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´╗┐Title: A Vendetta of the Desert
Author: Scully, W. C. (William Charles), 1855-1943
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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A Vendetta of the Desert
By William Charles Scully
Published by Methuen and Co, London.
This edition dated 1898.
A Vendetta of the Desert, by William Charles Scully.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
A VENDETTA OF THE DESERT, BY WILLIAM CHARLES SCULLY.



CHAPTER ONE.

THE POWER OF THE DOG.

Old Tyardt van der Walt, head of the family of that name, came of good
Netherlands stock.  His grandfather had emigrated from Holland with his
family in the middle of the Eighteenth Century and settled at the Cape.
He bought a farm in the Stellenbosch district and there commenced life
anew as a wine farmer.  The family consisted of his wife, a son and
several daughters--all of whom married early.  At his death the farm
descended to his son Cornelius from whom, in course of time, another
Tyardt inherited it.

The last-mentioned Tyardt forsook the settled and fertile environs of
Stellenbosch and trekked forward to seek his fortune in the unknown and
perilous wilderness.  A story is told as to the reason for this
migration which, though it has no direct bearing on the story which is
to be recorded in this volume, is interesting enough in itself to merit
relation.

There was, it is said, a gruesome legend connected with the van der
Walts.  It dated from the times of William the Silent and was to the
following effect:--The head of the van der Walt family of that period
lived in the town of Maestricht.  He was a man of solitary habits.  In
his youth his wife had deserted him for another.  He had been
passionately attached to her, and he never recovered from the blow, but
lived the rest of his days in solitude.

Years afterwards, when he was quite an old man, a son of the man who had
wronged him--a young and zealous Lutheran preacher, came to live in his
vicinity.  This preacher was in the habit of visiting in disguise
families of his co-religionists in the Provinces where the Spaniards
held complete dominion.  He had a dog that had been trained to convey
cypher messages from place to place.  Van der Walt betrayed this
preacher to the authorities, with the result that he was captured and
sentenced to be burnt alive.  The betrayer was among those who crowded
round the stake to gloat over the agonies of the victim.  The dog had
followed its master and, seeing his evil case, set up a piteous howling.
The Spaniards, judging the heretic to be a wizard, and the dog his
familiar spirit, caught the unhappy animal and bound it among the
faggots at its master's feet.  Just as the pile was lit the preacher
lifted up his voice and cried aloud:--

"Gerrit van der Walt,--for thy black treachery to a servant of the Lord,
thou shalt die in misery within a year and a day.  Thy soul shall wander
homeless for ever and shall howl like a dog as the harbinger of
misfortune whenever it is about to fall upon one of thy blood."

It has been declared on respectable authority that from and after the
death of Gerrit, which took place under miserable circumstances within
the period named by his victim, a dog which was never seen would howl
around the dwelling of any van der Walt about to die, for the three
nights previous to the passing of his soul.  Thus a new terror was added
to the death-bed of any member of the family.

The following account of the last occasion when this warning howl was
heard is firmly believed by the few surviving descendants in the direct
line.  It is taken from an old manuscript which purports to date from
the year in which the incidents related are alleged to have taken place.

Towards the end of the last century, Tyardt's father, Cornelius van der
Walt, lay ill in bed, but no one imagined that his illness was likely to
be fatal, until one night after supper the dreaded howl was heard under
his window.  The sick man, filled with terror, arose to a sitting
posture in his bed, and called Tyardt, who was his eldest son, before
him.

"If that dog be not shot by you before the day after to-morrow," he
said, "I will make my will anew and dispossess you of everything that
the law will allow me to leave to others."

Next day Tyardt brooded long and deeply over the occurrence.  He did not
love his father, so the old man's death would have caused him no regret,
but he knew that the threat would be carried out.

There was an old and tattered family Bible on the loft, with a strong
and heavy metal clasp.  This clasp Tyardt broke into fragments about the
size of ordinary slugs, and with them he loaded his gun, using portions
of the leaves as wadding.

As soon as night fell he stole quietly out and posted himself among the
branches of a small tree which grew just in front of the window of the
room in which his father lay.

The night was pitch dark; a damp fog had rolled in from the sea and
covered everything.  Tyardt had not long to wait before a long, low
howl, which curdled his blood with dread, arose from just beneath him.
Terrified as he was, he thought of the property at stake, so he hardened
his will to the purpose and carefully cocked his gun.

There could be no mistaking the exact locality from which the howling
came; it was almost at his feet.  He fired, and a horrible, half-human
yell followed the report of the gun.  Then came a sound of scuffling
upon the ground.  Soon a light was brought from the house, and then
Tyardt descended from the tree.

Beneath lay the huddled, bleeding figure of an old man of hideous
aspect, clad in a garb unknown at the Cape but which, it was afterwards
thought, suggested some wood-cuts in an old book brought out by the
last-deceased van der Walt from Holland.  A sheet was thrown over the
horror, and the trembling family sat up, waiting for, but dreading, the
light of day.  It was not until after the sun had arisen that they
ventured to go out and visit the scene of the tragedy,--but no trace of
the body could be seen; nor was there any sign of the blood which had so
much horrified the beholders on the previous night.

There appeared to have been no doubt as to the main facts having
occurred; slaves, servants, and, in fact, every member of the household
except the sick man, had seen the body.  The mystery was never solved;
no body was ever found; no one from the neighbourhood was missed, nor,
so far as could be ascertained, had any man resembling the description
of the body ever been seen in the neighbourhood.

Cornelius van der Walt died during the following night, but without
altering his will.  Tyardt, however, took the matter so much to heart
that he became a changed man.  He came to hate the neighbourhood, and,
leaving the farm in the hands of his mother and a younger brother, he
set his face to the northward.  He purchased two wagons, packed them
with his goods, and, with his young wife and three small children,
plunged into the unknown wilderness.  After having passed some distance
beyond the farthest outposts of civilisation, he at length halted high
up near the head of a valley where the Tanqua River gorge cleaves the
southern face of the Roggeveld mountain range.  Here he built a
homestead and took possession of the ground surrounding it for some
miles.  From the large numbers of elands which haunted the hills he
named his new home "Elandsfontein."

For some time he was left to enjoy the solitude for which his nature
craved; but he lived long enough to feel himself inconveniently crowded
when neighbours established themselves at distances of from fifteen to
twenty miles from him on each side.  However, he still drew comfort from
the thought that beyond the mountain chain which frowned down upon his
homestead on the northward, the vast, unoccupied desert lay--and
appeared likely to lie for ever unappropriated.  Moreover, it was
certainly convenient to have the assistance of the aforesaid neighbours
in hunting Bushmen, with whom the surrounding mountains were infested.

The occurrence of the night before his father's death affected the
character of Tyardt van der Walt permanently.  For years he could never
bear to be alone in the dark;--he suffered from the dread that the
horrible creature he had shot would re-appear to him.  This man, who did
not know what fear of any material thing meant, was for long an abject
slave to dread of the supernatural, and fell into a state of piteous
terror if a dog howled within his hearing after dark.

It is said that his death was, after all, caused by the howling of a
dog.  During one of his periodical fits of nervous depression he felt
unwell and, under his wife's persuasion, went to his bed one day a few
hours before the usual time.  That night a dog howled on the hill across
the valley; the sick man, as soon as he heard it, turned his face to the
wall, saying that his summons had come.  He refused to take any
nourishment, and died in the course of a few days.

Strange,--that the crime of over two centuries back should have sent its
baleful influence across the ocean wastes and the desert sands to drag a
man who was blameless in it to his doom.

No stouter-hearted men than those of the van der Walt stock ever took
their lives into their hands and faced, with unflinching eye, the
dangers of the desert which they helped so mightily to reclaim.  It is,
however, an extraordinary fact that no member of this family in the
direct line could ever hear the howling of a dog after nightfall without
being reduced to abject terror.



CHAPTER TWO.

HOW THE BROTHERS QUARRELLED.

Tyardt van der walt left a widow, two sons--Stephanus and Gideon--who
were twins, and three daughters.  As is usual among the Boers, the
daughters married early in life; they have nothing to do with this
story.

The beginning of the quarrel between the twin-brothers dated from years
back--from the time when they went down with a wagon load of game
peltries and other produce to Stellenbosch and there fell in love,
instantaneously and unanimously, with Marta Venter, their fair-haired
cousin, whom they met in the street, coming from Confirmation class.
Stephanus, the elder twin, had a slightly looser and glibber tongue than
Gideon; besides, he was probably not so much in earnest as the latter;
so, other things being equal, his suit was practically bound to prosper.
When, after advantageously selling their load in Cape Town, the
brothers inspanned their wagon and started for home, Stephanus and
fair-haired Marta were engaged to be married and the darkened heart of
Gideon was filled with a love which, in spite of many shocks and
changes, never wholly died out of it.

The wedding took place at the next _Nachtmaal_, Gideon managing, by
means of some pretext, to avoid being present.  Soon afterwards old
Tyardt cut off a portion of the farm and handed it over to his married
son, who thereupon built a homestead and began farming on his own
account.

It was some time before Gideon could bring himself to meet his
sister-in-law without embarrassment; however, an accidental event
cleared the way for what appeared to be a complete reconciliation.  One
day, when the brothers happened to be camped with their wagons on the
southern bank of the swollen Tanqua River, waiting for the flood to
subside, Stephanus, against his brother's advice, ventured into the
current and was swept away.  Gideon dashed in to the rescue and saved
his brother's life at the risk of his own.  After this the old friendly
relations were, to all appearances, firmly re-established.

These brothers strikingly resembled each other in both disposition and
appearance.  Both were large, handsome, keen-featured men, with flashing
black eyes and choleric tempers.  There was only one slight difference
apparent: under strong excitement or deep feeling Gideon became morose
and taciturn,--Stephanus excited and talkative.

Shortly after old Tyardt's death the quarrel broke out afresh.  The
portion of the farm assigned to Stephanus was secured to him by will;
the remaining extent was bequeathed to Gideon.  The shares of the
daughters in the estate were paid out in stock.  Elandsfontein was a
large farm and was naturally divided into two nearly equal parts by a
deep kloof running almost right through it.  In dry seasons this kloof
contained no water, but on the side which had been assigned to Stephanus
there was a small spring situated in a rocky depression which was filled
with scrubby bush.  From this a pure, cool stream flowed.  Immediately
after issuing from the scrub this stream lost itself in a swamp; near
its source, however, it had never been known to fail in the most severe
drought.

Although the spring was about a hundred paces from the dividing line, a
clause had been inserted in the will of old Tyardt, in terms of which
the water was to be held as common property between the owners of the
farm; thus stock from Gideon's land were to be allowed to drink at the
spring whenever circumstances required.

Within a very few years after old Tyardt's death the land was smitten by
a heavy drought and the Elandsfontein spring soon proved unequal to the
demands made upon it from both sides.  Then strife of the most
embittered description resulted between the brothers.  The dispute was
the subject of a law suit before the Supreme Court at Cape Town, but no
satisfactory settlement was arrived at.  As a matter of fact--owing to
the clumsiness with which the will was drawn--no settlement was possible
without concessions on both sides, and neither brother would concede so
much as a hair's breadth.

The feud between the brothers became a scandal to the neighbourhood; in
fact they could hardly meet without insulting each other grossly.  On
several occasions they had come to blows.  The climax was reached when,
in response to a formal call, they appeared before the court of elders
of the Dutch Reformed Church at Stellenbosch.  After due enquiry had
been made into the causes of the quarrel the brothers were called upon
to tender hands to each other in token of reconciliation.  This they
both refused, in insulting terms, to do.  Then the sacred and highly
respectable precincts of the vestry became the scene of an unseemly
brawl, and the brothers were formally excommunicated.

Some time before this, and shortly before matters became hopelessly
embittered, Gideon had married Aletta du Val, the daughter of a
neighbouring farmer.  There was little love on Gideon's side, for he had
never got over his first passion for his fair-haired cousin.

One fateful morning in early summer Gideon placed the saddle upon his
horse, took down from the rack his long-barrelled "roer," his bandolier
of greased bullets and his powder-horn, and started for a ride along the
western boundary of his farm.

His flock of flat-tailed sheep were kraaled at an outpost which was in
charge of a Hottentot herd, and he wished to count them.  This flock was
in the habit of drinking every morning at the stream which had caused so
much strife, for the weather had been dry for some months, and the
rivulet which sometimes ran in the dividing kloof had long since
disappeared.

The day was hot, but not oppressively so.  Every now and then a breeze
sweet with suggestion of the distant western ocean would breathe
refreshingly over the arid land, acting like a tonic on all who inhaled
it.

The tulip-like cups of the sweet-scented gethyllis blossomed out in rich
masses from the hot sand on the wayside, the wild notes of the chanting
falcon seemed to fill the sky as the birds circled round the highest
points of the cliffs that flanked the valley; the hoarse call of the
sentinel baboons echoed from the black bluffs.

On reaching the kraal Gideon found that the sheep had been turned out
earlier than usual.  Then he rode to the spring and found it evidenced
by the spoor, which lay thick about the water's edge, that the flock had
already been watered.  Wondering at the reason for this manifestation of
activity on the part of the usually-lazy Hottentot herd, he lit his pipe
and stood for a moment or two enjoying the cool shade which surrounded
the spring, after the heat of the ride.

A slight sound caused him to turn his head and then he saw old Gert
Dragoonder, the herd, step out from the cover behind him.  Gert had been
on the point of falling asleep when his master's arrival had startled
him.

After ascertaining from the Hottentot that the flock of sheep were
grazing safely behind the big bluff--well away from the dividing line--
Gideon handed over to him his horse and told him to take the animal up
to the sheep kraal and fasten it to a bush.  The sea-breeze was
freshening and he meant, when the air became cooler, to take a turn on
foot among the rocks high up on the mountain side, in the hope of
getting a shot at a rhebok.  Gideon lay back under a bush and finished
his pipe; then he turned upon his side and fell asleep.

He awoke to the sound of a foot step and opened his eyes.  Before him,
on the other side of the spring, he could see Stephanus, who had just
dismounted from his horse.  The animal began to graze, its bridle hung
and trailed upon the ground as it wandered on, cropping the herbage,
until it crossed the dividing kloof.  When the animal had passed well
over the boundary Gideon arose stealthily, seized his gun and hurried
towards the horse with the intention of seizing it.  But Stephanus, who
now noticed his brother for the first time, rushed forward and grappled
with him, and the two fell struggling to the ground.

Stephanus, being slightly the stronger of the two, managed to get Gideon
under; then he twisted the gun from his adversary's grasp, sprang away
to one side and looked back with a mocking smile.

Stephanus cocked the gun and again looked at Gideon who, having risen to
his feet, was trembling and livid with rage.  Stephanus knew that he had
the law on his side; it had been laid down in the judgment of the court
that although Gideon had the right to drive his stock to drink at the
spring, he had no right to approach it for any other purpose.  Up to
this not a word had been spoken; Gideon was foaming with impotent fury;
Stephanus, feeling that he was master of the situation, had managed to
keep his anger within bounds.

"See the Jackal caught in his own trap," he tauntingly shouted.  "_My_
Hottentot wants an old gun to shoot baboons with; this one will just
do."

"You are nothing but a bastard jackal, yourself," yelled Gideon in
reply.  "You are very brave because you have my gun in your hand; put it
down and I will take that dirty beard of yours to stuff my saddle with--
if it would not give the horse a sore back."

Stephanus, now in a transport of ungovernable fury, flung the gun away
from him,--into the scrub,--and sprang towards his brother.  But the
gun, after crashing through the branches, went off, and Gideon fell to
the ground with his shoulder torn open by the bullet.

Stephanus, his anger now completely gone, and feeling as if the events
of the past few minutes had completely wiped out the black rancour which
had darkened so many years, knelt at the side of his unconscious brother
and cut away the coat and shirt from the neighbourhood of the wound.
Then he tried to staunch the flowing blood with strips of cloth which he
tore from his own garments.

The wound was a terrible one; the bone had been splintered, and portions
of it were visible at the spot where the bullet had emerged.  Stephanus
made balls of moss which he tied up in linen rags and bound over the
gaping mouths of the hurt.  Then he fetched water in his hat from the
spring and flung it into the pallid face of the sufferer, who thereupon
slowly began to revive.

When Gideon opened his eyes they rested upon his brother's face for a
few seconds without recognition, and then an expression of the most
bitter hatred dawned upon his countenance and gradually distorted his
features until they became almost unrecognisable.  The sound of
approaching footsteps was heard, and immediately afterwards Gert
Dragoonder appeared.  The Hottentot had seen Stephanus approach the
spring and then, after a short interval, heard the shot, so he returned
to see what had happened.  When Gideon saw Gert, he raised himself
painfully on the elbow of his uninjured arm and gasped out in a voice
horrible to hear:--

"Gert--come here--you are my witness--the man, there--my brother--he
shot me.--There lies my gun in the bush--he threw it there to hide it--I
shall die of this.--Go to the Field Cornet--He tried to murder me--I am
already a dead man.--He must hang--"

Here he fell back once more in a faint Stephanus turned to the Hottentot
who, thinking that his master was dead, was stealing away with the
keenest terror depicted on his countenance.

"Here, Gert,--take my horse and ride to the homestead--tell your
mistress to send men with poles and sacks, and to send for Uncle
Diederick at once.  Wait,--when you have told the mistress, ride off
yourself on my horse as fast as you can for Uncle Diederick."

Uncle Diederick was an old Boer who lived about half a day's journey
away,--to the westward, and who had a reputation which extended all over
the country side as a bone-setter and herbalist.

The Hottentot galloped off, and Stephanus again turned to the wounded
man, who by this time had recovered consciousness.  When Gideon's glance
again fell upon his brother's face, his features, already twisted by the
agony which he endured, took on an expression of diabolical malice,
fearful to behold.  Stephanus spoke gently to him once or twice, asking
if he were comfortable, but Gideon closed his eyes and maintained an
obstinate silence.

After about an hour had elapsed a party of people from the homestead
arrived, carrying poles, skins and sacks.  Out of these a litter was
soon formed.  When Gideon was lifted from the ground he groaned in
anguish and half-swooned.  Again he rallied, and his eyes, blazing with
hate, fell again upon his brother.

"Remember"--he gasped--"if I die, he shot me.--There lies my gun--he
threw it there to hide it--"

Gideon insisted on the gun being sought for and removed from the scrub
before he was borne away, groaning and cursing, upon the improvised
litter.  Stephanus attempted to accompany him, but was driven away with
imprecations.

Stephanus returned to the spring and sat down on a stone, his head bowed
over his clasped hands.  He sat in this posture for some time; then he
arose, stood erect for a few moments and fell upon his knees.  The
crisis of his life had come upon him; he stood upon that spiritual
eminence from which men see good and evil and must distinguish one from
another as clearly as one distinguishes night from day.  The tangled
sophistry which his mixed motives weave to blind the wrong-doer, who
often would fain do right if he but knew how, was cut by the sword to
which the Apostle of the Gentiles likened the Word of God.  It was his
Day of Judgment; he was the judge, the accuser and the accused.

When Stephanus van der Walt arose from his knees he felt that his sins
had fallen from him as the slough falls from a snake when the sun of
Spring wakens it from its winter sleep.  His heart was burning with a
deep and fearful joy,--his brain was braced with giants' strength to a
sublime resolve.

In the exaltation of his newly acquired faith Stephanus knew for a
certainty that Gideon would not die of the accidentally inflicted wound,
and he thanked God for the agony that would purge his brother's soul of
its share in the mutual sin.

Then, with head erect and springing steps he wended his way homewards.



CHAPTER THREE.

BLIND ELSIE.

Stephanus had two children, both daughters.  Sons had been born to him
but they died in infancy.  His elder daughter, Sara, was seventeen years
of age at the time of the encounter at the spring; Elsie, the younger,
was eight.  She had been blind from her birth.

Sara was comely to look upon.  Tall and dark, with strongly marked
features, she resembled her father in appearance to a remarkable degree.
Little Elsie took after her mother; she was of fair complexion, with
long locks of dead-gold hair which took a wonderful depth of colour in
certain half-lights.  Her eyes were very strange and in no way suggested
blindness.  They were of a deep steel-blue colour, but in the lights
which made her hair wonderful an amber tone would shimmer up through the
blue and give forth startling gleams and flashes.  This peculiarity was
especially noticeable when the child was under the influence of strong
excitement.

Elsie was a silent child and possessed a calm and happy nature.  Her
faculty for finding her way about in the utter darkness in which Fate
had hopelessly placed her was almost miraculous.  Strangers, seeing her
eyes and noticing the sure and fearless way in which she went abroad,
would often doubt the fact of her blindness, but, as a matter of fact,
she was incapable of perceiving even the faintest glimmer of light.

The soul of this blind child with the sweet inscrutable face, expressed
itself in a passionate love for her father, and from the day upon which
it came home to the strong, dour, hate-preoccupied man that this being
who seemed the very incarnation of sunlight was doomed to walk in
darkness all her days, he had wrapped her in a protecting love which was
almost the only influence that kept him human, and which was the
salvation of his better nature.

Her touch--the mere flicker of her fragile, pink fingers upon his rugged
forehead or his brown hand--would cool, for the time being, his hottest
resentment; the renewed hatred born of an encounter with his brother
would sink abashed before the unconscious glance of her deep, sightless
eyes.  When she crept upon his knee and laid her yellow head against his
breast it was as though the Peace of God were knocking at the door of
his heart.

Elsie possessed intelligence far in advance of her age and
circumstances.  It seemed as though she never forgot anything that befel
her or that she had heard.  With a strange, uncanny intuition she would
piece together with extraordinary correctness such fragments of
disjointed information as she acquired, and thus gain an understanding
of matters almost as soon as she became aware of their existence.  The
blind child's position in the household was a peculiar one.  Over her
father, neither her mother nor her sister had any influence.  Of late
years an almost hopeless estrangement had grownup between Stephanus and
his wife.  Sara loved her mother, but for her father she felt little
else than fear.  He was passionate and violent with all except Elsie;
with her he was invariably gentle and reasonable.

Thus it came to pass that Elsie became, as it were, the arbiter of the
domestic destinies; neither her mother nor her sister ever attempting to
direct her.  For several years she had been a law unto herself as well
as to the household.  Few children could have stood this and remained
unspoilt; in Elsie's case strength seemed to come with the strain.

When Stephanus returned home after the encounter with Gideon he found
the blind child waiting for him under a large mulberry tree.  This was
her accustomed trysting-place; here Elsie would sit for hours when her
father was away, waiting, with the pathetic patience of the blind, for
his return.

She advanced to meet him, guided by the sound of his footsteps, and took
his hand.

"Father,--why are you so late--and where is your horse?"

"Late," he repeated, musingly--"yes, it is late, but not too late."

The child's intuitive sense prevented her from questioning further.  The
two walked silently towards the house.  Elsie was puzzled; for the first
time she was conscious of something in her father which she not only
could not understand--but which filled her with wonder and dread.

At supper Stephanus, contrary to his wont, ate but little.  None of the
others spoke to him.  It was the custom of the household for all to
refrain from speech in Stephanus' presence whenever the feud reached one
of its crises.  Supper over Stephanus arose and left the room.  Elsie
followed him; she took his hand and led him to the mulberry tree, at the
foot of which a rough bench had been made out of the debris of a
superannuated wagon.  Stephanus sat down and Elsie seated herself upon
his knee.  Then she passed her hands softly over his face, as though
reading his features with her finger tips.

"Father--you are not angry--but what has happened?  I cannot read your
face."

"Angry--no, my child; I shall never more be angry."

"Strange--you seemed to have changed to-day; your voice has got so soft
and your hand throbs.  Your face"--here she again passed her hands
softly over his features--"feels happy--although you are not smiling."

"My child,--one does not smile when one is happiest.  Yes I am happy,
for God has forgiven me my sins and whitened my heart."

"_Do_ you no longer hate Uncle Gideon?"

"No, my child--all that is past."  Elsie sat silently nestled against
her father's side until long after the others had gone to rest.  The
soft touch of the night wind made the leaves of the mulberry tree
whisper as with a thousand tongues.  To Stephanus they seemed as the
tongues of angels welcoming him to his place among the saved.  To blind
Elsie they sang that the feud which had made her father's life full of
trouble was at an end; that he and she were happy together under the
stars which she had never seen.  Happiness seemed to descend upon her
like a dove.  Its poignancy fatigued her so that she sank to sleep.



CHAPTER FOUR.

UNCLE DIEDERICK.

Uncle Diederick lived in a structure known in South Africa as a
"hartebeeste house."  Such a structure suggests a house of cards in its
most rudimentary form--when one card is laid against another and thus an
edifice like roof without walls is formed.

The house looked indeed like a roof with a very high pitch, from under
which the walls had sunk away until it rested on the ground.  Thickly
thatched, and closed by a vertical wall at the end opposite the door, it
was very warm in cold weather and, in spite of the want of ventilation,
fairly cool in the heat of summer.

The end farthest from the door was fitted up with shelving, and the
shelves were loaded with bundles of dried plants and jars, filled with
tinctures, infusions and decoctions.  In front of the shelves stood a
table and a bench,--the former bearing an ordinary pair of grocers'
scales, and an immense volume which the sage always referred to before
prescribing.  This volume was a translation into Dutch of a collection
of herbalistic lore published in Italy in the Sixteenth Century; it was
looked upon by Uncle Diederick's numerous customers with almost as much
respect as the Bible.

Uncle Diederick, judging from the extent of his practice, ought to have
made a fortune,--and he probably would have done so had he been paid for
his services in cash instead of in kind.  He was really a useful
personage and saved many a life.  His absorbing taste for medicine and
surgery--joined to his undoubted natural ability, would have made him a
successful if not an eminent practitioner had he had the necessary
training.

When a boy he had obtained possession of an old book upon anatomy, and
from this he gained a fair general knowledge of the human frame.  Later
he acquired a manual of simple surgery and another of household medicine
(as practiced in the Eighteenth Century), and upon these was founded his
professional eminence.  These books were kept strictly in the
background, their size and binding not being impressive, but the old
Italian herbal was invariably referred to in the presence of the patient
before diagnosis was completed.

Even at this day every Boer woman in the outlying districts who has
reached the age of forty, considers herself competent to treat all of
the ills that flesh is heir to.  Her pharmacopoeia is a limited one,
consisting, as it does, of some seven or eight drugs, all more or less
violent in their effects upon the human organism.  In her choice of
these in prescribing she is guided solely by her intuitions.  A century
ago the number and quantity of drugs at her disposal was more limited,
and therefore the mortality from this cause was less than at the present
day.

But Uncle Diederick was a quack of a different class.  He knew well
enough that in a large number of cases the best chance of recovery lay
in leaving Nature quite to herself.  Like Paracelsus, however, he had to
live down to the prejudices of his age.  Many a bulky bottle of nasty
but innocuous mixture did he prescribe to amplitudinous _tanta_ or
corpulent _oom_, whose only complaint was the natural result of too much
exercise of the jaw-bones and too little of the arms and legs.

The old women looked upon Uncle Diederick with jealousy, but they could
not help admitting that in surgery, at all events, he was far their
superior.  In the case of a broken limb or a wound from a Bushman's
poisoned arrow he was the first person thought of,--if the accident
occurred within a radius of a hundred miles of his dwelling.  Many a
miserable sufferer has been brought to the "hartebeeste house" from
distances that entailed a week's travelling over wretched roads in a
jolting wagon.

In medicine Uncle Diederick did not by any means stick to the orthodox
pharmacopoeia; he supplemented the few crude drugs in general use by a
number of decoctions and infusions of different herbs, the properties of
which he had learnt from Hottentots and captive Bushmen,--with whom he
often managed to make friends.

As the effect of these remedies was quite equal in violence to that of
those in common use, and as there was an added element of mystery about
them, Uncle Diederick's treatment was generally popular.  The Boer does
not believe in any medicine which is not administered in large doses and
which does not act as a kind of physiological earthquake upon the
invalid.

Uncle Diederick was a widower with an only daughter.  He had lost his
wife soon after marriage, and, contrary to the general custom, had not
remarried.  Jacomina, his daughter, was a comely damsel of seventeen,
whose keen and practical interest in her father's pursuits boded a
terrible future for her prospective husband and family.  It was she who
presided, like another Medea, over the brewing of the decoctions; it was
she who neatly bound up and carefully stored away the different kinds of
dried herbs from which these decoctions were made.  In fact she knew
almost as much as her father did about the healing art.  Where she shone
brightest, however, was in collecting payment for her father's services.

Many suitors had laid their hearts at Jacomina's substantial feet, while
she, on her part, cherished a passion for the handsome, melancholy
Adrian van der Walt, Gideon's son.  Adrian likewise admired her, but his
diffidence kept him from definitely telling her so, or doing more than
gaze at her in deep but hopeless admiration whenever he thought himself
unobserved in her company.  For many months Jacomina had put forth all
her arts to bring Adrian to the proposing point, but his unconquerable
shyness always stood in the way of the desired result.  At a distance
Adrian was brave enough, but in the presence of his beloved his courage
fled.  On several occasions he had pretended to be ill in order to have
an excuse for visiting the "hartebeeste house," when the nasty
decoctions he received from the hands of Jacomina tasted as sweet as
nectar.

One day Uncle Diederick was sitting just inside the door of his dwelling
engaged in the commonplace occupation of mending his saddle.  From the
road behind the kopje at the foot of which he dwelt came the rattle and
rumble of an approaching wagon.  He at once hid the saddle in a corner
under a sheep skin, went over to his table, opened the herbal volume and
began poring over its pages.  It was thus that he was usually found by
his patients.  Jacomina was on the watch.  Shortly after the wagon came
in sight she put her head in through the doorway.

"Pa,--it is Aunt Emerencia's wagon; she is sure to be coming for some
more medicine for her _benaudheid_."

Aunt Emerencia descended from the wagon through the back opening of the
tent by means of a short and strongly built ladder and, leaning heavily
on a stick, approached the "hartebeeste" house.  She was a stout woman
with a very pale face, the flesh of which seemed loose and flabby.
Jacomina felt the strongest animosity towards the visitor, who was a
widow and was suspected of harbouring matrimonial designs upon Uncle
Diederick.

