Time, they say, must the best of us capture, And travel and battle and gems and gold No more can kindle the ancient rapture, For even the youngest of hearts grows old. But in you, I think, the boy is not over; So take this medley of ways and wars As the gift of a friend and a fellow-lover Of the fairest country under the stars.
i. The Man on the Kirkcaple Shore ii. Furth! Fortune! iii. Blaauwildebeestefontein iv. My Journey to the Winter-Veld v. Mr Wardlaw Has a Premonition vi. The Drums Beat at Sunset vii. Captain Arcoll Tells a Tale viii. I Fall in Again with the Reverend John Laputa ix. The Store at Umvelos' x. I Go Treasure-Hunting xi. The Cave of the Rooirand xii. Captain Arcoll Sends a Message xiii. The Drift of the Letaba xiv. I Carry the Collar of Prester John xv. Morning in the Berg xvi. Inanda's Kraal xvii. A Deal and Its Consequences xviii. How a Man May Sometimes Put His Trust in a Horse xix. Arcoll's Shepherding xx. My Last Sight of the Reverend John Laputa xxi. I Climb the Crags a Second Time xxii. A Great Peril and a Great Salvation xxiii. My Uncle's Gift Is Many Times Multiplied
THE MAN ON THE KIRKCAPLE SHORE
I mind as if it were yesterday my first sight of the man. Little I knew at the time how big the moment was with destiny, or how often that face seen in the fitful moonlight would haunt my sleep and disturb my waking hours. But I mind yet the cold grue of terror I got from it, a terror which was surely more than the due of a few truant lads breaking the Sabbath with their play.
The town of Kirkcaple, of which and its adjacent parish of Portincross my father was the minister, lies on a hillside above the little bay of Caple, and looks squarely out on the North Sea. Round the horns of land which enclose the bay the coast shows on either side a battlement of stark red cliffs through which a burn or two makes a pass to the water's edge. The bay itself is ringed with fine clean sands, where we lads of the burgh school loved to bathe in the warm weather. But on long holidays the sport was to go farther afield among the cliffs; for there there were many deep caves and pools, where podleys might be caught with the line, and hid treasures sought for at the expense of the skin of the knees and the buttons of the trousers. Many a long Saturday I have passed in a crinkle of the cliffs, having lit a fire of driftwood, and made believe that I was a smuggler or a Jacobite new landed from France. There was a band of us in Kirkcaple, lads of my own age, including Archie Leslie, the son of my father's session-clerk, and Tam Dyke, the provost's nephew. We were sealed to silence by the blood oath, and we bore each the name of some historic pirate or sailorman. I was Paul Jones, Tam was Captain Kidd, and Archie, need I say it, was Morgan himself. Our tryst was a cave where a little water called the Dyve Burn had cut its way through the cliffs to the sea. There we forgathered in the summer evenings and of a Saturday afternoon in winter, and told mighty tales of our prowess and flattered our silly hearts. But the sober truth is that our deeds were of the humblest, and a dozen of fish or a handful of apples was all our booty, and our greatest exploit a fight with the roughs at the Dyve tan-work.
My father's spring Communion fell on the last Sabbath of April, and on the particular Sabbath of which I speak the weather was mild and bright for the time of year. I had been surfeited with the Thursday's and Saturday's services, and the two long diets of worship on the Sabbath were hard for a lad of twelve to bear with the spring in his bones and the sun slanting through the gallery window. There still remained the service on the Sabbath evening—a doleful prospect, for the Rev. Mr Murdoch of Kilchristie, noted for the length of his discourses, had exchanged pulpits with my father. So my mind was ripe for the proposal of Archie Leslie, on our way home to tea, that by a little skill we might give the kirk the slip. At our Communion the pews were emptied of their regular occupants and the congregation seated itself as it pleased. The manse seat was full of the Kirkcaple relations of Mr Murdoch, who had been invited there by my mother to hear him, and it was not hard to obtain permission to sit with Archie and Tam Dyke in the cock-loft in the gallery. Word was sent to Tam, and so it happened that three abandoned lads duly passed the plate and took their seats in the cock-loft. But when the bell had done jowing, and we heard by the sounds of their feet that the elders had gone in to the kirk, we slipped down the stairs and out of the side door. We were through the churchyard in a twinkling, and hot-foot on the road to the Dyve Burn. It was the fashion of the genteel in Kirkcaple to put their boys into what were known as Eton suits—long trousers, cut-away jackets, and chimney-pot hats. I had been one of the earliest victims, and well I remember how I fled home from the Sabbath school with the snowballs of the town roughs rattling off my chimney-pot. Archie had followed, his family being in all things imitators of mine. We were now clothed in this wearisome garb, so our first care was to secrete safely our hats in a marked spot under some whin bushes on the links. Tam was free from the bondage of fashion, and wore his ordinary best knickerbockers. From inside his jacket he unfolded his special treasure, which was to light us on our expedition—an evil-smelling old tin lantern with a shutter.
Tam was of the Free Kirk persuasion, and as his Communion fell on a different day from ours, he was spared the bondage of church attendance from which Archie and I had revolted. But notable events had happened that day in his church. A black man, the Rev. John Something-or-other, had been preaching. Tam was full of the portent. 'A nagger,' he said, 'a great black chap as big as your father, Archie.' He seemed to have banged the bookboard with some effect, and had kept Tam, for once in his life, awake. He had preached about the heathen in Africa, and how a black man was as good as a white man in the sight of God, and he had forecast a day when the negroes would have something to teach the British in the way of civilization. So at any rate ran the account of Tam Dyke, who did not share the preacher's views. 'It's all nonsense, Davie. The Bible says that the children of Ham were to be our servants. If I were the minister I wouldn't let a nigger into the pulpit. I wouldn't let him farther than the Sabbath school.'
Night fell as we came to the broomy spaces of the links, and ere we had breasted the slope of the neck which separates Kirkcaple Bay from the cliffs it was as dark as an April evening with a full moon can be. Tam would have had it darker. He got out his lantern, and after a prodigious waste of matches kindled the candle-end inside, turned the dark shutter, and trotted happily on. We had no need of his lighting till the Dyve Burn was reached and the path began to descend steeply through the rift in the crags.
It was here we found that some one had gone before us. Archie was great in those days at tracking, his ambition running in Indian paths. He would walk always with his head bent and his eyes on the ground, whereby he several times found lost coins and once a trinket dropped by the provost's wife. At the edge of the burn, where the path turns downward, there is a patch of shingle washed up by some spate. Archie was on his knees in a second. 'Lads,' he cried, 'there's spoor here;' and then after some nosing, 'it's a man's track, going downward, a big man with flat feet. It's fresh, too, for it crosses the damp bit of gravel, and the water has scarcely filled the holes yet.'
We did not dare to question Archie's woodcraft, but it puzzled us who the stranger could be. In summer weather you might find a party of picnickers here, attracted by the fine hard sands at the burn mouth. But at this time of night and season of the year there was no call for any one to be trespassing on our preserves. No fishermen came this way, the lobster-pots being all to the east, and the stark headland of the Red Neb made the road to them by the water's edge difficult. The tan-work lads used to come now and then for a swim, but you would not find a tan-work lad bathing on a chill April night. Yet there was no question where our precursor had gone. He was making for the shore. Tam unshuttered his lantern, and the steps went clearly down the corkscrew path. 'Maybe he is after our cave. We'd better go cannily.'
The glim was dowsed—the words were Archie's—and in the best contraband manner we stole down the gully. The business had suddenly taken an eerie turn, and I think in our hearts we were all a little afraid. But Tam had a lantern, and it would never do to turn back from an adventure which had all the appearance of being the true sort. Half way down there is a scrog of wood, dwarf alders and hawthorn, which makes an arch over the path. I, for one, was glad when we got through this with no worse mishap than a stumble from Tam which caused the lantern door to fly open and the candle to go out. We did not stop to relight it, but scrambled down the screes till we came to the long slabs of reddish rock which abutted on the beach. We could not see the track, so we gave up the business of scouts, and dropped quietly over the big boulder and into the crinkle of cliff which we called our cave.
There was nobody there, so we relit the lantern and examined our properties. Two or three fishing-rods for the burn, much damaged by weather; some sea-lines on a dry shelf of rock; a couple of wooden boxes; a pile of driftwood for fires, and a heap of quartz in which we thought we had found veins of gold—such was the modest furnishing of our den. To this I must add some broken clay pipes, with which we made believe to imitate our elders, smoking a foul mixture of coltsfoot leaves and brown paper. The band was in session, so following our ritual we sent out a picket. Tam was deputed to go round the edge of the cliff from which the shore was visible, and report if the coast was clear.
He returned in three minutes, his eyes round with amazement in the lantern light. 'There's a fire on the sands,' he repeated, 'and a man beside it.'
Here was news indeed. Without a word we made for the open, Archie first, and Tam, who had seized and shuttered his lantern, coming last. We crawled to the edge of the cliff and peered round, and there sure enough, on the hard bit of sand which the tide had left by the burn mouth, was a twinkle of light and a dark figure.
The moon was rising, and besides there was that curious sheen from the sea which you will often notice in spring. The glow was maybe a hundred yards distant, a little spark of fire I could have put in my cap, and, from its crackling and smoke, composed of dry seaweed and half-green branches from the burnside thickets. A man's figure stood near it, and as we looked it moved round and round the fire in circles which first of all widened and then contracted.
The sight was so unexpected, so beyond the beat of our experience, that we were all a little scared. What could this strange being want with a fire at half-past eight of an April Sabbath night on the Dyve Burn sands? We discussed the thing in whispers behind a boulder, but none of us had any solution. 'Belike he's come ashore in a boat,' said Archie. 'He's maybe a foreigner.' But I pointed out that, from the tracks which Archie himself had found, the man must have come overland down the cliffs. Tam was clear he was a madman, and was for withdrawing promptly from the whole business.
