The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Golden Rock, by Ernest Glanville

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Title: The Golden Rock

Author: Ernest Glanville

Illustrator: Stanley Wood

Release Date: July 3, 2011 [EBook #36600]

Language: English

Character set encoding: UTF-8


Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

Ernest Glanville

"The Golden Rock"

Chapter One.

A Queer Legacy.

Old Trader Hume was dead.

Not that he was really old when he died, but he had lived a life that had robbed him of his youth at one end and cut off the slow decline on the other. At fifteen he began the career of trader and hunter; before twenty he had been tossed by a buffalo, and broken his leg in a fall from his horse; at twenty-five he had been twice down with the fever; at thirty he was known as Old Hume; at fifty he had gone home to die—a man worn, sun-dried, and scarred with many wounds. Home to the Old Country, the land of his parents, the land of rest and green fields that had figured in his waking dreams, and in his lonely watches beneath the African sky.

His mother had talked to him of the quiet village, the ivied church, the bells, the song of the lark, and the pleasant customs of the country folk; and his father had told him of the great cities, the roar of life, and the silence of old ruins testifying to a mighty past; and the untrained, toughened Colonial boy had kept before him one goal—the hoary tower of Westminster, the green meadows, and the tuneful bells of old England.

Well, at last he had gone home; but it was not the home of his dreams. There were the wonderful green fields, the eloquent ruins, and a multitude beyond expectation for number; but there was something wanting, and the lack of it preyed upon him, hastening his end. These swarming men and women were not of his type. The people in the streets hurried along hard-eyed and absorbed; his neighbours treated his overtures with suspicion, not understanding his familiar greeting and his manner of going about in his shirt-sleeves, smoking strange tobacco. He was alone in the midst of crowds, and he waited for death with the patience of a stricken animal, while the people who understood him not made much of an explorer recently returned, not knowing that this weather-worn stranger who pottered about aimlessly had braved more dangers in unexplored countries, and had, without thinking of it, opened up more routes for the advance of commerce. One friendship he had formed with the son of his father’s brother, his only living relative, a boy who had been with him on his last trading trip, and whom he had sent to Oxford to pick up the ways of men, and, perhaps, some of their learning. But he only saw the lad in the long vacation, and then only for a few days, insisting that the young fellow should camp out in Wales with some of his companions.

Now, Old Trader Hume was dead and buried, and his nephew, Francis Hume, was alone in the old man’s room, the room of a hunter filled with trophies of the chase.

The young man was bending forward, one hand supporting his head, while the other, dangling listlessly, held a sheet of paper. Long he remained so, his eyes absently fixed on the point of a curved rhinoceros’ horn, then leant back in the chair and read the contents, setting forth the last will of his uncle.

A very short and simple document it was:

“I, Abel Hume, commonly known as Old Hume, the Trader, leave to my nephew Frank all my possessions, including 275 pounds in the Standard Bank. There is a map in my pocket-book drawn by myself. That I leave him also, and it is my wish that he will follow the directions therein. I would like him to use my double Express, and to treat it tenderly. Good-bye, my lad; shoot straight, and deal straight.

Signed Abel Hume.”

“Dear old chap!” muttered Frank, with a sad smile, and again he sank into a long reverie.

He had always thought that his uncle was a wealthy man, and, under that impression, he had lived rather extravagantly at Oxford. His uncle had paid his bills, and he tried to recall if there had been, unnoticed at the time by him, any word or sign of disapproval, but he could remember only the dry chuckle of the hunter at some unusual entry.

“Poor old boy,” he said again; “I wish he had told me. What a lonely time he had!”

He thought then—how could he help it?—of his own prospects, which had lost so suddenly all the wide outlook of a happy career.

“I must give up Oxford, of course, and my friends, too, before they give me up; but what am I to do?” He looked around at the house, at the trophy of assegais on the wall, at the lion’s skin on the hearth, the yellow eyes glaring, and the red mouth set in an everlasting snarl.

“I am sorry the old man came home. He was happy there in the bush, or on the trek. What a life he must have led during those thirty-five years of hunting and trading, and what yarns he did spin in the evenings! There was that story of the bull elephant.”

He lit his pipe by instinct, and was lost in veldt and kloof among the big game until the strange glamour of the chase, from which no man is free, was upon him, and he was soon sitting with his uncle’s favourite rifle in his hands, examining its rich brown barrels, and the polished stock of almost black walnut, bound about the hand-grip with the skin of a puff-adder. He brought the butt to his shoulders, his cheek against the stock, and began sighting at small objects on the wall. The gun was heavy, but he had not been at Oxford for two years for nothing, and his muscles were those of an athlete.

He rose up to replace the gun tenderly in its rack, and then, going to his uncle’s desk, took out the pocket-book—a much-worn leather case, bound round with a length of braided buckskin.

Folded up in an inner pocket was a frayed piece of paper. This he carefully spread out on an open book, and, with a faint smile about his lips, carefully examined the roughly-drawn outlines of river and mountains. This was not the first time he had seen the sketch. His uncle had, on his last visit, with much gravity, taken the paper from its hiding-place, and had told the story connected with it—a story which had impressed the young undergraduate, chiefly on account of the moving adventures related, the real heart of the thing taking but an insignificant place in his thoughts.

Yet he vividly remembered how the old hunter, usually so cool, had worked himself into a pitch of excitement, and how, placing his withered finger on one spot, he had, sinking his voice to a whisper, said impressively:

“There, my lad, is your fortune. Your fortune; the fortunes of a hundred men.”

What was the story? Was there a fortune there, or had his uncle been, like many a lonely wanderer, the victim of a hallucination? He pored over the map, and in imagination listened again to the slow, grave words of the old hunter, whose eyes had flashed under the glow recalled by the memory of that expedition. His uncle had struck north through the Transvaal, and after crossing the Crocodile, had turned to the east for an unknown land, whence rumours had come of great herds of elephants. Entering a bush country too thick for the waggon to continue, he had gone on afoot with a score of boys for a big vlei, where there was, indeed, a happy hunting-ground. There, after bagging some fine tusks, he had heard from an old black of a strange rock to the west, which shone bright in the sun, and had struggled to reach the spot. A week he spent amid the tangle of reeds about the river, and in the gorges of a wild and lofty chain of mountains; and then, one day, in the early morning, he had, from the Place of the Eye in a singular rocky profile of a human face, seen shine out, from the great plain below, a blaze of light which glowed for the space of an hour while the rays were level, and then went out. He had seen the Golden Rock, the shining stone of the natives, the eye of the morning, the place of bloodshed, as the old man related, and he marked the spot where he had stood, for he could go no further then. Several days he had spent returning to the huts at the vlei, where he listened much to the old man, hearing more about the rock, and of the glistening ornaments that were made from it whenever a new chief arose. He learnt about the tribe who lived at the feet of the mountains and in the great forests, and he planned how he would reach the rock, when news came that his waggon had been burnt by the natives, and the next day he himself was attacked. Escaping to the river, where he lurked in the reeds, he at last fashioned a hollow tree to his purpose, and floated down the Limpopo, enduring twenty-five days of fearful suffering before he reached the month, where he was picked up by a Portuguese trader and landed at Delagoa Bay. In that trip he had lost everything—waggon, oxen, ivory, skins and stores, and before he could plan another expedition to the mysterious rock he felt he had entered the shadows, and the craving for the home of his forefathers would not be denied.

“My lad, that is your fortune. I have seen it, and you must find it. Will you promise?”

“Yes, uncle, I promise,” Frank had said, laughing at what he thought was a joke.

“That’s all right,” the old hunter had replied. “When a Hume makes a promise he means to keep it—or die.”

Frank now remembered those words and all they implied, and they spoke to him now with greater force than when he had heard them.

He had made a promise, carelessly, not knowing what he said, just to humour his uncle. Nevertheless he had given his word. Was he bound to keep it? Well for that matter, he was a Hume.

Taking an atlas from the shelf, he studied the East Coast of Africa, and the course of the Limpopo from its mouth. As far as his uncle had drawn, his sketch tallied with the map, and so exactly indeed that he must have filled in the original rough draft from the printed map.

Folding up the much-creased paper with a sigh, he paced up and down the room, tugging at his moustache, a blank look on his manly face. Suddenly stopping opposite a mirror, and seeing his reflection, he broke into a loud laugh.

“Hang it! what a brute I am! But it’s too absurd, this legacy of a Golden Rock which does not exist. Well, at any rate, I can use up the bank balance in making a hunting trip to the spot, and after that—”

He shrugged his shoulders, and went out to see about executing the will.

Chapter Two.

A Mystery.

Frank Hume had some of that tenacity of purpose which had made his uncle a successful hunter and Kaffir trader. He saw plainly enough the quixotic side of the quest to which he was committed, but he was not one of those who ask, “Is it worth while?” and “Where is the good?” if confronted with any undertaking not obviously practical.

The Golden Rock had taken no hold on his imagination. It was no bright spot glowing, like a beacon in a dark night, out of the dim future, but itself merely a dim and shadowy token representing and explaining the duty he owed to the dead man’s whim. He would go to the locality, and then let events shape his career to any rough-and-ready pattern, even to that of the hard life of a hunter. Having made up his mind, he set about his preparations carefully, shaking off his extravagant university habits, and keeping an eye to economy in small things to make the most of his little store of money.

In one important respect he was admirably fitted for a life of hardship. Though of average height, he was uncommonly deep in the chest and broad across the shoulders, and possessed a stock of bone and muscle upon which he could safely depend. His head was well set on, with a marked tilt of the chin that gave him an air of watchfulness, and this aspect was heightened by a pair of steady blue eyes.

Within a week he had settled his affairs and was ready to take the first outward-bound vessel, limiting his choice to a sailing-ship, for time was of no particular object, while money and the saving of it was of first importance. He had even seen the skipper of a four-masted iron clipper with the view of working his passage out, but the skipper had received his overture with an explosion. “No more swab-fisted gentlemen lubbers for me. They’re worse than an old maid with a family of cats, and not so useful. Have a drink?” They had a drink, and the rejected volunteer walked homewards in the evening, stopping on the Embankment to look on the dark river which was soon to carry him down to the salt waters.

As he leant there with his elbows on the granite coping, he heard the sound of oars, and presently made out the blurred outline of a boat, and a streak of white about its bows where the strong tide opposed its rush to the exertions of the labouring oarsmen. There were two of these, and Frank could see that they were not pulling together, while the bow oar was weaker than the stroke. The boat scarcely gained a foot against the tide, but, instead, moved sideways at every savage pull by stroke.

“Put your weight into it, man,” growled stroke.

“I can’t. I’m dead beat,” gasped the other.

“Look out!” shouted Frank, “you’ll be into the steps.”

Stroke looked sharply to the right, threw out a hand to keep the boat off the granite, then, as she was swept back, caught fast hold of an iron ring, while the bow oarsman sighed audibly and set to rubbing his arms.

“You’re a pretty sort of fellow, you are—as soft as butter. What the deuce did you say you could row for?”

“Who can pull against this flood? Look here!” Bow leant over, thrusting his hand into the dark waters, which foamed against the obstruction.

“What are we to do now?”

“Wait till the ebb, I suppose; or get a ferryman to row us.”

“Ferryman be damned. If we wait for the ebb we’ll not get out before daylight.”

Frank went round to the opening in the Embankment, and walked down the steps.

“Can I be of any use?” he said.

“Yes, you can, by taking yourself off,” was the surly rejoinder from stroke.

“Nonsense! Don’t go, sir. Can you row?”

“I think so.”

“I don’t want you to think. I thought I could row until I met this infernal tide.”

“Well, I can row against tide, or with it.”

“Step right in, then.”

“Man, you’re mad!” sharply interposed stroke. The two whispered together for a few minutes, then bow suavely spoke:

“My friend would be glad of your help, but he rather doubts your discretion. We are engaged in no nefarious designs, but at the same time we don’t want to be talked of.”

“I think,” said Frank, with a laugh, “you may trust me, especially as you have already given yourself away. There would be nothing to prevent my calling the attention of a policeman to your condition, you know.”

“Jump in,” said stroke quickly.

Bow crawled aft to take the tiller, and Frank stepped lightly into the boat.

“Take her through the second arch, and then keep over to the Surrey side, when you will shoot us through the end arch of London Bridge, and by the fleet of barges. She lies just beyond.”

“They are evidently making for a ship of some sort,” was Frank’s mental reflection on the reference to “she,” but he was next moment bending to his oar, his eyes fixed on the broad back before him, and his soul bent upon holding his own.

For a moment the boat had swept back with the tide, then as the oars dipped in she stood still to their tug, hung a moment, then crept on with slowly-increasing speed—under Waterloo Bridge, past the railway bridge, then across to the Surrey side, and, with a hard struggle, down under London Bridge and into the Pool, close in the shadow of a number of barges.

“Do you see her?” asked stroke, with a gasp.

“Pull on,” said the cox. “So—steady, stroke—pull, bow—easy.”

The boat scraped alongside a low craft, and cox held on to a rope ladder.

“How do you feel?” asked stroke, turning his head.

“Pretty well baked,” said Frank; “and you?”

“I’m worked to a cast-iron finish. Give me the painter—thanks. Now, up you go.”

Without more ado, Frank climbed up the ladder to a narrow deck, where he stood holding to a light rail. The two men were quickly by his side, one of them securing the boat.

“This way.”

They went forward to a deck-house, and descended a companion-way to a small saloon, where one of them struck a match, and lit a suspended lamp.

“Let’s have a look at you!” and the man who had pulled stroke, standing himself in the shade, threw the light full on Frank’s face, while the second man closed the door and stood with his back to it.

“That will do.”

“Pardon me,” said Frank, stung by this ungracious treatment; “it is my turn now.”

Quickly steadying the lamp, he directed the light on the other’s face, revealing a pair of fierce black eyes, and a face thickly bearded.

“Stop that, or I’ll—” He put his hand to his pocket with a threatening action.

“Leave him alone, Captain. Upon my word, he has served you well in your own coin;” and the other man stepped forward, placing a hand lightly on Frank’s shoulder, whereat the latter, finding he was in queer company, stepped back.

“Don’t start, sir; there is nothing to fear.”

“I think there is,” said Frank; “so please keep your distance, or, better still, stand aside, as I should like to get out of this.”

“Of course you would, but—and I hate to tell you after what you have done—we can’t afford to let you go.”

“Afford, that’s not the word. We won’t let you go, mate.”

“I’ll see about that,” shouted Frank, at the same time hurling one man aside, and, seizing the handle, which came off to his furious tug, leaving the door still fast closed. Turning, he hurled the brass knob at the black-bearded man, but it missed the mark, and went with a crash through a glass door beyond.

Next moment he was looking into the dark muzzle of a revolver, held very straight in the brawny hand of the Captain, whose black eyes wore a very ugly look.

“Put that pistol down,” rang out in tones of suppressed passion.

The door stood open, and a tall girl in black swept in.

Her dark eyes, flashing from a face of unusual pallor, dwelt a moment on the three figures, the one huddled on the floor, the others facing each other.

“What does this mean, Captain Pardoe?” she asked haughtily, “and who is this stranger?”

Frank raised his hat. “For my part in this disturbance I heartily apologise, but I must say, and these gentlemen will bear me out, that my intrusion was not of my seeking.”

She inclined her head slightly, then turned to the second man, who had risen, looking uncomfortable at having been found in a humiliating position.

“Since Captain Pardoe cannot speak, perhaps you will have the goodness to explain, Mr Commins.”

“It is this way, Miss Laura!” blurted the Captain; “this young fellow knows too much.”

“Excuse me,” said Frank, “I know nothing except that I helped to row you here, and you wished to detain me.”

“Allow me to explain,” said Mr Commins, interposing with a wave of his hand. “The tide was against us, and I was unequal to the work. This young man kindly offered his help, and we accepted, but thinking it would be inadvisable to let him return, we felt it best to detain him, and if he had not been in such a hurry to put us down as thieves or cut-throats, and to act with unnecessary violence on that supposition, matters could have been amicably settled.”

“At the muzzle of a pistol,” said Frank dryly.

“I think you might have managed without help,” said the young lady coldly. “It is most vexing, and such a beginning bodes ill for the undertaking.”

“You need be under no uneasiness. We can easily detain him.”

“I object,” said Frank hotly.

Captain Pardoe lifted his weapon.

“Give me that pistol, sir,” said the young lady imperiously, and the Captain reluctantly handed it over. “I regret very much that we should place you under restraint, sir; but there are interests at stake more important than considerations of mere personal convenience. I’m afraid you must be our guest for a few days.”

“We can put him ashore at Madeira, Miss Laura,” said the Captain.

“At Madeira,” said Frank, earnestly gazing at the splendid eyes and superb figure of this masterful young lady.

“We will do our best to entertain you in the meanwhile,” she said, with a sudden dazzling smile, “and, perhaps, you will even forgive us for this unmannerly and ungrateful return for your kindness.”

As he caught the dazzle of her smile he determined upon his course, especially as the trip to Madeira would advance him on his voyage.

“I am willing,” he replied, “to take an enforced passage, provided you allow me to get my baggage.”

“That means going ashore?”

“Not necessarily; for upon a note from me to the landlady of my rooms the things would be given up.”

“We have no time to spare, Miss Laura,” said Captain Pardoe.

“It is necessary for me to go ashore,” she answered, “for a few minutes. Where are your rooms?”

“Off the Temple—in York street.”

“I think I will trust you,” she said, giving her hand, which Frank warmly clasped, the spell of her beauty being full upon him.

Within an hour they were all back on the ship, and as Big Ben struck out the hours of midnight the vessel slowly crept down the river.

Chapter Three.

A Wild Rush.

Hume was immediately shown into a tiny box of a cabin and the door locked upon him, an indignity that roused him to wrath, so that he banged against the frail panels with his fist.

“Look here,” said a deep voice from the alley, “if you don’t stow that sharp I’ll clap you in irons.”

“Leave him to me, Captain, and go on the bridge. Now, sir, will you oblige me by keeping silence for a few hours?”

Frank recognised the speaker by the rich tones, and immediately was pacified.

“If you wish it, I will; but please unlock the door.”

“Give me your promise that you won’t make any disturbance.”

“I promise.”

“Thank you.” She turned the key, and then he heard the rustle of her dress as she quickly moved away.

He stood looking at the handle for some moments, then sat on the bunk, with the feeling strongly rooted that he was in for some dark enterprise; but his mind dwelt less on this than on the stately figure and beautiful face of this strange girl, whose strong character had been so forcibly shown.

Who could she be, and what was she doing there—one woman with several men, and men evidently lawless? Already he longed for the hour when he could see her again, and once more hear her voice, and the remarkable and sudden change in the steady current of his life troubled him not at all.

But presently his natural caution overmastered the swift-born infatuation which had threatened to make a slave of him, and he roused himself to take a survey of the little cabin. This, though small, contained two bunks, was plainly fitted and strongly built. The port-hole, he noticed by the dim light, was protected by an inner sheet of steel. This he unscrewed, and opening, too, the round glass, he framed his face in the brass-rimmed circle. The boat was slipping along down the dark river at medium speed, the regular beat of her engines sounding very distinctly in the still night, and her track stretching in a ghostly gleam, unbroken by any other craft. By craning his neck, he noticed that she seemed very low in the water, and of unusual length, and he was puzzled to place her in any category of cargo or passenger steamers, finally coming to the conclusion that she was one of those long, swift tugs he had sometimes seen ploughing up the river with a string of coal barges in tow; a boat probably built for narrow channels, and to pass under low bridges.

“She’s not built for the ocean,” he mused, “and when we get into the Bay she’ll play pitch-and-toss, I’ll be bound.”

Suddenly, quite near, Captain Pardoe spoke:

“Forrard, there!”

“Ay, ay, sir.”

“Do you see the Hospital ship?”

“We’ll pass her at the next bend, sir.”

“Put the lights out as soon as you see her. Who have you got in the bows?”

“Dick, the Owl,” said the officer, with a slight laugh.

“That will do. Aft there, stand by the wheel.”

“Ay, ay, sir,” came in muffled reply.

“We won’t steer her from the bridge, madam,” said the Captain, “all the lights must be out, and the orders passed by mouth.”

“Do you think they’ll challenge us?” spoke the young lady, her voice sounding so near that Frank involuntarily drew back his head.

“They’ll speak us, but we’ll get through right enough. If there’s any trouble it’ll be off Sheerness.”

“Why there?”

“They’ll wire to the coastguard, and they’ll signal the guardship.”

“That’s a man-of-war, isn’t it?”

“She is that, miss, but she’ll not fire, I hope; and we’ll slip by before she’s rubbed her eyes. There are the lights of Gravesend, and isn’t that something black ahead under the bank? You won’t go below, I s’pose, Miss Laura?”

“No, Captain Pardoe; I will stop here.”

Suddenly the glare over the bows from the forward lamps died out, there was a sharp ring of the engineer’s bell, a sound of men in hot haste thrusting at the fires, and the vessel began to quiver and vibrate to the beat of vast engines working faster and faster.

There was a rush of wind on Frank’s face, the dark objects on the shore swiftly receded into the general blur, and the water foamed up at the bows and fell away in curling waves.

“Are all the lights out, Mr Webster?”

“Yes, sir; all but a light from a starboard port.”

“It’s that swab of a passenger,” growled the Captain; “I’ll have him tied to his bunk.”

Frank, warned that he was guilty of some unpardonable indiscretion, crawled down from the top bunk, and had just reached the floor, when the handle turned, there was a quick step, a rustle, and the light was switched off, not before he had seen the dark eyes flashing in resentment.

“If you behave in this way, sir, I’ll not stand between you and discipline.”

“Really, I did not know I was doing anything wrong.”

“Shut the port-hole,” she said sharply.

He turned to obey with a frown of protest, when, seemingly not a yard off, there flamed the lights of a ship’s cabin.

“Where are you coming to, you lubber?” shouted out a voice furiously.

There was a jar, an ugly tearing noise, and Frank and the young lady were thrown at each other.

“I beg your pardon, really,” said Frank, as he loosened his hold of her waist; “but I could not help myself.”

She stood back with a gasp. “Did you see that? Has she sunk?”

The reply came from the angry officer of the other vessel in a torrent of language reassuring as to her safety, but venomously strong.

The lights of another ship flashed by; then the steamer darted into the narrow fairway between a fleet of vessels, big and little, the waves washing against them, and bringing up an angry swarm of men, whose shouts could be heard in a confused babble in the rear.

“What ship’s that?” hailed a man in powerful tones.

There was no answer, and Frank felt a hand on his arm.

“We are the Customs—where are your lights?” followed in a faint hail astern.

“Thank Heaven, we are past Gravesend. Now, sir, you may have your light again.”

She pressed the button, and the electric light shone over her lustrous hair, revealing a sparkle in her glorious eyes and a flush on her cheeks.

Frank looked at her, and forgot everything in amazement at her beauty.

“I dare say,” she said, with a faint smile, “you are wondering who we are?”

“I don’t know,” said he, “and I don’t care, so long as I”—he meant to add—“am with you,” but he paused in time at the hint of a haughty surprise in her eyes.

She looked at him steadily a moment with a glance that implied some new interest, then, once more switching off the light, went out without a word, closing the door behind her.

He listened and heard her voice on deck, when he again framed his face in the port-hole.

The bow lights had been relit, and the ship had slackened something of her tremendous speed.

“I wish to Heaven,” said the Captain, “those funnels would not draw so well. Just look at that shower of sparks; they’ll give notice of our coming.”

“Why not slacken speed until you are close on the guardship?”

“That’ll give ’em more time to prepare for us, but it’s the best thing to do.”

Then followed a sharp signal to the engineer, and the speed was still further decreased.

“Mr Webster, was she damaged at all by that brush?”

“Just a dent, sir; but she’s all sound below.”

“Douse the lights again. We’ll keep close in on the port tack. Keep your eye on the Kent shore, and tell the watch to be on the lookout for the guardship.”

For some time the ship slipped along through the dark waters without another word being spoken.

“There’s the signal, sir,” sang out a voice, breaking in on the silence. A rocket mounted afar off.

“Ay, I see it. It’s as I feared. They’ve alarmed the guardship, and’ll be sending a boat to her. Suppose they catch us, madam, what yarn will you spin?”

“They must not catch us.”

“They may open fire.”

“Whether they fire or not, we must get through. Couldn’t we open fire, too?”

Captain Pardoe laughed.

“We must depend on our heels, Miss Laura. If it came to knocks, the guardship would blow us out of the water.”

“How annoying!” was the truly feminine reply—a reply so inappropriate that even Frank smiled, while Captain Pardoe chuckled audibly.

“Understand, Captain,” she continued imperiously, “I will not be captured, nor the ship, not if they have to blow it up.”

“Ah, see that?”

A shaft of light shot into the sky, then dropped to the water and swept swiftly from right to left.

“It’s the search-light. The guardship is looking for us. Mr Webster, step down to the engineer and tell him we’ll want every pound of steam he can give us when I signal him. We must get twenty-seven knots out of her.”

“Twenty-seven knots,” thought Frank. “What ship can this be?” The cabin seemed to grow unbearable as his excitement increased, and if danger was to be encountered his place was by the side of this girl whom Fate had thrown in his path.

Again the shaft of light, broadening from its base, shot out into the darkness, and swept the water to its outermost fringe, where the gleam mingled with the black night, reaching a few lengths ahead, where it outlined a bare pole on the bank.

“Port your helm; put her over to the Kent shore,” the Captain ordered with lowered voice.

The vessel came round, and made across to the other bank.

The search-light swept round again, just as the vessel was near the right bank, and the light shone over the deck, lighting up every detail, before it passed on.

“Astern—full speed astern,” roared the Captain down the speaking-tube; “starboard your helm; bring her up on the old course.”

The vessel backed out as the search-light flew back to the place she had occupied, and then swiftly made over to the Essex shore, and at another signal from the bridge darted into the shelter of the night.

Frank could hold himself no longer, but flung open the door, and after groping about in the saloon, found the companion-way to the deck. There was a broad white belt of light on his right, but all around and ahead was darkness, intensified by the brightness so near.

“They’ll find us in a minute,” spoke the Captain, and Frank, turning, saw dimly two figures on a bridge just ahead of two singularly low funnels, from which poured dense volumes of smoke.

The shaft of light played about the further shore, swept out slowly to mid-stream, then swept back again.

“Stand by, Mr Dixon,” said the Captain, down the tube.

The guardship could now be dimly seen behind that glittering eye—a blurr of spars and funnels about a mile up stream.

The light crept over the dark river in a broad track of gleaming silver, came slowly nearer, then, in a blinding flash, shone over the vessel, lighting up every man as he stood at his post, and bringing out the girl’s face in a startling pallor.

The bell sounded its sharp order, the engines answered quicker and quicker, and the long, narrow ship seemed to leap forward, sending up a shower of water, which sparkled in the light, and came aft like rain. On she rushed—the flames springing from her funnels—the whole frame and body of her vibrating, and the water hissing and splashing before her bows and in her wake.

A ball of white smoke, which for a moment dimmed the flaming light, belched from the warship, followed at fully half a minute by the sullen boom.

“That’s by way of formal notice,” said the Captain; “by-and-by she’ll send a sharper summons; better go below, Miss Laura.”

“I will stay here,” she answered quietly.

The small ship was now abreast of the man-of-war, which had changed its course and was steaming slowly ahead. On the left were the lights of Southend, far ahead the revolving lights of the Nore lightship, and on the port bows was the black hull and green and red lights of a huge steamer.

“That’s a stroke of luck,” said the Captain. “We’ll get on the blind side of that ship, and that bulldog daren’t show his teeth until we’re well clear both of Southend and the steamer.”

The man-of-war fired another blank charge, but the long, low vessel darted along, shifting her course until she came under the bows of the big ocean steamer.

The search-light, however, soon picked her up beyond, and a minute after there was another report, followed this time by the shrill scream of a shell, than which there are few sounds more threatening. The shot flew high, plunging with a splash far on the port side.

“They cannot hit us, Captain Pardoe, and we are rapidly leaving them.”

“They are not trying, Miss Laura. That was just by way of being more peremptory. In ten minutes we’ll be beyond reach of their light, and then there’ll be another spell of safety, unless we are sunk. Hullo, here comes another.”

There was another sullen roar, and the gunner had determined on a closer call, for the ball touched the water not a hundred yards off, then ricocheted to the Essex coast.

“The next one will have us,” growled the Captain.

“Steamer’s lights ahead! Starboard bow!” hailed the lookout.

Eyes were taken off the following man-of-war, and strained into—the darkness ahead, out of which presently there stood two lights.

“She’s near us, Mr Webster, and thank your stars for a sound berth to-night for that. We’ll slip by on the port, and then get away under her bulk. Do you think they see her?”

“No, sir; but the steamer ’ll make the cruiser see her. She must be in a rare state. Ah! there goes a rocket.”

High into the black heavens ahead went a ball of fire, which presently curved over and burst in a shower of blue.

“Looks like a navy signal, sir?”

“Very like. If she is, we’re caught hard and fast.”

“There’s an answer from the warship, sir,” said Frank, who had turned his eyes aft.

“I wish I understood the game,” growled the Captain, banging his fist on the bridge rail. “Oh, she means it this time!”

A red tongue of flame leapt out, a great volume of white smoke; the shot, keeping low, struck the water up, and then there was a loud crash, followed by the whir of splinters.

Frank saw the dark figure at the wheel suddenly sink to the deck, and without losing a moment he bounded down the narrow deck, seized the handle as the wheel was beginning to revolve, and brought it round.

“She’s paying off. What in thunder’s up with the wheel?” roared the Captain. “Mr Webster, take two men aft. Starboard your helm.”

Frank put his weight in, and with every sinew straining, brought the vessel round, just as, like a runaway horse that takes the bit in its iron jaws, she had threatened to come broadside on.

