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Title: Stories by English Authors: Africa (Selected by Scribners)
Author: The Project Gutenberg EBook of Stories by English  Africa, by Various, - To be updated
Language: English
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STORIES BY ENGLISH AUTHORS

AFRICA

By Various Authors



STORIES BY ENGLISH AUTHORS

AFRICA



CONTENTS

     THE MYSTERY OF SASASSA VALLEY, A. Conan Doyle
     LONG ODDS,                     H. Rider Haggard
     KING BEMBA’S POINT,            J. Landers
     GHAMBA,                        W. C. Scully
     MARY MUSGRAVE,                 Anonymous
     GREGORIO,                      Percy Hemingway



THE MYSTERY OF SASASSA VALLEY, By A. Conan Doyle


Do I know why Tom Donahue is called “Lucky Tom”? Yes, I do; and that is
more than one in ten of those who call him so can say. I have knocked
about a deal in my time, and seen some strange sights, but none stranger
than the way in which Tom gained that sobriquet, and his fortune with
it. For I was with him at the time. Tell it? Oh, certainly; but it is a
longish story and a very strange one; so fill up your glass again, and
light another cigar, while I try to reel it off. Yes, a very strange
one; beats some fairy stories I have heard; but it’s true, sir, every
word of it. There are men alive at Cape Colony now who’ll remember it
and confirm what I say. Many a time has the tale been told round the
fire in Boers’ cabins from Orange state to Griqualand; yes, and out in
the bush and at the diamond-fields too.

I’m roughish now, sir; but I was entered at the Middle Temple once, and
studied for the bar. Tom--worse luck!--was one of my fellow-students;
and a wildish time we had of it, until at last our finances ran short,
and we were compelled to give up our so-called studies, and look about
for some part of the world where two young fellows with strong arms and
sound constitutions might make their mark. In those days the tide of
emigration had scarcely begun to set in toward Africa, and so we thought
our best chance would be down at Cape Colony. Well,--to make a long
story short,--we set sail, and were deposited in Cape Town with less
than five pounds in our pockets; and there we parted. We each tried our
hands at many things, and had ups and downs; but when, at the end of
three years, chance led each of us up-country and we met again, we were,
I regret to say, in almost as bad a plight as when we started.

Well, this was not much of a commencement; and very disheartened we
were, so disheartened that Tom spoke of going back to England and
getting a clerkship. For you see we didn’t know that we had played out
all our small cards, and that the trumps were going to turn up. No; we
thought our “hands” were bad all through. It was a very lonely part of
the country that we were in, inhabited by a few scattered farms, whose
houses were stockaded and fenced in to defend them against the Kaffirs.
Tom Donahue and I had a little hut right out in the bush; but we were
known to possess nothing, and to be handy with our revolvers, so we
had little to fear. There we waited, doing odd jobs, and hoping that
something would turn up. Well, after we had been there about a month
something did turn up upon a certain night, something which was the
making of both of us; and it’s about that night, sir, that I’m going to
tell you. I remember it well. The wind was howling past our cabin, and
the rain threatened to burst in our rude window. We had a great wood
fire crackling and sputtering on the hearth, by which I was sitting
mending a whip, while Tom was lying in his bunk groaning disconsolately
at the chance which had led him to such a place.

“Cheer up, Tom--cheer up,” said I. “No man ever knows what may be
awaiting him.”

“Ill luck, ill luck, Jack,” he answered. “I always was an unlucky dog.
Here have I been three years in this abominable country; and I see lads
fresh from England jingling the money in their pockets, while I am as
poor as when I landed. Ah, Jack, if you want to keep your head above
water, old friend, you must try your fortune away from me.”

“Nonsense, Tom; you’re down in your luck to-night. But hark! Here’s some
one coming outside. Dick Wharton, by the tread; he’ll rouse you, if any
man can.”

Even as I spoke the door was flung open, and honest Dick Wharton, with
the water pouring from him, stepped in, his hearty red face looming
through the haze like a harvest-moon. He shook himself, and after
greeting us sat down by the fire to warm himself.

“Where away, Dick, on such a night as this?” said I. “You’ll find the
rheumatism a worse foe than the Kaffirs, unless you keep more regular
hours.”

Dick was looking unusually serious, almost frightened, one would say,
if one did not know the man. “Had to go,” he replied--“had to go. One
of Madison’s cattle was seen straying down Sasassa Valley, and of course
none of our blacks would go down _that_ valley at night; and if we had
waited till morning, the brute would have been in Kaffirland.”

“Why wouldn’t they go down Sasassa Valley at night?” asked Tom.

“Kaffirs, I suppose,” said I.

“Ghosts,” said Dick.

We both laughed.

“I suppose they didn’t give such a matter-of-fact fellow as you a sight
of their charms?” said Tom, from the bunk.

“Yes,” said Dick, seriously, “yes; I saw what the niggers talk about;
and I promise you, lads, I don’t want ever to see it again.”

Tom sat up in his bed. “Nonsense, Dick; you’re joking, man! Come, tell
us all about it; the legend first, and your own experience afterward.
Pass him over the bottle, Jack.”

“Well, as to the legend,” began Dick. “It seems that the niggers have
had it handed down to them that Sasassa Valley is haunted by a frightful
fiend. Hunters and wanderers passing down the defile have seen its
glowing eyes under the shadows of the cliff; and the story goes
that whoever has chanced to encounter that baleful glare has had his
after-life blighted by the malignant power of this creature. Whether
that be true or not,” continued Dick, ruefully, “I may have an
opportunity of judging for myself.”

“Go on, Dick--go on,” cried Tom. “Let’s hear about what you saw.”

“Well, I was groping down the valley, looking for that cow of Madison’s,
and I had, I suppose, got half-way down, where a black craggy cliff juts
into the ravine on the right, when I halted to have a pull at my
flask. I had my eye fixed at the time upon the projecting cliff I have
mentioned, and noticed nothing unusual about it. I then put up my flask
and took a step or two forward, when in a moment there burst, apparently
from the base of the rock, about eight feet from the ground and
a hundred yards from me, a strange, lurid glare, flickering and
oscillating, gradually dying away and then reappearing again. No, no;
I’ve seen many a glow-worm and firefly--nothing of that sort. There it
was, burning away, and I suppose I gazed at it, trembling in every limb,
for fully ten minutes. Then I took a step forward, when instantly it
vanished, vanished like a candle blown out. I stepped back again; but it
was some time before I could find the exact spot and position from
which it was visible. At last, there it was, the weird reddish light,
flickering away as before. Then I screwed up my courage, and made for
the rock; but the ground was so uneven that it was impossible to steer
straight; and though I walked along the whole base of the cliff, I could
see nothing. Then I made tracks for home; and I can tell you, boys,
that, until you remarked it, I never knew it was raining, the whole way
along. But hollo! what’s the matter with Tom?”

What indeed? Tom was now sitting with his legs over the side of the
bunk, and his whole face betraying excitement so intense as to be almost
painful. “The fiend would have two eyes. How many lights did you see,
Dick? Speak out!”

“Only one.”

“Hurrah!” cried Tom, “that’s better.” Whereupon he kicked the blankets
into the middle of the room, and began pacing up and down with long
feverish strides. Suddenly he stopped opposite Dick, and laid his hand
upon his shoulder. “I say, Dick, could we get to Sasassa Valley before
sunrise?”

“Scarcely,” said Dick.

“Well, look here; we are old friends, Dick Wharton, you and I. Now don’t
you tell any other man what you have told us, for a week. You’ll promise
that, won’t you?”

I could see by the look on Dick’s face as he acquiesced that he
considered poor Tom to be mad; and indeed I was myself completely
mystified by his conduct. I had, however, seen so many proofs of my
friend’s good sense and quickness of apprehension that I thought it
quite possible that Wharton’s story had had a meaning in his eyes which
I was too obtuse to take in.

All night Tom Donahue was greatly excited, and when Wharton left
he begged him to remember his promise, and also elicited from him a
description of the exact spot at which he had seen the apparition, as
well as the hour at which it appeared. After his departure, which must
have been about four in the morning, I turned into my bunk and watched
Tom sitting by the fire splicing two sticks together, until I fell
asleep. I suppose I must have slept about two hours; but when I awoke
Tom was still sitting working away in almost the same position. He had
fixed the one stick across the top of the other so as to form a rough T,
and was now busy in fitting a smaller stick into the angle between
them, by manipulating which, the cross one could be either cocked up or
depressed to any extent. He had cut notches, too, in the perpendicular
stick, so that, by the aid of the small prop, the cross one could be
kept in any position for an indefinite time.

“Look here, Jack!” he cried, when he saw that I was awake. “Come and
give me your opinion. Suppose I put this cross-stick pointing straight
at a thing, and arranged this small one so as to keep it so, and left
it, I could find that thing again if I wanted it--don’t you think I
could, Jack--don’t you think so?” he continued, nervously, clutching me
by the arm.

“Well,” I answered, “it would depend on how far off the thing was, and
how accurately it was pointed. If it were any distance, I’d cut sights
on your cross-stick; then a string tied to the end of it, and held in
a plumb-line forward, would lend you pretty near what you wanted. But
surely, Tom, you don’t intend to localise the ghost in that way?”

“You’ll see to-night, old friend--you’ll see to-night. I’ll carry this
to the Sasassa Valley. You get the loan of Madison’s crowbar, and come
with me; but mind you tell no man where you are going, or what you want
it for.”

All day Tom was walking up and down the room, or working hard at the
apparatus. His eyes were glistening, his cheeks hectic, and he had all
the symptoms of high fever. “Heaven grant that Dick’s diagnosis be not
correct!” I thought, as I returned with the crowbar; and yet, as evening
drew near, I found myself imperceptibly sharing the excitement.

About six o’clock Tom sprang to his feet and seized his sticks. “I can
stand it no longer, Jack,” he cried; “up with your crowbar, and hey for
Sasassa Valley! To-night’s work, my lad, will either make us or mar us!
Take your six-shooter, in case we meet the Kaffirs. I daren’t take mine,
Jack,” he continued, putting his hands upon my shoulders--“I daren’t
take mine; for if my ill luck sticks to me to-night, I don’t know what I
might not do with it.”

Well, having filled our pockets with provisions, we set out, and, as we
took our wearisome way toward the Sasassa Valley, I frequently attempted
to elicit from my companion some clue as to his intentions. But his only
answer was: “Let us hurry on, Jack. Who knows how many have heard of
Wharton’s adventure by this time! Let us hurry on, or we may not be
first in the field!”

Well, sir, we struggled on through the hills for a matter of ten miles;
till at last, after descending a crag, we saw opening out in front of
us a ravine so sombre and dark that it might have been the gate of
Hades itself; cliffs many hundred feet shut in on every side the gloomy
boulder-studded passage which led through the haunted defile into
Kaffirland. The moon, rising above the crags, threw into strong relief
the rough, irregular pinnacles of rock by which they were topped, while
all below was dark as Erebus.

“The Sasassa Valley?” said I.

“Yes,” said Tom.

I looked at him. He was calm now; the flush and feverishness had passed
away; his actions were deliberate and slow. Yet there was a certain
rigidity in his face and glitter in his eye which showed that a crisis
had come.

We entered the pass, stumbling along amid the great boulders. Suddenly I
heard a short, quick exclamation from Tom. “That’s the crag!” he cried,
pointing to a great mass looming before us in the darkness. “Now, Jack,
for any favour use your eyes! We’re about a hundred yards from that
cliff, I take it; so you move slowly toward one side and I’ll do the
same toward the other. When you see anything, stop and call out. Don’t
take more than twelve inches in a step, and keep your eye fixed on the
cliff about eight feet from the ground. Are you ready?”

“Yes.” I was even more excited than Tom by this time. What his intention
or object was I could not conjecture, beyond that he wanted to examine
by daylight the part of the cliff from which the light came. Yet the
influence of the romantic situation and my companion’s suppressed
excitement was so great that I could feel the blood coursing through my
veins and count the pulses throbbing at my temples.

“Start!” cried Tom; and we moved off, he to the right, I to the left,
each with our eyes fixed intently on the base of the crag. I had moved
perhaps twenty feet, when in a moment it burst upon me. Through the
growing darkness there shone a small, ruddy, glowing point, the light
from which waned and increased, flickered and oscillated, each change
producing a more weird effect than the last. The old Kaffir superstition
came into my mind, and I felt a cold shudder pass over me. In my
excitement I stepped a pace backward, when instantly the light went out,
leaving utter darkness in its place; but when I advanced again, there
was the ruddy glare glowing from the base of the cliff. “Tom, Tom!” I
cried.

“Ay, ay!” I heard him exclaim, as he hurried over toward me.

“There it is--there, up against the cliff!”

Tom was at my elbow. “I see nothing,” said he.

“Why, there, there, man, in front of you!” I stepped to the right as I
spoke, when the light instantly vanished from my eyes.

But from Tom’s ejaculations of delight it was clear that from my former
position it was visible to him also. “Jack,” he cried, as he turned and
wrung my hand--“Jack, you and I can never complain of our luck again.
Now heap up a few stones where we are standing. That’s right. Now we
must fix my sign-post firmly in at the top. There! It would take a
strong wind to blow that down; and we only need it to hold out till
morning. O Jack, my boy, to think that only yesterday we were talking of
becoming clerks, and you saying that no man knew what was awaiting him,
too! By Jove, Jack, it would make a good story!”

By this time we had firmly fixed the perpendicular stick in between the
two large stones; and Tom bent down and peered along the horizontal one.
For fully a quarter of an hour he was alternately raising and depressing
it, until at last, with a sigh of satisfaction, he fixed the prop into
the angle, and stood up. “Look along, Jack,” he said. “You have as
straight an eye to take a sight as any man I know of.”

I looked along. There beyond the farther sight was the ruddy,
scintillating speck, apparently at the end of the stick itself, so
accurately had it been adjusted.

“And now, my boy,” said Tom, “let’s have some supper and a sleep.
There’s nothing more to be done to-night; but we’ll need all our wits
and strength to-morrow. Get some sticks and kindle a fire here, and then
we’ll be able to keep an eye on our signal-post, and see that nothing
happens to it during the night.”

Well, sir, we kindled a fire, and had supper with the Sasassa demon’s
eye rolling and glowing in front of us the whole night through. Not
always in the same place, though; for after supper, when I glanced along
the sights to have another look at it, it was nowhere to be seen. The
information did not, however, seem to disturb Tom in any way. He merely
remarked, “It’s the moon, not the thing, that has shifted;” and coiling
himself up, went to sleep.

By early dawn we were both up, and gazing along our pointer at the
cliff; but we could make out nothing save the one dead, monotonous,
slaty surface, rougher perhaps at the part we were examining than
elsewhere, but otherwise presenting nothing remarkable.

“Now for your idea, Jack!” said Tom Donahue, unwinding a long thin cord
from round his waist. “You fasten it, and guide me while I take the
other end.” So saying, he walked off to the base of the cliff, holding
one end of the cord, while I drew the other taut, and wound it round the
middle of the horizontal stick, passing it through the sight at the end.
By this means I could direct Tom to the right or left, until we had our
string stretching from the point of attachment, through the sight, and
on to the rock, which it struck about eight feet from the ground. Tom
drew a chalk circle of about three feet diameter round the spot, and
then called to me to come and join him. “We’ve managed this business
together, Jack,” he said, “and we’ll find what we are to find,
together.” The circle he had drawn embraced a part of the rock smoother
than the rest, save that about the centre there were a few rough
protuberances or knobs. One of these Tom pointed to with a cry of
delight. It was a roughish, brownish mass about the size of a man’s
closed fist, and looking like a bit of dirty glass let into the wall of
the cliff. “That’s it!” he cried--“that’s it!”

“That’s what?”

“Why, man, _a diamond_, and such a one as there isn’t a monarch in
Europe but would envy Tom Donahue the possession of. Up with your
crowbar, and we’ll soon exorcise the demon of Sasassa Valley!”

I was so astounded that for a moment I stood speechless with surprise,
gazing at the treasure which had so unexpectedly fallen into our hands.

“Here, hand me the crowbar,” said Tom. “Now, by using this little round
knob which projects from the cliff here as a fulcrum, we may be able to
lever it off. Yes; there it goes. I never thought it could have come so
easily. Now, Jack, the sooner we get back to our hut and then down to
Cape Town, the better.”

We wrapped up our treasure, and made our way across the hills toward
home. On the way, Tom told me how, while a law student in the Middle
Temple, he had come upon a dusty pamphlet in the library, by one Jans
van Hounym, which told of an experience very similar to ours, which
had befallen that worthy Dutchman in the latter part of the seventeenth
century, and which resulted in the discovery of a luminous diamond. This
tale it was which had come into Tom’s head as he listened to honest Dick
Wharton’s ghost-story, while the means which he had adopted to verify
his supposition sprang from his own fertile Irish brain.

“We’ll take it down to Cape Town,” continued Tom, “and if we can’t
dispose of it with advantage there, it will be worth our while to ship
for London with it. Let us go along to Madison’s first, though; he knows
something of these things, and can perhaps give us some idea of what we
may consider a fair price for our treasure.”

We turned off from the track accordingly, before reaching our hut, and
kept along the narrow path leading to Madison’s farm. He was at lunch
when we entered; and in a minute we were seated at each side of him,
enjoying South African hospitality.

“Well,” he said, after the servants were gone, “what’s in the wind now?
I see you have something to say to me. What is it?”

Tom produced his packet, and solemnly untied the handkerchiefs which
enveloped it. “There!” he said, putting his crystal on the table; “what
would you say was a fair price for that?”

Madison took it up and examined it critically. “Well,” he said, laying
it down again, “in its crude state about twelve shillings per ton.”

“Twelve shillings!” cried Tom, starting to his feet. “Don’t you see what
it is?”

“Rock-salt!”

“Rock-salt be d--d! a diamond.”

“Taste it!” said Madison.

Tom put it to his lips, dashed it down with a dreadful exclamation, and
rushed out of the room.

I felt sad and disappointed enough myself; but presently, remembering
what Tom had said about the pistol, I, too left the house, and made for
the hut, leaving Madison open-mouthed with astonishment. When I got in,
I found Tom lying in his bunk with his face to the wall, too dispirited
apparently to answer my consolations. Anathematising Dick and Madison,
the Sasassa demon, and everything else, I strolled out of the hut, and
refreshed myself with a pipe after our wearisome adventure. I was about
fifty yards from the hut, when I heard issuing from it the sound which
of all others I least expected to hear. Had it been a groan or an oath,
I should have taken it as a matter of course; but the sound which
caused me to stop and take the pipe out of my mouth was a hearty roar of
laughter! Next moment Tom himself emerged from the door, his whole face
radiant with delight. “Game for another ten-mile walk, old fellow?”

“What! for another lump of rock-salt, at twelve shillings a ton?”

“‘No more of that, Hal, an you love me,’ “ grinned Tom. “Now look here,
Jack. What blessed fools we are to be so floored by a trifle! Just sit
on this stump for five minutes, and I’ll make it as clear as daylight.
You’ve seen many a lump of rock-salt stuck in a crag, and so have I,
though we did make such a mull of this one. Now, Jack, did any of
the pieces you have ever seen shine in the darkness brighter than any
fire-fly?”

“Well, I can’t say they ever did.”

“I’d venture to prophesy that if we waited until night, which we won’t
do, we would see that light still glimmering among the rocks. Therefore,
Jack, when we took away this worthless salt, we took the wrong crystal.
It is no very strange thing in these hills that a piece of rock-salt
should be lying within a foot of a diamond. It caught our eyes, and
we were excited, and so we made fools of ourselves, and _left the real
stone behind_. Depend upon it, Jack, the Sasassa gem is lying within
that magic circle of chalk upon the face of yonder cliff. Come, old
fellow, light your pipe and stow your revolver, and we’ll be off before
that fellow Madison has time to put two and two together.”

I don’t know that I was very sanguine this time. I had begun, in fact,
to look upon the diamond as a most unmitigated nuisance. However, rather
than throw a damper on Tom’s expectations, I announced myself eager to
start. What a walk it was! Tom was always a good mountaineer, but his
excitement seemed to lend him wings that day, while I scrambled along
after him as best I could.

When we got within half a mile he broke into the “double,” and never
pulled up until he reached the round white circle upon the cliff. Poor
old Tom! when I came up, his mood had changed, and he was standing
with his hands in his pockets, gazing vacantly before him with a rueful
countenance.

“Look!” he said, “look!” and he pointed at the cliff. Not a sign of
anything in the least resembling a diamond there. The circle included
nothing but a flat slate-coloured stone, with one large hole, where we
had extracted the rock-salt, and one or two smaller depressions. No sign
of the gem.

“I’ve been over every inch of it,” said poor Tom. “It’s not there. Some
one has been here and noticed the chalk, and taken it. Come home, Jack;
I feel sick and tired. Oh, had any man ever luck like mine!”

I turned to go, but took one last look at the cliff first. Tom was
already ten paces off.

“Hollo!” I cried, “don’t you see any change in that circle since
yesterday?”

“What d’ ye mean?” said Tom.

“Don’t you miss a thing that was there before?”

“The rock-salt?” said Tom.

“No; but the little round knob that we used for a fulcrum. I suppose we
must have wrenched it off in using the lever. Let’s have a look at what
it’s made of.”

Accordingly, at the foot of the cliff we searched about among the loose
stones.

“Here you are, Jack! We’ve done it at last! We’re made men!”

I turned round, and there was Tom radiant with delight, and with the
little corner of black rock in his hand. At first sight it seemed to
be merely a chip from the cliff; but near the base there was projecting
from it an object which Tom was now exultingly pointing out. It
looked at first something like a glass eye; but there was a depth and
brilliancy about it such as glass never exhibited. There was no mistake
this time; we had certainly got possession of a jewel of great value;
and with light hearts we turned from the valley, bearing away with us
the “fiend” which had so long reigned there.

There, sir; I’ve spun my story out too long, and tired you perhaps.
You see, when I get talking of those rough old days, I kind of see the
little cabin again, and the brook beside it, and the bush around, and
seem to hear Tom’s honest voice once more. There’s little for me to say
now. We prospered on the gem. Tom Donahue, as you know, has set up
here, and is well known about town. I have done well, farming and
ostrich-raising in Africa. We set old Dick Wharton up in business, and
he is one of our nearest neighbours. If you should ever be coming up our
way, sir, you’ll not forget to ask for Jack Turnbull--Jack Turnbull of
Sasassa Farm.



LONG ODDS, By H. Rider Haggard


The story which is narrated in the following pages came to me from the
lips of my old friend Allan Quatermain, or Hunter Quatermain, as we used
to call him in South Africa. He told it to me one evening when I was
stopping with him at the place he bought in Yorkshire. Shortly after
that, the death of his only son so unsettled him that he immediately
left England, accompanied by two companions, his old fellow-voyagers,
Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good, and has now utterly vanished into the
dark heart of Africa. He is persuaded that a white people, of which he
has heard rumours all his life, exists somewhere on the highlands in the
vast, still unexplored interior, and his great ambition is to find them
before he dies. This is the wild quest upon which he and his companions
have departed, and from which I shrewdly suspect they never will return.
One letter only have I received from the old gentleman, dated from a
mission station high up the Tana, a river on the east coast, about
three hundred miles north of Zanzibar; in it he says that they have gone
through many hardships and adventures, but are alive and well, and have
found traces which go far toward making him hope that the results of
their wild quest may be a “magnificent and unexampled discovery.” I
greatly fear, however, that all he has discovered is death; for this
letter came a long while ago, and nobody has heard a single word of the
party since. They have totally vanished.

It was on the last evening of my stay at his house that he told the
ensuing story to me and Captain Good, who was dining with him. He had
eaten his dinner and drunk two or three glasses of old port, just to
help Good and myself to the end of the second bottle. It was an unusual
thing for him to do, for he was a most abstemious man, having conceived,
as he used to say, a great horror of drink from observing its
effects upon the class of colonists--hunters, transport-riders
and others--amongst whom he had passed so many years of his life.
Consequently the good wine took more effect on him than it would have
done on most men, sending a little flush into his wrinkled cheeks, and
making him talk more freely than usual.

Dear old man! I can see him now, as he went limping up and down the
vestibule, with his gray hair sticking up in scrubbing-brush fashion,
his shrivelled yellow face, and his large dark eyes, that were as keen
as any hawk’s, and yet soft as a buck’s. The whole room was hung with
trophies of his numerous hunting expeditions, and he had some story
about every one of them, if only he could be got to tell it. Generally
he would not, for he was not very fond of narrating his own adventures,
but to-night the port wine made him more communicative.

“Ah, you brute!” he said, stopping beneath an unusually large skull of
a lion, which was fixed just over the mantelpiece, beneath a long row of
guns, its jaws distended to their utmost width. “Ah, you brute! you have
given me a lot of trouble for the last dozen years, and will, I suppose
to my dying day.”

“Tell us the yarn, Quatermain,” said Good. “You have often promised to
tell me, and you never have.”

“You had better not ask me to,” he answered, “for it is a longish one.”

“All right,” I said, “the evening is young, and there is some more
port.”

Thus adjured, he filled his pipe from a jar of coarse-cut Boer tobacco
that was always standing on the mantelpiece, and still walking up and
down the room, began:

“It was, I think, in the March of ‘69 that I was up in Sikukuni’s
country. It was just after old Sequati’s time, and Sikukuni had got into
power--I forget how. Anyway, I was there. I had heard that the Bapedi
people had brought down an enormous quantity of ivory from the interior,
and so I started with a waggon-load of goods, and came straight away
from Middelburg to try and trade some of it. It was a risky thing to
go into the country so early, on account of the fever; but I knew that
there were one or two others after that lot of ivory, so I determined
to have a try for it, and take my chance of fever. I had become so tough
from continual knocking about that I did not set it down at much. Well,
I got on all right for a while. It is a wonderfully beautiful piece of
bush veldt, with great ranges of mountains running through it, and round
granite koppies starting up here and there, looking out like sentinels
over the rolling waste of bush. But it is very hot,--hot as a
stew-pan,--and when I was there that March, which, of course, is autumn
in this part of Africa, the whole place reeked of fever. Every morning,
as I trekked along down by the Oliphant River, I used to creep from the
waggon at dawn and look out. But there was no river to be seen--only a
long line of billows of what looked like the finest cotton-wool tossed
up lightly with a pitchfork. It was the fever mist. Out from among the
scrub, too, came little spirals of vapour, as though there were hundreds
of tiny fires alight in it--reek rising from thousands of tons of
rotting vegetation. It was a beautiful place, but the beauty was the
beauty of death; and all those lines and blots of vapour wrote one great
word across the surface of the country, and that word was ‘fever.’

“It was a dreadful year of illness that. I came, I remember, to one
little kraal of knobnoses, and went up to it to see if I could get some
_maas_ (curdled butter-milk) and a few mealies. As I got near I was
struck with the silence of the place. No children began to chatter, and
no dogs barked. Nor could I see any native sheep or cattle. The place,
though it had evidently been recently inhabited, was as still as the
bush round it, and some guinea-fowl got up out of the prickly pear
bushes right at the kraal gate. I remember that I hesitated a little
before going in, there was such an air of desolation about the spot.
Nature never looks desolate when man has not yet laid his hand upon her
breast; she is only lovely. But when man has been, and has passed away,
then she looks desolate.

“Well, I passed into the kraal, and went up to the principal hut. In
front of the hut was something with an old sheepskin _kaross_ (rug)
thrown over it. I stooped down and drew off the rug, and then shrank
back amazed, for under it was the body of a young woman recently dead.
For a moment I thought of turning back, but my curiosity overcame me; so
going past the dead woman, I went down on my hands and knees and crept
into the hut. It was so dark that I could not see anything, though
I could smell a great deal, so I lit a match. It was a ‘tandstickor’
match, and burnt slowly and dimly, and as the light gradually increased
I made out what I took to be a family of people, men, women, and
children, fast asleep. Presently it burnt up brightly, and I saw that
they too, five of them altogether, were quite dead. One was a baby. I
dropped the match in a hurry, and was making my way out of the hut as
hard as I could go, when I caught sight of two bright eyes staring
out of a corner. Thinking it was a wild cat, or some such animal, I
redoubled my haste, when suddenly a voice near the eyes began first to
mutter, and then to send up a succession of awful yells. Hastily I lit
another match, and perceived that the eyes belonged to an old woman,
wrapped up in a greasy leather garment. Taking her by the arm, I dragged
her out, for she could not, or would not, come by herself, and the
stench was overpowering me. Such a sight as she was--a bag of bones,
covered over with black, shrivelled parchment. The only white thing
about her was her wool, and she seemed to be pretty well dead except for
her eyes and her voice. She thought that I was a devil come to take her,
and that is why she yelled so. Well, I got her down to the waggon,
and gave her a ‘tot’ of Cape smoke, and then, as soon as it was ready,
poured about a pint of beef-tea down her throat, made from the flesh
of a blue vilder-beeste I had killed the day before, and after that she
brightened up wonderfully. She could talk Zulu,--indeed, it turned out
that she had run away from Zululand in T’Chaka’s time,--and she told
me that all the people whom I had seen had died of fever. When they had
died the other inhabitants of the kraal had taken the cattle and
gone away, leaving the poor old woman, who was helpless from age and
infirmity, to perish of starvation or disease, as the case might be. She
had been sitting there for three days among the bodies when I found her.
I took her on to the next kraal, and gave the headman a blanket to look
after her, promising him another if I found her well when I came back. I
remember that he was much astonished at my parting with two blankets for
the sake of such a worthless old creature. ‘Why did I not leave her in
the bush?’ he asked. Those people carry the doctrine of the survival of
the fittest to its extreme, you see.