But some spell kept our feet tied there in that silent world of sand and moon and sea. I remember looking back and seeing the solemn, frowning faces of the cliffs, and feeling somehow shut in with this unknown being in a strange union. What kind of errand had brought this interloper into our territory? For a wonder I was less afraid than curious. I wanted to get to the heart of the matter, and to discover what the man was up to with his fire and his circles.
The same thought must have been in Archie's head, for he dropped on his belly and began to crawl softly seawards. I followed, and Tam, with sundry complaints, crept after my heels. Between the cliffs and the fire lay some sixty yards of debris and boulders above the level of all but the high spring tides. Beyond lay a string of seaweedy pools and then the hard sands of the burnfoot. There was excellent cover among the big stones, and apart from the distance and the dim light, the man by the fire was too preoccupied in his task to keep much look-out towards the land. I remember thinking he had chosen his place well, for save from the sea he could not be seen. The cliffs are so undercut that unless a watcher on the coast were on their extreme edge he would not see the burnfoot sands.
Archie, the skilled tracker, was the one who all but betrayed us. His knee slipped on the seaweed, and he rolled off a boulder, bringing down with him a clatter of small stones. We lay as still as mice, in terror lest the man should have heard the noise and have come to look for the cause. By-and-by when I ventured to raise my head above a flat-topped stone I saw that he was undisturbed. The fire still burned, and he was pacing round it. On the edge of the pools was an outcrop of red sandstone much fissured by the sea. Here was an excellent vantage-ground, and all three of us curled behind it, with our eyes just over the edge. The man was not twenty yards off, and I could see clearly what manner of fellow he was. For one thing he was huge of size, or so he seemed to me in the half-light. He wore nothing but a shirt and trousers, and I could hear by the flap of his feet on the sand that he was barefoot.
Suddenly Tam Dyke gave a gasp of astonishment. 'Gosh, it's the black minister!' he said.
It was indeed a black man, as we saw when the moon came out of a cloud. His head was on his breast, and he walked round the fire with measured, regular steps. At intervals he would stop and raise both hands to the sky, and bend his body in the direction of the moon. But he never uttered a word.
'It's magic,' said Archie. 'He's going to raise Satan. We must bide here and see what happens, for he'll grip us if we try to go back. The moon's ower high.'
The procession continued as if to some slow music. I had been in no fear of the adventure back there by our cave; but now that I saw the thing from close at hand, my courage began to ebb. There was something desperately uncanny about this great negro, who had shed his clerical garments, and was now practising some strange magic alone by the sea. I had no doubt it was the black art, for there was that in the air and the scene which spelled the unlawful. As we watched, the circles stopped, and the man threw something on the fire. A thick smoke rose of which we could feel the aromatic scent, and when it was gone the flame burned with a silvery blueness like moonlight. Still no sound came from the minister, but he took something from his belt, and began to make odd markings in the sand between the inner circle and the fire. As he turned, the moon gleamed on the implement, and we saw it was a great knife.
We were now scared in real earnest. Here were we, three boys, at night in a lonely place a few yards from a savage with a knife. The adventure was far past my liking, and even the intrepid Archie was having qualms, if I could judge from his set face. As for Tam, his teeth were chattering like a threshing-mill.
Suddenly I felt something soft and warm on the rock at my right hand. I felt again, and, lo! it was the man's clothes. There were his boots and socks, his minister's coat and his minister's hat.
This made the predicament worse, for if we waited till he finished his rites we should for certain be found by him. At the same time, to return over the boulders in the bright moonlight seemed an equally sure way to discovery. I whispered to Archie, who was for waiting a little longer. 'Something may turn up,' he said. It was always his way.
I do not know what would have turned up, for we had no chance of testing it. The situation had proved too much for the nerves of Tam Dyke. As the man turned towards us in his bowings and bendings, Tam suddenly sprang to his feet and shouted at him a piece of schoolboy rudeness then fashionable in Kirkcaple.
'Wha called ye partan-face, my bonny man?' Then, clutching his lantern, he ran for dear life, while Archie and I raced at his heels. As I turned I had a glimpse of a huge figure, knife in hand, bounding towards us.
Though I only saw it in the turn of a head, the face stamped itself indelibly upon my mind. It was black, black as ebony, but it was different from the ordinary negro. There were no thick lips and flat nostrils; rather, if I could trust my eyes, the nose was high-bridged, and the lines of the mouth sharp and firm. But it was distorted into an expression of such a devilish fury and amazement that my heart became like water.
We had a start, as I have said, of some twenty or thirty yards. Among the boulders we were not at a great disadvantage, for a boy can flit quickly over them, while a grown man must pick his way. Archie, as ever, kept his wits the best of us. 'Make straight for the burn,' he shouted in a hoarse whisper; we'll beat him on the slope.'
We passed the boulders and slithered over the outcrop of red rock and the patches of sea-pink till we reached the channel of the Dyve water, which flows gently among pebbles after leaving the gully. Here for the first time I looked back and saw nothing. I stopped involuntarily, and that halt was nearly my undoing. For our pursuer had reached the burn before us, but lower down, and was coming up its bank to cut us off.
At most times I am a notable coward, and in these days I was still more of one, owing to a quick and easily-heated imagination. But now I think I did a brave thing, though more by instinct than resolution. Archie was running first, and had already splashed through the burn; Tam came next, just about to cross, and the black man was almost at his elbow. Another second and Tam would have been in his clutches had I not yelled out a warning and made straight up the bank of the burn. Tam fell into the pool—I could hear his spluttering cry—but he got across; for I heard Archie call to him, and the two vanished into the thicket which clothes all the left bank of the gully. The pursuer, seeing me on his own side of the water, followed straight on; and before I knew it had become a race between the two of us.
I was hideously frightened, but not without hope, for the screes and shelves of this right side of the gully were known to me from many a day's exploring. I was light on my feet and uncommonly sound in wind, being by far the best long-distance runner in Kirkcaple. If I could only keep my lead till I reached a certain corner I knew of, I could outwit my enemy; for it was possible from that place to make a detour behind a waterfall and get into a secret path of ours among the bushes. I flew up the steep screes, not daring to look round; but at the top, where the rocks begin, I had a glimpse of my pursuer. The man could run. Heavy in build though he was he was not six yards behind me, and I could see the white of his eyes and the red of his gums. I saw something else—a glint of white metal in his hand. He still had his knife.
Fear sent me up the rocks like a seagull, and I scrambled and leaped, making for the corner I knew of. Something told me that the pursuit was slackening, and for a moment I halted to look round. A second time a halt was nearly the end of me. A great stone flew through the air, and took the cliff an inch from my head, half-blinding me with splinters. And now I began to get angry. I pulled myself into cover, skirted a rock till I came to my corner, and looked back for the enemy. There he was scrambling by the way I had come, and making a prodigious clatter among the stones. I picked up a loose bit of rock and hurled it with all my force in his direction. It broke before it reached him, but a considerable lump, to my joy, took him full in the face. Then my terrors revived. I slipped behind the waterfall and was soon in the thicket, and toiling towards the top.
I think this last bit was the worst in the race, for my strength was failing, and I seemed to hear those horrid steps at my heels. My heart was in my mouth as, careless of my best clothes, I tore through the hawthorn bushes. Then I struck the path and, to my relief, came on Archie and Tam, who were running slowly in desperate anxiety about my fate. We then took hands and soon reached the top of the gully.
For a second we looked back. The pursuit had ceased, and far down the burn we could hear the sounds as of some one going back to the sands.
'Your face is bleeding, Davie. Did he get near enough to hit you?' Archie asked.
'He hit me with a stone. But I gave him better. He's got a bleeding nose to remember this night by.'
We did not dare take the road by the links, but made for the nearest human habitation. This was a farm about half a mile inland, and when we reached it we lay down by the stack-yard gate and panted.
'I've lost my lantern,' said Tam. 'The big black brute! See if I don't tell my father.'
'Ye'll do nothing of the kind,' said Archie fiercely. 'He knows nothing about us and can't do us any harm. But if the story got out and he found out who we were, he'd murder the lot of US.'
He made us swear secrecy, which we were willing enough to do, seeing very clearly the sense in his argument. Then we struck the highroad and trotted back at our best pace to Kirkcaple, fear of our families gradually ousting fear of pursuit. In our excitement Archie and I forgot about our Sabbath hats, reposing quietly below a whin bush on the links.
We were not destined to escape without detection. As ill luck would have it, Mr Murdoch had been taken ill with the stomach-ache after the second psalm, and the congregation had been abruptly dispersed. My mother had waited for me at the church door, and, seeing no signs of her son, had searched the gallery. Then the truth came out, and, had I been only for a mild walk on the links, retribution would have overtaken my truantry. But to add to this I arrived home with a scratched face, no hat, and several rents in my best trousers. I was well cuffed and sent to bed, with the promise of full-dress chastisement when my father should come home in the morning.
My father arrived before breakfast next day, and I was duly and soundly whipped. I set out for school with aching bones to add to the usual depression of Monday morning. At the corner of the Nethergate I fell in with Archie, who was staring at a trap carrying two men which was coming down the street. It was the Free Church minister—he had married a rich wife and kept a horse—driving the preacher of yesterday to the railway station. Archie and I were in behind a doorpost in a twinkling, so that we could see in safety the last of our enemy. He was dressed in minister's clothes, with a heavy fur-coat and a brand new yellow-leather Gladstone bag. He was talking loudly as he passed, and the Free Church minister seemed to be listening attentively. I heard his deep voice saying something about the 'work of God in this place.' But what I noticed specially—and the sight made me forget my aching hinder parts—was that he had a swollen eye, and two strips of sticking-plaster on his cheek.
