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´╗┐Title: From Veldt Camp Fires
Author: Bryden, H.A.
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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From Veldt Camp Fires
By H.A. Bryden
Published by Hurst and Blackett, London.
This edition dated 1900.

From Veldt Camp Fires, by H.A. Bryden.

________________________________________________________________________

________________________________________________________________________
FROM VELDT CAMP FIRES, BY H.A. BRYDEN.

CHAPTER ONE.

A SECRET OF THE ORANGE RIVER.

Many are the stories told at the outspan fires of the South African
transport riders--some weird, some romantic, some of native wars, some
of fierce encounters with the wild beasts of the land.  Often have we
stopped for a chat with the rugged transport riders, and some strange
and interesting information is obtained in this way.

The transport rider--the carrier of Africa--with his stout waggon and
span of oxen, travels, year after year, over the rough roads of Cape
Colony and beyond, in all directions, and is constantly encountering all
sorts and conditions of men--white, black and off-coloured; and in his
wanderings, or over his evening camp fire, he picks up great store of
legend and adventure from the passing hunters, explorers and traders.

One night, after a day's journey through the bush-veldt, we lay at a
farmhouse, near which was a public outspan.  At this outspan two
transport riders were sitting snugly over their evening meal; they
seemed a couple of cheery, good fellows--one an English Afrikander, the
other an Englishman, an old University man, and well-read, as we
afterwards discovered--and nothing would suit them but that we should
join them and take pot-luck.  Attracted by their hospitable ways and the
enticing smell of their game stow, for we were none of us anthobians, we
sat us down and ate and drank with vigorous appetites.  Their camp-pot
contained the best part of a tender steinbok, and a brace or two of
pheasants (francolins); and we heartily enjoyed the meal, washed down
with the inevitable coffee.

Supper finished, some good old Cango (the best home-manufactured brandy
of the Cape, made in the Oudtshoorn district) was produced, pipes were
lighted, and then we began to "yarn."  For an hour or more we talked
upon a variety of topics--old days in England, the voyage to the Cape,
the Colony, its prospects and its sport.

From these, our conversation wandered up-country, and we soon found that
our acquaintances were old interior traders, who in the days when ivory
and feathers were more plentiful and more accessible than now, had over
and over again made the journey to 'Mangwato and back.  'Mangwato, it
may be explained, is the trader's abbreviation for Bamangwato, Khama's
country, the most northerly of the Bechuana States; and of Bamangwato,
Shoshong was formerly the capital and seat of trade.  Then we wandered
in our talk to the Kalahari, that mysterious and little known desert
land, and from the Kalahari back to the Orange River again.

"'Tis strange," said one of our number, "how little is known of the
Orange River--at all events west of the falls; I don't think I ever met
a man who had been down it.  One would think the colonists would know
something of their northern boundary; as a matter of fact they don't."

"Ah! talking of the Orange River, reminds me," said the younger of the
transport riders, the ex-Oxonian, and the more loquacious of the two,
"of a most extraordinary yarn I heard from a man I fell in with some
years back, stranded in the `thirstland,' north-west of Shoshong.  Poor
chap! he was in a sorry plight; he was an English gentleman, who for
years had, from sheer love of sport and a wild life, been hunting big
game in the interior.  That season he had stayed too late on the Chobi
River, near where it runs into the Zambesi, and with most of his people
had got fever badly.  They had had a disastrous trek out, losing most of
their oxen and all their horses, and when I came across them they were
stuck fast in the doorst-land (thirstland) unable to move forward or
back.  For two and a half days they had been without water, and from
being in bad health to begin with, hadn't half a chance; and, if I had
not stumbled upon them, they must all have been dead within fifteen
hours.  I had luckily some water in my vatjes, and managed to pull them
round, and that night, leaving their waggon in the desert in hopes of
being saved subsequently, and taking as much of the ivory and valuables
as we could manage and Mowbray's (the Englishman's) guns and ammunition,
we made a good trek, and reached water on the afternoon of the next day.
I never saw a man so grateful as Mowbray; I believe he would have done
anything in the world for me after he had pulled round a bit.  Poor
chap! during the short time I knew him I found him one of the best
fellows and most delightful companions I ever met.  Unlike most hunters,
he had read much and could talk well upon almost any subject, and his
stories of life and adventure in the far interior interested and
impressed me wonderfully.  But the Zambesi fever had got too strong a
hold upon him.  I dosed him with quinine and pulled him together till we
got to Shoshong, where I wanted him to rest, but he seemed restless and
anxious to get out into the open veldt again, and after a few days we
started away.  Before we had got half-way down to Griqualand, Mowbray
grew suddenly worse and died one evening in my waggon just at sunset.
We buried him under a kameel doom tree, covering the grave with heavy
stones, and fencing it strongly with thorns to keep away the jackals and
hyenas.

"Many and many a talk I had with poor Mowbray before he died; sometimes
he would brighten up wonderfully and insist on talking to me for hours,
as he lay well wrapped up, in the evening, underneath my waggon sail.
One evening, in particular, he had seemed so much stronger and better,
and, later on, as we sat before the camp fire on the dewless ground,
where I had propped him up and made him comfortable, he told me a most
strange story, a story so wonderful that most people would scout and
laugh at it as wildly improbable; yet, remembering well the narrator and
the circumstances under which he told it to me, with the shadow of death
creeping over the short remaining vista of his life, I believe most
firmly his story to be true as gospel.

"Poor chap!  He began in this way: `Felton, you have been a thundering
kind friend to me, kind and tender as any woman (which, by the way, was
all nonsense), and I feel I owe you more than I am ever likely to repay;
yet, if you want wealth, I believe I can put it in your way.  Do you
know the northern bank of the Orange River, between the great falls and
the sea?  No!  I don't suppose you do, for very few people have ever
trekked down it; still fewer have ever got down to the water from the
great walls of desolate and precipitous mountain that environ its
course, and, except myself and two others, neither of whom can ever
reveal its whereabouts, I believe no mortal soul upon this earth has
ever set eyes upon the place I am going to tell you about.  Listen!

"In 1871, about the time the diamond fields were discovered, and people
began to flock to Griqualand West, I was rather bitten with the mania,
and for some months worked like a nigger on the fields; during that time
I got to know a good deal about stones.  I soon tired of the life,
however, and finally sold my claim and what diamonds I had acquired,
fitted up a waggon, gathered together some native servants, and trekked
again for those glorious hunting grounds of the interior, glad enough to
resume my old and ever-charming life.  Amongst my servants was a little
Bushman, Klaas by name, whom I afterwards found a perfect treasure at
spooring and hunting.  Like all true Bushmen, he was dauntless as a
wounded lion, and determined as a rhinoceros, which is saying a good
deal.  I suppose Klaas had had more varied experience of South African
life than any native I ever met.  Originally, he had come as a child
from the borders of the Orange River, where he had been taken prisoner
in a Boer foray, in which nearly all his relations were shot down.  He
had then been `apprenticed' in the family of one of his captors, where
he had acquired a certain knowledge of semi-civilised life.  From the
Boer family of the back-country, he had subsequently drifted farther
down into the colony, and thence into an elephant hunter's retinue.  He
had accompanied expeditions with Griquas, Dutch and Englishmen all over
the far interior.  The Kalahari desert, Ovampo-land, Lake Ngami, the
Mababi veldt, and the Zambesi country, were all well known to him, for
in all of them he had traded, hunted and, on occasion, fought.  As for
the Western Orange River and its mysteries--for it is a mysterious
region--he knew it, as I afterwards discovered, better than any man in
the world.  Well, we trekked up to Matabeleland and, after some trouble,
got permission to hunt there; and a fine time we had, getting a quantity
of ivory, and magnificent sport among lions, elephants, buffaloes,
rhinoceros, sable and roan antelopes, koodoo, eland, Burchell's zebras,
pallah and all manner of smaller game.

"One day, Klaas, who was sometimes a bit too venturesome, got caught in
the open by a black rhinoceros, a savage old bull.  The old brute
charged and slightly tossed him, making a nasty gash in his right thigh,
but not fairly getting his horn under him, and was just turning to
finish the poor little, beggar, when I luckily nicked in.  I had seen
the business and had had time to rush out on to the plain, and, just as
Borele charged at poor Klaas to finish him off as he lay, I got up
within forty yards, let drive, and, as luck would have it, dropped him
with a 500 Express bullet behind the shoulder.  Even then the fierce
brute recovered himself and tried to charge me in turn, but he was now
disabled and I soon settled his game.  After that episode Klaas proved
himself about the only grateful native I ever heard of, and seemed as if
he couldn't do enough for me.

"One day, after he had got over his wound, he came to me, and said,
`Sieur! you said one day that you would like to know whether there are
diamonds anywhere else than at New Rush (as Kimberley was then called).
Well, sieur, I have been working at New Rush and I know what diamonds
are like; and I can tell you where you can find as many of them in a
week's search as you may like to pick up.  Allemaghte!  Ja, it is as
true, sieur, as a wilde honde on a hartebeest's spoor.'

"`What the devil do you mean, Klaas!' said I, turning sharply round--for
I was mending the disselboom (waggon-pole)--to see if the Bushman was
joking.  But on the contrary, Klaas's little weazened monkey face wore
an expression perfectly serious and apparently truthful.  The statement
seemed strange, for I knew the little beggar was not given to `blowing,'
as so many of the Kaffirs and Totties are.

"`Ja, sieur, it is truth; if ye will so trek with me to the Groote
(Orange) River, three or four days beyond the falls, I will show you a
place where there are hundreds and hundreds of diamonds, big ones, too,
many of them to be found lying about in the gravel.  I have played with
them and with other "mooi steins" too, often and often as a boy, when I
used to poke about here and there, up and down the Groote River.  My
father and grandfather lived near the place I speak of, and I know the
way to the "vallei" where these diamonds are well, though no one but
myself knows of them; for I found them by a chance, and, selfish like,
never told of my child's secret.  I will take you to the place if you
like.'

"`Are you really speaking truth, Klaas?' said I severely.

"`Ja!  Ja! sieur, I am, I am,' he earnestly and vehemently reiterated,
`you saved my life from the "rhenoster" the other day, and I don't
forget it.'

"Again and again I questioned and cross-questioned the little Bushman,
and finally convinced myself of his truth; and I had too much respect
for his keen intelligence to think he was himself misled or mistaken.

"`Well, Klaas,' said I at last, `I believe you, and we'll trek down to
the Orange River and see this wonderful diamond valley of yours.'

"Shortly after this conversation we came back to Shoshong, where I sold
my ivory, and then, with empty waggon and the oxen refreshed by a good
rest, set our faces for the river.  From Shoshong, in Bamangwato, we
trekked straight away across the south-eastern corner of the Kalahari,
in an oblique direction, pointing south-west; it was a frightfully
waterless and tedious journey, especially after passing the Langeberg,
which we kept on our left hand.  Towards the end of the journey we found
no water at a fountain where we had expected to obtain it, and thereby
lost four out of twenty-two oxen (for I had six spare ones), and at
last, after trekking over a burning and most broken country, we were
beyond measure thankful to strike the river some way below the great
falls.  Klaas had led us to a most beautiful spot, where the terrain
slopes gradually to the river (the only place for perhaps thirty or
forty miles where the water, shut in by mighty mountain walls, can be
approached), and where we could rest and refresh ourselves and our oxen.
Here we stopped four days.  It was a lovely spot; down the banks of the
river, and following its course, grew charming avenues of willows,
kameel dooms (acacias) and bastard ebony; two or three islands, densely
clothed with bush and greenery, dotted the broad and shining bosom of
the mighty stream; hippopotami wallowed quietly in the flood, and fish
were plentiful.  The thorny acacia was now in full bloom, and the sweet
fragrance of its yellow flowers everywhere perfumed the air as one
strolled by the river's brim.  Rare cranes, flamingoes, gorgeous
kingfishers and many handsome geese, ducks and other water-fowl, lent
life and charm to this sweet and favoured oasis.

"I had some old scraps of fishing tackle with me, and having cut myself
a rod from a willow tree, I employed some of my spare time in catching
fish, and had, for South Africa--which, as you know, is not a great
angling country--capital sport.  The fish I captured were a kind of
flat-headed barbel, fellows with dark greenish-olive backs and white
bellies, and I caught them with scraps of meat, bees, grasshoppers,
anything I could get hold of, as fast as I could pull them out, for an
hour or two at a time.  Once I ran clean out of bait, and was
nonplussed; however, I turned over a stone or two, killed a couple of
scorpions, carefully cut off their stings, and used them as bait, and
the fish came at them absolutely like tigers.  I soon caught some thirty
pounds weight of fish whenever I went out.  The mountains rose here and
there around in magnificently serrated peaks, and the whole place,
whichever way you looked, was superbly beautiful.  There was a fair
quantity of game about; Klaas shot some klipspringer antelopes--
hereabouts comparatively tame--up in the mountains, and there were
koodoos, steinbok and duykers in the bushes and kopjes.

"After the parching and most harassing trek across the desert; our
encampment seemed a terrestrial paradise.  The guinea-fowls called
constantly with pleasant metallic voices from among the trees that
margined the river, and furnished capital banquets when required.  Many
fine francolins abounded, and at evening, Namaqua partridges came to the
water to drink in literally astounding numbers.  We had to form a strong
fence of thorns around us, for leopards were numerous and very daring,
and there were still lions about in that country.  At night, as I lay in
my waggon, contentedly looking into the starry blue, studded with a
million points of fire, and mildly admiring the glorious effulgence of
the greater constellations, I began to conjure up all sorts of dreams of
the future, of which the bases and foundations were piles of diamonds,
culled from Klaas's wondrous valley.

"Having recruited from the desert journey, and all, men and beasts,
being in good heart and fettle, we presently started away down the river
for the valley of diamonds.  I had, besides Klaas, four other men as
drivers, voerlopers and after-riders, and they naturally enough were
extremely curious to know what on earth the `Baas' could want to trek
down the Orange River for--a country where no one came, and of which no
one had ever even heard.  I had to tell them that I was prospecting for
a copper mine, for, as you probably know, there are many places in this
region where that metal occurs.  After our four days' rest by the noble
river we were all greatly refreshed, and quite prepared for the severe
travel that lay before us.  As we were doubtful whether we should find
water at the next fountain that Klaas knew of, owing to the prevalence
of drought--and as it was an utter impossibility (so Klaas informed me)
to get down to the river on this side for several days, owing to the
steep mountain wall that everywhere encompassed it--I filled the water
vatjes and every other utensil I could think of, and then, all being
ready and the oxen inspanned, we moved briskly forward.

"We had now to make a detour to the right, away from the river, and for
great part of a day picked our painful footsteps over a rough and
semi-mountainous country.  Towards evening, we emerged upon a dreary and
interminable waste that lay outstretched before us, its far horizon
barred in the dim distance by towering mountains, through which we
should presently have to force our passage.  That evening we outspanned
in a howling wilderness of loose and scorching sand, upon which scarcely
a bush or shrub found subsistence.  After a night not too comfortable
and broken by some hyenas that prowled restlessly about, we were up
betimes next morning.  As soon as the oxen were inspanned and ready to
move forward for the mountains to which Klaas had directed our course, I
rode off for a low kopje that rose from the plain away in the distance
hoping to see game beyond.  I was not disappointed; a small troop of
hartebeest was grazing about half a mile off, and by dint of a little
manoeuvring with my Hottentot after-rider, whom I despatched on a
detour, I managed to cut across the herd and knocked over a fat cow at
forty yards.  We soon had her skinned, and taking the best of the meat,
rode on for the waggon.  Again we had an exhausting trek over a burning
sandy plain; the heat of this day was something terrible.  I have had
some baddish journeys in the doorst-land on the way to the great lake,
but this was, if possible, worse.  Towards four o'clock the oxen were
ready to sink in their yokes, their lowing was most distressing, and as
the water was now nearly at an end, and we might not reach a permanent
supply for another day, nothing could be done to alleviate their
sufferings.  At nightfall, more dead than alive, we outspanned beneath
the loom of a gigantic mountain range, whose recesses we were to pierce
on the following morning.  Half a day beyond this barrier lay the valley
of diamonds, as Klaas whispered to me after supper that night, with
gleaming excited eyes; for, noticing my growing keenness, he, too, was
becoming imbued with something of my expectancy.

"That night, as we lay under the mountain, was one of the most stifling
I ever endured in South Africa, where, on the high table-lands of the
interior, nights are usually cool and refreshing.  Even the moist heat
of the Zambesi valley was not more trying than this torrid, empty
desert.  The ovenlike heat, cast up all day from the sandy plain, seemed
to be returned at night by these sun-scorched rocks with redoubled
intensity.  Waterless, we lay sweltering in our misery, with blackened
tongues and parched and cracking lips.  The oxen seemed almost like dead
things.  Often have I inwardly thanked Pringle, the poet, of South
Africa, for his sweet and touching verse, written with the love of this
strange wild land deep in him, for his striking descriptions of its
beauties and its fauna.  As I lay panting that night, cursing my luck
and the folly that brought me thither, I lit a lantern and opened his
glowing pages.  What were almost the first lines to greet my gaze?
These!

  "A region of emptiness, howling and drear,
  Which man hath abandoned, from famine and fear,
  Which the snake and the lizard inhabit alone,
  With the twilight bat from the yawning stone;
  Where grass nor herb nor shrub takes root,
  Save poisonous thorns that pierce the foot;
  And here, while the night-winds around me sigh,
  And the stars burn bright in the midnight sky,
  As I sit apart by the desert stone,
  Like Elijah at Horeb's cave alone,
  `A still small voice' comes through the wild
  (Like a father consoling his fretful child),
  Which banishes bitterness, wrath and fear,
  Saying, `Man is distant, but God is near.'

"We hailed, the passage of the mountains next morning with something
akin to delight; anything to banish the monotony of these last two days
of burning toil.  We were up as the morning star flashed above the
earth-line.  We drank the remaining water, which afforded barely half a
pint each to the men, none for the oxen and horses.  With difficulty the
poor oxen, already, in this short space, gaunt and enfeebled from the
heat and for lack of food and drink, were forced up into their yokes.
Klaas, as the only one of us who knew the country, directed our
movements, and with hoarse shouts, and re-echoing cracks from the mighty
waggon-whip, slowly our caravan was set in motion.  Our entrance to the
mountains was effected through a narrow and extremely difficult poort
(pass), strewn with huge boulders and overgrown with brush and underwood
that often barred the way and rendered Stoppages frequent.  After about
a mile, the kloof into which this poort debouched suddenly narrowed and
turned left-handed at right angles to our course.  Accompanied by Klaas,
I walked down it, and was soon convinced by the little Bushman that our
passage that way was ended.  As Klaas had warned me, our only way
through and out of the mountains now lay in taking, with our waggons, to
the steep and broken hill sides, a proceeding not only perilous, but
apparently all but impossible.  Yet the thing had to be done, and we at
once set the spent oxen in motion and faced the ascent obliquely.  After
consultation with Klaas, I got out some ropes, which I had fastened to
the uppermost side of the waggon, while some stout long poles, which I
had had previously cut for such an emergency while outspanned at the
Orange River, served to prop up our lumbering vehicle from the lower
side.  Slowly and wearily, and yet, withal, with a sort of dogged
stubbornness, the poor oxen toiled on, half-hour after half-hour, urged
by our shouts, by the cruel waggon-whip, mercilessly plied, and the
terrible after-ox sjambok.  Many times it seemed, as our cumbrous desert
ship crashed across a boulder or down a stair-like terrace of rock, that
it must inevitably topple over and roll crashing to the bottom; but our
guy-ropes and the supporting poles saved us again and again.

"I had fastened one of the ropes with a stout band of leather round the
chest of my hunting horse; the other two ropes were held by the
strongest of my servants and myself, while two other men held the poles
against the lower side of the waggon as they stood down hill below it.
My old horse, guided by a Bechuana boy, as usual, proved himself as
sensible as any Christian, knew exactly what he had to do, and, when we
came to crucial points and the waggon shivered as it were upon empty
space, he and my Kaffir and I tugged away, while the fellows below
shoved with might and main.  And so time after time we averted a
catastrophe, so dire that I shuddered to think of it; for in some
places, if the waggon had gone, the wreck must have been irreparable and
the yoked oxen hurled with it in a broken and mangled heap to the bottom
far below us.  Well, occasionally halting for a blow, long hours of the
most distressing labour I ever experienced were at last got through; we
had surmounted and left behind the first huge mountain-side, had plunged
into a valley, had passed obliquely over the shoulder of another great
mountain, and now halted in a deep and hollow kloof lying below a
singular flat-topped mountain, conical in shape, that stretched across
our onward path.  This mountain was flanked on either hand, as we
fronted it, by yawning cliffs, and was only approachable from this one
aspect.  Here we outspanned for a final rest before completing our work,
if to complete it were possible.  Shading my eyes from the fierce
sunlight, I looked upward at the long slope of mountain, broken here and
there, and occasionally shaggy with bush; over all the fierce atmosphere
quivered, seething and dancing in the sun-blaze.  I looked again with
doubt and dismay at the gasping oxen, many of them lying foundered and
almost dead from thirst and fatigue, and my spirits, usually brisk and
unflagging, sank below zero.  Klaas had told me previously of a most
wonderful pool of water that lay on the crown of a mountain where we
should outspan finally before entering upon the portals of the diamond
valley.  Now he came to me and said, pointing upwards, `Sieur, de sweet
water lies yonder op de berg.  It is a beautiful pool, such as ye never
saw the like of; if we reach it we are saved and the oxen will soon get
round again; ye must get them up somehow, even without the waggon.'

"The tiny yellow blear-eyed Bushman, standing over me as I sat on a
rock, pointing with his lean arm skywards, his anxious dirt-grimed face
streaming with perspiration, was hardly the figure of an angel of hope;
and yet at that moment he was an angel, of the earth, earthy, 'tis true,
yet an angel that held before us sure hope of rescue from our valley of
despair; for despair, black and grim, now lay upon the faces of my
followers and in the eyes of my oxen.  Remember, we had tasted no water
to speak of for close on three days, and had had besides a frightfully
trying trek.

"We lay panting and grilling for an hour or more, and then I told my men
that water in any quantity lay at the mountain top and that we must, at
all hazards, get the oxen up to it.  By dint of severe thrashing with
the after-ox sjambok, we at last got the oxen on to their legs--all but
two, which could not be made to rise, and then, leaving the waggon, but
taking three or four buckets, we moved upwards.  Only a mile of ascent,
or a little more, lay before us; but so feeble were the oxen that we had
the greatest difficulty to drive them to the top, even without the
encumbering waggon.  At last we reached the krantz, and after a hundred
yards' walk upon its flat top, we came almost suddenly upon a most
wonderful and, to us, most soul-thrilling sight.

"Dense bushes of acacia thorn, spekboom, euphorbia, Hottentot cherry and
other shrubs grew around, here and there relieved by wide patches of
open space.  The oxen, getting the breeze and scenting water, suddenly
began to display a most extraordinary freshness; up went their heads,
their dull eyes brightened and they trotted forward to where the brush
apparently grew thickest.

"For a time they found no opening, but after following the circling wall
of bush, at length a broad avenue was disclosed--an avenue doubtless
worn smooth by the passage of elephants, rhinoceroses and other mighty
game, in past ages--and then there fell upon our sight the most
refreshing prospect that man ever gazed upon.  Thirty yards down the
opening there lay a great pool of water, about 200 feet across at its
narrowest point, and apparently of immense depth; the pool was circular,
its sides were of rock and quartz, and completely inaccessible from
every approach save that by which we had reached it.  It was indeed
completely encompassed by precipitous walls about thirty feet in height,
which defied the advent of any other living thing than a lizard or a
rock-rabbit.  Upon these rocky walls grew lichens of various colours--
blood-red, yellow and purple, imparting a most wonderful beauty to the
place.  The avenue to the brink of this delicious water was of smooth
rock somewhat sloping, and in the rush to drink we had the greatest
difficulty in preventing the half-mad oxen from plunging or being pushed
in, in which case we should have had much trouble to rescue them.

"How the poor beasts drank of that cool, pellucid flood, and how we
human beings drank, too!  I thought we should never have finished.  The
oxen drank and drank till the water literally ran out of their mouths as
they at last turned away.  Then I cast off my clothes and plunged into
the water; it was icy cold and most invigorating, and I swam and
splashed to my heart's content.  After my swim and a rest I directed my
men to fill the four buckets we had brought, and then, leaving the
horses in charge of one of their number, we drove the cattle, loth
though they were to leave the pool, back to the waggon, going very
carefully so as not to spill the water.

"At length we reached the valley, only to find our two poor foundered
bullocks lying nearly dead.  The distant lowing of their refreshed
comrades had, I think, warned them of good news, and the very smell of
the water revived them, and after two buckets apiece of the cold draught
had been gulped down their kiln-dried throats, they got up, shook
themselves, and rejoined their fellows.

"We rested for a short time and then inspanned and started for the
upland pool.  The oxen, worn and enfeebled though they were, had such a
heart put into them by their drink, and seemed so well to know that
their watery salvation lay up there, only a short mile distant, that
they one and all bent gallantly to the yokes and dragged their heavy
burden to the margin of the bush-girt water.  We now outspanned for the
night, made strong fires, for the spoor of leopards was abundant, stewed
some bustards, ate a good supper, and turned in; when I say turned in, I
should be more correct in saying I turned into my waggon, while the men
wrapped themselves in their blankets or karosses, lay with their toes
almost into the fire and snored in the most varied and inharmonious
chorus that ears ever listened to.

"I suppose we had not been asleep two hours when I was awakened by the
sharp barks and yelpings of my dogs, the kicks and scrambles of the
oxen, and the shouts of the men.  Snatching up my rifle and rushing out,
I was just in time to see a firebrand hurled at some dark object that
sped between the fires.

"`What is it, Klaas?'  I shouted.

"`Allemaghte! it is a tiger (leopard), sieur,' cried the Bushman, `and
he has clawed one of the dogs.'

"True enough, on inspecting the yelping sufferer, Rooi-kat, a brindled
red dog, and one of the best of my pack, I found the poor wretch at its
last gasp, with its throat and neck almost torn to ribbons.  Nothing
could save the unfortunate animal, the blood streamed from its open
throat, and, after a convulsive kick or two, it stretched itself out and
lay there dead.  Cursing the sneaking, cowardly leopard, I saw that the
replenished fires blazed up, and again turned in.

"It must have been about two o'clock in the morning, the coldest, the
most silent, and the dreariest of the dark hours--that fatal hour
betwixt night and day, when many a flickering life, unloosed by death,
slips from its moorings--when I was again startled from slumber by a
most blood-curdling yell.  Hunters, as you know, sleep light and seem
instinctively to be aware of what passes around them, even although
apparently wrapped in profoundest sleep.  I knew in a moment that that
agonised cry came from a human throat, and headlong from my kartel I
dashed.  God! what a din was there again from dogs, men, and oxen, and
above all, those horrid human screams.  I had my loaded rifle, and
rushing up to a confused crowd struggling near the firelight, I saw in a
moment what had happened.

"The youngest of my servants, a mere Bechuana boy, was hard and fast in
the grip of an immense leopard, which was tearing with its cruel teeth
at his throat, and at the same time kicking murderously with its heavily
clawed hind legs at the poor fellow's stomach and thighs.  One of the
men, Klaas of course, bolder than his fellows, was lunging an assegai
into the brute's ribs, seemingly without the smallest effect, others
were thrashing it with firebrands, and the dogs were vainly worrying at
its head and flanks.  All this I saw instantaneously.  Thrusting my
followers aside, I ran up to the leopard, and, putting my rifle to its
ear, fired.  The Express bullet did its work at once; the fiercest and
most tenacious of the feline race could not refuse to yield its life
with its head almost blown to atoms, and loosening its murderous hold,
the brute lay dead.  But too late! the poor Bechuana boy lay upon the
sand wounded to the death.  His right shoulder and throat were terribly
ripped and mangled by the fore claws and teeth of the deadly cat; but
the cruellest wounds lay lower down.  The hinder claws of the leopard
had absolutely torn the abdomen away; it was a shocking sight.  Recovery
was hopeless, and indeed, although we did what we could for the poor
sufferer, he only lingered an hour insensible, then died.  After his
death my men told me how the thing had happened.  In this solitary
region the leopards and other ferae, as I have often heard, never being
disturbed by gunners, are extraordinarily fierce and audacious.  The
leopard, a male, was evidently very hungry, as its empty stomach
testified, and after once tasting blood--that of the dog--it soon got
over its temporary scare.  The young Bechuana lay farthest from the
fire, for his elders took up the warmest positions, and the leopard had
crept cat-like in upon him and got him by the throat before he knew
where he was.  Then came the awful shrieks I had heard, and then began
the tussle for life; alas! an altogether one-sided one.  My men, in the
scramble, and scared, too, no doubt, forgot the guns which were in the
waggon, and only Klaas had thought of his assegai.  So bloodthirsty was
the brute, that nothing, except my rifle, could make it relax its hold,
even although it was manifestly unable to get away with its victim.
After these horrors sleep was banished, and as the grey light came up we
prepared for day.

"The morning broke at length in ruddiest splendour, and as the terrain
was slowly unfolded before my gaze, I realised the desolate magnificence
of the country.  Mountains, mountains, mountains of grim sublimity
rolled everywhere around.  Far away below, as I looked westward, a thin
silvery line, only visible for a little space, told of the great river
flowing to the sea, inexorably shut in by precipitous mountain walls
that guaranteed for ever its awful solitude.

"Klaas stood near, and as I gazed, he whispered, for my men were not far
away: `Sieur, yonder, straight in front of you, five miles away, lie the
diamonds.  If we start directly after breakfast we shall have four
hours' hard climbing and walking to reach the valley.'

"All right, Klaas," said I, "breakfast is nearly ready and we'll start
as soon as we have fed."  A good fire was going, the pot was already
steaming, the oxen had been watered, and I myself, stripping off my
clothes on the brink of that delicious pool, dived deeply into its
unknown depths.  After a magnificent swim in the cold and bracing water
I felt transformed and ready for breakfast; but although the bathe had
to some extent revived my spirits, I could not forget the sad beginning
of our search--the death of poor Amazi, now, poor fellow, lying buried
beneath a cairn of stones just away beyond the camp.

"Well, breakfast was soon over, and then I spoke to my men.  I told them
that I intended to stay at this pool for a few days, and that in the
meantime I was going prospecting in the mountains bordering the river.
I despatched two of them to go and hunt for mountain buck in the
direction we had come from, where we had noticed plenty of rhebok,
duyker and klipspringer, the others were to see that the oxen fed round
about the water, where pasture was good and plentiful, and generally to
look after the camp.  For Klaas and myself, we should be away till dusk,
perhaps even all night; but we did not wish to be followed or disturbed,
and unless those at the camp heard my signal of four consecutive rifle
shots they were on no account to attempt to follow up our spoor.  My men
by this time knew me and my ways well, and I was convinced that we
should not be followed by prying eyes; indeed, the lazy Africans were
only too glad of an easy day in camp after their hard journey.

"Taking some biltong (dried flesh), biscuits and a bottle of water each,
and each shouldering a rifle, Klaas and I started away at seven o'clock.
The little beggar, who, I suppose, in his Bushman youth had wandered
baboon-like all over this wild country, till he knew it by heart, showed
no sign of hesitation, but walked rapidly down hill into a deep gorge at
the foot, which led half a mile or so into a huge mass of mountain that
formed the north wall of the Orange River.  This kloof must at some time
or another have served as a conduit for mighty floods of water, for its
bottom was everywhere strewn with boulders of titanic size and shape,
torn from the cliff walls above.  It took us a long hour of the most
laborious effort to surmount these impediments, and then with torn hands
and aching legs we went straight up a mountain, whose roof-like sides
consisted of masses of loose shale and shingle, over which we slipped
and floundered slowly and with difficulty.  I say we, but I am bound to
admit that the Bushman made much lighter of his task than I, his
ape-like form seeming indeed much more fitted for such a slippery
breakneck pastime.

"At length we reached the crest, and then, after passing through a
fringe of bush and scrub, we scrambled down the thither descent, a
descent of no little danger.  The slipping shales that gave way at every
step, often threatened, indeed, to hurl us headlong to the bottom, which
we should most certainly have reached mere pulpy masses of humanity.  At
last this stage was ended, and we found ourselves in a very valley of
desolation.  Now we were almost completely entombed by narrowing
mountain walls, whose dark red sides frowned upon us everywhere in
horrid and overpowering silence.  The sun was up, and the heat, shut in
as we were, overpowering.  Moreover, to make things more lively, I
noticed that snakes were hereabouts more than ordinarily plentiful; the
bloated puff-adder, the yellow cobra, and the dangerous little night
adder several times only just getting out of our path.

"The awful silence of this sepulchral place was presently, as we rested
for ten minutes, broken by a posse of baboons, who, having espied us
from their krantzes above, came shoggling down to see what we were.

"They were huge brutes and savage, and quah-quahed at us threateningly
till Klaas sent a bullet into them, when they retreated pell-mell.  We
soon started again, and pressed rapidly along a narrow gorge some fifty
feet wide with perfectly level precipitous walls, apparently worn smooth
at their bases by the action of terrific torrents, probably an early
development of the Orange River when anciently it made its way through
these grim defiles.  The ground we walked upon was, I noticed, composed
of sand and rounded pebbles, evidently water-worn and of various kinds.
Some of them were round masses of the most beautiful transparent
crystal-spar, often as large as a man's head.

"Presently the causeway narrowed still more, and then, turning a sharp
corner, we suddenly came upon a pair of leopards sauntering coolly
towards us.  I didn't like the look of things at all, for a leopard at
the best of times is an ugly customer, even when he knows and dreads
firearms, and here, probably, the animals had never even heard the
report of a gun.

"The brutes showed no intention of bolting, but stood with their backs
up, their tails waving ominously and their gleaming teeth bared in
fierce defiance.  There was nothing for it, either we or they must
retreat, and having come all this frightful trek for the diamonds I felt
in no mood to back down, even to _Felis pardus_ in his very nastiest
mood.  Looking to our rifles, we moved very quietly forward, until
within thirty-five yards of the grim cats.  They were male and female,
and two as magnificent specimens of their kind as sun ever shone upon.
The male had now crouched flat for his charge and not an instant was to
be lost; the female stood apparently irresolute.  Noticing this, and not
having time to speak, we both let drive at the charging male; both shots
struck, but neither stopped him.  The lady, hearing the report, and
apparently not liking the look of affairs, incontinently fled.  With a
hoarse, throaty grunt the male leopard flew across the sand, coming
straight at me, and then launched himself into the air.  I fired too
hurriedly my second barrel, and, for a wonder, clean missed, for in
those days I seldom failed in stopping dangerous game; but these beggars
are like lightning once they are charging.  In a moment the yellow form
was flying through space, straight at my head; I sprang to one side, and
Klaas, firing again, sent the leopard struggling to earth, battling
frantically for life, amid sand and shingle, with a broken back.  Lucky
was the shot, and bravely fired, or I had probably been as good as a
dead man ere this.  Another cartridge soon finished off the fierce
brute.  We noticed on inspection that one of our first two bullets had
ploughed up the leopard's nose and glanced off the forehead; the other
had entered the chest and passed almost from end to end of the body,
while the third had broken the spine.  Klaas soon whipped the skin off
the dead leopard and hid it under some stones, and we then proceeded,
the whole affair having occupied but twenty minutes.

"Another mile of this canal-like kloof brought us to an opening, and
here a most singular sight lay before my vision.  Hitherto we had been
so shut in that the sun failed to penetrate between the narrowing
cliffs, except, probably, for a short while as it passed immediately
above them.

"Suddenly, as the gorge widened on either hand, a blaze of sunlight
glowed and glistened on the upright walls to the left hand of us.  As I
looked thither, one of the most marvellous sights in nature was, in an
instant, laid bare; a sight that few mortals, even in aeons upon aeons
of the past, have ever gazed upon in these remote and most inaccessible
regions of the Orange River.  The wall of mountain on our left stood up
straight before the hot sunlight a dark reddish-brown mass of rock, I
suppose some five hundred feet in height, and then sloped away more
smoothly to its summit, which overlooked the river, as I should judge,
about a mile distant.  As we came out into the sunshine, Klaas, pointing
to the cliff, ejaculated, in quite an excited way, `De paarl! de paarl!
kek, sieur, kek!'  (The pearl! the pearl! look, sir, look!)  Looking
upwards at the pile of rock, my eye was suddenly arrested by a gleaming
mass that protruded from the dead wall of mountain.  Half-dazzled, I
shaded my eyes with my hand and looked again.  It was a most strange and
beautiful thing that I beheld, a freak of nature the most curious that I
had ever set eyes on.  The glittering mass was a huge egg-shaped ball of
quartz, of a semi-transparent, milky hue, flashing and gleaming in the
radiant sunshine, with the glorious prismatic colours that flash from
the unlucky opal.  But yet more strange, above the `paarl,' as Klaas
quaintly called it, and overhanging it, was a kind of canopy of
stalactite of the same brilliant opalescent colours.  It was wonderful!
Klaas here began to caper and dance in the most fantastic fashion, and
then, suddenly ceasing, he said, `Now, sieur, I will soon show you the
diamonds; they are there,' pointing to a dark corner of the glen, `right
through the rock.'

"`What made you call that shining stone up there "de paarl"?' said I, as
I gazed in admiration at the beautiful ball of crystal.

"`Well, sieur, I was once with a wine Boer at the Paarl, down in the Old
Colony, and a man told me why they called the mountain there "De Paarl,"
and he told me, too, what the pretty gems were that I saw in the young
vrouw's best ring when she wore it; and I then knew what a paarl was and
that it came from a fish that grows in the sea.  And I remembered then
the great shining stone that I found up here, when I was a boy, on the
Groote River, and I thought to myself, "Ah!  Klaas, that was the finest
paarl ye ever saw, that near where the pretty white stones lay."  I mean
the diamonds yonder, sieur.'

"At last, then, we were within grasp of the famous stones, concerning
whose reality I had even to the last had secret misgivings.  It was a
startling thought.  Just beyond there, somewhere through the rock-walls,
whose secret approach at present Klaas only knew, lay `Sindbad's
Valley.'  Could it be true?  Could I actually be within touch of riches
unspeakable; riches, in comparison with which the wealth of Croesus
seemed but a beggar's hoard?

"I sat down on a rock and lit a pipe, just to think it over and settle
my rather highly-strung nerves.  The Paarl, as I could now see, was an
unique formation of crystal-spar, singularly rounded upon its face.  It
and the glorious canopy of hanging stalactite above it must have been
reft bare by some mighty convulsion that had anciently torn asunder
these mountains, leaving the ravine in which we stood.

"As we drank from our water-bottles and ate some of the dried flesh and
biscuits we had brought with us, I noticed Klaas's keen little eyes
wandering inquiringly round the base of the precipice in our front.  He
seemed puzzled, and as we finished our repast and lit our pipes again,
he said, `The hole in the rock that leads from this kloof to the
diamonds should be over there,' pointing before him.  `But I can't quite
make out the spot, the bushes have altered and grown so since I was here
as a boy, years and years ago.'

"We got up and walked straight for the point he had indicated and
reached the foot of the precipice.  All along here, where the sand and
soil had been swept in bygone floods, or had formed from the slow
disintegration of fallen rock from above, cactus, euphorbia, aloe and
brush grew thickly, and in particular the curious Euphorbia Candelabrum,
with its many-branching arms, stood prominent.  The Bushman hunted
hither and thither in the prickly jungle with the fierce rapidity of a
tiger-cat after a running guinea-fowl; but, inasmuch as he was sometimes
prevented from immediately approaching the rock-wall, he appeared unable
to hit off the tunnel that led, as he had formerly told me, to the
valley beyond.  Suddenly, after he had again disappeared, he gave a low
whistle, a signal to approach to which I quickly responded.  Quietly
pushing my way towards him, I was astonished to see within a small
clearing a thick and high thorn fence, outside of which Klaas stood.
Inside this circular kraal was a low round hut, formed of boughs and
branches strongly and closely interlaced Klaas was standing watching
intently the interior of the hut, which seemed to be barred at its tiny
entrance by a pile of thorns lying close against it.

"What could it mean, this strange dwelling, inaccessible as it seemed to
human life?  Klaas soon found a weak spot in the kraal-fence, and,
pulling down some thorns, we stepped inside and approached the hut.
Here, too, Klaas pulled away the dry acacia thorns from the entrance and
was at once confronted by a tiny bow and arrow and behind that by a
fierce little weazened face.  Instantly, my Bushman poured forth a
torrent of his own language, redundant beyond expression with those
extraordinary clicks of which the Bushman tongue seems mainly to
consist.

"Even as he spoke, the bow and arrow were lowered, the little head
appeared through the entrance, and the tiniest, quaintest, most ancient
figure of a man I had ever beheld stood before us.  Ancient, did I say?
Ancient is hardly a meet description of his aspect.  As he stood there,
blinking like an owl in the fierce sunlight, his only covering a little
skin kaross of the red-rhebok, fastened over his shoulders, standing not
more than three feet eight or ten inches in height, he looked indeed
coeval with the rocks around him.  I never saw anything like it.  Poor
little oddity!  Dim though his eyes were waxing, feeble though his
shrivelled arms, dulled though his formerly acute senses, he had, with
all the desperate pluck of his race, been prepared to do battle for his
hearth and home.

"In his own tongue, Klaas interrogated this antediluvian Bushman, and
then, suddenly, as he was answered by the word `Ariseep' a light flashed
across his countenance.  Seizing his aged countryman by the shoulders,
he turned him round and carefully examined his back.  Lifting the skin
kaross and rubbing away the coating of grease and dirt that covered the
right shoulder, Klaas pointed to two round white scars just below the
blade-bone, several inches apart; then he gave a leap into the air,
seized the old fossil by the neck and shrieked into his ears the most
wonderful torrent of Bushman language I have ever heard.  In his turn
the old man started back, scanned Klaas intently from head to foot, and
in a thin pipe, jabbered at him almost as volubly.

"Finally, Klaas enlightened me as to this comical interlude.  It seemed
incredible; this old man, Ariseep by name, was his grandfather, whom he
had not set eyes on since, long years before, the Boer commando had
broken into his tribal fastness, slain his father, mother and other
relatives and carried himself off captive.  The old man before us had
somehow escaped in the fight, had crept away, and, after years of
solitary hiding in the mountains around, had finally penetrated to this
grim and desolate valley, where he had subsisted on Bushman fare.
Snakes, lizards, roots, gum, bulbs, fruit and an occasional snared buck
or rock-rabbit; these, and a little rill of water that gushed from the
mountain-side hard by, supplied him with existence.  Here he had
lingered for many years, alone and isolated.  His only fear had been, as
he grew older and feebler, the leopards infesting the neighbouring
mountain.  Against their attacks had he built the strong thorned fence,
carefully closed at night, and the door of thorns which he wedged
tightly into the entrance way.

"A strange meeting indeed it was, but after all not stranger than many
things that happen in the busy world.  So far as I could learn from
Klaas, who himself was between forty and fifty, the ancient figure
before us was laden with the burden of more than ninety years.  Think of
it! ninety summers of parched Bushmanland, of burning Orange River
mountains; ninety seasons of hunger and thirst and dire privations;
great part of the earlier period varied by raids on the flocks of the
Boers and battles for existence with the wild beasts of the land!

"After nearly an hour's incessant chatter, during which I believe Klaas
had laid before his monkeylike ancestor an epitomised history of his
life, he told the old man we wished to get through the mountain and that
he had lost the tunnel of which he had known as a boy.

"Ariseep, who it seems, in the years he had been there, had explored
every nook and cranny of the valley, knew at once what he meant, and
quickly pointed out to us, not a hundred paces away, a dense and prickly
mass of cactus and euphorbia bush; here, after half an hour's hewing and
slashing with our hunting knives, we managed to open a pathway, and at
last a cave-like opening in the mountain, about seven feet in diameter,
lay before us.  Grandfather Ariseep, questioned as to the tunnel, said
that, upon first discovering it, which he had done quite by accident
while hunting rock-rabbits, he had once been through, years before, but,
as he had found the passage long and dangerous, and the valley beyond
appeared to him less interesting than his present abiding place, he had
never repeated the journey.  However, he gave us warning that snakes
abounded and might not impossibly be encountered in the twenty minutes'
crawl, which, as Klaas had told me, it would take to get through.

"This opinion, translated by Klaas, was not of a nature to fortify me in
the undertaking, yet, rather than leave the diamonds unexplored, I felt
prepared to brave the terrors of this uncanny passage.

"It was now three o'clock; the sun was marching steadily across the
brassy firmament on his westward trek and we had no time to lose.

"`In you go, Klaas,' said I, and, nothing loth, Klaas dived into the
bowels of the mountain, I at his heels.  For five minutes, by dint of
stooping and an occasional hands-and-knees creep upon the flooring of
the tunnel, sometimes on smooth sand, sometimes over protruding rock and
rough gravel, we got along very comfortably.  Then the roof of the dark
avenue--for it was pitch dark now--suddenly lowered, and we had to crawl
along, especially I, as being taller and bulkier than Klaas, like
serpents, upon our bellies.  It was unpleasant, deuced unpleasant, I can
tell you, boxed up like this beneath the heart of the mountain.  The
very thought seemed to make the oppression a million times more
oppressive.  It seemed that the frightful pile of rock, towering far
above us, was bodily descending to crush us into a horrible and hidden
tomb.  The thought of lying here, squeezed down till Judgment Day, was
appalling; or, perhaps, more mercifully one's bones might, ages
hereafter, be discovered as these regions became settled up, in much the
same state in which mummified cats are occasionally found in old
chimneys and hidden closets when ancient dwellings are pulled down in
England.  Even Klaas, plucky Bushman though he was, didn't seem to
relish the adventure and spoke in a subdued and awe-stricken whisper.
Sometimes since, as I have thought of that most gruesome passage, I have
burst into a sweat nearly as profuse, though not so painful, as I
endured that day.  At last, after what seemed to me hours upon hours of
this painful crawling and Egyptian gloom, we met a breath of fresher
air; the tunnel widened and heightened, and in another five minutes we
emerged into the blessed sunlight.  Little Klaas looked pretty well
`baked,' even in his old leather `crackers' and flannel shirt; as for
myself, I was literally streaming, every thread on me was as wet as if I
had plunged into a river.  We lay panting for awhile upon the scorching
rocks, and then sat up and looked about us.

"If the Paarl Kloof, as Klaas called it, from whence we had just come,
had been sufficiently striking, the mighty amphitheatre in which we lay
was infinitely more amazing.  Imagine a vast arena, almost completely
circular in shape, flat and smooth, and composed as to its flooring of
intermingled sand and gravel, reddish-yellow in colour.  This arena was
surrounded by stupendous walls of the same ruddy brown rock we had
noticed in Paarl Kloof, which here towered to a height of close on a
thousand feet.  An inspection of these cliffs, which sheered inwards
from top to bottom, revealed the fact previously imparted to me by
Klaas, that no living being could ever penetrate hither save by the
tunnel passage through which we had come.  The amphitheatre, which here
and there bore upon its surface a thin and scattered covering of bush
and undergrowth, seemed everywhere about half-a-mile across from wall to
wall.  In the centre of the red cliffs, blazing forth in splendour, ran
a broad band of the most glorious opalescent rock-crystal, which flashed
out its glorious rays of coloured light as if to meet the fiery kisses
of the sun.  This flaming girdle of crystal, more beautiful a thousand
times than the most gorgeous opal, the sheen of a fresh-caught mackerel,
or the most radiant mother-of-pearl, I can only compare in splendour to
the flashing rainbows formed over the foaming falls of the Zambesi,
which I have seen more than once.  It ran horizontally and very evenly
round at least two-thirds of the cliff-belt that encircled us.  It was a
wonderful and amazing spectacle, and I think quite the most singular of
the many strange things (and they are not few) I have seen in the
African interior.

"Well, we sat gazing at this crystal rainbow for many minutes, till I
had somewhat feasted my enraptured gaze; then we got up and at once
began the search for diamonds.  Directly I saw the gravel, especially
where it had been cleansed in the shallow spruits and dongas by the
action of rain and flood, I knew at once we should find `stones'; it
resembled almost exactly the gravel found in the Vaal River diggings,
and was here and there strongly ferruginous, mingled with red sand and
occasionally lime.

"I noticed quickly that agates, jaspers and chalcedony were distributed
pretty thickly, and that occasionally the curious banddoom stone, so
often found in the Vaal River with diamonds, and, indeed, often
considered by diggers as a sure indicator of `stones' was to be met
with.  In many places the pebbles were washed perfectly clean and lay
thickly piled in hollow water-ways; here we speedily found a rich
harvest of the precious gems.  In a feverish search of an hour and a
half, Klaas and I picked up twenty-three fine stones, ranging in size
from a small pigeon's egg to a third of the size of my little finger
nail.  They were all fine diamonds, some few, it is true, yellow or
straw-coloured, others of purest water, as I afterwards learned, and we
had no difficulty in finding them, although we wandered over not a
twentieth part of the valley.  I could see at once from this off-hand
search that enormous wealth lay spread here upon the surface of the
earth; beneath probably was contained fabulous wealth.  I was puzzled at
the time, and I have never had inclination or opportunity to solve the
mystery since, to account for the presence of diamonds in such
profusion.  Whether they were swept into the valley by early floodings
of the Orange River through some aperture that existed formerly, but had
been closed by volcanic action, or whether, as I am inclined to think,
the whole amphitheatre is a vast upheaval from subterraneous fires of a
bygone period, is to this hour an unfathomed secret.  I rather incline
to the latter theory, and believe that, like the Kimberley `pipe,' as
diggers call it, the diamondiferous earth had been shot upwards
funnel-wise from below, and that ages of floods and rain-washing had
cleansed and left bare the gravel and stones upon the surface.

"From the search we had had, I made no doubt that a fortnight's careful
hunting in this valley would make me a millionaire, or something very
like it.  At length I was satisfied, and as the westering sun was fast
stooping to his couch, with a light heart and elastic step I turned with
Klaas to depart.  The excitement of the `find' had quite banished the
remembrance of that awful tunnel passage so recently encountered.

"`We'll go back now, Klaas,' said I, `sleep in your grandfather's kraal,
and get to the waggon first thing in the morning; then I shall arrange
to return and camp a fortnight in Paarl Kloof, leaving the waggon at the
pool.  In that time we shall be able to pick up diamonds enough to
enrich ourselves and all belonging to us for generations.  I don't mind
then who discovers the valley; they can make another Kimberley of it if
they choose, for aught I care.'

"At half-past five we again entered the tunnel.  It was a nasty business
when one thought of it again, but it would soon be over.  As it flashed
across my brain, I thought at the moment that two such journeys a day
for six or seven days would be quite as much as even the greediest
diamond lover could stomach.  As before, Klaas went first, and for half
the distance all went well.  Suddenly, as we came to a sandy part of the
tunnel, there was a scuffle in front, a fierce exclamation in Bushman
language, and then Klaas called out in a hoarse voice, `Allemaghte,
sieur, een slang het mij gebissen!'" (Almighty, sir, a snake has bitten
me!)