“It was the night after I had got rid of the old woman that I made my
first acquaintance with my friend yonder,” and he nodded toward the
skull that seemed to be grinning down at us in the shadow of the wide
mantel-shelf. “I had trekked from dawn till eleven o’clock,--a long
trek,--but I wanted to get on; and then had turned the oxen out to
graze, sending the voorlooper to look after them, meaning to inspan
again about six o’clock, and trek with the moon till ten. Then I got
into the waggon and had a good sleep till half-past two or so in the
afternoon, when I rose and cooked some meat, and had my dinner, washing
it down with a pannikin of black coffee; for it was difficult to get
preserved milk in those days. Just as I had finished, and the driver, a
man called Tom, was washing up the things, in comes the young scoundrel
of a voorlooper driving one ox before him.

“‘Where are the other oxen?’ I asked.

“‘Koos!’ he said, ‘Koos! (chief) the other oxen have gone away. I turned
my back for a minute, and when I looked round again they were all gone
except Kaptein, here, who was rubbing his back against a tree.’

“‘You mean that you have been asleep, and let them stray, you villain. I
will rub your back against a stick,’ I answered, feeling very angry, for
it was not a pleasant prospect to be stuck up in that fever-trap for a
week or so while we were hunting for the oxen. ‘Off you go, and you too,
Tom, and mind you don’t come back till you have found them. They have
trekked back along the Middelburg Road, and are a dozen miles off by
now, I’ll be bound. Now, no words; go, both of you.’

“Tom, the driver, swore and caught the lad a hearty kick, which he
richly deserved, and then, having tied old Kaptein up to the disselboom
with a riem, they took their assegais and sticks, and started. I would
have gone too, only I knew that somebody must look after the waggon, and
I did not like to leave either of the boys with it at night. I was in a
very bad temper, indeed, although I was pretty well used to these sort
of occurrences, and soothed myself by taking a rifle and going to kill
something. For a couple of hours I poked about without seeing anything
that I could get a shot at, but at last, just as I was again within
seventy yards of the waggon, I put up an old Impala ram from behind a
mimosa-thorn. He ran straight for the waggon, and it was not till he was
passing within a few feet of it that I could get a decent shot at him.
Then I pulled, and caught him half-way down the spine; over he went,
dead as a door-nail, and a pretty shot it was, though I ought not to say
it. This little incident put me into rather a better temper, especially
as the buck had rolled right against the after part of the waggon, so I
had only to gut him, fix a riem round his legs, and haul him up. By the
time I had done this the sun was down, and the full moon was up, and
a beautiful moon it was. And then there came that wonderful hush which
sometimes falls over the African bush in the early hours of the night.
No beast was moving, and no bird called. Not a breath of air stirred the
quiet trees, and the shadows did not even quiver, they only grew. It was
very oppressive and very lonely, for there was not a sign of the cattle
or the boys. I was quite thankful for the society of old Kaptein, who
was lying down contentedly against the disselboom, chewing the cud with
a good conscience.

“Presently, however, Kaptein began to get restless. First he snorted,
then he got up and snorted again. I could not make it out, so like a
fool I got down off the waggon-box to have a look round, thinking it
might be the lost oxen coming.

“Next instant I regretted it, for all of a sudden I heard a roar and saw
something yellow flash past me and light on poor Kaptein. Then came
a bellow of agony from the ox, and a crunch as the lion put his teeth
through the poor brute’s neck, and I began to understand what had
happened. My rifle was in the waggon, and my first thought was to get
hold of it, and I turned and made a bolt for it. I got my foot on the
wheel and flung my body forward on to the waggon, and there I stopped as
if I were frozen, and no wonder, for as I was about to spring up I heard
the lion behind me, and next second I felt the brute, ay, as plainly as
I can feel this table. I felt him, I say, sniffing at my left leg that
was hanging down.

“My word! I did feel queer; I don’t think that I ever felt so queer
before. I dared not move for the life of me, and the odd thing was that
I seemed to lose power over my leg, which developed an insane sort
of inclination to kick out of its own mere motion--just as hysterical
people want to laugh when they ought to be particularly solemn. Well,
the lion sniffed and sniffed, beginning at my ankle and slowly nosing
away up to my thigh. I thought that he was going to get hold then, but
he did not. He only growled softly, and went back to the ox. Shifting my
head a little I got a full view of him. He was about the biggest lion
I ever saw,--and I have seen a great many, and he had a most tremendous
black mane. What his teeth were like you can see--look there, pretty big
ones, ain’t they? Altogether he was a magnificent animal, and as I lay
sprawling on the fore tongue of the waggon, it occurred to me that he
would look uncommonly well in a cage. He stood there by the carcass of
poor Kaptein, and deliberately disembowelled him as neatly as a butcher
could have done. All this while I dared not move, for he kept lifting
his head and keeping an eye on me as he licked his bloody chops. When
he had cleaned Kaptein out he opened his mouth and roared, and I am not
exaggerating when I say that the sound shook the waggon. Instantly there
came back an answering roar.

“‘Heavens!’ I thought, ‘there is his mate.’

“Hardly was the thought out of my head when I caught sight in the
moonlight of the lioness bounding along through the long grass, and
after her a couple of cubs about the size of mastiffs. She stopped
within a few feet of my head, and stood, and waved her tail, and fixed
me with her glowing yellow eyes; but just as I thought that it was all
over she turned and began to feed on Kaptein, and so did the cubs. There
were the four of them within eight feet of me, growling and quarrelling,
rending and tearing, and crunching poor Kaptein’s bones; and there I
lay shaking with terror, and the cold perspiration pouring out of me,
feeling like another Daniel come to judgment in a new sense of the
phrase. Presently the cubs had eaten their fill, and began to get
restless. One went round to the back of the waggon and pulled at
the Impala buck that hung there, and the other came round my way and
commenced the sniffing game at my leg. Indeed, he did more than that,
for, my trouser being hitched up a little, he began to lick the bare
skin with his rough tongue. The more he licked the more he liked it, to
judge from his increased vigour and the loud purring noise he made. Then
I knew that the end had come, for in another second his file-like tongue
would have rasped through the skin of my leg--which was luckily pretty
tough--and have drawn the blood, and then there would be no chance
for me. So I just lay there and thought of my sins, and prayed to the
Almighty, and thought that, after all, life was a very enjoyable thing.

“And then all of a sudden I heard a crashing of bushes and the shouting
and whistling of men, and there were the two boys coming back with the
cattle, which they had found trekking along all together. The lions
lifted their heads and listened, then without a sound bounded off--and I
fainted.

“The lions came back no more that night, and by the next morning my
nerves had got pretty straight again; but I was full of wrath when I
thought of all that I had gone through at the hands, or rather noses,
of those four lions, and of the fate of my after-ox Kaptein. He was a
splendid ox, and I was very fond of him. So wroth was I that, like a
fool, I determined to attack the whole family of them. It was worthy of
a greenhorn out on his first hunting-trip; but I did it nevertheless.
Accordingly after breakfast, having rubbed some oil upon my leg, which
was very sore from the cub’s tongue, I took the driver, Tom, who did not
half like the job, and having armed myself with an ordinary double No.
12 smooth-bore, the first breech-loader I ever had, I started. I took
the smooth-bore because it shot a bullet very well; and my experience
has been that a round ball from a smooth-bore is quite as effective
against a lion as an express bullet. The lion is soft, and not a
difficult animal to finish if you hit him anywhere in the body. A buck
takes far more killing.

“Well, I started, and the first thing I set to work to do was to try to
make out whereabouts the brutes lay up for the day. About three hundred
yards from the waggon was the crest of a rise covered with single
mimosa-trees, dotted about in a park-like fashion, and beyond this was
a stretch of open plain running down to a dry pan, or water-hole, which
covered about an acre of ground, and was densely clothed with reeds,
now in the sear and yellow leaf. From the farther edge of this pan the
ground sloped up again to a great cleft, or nullah, which had been cut
out by the action of the water, and was pretty thickly sprinkled with
bush, among which grew some large trees, I forget of what sort.

“It at once struck me that the dry pan would be a likely place to find
my friends in, as there is nothing a lion is fonder of than lying up
in reeds, through which he can see things without being seen himself.
Accordingly thither I went and prospected. Before I had got half-way
round the pan I found the remains of a blue vilder-beeste that had
evidently been killed within the last three or four days and partially
devoured by lions; and from other indications about I was soon assured
that if the family were not in the pan that day they spent a good deal
of their spare time there. But if there, the question was how to get
them out; for it was clearly impossible to think of going in after
them unless one was quite determined to commit suicide. Now there was a
strong wind blowing from the direction of the waggon, across the reedy
pan toward the bush-clad kloof or donga, and this first gave me the
idea of firing the reeds, which, as I think I told you, were pretty dry.
Accordingly Tom took some matches and began starting little fires to the
left, and I did the same to the right. But the reeds were still green
at the bottom, and we should never have got them well alight had it not
been for the wind, which grew stronger and stronger as the sun climbed
higher, and forced the fire into them. At last, after half an hour’s
trouble, the flames got a hold, and began to spread out like a fan,
whereupon I went round to the farther side of the pan to wait for the
lions, standing well out in the open, as we stood at the copse to-day
where you shot the woodcock. It was a rather risky thing to do, but I
used to be so sure of my shooting in those days that I did not so much
mind the risk. Scarcely had I got round when I heard the reeds parting
before the onward rush of some animal. ‘Now for it,’ said I. On it came.
I could see that it was yellow, and prepared for action, when instead
of a lion out bounded a beautiful rietbok which had been lying in
the shelter of the pan. It must, by the way, have been a rietbok of a
peculiarly confiding nature to lay itself down with the lion, like the
lamb of prophecy, but I suppose the reeds were thick, and that it kept a
long way off.

“Well, I let the rietbok go, and it went like the wind, and kept my
eyes fixed upon the reeds. The fire was burning like a furnace now; the
flames crackling and roaring as they bit into the reeds, sending spouts
of fire twenty feet and more into the air, and making the hot air dance
above it in a way that was perfectly dazzling. But the reeds were
still half green, and created an enormous quantity of smoke, which came
rolling toward me like a curtain, lying very low on account of the wind.
Presently, above the crackling of the fire, I heard a startled roar,
then another and another. So the lions were at home.

“I was beginning to get excited now, for, as you fellows know, there
is nothing in experience to warm up your nerves like a lion at close
quarters, unless it is a wounded buffalo; and I got still more so when
I made out through the smoke that the lions were all moving about on the
extreme edge of the reeds. Occasionally they would pop their heads out
like rabbits from a burrow, and then, catching sight of me standing
about fifty yards out, draw them back again. I knew that it must be
getting pretty warm behind them, and that they could not keep the game
up for long; and I was not mistaken, for suddenly all four of them broke
cover together, the old black-maned lion leading by a few yards. I never
saw a more splendid sight in all my hunting experience than those four
lions bounding across the veldt, overshadowed by the dense pall of smoke
and backed by the fiery furnace of the burning reeds.

“I reckoned that they would pass, on their road to the bushy kloof,
within about five and twenty yards of me; so, taking a long breath, I
got my gun well on to the lion’s shoulder--the black-maned one--so as to
allow for an inch or two of motion, and catch him through the heart.
I was on, dead on, and my finger was just beginning to tighten on the
trigger, when suddenly I went blind--a bit of reed-ash had drifted into
my right eye. I danced and rubbed, and succeeded in clearing it more or
less just in time to see the tail of the last lion vanishing round the
bushes up the kloof.

“If ever a man was mad I was that man. It was too bad; and such a shot
in the open, too! However, I was not going to be beaten, so I just
turned and marched for the kloof. Tom, the driver, begged and implored
me not to go; but though as a general rule I never pretend to be very
brave (which I am not), I was determined that I would either kill those
lions or they should kill me. So I told Tom that he need not come unless
he liked, but I was going; and being a plucky fellow, a Swazi by birth,
he shrugged his shoulders, muttered that I was mad or bewitched, and
followed doggedly in my tracks.

“We soon got to the kloof, which was about three hundred yards in length
and but sparsely wooded, and then the real fun began. There might be a
lion behind every bush--there certainly were four lions somewhere; the
delicate question was, where. I peeped and poked and looked in every
possible direction, with my heart in my mouth, and was at last rewarded
by catching a glimpse of something yellow moving behind a bush. At the
same moment, from another bush opposite me out burst one of the cubs and
galloped back toward the burned-out pan. I whipped round and let drive a
snap-shot that tipped him head over heels, breaking his back within two
inches of the root of the tail, and there he lay helpless but glaring.
Tom afterward killed him with his assegai. I opened the breech of the
gun and hurriedly pulled out the old case, which, to judge from what
ensued, must, I suppose, have burst and left a portion of its fabric
sticking to the barrel. At any rate, when I tried to get in the new case
it would only enter half-way; and--would you believe it?--this was the
moment that the lioness, attracted no doubt by the outcry of her cub,
chose to put in an appearance. There she stood, twenty paces or so from
me, lashing her tail and looking just as wicked as it is possible to
conceive. Slowly I stepped backward, trying to push in the new case, and
as I did so she moved on in little runs, dropping down after each run.
The danger was imminent, and the case would not go in. At the moment
I oddly enough thought of the cartridge-maker, whose name I will not
mention, and earnestly hoped that if the lion got me some condign
punishment would overtake him. It would not go in, so I tried to pull it
out. It would not come out either, and my gun was useless if I could
not shut it to use the other barrel. I might as well have had no gun.
Meanwhile I was walking backward, keeping my eye on the lioness, who was
creeping forward on her belly without a sound, but lashing her tail
and keeping her eye on me; and in it I saw that she was coming in a
few seconds more. I dashed my wrist and the palm of my hand against the
brass rim of the cartridge till the blood poured from them--look, there
are the scars of it to this day!”

Here Quatermain held up his right hand to the light and showed us four
or five white cicatrices just where the wrist is set into the hand.

“But it was not of the slightest use,” he went on; “the cartridge would
not move. I only hope that no other man will ever be put in such an
awful position. The lioness gathered herself together, and I gave myself
up for lost, when suddenly Tom shouted out from somewhere in my rear:

“‘You are walking on to the wounded cub; turn to the right.’

“I had the sense, dazed as I was, to take the hint, and slewing round at
right angles, but still keeping my eyes on the lioness, I continued my
backward walk.

“To my intense relief, with a low growl she straightened herself,
turned, and bounded off farther up the kloof.

“‘Come on, inkoos,’ said Tom, ‘let’s get back to the waggon.’

“‘All right, Tom,’ I answered. ‘I will when I have killed those three
other lions,’ for by this time I was bent on shooting them as I never
remember being bent on anything before or since. ‘You can go if you
like, or you can get up a tree.’

“He considered the position a little, and then he very wisely got up a
tree. I wish that I had done the same.

“Meanwhile I had found my knife, which had an extractor in it, and
succeeded after some difficulty in hauling out the case which had so
nearly been the cause of my death, and removing the obstruction in the
barrel. It was very little thicker than a postage-stamp; certainly not
thicker than a piece of writing-paper. This done, I loaded the gun,
bound a handkerchief round my wrist and hand to staunch the flowing of
the blood, and started on again.

“I had noticed that the lioness went into a thick green bush, or rather
cluster of bushes, growing near the water; for there was a little stream
running down the kloof, about fifty yards higher up and for this I made.
When I got there, however, I could see nothing, so I took up a big stone
and threw it into the bushes. I believe that it hit the other cub, for
out it came with a rush, giving me a broadside shot, of which I promptly
availed myself, knocking it over dead. Out, too, came the lioness like a
flash of light, but quick as she went I managed to put the other bullet
into her ribs, so that she rolled right over three times like a shot
rabbit. I instantly got two more cartridges into the gun, and as I did
so the lioness rose again and came crawling toward me on her fore paws,
roaring and groaning, and with such an expression of diabolical fury on
her countenance as I have not often seen. I shot her again through the
chest, and she fell over on to her side quite dead.

“That was the first and last time that I ever killed a brace of lions
right and left, and, what is more, I never heard of anybody else doing
it. Naturally I was considerably pleased with myself, and having again
loaded up, I went on to look for the black-maned beauty who had killed
Kaptein. Slowly, and with the greatest care, I proceeded up the kloof,
searching every bush and tuft of grass as I went. It was wonderfully
exciting work, for I never was sure from one moment to another but that
he would be on me. I took comfort, however, from the reflection that
a lion rarely attacks a man,--rarely, I say; sometimes he does, as you
will see,--unless he is cornered or wounded. I must have been nearly an
hour hunting after that lion. Once I thought I saw something move in a
clump of tambouki grass, but I could not be sure, and when I trod out
the grass I could not find him.

“At last I worked up to the head of the kloof, which made a cul-de-sac.
It was formed of a wall of rock about fifty feet high. Down this rock
trickled a little waterfall, and in front of it, some seventy feet from
its face, was a great piled-up mass of boulders, in the crevices and on
the top of which grew ferns, grasses, and stunted bushes. This mass was
about twenty-five feet high. The sides of the kloof here were also very
steep. Well, I came to the top of the nullah and looked all round. No
signs of the lion. Evidently I had either overlooked him farther down or
he had escaped right away. It was very vexatious; but still three lions
were not a bad bag for one gun before dinner, and I was fain to be
content. Accordingly I departed back again, making my way round the
isolated pillar of boulders, beginning to feel, as I did so, that I was
pretty well done up with excitement and fatigue, and should be more so
before I had skinned those three lions. When I had got, as nearly as I
could judge, about eighteen yards past the pillar or mass of boulders,
I turned to have another look round. I have a pretty sharp eye, but I
could see nothing at all.

“Then, on a sudden, I saw something sufficiently alarming. On the top
of the mass of boulders, opposite to me, standing out clear against the
rock beyond, was the huge black-maned lion. He had been crouching there,
and now arose as though by magic. There he stood lashing his tail,
just like a living reproduction of the animal on the gateway of
Northumberland House that I have seen a picture of. But he did not stand
long. Before I could fire--before I could do more than get the gun to my
shoulder--he sprang straight up and out from the rock, and driven by the
impetus of that one mighty bound came hurtling through the air toward
me.

“Heavens! how grand he looked, and how awful! High into the air he flew,
describing a great arch. Just as he touched the highest point of his
spring I fired. I did not dare to wait, for I saw that he would clear
the whole space and land right upon me. Without a sight, almost without
aim, I fired, as one would fire a snap-shot at a snipe. The bullet told,
for I distinctly heard its thud above the rushing sound caused by the
passage of the lion through the air. Next second I was swept to the
ground (luckily I fell into a low, creeper-clad bush, which broke the
shock), and the lion was on the top of me, and the next those great
white teeth of his had met in my thigh--I heard them grate against the
bone. I yelled out in agony, for I did not feel in the least benumbed
and happy, like Dr. Livingstone,--whom, by the way, I knew very
well,--and gave myself up for dead. But suddenly, at that moment, the
lion’s grip on my thigh loosened, and he stood over me, swaying to and
fro, his huge mouth, from which the blood was gushing, wide opened. Then
he roared, and the sound shook the rocks.

“To and fro he swung, and then the great head dropped on me, knocking
all the breath from my body, and he was dead. My bullet had entered in
the centre of his chest and passed out on the right side of the spine
about half way down the back.

“The pain of my wound kept me from fainting, and as soon as I got my
breath I managed to drag myself from under him. Thank heavens, his great
teeth had not crushed my thigh-bone; but I was losing a great deal of
blood, and had it not been for the timely arrival of Tom, with whose aid
I got the handkerchief from my wrist and tied it round my leg, twisting
it tight with a stick, I think that I should have bled to death.

“Well, it was a just reward for my folly in trying to tackle a family
of lions single-handed. The odds were too long. I have been lame ever
since, and shall be to my dying day; in the month of March the wound
always troubles me a great deal, and every three years it breaks
out raw. I need scarcely add that I never traded the lot of ivory at
Sikukuni’s. Another man got it--a German--and made five hundred pounds
out of it after paying expenses. I spent the next month on the broad of
my back, and was a cripple for six months after that. And now I’ve told
you the yarn, so I will have a drop of Hollands and go to bed.”



KING BEMBA’S POINT, A WEST AFRICAN STORY, By J. Landers


We were for the most part a queer lot out on that desolate southwest
African coast, in charge of the various trading stations that were
scattered along the coast, from the Gaboon River, past the mouth of the
mighty Congo, to the Portuguese city of St. Paul de Loanda. A mixture of
all sorts, especially bad sorts: broken-down clerks, men who could not
succeed anywhere else, sailors, youths, and some whose characters would
not have borne any investigation; and we very nearly all drank hard, and
those who didn’t drink hard took more than was good for them.

I don’t know exactly what induced me to go out there. I was young
for one thing, the country was unknown, the berth was vacant, and the
conditions of it easy.

Imagine a high rocky point or headland, stretching out sideways into
the sea, and at its base a small river winding into a country that
was seemingly a blank in regard to inhabitants or cultivation; a land
continuing for miles and miles, as far as the eye could see, one expanse
of long yellow grass, dotted here and there with groups of bastard
palms. In front of the headland rolled the lonely South Atlantic; and,
as if such conditions were not dispiriting enough to existence upon the
Point, there was yet another feature which at times gave the place a
still more ghastly look. A long way off the shore, the heaving surface
of the ocean began, in anything like bad weather, to break upon the
shoals of the coast. Viewed from the top of the rock, the sea at such
times looked, for at least two miles out, as if it were scored over with
lines of white foam; but lower down, near the beach, each roller could
be distinctly seen, and each roller had a curve of many feet, and was an
enormous mass of water that hurled itself shoreward until it curled and
broke.

When I first arrived on the Point there was, I may say, only one house
upon it, and that belonged to Messrs. Flint Brothers, of Liverpool. It
was occupied by one solitary man named Jackson; he had had an assistant,
but the assistant had died of fever, and I was sent to replace him.
Jackson was a man of fifty at least, who had been a sailor before he
had become an African trader. His face bore testimony to the winds
and weather it had encountered, and wore habitually a grave, if not
melancholy, expression. He was rough but kind to me, and though strict
was just, which was no common feature in an old African hand to one who
had just arrived on the coast.

He kept the factory--we called all houses on the coast factories--as
neat and clean as if it had been a ship. He had the floor of the portion
we dwelt in holystoned every week; and numberless little racks and
shelves were fitted up all over the house. The outside walls glittered
with paint, and the yard was swept clean every morning; and every
Sunday, at eight o’clock and sunset, the ensign was hoisted and lowered,
and an old cannon fired at the word of command. Order and rule were with
Jackson observed from habit, and were strictly enforced by him on all
the natives employed in the factory.

Although I have said the country looked as if uninhabited, there were
numerous villages hidden away in the long grass and brushwood, invisible
at a distance, being huts of thatch or mud, and not so high as the
grass among which they were placed. From these villages came most of our
servants, and also the middlemen, who acted as brokers between us, the
white men, and the negroes who brought ivory and gum and india-rubber
from the far interior for sale. Our trade was principally in ivory,
and when an unusually large number of elephants’ tusks arrived upon the
Point for sale, it would be crowded with Bushmen, strange and uncouth,
and hideously ugly, and armed, and then we would be very busy; for
sometimes as many as two hundred tusks would be brought to us at the
same time, and each of these had to be bargained for and paid for by
exchange of cotton cloths, guns, knives, powder, and a host of small
wares.

For some time after my arrival our factory, along with the others on
the coast belonging to Messrs. Flint Brothers, was very well supplied
by them with goods for the trade; but by degrees their shipments became
less frequent, and small when they did come. In spite of repeated
letters we could gain no reason from the firm for this fact, nor could
the other factories, and gradually we found ourselves with an empty
storehouse, and nearly all our goods gone. Then followed a weary
interval, during which we had nothing whatever to do, and day succeeded
day through the long hot season. It was now that I began to feel that
Jackson had become of late more silent and reserved with me than ever
he had been. I noticed, too, that he had contracted a habit of wandering
out to the extreme end of the Point, where he would sit for hours gazing
upon the ocean before him. In addition to this, he grew morose and
uncertain in his temper toward the natives, and sometimes he would fall
asleep in the evenings on a sofa, and talk to himself at such a rate
while asleep that I would grow frightened and wake him, when he would
stare about him for a little until he gathered consciousness, and then
he would stagger off to bed to fall asleep again almost immediately.
Also, his hands trembled much, and he began to lose flesh. All this
troubled me, for his own sake as well as my own, and I resolved to ask
him to see the doctor of the next mail-steamer that came. With this
idea I went one day to the end of the Point, and found him in his usual
attitude, seated on the long grass, looking seaward. He did not hear me
approach, and when I spoke he started to his feet, and demanded fiercely
why I disturbed him. I replied, as mildly as I could, for I was rather
afraid of the glittering look that was in his eyes, that I wished to ask
him if he did not feel ill.

He regarded me with a steady but softened glance for a little, and then
said:

“My lad, I thank you for your trouble; but I want no doctor. Do you
think I’m looking ill?”

“Indeed you are,” I answered, “ill and thin; and, do you know, I hear
you talk to yourself in your sleep nearly every night.”

“What do I say?” he asked eagerly.

“That I cannot tell,” I replied. “It is all rambling talk; the same
things over and over again, and nearly all about one person--Lucy.”

“Boy!” he cried out, as if in pain, or as if something had touched him
to the quick, “sit you down, and I’ll tell you why I think of her--she
was my wife.”

He moved nearer to the edge of the cliff, and we sat down, almost over
the restless sea beneath us.

“She lives in my memory,” he continued, speaking more to himself than
to me, and looking far out to the horizon, beneath which the setting
sun had begun to sink, “in spite of all I can do or think of to make
her appear base in my eyes. For she left me to go with another man--a
scoundrel. This was how it was,” he added, quickly: “I married her, and
thought her as pure as a flower; but I could not take her to sea with
me because I was only the mate of a vessel, so I left her among her
own friends, in the village where she was born. In a little cottage by
herself I settled her, comfortable and happy as I thought. God! how
she hung round my neck and sobbed when I went away the first time!
and yet--yet--within a year she left me.” And he stopped for several
minutes, resting his head upon his hands. “At first I could get no trace
of her,” he resumed. “Her friends knew nothing more of her than that
she had left the village suddenly. Gradually I found out the name of the
scoundrel who had seduced her away. He had bribed her friends so that
they were silent; but I overbribed them with the last money I had, and
I followed him and my wife on foot. I never found them, nor did I ever
know why she had deserted me for him. If I had only known the reason; if
I could have been told of my fault; if she had only written to say that
she was tired of me; that I was too old, too rough for her soft ways,--I
think I could have borne the heavy stroke the villain had dealt me
better. The end of my search was that I dropped down in the streets of
Liverpool, whither I thought I had tracked them, and was carried to
the hospital with brain-fever upon me. Two months afterward I came out
cured, and the sense of my loss was deadened within me, so that I
could go to sea again, which I did, before the mast, under the name of
Jackson, in a bark that traded to this coast here.” And the old sailor
rose to his feet and turned abruptly away, leaving me sitting alone.

I saw that he did not wish to be followed, so I stayed where I was and
watched the gray twilight creep over the face of the sea, and the night
quickly succeed to it. Not a cloud had been in the sky all day long, and
as the darkness increased the stars came out, until the whole heavens
were studded with glittering gems.

Suddenly, low down, close to the sea, a point of light flickered and
disappeared, shone again for a moment, wavered and went out, only to
reappear and shine steadily. “A steamer’s masthead light,” I thought,
and ran to the house to give the news; but Jackson had already seen
the light, and pronounced that she had anchored until the morning. At
daybreak there she was, dipping her sides to the swell of the sea as
it rolled beneath her. It was my duty to go off to her in one of the
surf-boats belonging to the factory; and so I scrambled down the cliff
to the little strip of smooth beach that served us for a landing-place.

