from the obnoxious quince
hedge, which might shelter prying eyes.  "We are going to have such a
happy time together now."

"Now, yes," she answered.  "But--after?  Nothing but misery."

"Not a bit of it.  We can go on waiting.  Patience--that's the word.
When I used to get my `cast' hung up or otherwise tangled while fishing,
instead of blowing off a volley of cuss words, and tearing and tugging
at the stuff, I made it a rule to remark aloud, `Pazienza!'  That
answered, kept one in a cool and even mind, and saved further tangle and
a lot of cussing.  Well, that must be our watchword--`Pazienza!'"

"I have got you now, at all events," she murmured, pressing his arm.
"But now, don't you see why I met you as a perfect stranger last night?"

"Not altogether.  It annoyed me a good bit--in fact, worried me all the
evening.  I should have thought it would have been better to have let
them know we were old acquaintances, at any rate.  They would have left
us more to ourselves."

"Not a bit of it.  They would have set up a romance on the spot.  As
soon as a woman gets wind of a romance, she can't for the life of her,
with the best intentions in the world, help watching its progress.  It
would have been a case of every one hurrying to _ecarter_ themselves as
soon as they saw as together, doing it, too, in the usual blundering and
clumsy manner.  I know it all so well--I've seen it so often, and, I may
as well add, gone through it."

"That was the reason, was it?  Well, you do know a thing or two, little
one," he said admiringly.  "But look here.  We must snatch a little time
together as often as we can.  We'll make Selwood get up rides and
expeditions, and pair off, lose ourselves by accident, and all that sort
of thing.  But mind, I can't go on talking to you day after day, only as
one of a crowd.  I can't stand it.  We must manage somehow."

"Do you think I am a bit less anxious to than you?  But, Maurice
darling, do mind what I'm going to say.  You must be on your guard
before people, you always were such an awful old blunderer.  You mustn't
go letting slip any `Violets,' for instance, and you're quite as likely
to as not."

"I'm not going to let one slip at the present moment, anyway," he
replied with a laugh.  "And so you thought you were never going to see
me again?"

"Ah, I have sometimes feared so.  The agonies I have gone through!  I
know what you are going to say--that it was my own doing.  I did it to
test you, Maurice.  Six months is not a long time, but ah, I have at
times thought I should die long before it was over!  Day after day, week
after week, no news, not a word from you, or even of you.  And every one
here thinks I am utterly heartless.  I never try to undeceive them; in
fact, I rather encourage them in the idea."

No one would have thought so could they but have seen her there that
morning, slowly wending through the mimosa brake encircled by her
lover's arm; for they had left the somewhat precarious refuge of the
garden.  The restless, eager face, the quick, passionate tones, as
though she were talking against time, and grudged every one of the too
swiftly flying moments which were bringing this doubly sweet, because
surreptitious, interview to its end.

They had reached the river-bank.  The cool water bubbling along beneath
the shade of the trees, the varying call of birds in the brake, the
chirruping tree-crickets, the hum of bees dipping into the creamy cups
of snow-white arums which grew in the moist shade, the melodious shout
of the hoopoe echoing from the black kloofs that rent the mountain
side--all made an appropriate framework, a fitting accompaniment of
harmonious sounds to this sweet stolen interview.  High overhead the
hoary crest of a great mountain frowned down from the dazzling blue.

"You haven't told me yet how you managed to find me out," said Violet at
length, after a good deal of talk that we feel under no special
necessity to reproduce, because, given the circumstances, the reader
should have no difficulty in guessing its nature.

"Oh, that was the most astonishing piece of luck that ever came about,"
he answered.  "You had better call it a fatality.  I had started to look
for you in quite the wrong direction, and fell in with that queer
fellow, Fanning.  Came down here with him, as you know."

"Did Mr Fanning talk about--er--tell you about--me?" she said
hesitatingly.

Maurice Sellon was not the man to betray poor Renshaw's involuntary and
delirious confidences, even to Violet herself--at least, not unless some
strong motive existed for doing so, which at present was not the case.
So he answered--

"Talk about you?  Not he!  He's much too deep a dog.  He just barely
mentioned that you were here, which drove me pretty well wild, for it
was long enough before I could get him to make a start, and of course I
couldn't let him suspect the reason."

Strict veracity was not one of Sellon's strong points.  He did not
choose to let her into the fact that the wild surprise of their meeting
in the hall on the occasion of his arrival was absolutely and
impartially mutual.

"But look here, Violet," he went on.  "Talking of Fanning, you were
almost--well, carrying on with him last night.  I began to get quite
angry.  You mustn't make a fool of the poor chap--if you haven't
already, that's to say."

Violet laughed--her old, heartless, mocking laugh.

"Fancy being jealous of Mr Fanning!" she said scornfully.

"That be hanged!" cried Maurice, gaily, "But, darling, I grudge seeing
you talking too much to any one."

Thus, womanlike, secure in the possession of her own heart's desire, she
spoke contemptuously of one for whom she really entertained a great and
deep-laid respect.  Her own love, outside its special object, had not
availed to render her more considerate, more tender, towards the man
whose heart she had made a plaything of.

Returning through the garden they came upon Renshaw himself, who, with
Marian and Effie, was strolling around.  Now, the latter, for all her
tender years, knew quite as much as was good for her, and in the present
instance was prompt to recognise a case of "spoons," as her abominably
precocious young mind did not hesitate to define it.  It happened that
she disliked Violet, so she fixed her eyes maliciously upon the pair,
and her mouth expanded into a knowing grin--which made Violet ardently
desire to box her ears soundly there and then--and resolved to store up
the incident for future use; in fact, to improve upon the discovery.

"Hallo, Fanning," cried Sellon, as they met, "you're looking rather
seedy, old chap.  Been legging it around too much all the morning."

"Not I.  I feel all right.  You won't have to do doctor again, Sellon--
no fear," was the genial reply.

Now, Sellon's words had caused Marian to steal a very quick and anxious
glance at her companion's face, which at that moment was certainly
destitute of its normal healthy colour.

"Renshaw, you have been overdoing it," she said warningly.  "You have
come here to be set up, not to be made ill again.  So luckily it's just
dinnertime, and we must all go in."

So the parties fused, and, merged into one, retraced their steps towards
the house, chatting indifferently.  But that glance of Marian's had
drawn, as it were, a curtain from before Violet's eyes.  She, too,
thought she had made a discovery, and she, too, resolved to turn it to
future account--should the necessity arise.

"I say, Renshaw," said Selwood, _sotto voce_, and with a characteristic
nudge, as they entered the passage a little way behind the rest of the
party, "that chum of yours is a knowing dog, eh?  Miss Avory has soon
managed to cure his headache.  Ho--ho--ho!"

Thus did everybody combine to turn the steel, already sticking deep
enough, in this unfortunate man's heart.

Dinner over, the heat of the afternoon was got through in delightfully
easy and dawdling fashion.  Christopher Selwood, in a big armchair, sat
in a cool corner absorbed in the ill-printed columns of the local sheet,
the _Fort Lamport Courier_, which set forth how _brandziekte_ had broken
out in one end of the district, and how a heavy hailstorm had peppered
the other, and how "our esteemed townsman, Ezekiel Bung, Esquire, the
genial landlord of the Flapdoodle Hotel," had, "we deeply regret to say,
fallen off the _stoep_ of his house and injured his leg," the fact being
that the said Bung, Esquire, had walked straight into space while as
drunk as a blind fiddler, and intent on kicking out a Fingo who had
contumaciously reckoned on quenching his thirst at the public bar,
instead of among his compatriots in the canteen.  This and other news of
a like interesting and intellectual nature, Selwood scanned.  Suddenly
an exclamation escaped him.

"By Jingo!  This is good!" he cried.  "I say, Marian, you remember those
two black chaps who were round here with all that stock two or three
weeks back?  That one-eyed cuss who was inclined to be so cheeky?"

"Yes.  What about them?"

"You remember the names on their pass?"

"Perfectly.  Muntiwa and Booi."

"All right.  The whole of that stock was stolen, and they've been run in
at Fort Lamport and committed for trial at the Circuit Court, which'll
be held in a week or two."

"That's good business," said Renshaw.  "How were they nobbled?"

"Why, a Dutchman spotted them just outside Fort Lamport, and recognised
some of the cows as belonging to his uncle or somebody.  He said nothing
at the time, but just trotted up to the court and swore an affidavit,
and they were all run in."

"But didn't you say they had a pass?" said Renshaw.

"Of course they had.  But therein lies the cream of the whole situation.
The pass turns out a forged one, cooked up by a mission-station Kafir,
and well done it was, too.  So much for educating the niggers.  It turns
out, too, that the police have discovered these chaps' hiding-place,
away up among the thick bush and caves in Slaagter's Hoek.  It was a
regular vultures' nest, chock full of bones of stolen stock.  They must
have been at it for years.  And then to think of them marching openly
through the country on the strength of that forged pass.  Let's hope
they'll get it stiff now they are quodded."

"Who's the circuit judge this time?" asked Renshaw.

"Van Reneen, I expect.  Judge Sherrington was round on circuit last
time, so we are sure to have the other man; and a good thing, too.  Old
Sherrington loves a black fellow as if he was his father, and lets him
down about as lightly as he comfortably can, and that's very lightly
indeed."

"You are sure to be subpoenaed to give evidence, Chris," said Marian,
mischievously.

"Eh!  By Jingo, I never thought of that.  I hope not, though!" cried
Selwood, in dismay at the prospect of an enforced absence from home,
involving, moreover, two long and tiresome journeys, and Heaven knew how
many days of kicking up his heels in Fort Lamport, in hourly expectation
of being called.  "Well, likely enough they'll have plenty of evidence
without mine.  Sellon--Renshaw--how about a stroll round? it's turning
cool now.  But we'll do a glass of grog first."



CHAPTER TWELVE.

"HE DOES NOT RING TRUE."

Three weeks had gone by since the arrival of our two friends at
Sunningdale, and yet, although he expected great things--everything--
from the change, Renshaw seemed to find it impossible altogether to
throw off the effects of his recent illness.

Now, to one member of the Sunningdale household this was a source of
great, though secret anxiety.  That one was Marian Selwood.

With growing concern she noticed an unwonted dejection settling over
him--a kind of physical and mental languor and loss of appetite totally
unlike his former self.  Sometimes she ascribed it to the baleful
witcheries of Violet Avory, at others to the consciousness of his hard,
uphill struggle to make headway at all; sometimes, again, to both causes
combined.  Still there was no getting over the fact that he did not gain
in convalescent strength, notwithstanding that his surroundings were in
every way favourable and congenial to that end.

They had ever been great allies, these two.  It is strange that they had
not become greater--even for life; it is possible that this might
eventually have come about but for two obstacles--Renshaw's poverty
and--Violet.

We do not commit ourselves to the assertion that Marian was in love with
Renshaw.  But that, in her opinion, he was absolutely faultless, we do
freely admit, and her remarks upon him to Violet Avory earlier in this
narrative lifted merely a corner of the curtain which veiled her
predilection.  Wherefore now she was mightily exercised on his account.

He did too much.  For instance, what earthly necessity was there for him
to have turned out so early that morning and gone right away up the
mountain to look for half a dozen wretched sheep left out overnight,
riding back by the vij-kraal to count Umsapu's flock?  Or what business
had he toiling hard all day yesterday in the broiling sun, helping to
pack a stone wall for a new "land" which was to be laid under
cultivation, and he just through a return of a deadly malarial fever?
It was too bad of Chris to allow it.

All this and more she took the opportunity of putting before Renshaw
himself one hot morning as the two sat together in a delightfully cool
and shady corner of the _stoep_.

"It won't kill me yet, Marian," he replied to her expostulations.  "But
do you seriously think I should get back my old form the sooner by just
loafing around all day doing nothing?"

"Yes, I do," she rejoined decisively.  "Yes, I do--even though you put
it that way.  You do far too much."

"Pooh!  Not a bit of it.  Why, it's quite a treat to be able to do
something.  Bless my life, on my dried-up old place it's a case of
vegetating day after day--counting out--looking around--counting in.
I'm like the jolly nomad moving around with his flocks, except that,
mine being stationary, I have less trouble even than he has."

"You certainly are nomadic in that you are wandering from the point,
Renshaw, which is very crafty of you, but useless.  As I am continually
telling you--we feel bound to see that you get well and strong while you
are with us, and how can you do either when day after day you are
over-exerting yourself?"

There was just a _soupcon_ of tenderness in her voice--and Marian
Selwood had a beautiful voice--as she thus reasoned with him.  Her head
was partly bent down over her work, throwing into prominence the
glorious masses of her golden hair, which, swept up into an artistic
coronal, lent an additional dignity to her calm, sweet beauty.  Renshaw
lounged back in his cane chair, idly watching the supple, shapely
fingers plying the needle in rhythmic regularity--every movement one of
unconscious grace.  The boom of bees floated upon the jessamine-laden
air, varied by the shriller buzz of a long, rakish-looking hornet
winging in and out of his absurd little clay nest, wedged, like that of
a swallow, beneath the eaves of the verandah.  Great butterflies flitted
among the sunflowers, but warily and in terror of the lurking amantis--
that arrant hypocrite, so devotional in his attitude, so treacherously
voracious in his method of seizing and assimilating his prey--and a pair
of tiny sugar-birds, in their delicate crimson and green vests, flashed
fearlessly to and fro within a couple of yards of Renshaw's head,
dipping their long needle-like bills into the waxen blossoms of the
fragrant jessamine.

And here we frankly admit losing patience with our friend Renshaw.  Had
we been in his place, with that exquisitely modulated voice talking to
us, and fraught with that tender solicitude for our well-being, we feel
sure we should in our own mind have sent a certain outrageous little
flirt to the right-about then and there, and have dismissed her from our
thoughts outright.  But then, after all, we must remember that these two
had known each other intimately all their lives, had been almost like
brother and sister, which, we suppose, counts for something.

"Well, I'm taking it easy enough this morning, in your sweet society,
Marian," he rejoined, "so you mustn't be too rough upon me.  And--it is
Paradise."

"What is?  My society?"

He laughed.

"That, of course.  Understood.  Didn't need specifying.  But--all this,"
with a wave of the arm that caused the sugar-birds to dart away in
terror and a couple of flashes of sheeny light, a result he certainly
had not intended, "All this.  To lounge here at ease like this,
literally bathed in the scent of flowers, with a sound of running water
in one's ears, and of bird life, animal life, every sort of life, after
the dead, burnt-up, famine-stricken waste, watching day after day, month
after month, for the rain that doesn't come--seeing one's stock snuffing
out like flies with daily increasing regularity.  Bah!  It's enough to
drive a man mad."

"Why don't you give it up, Renshaw?  Sell off your place and come and
try this part?  Chris is always saying you could do much better
somewhere down here."

"And Chris is right.  But selling off is easier said than done, let me
tell you.  No one will so much as look at land investment up there--
and--I'm about cleaned out.  As soon as I've picked up a little more in
form I'm off up country again.  The interior.  It's the only thing
left."

Marian's head bent down lower over her work, for her eyes were brimming.
Renshaw, busily engaged at that moment knocking the ashes out of his
pipe against the post of the verandah, was half turned away from her,
and, for good or for ill, the teardrop which fell upon her work escaped
him altogether.  When he turned round again she had entirely recovered
her self-control.

"If that is your idea, you had better follow my advice and do all you
can to get strong again," she said.  "For you cannot think of launching
out into an undertaking of that sort for some time to come.  But--are
you going to make another attempt to find `The Valley'?"

Renshaw nodded.

"That's it!" he said.  "By the way, you haven't let drop anything about
it to any one, Marian."

She felt hurt.

"I should have thought you knew me better than that.  Ah, I see.  Only a
woman, after all!" she added, with a smile.  "That's what you were
thinking?"

"No.  It came out instinctively.  You must forgive me, Marian.  I really
believe I'm half crazed on the subject of that confoundedly elusive
Golconda.  Well, we shall find it this time."

"We?"

"Yes.  I'm going to cut Sellon into the scheme.  It's an undertaking
that'll carry two.  Besides, he's a good fellow, and I owe him a turn
for pulling me through that fever."

"I'm sorry to tread upon your quixotic susceptibilities, Renshaw," said
Marian, after a brief pause, "but if you were not as astoundingly
unselfish as most of us are the other way, it might strike you that if
Mr Sellon has done you one good turn, you have done him several.  If he
saved your life by nursing you through that fever, as you say--though it
is by no means certain you would not have pulled through it without
him--you have saved his on another occasion.  Where would he have been
with that snake crawling over him, for instance?--Ugh!"

"I say, Marian.  It isn't like you to be so ungenerous," was the
astonished reply.  "Wasn't it awfully good of the chap to stick there in
my hovel all those weeks, boring himself to death just for the sake of
looking after me?  Come now!"

"Where would he have been if your `hovel' had not come so opportunely in
sight when he was lost in the veldt, exhausted and without food or
water?" came the calm, ready rejoinder.

"Oh, I say, come now.  We can't count that.  It wouldn't be fair.  But--
look here, Marian.  You don't like Sellon?  Now, why not?"

"There you're wrong," she answered after a pause.  "Within the ordinary
meaning of the word, I do `like' him.  I think him a very pleasant,
well-informed man, and good company.  But he is not a man I should
trust."

"Not, eh?  But, in the name of all conscience, why not?"

"That I can't tell you, Renshaw.  I don't quite know myself, except that
somehow or other he doesn't seem to ring true.  It's a question of ear,
like a false note.  There, though, this is shameful.  Here I am taking
away a person's character in the most reckless way, with nothing more
definite to go upon but my woman's instinct.  I wouldn't mention such a
thing to any one else in the world--not even to Chris or Hilda.  But I
always did make a father-confessor of you," she added, with a smile.

"And I hope you always will.  Still, Marian, with all due deference to
your woman's instinct, it's just on the cards it may in this instance be
erroneous."

"Perhaps so.  I hope so.  I mean it sincerely, not ironically.  But,
Renshaw--how much do you know of this Mr Sellon?  Who is he?"

"Well, the fact is, I don't know much--beyond that he's knocking around
here on the look-out for anything that may turn up trumps--like a good
many of us.  He's a man who seems to have seen a good deal of the
world--and, as you say, he's good company.  Seems well bred, too."

"Oh yes," acquiesced Marian, half absently.  "But we had better forget
that I ventured an unfavourable opinion on him."  And as at that moment
they were invaded by twelve-year-old Effie, the subject perforce
dropped.

"Is Violet inside, Effie?" asked Marian.

"Inside?  Not she.  Not when somebody else is outside.  She's spooning
away somewhere--as usual."

"That's a nice way for little girls to talk," said Marion, severely.

"Well, so she is," went on Precocity, with the abominable
straightforwardness of her tender years.  "Wasn't it always too hot to
move, if any one suggested going out in the morning, until `somebody'
came?  Now--ahem!"

"You're talking nonsense, you naughty child," said Marian, angrily.  "In
fact, you don't know yourself what you're talking about."

"Eh?  Don't I?  If you had seen what I saw--only the day before
yesterday--"

"But we didn't see it, and we don't want to know anything about it,"
struck in Renshaw, sternly.  "I never expected you to turn into a little
mischief-maker, Effie."

"You needn't be so cross, Uncle Renshaw," whimpered Miss Precocity, in
whose affections the speaker held a prime place.  "I only thought it
rather good fun."  (Boo-hoo-hoo!)

"I didn't mean to be hard upon you, dear--but spreading stories is
generally anything but fun--not unusually least of all to those who
spread them.  Never repeat anything, Effie.  Half the mischief in life
comes out of tittle-tattle."

But at that very moment, as though to turn the edge of the above highly
salutary and not uncalled-for precept, who should heave in sight but the
very pair under discussion, though in fact Christopher Selwood made up a
third.  The sight seemed to dry up Effie's snivelling as if by magic.

"There!  Didn't I say so?" she muttered maliciously, and judiciously
fled indoors.

"Still at work, Marian?" cried Violet, as the trio came up.  "Why, what
a regular Darby and Joan you two look," she added, with a mischievous
sparkle in her eyes.  For although she laid herself out to keep well in
with Marian, yet it was characteristic of her that she could not refrain
from launching such a shaft as this--no, not even though her life
depended on it.

And to her quick eye it seemed that there was ever so faint an
indication that the bolt had struck home.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

A TALE OF BLOOD.

The town of Port Lamport was picturesquely situated on a wide bend of
the Umtirara River.  It contained a population of about fifteen
hundred--whites, that is--and was the seat of magistracy for the
surrounding district.

In former times Fort Lamport had been one of the more important of a
chain of military posts extending along what was then the Kafir
frontier, but after a series of long and harassing wars, resulting in
the removal of those troublesome neighbours further eastward, Fort
Lamport, in common with other military posts, was abandoned as such.  A
town, however, had sprung up around it, and this, as a centre of
commerce, and also of native trade--for there were still large native
locations in the surrounding district--throve apace.

It was not much of a place to look at; and in its main features differed
little, if at all, from any other up-country township.  The houses,
mostly one-storied, were all squat and ugly.  There were half a dozen
churches and chapels, also squat and ugly.  There were several hotels,
and four or five native canteens.  There were the public offices and
gaol, these being the old fort buildings, converted to that use.  There
were the usual half-dozen streets--long, straggling, and very dusty--and
the usual market square, also very dusty; the average number of general
stores--dealing in anything, from a pianoforte to a pot of blacking--and
the average number of waggons and spans of oxen standing half the day in
front of them.  As for the good citizens--well, of course, they
considered their town the foremost in the Colony, and, on the whole,
were not much more given to strife and litigation among themselves than
the inhabitants of a small community generally are.

But if the town itself was unattractive, its environment was not, with
its background of rounded hills, their slopes covered with dense forest,
while above and beyond rose the higher peaks of the Umtirara range.

In the smoking-room of one of the hotels above mentioned lounged Renshaw
Fanning.  It was the hot and drowsy hour immediately succeeding
luncheon, and he was nodding over the _Fort Lamport Courier_, a typical
sheet, which managed to supply news to its constituent world a week or
so after the said news had become public property through other mediums.

Small wonder, then, that Renshaw felt drowsy, and that the paper should
slip from his relaxing grasp.  Instinctively he made a clutch at it, and
the action roused him.  His eye fell upon a paragraph which he had
overlooked--

  "Horrible Murder by Escaped Convicts."

With the fascination which a sensational subject never altogether fails
to inspire, drowsy as he felt, he ran his eye down the paragraph.

"No less than seven desperadoes succeeded in making their escape from
the Kowie convict station last Monday under circumstances of
considerable daring.  While the gang was on its way to the scene of its
labours in charge of one white and two native constables armed with
loaded rifles, these scoundrels, evidently acting in concert, managed to
overpower and disarm their guardians at one stroke.  Leaving the latter
terribly beaten about the head, and half dead, and taking their rifles
and cartridges, they made off into the bush.  The remainder of the gang,
though they rendered no assistance, seemed not eager to re-taste the
sweets of liberty, for instead of following the example of their
comrades they returned quietly to the town and reported the incident.
Next morning early, the runaways visited an outlying vij-kraal belonging
to a Dutch farmer named Van Wyk, and there perpetrated a peculiarly
atrocious murder.  The vij-kraal was in charge of a Hottentot herd, who,
hearing a noise in the kraal, ran out of his hut just as the scoundrels
were making off with two sheep.  He gave chase, when suddenly, and
without any warning, one of them turned round and shot him through the
chest.  The whole gang then returned, dragged out the unfortunate man's
wife and three children, and deliberately butchered them one after the
other in cold blood.  The bodies were found during the day by the owner
of the place, who came upon them quite unexpectedly.  They were lying
side by side, with their throats cut from ear to ear; and he describes
it as the most horrible and sickening sight he ever beheld.  The herd
himself, though mortally wounded, had lived long enough to make a
statement, which places the identity of the atrocious miscreants beyond
all doubt.  It may interest our readers to learn that among the runaways
were the two Kafirs, Muntiwa and Booi, who were tried at the Circuit
Court recently held here, and sentenced to seven years' hard labour each
for stock-stealing.  The rest were Hottentots and Bastards.
[Half-bloods are thus termed in Cape Colony parlance.]  At the same time
we feel it a duty to warn our readers, and especially those occupying
isolated farms in the Umtirara range, to keep a sharp look-out, as it is
by no means unlikely that these two scoundrels may hark back to their
old retreat, and with their gang perhaps do considerable mischief before
they are finally run to earth."

Not one atom of drowsiness in Renshaw now.  The sting of the above
paragraph, like that of the scorpion, lay in the tail.  His blood ran
cold.  Heavens!  That household of unprotected women!  For Christopher
Selwood was away from home on a week's absence, visiting a distant
property of his, and Sellon, by way of a change and seeing the country,
had accompanied him.  Renshaw himself had ridden into Fort Lamport the
previous day on urgent business of his own--nothing less than to
interview a possible purchaser of his far-away desert farm.  Under
ordinary circumstances, it was no uncommon thing to leave the household
without male protection for a day or two, or even longer.  But now--good
heavens!

He glanced at the date of the newspaper.  There should be a later one,
he said to himself.  Feverishly he hunted about for it, trying to hope
that it might contain intelligence of the recapture of the runaways.
Ah, there it was!  With trembling hands he tore open the double sheet,
and glanced down the columns.

  "The Escaped Convicts.

  "Our surmise has proved correct.  The runaways have taken refuge in
  the Umtirara range, from whose dense and rugged fastnesses they will,
  we fear, long be able to defy the best efforts of the wholly
  inadequate police force at present at the disposal of the district.
  They entered a farmer's house on the lower drift, yesterday, during
  the owner's absence, and by dint of threats induced his wife and
  daughters to give them up all the firearms in the house.  They got
  possession of two guns and a revolver, and a quantity of ammunition,
  and decamped in the direction of the mountains.  It is a mercy they
  did not maltreat the inmates."

The cold perspiration started forth in beads upon the reader's forehead.
The event recorded had occurred yesterday; the newspaper was of
to-day's date.  He might yet be in time.  But would he be?  It was three
o'clock.  Sunningdale was distant thirty-five miles.  By the hardest
riding he could not arrive before dark, for the road was bad in parts,
and his horse was but an indifferent one.

In exactly five minutes he was in the saddle and riding rapidly down the
street.  It crossed his mind that he was totally unarmed, for in the
settled parts of the Colony it is quite an exceptional thing to carry
weapons.  He could not even turn into the nearest store and purchase a
six-shooter, for no such transaction can take place without a
magistrate's permit--to obtain which would mean going out of his way,
possibly delay at the office, should that functionary chance to be
engaged at the time.  No, he could not afford to lose a minute.

It was a hot afternoon.  The sun glared fiercely down as he rode over
the dozen miles of open undulating country which lay between the town
and the first line of wooded hills.  A quarter of an hour's off-saddle
at a roadside inn--a feverish quarter of an hour, spent with his watch
in his hand.  Then on again.

Soon he was among the hills.  Away up a diverging kloof lay a Boer
homestead, about a mile distant.  Should he turn off to it and try and
borrow a weapon, or, at any rate, a fresh horse, and warn the inmates?
Prudence answered No.  Two miles out of his road, delay in the middle,
and all on the purest chance.  On, on!



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

AGAINST TIME.

By sundown Renshaw was in the heart of the mountains.  And now, as his
steed's gait warned him, it was time to off-saddle again.  The river lay
below, about a hundred yards from the road.  Dismounting, he led his
horse down through the thick bush, and removing the saddle, but not the
bridle, which latter he held in his hand, allowed the animal to graze
and get somewhat cooler before drinking.  Then, saddling up again, he
regained the road.

The latter was in most parts very bad, as it wound its rugged length
through a savage and desolate _poort_ or defile, which in itself was one
long ambuscade, for thick bush grew up to the very roadside, in places
overhanging it.  The sun had set, but a lurid afterglow was still
reflected upon the iron face of a tall krantz, which, rising from the
steep forest-clad slope, cleft the sky.  Great baboons, squatted on high
among the rocks, sent forth their deep-chested, far-sounding bark, in
half-startled, half-angry recognition of the presence of their natural
enemy--man; and, wheeling above the tree-tops, ascending higher and
higher in airy circles to their roost among the crags, floated a pair of
_lammervangers_ [A species of black eagle] whose raucous voices rang out
in croaking scream over the glooming depths of the lone defile like the
weird wailing of a demoniac.

Darkness fell, for there is no twilight to speak of beneath the Southern
Cross, and the dull, dead silence of the mighty solitude was unbroken,
save for the hoarse roar of the river surging through its rocky channel,
and the measured hoof-beats of the horse.  And as he urged the animal on
through the gloom all Renshaw's apprehensions seemed to renew themselves
with tenfold intensity.  The appalling details of the gruesome tragedy
chased each other through his mind in all their red horror, and his
overwrought brain would conjure up the most grisly forebodings.  What if
he should arrive too late!  Those unprotected women helpless at the
mercy of these fiends, red-handed from the scene of their last ruthless
crime, devils incarnate let loose upon the earth, their lives forfeit,
the noose ready for their necks, their only object to perpetrate as many
hideous infamies as possible before meeting the doom that would sooner
or later be theirs!  No wonder the man's brain seemed on fire.

The road took a sudden trend downwards.  The river must be crossed here.
The drift was a bad one in the daytime, at night a dangerous one.  But
the latter consideration, far from daunting him, rather tended to brace
Renshaw's nerves.  Warily he urged his horse on.

The water was up to the saddle-flaps--then a step deeper.  The horse,
now almost swimming, snorted wildly as the roaring whirling flood
creamed around him in the starlight.  But the rider kept him well by the
head, and in a trice he emerged panting and dripping on the other side.

Suddenly in front from the bush fringing the road there flashed forth a
faint spark, as of a man blowing on a burnt stick to light his pipe.
All Renshaw's coolness returned, and gathering up his reins, he prepared
to make a dash for it.  Then the spark floated straight towards him,
and--he laughed at his fears.  It was only a firefly.  On still.  He
would soon be there now.  Another drift in the river--splash--splash--
out again--still onward.

Suddenly the horse pricked forward his ears and began to snort uneasily.
Now for it!  Still it might be only a leopard or a snake.  But all
doubt was speedily nipped in the bud by a harsh voice, in Dutch, calling
upon him to stop.

Peering forward into the darkness, he made out two figures--one tall,
the other short.  They were about a dozen yards in front, and were
standing in the middle of the road as though to bar his passage.  There
was no leaving the road, by reason of the bush which lined it on either
side in a dense, impenetrable thicket.

This was by no means Renshaw Fanning's first experience of more or less
deadly peril, as we have already shown, and his unswerving coolness
under such circumstances was never so consummately in hand as now, when
not merely his own life, but the lives of others dearer to him still,
were in the balance.  His mind was made up in a flash.

"Clear out, or I'll shoot you dead," he answered, in the same language,
whipping out his pipe-case, and presenting it pistol fashion at the
shorter of the two men, who was advancing as if to seize his bridle.

The resolute attitude, the quick, decisive tone, above all perhaps the
click, strongly suggestive of cocking, which Renshaw managed to produce
from the spring of the implement, caused the fellow instinctively to
jump aside.  At the same time came a flash and a stunning report.
Something hummed overhead, and most unpleasantly near.  The other man
had deliberately fired at him.

Then Renshaw did the best thing he could under the circumstances.  He
took the bull by the horns.

He put his horse straight at his assailant, at the same time wrenching
off his stirrup--no mean weapon at a push.  But the fellow, losing
nerve, tried to dodge.  In vain.  The horse's shoulder hit him fair and
sent him floundering to earth; indeed, but for the fact that the animal,
frenzied with fright, swerved and tried to hang back, he would have been
trampled underfoot.

Again Renshaw did the best thing he could.  Mastering a desire to turn
and brain the ruffian before he could rise, he rammed the spurs into his
horse's flanks and set off down the road at a hard gallop; not, however,
before he was able to recognise in his assailants a Hottentot and a
Bastard.  Luckily, too, for three more flashes belched forth from the
hillside a little way above the scene of the conflict, but the bullets
came nowhere near him.  Then upon the still silence of the night he
could hear other and deeper tones mingling with the harsh chatter of his
late assailants.  There was no mistaking those tones.  They issued from
Kafir lips.  He had walked into the very midst of the cut-throat gang
itself--had come right through it.

Then the question arose in his mind, would they pursue him?  He was
certain they had no horses, but he had still about four miles to go, and
his own steed was beginning to show signs of distress.  The fleet-footed
barbarians could travel almost as fast on two legs as he could on four.
They might pursue him under cover of the bush and converge upon his line
of flight at any moment.  And then his heart sank within him as he
thought of a certain steep and very stony hill which still lay between
him and his journey's end.