After a friendly but breathless greeting Aunt Emerencia sat down on a
stool and, being fatigued and warm from the exertion of walking up the
slope from the wagon, pulled off her _cappie_ and began fanning herself
with it.  After a few minutes Uncle Diederick came forward briskly.  He
sat down, asked Jacomina to go and brew some coffee, and then, in his
most sprightly manner, began talking to and complimenting his visitor.

"No, no,--Uncle," she replied, deprecatingly, to some flattering remarks
on his part,--"Although I may be looking well, I am very, very sick.
Being on my way to Brother Sarel's I thought I would outspan here and
get some medicine."

"That's right--I am glad to see you, even though you are not well.--But
a cup of coffee will do you good."

"Yes,--I will be glad to drink a cup, Uncle.  I have brought you a
couple of pumpkins which you will be glad to have; they are from some
new seed which Jan Niekerk got from Stellenbosch last year."

Jacomina, afraid to leave her father for long alone with the suspected
siren, kept darting in and out between the stages of the coffee-making.

"Jacomina, my child," she said in a wheezy aside, "call to the
_schepsel_ and tell him to bring in two of the biggest pumpkins."  Then
she turned to Uncle Diederick:

"Uncle, I am sick, very sick.  After I eat my heart goes just like an
old churn--and I dream--_Alle Wereld_, how I dream.  Last night I dreamt
that Nimrod built the Tower of Babel on my chest."

Just then a small Hottentot came staggering in with two immense
pumpkins, which he laid on the floor; then he went and stood just
outside the door.  Uncle Diederick cast a careless eye upon them, smiled
almost imperceptibly, and then began very deliberately, to light his
pipe.

"Are these not beautiful pumpkins?" asked Aunt Emerencia.

"They are fairly large; but I am surprised at Nephew Jan taking the
trouble to bring that kind of seed all the way from the Cape.  There is
plenty of the same kind here."

"Truly?" she said in a tone of injured surprise.  Then she called to the
Hottentot, who, mindful of previous experiences, had remained close at
hand.

"Here, _schepsel_,--bring in a bottle of that honey from the front
chest.  Yes, Uncle,--you would not believe how I have suffered since I
finished that last medicine I had from you.  This bottle of honey is
from the bees' nest Piet took out from the _Dassie's_ Krantz last week."

The honey was placed alongside the pumpkins.  Uncle Diederick did not
even take the trouble to glance at it.  He went on silently puffing at
his pipe.

"Don't you like honey, Uncle?"

"Yes,--but it is very plentiful this year, and I am tired of it."

Aunt Emerencia groaned audibly.

"_Schepsel_,--fetch that new pair of _veldschoens_ from the side-bag."

"Yes," she continued, addressing Uncle Diederick--"and you would not
believe what a pain I get here, just below my breast.  These drops I got
from Aunt Susannah did me no good whatever."

In the meantime Jacomina was busy trying on the _veldschoens_, which
turned out to be by no means badly made.  Uncle Diederick continued
smoking, calmly and silently.

"Do they fit, my child?" he asked without turning his head.

"Yes, Pa,--they fit well."

At once Uncle Diederick laid down his pipe and began attending to his
patient.  He felt her pulse; he thumped, prodded and sounded her until
she groaned and grunted.  She was a woman who, for nearly thirty years,
had eaten and drunk largely, and who never took the least exertion that
she could avoid.  Her malady, from which she chronically suffered, was
simply indigestion in an acute form.

"Here, Aunt,--take half a cupful of this whenever you feel bad."

He took down from the shelf a large black flask, which had originally
contained gin, and handed it to the invalid, who grasped it greedily.

"Uncle,--these _veldschoens_ are a beautiful pair.--This bottle holds so
few doses and I get sick very often."

Uncle Diederick had returned to his seat and his pipe.  He took not the
slightest notice of what Aunt Emerencia said.  She, knowing by
experience that there was no chance of screwing another bottle out of
the physician, arose with the apparent intention of taking her
departure.  But first she tried another move.

"_Alle Wereld_," she said in anguished tones, putting her hand to her
side at the same time--"here is the pain again; can you not give me a
dose now, Uncle?"

"Yes, Aunt,--certainly.  Jacomina, bring me a corkscrew and a cup."

These implements were soon brought and placed upon the table.  Uncle
Diederick took the corkscrew and approached the sufferer.

"Come, Aunt--give me the bottle and I will open it for you."

"But, Uncle,--I do not like to open the bottle whilst on the road.  It
is so liable to spill."

Uncle Diederick returned to his chair, the inscrutability of his visage
somewhat modified by a palpable wink.  Aunt Emerencia, after a few
supplementary groans, stated that she felt a little better and would
defer taking a dose until another bad attack came on.  Then she took her
ponderous course back to her wagon.

The sun was nearly down when the clattering hoofs of a galloping horse
was heard on the road.  A few minutes afterwards Gert Dragoonder
dismounted, and, without waiting to remove the saddle from his smoking
horse, hastened to the door of the "hartebeeste house."

"Well, _schepsel_," said Uncle Diederick, "it is easy to see that you
have been riding your master's horse.  For how far has the Devil been
chasing you?"

"Baas must hasten," replied the Hottentot, breathlessly, "or it will be
too late.  My master has got a bullet in the shoulder and he has bled
plenty."

"A bullet in the shoulder--that's bad.  What an accident!  Let's see,--
to which of the loving brothers do you belong?"

"Baas Gideon is my baas.  But it was not an accident; baas Stephanus
shot my baas with his own gun."

Uncle Diederick gave a long, low whistle.  "Well, I always said it would
come to murder between those two.  Here, Danster,--saddle up my horse.
Is the bone broken?"

"The bone is coming out in big lumps," said Gert, with the exaggerative
rhetoric of his race, "he has lost about a bucketful of blood and there
is a hole in his shoulder you could put your fist into.  Baas must make
haste and bring his very best medicine."

"H'm.--If all that is true, it is the Field Cornet that they should have
instead of me.  However, I suppose I must go."

By this time the horse had been driven into the little kraal at the side
of the homestead.  Uncle Diederick went to the shelf and took down a few
bottles, bundles of dried herbs and bandages.  Then he selected from a
camphor-wood chest a few home-made splints and rough surgical
appliances.  All these he packed carefully into his saddle-bags.  After
bidding a very matter-of-fact farewell to Jacomina, and telling the
Hottentot to rest his horse for the night and return home quietly next
day, he started on his long, lonely ride.



CHAPTER FIVE.

THE TRIUMPH OF GIDEON.

Gideon, suffering great agony, had been carried home and laid upon his
bed.  He adhered firmly to the false accusation which he had brought
against his brother, and the whole world, or that portion of it which
knew the van der Walts, believed in Stephanus' guilt.

The Field Cornet, who lived only some twenty miles away, was sent for,
and arrived during the night.  He took down the wounded man's statement
in writing and then went over and arrested Stephanus.  When the written
statement was read over in Stephanus' presence to the wounded man, he
adhered to it still and, having by that time somewhat rallied from the
shock, gave a supplementary account of what had transpired in such
clear, circumstantial and deadly detail, that all present were convinced
of its truth.  Stephanus maintained absolute silence.  Uncle Diederick
did his duty as well, and probably as successfully, as if he had been a
member of the Royal College of Surgeons.  After removing every splinter
of bone and carefully cleansing the gaping wound, he laid a cooling,
antiseptic compost of herbs all over the injured parts.  As Gideon's
constitution was perfectly clean and healthy, he made a rapid recovery.
The shoulder joint was, however, so seriously injured, that the arm was
henceforth of little use.

Marta and Sara were thrown into terrible distress by the arrest of
Stephanus.  Elsie, taking her impressions of the situation from her
father's mental state, retained her serenity, but was puzzled at the
turn things had taken.

Stephanus remained quite unmoved when the Field Cornet announced that he
would have to make him a prisoner and take him to Cape Town, there to
await his trial.

A day's delay, to enable him to put his affairs in order, was all that
he asked for.  This was granted, so he counted his sheep and cattle,
assembled his servants,--whom he made promise to serve their mistress
faithfully during his absence,--and wrote to the husband of his eldest
sister to ask that his nephew, a lad of seventeen, whose services had
recently been offered to him, might be sent to assist in managing the
farm.  The letter was sent off by a special messenger, as his
brother-in-law lived only a little more than a day's journey away.

The Field Cornet having acquainted Marta with the main facts of the
case, she shared in the general belief in her husband's guilt.

On the evening before Stephanus' departure for prison, the family sat
down to their last meal together, and at its conclusion Stephanus did a
thing which he had left undone for years past: he called upon those
assembled to kneel down and pray.  Then he offered up a petition that
God might forgive him his many misdeeds and grant him and all present
patience to bear whatever punishment might be justly meted out to him.

Elsie then took his hand and the two went out to the seat under the
mulberry tree, where they sat until half the night was spent.  Few words
passed between them, and the parting which was to take place on the
morrow was hardly referred to.

The unhappy women broke down completely at the leave-taking in the grey
of the early morning.  Stephanus maintained his composure until it came
to bidding farewell to Elsie.  The child clung to him convulsively, and
her clasp had to be detached by force.  Then the father's anguish was
terrible to behold.

The trial took place at the criminal sessions of the Supreme Court in
Cape Town, some four months afterwards.  The prisoner's family went down
in their wagon to be present at it.

Gideon gave his false evidence with composure, and Gert Dragoonder, the
Hottentot, corroborated him strongly.  Stephanus pleaded "not guilty,"
but otherwise made no defence.  When the court found him guilty not a
muscle of his face betrayed the least emotion.  After the judge had
sentenced him to be imprisoned for ten years with hard labour, he
quietly remarked that he had been justly punished.  When he was removed
from court it was noticed by those present who knew him that his step
had a spring and his eyes a brightness which had never been noticed
before.

Gideon enjoyed one wild moment of exultation when his brother was led
away to a living grave.  Then he turned to leave the court-room, from
which the people were emerging in a struggling crowd,--the trial just
concluded having closed the proceedings for the day.  In the vestibule
he stood aside to let the congested crowd flow past.  A woman whose bent
head was concealed in a long "cappie," and who led a young girl by the
hand, was forced against him.  The child, frightened by the crowd,
seized his hand and held it fast.  When the crush slackened he turned,
looked down, and found himself gazing into the glowing, sightless eyes
of little Elsie, the blind girl he had damned his soul to orphan.  Then
he glanced up and met the eyes of the woman whom he loved still,
although he had not seen her face for years.  There was something
different to the reproach he expected in her look; he seemed to read in
it an appeal for forgiveness of the wrong which she imagined her husband
had done him, and to see the flicker of a love answering his own, which
filled him with dismay.  The mute appeal in her eyes was worse than any
reproach could have been, and the fact that his perjury had made her
worse than widowed seemed to crush him to the earth.

In another moment Marta and Elsie had followed the last of the crowd and
Gideon found himself alone.  Then the nobility of the mien of the man
whom, innocent, he had sent forth to a doom more sorrowful than death
came back to his mind with such dread distinctness that it excluded
everything else.

Suddenly it seemed all unreal;--could it be a dream?  No--there was the
court-room--he could see it through the open doorway before which he was
standing.  He stepped forward on tip-toe and looked in.  Involuntarily
his eye sought the prisoners' dock--the spot where his twin-brother had
stood with rapt, unmoved face and heard the pronouncement of his doom.
His strained brain easily conjured up the figure in all its menacing
nobility, and before the vision he felt abased to the dust.

Had there been another human creature present, Gideon would have cried
aloud a confession of his sin, but he stood alone with the hideousness
of his own transgression.

Then a reaction set in and he staggered from the room grasping wildly at
the shred of comfort which lay in the realisation of the fact that the
man whom he had hated through so many bitter years had now been taken
out of his life.  A strange duality was set up in his consciousness:--it
seemed as though the man he had seen undergoing sentence, although still
his brother, was no longer the Stephanus who had used him so
despitefully.  Thus his mind was buffeted hither and thither by a gusty
storm of conflicting emotions.

So the long-looked-forward-to triumph of Gideon van der Walt sank foully
smouldering upon its own ashes, and he entered into that hell out of
which there is seldom redemption.



CHAPTER SIX.

GIDEON AND MARTA.

Night had almost fallen when Gideon reached his homestead on the seventh
day after the trial.  He had been, throughout the whole journey, a prey
to the keenest misery.  In the short and broken sleep which visited his
distracted brain the image of Stephanus as he had last seen him, haunted
his dreams.  The dauntless mien and the noble courage with which his
brother had met his doom; the puzzled, pathetic expression upon the face
of the blind child; the belated revelation of love combined with a
terrifying appeal for forgiveness which he had read in the face of the
woman for whom his passion had never died, swept over the field of his
consciousness like clouds across a storm-swept sky.  He felt no remorse
for what he had done; on the contrary, his inability to enjoy the
revenge he had long panted for, was the cause of redoubled resentment
against his enemy.

After greeting his family with forced cheerfulness, Gideon drank a cup
of coffee and at once retired to bed, saying that he felt fatigued after
his long journey.  His wife, Aletta, was not deceived by his demeanour,
but there was that in his face which caused her to forbear asking any
questions.

Next morning Gideon tried to avoid everybody, and it was not until
midday that Aletta contrived to satisfy her painful suspense in regard
to the result of the trial.  He was then standing at the back of the
wagon-house with bent head and an air of painful preoccupation.  He did
not hear her approaching footsteps.  When she laid a hesitating hand
upon his arm he started as though he had been struck, and looked at her
with troubled eyes.

"Gideon," she said in a low and hurried tone--"tell me about Stephanus."

"The wolf is in a trap," he said with a savage laugh--"for ten long
years he will have to bite the door before it opens."

"Ten years"--repeated Aletta in an awed whisper--"_poor_ Stephanus; I
did not think it would have gone so hard with him."

"Aletta," he broke out wrathfully, "are you taking the part of this
wolf--this jackal in a man's skin, against me?"

"No--no--Gideon,--I do not take his part;--but ten years is such a long
time.--And I was thinking of Marta and the children; they will never see
him again."

"And a good thing too.  The murdering wild beast should have been
hanged."

In reality the wives of the brothers had, all through the weary course
of the feud, been inclined to take the parts of their respective
brothers-in-law against their husbands.  Each, brought into daily
contact with the black rancour displayed by her husband, had thought
that the feeling could not possibly be so bad on the other side.

Weary as had been the days to Aletta and Adrian, those which followed
were wearier still.  A black cloud seemed to brood over the household.
No one ever smiled.  Each avoided the eyes of the others as though
fearful of what the eyes might read or reveal.  At each cheerless meal
the silent, invisible presence of Stephanus seemed to take its seat; in
the brightest sunlight its shadow seemed to darken the house.

More than once Aletta had been on the point of suggesting that advances
might be made to Marta in her loneliness, but Gideon had lately got into
the habit of bursting into such fury on the slightest provocation, that
Aletta was afraid of irritating him and held her peace.

Gideon, also, had more than once thought of going to visit his
sister-in-law, but the dread of again meeting what he had read in her
eyes on the day of the trial held him back.  It was currently known that
Marta was in bad health and that Uncle Diederick had been called in to
prescribe for her more than once.

Thus the weary days dragged on through three weary years, but the
stricken household kept no count of time.  In material things Gideon
prospered.  Each season the years came with unusual regularity, and his
flocks and herds increased until he became rich among his fellows.

One day two figures were seen approaching from the direction of
Stephanus' homestead.  They turned out to be those of the blind girl,
Elsie, and a very diminutive Bushman lad named Kanu, who had grown up on
the farm.  Kanu had been captured as a child, years before, in the
course of an exterminating raid upon some Bushman depredators at their
stronghold in an almost inaccessible part of the Roggeveld Mountains.

Kanu was about sixteen years of age.  From her early childhood he had
devoted himself to the service of the blind girl; at last his devotion
had grown to positive worship.  In Kanu's company Elsie would wander far
and wide, over mountain and plain, in perfect safety.

The Bushman had picked up a smattering of Dutch, but still spoke his own
tongue fluently, for there were a number of semi-domesticated Bushman
servants on the farm--captives from different raids.  Such raids were,
no doubt, sometimes rendered necessary by the plundering propensities of
the pygmy sons of Ishmael, but there was another side of the question:--
where Bushmen were plentiful the Boers did not, as a rule, find it
necessary to purchase slaves.

The blind child was led by her guide to the front door of the house,
which stood open.  The day was hot and the family were sitting at table,
trying to hurry through their dismal midday meal.  Elsie crossed the
threshold without knocking and stood at her Uncle's side.  Her hair hung
below her waist in a rich, yellow mass, and her eyes gleamed as they
always did under the influence of excitement, and in appropriate light.
The three sitting at the table sat and gazed at her in silent and
startled surprise.

"Uncle Gideon," she said in a clear, piercing voice.

"Well," said Gideon in a voice of forced roughness, "what do you want?"

"My mother bids me tell you that she is dying, and that you must come to
her at once."

Gideon rose to his feet, his face twitching.  Elsie slowly turned, held
out her hand for the guiding twig which Kanu extended to her, and
stepped swiftly forth.

Within the space of a few minutes Gideon sprang on a horse and galloped
off in the direction of the homestead where the woman he loved lay
dying.  Marta sent one of the servants to fetch a span of oxen, and soon
followed her husband, in a wagon.

When Gideon arrived at Marta's homestead he could at once see that
directions had been given as to the details of his reception.  As he
ascended the steep flight of steps which led to the _voorkuis_ the door
swayed open and revealed the weeping figure of Sara, his niece.  Walking
on tip-toe she beckoned to him to follow her, and led the way to an
inner room, the door of which stood ajar.  Gideon entered, every nerve
in his body tingling with apprehension.  Sara softly closed the door
behind him, and then he heard her retreating footsteps upon the clay
floor of the passage.

The dying woman lay propped up in bed, her cheeks flushed and her lips
parted in a smile of loving welcome.  She looked, for the moment, not
more than twenty years of age.  Her face carried Gideon back to the
spring morning of long ago, when he met her for the first time, walking
under the budding oaks of the Stellenbosch street.  With a last,
pathetic effort of coquetry, the poor remnant of her once-beautiful hair
was spread over her shoulder.  Her hand appeared for an instant from
under the bed-clothes; it looked like the hand of a skeleton in a livid
glove.

Gideon stood for a space looking into the smiling eyes of the woman whom
he loved and sunning himself in their dying glow.  The soiled years
seemed to shrivel away like a burnt-up scroll, the past lived again in a
borrowed glamour of lost joy that had never existed and his withered
heart expanded like a rose in summer.

With a long-drawn sigh he sank to his knees at the side of the bed and
pressed his lips hurriedly upon the tress of silky hair; then he drew
hurriedly back, startled at his own temerity.  Marta turned her head
slightly until she could see his face.  Her eyes became softer with the
dew of happiness and a smile hovered upon her lips.  Then she spoke:

"Listen--I am dying;--will you take my children and care for them?"

Gideon could not speak; he nodded his head and she proceeded:

"I only knew you loved me when it was too late...  I waited for you to
speak--then they said that you loved someone else--"

Gideon's brain was busy recalling the long-past.  Every obscure detail
of the days of his brother's courtship and his own bitter disappointment
came back to him with strange distinctness.  How had the
misunderstanding arisen; who was to blame?--"Stephanus always hated you
and I loved you all the time--Aletta need not know--I only tell you now
that I am dying--"

Gideon tenderly took the wasted hand and laid it against his rugged
cheek.

"My children--I love them--Let them not suffer for their father's sin--"

"Wait, Marta," said Gideon in a strained and trembling voice, "I must
tell you--"

"There is nothing to tell--I know it all.--He got to know I loved you
and he tried to kill you.--Forgive him, if you can, for my sake--"

"Wait, Marta,--I must tell you the truth--you are wrong--I must tell you
the truth, even if it kills us both."

The dying woman's lips became compressed, and the colour began to fade
from her cheeks.  Gideon tried to move so that her eyes, full of
startled interrogatory and the pain of apprehension, might not rest upon
his face whilst he made his confession, but they followed and held his
spell-bound.  Then in a hoarse, broken murmur he said:

"Stephanus shot me by accident--I accused him falsely--because I hated
him all my life."

When he ceased speaking he drooped his head and hid his face among the
bed-clothes next to Marta's shoulder.  A slight shudder went through the
woman's frame and then she ceased to breathe.  Gideon kept his head
bowed for a long time.  When, by a torturing effort he lifted it, he saw
a dead, ashen face lying on the pillow at his side,--the face of an old
woman who seemed to have died in sharp agony.

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

When Gideon left the chamber of death he moved like a man in a dream.
Mounting his horse mechanically he allowed the animal to stray homewards
at a walk.  He met the wagon in which Aletta was hurrying to the
death-bed as fast as the team of oxen could bring her, but he passed it
without recognition.

The pathway led past the spring, the scene of the three-years' past
tragedy.  The day was hot and the horse turned, aside to drink as was
its wont.  It was not until the animal paused and bent its head to the
water that the rider recognised the locality.  He was quite calm and the
environment in which he found himself seemed appropriate to his mood.
He dismounted when the horse had finished drinking, led it away to a
spot where it could graze, a few paces distant, and then returned to the
water-side.

He went over the whole scene anew.  There was the spot where he had sat
sleeping; he stepped over and sat there again, in the same attitude.
There Stephanus had approached through the bushes; yonder was the place
where the struggle for possession of the gun had taken place and where
he had ignominiously sunk to the ground beneath his brother's superior
strength.  A little to the right was the green tussock upon which
Stephanus, after wrenching the gun from his grasp, had stood and looked
insulting defiance at him.  He recalled the face which bore such a
detestable resemblance to his own, and remembered its look of triumphant
hate.  He recalled the taunting words that Stephanus had uttered and his
own insulting reply.  Again he felt the sickening torture of the
crashing bullet tearing through flesh and bone.  Involuntarily he lifted
quickly the half-crippled limb; a torturing twinge shot through it and
almost made him scream.

His thoughts swung back--searching among the mists of old memory for a
clue to the one that had wrecked his life by telling falsehoods about
him to the woman he loved, and who, he now knew for the first time, had
loved him.  Who could it be?  None but the brother whose life he had
been fool enough to save and who had always been his evil genius.

The scene he had just lived through was too recent for him to take in
its full significance.  He knew that he had caused Marta's death by his
confession--which he now bitterly regretted having made, and he wondered
if they should meet in the next world whether she would hate him for
what he had done.  He had left the house of death with the full
intention of confessing his transgression and expiating it in the
fullest manner.  It was not that he had made any resolution to this
effect, but rather that a full confession, with its consequences, seemed
to be the only possible outcome of what had happened.

Now, however, he determined to maintain silence.  It was not that he
dreaded the consequences of a confession to himself--his life was too
full of misery for him to dread that--but rather that his somewhat
waning hate of his brother had been reinforced by Marta's words, and he
could not bring himself to abate a jot of that brother's bondage.  Had
it been possible to confess his sin without benefiting Stephanus by so
doing, he felt that he would have told his tale to the first human
creature he met, were it only a Bushman.

He had saved his brother's life; it was not much, after all, to demand
ten years of that life for the exigencies of his revenge.  Stephanus, of
course, deserved his punishment richly.  What business had he to
interfere with the gun at all?  Every despiteful act,--every provocative
detail, every maddening annoyance to which Stephanus had subjected him
during the long, hate-blackened years of the feud, came back and grinned
at him.

He found himself wondering whether anybody had been listening at the
door when he made his confession, and the sudden dread of this
contingency took precedence of every other consideration for the time.
Well,--if he had been overheard he would abide by the result and make a
full confession; if not his lips should remain sealed.

After the funeral, which Gideon attended with outward calmness, Aletta
remained at the homestead for a few days arranging for the removal of
the two girls.  Uncle Diederick, who had been called in professionally,
but had arrived on the scene after Marta's death, said a simple prayer
over the grave which was dug on the hill-side just behind the homestead.
Sara was convulsed with grief, but Elsie hardly shed a tear.  She and
her mother had always been strangers; now the blind child's utter
ignorance of convention kept her from feigning a grief she did not feel.
Gideon's mind was now so far relieved, that he had no longer the fear
of anyone having overheard his confession.

Uncle Diederick arranged to come and live at Stephanus' farm and manage
it for the benefit of the two children, until Stephanus' release from
prison.  Accordingly, the "hartebeeste house" was abandoned--Jacomina
having, in the meantime, carefully packed up all the drugs, herbs and
surgical appliances in boxes and skin bags, and placed them in the
wagon.

Thus, within a week of Marta's death Uncle Diederick and his daughter
were settled in their new dwelling.  For months afterwards weary
invalids from a distance continued to arrive at the "hartebeeste house"
and to learn to their dismay that the physician had departed and left no
address.



CHAPTER SEVEN.

HOW GIDEON WANDERED, AND HOW ELSIE OVERHEARD HIS PRAYER.

At the period at which the action of this story is laid the only settled
parts of the Cape Colony lay well to the south of the rugged mountain
chain, the eastern portion of which is called the "Roggeveld" or "Rye
land."  It was in a valley which cleft the range that the farm of the
van der Walts was situated.

The Boer has ever been intolerant of near neighbours; he likes to feel
that the utmost expanse his glance can sweep over is his, to use or
neglect as suits him.  He has a great objection to any habitation being
within sight of his homestead.

For centuries the government tried to prevent the expansion of the
Colony to a distance from the central authority at Cape Town, but the
efforts were as useless as though one were to try to control quicksilver
on a slanting board with the hand.  The enactment of the most stringent
laws was of no avail to prevent the more adventurous spirits from
seeking their fortune in the vast, mysterious hinterland.  Such men
looked upon the heathen as their inheritance and on the wilderness as
their portion.

Steadfast in his narrow faith, tenacious as steel to his limited
purpose, valiant as any crusader that charged the Saracens on the plains
of Palestine, the primitive Boer was of the texture of the strongest of
the sons of the earth.

Such a typical Boer was Tyardt van der Waldt, the father of Stephanus
and Gideon.  He had come to this lonely valley down which the
yet-unpolluted Tanqua stream flowed through its waving sedges,--far
beyond the camp of the boldest pioneer.  His wagon was his castle of
strength; he trusted in the Lord of Hosts, and he kept his powder
religiously dry.  He found hill and valley stocked with the great beasts
of the desert, and on the blood of these he slaked his nature's needs,
thanking God for the draught.  Upon the mountain side roamed the noble
eland; in the thorny copses the stately koodoo herded,--wild cattle with
which Providence had stocked the pasture for his use.  Here was his
Canaan.  More fortunate than Moses, he possessed it,--whilst vigour yet
thrilled his foot and hand.

At night the deep-rumbling growl of the marauding lion would be heard in
the scrub below the cattle-kraal, and the trembling touch of wife and
children as they clung to him, made the strong man rejoice in his
strength.  Every considerable mountain-cave harboured his Amalekite, the
Bushman,--and him he hewed in pieces before the Lord whenever
opportunity offered.

To the Northward of the Roggeveld the wide and usually waterless plains
of what is yet known as Bushmanland stretched away indefinitely.  Arid
as these plains are, and apparently always have been, they supported an
enormous amount of animal life.  Many of the larger fauna of South
Africa can exist for an indefinite time without drinking; some, such as
the gemsbok or oryx, can dispense with it altogether, owing to the
instinct which teaches them to dig for succulent tubers in the arid sand
dunes, from the surface of which every vestige of vegetation may have
disappeared.

Many a time had Tyardt van der Walt trekked over the mountain chain with
his wagon and penetrated a few days' journey into the waste.  Then he
would return with a load of game of kinds different from those found
among the mountains.  A sense of danger, which is the salt of life to
some natures, lent zest to these expeditions.  This danger was by no
means imaginary; the bones of many an adventurous Boer have been gnawed
by the jackals of Bushmanland.

Gideon had, as a boy, accompanied his father upon some of the later of
these expeditions.  Now, when his load of unrecognised remorse hung
heavily upon him, he sighed his tired soul towards the vast and vague
unknown which lay, rich in the glamour of the unknown and the
mysterious, beyond the frowning mountain rampart.  There, he had come to
think, Peace must surely have her habitation; into that solitude the
ghosts of men and things could not follow.  He put his wagon in order,
loaded it with provisions and ammunition enough to last for several
months, and went forth into the wilderness.

Aletta, reminiscent of disasters, opposed the idea, but Gideon was not
to be withheld from his purpose.  The mind of the unhappy wife, in whose
heart love for her husband still dwelt, in spite of half a lifetime of
neglect, was full of apprehension.  Many were the current tales of Boers
who had gone northward upon hunting trips, as her husband was now about
to go, and who never again had been heard of.  Lured by the fugacious
verdure upon the shining track of some vagrant thunderstorm which had
filled the "pans" with water, and made them look like silver shields
strewn upon some tourney-field of the gods, they had ventured farther
and farther, forgetting that the thirsty sun was busy behind them,
drinking up the moisture and cutting off their retreat.  Other
narratives told of cheerful camp-fires with men sitting around them,
tired after a long day's hunting.  Suddenly would come a silent flight
of deadly arrows.  Then would the fires be hurriedly quenched, and a
volley fired at random into the darkness in the vain hope of smiting a
foe as subtle as a serpent, as nimble as a swallow and as noiseless as a
ghost.  Afterwards the homeward struggle of a few desperate survivors,--
those still unwounded trying to alleviate the agony of their dying
comrades, well knowing that their every step would be doggedly followed
by an implacable enemy, seeking a fitting opportunity of inflicting
further slaughter by the same cruel means.

However, after Gideon's departure, life at Elandsfontein took on a deep
peacefulness.  The reaction from the constant dread of violence on
Gideon's part was such a relief that something like happiness seemed as
though it were about to dawn upon the stricken home.

Aletta learned, to her surprise, that the domestic relations in
Stephanus' household had never been satisfactory.  Bit by bit she
learned from Sara things which threw a strange light upon Marta's home
life.  It appeared that for the past two years Marta had not been right
in her mind.  She had been in the habit of sitting silent and alone for
days together, not answering when spoken to, and refusing to eat.  Ever
since her husband's conviction she had manifested the strongest
objection to his name being mentioned.  This had naturally had the
effect of estranging Elsie completely from her.  Even Sara, to whom the
mother had formerly been passionately attached, had recently been
treated with indifference.