“What’s wrong here?” panted Mr Webster anxiously, as he reached the wheel.

“Steersman hit,” said Frank shortly; “carry him off. I’ll manage this.”

Mr Webster groped for the wounded man, drew him away, and then paused to look up, for they were passing the vessel whose lights they had seen. She was scarcely making any way, and the bulwarks were lined with pale faces, among them those of many women.

“Thank Heaven, she’s no cruiser; hurrah, boys, hurrah!”

The few hands took up the cheer, and the people on the deck above, relieved from some nameless fear at seeing the dark ship slipping away, responded with a feeble shout; the captain, from his lofty bridge, sending a call through his hollow hands: “What’s the meaning of this foolery?”

“Ask the guardship,” bellowed Captain Pardoe; “a little target practice. Good-bye.”

The little ship plunged into the welcome darkness, still maintaining her terrific speed, and the search-light could not reach her.

Then the lights were lit, the wounded man carried below, and an inspection made of the ship, when it was found that the iron bulwarks had been pierced a little forward of the wheel.

“Send the steersman forward!” shouted the Captain.

Frank was relieved, and walked to the bridge.

“What’s your name, my man?”


“What—the passenger? I gave orders to have you locked in. Never mind that, sir; you did well, and I’m much obliged to you. You’re welcome to the run of the ship. That was a close shave, eh? If it hadn’t been for the mercy of that steamer we’d have been five fathoms under. You’d better turn in now.”

Frank lingered awhile to see whether the lady would appear, and then went down below, where he saw her leaning, as it were, for support against a saloon pillar, a handkerchief pressed to her forehead.

“It has been a trying night,” he said gently.

“You had no right to leave your cabin,” she replied—then swiftly disappeared.

Frank looked down the narrow gangway, heard the bang of her door, and, with his head up, and feeling mightily offended, entered his own tiny cabin.

“She might have been civil, at least,” he muttered.

Chapter Four.

A Strange Craft.

Hume had been to the Cape and back; he had also tossed about off the Bristol Channel in a small yacht; but before morning he learnt that the ocean could play more tricks with a ship than he had ever dreamt of in the wildest tossing. He was sleeping on the top bunk, for the sake of the breeze from the open port, and was early awakened by a dream, in which, with the thunder of waters in his ears, he had gone head foremost down a cascade.

Had it been a dream? He sat up, knocking his head against the roof, and in his ears there was the same terrific roar, with a splashing sound, and an unmistakable feeling of dampness. A desperate lurch made him cling to the brass rail; then, as the port dipped, he saw the sky-line obscured by a moving wall, and was almost washed away by a belching funnel of cold water that boomed on to the floor, and rushed over his cabin, taking with it every movable object. As the ship heeled over he struggled, soaked and shivering, with the brass hinge of the port-window, which he thrust in and held there until the ship rolled under again. With the backward swing he worked the screw in, then lurched out from his sodden bed to the floor, inches deep in water, when he groped for the switch and turned on the electric light. His portmanteau coming swiftly out from under the lower bunk, carried him off his feet, and then bounded over his body, while his gun-case rammed him viciously in the ribs.

Staggering up, he clambered into the lower bunk, and spent an awful hour of misery with a babel of sounds racking his brain, and every possible motion threatening dislocation to his body. The small bunk was too large for him. He could not brace himself tight; but, like a pea in a drum, was rattled from side to side and top to bottom, his head at one time threatening to fly off as the bows dipped; his body sinking with the most sickening desire to part with his head as the stern went under, and his arms, legs, and head flopping about hopelessly to each dizzy roll.

Then between, and coming through every motion, was the jarring of the screw as the stern was lifted up—a most soul-disturbing sensation, enough in itself to unsettle the innermost lashings, the smallest nerves and sinews of the body.

“What the devil possesses the ship?” thought Frank, in a state of feeble protest against this indignity of sea-sickness that held him in its clammy grasp. “Hulloa!” he groaned, as he heard someone staggering along the alley-way.

The door was opened, and the new-comer dived in to the roll of the ship as though he were violently impelled from the rear, ending up by stumbling over the gun-case.

“That’s the fifty-seventh time I’ve been knocked off my pins within an hour by this infernal buck-jumper. What have you been doing, messmate; taking a shower-bath?” And Mr Webster, the speaker, with a humorous twinkle in his eyes, sat down on the edge of the bunk and laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks.

Frank turned his head with a look of disgust, but the ship, pitching and rolling at the same moment, sent him and his bedclothes in a heap to one end of the bunk.

“God forgive me,” said the officer, making futile attempts to keep his feet out of the water; “but you’re a most dismal object.”

“What’s the matter with the ship?” growled Frank.

Webster opened his mouth to laugh, but a vicious lurch banged his head against the iron side of the cabin.

“Ship, do you call it?” he cried. “Why, ’tis nothing but a steel tube with an engine in it, and there’s not a ship afloat that would not ride over this sea without a heave.”

“Isn’t it rough, then?”

“Man, we’re just in the Channel, with a cross current and the apology for a ripple, but this devil of a sawn-off scaffold-pole just wallows in it like a porpoise. Come up on deck, and you’ll blush with shame to think you should have gone under to such little waves, scarce big enough to wet the frills of a Brighton beach-wader.”

As if to belie this imputation of mildness, a sea came on board with a crash and rushed along the deck with an angry swirl, making noise enough to spur Frank on to make an effort.

“That’s right,” said Webster, taking him by the arm. “Now come and have a nip and a bite.” Together they rolled out of the cabin and down the alley to the officers’ box, where Hume duly swallowed a stiff glass of grog, and was suited with a shiny covering of oilskin overalls. Then, holding on to anything that came handy, they clambered on deck, where the keen morning air very soon dispelled the nausea contracted in the stuffy cabin.

It was a brilliant morning, with wisps of wind-lashed clouds scurrying across the clear blue sky, and a buoyant property in the salt-laden air that brightened the eyes. It had brought a flush to the cheeks of the lady, whose figure, clad in oils, had been the first thing to catch and hold Frank’s gaze. She stood on the low bridge, holding with both hands to the rail, her feet braced and her body bending to the dips and roll of the steamer with a grace that even the heavy tarpaulin could not hide. The spray which came aft in a white and gleaming drizzle glistened on her covering, and ever and again with a low laugh she would bend her head to an unusually heavy gust of wet tossed up by the plunging bows of the steamer.

“Isn’t she a beauty!” growled Webster, brushing his hand across his eyes to wipe away the drops.

“She is, indeed!” murmured Frank. “May I ask who she is?”

Webster followed his companion’s gaze, and led him forward. “I’m not talking of her,” he said, dropping his voice; “and you’d best leave her out of your thoughts, young fellow. It’s this craft I mean; this narrow-gutted rib of a steel monument, that’s fit for nothing but to be stuck on end with a lamp in its stern, when it would make a good lighthouse. Ugh! the brute. See her bury her nose in that sea like a pig in a mash-tub.”

This wave was a gentle swell of dull green, covered with a lace-like tracing of air bubbles in round patches of white, and the top of it fringed with a line of hissing foam. A lumbering coal-ship would have ridden over it without wetting her eye-holes, but this strange craft, with a snort, leapt into the very heart of it, tossing up a column of spray, while the divided sea swelled up to the gunwales and foamed along the side with ripping noise, and went aft in a swirl of eddying whirlpools.

“Tell me,” said Webster, flicking the wet from his sou’wester, “what sort of a ship she is.”

Frank, standing wide on the slippery deck, cast his eyes fore and aft with growing wonder at the long, narrow shape of her, at the inward slope of her heavy bulwarks, at the wide, short funnels and sharp bows.

“I can’t liken her to anything but a wasp or a shark,” said he, “there’s such a vicious air about her.”

“Ay, she carries a sting in her tail and a devilish set of teeth. She’s ugly as a shark, and as narrow and vicious as a wasp. Well, what is she?”

“She’s a deuced bad sea boat, anyhow,” said Frank, as the deck suddenly sloped away at a fearful angle. “Is she a yacht?”

“You’ve hit it first shot. She’s a yacht—that’s what she is—a nice pleasure-boat for ladies and children, with engines strong enough to get twenty-seven knots out of her, and steel frame like a man-o’-war. What’s that you’re leaning against?”

“A ship’s boat, I suppose, covered with tarpaulin.”

“Right again, sir; that’s the yacht’s dinghy, fitted with velvet cushions. Take a peep.”

Frank looked under the tarpaulin, and saw the vast butt and machinery of a gun.

“That’s the yacht’s popgun, a four-inch quick-firing toy,” and Webster’s jolly face broke into a grin.

“She’s not a yacht, then?”

“Lord, how fresh you are! She’s no more a yacht than a bull-terrier is a pet pug—she’s a torpedo-catcher. Do you mean to say you had no suspicion when that ironclad opened fire on us last night?”

“I knew there was something dark afoot. A torpedo-catcher! Is this the Swift, the boat that was seized by the Customs authorities last week, on the suspicion that she had been bought for the rebel fleet at Rio de Janeiro?”

“The same, my boy; and seeing that you took an active part in her escape, it wouldn’t be safe for you to talk about this adventure. You’ve committed high treason, or some offence as bad, and would to a dead certainty be drawn and quartered.” Here Webster broke into another fit of laughter, ending up by smacking Frank on the back. “You’re in the same boat as we are, and if she doesn’t drown you, or roll you overboard, or knock your brains out, you may live to be shot.”

“Many thanks,” said Frank, with an answering smile. “And what fate is reserved for you?”

“Oh, as for me, I’ll die of a falling chimney. You feel better now, don’t you?”

“Thanks to your cheerful predictions.”

“Then come and report yourself to our chief, and harkee, you’ll be offered a billet as captain of the cook’s galley. Take my advice, and accept it; it’s comforting, sustaining, and by far the safest place in the ship.”

They went aft, now breasting the slanting deck as the bows dipped, now bending back to the answering lift, and came up to the bridge, where the Captain gave them a surly nod, and the lady flashed a smile on them.

“The new hand, mam, come to report himself. I found him afloat in his cabin with a feeling that he was an empty nothing, but he is better now,” and Webster turned a perfectly grave face upon Hume, his voice expressing the deepest sympathy.

“I am indebted to Mr Webster for his kindness, but he is premature in classing me as a new hand.”

“If you will come up here, Mr —”

“Hume,” said Frank briefly, filling up the pause.

“Mr Hume, you may talk with less discomfort.”

Webster, with a whispered word to Frank to “come off his stilts,” lurched to the chart-room, and Frank, with a feeling of resentment at the girl’s cold speech, mounted the steps to the bridge, where he waited with what patience he could muster until she chose to take her gaze off the sea, which she did presently, turning her magnificent eyes, and letting them dwell on his face in a calm scrutiny.

“Did Mr Webster tell you,” she asked in slow, formal speech, “that I had an offer to make?”

“He did suggest that I might hope for a berth in the cook’s galley.”

She did not smile at this as a man would have done, but frowned slightly. “I am—rather, the ship is—short-handed, and I wish you to take your turn in the officers’ watch.”

“But, Miss—” Here he paused with an inquiring look at her.

“You can call me madam,” she said.

He bowed, with a smile at her composure. “I am obliged for your confidence in me; but I am not competent to fill a responsible place.”

“You showed yourself last night equal to an emergency,” was the quick reply.

“Anyone could have done as well. But, madam, even if I were competent, I am not sure I could give my services unless I were satisfied as to the nature of the enterprise upon which this warship is embarked.”

She threw her head back with a haughty toss, and with a ring in her voice, replied: “I am not at liberty to satisfy your curiosity.”

“Pardon me,” he continued quietly, though his cheeks flushed, “I do not wish to pry into your secrets, but it is impossible for me to act in this matter blindfold, especially as I am not here of my own free will.”

“Then you refuse to help me?”

“I would help you willingly,” he replied eagerly, “if you tell me I can do so without hurt to my conscience or my country.”

“I will give you no assurance whatever. Do you, or do you not, accept my offer?” she said imperiously.

“No, madam, I cannot.”

“Then go back to your cabin; I will take the watch myself.” She turned away with an angry glow in her dark eyes, and he, after pausing awhile, slowly descended to the deck.

Chapter Five.

Down the Channel.

“Well, shipmate,” said Webster, coming out of the chart house, “have you been promoted from the saloon to the bridge, passing over the cook on the way, just after the old style when a lord-in-waiting, who did not know a brig from a bumboat, was appointed admiral? No apprenticeship, no navigation, no examination, but an order from the Commodore: ‘Mr Hume, sir, please take the third watch.’”

“No,” was the gloomy response; “I could not accept.”

“You swab! You mean to tell me you’ve declined to help the Commodore?”

“I presume you refer to the young lady?”

“Presume be damned. Have you no eyes, man, no gallantry; can you stand by and see a girl like that eat her heart out with sorrow and anxiety? Not that I care a brass button whether you help or not, for double work doesn’t hurt me; but just think what she’ll be like after a fortnight in this crazy roundabout.”

“You forget I know nothing about the lady, nor this ship, nor its mission.”

“And what’s that got to do with your keeping an eye on the binnacle, or a cheerful face that will do something to keep her spirits up? As for the matter of that, I know precious little about the object of this voyage, but it’s enough for me to know that she wants my help, and that Captain Pardoe is in command.”

“It is not enough for me. My knowledge of Captain Pardoe does not inspire me with much confidence in his designs, and you forget the circumstances under which I was trapped.”

“Well, well, you’re just like the rest. You landsmen don’t mind what you do ashore, but no sooner do you come aboard than you’re as nice with your conscience as a lady’s-maid with her mistress’s borrowed gown. I warrant you’d not trouble your head about the policy of a merchant’s business if you entered his service, not though he was selling bad pork to sailors or robbing the widows.”

“You’re going rather wide of the mark, Mr Webster,” said Frank sternly.

“There, now, you’ve taken offence, and that’s what makes me sad to think of you tossing like a log in your cabin—like that cold-blooded creature of a Commins who’s drinking champagne in his bunk, the swab.”

“Mr Webster!” hailed the Captain.

“Yes, sir!”

“Take the remainder of my watch, please, and keep a sharp look-out on the starboard quarter.”

Webster swung quickly to the bridge, where he touched his hat to the lady, and then braced himself fast to sweep the channel with the glass.

Captain Pardee came down slowly, and reeled a little on the deck, as though he had taken too much grog, thought Frank, as he caught him by the arm.

“Thank ’ee,” said he. “I’ve not quitted the bridge before since we left the Pool, and my legs are rather stiff.”

He staggered on to the small gangway and descended, leaving Frank to his own reflections, which were not very pleasant. If a man so tough and strong, and inured to hardship, as Captain Pardoe evidently was, felt the strain of the long watch on board, it was clearly beyond the power of a girl to undertake any part of work so trying.

She was still standing on the bridge, her face wet with the driving spray, and a tense look about the mouth which told of nerves high-strung. She was looking fixedly before her, and did not, as she had on her first coming on deck, bend her head to the flying spume in playful defiance. As he watched her, hesitating between his wish to help and his stubborn regard for his own rights, he saw her lips tremble, and that settled the matter.

“Madam,” he said, reaching her side in a moment, “I am ready to help.”

She withdrew her face from the sea, and he saw that her thoughts had been far from him or the ship, and in some confusion he repeated his words. A faint flush came to her cheek, and a brighter look in her eye.

“I’m so glad,” she whispered, and Frank, feeling something coquettish in this, flushed himself. With the faintest smile, she continued: “I come of a superstitious race, and your refusal, so brusquely given, too, had shaken my faith in my own power, and what is of more importance, in the success of my undertaking. I was reading ‘failure’ out there in the tumbling waters—But now you have reassured me. That is why I am glad.”

He flushed more deeply yet to think how easily she read his thoughts.

“You must forgive me,” he said, with a frank smile, “but I only wanted an excuse to satisfy my reasonable suspicions.”

“And you have found it?” she said, with an answering smile.

“Yes; I think I have.”

“Then you do not think that I am likely to menace the security of England with this craft?”

“I am in ignorance of your intentions still, but I am willing to believe that you are bent upon no desperate or unjust enterprise.”

“Desperate it may prove,” she said proudly, “but unjust it is not. No, no, believe me, sir, if there is any cause which would claim the sympathy of a brave man it is this upon which I am set.”

She rested her fingers on his arm, and looked at him earnestly with eyes dewed with unshed tears.

What emotion could it be, he thought, so powerful as to move one by nature so proud and self-reliant? He felt that further suspicion on his part would be contemptible.

“I am no seaman, madam,” he said, “but I may be of some service.”

“Mr Webster, will you tell Mr Hume in what way he may best assist us?”

“Ay, ay, madam.”

“Then I leave the ship in your hands, gentlemen, until Captain Pardoe has rested.” She bowed her head and left the bridge.

“So, after all, you’ve taken up arms against your lawful sovereign, and all for the smile of a woman, with not so much to show as the Queen’s shilling. Shake, my son!”

“Don’t talk rot, and tell me what I’m to do.”

“Is that the way to address your superior officer? Harkee, sir, for less than that I’ve clapped a man in irons. But I forgive you. Put your eye to the business end of this glass and tell me what craft is steaming up on the weather bows. My eyes are dim for the want of sleep.”

What with the swing and plunging of the “catcher,” it was some time before Frank could get the object within view, and when he did it was but a fleeting glimpse he had.

“It’s a Cape mail-boat,” he said; “I can make that out from her red funnels and grey hull.”

“Good. Now, would you know a warship if she showed at that distance?”

“Possibly, from her unusual breadth of beam—not to speak of her guns.”

“Well, my lad, keep a keen lookout, for there’ll be a lookout kept for us off the Isle of Wight, and be most particular in noting small craft. Set a thief to catch a thief, and as likely as not they’ll send a ‘catcher’ out from Portsmouth, and a cruiser from Plymouth. If you see anything strange in the movements of a steamer, blow down this pipe, and I’ll be up in a brace of shakes. I must have a wink before to-night;” and Webster, fetching a terrific yawn, went off down below.

Hume was left alone on the bridge, and, as far as he could see, there were only two other men on deck—the steersman inside the wheelhouse, and a seaman in a look-out shelter forward. It was a strange turn of the wheel which had placed him there in temporary charge of a torpedo-catcher, bound on he knew not what mad mission, and he shook his head once or twice in grave doubts of his own action, and of the conduct of those who so lightly trusted him—conduct which seemed to him to smack of the reckless. However, he entered upon his task without further thought of the consequences, letting his eyes sweep from right to left over the grey waters, and lingering here and there on a sail or a streamer of smoke. At first he eyed every ship with suspicion and fidgeted when a fishing lugger drove by before the wind, the crew peering under the boom at the long, low, swift craft; but after a time he reasoned he need fear no Craft which sailed on a parallel course up or down channel, and looked out only for sign of a ship making across. The sun mounted higher in the heavens, the wind fell away, and the Swift grew gradually steadier, and he could walk up and down the bridge without having to hold on at each step.

Close on noon Captain Pardoe came up to take a “sight,” retiring to the chart house to work out his bearings. The man at the wheel was relieved, and Mr Webster reappeared, looking as jolly as before, with a merry twinkle in his eye.

“Anything in view, Mr Hume?”

“Nothing but a couple of sailers and an ocean tramp, as I judge that steamer to be.”

Webster took a look round to satisfy himself.

“Now,” he said, “you go below for a snack and a snooze. You’ll find some tack on the table. Tumble into my cabin, as yours is too wet.”

Frank, nothing loath, went down, and was soon in a sound sleep, out of which he was aroused well on in the afternoon by a rough shaking, to find Webster bending over him with a sparkle in his eyes.

“There’s some fun afoot, my lad, with the prospect of sudden death and damp burial, so hurry up,” and the breezy first officer went like a tornado down the narrow alley.

Frank was quickly on deck, and found Webster talking to the look-out man, while Captain Pardoe and Miss Laura were on the bridge anxiously watching some object on the starboard bows. Looking in that direction, he could see nothing but a heavy streamer of smoke tailing away to the north, plainly showing that the steamer was on a course that would intercept the “destroyer.” Mounting to the bridge, he sighted the double funnels and heavy top hamper of a large vessel with the unmistakable cut of an ironclad.

“What do you make her?” said the Captain gloomily, more to break the silence than to ask for information.

Frank took the proffered glass, and bringing it to bear, it revealed two barbette towers, with long guns projecting, sharp bows heavily scrolled with gilt, and a mass of tumbled waters pouring before her rush.

“She is coming along at a tremendous pace, Captain.”

“Ay, eighteen knots, and she’ll be across our bows in a quarter of an hour, if she doesn’t ram us to gain a little experience.”

“I am sure she cannot be in pursuit of us,” said Miss Laura, stamping her foot. “How could she hit off our position so exactly, when we have made little smoke and stood well away from the English coast? She may be a French cruiser.”

The Captain shook his head.

“They’d log our course as soon as they received all particulars by wire, and from the crow’s-nest on the masts they’d see us sooner than we could find them.”

“Well, then, we must run away; and if she is only doing eighteen knots we should have no difficulty in escaping.”

“True, ma’am, if it was a stern chase; but she’ll have us right under her bows.”

“And what will you do if she orders us to stop?” and the young lady fixed a burning glance upon the dark and troubled face of the Captain.

“I’ll take my orders from you, Miss Laura,” he said gravely; “even though she turns her big guns on us.”

“Well, then, signal to the engineer to cram on all steam. We won’t get under her guns, at any rate.”

The Captain smiled, then touched the bell, and the sharp summons below was answered by prompt stoking.

Frank stood back, an amazed and silent witness of this scene on the little bridge. It seemed a thing incredible and unreal that a girl should have control in a matter fraught with such a responsibility and such peril. He glanced keenly at the Captain to see whether or no he were humouring the young lady; but there was no sign in that dark and gloomy face except an air of grim resignation, while, though Miss Laura showed, in the imperious lift of her head and in her flashing eyes, visible tokens of intense feeling, she gave no trace of a mind unhinged.

“Heave the log, Mr Webster.”

Webster’s voice rang out cheerily; and soon the long line was paying out in the foaming track. A bare-legged and brawny-armed tar, taking the line over his shoulder, staggered forward with it when its swift race had been checked by the minute hand, and Webster himself put his weight into the work, seeing which, Frank went down to help, for it’s no child’s play towing in the line from the grasp of the rushing waters.

“Twenty-three, sir,” sang out Webster; “and no bad speed, too, in the open,” he added to Frank.

In a few minutes the space between the two ships had greatly lessened, and the name of the cruiser could be picked out on her bows.

“Do you see that, Miss Laura? there’s no doubt she’s after us.”

“I see no change in her, Captain.”

“She has shifted her course in answer to our increased speed, and instead of being stem on, you can now see almost the length of her broadside.”

“She’s got her bow chaser cleared, sir,” said Webster, in a tone of pleasurable excitement.

A grand and formidable object the warship appeared now, sending before her terrible bows a white avalanche of water, her white decks lined with men, and the dark muzzles of her guns threatening destruction. And no less deadly in aspect, though on a lesser scale, was the low and swifter craft sullenly plunging on like some stealthy panther retreating, snarling and half reluctant, before the advance of a royal tiger.

“It is strange she does not signal,” muttered the Captain, “unless she means to speak us.”

The cruiser was so near now that every man on board the port side could be distinctly seen, and it was clear that where the two lines met the ships would be within less than a cable’s length.

“She made another point to starboard,” said Webster. “If she doesn’t give way she’ll be on top of us.”

“She won’t give way an inch,” said the Captain bitterly; “and she’s in her rights as a Queen’s ship. Stand by, below!” he shouted.

The two ships tore along, the cruiser terrible and silent, except for the foaming of the waves, and every soul on the smaller vessel held his breath.

“Reverse the starboard screw!” shouted Captain Pardoe; “bring her round two points on the starboard!”

The long craft trembled as the one screw revolved in opposition to the other, then she bore away and darted under the stern of the great ship, heeling over from the waves that swelled up in the wake.

The cruiser came round with a stately sweep, bringing up on the port side on a parallel course; and they all waited for the summons from the commander. It came, ringing, sharp and peremptory:

“Lay-to, there!”

Miss Laura looked at Captain Pardoe, with her hand to her heart, and he signalled to the engineer for more speed. The little vessel darted forward, her stem settling down like the tail of a duck taking to flight, a huge wave rising up right above the rails.

The cruiser sank astern; but from her bows there leapt a great ball of smoke, followed by a deafening report.

“We know what that means,” said Webster, with a smile, “and she’ll play skittles with us presently.”

But the cruiser held on without further notice, sinking further astern with each minute.

The distance between widened to a mile, and still she gave no other sign, and those on the bridge looked at each other in wonder.

“You see, Captain,” said Miss Laura, betwixt a sob and a laugh, “I was right. She did not know us, and we are safe.”

“Steamers ahead!” came the hoarse cry from the look-out, like a croak of ill-omen.

Glasses were quickly raised for a long scrutiny of two small steamers low down in the water.

“Well?” said the Captain, with a look at Webster.

“Pilot boats mayhap,” said that officer, with a queer grimace and a swift glance at the young lady, whose face had paled again to the lips at this new anxiety.

“Oh, are they?” she asked, with a troubled look at the Captain.

“No, Miss Laura,” he said sadly; “they’re torpedo boats. That’s why the cruiser let us slip. They mean to take this boat without injury to her or us, and they’ve got us in a trap.”

Chapter Six.

A Narrow Escape.

Torpedo boats! Two insignificant smudges of black, lifting and bowing like a couple of dingy sea-birds in a waste of waters, wretched little things that could be stowed away on the promenade deck of a mail steamer, and yet the appearance of one of them among a fleet of heavy ironclads would create as much consternation as a gadfly among a mob of cattle.

On came these mosquitoes of the navy, with nothing to distinguish one from the other but a white number on the black funnel, and the honest merchant seamen on the bridge of the Swift almost shuddered at the sight, recognising in them the incarnation of stealth and mischief. The torpedo-catcher, however, abated nothing of her speed. Was she not, after all, built to destroy these venomous midgets of the ocean? They were her game, and a brawny-armed seaman growled out his opinion of the relative fighting values of the crafts.

“Sink the little brutes,” he said, shooting a squirt of tobacco juice; “run over ’em, blow ’em up, send them to—”

His deep voice swelled from a murmur to a shout, and a melancholy seaman at the wheel nodded his head vigorously in hearty approval.

The first officer winked at Frank and pushed his big oilskin cap over his head.

“What an almighty smash there would be if the Captain gave the word. We’d sink the torpedo boats and the cruiser would sink us.”

Frank began tugging at his small moustache as the unreasoning fighting impulse seized hold of him. He forgot that his own countrymen were the objects of his increasing animosity. Underneath his feet he felt the quiver of the deck as the long vessel darted along, and the speed affected him with the same exaltation that boils through the blood of a cavalry-man when his horse has got into the desperate swing of the charge.

“Clear the gun for action,” shouted the Captain; and Webster, at the order, sprang over the bridge to the deck. Four men were at his side, the tarpaulin flew off, and the long black gun emerged.

Frank drew closer to the young lady. “Won’t you come below?” he said.

She did not hear, and he touched her with his hand.

She turned her eyes on him, magnificent and wild.

“Had you not better come below?”

She shook off his hand with an impatient gesture.

The long gun was already charged, and Webster stood by whistling, his hand ready to touch her off.

“Send the shot over that boat on the port side. Make it a close call, and she’ll shear off.”

Webster climbed up on the butt of his gun, took a long glance over the grey waters at the black funnel that alone showed, and without troubling himself about the reckonings for range finding, ventured an opinion:

“Is she a mile?”

“About that, sir,” growled the big Quartermaster, Black Henderson.

Webster jumped down, and, with a smile on his face, fired the gun.

There was a deafening report, which shivered the glass in the chart-room, and when they drove through the smoke, and steadied themselves after the shock, they caught faintly the scream of the shell, and saw it stream high above the black boat.

“That’ll scare the life out of them,” growled a sailor, with a chuckle.

He forgot that there were men after his own metal on board, and the little boat paid not the least attention to the warning.

A little patch of red instead streamed out from her bare pole of a mast, the meteor flag of Old England, which no British seaman can see without a glow of pride, and a look of consternation came into their faces.

They had forgotten about the cruiser steaming in their wake, showing nothing now but its white fighting deck, surmounted by two huge funnels; but she kept a watchful eye on the swift catcher, and at the audacious act of hostility had bristled with anger. Two small bow chasers projecting from the bulge in her bows spoke together, and a sharp reminder in the shape of a nine-pounder went screaming over the low craft, to plunge in the sea a cable’s length ahead, while the second, in a sort of devil’s “duck-and-drake” hops, sped away.

Captain Pardoe turned swiftly, and shook his fist at the cruiser.

Miss Laura had ducked her head at the vicious scream of one shot, and started aside at the angry splash and wild screech of the other, then stood trembling from head to foot while she bit her lip in vexation at her weakness.

Captain Pardoe noted her emotion, and swallowing his own rage, said gruffly:

“Shall we give in, mam?”

“No,” she said; “take no notice of me, please. Keep right on, Captain. Even if we are hit, our machinery may escape injury. You know what there is at stake, and if—if I am—if anything happens to me, promise me you will do your best.”

For answer Captain Pardoe took her hand, and raised it to his lips.

“Now,” said he gruffly, “you must go below.”

“I cannot; you must not ask me; you are endangering your lives for me, and I must be with you.”

“Mr Hume, please take this lady to the saloon; and hark you, sir,” he added in a whisper, “lock her in.”

Frank looked at the young lady in dismay, and she, betwixt surprise at the order and indignation at the intended affront, stood silent.

“Do you hear me, sir?”

There was a dull report from the stern, and again there came that nerve-shaking scream.

Frank seized the lady in his arms, lifted her up, and staggered towards the steps.