How his ears were strained; how every faculty was on the alert to almost
agonising pitch as, peering back into the silence of the gloom, he
strove to catch the faintest sound which should tell of pursuit.

"Up, old horse!  Nearly home now!"

The dreaded hill was reached.  Minutes seemed hours to the rider, till
at length its crest was gained.  Then far below in front there twinkled
forth a light, and then another.  The sight sent a surging rush of
relief through Renshaw's heart.

"Thanks be to God and all the blessed and glorious company of heaven,"
he murmured reverently, raising his hat.

For he knew that those lighted windows would not have shone so
peacefully had any red horrific tragedy been there enacted.

He was yet in time.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

THE MIDNIGHT FOE.

"Why, it's Renshaw!" cried Mrs Selwood, who, hearing the sound of hoofs
mingling with the barking of the dogs, had come to the door.  "We didn't
expect you till to-morrow.  Well, you're just in time.  A few minutes
more and we should all have gone to bed.  Call Windvogel to take your
horse, and come in."

"I'll let him run; he's about done up," he answered, removing saddle,
bridle, and headstall, and turning the animal adrift.

"Has your business fallen through?" she asked, as he followed her into
the passage and closed the door.

"It has had to stand over.  Come in here, Hilda"--leading the way into
an empty room.  "I have something to tell you.  No--never mind the
light.  The fewer lights shown the better."

Then in as few words as possible he told her of the danger which hovered
over them.

Hilda Selwood came of a good old colonial stock, and was not lacking in
nerve.  Still she would not have been a woman had she realised the
frightful peril which threatened herself and her children without a
shudder.

"We must do what we can, Renshaw," she said.  "Perhaps they will not
attack us."

"`Perhaps' is a sorry word to start campaigning upon.  What we've got to
do is to ensure them as warm a reception as possible if they do.  My
opinion is that they will, if only that they seem to have been watching
the road.  I believe they have ascertained by some means or other that
Chris is away.  What people have you on the place just now?"

"Very few.  There's Windvogel and old Jacob and Gomfana.  That's all."

"Windvogel I don't trust.  Shouldn't wonder, indeed, if the yellow
scoundrel was in league with them.  Old Jacob has more than one foot in
the grave--he's no good.  But Gomfana, though he couldn't hit a haystack
with a gun, might make useful play with a chopper if it came to close
quarters.  And now, look here," he went on, after a moment's hesitation;
"the situation may be desperate.  These seven cut-throats are fighting
with a noose round their necks.  Every one of their lives is forfeited,
and they are all well armed.  Now, is there no suggestion you can make
towards strengthening the garrison?"

"Why, of course.  Marian and I both know how to shoot.  That makes three
of us.  And then we are under cover."

"Well spoken.  But I can improve on that idea--if you can bring yourself
to agree.  Little chaps as they are, Fred and Basil are better shots
than either of you, and game to the core."

Hilda Selwood gave a gasp.  Her two little ones!  Why, they were mere
babies but yesterday!  And now she was to be called upon to sacrifice
them--to expose them to the peril of a desperate conflict which would
fully tax the courage of grown men.

"I'd rather not, if it could possibly be avoided," she said, at last.

"Very well.  But I'm much mistaken if the young scamps won't take the
matter into their own hands directly they hear a shot fired.  Now, how
many guns have we?  There's mine--two of Chris's--that makes six
barrels; the boys' muzzle-loaders, ten barrels.  Then Chris has a
five-shooter--"

"He took that with him."

"Did he?  Well, I have a six.  Altogether we shan't do badly.  And now
you had better break the news to Marian and Miss Avory, while I slip
down to the hut to rout out Gomfana.  And lose no time barricading the
windows.  Mattresses are the thing for that--almost bullet-proof."

Arming himself with a gun and revolver, Renshaw slipped out quietly, and
made his way to the huts.  Gomfana, like most natives, slept heavily,
and took a deal of waking; and by the time the situation was brought
home to his obtuse brain some minutes had been lost.  He was a sturdy
youngster of about twenty--a "raw" Kafir--that is to say, one who had
never been out of his native kraal, and was stupid and ignorant of
European ways.  But at the prospect of a fight he grinned and brightened
up.

Just as they regained the house a glow suffused the sky against the
mountain-top, and a few minutes later a broad half-moon was sailing high
in the heavens.  Renshaw hailed its appearance with unbounded
satisfaction.

The two girls had already lit their candles for bed when Mrs Selwood
brought the unwelcome news, judiciously omitting the ghastly tragedy,
which could only horrify without encouraging the hearers.  Their method
of receiving it was as divergent as their characters.  Marian, though
she slightly changed colour, remained perfectly cool and collected.
Violet, on the other hand, turned white as a sheet, and fairly shook
with terror.  It was all they could do to keep her from going into wild
hysterics.

"This sort of thing won't do at all, Miss Avory," said Renshaw, entering
at that moment; his sable recruit hanging back in the doorway.  "Why,
all you've got to do is to lie down and go to sleep in perfect safety.
If we exchange a shot or two that's all it will amount to.  Come, now, I
should have thought you would have enjoyed the excitement of a real
adventure."

Violet tried to smile, but it was the mere ghost of a smile.  She still
shivered and shook.  And Renshaw himself seemed changed.  None of the
diffident lover about him now.  He seemed in his element at the prospect
of peril.  In the midst of her fears Violet remembered Marian's eulogies
on his coolness and resource in an emergency.  The recollection quieted
her, and she looked upon him with unbounded respect.  Then she noted
Marian's calm and resolute demeanour, and even fancied that the look of
the latter was expressive of something like contempt--wherein she was
mistaken, but the idea acted as a tonic to brace her nerves.

Having seen to the firearms and ammunition, and cautioned the women to
remain where they were and allow no more light to be seen than they
could help, Renshaw went the round of the house.  Effie and the two
little ones were sleeping soundly, so also were the two boys.  Opening
the door, he looked cautiously out.  All was still.

He had decided that the four corner rooms should be the points of
defence, and the windows accordingly were not barricaded.  The others
were rendered secure by fixing against each a couple of mattresses.
Then he went back to the ladies.

The house was now all in darkness, but the moonlight streaming in above
the protecting mattresses gave sufficient light for all purposes.

"Now, good people," he said cheerily, "you may all go to bed.  I'll call
you when I want you.  I'm going to watch at one corner, and Gomfana will
take the other.  There'll be no catching us napping.  Besides, the dogs
will raise the most awful shillaloo if any one heaves in sight."

Shakedowns had been improvised on the floor with rugs and pillows.  In
great measure reassured by Marian's unconcern, Violet consented to lie
down.  Mrs Selwood betook herself to her children's room.

The moon mounted higher and higher to the zenith, flooding the land with
an eerie and chastened half-light.  The monotonous chirrup of the
tree-frog, the shrill baying of a pair of hunting jackals, the
occasional cry of a nightbird mournfully echoing from the mountain side,
floated to the watcher's ear.  Unremitting in his vigilance, Renshaw
moved silently from room to room, his unerring eye scanning the ground
at every point, and keeping his sable lieutenant up to the mark, lest
that worthy should be tempted to doze.  But Gomfana, who was armed with
an axe and some assegais taken from a wall trophy, was rather thirsting
for the encounter than otherwise.

Some hundred and fifty yards from the main dwelling was a large outhouse
block, comprising stables, waggon shed, shearing house, etc.  On this
point Renshaw's attention was mainly concentrated.  He felt sure that
the miscreants would take advantage of the shadow of this building to
creep up as near as they could.  Another point that needed watching was
the thick quince hedge which skirted the garden, and which now afforded
a shade congenial to the assailants' movements.

Nothing is more trying to the nerves than a lonely nocturnal vigil.
Most men, brave enough in actual danger, would have felt the "creepy"
effect of those silent hours as they strained their eyes upon the
surrounding veldt, now construing a shadow into an enemy--now hearing a
whisper of voices, the tread of a stealthy footstep--in the varying and
spectral sounds of the night.  But Renshaw's solitary and wandering life
had inured him to these things.  His chief considerations now were,
firstly lest the drowsy feeling, which he was doing his utmost to
combat, should tend to dim his vigilance; secondly, the stilling of his
cravings for just one carefully guarded pipe.

Suddenly the faintest possible creak of a footfall on the floor behind
him.  He turned like lightning.

"It's only me," whispered a soft voice.  And a tall figure approached in
the gloom.

"Marian!  Why are you not lying down with the rest?"

"They're all asleep now, even Violet, Look, I've brought you some
sandwiches.  You hardly ate anything when you came in.  You set to work
upon them at once, and I'll mount sentry while you are having supper."

"How good of you!" he said, taking the plate from her, and also the
glass of brandy-and-water which she had mixed for him, "Why, what have
you there?  A shooting iron?"

"Of course.  You don't suppose I was going to leave my gun behind when
we are in a state of siege, do you?"

She carried a double-barrelled breech-loader--rifle and shot cartridge--
and there was a warrior flash in her eyes visible in the moonlight,
which told that she meant to use it, too, if occasion required.

"It is very lonely for you, watching all by yourself," she continued.
"I thought I would come and keep you company."

"So like you again.  But look here, Marian dear.  You must not be
exposed to danger.  Single-handed I can make such an example of the
_schepsels_ that they'll probably turn and run.  Still, they might let
fly a shot or two.  You will go back to the others if I ask you--will
you not?"

Her heart thrilled tumultuously within her.  In the darkness she need be
at no pains to conceal the tell-tale expression of her face.  Ah, but--
his tones, though affectionate, were merely brotherly.  That might be,
but still, whatever peril he might undergo, it should be her privilege
to share it--her sweet privilege--and she would share it.

"No; I will not," she answered decisively.  "I can be as cool as any one
living, man or woman.  Feel my hand; there is not a tremble in it."  And
her fingers closed round his in a firm, steady clasp, in which there was
nothing nervous, nothing spasmodic.

"I believe you can," he answered, "but I was thinking of your safety."

"_My_ safety!" she interrupted.  Then in a different tone, "How do you
suppose they'll come, Renshaw?  Walk openly to the house or try to creep
up in the shadow?"

"The last.  You see they showed their hand by tackling me upon the road.
Yet they may think I've turned in and bothered no more about it.
Hallo!"

"What is it?"

"I could have sworn I heard something.  I've got long ears--like a
donkey, you will say."

Both listened intently, the woman with less eagerness, less anxiety,
than the man.  There was a kind of exaltation about Marian to-night.
Her nerves were as firm as those of her male companion himself; and the
certainty of a bloody conflict was to her, in her then frame of mind, a
mere matter of detail.

"Ah!  I thought I was right," he went on, as a premonitory "woof" from
one of the dogs lying around the house was followed by a general
uprising and clamour on the part of the whole lot.  Then, baying
savagely, they started off in fall charge in the direction of the dark
line of shade thrown by the willows fringing the dam, and on the
opposite side to that watched by Renshaw and his companion.

"Marian, just go to the other side and look if you can see anything.
You won't, I know, but still there's no harm in making sure."

She obeyed.  From that side of the house nothing was visible except a
long stretch of sickly moonlight and the line of trees.  But the dogs
had disappeared within the shade of the latter and were raising a
clamour that was truly infernal.  They seemed to be holding something or
somebody in check.  Then she returned to her former post.

"There's nothing there," she said, "at present.  Ah!"

Three shadowy figures were flitting round the angle of the outhouse
block above mentioned.  They gained the shade thrown by the front of
it--crouched and waited.

"Here they are," whispered Renshaw, under his breath.  "I was up to that
dodge.  One fellow was told off to draw off the dogs, while these jokers
sneaked up in the opposite direction.  Look--here come the rest."

Two more figures followed the first--then another.  All were now
crouching in the shadow of the outhouses.  Still the yelling clamour of
the dogs sounded distant on the other side, kept up with unabated fury.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

CATCHING A TARTAR.

"Now, Marian," whispered Renshaw.  "This is going to be a life-and-death
business, remember.  It's them or ourselves.  You are sure you have no
womanish qualms in favour of `giving them a chance,' or any madness of
that kind?"

"You will see!" was the curt reply, and the tone was sufficient.

"All right.  When I say `Now,' you must let into the fellow I'll point
out to you.  Use your shot-barrel, remember.  I'm going to let them get
quite close, and we'll give them a heavy charge of loepers apiece.  Then
if we get a show we'll follow it up with rifle practice."

She whispered assent, and for some moments they strained their eyes upon
the shade of the outbuildings.  Suddenly one dark figure flitted
noiselessly out, followed by another and another, till the whole gang
were full in sight, advancing in a diagonal line.

"Keep cool, Marian, keep cool," warned Renshaw.  "Wait for the word.
They are not nearly close enough yet."

On came the six cut-throats.  Two black men led--then a bestial-looking,
undersized Bushman Hottentot; his hideous yellow face, repulsive in the
moonlight, cruel, ape-like; his eyes rolling in eager, ferocious
expectation of the sanguinary orgy which awaited.  The other three were
half-bloods.  Five of them carried guns, the sixth a pistol.  Again
Renshaw had done the very best thing he could, in shaping the plan we
have heard him lay down.

On they came.  Once the leader raised his hand, and all stopped,
listening intently.  The wild clamour of the dogs still arose in the
distance.  Reassured, the scoundrels advanced, swiftly, noiselessly.
Seventy--sixty--fifty--forty yards.

"Ready, Marian!  Take the third fellow.  Now!"

Crash!  Crash!

The double report bellowed forth into the midnight stillness.  Mingling
with it came a horrid scream.  Marian's aim had been true and deadly.
The leader of the gang, a stalwart Kafir--had made one leap into the air
and had fallen forward on his face.  He lay motionless.  Again Renshaw
drew trigger, bringing a third man to the grass, his knee-bone
shattered.

Then the unexpected took place.  Instead of seeking safety in headlong
flight, as the defenders had reckoned, the surviving three rushed madly
round to the other side of the house, a bullet from Renshaw's
six-shooter failing to stop them.

"Stay here, Marian," whispered the latter hurriedly.  "Draw on the first
fellow who shows himself."  And in a trice he was round to meet the new
attack.

What was this?  No sign of the enemy.  Had they fled?

Suddenly a crash of glass--a scuffle and a torrent of Dutch curses.
Quickly the position stood revealed.

There stood Gomfana, holding on to a human figure which was half in and
half out of the window--head and shoulders through the shattered sash.
He had got the fellow firmly by the neck with one hand, while with the
other he was striving all he knew to drag him in by his clothing.  But
the villain--a stalwart half-breed--was almost too much for the sturdy
young Kafir.  The latter would have assegaied him in a moment had he
owned three hands.  Having but two, however, and these two being
required to hold on to his enemy, it was out of the question--but hold
on he did.

"Stop struggling or I'll shoot you dead!" said Renshaw, in Dutch,
placing the muzzle of his pistol against the man's body.  The fellow,
thoroughly cowed, obeyed, and Gomfana, with a final effort, hauled him
bodily into the room amid a terrific shatter of falling glass.

"What on earth's the row, Uncle Renshaw?" said a boy's voice.

"Fred, cut away and find a _reim_" Rope is little used in South Africa,
its place being supplied by raw hide-thongs termed as above.  "Sharp's
the word--mind."

In a twinkling the youngster was back with the required article, and
almost as quickly Renshaw's ready hand had strapped up the midnight
robber so that the latter could not move a limb.  Now, all this had
happened in far less time than it has taken to narrate.

But there were still two of the scoundrels unaccounted for.  That they
had not fled Renshaw was certain.  And now the dogs, hearing the firing
and shouting, and judging the bulk of the fun lay in that direction,
abandoned their mysterious quarry and came tearing up open-mouthed.
Then the secret stood explained.  The remaining two were crouching
beneath some rockwork at one corner of the verandah, presumably
following the tactics of the large veldt-spider who when suddenly
surprised is apt to run straight in upon the intruder, judging, rightly
in the main, that in this position the latter will not be able to crush
him.

"Throw down your arms or you are dead men!" cried Renshaw, covering the
pair with his barrels.

The fellows, who had just emptied their guns--with small effect,
however--among the snarling, leaping, savage pack which had at once
assailed them, did not hesitate a moment.  They were the least desperate
of the gang, and the fearful execution done among their comrades had
struck wholesome terror into themselves.  Begging piteously for mercy,
they shambled forth and submitted to being duly secured.

No sooner was this effected than a sharp report rang out in the room
where Marian had been posted.  Promptly gaining the spot, Renshaw found
that the shot had not been fired by her, but by small Basil Selwood.

"Why, what are you blazing at, Basil?  Those chaps are safely winged, if
they're not dead."

"Are they?  That black chap was trying to cut away on two hands and a
leg," answered the youngster.  "I thought I'd stop that.  But I didn't
hit him," he added candidly.

"I must go and see to them.  You and Fred must mount guard over the
prisoners, and send Gomfana to me."

Accompanied by the young Kafir, Renshaw sallied forth.  The dogs had
already pounced upon the wounded Bushman, and in another minute would
have worried him to death.  Game to the last, however, the ferocious
ruffian had fired among them, killing one, and but for the fact that his
gun was empty would have fired upon his human rescuers.  Investigation
showed that he was badly wounded in both legs, notwithstanding which,
well knowing the desperate hardihood of the race, Renshaw deemed it
necessary to bind his hands.  The other wounded man, a Kafir, had also a
broken leg.  He, however, realising how thoroughly the odds were against
him, submitted sullenly to the inevitable.  The sixth and last, he who
had led the gang, was stone dead, shot through the heart.  Renshaw
turned the body over.  The empty eye-socket and the brutal pock-marked
features seemed distorted in a fiend-like leer beneath the moonlight.
Renshaw had no difficulty in recognising the description of the Kafir,
Muntiwa.

Meanwhile, how had the non-combatants been faring?  Mrs Selwood, having
armed herself with a double gun, had retired to her children's room,
resolved that her post was there.  She had taken Violet with her, and
the latter had fallen into a fit of terror that was simply
uncontrollable.  The crash of the firearms, the dread lull intervening,
the subdued anxious voices of the defenders, the terrible suspense, had
all been too much for her; nor could the reassurances of her hostess, or
even the example of pluck shown by the child Effie, avail to allay her
fears.  Finally, she went off into a dead swoon.

As for the two youngsters, Fred and Basil, the prevailing idea in their
minds was one of unqualified disgust at not having been allowed to take
part in the fight from the very beginning.

"Why didn't you call us, Uncle Renshaw?" was their continual cry.  "We'd
have knocked fits out of those _schelms_.  Wouldn't we just!"

"You bloodthirsty young ruffians!  You have plenty of time before you
for that sort of thing, and you'll have plenty of opportunities for
getting and giving hard knocks by the time you get to my age," he would
reply good-humouredly.  But the youngsters only shook their heads with
expressions of the most intense disappointment and disgust.

Not much sleep for the household during the remainder of that night.
Renshaw found his time and his vigilance fully occupied in attending to
the security of his prisoners, and doing what he could for the wounded.
The fellows, for their part, were disposed to accept the inevitable, and
make the best of the situation.  They were bound to be hanged anyhow,
though in his secret heart each man hoped that his life might be spared.
Meanwhile, it was better to enjoy good rations than bad ones, and to
that end it was as well to conciliate the _Baas_; and Renshaw had no
difficulty, accordingly, in getting at the story of the attack.

Of course, each swore he was not the instigator; of course, each laid
the blame on the dead man, Muntiwa.  He was the prime mover in the
enterprise.  He had a grudge against the _Baas_ who lived there, and as
they all stood and fell together they had been obliged to help him in
his scheme of plunder.  Of course, too, each and all were ready to swear
that plunder was their only object.  They would not have harmed anybody,
not they; no, not for all the world.  Thus the three half-breeds.  But
Booi, the Kafir, volunteered no statement whatever, and Klaas Baartman,
the Bushman Hottentot, savagely declared that he had intended to cut the
throat of every woman and child on the place.  The seventh of the gang,
who was still at large, having no firearm, had been posted under the
willows to draw off the dogs--even as Renshaw had conjectured.

Asked whether they knew the _Baas_ of the place was absent, they replied
that one of them had been watching and had seen unmistakable signs that
this was the case.  The rest of the gang had watched the main road, and
when Renshaw had passed they had intended to let him go by unmolested,
so as to render more complete their projected surprise, and would have,
but for the indiscretion of one of their number--of course the man who
had not been captured.

In the morning, opportunely enough, a posse of Mounted Police arrived--a
sergeant and three troopers.  They had been patrolling the mountains on
the lookout for this very gang, and had fallen in with some natives who
declared they had heard distant firing in the direction of Sunningdale.
Thither therefore they had ridden with all possible speed.

"Well, Mr Fanning--I wish I had had your luck--that's all," said the
sergeant--while doing soldier's justice to the succulent breakfast set
before them.  "You've captured the whole gang, single-handed, all but
one, that is, and we are sure to have him soon."

"I wish you had, sergeant, if it would hurry on your sub-inspectorship,"
said Renshaw, heartily--"But I must take exception to your word
`single-handed,' I don't know what I should have done without Miss
Selwood."

Whereat the sergeant, who, like many another man serving in the Mounted
Police in those days, was a gentleman by birth, and who moreover had
been casting many an admiring glance at Marian, turned to the latter
with the most gracefully worded compliment he could muster.  But, Marian
herself was somewhat unresponsive.  She could shoot people, if put to
it, but her preferences were all the other way.  As it was she was
heartily thankful she had not killed the man, and that his wounds were
not mortal.

"I'm afraid he'll only recover for Jack Ketch, then, Miss Selwood,"
rejoined the sergeant.  "They're all booked for the `drop,' to a dead
certainty, for that other affair.  What?  Hadn't you heard of it?"

And then came out the story of the wholesale butchery in which these
miscreants had been concerned.  There was no difficulty whatever as to
providing their identity.  The Government rifles, stolen from the
convict guards when these were overpowered, spoke for themselves.  And
with the horror of the recital vanished the reactionary glow of pity
which had begun to agitate the feminine breast on behalf of the
prisoners.  Hanging was too good for such a set of fiends.

Breakfast over, the police troopers set out with their prisoners,
handcuffed, and extra well secured with reims; for the bush bordering
the road was thick, as we have seen, and the men in desperate case.  The
two wounded ruffians were left behind until such time as they should be
in a condition to travel--to recover, as the police sergeant had truly
put it, for Jack Ketch; and the dead body of Muntiwa was taken to a
distance, and built up in a kind of impromptu morgue of stones to
protect it against wild animals and carrion birds.  For the district
surgeon would have to make a post-mortem, and a report, as by law
required; a duty which that functionary might, or might not, hurry
himself to fulfil.

We may as well anticipate a few months, and finally dismiss the
surviving scoundrels from our narrative.  The wounded ones being
sufficiently convalescent, the whole lot--for the man who escaped at
Sunningdale was eventually taken--were put upon their trial for the
murder of the Hottentot family.  Two were accepted as Queen's evidence,
and their testimony, as confirmed by the murdered man's dying
deposition, established that Muntiwa and Klaas Baartman, the Bushman
Hottentot, were the principal actors in the diabolical business--though
there was not much difference in degree between the guilt of any of
them, except that Booi, the other Kafir, had endeavoured strenuously to
dissuade his fellow-scoundrels from the murder of the woman and
children.  Accordingly, the two men who had saved their lives by turning
Queen's evidence, were put back to take their trial for escaping from
durance, and further acts of robbery committed or attempted, including
their attack upon Sunningdale; while the remaining four were sentenced
to death.  Which sentence was carried out in the town of the district
wherein the murder had taken place, and the cutthroats were duly
hanged--all except the Kafir, Booi, that is, who being recommended to
mercy on the consideration above given, his capital sentence was
commuted to one of hard labour for life.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

AFTER THE STORM.

Several days went by before things at Sunningdale settled down into
their normal calm.  The excitement of the night attack had left its mark
upon all concerned; moreover, the presence of the two prisoners was
productive of an uneasy feeling among the weaker members of the
household, for apart from it being a continual reminder of a scene they
would fain forget, there was always a haunting fear lest the desperate
scoundrels might once more effect their escape.  To Violet especially
did this apply, and she would wake in the night screaming wildly, and
declaring she could see the savage faces of the prisoners glaring in at
the window.  In fact, for some days she lay in a complete state of
nervous prostration.

A policeman had been sent out from Fort Lamport at Renshaw's request, to
take charge of the two convicts.  Their wounds had been attended to by
the district surgeon.  Those received by the Bushman were of a shocking
nature, and would probably have proved fatal to a white man, while it
was found necessary to amputate the Kafir's leg.  The rope, however, was
not to be cheated of its prey, as we have already shown.

Now Sunningdale, though a charming spot, was a decidedly out-of-the-way
one, notwithstanding which, however, as soon as the news of the conflict
got wind, it was beset with visitors from far and near, all eager to
hear the story at first hand; all fired with curiosity to see two such
desperate and now notorious villains as Klaas Baartman and his
confederate.  We fear the latter emotion was productive of transient
advantage to the two scoundrels, in the shape of chunks of tobacco, for
apart from an involuntary feeling of compunction for a human creature,
however hardened a criminal, whose days are as surely numbered as those
of a sheep in a slaughterhouse pen, there was the idea that these two
wretches being on show, it was only fair that they should derive some
small benefit therefrom.  Hence the chunks of tobacco.

There was one to whom this sudden influx of visitors was distasteful in
the highest degree.  That one was Marian Selwood.  To find herself
exalted by them into a heroine, to be repeatedly congratulated on her
splendid nerve, and complimented on her wonderful pluck and so forth,
was absolutely sickening to her.  As she remarked bitterly to Renshaw,
"What was there to brag about, in that she, securely concealed--lurking
ambushed, in fact--did shoot down a wretched man advancing in the open?
It was a repulsive necessity, but not a thing to be proud of, and for
her part the sooner she could forget it the better."

To which he had replied that, while agreeing with her on the main
principle, the way in which to look at the matter was this.  She had
been called upon unexpectedly to fill a critical position, one demanding
both courage and judgment--and inasmuch as she had displayed both those
qualities, and had shown herself abundantly equal to the situation, she
had every reason to feel satisfied with herself.  Which judicious
reassurance, coming from the quarter it did, tended not a little to
soothe poor Marian's troubled mind.

For a strange depression had come upon her since the occurrence--a
strange reaction in no wise due to the lurid incidents of the tragedy
itself.  The very firmness and resolution she had displayed were as gall
and wormwood to her recollections.  What a figure she must have cut!  A
mere fighting Amazon, a masculine virago, endowed with a modicum of
brute courage and healthy nerves!  Was it her fault?  Thus would she
lash her mind into an agony, what time people were showering
congratulations and compliments upon her.

Ah, but then the exquisite sweetness of that lonely midnight vigil--
alone with him, in momentary expectation of impending peril, their
faculties of vision strained to the uttermost--gazing forth into the
sickly moonlight watching for the coming of the murderous foe.  A
reminiscence which would haunt most women for the rest of their lives,
causing them to start appalled from their dreams.  Not so this one.
That weird midnight hour, the hush of expectancy, their common peril,
her fears on his account; ah, that was something to look back upon,
something that should make her heart thrill--but not with terror--for
many and many a day.

Yet the iron was in her soul.  Nothing could blot out the repellent
mental photograph she had taken of herself.  It might fade in time, but
could never be effaced.  Why had she not screamed and fainted like
Violet Avory?  That, at any rate, was "womanly", she supposed.  And what
was more repellent than the opposite quality in one of her own sex?

At the thought of Violet she was conscious of a bitter pang.  What was
the talisman by which the latter was empowered to win all hearts--and
then to trample them underfoot in pretty scorn?  Well, Violet had every
advantage.  Her bright, piquant beauty and fascinating manner, her
consummate _savoir vivre_, her abundant and perfect taste, her knowledge
of society, of England and the Continent--all these things counted, she
supposed.  Violet was born and bred in England, and had had the
advantages of society and travel; whereas she, Marian, had never been
outside the Colony, and had spent most of her life on a frontier farm.
Be it remembered, nevertheless, that she who thus secretly ruminated, to
her own disparagement, was no mere shy, awkward, diffident school-girl,
but a peculiarly winsome, refined, and gracious-mannered woman.  And
then she would awake to a consciousness that the very fact of indulging
in such comparisons between herself and Violet was not a little
contemptible.  For the broad, reflective mind of Marian Selwood, though
possessing its proper share of pride, held no corner wherein might lurk
the meaner vice of envy.  Whereby she stood confessed an anomaly among
her sex.

When Sellon and his host returned from their temporary absence, the
former displayed more feeling at the thought of the horrible peril
incurred by Violet than those among whom his lines were at present cast
would have given him credit for, and in pursuance of this vein he could
not sufficiently extol the promptness of resource and cool bravery
displayed by Renshaw.  And again and again he found himself wondering at
the extraordinary coincidence involved in his being brought to this
place by Fanning of all men in the world.  It was pretty rough on poor
Fanning that he should be the means of cutting his own throat.  But he
had certainly behaved splendidly since, thought Maurice.  He had
evidently recognised, and that unmistakably, who had the prior claim,
and the perfect good taste with which he had withdrawn was worthy of all
praise.  And in a fit of generous self-complacency the holder of the
winning cards felt inclined to blame Violet for having given any
encouragement to his now discomfited rival.

What, however, did not occur to him was to blame himself.  Maurice
Sellon was not built that way.  His memory went back to the time of
their first meeting--a clear case of love at first sight--to many a
tryst since, stolen, and therefore doubly sweet; their awakening to the
hopelessness of it all; then their mutual compact to part, to hold no
sort of communication by word or pen for six months--which arrangement,
though heroic, had broken down ignominiously, as we have seen.  He was a
great mixture, this unprincipled man of the world.  But, with all his
faults, his heart was a very soft one, and around it Violet Avory had
entwined herself with a firmness, an inextricability, which she could
hardly have compassed with a man of stronger mind and clearer head.

It did not occur to him to blame himself.  He held her heart, but
dog-in-the-manger like.  They could never be anything closer to each
other; but, dog-in-the-manger like, he had no idea of surrendering her
to one who might freely occupy a closer place.  Conscience suggested
that had he himself not turned up Renshaw Fanning's suit might in time
have prospered.  Well, what was that to him?  He would give up Violet to
no man living; and he felt sore and angry at the bare suggestion
sometimes aroused by mind and conscience that she could at any time
bring herself or be brought to give him up.

Then his thoughts took a turn; went back to Fanning and his tormenting
secret.  He remembered the banter that had passed between them, when
projecting their treasure-seeking expedition.  "Perhaps after all our
object is the same," he had said.  "Perhaps it is," had been the
off-hand reply.  And it was with a vengeance.  He had not intended to be
so literal in making the remark! yet he had been startlingly so, though
unconsciously.  And this suggested another misgiving.  What if Fanning
should now refuse to share the secret with him--make some excuse--invent
some pretext for "climbing down"?  He knew that he himself would be more
than tempted so to act were the positions reversed.  In fact, it was of
no use disguising from himself that he would so act.  But Fanning was a
good fellow--a thoroughly conscientious fellow.  He would never go back
on his word--would never play him, Maurice, such a shady trick.

Wherein is one of those paradoxes in human nature which will now and
again crop up--for no matter to how great an extent hard experience may
teach us to put no trust in our fellow-men, do we not every now and
again catch ourselves expecting somebody else to act far better under
given circumstances than we should ourselves?



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

IN THE LONG KLOOF.

"How am I this morning?  Oh yes, it's all very well.  But you don't care
a straw how I am, or what becomes of me--now!"

Thus Violet Avory, in the softest, most plaintive tone, at the same time
lifting her eyelashes in just one quick, reproachful glance.  The shaft
was effective.  It brought down the bird at once.  Renshaw stopped.

"I don't think it's quite kind of you to say that, Miss Avory," he
answered, a trifle nettled, for all that killing glance; for all that
beseeching, cooing tone.  "You know you do not believe what you are
saying."

She had been leaning over the gate which led out of the flower garden in
front of the house.  He was passing out to set off on his numerous
self-imposed duties, having for their object the keeping everything
straight during his friend's absence.  The morning was young still--not
quite ten o'clock.  He was hurrying by with a pleasant inquiry as to her
well-being, when arrested by her speech as above.

"Thank you," she answered, "I do happen to believe it, though.  You
never come near me now--in fact, you avoid me like the plague.  We have
not had one talk together since you came back.  However, you don't
care--now, as I said before."

To an unprejudiced hearer conversant with the state of affairs, this was
pretty thick.  For by that time it was manifest to all that the only
person who had any chance of a "talk together" with the speaker--as she
euphemistically put it--was Sellon; and long before it was to all thus
manifest the fact was painfully evident to Renshaw Fanning.