"Heavens, what a situation!  Cooped up in this frightful burrow, face to
face with probably a deadly snake, which had already bitten my
companion!  Almost immediately Klaas's voice came back to me in a hoarse
guttural whisper, `I have him by the neck, sieur; it is a puff-adder and
his teeth are sticking into my shoulder.  If you will creep up and lay
hold of his tail, which is your side of me, we can settle him, but I
can't get his teeth out without your help.'  As you will remember, the
puff-adder's striking fangs are very curved and are often difficult to
disengage once it has made its strike.  Poor Klaas!  I felt certain his
days must be numbered, but there was nothing for it; I must help him.

"Crawling forwards and feeling my way with fright-benumbed fingers, I
touched Klaas's leg.  Then softly moving my left hand I was suddenly
smitten by a horrible writhing tail.  I seized it with both hands, and
finally gripped the horrid reptile (which I felt to be swollen with
rage, as is the brute's habit) in an iron grasp with both hands.  Then I
felt, in the black darkness, Klaas take a fresh grip of the loathsome
creature's neck, and with an effort, disengage the deadly fangs from his
shoulder.  Immediately I felt him draw his knife, and after a struggle,
sever the serpent's head from its body.  The head he pushed away to the
right, as far out of our course as possible, and then I dragged the
writhing body from him, and, shuddering, cast it behind me as far as
possible.

"At that moment I thought that, for the first time in my life, I must
have swooned.  But, luckily, I bethought me of poor faithful Klaas, sore
stricken, and I called to him in as cheerful a voice as I could muster,
`Get forward, Klaas, for your life, as hard as you can, and, please God,
we'll pull you through.'

"Never had I admired the Bushman's fierce courage more than now.  Most
men would have sunk upon the sand and given up life and hope.  Not so
this aboriginal.  `Ja, sieur, I will loup,' was all he said.

"Then we scrambled onward, occasionally halting as the deadly sickness
overtook Klaas; but all the while I pushed him forwards and urged him
with my voice.  At last the light came, and as my poor Bushman grew
feebler and more slow, I found room to pass him and so dragged him
behind me to the opening into Paarl Kloof.  Here I propped him for a
moment on the sand outside, with his back to the mountain, and loudly
called `Ariseep,' while I got breath for a moment.

"The sun was sinking in blood-red splendour behind the mountains, and
the kloof and rock-walls were literally aglow with the parting blush of
day.  Nature looked calm and serenely beautiful and hushed in a
splendour that ill-accorded with the agitating scene there at the mouth
of the tunnel.  All this flashed across me as I called for the old man.
I looked anxiously at Klaas and examined his wound; there were two deep
punctures in the left shoulder, and from his having had to use some
degree of force to drag off the reptile, the orifices were more torn
than is usual in cases of snake-bite.  Klaas was now breathing heavily
and getting dull and stupefied I took him in my arms and carried him to
Ariseep's kraal, whence the old man was just emerging.  At sight of his
grandfather, Klaas rallied and rapidly told him what had happened, and
the old man at once plunged into his hut for something.

"Thin Klaas's eyelids drooped and he became drowsy, almost senseless.
In vain I roused him and tried to make him walk and so stay the baleful
effects of the poison now running riot in his blood; he was too far
gone.  Ariseep now re-appeared with a small skin bag, out of which he
took some dirty-looking powder.  With an old knife he scored the skin
and flesh around Klaas's wound and then rubbed in the powder.  I had no
brandy or ammonia to administer, and therefore let the old Bushman
pursue his remedy, though I felt, somehow, it would be useless.  So it
proved; either the antidote, with which I believe Bushmen often do
effect wonderful cures, was stale and inefficacious, or the poison had
obtained too strong a hold.  My poor Klaas never became conscious again,
though I fancied eagerly that he recognised me before he died, for his
lips moved as he turned to me once.  His pulse sank and sank, his face
became dull and ashen, his eyelids quivered a little, his breath came
hard and laboured, and at last, within an hour and a half from the time
he was bitten, he lay dead.

"So perished my faithful and devoted henchman; the stoutest, truest,
bravest soul that ever African sun shone upon.  I cannot express to you
the true and unutterable grief I felt, as, with old Ariseep, I buried
poor Klaas when the moon rose that night.  We placed him gently in a
deep sandy spruit, and over the sand piled heavy stones to keep the
vermin from him.

"Then, laying myself within Ariseep's kraal, I waited for the slothful
dawn.  As it came, I rose, called Ariseep from his hut, and bade
farewell to him as best I could, for we neither of us understood one
another.  I noticed, by-the-bye, that no sign of grief seemed to trouble
the old man.  Probably he was too aged, and had seen too much death to
think much about the matter.

"The rest of my story is soon finished.  I made my way back to camp,
told my men what had happened, and indeed took some of them back with me
to Klaas's grave and made them exhume the body to satisfy themselves of
the cause of death--for these men are sometimes very suspicious--then we
covered him again securely against wandering beasts and birds.

"I trekked back to the Old Colony, sold off my things and came home.
The diamonds I had brought away realised in England 22,000 pounds.  I
have never dreamt of going to the fatal valley again; nothing on earth
would tempt me after that ill-starred journey, heavy with the fate of
Klaas and the Bechuana boy, Amazi.  As for the tunnel, I would not
venture once more into its recesses for all the diamonds in Africa, even
if they lay piled in heaps at the other end of it.  Except old Ariseep,
Klaas had no relation that I knew of, and it was useless to think of
spending the diamond-money in that quarter.  The old fellow had, so far
as I could make him understand me, utterly refused to accompany me from
the kloof, where he evidently meant to end his days; even if he had
come, what could I have done for him?  At his time of life, and with his
peculiar habits, he could hardly have begun the world again, even if I
had brought him home, bought him a country house, taken rooms in
Piccadilly, dressed him in the height of fashion and launched him upon
society.

"Therefore I left him as I found him.  Klaas I have never ceased to
mourn from that day to this.  Part of the 22,000 pounds I invested for
some relatives, the balance that I kept suffices, with what I already
possessed, for all possible wants of my own.  Then I came back to my
dearly-loved South Africa for the last time, and a few weeks later made
the journey to the Chobi River, from which you rescued me in the
thirstland."

Such was the story related to us by the transport rider, in a clear and
singularly graphic manner, to which these pages do scant justice.  Our
narrator wound up by telling us that Mowbray had further imparted to him
the exact locality of the diamond valley, but, he added, "I have never
yet been there, nor do I think that, for the present, it is likely I
shall go.  Some day before I leave the Cape I may have a try and trek
down the Orange River; but I don't feel very keen about that secret
passage, after poor Mowbray's experiences."

We had sat wrapt listeners for some hours of that soft, calm, African
night.  The glorious stars looked out from above us in their deep blue
dome; the Southern Cross shone in serene effulgence, as if, too, its
sparkling gems claimed an interest in the legend of the lost diamonds.
It was now two o'clock, and the camp fire of the transport riders burned
low; just one more soupje we had with our friendly entertainers, and
then, with hearty expressions of thanks and good-will, rose to seek our
beds.  That night, before falling asleep, I pondered long upon the
strange narrative we had heard.  Often since have I done so.  Often,
too, have I thought of the lone grave of the English hunter, Mowbray,
far out upon the verge of that dim and mysterious desert, the Kalahari.

CHAPTER TWO.

THE STORY OF A TUSK.

It was a fine spring morning in the City: even in the great dingy
warehouse, where Cecil Kensley was engaged in cataloguing a vast store
of ivory in preparation for the periodical sales, the sun beamed
pleasantly.  It lit up the dark corners of the building, and played
everywhere upon hundreds of smooth, rounded elephants' teeth, varying in
colour from a rich creamy yellow to darkest brown--from the gleaming
tusk, fresh chopped within the last year from the head of a young bull,
to the huge, dark, discoloured, almost black-skinned tooth, that for a
hundred years had lain unnoticed in some mud swamp, or for generations
had decorated the grave or kraal-fence of some native chief.  There they
lay, those precious pillars of ivory--solid scrivelloes, Egyptian soft
teeth, Ambriz hard irregulars, billiard and bagatelle scrivelloes,
bangle teeth, Siam, Niger, Abyssinian, Bombay, West Coast, Cape, and all
the rest of them--upon which the world sets so great a store, and for
which mankind is so rapidly exterminating a species.

Those wonderful teeth, dumb memorials, so many of them, of dark tales of
blood and suffering, of slave raids, plundered villages, murders,
floggings, terrible journeys to the coast, unutterable scenes of horror
and woe--what histories could they not unfold?  But the tusks lay there,
hugging their grim secrets, silent and mute enough.

Cecil Kensley, the person cataloguing these treasures of ivory in a
purely matter-of-fact way, was a good-looking, fair-bearded man of
thirty, partner in a wealthy firm, a bachelor, somewhat of a man of
pleasure out of office hours, but in business smart, shrewd and
hard-working.  The cataloguing of such an accumulation of ivory as that
great warehouse held was a lengthy business; and all day, until four
o'clock, Kensley was engaged, with the help of the warehousemen,
sorting, turning over and writing down.  Before taking a short rest for
luncheon, his eye fell upon one magnificent tusk--long, perfectly shaped
and balanced, massive, highly polished, and, in colour, of the richest
chrome yellow.  It lay somewhat apart, and appeared to have no fellow; a
careful inspection of the rest of the warehouse, and a single glance at
that peerless tooth, showed that, even out of all that vast collection,
no possible match for it could be found.

Kensley had been working all the morning at the far end of the
warehouse; he now stood by the tusk which had so taken his eye.

"Hallo, Thomas!" he said, interrogating the man who stood by him, "what
have you got here?  What a grand tooth!  Where's the fellow to it?  Is
it an odd one?"

"Yes, sir," replied the man, "it's an odd tooth, and a rare beauty.
It's years since I saw the like of it.  It's a grand tusk, as you say: I
ran the measure over it, and it went 9 feet 2 inches, and it weighs just
on 170 lb.  It's as nigh perfect as can be, but there's just one little
bit of a flaw down there by the base--an old wound, or something of the
kind.  There's a sight of good ivory in that tooth, and it must be as
old as the hills a'most."

Kensley had seen, in the fourteen years of his experience, thousands of
fine teeth; yet, connoisseur though he was, he thought, as his eye ran
lovingly over that magnificent nine feet of ivory, splendid in colour,
curve and solidity, that he had never seen such another.  He stooped to
look at the flaw the man spoke of.  Within a foot of the darker portion
at the base, just beyond where the ivory had manifestly emerged from the
flesh of the gum, there appeared a curious fault in the graining of the
tooth, elsewhere perfect.  The growth had been disturbed by some foreign
substance, and the graining, instead of being as regular and even as a
pattern woven by machinery, swept in irregular curves round the centre
of the flaw.

Kensley rose to his feet again.  "It's not much of a fault," he said,
"and the tooth's a real beauty.  I've been meaning this long time past
to have such a tusk at my rooms, to decorate a corner or hang upon the
wall.  I think I'll take that fellow, Thomas, and pay for it; it will be
a long time before I come across a better.  See that it goes up to my
flat to-morrow, will you, and take care how it's carried.  I don't want
it spoiled."

"All right, sir," replied the man, "I'll see to it myself.  I'll give it
a bit of a clean up and take it up for you to-morrow morning."

Two evenings after this conversation, Cecil Kensley left the office and
walked, as was often his custom, steadily westward.  He made his way by
the Embankment and Pall Mall, then up Saint James's Street, and so to
Mount Street, where his dwelling was situated.  Arrived at Mount Street,
he let himself into his flat.  It was a pleasant set of rooms on the
first floor, furnished in very excellent taste with most luxuries that
the cultivated male mind can suggest.  In one corner, leaning against
the wall, stood the ivory tusk, which, now cleaned and polished, formed,
if an unwonted, a very noble ornament to the chamber.  Kensley's eye
rested on it with pleasure; he went to the corner and carefully examined
his new possession.  It was now six o'clock; the cold spring evening was
closing in and the light fading.  At eight o'clock three friends were
dining with Kensley, preliminary to a night of cards.  Having drunk some
tea, which his man brought in for him, and lighted a cigarette, Kensley
drew his comfortable armchair towards the pleasant firelight and smoked
contentedly.  He had been late for several nights past--he was never a
very early man--and now, having cast away the end of his cigarette, he
lay back in his chair and blinked drowsily at the red glow of the
firelight.  In ten minutes he was fast asleep and dreaming.  Now,
although Cecil Kensley sometimes dozed for half an hour or an hour
before dinner in this way, it was seldom that he dreamed.  His dreams
this evening were fantastic and most strange--so strange that they are
worth recording.  Here is what he saw:--

In an open clearing among pleasant African hills, covered for the most
part with bush and low forest, lies a collection of huts, circular and
thatched, as are all native huts.  Just above them, on rising ground,
and surrounded by a strong stockade, stands a larger and more important
dwelling, oblong in shape, its interior screened from the fierce sun by
a low veranda, and thatched, as to its roof, with grass in the native
fashion.  It is a hot morning in the glowing tropical summer--the season
of rains--vegetation and flowers are everywhere in their freshest
verdure and beauty.  Fleecy clouds lie at this early hour of morning
upon the face of the eastern sky, and hang in a long line midway upon
the sides of a high mountain some miles distant.  Seated just outside
the stockaded inclosure is a European, clad in the broad-brimmed hat,
doublet, loose breeches, and buff riding boots of a bygone time.
Somehow the face of this European, with its sallow cast, peaked beard,
and fierce moustaches, is strangely familiar to the eye and brain of the
dreamer, though he cannot in his sleep exactly recall how.  Round about
the Portuguese, for he is of that race, are half a dozen soldiers of his
country, in buff coats and steel caps, bearing in their hands antique
pieces--snaphaunces.  Squatting in front are thirteen or fourteen naked
Africans, waiting the white man's will.

"Well," speaks the commander, for such he is, "is the gold all here?
Stand forward, Kanyata."

A native steps out from his fellows, and hands the commander a quill of
gold--gold dust and tiny nuggets--the fruit of a week's hard toil and
labour of himself and his family.  Each native in turn stands forward
with his precious store, and tremblingly hands it to the fierce,
sour-looking white man.  In his turn a young man sullenly comes out of
the rank, and hands in his quill.  There is a very dangerous look in the
commander's eye as he takes the quill, holds it out and surveys it.
"So," he interrogates, "that is your week's work, Zingesi?"

The young man answers in a hopeless, yet half defiant way: "My lord, I
have toiled for seven days in the river sands, and all that I have
gained I bring to you.  You took from me my wife; if it had been
otherwise, the quill might have been full.  I have no one to help me.  I
can do no more."

"Thou dog!" snaps out the commander, with a look of black passion, "I
told thee seven days agone that thou mightest take the wall-eyed maid to
wife, to help thee.  Why hast thou neglected my warning?"

"Oh! my lord," replies the native, "I like not Mokela, the wall-eyed
maid, and I will not take her to wife,"--then, passionately, "Where is
my own wife?  There, in thy vile hut, thou thief and robber!  Do thy
worst: I will find no more gold for thee."

"Away with him!" roars the commander, now in a fury of passion, to his
soldiers; "tie him up and give him two hundred lashes."

The soldiers seize the unfortunate, take him to a tree hard by, and tie
him up.  But now, before a stroke is given, an old native, somewhat
fantastically adorned, who has been standing among the villagers at a
little distance, comes forward and salutes the officer.

"Great chief of the Bazunga (Portuguese)," he says, "spare, I pray thee,
Zingesi.  He is my only son, and the punishment is great.  Let him work
for thee for another week.  Perchance he has been bewitched.  I will
brew him strong medicine, and he shall bring thee more gold."

"Out with thee, Mosusa, thou evil-minded witch-doctor!" cries the
commander.  "'Tis too late.  Thou shouldst have used thine arts with
Zingesi before.  Begone, or they shall serve thee as they serve
Zingesi!"

With a hopeless yet terrible gesture, Mosusa quits the crowd, and
retires to his hut on the village outskirts.  Meanwhile, Zingesi being
tied up, two Portuguese soldiers, casting off their buff coats, and
tucking up their sleeves, take each in hand a cruel whip of hippopotamus
hide, and begin their task.  They flog by strokes of fifty; each, in
presence of that grim taskmaster, laying on the blows with all his
strength.  With the first ten cuts the blood spouts freely from the
unfortunate native, whose cries and groans might surely touch the
hardest heart.  But there is no mercy.  Zingesi's back at the hundredth
stroke is a mass of raw and bleeding flesh; his face has assumed an ashy
pallor.  At a hundred and fifty his head falls over upon his shoulder,
he swoons, and can feel no more.  The man wielding the whip halts for an
instant, looks at the commander, and says, "Shall I go on, Captain?"

"Go on, of course, and be damned to you, till he has had the full two
hundred," answers the captain venomously, as he rises from his chair and
goes into his hut again.

The horrible task proceeds, and the soldiers, not daring to slacken
their blows, complete the two hundred strokes.  By that time Zingesi,
his frame already weakened by recent fever, is beyond the reach of
further ills.  His body, unloosed from the tree, falls limply upon the
hands of the soldiers, and is laid upon the shamed earth.  Life has
clean fled from that poor mangled piece of flesh and blood.

It is night.  The short African twilight has vanished; the moon has not
yet arisen.  Far away in the depths of the forest there crouches over a
fire of wood Mosusa, the old witch-doctor, father of the dead Zingesi.
His face, lit up by the red flames, has lost the sullen misery of the
morning.  His eyes glare with the intensity of a fierce passion, the
sweat drips from his brow, every muscle of his body quivers.  He rises,
paces slowly round the fire, keeping always within the limit of a circle
which he has traced in the sand, uttering as he passes a low monotonous
chant.  Now and again he casts into the fire the skins of snakes and
lizards, bones, the dried livers and hearts of certain animals,
poisonous bulbs and herbs, and other paraphernalia of the native wizard.
Anon he pauses in his chant, listens, and gazes intently into the gloom
of the forest.  On one side of the fire lies coiled up a huge serpent, a
python, whose cold glittering eye watches intently Mosusa's every
movement.  Mosusa approaches the great snake, and says, "Will he come,
think you, O my friend?  The forest is wide, and the great one wandered
far this morning."  The serpent lifts its flat head, darts out its long
forked tongue, and rubs its nose caressingly against Mosusa's leg; then,
swiftly uncoiling, it glides to the other side of the fire and lies with
its head pointing to the forest.  Mosusa goes and stands by its side.
Presently a rumbling noise is heard; nearer and louder it comes, and
then from the pall of the forest there looms within reach of the
firelight a huge dark form--the form of an immense bull elephant.  The
great creature, bulking there dark and mysterious within the ring of
firelight, bears but one tusk, long, thick and even; its head moves very
slowly up and down; its outstretched trunk gently quivers as it tests
every air of the night; and its small sunken eye, fixed keenly upon
Mosusa, indicates expectation.

"O great one," says Mosusa, saluting with upstretched right hand, "lord
of the forest, wisest of the creatures, thou hast come at my summons.
Hear me!  Thou and I were born long ago upon the same night, in the same
country.  Long have we known one another, long have been friends--since
the day when thy mother was slain by the spears of Monomotapa, and thou
and I grew up together as children within the kraal of the king.  But
now I wax old, and near my end, while thou art in thy prime, still young
and lusty, and like to live an old man's lifetime and more.  And before
I leave this earth for the land of shadows one thing I have to ask of
thee.  Thou rememberest, long, long years ago, how I whispered to thee,
when thy tusk was budding and thy captivity grew dangerous to thyself,
that now was the time to seek the forest and escape.  And thou wilt
remember how in thy first youth, when Monomotapa, king of the tribes,
had his first hunt for ivory, and slew fifty of thy kindred within the
ring of fire, I warned thee the night before by the great serpent,
grandfather of Tari here, and thou fleddest away and saved thyself!
To-morrow, O great one, I want thine aid.  The captain of the Bazunga
goes forth to hunt in the forest.  This day he has slain my son.
To-morrow be thou within the forest, and when he comes slay me this evil
man, the cruel persecutor of thy race and mine.  No harm shall come to
thee.  So shall we be quits, and in the land of shadows I shall remember
thee and joyfully await thy coming!"

The elephant moves silently a pace or two forward, just touches Mosusa
delicately upon the shoulder with its trunk-tip, then turns and
disappears again into the darkness.

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

Again the scene shifts before the mind's eye of the dreamer; the
witch-doctor and his firelight fade out, and broad daylight once more
streams upon the African forest.  The Portuguese captain is marching
through the wilderness in search of elephants.  In front of him are two
trackers, who walk swiftly upon the spoor of a troop of the great tusk
bearers.  Not far in the rear, mingling with other hunters, is Mosusa,
whose dark countenance wears this morning a very singular expression.

Presently, after passing some low hills, the white man posts himself in
some thick cover in a shallow gorge commanding a broad, worn path.  The
bulk of the native hunters are sent far in front in a wide semicircle,
to drive in elephants towards the ambush.  There is a long interval, and
then, crashing through the bush, appear at a slow trot the forms of five
cow elephants.  At the nearest of these the commander discharges his
piece.  The great creature, sore stricken, charges this way and that; at
length, bristling with fifty spears, spouting the red blood from her
trunk, and struck by other bullets from the white man's snaphaunce, she
falls heavily to earth.  But while the party are gathered round the
fallen beast, and the natives busy themselves in extricating their
spears from the carcase, a sudden noise is heard behind.  There,
trumpeting hideously, comes a mighty single-tusked elephant--Mosusa's
elephant of the last night.  The black men, naked and disencumbered,
fly, all of them save one, far down the gorge, and scatter into the
forest beyond.  The white man, truth to tell, is bold and brave enough.
Trusting to his heavy piece and his own pluck, he stands his ground.  It
is late indeed to fly, encumbered as he is with weapon and European
clothing.  As the grim monster charges down upon him, he steadily raises
his snaphaunce and fires.  But, just as he pulls trigger, Mosusa,
standing behind his shoulder, jerks his right arm, the bullet flies wide
of its intended mark, and strikes the elephant at the base of the great
solitary tusk, just where the ivory is sheathed in the flesh.  Mosusa
leaps aside, there is a wild curse in Portuguese; in the same instant
the savage scream of the enraged elephant thrills upon the hot morning
air, the white man is flung to earth, and the great gleaming tusk drives
deep through his body.  Zingesi is avenged.  The elephant withdraws his
tusk, kneels upon the yet living man, and crushes the last remnants of
humanity into a hideous, shapeless mass.

All this Mosusa has witnessed with bright eyes and the fiercest
satisfaction.  And now, raising his right hand, again he salutes the
monstrous beast and speaks.  "O thou great one, mighty chief, lord of
the forest, I thank thee for what thou hast done.  My time grows short:
I die quickly.  But thou, O my friend, live thou, live to slay the
accursed white men, who pursue thy kindred and bring death and worse
than death into this land of thine and mine."  As he runs on, Mosusa's
voice seems as the voice of one possessed; his eyes are fixed and open,
as though gazing far into futurity.  "And when thine appointed time
comes," he goes on, still addressing the mighty beast before him, "let
thy tusk carry with it yet more of death and evil to the white man.
There is blood now upon it: let blood be with it in its passage through
the years to come, until it shall once more mingle with the earth again.
And now, great one, one thing more has to be done.  Let my blood mingle
here with the white man's: slay me, O my friend, and all shall be
finished."

But the elephant stands there in front of the frenzied African, its
little eyes fixed upon his eyes, its body swaying ever so slightly from
side to side, its trunk held out as if inquiring.

"I see what thou requirest, O great one," cries Mosusa.  "Thy blood too
must flow, and at my hands!"

Suddenly he raises his spear, plunges it into the creature's trunk, and
as suddenly withdraws it.  The beast screams with pain, the blood gushes
forth from the spear-thrust, and in a moment, with a blow of the wounded
member, the elephant has beaten the old native to the ground.  In the
next moment the re-infuriated beast kneels quickly upon Mosusa and
crushes the life from his frame, as it had crushed the white man's.  The
two bodies lie there together, misshapen, mangled, yet still warm.  And
now the elephant, having completed his work, turns slowly away and
plunges into the jungle.

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

The scene had again faded from the dreamer's eyes; yet its memory
lingered clear, as Cecil Kensley awoke cold and shivering from his
sleep.  The fire burned low, the room was in darkness.

"Gad! what a curious dream!" he said to himself, as he rose stiffly from
his lounge chair.  "I never felt so cold in my life."  By the dim low
firelight he made his way to a corner of the room, touched a button and
switched on the electric light.  The room in an instant assumed its
normally bright and cheerful aspect.  First putting some coals upon the
fire, Kensley went to the sideboard, poured himself out a liqueur glass
of brandy, and drank it down.  "That's better," he said to himself.  "I
must have slept a deuce of a time.  Can't think why I got so cold."  He
turned and looked at the clock.  "Half-past seven, by Jove!  I must
dress sharp: these fellows will be here directly."

First opening a door into an adjoining room, where he saw the
dinner-table already prepared, he went to his bedroom and quickly
dressed.  He returned just in time to welcome his friends, who arrived
almost simultaneously.

Of the three guests, two were Englishmen--average types of their race;
the other a dark, good-looking foreigner, of engaging manners.  Barreto,
as they called him, spoke excellent English, and seemed to have a
perfect knowledge of all topics--mainly pertaining to racing, matters
theatrical, and cards--which came uppermost in the course of the
evening.  During the five minutes before dinner was announced one of the
visitors caught sight of the tusk standing in the corner of the room.

"Hallo, Kensley!" he said, "what's this?  Something new, isn't it?"

"Yes," returned his host; "it's a big tooth I came across in the
warehouse lately.  On the whole, it's about the finest bit of ivory I
ever saw; and so, as such specimens grow scarcer every year, I collared
it.  Makes a nice ornament, doesn't it?"

"Magnificent!" rejoined Barreto, who had meanwhile approached, and was
intently examining the tusk.  "I've seen a good many tusks in my time,
but I have never seen the fellow of this."

"Why, where did you pick up your knowledge of ivory, Barreto?" asked
Kensley.  "I knew you were up to most things, but I didn't know that you
were a judge of elephants' teeth."

"Well, you see," returned Barreto, "my family have had to do with Africa
for between two and three hundred years.  Several of them have left
their bones there.  I served as a lieutenant with the Portuguese troops
in Mozambique when I was a youngster.  After that I came home what you
call invalidish--no, invalided--with fever; and, as I didn't intend
Africa to have my bones, I left the army and went into diplomacy."

"I see!" replied Kensley.  "Well, that tusk," patting the great tooth
affectionately, "must have been once something of a neighbour of yours.
It came from behind Mozambique or Sofala.  The elephant that carried it
has, I take it, been dead many a long year.  From the look of the ivory,
and the way it's been preserved, I should imagine that tooth has lain in
some chief's hut for best part of a century.  Possibly it has been some
cherished fetish.  It could tell some tall stories, I'll bet, if it
could speak.  But come along, you fellows: here's dinner at last."

The four men strolled into the pleasant ruby-lighted dining-room, sat
themselves at the sparkling table, and for an hour devoted themselves
heartily to excellent viands and wine, and to the exchange of much merry
conversation.

At a quarter to ten, after some lingering over cigars and coffee, the
party returned to the drawing-room, where card tables were laid.  Two
other men came in, and "poker" was started.  The fortunes of the game
waxed and waned, as they will do; but somehow, half-hour after
half-hour, the luck ran dead against Barreto.  It was easy to see that
the Portuguese was a skilful and a smart player, yet, do what he would,
bluff boldly or lie low, he steadily lost.

"Hullo, Barreto!" said one of the men to him, in a short pause for
whiskies-and-soda, "what's up with you?  You couldn't go wrong last
week.  To-night your luck's dead out."

"Yes," replied the Portuguese, who throughout the play had retained his
equanimity, and lost with a good grace, "there's something mysterious in
the air to-night.  I have felt a great depression ever since I came into
this room.  I can't tell you why.  I felt better at dinner, but back
here again I'm wrapped in a wet blanket.  A change of weather coming, I
suppose.  A man who's had African fever can generally foretell it."

The play went on for another half-hour, by which time, as the clock
chimed the quarter-past one, Barreto had lost between 30 and 40 pounds.
Kensley's English guests now rose to go, laughingly promising Barreto
and their host, who also had lost some 20 pounds, their revenge on a
future occasion.  After a parting libation, the two men lighted cigar
and cigarette, and left the flat, Kensley turned to Barreto.  "Feel like
an hour's ecarte?" he interrogated.

"By all means," answered the Portuguese, with a pleasant smile.

Kensley brought out fresh cards, and the two sat down facing one
another, the table between.  It seemed at ecarte that Barreto could not
lose.  The stakes were heavy, and Kensley's deficit began to mount up
ominously.  He was a practised player, and well used to the ups and
downs of card luck; yet, easy as was his manner, a looker-on might have
noticed a grimmer and graver look deepening about the lines of his
mouth.

Suddenly Kensley sprang to his feet, his eyes flashing, his face flushed
with anger.

"You damned cheat!" he gasped, throwing down his cards.  "For a long
time I couldn't believe my eyes, but there's no other word for it--
you're a common swindler.  I saw you pass that card,"--pointing to a
king--"I've seen you doing the same thing before.  Not one cent will you
get out of me.  Leave my rooms, and take care neither I nor my friends
ever see the face of you again.  If we do there'll be trouble."

At first, as the Englishman blurted out his indignation--which, it may
be said at once, was perfectly honest and deserved--Barreto attempted,
with a gesture of courteous deprecation, to offer explanations.  At last
he obtained speech.  "You are mistaken, utterly mistaken," he said
calmly.  "I think you must be mad.  Anyhow I have won this money fairly,
and I demand it.  If you don't pay, I shall make the fact public."

"You damned villain!" gasped Kensley; "get out of my rooms at once,
before I put you out."

The expression upon Barreto's face changed now instantly from a
plausible calm to one of wild and deadly hate.  He saw that Kensley was
firm, and not to be played upon.  He glanced round the room.  As ill
luck would have it, there hung, among other trophies upon the wall near
him, an Indian knife in its sheath.  In an instant Barreto grasped the
handle, drew the knife flashing from its cover, and turned upon Kensley.
"Now, Mr Kensley," he said, with a very unpleasant look upon his face,
"you will pay me that 55 pounds, and withdraw what you just now said, or
take the alternative."

Few Englishmen care for knife play; unlike the men of Southern Europe,
they seem to have an instinctive horror of the weapon.  Kensley little
liked the job; the adversary before him looked very evil--far more evil
than he could ever have imagined him; yet, being a man of courage and of
action, he took the only course that seemed at the moment open to him.
He flung himself in a flash upon Barreto, trying to seize the man's arm
before he should strike.  He was not quick enough to avoid the blow; the
keen knife ripped through his smooth shirt-front, and penetrated the
upper part of his chest, just under the collar-bone.  Kensley's fighting
blood was now up; the wound, though a nasty one, was not disabling; he
grappled with Barreto, forced his right arm and dagger behind his back,
and then, twining his right leg round his opponent's, put forth all his
strength and threw him, falling upon him as he did so.  The room was
thickly carpeted, and the fall, though a heavy one, made no great noise.
The Portuguese gave a choking cry, and shuddered, as Kensley thought,
very strangely.  Barreto had ceased struggling from the instant he fell,
and, in a strangely altered voice, gasped once in Portuguese, "I am a
dead man."  Kensley cautiously released his grip; he feared treachery--
some trick.  But Barreto moved no more.  One glance he gave as Kensley
rose; his eyes rolled, then he lay quite still.  A horrible fear dawned
upon the Englishman.  He gently lifted the man, and looked at his back.
The right arm lay listless now, and had released its grip of the knife.
Alas! that long knife, fashioned by some cunning artificer for wild hill
men, so keen and deadly for the taking of life, had done its work.  By
some ghastly misfortune, it had penetrated the ribs and pierced
Barreto's heart.  The man lay there, flabby and inert--as Kensley soon
convinced himself, dead beyond all hope of recovery.

As Kensley rose, and with a sickening feeling at his heart surveyed the
dead man's face, something in its appearance touched a chord of memory.
"Great God!" he said to himself, "is it reality, or am I still dreaming?
This is the face of the Portuguese soldier I saw as I sat asleep before
the fire this evening!"  His eye wandered from the dead man's face to
the great yellow tusk gleaming there still and silent in the corner of
the chamber.  As he looked, a new light seemed to leap into his mind.
Again he saw, as in a flash, before the eye of memory, those strange
scenes in the African forest.

Now, whether it was coincidence, fate, black magic--call it what you
will--the ivory tusk, standing there in the corner of that silent room,
now a chamber of death and horror, was the tusk of the elephant seen by
Kensley in his singular dream--vision it might rather be called--of that
fateful evening.  The name of the dead man upon the carpet there was
Manoel Barreto.  The name of the Portuguese captain whom Kensley had in
his dream seen slain by the single-tusked elephant, more than two
hundred years agone, was Manoel Barreto too.  The one was a lineal
descendant of the other.  Zingesi's death was again avenged.  All this,
however, Cecil Kensley, as he stood there, haggard and white-faced, knew
not--he only surmised dimly some part of it.

The clock chimed out two in soft, resonant tones.  Kensley went to the
spirit-stand, poured out some brandy in a tumbler and drank it down.
Then he touched the electric bell.  His man came to the door, heavy-eyed
and sleepy.  At sight of Barreto's body, the scattered cards upon the
floor, his master's shirt-front soaked in blood, he turned ghastly pale
and opened his mouth to make exclamation.

"Thompson," said his master, "there has been terrible work.  Go into the
street and fetch a policeman and a doctor."

Pressing a handkerchief to his wound, he sank into a chair as his man
went forth upon the errand.

The great tusk, the key to that grim tragedy, still gleamed there behind
him, cold, inscrutable, majestic, its history of blood not yet ended.

CHAPTER THREE.

JAN PRINSLOO'S KLOOF.

Far away in the gloomiest recesses of a range lying between Zwart
Ruggens and the Zwartberg, Cape Colony, not far from where the mountains
of that wild and secluded district give place to the eastern limits of
the plateau of the Great Karroo, there lies hidden, and almost unknown,
a kloof or gorge, whose dark and forbidding aspect, united to the wild
and horrid legend with which it is invested, prevents any but the chance
hunter or wandering traveller from ever invading its fastnesses.  This
kloof is about seven miles from the rough track that in these regions is
dignified by the name of road; it is approached by a poort or pass
through the mountains, and the way is, even for South Africa, a rough
and dangerous one, although there are indications that a rude
waggon-track did formerly exist there.  Standing upon the steep side of
this kloof are the remains of what must have once been a roomy and
substantial Boer farmhouse; but the four walls are roofless, the windows
and doorways naked and destitute of sashes, the euphorbia, the prickly
pear, and clambering weeds grow within and without, the lizard and snake
abide there, and the whole appearance of the place denotes that many
years have elapsed since Prinsloo's Kloof was tenanted by human life.

In many respects the wild kloof gives evidence that the Boer who first
tarried there had an eye for good pasturage for his flocks and herds.
The spekboom and many another succulent bush, dear to the goal breeder,
flourish amid the broken and chaotic rocks with which the hill sides are
strewn.  A strong fountain of water runs with limpid current from the
mountain at the back of the house; the flat tops of the hills around are
clothed with long waving grasses, and the valley is, manifestly, well
fitted to be the nursery of a horse-breeding establishment.  A tributary
of the Gamtoos River flows deeply, if fitfully, below the sheer and
overhanging cliffs in a chain of pools, called zee-koe gats (sea-cow or
hippopotamus deeps)--the hippopotamus, though his name lingers behind,
no longer revels in the flood--and the bottom of the valley is in many
parts fertile and suited for the growth of grain and fodder crops.

Broken and uncouth as are many portions of the Witteberg and Zwartberg,
the neighbourhood of Prinsloo's Kloof far surpasses them.  There the
volcanic action of a bygone age has perpetrated the most extraordinary
freaks.  The mountains are torn into shapes so wild and fantastic, that,
viewed in profile against the red glow of the setting sun, all manner of
weird objects may be conjured before the imagination.  In some places,
as the kloof runs into the heart of the hills, the cliff sides are so
deep, so precipitous, and so narrow, that but little sunlight can
penetrate beneath, and even on a hot day of African summer a chill
strikes upon the spectator passing through.

It is not difficult to understand, from a Boer point of view, that this
stern valley was a well chosen spot in which to build a farmhouse.  The
distance from a roadway, is, in Boer eyes, of no great account, and, as
a rule, the farther from human habitation the Dutch farmer can get the
better he is pleased.  As for the forbidding aspect of the kloof, the
stolid, unimaginative Boer would be little troubled on that score; he
has no eye whatever for picturesque or scenic effect, and will plant
himself as readily upon the treeless wastes of the Orange Free State, or
the most stony, barren mountain-side of the Old Colony, as in the most
beautiful and wooded country that South Africa can give him.

When Jan Prinsloo trekked into the kloof, towards the end of the last
century, the place must have been a very paradise and nursery of game.
In the river the hippopotamus played, elephants roamed through the
valleys and poorts everywhere around, the zebras ran in large troops
upon the mountain tops, and many of the larger game, such as koodoo, the
buffalo, and the hartebeest, wandered fearlessly and free; while of the
smaller game, such as rhebok, duykerbok, and klipspringer, judging from
the abundance of the present day, there must have been literally
multitudes.  To Jan Prinsloo, then, wild and sombre as the place was, it
must have appeared, as he trekked down the pass, a veritable Boer
elysium.  But Jan, having played his part in the world--a part more
fierce and turbulent even than was usual to the marauding frontier Boers
of a hundred years ago--made his exit from the scene in a manner cruel
and horrible enough to match fitly with the rest of his wicked and
violent existence.

Since Jan Prinsloo's fearful ending, which will be hereafter alluded to,
the kloof has borne an evil reputation.  Now and again a Boer has taken
the farm, tempted by its pastoral advantages and its low purchase-money,
but somehow, none have ever stayed upon it for long.  The last tenant,
an Englishman, quitted it hastily nearly forty years ago, and ever since
then the house has become year by year more sombre and more desolate,
the footsteps of human beings now rarely penetrate thither, and even the
very Kaffirs avoid the place.

In September of the year 1860, a young English Afrikander, Stephen
Goodrick by name, who had, from the time he could handle a rifle, been
engaged in the far interior in the then lucrative, if dangerous,
occupation of elephant-hunting, having amassed, at the age of thirty,
some four or five thousand pounds, after fourteen years of hunting and
trading in Northern Bechuanaland and the Lake Ngami region, threw up the
game, and trekked down to Grahamstown with his last loads of ivory.
These disposed of and his affairs settled, he took unto himself for a
wife, a handsome, dark-eyed girl, the daughter of Scotch parents, living
near his own family in the Western Province, and then set about looking
for a farm, having determined to settle down to the more peaceful
pursuits of pastoral farming.  After a month of riding hither and
thither, inspecting farms in the districts of Swellendam, Oudtshoorn,
and George, none of which pleased his fancy, he turned his attention to
the Eastern Province.

Goodrick had been long and continuously away from the Cape, and in the
brief intervals when he had rested from his hunting and trading
expeditions he had usually stayed with his father, an old colonist, in
Swellendam, a district to the south-west of the Colony.  His knowledge,
therefore, of the Eastern Province was necessarily somewhat restricted.
Stephen, by chance, heard one day from a Boer trekking by with fruit and
tobacco, that another Boer named Van der Meulen was leaving his farm
near the end of Zwartberg.  Losing no time, Stephen saddled up, paid
temporary farewell to his wife, whom he left at his father's house, and,
traversing Lange Kloof and crossing the Kougaberg, he entered, on the
afternoon of the third day, Prinsloo's Kloof, whither he had been
directed.

It was a glorious hot afternoon in early summer, the sun shone as only
it can in Africa, and under its brilliant rays and with the wealth of
vegetation and flower life springing up everywhere around, the kloof,
savage though it appeared, put on its mellowest aspect; and as Goodrick
rode up to the farmhouse and noticed the flocks and herds, all sleek and
in good condition, he thought that there might be worse places in which
to outspan for life than this beautiful, if solemn valley.

At the farmhouse he was welcomed by the owner.  Van der Meulen, and
after a stroll round the kraals and supper over a business conversation
took place before the family retired to rest, which, as it seemed to the
young Englishman, they did hurriedly and with some odd glances at one
another.  Next morning all were up early, and Goodrick rode round the
farm--all good mountain pasture, embracing some 19,000 morgen (rather
more than 40,000 acres) in its area.  The Boer, in his uncouth, rough
way, warmly praised the farm; the price he asked was extremely small,
and the annual Government quit rent very trifling.  Van der Meulen
explained as his reason for selling the place, apparently so much below
its value, that he had been offered, at an absurdly small price, a very
fine farm in the Transvaal by a relation who had lately annexed the best
of the land of a native chief; and, as many of his blood relations,
Voertrekkers of 1836, were settled there, he wished to quit the Colony
quickly and join them.  Finally, Goodrick agreed to buy the farm,
together with part of the stock, and, early on the following morning,
left the kloof.  The purchase was shortly completed at Cape Town, where
the vendor and purchaser met a week afterwards, and, the Van der Meulens
having trekked out with all their household goods and belongings, the
Englishman and his wife prepared to enter upon their property.

Stephen Goodrick, then, with two waggons, carrying his wife, her white
female servant, and a quantity of furniture and household and farming
necessaries, and taking with him four Hottentots and half-a-dozen
horses, trekked again through Lange Kloof, over the Kougaberg, and
thence through a country partly mountain, partly karroo, until one
afternoon early in October, the waggons crossed the deep and dangerous
drift of the river, and went up through the poort that led into
Prinsloo's Kloof.  After a most difficult and tedious piece of
travelling for some seven miles--for the half-forgotten waggon-track lay
up and down precipitous ascents and declivities, littered here and there
with huge boulders, or hollowed out into dangerous spruits and holes--at
length the stout but wearied oxen faced the last steep hill to the
farmhouse, and with many a pistol crack of the great whip, many a
Hottentot curse directed at Zwartland, Kleinboy, Engelschman, Akerman,
and the rest, dragged their heavy burdens up to the open space that had
been cleared in front of the homestead.  It had been arranged that Van
der Meulen's eldest son should remain upon the farm until Goodrick and
his wife had arrived, and further, that an old Hottentot, Cupido by
name, who knew the farm and its ways well, and two young Kaffirs, who
had lately arrived from the Transkei in search of work, should transfer
their services to the new-comer.

These four being therefore ready, having already brought in and kraaled
the goats for the night, they assisted the Englishman to outspan his
oxen and unload the waggons.  After two or three hours' hard work, a
good portion of the waggons was unloaded, and part of the furniture
arranged in the house; three of the horses were placed for the night in
the rough building adjoining the dwelling-house that served for a
stable, while the remainder had been turned into a large stone kraal
which lay on the other flank of the house.  Meanwhile the white servant
had prepared the supper, which partaken of, the wearied travellers
retired to rest.  About the middle of the night Goodrick and his wife
were suddenly aroused by a great commotion in the stable; the horses
were trampling, plunging and squealing as if suddenly disturbed or
scared.  Then there rose upon the night, as it seemed just outside the
house, a wild scream, hideous in its intensity and full of horror.

Hastily thrusting on some clothes and taking a lantern, Goodrick ran
round to the stable.  The night, though there was no moon, was not dark,
and the stars shone clear in the firmament above.  Nothing was to be
seen, no sound could be heard save the snorting of the horses, and the
weird cry of a leopard (strangely different, as the hearer well knew,
from the scream heard just previously) that sounded from the rocks a
mile or so away on the right.  Quickly entering the stable, Stephen was
astonished to find the horses in a profuse sweat, trembling, their
halters broken, their eyes startled and excited, and their whole
demeanour indicating intense fear.  What could be the cause?  There was,
apparently, no wild animal about, nothing in the stable calculated to
excite alarm; the animals were old comrades, and not likely to have been
fighting.  Goodrick was altogether puzzled, and, leaving the stable,
went to a shed in rear of the house, where the natives slept, and roused
the old Hottentot.  The man could give no reason for the disturbance.
Wolves (hyaenas) were not likely to approach the house, and the tigers
(leopards) had not been very troublesome lately, and he could think of
nothing else to explain the matter.  There was a scared look in the old
man's face, which Goodrick thought nothing of at the time, but which he
afterwards remembered.  After some little trouble, fresh halters were
procured, the horses tied up and soothed, and the two again retired,
Cupido being cautioned to keep his ears open against further
disturbance.  Nothing further occurred during the night.

Next morning, after seeing the goats unkraaled, watered and despatched
to their day's pasturage in charge of the two Kaffir herds, Goodrick
asked the young Boer at breakfast if he had heard the noise among the
horses, and the wild scream, and what could be the cause, and if there
was any cattle-stealing about this wild neighbourhood.  Young Van der
Meulen's heavy, immovable countenance changed slightly, but he replied
that he could give no explanation except that perhaps a leopard might
have been prowling about; they were pretty numerous in the kloof.
Stephen explained that he and the Hottentots had spoored everywhere
around the stable for leopards, but could find no trace.

Here the subject dropped, and Van der Meulen relapsed into silence,
except when the Englishman asked him what game there was about the
hills.  "You will find," he said, "plenty of small buck--klipspringers,
rhebok, and duykerbok, and there are still a fair number of koodoo
which, however, take some stalking.  Then on the berg tops there are
several troops of zebras, as well as hyaenas and leopards; but the
zebras we have seldom shot, they take so much climbing after, and you
know we Dutchmen prefer riding to walking.  You will find also lots of
springbok and steinbok and some black wildebeest (gnu) on the plains
beyond the mountains.  Yes, I have had many a _mooi schiet op de plaats_
(pretty shoot on the farm)."  Suddenly the young man's heavy features
changed again as he said, "Allemaghte!  (Almighty) but I shall be glad
to get out of this place; I hate it!  I want again to get on to the
Transvaal high veldt, where I trekked through two years ago, and where
you can shoot as many blauuw wildebeest (brindled gnu), blessbok,
quagga, springbok, and hartebeest as you want in a day's ride.  Ja! that
is the land for me; these gloomy poorts and kloofs are only fit for
leopards and spooks (ghosts).  Then, you know, Mynheer, the Transvaal is
free; we never loved your Government, which is always wanting from us
this, that and the other, and I shall be glad to trek out.  Up in
Zoutpansberg we shall be able to hunt the kameel (giraffe), and the
zwart-wit-pens (sable antelope), and elephant, as much as we like, and
for our winter pasture we shall not have to pay a single rix-dollar.
Ja!  I have had enough of Prinsloo's Kloof, and never wish to see it
again."  This long speech delivered, the Boer relapsed into silence.
There was a curious look on the young man's face as he had spoken, which
Goodrick and his wife could not quite define or understand.

An hour afterwards Van der Meulen had slung his rifle on his back,
packed some biltong (sun-dried meat) in his pockets, saddled up his
horse, and bidden farewell to the tenants of the kloof.  The Englishman
and his young wife watched his retreating form as it slowly proceeded
down the valley, and presently disappeared amidst a grove of acacia
trees that margined the river; then they turned to the house.  "I don't
quite understand that fellow," said Stephen, "do you, Mary?  I can't
help thinking there was something behind what he said.  Why were his
people so eager to leave this farm?  However, dearest, the farm is a
good one and a cheap one; we are young and strong and ought to be as
happy as any two people in the Colony."

"Yes, Stephen," said his wife, "I thought there was something queer in
what the young man said, but it could have been only fancy.  I am sure
we ought to be happy and contented, and with you by my side, I shall
always be so."

In a few weeks' time Goodrick had increased his stock of goats, and had
bought a sufficient number of horses to start a stud farm upon the
mountains around.  Things seemed to be going well with him.  The pasture
was in splendid condition, the valleys and kloofs that led into the
mountains literally blazed with flowers of every conceivable hue, from
the great pink or crimson blossomed aloes, that gave warmth to the
towering brown rocks above, to the lovely heaths, irises, and
pelargoniums that clothed as with a brilliant carpet the bottom grounds.
The house had been thoroughly cleansed, put into order, and the new
furniture settled into it, and young Mrs Goodrick busily employed her
days in household duties.  Her husband had had several good days'
shooting about the hills, and had brought in two koodoos (one of the
largest and most magnificent of South African antelopes), whose noble
spiral horns now adorned the dining-room, besides many a head of smaller
antelopes and innumerable francolins, pheasants, ducks, and other
feathered game.

Yet, somehow, though things had so far gone well, the young couple were
not quite comfortable.  The disturbances among the horses, although not
repeated for several nights, had occasionally happened; the same horrid
scream had been heard, and their causes had so far completely baffled
Stephen Goodrick.  He had tried all sorts of plans, changed the horses,
and even had them all turned loose together in the great stone kraal,
but with the same results.  They were found over and over again at
night, mad with fear and drenched with sweat, trampling and plunging in
the stable, or tearing about the inclosure.

Cupido and the Kaffirs, and his own Swellendam Hottentots, had been
questioned and cross-examined, but to no purpose.  Twice had Goodrick
remained on the watch all night.  On one occasion he believed he had
seen a figure move quickly past him in the darkness, and the horses had
been disturbed at the same time; but nothing further could be traced and
no spoor of man or quadruped was ever discovered.  The thing was a
mystery.  At length, one moonlight night, Goodrick ran out, hearing the
now familiar noises, and, taking with him his great brindled dog, which
had often hunted elephants, rhinoceros, buffalo and lion, he quickly
went round to the stable.

At this moment the two Kaffir herds also came running out on hearing the
noise.  Just as they approached the stable together they beheld a figure
pass through the open doorway, as they supposed, and swiftly glide away
to the hillside.  The dark figure was clad in a broad-brimmed Boer hat
and quaintly cut old-fashioned dress, as Goodrick could plainly notice.
Stephen shouted, and with the Kaffirs gave chase, but after a few
minutes' running the man suddenly vanished into the bushy scrub that
grew on the mountain-side, and no further trace could be found, although
the Kaffirs hunted everywhere around.

Meanwhile Stephen turned for his dog, surprised that the animal, usually
so fierce and impetuous, had not led the chase.  To his utter
astonishment, "Tao" was close at his heels, his tail between his legs,
his hackles up, and with every symptom of terror upon him.  The thing
was incomprehensible; the dog had never feared man or beast in his life
before, and many a time and oft had faced, as they turned at bay, the
fierce and snarling lion, the dangerous sable antelope with his
scimitar-like horns, and the wounded and screaming elephant.  At length,
turning back, they entered the stable; to their surprise the door was
locked, and on being opened the horses as usual were loose and in the
last extremity of fright.  Nothing more could be done that night.  In
the morning the Kaffirs and Hottentots searched everywhere for spoor,
but could find no trace of the midnight marauder.  Cupido, indeed, shook
his head, rolled his bloodshot-looking eyes, and appeared to take the
occurrence as a matter of course.