When I arrived there I found that the white-crested breakers were
heavier than I had thought they would be. However, there was the boat
lying on the beach with its prow toward the waves, and round it were the
boat-boys with their loincloths girded, ready to start; so I clambered
into the stern, or rather--for the boat was shaped alike at stem and
stern--the end from which the steersman, or _patrao_, used his long oar.
With a shout the boys laid hold of the sides of the boat, and the next
moment it was dancing on the spent waves next to the beach. The patrao
kept its head steady, and the boys jumped in and seized the oars, and
began pulling with a will, standing up to their stroke. Slowly the
heavy craft gathered way, and approached a dark and unbroken roller that
hastened toward the beach. Then the patrao shouted to the crew, and they
lay on their oars, and the wave with a roar burst right in front of the
boat, sending the spray of its crest high above our heads.

“_Rema! rema forca!_” (“Row strongly!”) now shouted the patrao, speaking
Portuguese, as mostly all African coast natives do; and the crew gave
way. The next roller we had to meet in its strength; and save for the
steady force of the patrao’s oar, I believe it would have tossed us
aside and we would have been swept under its curving wall of water. As
it was, the good boat gave a mighty bound as it felt its force, and its
stem pitched high into the air as it slid down its broad back into the
deep.

Another and yet another wave were passed, and we could now see them
breaking behind us, shutting out the beach from view. Then the last
roller was overcome, and there was nothing but the long heave of the
deep sea to contend against. Presently we arrived at the steamer, whose
side towered above us--an iron wall.

A shout came to me, pitching and lurching with the boat far below, “Come
on board at once.” But to come on board was only to be done by watching
a chance as the boat rose on the top of a roller. Taking such a one, I
seized the side-ropes, swung a moment in mid-air, and the next was on
the streamer’s clean white deck. Before me stood a tall man with black
hair and whiskers and dark piercing eyes, who asked me if I was the
agent for Flint Brothers. I answered that the agent was on shore, and
that I was his assistant. Whereupon he informed me that he had been
appointed by the firm to liquidate all their stations and businesses on
the coast, and “he would be obliged by my getting his luggage into the
boat.” This was said in a peremptory sort of way, as if he had spoken to
a servant; and very much against the grain I obeyed his orders.

That the man was new to the coast was evident, and my consolation was
that he would be very soon sick of it and pretty well frightened before
he even got on shore, for the weather was freshening rapidly, a fact
of which he appeared to take no heed. Not so the boat-boys, who were
anxious to be off. At last we started, and I soon had my revenge. As
we drew near the shore the rollers became higher and higher, and I
perceived that my gentleman clutched the gunwale of the boat very
tightly, and when the first wave that showed signs of breaking overtook
us, he grew very white in the face until it had passed.

The next one or two breakers were small, much to his relief I could see,
though he said nothing. Before he had well recovered his equanimity,
however, a tremendous wave approached us somewhat suddenly. Appalled by
its threatening aspect, he sprang from his seat and seized the arm of
the patrao, who roughly shook him off.

“My God!” he cried, “we are swamped!” and for the moment it really
looked like it; but the patrao, with a dexterous sweep of his long oar,
turned the boat’s head toward the roller. It broke just as it reached
us, and gave us the benefit of its crest, which came in over the
topsides of the boat as it passed by, and deluged every one of us.

I laughed, although it was no laughing matter, at the plight the
liquidator was now in. He was changed in a moment from the spruce and
natty personage into a miserable and draggled being. From every part of
him the salt water was streaming, and the curl was completely taken out
of his whiskers. He could not speak from terror, which the boat-boys
soon saw, for none are quicker than negroes to detect signs of fear
in those whom they are accustomed to consider superior to themselves.
Familiar with the surf, and full of mischievous fun, they began to shout
and gesticulate with the settled purpose of making matters appear worse
than they were, and of enjoying the white man’s discomfiture,--all but
the patrao, who was an old hand, and on whom depended the safety of
us all. He kept a steady lookout seaward, and stood upright and firm,
grasping his oar with both hands. With him it was a point of honour to
bring the white men intrusted to his care safely through the surf.

We waited for more than half an hour, bow on, meeting each roller as it
came to us; and by the end of that time the unfortunate liquidator had
evidently given up all hope of ever reaching the shore. Luckily, the
worst was soon to pass. After one last tremendous wave there was a lull
for a few moments, and the patrao, who had watched for such a chance,
swiftly turned the boat round, and giving the word to the crew, they
pulled lustily toward the shore. In a few minutes we were again in
safety. The boat grounded on the beach, the oars were tossed into the
sea; the crew sprang overboard; some of them seized the new arrival; I
clambered on the back of the patrao; a crowd of negroes, who had been
waiting on the beach, laid hold of the tow-rope of the boat, and it and
we were landed simultaneously on the dry sand.

Once on shore Mr. Bransome, for that was the new man’s name, rapidly
recovered his presence of mind and manner, and, by way of covering his
past confusion, remarked that he supposed the surf was seldom so bad as
it then was. I replied in an offhand way, meaning to make fun of him,
that what he had passed through was nothing, and appealed to the patrao
to confirm what I had said. That negro, seeing the joke, grinned all
over his black face; and Mr. Bransome, perceiving that he was being
laughed at, snatched a good-sized stick from a native standing near, and
struck the patrao repeatedly over the back.

In vain Sooka, for that was the patrao’s name, protested, and demanded
to know what wrong thing he had done. The agent was furious, and
showered his blows upon the black. Equally in vain I shouted that Sooka
had done well by us, and that he, Mr. Bransome, was making an enemy of
a man who would have him now and then in his power. At length Sooka
took to his heels, and sure enough, when he had got a little way off, he
began to threaten vengeance for what he had received. I sympathised with
him, for I knew what a loss to his dignity it was to be beaten without
cause before his fellows, and I feared that Mr. Bransome would indeed be
sorry, sooner or later, for what he had done.

I now suggested to him, by way of diverting his thoughts from poor
Sooka, that standing on the beach in wet clothes was the very way to
catch the coast-fever straight off, and he instantly suffered himself to
be carried up the factory. There Jackson received him in a sort of
“who on earth are you?” manner; and Mr. Bransome, clearing his throat,
announced himself and his authority, adding that he intended to make the
factory a point of departure to all the others on the coast; then,
very abruptly, he requested Jackson to prepare quarters for him without
delay.

The change that came over Jackson’s face as he learned the quality of
the stranger and his requests was great. The old salt, who had been king
of his house and of the Point for so long a time, had evidently
never even thought of the probability of such an intrusion as was now
presented to him, and he was amazed at what he considered to be the
unwarrantable assurance of the stranger. However, he recovered himself
smartly, and asked the new man if he had any written credentials.

“Certainly,” replied he, pulling out a document all wet with salt water.
“Here is a letter from Messrs. Flint Brothers, of which, no doubt, you
will have a copy in your mail-bag.”

Jackson took the letter and opened it, and seemed to read it slowly to
himself. All at once he started, looked at the new agent, advanced a
step or two toward him, muttering, “Bransome, Bransome,” then stopped
and asked him in a strange constrained voice, “Is _your_ name Bransome?”

“Yes,” replied the latter, astonished at the old man’s question.

“I knew a Bransome once,” said Jackson, steadily, “and he was a
scoundrel.”

For a moment the two men looked at each other--Jackson with a gleam of
hatred in his eyes, while Bransome had a curiously frightened expression
on his face, which blanched slightly. But he quickly resumed his
composure and peremptory way, and said, “Show me a room; I must get
these wet things off me.”

As, however, he addressed himself this time to me rather than to
Jackson,--who, indeed, regarded him no longer, but stood with the letter
loose in his hand, looking at the floor of the room, as if in deep
meditation,--I showed him into my own room, where I ordered his trunks
to be brought. These, of course, were wet; but he found some things in
the middle of them that were not more than slightly damp, and with the
help of a pair of old canvas trousers of mine he managed to make his
appearance at dinner-time.

Jackson was not at the meal. He had left the house shortly after his
interview with the new agent, and had, I fancied, gone on one of his
solitary rambles. At any rate he did not return until late that night.

I thought Mr. Bransome seemed to be somewhat relieved when he saw
that the old man was not coming; and he became more affable than I had
expected him to be, and relinquished his arrogant style altogether when
he began to question me about Jackson--who he was? what had he been?
how long he had lived on the coast? To all which questions I returned
cautious answers, remembering that I was under a promise to the old man
not to repeat his story.

By the next morning, to my surprise, Jackson appeared to have become
reconciled to the fact that he had been superseded by a man who knew
nothing of the coast, and of his own accord he offered to tell Mr.
Bransome the clues to the letter-locks on the doors of the various
store-rooms; for we on the coast used none but letter-locks, which
are locks that do not require a key to open them. But Mr. Bransome
expressed, most politely, a wish that Jackson should consider himself
still in charge of the factory, at any rate until the whole estate of
the unfortunate Flint Brothers could be wound up; and he trusted that
his presence would make no difference to him.

This was a change, on the part of both men, from the manners of the
previous day; and yet I could not help thinking that each but ill
concealed his aversion to the other.

Months now slipped away, and Mr. Bransome was occupied in going up and
down the coast in a little steamer, shutting up factory after factory,
transferring their goods to ours, and getting himself much disliked by
all the Europeans under him, and hated by the natives, especially by
the boat-boys, who were a race or tribe by themselves, coming from one
particular part of the coast. He had, of course, been obliged to order
the dismissal of many of them, and this was one reason why they hated
him; but the chief cause was his treatment of Sooka, the patrao. That
man never forgave Mr. Bransome for beating him so unjustly; and the
news of the deed had travelled very quickly, as news does in savage
countries, so that I think nearly all of Sooka’s countrymen knew of the
act and resented it.

Mr. Bransome was quite unaware of the antipathy he had thus created
toward himself, except so far as Sooka was concerned; and him he never
employed when he had to go off to vessels or land from them, but always
went in the other boat belonging to the factory, which was steered by a
much younger negro. In addition to humbling Sooka in this way, Bransome
took the opportunity of disgracing him whenever he could do so.
Therefore, one day when two pieces of cloth from the cargo-room were
found in the boatmen’s huts, it was no surprise to me that Sooka was at
once fastened upon by Mr. Bransome as the thief who had stolen them,
and that he was tied to the flogging-post in the middle of the yard, and
sentenced to receive fifty lashes with the cat that was kept for such
a purpose, and all without any inquiry being made. In vain did the
unfortunate man protest his innocence. A swarthy Kroot-boy from Cape
Coast laid the cat on his brown shoulders right willingly, for he also
was an enemy of Sooka’s; and in a few minutes the poor fellow’s flesh
was cut and scored as if by a knife.

After the flogging was over Mr. Bransome amused himself by getting out
his rifle and firing fancy shots at Sooka, still tied to the post; that
is, he tried to put the bullets as close to the poor wretch as he could
without actually wounding him. To a negro, with his dread of firearms,
this was little short of absolute torture, and at each discharge Sooka
writhed and crouched as close to the ground as he could, while his
wide-opened eyes and mouth, and face of almost a slate colour, showed
how terribly frightened he was. To Mr. Bransome it appeared to be
fine sport, for he fired at least twenty shots at the man before he
shouldered his rifle and went indoors. Jackson said nothing to this
stupid exhibition of temper, but as soon as it was over he had Sooka
released; and I knew he attended to his wounds himself, and poured
friar’s balsam into them, and covered his back with a soft shirt--for
all which, no doubt, the negro was afterward grateful. Whether Mr.
Bransome got to know of this, and was offended at it, I do not know, but
shortly afterward he ceased to live with us.

There was between the factory and the sea, and a little to the right of
the former, a small wooden cottage which had been allowed to fall into a
dilapidated state from want of some one to live in it. This Mr. Bransome
gave orders to the native carpenters to repair and make weather-tight;
and when they had done so, he caused a quantity of furniture to be
brought from St. Paul de Loanda and placed within in it. Then he
transferred himself and his baggage to the cottage.

Jackson displayed complete indifference to this change on the part of
the agent. In fact, there had been, ever since the arrival of the latter
upon the Point, and in spite of apparent friendliness, a perceptible
breach, widening daily, between the two men. As to the reason of this I
had my own suspicions, for I had made the discovery that Jackson had for
some time past been drinking very heavily.

In addition to the brandy which we white men had for our own use, I had,
to my horror, found out that he was secretly drinking the coarse
and fiery rum that was sold to the natives; and as I remembered the
mutterings and moanings that had formerly alarmed me, I wondered that I
had not guessed the cause of them at the time; but until the arrival of
Mr. Bransome, Jackson had always kept charge of the spirits himself, and
he was such a secret old fellow that there was no knowing what he had
then taken. Now that I was aware of his failing, I was very sorry for
the old sailor; for on such a coast and in such a climate there was only
one end to it; and although I could not actually prevent him from taking
the liquor, I resolved to watch him, and if such symptoms as I had seen
before again appeared, to tell Mr. Bransome of them at all hazards. But
I was too late to prevent what speedily followed my discovery. It had
come about that the same mail-steamer that had brought out Mr. Bransome
had again anchored off the Point, and again the weather was coarse and
lowering. A stiff breeze had blown for some days, which made the rollers
worse than they had been for a long while. Both Mr. Bransome and Jackson
watched the weather with eager looks, but each was differently affected
by it. Bransome appeared to be anxious and nervous, while Jackson was
excited, and paced up and down the veranda, and kept, strange to say,
for it was contrary to his late habit, a watch upon Bransome’s every
movement.

Every now and then, too, he would rub his hands together as if in eager
expectation, and would chuckle to himself as he glanced seaward. Of his
own accord he gave orders to Sooka to get both the surf-boats ready for
launching, and to make the boys put on their newest loin-cloths; and
then, when everything was in readiness, he asked Bransome if he was
going off to the steamer.

“I fear I must,” said Bransome; “but I--I don’t like the look of those
cursed rollers.”

At this Jackson laughed, and said something about “being afraid of very
little.”

“The beach is perfectly good,” he added; “Sooka knows, and Sooka is the
oldest patrao on the Point.”

And Sooka, who was standing by, made a low obeisance to the agent, and
said that “the beach lived for well,” which was his way of expressing in
English that the sea was not heavy.

At that moment a gun was fired from the steamer as a signal to be quick,
and Bransome said, “I will go, but not in that black blackguard’s boat;
it need not come,” and he went down to the beach.

It was one of Jackson’s rules that when a boat went through the surf
there should be some one to watch it, so I walked to the end of the
Point to see the agent put off. He got away safely; and I, seeing
Sooka’s boat lying on the beach, and thinking that it would be as well
to have it hauled up under the boat-shed, was on the point of returning
to the factory to give the necessary order, when, to my surprise, I saw
the boat’s crew rush down the beach to the boat and begin to push it
toward the sea.

I waved my arms as a signal to them to stop, but they paid no attention
to me; and I saw them run the boat into the water, jump into her, and
pull off, all singing a song to their stroke in their own language,
the sound of which came faintly up to the top of the Point. “Stupid
fellows!” I muttered to myself, “they might have known that the boat
was not wanted;” and I was again about to turn away, when I was suddenly
seized from behind, and carried to the very edge of the cliff, and then
as suddenly released.

I sprang to one side, and turning round saw Jackson, with a look of such
savage fury on his face that I retreated a step or two in astonishment
at him. He perceived my alarm, and burst out into a fit of laughter,
which, instead of reassuring me, had the opposite effect, it was
so demoniacal in character. “Ha! ha!” he laughed again, “are you
frightened?” and advancing toward me, he put his face close to mine,
peering into it with bloodshot eyes, while his breath, reeking of
spirits, poured into my nostrils.

Involuntarily I put up my arm to keep him off. He clutched it, and,
pointing with his other hand to the sea, whispered hoarsely, “What do
you hear of the surf? Will the breakers be heavier before sundown? See
how they begin to curve! Listen how they already thunder, thunder,
on the beach! I tell you they are impatient--they seek some one,” he
shouted. “Do you know,” he continued, lowering his voice again, and
speaking almost confidentially, “sooner or later some one is drowned
upon that bar?” And even as he spoke a fresh line of breakers arose from
the deep, farther out than any had been before. This much I observed,
but I was too greatly unnerved by the strange manner of Jackson to pay
further heed to the sea. It had flashed across my mind that he was on
the verge of an attack of delirium tremens, from the effects of the
liquor he had been consuming for so long, and the problem was to get him
back to the house quietly.

Suddenly a thought struck me. Putting my arm within his, I said,
as coolly as I could, “Never mind the sea, Jackson; let us have a
_matabicho_” (our local expression for a “drink”). He took the bait, and
came away quietly enough to the house. Once there, I enticed him into
the dining-room, and shutting to the door quickly, I locked it on the
outside, resolving to keep him there until Mr. Bransome should return;
for, being alone, I was afraid of him.

Then I went back to the end of the Point to look for the return of the
two boats. When I reached it I saw that the rollers had increased
in size in the short time that I had been absent, and that they were
breaking, one after another, as fast as they could come shoreward; not
pygmy waves, but great walls of water along their huge length before
they fell.

A surf such as I had never yet seen had arisen. I stood and anxiously
watched through a glass the boats at the steamer’s side, and at length,
to my relief, I saw one of them leave her, but as it came near I saw, to
my surprise, that Mr. Bransome was not in the boat, and that it was not
the one that Sooka steered. Quickly it was overtaken by the breakers,
but escaped their power, and came inshore on the back of a majestic
roller that did not break until it was close to the beach, where the
boat was in safety.

Not without vague apprehension at his imprudence, but still not
anticipating any actual harm from it, I thought that Mr. Bransome had
chosen to come back in Sooka’s boat, and I waited and waited to see _it_
return, although the daylight had now so waned that I could no longer
distinguish what was going on alongside the steamer. At last I caught
sight of the boat, a white speck upon the waters, and, just as it
entered upon the dangerous part of the bar, I discerned to my infinite
amazement, that two figures were seated in the stern--a man and a
woman--a white woman; I could see her dress fluttering in the wind, and
Sooka’s black figure standing behind her.

On came the boat, impelled by the swift-flowing seas, for a quarter of
an hour it was tossed on the crests of the waves. Again and again it
rose and sank with them as they came rolling in, but somehow, after
a little further time, it seemed to me that it did not make such way
toward the shore as it should have done.

I lifted the glass to my eyes, and I saw that the boys were hardly
pulling at all, though the boat was not close to the rocks that were
near the cliff. Nor did Sooka seem to be conscious of a huge roller that
was swiftly approaching him. In my excitement I was just on the point of
shouting to warn those in the boat of their danger, although I knew that
they could not understand what I might say, when I saw Jackson standing
on the edge of the cliff, a little way off, dressed in his shirt and
trousers only. He had escaped from the house! He perceived that I saw
him, and came running up on me, and I threw myself on my guard. However,
he did not attempt to touch me, but stopped and cried:

“Did I not tell you that somebody would be drowned by those waves? Watch
that boat! watch it! it is doomed; and the scoundrel, the villain, who
is in it will never reach the shore alive!” and he hissed the last word
through his clenched teeth.

“Good God, Jackson!” I said, “don’t say that! Look, there is a white
woman in the boat!”

At the words his jaw dropped, his form, which a moment before had swayed
with excitement, became rigid, and his eyes stared at me as if he knew,
but comprehended not, what I had said. Then he slowly turned his face
toward the sea, and, as he did so, the mighty breaker that had been
coming up astern of the boat curled over it. For a moment or two it
rushed forward, a solid body of water, carrying the boat with it; and
in those moments I saw, to my horror, Sooka give one sweep with his oar,
which threw the boat’s side toward the roller. I saw the boat-boys leap
clear of the boat into the surf; I saw the agonised faces of the man and
the woman upturned to the wave above them, and then the billow broke,
and nothing was seen but a sheet of frothy water. The boat and those in
it had disappeared. For the crew I had little concern--I knew they would
come ashore safely enough; but for Mr. Bransome and the woman,
whoever she was, there was little hope. They had not had time to throw
themselves into the sea before the boat had capsized, and their clothing
would sink them in such a surf, even if they had escaped being crushed
by the boat. Besides, I feared there had been some foul play on the part
of Sooka. Quickly as he had done it, I had seen him with his oar put the
boat beyond the possibility of escaping from the wave, and I remembered
how he had been treated by Bransome.

With such thoughts I ran along the cliff to the pathway that led down to
the beach; and as I ran, I saw Jackson running before me, not steadily
or rightly, but heavily, and swaying from side to side as he went.
Quickly I passed him, but he gave no sign that he knew any one was near
him; and as I leaped down on to the first ledge of rock below me, I saw
that he was not following me, but had disappeared among the brushwood.

When I got down to the beach, I found that the boat’s crew had reached
the shore in safety, but of the two passengers nothing had been seen.
The capsized boat was sometimes visible as it lifted on the rollers,
but through my glass I saw that no one was clinging to it. I called for
Sooka, but Sooka was missing. Every one had seen him land, but he had
disappeared mysteriously. In vain I questioned the other boys as to the
cause of the disaster. The only answer I could get out of them was an
appeal to look to the sea and judge for myself. The woman was a
white woman from the big ship, was all they could say about her; and,
negro-like, they evidently considered the loss of a woman or so of very
little consequence.

All I could do was to set a watch along the beach to look for the bodies
when they should be washed ashore, and this done, I returned to the
factory. My next desire was to find Sooka. He could hardly have gone
far, so I sent for a runner to take a message to the native king under
whose protection we on the Point were, and after whom the Point was
called, and who was bound to find the missing man for me if he could, or
if he had not been bribed to let him pass.

In my sorrow at what had happened, and in my doubt as to the cause of
it, I had forgotten all about Jackson; but after I had despatched
my messenger to the king, I went to look for him. I discovered him
crouching in a corner of his own bedroom in the dark.

“Are they found?” he asked, in a voice so hollow and broken that I
hardly knew it; and before I could answer him, he whispered to himself,
“No, no; they are drowned--drowned.”

I tried to lead him into the lighted dining-room, but he only crouched
the closer to his corner. At length by the promise of the ever-potent
temptation, liquor, I got him to leave the room. He could scarcely walk,
though, now, and he trembled so violently that I was glad to give him
part of a bottle of brandy that I had by me. He filled a tumbler half
full of the spirits, and drank it off. This put strength into him, and
for a little he was calm; but as he again and again applied himself to
the bottle, he became drunk, and swore at me for my impudence in giving
orders without his sanction. On this I tried to take the bottle from
him, but he clutched it so firmly that I had to let it go; whereupon he
immediately put it to his lips and swallowed the rest of the liquor that
was in it. After which he gave a chuckle, and staggered to a couch, on
which he tumbled, and lay with his eyes open for a long while. At last
he fell asleep, but I was too nervous to do likewise, and sat watching
him the most of the night; at least, when I awoke it was daylight, and
it seemed to me that I had been asleep for a few minutes.

Jackson was still lying on the couch, and his face was calm and peaceful
as he softly breathed. The morning, too, was fine, and as I walked on to
the veranda I saw the sea sparkling in the sunlight, and there was not
a sound from it save a far-off and drowsy murmur. Not a sign remained
on its broad surface of the wrath of the day before. It was wonderfully
calm. Lying here and there on the veranda, rolled up in their clothes,
were the servants of the factory, sleeping soundly on the hard planks.

Presently, as the sun rose in the heavens and warmed the air, the place
began to show signs of life, and one of the watch that I had set on the
beach came running across the yard to tell me that the bodies had come
ashore.

Immediately upon hearing this I called the hammock-bearers together,
and going down to the beach, I went a considerable way along it toward
a dark spot, which I knew to be a group of natives. On coming up to the
group, I found at least fifty negroes collected round the drowned man
and woman, all chattering and squabbling among themselves, and probably
over the plunder, for I saw that the bodies had been stripped to
their underclothing. Rushing into the crowd, with the aid of a stick
I dispersed it, so far as to make the wretches stand back. The man, of
course, was Bransome, there was no doubt as to that, although he had
received a terrible blow on the left temple, most likely from the
pointed stem of the boat as it had toppled over upon him, and his face
was distorted and twisted to one side. The woman was evidently English,
young and pretty, although her long hair, heavy and wet, was polluted by
the sand that stuck to it, and her half-open eyes were filled with
the same. On her lips there lingered a slight smile. She was of middle
height, of slender figure, and delicately nurtured, as the small
bare feet and little hands showed. As I looked at the latter I saw a
wedding-ring on her finger, and I thought, “It is Bransome’s wife.” I
tried to take the ring away, but it would not come off her finger--which
I might have known, because the natives would not have left it there
had they been able to remove it. I then ordered the bearers to lay the
bodies in the hammocks; and that done, our little party wended its way
along the shore homeward, while the natives I had dispersed followed one
after another in African fashion.

Arrived at the factory, I bade the boys place the bodies side by side on
a spare bed in an empty room, and then I sent them to dig a grave in the
little burial-ground on the Point, where two or three worm-eaten wooden
crosses marked the resting-places of former agents of Messrs. Flint
Brothers.

As quick interment was necessary in such a climate, even on that very
day, I went to call Jackson in order that he might perform the duty
that was his--that of reading the burial service over the dead, and of
sealing up the desk and effects of Mr. Bransome. But Jackson was not in
the factory. I guessed, however, where he was; and sure enough I found
him in his accustomed haunt at the end of the Point. The moment he saw
me he tried to hide himself among the brushwood, but I was too quick for
him, and spied him as he crouched behind a dwarf palm.

“I know, I know,” he cried, as I ran up to him; “I saw you come along
the beach. Bury them, bury them out of sight.”

“Come, Mr. Jackson,” I replied, “it isn’t fair to put all the trouble on
to me. I am sure I have had enough of the weariness and anxiety of this
sad business. You must take your share of it. I want you to read the
service for the dead over them.”

“No, no,” he almost shrieked; “bury them quick; never mind me. Put them
out of sight.”

“I will not,” I said, resolutely. “For your own sake you must, at any
rate, view the bodies.”

“They have not been murdered?” He replied. But the startled look with
which I received the suggestion his words implied seemed to make him
recollect himself, for he rose and took my arm without saying more. As
he did so, I felt for the first time a sort of repugnance toward him.
Up to that moment my feeling had been one of pity and anxiety on his
account, but now I loathed him. This he seemed instinctively to feel,
and he clung closely to me.

Once at the factory I determined that there should be no more delay on
his part, and I took him to the door of the room where the bodies had
been laid, but at it he made a sudden halt and would not enter. Covering
his face with his hands, he trembled violently as I pushed the door open
and advanced to the bedside. The room, hushed and in semi-darkness; the
white sheet, whose surface showed too plainly the forms beneath it;
and the scared, terrified face of the man who, with brain afire,
stood watching, with staring eyes, the bed, made a scene I have never
forgotten.

Slowly I turned down the upper part of the sheet, and Jackson, as if
fascinated by the act, advanced a step or two into the room, but with
face averted. Gradually he turned it toward the bodies, and for a moment
his gaze rested upon them. The next instant he staggered forward, looked
at the woman’s face, panted for breath once or twice, and then, with
uplifted hands and a wild cry of “Lucy!” fell his length upon the floor.
When I stooped over him he was in convulsions, and dark matter was
oozing out of his mouth. The climax had come. I shouted for the
servants, and they carried him to his own room, and placed him on his
own bed.

How I got through that day I hardly know. Alone I buried Bransome
and his wife, and alone I returned from the hurried task to watch by
Jackson’s bedside. None of the natives would stay near him. For two days
he lay unconscious. At the end of that time he seemed to have some idea
of the outside world, for his eyes met mine with intelligence in their
look, and on bending over him I heard him whisper, “Forgive me!” Then
he relapsed into unconsciousness again. Through the long hours his eyes
remained ever open and restless; he could not eat, nor did he sleep, and
I was afraid he would pass away through weakness without a sign,
being an old man. On the third day he became delirious, and commenced
chattering and talking to himself, and imagining that all kinds of
horrid shapes and creatures were around and near him. I had to watch him
narrowly in order to prevent him stealing out of his bed, which he
was ready to do at any moment to avoid the tortures which he fearfully
imagined awaited him. By these signs I knew that he was in the middle
of an attack of delirium tremens, and I tried to quiet him by means of
laudanum, but it had no effect upon him. I got him, however, to swallow
a little soup, which sustained him. My own boy was the only negro I had
been able to induce to stay in the room, and he would only remain in it
while I was there.