"If it is as you say, I don't think you can blame me," he answered.  "I
thought my leaving you alone was exactly what you would wish.  And that
idea you yourself seemed to bear out both by word and act."

"Do you think I have so many--friends, that I can bear to part with one,
Renshaw?"

Her tone was soft, pleading--suggestive of a tinge of despair.  The
velvety eyes seemed on the point of brimming, as her glance
reproachfully met his, and a delicate flush came into her cheeks.  She
was standing beneath a cactus, whose great prismatic blossoms in the
background hung like a shower of crimson stars, one of them just
touching her dark hair.  To the unprejudiced witness again, conversant
with the facts, Violet Avory, standing there amid the sensuous falling
of gorgeous blossoms, would have recalled some graceful, purring,
treacherous feline, beautiful in its satin-skinned curves, yet withal
none the less deadly of intent towards the foolish creatures who should
constitute its prey.  In this man, however, in spite of the sharp
awakening which the last couple of weeks had brought with them, her arts
begat no repulsion.  There was no breaking away from the old spell so
easily.  A mist floated before his eyes, and the old tremble came into
his voice, as he replied--

"Friends!  I should have thought you had plenty.  For instance--"

"For instance what?"

"Well, I was going to say, look how anxious we have all been to see you
become your old self again; but it struck me that after what you begun
by saying I had better not."

"Will you do something if I ask you?" she said suddenly.

"Certainly, if it is anything within my power."

"I want you to take me for a ride--now, this morning.  Will you?"

"With pleasure," he answered, brightening up--all prudent resolves
scattered to the winds.

"I think it will do me good.  Besides--I want to talk to you.  Now, I'll
go and get ready.  But mind--don't let's have any of the others, or it
will be no use.  Make some excuse about there being no horses or
something."

And she started off indoors, while he went round to see about getting
the horses up from the large paddock, wherein a certain supply of the
noble animal was always kept for home use.

Violet was not much of a rider; in fact, she was rather timid in the
saddle.  But she had a good seat for all show purposes, and being one of
those girls who do everything gracefully, she looked as well on
horseback as anywhere else.

In the eyes of her present escort, this lovely sunshiny morning, she
looked more than bewitching; which being so, it is not surprising that
all his strongly formed and salutary resolutions should rapidly ooze out
at his finger-ends.  For he had half-unconsciously formed many
resolutions, not the least of which was that he would think no more of
Violet Avory--at any rate, except as a friend.

Though his strong, self-contained nature had rendered him an easy prey
to her wiles--easier because so thorough, once he had succumbed--yet it
supplied a wholesome counterbalance.  Which counterbalance lay in an
unswerving sense of self-respect.

Try as she would, Violet had not been able to conceal altogether her
partiality for Sellon.  All her sage precepts to the latter
notwithstanding, she had more than once allowed her prudence to lull.
The sharp precocity of the children had discovered their secret in no
time, and, disliking her as they did, they had, we may be sure, been at
no pains to hold their prying, chattering little tongues.  Then the
whole thing had become common property to all around.

That she should prefer Sellon seemed to Renshaw quite a natural thing.
In his single-heartedness, his utter freedom from egotism, he was
sublimely unconscious of any advantages which he himself might possess
over the other.  She had rejected him unequivocally, for he had once put
his fate to the test.  She was therefore perfectly free to show
preference for whosoever she pleased.  The one consideration which
caused him to feel sore at times--and he would not have been human had
it been otherwise--was the consciousness that he himself was the agency
through which the two had been thrown together.  Many a man would have
reflected rather bitterly on the strange freak of fortune which had once
appointed him the preserver of his successful rival's life.  But Renshaw
Fanning's nature was too noble to entertain any such reflection.  If it
occurred to him, he would cast forth the idea in horror, as something
beyond all words contemptible.

This being so, he had made up his mind to accept the inevitable, and had
succeeded so well--outwardly, at least--as to give his tormentor some
colour for the opening words of our present chapter.  But he little knew
Violet Avory.  That insatiable little heart-breaker fully believed in
eating her cake _and_ having it, too.  She was not going to let it be
said that any man had given her up, least of all this one.  The giving
up must come from her own side.

"How glum you are, Renshaw," she began, at last.  "You have said nothing
but `yes' or `no' ever since we left the house.  And that was at least
half an hour ago."

He started guiltily.  The use of his Christian name was an artfully
directed red-hot shot from her battery.  In public it was always "Mr
Fanning."  And they had not met otherwise than in public since his
return.

"Am I?" he echoed.  "I really beg your pardon, but I am afraid I must
be."

"First of all, where are you going to take me?"

"We had better ride up to the head of the Long Kloof.  It is only a
gradual ascent, and an easier ride for you."

This was agreed to, and presently they were winding between the
forest-clad spurs of the hills; on, leisurely, at a foot's-pace; the
great rolling seas of verdure, spangled with many a fantastic-hued
blossom, sweeping down to the path itself; the wild black-mouthed gorges
echoing the piping call of birds in the brake, and the sullen
deep-throated bark of the sentinel baboon, squatted high overhead.

But the ride, so far from doing her good, seemed, judging from results,
to be exercising a still further damping effect upon Violet's spirits.
It had become her turn now to answer in monosyllables, as her companion
tried to interest her in the scenery and surroundings.  All of a sudden
she wildly burst into tears.

Down went Renshaw's wise resolutions, the result of a painful and severe
course of self-striving, like a house of cards.  The sight of her grief
seemed more than he could bear.

"Good heavens!  Violet--darling--what is it?  Why are you unhappy?"

The tone was enough.  The old tremor of passion struggling to repress
itself.  Had she forged this weapon deliberately, Violet must have
rejoiced over its success.  But this time the outburst was genuine.

"Oh, I sometimes wish I could die!" she answered, as soon as she could
control her voice.  "Then there would be a peaceful ending to it all, at
any rate."

"Ending to what?  You have been very much shaken, dear--since that
unfortunate skirmish the other night.  But you must try and forget that
and become your own bright self again.  It cannot be that you have any
real trouble on your mind?"

"Oh, Renshaw--you have been so hard to me of late--so cold and silent,
as if you didn't care so much as to speak to me--and I have felt it so--
so much.  Ah, but you don't believe me."

The man's face grew white.  What did this mean?  Had he been deceiving
himself all this time?  While he had thought she was trying once more to
whistle him back to her lure, to amuse herself with him and his most
sacred feelings as a mere pastime during the other's absence--could it
be after all that she had merely been playing off the other against
him--piqued at the outward cooling of his attentions?  A tumultuous rush
of feeling went through his heart and brain.  But like a douche of cold
water upon the fainting patient came her next words, bringing him to
with a kind of mental gasp.

"You have felt it so much?" he echoed, quickly.

"Yes.  I could not bear the thought of losing such a staunch,
true-hearted friend as you would be--as you are.  You don't know how I
value the idea of your sympathy."

Crash went the newly born resuscitation of his hopes--scattered to
fragments--shivered into empty nothingness by just one word.  "Friend!"
Hateful word in such conjunction!  His voice seemed numbed and strained
as he rejoined--

"I am sorry you should think of regarding me as anything less than a
friend--and you must know that you could never lack my sympathy.  Then
there is something troubling you?"

"Now you are angry with me.  Oh, Renshaw--and I am so miserable.  You
speak in such a cold, severe tone.  And I thought you would have been so
different."

"God forgive me if I should have seemed to be angry with you," he
replied.  "But--how can I help you?  You have not told me what your
trouble is."

"Renshaw, I believe you can be as secret as the grave.  It concerns
myself--and another.  But nothing that you can do can remove it.
Nothing but misery can come of it, if I do not die myself, that is."

"One word, Violet.  You are sure nothing I can do will help you?  I do
not wish to force your confidence, remember."

"Nothing," was the despairing answer.  "Only this, Renshaw.  Promise
that you will stand my friend--Heaven knows I may need it and do need
it--whatever others may say or do.  Promise that if ever you can help me
you will."

Their eyes met--then their hands.

"I promise both things," he answered gravely.

But, as they turned their horses' heads to ride homewards, there was a
heavy heart within Renshaw Fanning's breast; a heart full of sad and
heavy despair.  His love for this girl was no mere fleeting passion, but
the terribly earnest and concentrated abandonment of a man of mature
years and strong feelings.  Now there was an end of everything.  He had
as good as heard from her own lips that her affections were bound up
with another, and who that other was his perceptions left him no room
for doubt.  But why, then, should all the misery ensue at which she had
hinted?  Could it be that her preference was but inadequately returned?
Or was there some obstacle in the way--lack of means, opposition of
parents, or similar difficulties, which are apt to seem to those most
closely concerned so insurmountable under the circumstances?  In his own
mind, he had no doubt but that things would all come right sooner or
later, and said as much.

But then, you see, they were at cross purposes, as people who deal in
veiled hints and half-confidences well-nigh invariably are.

And the promise thus deliberately uttered during that sunny morning's
ride in the Long Kloof, will he ever be called upon to take it up?

We shall see.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

A GOOD OFFER.

Time went by, and weeks slipped into months.  Amid congenial
surroundings and magnificent air, Renshaw had completely shaken off all
lingering remnants of his fever attack.  He began to think seriously of
starting in quest of "The Valley of the Eye."

Sellon, too, had begun to wax impatient, though with any less tempting
object in view he would have been loth to exchange this delightfully
easygoing life for a toilsome and nebulous quest, involving possible
risks and certain hardship and privations.  Moreover, a still lingering
misgiving that the other might cry off the bargain acted like a spur.

"It's all very well for you, Fanning," he said one day, "but, for my
part, I don't much care about wearing out my welcome.  Here I've been a
couple of months, if not more, and I shouldn't wonder if Selwood was
beginning to think I intended quartering myself on him for life.  I know
what you're going to say.  Whenever I mention leaving, he won't hear of
it.  Still, there's a limit to everything."

"Well, I don't mind making a start, say, next week," Renshaw had
answered.  "I've got to go over to Fort Lamport on Saturday.  If it'll
suit you, we'll leave here about the middle of the week.  We shall have
roughish times before us once we get across the river, mind."

"Right you are, and hurrah for the diamonds!" was the other's hearty
response; and then he turned away to seek a favourable opportunity of
breaking the news to Violet.

If Renshaw had succeeded in shaking off the effects of his fever attack,
no such complete success had attended his efforts with regard to that
other attack.  There was not much healing for his wounds in the sight of
the more than ordinarily good understanding existing between Violet and
Sellon, and being, in common with the remainder of the household,
ignorant of their former acquaintanceship, the thought that he himself
had been instrumental in bringing them together, was indeed a bitter
pill.  And then his disciplined nature would seek for an antidote and
find it--find it in the promise Violet had extracted from him to
befriend her to the utmost of his power.  Well, he was going to do this.
He was going to be the means of enriching the man who had, though not
unfairly, yet no less certainly, supplanted him.  His sacrifice on her
account would be complete.  Through his instrumentality the pair would
obtain the means of happiness.  And in this reflection his mind found a
degree of consolation.

"Cold consolation this--very much the reverse of consolation!" cries the
ordinary mind.  Yes, but Renshaw Fanning's was not an ordinary mind.

Christmas had come and gone--bringing with it much festivity--the visits
of friends and relatives, till the house was crammed to the extent of
holding no more by any means short of "shaking down" the excess members
in the verandah, even as many were already "shaken down" on the floors
of the bedrooms.  There had been dances and riding parties, and a
buck-hunt or two, though the time of year was unfavourable to venatorial
pursuits--the sweltering midsummer heat being ill-conducive to scent in
the matter of rousing the quarry, though very much conducive to the
same, after the slaying of the said quarry, which indeed would hardly
keep two hours.  There had been much fun and flirtation among the
younger section and much jollity among all.  Jovial Chris Selwood was
never so much in his element as with a crowd of friends about him, and
the more the merrier, he would say.

Then as the corner of the year turned, the party had broken up and gone
its respective ways--one to his farm, another to his merchandise--the
bulk of it, however, literally to the former.  And Renshaw began to
think a great deal about "The Valley of the Eye."

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

"So your faith in this Sindbad valley is as strong as ever, is it,
Renshaw?" said Selwood, in comment on a remark of the other's as they
were returning homeward together after a day of riding around the veldt,
looking after the flocks and their keepers, and giving an eye to things
in general.

"Well, yes, it is.  I'm as convinced the place exists as I am that I
exist myself.  But it's weariful work, hunting a will-o'-the-wisp."

"Rather.  Throw it up, old man.  Now, why on earth don't you make up
your mind to come and settle near us?  There are good enough farms
around here to be had."

"For those who have the means," supplied the other, gaily.  "And I'm not
one of them.  That last drought `busted' me--lock, stock, and barrel.
All the greater necessity to find the `Eye.'"

Selwood made no immediate reply.  He flicked the heads of the grasses
with his whip as he rode, in a meditative and embarrassed manner wholly
foreign to his genial open nature.

"See here, Renshaw," he burst forth at last; "we were boys together, and
ought to know each other pretty well by this time.  Now, I think you're
a touchy fellow on some subjects--but, hang it all, what I want to say
is this--you've been cursed by ill-luck of late; why not try fresh
ground?  Now, if a thousand pounds would--er--pull your train back on to
the rails again, why, there it is, and you've only got to say so.  Eh?
What?  Obligation, did you say?"--the other having said nothing at all.
"That be hanged!  The boot's all on the other foot!"

Renshaw was a sensitive man and a proud one, and Selwood knew it--hence
the latter's embarrassment.

"Chris, you are indeed a friend!" he answered.  "I don't know what to
say--"

"Say?  Say?  Say--`Done with you,' and consider the matter settled,"
fumed Selwood, cutting him short.

"I can't say that, Chris.  Just think what a run of ill-luck I have had.
It would be robbing you to borrow on absolutely no security--"

"Ill-luck!  Of course you have.  So would any fellow who tried to farm
Angoras in Great Bushman-land; and I was nearly saying--he'd deserve
it," cried Selwood, testily.  "It would be different down here, with
decent land and decent seasons.  And there isn't a better farmer in this
colony than yourself!"

"Don't think me ungracious," said Renshaw, deprecatorily.  "As you were
saying, Chris, we have known each other all our lives, and ought to be
able to speak out to each other.  What I was going to say is this: Your
offer is that of a true and generous friend; but were I to accept it, I
should be robbing you, for I can't give you a hundred pounds' worth of
security."

"But I do think you ungracious," fumed the other.  "Robbing me!
Security!  Tut-tut-tut!  Why, old fellow, you needn't be so punctilious.
Remember, you would probably have effected the sale of your place to
that speculator chap in Fort Lamport the other day, but for starting off
home on the spur of the moment, to protect Hilda and the rest of them
against those cut-throats.  And one doesn't like to think what might
have happened to them but for you," he added, very gravely.

Now, this was a most unfortunate allusion, for, needless to say wholly
unwittingly, Selwood had thereby imported a "compensation" element into
his generous offer--at least, so it seemed to the other's sensitive
pride.  And while acquitting his friend entirely of any such idea,
Renshaw's mind was there and then made up that by no possibility, under
the circumstances, could he entertain it, and he said as much.

Selwood was deeply disappointed.

A silence fell between the two men.

"By Jove!" said Christopher, suddenly, as they came in sight of the
homestead, "your chum there is making the most of his last day."

Two figures came in sight, strolling by the dam in the sunset glow--
Violet Avory and Sellon.  Renshaw, recognising them, made no reply.  But
the dagger within his heart gave one more turn.

"I suppose they'll make a match of it directly," went on Selwood.  "It
won't be the first that's been made up at old Sunningdale by any means--
ha! ha!"

It was the last day at Sunningdale.  Early on the morrow Renshaw and
Sellon would start upon their expedition.  And what strange, wild
experiences would be theirs before they should again rejoin this
pleasant home circle.  Would they return, rewarded with success, or only
to bear record of another failure?  Or would they, perchance, not return
at all?

This was the reflection that would recur with more or less haunting
reiteration to every member of the household that evening.  There were
serious and saddened faces in that circle; eyes, too, that would turn
away to conceal a sudden brimming that it was not wholly possible to
suppress.

For what if, perchance, they should never return at all?



CHAPTER TWENTY.

OLD DIRK IN DEFAULT.

"Well, Sellon, here we are--or, rather, here am I--at home again."

The buggy, running lightly over the hard level ground, looked as dusty
and travel-worn as the three horses that drew it, or as its two inmates.
The red ball of the sun was already half behind the treeless sky line,
and away over the plain the brown and weather-beaten walls of Renshaw's
uninviting homestead had just come into view.

Very different now, however, was the aspect of affairs to when we first
saw this out-of-the-world desert farm.  With the marvellous
recuperativeness of the Karroo plains the veldt was now carpeted with
the richest grass, spangled with a hundred varying species of delicate
wild flowers.  Yet, as the two men alighted at the door, there was
something in the desolate roughness of the empty house that struck them
both, after the comforts and cheery associations of Sunningdale.

"Home, sweet home; eh, Sellon?" continued Renshaw, grimly.  "Well, it
won't be for long.  One day's rest for ourselves and horses, and the day
after to-morrow we'll start.  Hallo, Kaatje, where's old Dirk, by the
way?"

The Koranna woman's voluble and effusive greeting seemed damped by the
question.  She answered, guiltily--

"Old Dirk, Baas?  He went away to visit his brother at Bruintjes Kraal--
and bring back half a dozen goats which he sent over there before the
drought.  I expect him back this evening--any evening."

"That's what comes of putting these wretched people into a position of
trust," said Renshaw, bitterly.  "How long has he been away, Kaatje?"

"Only a week, Baas.  Don't be _kwaai_ with Dirk, Baas.  My nephew
Marthinus has been taking his place right well--right well.  Don't be
_kwaai_ with Dirk, _myn lieve Baas_!"

But Renshaw was very much disgusted.  The old man had been with him for
years, and he had always found him honest and trustworthy far beyond his
people.  Yet no sooner was his back turned than the fellow abandoned his
post forthwith.

"This is rather annoying, Sellon," he said.  "Here old Dirk has gone
spreeing around somewhere, and goodness only knows when he'll be back.
I meant to have taken him with us this time.  He might have been
useful."

"Ever taken him before?"

"No.  I didn't want too many people in the secret.  This time it
wouldn't matter, because we shall find the place."

"You seem strangely confident, Fanning," said Sellon, thinking of the
missing document.

"I am.  I've a sort of superstition I shall hit upon it this time.
However, come in, and we'll make ourselves as comfortable as we can,
with the trapful of luxuries from more civilised parts.  It'll be canned
goods to-night, I'm afraid.  It's too late to order the execution of a
goat."

Having seen Marthinus, above alluded to, and who was a smartish
Hottentot lad, outspan the buggy and stow away the harness, Renshaw
strolled round to the kraals.  Alas! the remnant of his flocks--now a
mere handful--huddled away in a corner, spoke volumes as to the recent
devastation.  But the animals, though few, were quite in condition
again.

The gloaming fell, and still he lingered on there alone.  Sellon, who
never favoured unnecessary exertion, had established himself indoors
with a cigar and some brandy-and-water.  The darkling plain in its
solemn silence was favourable to meditation, and the return to his
solitary home aroused in Renshaw a keen sense of despondency.  What if
this new expedition should prove a failure?  If so, it should be the
last.  Come what might, nothing in the world should induce him further
to inhabit this woefully depressing and thoroughly unprofitable place.
Rather would he gather together his little all, and resume the wild
wandering hunter life away in the far interior, and hand in hand with
this resolve Christopher Selwood's offer stood forth alluringly.  Dear
old Sunningdale!  Life near there might be worth living after all--
Violet Avory apart.  But then arose the absurd scruples of a sensitive
nature.  Quick, to the verge of folly, in benefiting others, when it
became a question of himself the recipient of a good turn Renshaw's
pride rose up in an effective barrier.  And although the tie of
friendship between them was closer than might have been that of
brotherhood, he could recognise, or thought he could, in Selwood's
offer--a disguised method of conferring a favour upon himself.  Not that
he failed to appreciate it, but he could not bring himself to lie under
an obligation even to his dearest friend.  A strange character that of
this man, so self-sacrificing and so single-hearted; so sensitive, so
scrupulous in the most delicate fibres of the mind and conscience, yet
adamant in the face of peril; strong, resourceful when confronted with
privation.  A character formed of a life of solitude and hardship, a
character that would be an anachronism--an anomaly--in the whirring
clatter of old world and money-grubbing life.

"Hallo, Fanning!  What has become of you?"

The loud, jovial hail of his mercurial friend recalled him to himself
and the duties of hospitality.  Sell on, tired of his own company, had
lounged to the door.

"I thought you had concluded to go on the hunt for your runaway nigger,
old chap," he said, as the other came up.

"Only been looking round the kraals, and, I'm afraid, `mooning' a
little," answered Renshaw, with a laugh.  But there were times when his
friend's inexhaustible easiness of spirits jarred upon him.

The next day was spent in making preparations for the trip.  Crowbars
and long coils of raw-hide rope for climbing purposes--provisions and
other necessaries to be loaded up were carefully sorted and packed--nor
were firearms and a plentiful supply of cartridges overlooked.  By
nightfall everything was in thorough readiness for an early start.

Only, the missing Dirk did not appear, a fact which had the effect of
strangely annoying, not to say angering, Dirk's normally philosophical
and easy-going master.



CHAPTER TWENTY ONE.

THE FIRST CAMP.

"Any alligators in this river, Fanning?"

"Plenty.  They won't interfere with us, though."

Splash! splash!  The horses plunged on, deeper and deeper into the wide
drift.  Soon the water was up to the saddle-girths.

Renshaw, leading the way--and a pack-horse--tucked up his feet over the
saddle behind, an example his companion was not slow to follow.  An
expanse of yellow, turgid water, at least a hundred and fifty yards
wide, lay before them.  Below, a labyrinth of green eyots picturesquely
studded the surface of the stream.  Above, the river flowed round an
abrupt bend of red rock wall, sweeping silently and majestically down to
the drift which our two adventurers were fording.  In front, a high
craggy ridge, sheering up in a steep slope, dotted with aloes and a
sparse growth of mimosa bush.  Behind, a similar ridge, down whose
rugged face the two had spent the best part of the afternoon finding a
practicable path.

And now it was evening.  The setting sun dipped nearer and nearer to the
same rocky heights in the west, shedding a scarlet glow upon the smooth
surface of the great river, tingeing with fiery effulgence many a bold
krantz whose smooth walls rose sheer to the heavens.  An indescribably
wild and desolate spot, redeemed from absolute savagery by the soft
cooing of innumerable doves flitting among the fringe of trees which
skirted the bank of the stream.

The drift, though wide, was shallow, and the water came no higher than
the saddle-girths.  A few minutes more of splashing, and they emerged
upon a hard, firm sand-bank.

"The river's low now, and has been some time," said Renshaw, looking
around.  "The time before last I crossed this way, I lost a good horse
in a quicksand a little lower down.  I dare say it's a firm bank now,
like this one."

"By Jove! did you really?" said Sellon.  "Were you alone, then?"  His
respect for the other had already gone up fifty per cent.  They were in
a seldom-trodden wilderness now, a forbidding, horrible-looking
solitude, at that, shut in as it was by great, grim mountain walls, and
the eternal silence of a desert world.  Yet this man, whom he, Sellon,
in all the superiority of his old-world knowledge, had held in light
account, was perfectly at home here.  There was no doubt as to which was
the better man, here, at any rate.

"Yes; I was alone," answered Renshaw.  "I've always come on this
undertaking alone.  And I came mighty near losing my life, as well as
the horse."

"By Jove, what a fellow you are, Fanning!  I believe if I were to knock
around here in this infernal desert by myself for a week it would about
drive me mad."

The other smiled slightly.

"Would it?  Well, I suppose I'm used to it.  But, wait a bit.  You call
this an infernal desert.  It's nothing to what we shall find ourselves
in further on.  And now, I think we'll camp here.  You don't want to go
out shooting, I suppose?  We have enough to last us for a day or two; in
fact, as much as will keep."

Three guinea-fowl and a brace of red koorhaan, also three brace of
partridges, were slung across the pack-horse.  Sellon replied with an
emphatic negative.  The heat of the day's journey had knocked the bottom
out of even his sportsmanlike tendencies, he said.

They offsaddled the horses, and having led them down to the river to
drink, knee-haltered them more closely than usual, and turned them loose
to graze.  Then, taking a hatchet, Renshaw proceeded to cut a number of
mimosa boughs--large, spreading, and thorny.  These, in an incredibly
short space of time, he had beaten up into a most effective kraal.

"What's all that about, old man?" said Sellon, who, characteristically,
was taking it easy, and lay on the ground at full length, blowing out
clouds of tobacco.  "There are no lions here, surely!"

"There used to be one or two.  I've heard them on former occasions.  But
they're mighty scarce--almost extinct.  Still, it's as well to be on the
safe side."

As the last faint kiss of after-glow faded from the iron-bound peaks,
merging into the pearly grey of night, the horses were driven in and
securely picketed within the impromptu enclosure.  Then blazed forth the
ruddy flames of a cheery camp-fire, over which some of the birds were
promptly hissing and sputtering.  The small keg of Cango brandy which
they had brought with them was broached, and under the influence of a
good supper, washed down with good liquor, Sellon's mercurial spirits
revived.

"By Jove, but this is what I call real jolly!" he cried, throwing
himself back on a rug, and proceeding to fill and light his pipe.
"Hallo!  What the deuce was that?"

"Not a lion this time," said the other, tranquilly, as a long-drawn howl
arose upon the night.  It echoed weirdly among the great cliffs, dying
away in a wild wail.  "Only a wolf [Hyaena].  Plenty of them around
here."

"They make a most infernal row, at all events.  How the deuce is a
fellow going to sleep?" said Sellon, as the sound was taken up in a
sudden chorus of dismal howls, whose gruesome echoes, floating among the
krantzes, seemed to deepen the surrounding darkness, to enhance the
utter wildness of this desolate valley.

The camp was pitched in the entrance of a narrow gorge which wound right
up into the heart of the great ridge overhanging the river.  It lay in a
grassy hollow, snugly sheltered on all sides.  In the background some
hundred yards distant, and about eighty feet in height, rose a
perpendicular wall of rock, being one of the spurs of the main ridge.

"Oh, you'll sleep soundly enough once you're off, never fear," laughed
Renshaw.  "And now, as we are fairly embarked upon our undertaking, we
may as well go over old Greenway's yarn together.  Two heads are better
than one, they say, and a fresh mind brought to bear upon the story may
bring into it a fresh idea or two."

Putting his hand inside his shirt, he produced the buckskin pouch.  At
last had come the moment Sellon had long dreaded.  How he wished he had
refrained from meddling with the thing.  Certainly he believed that his
friend could get along almost, if not quite as well without the paper,
as with it.  Its contents must be stamped indelibly in his memory.  Yet
how would he take the discovery of its loss?

"I've never gone into it with you before, Sellon," went on Renshaw,
holding the pouch in his hand, little thinking what tantalising suspense
his friend was undergoing.  "You see, when a man holds a secret of this
kind--has been treasuring it up for years--he's apt to keep it mighty
close.  But now that we are fairly in the swim together things are
different."

He undid the outer bag, then leisurely unrolled the waterproof wrapper,
Sellon meanwhile staring at the proceeding with a nervous fascination,
which, had his friend noticed, he would have put down to intense
excitement due to the importance of the disclosure.  Still deliberately,
Renshaw unrolled the last fold of the wrapper, and produced--a scroll of
frayed and yellow paper.

Heavens and earth!  It was the identical document!  In his wild
amazement Sellon could not refrain from a violent start.

"What's the row?" said the other, quietly.  "Keep cool.  We want steady
nerves over this undertaking."

"You're right, old man.  I own that mine are a little too high-strung,"
answered Maurice, with something of a stammer.  "By Jove, what if we
should go back practically millionaires!  Only think of it, old chap!
Isn't it enough to turn any man's head?  And when you got out that bit
of paper, it seemed almost like producing the key of the bullion safe
itself."

But this was said in a hurried, random fashion.  How in the name of all
that was wonderful had the missing paper come to light?  Again Sellon
dismissed the idea of the Koranna servants having any agency in the
matter, and no other theory was compatible with its almost miraculous
reappearance.  Stay!  Had Fanning a duplicate, perhaps, which he had
quietly replaced in the receptacle for the lost document?  No, by Jove;
that was the identical paper itself.  He could swear to it a hundred
times over, there in the red light of the camp-fire, even to the
pear-shaped blot near the right-hand corner.  There it was; no mistake
about that.  Then he wondered when it had been recovered--when Fanning
had discovered its loss--and whether he had entertained any suspicion of
himself.  If so, it was marvellous that all this time he should have let
drop no word, no hint, either of the incident or his suspicions
regarding it.  The enhanced respect which his tranquil, self-contained
companion had begun to inspire in Sellon, now turned to something like
awe.  "You'll never make an adventurer, Sellon," said Renshaw, with his
quiet smile, "until you chuck overboard such inconvenient luggage as
nerves.  And I'm afraid you're too old to learn that trick now."

"You're right there, old chap.  I wish I had some of your
long-headedness, I know.  But now, I'm all impatience.  Supposing you
read out old stick-in-the-mud, what's-his-name's, queer legacy."

"All right.  Now listen attentively, and see how it strikes you."

And by the red light of the camp fire Renshaw began to read the dying
adventurer's last statement.



CHAPTER TWENTY TWO.

A VOICE FROM THE DEAD.

"My name is Amos Greenway," it began.  "It was some years ago now--no
matter how many--since I first saw what I am going to tell you.  That
time I'd been up with a hunting and trading party into the Kalihari.
I'd split off from the rest--no matter why--perhaps we'd fallen out.

"What I didn't know about the country in those days didn't seem much
worth knowing--at least, so I thought.  Well, I got down into the
Bechuana country, and after a bit of a rest struck off alone in a
southerly direction.  I counted on hitting off the big river that way,
and at the same time I'd often longed to do a little prospecting on the
ground I was going to cross.  But this time, as it happened, I got out
of my reckoning.  I'd got into a waterless desert--and foodless too.  I
had biltong enough to last for any time, but water is a thing you can't
carry much of--and if you could it would all turn bad in that awful
heat.  First my pack-horse gave out--then the nag I was riding--and
there I was dying of thirst in the middle of the most awful dried-up
country you can imagine.  There were mountains far away on the
sky-line--must have been at least a hundred miles away, for they were
hull down on the horizon.  There might or might not be water there; but
if so I should never reach it, because I couldn't crawl ten miles in a
day, and was about played out even then.  Nothing to kill either--no
game of any kind--or the blood might have quenched thirst.  Nothing
except aasvogels, and they were too slim to come within shot.  You see,
they knew I was booked for them sooner or later, and whenever I looked
up there was a crowd of the great white carrion birds wheeling overhead
ever so high up, waiting for me.

"Well, at last I was for giving in; was looking for a place to sit down
comfortably, and put the muzzle of my piece to my ear and finish off;
for I couldn't stand the idea of being eaten alive by those filthy
devils, as would have happened when I got too weak to beat them off--
when I came plump into a gang of wandering Bushmen.  They were resting
at the foot of a stony kopje, and as soon as I hove in sight they
started up it like monkeys, screeching and jabbering all the time.
They'd never seen a white man nor yet a gun, and when I fired a shot I
reckon they thought the devil had got among them.  I managed to make
friends with them at last, and it was the saving of my life.  They'd got
some kind of liquid, which must have come out of a plant or root, but it
did for drink at a pinch until we found water.

"Well, after some days we reached the mountains I had seen.  Awful part
it was too; seemed to consist of nothing but great iron-bound krantzes
and holes and caves--sort of place where nothing in the world could live
but aasvogels and Bushmen and baboons.  Some of the caves had skulls and
bones in them, and were covered with Bushmen drawings, and I tell you I
saw queer things done while I was with those fellows--things you'd never
believe.  But I feel like getting near the end of my tether, so I must
hurry up.

"Well, one day we'd been out collecting grasshoppers and lizards and all
that kind of beastliness which those fellows eat, and stayed out too
late.  We were looking about for a hole or a cave to sleep in--for it
was coldish up there of nights--and it was already dusk.  I noticed my
Bushman friends were getting mighty uneasy, and supposed they were
afraid of bogies or something of that kind.  There was a half-moon
shining brightly overhead, and I saw we were skirting a deep valley--
though it was more like a hole than a valley, for there seemed no way in
or out.  All of a sudden one of the chaps grabbed me by the arm and
pointed downwards.  I shan't forget that moment in a hurry.  There, ever
so far down it seemed, glowering up through the darkness, shone an Eye.
Yes, an Eye; greenish, but brilliant as a star.  I rubbed my eyes and
looked again and again.  There it was, each time brighter than ever.
What could the thing be?  I own I was puzzled.