Three mornings afterwards the two Kaffirs came to Stephen, declared that
they had seen on the previous night the same dark figure just outside
their sleeping shed; that the terrible expression on the face of this
apparition, which they saw distinctly in the moonlight, had made them
utterly sick and terror-stricken; that the thing was a thing of
witchcraft, and that nothing would induce them to stay another night on
the farm.

"We like the N'kose (chief or master) well," they said, "but we dare not
stay in this country or we shall be slain by the witchcraft we see
around us; why do you not get a `smeller out' to cleanse this place from
the evil?"  The two men, who, in daylight, were, as most Kaffirs are,
bold, hardy fellows, were evidently in earnest in what they said, and
though Goodrick, who could ill afford to part with them at a moment's
notice, offered them increased wages, they steadfastly declined.  At
length finding he could not shake their resolution, he reluctantly paid
them their money and let them go.  Goodrick learned some months
afterwards from a friend, that these men had marched straight for the
boundary of the Colony, crossed the Kei, and rejoined their own tribe,
the Gaikas, in Kaffraria.

Goodrick now began to think somewhat seriously of the matter, and to ask
himself with inward misgivings what it all meant.  Brave man though he
was, like most mortals he was not quite proof against superstition, and
he began to find himself half fearing that there was something not quite
canny about the place.  How else could he account for the locked door,
the suddenly vanishing figure, the sickening yell, and the lack of
footmarks?  However, he kept his thoughts from his wife, and made some
excuse about a quarrel with the Kaffirs as to wages, to explain their
sudden departure.  She, although accepting the explanation, seemed
uneasy, and at last burst out, "Oh, Stephen, I think there is something
wrong about this kloof--some dreadful mystery we know nothing of.  Have
you ever noticed that even the Kaffirs in the kraal a few miles beyond
the poort never enter here?  Not a soul amongst the farmers comes near
us, and as for `Tao' he never seems happy now and is always restless,
suspicious and alarmed."

That same night the wild, unearthly scream rose again; the same tumult
was heard in the stable; Stephen rushed out, and once again, under the
clear moonlight, he saw the figure passing in front of him.  This time
he had his rifle loaded, and after calling once, fired.  Still the
figure retreated; another shot was fired, but to no purpose; the figure
apparently glided imperceptibly onwards, and then suddenly disappeared,
as it seemed, sheer into the earth.  Goodrick knew so well his powers
with the rifle, with which he was famous as a deadly shot, that he could
not bring himself to believe he had missed twice within fifty yards.
From this incident he could form no other conclusion, and he shivered as
he thought so, than that the night disturber was not of human mould.

Meanwhile the horses were becoming worn to shadows, their coats stared,
they lost flesh and looked altogether miserable.  Fresh horses had been
brought in, but the effect was ever the same.  Shortly after, two of the
Swellendam Hottentots left, and the other two, with Cupido and Mrs
Goodrick's servant, alone remained.  Goodrick was now in great straits;
he could not immediately procure other native servants, and only managed
to get through his farm work with the greatest trouble and exertion.

Things drifted on uncomfortably for another week or two, and each day as
it came and went, seemed to Goodrick and his wife to increase the gloom
and uncertainty of their life in the kloof.  At length a climax arrived.
Christmas, but a sombre one, had sped, and South African summer, with
its heat, its flies, and other manifold troubles, was now at its height.

On the 15th of January, 1861, a day of intense heat was experienced.
All day the landscape had sweltered under a still oppression that was
almost unbearable, and the very animals about the farm seemed touched
and depressed by some mysterious influence.

Towards nightfall dark clouds gathered together suddenly in dense
masses; in the distance, long, rolling thunder-peals were heard
approaching in strangely slow, yet none the less certain movement.
Cupido, the old Hottentot, had fidgetted about the house a good deal all
the evening, and finally, just before ten o'clock, he asked his master
if he might for that night sleep on the floor of the kitchen, in order,
as he put it, to attend more quickly to the horses if anything scared
them.  Goodrick noticed that the old man looked agitated, and
good-naturedly said "Yes."

Still slowly onward marched the stormy batteries of the sky, until at
eleven o'clock they burst overhead with a terrific crash (preceded by
such lightning as only Africa can show) that literally seemed to tear
and rend each nook and corner of the gorge, reverberating with deafening
repetition from every krantz and hollow and rocky inequality in the rude
landscape.  Rain fell in torrents for a time, then ceased.  Again and
again the thunder broke overhead, while the lightning played with fiery
tongue upon mountain and valley, showing momentarily, with photographic
clearness, every object around.  Sleep on such a night was out of the
question, and Goodrick and his wife sat together listening with solemn
faces to the hideous tumult.  At length, at about twelve o'clock, the
storm for a brief space rolled away, only to return in half an hour with
increased severity.

Goodrick had gone for a few moments to the back door, which faced partly
towards the entrance to the kloof, and found Cupido standing there,
seemingly listening intently.  As the tempest approached again with
renewed ferocity, some strange confused noises, shrieks and shouts as it
seemed, were borne upon the strong breeze that now preceded and hurried
along the thunder clouds.

"Hallo!" said Goodrick, "what the deuce is that?  There surely can't be
a soul about on such a night as this?"  Again a hideous scream was borne
up the valley.  "Good God! that's the very yell we've heard so often
round here at night," repeated the Englishman.  "It's not leopard, it's
not hyaena; what on earth is it, Cupido?"  The Hottentot was now
trembling in every limb; his yellow, monkeylike face had turned ashy
grey, and his bleared eyes seemed full of some intense terror.  "Baas,"
he stammered out, "it's Jan Prinsloo's night, and if you're wise you'll
shut the doors fast, pull down the blinds, and not stir or look out for
an hour."

"What do you mean, man?"

"I mean that the ghosts of Jan Prinsloo, who was slain here years ago,
and his murderers, are coming up the kloof."  At that moment the cries
and shoutings sounded closer and closer up the valley, and it seemed as
if the rattling of horses galloping along the rock-strewn path could be
distinguished through the storm.  Just then the other two Hottentots,
who at length had also heard the din, rushed across from their shed and
huddled into the kitchen.  Mrs Goodrick at the same instant ran into
the room.  "What's the matter, Stephen?" she cried; "I am certain there
is some dreadful work going on."

"Yes, wife, there is some devilish thing happening, and I mean to get to
the bottom of it.  I haven't hunted fifteen years in the interior to be
frightened by a few strange noises."  So speaking, the young farmer went
to the sitting-room, took down and rapidly loaded two rifles and his
revolver, and returned to the kitchen.  Handing one rifle to the
Hottentot, he said, "Here, Cupido, take this; I know you can shoot
straight, and, if needful, you'll have to do so.  Wife, give the Totties
a soupje each of brandy."

This was quickly done; the result seemed, on the whole, satisfactory,
and the Hottentots somewhat reassured.  In a few more seconds the storm
burst again in one appalling roar; after it could now be heard the
clattering of hoofs up the hillside, mingled with shrieks and shouts.
This time the tempest passed rapidly overhead, the dense black clouds
rushed on, and suddenly the moon shone out with wonderful brightness.

Onward came the strange noises, sweeping past the side of the house as
if up to the great stone cattle kraal, that lay sixty yards away.  Then
was heard the loud report of a gun.  Stephen could stand it no longer.
"Come on, you fellows, with me," he exclaimed, as he ran out towards the
kraal.  Cupido and Mrs Goodrick, who would not be left behind, alone
followed him; the white servant woman and the remaining two Hottentots
stayed in the kitchen, halfddead with fright, the one on a chair, her
apron clasped to her head and ears, the others huddled up in a corner.
The three adventurers were not long in reaching the kraal, whence they
heard proceeding the same dreadful cries and shrieks, mingled with the
trampling of feet Goodrick first approached the entrance, which he found
wide open.  The sight that met his eyes, and those of his wife and
Cupido close behind, was enough to have shaken the stoutest heart.

Under the clear illumination of the moon, which now shone forth calm and
serene, the inclosure seemed as light as day.  In the far corner, to the
right hand, seventy paces distant, the half-dozen horses that had been
turned in stood huddled with their heads together like a flock of sheep.
On the opposite side from the entrance, a frightful looking group was
tearing madly round.  First ran a tall, stout figure, clad in the
broad-brimmed hat and quaint old-fashioned leathern costume, which
Goodrick in a moment recognised.  In its hands it grasped a huge, long,
old flint "roer," a smooth-bore elephant gun, such as the Boers used in
earlier days.  The figure, as it fled, had its face half-turned to its
pursuers, who consisted of six half-naked Hottentots armed with assegais
and knives.  As the chase, for such it was, swept round the kraal and
the figures approached the entrance, every face could be plainly
discerned; and this was the horrible part of it.  These faces were all
the faces of the dead, gaunt, ghastly, and grim, and yet possessed of
such fiendish and dreadful expressions of anger, cruelty, and lust for
blood, as to strike a chilling terror to the hearts of the three
spectators.  Brave man and ready though he was, Goodrick felt
instinctively that he was in the presence of the dead, and his rifle
hung listlessly in his hand.

Closer the fearful things approached the spellbound trio, till, when
within thirty yards, the leading figure stumbled and fell.  In an
instant, with diabolical screams, the ghostly Hottentots fell upon their
quarry, plying assegai and knife.  Again the awful scream that the kloof
knew so well rang out upon the night; then followed a torrent of Dutch
oaths and imprecations; and then the dying figure, casting off for a
moment its slayers, stood up and laid about it with the heavy "roer"
grasped at the end of the barrel.

The three living beings who looked upon that face will never to their
last days forget it.  If the expression of every crime and evil passion
could be depicted upon the face of the dead, they shone clear under the
pale moonlight upon the face of the dying Dutchman--dying again though
dead.  Once again with wild yells the Hottentots closed on their victim,
and once more rang the fiendish dying yell.  Then, still more awful, the
Hottentots, as it seemed in an instant, stripped the half-dead body,
hacked off the head and limbs, and tore open the vitals, with which they
bedabbled and smeared themselves as they again tore shrieking round the
kraal.  Flesh and blood could stand the sight no longer; Mrs Goodrick,
who had clung to her husband spellbound during the scene, which had
taken in its enactment but a few seconds, fainted away.  Goodrick turned
to take his wife in his arms with the intention of making hurriedly for
the house.  At that instant the horrid din ceased suddenly, and was
succeeded by a deathly silence.  Turning once more to the kraal gate,
Goodrick at once perceived that the whole of the enactors of this awful
drama had vanished.  He rubbed his eyes in vain to see if they deceived
him, but a nod from the half-dead Cupido convinced him that this was not
so.  No, there was no doubt about it, the waning moon cast her pure and
silvery beams calmly and peacefully upon a silent scene.  Not a trace of
the bloody drama remained; not a whisper, save of the soft night breeze,
told of the dreadful story.

"Baas," whispered the Hottentot, "they'll come no more to-night."
Quickly Goodrick raised his fainting wife and carried her into the
house, where, after long and anxious tending, she was restored to
consciousness.  Placing her in the sitting-room upon a couch which he
had himself made from the soft skins, "brayed" by the Kaffirs, of the
antelopes he had shot, he at length induced her to sleep, promising not
for a moment to leave her, and with his hands clasped in hers.

At length the night wore away, the sun of Africa shot his glorious rays
upward from behind the rugged mountain walls of the kloof, and broad
daylight again spread over the landscape.  Goodrick was glad indeed to
find that with the bright sunshine his wife, brave-hearted woman that
she was, had shaken off much of the night's terrors; but her nerves were
much shaken.  For the last time the goats were unkraaled and sent out,
with the two somewhat unwilling Hottentots, to pasture.  Breakfast and
some strong coffee that followed this operation made things look
brighter; and then, taking the couch and setting it upon the stoep
(veranda), just outside the windows of their room, and placing a chair
for himself, Goodrick went out to the back and called Cupido in with him
to the "stoep," where he made the little ancient yellow man squat down.
"Cupido," said he, "I am going to inspan this morning, load up one of
the waggons, and send my wife and servant under your charge out of this
cursed place to Hemming's farm--the next one, twenty-five miles out on
the karroo.  To-morrow, with the help of some Kaffirs I shall borrow
from Mr Hemming, I shall get down the horses from the mountain, load up
both the waggons with the rest of the furniture and farm tackle (as soon
as you return, which you will do very early), and trek out of the kloof,
never again to set foot in it.  But first of all, you will tell me at
once, without lying, why you have never said a word to me of this
horrible secret, and what it all means.  Now speak and be careful."

"Well, baas," said Cupido, speaking in Boer Dutch, the habitual language
of the Hottentots, "you have been a kind baas to me, and the jevrouw,"
(nodding to his mistress) "has been good to me too; and I will tell you
all I know about this story.  I would have warned you long ago, but Baas
Van der Meulen, when he left, made me promise, under pain of being shot,
not to say anything.  I believe he would have kept his word, for he
often gave me the sjambok, and I dare not speak.  I was born here in the
kloof many years ago, many years even before slavery was abolished and
the emigrant Boers trekked out into the Free State and Transvaal, and
you will know that is long since.

"My father lived as a servant under that very Jan Prinsloo, whom you saw
murdered last night in yonder kraal, and many a time has he told me of
Prinsloo and his evil doings and his dreadful end.  Well, Jan Prinsloo
was a grown man years before the English came across the shining waters
and took the country from the Dutch.  He was one of the wild and lawless
gang settled about Bruintjes Hoogte, on the other side of Sunday River,
who bade defiance to all laws and Governments, and who, under Marthinus
Prinsloo (a kinsman of Jan's) and Adriaan Van Jaarsveld, got up an
insurrection two years after the English came, and captured Graaff
Reinet.

"General Vandeleur soon put this rising down, and Marthinus Prinsloo and
Van Jaarsveld were hanged, but Jan Prinsloo, who was implicated, somehow
retired early in the insurrection, and was pardoned.  Some years before
this, Jan was fast friends, as a younger man, with Jan Bloem, who, as
you may have heard, was a noted freebooter who fled from the Colony
across the Orange River, raised a marauding band of Griquas and
Korannas, and plundered, murdered, and devastated amongst many of the
Bechuana tribes, besides trading and shooting ivory as well.  The bloody
deeds of these men yet live in Bechuana story.  Jan Bloem at last,
however, drank from a poisoned fountain in the Bechuana country and died
like a hyaena as he deserved.  Then Jan Prinsloo took all his herds,
waggons, ivory and flocks, came back over the Orange River, sold off the
stock at Graaff Reinet, and came and settled in this kloof.  He had
brought with him some poor Makatese, and these people, who are in their
way, as you know, great builders in stone, he made to build this house
and the great stone kraal out there, where we saw him last night.  He
had, too, a number of Hottentots, besides Mozambique slaves, and those
he ill-treated in the most dreadful manner, far worse even than any Boer
was known to, and that is saying much.  At last one day, not long after
the Bruintjes Hoogte affair, he came home in a great passion, and found
that two of the Hottentots' wives and one child had gone off without
leave to see some of their relatives, Hottentots, who were squatted some
miles away.

"When these women came back in the evening, Prinsloo made their husbands
tie them and the child to two trees, and then and there, after flogging
them frightfully, he shot the poor creatures dead, child and all.  As
for the husbands, he sjambokked them nearly to death for letting their
wives go, and then turned in to his `brandwein' and bed.  That night all
his Hottentots, including seven men who had witnessed the cruel deed--
God knows such deeds were common enough in those wild days--fled through
the darkness out of the kloof, and never stopped till they reached the
thick bush-veldt country, between Sunday River and the Great Fish River.
Just at that time, other Hottentots, roused by the evil deeds of the
Boers, rose in arms, and joined hands with the Kaffirs, who were then
advancing from beyond the Fish River.

"Well, the Kaffirs and Hottentots, to the number of 700, for some time
had all their own way, and ravaged, plundered, burned, and murdered,
among the Boers and their farms, even up to Zwartberg and Lange Kloof,
between here and the sea.  While they were in that neighbourhood, a band
of them, inspired by the seven Hottentots of Prinsloo's Kloof, came up
the Gamtoos River, in this direction, and met with Jan Prinsloo and a
few other Boers, who were trekking out of the disturbed district with
their waggons, and who had come to reconnoitre in a poort, fifteen miles
away from here.  All the Boers were surprised and slain, excepting
Prinsloo; and while the Kaffirs and other Hottentots stayed to plunder
the waggons, Prinsloo's seven servants, who were all mounted on stolen
horses, chased him, like `wilde honde' hunting a hartebeest, for many
hours; for Jan rode like a madman, and gave them the slip for three
hours, while he lay hid up in a kloof, until, at last, as night came on,
they pressed him into his own den here.

"It was yesterday, but years and years ago, just when the summer is
hottest and the thunder comes on, and just in such a storm as last
night's, that the maddened Hottentots, thirsting for the murderer's
blood, hunted Prinsloo up through the poort.  They were all light men
and well mounted, and towards the end gained fast upon him, although
Jan, who rode a great `rooi schimmel' (red roan) horse, the best of his
stud, rode as he had never ridden before.  Up the kloof they clattered,
the Hottentots close at his heels now; Prinsloo galloped to the great
kraal there, jumped off his horse, and ran inside, like a leopard among
his rocks, fastening the gate behind him, and there determined to make a
last desperate stand for it.

"The Hottentots soon forced the gate and swarmed over the walls, not,
however, before one was killed by Prinsloo's great elephant `roer.'
Round the kraal they chased him, giving him no time to load again; at
last, as you know, he fell and was slain, and the Hottentots cut off his
head, and arms, and legs, and tore out his black heart, and in their
mad, murderous joy and fury, smeared themselves with his blood.  Then
the men looted the house, set fire to what they could, and afterwards
rejoined their comrades next morning.  They told my father, who had
known Prinsloo, the whole story when they got back.  These six men were
all killed in a fight soon afterwards when the insurrection was put
down, and the Kaffirs and Hottentots were severely punished.

"Well, ever since that night the thing happens once a year upon the same
night.  Many Boers have tried to live in this place since that time, but
have always left in a hurry after a few weeks' trial.  I believe one man
did stay for nearly two years; but he was deaf, and knew nothing of what
was going on around, until one Prinsloo's night when he saw something
that quickly made him trek I once saw the scene we witnessed last night;
it was many years ago, when I was a young man in the service of a Boer,
who had just come here--before then I had been with my father in the
service of another Boer, forty miles away towards Sunday River.  Next
morning after seeing Prinsloo and his murderers, my master trekked out
horror-stricken.  I never thought to have seen the horrible thing again,
but eight months ago, when the Van der Meulens came here, I was hard up
and out of work, and though I didn't half like coming into the kloof
again, I thought, perhaps, after so many years, the ghosts might have
vanished.  I hadn't been many nights here, though, before I knew too
well I was mistaken.  Even then I would have left, but Van der Meulen
swore I should not.  He and his family came here soon after Prinsloo's
night, and left before it came round again; but after the old man and
his sons had twice been face to face with Jan's spook prowling about the
stable and kraals, and even looking in at the windows, they were not
long before they wanted to clear out, and now you know their reason,
baas."

"Yes, Cupido, to my cost, I do," said Goodrick, "I don't suppose I shall
ever come across that delightful family again, for it is a far cry to
Zoutpansberg, in the north of the Transvaal, and a wild enough country
when you get there.  But tell me, why is it that this dreadful thing is
always in and out of the stables and kraals frightening the horses?"

"Well, baas, I am not certain, but I believe, for my father always told
me so, that Prinsloo was very fond of horseflesh, extraordinarily so for
a Boer; for you know as a rule they don't waste much time on their
horses, and use them but ill.  He had the finest stud in the Colony, and
took great pains and trouble with it; and they say that Jan's ghost is
still just as fond as ever of his favourites, and is always in and out
of the stable in consequence.  Anyhow, the horses don't care about it,
as you know, they seem just as scared at him as any human being."

Cupido, like all Hottentots, could tell a story with the dramatic force
and interest peculiar to his race, and the bald translation here given
renders very scant justice to the grim legend that came from his lips.
After the quaint little yellow man had finished, Mrs Goodrick gave him
some coffee, and immediately afterwards the party set about loading up
one waggon with a part of the furniture.  This done, and Mrs Goodrick
and her servant safely installed, Cupido, the oxen being inspanned, took
the leading riems of the two first oxen and acted as foreloper, while
Goodrick sat on the box and wielded the whip.

Twelve miles away beyond the poort that opened into the kloof there was
a Kaffir kraal, and having arrived there, Goodrick was able to hire a
leader, and Cupido having relieved his master of the whip and received
instructions to hasten to Hemming's farm as quickly as possible with his
mistress, Goodrick saddled and bridled his horse, which had been tied to
the back of the waggon, and rode back to his farm.  The night passed
quietly away; the two remaining Hottentots begged to be allowed to sleep
in the kitchen, and this favour their master not unwillingly accorded
them.  Next morning, at ten o'clock, Cupido, who had trekked through a
good part of the night, arrived, and with him came Mr Hemming, the
farmer, and four of his Kaffirs.  Hearing of his neighbour's trouble,
and having seen Mrs Goodrick comfortably settled with his own wife, he
had good-naturedly come to his assistance.  "So Jan Prinsloo has driven
you out at last," said he, upon meeting Goodrick.  "I heard from your
wife last evening what you had seen the night before.  I was afraid it
would happen and would have warned you in time if I had known.  But I
never even heard that the Van der Meulens had sold the farm till they
had cleared out and I met you about a month after you had been here; and
as you were a determined looking Englishman, and the half-dozen people
who have tried the farm in the last twenty years have been superstitious
Dutch, I thought perhaps you might succeed in beating the ghost where
they failed.  I haven't been in the kloof for many years, and after this
experience, which bears out what my father and others who knew the story
well have always told me, I shan't be in a hurry to come in here again.
It's a strange thing, and I don't think, somehow, the curse that seems
on the place will ever disappear."

"Nor I," said Goodrick, "I'm not in a hurry to try it.  I never believed
in spooks till the night before last, for I never thought they were
partial to South Africa; but after what I saw I can never again doubt
upon that subject.  The shock to me was terrible enough, and what my
wife suffered must have been far worse."

With the willing aid of his neighbour and his Kaffirs, as well as his
own Hottentots, Goodrick got clear of the kloof that day, and, after a
few days spent at Mr Hemming's, trekked away again for Swellendam, to
his father's house.  Six months later he finally settled in a fertile
district not far from Swellendam, where he and his wife and family still
remain.  Cupido died in his service some fourteen years since.  After
much trouble Goodrick sold his interest in Prinsloo's Kloof and the farm
around for a sum much less even than what he gave Van der Meulen for it;
it is only fair to say he warned the purchaser of the evil reputation of
the place before this was done.  It is a singular fact that on his way
to take possession of the kloof the new purchaser fell ill and died, and
the place has never since been occupied.

Although it is nearly forty years since these events took place, and
Mrs Goodrick is now an old lady, with children long since grown to man
and womanhood, she has never quite thrown off the terror of that awful
night.  Even now she will wake with a start if she hears any sudden cry
in her sleep, thinking for the moment it is the death scream of
Prinsloo's Kloof.  As for the haunted kloof, it lies to this day in
desolation black and utter.  No footfall wakes its rugged echoes; the
grim baboons keep watch and ward; the carrion aasvogels wheel and circle
high above its cliffs, gazing down from their aerial dominion with
ever-searching eyes; the black and white ravens seek in its fastnesses
for their food, looking, as they swoop hither and thither, as if still
in half mourning for the deed of blood of bygone years; and the
antelopes and leopards wander free and undisturbed.  But no sign of
human life is there, or seems ever likely to be; and if, by cruel fate,
the straying traveller should haplessly outspan for his night's repose
by the haunted farmhouse on the night of the 15th of January, he will
yet see enacted, so the neighbouring farmers say, the horrible drama of
Jan Prinsloo's death.

CHAPTER FOUR.

THE BUSHMAN'S FORTUNE.

Kwaneet, the Bushman, had lost his wife Nakeesa, and was just now a
little puzzled what to do with himself.  Nakeesa, poor thing, had been
slain by a lion on the Tamalakan River in an attempt to rescue her man.
[See "Tales of South Africa," by the same Author.]  The attempt was
successful so far as Kwaneet was concerned, but Nakeesa and the babe she
carried had fallen victims.  Kwaneet had quickly got rid of Nakeesa's
child by her first husband, Sinikwe.  It was a useless encumbrance to
him, and he had sold it for a new assegai to some Batauana people near
Lake Ngami.

The Masarwa was how at a loose end.  The companionship of Nakeesa during
their year and a half of union--married life it could scarcely be called
among these nomads--had been very pleasant.  Nakeesa was always
industrious, and had saved him an infinity of trouble in providing
water, digging up roots and ground-nuts and picking the wild fruit when
game was scarce, and a score of other occupations pertaining to the
Bushman's life.  Now she was gone, and he must shift for himself again,
which was a nuisance.  But, chiefly, his mind was just now exercised, as
he squatted by himself at a small desert fountain, as to what he should
do with himself in the immediate future.  Suddenly an old and
long-cherished plan flashed across his mind.  Years before, as a young
lad, his father had taken him on a long hunting expedition to a distant
corner of that vast desert of the Kalahari, in which the Masarwa Bushmen
make their home.  He remembered the stalking of many ostriches, and the
acquisition of great store of feathers; he remembered a long, long piece
of thirst country through which they had toiled; and he remembered most
of all coming presently to the solitary abode of a white man, planted in
that distant and inaccessible spot, an abode almost unknown even to the
wild Masarwa of the desert.  From this white man his father had obtained
for his feathers, amongst other things, a good hunting-knife--a
treasured possession which he himself now carried.  That white man, his
waggon--there were no oxen, he remembered, nor horses--the house he had
built for himself, and its fascinating contents; the strong fountain of
sweet water which welled from the limestone hard by; all these things he
remembered well.  But most of all he recalled an air of mystery which
enveloped everything.  When he and his father had approached the white
man's dwelling, they had seen him, before he set eyes on them, digging
in a depression of the open plain a mile from the house.  Much of the
grass had been removed, and piles of sand and stones were heaped here
and there, and there were heaps, too, he remembered, near the house.
Kwaneet's father had, when they left that secret and unknown place,
strongly impressed upon his son the absolute necessity of silence
concerning the white man and his abode.  The white man gave value for
feathers--good value in a Bushman's eyes--which the harsh and bullying
Batauana people of Chief Moremi at Nghabe (Lake Ngami) never did.  On
the contrary, the Batauana robbed the poor Bushman of all his spoils of
the desert whenever they got a chance, which happily was not often.

Now Kwaneet had plenty of time upon his hands and no settled plan.  The
mystery of the lone white man had always fascinated him.  He would go
now and see if he still lived.  It was some winters ago, but he might
still be there.  So Kwaneet filled three ostrich eggs and a calabash
with water, made fresh snuff against the journey, and next morning, long
before the clear star of dawn had leaped above the horizon, started upon
his quest.  He was well equipped for a Masarwa.  His giraffe hide
sandals, not needed till the thorns were traversed, and his little skin
cloak, neatly folded, were fastened to one end of his assegai.  At the
other end hung the full calabash of water.  His tiny bow, quiver of reed
arrows, bone-tipped and strongly poisoned, and a rude net of fibre
containing three ostrich eggs of water were slung over his back.  Some
meat and a supply of ground-nuts, the latter skewered up in the dried
crops of guinea-fowls, completed his outfit.

It was a long, long journey, but Kwaneet, travelling leisurely at the
rate of twenty or thirty miles a day--he was in no violent hurry--
steadily progressed.  He had not been through that part of the Kalahari
since, as a lad, he had accompanied his father; yet, thanks to the
wonderful Bushman instinct, the way through the flat and pathless
wilderness seemed as plain to him as the white man's waggon road from
Khama's to Lake Ngami.  Despite the thirst, it was not an unpleasant
journey.  The various acacias, hack-thorn, wait-a-bit, hook-and-stick
thorn, and the common thorny acacia, with its long, smooth ivory
needles, were all putting forth their round, sweet-scented blooms, some
greenish, some yellow, against the coming of the rains.  Leagues upon
leagues of forest of spreading giraffe-acacia (mokaala) were in flower,
and their big, round, plush-like pompons of rich orange-yellow blossom
scented the veldt for miles with a delicious perfume.  Even to the
dulled senses of the Bushman these symptoms of renewed life at the end
of a long drought were very pleasant.  As the Masarwa plunged further
and further into the heart of the wilderness, game was very plentiful.
Great troops of giraffe wandered and fed among the mokaala forests;
steinbuck and duiker were everywhere amid grass and bush.  Upon the
great grass plains, or in the more open forest glades, herds of
magnificent gemsbok and of brilliant bay hartebeests grazed peacefully
in an undisturbed freedom; not seldom fifty or sixty noble elands were
encountered in a single troop.  All these animals are almost entirely
independent of water, and found here a welcome sanctuary.  The country
was absolutely devoid of mankind.  Many years before a number of
Masarwas had been massacred at a water-pit by a band of Sebituane's
Makololo, then crossing the desert.  The tradition of fear had been
perpetuated and the region was seldom visited by Bushmen.

One morning, after sleeping within the welcome shelter of some thick
bush, Kwaneet steps forth upon a great open plain of grass.  Kwaneet
remembers the plain at once.  Upon it his father and he had slain
ostriches years before, on their way to the white man's; and across the
broad, thirty-mile flat lay a water-pit, the last before the white man's
dwelling was reached.  The Bushman looks with a keen interest out upon
the plain.  He expects to see ostriches, and he is not disappointed.  He
at once begins preparation for a hunt.  First he takes from his neck
three curious-looking flat pieces of bone, triangular in shape, scored
with a rude pattern.  One of these is more pointed than the others.  He
pulls them from the hide strip on which they are threaded, shakes them
rapidly between his two palms, and casts them upon the earth, after
which he stares with intense concentration for a long half minute.
These are his dice, his oracles, which disclose to him whether the hunt
is to be a good or an unsuccessful one.  Apparently the result of the
first throw is doubtful.  The Bushman picks up the dice, shakes them,
and throws them again.  This time the more acute-angled piece points
away from the rest.  The Bushman's eyes gleam, he mutters to himself in
that odd, high, complaining voice which these people have, giving a
cluck or two with his tongue as he does so, and throws once more.  Again
the oracle is propitious.  Well pleased, the Masarwa re-strings his
dice, fastens them about his neck, and hastens his preparations.

He now divests himself of all his encumbrances; water vessels, food,
cloak, assegai, and sandals are all left behind.  Stark naked, except
for the hide patch about his middle, and armed only with his bow,
arrows, and knife, he sets forth.  The nearest ostrich is feeding more
than a mile away, and there is no covert but the long, sun-dried, yellow
grass, but that is enough for the Bushman.  Worming himself over the
ground with the greatest caution, he crawls flat on his belly towards
the bird.  No serpent could traverse the grass with less disturbance.
In the space of an hour and a half he has approached within a hundred
yards of the tall bird.  Nearer he dare not creep on this bare plain,
and at more than twenty-five paces he cannot trust his light reed
arrows.  He lies patiently hidden in the grass, his bow and arrows ready
in front of him, trusting that the ostrich may draw nearer.  It is a
long wait under the blazing sun, close on two hours, but his instinct
serves him, and at last, as the sun shifts a little, the great ostrich
feeds that way.  It is a splendid male bird, jet black as to its body
plumage, and adorned with magnificent white feathers upon the wings and
tail.  Kwaneet's eyes glisten, but he moves not a muscle.  Closer and
closer the ostrich approaches.  Thirty paces, twenty-five, twenty.
There is a light musical twang upon the hot air, and a tiny yellowish
arrow sticks well into the breast of the gigantic bird.  The ostrich
feels a sharp pang and turns at once.  In that same instant a second
arrow is lodged in its side, just under the wing feathers.  Now the
stricken bird raises its wings from its body and speeds forth into the
plain.  But Kwaneet is quite content.  The poison of those two arrows
will do his work effectually.  He gets up, follows the ostrich, tracking
it, after it has disappeared from sight, by its spoor, and in two hours
the game lies there before him amid the grass, dead as a stone.  The
Bushman carefully skins the whole of the upper plumage of the bird, cuts
off the long neck at its base, takes what meat he requires, and walks
back to his camping-place.  There he skins the neck of the bird,
extracting the muscles and vertebra; and, leaving the head, sews up the
neck again, inserting into it a long stick and some dry grass, and lays
it on one side.  The hunt and these preparations have consumed most of
the day.  Kwaneet now feeds heartily, drinks a little water, indulges
himself in a pinch or two of snuff, and then, nestling in his skin cloak
close to his fire, his back sheltered by a thick bush, sleeps soundly
till early morning.

So soon as it is light an ostrich stalks from the Bushman's "scherm" and
moves quietly on to the plain.  All its motions are as natural as
possible.  It holds its head erect, looking abroad for any possible
danger, as these wary creatures will, puts its head down to feed at
times, scratches itself, all in the most natural fashion.  The ostrich
is no other than Kwaneet, disguised with the greatest care and deftness
in the skin of the slain bird.  He manoeuvres the neck and head on the
long stick inserted yesterday.  All this is part of a Bushman's
education, and Kwaneet is merely profiting by desert lessons acquired
from his father years before.  The Bushman-ostrich moves quietly out on
to the flat, and presently joins a knot of birds feeding amid the grass.
His approach is so skilful that he is able, without suspicion, to lodge
an arrow in the finest male bird of the troop.  From this troop, moving
as they move when alarmed and keeping always with them, he kills four
birds during the morning, all of which he rifles of their best feathers.
During three days' hunting upon the plain Kwaneet thus kills eight fine
cock ostriches, and gains a noble booty of prime feathers.  These
feathers having carefully fastened together, he proceeds on his journey.
It takes him a long day to cross the plain.  He rests at the limestone
water-pit on the other side, recruits his water calabash and eggshells,
and then sets himself for the wearisome two days of waterless journey to
the white man's settlement.  He travels faster now, and late in the
second afternoon reaches the well-remembered spot.  The digging upon the
grass plain seems to him as he passes it much larger than of old.  Many
heaps are now grass-covered and even overgrown with low bushes.  But
chiefly Kwaneet notices that the dry bed of an ancient stream, which
ages since ran here, has been greatly excavated.  The banks are piled up
with soil, and the channel is much deeper than when he last saw it.
Kwaneet smiles to himself and marvels at the white man's profitless
labour.  The man is alive, that is certain, his spoor plainly tells that
tale.  In another mile, following the path worn long since, the Masarwa
walks into the pleasant open glade just upon the outskirts of the
camelthorn forest, where the dwelling stands.  It is exactly as Kwaneet
remembers it, a low cottage of wattle and daub, neatly thatched.  The
old waggon still stands there under the spreading acacia fifty yards to
the left.  It is now rotten and dilapidated, almost falling to pieces;
the white ants have been busy with it.  There are signs of cultivation.
Away to the right, near the fountain, a patch of mealie and tobacco
ground is almost ready for the rains that soon must fall.

In front of the red mud walls of the hut, now glowing warmly beneath the
rays of the dying sun, sits the white man in an old waggon chair.  As
Kwaneet walks up, he starts, rises, and, looking hard at the Bushman,
says: "Who is it?"  Then, looking still harder, "Surely Dwar, the
Masarwa?"

"Nay," answers Kwaneet, "it is not Dwar, but Kwaneet, the son of Dwar.
Dwar died in the drought, in the season that three lions pulled down the
giraffe by the pool of Maqua."

The white man laughs grimly.  "That is the answer of a true Masarwa," he
says.  "How can I tell when Dwar died?  But now I remember you, Kwaneet.
You were here as a lad with your father, and you are as like Dwar as
one kiewitje's egg is like another.  What do you do here?  The Masarwa
seldom comes this way."

"Oh, my lord," returned Kwaneet, "I lost my wife on the Tamalakan River
and I wished to wander again.  I thought I would hunt this way and see
if the white man still abode here.  Here are feathers which he may wish
to buy."

The white man was long silent and gazed hard at Kwaneet, and as he gazed
his eyes seemed to wander dreamingly into the past.  Meanwhile Kwaneet,
squatting there in the red sand in front of him, had time to observe him
well.  The white man had changed a good deal.  His glance, which the
Masarwa remembered as shifting and uneasy, was the same, but otherwise
he was different from the strong man he had last seen.  He stooped and
was very thin, his face was deeply lined, the flesh followed tightly the
contour of the bones.  The beard and hair, which the Bushman remembered
as an intense black, were now thickly streaked with white.

While the two men sit thus silent, let us look into the white man's
past--that past which at this moment he himself retraces within the
mazes of his brain.  James Fealton, fifteen years before, was a
Namaqualand trader, who knew the interior and its natives well, and had
prospered moderately.  He had not a very good reputation.  When diamonds
were discovered and the rush took place to the Vaal River, he happened
to be down-country.  He joined the rush, and, chumming with an
Englishman fresh from the old country, spent many months in digging.
The two men lived hard, and had no luck for six months, by which time
most of their capital had come to an end.  Then came a big stroke of
fortune.  They found a huge stone of many carats, worth some thousands
of pounds.  Not a soul in the camp knew of the find.  But one day
Fealton had disappeared, his partner was found in their tent stabbed to
the heart, and a hue and cry arose.  The hue and cry did not last long;
the camp was far too busy in those days with its own affairs to trouble
greatly about bringing felons to justice.  Fealton had carefully covered
up his traces and the search presently died away.  Fealton had, as a
matter of fact, ridden off on a fleet horse by night and had secured
three good days' start.  Avoiding all dwellings, he rode across the
veldt, and presently reached a kraal on the north bank of the Orange
River, where he had left a waggon, oxen, and some stores some six months
earlier, just before he had been bitten with the diamond fever.

Within six hours of his arrival at the kraal he had inspanned his oxen
and trekked away north into the heart of the Kalahari.  At first he had
luck; there were plenty of wild melons (tsama) about the desert, and,
failing water, his oxen subsisted on these for some weeks.  At Lehuditu,
a Kalahari kraal, where the only native he had with him lived, he paid
off the man and thence trekked on alone.  But as he pressed yet north
the tsama failed, and one after another the oxen fell in their yokes and
died of thirst and exhaustion.  It was a ghastly struggle for life.
Fealton managed to reach the pleasant fountain where Kwaneet found him
and there halted.  He had reached a remote place, surrounded by
"thirsts"--a place unknown to white men--here he would rest for a year
or two.  The remnant of his oxen, save two, soon after died from eating
a poisonous plant--"Tulp," as the Boers call it--and he was stranded
whether he liked it or no.  But the place suited him very well.  He was
haunted by the gnawing fear of detection.  The crime itself--the foul
murder of his friend--troubled him little at present in the haste and
toil of flight, but the consequences of it, the terror of retribution
and of justice, dwelt with him incessantly.  He would stay here till
things were forgotten, and then escape north far into Portuguese
territory and so to Europe.  Meanwhile there was plenty of game around
him.  He had a plentiful store of ammunition--enough for many years,
with care--and was fond of sport.  He would hunt ostrich feathers, and
thus collect wealth to add to the value of that wonderful diamond, which
he carried ever about him.  And so he had built himself a hut, and made
himself a home in the wilderness.

Rambling with his gun about the country near the place of his
settlement, he had found one day a dry river-bed, where water had
evidently run in ages past.  Some of the gravel here and there, left
uncovered by the light sand of the desert, struck him.  He brought a
spade and searched carefully, and presently from a washing picked out a
small diamond.  The discovery electrified him.  That here in this secret
place, happened upon by the merest accident in that desperate flight
from the great diamond stretches of the Vaal River, he should have lit
upon another field, seemed the wildest improbability of a dream.  Yet so
it was.  He found a week or two later another stone.  They were not
large diamonds, but they were wonderfully pure gems, white and flawless.
He now set to work with feverish energy.  He would amass a huge fortune
in a year or two and then get away to some civilised country and enjoy
that life of luxury and indulgence for which inwardly his soul had
always pined.  He had a few trading tools on his waggon, among them
picks and spades.  These easily sufficed him.  He worked steadily for
three years in the dry river-bed, until the time when Kwaneet and his
father had made their way to his hut.  His success had not been very
great, thus far the stones were scarce and far apart and not very large.
Moreover, the toil of carrying the stuff to his fountain for washing
purposes was great, and took up much time.  But, four years after the
Bushman's visit, a turn came.  Moving farther along the dry channel he
had at length hit upon much richer soil.  Fine diamonds of considerable
size were occasionally to be found after the washings, and slowly the
man's store of gems increased.  Yet, always hoping for some yet greater
streak of luck, he toiled on.  Now at last, in the leather bag, locked
in a corner of his waggon-chest, he had a great fortune.  But for the
last two years his health had begun to fail.  Some internal trouble
sapped at his strong frame.  He lost flesh and grew old and wrinkled.
The fitful beating of his heart, palpitations, and even sudden pangs,
alarmed him.  He gave up digging, he had barely enough energy at times
to shoot or snare game and keep himself in meat.  He must escape from
the desert, which he now loathed, and get to Europe and obtain medical
advice.  No doubt he could be put right again.

For months he had been casting about for some means of escape from what
was now in his weakened state a prison.  He doubted whether he could
struggle on foot to the next water--sixty long miles of heat and
thirst--and there were other long thirsts to be traversed before he
could even strike a native settlement and buy a horse or oxen.  And
here, in the midst of his perplexities, the Bushman had turned up!
Nothing could have been more fortunate, it was absolutely providential.
Fealton felt that evening more cheerful than he had done for years past.
His troubles would vanish now.  That night he treated Kwaneet to a
magnificent feed--for a Bushman--opened his last bottle of brandy--the
long-treasured remnant from a case of two dozen--and, under the
mellowing influence of the liquor and companionship, his spirits rose
immensely.  The old bright dreams, which had been fading in the last
year or two, rose clear before him.  He understood the Koranna dialect,
which much resembles Masarwa, and he had no difficulty in conversing
with the Bushman.  From him he gleaned a little--a very little--of what
was passing in the native states around him.  Moremi reigned at Lake
Ngami.  Khama had succeeded Macheng and ruled the Bamangwato.  Secheli
still lived.  The white men came oftener into the country, the game grew
scarcer.  He could glean little else than these bare facts from the
desert man.  Yet it was wonderfully pleasant to use his tongue, to break
the long silence of the lonely wilderness, to exchange ideas even with a
Masarwa.  The two men talked for a couple of hours, then Fealton
motioned Kwaneet into a corner of the hut, and himself lay down upon his
rough bed.

Kwaneet curled himself up under his hartebeest skin cloak and was soon
fast asleep.  He woke as usual very early, but Fealton was awake before
him.  Peering from under his cloak, Kwaneet saw in the dim light of
early morning that the white man was sitting on his bed.  He had in his
hands a skin bag.  He opened this and poured out its contents on the
couch.  The Bushman could not see all, but he saw a little heap of
pebbles, which the hand of the white man levelled and spread over the
blanket.  Several of the larger stones he picked up and examined closely
and weighed in his hand.  It was clear to Kwaneet from the white man's
movement that he set great store by these pebbles.  The Bushman stirred.
Fealton swept the stones into the skin bag again, put them into his
waggon-chest, which stood close to the bed, and locked it.

That morning, after breakfast, Fealton unfolded his plans to the
Masarwa.  He was to go with some ostrich feathers to a trader at Lake
Ngami and barter two good pack oxen on which the white man could make
his escape.  He could ride one and pack his belongings on the other.
The Masarwa had more than once tended cattle for the Bechuanas, and
understood them.  Oxen would traverse the "thirst" better than horses--
even if horses could be obtained, which was doubtful--and Kwaneet did
not understand horses.  For the Bushman's protection in this business--
lest he should be robbed or cheated of the feathers by the way--Fealton
wrote a note in an assumed name and hand, authorising the cattle to be
delivered in exchange for feathers.  He represented himself briefly as a
traveller who had broken down in the desert.  He enjoined upon Kwaneet
complete secrecy as to his long settlement in the Kalahari.  The reward
to Kwaneet for the due despatch of this piece of business was in the
Bushman's eyes a very great one.  The white man promised him a
breech-loading rifle and ammunition and some goats.  Kwaneet had
ambitions, for a Masarwa, and began to look forward to setting up as an
aristocrat, such, for instance, as the Batauana or Bamangwato people,
who lorded it so greatly over the poor children of the desert.

Kwaneet performed his mission secretly and well, he procured the two
pack oxen, got them safely across the desert--luckily it was the
beginning of the rains--and arrived one day at the white man's hut.  He
approached the place with a swelling sense of satisfaction.  He had
accomplished a difficult mission for a desert-bred man.  The white man
would be vastly pleased.  The reward, that magnificent Snider rifle,
which always he had carried in his mind's eye, the cartridges, the
goats--all, all were soon to be his.  Within fifty yards of the hut
something caught the eye of the Masarwa--something that sent a thrill
down his back.  Here was now, since the rain had fallen, fair green
grass starred with flowers.  Big pink and white lilies stood in their
short-lived bravery near the fountain, and amid these wild lilies lay
bleached bones and pieces of torn cloth.  The white man was dead, and
here was the last of him.  Kwaneet turned over the bones.  Many of them
were broken by hyenas and jackals, but there was no mistaking the
fragments of clothing amid which they lay.  The Bushman's aid had come
too late.  Fealton's fate had at last overtaken him.  He had died
suddenly of the ailment that had been so long sapping at his life, and
the birds and beasts of the desert had been his undertakers.

Here at first was a bitter disappointment for Kwaneet.  Presently,
however, on thinking it all over, the affair looked not quite so blank
for him.  Here in this secret place was wealth--a good rifle, some
ammunition still remaining, as he knew, the two oxen he had brought.
Why should not he himself live here and enjoy this pleasant spot and
these good things?  So Kwaneet took possession of the hut and its
contents, clothed himself in an old pair of trousers and a flannel
shirt, and entered upon the life of a great man.  He built a little
kraal for his two oxen, and for a time was as happy as an English squire
with a heavy rent roll in the good days.  He tried the rifle, and after
a time even overcame the alarming difficulty of letting it off.  But it
was a serious undertaking, and upon the whole he preferred his bow and
arrows.

Presently Kwaneet, Masarwa though he was, yearned once more for
companionship.  He would try to get a wife again.  He had found the
white man's bag of pebbles.  He felt convinced somehow, from the care
the man had bestowed upon them, that they were valuable.  He would take
these and the best of the ostrich feathers to the trader and obtain more
cattle for them, and on his way thither he would pick up a wife at the
water of Ghansi.  This last was not a difficult task.  At Ghansi he
bought the girl he needed, paying for her his father's old
hunting-knife, which he had replaced by a better one found in the white
man's hut.  Kwaneet's appearance with a couple of pack oxen and a big
load of feathers, and other indications of immense wealth, created some
sensation among the Masarwas squatting at Ghansi.  One of them in
particular, Sakwan, made it his business to inquire further into the
matter.  He had an old grudge against Kwaneet--it had happened over a
stray tusk of ivory found in the desert; it irked him yet more to see
his rival thus prospering.  After Kwaneet with his new wife had left
Ghansi for the Lake, therefore, Sakwan followed secretly upon their
spoor.  Kwaneet found no difficulty in marketing his wares at the end of
his journey.  He interviewed the trader by night.  The man was staggered
at sight of the magnificent lot of ostrich feathers which Kwaneet turned
out of the skin coverings that enveloped them; yet more staggered was he
when the Bushman produced his bag of pebbles, and poured them upon the
deal table.  The trader knew diamonds in the rough perfectly well.
Here, he assured himself, was the price of a king's ransom.  Where did
they come from?  Were there more of them?  To these questions Kwaneet
returned evasive answers.  He knew nothing more than that he had found
them in the desert.  There were no more of them.  What then, asked the
trader, did Kwaneet want for the lot--feathers and pebbles?  They were
not worth much to him, but he would buy them.  Kwaneet had thought all
this out His fortune was worth to him, he conceived, ten head of cows, a
bull, twenty goats, some Snider ammunition, a hat, a suit of trade
clothes, and a shawl for his wife.  He shook a little with excitement as
he proposed these enormous terms.  The trader laughed to himself at the
Masarwa's idea of wealth; he knew well that that wonderful bag of
diamonds alone was worth some tens of thousands of pounds.  And the
feathers--magnificent "prime bloods," long and snow-white, represented
three or four hundred pounds at least.  He haggled a little to save
appearances, and finally closed the bargain.

Two days later, Kwaneet and his wife started away from a quiet cattle
post belonging to the trader, which lay at some distance from the native
town.  It was part of the bargain that the trader should see the coast
clear, so that the Bushman might get away unknown to the Batauana.  This
was safely accomplished.  The two bush people, driving their fortune
before them, plunged straightway into the desert.  It was an anxious yet
a delightful journey for Kwaneet.  He had made his pile; henceforth he
would rear flocks and herds in that dim corner of the desert and grow
ever richer--as rich as a Bechuana.  What Masarwa before him had ever
accomplished, had ever even dreamt so much?

Thanks to the rains, which held late that season, Kwaneet got all his
stock safely over the journey and reached his goal.  It was a fine clear
morning as they drove the cattle and goats up to the pleasant fountain,
now brimming over with the rains, which Kwaneet knew so well.  There
stood the hut and the waggon just as he had left them.  Partridge-like
francolins were calling sharply near the water.  Brilliant rollers and
wood-peckers, and bizarre hornbills, with monstrous yellow bills, were
flitting to and fro among the trees of the mokaala grove.  Beautiful
wild doves cooed softly from the spreading branches of the great
giraffe-acacia, beneath which the old waggon stood.  Bands of
sand-grouse were drinking, splashing, and stooping at the water.  The
grass was still green; flowers still flourished; the place looked very
fair.  All that day Kwaneet and his young wife toiled hard, cutting
thorns and making a temporary kraal for the cattle.  Then they ate some
food and, turning into the hut, slept.

Two hours later--before the moon rose--a dark form crept up to the
doorway.  The cry of a hyaena was heard.  Kwaneet came forth and was met
not by any prowling beast but by the sharp blade of an assegai which
pierced his heart.  That deadly thrust was made by Sakwan, who had
shadowed for weeks past the career of his hated rival.  Thus miserably
ended the fortunes and hopes of Kwaneet the Bushman.  Perchance if he
had lived he might have founded here in this remote place, as he had
sometimes in these last weeks dreamed to himself, a tribe--perhaps even
a dynasty--of the desert!  Why not!  Lehuditu, that strange village of
the central Kalahari, sprang from no greater a beginning!  But all these
aspirations had been ruthlessly ended by Sakwan's spear-head.  They sank
there into the thirsty sand with Kwaneet's life-blood.  As for Sakwan,
he took possession of the Masarwa girl, squatted at the fountain till
they had killed and devoured Kwaneet's cattle and goats, and then, with
his wife, betook himself once more to the roaming life of his kind.