The two girls now seemed to find in the woman who had always hitherto
been lonely, what they had missed in their own mother.  Aletta had
always felt the greatest pity for Stephanus; knowing, as she did, the
provocation he had sustained, and the rancour Gideon had shown.  A
sympathetic bond was thus set up between the three, and the ever-present
sorrow was shorn of some of its more painful features.

Insensibly Elsie became the centre of the household.  She was now twelve
years of age.  In spite of the fact that her intellect as well as her
intuitions had developed to a strange and almost unnatural extent, her
stature and features were still those of a very young child.  With her
pallid and spiritual countenance, and her yellow hair hanging in a thick
mass below her waist, the blind girl with the wonderful eyes startled
and impressed all who saw her, and seemed, in her rugged surroundings,
like a being from another world.

Elsie's aunt and sister seemed to take a pride in decking out her
strange beauty with whatever they could obtain in the way of simple
finery, such as infrequent wandering hawkers brought to the lonely
homestead.  Even in those days traders used to wander over the land with
wagons loaded with simple necessaries, and there always was a box full
of such things as women take delight in, the contents of which were
looked upon almost with awe by the simple daughters of the wilderness.
The best material in the simple stock would be purchased for Elsie's
dress;--the brightest ribbon for her hair.

Kanu, the Bushman, was still her guide as she wandered about at will.
He would have long since followed the fashion of his kind and fled back
to the wilderness that gave him birth had it not been for his attachment
to Elsie.  One characteristic of the blind child was that she was
utterly fearless.  She seemed to dread nothing.  One thing alone seemed
to cause her any uneasiness:--the hoarse roaring of the baboons with
which the black rocks that crowned the mountains on either side of the
Tanqua valley abounded.  She seemed to read a menace in the guttural
tones, and a pained expression could be noticed upon her face whenever
they were heard.

Gideon returned safely after an absence of four months.  His expedition
had been successful in some respects; he had slaughtered much game; he
had brought back all his cattle and horses.  But the peace he had gone
to seek had eluded him.  In the daytime, whenever the divine rage of the
chase was upon him, he would almost forget the past,--but at night,
which is the season in which those who love the desert feel the full
force of its mysterious and almost rapturous calm, the memory of his sin
hovered over him like a bat and kept sleep and rest from his tired soul.
Sometimes he would seem to catch glimpses of the sad face of the
Peace-Angel hovering pityingly afar,--desiring but unable to succour him
from his tormentor.

After he had spent a month or two at the farm Gideon again became
violently restless.  Elsie's presence seemed to cause him keen
discomfort.  When he spoke, as he seldom did whenever he could maintain
silence, the sightless eyes of the child would train themselves upon his
face, until the guilty man found himself overcome by a sense of
inquietude which drove him away from the range of the accusing look.

A party of restless spirits visited Elandsfontein on their way northward
in search of adventure and large game.  Gideon at once made up his mind
to join them.  He had been wishing for another opportunity of getting
away, but had dreaded going again alone.  The shadow of the feud had
caused an estrangement between himself and the neighbouring farmers such
as made it impossible for him to join any of the hunting parties got up
from time to time among his acquaintances.  But these people were
strangers; the occasion offered the very opportunity he had sought.  The
hunters were poor, their cattle and horses were of inferior quality and
their stores were meagre.  Gideon was rich, and his joining the
expedition suited the strangers as well as it suited him.  So Gideon van
der Walt once more set his course towards the wilderness, in the vain
hope of finding the footsteps of Peace.

Nearly a year elapsed before he returned; he looked then at least five
years older than when he had started.  He had penetrated farther into
the wilderness than any European had previously done, and his course
could almost have been followed from the whitening bones of the game he
had slaughtered.  But the boundless desert had proved to be as close a
prison to his guilty soul as the valley where stood his home.  He had
quarrelled with his companions and came home alone.  But almost
immediately the old restlessness fell upon him, and he longed anew for
the wastes.  This time, however, he would go alone.  He blamed his
companions for most of the dissatisfactions of his last excursion.  It
was springtime when he returned; he would go forth once more when the
first thunderstorms trailed over the desert.  Perhaps Peace dwelt
farther away than he had yet reached.  He would find her dwelling even
if to do so he had to traverse the length of the continent, and reach
that Egypt of which he had read in the Bible, where the Lord loosed the
Children of Israel from their bitter bondage.

A few days before Gideon's projected departure Elsie and Kanu were
resting in the shade close to the spring in the kloof, after a long
ramble on the mountain side.  It was afternoon and the sun smote hard
upon the drowsy earth.

"I see the Baas coming this way again," said the Bushman.  "I wonder why
he comes here so often."

Elsie, although no doubt of her father's guilt had ever formulated
itself in her mind, had developed an instinctive distrust of her uncle.
Perhaps it was because he had done what she had never experienced from
another--persistently avoided all communication with her.

"It is a strange thing," continued Kanu, in a whisper, "but I saw him
coming from here yesterday with the tears running from his eyes."

It was Elsie's habit to sit, silent, motionless and absorbed in her
thoughts, for long periods.  In her present situation she was completely
concealed by the fringe of thick scrub which grew around the margin of
the spring.  The Bushman instinctively crept into concealment close
behind her and lay with every keen sense alert and a glint of curiosity
in his bright, restless, suspicious eyes.

The heavy, tired foot-fall of Gideon thudded nearer and nearer until he
stood,--motionless, with folded arms and downcast head, at the side of
the still, clear pool.  His intent look seemed to pierce the dark and
limpid depths as though searching for a sign.  He stood thus for several
minutes; then he dropped heavily upon his knees and covered his face
with his hands.

Then issued from the lips of Gideon van der Walt a prayer such as one
might imagine being uttered from the heart of a lost soul upon whom the
brazen gates of the Pit have closed for ever.  His petition was that God
might give him forgetfulness and sleep,--just a little slumber when he
laid himself down and folded his hands upon his breast in the night
time.--Just a little forgetfulness of the past when the sun sank and all
the world except himself lost itself in happy dreams or happier
unconsciousness.

Then he poured out his guilt in words which, although broken and
incoherent, left no possible doubt as to their significance.  He
bargained with his Maker: His brother's life,--the life which he had
saved,--was it not, in a sense, his to dispose of?  And although
Stephanus had not done the deed for which he was suffering punishment,
had he not, by his heinous hate protracted through long years, deserved
the heaviest chastisement that it was possible for him to receive?

From all this storm of agonised and incoherent sophistry, only one clear
idea reached the understanding of blind Elsie,--the innocence of her
father--the knowledge that he was suffering cruel punishment for a crime
he had never committed.  Until now she had never doubted her father's
guilt.  Knowing the provocation he had received, she had made excuses
for him, and her very soul had moulded itself on the conception that he
was suffering just retribution for a broken law.  The conviction of her
father's guilt had never diminished her love for him.  On the contrary,
its effect was to heighten her affection to the most exalted pitch.  And
now,--to know that he was innocent.  The clash of joy and indignation in
Elsie's brain was such as almost to make her swoon.

Gideon arose from his knees and wandered slowly away with bent head and
set face.  He felt that his prayer had not been answered.  Every
outburst of this kind had seemed to rivet anew the shackles which bound
him to his load.

Elsie and Kanu sat still until the sun sank, and then arose.
Mechanically the blind child put forth her hand for the guiding
willow-wand which she knew would be stretched out for her grasp.  As the
pair walked slowly towards the homestead the dusk was glooming down.
Elsie's brain was in a whirling turmoil when she set forth.  Only one
thought stood fast, and that was as moveless as a rock in a stormy sea:
To save her father--that was the task to which her mind set itself.  But
how?  For the first time she bitterly regretted her blindness.  Poor,
ignorant child, shut up in a cavern of formless darkness,--what could
she do?  But before half the homeward road had been traversed, the
turmoil of her mind had ceased and her thoughts had crystallised around
a purpose as hard as steel.

At the supper-table it was noticed that the blind child's face was paler
and more set than usual, and that the lustre of her eyes was like red,
molten gold,--but no word escaped her lips.  It surprised Aletta and
Sara to find that Elsie did not reply when spoken to, but she had been
so long a law unto herself that no particular notice was wont to be
taken of her peculiarities.

Supper over, she did not, as was her wont, go at once to her bed in the
little room at the end of the front "stoep," where she was in the habit
of sleeping alone, but sat in the "voorhuis" until all the others had
gone to rest.  This was only "one of Elsie's ways," which were different
from other people's.  To her the darkness had no more terrors than the
day.

Next morning no trace of either Elsie or Kanu could be found.  This
circumstance was only rendered remarkable by the fact that her bed had
not been slept in, and that a warm cape of brayed lambskin which she was
in the habit of wearing in cold weather, as well as a loaf of bread from
the "voorhuis" cupboard and a large piece of mutton from the kitchen,
had disappeared.

Search was made, but no trace of the missing ones could be found.  Word
was passed on from farm to farm,--from one lonely squatter's camp to
another, until the whole country side for hundreds of miles was on the
alert.  The mountain haunts of the Bushmen were ransacked--with the
usual accompaniment of slaughter and pillage,--the secret places of the
desert were searched,--but without success.  Had Kanu been found he
would have been shot at sight--so great was the indignation against him.
Poor Kanu was tried, found guilty, and sentenced for the crime of
kidnapping; fortunately, the defendant made default.

Thus another fold of shadow was added to the gloom which wrapped the
stricken household.  Gideon, whose mind was ever on the alert upon the
devious planes of thought, speculated upon the mystery through the
preconception that it contained some element which had been lost sight
of.  Knowing Kanu as he did he could not conceive that the Bushman would
have harmed Elsie.  An idea took root in his brain which bore a sudden
fruit of deadly fear.  Setting spurs to his horse he left the
search-party on the hill-side and galloped down to the spring at the
margin of which he had made his wild confession.  Under a thick curtain
of shrub a few yards from where he had knelt he found the undergrowth
crushed down as though someone had recently sat upon it, and, close by,
where a mole had thrown up a heap of loose earth, was the print of a
small foot, freshly indented.  The discovery turned him sick with
horror.

In a few minutes, however, he laughed at his ridiculous fears.
Nevertheless, a speculation which, he persuaded himself over and over
again was quite preposterous, kept persistently coming back and grinning
at him,--even after it had been driven away over and over again with
contumely, by his better understanding.

The days came and went with dreary monotony.  One by one the
search-parties returned from their fruitless seekings.  After hurried
preparations Gideon again set face towards the burning northern deserts,
and resumed his vain quest for the habitation of Peace.



CHAPTER EIGHT.

ELSIE'S QUEST.

The excitement consequent upon the battle of Blauwberg and the conquest
of the Cape by England had just died down, and the inhabitants of Cape
Town were involuntarily coming to the conclusion that the English were
not such stern tyrants as they had been led to expect.

Juffrouw du Plessis and her two daughters were sitting in their garden
behind the oleander hedge, through an opening in which they could look
out over the lovely expanse of Table Bay.  The cottage, embowered in oak
trees and with the north front covered by the soft green foliage of an
immense vine, was built upon one of the terraces which lead up to the
foot of Table Mountain, and which have, long since, been absorbed by the
expanding city.

Behind the cottage the frowning crags of the massive mountain had hidden
their rigour beneath the "Table Cloth" of snowy cloud, whose tossing,
ever-changing folds and fringes were flung like foam into the blue vault
of the sky by the boisterous "South-Easter" which had given it birth.
But in spite of the turmoil overhead, no breath of rude air disturbed
the halcyon quiet which seemed to have spread a wing of wardship over
the dwelling.

An old slave who, notwithstanding his wrinkled skin and frosted hair,
was still of powerful frame, was working with great deliberation among
the flowers,--where large cabbage-roses lifted their heads high over
violet-bordered beds that were sweet with mignonette and gay with pinks.
The Juffrouw was of Huguenot descent and showed her French origin in
the alertness of her movements and the sensibility of her features.  She
was the wife of a merchant who carried on a flourishing business in the
city.

"Mother," suddenly said Helena, the younger girl, "while you were out
this morning I met a blind girl with the longest and yellowest hair I
have ever seen."

"A blind girl.--Where was she?"

"On the footpath behind the house."

"And where did she come from?"

"I do not know; she would not tell me.  I think she must be mad, for she
said she was going to talk to the Governor and she asked me where he
lived."

"What an extraordinary thing."

"Yes.  She was walking with a little Hottentot man, who was leading her
by means of a stick.  She said they were both very hungry, so I gave
them some bread and milk.  I left them sitting at the side of the path,
eating, and when I went back to look for them they were gone."

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

Elsie and Kanu sat at the side of a stream in a deep ravine in the
western face of the Drakenstein Mountain range.  Around them was a mass
of dense scrub which was gay with lovely flowers.  The child drooped
wearily as she sat with her swollen feet in the cool, limpid water.  Her
cheeks were faintly flushed, her lips parted, and her eyes shone with
strange brilliancy.  It was the morning of the sixth day after they had
stolen away from Elandsfontein.  Kanu looked gaunt with hunger.  Famine
seemed to glare out of his hollow eyes.  In spite of the proverbial
toughness of the Bushman, he was almost in the last stage of exhaustion.
A belt made of twisted bark was tightly bound around his waist, and a
bundle of grass and moss, rolled into a ball, was forced between it and
his body, over the abdomen.

"Kanu,--how much farther do you think Cape Town is?" asked Elsie in a
tired voice.

"I have heard the people say that the town lies under a big mountain
with a flat top," replied the Bushman,--"I can see such a mountain far
away across the sand-flats.  We will reach it to-morrow night if your
feet do not get too sore."

The child drew up her feet from out of the water and passed her fingers
gently over them.  Even this slight touch made her wince.  She threw
back her head with a movement of impatience.  Her eyes were swimming in
tears.  Beside her, on the grass, lay a pair of tattered _veldschoens_.

"Kanu,--do you think we will reach there in time to see the Governor
to-morrow night?"

"I do not know; we might not be able to find his house in the dark,--and
perhaps he goes to bed early."

"But, Kanu,--everyone must know the Governor's house, so you can knock
at the first door we pass and ask where it is."

"Yes,--we can try."

"But, Kanu,--I _must_ get my father out of prison at once when we
arrive.  I am sure the Governor will come from his house and open the
door as soon as I tell him,--even if he is in bed and asleep when we get
there."

"I do not think you will see Baas Stephanus to-morrow night," replied
the Bushman, after a pause.--"I heard from a man who had been there that
the prison is not in Cape Town but in a place they call an island, in
the sea."

Elsie hid her face in her hands and burst into a passion of tears.  She
had held out against hunger and fatigue, against exposure to chilling
rain and scorching sun, her thoughts strained to the conception of "Cape
Town" as an objective.  Often, when she was swaying with exhaustion, the
words "father"--"Cape Town"--murmured half under her breath, would brace
her flagging sinews.  And now it was bitter to hear that her father was
not in Cape Town after all, but farther off still.  She had set her
heart on meeting him immediately after her arrival.  The Governor was
sure to be a good, pitiful man;--otherwise the great king across the
sea, who now owned the whole country, would not have sent him to rule
the land.  As soon as ever she had told her tale, he would tell one of
his soldiers to take her down at once to the prison, which he would open
with a big key.  Then her father would look round and, seeing his little
blind daughter, would know that she had saved him,--which was more than
people with good eyesight had been able to do.

Over and over again the poor little child had rehearsed the scene of the
meeting in her mind.  The groove was well worn, and she followed the
details accurately, step by step.  She knew the feel of the big key; she
had asked the kind Governor to let her hold it, and then that she might
carry it down to the prison, instead of the soldier,--but the Governor
said that he could not do this because it was against the law to let
anyone have the key unless he were a soldier carrying a big gun.  Then
the long walk down the street,--and how the soldier walked too slow, and
how she knew without being told the direction of the prison.  Everything
was quite clear until the key grated in the lock, as the key did in the
lock of the barn at home,--and the heavy door swung back on its hinges.
At this point imagination died in a swoon of bliss.

However, Kanu comforted her with the assurance that the island was close
to Cape Town; he was quite sure his informant had told him it could be
seen from the city.  But she had to surrender the hope of seeing her
father immediately after her arrival, and she felt that her former
conception of the meeting and its prelude would have to be somewhat
modified.  She had rehearsed the scene so often that it had become
utterly real to her; to alter it now gave her the keenest pain.

Kanu's woodcraft had stood Elsie in good stead on the journey, but it
was all he could do to procure food sufficient to enable the child to
bear up against the terrible hardships incidental to such an
undertaking.  The Heavens had been propitious, in so far that but little
rain had fallen, but the cold had been severe in the rugged mountain
tracts they were obliged to travel through.  Water had been scarce at
times and cooking had always been difficult.

For these poor wanderers had to avoid frequented ways, and, even thus,
to travel only by night, Kanu knew well enough that if they were seen by
any European they would be stopped and sent home.  So every morning at
daybreak they camped in the most suitable spot to be found in their
vicinity.  Here, on a bed of soft moss or grass, carefully prepared for
her by the tender hands of her savage guide, Elsie would slumber through
the day, while Kanu foraged for food, and, after ascending some
eminence, surveyed the country with reference to the night's course of
travel.

Kanu's adventures were sometimes alarming.  Once he came face to face
with a Boer who was evidently in a bad temper, for he unslung his gun
and, without a word of challenge, fired.  Kanu only saved himself by
dropping behind a rock.  Then he fled, incontinently, before his natural
enemy had time to reload.  More than the Boers he dreaded his own kind.
The wild men had been so often treacherously deceived by tamed specimens
of their own race who, after gaining their confidence, betrayed them to
the Boers, that any stranger with the taint of civilisation upon him was
liable to be put to death with horrible tortures.

In his own native desert Kanu would have had no difficulty in finding
enough of bulbs, roots, lizards and other local products wherewith to
satisfy the needs of his own appetite, but the farther south his steps
trended the more unfamiliar the flora and minor fauna became.  Even the
little of this description of produce he found was of no use to Elsie;
for her he had to steal, and it was in doing this that he ran into
greatest danger.

His habitual method of plundering was to locate a flock of sheep or
goats, crawl around the bases of hills and up and down gullies until he
got close to it, and then hang on its skirts until an opportunity
offered for seizing and stifling a lamb or a kid.

On the day before reaching the kloof where Elsie had the bitter
disappointment of hearing that her father was not at Cape Town after
all, but at some island beyond it, Kanu had, after waiting nearly all
day for his opportunity, captured a lamb from a flock which was crossing
the gully in which he lay waiting.  This lamb had loitered behind with
its mother,--the shepherd being, at the time, engaged in beating up
stragglers in another locality.  Kanu carried the prey into a deep,
forest-filled hollow.  Here he lit a fire of dry wood, which gave off no
smoke, and roasted the toothsome carcase whole.  Reserving the entrails
for his own share, he stripped the roasted flesh from the bones and
carried it back to Elsie, who was almost fainting with hunger.

Being now so near their goal and in a country of well-defined roads and
many travellers, who did not appear to take much notice of one another,
Kanu consented to make a start whilst it was yet daylight, so the
strange pair emerged from their concealment and moved slowly down the
rugged side of the mountain.  When they reached the sandy flat at its
foot they set boldly out towards the great mountain whose snowy cowl
shone white as a snowdrift under the clear October sky.

They walked on until deep into the night.  Elsie, buoyed up by her
purpose and almost unconscious of her swollen feet, would still have
pressed forward.  She declared that she felt no fatigue, but Kanu
insisted on her lying down and then she fell into a deep sleep which
lasted until dawn.

As the light grew Kanu was astonished to find that the mountain looked
nearly as far off as ever.  The unfamiliar atmosphere--close to the
level of the sea had deceived him.  This day turned out to be the most
fatiguing of all.  The sun smote fiercely upon the red sand and water
was scarce and brackish when obtained.  However, when the sun sank they
were nearly at the foot of the mountain.  The soft, steady breeze
brought up the thunder of the surf from the Muizenberg beach, and filled
the soul of the Bushman with dismay at the unaccustomed sound.  He had
never been near the sea, so the thrilling diapason of the moving waters
was full of terrors.

"Kanu, are you sure that this is the mountain that Cape Town is under?
Tell me, what it is like."

Elsie had dropped in the road from sheer fatigue, and Kanu had borne her
to a small copse, only a few yards away.

"The side of the mountain is black with trees but its top is white with
a cloud that never moves."

"Yes,--that is the mountain," said the child in a tone of relief; "my
father told me that it always had a white cloud upon its top."

Then her head drooped and she fell asleep.

Kanu tightened his belt and mounted guard.  In the desert, among the
haunts of the fiercest beasts, he would have lain down after a few
simple precautions, and felt perfectly safe.  Here, near the dwellings
of Christians, he felt--and with reason--uneasy.  There was a small
quantity of meat left, and the smell of it assailed his nostrils, made
keen as those of a pointer by famine.  How he longed for that meat,--for
only one bite.  The savage in his breast seized him as it were by the
throat every now and then and tried to hurl him at the morsel.  But it
was Elsie's, he told himself,--all she had to sustain herself with on
the morrow, when there would be still a long walk before her.  At length
he fell into a troubled sleep, and dreamt of sumptuous banquets for some
delightful seconds.

Another tug at the belt.  Well, it would soon be morning, and then this
great, powerful, beneficent Governor whom Elsie knew of and talked such
a lot about, would surely give them something for breakfast.

When day broke the mist had drawn away from the mountain, the huge bulk
of which stood out, robed in purple and edged with the gold of the
unarisen sun.  Elsie slept long and deeply, and woke to a passionate
flood of accusing tears when she found that the sun was already high.

As they walked along the well-beaten road they met other sojourners.
The savage instinct in Kanu prompted him to hide in the bushes whenever
he saw anyone approaching; but, when he found that of the many
passers-by none attempted to interfere with them, he merely bent his
head and hurried furtively past.  No houses were yet in sight, except
two square structures high up on the shoulders of the mountain.  These
were the watch-houses from which, in yet older times, the approach of
the Indian Fleet was wont to be signalled to the Castle.  The Bushman
devoutly hoped that the Governor did not live in either of these, for he
knew that Elsie, weak as she was, would never be able to make the
ascent.

Anon they reached the shores of Table Bay, and the wide expanse of water
filled the Bushman's soul with deep awe.  The scent of the sea stung the
flagging blood of the spent child to new vigour; the "whish-whish" of
the wavelets and the wild, strange cries of the sea-birds--perhaps they
had flown across from the island where her father was waiting for her--
spoke to her strained ear in tones of sweetness and mystery, which
thrilled through her to the very depths of her being.  Her fatigue and
her lacerated feet were forgotten; she seemed to tread on air.

At length Kanu gave a sudden exclamation;--the goal of their terrible
endeavours was at last in sight.  There, shimmering in the soft, opaline
haze, lay the lovely city, its white flat-topped houses embowered in
trees, whilst the bright green slopes surrounding softened the contrast
between its peaceful beauty and the mighty embodied desolation which
seemed to prop the sky above it.

Elsie did not speak, but her face lit up and her eyes flashed with
almost unearthly gleams.  She felt that she was now at length, after all
her sore travail, about to meet her father--her father who, innocent,
had been torn from her and cast into prison among the vilest of men.
Sweetest of all was the thought that she, in her own weak hands, was
bearing to him the precious gift of freedom.  In imagination she was
already passing her hands over his face, as she had been wont to do when
she wanted to read his mood, and smoothing out the lines of suffering.
The bliss was almost painful in its intensity.

"Kanu,--Oh, Kanu--we are nearly there; are we not?"

"Yes,--but I never thought there were so many houses in the whole world.
It would take half an hour on a fresh horse to get to the farthest I
can see."

"Kanu,--I suppose the Governor lives in the biggest house; don't you
think so?"

"Yes,--but there are so many big houses that I do not know where to look
for the biggest."

The Bushman had been on the point of asking more than one of the people
whom they had passed, in the street to direct them to the Governor's
house, but he had invariably lost courage at the last moment.  In those
days there was little traffic in the Cape Town streets except in the
late afternoon, when many carriages were to be seen.  During the heat of
the day all, gentle and simple, retired for the siesta.  Thus the
wanderers reached the centre of the city without attracting any
attention, and without meeting anyone but a few slaves, who were out
executing errands.

At length they paused before what Kanu felt sure must be the Governor's
house.  It was a large building, several storeys high, and had a lofty,
spacious "stoep" surrounded by heavy iron railings, which overlooked the
street.  The big windows were flanked by bright green shutters which had
been thrown back against the wall.

A sound of music issued through the wide, open door,--interspersed,
every now and then, with loud bursts of laughter.  Yes,--the Governor
must certainly live here; he and his friends were, doubtless, holding
revel inside.  A steep flight of steps led up to one end of the stoep;
these Kanu mounted, leading Elsie by the hand.

The Bushman paused before the open doorway and looked in.  The splendour
appalled him.  Rich mats of varied colour covered the floor; wonderful
coloured objects hung upon the walls; a large glass case stood upon a
table just before him.  It was full of clear water, in which numbers of
golden fishes darted to and fro,--red light flashing from their scales.
Yes, this was surely the house he had been seeking.

As he paused, shrinking back against Elsie who was trying to push him
forward, a door suddenly opened on the other side of the room and a man
as burly as any Boer Kanu had ever seen emerged, walking unsteadily.  He
was dressed in blue cloth with bright buttons, and had a funny-looking
glazed hat placed sideways on his head.  At first he seemed to be
unaware that there was anyone but himself in the room.  When, however,
he became conscious of the presence of Elsie and her companion he
started, and paused unsteadily, hiccoughing.

"Sam," he shouted to someone in the next room, "come and look at this."

Sam came.  He also walked unsteadily.  He was nearly as big as his
companion and was similarly dressed.

"Well, Sam,--what do you make of it?"

"It gets over me, Cap'n," said Sam, after a pause of anxious scrutiny.

"Well,--I've been round the world and I've never seen hair like that--
Say, my lass, where do you hail from?"

Kanu replied in Dutch, asking if the Governor lived there, and if he
were at home.

"Dry up with that monkey-chatter, or I'll wring your neck," rasped the
irate Captain.  Kanu shrank back in dread, pressing Elsie behind him.
The Captain lurched over to the child and laid his hand on her shoulder.

"My lass,--I've a little girl at Southampton who looks like you, but you
can show her your heels as far as hair goes.--Why--Sam--the child's
blind."

The Captain had sat down on a chair, drawn Elsie towards him by the
shoulders, and looked into her face at close quarters.  When his eyes
met hers something penetrated to his perceptions through the fumes of
the liquor he had drunk and told him she was blind.  Sam came forward
and had a look.  He did not believe the child was blind, and said so.
She was just a beggar, shamming.  He had often seen the same kind of
thing on London Bridge.

The Captain roughly, but kindly, drew the child again towards him.
Elsie kept passive and silent in his hands.  Perhaps this was one of the
Governor's friends,--or even the Governor himself.  She read his
character by his touch, and trusted him, but she had shrunk away from
Sam.

"Come, my lass,--you look tired and hungry; is it some dinner you want?"

Elsie, feeling that this remark was directly addressed to her, replied
in Dutch, using almost the same words as Kanu had used.

"I cannot understand this blooming lingo," growled the Captain--"Sam,--
call the waiter."

The waiter, a black boy, who spoke both Dutch and English well, came in
and interpreted.  The Captain was mystified; Sam was sure that the whole
thing was a "plant," and growled an advice to the Captain to keep a
careful guard upon his silver watch.

Then the landlady was called.  She, good woman, was too busy to be much
interested.  However, the Captain sent for some food, which he gave to
Elsie.  She ate a little and passed the rest on to Kanu, who ate it
wolfishly.  The Captain sent for another plateful, which Kanu disposed
of with great rapidity.  The Captain--and even Sam--became interested.
The Bushman was asked, through the waiter, if he could eat any more.  He
replied in the affirmative, so another, and after that yet another--
plateful was brought.  This kind of thing might have gone on
indefinitely, had not a young man, who looked like a merchant's clerk,
come and taken possession of the Captain for business purposes.

As he was going away, Elsie arrested him with a cry, and when he turned
for a moment she begged pathetically to be told if the house she was in
was the Governor's, and, if not, where his house was.  The Captain
tossed sixpence to the black waiter and told him to take the
"monkey-chap,"--for thus he designated Kanu,--down the street and show
him where the Governor berthed.

The waiter, fully persuaded that he had to do with two lunatics, hurried
them up one street and down another at the further end of which stood a
large white building.

"There," said he to Kanu, "is where the Governor lives."

Then he turned round and bolted.



CHAPTER NINE.

HOW THEY SOUGHT THE GOVERNOR AND FOUND THE GOOD SAMARITAN.

Elsie's heart again bounded with delight as she and Kanu hurried along
the street.  They reached the building indicated by the black boy.  It
had a large doorway opening to the street on the ground floor; several
wagons drawn by horses stood before it,--some full of bales and boxes,--
others empty.  Kanu led the way in between the scattered parcels of
merchandise and paused before a stout man who was making entries in a
note-book.

"Please, Mynheer, is the Governor in?" asked the trembling Bushman.

The stout man glanced carelessly and contemptuously at his interlocutor.
Then, having finished his entries, he closed his pocket-book, put it
hurriedly into his pocket, and strode away.  Just then a truck heavily
laden with sacks was trundled in at the door; Kanu quickly dragged the
child aside and just saved her from being knocked down and run over.  A
big Malay seized Elsie roughly by the arm and dragged her into the
street; then he returned, caught Kanu by the neck and flung him after
her.

"Here," he said, "take your white brat away; you all know that we don't
allow beggars here."