"The Bushmen were getting more and more scared, and began to lug me
away.  But I took one more look round first.  The thing was gone.

"There was no staying to investigate further.  They began to threaten me
then--I gathered at last that I was committing a sort of sacrilege, that
it was a demon-haunted place to them, and that it was a devil's eye that
would scorch up whoever looked at it too long--in fact, they called it
the Valley of the Eye--that if I bothered about it I should be killed
for raising their devil.  But I puzzled over the thing to myself day and
night, and determined to look into it further.

"At last the opportunity came.  I was out on the berg with one of the
fellows one day, trying to get a shot at something, and gradually worked
round to the place.  Directly I got near it, he began to show the same
signs of scare, but I paid no heed to him and just began to clamber
down.  It was an awful place to get at, though.  After a good deal of
dangerous climbing I got to a kind of sloping terrace, all stones and
dry dusty earth.  While I was resting I stooped down to pick up a stone,
and at the same time lifted a little bit of carbonised-looking stuff.
Heavens, how I jumped!  It was a diamond.

"Didn't I look about for more!  I only found one, though; and after a
lot of fossicking round I began to think of going further down, when a
most infernal row overhead altered my mind.  There were all my Bushmen
friends, the whole lot of them, jabbering in the most threatening
manner; and, worse still, they'd all got their bows and were about to
take pot shots at me.  Sore enough, I had only just time to get under a
rock when a perfect shower of their little poison sticks came rattling
about my ears.

"Things now looked desperate.  I daren't go up among them, and I
couldn't move out of my shelter.  They seemed afraid to come down and
that was my only chance.  I must wait until night.

"All at once, as I lay crouching there, under cover from their deadly
little arrows, a thought struck across my brain that made every drop of
blood in my body tingle.  That green, staring Eye which I had seen
shining down there in the depths was nothing less than a diamond, and a
diamond of enormous size.  If only I could get at it.

"But this is just what I couldn't do.  To cut the tale short I waited
until night and then descended further.  There gleamed the Eye,
brighter, more dazzling than ever.  But between it and me was a big
krantz, and I pulled up on the very brink, just in time to escape going
over.  And the place seemed edged in all round by krantzes.

"My mind was made up.  I'd come again.  No use staying on now to be
starved out and killed by those miserable little yellow devils.  So I
crept up to the top again, and, as I expected, the coast was clear.  It
doesn't matter how long I took to work my way down into civilised parts
again.

"No rest for me after that.  The idea of that huge stone--worth, maybe,
tens of thousands of pounds, lying there to be had for the picking up--
left me no rest night or day.  In six months I was back there again, me
and a mate.  But when we reached the spot where I first sighted the Eye
it was not there.  Nothing but pitch darkness.  We felt pretty blank
then, I can tell you.  We waited t ll nearly dawn.  Suddenly Jim gave a
shout.

"There it is!

"There it was, too, glittering as before.  Then it faded.  And at that
moment we had to `fade' too, for a volley of arrows came whistling among
us, and poor Jim fell with a dozen in him.

"I don't know how I got away, but I did, and that's all about it.  The
furious little devils came swarming from rock to rock, and I couldn't
get in a fair shot at them.  I had to run for my life, and if I hadn't
known those awful mountains almost as well as they did I shouldn't have
escaped either.  I'm getting mortal weak, friend--stay--another drink of
brandy.

"What were you saying?  The thing couldn't have been a diamond 'cause a
diamond can't shine till it's cut?  I know that.  But I believe this one
is cut--split by some convulsion of Nature, polished, so to say, on one
side.  And there are `stones' there, for we found two or three more, but
of no size.

"This last time--never mind it, I'm getting weaker.  I'd better tell you
how to get there while I can.  Ride a full day due north beyond the
great river where you cross it from here--thirty miles maybe--two
kloofs--one long poort.  [A poort is a pass or defile as distinct from a
kloof, which is a mere terminable ravine.]  Take the long poort, and
follow it to the end.  There are--two mountains--turret-headed--and a
smaller one.  Straight from--the smaller one--facing the setting sun--
within--day's ride--and--beware--the _schelm_ Bushmen.  How dark--it
is--good night, friend.  Don't forget--The Valley of the Eye--you're a
rich man--"

Thus closed the record of the dying adventurer.  Commencing with all the
verve of a darling topic, it ended in disjointed, fragmentary sentences,
as the flickering life-spark burned fainter and fainter.  Yet there was
something pathetic in the generosity of this man, a mere rough
adventurer, gasping forth in the stupor of approaching death the history
of, and clue to, his alluring, if somewhat dangerous, secret--his last
breaths husbanded and strained, that he might benefit one who was a
perfect stranger to himself, but under whose roof he had found a
refuge--a place wherein he might die in peace, tended by kindly and
sympathetic hands.

To the two men, there in their lonely camp, it was as a voice from the
dead speaking to them.  Even Maurice Sellon, hard, reckless, selfish as
he was, felt something of this among the varied emotions evolved by the
almost miraculous reappearance of the lost document.

Overhead, in the dark vault, myriads of stars twinkled and burned, one
every now and again falling in a silent, ghostly streak.  The creatures
of the night, now fairly abroad, sent forth their wild voices far and
near, and ever and anon the horses picketed close at hand would prick up
their ears and snort, as they snuffed inquiringly the cool breaths of
the darkness.

"And you think that near enough, eh, Fanning?"

"I do.  This time we shall find it--that is, if we are given half a
show.  We may have to fight, and we may have to run--in which case we
must try again another time.  But the great thing is to find it.  I have
never been able to do so yet.  Find it.  The fighting is a secondary
consideration."

"Then you really think these Bushmen are still knocking about the spot?"
said Sellon, uneasily, with a furtive glance around, as if he expected a
flight of poisoned arrows to come pouring into the camp then and there.

"Undoubtedly.  But they are a wandering crew.  They may be there, or
they may be a hundred miles off.  However, the fact that they have only
interfered with me once out of the four attempts I have made is proof
that the chances in our favour are three to one.  That's pretty fair
odds, isn't it?"

"Yes; I suppose so.  But, I say, Fanning, humbug apart, do you really
mean to say you've made four trips all by yourself into that infernal
country?  All by yourself, too?"

"Certainly.  It's odd, by the way, what money will do--or the want of
it.  If I had a comfortable sufficiency, even, I'd let the thing go
hang--make it over to you or any other fellow, and welcome.  But here I
am, desperately hard up--stone-broke, in fact.  And I have a good few
years more to live in this world, and one can't live on air.  So one
must risk something.  But, mind you, I don't care for inordinate wealth.
I only want enough to be able to steer clear of pinching--perhaps help
other fellows along a bit--at any rate, to move on equal terms with the
rest of mankind."

"Well, you're moderate enough, anyhow," said Sellon.  "Now, I could
never have too much.  By Jove! if we do succeed, eh?  Only think of it!"

"I've thought of it so often, Sellon.  I must be used to the idea.  But,
as I said, it's only a case of rolling on tranquilly--no more pinching
or scraping, with the ghastly alternative of borrowing.  That's all I
care about."

The quiet, unimpassioned tone, so different to the suppressed excitement
which he had brought to bear on the subject when it was first mentioned,
struck the other all of a sudden.  But for himself and his own presence,
Fanning would likely enough have been as keen on this treasure hunt as
he used to be--keener perhaps.  And like a glimmer upon Maurice Sellon's
selfish soul came the idea.  What if Fanning were trying to enrich him
for Violet's sake?  Yet could it be?  Such a stupendous act of
self-abnegation was clean outside his own experience of the world and
human nature--which experience was not small.

The night was wearing on.  Suddenly a loud and frightful sound--so near
that it caused both men to raise themselves on their elbows, Renshaw
leisurely, Sellon quickly and with a start--echoed forth upon the night.
The horses pricked up their ears and snorted and tugged violently at
their (luckily for themselves) restraining _reims_, trembling in every
limb.

A dull red glow threw forward the razor-like edge of the cliff
overhanging the camp.  Silhouetted against this, looming blackly as
though sculptured in bronze, stood the mighty form of a huge lion.

Again that terrible roar pealed forth, booming and rumbling away in
sullen echoes among the krantzes.  Then the red moon arose over the head
of the majestic beast, the grim Monarch of the Night roaring defiance
against those who dared invade his desert domain.  For a moment he stood
there fully outlined, then vanished as though melting into empty air.

"Lucky, I took the precaution of building a _schanz_--eh?" said Renshaw,
quietly heaping fresh logs on to the fire.

"By Jove! it is," acquiesced Sellon, a little overawed.



CHAPTER TWENTY THREE.

FOLLOWING THE CLUE.

It takes a little time to get used to sleeping out in the open, and on
the hard ground.  The latter the novice is apt to find hard indeed.
There is always that refractory lump or stone just under his hip-bone,
and by the time he has removed this, or shifted his position, he only
settles down to find two similar sources of affliction where there was
but one before.  If timid, he will think of snakes; if nervous, he will
be momentarily imagining some cold creeping thing crawling over his ear
or sneaking inside the legs of his trousers.  Add to this the novelty of
the situation and the hundred and one varying voices of the night, which
combine to keep him awake, and it follows that however alluring to the
embryo traveller may be the prospect of "camping out," the reality is
less pleasant--till he gets used to it.

Renshaw, remarking that their late formidable visitant needn't have
wished them good night quite so loudly, rolled himself in a blanket, and
in ten minutes was fast asleep.  But Sellon, being new to this kind of
thing, speedily fell a victim to each and all of the little
inconveniences above detailed, and passed a most uncomfortable and
restless night.  The howling of the hyaenas, mingling with the shriller
"yap" of the hunting jackal, sounded continuous--then just as he was
dropping off into a doze, the loud "baugh! baugh!" of a troop of baboons
on the mountain-side started him wide awake again, his first impression
being that their late visitor was prowling around, intent on cultivating
a closer acquaintance.  Twice, indeed, he did hear that thundrous,
muffled roar, which once heard is so unmistakable, but it was in the far
distance.  On the whole, therefore, all unrested as he was, he felt
anything but sorry when his companion, looking out from under his
blanket, stared at the stars, then leisurely sat up.

"By Jove!  I've been envying you," growled Sellon.  "You've been
sleeping like a log, and I've hardly closed my eyes all night."

"Not, eh?  Ah, I forgot you're not used to this sort of thing.  You soon
will be, though.  Turn in again a little longer, while I brew the
coffee."

"Coffee!  Why, man, it isn't daylight yet!"

"No, but in a few minutes it will be.  However, you lie still.  Try and
snatch another hour's snooze.  I'll see to everything."

He was as good as his word.  When Sellon awoke--not in another hour, but
rather more than two--the sun was already up, but his comrade was
nowhere to be seen, nor were the horses.  There was the coffee-kettle,
however, handy by the fire, and some biscuit.  Having absorbed a
steaming cup or two, Sellon lighted his pipe and felt better.

A double report sounded from some way along the river-bank then and
there.  In about twenty minutes Renshaw returned.

"I've been marketing," he said, turning half a dozen ring-doves out of
his pocket.  "These little jokers are not half bad when grilled on the
coals, and they don't take long to cook.  To-night will be the last time
we can make a fire, until we find ourselves here again--that is, if we
come back this way."

"Well, I shall go and get a swim," said Maurice, jumping up and
stretching himself.

"A swim?  Hold hard.  Where will you get it?"

"In the river, of course," was the astonished answer.  But Renshaw shook
his head.

"You'd better not try it, Sellon.  It isn't safe."

"Why?  Alligators?"

"Yes.  You can't go into deep water.  But there's a shallow a little way
up, where you can have a good splash.  It's only a matter of a few
inches if you keep close to the bank--and you must keep close to it too.
I've been in myself this morning--and by the same token it's the last
chance of tubbing we shall get.  I'll go as far as the rise and point
you out the place."

Half an hour later Sellon returned, reinvigorated by his bath and
clamouring for breakfast.

The birds had been plucked and spread upon the embers, split open,
spatchcock fashion, and when ready afforded our travellers a toothsome
breakfast.  Then they saddled up.

"We shan't do our thirty miles to-day," said Renshaw, as they rode
along.  "We started too late.  But that won't greatly matter.  We have
plenty of time, and it's better to keep the horses fresh than to rush
them through."

"So it is.  But, I say, this place is like the Umtirara Valley, minus
the bush and the greenness."

It was.  As they rode on, the desolate wildness of the defile increased.
Rocky slopes sparsely grown with stunted bush, the usual cliff
formation cleaving the sky-line.  Boulders large and small studded the
valley, lying like so many houses on the hillsides or piled up in
unpleasantly obstructive profusion, right along the line of march.  Of
animal life there was little enough.  Here and there an armour-plated
tortoise stalking solemnly among the stones, or a large bird of prey
circling overhead--but of game, no sign.  As the sun mounted higher and
higher, pouring his rays into the defile as though focussed through a
burning glass, the heat tried Sellon severely.

"This is awful," he growled, for the fiftieth time, mopping his steaming
face.  "Is it going to be like this all the way?"

"It may be.  But we shall have to do most of our moving about at night.
We can take it easy now and off-saddle, and trek on again towards
sundown.  Until we actually begin our search, I know the ground by
heart.  Come now, Sellon, you must keep up your determination.  It's
beastly trying, I know, for an unseasoned chap; but think of the end."

"I believe I'll get a sunstroke first," was the dejected reply, as the
speaker flung himself wearily on the ground.

"Not a bit of it.  Here, have a drop of liquor--but you'd better take it
weak, or it'll do more harm than good."  And getting out a pannikin
Renshaw poured in a little of the contents of his flask, judiciously
diluting it from the water-skin slung across the pack-horse.

This water-skin, by the way, was an ingenious contrivance of his own,
and of which he was not a little proud.  Like its Eastern prototype--
upon which it was modelled--it consisted of the dressed skin of a
good-sized Angora kid--one of the legs serving for the spout.

"Not a bad dodge, eh?" acquiesced Renshaw, in response to his
companion's remark.  "The water has a leathery taste, I admit, but it's
better than none at all.  I hit upon the idea when I first began these
expeditions.  Something of the kind was absolutely essential.  Trekking
with waggons you carry the ordinary _vaatje_--a small drum-shaped keg--
slung between the wheels, but it's an inconvenient thing to load up on a
horse--in fact, the second attempt I made the concern got loose and
rolled the whole way down a mountain-side--of course, splintering to
atoms.  Besides, this thing holds more and keeps the water cooler.  I
came near dying of thirst that time, being three nights and two days
without a drop of anything; for this is a mighty dry country, I needn't
tell you."

"What if the whole yarn should turn out moonshine after all?" said
Sellon, with the despondency of a thoroughly exhausted man.  "There's
one thing about it that looks fishy.  How could what's his name--
Greenway--wounded as he was, fetch your place in two or three days?
Why, it'll take us nearly a week to do it--if not quite."

"That very thing struck me at first," said Renshaw, quietly, shredding
up a piece of Boer tobacco.  "My impression is, he didn't come back the
same way he went.  You see, he knew the country thoroughly.  He may have
taken a short cut and come straight over the mountains.  For I'm pretty
sure the way we are taking is an altogether roundabout one."

"Then why couldn't the fellow have told you the shorter one, instead of
sending us round three sides of a square?"

"That's soon explained.  In the first place, this way is easier to find,
the landmarks more unmistakable, and the travelling better.  In the
second, you must remember the poor old chap was at his last gasp.  It's
a good thing for you, Sellon, that he was, for if he had only lived half
an hour longer--even a quarter--he'd have given fuller details and I
should have found the place long ago.  Look how disjointed the last part
of his story is, just the main outlines, trusting to me to fill in
detail.  I tell you, it was quite pitiable to see the manful effort he
made to keep up until he had said his say."

Later in the afternoon, the heat having somewhat abated, they resumed
their way, which grew at every mile more rough and toilsome, between
those lofty walls, winding round a spur, only to find a succession of
similar spurs further on.  Then the sun went off the defile, and a
coolness truly refreshing succeeded.  Renshaw, leading the way, held
steadily on, for there was light enough from the great sparkling canopy
above to enable them to more than distinguish outline.  At length the
moon rose.

"Look ahead, Sellon, and tell me if you see anything," said Renshaw at
last.

"See anything?  Why, no.  Stop a bit, though"--shading his eyes.  "Yes.
This infernal valley has come to an end.  There's a big precipice bang
ahead of us.  We can't get any further."

"Not, eh?  Well, now, look to the left."

Sellon obeyed.  At right angles to the valley they had been ascending,
and which here opened out into a wide basin barred in front by the cliff
referred to, ran another similar defile.

"There it is," continued Renshaw, in a satisfied tone.  "That's the
`long poort' mentioned by Greenway--and"--pointing to the right--"there
are the `two kloofs.'"

It was even as he said.  The situation corresponded exactly.

"We'll go into camp now," said Renshaw.  "Let's see what you'll think of
my `hotel.'"

Turning off the track they had been pursuing, Renshaw led the way up a
slight acclivity.  A number of boulders lay strewn around in a kind of
natural Stonehenge.  In the midst was a circular depression, containing
a little water, the remnant of the last rainfall.

"Look there," he went on, pointing out a smoke-blackened patch against
the rock.  "That's my old fireplace.  Our blaze will be quite hidden, as
much as it can be anywhere, that is.  So now we'll set to work and make
ourselves snug."

Until he became too fatigued to suffer his mind to dwell upon anything
but his own discomfort, Sellon had been cudgelling his brains to solve
the mystery of the resuscitated document, but in vain.  He was almost
inclined at last to attribute its abstraction and recovery to the agency
of the dead adventurer's ghost.

But the solution of the mystery was a very simple one, and if Sellon
deserves to be left in the darkness of perplexity by reason of the part
he played in the matter, the reader does not.  So we may briefly refer
to an incident which, unknown to the former, had occurred on the evening
of Renshaw's return to his most uninviting home.

He had been very vexed over the French leave taken by his retainer, as
we have seen.  But, when his anger against old Dirk was at its highest,
the latter's consort, reckoning the time had come for playing the trump
card, produced a dirty roll of paper.  Handing it to her master, she
recommended him to take care of it in future.

Renshaw's surprise as he recognised its identity was something to
witness--almost as great as Sellon's.  He had been going about all these
weeks, thinking the record of his precious secret as secure as ever, and
all the while it was in the dubious care of a slovenly old Koranna
woman.

But on the subject of how it came into her possession old Kaatje was
reticent.  She had taken care of it while the Baas was sick--and, but
for her, it might have been lost beyond recovery.  More than this he
could not extract--except an earnest recommendation to look after it
better in the future.  However, its propitiatory object was
accomplished, and he could not do otherwise than pardon the defaulting
Dirk, on the spot.

The fact was, she had witnessed the stranger's doubtful proceedings, and
having her suspicions had determined to watch him.  When she saw him
deliberately steal her master's cherished "charm," she thought it was
time to interfere.  She had accordingly crept up to the open window and
reft the paper out of Sellon's hand--as we have seen.

So poor old Greenway's ghost may rest absolved in the matter, likewise
the Enemy of mankind and the preternaturally accomplished baboon.  And,
although she did not state as much, the fact was that the Koranna woman
had intended to return the document upon Renshaw's recovery, but had
refrained, on seeing him about to take his departure in company with the
strange Baas, whom she distrusted, and not without good reason.



CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR.

THE TWO TURRET-HEADS.

"Hurrah!  The scent is getting warm," cried Sellon, as winding round a
spur they came into full view of a huge coffee-canister-shaped mountain.

It was the end of the third day's trek.  Making an early start from the
snug camping-place where we last saw them they had pushed steadily on
until the heat of the day became too oppressive.  Then after a long rest
they had resumed their march, and now it was evening.

"Yes, but it'll have to get warmer still to be of much use," replied
Renshaw.  "Look!  There's the other turret-head."

High aloft, rising from behind the slope of the first, a great "elbow"
of cliff started into view.  Then a turn of their road once more hid it
from sight.

"There are the two referred to by poor old Greenway," said Renshaw.
"The third, the smaller one, lies beyond them to the north-west."

"Eh?  Then why on earth are we going in slap the opposite direction?"

For the "poort" they had been threading here came to an abrupt
termination, splitting off into a gradually ascending kloof on each side
of the first of the two great mountains.  Without a moment's hesitation
Renshaw had taken the left-hand one--heading indeed south-westerly.

"You can't get anywhere by the other way, Sellon.  Nothing but blind
alleys ending in a krantz."

Half an hour or so of rough uphill travelling, and they halted on a
grassy _nek_.  And now the two great mountains stood forth right against
their line of march.  Rising up, each in a steep, unbroken grassy slope,
they could not have been less than three thousand feet from the valley
which girdled their base like the trench of an old Roman encampment.
The crest of each was belted around by a smooth perpendicular wall of
cliff of about a third of the height of the mountain itself, gleaming
bronze red in the shimmering glow, barred here and there with livid
perpendicular streaks, showing where a colony of aasvogels had found a
nesting-place, possibly from time immemorial, among the ledges and
crannies upon its inaccessible face.

"By Jove!" cried Sellon, as, after a few minutes' halt, they rode along
the hillside opposite to and beneath the two majestic giants.  "By Jove,
but I never saw such an extraordinary formation!  Some of those
turret-heads we passed on our way down to Selwood's were quaint enough--
but these beat anything.  Why, they're as like as two peas.  And--the
size of them.  I say, though, what a view of the country we should get
from the top."

"Should!  Yes, if we could only reach it.  But we can't.  The krantz is
just as impracticable all round as on this side.  I tried the only place
that looked like a way, once.  It's round at the back of the second one.
There's a narrow rocky fissure all trailing with maidenhair-fern--
masses and masses of it.  Well, I suppose I climbed a couple of hundred
feet, and had to give up.  Moreover, it took me the best part of the day
to come down again, for if I hadn't called all my nerve into play, and
patience too, it would only have taken a fraction of a second--and--the
fraction of every bone in my anatomy.  No.  Those summits will never be
trodden by mortal foot--unless some fellow lands there in a balloon,
that is."

An hour of further riding and they had reached the extreme end of the
second gigantic turret.  Here again was a grassy _nek_, connecting the
base of the latter with the rugged and broken ridges on the left.
Hitherto they had been ascending by an easy gradient.  Now Renshaw,
striking off abruptly to the right, led the way obliquely down a steep
rocky declivity.  Steeper and steeper it became, till the riders deemed
it advisable to dismount and lead.  Slipping, scrambling, sliding among
the loose stones, the staunch steeds stumbled on.  Even the pack-horse,
a game little Basuto pony, appointed to that office by reason of his
extra sure-footedness, was within an ace of coming to grief more than
once, while Sellon's larger steed actually did turn a complete
somersault, luckily without sustaining any injury, but causing his owner
to bless his stars he was on his own feet at the time.  The second great
turret-head, foreshortened against the sky, now disappeared, shut back
from view by the steep fall of the ground.

"We have touched bottom at last," said Renshaw, as, to the unspeakable
relief of the residue of the party--equine no less than human--
comparatively level ground was reached.  But the place they were now in
looked like nothing so much as a dry stony river-bed.  Barely a hundred
yards in width, it was shut in on either side by gloomy krantzes,
sheering up almost from the level itself.

"What a ghastly hole!" said Maurice, whom the dismal aspect of the gorge
depressed.  "How much further are these tunnel-like infernos going to
last, Fanning?  I swear it felt like a glimpse of daylight again, when
we were riding up there past the two canister-headed gentry just now."

"I shouldn't have thought you were such an imaginative chap, Sellon."

"Well, you see, this everlasting feeling of being shut in is dismal
work.  Beastly depressing, don't you know."

"You must make up your mind to it a little longer.  There's a water-hole
about an hour from here, and there we'll off-saddle and lie by for a
snooze.  By the way, it's dry here, isn't it?"

"Ghastly!  It looks like a place where a stream should be running, too."

"Well, I've seen such a roaring, racing, mountainous torrent galloping
down here, that there wasn't foothold for man or beast anywhere between
these krantzes.  By-the-by, you may devoutly pray that there's no rain
during the next few days.  A thunder-storm in the mountains higher up
would set the whole of this place humming with water."

The sun had left them, and the grey dead silence of the savage defile
seemed to echo back the tones of their voices and the clink of the
horses' hoofs, with abnormal clearness.  Sellon eyed the grim rock walls
towering over their heads, and growled.

"Well, it's a beastly place, as I said before.  And talking about water,
that's the worst of this country--you always have either not enough or
else too much of it.  All the same, I'm glad to hear we shall soon have
some to dilute our grog with tonight.  This rattling over stones is dry
and throaty work, and the water in your leathern thing must have touched
boiling point by now.  What's the row?"

The last came in a quick, startled tone.  Renshaw had suddenly slid from
his saddle, and was picking up some of the large stones which lay in
such plentiful profusion.  As he arose from this occupation a great
rolling, writhing shape became apparent upon a sandspit barely a dozen
yards off.  Up went the hideous head into the air, waving to and fro
above the great heaving coil, and the cruel eyes scintillated with a
baleful fire.  The horses backed and shied in alarm, snorting violently.
Shorter and shorter became the movements of the head, and the forking
tongue protruded as the formidable reptile emitted a bloodcurdling hiss.
Maurice Sellon felt himself shuddering with horror and repulsion as he
gazed for the first time upon the glistening, check-patterned coils of a
large python.

Whizz!  Whack!  The stone launched from Renshaw's practised hand just
grazed the waving neck, knocking splinters from the rock behind.  With
another appalling hiss, the creature, its head still aloft, began to
uncoil, as if with the object of rushing upon its antagonist.

Whack!  With unerring aim, with the velocity of a catapult, the second
stone came full in contact with the muscular writhing neck.  The
frightful head dropped as if by magic, and the great scaly coils heaved
and sprawled about on the sand in a dying agony.

"Broken his neck," said Renshaw, cautiously approaching the expiring
reptile, and letting into him with the remaining stones he held in his
left hand.  "Python.  Twelve feet if he's an inch."

"Good old shot!  First-rate!" cried Maurice, enthusiastically.  "I say,
old chap, I envy you.  A great wriggling brute like that makes me sick
only to look at him.  Pah!" he added, with a shudder.

"Look out for his mate," said Renshaw, remounting.  "Pythons often go in
couples.  And I am sorry to say there are a good many snakes about
here."

"Baugh!  Bau--augh!"

The loud sonorous bark echoed forth in startling suddenness among the
overhanging cliffs.  But it didn't seem to come from high overhead.  It
sounded almost in their path.

"Baboons!" said Renshaw.  "They must be all round our water-hole.  There
they are.  No--on no account fire."

The poort here widened out.  Grassy slopes arose to the base of the
cliffs.  In the centre lay a rocky pool, whose placid surface glittered
mirror-like in the gloaming.  But between this and the horsemen was a
crowd of dark, uncouth shapes.  Again that loud warning bark sounded
forth--this time overhead, but so near that it struck upon the human ear
as almost menacing.

"Baboons, eh?" said Sellon, catching sight of the brutes.  "I'm going to
charge them."

Renshaw smiled quietly to himself.

"Charge away," he said.  "But whatever you do, don't fire a shot.  It
may bring down upon us a very different sort of obstructive than a
_clompje_ of _baviaans_, and then this undertaking is one more added to
the list of failures, even if we get out with whole skins."

But Maurice hardly heard him to the end, as, spurring up his horse, he
dashed straight at the troop of baboons.  The latter, for their kind,
were abnormally large.  There might have been about threescore of the
great ungainly brutes, squatting around on the rocks which overhung the
pool.

As the horseman galloped up they could be seen baring their great tusks,
grinning angrily.  But they did not move.

Sellon had not bargained for this.  The great apes, squatted together,
showing an unmoved front to the aggressor, looked sufficiently
formidable, not to say threatening.  Sellon's pace slowed down to a walk
before he got within sixty yards of them.  Then he halted and sat
staring irresolutely at the hideous beasts.  Still they showed no sort
of disposition to give way.  For a few moments both parties stood thus
eyeing each other.

All of a sudden, led by about a dozen of the largest, the whole troop of
hairy monsters came shambling forward--gibbering and gnashing their
great tusks in unpleasantly suggestive fashion.  A second more, and
Sellon would have turned tail and fled ignominiously, when--

Whizz!  Whack-whack! whack!  A perfect shower of sharp stones came
pelting into the thick of the ugly crowd with the swiftness and accuracy
of a Winchester rifle, knocking out eyes, battering hairy limbs, playing
havoc among them, like a charge of grape-shot.  With yells of pain and
terror, the brutes turned and fled, scampering up the rocks in all
directions.

Renshaw, guessing the turn events were likely to take, had quietly
dismounted, and, filling his hands and pockets with stones, had advanced
to the support of his now discomfited friend.

"Those brutes don't understand us quite," he said, after the roar of
laughter evoked by this sudden turn in the tide of affairs had subsided.
"One shot would have sent them scampering, but we dared not fire it.
They are not used to the human form divine in this wilderness, but they
won't forget that bombardment in a hurry."

"By Jingo! no.  Fancy being obstructed by a herd of monkeys.  All the
same, old chap, they did look ugly sitting there champing their tusks at
one like that."

"So they did.  Now we'll let our horses drink, and then adjourn to our
sleeping-place.  We mustn't camp too near the water, because the
krantzes swarm with tigers [leopards], to say nothing of worse cattle,
who might interfere with us if we kept them from their nightly drink.
And we can't light a fire to-night."



CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE.

"A REGION OF EMPTINESS, HOWLING AND DREAR."

Right up under the cliff--the beetling rock overhead, the slope of the
hillside falling away into the basin above described--did our
adventurers make their fireless camp.  But though fireless they were
under no lack of ingredients for a substantial meal, nor of the
wherewithal to wash it down satisfactorily; which latter fact was
perhaps the better appreciated from the certainty of this being the last
water they should find until their return.

"Queer thing this sort of contrast, Fanning," said Sellon, who with his
back against the rock was blowing tobacco clouds with post-prandial
contentment.  "I suppose some of these evenings, when one gets back into
dress clothes and heavy dinner-parties again, one will look back to this
crouch under a big cliff as a kind of dream."

"I suppose so.  Yet man is a would-be adaptable animal, after all.  I
remember a chap, an Englishman, who was with me sea-cow shooting up on
the Tonga border.  He had an idea of doing at Rome as Romans do, so he
got hold of a Zulu _mutya_ [A kind of apron--pretty scanty in
dimensions.  It is usually made of cat-tails and bullock-hide], and cut
about in nothing but that and a pair of canvas shoes.  We were after the
hippos in a boat, and it was risky, too--for the river was full of
crocodiles--in case a hippo should tilt us over.  Well, before we had
pushed off an hour, the joker was burnt red, and in less than two was
literally skinned alive.  He didn't kill any sea-cows that day."

"Battling sport, that sea-cow shooting must be.  What do you say,
Fanning, when we've found our Golconda, to starting a shooting-trip bang
into the interior?  Hallo!  What's that giving tongue?  Sounds for all
the world like a pack of foxhounds."

A shrill, long-drawn, baying chorus came floating upon the night-air,
but very distant.  Then it drew nearer, then faded again, then plainer
still, then seemed to die away fainter and fainter in the distance.  The
chorus, borne upon the night in fluctuating waves of sound, blended in
wild harmony with the frowning heights and untrodden desolation of this
out-of-the-world gorge.

"Wild dogs," said Renshaw, listening intently.  "They're hunting
something--running it pretty closely, too, or they wouldn't be tonguing
like that.  By the way, talking of wild dogs, I had an experience with
them once which was very much akin to that one of yours with the baboons
a little while ago.  I was returning from a trip into the Gaza country,
with a waggon, and knocking around to shoot something, I fell in with a
clump of giraffes.  They were shyer than usual, and led me a long chevy.
I only managed to wound one--not badly enough--and then it got dark.
My horse was rather done up, and I didn't quite know where I was.  Then
it became obvious I shouldn't fetch the waggon again that night.