Kwaneet's bones rest there amid the Kalahari grass, mingling with those
of the white man, mute records of ruined hopes, the pitiful relics of
the first and last Masarwa Bushman that dared to have ambition.
Sometimes the jackal turns them over with his sharp snout, but they are
very white and very clean now, and not even a jackal can find
consolation in them.  The diamonds collected so painfully by the
murderer Fealton, and so lightly parted with by the simple Kwaneet, are
scattered too; but at least they have built the fortunes of the white
trader, who now lives in England upon their proceeds the life of a man
of wealth.  He can little guess, nor, I suppose, would he be greatly
interested to know, the sorry ending of the desert nomad to whom he owes
his luck.

CHAPTER FIVE.

THE CONQUEST OF CHRISTINA DE KLERK.

The few hunters, traders, and Trek Boers who cross the dreaded
Thirstland of the Northern Kalahari, and, upon their long and trying
journey towards Lake Ngami, strike the Lake River (marked upon the maps
Zouga or Botletli River), well know the pleasant outspan at Masinya's
Kraal.  Masinya's is a small village of Bakurutse natives, planted a
mile or so from the southern bank of the Lake River.  Between the kraal
and the river, amid a thin grove of spreading giraffe-acacia trees, set
upon a little islet of rising ground, lies the outspan where travellers
bound to and from Ngami usually halt.  On the right, a hundred and fifty
yards from the tall, oak-like motjeerie tree, which every hunter knows,
lies a deep depression, which, fed by the overflow of the Lake River,
assumes the aspect of a handsome lagoon, at some seasons full and deep,
at others a mere shallow vlei.  Beyond the lagoon lie the hard,
sun-baked alluvial flats which border the sluggish river.  Upon the
southern and western sides of the charming oasis of Masinya's Kraal
stretch the great open grass plains, flecked with springboks, and dotted
here and there with a troop of larger game, which fifteen or twenty
miles away are checked by the endless and waterless forest and bush of
the Kalahari--that vast desert which, thanks to its lack of surface
water, lies to this day dim, unknown, and mysterious to all races of
mankind, save the wandering Bushmen and Vaalpens who inhabit it.

Upon the 28th of December, 1878, towards four o'clock in the afternoon,
a great Cape waggon, conspicuous by its new white tilt and
spick-and-span paint, toiled heavily across the flat towards Masinya's
Kraal.  Presently, urged by the excited yells of the driver and the
pistol-like cracks of his great whip, the eighteen stout oxen rose the
slight sandy ascent, and a little further drew up their burden under the
shade of a spreading acacia.  A white woman, young, dark, and
good-looking, her face shaded by a broad-brimmed straw hat, sat upon the
box; and as the great waggon halted she descended with light foot to the
dry, grassy soil, shook herself a little, adjusted her hat, and looked
about her.  The first thing her brown eyes lit upon was another waggon
and encampment some hundred and fifty yards to her right.

Kate Marston was a colonial-born girl, and understood the ways and signs
of the veldt well enough.  Something about the look of the encampment,
the old buck-sail stretched from the waggon to a couple of friendly tree
stems (thus forming an apartment in itself), the travel-worn waggon, its
tilt patched with raw hides, and a general air of untidiness, convinced
her that it belonged to a Boer owner.  The sight of a female figure
sitting under the lee of the waggon in a squat chair, and her immense
Dutch kapje, or sun-bonnet, at once settled that conviction.

But Kate Marston had plenty to do at present before troubling herself
about a visit to her neighbour.  Her husband, Fred Marston, was away in
the veldt, hunting, and she wished to have her camp settled, her
tent-sail fixed, some of her belongings got out of the waggon, the fires
lighted, and the evening meal prepared against his return, which she
expected towards sundown.  In half an hour's time, thanks to her brisk
and energetic ways, things were settling themselves as she wished.  The
tent-sail was fastened down, the little folding camp-table--flanked by a
couple of waggon chairs--in its place and covered with a clean
table-cloth (even in the wilderness, Kate, with her English ways, loved
to be neat), a fire of wood blazed cheerfully, the game stew was
simmering in the big Kaffir pot.  These things being attended to, Kate
had washed her hands and face after the day of trekking, brushed her
thick, dark hair; and now, in her thin light brown stuff dress, clean
collar and cuffs, and broad sun-hat, looked as fresh, bright, and
cheerful as if she had just issued from her bedroom in some well-found
house, instead of from a mere rude travelling home in the wilderness.
Kate Marston, the daughter of a well-to-do British settler in Griqualand
West, had recently married, and was now, two months after her wedding,
travelling in the hunting veldt with her husband--a trip she had looked
forward to with the keenest anticipation for more than a year past.  It
was the dream of her life.  Although very well-educated at the Cape,
Kate, brought up on a colonial farm, loved the free, unfettered life of
the veldt.  She rode well, was a good shot with the fowling-piece, and,
before settling down on a Transvaal farm in Marico, had persuaded her
husband to take her with him on an expedition into the far interior.
Rough though the journey had been through Bechuanaland, Khama's country,
and across the parched wastes of the Kalahari, Kate had loved it all.
To her each day brought with it new delights--scenes and memories, of
which, to the latest day of her existence, she could never be deprived.
Fred Marston, her husband, a man of two-and-thirty, had done very well
for years past as a trader and elephant hunter.  He was about settling
down for life in the Transvaal--now for a year past proclaimed a British
possession; and before retiring from the wild life of the wilderness he
was thus trekking with his wife, on a journey of pure pleasure and
hunting, towards Lake Ngami.

A native boy had strolled across from the Boer camp, and from him Kate
Marston had learned the name of the Dutch woman sitting over yonder.  It
was de Klerk.  Her husband was an elephant hunter from the Northern
Transvaal.  They had a good load of ivory, gleaned during a year or two
of adventure, and the wife, husband, and two children were now on their
way down-country.  Kate was not very sure of her reception if she went
across.  The Transvaal Dutch were, since the annexation of their
country, not only disaffected towards the British Government, but rude
and uncivil towards individual English folk.  However, Kate understood
the Dutch and their language exceedingly well, and her cheerful nature
inclined her to be friendly.  She had often before now thawed the
stubborn reserve of a Boer huis-vrouw.  She would go across and pay the
Dutch camp a visit.  A walk of less than two hundred yards, and she
stood by the de Klerks' waggon.

Now Vrouw de Klerk had heard from her native servant, sent casually
across to pick up news, who and what the new arrivals were.  She was not
much comforted.  She had hoped to see the faces of Dutch folk.  Here
were only English, whom she hated.  However, she was not to be caught
napping.  She had washed her children's faces and hands and her own,
pinned a big bow of blue ribbon at her throat, and put on a clean kapje,
and had even donned a nearly new black alpaca apron.  She sat under the
waggon sail, cutting up dried onions into a tin dish; but as Kate
Marston approached she made no attempt to meet her.  She was not a
bad-looking woman, Christina de Klerk, as Boers--who are not noted for
female beauty--go.  She had plenty of light brown hair, drawn tightly
back from her face and knotted under her great sun-bonnet; but the face
was--as is so often the case with Afrikander Dutch women--broad, high
boned, and absolutely lacking in colour; the blue eyes were somewhat
pale and colourless; and although she was a young woman--little more
than three-and-twenty--a dull, stolid, even hard expression was already
settling itself for life upon her lineaments.  Christina was a tall, big
woman, but her figure was thick, heavy, and altogether devoid of grace;
stiff and unyielding it was as her own nature.

Bred up in a remote back-country in Waterberg--scarcely educated at
all--if reading with no great ease from the great family Bible can be
called education, Christina had, like most of her fellows, a mind almost
untouched by civilisation; a mind narrow, bigoted, and prejudiced to a
degree almost inconceivable to denizens of modern Europe.  But when all
was said and done, allowances were to be made for Christina de Klerk.
The grandchild of one of those Dutch families which had quitted the Cape
and thrown off English rule in the Great Trek of 1836; the daughter of a
frontiersman, who, after making himself a home in the wilds of the
Northern Transvaal, had seen his beloved republic entered and possessed
by the very British from whom he and his parents had trekked; she had
from infancy been nurtured in a blind and unreasoning hatred against all
English people.  Just now, as Kate Marston advanced and stood before her
tent, her naturally grave and impassive face had assumed a very sour and
unpleasant look.  Christina had surveyed with rapid sidelong glances the
Englishwoman's approach; she now took a full, steady, but by no means
friendly look at her as Kate halted and spoke.  In these glances and in
that look she had time to observe that the Englishwoman was young, very
good-looking, and--in a Boer woman's eyes--well-dressed.  All this
tended little to lull her wrath.  The woman, she felt, was her superior.
She hated her for it.  And as Kate spoke in a soft, clear English
voice, with that lip speech which, to users of the rough, thick,
guttural Dutch, seems mincing and super-refined, Christina detested her
yet more.  Her husband hated the English, her father and grandfather had
hated them; now at this moment her spirit rose in a burning flame of
resentment against the woman who had come to speak to her.

"Good evening, Vrouw de Klerk," said Kate pleasantly.

"Good evening," repeated Christina in a low, subacid voice, looking away
into her bowl of sliced onions.

"We have just come up-country and I hear you are on your journey out I
thought I should like just to step across and ask if there is anything
we can do for you.  We have plenty of stores on our waggon.  You may be
short of coffee, sugar, or other things?  And I thought, too, perhaps,
as you have been away in the veldt so long, you might like to have news
from down-country."

Christina no longer looked away, but now stared straight into the
Englishwoman's face.  A faint flush had risen upon her dull cheeks; her
anger, the pent-up hatred of years, was now at boiling point.

"I want to know and hear nothing," she replied in a hard, set voice,
with much energy.  "The English have stolen our Transvaal country; we
have nothing to say to them until we have got that country back.  You
took the Old Colony from us.  You took Natal, which we won with our
blood.  Now you have taken the Transvaal.  Ach! and yet you are
surprised that we hate you.  If I were dying I would not take one drop
of cold water from an Englishwoman.  We are enemies.  You know it.  And
yet you must pursue us even here in the veldt.  I want to have nothing
to do with your people at all or at any time!"

Kate was a good deal staggered at this outburst, but she knew the Dutch
and their uncouth ways; she knew that their bark is often far worse than
their bite.  In a perfectly calm tone, but with some spirit, she
replied:

"Your welcome is surely a churlish one, Mevrouw de Klerk, and your
accusations are very absurd.  I am an Afrikander, like yourself, and I
know of these things.  I will grant that perhaps the Dutch in the Old
Colony had some reason for their Great Trek.  But that is a tale more
than eighty years old, which should surely be forgotten.  As for Natal,
there were, as I happen to know--for my mother was a Natal colonist--
English traders at Port Durban years before the Boers trekked into the
country.  And for the Transvaal, surely you must admit that your
weakness and misgovernment was so great that the English Government had
to step in to save your country and the rest of South Africa from Zulu
and other native dangers."

Vrouw de Klerk was preparing to answer vigorously.  Kate Marston raised
her hand.  "Stop," she said, "I won't argue the matter further.  I'll
just say Good evening and go back to my waggon.  Perhaps when you come
to think it over you will see that you have been rude and unreasonable
to a stranger in the veldt--even an English Afrikander has feelings.  If
I can help you in any way, if you want anything, send over to our waggon
and you can have it with pleasure.  Your children there,"--looking at
the two fat Dutch kinder, staring with blue eyes and moon faces at the
dreadful Englishwoman--"may want something, perhaps."  So speaking, Kate
turned on her heel and walked back to the camp.

Christina de Klerk sat glaring for a full minute at Kate's back as she
walked away.  She was turning over in her dull, slow-moving mind some
scathing retort upon her adversary's statements.  But Kate was now too
far away.  She rose with a snort of defiance, and, muttering angrily to
herself, went off to the fire with her sliced onions.  These she threw
into a three-legged pot, adding to the meat already there a pinch or two
of salt and pepper, and then bestirred herself towards the cookies of
Boer meal baking among the embers.

Kate Marston, not a little vexed and put out at her unexpected
reception, strolled back to her waggon, and then, moving fifty yards
beyond, sat down with her back to a tree to enjoy the sunset and watch
for the approach of her husband.  She was upon the edge of the grove,
and the great grass plains stretched away at her feet in illimitable
monotones of green and yellow--green where the natives had fired the
veldt, and the recent rain had induced fresh vegetation; yellow where
belts and patches of last year's grass, which had escaped the fire, yet
remained.  It was nearing sundown; the western sky was ablaze with
colour; far up towards the zenith the gorgeous hues of crimson and
orange faded off to amber, and yet higher the heavens were of a wondrous
clear, pale sea-green.  The plains were just now bathed in a rich warm
glow.  As Kate looked she could see droves of springbok dotted here and
there, their white backs and under parts showing up curiously in the
mellow light of evening.  It was a wonderful hour, and amid that vast
calm and the soothing glamour of the scene Kate's ruffled feelings soon
assumed their wonted peacefulness.

Her eyes, ranging over the vast expanse, presently lit upon something
that arrested her attention.  There were two figures far away in the sea
of grass; surely one of them would be her husband?  She watched, and
presently made out that one of the objects was much taller than the
other.  What could it mean?  A little while and the two figures rose
clearer before her gaze.  Now, at last, she understood what they meant
Fred Marston had found a number of giraffe, and turned one out of the
troop, and, aided by a masterly use of the wind, had succeeded in
driving the tall creature in front of him right up to his own waggon.
Skilled South African hunters can achieve this feat with the eland and
giraffe, but the giraffe is usually far more difficult to ride into camp
than the eland.

Closer came the strange group.  The giraffe was tiring, and now, instead
of galloping in its clumsy yet swift fashion, paced with giant,
shuffling strides across the veldt, with something of the gait of a
camel.  A hundred yards from where Kate sat, quietly watching this
singular spectacle, the great dappled giant stood.  It had caught sight
of the waggon and of figures moving among the trees, and would go no
further.  The tall quadruped, full seventeen feet in height, its rich,
dark, chestnut-pied coat gleaming warmly beneath the flush of sunset,
stood for a full minute absolutely motionless, as these animals will do.
It looked like some strange figure of bronze, the creature of a
vanished age.  Thirty paces to the right Fred Marston had reined in his
horse and stood expectant.

"There you are, Kate!" he shouted, cheerily, as his wife rose.  "A real
good giraffe cow, fat as butter, and in splendid coat.  I've had the
dickens' own trouble with her, though.  She was as obstinate as a mule."

Kate clapped her hands together.  "Oh, how wonderful!" she exclaimed.
It was the first giraffe she had ever set eyes on.

The cow still stood, and Fred Marston rode nearer to his wife.  He was a
strong, good-looking, fair-bearded man, and, sitting there easily in his
saddle, his shirt sleeves rolled up, his rifle butt resting on his right
thigh, the dying light full on his sunburnt face and arms, he looked, as
Kate thought, a true man of the veldt.

"How wonderful!" she repeated; "and what a height, and what a lovely
colour.  It seems a sin to shoot her!"

"My dear Kate," answered her husband, "we want meat for the camp badly,
and the Masarwa spoorers expect it.  I can't let her go."

"Well," responded Kate, "I won't see her shot, poor thing," and with one
last look at the tall creature still standing there, an almost pathetic
sight, with a half sigh she turned and went back to the waggon.  As she
moved, the giraffe swung round and shuffled off.  But her time had come.
Marston cantered a little wide and ahead of her.  As she came past, his
rifle went up, the report rang out, and a Martini-Henry bullet drove
into the great cow's heart.  She staggered, tottered twenty paces, and
then with a mighty crash fell to the earth dead.

Kate and her husband, after a cosy supper, sat long, chatting by the
camp fire that evening.  She told him of her reception at the Boer
waggon.  He related his adventures in the veldt that day.  A little
before ten, they turned into their waggon, in the forepart of which a
comfortable kartel-bed was slung, closed the fore-clap (curtain), and
their camp presently rested in a profound peace.

But at Christina de Klerk's camp there was no peace that night.  At ten
o'clock her husband's native after-rider, "September," a Hottentot, who
had before dawn on the previous morning ridden out with his master
across the plains, walked up to the camp fire, leading his lame and
foundered pony behind him.  The man was himself far gone with fatigue.
His mistress had long since retired to her waggon, but he had ill news,
and he called her up.  His news was this:

They had found a good troop of giraffe soon after they entered the
forest; but in a long run up to the game Adriaan de Klerk had sustained
a bad fall, pitching upon his head.  He recovered in a couple of hours'
time, thanks to the Hottentot's care; but after that, September said, he
had behaved like a madman.  The fall had turned his brain somehow.  He
insisted, against September's entreaties, in pursuing the giraffes,
which had now got far too great an advantage.  But de Klerk said,
angrily, he wanted "kameel" skins [Kameel, literally Camel, the Boer
name for giraffes], he could get 2 pounds 10 shillings apiece for them
in Marico, and he would ride till he came up with them.  All through the
hot afternoon they rode without off-saddling; the Baas had a terrible
thirst, and drank up most of the water they carried.  At nightfall, with
jaded horses, they off-saddled in the bush and lay down to sleep.  It
was a bad night, said September.  The Baas was very restless, and
constantly moaned and talked in his sleep.  Before dawn he was up again,
and insisted upon going on.  September begged and pleaded.  He warned
his master that with failing horses and no water they might easily be
cast away and die of thirst.  All Adriaan de Klerk could say was that he
was going on till he came up with the giraffes.  He told September to
ride back to camp for water.  The Hottentot said he would not go without
his master.  De Klerk was plainly beside himself.  He raised his rifle
and told the man if he did not turn his horse's head and go he would
shoot him.  And so September had ridden home.  His horse was lame and
knocked up; there was not another in camp.  What was he to do?  If the
Baas was not rescued within forty-eight hours he would die of thirst.

Christina had a stout heart, as have most of the Afrikander Dutch
women-folk, but September's story, and above all his manner, convinced
her that her husband, alone, without water, his mind wandering, was in
supreme danger.  She rose from the kartel--like most up-country Boers
she slept in her clothes--buttoned her bodice, and came to the fire.  An
inspection of September's pony at once convinced her that the animal was
unable to travel further.  As it was, September had been compelled to
walk by its side during most of that day's journey home.  It was dead
lame and suffering from the effects of fatigue and two days' thirst.

What was she to do?  Christina stood there with the Hottentot by the
fire-blaze, discussing every possible plan.  They might carry water by
the aid of natives.  But that would involve waiting till the morning,
and even then a journey of probably more than forty miles would have to
be taken on foot.  And then, as September pointed out, it was more than
likely that Masinya's people, who were not over fond of the Boers, would
point-blank refuse to go.  And all this time Adriaan de Klerk, his mind
unhinged by his fall and set upon one impossible object, might be
plunging yet further into that waterless and inhospitable wilderness.
His image rose clear before her mind's eye: the thirsting, haggard man,
the sinking horse, and then the terrible end, and the vultures streaming
down from the sky!  She knew but too well the danger.  What, oh God!
what should she do?  Leaving the tired Hottentot to squat over the fire,
she paced frantically up and down near the waggon, turning over
impossible projects in her agonised mind.

It was a glorious night.  The moon, shining in unspeakable majesty, cast
its silvery spell over the distant plain and upon bush and grass near at
hand; its amazing light pierced the foliage of the acacias and wrought
wondrous patterns beneath her feet.  The clear army of the stars, the
deep blue mysterious vault above, the ineffable calm of night; all these
things availed nothing to the woman's troubled soul.  Her agony of mind
increased.  Suddenly her eyes fell upon the white waggon tilt of the
Englishman's camp.  There, of course, was a way out of the difficulty.
There were fresh horses, four or five of them.  With these, help and
water could be carried to her husband!

But then, upon the instant, her thoughts ran back to the afternoon, to
her rough, unkindly reception of the Englishwoman.  She knew in her
inmost soul that she had not done the right thing, thus to meet a
stranger in the veldt--even if that stranger were an Englishwoman.  Was
her trouble a judgment upon her?  But here her stubborn Dutch pride came
to her aid.  Could she go across to that camp and ask help?

Never!  Never!

The night slowly passed, and still Christina de Klerk paced up and down
the grove, sometimes resting for a brief spell upon the disselboom of
her waggon.  In her agony of mind it seemed that the day would never
dawn, the light in the east never pale the sky.

At seven o'clock next morning, as Kate Marston, fresh and beaming, was
putting the finishing touches to her toilet under the waggon sail,
which, flanked by canvas screens, served as her dressing-room, her
husband called to her.  She came forth, and there, wan and dishevelled,
her eyes red with weeping, stood Christina de Klerk.  She told her
piteous tale.  She acknowledged that she had been unpardonably rude the
afternoon before.  It was a judgment upon her.  A judgment sent by the
Heer God to humble her pride.  And now would the Englishwoman and her
husband forgive and help her?  She could not live without her husband.
She had children.  They would take pity on her in her trouble.  In all
her life, never had Christina de Klerk known a bitterer moment, thus to
humble herself before the detested English.

The tears sprang into Kate's eyes at the poor woman's story, her too
evident distress.  "Why, Me'Vrouw de Klerk," she said cheerfully, "of
course my husband will help you.  Will you not, Fred?  We should be a
poor kind of English folk, indeed, if we could listen to a trouble like
yours without doing all we could for you."

"Wait ten minutes, Me'Vrouw de Klerk," said Marston, taking her by the
hand, "while I swallow some breakfast and get the nags saddled, and
we'll go at once with water on your husband's spoor."  In fifteen
minutes, taking a spare horse loaded up with two vatjes of water, and
September, the Hottentot, on another fresh nag, to act as guide, he set
forth.

"Never fear, Me'Vrouw de Klerk," he said, cheerily, as, putting aside
her heartfelt, sobbing thanks, he rode off.  "We shall bring your
husband back all right."

As a matter of fact Fred Marston knew that he had a difficult and
dangerous task before him, to rescue a man half out of his mind,
wandering in that terrible Thirstland.  He accomplished his task, but,
as he had expected, with the greatest difficulty.  He and September,
taking up the spoor of the wanderer, had followed it hour after hour
into the parched forest country.  Not until half-way through the second
day did they find de Klerk, lying insensible, a mile or two beyond his
dead horse, himself nearing his end.  Resting all that afternoon and
evening, they revived the Boer with the aid of water, brandy, and a
little food, and, riding all that night and part of the next day,
brought Christina de Klerk her man, safe and sound, though terribly worn
and jaded, into camp.  All were fagged and knocked up; without water the
horses could have held out but a few hours longer.

How Christina passed those miserable two days of suspense she never
afterwards quite knew.  But for the kindly help and sympathy of Kate
Marston, she declares she never could have got through.  The next day
was New Year.  De Klerk, after a long rest, was nearly his own man
again, and nothing would content the Marstons but that all should dine
together in the English camp.  Sitting under the great acacia tree,
where the Marstons had outspanned, they enjoyed together a right merry
New Year's dinner.

Christina de Klerk never forgot that time of trial.  They trekked down
to the Transvaal, and Adriaan de Klerk, it is true, rode out with his
fellow-countrymen and fought in the successful Boer War of 1881.  But in
their estimate of the English, individually, their feelings have never
wavered since that New Year's-tide of 1879.

"There may be bad English as there are bad Dutch," says Christina, as
she sometimes tells the tale of her man's rescue to some of her
countrywomen.  "And Rhodes and Chamberlain!  Ach! they are too good for
shooting even.  But I believe most of the English folk have good hearts.
For my part, so long as I live, and I hope so long as my children shall
live after me, there shall be always a welcome for the English in this
house.  Adriaan and I owe them far too much to forget the kindness we
received at their hands.  Is it not so, Adriaan?"

And Adriaan, ponderously yet heartily, answers, "Yes."

CHAPTER SIX.

A CHRISTMAS IN THE VELDT.

At six o'clock upon a hot morning of African December, Lieutenant
Parton, of the Bechuanaland Border Police, came out of his bedroom at
the Vryburg Hotel, equipped for a long two days' ride.  He was a smart
officer, and the cord uniform, big slouch hat, looped up rakishly at one
side, riding boots, and spurs, became his tall figure well enough.

In itself the blazing two days' ride and the prospect of some trouble at
the end of it were hardly sufficient to warrant the air of deep
thoughtfulness now gathered upon his dark and serious face; yet, as he
strode across the little courtyard beneath the mean shade of the two or
three straggling blue gum-trees, the grim knitting of his brows
indicated that somehow he was not altogether pleased with the journey
that lay before him.

But the lieutenant had some reason for his burden of care.  The object
of the expedition upon which he was setting forth was the arrest of some
native cattle-stealers at a Bakalahari kraal, far out to the westward,
in the more desert portion of British Bechuanaland.  There had been a
sudden call for troopers of the Bechuanaland Border Police up in the
northern protectorate, and it happened that the only man Parton could
take with him as orderly upon this particular morning was the very last
person in the world with whom he would have chosen to spend several
days--probably a week or more--in the closest intercourse.  Trooper
Gressex, now waiting outside in front of the hotel, was that man.

Although the one was a lieutenant close upon his captaincy, the other
plain trooper in the frontier force, the two men had once been social
equals at home, and, at school and elsewhere, upon terms of considerable
intimacy.  Gressex (formerly known as Tom Mainwaring) had migrated from
London society and a career of sport and pleasure, after coming somewhat
suddenly to the end of his financial tether.  He had made his plunge
into obscurity and had re-appeared as an unknown trooper in the
Bechuanaland Border Police.

Parton had quitted service in a line regiment in India, where he saw
little prospect of promotion, and had accepted a commission in the same
Border Police force.  The two men had first encountered one another, in
their now altered circumstances, some three months back.  Upon the South
African frontier such striking changes of condition are being constantly
met with, and are borne by the less fortunate, almost invariably, with a
good-humoured, if somewhat reckless, philosophy.

In this instance Partons discovery of his old schoolfellow's altered lot
had not been altogether a welcome one; and on this particular December
morning he had, as has been hinted, a special reason for desiring any
other trooper as his orderly upon the expedition in front of him.

The lieutenant entered the coffee-room of the squat, corrugated-iron
hotel, and ate his breakfast.  In ten minutes he appeared upon the
street, ready for his horse.  Trooper Gressex, who was leaning against
the stoep, holding his own horse and Parton's, saluted as his officer
came forth, and answered the formal "Good morning, Gressex," with an
equally formal "Good morning, sir."

The two men mounted and rode away, no slightest sign having fallen to
denote that they had ever occupied any other relations than those of
officer and man.

Having ridden quietly half-a-mile out of the town, Parton lighted his
pipe and set his horse into a canter.  Gressex rode upon his flank, and
the two steadily reeled off mile after mile of the vast sweep of grassy,
undulating plains over which their route lay.  Hour after hour they rode
through the blazing day, off-saddling every three hours and giving their
nags a brief rest according to invariable South African custom.  At
night, having compassed more than fifty miles, they finally halted, and
prepared to camp just within the shelter of a patch of woodland, which
here broke the monotony of the grass veldt.  The horses, after a longish
graze, were tied up to a handy bush; the two men, having eaten a supper
of tinned "bully beef" and brewed a kettle of coffee, lay upon their
blankets and smoked by the pleasant firelight.  The few scraps of
conversation which they exchanged related solely to the expedition
before them, Gressex having more than once made the journey to Masura's
kraal.

Aloft the infinite calm of the far-off, dark-blue heaven, now spangled
with a million stars, seemed to invite deep and peaceful sleep after a
hard day's riding.  A refreshing coolness now moved upon the veldt, the
tender airs whispered softly through the long grasses, a cicada droned
drowsily in the thorn-bush; all nature promised rest.  At nine o'clock
both men, lightly wrapped in their blankets, with their feet to the fire
and their heads pillowed in their saddles, were fast asleep.

At one o'clock in the still, early morning Gressex was awakened by the
sound of a voice.  He rose softly upon his elbow and looked about him.
The stars shone more gloriously than ever, but the Southern Cross had
fallen from its erect position and now lay over upon its side.  The
veldt was perfectly quiet, save for the plaintive wailing of a far-off
jackal, which had got their wind and was crying out the news to his
fellows.  Even the cicada had ceased its weary drumming.  As Gressex lay
upon his elbow listening, he perceived that the sounds he had heard came
from Parton, who was talking fitfully in his sleep.  It is hard to
follow a man whose tongue labours with the difficulties of a slumbering
brain, and Gressex was not much interested in puzzling out the
intricacies of his officer's drowsy speech, but one word fell upon his
ear which instantly fixed his attention.  The word was "Ella."

"Ella," muttered the sleeping man, in a curiously sententious way, "I
tell you I can't do it.  It's not the least use thinking further about
him.  You'll never see him again; why harp upon a broken string?  Some
day I hope you'll be kind and give..."

Gressex had, after that one word, small difficulty in following the
halting speech of the sleeping man.  He waited impatiently for other
sentences, but the voice was hushed again.  That name, "Ella" told him a
good deal.  It told him that, although in their long ride of the
previous day Parton had not reverted in the slightest degree to their
former friendship and its environments, his mind now, during the hours
of sleep, was running busily in old channels.  The word "Ella" and its
associations roused many a pang and many a memory in the soul of
Gressex, as he lay there under the silent stars.  A hundred questions
and doubts shaped themselves in the trooper's mind for the next hour or
more.  At last sleep again overtook him and he remembered no more till
pale dawn came round and he awoke.  Already the little coqui
francolins--the prettiest of all the African partridges--were calling
with sharp voices to one another near the pan of water fifty yards away,
and an early sand-grouse or two were coming in for their morning drink.
It was time to be breakfasting and away.  The embers were blown up,
fresh wood was put on, and the kettle boiled for coffee.  The two men,
after an exchange of "Good morning," breakfasted almost in silence, the
horses were got in from their feed of grass, saddled up, and the journey
was resumed.

The blazing morning passed, as in all these long veldt rides, in
monotonous fashion.  At three o'clock, in the hottest period of the
afternoon, the two men emerged from a long two hours' stretch of bastard
yellow-wood forest.  Suddenly Parton, who was a little in front, reined
up with a "Sh!" upon his lips.  Gressex followed the lieutenant's glance
and saw what had arrested his progress.  Half a mile to the right, just
outside the forest, a troop of noble gemsbok were resting beneath a
patch of acacia thorn trees: some were lying down, some standing, but
all, even the usually tireless sentinel nearest the waggon-track, were
overcome by the heat, and--for such suspicious game--a little relaxed in
their watchfulness.  Such an opportunity was too tempting to be passed
by.  A plan of operations was quickly evolved as the two men withdrew
their horses within the shelter of the wood.  It was curious to observe
how instantly the prospect of sport had broken down the thick hedge of
reserve between them.  They now whispered together rapidly and with
intense animation.

Gressex turned his horse's head and rode back through the forest in a
semicircle towards the game.  Presently he dismounted, fastened his
horse to a bush, and then with the greatest caution stole towards the
troop.  At last, from behind a screen of bush, he has the game well
before his gaze.  They are a hundred and fifty yards away; between them
and the watcher's clump of bush is open grass veldt, and there is no
possibility of getting a foot nearer.  Gressex sits down, sidles
imperceptibly to the left hand, and now has in front of him a fair shot.
Even now there is not a breath of suspicion among the dozen great
antelopes out there in the open.  Gressex can note easily their
striking, black and white faces and spear-like horns.  The shade of the
acacias is somewhat scanty, and he can see plainly the splashes of the
sunlight gleaming through the foliage bright upon their warm grey coals.
Now he takes aim at the bull nearest, draws a long breath, and pulls
trigger.  The Martini-Henry bullet flies true, and claps loudly, as upon
a barn door, on the broadside of the gallant beast.  The gemsbok leaps
convulsively forward and scours away up wind.  In the same instant there
is dire commotion among the troop; the recumbent antelopes spring up
wildly, and with their fellows stretch themselves at speed--and few
animals can rival this antelope in speed and staying powers--in rear of
the stricken bull.  Gressex hurriedly fires another shot and misses
clean.

And now, as Parton had foreseen, his opportunity has come.  The troop
will cross his front within less than half a mile.  He gallops full tilt
from the sheltering woodland and rides his hardest to cut them off.  He
is perfectly successful--so successful that he cuts off the main troop
from the two leading antelopes, and, while the animals stand for a
moment in utter bewilderment, he jumps off and gets his shot.  The
bullet flies high, yet luckily.  The vertebra of the big cow he aimed at
is severed on the instant, and she falls in her tracks, "moors dood," as
a Boer would say--as dead as mutton.

At the report of Parton's rifle, the troop scatters and flees again.
Parton jumps into the saddle and tears after Gressex's wounded bull,
which, three hundred yards in front, is manifestly failing fast.  The
stout pony, now thoroughly excited with the chase, gains rapidly; the
gemsbok is pumping its life-blood from mouth and nostrils, and cannot
stand up much longer.  But, suddenly, without warning, Parton's nag puts
its foot into a deep hole hidden by the long grass and goes down.
Parton is shot violently over its head and comes heavily to the veldt.
In the next three seconds Gressex's gemsbok fails suddenly, and, sinking
quietly to earth, breathes out its last.

Gressex himself is quickly on the spot and first applies himself to
Parton, who now sits ruefully with his hat off, gathering his scattered
senses and nursing a broken left arm.  Gressex has once helped to set a
man's arm in the hunting field, and he now goes to work.  First he cuts
quickly from a piece of fallen wood two flattish splints, then he
unwraps one of the "putties" from his legs.  This winding gear makes an
admirable bandage.  Next he proceeds to set the damaged limb.  Luckily
it is the fore arm, and after a painful ordeal of pulling, endured with
set teeth by Parton, Gressex adjusts the broken bone and binds on the
splints.  With the other "putty" a sling is then extemporised.  Parton
has some brandy in a flask in his saddle-bag.  He takes a pull at this,
and while Gressex cuts off the heads, tails, and some of the meat from
the slain gemsbok and fastens them upon the saddles, he sits with
somewhat more ease and contentment smoking a welcome pipe which the
trooper has filled and lighted for him after the operation.  Half an
hour later the journey is resumed again.  It was a long twenty miles to
the Bakalahari village to which they were travelling.  The pace was
slow, out of consideration for the wounded arm, and it was not until
well on into the night that they rode into the beehive-like collection
of round native huts, and called up the two Border policemen stationed
there.

For two days the swollen and painful state of Parton's arm prevented him
from taking further action in the affair of the cattle-stealers, which
had necessitated his sudden patrol.  Meanwhile he rested, gleaned
quietly all the intelligence that was to be gleaned, and prepared for
action.

He interviewed, of course, Masura, the native chief settled here, and
made a casual inquiry as to the stolen cattle, but he was careful not to
let it appear that he had made a special journey on that account.  The
chief, it was well known, was not well affected to Government; but he
protested that no stolen cattle or cattle-stealers had come into his
country, and appeared to be anxious to aid in any inquiries that might
discover the marauders.  To lull his suspicions, Parton, on the second
day of his arrival, requested him to send out runners to his various
cattle posts so as to ascertain whether fresh stock had lately come in.
This the chief promised to do on the following day.

But Parton had meanwhile, thanks to the alacrity of the two troopers
quartered in the town and to a native spy of theirs, gained exact
information of the whereabouts of the stolen cattle and their thieves.

They stood at a remote and little known cattle post of this very chief,
some twenty-five miles from the town, and Parton had now laid his plans
to ride out during the night and make their recapture early next
morning.  There might be some resistance, and he settled therefore to
take with him the two troopers stationed here, as well as Gressex and a
couple of natives upon whom he could depend.  Meanwhile, although busied
in his official work, Parton had had time in these two days to be much
exercised by the private anxieties that galled incessantly his mind.
For several days he had borne their harassing companionship.  Two
letters, one read and re-read many times within the last five days, the
other unopened and unread, which lay within the breastpocket of his
tunic, contained the secret of all this mental harassment; these letters
burnt upon his conscience much as a blister burns the flesh against
which it is laid.

Since their arrival at the village Parton's demeanour towards Gressex,
which had suddenly altered after the episode of the hunt and the broken
arm, had changed again.  During the excitement of the chase and under
the quick and kindly attentions of Gressex when his arm was broken, his
old friendliness had reasserted itself.  Twice the name Mainwaring had
escaped his lips as he thanked his trooper gratefully for his ready and
tender help.  And upon that long evening's ride his manner had softened
greatly; almost in the dim starlight he had gone back to the old days
again.

Yet something within him had just stayed his tongue and had hindered a
recognition which in itself would have been a mere act of grace,
lessening no whit the discipline and respect ordained by their present
difference in rank.

As for Gressex he had ceased to wonder at his old friend's curious
demeanour.  The mental exclamation that rose within him--"He's a proud
devil, after all.  I should hardly have thought it of Parton!"--very
well expressed his feelings, and he now made the best he could of the
companionship of the two troopers--very good fellows they were--with
whom he was quartered.

At twelve o'clock upon the third night of his arrival in the Kalahari
village, Parton, who had now made every preparation, rode very silently
and with every circumstance of caution, out into the night.  With him
were his three troopers and the two native allies--one a Bushman, the
other a Griqua--who had acted as his spies and were now to show him the
road.  His broken arm was by no means yet at ease; but Parton, whatever
else his demerits, had plenty of pluck, and just now, in his state of
mental tension, inactivity was a very curse to him.

The huts where they were quartered lay upon the outskirts, and the party
quitted the village so silently that not even a native dog raised its
alarm.  Sometimes walking their horses rapidly, sometimes cantering--
though the action caused Parton to grind his teeth with pain--they
passed in less than five hours over the wilderness of grass and bush
that lay between them and the cattle post they sought.  The Griqua, who
had a horse of his own, rode, the Bushman trotted always in front of the
party, finding his way in the starlight with an unerring and marvellous
precision.  There were four huts at the cattle post.  These were
speedily rushed in the dim early morning, just as the faintest hint of
dawn began to pale the night sky.  The inmates were all asleep, but the
final rattle of horse hoofs and the furious barking of the kraal dogs
roused them.  It was too late.  Gressex and his fellow troopers each
carried and secured without a blow their respective huts, which
contained a few Bakalahari men, women and children.

Parton, by a stroke of ill luck, happened to walk into a hut in which
four Bechuanas--three of them the very cattle thieves he was in search
of--lay together.  These men were all disaffected and turbulent border
ruffians, and they had arms ready at hand.  In a few words of Sechuana
the lieutenant, as he stood within the hut, called upon them to
surrender.  It was pretty dark, and the first reply Parton got to his
summons was an assegai through his shoulder, which brought him down.
His revolver went off uselessly, and in an instant he had three out of
the four men on top of him Gressex, in the next hut a few yards off,
heard the shot and Parton's stifled cry, and, leaving the Griqua to take
charge of his capture, dashed round to his lieutenant's relief.  In five
seconds he was in the fray.  The three men struggling with the wounded
officer were impeding one another, and beyond a gash or two with their
assegais had done little injury.  Gressex ran in among them, loosed off
his carbine at the nearest man and settled him, struck another with his
empty weapon a blow on the arm which broke it and disabled its owner,
and threw himself upon the remaining native, who had Parton still by the
throat.  But in that instant the fourth occupant of the hut who had been
standing back in the dark shade watching the struggle, came in.  He
lunged with the assegai he had snatched up at Gressex's broad back.  The
sharp blade shore through the trooper's tough cord tunic and flannel
shirt and drove deep into his right lung.  At this moment another
trooper appeared with a blazing wisp of grass.  By the light of it, as
he flung it upon the floor, he could take in the whole scene.  His
carbine was undischarged; he levelled it instantly at the man attacking
Gressex and dropped him with a bullet through the heart.

Here then was the situation.  The cattle post was captured, two of the
thieves were slain, another disabled; the rest of the dozen inhabitants
of the kraal were safe under guard, the Bushman--delighted to pay off
some old scores--standing sentinel over one hut with a long Martini in
his hand and a diabolical grin of exultation on his face.  The stolen
cattle, as was presently ascertained, were safe in the ox-kraal, with
the rest of the stock running at this post.  But against this, Gressex
was badly wounded and the lieutenant somewhat cut and battered.

Gressex stood stooping in the hut, the assegai sticking half a foot into
his back.  Despite that horrible thrust he had still all his wits about
him.

"Warton," he said grimly through his teeth to the trooper, who still
stood with smoking carbine, "thanks for settling that chap.  Now pull
this damned thing out of me.  Pull before I fall down.  I feel a bit
sick."

Warton laid hold of the spear and, exerting his strength, managed to
extract the spear-head.  A little torrent of blood poured forth.  While
Parton, who had now got to his feet, pressed his right hand upon the
wound, Warton managed to strip off Gressex's tunic Gressex was now very
faint.  They laid him upon his side, pulled away his flannel shirt, and
then bound up the hurt as tightly as possible.  Then from the
lieutenant's flask they managed to pour some brandy between the wounded
man's lips, from which blood was already oozing.  There was only one
thing to be done with the sufferer.  The bleeding must be stopped
somehow, and he must lie where he now lay.  Only the extremest quiet
could save him.

In an hour Parton had recovered from his own hurts.  He had luckily
received nothing worse than a nasty gash in his left shoulder and sundry
cuts and bruises.  His broken left arm was unhurt, thanks to Gressex's
careful setting.  The struggle seemed to have cleared the lieutenant's
head.  His eye was bright, his mind made up.  Gressex had for the second
time in a few days done him a great service.  He had risked his very
life this time for a man to whom he owed little enough, if he but knew
all, and he now lay apparently at the point of death.

Parton's doubts and struggles had all vanished into thin air.  The fight
and Gressex's ready bravery had braced him--as a fight braces always a
good Englishman--and brought to the surface all his better nature, and
he now sat down to write certain letters with a calm mind.  He had his
pocket-book and an indelible pencil, and having seen that all his
captives were secure, and the cattle safe in the adjacent veldt, where
they were feeding under charge of the Bushman, he sat down in the red
sand, with his back against a hut, and began to write.  Before his
writing is completed, it will be well to glance at those two letters in
his breast pocket, of which mention has been previously made.  Here is
the opened letter, addressed to Lieutenant B.F. Parton, Bechuanaland
Border Police:--

  "International Hotel, Cape Town, 12th December, 189--

  "Dear Mr Parton,--

  "The address of this letter will probably surprise you.  I received
  your letter in London on the morning I left for South Africa, whither
  I have come with my uncle, Colonel Mellersh, and my cousin, Kate
  Mellersh, on a trip we have long planned.  We are staying at Cape Town
  for a few days, and are then going on to Kimberley to see the diamond
  mines, and perhaps make an expedition into the Transvaal or
  Bechuanaland.

  "I must first reply to your letter.  I am sorry, more sorry than I can
  express, that you should have reopened that old topic, which I quite
  thought and hoped, for the sake of your own peace of mind, had been
  finally dismissed, if not forgotten, nearly three years ago.  My mind
  is as fully made up as it was when I last saw you, nor is it ever
  likely to change in the way you seem to suggest and hope for.  I
  grieve very much to have to again say this to one whom I respect and
  like, but it is better to make clear at once that there is not the
  slightest prospect of any change in my sentiments.

  "I must tell you frankly that I have the very strongest of all reasons
  for this--the reason that my affections have long since drifted in
  another direction--the direction (I may as well at once say here) of
  our mutual friend, Mr Mainwaring.

  "You say in your letter that if ever you can be of service to me I may
  command you at any time.  I take that expression to be a sincere one,
  and I am going to put it to a very severe test.  Mr Mainwaring,
  before he left England, purposely avoided seeing me--quite from a
  mistaken motive--but wrote me a letter telling me of his affection for
  me, and saying good-bye, as he supposed, for ever.  If he had seen me
  instead of sending that letter, a great deal of misery might have been
  avoided.  I have been unable to glean the slightest hint of his
  whereabouts until a week before I left England.  Mr Mainwaring has
  within the last few weeks come into some considerable property from an
  old uncle (from whom he expected absolutely nothing) who has quite
  lately died, and has now no reason to remain in exile longer.  For
  more than two years I have been moving heaven and earth to get at his
  whereabouts, and I only received a letter, three days before I sailed,
  from his cousin and family lawyer, Mr Bladen, who had always refused
  absolutely before this to disclose his whereabouts, telling me that
  Mr Mainwaring (under the name of Gressex) is a private in the
  Bechuanaland Border Police, stationed either at Mafeking or Vryburg.
  Mr Bladen at the same time informed me of his cousin's piece of good
  luck, and assured me that he was only waiting for certain legal
  documents to write out to Mr Mainwaring informing him of his fortune.
  As there seems a doubt about his actual address, I am now going to
  ask you to deliver the inclosed letter, if possible, into Mr
  Mainwaring's hands, or, if you cannot see him personally, to send it
  by special messenger or post it.  I am asking, I know, a great deal
  from your friendship, but I trust to you to help me in this matter,
  which is to me of very vital importance.  You know me sufficiently, I
  think, to be aware that I am not trying to find Mr Mainwaring because
  `his ship has come in.'  I have--I am almost ashamed to say it--ample
  means of my own, and Tom's good luck has nothing to do with the
  question.  But I do want to find him at once, and I can only think of
  you, as an officer of his regiment, as the likeliest person to help
  me.  Pray, pray, forgive me the double burden that I fear I may be
  putting upon you by this letter.

  "We shall be at Kimberley on the 15th inst.  Please address any
  letters or telegrams to me at the Central Hotel there.

  "Believe me, yours always sincerely,--

  "Ella Harling."

Ella's letter, addressed to "Mr John Gressex, Bechuanaland Border
Police.  (To be forwarded)," still lay unopened in Parton's pocket.  It
had remained there these five days past, although the man to whom it had
been addressed had ridden and rested for some days within six feet of
it.  Fifty times a day had Parton cursed himself for a villain in
detaining it, and yet--and yet--he could not give Ella up and help Tom
Mainwaring, and so--even after the affair of the broken arm--it had
stayed there within his tunic.

Parton's first note was to Ella Harling, telling her of Gressex's
(Mainwaring we may now call him) serious condition, and begging her, if
possible, to come up by rail at once from Kimberley to Vryburg and
thence drive as rapidly as possible the hundred miles across the veldt
to Masura's-town, where she would find a trooper who would bring her out
to the cattle post where Mainwaring lay.  That, as Parton said to
himself, was something off his mind.  It was some little expiation for
the wrong he had done Ella and his old friend, and he felt pounds better
already.

His next letter was to the officer in command at Vryburg during his
absence, reporting affairs, and requesting that two more troopers should
be at once sent to Masura's-town, to aid in bringing in the prisoners
and cattle, and to keep in check any attempt by the disaffected Masura
to create trouble.  He requested also that a light waggon might be
dispatched for the wounded man, with certain nursing comforts and drugs
that might be useful.  He begged that, if possible, a doctor should also
be sent, as the case was an urgent and serious one.  One of the
troopers, mounted on the best horse--the lieutenant's--was despatched
with these letters, with directions to put Miss Harling's note into an
envelope, carefully addressed, before posting it at Vryburg.  The
trooper was partially told Mainwaring's story, and put upon his honour
not to read the contents of the letter, at present envelopeless.  He was
a good fellow, and made a big ride, covering the 120 odd miles to
Vryburg in two days on the single horse.

For the next seven days Parton had his hands pretty full at the desert
cattle post.  He had to guard carefully his prisoners, to see that the
cattle were not re-stolen or re-captured, and to overawe Masura, who
came out to know why his men were being killed and his cattle seized;
and above all he had the heavy charge of nursing Tom Mainwaring, who for
some days was spitting blood and in a state of high fever.

For three days and nights Parton nursed him most tenderly and carefully,
feeding him with milk and thin mealie-meal gruel and beef-tea made from
a slaughtered ox.

Thanks to a sound constitution, Mainwaring turned the corner, and on the
fifth day from the affray began slowly to mend.  He was still so weak
that Parton, burning though he now was to complete his expiation and
ease himself of his remaining load of trouble, feared to risk the
telling of strange and exciting news.  On the morning of the seventh
day, however, Mainwaring seemed so much stronger, and the arrival of
Ella Harling, if she came at all, must be so near at hand, that Parton
delayed no longer.  He made a full confession of his delinquencies, told
Mainwaring all that had happened, of his recent stroke of good fortune,
and finally handed him Ella's letter.

"Tom," he said at the end, "I have behaved to you all through the piece
like a perfect beast.  You, on the other hand, have played the game like
a man.  You helped me over the broken arm and finally saved my life in
that scrimmage--very nearly at the expense of your own.  I think I must
have been mad.  I can only humbly beg your pardon and ask you to try to
forgive and forget, and to remember that if I fell I was sorely tried
and tempted."

Tom Mainwaring put up his hand--it had become a very thin hand in these
few days, though the tan had not gone from it--and said in a husky
voice, for he was very feeble:

"Don't say another word, old chap.  You have made a mistake--ran out of
the course a bit--but you're all right at the finish.  And you've nursed
me like a brick.  I should have been a dead man by now if it hadn't been
for all your kindness and thought.  Don't let's ever have another word
about the past.  You've done the right thing, and few men would have
cared to be tried as high as you have been.  I've had the luck this
journey; yours will come."

The two men shook hands silently, and the past, with its tortures, its
miseries and mistakes was almost wiped away.

It was now the 24th December.  Parton anxiously expected and hoped that
Ella Harling and her friends would arrive during the day.  He wanted
some comforts too for Mainwaring, now that he was within hail of
convalescence.  All he had in the kraal was some mealie-meal, milk,
coffee, and sundry cattle--Tom's beef-tea as he called them.

All that day he watched and waited impatiently, sitting much with Tom
Mainwaring, and keeping him as quiet as possible.  At last, towards
sunset, the little Bushman, who had been perched upon the hut roof as a
lookout, cried excitedly that he could see a cloud of dust from the
direction of Masura's-town.  In less than an hour quite a considerable
cavalcade came in.  Ella Harling, looking very handsome, and,
considering her journey, wonderfully spick and span, drove in with her
uncle and pretty cousin in a Cape cart.  The doctor and two fresh
troopers rode alongside, and a light spring waggon, drawn by half a
dozen mules, laden with many luxuries and comforts, followed no great
way behind.

Parton led Miss Harling silently to Mainwaring's hut, and, with a
wistful look on his face, turned round and quitted her side as she
entered the open doorway.  The meeting between Ella and Tom Mainwaring
was a very tender and yet a very serious one--few more touching have
ever taken place in the African wilderness.  Presently the doctor came
in; Tom was put under his care, and the little party proceeded to make
themselves comfortable for Christmas.  A tent was pitched for the
ladies, another for the colonel and the doctor, the stores were got out,
and the place made as cheery and as habitable as possible.  The troopers
had shot a buck and some partridges and guinea-fowl, and an ox had been
slaughtered, so that there was no lack of fresh meat.

Few stranger and yet happier Christmas days have been spent in the
veldt.  Even Tom Mainwaring, weak though he still was, with Ella beside
him and the prospect of long years of life before them both, was as
happy as a man with a big spear-wound in his back possibly could be.  As
for the rest of the company, they had a great and glorious time.  There
was rifle-shooting at targets in the morning, a big dinner under a shady
giraffe-acacia tree at two o'clock, and yarns and much smoking all the
afternoon and evening.  Colonel Mellersh had thoughtfully loaded a case
of champagne, some tinned plum puddings, several boxes of cigars, and
some whisky on the spring waggon, and nothing was wanting to complete
the proper festivity of the season.  Even Parton, having thrown aside
his cares, resigned himself, almost with cheerfulness, to the
inevitable, and did his best to contribute to the general happiness.