The two belated wanderers drew a little to one side to avoid the traffic
and stood in silent and astonished desolation.  In obedience to Elsie's
prompting, Kanu accosted several of the passers with his now stereotyped
enquiry about the Governor.  As a rule no attention was paid to his
question.  One or two answered him with jibes.  At length a coloured man
answered him kindly, telling him that the house opposite was a store,
and that the Governor did not live anywhere in the neighbourhood.  He
added significantly that they had better move on, or else he might get
into trouble.  Kanu asked what trouble would be likely to come upon
them.  The man replied that he might be whipped and added that his
companion's hair might be cut off.  The threat of whipping filled the
sensitive-skinned Bushman with terror.  He seized Elsie's hand and
hurried away.

By this time the sun had gone down behind the Lion's Head, and the
streets were full of people.  The dismayed pair wandered about, sick
with perplexity.  Poor Kanu had been utterly demoralised by the threat
of the whip, and Elsie could not, for a long time, induce him to accost
any of the people they met.  When he did so the result was the same as
previously; no one would take his enquiry seriously.

Their random steps took them to a quarter of the town where people of
mixed race dwelt in low-built houses.  The streets were full of bands of
shouting boys, who jostled them and jeered annoyingly.

A stout coloured woman was standing at the door of a little shop, the
stock-in-trade of which appeared to be composed principally of stale,
unwholesome-looking fruit.  Some spell of kindness in the woman's homely
face caused Kanu to pause.  Then the woman addressed Elsie in Dutch, in
a kind voice, and the tired child bent her head and burst into a passion
of tears.

The woman drew Elsie into the shop and tried to comfort her, but it was
long before the child's pent-up woe, terror and disappointment had spent
themselves.  At length, when exhaustion had brought calmness, Elsie
murmured that she wanted to see the Governor.  The woman at once looked
askance at her, suspecting that she was mad.  But in a moment her look
softened and her eyes became moist.  Then the kind creature drew the
child into a little room at the side of the shop and laid her tenderly
on a bed.  Elsie became calmer, so the woman drew off the tattered shoes
and wept over the poor, lacerated feet.  She covered the poor waif up
with a soft patchwork quilt, and soon had the satisfaction of seeing her
sink into a deep sleep.

The woman then went out to the shop, where Kanu was lying exhausted on
the floor.  She questioned him closely--and afterwards angrily, but the
Bushman was proof against her cross-examination.  All she could elicit
from him was that they had come from a great distance and that they
wanted to see the Governor about an important matter.

The woman stole back into the room on tip-toe, and gazed at the sleeping
child.  Made paler by sleep the face of Elsie looked like that of a
corpse.  Her hair lay in a glowing, tangled mass on the pillow; the
gazer picked up one of the tresses and examined it with reverent wonder.
Then she left the room, closed the door softly, shut up the shop and
went to her kitchen for the purpose of concocting some strong broth.

It was late when Elsie woke.  Her hostess was sitting at the bedside.
She soothed the child, gave her a drink of warm broth and made her lie
down again.  Then the woman crept into the bed, and the two slumbered
together until morning.  Kanu had been accommodated with a sack in the
kitchen and a supper of fruit which had become unsaleable stock.

At early dawn the woman arose, leaving Elsie still sleeping.  She went
to the kitchen and lit a large fire, over which she placed a capacious
pot of water.  Then she fetched a wooden tub and laid it noiselessly in
the bedroom.  When Elsie awoke she found a good cup of coffee and a
biscuit ready for her.  These she consumed with a good appetite.

It was in preparing her for the bath that the woman found out that the
child was blind.  Then her pity overcame her so that she sobbed aloud.
She had lost her own only child, a girl of about Elsie's age, a few
years previously.  After Elsie had bathed, the woman went to a cupboard
and fetched out what was her greatest treasure,--the clothes of her dead
child, which she had folded carefully away interspersed with aromatic
herbs to keep out the moth.  With the best of the garments she clothed
her little guest.  Then, after dressing the lacerated feet, she wrapped
them in clean strips of linen, and put shoes and stockings which would
have been much too large under other circumstances, upon them.  This
done, she combed out the child's hair, marvelling audibly at its length
and richness.

Elsie could no longer resist the importunities of her kind friend, so
she told her story,--how her dearly-loved father was in prison,
suffering for a crime he had never committed; how she and Kanu were the
only ones who could establish his innocence; how they had run away and
wandered thither over mountain and desert plain for the purpose of
seeing the great English Governor and obtaining justice.

The woman did not know what to make of it.  The places named were
strange to her; the whole thing seemed uncanny.  The extraordinary tale
of the shooting, the child's blindness,--her wonderful tresses,--the
savage, wild-animal look of her diminutive protector,--his language--an
outlandish click-mingled corruption of an already corrupt patois--it was
quite beyond the good soul's imaginative range, so she gave up the
problem with a sigh and redoubled her tenderness to Elsie.

After breakfast Elsie and Kanu again wandered forth on their pathetic
quest.  The woman tried her very best to induce Elsie to remain, and let
Kanu endeavour to locate the Governor's dwelling as a preliminary
measure.  She herself could give no information on the subject, nor
could any of the neighbours of whom she enquired.  She made Elsie
promise to return if her search proved unsuccessful.

This woman was a lonely soul, with nothing to love, and Elsie had made a
way straight to her heart.  She exultingly made up her mind to adopt the
child, knowing that the latter, even if she succeeded in finding the
Governor's house, would never be let in by the attendants.  Therefore
she made sure that her guests would return in the evening.  All day long
she could think of nothing but Elsie, the silky richness of whose yellow
hair seemed to adhere to her dusky fingers and to lie like chrysm upon
her charitable palm.

That day the little shop and dwelling was swept and garnished as it had
never been since the death of the woman's own child.  Clean sheets were
placed upon the bed and a new and more wonderful patchwork quilt was
unearthed from the depths of the press and spread out in all its glory.
As evening drew near she cooked a dainty little supper; the child would
surely return hungry after her walk.

The hour at which the visitors had arrived on the previous day drew on.
Supper was ready,--done to a turn,--and the woman stood before her
doorway, anxiously scanning the street, up and down.  The neighbourhood
had grown loud with the strident tones of squalid children, rushing
about in bands at uncouth games as was their wont.  The darkness came
but there was no sign of the missing guests.

The night drew on and the noises died down in the streets, until almost
utter silence reigned.  When midnight struck in the spire of the distant
church, the disappointed woman sadly closed the door.  She sat in the
shop for a while longer, her ear alert for the footstep her heart
yearned for.  Then she put out the light and went weeping to bed,
leaving the untasted supper on the table.



CHAPTER TEN.

THE SORROWS OF KANU.

The two waifs resumed their search for the Governor's dwelling with
feelings very different from those which had inspired them at the
beginning.  Throughout the long, blistering morning they wandered about
the streets, timidly accosting any occasional passer-by whose appearance
suggested possibilities of kindness, but no one would take their
enquiries seriously.  Some sent them purposely wrong, as one has seen
unfeeling persons send an ignorant native round a village on April
Fool's Day, carrying a paper with the legend: "Send the Fool on."  Most
of the people they spoke to smiled and passed on; more than once Kanu
had to spring to one side to avoid a blow.  He, poor savage, had a
continual dread of the whip hanging over his shuddering shoulders,
whilst cold and deepening despair lay like lead upon his blind
companion's breast.

And, truly, the appearance of the two was sufficiently _bizarre_ and
startling.  Kanu, clad in a few tattered skins,--gaunt with famine, his
body and limbs scarred by brambles and his quaking soul glaring out
through his eyes,--his questions clothed in badly-broken Dutch and his
whole manner that of a wild beast at bay,--why, such a being had never
been seen in the city of Cape Town before.

Of the two, however, the blind girl was the more alarming object than
the Bushman, who made for her a most effective foil.  Her face was pale
with the hue born of that fatigue and starvation against which her frail
body had been braced by a great resolve and a transcendent hope,--but
staring through this pallor was the bitter agony of disappointment and
fear.  Her eyes, grown large and hollow, glowed deeply under the masses
of her hair.  Her face had taken on a terrible beauty that seemed to
radiate calamity and despair.

Thus passed this day of tribulation, but it was late in the afternoon
before the full measure of their sufferings was attained.  Elsie had
sunk exhausted on the pavement near an almost deserted street-corner.
Suddenly a noise of shouting was heard, and within a few seconds the
terrified waifs found themselves surrounded by a swarm of tormenting
street boys.  Elsie sprang to her feet and clasped her hands around her
companion's sinewy arm.  They stood close to the wall, and the boys
formed a half-circle before them.  The crowd seemed ever to increase.
Although molested, neither was actually hurt.  Now and then some bolder
urchin would jostle them and once or twice Elsie's hair was tugged at.
But it seemed as though the touch of the rich fibre had some strange
effect; each one who laid hands on it drew away at once, and slunk to
the outskirts of the crowd, as though ashamed.

They were rescued from this terrible predicament by three soldiers who
were evidently taking a stroll.  These, seeing what was going on, laid
into the persecutors with their canes to such effect that the street was
soon clear.  Kanu spoke to his rescuers, asking the old question, but
they could not understand his language, and passed on.

Kanu now tried to shape his course towards the harbour of the previous
night, trying to avoid the more frequented streets.  But the instinct by
means of which the Bushman could find his way unerringly through the
desert spaces in the deepest darkness, was useless to him here, in an
unnatural environment.  He had lost all perception of distance,
direction and locality.

But yonder, impassive above this scene of persecution and confusion,
towered the bastioned crags of the great mountain.  This at least was a
wild, natural object Kanu turned towards it as a drowning man turns
towards an islet suddenly seen close at hand in a waste of waters, and
pressed up the steepening slope.  The shouts of the horrible boys became
fainter and fainter as the waifs struggled up the rocky terraces.  It
was sundown before they reached a rugged ledge at the foot of the main
precipice.  Here were thick bushes and great irregular masses of rock
scattered formlessly about; between them the tough mountain grass was
thickly matted.  Elsie sank to the ground and lay as if dead.  She had
got beyond tears; even the sense of pain had nearly died in her.

Fortunately, Kanu still had his wallet, and in it was the piece of bread
which their kind entertainer had given them in the morning.  There was a
bright trickle of cool water issuing from a cleft at the foot of the
cliff, and to this Kanu led the child after she had rested for a space.
She had been for some time dreadfully thirsty, although hardly aware of
the fact, and a drink of the cool water somewhat revived her.  Then she
removed her shoes and stockings, and placed her feet on a stone where
the water splashed upon them.  When Kanu placed a piece of bread in her
hand she began mechanically to eat it.

The site was suitable as a camping-place.  It was hemmed in by a
loose-linked chain of great, irregular rocks, and, from the absence of
paths in the neighbourhood, was evidently not often visited by human
beings.  Around were strewn soft cushions of moss and sheaves of waving
grass swayed from high tussocks.  Dead wood from the fallen branches of
sugar-bushes lay about in considerable quantities.  Kanu gathered a
number of these together and lit a fire at the back of the largest of
the rocks.

The weather was perfect.  At the Cape, Spring performs her duties at the
time which chronologically ought to be Winter.  Thus, by the time her
own proper season arrives, the flowers have already emerged to meet the
mild, cloudless, steadfast sky, which, where the ground lies at any
considerable elevation, scorches not by day nor chills by night.  Thus,
the unthinking cruelty of man was, in the case of these derelicts, in a
measure compensated for by the careless kindness of the heavens.

"Kanu,--what shall we do?" asked Elsie at length, in a dejected voice.

"I do not know.  It seems to be against the law down here to ask about
the Governor," replied the Bushman, reminiscent of the possibility of
the whip.

"Kanu,--have you seen the island where the prison is?"

"Yes,--it is far away across the water.  If the water were land it would
take half a day to walk to it."

After some further discussion it was finally agreed that next day Kanu
was to leave Elsie on the mountain and continue his search for the
Governor's residence alone.  So at break of day the Bushman stole down
the mountain side and continued his quest.  At length he met one who
vouchsafed a reply to his question.  This was a blind Hottentot beggar
whom he met being led by a little child to the street-corner where he
was wont to ply his trade.

"The Governor," replied the beggar, with an air of superiority, "lives
at Rondebosch, which is at the other side of the mountain, at this time
of the year.  I know this, because my niece, who is a washerwoman and
washes for his coachman, told me so."

"Is it against the law to ask where the Governor lives?"

"No,--why should it be against the law?"

"Then one cannot be whipped for asking?"

"Whipped? no; what an idea.  But there are many things a Hottentot can
get whipped for, all the same."

"What kind of things?" asked Kanu, starting.

"Oh, plenty; stealing, for instance, or getting drunk, or being found in
a garden at night.  But who are you and where do you come from?"

Kanu was not prepared to answer on these points.  However, he managed to
elicit some further particulars,--for instance that if he walked along
the main road he would pass the Governor's house on his right hand; that
the house had big pillars of stone before it; that two soldiers with red
coats and guns walked up and down in front of it night and day.

Kanu hurried away towards Rondebosch.  Two things it was imperatively
necessary to do,--to locate the Governor's house, and to get something
for Elsie and himself to eat.  He had left Elsie a small portion of
bread,--hardly enough to serve for the scantiest of breakfasts.  His own
hunger was horrible.  In spite of the tightening of his bark belt, which
now nearly cut into his skin--the Bushman tribal expedient for
minimising the pangs of famine--he was in agony.  He passed the fruit
market and saw piles of luscious eatables that made his mouth water, and
the odour of which made him almost faint with longing.  All this plenty
around him--whilst he and Elsie were starving.  He hurried away, the
wild animal in him prompting to a pounce upon the nearest table, to be
followed by a bolt.  He knew his legs were swift, but there were too
many people about and he would be sure to be caught.  Stealing, he
remembered with a tingling of the shoulders, stood first in the old
beggar's category of deeds for which one might get whipped.

A thought struck him,--he would first locate the Governor's house, then
return and try, by following the course he had taken the first day, to
rediscover the dwelling of the charitable woman who kept the little
shop.  But Rondebosch was on the other side of the mountain; would he be
able to go there and back without food?  Well, there was nothing else to
be done.  He would try it at all events.

But after he had walked a few hundred yards his hunger got the better of
him and he turned back and began to search for the woman's dwelling.  He
reached the hotel with the wide stoep; from there he had no difficulty
in reaching the store which the waiter had pointed out to him as the
Governor's house.  After this, however, he could no more unravel his way
among the unfamiliar lines of exactly-similar houses, than a bird could
find its way through a labyrinth of mole-burrows.

So the day drew to a close without Kanu obtaining any food.  His own
agony of hunger had given place, for the time being, to a sick feeling
of weakness; it was Elsie's plight that now filled his thoughts.  Food
he must have, so he decided to steal the first edible thing he saw and
trust to his swift running for escape.  The whip was only a contingency,
albeit a dreadful one,--but the hunger was a horrible actuality.  Kanu
made for the outskirts of the city and began to prowl about seeking for
food to steal.

In the valley between Table Mountain and the Lion's Head were the
dwellings of a number of coloured people of the very lowest class.  Most
of the dwellings were miserable huts built of sacking and other rubbish,
and standing in small clearings made in the thick, primaeval scrub.  In
the vicinity of some of these huts fowls were pecking about Kanu skirted
the inhabited part of the valley, marking, with a view to possible
contingencies, the huts near which fowls appeared to be most plentiful.
In a path near a hut which stood somewhat distant from any others, the
matchless eye of the Bushman discerned a well-grown brood of chickens,
evidently just released from parental tutelage.  A swift glance showed
him how he might, unobserved, get between them and the hut.  After
worming his way through the scrub he emerged close to the unsuspicious
poultry, into the midst of which he flung his stick, quick as lightning
and with practised hand.  Two chickens lay struggling on the ground.
The others fled homeward, with wild cacklings.

Within the space of a couple of seconds Kanu had clutched the two
unhappy fowls, wrung their necks and wrapped them up in his tattered
kaross.  Then he sprang aside, ran for a few yards and dropped like a
stone.  A man and a boy came rushing up the pathway and then commenced
searching the thicket in every direction.  Once the man passed within a
yard of the trembling Bushman, whose back began to tingle painfully.
However the danger passed, so after a short time he crept along through
the thicket to a safe distance, and then fled up to the mountain side to
where he had left Elsie.

Bitter was the poor child's disappointment when she heard that the
Governor did not live in Cape Town after all.  However, Kanu was
sanguine now of being able to locate the dwelling they had so long and
so painfully sought for.

Kanu soon lit a fire and cooked the chickens, which proved tender and
toothsome.  The Bushman ate hardly anything but the entrails.  He lied
freely to Elsie in regard to the manner in which he had come by the
birds, and waxed nobly mendacious as to the amount of food which he
pretended to have enjoyed during the day.

Next morning Elsie's feet were still so much inflamed that she could
hardly put them to the ground.  Kanu gave her the rest of the meat,--
which, as the chickens had been but small to begin with--came to very
little.  Then he bade her farewell, promising to be back as early in the
afternoon as possible, and started on his way along the western flank of
the mountain to Rondebosch.

He crossed the high neck which connects the eminence known as "the
Devil's Peak" with Table Mountain.  This name used then to cause great
scandal to the Dutch colonists,--the term being an unconscious
perversion by the English of the original name of "Duiven's," or
"Dove's" Peak.  Then he descended the almost perpendicular gorge to the
thickets behind Groot Schuur, and soon found himself in the straggling
village of Rondebosch.

It did not take him long to find the big house with the tall stone
shafts before it, as described by the old beggar.  His eye caught a
glint of scarlet through the trees,--yes, there were the two soldiers
walking up and down, armed with guns from the muzzles of which long
bright knives projected.

However, it was best to make sure, so he took up a position fronting the
house, but on the opposite side of the road.  He saw people going in and
coming out, some in scarlet and some in wonderfully shiny black clothes.
Several people passed by, but they all looked too important for him to
accost.  At length a miserable-looking coloured woman hobbled by and he
plucked up courage to address her:

"What are those two men walking up and down for?"

"Who are you that you don't know soldiers when you see them?"

"Are these soldiers;--and what are they doing here?"

"Taking care of the Governor, of course.  That is his house."

At last.  Well, he had found what he wanted, and there was nothing to do
now but to tell Elsie, and bring her out here as soon as her feet were
better.

But now that the excitement of the quest which had sustained him
hitherto was over, a sudden agony of hunger gripped his vitals like a
vice, and he felt that he must presently eat or die.  Elsie, too!  He
had only left her a bite of cold chicken.  He would go and seek for more
prey.  The whip was clean forgotten.  Hunger--supremely agonising
hunger--held him by the throat.  He would go and seek for more fowls.
There must be other places on the outskirts of the city where they were
obtainable.  So Kanu started swiftly back along the main road to Cape
Town, with all his faculties concentrated upon fowls and the stealing
thereof.

It was early afternoon when he reached the outskirts of the city.  The
sun shone oppressively; there was hardly a soul to be seen.

He passed a little shop, the proprietor of which,--a stout Malay, was
apparently sleeping under a small awning hung over the front to protect
the wares from the sun.  A barrow, piled with cakes and other
comestibles, stood at his side.  They were queer, outlandish-looking
eatables, such as Kanu had never seen before.  The sight and the smell
made him wolfish.  He looked up and down the street; not a soul was in
sight.  He tightened his left arm against his side and let a fold of the
ragged kaross hang over it like a bag.  Then he shuffled his feet on the
ground to test the slumber of the Malay, who gave no sign of observance.
Then he clutched as many of the cakes as his hands would hold, placed
them in his improvised bag, and hurried away on tip-toe.  Just
afterwards a strong grasp compressed his neck and he was borne to the
ground.  When he managed to turn his head he saw the enraged countenance
of the Malay glaring down upon him.

Kanu stood in the dock, looking like the terrified wild animal that he
was, and pleaded "guilty" to stealing the cakes.  He had spent the night
in a foetid cell with a number of other delinquents who had been scummed
off the streets.  The case attracted no particular attention, being one
of a class very common in, it may be supposed, every city.

The prisoner took some pains to explain to the bench how hungry--how
_very_ hungry he had been, and how he had found it impossible to pass by
the food after he had seen and smelt it.

The magistrate asked Kanu where he had come from and what he was doing
in.  Cape Town.  The reply came in the form of a long, rambling
statement which caused the minor officials to titter audibly, and the
obvious untruthfulness of which caused His Worship, to frown with
judicial severity.  He had, come--the Bushman said--from a great
distance, but from what exact locality he begged to be excused from
saying.  His business in Cape Town was "a big thing"; no less than an
interview with the Governor.  If Mynheer would only let him go to seek a
companion who was waiting for him, and who must, by this time, be very
hungry indeed;--and would let him have a piece of bread--just one little
piece of bread no bigger than his hand, he would promise to return at
once.--And if Mynheer would let him and his companion be taken before
the Governor, Mynheer would soon see that the story he told was true.

Then he went on to say that he knew that he had done wrong in stealing
the cakes, and consequently he deserved punishment, but Mynheer must
please remember how hungry he had been, and how hungry his companion had
been, and not give him the whip.  He had heard that "brown people" were
whipped in Cape Town if they stole, which was quite right if they stole
when they were not hungry.  He had never stolen before; he had only
stolen this time because he could get nothing to eat, and had been
unable to find the Governor.  Only two things he begged of Mynheer: to
let him go to his companion with a little piece of bread;--she had had
nothing to eat since yesterday morning, and must be very hungry now, and
frightened, for she had been alone all night.  The other favour was that
Mynheer might spare him the whip.

By this time everyone in court,--except His Worship, who had no sense of
humour,--was almost convulsed with merriment at the quaint and guileful
fictions of the Bushman.  Where, wondered carelessly some of the more
thoughtful, had this "_onbeschafte_" savage learnt to practise such
artful hocus pocus.  It was, they thought, an interesting object lesson,
as proving the essential and hopelessly-mendacious depravity of the
Bushman race.

His Worship was "down on" vagrancy in all its forms.  Probably, being
responsible for the good order of the city, he had to be.  His official
harangue in passing sentence was not long, nor,--with the exception of
the last paragraph,--interesting, even to Kanu.  This last paragraph
struck into the brain of the Bushman with a smart like that produced by
one of the poisoned arrows of his own race, for it sentenced him to
receive that whipping the dread of which had persistently haunted his
waking and sleeping dreams.  In addition he was to be imprisoned for a
week--the greater portion of which had to be spent upon spare diet.
After this he had to leave the precincts of the city within twenty-four
hours, on pain of a further application of the lash.

Kanu, the Bushman thief, received his stripes dumbly, as a wild animal
should; but the bitter physical agony which he underwent when the cruel
lash cut through the skin of his emaciated body expressed itself in
writhings and contortions which, the prison warders said (and they spoke
from an extended experience), were funnier than any they had ever seen
before.  The spare diet he did not so much mind, being well accustomed
to that sort of thing.

After the shock of his punishment, which had dulled every other feeling
for the time, had somewhat passed away, Kanu realised that by this time
Elsie must surely be dead, and he fell, accordingly, into bitter, if
savage, tribulation.  But soon he found himself thinking, in quite a
civilised way, that it was better, after all, that the blind child
should be free from her sufferings.  Then Kanu turned his face to the
wall of his cell and slept with inconsiderable waking intervals,
throughout the rest of his period of durance.

When he was released a throb almost of joy went through the Bushman's
untutored breast.  Freedom, to the wild man, is as necessary as to the
sea-mew.  He hurried from the gaol door and made his way up the side of
the mountain to where he had left Elsie eight days before, expecting to
find her lying white among the rocks, half-covered by her shining hair.

Bushmen, everyone says, have no hearts,--yet a spasm contracted the
throat of this Bushman as he neared the spot where he had left the blind
girl, which, in the case of a civilised man, would have been attributed
to an agony of grief.

But no trace of Elsie could he see.  His keen, microscopic eye searched
the ground for a sign, but none was visible.  The north-east wind had
blown; the swift springing of vegetation had affected Nature's
obliterative work--wiping away the faint traces of the tragedy from this
small theatre as completely as Time, with the assistance of lichens,
grass and a few others of Nature's busy legion, will finally obliterate
man with all his works and pomps.

No sign.--Stay,--there, floating on the slow, sweet stream of
sun-buoyant air, quivered a yellow thread,--bright as materialised
sunlight.  It hung from the bough of a shrub upon which bright,
sweet-scented buds were struggling through between cruel-looking, black
thorns, and miraculously getting the best of the struggle.  Kanu
carefully disentangled the precious filament, rolled it up into a
minute coil and put it into a little bag containing several
namelessly-unpleasant charms, which hung by a strand of twisted sinew
from his neck.

Swiftly the Bushman examined every nook and cranny in the vicinity, but
no other trace of the blind girl he had served so faithfully and
unselfishly could be found.  Then his eyes began to swim with what in
the case of a European would certainly have been called tears, and his
throat tightened once more with the same sensation he had a few minutes
previously experienced.

Far away to the northward the great blue peaks of the Drakenstein glowed
and pulsed in the sunshine, while their hollows were dyed a more
wonderful purple than Tynan artificer ever took from the depths of the
Mediterranean.  Beyond this range, albeit on the other side of an almost
interminable series of other ranges, seemingly as impassable, lay the
desert; and towards this Kanu the Bushman sighed his savage soul.

One more look round--lest, haply he might have left some sign unread or
some nook unsearched;--one more recurrence of the unaccountable (for a
Bushman) sensation in his throat, and Kanu set his face to the North,
and went forth for ever from the shadow of the dwelling-places of
civilised men.



CHAPTER ELEVEN.

ELSIE AND THE SATYRS.

The long day drew to a close but Elsie, with the sweet steadfastness of
a nature that had hardly ever known what it was to repine, did not feel
impatient.  She knew that it would be impossible for her to go to
Rondebosch until the following day, so she was content to sit in the
mild sunlight, bathing her feet in the cool stream.

The portion of cold chicken that remained she had divided into two, one
of which she ate for breakfast.  When she knew from the coolness of the
air that the sun had gone down, she ate the remainder.  When night came
she wondered why Kanu had not arrived, and the wild thought that he
might by some wonderful chance have seen the Governor and then gone
straight off to procure her father's release lifted her heart for one
moment's wild delight.  But she soon saw the impossibility of her
imaginings, and her joy fell, broken-winged, to earth.  However, her
spirits soon regained the former mean.  Fear she felt not; the only
thing that had caused her terror was the mob of boys in the street of
the city, but here, where Kanu had placed her, she felt quite safe.  To
those who are blind from birth darkness harbours no more terror than
day.

Although the lovely scene which lay around her was cut off from her
cognisance by the failure of her principal channel of sense, her
remaining faculties had been so sharpened by the striving of the
imprisoned individuality to apprehend its environment, that she might
almost be said to have developed a special sense which those possessing
sight have no idea of.  To Elsie the evening was full of beauty and for
one short hour she was soothed in the lap of Peace.

The faint, far-off murmur of the city stole up and seemed to cluster
like a lot of echo-swallows against the sheer rock-wall that soared into
its snow-white fleece of cloud above her head.  To her fine-strung ear
they made music.  She wondered in what direction her father's prison
lay.  Perhaps he had breathed the very air which now, full of the scents
and ichor of the sea, gently stirred her locks.

The dew-fall made everything damp; it was cold and she longed for a
fire.  Why was Kanu so long in coming back?--Her mind searched in vain
for an explanation.  Could it be possible, after all, that he had seen
the Governor and then gone with the soldier and the great key to effect
her father's release?  Even now he might be hurrying up the rugged path,
under the faithful Bushman's guidance, to greet the beloved child who
had dared, suffered and accomplished so much for his sake.  No, she
reflected with a sigh, that was hardly to be hoped.  The Governor would,
doubtless, want to see and talk to herself before taking any steps.
Kanu was, after all, only a Bushman, and, although she knew how brave
and honest and true he was, and how superior to his race, it was not to
be expected that the Governor would recognise his good qualities at the
very outset of their acquaintance.

But where _was_ Kanu?  It was most extraordinary that he should have
left her so long as this, all alone.  Surely he could not have forgotten
that she had no food and no means of lighting a fire.

It was now, she knew, very late, for the noises had died down and the
city lay as silent as the grave.  She knew also that Kanu was not
anywhere near.  Last evening her supersensitive ear had been able to
detect his approaching footsteps long, long before he arrived.  She was
now very hungry indeed and the penetrating dew had chilled her to the
bone.  But she was accustomed to exposure and she did not suffer in this
respect as another might have done.  She was crouched under the lee of a
rock.  Drawing her knees up for the sake of warmth she shook her tresses
out over her like a tent, and soon fell asleep.

She awoke suddenly and started up with a wild cry, her every nerve
tingling with horror.  From the krantz-ledges above her head were
issuing strident shrieks and hoarse roarings.  In an instant she
recognised the sounds:--they came from a troop of large, fierce,
dog-faced baboons which had taken up their quarters on the face of the
cliff.

The baboons were having one of those noisy scuffles which, several times
in the course of a night, invariably disturb an encampment of these
animals.  Down the face of the cliff came bounding good-sized pebbles
and even small rocks, dislodged by the struggling simians.  These
thudded into the grass or crashed into the bushes close beside her.
Seizing the short staff which she always carried, the terror-smitten
child felt her course away from the vicinity of the cliff and began
descending the mountain with stumbling steps.

The sole and only terror which Elsie had felt on her native farm,--the
dread of these animals,--returned upon her with irresistible force.  The
Tanqua Valley was full of these monsters, whose hoarse roarings, heard
from afar, haunted the dreams of her nervous childhood.  In seasons of
drought they would sometimes rush in among a flock of sheep and tear
open the stomachs of the young lambs with their powerful paws, for the
sake of the newly-drunk milk.  To Elsie and her kind the baboon took the
place of the dragon, the giant, and the gnome, around which cluster the
terrors of northern childhood.

Bruised, bleeding, and palpitating with horror, the poor little blind
child stumbled on down the rough, brambly mountain side until she lost
her footing and fell heavily over a ledge.  Then she swooned from the
combined mental and physical shock, and for a time lay still in merciful
unconsciousness.  When she revived she could not at first realise what
had occurred; then the horror came back upon her like a flood, and she
once more arose and staggered forward, groping before her with her
stick.