"Just as I was casting about for a good place to camp, I heard a whimper
close at hand.  The veldt was sprinkled about with clumps of mimosa and
other thorns--in parts thickish--and all of a sudden the horse threw up
his ears and began to snort.  I looked up.  There, right in front,
squatted on their haunches in a semicircle, not a hundred yards off,
were a lot of wild dogs.  Couldn't have been less than forty of them.  I
just gave a shout and rushed at them.  But they didn't move until I got
within twenty yards, and then they got up, cantered away the same
distance, and squatted down again.  Then I lost patience, and picking
out a big one, just bowled the brute over as he sat.  He stiffened out
without a yelp, but the rest didn't seem to care.  So I stuck in another
cartridge, and stretched out another, and rushed at them at the same
time.  They scattered then, but in no hurry.  Now, I thought, I'll ride
on.  But I happened to look back to see if they had dropped off.  Not a
bit of it.  The brutes were quietly trotting along in my wake.  Again I
turned back.  They just stopped, and squatted down as before.

"Now I had never known wild dogs act like this, the difficulty being, as
a rule, to get within shot of them at all, and I own to a kind of eerie
feeling as I marked the persistency of these ordinarily sneaking and
cowardly brutes, sitting on their haunches there in the dusk, licking
their lips as if they knew I was for them.  You see it wasn't so much on
their account I felt shivery, but it looked as if they knew what I
didn't--like the old superstition, if it be a superstition, of a shark
following a ship, pointing to an approaching death on board, or the
actual fact of a lot of aasvogels watching a wounded buck, or a wounded
anything.

"All of a sudden, I became conscious of a most sickening and
overpowering stench.  By that time it was almost dark--but not too dark
to make out objects indistinctly--and the objects that caught my eye at
that moment were sufficiently hideous and appalling.  All around, the
veldt was strewn with human corpses--swollen and decomposed, torn and
mangled by wild animals, or ripped and hacked by the assegais of their
slayers.  They were natives, and of all ages and sexes, lying about in
contorted attitudes, some heaped upon each other, the frightfully
distorted countenances staring up at the sky.  Pah! it was sickening, I
tell you, coming upon this in the dusk.  There seemed no end of them,
and they were scattered as if cut down while fleeing.  I learned
afterwards it was the result of a Matabili raid.  Well, this find
accounted in a measure for the boldness of the wild dogs.  They had been
largely feeding on the human form divine, and had acquired a
proportionate contempt for the same."

"What an experience!" said Sellon, whom this story, told amid the dark
and savage surroundings of their fireless camp, considerably impressed.
"You must have seen some uncommonly queer things in your time, Fanning?"

The other smiled slightly.

"Well, yes, I have.  This is a land of strange experiences, although
prosaic enough on the surface.  I hope none will befall us before we get
home again--always excepting the strange experience of finding ourselves
rich men in the shape of what we are looking for."

"By the way, whereabouts was it you were attacked that time?  Anywhere
near here?"

"About half an hour's ride further on.  The poort narrows very much, and
the cliffs are not nearly so high.  It was just sundown, and I was
jogging quietly along homewards very much down on my luck over the third
failure, when bang came a shower of assegais and arrows and kerries,
hurtling about the rocks like a young hailstorm.  I spurred up then, you
bet; but the ground is beastly rough, as you've seen, and the enemy
could get along as fast as I could--besides, I had a brute of a
pack-horse that wouldn't lead properly.  They chased me down to where we
first entered this defile, and by that time it was dark--luckily for me.
As it was, I only shook them off by sacrificing the pack-horse."

"Now, how the deuce did you manage that?"

"Why, I knew they'd reckon on me taking the shortest cut for the river.
So when I got out of the poort at the bottom of the turret-head
mountain--you remember that steep little slope where your horse turned a
somersault--I put on pace a little so as to get a start.  Then I stuck a
burr under the pack-horse's tail and cast him loose.  Away he went,
slanting off into the other poort, which seems to lead towards the
river, while I lay low.  I could see the devils skipping down the poort
on his heels, in high old glee.  In the night I moved on again, striking
due north, and after making nearly a week's cast--and nearly dying of
hunger and thirst--I fetched up at the drift we came through day before
yesterday.  And, by the way, I think old Greenway was wrong in saying,
`Beware the schelm Bushmen.'  Those chaps struck me as more like
Korannas.  There were some quite big fellows among them."

The time and place were singularly appropriate to the narration of wild
and perilous experiences.  But this latest in no wise tended to raise
the listener's spirits.  Sellon was not of the stuff of which
adventurers are made.  He was keen enough on this expedition and the
dazzling possibilities it held out.  But he didn't want to be killed or
wounded if he could help it.  No such thing as going into danger out of
pure love of excitement found a place in his philosophy.  He was not
imaginative, yet the idea of being struck down by an unseen enemy, or
worse still, perhaps, dragging himself away mortally wounded to die like
an animal in a hole or cave, in the heart of this frightful desert, a
multitude of foul and loathsome beasts howling for his blood, per
adventure waiting till mortal weakness should embolden them to pounce on
him before life was extinct--these considerations struck home to him
now, and fairly made him shiver.

"By-the-by, Sellon," said the careless voice of his companion, "do you
think you'd be able to find your way back to the river again?"

"Now, why the deuce should you ask that, Fanning?" was the testy
rejoinder.

"Oh, naturally enough.  I wanted to know!" said Renshaw, astonished
somewhat.  "Besides, supposing anything happened to me--and a hundred
things might happen--could you find your way out?"

"Well, it's certainly an infernal labyrinth so far, and I suppose likely
to get worse.  Still, I'll take extra notice of the landmarks," growled
Sellon.

Then he rolled himself up in his blanket to turn in, characteristically
leaving his companion to do whatever watching was necessary.  And there
was some of the latter to be done, for ever and anon the scream of a
leopard away among the crags, or the growling snuffle of some beast,
unseen in the darkness, slaking his thirst at the waterhole just below,
would cause the horses to snort wildly, and tug and strain at their
picket _reims_ in alarm.  It needed the sound of a human voice, the
touch of a human hand, and that frequently, to allay their fears--
peradventure to prevent them from breaking loose and galloping madly off
into the night; and however his less inured companion may have been able
to revert to more congenial scenes in the blissful illusions of dreams,
there was little sleep that night for Renshaw Fanning.



CHAPTER TWENTY SIX.

SELWOOD'S DILEMMA.

The post at Sunningdale was a weekly, not a daily event.  Happy
Sunningdale!

It was conveyed from the nearest Field Cornet's, by a ragged native,
bestriding a still more ragged pony, and who was "run" by general
contribution on the part of those residents whose letters he delivered.

We have said that the postal delivery at Sunningdale was a weekly event.
After rainy weather, when the Umtirara and other rivers were down, it
was a fortnightly business; sometimes even three weeks would go by
without postal communication with the outer world.  Happy, happy
Sunningdale!

To-day, however, the courier was up to time, and Christopher Selwood,
unlocking the weather-beaten leather bag, began to sort and distribute
its contents.

"Miss Avory--Miss Avory--Miss Avory--heavens!  There's no end to them.
We shall have the postboy striking for double pay if Miss Avory's
correspondents don't hold their hand."

Violet--devouring with her eyes the contents of the bag as they came
forth--laughed at her host's remark, but the laugh was a hollow one.
The missive she hungered for was not there.  True, she had expected this
contingency sooner or later--yet now that it had come it did not seem
any the less poignant.  Every post hitherto had brought letters from her
lover, each with a different postmark.  Now his silence meant that he
was beyond the reach of any such civilised institutions.  She would see
no more of his handwriting until she should again have heard the sound
of his voice.  But--what if it were fated that never again should she
hear that voice?

"That's all the `hopes and fears' this week," said Selwood, holding the
leather bag upside down.  Then gathering up the bundle of his own
correspondence he crammed it carelessly into his pocket and went out.

There was some irrigating to be attended to down at the "lands," and for
the next two hours Christopher was very busy.  Then as he returned to
the house, he suddenly remembered his unopened correspondence.  It was
near sundown, but there was half an hour to spare before counting-in
time.

Looking around, he espied a seat--the same rustic bench where we first
witnessed Violet's stolen interview.  The place was shady, and cool and
inviting withal.  Selwood sat down, and dragging the letters out of his
pocket and having laid them out, face downwards, along the bench,
proceeded to open them one by one.

They were mostly of the ordinary kind--business letters relating to the
sale of stock or corn--an official notification or two--soon disposed
of.  But one he had opened near the last must have been of a different
nature.  First a puzzled look came into his eyes--then he guffawed
aloud.

"Pray do not flatter yourself," began the missive, dispensing entirely
with the regulation formality of opening--"pray do not flatter yourself
in the idea that I am in ignorance of your whereabouts.  Clever as you
may imagine yourself, not one of your disreputable movements takes place
unknown to me.  I know where you are now, _and who is with you_.  But it
is of no use.  If you exercise your influence over that abandoned
creature to the utmost she can never be anything but your mistress.  For
mark my words, Maurice Sellon, whatever you may do I will never set you
free.  You are bound to me by a tie that nothing but my own will or my
death can sever.  But I will never consent to play into your villainous
hands or into those of your creature Violet Avory--"

"Oh, good God in heaven," cried Selwood, horror-stricken.  "What in the
world have I gone and done now!  `Maurice Sellon!  Violet Avory!'  Good
Lord, what does it all mean?"  Then, instinctively he did what he should
have done at first, turned the sheet to glance at the signature.  There
it was.

"Your shamefully injured wife,

"Adela Sellon."

"Oh, good Lord, I've done it now!" he cried again, the horrible truth
dawning upon him that he had not only opened and read another man's
letter, but had surprised another man's secret, and that a secret of a
peculiarly awkward nature.  How he anathematised his carelessness.  He
snatched up the envelope, which he had thrown down among the others.
There was the address--plain as a pikestaff.  Yet, stay, not so very
plain after all.  It was directed "M. Sellon, Esq."  But the long
letters were dwarfed and the short extended.  The "M" at a casual glance
looked not unlike "Ch," a common abbreviation on envelopes of Selwood's
longish Christian name.  Then like lightning, his memory sped back to
the day of his guest's arrival and his own joke relative to each of them
holding half their names in common.  "We are both `Sells,'" he had said
with a laugh, and now into what a cursed mistake had that coincidence
led him.

Poor Chris groaned aloud as he thought of the awkward position in which
his carelessness had placed him.  It would have been bad enough had the
letter been of an ordinary nature.  But being such as it was, the
probabilities that its real owner would believe in accident having
anything to do with the matter were infinitesimal.  No.  He would
certainly suspect him of a deliberate intention to pry into his affairs.
And what made things worse was the fact of the other man being his
guest.

But only momentarily did this idea serve to divert his thoughts from the
extreme awkwardness of his own position.  Violet Avory was his guest,
too; and with far greater claim on his consideration than this
stranger--for was she not under his care?  And as the full force of the
disclosure with which he had so involuntarily become acquainted--and its
consequences--struck home to his mind, honest Chris felt fired with hot
anger against the absent Sellon.  What business had the latter--a
married man--laying himself out to win poor Violet's heart?  That he had
succeeded--and thoroughly succeeded--had been only too obvious to every
member of the Sunningdale household--and that for some time past.  No,
no.  Sellon had abused his hospitality in a shameful manner, and in so
doing had almost forfeited any claim to consideration.  Had he learned
the ugly secret in the ordinary way Christopher would not have hesitated
for a moment.  He would have forbidden Sellon the house in terms which
should leave no sort of margin for dispute.  But then--the manner of his
information.  There lay the rub.  Never in the whole course of his life
had Christopher Selwood found himself in so difficult--so perplexing a
situation.

Then he did the very worst thing he could have done.  He resolved to
take his wife into confidence in the matter at once.  Bundling the whole
heap of correspondence into his pocket again, he rose, and took his way
to the sheep-kraals for the evening count-in.  But it is to be feared
that if Gomfana or old Jacob had carelessly left a sheep or two in the
veldt that evening _pro bono_ the jackals, their master was too
uncertain in his count to be sure of it.

Mrs Selwood's indignation at the disclosure was as great as that of her
husband, but the method by which that disclosure had come about,
womanlike, she dismissed as a comparative trifle.  Indeed, had she been
the one to open the letter, it is pretty safe to assert that so far from
resting content with the fragment which Christopher had found more than
enough, she would have read it through to the bitter end.  For to the
feminine mind the axiom that "the end justifies the means" is a
thoroughly sound one.  Not one woman in fifty can resist the temptation
of reading a letter which she is not meant to read when it is safe to do
so, and not one in ten thousand if she suspects any particular reason
why she should be left in ignorance of its contents.

"Well, now, Hilda, what's to be done?" said Selwood, when he had told
her--for with scrupulous honour he had refused to let her see one word
of the letter itself.  It was only intended for one person's eyes.  It
was horribly unfortunate that two had seen it, but it would be worse
still to extend the privilege to a third.

"What's to be done?" she echoed.  "It's a shocking business, and the man
must be an arrant scoundrel.  The only thing to be done is, in the first
place, to request him not to return here; in the next, to sound Violet
herself.  Things may not have gone so far as we think, but I'm very much
afraid they have.  Why, latterly the girl has become quite changed, and
for a week or so before he left she could hardly bear him out of her
sight."

"Yes, that'll be the best plan, I suppose," acquiesced Chris, ruefully.

"I hope Violet will show a proper amount of sense and self-respect,"
concluded Mrs Selwood, in a tone which seemed to convey that the hope
was but a forlorn one.  "But remember, Chris, we must take up a firm
position and stand to it.  The girl is very young, and we are
responsible for her until she returns home, and indeed I begin to think
the sooner she does that the better, now.  She is very young, as I said,
but she has turned one and twenty, and there's no knowing what mad
suicidal act of folly a girl of her temperament, and legally her own
mistress, may be capable of under these circumstances."

"It'll be a difficult thing for me to explain matters about the letter,"
said Selwood, ruefully.  "The fellow is sure to scout the idea of a
mistake.  However, there's no help for it.  I must explain, and that,
too, at the earliest opportunity."

Tact is not, as a rule, a feminine characteristic, but Hilda Selwood
possessed a larger share of it than many women with considerably the
advantage over herself in training and general knowledge of the world.
She began as she had said by literally "sounding" Violet.  But there was
something in the latter's manner which seemed to show that the news of
Sellon's previous appropriation was no news to her at all--in fact, that
she had known it all along.  Finally she admitted as much, and rather
gloried in it.

Then ensued a tolerably lively scene.  What if he was chained to a fiend
of a woman whose sole end and object had always been to make life a
burden to him? burst forth Violet, with livid face and flashing eyes.
The creature would die some day, it was to be hoped, and then ten
thousand heavens were as nothing to the happiness before them both.
Give him up?  Not she!  She would rather die a thousand times over, and
would do so first.  She was his real wife in the sight of God, she
declared, as the stock blasphemous balderdash runs, whatever the other
woman was in name, and so forth.  Rebuke, reason, appeals to pride, to
self-respect were all alike in vain before this furious outburst of
uncontrollable passion.  The girl seemed possessed of a very demon.  She
hurled reproaches at her hostess and friend, taxing her with playing the
spy upon her--conspiracy, amateur detective business, everything--and
declared she would sooner sleep in the veldt than pass another night
under that roof.  Finally she went off into a fit of shrieking, violent
hysterics, and in this condition articulated things that set Hilda
Selwood's ears tingling with outraged disgust.

"The most painfully shocking scene I ever witnessed in my life, and I
hope and trust I never may again," was the latter's comment to her
husband some time afterwards.

"And the curious part of it is I can't for the life of me make out what
the deuce she can see in the fellow," had been Christopher's rejoinder.
"He's not much to look at, and although he's good company in a general
way, I don't think his brain-box holds a very close fit."

A common enough speculation, and one which must ever remain in the
category of things speculative.  "What the deuce can she see in the
fellow?"  Who is to say?



CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN.

THE KEY AT LAST.

"Well, Fanning, I guess this time it's all U.P."

Renshaw made no reply.  He gazed wearily at the great iron-bound hills,
whose cliffs were now beginning to reflect the glow of the declining
sun--and chipped mechanically at the rocks with the geological hammer in
his hand.  His mind upon the subject was much the same as that of his
companion; but in actual fact his despondency was far greater.  Still
with the desperate tenacity born of the habits of a lifetime, he was
unwilling to give in.

Four days have gone by since we last saw our two adventurers bivouacking
under the cliff--four days of threading mazy defiles and climbing the
roof-like sides of mountains--four days of burning, sweltering
exhaustion, ever eager, ever energetic with the tenfold vigour of a
fierce hunt for riches.  Three out of the four have been devoted to
nothing but prospecting for their quest, for they passed the third
beacon--the third turret-headed mountain of the clue--early on the day
following that on which we last saw them--and now, worn out with toil
and disappointment! they are resting in the sweltering afternoon heat
deep down in a rock-bound valley where not a breath of air can come--not
a whisper of a stir to relieve the oven-like glow which is rendering
Sellon, at any rate, almost light-headed.

"A blank draw this time," growled the latter, wearily.  "And what an
awful business it has been to get here!  I wouldn't go through it again
for a thousand pounds.  And then, just think what a brace of fools we
shall look to the people at Sunningdale."

Then as if the thought of Sunningdale--and what he had left there--put
the crowning stone upon his misery, Sellon proceeded to curse most
vehemently.

With weariness and disappointment, misfortune had overtaken our two
friends since we saw them last.  While riding along the burning sandy
bottom of a dreary defile towards evening, the led horse had
inadvertently trodden on a puff-adder--which, sluggish brute that it is,
rarely gets out of the way.  Blowing himself out with rage, this hideous
reptile had flung up his squat bloated length, fastening his fangs in
the leg of the unfortunate horse.  The animal was doomed, and, indeed,
in less than an hour was in its expiring throes.

Now, this was a terrible misfortune, for not only was the climbing and
digging gear among the pack-load, but also the water-skin, and by far
the greater part of their provisions; nearly the whole of the latter had
to be abandoned, and loading up all that was indispensable upon their
riding horses--already fast losing their former freshness--the two
adventurers had pushed on.  But by now the contents of the water-skin
had run very low indeed; were it not for the lucky find of a tiny pool
of slimy fetid water standing in a cavity of a rock, the horses would
have given out already.  As it was, they drank it up every drop, and
felt the better for it.

"I doubt whether that bag of bones will carry me back, as it is," said
Sellon, gloomily, eyeing his dejected steed, now too weary to graze.

"Sellon," said Renshaw, earnestly, still gazing around and completely
ignoring his companion's last remark--"Sellon, I can't make it out now
any more than the first time I was here.  We have followed out the clue
most minutely: `Straight from the smaller turret-head, facing the
setting sun.  Within a day's ride.'  Now, we have explored and surveyed
every point westerly between north and south, and within a good deal
more than a day's ride, thoroughly and exhaustively.  There isn't the
shadow of a trace of any such valley, or rather crater, as old Greenway
describes.  But let's go over the thing carefully again."

Suddenly Maurice sat up from his weary lounging attitude.

"By Jove, Fanning, but you've given me an idea," he said, speaking
eagerly and quickly.

"One moment," said Renshaw, holding up his hand.  "I have an idea, too,
and indeed it's astonishing it should never have struck me before.  You
must remember old Greenway was talking very disjointedly at the end of
his yarn--poor old chap.  He was nearly played out.  Well, I tried to
take down his words exactly as he uttered them.  Look at this `Straight
from--the smaller one--facing the setting sun.  Within--day's ride.'
Does nothing strike you now?"

"Can't say it does," growled Sellon, "except that the old sinner must
have been telling a most infernal lie.  We've spent the last four days
fossicking around within a day's ride of his turret-top mountain, and
devil a valley of the kind he describes exists."

"Well, what strikes me is this.  He may have meant to say `Within two
days', or three days', or four days' ride.'  See?"

"Yes.  If that's so he might as well have told us there was plenty of
gold to be found between this and Morocco.  It would have helped us
about as much.  But now I'll give you my idea.  It sounds `tall,' and I
dare say you'll laugh."

"Never mind.  Drive on," rejoined Renshaw, looking up from the paper
which he had been studying intently.

"Well, you mentioned the word `crater' just now.  If this `valley' of
old Stick-in-the-mud's really exists, it is, as you say, a crater-shaped
concern.  Now we've fooled away days in hunting for this place at the
bottom of each and every mountain around.  What if, after all, we ought
to be looking for it at the top?"

An eager flash leaped from the other's eyes.

"By Jove!  That is an idea!" he burst forth.

"Eh!  Not a bad one, I think?" said Sellon, complacently.

"No.  It just isn't."

For a few moments both sat staring at each other.  Sellon was the first
to speak.

"How about that queer cock's-comb-looking peak we came round this
morning?" he said.  But Renshaw shook his head.

"Not that.  There's no room for any such place on top of it."

"Not, eh?  Look here, Fanning.  Have you ever been up it?"

"No.  But I've been to the top of every blessed berg of any considerable
height around.  I never went up that because it commands no range of
ground that the others don't."

"Very well.  My theory is that the best thing we can do is to make the
ascent forthwith.  Let me look at the yarn for a moment.  Ah, here it
is," he went on, pointing out a place on the soiled and weather-beaten
document.  "`We were looking about for a hole in a cave to sleep in, for
it was coldish up there of nights.'  `Up there' you notice.  Now, from
its conformation, that cock's-comb is about the only mountain top around
here where they would be likely to find `a hole or a cave,' for `up
there' points to the top of the mountain or near it.  Do you follow?"

Renshaw nodded.

"All right.  `I saw we were skirting a deep valley--though it was more
like a hole than a valley, for there was no way in or out,'" quoted
Sellon again.  "Now, you would hardly find such a formation at the
bottom of a mountain--though you very conceivably might at the top."

"But I tell you there can't be room for such a thing at the top of that
cock's-comb," objected Renshaw, dubiously.  "I've been all round the
mountain more than once, and it's narrow at the top."

"Maybe.  On the other hand, it may not be so narrow as you think.  A
mountain is the devil for changing its shape from whatever point you
look at it--almost in whatever light or shade.  Then, again, Greenway
may have exaggerated the size of the hole.  I tell you what it is,
Fanning old chap.  I believe I've solved the riddle that has been
besting you all these years.  As you said when we first talked the
affair over, `two heads are better than one--even donkeys' heads,'
There's a third head, and that's the head of the `right nail,' and I
believe we've hit it.  Saddle up."

"Don't be too sanguine, Sellon.  You'll be doubly sold if your idea ends
in smoke."

They were not long in reaching the mountain referred to.  It was of
conical formation and flat-topped.  But from one end of its table-like
summit rose a precipitous, razor-backed ridge--serrated and on its
broader side taking the shape of a cock's-comb.

Though steep and in parts rugged, the ascent was easy; indeed, it seemed
likely they could ride to the very summit.  Renshaw eyeing the towering
slope, shook his head.

"It's rough on the horses," he said.  "They haven't got any superfluous
energy at this stage of the proceedings, and that berg can't stand much
under three thousand feet.  Still they've got to go with us.  If we left
them down here they might be jumped; and then, again, if your idea
should be the right one, we might be days up there.  I only hope we
shall find water, anyhow."



CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT.

"IT IS A WHITE MAN'S SKULL."

It was, as Renshaw had put it, "rough on the horses."  But the colonial
horse, in contrast to his English brother, is pre-eminently an animal
for use, and not for show and the primary object of supporting a crowd
of stable hands.  So puffing and panting, stumbling a little here and
there, the poor beasts gallantly breasted the grassy steep in the wake
of their masters, who had elected to spare their steeds by leading
instead of riding them.

"The mountain certainly is built on a larger scale than one would think
from below," pronounced Renshaw, as he surveyed the summit which they
were now very near.  "We shall have to make a cast round to the left and
look for a gully.  The horses will never be able to climb over these
rocks."

The said rocks lay strewn thickly around; remnants of a cliff at one
time guarding this side of the summit, but which in past ages must have
fallen away into fragments.  From below they had seemed mere pebbles.

"Right you are," acquiesced Sellon, "Lead on."

A detour of a couple of hundred yards and they rounded the spur, which
had ended abruptly in a precipice.  They were now on the western angle
of the mountain.  Immediately above rose a lofty wall of rock, the
nearer end of the cock's-comb ridge.  It continued in unbroken fall some
hundreds of feet from where they stood.  They had reached the extremity
of the slope, and halting for a moment paused in admiration of the
stately grandeur of the great cliff sweeping down into giddy depths.

"Let's take a look over," said Maurice, advancing cautiously to the
angle formed by the projection whereon they stood, and lying flat to
peer over the brink.

"Yes; only be careful," warned his companion.

As he peered over there was a "flap--flap--flap" echoing from the face
of the cliff, like so many pistol-shots, as a cloud of great aasvogels,
startled from their roosting places beneath, soared away over the abyss.
So near were the gigantic birds that the spectator could see the
glitter of their eyes.

"By Jove, but I'd like to go down and have a look at the beggars'
nests," said Sellon, trying to peer still further over the brink, but in
vain, for the aasvogel is among the most suspicious of birds, and,
wherever possible, selects his home beneath a jutting projection, and
thus out of eyeshot from above.

"They don't make any, only lay one egg apiece on the bare rock," said
Renshaw, impatiently.  "But come on.  Man alive, we've no time for
bird's-nesting.  In half an hour it'll be dark."

The sun had gone off the lower world, though here, on high, he still
touched with a golden splendour the red burnished face of the giant
cliff.  And now from their lofty elevation they were able to gaze forth
upon a scene of unsurpassable wildness and grandeur.  Mountains upon
mountains, the embattled walls of a cliff-girdled summit standing in
contrast beside a smooth, hog-backed hump; here and there a lofty peak
sheering up defiant above its fellows, but everywhere a billowy sea of
giant heads towering over the darkling grey of desolate valleys and
gloomy rifts now merging into night.  But all is utter lifelessness in
the complete silence of its desolation--not a sound breaks upon the now
fresh and cooling air--not a sight to tell of life and animation--save
the ghostly wings of the great vultures floating away into space.  Then
the sun sinks down behind the further ridge in ruddy sea, leaving the
impression that, the whole world is on fire, until the lustrous
afterglow fades into the grey shades of gloaming.

"No time for the beauties of Nature," went on Renshaw, as his companion,
rising from his prostrate posture, rejoined him.  "Look.  There is our
way up, if we are to get up at all.  And a precious cranky staircase it
is, too."

It was.  A steep, stony gully, looking as if, in past ages, it had
served for a water-shoot round the extremity of the razor-backed ridge.
It ran right down to the brink of the projection whereon they were
standing, and, in fact, to reach it, at any rate with the horses, was a
very risky feat indeed.  Sellon suggested leaving them below--but this
his companion would not hear of.

"Stick to the horses, wherever possible," he said.  "Once lose them, we
are like a man in mid-ocean with oars but no sail.  Besides, we may find
another way down--a much better one than this."

A dozen yards of steep slope, right on the brink of the abyss, covered
with loose shingle, had to be crossed prior to gaining the secure
foothold of the gully itself.  A false step, a jerk back of the bridle
on the part of the led horse, might send steed, or rider, or both, into
space.

"Up, old horse!" said Renshaw, encouragingly, as he took the lead.  His
steady old roadster, however, fully took in the situation.  He gave one
snort, a scramble or two, and he was safe within the gully.

But Sellon's steed was disposed to show less gumption.  At first he
refused to try the place at all; then nearly hurled his master over the
brink by rucking at the bridle when half-way across; and the hideously
suggestive sound of a shower of loosened rubble sliding into the abyss
fairly made his said master's blood curdle.  However, with much snorting
and scrambling, he ultimately suffered himself to be led into safety.

The ascent was now comparatively easy, though with horses it was a
tedious and tiresome business.  The gully itself formed a huge natural
staircase, seemingly about a couple of hundred feet in height.  Up they
went, stumbling, scrambling--the ring of the horses' hoofs upon the
stones waking the echoes in the dead silence of the spot.  The grey
shades of briefest twilight had already enshrouded the passage in
gathering gloom.

"Well, Fanning, what's the betting on my shot being the right one?"
cried Sellon, whose mercurial spirits had gone up sky-high under the
influence of a new excitement.  "We must be more than halfway up this
beastly water-pipe.  A few minutes more will decide it.  What's the
betting?"

"I still say, don't make too sure, Sellon.  I'm sorry to say it occurs
to me that the expression `up there,' on which this new idea of yours
turns, may mean nothing more than when a man talks of `up country'.  It
may not mean on top of a mountain, don't you know."

"The devil it mayn't!  What an old wet blanket you are, Fanning.  Well,
we shall soon see now.  Hallo!  What have you got there?"

For the other was gazing attentively at something.  Then without a word
he dropped the end of his bridle, and clambering over a couple of
boulders, was stooping over the object which had caught his eye.

It was something round and white.  Maurice could see that much before
following his companion, which, however, he hastened to do.  Then both
men stood staring down at the object.

The latter was embedded in a hole in the ground, firmly wedged between
two rocks, half of it projecting.  At first sight it might have been
mistaken for an ostrich egg.

Renshaw bent down and picked up the object.  Something of a tug was
necessary to loosen it from the imprisoning rock.  He held in his hand a
human skull.

"What's the matter, old chap?" said Sellon, wonderingly, noticing his
companion's face go deadly white, while the hand that held the skull
trembled violently.  "You seem rather knocked out of time, eh?  A thing
like that is a queerish sort of find in this God-forsaken corner; but
surely your nerves are proof against such a trifle."

"Trifle, do you call it?" replied Renshaw, speaking quickly and eagerly.
"Look at the thing, man--look at it."

"Well, I see it.  What then?" said Maurice, wondering if his friend had
gone clean off his head, and uncomfortably speculating on the extreme
awkwardness of such an occurrence away here in the wilds.

"What then?  Why, it is a white man's skull."

"How do you know that?" said Sellon, more curiously, bending down to
examine the poor relic which seemed to grin piteously at them in the
falling gloom.  One side of the lower part was battered in--giving to
the bony face and eyeless sockets a most grisly and leering expression.

"By the formation, of course.  But, man alive, don't you see what this
find means--don't you see what it means?"

"I suppose it means that some other fellow has been fool enough to
scramble up here before us, and has come to mortal grief for his pains.
Wait, though--hold on--by Jove, yes--I do see!  Greenway's mate; what
does he call him?  Jim.  That's it, of course.  It means that we are on
the right track, Fanning, old man.  Hooroosh!"

"That's just what it does mean.  Observe.  This skull is alone--no bones
or remnants of bones--no relics of clothing.  Now, the absence of
anything of the kind points to the fact that the poor chap wasn't killed
here.  He must have been killed up top, and the skull eventually have
been brought here by some wild animal--or possibly lugged to the edge
and rolled down of its own accord.  Greenway's story points that way
too.  He says they were attacked while looking down into the valley, for
if you remember they had just watched the `Eye' fade away.  Yes, `Jim,'
poor chap, was killed on top of the mountain, and there lies the `Valley
of the Eye.'  How does that pan out, eh?"

"Five ounces to the ton at least," replied Sellon.  "Well, we've, as you
say, panned out the whole thing to a nicety.  There's one ingredient
left, though.  How about `the schelm Bushmen'?"

"Oh, we must take our chances of them.  The great thing is to have found
the place at all.  And now, excelsior!  It'll be pitch dark directly."

Replacing the skull where he had found it, Renshaw led the way back to
the horses, and the upward climb was resumed.  But Sellon, following in
his wake, was conscious of an unaccountable reaction from his eager
burst of spirits, and not all the dazzling prospects of wealth untold to
be had for the mere picking up--which awaited him up yonder--could
altogether avail to dispel the fit of apprehensive depression which had
seized upon him.  The discovery of that grisly relic of poor humanity in
that savage spot, there amid the gathering shades of night--eloquent of
the miserable fate of the unfortunate adventurer done to death on the
lonely mountain top, his very bones scattered to the four winds of
heaven--inspired in Sellon a brooding apprehension which he could not
shake off.  What if they themselves were walking straight into an
ambush?  In the shadowy gloom his imagination, run riot, peopled every
rock with lurking stealthy enemies--in every sound he seemed to hear the
hiss of the deadly missiles.  Then there came upon him a strange
consciousness of having been over that spot before.  The turret-like
craggy gorge, the beetling rocks high overhead in the gloom, all seemed
familiar.  Ha!  His dream!  He remembered it now, and shivered.  Was it
prophetic?  It was frightful at the time, and now the horror of it all
came back upon him, as, leading his horse, he scrambled on in the track
of his companion.  He could have sworn that something brushed past him
in the darkness.  Could it be the spirit of the dead adventurer,
destined to haunt this grisly place, this remote cleft on the wild
mountainside?  A weird wailing cry rang out overhead.  Sellon's hair
seemed to rise, and a profuse perspiration, not the result of his
climbing exertions, started coldly from every pore.  What a fool he was!
he decided.  It could only be a bird.

"Up at last!" cried the cheery voice of his companion, a score of yards
distant, through the darkness.  "Up at last.  Come along!"