Tom Mainwaring and Ella Harling were married at Cape Town within the
next three months--so soon, in fact, as Mainwaring could get his
discharge from the Border Police.  He and his wife often recall that
strange Christmas in the veldt, which, indeed, is not likely to be
forgotten by any member of the gathering.

CHAPTER SEVEN.

THEIR LAST TREK.

The sun was setting as usual in a glow of marvellous splendour as Alida
Van Zyl came out from her hartebeest house--a rough wattle and daub
structure, thatched with reeds--and, shading her eyes, looked across the
country.  The little house stood on the lower slope of the Queebe Hills,
no great way from Lake Ngami.  It was a wonderful sunset.  In the
north-west a thousand flakes of cloud flushed with crimson lake, just as
they had flushed above the vast plains of that wild Ngami country a
million times before.  Near the sky-line, in a blaze of red and gold,
the sun sank rapidly, a mass of fire so dazzling that Alida's eyes could
not bear to dwell upon it.  Far upwards the cool and wondrous calm of
the clear and translucent pale green sky contrasted strangely with the
battle of colour beneath.

Alida shaded her eyes again, looked keenly down the rude waggon-track
that led up to the dwelling, and listened.  As she had expected--for she
had news of her husband's coming from the Lake--she presently heard the
faint cries of a native; that would be Hans Hottentot, the waggon
driver, and then through the still air the full, thick, pistol-like
crack of the waggon-whip.  At these sounds her somewhat impassive face
lightened and she turned into the hut again.

In twenty minutes' time the waggon had drawn up in front of the
dwelling, and Karel Van Zyl, a big, strong Dutchman of seven and twenty,
had dismounted from his good grey nag and embraced his wife, who now
stood with a face beaming with joy, clasping her two year old child in
her arms ready to receive him.

"Zo, Alie," said Karel, holding his young wife by the shoulders and
looking first tenderly at her broad kindly face and then at the
yellow-haired child lying in her arms, "here we are at last.  It has
been a long hunt, but a pretty good one.  I left a waggon-load of ivory,
rhenoster horns, and hides at Jan Stromboom's at the Lake and got a good
price for them I traded fifty good oxen as well and sold them at 3
pounds 10 shillings a head to Stromboom also, after no end of a haggle.
It was worth a day's bargaining though; the beasts cost me no more than
thirty shillings apiece all told."

Then laying the back of his huge sunburnt hand against the cheek of the
sleeping babe, which he had just kissed, he added, "And how is little
Jan?  Surely the child has grown a foot since I left him?"

Alida smiled contentedly, patted her man's arm and answered, "Yes, the
child has done well since the cool weather came, and he grows every day.
He gets as _slim_ (cunning) as a monkey and crawls so that I have to
keep a boy to watch him, the little rascal.  But _kom binnen_ and have
supper.  You must be starving."

Van Zyl gave some orders to his Hottentot man, as to his horse, the trek
oxen and some loose cows and calves, and went indoors.

Half an hour later husband and wife came forth again, and, sitting
beneath the pleasant starlight, talked of the future.  Their coffee
stood on a little table in front of them, and Van Zyl, stretching out
his long legs and displaying two or three inches of bare ankle above his
velschoons--the up-country Boer is seldom guilty of socks--puffed with
huge contentment at a big-bowled pipe.

"Karel," said his wife, after hearing of his last expedition, "I am
getting tired of this flat Ngami country, with never a soul to speak to
while you are away.  When shall we give it up and go back to the
Transvaal?  I long to see the blue hills again and to hear the voices of
friends.  Surely you have done well enough these last few years.  You
can buy and stock a good farm--6,000 morgen at least.  [A morgen is
rather more than two acres.]  And you told me when we married--now three
years agone, Karel,"--she laid her hand upon his as she spoke, "that you
did not mean to spend all your life, like your father, in the hunting
veldt."

"No, Alie, I don't," rejoined Van Zyl, taking his wife's hand into his
two and pressing it tenderly.  "You shall go back to the Transvaal, my
lass, and we will buy a farm in Rustenburg and live comfortably and go
to Nachtmaal (Communion) once a quarter.  And if I do want a hunt now
and again, why I'll cross the Crocodile River and try the Nuanetsi and
Sabi River veldt, where Roelof Van Staden and his friends travel to.
But we must have one more trek together, Alie, and this time you and the
child shall go with me.  Coming to the Lake, on my way home from this
last hunt, I met messengers from Ndala, captain of a tribe far up the
Okavango, who asks me to take my waggon up to his kraal and hunt
elephants in his country.  He promises me the half of all ivory shot,
and will find spoorers and show me his best veldt and give me every
help.  Twice before has Ndala sent to me thus, and once to my father in
years gone by.  I believe it is a splendid hunting veldt.  Elephants as
thick as pallah in river bush, thousands of buffalo, plenty of rhenoster
and lots of other game.  We ought, with luck, to pick up four hundred
pounds worth of ivory.  And so, wife, we'll pack the waggon, get more
powder and cartridges at the Lake and trek up to Ndala's."

"And this shall be your last trek in this country, Karel?" asked his
wife.

"Myn maghtet, the very last," said Van Zyl.  "How soon can we start?"

"I shall be ready in three days," returned Alie.

"In three days be it," said Van Zyl in his deep voice.  And then, with a
mighty yawn, he stretched himself, knocked the ashes from his pipe, and,
putting his arm round his wife's waist, went indoors for the night.

Two months later the Van Zyls were nearing Ndala's kraal on the
Okavango, sometimes called the Cubangwe River--that great and little
known stream flowing from the north-west towards Lake Ngami.  They had
had a hard trek of it past the Lake; across a score or two of streams
and small rivers, skirting many a swamp and lagoon, and now at last, one
hot afternoon, as they looked up the broad, shining river, they set eyes
on a green island lying in midstream, dotted about with huts, and knew
that they were in sight of Ndala's kraal.  Hans, the Hottentot, had once
been up to this place and knew Ndala, and Hans pointed out the captain's
hut and showed them where their waggon should stand by the river bank,
and so they outspanned and prepared to make themselves comfortable.
Across the river, beyond the island, the country undulated gently in
well-wooded, bush-clad, sandy ridges, with here and there a palm or a
baobab to catch the eye.  Reddish boulders of sandstone projected from
the river's brim, between the southern shore and the island, forming a
little cataract over which the swift waters poured with a pleasant and
not too angry or unseemly swirl.  And as they unyoked the tired oxen and
Alida Van Zyl, tired with sitting, descended from the waggon to look
about her, all seemed fair and pleasant and peaceful to the
travel-stained trekkers.  For they had had a hard passage up the river,
and the cattle were in need of rest and good feeding, if they were to
drag the great waggon back to the Lake and thence--Alida's soul rejoiced
as she thought of it--to the dearly-loved Transvaal once more.

And now long, narrow, dug-out canoes shot out from the island and came
paddling across the stream with envoys from the chief, to know whose was
the waggon and what was the business of the newcomers, and to bring a
message of greeting and peace from Ndala, the lord and ruler of all this
wild and little known country.

Whilst his wife unpacked some of her waggon gear, and Zwaartbooi, the
foreloper, got out the pots and kettle and lit a fire to prepare the
evening meal, Van Zyl, taking with him Hans as interpreter, ferried
across in one of the native canoes to interview Ndala.

The chief, a tall youngish Cubangwe, with a rather shifty eye, received
them in his kotla, an open inclosure adjoining his hut, surrounded by a
tall reed fence.  He expressed himself pleased to see Van Zyl and hoped
that he might have much fortune with the elephants in his country.  Then
Van Zyl, having thanked the chief for his courtesy, ordered his
Hottentot, Hans, to lay before Ndala the presents which had been brought
for him.  These were a fine blanket of gaudy colours, a quantity of
beads, a cheap smooth-bore musket, and some powder, bullets and caps.
As these articles were temptingly laid before Ndala, the chief's eyes
gleamed approvingly and, in spite of his efforts, a broad grin
overspread his features.  Then more conversation followed between Ndala
and Hans--conversation which Van Zyl was unable to follow--and
presently, after half an hour's interview, the reception was at an end.
Van Zyl was paddled back to his waggon, and during supper related to his
wife the friendly reception he had met with from the Cubangwe captain.

Next morning at about eight o'clock Ndala in person came over to the
Boer's camp.  Never before had he seen a white man's waggon, and he was
naturally burning with curiosity to set eyes upon the treasures gathered
within the recesses of that mysterious house on wheels.  He brought with
him as presents a goat, some Kaffir corn, and a tusk of ivory weighing
about 30 lbs.  Nothing would content him but that he should mount the
fore-kist (box) of the waggon and pry into that strangely fascinating
interior.  He saw many things that stirred his cupidity.  Two fine
rifles, cartridges, bags of sugar and coffee, cases of trading gear--
store-clothing, cheap knives, blankets, beads, looking-glasses, powder,
lead, and other rich and rare things which were being got out for
purposes of trading and with a view to re-settling the contents of the
waggon after the confusion of a long trek.  And, with the greedy delight
of a miser with his gold, he plunged his arms up to the elbows in a case
of blue and white bird's eye beads, which lay too temptingly exposed to
his gaze, and asked that the whole of this fabulous treasure should be
despatched to his kraal.  To this Van Zyl demurred.  He would give the
chief a portion of the beads, a complete suit of cord clothes, a shirt
and a pair of velschoons.  After a long and heated argument, conducted
through the interpretation of Hans, Ndala somewhat sulkily gave way and
expressed himself content to take what the Boer offered him.  As for Van
Zyl, his eyes flashed angrily, as, turning to his wife, sitting in the
shade near the back of the waggon, he said, "They are all alike these
kaal (naked) Kaffir captains.  Thieves and schelms, only desiring to rob
of his all the white man who ventures into their country.  I thought,
from what Hans had said, that this Ndala was a better fellow; but,
Allemaghte! he's no better than the rest of the dirty cattle.  However,
there's ivory to be got here, without doubt, and we must have patience."

"For my part," Alida replied, "I like the appearance of this man not at
all.  Watch him, Karel.  I believe he will try to do you an ill turn
before you have finished with him."

Meanwhile Ndala had been holding conversation with Hans, as he peered
about the camp and inspected the cattle, and especially that, to him,
wonderful curiosity the Dutchman's hunting horse.  Van Zyl had started
from the Queebe Hills with three nags.  Of these one had died of
horse-sickness, while another had been killed by lions, so that only his
grey, a tried old favourite, "salted" against the sickness and a
splendid beast in the hunting veldt, remained to him.  Ndala gazed long
and curiously at the shapely grey, as Hans indicated its good points and
expatiated on its manifold virtues.

Once more the chief wandered back to the waggon, where Van Zyl was
measuring out some of the blue and white beads into a skin bag.  His
greed was too much for him, and again through Hans he demanded that the
Dutchman should hand him over the whole case full, pointing out that,
considering his importance as monarch over all these regions, so
trifling a present ought not to be denied to him.

But Van Zyl was, like many of the Dutch Afrikanders, a man of quick
temper, little accustomed to be dictated to by natives who in his own
country were mere hewers of wood and drawers of water to the white man.
The blood sprang to his face, his eyes flashed angrily, and, flinging
down the leather bag of beads, which he had just tied up, he turned
angrily upon the chief.

"Tell him," he said, with an impatient gesture to Hans, "that he may
take it or leave it.  I have offered gifts enough until I see elephants
and gather ivory.  If Ndala is not content, tell him I'll inspan the
waggon again and trek out of his country and go into some other veldt,
where elephants are at least as plentiful and chiefs more
accommodating."

Ndala had taken one quick glance at the angry Boer, as he burst forth,
and now stood, till he had finished speaking, motionless, impassive,
with eyes downcast.  He uttered not another word to Van Zyl, but with a
swift motion of his hand from Hans to the bag of beads, said to the
Hottentot:

"Carry it to the boat.  I will go across again."

Accompanied by three of his headmen who had come across with him, Ndala
stalked down to the shore, talking meanwhile quietly to Hans.  Arrived
at his boat, he saw his presents carefully bestowed, and then taking his
seat was poled over to his kraal.

Late that night, while the Van Zyls slept peacefully in their waggon,
Hans, the Hottentot, crept stealthily down to the river, without waking
a single member of the camp, and was ferried across to Ndala's by a
couple of strong-armed natives waiting for him with their canoe.
Arrived at the island, he was conducted to the chief's hut, and there
alone with Ndala he sat in deep and secret colloquy for a full hour or
more.  Presently he was ferried back very quietly to the south shore
again, where, creeping into his own camp, he regained the shelter of his
blanket without having awakened a soul.

Next morning a canoe came across early from Ndala, laden with a number
of sweet water melons, some more grain and another goat as a present to
the Van Zyls.  At the same time the chief sent a message to Van Zyl to
say that, if he were ready for a hunt on the following day, some of his
tribesmen would be ready to act as spoorers and show him a troop of
elephants which was known to be frequenting some bush about half a day's
journey from the kraal.  This was excellent news, and Van Zyl brightened
up instantly.

"Myn maghtet, Alie!" he said to his wife, after taking a huge pull at
his kommetje of coffee, "the carle is not so bad as I thought him.  Tell
his headman, Hans," he said to his Hottentot, "that I'll swim the horse
across as soon as day breaks to-morrow and go after the elephants."

For the remainder of that day the whole camp was busily employed; Van
Zyl and his two men in completing a big and strong thorn kraal for the
cattle, against the attack of lions; Alida Van Zyl in finishing off some
bultong (dried meat), cooking bread, tidying up the stores and putting
together various articles required by her husband while away hunting.
Towards afternoon Van Zyl, having finished his work at the ox-kraal,
opened a keg of powder, heated some lead and zinc, and sat himself down
to the work of reloading some cartridges for his elephant rifle.

Near him, in the shade of the spreading acacia tree by which the waggon
was outspanned, crawled on a couple of blankets little Jan, his two year
old child.  Now and then the big Boer would pause from his work to
admire the strong, chubby limbs of his little son, or would stretch
forth a big hand to tickle the restless little rascal, eliciting from
him crows, gurgles and screams of childish laughter.  Once Alida came
from her cooking to look at the pair.

"Maghte!" said her husband, as he looked up at her from playing with the
boy.  "How the child grows.  If he goes on like this, he will be strong
enough to carry a rifle by the time he is ten years old."

They retired early that night--before eight o'clock--and at the earliest
streak of dawn Karel Van Zyl had drunk his coffee, eaten some meat and a
rusk and said farewell to his wife and child.  He kissed Alida's broad,
smooth cheek and, yet more tenderly, his sleeping child, lying there up
in the waggon, on the kartel-bed, in the big hole which his sire had
lately quitted.  And then, taking with him Hans and his horse, he went
down to the stream.  The good grey had swum rivers before and understood
the business; yet he paused for a moment on the brink, looking forth
over the broad, swift stream, and snuffed the air once or twice.

"Crocodiles, _oude kerel_ (old fellow)?" said his master, patting him on
the neck.  "They shall not harm you."

The grey tossed his head, shook his bit, and Hans, looking at him, said
to his master:

"He is all right, Baas.  He trusts you.  Witfoot will swim."

So, unfastening the long raw-hide reim from the head stall, they lead
Witfoot down, got into a couple of canoes and pushed off.  Witfoot swam
quietly and cleverly between the two canoes, and presently, passing
below Ndala's island, they reached the northern bank.  Here Ndala was
waiting for them with a number of his tribesmen.  They exchanged
greetings, and then the Cubangwe captain picked out a dozen of his best
hunters to accompany Van Zyl and his Hottentot and show them where the
elephants were.  And so, bidding friendly farewells, they parted.

Hans marched just ahead of Van Zyl, carrying, as he always did, till
game was known to be near, his master's rifle and a bandolier full of
spare cartridges.  One of Ndala's men carried the second rifle, with
which Hans himself was usually intrusted.  For three hours they marched
north-west under the blazing sun, over heavy sand-belts, through bush
and thin forest, until high noon, when Van Zyl reined up his horse,
pulled off his broad-brimmed hat and wiped the sweat from his brow with
his big cotton print handkerchief.

"Hans," he said, looking round for Ndala's hunters, "those schepsels are
surely spreading out very wide for the spoor.  I haven't seen one of
them for half an hour past."  As he spoke he climbed leisurely from the
saddle and loosened the girths.  Hans, who alone knew why the men had
vanished, answered him:

"I don't think you will set eyes on them again, Baas.  You may say your
prayers, for your last hour is nigh and I am going to shoot you."

Van Zyl heard the clicks of two hammers being cocked and turned swiftly
round.

"That is a verdomned impudent joke of yours, Hans," he said, "for which
I shall welt you handsomely when we get back to camp.  Give me the gun."

But Hans, standing within ten feet of his master, had the rifle at the
ready, and there was a fiendish look in his eyes which Van Zyl had never
before remarked.

"Don't move a step nearer," said the Hottentot, "but say your prayers,
for before God I am going to shoot you dead."

Van Zyl saw that there was something more in the man's demeanour than he
had bargained for.  He turned a thought paler beneath his tan.

"What do you mean, Hans?" he said.

"I mean this," returned the Hottentot, still keeping his rifle ready.
"I haven't forgotten the cruel floggings I have had from you and your
father in years gone by, and I am dog-tired of your service.  Ndala has
made me a good offer.  We shall go halves in your goods and I am to take
your wife for my own vrouw.  And," added the man, with a brutal leer, "I
shall make her a very good husband, if she behaves herself."

At that last foul insult Van Zyl clenched his fists, swore a great oath
and rushed at the Hottentot.  But the man was too quick for him.  He
levelled his rifle, pulled trigger, and a heavy bullet crashed through
the brain of the unfortunate Dutchman and passed out at the back of his
skull, leaving a huge gaping wound at the point of exit.  Van Zyl
dropped heavily upon the hot sand and never stirred again.

Regardless of the pool of blood, welling swiftly from the warm body, the
Hottentot proceeded leisurely to strip his late master of his clothes,
into most of which he introduced his own squat and meagre figure.  Then,
mounting the grey horse, which had meanwhile been patiently grazing hard
by, he rode off.  A quarter of a mile away, before entering a patch of
bush, he drew rein and looked back.  As he expected, the vultures were
already descending from the sky, prepared for their foul banquet.  Some
of them were even now collected in a thorn tree near the body.  In a few
hours their task would be finished and only Karel Van Zyl's bones would
remain for the jackals and hyaenas.

An hour before sunset that same afternoon Alida Van Zyl sat in her
waggon sewing.  On the kartel by her side lay her little son Jan,
playing with a wooden doll carved for him by April, their Basuto herd
boy and foreloper.  April himself was just now squatting by the camp
fire, looking after the stew-pot and solacing his ease with an
occasional pinch of Kaffir snuff.  It was a lovely late afternoon, the
heat of the day was passing, a pleasant breeze from the southeast moved
upon the veldt, and as Alida expanded her lungs and inhaled the pure,
invigorating air, and rested peacefully, after a day of work and
washing, life, even in this remote wilderness, seemed very pleasant.
Once or twice she looked up from her work and let her eyes rest upon
that fair scene in front of her.  The ever-moving river, running its
perpetual course south-eastward, looked wondrously beautiful; its
murmurs, as it swept over the low cataracts and swirled onward, sounded
very sweet to the ear and suggested a perennial coolness.  Bands of
sand-grouse were coming in from their long day in the veldt to drink at
the river's edge.  Their sharp but not unpleasing cries sounded
constantly overhead as they sped swiftly to the stream and then, after
wheeling hither and thither once or twice, stooped suddenly to the
margin, alighted and drank thirstily.  Skeins of wild duck passed up and
down the stream.  Now and again splendid Egyptian geese took flight and
with noisy "honks" flew on strong pinions to some other part of the
water or to the trees fringing the river-course.  Dainty avocets,
sandpipers and other wading birds were to be seen here and there in the
shallows, while ashore the francolins were calling sharply to one
another.

As she sat in the kartel, with her feet resting on the waggon-box, Alida
Van Zyl's thoughts ran in a pleasant current back to her Transvaal home.
She pictured to herself the long, trying trek over, Lake Ngami and the
weary Thirstland passed, Khama's and Secheli's countries traversed, and
beautiful Marico in the Western Transvaal entered.  And from there
Rustenburg, with its fair hills and valleys and smiling farmsteads, was,
as it were, but a step.  Three or four months of elephant-hunting here
at Ndala's, and her man would have finished his wanderings in these
regions and they would be inspanning and turning their faces for home
again.  And then peace from wanderings and a comfortable homestead and
the faces of kinsfolk and friends.  A pleasant, pleasant thought.

While she thus dreamed her day dream of the future, a canoe had,
unnoticed by her, shot across the stream and made its landing on the
shore a hundred yards or so behind the waggon.  In a few minutes the
sound of approaching footsteps made her look up from her sewing.

She saw--for the moment she believed her eyes must have deceived her--
not five yards from the waggon, Hans, the Hottentot--Hans carrying her
husband's rifle and tricked out in clothing, notwithstanding that
sleeves and trousers were liberally turned up, at least three sizes too
big for him.  There was a strange look in the man's eyes, half guilty,
half triumphant, as he glanced up at his mistress.  What in the name of
the Heer God could it all mean?  And then a pang gripped her heart.
Surely something had happened, else why was Hans here at the waggon and
alone?  But Alida was a stout-hearted woman; her husband had never yet
met with a severe mishap.  Surely, surely all was well?

"Hans," she cried in the sharp commanding voice she always used to her
native servants, "what in the name of Fortune are you back here for and
dressed like a figure of fun?  Whose are the clothes, and where is your
master?"

Hans looked with an evil leer at his mistress and replied:

"The clothes were the Baas's, je'vrouw, and they are now mine.  Surely
you can recognise them?  As for the Baas, he is dead.  Ndala and I have
settled all that, and we have divided his belongings, and you, Vrouw Van
Zyl, are now to be my wife."

The man advanced close up to the waggon-box and again leered hatefully
at his mistress.  Alida turned pale as death, but she mastered herself
and replied with angry scorn:

"What is this cock-and-bull story about the Baas being dead?  You are
drunk, man.  I shall have you well thrashed for your lying when your
master comes home.  Be off and get under the waggon and go to sleep.
Loup, yo schelm!"

"The Baas will never come back again," returned the Hottentot, "he is
dead.  I shot him in the veldt."  He put his finger to a dark crimson
stain upon the collar of his coat.  "See, that is Karel Van Zyl's blood.
Dead he is, I say.  And now get down from the waggon and let me kiss
you.  You are to be my wife in future and, mind you, you'll have to
behave yourself."

Something, as she looked at the Hottentot and his absurd clothing and
the dark stain of blood, told Alida Van Zyl that all this was God's or
the Devil's truth she was listening to.  But, like most of her race, she
was a strong-minded woman, bred through long generations of ancestors to
a life of rough toils and many dangers.  She was horror-stricken, but
not in the least likely to faint.  Suddenly she half rose, stretched up
her hand to the side of the waggon and took down from the hooks on which
it rested a loaded carbine which Karel Van Zyl always left for her
protection.  Cocking the weapon, she pointed it at Hans and threatened
to pull the trigger.  Hans ducked as the carbine was levelled and sprang
out of harm's way.  Darting round to the side of the waggon, he yelled
in a shrill, angry voice:

"I shall come for you later on, my fine Vrouw, and when it is dark I
shall know how to manage you.  Put away that gun or you may come to the
same end as your husband."

He passed away down to where the canoes lay and held converse with some
of the tribesmen there, and there was silence in the camp.  But, as
Alida felt, the silence was in itself very ominous.

In a little while, as the swift African twilight fell, April, the
Basuto, crept up to the waggon and whispered to his mistress.  Alida,
who for the last half-hour had been very busy with certain preparations
in the interior of the waggon, came to the fore-kist, carbine in hand,
and listened to him.  April with a scared face told her rapidly that
things were so wrong that he was going to make a bolt for it and take to
the veldt and so try and make Moremi's town at Lake Ngami.  Hans had
threatened to shoot him, and he could expect no protection from Ndala.
What to advise his mistress he knew not.  She asked him if her husband
was really dead, and whether she could herself expect aid from Ndala and
his people.  Alas!  April assured her that the Baas had, indeed, been
slain, so much he had gleaned from Ndala's people.  As for the chief
himself, he had the worst opinion of him, and upon the whole he, April,
thought his mistress had better submit herself to the Hottentot.  Later
on help might come, if he himself could get safely to the Lake.

But April would stay no longer, not even at his mistress's earnest
entreaty, and crept away.  A minute later Alida heard the stamp of feet,
sounds of a scuffle, and then a blood-curdling scream rang through the
growing darkness.  More struggling, the sound of thuds, a muttered
groan, and then all was silence.  Alida, listening with awed white face
and nerves at their fullest tension, shuddered and drew back to her
child.  That was poor April's death scream beyond a doubt.

She lighted a lantern and then, sitting far back in the waggon, close to
her sleeping child, waited for the next scene of this dark tragedy.  Who
can picture the distress of this poor creature, strong, able-bodied, yet
helpless against a cruel destiny.  To quit the waggon would be madness.
If she attempted to escape with her child into the veldt, a few hours of
spooring by the morning light would bring her enemies upon her.  Dark
and bitter as have been the hours of many a Dutch Afrikander woman in
her times of trial, few can have endured the tortures that now racked
the soul of Alida Van Zyl.  With pale, set face she sat there in mute,
yet stubborn, despair, waiting, watching, praying to the God who, it
seemed, had now clean forsaken her.

An hour after dark Hans came up to the waggon again.

"Well, Vrouw," he said, before showing himself, "is it peace?"

"Ay," returned Alida in a dry voice and with a strange hard look in her
face, "it is peace.  I am in your hands.  You may climb up."

Hans appeared at the front of the waggon and looked at his mistress.
She had no gun in her hand.  Apparently all was well.  He climbed to the
waggon-box and turned to face her.  At that moment Alida Van Zyl seized
the candle from her open lantern and dropped it into an open cask of
gunpowder which stood ready just behind the kartel.  The darkness was
for one awful moment broken by a blaze of hellish fire; a frightful
explosion rocked the earth and rent the air for miles; and in that dire
catastrophe Alida Van Zyl, her child, Hans the Hottentot, and half a
dozen natives, prying round the waggon to watch the progress of affairs,
were, with the waggon itself, blown to a thousand pieces.

Thus miserably ended the last trek of Karel and Alida Van Zyl.

CHAPTER EIGHT.

THE LUCK OF TOBIAS DE LA REY.

Tobias De la Rey was one of those pastoral, hunting Boers who are still
to be found in some numbers in the remoter parts of the North and East
Transvaal.  His farm was a poor one, he had no great head of stock,
sheep did very ill upon that veldt, and Tobias, like others of his
class, finding it hard to make ends meet, was in the habit annually, as
his father had been before him, of making a hunting trip beyond the
Transvaal during the season of winter and bringing back as much ivory
and as many skins of giraffe, hippopotamus and the larger antelopes as
he could get together during six months' hunting.  This cargo he took
down to Zeerust, in the Marico district, and sold there.  Once or twice
he had been led so far afield in search of elephants that he and the
other Boers hunting with him had remained away two seasons.  But still
Tobias was a poor man.  He had no luck with his stock, his land was not
good enough to grow tobacco, and now at the age of twenty-four, when
most good Boers are married and have children about them, he remained in
single wretchedness; for in the judgment of the uxorious Boer, by the
age of twenty-two, every Dutch Afrikander, if he is worth his salt,
ought to be married and settled.  It was not De la Rey's fault by any
means.  He had more than once offered himself for the hand of some
well-to-do neighbour's stout daughter, but his advances had, hitherto,
purely by reason of his poverty, been civilly declined.

The South African winter season was just now setting in--it was the
month of April--and Tobias, who meant having another hunt this year, had
already made all his preparations.  His waggon was refitted and
overhauled, his trek oxen were ready and his servants at hand.  His
hunting horses, three of them--two unsalted--including his old, salted,
ewe-necked garron "Blaauwbok," a gaunt, knowing old "blaauw-schimmel"
(blue roan), which had carried him already four seasons in the hunting
veldt, were pastured near the house and fed occasionally with mealies,
to give them heart and condition for the hard life that lay before them.

And Tobias himself had this year obtained permission from Khama, chief
of Bamangwato, to pass through his country--following the route of the
Trek Boers, who had gone through two seasons before--and had determined
to hunt in the wild and little known country far to the north-west of
Lake Ngami.

But before setting forth, Tobias had a visit to pay.  He had viewed with
increasing favour this last year or two Gertruey Terblans, niece of
Mevrouw Joanna Terblans, with whom she lived.  Truey was an orphan and
had some land and stock of her own.  She was a dark, brown-eyed, sturdy
girl of sixteen, and Tobias De la Rey regarded her and her farm and
stock as highly desirable acquisitions.  This morning, therefore, he
saddled up his best looking nag and trippled briskly off, with that
curious ambling gait--something between a trot and a canter--so greatly
affected by the Dutch Afrikanders.  Tobias had dressed himself with some
care.  He wore a new broad-brimmed hat, decked with a couple of short
white ostrich feathers.  He had struggled with immense difficulty into a
collar, and was resplendent in a blue satin necktie.  And he wore a suit
of new corduroy store clothes, purchased for his hunting outfit.  His
spurs, too, were new and shining.  Tobias meant to make a bit of a
splash to-day, and although he was not prepared for the solemnity of an
"opsitting" (that all-night form of courtship, dear to the heart of the
Boer), and had therefore no candle in his saddle-bag, he wished to leave
upon the minds of Truey and her aunt, on this leave-taking, the most
favourable impression possible.  Tobias himself was a huge, loose-limbed
Boer, standing six feet two in his velschoons.  He was a rough,
unkempt-looking fellow, even at his best to-day.  His straggling beard
and moustache and long shaggy hair were of a fiery red.  His broad,
freckled face and smallish grey eyes were vacant and expressionless in
all ordinary affairs of life--even in presence of the fair Truey
herself.  Only the excitement of hunting could rouse the man.  Then he
was, like most of his fellows, a different being, transformed from a
dull, listless, stupid-looking giant to a man of action, alert, active
and energetic even as an Englishman.  The horse he bestrode was the
youngest and best looking of his stud, a not bad-looking bay
five-year-old, which to-day was resplendent in a new cheap curb bridle
of that frightfully severe pattern always affected by the South African
Dutch.  His saddle was not new, but a gorgeous red and yellow
saddle-cloth, in De la Rey's eyes, fully atoned for that defect.

Tobias rode steadily north up the Nylstroom River, and in three hours'
time came in sight of the Terblans homestead, "Vogelstruisfontein"
(ostrich fountain), an ordinary Dutch farmhouse, built of Kaffir bricks
and whitewashed, and backed by goat and cattle kraals, a grove of fruit
trees--peach, apricot and quince--and a weeping willow or two.  Sitting
in the shade of the stoep was old Jan Terblans, now turned seventy, and,
from fevers and privations of early days, long past work.  The old man
still had the use of his eyes, however, and, catching sight of De la
Rey, he called to him to off-saddle and come in.  Tobias obeyed, and,
after shaking hands with Terblans and chatting a few minutes, went at
his host's request indoors.  In the living room, at the top of the
table, by the coffee urn, sat Tant' Joanna Terblans, second wife of the
old man outside, an enormous matron of five-and-forty, whose eighteen
solid stones of flesh filled to overflowing the capacious armchair that
supported her.  Tant' Terblans had been a little taken by surprise, it
is true, but she had had time to send for her best apron, and had
smoothed her dull brown hair, and her great, full-moon face was now
turned inquiringly towards Tobias as he entered.

Tobias held out his hand, took the Vrouw's fat paw in his own, and
returned her greeting with a "Dag, Tant'."

"Why, bless the man," remarked the matron, "how smart you are to-day.
And what may you have come over about?  No `opsitting' mind, Tobias!
Remember what I told you six months ago.  Truey with her fortune is to
make a good match, and a wandering elephant hunter like yourself need
never think of her.  We are glad to see you over, of course, in a
neighbourly way, but not with any ideas of Truey."

Tobias meekly replied that he had but come to say farewell before
starting on a long hunting trip.  "And perhaps," he added, "if I have
luck this time and bring back a waggon-load of ivory you may see things
differently, Tant'?  Remember I have more stock than I used to have.
Another trip or two, with luck, should set me up fairly."

"Nay, nay," rejoined the Vrouw, as she handed him his second cup of
coffee and pushed the tobacco towards him, "'tis not to be thought of--
unless indeed you can come back from your hunt a thousand pound better
man than you are now, which is not likely."  Tobias shook his head
sadly, as if that tremendous sum were utterly beyond hope, and at that
moment the door opened and Truey herself came in.

Truey had seen with sharp eyes Tobias De la Rey spurring across the flat
in the final sharp canter up to the house.  She had changed her dirty
print frock for a stuff one, had brushed her dark hair, tied a pink
ribbon to the thick single plait that fell down her back, and had even
washed her face and hands.  In truth Gertruey had a soft corner in her
heart for Tobias.  After all he was her devoted admirer--she knew that.
And then he was a first-rate hunter, a good veldt man, who had killed
many an elephant, and had met death fairly and squarely time after time
these eight years past.  And indeed, he was not so ill looking; there
were few good-looking bachelors within a radius of fifty miles of
Vogelstruisfontein, and Tobias was no worse than his neighbours.  He was
poor, certainly, but he was less poor than he used to be, and she had
land and stock of her own--or would have when she came of age.

Truey came in, then, passably well-dressed and on good terms with
herself, and there was quite a pleased look in her honest brown eyes as
they caught Tobias's first glance.  Tant' Joanna viewed her niece's
little personal preparations for the visitor with something very like
disapproval, and Truey, whose countenance had, under her aunt's
dragon-like gaze, assumed a fitting humility, was soon dismissed to the
kitchen to hasten on preparation for "middagmaal."  During the long
afternoon, before Tobias saddled up and rode for home, he had the
opportunity of exchanging but two or three sentences with Truey alone.
Still those sentences carried consolation.  Tobias was a terrible coward
with women, but he had in sheer desperation ventured to remark that
Tant' Joanna meant her niece to marry a rich man, and that no doubt he
should find her settled with her own husband on his return.  Tracy had
answered stoutly, with reddening cheeks, that she should have a good
deal to say to that, and that for her part Tobias might be very sure she
should not be married before he returned again.  There was something in
the girl's voice and look that gave the faint-hearted Tobias fresh hope,
and he said hastily--for he heard Tant' Joanna coming in from the
stoep,--"Then you will wait, Truey?"  And Truey answered under her
breath, yet very steadfastly, "Yes.  I will wait, Tobias."  And there
was a very warm pressure of the hand between these two--far different
from the usual lifeless handshake of the Boers--as they said farewell.

Tobias climbed briskly to his saddle at four o'clock, touched his nag
with the off spur to make him show himself a little, and from his safe
eminence fired his parting shot at Vrouw Terblans: "Farewell, Tant', I
shall be back in twelve months a thousand pound better man, with the
waggon loaded up with ivory."

"Ach!  Tobias, man, you will be too late," rejoined the huge dame from
the stoep, in her sharp voice.  "Too late, I tell you.  Never mind, good
luck to you, and farewell."

But behind her, as she spoke these words, stood Truey, shaking her head,
and her head-shake and the look in her kind eyes, just now dim with
tears, were consolations good enough and reassuring enough for Tobias De
la Rey as he rode off.

It was a glorious mellow evening, that, as Tobias galloped home in a
frame of mind not often usual to one of his sluggish breed.  If he had
killed a brace of elephants, with teeth averaging fifty pounds apiece,
he could not have felt more lively.  Long, long afterwards did Tobias
recall that shining evening as he rode home from Vogelstruisfontein.
Never had the grass veldt looked more fair, the bush more green, the
distant mountains more ruddy with the flush of sunset; never had life
itself seemed more worth the living.

Leaving a kinsman to look after his farm and stock, De la Rey trekked
next morning for the far distant hunting grounds that were his goal.  A
year later he and his shooting-fellow, Klaas Erasmus, a first-rate
hunter like himself, were outspanned with their waggons in a wild
region, unknown even to the Trek Boers in their wanderings, towards the
Cubangwe River.  It was plainly apparent, from the look of their
outfits, that the hunters had had a very rough time of it during these
twelve months.  Their waggons were worn and battered; the tents had long
since been torn to shreds by the thorns and were now replaced by the
hides of game.  Their combined stud--they had started with seven--had
now dwindled to a pair of jaded-looking nags, one of which was De la
Rey's old salted schimmel "Blaauwbok," now looking, if possible, more
gaunt and antique than ever.  The two men had had no great luck
hitherto.  It had taken them four good months to reach the elephant
country, and after eight months' hunting they had shot and traded
between them little more than fifteen hundred pounds weight of ivory.
They had determined, therefore, to hunt for a second season.  Twice or
thrice in the unhealthy season just ended had they been each very near
to death from fever and dysentery, and both looked yellow and pulled
down.  Yet in the last few days, luck had turned; they had stumbled by
chance upon a veldt thick with elephants; they had slain three yesterday
and were now hot upon the spoor of an immense troop, which on the coming
morning they hoped to attack.

At seven o'clock, having supped and smoked their pipes, they turned into
their waggons and slept.  Hunters, and especially Dutch hunters, rise
early, and seek their kartels betimes, after a hard day in the veldt.
An hour before dawn they were stirring, coffee was drunk, some food
swallowed, the horses were saddled up, the rifles got out, cartridge
belts buckled on; the hunters mounted, and with their native spoorers,
set out upon the trail just as the light was breaking through the white
mist of early morning.

Three Bushmen spoored for them, and besides these, two native servants,
fair shots and reliable hunters, carried rifles and accompanied the
Boers on foot.

Hour after hour the keen Bushmen held upon the broad trail of the
retreating herd, upon whose skirts they had now been hanging these three
days past.  It was a mighty troop--as near as could be judged by the
trail left, at least 150 strong.  The sun rose and rose and beat hotly
down upon the thick bush in which the party were now involved.  Hour
after hour they pressed steadily on, and still the big troop kept its
lead.  At two o'clock, in the hottest, weariest hour of afternoon, they
began the ascent of a steepish hill, up which the elephants had climbed
in their retreat.  Their horses were showing signs of collapse.  It was
a matter of absolute necessity that they should off-saddle for half an
hour and give them a much needed rest.  The spoorers, too, wanted rest
and a drink from their calabashes and a welcome pinch of snuff--that
ineffable blessing to the worn and jaded black man.  While they
off-saddled and the horses rested and fed a little, the native hunters
were in deep consultation; the Bushmen, especially, were jabbering in
their queer inarticulate language--in whispers, of course--and their
gestures indicated that something very exciting was stirring in their
minds.  Presently Lukas, the Griqua, who carried a gun, came to the two
Boers and translated.  What the Bushmen wanted to point out was this.
Below the hill, on the farther side, lay an immense marsh, which was
just now in its most treacherous condition.  A week before it was under
water and no elephants would have faced it.  A week later, under the
influence of the fierce sun, it would have dried sufficiently to bear
the weight even of an elephant.  If, said the Bushmen, the elephants,
which were now assuredly nearing the summit of the hill, browsing slowly
as they climbed, could be driven down the steep into the marsh they
would be hopelessly embogged.  The big troop, the Bushmen said (they
knew every herd of game in that vast veldt, just as the average Kaffir
knows his own cattle), had been driven far out of their own feeding
grounds and this part of the country was strange to them.  The two Boers
listened with a fierce intensity to this absorbing scheme.  They pulled
at their beards, knit their brows, and leaped hungrily at each word as
it came from the mouth of Lukas, the Griqua.  Here was the chance of a
lifetime, and they knew it.

In half an hour the plan of campaign was settled, the horses were
saddled up and the seven hunters, spreading out in a widish line,
advanced upon their game.  They reached the summit of the hill.  There,
three hundred yards below, in a broad opening of the bush, moved very
slowly at least sixty huge elephants, most of them carrying long white
teeth.  In other parts of the thick bush the dusky forms and pale
gleaming tusks of other mammoths could be counted.

The Boers dismounted, left their horses behind them, and, one upon
either flank, crept in; the two natives carrying guns were in the
centre; the three Bushmen, armed only with assegais, served to maintain
the thin line of the advance.  Half-way down the hill, the Boers fired
their rifles into the herd, now close in front of them, the native
gunners followed suit, and then, with loud yells, the whole party dashed
in upon the elephants.  It was a risk, but the plan succeeded to
admiration.  Half the herd tore terror-stricken down the remaining three
hundred yards of hill and entered headlong upon the flat marsh in front
of them.  Half scattered, and, turning short round, broke back through
the thin cordon of hunters.  Of these, two big bulls and a cow, all
bearing magnificent teeth, fell victims.  Leaving these to die, as they
quickly did, of their wounds, the hunters ran on and reached the edge of
the marsh.  Quite a respectable troop was already stuck fast in its
treacherous depths.  The hunters fired, and fired, and fired again, shot
after shot, and as the victims fell, the remainder of the troop, in
their desperate exertions to free themselves and escape, only buried
themselves yet deeper in the black mud of the smooth, green-looking
swamp.  It was a scene never to be forgotten.  The gunners, black and
white, in the fiercest stage of excitement, shouting, screaming,
swearing, firing; the Bushmen, mad with the lust of blood, venturing
with light feet upon the swamp and spearing the hopelessly embogged
elephants; the screaming and trumpeting of the great pachyderms
themselves, frantic with helpless rage and terror, created in this erst
silent wilderness an infernal pandemonium.  By sundown the last elephant
but one of all that troop was slain, and seventy-three of the great tusk
bearers lay dead upon the marsh.  One young bull, lighter than its
fellows, had marvellously crossed the swamp in safety and escaped.  Some
of the finest tusks in Africa lay here under the red rays of the dying
sun.  Few were under thirty pounds in weight.  Many were well over fifty
pounds apiece.  The two biggest bulls carried teeth that, when dried
out, pulled the beam at over ninety pounds apiece.  It took the hunters
and their natives more than a week to chop out the tusks and get them
stowed in their waggons.  In the last few days, although the marsh had
become firmer and work more easy, the two Dutchmen were unable to
withstand the dreadful effluvia of the rotting carcases, and the natives
completed the loathsome task alone save for the throngs of vultures that
kept them company.

Six months later Tobias De la Rey had reached the far Transvaal border
on his return home, had crossed a drift of the Limpopo, and was now
approaching Vogelstruisfontein.  Despite the toils and dangers of his
last eighteen months in the wilderness, his heart was light and there
was a look upon his broad and stolid face that told of much happiness.
The house was reached at last, and Tobias's travel-worn waggon, loaded
to the tilt with ivory, halted fifty yards away from the door.  Vrouw
Terblans, aroused by the cracking of whips, the cries of the drivers,
and the heavy creaking of the waggon, stood outside upon the stoep.

"Well, Tant' Joanna," cried Tobias, as he rode up, "there is the finest
load of ivory that has come into the Transvaal for many a long year.
More than a thousand pounds' worth.  I have kept my word Ja!  I have
made my last hunt and brought home three thousand pounds weight of
ivory.  Allemaghte!  It was the greatest hunt ever known in South
Africa.  Seventy-six elephants we killed in a single day.  But where are
Truey and Terblans?"  De la Rey, in the joy of this unspeakably
triumphant moment--looked forward to so eagerly during every waking hour
of the last six months--had not noticed the stout huis-vrouw's black
stuff gown and her lugubrious expression.

"Alas!" she replied.  "Have not you heard, Tobias?  Truey caught a fever
four months since and died, poor child, in my arms.  My man died too--he
had been long ailing--six months after you had trekked.  I have had sore
trouble, but the Heer God who chastens can bring the healing.  It is a
blessed thing to see the face of an old friend again.  Will ye not
off-saddle and come in, Tobias?  I want your help and advice."

Tobias had stared at Tant' Joanna as she spoke these words, his slow
mind not fully comprehending their terrible import.  He leaned down
towards her from his horse and said in a low, fierce, guttural voice:

"What was that you said, woman?--Truey dead?"

Vrouw Terblans was whimpering now and had a kerchief to her eyes.

"Yes, Tobias," she answered feebly, "dead indeed."

With a deep groan, but without another word, De la Rey jerked fiercely
at his horse's bit and turned to his waggon.  "Trek on for home," he
said huskily, and himself rode forward.

For six months, De la Rey, his dream shattered, his brightest hopes
dispelled, shut himself up, away upon his lonely farm, and nursed the
bitter sorrow that had overtaken him.  But, after all, the Dutch
Afrikanders are an eminently practical race, and Tobias began presently
to look abroad again.  Tant' Joanna and he in due time met each other
once more.  She was now very ready to play the consoler; a wealthy widow
is always a source of deep attraction, even to a Boer twenty or thirty
years her junior; their farms adjoined; and so within a year De la Rey
and she made up their minds, trekked to Pietersburg and were married at
the Dutch Reformed Church.

Tobias De la Rey is now a comfortable man, respected for his wealth and
well known throughout the Northern Transvaal as one of the two hunters
who slew in a single day six-and-seventy elephants.  But there come to
him at times, undoubtedly, bitter moments, and, looking with the mind's
eye past the immense figure of his grim and elderly vrouw, he sees again
the kind brown eyes and the pleasant face of his lost Truey.  These
thoughts, for very good and sufficient reasons, he keeps severely to
himself.  For Tant' Joanna is, it must be owned, a jealous and an
exacting spouse.

CHAPTER NINE.

THE MAHALAPSI DIAMOND.

It was a fine warm evening at Kimberley, and Frank Farnborough, just
before the dinner hour at the "Central," was fortifying his digestion
with a glass of sherry and bitters, and feeling on very good terms with
himself.  He had put in an excellent day's work at De Beers, that
colossal diamond company's office, where he had the good fortune to be
employed, and had that morning received from his chief an intimation
that his salary had been raised to four hundred pounds per annum.  Four
hundred per annum is not an immense sum in Kimberley, where living is
dear all round; but for a young man of five-and-twenty, of fairly
careful habits, it seemed not so bad a stipend.  And so Frank sat down
to the excellent menu, always to be found at the "Central," at peace
with the world and with a sound appetite for his dinner.  Next to him
was a fellow-member of the principal Kimberley cricket team, and, as
they were both old friends and enthusiasts, they chatted freely.
Everywhere around them sat that curious commingling of mankind usually
to be seen at a Kimberley _table d'hote_--diamond dealers, Government
officials, stock-brokers, detectives, Jews, Germans, Englishmen and
Scots, and a few Irish, hunters and traders from the far interior,
miners, prospectors, concessionaires, and others.  A few women leavened
by their presence the mass of mankind, their numbers just now being
increased by some members of a theatrical company playing in the town.

As for Frank and his companion, they drank their cool lager from tall
tankards, ate their dinners, listened with some amusement to the
impossible yarns of an American miner from the Transvaal, and, presently
rising, sought the veranda chairs and took their coffee.  In a little
while Frank's comrade left him for some engagement in the town.

Frank finished his coffee and sat smoking in some meditation.  He was on
the whole, as we have seen, on good terms with himself, but there was
one little cloud upon his horizon, which gave pause to his thoughts.
Like many other young fellows, he lodged in the bungalow house of
another man; that is, he had a good bedroom and the run of the
sitting-rooms in the house of Otto Staarbrucker, an Afrikander of mixed
German and Semitic origin, a decent fellow enough, in his way, who ran a
store in Kimberley.  This arrangement suited Frank Farnborough well
enough; he paid a moderate rental, took his meals at the "Central," and
preserved his personal liberty intact.  But Otto Staarbrucker had a
sister, Nina, who played housekeeper, and played her part very
charmingly.  Nina was a colonial girl of really excellent manners and
education.  Like many Afrikanders, nowadays, she had been sent to Europe
for her schooling, and having made the most of her opportunities, had
returned to the Cape a very charming and well-educated young woman.
Moreover, she was undeniably attractive, very beautiful most Kimberley
folks thought her.  On the mother's side there was blood of the Spanish
Jews in her veins--and Nina, a sparkling yet refined brunette, showed in
her blue-black hair, magnificent eyes, warm complexion, and shapely
figure, some of the best points of that Spanish type.

These two young people had been a good deal together of late--mostly in
the warm evenings, when Kimberley people sit in their verandas--stoeps,
they call them in South Africa--cooling down after the fiery heat of the
corrugated-iron town.  It was pleasant to watch the stars, to smoke the
placid pipe, and to talk about Europe and European things to a handsome
girl--a girl who took small pains to conceal her friendliness for the
well set-up, manly Englishman, who treated her with the deference of a
gentleman (a thing not always understood in South Africa), and withal
could converse pleasantly and well on other topics than diamonds,
gambling, and sport Frank Farnborough, as he ruminated over his pipe
this evening out there in the "Central" fore-court--garden, I suppose
one should call it--asked himself a plain question.

"Things are becoming `steep,'" he thought to himself.  "I am getting too
fond of Nina, and I half believe she's inclined to like me.  She's a
nice and a really good girl, I believe.  One could go far for a girl
like her.  And yet--that Jewish blood is a fatal objection.  It won't
do, I'm afraid, and the people at home would be horrified.  I shall have
to chill off a bit, and get rooms elsewhere.  I shall be sorry, very
sorry, but I don't like the girl well enough to swallow her relations,
even supposing I were well enough off to marry, which I am not."

As if bent upon forthwith proving his new-found resolve, the young man
soon after rose and betook himself along the Du Toit's Pan road, in the
direction of his domicile.  Presently he entered the house and passed
through to the little garden behind.  As his form appeared between the
darkness of the garden and the light of the passage, a soft voice,
coming from the direction of a low table on which stood a lamp, said,
"That you, Mr Farnborough?"

"Yes," he returned, as he sat down by the speaker.  "I'm here.  What are
you doing, I wonder?"

"Oh, I'm just now deep in your `Malay Archipelago.'  What a good book it
is, and what a wonderful time Wallace had among his birds and insects;
and what an interesting country to explore!  This burnt-up Kimberley
makes one sigh for green islands, and palm-trees and blue seas.  Otto
and I will certainly have to go to Kalk Bay for Christmas.  There are no
palm-trees, certainly, but there's a delicious blue sea.  A year at
Kimberley is enough to try even a bushman."

"Well," returned Frank, "one does want a change from tin shanties and
red dust occasionally.  I shall enjoy the trip to Cape Town too.  We
shall have a pretty busy time of it with cricket in the tournament week;
but I shall manage to get a dip in the sea now and then, I hope.  I
positively long for it."

As Nina leaned back in her big easy-chair, in her creamy Surah silk, and
in the half-light of the lamp, she looked very bewitching, and not a
little pleased, as they chatted together.  Her white teeth flashed in a
quick smile to the compliment which Frank paid her, as the conversation
drifted from a butterfly caught in the garden, to the discovery he had
made that she was one of the few girls in Kimberley who understood the
art of arraying herself in an artistic manner.  She rewarded Frank's
pretty speech by ringing for tea.