Then came another dreadful thought:--Kanu would not now know where to
find her when he returned.  What was she to do?  She had dreaded the
boys in the cruel, perplexing city--yet she felt that she could now fly
to them for protection--if she only knew the way.  And Kanu might--the
thought brought a momentary gleam of cheerfulness--possibly track her
course down the mountain side, but--if she once reached the streets he
would never be able to trace her.  No,--she had better remain somewhere
on the mountain.--But the baboons--thus the poor, over-laden little
brain reeled along the mazes of a labyrinth of frightful alternatives.

Now her alert senses told her that the day was breaking and the sweet
influences of the dawn brought a momentary relief from the worst of her
imaginary terrors.  She thanked God with happy tears for the returning
of the blessed day.  But almost immediately afterwards the ripple of
relief was swamped by a returning tide of dismay.

Even at this late day the baboons of Table Mountain sometimes assume a
very threatening attitude to persons rambling alone in the more
unfrequented spots, but in the early days of the Cape settlement these
great simians were far more daring.  It was no uncommon thing for them
to raid the vineyards and gardens on the outskirts of the city in the
early morning,--and this is what they were preparing to do on the
occasion of Elsie's great travail.  At the first streak of light they
began to descend from the krantzes and spread in skirmishing order over
the slopes beneath.  The centre of the scattered column headed direct
for the spot where Elsie lay cowering, and it was the guttural bark by
which the animal that discovered her announced the presence of a human
being to the others, that gave her such a redoubled shock of dread.

She tried to move, but her strength failed her; so she crept under a
bush and lay there, crouched and quaking.  On right and left she could
hear the harsh signals of the sentinels, from flank to flank of the
long-extended troop.  Far and near she could hear the stones being
rolled over as the baboons searched for scorpions and other vermin.

She heard a rustling close to her, and then a guttural grunt of mingled
curiosity and surprise.  The horrors of the situation struck her rigid,
and she ceased, for a few seconds, to breathe.  The baboon was now close
to her, wondering no doubt, as to who and what she was.  Then, with a
movement which combined the elements of a slap and a scratch, the
creature drove its hairy paw into her face.

With a long, shrill shriek Elsie sprang to her feet and fled down the
steep slope.  A thorny shrub caught and held her dress fast.  She
thought that one of the monsters had overtaken and captured her, and she
fell to the ground and lay huddled in a swoon that was very nigh to
death.

The fruit-orchard at the back of the du Plessis' dwelling had on several
occasions suffered severely from the depredations of the baboons.  Thus,
whenever these brutes were heard roaring and coughing on the mountain
side--which usually happened in the very early morning, it was customary
for all the male members of the household to turn out in a body, to
repel the attack.

On this occasion the slaves, armed with whatever weapons could be
hurriedly laid hands on, and headed by the old white-headed gardener,
who carried a blunderbuss of ancient make, rushed out to protect the
fruit Mr du Plessis and his two daughters joined in the sortie a few
minutes afterwards.  The girls enjoyed this sort of thing very much, and
the cry of "baviaan" would turn them out of bed earlier, and more
quickly, than anything else.  The sensation of "creeps," which any
enterprise involving a small tincture of imaginary danger brings, is
dear to the youthful female breast.

On the present occasion the enemy made even less show of resistance than
usual.  Driven back in disorder, they retreated to the mountain krantzes
which were inaccessible to all but themselves, hoarsely defiant and
threatening what they would do next time.

The morning was delightful as only an early morning can be when listless
Spring coquettes with impatient Summer under a cloudless, calm, and
southern sky; so Mr du Plessis and his daughters decided to spend some
of the time which must elapse before breakfast would be ready in
strolling over the flower-strewn mountain slope.  The lovely bay lay
like a white-fringed purple robe cast down to earth from the couch of
some regal goddess; in the deep, deep hollows of the Drakenstein the
shattered remnants of the host of conquered night were cowering;
overhead the scarred crags of Table Mountain lent, by force of contrast,
a splendid foil to the softness of the rest of the landscape.

They had left the footpath and were wandering among the dew-bejewelled
bushes.  Suddenly, with one accord they all stood still; before them lay
what appeared to be the dead body of a young girl, fallen upon its face.

Mr du Plessis stepped forward and bent over the pallid form.  He
ascertained that it still contained life, and he signed to the two girls
to approach.

They turned the unconscious frame over upon its back and placed the
slack limbs in an easy position.  The face was untouched, but the poor
hands had been sorely torn by thorns.  The lips were almost bloodless
and the whole form as cold as the earth it lay on.  The hair, sadly
tangled, glowed in the sunshine like live gold.

"The blind girl we saw with the Bushman," said Helena, in an awed
whisper.

"Yes," said Mr du Plessis,--"there has been some foul play here.  You
girls rub her body as hard as you can and loosen her dress at the
throat; I will run and send Ranzo and one of the boys with a
basket-chair."

It was not long before the chair arrived, carried by two strong slaves.
Elsie was tenderly lifted from the cold earth and carried down to the
cottage, where she was soon laid upon a soft, warm bed.  Her damp
clothes were removed and warm wraps substituted.  The doctor had been
sent for at once, but in the meantime Mrs du Plessis poured a hot
cordial down her throat.  This soon caused a glow of warmth to spread
over the almost pulseless body.

Soon the doctor arrived and ordered that the patient should be laid in a
warm bath.  This caused her to revive considerably.  When her eyes
opened it seemed as if they were filled with the pain of the whole
world.  After swallowing a little nourishment she fell into a swoon-like
sleep, which lasted all day and into the middle of the night.

When Elsie awoke it was to delirium of the most painful kind.  Ever and
anon she would shriek with terror and try to spring from the bed.  This
lasted for several days, until the doctor feared brain-fever.  However,
she once more fell asleep, and lay for days like a faintly-breathing
statue.  She was wakened now and then and given nourishment, which she
mechanically swallowed,--immediately afterwards sank back to deepest
sleep.

The strange story of the finding of the blind girl with the wonderful
hair had in the meantime spread abroad, and the circumstance aroused
general interest.  Many now recalled having seen the strange pair
wandering up and down the streets upon their hopeless quest, and
regretted, too late, that they had not rendered assistance.  Public
feeling,--that mad perverter of probabilities,--was very much aroused
against Kanu, and had that unhappy Bushman been caught it would have
gone hard with him.  However, Kanu, with his savage equivalent for the
emotion of grief, was straining every nerve to get as far away from
civilisation as possible, bent on hiding his suspected head in the
depths of the uttermost desert.

Many were the visitors at the cottage on the mountain slope during
Elsie's illness.  When the child grew better a favoured few were allowed
to take a peep into the dimly-lighted room where, upon a bed as white as
snow, the pallid, pathetically-beautiful image of tragic suffering lay.
The wonderful hair had been carefully combed; it flowed like a golden
cataract over the headrail of the bedstead.  When the light of a candle
shone upon it through the gloom of the darkened room the beholders
marvelled at a depth and richness of colour such as they had never
before thought possible.

Up from the vaults of blank unconsciousness floated the mind of the
blind girl until she became cognisant of her immediate surroundings; but
the past remained to her an utter blank.  Bit by bit she recovered the
faculty of speech.  It would be more correct to say that she re-acquired
it, for she picked up words from those around her almost as an infant
does--only more rapidly and intelligently.  Her sweet, equable
disposition had not altered.  Thus, she began to fill in the obliterated
pages of her mind with serene unconsciousness.  She never laughed, but a
strain of music, a sweet scent, or a soft touch from the hands she had
learnt to love for their constant kindness would bring to her pale face
the light of a rare smile, and flood it with a soft colour that was good
to behold.

Thus blind Elsie, after her sore travail and disappointment, drifted, a
derelict, into a harbour of safety and loving-kindness.



CHAPTER TWELVE.

ELSIE'S AWAKENING.

Four years had come and gone; four times had the winter rains from the
hidden Antarctic floated up to the storm-smitten shores of that
continent over which the wings of Ancient Mystery still brood, and made
sweet the ways of Spring.

The cottage still stood on the slope of Table Mountain but it was no
longer alone; other dwellers of the city had selected sites and built
near it.  Moreover, it could not so readily be seen from a distance as
formerly, for the reason that the bowering trees had enviously stretched
forth their boughs around it.

Mr and Mrs du Plessis had been tenderly dealt with by Time; being young
in heart they still knew youth, and the lady's French vivacity remained
unimpaired.  Gertrude and Helena had grown into young women comely to
see, and the path leading to their dwelling was often trodden by the
feet of the young men of the city and the officers of the garrison.  The
suit of a young minister of the Dutch Reformed Church had found favour
with Gertrude.  He had graduated in Leyden in a distinguished manner
three years previously.  Mr Brand and Gertrude were engaged and meant to
be married in the early part of the ensuing year.

The greatest change was, however, to be seen in Elsie.  She was about
seventeen years of age and as beautiful as a lily.  Tall and slight, her
sweet face marble-pale, her deep eyes fringed with long, brown lashes
and her wonderful hair full of amber hues mingled with the golden tints
of dawn, the blind girl who dwelt in darkness was the sunshine of the
household.

Although her mind was still a blank so far as events that had occurred
previous to her waking in the home of her protector were concerned, her
intellect otherwise was quite unimpaired.  Her memory had regained its
old strength, and once more she became remarkable for never forgetting
anything she experienced.  She was quite without fear except of the
baboons, the barking of which upon the mountain side always made her
tremble.  It was this circumstance which led the old doctor who attended
the household to express his belief that she would one day recover her
memory.  She was called Agatha by the du Plessis after numerous attempts
to elicit her name had failed.

The Reverend Philip Brand, Gertrude's _fiance_, was an earnest and a
muscular Christian.  He was a man who held quite original views upon
most questions; one peculiarity of his being that he rather preferred
the society of the very bad to that of the correspondingly good.  The
visitation of the unfortunates condemned to serve in chains at the
quarries on Robben Island was a self-imposed branch of his duties which
he took the greatest interest in.

"I have recently come in contact," he said one day to Gertrude, "with a
very remarkable man.  He is a convict at Robben Island,--a man named van
der Walt.  He tried to murder his brother, and was sentenced to ten
years imprisonment in consequence."

"Yes;--and why does he specially interest you?"

"Well,--'tis a very curious thing;--you know that I am apt to take a
liking to reprobates; this man's influence upon me is, however, very
strange.  Whenever I have been talking to him I come away with the
impression that there is some mistake,--that he is God's minister and I
am the criminal."

"I wish I could meet him."

"I wish you could.  I can hardly describe him.--The man is as humble as
Christ himself, and is always, without the least sign of cringing,
grateful for the least attention.  He does not talk religion at all; in
fact he tries rather to avoid the subject, but he continually endeavours
to enlist my help towards getting favours granted for the other
prisoners.  He has never, so far as I can make out, asked for anything
for himself."

"Do you know the particulars of his crime? his story ought to be
interesting."

"I only know a few of the bare facts.  It appears that he and his
brother--they lived far up country, near the Roggeveld--had been
quarrelling for years.  One day they met in the veld, and this one shot
the other with his own gun,--tried to murder him, in fact Murder or no
murder, something always seems to say to me when we meet: `That man is a
better Christian than you.'"

"Has he been long in prison?"

"About eight years.  They tell me that he has never been known during
all that time to disobey an order or to grumble at anything.  His wife
died five years ago, and just afterwards his little daughter, whom he
loved better than anyone else, disappeared.  They say his health
afterwards broke down completely for a time, and his hair and beard
turned from jet black to pure white within a few months."

"Poor old man,--why don't they let him out if he has suffered so much
and has become so good?"

"They are talking of asking the Governor to commute the last year of his
sentence.  I shall do my best to have the idea carried out, but I had
better not move in the matter openly, because all say I am already too
much on the side of the convicts, and I am no longer listened to when I
intercede for them."

Summer had not yet come, but its approach was making itself felt from
afar.  The du Plessis' were spending the day on the western side of the
peninsula, where the South Atlantic tides, steel-grey and cold, sweep
past the black, broken rocks.  To landward the bastioned turrets known
as the "Twelve Apostles" soared into a blue sky; from seaward the
rollers were thundering up, in front of a steady north-west breeze.

Elsie had been placed in a comfortable situation such as she loved--safe
above the reach of the moving waters, but where faint fragrant whiffs of
spray might now and then reach her, and where the generous sunshine
prevented her from feeling chilled.  She loved sometimes to be left
alone thus, so the others wandered away.  Soon she fell into a deep
sleep.

When the strollers returned they were alarmed at the change which had
taken place in the blind girl.  She was sitting straight up; her face
was drawn, her lips were parted; she breathed with quick, husky gasps
and her eyes blazed.  The two girls ran up and put their arms around
her; then she shrieked loudly, and became almost convulsed.  But she
soon became calmer under their soothing words and touch.

"Kanu,--are you here?" she uttered.

"We are here," replied Helena, gently--"Gertrude and I.  What is the
matter.--What frightened you?"

"Oh,--how long have I been sleeping.--Where is Kanu?  Where am I?"

They noticed that she spoke in quite a different tone to her usual one,
and in an uncouth idiom they had never heard from her before.

"Hush, dear," said Helena, soothingly.  She guessed what had happened.
The doctor had told her that an awakening of the girl's dormant memory
might happen at any time.--"Hush,--do not trouble to think just now.
You will remember it all by and by."

Helena drew the blind, frightened face down upon her generous breast,
whilst Gertrude softly stroked the rigid hand which had seized one of
hers with such a convulsive grasp as caused her acute pain.  The blind
girl's brain was reeling perilously near to madness.  Like a flood came
the memory of her journey and its purpose--of the misery of
disappointment, and the terror of the baboons.  Her mind began anew at
the flight from Elandsfontein, and retraced every painful step of the
journey which came to such a tragic close in the inhospitable streets of
the city.  The whole pageant went through her consciousness in a
whirling phantasmagoria.

When she reached that stage of her adventures wherein she left the
dwelling of the kind old coloured woman, she instinctively passed her
hand over her knees to feel if she still wore the dress which had been
lent her then.  Again she ascended the rugged slopes of Table Mountain,
with her ears filled with the horrid shouts of the persecuting boys.
The long-waited-for Kanu seemed so imminent that she bent her ear to
listen for his expected step in the sound of the rocking surf.  Then her
terror of the baboons returned upon her like a hurricane sweeping
everything away in fury; she started up with a shriek and tried to rush
away.

"Oh God,--the baboons.  Kanu--Kanu."

"Hush--hush, dear," said the soothing voice of Helena; "you are safe
with us; nothing can hurt you.  Feel--we are holding you safely."

The sudden rupture of the cells in the blind girl's brain, within which
the terrors of that dire morning of four years back were pent, was like
the breaking of the Seventh Seal.  The shock almost unseated her reason.
However, she gradually came to realise that she was with friends, whose
tender touch brought comfort and a sense of safety.  For the moment the
last four years of her life were as effectually blotted out as though
they had never been.  Then, as a tortured sea gradually glasses over
when the storm-cloud has passed on, although it yet heaves with silent
unrest, her mind began to calm down and the recollection of more recent
events to dawn upon the verge of her consciousness.

"But where is Kanu?  Why did he not come back to me?"

"Was Kanu the Bushman who led you about?" asked Helena, gently.

"Kanu left me on the mountain and went to find out where the Governor
lived.--My father--How long ago is it--Where have I been?"

"What is your father's name and where does he live?" asked Gertrude.

"My father is in prison, but he is innocent, and only Kanu and I know
the truth.  We came to tell the Governor, so that he might let my father
out."

"Come, Agatha,--let us go back to mother and tell her."

"My name is not Agatha,--my name is Elsie,--Elsie van der Walt."

The two girls looked at each other in surprise, recalling the name of
the prisoner in whom Mr Brand was so much interested, and of whom he had
spoken several times.  After gently assisting Elsie to arise they led
her to where the other members of the party were waiting.  Helena then
drew her mother and Mr Brand aside and told them of what had occurred.

"Find out her father's Christian name," said the latter; "if it is
Stephanus you may safely tell her that she will be taken to him
to-morrow.  I will get permission to-night and arrange to have a boat
ready in the morning."

"Elsie," said Helena, passing her arm over the bewildered girl's
shoulder, "is your father's name Stephanus van der Walt?"

"Yes--yes,--that is his name.  Is he still in prison?"

"He is still in prison, but he is well.  You will be taken to him
to-morrow."

The light of a great happiness seemed to radiate from Elsie's face.  At
last--at last--The compensation for the long travail was about to be
hers.  And he--the innocent and long-suffering, would be freed from his
bonds.

The eventful day was drawing to a close, so preparations for the return
homeward were at once made.  Mr Brand started on foot for Cape Town, by
a short cut.  He meant to call upon the magistrate at once and obtain a
written permission to visit Robben Island and see the prisoner on the
following day.

As the party drove homeward Elsie was wrapped in a trance of utter
happiness.  The lovely day had ripened into a sunset-flower of gorgeous
and surpassing richness, and, as the pony drew the little carriage up
the hill-side to the peaceful home among the trees, its rarest light
seemed to be intensified in and reflected from the radiant face of the
blind girl.

Elsie spoke no more that night, and the others made no attempt to
disturb her blissful silence.  In the middle of the night Mrs du Plessis
arose, lit a candle and stepped softly to the room where the blind girl
slept alone.  She was dreaming, and her lips were parted in a smile.
Her long, brown lashes lay darkly fringed upon her cheeks, her face and
throat had lost their marble pallor and were faintly tinged with the
most delicate rose.  Adown her sides and completely concealing her arms
flowed the double cataract of her peerless hair.  Across her bosom and
concealing her clasped hands, the streams coalesced into a golden billow
which, as it heaved to her breath showed full of changing lights.

The kind woman gazed, spell-bound, until happy tears came and blurred
her vision.  Then, with thanks to the Power which had sent this angel to
her household upon her lips, she noiselessly withdrew.



CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

FATHER AND DAUGHTER.

Stephanus Van Der Walt had entered the door of his prison with the firm
conviction that his God--the just and mighty God of the Psalms that he
knew so well--had laid this burthen upon him for his great
transgressions.  In the light of his changed heart all the provocation
which Gideon had given him seemed to melt away like snowflakes in the
sunshine, whilst his own contributions to the long-drawn-out quarrel
waxed larger and blacker the more he looked at them.

The exaltation of spirit which buoyed him up when he received his
sentence had never flagged.  He gloried in his sufferings.  His only
prayer was that God might not visit his crimes upon his innocent
children,--that Elsie, his little blind child, might have the shield of
divine protection extended over her helplessness--that Marta, the wife
whom he had neglected, and Sara, his elder daughter who stood on the
threshold of womanhood, might find the wind of adversity tempered to
their need.

When he heard of Marta's death he bent his head anew in bitter
self-reproach.  He felt he had left the weak woman whom he had vowed to
cherish alone and unprotected,--disgraced and sorrowful.  Up till now he
had been happy--happier than he had felt for years, for his heart was no
longer the home of torturing hate.  He felt that this later misfortune
was sent to chasten him,--a thing which his imprisonment had failed to
do.  He took his wife's death as a sign of the wrath of the Almighty,
and he winced at the soreness of the stroke.

But when, a year later, the loss of his little blind daughter became
known to Stephanus, his bones seemed to turn to water and light died out
of his life.  It was the uncertainty of her fate which made the blow so
terrible.  Month by month would he write letters asking for news and
suggesting places to be searched.  Had her body only been found it would
have brought some consolation.  But no--God's wrath was still sore
against him.  It was his perfect trust in God's justice that saved him
from despair.  He had no hope that Elsie was alive; God, he firmly
believed, had taken her to himself, and had left her fate uncertain so
as to punish her father, who was the greatest of sinners.

His health nearly broke down under the strain.  However, his sublime
faith triumphed in time--he bent his back to the sore stroke and the
soreness grew less.

Stephanus was employed with the ordinary convict gang in the
stone-quarries upon Robben Island.  For the first few years he had
worked in chains.  Afterwards his good conduct had attracted so much
remark that he was freed from his fetters and allowed several privileges
which, however, he always tried to pass on to his fellow-convicts.

Whenever any of the others fell sick, it was Stephanus who would
tirelessly nurse them, night and day.  He had even offered on one
occasion to receive corporal punishment to which another prisoner had
been sentenced, but this, of course, the authorities would not allow.

Since his prostration consequent upon the news of Elsie's disappearance
Stephanus had not been asked to do any labour in the quarries.
Moreover, he had not been forced to cut his hair or beard of late years.
These were snow-white and of considerable length, and, combined with
his upright figure, strongly marked features, and keen but kindly eyes,
gave him that appearance we are accustomed to associate with the Hebrew
prophets filled with the fire of inspiration.

An early breakfast was hardly over at the du Plessis' home next morning,
before Mr Brand appeared, armed with permission for himself and Elsie to
visit the convict van der Walt.  They drove down to the wharf, where
they found a boat awaiting them.  The day was clear and bracing and the
stout boat flew before the south-east wind across the heaving welter of
Table Bay.

Although Elsie had never been on the sea before, she felt neither alarm
nor inconvenience.  In the course of a couple of hours the keel grated
on the shingle and the passengers were carried ashore through the surf.

Her impatience had given place to a feeling of calm, and she paced up
the pathway to the prison without the least appearance of agitation.
Leaving her in charge of the wife of one of the officials, Mr Brand
went to prepare Stephanus for the great surprise.

Elsie's beauty became almost unearthly when she was led up the stone
steps, at the other side of which she knew her father was waiting to
receive her.  She entered a flagged passage and then was led to a
doorway on the right.  The door opened, and she stepped into the room
where her father was waiting.  He, with a wild look of astonishment and
almost incredulity, clasped her in his arms.  The door was gently
closed, leaving the two alone together.

Some time elapsed before any words were spoken.  Stephanus drew Elsie
upon his knee and she passed her white hands over his worn face in the
old enquiring way.  The wrinkled lines that had been ploughed deep by
sorrow were traced by her fingers, one by one.  Then she clasped her
arms around his neck and laid her face against his.

Stephanus could hardly bring himself to believe, at first, that this
beautiful and daintily dressed young woman was the roughly-clad and
unkempt little girl he had parted from so long ago.  The rest of mind
and body she had enjoyed,--the calm and wholesome life she had led
during the past few years had blotted out the traces of the hardships
she had undergone, and had fostered her physical development.  The
serenity of her spirit had stamped itself upon her beautiful face and
she had imbibed the refinement of her surroundings as though to the
manner born.

When, at length, her speech came, and her father learnt, bit by bit, all
she had endured for his sake, his tears fell fast.  But for her the
bitterness of the past only enhanced the happiness of the present.  Even
when he laid a charge upon her, which almost seemed to take away the
true value of all she had suffered for his sake, she did not attempt to
repine.

"God laid this punishment upon me," said Stephanus, "and it is His will
that I should bear it to the end."

"But when I tell them what I heard they will surely set you free."

"My child,--God does not smite without knowing where and how the stripes
will fall."

"But you did not mean to shoot Uncle Gideon, and he knew it when he
spoke at your trial."

"My child,--you have been brave for my sake, and we will soon be happy
together once more.  I lay this charge upon you:--that you go back to
the farm,--to your uncle's house, and wait for me there.  Moreover, that
you say not a word to anyone of what you know.  If God wants this
revealed He will reveal it in His own way."

Elsie no longer questioned her father's decision.  It was agreed between
them that as soon as arrangements could be made she was to return to
Elandsfontein, and there await her father's release.

Elsie and Mr Brand slept at the house of the Superintendent of the
Convict Station that night, and returned to the mainland next morning.

There was grief and dismay in the du Plessis' household when it became
known that Elsie was about to take her departure.  It was as though a
child of their own were leaving.  They tried every persuasive argument
to detain her, but all were of no avail.  It was pointed out that if she
remained in Cape Town she would be near her father and could return with
him after his release.  But his will to her was law, and her
determination was not to be shaken.

A letter was written to Gideon apprising him of the fact that his niece
had been found, and another to Uncle Diederick, asking him to come and
fetch Elsie with his tent-wagon and a team of Stephanus' oxen.  In due
course a reply was received, to the effect that Gideon was absent on a
hunting trip, and that Uncle Diederick would start for Cape Town in the
course of a few days, accompanied by Elsie's cousin Adrian.

Elsie had begged that enquiry should be made as to whether Kanu had
returned to the farm, but nothing had been seen or heard of him there.
This was, of course, a very fortunate circumstance for the Bushman.  Had
he ever been found and recognised, it is to be feared that a short
shrift and a round bullet would have been his portion.



CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

ADRIAN AND JACOMINA.

Aletta, who had mentally and physically become grey like her
surroundings, like a tree growing in a damp and dark corner which has
long since given up the attempt to shine and burgeon like its fellows
that rejoice in the sunlight--received the news of Elsie's having been
found with but a faint shock of surprise and satisfaction.  Her
perceptions had become dulled by the woe-laden years.  Sara had, some
two years previously, married a young farmer from an adjoining district.

Uncle Diederick was glad of the opportunity of visiting Cape Town; he
had heard of some wonderful new discoveries in the drug line, and he
wanted to advance professionally with the times.  His farming on joint
behalf of himself and Stephanus had prospered.  He felt that when his
(at present) sleeping partner should be released, he, Uncle Diederick,
would be able to build himself another "hartebeeste house" of ample
proportions and sumptuous style, and devote his energies exclusively to
the exercise of that healing art which his whole soul loved.

Adrian had--being of a careful and frugal nature--begun acquiring stock
when still very young.  This had increased considerably, owing to a long
series of excellent seasons and the exercise of careful management.
Thus, he had recently found himself quite rich enough to start farming
on his own account.  When, however, he mooted this contingency with his
father, Gideon at once offered him a full partnership in the farm as a
going concern, leaving him the unrestricted management and only
stipulating for the supply of teams of oxen and relays of horses for use
on the hunting trips upon which he now spent by far the greater
proportion of his time.  Adrian at once closed with the offer.

Whilst Uncle Diederick was making preparations for his trip the thought
struck Adrian that the present might prove a good opportunity for him to
visit that city which he had never yet seen.  He felt that not alone
could he make the journey pay its expenses, but that a handsome profit
might be won by taking down a load of produce and bringing back another
of supplies.  So he overhauled his wagon, packed it with ostrich
feathers and hides and then sent over to tell Uncle Diederick of his
intention.

Uncle Diederick had arranged to start on the third day following.
Adrian's notification came in the form of a message sent through a
Hottentot who was directed to enquire as to the hour of Uncle
Diederick's intended departure, so that the wagon might arrive at the
spot where the two roads from the respective homesteads met, at the same
time.  Up to this it had been understood that Jacomina was to remain
behind and attend to any patients who might turn up.

"Pa," said that artless damsel, at supper, "it will be very lonely here
while you are away."

A quizzical expression crinkled over the withered-apple-like visage of
Uncle Diederick.  Otherwise he impassively went on with his meal.

"Yes,--and I have never seen Cape Town.  Besides Elsie will be very
lonely on the road if there is not another girl to talk to and look
after her."

After she had obtained her father's consent Jacomina began at once
making preparations for her trip.  Her best frock was taken from the box
and thoroughly overhauled, her smartest _cappie_ and her newest
_veldschoens_ were laid ready for the morrow.  A brooch of old
workmanship and some other trinkets which had drifted into Uncle
Diederick's coffers in the course of trade, and thence been annexed by
his daughter as part of her share in the profits, were examined and
judiciously selected from.

Next day Adrian was astonished, elated and embarrassed to find Jacomina,
resplendent in what passed, locally, for finery, sitting throned upon
Uncle Diederick's wagon box when the wagons met at the appointed spot.

As a matter of fact Adrian's shyness had grown with his passion until
each had reached a pitch of tragic intensity.  He had often ridden over
to Uncle Diederick's homestead with full and valiant intentions of
declaring his love, but invariably his courage had failed at the last
moment Jacomina had been at her wits' end to bring him to the point of
proposing which, she knew perfectly well, he was longing to do.  She had
tried various ways and means, but all had failed.  When she became cold
he sank into gloomy despondency and moped away by himself.  If she grew
tender he seemed to dissolve in nervousness and grew as shy as a young
girl.  Once, she tried flirtation with another, for the purpose of
arousing jealousy, but the effect was alarming.  Adrian went without
food or sleep for several days and rode about the country like one
demented.

The obvious way to arrange matters would have been to get Uncle
Diederick to intervene.  This, however, in spite of many direct hints
from Jacomina he had declined to undertake.

In the days we tell of no marriage could be solemnised in the Cape
Colony unless the parties had previously appeared before the matrimonial
court in Cape Town.  It is an historical although almost incredible fact
that in the early days of the present century couples wishing to marry
had to come to the metropolis for the purpose from the most distant
parts of the Colony.

Now, in the tender but astute soul of Jacomina a bright and happy
thought had been born.  Like the birth of Athene was the issue of this
fully equipped resolve that stood before Jacomina in sudden and dazzling
completeness.  Adrian was to accompany her and her father to Cape
Town,--she would induce him to propose on the way down and then there
would be no difficulty in leading him up to the marrying point.  He was
of full age; she was accompanied by her father.  There was no reason why
the wedding should not take place at once, and thus save them all the
necessity for another trip.

Adrian's shyness did not diminish during the journey.  At each outspan
Jacomina exercised all her faculties to shine as a cook.  He shewed by
his appetite that he deeply appreciated the results, but he got no
farther than this.  With her own deft hands would Jacomina mix Adrian's
well-known quantity of milk and sugar with his coffee, and then pass him
the cup which he would receive so tremblingly that the contents were in
danger.

The skin bag of rusks made so crisp and light that they would melt
instantaneously and deliciously in coffee or milk--the jar of pickled
"_sassatyes_,"--hanks of "_bultong_" and other delicacies would be
produced from the wagon-chest at each outspan and, if Adrian's passion
might be gauged by his appetite, he was, indeed, deeply enamoured.

But Jacomina was at her wits' end,--her lover would not declare himself,
do what she might.  One day, however, some difficulty arose with the
gear of Adrian's wagon, so that off Uncle Diederick started alone, its
owner's intention being to wait for his travelling companion at the next
outspan place, where water and pasturage were known to be good.  Uncle
Diederick, as was his wont, fell asleep shortly after a start had been
made.  Jacomina sat at the opening of the vehicle behind, gazing back
along the road in the direction of where she had left her lover.