I had sent a messenger to the nearest station, where I remembered there
was a Portuguese doctor; but he had not returned by the evening of the
fourth day. That night, worn out with watching, I had dozed off to sleep
on a chair placed by the sick man’s bed, when all at once I was awakened
by a loud report, and I jumped up to find the room filled with smoke.
As it cleared away I saw that Jackson was standing in the middle of
the room with a revolver in his hand. As I confronted him he laughed a
devilish laugh and cocked the weapon, crying as he did so, “It was you
who tempted me with your smooth face and unsuspicious way, and you
shall die, though I suffer doubly in hell for it. Hist!” and he stopped
suddenly and listened. “Don’t you hear the breakers? Hark, how they
roar! They say they are ready, always ready,” and staring in front of
him, he advanced, as if following the sign of an invisible hand, to the
door, unconsciously placing, to my infinite relief, the revolver on the
top of a chest of drawers as he passed by it. I did not dare to move,
and he opened the door and walked into the front room. Then I followed
him. For a little he remained in the room, glaring vacantly about him,
and muttering to himself; but seeing the outer door open he made a rush
toward it, and disappeared into the darkness of the night. Calling to
the boy, I ran after him, and easily came up to him, when he turned, and
picking up a heavier stone than I thought he could have lifted, threw it
at me. I dodged it and closed with him. Once in my arms I found I could
hold him, and my servant and I carried him back into the factory. We
placed him on the floor of the dining-room, and he was too exhausted
to move for a while. By degrees, however, he recovered sufficiently to
stand; and as soon as he could do so by himself, with devilish cunning
he made for the lamp, which he struck, quick as lightning, with a stick
that had been lying on the table. In an instant the great round globe
fell to pieces, but luckily the chimney was not broken, and the lamp
remained alight, and before he could strike another blow at it I had
grappled with him again. This time he struggled violently for a few
moments, and seemed to think that he was dealing with Bransome, for he
shrieked, “What! have you come back from the sea? You are wet! you are
wet!” and shuddering, he tried to free himself from my hold; and I, not
liking to hurt him, let him go, taking care to keep myself between him
and the lamp.

“Back from me, you villain of hell!” he cried, as soon as he was free.
“What have you done with her? what have you done with her?” And then,
in a tone of weird and pathetic sorrow, “Where is my little one that I
loved? I have sought her many a year; oh, why did she forsake me? Aha,
Sooka! we were right to send him to the hell whence he came--the lying,
false-hearted scoundrel, to steal away my white dove!”

After which he drew from his finger a solid gold ring which he always
wore, and threw it from him, saying, with a wild laugh, “There! that’s
for any one that likes it; I’m a dead man.” He then staggered toward his
own room, and I, remembering the loaded revolver which still lay on
the chest of drawers, tried to intercept him. In his rage, for I verily
believe that he also remembered that the weapon was there, he spat in my
face, and struck me with all his force between the eyes; but I stuck to
him, and with the help of the boy, who had been all this time in hiding,
but who came forward at my call, I laid him for the last time upon his
bed. There he lay exhausted for the remainder of the night; but there
was no rest for me; I felt that I had to watch him now for my own
safety.

Toward morning, however, his breathing became, all at once, very heavy
and slow, and I bent over him in alarm. As I did so, I heard him
sigh faintly, “Lucy!” and at that moment the native boy softly placed
something upon the bed. I took it up. It was the ring the sick man had
thrown away in the night, and as I looked at it I saw “James, from Lucy”
 engraved on its inside surface, and I knew that the dead woman was his
wife.

As the first faint streaks of dawn stole into the room, the
slow-drawn breathing of the dying man ceased. I listened--it came
again--once--twice--and then all was silence. He was dead, and I
realised in the sudden stillness that had come upon the room that I was
alone. Yet he had passed away so quietly after his fitful fever that I
could not bring myself to believe that he was really gone, and I stood
looking at the body, fearing to convince myself of the truth by touching
it.

So entranced was I by that feeling of awe which comes to almost every
one in the presence of death, that I did not hear the shouting of the
hammock-boy outside, or the footsteps of a white man coming into
the room; and not until he touched me on the shoulder did I turn and
recognise the sallow face of the Portuguese doctor whom I had sent for,
and who had thus arrived too late. However, he served to help me to bury
the mortal part of Jackson in the little graveyard beside the body of
his wife and that of the man who had come between them when alive. And
such was without doubt the fact; for when the doctor had gone, and I
was alone again, I collected and made an inventory of the dead men’s
effects, and in Jackson’s desk I found his diary, or, as he himself
would have called it, his log; and in that log was noted, on the very
day that Bransome had arrived on the Point, his suspicion of the man,
and later on his conviction that Bransome was indeed he who had injured
him.

Sooka was never found; but when the mail-steamer returned from the south
coast, I discovered that the younger patrao had made his crew row away
suddenly from the steamer’s side, while Mr. Bransome had been engaged
below, and was out of sight. So it was evident that the pair had been in
league together to insure Sooka his revenge. What share Jackson had had
in the murder of his enemy I did not care to think of, but feared the
worst.

For myself, I had to remain on the Point for many months, until the
factory was finally closed--for no purchaser was ever found for it;
and doubtless, by this time, the buildings are in ruins, and long grass
hides the graves of those who sleep upon King Bemba’s Point.



GHAMBA, By William Charles Scully

     The darksome cave they enter, where they find
     That cursed man, low sitting on the ground,
     Musing full sadly in his sullen mind.
     _The Faerie Queene._


When Corporal Francis Dollond and Trooper James Franks, of the Natal
Mounted Police, overstayed their ten days’ leave of absence from the
camp on the Upper Tugela, in the early part of 1883, everybody was much
surprised; they being two of the best conducted and most methodical men
in the force. But the weeks and then the months went by without anything
whatever being heard of them, so they were officially recorded as
deserters. Nevertheless none of their comrades really believed that
these men had deserted; each one felt there was something mysterious
about the circumstances of their disappearance. They had applied for
leave for the alleged purpose of visiting Pietermaritzburg. They started
on foot, stating their intention of walking to Estcourt, hiring horses
from natives there, and proceeding on horseback. They had evidently
never reached Estcourt, as nothing could be heard of them at that
village. They were both young men--colonists by birth. Dollond had an
especially youthful appearance. Franks was older. He had joined the
force later in life. He and Dollond, who had only very recently before
his disappearance been promoted, were chums.

Some months later in the same year, when Troopers George Langley and
Hiram Whitson also applied for ten days’ leave of absence,--likewise to
proceed to Pietermaritzburg,--the leave was granted; but the officer in
charge of the detachment laughingly remarked that he hoped they were not
going to follow Dollond and Franks.

Now, neither Langley nor Whitson had the remotest idea of visiting
Pietermaritzburg. It is necessary, of course, for the reader to know
where they did intend going to, and how the intention arose; but before
doing this we must deal with some antecedent circumstances.

Langley was most certainly the most boyish-looking man in the force. He
had a perfectly smooth face, ruddy complexion, and fair hair. He was of
middle height, and was rather inclined to stoutness. He was so fond of
talking that his comrades nicknamed him “Magpie.” A colonist by birth,
he could speak the Kaffir language like a native.

Whitson was a sallow-faced, spare-built man of short stature, with
dark-brown beard and hair, and piercing black eyes. His age was about
forty. He had a wiry and terrier-like appearance. A “down-East” Yankee,
he had spent some years in Mexico, and then drifted to South Africa
during the war period, which, it will be remembered, lasted from 1877 to
1882. He had served in the Zulu war as a non-commissioned officer in one
of the irregular cavalry corps, with some credit. The fact of his being
a man of extremely few words was enough to account for the friendship
which existed between him and the garrulous Langley. Whitson was known
to be a dead shot with the revolver.

This is how they came to apply for leave: One day Langley was strolling
about just outside the lines, looking for somebody to talk to, when he
noticed an apparently very old native man sitting on an ant-heap and
regarding him somewhat intently. This old native had been several times
seen in the vicinity of the camp, but he never seemed to speak to any
one, and he looked so harmless that the police did not even trouble to
ask him for the written pass which all natives are obliged by law to
carry when they move about the country. The old man saluted Langley
and asked in his own language for a pipeful of tobacco. Langley always
carried some loose leaves broken up in his pocket, so he at once pulled
some of these out and half filled the claw-like hand outstretched to
receive them. The old native was voluble in his thanks. There was a
large ant-heap close to the one on which he had been sitting, and on
which he reseated himself while filling his pipe. Against this Langley
leaned and took a good look at his companion. The man had a most
extraordinary face. His lower jaw and cheek-bones were largely
developed, but Langley hardly noticed this, so struck was he with
the strange formation of the upper jaw. That portion of the superior
maxillary bone which lies between the sockets of the eye-teeth
protruded, with the sockets, to a remarkable degree, and instead of
being curved appeared to be quite straight. The incisor teeth were very
large and white, but it was the development of the eye-teeth that was
most startling. These, besides being very massive, were produced below
the level of the incisors to a depth of nearly a quarter of an inch.
They distinctly suggested to Langley the tusks of a baboon.

As is not very unusual with natives, the man was perfectly bald. His
back was bent, and his limbs were somewhat shrunken, but he did not
appear in the least degree decrepit. His eyelids were very red, and his
eyes, though dim, had a deep and intent look. Ugly as was the man--or
perhaps by virtue of his ugliness--he exercised a strange fascination
over Langley.

The old man, whose name turned out to be Ghamba, proved himself a talker
after Langley’s own heart. They discussed all sorts of things. Ghamba
startled his hearer by his breadth of experience and his shrewdness. He
said he was a “Hlubi” Kaffir from Qumbu, in the territory of Griqualand
East, but that he had for some time past been living in Basutoland,
which is situated just behind the frowning wall of the Drakensberg, to
the southwest of where they were speaking, and not twenty miles distant.

They talked until it was time for Langley to return to camp. He was so
pleased at the entertainment afforded by Ghamba that all the tobacco
he had with him found its way into the claw-like hand of that
strange-looking man of many experiences and quaint ideas. So Langley
asked him to come to the ant-heap again on the following day, and have
another talk at the same hour. This Ghamba, with a wide and prolonged
exposure of his teeth, readily agreed to do.

Langley was extremely voluble to Whitson that night over his new
acquaintance. Whitson listened with his usual impassiveness, and then
asked Langley how it was that “an old loafing nigger,” as he expressed
it, had impressed him so remarkably. Langley replied that he did not
quite know, but he thought the effect was largely due to the man’s
teeth. But all the same he was “a very entertaining old buffer.”

Next afternoon Langley was so impatient to resume conversation with his
new friend that he repaired to the ant-heap quite half an hour before
the appointed time. He had not, however, long to wait, as Ghamba soon
appeared, emerging from a donga a couple of hundred yards away.

Langley was more impressed than ever. Ghamba told him all about the
Basutos, among whom he had lived; about the old days in Natal, before
even the Dutch occupation, when Tshaka’s impis wiped whole tribes out of
existence; of the recent wars in Zululand and the Cape Colony, and as
to the probability of future disturbances. Charmed as was Langley by the
old man’s conversation, he felt that on this occasion there was a little
too much of it; that Ghamba was not nearly so good a listener as he had
been on the previous day; so when the latter at length put a question
to him, thus affording an opportunity for the exercise of his own pentup
loquacity, Langley felt elated, more especially as several inquiries
were grouped together in the one asking. Ghamba asked whether anything
had been heard of Umhlonhlo; whether the capture of that fugitive rebel
was considered likely, and whether it was true that a reward of five
hundred pounds had been offered by the government for his capture, dead
or alive.

Umhlonhlo, it will be remembered, was the Pondomise chief who rebelled
in 1880, treacherously murdered Mr. Hope, the magistrate of Qumbu, and
his two companions, and who has since been an outlaw with a price on his
head.

Langley replied to the effect that it was quite true such a reward had
been offered as to Umhlonhlo’s whereabouts, but that the government
believed him to be in Pondoland; that he was sure to be captured
eventually; that he, Langley, only wished he knew where Umhlonhlo was,
so as to have the chance of making five hundred pounds with which to buy
a certain nice little farm he knew of; and that should he ever succeed
in obtaining the reward, and consequently in taking his discharge and
purchasing the farm, he would be jolly glad if old Ghamba would come and
live with him. This is only some of what he said; when Langley’s tongue
got into motion, he seemed to have some difficulty in stopping it.

However, he paused at last, and then Ghamba, looking very intently at
him, said:

“Look here, can you keep a secret?”

Here was a mystery.

“Rather!” said Langley.

“Will you swear by the name of God that you will not reveal what I have
to tell you?”

Langley swore.

Ghamba drew near until his teeth were within a few inches of Langley’s
cheek, and said in a whisper:

“I know where Umhlonhlo is.”

Langley started, and said in an awed voice:

“Where is he?”

“Wait a bit,” said Ghamba; “perhaps I will tell you, and perhaps I
won’t. I like you; you have given me tobacco, and you are not too proud
to come and talk to a poor old man. Now, you say you would like to make
five hundred pounds and buy a farm?”

“Rather!”

“And that you would let me go and live on the farm with you and end my
days in peace?”

“I would, gladly.”

“Well then, if I take you to where Umhlonhlo is, and you will kill him
and get the money, will you give me twenty-five pounds, and let me keep
a few goats, and grow a few mealies on your land?”

“I should think I would. But how could one man take or kill Umhlonhlo?
They say he is well armed and that he has a lot of followers with him.”

“Umhlonhlo,” said Ghamba, glancing anxiously round as if he feared the
very ant-heaps were listening, “is hiding in a cave in the mountain,
not three days’ walk from here. He has not got a single man with him,
because he fears being given up. He is really in hiding from his own
followers now. My sister is one of his wives, and that is how I know all
about it. I passed the cave where he lives four nights ago, and saw him
sitting by the fire. He has only a few women with him.”

“And how do you think I should take him?”

“Take him? you should kill him. I will guide you to the cave by night,
and then you can shoot him as he sits by the fire.”

Langley, although no coward, was not particularly brave. He did not much
relish the idea of alone tackling the redoubtable Umhlonhlo, a savage of
muscle, who was reported to be always armed to the teeth. Moreover,
he had no gun, and was but an indifferent shot with a revolver. So he
thought over the matter for a few moments and then said:

“Look here, Ghamba; I do not care to tackle this job alone, but if I can
take another man with me, I am on.”

“Then you will only get half of the five hundred pounds, and will not be
able to buy the farm. You need not be afraid; you can shoot him without
his seeing you.”

“No,” said Langley, after a pause; “I will not go alone, but if you
will let me take another man with me it can be managed. It will make no
difference to you; you will get your twenty-five pounds.”

“And how about my going to live on the farm with you?”

“Well, I could not buy the farm for two hundred and fifty pounds. Come,
we will give you fifty pounds instead of twenty-five.”

Ghamba thought for a while and then said:

“Very well, I consent. But there need be only one other man, and you
will write down on a piece of paper that you will give me fifty pounds.
When can we start?”

“I must speak to the other man, and then we will apply for leave. We had
better start soon, or else Umhlonhlo may have gone to some other place
of hiding.”

“Yes, we must lose no time.”

“All right! Meet me here to-morrow and I will bring my friend. We will
then settle all about it.”

“You must not mention this matter to any one else, and you must make
your friend promise to keep the secret.”

“Oh, that’s all right!” said Langley. “Meet me here to-morrow, just
after dinner.”

Langley went back to camp, Ghamba looking after his retreating figure
with a smile that revealed his teeth in a very striking manner. Langley
was intensely excited, and exacted (quite unnecessarily) the most solemn
promises from Whitson not to divulge the great secret which he confided
to him. Whitson agreed at once to join in the enterprise, which was one
after his own heart.

Next day the three met at the big ant-heap, and Whitson was very
much impressed by Ghamba’s teeth. He told Langley afterward that they
reminded him of a picture of the devil which he had seen in a copy of
“Pilgrim’s Progress.” The old man’s story appeared, however, consistent
enough, in spite of his peculiar dentition.

So, after a short conversation, Langley and Whitson returned to camp,
having made an appointment to meet Ghamba again on the following morning
at sunrise, so as to finally arrange as to time of starting, etc. They
went at once to the officer in charge of the detachment and applied
for ten days’ leave of absence for the purpose of proceeding to
Pietermaritzburg, which was at once granted.

Next morning they met Ghamba again, and agreed to start on their
expedition that evening. He explained that they must do all their
traveling by night, and lie by during the day; because it would never
do for him, Ghamba, to run the risk of being recognised by persons whom
they might meet. For the sake of his Hlubi relations who were living
among the Pondomise at Qumbu, it was absolutely necessary that he should
not appear in the transaction at all. Were it ever to be even suspected
that he had betrayed the chief, not alone would he be certainly killed,
but all his relations would be shunned by the other natives. He was an
old man, so for him, personally, nothing mattered very much, but a man
is bound to consider the interests of his family. Travelling only
by night, and lying still and hidden during the day, were therefore
absolutely necessary stipulations, and Langley and Whitson agreed to
them as intelligible and reasonable. All being settled, the latter
started for the camp, Ghamba baring his teeth excessively as they walked
away.


At dusk on the evening of the same day, Langley and Whitson met Ghamba
once more at the large ant-heap, and the three at once proceeded on
their course. The only arms taken were revolvers of the government
regulation pattern (breech-loading central fire). They carried
provisions calculated to last eight days, but took no blankets on
account of having to travel at night. When Ghamba volunteered to relieve
them of a considerable share of their respective loads, Langley and
Whitson were filled with grateful surprise.

The plan was as follows: Whitson was to shoot Umhlonhlo, and then remain
in the cave while Langley returned to the camp to report what had been
done, and cause persons who could identify the body to be sent for. They
seem to have had no scruples as to the deed they meant to do; certainly
Umhlonhlo deserved no more mercy than a beast of prey. Nor does it seem
to have struck them that possibly they might shoot the wrong man. But
there was an air of conviction about the manner in which Ghamba showed
his teeth when asked whether he was positive as to the identity of the
man in the cave, that would have dissipated the doubts of most men.
Besides this, he drew out the written undertaking which they had
delivered to him, and said, with a profoundly businesslike look:

“Do I not want the money? Should I take all this trouble if I did not
know what I were doing?”

They walked all night, only resting once or twice for a few minutes.
It was found that Ghamba, in spite of his age, was an extremely good
walker; and when they halted at daylight, Langley was so done up that
he could not have held out for another half-hour. Whitson, the wiry, had
not yet felt the least fatigue.

This march had taken them to the very foot of the Drakensberg range,
and they rested in a valley between two of its main spurs. Here they
remained all day, comfortably located in a sheltered nook where there
was plenty of dry grass. Their resting-place was encircled by immense
rocks. Although the surrounding country was desolate to a degree, and
neither a human being nor an animal was to be seen, Ghamba would not
hear of their lighting a fire nor leaving the spot where they rested.
The weather was clear, and neither too warm nor too cold. They slept at
intervals during the day, and at evening felt quite recovered from their
fatigue.

At nightfall they again started, their course leading steeply up the
gorge in which they had rested. Although the pathway became more and
more indistinct, Ghamba appeared never to be at a loss. Langley several
times shuddered, when they passed by the very edge of some immense
precipice, or clambered along some steep mountain-side, where a false
step would have meant destruction. He began to show signs of fatigue
soon after midnight, so at Ghamba’s suggestion a considerable portion of
his load was transferred to the shoulders of Whitson, who seemed to be
as tireless as Ghamba himself.

At daybreak they halted in the depths of another tremendous gorge
with precipitous sides. The scenery in this particular area of the
Drakensberg range, the neighbourhood of the Mont aux Sources, is
indescribably grand and impressive, and is quite unlike anything else
in South Africa. Enormous and fantastically shaped mountains are here
huddled together indiscriminately, and between them wind and double deep
gloomy gorges, along the bottoms of which mighty boulders are thickly
strewn. On dizzy ledge and steep slope dense thickets of wild bamboo
grow, and a few stunted trees fill some of the less deep clefts,
wherever the sunshine can penetrate. Splendid as is the scenery, its
gloom, its stillness, its naked crags and peaks, its dark depths that
seem to cleave to the very vitals of the earth, become so oppressive
that, after a few days spent among them, the traveller is filled with
repulsion and almost horror. Few living things have their home there.
You might meet an occasional “klipspringer” (an antelope, in habits and
appearance somewhat like the chamois), a wandering troop of baboons, and
now and then a herd of eland in the more grassy areas. There are said to
be a few Bushmen still haunting the caves, but they are seldom or never
seen.

In the afternoon the sun shone into the gorge in which the travellers
were resting, and for a few hours the heat was very oppressive. Whitson
examined his revolver, removing the cartridges and replacing them by
others. He then lay down to sleep, asking Langley to remain awake and
keep a lookout. He had a vague feeling of uneasiness which he could not
overcome. Langley promised to keep awake, but he was too tired to do so.
He sat with his back against a rock, and, after some futile efforts to
keep his eyes open, fell fast asleep. By-and-by Ghamba woke him gently,
and, pointing to Whitson, whose revolver lay in the leather case close
to his hand, whispered:

“Did he not tell you to keep awake?”

Langley was grateful for this evidence of consideration, but he could
not quite make out how Ghamba had been able to understand what Whitson
had said. However, when the latter awoke, Langley said nothing to him
about having disobeyed instructions.

Ghamba said that about two hours’ walk would now bring them to
Umhlonhlo’s cave, so they started off briskly at dusk. Their course now
led for some distance along a mountain ledge covered with wild bamboo,
through which the pathway wound. Then they crossed a steep saddle
between two enormous peaks, after which they plunged into another deep
and winding gorge. This they followed until they reached a part where
it was so narrow that the sides seemed almost to touch over their heads.
Beyond the cliffs fell apart, and then apparently curved toward each
other again, thus forming an immense amphitheatre. At the entrance to
this Ghamba stopped, and said in a whisper that they were now close to
the cave.

They now held a consultation, in terms of which it was decided that
Ghamba should go forward and reconnoitre. So Whitson and Langley sat
down close together and waited, conversing in low tones.

Whitson felt very uneasy, but Langley tried to argue him out of
his fears. The more Whitson saw of Ghamba, the more he disliked and
distrusted him and his teeth. The instinct which detects danger in the
absence of any apparent evidence of its existence is a faculty developed
in some men by an adventurous life. This faculty Whitson possessed in a
high degree.

“Did you keep awake all the time I slept this afternoon?” he asked.

Langley feared Whitson and felt inclined to lie, but something impelled
him, almost against his will, to speak the truth now.

“No,” he replied; “I slept for a few minutes.”

Whitson drew his revolver and opened the breech.

“By God!” he said, “the cartridges are gone!”

Langley took his weapon out of the leather case and opened it. He found
the cartridges were there right enough.

“Have you any spare cartridges?” asked Whitson.

Whitson had already loaded his revolver with the five cartridges
which he had removed in the afternoon, but he again took these out and
replaced them in his waistcoat pocket, and then he reloaded with some
which Langley passed over to him with a trembling hand.

“Look here,” he said, in a hoarse whisper, “we are in a trap of some
kind. When that old scoundrel comes back, do not let him know that we
have found out anything. We will walk on with him for a short distance,
at all events, and then be guided by circumstances. Stand by when you
see me collar him, and slip a sack over his head.”

“Can we not go back now?” said Langley.

“Certainly not; we would never find our way at night. I guess we must
see this circus out. If you have to shoot, aim low.”

In a few minutes Ghamba returned.

“Come on,” he said. “He is sitting at the fire in front of the cave. I
have just seen him.”

“Where is the cave?” asked Whitson. “Is it far from here?”

“We will reach it very soon; you can see the light of the fire from a
few paces ahead.”

They walked on for about fifty yards, and there, sure enough, over a
rocky slope to their left, and at the foot of a crag about three hundred
yards away, could be seen the bright and fitful glow from a fire which
was hidden from their view by a low ridge of piled-up rocks.

Whitson stood still and questioned Ghamba:

“Now tell me,” he asked, through Langley as interpreter, “how we are to
approach.”

“The pathway leads up on the left side,” replied Ghamba. “We will walk
close up to the crag, where there is a narrow passage between it and
that big black rock which you see against the light. You two can lead,
and I will be close behind. I have just seen him. He is sitting at the
fire, eating, and only the women are with him.”

The last words were hardly out of the speaker’s mouth before Whitson had
seized him by the throat with a vice-like grasp.

“Seize his hands and hold them,” he hissed to Langley.

Ghamba struggled desperately, but could not release himself. Whitson
compressed his throat until he became unconscious, and then gagged him
with a pocket-handkerchief. Ghamba’s hands were then tied tightly behind
his back with another pocket-handkerchief, and his feet were firmly
secured with a belt. An empty sack (from which they had removed their
provisions) was then drawn over his head and shoulders, and secured
round the waist.

“Come on now, quickly,” whispered Whitson, and he and Langley started
off in the direction of the fire, after first taking off their boots.

They did not approach by the course which Ghamba had indicated, but made
their way quietly up the slope, straight against the face of the crag.
They reached the heap of rocks, and crept in among them by means of
another narrow passage, close to the inner end of which the fire was;
and this is what they saw through the twigs of a scrubby bush which
effectually concealed them:

A large cave opened into the side of the mountain, and just before the
mouth was an open space about twenty yards in diameter, surrounded on
all sides, except that of the mountain itself, by a wall of loosely
piled rocks, through which passages led out in different directions.
Just in front of the cave burned a bright fire, around which crouched
four most hideous and filthy-looking old hags, and against which were
propped several large earthenware pots of native make, full of water.
Standing behind rocks, one at each side of the inner entrance to
the passage, which was evidently that communicating with the pathway
indicated by Ghamba as the one they were to approach by, were two
powerful-looking men, stark naked, and as black as ebony, their skins
shining in the light of the fire. Each man held a coiled thong in his
hands, after the manner of a sailor about to heave a line. While they
were looking, a woman, somewhat younger in appearance than any of those
who sat by the fire, came out of the cave carrying a strong club about
three feet long. She crouched down close to the man standing on the
left-side of the passage, who, as well as his companion, stood as still
as a marble statue, and in an expectant attitude.

Whitson and Langley, with their revolvers drawn, suddenly stepped out
of their concealment, and walked toward the fire. This evidently
disconcerted the men with the thongs, who apparently did not expect
their intended prey to approach by any course except the passage near
which they were standing; but after a slight pause of hesitancy the
thongs were whirling in the air, and descending, lasso-fashion, upon
the shoulders of the intruders. The noose caught Langley over his
arms, which were instantly drawn close against his body as the thong
tightened, so he was thus rendered completely powerless; but Whitson
sprang, quick as lightning, to one side, and escaped. Three shots
from his revolver rang out in as many seconds, and the two men and the
woman--who was in the act of lifting her club to brain Langley--lay
rolling on the ground, each with a bullet through the head.

The four old hags at the fire began to mow and scream, and got up and
hobbled into the cave. Whitson drew his knife and cut the thong with
which Langley was vainly struggling, and then the two men, pale as
death, looked silently at each other with staring eyes.

Whitson replaced his revolver, and then made a sort of torch out of dry
reeds, a pile of which lay close at hand. He then, leaving Langley to
guard the cave, carefully examined all the passages and spaces between
the rocks, but he could find no trace of any one. The two men thereupon
entered the cave, Whitson holding the torch high over his head. They
found that it ran straight in for about fifteen paces, and then curved
sharply to the left.

It was about four paces in width, and about eight feet high, the roof
being roughly arched. The walls and roof were covered with thick black
greasy soot; and an indescribably horrible stench, which increased the
farther they advanced, made them almost vomit. They found that where the
cave curved to the left it ended in a circular chamber about eight paces
in diameter, and at one side of this crouched the four old hags, huddled
together, and mowing and chattering horribly.

Across a cleft about two feet wide, in the right-hand wall of the cave,
a stick was fixed transversely, and hanging to this were some lumps of
half-dried and smoked flesh. Whitson went up close and examined these
carefully. He drew back with a shudder, and his face changed from pale
to ashen gray.

He and Langley then went outside and stood for a while in the fresh air.
They could endure, just then, no more of the fetid atmosphere inside.
After a short time they gathered up some dry twigs and reeds, and set
several little heaps alight at different spots inside. This had the
effect of making the atmosphere more bearable in the course of a few
minutes. They then made a larger fire in the middle of the cave, and
proceeded to examine it more closely.

They found several old iron picks, such as are used by natives
in cultivating their fields, some very filthy skins, a number of
earthenware pots, a few knives, and an axe; but nothing more.

The floor of the cave was of clay, and at one spot it appeared to have
been recently disturbed. Here Langley began to dig with a pick, which,
just below the surface, struck against some hard substance. This, when
uncovered, proved to be a bone. He threw it to one side and dug deeper,
uncovering more bones--some old, and others comparatively fresh, but
emitting a horrible smell. He stooped and picked one up, but dropped it
immediately, as if it burned him. It was the lower jawbone of a human
being.

“Great God!” he gasped. “What is the meaning of this?”

“It means,” said Whitson, “that we are in a nest of bloody cannibals!”