In this plain story of mine there will be so many wild doings ere the end is reached, that I beg my reader's assent to a prosaic digression. I will tell briefly the things which happened between my sight of the man on the Kirkcaple sands and my voyage to Africa. I continued for three years at the burgh school, where my progress was less notable in my studies than in my sports. One by one I saw my companions pass out of idle boyhood and be set to professions. Tam Dyke on two occasions ran off to sea in the Dutch schooners which used to load with coal in our port; and finally his father gave him his will, and he was apprenticed to the merchant service. Archie Leslie, who was a year my elder, was destined for the law, so he left Kirkcaple for an Edinburgh office, where he was also to take out classes at the college. I remained on at school till I sat alone by myself in the highest class—a position of little dignity and deep loneliness. I had grown a tall, square-set lad, and my prowess at Rugby football was renowned beyond the parishes of Kirkcaple and Portincross. To my father I fear I was a disappointment. He had hoped for something in his son more bookish and sedentary, more like his gentle, studious self.
On one thing I was determined: I should follow a learned profession. The fear of being sent to an office, like so many of my schoolfellows, inspired me to the little progress I ever made in my studies. I chose the ministry, not, I fear, out of any reverence for the sacred calling, but because my father had followed it before me. Accordingly I was sent at the age of sixteen for a year's finishing at the High School of Edinburgh, and the following winter began my Arts course at the university.
If Fate had been kinder to me, I think I might have become a scholar. At any rate I was just acquiring a taste for philosophy and the dead languages when my father died suddenly of a paralytic shock, and I had to set about earning a living.
My mother was left badly off, for my poor father had never been able to save much from his modest stipend. When all things were settled, it turned out that she might reckon on an income of about fifty pounds a year. This was not enough to live on, however modest the household, and certainly not enough to pay for the colleging of a son. At this point an uncle of hers stepped forward with a proposal. He was a well-to-do bachelor, alone in the world, and he invited my mother to live with him and take care of his house. For myself he proposed a post in some mercantile concern, for he had much influence in the circles of commerce. There was nothing for it but to accept gratefully. We sold our few household goods, and moved to his gloomy house in Dundas Street. A few days later he announced at dinner that he had found for me a chance which might lead to better things.
'You see, Davie,' he explained, 'you don't know the rudiments of business life. There's no house in the country that would take you in except as a common clerk, and you would never earn much more than a hundred pounds a year all your days. If you want to better your future you must go abroad, where white men are at a premium. By the mercy of Providence I met yesterday an old friend, Thomas Mackenzie, who was seeing his lawyer about an estate he is bidding for. He is the head of one of the biggest trading and shipping concerns in the world—Mackenzie, Mure, and Oldmeadows—you may have heard the name. Among other things he has half the stores in South Africa, where they sell everything from Bibles to fish-hooks. Apparently they like men from home to manage the stores, and to make a long story short, when I put your case to him, he promised you a place. I had a wire from him this morning confirming the offer. You are to be assistant storekeeper at—' (my uncle fumbled in his pocket, and then read from the yellow slip) 'at Blaauwildebeestefontein. There's a mouthful for you.'
In this homely way I first heard of a place which was to be the theatre of so many strange doings.
'It's a fine chance for you,' my uncle continued. 'You'll only be assistant at first, but when you have learned your job you'll have a store of your own. Mackenzie's people will pay you three hundred pounds a year, and when you get a store you'll get a percentage on sales. It lies with you to open up new trade among the natives. I hear that Blaauw—something or other, is in the far north of the Transvaal, and I see from the map that it is in a wild, hilly country. You may find gold or diamonds up there, and come back and buy Portincross House.' My uncle rubbed his hands and smiled cheerily.
Truth to tell I was both pleased and sad. If a learned profession was denied me I vastly preferred a veld store to an Edinburgh office stool. Had I not been still under the shadow of my father's death I might have welcomed the chance of new lands and new folk. As it was, I felt the loneliness of an exile. That afternoon I walked on the Braid Hills, and when I saw in the clear spring sunlight the coast of Fife, and remembered Kirkcaple and my boyish days, I could have found it in me to sit down and cry.
A fortnight later I sailed. My mother bade me a tearful farewell, and my uncle, besides buying me an outfit and paying my passage money, gave me a present of twenty sovereigns. 'You'll not be your mother's son, Davie,' were his last words, 'if you don't come home with it multiplied by a thousand.' I thought at the time that I would give more than twenty thousand pounds to be allowed to bide on the windy shores of Forth.
I sailed from Southampton by an intermediate steamer, and went steerage to save expense. Happily my acute homesickness was soon forgotten in another kind of malady. It blew half a gale before we were out of the Channel, and by the time we had rounded Ushant it was as dirty weather as ever I hope to see. I lay mortal sick in my bunk, unable to bear the thought of food, and too feeble to lift my head. I wished I had never left home, but so acute was my sickness that if some one had there and then offered me a passage back or an immediate landing on shore I should have chosen the latter.
It was not till we got into the fair-weather seas around Madeira that I recovered enough to sit on deck and observe my fellow-passengers. There were some fifty of us in the steerage, mostly wives and children going to join relations, with a few emigrant artisans and farmers. I early found a friend in a little man with a yellow beard and spectacles, who sat down beside me and remarked on the weather in a strong Scotch accent. He turned out to be a Mr Wardlaw from Aberdeen, who was going out to be a schoolmaster. He was a man of good education, who had taken a university degree, and had taught for some years as an under-master in a school in his native town. But the east winds had damaged his lungs, and he had been glad to take the chance of a poorly paid country school in the veld. When I asked him where he was going I was amazed to be told, 'Blaauwildebeestefontein.'
Mr Wardlaw was a pleasant little man, with a sharp tongue but a cheerful temper. He laboured all day at primers of the Dutch and Kaffir languages, but in the evening after supper he would walk with me on the after-deck and discuss the future. Like me, he knew nothing of the land he was going to, but he was insatiably curious, and he affected me with his interest. 'This place, Blaauwildebeestefontein,' he used to say, 'is among the Zoutpansberg mountains, and as far as I can see, not above ninety miles from the railroad. It looks from the map a well-watered country, and the Agent-General in London told me it was healthy or I wouldn't have taken the job. It seems we'll be in the heart of native reserves up there, for here's a list of chiefs—'Mpefu, Sikitola, Majinje, Magata; and there are no white men living to the east of us because of the fever. The name means the "spring of the blue wildebeeste," whatever fearsome animal that may be. It sounds like a place for adventure, Mr Crawfurd. You'll exploit the pockets of the black men and I'll see what I can do with their minds.' There was another steerage passenger whom I could not help observing because of my dislike of his appearance. He, too, was a little man, by name Henriques, and in looks the most atrocious villain I have ever clapped eyes on. He had a face the colour of French mustard—a sort of dirty green—and bloodshot, beady eyes with the whites all yellowed with fever. He had waxed moustaches, and a curious, furtive way of walking and looking about him. We of the steerage were careless in our dress, but he was always clad in immaculate white linen, with pointed, yellow shoes to match his complexion. He spoke to no one, but smoked long cheroots all day in the stern of the ship, and studied a greasy pocket-book. Once I tripped over him in the dark, and he turned on me with a snarl and an oath. I was short enough with him in return, and he looked as if he could knife me.
'I'll wager that fellow has been a slave-driver in his time,' I told Mr Wardlaw, who said, 'God pity his slaves, then.'
And now I come to the incident which made the rest of the voyage pass all too soon for me, and foreshadowed the strange events which were to come. It was the day after we crossed the Line, and the first-class passengers were having deck sports. A tug-of-war had been arranged between the three classes, and a half-dozen of the heaviest fellows in the steerage, myself included, were invited to join. It was a blazing hot afternoon, but on the saloon deck there were awnings and a cool wind blowing from the bows. The first-class beat the second easily, and after a tremendous struggle beat the steerage also. Then they regaled us with iced-drinks and cigars to celebrate the victory.
I was standing at the edge of the crowd of spectators, when my eye caught a figure which seemed to have little interest in our games. A large man in clerical clothes was sitting on a deck-chair reading a book. There was nothing novel about the stranger, and I cannot explain the impulse which made me wish to see his face. I moved a few steps up the deck, and then I saw that his skin was black. I went a little farther, and suddenly he raised his eyes from his book and looked round. It was the face of the man who had terrified me years ago on the Kirkcaple shore.
I spent the rest of the day in a brown study. It was clear to me that some destiny had prearranged this meeting. Here was this man travelling prosperously as a first-class passenger with all the appurtenances of respectability. I alone had seen him invoking strange gods in the moonlight, I alone knew of the devilry in his heart, and I could not but believe that some day or other there might be virtue in that knowledge.
The second engineer and I had made friends, so I got him to consult the purser's list for the name of my acquaintance. He was down as the Rev. John Laputa, and his destination was Durban. The next day being Sunday, who should appear to address us steerage passengers but the black minister. He was introduced by the captain himself, a notably pious man, who spoke of the labours of his brother in the dark places of heathendom. Some of us were hurt in our pride in being made the target of a black man's oratory. Especially Mr Henriques, whose skin spoke of the tar-brush, protested with oaths against the insult. Finally he sat down on a coil of rope, and spat scornfully in the vicinity of the preacher.
For myself I was intensely curious, and not a little impressed. The man's face was as commanding as his figure, and his voice was the most wonderful thing that ever came out of human mouth. It was full and rich, and gentle, with the tones of a great organ. He had none of the squat and preposterous negro lineaments, but a hawk nose like an Arab, dark flashing eyes, and a cruel and resolute mouth. He was black as my hat, but for the rest he might have sat for a figure of a Crusader. I do not know what the sermon was about, though others told me that it was excellent. All the time I watched him, and kept saying to myself, 'You hunted me up the Dyve Burn, but I bashed your face for you.' Indeed, I thought I could see faint scars on his cheek.