The voice seemed to break the spell which was upon him.  It was
something, too, to be out of that dismal gully.  A final scramble, and
Sellon stood beside his companion on the level, grassy summit of the
mountain.



CHAPTER TWENTY NINE.

RENSHAW'S DISCOVERY.

The summit seemed quite flat and level as far as they could judge, for
the night had now fully set in.  But at the side of it on which they
stood the great cock's-comb ridge rose high in the air, the loom of its
precipitous sides sheering up against the starry zenith, showing
indistinct and shadowy in the darkness.  The night wind, cool and
refreshing, sang in tuneful puffs through the grasses, and aloft in the
gold-spangled sky the Southern Cross and many a flashing constellation
glowed forth with that clear incandescence never so vivid as when gazed
upon from desert solitudes.

"We can do nothing until the moon rises," pronounced Renshaw.  "There
are some lively krantzes around here, I reckon, and it would never do to
take a five-hundred foot header, for want of a little patience.  We'll
make for the foot of the ridge, and lie by until the moon gets up."

Proceeding cautiously, he led the way up the slope which culminated in
the precipitous cliffs of the ridge.  He was close under the latter,
when his horse suddenly swerved aside, snuffing the air.

"What is it, old horse?" he murmured soothingly, reining in, and peering
eagerly into the gloom.  Was there a deep cleft in front--or did the
rocks shelter a lurking enemy?  Both these speculations flashed through
his mind, as he whispered back a caution to his companion.

But the horse didn't seem inclined to stand still either.  He gently
sidled away at an angle, and his rider, curious to fathom the mystery,
let him have his head.  A few steps more and they were right under the
cliff.  Then something flashed in the starlight.  The horse came to a
standstill--down went his head, and a long continuous gurgle told of the
nature of his find.  He drank in the grateful fluid as if he was never
going to stop.

"Well done, old horse!" said his master, dismounting to investigate this
inexpressibly welcome phenomenon.  It was a deep cleft in the rock about
six feet long by three wide, full to the brim of delicious water, in
which a great festoon of maidenhair fern trailing from above, was
daintily dripping.  "Sellon, this is a find, and no mistake.  We'll camp
down here, and wait for the moon."

"And won't we have a jolly good sluice in the morning.  We'll fill that
goat-skin of ours, and pour it over each other.  I believe it's a week
since I had a good wash--not since we left the river.  The fellow who
laid down the axiom that you're never thoroughly comfortable until
you're thoroughly dirty must have been born in a pigsty himself.  I know
that for the last few days I've been wondering whether I've been looking
a greater brute than I felt--or the other way about.  Hooray for a good
sluice to-morrow, anyhow."

Both were too excited to sleep.  Even the consolation of tobacco they
denied themselves lest the glimmer of a spark of light should betray
their whereabouts to hostile eyes.  And they were on short commons, too;
the death of the packhorse and the necessity of jettisoning a portion of
his load having narrowed down their stock of provisions to that which
was the most portable, viz. biltong and ship-biscuit; which comestibles,
as Renshaw declared, besides containing a vast amount of compressed
nutriment, had the additional advantage of being so hard that a very
little of them went a long way.  So they lay under the cliffs munching
their ration of this very hard tack, and speculating eagerly over the
chances the next day might bring forth.

The night wore on.  Save for the tuneful sighing of the wind in the
grass, no sound broke through the calm of that wild and elevated
solitude.  Meteors and falling stars flashed ever and anon in the
spangled vault.  A whole world seemed to slumber.

Soon Renshaw began to notice an incoherency in his companion's replies.
Fatigue versus excitement had carried the day.  Sellon, who was of a
full-blooded habit, and uninured to such calls as had of late been made
upon his energies, had succumbed.  He was fast asleep.

Left alone in the midst of a dead world, while the whole wilderness
slumbered around, Renshaw strove to attune his faculties to the
prevailing calm--to try and gain a few hours of much-needed jest.  But
his nerves were strung to their utmost tension.  The speculation of
years, the object of his thoughts sleeping and waking, were about to be
attained.  Sleep utterly refused to visit him.

He could not even rest.  At last he rose.  Taking up his trusty double
gun--rifle and shot-barrel--he wandered forth from the fireless camp.

By the light of the burning stars he picked his way cautiously along the
base of the rocky ridge, keeping a careful eye in front of him, above,
around, everywhere.  Yes, the object of years of anxious thought, of
more than one lonely and perilous expedition into the heart of these
arid and forbidding wilds, was within reach at last.  It must be.  Did
not that gruesome find down there in the gully point unmistakably to
that?

The cool night wind fanned his brow.  All the influences of the dead,
solemn wilderness were upon him, and his thoughts reverted to another
object, but to one upon which he had schooled himself to think no more.

In vain.  There on that lonely mountain-top at midnight, in his utter
solitude, the man's heart melted within him at the thought of his
hopeless love--at the recollection of that anguished face, that broken
voice pleading for his forgiveness; for his sympathy in her own dire
extremity.  What was she doing at that moment, he idly speculated?  Ah!
her regrets, her longings, her prayers were not for him, were all for
the other; for the man who shared his present undertaking, who slumbered
so peacefully but a few hundred yards away.

Why had he brought this man to Sunningdale, to steal away that which
should have been his?  Why had he brought him here now, to enrich him in
order that nothing might be wanting to complete his own utter
self-sacrifice?  He owed him nothing, for had he not twice paid the debt
in full?  Why had he stepped between him and certain death?  But for his
ready promptitude Maurice Sellon would now be almost as sad a relic of
humanity as that upon which they had gazed but a few hours back.  But
the solemn eyes of the stars looking down upon him, the very grandeur of
the mountain solitude, seemed to chide him for such thoughts.  What was
the puny fate of a few human beings compared with the immensity of ages
upon which those stars had looked down--the roll of centuries during
which those silent mountains had stood there ever the same?

A perceptible lightening suffused the velvety vault above.  The horned
moon rose higher over the drear sea of peaks.  The crags stood forth
silvery in the new-born light--and then, as his glance wandered
downwards, Renshaw felt every drop of blood flow back to his heart.

Far below shone a tiny glimmer--the glimmer of a mere spark.  But withal
so powerful that it pierced the darkness of the far depths as the flash
of a ray of fire.

He stood as one turned to stone, holding his very breath.  He rubbed his
eyes, and looked again.  There it was still.  Again he averted his gaze,
and again he looked.  The distant spark was glittering more brilliantly
than ever.  It seemed to gain in size and power as he looked.  It held
him spellbound with its green incandescence flashing forth from the
darkness down there in the far depths.

He tore out the white lining of his soft hat, and bending down, nailed
it to the ground with his pocket knife.  Then he walked away a few yards
and looked again.  The spark had disappeared.

Feverishly he returned to the mark which he had set, now almost fearing
to look.  He need not have feared.  There shone the "Eye"--more dazzling
than ever.

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

Maurice Sellon, sleeping the dreamless slumber of a thoroughly exhausted
man, started up with a smothered imprecation, as a hand gently shook him
by the shoulder.  But his deadened faculties sprang into quick life at
the low impressive voice.

"At last!  Come and look.  The `Eye' is shining like a star."



CHAPTER THIRTY.

"LIKE A STAR."

"Like a star!"

The two men stood gazing in silence not untinged with awe, upon this
wonderful, this beautiful phenomenon.  For how many ages--for how many
generations of the human race had that marvellous Eye shone forth in the
gloom of its untrodden solitude.  The heart of the earth was unfolding a
glimpse of its treasure-house.

Like a star!  Yet that Eye, flashing, scintillating in its mysterious
bed--was it not in a measure diabolical, luring men to destruction?  Of
the two who had sought to meddle with it, one had returned only to die;
the other--had they not but a few days since handled his bleached and
unburied skull?

These thoughts passing through Renshaw's mind could not but temper the
degree of wild exultation which he felt now that he had conquered at
last.  Sellon, on the other hand, could hardly restrain the wild hurrahs
wherewith, but for the consciousness of probable peril, he would fain
have given vent to his feelings.

"How far down is it, old chap?" said the latter, eagerly.

"Impossible to say.  We can go forward a little now, and explore.  It's
not much of a moon, but there's light enough.  But, for Heaven's sake,
Sellon, restrain that excitable temperament of yours, or we shall have
you plunging over one of these krantzes before you know where you are."

"All right, old boss.  I'll keep cool.  You can take the lead, if you
like."

The light was misty and uncertain.  The ground here took an abrupt fall.
Proceeding cautiously for a little distance down, they halted.  The Eye
had disappeared.

"Come on.  We shall see it again directly," said Sellon, starting
forward again.

But the other's hand dropped on his shoulder like a vice.

"Stop--for your life!"

"Eh?  What's up?--Oh, Lord!"

He stood still enough then.  Three or four steps further and he would
have plunged into space.  In the faint illusive light of the spent moon,
the treacherous cliff brow was well-nigh indistinguishable even to
Renshaw's tried vision.  But the unerring instincts of the latter were
quick to interpret the sudden puff of cold air sweeping upwards, and
well for the other that it was so.

"Pheugh!" shuddered Sellon, turning pale as he awoke to the awful peril
he had escaped.  "What a blundering ass I am, to be sure.  But--look!
There's the Eye again--larger--brighter than ever--by Jove!"

"Yes; and I don't believe it's a couple of hundred feet below us either.
Let's see what sort of a drop there is here."

Lying full length on the edge of the cliff, he peered over.  Then
loosening two or three stones, he let them fall--one after the other.  A
single clink as each struck the bottom.

"We can't get down this side, Sellon.  It's sheer--as I thought, even if
it doesn't overhang.  The stones never hit the side once.  But now, to
mark the Eye.  It won't shine in the daylight."

He proceeded to untie what looked like a bundle of sticks.  In reality
it contained a short bow and several arrows.  Next he produced some
lumps of chalk rolled up in rags.

"What an ingenious dodger you are, Fanning!" cried Sellon, admiringly,
watching his companion carefully fitting the lumps of chalk on the heads
of several of the arrows.  "So that's what you brought along that bundle
of sticks for.  I thought you had an eye to the possibility of our
ammunition giving out."

Renshaw smiled.  Then stringing the bow, he bent it once or twice,
tentatively.

"That'll do, I think.  It's pretty strong is this little weapon of war.
Old Dirk made it for me after the most approved method of his people.
You know Korannas and Bushmen are archers in contra-distinction to the
assegai-throwing Kafir tribes.  Now for a shot."

Drawing out one of the chalk-tipped arrows to its head, he took a
careful aim and let fly.  The bow twanged, and immediately a faint thud
told the expectant listeners that the shaft had struck very near the
mark.

"That'll make a good splash of chalk wherever it has struck," said the
marksman approvingly, fitting another arrow.  But on the twang of the
bow there followed a metallic clink instead of the softer thud of the
first missile.

"That bit of chalk's come off," said Renshaw.  "However, let's try
again."

This time the result seemed satisfactory.  Again and again was it
repeated until half a dozen arrows had been shot away.

"That'll put half a dozen chalk splashes round the Eye, or as near it as
possible, for our guidance at daybreak," said Renshaw, approvingly.
"Now we'll drop a white flag or two about."

Fixing small strips of rag, well chalked, to the butt-ends of several
more arrows, he shot them away, one after another, in the direction of
the first.

"We'll go back now, and get out our gear.  We can't do anything before
daybreak.  The place may be easy to get down into on one side, or it may
be well-nigh impossible.  But, hang it all, Sellon, there ought to be no
such word for us as impossible with _that_ in front of us."

Once more they turned to look back, as though unwilling to go out of
sight of the marvel, lest it should elude them altogether.  Opposite,
the misty loom of cliffs was now discernible, and between it and them,
down in the shadowy depths, that flashing star still shone clear in its
green scintillations.

Dawn rose, chill and clear, upon the endless tossing mountain waste.
But before the night silvered into that pearly shade which should
preface the golden flush of the sunrise, our two adventurers, loaded
with all the implements of their enterprise, stood waiting on the spot
where Renshaw had left his mark on first making the discovery.

Then as the lightening earth began to unfold its mysteries, they took in
the whole situation at a glance.  Standing with their backs to the
precipitous cock's-comb ridge, they looked down upon the terraced second
summit of the mountain.  But between this and where they stood yawned a
crater-like rift.  An ejaculation escaped Renshaw.

"By Jove!  Just look.  Why, the crater itself is the exact shape of an
eye!"

It was.  Widening outward at the centre and terminating in an acute
angle at each extremity, it was indeed a wonderful formation.  Shaped
like an eye-socket, and shut in on every side by precipitous rock walls,
the gulf looked at first sight inaccessible.  It seemed about half a
mile in length, by four hundred yards at the widest point, and although
this extraordinary hollow extended nearly the whole width of the
mountain, dividing the flat table summit from the sheering ridge--yet
there was no outlet at either end.  Both stood gazing in amazement upon
this marvellous freak of Nature.

"What did I tell you, old chap?" cried Sellon, triumphantly.  "There's
more room on the top of this old berg than you'd think.  Who'd have
thought of finding a place like that up here?  I believe it's an extinct
volcano, when all's said and done."

"Likely.  Now let's get to work."

They descended the steep slope to the spot whence the arrow experiment
had been made, and where Sellon had so narrowly escaped a grisly death.
It was near the widest part of the rift.  As they had expected, the
cliff fell away in a sheer, unbroken wall at least two hundred feet.
Nor did the opposite sides seem to offer any greater facility.
Whichever way they looked, the rock fell sheer, or nearly so.

"We can do nothing here!" said Renshaw, surveying every point with a
fairly powerful field-glass.  "There are our chalk-marks all right--
flags and all.  We had better make a cast round to the right.  According
to Greenway's story, the krantzes must be in a sort of terrace formation
somewhere.  That will be at the point where he was dodging the Bushmen."

Skirting the edge of the gulf, they soon rounded the spur.  It was even
as Renshaw had conjectured.  The ground became more broken.  By dint of
a not very difficult climb, they soon descended about a hundred feet.
But here they were pulled up by a cliff--not sheer indeed, but
apparently unnegotiable.  It dropped a matter of thirty feet on to a
grassy ledge some six yards wide, thence without a break about twice
that depth to the bottom of the crater.

"We can negotiate that, I guess!" cried Renshaw, joyously, as he unwound
a long coil of raw-hide rope.  "I came prepared for a far greater drop,
but we can do it well here.  I don't see any other place that seems more
promising.  And now I look at it, this must be the very point Greenway
himself tried from.  Look!  That must be the identical rock he squatted
under while the Bushmen were peppering him.  Yes, by Jove, it must!"
pointing to a great overhanging mass of stone which rose behind them.
"Why, he had already found a diamond or two even here.  What shan't we
find down yonder?"

There was a boyish light-heartedness about Renshaw now, even surpassing
the spirits of his companion.  The latter stared.  But the consciousness
of being within touch of fabulous wealth is a wonderful incentive to
light-heartedness.

He measured off a length of the rope for the shorter drop.  Then they
drove in a crowbar, and, securing the rope, a very few minutes sufficed
to let themselves down to the grassy ledge.

"Pheugh! that's something of a job!" cried Sellon, panting with the
exertion of the descent.  "Something of a job, with all this gear to
carry as well.  I could have sworn once the whole thing was giving way
with me.  I say, couldn't we leave our shooting irons here, and pick
them up on the way back?"

"H'm!  Better not.  Never get a yard away from your arms in an enemy's
country!"

The reply was unpleasantly suggestive.  To Sellon it recalled all his
former apprehensions.  What a trap they would be in, by the way, in the
event of a hostile appearance on the scene.

"You're right," he said.  "Let's get on."

The second crowbar was driven in.  This time they had some difficulty in
fixing it.  The turf covering the ledge was only a few inches thick.
Then came the hard rock.  At length a crevice was struck, and the
staunch iron firmly wedged to within a few inches of its head.

"Our string is more than long enough," said Renshaw, flinging the
raw-hide rope down the face of the rock.  The end trailed on the ground
more than a dozen feet.  "This krantz is on a greater slant than the
smaller one.  Don't throw more of your weight on the _reim_ than you can
help.  More climbing than hanging, you understand.  I'll go down first."

Slant or no slant, however, this descent was a ticklish business.  To
find yourself hanging by a single rope against the smooth face of a
precipice with a fifty-foot drop or so beneath is not a delightful
sensation, whatever way you look at it.  The crowbar might give.  There
might be a flaw in the iron--all sorts of things might happen.  Besides,
to go down a sixty-foot rope almost hand under hand is something of a
feat even for a man in good training.  However, taking advantage of
every excrescence in the rock likely to afford passing foothold, Renshaw
accomplished the descent in safety.

Then came Sellon's turn.  Of powerful and athletic build, he was a heavy
man, and in no particular training withal.  It was a serious ordeal for
him, and once launched in mid-air the chances were about even in favour
of a quicker and more disastrous descent than either cared to think of.
The rope jammed his unwary knuckles against the hard rock, excoriating
them and causing him most excruciating agony, nearly forcing him to let
go in his pain and bewilderment.  The instinct of self-preservation
prevailed, however, and eventually he landed safely beside his
companion--where the first thing he did on recovering his breath was to
break forth into a tremendous imprecation.  Then, forgetting his pain
and exertion, he, following the latter's example, glanced round
curiously and a little awed, upon the remarkable place wherein they
found themselves--a place whose soil had probably never before been
trodden by human foot.

And the situation had its awesome side.  The great rock walls sheering
up around had shut in this place for ages and ages, even from the
degraded and superstitious barbarians whose fears invested it and its
guardian Eye with all the terrors of the dread unknown.  While the
history of civilisation--possibly of the world itself--was in its
infancy, this gulf had yawned there unexplored, and now they two were
the first to tread its virgin soil.  The man who could accept such a
situation without some feeling of awe must be strangely devoid of
imagination--strangely deficient in ideas.



CHAPTER THIRTY ONE.

THE "VALLEY OF THE EYE."

The floor of the crater was nearly level, though somewhat depressed in
the centre.  Great masses of rock spar protruded here and there from the
soil, which latter was gravelly.  On turning up the surface, however, a
formation of whitey-blue clay lay revealed.

"This is the place for the `stones,'" said Renshaw, exultantly, making a
tentative dig or two with his pick.  "The Eye apart, we ought to find
something here worth having.  Ah, I thought so."

He picked up a small, dingy-looking crystal about the size of a pea.  It
was of perfect symmetry even in the rough, the facets being wonderfully
even.

"You'd better put that aside, Sellon, and stick to it as the first
stone--apart from our division of the swag.  Knock it into a pin or
something."

It was a small act.  But it was thoroughly characteristic of the man's
open-souled unselfishness.  The first instalment of the treasure,
attained at the cost of so much anxious thought--of so much hardship and
lonely peril--he offered to his companion.  And the latter accepted it
without hesitation--equally characteristically.

"We'd better get on to the big thing now, though," he continued, "and
leave the fossicking until afterwards."

In a few minutes they crossed the crater.  Then carefully scanning the
opposite cliff they made their way along the base of the same.

"There's one of our `flags,'" cried Renshaw, suddenly.  "And by Jove--
there are our chalk splashes!  Not bad archery in the dark, eh?  Look.
They are all within half a dozen yards of each other."

A great boulder some dozen feet in height and in shape like a tooth,
rose out of the soil about twenty yards from the base of the cliff.  It
was riven obliquely from top to bottom as if split by a wedge; a curious
boulder, banded with strata of quartz like the stripes of an agate.

On the face of it were four white marks--all, as the speaker had said,
within a few yards of each other, and bearing the relative formation of
the stars composing the Southern Cross.  Two of the arrows with the
strips of rag attached, lay a little further off, while the shafts which
had so faithfully left their mark lay at the foot of the boulder, the
chalk shattered to pieces.

The intense excitement of the moment was apparent in both men, and it
took widely different phases.  Sellon advanced hurriedly to the face of
the boulder, and began scrutinising it, eagerly, fiercely, from top to
base.  Renshaw, on the other hand, deliberately sat down, and, producing
his pipe, proceeded leisurely to fill and light it.

"It isn't on the face of the rock we've got to look, Sellon," he said,
when this operation was completed.  "It's here."

He rose, advanced to the cleft, and gazed eagerly inside.  It was just
wide enough to admit a man's body.  Just then the first arrowy gleams of
the risen sun shot over the frowning rock walls, glowing athwart the
grey chill atmosphere of the crater.  They swept round the searcher's
head, darting into the shaded cleft.

And then one swift reflected beam from the shadow of that rocky recess,
one dart of fire into his eyes, and Renshaw started back.  There, not
two yards in front of his face, protruded from the rough surface of the
quartz, a dull hard pyramid; but from the point of that pyramid darted
the ray which had for the moment blinded him.

"HERE IT IS!  THE EYE!"

The other was at his side in a moment.  And thus they stood side by
side, speechless, gazing upon a truly magnificent diamond.

Well might they be struck speechless.  To one the retrospect of a hard,
lonely life, sacrificed in detail to the good of others, a struggling
against wind and tide, a constant battle against the very stars in their
courses--rose up and passed before his eyes in a lightning flash at that
moment.  To the other what experience of soured hopes, of reckless
shifts, of a so far marred life, of failure, and confidence misplaced
and unrequited--of gradual cutting loose from all principle--a confusion
between the sense of right and wrong, and, following immediately upon
all, a golden glow of hope no longer deferred, a sunny ideal of abundant
consolation; of love and happiness!  But to both comfort, ease, wealth.

Wealth.  The riches lying waste for ages in this remote solitude must at
length yield to the grasping hand of their predestined owner--Man.  With
the first human footfall in this solemn untrodden recess rushed in the
jarring cares and considerations of the busy world in all its whirling
haste--its feverish strivings.  Wealth!

With the point of his geological hammer Renshaw next proceeded to chip a
circle around the great diamond.  Clink, clink!  The hammer bit its way
slowly but surely into the face of the hard rock.  Clink, clink!  The
circle deepened.  The chips flew into their eager faces.  No thought of
pausing to rest.

It was a long job and a tedious one.  At length the quartz cracked, then
split.  The superb stone rolled into Renshaw's hand.

"Seven or eight hundred carats, if it's one," he said, holding it up to
the light, and then passing it to his companion.  "Look what a shine it
has, even in the rough.  It must have been partially `cut' by the
splitting of the quartz, even as old Greenway conjectured.  Directly I
saw this boulder, split in half like that, I knew that it was in the
cleft that we had to search.  Yet the thing is a perfect marvel,
well-nigh outside all experience."

"I wonder what the _schelm_ Bushmen will think when they find that their
`devil's eye' has knocked off shining," said Sellon.  "By Jove, we
should look precious fools if they were to drop down and quietly sneak
our rope!"

"We should," assented Renshaw, gravely.  "We should be pinned in a trap
for all time."

"Pho!  The very thought of it makes one's blood run cold.  But, I say,
let's hunt for some more stones, and then clear out as soon as
possible."

A careful search having convinced Renshaw that such a freak of Nature
was not likely to repeat itself, and that neither the cleft nor the
sides of the great boulder offered any more of its marvellous treasures
to be had for the taking, they turned away to search the gravelly soil
of the crater, with what intensity of eagerness only those who have
experienced the truly gambling passion involved in treasure-seeking can
form an idea.  No food had passed their lips since the previous evening,
yet not a moment could be spared from the fierce, feverish quest for
wealth.  They ate their dry and scanty rations with one hand while
wielding pick and shovel with the other.  Even the torments of thirst,
for the contents of their pocket flasks were as a mere drop to the ocean
in the torrid, focussed heat now pouring down into this iron-bound
hollow, they hardly felt.  Each and every energy was merged in that
intense and craving treasure hunt.

"Well, this can't go on for ever," said Renshaw at last, pausing to wipe
his streaming brow.  "What do you say to knocking off now, and leaving
this for another day?  Remember, we are not out of the wood yet.  There
is such a thing as leaving well alone.  And we have done more than
well."

They had.  It wanted about two hours to sunset.  In the course of this
long day's work they had found upwards of sixty diamonds--besides the
superb Eye.  All were good stones, some of them indeed really
magnificent.  This long-sealed-up treasure-house of the earth, now that
its doors were opened, yielded its riches in no niggardly fashion.

"Perhaps we had better clear out while we can," assented Sellon, looking
around regretfully, and making a final dig with his pick.  There hung
the good rope, safe and sound.  A stiff climb--then away to spend their
lives in the enjoyment of the fruits of their enterprise.

"If you don't mind, I'll go first.  I am so cursedly heavy," said
Sellon.  "And just steady it, like a good chap, while I swarm up."

A good deal of plunging, and gasping, and kicking--and we are sorry to
add--a little "cussing," and Sellon landed safely upon the grassy ledge.
Renshaw was not long in following.

There remained the upper cliff, which was, it will be remembered, nearer
the perpendicular than the other one, though not so high.  Up this
Sellon proceeded to climb, his companion steadying the rope for him as
before.  Pausing a few moments to draw up and coil the longer line,
Renshaw turned to follow.  But--the rope was not there.  Looking up, he
saw the end of it rapidly disappearing over the brow of the cliff above.
What did it mean?

It could not be!  He rubbed his eyes and looked again.  The rope was
gone.  What idiotic practical joke could his companion be playing at
such a time?  Then, with a shock, the blood flowed back to his heart,
and he turned deadly cold all over.

Alas and alas!  It could mean but one thing.  Renshaw's feelings at that
moment were indescribable.  Amazement, dismay, burning indignation, were
all compressed within it, and following upon these the warning words of
Marian Selwood, spoken that sunny morning under the cool verandah,
flashed through his brain.

"He is not a man I should trust.  He doesn't seem to ring true."

Heavens and earth--it could not be!  No man living, however base, could
be guilty of such an act of black and bitter treachery.  But _in Maurice
Sellon's possession was the great diamond--the superb "Eye_."

Even then it could not be.  Surely, surely, this man whose life had been
saved twice now; whom he had been the means of enriching for the
remainder of that life--could not be capable of requiting him in such a
manner as this.  It must be a mere senseless practical joke.

"Anything gone wrong with the rope?" he called up, striving to suppress
the ring of anxiety in his voice.

No answer.

Again he called.

No answer.  But this time, he fancied he heard receding footsteps
clambering up the steep hillside beyond.

Renshaw Fanning's life had not held many moments more bitter than those
which followed.  The hideous treachery of his false friend, the terrible
fate which stared him in the face--pent up within that deathtrap, and--
hollow mockery--wealth untold lying at his feet.  And the
cold-bloodedness which had planned and carried out so consummate a
scheme!  Why had not the villain drawn up the longest rope, and left him
below in the crater instead of up here on the ledge?  Why, because he
knew that he himself could be shot dead from below while climbing the
upper rope, whereas now he was safe.  The whole thing was as clear
daylight.  There was no room for doubt.



CHAPTER THIRTY TWO.

JUDAS IMPROMPTU.

One of those inexplicable problems which now and again crop up to puzzle
the student of human nature and to delight the cynic is the readiness
wherewith a man, who on the whole is rather a good fellow, will
suddenly, and at a moment's notice, plunge into the lowest depths of
base and abject villainy.

When Maurice Sellon first laid his hand upon the lower rope to ascend
out of the crater, he had no more idea of committing this act of
blackest treachery than his generous and all too trusting friend had.
It came to him, so to speak, in mid-air--begotten of a consciousness of
the priceless treasure now in his possession--of the ease wherewith he
could draw up the rope.

The temptation became too strong.  That splendid stone, worth a fortune,
would be all his.  Renshaw might eventually work his way out by some
other point--but not until he himself had got a long start to the good.
He remembered his friend's words earlier in their expedition.  "Do you
think you could find your way back alone?"  Strangely prophetic!  Yes,
he thought he could do that.  At any rate, with the fabulous wealth
about him, it was worth while making the trial.

We think we have hitherto made it clear that Sellon was not without some
good impulses.  Equally we seem to have made it clear that he was at the
same time what is commonly, and expressively, known as a "slippery
character."  From a slip to a downright--a heavy--fall is the work of an
instant.  So, too, had been the dastardly resolve which he had formed
and carried out.

He could not have lifted a hand against his friend--his nature was too
weak for any such aggressive act of villainy.  But to leave him to
perish miserably of starvation, shut up there in the crater, involved
the playing of a comparatively inactive part.  And again, it did not
look so bad.  Renshaw was a man of infinite resource.  He might
eventually succeed in finding a way out--probably would.  Thus was
conscience seared.

Sellon climbed up to where the horses were grazing, closely
knee-haltered.  He untied the _reims_, and led them back to the place
where they had camped.  It was a short distance, but it gave him time to
think.

He saddled up his own horse.  Then he took out the great diamond.  How
it flashed in the sinking sunlight.  It must be worth a fabulous sum.
All his own--all, not half.

His foot was in the stirrup.  He took one more look around.  There was
their resting-place, just as it had been left in the small hours of the
morning.  His friend's blanket still lay there, as it had been thrown
aside.  His friend's saddle and bridle--a few _reims_ and other gear.
The sight of these objects set him thinking.

The sweet golden sunshine slanted down into the hollow, its course
nearly run.  Opposite, the great cliffs flushed redly at its touch;
below, the crater was already in shade.  And upon that lonely ledge
stood the man who was thus treacherously left to die a lingering death--
never again to look upon a human face, never again to hear the sound of
a human voice.

Why had he been so blindly, so besottedly confiding?  Had he not by the
very fact placed temptation in the other's way?  Marian was right.  "He
does not seem to ring true," had been her words.  Her quick woman's
instinct had gauged the risk, while he, in his superior knowledge, had
suffered himself to be led blindfold into the trap.  Ah, well, these
considerations came just a trifle too late.  He must make up his mind to
meet his end, and that soon, for even to his resourceful brain no
glimmer of a way out of the difficulty presented itself.

"Hallo!  Fanning!"

The blood tingled in his veins at the call.  He paused a moment before
replying to the treacherous scoundrel--and then it was in one single
stern monosyllable.

"Well?"

"Look here, old chap.  I want to talk to you."

"Why don't you show yourself?"

For although the voice came from the cliff's brow above, not even the
speaker's head was visible.

"Look here, old boss," went on the latter, ignoring the question.  "I'm
a pretty desperate sort of a chap just now--because I'm desperately in
want of the needful--all of it that I can lay hands on, in fact.  Now,
with you it's different; for you went out of your way to tell me as
much.  Remember?"

"Go on."

"Well, you said you'd be content with _moderate_ riches.  Now you've got
them.  With me it's different.  I want a good deal more than anything
moderate."

He paused, but no answer came from below.

"Well, what I want to propose is this.  You hold on to what you've got,
and I'll stick to what I've got.  Is that a bargain?"

"No."

"Now, Fanning, do be reasonable.  By-the-by, you remember when we first
talked about this place.  I told you I had an object in trying to make a
pile, and rather chaffed you on having one too.  Said I believed our
object was the same.  Remember?"

"Well?"

"Well, I little thought how I was hitting the right nail on the head.
Now, by agreeing to my suggestion, you can benefit us both--benefit all
three of us, in fact.  For you behaved devilish well over that other
business, mind, devilish well.  Look here now.  Agree that we shall
start quits from this moment--that we each stick to what we've got on
us--mind you, we've had no division yet, and you may have as many stones
as I have--or nearly so--for all I--for all either of us--know.  Give me
your straight word of honour that you agree to this, and--I'll let down
the rope again."

Here again the speaker fell unconsciously into an inconsistency so
paradoxical as to be almost grotesque.  Had the position been reversed,
would he have scrupled at passing his own "word of honour" a score of
times, if necessary, in order to get out of the present quandary.  And
once out of it would he have hesitated to break his pledged word equally
a score of times, and to pursue his claim to the uttermost.  Not for a
moment would he have so scrupled.  Yet he was prepared to accept this
other man's word in perfect good faith.  Wherein is indeed a paradox,
and, as we have said, a grotesque one.

"And if I refuse?" said Renshaw.

"If--?  In that case I shall not let down the rope again."

"I do refuse, then."

The stern determined tone left no room for doubt.  That, once it was
formed, there was no shaking this man's resolution Maurice was well
aware.

"Then you are committing suicide," he said.

"And you murder--murder in the blackest and most diabolical form in
which it has ever been committed.  And--believe me or not, as you
please--I would rather be myself here, than be you, at large with the
results of your villainy.  And those results--mark my last words--you
will never benefit by."

To this there was no reply, and some minutes went by in silence.  Again
Renshaw heard his name called.  But he deigned no answer.

"I say, Fanning," came the voice from overhead again.  "Hang it, man,
say you agree."