"What a blessing it is," she went on, leaning back luxuriously, "to have
a quiet evening.  Somehow, Otto's friends pall upon one.  I wish he had
more English friends.  I'm afraid my four years in England have rather
spoilt me for Otto's set here.  If it were not for you, indeed, and one
or two others now and again, things would be rather dismal.  Stocks,
shares, companies, and diamonds, reiterated day after day, are apt to
weary female ears.  I sometimes long to shake myself free from it all.
Yet, as you know, here am I, a sort of prisoner at will."

Frank, who had been pouring out more tea, now placed his chair a little
nearer to his companion's as he handed her her cup.

"Come," he said, "a princess should hardly talk of prisons.  Why, you
have all Kimberley at your beck and call, if you like.  Why don't you
come down from your pedestal and make one of your subjects happy?"

"Ah!" she returned, with a little sigh, "my prince hasn't come along yet
I must wait."

Frank, I am afraid, was getting a little out of his depth.  He had
intended, this evening, to be diplomatic and had manifestly failed.  He
looked up into the glorious star-lit sky, into the blue darkness; he
felt the pleasant, cool night air about him; he looked upon the face of
the girl by his side--its wonderful Spanish beauty, perfectly enframed
by the clear light of the lamp.  There was a shade of melancholy upon
Nina's face.  A little pity, tinged with an immense deal of admiration,
combined with almost overpowering force to beat down Frank's resolutions
of an hour or two back.  He bent his head, took the girl's hand into his
own, and lightly kissed it.  It was the first time he had ventured so
much, and the contact with the warm, soft, shapely flesh thrilled him.

"Don't be down on your luck, Nina," he said.  "Things are not so bad.
You have at all events some one who would give a good deal to be able to
help you--some one who--"

At that moment, just when the depression upon Nina's face had passed, as
passes the light cloud wrack from before the moon, a man's loud, rather
guttural voice was heard from within the house, and a figure passed into
the darkness of the garden.  At the sound, the girl's hand was snatched
from its temporary occupancy.

"Hallo!  Nina," said the voice of Otto, her brother, "any tea out there?
I'm as thirsty as a salamander."

The tea was poured out, the conversation turned upon indifferent topics,
and for two people the interest of the evening had vanished.

Next morning, early, Frank Farnborough found a note and package awaiting
him.  He opened the letter, which ran thus:

"Kimberley--In a dickens of a hurry.

"My dear Frank,--

"Have just got down by post-cart [it was before the railway had been
pushed beyond Kimberley], and am off to catch the train for Cape Town,
so can't possibly see you.  I had a good, if rather rough, time in
'Mangwato.  Knowing your love of natural history specimens, I send you
with this a small crocodile, which I picked up in a dried, mummified
condition in some bush on the banks of the Mahalapsi River--a dry
watercourse running into the Limpopo.  How the crocodile got there, I
don't know.  Probably it found its way up the river-course during the
rains, and was left stranded when the drought came.  Perhaps it may
interest you; if not, chuck it away.  Good-bye, old chap.  I shall be at
Kimberley again in two months' time, and will look you up.

"Yours ever,--

"Horace Kentburn."

Frank smiled as he read his friend's characteristic letter, and turned
at once to the parcel--a package of sacking, some three and a half feet
long.  This was quickly ripped open, and the contents, a miniature
crocodile, as parched and hard as a sun-dried ox-hide, but otherwise in
good condition, was exposed.

"I know what I'll do with this," said Frank to himself; "I'll soak the
beast in my bath till evening, and then see if I can cut him open and
stuff him a bit; he seems to have been perfectly sun-baked."

The crocodile was bestowed in a long plunge bath, and covered with
water.  Frank found it not sufficiently softened that evening, and had
to skirmish elsewhere for a bath next morning in consequence.  But the
following evening, on taking the reptile out of soak, it was found to be
much more amenable to the knife; and after dinner, Frank returned to his
quarters prepared thoroughly to enjoy himself.  First he got into some
loose old flannels; then tucked up his sleeves, took his treasure
finally out of the bath, carefully dried it, placed it stomach upwards
upon his table, which he had previously covered with brown paper for the
purpose, and then, taking up his sharpest knife, began his operations.
The skin of the crocodile's stomach was now pretty soft and flexible; it
had apparently never been touched with the knife, and Frank made a long
incision from the chest to near the tail.  Then, taking back the skin on
either side, he prepared to remove what remained of the long-mummified
interior.  As he cut and scraped hither and thither, his knife came
twice or thrice in contact with pieces of gravel.  Two pebbles were
found and put aside, and again the knife-edge struck something hard.

"Hang these pebbles!" exclaimed the operator; "they'll ruin my knife.
What the dickens do these creatures want to turn their intestines into
gravel-pits for, I wonder?"

His hand sought the offending stone, which was extracted and brought to
the lamp-light.  Now this pebble differed from its predecessors--
differed so materially in shape and touch, that Frank held it closer yet
to the light.  He stared hard at the stone, which, as it lay between his
thumb and forefinger, looked not unlike a symmetrical piece of clear
gum-arabic, and then, giving vent to a prolonged whistle, he exclaimed,
in a tone of suppressed excitement, "By all that's holy!  A fifty carat
stone!  Worth hundreds, or I'm a Dutchman."

He sat down, pushed the crocodile farther from him, brought the lamp
nearer, turned up the wick a little, and then, placing the diamond--for
diamond it was--on the table between him and the lamp, proceeded to take
a careful survey of it, turning it over now and again.  The stone
resembled in its shape almost exactly the bull's-eye sweetmeat of the
British schoolboy.  It was of a clear, white colour, and when cut would,
as Frank Farnborough very well knew, turn out a perfect brilliant of
fine water.  There was no trace of "off-colour" about it, and it was
apparently flawless and perfect.  South African diamond experts can tell
almost with certainty from what mine a particular stone has been
produced, and it seemed to Frank that the matchless octahedron in front
of him resembled in character the finest stones of the Vaal River
diggings--from which the choicest gems of Africa have come.

Many thoughts ran through the young man's brain.  Here in front of him,
in the compass of a small walnut, lay wealth to the extent of some
hundreds of pounds.  Where did that stone come from?  Did the crocodile
swallow it with the other pebbles on the Mahalapsi river, or the banks
of the adjacent Limpopo?  Why, there might be--nay, probably was--
another mine lying dormant up there--a mine of fabulous wealth.  Why
should he not be its discoverer, and become a millionaire?  As these
thoughts flashed through his brain, a hand was laid on his shoulder, and
a merry feminine voice exclaimed, "Why, Mr Farnborough, what have you
got there?"

Frank seized the diamond, sprang up with flushed face and excited eyes,
and was confronted with Nina and her brother, both regarding him very
curiously.

Otto Staarbrucker spoke first.  "Hullo, Frank!  You seem to be mightily
engrossed.  What's your wonderful discovery?"

The Englishman looked keenly from one to another of his interrogators,
hesitated momentarily, then made up his mind and answered frankly, but
in a low, intense voice:

"My wonderful discovery is this.  Inside that dried-up crocodile I've
found a big diamond.  It's worth hundreds anyhow, and there must be more
where it came from.  Look at it, but for God's sake keep quiet about
it."

Staarbrucker took the stone from Frank, held it upon his big fat white
palm, and bent down to the lamp-light.  Nina's pretty, dark head bent
down too, so that her straying hair touched her brother's as they gazed
earnestly at the mysterious gem.  Presently Otto took the stone in his
fingers, held it to the light, weighed it carefully, and then said
solemnly and sententiously, "Worth eight hundred pounds, if it's worth a
red cent!"

Nina broke in, "My goodness, Frank--Mr Farnborough--where did you get
the stone from, and what are you going to do with it?"

"Well, Miss Nina," returned Frank, looking pleasantly at the girl's
handsome, excited face, "I hardly know how to answer you at present.
That crocodile came from up-country, and I suppose the diamond came from
the same locality.  It's all tumbled so suddenly upon me, that I hardly
know what to say or what to think.  The best plan, I take it, is to have
a good night's sleep on it; then I'll make up my mind in the morning,
and have a long talk with your brother and you.  Meanwhile, I know I can
trust to you and Otto to keep the strictest silence about the matter.
If it got known in Kimberley, I should be pestered to death, and perhaps
have the detectives down upon me into the bargain."

"That's all right, Frank, my boy," broke in Staarbrucker, in his big
Teutonic voice; "we'll take care of that.  Nina's the safest girl in
Kimberley, and this is much too important a business to be ruined in
that way.  Why, there may be a fortune for us all, where that stone came
from, who knows?"

Already Otto Staarbrucker spoke as if he claimed an interest in the
find; and although there was not much in the speech, yet Frank only
resented the patronising tone in which it was delivered.

"Well, I've pretty carefully prospected the interior of this animal,"
said Frank, showing the now perfectly clean mummy.  "He's been a good
friend to me, and I'll put him away, and we'll have a smoke."

For another two hours, the three sat together on the stoep at the back
of the house, discussing the situation.  Staarbrucker fished his hardest
to discover the exact whereabouts of the place from whence the crocodile
had come.  Frank fenced with his palpably leading questions, and put him
off laughingly with, "You shall know all about it in good time.  For the
present you may take it the beast came from his natural home somewhere
up the Crocodile River."  [The Limpopo River is in South Africa
universally known as the Crocodile.]  Presently the sitting broke up,
and they retired to their respective rooms.  Nina's handshake, as she
said good-night to Frank, was particularly friendly, and Frank himself
thought he had never seen the girl look more bewitching.

"Pleasant dreams," she said, as she turned away; "I'm so glad of your
luck.  I suppose to-night you'll be filling your pockets with glorious
gems in some fresh Tom Tiddler's ground.  Mind you put your diamond
under your pillow and lock your door.  Good-night."

Otto Staarbrucker went to his bedroom too, but not for some hours to
sleep.  He had too much upon his mind.  Business had been very bad of
late.  The Du Toit's Pan mine had been shut down, and had still further
depressed trade at his end of the town, and, to crown all, he had been
gambling in Randt mines, and had lost heavily.

Otto's once flourishing business was vanishing into thin air, and it was
a question whether he should not immediately cut his losses and get out
of Kimberley with what few hundreds he could scrape together, before all
had gone to ruin.

This diamond discovery of Frank Farnborough's somehow strongly appealed
to his imagination.  Where that magnificent stone came from, there must
be others--probably quantities of them.  It would surely be worth
risking two or three hundred in exploration.  Frank was a free,
open-hearted fellow enough, and although not easily to be driven, would
no doubt welcome his offer to find the money for prospecting thoroughly
upon half profits, or some such bargain.  It must be done; there seemed
no other reasonable way out of the tangle of difficulties that beset
him.  He would speak to Frank about it early in the morning.  Comforted
with this reflection, he fell asleep.

They breakfasted betimes at the Staarbruckers, and after the meal, Nina
having gone into the garden, Otto proceeded to open his proposal to the
young Englishman, who had stayed this morning to breakfast.  He hinted
first that there might be serious difficulty in disposing of so valuable
a diamond, and, indeed, as Frank already recognised, that was true
enough.  The proper course would be to "declare" the stone to the
authorities; but would they accept his story--wildly improbable as it
appeared on the face of it?

No one in England can realise the thick and poisonous atmosphere of
suspicion and distrust in which the immense diamond industry of
Kimberley is enwrapped.  Its miasma penetrates everywhere, and protected
as is the industry by the most severe and brutal--nay, even degrading--
laws and restrictions, which an all-powerful "ring" has been able to
force through the Cape Parliament, no man is absolutely safe from it.
And, even Frank, an employe of the great De Beers Company itself, a
servant of proved integrity and some service, might well hesitate before
exposing himself to the tremendous difficulty of proving a strong and
valid title to the stone in his possession.

"Well, Frank," said Staarbrucker, "have you made up your mind about your
diamond?  What are you going to do with it?"

"I don't quite know yet," answered Frank, taking his pipe out of his
mouth.  "It's an infernally difficult puzzle, and I haven't hit on a
solution.  What do you advise?"  Here was Otto's opening.

"Well, my boy," he answered, "I've thought a good deal over the matter,
and in my opinion, you'd better keep your discovery to ourselves at
present.  Now I'm prepared to make you an offer.  I'll find the expenses
of a prospecting trip to the place where your crocodile came from, and
take a competent miner up with us--I know several good men to choose
from--on the condition that, in the event of our finding more stones, or
a mine, I am to stand in halves with you.  I suppose such a trip would
cost three hundred pounds or thereabouts.  It's a sporting offer; what
do you say to it?"

"No, I don't think I'll close at present," returned Frank; "I'll take
another few hours to think it over.  Perhaps I'll mention the matter to
an old friend of mine, and take his advice."

Staarbrucker broke in with some heat: "If you're going to tell all your
friends, you may as well give the show away at once.  The thing will be
all over `camp,' and I wash my hands of it.  Let me tell you, you're
doing a most imprudent thing."

[Kimberley is still called by its early name of "camp" among old
inhabitants.]

"Really," said Frank, coolly enough, "the stone is mine at present, and
I take the risk of holding it.  I haven't asked you to run yourself into
any trouble on my account."

"No," returned the other, "but you are under my roof, and if it became
known that I and my sister knew of this find, and of its concealment, we
should be practically in the same hole as yourself.  Now, my dear boy,
take my advice, keep your discovery to yourself till we meet this
evening, and let us settle to run this show together.  You won't get a
better offer, I'm sure of it."

"Understand, I promise nothing," said Frank, who scarcely relished
Staarbrucker's persistency.  "I'll see you again to-night."

After dinner that evening, the two men met again.  Frank reopened the
topic, which had meantime been engrossing Staarbrucker's thoughts to the
exclusion of all else.

Frank at once declared his intention of going to see the manager next
day, to tell him of the find and take his advice.

Otto Staarbrucker made a gesture of intense annoyance.  "You are never
going to play such an infernal fool's game as that, surely?" he burst
out.  "I've made you a liberal offer to prospect thoroughly at my own
expense the place where that stone came from, on half shares.  If you
accept my offer, well and good.  If you don't, I shall simply tell your
little story to the detective department, and see what they think of it.
Think it well over.  I'll come and see you to-morrow morning, early."

He turned on his heel, and went out of the house.

Frank had felt a little uncomfortable during Otto's speech, but now he
was angry--so indignant at the turn affairs had taken, and at the
threat, idle though it was, held out to him, that he determined next day
to quit the house and have done with the man altogether.  He had never
liked him.  True, there was Nina.  Nina--so utterly different from her
brother.  He should be sorry indeed to leave her.  She had a very warm
corner in his heart.  He would miss the pleasant evenings spent in her
company.  What should he do without her merry _camaraderie_, her kindly,
unselfish ways, the near presence of her bewitching face, and her
evident preference for his company?  At that moment Nina entered the
room.  Frank looked, as he felt, embarrassed, and the girl saw it at
once.

"What's the matter, Frank?  You ought to look happy with that eight
hundred pound diamond of yours; yet you don't.  Aren't things going as
you like, or what is it?"

"No," answered Frank, reddening, "things are not going quite right.
Your brother has made me a proposition, which I don't quite see in his
light, and we've rather fallen out about it.  However, my tiff with Otto
need make no difference between you and me.  We haven't quarrelled, and
I hope you won't let our old friendship be broken on that account."

"Indeed, no," returned Nina, "why should it?  But I shall see Otto and
talk to him; I can't have you two falling out about a wretched diamond,
even although it is a big one.  Since you came here, things have been so
much pleasanter, and,"--the girl paused, and a flush came to her face,
"well, we can't afford to quarrel, can we?  Friends--real friends, I
mean--are none too plentiful in Kimberley."

Nina spoke with a good deal of embarrassment for her, and a good deal of
feeling, and she looked so sweet, such an air of tenderness and of
sympathy shone in her eyes, that Frank was visibly touched.

"Nina," he said, "I'm really sorry about this affair.  Perhaps in the
morning it may blow over.  I hope so.  I have had something on my mind
lately, which perhaps you can guess at, but which I won't enter upon
just now.  Meanwhile, don't say anything to your brother about this row.
Let us see what happens to-morrow.  Heaven knows I don't want to
quarrel with any one belonging to you."

Early next morning, while Frank sat up in bed sipping his coffee and
smoking a cigarette, the door opened, and Otto Staarbrucker entered the
room.  He had been thinking over matters a good deal during the night,
and had made up his mind that somehow he and Frank must pull together
over this diamond deal.  His big, florid face was a trifle solemn, and
he spoke quietly for him.  But he found Frank as firm as ever against
his utmost entreaties.

"I've thought it all out," Frank said; "I don't like your plan, and I
mean to show our manager the stone to-day, and tell him all about it.  I
think it will be best in the long-run."  He spoke quietly, but with a
mind obviously quite made up.

The blood ran to Otto's head again; all his evil passions were getting
the upper hand.  "Frank, take care," he said.  "You are in a dangerous
position about this diamond.  I don't think you quite realise it.  Once
more I warn you; don't play the fool.  Make up your mind to come in with
me and we'll make our fortunes over it."

Frank began to get angry too.  "It's no use harping on that string
further," he said, "I'm not coming in with you under any circumstances,
and you may as well clearly understand it, and take no for an answer."
Then, half throwing off the light bed-clothing, "I must get up and have
breakfast."

Otto glared at him for a second or two before he spoke.  "For the last
time I ask you, are you coming in with me?"

There was clear threat in the deliberation of his tones, and Frank grew
mad under it.

"Oh, go to the dickens," he burst out, "I've had enough of this.  Clear
out of it; I want to get up."

Otto stepped to the door.  "I'm going now to the detective office;
you'll find you've made a big mistake over this.  By Heaven!  I'll ruin
you, you infernal, stuck-up English pup!"

His face was red with passion; he flung open the door, slammed it after
him, and went out into the street.

Frank heard him go.  "All idle bluff," he said to himself.  "The
scoundrel!  He must have taken me for an idiot, I think.  I've had
enough of this, and shall clear out, bag and baggage, to-day.  Things
are getting too unpleasant."

He jumped up, poured the water into his bath, and began his ablutions.

Meanwhile, Otto Staarbrucker, raging with anger and malice, was striding
along the shady side of the street, straight for the chief detective's
house.  Despite his tinge of Jewish blood, there was in his system a
strong touch of the wild ungovernable temper, not seldom found in the
Teutonic race.  It was not long before he had reached the detective's
house, and announced himself.  Carefully subduing, as far as possible,
the outward manifestation of his malicious wrath, he informed the acute
official, to whom he was, at his own request, shown, that his lodger,
Mr Farnborough, was in possession of a valuable unregistered diamond,
which he stated he had found in a stuffed crocodile's interior, or some
equally improbable place.  That to his own knowledge the stone had been
unregistered for some days, although he had repeatedly urged Farnborough
to declare it; that the whole surroundings of the case were, to his
mind, very suspicious; and, finally, that, as he could not take the
responsibility of such a position of affairs under his roof, he had come
down to report the matter.

The detective pricked up his ears at the story, reflected for a few
moments, and then said: "I suppose there is no mistake about this
business, Mr Staarbrucker.  It is, as you know, a very serious matter,
and may mean the `Breakwater.'  Mr Farnborough has a good position in
De Beers, and some strong friends, and it seems rather incredible
(although we're never surprised at anything, where diamonds are in
question) that he should have got himself into such a mess as you tell
me."

"I am quite certain of what I tell you," replied Staarbrucker.  "If you
go up to my house now, you'll find Farnborough in his bedroom, and the
stone's somewhere on him, or in his room.  Don't lose time."

"Well," responded the detective, "I'll see to the matter at once.  So
long, Mr Staarbrucker!"

Mr Flecknoe, the shrewdest and most active diamond official in
Kimberley, as was his wont, lost not an instant.  He nosed the tainted
gale of a quarry.  In this case he was a little uncertain, it is true;
but yet there was the tell-tale taint, the true diamond taint, and it
must at once be followed.  Mr Flecknoe ran very mute upon a trail, and
in a few minutes he was at Staarbrucker's bungalow.  Staarbrucker
himself had, wisely perhaps, gone down to his store, there to await
events.  Vitriolic anger still ran hotly within him.  He cared for
nothing in the world, and was perfectly reckless, provided only that
Frank Farnborough were involved in ruin, absolute and utter.

Mr Flecknoe knocked, as a matter of form, in a pleasant, friendly way
at the open door of the cottage, and then walked straight in.  He seemed
to know his way very completely--there were few things in Kimberley that
he did not know--and he went straight to Frank's bedroom, knocked again
and entered.  Frank was by this time out of his bath, and in the act of
shaving.  It cannot be denied that the detective's appearance, so soon
after Staarbrucker's threat, rather staggered him, and he paled
perceptibly.  The meshes of the I.D.B. nets are terribly entangling, as
Frank knew only too well, and I.D.B. laws are no matters for light
jesting.  Mr Flecknoe noted the change of colour.

[I.D.B., Illicit Diamond Buying, a highly criminal offence in South
Africa.]

"Well, Mr Flecknoe," said the younger man, as cheerily as he could
muster, for he knew the detective very well, "what can I do for you?"

"I've come about the diamond, Mr Farnborough; I suppose you can show
title to it?"

"No, I can't show a title," replied Frank.  "It came into my possession
in a very astounding way, a day or two since, and I was going to tell
the manager all about it to-day and `declare' the stone."

Frank then proceeded to tell the detective shortly the whole story, and
finally, the scene with Staarbrucker that morning.

Flecknoe listened patiently enough, and at the end said quietly: "I am
afraid, Mr Farnborough, you have been a little rash.  I shall have to
ask you to come down to the office with me and explain further.  Have
you the stone?"

"Yes, here's the stone," replied Frank, producing the diamond from a
little bag from under his pillow, and exhibiting it on his palm.  "I
won't hand it over to you at this moment, but I'll willingly do so at
the office in presence of third parties.  Just let me finish shaving,
and I'll come along."

"Very well," said Mr Flecknoe, rather grimly, taking a chair.  "I'll
wait."

That evening, some astounding rumours concerning a De Beers official
were afloat in Kimberley.  Farnborough's absence from his usual place at
the "Central" _table d'hote_ was noticed significantly, and next morning
the whole town was made aware, by the daily paper, of some startling
occurrences.  Two days later it became known that Frank Farnborough had
been sent for trial on a charge of I.D.B.; that his friend Staarbrucker
had, with manifest reluctance, given important and telling evidence
against him; that bail had been, for the present, refused, and that the
unfortunate young man, but twenty-four hours since a universal Kimberley
favourite, well known at cricket, football, and other diversions, now
lay in prison in imminent peril of some years' penal servitude at
Capetown Breakwater.  The town shook its head, said to itself, "Another
good man gone wrong," instanced, conversationally over the bars of the
"Transvaal," "Central," and other resorts, cases of the many promising
young men who had gone under, victims of the poisonous fascination of
the diamond, and went about its business.

But there was a certain small leaven of real friends, who refused
utterly to believe in Frank's guilt.  These busied themselves
unweariedly in organising his defence, cabling to friends in England,
collecting evidence, and doing all in their power to bring their
favourite through one of the heaviest ordeals that a man may be
confronted with.

The morning of the trial came at last.  The season was now South African
mid-winter; there was a clear blue sky over Kimberley, and the air was
crisp, keen, and sparkling under the brilliant sunlight.  The two judges
and resident magistrate came into court, alert and sharp-set, and
proceedings began.  Frank was brought in for trial, looking white and
harassed, yet determined.

As he came into court, and faced the crowded gathering of advocates,
solicitors, witnesses, and spectators--for this was a _cause celebre_ in
Kimberley--he was encouraged to see, here and there, the cheering nod
and smile, and even the subdued wave of the hand, of many sympathising
friends, black though the case looked against him.  And he was fired,
too, by the flame of indignation as he saw before him the big, florid
face--now a trifle more florid even than usual from suppressed
excitement--and the shining, upturned eyeglasses of his arch-enemy and
lying betrayer, Otto Staarbrucker.  Thank God!  Nina was not in the
assembly; she, at least, had no part or lot in this shameful scene.  And
yet, after what had passed, could Nina be trusted?  Nina, with all her
friendliness, her even tenderer feelings, was but the sister of Otto
Staarbrucker.  Her conduct ever since Frank's committal had been
enigmatical; her brother, it was to be supposed, had guarded her safely,
and, although she had been subpoenaed upon Frank's behalf, she had
vouchsafed no evidence, nor given a sign of interest in her former
friend's fate.

Counsel for the prosecution, a well-known official of Griqualand West,
opened the case in his gravest and most impressive manner.  The offence
for which the prisoner was to be tried was, he said, although unhappily
but too familiar to Kimberley people, one of the gravest in the Colony.
One feature of this unhappy case was the position of the prisoner, who,
up to the time of the alleged offence, had borne an unimpeachable
character, and had been well known as one of the most popular young men
in Kimberley.  Possibly, this very popularity had furnished the reason
for the crime, the cause of the downfall.  Popularity, as most men knew,
was, in Kimberley, an expensive luxury, and it would be shown that for
some time past, Farnborough had moved and lived in a somewhat
extravagant set.  The learned counsel then proceeded to unfold with
great skill the case for the prosecution.  Mr Staarbrucker, an old
friend of the prisoner, and a gentleman of absolutely unimpeachable
testimony, would, with the greatest reluctance, prove that he had by
chance found Farnborough in possession of a large and valuable stone,
which the prisoner--apparently surprised in the act of admiring it--had
alleged, in a confused way, to have been found--in what?--in the
interior of a dried crocodile!  One of the most painful features of this
case would be the evidence of Miss Staarbrucker, who, though with even
more reluctance than her brother, would corroborate in every detail the
surprising of the prisoner in possession of the stolen diamond.  He
approached this part of the evidence with extreme delicacy; but, in the
interests of justice, it would be necessary to show that a friendship of
the closest possible nature, to put it in no tenderer light, had
latterly sprung into existence between the prisoner and the young lady
in question.  Clearly then, no evidence could well be stronger than the
testimony, wrung from Miss Staarbrucker with the greatest reluctance and
the deepest pain, as to the finding of Farnborough in possession of the
diamond, and of the lame and utterly incredible tale invented by him on
the spur of the moment, when thus surprised by the brother and sister.
The evidence of Mr and Miss Staarbrucker would be closely supported by
that of Mr Flecknoe, the well-known Kimberley detective, who had made
the arrest Mr Staarbrucker, it would be shown, had urged upon the
prisoner for two entire days the absolute necessity of giving up and
"declaring" the stone.  Finally, certain grave suspicions had, chiefly
from the demeanour of Farnborough, forced themselves into his mind.  One
more interview he had with the prisoner, and then, upon his again
declining absolutely to take the only safe and proper course open to
him, Mr Staarbrucker had, for his own protection, proceeded to the
detective department and himself informed the authorities of the
presence of the stone.  No man could have done more for his friend.  He
had risked his own and his sister's safety for two days--he could do no
more.  The prisoner's statement to the Staarbruckers and to Mr Flecknoe
was that the crocodile skin came from the Mahalapsi River in North
Bechuanaland, and that the stone must have been picked up and swallowed
by the living reptile somewhere in those regions.  He, counsel, need
hardly dwell upon the wildness, the ludicrous impossibility, of such a
theory.  Three witnesses of the highest credibility and reputation, well
known in Kimberley, and in the markets of London and Amsterdam, as
experts in diamonds, would declare upon oath that the so-called
"Mahalapsi Diamond"--the learned counsel rolled out the phrase with a
fine flavour of humorous disdain--came, not from the far-off borders of
the Bechuanaland river, but from the recesses of the De Beers mine--from
Kimberley itself!

[It is perfectly well known in South Africa that diamond experts can at
once pick out a particular stone and indicate its mine of origin.
Practice has created perfection in this respect, and stones, whether
from De Beers, Du Toit's Pan, Bultfontein, the Kimberley mine, or the
Vaal River, can be at once identified.]

Here there was a visible "sensation" (that mysterious compound of
shifting, whispering, and restless movement) in court.  "Yes," continued
the advocate, "the stone is beyond all shadow of a doubt a De Beers
stone.  It is not registered.  The prisoner has no title to it; the
diamond is a stolen diamond; and if, as I have little doubt, I shall
succeed in proving my facts to you clearly and incontestably, the
prisoner must take the consequences of his guilt.  If indeed he be
guilty, then let justice, strict but not vindictive justice, be done.
Kimberley, in spite of the severest penalties, the most deterrent
legislation, is still eaten up and honeycombed by the vile and illicit
traffic in diamonds."

The advocate warmed to his peroration, and, as he was a holder of De
Beers shares, he naturally felt what he said.  The court was already
becoming warm.  He took out his handkerchief and wiped his brow.  It is
hot work delivering an important speech in South Africa.  "In the name
of Heaven, I say," he continued, striking the desk with his clenched
fist, "let us have done with this vile and monstrous traffic, that
renders our city--one of the foremost cities in South Africa--a byword
and a laughing-stock among the nations."

Otto Staarbrucker was the first witness called.  He gave his evidence
with great clearness, and conveyed, with consummate skill, the
impression of his extreme reluctance and pain at having thus brought his
former friend into trouble.  Only the natural instinct of
self-protection, on behalf of himself and his sister, and the absolute
refusal of the prisoner to "declare" the diamond, had induced him to
take the extreme step of informing the authorities.  One item, and that
an important one, was added to the evidence tendered by him upon the
occasion of the prisoner's committal.  He had omitted then to state that
on two evenings, shortly before his discovery of the diamond in
Farnborough's possession, he had seen the prisoner, not far from the
house, in earnest conversation with a native.  The time was evening, and
it was dark, and he was unable to positively identify the "boy."  This
evidence, as was suggested by counsel for the prosecution, tended
manifestly to couple the prisoner with a native diamond thief, and
thereby to tighten the damning chain of evidence now being wound about
him.  Staarbrucker suffered it to be extracted from him with an art
altogether admirable.  He had not mentioned the fact at the former
hearing, thinking it of trifling importance.  The prosecuting advocate,
on the contrary, exhibited it with manifest care and parade, as a most
important link in the case.

This piece of evidence, it may be at once stated, was a bit of pure and
infamous invention on Otto's part, an afterthought suggested by seeing
Frank once give an order to a native groom.  In the hands of himself and
a clever advocate it did its work.

In cross-examination, Otto Staarbrucker suffered very little at the
hands of the defending advocate, skilful though the latter proved
himself.  The prisoner's theory (and indeed, perfectly true story) of
his, Staarbrucker's, repeated offers of a prospecting partnership, and
of his ultimate rage and vexation upon Frank's refusal, he treated with
an amused, slightly contemptuous surprise.  The man was a finished
actor, and resisted all the assaults of counsel upon this and other
points of the story with supreme skill and coolness.  The touch of
sympathy for the prisoner, too, was never lost sight of.  Frank
Farnborough, as he glared fiercely at this facile villain, reeling off
lie after lie with damning effrontery, felt powerless.  What could he do
or say against such a man?  To express the burning indignation he felt,
would be but to injure his case the more fatally.  With difficulty
indeed, while he felt his fingers tingling to be at the slanderer's
throat, he restrained himself, as Otto's calm eye occasionally wandered
to his, expressing, as plainly as might be for the benefit of all
present, its sympathy and sorrow at the unfortunate situation of his
former friend.

The next witness called was "Miss Nina Staarbrucker."  Again there was a
manifest sensation.  Miss Staarbrucker was well known in Kimberley, and
every eye turned in the direction of the door.  There was some delay; at
length a passage was made through the crowded court, and Nina appeared.

Before she steps into the witness-box it may be well to explain Nina's
attitude and feelings from the morning of the day upon which Frank's
arrest had been made.

After cooling down somewhat from the paroxysm of rage and revenge, which
had impelled him to turn traitor upon his friend, and deliver him into
the none too tender hands of the detective authorities, Otto
Staarbrucker had suffered a strong revulsion of feeling.  He regretted,
chiefly for his own ease and comfort, the rash step he had taken, and
would have given a good deal to retrace it.  But the die was irrevocably
cast; having chosen his path, he must perforce follow it.

He was well aware of Nina's friendship--fondness he might call it--for
Frank; her sympathy would most certainly be enlisted actively on the
young man's behalf immediately upon hearing of his position.  At all
hazards she must be kept quiet.  Shortly before tiffin, he returned to
the house.  Calling Nina into the sitting-room, he shut the door and sat
down.

"Nina," he said, "I have some bad news for you.  Don't excite yourself,
or make a fuss, but listen carefully and quietly to what I tell you, and
then we'll put our heads together and see what is best to be done."

Nina turned pale.  She feared some news of disaster to Otto's business,
which latterly, as she knew, had been none too flourishing.  Otto went
on:

"I heard, late last night, from an unexpected quarter, that the
detective people had an inkling of an unregistered diamond in this
house.  You know very well what that means.  I went to Frank Farnborough
both late last night and early this morning.  I begged and entreated
him, for his own sake, for all our sakes, to go at once first thing this
morning and hand over and declare the stone.  This he refused to do, and
in a very insulting way.  I had no other course open, for my own safety
and yours, but to give the information myself.  I am afraid matters have
been complicated by the discovery that the diamond is a De Beers stone,
undoubtedly stolen.  Frank is in a temporary mess, but we shall be able
to get him out of the difficulty somehow."

Nina had uttered a low cry of pain at the beginning of this speech.  She
knew too well the danger, and, as Otto went on, her heart seemed almost
to stand still within her.

"Oh," she gasped, "what is to be done?  What shall we do?  I must see
Frank at once.  Surely an explanation from us both should be sufficient
to clear him?"  She rose as she spoke.

"My dear Nina; first of all we must do nothing rash.  We shall no doubt
be easily able to get Frank out of his trouble.  The thing is, of
course, absurd.  He has been a little foolish--as indeed we all have--
that is all.  For the present you must leave every thing to me.  I don't
want to have your name dragged into the matter even for a day.  If there
is any serious trouble, you shall be consulted.  Trust to me, and we
shall make matters all right."

By one pretext or another, Otto managed to keep his sister quiet, and to
allay her worst fears, until two days after, by which time Frank had
been sent for trial and was safely in prison.  Nina had meanwhile
fruitlessly endeavoured to possess her soul in patience.  When Otto had
come in that evening and told her of the news, "Why was I not called in
evidence?" she asked fiercely.  "Surely I could have done something for
Frank.  You seem to me to take this matter--a matter of life and death--
with very extraordinary coolness.  I cannot imagine why you have not
done more.  You know Frank is as innocent as we are ourselves.  We ought
to have moved heaven and earth to save him this dreadful degradation.
What--what can he think of me?  I shall go to-morrow and see his
solicitors and tell them the whole of the facts!"

Next morning, Nina read an account of the proceedings in the newspaper.
It was plainly apparent, from the report of Otto's evidence, that there
was something very wrong going on.  She taxed her brother with it.

"My dear Nina, be reasonable," he said.  "Of course Frank has got into a
desperate mess.  I was not going to give myself away, because I happened
to know, innocently, that he had an unregistered diamond for two or
three days in his possession.  I have since found out that Frank knew a
good deal more of the origin of that diamond than I gave him credit for,
and it was my plain duty to protect myself."

This was an absolute fabrication, and Nina more than half suspected it.

"But you were trying to make arrangements with Frank to prospect the
very place the stone came from," said the girl.

"I admit that, fully," replied Otto calmly.  "But I never then suspected
that the diamond was stolen.  I imagined it was innocently come by.  It
was foolish, I admit, and I am not quite such an idiot, after giving the
information I did, to own now that I was prepared to go in for a
speculation with Frank upon the idea of the diamond being an up-country
one.  Now, clearly understand me, not a word must be said upon this
point, or you may involve me in just such a mess as Frank is in."

Nina was fairly bewildered, and held her peace.  Matters had taken such
astounding turns.  The diamond, it seemed after all, was a stolen one,
and a De Beers stone to boot; she knew not what to think, or where to
turn for guidance and information.  And yet, something must be done to
help Frank.

For the next few days, the girl moved about the house like a ghost,
seldom speaking to her brother, except to give the barest replies to his
scant remarks.

Several times she was in a mind to go straight to Frank's solicitor and
tell her version of the whole affair.  But then, again, there were many
objections to such a course.  She would be received with great
suspicion, as an informer from an enemy's camp.  After almost
insufferable doubts and heartaches, Nina judged it best to wait until
the day of trial, and then and there to give her version of the affair
as she knew it.  Surely the judge would give ear to a truthful and
unprejudiced witness, anxious only to save an honest and cruelly misused
man!  Surely, surely Frank could and should be saved!

About a week before the trial, she was subpoenaed as a witness on behalf
of both prosecution and defence, and finally, the day before the
terrible event, Otto had a long interview with her upon the subject of
her evidence.  Her proof he himself had carefully prepared and corrected
with the prosecuting solicitor; excusing his sister upon the ground of
ill-health and nervousness, but guaranteeing her evidence at the trial.
He now impressed upon her, with great solemnity and anxiety, the
absolute necessity of her story coinciding precisely with his own.  Nina
listened in a stony silence and said almost nothing.  Otto was not
satisfied, and expressed himself so.

"Nina," he said sharply, "let us clearly understand one another.  My
tale is simple enough, and after what has occurred--the finding of a
stolen diamond and not an innocent stone from up-country--I cannot
conceal from myself that Frank must be guilty.  You must see this
yourself.  Don't get me into a mess, by any dangerous sympathies, or
affections, or feelings of that sort.  Be the sensible, good sister you
always have been, and, whatever you do, be careful; guard your tongue
and brain in court, with the greatest watchfulness.  Remember, my
reputation--your brother's reputation--is at stake, as well as Frank's!"

Nina dared not trust herself to say much.  Her soul sickened within her;
but, for Frank's sake, she must be careful.  Her course on the morrow
was fully made up.  She replied to Otto: "I shall tell my story as
simply and shortly as possible.  In spite of what you say, I know, and
you must know, that Frank is perfectly innocent.  I know little about
the matter, except seeing Frank with the diamond in his hand that night.
You may be quite content.  I shall not injure you in any way."

Otto Staarbrucker was by no means satisfied with his sister's answer,
but it was the best he could get out of her.  He could not prevent--it
was too late now--her being called as a witness.  Come what might, she
was his sister and never would, never could, put him into danger.

At last the time had come.  Nina made her way, with much difficulty, to
the witness-box; steadily took her stand and was sworn.  All Kimberley,
as she knew, was looking intently and watching her every gesture.  She
had changed greatly in the last few weeks, and now looked, for her, thin
and worn--almost ill.  The usual warmth of her dark beauty was lacking.
An ivory pallor overspread her face; but her glorious eyes were firm,
open and determined, and honesty and truth, men well might see, were in
her glance.  She looked once quickly at the two judges and the
magistrate sitting with them, and then her eyes met Frank's, and for him
a world of sympathy was in them.  It did Frank good and he breathed more
freely.  Nina, at all events, was the Nina of old.

The prosecuting advocate opened the girl's evidence quietly, with the
usual preliminaries.  Then very gently he asked Nina if she was well
acquainted with the prisoner.  Her reply was, "Yes, very well
acquainted."

"I suppose," continued counsel, "I may even call him a friend of yours?"

"Yes," replied Nina, "a very great friend."

"Without penetrating unduly into your private affairs and sympathies,
Miss Staarbrucker," went on the advocate, "I will ask you to tell the
court shortly what you actually saw on the night in question--the night,
I mean, when the diamond was first seen by yourself and your brother."

Here was Nina's opportunity, and she took advantage of it.  She told
plainly, yet graphically, the story of that evening; she portrayed the
amazed delight of Frank on the discovery of the stone, his free avowal
of his find, the knife in his hand, the open crocodile on the table, the
pebbles previously taken from the reptile's stomach.  She went on with
her story with only such pauses as the taking of the judge's notes
required.  Counsel, once or twice, attempted to pull her up; she was
going much too fast and too far to please him; but the court allowed her
to complete her narrative.  She dealt with the next two days.  Mr
Farnborough had kept the diamond, it was true.  He was puzzled to know
what to do with it.  He had, finally, announced his intention of giving
it up and declaring it, and he would undoubtedly have done so, but for
his arrest.  The stone might have been stolen, or it might not, but Mr
Farnborough, as all his friends knew, was absolutely incapable of
stealing diamonds, or of buying diamonds, knowing them to be stolen.
The stone came into his possession in a perfectly innocent manner, as
she could and did testify on oath.  As for her brother's suspicions, she
could not answer for or understand them.  For two days, he at all events
had had none; she could not account for his sudden change.  Spite of the
judge's cautions, she concluded a breathless little harangue--for she
had let herself go completely now--by expressing her emphatic belief in
Frank's absolute innocence.

She had finished, and in her now deathly pale beauty was leaving the
box.  There were no further questions asked by counsel upon either side.
Nina had said far too much for the one, and the advocate for the
defence judged it wiser to leave such a runaway severely alone.  Who
knew in what direction she might turn next?  He whispered regretfully to
his solicitor: "If we had got hold of that girl, by George! we might
have done some good with her--with a martingale and double bit on."

The senior judge, as Nina concluded, remarked blandly--for he had an eye
for beauty--"I am afraid we have allowed you a good deal too much
latitude.  Miss Staarbrucker, and a great deal of what you have told the
court is quite inadmissible as evidence."

As for Otto, he had stared with open mouth and fixed glare at his sister
during her brief episode.  He now heaved a deep breath of relief, as he
watched the judges.

"Thank God!" he said to himself savagely under his breath, "she has
overdone it, and spoilt her own game--the little fool!"

Nina moved to her seat and sat, now faint and dejected, watching with
feverish eyes for the end.

The case for the prosecution was soon finished.  Three witnesses,
experts of well-known reputation and unimpeachable character, testified
to the fact that the stone was a De Beers stone, and by no possibility
any other.  Evidence was then put in, proving conclusively that the
diamond was unregistered.

Counsel for the defence had but a poor case, but he made the best of it.
He dwelt upon the unimpeachable reputation of the prisoner, upon the
utter improbability of his having stolen the diamond, or bought it,
knowing it to be stolen.  There was not a particle of direct evidence
upon these points.  The testimony of experts was never satisfactory.
Their evidence in this case was mere matter of opinion.  It was well
known that the history of gold and gem finding exceeded in romance the
wildest inspirations of novelists.  The finding of the first diamond in
South Africa was a case very much in point.  Why should not the diamond
have come from the Mahalapsi River with the other gravel in the belly of
the dead crocodile?  Mr Farnborough's friend, Mr Kentburn, would prove
beyond doubt that he had brought the mummified crocodile from the
Mahalapsi River, where he had picked it up.  The greatest offence that
could by any possibility be brought home to his client was that he had
this stone in his possession for two days without declaring it!  That
was an act of sheer inadvertence.  The stone was not a Griqualand West
stone, and it was a puzzling matter, with a young and inexperienced man,
to know quite what to do with it.  If the stone were, as he, counsel,
contended, not a stone from the Cape districts at all, it was an
arguable question whether the court had any rights or jurisdiction in
this case whatever.  Would it be contended that a person coming to South
Africa, innocently, with a Brazilian or an Indian diamond in his
possession, could be hauled off to prison, and thereafter sentenced for
unlawful possession?  Such a contention would be monstrous!  The great
diamond industry had in South Africa far too much power already--many
men thought.  Let them be careful in further stretching or adding to
those powers--powers that reminded unbiassed people more of the worst
days of the Star Chamber or the Inquisition, than of a modern community.
Had the prisoner attempted to conceal the diamond?  On the contrary, he
had shown it eagerly to Mr Staarbrucker and his sister immediately he
had found it.  That was not the act of a guilty man!

These, and many other arguments, were employed by the defending advocate
in a powerful and almost convincing speech.  There were weak points,
undoubtedly--fatally weak, many of the spectators thought them.  These
were avoided, or lightly skated over with consummate art.  The advocate
closed his speech with a touching appeal that a young, upright, and
promising career might not be wrecked upon the vaguest of circumstantial
evidence.

The speech was over; all the witnesses had been called, the addresses
concluded.  The afternoon was wearing on apace, and the court was
accordingly adjourned; the prisoner was put back into jail again, and
the crowded assemblage flocked into the outer air, to discuss hotly
throughout the rest of the evening the many points of this singular and
absorbing case.

Again, as usual in Kimberley at this season, the next morning broke
clear and invigorating.  All the world of the corrugated-iron city
seemed, after breakfast, brisk, keen, and full of life as they went
about their business.  The Cape swallows flitted, and hawked, and played
hither and thither in the bright atmosphere, or sat, looking sharply
about them, upon the telegraph wires or housetops, preening their
feathers and displaying their handsome, chestnut body colouring.  The
great market square was still full of waggons and long spans of oxen,
and of native people, drawn from well-nigh every quarter of Southern
Africa.

Out there in the sunlit market-place stood a man, whose strong brain was
just now busily engaged in piecing together and puzzling out the
patchwork of this extraordinary case.  David Ayling, with his mighty
voice, Scotch accent, oak-like frame, keen grey eyes, and vast iron-grey
beard, was a periodical and excellently well-known Kimberley visitant.
For years he had traded and hunted in the far interior.  His reputation
for courage, resource, and fair dealing was familiar to all men, and
David's name had for years been a household word from the Cape to the
Zambesi.  Periodically, the trader came down to Kimberley with his
waggons and outfit, after a year or two spent in the distant interior.
Yesterday morning he had come in, and in the afternoon and evening he
seemed to hear upon men's tongues nothing else than Frank Farnborough's
case, and the story of the Mahalapsi diamond.  Now David had known Frank
for some few years, and had taken a liking to him.  Several times he had
brought down-country small collections of skins, and trophies of the
chase, got together at the young man's suggestion.  He had in his
waggon, even now, some new and rare birds from the far-off Zambesi
lands, and the two had had many a deal together.  Frank's unhappy plight
at once took hold of the trader's sympathies, and the Mahalapsi and
crocodile episodes tended yet further to excite his interest.  Certain
suspicions had been growing in his mind.  This morning, before
breakfast, he had carefully read and re-read the newspaper report of the
trial, and now, just before the court opened, he was waiting
impatiently, with further developments busily evolving in his brain.
There was a bigger crowd even than yesterday; the prisoner and counsel
had come in; all waited anxiously for the end of the drama.  In a few
minutes the court entered, grave and self-possessed, and the leading
judge began to arrange his notes.

At that moment, David Ayling, who had shouldered his way to the fore,
stood up and addressed the court in his tremendous deep-chested tones,
which penetrated easily to every corner of the chamber.

"Your Honours," he said, "before you proceed further, I should like to
lay one or two facts before you--not yet known in this case.  They are
very important, and I think you should hear them in order that justice
may be done, and perhaps an innocent man saved.  I have only just come
down from the Zambesi and never heard of this trial till late yesterday
afternoon."

Two persons, as they listened to these words and looked at the strong,
determined man uttering them, felt, they knew not why, instantly braced
and strengthened, as if by a mighty tonic.  They were Frank, the
prisoner, hitherto despairing and out of heart, and Nina Staarbrucker,
sitting at the back of the court, pale and trembling with miserable
anticipations.

"You know me, your Honour, I think," went on David, in his deep Scotch
voice.

"Yes, Mr Ayling, we know you, of course," answered the senior judge
(every one in Kimberley knew David Ayling), "and I am, with my
colleagues, anxious to get at all the evidence available, before
delivering judgment.  This is somewhat irregular, but, upon the whole, I
think you had better be sworn and state what you have to say."

David went to the witness-box and was sworn.  "This crocodile skin
here," he went on, pointing to the skin, which was handed up to him, "I
happen to know very well.  I have examined it carefully before your
lordship came in; it is small, and of rather peculiar shape, especially
about the head.  I remember that skin well, and can swear to it; there
are not many like it knocking about.  That skin was put on to my waggon
in Kimberley seventeen months ago, and was carried by me to the
Mahalapsi River."

The court had become intensely interested as the trader spoke, the
judges and magistrate pricked up their ears and looked intently, first
at the skin, then at David.

"Go on," said the judge.

"Well, your Honour," resumed David, "the skin was put on to my waggon in
February of last year, by Sam Vesthreim, a Jew storekeeper, in a small
way in Beaconsfield.  There were some other odds and ends put on the
waggon, little lots of goods, which I delivered in Barkly West.  But the
crocodile skin, Sam Vesthreim said, was a bit of a curio, and he
particularly wanted it left at some friend's place farther up-country.
I was in a hurry at the time, and forgot to take the name, but Sam said
there was a label on the skin.  The thing was pitched in with a lot of
other stuff, and lay there for a long time!  Lost sight of it till we
had got to the Mahalapsi River, where the waggon was overturned in
crossing.  I offloaded, and the crocodile skin then turned up with the
label off.  We were heavily laden; the skin was, I thought, useless; we
were going on to the Zambesi, and I had clean forgotten where the skin
ought to have been left.  It seemed a useless bit of gear, so I just
pitched it away in the bushes, in the very spot, as near as I can make
it, where Mr Farnborough's friend, Mr Kentburn, found it, nearly a
year later, as he came down-country.  That is one remarkable thing.  I
would like to add, my lord, that the Mahalapsi is a dry river, never
running except in rains; and in all my experience, and I have passed it
some scores of times, I never knew a crocodile up in that neighbourhood.
The chances of there being any other crocodile skin in that sandy place
and among those bushes, where Mr Kentburn found this one, would, I
reckon, be something like a million (David pronounced it mullion) to
one.

"There is one other point, your Honours.  Long after Sam Vesthreim
delivered that skin on my waggon, I read in the newspapers that he had
been arrested for I.D.B.--only a few weeks after I saw him--and
sentenced to a term of imprisonment.  I have been puzzling mightily over
this case, and I must say, the more I think of it, the more
unaccountable seems to me the fact of Sam Vesthreim sending that dried
crocodile skin up-country.  If it had been down-country, or to England,
I could understand it; but in this case it seems very much like sending
coals to Newcastle.  I never knew that Sam was in the I.D.B. trade till
I saw his imprisonment in the paper.  I think he had some peculiar
object in getting that skin out of his house.  And I cannot help
thinking, your Honours, that Sam Vesthreim, if he could be found, could
throw a good deal of light on this crocodile and diamond business.  In
fact, I'm sure of it.  It's quite on the cards, to my thinking, that he
put the diamond in that crocodile himself."

Some questions were put to the witness by counsel for both sides,
without adding to or detracting from the narrative in any way.  The
court seemed a good deal impressed by David's story, as indeed did the
whole of the crowded audience, who had breathlessly listened to its
recital.  Mr Flecknoe, the detective, was called forward.  He informed
the court that Sam Vesthreim was now at Cape Town undergoing a long term
of imprisonment.  He was no doubt at work on the Breakwater.