The following night I had toothache, and could not sleep. It was too hot to breathe under cover, so I got up, lit a pipe, and walked on the after-deck to ease the pain. The air was very still, save for the whish of water from the screws and the steady beat of the engines. Above, a great yellow moon looked down on me, and a host of pale stars.
The moonlight set me remembering the old affair of the Dyve Burn, and my mind began to run on the Rev. John Laputa. It pleased me to think that I was on the track of some mystery of which I alone had the clue. I promised myself to search out the antecedents of the minister when I got to Durban, for I had a married cousin there, who might know something of his doings. Then, as I passed by the companion-way to the lower deck, I heard voices, and peeping over the rail, I saw two men sitting in the shadow just beyond the hatch of the hold.
I thought they might be two of the sailors seeking coolness on the open deck, when something in the figure of one of them made me look again. The next second I had slipped back and stolen across the after-deck to a point just above them. For the two were the black minister and that ugly yellow villain, Henriques.
I had no scruples about eavesdropping, but I could make nothing of their talk. They spoke low, and in some tongue which may have been Kaffir or Portuguese, but was in any case unknown to me. I lay, cramped and eager, for many minutes, and was just getting sick of it when a familiar name caught my ear. Henriques said something in which I caught the word 'Blaauwildebeestefontein.' I listened intently, and there could be no mistake. The minister repeated the name, and for the next few minutes it recurred often in their talk. I went back stealthily to bed, having something to make me forget my aching tooth. First of all, Laputa and Henriques were allies. Second, the place I was bound for had something to do with their schemes.
I said nothing to Mr Wardlaw, but spent the next week in the assiduous toil of the amateur detective. I procured some maps and books from my friend, the second engineer, and read all I could about Blaauwildebeestefontein. Not that there was much to learn; but I remember I had quite a thrill when I discovered from the chart of the ship's run one day that we were in the same latitude as that uncouthly-named spot. I found out nothing, however, about Henriques or the Rev. John Laputa. The Portuguese still smoked in the stern, and thumbed his greasy notebook; the minister sat in his deck-chair, and read heavy volumes from the ship's library. Though I watched every night, I never found them again together.
At Cape Town Henriques went ashore and did not return. The minister did not budge from the ship the three days we lay in port, and, indeed, it seemed to me that he kept his cabin. At any rate I did not see his great figure on deck till we were tossing in the choppy seas round Cape Agulhas. Sea-sickness again attacked me, and with short lulls during our stoppages at Port Elizabeth and East London, I lay wretchedly in my bunk till we sighted the bluffs of Durban harbour.
Here it was necessary for me to change my ship, for in the interests of economy I was going by sea to Delagoa Bay, and thence by the cheap railway journey into the Transvaal. I sought out my cousin, who lived in a fine house on the Berea, and found a comfortable lodging for the three days of my stay there. I made inquiries about Mr Laputa, but could hear nothing. There was no native minister of that name, said my cousin, who was a great authority on all native questions. I described the man, but got no further light. No one had seen or heard of such a being, 'unless,' said my cousin, 'he is one of those American Ethiopian rascals.'
My second task was to see the Durban manager of the firm which I had undertaken to serve. He was a certain Mr Colles, a big fat man, who welcomed me in his shirt-sleeves, with a cigar in his mouth. He received me pleasantly, and took me home to dinner with him.
'Mr Mackenzie has written about you,' he said. 'I'll be quite frank with you, Mr Crawfurd. The firm is not exactly satisfied about the way business has been going lately at Blaauwildebeestefontein. There's a grand country up there, and a grand opportunity for the man who can take it. Japp, who is in charge, is an old man now and past his best, but he has been long with the firm, and we don't want to hurt his feelings. When he goes, which must be pretty soon, you'll have a good chance of the place, if you show yourself an active young fellow.'
He told me a great deal more about Blaauwildebeestefontein, principally trading details. Incidentally he let drop that Mr Japp had had several assistants in the last few years. I asked him why they had left, and he hesitated.
'It's a lonely place, and they didn't like the life. You see, there are few white men near, and young fellows want society. They complained, and were moved on. But the firm didn't think the more of them.'
I told him I had come out with the new schoolmaster.
'Yes,' he said reflectively, 'the school. That's been vacant pretty often lately. What sort of fellow is this Wardlaw? Will he stay, I wonder?'
'From all accounts,' I said, 'Blaauwildebeestefontein does not seem popular.'
'It isn't. That's why we've got you out from home. The colonial-born doesn't find it fit in with his idea of comfort. He wants society, and he doesn't like too many natives. There's nothing up there but natives and a few back-veld Dutchmen with native blood in them. You fellows from home are less set on an easy life, or you wouldn't be here.'
There was something in Mr Colles's tone which made me risk another question.
'What's the matter with the place? There must be more wrong with it than loneliness to make everybody clear out. I have taken on this job, and I mean to stick to it, so you needn't be afraid to tell me.'
The manager looked at me sharply. 'That's the way to talk, my lad. You look as if you had a stiff back, so I'll be frank with you. There is something about the place. It gives the ordinary man the jumps. What it is, I don't know, and the men who come back don't know themselves. I want you to find out for me. You'll be doing the firm an enormous service if you can get on the track of it. It may be the natives, or it may be the takhaars, or it may be something else. Only old Japp can stick it out, and he's too old and doddering to care about moving. I want you to keep your eyes skinned, and write privately to me if you want any help. You're not out here for your health, I can see, and here's a chance for you to get your foot on the ladder.
'Remember, I'm your friend,' he said to me again at the garden gate. 'Take my advice and lie very low. Don't talk, don't meddle with drink, learn all you can of the native jabber, but don't let on you understand a word. You're sure to get on the track of something. Good-bye, my boy,' and he waved a fat hand to me.
That night I embarked on a cargo-boat which was going round the coast to Delagoa Bay. It is a small world—at least for us far-wandering Scots. For who should I find when I got on board but my old friend Tam Dyke, who was second mate on the vessel? We wrung each other's hands, and I answered, as best I could, his questions about Kirkcaple. I had supper with him in the cabin, and went on deck to see the moorings cast.
Suddenly there was a bustle on the quay, and a big man with a handbag forced his way up the gangway. The men who were getting ready to cast off tried to stop him, but he elbowed his way forward, declaring he must see the captain. Tam went up to him and asked civilly if he had a passage taken. He admitted he had not, but said he would make it right in two minutes with the captain himself. The Rev. John Laputa, for some reason of his own, was leaving Durban with more haste than he had entered it.
I do not know what passed with the captain, but the minister got his passage right enough, and Tam was even turned out of his cabin to make room for him. This annoyed my friend intensely.
'That black brute must be made of money, for he paid through the nose for this, or I'm a Dutchman. My old man doesn't take to his black brethren any more than I do. Hang it all, what are we coming to, when we're turning into a blooming cargo boat for niggers?'
I had all too little of Tam's good company, for on the afternoon of the second day we reached the little town of Lourenco Marques. This was my final landing in Africa, and I mind how eagerly I looked at the low, green shores and the bush-covered slopes of the mainland. We were landed from boats while the ship lay out in the bay, and Tam came ashore with me to spend the evening. By this time I had lost every remnant of homesickness. I had got a job before me which promised better things than colleging at Edinburgh, and I was as keen to get up country now as I had been loth to leave England. My mind being full of mysteries, I scanned every Portuguese loafer on the quay as if he had been a spy, and when Tam and I had had a bottle of Collates in a cafe I felt that at last I had got to foreign parts and a new world.
Tam took me to supper with a friend of his, a Scot by the name of Aitken, who was landing-agent for some big mining house on the Rand. He hailed from Fife and gave me a hearty welcome, for he had heard my father preach in his young days. Aitken was a strong, broad-shouldered fellow who had been a sergeant in the Gordons, and during the war he had done secret-service work in Delagoa. He had hunted, too, and traded up and down Mozambique, and knew every dialect of the Kaffirs. He asked me where I was bound for, and when I told him there was the same look in his eyes as I had seen with the Durban manager.
'You're going to a rum place, Mr Crawfurd,' he said.
'So I'm told. Do you know anything about it? You're not the first who has looked queer when I've spoken the name.'
'I've never been there,' he said, 'though I've been pretty near it from the Portuguese side. That's the funny thing about Blaauwildebeestefontein. Everybody has heard of it, and nobody knows it.'
'I wish you would tell me what you have heard.'
'Well, the natives are queer up thereaways. There's some kind of a holy place which every Kaffir from Algoa Bay to the Zambesi and away beyond knows about. When I've been hunting in the bush-veld I've often met strings of Kaffirs from hundreds of miles distant, and they've all been going or coming from Blaauwildebeestefontein. It's like Mecca to the Mohammedans, a place they go to on pilgrimage. I've heard of an old man up there who is believed to be two hundred years old. Anyway, there's some sort of great witch or wizard living in the mountains.'
Aitken smoked in silence for a time; then he said, 'I'll tell you another thing. I believe there's a diamond mine. I've often meant to go up and look for it.'
Tam and I pressed him to explain, which he did slowly after his fashion.
'Did you ever hear of I.D.B.—illicit diamond broking?' he asked me. 'Well, it's notorious that the Kaffirs on the diamond fields get away with a fair number of stones, and they are bought by Jew and Portuguese traders. It's against the law to deal in them, and when I was in the intelligence here we used to have a lot of trouble with the vermin. But I discovered that most of the stones came from natives in one part of the country—more or less round Blaauwildebeestefontein—and I see no reason to think that they had all been stolen from Kimberley or the Premier. Indeed some of the stones I got hold of were quite different from any I had seen in South Africa before. I shouldn't wonder if the Kaffirs in the Zoutpansberg had struck some rich pipe, and had the sense to keep quiet about it. Maybe some day I'll take a run up to see you and look into the matter.'