It was a drowsy day; a faint haze brooded over the land; not a breath
stirred the air, faint with the scent of the yellow acacia blooms.  The
road was deep with heavy sand, through which the oxen slowly and
noiselessly ploughed.

A small, bush--brimming _kloof_ was crossed.  Through it sped a small
stream, plashing over a rocky bar into a pool around which nodded a
sleepy forest of ferns.  Jacomina put her head out of the back of the
tent.  Then she sprang from the back of the wagon and went to examine
the grot.  She found a flat ledge, out of range of the spray, which made
a most convenient seat, so she sate herself down and contemplated the
scene.

Jacomina liked the scenery so much that she determined to stay for a few
minutes, and then follow the retreating wagon.  Anon she thought she
would wait a little longer and get Adrian to give her a seat as he came
past.  The Hottentot driver had seen her dismount, so her father would
know that she had not fallen off and got hurt, at all events.

She sat among the ferns for a good half-hour before she heard the shouts
of the driver urging on the labouring team.  Then the wagon laboured
through the _kloof_, and Jacomina peered through the ferns as it passed
her.

Adrian was walking behind the wagon, with long, slow strides and bent
head.  Jacomina was just about to arise and call out to him when he
lifted his face at the sound of the plashing water, hesitated for a few
seconds, and then stepped towards the grot.

Jacomina knew, instinctively, that the hour she had long hoped for had
come; that her lover was at length to be caught in the toils which she
had, half-unwittingly, set for his diffident feet,--and the knowledge
filled her with a feeling of bashfulness to which she had hitherto been
a stranger.  Thus, when Adrian walked heavily through the fern and
almost touched her dress before he perceived her, she felt covered with
confusion.

Adrian started as though he had seen a ghost.  Jacomina lifted a
blushing face and gave him an instantaneous glance from her bright
eyes--made brighter now by a suspicion of tears.  Then she bent her face
forward upon her hands and began to sob.

Adrian was bewildered.  This was something he had never thought the
matter-of-fact Jacomina capable of.  Something must be very wrong
indeed.  But he felt no longer awe, and his shyness was swept away in a
tide of pity.  There was room on the ledge for two; Adrian sat down next
to the distressed damsel and endeavoured to comfort her.

"What is it, then, Jacomyntje,--has your Pa been scolding you?"

Jacomina nearly gave herself away by indignantly repudiating the bare
notion of her succumbing to anybody's scolding, but she remembered
herself in time.  After a partial recovery she was seized by another
paroxysm of sobs, in the course of which she pressed one hand across her
eyes and allowed the other to droop, limply, to her side.  No observer
of human nature will be in doubt as to which hand it was she let droop.

Adrian, after a moment's hesitation, nervously lifted the hand and
pressed it slightly.  As it was not withdrawn he increased the pressure.
The sobbing calmed down somewhat, but the head remained bowed in an
apparent abandon of hope.

"What is it, Jacomina; tell me why you are weeping."

"Ach, Adrian,--I am so unhappy."

This was getting no farther forward.  The sobbing again recurred, and
the fingers of the sufferer took a tight grasp of those of the consoler.
Then the afflicted form swayed so helplessly that Adrian felt bound to
support it with his arm, and in a moment the head of Jacomina reposed
quietly upon his breast.

"What is it, 'Meintje; tell me?"

There was no reply.  Adrian looked down upon the sorrow-bowed head and
felt that the growing lassitude of the girl called for firmer support,
which was at once forthcoming.  The experience was new and alarming but,
taken all round, he liked it.  Jacomina was no longer formidable; in a
few moments he forgot that he had ever been afraid of her.

"Come, Jacomyn', tell me what is the matter."

"Oh, Adrian,--I am afraid to tell you for fear you would despise me."

"Despise you?  No, you know I could never do that."

"I am so unhappy because--because you used to like me so much, and now
you never speak to me."

Jacomina had now come to believe in the genuineness of her own woe, so
she fell into a flood of real and violent tears.  Adrian gradually
gathered her into his arms, and she allowed herself to be consoled.
After a very few minutes a full understanding was arrived at; then
Jacomina recovered herself with remarkable rapidity, and recollected
that the wagons were far ahead.  Adrian's shyness had by this time
completely gone, so much so that Jacomina had some difficulty in getting
him to make a start.  In fact she had to escape from his arms by means
of a subterfuge and dart away along the road.  Her lover did not lose
much time in following her.  The course was interrupted by amatory
interludes whenever the wayside boskage was propitious, so it was not
before the outspanning took place that the wagons were reached.

When the blushing pair stood before Uncle Diederick, that man of
experiences did not need to have matters explained to him.

"Well, Jacomina," he said, "I'll have to see about getting a wife myself
now.  But you need not be afraid on account of Aunt Emerencia; no one,
who is not a fool, buys an old mare when he can get a young one for the
same price."

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

Uncle Diederick, who had not been to Cape Town since the days of his
early youth, was very much impressed by everything he saw, but by
nothing so much as the chemists' shops.  He never got tired at gazing at
the rows of bottles with their various coloured contents.  He wandered
from one drug emporium to another, until he made the acquaintance of an
affable young assistant who dispensed with an engaging air from behind a
counter deeply laden with wondrous appliances and enticing compounds.
This young man loved experiment for its own sake, and he had a wide
field for the exercise of his hobby among the poorer classes, who
usually came to him for panaceas for their minor ills.

As Paul sat at the feet of Gamaliel, Uncle Diederick sat on a
high-legged stool in the chemist's shop, drinking in greedily the lore
which fell from the young man's lips, and making notes of the same in a
tattered pocket-book, with a very stumpy pencil.  Thus Uncle Diederick
widened his medical knowledge considerably, until he felt that all worth
knowing of the healing art was now at his command.  The young man was
the only one who suffered; his moral character became sadly deteriorated
owing to the reverence with which Uncle Diederick regarded him, and the
wrapt attention with which every essay of his was observed and recorded.

Eventually Uncle Diederick placed an order worth about ten pounds at the
shop, and obtained copious directions as to treatment of the different
maladies which the contents of each bulky bottle might be expected to
cure.

The wagons had outspanned on the mountain slope, not far below the du
Plessis' dwelling.  Jacomina was much impressed at the luxuriousness of
Elsie's surroundings and the quality of the stuff of which her garments
were made.  Gertrude and Helena tried to be civil and attentive to
Jacomina and Adrian but--well, Jacomina was not long in seeing that the
two town-bred girls were much more attractive than she was herself, and
she did not care to appear at a disadvantage before her lover.  Elsie
she did not at first feel jealous of.  As she expressed it to Adrian,
the blind girl reminded her of the great peak at the head of the Tanqua
valley, when it was covered with snow in winter.  One day, however, she
observed a look upon Adrian's face as he was regarding his cousin, which
made her resolve to hurry on the wedding at all hazards.

At the lower end of Plein Street was a shop, a mere contemplation of the
contents of which filled Jacomina's soul with satisfaction.  It was a
large emporium, specially stocked and arranged for the purpose of
supplying the needs of the farmers visiting the metropolis.  At this
establishment produce of all kinds was purchased, the value being
usually taken out in goods--a double profit thus being secured by the
management.  Everything--from hardware to drapery, from groceries to
hymn-books could here be purchased.

It was at the establishment described that Uncle Diederick and Adrian
had disposed of their respective loads of produce, and Jacomina had had
a certain sum placed to her credit in the books.  Each day she would
spend several hours wandering through the store, from one bewildering
room to another, and now and then making a small purchase after such
protracted deliberation and examination as drove the assistants well
over the bounds of distraction.  The object which most fascinated
Jacomina was a dummy attired in gorgeous bridal array and enclosed in a
glazed frame.  This model, strange to say, bore a remote resemblance to
Jacomina herself, and might have easily passed for an intentional
likeness had its inane simper been changed into a smart and decidedly
wide-awake expression.

No youthful artist hovered, fascinated, before Milo's Venus so devotedly
as did Jacomina before this glass shrine in which seemed to be housed
the Goddess of Love.  She breathed no conscious prayer to the deity; yet
it was in one of her ecstasies of worship that an inspiration came to
her which eventuated in propitiously bringing about the end she had in
view.

Jacomina fell into bad spirits, and grew cold to her lover.  Adrian
became distressed and redoubled his attentions.  Jacomina one day
arranged so that she met Adrian on his way to the city.  She tried to
avoid him, but he pursued her and persuaded her to accompany him for the
sake of the walk, which was to be to the shop of perennial attractions.
As the pair entered the establishment, Jacomina hesitated for an
instant, bent her head and seemed as though about to retrace her steps
into the street.  A wild hope surged up in the breast of a counter-clerk
who had seen her approach, and now thought he was going to have a
respite.

Adrian became perplexed and bent over Jacomina's bowed head with
solicitude.  Then, with a mighty effort she managed to raise a blush;
lifting her face, when she had succeeded, to that of her lover for a
ravishing instant.  After a pause she allowed herself to be reluctantly
drawn into the building.

Before the door, which led into the drapery department--which Adrian had
not previously visited, stood the shrine, and from it the goddess beamed
down upon the pair with inane benignity.  Adrian caught a glimpse of the
ravishing form, and was at once struck by the resemblance it bore to his
beloved.  A wild tumult seethed up in his ingenuous breast.  Just like
that, he felt, Jacomina would look if similarly attired.  The
embarrassed damsel moved away, causing consternation behind the counter
she approached, and left her spell-bound adorer gaping.

Adrian transacted his business with masculine promptitude, and then
sought for Jacomina, whom he found at a counter absorbed in the
examination of many coils of ribbon.  But she had executed the real
business she had visited the shop for to her entire satisfaction, so she
went away with her lover at once, leaving behind her a general sense of
relief.

Adrian tried to steer his course for an exit past the shrine, but
Jacomina knew it would be a better move to get out by another door.
When they were in the street Adrian began to refer to the subject which
had caused such a ferment in his bosom:

"Jacomyn--that girl in the white dress.  I wonder who made her.  She
looked just like you."

"Ach, Adrian,--how can you joke so?"

"Jacomina,--she's really just like you, only not half so pretty.  I--I--
I'd like to see you in a dress like that, Jacomina."

"Ach, Adrian,--how can you talk like that?  It's only town girls that
ever dress like that and then only--"

"But, Jacomyn,--when we get married you might buy that very dress and
put it on.  I--I--I wonder if they'd sell it.  They might easily make
another for the figure in the glass case."

Jacomina sighed deeply, and looked down with an air of mingled dejection
and confusion.

"That dress will be old before I will want it," she said.

"How can you talk like that?  Why, I want you to put a dress like that
on very soon."

Jacomina sighed deeply and did not speak for a while.  Then she sadly
said--raising, as she spoke, her eyes to Adrian's emotion-lit face:

"I know that my father will go to live at the old place as soon as we
return, and it will be years and years before he will ever come to Cape
Town again.  No, Adrian,--you had better forget me, and look out for
some girl whose father will be able to bring her to Cape Town soon.  I
do not want you to be bound to one who may have to keep you waiting such
a long, long time."

The sentence ended with a sob.  They had now reached beyond the
outskirts of the dwellings, and were on a pathway which meandered
between patches of scrub.  At an appropriate spot Jacomina darted in
behind a thicket, sank with every appearance of exhaustion on to a
stone, and burst into tears.

"Leave me,--leave me,"--she sobbed, as her lover, fondly solicitous,
attempted to console her.  "I have had a dream; I know I shall never be
able to come to Cape Town again.  Go away, Adrian, and find some girl
who will not have to keep you waiting for years and then die without
making you happy."

Adrian became seriously alarmed.  Like most of his class, he was a firm
believer in dreams.  Jacomina became more wildly dear at the thought of
losing her.  His mind sought distractedly for an expedient to avert the
threatened doom.  Then the memory of the goddess flitted across his
brain and gave him an inspiration.

"Jacomina,--I will buy that dress and we can be married at once.  I will
go straight back now and ask the price of it."

Jacomina feebly shook her head, but surrendered herself insensibly to
her lover's embrace.  Then followed hotly-pressed argument on his side,
feebly, but mournfully combated on hers.  Eventually she agreed to leave
the matter in the joint hands of her lover and her father.  She then
allowed herself to be led home, leaning heavily on the arm of her
enraptured adorer.  Both were equally happy; each had gained that point
the attainment of which was most desired.

No difficulty was experienced in obtaining Uncle Diederick's consent to
speedy nuptials.  Much distress was, however, felt by Adrian when he
found, on calling at the emporium next day, that the nuptial robe of the
goddess had been purchased by another prospective bride.  When he
entered the establishment he found the goddess in a lamentable state.
The dress, the veil and the wreath of orange blossoms had disappeared.
The head and face were intact, but the rest of her once-ravishing form
was little else than a wiry skeleton,--not constructed upon any known
anatomical principles.

Adrian's heart sank; he thought of Jacomina's dream.  He had made much
capital out of the garment and its accessories--he had, in fact, used
the goddess as a kind of battering ram wherewith to level Jacomina's
supposed objections to a speedy union; now he thought in his innocence
that Jacomina would draw back from the performance of her side of the
contract.  After hurrying from the emporium with a sinking heart he
arrived, pale and breathless, at the wagon.  Uncle Diederick happened to
be in the City, engaged in the selection of drugs.

"Jacomina,"--panted Adrian, "the dress is gone--sold to someone else--
and it will take a week before another can be made.  Do you think Pa
will wait for a few days more?"

Uncle Diederick had this peculiarity: if he announced his intention of
doing any given thing on a given day, he stuck to his word; nothing
short of absolute necessity would stop him.  It was this that Adrian had
in view.  Uncle Diederick had said that he meant to start on the
following Monday; it was now Tuesday; wedding or no wedding it was quite
certain that he would not alter his plans.

Jacomina put on the look of a virgin saint who had just been condemned
to the lions.

"No, Adrian,--you know Pa _never_ waits."  She spoke with a resigned
sigh.

"But, my little heart,--it will only be for two days."

"Pa _never_ waits.  No, Adrian--we will bid each other good-bye--you
must forget me--My dream--If it had not been this it would have been
something else--Good-bye, Adrian--Think of me sometimes--"

She dissolved in tears.  Adrian sprang to her side and tried to comfort
her, but she was beyond consolation for a long time.  Then she ceased
weeping and sat with her eyes fixed steadfastly on the far away.

"No, Adrian,--I had another dream last night.  I thought I met an old
Bushwoman gathering roots in the veld, and she said to me that if any
delay came you and I would never be married.  Good-bye, Adrian,--I would
only bring you bad luck.  Go and find some other girl--but don't--forget
me--altogether."

The last words were spoken with a sobbing catch.  Adrian became
agonised.  Jacomina, exhausted by her emotions, allowed him to possess
her waist and draw her to him.

"If you would not mind--Of course I know it would not be what I had
promised--but as you have had those dreams;--if you would not mind being
married in another dress;--we might get married on Monday, after all.
Come, Jacomyntye, what does the dress matter?"

Jacomina allowed herself to be persuaded, leaving her lover under the
impression that she was conferring a great favour upon him.  But the
shadow of an abiding sadness was upon her visage, as though she saw the
hand of Fate uplifted to strike her.  She told her lover that he was not
to hope too much--that she felt as though something were sure to
intervene at the last moment.  This made Adrian feverishly anxious that
the ceremony should take place and, had it been possible, he would have
marched down to the church and had the knot tied at once.

Jacomina told him that she did not want to trouble her father, who was
enjoying himself so much, with her forebodings, and accordingly, her
manner in Uncle Diederick's presence was as cheerful as usual.  Adrian
was much impressed by this evidence of filial feeling.  He grew more and
more enamoured as the hours dragged slowly past, and shuddered
increasingly at the imminent catastrophe to which Jacomina continually
alluded when the lovers were alone.

At length the blissful day dawned.  A garment somewhat less ambitious
than that which had clothed the goddess in the glass case had been
hurriedly put together for the occasion, Adrian calling on the
sempstress several times each day, to enquire how the important work was
progressing.  After the ceremony, the bridal party returned to the
wagon, and thence to the du Plessis' house, where a small feast had been
prepared.

Jacomina, feeling herself at a disadvantage, was anxious to get away.
Adrian was speechless with bliss, and had no eyes for anyone but his
bride.  He did not appear to advantage in his new store-clothes, which
did not suit his stalwart form nearly as well as the rough, home-made
garments to which he was accustomed.  Uncle Diederick enjoyed himself
immensely.  He had never previously tasted champagne; under the
influence of the seductive wine he nearly went the length of proposing
marriage to Helena.

In the afternoon a start was made.  Uncle Diederick's wagon had been
comfortably fitted up for Elsie.  Gertrude and Helena accompanied their
friend as far as the first outspan place, where a farewell libation of
coffee was poured out from tin pannikins.  The wagon with the
newly-married pair started first; that of Uncle Diederick remaining
until the pony-carriage, which was sent out to fetch the two girls,
arrived.

The wagon with its green sides and long white tent rolled heavily away
over the sand.  The two girls gazed through their tears until this ship
of the desert which bore back to the unheeding wilds this strange and
beautiful creature who had brightened their home during four happy
years, slowly disappeared.



CHAPTER FIFTEEN.

ELSIE'S RETURN TO ELANDSFONTEIN.

It was late in the evening of a misty, depressing day, when Elsie
arrived at the Elandsfontein homestead.  The same air of unkempt
mournfulness brooded over the place.  Aletta, who had grown stout and
frowsy, had prepared herself to meet her errant niece with bitter
reproaches, but one glance at Elsie's stately presence and superior
attire, proved sufficient to demoralise the aunt.

Aletta had a furtive, crushed look.  The long years of misery and
isolation had left their mark upon her.  The only thing which kept her
above the level of the mere animal was the love she still bore her
husband, in spite of his consistent neglect Gideon had spent the greater
portion of the past four years in wandering vaguely through desert
spaces, the more remote the better.  In fact he only returned to the
farm from time to time to refit his wagon or renew his cattle or stores.
On each occasion of his departure Aletta had made up her mind that she
would never see him again.  He had now been absent for several months,
and none could say when he was likely to return.

But Aletta's curiosity soon got the better of her awe, so one day she
began, tearfully and apologetically, to ask Elsie about her adventures.
Why had she gone--how could she leave them all in such a state of fear
and uncertainty--how could she, a white girl, run away with a Bushman
and thus bring disgrace on respectable people?  The questions came out
in an incoherent torrent, which ended in a flood of tears.

"I went on account of my father," replied Elsie.

"But why did you go without telling us?"

"Had I told you, you would have stopped me."

"But you don't mean to tell me that you and Kanu walked all the way to
Cape Town.  Why, it takes ten days to reach Cape Town with a span of fat
oxen."

"Yes, Kanu and I walked all the way."

"But where is Kanu."

"I cannot say; I thought to have found him here."

"We thought he had taken you away and murdered you.  Had he come back
here he would have been shot."

"Poor Kanu; I am glad he did not return."

"But, my child, there must be more to tell.  Why did you go just then,
and why did you never let us know where you were?"

"There is much to tell, but the time to tell it has not yet come.  When
my father returns you will, perhaps, know all, but until he bids me
speak I cannot."

The blind girl's words made Aletta quail.  The return of Stephanus was
above all the thing she most dreaded.  Deep down in her consciousness
lay a conviction of Stephanus' innocence and her husband's guilt.  This
she had never admitted even to herself.  The first suspicion of the
dreadful truth began to grow upon her immediately after the trial; of
late years suspicion had developed into certainty.  Her knowledge of the
deeply-wronged man led her to infer that he would return raging for
vengeance, and that her husband's life would inevitably pay the penalty
of his sin.  Many a time had she poured out frantic petitions to Heaven
that Stephanus might die in prison, and thus free her husband from the
shadow that darkened his life.  To think now that the event she dreaded
so sorely was about to happen within the space of a few months, turned
her heart to stone.

A few weeks, however, of Elsie's society made her think that possibly
her conviction that Stephanus would come back filled with an implacable
desire for vengeance was a mistaken one.  The pledge which Elsie had
made to her father sealed her lips on the subject of his forgiveness of
the wrong that had been done him, but the influence of her strong, sweet
nature came more and more to still the terror that had recently made
Aletta's life more of a misery to her than ever.  The only hope of the
unhappy woman now lay in the possibility of being able to influence
Stephanus through the child that he loved so dearly, and she meant to
pour out her whole soul, with all its doubts and suspicions to Elsie
before her father's return, and beg for her intercession.

Nearly four months elapsed after Elsie's arrival before her uncle
returned.  One night, late, the footsteps of a horse were heard, and
soon afterwards Gideon entered the house with weary tread.  He had left
the wagon some distance behind.  When Aletta told him of Elsie's return
he started violently and turned deadly pale.  He did not ask where his
niece had been.  As his wife descanted with nervous volubility upon the
mystery, and explained how she had been unsuccessful in eliciting from
Elsie any particulars of her flight and subsequent adventures, Gideon
found himself wondering whether it would not be possible for him to get
away secretly and return to the wilderness, thus to avoid meeting the
accusing look of the blind eyes that he remembered so well and dreaded
so sorely.  But Elsie just then stepped softly into the room.

"Where is Uncle Gideon?" she said in a soft voice.

Gideon gazed in speechless astonishment at Elsie.  His apprehensive eye
wandered over her graceful form and her pallid, beautiful face.  He
noticed how her figure had developed and how the gold had deepened in
her hair.  As Aletta tremblingly led her forward to the bench upon which
Gideon was seated the unhappy man quailed and tried vainly to avoid the
blind, accusing eyes, which seemed to seek his and to hold them when
found.  Elsie lifted her hands and placed them on his shoulders.

"Uncle Gideon," she said, "my father sent me back to live with you until
his release."

Gideon murmured some unintelligible words.  Elsie passed her hands
lightly over his features.  Aletta quietly left the room.

"Yes," said Elsie, "you have suffered; I will try to comfort you, Uncle
Gideon."

A sense of immediate relief came over the unhappy man.  It was now clear
to him that Stephanus could not have told her the truth about the
tragedy at the spring, or else she would never have met him and spoken
to him as she did.  So far it was well, but the fact of Stephanus not
having taken her into his confidence was a proof of the implacability of
his mind.  But in an instant his mind rushed to another conclusion: this
blind creature who loved her wronged father so utterly,--was it not
certain that her desire for vengeance must be as keen as his?  But he
would balk them both by plunging again into the wilderness--so far, this
time, that he would never be able to return.

"A good way to comfort one," he growled ungraciously, "to wander away
with a Bushman and make us run all over the country looking for you."

"Would you like to know, truly, why I went, Uncle Gideon?"

"Oh, as you are back all right now and have had enough to eat, wherever
you have been, it does not matter; you can tell me some other time.--
Only you must not do such a thing again."

"No,--there will be no need for me to do the like again."

Gideon left the room, feeling more and more puzzled.  Each one of
Elsie's ambiguous remarks sent his speculations farther and farther
afield.  One thing only was clear to him,--it was time to carry out that
intention which had been gradually growing of late years as time went by
and his brother did not, as the miserable man had confidently expected,
die in prison.  This was the intention, previously unformulated, of
finally leaving wife, home and everything else and trekking to some
unknown spot far beyond the great, mysterious Gariep,--to some spot so
distant that his brother's vengeance would not be able to reach him, and
there spending the remnant of his miserable days.

To do Gideon but justice, the strongest element in his dread of meeting
Stephanus was not physical but moral.  He felt he could not bear to
confront the stern accusation which he pictured as arising in the
injured man's piercing eyes.  He feared death, for he dared not meet his
God with this unrepented crime on his soul, but he feared it less than
the eyes of his injured brother,--that brother whom he had robbed of ten
precious years of life.



CHAPTER SIXTEEN.

GIDEON'S FLIGHT TO THE WILDERNESS.

After Gideon had become somewhat accustomed to Elsie's presence that awe
with which she had at first inspired him began to lessen.  Now that he
meant to go away finally nothing she knew or could do mattered to him
very much.  He was fond of Aletta in a way,--more or less as one is fond
of a faithful dog, but she was the only being in the wide world who
cared for him, so he felt the prospect of parting from her very keenly.
He determined to make a full confession of his transgression to her
before leaving, feeling persuaded that thenceforth she would look upon
him with abhorrence and thus would not sorrow at his departure.  The
thought that he was about to destroy his patient wife's regard for his
lonely self was not the least of Gideon's troubles.

He tried to carry off his distress with an air of unconcern which,
however, did not deceive anyone.  As the preparations for his departure
were being hurried towards completion he became more talkative than
usual.  Aletta, at the near prospect of the parting, was sunk in the
depths of misery.  Adrian and his wife who resided with Uncle Gideon,
now and then visited the homestead.  Jacomina had refused to leave her
father, on the pretext that her assistance in his medical practice was
indispensable.  The true reason was, however, that she wanted, if
possible, to prevent him marrying again.

Elsie, to whom the night was as the day, continued her old habit of
wandering abroad after all the others had gone to bed.  She invariably
dressed in light colours and used to flit like a ghost among the trees.
Gideon had dubbed her "White Owl," and he never addressed her as
anything else.

Two days before Gideon's intended departure the three were sitting at
breakfast.  A messenger who had been despatched to the residence of the
Field Cornet, some forty miles away, was seen approaching.  Gideon was
in one of his forced sardonic moods.

"Aletta," he said, "your eyes are red again; have you been boiling
soap?"

"No, Gideon; it is not only the steam from the soap-pot that reddens the
eyes."

"Has the maid spoilt a batch of bread?  If she has, _her_ eyes ought to
be red and not yours."

"No, Gideon,--the bread has been well baked."

"What is the matter, then?  Sunday, Monday and Tuesday your face is like
a pumpkin when the rain is falling; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday the
water is still running; Saturday it is not dry.  Did you ever laugh in
your life?"

"It is long since I have heard you laugh, Gideon."

"I?  I can laugh now,--Well,--you have never seen me weep."

"Would to God you did rather than laugh like that."

"Uncle Gideon," said Elsie, "one day your tears will flow."

"When will that day come, White Owl?"

"When my father's prison doors are opened."

Gideon glared at her, terror and fury writ large upon his distorted
face.  Just then a knock was heard; Aletta arose and went to the door
where she found the returned messenger, who had just off-saddled his
horse.  She came back to the table and silently laid a letter before
Gideon who, when he recognised the handwriting started violently.  After
looking at the letter for a few seconds he picked it up as though about
to open it; then he flung the missive down and hurried from the room.

"Elsie," said Aletta in agitated tones, "here is a letter from your
father."

Elsie sprang to her feet.

"Read it,--read it,--Aunt," she said, "perhaps the prison doors are
open."

Aletta opened the letter with shaking fingers and read it aloud
laboriously and in an agitated voice:--

"My Brother Gideon,

"In three days from now I shall once more walk God's earth--a free man.
Because I worked well and did as I was bidden without question, my time
of punishment has been shortened.  From our cousins at Stellenbosch I
have obtained a wagon and oxen, by means of which I shall at once hurry
home.  When this reaches you I shall be well on my way.  My first
business must be to see you.

"We two have a reckoning to make together.  It will be best that we be
alone when it is made.

"Your brother,

"Stephanus."

Aletta uttered a moan and bent forward with her face on the table.
Elsie, with a rapt smile on her face stood up and laid her hand upon her
aunt's shoulder.  Then a hurried step was heard and Gideon entered the
room.

Seeing the letter lying upon the table where it had fallen from his
wife's nerveless hand, Gideon picked it up and hurriedly read it
through.  Then, with a curse, he flung it down.

"Aletta," he cried, "I am going at once.  I cannot meet him.  God--why
was I born this man's brother?--Nine long years thirsting for my blood."

"It is not your blood that he wants, Uncle Gideon," said Elsie in a calm
tone.

"Yes,--yes, Gideon," said Aletta, "go away for a time.  I will keep him
here and try to soften his heart."

"Yes,--keep him here for a time--for only a little time--but I shall go
away for ever.  I shall go where never a white man's foot has trod, and
when I can go no farther I will dig my own grave."

"Do not go, Uncle Gideon," said Elsie, "stay and meet him."

"Silence, blind tiger's cub that wants my blood.  Get out of my sight."

"You will not go so far but that he will find you," said Elsie as she
moved from the room.  "He will have his reckoning.  He does not want
your blood."

"Aletta, I have told them to inspan the wagon and start.  Put in my food
and bedding at once.  When the wagon has gone we will talk; I will
follow it on horseback.  I have things to tell you that will make you
hate me and wish never to see my face again."

"Nothing could make that happen.--Gideon, I know--"

"Wait,--let me see when this letter was written--Christ! it is thirteen
days old,--he must be nearly here--"

Gideon rushed from the room and began to hurry the servants in their
preparations for departure.  The oxen had just been driven down from
their grazing ground high on the mountain side.  The wagon had been
hurriedly packed with bedding, water, food and other stores.  The mob of
horses were driven in from the kraal; Gideon gave hurried directions to
the Hottentot servants as to which were to be selected.  Soon the wagon
was lumbering heavily up the steep mountain track towards the unknown,
mysterious North, in the direction where Gideon had so sorely and vainly
sought for the dwelling-place of Peace.

The horses were now caught and Gideon's favourite hunting steed saddled
up.  The spare horses were led after the wagon by a Hottentot
after-rider.  Then Gideon entered the house to take farewell of his
wife.

He bent down and kissed her almost passionately on the lips.

"Aletta," he said, "you will not understand me; nobody could.  What I
have done will seem to you the worst of sins;--yet to me it was right--
and yet it has hung like a millstone about my neck all these years."

Aletta seized one of his hands between hers.

"It will fall from you if you repent," she said.

"Repent.  Never.  He deserved it; I would do it again to-morrow.
Aletta," (here he moved towards the door, trying to disengage his hand)
"Stephanus never meant to shoot me; the gun went off by accident.  I
accused him falsely and he has suffered all these years for a thing he
did not do.  Now,--good-bye."

He again tried to escape, but Aletta held him fast.

"Come back, come back, Gideon,--I have known this for years."