“Put me down,” she gasped.

At the steps he put her down, and, with tears of mortification in her eyes, she soundly boxed his ears, then went down the steps to the deck, and into the saloon, while he stood with a curious feeling that what he had done bound her to him.

“What’s the matter with your cheek?” said Webster, coming up; “seems to be redder on one side than the other. There, now, don’t get angry. Lord love you, I’d sooner face that cruiser than attempt to carry the Commodore; but I thank you for it, my son. The sight of her up here put my heart in my mouth. Are you going to run ’em down, sir, or blow ’em up?”

The Captain had his glass to his eye again, and held it there for some time, slowly sweeping the sea.

“Neither, Mr Webster,” he said finally, with a sigh of satisfaction, “I am going to steam at half-speed.”

He signalled to the engine-room.

“Hoist the distress signal, Mr Webster, that’ll serve the purpose.”

“Do I understand, Captain Pardee, that you intend to give this vessel up?”

“Understand what you like, my lad, but do what I order.”

The ship had got a tremendous way on, but she perceptibly slackened speed, and the sailors, noticing this, got together in a group, directing surly glances at the bridge.

Webster folded his arms, and faced the Captain.

“Do you mean to surrender this ship, Captain Pardoe?”

“And if I do so intend, what then?”

“Why, then, I’ll take command.”

“The devil!” said the Captain, making a step forward, grasping his long glass as a cudgel. A moment they faced each other; then a grim smile hovered about the Captain’s thin lips. “You’re a queer fellow, Jim, and a mutinous one; and I don’t know why I should waste words over you. Take this glass and look over that boat on the starboard.”

Webster, with a keen glance at his captain, did as he was told.

“Well, what do you see?”

“I see a mast with cross-trees.”

“Can you see the hull or rigging below the yards?”

“No, sir, there’s a layer of fog.”

“Ah, now, bend the flag on.”

Webster took another look at the Captain, then bent the Union Jack reversed to the peak.

They looked at the cruiser, and she at once signalled the torpedo boats, which simultaneously turned almost in their own lengths, and one on each bow, steamed a quarter of a mile in advance.

The cruiser came on hand over hand, and Captain Pardee’s glance turned repeatedly from her to the grey belt ahead.

He touched the bell, and the catcher responded with slightly increased speed, which soon brought her within hail of the torpedo boats.

An officer on the port boat, clad from head to foot in oils, all glistening with wet, leant over the bridge, and through his hollowed hands called, “Slacken speed, sir!”

“All right; what’s the fuss about?”

“Slacken speed!”

“So I am.”

There came a hail from the starboard boat.

“Make away, Number 4; the cruiser will settle this matter.”

The cruiser was signalling again, and the torpedo boats began to shear off.

Captain Pardoe measured the distance to the fog, and called on the engineer for full speed; and before the torpedo boats had got well out of reach of the cruiser’s guns, had she then opened fire, the Swift darted by them. When she was out of the range of their torpedoes, had they resolved to fire, he gave one of them his wash, placing it between him and the cruiser, and thus attaining his object, which was to stop the cruiser’s fire until he could make a dash for the shelter of the fog.

This feat was greeted with a ringing shout from the crew, and the men shot admiring glances at the Captain.

Chapter Seven.

Object of the Voyage.

Into the welcome security of the fog they plunged, and dashed on impetuously, regardless of danger to themselves or other ships from collision, and heedless of the rules about half-speed.

“Now is our chance!” growled the Captain, “and we’ll not lose it. If the fog’s only deep enough the cruiser will not see us again this side the Atlantic.”

The fog closed round in damp clinging wraiths, affecting everyone not only with an acute feeling of discomfort, but with a sense of impending misfortune. The sea, visible only for a few yards, came with a heave out of the white bank and went by into mysterious obscurity with a subdued swish, while the ship went on wailing hoarsely. Those on deck thrust their hands deep into their pockets, hunched their shoulders, and stared with white faces at the drifting mists and the beads of wet on the ropes. Between the hoarse, choking cries of the foghorn there was a heavy silence, in which the ear was strained to detect some sound of life beyond the impenetrable cloak, and the silence was unbroken by any word or motion, for each man stood where he was when the ship dashed into this mantle of death—an obscurity that is worse than the blackest of southern midnights, and is more dreaded by the mariner than the sound of breakers on a lee shore. A seagull appearing out of nowhere, swooped upon the ship with a startling cry, and disappeared like a wraith of fog more solid than the other gliding and twisting coils of mist. And the steamer plunged on, wailing and roaring in an ecstasy of mingled fear and rage as though it also felt the depressing influence. Each one was impressed with an actual sense of insecurity in the headlong speed of the craft; the vibration from the stroke of the engines appeared too great for the stability of the frame; the dip and roll seemed to be at a perilous angle, and dark forms shaped themselves ahead, threatening the horrors of a collision. These, it is true, melted away, being but darker masses of fog, charged, probably, with imprisoned volumes of smoke from another steamer; but the presence of this smoke, judged soon for what it was by its acrid smell, disclosed the imminence of the very danger they had anticipated. At any moment there might loom out of the mist a solid mass in place of these darker patches, and at the speed they were going nothing could prevent the shock and dread disaster of a collision.

“Keep a good lookout forward, Mr Webster,” sang out the Captain, in tones that were muffled as though he were calling from a well.

“We are doing that, sir,” said Webster, who had gone forward as soon as the fog bank was entered; “but the spray is blinding.”

The Captain growled under his breath, poked his nose against the binnacle, and then glanced into the driving mist overhead.

“It’s lightening above, Mr Hume, eh?”

“Yes, sir; but there appears to be a strong streamer of smoke on the port side.”

“Ay, I noticed it before; but it certainly is thicker. I’ll give ’em a call.”

The steamer’s siren sent forth a rending cry from its brazen throat.

Almost immediately there came a response—a wild, hoarse roar terminating in a frantic screech.

“Where away, Mr Webster?”

“Port, sir.”

“Starboard, sir.”

“Dead ahead!” were the conflicting cries.

The siren flung another wild cry into the wet gloom—a cry that was at once imploring, menacing, and complaining.

It was answered again by a roar as of a great sea beast in fear of pain.

Then followed a deep silence, while every man strained his eyes.

At the same instant they saw her, a great mass looming out suddenly just ahead.

“Starboard!” shouted the Captain, in a voice of thunder.

The Swift leant over as she answered to her helm. There was a noise of shouting from the towering decks of the strange steamer, a feeling of impending doom, as her iron side rolled over towards the low craft, but next instant she was swallowed up in the gloom astern.

The Captain drew a long breath, and the men turned and looked at each other in silence, their faces still white and fixed.

“That was a close shave, Mr Hume?”

“Yes, sir,” said Frank, wiping his forehead; “I’d rather be in daylight with the cruiser opening fire than pass through such a moment again.”

“Ay, my lad, it was touch and go, and by the mercy of a good seaman at the wheel we didn’t touch.”

Webster came with a swing up the steps, and clapped Frank on the back.

“I told you she’d drown you before you’d have done with her.”

“Well, I’m not drowned yet.”

“No; but, by gum, you were near it! Did you see the cook’s face at the gangway when we rushed by? Lord, I nearly died with laughter at his sudden gasp, and I shouldn’t wonder but he’s got his mouth open yet. By the way, the Commodore’s down at the cuddy door, and by the same token she’s got her mouth open in surprise. Why not go down and tell her the news?”

Frank accepted the hint, and very soon was beside a tall figure, dimly seen in the shadow of the door; but, having got so far, he was at a loss to proceed. It was a stilted form of address to call her “madam;” “Miss Laura” was at once too familiar, and smacked of servility. Why had they not told him her name and have done with it; why, in fact, could she not tell it him herself? Having now mastered his first boyish fears and awe of her beauty, and warmly conscious that he stood on a different footing to her since he had boldly lifted her in his arms, he determined to brush away the mystery which hedged her in.

“I beg your pardon,” he said, “but I hope you will forgive me for obeying the Captain’s orders just now.”

“Ah! is that you, Mr Hume? Can you tell me how we are getting on, since I am not able to judge for myself?” She spoke gently, and he caught the gleam of a smile.

“You must admit that, though the Captain was somewhat peremptory, the necessity was urgent.”

“And you must admit, Mr Hume, that he was obeyed with singular promptitude, which told of distinct pleasure on your part at the prospect of relieving the bridge of my presence. But still, you have not told me of our position.”

“We are well away from the cruiser, and when we have pierced this bank of fog, which we may do soon, as it is growing lighter, we should be free from danger of pursuit. Pray, however, do not think that we wished to keep the bridge to ourselves, and if I was presumptuous to act promptly, it was because I was anxious for your safety. You have not said whether you forgive me?”

“Is my safety, then, of any interest to you?” she said, turning her eyes upon him, and laying a hand upon his arm with the look and action of a born coquette.

“Not with me only,” he said earnestly, “but, if a new shipmate may say so, with every member of the crew. Mr Webster told me his heart was in his mouth when he saw you in danger.”

“He is a brave fellow,” she said softly, “and modest with it all—a man who would give his life with a smile for anyone he liked. It sometimes distresses me to think that I should have led him and the others upon this venture, dangerous as it must be.”

“Will you share in the danger?”

“Assuredly. This boat is mine. I had bought it when it was seized by the Customs. The enterprise is of my planning, and what danger there is will be shared by me.” She lifted her head as she spoke.

“Why should you venture upon anything that brings danger to yourself? Surely you have friends, relatives, who would have acted for you?”

She stood silent for some time, and looked at him curiously for his boldness.

“I have only one relative, Mr Hume, and he is my father, a prisoner in the hands of Balmaceda. It is to rescue him that I have risked the passage of the Thames, and if I cannot save his life I will die with him.” There was subdued passion in her voice, and her hands were clenched.

“Your father a prisoner in Brazil! How can they imprison an Englishman?”

“He is no Englishman. My father is Manuel da Gama Lobo de Anstrade, Colonel in the Army, and member of a noble Spanish family, treacherously seized by that ruffian President.”

“But you—surely you are of English descent?”

“My mother was English, Mr Hume, and I have been educated in England.” She paused for some moments, then continued quickly: “I have told you more than is known by any on board, except Mr Commins and Captain Pardoe. But I am seldom misled, and I am sure you will respect my confidence.”

“I will, Miss de Anstrade.”

“You must not mention my name. If you knew the Brazilians you would understand. Were this ship to fall into the hands of the President’s party, and my name were discovered, there would be little mercy shown. Ah! what fiendish punishment they can devise! Luiz, my brother, they made him walk blindfolded over the precipice at Garanagua.”

She spoke scarcely above a whisper, but with an intentness that thrilled her listener, and her eyes were fixed before her, wide open and gleaming. He had seen that look before, as she stood on the bridge gazing into the tossing seas ahead, and yet seeing nothing. Now he knew that a terrible picture was before her eyes.

Instinctively he took her hand.

“I am grieved I should have awakened these memories,” he said gently.

“You have not awakened them, my friend; they are burnt in.”

He stood there in silence, holding her hand, which was like a lump of ice in his warm grasp, and which she allowed to remain there, unconscious of his touch. He could mark the hollow under her eyes, the lines of pain between her dark brows, and he sighed.

She sighed too; her mind came back from its troubled wanderings in the far Brazil, and she looked down at her hand, drawing it away, and regarding him with haughty disfavour.

“I am sorry,” he said.

“You are strangely daring, Mr Hume.”

“My thought was to show my sympathy, and I could not find words.”

“It is true. You English are slow of speech, but quick to act. That is why, in this matter, I am trusting to my mother’s countrymen.”

“Will you trust me also, my Captain?”

“You! But we are to land you at Madeira.”

“I am in your service already for a time; will you not engage me permanently?”

“But you do not understand. We cannot hope to escape the Brazilian warships without a fight, and they are but the first of the dangers to be met and overcome.”

“And yet you will face those dangers?”

“For my father’s freedom!”

“But Mr Webster, Captain Pardoe, these sailors, what of them?”

“They are men accustomed to danger; they know the risks they run, and are satisfied with their reward.”

He flushed at this plain speech, but continued:

“And yet a few hours ago you urged me to help you?”

“And you at first declined?”

“I knew nothing then; but now you have taken me into your confidence, and I would be a poor thing, indeed, if I were to step ashore at the first opportunity. I may not be able to do much, but—”

“You will see I do not run into needless danger—is that it, Mr Hume?” she said, with a smile. “I accept your services, sir,” she added slowly; “but I do so with a sadness at my heart that warns me of impending trouble. I hope it bodes no ill to you. My mind is fixed upon this enterprise; but, oh! often in the night my heart is heavy with forebodings, so that I could abandon myself to the relief of womanly tears, if I only dared. It is not an easy task, this,” she went on, with a tremble in her voice, “for a girl to be alone among strange men; but my father, pale and stern, beckons me on, and my brother—oh, my brother!”

Her voice gave way, and she put her hand to her eyes; then, as he stood by pale, distressed, with an oppression in his throat, she thrust her hand forth with a wild gesture, and swept by him to the bridge. Frank stood awhile, then went slowly forward.

When, with a start, he came out of his reverie, it was to find the ship free of the fog, and dashing along in the grey of the evening towards the golden glory of an exquisite sunset. The sea stretched away to where glowed a rim of molten gold upon the horizon; and from this glowing band there shot streaks of fire into the sky, and rippling bars of silver on the waters, while the deepening dusk turned the blue of the ocean to a wonderful hue, shading from grey to deep black.

Chapter Eight.

Lieutenant Gobo.

On the afternoon of the fourth day, with lockers almost exhausted of coal, they sighted the outposts of Madeira—jagged rocks, with the clearest of outlines—and made for Funchal with some apprehension as to their reception from the Portuguese.

They had not passed scathless through the Bay. The funnels were coated with salt, the mark of a curling sea which had swept over the bows, and the starboard boat was missing. The deck was soaked, and grimy from coal-grit,—while all on board looked worn and unwashed, as though they had been without sleep, and, indeed, they had passed through a wearying time, tossed about like corks, compelled to hold on at every step, and drenched with spray. But though the catcher had plunged and rolled in a manner that tried the nerves of the oldest seaman, she had gone safely through those huge rollers, and they had learnt to trust in her. What they wanted now was her full capacity of coal, with some tons over for storage on the deck, to enable her to make the long passage to Rio, if possible. The question was, Had the Portuguese been warned by the Brazilian Consul in London, and would they give them coal?

Very soon she was steering a course parallel to the vast slope of the Island, ploughing through waters of deepest violet. Innumerable little white houses dotted that seemingly inhospitable slope of coloured sandstone, many as the white crests of the waves, and each one of them when viewed through a glass was seen to be embedded in a wealth of vegetation. So steep was the slope, and so limited each settlement, that every bit of land was terraced, so that not one spadeful of the precious soil should escape. From where, at the foot, the slope terminated in a precipitous descent to the foaming wave, these terraces ascended like irregular steps far up to the heights. And there lived a frugal people, with that brilliant sea below them, and the blue, unclouded sky above, with the air tempered by the mists on the mountain ridge above to the most balmy softness, and with a soil, once saved and scraped together, that grew all they needed without much toil. Theirs is the life of repose, with grapes and bananas for their principal food, varied with onions and fish, and washed down with the wine of that iron soil.

A slothful people, perhaps, but they have discovered the secret of living on the soil and out of the soil, developing the idle ruminating pleasures of sleek cattle; happy in their little houses, their tiny plots of fruitful ground; rich in their climate, and most fortunate in their situation. What to them the aspirations of the struggling hordes of Europe, the agonised cry of the hopeless poor of more powerful countries, the ambitions and the social schemes of the proud Northerners, but the echoes of a stormy life?

The Swift rounded into Funchal Bay, and anchored in the calm waters, under the guns of a picturesque fort covered with green. The fires were raked out, and the long craft, weather-beaten and streaked with rust stains, was at rest—an object, however, of suspicion to the peaceful merchant-ships. A tug from the shore shot out, encircled the catcher, and returned in haste.

“That doesn’t look friendly,” said Lieutenant Webster.

“They’ve had notice to look out for us,” was the Captain’s comment. “It’s what I feared; but so long as they give us coal they may do what they like.”

“There’s a boat putting off, sir—probably to warn us off.”

“Well, we can’t go without coal, and if they won’t give it we’ll take it.”

“Yes,” said Webster, looking reflectively at the fort.

The boat approached within a ship’s length, and a fat man in uniform, who held the tiller, took a long look at the Swift, then made a signal, and was rowed back again.

The fat man was met by a number of men in uniform, and after much gesticulation the whole party entered a larger boat, flying the Portuguese flag at the peak and stern, and with an awning aft.

This time they came alongside, mounted the steps, and stood twirling their black moustaches, while their dark eyes roamed over the long deck.

“Have I the pleasure of speaking to the Captain?” said the stout man, looking at a group of three.

“I am the Captain.”

“Ah! receive my respects. And the name of the ship?”

“The Swift—steam yacht.”

“True, she has the appearance of a pleasure-boat. You intend, perhaps, to remain here? The Island of Madeira is very lovely.”

“Yes,” said the Captain; “but not at present.”

“You will be going on to Teneriffe?”

“Doubtless; but we require coal. You have a good supply?”

“Why not? But this small yacht would not require much for a cruise to the Canaries.”

“About eight hundred tons, sir, is all we require.”

“Eight hundred tons, sir? Very good. With that you could reach America, possibly Brazil. Is it not so?”

Captain Pardoe bit his lip, while the stout man turned with a smile and a shrug to his companions, one of whom strolled leisurely forward.

“Perhaps eight hundred tons is more than I require, especially as I could get more on my return,” said the Captain quietly.

“I understand, sir; but that’s a matter of business arrangement with a coal-merchant. You have left England recently?”

“Four days since.”

“Four days—carambo—a quick passage! Then, sir, perhaps you can inform me of the progress of the revolution in Brazil. Have the rebels been beaten?”

“I am afraid I can give you no information about Brazil.”

“And you have not heard of the escape of a torpedo-catcher from the Thames, bound for Rio to help the rebels?”

Captain Pardoe looked astonished.

“You have surely been misinformed, señor. No vessel could get out of the Thames without the wish of the authorities.”

“I assure you, my Captain, the impossible has happened, and, believe me, I first supposed your boat was that same vessel. Ha! ha!”

“Ha! ha! what a good joke, señor!”

“Is it not?” The officer who had walked forward returned, and whispered to the stout man. “But why, my Captain, do you carry a torpedo-tube and a heavy gun? Is it to shoot gulls? Ha! ha! I am afraid, Captain, you will not get your coal here, and that your visit may be prolonged to our satisfaction. You will find the island of Madeira lovely—most beautiful. In the meantime, I may introduce you to my friend Lieutenant Guilia Gobo, who will remain your guest with these soldiers.”

The stout officer gave some order to his Lieutenant, and clambered down into his boat.

“My Captain,” he said, with a pleased smile, “may I direct your attention to our powerful fort? We have there some heavy guns; oh, very formidable.” He sat down chuckling, and rubbing his knees.

“The old boy is pleased with himself,” remarked Webster to Frank, who, together, had been amused spectators of the scene. “He euchred the Captain without trouble—an easy matter enough, by the way, in the face of that little weapon forward. Look at the skipper: dissimulation is not his rôle.”

Indeed, Captain Pardoe looked very black, as he confronted the Lieutenant and his four men.

“Well, sir,” he said, “what is the meaning of your presence on board my ship?”

“I no speak the Ingleese,” said the Lieutenant haughtily.

“But he understands it well enough,” muttered Webster.

“You don’t speak English; perhaps you will understand that I have enough coal to take me to Teneriffe, and I will leave in an hour. Up to that time you are welcome to the run of the ship, but you will find it agree ill with your uniform.”

The Lieutenant turned sharply, and shouted after his superior officer.

Captain Pardoe knitted his black brows, and was about to speak again, but turned to walk off, when he was joined by Frank.

“I understood what he said, sir.”

“So did I, Hume, but I don’t fear the fort’s guns. It is necessary to humour them, and with a little judicious palming we might win our object, but I have no genius for that work.”

“May I try, sir?”

“Certainly, Hume, do what you like, for at the worst we can throw them overboard.”

“Then, sir, set the hands to clean the ship, and send Webster ashore to lay in a stock of vegetables, fruit, and fresh meat.”

“Since when were you appointed purser, Mr Hume?”

“It will show them you do not mean to leave in a hurry, and we’ll lull their suspicions.”

The Captain issued his orders at once, and in a few minutes Webster, with the chief engineer, Mr Dixon, were being rowed ashore, while half a dozen salts, with bare legs, were turning the hose on the grimy deck, and the stokers, black almost as sweeps, came on deck to hang over the bows and pull at their well-seasoned clay pipes.

Before Webster left, Hume had drawn his attention to two large barges laden with coal which were anchored to the left, and suggested that he should find out what coal they contained.

He next dived into the main cabin, where he found Miss Laura and Mr Commins looking at the island through a port-hole. This was the first time Commins had emerged from his cabin, and though he bore traces of severe illness he was very spruce and neat in his dress, markedly so in contrast with the weather-stained appearance of the others.

Their heads were very close together, and Commins had succeeded in making his companion laugh, a little circumstance which unduly nettled Hume.

He secured some cigars, a bottle of wine, and was hurriedly leaving the cabin, when Miss Laura asked him a question or two concerning their position.

“It is so annoying,” she added, “that I dare not show myself on board, as the people here are sure to communicate with their friends in Rio.”

“I hope our young friend will be discreet,” said Commins, with irritating condescension in his manner. “Pray don’t leave the cigar-box open, otherwise the sea air will spoil the contents; and I see you have selected the choicest of the 1880 brand.”

“These are for the Portuguese Lieutenant,” said Frank shortly.

“An officer! What business has he on board?”

“It appears they suspect us, and an officer, with four men, has been placed on guard.”

“That means we have been seized,” said Commins, turning to Miss Anstrade. “I advised you not to run into a Portuguese port; but you would be guided by your headstrong Captain.”

“There is no cause for fear,” replied Frank. “We hope to be off before morning with a full supply of fuel.”

“Your hopes may be interesting to you, sir; but I, for my part, do not find them amusing.”

“Enough!” interposed Laura with a frown; then, turning to Frank, she asked him if there really was any prospect of getting away.

“There is, madam, if you have one commodity on board.”

“What is that?”


“Ah! come with me,” and she started for the cabin.

“Laura, don’t be imprudent. You forget.”

“No, on the contrary, Mr Commins, I remember that this gentleman has behaved nobly, and risked his life while others remained in safety.”

Mr Commins murmured something about being ill, but he shot an evil look at Frank.

“Come, Mr Hume.”

“No, madam; if you assure me, that is sufficient. It will be necessary to pay for the coal in cash.”

“You have some scheme,” she said, looking earnestly at him, and placing her fingers on his arm.

“I have, or, rather, the Captain—”

“Ah, that is better,” said Commins, with a sneer.

“Say no more, Mr Hume; I have faith in the resources and courage of my officers.” She gave him her hand, but her eyes were fixed on Commins.

Frank, somewhat uneasy at what he had witnessed of the familiarity between the two, hurried away with the wine and cigars to presently engage the Lieutenant in pleasant conversation in French.

Seeing the officer comfortably seated in the chart-room with the wine, he went to the side to receive Webster, who had returned in the best of humours with a boat-load of bananas, custard apples, grapes, vegetables, and fresh meat.

“I have left the engineer ashore, drinking Madeira with an old crony,” shouted the genial officer.

“Good,” said Frank, raising his voice. “I’ll ask the Captain to let me return for him later on. Well,” he whispered a moment later, as Webster stepped on board, “what about the barges?”

“They have 300 tons, and are waiting out there for the Cape mail steamer, due early to-morrow morning.”

“Well, the mail steamer will have to wait. That is our coal.”

Chapter Nine.

Coaling the Catcher.

Lieutenant Webster joined the Portuguese officer in the chart-room, where, with his gallant attempts to speak French, and his readiness to join in the laughter at his own most amusing blunders, he quite charmed Lieutenant Gobo, who grew confidential, and imparted an interesting item of news.

“You will remain with us, amigo mio, and we will crack many a bottle of old Madeira in a posado kept by an old man with two lovely daughters.”

“Thanks, señor, with pleasure, if we do not depart to-morrow.”

“To-morrow! What say you? We have a proverb that says that the wages of to-morrow mock the promise of yesterday. To-morrow you will all be our very good guests.”

“For my part, nothing would please me better; but our Captain has said that to-morrow he will sail, and he is a very devil—diavolo—eh?”

“You speak idly, my friend. I assure you to-morrow this ship of yours will be seized.”

“How so, Lieutenant? We have no quarrel with Portugal; and, moreover, there is no craft here that could overhaul us.”

“Not here at present, señor, but it is coming.”

“Your glass is empty, Lieutenant. Is this a British ship you speak of?—for I know none other that could capture us.”

“There are other ships than British afloat,” said the officer, twirling his moustache. “The ship I speak of flies the Brazilian flag: the Esperanza sloop of war, which, providentially, left Lisbon two days since, and may be here at any hour. She was advised of the escape of your boat from the Thames, and has warned us to be on the watch. Juarez is her commander, and I tell you he also is a devil. Ha! ha!”

“I perceive,” said Webster, with a laugh, “you have been too smart for us. We English are sometimes very dull.”

“Truly, mon ami, in quickness of wit, as in matters of love, we of the South are superior to you heavy islanders. But you are good comrades, nevertheless. Your health, señor.”

“I see the bottle’s empty. Pardon me, Lieutenant, while I overhaul the locker.” Webster, with an innocent look on his bronzed face, went below and sent a message to the Captain.

“Sir,” he said, as the Captain approached, “there is a Brazilian sloop of war in pursuit of us. She may be here to-night, or in the morning.”

“How did you learn this?” asked Captain Pardoe, with a dark look.

“From that yellow-skinned effigy on deck. The Swift is to be taken to-morrow and the crew landed. It is all settled.”

“Is it?” said the Captain, with a peculiar smile. “We shall see to that Hume will presently leave for the shore with two men. As soon as his boat is clear have these soldiers seized and bound. Take your measures quietly, Mr Webster, and be very careful that they do not cry out.”

“What’s on foot, Captain?”

“We mean to have that coal, my boy, sloop or no sloop. Thunder, do they suppose I’ll surrender to a sloop after defying a British cruiser! You have your orders.” The Captain went down to the engine-room; and Webster, after securing another bottle, gave a few sharp words of instruction to the Quartermaster, who received them with a grin.

Soon after a boat from the shore came alongside with a gendarme, who, after a few words with Lieutenant Gobo, received a note from that officer and returned.

“I have assured my Captain,” said the Lieutenant to Webster, “that we are friendly here, and that while one of your men is ashore he need not take extra precautions.”

“What precautions are, then, necessary?”

“Oh, a boat or two of soldadoes!”

“Mr Hume!” cried the Captain, from his position on the bridge, “you will take the boat for Mr Dixon, and see what arrangements you can make for coaling to-morrow.”

The Lieutenant jogged Webster in the ribs.

“Is he not droll—this Captain of yours?”

“Very droll,” remarked Webster, with a meaning look at the Quartermaster, who stood near.

Hume swung into the boat with two men, and gave the order to push off.

Webster leaned over the side, ran his eyes over the men on deck who were drinking with the three soldiers, then spoke a word to the Quartermaster, who immediately joined the group, placing himself as he did so between the soldiers and their rifles, which rested against the side.

Webster strolled to the chart house, took another look at the group on guard, then flung himself on the Lieutenant, pinning that astonished individual by the throat. There was a scuffle forward, a smothered cry or so, and in a minute the four Portuguese were bound and gagged.

“Lower the long boat, Mr Webster,” said the Captain in low tones.

This was done by the now thoroughly alert and expectant crew in silence.

“Man the boat, take a tow-line, and make for the coal barges.”

Four men dropped into the boat, a tow-line was made fast.

“Weigh anchor and deaden the noise with tow. Let the flukes hang for the present.”

Quietly and slowly the anchor came in. Webster entered the boat, the tow-line tautened, and the Swift gradually moved off in the direction of the barges.

Meanwhile Hume had met a boat half-way from the shore, with the chief engineer on board, and taking him in, waited till the shore boat had rowed out of hearing, then shaped for the barges.

“You are shaping a wrong course for the Swift, Mr Hume.”

“We are making for two barges laden with coal, Mr Dixon.”

“Oh, oh, what’s in the wind?”

“These beggars won’t give us coal, so we mean to take it. We will approach the barges quietly, board them, and secure the people on board. Will you assist us, Mr Dixon?”

“Certainly, my boy; and what’s the Captain doing meanwhile?”

“He’ll be alongside very soon after we have done our business. No doubt he’s on the move now, with a tow-line out. Gently, men, I think I see the loom of something dark.”

They stole softly up to the unwieldy boats, going alongside one which had an awning forward, made the boat fast, then clambered on deck. One of the sailors walked along the broadside, and reconnoitred. There were two men only, sleeping on a rough bed of sacks, their forms dimly outlined by the light of a lantern. He then crossed to the other boat, which was unoccupied. He made his report, and next minute the sleepers were aroused to find four men standing over them. They permitted themselves to be bound without a murmur, on an assurance from Hume that they would not be harmed.

A few minutes later the Swift crept up, took in her boat, and got up steam.

“Make fast the tow-line to the barges, Mr Hume,” came an order from the Captain.

“It is done, sir.”

“Cut the moorings.”

The rope was cut, and the Swift steamed out, towing the barges, until she had rounded the south-western point below Funchal, when she dropped anchor, and all hands, including the two Portuguese sailors, were hard at it, transferring her coal to the torpedo-catcher. The coal was in sacks, the steam tackle was set in motion, and with a loud noise that sooner or later would reach the ears of the people ashore, the precious cargo was swung on board and shot down the shoots, covering every part of the deck and rigging with grit. The long, low steamer lay sandwiched between the barges, and while the steam tackle worked aft, forward the sacks were handled by the men, everyone, except Miss Anstrade and Mr Commins, lending a willing hand.