The senior judge was a man of decision, and he had quickly made up his
mind.  After a short whispered consultation with his colleagues, he
spoke.  "The turn this case has taken is so singular, and the evidence
given by Mr Ayling has imported so new an aspect, that in the
prisoner's interest we are determined to have the matter sifted to the
bottom.  I will adjourn the court for a week, in order to secure the
convict Vesthreim's attendance here upon oath.  Will this day week suit
the convenience of all counsel in this case?"

Counsel intimated that the day of adjournment met their views, and once
more the crowded court emptied.  As David Ayling turned to leave, he
caught Frank Farnborough's eye.  He gave him a bright reassuring nod,
and a wink which did him a world of good.  Altogether, Frank went back
to another weary week's confinement in far better spirits than he had
been for many days.  There was, at all events, some slight element of
hope and explanation now.  And it was refreshing to him as a draught of
wine, to find such a friend as David Ayling fighting his battle so
stoutly, so unexpectedly.

Nina Staarbrucker stole silently out of the court, only anxious to get
home, and escape observation.  There were many eyes upon her, but she
heeded them not at all.  Thank God! there seemed some ray of light for
Frank; for herself, whether Frank came out triumphantly or no, there was
no outlook, all seemed blackness and gloom.  Otto's part in this
wretched business had made ruin of all her hopes.  Her brother's
treachery had determined her upon seeking a career of her own; work of
some sort--anywhere away from Kimberley--she must get, and get at once,
so soon as the trial was over, and whatever its result.

Once more, in a week's time, the court wore its former aspect, the
characters were all marshalled for the final act.  The new addition to
the caste, Mr Samuel Vesthreim, a lively, little, dark-visaged Jew of
low type, seemed on the best of terms with himself.  For more than
fifteen months he had been hard at it on Cape Town Breakwater, or
road-scarping upon the breezy heights round the Cape peninsula--always,
of course, under the escort of guards and the unpleasing supervision of
loaded rifles--and really he needed a little rest and change.  This trip
to Kimberley was the very thing for him.  What slight sense of shame he
had ever possessed, had long since vanished under his recent hardening
experiences; and as the little man looked round the crowded court, and
saw the well-remembered faces of many a Kimberley acquaintance, it did
his heart good.  He positively beamed again--in a properly subdued
manner, of course.

The senior judge remarked to the advocates, "Perhaps it will save the
time of all if I put some questions to this witness myself."  The
suggestion was gracefully received, and the judge turned to the little
Jew, now attentive in the witness-box.

"Samuel, or Sam Vesthreim, you are a convict now undergoing a term of
penal servitude at Cape Town, I think?"

"Yeth, my lord."

"It may perhaps tend slightly to lessen or mitigate the extreme term of
your imprisonment if I receive perfectly truthful and straightforward
answers to the questions I am going to ask.  Be very careful, therefore.
Any future recommendation on my part to the authorities will depend
upon yourself."

"Yeth, my lord," answered Sam, in his most serious manner--and he meant
it.

"About seventeen months ago you were in business in Beaconsfield, were
you not?"

"Yeth, my lord."

"Do you know Mr Ayling here?" pointing to the trader.

"I do, my lord."

"Do you remember intrusting Mr Ayling with some goods about that time
to take up-country?"

"I do, my lord."

"What were they?"

"There were three cases of groceries to be delivered in Barkly West, and
a crocodile skin to be left at the place of a friend of mine near
Zeerust, in Marico, Transvaal."

"Take that skin in your hands."  The crocodile was handed up like a
baby.  "Do you recognise it?"

"Yeth, my lord, that is the identical skin, I believe, that I handed to
Mr Ayling."

"Now, be careful.  Was there anything inside that crocodile skin?"

The little Jew saw now exactly which way the cat jumped, and he saw,
too, that only the truth could be of use to him in the weary days and
years yet to come on Cape Town Breakwater.  The court was hushed by this
time to an absolute silence.  You could have heard a feather fall,
almost.

"Well, my lord," the little Jew replied, "there _wath_ something inside
that crocodile.  I had had a little bit of a speculation, and there was
a big diamond inside the crocodile skin.  I put it there myself.  You
see, my lord," he went on rapidly, "I had been doing one or two little
transactions in stones, and I fancied there was something in the air,
and so I put away that diamond and packed it off in the crocodile skin,
safe, as I thought, to a friend in the Transvaal.  It was a risk, but
just at that time it was the only way out of the difficulty.  I meant to
have had an eye on the skin again, myself, a few days after, but I had a
little difficulty with the police and I was prevented."

As Sam Vesthreim finished, Frank could have almost hugged him for the
news he brought.  An irrepressible murmur of relief ran round the
crowded court, a murmur that the usher was for a minute or two powerless
to prevent.  The judge whispered to an attendant.  The diamond was
produced and handed to the Jew.  "Do you recognise that stone?" said the
judge.

"I do, my lord," answered Vesthreim emphatically.  "That is the stone I
put inside the crocodile.  I could swear to it among a thousand."  The
little man's eyes gleamed pleasurably yet regretfully upon the gem as he
spoke.

Here, then, was the mystery of the fatal, puzzling diamond cleared up.
There were few more questions to ask.  The little Jew frankly admitted
that the stone was a De Beers stone, stolen by a native worker; there
was little else to learn.  Frank was a free man, practically, as he
stood there, jaded and worn, yet at least triumphant.  It was a dear
triumph though, only snatched from disaster by the merest chance in the
world--the coming of David Ayling.  And the tortures, the agonies he had
suffered in these last few weeks of suspense!  He knew that nothing--the
kindly congratulations of friends, the tenderer affection of relations,
the hearty welcome of a well-nigh lost world--none of these good things
could ever quite repay him, ever restore to him what he had lost.

In a very few minutes Frank had been discharged from custody.  The
judges in brief, sympathetic speeches, congratulated him on his
triumphant issue from a very terrible ordeal, and trusted that the
applause and increased respect of his fellow-citizens would in some
slight degree make up to him for his undoubted sufferings.

Frank left the court, arm in arm with David Ayling, whom he could not
sufficiently thank for his timely and strenuous assistance.  A troop of
friends escorted him to the Transvaal Hotel, where his health was drunk
in the hearty Kimberley way, with innumerable congratulations.  All this
was very gratifying, as was the magnificent dinner which a number of
friends gave to him a day or two later, at which half Kimberley
assisted.  But, for the present, Frank desired only to be left severely
alone, with the quieter companionship of his few most intimate friends.
He was still half stunned and very unwell; some weeks or months must
elapse before he should be himself again.

One of his first inquiries was after Nina Staarbrucker, whom he wished
sincerely to thank for her brave and honest defence of him at the trial.
He learned, with a good deal of surprise, that she had left Kimberley
on the morning after the trial, alone.  He learned too, with less
surprise, that Otto had quitted the town on urgent business in the
Transvaal, and was not likely to return for some time.  Beyond these
bare facts, he could gather little or nothing of Nina and her
whereabouts.  He rather suspected she had gone to some relations near
Cape Town, but for the present her address was undiscoverable.

Very shortly after the result of the trial, Frank Farnborough was
granted by his company six months' leave of absence, with full pay in
the meantime.  It was felt that the young man had been injured cruelly
by his imprisonment, and that some atonement was due to him; and the
great Diamond Company he served, not to be behind in the generous shake
of the hand, which all Kimberley was now anxious to extend to a hardly
used man, was not slow in giving practical manifestation of a public
sympathy.  The stolen stone had been proved a De Beers diamond, and
Frank, its unfortunate temporary owner, had not only been deprived of a
valuable find, but for his innocent ownership had suffered terribly in a
way which no honest man could ever possibly forget.  In addition,
therefore, to his grant of leave of absence and full salary, Frank was
handed a cheque for five hundred pounds, being, roughly, a half share of
the value of the recovered gem.

Frank at once set out upon an expedition on which he had long fixed his
mind--a hunting trip to the far interior.  His preparations were soon
made, and, a few weeks later, he was enjoying his fill of sport and
adventure in the wild country north-east of the Transvaal, at that time
a veldt swarming with great game.

After three months came the rains, and with the rains, fever--fever,
too, of a very dangerous type.  Frank directed his waggon for the
Limpopo River, and, still battling with the pestilence, kept up his
shooting so long as he had strength.  At last came a time when his drugs
were conquered, the fever held him in a death-like grip, and he lay in
his kartel gaunt, emaciated, weak, almost in the last stage of the
disease.  The fever had beaten him, and he turned his face southward and
trekked for civilisation.

The waggons--he had a friendly trader with him by this time--had crossed
the Limpopo and outspanned one hot evening in a tiny Boer village, the
most remote of the rude frontier settlements of the Transvaal Republic.
Frank, now in a state of collapse, was lifted from his kartel and
carried into the back room of the only store in the place--a rude wattle
and daub shanty thatched with grass.  He was delirious, and lay in high
fever all that night.  In the morning he seemed a trifle better, but not
sensible of those about him.  At twelve o'clock he was once more fast in
the clutches of raging fever; his temperature ran up alarmingly; he
rambled wildly in his talk; at this rate it seemed that life could not
long support itself in so enfeebled a frame.

Towards sundown, the fever had left him again; he lay in a state of
absolute exhaustion, and presently fell into a gentle sleep.  The
trader, who had tended him day and night for a week, now absolutely
wearied out, sought his own waggon and went to sleep.  The storekeeper
had retired, only a young woman, passing through the place, a governess
on her way to some Dutchman's farm, watched by the sick man's bed.

It was about an hour after midnight, the African dawn had not yet come,
but the solitary candle shed a fainter light; a cock crew, the air
seemed to become suddenly more chill.  The woman rose from her chair,
fetched a light kaross [a fur cloak or rug] from the store, and spread
it gently over the sick man's bed.  Then she lifted his head--it was a
heavy task--and administered some brandy and beef-tea.  Again the young
man slept, or lay in torpor.  Presently the girl took his hand in her
right, then, sitting close to his bedside, she, with her left, gently
stroked his brow and hair.  A sob escaped her.  She kissed the listless,
wasted hand; then with a little cry she half rose, bent herself softly
and kissed tenderly, several times, the brow and the hollow, wasted
cheek of the fever-stricken man.  As she did so, tears escaped from her
eyes and fell gently, all unheeded, upon Frank's face and pillow.

"Oh, my love, my love!" cried the girl, in a sobbing whisper, "to think
that never again can I speak to you, take your hand in mine!  To think
that I, who would have died for you, am now ashamed as I touch you--
ashamed for the vile wrong that was done to you in those miserable days.
My love, my darling, I must now kiss you like a thief.  Our ways are
apart, and the journey--my God--is so long."

Once more, leaning over the still figure, she kissed Frank's brow, and
then, relapsing into her chair, cried silently for a while--a spasmodic
sob now and again evincing the bitter struggle within her.  The cold
grey of morning came, and still she sat by the bedside, watching
intently, unweariedly, each change of the sick man's position, every
flicker of the tired eyes.

During the long hours of the two next days, Frank lay for the most part
in a torpor of weakness.  The fever had left him; it was now a struggle
between death and the balance of strength left to a vigorous
constitution after such a bout.  Save for an hour or so at a time, Nina
had never left his side.  Hers was the gentle hand that turned the
pillows, shifted the cotton Kaffir blankets that formed the bedding,
gave the required nourishment, and administered the medicine.  On the
evening of the fourth day, there were faint symptoms of recovery; the
weakened man seemed visibly stronger.  Once or twice he had feebly
opened his eyes and looked about him--apparently without recognition of
those at hand.

It was in the middle of this night that Frank really became conscious.
He had taken some nourishment, and after long lying in a state betwixt
sleep and stupor, he awoke to feel a tender stroking of his hand.
Presently his brow was touched lightly by soft lips.  It reminded him of
his mother in years gone by.  Frank was much too weak to be surprised at
anything, but he opened his eyes and looked about him.  It was not his
mother's face that he saw, as he had dreamily half expected, but the
face of one he had come to know almost as well.

Close by him stood Nina Staarbrucker, much more worn, much graver, much
changed from the sweet, merry, piquant girl he had known so well at
Kimberley.  But the dark friendly eyes--very loving, yet sad and
beseeching, it seemed to him dimly--of the lost days, were still there
for him.

Frank opened his parched lips and in a husky voice whispered, "Nina?"

"Yes," said the sweet, clear voice he remembered so well, "I am here,
nursing you.  You must not talk.  No, not a word," as he essayed to
speak again, "or you will undo all the good that has been done.  Rest,
my darling (I can't help saying it," she said to herself; "it will do no
harm, and he will never hear it again from my lips); sleep again, and
you will soon be stronger."

Frank was still supremely weak, and the very presence of the girl seemed
to bring peace and repose to his senses.  He smiled--closed his eyes
again, and slept soundly far into the next day.

That was the last he ever saw of Nina Staarbrucker.  She had vanished,
and although Frank, as he grew from convalescence to strength, made many
inquiries as the months went by, he could never succeed in gaining
satisfactory tidings of her.  He once heard that she had been seen in
Delagoa Bay, that was all.  Whether in the years to come they will ever
meet again, time and the fates alone can say.  It seems scarcely
probable.  Africa is so vast, and nurses safely within her bosom the
secret of many a lost career.

CHAPTER TEN.

A TRAGEDY OF THE VELDT.

The circumstances attending the fate of Leonard Strangeways were very
extraordinary, and the three years of silence and doubt that followed
the discovery of his body in the veldt seemed but to enhance among white
men in the Bechuanaland Protectorate the mystery of that most singular
affair.  The whole tragedy, from the very remoteness of the place in
which it was enacted, was little known south of the Orange River.  I
have, therefore, thought it worth while to rescue from complete oblivion
the grim, strange, and unwonted circumstances of that dark business.

Leonard Strangeways was, in the year 1890, when I first met him, one of
the pioneers who entered Mashonaland.  He was one of those
devil-may-care, reckless, wandering fellows, so many of whom are to be
found upon the frontiers of civilisation in Southern Africa.  I first
saw him, outspanned at breakfast, near Palla Camp on the Crocodile
River, with a number of other men, going into Mashonaland upon the same
errand as himself.  He was the life and soul of the party, and was
superintending the "bossing-up" of the meal.  For the next week our
waggons moved on together and I saw a good deal of Strangeways.  He was
a tall, handsome fellow of thirty or thirty-one.  He seemed to be a
general favourite with his party--mainly, I imagine, because he was one
of those capable men who excel in everything they undertake.  He shot
most of the francolins and other feathered game for the half-dozen chums
he was travelling with; he had not been long in South Africa, and yet he
seemed to comprehend the ways of the native servants and the methods of
travel exceedingly well; he evidently understood horses thoroughly, and
personally superintended the score of nags that were travelling up with
the waggons.  He could inspan and outspan oxen, and was already master
of other useful veldt wrinkles, which usually take some time to acquire.
He could paint remarkably well, I have seen him, in a short hour's work
with water-colours, turn out a very charming sketch of African scenery.
And at night, by the camp fire, Strangeways' banjo and his deep, rich
voice were in inevitable request.  It is not judged well to inquire too
closely into the antecedents of men in the South African interior.  I
gathered, during the week of travel alongside of Strangeways, that he
had led a wandering life for some years, and had recently come across to
the Cape from Australia, where he had done little good for himself.

I parted from Strangeways and his fellow pioneers at Palachwe, and saw
no more of him for rather more than a twelve-month, when I met him
coming down-country, at Boatlanama, a water on the desert road, between
Khama's old town of Shoshong and Molepolole.  In latter days this was
not the usual route to and from Palachwe and Matabeleland, but having
been several times by the Crocodile road, I happened to have taken the
more westerly route for a change.  On waking up next morning, after a
hard and distressing trek from the nearest water in this thirsty
country--Lopepe--I was surprised to see another waggon outspanned almost
alongside.  Still more surprised was I to find one of its two occupants
Leonard Strangeways, also with a fellow pioneer travelling down-country.
Our greeting was a hearty one, and indeed, I, for my part, was
exceedingly well pleased to have encountered once more so genial and
pleasant an acquaintance.

Strangeways had passed a year in Mashonaland, and, like most of the
other Mashonalanders of that distressful season, '90-'91, had had some
pretty tough experiences.  However, he had weathered the storm, had sold
his pioneer farm, and the options over a number of mining properties,
for cash at a good price, and was now going down to Cape Town to enjoy
himself, and, as he expressed it, to "blow some of the pieces."  He was
in the highest spirits.  He had trekked down by this more westerly route
for the purpose of getting some shooting.  He was a keen sportsman, and
was anxious as he came down-country to secure the heads of the gemsbok
and hartebeest, two large desert-loving antelopes, not found in
Mashonaland.  He had succeeded in bagging two gemsbok to the westward of
Lopepe, and, after breakfast, was riding out in search of hartebeest.

I had had a hard ride in the sun on the day preceding, and my horse was
knocked up.  I was not inclined to accompany Strangeways on his quest,
therefore I did not see him again till late in the evening, when he
returned with a native hunter.  It was an hour or two after dark when
they came up to the camp fire, where we were drinking our coffee and
enjoying a quiet smoke.  He rode into the cheerful blaze and dismounted.
He had upon his saddle-bow the head and horns of a fine hartebeest
bull, the trophy he had coveted, and behind were the skin and a good
quantity of meat from the same antelope.  "There!" said he, flinging
down the head triumphantly, "that's been a devilish tough customer to
bring to bag, but we did the trick after all.  If it hadn't been for
Marati, here," jerking his head at a grinning Bechuana boy, "we should
have lost the buck.  We followed the blood spoor for five mortal hours,
and but for Marati I should have given it up as a bad job.  By Jove!
I'm fairly beat."

"Your supper's in the pot," I replied, "and there's enough coffee to
float you.  Sit down and the boy will bring you a plate and cup.  Put
your coat on first though, it's getting chilly."

As I lay on my rug, Strangeways stood above me in his flannel shirt
sleeves, a fine figure of a man, in the flickering blaze.  Suddenly his
eye caught the white tent of another waggon, which had come in during
the afternoon, and was on its way up-country.  "Hallo!" he said, "what's
this?"

"Oh, don't bother about it," I replied, "they are a mining party going
up to Mashonaland.  They won't interest you.  Sit down and have your
supper."

But Strangeways was curious; I often think that if he had been less
curious he would have been alive at this moment.  The third waggon stood
about sixty yards away.

"Get my supper ready," he said, "I'll be back in a moment," and walked
across to the other camp fire.

I directed his native cook-boy to bring plates and a cup, and have all
in readiness for his master's supper.  In less than three minutes
Strangeways strode up to the fire again.  As he approached, he looked
furtively behind him I never saw a man so utterly changed within the
space of three short minutes.  His face was ghastly pale, he trembled
visibly.  He said not a single word, but went straight to his horse,
which was being off-saddled.  He picked up the saddle again, clapped it
on the poor tired brute's back, and to my intense astonishment put his
foot in the stirrup and mounted.

"Strangeways," I said, "what in Heaven's name are you going to do.  Come
and sit down and let the nag alone."

He turned on me a white, terror-stricken face.

"Sh! for God's sake," was all he said, under his breath.  One glance he
threw towards that other camp fire, and then, kicking his horse with the
spur, he passed behind our two waggons and rode straight out into the
gross darkness of the veldt.

I was so astounded at this extraordinary proceeding, that I confess I
let Strangeways ride away without any further protest than the few words
I had uttered.  I now jumped to my feet and followed in the direction he
had taken.  I saw and heard nothing.  I was about to shout his name, but
I had been so impressed with the terror depicted on his face, that I
forebore to cry out after him.  Somehow, it struck me that he wanted
silence.  I had always found him a most sensible, level-headed fellow.
He had some reason undoubtedly for this sudden fear and strange
departure.  I waited by the fireside for half an hour, all sorts of
doubts and hypotheses thronging my brain.  What could it mean?  Here was
a man, tired, worn-out and hungry, and, above all, desperately thirsty,
after a hard day's hunting and eleven hours spent in the saddle under a
burning sun, suddenly flying off from his supper, his rest, and the
pleasant camp fire, mounting his tired horse and riding straight out
into the veldt with some strong terror gripping at his heart.  And such
a veldt as it was here.  Sheer desert, except for a scanty pit of foul
water now and again at long intervals.  He could not be mad.  He was
sane as a judge before he visited the other camp fire; what in God's
name could it mean?  I worried my brain for half an hour, and then gave
it up.  I now roused Strangeways' pioneer comrade, who had retired early
and had been asleep all this time, and talked the thing over with him.
We could find no solution.

The other camp fire seemed to contain the only possible explanation of
this strange event.  We walked across to it.  I had previously spoken to
these wayfarers, who consisted of a mining engineer and three
prospectors.  The engineer received us civilly.  He inquired in a
bantering way after our friend, who, he averred, had come across, stared
like a stuck pig for a moment, and then suddenly turned on his heel and
vanished.  Two of his prospectors, one a Cornishman, the other a Yankee,
sat by the fire, smoking.  They were decent, quiet, civil-spoken men.
The third, an Italian, had, they informed me, turned into his waggon and
gone to sleep.  We had a quarter of an hour's chat, and then, finding
that we could make nothing of the mystery over here, we went back to our
own fire again.  We had not thought it necessary to enlighten the mining
party as to Strangeways' sudden departure; nor, indeed, did they
manifest any further interest in him.  They had caught but a fleeting
glimpse of his face, and then, as they said, he had turned and bolted.

Halton, Strangeways' comrade, and I returned to our camp fire, waited up
till eleven o'clock--a late hour for the veldt--and then, seeing that
nothing further was to be done that night, we turned in, tired enough,
and slept soundly.

I was awake at six next morning.  My native boy brought me, as usual, my
coffee.

"Baas," he said, "did Baas know that a man from the other waggon came
over here in the night with a lantern and looked in Baas's waggon and
into the other waggon too."  No, I knew nothing of this, and I told the
boy so.  I looked into Strangeways' waggon.  Halton was just getting up.
He, too, had slept heavily, and had neither seen nor heard of any one's
approach during the night.

We swallowed our coffee and ate some breakfast, debating with serious
faces what step we were to take next.  While we sat by the embers of the
overnight fire thus employed, the engineer from the other camp came
across.  He had fresh food for bewilderment.  His Italian prospector was
missing.  His native driver averred that Rinaldi had risen before dawn,
taken some food and a water bottle, saddled a horse, and just as
daylight came left the camp.  He came, the man said, in our direction,
and then disappeared behind the waggons and into the veldt.

The mystery was clearly thickening.  Halton and I now took the engineer
into our confidence, and told him of the strange occurrence of the
evening before.  We finished breakfast, and then decided to proceed at
once with the adventure.  First we called up a first-rate Bakalahari
hunter, who had been for some time attached to my camp, and was an
extraordinarily skilful spoorer.  After a cup of coffee and a pinch or
two of snuff, both inestimable luxuries to a poor, despised desert man,
he quickly got to work.  His narrative lay there in the sand before him,
as clear to his bleared, half-shut eyes as God's daylight itself.

First he traced the progress of Strangeways.  After some little trouble
about the camp, where the trail was much mingled with others, he
presently got the spoor away into the bush, to the west of the outspan.
Shortly, with a cluck of the tongue, the native drew our attention to
other marks.  Here, he said, Strangeways' trail had been joined by that
of another, a man walking with his horse.  The man, said the Bakalahari,
was following the spoor of Strangeways, and had got off his horse for
the purpose.  As the ground became clearer and the country more open,
this man had mounted and followed more quickly upon the trail.  At
times, the tale was plain enough even to the eyes of us Europeans.

Well, to make a long story short, we followed the two spoors all through
that long hot day.  We had water and food with us, and we meant to see
the thing out.  At first, in the darkness, Strangeways had evidently
wandered a good deal from the straight line, but as light had come, he
had travelled due west, and then after mid-day struck in a southerly
direction.  I guessed his purpose, to seek the road and water south of
Boatlanama.  Towards sundown, when we had ridden between thirty and
forty miles, we saw by the trail that Strangeways' horse was failing.
The wonder was that after two days of such work it had stood up so long.
Night fell before we could arrive at any solution of the mystery.  We
made a good fire, drank some water, ate some supper, and then lay down
upon the dry earth and slept.  At earliest daylight we were moving
again.  We followed the two spoors for something more than an hour, and
then, rather suddenly, in some thickish bush, came upon a sight that
smote us all with horror.  A cloud of vultures fluttered heavily from
the dead body of Strangeways' horse, which lay stretched upon the sand,
now nearly devoid of what flesh it had once carried upon its bones.
Under a pile of thorns, close by, was the body of Strangeways himself.

The body, for some extraordinary reason, which I was then not able to
fathom, had been carefully protected by these thorn branches, and the
vultures had not been able to accomplish their foul work upon it.  We
pulled away the thorns, and examined the poor dead body; it was marked
by two bullet wounds, one in the right shoulder, the other, fired at
close quarters, through the head.  The flannel shirt, in which
Strangeways had ridden, had been torn roughly off the upper part of the
body, and upon the broad chest had been slashed, with the point of a
sharp knife, these letters, MARIA.  The blood, now dark and coagulate,
had run a little, but there was not the least difficulty in making out
the name.  There were traces of the Italian and his horse about the
spot, and then the murderer's spoor led away northward.

Even with this sad and infernal discovery before us we were no nearer
the elucidation of this strange mystery.  Revenge seemed to be at the
bottom of it, but the reason of that revenge was absolutely hidden from
us.  We held a long council on the body, took what few trifles there
were upon it, Strangeways' watch, his hunting belt and knife, spurs, and
a silver bangle upon the wrist.  Then we buried him in that desolate
spot.  Our horses were already suffering from lack of water.  It was
madness to think of following the Italian, who would probably himself
perish of thirst.  We turned for our waggons, therefore, and with great
difficulty reached them late that night.  The next thing to do was to
report the murder and set the Border Police upon the affair.  This was
done as speedily as possible.  I remained with Halton for the space of a
month in the Bechuanaland Protectorate, hoping to hear of the Italian's
capture.  Nothing whatever was heard of him, however, and I resumed my
journey south, and returned to Europe.

For three years I heard--although I made repeated inquiries, and read
each week the few newspapers of Bechuanaland and Rhodesia--not a whisper
that would elucidate this incomprehensible tragedy.  Then, as I
travelled once more through Bechuanaland, the cloud suddenly lifted and
the mystery stood revealed.

Upon reaching Vryburg, the capital of British Bechuanaland, I found the
little town in a state of intense excitement.  The Italian, Rinaldi, had
been captured, after three years of a wandering life, far up-country; in
a trader's store, near the Zambesi.  He had been arrested and brought
down for trial.  Halton and other witnesses had been procured from
Matabeleland to give evidence against him.  But Rinaldi had not
attempted to escape the consequences of his crime; on the contrary, he
gloried in it, and had given in his broken English, in open court, his
version of the whole miserable business and its origin.  Briefly
condensed, this was his tale.

His name, he said, was Guiseppe Rinaldi, and he was a native of
Sardinia.  Nine years before, he had met Strangeways, who was then an
artist wandering through Sardinia.  Rinaldi himself was deeply attached
to Maria Poroni, a beautiful girl of his village, whom he hoped to
marry.  But he had to be away at his work at the lead mines, thirty
miles off, and only saw her occasionally.  Strangeways came on the
scene, became acquainted with Maria, had grown quickly infatuated with
her, and had persuaded her to leave the island with him.  After living
some months with her in various parts of Italy, he left her with a
certain sum of money in Rome, and finally abandoned her.  The poor girl
crept back home with a child, and died, a broken woman, two years later.
Rinaldi had known Strangeways and swore to take a terrible revenge if
occasion ever offered.  But he had no money.  Tired of poverty in
Sardinia, he went out to Argentina and from there drifted to South
Africa.  It was by the merest accident in the world that he had obtained
employment as a miner with the outfit going up from Cape Town to
Mashonaland.  And it was still more of an accident that he had seen
Strangeways' face at the camp fire that night at Boatlanama.  The rest
is briefly told.  He had crept across in the darkness and found that
Strangeways was not in his waggon.  At earliest dawn he had taken a
horse, provisions, water, and a rifle, and followed his spoor into the
desert.  Thanks to his life in the mountains of Sardinia, and his
experience of cattle ranching in the Argentine, he was an expert
tracker, and had no difficulty in following the trail.  He had come up
with Strangeways, whose horse had foundered, just at sundown.
Strangeways fired a shot, which grazed Rinaldi's ear.  Rinaldi's first
bullet brought his victim down and he had then finished him.  He had
scored the name MARIA upon the dead man's chest, covered him with thorns
that the mark of his vengeance might not be obliterated by the wild
beasts, and left him.  He had then escaped north and wandered to the
Zambesi.

Rinaldi's own end was a bloody one.  He broke prison the night before
his execution was to take place, was followed by mounted police into the
Kalahari, and, as he refused to surrender, was shot dead in the scuffle
that ensued.

To me, the strangest part of this tragedy lies in the fact that
Strangeways' death came to him, apparently, by the merest accident in
the world.  It is absolutely certain that Rinaldi had no knowledge
whatever--until he set eyes on him at the camp fire that night--of
Strangeways' presence in Africa.  Was it, indeed, pure chance--or was
it, in truth, the subtle machinery of a remorseless fate--that induced
him to take the desert road south, by Boatlanama?  It was a still
stranger accident--apparently--by which the mining party took the wrong
route north, and trekked by the same westerly road upon which the two
men had met.  Accident--or inexorable retribution?  That is a question I
often ask myself.

CHAPTER ELEVEN.

QUEEN'S SERVICE.

It was nearly four o'clock in the afternoon of a desperately hot October
day, 1899, in British Bechuanaland.  The rains, although close at hand,
had not yet fallen.  For the last twenty-four hours the weather had been
of that peculiarly oppressive kind, familiar in South Africa towards the
end of the dry season.  The wind came from the heated north-west, laden
with the parched breath of a thousand miles of sun-scorched plains.
Yet, strangely enough, around the little English farmstead on the
Setlagoli River, the low forests of camelthorn acacia were, although
untouched by moisture, already putting forth greenery and fresh
leafage--even at this dire time of drought--against the coming of the
rains.

May Felton, a pleasant looking, brown-eyed girl of nineteen, came out on
the shadier side of the square, low, grass-thatched house, and stood
beneath the shelter of the veranda, her face held up a little towards
the air.  She had come out for the third time within the hour to see if
some faint breath of fresher atmosphere might not be detected towards
sundown from out of that withering north-west breeze.  Alas, there was
none!  It meant, then, another night of stifling discomfort within
doors.  The climate of this part of Bechuanaland is normally so clear,
so brilliant, and so exhilarating, save for the few weeks before the
summer rains, that this period of heat seems doubly trying to the
settlers.  May Felton sighed, and looked around.  She had a kettle on
the fire within doors, preparing against afternoon tea--a pleasant
thought in this depressing hour--and, meanwhile, looked about her for a
few minutes.  The place seemed very dull.  Her father and two brothers
had ridden off three days since, driving before them all their cattle
and goats, with the intention of placing the stock as far as possible
out of the reach of the Transvaal and Free State Boers, just then
raiding and free-booting across the border.  Vryburg, some fifty miles
south, was practically defenceless, and lay, too, in the midst of a
Dutch farming population, already more than disaffected towards the
British Government.  Mafeking, forty or fifty miles to the north, thanks
to Baden-Powell's energy and military talent, was in a good state of
defence, but was already practically invested by a strong Boer Commando.

May's father, John Felton, was well known and liked by many of the Dutch
farmers on either side of the border.  But in the time of war and
stress, which he saw close upon him, he knew well enough that friendly
feelings would speedily give place to racial hatred, plunder, and
marauding.  He had, therefore, carried off all his stock, with the
intention of putting them as far as possible beyond the grasp of raiding
Dutchmen, at a remote run on the edge of the Kalahari, nearly a hundred
miles away to the westward.  This ranch belonged to an English
Afrikander friend of his, and he had every hope that there his cattle--a
goodly herd--and some hundreds of goats might be safe.

May looked round rather disconsolately upon the hot quiet landscape.
The acacia groves which girdled in the little homestead, behind the dry
river-bed, showed small signs of life.  A grotesque hornbill sat in a
tree near, gasping under the heat, as these birds do, occasionally
opening its huge bill, crying "toc-toc," in a curious yelping tone,
opening its wings restlessly as if for air, and lowering its head.  In a
bush, on the left hand, a beautiful crimson-breasted shrike occasionally
uttered a clear ringing note.  Two hundred yards away, a scattered troop
of wild guinea-fowl, returning to the last remaining pool in the now
parched and sandy river-bed, after a day of digging for bulbs in the
woodlands, were calling to one another, with harsh metallic notes, "Come
back!  Come back!  Come back!"

May looked at the absurd hornbill, with its long yellow beak, and smiled
faintly.  Just at that moment it seemed almost as much exertion as she
felt capable of in the withering heat.  She leaned against one of the
posts supporting the veranda, her slim, shapely form expressing in its
listless attitude the relaxation of that melancholy hour.  For two or
three minutes she stood thus listlessly, then, remembering the kettle
boiling within doors, bestirred herself and turned away.  Just at that
moment there came a faint cry from among the camelthorn trees on the
right of the homestead.  It sounded strangely like a man's voice.  She
stood listening intently.  In ten seconds the cry came again; this time
it seemed more faint.

The girl threw off her langour upon the instant.  "Seleti!" she cried,
in a clear ringing voice, "Seleti, _Tlokwaan_!"  (come here).

In two minutes Seleti, a Bechuana youth, clad in a ragged flannel shirt
and a pair of his master's discarded riding breeches, came shuffling
round.  She spoke to him in Sechuana.

"Seleti," she said, "I heard some one calling in the trees there not
very far away.  Go and look.  Straight beyond that biggest tree there!"

The lad went off, walked two hundred yards into the woodland, becoming
lost amid the timber, and then his voice sounded back towards the house.

"Missie May!  Missie May!  Here is Engelsman.  Come quick."  Snatching
up a broad-brimmed straw hat from within doors, the girl went quickly in
Seleti's direction.  In less than three minutes she was by his side,
among the trees and tall grass, leaning over the body of a young
sunburnt Englishman, which the Bechuana supported in his arms.  The man
had no coat on, and May Felton saw at once, from the blood-stained
flannel shirt, that he was badly wounded, he looked just now so lifeless
that he might well be dead; yet the girl remembered that only a few
minutes before she had heard him call.  She had plenty of courage, and,
young as she was, in that rough farming life amid the wilderness she was
accustomed, as a matter of course, to many things that a girl at home
would shrink from.

As she looked intently at the inert figure before her, she noted that
the man still breathed; once he groaned very softly.  There was nothing
for it but to pick him up and carry him to the house.  It was a heavy
task, but with May carrying him by the legs and Seleti supporting him
under the arms, they managed, with great exertion, to get him to the
stoep.

There they laid him down for a moment, while May ran indoors and fetched
out her mother.

As they came out to the stoep, bearing brandy and water, it was apparent
that the young man's wound had broken out afresh.  Blood was slowly
soaking through the already blood-soddened shirt, and silently forming a
pool on the stone flooring.  There was no time to be lost.  They got him
to bed and washed and bound up his wound.  A bullet had gone right
through the shoulder, making clear ingress and egress, but cutting some
vein in its passage, and he had lost evidently quite as much blood as he
could afford.  Then they gave him brandy and water, and presently he
came round from his long faint.  When he had had some soup and a little
bread later on, he was able to tell them something of his tale.

His name was James Harlow.  He was a Volunteer under Lieutenant Nesbitt,
in an expedition in an armoured train, which had been turned over and
shelled at Kraaipan, on the border, some twenty miles away.  After
keeping the attacking Boers at bay for several hours, things began to
look queer for the small British party.  Nesbitt and a number of his men
were wounded, the Dutch were creeping up.

Nesbitt had a letter which he wanted delivered somehow at Vryburg.  It
was urgent, and he gave it to Harlow to get away with and carry somehow
to its destination.  Harlow crept away through the grass, but, just as
he thought he was getting out of range, and raised himself for a moment
to reconnoitre, a bullet pierced his left shoulder and laid him in the
dust.  He rose presently and crawled on.  Out of sight of the Boer
fighting men, he had got to his feet, and, notwithstanding his wound,
walked westward.  A friendly native had given him a lift for twelve or
fourteen miles on a led horse, but, towards sundown, having sighted
three or four mounted men, had become alarmed and abandoned him.  After
a miserable night, he had crept about--sometimes walking feebly,
sometimes moving on hands and knees--all that blazing day, trying to
find some house or farmstead.  No water or food had touched his lips.
Towards evening, just as he had given up all hope, and sunk down
despairingly, he had set eyes on the Feltons' homestead through the
trees.  His last remaining strength was ebbing from him--his
consciousness failing; but he raised two feeble shouts and then fell
senseless.  The rest May and her mother knew.

"And now," said the poor fellow, with a painful grin at his own
weakness, "how am I to get my dispatch down to Vryburg?  Somehow Mr
Tillard, the resident magistrate there, must have that letter by
to-morrow evening.  I know it's important I doubt if I can ride
to-morrow.  What's to be done?"

"Certainly you can't ride to-morrow; you couldn't sit a horse if you
tried; so don't think about it," said May, decidedly.  "I scarcely know
what's to be done.  Our two native boys are poor, trembling creatures,
scared at the mention of a Boer.  I'll go myself.  It's barely fifty
miles from here, and I know the road well."

"My dear May," put in her mother.  "You couldn't think of such a thing.
Why you might be stopped by Boers.  It's quite possible they will be
holding the old road by this time.  I can't have you go, really!"

"My dear mother," returned the girl, with a bright look in her dancing
brown eyes.  "I _must_ go.  This letter has to be delivered.  It is
probably of the greatest importance, and may even mean the safety of
Vryburg.  You and father pride yourselves on being loyal subjects of the
Queen.  You wouldn't have me hold back from so small a piece of service.
Why I can ride the distance easily on `Rocket' in eight hours, allowing
for off-saddles."

May was a girl accustomed to having her own way in the Feltons'
household, and so, with a sigh and a protest, her mother gave in and the
thing was settled.

At sunrise next morning, after looking in on the wounded trooper, who
had had a feverish night, May, kissing her mother tenderly, mounted her
chestnut pony and rode off.  The precious dispatch, stained with
Harlow's blood, she had neatly sewn up in the inner part of her stays.
She carried with her in her saddle-bag some sandwiches, another letter,
requesting the Vryburg doctor to come up and see the wounded trooper,
and a water bottle full of limejuice and water hung from her saddle.
Pulling her broad-brimmed felt hat over her eyes, the girl cantered off
and was soon lost to view amid the woodlands.

She struck, in the first instance, by a rough track across country, for
the old post-road, running south from Setlagoli to Vryburg.  Her good
pony sped along with free elastic strides, and at a steady pace they
reeled off mile after mile.  It was hot, but not so oppressive as the
day before.  Presently, cutting the old road, they pushed steadily on
beneath that aching void of sky above them--a sky of brass with just a
suspicion of palest blue far up in the zenith.  Fifteen miles were
traversed and they stood at Jackal's Pan, a lonely little oasis on the
road, where they could off-saddle, and the horse could be watered.

Half an hour's rest, and then on again.  The blazing ride now became
infinitely monotonous.  From Jackal's Pan to the next stopping place,
Monjana Mabeli, the flat veldt road runs alongside the telegraph wires.
How sick May became of that gaunt, unending line of posts stretching
before her.  She counted them--seventeen to the mile they went--oh! how
often! and then hated herself for having counted them.

No sign of life cheered her ride, save now and again a desert lark,
which rose suddenly from the grass, clapping its wings loudly, for
twenty or thirty feet, uttered an odd, sustained, single note, and sank
to earth again.  May felt grateful even to the dull, speckled brown lark
for its presence; anything to break that wearisome monotony.  Even her
good pony, "Rocket," seemed to feel the isolation, the endless void of
that mighty grass plain.  He seemed depressed and dull.  Still when his
mistress spoke to him and patted his neck, he pricked his ears gaily,
shook his bit, and reached out with never tiring stride.

At last! at last!  May sighted in the distance the twin, rounded hills
of Monjana Mabeli, and in another three quarters of an hour had ridden
up to the farmhouse.  Three waggons were outspanned there, and, before
she could realise her danger, the girl found herself in the centre of a
little knot of the Boers of the district, on their way to welcome their
brethren of the Transvaal, now raiding across the border.  A quarter of
a mile away she had some thought of turning from the road to avoid the
outspan and its risks, but it was too late.  She saw that she was
watched, that mounted men were ready for a pursuit, and so she judged it
better to go boldly on.  The leader of the band interrogated her as to
her business.  She produced her letter to the Vryburg doctor and stated
her mission.  Her story was evidently only half believed, and she was
requested to step into the farmhouse and submit to be searched by the
Commandant's wife, a grim-looking Boer woman, who seemed quite in
earnest over her task.  The door of the inner room being shut and
locked, May made the best of a hateful business, and, taking off some of
her things, let the woman search her.  She could have struck with her
clenched fist that dull, emotionless face so close to hers, had she
dared, but it would not do.  Neither would it do to appear backward.
Boldness might save her.  She slipped off her stays and carelessly
offered them for the woman's inspection.  The woman looked at them,
turned them over, and handed them back.  The girl's heart, which had
stood still for a thrilling second or two, beat easily again.  She had
triumphed.  The missive, so cunningly hidden within her stays, still
reposed snugly in its hiding-place.  Her wonderfully neat sewing had
passed muster.  She was safe--safe, that is, if she could get away.  The
search was at length over, and the Vrouw Erasmus, in a grumbling way,
expressed herself satisfied.  As she buttoned the last button of her
holland riding bodice, May turned, with flashing eyes, upon her
tormentor.  She spoke Cape Dutch fluently and her words told.

"I shall not forget your insulting search, Mevrouw Erasmus," she said,
"as long as I live.  I know quite well who you are and where you come
from.  You have made a big mistake.  You think your people are going to
get the best of this war.  You know nothing about the strength of
England.  You don't know, and I suppose you won't believe until it is
too late, that the Queen of England will send out ten thousand men after
ten thousand, until your insolent attack is beaten down and put an end
to.  When it is all over," she went on, in more cutting tones, "you will
look very foolish.  You and your husband will lose your good farm here
in Bechuanaland, and what will you do then?  Instead of being prosperous
on your own farm, under a good Government, you will become mere wretched
Trek Boers, without a morgen of land you can call your own.  You really
ought to be ashamed of yourselves, coming out to fight against a
Government, which, here in British Bechuanaland, has done nothing but
good for you!"

The girl had better have held her tongue.  Vrouw Erasmus was mad, her
huge, pallid face was flushed to a deep crimson.

"You schepsel!" she cried, "to speak to me, the wife of a good burgher,
like that!  I have a mind to take a sjambok to you.  You shall stay in
this house no longer.  This is my man's farm now.  You English never had
a right in the country, and the Burghers will in future enjoy the land.
Go you out, and sit there under the waggon shade, and keep a civil
tongue in your head!"

May was more than pleased; she had no wish at all to remain indoors.
She walked out to the nearest waggon, found her saddle, took her
sandwiches from the saddle-bag, and, with the help of her limejuice and
water, made a good lunch.

Meanwhile Vrouw Erasmus went up to her husband, who with the rest of the
Dutch farmers was saddling up for some expedition, and spoke earnestly
to him.  She was evidently impressing commands, for in a minute or two
he came up to May and told her she was not to go for the present.  She
would stay at the waggons till evening, when he and some of his men
would be back.  Then he would see what should be done with her.  May
protested, but unavailingly, and the big Dutchman moved away, mounted
his horse, and rode off with the rest of the Boers waiting for him.

In spite of her practical duress, there were two little gleams of
satisfaction radiating in the mind of the English girl.  One of these
arose from the fact that there was not a single Dutchman left at the
camp; the other for the reason that she saw an instrument of release
lying almost ready to her hand.  When Commandant Erasmus had taken down
his Mauser rifle from the inside of the waggon just in front of her, she
noted that he had left another weapon hanging on its hooks.  From the
same hooks depended a bandolier, well filled with cartridges.  There was
only one doubt in her mind.  Did those cartridges fit the Martini-Henry
carbine hanging there?  She was a courageous girl, quick-witted, and
knowing her own mind.  If the cartridges were right, she meant to make a
bold stroke for freedom.

For half an hour she sat there, demurely enough, in the shade of the
waggon, now keeping an eye on the retreating forms of the Boer horsemen
disappearing westward, now looking at the grim, massive Boer woman
sitting under the shelter of a waggon sail on the far side of her
husband's waggon.  At length the last Dutchman's head had vanished in
the warm distance.

It was very hot, and Vrouw Erasmus, sitting guard there over the English
girl, palpably dozed at her post.  She had lately dined, and she was in
the habit of sleeping after the mid-day meal.  Her eyes closed.  May
rose, crept to the waggon, climbed softly to the box; in another second
she had taken down the carbine from its hooks, slung the bandolier over
her shoulder, opened the breech of the weapon and pushed in a cartridge.
Thank Heaven it fitted!  She was safe!  The click of the breech action
roused the sleeping woman.  She opened her eyes, looked across to the
other waggons, her prisoner was gone!  She rose hastily, came forward,
and there, on the voor-kist of her own waggon was this terrible English
girl, pointing her husband's carbine at her.  She retreated a few paces
at the apparition.

"Now, Mevrouw Erasmus," said May, smilingly, in Dutch, "it is my turn.
See, this carbine is loaded,"--she opened the breech, took out the
cartridge and replaced it, and snapped the action to again.  "I know how
to use a rifle, and I mean to shoot if you try to hinder me.  Your
`boys' are all away in the veldt with the trek oxen.  I heard your man
say so.  I know there is only that one Griqua lad about, and I am not
afraid of him.  Remember, I shoot if I am interfered with."

The woman was paralysed at the audacity of her prisoner.  She could do
nothing.  She looked across the empty plain and then at the ragged
Griqua herd lad, sitting there on his heels at the ashes of the fire,
scraping out a cooking pot with a piece of wood, and grinning at the mad
English girl, and she found no help.  There was not another gun handy;
nor, if there were, did she know whether, with this formidable,
accursed, well-armed girl, she or the boy would dare to lay hold of it.
She muttered something very unpleasant between her teeth, and then spoke
aloud, in her sourest tones, to May Felton.

"Have your own way," she said, "I cannot prevent you.  What do you
want?"

"I mean to saddle up and be off," returned May, in her most angelic
voice, "I know, dear Mevrouw Erasmus, that you hate English company, and
as I don't approve of your husband having so many weapons about him in
these troublous times, I am going to take this rifle and these
cartridges with me.  They belong fairly--considering that your man is
playing a traitor's game--to the British Government."

Vrouw Erasmus took a step forward, as if she would have made for the
girl, but, as May raised her weapon, thought better of it.  Once in her
huge arms, she could have easily mastered the girl, but the risk was too
great.

"If you take the gun," she said, threateningly, "it is stealing, and if
we catch you again we shall try you under Transvaal law.  We are all
Transvaalers now, or shall be directly," she added, triumphantly.

"There you are quite wrong, dear mevrouw," returned May, in her sweetest
tones.  "Now if you had behaved nicely and politely, as I know you can
do, I might, yes, really, I think I might have returned the gun.  But
you know perfectly well that it is fairly forfeited, and I shall hand it
over to the resident magistrate at Vryburg."

Vrouw Erasmus ground her teeth again, shook her head, and growled
dissent.  How she hated this bantering English girl.

"Now, mevrouw," pursued May, "if you will seat yourself nicely under the
tent-sail there, and if your boy remains quietly where he is, I shall do
you no injury."

The vrouw sat down heavily on her waggon chair, with an air of gloomy
resignation.  There was nothing to be done.  May went to her pony, which
stood tied up to the waggon wheel, and still holding her carbine and
keeping a watchful eye on her two guardians, picked up her saddle,
adjusted it, girthed up, and put on the bridle.  Then she mounted and
rode off at a smart canter.

"Farewell, dear Mevrouw Erasmus," she cried as she went.  "We'll take
great care of the carbine; don't forget to give my compliments to your
husband."

The Boer woman waited till she had gone a hundred yards or more, and
then roused the Griqua lad.  "Get a rifle and cartridges," she cried,
pointing to the house.  "Indoors, yonder.  Quick, you schelm!"

The lad rose and went indoors, none too willingly, and brought out a
sporting rifle and a cartridge belt.

"Put in a cartridge and shoot, you fool," shrieked the enraged vrouw,
pointing to the retreating figure.  "Hit the horse!  Hit the girl; stop
them somehow!"  The Griqua lad put in a cartridge and raised the rifle.
The girl was now two hundred and fifty yards away, galloping fast.

"No, mevrouw," he said, lowering the gun again, "you can sjambok me, but
I can't fire.  If I hit her, it's murder, and I daren't do it."

Speechless almost with rage, the woman struck him in the face with her
hand.

"You dog," she shouted.  "By the Almighty, you shall suffer for this."

Meanwhile May Felton was speeding along over the eighteen miles of veldt
road that led her to Vryburg and comparative safety.  (It was before
Vryburg had been surrendered.)  She galloped it in one piece, and,
thanks to her good pony, compassed the distance in rather more than two
hours, having ridden close on fifty miles since dawn.

Arrived at Vryburg, she delivered her dispatch, together with the
captured rifle and cartridges, to the resident magistrate, receiving his
hearty congratulations in return.  Next day, accompanied by the doctor,
and a couple of policemen, she started for home again.  Making a long
detour, and avoiding Monjana Mabeli, they reached her father's homestead
just at sunset.

CHAPTER TWELVE.

A TRANSVAAL MORNING.

They were sitting by a big camp fire, close to the junction of the
Marico and Crocodile Rivers--on the Bechuanaland side, where the old
trade road to the interior runs--a motley and yet very interesting
gathering of hunters, transport riders, and traders, and as usual they
had been yarning.  It was nearing Christmas, 1891; the weather was
waxing very hot, and the night was so warm that even the oldest man of
the party, "old John Blakeman," easily to be recognised by his white
head and grizzled beard, sat in his flannel shirt, without a coat, his
sleeves rolled up, his brawny, sunburnt arms folded across his chest.
The night was very still; scarcely an air of wind stirred; occasionally
a kiewitje plover uttered its mournful, chiding cry; the not unmusical
croak of frogs was heard, bubbling softly from a swamp a little way off;
these, with an occasional cough from the trek oxen, as they lay
peacefully at their yokes, were the only sounds that here broke the
outer silence of the veldt.  Tales of adventure are a never failing
source of interest at these fireside gatherings, and a number of hunting
stories, more or less well-founded, had been trotted out.  A somewhat
assertive up-country trader, lately returned from the Ngami region, had
just finished a highly-coloured narrative, in which a couple of lions
had been easily vanquished.  According to his theory these great
carnivora are as readily bagged as wild duck at a vlei.