After this the talk turned on other topics till Tam, still nursing his grievance, asked a question on his own account. 'Did you ever come across a great big native parson called Laputa? He came on board as we were leaving Durban, and I had to turn out of my cabin for him.' Tam described him accurately but vindictively, and added that 'he was sure he was up to no good.'
Aitken shook his head. 'No, I don't know the man. You say he landed here? Well, I'll keep a look-out for him. Big native parsons are not so common.'
Then I asked about Henriques, of whom Tam knew nothing. I described his face, his clothes, and his habits. Aitken laughed uproariously.
'Tut, my man, most of the subjects of his Majesty the King of Portugal would answer to that description. If he's a rascal, as you think, you may be certain he's in the I.D.B. business, and if I'm right about Blaauwildebeestefontein you'll likely have news of him there some time or other. Drop me a line if he comes, and I'll get on to his record.'
I saw Tam off in the boat with a fairly satisfied mind. I was going to a place with a secret, and I meant to find it out. The natives round Blaauwildebeestefontein were queer, and diamonds were suspected somewhere in the neighbourhood.
Henriques had something to do with the place, and so had the Rev. John Laputa, about whom I knew one strange thing. So did Tam by the way, but he had not identified his former pursuer, and I had told him nothing. I was leaving two men behind me, Colles at Durban and Aitken at Lourenco Marques, who would help me if trouble came. Things were shaping well for some kind of adventure.
The talk with Aitken had given Tam an inkling of my thoughts. His last words to me were an appeal to let him know if there was any fun going.
'I can see you're in for a queer job. Promise to let me hear from you if there's going to be a row, and I'll come up country, though I should have to desert the service. Send us a letter to the agents at Durban in case we should be in port. You haven't forgotten the Dyve Burn, Davie?'
The Pilgrim's Progress had been the Sabbath reading of my boyhood, and as I came in sight of Blaauwildebeestefontein a passage ran in my head. It was that which tells how Christian and Hopeful, after many perils of the way, came to the Delectable Mountains, from which they had a prospect of Canaan. After many dusty miles by rail, and a weariful journey in a Cape-cart through arid plains and dry and stony gorges, I had come suddenly into a haven of green. The Spring of the Blue Wildebeeste was a clear rushing mountain torrent, which swirled over blue rocks into deep fern-fringed pools. All around was a tableland of lush grass with marigolds and arum lilies instead of daisies and buttercups. Thickets of tall trees dotted the hill slopes and patched the meadows as if some landscape-gardener had been at work on them. Beyond, the glen fell steeply to the plains, which ran out in a faint haze to the horizon. To north and south I marked the sweep of the Berg, now rising high to a rocky peak and now stretching in a level rampart of blue. On the very edge of the plateau where the road dipped for the descent stood the shanties of Blaauwildebeestefontein. The fresh hill air had exhilarated my mind, and the aromatic scent of the evening gave the last touch of intoxication. Whatever serpent might lurk in it, it was a veritable Eden I had come to.
Blaauwildebeestefontein had no more than two buildings of civilized shape; the store, which stood on the left side of the river, and the schoolhouse opposite. For the rest, there were some twenty native huts, higher up the slope, of the type which the Dutch call rondavels. The schoolhouse had a pretty garden, but the store stood bare in a patch of dust with a few outhouses and sheds beside it. Round the door lay a few old ploughs and empty barrels, and beneath a solitary blue gum was a wooden bench with a rough table. Native children played in the dust, and an old Kaffir squatted by the wall.
My few belongings were soon lifted from the Cape-cart, and I entered the shop. It was the ordinary pattern of up-country store—a bar in one corner with an array of bottles, and all round the walls tins of canned food and the odds and ends of trade. The place was empty, and a cloud of flies buzzed over the sugar cask.
Two doors opened at the back, and I chose the one to the right. I found myself in a kind of kitchen with a bed in one corner, and a litter of dirty plates on the table. On the bed lay a man, snoring heavily. I went close to him, and found an old fellow with a bald head, clothed only in a shirt and trousers. His face was red and swollen, and his breath came in heavy grunts. A smell of bad whisky hung over everything. I had no doubt that this was Mr Peter Japp, my senior in the store. One reason for the indifferent trade at Blaauwildebeestefontein was very clear to me: the storekeeper was a sot.
I went back to the shop and tried the other door. It was a bedroom too, but clean and pleasant. A little native girl—Zeeta, I found they called her—was busy tidying it up, and when I entered she dropped me a curtsy. 'This is your room, Baas,' she said in very good English in reply to my question. The child had been well trained somewhere, for there was a cracked dish full of oleander blossom on the drawers'-head, and the pillow-slips on the bed were as clean as I could wish. She brought me water to wash, and a cup of strong tea, while I carried my baggage indoors and paid the driver of the cart. Then, having cleaned myself and lit a pipe, I walked across the road to see Mr Wardlaw.
I found the schoolmaster sitting under his own fig-tree reading one of his Kaffir primers. Having come direct by rail from Cape Town, he had been a week in the place, and ranked as the second oldest white resident.
'Yon's a bonny chief you've got, Davie,' were his first words. 'For three days he's been as fou as the Baltic.'
I cannot pretend that the misdeeds of Mr Japp greatly annoyed me. I had the reversion of his job, and if he chose to play the fool it was all in my interest. But the schoolmaster was depressed at the prospect of such company. 'Besides you and me, he's the only white man in the place. It's a poor look-out on the social side.'
The school, it appeared, was the merest farce. There were only five white children, belonging to Dutch farmers in the mountains. The native side was more flourishing, but the mission schools at the locations got most of the native children in the neighbourhood. Mr Wardlaw's educational zeal ran high. He talked of establishing a workshop and teaching carpentry and blacksmith's work, of which he knew nothing. He rhapsodized over the intelligence of his pupils and bemoaned his inadequate gift of tongues. 'You and I, Davie,' he said, 'must sit down and grind at the business. It is to the interest of both of us. The Dutch is easy enough. It's a sort of kitchen dialect you can learn in a fortnight. But these native languages are a stiff job. Sesuto is the chief hereabouts, and I'm told once you've got that it's easy to get the Zulu. Then there's the thing the Shangaans speak—Baronga, I think they call it. I've got a Christian Kaffir living up in one of the huts who comes every morning to talk to me for an hour. You'd better join me.'
I promised, and in the sweet-smelling dust crossed the road to the store. Japp was still sleeping, so I got a bowl of mealie porridge from Zeeta and went to bed.
Japp was sober next morning and made me some kind of apology. He had chronic lumbago, he said, and 'to go on the bust' now and then was the best cure for it. Then he proceeded to initiate me into my duties in a tone of exaggerated friendliness. 'I took a fancy to you the first time I clapped eyes on you,' he said. 'You and me will be good friends, Crawfurd, I can see that. You're a spirited young fellow, and you'll stand no nonsense. The Dutch about here are a slim lot, and the Kaffirs are slimmer. Trust no man, that's my motto. The firm know that, and I've had their confidence for forty years.'
The first day or two things went well enough. There was no doubt that, properly handled, a fine trade could be done in Blaauwildebeestefontein. The countryside was crawling with natives, and great strings used to come through from Shangaan territory on the way to the Rand mines. Besides, there was business to be done with the Dutch farmers, especially with the tobacco, which I foresaw could be worked up into a profitable export. There was no lack of money either, and we had to give very little credit, though it was often asked for. I flung myself into the work, and in a few weeks had been all round the farms and locations. At first Japp praised my energy, for it left him plenty of leisure to sit indoors and drink. But soon he grew suspicious, for he must have seen that I was in a fair way to oust him altogether. He was very anxious to know if I had seen Colles in Durban, and what the manager had said. 'I have letters,' he told me a hundred times, 'from Mr Mackenzie himself praising me up to the skies. The firm couldn't get along without old Peter Japp, I can tell you.' I had no wish to quarrel with the old man, so I listened politely to all he said. But this did not propitiate him, and I soon found him so jealous as to be a nuisance. He was Colonial-born and was always airing the fact. He rejoiced in my rawness, and when I made a blunder would crow over it for hours. 'It's no good, Mr Crawfurd; you new chums from England may think yourselves mighty clever, but we men from the Old Colony can get ahead of you every time. In fifty years you'll maybe learn a little about the country, but we know all about it before we start.' He roared with laughter at my way of tying a voorslag, and he made merry (no doubt with reason) on my management of a horse. I kept my temper pretty well, but I own there were moments when I came near to kicking Mr Japp.
The truth is he was a disgusting old ruffian. His character was shown by his treatment of Zeeta. The poor child slaved all day and did two men's work in keeping the household going. She was an orphan from a mission station, and in Japp's opinion a creature without rights. Hence he never spoke to her except with a curse, and used to cuff her thin shoulders till my blood boiled. One day things became too much for my temper. Zeeta had spilled half a glass of Japp's whisky while tidying up the room. He picked up a sjambok, and proceeded to beat her unmercifully till her cries brought me on the scene. I tore the whip from his hands, seized him by the scruff and flung him on a heap of potato sacks, where he lay pouring out abuse and shaking with rage. Then I spoke my mind. I told him that if anything of the sort happened again I would report it at once to Mr Colles at Durban. I added that before making my report I would beat him within an inch of his degraded life. After a time he apologized, but I could see that thenceforth he regarded me with deadly hatred. There was another thing I noticed about Mr Japp. He might brag about his knowledge of how to deal with natives, but to my mind his methods were a disgrace to a white man. Zeeta came in for oaths and blows, but there were other Kaffirs whom he treated with a sort of cringing friendliness. A big black fellow would swagger into the shop, and be received by Japp as if he were his long-lost brother. The two would collogue for hours; and though at first I did not understand the tongue, I could see that it was the white man who fawned and the black man who bullied. Once when japp was away one of these fellows came into the store as if it belonged to him, but he went out quicker than he entered. Japp complained afterwards of my behaviour. ''Mwanga is a good friend of mine,' he said, 'and brings us a lot of business. I'll thank you to be civil to him the next time.' I replied very shortly that 'Mwanga or anybody else who did not mend his manners would feel the weight of my boot.