Langley dropped like a stone, in a dead faint; so Whitson dragged him
outside, and, leaving him to recover in the open air, returned to the
cave. He then seized the pick and began digging, unearthing some new
horror at every stroke. A glittering object caught his eye; he picked
this up and found it to be the steel buckle of a woman’s belt. He
glanced toward the cleft in the rock where the lumps of flesh were
hanging, and caught his breath short. Going outside he made another
torch, which he lit; and then he returned and carefully examined the
loosened surface. Another glittering object caught his eye. This, when
examined, proved to be an old silver watch, the appearance of which
seemed familiar. He forced open the case, and saw, roughly scratched
on the inside, the letter D. He now recognised it; he remembered having
once fixed a glass in this very watch for Dollond, about a month before
the latter’s disappearance. Continuing his search Whitson found the iron
heel-plate of a boot, and a small bunch of keys.

Whitson drew his revolver, and picking up the torch went into the
terminal chamber. Four shots, fired in quick succession, reverberated
immediately afterward through the cavern.

Whitson then went outside to Langley, whom he found sitting down near
the fire, looking if possible, more ghastly than before. The presence of
Whitson seemed, however, to act on him as a kind of tonic, and he soon
pulled himself together sufficiently to assist in piling a quantity of
fuel upon the already sinking fire, which soon blazed brightly, lighting
up the mouth of the cavern and the space in front of it. One of the
bodies of the men who had been shot was lying on its side, with the face
toward the fire. Whitson examined the mouth, pushing back the upper
lip with a piece of stick. He found that the shape of the mouth and the
development of the teeth were the same as Ghamba’s. The other bodies
were lying on their faces, so he did not trouble to examine them.

Whitson then told Langley to follow him, and the two walked down the
foot-path toward where they had left Ghamba. Him they found lying
motionless in the position in which he had been left about an hour
previously. They removed the sack and the gag and untied his feet, first
taking the precaution to fasten the belt by one end to his bound hands,
Whitson holding the other. They then signed to him to proceed toward the
cave, and this he silently did, without making any resistance. He looked
calmly at the three dead bodies, but said not a word. Langley held him,
while Whitson again tied his feet together with the belt, and then they
placed him with his back against a rock, facing the fire, which
was still blazing brightly. His lips were drawn back in a ghastly,
mirthless, grin, and the tusks were revealed from point to insertion.

Langley questioned Ghamba, but he would not speak. After several
attempts to force him to answer had been vainly made, Whitson said:

“Now tell him that if he speaks and tells the whole truth he will only
be shot, but if he does not speak he will be burned alive.”

This was interpreted, but the threat had no apparent effect. So Whitson
seized Ghamba and dragged him to the fire, where he flung him down on
the very edge of the glowing embers.

“Now,” said Whitson, holding him down with his foot, so that he got
severely scorched, “for the last time, will you speak?”

“Take me away from the fire, and I will speak,” said Ghamba, in English.

So they lifted him, and set him again with his back to the rock.

“Now,” said Whitson, “go ahead, and no nonsense!”

“If I tell the whole truth,” said Ghamba, still speaking English, and
with a fair accent, “will you swear not to burn me, but to shoot me, so
that I shall die at once?”

“I will,” said Whitson.

“You too must swear,” said Ghamba, looking at Langley.

“Yes, I swear.”

“Very well,” said Ghamba, “I will tell you everything, but you must both
remember what you have sworn to.”

“Yes, all right,” said Whitson. Ghamba then looked at Langley, who
repeated the words.

“I will tell you,” said Ghamba, “all I can remember, and you can ask
questions, which I shall answer truly. You have heard of Umdava, who
used to eat men in Natal long ago, after the wars of Tshaka--well, he
was my uncle. After Umdava had been killed and his people scattered, my
father, with a few followers, came to live among these mountains. But we
found that after having eaten human flesh we could enjoy no other food,
so we caught people and ate them. These two men lying dead are my sons,
and that woman is my daughter. My four wives were here to-night. They
are very old women. Have you not seen them?” he asked, looking at
Whitson.

“They are in there; I shot them,” said Whitson, pointing to the cave.

“I had other children,” continued Ghamba, quite unmoved, “but we ate
them when food was scarce.”

“Have you always lived, all these years, on human flesh?” asked Whitson.

“No, not always; but whenever we could obtain it we did so. There is
other food in these mountains--honey, ants’ eggs, roots, and fruit;
besides game, which is, however, not very easy to catch. But we have
often all had to go away and work when times have been bad. Besides, I
have a herd of cattle at a Basuto kraal, and I have been in the habit of
taking some of these now and then, and exchanging them for corn, which
the women then went to fetch. But we have always tried to get people to
eat, because we could enjoy no other kind of food. Sometimes we got them
easily; and when we were very fortunate we used to dry part of the meat
by hanging it up and lighting a fire underneath, with green wood, so as
to make plenty of smoke.”

“Have you killed many white people?” asked Whitson.

“Yes, a good number; but not, of course, as many as black. Lately we
have always tried to catch whites, because when you have eaten white
flesh for some time, the flesh of a native no longer satisfies you.”

“Why not?”

“The flavour is not so strong.”

“Did you induce the other two policemen to come up by means of the story
about Umhlonhlo?”

“Yes, they came up just as you did, and my sons caught them with the
thongs. Umhlonhlo has brought us plenty of food.”

“Were you able to take the cartridges out of their revolvers as you did
out of mine?”

“No, I had no opportunity; but it was not necessary, because my sons
were so expert at throwing the thongs that they could always catch
people over the arms, and thus render them unable to shoot.”

“How did they manage to become so expert?”

“By continued practice. I used to walk up the path over and over again,
and let them throw the thong over me. Then the woman was always there
with the club, so that, if one of the thongs missed, she was ready to
strike. I, also, was usually ready to help, in case of necessity.”

“Why did you think it necessary to take the cartridges out of my
revolver?”

“Because I feared you from the first, and were it not that he”--baring
his teeth and glancing at Langley, who shuddered--“looked so nice, and
that we wanted fresh meat so badly, I would not have risked bringing
you. But it would have been all right if I had only let your revolver
alone.”

“You say Umhlonhlo has brought you plenty of food; did you ever get any
one besides ourselves and the other two policemen to come up here by
telling them that story?”

“Yes, two others--one a man who was searching for gold on the Free State
side of the mountains, and the other a trader whom I met at Maseru. But
these each came alone.”

“I see the buckle of a woman’s belt in there. Whom did that belong to?
You surely never got a white woman up here?”

“Yes, we did,” said Ghamba, with a horrible half-smile which bared the
gums high above the sockets of his tusks. “She was a young girl who had
strayed from a waggon passing over the mountain by the Ladysmith road,
only a day’s walk from here. I pretended to show her the shortest way
to her waggon, and thus brought her as far as she could walk in this
direction. I then killed her, and came up here and fetched my sons. We
carried her up in the night. She was very young and plump, and I have
never eaten anything that I enjoyed so much.” (Whitson turned cold
with horror. He remembered the girl’s mysterious disappearance, and the
fruitless searches undertaken in consequence.) “His flesh”--glancing
again at Langley--“looks something like hers did, and I am sure it would
taste just as nice. There was still a little of her left when I went
away last week. If you will go in there and look where the rock is split
on the right-hand side, you will--” But he did not finish the sentence,
for a bullet from Whitson’s revolver crushed through his brain, and he
tumbled forward on his face into the fire.


It was only after tremendous difficulty that Whitson and Langley
succeeded in escaping from the mountains. However, on the evening of the
third day after their adventure in the cave, they came in sight of the
police camp. Whitson sat down on a stone, and motioned his companion to
do the same.

“See here, sonny,” he said, “I want to have a short talk with you. I am
a bit cross with you as the cause of my having been sucked in by that
d--d murdering old walrus. You ought to know the inhabitants of this
country better than a simple stranger like me, and so I took your lead.
Now, another thing: you nearly bust us both by your blasted foolishness
in going to sleep that day; but let that pass, because perhaps it would
have been worse if we had not been put on our guard; not but that it
would take a d--d smart cannibal to eat Hiram Whitson. But this is what
I am coming to: you, my boy, are a darned sight too fond of hearing your
own tongue clack. Now, take a warning from me, and don’t let a word
of what has happened since we left camp for Pietermaritzburg pass your
lips. I did all the shooting, and I’m not a bit ashamed of it; but, by
the eternal God, if you open your lips to a soul, I’ll shoot you like
a dog or a cannibal! Remember that, sonny, and say it quietly over
to yourself the first time you feel that you want to blab. Now, shake
hands.”

This was probably the longest speech that Whitson had ever made.

About two years after the events narrated, Whitson took his discharge
and returned to America. He left behind him a sealed packet addressed
to his commanding officer, and which was not to be delivered for twelve
months after his departure.

Owing, however, to a strange combination of fortuitous circumstances,
this packet never reached its proper destination; its wrapper, bearing
the address, having been scorched off in a fire which took place in the
house where it was left.


NOTE

Many people have heard or read of the cannibals of Natal, who turned
large tracts of country into a shambles in the early part of this
century, after Tshaka’s impis had swept off all the cattle, and then
kept the miserable people continually on the move so that they were
unable to cultivate. One Umdava originated the practice of eating human
flesh. Gathering together the fragments of four scattered tribes, he
trained them to hunt human beings as others hunted game. This gang was
a greater scourge to the country surrounding the present site of
Pietermaritzburg than even Tshaka’s murdering hordes. It was broken up
in or about the year 1824, when the Europeans first came to the country,
and the remnants of many scattered tribes returned and settled under
their protection.

All this is history with which most people in South Africa are familiar,
but many do not know that some of the cannibals fled to Basutoland,
where, among almost inaccessible mountains, they carried on their
horrible practices for many years.

It is a well-known fact that when men once surrender themselves to any
unnatural and brutal vice, the gratification of the abnormal instinct
thus acquired becomes the most imperative need of their nature.
The Falkland Islands case, as bearing specially upon the foregoing
narrative, may be mentioned. Some convicts escaped from the Falkland
Island convict station, and succeeded in reaching the coast of
Patagonia. They then endeavored to make their way to Montevideo, but
having to keep along the shore so as to avoid the natives, who would
have killed them had they ventured inland, were easily intercepted by
the government cutter, which was always despatched in cases of the kind
to head off fugitives upon their only possible course. Of the party only
one man was found alive. In their dreadful need the men had cast lots as
to who should be killed and eaten by the others, and this went on until
only the one man remained. His sufferings had been so horrible that
he was let off any further punishment, and simply brought back to the
island to complete the term of his sentence. Some months after, this
man induced another to escape with him in a boat, and, when the boat was
overtaken, it was found that he had killed his companion for the purpose
of eating the latter’s flesh. This was apparent from the fact that
the supply of food which the fugitives had taken with them was not
exhausted.



MARY MUSGRAVE, By Anonymous


“Nine carets ef it’s a blessed one.”

“Scale ‘im, an’ ye’ll find he’s a half better. Clear es a bottle o’
gin, an’ flawless es the pope! Tommy Dartmoor, ye’re in luck, s’ welp me
never ef ye ain’t, an’ that’s a brilliant yer can show the polis an’ not
get time fer.”

Tommy Dartmoor, who owed his surname to a crown establishment within the
restraining walls of which he had once enjoyed a temporary residence,
growled out a recommendation to “stow that,” and then added, “Boys,
we’ll wet this. Trek to Werstein’s.”

Forthwith a crowd of dirty, tanned diggers turned their heads in the
direction of Gustav Werstein’s American Bar, and walked toward it as
briskly as the heat and their weariness would admit of. The Israelite
saw them coming, straightened himself out of the half-doze in which
he had passed the baking afternoon, stopped down the tobacco in the
porcelain bowl of his long-stemmed pipe with stumpy forefinger, and,
twisting a cork off his corkscrew, stood in readiness.

“Name yer pizons, boys, an’ get outside ‘em, wishin’ all good luck to
R’yal Straight; R’yal Straight bein’ the name o’ this yer stone given by
Thomas D. Hesquire, original diskiverer an’ present perprietor.”

The orders were given,--bass at five shillings a bottle, champagne
(nee gooseberry) at five pounds, Cape smoke at two shillings per two
fingers,--and, at a given signal, there was an inarticulate roar from
dusty throats, an inversion of tumblers over thirsty mouths, and a
second inversion over the ground to show that all the contents had
disappeared.

Satan, the one cat and only domestic pet of the camp, saw that there was
a general treat going on, and bustling up for his drink took a can of
condensed milk at six shillings. Other diggers came trooping in as the
news spread, and Tommy Dartmoor, who was rapidly becoming mellow, for
he drank half a tumbler of raw whisky with every one who nodded to
him, stood them refreshments galore, while the greasy Jew began to see
visions of his adopted fatherland in the near distance.

So the Kaffirs, except those who had supplies of their own, kept sober
and peaceful, while the higher order of the human race at Big Stone
Hole, after the manner of their kind, began to squabble. It was natural
for them to do so, perhaps, for the weather was so hot, and the liquors,
for the most part, more so; and under these circumstances men do not
always cast about them long for a casus belli. One or two minor brawls
opened the ball, and Herr Gustav, scenting battle in the air, drew from
a locker a card, which he balanced against the bottles on a shelf above
his head. It read thus:

     GENTS IS REKESTED TO SHOOT
     CLEAR OF THE BARR-KEP.
     BROKIN GLAS MAY BE PADE FOR
     AT COST PRISE.

and had been written for the German by a gentleman who had had
some experience in Forty Rod Gulch, Nevada. The action elicited a
contemptuous laugh from one or two of the new hands, but the oldsters
began shifting sundry articles which depended from their belts into
positions from which they might be handled at the shortest notice;
and the black cat, more wise than any of them, having drunk his fill,
stalked solemnly out into the security of the darkness.

The sun went down,--went out with a click, some one declared,--and,
as no twilight interposed between daylight and darkness in the country
which Big Stone Hole ornamented, Herr Gustav lit his two paraffin-lamps.
Neither boasted more than a one-inch wick, and, as their glasses were
extremely smoky, the illumination was not brilliant; but it sufficed to
show the flushed, angry faces of a couple of men standing in the centre
of the room, with all the others clustered round, watching eagerly. One
was the Scholar. The other was a burly giant, whose missing left little
finger caused him to be nicknamed the Cripple. About what they had
originally fallen out was not clear to any one, to themselves least of
all. As the case stood when the second lamp was lit, Scholar had called
Cripple a something-or-other liar, and Cripple, who was not inventive,
had retorted by stigmatising Scholar as another. Further recriminations
followed, and their pistols were drawn; but as the audience had a strong
objection to indiscriminate shooting, by which it was not likely to
benefit, the belligerents were seized. No one was unsportsmanlike enough
to wish to stop the fight, and Jockey Bill, giving voice to the general
wish of the meeting, proposed that the gents be fixed up agin’ a couple
o’ posts outside, where they might let daylight into each other without
lead-poisoning casual spectators.

The motion was acted on, and after rectifying a slight omission on
the Cripple’s part--he had forgotten to put caps on the nipples of his
revolver--the pair of them were seated upon upturned barrels some ten
yards apart, each with a lamp at his feet, and told to begin when they
saw fit to do so. The swarthy, bearded diggers grouped themselves on
either side, and the cat, emerging from his retreat, scrambled on to
the shoulder of one of them, fully as curious as the rest to “see the
shootin’.” It was a weird sight,--dust, scorched grass, empty tins, rude
hovels, piles of debris, African moonlight,--yet, except, perhaps, in
the eyes of the newest comers, there was nothing strange in it. The
others were too wrapped up in what was going to take place to see
anything quaint in their every-day surroundings. There was no theatre in
the camp. The little impromptu drama riveted all attention.

But before the duel commenced, a galloping horse, which had approached
over the grassy veldt unnoticed during the excitement, drew up with a
crash between the two combatants, and its rider, raising his hand to
command attention, cried:

“Boys, there’s a white woman comin’!”

“A white woman!” was chorused in various tones of disbelief. “What,
here? White woman comin’ here, Dan?”

And then some one inquired if she was a Boer.

“Boer--no,” replied Dan; “English--English as I am; leastways Englisher,
bein’ Amurrican-born myself. Overtook her et Hottentot Drift. Thort I’d
spur on an’ tell yer. We’d do wi’ a clean-up, some on us.”

Dan spoke indistinctly, as a bullet had lately disarranged some of his
teeth; but his words had a wonderful effect.

Each man began instinctively to tidy himself. The would-be duellists,
forgetting their quarrel, stuck the revolvers in their belts and
followed the general example. The Cripple hied him to the store, and
after breaking down the door abstracted the only blacking-brush in the
camp,--putting down a sovereign on the counter in exchange for it,--and
set to polishing his high boots as if a fortune depended on their
brightness. The Scholar bought Herr Gustav’s white shirt for a fiver,
threatening to murder its owner if he did not render it up. And
Partridge, a good man from Norfolk, with a regrettable weakness for
shooting other people’s game, induced a friend to denude him of his
flowing locks by means of a clasp-knife and a hunk of wood, as no
scissors were procurable.

The wardrobes of Big Stone Hole were stocked more with a view to strict
utility than variety or ornamentation, and the slender resources of the
store utterly gave out under the sudden strain that was put upon them.
In every direction grimy, unkempt men might be seen attempting to
beautify themselves. Here was one enduring agonies from a razor that
would scarcely whittle a stick; here another recalling the feel of a
cake of soap; there a great fellow pulling faces as he struggled to get
the teeth of a comb into his shock of hair; there another brushing the
clay from his moleskin trousers with a tuft of stiff grass.

It seemed to these men ages since they had last seen a woman in
the flesh,--Kaffir women don’t count; they are not women, merely
Kaffirs,--and, with the natural instinct of males of every species, they
set about pluming their feathers.

These operations, though speedy as might be, were necessarily prolonged,
for most of the men required several buckets of water over the head
before they felt fit for such unaccustomed exercises, and they were
scarcely finished before the creaking of wheels and the cries of the
voorlooper as he urged his oxen announced that the wagon was within
earshot. Up it came, the great tilt gleaming white in the moonlight, and
every eye was fixed expectantly on the dark chasm within. The driver,
puffed up with his own importance, cracked his long whip and deigned not
to notice the men whom he usually greeted with a friendly hail, and the
Hottentot boy ahead, imitating his master, vouchsafed no explanation.
With more deathly slowness than usual did the lumbering vehicle crawl
along until the tired cattle pulled up before the door of the American
Bar. Then there was a rush and a bit of a scuffle for the honour of
handing the woman out. The Cripple was the fortunate man, and, after
assisting her to the ground, waved his tattered hat toward the gleaming
open doorway. But he did not speak. Words were beyond him. Indeed, the
diggers, who were none of them particularly remarkable for taciturnity
as a general thing, seemed, with one exception, to be stricken dumb.
But the Scholar proved himself equal to the occasion, and with courtly
phrase bade the new-comer welcome to the camp. He had always been a
popular man among women in his palmier days, though openly holding
rather a poor opinion of them; and as the one before him now was neat
of speech and comely of form, he was not at all averse to enjoying her
society and conversation.

“I should be much obliged if you would direct me to a hotel,” she said,
after taking a look around the cheap gaudiness of the saloon.

“I’m sorry to say that we have no hotel here as yet, Miss--er--?”

“Musgrave. Miss Mary Musgrave”--with a little bow. “But I heard that a
German had started a hotel here.”

“No; there is nothing but this. That”--pointing to Herr Gustave, who was
regarding the newcomer with an evil eye--“that is the German.”

Miss Musgrave appeared distressed.

“Then where can I go?” she asked. “Are there any lodgings to be had?”

“The lady may have my place,” chorused three eager voices, and every man
in the room repeated the offer.

She thanked them with a pretty smile and one comprehensive bow, and
looked up at the Scholar for help.

“I would offer you my hut if it were not such a wretched one. But, as
it is, I should advise you to take this man’s”--and he pointed to Tommy
Dartmoor.

“Why, mine’s twenty carats better than hisn!” exclaimed the Cripple.

“And mine better ‘n either,” growled Dan.

“Mine’s the best of the lot.”

“No, it isn’t; mine is,” yelled others, till there was a general roar,
which caused Miss Musgrave to look frightened and shrink nearer to the
Scholar, and that gentleman to raise his hand for silence.

“Look here,” said he, “we’ll pick out the twelve best, and their owners
can cut with one another from a pack of cards.”

After some discussion twelve were settled upon, but the number was
immediately raised to thirteen to prevent Jockey Bill disgracing the
camp by shooting before a lady. A pack of cards was placed on the bar,
and each man chose one, holding his selection face downward till all
were ready. Then the Scholar said, “Turn,” and there were exhibited five
aces, two kings, a queen, three knaves, and two smaller cards. This was
awkward, to say the least of it, and, while sarcastic laughter rippled
among the spectators, there was an instinctive movement of right hands
toward the back of the belt on the part of each of the thirteen.

But the Scholar’s voice, full of remonstrance, said, “Boys, you’re being
looked at,” and there was a regretful sigh or two, but no bloodshed.

Miss Musgrave gazed inquiringly from one to another, and the Scholar,
laying his hand on her arm, whispered something in her ear. She smiled,
whispered back, and was answered, and then, stripping off a pair of
well-fitting fawn gloves, she took the cards in a pretty little white
hand, and dealt out one to each of the competitors with charming
clumsiness.

“Ain’t touched a keard afore, bless her,” whispered Euchre Buck, giving
his neighbor Dan a nudge in the ribs to call attention to this wonderful
piece of girlish innocence. “Square a deal es George Washington mought
ha’ made.” Then, as the greasy pasteboards were turned up, and his
neighbour was handed the ace of clubs, he raised his voice and yelled
out, “Bully for you, Dan! Cut away an’ clar yer cabin out.”

Away scampered Dan out into the darkness, with the rest of the crew at
his heels. Their home comforts were very small, poor fellows; but each
gave of his best, though the gifts were often incongruous enough.
In half an hour the cabin was fitted out with a small cracked
looking-glass, two combs, an old hair-brush,--still wet from the
wash,--a pail, a frying-pan, three kettles, two three-legged stools, and
so many blankets that some were requisitioned to carpet the floor. The
whole crowd accompanied Miss Musgrave to her door and gave her a
cheer by way of good-night. She bowed to them, smiling her thanks, and
looking, as they thought, entrancingly lovely as she stood there, with
the pale moonbeams falling full on her.

Then she turned to go in, but as Euchre Buck stepped forward with an
admonishing cough, she waited and looked round at him.

“Miss,” said he, holding out a big revolver in his hard fist, “you take
this yer gun, an’ ef any one whistles, or otherwise disturbs you, let a
hole into him straight away, an’ we’ll see him buried decent.”

But Miss Musgrave courteously, and with profuse thanks, refused the
offer, and, saying that she had perfect confidence in all who were
around her, gave Euchre Buck a bewitching smile, went inside, and closed
the door after he.

Then the diggers returned to Gustav Werstein’s American Bar and
discussed the new arrival.

“I known Noomarket an’ Hascot an’ Hepson, an’ all the places where
swells goes in England,” said Jockey Bill, enthusiastically; “but never
one come there as pretty as she, stop my license if ther’ did.”

“Grand eyes, hain’t she?” said Tommy Dartmoor. “Regular fust-water ‘uns.
Here’s to ‘em!”

“And-a-hoof! See it peep below her gownd. S’ welp me ef it wer’ es big
as my ‘bacca-box!”

“An’ ‘er close, gentlemen! Made to measure, every thread on ‘em, I
allow.”

“She’s a lady, boys,” exclaimed he who had offered to see after a
funeral, “a reg’lar slap-up, high-toned, blow-yer-eyes-don’t-touch-me
lady; an’ as she sees fit to do the civil to this fellar”--striking
himself on the chest--“he’s just going to drop his professional name,
an’ arsk yer to call him Mister Samuel K. Gregson, Esquire. Play on
that.”

Next morning the inhabitants of Big Stone Hole were startled by reading
this announcement outside the cabin which Dan had resigned to Miss
Musgrave:

     SINGING AND MUSIC TAUGHT.
     LITERARY WORK DONE.

It was printed on a card, which was affixed to the door by means of a
drawing-pin, and from within came the sound of a contralto voice singing
to a guitar accompaniment. One by one the male residents of Big Stone
Hole drew near to that iron-roofed hut and stopped to listen; but after
commenting on the innovation in gleeful whispers--for guitar had never
twanged in that part of Africa before--they moved on to their work. No
consideration could cause them to neglect that. They might fritter away
the dull, rough gems when they had found them, but the lust of handling
diamonds once was the strongest passion they knew. And so the day’s
toil was not curtailed; but at the conclusion Miss Musgrave had an
application for instruction in music from every man in the camp, with
one exception. This one defaulter was Euchre Buck. He owned to having
no ear for music--thereby exhibiting more honesty than many of the
others--and confessed to knowing only two tunes, one of which was
“Hail Columbia,” and the other--wasn’t; and so he said he wanted some
“literary work done.” He proposed to Miss Musgrave that she should write
a history of his life at half a guinea a page, thereby--cute Yankee that
he was--thinking to appropriate the whole of her time.

But embarrassed by all these calls upon her, and obviously unable to
satisfy each of them, Miss Musgrave turned for help to the Scholar,
whom she appeared to regard as her special adviser; and he, promising a
solution of the difficulty in half an hour, drew off the whole crowd to
the American Bar, where the question was thrashed out in all its points.

It was clearly evident that Miss Musgrave could not surrender to each
individual the whole of her evening, even if any one had been willing to
let his neighbor monopolise it, which no one was; and therefore it
was necessary to formulate some scheme by which her talents might be
distributed over a larger area. But what the scheme should be was not
settled all in a minute. One man wanted to hear her sing, another to
hear her talk, another was willing to give five pounds an hour for the
privilege of talking to her. After a lengthened discussion, which was
excited throughout, and at times verged on the warlike, it was
decided to effect a compromise--subject, of course, to Miss Musgrave’s
inclinations; and a deputation was sent to learn her views on the
subject.

There was no assembly-room in the place, excepting Werstein’s
saloon,--which, of course, was not available for such a purpose,--and so
it was proposed to her, with much humility, that she should take up her
position in the evenings on a chair outside her hut, and there discourse
such vocal and instrumental music as she saw fit, interlarding the
same with friendly conversation. What was she to talk about?
Anything--absolutely anything. They didn’t mind what it was, so long as
they heard her voice. Five shillings, the committee had decided, was to
be paid by every man who came within earshot. And any one who wanted a
free list was requested to argue the matter out with Euchre Buck.

This call upon her powers seemed to take Miss Musgrave aback.

“I have never sung in public,” she pleaded, rather nervously. “Indeed,
my voice is not good enough for it; really it isn’t. Only I thought
I could teach a little perhaps, and that is why I came here. You see,
mother, is an invalid, and we were so very poor that--”

“Miss,” broke in Jockey Bill, “call it ten bob a ‘ead, an’ just ‘um to
us.”

“Oh no, Mr. William, it was not the money that I thought about; indeed,
five shillings would be far too much. But if you think that I should be
able to amuse you at all, I would do my very best--believe me, I would.”

“Miss,” growled Dan, with a clumsy endeavour to chase away her
diffidence, “all we asks is fer you to sit near us fer a spell. Ef you
sings or plays, we’d be proud; ef you just looks an’ talks, we’d be
pleased.”

So in the end Miss Musgrave yielded to the wishes of the community, and
the nightly conclave in the American Bar became so much a thing of the
past that Gustav Werstein was heard to threaten another emigration. The
songs were to the diggers new, and yet not new. There was nothing of the
music-hall type about them; they were nearly all old-fashioned ditties.
She sang to them of “Barbara Allen” and “Sally in our Alley”; she
gave them “Cheer, Boys, Cheer,” and called for a chorus; she sang “The
Message,” “The Arrow and the Song”; and she brought back memories of
other days when Africa was to them a mere geographical expression--of
days when that something had not happened which had sent them away from
home.

Sunday came, the fifth day after her arrival, and it differed from the
usual Sabbath of Big Stone Hole. Sunday had been observed before by
the biggest drinking bout of the week, and a summary settlement of the
previous six days’ disputes. Now, to the huge surprise of the Kaffirs,
and to the still greater surprise of themselves, these diamond-diggers
sang hymns at intervals during the day, and refrained from indulging in
the orthodox carouse till after Miss Musgrave had retired for the night.
It was a wonderful change.

During the next week a fall of earth took place in Tommy Dartmoor’s
claim. Two Kaffirs were killed; and when the proprietor himself was
extricated from the debris of blue clay which held him down, he was
found to have a broken arm, besides other serious injuries.

“Don’t let on to her,” he managed to gasp out to his rescuers, wishing
to spare Miss Musgrave’s nerves a shock.

But she saw the men bearing him to his hut, joined them, and insisted on
being installed as sole nurse forthwith.