They had been hard at work for an hour, when a confused babble of shouting was heard from the port, and shortly after they saw a shaft of light shoot into the sky and glance across the harbour. It was the flash-light from the little fort, and no doubt revealed the absence of steamer and coal barges.

Presently they heard the beat of engines—a steamer’s light appeared round the point.

“Show a light, Mr Webster. We don’t want to be run down.”

A red light was hung out over the stem.

“Keep on with your work,” shouted the Captain, as the men paused to watch the progress of the steamer.

“Carambo! Señor Capitaine, what in the devil’s name is the meaning of this?” shouted a deep voice from the steamer, in furious accents.

“Quien es?”

“Demonios! Colonel Alvaro, commander of the fort. What mean you by moving off like a thief in the dark? It is an offence against Portugal and the laws.”

Captain Pardoe laughed. “I am merely taking coal for which I am willing to pay. Will you receive the money?”

“Yes,” said a strange voice; “I represent the coal company.”

There was an altercation on board the tug, for such it proved to be.

“I protest, Colonel Alvaro. When I have received payment you may do what you like. Lower a boat.”

Colonel Alvaro gave way, the boat was lowered, and a young Englishman stepped on board, who was immediately taken below, where he made a good bargain.

“Now, Captain,” he said, after securing a roll of notes, “you have acted in a high-handed manner, and it is no business of mine to help you, but the sooner you move the better. The warship Esperanza has been signalled, and will be here in half an hour.”

“Thank you,” said the Captain, with a grim smile; “we can look after ourselves. Mr Webster, release the soldiers, and let them return with these gentlemen.”

Webster did so, and could not forbear chaffing Lieutenant Gobo. “We are no match for you, Lieutenant, in resource, but you see we are having our own way.”

“Matre de Dios!” cried the Lieutenant, grinding his teeth, “you will pay for this, you base picaro!” and he shot a vengeful glance at Webster and Hume, who stood close by, their faces black with coal-dust.

Little did they dream that Gobo would make good his threat.

The tug waited for its boat, then steamed away towards the harbour at great speed, Colonel Alvaro and Lieutenant Gobo shouting a string of threats as to what they would do on their return.

Mr Dixon reported that the bunkers were filled.

“Stack a row of sacks along the sides, and have them lashed. Get a full head of steam up. Mr Webster, cast this boat off from the port side.”

Soon the steam from the escape pipe set up its shrill clamour.

The Captain mounted to the bridge, and with his night glass fixed to his eye searched the mouth of the harbour.

“See that row of lights, Captain?” said Miss Laura.

“A steamer just entering the harbour.”

“And there is another light moving.”

“That is the tug which just left us. Is there much more coal left, Mr Webster?”

“About fifty sacks, sir, I should say.”

“Whip them in, then. All firemen get below.” He approached the tube. “Stand by, Mr Dixon!”

The steamer which had just entered the harbour put out her lights, but there was a glow from her funnels which revealed her movements, as it grew rapidly brighter.

“All aboard!” shouted the Captain. “Cast off the barge!” The men clambered from the barge, and the unwieldy craft was shoved away.

“Full speed ahead!”

The water was lashed by the screws, the Swift vibrated like a living thing, and shot away, leaving the barges rocking on the swell she had kicked up.

“Surely, Captain,” said Miss Anstrade, “that steamer is following us!”

“She is, Miss Laura, sure enough. It is the Brazilian ship Esperanza, Captain Don Juarez.”

“Don Juarez,” said the girl, in a startled whisper. “O, Santissima Maria,” she added, with a passionate cry, “that treacherous dog, the murderer of my brother! Captain Pardoe, you must not fly. Mr Webster, listen to me.”

“Laura, my dear girl,” said Mr Commins, laying his hand on her arm.

She shook him off with an angry gesture, and turned her flashing eyes on the Captain, while her bosom heaved.

Some of the men had heard her cry, and stood near the bridge.

“Men,” she said, in quick, excited tones, “hear me! That is a Brazilian warship behind. It is commanded by a man who has done me a most fearful wrong. You are Englishmen, and I ask you—”

“Enough, madam,” whispered Pardoe sternly. Then, raising his voice, “Clear the guns for action.”

The Quartermaster’s shrill whistle rang out in immediate response, and in reply a flame of fire leapt out from the darkness astern, followed by the screech of a shell.

Chapter Ten.


The Swift was a formidable fighting ship, though built to tackle the midgets of the sea—the 130 feet torpedo boats. She had no torpedo-tube in the stem, which had been strengthened for ramming; but she carried two tubes at the stern, one four-inch quick-firing gun, two six-pounders forward, and two twelve-pounders on pedestals. Including the officers, there were twenty men to work the ship and guns, and a staff of ten firemen and engineers. The seamen were picked men, tempted by high pay, and all of them showed the unmistakable stamp of strict training and discipline. They were, in fact, men of the Naval Reserve, recruited by the Quartermaster—hard, weather-beaten, and, except when off duty, still-mouthed. The Quartermaster, Henderson, was black-bearded and swarthy, like the Captain, and it was rumoured among the men that this was not the first time the two of them had shipped in the same capacity in blockade-running in the wars of South American Republics. The conning-tower, a small chamber, fitted with tubes, knobs, levers, and a spare wheel, and walled in with thick plates of toughened steel, was just forward of the first funnel. Beyond it was a turtle-backed deck of iron, and on either side were the six-pounders, protected by bullet-proof shields. The Captain could fire the aft torpedo guns by electricity from the conning-tower.

“Clear the guns for action, and slacken speed.”

The shrill, clear notes of the whistle rang out the sharp summons, and the men sprang to their positions with an alacrity which had not marked their actions when threatened by the British warships. Then they had done their duty sullenly, with a sense of ill-omen at having to encounter their own flag; but now they were on a different footing in respect to this new foe, and eager to be at some other game than always on the run.

“If our Captain’s half as good at fighting as he is at running,” growled the sailor known as Dick the Owl, for his night eye, “we’ll have a bellyful, eh, mate? and good luck to it.”

“Eh, it’s a queer thing, Dick, that we navy men should be under these port-to-port cargo and hat-box carriers, but the Captain’s got red lights in his head when there’s danger afoot, and maybe he’ll be a good ’un to follow.”

“As good as any you would find on the bridge of any battleship afloat, my men,” said Lieutenant Webster, who had been standing by unobserved.

“Beg pardon, sir,” said the men, touching their caps.

“That’s all right, my men; we’ve got to know each other yet,” replied the Lieutenant, with a kindliness that won their hearts. “Wash down the decks first,” he cried; “we’ll not go down to Davy’s locker disguised in soot, like imps of darkness. Out with the hose.”

The men laughed as they screwed on the hose to the hydrants and poured on a stream of water, sweeping the grimy decks from stem to stern.

“Now, get below for a sluice and a dram,” cried the cheery voice of the Lieutenant, whose idea of handling a crew was not according to naval instructions. The men trooped down the narrow companion-way laughing and joking in their excitement; but the roar of the enemy’s guns, as he fell round to port, and brought his starboard broadside to bear, was a summons that brought them tumbling on deck again ere they had time to wipe their mouths with a backhanded swipe.

“Steady, men, and to your quarters,” said the Captain quietly; “all but the men for the big gun, who will go below.”

Five men had taken their position about the big gun, which stood with its chase pointing up, as though looking away to the horizon for its enemy. These men stood astonished at the order.

“Below, men,” said Lieutenant Webster, approaching them; “you’ll not be wanted till morning,” he added, as he noted their sidelong looks.

They went down in silence; and, by the pressure of a button in the conning-tower, the Captain lowered the long gun into the deck, the same machinery sliding a heavy shield of toughened steel over the opening left by its disappearance. This gun had been specially built for the catcher, and was of a larger calibre than the guns usually carried by that kind of craft. It rose or fell on a strong powerful lever, on a modified principle used for the disappearing guns; and the frame of the ship had been strengthened amidships to bear the strain. It could be loaded and fought on deck, or loaded below and fired from the conning-tower when at close quarters, and had been christened “The Ghost,” after a trial made before reaching Madeira. “The Ghost” was turned out at the Elswick Works, and could fire sixty fifty-pound projectiles in ten minutes.

“We’ve laid our ghost,” said Webster to Hume, who, being quite fresh to this part of the business, stood looking out into the blackness astern in a state of suspense; “we’ve laid our ghost, and must raise theirs.”

“Is that you, Mr Webster?” said the Captain, leaning over the bridge.

“Yes, sir!”

“I must ask you to go to your cabin.”

“To my cabin, sir?”

“Yes; I will not want you till daybreak, and you will fight all the better, then, for a good sleep. Take off the men from the six-pounders—the fewer on board the better.”

Webster went below with six men from the two guns, leaving on deck eight hands in all to work the ship and the two twelve-pounders. One of these was at the wheel in the conning-tower; another was stationed forward on the lookout; and the others were in two steel towers, which were aft, about three feet above the deck, protecting the men from the hail of missiles that might be discharged from the machine guns, while their sloping sides would deflect larger projectiles.

“Mr Hume!”


“Join me on the bridge.”

Frank mounted to the low bridge, and went close to the dark figure of the Captain for companionship. They were unprotected by steel armour, and for himself he experienced a feeling of complete helplessness. He felt that up there he was a mark for every gun aimed at the Swift, and that without any power of retaliation.

“It is a fine night,” he said aimlessly, looking up at the starry sky.

“A very fine night, indeed,” said the Captain, taking hold of his beard with both hands; “but there’ll be rain in the morning.”

Frank brought his eyes down from the stare to a red eye that gleamed far astern.

The Captain took a couple of steps, and spoke down the tube: “Please attend to your fires; there are too many sparks.”

Frank wondered at the Captain’s quiet tones. Usually he was sharp and rough; now he spoke as though he were asking for a second cup of tea.

“I knew it,” said the Captain.

The red eye astern was dimmed by two livid flashes. Frank heard the dull reports, and then with a thrill down his back listened to the cry of the shells as they sped on. The enemy had as yet done no damage, but he knew that these shrieking messengers had at last scented their foe. He jerked his head violently as the shriek rose to a fiendish scream, and a swift rush of air swept across his face, whilst the crushing of iron behind him told that the shot had struck. It passed through the forward funnel as though it had been a sheet of paper, and the smoke came pouring out of the holes.

“They’ve got our range at last, and it’s lucky for us they have no search-light.”

“I’ll go and get my rifle,” said Frank.

The Captain chuckled: “She’s a mile off, at least; and if not, you might just as well puff at a whale with a pea-shooter. Still, I know how you feel. It’s devilish hard to stand fire without giving back.” He raised his voice: “Fire!”

The twelve-pounders spoke together, belching out balls of fast revolving smoke, and spurring the ship on with their recoil.

“It’s no good, of course,” muttered the Captain; “but it will encourage them to keep up the chase.”

“Why not give them the big gun, Captain?” asked Frank impatiently.

“A waste of ammunition; and we’ll want all we have when we get near the end of our voyage. I could turn and engage them, but I like to see what I am about, and all I want to do now is to encourage them. There she goes round; see her port lights; she’ll give us another broadside, and do you count the flashes.”

“Count the flashes,” thought Frank; “does he think this is a review?”

The twelve-pounders let go at the row of lights, and as the smoke rolled away there came a muffled roar, and in an instant, it seemed to Frank, the air was full of shells. The water was cup up astern, and one projectile struck the turtle-backed deck forward, and went humming into the black of the night.

“She carries six guns to the broadside, I think. What do you make it?”

“A dozen, at least, Captain, and heavy metal,” said Frank, wetting his lips.

“No more than six and twelve-pounders. A larger shell sets up a different music, as you will soon learn. Still, I don’t like it; their gunners are too smart.”

The Captain took a turn up and down the bridge, then sent a shout to the Quartermaster to cease fire.

“Mr Hume, you will find a life-belt on the starboard side, opposite the hatchway, with a canister attached. Cut it adrift.”

Frank found the belt, and sent it overboard.

“Keep her three spokes to port.”

The steersman starboarded the helm, and the Swift went off at an angle to her former course, whilst the canister, on reaching the water, flared out in a brilliant blaze in the ship’s former wake.

Before Frank had reached the bridge the enemy had come round and fired his two forward guns, then, keeping on to port, quickly let go his starboard broadside. The water about the floating flare was dashed up in showers.

The Captain slapped Hume on the back as he reached the bridge.

“That’s a simple trick, eh! and we could slip away as easy as winking if we had a mind to. Lord, won’t they howl when they find how they have been done!”

There came a hearty guffaw from the towers aft as the men saw through the Captain’s joke.

“Lord, there he goes again,” as the forward guns again belched forth; “what a ferocious devil the commander must be! He takes that light to be a signal, and imagines he is firing at a crippled ship, the devil.”

The Quartermaster came forward. “The enemy has slackened off, sir.”

“Is that so?” said the Captain, taking a long look at the steamer’s lights. “Ha, I have it,” and he smacked his fist in his hand, showing the first symptoms of excitement. “He thinks we’ve gone down, and we’ll lay-to till morning, which can’t be far off.”

“There’ll be grey light in an hour, sir.”

The Captain kept his eye on the steamer’s light, which rose and fell, but kept its place.

“Quartermaster, take your men below for some hot grog and a bite, and rouse Mr Webster.”

“Ay, ay, sir.”

The Captain went to the tube. “Slacken speed, Mr Dixon, and be very careful with your fires. Starboard your helm; bring her round.”

The Swift went round with a steady swing, bringing the enemy’s light on her port bows, instead of over her starboard stern rails.

The men lingered awhile to see the manoeuvre finished, and then went below, satisfied there was to be a fight.

“Keep her on that course now,” said the Captain to the steersman.

“Mr Webster,” he continued, as that officer stepped briskly up and took a glance round, “see that everything is in readiness, and that the men take their positions without a word. Within an hour the fight will begin.”

“Begin, sir? You’ve been at it this past three hours, and I’ve been in and out of my bunk a dozen—times, while the men are all on the quiver.”

“We haven’t come to knocks yet. I’ll present my card in the morning with a fifty-pound rat-tat.”

Webster laughed gaily as he set about his duties, and presently the men gathered silently to their posts, some of them every now and again stealing to the sides to make out the whereabouts of the enemy and the meaning of the manoeuvre, which puzzled them, as one might gather from their whispered arguments.

The Swift doubled back towards the eastern horizon, where the darkness was quickly melting into the grey of dawn, and a deep silence rested on the ship, and over the shining heave of waters. Slowly the enemy’s light was overhauled, then sank astern, but the Swift kept on its way until a tint of pink appeared in the sky and the stars suddenly paled.

“The time has come,” said the Captain. “Are you all ready?”

“Ay, ay, sir!” came the answer in suppressed tones.

“Round with her, my man, on the port tack.”

The Swift rushed round, and there was a murmur of admiring criticism from the old tars as they now understood the meaning of the Captain’s manoeuvre.

“They are satisfied now,” said the Captain, grimly, to Frank. “They thought all along, I’ll be bound, that I could not fight this ship.”

“I confess, sir, I don’t understand your tactics.”

“Well, I suppose you don’t. The enemy’s fighting strength is evidently in her bow guns. So is ours. I have got the ’vantage of her by going into action on her beam. Mark me, before she can bear her bow guns on us she’ll be crippled. Full steam ahead!” he shouted, and the low craft rushed forward.

The whole horizon on the east was now bathed in light, and in a moment the blood-red disc of the sun flamed above the black line of the waters, while streamers of light shot into the sky. Straight ahead there rose a dark object. A shaft of golden light stretching across the waters struck full upon it, and there stood out in a glory of softest fire the tall masts and long black hull of the Brazilian ship. She was at rest, rising and falling gently; but there was a terrible awakening in store. Every minute brought her into clearer relief, though from the dark background beyond there was a blur about her deck, out of which, however, presently there emerged distinct objects—her boats, her bridge unoccupied, the gilt scroll under her stern, over which idly dropped the Brazilian flag; and last of all, the chases of her port broadside grimly projecting, with a glint of red sunlight on their smooth cylinders.

The two vessels were now distant about six hundred yards, and at last the careless lookout on the Brazilian ship saw something alarming astern in the fierce rush of the low grey craft. Some men dashed up the rigging to get a better view, and a small group gathered on the bridge.

“We’ll wake ’em up!” shouted the Captain, springing into the conning-tower and pressing a button, which brought up “The Ghost” from its bed.

The real action had begun; the night’s work had been child’s play. There was a terrific din as the long gun threw shot after shot, and in ten minutes a dense bank of smoke enveloped the Swift. The firing was suspended a minute.

The Captain stood in the conning-tower, his hands on the wheel, and his eyes fixed in a narrow slit under the steel roof. Giving a turn of the wheel to starboard, he brought the stem free of the smoke, and saw the enemy slowly gathering way, while men rushed about her decks in a state of terrible confusion at this sudden tempest of shells that had poured upon them.

Some damage had been done evidently, but principally to her top rigging. And now she spoke from her stern guns, but not allowing sufficiently for her height, the first stinging flight of shells went over the catcher.

“Stand by the six-pounders!” cried the Captain, his voice rising to a roar. “Depress your muzzle, Mr Webster! Fire!”

Again there was another tremendous fusillade, continuous and deafening, while the men’s eyes smarted from the sulphur in the smoke, and their throats grew dry and husky. For five minutes the rain of lead was kept up, and from the three guns one hundred projectiles tore into the sloop, plunged along the port side, and shattered her rigging. Lieutenant Webster devoted his second storm of fire at the stern guns, and the stanchions and bulwarks about them were ripped up, and the guns themselves dismounted.

The order to cease fire was again given, and the Captain made a point to starboard just as the sloop was swinging round to bring her port broadside to bear.

The ships were now but two hundred yards off, the sloop bearing off from the port quarter of the catcher in her attempt to come round and bring her bow guns to bear. Once she could do that she could blow the Swift out of the water, but Captain Pardoe had foreseen the manoeuvre and was ready for it. Counting upon the narrow turning power of his boat, he swept on, and suddenly put the wheel hard to port, bringing the vessel round within her own length, and bringing the boats stern to stern. At the same moment he flashed the signal below to fire the stern torpedoes. Then he stepped out to watch the effect, and the men, with heaving chests and smoke-blackened faces, from which their eyes glared with the fever of battle, watched too. There was a cry from the deck of the sloop, as they saw the leap from the tubes of the two torpedoes, a hoarse cry from the Captain to the man at the wheel, a terrible pause, and then two lines of bubbles below the water marked the swift rush of the deadly tubes. One line, it was seen, would continue free of the ship, the other went straight for her stern, and a sailor, in a mad fit of rage, first discharged his rifle at the approaching torpedo, then plunged overboard with a wild yell. A moment later there was a muffled roar, a vast column of water was thrown up, followed by a rending and grinding noise. The stern of the sloop was raised, then settled down in the trough of a great sea raised by the explosion. The torpedo had reached its mark, and Captain Pardoe stood by to give what assistance he could.

There was the wildest consternation on board the sloop, and the rending noise continued; but though she lay helplessly on the water she showed no signs of sinking.

The men on board the Swift set up a hoarse cheer, and shook each other by the hand.

“It’s twenty minutes since we went into action,” said Webster, wiping the blood from his brow. “Three cheers for our Captain, men!” and waving his hat, he led the hurrahs.

“For the love of God,” cried a voice in English from the sloop, “help us!”

“Strike your flag!” cried the Captain.

The gay flag came down, and the Captain brought the Swift nearer. “What is the matter?”

“Your cursed torpedo has blown away our propeller, and the shaft—oh, Sancta Maria!—listen to it!—is breaking the ship.”

“Why don’t you shut off steam?”

“Our engineer is dead. Demonios! Don’t talk, but act.”

“I’ll send our engineer to you.”

“Quick, quick!”

Mr Dixon came up from the bowels of the Swift, where, without the stimulant of action, he had stood by his work, animating his men with a quiet courage, which was the finer because he stood in absolute darkness regarding the progress of the fight, and knew that at any moment he might be sent to the bottom a helpless victim in an iron prison. His face was white and streaming with perspiration, and at the first touch of the cold air he reeled with dizziness, but when told what was required of him, he prepared for his new task without a word. The Swift moved gently under the tall sides of the sloop, and the engineer, with Webster, Hume, and six men, were quickly on board. Mr Dixon went at once to the engine-room, whence proceeded a truly infernal din.

“Where Is the Captain?” asked Webster of a dozen men round him.

A short, thick-set, bullet-headed man, with a neck like a bull, and moustaches that reached up to his ears, stepped forward.

“Your sword, Señor Juarez!”

“I must know to whom I am asked to surrender.”

“To the National flag,” said Webster haughtily.

“Carambo! that is an excellent jest. Is the flag broad enough to cover the ships of every nation? And why should I surrender my sword?” he asked, with a fierce scowl, while his officers drew near threateningly.

Webster stepped quickly to the bulwarks, and called to Captain Pardoe to stand away.

That officer went at once full speed astern, and lay-to a cable length off, with the men at their guns.

“You see?” said Webster.

The Brazilian Captain, with a terrible malediction, broke his sword over his knee.

“A thousand thunders!” he roared, while the black blood swelled in his temples, “to think I should have been beaten by that—that thing—and scarcely a boat’s crew hurt!”

“It is the fortune of war,” said Webster, looking around. “But while we talk the ship may be sinking for want of a little sailor-like care. Have you a spare sail, señor?”

The Brazilian Captain folded his arms and spat on the deck.

“You surly brute!” cried Webster. “Here, men, cut away the mizzen sail!”

In a trice the British sailors swarmed up to the mizzen yard and cast loose the sail, which came down with a thud, knocking a couple of yellow-faced sailors off their legs, whereat the tars up aloft laughed. At this a dozen of the enemy drew their knives and looked to their Captain for a word.

It was a ticklish moment, and Hume pulled out a revolver, which he instantly presented at Juarez.

“Good, my lad,” said Webster. “Shoot him down if he moves a foot. Do you understand, señor?”

Juarez glared like a wild beast, and a hoarse, unintelligible cry escaped from his thick lips, but he kept quiet, while Webster, without another look at the scowling group, quickly slipped the great sail over the side, and had it drawn round and up over the damaged stern.

In the meantime Mr Dixon, working down below, had stopped the engines and explored the shaft funnel, ascertaining the extent of the damage done by the shaft in its unchecked revolutions. He came on deck, wearied out, to be met by dark looks.

“What’s the meaning of this?” said he.

“The meaning is,” cried Webster, with a bitter look of contempt round, “that these cowardly hounds won’t lift a finger to help us, and I’m damned if my men will do another stroke to save them! Let the ship sink, and she is sinking fast.”

“And you’ll sink with us!” roared Juarez. “Down with them; slit their throats!”

There was a rush of men, and the little party were hemmed in.

A young officer bounded forward with drawn sword, and wheeling round, faced his men.

“Diavolo!” he hissed through his clenched teeth, “what devil’s game is this? You called to these gentlemen in your fear to help you, and now you would turn on them like base assassins. I tell you,” he cried passionately, “it shall not be!”

Webster and Hume, with their blue eyes flashing, ranged up on either side of their unexpected friend, while the British tars stood with their cutlasses ready.

Captain Pardoe, seeing something amiss, drew near. “Do you hear,” he shouted, “if you harm my men I’ll let go a torpedo.”

The young officer repeated the message, and the men whispered among themselves, then threw down their arms.

Juarez shot a venomous look at his officer, and placed his foot upon a knife, which, presently, he drew toward him.

Webster thanked the gallant foe for his assistance, and assured him that the sloop would keep afloat until they reached Madeira. He then turned to the side to speak to Captain Pardoe, while Frank Hume walked aft to see what damage had been wrought by the fire of the catcher.

There was a cry, and they turned to see the young officer fall, struck to the heart by the vengeful Captain. The next instant Juarez himself was cut to the deck by a slashing blow from a cutlass.

At this act of black treachery the small boarding party were ready to make a furious rush, but the sloop’s officers and men looked on themselves appalled, while a young fellow, quite a boy, flung himself on the officer’s body in a passion of grief, then suddenly springing up, drew his knife and advanced towards Juarez.

“Enough!” said Webster sternly.

“Kill the black-hearted dog!” screamed the Brazilian sailors, giving vent to their hate for their brutal commander, which no doubt had been long pent up.

“I see,” said Webster, with a grim smile; “we must get this fellow on board to save him from his friends.”

He signalled to the Swift, and when she came alongside, Juarez, who still breathed heavily, was lowered to her deck.

“What’s to be done with the sloop, sir?”

“Oh, leave her, if she can float, and think ourselves lucky to be free of a gang of prisoners.”

“She can reach Madeira by means of her sails.”

“Take a look round, then, and come aboard.”

Webster and Hume went aft, where all the damage done by the Swift’s guns had taken place, and there they found the bulwarks smashed to splinters, the two guns overturned, and the deck wet with blood from a dozen dead.

With a last word of advice to the gloomy and silent officers of the sloop, Webster stepped overboard, and very soon the Swift went on her way.

Chapter Eleven.

A Painful Scene.

The stricken sloop lay like a log on the ocean as the Swift stretched along into the Atlantic. In less than half an hour she had been struck down, maimed, and humbled by an enemy which she had treated with contempt.

“Why didn’t you sink her?” said Commins softly, coming to the side of Captain Pardoe, who stood with a dull flush in his face, fixedly regarding the labouring sloop. “You are fighting for the National Government. Why didn’t you sink her?”

Pardoe turned and regarded the man at his side under his brows for a moment. “What a devil you are, Commins!”

“Am I really?” remarked Commins imperturbably; “but, however flattering to my sagacity, that is scarcely an answer to my question. You have committed a blunder, Pardoe, and if the authorities at Rio were informed of it they might—I’m not saying they would, mind you—but they might court-martial you.”

“Court-martial me for smashing an enemy’s ship? You’re a fool, Commins!”

“Pardon me, but you have not smashed the enemy. There he goes leisurely on his way back to port after you had him in your power, and if either of us is to be called a fool I am inclined to think you are entitled to that honour. Take my advice: go back and sink that ship.”

“Do you mean that?”

“Certainly, in your own interests. The Brazilian Admiral would be the last man to suppose you had let the enemy escape from motives of humanity. And, then, you saved the life of that fiend, Juarez.”

“Juarez is my prisoner.”

“Yes, truly; but, observe how absurd your case would be when you say to the Admiral: ‘I let the warship escape, but I have brought you her Captain, who would have been assassinated by his own crew.’”

“I see you have already placed me on my trial,” said Pardoe dryly. “I presume you wish me to murder Juarez as well as to sink the ship?”

“You have a brutal way with you, Pardoe, as befits, no doubt, a brave sailor; but it jars. As for Juarez, it may give our friends some pleasure to dispose of him at Rio, though his presence on board will cause me a feeling of nausea; but it is necessary that you should do your work thoroughly, and for your safety, and the success of our mission, you must destroy that ship.”

“I must!” said the Captain, with a dark look.

“Well, there is no compulsion; but that is my opinion, and the opinion of Miss Laura de Anstrade.”

“You lie!”

Commins grew white to the lips, and his gloved fingers, resting on the bridge rail, trembled, but recovering himself, he said: “I will bring her here, and you shall receive the orders from her own lips,” then left the bridge.

Captain Pardoe flung himself round, took a hasty turn up and down the cramped bridge, then, with a stern and angry visage, faced Miss Anstrade.

She came swiftly, with a rustling of skirts, and a faint perfume that seemed strangely out of place, as much out of place as would be the inhuman order from her woman’s lips to destroy a helpless ship. Her large eyes glared with a feverish light, her breast heaved, and her hands were clutched in a sort of hysterical passion.

“Captain Pardoe,” she cried, in a thin, unnatural voice, “why have you let that ship escape?”

“Because, madam, I had not men enough to work her, and she would never have reached Rio.”

“No; but she can reach the bottom.”

“Good God!” he muttered, his face turning an ashen grey, “Miss Laura, you cannot mean that?”

“Yes; but I do!” she said, with a gasp.

“Then,” he said fiercely, “you must put someone else in command.”

“Oh, no, no!” she cried, “I never—”

“Be firm,” whispered Commins; “think how your case will be strengthened. If you can say you have destroyed one of the enemy’s ships. Remember your brother!”

Captain Pardoe noticed the action, and, pointing to Commins, he said bitterly: “Appoint that man your Captain, madam; he alone is capable of such an act, and perhaps Juarez would assist him.”

“It is policy,” whispered Commins.

The name of Juarez had a strange effect on the girl. She drew herself up, and in a hard voice called Lieutenant Webster.

He, seeing something unusual occurring, as, indeed, had all those on the main-deck, had drawn near.

“At your service, madam,” he said, with a hasty look at Captain Pardee’s dark face.

“I wish to appoint you Captain, Mr Webster.”

“Thank you, madam!”

Commins smiled as Pardoe threw his head up with a snort of indignant surprise.

“Mr Pardoe has refused to obey orders. I beg your pardon, what were you about to say?”

“I don’t think I wish to say anything, madam, and I’d rather not hear anything more;” saying which, Webster, with a distressed look on his frank face, stepped by, and stood beside Captain Pardoe.

“Ah!” cried Miss Anstrade, “you desert me for him. Let it be so. I would rather know at once whom I may trust.” The weakness and hesitation which at first she had shown disappeared, giving place to a feeling of wounded pride. She drew herself up, and regarded the two officers scornfully, forgetting, as only an angry woman can, the services they had already performed.