The thing went on, and I am not sure that he did not give the Kaffirs drink on the sly. At any rate, I have seen some very drunk natives on the road between the locations and Blaauwildebeestefontein, and some of them I recognized as Japp's friends. I discussed the matter with Mr Wardlaw, who said, 'I believe the old villain has got some sort of black secret, and the natives know it, and have got a pull on him.' And I was inclined to think he was right.
By-and-by I began to feel the lack of company, for Wardlaw was so full of his books that he was of little use as a companion. So I resolved to acquire a dog, and bought one from a prospector, who was stony-broke and would have sold his soul for a drink. It was an enormous Boer hunting-dog, a mongrel in whose blood ran mastiff and bulldog and foxhound, and Heaven knows what beside. In colour it was a kind of brindled red, and the hair on its back grew against the lie of the rest of its coat. Some one had told me, or I may have read it, that a back like this meant that a dog would face anything mortal, even to a charging lion, and it was this feature which first caught my fancy. The price I paid was ten shillings and a pair of boots, which I got at cost price from stock, and the owner departed with injunctions to me to beware of the brute's temper. Colin—for so I named him—began his career with me by taking the seat out of my breeches and frightening Mr Wardlaw into a tree. It took me a stubborn battle of a fortnight to break his vice, and my left arm to-day bears witness to the struggle. After that he became a second shadow, and woe betide the man who had dared to raise his hand to Colin's master. Japp declared that the dog was a devil, and Colin repaid the compliment with a hearty dislike.
With Colin, I now took to spending some of my ample leisure in exploring the fastnesses of the Berg. I had brought out a shot-gun of my own, and I borrowed a cheap Mauser sporting rifle from the store. I had been born with a good eye and a steady hand, and very soon I became a fair shot with a gun and, I believe, a really fine shot with the rifle. The sides of the Berg were full of quail and partridge and bush pheasant, and on the grassy plateau there was abundance of a bird not unlike our own blackcock, which the Dutch called korhaan. But the great sport was to stalk bush-buck in the thickets, which is a game in which the hunter is at small advantage. I have been knocked down by a wounded bush-buck ram, and but for Colin might have been badly damaged. Once, in a kloof not far from the Letaba, I killed a fine leopard, bringing him down with a single shot from a rocky shelf almost on the top of Colin. His skin lies by my fireside as I write this tale. But it was during the days I could spare for an expedition into the plains that I proved the great qualities of my dog. There we had nobler game to follow—wildebeest and hartebeest, impala, and now and then a koodoo. At first I was a complete duffer, and shamed myself in Colin's eyes. But by-and-by I learned something of veld-craft: I learned how to follow spoor, how to allow for the wind, and stalk under cover. Then, when a shot had crippled the beast, Colin was on its track like a flash to pull it down. The dog had the nose of a retriever, the speed of a greyhound, and the strength of a bull-terrier. I blessed the day when the wandering prospector had passed the store.
Colin slept at night at the foot of my bed, and it was he who led me to make an important discovery. For I now became aware that I was being subjected to constant espionage. It may have been going on from the start, but it was not till my third month at Blaauwildebeestefontein that I found it out. One night I was going to bed, when suddenly the bristles rose on the dog's back and he barked uneasily at the window. I had been standing in the shadow, and as I stepped to the window to look out I saw a black face disappear below the palisade of the backyard. The incident was trifling, but it put me on my guard. The next night I looked, but saw nothing. The third night I looked, and caught a glimpse of a face almost pressed to the pane. Thereafter I put up the shutters after dark, and shifted my bed to a part of the room out of line with the window.
It was the same out of doors. I would suddenly be conscious, as I walked on the road, that I was being watched. If I made as if to walk into the roadside bush there would be a faint rustling, which told that the watcher had retired. The stalking was brilliantly done, for I never caught a glimpse of one of the stalkers. Wherever I went—on the road, on the meadows of the plateau, or on the rugged sides of the Berg—it was the same. I had silent followers, who betrayed themselves now and then by the crackling of a branch, and eyes were always looking at me which I could not see. Only when I went down to the plains did the espionage cease. This thing annoyed Colin desperately, and his walks abroad were one continuous growl. Once, in spite of my efforts, he dashed into the thicket, and a squeal of pain followed. He had got somebody by the leg, and there was blood on the grass.
Since I came to Blaauwildebeestefontein I had forgotten the mystery I had set out to track in the excitement of a new life and my sordid contest with Japp. But now this espionage brought back my old preoccupation. I was being watched because some person or persons thought that I was dangerous. My suspicions fastened on Japp, but I soon gave up that clue. It was my presence in the store that was a danger to him, not my wanderings about the countryside. It might be that he had engineered the espionage so as to drive me out of the place in sheer annoyance; but I flattered myself that Mr Japp knew me too well to imagine that such a game was likely to succeed.
The mischief was that I could not make out who the trackers were. I had visited all the surrounding locations, and was on good enough terms with all the chiefs. There was 'Mpefu, a dingy old fellow who had spent a good deal of his life in a Boer gaol before the war. There was a mission station at his place, and his people seemed to me to be well behaved and prosperous. Majinje was a chieftainess, a little girl whom nobody was allowed to see. Her location was a miserable affair, and her tribe was yearly shrinking in numbers. Then there was Magata farther north among the mountains. He had no quarrel with me, for he used to give me a meal when I went out hunting in that direction; and once he turned out a hundred of his young men, and I had a great battue of wild dogs. Sikitola, the biggest of all, lived some distance out in the flats. I knew less about him; but if his men were the trackers, they must have spent most of their days a weary way from their kraal. The Kaffirs in the huts at Blaauwildebeestefontein were mostly Christians, and quiet, decent fellows, who farmed their little gardens, and certainly preferred me to Japp. I thought at one time of riding into Pietersdorp to consult the Native Commissioner. But I discovered that the old man, who knew the country, was gone, and that his successor was a young fellow from Rhodesia, who knew nothing about anything. Besides, the natives round Blaauwildebeestefontein were well conducted, and received few official visitations. Now and then a couple of Zulu policemen passed in pursuit of some minor malefactor, and the collector came for the hut-tax; but we gave the Government little work, and they did not trouble their heads about us.
As I have said, the clues I had brought out with me to Blaauwildebeestefontein began to occupy my mind again; and the more I thought of the business the keener I grew. I used to amuse myself with setting out my various bits of knowledge. There was first of all the Rev. John Laputa, his doings on the Kirkcaple shore, his talk with Henriques about Blaauwildebeestefontein, and his strange behaviour at Durban. Then there was what Colles had told me about the place being queer, how nobody would stay long either in the store or the schoolhouse. Then there was my talk with Aitken at Lourenco Marques, and his story of a great wizard in the neighbourhood to whom all Kaffirs made pilgrimages, and the suspicion of a diamond pipe. Last and most important, there was this perpetual spying on myself. It was as clear as daylight that the place held some secret, and I wondered if old Japp knew. I was fool enough one day to ask him about diamonds. He met me with contemptuous laughter. 'There's your ignorant Britisher,' he cried. 'If you had ever been to Kimberley you would know the look of a diamond country. You're as likely to find diamonds here as ocean pearls. But go out and scrape in the spruit if you like; you'll maybe find some garnets.'
I made cautious inquiries, too, chiefly through Mr Wardlaw, who was becoming a great expert at Kaffir, about the existence of Aitken's wizard, but he could get no news. The most he found out was that there was a good cure for fever among Sikitola's men, and that Majinje, if she pleased, could bring rain.
The upshot of it all was that, after much brooding, I wrote a letter to Mr Colles, and, to make sure of its going, gave it to a missionary to post in Pietersdorp. I told him frankly what Aitken had said, and I also told him about the espionage. I said nothing about old Japp, for, beast as he was, I did not want him at his age to be without a livelihood.
MY JOURNEY TO THE WINTER-VELD
A reply came from Colles, addressed not to me but to Japp. It seemed that the old fellow had once suggested the establishment of a branch store at a place out in the plains called Umvelos', and the firm was now prepared to take up the scheme. Japp was in high good humour, and showed me the letter. Not a word was said of what I had written about, only the bare details about starting the branch. I was to get a couple of masons, load up two wagons with bricks and timber, and go down to Umvelos' and see the store built. The stocking of it and the appointment of a storekeeper would be matter for further correspondence. Japp was delighted, for, besides getting rid of me for several weeks, it showed that his advice was respected by his superiors. He went about bragging that the firm could not get on without him, and was inclined to be more insolent to me than usual in his new self-esteem. He also got royally drunk over the head of it.
I confess I was hurt by the manager's silence on what seemed to me more vital matters. But I soon reflected that if he wrote at all he would write direct to me, and I eagerly watched for the post-runner. No letter came, however, and I was soon too busy with preparations to look for one. I got the bricks and timber from Pietersdorp, and hired two Dutch masons to run the job. The place was not very far from Sikitola's kraal, so there would be no difficulty about native helpers. Having my eyes open for trade, I resolved to kill two birds with one stone. It was the fashion among the old-fashioned farmers on the high-veld to drive the cattle down into the bush-veld—which they call the winter-veld—for winter pasture. There is no fear of red-water about that season, and the grass of the plains is rich and thick compared with the uplands. I discovered that some big droves were passing on a certain day, and that the owners and their families were travelling with them in wagons. Accordingly I had a light naachtmaal fitted up as a sort of travelling store, and with my two wagons full of building material joined the caravan. I hoped to do good trade in selling little luxuries to the farmers on the road and at Umvelos'.