Twenty other men would willingly have broken an arm for such a reward;
and the recklessness displayed during the next few days was something
awful. But she saw that too,--little escaped those big blue eyes,--and,
ascribing it to drink, gave a pretty strong lecture on the bibulous
habits of Big Stone Hole, at her next concert.

There was an earnest meeting in the American Bar that night, at which
the following motion was put and carried unanimously: “On and after this
date, any drunken man is liable to be shot at sight, unless his friends
can prove that he has dug over three carats of diamonds during the day.”
 And then, like other reformers, they went on to more sweeping measures:
“Only knife-fighting to take place in the camp. All disputes with
pistols, unless of a very pressing nature, to be settled out of earshot
of Dan’s house.” There were even some hints of appointing a closing-time
for the saloon--“it would make the place so much more like home.” But
the promoter eventually withdrew his suggestion, as it was justly felt
that such a motion would interfere with the liberty of the subject too
much. But a storm of cheers burst forth when it was proposed to
transfer the diamond-safe from Werstein’s keeping to a corner of the new
goddess’s shrine.

Even Satan, the cat, joined in the general adoration, and, more favoured
than the rest, enjoyed at times a chaste salute from Miss Musgrave’s
ripe-red lips.

Never, in so short a space of time, had a community been more changed
for the better than was that of Big Stone Hole. Never had woman’s
humanising influence made itself more clearly felt. The azure cloud
of blasphemy that hung over the workings and the rest of the camp was
replaced again by the normal dust. Each man tried to beautify the inside
of his shanty to the best of his means and ideas, for there was no
knowing when the only “she” would take it into her pretty, capricious
head to pay a call. In this latter line the Scholar had a decided pull.
Education had taught him taste; necessity, handiness; and by aid of
the two he transformed his rude dwelling into something approaching the
rooms in which he used to dawdle away the happy hours, time ago. It was
partly drawing-room, partly curiosity-shop. Cups, saucers, and spoons
appeared as if by magicians’ call, and one blazing afternoon the news
flashed round the diamond-pits that Miss Musgrave was “taking afternoon
tea with the Scholar.” But when the Scholar saw the dismay his simple
act had spread around him, he dissipated it with a kindly laugh and a
few reassuring words.

“Don’t mind me, boys. I was only doing the civil in a purely platonic
manner. Miss Musgrave is nothing to me, nor am I anything to her. Heaven
forbid! I’m too hard a bargain for any girl. If any one of you marries
her I’ll act as his best man if he asks me to, and wish him every
felicity without a thought of regret.”

“Bully for the Scholar!” yelled the delighted crowd; and Miss Musgrave’s
smiles were more sought after than ever.

So things went on day after day, week after week, till Miss Musgrave
became little short of an autocratic empress. But still she showed no
signs of taking unto herself a consort; she kept all men at a cousinly
distance, and those who felt intimate enough to address her as “Miss
Mary” accounted themselves uncommonly fortunate. Thus the little machine
of state worked perfectly harmoniously, and Big Stone Hole was as steady
and prosperous a settlement as need be.

Had these diggers refreshed their minds by looking back for historical
parallels, they might have been prepared in some degree for Miss
Musgrave’s exit from among them, but as none of them indulged in such
retrospections the manner of it took the camp somewhat by surprise.

It was first discovered in this wise. Work was over for the day. The
Kaffirs had been searched and had returned to their kraal. Pipes
were being lit after the evening meal, and a picturesque assembly was
grouping itself in an expectant semicircle on the sun-baked turf in
front of Miss Musgrave’s dwelling. She was usually outside to welcome
the first comers, and her absence naturally formed the staple topic
of conversation. Digger after digger arrived, threw himself down, and
joined in the general wonderment as to why Miss Mary wasn’t there, and
at last some one hazarded a suggestion that she “must be asleep.” There
was a general epidemic of noisy coughing for a full minute, and then
silence for another, but no sound from within the hut.

“Perhaps she’s ill,” was the next surmise.

After the etiquette to be followed had been strictly discussed, and a
rigid course of procedure set down, the Scholar got up and knocked at
the door. He received no answer, and so knocked again--knocked several
times, in fact, and then rattled the handle vigorously, but without
result.

“Better open it,” said a voice.

And he did so; and after looking inside, announced:

“She’s not there.”

At this moment Dan came up.

“My ole mar’ ‘s gone,” he said; “an’ she ain’t stampeded, neither, but
was stole. Tote-rope’s been untied, an’ saddle an’ bridle took as well.”

There was uncomfortable silence, which the Scholar broke by a low,
long-drawn whistle.

“Boys,” said he, “let’s look inside the safe.”

The three men who held the keys brought them up, the bolts were shot,
and the massive door swung back. There was every man’s little sack with
his name on it; but somehow or other the sacks looked limper than of
yore. Each one was eagerly clutched and examined, and many a groan and
not a few curses went up on the still night air as it was found that
every sack save Dan’s had been relieved of the more valuable part of its
contents.

So much heart-breaking labour under the burning sun thrown away for
nothing; the dreary work to commence afresh, almost from the beginning!
Had the thief been any ordinary one, the denunciation would have
been unbounded; but no one lifted his tongue very loudly against Mary
Musgrave. Yet mounted men were despatched on the three trails to bring
back the booty if possible, and the rest moved dejectedly toward their
old club. The greasy Jew did not attempt to conceal his exultation. He
served his customers with his wicked old face glowing with smiles, and
when a moment’s breathing-time came he observed:

“We all ‘az hour lettle surbrizes in dis wairld, an’ I most confaiss I
am asdonished myself to lairn that Mess Mosgrave is a thief--” But here
a crashing among the glassware announced that Tommy Dartmoor had begun
shooting with his left hand, and Herr Gustave sputtered out from behind
the fingers he held before his face, “Ach Gott! I say nozzing more!”



GREGORIO, By Percy Hemingway



I--AT THE PARADISO

The Cafe Paradiso was full of people, for the inhabitants of Alexandria
had dined, and the opera season was over. The seats at every table were
occupied, and the fumes of smoke from a hundred cigars partly hid the
ladies of the orchestra. As the waiters pushed aside the swing-doors
of the buffet and staggered into the salon with whisky, absinthe, and
coffee, the click of billiard-balls was heard. The windows facing the
sea were wide open, for the heat was intense, and the murmur of the
waves mingled with the plaintive voices of the violins.

Seated by a table at the far end of the hall, Gregorio Livadas hummed
softly an accompaniment to Suppe’s “Poete et Paysan,” puffing from time
to time a cloudlet of blue smoke from his mouth. When the music ceased
he joined in the applause, leaning back happily in his chair as the
musicians prepared to repeat the last movement. Meanwhile his eyes
wandered idly over the faces of his neighbors.

When the last chord was struck he saw the women hurry down from the
platform and rush toward the tables where their acquaintances sat. He
heard them demand beer and coffee, and they drank eagerly, for fiddling
in that heat was thirsty work. He watched the weary waiters hastening
from table to table, and he heard the voices around him grow more
animated and the laughter more frequent. One man was fastening a spray
of flowers on the ample bosom of the flautiste, while another sipped
the brown lager from the glass of the big drum, and the old wife of the
conductor left her triangle and cymbals to beg some roses from an Arab
flower-girl. Truly the world was enjoying itself, and Gregorio smiled
dreamily, for the sight of so much gaiety pleased him. He wished one of
the women would come and talk to him; he would have liked to chat with
the fair-haired girl who played the first violin so well. He began to
wonder why she preferred that ugly Englishman with his red face and bald
head. He caught snatches of their conversation. Bah! how uninteresting
it was! for they could barely understand each other. What pleasure did
she find in listening to his bad French? and in her native Hungarian
he could not even say, “I love.” Why had she not come to him, Gregorio
Livadas, who could talk to her well and would not mumble like an idiot
and look red and uncomfortable! Then he saw she was drinking champagne,
and he sighed. Ah, yes, these English were rich, and women only cared
for money; they were unable to give up their luxuries for the sake of a
man.

But at this thought Gregorio blushed a little. After all, there was
one woman--the only woman he ought to think of--who was not afraid of
hardship for the sake of her husband. He tried to excuse himself by
arguing that the music had excited him; but he felt a little ashamed,
and as a sop to his not yet quite murdered conscience got up and left
the cafe.

When he turned into the Place Mehemet Ali he remembered suddenly that
he had wasted his evening. It was ten o’clock, too late to set about
the business he had intended. He was angry with himself now as well as
ashamed. He wandered up and down the square, looking at the statue of
the great khedive, silhouetted against the moonlight, and cursed at his
misfortunes.

Why should he, Gregorio Livadas, be in need of money? He had worked
hard, but without success. He could have borne his ill luck had he alone
been the sufferer, but he must consider his child--and, of course, his
wife too. He was really fond of his wife in a way. But he smiled proudly
as he thought of his son, for whom he schemed out a great future. He and
Xantippe would train the boy so carefully that he would grow up to be
a great man, and, what was more, a rich man. How they would laugh,
all three, as they sat in the splendid cafes over their wine, at the
hardships the father had endured! Still he must not forget the present,
and he sorely needed money. He would go to Amos again. Amos was a rich
man, very rich, and a filthy Jew. Amos could easily spare him some money
and renew the last loan. He was going to be successful now and would
be able to pay good interest. What better investment could Amos have?
Surely none. He was going to set up a cafe with the money at Tanta, or
Zagazig, or even Benhur,--yes, Benhur was the best,--where there were
few competitors. Then he would make a fortune, as other Greeks had done,
and Amos would be paid in full. He was not extravagant, no; he had the
business instincts of his race. Half these rich merchants of Alexandria
had begun as he would begin; he would succeed as they had succeeded. The
future was really hopeful, if he could only borrow a little capital.

With these thoughts surging through his brain Gregorio paced up and down
the pavements. At last he turned into the Rue des Soeurs and started
slowly toward his home.

This street, the sink of Alexandria, was at its gayest. The cafes where
cheap liquor is sold were crowded. Soldiers and sailors, natives and the
riffraff of half a dozen nations, jostled one another. The twanging of
guitars and the tinkling of pianos was heard from every house. Women,
underclothed and overpainted, leaned from the upper windows and made
frequent sallies into the street to capture their prey. Loud voices sang
lusty English choruses and French chansonnettes, and Neapolitan songs
tried to assert themselves whenever the uproar ceased for a moment.
Every one talked his, or her, own tongue, and gesture filled in the gaps
when words were wanting. All seemed determined to degrade themselves as
much as possible, and nearly every one seemed supremely happy.

Occasionally there was a fight, and knives were used with unerring
skill; but the mounted police who patrolled the streets, though
overtaxed, managed to preserve a certain amount of order.

Gregorio took very little notice of the scenes through which he passed.
He knew every inch and corner of the quarter that had been his home for
years, and was familiar with most of its inhabitants. He sighed a little
as he thought of the money being lost and won in the stuffy ill-lighted
rooms at the back of the houses, shut out from view of the authorities.
Like most of his race, he was fond of the excitement of gambling. But
of what use were regrets and sighs? he had no money, and must needs go
home. It was vain to try and borrow or to ask credit for his losses; in
these gambling hells what is lost must be immediately paid, for tempers
are inflamed by drink and knives are worn at each player’s belt.

But he sighed, none the less, at the hard necessity that compelled him
to pass down the street without once entering the doors of a tavern. It
was very hot, and he had smoked many cigarettes. He would have been glad
to call for a drink. The tavern-keepers, though they were his friends,
expected to be paid. One or two women beckoned to him, who would have
willingly offered him wine, but he was proud enough to ignore them.

He became more moody and dejected as he went along, silent and sober
amid so much revelry. When he reached his house he saw a drunken man
lying on the threshold asleep. He stooped to look into his face and
recognised an Englishman, the foreman of some tramp in the harbour. He
kicked the recumbent form testily as he strode over it.

“These English, what beasts they are!” he growled, “and I--I have not a
piastre for a single glass of wine.”



II--CONCERNING A DEBT

Gregorio found, on entering his house, that his wife was already in bed.
He went into the tiny kitchen and saw a plate of macaroni ready for
his supper. He tried to eat some, but it stuck in his throat. He took a
bottle of cheap Cretan wine from a shelf and drank from it; but the wine
was sour, and he spat it from his mouth with a curse.

Taking up the lamp, he went into the bedroom. His wife was fast
asleep with the boy in her arms. For a moment a smile flickered round
Gregorio’s mouth as he looked at them. Then he took off his boots and
his coat, blew out the lamp, and lay beside them. He was very tired
after his long tramp in the hot streets, but he could not sleep. Angrily
he tossed from side to side and closed his eyes tightly; but it was no
good, sleep would not come.

At midnight he heard a call to prayer chanted from the minaret of a tiny
mosque in the neighbourhood. The muezzin’s voice irritated him. He
did not wish to pray, and he did want to sleep. He swore that it was
insanity for these fools of Mohammedans to declare that prayer was
better than sleep.

Then the thoughts that had agitated him during the walk returned to him.
The Rue des Soeurs was still noisy with merry-makers, and it seemed to
him that if he could only join them he would be happy. But he had no
money, and one can do nothing without money!

Then there came back to him the face of the Englishman he had seen
talking to the violinist of the Paradiso. He hated the man because he
was ugly and rich. These English were all rich, and yet they seemed to
him a miserable race, mere ignorant bullies. He remembered how often he
had come to the help of the English travellers who filled Egypt. Why had
he, he asked himself, for the sake of a miserable reward, prevented them
being cheated, when he, with all his talents, was condemned to starve?
Even his child, he thought, would grow to hate him if he remained poor.
He must get money. Amos would have to lend him some. The Jews were
unpopular among the Greeks; it were wise to keep on good terms with
them, as Amos would find out.

At last he fell asleep.

In the morning his troubles began again. There was no coffee, and only a
little Arab bread, and when that was done they must starve if they could
not get some money. Gregorio tore off a bit of bread and ate it slowly,
looking at his wife, who sat weeping beside him.

“I shall go to Amos,” he said, firmly.

“Ah, yes, to Amos,” Xantippe answered quietly; “but it will be no good.”

“Why no good?”

“Because you owe him money, and he will give you no more till he is
paid.”

“But we cannot pay him. He must let us have some. If not--” and Gregorio
raised threatening.

His wife smiled sadly and kissed him.

“You will not frighten Amos, my love. When I told him the child had been
ill, he only laughed.”

“When was that?”

“Yesterday.”

“Then he had been here?”

“He came last night to ask for his money. I told him we had none, and
he laughed and said we must get some. He told me I might get some if I
cared to. He said I could make, oh, so much!”

Gregorio scowled savagely. “The filthy Jew! he said that? Never, never,
never!”

“But we must get some money,” the woman sobbed, “if only for our son’s
sake, Gregorio. But not that way?”

“No, not that way,” he replied, savagely.

“When shall you go to him?”

“Now.”

And taking up his hat he rushed into the street. He was terribly angry,
not so much at the purport of the Jew’s speech as at the man who made
it. He loathed the Jews, and felt insulted when spoken to by one; it was
a terrible matter to ask this man for help, but it was intolerable that
his wife should suffer insult. And yet the child must be fed. Yes, she
had said that, and it was true. They must make sacrifices for the child.

He soon reached the Jew’s house, and was shown by a richly clad servant
into the room where Amos sat. Amos was an old man, tall and strong, with
a long bushy beard, in which his fingers continually played; and his
eyes were sharp and brilliant and restless, a strange contrast to his
stately bearing and measured movements. He rose from his cushions as
Gregorio entered, and saluted him courteously, motioning him to a seat.
Then, having resettled himself, he clapped his hands together smartly
and ordered the servant who answered the summons to bring in coffee and
pipes.

Gregorio was rather overawed at the luxury he saw around him, and he
felt the stern-looking, polite old man would be a difficult person to
deal with. As he puffed at his tube he considered carefully what words
he should use.

For some time neither spoke, but Amos was the first to break the
silence.

“You heard I was at your house last night, and so have come to pay me?”

“Yes, I heard you were at my house and that you wanted to be paid. You
are a rich man, and I am poor.”

“Nay, I am not rich; they lie who say I am rich.”

“It is twenty pounds I owe you, is it not?”

“Yes, twenty pounds. It is a large sum, and I have dealt generously with
you. I am now in need of it myself.”

“I am a poor man.”

“You have not the money, eh, my friend?”

“I have not the money. But I will pay you if you will lend me some more.
I shall be successful now; only twenty pounds more.”

Amos appeared unmoved at the tremor in Gregorio’s voice. His eyes rested
coldly on the face of his client, while the unfortunate Greek continued
to speak rapidly of his troubles and hopes. He smiled sarcastically as
Gregorio spoke of the certainty of making his fortune at Benhur, and
remained quite unmoved at the story of the sufferings of a woman and
child from hunger and want.

“Your wife is beautiful,” was all he answered when Gregorio paused for
a moment. At these words, however, he half rose from his place and
clinched his hands savagely. But he sank back again with the remembrance
that a show of temper would not advance his cause.

“Very beautiful,” he answered, chokingly; “would you see her starve?”

“She is not my wife,” said Amos, quietly. Then he continued slowly,
pausing at intervals to puff out a cloud of smoke from his mouth:

“You have owed me this money a long time. I want it, and I will have it.
Even in Egypt there is law. You do not like us Jews, but the law will
protect me as long as I am rich enough to buy justice. In three days
you will pay me this money. I have been generous to you; now I will be
generous no longer. If I am not paid I will take measures to recover my
loss. You will sleep in the streets like the Arabs, my friend; but
the weather is warm. It is early summer, so you will scarcely feel the
exposure. In three days you will come and pay me.”

“But how am I to get the money? If you would lend me only a few pounds I
would repay you all I owe.”

“Already you owe me more than you can pay. You can make money. You are
married. These Christian women are worse than the Arabs; do I not see
them as I come home in the evening from my business? It is not right to
borrow and not repay. I need my money. How can I have my coffee and my
pipe unless I have money?”

Gregorio listened with growing anger, and finally rose from his seat and
shook his fist in the old man’s face.

“You shall be paid,” he shouted, “you shall be paid!”

“Anger is useless, my friend.”

And as Gregorio left the house Amos smiled and stroked his beard.
“Truly,” he thought, “these Christians hate us, but we have them in our
power. It is pleasant to be hated and yet to know that it is to us they
must cringe when they are in need; and it is very pleasant to refuse. My
friend Gregorio is not happy now that he is struggling in my grasp.”

As for Gregorio, he wandered away toward the harbour, kicking savagely
at the refuse scattered along the pavement. He did not know how to set
about earning the requisite sum. It was no good applying to the hotels
or tourist agencies, for there were few visitors in the city and
dragomen were therefore not needed.

His friends were too poor to help him, and the consul was unable to do
much for him, there were so many poor Greeks who wanted help. Meanwhile
there was no food at home and no drink; even the necessaries of life
were lacking.

On arriving at his home he found his wife and child huddled in a corner
crying for food. They ran toward him as he entered, but the hope in
their faces quickly faded at the sight of him.

“It’s no good,” Gregorio growled; “Amos refuses to advance a piastre and
says I must pay all I owe in three days.”

“It is impossible to sleep when one is hungry,” said Gregorio that night
to his wife, who lay awake, weeping, beside him.



III--OF FAILURE AND A RESOLVE

Gregorio’s dreams, when he did sleep, were none of the pleasantest,
and when he woke up, from time to time, he heard his wife weeping. In
wondering what he should say to comfort her he fell asleep again, and
sleeping was worse than lying awake. For in his dreams he saw Xantippe
and his child starving and crying for food, and he was unable to help
them in any way. He lived over again the long day he had spent tramping
the streets of Alexandria searching for work. He saw the few tourists
still left in the town fat and happy; he saw the porters of the hotels
who had smiled on him pityingly and yet contemptuously; and he woke,
after each representation of the crude comedy, hot and yet cold with
perspiration, to feel the bed on which he lay shaking under the sobs of
his wife.

When at last day dawned Gregorio raised himself with an oath, and swore
to find food for his family and work for himself. The terrible debt he
owed to Amos he swore should not trouble him, laughing at his wife’s
remonstrances. With the bright daylight had come a new courage, and,
hungry as he was, he felt able not only to satisfy their hunger, but so
skilfully to arrange matters that they would never feel hungry again.
Yet is was a terrible ordeal, that half-hour when the family should have
sat down to a table laden with food. The poor wife cried, and he had
to comfort her tears with promises, unsubstantial nutriment indeed,
and they could not satisfy the child, who failed dismally to understand
them. Through the green blinds came the noise of life and health and
merriment; curses too, sometimes, but only the curses of the well fed,
and therefore meaningless. Already the sun fell hot and indomitable on
the room, and the atmosphere at their touch became stifling. Gregorio,
swallowing his tears, tore out into the street, shouting up the narrow
stairway hysterical words of hope.

How long and shadowless the street seemed! Every house had its green
blinds closely shut; the wind that stirred the dust of the pavements was
hot and biting. Gregorio clinched his hands and strode rapidly onward.
What mattered it to him that behind those green blinds women and men
slumbered in comparative comfort? He had a work to do, and by sunset
must carry good tidings to his little world. For a time his heart was
brave as the dry wind scorched the tear upon his cheek. “Surely,” he
thought, weaving his thoughts into a fine marching rhythm, “the great
God will help me now, will help me now.”

At midday, after he had tried, with that strange Greek pertinacity that
understands no refusals, all the hotels and tourist agencies he had
called at the day before, he became weary and disconsolate. The march
had become a dirge; no longer it suggested happiness to be, but failure.
An Englishman threw him a piastre, and he turned into a cafe. Calling
for a glass of wine, he flung himself down on the wooden bench and tried
to think. But really logical thinking was impossible. For in spite of
the sorrow at his heart, the same bright dreams of wealth and happiness
came back to mock him. The piastre he played with became gold, and he
felt the cafe contained no luxuries that he might not command to be
brought before him. But as the effects of the red wine of Lebanon
evaporated he began to take a soberer though still cheerful view of his
position. It was only when the waiter carried off his piastre that he
suddenly woke to fact and knew himself once more a man with a wife and
child starving in Alexandria, an alien city for all its wealthy colony
of Greeks. A wave of pity swept over him; not so much for the woman was
he sorry, though he loved her too, but for the baby whose future he had
planned. He scowled savagely at the inmates of the cafe, who only smiled
quietly, for they were used to poor Greeks who had drunk away their last
coin, and pushed past them into the street.

There it was hotter than ever, and he met scarcely any one. Every
one who could be was at home, or in the cool cafes; only Gregorio was
abroad. He determined to make for the quay. He knew that many ships put
into the Alexandrian waters, and there was often employment found
for those not too proud to work at lading and unloading. Quickly, and
burning as the kempsin, he hurried through the Rue des Soeurs, not
daring to look up at the house wherein he dwelt. The muffled sounds
of voices and guitars from the far-away interiors seemed to mock his
footsteps as he passed the wine-shops; and all the other houses were
silent and asleep. At last he arrived on the quay, and the black lines
of the P. and O. stood out firmly before him against the pitiless blue
of sea and sky. He wandered over the hot stone causeway, but found no
one. The revenue officers were away, and not a labourer, not a sailor,
was visible. Beyond the breakwater little tufts of silvery foam flashed
on the rollers, and a solitary steamer steered steadily for the horizon.
He could see the Greek flag at her stern, and his eyes filled with
tears. Ah, how little his friends in Athens thought of the man who had
come to find fame and fortune in the far-off East! He sat down on the
parapet and watched the vessel until she became a tiny speck on the
horizon, and then he recommenced his search for work. His heart was
braver for a moment because of its pangs; he swore he would show these
countrymen of his who dwelt at home, and who in three days would see the
very ship he had been gazing at arrive in Grecian waters, that he was
worthy of his country and his kinsfolk.

But resolutions were useless, tenacity of purpose was useless. For two
long hours he wandered by the harbour, but met no one.

At last the sun fell behind the western waves, and the windows of the
khedive’s palace glowed like a hundred flaming eyes; the flags fell from
the masts of the vessels; on the city side was a sudden silence, save
for the melancholy voices of the muezzins; then the day died; the bright
stars, suddenly piercing the heavens, mocked him with their brilliance
and told him that his useless search for bread was over.

Gregorio went back slowly to his home. Already the Rue des Soeurs was
crowded. The long street rang with music and laughter, and instead
of blinds covering the windows merry women leaned upon the sills and
laughed at the crowds below.

Gregorio, when he reached his house, would have liked to go straight to
bed. But it was not to be, for as he entered the tiny room he heard his
wife trying to persuade the hungry infant into sleep, and his footsteps
disturbed her tears. He had to calm them as best he could, and as he
soothed her he noticed the child had a crust in his hand which he gnawed
half contentedly. At the same moment the dim blue figure of an Arab
passed by the opposite wall, and had almost gained the door ere Gregorio
found words.

“Who are you?”

“It is Ahmed,” his wife answered, gently, placing her trembling hand
upon his shoulder; “he too has children.”

Gregorio scowled and muttered, “An Arab,” and in that murmur none of the
loathing was hidden that the pseudo-West bears for the East.

“The child is starving,” said Ahmed. “I have saved the child; maybe some
day I shall save the father.” And Ahmed slipped away before Gregorio
could answer him.

For a while neither he nor his wife spoke; they stood silent in the
moonlight. At last Gregorio asked huskily, “Have you had food?”

“Not to-day,” was the answer; and the sweet voice was almost discordant
in its pathos as it continued, “nor drink, and but for Ahmed the boy had
died.”

Gregorio could not answer; there was a lump in his throat that blocked
words, opening the gate for sobs. But he choked down his emotion with
an effort and busied himself about the room. Xantippe sat watching him
anxiously, smoothly with nervous fingers the covering of her son’s bed.

As the night advanced the heat increased, and all that disturbed the
silence of the room was the echo of the streets. Gregorio walked to the
window and looked out. Below him he saw the jostling crowd of men and
women. These people, he thought, were happy, and two miserables only
dwelt in the city--his wife and himself. And whenever he asked himself
what was the cause of his misery, the answer was ever the same--poverty.
He glanced at his son, tossing uneasily in his bed; he looked at
his wife, pale and haggard in the moonlight; he remembered his
own sufferings all day long in the hot cruel streets, and he spoke
unsteadily:

“Xantippe?”

“Yes.”

“I have thought over things.”

“And I too.”

“We are starving,--you are starving, and I am starving,--and all day
long I tramp these cursed streets, but gain nothing. So it will go on,
day in, day out. Not only we ourselves, but our son too must die. We
must save him.”

“Yes,” said Xantippe, quietly, repeating her husband’s words as she
kissed the forehead of her child, “we must save him.”

“There is only one way.”

“Only one way,” repeated Xantippe, dreamily. There was a pause, and
then, as though the words had grown to have a meaning to her that she
could not fathom, she queried, “What way, Gregorio?”

“That,” he said, roughly, as he caught her by the wrist, and, dragging
her to the window, pointed to the women in the street beneath.

Xantippe hid her face on her husband’s breast and cried softly, while
she murmured, “No, no; I will never consent.”

“Then the child will die,” answered the Greek, curtly, flinging her from
him.

And the poor woman cast herself upon the bed beside her boy, and when
her tears ceased for a moment stammered, “When?”

“To-morrow,” was the answer, cruel and peremptory. And as Gregorio
closed the lattice, shutting out the noise of song and laughter, the
room echoed with the mighty sobbing of a woman who was betrayed, and who
repeated hysterically, while kissing the face of her child, “To-morrow,
to-morrow there will be food for you.”

And Gregorio slept peacefully, for the danger of starvation was over; he
would yet live to see his son become rich.

And the woman?

He kissed her before he slept, and women always cry.



IV--CONCERNING TWO WOMEN

Gregorio felt a little bit ashamed of himself next morning. The
excitement had passed, and the full meaning of his words came back to
him and made him shudder. The sun, already risen, sent shafts of light
between the lips of the wooden lattice. A faint sound of life and
movement stole upward from the street below. But Xantippe and the boy
still slumbered, though the woman’s form shook convulsively at times,
for she sobbed in her sleep.

Gregorio looked at the two for a minute and then raised himself with
an oath. The woman’s heavy breathing irritated him, for, after all, he
argued, it was her duty as well as his to sacrifice herself for the lad.
Moreover, the Jew must be paid, and to-day was that appointed by Amos
for the settling of their account. There was no money to pay it with,
and they must lose their furniture, so much at least was certain. But
Amos would not have the best of the bargain, thought the Greek as he
looked round the room with a grin, and the certainty that he had got
the better of Amos for the moment cheered his spirits. Then, too, after
to-day there would be plenty to eat, for his wife could manage to earn
money; nor was the man so mean in his villainy as to shirk any effort to
earn money himself. After first looking at his wife critically and with
a satisfied smile, he touched her on the shoulder to wake her.