“I will have you placed on board yonder ship with that defeated crew, and perhaps then, when they turn their fury on you, you will repent your ingratitude. Once before I had to turn to these gallant sailors in order to shame you into doing your duty, and now, with confidence, I will appeal to them once more.” Her voice rang out clear and loud, and, charmed herself by the sound, she dwelt on her words. The men edged up, looking at the group on the bridge; and, if she had not been carried away by the confidence of her tone, she would have seen that their aspect was not friendly to her or to the man at her side. Hot, and most of them bleeding from a fight into which they had been led with courage and skill by their officers, it was not to be thought that they would, on the bidding of a woman, turn their backs upon their leaders. Commins was quick to note their bearing, and so was Hume, who stood by, amazed at the scene.

As she stood there with a proud smile on her lips, Frank swung himself up, unceremoniously shouldered Commins away, and stood by her side.

“Men,” he said, “it is a fine custom after a fight for the Captain to thank his officers and men, and one that should be kept up by us. This lady is our commander, and she wishes to thank you all for the splendid courage with which you have fought at this engagement against a foe of double our strength.”

“Sir,” she said, recovering from the shock of surprise, “what is the meaning of this insolence?”

“For Heaven’s sake,” whispered Commins, “let him speak. Don’t you see the men side with them?”

She flashed a startled look over the upturned faces, then, with a motion of her hand, signified to Frank to continue.

“Say a word to them, madam, yourself.”

“Do you command me?” she asked haughtily.

“No, madam, I implore.”

With a terrible look at Commins she went forward, and with a smiling face, though her hands were clenched, she thanked them.

The men touched their caps, but they lingered, casting puzzled glances at the Captain and Lieutenant.

“If so please you, mam,” said the big Quartermaster in deep tones, “we’d like to know what’s been said by way of thanks to the Captain for the handsome way he took the ship into action, and to the Lieutenant for the way he worked ‘The Ghost’ Isn’t it so, mates?”

There was a deep growl of assent.

“My men,” said the Captain, in a deep bass that had a thrilling touch of emotion in it, “I am pleased with you, and I think you are satisfied with me and with the ship. And all of us are proud of the young lady, who, trusting herself fully in our keeping, has so bravely shared our dangers.”

“Three cheers for the lady,” sang out Dick the Owl; and “God bless her!” chimed in the Quartermaster.

The ship rang again to the shouts of the men, and Commins slipped below.

Miss Laura coloured, then grew white, but the Captain was too experienced a man to show his triumph, though he could not forbear one shot:

“If you will allow me, madam, I will go to my cabin, for I have been on the bridge all night.”

“All night! you are cruel to remind me of it, Captain.”

“Am I Captain again, then?”

“Go to your room, sir,” she said, with a frown, “and consider yourself under arrest till eight bells. Now, Mr Webster,” she continued, with a sudden change of manner, “you will show me over the ship, and explain to me all about the action. I see you are wounded.”

“Merely a scratch, madam, from a flying link from the anchor chain.”

He led the way down, and Hume and the Captain, lingering on the bridge, saw her chatting with the men, and examining the damage done aft, where a flight of missiles had struck the deck.

“That was a timely speech of yours, Hume,” said the Captain, “and saved us from an awkward fix, for had the men once got the notion that they had done me an obligation, there would have been an end to discipline, tried men as they are. I am not satisfied that we have a plain course before us, for we have to reckon with that man Commins, and the whims of a young lady.”

“She appears to be quite reconciled now,” remarked Hume.

“Maybe, and I hope so, but a woman can sail under false colours and dummy portholes without a sign of her real feelings. See the way she’s smoothing down Black Henderson. I shouldn’t wonder if she’s scheming to gain the men over in preparation for the next mad-brained jamboree.”

“What relation does Mr Commins hold to her?”

“That is no business of ours,” said the Captain gruffly, “and harkee, my lad, remember that you are sailing under her orders, and that you have to stand by her, and not me.” With that he swung down below, leaving Frank to his own reflections, which were not of the brightest. He noticed that Miss Anstrade had ignored his presence, and wondered whether she was displeased at his interference, then dwelt on the influence which Mr Commins undoubtedly exercised over her, and finally blamed himself for having committed himself to this mad venture. His thoughts went back to his uncle, and to the promise which he had given to search for that impossible Golden Rock, and he asked himself if he would not have been happier had he started on that forlorn enterprise; but, even as he thought, his mental image of that imaginary rock faded away before the visible presence of the wayward, passionate girl whose beauty had already beguiled him.

She had parted from Webster, who was busy with the men, and came slowly picking her way over the litter of coal scattered from the bags by a shell which had ripped up the whole row on the port side, her one hand stretched gracefully to its full length at her side to hold up her skirts, the other at her throat holding a black mantilla which framed her face. Passing up to the bridge, she leant forward with her elbows on the rails, the wide lace on her sleeves falling back and disclosing shapely arms, and, with her chin in her hands, looked dreamily over the grey sea to a faint blur which marked the toiling sloop. She had not noticed him by so much as a glance, and, accepting this as a hint, he put the length of the bridge between him and her.

“Mr Hume.”

He turned, but she was still absorbed in watching the sloop.

“Must I call twice?” she said in her low, rich tones; and he was by her side.

“I feared I had offended you by my interference.”

“And would my displeasure disturb you?” she asked, reclining her head until she could look at him, and so keeping it.

Frank thought of Captain Pardoe, and wondered if she could be acting a part.

“Why do you look at me so? Tell me, what do you think of me?”

“I think you are very beautiful,” he said daringly, carried away by her beauty, and forgetting the part she had just played.

“Don’t. This is no ball-room interlude, and such a vapid compliment is out of place here. Be frank. Come, tell me.” She nestled her face more comfortably in her supporting palm, and looked at him with a faint smile that parted her lips.

“Don’t,” he murmured, repeating her word; “I am only human.”

“And I am not. Is that it? Well, perhaps you are right.”

“I did not say so. What I meant was, that if you look at me so—”

“Spare me! I detest explanations. Do you see that ship?” she turned her face to the labouring sloop. “It carries many souls—men who have friends waiting for them in some far-off hacienda, gleaming white in the bright sun, wives, mothers, and others as dear, who would grieve were they lost. You know, I had it in my head to sink that ship and all on board. What do you think of me? I would like to know.”

“It was a horrible fancy,” he said a little sternly; “but I do not believe you meant to carry it out.”

“Ah! you do not know me,” she whispered, with a shudder; “I am sometimes afraid of myself.”

“You brood too much over your sorrows. Why not come up here more often and talk with us?” he said, with a jealous thought of Commins.

“That is very good of you,” she answered demurely, with a swift change of expression; “and I appreciate the invitation all the more because of the evident implication that I alone am to benefit from it.”

“You misunderstand me,” he said hastily; “what I meant—”

“Yes, yes; how dull you are, Mr Hume!”

“I am sorry you should think so, madam,” he answered stiffly.

“Now go off in a pet, and leave me to my own thoughts, which, of course, are very pleasant company for a lonely girl among a lot of morose and fiery men, who cannot see that the strain upon her is almost too much.” She said this with a smile, but Hume noticed that the lips trembled while they smiled, and that in the eyes there was a worn, almost wild, look.

“Take my arm, Miss Laura,” he said gently. “Let me tell you my story; it may interest you.”

She took his arm with almost a convulsive grasp, and for a moment she bent her head; then with a soft and womanly look she asked him to talk and not to heed her silence. So they paced up and down, six paces one way, six another, and were necessarily thrown together by the narrowness of the passage. He talked of his uncle, the tough old hunter, of the simple life he led, of his sacrifice and quiet death, and a sweeter look stole into her face.

“And so,” she said, “you have put aside the quest entrusted to you by that good old man and thrown in your lot with me? I thank you, but you must find the Golden Rock.”

“If it is there,” he said, smiling at her eagerness.

“Oh, it exists; I am sure of it. I can see the gleam of it now;” and she shaded her eyes with her hand.

“But it is not on the sea,” he said laughingly.

“I am looking beyond the sea, among your African mountains, to a flame that glows under the rays of the morning sun, and there is a ring of red around the flame. Ah! you will encounter many dangers.”

“What will it matter,” he said, “since I am alone in the world?”

“It may matter,” she whispered, and then withdrew her arm, and hastily quitted the bridge, after one anxious look at the sloop, and a murmured prayer that it would safely reach port.

Chapter Twelve.

A Strange Vessel.

Five days after the stormy scene on the bridge, Frank Hume and Webster were lying forward, upon rugs, on the turtle-shell deck, in the full blaze of a hot sun. The sea was calm, even beyond the power of the Swift to toss up spray, and stretched away, unbroken by so much as a single gleam of white, to the horizon, though astern there lay a long trail, slightly sinuous, over which, with many a sweep and soar, there hawked a pair of gulls. Now and again, from the heave of the water before the fast slipping foot of the Swift, there ripped out a flight of flying fish, who, after an unmistakable beat of their glittering wings, shot away to the right and left, to fall with an awkward splash into the sea.

Here and there, propped up against some wide-mouthed ventilator, or stretched in the grateful shadows of the boats, were a few barefooted sailors engaged with needle and thread, while under an awning aft Mr Commins and Miss Anstrade reclined in deck-chairs. The harsh grating noise of the steering gear, and the ceaseless thud of the propellers, alone broke the silence, which, like the silence of vast stretches ashore, or of deep-wooded solitudes, hushes the voice of animals and kills speech in men. Out on the bosom of the sea, or on the summit of a mountain, the trifles which interest us among our fellows have little power against the subduing influence of vast unpeopled spaces.

All the morning the steamer reached on, always remaining in the centre of the same wide circle, and it was only when the Quartermaster struck eight bells that there was any movement among the brooding men. Webster sat up, and with his hands on his knees, and his cap at the back of his head, looked over the shining waste, then yawned.

“What an eloquent fellow you are, Hume!” he said; “you’ve got no more conversation and greater powers of observation than a bale of wool. There’s that fellow Commins still talking to the Commodore and oiling his jaw-tackle with iced champagne, the lubber; and to think you might be enjoying the same privileges if you only had the wit to make yourself agreeable.”

“I don’t care for champagne iced.”

“You don’t, eh? but maybe you’d care to be seated where he is, within the range of those lustrous eyes, or was it luminous you called them, for all the world as though you were speaking of a black cat in a coal-cellar? And such cigars as she smokes, too?”

“She doesn’t smoke cigars!”

“Man, I saw the glow of one last night, burning red, and lighting, by its reflection, the dark splendour of her eyes, as you magnificently put it.”

“It was a cigarette, and you might know, if you were not always between waking and sleeping, that most high-bred Spanish women smoke them, and think no more of it than a dab of powder.”

“Then you were smoking the cigar, and I was awake enough to see that the fierce light of the cigar was closer than the breadth of my hand to the tiny glow of the dainty cigarette. I’ve been thinking whether I ought to congratulate you or her first.”

“Don’t be an ass, Webster; I was merely explaining to her the map of the stars.”

“Then there’s nothing between you?”

“Nothing but the length of the ship.”

“Then that relieves my heart of a great pressure, which has sat there ever since I had salt junk for breakfast. I shall propose to the Commodore myself.”

“The devil you will!” said Frank, rising to his elbow, and regarding Webster with anxiety.

The Lieutenant sighed, and then winked solemnly.

“Yes, my boy, for I’m sick to death of seeing that red-banded dandy flashing his teeth in the face of her as though he were the only man on board with courage enough to make love to a pretty girl.”

“You are fooling.”

“Not me. I’ve been thinking, and it occurred to me that I’ve lived long enough in a circle. I want to pass the remainder of my life in a square house with someone like the Commodore, who won’t obey orders. She would want to paint the walls yellow to match her complexion, and I would tell the Quartermaster to paint them blue to remind me of the sea. The house would have a flat roof with a flag-post on the weather quarter. I would hoist my colours in the morning, and she would bend on hers in the afternoon, for I’ve noticed that a woman grows more active as the day dwindles. It is a trait she enjoys in common with cats.”

“My dear fellow,” said Frank earnestly, “all you have to do is to give her a sketch of that programme, and that will be enough in the way of wooing.”

“Can you suggest any improvement?”

“Well, you would do well to hint at the luxury of green blinds for the windows, and pictures on the walls.”

“If there is one thing I detest more than soda with whisky, it’s satire; you should leave such weapons to that glass-eyed lubber aft, who always looks at me as if I were a monstrosity, and sets my muscles moving to catch him by the neck. Now, Frank, for the honour of all good men, sail in and win the prize. I mean it. You can see for yourself that the fellow is every kind of a rogue, and though the Commodore doesn’t answer well to the helm, it would be a wicked shame to see her taken in tow by that shark. Hang me if the fellow was not rattling dice last night with that black-hearted piccaroon, Juarez.”

“Is that a fact?”

“Ay, that it is; and it came across me that the two of them were too friendly for our safety. It was about four bells, and I had gone below to turn in, when I heard the unmistakable rattle, and peeping in through the ventilator above the door, saw the two of them hard at it, with the everlasting bottle at their elbows.”

“Have you told the Captain?”

“I did; and he scowled horribly. You know how pleasant he looks when he is put out; and he went down straightway and tumbled the gentle pirate into his cell, at the same time threatening to clap Commins in irons if he sought such congenial society again.”


“Commins swore most foully. I never thought the creature had such a command of language; but the skipper asked him if he would complain to the Commodore, when he calmed down rapidly into soft words and treacherous smiles. I tell you he is a plotter, and if anything goes wrong with the rebels—the National party, by compliment—he would sell us for a brass candlestick. Now, if you will dash in, cut him out as he lies at his moorings in the light of her friendship, I will not bring my fascination to bear upon her.”

“I’m afraid it’s hopeless,” said Frank, with a sigh; “and don’t you think we are talking without book?—for we have no reason to suppose that she wishes to be freed from the attentions of Mr Commins, still less that she is in any danger from him.”

“You’ve got too much of the calculating machine in you, Frank—a defect we sailors don’t possess. This is a matter not to be reasoned about I can feel in my marrow that the man is a scheming rascal.”

The Quartermaster struck eight bells, and Webster went off to take a sight, the Captain having already entered upon that daily task.

They were three days off Cape Verde, having made the islands to take in more coal, and were making across the Atlantic, in a south-westerly course, right out of the track of vessels. When Hume, who was looking forward listlessly, cried out, “Ship ahead!” there was unusual interest aroused, and glasses were brought to bear upon the distant speck.

“A steamer!” cried Captain Pardoe, “and lying to, for there’s not so much as a stain of smoke against the blue of the sky beyond.”

The men and officers, now thoroughly aroused from their drowsy torpor, stared at the distant ship which had so suddenly slipped from the horizon into this silent sea.

“Do you make out any signals, Mr Webster?”

“No, sir; but I can’t see a single boat, and it seems to me the tackle is hanging from the davits.”

“Strange,” muttered the Captain; “for there have been no indications of storm. Maybe the boats are out for some business of life-saving.” And he swept his glass to right and left of the steamer, which was rapidly taking shape to the naked eye.

“Bring her round a couple of spokes—so. Hold her at that.” The Swift bore down straight for the stranger, and for some minutes not a word was spoken on her, as every man eagerly searched the ship, and then the smooth water about her, for the first trace of any sign that would explain the mystery of her fixed and lonely state. The belt of sea beyond widened out, her straight bows rose higher; a sailor picked out the red band round her funnel, and now one, and then another, with a quick cry, averred they saw men on board; but yet there was no sign of her boats, or trace of smoke.

“She has a slight list to starboard, Mr Webster.”

“I marked that, sir; but she has not settled down, and can’t be making water.”

“She looks over seaworthy for a castaway. Who is it can see a man on board?”

The sailor Dick touched his cap. “There’s a chap swinging on the starboard side, sir, just below the forward davits, and there’s another lying on the booby-trap.”

The other men looked at Dick, then, with knitted brows under the shade of their flat palms, gazed intently at the spots indicated; but, failing to make out any object so small at such a distance, they all turned to watch the Captain, and judged from the sharp inquiring glance he threw at the Lieutenant before taking a longer view that there was now some key to the mystery.

“There certainly is a man up aloft, and another hanging at the side; but he is strangely still.”

“It seems to me his legs move,” muttered Webster. “My God! what is that below him?”

To the straining looks of the excited crew there flashed for a moment a speck of white at the side of the ship, followed by a faint toss of spray against the black hull.

“’Tis a shark!” shouted Dick.

Another pause succeeded, and from the doors there peered out the grim faces of half a dozen stokers, who had, down below, felt the contagion of excitement.

“There has been foul play,” said the Captain; “no live man would remain within a yard of those gaping jaws and not struggle to escape.”

“Fire a blank charge, Mr Webster.”

The twelve-pounder roared its summons, loud enough to wake the dead, but no white face was lifted over the bulwarks of the vessel, and no movement came from the two still forms.

“Make ready to launch the boat.”

There was a rush of naked feet, four men tumbled into the boat with Webster; the ropes were loosened, and the davits swung out.

“Captain, what is that dark cloud beyond the ship?” asked Miss Anstrade, who had been standing on the bridge with a look of wonder in her face.

“A capful of wind, Miss Laura.”

The steamer soon heeled over slowly to the breeze; then her stern, making a ripple on the water, came round, and she lay broadside on, showing the high poops, lofty bridge, and deep, well-like quarter-deck of the ocean tramp. The strange figure hanging over the swell of her bows swung to the lazy motion of the ship, his feet nearly touching the heave of the sea made by the list.

Out of that swell there rose the gleaming belly of the great fish, the next moment the ropes hung limp against the ship!

A murmur of horror rose from the Swift, and Miss Anstrade caught Frank convulsively by the arm. “O Sancta Sanctissima!” she cried, “what a fearful thing is the sea!”

Yet it could not have been more peaceful, as it came with a soft caressing ripple against the grey sides of the catcher, its glossy surface belying the evidence of that ghastly tragedy, whose eddying ripples it had hastily smoothed away.

And the derelict, lazily dipping, pointed her tall narrow bows once more at the Swift, and seemed to the sailor-men to appeal to them in her helplessness; so they pitied her as if she had been a living thing.

“What is the matter with her?” asked Miss Anstrade, her face still white.

“She has been abandoned, evidently; but I must find out why, for she appears to be seaworthy. Her rigging is uninjured; she cannot be making water, and if her steam-gear were damaged she could trust to her sails.”

The Swift was now within a few lengths of the derelict, and passing under her stern, turned to examine her port side.

There, at last, was some evidence of violence, for one of her iron plates had been ripped open, the port side of the bridge had been completely swept away, and there were two jagged holes in her forward bulwark, the jagged ends projecting out, while fragments of a boat hung from her davits.

“She’s been under fire!” said the Captain in astonishment.

“Ay, ay, raked fore and aft by bow chasers,” was the comment of the men.

“Stand by to lower the boat. Let go!” The boat sank to the sea, shipshape and even, and Hume, with a word to the Captain, slipped down into her.

“Give way!” cried Webster, standing up in the stern-sheets. The men put their backs into it, and very soon an active tar, making use of his toes and hands, was on the quarter-deck. He took one quick look around, then let down a rope, up which the rest scrambled one after the other. An extraordinary spectacle met their gaze: the well was littered with splinters; the ladder reaching to the main-deck was smashed; the entrance to the alley-way blocked with the iron wall of the cabin, which had been torn away from its fastenings. On the starboard side, however, the deck was clear, and passing round, they went up the step to the main-deck. The starboard side here was free, but on the port side the deck was ploughed up, and hampered with a part of the bridge and portion of the boat, while the row of skylights were shattered into pieces.

Sending a couple of men aloft to bring down the man on the booby, Webster and Hume went below to examine the state-room. The table was set for dinner, but the plates were clean, and the meal had not been served. Fallen over on the table was a—bottle of whisky, from which the spirit had run out over the cloth, still filling the room with a strong odour, and on the floor was a broken glass. The cabin door opening into the saloon was open, and an inspection showed that the contents had been overhauled, the boxes standing open, and the floors covered with clothing which had been hastily tossed out.

On a small table, in the Captain’s room, was the log-book, the last entry broken off—

“1 degree North latitude, 30 West longitude. Towards evening sighted a cruiser, which showed the Brazilian (National) colours, and held on. She signalled for our colours. Run up the National flag, when she hauled down her colour and ran up the Government flag, at the same time signalling us to lay-to. Expecting little mercy if she found out the nature of our cargo, made a run for it. She gave chase, and opened fire with her bow guns. Cruiser gave up the chase at dusk, just as a discharge from her bow guns severely mauled us. Irene making water fast, and resolved to take the boats and—”

“That explains her state,” mused Webster, as he turned over the pages of the log, which showed that the Irene, 1,500 tons, had left Bristol for Rio in June, 1893, and had up to the last entry made an uneventful voyage.

“It’s a monstrous thing,” said Frank, “that a peaceful merchant steamer should have been served in this way.”

“She probably carries contraband of war, and navy men don’t go to much ceremony before playing bowls with a blockade-runner. Ask the skipper; he’s been at the game often, and by the same token I believe he took command of the Swift to wipe off old scores. Let’s get below.”

Calling two of the men, Webster lifted a hatchway, and, with a lantern from the storeroom, descended to investigate, and was not long in finding that the main hold contained a large shipment of rifles packed in cases. Returning to deck, they found the two men who had been sent aloft standing by the side of a young sailor who had been struck in the head, evidently by a fragment of iron. He was stiff in death, and Webster, with a gentle touch, drew the eyelids over the blue eyes.

He then turned to the side to haul in the ropes, from which that other figure had swung. There was a loop in the end, in which the unfortunate man in launching the forward boat had probably been entangled, and overlooked by his comrades in the dark. Subdued and saddened by what they had seen, they returned to the Swift, and Webster made his report.

“A blockade-runner,” said the Captain, his gloomy eyes lighting up; “and full of arms. What a prize she would be for the rebels!”

“And for us, too,” said Mr Commins quickly. There was a long pause, and the Captain paced restlessly to and fro, casting quick glances at the derelict. “She would mean a fortune,” he continued slowly, “for I happen to know that the land forces of the National party are badly armed. Now, Captain, here is an opportunity that falls right into your mouth, and I would strongly urge you to accept the gift. I admit I was wrong about the Esperanza, but concerning the advisability of taking possession of this rich derelict there can surely be no two opinions.”

“But I should have to place a crew on board, and that would weaken us,” said the Captain, with an air as though he liked the proposal.

“I, myself, don’t see any bar to that arrangement,” said Commins, stroking his chin, and eyeing the Captain thoughtfully. “I dare say now, with half our crew, you yourself could undertake to run the blockade with that ship.”

“I am not going to leave the Swift,” said the Captain roughly.

“I should hope not,” laughed Commins. “I had in mind the history of some of your daring trips as blockade-runner, and, of course, as I presume, Mr Webster, and our young friend, Mr Hume, with as few men as you could spare, could be put on board. They could make for some port north of Rio, and after reporting her whereabouts and arranging for the reward, you could re-ship the crew previous to carrying out the object of this voyage.”

“That would mean delay, and Miss Anstrade may object,” urged the Captain, who, nevertheless, was evidently pleased with the scheme.

“You have heard the Captain’s suggestion, madam,” said Commins, turning to Miss Anstrade, “which seems to me very important, and which, if carried out, would have a most valuable bearing on our chance of success. With that ship and its cargo in our hands we could, with confidence, ask for every assistance from the national commanders ashore and afloat.”

Miss Anstrade knitted her brows as she looked at the speaker.

“You know my wish,” she said wearily, “is to reach Rio as soon as possible. I understand you to say that the cargo of yonder ship would realise a fortune, and it seems to me if I demanded from my struggling countrymen money in return for services, they would be under no indebtedness to me. If we are to weaken our strength to save that ship I would prefer to give it up without any question of reward.”

“But you have no objection to the crew sharing in any prize money that may be offered,” said Commins quickly, with a side glance at the Captain.

“None whatever,” she said coolly.

“And you consent to our saving the ship?”

“I suppose so, though I clearly see my opinion would not be considered if it were opposed to the step.”

“Not so, madam,” said Captain Pardoe. “That ship and its cargo should realise 90,000 pounds, but if you say leave it, I will send her to the bottom, so that she shall not fall into the enemy’s hands.”

“Do as you wish,” she said, with a sad smile, and turned away with a sigh.

The Captain and Mr Commins continued eagerly to discuss the matter, while Hume, who had been standing near with Webster, plucked the latter by the sleeve to draw him aside.

“Well, what do you think of this new scheme?”

“I don’t know that I like it over well, but I judge the temptation would prove a strong one for the Captain. It is a big stroke of luck, after all.”

“The Captain appears to be rather keen upon money making.”

“I suppose he is,” said Webster slowly; “and so are most men when they have the chance. Would you say there was any sentiment about the skipper?”

“As little as there is about that twelve-pounder.”

“That’s where you lose your compass,” said Webster gravely. “For fifteen years the Captain’s dream has been to save money enough to make a home for his future wife, my sister, Hume. When I was a boy at school he was courting her—a fine, high-spirited fellow, with a way about him that won everybody’s goodwill. I have marked him grow more silent and stern as the years went by, and I have seen my sister’s gaiety grow into a sweet and tender patience; but never a word of marriage from him. He was waiting for his fortune, and twice he made it and lost it, once after ten years in the merchant service, when he was wrecked, and once after running a blockade, when he was captured and imprisoned by the Peruvians. ‘’Tis coming, love,’ he would say; ‘a house for you and a little farmyard for me, down in the old county.’ Poor little Loo! I think I see her now sitting, as sometimes she would when the housework was done, with her hands in her lap, looking wistfully into the future. God grant her wishes may be fulfilled!”

“I say no more about the Captain,” said Frank warmly, “except to echo your prayer. For his sake I hope this plan will carry through well, but after what you said of Commins I am suspicious. He may have some design in dividing our strength.”

“No doubt he has, but he might as safely light a cigar at a volcano as attempt to win over any of our men.”

The Captain’s voice here rang out:

“Mr Webster, we will lay by till morning. Take all the men on board and get it as shipshape as possible. Find, if you can, the supercargo’s manifesto, and if you can’t, then make a rough inventory of the cargo.”

The Swift was laid alongside the Irene, on her weather side, and moored fore and aft, the smoothness of the sea permitting this. In this position the low funnels did not rise above the lofty side of the steamer, and she was completely hidden from the view of any vessel coming up on the starboard side. Her fires were damped down, steam shut off, and the engineer and his staff were soon busy in the engine-room of the Irene, while the Quartermaster, with his men, smartly cleared away the litter in readiness for the carpenters.

So the work went briskly on, and in the quiet of the evening, in the presence of all the crew, the body of the dead sailor lad, sewn up in a sail-cloth, was committed to the deep sea, the bass voice of the Captain ringing out solemnly in the impressive silence. And when the last eddy had died away the Captain shivered and drew his hand across his brow.

Maybe the summons for him also had already sounded, and he paced the deck long into the night.

Chapter Thirteen.

The Sea Fight.

The Swift had been almost deserted, as the larger decks of the Irene offered an irresistible attraction, and when the work was abandoned at dusk the crew took possession of the forecastle, while Miss Anstrade, with Hume and Webster, lingered on the poop, after surrendering the main-deck amidships to the Captain, who preferred his own company. Mr Commins, alone for choice, remained on the catcher, and for a long time the glow of his cigar could be seen under the small awning, while Juarez, over whom he had offered to keep strict watch, lay near, under the shadow of a lamp, smoking cigarettes. The Brazilian Captain had never been permitted to appear on deck when Miss Anstrade was there, and his close confinement below had not improved his naturally brutal nature, but he had tamed his temper down to the point of almost abject humility in imploring the Captain to let him on deck. Now the guttural tones of his voice could be heard as he made occasionally a few remarks to Mr Commins, the only man who cared to hold converse with him.

The night was beautiful, the dark vault of the sky gloriously gemmed down to the dark belt of the horizon, while out of the intense black of the sea there gleamed, near at hand, swordlike flashes of phosphorescent fire from predatory fish, and between the sea and the sky there was no living thing to break the brooding silence. The men, glad of the opportunity to stretch their legs, were soon asleep, and, except for an occasional murmur of voices from the three on the poop and the rough burr of Juarez at intervals, there was no sound on board. The swell of the sea rising and sinking between the catcher and the Irene made a soft ripple, followed by a deep sigh, having a power in its melancholy music to draw Miss Anstrade to the port side, where she had leant with her elbows on the rail, until at the dim sight of Juarez she started back with a shudder of revulsion and sought the remoter side.

There the three of them leant, the efforts of the two men to talk to the girl between them gradually lessening to complete silence. She had changed greatly since the excitement of the wild rush to Madeira, had grown listless, the womanhood in her revolting against the strain and burden she had rashly imposed on herself, and at each sign of helplessness the two young men had felt more tender towards her, trying, each in his own way, to show their sympathy. They had talked often together about the object of the voyage, and, sanguine though they were with the ardour of youth, they could see nothing but disaster before them, while the desperate nature of the enterprise had also come home to her. Presently, with a moan, she thrust her hands forward:

“There is nothing but failure before me, and perhaps death.”

“You are over-worn,” said Frank gently; “and, indeed, the Swift is too rough a boat for a lady.”

“Ay, that it is, Miss Laura,” said Webster, “and, as for talk of failure or death, they are for us to prove, and not for you, who are made for better things. This steamer has been thrown across us by the mercy of Providence, and it is your duty almost to accept the gift, and embark in it for a safe port.”

“I despise myself,” she said wearily; “but I have no courage and no hope, and shudder at the thought of remaining on the Swift. I cannot understand it.”

“I think I can,” said Frank, in a low tone. “You have been mistaken in yourself, and your presence on board, in contrast with the grim ship, has seemed to me a sort of marvel. You are fitted for better things.”

“You mean I have no strength of purpose,” she said slowly. “And do you expect me to relinquish this enterprise, to go back without striking one blow, to surrender to my weakness, and for ever be a victim of my cowardice, haunted by a memory, and lashed by my conscience? No—no—never!”