"Never," now replied Renshaw, speaking coldly and deliberately.  "I have
never been a grasping man, and I defy my worst enemy to charge me with a
single instance of taking advantage of anybody.  But--I have always
tried to be a man of principle--to act on principle.  And in utterly
refusing to play up to your villainous hand I am following out that line
consistently.  And now, Maurice Sellon, I will just add this.  I am
alone in the world, and having no ties my life is to that extent my own.
I will let it be sacrificed rather than violate a principle.  But you,
from the hour you leave this place, you will never know a moment's
peace, never for a moment will the recollection of what you have done
to-day cease to haunt you.  Here from my living tomb I can afford to
pity you."

Again there was silence.  But there was an awfulness about those parting
words, the more forcible that they were spoken without heat or anger--a
solemnity which could not but live in the recollection of him to whom
they were addressed.  How did they strike him now?

Suddenly something shot out into the air from above, falling with a
`thwack' against the face of the cliff.  It was the raw-hide rope.

Renshaw merely looked at it.  The end trailed at his feet.  Yet he put
forward no hand to seize it.

"Come on, old chap," sung out Sellon in his heartiest manner.  "Why,
I've only been playing off a practical joke on you--just to see how
`grit' you are.  And you are `grit' and no mistake."

But Renshaw shook his head with a bitter smile.  Still he made no move
forward.

"Do you want to finish me off more quickly than at first?" he said.  "I
suppose the line will be cut by the time I'm half-way up."

"No.  I swear it won't," called out the other.  "Man alive, can't you
take a little chaff?  I tell you I've only been humbugging you all
along."

Renshaw did not believe a word of this.  But as he stood there the whole
truth of the matter seemed to flash upon him.  Sellon had been beset by
a terrible temptation, and had yielded--for the moment.  Then his better
instincts had come uppermost, and this was the result.

Still, as he seized the rope, and having tested it, started on his
climb, he more than half expected every moment of that climb to be his
last.  Then as he rose above the brink Sellon put out his hand to help
him.  This, however, he ignored, and drew himself up unaided.

"What a game chap you are, Fanning," began Sellon, trying to laugh.  But
the other turned to him, and there was that in the look which cut him
short.

"I only wish I could believe in your `practical joke' theory, Sellon,"
said Renshaw, and his tones were very cold and stern.  "But I can't, and
I tell you so straight.  Do you know that for the bare attempt at the
hideous treachery you proposed just now you would be lynched without
mercy, in any mining camp in the world.  Wait--let me say it out.  I
have shared my secret with you, and have given you wealth, and even now
I will not go back on our bargain--share and share alike.  But there is
one condition which I must exact."

"And what's that?" asked Sellon, shortly, not at all relishing the
other's way of looking at things.

"I trusted you as fully as any man ever was trusted.  I thought the
large diamond was as safe in your possession as in my own.  I left it in
your possession, thereby placing temptation in your way.  Now I must
insist on taking charge of it myself."

"Oh, that's another pair of shoes.  Possession, you know--nine points--
eh?" answered Maurice, defiantly.

"Why, the very fact of your hesitating a moment proves what your
intentions were, and are," said Renshaw, speaking rather more quickly,
for even he was fast reaching the limits of patience.  "I must ask you
to hand it over."

"And suppose I decline?"

"One of us two will not leave this place alive."

Sellon started.  Well he might.  There was a look upon the other's face
which he had never seen there before.  Accustomed as he was to trade
upon his friend's good nature, he could hardly believe him in earnest
now.  He had felt a real liking for Renshaw, sincere, but dashed with a
touch of superiority.  A fine fellow in many ways, but soft in others,
had been his verdict.  And now this man was actually dictating terms to
him.  Even then, however, some faint stirrings of his better impulses
moved Sellon, but greed of gain, selfishness, self-importance, came
uppermost.

"I'm not the sort of man to be bullied into anything," he answered.

They stood there facing each other--there on the brink of that
marvellous treasure house--on the brink, too, of a deadly quarrel over
the riches which it had yielded them.  To the generous mind of one there
was something infinitely repulsive--degrading--in the idea of
quarrelling over this question of gain.  But in this instance it was to
him a question of self-respect, and therefore of principle.  How was it
going to end?

They stood there facing each other; the countenance of one set and
determined, that of the other sullen, defiant, dogged.  How was it going
to end?

Suddenly an ejaculation escaped Sellon, and the expression of his face
changed to one of vivid alarm.

"Oh, good God!" he cried.  "Here they come!  Look! look!" and, turning
at the same time, he started off up the hill towards where the horses
were standing, fortunately ready saddled.

Renshaw, suspecting a new trick, sent a quick glance backward over his
shoulder.  But the other had spoken truly.

Swarming over the opposite brow of the mountain, came a crowd of uncouth
shapes.  Baboons?  No.

Ape-like, it was true, but--human.



CHAPTER THIRTY THREE.

THE "SCHELM BUSHMEN."

No further thought of their quarrel now.  That must be put aside in the
face of the common enemy.

They had several hundred yards of stiff uphill work before they could
reach the horses.  The savages were still nearly a mile distant, but
above, and running on the level.  It would be a near race.

As soon as they perceived that their approach was discovered the
barbarians set up a shrill yell, and redoubled their efforts to arrive
in time to cut off our two adventurers from their horses.  It became a
stirring race for life.

Up the steep mountain-side they pressed.  Renshaw, being in hard
training, easily took the lead.  The other began to pant and blow in
most distressful fashion almost before he was half way.

"Keep up, Sellon.  Put on a spurt, if you can," said Renshaw, dropping
on one knee and taking aim at the onrushing crowd.

The weapon cracked.  It was a long shot, but he had fired "into the
brown."  There was a splash of dust, just short of the mob.  Then the
savages scattered, leaping and bounding like bucks.  One could be seen
crawling on the sward, evidently badly wounded by the ball in its
ricochet.

But the check was only momentary.  On pressed the pursuers, now in more
scattered formation, zigzagging along the rocks at the base of the
cock's-comb ridge, nearer, nearer.  They were a hideous group--some
squat and monkey-like, others long and gaunt--grotesque mud-coloured
figures, their ragged wool and staring, horn-like ears given them the
aspect of so many mediaevally depicted fiends.  They were armed with
assegais and bows.  Already many of them were fitting arrows to the
string.

Sellon, hardly able to put one foot before the other, had reached his
horse.  Staggering with exhaustion, he just managed to throw himself
into the saddle.  But he had completely lost his head.

"Down the gully, Sellon--it's our only chance--but it's neck or nothing.
Follow my lead--and--keep your head."

It crossed Renshaw's mind to deliver another shot.  But it would only be
precious time lost.  There were at least fifty of their assailants.  One
shot, however fatal, would not stop them, and it was of the first
importance to keep beyond range of the poisoned arrows.

Rugged as the gully had seemed in ascending, it was a tenfold more
formidable business now.  It was like riding down a flight of stairs,
with the difference that here the evenness of the stairs was lacking.
Large boulders and small ones, sharp stones and smooth stones, loose
stones and rubble--all had to be got over somehow.  And then, that awful
precipice at the bottom!

And now the cliffs resounded with the shrill yells of the pursuers.
They had reached the head of the gully, and, dropping from rock to rock
with the agility of monkeys, were gaining on the two white men.
Renshaw, turning warily in his saddle, while still keeping an eye on the
guidance of his steed, got in one revolver shot at a gaunt Koranna, who
had sprung to the top of a boulder, and was on the point of launching a
spear.  The fellow threw up his arms and toppled backwards, but not
before he had hurled his weapon, which, inflicting a flesh wound on
Sellon's horse, caused the animal to squeal and bound forward.

Perfectly unmanageable, frenzied with pain and terror, the horse shot
past Renshaw, his rider vainly endeavouring to restrain him.  One
stride--two--three--the horse was among the loose rubble on the cliffs
brow.  There was a prodigious plunging of hoofs--a cloud of dust and
gravel--a slide--a frantic struggle--then with a scream, which even at
that stirring moment curdled the listeners' blood, the poor steed
disappeared into space--while his rider, who, in the very nick of time,
had slipped to the ground, stood bewildered and pale at the thought of
the frightful danger he had escaped.

But there was peril enough behind to allow no time for thought.  The
barbarians, profiting by the moment's confusion, came swarming down the
rocks, yelling and hissing like fiends.  A shower of assegais and arrows
came whizzing about the ears of the fugitives.

The latter, in about three bounds, had cleared the fearful "elbow"
overhanging the abyss, and which they had crossed so circumspectly in
cold blood the previous day.  Rounding it safely, they had gained one
advantage; they were out of arrow range for the moment.

"Lay hold of my stirrup-leather," cried Renshaw, "and run alongside.
There's clear going now for some way to come."

But Sellon had sunk to the ground groaning with pain.

"I can't," he gasped.  "My ankle's sprained."

Here was a situation.  A dismounted comrade with a sprained ankle,
unable to walk even, let alone run; a crowd of bloodthirsty barbarians
close behind swarming down the mountain-side in pursuit.  Surely one of
the two must be sacrificed.

But Renshaw did not hesitate.  The other had planned and willingly
carried out a diabolical scheme of robbery and murder--even up to the
time they were surprised had plainly shown a resolve to rob him of his
share of the undertaking.  Why should he sacrifice his own life for the
benefit of such a worthless ungrateful scoundrel?

Nothing is quicker than thought.  In that moment of deadly peril--in the
mad heat of a race for life--swifter than the lightning flash there
swept through his mind the promise Violet had exacted from him during
that last ride together.  "Promise that you will stand my friend.
Promise that if ever you can help me you will."  And with it there
flashed a serious doubt as to whether it would in fact be the act of a
friend to be instrumental in placing her at the mercy of such an
unprincipled rascal as Maurice Sellon.

But to this succeeded a far graver consideration.  The last Mass in the
little church at Fort Lamport--doubly solemn because perforce so seldom
attended--the white-headed old priest and his simple, straightforward
counsels, and above all at that moment the words, intoned in the
Sunday's epistle, "_Sed si esurierit inimicus tuus, ciba illum; si
sitit, potum da illi_."  ("But if thine enemy be hungry, give him to
eat; if thirsty, give him to drink.")

Renshaw's Christianity was of pure gold.  He did not hesitate now.

"Jump up," he said, dismounting, and helping the other to gain his own
saddle, "I'll run alongside."

The pursuers had now doubled the spur which had afforded temporary
concealment to the fugitives.  At sight of one of these on foot, they
set up a shrill yell of triumph, and streamed down the declivity.

The latter was fearfully steep.  No horse could put his best pace
forward without going head over heels, to a dead certainty.

"Turn off to the right, quick!" said Renshaw.  At the same moment he was
conscious of a slight pricking in the foot.  But he heeded it not.

By the above "double" they gained a slight advantage.  Unless, however,
they could reach ground more level before the pursuers should come
within bow-shot, their fate was sealed.

On, on swept the wild man-hunt; nearer, nearer came the shrill yells of
the savages.  The twang of bow-strings now was heard.  The elf-like
little demons were already beginning to discharge their deadly, poisoned
shafts.

But hope, well-nigh dead in the breasts of the fugitives, arose once
more.  The scarp of the mountain-side became less steep.  In a minute or
two they would gain the comparatively level and winding valley by which
they had approached.  The Korannas seeing this, redoubled their efforts.

But so, too, did the fugitives.  The horse-hoofs thundered down the
slope, the staunch steed tearing at his bit, and snorting with mingled
excitement and apprehension.

The leaping, bounding crowd of hideous barbarians came shambling down
like a troop of apes, in hot pursuit, eagerly anticipating the sport of
tearing limb from limb the two white invaders.  On--on!

At last!  The valley was gained.  On comparatively level ground the
speed of the horse would tell.  Yet it would not do to loiter.  All
manner of short cuts would be known to their enemies; short cute which
these human apes in their native wilds could take across the mountains,
and arrive at a given point more quickly than a horseman.  Our
adventurers had good reason to fear such an eventuality.  There was no
time to be lost.

"Let me hold on to the stirrup leather, Sellon," said Renshaw.  "I can
get along at twice the pace then.  I'm beginning to feel rather blown
now."

There was that about Sellon's acquiescence which seemed to show that had
the danger been more pressing, it would not have been so readily
accorded.  Nothing easier than to spur on the horse and dart away.  And
he still had the great diamond in his possession.  But the shouts of the
pursuers seemed already growing fainter behind.

The sun was setting.  Peak and mountain-wall were gleaming golden in the
parting light, but down there in the kloof the darkling grey of evening
had already fallen.  In half an hour it would be night.  Yet they
slackened not in their flight.  The clinking flash of the horse-hoofs
rasped the stony way, but the yelling of the pursuers had died away
completely.  Still it would not do to slacken their efforts.

Suddenly Renshaw running alongside stumbled, then staggered a few yards
and sank to the ground.  A curious numbed feeling had come into his
legs.  They had literally given way beneath him.  As he tried to rise,
he was conscious of feeling half paralysed.

"Come along, man!" cried the other, impatiently.  "Why, what's the row?"

"This!" he said, slowly, pointing to a small puncture in his boot just
on the instep.  "I felt the sting when you first came to grief.  I've
been pinked by a poisoned arrow."

The place was a wild one, shut in between lofty cliffs, gloomy now with
the falling shadows of night.  Renshaw knew that he would never leave it
alive.

"Good-bye, Sellon," he said, the stupor deepening upon him even as he
spoke.  "Don't bother any more about me.  You're on the right track now,
and must find your way as best you can.  Go on and leave me."

"Nonsense, old chap--make an effort, and try what you can do."

But Renshaw shook his head.  "No," he said.  "I cannot even get up.  You
must take care of yourself now.  Go on and leave me."

Sellon looked at him for a moment without a word.  Then he--went on.



CHAPTER THIRTY FOUR.

LEFT TO DIE.

The glooming shadows of night crept on apace.

Renshaw, lying there in the wild rocky defile, felt the poison stealing
insidiously through his veins in a kind of slow drowsy stupor.  He knew
that he was doomed; he realised that even if the wild Korannas did not
speedily come up and put an end to his sufferings yet his hour had come.
The poison was too deadly for antidote, and he had no antidote.

In his stupor he hardly heard the receding hoof-strokes of his
companion--his companion for whose life he had given his own, and who
now rode away leaving him alone in that remote and savage solitude to
die.

He lay there as he had sunk down.  The night grew pitchy black between
those grim, frowning walls of cliff.  The faint stir of a cool breeze
played in fitful puffs about his pallid brow already cold and moist with
the dews of approaching death.  The stars flashed from the vault above
in a narrow riband of gold between the loom of the great cliffs against
the sky.  The melancholy howl of some prowling beast rose now and again
upon the night.

There was a patter, patter of stealthy feet among the stones--a gleam of
scintillating green from ravening eyes.  Nearer, nearer came the pit-pat
of those soft footfalls.  The wild creatures of the waste had scented
their prey.

Man--the lord of the beasts of creation.  Man--before whose erect form
the four-footed carnivora of the desert fled in terror--what was he
now--how was he represented here?  A mere thing of flesh and blood, an
abject thing--prostrate, helpless, dying.  An easy prey.  The positions
were reversed.

The gleam of those hungry eyes--the baring of gaunt jaws, the lolling
tongues--were as things unknown to the stricken adventurer.  The shrill
yelp, echoing from the great krantzes, calling upon more to come to the
feast--the snapping snarl, as hungry rivals drew too near each other--
all passed unnoticed.  Nearer, nearer they came, a ravening circle.  For
they knew that the prey was sure.

What a contrast!  This man, with the cool, dauntless brain--the hardened
frame so splendidly proportioned, lay there in the pitchy blackness at
the mercy of the skulking, cowardly scavengers of those grim mountain
solitudes.  And what had wrought this strange, this startling contrast?
Only a mere tiny puncture, scarcely bigger than a pin prick.

A cold nose touched his cheek.  The contact acted like a charm.  He sat
bolt upright and struck out violently.  A soft furry coat gave way
before his fist--there was a yelp, a snarl of terror, and a sound of
pattering feet scurrying away into deeper darkness, but--only to return
again.

As though the shock had revived him, Renshaw's brain began to recover
its dormant faculties.  It awoke to the horror, the peril of the
position.  And with that awakening came back something of the old
adventurous, dauntless resolution.  He remembered that violent
exercise--to keep the patient walking--was among the specifics in cases
of venomous snake-bite, which in conjunction with other antidotes he had
more than once seen employed with signal success.  But in his own case
the other antidotes were wanting.

Still the old dogged determination--the strength of a trained will--
prevailed.  He would make the effort, even if it were to gain some
inaccessible ledge or crevice where he might die in peace.  Even in the
midst of his numbed and torpid stupor the loathing horror wherewith he
had encountered the touch of the wild creature's muzzle acted like a
whip.  To be devoured by those brutes like a diseased sheep--faugh!

Gaining his feet with an effort, he unscrewed the stopper of his flask
and drank off the contents.  With the poison working in his system the
fiery spirit was as water to him.  But its effect was invigorating, and
setting his face toward the cliffs he staggered forth into the darkness.

Before the once more erect figure of their dread enemy, Man, the
skulking jackals and hyenas slunk back in dismay.  But only into the
background.  Stealthily, warily they watched his progress, following
afar softly and noiselessly upon his footsteps.  For their keen instinct
satisfied them that this stricken representative of the dominant species
would never leave their grisly rock-girt haunt alive.  It was only a
question of patience.

The instinct, too, of the latter led him on.  His stupefied brain still
realised two things.  Under the shelter of the crags he would be in
safer hiding from human enemies, and that haply a ledge among the same
would afford him a secure refuge from the loathsome beasts now shadowing
him, and ready to pounce upon him when he should be too weak to offer
any resistance.

On--on, he pressed--ever upward.  Steeper and steeper became the way.
Suddenly he stopped short.  Before him was a wall of rock.

He peered searchingly upward in the darkness.  A cleft slanted obliquely
up the cliffs face.  His knowledge of the mountains and their formation
told him that here might be the very thing he sought.  His instinct
still guiding him, he began to scale the cleft.  He found it an easy
matter.  There were plenty of rough projections, affording hand and foot
hold.  The ghoul-like scavengers of the desert could not follow him
here.

Under ordinary circumstances the climb would have been a difficult one,
especially at night.  But now, as in the case of the somnambulist,
matter triumphed over mind.  The mind being dormant and the centre of
gravity undisturbed by mental misgivings, however unconscious, he
ascended safely.

The climb came to an end.  Here was the very thing.  A ledge, at first
barely four feet broad, and then widening out as it ran round the face
of the cliff--and sloping--not outward as ordinarily, but inward.  What
he did not see in his now returning torpor, was a black, narrow cave
running upward in continuation of the cleft by which he had ascended.

He crawled along the ledge.  Here at any rate nothing could disturb his
last hours.  The cool night wind fanned his brow--the single strip of
radiant stars seemed to dance in one dazzling ocean of light.  His
stupefaction reasserted itself.  He sank down in dead unconsciousness.
Was it slumber or death?

It was not death.  Renshaw awoke at last; awoke to consciousness in a
strange half-light.  Above was a roof of overhanging rock--underneath
him, too, was the same hard rock.  A strip of sky, now a pale blue, was
all he could see.

Raising himself upon his elbow, he looked forth.  The sun was setting in
a blood-red curtain of cloud beyond the distant mountain peaks, shedding
a fiery glow upon the stupendous chain of iron cliffs which overhung the
weird and desolate defile.  It came home to Renshaw then, that he must
have slept for nearly twenty-four hours.

He still felt terribly weak, and his dazed and dizzy brain was still
beclouded as in a fog.  The events of yesterday, of his lifetime, in
fact, seemed but as a far-away and uncertain dream.  At any rate he
could die in peace here--in peace with all mankind.  He felt no fear of
death, he had faced it too often.  The utter loneliness of his last
hours seemed to hold no terrors for him either, and he even found
himself drowsily thinking that such surroundings--the grim, beetling
cliffs, the wild and rugged peaks, the utter desolation of this remote
untrodden solitude--were meet witnesses to the last hours of one who had
spent the bulk of his life in their midst.  His mind went back to the
present undertaking and its disastrous results--to the "Valley of the
Eye," to Sellon's selfish treachery--and his own self-sacrifice.  But
for that same act of treachery, tardily repented of as it was, they
would both have got out safe, for it was during the time thus lost that
the horde of Bushmen and Korannas had stolen up to surprise them.  Ah,
well, what did it matter now?  What did anything matter?  The treasure--
the precious stones which he had thrown into the balance against his own
life--what did they count now?  He had enough of them about him at that
moment to place him in affluent circumstances, had it been willed that
he should live.  Yet of what account were they now?  Mere dross.

Then there arose before him a vision of Sunningdale--the cool, leafy
garden, the spreuws piping among the fig trees, the plashing murmur of
the river, and Violet Avory, as he had last seen her--no not then so
much as at the moment when she had extracted that promise.  Well, he had
kept his promise, at any rate.  And then Violet's image faded, and,
strange to say, the face which bent over his rocky couch, even the hard
bed of death, was not hers, but that of Marian--sweet, pitying,
soothing.  And then the poor, clouded brain grew dim again--dim and
restful.

But there are times when a subtle instinct of peril will penetrate even
a drugged understanding.  Uneasily Renshaw raised himself on his elbow,
and again looked forth.  The sun had disappeared now; a red afterglow
still lingered on the loftier peaks, but the abrupt scarps of the great
mountains were assuming a purpler gloom.  Looking up, he noted that the
overhanging rock projected beyond the slope of the ledge, forming a kind
of roof.  Looking downward along the ledge he saw--

A huge leopard crouching flat upon its belly, its long tail gently
waving, its green scintillating eyes fixed upon him.  As they met his, a
low rumbling purr issued from the beast's throat, and with a stealthy,
almost imperceptible glide, it crawled a little nearer.

With consummate presence of mind, he followed its example.  Without
changing his position he felt cautiously for his gun.  Fool that he was!
He had left it behind--surely at the spot where he had sunk down in his
stupor.  Then he felt for his revolver; but that too, he had somehow
contrived to lose.  He was unarmed.

The beast was barely twenty yards distant.  The low, rumbling purr
increased in volume.  As he kept his eyes fixed on those of the huge
cat, Renshaw felt a strange eerie fascination creeping over him.  The
thing was not real.  It was a nightmare--an illusion come to haunt his
last hours.  He would break the spell.

Again he looked forth.  The loom of the towering peaks was blacker now
against the silvery sky--the grey shadows deeper within the desolate
kloofs.  He noted too that he was at an elevation of nearly thirty feet
from the ground.  In his weakened state there was no escape that way.

The hungry savage beast crawled nearer and nearer along the ledge.  The
feline purr changed to a hideous snarl, as with eyes glittering like
green stars from its round, speckled head, it bared its fangs, and
gathered its lithe muscular body for the fatal spring.

And the man lay powerless to avoid it; unarmed, helpless, unable to
stir, to move a finger in his own defence.



CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE.

THE PRICE OF BLOOD.

After the explanations attendant upon Christopher Selwood's awkward
discovery, relations between Violet and her entertainers became somewhat
strained.

Spoiled and petted ever since she could remember, bowed down to as a
very goddess as she grew up in her fascinating girlhood; accustomed to
the most unbounded admiration, and undivided withal, Violet Avory was
now receiving almost her first check.

It was all very well for her host to wonder "what the deuce she could
see in the fellow," the fact remained that her love for Maurice Sellon
engrossed her whole headstrong and passionate nature, and opposition
served no other purpose than to rivet her determination.

To reasoning she was deaf.  All appeals to her sense of self-respect
rendered her sullen--but underlying this sullenness lurked a dogged
intensity of resolution.  If ever a woman was on the road to ruin Violet
Avory was that woman, and she would be lucky did she escape the final
goal.

The days that followed were tolerably uncomfortable for all concerned.
Violet sulked.  She was an adept in the art of putting on an air of
outraged innocence, and managed to make everybody supremely
uncomfortable accordingly.  She kept to her room as much as she
conveniently could, and when she did venture out she shunned Marian's
companionship, taking her solitary wanderings in secluded places.  Her
hostess, angered and disgusted, after one or two further attempts at
reasoning with her, fell in with her mood, and left her severely to
herself.  But kind-hearted Chris--with whom she had always been a great
favourite--persisted in declaring that she was not the one to blame in
the matter--that she was rather deserving of sympathy--and he
accordingly was the only one to whom she condescended to unbend.

She was so sorry to be such a nuisance to everybody, she would say,
putting on the most winningly plaintive air for his benefit.  Had she
not better go at once instead of waiting for opportunities, which might
not occur for weeks?  She would be quite safe, and had no fear of
travelling by herself.  She was only a "wet blanket" in the house, and
an intolerable burden--she could see that.  Everybody was so strange
now--as if she had done something awful.  He, Christopher, was the only
one who ever gave her a kind word, or seemed to care whether she was
alive or dead.  And then out would come the daintiest little lace
handkerchief in the world, and, of course, poor old soft-hearted
Christopher felt extremely foolish--as she intended he should--and
wilder than ever with the absent Sellon, which she did not intend.

Then he would endeavour to reassure her and reiterate again and again
that nobody blamed her, which, of course, did not impose upon her, for
with the freemasonry existing among women Violet knew better; knew that
she was in fact the very one whom her hostess indeed did think the most
to blame.  She must not hurry away from them like that, he would say.
Things would come right again--it was only a temporary misunderstanding,
and they would all be as jolly again together as before.  And Violet in
her secret heart rejoiced--for any day might bring back her lover.
However great was her apparent anxiety to relieve them of her presence
it would not do to be hurried away just in time to miss him.  That would
be too awful.

Her relief at the welcome reprieve would not, however, have been so
great had she been aware of a certain fact as to which she had been
designedly kept in ignorance.  Selwood had written to Maurice, directing
the letter to the principal hotel of a town through which the treasure
seekers were bound to pass on their return.  He had taken steps to
ensure its immediate delivery, or return to himself if not claimed
within a given period, and in it she asked Sellon not to come to
Sunningdale until he had had an interview with the writer--at any place
he, Sellon, might choose to appoint.  No, assuredly, her equanimity
might have been a trifle disturbed had she known of that.  So the days
went by.

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

One afternoon she was indulging in a solitary stroll, according to her
recent habit.  It was nearly sundown.  She walked along absently, her
dress sweeping the crickets in chirruping showers from the long dank
herbage under the shade of the quince hedge.  She crossed, the deserted
garden, and gained the rough wicket-gate opening out of it on the other
side.  Down the narrow bridle-path, winding through the tangled brake
she moved, still absently as in a dream.  And she was in a dream, for it
was down this path that they two had walked that first morning--ah! so
long ago now.

She stood upon the river bank, on the very spot where they had stood
together.  The great peaks soaring aloft were all golden in the slanting
sunset.  The shout and whistle of the Kaffir herds bringing in their
flocks sounded from the sunlit hillside, mellowed by distance.  Doves
cooed softly in the thorn-brake--their voices mingling with the
fantastic whistle of the yellow thrush and the shrill chatter of a cloud
of finks flashing in and out of their hanging nests above the water.
She stood thus in the radiant evening light, trying to infuse her mind
with a measure of its peace.

But above the voices of Nature and of evening came another sound--the
dull thud of hoofs.  Some one was riding up the bridle-path on the other
side of the river.  Heavens!  Could it be--?

The thought set her every pulse tingling.  Nearer, nearer came the hoof
strokes.

The horseman emerged from the brake.  Tired and travel-worn he looked,
so too did his steed.  The latter plunged knee-deep into the cool
stream, and drank eagerly, gratefully, of the flowing waters.

But the glint of the white dress on the bank opposite caught the rider's
eye.  Up went his head.  So too did that of the horse, jerked up
suddenly by a violent wrench of the bridle.  There was a prodigious
splashing, stifling the horseman's exclamation, as he plunged through
the drift, and the water flew in great jets around.  Then scarce had the
dripping steed touched the opposite bank than the rider sprang to the
ground and the waiting, expectant figure was folded tight in his arms.

"Oh, Maurice, darling, it is you at last!" she murmured, clinging to him
in his close embrace.  And then she felt that it was good indeed to
live.

"Me?  Rather!  And `at last' is about the word for it.  And so my little
girl has been waiting here for me ever since I went away.  Confess!
Hasn't she?"

"Yes."

"Of course.  This was always our favourite retreat, wasn't it?  Still, I
thought just the very moment I happened to arrive you would be anywhere
else--with the rest of the crowd.  It's just one's luck as a rule.  But
mine is better this time--rather!"

"But--but--where's Renshaw?" she asked, lifting her head, as she
suddenly became alive to the other's non-appearance.  Sellon looked
rather blank.

"H'm--ha!--Renshaw?  Well--he isn't here--hasn't come, anyhow."

"But--is he coming on after you?" she said, awake to the inconvenience
of their first meeting being suddenly broken in upon.

"M--well.  The fact is, Violet darling, you don't care about anything or
anybody now we are together again?  The long and the short of it is,
poor Fanning has rather come to grief!"

"Come to grief!" she echoed, wonderingly.

"Well--yes.  Fact is, I'm afraid the poor chap will never show up here
again.  He got hit--bowled over by those cursed Bushmen or Korannas, or
whatever they were.  We had to give them leg-bail, I can tell you.  They
pinked him with one of their poisoned arrows.  He's done for."

"Oh!  Poor Renshaw!" cried Violet, in horror.  "But you--you are unhurt,
dearest?  You have--have come back to me safe!"

"Safe as a church.  I got a trifle damaged too.  Sprained my ankle just
at the wrong time--those Bushmen devils coming on hard in our rear.
Touch and go, I'll tell you all about it by-and-bye.  I shan't tell the
others about Fanning all at once--break it gradually, you know.  So
don't you cut in with it."

"Poor Renshaw!"  That was all.  In those two words she dismissed the
memory of the man but for whose unselfish heroism the lover in whose
embrace she nestled so restfully, so gladsomely, would now be lying in
ghastly fragments among the weird mountains of that far-away land.
"Poor Renshaw!"  Such was his epitaph at her lips.  Truly her
all-absorbing clandestine passion had exercised no improving, no
softening influence upon Violet Avory--as, indeed, how should it?--for
was it not the intensely selfish absorption of an intensely selfish
nature!  "Poor Renshaw!"

And the man--he who owed his life to the other many times over, but
never so much as in the last instance--what of him?

Nothing!  For from such a nature as his nothing was to be expected.
This modern Judas, unlike his prototype, was prepared to enjoy to the
full the price of blood.  No compunction on that head troubled him.

"Oh, Maurice.  I must warn you!" cried Violet, suddenly.  "Everything
has come out."

He started then.  A grey scared look came over his face.  His conscience
and his mind flew back to those grim, iron-bound deserts.

"Everything?" he stammered, blankly.

"Yes, dear.  About ourselves, I mean.  I can't imagine how, but it has.
They have been leading me such a life.  Hilda has been perfectly
hateful.  The way in which she has treated me is absolutely scandalous.
And Marian--sanctimonious sheep!  Pah!  I hate them all," she broke off,
her eyes flashing.

"My poor darling.  But how do you suppose it happened?  You haven't been
leaving any letters about?"

"No--no--no," she interrupted quickly.  "No, no.  My belief is--
she--_she_--has found out where I--I am--where you are--and has written
to them."

His face grew dark.

"That devil!" he muttered between his teeth.  "That she-devil would do
anything--anything."

"I want to warn you, Maurice.  The only way out of the difficulty, while
we are here, is for us to pretend to care nothing about each other--that
the past was only a matter of a passing flirtation, and not to be taken
seriously.  Do you follow my plan?"

"Yes; but I don't like it."

"That can't be helped.  Do you suppose I like it?  But it will not be
for long.  I am going away very soon--it might be any day now--home
again.  Then we can make up for the present hateful restraint.  What is
to prevent you returning by the same steamer?  You will, Maurice,
darling--you will--will you not?" she urged, clinging closer to him, and
looking up into his eyes with a piteously hungering expression, as
though fearing to read there the faintest forestalment of a negative.
But her fears were groundless.

"Will I?  I should rather think I would.  Listen, Violet.  This mad
expedition of poor Fanning's has turned up trumps.  I have that about me
at this moment which should be worth two or three hundred thousand
pounds at least.  Only think of it.  We have the world at our feet--a
new life before us.  You are, as you say, going home.  But it will be to
a real home!"

She looked into his eyes--her gaze seemed to burn into his--her breast
was heaving convulsively.

They understood each other.

"Do you mean it, Maurice?" she gasped.  "My darling, do you really and
truly mean it?"

"Mean it?  Of course I do.  It was with no other object I went risking
my life a dozen times a day in that ghastly desert.  With the wealth
that is ours we can afford to defy all the world--that she-devil
included.  And we will."