"Known it?"

"Yes,--and so has Elsie, although no word of it has passed between us."

"Do not think that I regret it; do not think that I repent.  He deserved
it all, and more.  Think of all he did to me.--And yet I fear to meet
him.--That blind girl--she wants to dip her white fingers in my blood--
and yet I do not fear his killing me.  Do you know why I am running away
from him?"

"Yes, you fear to meet his eyes."

"That is it,--his eyes.  I am not afraid of death at his hands--although
I suppose God will send me to burn in Hell for doing the work He keeps
for His own hands.--And he means to kill me when he finds me--the White
Owl knows it--but his eyes--Nine years chained up with blacks, thinking
the whole time of his wrong and his revenge.--You remember how big and
fierce his eyes used to get in anger.--I have seen them across the
plains and the mountains for nine years, getting bigger and fiercer.
They are always glaring at me; I fear them more than his bullet."

"Yes, Gideon, it is well that you go away for a time.  I will try what I
can do.  He is getting to be an old man now and anger does not burn so
hotly in the old as in the young.  I will not speak to him now, but when
he has been free for a time I will kneel to him and beg him to forgive
for Marta's sake, and Elsie's.  Elsie does not hate you, Gideon."

"She must, if she knows what I have done to her father.  She hates me.
You heard what she said about his having his reckoning.  Were his anger
to cool she would light it anew with those eyes of hers that glow like
those of a lion in the dark.  But anger such as his does not cool."

"Gideon, you are wrong about Elsie; she loves her father, but she will
not counsel him to take revenge.  Oh, Gideon, we are old now, and this
hatred has kept us in cold and darkness all our lives.  One little,
happy year; then the first quarrel,--and ever since misery and
loneliness.  If he forgives, you will come back.  Do not take away my
only hope."

"He will never forgive."

"I will follow him about and kneel to him every day until he forgives.
Then you will come back and we will again be happy--just a little
happiness and peace before we die."

"Happy, Aletta?  There is no more happiness for us.  He--he killed our
joy years back, for ever.  I go away now and I shall never return.  Get
Adrian and his wife to come and live here.  For years I have known that
this would happen.  At first I hoped that he would die; then I knew that
God was keeping him alive and well and strong to punish me for doing His
work.  I have made over the farm and stock to you; the papers are in the
camphor-wood box.  Good-bye,--we must never meet again."

"My husband, the desert, holds spoor a long time.  The sand-storm blots
it out for a distance, but it is found again farther on.  When Stephanus
forgives I will follow you and bring you back."

"No, Aletta, we will meet no more.  When I die my bones will lie where
no Christian foot has ever trod."

"Gideon, on the day when Stephanus forgives I will go forth seeking you,
and I will seek until I find you or until I die in the waste."

When Gideon van der Walt reached the mountain saddle at the head of the
kloof, across which the track which led into the desert plains of
Bushmanland passed, he turned and took a long look at his homestead.
Then his glance wandered searchingly over the valley in which his life
had been passed.  There it lay, green and fertile,--for the
south-western rains had fallen heavily and often during the last few
months.  The black, krantzed ranges glowed in the noontide sun.  The
last spot his eye rested upon before he crossed the saddle was the
little patch of vivid foliage surrounding the spring on the tiny ripples
of which his life and the lives of so many others had been wrecked.
Just on the edge of the copse the stream seemed to hang like a bright
jewel, as the sunlight glinted from the pure, limpid water.

As Gideon turned away his eyes grew moist for an instant, and he felt a
queer, unbidden feeling of almost tenderness for the brother with whom
among these hills and valleys he had played and hunted in the days of
his innocence, creeping like a tendril about his heart.  But he crushed
the feeling down, and rode on with his hat pressed over his eyebrows.

On the other side of the mountain pass the outlook was different.  He
was on the north-eastern limit of the coast rains.  Bushmanland depended
for its uncertain rainfall upon thunderstorms from the north in the
summer season.  But for two years no rain had fallen anywhere near the
southern fringe of the desert, so the plains which stretched forth
northward from Gideon's feet were utterly void of green vegetation.

To one familiar with the desert the sight before him had an awful
significance; it meant that there was no water, nor any vegetation worth
considering for at least a hundred and fifty miles.  Gideon had known,
by the fact of the larger game flocking down into the valleys, that
Bushmanland was both verdureless and waterless, and that anyone who
should attempt to cross it would incur a terrible risk.

But nothing before him could compete for terror with what he was fleeing
from.  Setting spurs to his horse Gideon passed the wagon; then he rode
ahead at a walk, the patient oxen following with the rumbling wagon,
upon his tracks.



CHAPTER SEVENTEEN.

THE RETURN OF STEPHANUS.

"Come, child, it is past our time for sleep," said Aletta.  She was
sitting on the sofa in the _voorhuis_.  It was midnight of the day of
Gideon's departure.  Elsie stood at the open window which faced the
south.  The night was still and sultry and a dense fog covered the
earth.

"I shall not go to bed to-night, Aunt.  My father draws near.  His wagon
has reached the sand-belt where the dead tree stands."

"Nonsense, child, the sand-belt is an hour's ride on horseback from
here.  Let us pray to God for sleep and good dreams, and then lie down
until the day comes."

"I shall not go to bed to-night; my father is coming."

"Nonsense, nonsense,--you cannot hear at such a distance."

"I can hear, and the sound stills the long pain in my heart.  My father
draws near and nearer."

"Well--well--perhaps it is true--perhaps--"

She fell upon her knees and threw up her clasped hands.  "Oh God, let
him not come before my husband is far away.  Oh God,--I am blameless.--
Grant me only this."

Elsie approached her with a smile, bent down and encircled her with a
protecting arm and then drew her gently to a seat.

"Aunt,--let me talk to you: Do you know that I am often very glad that I
was born blind?"

"Glad you are blind?"

"Yes, because I have knowledge of many things unknown to people who can
see."

"What kind of things?"

"Many things of many kinds.  For instance:--to-night you cannot see the
stars; a dry mist has rolled up from the sea since we have been in this
room; it covers the valley like a blanket.  But the hill-tops are clear;
they are hidden from you, but I can see them--and the stars above, as
well.--And my father draws nearer."

"God's mercy forbid.  Three days,--three short days is all I ask for."

"Where you see but clouds I see the stars; where you see danger I see
joy.  You fear my father without cause."

"Without cause.--Nine long years--no cause--?"

"There was cause enough, but my father is not angry."

"Not angry?  Hark.  Did you not hear a sound?"

"Yes, I hear the wild ostriches booming in the valley."

"Close the window and come away, child; the darkness is full of horror.
You are right not to go to bed.  I could not sleep to-night."

"Why do you fear the open window, Aunt?"

"The night is dark."  She shuddered and crouched into the corner of the
sofa.

"The day is ever dark to me, yet I fear not."

"Last night the dogs howled and I saw white shapes flitting among the
trees where the graves are."

"What of that?  Shapes often flit about me; I call them and they are
here; I bid them depart and they are gone."

"Child,--you are blind and thus cannot understand.--Hark.--Is not that a
sound of shouting, afar off?"

"It is but the jackals howling on the hill-side.--The time has not yet
come.--But, Aunt,--let me tell you farther of the things I know."

"Not to-night,--I am in terror enough as it is."

"What I have to tell you will not terrify you, for you are guiltless."

"Guiltless,--yes; but God visits the sins of the guilty upon the
guiltless.  But it is not for myself that I fear."

"One of the things which I see with clearness is that there is no reason
for your terror."

Aletta bowed her head forward on her hands.  The candle had almost burnt
out; only a faint, uncertain flicker arose out of the socket.  She
started, and lifted her head:

"Listen,--that is surely a sound."

"Yes,--the springbucks came over the mountain last week; you hear the
bellowing of the rams on the upland ledge and the clashing of their
horns as they fight--But I can hear that my father draws nearer."

"If he be not coming in anger, why does he hasten thus?  But you cannot
hear him; the sound is in your own ears."

"May not one hasten in love as well as in hate?  The wagon has now
reached the rocky pass between the kopjes.  It will soon be here."

Aletta arose and walked over to the window.  She linked her arm in that
of Elsie and tried to draw the blind girl away from her post.

"Come to bed,--I am not so terrified as I was a while ago."

"Hark.--Even the ears of one who is not blind can hear that."

A light breeze was streaming up the valley, driving the mist before it
in broken masses.  From the rough, stony pass could be heard the heavy
thumpings of the massive wheels.  Aletta once more sank to her knees in
agony.

"Oh God,--you have brought him here.--Oh God,--soften his heart--"

"Aunt,--God heard your prayer long before you spoke it.  His heart has
been softened."

"No, no, child.  I hear anger in the noise of the wheels and in the
clappings of the whip.--Nine years--nine years--and innocent.--Oh God,
soften his heart,--or let my husband get away.--Elsie,--I charge you not
to tell your father what road my husband has gone.--Tell him that your
uncle went a month ago.--Let us go to the huts and warn the servants--"

"Aunt,--wait just a little while and you will see.  I shall walk down
the road and meet my father."

"Yes,--yes,--and, Elsie,--pray to him for the sake of a lonely old woman
who seems to have never known joy.--Go, child--but wait--No, I cannot
stay here alone; I fear the darkness."

"Come with me, Aunt."

"Yes,--yes,--but what if it be not his wagon?"

"It is my father's wagon.  Come."  The breeze had freshened; the mist
had been rolled out of the valley, leaving it clear to the stars, but
the vapour hung in wisps from every mountain head and streamed away
white in the shining of the rising moon.  As the two walked down the
road it was she who was blind that walked forward with unfaltering
steps, leading her who could see, but who faltered at every yard.

Nearer and nearer came the clattering wagon, and the driver's voice as
he shouted to the team could be clearly heard.  Aletta sank down upon a
stone at the wayside and Elsie, after walking on for a few paces, stood
motionless in the middle of the road.  Her loosened hair floated on the
wind; her tall figure, clad in fluttering white, made a striking picture
in the light of the now fully arisen moon.

The leader threw up his hand and stopped the team with a call; Stephanus
sprang from the wagon box, ran forward and clasped Elsie to his breast.

"My little child--grown into a woman--her face shining as brightly as
the sun she has never seen, and making night like day.--But where is my
brother--where is Gideon--?"

Aletta staggered forward and knelt in the road at his feet.

"Oh, Stephanus,--have mercy and let him be.--He fled when he heard you
were coming.--Have mercy.--He has suffered too--"

"We both need the mercy of God.--Aletta, do not kneel to me.--Where is
my brother Gideon?"

He drew the half-unconscious woman to her feet and she burst into a
storm of tears.

"Oh, Stephanus," she said, "you are not deceiving me?--Tell me,--have
you forgiven the wrong?"

"Yes, Aletta,--as I hope to be forgiven.  Whither did Gideon go?  Let me
follow him."

"Thank God,--thank God, who has heard my prayer."



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN.

HOW KANU PROSPERED.

Kanu arose from his hard couch on the floor of the cavern wherein he
dwelt with his followers and clambered to the top of the rocky ridge
which capped the krantz at the foot of which the cavern was situated.
It was hunger and thirst which drove him forth thus restlessly under the
midnight stars.  Every night for more than a month he had sat for hours
at this spot.  Rain had not fallen for nearly two years and the little
brackish fountain in the kloof below, on which these Bushmen were solely
dependent for water to keep body and soul together, had shrunk and
shrunk until it was reduced to a mere trickle.  As the fountain shrank
it became more and more brackish; so much so that after his long day of
unsuccessful hunting Kanu had been unable to quench his thirst at it.

When he reached the top of the ridge the Bushman instinctively turned
his gaze to the north-east.  The sky was absolutely cloudless and the
stars were shining and throbbing as they only shine and throb over the
desert.  He sat long motionless and was about to return, sick at soul,
to the cave, when he caught his breath short, and his heart gave a great
throb, for a faint flash lit up the horizon for a instant.  Another
flash, brighter than the first, soon followed.  Kanu clambered swiftly
down the steep hill-side, wakened the other cave-dwellers and informed
them of what he had seen.  In a few seconds the cave was the scene of
bustling activity, preparatory to an immediate migration.

These distant flashes of lightning had for the little clan--or rather
family of Bushmen, an all-important significance, for they meant that in
some distant region beyond the north-eastern horizon a thunderstorm was
raging and thus the long drought had broken on the vast plains sloping
northward to the mighty, mysterious Gariep.

The cave was situated in a spur of that rugged range of iron-black hills
known as the Kamiesbergen, and which were now, after the long-protracted
drought, covered with blackened stumps marking the spots where, after
rain, the graceful sheaves of the "twa" grass grow.  The Bushmen knew
there was no chance of rain falling where they were, for their moisture
came in the winter season in the form of wet mists from the sea.  These
never passed the limit of the hills.  On the other hand, the only rains
which visited the plains were those which swept down with the
thunderstorms from the torrid north, when the great clouds advanced with
roarings as though to smite the hills asunder but, within the compass of
a vulture's swoop, would be stopped as though by a wall of invisible
adamant and sent reeling to the eastward.

It was now midsummer and the Bushmen well knew that they would never be
able to survive in their present situation until midwinter, before which
season no rain from the southward was to be expected.  For some time
they had realised that their only chance of escaping a death of terrible
suffering lay in cutting the track of the first thunder shower which
would, as they were well aware, be the track of the others soon
following.  Should they succeed in doing this they would revel in a belt
of desert turned as though by magic into a smiling garden, full of game,
and with many a rock-bottomed, sand-filled depression in which good
water could be easily reached by burrowing.

Already the herds of famished game would be on the move, apprised by the
lightning-sign of the falling of that rain which was to be their
salvation:--springbucks,--flitting like ghosts under the late-risen
moon; gemsbucks,--sore-footed from digging out with their hoofs the
large tap-roots from which they get that supply of moisture that serves
them in lieu of water to drink; hartebeests lumbering along with swift,
ungainly stride, and other desert denizens in bewildering variety.
Hanging on the flanks of the horde might be seen the gaunt, hungry
lions, seeking in vain to quench their raging thirst in the blood of
their emaciated victims.

When Kanu found that Elsie had disappeared from where he had left her
among the rocks and bushes at the foot of Table Mountain, he took to the
veldt with the intention of getting as far from the dwellings of
civilised men as possible.  He knew that if he returned to Elandsfontein
and told the van der Walts his remarkable story he would never be
believed, and that the consequences would be distinctly unpleasant, if
not fatal, to him.  So he exercised the utmost wariness, taking great
precautions against the possibility of being observed by day when
seeking food.  It will, of course, be understood that he travelled only
by night.  Being a Bushman of intelligence Kanu reflected upon many
things in the course of his exciting and wearisome journey.  In his
untutored ignorance he classified the Caucasian race arbitrarily into
two categories,--the good and the bad.  Elsie comprised within her own
person the one category; all other Europeans fell into the other.

Cautiously feeling his way northward, Kanu made a wide detour to avoid
passing anywhere near the Tanqua Valley, and then wandered vaguely on in
the hope of falling in with some of his own race.  This hope was
realised one morning in a somewhat startling manner.  Following some
tracks which he had discovered leading up the stony side of a very steep
mountain, he suddenly found himself confronted by a number of pygmies
such as himself; each, however, with a drawn bow and an arrow which Kanu
knew was most certainly poisoned, trained upon him at point-blank range.

Kanu at once did what was the only proper thing to do under the
circumstances,--he cried out in the Bushman tongue that he was a friend
and a brother, and then fell flat on his face and lay, with extended
arms, awaiting death or the signal to arise.  Then he heard the warriors
consulting together as to whether they should summarily despatch him or
lead him captive to the cave in which they dwelt and kill him there for
the amusement of the non-combatant members of the little community.
They decided in favour of the latter alternative and then Kanu knew that
most probably his life would be spared.

But as yet he was not by any means out of the wood His vestiges of
European clothing caused him to be suspected and, in the savage mind,
suspicion and condemnation are not very far apart.  Cases were familiar
to all in which renegade sons of the desert had betrayed the
hiding-places of their compatriots to their deadly enemies, the Boers,
and it was quite possible that Kanu might turn out to be a traitor.  But
when the captive showed the unhealed stripes with which his back was
still scored, the captors began to feel more kindly disposed towards
him, and they eventually came to the conclusion that he was not a spy.

Later, when Kanu told his father's name, and related the circumstances
of the raid which swept his family from the face of the earth and made
him a bondman to the hated Boer,--and when it turned out that old Nalb,
the patriarch of the party, had once seen a picture painted by Kanu's
father who, though he had died comparatively young, had been a somewhat
celebrated artist, the new arrival was accepted into full fellowship and
made free of the cave and all its contents.

The Bushman acknowledged no chieftain, nor was he bound by any tribal
ties.  Each family was independent of every other family and hunted on
its own account.  The little community into which Kanu found himself
adopted consisted of eight men, seven women and fourteen children of
various ages.  They lived after the manner of their kind,--absolutely
from hand to mouth, taking no thought for the morrow.  Their movements
about the country were determined by accidents of weather and the chase,
but they retired from time to time to their cave in the Kamiesbergen,
whenever the adventitious rains made the locality habitable.  When they,
or any of them, killed a large animal, they would not attempt to remove
the meat, but would camp alongside the carcase and gorge until
everything but the hair and the pulverised bones was finished.  The
family cave, besides being endeared by many associations, had the
advantage of being in the vicinity of a spring which, although its water
was rather brackish, had never been known to give out completely in the
severest drought.

The cave had another great advantage,--that of being surrounded on all
sides by a wide belt of desert, so the pygmies were not at all likely to
be disturbed by inconvenient callers.  It was spacious, and its walls
were well adapted for the exercise of that remarkable art which the
Bushman practised,--the art of painting.  Here, on the wide natural
panels were frescoed counterfeit presentments of men and all other
animals with which the Bushmen were familiar, in more or less skilful
outline.  There was no attempt at anything like perspective, but some of
the figures were drawn with spirit and showed considerable skill as well
as an evident natural artistic faculty.  The animals most frequently
represented were the eland, the hartebeeste, the gemsbok and the baboon.
One picture was a battle-piece and represented a number of men being
hurled over a cliff.  This was old Nalb's handiwork, and was executed in
commemoration of an attack by some strangers upon the ancestral cave,
which was repulsed with great slaughter.

A few of the paintings were the work of itinerant artists, who
sometimes, in seasons of plenty, wandered from cave to cave,--possibly
in the interests of art,--even as Royal Academicians have found it
necessary to visit the schools of Rome and Paris.  Such paintings could
be distinguished among the others by the hand-print of the artist in
paint below each.  They were usually somewhat better executed than the
others, and often represented animals not common in the neighbourhood,
but with whose proportions the artist had evidently familiarised himself
in other and, perhaps, distant parts.

The paints used were ochres of different tints,--from white, ranging
through several reds and browns, up to black.  These were mixed with fat
and with some vegetable substance to make the colours bite into the
rock.  Some of the most vivid tints were taken from those fossils known
as coprolites, in which small kernels of ochreous substance are found to
exist.  The brush was made of the pinion feathers of small birds.

It was not long before Kanu rose to a position of eminence in the little
clan.  He took unto himself, as wife, Ksoa, a daughter of old Nalb and,
when that venerable leader's physical vigour began to decline, Kanu
gradually came to be looked upon as his probable successor.  His sojourn
among the Boers, whilst it had told against his skill as a hunter, had
sharpened his wits generally.  Soon he became as expert as any in the
tracking of game.  Then he introduced a slight improvement in the matter
of fixing an arrow-head to the shaft, which was immediately recognised
by the superstitious Bushmen as an evidence of more than human ability.
Thus, when old Nalb met his death from thirst, after finding that the
store of water-filled ostrich-eggshells which he had cached a long time
previously had been broached, Kanu was at once looked upon as the
leader.

For a few seasons peace and plenty reigned.  The locusts appeared year
after year, on their way to devastate the cultivated portions of the
Colony, and the Bushmen thanked their gods for the boon, with elaborate
sacrifices in which Kanu officiated as high priest.  Then came the
drought, which was attributed to the fact of one of their number having
allowed his shadow to fall upon a dying ostrich in the afternoon.  Had
this happened in the morning, it would not have mattered so much but,
happening when the sun was going home to rest, and thus preventing the
luminary from taking his lawful dues in the matter of supper, it was
looked upon as likely to prove a deadly affront to all the spirits of
the sky, who were the sun's subjects.  These spirits, who sent or
withheld run as pleased their capricious minds, the Bushmen feared and
constantly endeavoured to propitiate.  The man guilty of this heinous
offence was looked at askance by all, but was forgiven after elaborate
and painful rites had been solemnised over him.  Nevertheless, when the
drought increased in intensity, and the children began to sicken from
drinking the salt-charged water from the failing spring, the offender
found it judicious to disappear.

As soon as the women had returned from the spring, bearing their bark
nets full of ostrich-eggshells containing water,--the shells being
closed with a wooden peg at each end, a start was made.  The skins were
rolled up into bundles and upon these were bound the earthen pots and
the bags containing the very scanty store of grain.  This grain was the
seed of the "twa" grass, plundered from the store-houses of ants.  The
women and children were loaded to their utmost capacity of draught,
whilst the men carried nothing but their bows and arrows, and their
digging sticks.  These last were pointed pegs of very hard wood, about
eighteen inches long, stuck through round stones four or five inches in
diameter, which had been pierced for the purpose.  The object of the
stone was to give the sticks weight in the digging.

The oldest of the women was charged with the important duty of carrying
fire.  The Bushman knew no metal and, consequently, had no tinderbox, so
his only way of kindling fire was by the long and laborious process of
twirling a stick with the point inserted in a log, between the palms of
the hands.  Thus whenever a move was made from one place to another, one
of the party was appointed fire-carrier.  When the two sticks which
invariably were carried had nearly burnt out, a halt was called and a
fire lit from twigs; in this two fresh sticks were lighted; these would
then be carried forward another stage.  As a matter of fact Kanu had
learnt the use of tinder from the Hottentots, and had, as a great
miracle, kindled some dry and pulverised bark from a spark generated by
striking a fragment of iron which he picked up at the spot where some
European hunters had camped, upon a flake of quartz.  But, after the
principle enunciated by a modern philosopher, that it is a mistake to
call down fire from Heaven whenever you cannot lay your hand upon the
matchbox, Kanu rightly judged that his miracle would lose some of its
most important advantages if repeated too often, so he reserved it for
great emergencies, and allowed the time-honoured plan of fire-carrying
from place to place to continue.  In this Kanu showed a very sound
political instinct, and his example might be profitably followed by many
reformers whose impatience to put the whole world straight all at once,
often defeats its own ends.

Consider, for a moment, what the result of a popularising of the
tinderbox would have been:--In the first place what was looked upon as a
miracle would have ceased to be regarded as such and, with the
miraculous, a good deal of Kanu's influence would have gone.  Then,--the
old woman whose function it was to carry fire-sticks would not alone
have lost her importance, but would have had to carry heavy loads like
the other women.

Not only she, but her immediate relations, might have resented this,
and, accordingly, Kanu would probably have weakened the allegiance of at
least one-fourth of his subjects.  There is nothing, in the humble
opinion of the writer, which proves Kanu's natural fitness for
leadership so much as his having decided against the popularising of the
tinderbox.

Now that the lightning-sign, which had been so long and so anxiously
waited for, had come, the black despair which Kanu and his companions
had been the prey of during the last few months, gave way to sanguine
hope.  They knew that the ordeal which had to be endured,--the crossing
of the black belt of scorched desert which lay between them and the
track of the thunder shower, would strain their endurance to the utmost,
but such experiences are but incidents in the life of the Bushman--and
he takes them as they come, without repining at Fate.  In their
different hunting trips they had exhausted all the caches of
water-filled eggshells within a distance of two days' march, but there
was one cache far away on the edge of the great dune-region to the
north-eastward which, if they could manage to hold out for four days on
the brackish liquid which they were carrying and,--if the treasure
should prove not to have been broached, would relieve their necessities
for the moment, and enable them to make a successful dash for the deep
and precipitous gorge through which the great Gariep winds on its
mysterious course to the ocean.

After descending the mountain the Bushmen struck across the plain in
single file, heading due north-east.  The men stalked ahead, trusting
that their dread of prowling beasts of prey would keep the women and
children, heavily laden as they were, close behind.  Soon the liquid
beams of the Morning Star warned them that the friendly night was nearly
over, and they quickened their paces so as to reach a long, low ridge
dotted with _karee_ bushes and large arboreal aloes, which lay some
distance ahead, and on the side of which some protection might be
afforded from the raging sun.  When day broke this ridge loomed large
before them in the midst of the oceanlike plain, but before they reached
it the day was well on towards noon.  Then water was dealt out in
sparing quantities to human beings and dogs alike, and the weary
wayfarers scattered about seeking shade under rock, tree and shrub.

In several directions could be seen clouds of dust arising,--indications
of the migrating herds of game; far and near the silent sand-spouts
glided about in stately rhythm, like spectres of the daytime threading
some mysterious dance-measure.  Early in the afternoon the clean-cut
margin of a snow-white cloud projected slightly above the north-eastern
horizon.  This turned the expectation of rain falling upon the plains
before them to a certainty, but the track of the storm-cloud was an
appalling distance ahead.

When the sun had somewhat declined another start was made.  The women
now kept together, while the men scattered out on other side of the
course with digging-picks in readiness to unearth roots and tubers
should the drought have left any indication of their existence above
ground.  Each warrior wore a skin fillet around his head, into which his
supply of poisoned arrows was stuck by the points, the shafts standing
straight up in a circle reaching high above him.  This served the double
purpose of having the arrows where they could be easily got at when
required, and making the braves look fierce and formidable in the event
of an enemy being met with.

The unbroken plain now lay before them in all its solitary horror; their
only hope of relief lay a three-days agony in front.  The sand,--so hot
in Summer on the plains of Bushmanland that one can cook an egg in it
several inches below the surface,--scorched their feet; it even caused
the dogs to roll over and lie on their backs, howling from the pain they
suffered.

As night fell the men closed in, bringing the scanty supply of lizards,
striped-faced desert mice with long, bushy tails, roots and other desert
produce which they had succeeded in capturing or unearthing.  The little
band pressed on silently over the sand which had now begun somewhat to
cool down, and beneath the stars which seemed so close above them in the
purple vault.  Some of the men now remained behind to assist the weaker
of the women, who were lagging, by relieving them of portions of their
heavy loads.

At each halt which was made for the purpose of rekindling the
fire-sticks, all but the one charged with the duty of kindling the fire
lay down and sank at once into deep sleep.  When the sticks were once
more properly alight the sleepers would be wakened by a touch and, once
more, the party would steal, ghost-like, across the velvet-like sand.

Day broke, and when the party halted a little shade was obtained by
stretching skins over sticks stuck into the ground.  Then a fire was
soon kindled and the food obtained on the previous day cooked and eaten.
Another sparing ration of water was issued and, in spite of its
scarcity, and of the fact that every drop was as it were their
life-blood, a small libation was poured out on the sand to propitiate
the spirits of the sky who so greedily drank up moisture from the
thirsty earth.

It was late in the afternoon of the third day when they reached the spot
where the water-filled eggshells lay buried.  Some of the women and
children had been left half a day's march behind, where they had dropped
from thirst and exhaustion.  Fortunately the cache was found to be
intact.  During the night a supply of water was sent back to those left
behind, and early in the forenoon of next day the whole party was once
more together.  Their only loss was that of their best dog; the animal
went mad while they were digging for the water, and rushed away to meet
its death alone among the dunes.

They rested all that day as well as the next night, and it was on the
following day that Kanu made the great discovery which more than ever
convinced his followers of their leader's supernatural powers.  Before
dawn Kanu left the encampment on a solitary hunting expedition.
Skirting the edge of the dune-tract he went on and on, wondering sorely
at the absence of game of every description.  Then he noticed a number
of tracks of jackals, all converging towards one point.  Following one
of these he was led to a narrow opening in a low, overhanging ledge of
rock.  Entering the opening and groping about, he found himself in a
small, oblong cave.  His heart beat fast, for he distinctly smelt water.
Feeling along the walls of the cavern he came to an inner opening, of
size just sufficient to admit the body of a man.  This proved to be the
mouth of a passage which dipped inward at a steep angle.  Kanu held his
bow by one end and tried to find the bottom of the shaft, but
unsuccessfully.  Then he carefully let himself down, feet first.  Soon
he found himself standing,--or rather half-reclining,--with his feet in
icy cold water, but the passage was so narrow that he could not stoop
sufficiently to reach the water even with his hands.

With some difficulty he managed to extricate himself, and then he turned
and let himself down head first, having previously placed his bow across
the opening and fastened a thong to it, so as to enable him to work his
way back again.  He drank his fill of water more delicious than anything
he had tasted for years past and then hastened back to where he had left
his companions.

Great were the rejoicings over what to all appearances was a permanent
spring, the water of which was absolutely perfect in quality.  The
little community at once decided to make the cave their head quarters.
Food was plentiful and easy to obtain.  On account of the general
drought no water was to be found anywhere else in the neighbourhood;
consequently, numbers of jackals visited the spot every night.  Of
these, the flesh of which is looked upon by the Bushman as being a
special delicacy, as many as were required for consumption were slain.
Later, when the rains came, the herds of game returned; moreover, the
vicinity proved to be rich in "veldkost," which is the name by which the
edible bulbs and tubers with which the desert sometimes abounds, are
known by.

The years went by and these Bushmen, isolated as they were from the rest
of mankind, led a life of absolutely ideal happiness from their own
point of view.  They had no want ungratified; to them the desert and
what it contained were all-sufficing.  There were no other human
creatures anywhere near them, so they had nothing to fear.

It is a mistake to suppose that the life of the Bushmen was solely that
of animals.  Besides painting, they possessed the art of mimicry to a
high degree and were, moreover, excellent actors.  Their plays were
hunting scenes, the characters being the different animals they were
accustomed to hunt.  The cries, movements and peculiarities of such were
imitated as accurately as was possible by human beings, and a curious
tincture of humour,--humour of a kind almost unintelligible to the
civilised mind, was imported into the personifications.  For instance:
the shifts and stratagems by means of which a trio of ostriches will
endeavour to lead an enemy away from their nest,--the simulated alarm of
the birds when the enemy takes a wrong direction and the comparative
absence of any sign of uneasiness if he takes the right one, were hit
off to the life and accentuated with an amount of drollery one might
think the subject incapable of sustaining.