She threw her head up proudly.

“You may go to safety in this ship; but—I—I will do what I have said.”

“You mistake us,” said Hume; “neither Mr Webster nor myself asks you to give up the enterprise. We have no thought of turning from it; but we do think strongly that you should not share in the work and worry of it. It is not fair to you; it is unjust to us.”

“Unjust, sir—how?”

“Madam, you may not know it, but every man on board the Swift thinks more of you than of his own safety, and if they all knew you were ashore they would be happier in working out your purpose.”

“You are right there, Frank,” said Webster. “We’d go into action with a laugh if you were not aboard, madam, but every shell would make our hearts beat with fear if you were with us.”

“Ah! my friends,” she answered with emotion, “you make my sorrow all the greater to think I should have brought you to this, and be myself so fearful of the end. Forgive me, but I am proud and weak by turns. Oh, if I had the courage of a man!”

“You are better as you are,” said Frank. “Your weakness has more power over us than if you never winced or wavered.”

Suddenly she stood back and looked at them, laughing low.

“What is it?”

“It has occurred to me, gentlemen, that you are both to remain on the Irene.”

“Yes, madam; but why does that amuse you?” said Frank helplessly.

“And so you have been scheming to have my company. I am sure I am greatly charmed, and would be more if you had not pretended an anxiety for my safety.”

“Pretended, madam!” gasped Webster. “I’ll see the Captain hanged before I leave the Swift. He can sail this old tub himself, so that he takes you with her.”

“Thank you, sir,” she said, with another rippling laugh, “though you might have turned me over to the Captain more gracefully. And you, Mr Hume?”

“We are plain men,” he began stiffly.

“Yes, you are very plain, and very stupid.”

At this unexpected retort the two men fell into a gloomy silence, being too much in earnest and too greatly surprised to laugh.

“Ah, dear,” she said, “that I had one woman with me, then I could laugh, and rage, and weep upon her neck within a minute, and have no ill looks in return. Come, my friends, be not angry.”

She gave each one a hand, and each raised it to his lips, which showed that they could express themselves well in deeds, though not in words.

She placed both hands to her cheeks, and her fine eyes glowed as she looked at them.

“It is the kiss of brave men,” she said in low, thrilling tones; “the pledge of your lives to me. Ah, my friends, I read that little act more clearly than what you could tell me in words, and see, for those who love you, for the mother who has treasured you, in return for the homage the strong and brave pay to woman, I kiss you.”

She leant forward, and pressed her lips to their cheeks in turn.

They stood back and straightened themselves with kindling eyes, feeling as the young knight who has received his spurs.

“Out with all lights!” It was the Captain’s voice, ringing out loud and stern.

There was a breathless pause, followed by a confused murmur of voices.

“Silence, forward, there. Is that you, Mr Dixon?”—a quiet, grave man, whose heart was with his wife and child at home.

“Yes, sir.”

“Get up steam, but be careful with your fire.”

“What can the matter be?” gasped Miss Anstrade, at the sound of men moving quietly from the Irene into the Swift.

Webster, at the first cry from the Captain, had sprung to the bulwark, holding to a wire rope-stay.

“There’s a steamer’s lights away aft. I wonder she has escaped us.”

The Captain’s dark form appeared on the poop.

“Mr Webster, see the fires relit on this ship.”

“Ay, ay, sir. What do you make her out to be?”

“When did you mark her?”

“When you called, sir.”

“Ah! She appeared an hour since, and I judge from her movements and her lights she is a man-of-war, probably the same cruiser which surprised this ship before.”

“Do you think she has seen us?”

“I’m afraid so, though our lights must be very dim, for she altered her course and is bearing down. She may pass us, unless she brings the spars of the Irene against a star. I won’t leave this prize, however, until I am obliged.”

Webster moved off, and the others, including the sailors on board, watched the approaching vessel; while Mr Commins, who could not, of course, see the stranger from the hidden catcher, hurried on board to find out the cause of the commotion.

“You think she is the Brazilian steamer?” he said in a voice of alarm, listening to the explanation. “Curse it! Misfortune dogs us. I wish we were out of this!”

“Speak for yourself,” answered the Captain in a growl.

Mr Commins lingered awhile, and then went off to give the news to Juarez, who received it with a savage laugh.

The red light rapidly approached through the black of the night, and it was evident she would pass very near. The excitement grew rapidly as the news was passed from mouth to mouth in rapid whispers.

“Mr Hume, will you help Miss Anstrade to the Swift; pass the word to the men to get on board, and have them stationed at the guns.”

In a few minutes Captain Pardee was the only man on board the Irene, with the exception of the stokers, who were busily preparing the fires.

To those in the Swift who could see nothing there followed a long and anxious state of suspense, broken at last by the low voice of the Captain speaking from above.

“Mr Hume, stand by to slip the fastenings.”

They held their breath, listening, and to them came the regular beat of engines.

Louder and louder grew the noise, but they could see nothing of the danger, and its imminence seemed to them the nearer. There was a movement in the air, the pulsation of the distant screw affected them so that they believed the Swift itself was throbbing, and presently the Irene leant over towards them gently, and as gently rolled away.

“’Tis the wave from her wake,” muttered the Quartermaster.

The sound of the engines gradually lessened.

The Captain’s figure appeared above. “She has passed,” he said.

There was a rush for the tall sides of the Irene, and presently everyone was staring forward at a green light fast diminishing in the dark, now at its blackest before the dawn.

“Thank God for His mercy,” murmured Miss Anstrade, who had stood near Hume silent and white, though without a sign of fear.

“You may well say that, Miss Laura,” said the Captain.

The green light sunk rapidly, and had almost disappeared, when suddenly a brilliant glare shot up, throwing a sickly light over the group on the poop.

The Captain gave a bound to the side, and next minute there was a hoarse cry as his pistol rang out.

“It is that villain Juarez; send his black soul to hell! Overboard with him!” roared the Captain.

The black-bearded Quartermaster, balancing himself on the rail a moment, sprang to the iron deck below, and next minute there was a howl of mingled fear and rage, followed by a splash.

“Launch the boat, and smother that light with a sail!”

The Captain gnashed his teeth as he glared at the brilliant flare from a life-saving light floating on the quiet waters, and sending forth an appeal to the distant battleship. Mr Commins stood in the catcher near the spot where the slinking figure of Juarez had been shot down, seemingly without power to move, as he looked horror-struck at the dark waters.

Without a second’s delay the boat was launched, and a strip of canvas thrown over the light, when the darkness settled down blacker than before. But the mischief had been done, and sullen looks were directed at the dim speck in the distance.

“Ay, ay, there she comes round,” said the sailor Dick. In the distance a red light replaced the green, but as they watched it suddenly disappeared.

“She has gone,” said Miss Anstrade, with an hysterical sob.

The Captain shook his head.

“She has put out her lights, and will hang about till morning.”

“We’d better slip away, sir,” said Webster.

The Captain lifted his fist, and banged it into his open hand.

“By the Lord,” he growled, “I’ll not leave this ship without a fight for it!”

The Captain, however, gave way so far to the urgent protestations of Miss Anstrade, that he abandoned any idea of placing a crew on board the derelict until daylight revealed whether there was any chance of getting clear away. Fires were kept going on board the Swift, a look-out was stationed on the larger vessel, and the men were sent to their berths. Miss Anstrade retired to snatch an uneasy sleep, and the Captain, leaving Webster and Hume in charge, went also to his cabin, falling almost immediately into a sound sleep. The small hours of the night passed anxiously to the two officers who patrolled the poop of the Irene in silence, listening for any sound that would indicate the whereabouts of the stranger. There was, however, no sign of her presence, and when the intense darkness of the night began to fade before the dawn, a thick, white, low-lying mist wrapped the ship as in an impenetrable cloak.

Webster, to get a view over the mist, if possible, went aloft, his figure soon becoming blurred, and after a long stay, descended rapidly.

“She is near us,” he said in an excited whisper to Hume. “Waken the Captain. We could slip away without being seen.”

Very soon Captain Pardoe climbed on board, and heard what his Lieutenant had to say.

“I should judge her position to be about a mile on the starboard beam, and she is steaming ahead at eight knots. If the mist doesn’t lift we could easily slip her by making a nor’-west course.”

“Which way is the wind? Ah! blowing across to her. She would hear us getting under way. We’ll lie close awhile; but do you, meanwhile, Mr Hume, rouse the crew; see they have a nip to warm them up, and get them to their quarters quickly and in silence. Is all in readiness on board the ship, Mr Webster?”

“Yes, sir—except the crew.”

“I’ll take a look at her myself;” and the Captain went heavily into the rattlins.

There was a movement on the Swift as the men presently went to their stations, and a sound of murmuring voices, followed, presently, by the rush of escaping steam from both vessels as the fires were stirred. A few minutes more, and the stranger would put himself out of hearing. The engineer stood in readiness to set the screw in motion, and men were at hand ready to throw off the lashings which moored the catcher to the Irene. Suddenly, however, the mist began rapidly to melt, showing in an instant almost a wide stretch of grey water.

The Captain reached the deck with a bound, just as the notes of a boatswain’s whistle came faintly over the still waters from beyond the melting mist.

“She has seen us,” said the Captain hoarsely.

As he spoke, there appeared the blurred outline of a big ship, about a mile and a half distant, over the starboard stern, and the next instant she stood out, broadside on, just as she came round, with tall masts, and lofty sides of gleaming white.

“She has caught us, Captain,” said Webster quietly; “and we could easily have got away in the night.”

The Captain turned on his heels with a stormy look on his face, and walked a few steps, when he stood with his eyes bent on the deck. Then he threw his head up, gazed keenly at the cruiser, and when he faced Webster again his mind was made up.

“On board,” he cried, waving his hand to the catcher, and in a moment was on the deck of the smaller ship.

“Madam and men,” he said in his deep tones, “the ship we saw last night is, I fear, a cruiser of the Brazilian navy. She is near us, and if she is an enemy we are in danger. The blame is mine. I should have kept on instead of remaining to save this vessel.”

Miss Anstrade made as though she would speak, but the Captain waved his hand.

“Madam—Miss Laura—no words you could say would add to the regret I feel. But there is no time. I have brought you into this peril, and please God I will deliver you. I want nine men to fight this ship. Who volunteers?”

There was a moment’s pause as the men looked at one another, then the Quartermaster stood out.

“We are all yours, Captain; to the last man.”

“Ay, ay,” came the response.

A dull flush crept into the Captain’s face. “Thank you, men,” he said quietly; “but I want nine only. Quartermaster, select eight. Mr Hume, help Miss Anstrade on board. Mr Webster, take command of the Irene, and make full steam as soon as I engage the cruiser.”

The men lingered reluctantly, and Miss Anstrade, with heaving breast, stood looking at the Captain.

“Quick, Mr Hume,” said the Captain, and at the same moment he took Miss Anstrade by the hand and led her to the ladder. “I am very sorry,” he said; then his hand was seized by a sailor, and all the men in turn wrung his hand as they passed.

He looked round, and saw Webster standing by the engineer.

“Come, Jim, my boy,” he said to the Lieutenant, “it is your duty to save Miss Anstrade.”

Webster moved forward with a strange look in his face.

“Remember Loo,” he said hoarsely, “and let me stay here.”

“It cannot be, my lad. Good-bye, my boy, good-bye, and tell her I did what she would expect me to. Up.” He almost forced Webster to the ladder, then turned.

“Mr Dixon,” he said, and looked at the engineer. “If I could spare you I would, for it’s death before us.”

The engineer smiled softly.

“I am not sorry, Captain,” he said, “for I understand.”

He took one last look round at the wide sea and crimson heavens, then his lips moved, he turned to grasp the Captain’s outstretched hand, and the two men looked into one another’s eyes.

A pale figure of a man slipped out of the door and made furtively for the steps.

“Mr Commins,”—the Captain’s hand was laid upon his arm—“you will stay with me, for your scheming nature and coward heart have brought us to this.”

Mr Commins trembled beneath the gloomy eyes turned upon him, cast one imploring look at the faces above, then, without a word, allowed the Captain to lead him to the cabin door.

The sound of a gun broke with relief upon the strained nerves of the spectators.

“Cut the moorings!”

Silently the men on the Irene cut through the ropes, and the Swift floated free.

There was another sullen report, and a shell tore through the tall rigging of the Irene.

The big, white cruiser, with a cloud of smoke hanging about her sides, was leisurely steaming up about half a mile distant, and there was no question of her nature, nor of the ferocity of her commander, who could ruthlessly open fire for sheer devilment on a defenceless ship, for the Swift was up to the present completely hidden.

What must have been the astonishment of her people when, following their last shot, there broke from the blockade-runner a murmur of cheering as every soul on board cracked his throat in sending up a loud hurrah for the Swift and her gallant crew; and when, immediately afterwards, there shot out from the shadow of the Irene a long, low grey craft. When the hunter, coming upon the dead quarry he had wounded earlier in the day, suddenly discovers, crouching behind, the striped body of the tiger, his feeling of dismay, perhaps, would be the same.

“Captain! Captain!” cried Miss Anstrade, “what are you doing? Ah, heaven, I see it now; may the saints preserve him!” She caught hold of a rope, and stood looking from the catcher to the towering battleship, with its broadside pierced for heavy guns, and its decks crowded with men.

“Oh,” she said, “it is cruel!”

Captain Pardoe stood on the bridge before entering the conning-tower, his glass to his eyes, and his feet braced apart. Then he turned and waved his hand to the Irene, bringing it to his mouth in a trumpet.

“Steam away at full speed, and make for Cape Verde. Good-bye.”

Another cheer, strangely hoarse, broke from the Irene, and was responded to by the men on the catcher, and a moment later the four-inch gun opened fire with a roar. The smaller guns spoke, and the whole five of them flashed out shot after shot, making such a volume of smoke that the low ship was at once completely hidden from those on the Irene.

“My God,” murmured Webster, “why did I not stay with him?”

“Don’t let his sacrifice be in vain,” said Hume, touching Webster on the shoulder. “He will be happier if he knows we can escape.”

“It is terrible, Frank; I cannot give the order. Do so yourself.”

Hume sadly went to the bridge and gave the order for full speed ahead, but the Irene had not gone a mile when, as though by common consent, the steamer slowed down, and everyone on board, even to the stokers, crowded on to the stern poop to watch the unequal battle, letting the steamer drift as she liked.

The cruiser had made not the slightest attempt to stop the Irene, for the storm of shot bursting in a sudden upon her, when she was in the full security of conscious strength, had plunged her into a state of wild confusion. At the first smash and yell of the missiles along her sides and through her tall rigging, there had been a wild rush from her decks as the terrified crew sought shelter from the mysterious enemy, and their panic was increased by the fierce bombardment which the catcher poured in from her five quick-firing guns at the rate of thirty shots a minute. They saw approaching a revolving cloud of smoke, out of which there flashed flames of fire, and the cruiser fairly turned and fled, pouring in a scattering broadside which went wide of the mark.

When the Irene slowed down, the cruiser, about two miles distant, was steaming on a south-west course, and the Swift was turning under cover of her smoke, which hung low on the water. The men on the derelict raised cheer on cheer in a state of great exultation.

“It is magnificent,” said Miss Anstrade, with shining eyes. “Why don’t you cheer, Mr Webster?” and she gave out a ringing cry.

“It is too good to be true,” murmured the Lieutenant, as he anxiously watched the cruiser. “Ah, I feared so. See, he is coming round.”

The stately white ship, making a wide sweep to port, came round, letting go her broadside of six guns and her two heavy bow chasers before she steadied on a course which would bring her very soon opposite the Irene. The water about the Swift was torn up, and she heeled over to the shock.

“She is struck!”

“Good God, she is sinking!”

“No; hurrah! she is righting.”

Miss Anstrade covered her face with her hands, then threw them from her with a passionate gesture, while Webster and Hume stood by with white, set faces.

The Swift had pointed her bows at the cruiser, and was firing now only with her four-inch, at the same time steaming slowly astern, as though waiting for some opening.

The contrast between the combatants was most striking, as the Swift lay broadside on to the Irene, a long, low, grey line on the great waste, while, though further off, the high bows of the cruiser, her lofty decks and towering spars, loomed vast and terrible.

“God’s truth!” cried one sailor, smashing his brawny fist against the bulwarks, in a fury; “it’s wrong; it’s a shame; they’re not matched!”

“Watch him; he’s porting his helm.”

The cruiser was now altering her course, and the water was piled up as she turned a few points to port, bringing her bow chasers to bear on the Swift.

“They’ll rake the Swift fore and aft; sweep her guns away,” muttered Webster, moistening his lips.

“Look! there he goes! God bless the Captain! Hurrah for our mates!”

The Swift suddenly moved ahead, and gaining way from the tremendous power of her engines, leapt towards her huge opponent. That moment the heavy guns roared, but the shells missed their prey by a few feet. As it was the two funnels were sheered off as though they had been cut, and the fragments whirled aloft. Then the catcher’s guns maintained a furious fire as she swept on, but the cruiser, completing her manoeuvre, went round to port, and from her bow to her stern her broadside guns thundered one after the other.

A shudder, a hoarse murmur of grief, ran round the group on the Irene.

Out of the smoke the Swift swept to leeward, rolling heavily. Her long gun had been torn away from its fastenings and thrown across the ship, the shields about the twelve-pounders were battered down, and the brave men who had served them were stretched motionless.

Her guns were silenced. There remained yet her torpedoes, but were there any left to work them?

The cruiser was still going round to bring her port broadside to bear, and it all depended now whether Captain Pardoe could turn the Swift, carry her under the stern of the enemy, and discharge his torpedoes.

But the Swift rolled heavily, and at the moment when she should have turned to starboard her bows went round.

“Her steering gear has been injured,” said Webster, with a groan.

Out of the raffle, forward by the conning-tower, a man appeared, and with a perceptible stagger reeled aft to the wheel, which had escaped uninjured.

“’Tis the Quartermaster,” whispered the men.

From the cruiser’s deck men fired at him, but he reached the wheel, and threw his strength into it.

Then on the shattered portion of the bridge there stood the figure of the Captain. A moment he looked around him, then above his head to the summit of a single bare pole on board there mounted a black ball, and there streamed out the red and blue of the Union Jack!

Both ships came round, the Swift stem on, and the cruiser with her broadside.

The six guns flashed together in one thunderous roar, the Swift seemed to shrink at the shock, her decks were swept, the bridge torn to fragments; then she leapt forward and buried her ram in the body of her great enemy. Through iron and wood the spur of steel forced its way, and the splinters and crash could be heard above the fierce lashings of the screws and the wild cries of the crew.

For a breathless pause the catcher battered at the wound she had made; then she was swept round against the side of the cruiser, and sunk stern foremost. Into the whirlpool made the cruiser dipped her wounded side, her decks came over at first slowly to the weight of rushing water; then, with a mighty smash her masts struck the sea and she turned bottom up; there was a flash of shining copper, and then the waves above her closed, with a rush, and there was nothing but tossing foam to mark where the two antagonists had gone down, almost locked together in their last deadly embrace.

Chapter Fourteen.

“Take me with you.”

The terrible swiftness of the tragedy following upon the fierce combat had left the spectators on the Irene stupefied. They gazed at the tossing waters with startled eyes, and when they withdrew their gaze, and would look at each other, there came between them the vision of falling spars, of people precipitated headlong into the sea, and of a great ship rolling over on them.

Then some of the men sobbed, and some swore.

Webster whispered the name of his sister, and Miss Anstrade seemed to shrink within herself.

Their comrades, those brave hearts, gone, gone in a few minutes, and to save them!

They put about, steamed slowly over the waste of waters, where floated a litter of wreckage, and rescued half a dozen Brazilian sailors. Of Captain Pardoe, or any of his gallant band, there was no trace, and the Irene moved up and down among the wreckage, while those on board searched in vain for a familiar form.

Then Lieutenant Webster steered for the east.

The venture was over. The Irene, battered as she was, could not dare to risk another meeting with a cruiser, and so, sick at heart and indifferent, Webster accepted Hume’s advice and steamed away from Brazil.

As for Miss Anstrade, she went, feeling her way, like one blinded, to the cabin that had been prepared for her, and there sat white and silent, while her dark eyes, glaring with an unnatural light, moved restlessly from object to object. In the afternoon she rushed on deck in a raging fever, and, calling on her brother and Captain Pardoe, would have leapt overboard had not Hume caught her as her hand was on the rigging. He and Webster carried her down, struggling pitifully, and in turns the two of them watched through the night by her side, their sorrow tinged with awe and bitterness, because of their helplessness, at the pathetic ravings of a mind in delirium.

Through the next dreary day they continued their vigil, and the sailors, gathering in groups, added to the gloom of the ship by their distressed air and dark forebodings.

“They knew it,” said they one to another. “No job of that sort, led by a woman, could succeed. It was against Nature, and the ways of the sea. The ship was doomed, and they were doomed, and they wished to God they had gone to their death bravely on the Swift.”

These were not brave words; but superstition has not been driven from the high seas by steam, and once the natural buoyancy of a sailor is steeped in the gloom of ill-luck, there is no brightness in his horizon. The heroism of Captain Pardoe and their comrades, who had courted destruction in the Swift, filled them, moreover, with a bitter feeling of irritation that they themselves should have been spared, and mingled with the dark prevailing tinge of superstition was an impulse of recklessness which, in the absence of any emergency, could find expression only in breaches of discipline. They lolled about in the shadow, seeking relief from the intolerable heat.

The man at the wheel gave a listless eye to the binnacle, and the Irene, battered, dirty, with fires ill-kept, ploughed slowly on, as melancholy, almost, as though she were still a derelict.

Webster took the sun at noon, and, utterly worn out, fell asleep over his reckonings, and so he was found in the afternoon by Hume, who came on deck from a long watch.

“Have I been asleep? There’s a heaviness in the air and a strange weight about my eyelids. How is she, Hume?”

“Quiet now, with the Captain’s boy at the door. Was it a month ago the Swift went down?”

“Only yesterday, Frank. My God! what a difference! The sea is not the same, nor the sky, nor the air we breathe, nor the look of anyone.”

“What an old tub this is, and do you note how the men hang about? I feel as though I cannot breathe freely. I have been thinking of your sister; it is a sad end to her waiting.”

“Ah! poor Loo,” murmured Webster. “Frank, I dare not go home with this story. I cannot. She will say I should have taken the risk myself.”

“Yet his death was worth living for.” Hume moved backward and forward by the chart house, while Webster gloomily looked at his figures. “Webster,” he said earnestly, “do you think there is any hope?”

“For Miss Anstrade? It is terrible that she should have fallen ill—terrible. I could have borne anything almost but that. Without a doctor, without a nurse, left to the bungling of two rough men. It will be worse still when she comes to an understanding of her helplessness.”

“You think she will recover? As I watched her this afternoon there came a transparency into her cheeks, and the crease between her brows melted, leaving a face of great calm, scarcely ruffled by a breath.”

“Sorrow kills slowly, Frank. She will overcome this weakness. Do you remember how she stood on the bridge, scorning danger, when we danced down the river and the Captain was alive?”

“And now!”

“Did you hear her call on her brother in the night? So, I thought, would a spirit call upon its partner sent into the outer darkness. Each cry has taken a year off my life, and my heart is weak now from the pain of it. Do you think that my sister also will call like that? I have been thinking that if a storm laid the ship on her beam ends, and whipped the masts from her, and called on us to fight for our lives, it would be a relief.”

Frank laid his hand gently on the Lieutenant’s shoulder.

“Let us pluck up spirit and face the storm that is in us. I, too, had a spell of despair last night till I thought of Captain Pardoe and Mr Dixon. Then I was ashamed of myself. I can see Dixon’s face now as he smiled before he stepped down to his living tomb. What do you think they would say to us if they saw us making so poor a return for their lives?”

“You are right, my lad,” said Webster slowly. “We must remember our duty to them.”

“And to our Commodore.”

“Ay; God bless her!”

“That’s right,” continued Hume, with assumed cheerfulness. “Now do you make your reckonings, and we’ll stand away for the nearest port.”

“That will be Ascension,” said Webster, after a pause.

They arrived at Ascension on a blazing hot day, and dropped anchor in the blue waters of the little bay, enclosed, not like Funchal, in a setting of green, but by an arid shore, with a waste of sands stretching back to a lofty, sun-baked hill, on which glowed one solitary spot of green. There was the Convent of Sisters, and thither was Miss Anstrade taken in a slow-moving cart.

Hume and Webster returned to the dirty little town, flanked on the inland side by a series of pits sunk in the sand for the habitation of pigs. Here they sadly arranged for the salvage of the Irene, and her crew shipped home on board a Cape steamer, they themselves remaining till Miss Anstrade was pronounced well enough, when they determined to take her passage on the first homeward-bound passenger boat.

Within the patio of the white-walled convent, where the hot air was cooled by swinging mats and the spray of a fountain, Miss Anstrade, within a week of her arrival, was reclining in a long wickerwork chair, with two young men at her side. She had quickly recovered under the tender hands of the sisters, and was now listening to the plans made for her departure for England. She was dressed in white, with a rich red rose for her only ornament, and a deep pallor in her cheeks from her recent illness, her figure, by contrast with the sun-browned men at her side, looking altogether slight and delicate.

“I understand you are not returning to England; what, then, if I may ask, are your intentions? You surely do not mean to remain on this cinder?”

“Do you remember,” said Hume, “what I told you of the Golden Rock?”

“A long time since, was it not? but I remember it well, and the strange feeling of second sight that came upon me, so that it seemed to me I saw the flash and sparkle of the Rock in a savage land. I weaved a romance about it in that time before—before the world changed to me.”

The two men looked inquiringly at each other, for they had found no romance in the thought of the Rock, only a thought of money.

“Everyone,” she continued, in a dreamy voice, “has a Golden Rock somewhere within the sweep of his horizon—a gleaming spot of brightness that fills them in times of depression with hope of better things. But you have not told me.”

“We have talked it over, and Webster has promised to throw in his lot with me, though I am afraid it will be a fearful loss of time to him.”

“This man has no imagination, Miss Anstrade,” said Webster, with a faint smile; “but as for me, I thoroughly believe in this mountain of gold that awaits us, and look upon my fortune as already made.”

“Ah! yes, it is there; and how happy you will be seeking for it, strong in your friendship and confident in your strength, while I—I must go back to the old life, a prey to my thoughts.” She brought her brows together in a frown, and then leant back in her chair with an air of depression.

“I am afraid,” said Frank slowly, “there’s little romance awaiting us, and little pleasure, for the difficulties are great.”

“Still, you will be together, and the joy of companionship compensates. When do you go?”

“By the first opportunity after you sail, Miss Anstrade.”

“So,” she said, with a sob, “you abandon me—leave me to go back alone among strangers, with my memory!”

“We will return with you, madam, if you wish it; but we could be of no further assistance to you, else, be sure, we would not have thought of our plans.”

“But I have money yet, and could equip another ship.”

“Yes, madam; but the war in Brazil is near its end. The news was brought yesterday. The Government has triumphed.”

“Ah!” She let her hands drop in her lap, and looked straight before her. “And what of my father?”

“Colonel de Anstrade lost his life in the attack upon the Castle, whilst gallantly leading a sortie on the Government troops. He died like a soldier.”

There was a long silence. She made a sign of the Cross, but gave way to no storm of weeping, being dulled by the force of grief. Presently a sister stole to her side, and they withdrew, going back to the little town to await the arrival of the steamer from Cape Town, which was reported due within two days.

Before that time, while they thought of returning for the last time to the convent, a cart drew up before the small hotel, and out of it stepped Miss Anstrade herself.

“You see,” she said, with a wan smile, “I have recovered, and since you have not been to call on me, I have come to you.”

“We were just about setting off, having waited for certain information of the steamer. If the good sisters had allowed it, we would have remained near you all the time.”

“Ay, kept watch and watch without the walls; and every night we strolled to the fort to see the distant light on the Convent Tower. If there was anything amiss with you, the sister agreed to show two lights, when we’d have posted off.”

“So you did not forget me, then?” she said, with one of her old radiant smiles.

“No more than the sailor could forget the lone star by which he steers in the dark night.”

“We have your luggage ready, Miss Anstrade,” said Hume, after handing her to a seat on the balcony, “and we are ready to go with you to England.”

“And the Golden Rock?”

“That can wait a few more months.”

“There may be others in search of it. No, you must lose no time, for success will not wait upon your leisure. Remember,” she said, with a despairing gesture, “how delay marred my plan, leaving me without a comfort or a friend in the world.”

“Are not we your friends?” they said, looking earnestly at her.

“Friends of a day—gone to-morrow—forgotten, and forgetting in a week.”

“You may forget,” murmured Frank; “but we will never.”

She looked at them a moment steadily.

“Women do not forget. Their lives are confined by convention, narrowed often by small duties—the memories they have of things outside their usual limit remain with them always. I will not forget—ah! would to Heaven I could rub out the events of the last month!”

“Would you blot us out also?”

“Why not? I cannot—but if I could, why not? You are passing away into fresh scenes and excitements, where your regrets will vanish and your memories be blurred. But what is then left for me?”

“You are young, Miss Anstrade, and it is not meant that youth should suffer.”

“When do you sail?”

“We sail with you to-morrow.”

“I am not going.”


“Yes; I will remain here. There is work in the convent yonder for such as would forget.”

“Good God!” said Webster, staring aghast at the face of the beautiful girl who so calmly talked of throwing her life away.

“You cannot mean it,” said Hume, looking at her steadily. “No; it is impossible. It would be cruel.”

“I astonish you, my friends; and yet, if you consider, it is very reasonable, this step of mine. I have talked with the gentle sisters, and found them steeped in a loving patience that knows no fear of the past and allows no dread of the future. Yet some of them gave up more than I do—brothers, sisters, even lovers.”