It was a clear cold morning when we started down the Berg. At first my hands were full with the job of getting my heavy wagons down the awesome precipice which did duty as a highway. We locked the wheels with chains, and tied great logs of wood behind to act as brakes. Happily my drivers knew their business, but one of the Boer wagons got a wheel over the edge, and it was all that ten men could do to get it back again.
After that the road was easier, winding down the side of a slowly opening glen. I rode beside the wagons, and so heavenly was the weather that I was content with my own thoughts. The sky was clear blue, the air warm, yet with a wintry tonic in it, and a thousand aromatic scents came out of the thickets. The pied birds called 'Kaffir queens' fluttered across the path. Below, the Klein Labongo churned and foamed in a hundred cascades. Its waters were no more the clear grey of the 'Blue Wildebeeste's Spring,' but growing muddy with its approach to the richer soil of the plains.
Oxen travel slow, and we outspanned that night half a day's march short of Umvelos'. I spent the hour before sunset lounging and smoking with the Dutch farmers. At first they had been silent and suspicious of a newcomer, but by this time I talked their taal fluently, and we were soon on good terms. I recall a discussion arising about a black thing in a tree about five hundred yards away. I thought it was an aasvogel, but another thought it was a baboon. Whereupon the oldest of the party, a farmer called Coetzee, whipped up his rifle and, apparently without sighting, fired. A dark object fell out of the branch, and when we reached it we found it a baviaan sure enough, shot through the head. 'Which side are you on in the next war?' the old man asked me, and, laughing, I told him 'Yours.'
After supper, the ingredients of which came largely from my naachtmaal, we sat smoking and talking round the fire, the women and children being snug in the covered wagons. The Boers were honest companionable fellows, and when I had made a bowl of toddy in the Scotch fashion to keep out the evening chill, we all became excellent friends. They asked me how I got on with Japp. Old Coetzee saved me the trouble of answering, for he broke in with Skellum! Skellum! I asked him his objection to the storekeeper, but he would say nothing beyond that he was too thick with the natives. I fancy at some time Mr Japp had sold him a bad plough.
We spoke of hunting, and I heard long tales of exploits—away on the Limpopo, in Mashonaland, on the Sabi and in the Lebombo. Then we verged on politics, and I listened to violent denunciations of the new land tax. These were old residenters, I reflected, and I might learn perhaps something of value. So very carefully I repeated a tale I said I had heard at Durban of a great wizard somewhere in the Berg, and asked if any one knew of it. They shook their heads. The natives had given up witchcraft and big medicine, they said, and were more afraid of a parson or a policeman than any witch-doctor. Then they were starting on reminiscences, when old Coetzee, who was deaf, broke in and asked to have my question repeated.
'Yes,' he said, 'I know. It is in the Rooirand. There is a devil dwells there.'
I could get no more out of him beyond the fact that there was certainly a great devil there. His grandfather and father had seen it, and he himself had heard it roaring when he had gone there as a boy to hunt. He would explain no further, and went to bed.
Next morning, close to Sikitola's kraal, I bade the farmers good-bye, after telling them that there would be a store in my wagon for three weeks at Umvelos' if they wanted supplies. We then struck more to the north towards our destination. As soon as they had gone I had out my map and searched it for the name old Coetzee had mentioned. It was a very bad map, for there had been no surveying east of the Berg, and most of the names were mere guesses. But I found the word 'Rooirand' marking an eastern continuation of the northern wall, and probably set down from some hunter's report. I had better explain here the chief features of the country, for they bulk largely in my story. The Berg runs north and south, and from it run the chief streams which water the plain. They are, beginning from the south, the Olifants, the Groot Letaba, the Letsitela, the Klein Letaba, and the Klein Labongo, on which stands Blaauwildebeestefontein. But the greatest river of the plain, into which the others ultimately flow, is the Groot Labongo, which appears full-born from some subterranean source close to the place called Umvelos'. North from Blaauwildebeestefontein the Berg runs for some twenty miles, and then makes a sharp turn eastward, becoming, according to my map, the Rooirand.
I pored over these details, and was particularly curious about the Great Labongo. It seemed to me unlikely that a spring in the bush could produce so great a river, and I decided that its source must lie in the mountains to the north. As well as I could guess, the Rooirand, the nearest part of the Berg, was about thirty miles distant. Old Coetzee had said that there was a devil in the place, but I thought that if it were explored the first thing found would be a fine stream of water.
We got to Umvelos' after midday, and outspanned for our three weeks' work. I set the Dutchmen to unload and clear the ground for foundations, while I went off to Sikitola to ask for labourers. I got a dozen lusty blacks, and soon we had a business-like encampment, and the work went on merrily. It was rough architecture and rougher masonry. All we aimed at was a two-roomed shop with a kind of outhouse for stores. I was architect, and watched the marking out of the foundations and the first few feet of the walls. Sikitola's people proved themselves good helpers, and most of the building was left to them, while the Dutchmen worked at the carpentry. Bricks ran short before we got very far, and we had to set to brick-making on the bank of the Labongo, and finish off the walls with green bricks, which gave the place a queer piebald look.
I was not much of a carpenter, and there were plenty of builders without me, so I found a considerable amount of time on my hands. At first I acted as shopkeeper in the naachtmaal, but I soon cleared out my stores to the Dutch farmers and the natives. I had thought of going back for more, and then it occurred to me that I might profitably give some of my leisure to the Rooirand. I could see the wall of the mountains quite clear to the north, within an easy day's ride. So one morning I packed enough food for a day or two, tied my sleeping-bag on my saddle, and set off to explore, after appointing the elder of the Dutchmen foreman of the job in my absence.
It was very hot jogging along the native path with the eternal olive-green bush around me. Happily there was no fear of losing the way, for the Rooirand stood very clear in front, and slowly, as I advanced, I began to make out the details of the cliffs. At luncheon-time, when I was about half-way, I sat down with my Zeiss glass—my mother's farewell gift—to look for the valley. But valley I saw none. The wall—reddish purple it looked, and, I thought, of porphyry—was continuous and unbroken. There were chimneys and fissures, but none great enough to hold a river. The top was sheer cliff; then came loose kranzes in tiers, like the seats in a gallery, and, below, a dense thicket of trees. I raked the whole line for a break, but there seemed none. 'It's a bad job for me,' I thought, 'if there is no water, for I must pass the night there.' The night was spent in a sheltered nook at the foot of the rocks, but my horse and I went to bed without a drink. My supper was some raisins and biscuits, for I did not dare to run the risk of increasing my thirst. I had found a great bank of debris sloping up to the kranzes, and thick wood clothing all the slope. The grass seemed wonderfully fresh, but of water there was no sign. There was not even the sandy channel of a stream to dig in.
In the morning I had a difficult problem to face. Water I must find at all costs, or I must go home. There was time enough for me to get back without suffering much, but if so I must give up my explorations. This I was determined not to do. The more I looked at these red cliffs the more eager I was to find out their secret. There must be water somewhere; otherwise how account for the lushness of the vegetation?
My horse was a veld pony, so I set him loose to see what he would do. He strayed back on the path to Umvelos'. This looked bad, for it meant that he did not smell water along the cliff front. If I was to find a stream it must be on the top, and I must try a little mountaineering.
Then, taking my courage in both my hands, I decided. I gave my pony a cut, and set him off on the homeward road. I knew he was safe to get back in four or five hours, and in broad day there was little fear of wild beasts attacking him. I had tied my sleeping bag on to the saddle, and had with me but two pocketfuls of food. I had also fastened on the saddle a letter to my Dutch foreman, bidding him send a native with a spare horse to fetch me by the evening. Then I started off to look for a chimney.
A boyhood spent on the cliffs at Kirkcaple had made me a bold cragsman, and the porphyry of the Rooirand clearly gave excellent holds. But I walked many weary miles along the cliff-foot before I found a feasible road. To begin with, it was no light task to fight one's way through the dense undergrowth of the lower slopes. Every kind of thorn-bush lay in wait for my skin, creepers tripped me up, high trees shut out the light, and I was in constant fear lest a black mamba might appear out of the tangle. It grew very hot, and the screes above the thicket were blistering to the touch. My tongue, too, stuck to the roof of my mouth with thirst.
The first chimney I tried ran out on the face into nothingness, and I had to make a dangerous descent. The second was a deep gully, but so choked with rubble that after nearly braining myself I desisted. Still going eastwards, I found a sloping ledge which took me to a platform from which ran a crack with a little tree growing in it. My glass showed me that beyond this tree the crack broadened into a clearly defined chimney which led to the top. If I can once reach that tree, I thought, the battle is won. The crack was only a few inches wide, large enough to let in an arm and a foot, and it ran slantwise up a perpendicular rock. I do not think I realized how bad it was till I had gone too far to return. Then my foot jammed, and I paused for breath with my legs and arms cramping rapidly. I remember that I looked to the west, and saw through the sweat which kept dropping into my eyes that about half a mile off a piece of cliff which looked unbroken from the foot had a fold in it to the right. The darkness of the fold showed me that it was a deep, narrow gully. However, I had no time to think of this, for I was fast in the middle of my confounded crack. With immense labour I found a chockstone above my head, and managed to force my foot free. The next few yards were not so difficult, and then I stuck once more.