The favourite episode for dramatic representation was the robbing of the
lion of his prey.  The lion's favourite time for killing is just before
daybreak.  After he has killed he loves to drain, at his ease, every
drop of blood from the carcase of his quarry.  The act of killing by the
king-killer of the wilderness is a noisy affair and, if it happened
within a radius of several miles, and the wind were not unfavourable,
the sound was almost sure to reach the keen ears of the pygmies.  Then
all would turn out, each being armed with a firebrand and carrying a
bundle of dry, inflammable grass and twigs.

Approaching the spot where the kill had taken place, from different
directions, the Bushmen would begin to shout and jeer at the lion and
call him by all sorts of ridiculous and insulting terms.  If he
attempted to attack, some of the inflammable stuff would at once be
ignited, and the lion, no matter how enraged, would always turn tail and
retreat from the blaze.  All this time the circle would be gradually
closing in, leaving a gap through which the baffled and furious animal
could beat a retreat, snarling and showing his teeth.

In the Bushman's moonlit theatre this scene would be acted with
astonishing skill and realism.  In regions where the clans were thickly
distributed, a good actor of the lion's part in this popular play would
be as sure of a welcome as if he were a great painter, and thus could
pick and choose his society among the different communities.

Kanu had much to tell his fellows about his varied experiences, and the
relation of these was always more than half acted.  The old, bald-headed
man with the white beard who had sentenced him to be whipped, would have
felt his dignity to be seriously compromised if he had seen his former
victim perched on a rock mimicking him, and declaiming gibberish to a
group of convulsed admirers; accentuating in a most preposterous manner
every one of His Worshipful peculiarities.

It was in the hunting-field that the true potency of the Bushman was
shown.  Inside a wicker framework covered with the skin of an ostrich,
the hunter would stalk in among an unsuspecting flock of feeding birds.
With slow, swaying stride,--the long neck bent down and the beak bobbing
as though pecking at the green beetles on the bushes, the counterfeit
presentment of a stately, full-plumaged male would edge its way in,
making the characteristic by-play which the male adopts when he wants to
attract the females by an affective display of his beauties.  Then, one
by one, the members of the doomed flock would bite the dust, and the
slayer, doffing his disguise, would proceed to cut up the carcases into
pieces convenient for roasting,--or else collect fuel pending the
arrival of his friends with the fire-stick.

Thus passed the halcyon days.  Kanu and his men became muscular and
wiry; the women and children fat and sleek.  Kanu was venerated by his
subjects as a powerful but beneficent magician, who had gone to some
wonderful "other" world and returned laden with gifts of useful
knowledge.  Ksoa, Delilah-like, tried to get him to reveal to her the
secret of his power, so he told her that he had been taken captive once
by a monstrous being which was about to eat him,--when a blind lioness
of wonderful size, strength and beauty had set him free and destroyed
his enemy.  This lioness had given him as a charm a hair out of her own
splendid mane.  So long, he said, as this hair were not stolen from him,
or lost, all would go well with him and his.  If, however, the hair were
to be stolen,--not alone would good fortune depart from Kanu and his
clan, but dire disaster would fall upon the stealer.

One day, after much persuasion, Kanu consented to show his wife the
talisman.  It had been carefully rolled around a dry leaf; Ksoa
marvelled greatly as she saw its length uncoiled and saw how it glinted
in the sun.  She did not dare to touch it, but begged of her lord to put
the precious thing safely away at once, lest anything should happen to
it.

"What a great and wonderful lioness that must have been.--And a lioness
with a mane," she commented, in an awed whisper.

"Yes," answered Kanu, with a sigh.



CHAPTER NINETEEN.

HOW STEPHANUS PURSUED GIDEON.

Early in the morning after the arrival of Stephanus, the mob of cattle
was driven in and with the assistance of some of the Hottentots a fairly
good span of oxen was sorted out.  Then the wagon was loaded with
provisions and water, and Stephanus started in pursuit of the brother
who had fled before his accusing face.  Elsie insisted on accompanying
her father; Stephanus, full of the trust in Providence which he had
attained to through suffering,--imbued with that sublime confidence
which had come to him in his nine years of repentance, prayer and
watching,--made no objection.

A great happiness welled up in Aletta's heart and seemed to transfigure
her, body and soul.  She felt that her dark hour had indeed been the
prelude to a day brighter than her starved soul had known for many
years.  With feverish haste she completed the preparations for
departure, and when the wagon rolled away up the steep kloof-track, its
fresh team of sixteen drawing it with hardly an effort, she watched it
until her sight grew dim with happy tears.  Then she and Stephanus knelt
down and he breathed forth a prayer as humbly exultant as ever the rapt
singer of Israel uttered like trumpet blast whose sound still fills the
centuries.

Afterwards, Stephanus followed the wagon on horseback, and Aletta turned
to the joyful task of garnishing the dismal, unkempt house in
preparation for her husband's return.

At the top of the saddle the oxen were outspanned and driven to the
spring to take their last drink before entering the region of thirst.
Stephanus, like Gideon--but with what different feelings--looked back
and let his eye luxuriate upon the fertile valley.  How sweet and
peaceful it all looked.--How the frowning krantzes shut it in on each
side, their stark forms accentuating the soft slopes that billowed away
from their bases.  He could see the patch of scrub that hid the
spring,--and the silvern water issuing from it,--like a jewelled
pendant.  The forenoon sun took the foliage at an angle which turned its
usual hue to a rich, full tint.  That spot was the pivot upon which his
life and that of his brother had turned, and from which they had been
whirled off into such strange regions.

He turned his gaze until it swept the blackened desert across which his
course lay, but the prospect had for him no dismay.  He knew by
experience the dangers that lay before him, but his faith was to him as
a strong shield and a buckler of might against all evil.  Elsie stood at
his side and held his horny, toil-worn hand between hers that were so
soft and white.  Few words passed between the father and daughter; they
were content just to be together.  She, happy in the fulfilment of her
long-deferred hope,--he, exultant with the feeling that he was fighting
Satan for his brother's soul and confident of victory.

The thoughts of Stephanus moved upon a stage higher than Elsie's could
attain to.  To Stephanus the presence of his beloved child was enough to
fill his heart with joy.  She seemed to be the embodiment of peace,--the
dove that had come back across the troubled waters of his life.  But
over and above this towered high the realisation of the task laid upon
him,--the lifting of his brother's life from the slough in which it had
been so long sunk.  To Elsie happiness and duty were one; to her father
his great happiness and his burning responsibility were different and,
as it were, filled separate chambers of his mind.

It was noon by the time the oxen again stood in the yoke.  The trail of
Gideon's wagon lay plainly marked across the sand, far below.  Stephanus
could see between the stones--close to where he stood, the clear print
of his brother's large _veldschoen_; Gideon had here paced restlessly to
and fro.  Yonder was the spot where he had stood gazing back into the
valley which he deemed he had left for ever; there he had paused to cast
his haggard eyes across the desert which he meant should be his
dwelling-place henceforth.  It seemed to Stephanus as though he could
enter into all the phases of his brother's mind at this spot where the
physical conditions seemed to suggest appraisement of the probabilities
of the future as well as of the results of the past.  He felt as though
standing on the boundary-line between two worlds.

Then, with brake-shoe fixed to the wheel the wagon jolted heavily down
the mountain side until it reached the red and burning sand-waste which
seemed to stretch northward to infinity.

At every outspan place could be seen the remains of the fires lit by the
fugitive.  These places were far apart; it was clear that Gideon had
made desperate efforts to put as many miles as possible between himself
and his injured brother.

The wilderness was in a frightful state of aridity, so the unhappy
cattle suffered much from thirst.  Stephanus always let them rest in the
heat of the day; in the evening he would inspan and then push on through
the cool hours of the night.  The leader had no difficulty, by the
diffused light of the stars, in following the wheel-tracks.

Elsie would lie sleeping in the wagon, undisturbed by the least jolt,
for the surface of the plain was as soft as down.  Her father would walk
ahead under the liquid stars, which seemed to look down upon him with
more than human sympathy and understanding.  During his captivity
Stephanus had never seen the sky at night; thus, the memory of what had
always strongly influenced him became idealised in his awakened and
alert soul.  Now, the vastness and the thrilling mystery of the night
skies seemed to have fused with his purpose, and his spirit inhabited
the infinite.

The travellers had brought enough water in kegs for their own personal
needs, but day by day the agonies of the wretched cattle increased.  The
Hottentot driver and leader became more and more uneasy, feeling
themselves in danger of that worst of all deaths,--a long-drawn death of
thirst in the desert.  But Stephanus was sustained by his lofty trust,
and never doubted that they would issue safely from their difficulties.

Each forenoon as the mocking mirage was painted athwart the northern
sky, the clear, wide stream of the far-fountained Gariep, with its
fringe of vivid green boskage, seemed as though lifted out of the depths
of the awful gorge and hung across the heavens for their torment.

One morning they saw the red-mounded dunes quivering far ahead in the
ratified air, slightly to their right.  Stephanus and the Hottentots
knew this region by repute, and accordingly recognised the fact that
their last and most terrible effort was now at hand,--that now they
would have to plough their way through some ten miles of sand so light
and loose that the wheels of the wagon would sink in it to the axles.
Once through the sand-hills, they would be within a day's journey of
that cleft in the black mountains through which the cattle might be
driven to the river.

The day smote them with fury.  The sand became so hot that it blistered
the soles of their feet through the _veldschoens_.  The wind, heavily
charged with fine, red sand, was moaning and shrieking across the waste.
Their only chance lay in keeping moving, for the drifting sand would
have buried the wagon, if stationary, in a few hours.  But the moment
came when the unhappy cattle were unable to advance with the wagon
another step, so had to be outspanned.

The oxen staggered away for a few paces and sank exhausted to the
ground.  It was clear that without water, not one of them would ever
rise again.  It was now the eighth day since they had last drunk their
fill.  The Hottentots surrendered themselves to despair.  Stephanus
knelt in the sand and lifted heart and voice in supplication to his God.



CHAPTER TWENTY.

THE END OF THE FEUD.

One morning Kanu and his men, who had shortly before left their place of
abode on a hunting expedition, were astonished at seeing the white tent
of a wagon slowing moving through the sand dunes at a short distance
from them.  They at once dropped in their tracks and then crept into
concealment for the purpose of discussing the situation.  The Bushmen,
although the different clans often quarrelled among themselves, had one
sentiment in common,--hatred of the European.  After they returned to
the cave there was a general furbishing-up of the best arrows, a testing
and a tightening of the bow-strings and a performance of the war
sacrifice.  This last consisted in drawing a small quantity of blood
from the right knee of each warrior, mixing it in an earthen bowl with a
small quantity of arrow-poison and pouring the mixture out upon the
ashes of the previous night's fire.  Then, with arrows erect around
their heads, they looked impatiently towards their leader for the signal
to attack.

The wagon was only about a couple of miles away; the white tent
intermittently gleaming between the driving clouds of sand.  Among the
broken hillocks the strangers were quite at the mercy of an attacking
force, no matter how small.  Thus, the pygmies might have crept right up
to the wagon without being noticed, and discharged their deadly shafts
from within point-blank range, settling the business with one noiseless
volley.  But Kanu did not give the signal; he sat with his head bowed in
thought, and his braves looked at him and at each other in astonishment.

Kanu reflected.  He was aware of many things beyond the cognisance of
his followers.  One thing had specially impressed him during his
captivity,--the implacable vengeance with which the Boers pursued the
marauders who murdered their friends and stole their cattle.  This wagon
had certainly come much farther than any wagon had ever come before, and
it was not likely to be followed by others.  Better not interfere with
it.  The cave had not been discovered; it was impossible that any white
men would come and settle in the waterless neighbourhood.  Tempting as
was the opportunity of wreaking vengeance for many wrongs, policy
demanded that they should forego it, so Kanu threw down his bow, plucked
the arrows from his head and said that he had been told by the spirits
not to attack these people.

It was a critical moment and, had Kanu's authority not been far more
strong than that which the Bushman leader usually held over his
followers, his orders would have been disregarded.  However, no attack
was made and the wagon was permitted to proceed upon its laboured course
unmolested,--the people with it little deeming of their narrow escape.

Two days afterwards another wagon was reported to be proceeding along
the same course, and Kanu saw by the demeanour of his followers that he
would probably be unable to restrain them from attacking, so he led them
forth, and the little band took up its position in a patch of scrub
which crowned a small sand-hill overlooking the two-days-old track.

The travellers were evidently in terrible straits, and before they
reached the ambush the oxen collapsed.  Leaving his braves with strict
injunctions not to move before his return, Kanu went towards the wagon
for the purpose of reconnoitring.  Creeping sinuously among the hollows
between the hillocks over which the streaming sand was being swept like
spray from the crests of waves, he crept up to within a few yards of the
wagon and lay, concealed by a bush, watching it intently.

Just then Elsie came out of the tent and stood, protecting her face from
the stinging sand with her hands, and with her hair streaming in the
wind.

Kanu started.  The figure and the hair suggested Elsie, but he could not
see the face, and the girl had grown almost beyond recognition.  Then
Stephanus arose from where he had been kneeling at the other side of the
wagon and stood at his daughter's side.  Kanu recognised his former
master in an instant, and now had no doubt as to Elsie's identity.
Throwing down his bow and arrows, he strode forward and called out:--

"Baas Stephanus--Miss Elsie--here is Kanu."

Stephanus turned and gazed at the Bushman with astonishment.  Elsie
stepped forward with hands outstretched to greet her old guide and
preserver.

"Kanu," she cried, "can you get us water?"

"Yes,--the water is close at hand."

"God, who has sent this creature to succour us, I thank thee," said
Stephanus, solemnly.

"Baas must give me a small present of tobacco, so that I may soothe the
hearth of my people," said Kanu.

With his hands full of the much-coveted treasure Kanu sped back to his
impatient band.  No one knows how, when or where the Bushmen learnt the
use of tobacco.  When first the Europeans came in contact with them they
were evidently accustomed to its use.  In an instant the rancour of the
warriors was turned into extravagant delight.  With these children of
the wilderness the transition from ferocity to amiability was
instantaneous, and the one sentiment arose as unreasonably and inspired
them as completely as the other.

Immediately they crowded around the wagon, ready to assist with all
their power those who a few minutes previously they would have delighted
to put to a cruel death.

Soon every keg and other utensil in the wagon capable of holding water
was carried over to the spring and then the water was dealt out by
willing hands as fast as circumstances would permit.  Vessels were
afterwards borne from one to the other of the famishing oxen and each
animal was allowed to take a sup at a time.  All through the afternoon
this went on, until the cattle were once more able to arise.

Kanu told Stephanus of another spring which he had discovered among the
mountains to the north-west, about half a day's journey away, and
thither the oxen were taken during the night, and allowed to drink their
fill.  Then, after a day's rest they were driven back to the wagon.

The Bushmen and their womenkind were, in the meantime, made happy with
liberal presents of tobacco, coffee and sugar.  The tobacco had a most
curious effect upon them.  They smoked it through a rough kind of a
hookah made out of a hartebeeste's horn, a stone bowl and a piece of
reed a few inches in length.  There was no mouth-piece, so the smoker
pressed his mouth into the natural aperture at the base of the horn, and
inhaled the smoke.  It was thus that they were accustomed to smoke the
"dagga" or wild hemp.  After each smoker had filled his lungs and again
emptied them about a dozen times, he passed on the pipe to a companion,
and then laid himself upon the ground where, after becoming slightly
epileptic, he stiffened from head to feet and lay unconscious and
scarcely breathing for some minutes.

The women enjoyed the coffee and sugar, which were delicacies they knew
of only by report, with great zest.  They were not satisfied with merely
drinking the beverage, but insisted on eating the grounds also.

These artless, cruel, innocent and murderous savages made their guests
royally welcome, when the latter visited the camp.  They entertained the
strangers with songs, dances and dramatic performances, and presented
them with a supply of edible roots some of which proved exceedingly good
eating.

Stephanus soon ascertained from Kanu that Gideon's wagon had passed but
a few days previously.  It was evident that Gideon meant to cross the
dune-tract at its junction with the mountain range that skirts the river
gorge, and then make for the eastward.

Kanu accompanied them when they returned to the wagon, and then he and
Elsie had a long talk, relating to each other their respective
adventures since they had last met.  Elsie was struck by an idea.

"Kanu,--will you do something for me?"

"Anything that young mistress asks of me."

"Well,--I want you to go after the other wagon, steal all the oxen and
horses and bring them to me."

"Yes,--that can easily be done."

"Mind,--you are not to kill or harm anyone, but just to bring the cattle
and horses to me."

"Yes, I understand."

In the cool of the evening a start was made.  The oxen, refreshed by
their drink, stepped out briskly.  Thus, long before daylight came again
they had succeeded in passing through the heavy sand.  The ground now
immediately before them was easy to travel over.

When outspanned for breakfast they saw a lot of cattle and some horses
being driven towards them.  These were Gideon's,--stolen by the Bushmen
at Elsie's instigation.  Stephanus, who had not been told of the plot,
laughed loud and long at Elsie's stratagem for stopping Gideon's flight.

Gideon's journey across the desert had not been so difficult as was that
of his pursuer.  His team was composed of picked oxen that were well
accustomed to such work, and the day on which fell the crisis of the
journey,--the crossing of the dune-belt,--was comparatively cool.
Nevertheless, the cattle were almost exhausted when he outspanned on the
salt-impregnated ridge on which the Mission Station of Pella now
stands--just opposite the head of the deep kloof which breaks through
the otherwise impassable mountains, thus affording a way to the Orange
River.  This kloof is about eight miles long, and the cattle were hardly
able to stagger down it to the drinking place.  When the animals smelt
the water from afar they uttered pitiful lowings, and those that were
less exhausted broke into a stumbling run.  It was found impossible to
bring the span back to the wagon until they had rested for a couple of
days.

Gideon, chafing with impatience, remained with the wagon.  The servants
replenished the kegs with water and then returned to the river bank,
where they remained with the cattle.

Gideon, in his loneliness, was the prey of the most miserable
apprehensions.  In estimating possibilities he had always endeavoured to
place himself in his brother's situation and by this means had driven
from his mind the possibility of Stephanus being otherwise than
absolutely implacable.  He pictured the injured man hurrying,
immediately after his release, to the farm, his whole mind bent on the
wreaking of his long-panted-for revenge.  Then, how he would have foamed
with fury at finding that the one in whose blood he had so longed to
imbue his fingers, had escaped.  Of course a hot pursuit would be
immediately undertaken, and it would be as keen and relentless as that
of a blood-hound.  The thought of this man, whose eyes he dreaded more
than he dreaded the face of Death, pressing furiously after him across
the blackened waste was ever before his vision, sleeping or waking.

He had not the slightest doubt that Stephanus was following him, for it
was exactly what he felt he would have done himself to Stephanus under
similar circumstances, but he drew a little comfort from the conclusion
that his pursuer could not have crossed the scorched desert anything
like as quickly as he himself had done.  The raging heat of the past few
days had been as balm to his suffering spirit.  Others had died in
Bushmanland--even when it had not been as arid as it now was; why not
Stephanus?  But, he reflected, he had never expected his hotheaded
brother,--the restless, passionate man who could never brook restraint
in any form, to survive his long term of imprisonment; his heart should
have broken years ago.

Well,--here in the desert it was a case of man to man, and each was a
law unto himself.  One thing was sure: if his vengeful brother persisted
in following him now,--if Stephanus would not even leave him the starved
desert as his lonely portion,--then the wide earth was not spacious
enough to hold them both.  He was doing his best to put the miles
between them; if Stephanus followed he did so at his own risk and must
abide by the consequences.

But for the dread of Hell-fire Gideon would have ended it all years ago,
by means of a bullet through his own brain.  That would be nothing,--the
bullet,--but Gideon imagined his soul standing, immediately afterwards,
naked before the vestibule of the Pit, listening to the roaring of the
flames and the shrieks of the damned, and awaiting its own summons to
enter.

After the cattle and horses had been driven back to the wagon from the
river, it was necessary for them to be allowed a night's grazing on the
edge of the plains, no grass having been found on the river bank.  So
the horses were hobbled and turned out to graze with the oxen.  The
leader was strictly enjoined to get up before daylight next morning and
bring the animals back to the wagon in time to admit of an early start
being made.  There were tracks of lions visible here and there, but the
risk of beasts of prey had to be taken.  Gideon now meant to turn due
east, cross the "neck" which connects the dune-tract with the river
mountains, and plunge into the unknown country beyond.

Next morning, soon after daylight, the herd returned, terrified, and
reported that both oxen and horses had been driven off by Bushmen.
Gideon's heart stood still.  This appeared to be proof of what he had
often suspected, that the Lord had singled him out for relentless
persecution because he had done His work of vengeance.  However, there
was only one thing now to be done: to pursue the marauders and attack
them at all hazards.  Arming the leader and driver and taking his own
gun, he left the wagon and its contents to their fate and started on the
spoor.

To his surprise he found that the spoor, instead of leading into the
rough ground, as was invariably the case when animals were stolen by
Bushman marauders, led back along the track made by his own wagon.
After walking for about an hour he reached the top of a low ridge from
which the eye could range for an immense distance across the plains.
Then Gideon saw what made the blood curdle in his veins with horror.  A
wagon which he knew must be that of Stephanus was approaching and behind
it was being driven a mob of loose cattle and horses which he could not
doubt were his own.  The Hottentots raised a shout of joy; to their
astonishment Gideon turned and fled back across the plains towards his
wagon.

The miserable man now became insane in his terror.  His only thought was
to escape,--to hide from the face of the man he had so greatly wronged.
Fear lent wings to his feet and, by the time Stephanus had reached the
top of the ridge where the two Hottentots were waiting in their
perplexity, Gideon had almost reached his wagon.  Stephanus, overjoyed
at hearing that his brother was so close at hand, at once mounted his
horse and rode forward.

Gideon took refuge in the wagon and laid himself down with his loaded
gun in his hand.  He had made up his mind as to what he would do in this
last emergency:--he would allow his brother to approach and, when he
arrived within point-blank distance, would cover him with the gun and
bid him stand.  Then he would solemnly warn Stephanus not to approach,
holding him at parley where he stood.  If the warning should be
disregarded Gideon determined to shoot his brother dead, but he hoped
not to be driven to do this.  He would force Stephanus, under the muzzle
of the gun, to swear to go back and trouble him no more.  He would
say:--"Your life is mine, here in this lawless land, to destroy by the
mere slight pressure of my finger upon the trigger against which it
rests.--It is mine,--forfeit because you have pursued me when I tried my
best to avoid you, and driven me to bay.--I give it to you in exchange
for the wrong I have done you.  Take it and go in peace and I will never
cross your path again,--but come one step nearer and you are a dead man
with your blood upon your own revengeful soul."

As the past is said to crowd upon the consciousness of a drowning man so
these thoughts, wild and half-unformulated, hurtled against the
distracted consciousness of Gideon van der Walt as he lay shaking in the
wagon, holding his loaded gun with the muzzle projecting through the
slit in the canvas which, he had made with his knife for the purpose.
Every few seconds he lifted his head and glanced out with fevered eyes
to see whether his enemy were approaching.  At length he saw what his
eyes had been seeking with expectant dread; riding down the long slope
swiftly on a stout pony was a man with a long, snow-white beard, whom he
recognised as Stephanus.--But what did this mean? his brother was
unarmed.--But perhaps the gun was concealed--slung from the saddle
behind as guns were sometimes carried in the hunting-field.--No,--the
pony swerved to avoid a shrub,--Stephanus was certainly unarmed.

He was riding in his shirt-sleeves and not even a switch did he carry in
his hand.  Surely, Gideon thought, the man who was engaged in this
implacable pursuit could not expect his enemy to allow him to approach
to within gripping distance.  No matter,--Gideon would challenge his
brother when he came close, and bid him stand if he valued his life.--
But would the man who had tenaciously held to a trail across Bushmanland
in a black drought stand still when bidden?  Gideon felt sure that he
would not.  Well,--he must shoot,--there was nothing else for it.

As Stephanus came nearer Gideon could see clearly the silvery whiteness
of his beard.  He thought of the last time his eyes had rested on his
brother's face, when the sentence was pronounced, and that then the
beard was as black as the wing of a raven.  Then a sudden horror struck
him to the heart.--He could not--could not--stain his already guilty
hands with this man's blood, after having ruined his life.  The
threatened curse of Cain thundered in his ears.  With a wild shriek he
sprang from the wagon, and fled among the naked, piled-up rocks which
formed the base of the hideous mountain at the foot of which his wagon
stood.

Unheeding the shout of Stephanus, Gideon sped on, leaping from boulder
to boulder in his mad endeavour to avoid the presence of the man against
whom he had so terribly sinned.  By some curious trick of thought his
brother, thus unarmed, was more formidable to his maddened and guilty
soul than had he come with a primed and loaded gun.  A dread of some
such fascination as the snake is said to exercise over his victim
possessed him; he felt that once under his brother's eyes he would be
bound and helpless.  It was a terrible illustration of the dread which
the malefactor sometimes feels towards the one he has wronged.

Stephanus followed steadily, his heart full of its lofty purpose.  He
knew that his brother could not escape him now,--that the moment he had
longed for through the slow years was at hand.  Serene in his trust,
confident in his faith that Providence was directing his and Gideon's
steps, and that neither could stumble until God's purpose had been
fulfilled, he breasted the steep, rugged incline with a careful and
methodical expenditure of energy.

Soon the mountain narrowed to a wedge-shaped slope of an easier
gradient, which culminated in a naked peak on each side of which a black
gulf yawned.  Under this, at a sheer depth which it made the senses
dizzy to contemplate, the mighty river, now turbidly brimming from the
heavy thunder-rains which had fallen upon its course, rolled down
between fringes of tall green timber.

When Gideon saw that he was trapped,--that in front of him and on either
hand were perpendicular cliffs, and behind him the brother whose face he
dreaded more than the face of Death, such a mighty cry of agony and
despair issued from his deep chest that the dead, black chasms seemed
for the instant to become peopled with lost souls.  Then, nerved with
the courage of despair he turned and faced his pursuer.

"Keep back--keep back," he shouted hoarsely, "or I will shoot you dead
and follow you to Hell over the krantz."

"You cannot do it, my brother," called out Stephanus; "the shield of the
Lord would turn the bullet aside and His hand would bear you up from the
depths."

"Stand, I tell you.--Stand.--Another step and you are a dead man."

Stephanus continued to approach, so Gideon lifted his gun and pulled the
trigger, but the powder flashed in the pan.  Stephanus never faltered,
but walked composedly to where the desperate man was hastily
endeavouring to reprime the gun with loose powder from his pocket.
Stephanus laid his hand on his brother's shoulder and Gideon at once
ceased in his attempt,--the gun slipped from his nervous fingers and
crashed upon the stones, and he sank, swooning, to the ground.

When he regained consciousness Gideon found himself supported by the
arms of his brother, whose eyes, deep with love and dimmed with pity,
looked steadily into his own.  Then his sin, his anguish and his terror
slipped from him like a cast-off garment, and for the first time in his
manhood he wept.

It did not need much to be said on either side for an understanding,
full and complete, to be at once established.  It was as though the
unveiled souls looked at each other, revealing all and wholly revealed.

Before turning to retrace their steps the brothers stood for a short
space and looked forth across the awful, Titanic chaos, in the
convoluted depths of which the weary river hurried improvidently along
with its wasted load of fertilising wealth.  The sun had nearly sunk;
already the dark chasms were full of almost opaque gloom, above which
the rarefied air quivered around each sun-scorched mountain head,
seeming to cap it with thin, colourless flame.

In the north-east a great crudded cloud lifted its soaring towers into
the blue heart of the awful aether.  Pure white on the side lit by the
sun, on the other it was deep purple, and through it shafts of lightning
were incessantly playing.  Higher and higher it towered, sweeping past
at a distance of a few miles.  Now and then during the pauses of the
thunder could be heard the low roar of the rain which fell like the
fringe of a pall from the lower margin of the immense mass.  Then they
knew that the black, two-years' drought was over,--that along the track
over which they had so laboriously struggled a few short days since, the
flowers would be bursting forth in a few hours and the rocky depressions
brimming with silvern water.

Stephanus' wagon had in the meantime arrived and was standing,
outspanned, close to that of Gideon.  Elsie stood near it, her face
turned to the mighty thunder-chariot from which a refreshing wind, laden
with the ichor of the fallen rain, stirred the richness of her hair.
She turned as her quick ear caught the sound of their approaching
footsteps, and it seemed to them as though the Spirit of Peace inhabited
her and looked out from the unfathomable depths of her sightless eyes.

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

GLOSSARY.

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

"Alle Wereld" "Whole world": equivalent to "Good gracious."

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

Baas: Master.

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

Baviaan: Baboon.

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

Benauwdheid: Indigestion.

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

Bultong: Dried meat.

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

Cappie: A sun bonnet.

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

Dassie: A rock-rabbit or coney.

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

Field Cornet: rural official with powers resembling those of a Justice
of the Peace.

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

Karee Bush: A shrub; Rhus viminalis.

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

Kloof: A valley.

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

Krantz: A cliff.

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

Nachtmaal: The Lord's Supper.

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

Onbeschafte: Unshorn; uncivilised.

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

Oom: Uncle.

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

Pan: A depression in the ground which sometimes contains water.

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

Rhebok: An antelope which frequents mountain heights.

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

Tanta: Aunt.

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

Schepsel: Creature; a term of tolerant contempt.

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

Stoep.  The platform in front of or at the side of a house.

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

Sassatyes: Flakes of pickled meat cooked with skewers stuck through
them.

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

Spoor: Trail.

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

Veldschoen: A heelless, home-made boot.

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

Voorhuis: The sitting-room in a Boer homestead.





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