“It is horrible! And this island, of all places, with a copper heaven above and an earth of iron below.”

“We can’t allow it,” said Webster gruffly.

“Then take me with you,” she said softly, as she bent forward, with a flush in her cheeks; “take me with you—for you have suffered with me; men have sacrificed their lives for you as for me. Ah! take me too; I could not live alone with these memories.”

Chapter Fifteen.

A Quarrel.

So it came that they left behind them the arid rock of Ascension, the murmur of the sea, and all that it spoke to them of tragedy and defeated hopes. They had set out in quest of the Golden Rock, had passed from under the granite walls of Table Mountain, through the vine-clad valleys of the Paarl, up on to the melancholy plateau of the Karroo, crossed the Orange River in the night, sped for a day through the treeless flats of the Free State, and had arrived at Pretoria—a town of strange contrasts, where the low-walled house of the old days stood in the shadow of the lofty modern building, where the slow-moving Boer looked askance at the restless uitlanders—unwelcome visitors from the crowded haunts of Europe.

Before them was the Golden Rock—the “fairy spot,” already glorified by a halo of mystery—the goal of their endeavours, whose brightness lured them on, though they secretly feared it would always elude their grasp; and behind, like a dream vividly remembered, was a vision of a calm sea, and brave men rushing to their death. For them there was no interest in the people around them; but they were observed and discussed with a freedom that did not stick at coarseness.

In the veranda of the principal hotel, after dinner, when the men were smoking over their coffee, and there was no other lady but Miss Anstrade, drinking in the cool of the evening, the conversation grew both free and loud, especially at one corner, where a party of three leant with their backs to a balustrade, and laughed boisterously at each other’s jokes.

“She is an actress,” said one; “I can see that, from the way she manoeuvres her fan.”

“You are wrong, for a fiver. Why, she wears no jewellery!”

“Done with you. I say, Coetzee, step up and ask who she is.”

“Coetzee daren’t do it. Another fiver he does not ask.”

“Stuff, man; you should know better than to dare Coetzee after dinner. Eh, Piet?”

“What is it you say?” asked the third of the noisy group—a tall, powerfully-built young Dutchman. “She looked at me a minute ago, and if it was not an invitation, I’m mistaken in woman.”

“And you know them so well, don’t you?” said the first man, with a sneer.

“None better, although the little barmaid did throw him over for five feet ten of starched collar and eyeglass.”

“You laugh, you skeppsels, but you know well I could take the two of you, one in either hand, and drop you into the street.”

“Oh, yes, you are strong, Piet, as one of your own trek oxen; but all the same, you daren’t speak to that lady.”

“Soh! Look, now!” And Piet, placing his soft hat rakishly on one side, swaggered down the veranda until he faced the group of three, who were calmly oblivious to all around.

“Wie ben u, as ik maj vraa?” said Piet, falling back on his native tongue, as the task revealed unforeseen difficulties under the calm gaze of a pair of magnificent black eyes.

There was a sound of stifled laughter from the corner; but the three people looked past Piet, as though he had not been there, and this disturbed him more than the laughter. He stood shuffling on his big feet a moment, then turned and went back, this time without any swagger, received by an outburst of mocking laughter, which brought a glitter into the eyes of Hume and a flush to Webster’s cheeks, though they both appeared oblivious.

It was not long before Miss Anstrade retired, and then the two friends, rising, went up to the other group.

“Are you men drunk?” said Hume bitterly, “that you behave like blackguards, or is it because you know no better?”

“We are not drunk, sir; but it was a stupid business.”

“Yes, we are sorry.”

“Speak for yourselves!” shouted Piet, “and let me deal with these verdomde uitlanders.” He laid his big hand on Hume’s shoulder, and the next instant there was the sound of a heavy blow, and he was stretched on his back, shaking the veranda, while Hume stood with frowning brows and clenched fist.

“By Jove! that was a clean blow,” said one of Piet’s friends, “and he deserved it.”

“Ay, and so do you,” said Webster sternly.

The two men flushed, then they helped the Dutchman to his feet, and went off with him.

“Frank, shake!”

The two friends shook hands.

“The next time it will be my quarrel. You were too quick for me then.”

“You have to be quick,” said Frank quietly, “when a man like that is about to strike or shoot. Remember that well.”

“I did not think you had it in you to strike such a blow. Do you think there’ll be more trouble?”

“If we remain here there will; but we must get away to-morrow, and place it beyond the power of anyone to annoy Miss Anstrade.”

“Ay, her position is trying. Don’t you think, Frank, we have made a mistake?”

“We have, by all social rules; but surely there can be no harm in friendship.”

“Hang convention and social rules! We have just seen the result of them in the behaviour of these men, who felt themselves at liberty to be impertinent, because she was not the wife or sister of either of us.”

“Even out here in this new land we cannot escape the touch of suspicion, and she feels it deeply. Have you noticed?”

“I have marked a change in her manner lately, as though she had just awakened to the difficulties before her. Shall we ask her to go back?”

“She is very proud, and if we did so she would be deeply humiliated—”

“Well, Frank?”

“I could not bear to lose her.”

“Nor could I.”

They remained for some time silent, looking at the starry heavens, when Hume spoke again.

“We are friends, you and I. When she is with us day by day in the lonely veld we may both of us grow to love her, and how, then, will our friendship bear the strain of rivalry?”

Webster leant forward with a sigh.

“It is best to face the danger,” said Hume, in a low voice.

“I love her already, my lad;” and the sailor threw his head up, with a deep flush in his cheeks. “How could I help it?”

Hume drew in his breath and turned his head away.

“Is that why you came?” he said, with his face still averted.

“Hume, look at me! Ah! you love her also?”

Hume bowed his head.

“And has your love already darkened your heart to me? Lad, you are wrong. God knows I would let nothing come between you and me, still less because of your love for her; but if you are suspicious of me, you have the remedy.”

“And what is that?” asked Hume quickly, suspecting that Webster would offer to draw out.

“Why, marry her now. It is your opportunity. She is distressed, and would see in marriage a way out of the difficulty.”

Hume’s brows cleared; he smiled, and stretched forth his hand.

“No, no,” he said, “that would be taking a mean advantage of her. We know each other’s secret, and let us forget, treating her as our dearest friend, and beloved sister; then when all is done, and she is once more settled, let each do his best to win her.”

“That is fair, Frank; but she is not for me, and I never dreamt she was. You will let nothing come between us.”

“I will try, Jim; but I hope she will leave her fan behind, for the play of it fires my heart.”

“Trust me, I’ll burn it. And she goes with us?”

“Of course; for if she does not, we will never find the Golden Rock, because then neither you nor I would set out to find it.”

The next morning they overhauled their outfit, consisting of a tent waggon, provisions for two months, span of eighteen oxen, and two Kaffir boys—one to drive, the other to lead and look after the oxen.

While engaged packing the provisions in the bed of the waggon to make a level ground for Miss Anstrade’s bed, for this was to be her room, Piet Coetzee, the big Dutchman, with two or three companions, lounged up and criticised the preparations.

“Pay no attention,” whispered Hume; “they want to pick a quarrel, and we would then be locked up to a certainty.”

They went on with their work regardless of the pointed remarks intended for them, and presently Piet and his friends moved off.

“You’ll hear from me again,” said Piet, shaking his fist.

“Did you notice the little dark fellow, Webster?”

“No; but I took the measurement of that mountain of flesh, and by this and that, I’ll put a hitch in his jaw-tackle if ever we meet.”

“Oh, he’s top-heavy—the little fellow is more to be feared. Do you remember the Lieutenant at Madeira?—he was among that group.”

“What! Lieutenant Gobo?”

“The same; and I heard this morning that a party of Portuguese had arrived in Pretoria last week on a political mission. They are in favour with the Government here, and if that little beggar has recognised us, he may play us a trick.”

“Well, then, let us get under way.”

“All right; you remain here by the waggon while I go for Miss Anstrade.”

Before noon the oxen were inspanned, and the waggon moved off. After a “scoff” of ten miles they outspanned, and while they were having their meal under the shade of a canvas awning, or “scherm,” stretched from the top of the tent, two horsemen rode slowly by.

They were Piet Coetzee and Lieutenant Gobo.

Chapter Sixteen.


As the two horsemen passed over a ridge one of the blacks rose from the fire, stretched himself, and walked off slowly towards the oxen hidden by a cluster of sugar bushes, whose sweet perfume filled the air.

A little folding-table was placed under the canvas “scherm,” tea was made, and the two men waited for Miss Anstrade to appear from the waggon, whither she had retired to change her gown for a travelling-dress. This dress had been on her mind for several days past, in fact, ever since they arrived in Cape Town, and she had suffered extremely because she had not been able to discuss its shape and design with a qualified critic. The sail, falling over the back of the waggon, was drawn aside, a neat boot appeared, then a gaitered leg, and, with a laugh and a jump, she stood before them challenging their opinions.

The two men, not knowing, in their stupidity, what was expected of them, rose stolidly, and made way for her to reach her seat.

“Well,” she said, “what do you think of it?”

Hume took a swift look, which embraced short skirts, a neat waist, and then looked away startled, as though a pair of shapely legs were something quite new.

Webster had no such qualms of mistaken modesty.

“A very sensible dress,” he said, with a broadening smile.

“Sensible, is that all?” and she turned round.

“Yes, sensible and pretty, of course. It gives you freedom to move, and will keep your skirts from getting wet when the dew is on the grass.”

“Will you take a suggestion?” asked Hume.

“Hum,” she said, “I presume you wish me to lengthen the dress?”

“Heaven forbid! No; but I think it would be well if you placed a band of leather round the skirt.”

“Leather; good gracious, why?”

“To prevent the thorns from ripping the dress into rags. The ‘wacht-en-beetje’ thorn will be always calling you to ‘wait a bit.’ Now, come and preside at our first meal in the veld.”

When they were half through, the boy returned to the fire, sat down with his feet to it, and his hands spread out to keep the heat from his face.

Hume rose and touched him on his shoulder.

“Where have you been?”

The boy shrugged his shoulders, and said in Dutch to his companion: “What says the Englishman?”

Hitherto, Hume had not spoken in Dutch, and the Kaffirs were off their guard.

“Get up,” he said sternly, and as the boy did not move at once he jerked him to his feet.

“Yoh!” he exclaimed, with a look of astonishment.

“Now walk;” and Frank pointed to the clump of bushes; and the Kaffir, understanding from the gesture, sullenly went forward.

“What is it?” asked Webster, coming out of the shelter with Miss Anstrade.

“I’m about to teach this fellow a lesson, which he needs, as he is evidently under the impression that we are greenhorns.”

The whole party continued, the black suspicious and sullen, Miss Anstrade and Webster curious, and Hume with his brows knitted. On reaching the bush the Kaffir stopped and pointed to the oxen, which were grazing contentedly.

Hume glanced back to the waggon, took in the direction taken by the two horsemen, then rounded the bush, and walked straight across to a point beyond the ridge which intercepted the road. There he stopped, and catching the black by his arm, directed his attention to hoof-marks in the dust, and the spoor of an in-toed native foot.

“What did you say to the baas?” he asked.

The Kaffir put on an innocent look, covering his mouth with his hand.

“Measure his foot, Jim!”

Webster, who now grasped the situation, lifted the boy’s foot, which was small, though broad at the root of the toes, took the measurement, then passed the string over the spoor on the dust.

“It is his. What does it mean?”

“It means that he has some understanding with those two men, and that he left the waggon to meet them here.”

He then sent the boy for the oxen with orders to bring them in at once, and returned with the others to the waggon to prepare for the next trek, the night trek and the longest, since the oxen worked better than in the heat of the sun.

The waggon driver, Klaas, was still seated at the fire when they got back, and looked at them with a smile, which scarcely succeeded in disguising his anxiety.

“Klaas, get ready to inspan.”

“Inspan, baas, and the night is near by! Better stay here, baas, till sun up. Plenty better stay.”

“It will be better for you to do what I tell you. Here come the oxen; now, look alive!”

Klaas reached out for a coal, cradled it in the palm of his hand, and then deftly fixed it in the bowl of his long native pipe. He then rose and straightened out the trek-tow, the long chain with the eight yokes.

The eighteen oxen were driven up and formed up in a line on the left, when the loops of the rheims were passed over the wide horns, and the couples, in their proper order, pulled over to the other side, when they faced round, each couple to its own yoke. The pole was then fixed on over the necks, the throat-straps being passed round from “skei” notch to “skei” notch. When all were yoked the oxen were standing on the right, sideways, and at the word “Hambaka”—trek—the left ox of each couple had to bear the scraping of the chain as it was pulled over his back.

Miss Anstrade watched the scene with great interest, being particularly impressed with the confident way in which the two Kaffirs handled the big horned oxen.

There is a certain charm about waggon travelling at night, and Miss Anstrade, seated later on inside upon some soft karosses, felt her spirits returning. The place which was to be her bedroom and boudoir for some weeks was not comfortless by any means. Its length was about fifteen feet, the breadth across the canvas roof nearly six feet and the length from the level of the bedding about four feet six inches. From one of the laths there was suspended a lamp; on one side there were numerous canvas pockets for toilet necessaries, etcetera; and on the other a battery of three guns was lashed to the rafters. At the head of the tent the opening was closed by a heavy canvas flap, buttoned down, and kept in place at the bottom by the driver’s box, and at the end there was another flap, which could be rolled up at will.

Hume and Webster were seated at the back with their feet dangling.

“What do you think was the object of those men,” asked Webster, “in speaking to our boy?”

“That is what puzzles me. They may be merely curious about our venture, especially as our presence here would be inexplicable to Lieutenant Gobo, who last saw us hot-bound for Brazil, or they may suspect that we are in search of gold, as prospecting parties are continually setting out. Any way, I do not anticipate trouble from them.”

“You are mistaken,” said Miss Anstrade slowly; “the men of the South do not forget an insult, and you deeply wounded the vanity of the little man at Madeira. You may be sure he has the will to injure you, and if the opportunity is provided he will do so. Why not make the servants confess?”

“At the proper time,” said Frank, who, since the journey had commenced, unconsciously adopted an air of authority. “At present they have a contempt for us, and may betray themselves out of carelessness, if, of course, there is any understanding between them and our friends. And how do you like this slow mode of travelling?”

“I like it well; there is a restfulness in the slow swing of the waggon, and in the stillness of the night, that soothes one. Will the journey be like this all the way?”

“Ah, no, we are in the beaten track now, in a quiet country. The dangers and the difficulties lie beyond the range of the ordinary traveller when we enter the wilderness. Then the loneliness of the slowly passing days and the brooding silence of the nights, broken only by the sudden clamour of wild beasts, will try your patience and fill you with regrets that you should have ventured away from the crowded cities.”

“Sometimes there is pleasure in melancholy, and the wilderness has no terrors for me, no more than it has for the stricken deer that seek the deepest solitudes.”

She took out her violin and played, while the men smoked, and the two Kaffirs, letting the oxen keep on in their way undirected, fell behind, drinking in the music with delight.

Chapter Seventeen.


It seemed as though the suspicions about the designs of Groot Piet and Lieutenant Gobo were groundless, as for two weeks they trekked on without an obstacle, though Frank found it necessary to check the growing impertinence of the Kaffirs by knocking Klaas down out of hand one morning, and by flogging the leader with a doubled rheim—a hint which brought about the proper degree of respect due by a native to a white man. They reached the rolling bush country without further incident, and found greater objects of interest in the diversity of animal life.

One evening they drew up on a gentle rise above a river, and found themselves in the neighbourhood of a Boer trek. About thirty tent waggons, gleaming white in the dark, were drawn up in ranks of ten, their desselbooms all pointing to the north, and the space around thronged with troops of cattle and herds of goats and sheep. This was a party of “Doppers,” shifting ground to get away from the vain delights and irritating chatter of the uitlanders, who had invaded the South in the wake of the gold miners. Their austere piety had risen in arms, and they were now in search of a remote spot where their eyes would not be offended by the spectacle of ungodly merriment. Their thin nasal notes as they chanted an evening hymn cut through the air fraught with a spirit of hopeless despondency at the wickedness of all things human; but when the singing was over they allowed their morbid curiosity to draw them to the solitary waggon where one lovely woman, in outlandish costume, sat laughing with two of the despised uitlanders. The men, with their dark sombre faces, drew near to offer the accustomed hand-shake, but the women stood aloof, the younger ones giggling under their linen kapjes, and the elder standing stolidly, their hands folded in their aprons.

“Who are you, and whence do you come, if I may be bold enough to ask?” was the first question of the male spokesman; and when Hume had courteously responded, there was one word spoken, and that was “tabak.” A roll of tobacco was produced, plugs cut off, and shaved against the balls of big thumbs, all scarred with knife cuts and blackened with tobacco. The fragments were solemnly rolled between the broad palms, the pipes filled, and lit with coals from the fire; and the best flavour can only be drawn from tobacco by a wood coal.

Then they squatted down on their heels and stared solemnly, making observations enough to supply them with slow conversations for a week on the frivolous manners of the strangers.

Hume answered all the questions, and then asked for information himself, from which he learnt that they had arrived at a good place for a halt, grass being good and water plentiful, with game in fair numbers a few miles distant from the road. They were told of a vlei five miles off, where some of the large antelopes gathered at sunrise, and getting the direction from the stars, Frank and Webster determined to walk there that night, so as to lose no time.

After leaving a note with Klaas, now her humble slave, for Miss Anstrade, who had retired some time previously to her tent, and after seeing the oxen tied up to the trek-tow, they set off with their guns, guided by the stars. Frank, with his old hunter’s instinct fully revived, walked along through the deepening gloom without a tumble, but Webster damaged his clothing and his skin by repeatedly running into thorn-bushes, whose long, white thorns, curved like the talons of an eagle, laid fast hold of him.

Now and then a startled antelope would bound away, or a porcupine or ant-bear roll grunting across their track, while the notes of plovers and ducks flying overhead broke complainingly on the quiet air, and the far-off barking of dogs at the “Doppers’” camp accentuated the silence. Before morning they saw the faint, ghostly gleam of water below them, and lay down to wait for the first break of day, when they rose to take their bearings, so that they should not miss the route on their return, a catastrophe very likely to happen even to experienced hunters in the bush country. Separating, they each selected a hiding-place by the water, and before long the cracks of their rifles rang out sharply, Hume securing a fine sable antelope, while Webster, over-estimating the size of a buck, which loomed large in the mist, had no luck. After shifting ground, and walking for an hour, they each met with success. Some time was spent in gralloching the quarry, after which a fire was lit; they had a bathe, and then roasted a steak of venison on the glowing coals. Then they covered the bodies with bushes, and picking up their course, returned to the outspan, which they reached at noon.

They stood at the border of the bush struck with dismay and surprise. The open space so crowded the night before was now deserted. A few thin streaks of smoke rose from a number of white ash-heaps, two or three ringed crows croaked and gabbled hoarsely from a withered thorn, but there was no other sign of life.

“Why,” said Webster, tilting his broad hat back, “you’ve made the wrong port.”

Hume walked out into the open, and stood by a heap of ashes.

“This is the spot,” he said; “here are the marks of our scherm poles; and there,” pointing to the dent of a small heel, “is her spoor.”

“Then, where is she?”

Hume pointed to the broad tracks of the waggon-wheels leading north.

“What the devil! then she has moved away. Those swabs of niggers have mutinied and cleared. And we were fools enough to trust them. Thank God, they can’t be far.”

“No, they can’t be far.”

“Then come on, man; with a trail like those wheel-marks before us we can overtake them before dark;” and without more words, Webster strode rapidly on, soon to disappear into the waggon road, which struck into the bush beyond.

Hume, however, stood by the dead fire, resting on his gun as though stupefied, but his keen eyes, ranging over every inch of ground, belied this. So far from being dazed, his faculties were fully alert, and presently he began quartering the ground in widening circles until he reached the edge of the bush, when he stopped under a spreading mimosa and keenly examined the ground beneath. Stooping, he picked up a half-consumed cigarette, and then went at a trot after Webster, whom he met returning in a state of white fury.

“You take it very coolly,” growled Webster, “lingering like this, when every minute is precious. The trail has been blotted out by a thousand hoof-marks, and there is no more sign than a ship makes on the water. Why the devil don’t you suggest something?”

“Look here,” said Hume, holding out the fragment of cigarette.

“This is no time to trifle,” said Webster, eyeing the thing impatiently.

“No Boer smokes cigarettes.”


“Portuguese do.”

“What! Good heavens! Has Gobo taken her off?”

Hume ground his teeth.

“I knew it,” he said; “I knew when those fellows took the trouble to speak to our boys on the sly that there was some devilment afoot, but I thought they had missed their chance of playing some spiteful trick on us and had gone back. They must have had us in view all along until the opportunity offered. Last night their chance came, and they have gone off under cover of the ‘Dopper’ trail.”

“If they are with the ‘Doppers’ we can easily overtake them.”

“No; they would keep ahead of the trek for a mile or so to hide their spoor, then they would fall behind and make off by some side-path or through the veld. Now, you skirt along the left side of the road, keeping watch for any waggon-track turning aside, while I go along the right.”

They went on rapidly, in complete silence, with bent brows, and a fierce eagerness at the thought of soon meting out punishment. The task was not difficult. For the greater part the road passed through thickets of mimosas near enough together to prevent a lumbering waggon from passing; at other parts there were small banks where the ground had been cut into by the heavy wheels, and these would at once have shown signs where a waggon turned off; and, at long intervals only, were stretches of hard, sun-baked ground, on which the track of wheels could only be faintly seen.

Mile after mile they went, kicking up the dust, which stained their clothing red and caked on their hands and faces, until their eyes glared as if from masks. Sometimes they would pause to straighten themselves and to rub their eyes because of the strain upon them, and once Webster gave a shout; but Hume, after one glance at wheel-tracks a week old, went swiftly on, and gradually their shadows lengthened out before them as the sun stood lower and the great heat was tempered by cool breezes.

At last Hume made a sign to Webster, and turned sharply off to the right, along the track of a solitary waggon, and just at dusk they saw the gleam of white, amid a cluster of thorns. Forgetting their weariness, they started off at a run, which did not slacken until they came within a hundred yards, when Hume, with a gasp, drew up.

The waggon was theirs truly; but there was an unusual silence about. No fire shed its welcome light, the sails were down, the oxen were away, and there were no signs of life.

Slowly they went up, with a nameless fear at their hearts, to find the tent empty, and the contents tumbled about and rifled.

Chapter Eighteen.

The Gaika.

The two friends stood a moment gazing blankly at the empty waggon; then Webster clambered in to see if by any chance Miss Anstrade had left a message, while Hume, in the fading light, hunted slowly around for spoor of hoof-marks. Darkness, however, soon closed, and they sat down with their faces in their hands.

“The infernal scoundrels!” muttered Webster, springing up in a moment; “the cowardly hounds! If they had a grudge against us, why could they not have wreaked their spite on us? Is it some mad freak, do you think, of that crack-brained Dutchman?”

Hume was silent.

“Come, Frank,” said Webster, stepping up to his friend, “have you no idea? I am at a loss in the veld; but you, who have been here before, should have some confidence.”

“I made certain she would be with the waggon,” said Hume drearily.

“Let us get a fire alight, and when we have had some food we may hit upon something.”

In a few minutes a bright fire was burning, with a kettle in position. Food was brought out from the locker, and once more they sat down, looking silently at the crackling flames. Gradually the fire burnt away and they were left in darkness.

“Well,” said Webster.

“We have overrun the spoor,” said Hume gloomily.

“Why, here stands the waggon!”

“She never came as far as this. The waggon was brought on here to lead us astray. They met the waggon in the road, and have gone off in a direction opposite to this. They may have circled round, struck the road below the old ‘outspan,’ and returned towards Pretoria.”

“Good heavens! then they may be fifty miles away?”

“Ay, and we are on foot.”

Webster groaned. “What next?”

“There is one hope. It is possible the Dutchman has a house somewhere in these parts, and, if so, we may find her before it is too late.”

“Then let us start. With a lantern it is possible to distinguish hoof-marks in the dust.”

“Come, then,” said Hume, after a quick look round.

The lantern was secured, and they strode off rapidly, Hume whistling.

“For God’s sake, stop that!” growled Webster.

Hume whistled the louder.

Webster gave one fierce look towards his companion, then strode ahead, but presently faced round.

“Look here, Hume,” he cried, “what is the meaning of this?”

“Go on,” said Hume, catching his friend by the arm. “When I went to get the lantern I fancied I saw the figure of a man disappear from the far side of the waggon. It is probably one of our boys returning for more loot; light the lantern now, and keep on down the road, making as much noise as you can, while I lie in wait for him.”

“Don’t let him escape,” said Webster, with great excitement. “Wouldn’t it be better if we both went after him?”

“No; leave him to me.”

Webster went away down the road, swinging his lantern, and making vain attempts to sing, while Hume crouched down to the ground for some minutes before beginning his stealthy advance towards the waggon, whose position he guessed. When at last he caught the faint gleam of the white canvas he slowly circled round, and then stopped to listen. To his great relief he heard someone at work in the waggon, turning over the goods, and carefully he crept forward till he reached the desselboom, where he could hear the exclamations of the man inside as he groped among the packages. The echo of Webster’s song—which had come fitfully—ceased, and the man, clicking his tongue, jumped to the ground, stood listening a moment, then went round to the fire, where he could be heard blowing at a coal. Hume slipped round the waggon, saw a dark figure crouching at the fire, the glow of the coal as he blew on it throwing out his round head, noiselessly stepped forward, then flung himself on the Kaffir, burying his face in the pile of ashes. There was a smothered cry, a fierce struggle, and Hume dragged the man to the desselboom and bound him fast with a rheim.

Then he hollowed his hands and sent a shout ringing through the night to recall Webster, having first satisfied himself that his prisoner was Klaas the driver.

Webster did not delay his return, and it was not long before he ran up, guided by the fire, which Hume had restarted.

“Have you got him?”

“Yes; lashed to the waggon.”

“Thank God for that! Let’s look at him. Ah, you black devil, what have you done with the lady?”

Klaas blinked at the lantern, then sullenly looked away.

Webster drew a sjambok from the side of the waggon, a formidable weapon made from rhinoceros’ hide, and made it whistle through the air.

“Now I’ll make you speak. Where’s the lady?”

Klaas looked at the sjambok, and clicked with his tongue in token of defiance.

“Leave him to me,” interposed Hume quietly. “Of what people are you,” he asked the native; “a Makatese?”

Klaas gave a click.

“A Fingo?”

“Yoh!” he exclaimed, with a flash from his small black eyes.

“Well, then, of what people?”

“A Gaika of the house of Kreli!”

Frank looked at the man steadily, then suddenly spoke in Kaffir.

“You a Gaika; and you come like a dog of a Fingo in the night to rob those who have served you well, after playing the part of a jackal to the men who carried off the lady!”

The Kaffir made a sharp exclamation when he heard Hume speak his own tongue, gave him a swift, startled look, then hung his head.

“Well, Gaika, what do you say before this baas cuts the marks of disgrace upon you with the sjambok?”

The Kaffir lifted his head.

“What did the master say about the lady—the Inkosikasi?”

“I said she had been carried away; but why repeat it, when you helped?”

“It is true, baas, I would have taken one of the things from the waggon—the thing that plays; but I did not know that the lady had been taken.”

“You lie!”


“Why did you steal away when we came? Was it not because your heart was black?”

“Because the things had been disturbed by that Makatese boy. Let me speak. When the baas went to shoot there came a white man, with writing, saying we were to inspan and trek, so that the waggon would be near where the baas was shooting. We inspanned, and one white man came along. He said this was the place to outspan. In the morning another white man came with a cart, which drew up over there beyond the thick bush. They said the lady would go with them until you came back. Then I went off with the oxen to the water, and when I came back the cart was gone, and the lady and the white men, also the leader, and the things in the waggon were disturbed. So my heart was afraid, and I went back to the oxen.”

“Is this story true?”

“Eweh, Inkose, it is true.”

Hume took the lantern and went over to the bush, beyond which he found the tracks of a cart.

Returning, he released the Kaffir, and told him to prepare food for himself. He then related to Webster what he had just heard.

Webster was for tying Klaas to the wheel all night, but Hume opposed this.

They snatched a few hours’ needful sleep, and were roused before daybreak by Klaas, whom they had left seated by the fire.

“Ah!” said Webster, as his eye fell upon the Kaffir, “I confess I expected he would have slipped off in the night, and his presence here is hopeful.”

“A Gaika, like us, is a stranger in this country. We have talked to him in his language, and he will stick to us like a burr. We must leave the waggon to its own fate, I suppose?”

“Ay, I could not stay behind. Nor could you.”

“We must trust the Kaffir, then. Klaas!”


“Bring the oxen near the waggon, and keep watch while we follow the cart.”

Chapter Nineteen.


They were about to start, when the Kaffir suddenly gave vent to an exclamation, at the same time inclining his head in a listening attitude.

“What is it?” asked Webster.

“Hush!” muttered Hume.

The Kaffir slipped away into the bush on the left, and Hume, with a word to Webster, ran off to the right.

A moment later Webster heard the gallop of a horse, and rushed forward with his rifle cocked, expecting he knew not what. Rapidly the hoof-beats struck sharper through the air, there was a crash of branches, a cry from the Kaffir, and a white horse cleared a bush and drew up. His rider lurched forward, and would have fallen had not Webster leapt forward in time. It was a slight boyish form he took in his arms, but as he was stooping with his burden to the ground he saw the face.

“Laura—Miss Anstrade!” he cried, trembling as he laid her head on his knee.

“Have you stopped the horse?” cried Hume, as he darted up.

Webster held up a hand warningly, and Hume went down on his knees, and the two of them, with white faces, gazed at the insensible figure.