For the crack suddenly grew shallow as the cliff bulged out above me. I had almost given up hope, when I saw that about three feet above my head grew the tree. If I could reach it and swing out I might hope to pull myself up to the ledge on which it grew. I confess it needed all my courage, for I did not know but that the tree might be loose, and that it and I might go rattling down four hundred feet. It was my only hope, however, so I set my teeth, and wriggling up a few inches, made a grab at it. Thank God it held, and with a great effort I pulled my shoulder over the ledge, and breathed freely.
My difficulties were not ended, but the worst was past. The rest of the gully gave me good and safe climbing, and presently a very limp and weary figure lay on the cliff-top. It took me many minutes to get back my breath and to conquer the faintness which seized me as soon as the need for exertion was over.
When I scrambled to my feet and looked round, I saw a wonderful prospect. It was a plateau like the high-veld, only covered with bracken and little bushes like hazels. Three or four miles off the ground rose, and a shallow vale opened. But in the foreground, half a mile or so distant, a lake lay gleaming in the sun.
I could scarcely believe my eyes as I ran towards it, and doubts of a mirage haunted me. But it was no mirage, but a real lake, perhaps three miles in circumference, with bracken-fringed banks, a shore of white pebbles, and clear deep blue water. I drank my fill, and then stripped and swam in the blessed coolness. After that I ate some luncheon, and sunned myself on a flat rock. 'I have discovered the source of the Labongo,' I said to myself. 'I will write to the Royal Geographical Society, and they will give me a medal.'
I walked round the lake to look for an outlet. A fine mountain stream came in at the north end, and at the south end, sure enough, a considerable river debauched. My exploring zeal redoubled, and I followed its course in a delirium of expectation. It was a noble stream, clear as crystal, and very unlike the muddy tropical Labongo at Umvelos'. Suddenly, about a quarter of a mile from the lake, the land seemed to grow over it, and with a swirl and a hollow roar, it disappeared into a mighty pot-hole. I walked a few steps on, and from below my feet came the most uncanny rumbling and groaning. Then I knew what old Coetzee's devil was that howled in the Rooirand.
Had I continued my walk to the edge of the cliff, I might have learned a secret which would have stood me in good stead later. But the descent began to make me anxious, and I retraced my steps to the top of the chimney whence I had come. I was resolved that nothing would make me descend by that awesome crack, so I kept on eastward along the top to look for a better way. I found one about a mile farther on, which, though far from easy, had no special risks save from the appalling looseness of the debris. When I got down at length, I found that it was near sunset. I went to the place I had bidden my native look for me at, but, as I had feared, there was no sign of him. So, making the best of a bad job, I had supper and a pipe, and spent a very chilly night in a hole among the boulders.
I got up at dawn stiff and cold, and ate a few raisins for breakfast. There was no sign of horses, so I resolved to fill up the time in looking for the fold of the cliff which, as I had seen from the horrible crack of yesterday, contained a gully. It was a difficult job, for to get the sidelong view of the cliff I had to scramble through the undergrowth of the slopes again, and even a certain way up the kranzes. At length I got my bearings, and fixed the place by some tall trees in the bush. Then I descended and walked westwards.
Suddenly, as I neared the place, I heard the strangest sound coming from the rocks. It was a deep muffled groaning, so eerie and unearthly that for the moment I stood and shivered. Then I remembered my river of yesterday. It must be above this place that it descended into the earth, and in the hush of dawn the sound was naturally louder. No wonder old Coetzee had been afraid of devils. It reminded me of the lines in Marmion—
'Diving as if condemned to lave Some demon's subterranean cave, Who, prisoned by enchanter's spell, Shakes the dark rock with groan and yell.'
While I was standing awestruck at the sound, I observed a figure moving towards the cliffs. I was well in cover, so I could not have been noticed. It was a very old man, very tall, but bowed in the shoulders, who was walking slowly with bent head. He could not have been thirty yards from me, so I had a clear view of his face. He was a native, but of a type I had never seen before. A long white beard fell on his breast, and a magnificent kaross of leopard skin covered his shoulders. His face was seamed and lined and shrunken, so that he seemed as old as Time itself.
Very carefully I crept after him, and found myself opposite the fold where the gully was. There was a clear path through the jungle, a path worn smooth by many feet. I followed it through the undergrowth and over the screes till it turned inside the fold of the gully. And then it stopped short. I was in a deep cleft, but in front was a slab of sheer rock. Above, the gully looked darker and deeper, but there was this great slab to pass. I examined the sides, but they were sheer rock with no openings.
Had I had my wits about me, I would have gone back and followed the spoor, noting where it stopped. But the whole thing looked black magic to me; my stomach was empty and my enterprise small. Besides, there was the terrible moaning of the imprisoned river in my ears. I am ashamed to confess it, but I ran from that gully as if the devil and all his angels had been following me. Indeed, I did not slacken till I had put a good mile between me and those uncanny cliffs. After that I set out to foot it back. If the horses would not come to me I must go to them.
I walked twenty-five miles in a vile temper, enraged at my Dutchmen, my natives, and everybody. The truth is, I had been frightened, and my pride was sore about it. It grew very hot, the sand rose and choked me, the mopani trees with their dull green wearied me, the 'Kaffir queens' and jays and rollers which flew about the path seemed to be there to mock me. About half-way home I found a boy and two horses, and roundly I cursed him. It seemed that my pony had returned right enough, and the boy had been sent to fetch me. He had got half-way before sunset the night before, and there he had stayed. I discovered from him that he was scared to death, and did not dare go any nearer the Rooirand. It was accursed, he said, for it was an abode of devils, and only wizards went near it. I was bound to admit to myself that I could not blame him. At last I had got on the track of something certain about this mysterious country, and all the way back I wondered if I should have the courage to follow it up.
 Schelm: Rascal.
MR WARDLAW HAS A PREMONITION
A week later the building job was finished, I locked the door of the new store, pocketed the key, and we set out for home. Sikitola was entrusted with the general care of it, and I knew him well enough to be sure that he would keep his people from doing mischief. I left my empty wagons to follow at their leisure and rode on, with the result that I arrived at Blaauwildebeestefontein two days before I was looked for.
I stabled my horse, and went round to the back to see Colin. (I had left him at home in case of fights with native dogs, for he was an ill beast in a crowd.) I found him well and hearty, for Zeeta had been looking after him. Then some whim seized me to enter the store through my bedroom window. It was open, and I crawled softly in to find the room fresh and clean from Zeeta's care. The door was ajar, and, hearing voices, I peeped into the shop.
Japp was sitting on the counter talking in a low voice to a big native—the same 'Mwanga whom I had bundled out unceremoniously. I noticed that the outer door giving on the road was shut, a most unusual thing in the afternoon. Japp had some small objects in his hand, and the two were evidently arguing about a price. I had no intention at first of eavesdropping, and was just about to push the door open, when something in Japp's face arrested me. He was up to no good, and I thought it my business to wait.
The low tones went on for a little, both men talking in Kaffir, and then Japp lifted up one of the little objects between finger and thumb. It was a small roundish stone about the size of a bean, but even in that half light there was a dull lustre in it.
At that I shoved the door open and went in. Both men started as if they had been shot. Japp went as white as his mottled face permitted. 'What the—' he gasped, and he dropped the thing he was holding.
I picked it up, and laid it on the counter. 'So,' I said, 'diamonds, Mr Japp. You have found the pipe I was looking for. I congratulate you.'
My words gave the old ruffian his cue. 'Yes, yes,' he said, 'I have, or rather my friend 'Mwanga has. He has just been telling me about it.'
The Kaffir looked miserably uncomfortable. He shifted from one leg to the other, casting longing glances at the closed door.
'I tink I go,' he said. 'Afterwards we will speak more.'
I told him I thought he had better go, and opened the door for him. Then I bolted it again, and turned to Mr Japp.
'So that's your game,' I said. 'I thought there was something funny about you, but I didn't know it was I.D.B. you were up to.'
He looked as if he could kill me. For five minutes he cursed me with a perfection of phrase which I had thought beyond him. It was no I.D.B., he declared, but a pipe which 'Mwanga had discovered. 'In this kind of country?' I said, quoting his own words. 'Why, you might as well expect to find ocean pearls as diamonds. But scrape in the spruit if you like; you'll maybe find some garnets.'
He choked down his wrath, and tried a new tack. 'What will you take to hold your tongue? I'll make you a rich man if you'll come in with me.' And then he started with offers which showed that he had been making a good thing out of the traffic.
I stalked over to him, and took him by the shoulder. 'You old reprobate,' I roared, 'if you breathe such a proposal to me again, I'll tie you up like a sack and carry you to Pietersdorp.'
At this he broke down and wept maudlin tears, disgusting to witness. He said he was an old man who had always lived honestly, and it would break his heart if his grey hairs were to be disgraced. As he sat rocking himself with his hands over his face, I saw his wicked little eyes peering through the slits of his fingers to see what my next move would be.
'See here, Mr Japp,' I said, 'I'm not a police spy, and it's no business of mine to inform against you. I'm willing to keep you out of gaol, but it must be on my own conditions. The first is that you resign this job and clear out. You will write to Mr Colles a letter at my dictation, saying that you find the work too much for you. The second is that for the time you remain here the diamond business must utterly cease. If 'Mwanga or anybody like him comes inside the store, and if I get the slightest hint that you're back at the trade, in you go to Pietersdorp. I'm not going to have my name disgraced by being associated with you. The third condition is that when you leave this place you go clear away. If you come within twenty miles of Blaauwildebeestefontein and I find you, I will give you up.'
He groaned and writhed at my terms, but in the end accepted them. He wrote the letter, and I posted it. I had no pity for the old scamp, who had feathered his nest well. Small wonder that the firm's business was not as good as it might be, when Japp was giving most of his time to buying diamonds from native thieves. The secret put him in the power of any Kaffir who traded him a stone. No wonder he cringed to ruffians like 'Mwanga.