"That's all very well," rejoined old John Blakeman, taking his pipe from
his mouth and a pull at his beaker of whiskey and water.  "You may have
had a stroke of luck, Heyford, and killed a brace of 'em without much
trouble or danger, but in my judgment lions are not to be played with.
A hungry lion, and more especially a starved, worn-out old `mannikie,'
who can't kill his natural food properly, is, on a dark, stormy night,
the most dangerous, cruel, and persistent beast in Africa--the very
devil incarnate.  Guns and gunners have a good deal tamed the
extraordinary boldness of lions in the last thirty years.  I can
remember the time when they killed cattle, ay, and even Kaffirs, in this
very country where you now sit, in open daylight.  Why!  Katrina Visser,
wife of a Marico Boer, lost her child, a lad of six years old, by a
lion, in broad daylight, killed at four o'clock in the afternoon, within
fifty yards of her door.  That happened four and thirty years ago, in
1857, in the Marico country, within less than sixty miles of this very
outspan.  I remember it but too well.  The following morning, which
happened to be Easter Day, was one of the saddest and at the same time
the most exciting I ever experienced."

"Tell us the yarn, John," clamoured a number of voices together.  "Yours
are always worth listening to."

"Well, lads," went on the stout old fellow, filling his pipe and
relighting it with much care and deliberation from a smouldering ember,
"it's a long story, but I'll cut it as short as possible.  It happened
in this way.  I began trading up here in the early fifties.  In those
days, as you know, and a good deal later, it was a long and serious
business, and each trip always spoilt a year.  We used to trek up
through Natal, climb the Drakensberg, then cross the Free State plains--
there was plenty of game there in those days--and, looking in at Mooi
River Dorp--Potchefstrom, as we call it now--pass on through Marico.  I
hunted as well as traded in those days and knew very well all the Marico
Boers, with some of whom I sometimes joined forces.  They were a rough
but very hospitable lot of fellows, and some of them--Jan Viljoen,
Marthinus Swartz, Frans Joubert, and others--some of the finest shots
and pluckiest hunters in the world.  I hunted elephants towards the Lake
for two seasons with Gerrit Visser, husband of Katrina, the woman I'm
going to tell you about.  They lived in a rough `hartebeest house' of
wattle and reeds in a magnificent kloof on a tributary of the Marico.
Well, in '57, Gerrit and I met, as we had arranged, at one of the
farmhouses near the Barolong border, prepared for a big trip towards the
Tamalakan River.

"I got on, as I say, very well with the Dutch frontier fanners; my
trading goods were very acceptable to the `vrouws' and `meisjes,' and
the owner of the farm where I was outspanned kept open house during the
week I was there.  What with shooting gear and clothing for the men, and
sugar, coffee, groceries, and trinkets, stuffs, and prints for the
women, I offloaded a good part of my trading outfit while outspanned at
this place, and did, as usual, a rattling good business.  We had no end
of junketing.  Dances, dust, and liquor at night, and horse-racing and
target-shooting in the day time.  The bottles seemed always on the
table, but these Dutchmen are pretty hard headed, and there was some
tall shooting in spite of the festivities.  Jan Viljoen, who had trekked
with his wife from the Knysna, in Cape Colony, towards the end of the
thirties, and had fought against Sir Harry Smith at Boomplaats in 1848,
was, with Marthinus Swartz, about the best of a rare good lot of rifle
shots.  We shot usually at a yokeskey or a bottle at one hundred and one
hundred and fifty yards, and then Viljoen would call for an Eau de
Cologne flask, standing little higher than a wine-glass, and we blazed
at that I was pretty good with the gun in those days, but two or three
of the Marico Boers usually got the best of me.

"Well, after a week of this kind of thing, the trading was finished and
I had had enough of Dutch festivities, and so Genit Visser and I trekked
for the Bamangwato stadt, where Machen, Khama's uncle, was then chief.
Here I traded for another week, and then Gerrit and I set our faces for
the north-west, crossed the Thirstland, and trekked along the north bank
of the Lake River.  We got plenty of giraffe, gemsbuck, eland,
hartebeest, blue wildebeest, springbok, zebra, and so on, for the first
month; and along the Botletli we killed some sea-cows and buffaloes,
which swarmed in those days.  But we had no luck with elephants till we
struck the Tamalakan River.  Here and along the Mababi, and from there
towards the Chobi River, we did very well, bagging in four months'
hunting between sixty and seventy elephants, many of them carrying
immense teeth.  Towards the Chobi, where very few guns had at that time
been heard, we had remarkable sport.  We shot also a number of
rhinoceros, some of them, the `wit rhenosters' [white rhinoceros], with
magnificent forehorns.  Altogether we had a fine season, one of the very
best I ever remember.  But it was desperately hard work; the bush was
awful; water was often very scarce; and every tusk we got was, I can
tell you, hardly earned.  Lions were sometimes very troublesome.  We
lost a horse and two oxen by them and had some nasty adventures
ourselves.

"When we reached the Chobi River, I never saw anything like the herds of
buffalo.  There were thousands of them.  Sometimes you might see a troop
as thick as goats in a kraal.  We shot eighty buffaloes on this trip,
and might have got any quantity more.  I had my best hunting nag killed
under me by an old wounded bull, and should have been done for myself
but for Visser, who came up in the very nick of time, and shot the brute
as I lay on the ground almost under his horns.  I was so bitten with the
life of the veldt and the wandering fever in those days that I should
have liked to have stayed out another year and pushed far up the Chobi,
which was then as now little explored.  After the parched Thirstlands we
had come through, the river with its broad blue waters, its refreshing
breezes, its palm islands, and the astounding wealth, not only of heavy
game, but of bird life, that crowded its banks and islets, seemed a very
paradise on earth.  Even Gerrit Visser, as stolid, matter-of-fact a
Dutchman as you should meet in South Africa, was struck by the
marvellous beauty of the river scenery.

"But Gerrit hated punting about in the wobbly, crank, dug-out canoes, in
which the natives took us from one island to another; and, for him, half
the fun of the hunting was spoiled by the navigation necessary to obtain
it.  And so, very reluctantly on my part, we made our way back to the
waggons, which had been standing for weeks outspanned on the southern
bank of the river, in charge of our men.  It was now December, the
weather had become very hot, and Gerrit was fretting and fuming all the
time to get back home--`huis-to' (to the house), as a Boer would say.
The worst of hunting with these married Dutchmen is that, after about
six months in the veldt, away from their wives and `kinder,' they are
always fidgetting to be off home again.  There never were such uxorious
chaps in this world, I do believe.  Get a Britisher, married though he
be, once away in the veldt, and the passion for travel and adventure
fairly lays hold of him--it's in the blood--and he'll stay out with you,
knocking about, for a couple of years if you like.  Look at Livingstone!
Fond though he was of his wife and children, the wandering fever, the
`trek-geist,' as a Boer would call it, was too much for him, and he was
latterly away from wife and children and home for years at a time.  And
so Gerrit Visser and I set our faces `huis-to,' and trekked for Marico
again.

"We had a long and hard spell of travel across the `thirst,' and reached
the Transvaal as lean as crows ourselves, and with our oxen, horses, and
dogs mere bags of bones.  Nothing would content Gerrit but I should go
with him to his place, Water Kloof, and spend Easter there.  Pushing our
jaded spans along as fast as possible, and travelling from Easter Eve
all through the night, Gerrit and I mounted our horses at daybreak and
cantered on ahead of the waggons to rouse the vrouw and have breakfast.
It was a most glorious sunrise as we entered the shallow valley, known
as Water Kloof.  There had been recent rains; the valley was carpeted
with fresh grass and littered with wild flowers; the bush was green and
fragrant; and the little clear stream that ran to join the Marico River,
rippled merrily along at our feet.  The mealie gardens were thriving
magnificently, and the whole place looked as fair and prosperous as a
man could wish to see.  Gerrit was in the highest spirits.  `Man,' he
said to me, as we rode up to the rough wattle and daub house, thatched
with reeds, `it is a good farm this, and I shall give up
elephant-hunting, build a good stone house here, and settle down.  Look
at the fruit trees,'--pointing to a charming green grove below the
house--`in two years' time the oranges will be in full bearing.
Allemaghte!  It is too good a "plaats" (farm) to leave so long, this.'

"We rode up to the house very quietly.  Gerrit wanted to surprise his
wife.  Not a soul stirred.  It was now `sun-up.'  I was astonished that
no one was moving.  We dismounted, threw our bridles over the nags'
heads, and approached the house.  `Katrina!' shouted Gerrit in a cheery
voice, `Katrina!  Beter laat dan nooit.  Hier is ekke en Jan Blakeman.'
(Katrina!  Better late than never.  Here am I and John Blakeman.)  As we
approached the door we heard at last some one stirring inside.  The
latch clicked, the door opened back, and Katrina Visser appeared, not
cheerful and full of joy, and with little Hendrik, the child, by her
side, as we had expected, but with hair dishevelled, cheeks soddened
with tears, black shadows beneath her eyes, and the eyes themselves red
and bloodshot with long weeping.  She threw herself with a sob on
Gerrit's breast, and burst afresh into an agony of tears.  `You are too
late, Gerrit, too late,' she sobbed forth at last.  `The lion killed
little Hendrik yesterday afternoon, and he lies there dead in the
house.'  I could not help looking at Visser's face at this moment.  He
had turned deadly white.  He swayed.  I thought for the moment he must
have fallen.  `Oh, God!' he cried, `it cannot be true, wife.'  The woman
felt instinctively that the blow was almost too grievous and too sudden
for her husband.  Her own grief was put aside for the moment.  She
released herself, kissed her man tenderly, and took his hand.  `Come
inside, Gerrit,' she said softly, through her tears, `and see all that
remains of our poor little Hendrik.'  She turned to me.  `Come you, too,
Jan Blakeman,'--as she always called me--`You were always a favourite of
the child.'  It was true.  I was very fond of the merry, little
yellow-headed chap; and had always some sweetstuff and other treasure at
my waggon for him.  He and I were the best of friends.

"I followed them softly into the rude dwelling, now a chamber of death.
Katrina led her husband to the wooden couch in the corner.  There lay
the poor little chap, his once warm face, so fresh and ruddy, now cold,
and marble white, his prattling mouth for ever hushed.  A blanket
covered the body, but the little hands had been laid outside.  One of
them, I noticed, had been terribly clawed by the lion.  The poor mother
had washed it, and the deep crimson gashes and scorings of the cruel
claws showed very plainly.  I suppose the poor little six-year-old child
had made some effort for his life, and the fierce brute had resented it.
The mother began to draw aside the blanket and show her husband the
deadly wounds.  Gerrit's great frame was now racked with irrepressible
sobs.  I could witness their mutual agony no longer, and crept out.  At
the back of the house I came upon a Hottentot servant, who told me the
story of the tragedy.  The Marico country had by this time (1857) been
fairly well cleared of lions, but stragglers occasionally wandered in
from the wilder parts of the Transvaal, and a pair--lion and lioness--
had been spoored up the Marico River quite lately.

"No danger, except to the cattle and goats, was, however, anticipated;
the kraals had been duly strengthened, and two or three neighbouring
Boers were shortly coming down to shoot the marauders.  On the afternoon
of the previous day little Hendrik had been playing by the stream not
fifty yards from the house.  Suddenly screams were heard; the Hottentot,
his mistress, and a Kaffir rushed forth, and a big yellow-maned lion was
seen dragging the poor little fellow by the middle into some jungle
which grew alongside the water.  The shouts and cries of the three as
they rushed down towards the brute, and probably the report of the gun
which Cobus, the Hottentot, had picked up from the house and loosed off
as he ran, had driven off the brute, but too late.  The child had been
terribly bitten, right through the loins, and died in his mother's arms
almost before they reached the house again.

"Well, the long and short of the story was this.  Nothing would satisfy
Katrina but that her husband and I should follow up the lion and lake
revenge for the murder of the poor child.  Gerrit and I were nothing
loth, and after a mouthful of bread and some coffee we went down to the
stream and took up the spoor.  Gerrit and I each carried our rides,
Cobus, the Hottentot, had a smooth-bore `roer,' and Katrina, who
insisted on coming with us, brought an old flint and steel horse pistol,
which she had loaded up.  We spoored the lion for half a mile down the
river to a piece of dense jungle, where it had lain up over the remains
of a small buck, which it had killed, probably on the previous evening.
It was a nasty place, but we had dogs, and presently the brute was
roused.  He showed himself once and Gerrit got a snapshot, which, as we
subsequently discovered, wounded him only slightly--just sufficiently to
render him really savage.  Again the dogs went in and bayed the brute.
This time the bush was more open.  As a rule the Boers, good shots as
they are, are extremely cautious about tackling a lion in covert.  But
Gerrit's blood was up.  He meant to avenge his child, and he went at
once towards the sound.  I was running round to assist, when I heard a
report, a dull thud, and then renewed barking and fierce deep growls.  I
ran through the open jungle.  Katrina Visser, her pistol at full cock,
was close behind.  We turned an angle of the bush, and there in an open
glade lay Gerrit, motionless beneath the paws of the lion, which half
squatted, half stood over him.  At a respectable distance beyond, half a
dozen big dogs dashed hither and thither, yelping furiously.  The lion's
teeth were bared, and, as he caught sight of us, his tail, which had
been waving from flank to flank, suddenly stiffened up behind him.  I
knew that signal too well, and, as Katrina cried `schiet! schiet!'
(shoot! shoot!), I fired.  The bullet entered the fierce brute's chest,
raked his heart and lungs, and he sank quietly upon the instant, dead
upon the body of Visser.  Calling up the Hottentot, we dragged the
lion's body from off the Boer.  The instant I saw Gerrit's face I knew
all was over.  It was very clear what had happened.  The lion had sprung
upon him unawares.  He had missed his shot, and with one blow of its
fore-paw the brute had slain the big strong Dutchman.  The right part of
the skull was literally smashed in.  Well, strangely enough, Katrina
Visser was not so overcome by this horrible event as I had expected.  I
think the doubling of the horror of the previous evening had been too
much for her, and had numbed something of her feelings.  She was
extraordinarily calm, and throughout the next four and twenty dreadful
hours bore herself wonderfully.  We buried poor Gerrit and his little
lad next day under a thorn tree a trifle to the west of the farmstead
and fenced the place in strongly.  Few Dutchmen, as you know, are ever
buried in consecrated ground in South Africa.  It is seldom possible
up-country.

"That's practically the whole of the melancholy yarn.  Katrina married
again a few years later.  Dutch women seldom remain widows very long.
But she was never quite the same woman again, after that terrible Easter
time.  She still lives at Water Kloof.  I saw her only last year.  Her
hair, like mine, is very grey, and she has a second family growing
around her.  She likes me to look round for a chat if I am ever in
Marico, and so, for old acquaintance sake, I usually outspan for a day
if I am anywhere near Water Kloof.

"Well, you fellows," concluded the old trader, "that's the true story of
the saddest Easter morning I ever remember to have experienced or even
heard of.  Englishmen who come into this country scarcely, I think, make
sufficient allowance for what the Transvaal Dutch have gone through in
the conquest and settlement of their territory.  Few families there are
among the Boers but can tell you of some such experience as I have given
you to-night.  To my mind, it is scarcely wonderful that these people
cling so tightly to the soil on which so much of their best blood has
been spilt.  Good-night, all.  It's late and I must turn in."  And the
old fellow rose from the fire, knocked the ashes out of his pipe,
stretched himself, and climbed into his waggon.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN.

THE MYSTERY OF HARTEBEEST FONTEIN.

Upon a morning of early December in the year 1880, Arend Van Driel, the
Trek Boer, stood upon his waggon-box anxiously scanning the plains for
any sight of game.  Leaning upon the tilt and shading his eyes from the
already powerful sun, his feverish glance swept the great grass plains
for the faintest token of animal life.  Alas, it appeared that here the
veldt was deserted.  The big Dutchman's eyes ran fruitlessly over the
waste again and again, until they rested upon a little chain of brown
hills, just now rose-tinted by the flush of the early morning sun, but
nothing in the shape of a herd of game was to be seen.  With a deep sigh
the Boer climbed slowly down from the waggon and joined his family at
their miserable breakfast, by the remains of the overnight camp fire.
And, indeed, Arend Van Driel had good cause for dejection.

Two years before, he and his family had quitted the Transvaal with a
great body of Trek Boers, who had made up their minds to leave a country
upon which misrule and misfortune had long rested, and which now lay
beneath the hands of the hated British Government.  The misfortunes of
that ill-fated Trek have long since become historical in the annals of
the Transvaal Dutch.  Thirst, famine, fever and dysentery were soon busy
among the members of one of the most disastrous and ill-managed
expeditions ever known in South Africa.  The trek cattle perished by
hundreds in the Thirstlands of the Northern Kalahari, the flocks and
herds, left masterless, wandered and strayed, and disappeared by
thousands.  Along the rivers and swamps of Ngamiland and the Okavango,
sickness and suffering destroyed whole families.  The trek had set forth
with the highest and most exaggerated hopes, chiefly based upon the
gross ignorance of these misguided and fanatical farmers.  They moved
north-westward towards some unknown Land of Canaan, where, as they
fondly imagined, great snow mountains stood, where the veldt was always
rich and flourishing, where clear waters ran abundantly, and where the
wild game wandered as thick as sheep in a fold.  Some even believed, as
their fathers had believed, when they moved into the Transvaal country,
that somewhere in this new and unknown land, the great Nile river itself
would be found.  After more than two years of disastrous trekking, most
of these vain imaginings had been rudely dispelled, but still, their
faces set ever doggedly westward, these stubborn people toiled on.

During the expedition, the trekkers had necessarily become much
scattered; thus Arend Van Driel and his family stood alone this December
day of 1880 by a small pan of muddy water, where they had halted to
recruit their exhausted trek oxen and the two horses that remained to
them.  They had quitted the Transvaal with two hundred head of cattle
and six hundred sheep and goats.  These once thriving flocks and herds
were now represented by some two score of miserable sheep and goats,
mere bags of bones, which could scarcely drag one limb after another.
It was absolutely necessary to husband even these slender resources, and
Van Driel had therefore been anxiously surveying the surrounding veldt
for some herd of game from which he could secure a meal or two for his
starving family.  He now moved up to the camp fire with disappointment
written plainly upon his gaunt, sun-tanned and bearded face.  His wife
knelt in a ragged old stuff dress stirring some thin porridge of Kaffir
corn--their only present sustenance--in an iron pot.  She looked up from
underneath her sun-bonnet, and, catching the gloom upon her husband's
face, ejaculated, "Nie wilde, Arend?"  ("No game, Arend?") "Nie wilde,
nie," returned Arend disconsolately.  "I think the Lord means us to die
after all in this desert.  Cursed was the day we ever left the
Transvaal."  He sat himself down in the red sand by his children, after
they had been helped to a small plateful of porridge each, and took and
ate his own portion.  There were four children left to the Van Driels.
There had been seven when they quitted the Transvaal.  Three had died of
fever at Vogel Pan, a little to the south of the Okavango.  Of those
remaining, Hermannus, a big lad of fifteen, seemed fairly strong; the
other three, a boy and two girls, ranging from five to twelve, looked,
poor things, pale, weak and dispirited from fever, misery and
semi-starvation.  The clothes of all were tattered and ragged and hung
loosely about them.

The interior of the big waggon hard by looked very bare for a
Dutchman's.  But, as a matter of fact, almost all the little stock of
furniture and house gear had been perforce abandoned.  Ploughs, farming
implements, tables and chairs, and other impedimenta, all now lay in the
middle of that dire Thirstland between Khama's and the Botletli River,
where they had long since been cast away to lighten the load.  Even the
very waggon chairs--dear to every Boer--had been thrown away.
Hermannus, the eldest lad, was the first to finish that meagre breakfast
of ground millet, boiled in water.  He now rose and in his turn climbed
to the waggon and took a survey over the country.  Suddenly an
exclamation broke from his lips.  "Father, there's game half a mile
away, just moving from behind that patch of bush.  I think they are
hartebeest."

The stolid, melancholy-looking Boer was roused in an instant from his
apathy.  He climbed quickly to the waggon, and in his turn gazed
intently at the game.  "Yes, that's right enough, Hermannus," he said;
"they're hartebeest--they must have slept behind those bushes last
night--and they're coming straight this way.  Ah! see, they have got our
wind."  Even as he spoke the troop of game, some thirty in number,
suddenly halted, turned in their tracks, and cantered in that heavy,
loping fashion, which these fleet antelopes adopt in their slower paces,
towards the heart of the plain.

Calling to the two Kaffir servants still remaining to him to bring in
the horses, just now feeding, knee-haltered, upon the veldt a hundred
yards away, Van Driel and his son looked to their saddles and bridles,
filled a water bottle, reached down their Westley-Richards rifles and
bandoliers from the waggon hooks, and buckled on a rusty spur apiece.

"We shall be back before sunset, wife," said Van Driel.  "I think, after
all, the Heer God means us to have a right good dinner."  And so,
mounting, he rode off with Hermannus.

"The Heer God be with you both," echoed Vrouw Van Driel, "and may you
bring meat--we want it badly enough."  The three younger children cried
luck after their father and brother, and waved their hands, and so,
watching the horsemen cantering away, gazed and gazed until the two
forms presently faded from mere specks into absolute oblivion, and were
swallowed up in the immensity of the great plain.

Meanwhile the two hunters rode steadily upon the spoor of the
hartebeest.  It was a good troop, and although the chase might be a long
one the Boers were so accustomed to bagging the game they followed that
they looked confidently to a dead buck or two before afternoon.  Surely,
they thought, as half-hour after half-hour they followed steadily upon
the footprints, now clear in the firm sand, now amid the long grass,
hardly to be distinguished, even by the wonderful instinct of these sons
of the veldt, the hartebeest will presently stand and rest, or feed
again.  But no.  The antelopes had secured a good start and had long
since cantered at that deceptive pace of theirs clean out of sight; and
the tell-tale spoor indicated, as mile after mile was reeled off, that
they were still moving briskly and that their point was some far distant
one.

The two ponies, rough and unkempt, and angular as they were, were
perhaps in better condition than the rest of the camp--whether human
beings or stock--put together.  Their well-being was absolutely
necessary to the safety of the party; without them game would be
desperately hard to come at; they had, therefore, been fed pretty
regularly on Kaffir corn, and still retained condition.  Moreover, they
came of that hardy Cape breed which produces some of the toughest, most
courageous, and most serviceable horseflesh in the world.  The nags were
all right, and hour after hour they cantered steadily on.

It was now twelve o'clock, the sun was desperately hot, they had ridden
nearly five hours, with but one short off-saddle, and it was absolutely
necessary to give the horses another rest.  Father and son, therefore,
off-saddled at a patch of thin bush, knee-haltered the nags, which at
once rolled and began to feed, and themselves rested under the scant
shadow of the brush.  For nearly an hour Arend smoked in silence.
Meanwhile the lad lay prone upon his stomach, gazing straight in front
of him in the direction in which the game still headed.  Out there now
rose before the two hunters, swelling solidly from the plain of
yellowish-green grass, the low chain of hill, which, as they viewed it
from the waggon-box that morning, had seemed so far away.  But they had
ridden eighteen good miles since breakfast; the hill stood now but four
miles away, and each cleft, krantz, and precipice of its scarred and
weather-worn sides, each dark patch of bush and undergrowth, now showed
plain and naked before their eyes.

"That's where the hartebeest have made for, father," said the lad, at
last; "shall we catch them there, think you?"

"Yes," answered the big Boer, cocking his tattered, broad-brimmed hat
yet more over his eyes, and looking very hard at the line of hill.
"They've gone in there, right enough, Hermannus; in by that dark kloof
yonder.  But whether the kloof leads right through the hill to the
country beyond I can't tell.  If it does, we shall have a long hunt and
be out all night on the spoor; if it doesn't we shall catch them in a
trap, I hope.  Maghte!  But my stomach aches for a bit of good flesh,
and your mother and the children want soup and meat badly, poor souls.
Fetch in the horses, lad.  They've had rest, and we must push on again."

Hermannus rose, walked out on to the veldt, drove up the nags, and once
more they saddled up and mounted.  They went very warily now, looking
keenly along the base of the little range of kopjes, to see that the
hartebeests were not feeding quietly among the scattered bush that grew
about the lower slopes.  But no; the spoor still held straight ahead,
and in half an hour they were at the entrance of the kloof.  It was a
narrow ravine, which appeared to have been violently rent by nature
right into the heart of the hills, but which, doubtless, the action of
water, erosion, and ages of time had worn slowly and with infinite
quiet, century after century, deep into the hard rocks.  After two
hundred yards of this narrow ravine, the kloof suddenly turned at a
right angle and then broadened out into an open valley about half a mile
long.  The spoor had told the hunters very plainly that the antelopes
had entered the kloof.  But it was not yet evident why they had
travelled all that way thither.  Father and son now settled upon a plan
of action.  It was clear, upon looking up the valley, that no exit was
to be found at the far end.  If, however, they rode straight up the
kloof they would probably drive the game right over the hills, where to
follow would be difficult and shooting not easy.

"I cannot make out why the buck have come in here," whispered Van Driel,
meditatively, as they stood beside their horses, and, well screened by
bushes, gazed up the valley.  "It's not like hartebeest ground at all.
There must be water or new grass, or some such attraction at the head of
the kloof.  We will leave the nags here fastened to the bush."  He took
up a handful of sand and let it fall lightly through his fingers.  "The
wind is right enough, it blows fair down the kloof.  There is plenty of
cover along the bottom here.  If we leave the nags and creep very
quietly among the bush we shall probably get a fair shot or two each.
The game here is seldom hunted, and as far as we can judge the place is
never visited by man.  Come along!"

The two crept slowly up the valley, moving, from bush to bush, with
infinite care and caution, their soft, home-made velschoons of
water-buck hide making little or no noise as they pressed forward.  Now
and again they crossed the neat spoor of the antelopes, imprinted deep
in the smooth, red, sandy soil.  Then they looked at one another and
their eyes gleamed responsively.  It was clear that the game had fed
slowly and carelessly towards the head of the kloof; their rifles were
loaded and cocked; the time of action was very near.

In a quarter of an hour, or a little more, they were drawing very close
to the end of the valley; the bush grew thicker, which was all the
better for their purpose.  With extraordinary pains they picked their
way, the spoor still guiding them.  Suddenly Arend Van Driel, stretching
back his hand in warning, dropped from his stooping walk down upon one
knee.  Hermannus instantly followed his example.  Van Driel motioned his
son very softly forward, and, creeping up, the lad saw through a small
opening in the bush what had arrested his father's progress.

It was a glorious sight, truly.  The end of the valley, bounded on three
sides by the steep and rough hill, lay before them.  The ground was
nearly open, and in the centre of the rich, dark red soil flowed, over a
rocky bed, a sparkling stream of the clearest water, which issued from
the hillside to the right, and disappeared, apparently, beneath a litter
of rocks on the left.  Close to the stream, within sixty to eighty yards
of where the hunters were concealed, were the hartebeests, most of them
lying down; some few standing with heads down in sleepy fashion; others,
again, plucking lazily at some green young grass, which here and there
masked the good red soil.  Only one of them, a knowing-looking old cow,
was really on the alert.  The long, black faces, corrugated horns, and
bright bay coats of the big antelopes united, with the fair surrounding
scenery, to form a striking picture of feral life.

Attracted by the pleasantness of this green, charming, and well-watered
spot, numbers of birds, many of them of brilliant plumage, were flitting
hither and thither, crying, some sweetly, some vociferously, one to
another.  Here were gorgeous emerald cuckoos on their way south, honey
birds, kingfishers, and bee-eaters of the most resplendent plumage, and
various finches and small birds.  Seldom had the two Dutchmen set eyes
on a more lovely scene.

But the aesthetic charm of the place was not for the Boers, gaunt with
hunger and privations.  A look and a nod from father to son; the rifles
were levelled; the targets selected, and the loud reports rang out,
terrifying the wild life of this gem-like oasis, and rattling from
krantz to krantz along the rough hill sides.  Two hartebeests instantly
went down and lay struggling in their death agonies.  One of these
staggered to its feet again; but Hermannus had shoved another cartridge
into his breech, and a second shot finally stretched the animal upon the
earth again, this time for good.  Meanwhile, as the terrified troop
sprang to their feet and tore frantically past his right front, Arend
Van Driel rose quickly, slewed half round, and fired another shot.  The
bullet sped home, raking obliquely the lungs of another antelope, which
was later on found dead two or three hundred yards down the kloof.

The two Boers walked forward to the stream, surveyed for a minute or two
their dead game, a fat cow and a young bull, both in high condition, and
then kneeling at the water, drank long and deep, and laved their faces,
arms, and hands.  The lad was now despatched at once to the bend of the
kloof for the horses, which could not only drink and feed here, but were
to be freighted with as much meat as they could carry for the camp.
Before setting to work to skin the game.  Van Driel walked along the
margin of the stream to the spot whence it issued--a natural fountain
among the rocks.  Here, casting about, he came upon a discovery that
electrified him--first the whitened bones of a man and a pair of spurs,
afterwards an old weather-worn percussion gun, rotten and rusty, a
powder-horn, and a good-sized and very heavy metal box.  Opening this
metal box with great difficulty, the Boer found it full of what he
recognised instantly as gold nuggets, many of them of considerable size.
Searching yet further among the rocks, the Boer discovered, just as
Hermannus rode up with the led horse, a carefully laid pile of much
bigger nuggets, worth manifestly a large sum of money.  Who was the man
whose poor remains lay bleaching in the sand there?  When had he entered
the kloof?  How had he died?  These were questions impossible to answer.

Van Driel could only surmise, from the make and shape of the old
percussion smooth-bore and powder-horn, that the owner must have died
there thirty or forty years before.  Looking again closely at the
powder-horn, Hermannus discovered the initials "H.D.," carved neatly
upon the side.  But H.D.'s life and death and history lay hidden among
these pathetic relics, mysteries impenetrable, insoluble.  That sweet
and secret valley alone knew the truth of them.

They turned out the box of nuggets, counting up their treasure.  At the
very bottom, half hidden among sand and rubble, lay a scrap of paper,
yellow, faded, and discoloured.  Hermannus, who could read, eagerly
opened it.  Inside, in a tottering hand, were a few lines scrawled in
pencil.  But the writing was not in Dutch, and, spell at the sentences
as he might, Hermannus could make nothing of them.

Setting to work with a will, father and son rapidly skinned and cut up
as much of the hartebeest meat as their nags could carry; the rest of
the carcases they carefully covered up from the vultures and wild
beasts.  It was now dusk, darkness would be swiftly upon them.  They
determined to camp for the night and ride back to their waggon with the
first streak of dawn.  They made a roaring fire, tied up their horses to
a tree close at hand, cooked some meat, enjoyed a hearty meal, and then
smoked their pipes with stolid contentment.  Then, making pillows of the
inner parts of their saddles, and with their feet to the fire, they sank
into profound sleep.

It must have been towards midnight that Arend Van Driel was awakened
suddenly by the movement of his horse, which was tugging nervously at
the branch to which its head-reim was fastened, as if startled by some
prowling beast of prey.  "Lions!" muttered the Boer to himself.  He
stirred the fire, threw on more wood, and, rising, patted and reassured
his horse, which, with dilated nostrils, snuffed at the night air and
stared with wild eyes out into the darkness.

Van Driel picked up his rifle, lit his pipe, and sat by the fire,
watching and waiting.  It was very eerie in this far and remote valley,
but the Trek Boer is a man used to solitude and a wild life, and his
nervous system is, happily for himself, not very highly developed.  All
the man troubled himself about was his horseflesh.  Horses are scarce in
the far recesses of the interior, and Arend had no intention of losing
either of his nags by the attack of lion or leopard.  Suddenly his horse
snorted at the breeze again and pulled fiercely at his reim.  Something
approached--something that scared intensely the nervous animal.  With
ears and eyes strained, the Boer looked out into the darkness, beyond
the ring of firelight.  Hark! what was that?  And then something--Van
Driel could not make out what--moved past some twenty paces away on the
other side of the fire.  It looked about the height and size of a lion.
The Boer's rifle went to his shoulder, he took rapid aim, and fired.
The report of the Westley-Richards rattled out from the rocks behind
them, and, mingled with the sound, rose a strange, wild, shuddering cry,
half human, half bestial.  It was no lion's or leopard's cry, as Van
Driel knew instantly.  What in God's name could it be?  A baboon
perhaps?

Hermannus, at the rattle of the fire arm, had sprung up from his deep
slumber, and, rifle in hand, was now glaring about him.  They listened.
Strange moaning wails came to them on the soft night air from the
blackness beyond the fire there.  They were terribly human.  The men
looked at one another with scared faces, but uttered no word.

The sounds grew fainter and fainter and presently ceased.

"What was it, father?" asked the lad at last.

"Naam van de drommel!  I cannot say," returned the Boer.  "I thought it
was a lion.  It is no lion, surely; it may be a baboon."

They sat waiting, listening intently, for another ten minutes.  Then
Hermannus sprang to his feet.  "Whatever it was," he exclaimed, "the
thing is dead.  I shall see what it is."

He plucked a big brand from the fire, and, grasping his rifle, stepped
forward.  His father followed his example, and with great caution they
moved out beyond the flickering circle of the firelight.  Thirty paces
away their torches showed them something.  It rested on the veldt there,
silent, completely motionless.  Again they advanced and stood over the
thing.

It lay there at their feet, naked, hairy, something on the figure of a
man, yet surely not a man.  Blood was oozing softly from a big wound in
the back, where Van Driel's bullet had entered.

"An ape of some kind, father," queried Hermannus, "but not a baboon.
What do you make of it?"

"Alas, no ape, I fear," returned Van Driel, with a shudder.  "This is a
bad night's work.  'Tis a wild man.  I have heard of such things, but
never yet have I set eyes upon one.  Pick it up by the legs there, we
will carry it to the fire."

At the firelight they examined with repugnance and even fear the thing
that had met its death.  It was a man!  Nay.  It had once been a man; it
was now but a travesty of mankind.  Deeply tanned all over; with its
shock of dark hair and beard, now going grey, and a shaggy growth almost
covering the loathsome body, it looked a mere beast of the field.  The
thing had gone mostly upon hands and knees--or upon hands and feet--and
the parts that touched the soil were thickened and callous.  How many
years this poor terrible relic of humanity had lived here alone; how it
had gained its living; how escaped the fierce carnivora of the desert,
were mysteries that no man could answer.  The silent rocks, the grass,
the trees, the air--these were the only witnesses, and they were for
ever unite.

There was no more sleep for the Van Driels that night.  They sat talking
in low, subdued tones until dawn, and then, taking up the spoor of the
wild man, ran the trail down to a cavern among the rocks, where the poor
creature had made its lair.  Here were bones; the remains of animals, of
lizards, birds, locusts, even fish, upon which, with berries, bulbs, and
wild roots, the thing had existed for all these years!

Returning to the fire, they picked up the now stiff form, more hideous
and loathsome than ever by broad daylight, and carried it to its den.
This they sealed from the wild beasts with heavy rocks and stones.

Then they saddled up and rode off for the waggon, which was reached by
mid-day.  They and their bountiful supply of meat were received with a
chorus of welcome from the starved and ailing family, and in that lone
and distressful wilderness they presently enjoyed together a right
hearty meal.

Next morning Arend Van Driel had settled upon a plan of action.  He
despatched his native "boys" on a month's journey, far back to one of
the standing camps of the Trek Boers, upon the Okavango.  So soon as
they were out of the way, he trekked with his family for Hartebeest
Fontein, as they now called the place of mystery.  Arend had seen
something of gold mining at Lydenburg, in the Eastern Transvaal, and,
from the discoveries he had already made, he guessed that the valley was
rich in alluvial gold.  He was not mistaken.  In less than a month's
search in the rich alluvial soil at the head of the kloof and along the
bed of the stream, he and his family picked up many a good nugget; so
that, with the store already gathered by their dead predecessors, they
trekked away, carrying with them enough gold to set themselves up in a
fair way for the rest of their lives.  They were not sorry to quit the
valley, with its grim secrets, and presently, after much hard and
toilsome travel, reached Transvaal soil again.

The Dutch Afrikanders are a secretive race and keep their own counsel.
Moreover, they are the last people in the world to trumpet forth gold
discoveries for the benefit of the detested Britisher, who threatens in
time to over-run the whole of South Africa.  Arend Van Driel is now one
of the wealthiest farmers in the Transvaal.  His son, Hermannus, who is
married and lives on an excellent farm near, is just as comfortably off.
Their Rustenburg neighbours have puzzled for years--and still puzzle--
over the return of this family from the Mossamedes trek and their great
and inexplicable accession of wealth.  But Van Driel and his good vrouw,
who started on that terrible expedition strong and hearty people on the
right side of six-and-thirty, without a grey hair between them, and came
back lined and grey, and apparently far on into middle age, are never
likely to yield up their secret.  Nor is Hermannus, nor are the rest of
the family.  The quiet valley of Hartebeest Fontein, with its strange
discoveries and uncanny inhabitant, remain mysteries locked safely
within the breasts of each one of them.

Hermannus, by the way, soon after their arrival in the Transvaal, got,
from an Englishman at a Klerks-dorp store, a translation of the writing
upon that pathetic bit of paper found in the box of nuggets.  The
translation ran thus:

"I am camped here, with my little son, on my way prospecting from
Namaqualand.  My comrade, John Finch, died at Fish River.  Waggon looted
by Namaqua Hottentots.  Found my way here, but horse dead of sickness
and can go neither forward nor back.  Plenty of gold, but no present
chance of escape.  What will become of my boy James, nine years old?
God help us, I am very ill and doubt how things may end.  Henry Dursley.
August, 1847."

That poor stained letter, which contains the secret of Hartebeest
Fontein, old Arend Van Driel, strangely enough, still cherishes in its
battered metal box, locked up securely in the dark recesses of his
ancient waggon-chest, which itself rests beside the big family bed.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN.

CHARLIE THIRLMERE'S LION.

On a March morning Charlie Thirlmere and his wife were at breakfast in
their pretty flat near Park Lane.  A cloud sat on Charlie's fresh,
good-looking face.  He looked at his wife curiously, and then launched
into the business that worried him.

"Sybil," he said, "we must pull up.  I want to have a serious talk with
you."

"Oh, for heaven's sake, don't begin business at this unearthly period,"
replied Sybil.  "I am going out riding in less than an hour, and I
haven't time."

"You can spare ten minutes, old girl," he said; "and things are getting
into such a hobble that we must pull up and make an alteration.  If we
don't, another year or two will see us stony, so far as I am concerned."

"Well, go on," returned Sybil, putting her red lips to a cup of tea,
"and do compress your lecture.  At eleven Cecil Cloudesley will be here
with a new pony we want to look at."

Charlie's brows knitted into a little frown.  "Oh! hang Cecil Cloudesley
and his ponies!" he exclaimed.  "Three years ago when we married," he
went on, "we had sixteen hundred a year between us.  You had seven
hundred, I had nine hundred.  Well, I've often told you we've been going
the pace far too much--it's been my fault, I admit, quite as much as
yours--and now this is how we stand.  I've had to break into my
capital--four times in three years, as Jesson and Fosbery remind me--and
now my income is reduced to something over four hundred.  Your money,
thank goodness, is tied up.  Eleven hundred would do us passably well,
living quietly in the country; and to that we shall have to make up our
minds.  I've given up my nags, as you know.  After July we must sell
off, give up the flat, and retrench seriously.  I've had enough of this
sort of thing, and I'm getting heartily sick of it.  I'm getting soft
and hipped, and I loathe this incessant keeping up appearances, and
living beyond one's means.  And there's the baby.  Poor little chap, he
sees precious little of us, living as we do.  We must give him a chance.
I'm sure he needs fresh air and a country life far more even than we
do!"

This reference to her two-year-old child was rather a sore subject for
Sybil.  She knew that in the whirling life she led, she had really
neglected the youngster.  But her spirit rose instantly to combat the
suggestion.

"Oh, Arthur's all right," she returned with some sharpness.  "He was at
the mater's for a month at Christmas, and he'll be there again in May or
June.  But we can't live on a thousand a year, that's certain.  I
suppose you can get something to do.  I can't--I really can't--be buried
alive in the country."

"Well," returned her husband, a little hot at the cool way in which she
had met his advance.  "I've been thinking over things.  I shall sell out
another thousand or so and go off to Rhodesia, and try and pick up some
mining claims or town lots.  You must live on 900 pounds a year somehow,
and I'll do the best I can to pick up some oof.  Anyhow I'm tired of
this sort of life.  I see very little of you, and you can put up with my
absence for a year, I suppose."

"I might perhaps even exist for two years without the light of your
countenance, Charlie, if I tried _very_ hard!" retorted Sybil.

A little flush had risen to her cheeks, and a rebellious sparkle flashed
in her dark eyes.  She had not reckoned upon this proposition.  Charlie
was useful, nay, necessary to her in a hundred little ways, and she
hated the idea of parting from him.  She was angry with herself and with
him.

"Well, that settles it," rejoined her husband coolly.  "I'll try and
make some coin in Mashonaland, and you stay at home and pull in a bit.
We shall be better friends when I come back.  Somehow this town life
doesn't suit either of us.  We hit it off a thousand times better when
we lived at the Grange."

He rose and lit a cigarette.

"I'll settle up all outstanding things," he went on; "and if you stay in
town you'll have to do with one pony for riding, and hire a Victoria
when you want it I should advise your staying with your mother for six
months.  She'll be delighted to have you and the youngster."

"I can't part with either Dandy or The Barber," returned Sybil hotly,
"and you really needn't bother me as to my movements.  I can take care
of myself very well during your absence."

Thirlmere glanced at his wife.  She was not looking his way, her
thoughts ran elsewhere.  He was extremely fond of her, and, at this
moment, just as he was about leaving her, she looked, he thought, more
charming than ever.  He went to her side, stooped, and kissed her soft
cheek.  The caress was accepted with something very like indifference.

"Very well, old girl," he said.  "Don't worry yourself.  I know you are
right enough.  You have plenty of wits and abounding common sense.  Give
up some of the crowd you are swimming with.  I dare say when I'm gone
you'll make a change and pull in.  I don't demand it.  I hope it, and
expect it, from your good sense, and I know you as well as you know
yourself."

"There, don't preach, Charlie," replied his wife.  "I'm awfully busy
this morning.  Do go and look after your own work.  If you're off to
Rhodesia, you must have heaps to do."

Thirlmere quitted the room, and Sybil breathed a sigh of relief.

Two months after this morning in March, Charlie Thirlmere was in
Mashonaland, wandering about the country in the company of a mining
prospector, shooting and exploring.  They had for months very little
success.  Most of the likely spots for gold had been already pegged out
by their forerunners.  They returned to Salisbury and fitted out an
expedition for the Zambesi Valley.  They were away seven months,
discovered indications of a coalfield, and then, on their way into
Salisbury again, stumbled, within fifty miles of the town, upon a strong
gold reef.  It was in a broad, rich-looking valley, of romantic beauty,
well-wooded in parts with acacia, Kaffir orange, and other trees, and
hemmed in by massive granite kopjes--huge masses of rock, strewn as if
by the hands of giants--with a pleasant little river, fringed with
palmetto, meandering beneath the rock-walls.  So rich, apparently, was
the reef, that they pegged out at once, procured some native labour,
built a couple of huts, and, sending into Salisbury for dynamite, roping
and windlass, and fresh implements, determined to camp for some months,
and go in for a systematic opening up of the reef.

The weeks ran by.  The hot season, the second since Thirlmere had left
England, was approaching.  Already the rains were upon them, and they
had begun to experience some of the miseries of living under constant
tropical downpours in leaky native huts, thatched carelessly with grass
by lazy Mashonas.  Yet the mine prospects were so good that they hung
on.

It was now December.  They had sent in a native servant with their last
remaining donkey to bring out supplies and some few luxuries, and
awaited his return impatiently.  They had reached the valley with four
donkeys, the poor remnants of their long Zambesi string; but lions,
which were troublesome and daring, had killed three, as well as their
sole remaining horse.  The camp was very quiet, only two or three native
workers were with them, and from these they extracted precious little
labour at their shafts and other operations.  John Brightling, a Cornish
miner, a capital fellow, Thirlmere's constant companion in his
prospecting operations for a full year past, was down with fever.
Thirlmere himself was feeling none too fit, but was still well enough to
tend his sick comrade.

Night fell.  It was a dark night, with no moon, and a threatening of
heavy rain.  Charlie Thirlmere had had a fire kindled between the two
huts--their own and the natives'--but at nine o'clock, a drenching
thunderstorm, which came roaring and reverberating with fierce
lightnings and deafening re-echoes among the kopjes, effectually put an
end to it, Brightling had felt better towards night.  After a day of
racking pain, the sweating stage had reached him; his head was clear,
the fever had left him, and he had been able to sup some of the
game-broth that Thirlmere had prepared for him.  He was now sleeping
quietly.

At ten, Charlie heard the moaning roar of lions not far away.  Shortly
after followed the sharp, dissonant yells of the Mashonas from their
hut, fifty yards distant.  Lions were abroad, plainly.  Thirlmere opened
the hut door and fired a couple of cartridges, by way of scaring off the
night prowlers.  Then he lay down on his skin couch, pulled his blanket
over him, and dozed off.

How soon afterwards it was he could never tell, but he was awakened in
the black darkness by hearing some noise at the door of the hut.  He
picked up his loaded carbine, and went softly that way.  Gently lifting
the latch, he opened the door and peered out.  Almost in the same
instant, his left hand, which was thrust a little forward, was seized in
the jaws of some savage creature, armed with frightful teeth.  With a
yell that leapt from rock to rock of the quiet valley, and seemed to
split the very darkness, the unfortunate man lifted his carbine and
belaboured the brute that held him fast, fiercely about the head.  But
the lion--for such it was--held on grimly, chewing, and crunching, and
tugging hard at the hand now gripped so ruthlessly in those ferocious
jaws.  During this frightful struggle Thirlmere felt, curiously enough,
little of actual physical pain.  He was conscious of some sudden shock,
just such as he remembered from a heavy fall in hunting; but, chiefly,
his mind was concentrated in a determination to free himself at all
hazards from his captor.  He ceased hitting the brute with his carbine,
and instinctively poked at the lion's head with the muzzle end.
Suddenly he encountered something soft.  It was the brute's eye.  His
forefinger slipped from the trigger-guard to the trigger itself and
pulled.  The bullet crashed deep into the lion's brain, and upon the
instant the fierce creature fell dead at his feet, dragging him to earth
in its fall.  Then his mind reeled into unconsciousness and he
remembered no more.

Three minutes later, John Brightling, who had started from his bed of
fever at the sound of Charlie's yell and the report of the rifle, had
lit a lantern, and was outside.  He could scarcely believe his senses
when he found, just beyond the doorway, the body of the dead lion, with
his comrade's senseless form lying across the grim beast's forelegs, his
left hand still imprisoned in that terrible grip.

Rousing the trembling natives from the adjacent hut, John, after some
trouble, succeeded in prising open the huge teeth, forcing the jaws
apart, and releasing the mangled hand--or rather, what remained of it.
For the lion had bitten three parts of that member from the rest of the
limb.  They got Thirlmere into the hut; and then, while he lay still
insensible, Brightling tied a ligature tightly round the wrist, trimmed
off the ghastly wound, washed the poor maimed stump, and wrapped it in
linen.  Then he administered a stiff dose of brandy and water, and
Thirlmere presently began to come round.  In a little while he had
pulled himself together wonderfully, and they discussed the situation.
It would take two days at least to get the doctor from Salisbury; and
they had no carbolic, meanwhile, to keep the wound sweet.  What was to
be done?  A pot of liquid pitch stood in one corner of the hut.  Into
that they inserted the still bleeding stump, and bound up the wound
again.  It seemed the only thing to be done, rude and barbarous as was
the precaution.  At the first streak of dawn they despatched the
fleetest among their native boys, with an urgent letter to Salisbury for
help.  Fired by the promise of two sovereigns on his return, the man set
off at a steady jog-trot, vowing he would be in at the township that
evening.  By eleven o'clock next day Brightling was down again in a hot
fit of malaria, while Charlie Thirlmere lay in his corner, feeling the
fever of his wound coursing through his veins and mounting to his brain.
Presently he wandered in a delirium; strange shapes and scenes passed
before his distempered mind; his tongue rambled.  He called incessantly
for Sybil.  So the two men lay: the hours passing on leaden wings.

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

And Sybil herself was near.  For a month or two after her husband's
departure for Africa, she had led pretty much her old whirling life of
pleasure and excitement.  Then things began to pall a little, and she
took breath and thought.  After all, without Charlie, life seemed
somehow different.  She missed him in a thousand ways.  Even Cecil
Cloudesley began to seem empty and inane, and, after all, horseflesh and
the society of smart people have their limitations.  By the time
Goodwood was reached Sybil had made up her mind.  She had been chiefly
to blame; she would try and do something for dear old Charlie, grinding
in the hot sun, in some horribly uninteresting place, out there in
Rhodesia.  She sold off her ponies, gave up the flat, went down to her
mother's, and announced that she and her child had come to stay for six
months.  The stay resolved itself into much more than that period.  A
year and more went by; Sybil wrote often to Charlie, but, during his
long absence towards the Zambesi, very few letters of his reached her.
She became more and more uneasy, and presently, hearing at last that he
had settled for a time near Salisbury, she determined to go out to him.
Persuading her brother to accompany her, the pair sailed for Cape Town,
trained thence to Mafeking (the then limit of the railway), and made
their way by road to Salisbury.  As fortune willed it, they reached that
place early in December, and made preparations to take Charlie Thirlmere
by storm.  Their Cape cart and a buggy were loaded up with a supply of
good things, and they were to start at daybreak next morning.  Late that
evening the Salisbury doctor came round to their hotel with a grave
face.  He had had serious news of Thirlmere by a native runner; an
accident had happened; could he accompany them early next morning?

The matter was urgent; they set off with four horses in each trap, two
hours before sun-up, and, travelling rapidly, reached Charlie
Thirlmere's hut soon after three o'clock.  Right or wrong, Sybil could
not, would not, be gainsaid.  She slipped down, ran to the hut, and,
standing at the open door, looked at her husband lying there, drawn,
pale, and dishevelled, in the corner.  All her heart leaped out to him.
He was conscious, and knew her.

"Sybil!" he cried feebly.  "Where in God's name have you sprung from?"

"My darling old boy," she returned, kneeling at his side, and kissing
him tenderly, "it is I, surely enough, come to nurse you and get you
well, and," (she whispered in his ear) "never to let you go again, my
husband."

She kissed him again and again, and then the doctor came forward.  It
was a very near thing.  Another dozen hours or so, and mortification
would have set in.  They amputated above the wrist, and, after a most
anxious and most miserable time, pulled Charlie Thirlmere through
towards Christmas.  He lost his left hand, it is true; but, as he always
says, it was cheap at the price of his subsequent happiness.

They sold the gold claims excellently well, and the Thirlmeres now live
the happiest of lives in a pleasant English country home.  No two
married people can be more devoted, or faster friends and comrades.  One
of the most treasured mementoes of their African days stands in their
big, cosy hall.  It is the grim, white skull of the lion, whose grinning
teeth so nearly ended Charlie Thirlmere's existence.

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

The End.





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