“I am going out for work,” he said, as Xantippe opened her eyes.

“All right.”

“Good-bye.”

But Xantippe answered not. She turned her face to the wall wearily as
Gregorio left her.

Entering the street he made straight for Amos’s house, and told the
porter, who was still lying on the trestle before the door, that he
could not pay the Jew’s bill. Then without waiting for an answer, he
hurried off to the quay.

With better luck than on the previous day, he managed to obtain
employment for some hours. The Greek mail-boat had arrived, and under
the blazing sun he toiled good-humouredly and patiently. The work
was hard, but it gave him no opportunity of thinking. He had to be
continually dodging large bales of fruit and wine, and if he made a
mistake the officer on duty would shout at him angrily, “Lazy dog! you
would not have left Greece were you not an idle fellow.” Such words
wounded his pride, and he determined to do so well that he should earn
praise. But the little officer, his bright buttons flashing in the
sunlight, who smoked quietly in the intervals of silence, never praised
anybody; but he left off abusing Gregorio at last, and when work ceased
for the day bade him come again on the morrow.

At sunset Gregorio pocketed his few hard-earned piastres and wandered
cityward. He did not care to go back to his home, for he knew there
would be miserable stories to tell of the Jew’s anger, and, moreover,
he was terribly thirsty. So he went into a little cafe--known as the
Penny-farthing Shop--opposite his house and called for a flask of
kephisa. As he sipped the wine he glanced up nervously at his window and
wondered whether his wife had already left home. Were he sure that she
had, he would leave his wine untouched and hasten to look after his
son and give him food. But until he knew Xantippe had gone he would not
move. The sobs of yesterday still disturbed him, and he was more than
once on the point of cancelling his resolves. But as the wine stirred
his blood he became satisfied with what he had done and said. The little
cafe at Benhur that was to make his fortune seemed nearly in his grasp.
Had he not, he asked himself, worked all day without a murmur? It was
right Xantippe should help him.

As he sat dreamily thinking over these things, and watching the shadows
turn to a darker purple under the oil-lamps, a woman spoke to him.

“Well, Gregorio, are you asleep?”

“No,” said he, turning toward his questioner.

The woman laughed. She was a big woman, dressed in loose folds of red
and blue. Her hair was dishevelled, and ornamented with brass pins
fastened into it at random. Her sleeves were rolled up to her armpits,
and she had her arms akimbo--fat, flabby arms that shook as she laughed.
Her eyes were almost hidden, she screwed them up so closely, but her
wide mouth opened and disclosed a row of gigantic, flawless teeth.

Gregorio frowned as he looked at her. He knew her well and had never
liked her. But he dare not quarrel with her, for he owed her money, and
“for the love of his black eyes,” as she told him, she had ever a bottle
of wine ready for him when he wished.

“Well, my good woman,” he blurted out, surlily, “you seem to be amused.”

“I am, Gregorio. Tell me,” she continued, slyly, seating herself beside
him and placing her elbows on the table, “how is she?”

“Who?”

“Xantippe. She came to me to-day, and I saw she had been crying. But I
said nothing, because it is not always wise to ask questions. I thought
she wept because she was hungry and because the baby was hungry. I
offered her food and she took some, but so little, scarcely enough to
cover a ten-piastre piece. ‘That is for the baby,’ I said; ‘now some for
you.’ But she refused.”

“Perhaps she had food for herself,” said Gregorio, shifting uneasily in
his chair.

“Perhaps,” said the woman, and laughed again, more loudly than ever,
till the table shook. “But she asked me for something else,” she
continued, when her merriment languished for want of breath; “she asked
me to let her have an old dress of mine, a bright yellow-and-red dress,
and she borrowed some ornaments. It is not right of you, Gregorio, to
keep an old friend on the door-step when you have a fantasia.”

Gregorio scowled savagely. After a pause he said, “I don’t know why my
wife wanted your dress and ornaments.”

“Oh yes, you do, friend Gregorio.” And she laughed again, this time
a suppressed, chuckling laugh that threatened to choke her; and she
supported her chin on her hands, while her eyes peered through the
enveloping fat at the man who sat opposite to her. Suddenly she stood
up, and taking Gregorio by the arm dragged him to the door.

“See, there she goes. My garments are cleverly altered and suit her
finely, don’t they? Ah, well, my friend, a man who cannot support a wife
should marry a woman who can support him.”

Gregorio did not stop to answer her, but pushed past her into the
street. The woman watched him enter the house opposite, and then
returned quietly to her work. But there was a smile hovering round her
lips as she murmured to herself, “Ah, well, in time.”

Gregorio meanwhile had run up to his room and entered it breathless with
excitement. The first glance told him that Amos had seized all he
could, for nothing remained save a wooden bench and one or two coarse,
half-disabled cooking utensils.

Gregorio swore a little as he realised what had happened. Then he saw in
a corner by the window his son and Ahmed.

“She has gone,” said Ahmed, as Gregorio’s gaze rested on him. But she
might have gone merely to market, or to see a neighbour, for all the
imperturbable Arab face disclosed. As soon as he had spoken the man bent
over the child, laughing softly as the youngster played with his beard.
For the Arab, as he is miscalled, is fond of children, and there are
none to whom children take so readily as to the Egyptian fellahin.

Gregorio watched the two for a moment, and then placing his remaining
piastres in the man’s hand bade him bring food and wine. As soon as
he was left alone with his son, he flung himself down on the floor and
kissed, “You shall be a great man, ay, a rich man, my son.”

He repeated the sentence over and over again, punctuating it with
kisses, while the two-year-old regarded him wonderingly, until Ahmed
returned.

When the meal was ended Gregorio took the boy in his arms and sang to
him softly till at last the infant slept. Then he placed him gently on
the floor, having first made of his coat a bed, and went to the window
and flung back the shutters. He smoked quietly as the minutes went by,
waiting impatiently for his wife to return. It seemed to him monstrous
that the boy who was to inherit a fortune should be sleeping on the
dirty floor wrapped in an old coat; that an Arab, a mere fellah, should
amuse his son and play with him, when Greek nurses were to be hired in
Alexandria had one only the money. Long after midnight he heard a step
on the stairs, and a minute after the door opened. He recognised his
wife’s footsteps, and he rose to meet her. As she came into the room she
looked quickly round, and seeing her son went toward him and kissed him.
Gregorio, half afraid, stood by the window watching her. She let her
glance rest on him a minute, then she turned round and laid her cloak
upon the floor.

“Xantippe!”

But she did not answer.

“Xantippe, I have fed our son. The good days are coming when we shall be
rich and happy.”

But Xantippe was too busy folding out the creases of her cloak to
notice him. The moonlight streamed on to her, and her face shone like an
angel’s. Gregorio made one step toward her, ravished, for she had never
appeared so beautiful to him. For the moment he forgot the whole hideous
history of the last few days and the brief, horrible conversation of the
night before. Fired with a desire to touch her, to kiss her, to
whisper into her ear, in the soft Greek speech, all the endearments and
tendernesses that had won her when he wooed her, he placed his hand upon
her arm. As if stung by a venomous snake, the woman recoiled from his
touch. With a quick movement she sprang back and flung at his face a
handful of gold and silver coins.

“Take them; they’re yours,” she cried, huskily, and retreated into the
farthest corner of the room.

With a savage curse Gregorio put his hand to his lips and wiped away the
blood, for a heavy coin had cut him. Then he ran swiftly downstairs, and
Xantippe, as she lay down wearily beside her boy, heard a woman laugh.



V--XANTIPPE LOOKS OUT OF THE WINDOW

The Penny-farthing Shop was full of customers, and Madam Marx, the
fat woman who followed Gregorio to the bar, was for a long time busy
attending to her clients. Some English war-ships had entered the harbour
at sunset, and many of the sailors had lost no time in seeking out their
favourite haunt. Most of them knew Madam Marx well, as a good-natured
woman who gave them plenty to drink for their money, and secreted
them from the eyes of the police when the liquor overpowered them.
Consequently there was much laughter and shaking of hands, and many a
rough jest, which Madam Marx responded to in broken English. Gregorio
watched the sailors gloomily. He hated the English, for even their
sailors seemed to have plenty of money, and he recalled the rich
Englishman he had seen at the Cafe Paradiso, drinking champagne and
buying flowers for the Hungarian woman who played the fiddle. The scene
he had just left contrasted disagreeably with the fun and jollity that
surrounded him. But he felt unable to shake off his gloom and annoyance,
and Madam Marx’s attentions irritated him. He felt that her eyes
continually rested on him, that, however busy she might be, he was never
out of her thoughts. Every few minutes she would come toward him with a
bottle of wine and fill up his glass, saying, “Come, my friend; wine
is good and will drown your troubles.” And though he resented her
patronage, knowing he could not pay, he nevertheless drank steadily.

Every few minutes he heard the sound of horses’ hoofs on the hard
roadway, and through the windows he saw the military police pass slowly
on their rounds.

At last the strong drinks so amiably retailed by Madam Marx did their
work, and the men lay about the floor asleep and breathing heavily. The
silence succeeding the noise startled Gregorio from his sullen humour.
Madam Marx came and sat beside him, weary as she was with her long
labours, and talked volubly. The wine had mounted to his head, and he
answered her in rapid sentences, accompanying his words with gesture and
grimace. What he talked about he scarcely knew, but the woman laughed,
and he took an insane delight in hearing her. Just before daylight he
fell asleep, resting his head on his arms, that were spread across
the table. Madam Marx kissed him as he slept, murmuring to herself
contentedly, “Ah, well, in time.”

When Gregorio woke the sun was high in the heavens, blazing out of a
brazen sky. Clouds of dust swept past the door from time to time, and
cut his neck and face as he stood on the threshold smoking lazily. It
was too late to go down to the quay, for his place must have long ago
been filled by another. He was not sorry, since he by no means desired
to toil again under the hot sun; the heavy drinking of the night had
made him lethargic, and he was so thirsty the heat nearly choked him.
He called out to a water-carrier staggering along in the scanty shade on
the opposite side of the street, and took eagerly a draught of water.
He touched the pigskin with his hand, and it was hot. The water was
warm and made him sick; he spat it from his mouth hastily, and hearing a
laugh behind him, turned round and saw Madam Marx.

“See, here is some wine, my friend; leave the water for the Arabs.”

Gregorio gratefully seized the flagon and let the wine trickle down his
throat, while Madam Marx, with arms akimbo, stood patiently before him.

“I must go now,” he said, as he handed back the half-emptied flask.

“Why?”

“Because I must get some work.”

“It is not easy to get work in the summer.”

“I know, but I must get some. I owe money to Amos.”

“Yes, I know. But your wife is making money now.”

The man scowled at her. “How do you know that? Before God, I swear that
she is not.”

“Come, come, Gregorio. You were drunk last night, and your tongue wagged
pretty freely. It’s not a bit of use being angry with me, because I only
know what you’ve told me. Besides, I’m your friend, you know that.”

Gregorio flushed angrily at the woman’s words, but he knew quite well
it was no use replying to them, for she was speaking only the truth. But
the knowledge that he had betrayed his secret annoyed him. He had grown
used to the facts and could look at them easily enough, but he had not
reckoned on others also learning them.

He determined to go out and find work, or at any rate to tramp the
streets pretending to look for something to do. The woman became
intolerable to him, and the Penny-farthing Shop, reeking with the odour
of stale tobacco and spilled liquor, poisoned him. He took up his hat
brusquely and stepped into the street.

Madam Marx, standing at the door, laughed at him as she called out,
“Good-bye, Gregorio; when will you come back?”

He did not answer, but the sound of her laughter followed him up the
street, and he kicked angrily at the stones in his path.

At last he passed by the Ras-el-Tin barracks. He looked curiously at the
English soldiers. Some were playing polo on the hard brown space to
the left, and from the windows of the building men leaned out, their
shirt-sleeves rolled up and their strong arms bared to the sun. They
smoked short clay pipes, and innumerable little blue spiral clouds
mounted skyward. Obviously the heat did not greatly inconvenience them,
for they laughed and sang and drank oceans of beer.

The sight of them annoyed Gregorio. He looked at the pewter mugs shining
in the sunlight. He eyed greedily the passage of one from hand to hand;
and when one man, after taking a long pull, laughed and held it upside
down to show him it was empty, he burst into an uncontrollable fit of
anger, and shook his fist impotently at the soldiers, who chaffed him
good-naturedly. As he went along by the stables, a friendly lancer,
pitying him, probably, too, wearying of his own lonely watch, called to
him, and offered him a drink out of a stone bottle. Gregorio drank again
feverishly, and handed the bottle back to its owner with a grin, and
passed on without a word. The soldier watched him curiously, but said
nothing.

When he reached the lighthouse Gregorio flung himself on to the
pebble-strewn sand and looked across the bay. The blue water, calm and
unruffled as a sheet of glass, spread before him. The ships--Austrian
Lloyd mail-boats, P. and O. liners, and grimy coal-hulks--lay motionless
against the white side of the jetty.

The khedive’s yacht was bright with bunting, and innumerable
fishing-boats near the breakwater made grateful oases in the glare
whereon his eyes might rest. But he heeded them not. Angrily he flung
lumps of stone and sand into the wavelets at his feet, and pushed back
his hat that his face might feel the full heat of the sun. Then he lit a
cigarette and began to think.

But what was the good of thinking? The thoughts always formed themselves
into the same chain and reached the same conclusion; and ever on the
glassy surface of the Levantine sea a woman poised herself and laughed
at him.

When the sun fell behind the horizon, and the breakwater, after dashing
up one flash of gold, became a blue blur, Gregorio rose to go. As
he walked back toward the Penny-farthing Shop he felt angry and
unsatisfied. The whole day was wasted. He had done nothing to relieve
his wife, nothing to pay off Amos. Madam met him at the door, a flask of
wine in her hand. Against his will Gregorio entered her cafe and smiled,
but his smile was sour and malevolent.

“You want cheering, my friend,” said madam, laughing.

“I have found nothing to do,” said Gregorio.

“Ah! I told you it would be hard. There are no tourists in Alexandria
now. And it is foolish of you to tramp the streets looking for work that
you will never find, when you have everything you can want here.”

“Except money, and that’s everything,” put in Gregorio, bluntly.

“Even money, my friend. I have enough for two.”

Madam Marx had played her trump card, and she watched anxiously the
effect of her words. For a moment the man did not speak, but trifled
with his cigarette tobacco, rolling it gently between his brown fingers.
Then he said:

“You know I am in debt now, and I want to pay off all I owe, and leave
here.”

“Yes, that’s true, but you won’t pay off your debts by tramping the
streets, and your little cafe at Benhur will be a long time building, I
fancy. Meanwhile there is money to be made at the Penny-farthing Shop.”

“What are your terms?” asked Gregorio, roughly.

The woman laughed, but did not answer. The stars were shining, and the
kempsin that had blown all day was dead. It was cool sitting outside the
door of the cafe under the little awning, and pleasant to watch the blue
cigarette smoke float upward in the still air. Gregorio sat for a while
silent, and the woman came and stood by him. “You know my terms,” she
whispered, and Gregorio smiled, took her hand, and kissed her. At that
moment the blind of the opposite house was flung back. Xantippe leaned
out of the window and saw them.



VI--BABY AND JEW

When the Penny-farthing Shop began to fill Gregorio disappeared quietly
by the back door. He muttered a half-unintelligible answer to the men
who were playing cards in the dim parlour through which he had to pass,
who called to him to join them. Gaining the street, he wandered along
till he reached the bazaars, intending to waste an hour or two until
Xantippe should have left the house. Then he determined to go back and
see the boy in whom all his hopes and ambitions were centered, who was
the unconscious cause of his villainy and degradation.

There was a large crowd in the bazaars, for a Moolid was being
celebrated. Jugglers, snake-charmers, mountebanks, gipsies, and
dancing-girls attracted hundreds of spectators.

The old men sat in the shadows of their stalls, smoking and drinking
coffee. They smiled gravely at the younger people, who jostled one
another good-humouredly, laughing, singing, quarrelling like children.
Across the roadway hung lamps of coloured glass and tiny red flags
stamped with a white crescent and a star. Torches blazed at intervals,
casting a flickering glow on the excited faces of the crowd.

Gregorio watched without much interest. He had seen a great many
fantasias since he came to Egypt, and they were no longer a novelty to
him. He was annoyed that a race of people whom he despised should be so
merry when he himself had so many troubles to worry him. He would have
liked to go into one of the booths where the girls danced, but he had no
money, and he cursed at his stupidity in not asking the Marx woman for
some. He no longer felt ashamed of himself, for he argued that he was
the victim of circumstances. Still he wished Xantippe had not looked out
of the window, though of course he could easily explain things to her.
And Xantippe was really so angry the night before, explanations were
better postponed for a time. “After all,” he thought, “it really does
not much matter. Once we get over our present difficulties we shall
forget all we have gone through.” This comfortable reflection had been
doing duty pretty often the last day or two, and though Gregorio did not
believe it a bit, he always felt it was a satisfactory conclusion, and
one to be encouraged.

Meanwhile he would not meet Xantippe. That was a point upon which he had
definitely made up his mind. As he strolled through the bazaars, putting
into order his vagabond thoughts, in a tall figure a few yards in front
of him he recognised Amos. Nervous, he halted, for he had no desire to
be interviewed by the Jew, and yet no way of escape seemed possible.

Nodding affably to the proprietor, he sat down on the floor of a shop
hard by and watched Amos. The old man was evidently interested, for he
was laughing pleasantly, and bending down to look at something on the
ground. What it was Gregorio could not see. A knot of people, also
laughing, surrounded the Jew. Gregorio was curious to see what attracted
them, but fearful of being recognised by the old man. However, after a
few moments his impatience mastered him, and he stepped up to the group.

“What is it?” he asked one of the bystanders.

“Only a baby. It’s lost, I think.”

Gregorio pushed his way into the centre of the crowd and suddenly became
white as death.

There, seated on the ground, was his own child, laughing and talking to
himself in a queer mixture of Greek and Arabic. Amos was bending kindly
over the youngster, giving him cakes and sweets, and making inquiries as
to the parents.

A chill fear seized on Gregorio’s heart. He could not have explained the
cause, nor did he stay and try to explain it. Quickly he broke into the
midst of the circle and, catching up the boy in his arms, ran swiftly
away.

Having reached home, he kissed the boy passionately, sent for food to
Madam Marx, and wept and laughed hysterically for an hour. After a time
the boy slept, and Gregorio then paced up and down the room, smoking,
and puffing great clouds of smoke from his mouth, trying to calm
himself. But he could not throw off his excitement. He imagined the
awful home-coming had he not been to the bazaar, and he wondered what he
would have done then. A great joy possessed him to see his son safe,
and a fierce desire filled him to know who had taken the child away.
He longed for Xantippe’s return that he might tell her. He forgot
completely that he had dreaded seeing her earlier this evening. Then he
began to wonder what Amos was doing at the fantasia, and why he was so
interested in the boy. Perhaps, Amos would forgive the debt for love of
the child. The idea pleased him, but he soon came to understand that
it was untenable. Oftener, indeed, he shuddered as he recalled the old
man’s figure bent over the infant. A sense of danger to come overwhelmed
him. In some way he felt that the old man and the child were to be
brought together to work his, Gregorio’s, ruin.

Suddenly he heard a footstep on the stairs. “Thank God!” he cried, as he
ran to the door.

“Xantippe!”

But he recoiled as if shot, for as the door opened Amos entered. The Jew
bowed politely to the Greek, but there was an unpleasant twinkle in his
eyes as he spoke.

“You cannot offer me a seat, my friend, so I will stand. We have met
already this evening.”

Gregorio did not answer, but placed himself between the Jew and the
child.

“I dare say you did not see me,” the old man continued, quietly, “for
you seemed excited. I suppose the child is yours. It was surely careless
to let him stray so far from home.”

“The child is mine.”

“Ah, well, it is a happy chance that you recovered him so easily. And
now to business.”

“I am listening.”

“I have already, as of course you know, been here to see you about the
money you owe me. I was sorry you did not see fit to pay me, because I
had to sell your furniture, and it was not worth much.”

“I have no money to pay you, or I would have paid you long ago. I told
you when I went to your house that I could not pay you.”

“And yet, my friend, it is only fair that a man who borrows money should
be prepared to pay it back.”

“I could pay you back if you gave me time. But you have no heart, you
Jews. What do you care if we starve, so long as--”

“Hush!” said Amos, gravely; “I have dealt fairly by you. But I will let
you go free on one condition.”

“And that is?”

“That you give me the child.”

Gregorio stood speechless with horror and rage at the window, and the
old man walked across the room to where the infant lay.

“I have no young son, Gregorio Livadas, and I will take yours. Not
only will I forgive you the debt, but I will give you money. I want the
child.”

“By God, you shall not touch him!” cried Gregorio, suddenly finding
voice for his passion.

He rushed furiously at Amos, gripped him by the throat, and flung him
to the far side of the room. Then he stood by his child with his arms
folded on his breast, his eyes flashing and his nostrils dilated. Amos
quickly recovered himself, and, in a voice that scarcely trembled, again
demanded his money.

“Go away,” shouted Gregorio; “if you come here again, I will kill you.
Twice now have I saved my boy from falling into your hands.”

“I wish only to do you a service. You are a beggar, and I am rich
enough, ask Heaven, to look after the child. Why should you abuse me
because I offer to release you from your debts if you will let me take
the child?”

Gregorio answered brusquely that the Jew should not touch the boy. “I
will not have him made a Jew.”

“Then you will pay me.”

“I will not. I cannot.”

“I shall take measures, my friend, to force you to pay me. I have not
dealt harshly with you. I came here to help you, and you have insulted
me and beaten me.”

“Because you are a dog of a Jew, and you have tried to steal my son.”

A nasty look came into the Jew’s eyes,--a cold, cunning look,--and he
was about to reply when the door opened and Xantippe entered. She was
well dressed, and wore some ornaments of gold. Amos turned toward her,
asking the man:

“This is your wife?”

But Gregorio told Xantippe rapidly the history of his adventures with
the boy; and the woman, hearing them, moved quietly to the corner where
he slept, and took him in her arms.

The Jew smiled. “I see,” he said, “that madam has money. She has taken
the advice I gave you the other day. Now I know that you can pay me,
and if you do not within two days, Gregorio Livadas, you will repent the
insults you have heaped on my head this night.”

He walked quietly to the corner of the room, where Xantippe sat nursing
the boy, touched the child gently on the forehead with his lips, and
then went out.

For some minutes neither Xantippe nor Gregorio spoke, but the man rubbed
the infant’s forehead with his finger as if to wipe out the stain of the
Jew’s kiss.



VII--XANTIPPE SPEAKS OUT

At last the silence, roused only by the strident buzzing of the
mosquitos, became unendurable. Gregorio gave a preparatory cough and
opened his lips to speak, but the words refused to be born. He was
unnerved. The odious visitor, the wearying day, the memory of Xantippe’s
face at the window, combined to make him fearful. He watched, under his
half-closed lids, his wife crouching on the far side of the boy. Once or
twice, as he was rubbing the youngster’s forehead, his fingers touched
those of his wife as she waved off the mosquitos; but at each contact
with them he shivered and his fears increased. He tried, vainly, to
get his thoughts straight, and lit a cigarette with apparent calmness,
swaggering to the window; but his legs did not cease to tremble, and the
unsteadiness of his gait caused Xantippe to smile as she watched him.
Resting by the window, Gregorio widened the lips of the lattice and let
in a stream of moonbeams that rested on wife and child, illumining the
dark corner.

“Gregorio!”

“Yes.”

“Have you told me all? Is there nothing else to tell em about our son
and the Jew?”

Gregorio felt he must now speak; it was not possible to keep silence
longer. He was pleased that his wife had begun the conversation, for it
seemed easier to answer questions than to frame them. “I have told you
the whole story. There is no more to tell. It was by accident I found
him in the bazaar, and that devil Amos was bending over him. I could
kill that man.”

“What good would that do?”

“Fancy if we had lost the boy! Think of the sacrifices we have made for
him, and they would have been useless.”

“Have you made any sacrifices, Gregorio?”

The question was quietly asked, but there was a ring of irony in the
sound of the voice, and Gregorio, to shun his wife’s gaze, moved into
the friendly shadows. For some minutes he did not answer. At length,
with a nervous laugh, he replied:

“Of course. We have both made sacrifices, great sacrifices.”

“It is odd,” pursued Xantippe, gently, as if speaking to herself, “that
you should so flatter yourself. You professed to care for me once; you
only regard me now as a slave to earn money for you.”

“It is for our son’s sake.”

“Is it for our son’s sake also that you sit with Madam Marx, that you
drink her wine, that you kiss her?”

Gregorio could not answer. He felt it were useless to try and explain,
though the reason seemed to him clear enough.

“I am glad to have the chance,” continued Xantippe, “of talking to
you, for we may now understand each other. I have made the greatest
sacrifice, and because it was for our son’s sake I forgave you. I wept,
but, as I wept, I said, ‘It is hell for Gregorio too.’ But when I looked
from the window this afternoon I knew it was not hell for you. I knew
you did not care what became of me. It was pleasant for you to send
me away to make money while you drank and kissed at the Penny-farthing
Shop. I came suddenly to know that the man had spoken truth.”

“What man?” asked Gregorio, huskily.

“The man! The man you bade me find. Because money is not gathered from
the pavements. You know that, and you sent me out to get money. When I
first came back to you I flung the gold at you; it burned my fingers,
and your eagerness for it stung. But I did not quite hate you, though
his words had begun to chime in my ears: ‘In my country such a husband
would be horsewhipped.’ When you were kind I was little more than a dog
you liked to pet. I thought that was how all women were treated. I know
differently now. You will earn money through me, for it is my duty to my
son, but you have earned something else.”

“Yes?” queried Gregorio.

“My hate. Surely you are not surprised? I have learned what love is
these last few days, have learned what a real man is like. I know you to
be what he called you, a cur and a coward. I should never have learned
this but for you, and I am grateful, very grateful. It is useless
to swear and to threaten me with your fists. You dare not strike me,
because, were you to injure me, you would lose your money. You have
tried to degrade me, and you have failed. I am happier than I have ever
been, and far, far wiser. When a woman learns what a man’s love is,
she becomes wiser in a day than if she had studied books for a hundred
years.”

Xantippe ceased speaking and, taking her son in her arms, closed her
eyes and fell asleep quietly, a gentle smile hovering round her lips.

Gregorio scowled at her savagely, and would have liked to strike her,
to beat out his passion on her white breast and shoulders. But she had
spoken only the truth when she said he dare not touch her. With impotent
oaths he sought to let off the anger that boiled in him. He feared
to think, and every word she had uttered made him think in spite of
himself. The events of sixty hours had destroyed what little of good
there was in the man. Save only the idolatrous love for his child, he
scarcely retained one ennobling quality.

Little by little his anger cooled, his shame died out of him, and he
began to wonder curiously what manner of man this was whose words had so
stirred his wife. Wondering he fell asleep, nor did he awaken till the
sun was risen.

While eating his breakfast he inquired cunningly concerning this wise
teacher of the gospels of love and hate, but Xantippe for a time did not
answer.

“Is he a Greek?”

“No.”

“A Frenchman?”

“No.”

“A German?”

“No.”

Suddenly Gregorio felt a kind of cramp at his heart, and he had to
pause before he put the next question. He could scarcely explain why
he hesitated, but he called to mind the Paradise cafe and the red-faced
Englishman. He was ready enough to sacrifice his wife if by so doing
money might be gained, but he felt somehow hurt in his vanity at the
idea of this ugly, slow-witted Northerner usurping his place. With an
effort, however, he put the question:

“Is he an Englishman?”

“Yes.”

He was seized with a tumult of anger. He spoke volubly, talking of the
ignorance of the English, their brutality, their dull brains, their
stupid pride. Xantippe waited till he had finished speaking and then
replied quietly:

“It cannot matter to you. It is my concern. You have lost all rights to
be angry with me or those connected with me.”

Gregorio refused to hear reason, and explained how he begrudged them
their wealth and fame. “For these English are a dull people, and we
Greeks are greatly superior.”

“I do not agree with you,” Xantippe replied. “I have learned what a man
is since I have known him, and I have learned to hate you. You may have
more brains--that I know nothing of, nor do I care. He could not behave
as you have behaved, nor have sacrificed me as you have sacrificed me.
Some of his money comes to you. You want money. Be satisfied.”

Gregorio felt the justice of her words, and he watched her put on her
hat and leave the room. A minute later, looking out of the window, he
saw her link her arm in that of the Englishman of the Paradiso, and
across the street, at the threshold of the Penny-farthing Shop, Madam
Marx waved her hand to himself and laughed.