"Yes, we will."

Their lips met once more, and thus the compact was sealed.  Alas--poor
Violet!  She had given herself over, bound, into the enemy's hand.  She
had sold herself, and the price paid was the price of blood--even the
blood of him who had sacrificed his own life for her sake.



CHAPTER THIRTY SIX.

SELLON'S LAST LIE.

But that he held the key to it in the shape of Violet's communication,
the reserve, not to say coldness, of his reception by the family, would
have astonished Sellon not a little.  Now, however, it in no wise
disconcerted him; rather, it struck him in the light of a joke.  He had
got his cue, and meant to act up to it.

So when his somewhat involuntary host asked if he would mind giving him
a private interview, he replied with the jolliest laugh in the world--

"Certainly, certainly, my dear fellow.  Delighted, Well, Miss Effie"--as
that young person ran against them in the hall--"here I am, back again
to tease you, you see."

"Where's Uncle Renshaw, Mr Sellon?" said the child.

Maurice stared.  The straight question--the straight look accompanying
it, disconcerted him for a moment.

"Renshaw!  Oh, coming on," he answered quickly, "coming on.  Be here
soon, I dare say."

He had made the same sort of reply to the same inquiry on the part of
his host.  He thought he had done with the subject.  It irritated him to
be called upon to repeat the same lie over and over again.

"By the way, Mr Sellon," began the latter, "did you get the letter I
sent you at Maraisdorp?"

"Mister Sellon!"  Maurice started.  Old Chris, was taking the thing
seriously indeed, he thought with an inward laugh.

"Not I," he answered.  "Probably for the best of all possible reasons.
I didn't come through Maraisdorp, or anywhere near it."

"Before going any further, I want you to look at this," said Selwood,
unlocking a small safe and taking out the unfortunate missive.  "Wait--
excuse me one moment, I want you to look attentively at the direction
first."

He still held the envelope.  Maurice took one glance at the address--the
handwriting--and as he did so his face was not pleasant to behold.

"All right.  I know that calligraphy well enough.  Ought to by this
time.  Ha, ha!  So she has been favouring you with her peculiar views on
things in general and me in particular.  You ought to feel honoured."

"I?  Favouring me?" echoed the other, in a state of amazement.

"Yes--you.  I suppose the communication is an interesting one."

"My dear Sellon, look at the address again," said Christopher, handing
him the envelope.

"By Jove!  It's for me, after all," looking at it again.  "What a treat!
Why the devil can't the woman write legibly!" he muttered.  Then aloud:
"Why, it looks exactly as if it was addressed to you, Selwood."

"Ha!  I am very glad indeed to hear you say that.  I thought the same.
You see, I'd got it mixed up among a crowd of other letters, and opened
it by mistake."

"The devil you did!"

"Yes.  I can only tell you how sorry I am, and how I have spent life
cursing my blundering asinine stupidity ever since.  But there is
another thing.  I feel bound in honour to tell you that I didn't become
aware of the mistake until I had run my eye down the first page.  You
will notice there is no beginning.  I turned to the signature for
enlightenment; but between the first page and the signature I did not
read a word."

Sellon burst into a roar of laughter--apparently over the mistake, in
reality as he realised how quickly he would be in a position to turn the
enemy's flank.

"My dear fellow, don't say another word about it.  The joke is an
exceedingly rich one.  See what comes of our names being so infernally
alike.  Two Sells--eh?  But you don't suppose I am going to share in
your entertainment over this charming epistle?  Not much.  Just oblige
me with a match."

"Wait, wait," cried the other.  "Better read it this time--or, at any
rate, as much of it as it was my misfortune to see."

"H'm!  Well, here goes," said Maurice, jerking the letter out of the
envelope as though it would burn his fingers, "Quite so," he went on,
with a bitter sneer, running his eye down the sheet.  "That's about
enough of this highly entertaining document, the rest can be taken as
read, like a petition to the House of Commons.  That match, if you
please.  Thanks.  I need hardly remind you, Selwood," he went on,
watching the flaming sheet curling up in the grate, "I need hardly
remind you how many men there are in this world who marry the wrong
woman.  I dare say I needn't remind you either that a considerable
percentage of these are entrapped and defrauded into the concern by lies
and deception, against which it is next to impossible for any man to
guard--at all events any young man.  When to this I add that there are
women in this world who for sheer, gratuitous, uniform fiendishness of
disposition could give the devil points and beat him at an easy canter.
I think I've said about enough for all present purposes."

"This is an awkward and most unpleasant business," said Selwood.
"Excuse me if I feel bound to refer once more to that letter.  The--er--
writer makes reference by name to Miss Avory, who is a guest in my
house, and a relation of my wife's--and that, too, in a very
extraordinary manner, to put it as mildly as I can."

"My dear fellow, that's a little way of hers.  I can assure you I am
most awfully put out that you should have been annoyed about the
business.  As to the mistake, don't give it another thought."

"How did Mrs--er--the writer--know Miss Avory was here?"

This was a facer--not so much the question as the fact that the
knowledge of Violet's whereabouts on the part of the writer implied that
he, Sellon, had not met her there at Sunningdale for the first time.
But he hoped the other might not notice this side of it.

"That's beyond me," he answered.  "How did she know I was here?  For I
need hardly tell you we don't correspond every mail exactly.  I can only
explain it on the score that more people know Tom Fool than T.F. knows;
that there are, I suppose, people in this neighbourhood who hail from
the old country, or have relations there, and the postage upon gossip is
no higher than that upon business."

"You will not mind my saying that it is a pity we did not know you were
a married man."

"`Had been,' you should have said, not `were.'  Not but what legally I
am still tied up fast enough--chained and bound--which has this
advantage, that it keeps a man from all temptation to make a fool of
himself a second time in his life.  Still, it doesn't count otherwise."

"No, I suppose not," said the other, significantly.  "Perhaps it doesn't
keep a man from making a fool of other people, though."

"Now, my dear Selwood, what the very deuce are you driving at?  For
Heaven's sake let us be straight and open with each other."

"Well, I mean this.  It's a most unpleasant thing to have to say to any
man.  But, you see, Miss Avory is our guest, and a relation as well.
You must know as well as I do that your attentions to her were very--
er--marked."

One of those jolly laughs which has so genuine a ring, and which Maurice
knew so well when to bring in, greeted this speech.

"Look here, Selwood," he said, "I don't want to hurt your feelings, but
the fact is you don't understand women in the least.  You are quite on
the wrong tack, believe me.  Miss Avory doesn't care the ghost of a
straw for me, or my `attentions.'  You must remember that we both knew--
er--the same people in England.  There, you must fill in the outline.  I
am not at liberty to say more.  But there won't be much time to put the
matter to the test, for I've got to leave you again to-morrow."

To Christopher Selwood's honourable mind no doubt suggested itself as to
the genuineness of this explanation.  There was a frank
straightforwardness about it which, with a man of his character, was
bound to tell.  He felt intensely relieved.  But to this feeling there
succeeded one of humiliation.  Had he not made an inordinate fuss over
the concern at the start?  Had he not raised a veritable storm in a
teapot, and set everybody by the ears for weeks?  Had he not in his
anxiety to unburden himself abdicated his own mature judgment in favour
of the less reliable decision of his wife?  In short, had he not made a
consummate ass of himself all round?  Of course he had.

"By the way, Selwood, there is one thing I want to tell you about now we
are together," said Maurice, after a pause.  "You and the others were
asking about Fanning just now.  The fact is, he is not with me, but I
couldn't say so without entering into further explanations, which would
certainly have alarmed the ladies.  We found our `Valley of the Eye' all
right, and a deuce of a job it was.  Pheugh!  I wouldn't go on that
jaunt again for twice the loot.  The `Eye' is a genuine concern, I can
tell you--a splendid stone--Fanning has got it.  Well, we spent the day
picking up a few other stones, and just as we were clearing out we were
attacked by a lot of Bushmen or Korannas, or whatever they were, and had
to run.  By Jove! it was touch and go.  They pressed us hard until dark,
and then we had to separate--to throw them off the scent, don't you see?
We agreed to meet at his place--that is, if we were to meet anywhere
again in this world.  Well, I had an awful time of it in those infernal
mountains, dodging the niggers.  I couldn't show my nose in the daytime,
and didn't know the country well enough to make much headway at night,
and I nearly starved.  It took me more than a week before I could fetch
the river, and get through to Fanning's place, and when I got there he
hadn't turned up.  But I found a letter which had been sent by special
messenger, requiring me at Cape Town, sharp, about some infernal but
important law business, and I'm on my way there now.  I left a note for
Fanning, telling him what to do with my share of the swag when it came
to dividing, for we hadn't had time to attend to that then, and except a
few small stones he has it all on him.  It'll be something good, I
guess.  I dare say he's turned up at home again long before this.  He
was just laughing in his sleeve at the idea of a few niggers like that
thinking to run him to earth.  And he seems to know that awful country
like ABC.  I never saw such a fellow."

"That's bad news, Sellon, right bad news," said the other, shaking his
head.  "Renshaw has been all his life at that sort of thing, so we must
hope he'll turn up all right.  But--the pitcher that goes too often to
the pump, you know."

"Well, I need hardly say I devoutly hope he will, for if not I shall be
the loser to a very large extent, as all the swag is with him.  But I
somehow feel certain we shall hear from him almost directly."

We may be sure that in narrating his adventures that evening to the
household at large Sellon in no wise minimised his experiences of the
undertaking, or his own exploits.  It is only fair to say that he really
had undergone a very hard time before he had succeeded in striking the
river at the drift where they had crossed; and, indeed, it was more by
good luck than management that he had reached it at all.  And during his
narrative one listener was noting every word he said, with breathless
attention.  Whenever he looked up, Marian Selwood's blue eyes were fixed
upon his face.  He began to feel very uncomfortable beneath that steady
searching gaze.

But he felt more so when, his story finished, Marian began to ply him
with questions.  "A regular cross-examination, confound it!" he thought.
And then, by way of a diversion, he went to fetch the few diamonds
which he had kept apart to show as the sole result of the expedition.
These were examined with due interest.

The fact of Sellon arriving alone created no suspicion in the minds of
Selwood and his wife, nor yet uneasiness.  Was he not a newly imported
Briton--and to that extent a greenhorn?  If he could find his way out
and successfully dodge his pursuers, was it likely that a seasoned
adventurer such as Renshaw would fare any worse?  So on the latter's
account they felt but small anxiety.

Not so Marian, however.  A terrible suspicion had taken shape within her
mind during Sellon's narrative.  "He has murdered him!" was her
conclusion.  "He has murdered him," she repeated to herself during a
night of sleepless agony--such as a strong concentrative nature will
sometimes be called upon to undergo.  But she kept her suspicions to
herself--for the present, at any rate.  She was helpless.  What could
she do?  There was nothing to go upon.

Then, on the morrow, Sellon took his departure, as he had announced his
intention of doing, and the equanimity with which the circumstance was
regarded by Violet, together with their indifferent demeanour towards
each other on the previous evening, completely lulled any suspicions
which might have lingered in Christopher Selwood's mind; confirming as
it did the other's frank and straightforward explanation.

For his wife had not yet told him all that had transpired between
herself and Violet.



CHAPTER THIRTY SEVEN.

FROM THE DARK RIVER'S BRINK.

It was a weird picture.  The grey rocks jutting forth into the evening
stillness; the spotted, creeping beast, gathering itself together for
its deadly spring; the man, weakened, helpless, lying there at its
mercy.  Even then, so strange are the fantasies that cross the human
brain at the most critical moments--even then, with a kind of grim
humour it flashed upon Renshaw Fanning how thoroughly the positions were
reversed.  Many a time had the spotted pard fallen a victim to his sure
aim; now it had devolved upon one of the feline race to give him his
death stroke.

With bared fangs and snarling throat, the brute once more gathered
itself to spring.  But instead of hurling itself upon the prey before
it, it uttered a yell of pain and whisking half round seemed to be
snapping at its own side.  Its tail lashed convulsively, and a frightful
roar escaped from its furry chest.  There was a faint twanging sound
beneath, and again something struck it, this time fair in the eye.
Snarling hideously the great beast reared itself up against the cliff,
beating the air wildly with its formidable paws.  Then its mighty bulk
swayed, toppled over, and fell crashing to the ground beneath.

Thoroughly roused now, Renshaw peered cautiously over the ledge.  But
what he saw opened his eyes to the fact that this opportune, this
unlooked-for deliverance, was more apparent than real.  In escaping from
one peril he had only fallen into another.

The huge cat was rolling and writhing in the throes of death.  Its
slayer, an under-sized, shrivelled barbarian, was approaching it
cautiously--a naked Koranna, armed with bow and arrows and spear.  But
cautiously as Renshaw had peeped forth the keen glance of the savage had
seen him.  Their eyes had met.

He lay still, thinking over this last, this desperate chance.  He was
unarmed--practically that is--for although he had a knife it was not
likely the enemy would come to such close quarters as to admit of its
use.  The latter with his bow and arrows would have him at the most
perfect disadvantage.  He could climb up to the ledge and finish him off
at his leisure.

For some minutes Renshaw lay still as death.  Not a sound broke the
silence, not a voice, not a footfall.  Perhaps, after all, he had been
mistaken, and the Koranna had not seen him.  Or, more likely, the savage
had started off to call up his companions, who probably were not far
distant.  Was it worth while utilising his chances so far as to make one
more effort to save his life, to strive to gain some other place of
concealment before the whole horde came up?

But just then a sound reached his ear--a faint, stealthy rasping.  The
Koranna was already climbing up to the ledge.

The mysterious shuffling continued.  A stone, loosened by the climber,
fell clattering down the rocks.  Then there was silence once more--and--

A wrinkled, parchment-hued countenance reared itself up, peering round
the elbow of the cliff.  The yellow eyes stared with a wild beast-like
gleam, the black wool and protruding ears looking fiend-like in the
falling darkness.  His hour had come.  Momentarily he expected to
receive the fatal shaft.

But it came not.  After the head followed the squat, ungainly body,
standing upright upon the ledge, the sinewy, ape-like hand grasping its
primitive, but fatal, armament--the bow and arrows and the spear.  But
the bow was not bent, no arrow was fitted to the string.

"_Allamaghtaag!  Myn lieve Baas_!"  ["Almighty!  My dear master!"]

Renshaw sat upright and stared at the speaker, and well he might.  Was
he dreaming?  The old familiar Dutch colloquialism--the voice!

The squalid, forbidding-looking savage advanced, his puckered face
transformed with concern.  Renshaw stared, and stared again.  And then
he recognised the familiar, if unprepossessing lineaments of his
defaulting retainer--old Dirk.

The old Koranna rushed forward and knelt down at his master's side,
pouring forth a voluble torrent of questions in the Boer dialect.  How
had he come there?  Where was he wounded?  Who had dared to attack him?
Those _schelm Bosjesmenschen_ [Rascally Bushmen]!  He would declare war
against the whole race of them.  He would shoot them all.  And so on,
and so on.  But amid all his chatter the faithful old fellow, having
discovered where the wound was, had promptly ripped off Renshaw's boot.

Yes, there it was--the poisoned puncture of the Bushman arrow--livid and
swollen.  For a moment Dirk contemplated it.  Then he bent down and
examined it more attentively, probing it gingerly with his finger.  The
result seemed to satisfy him.

"Nay, what, Baasje [Literally, `little master.'  A term of endearment],
you will not die this time.  The thick leather of the boot has taken off
nearly all the poison, and all the running you have had since has done
the rest.  Still, it was a near thing--a near thing. _'Maghtaag_!--if
the arrow had pierced you anywhere but through the boot you would have
been a dead man long since.  Not this time--not this time."

"And the tiger, Dirk?" said Renshaw, with a faint smile.  "You are
indeed a mighty hunter."  For he remembered how often he had chaffed the
old Koranna on his much vaunted prowess as a hunter, little thinking in
what stead it should eventually stand himself.

"The tiger?  Ja Baas.  I will just go down and take off his skin before
it gets pitch dark.  Lie you here and sleep.  You are quite safe now,
Baas--quite safe.  You will not die this time--_'Maghtaag_, no!"

So poor Renshaw sank back in a profound slumber, for he was thoroughly
exhausted.  And all through the hours of darkness, while the wild
denizens of the waste bayed and howled among the grim and lonely
mountains, the little weazened old yellow man crouched there watching
beside him on that rocky ledge, so faithfully, so lovingly.  His
comrade--the white man--his friend and equal--had deserted him--had left
him alone in that desert waste to die, and this runaway servant of his--
the degraded and heathen savage--clung to him in his extremity, watched
by his side ready to defend him if necessary at the cost of his own
life.



CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT.

"EHEU!"

The homeward-bound mail steamer had hauled out from the Cape Town docks,
and lay moored to the jetty.  In less than an hour she would cast loose
and start upon her voyage to Old England.

The funnel of the _Siberian_ shone like a newly blacked boot, as did her
plated sides, glistening with a coating of fresh paint.  Her scuttles
flashed like eyes in the sun, and the gleam of her polished brasswork
was such as to cause semi-blindness for five minutes after you looked at
it.  The white pennon of the Union Steamship Company with its red Saint
Andrew's cross fluttered at one tapering masthead; at the other the blue
peter.

On board of her all was wild confusion.  Her decks were crowded with
passengers and their friends seeing them off, the latter outnumbering
the former six to one; with hawkers of curios and hawkers of books; with
quay porters and stewards bringing on and receiving passengers' luggage;
with innumerable hat-boxes, and wraps, and hold-alls, and other loose
gear; with squalling and rampageous children; with flurried and excited
females rushing hither and thither, and getting into everybody's way
while besieging every soul--from the chief officer to the cook's boy--
with frantic inquiries.  The Babel of tongues was deafening, and over
and above all the harassing rattle of the donkey engine lowering luggage
into the hold.  And to swell the clamouring crowd, an endless procession
of cabs, driven by broad-hatted Malays, came dashing up to the jetty--
laden with passengers and band-boxes and bananas and other truck of
nondescript character.

Moving among the throng upon the ship's decks vere two ladies--one
elderly, plethoric, matronly; the other young, vivacious, tastefully
attired, and in short a very beautiful girl.  Many a male glance was
cast at her, accompanied by an aspiration--spoken or unspoken--that she
was going to sail, and was not one of the "seeing-off" contingent.

"Don't you think, Violet," said the elder lady, "we'd better go down to
your cabin now?  They'll have taken your luggage there by this time."

"Not yet, Mrs Aldridge.  I can still see my brown portmanteau among
that heap for the hold.  I want to see it go down myself, and be sure of
it.  Besides, there must be some more of my things under that pile of
boxes."

"What a fine ship that New Zealand boat is!" said the old lady, looking
at a large steamer anchored out in the bay and surrounded by a swarm of
tiny craft, depleted or added to by a continuous string of boats between
it and the shore.  She, too, was flying the blue peter.

"Isn't she!" acquiesced Violet.  "She's the _Rangatira_, and is nearly a
thousand tons larger than the _Siberian_.  I wonder if she'll be the
first to start.  Ah! there goes my portmanteau.  Now I think we may go
below."

The crowd in the saloon was not less dense than that on the decks,
certainly not less noisy.  Champagne corks were popping in all
directions.  Every table, every lounge was crowded.  Stewards were
skurrying hither and thither with their trays of bottles and glasses,
steering their way with marvellous dexterity among the people, harassed
by a chorus of orders, expostulations, objurgations from expectant or
disappointed passengers.  Groups were making merry, and pledging each
other in foaming bumpers, the "seeing-off" contingent in particular
making special play with the sparkling "gooseberry," all chattering,
talking, laughing.  The din was deafening, but the two ladies managed to
thread their way through it at last.

"Well, it's quiet here, at any rate," said Violet, as they gained her
cabin, of which by favour she was to enjoy the sole possession.  "Quiet,
but not cool--ugh!" for the scuttle being shut, that peculiar close
odour which seems inseparable from all ship cabins, and is in its
insufferable fugginess suggestive of seasickness, struck them in full
blast.

"I'm glad I'm not going with you," said Mrs Aldridge.  "I never could
stand the sea.  I declare I'm beginning to feel queer already."

"Oh no.  All imagination," said Violet, gaily, flinging open the
scuttle.

"And now, dear," went on the old lady, "I suppose we haven't many
minutes more together.  I needn't tell you how glad I have been to have
had you with me, and Chris.  Selwood will like to know that I saw you
off, bright and cheerful."

Violet kissed her heartily.  A strange compunction came over the girl.
The old lady had been very kind to her during her brief stay.  Mrs
Aldridge was a relation of Selwood's, and to her care Violet had been
consigned for the few days during which the _Siberian_ should be lying
in Cape Town docks.  Upon which good ship Selwood had safely conveyed
her, having, at considerable inconvenience to himself, escorted her to
Port Elizabeth, and seen the last of her safe on board.

"Oh, where is my brown hold-all?" cried Violet, suddenly looking round.
"It contains all my wraps--sunshade--everything.  Dear Mrs Aldridge, do
wait here and mount guard over my things while I go up and find it.  The
stewards are so careless.  Besides, they might put some one else in the
cabin, and then it wouldn't be so easy to get them out."

As Violet gained the deck, the short sharp strokes of the ship's bell
rang out its warning summons.  The "seeing-off" contingent must prepare
to go ashore, unless it would risk an involuntary voyage.  Mrs
Aldridge, naturally prone to flurry, sitting there among Violet's boxes
and bundles, started at the sound.

"Oh dear!  I shall be carried to sea!" she ejaculated, piteously.  "Why
doesn't she come?"

Minutes slipped by, and still Violet did not appear.  Again rang out the
sharp imperative strokes of the bell.

"I must go and look for her," cried the old lady, starting up with that
intent.  Peering wildly around she reached the deck.  Still no sign of
Violet.

Two great red conveyances, each drawn by four horses, came clattering up
the jetty.  They were the mail carts.  With lightning swiftness their
contents were transferred to the deck and to the hold.  The captain,
resplendent in buttons and gold lace, was on the bridge.  The steam-pipe
was roaring as though impatient of further restraint.  Already the
passing to and fro between the steamer and the jetty had about ceased.

"Violet--Violet!  Oh, where can she be?" cried the old lady, in a
perfect agony of mind.

Ah, she might have gone back to the cabin.  She would go and see.
Turning, she was hastening to carry out that idea when again the brazen
clang of the bell, this time startling in its peremptory note, caused
her to stop short.

"Now, marm--if you're not going with us it's time to leave," said a
gruff voice at her side.  "Quick, please, she's a-moving already," and
half thrusting, half lifting the bewildered old lady, the burly
quartermaster transferred her to the gangway plank, which no sooner had
she crossed than it was withdrawn.

The great steamer slid gently from her moorings, a crowd following her
to the end of the jetty, hooraying violently, waving handkerchiefs,
bawling out parting fragments of chaff and snatches of songs, and amid
all this champagne-bred enthusiasm, its blaring clamour drowning the
real grief of the sorrowing few, the propeller of the good ship
_Siberian_ throbbed faster and faster, as she swung steadily into her
course _en route_ for the Old Country.

Left there upon the jetty, hardly knowing whether she stood on her head
or not, poor old Mrs Aldridge was quite overcome.  What had become of
Violet?  Could any harm have happened to the girl?  Could she have
fallen overboard unseen?  No, that could hardly be.  They must have
missed each other in the crowd and confusion.  That was it.  Still the
thought that she had not taken a last and more affectionate farewell
filled the good old lady with profound regret.  Well, standing there
would not mend matters.  She must get home.

And as she turned to leave the jetty, the warning notes of the shore
bell on board the New Zealand steamer came floating across the bay.

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

Through the creaming surges of Table Bay the _Rangatira_ is speeding on
her southward course.  The loom of the mountainous coast has faded into
night, and now the dark velvety vault above is ablaze with mysterious
stars, crowding the zenith, hanging literally in patches of sheeny gold
rather than twinkling with the feeble and scattered glimmer of more
chilly latitudes.  There is a damp, sensuous richness in the atmosphere,
just tempered by the keen whiff of the salt sea.

The prow of the mighty vessel cleaves up a rushing lustrous wave on
either side, and streaming afar in her wake lies a broad band of milky
phosphorescent whiteness, striving to rival the very heavens in the
starry atoms gleaming in its depths.  The tall, tapering masts reel
wildly against the spangled sky, and the harsh clang of the labouring
engines make weird harmony with the thunderous throb of the propeller as
the great ship drives in her power before the chasing billows.

On the hurricane deck, under the lee of one of the boats swung inward
and resting on chocks, leaning over the taffrail, stand two figures--one
tall, powerful, masculine--wrapped in a long ulster, the other lithe,
graceful, feminine--cloaked and hooded, for, if the atmosphere contains
no chill, it holds a dampness which bids fair to do duty for the same.
Surely that oval face, those delicate, regular features can belong to no
other than Violet Avory.  No need to identify her companion.

"You did that well, Violet," Sellon was saying.  "The idea of that old
party sitting there mounting guard over your wraps on board the wrong
ship is a reminiscence that'll set me up in laughter for the rest of my
life."

"Poor old Mrs Aldridge," said Violet, with a touch of compunction.
"I'm afraid she won't get over it in a hurry--and she's a good old
thing.  But it's all Hilda Selwood's fault.  She shouldn't have set her
relations on to `police' me."  And the speaker's tone became hard and
defiant.

"Ha, ha!  It wasn't in them to upset our little programme, though.  When
old Selwood put you on board the _Siberian_ at Fort Elizabeth, he
reckoned it was all safe then.  So it was, as far as he was concerned.
He's a good chap, though, is Selwood, and I wouldn't willingly plant
such a sell upon him if I could help it, but I couldn't.  It's ever a
case of two `sells' as between him and me, to distort his old joke.  It
was nearly a third one, though, Violet, for I was beginning to make up
my mind you were never coming.  In another minute I should have gone
ashore again when I saw your cab tearing along like mad.  As it was, we
only fetched the _Rangatira_ by the skin of our teeth, and a royal
honorarium to the boatmen."

"Ah, Maurice, I have got you now--and you are mine.  Are you not,
darling?"

"It looks uncommonly like it."

"For life?"

"For that identical period.  So now, cheer up, my Violet.  The world is
a mere football at the feet of those who have the means to exploit it,
and we have.  That wretched little foggy England isn't the whole world."

The great steamship went shearing on through the midnight sea, heaving
to the Atlantic surge, as she stood upon her course.  But the other
vessel swiftly speeding northward--soon would she arrive with a
forestalment in a measure--in the unaccountable non-appearance of one of
her passengers--of the terrible news which must eventually be broken to
Violet's mother.

But whereas Violet's own will was the sole principle which had been
allowed to govern her life from the day of her birth, it must be
admitted, sorrowfully, that her mother was now only reaping what she had
sown.



CHAPTER THIRTY NINE.

CONCLUSION.

Three years have gone by.

Now three years cover a pretty fair section of time.  A good deal can be
got into that space.  But the hand of Time, with its changes and
chances, has passed but lightly over peaceful, prosperous Sunningdale.
It has, perchance, added a touch of hoar-frost to Christopher Selwood's
brown beard, but only through the harmless agency of wear and tear, as
that jolly individual puts it.  For the seasons have been good, the
stock healthy, and crops abundant--and on the strength of such highly
favourable conditions we may be sure that genial Christopher's
characteristic light-heartedness and general contentment has undergone
no rebate.  This can hardly be said to apply to the brace of diminutive
heroes whose thirst for battle was so inconsiderately nipped in the bud
on the memorable night of the attack upon the house.  For now they must
find outlet for their martial ardour in fistic combat with their
school-fellows--or in the more risky line of trying how far they can
trench upon the patience of a cane-wielding master.  In a word, they are
both at school; a state of life which, in common with youth in general
and Colonial youth in particular, they emphatically do not prefer.  The
same lot has befallen Effie, and she, too, is being put through the
scholastic mill, though, thanks to the greater adaptability of her sex,
the process is far less distasteful to her than to those two young
scapegraces, Fred and Basil.  So that, save in holiday time, Sunningdale
is quieter than when we saw it last?  Is it?  There is plenty of small
fry left to create its share of clatter in the place of those absent
under pedagogic discipline.

One change, however, has Time in his course brought round.  Marian
Fanning is a bride of two months.

Lucky it was that old Dirk's ineradicable instincts had led him on the
rove into his native wilds; lucky, indeed, for his master that he had to
that extent played football with his trust, though inexpressibly
annoying to his said master when that breach of trust was first
discovered.  Under the old Koranna's able guidance it was not many days
before Renshaw was at home again in safety.  Nor was the experienced eye
of the former at fault in deciding the wound to be no longer dangerous.
Some of those wonderful remedies known only to the natives themselves
soon put this beyond all doubt, and by the time Renshaw reached home he
felt as strong again as ever.

He had started at once for Sunningdale.  With such samples of his late
companion's consummate selfishness and unparalleled treachery fresh in
his mind, it was small wonder that he hardly expected ever to behold
Sellon again.  And his expectation was realised.  That unscrupulous
rascal was already on blue ocean, with the magnificent diamond, the
superb "Eye" in his possession.  No, it was hardly likely that he should
ever see Sellon again.

And he did not care to try.  In the first place in disclaiming any
inordinate desire for riches, Renshaw had been stating a bare fact; and
whereas the diamonds in his own possession, when abandoned by his
comrade to die, comprised some large and fine stones, likely to realise
a considerable sum, he could afford to rest content.  In the second, to
the bitter disgust and contempt he felt for the man and his treachery,
the news of Violet's flight added a more than severe shock.  But this on
the whole was salutary--undeniably so.  His idol was shattered.  And
then, as bit by bit the whole tissue of heartless duplicity stood fully
revealed, he was forced to admit himself cured.

But the process took time--time and many a bitter heartache.  Saddened
and disgusted, Renshaw had resolved to strike out an entirely new line.
He would travel all over the world.

He sailed for England, disposed of his diamonds, realising nearly
seventeen thousand pounds, and even then he probably did not make the
best bargain for himself.  Then in pursuance of his plan he had spent
the following two years on the move.  England, the Continent, India,
China, Japan, the United States--all were visited, and it was amid the
rolling solitude of the Far West that his heart turned to the free open
veldt of his native land, and among the iron-bound mountains and brassy
skies of Arizona and New Mexico he could almost fancy himself once more
in search of the "Valley of the Eye."

And in the cities and turmoil of civilisation so striking a personality
as that of Renshaw Fanning was not likely to go unnoticed.  For the man
who owned that noble, refined face, bronzed with exposure, and when in
repose never altogether free from a touch of saddened gravity--all
manner of pitfalls were laid.  Bright eyes beamed upon him, and soft
voices cooed their softest.  All in vain, however.  His heart was
seared.  But eventually when the numbness of the shock did begin to wear
away, it was homeward that the wanderer's heart turned; and in place of
the soiled and dethroned image there arose another; more pure, more
fair, more wholesome; that of sweet Marian Selwood.  And under this
influence, the cycle of his wanderings completed, he dismounted before
the garden gate at Sunningdale one evening, and entering the house as if
he were returning home, found Marian alone.  And then, almost at his
first words, the latter had realised that it was good indeed to live,
nor was it long before the secret of a lifetime's love was wrested from
her beautiful lips.  So now Marian is a two months' bride; making a
final visit to her old home preparatory to settling down upon the
flourishing farm which Renshaw has purchased within a dozen miles of
Sunningdale.

Sometimes he talks of making another expedition to the wonderful Valley.
True, the marvellous "Eye" shines there in the moonlight no more, but
the place holds other stones, and as yet he has only touched the fringe
of its wealth.  But Marian's mind is made up against, and her foot is
down on, any such scheme.  Has not the mystic jewel proved indeed a
demon's eye to all concerned.  They have enough, and life is better than
inordinate wealth.  Is he not content with the grisly risk he has run,
so narrowly escaping with his life?  And Renshaw, with a laugh, is fain
to answer that he is.  Yet peradventure, some day, when the quiver is
full--but we must not anticipate.

Not a word more has been heard of Maurice Sellon or the partner of his
flight--not a word beyond the brief reassurance on the score of her
bodily safety which Violet had had the grace to forward to poor old Mrs
Aldridge by the last boat which left the New Zealand steamer.  Not a
word more is even likely to be heard of either.  That "the way of the
transgressors is hard" may be a good and edifying axiom for all Sunday
school purposes, but it is in no wise borne out by the experiences of
real life.  So it is highly probable that Sellon and Violet are in some
safe and withal comfortable retreat in the New World, flourishing like
the green bay tree, while enjoying to the full the abundant, if
treacherously gained, results of the former's expedition in search of
"The Valley of the Eye."

The End.





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