VIII--A DESOLATE HOME-COMING

Toward the evening of a day a fortnight later, Gregorio found himself
seated in Madam Marx’s cafe, idly watching the passers-by. He was
feeling happier, for that was being amassed which alone could insure
happiness to him. Each day some golden pieces were added to the amount
saved, and the cafe at Benhur seemed almost within his grasp. The
feeling of security from want acted as a narcotic and soothed him, so
that the things which should have troubled him scarcely interested him
at all. He was intoxicated with the sight of gold. When he had first
seen Xantippe and the Englishman together his anger had been violent;
but when at last the futility of his rage became certain, his aggressive
passion had softened to a smouldering discontent that hardly worried
him, unless he heard some one speak a British name. His prosperity had
destroyed the last vestiges of shame and soothed his illogical outbursts
of fury. He was contented enough now to sit all day with Madam Marx,
and returned to his home in the evening when Xantippe was away. He had
spoken to her only once since she had told him she hated him. He had
strolled out of the cafe about midday and entered his room. Xantippe was
there, talking to her child, and quietly bade him go away.

“It’s my room as well as yours,” Gregorio had answered.

“It is my money that pays for it,” was the reply.

A long conversation followed, but Xantippe met the man’s coarse anger
with quiet scorn, and told him that if he stayed she would grow to
dislike her son since he was the father.

Gregorio was wise enough to control his anger then. For he knew that if
she were really to lose her love for the boy, all his chances, and the
boy’s chances, of ease and prosperity would be destroyed. It was, of
course, ridiculous to imagine she would supply him with money then.
That she thoroughly loathed him, and would always loathe him, was very
certain. So great, indeed, seemed her contempt for him that it was quite
possible she might come to hate his child. So he did not attempt to
remain in the room, but as he closed the door after him he waited a
moment and listened. He heard her heave a sigh of relief and then say
to the little fellow, “How like your father you grow! My God! I almost
think I hate you for being so like him.” Gregorio shuddered as he ran
noiselessly downstairs. He never ventured to speak to her again. He
argued himself out of the disquiet into which her words had thrown him.
He knew it was difficult for a woman to hate her child. The birth-pains
cement a love it requires a harsh wrench to sever. He easily persuaded
himself, as he sipped Madam Marx’s coffee, that if he kept in the
background all cause for hatred would be removed. As for her feelings
toward himself, he had ceased, almost, to care. The money was worth the
cost paid in the attainment of it, and a woman’s laugh was less sweet to
him than the chink of gold and silver pieces. On the whole Gregorio
had little reason to be troubled; only unreasoning dislike for
the Englishman--why could not he be of any other nation, or, if an
Englishman, any other Englishman?--hurt his peace of mind. And for the
most part his discontent only smouldered.

Madam Marx brought her coffee and sat beside him. Her face betokened
satisfaction, and she looked at Gregorio with a possessive smile. She
had gained her desire, and asked fortune for no other gift.

“You have not seen Xantippe since she turned you out? Ah, well, it
is much better you should keep away. You are welcome here, and it is
foolish to go where one is not wanted.”

“I’ve not seen her; I’m afraid to see her.” He spoke openly to madam
now.

“Some women are queer. If she had ever really loved you, she would not
have thrown you over. I should not have complained had I been in her
place. One cannot always choose one’s lot.”

“It’s that damned Englishman who has spoiled her.”

“Ah, yes, those English! I know them.”

“Did I tell you what she said about the boy?”

“Yes, my friend. But as long as you don’t worry her, her words need not
worry you.”

“They don’t, except sometimes at night. I wake up and remember them, and
then I am afraid.”

“Why do you hate the Englishman? To my mind it is lucky for both of you
that this Englishman saw her. There are not men so rich as the English,
and he is a rich Englishman. You are lucky.”

“I hate him.”

“Because he has stolen your wife’s love?” Madam Marx, as she put
the question, laid her fat hand upon Gregorio’s shoulder and laughed
confidently. The movement irritated him, but he never tried to resist
her now.

“No, not quite that. I’m used to it, and the money more than compensates
me. But I hated the man when I first saw him in the Paradise. There
was a fiddler-woman he talked to, and he could scarcely make himself
understood. He had money, and he gave her champagne and flowers. And I
was starving, and the woman was beautiful.”

Madam tapped his cheek and smiled.

“The woman can’t interest you now. Also you have money--his money.”

“Still I hate him.”

“You Greeks are like children. Your hatred is unreasonable; there is no
cause for it.”

“Unreasonable and not to be reasoned away.”

“Well, why worry about him? He won’t follow you to Benhur, I fancy.”

“It doesn’t worry me generally; but when you mention him my hate springs
up again. I forget him when I am by myself.”

“Forget him now.”

And they drank coffee in silence.

Darkness came on, and the blue night mist. Gregorio was impatient to
see his son. He gazed intently at the door of the opposite house,
little heeding madam, who was busy with preparations for the evening’s
entertainment of her customers. Suddenly he saw a woman leave the house,
hail a passing carriage, and drive rapidly down the street toward the
Place Mehemet Ali. Gregorio, with a cry of pleasure, rose and left the
cafe. Madam Marx followed him to the door and called a good-night to
him. Gregorio stood irresolutely in the middle of the road. He had
promised the boy a boat, and he blamed himself for having forgotten to
buy it. Grumbling at his forgetfulness, he hurried along the street,
determined to waste no time. On occasions he could relinquish his lazy,
slouching gait, and he would hurry always to obey the commands of
the king his son. A pleasant smile at the thought of the pleasure his
present would cause softened the sinister mould of his lips, and he sang
softly to himself as he moved quickly cityward.

Before he had gone many yards an oath broke in upon the music, and he
darted swiftly under the shadow of a wall; for coming forward him was
Amos the Jew. But the old man’s sharp eyes detected the victim, and,
following Gregorio into his hiding-place, Amos laid his hand upon the
Greek.

“Why do you try to hide when we have so much to say to one another?”

Gregorio shook himself from the Jew’s touch and professed ignorance of
the necessity for speech.

“Come, come, my friend, the money you borrowed is still owing in part.”

“But you will be paid. We are saving money; we cannot put by all we
earn--we must live.”

“I will be paid now; if I am not, you are to blame for the
consequences.”

And with a courtly salute the Jew passed on. Now Gregorio had not
forgotten his debt, nor the Jew’s threats, and he fully intended to
pay what he owed. But of course it would take time, and the man was
too impatient. He realised he had been foolish not to pay something on
account; but it hurt him to part with gold. He determined, however,
to send Amos something when he returned home. So good a watch had been
kept, he never doubted the child’s safety. But it would be awkward if
Amos got him put in jail. So he reckoned up how much he could afford to
pay, and, having bought the toy, returned eagerly home. He ran upstairs,
singing a barcarole at the top of his voice, and rushed into the room,
waving the model ship above his head. “See here,” he cried, “is the
ship! I have not forgotten it.” But his shout fell to a whisper. The
room was empty.

With a heartbroken sob the man fell swooning on the floor.



IX--A DISCOVERY AND A CONSPIRACY

For long he lay stretched out upon the floor in a state of
half-consciousness. He could hear the mosquitos buzzing about his face,
he could hear, too, the sounds of life rise up from the street below;
but he was able to move neither arm nor leg, and his head seemed
fastened to the floor by immovable leaden weights. That his son was lost
was all he understood.

How long he lay there he scarcely knew, but it seemed to him weeks. At
last he heard footsteps on the stairs. He endeavoured vainly to raise
himself, and, though he strove to cry out, his tongue refused to frame
the words. Lying there, living and yet lifeless, he saw the door open
and Amos enter. The old man hesitated a moment, for the room was dark,
while Gregorio, who had easily recognised his visitor, lay impotent on
the floor. Before Amos could become used to the darkness the door again
opened, and Madam Marx entered with a lamp in her hand. Amos turned
to see who had followed him, and, in turning, his foot struck against
Gregorio’s body. Immediately, the woman crying softly, both visitors
knelt beside the sick man. A fierce look blazed in Gregorio’s eyes, but
the strong words of abuse that hurried through his brain would not be
said.

“He is very ill,” said Amos; “he has had a stroke of some sort.”

“Help me to carry him to my house,” sobbed the woman, and she kissed
the Greek’s quivering lip and pallid brow. Then rising to her feet, she
turned savagely on the Jew.

“It is your fault. It is you who have killed him.”

“Nay, madam; I had called here for my money, and I had a right to do so.
It has been owing for a long time.”

“No; you have killed him.”

“Indeed, I wished him well. I was willing to forgive the debt if he
would let me take the child.”

A horrid look of agony passed over Gregorio’s face, but he remained
silent and motionless. The watchers saw that he understood and that a
tempest of wrath and pain surged within the lifeless body. They
stooped down and carried him downstairs and across the road to the
Penny-farthing Shop. The Jew’s touch burned Gregorio like hot embers,
but he could not shake himself free. When he was laid on a bed in a
room above the bar, through the floor of which rose discordant sounds of
revelry, Amos left them. Madam Marx flung herself on the bed beside him
and wept.

Two days later Gregorio sat, at sunset, by Madam Marx’s side, on the
threshold of the cafe. He had recovered speech and use of limbs. With
wrathful eloquence he had told his companion the history of the terrible
night, and now sat weaving plots in his maddened brain.

Replying to his assertion that Amos was responsible, Madam Marx said:

“Don’t be too impetuous, Gregorio. Search cunningly before you strike.
Maybe your wife knows something.”

“My wife! Not she; she is with her Englishman. Amos has stolen the boy,
and you know it as well as I do. Didn’t he tell you he wanted the child?
I met him that night, and he told me if I did not pay I had only myself
to blame for the trouble that would fall on me.”

“Come, come, Gregorio, cheer up!” said the woman; for the Greek, with
head resting on his hands, was sobbing violently.

“I tell you, all I cared for in life is taken from me. But I will have
my revenge, that I tell you too.”

For a while they sat silent, looking into the street. At last Gregorio
spoke:

“My wife has not returned since that night, has she?”

“I have not seen her.”

“Well, I must see her; she can leave the Englishman now.”

Madam Marx laughed a little, but said nothing.

“There is Ahmed,” cried Gregorio, as a blue-clad figure passed on the
other side of the street. He beckoned to the Arab, who came across at
his summons.

“You seem troubled,” he said, as he looked into the Greek’s face; and
Gregorio retold the terrible story.

“You know nothing of all this?” he added, suspiciously, as his narrative
ended.

“Nothing.”

“My God! it is so awful I thought all the world knew of it. You often
nursed and played with the boy?”

“Ay, and fed him. We Arabs love children, even Christian children, and I
will help you if I can.”

“Why should Amos want the boy?” asked Madam Marx, as she put coffee and
tobacco before the guests.

“Because I owe him money, and he knew the loss of my son would be the
deadliest revenge. He will make my son a Jew, a beastly Jew. By God, he
shall not, he shall not!”

“We must find him and save him,” said the woman.

“He will never be a Jew. That is not what Amos wants your son for; there
are plenty of Jews.” Ahmed spoke quietly.

“They sacrifice children,” he continued, after a moment’s pause; “surely
you know that, and if you would save your boy there is not much time to
lose.”

Gregorio trembled at Ahmed’s words. He wondered how he could have
forgotten the common report, and his fingers grasped convulsively the
handle of his knife.

“Let us go to Amos,” he said, speaking the words with difficulty, for he
was choking with fear for his son.

“Wait,” answered the Arab; “I will come again to-night and bring some
friends with me, two men who will be glad to serve you. We Arabs are not
sorry to strike at the Jews; we have our own wrongs. Wait here till I
come.”

“But what will you do?” asked Madam Marx, looking anxiously on the man
she loved, though her words were for the Arab.

“Gregorio will ask for his son. If the old man refuses to restore
him, or denies that he has taken him, then we will know the worst, and
then--”

Gregorio’s knife-blade glittered in the sunset rays, as he tested its
sharpness between thumb and finger. The Arab watched with a smile.
“We understand one another,” he said. There was no need to finish the
description of his plan. With a solemn wave of his hand he left the
cafe.

“That man Ahmed,” said Madam Marx, “has a grudge against Amos. It
dates from the bombardment, and he had waited all these years to avenge
himself. I believe it was the loss of his wife.”

“Amos made her a Jewess, eh?” And then, after a pause, Gregorio added:

“So we can depend on Ahmed. To-night I will win back my son or--”

“Or?” queried madam, tremblingly.

“Or Amos starts on his journey to hell. God, how my fingers itch to slay
him! The devil, the Jew devil!”



X--AT THE HOUSE OF AMOS

As Ahmed had advised, Gregorio settled himself patiently to await the
summons. Madam would have liked to ask him many questions, and to have
extracted a promise from him not to risk his life in any mad enterprise
his accomplice might suggest. But though the Greek’s body seemed almost
lifeless, so quietly and immovably he rested on his chair, there was a
restless look in his eyes that told her how fiercely and irrepressibly
his anger burned. She knew enough of his race to know that no power on
earth could stop him striking for revenge. And she trembled, for
she knew also that directly he had begun to strike his madness would
increase, and that only sheer physical exhaustion would stay his hand.

Madam Marx was unhappy, and as she waited on her customers her eyes
rested continually on the Greek, who heeded her not. Once she carried
some wine to him, and he drank eagerly, spilling a few drops on the
floor first. “It’s like blood,” he muttered, and smiled. Madam hastily
covered his mouth with her trembling fingers.

Just before midnight Ahmed arrived with his two friends. Gregorio saw
them at once, and, calling them to him, they spoke together in low
voices for a few moments. There was little need for words, and soon,
scarcely noticed by the drinkers and gamblers, they passed out into the
street and walked slowly toward the Jew’s house. Ahmed rapidly repeated
the plan of action. When they reached the door they stood for a moment
before they woke the Arab, and these words passed between them:

“For a wife.”

“For a sister.”

“For a son.”

Gregorio then demanded admittance and led the way, followed by his three
friends. He had visited the house of Amos before, on less bloody but
less delightful business, and he did not hesitate, but strode on to
where he knew the Jew would be. His companions stood behind the curtain,
awaiting the signal.

Amos looked somewhat surprised at the Greek’s entrance, but motioned him
to a seat, and, as on the occasion of his first visit, clapped his hands
together as a signal that coffee and pipes were required.

“It is kind of you to come, for doubtless you wish to pay me what is
owing.”

“I wish to pay you.”

“That is well. I hope you are better again. I regretted to find you so
ill two nights ago.”

“I am better.”

The conversation ceased, for Gregorio was restless and his fingers
itched to do their work. Something in his manner alarmed Amos, for he
summoned in two of his servants and raised himself slightly, as if the
better to avoid an attack. But he continued to smoke calmly, watching
the Greek under his half-closed lids.

“I have another piece of business to settle with you.”

“Do you want to borrow more money because I refuse to lend you any?”

“No; it is you who have borrowed, and I have come to you to receive back
my own.”

“I fail to understand you.”

Gregorio tried to keep calm, but it was not possible. Rising to his
feet, he bent over the Jew and cried out:

“Give me back my son, you Jew dog!”

“Your son is not here.”

“You lie! by God, you lie! If he is not here you have murdered him.”

“Madman!” shouted Amos, as the Greek’s knife flashed from its sheath;
but before he or his servants could stay the uplifted arm the Jew sank
back among his cushions, wounded to the heart. With a shout of triumph
and a “Death of all Jews!” Gregorio turned savagely on the servants
and, reinforced by his companions, soon succeeded in slaying them. Then
leaving the dead side by side, the four men dashed through the house
seeking fresh victims. Ten minutes later they were in the street again,
dripping with the blood of women and men, for in their fury they had
killed every human being in the house.

Down the narrow native streets they pushed on quickly, hugging the
shadows, toward the Penny-farthing Shop. Madam Marx, her ears sharpened
by fear, heard them, admitted them by a side door, and led them quickly
to an upper room. Thither she carried water and clean garments, but
dared not ask any questions. Sick with anxiety, she re-entered the bar
and waited.

At length the murderers appeared and called for coffee, and Madam
Marx attended to their wants. In a few minutes the Egyptians left,
and Gregorio and she were alone. Coming near him, she placed her hand
timidly on his shoulder, and asked him, in a hoarse whisper, to tell her
what had happened.

“My son was not there.”

“Well?”

“Well, you can guess the rest. Not one person remains alive of that
devil’s household.”

Madam Marx gasped at the magnitude of the crime, and though her terrors
increased, her pride in the man capable of so tremendous revenge
increased also.

“What will happen to you?” she found voice to ask.

“Nothing. I must hide here. We were not seen. Besides, you remember the
last time a Greek murdered a Jew--it was at Port Said--the matter was
hushed up. Our consuls care as little for Jews as we do. My God, how
glad I am I killed him!”

His eyes were fixed on the street as he spoke, and suddenly he started
to his feet. Madam rose too, and clung to him. He pushed her roughly on
one side, while an evil smile played on his lips.

“By God, she shall come back now!”

“Who?”

“Xantippe. There is no need for her to live with the Englishman now. Our
son is dead and the Jew in hell. I will at least have my wife back.”

“She will not come.”

“She will come. By God, I will make her! I have tasted blood to-night,
and I am not a child to be treated with contempt. I say I will make her
come.”

“But if she refuses?”

“Then I will take care she does not go back to the Englishman.”

“You will--” but madam’s voice faltered. Gregorio read her meaning and
laughed a yes.

“But, Gregorio, think; you will be hanged for that. You wife is not a
Jewess.”

But Gregorio laughed again and strode into the street. He was mad with
grief and the intoxicating draughts of vengeance he had swallowed. He
strode across the road and mounted the stairs with steady feet. Madam
Marx followed him, weeping and calling on him to come back. As he
reached the door of his room she flung herself before him, but he
pushed her on one side with his feet and shut the door behind him as he
entered.

Lying on the threshold, she heard the bolt fastened, and knew the last
act of the tragedy was begun.



XI--HUSBAND AND WIFE

As Gregorio entered the room, Xantippe, who was kneeling by a box into
which she was placing clothes neatly folded, turned her head and said
laughingly:

“You are impatient, my friend; I have nearly--”

But recognising Gregorio, she did not finish the sentence. She sat down
on the edge of the box. Her face became white, and the blood left her
lips. With a great effort she remained quiet and folded her hands on her
lap.

Gregorio looked at her for a moment, a cruel smile making his sinister
face appear almost terrible, and his bloodshot eyes glared at her
savagely. At last he broke the silence by shouting her name hoarsely,
making at the same time a movement toward her. He looked like a wild
animal about to spring upon his prey. Xantippe, however, did not flinch,
answering softly:

“I am not deaf. What do you want here?”

“It is my room; I suppose I have a right to be here.”

“I apologise for having intruded.”

“None of your smooth speeches. The Englishman has schooled you
carefully, I see. Can you say ‘good-bye’ in English yet?”

“Why should I say ‘good-bye’?”

“It is time. You will come back to me now.”

“Never.”

Gregorio laughed hysterically and stood beside her. His fingers played
with her hair. In spite of her fear lest she should irritate him,
Xantippe shrank from his touch. Gregorio noticed her aversion and said
savagely:

“You must get used to me, Xantippe. From to-night we live together
again. It is not necessary now for you to earn money.”

“I shall not come back to you. I have told you I hate you. It is your
own fault that I leave you.”

“It will be my fault if you do leave me.”

He pushed her on to the mattress and held her there.

“Let us talk,” he said.

For a few minutes there was silence, and then he continued:

“Amos is dead, and our debts are paid.”

“How did you pay them?”

“With this,” and as he spoke he touched the handle of his knife. “Don’t
shudder; he deserved it, and I shall be safe in a few days. These
affairs are quickly forgotten. Besides, there is another reason why we
should not live as we have lately been living.”

Xantippe opened her eyes as she asked, “What reason?”

Gregorio relaxed his hold, for the memory of his loss shook him with
sobs. Cat-like, Xantippe had waited her opportunity and sprang away from
his grasp. The movement brought the man to his senses. He rushed at her
with an oath, waving the knife in his hand. Xantippe prepared to defend
herself. They stood, desperate, before each other, neither daring to
begin the struggle. Through the awful silence came the sound of sobs and
a plaintive voice crying:

“Gregorio, come back, leave her; I love you.”

“Is Madam Marx outside?” hissed Xantippe.

“Yes.”

“Then go to her. I tell you I hate you.” She pointed to the half-filled
box--“I was going to leave here to-night. I will never return to you.”

“You were going with the Englishman?”

“He is a man.”

Gregorio paused a moment, then in a suppressed voice, half choking at
the words, said:

“Our son--do you know what has happened to him? You shall not leave me.”

“I know about our son. I am glad to think he is away from your evil
influence. Let me pass.” Xantippe moved toward the door, but Gregorio
seized her by the throat.

“You are glad our son is killed; you helped Amos to kill him.”

Rage and despair impelled him. Laughing brutally, he struck her on the
breast, and, as he tottered, sent his knife deep into her heart. For a
few seconds he stood over her exulting, and then opened the door. Madam
Marx, white with fear, rushed into the room. Seeing the murdered woman,
a look of triumph came into her eyes. But it was a momentary triumph,
for she realised at once the gravity of the crime. She had little pity
or sorrow to waste on the dead, but she was full of concern for the
safety of the murderer.

“This is a bad night’s work, Gregorio.”

“Is it? She deserved death. I am glad I killed her. God, how peacefully
I shall sleep tonight!”

“This is a worse matter than the other, my friend; you must get away
from here at once.”

“Let us leave the corpse; I am thirsty,” Gregorio answered, callously.
With a last look at Xantippe dead upon the floor, the two left the room
and made fast the bolt before descending the stairs. As they emerged
from the doorway into the street, some police rode by, and Gregorio
trembled a little as he stood watching them.

“I want a drink; I am trembling,” he said, huskily, and followed Madam
Marx into the shop.

The sun was beginning to rise, and already signs of a new life were
stirring. The day-workers appeared at the windows and in the streets.

“You must get away at night, Gregorio, and keep hidden all day.”

“All right. Give me some wine. I can arrange better when my thirst is
satisfied.”

After drinking deeply he turned and laughed. “It has been a busy time
since sunset.”

Then, as if a new idea suddenly struck him, he queried cunningly, “There
will be a reward offered?”

“I suppose so.”

“Then you will be a rich woman.”

Madam Marx flung herself at his feet and wept bitterly. The blow was a
cruel one indeed. Eagerly she entreated him to retract his words. She
reminded him of all she had done for him, of all she would still do. A
sort of eloquence came to her as she pleaded her cause, and Gregorio,
weary with excitement, kissed her as he asked:

“But why should you not give me up?”

“Because I love you.”

Neither blood nor cruelty could stain him in her eyes.

At last her passion spent itself; calmed and soothed by Gregorio’s
caress she realised again the danger her lover ran. Vainly were plans
discussed; no fair chance of escape seemed open. At last Gregorio said:

“I shall leave here to-night for Ramleh and live in the desert for a
time. If you help me we can manage easily. When my beard is grown I can
get back here safely enough, and the matter will be forgotten. You must
collect food and take it by train to the last station, and get the box
buried by Ahmed near the palace. I can creep toward it at night unseen.”

“But I will come to you at night and bring food and drink.”

“No. That would only attract attention. You must not leave your
customers. But the drink is the worst part of the matter. I must have
water. Get as many ostrich-eggs as you can, and fill them with water,
and seal them. Hide these with the food, and I will carry some of them
into the farther desert and bury them there.”

“Gregorio, if all comes right you will not be sorry you killed her?”

“She hated me. I shall not be sorry.”

And Madam Marx smiled and forgot her fears.



XII--IN THE DESERT AND ON THE SEA

By the last train leaving Alexandria for Ramleh, the next evening,
Gregorio sought to escape his pursuers. He had heard from Ahmed on
the platform, just before starting, that Xantippe’s body had been
discovered, and that already the police were on his track. He sat in
a corner of a third-class carriage closely muffled, and eyeing his
neighbours suspiciously. He sighed with relief as the train moved out
of the station and began to pass by the sand-hills and white villas,
showing ghost-like in the damp mist.

When he reached St. Antonio he saw the lights of the casino blazing
cheerfully, and the pure clear desert air invigorated him. Fascinated
by the glare, he strolled toward the casino and decided, in spite of
the risk, to enter. He watched from a corner the players, and greedily
coveted the masses of gold and silver piled in pyramids behind the
croupiers. He heard the violins playing Suppe’s overture, and the
remembrance came vividly to him of the Paradiso and the fair girl with
whom the Englishman talked. The exciting events following that evening
passed before him--a lurid panorama.

An hour fled quickly away; then he sought the solitude of the desert,
and, having collected into a bag as much food and as many eggs as he
could carry, he walked away over the sands.

Under the stars he dug holes wherein to bury the eggs, and marked the
spots with stones; then, wrapping himself in his cloak, lay down to
sleep. All next day he loitered idly about, shunning the gaze of every
wandering Arab. When evening came he drew near to the palace to seek for
food. To his horror, the box had not been refilled. At first he hardly
realised how awful was his plight. Then the truth dawned upon him. Ahmed
and Madam Marx must have been arrested. He drew near to the casino and
stood under the open windows listening. A cold shudder ran down his
back, his face grew pale, and his lips trembled, for he heard two men
discussing the murder and the capture of his friends. An involuntary
smile lighted up the gloom of his features for a moment as one remarked
that the chief offender, the woman’s husband, had eluded pursuit. Then
he crept back into the desert and waited for the dawn.

The sun rose, fiery and relentless, glittering on the waters of Aboukir,
and the cloudless heaven blazed like a prairie on fire. At midday, when
its rays fell straight upon him, his thirst became intense, and with
feverish fingers he dug up an egg. It was empty. He tossed it away and
dragged himself to another hole. The second egg was empty. In turn
he dug up all his eggs, and all alike were empty. Improperly sealed,
scantily covered by the sand, the water had evaporated. A great despair
seized him; he called on God in his anguish, and the silence of the
desert terrified him. In a fit of desolate anger he pulled off his cap,
and summoned all the saints, Christ, and God Himself, to enter it, and
then trampled on it, laughing wildly. Then he flung himself upon the
sand, his head still left bare to the pitiless sun. He knew the end had
come, but there was not any regret in his heart for his crimes, only
an impotent dismay and anger at his solitary condition. The thirst
increased every minute, and he gripped the sand with his fingers in his
agony. His last word was an oath.

At sunset he was dead.

Two days later Madam Marx left Alexandria by train for Ramleh. There was
no evidence against her, and she had soon been released. Her own trouble
scarcely disconcerted her; she had feared only for the Greek in the
desert. The thought of his agony, his hunger, goaded her nearly to
madness; but she was a little comforted when she remembered the eggs.
There was enough water in them to last him two or three days. It was the
hour of sunset when she arrived, and she instantly set out desertward,
carrying a basket containing wine and food. She had determined to live
at the hotel until the days of persecution were past. The heavy sand
made it hard to proceed rapidly, but she struggled on bravely, and when
far enough from civilisation called aloud the signal-word agreed on.
But no one answered. All through the night she wandered, searching,
till within an hour of sunrise; then she gave way and sat weeping on the
sand. With daylight she rose to her feet, determined to find her lover,
but had scarcely gone twenty yards before, with a low cry of grief, she
knelt beside the body of a dead man. In the half-eaten, decayed features
she recognised Gregorio and knew she had come too late. Undeterred by
the hideous spectacle, she kissed him tenderly and lay beside him.

The sun mounted slowly in the heavens.

The living figure lay as lifeless as the dead. But after a while the
woman rose and dug with her hands a hollow in the sand. She heeded not
the heat, nor the flight of time, and by evening her work was done.

Raising the body in her arms, she carried it to the hollow and laid it
gently down, then tearfully shovelled back the sand till it was hidden.
So Gregorio found a tomb. Nor did it remain unconsecrated, for beside
it Madam Marx knelt and spoke with faltering lips the remnants of the
prayers she had learned when a child. As she prayed she watched vaguely
a steamer disappear behind the horizon.


The khedival mail-boat _Ramses_ sped swiftly over the unruffled surface
of the sea. At the stern a tall fair Englishman sat looking on the level
shores of Egypt and the minarets of Alexandria. With a sad smile he
turned to the child who called to him by his name. They were a strange
pair, for the boy was dark, and foreign-looking, and there was something
of cunning in his restless black eyes. The man’s large hand rested
softly on the raven curls of the youngster as he muttered to himself:

“For her sake I will watch over you, and you shall grow up to be a true
man.”

So Xantippe’s life had not been lived in vain, for she had loved and
been loved, and her memory was sweet to her lover. Moreover, Gregorio’s
dreams of wealth for his son were to find fulfilment, and the sand of
the desert, maybe, lies lightly on him.





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