Her short riding-habit was torn to shreds, her hands were scratched and bleeding, and across her white forehead there was an angry red weal. Her hat was gone, and the heavy plaits of her black hair had broken loose from their bindings.

Presently, as they leant over her, half-paralysed by conflicting emotions of joy, fear, and surprise, she opened her eyes, struggled to her feet, and sprang to the side of the horse.

“Laura!” they cried.

“Ah, heavens, it is you. I thought—” She looked round wildly, then fainted dead away.

“Look at her hands, how they have been torn,” and Hume gently pressed his lips to the fingers he held.

“Some water!” cried Webster.

“Yes, you run for the water;” and Hume passed his arm under the graceful head.

Webster looked fiercely across at his friend. “I can support her; you go for the water.”

“Klaas,” cried Hume, “water, quick!”

Klaas, who had been standing near, hurried up with a tin of water, which both young men attempted to take, the result being that the contents were spilled.

“It appears you wish to quarrel,” said Hume.

“No, sir; but it is my right to support her.”

“You are the first to break the contract which you yourself suggested,” said Hume bitterly; then quickly rising, he went to the waggon, to return with a drop of brandy. A little water was scattered on the white brow, and when presently the dark eyes opened again, the cup was held to her lips.

She rose up slowly, and looked long at them.

“Ah,” she said, “you must not leave me again.”

“Take my arm to the waggon,” said Hume tenderly.

“Let me carry you,” whispered Webster as gently.

She looked at her wounded hands and smiled, but when she saw the forlorn condition of her dress her feminine instincts rose in alarm. “Gracious heavens,” she murmured, “what a fright!” and vanished into the shelter of the waggon tent without support from either.

The two friends regarded each other with cold looks, then fell apart without a word.

“Baas,” said Klaas in Kaffir, “here come more horses.”

Hume picked up his double express and ran forward into the bush, while Webster, with gloomy and lowering brow, mounted guard at the waggon.

“Halt!” rang out Hume’s voice.

“Verdomde,” came a startled reply, “what say you?”

“Drop that gun, drop it.” There was the dull sound of the gun falling. “Now, come on slowly.”

Horse and rider advanced into the open space, and Piet Coetzee sat in the saddle, casting uneasy glances about him.

“Dismount,” said Hume sternly.

Slowly the young giant swung himself to the ground, and stood sullenly regarding his enemies under his straight brows.

“Take the horse, Klaas, find the baas’s gun, and keep watch beyond the bush.”

The Kaffir obeyed with a grin.

“Now, Piet Coetzee,” said Hume, with a hard look in his keen blue eyes, and a tightening of his lips, “if you have anything to say why you should not be tied to the waggon-wheel and flogged, say it.”

Coetzee flushed to his eyes, then folded his arms. “I am not a black man, that you should speak of flogging.”

“It is a question of crime, and not of colour.”

“Beware what you do or say,” said Piet threateningly; “if you flog a Boer you will be a dead man before the sun has risen again.”

“Come—have you anything to say?”

“What have I done?”

Hume picked up a rheim, made a running noose, and stepped up to the young Boer.

“I will kill you first!” hissed Piet, doubling his great fist.

“Be quiet,” said Webster; “or I will shoot.”

“Oh, yes; you are two to one, and I am unarmed. Cowards!”

“And you were two to one when you took away the young lady,” said Hume, and he slipped the noose over the broad shoulders and tightened it.

“My God! you will not flog me?”

“I will.”

“But it is a dog’s punishment. It will disgrace me for ever. Shoot me.”

Hume pulled the end of the rheim through the spokes, and pulled on it, then made a hitch. The young Boer placed his foot against the rim, exerted his strength, and snapped the strong hide.

“Now,” he shouted furiously, “I will make you shoot,” and with a bound he seized the pole of the scherm and whirled it round his head.

“What is this?” said a fresh voice, and Miss Anstrade, looking her old self, except for the angry red mark above her forehead, and the wounds on her white hands, stepped forward.

“This is one of the men who carried you away,” said Hume, “and I threatened to flog him unless he could explain.”

“It is not so,” said Piet furiously; “you threatened me first and asked me nothing.”

“Put your guns down,” said Miss Anstrade.

The two friends obeyed.

She walked quietly up to Piet, and took the pole from his hand.

“You are angry,” she said quietly.

“They threatened to flog me—me—a Boer in my own country. Verdomde, when my people hear of it they will whip every uitlander in the place.”

“Perhaps they will ask your forgiveness; and what has brought you here?”

“I followed you,” he said.

“Yes, true, you followed me, and why?”

“Because—because—” He dropped his eyes.

“Because I rode away?”

“Yes, on my horse.”

“It was your horse you wanted, then?”

“Yes—no—it was you, and my horse which had run away with you.”

She laughed. “I see, it was the horse that ran away with me; it was the horse that caused my hands to be torn, it was the horse that came in the night when my friends were away, and carried me off by force.” The smile was on her lips still, but there was such a look of scorn from her eyes that he trembled.

“I do not understand,” he said humbly.

“You know that I was taken from my friends at night, and you must understand, surely, that that was the act of robbers.”

“But he said you wished to escape.”


“That Portuguese Gobo. He told me you were of his country, and that these men were carrying you off into the desert, so that they could benefit from your death without being detected.”

“Is this the truth?”

“I am a Boer,” replied the young Dutchman with some dignity, “and I do not work harm to women. If the Portuguese has made a fool of me I will wring his neck.”

“He is a bad man. These are my friends who have helped me in great danger, and you caused them great suffering in taking me away. You have acted like a child; but it is because I see you have been misled I forgive you.”

She held out her hand, which he took in his, while a flush of manly shame spread over his face.

“Now, my brothers,” she said, with a brilliant smile, “all shake hands.”

Webster held out his hand frankly, but Hume refused.

“What,” she said, “you will not forgive him?”

“No, madam. If he has been the tool of a man more cunning than himself, he has been a willing tool. That mark across your forehead—how did it come there?”

“From the lash of a rebounding branch, as I galloped through the bush.”

“I am very sorry,” said Piet.

“Then go,” shouted Hume, “and thank this lady that you have not got what you deserved.”

“I will remember you,” growled Piet, as he moved off, “and maybe the sjambok you promised me will fall on your own shoulders.”

Hume, with his rifle in his hand, followed the young Boer, and saw him mount and ride away, leading the other horse. On reaching a ridge Piet turned and shook his fist, then suddenly dropping his reins he took a deliberate aim at Hume. A full half-minute he kept the deadly weapon at his shoulder, then, with a laugh, let it drop to the saddle, and disappeared. Hume, who had stood the ordeal with a bitter smile on his mouth, turned back to the camp and met Webster.

“Your friend has gone,” he said.

“Yes,” said Webster, whose face was deadly pale; “I saw his gun drop, and thought he had meant to shoot you.”

“I was wishing he would fire.”

“Frank!” exclaimed Webster.

They looked at each other straight in the eyes, clasped hands, and then walked back together.

Miss Anstrade went to meet them with a smile on her lips and a question in her eyes.

“My poor friends,” she murmured softly, “you have suffered a lot. I see it by your faces.”

“And you?” they said.

“I was confident you would find me if I could not escape.”

“We were just starting off,” said Webster, “after Frank had found the waggon and learnt from Klaas that you had been taken off in a cart.”

“Yes; they managed that very well. They told me there was a young woman lying ill at a farmhouse near, and asked me if I would not go, and they explained that, anticipating my consent, they had brought the waggon to a spot which would be convenient to you and to them. I saw no reason why I should not do a kindness, and after writing a note for you, which they promised to deliver, I was driven off to a cottage some eight or nine miles away. On alighting, I saw for the first time that one of the two men was a Portuguese, and from his mocking air of courtesy my suspicions were aroused. Of course there was no woman in the house, and on being shown into a room I locked the door. They left me there all the morning, but in the afternoon they begged me to come out. The Dutchman then went away, and through a small window I saw him mount a horse and ride away with a number of dogs. The Portuguese then began to threaten, and next to batter at the door. Then he promised me in his generosity much wealth if I would tell him where you were going, and whether it was to find a hidden treasure.”

“The little yellow brute!” growled Webster.

“How terrified you must have been!”

“On the contrary, I was quite cool, and when the door showed signs of giving way I opened it and asked him to enter. He did, with a sudden change to humility, and as he stepped in with his hat in his hand, I—well—I am afraid I knocked him down with a heavy stick.”

“Bravo!” said Webster, laughing, while Hume flashed a swift look at her and saw how rigid were the muscles about her mouth.

“I would have escaped then, but on reaching the door I saw there were some black men seated about a fire. Returning to the room, I bound the man up with some ropes that were in the room, and waited. At night the Dutchman returned and knocked at the door. I said it was all right, whereupon—whereupon he laughed. After a time he slept, but the black men sat round the fire till the grey of dawn. Then I stole out, saddled one of the horses, and was silently moving off when one of the dogs barked; the natives shouted, and I was seized with a mortal terror and fled, and my guardian saint led me to you. That is all.”

The two friends looked at her for some moments in silence, and they recalled the figure of a girl standing on the bridge in the driving spume, unmoved by the shrieking of shells overhead.

They then told her how they had passed the time, and when they had finished, the waggon was inspanned and the journey resumed. As the oxen had well rested, they made this time a long “skoff,” trekking till sundown, when the waggon was drawn up under a wild fig-tree, whose vast branches afforded plenty of shade. Klaas hunted about for some leaves, which he brought to Miss Anstrade to place on her hands. A fire was built, the violin was brought out, and the men sat dreamily as the music floated on the soft air.

The next morning Miss Anstrade stepped from the waggon, holding in her hand a small sporting Martini.

“I wish to learn how to shoot,” she said gravely.

“Good!” said Hume. “It will be as well.”

He showed her the action, and made her snap it from the shoulder. Then she inserted a cartridge.

“Press the butt tightly to the shoulder, bring the left elbow well down, and press with your thumb as you pull the trigger.”

She fired, and then practised at a mark.

Chapter Twenty.

A Mysterious Cry.

For the next fortnight they struggled with the difficulties of the road, and Hume had to call to his aid all his resources in navigating his ship of the desert over boulder-strewn streams, up almost impracticable heights, and down dangerous slopes, wherever the road zig-zagged above yawning precipices. His bared arms grew black under the sun, and by the time the Limpopo was reached he resembled in appearance one of the scattered Boer farmers whom they occasionally surprised in their journey—a man tanned to the colour of his own well-worn corduroys, with a face lined by the drying of the skin, the eyes narrowed through the constant effort to shut out the over-powerful light, and hands bruised, knotted and grimed. In this toilsome trek Webster had to squire Miss Anstrade, and since she dreaded the sight of the oxen straining under the yoke, and would get away from the sharp crack of the long whip, he was thrown much into her company as they walked on ahead for the next outspan. In the loneliness of the slow marches Hume soured rather, and in the evening by the fire it was some time before his silent fit would thaw to the needs of companionship, and the others, having exhausted every topic during the day’s tête-à-tête, made little effort to dispel the gloom. In the veld there are few topics that can outlast a week, and then there is little to fall back upon but the eternal subject of religion, or the ways of nature. Wherever nature is uninteresting and the population is scattered, the mind of man fastens like a limpet on the rock of some verity of the Scriptures, or to the decaying trunk of superstition, and holds on to the end. The Boers in the Transvaal have quarrelled among themselves over their belief, and President Kruger has taken up his rifle in defence of a verse in the Psalms. Our friends had played about on the outskirts of religious controversy about the camp fire; but the men had been firmly checked by Miss Anstrade, who possessed a woman’s unquestioning faith, and latterly they had become abstracted and dull, while Klaas, the Gaika, crooned to himself the legends that hung about the dark kloofs of his own far-distant Amatolas.

“Thank God!” said Hume, as he threw down his whip on the far side of the great river, “we have at last got out of the Transvaal.”

“It seemed to me,” said Miss Anstrade, “that we were going on for ever until the waggon fell to pieces, and we grew too old to see. I have never been so dull in all my life, and am convinced there is a growth of fungus on my brain.”

“And I,” said Webster, looking at his travel-stained clothes, “feel that I am turning into a second Rip Van Winkle.”

“We are like a party of disreputable gipsies,” said Miss Anstrade, with a look at Hume, whose boots were torn, and whose outward appearance was scarcely an improvement on the many-patched garments of Klaas. “Let us get into a new outfit, and do you men act the barber to each other.”

“Before recovering our respectability,” said Hume, “we must overhaul the waggon, grease the axles, repack, mend, and patch up.”

They made a stay there, and the next evening, after several hours of hard work, the camp presented a trim appearance, and the three sat down, quite smartened up, and in good spirits once again, to dine off wild ducks and sand grouse. The map of Old Hume the Hunter was brought out and studied now on the very ground over which he had passed on his adventurous journey, and they found themselves, in their growing excitement, looking away to the south-east, to where the shadowy outlines of lofty mountains showed dark against the sky. Somewhere within that rugged casket lay the treasure that throughout the centuries had remained for them alone, and the flickering light shining upon their faces showed the flush in their cheeks as the thoughts of what its possession would mean flamed in their brains; revealed also the stern look shot from one man at the other, at the second thought that, bound up with that treasure of gold, was that other treasure of a beautiful woman.

“Beyond that mountain,” she said dreamily, in her rich voice, “lies Europe, ambition, power, pleasure, love. I wonder which of these you will follow when the mountains have given up their secret.”

“Give me a house by the sea,” said Webster, “and a wife I love, and who loves me.”

“And the sound of the sea would stir the sailor in you, and one day your wife would be looking at a white speck in the horizon, and you would be walking the bridge again.”

“And she would not grudge me that if she loved me,” he said quietly.

Hume cast a swift look at Webster, whose face had turned white, and he had reached out his hand, for to both of them there came, at that moment, the thought of Captain Pardoe and his betrothed.

“What is it?” she asked, noting the action.

Hume looked at Webster, and then told the story of the lovers who had waited so long.

“But how,” she said, in low tones, “did you know each other’s thoughts?”

The two looked at each other.

“We also are waiting,” said Hume, with a sad smile; but from that moment the shadow of distrust that was coming between them melted before the sympathy revealed by that one chance word.

They talked then, as they had often done before, of Captain Pardoe and the gallant men who went down on the Swift, and planned how they would help the widows and children out of the Golden Rock. And as they talked there came through the darkness a startling cry as of a human soul in agony—so wild, so sudden, that they leant towards each other, and Klaas bolted under the waggon with a cry of “Amapakati!”—“Wizard!”

Again it was repeated, a long quivering cry.

Hume took his rifle from where it stood against the waggon, and, bidding Webster stay, slipped into the darkness. The minutes passed by slowly to those two, standing with bated breath, listening for any cry or token that would break the spell. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, half an hour, went wearily by, and still there was no sign; then Webster shouted, but without response, then fired his rifle.

“I must go after him,” he said.

“And I will go, too. We should not have let him face that terrible darkness alone.”

“I will go alone.”

“No, no, I cannot stay behind. Let me get the lantern,” she said feverishly, and quickly unhitched the lantern from its hook under the canvas “scherm,” at the same time picking up her rifle.

“This way,” said Webster, and they descended rapidly the slope leading to the river, from which there came a rippling noise strangely mysterious in the dark. The shaft of light swept around from left to right over rocks and ant-hills, and nodding bushes, and at every dark object they strained their eyes. Then there came a sound that chilled their blood: the noise of a body falling in the water, followed by a deep groan.

“Frank,” she cried; “Frank, where are you?”

The reply was unexpected and startling.

“He is dead,” said a voice, hollow and unnatural; “and so will perish all who try to find his secret.”

Miss Anstrade shuddered with horror, and clutched Webster by the arm.

“What is it?” she asked, in a thrilling tone.

With an answering shudder, Webster threw up his gun and fired in the direction of the voice. After the brilliant flash, the darkness closed in blacker than before, and when the echoes of the report had rolled away in the sullen mutterings down the valley the silence was the deeper. They waited long, then went on quickly to the river, where they stood above the rushes, looking at the gleam upon the dark water, and listening with pale faces and beating hearts to faint whisperings and gurgling noises. Webster put his hand to his mouth and called, but his voice broke in a hoarse whisper, and he called again. There was no answer but the wail of a jackal, and after that the far-off booming of a lion’s roar.

“It is horrible,” she whispered, looking round over her shoulder, and pressing closer.

“Let me take you back.”

“No, this way; let us go along the river.”

Again there came a splash from the river, and then, within the shaft of light flashing on the water, there glowed two glittering green specks.

“Look!” she said, with a gasp.

“Hold the lantern,” he said quickly. The rifle rang out, and then the water was lashed into foam, and a dark body showed for a moment in the light.

“A crocodile,” he said, with a nervous laugh.

“A crocodile! Can it—oh, merciful heavens—do you remember when we saw the Irene—the shark?”

“Don’t,” he said, laying his hand on her shoulder.

A deep sigh came to their straining ears, followed by a confused noise.

“Oh,” she cried, “if I could only see what forms there are about I would not be afraid.”

“I think that noise is from the oxen,” he said.

“Baas,” came a warning shout, “pass op de leeuw!”

“That is Klaas—what does he cry? The leeuw—the lion—is it not? Ah, that is better. Give me the lantern again.”

She took the lantern, while Webster, with his rifle ready, kept by her shoulder, and they slowly advanced, following the shaft of light for the reflection of the lion’s eyes. Presently an ox moaned, there was a sound of horns clashing as the oxen bunched together, then the ground trembled to the roar of a lion, followed by the wild rush and crashing of branches. When they reached the waggon there was not an ox remaining. The Gaika, who loved his cattle, was raging about with a lighted brand in one hand and an assegai in the other, hurling insults at the lion.

“Mij ossa,” he said; “mij mooi swaart-bonte; oh! verdomde leeuw!”

“Where is the baas?” asked Webster, at his wits’ end.

“The baas is dead,” cried the Gaika; “mij ossa es dood, und ek is dood.”

Webster took the Kaffir by the arm and shook him. “Stop this noise and build up the fire.”

Klaas obeyed, piling dead brushwood on the coals till the flames mounted up, and shone on the white canvas and on the pale faces of Miss Anstrade and Webster, who stood looking out into the darkness for their missing friend. From far there sounded the wild bellow of an ox, followed presently by the complaining, wailing cry of a jackal and the devilish laugh of a hyaena.

“The lion eats,” muttered the Kaffir.

They longed for the light of day to reveal the dark mystery that hedged them in, and, above all, the meaning of that voice and its warning.

“Klaas, did you hear someone calling before I fired the first time?”

“Neh, sieur, I heard the lady call, and then the voice of the jackal, who led the lion here.”

“Can we have been mistaken?” she whispered; “and yet I heard it plainly: ‘He is dead, and so will perish all who seek his secret.’”

“He cannot be dead,” said Webster fiercely; “I will search again.”

This time Miss Anstrade remained by the fire, her rifle across her knees, and her eyes following the Will-o’-the-Wisp-like flashings of the lantern, while out of the blackness there rang the voice of Webster calling for his friend, a mournful cry that drew no response but the murmur of the river, and the still more plaintive call of a plover overhead. And sitting by the fire, with the light shining in her eyes, and her face resting on her hands, she still heard the voice calling out that Hume was dead, and she was sitting so when, after a long search, Webster came wearily and hopelessly back.

Before the morning, completely worn out, they dozed at their posts, and when there was light enough to show the ground the Gaika slipped away like a shadow towards the river, quartering the ground as he went, with his body bent, and his thin wide nostrils quivering. Reaching the river, he dwelt awhile over the spoor made by Webster, picking up an empty cartridge, then went up to the right, and presently, with a startled look, darted forward to where there projected the butt of a rifle from the rushes. It was Hume’s, and as he lifted it his quick glances roamed over the ground, noting the bruised grass, and then with a “Yoh” he jumped back, for a man stood beneath a tree looking at him with feverish eyes.

“Yinny,” said Klaas, fingering his assegai, and stooping his head to get a clearer view of the figure which was in the shade, then he rushed to the tree with a cry, “Baas, baas!”

It was indeed Frank Hume, gagged and fast bound to a mimosa-tree.

As the sun streamed over the valley the two sleepers by the dying fire awakened, and their haggard faces told how real had been the nightmare of the long night. The morning mist lay in a thick blanket over the river, and they shuddered to think what tragedy lay concealed under that winding-sheet, then started up to the sound of muffled voices, and the next minute advanced to meet two forms that loomed up vast.

“Halloa!” came a hail in a well-known voice.

“Thank God!” cried Webster, springing forward; but Miss Anstrade stood with her hand to her heart, looking wildly at this apparition.

Chapter Twenty One.

The Unknown.

“Thank Heaven you are alive!” cried Miss Anstrade, taking his hand in both of hers, and looking with tear-dimmed eyes into his face. “It seemed I was not free here from the curse that falls on those who are dear to me.”

She drew him to a seat, still holding his hand, and Webster, busily engaged in making hot coffee, stopped at times to place his hand affectionately on Frank’s shoulder.

“And where have you been all this fearful night?”

“Tied to a tree. Three times the light from your lantern fell upon me, and twice a hyaena came and stared at me. Ugh, the brute!”

“Tied to a tree? How did it happen, and that voice, did you hear it calling?”

Frank shuddered slightly.

“I heard it,” he said, “and I would have thought it supernatural, so like my uncle’s voice it was, had it been possible for a spirit to knock me down and bind me.”

“Strange,” she murmured. “I also thought it was your uncle calling, though I had never seen or heard him.”

“It struck me to the marrow,” said Webster, “and I fired at the sound out of sheer terror.”

They all sat silent for some time pondering over the mystery.

“It is beyond me,” said Hume wearily. “When I left you last night I expected to find some black, perhaps a woman, from the terror in the sound of her cry, fallen into the river, or caught by a crocodile, and I ran down to the bank, making noise enough to inform anyone of my whereabouts. On reaching the river I stood still, and without the slightest warning was felled to the ground. On recovering consciousness I found myself bound to a tree and gagged. It all happened within the space of ten minutes after leaving the waggon.”

“The cry was a decoy, then?”

“It must have been.”

“You saw no one?”

“No, nor heard the step of my assailant, though at the time I was listening intently.”

“His feet must have been naked, then?”

“Not necessarily, for he may have worn veldschoens, which give no sound. I examined the ground with Klaas before coming up, and we could see no spoor beyond that made by our party.”

“What possible object could he have had,” mused Webster, “since it was not your death he sought? Do you think he mistook you for someone else?”

“Impossible! Whoever did it must have watched us, and he could only have mistaken me for you. No one has a grudge against you.”

“I see it!” cried Miss Anstrade, who had been looking with knitted brows into the fire. “Just before dusk we were talking of the Golden Rock. It was possible for an enemy to creep up undetected and to listen to our talk.”

“Yes,” said Hume, and he felt for the pocket-book that contained the map.

“That is it,” she cried; “they have taken your secret.”

Frank opened the book with trembling fingers, while the others gazed anxiously, leaning forward.

“It is gone,” he said, starting up.

While they looked at each other, with pale faces, Klaas came up.

“Baas,” he said in a low voice. “Baas,” he repeated.

“Well?” said Hume sharply.

“De ossa is gone.”

“What!” shouted Hume, glad for some excuse to give vent to the anger and bitter disappointment that filled him.

“They were stampeded by lions,” said Webster.

“Didn’t I tell you to have them properly tied?”

“Yoh, my baas! But the rheims; someone cut them in the night. Come, see!”

“Good heavens! Can this be true?”

They ran to the trek-tow, and there saw that the tough rheims which secured each ox to the chain had been severed by a sharp instrument.

Hume laughed bitterly.

“Upon my soul,” he said, “you must think me a nice leader.”

“We can walk,” said Miss Anstrade, looking to the distant mountains.

“We could make a raft from the waggon timber, and float down the river,” said Webster.

“It is not the loss of the oxen I fear. We will recover enough of them to continue; it is the ease with which these unknown enemies have succeeded in their plans that troubles me. Now that I have lost the map I believe there does exist a Golden Rock, and their cunning and superior woodcraft will enable them to win it.”

“Nonsense,” she said; “they succeeded because we were off our guard. Now we know what we have to expect, we will oppose our wits to their cunning.”

“It is too late—they have the map—and will have a long start.”

“There was nothing in the map,” said Webster, “that I could not describe with a stick on this patch of sand.”

“Besides,” she said, with spirit, “do you suppose I am going to give up the search after coming all this way?”

“You are right,” replied Hume; “but it does not improve one’s spirit to be fast bound to a tree all night with a handkerchief in your mouth. Map or no map, we must find the Golden Rock.”

“That is better,” she said, with a smile. “Now, then, let us do something.”

Klaas set the example by starting off on the spoor of the oxen, armed with assegai and kerrie. Miss Anstrade sat down to draw, from memory, a facsimile of the lost map; Hume walked on to a small kopje to plan out the route, for there was no trace of road here; while Webster went down to the river to see whether he could decipher any explanation of the night’s mystery on its broad and shining surface. Long he listened to the murmur and ripple of the shallow river against huge round and jagged boulders strewn across its bed, and gazed into the dark beds of shade cast by the wild palmiet, but nowhere was there any trace of human life—not so much even as a piece of driftwood fashioned by man, or a broken beer-bottle, sign throughout the world of the passage of roaming Englishmen. Overhead passed a flight of cranes, their long legs trailing behind like rudders to steer them in their heavy flight, and from their long bills emitting, at intervals, the harsh cry with Nature’s melancholy note, while flocks of “sprews,” the white-bellied African starlings, flew, with noisy clatter, from side to side, and grey monkeys, their black faces rimmed in white, grimaced from waving branches. As he went down the bank, in and out among the thick bushes and clinging thorns, he started a troop of wild buffalo, which crashed off with many an angry snort, and a minute later was brought to a sudden stand by a moaning sound of no great volume, but conveying an undoubted warning. It proceeded from a cluster of rushes, and he moved his head from side to side in an endeavour to see what caused it, succeeding presently in detecting a slight movement made apparently by a small creature like a rat. Smiling at his doubts, he stepped forward, when once again the moaning was repeated, and he stooped down to peer more narrowly into the thicket. Then he saw that the small object was the tuft of a tail, and following the direction, he made the indistinct outline of a large animal crouching flat, and then, with a start, he met the full, fierce gaze of the yellow eyes. Cautiously he stepped back foot by foot until he reached the shelter of a tree, when the rushes shook, and out sprung a full-grown lion, which, after one look at him, trotted off after the buffalo which he had evidently been stalking.

“Phew!” said Webster, his heart thumping, “I suppose Frank would have shot the beggar, but hang me if I wasn’t pleased to see him cut.”

He waited for some time till his heart beat more regularly, then advanced with greater caution, examining each cluster of rushes and dark patch of bushes very carefully before passing. Half a mile further on the river took a bend and swept against a rampart of huge rocks flanked by a krantz, the home of a pair of white-headed eagles, whose harsh screams wakened weird echoes. Attracted to the wild spot, Webster stepped on one of the rocks, which jutted into the swirling water, to examine the krantz, and, noticing that caverns had been worn into the base by the water, he sprang from rock to rock till his way was barred by a smooth wall of slaty rock, which rose considerably above his head. Slinging his rifle over his back, he made use of his seamanship and quickly scaled the slope, slipped down on the other side, manoeuvred a narrow ledge, and stood in the first of a row of caves. There was nothing in this but a half-eaten fish, left evidently, from the signs, by an otter, but on rounding a slippery corner he entered a roomier cave. To his intense surprise, he saw that it had been occupied, and that recently. The walls and roof were blackened with smoke; on the smooth floor was a pile of ash, with the burnt ends of driftwood around, and on a ledge at the back was a mass of dried grass which had evidently served as a couch. He disturbed this with his gun, and dislodged a skin bag made of the entire skin of a monkey, the neck serving as an opening. Stepping to the mouth of the cave, he emptied its contents. These consisted of a copper cylinder, such as Kaffirs use to keep their “passes” clean, a necklet of crocodile teeth, a bracelet of solid ivory, stained with tobacco, and a lump of quartz, rounded at the edges from much friction. There was nothing in the cylinder, and Webster after a curious inspection of the quartz, which was heavy as lead almost, replaced the articles, and returned the bag to the ledge. He entered two other caves without finding anything fresh, and returned to the waggon, where he reported his discovery.

“You saw nothing to indicate whether the occupant was a European?” asked Hume.

“No; and I took it for granted he must be a black.”

“Natives don’t, as a rule, lead solitary lives, and still less could one of them dwell in loneliness by the side of a river, though the place may be the secret retreat of a witch-doctor.”

“Perhaps,” suggested Miss Anstrade, “the unknown visitor of last night and this hermit may be one and the same.”

“Well,” said Hume, “it is worth looking into; but in the absence of Klaas it would not be wise to leave the waggon.”

“I’ll run down and get the bag,” said Webster; “for there is nothing else in the cave from which you could draw conclusions.”

He started off, and in half an hour returned with the bag.

“This is Kaffir work, certainly,” said Hume; “but,” putting it to his nose, “it has not the native flavour, strong and pungent. This string of teeth threaded on a gut is native, and so is this bracelet. Humph! Quartz. What a weight!” He opened his knife and scraped the surface. “Why, look here; it is half gold.”

A streak of shining yellow showed on one side, between two white veins of crystal.

“It’s as rich as that piece which my uncle broke from the Golden Rock. I wonder where he found it?”

“There’s something more in the bag,” said Miss Anstrade.

“It’s the empty cylinder,” said Webster.

She slipped her hand in, drew out the little tube and opened it, at the same time uttering a cry of surprise.

“Look here!” she said, drawing out a roll of paper.

“I swear,” said Webster, with excitement, “it was empty when I found it, for I placed my finger in.”

She flattened the paper out, and looked at them with eyes wide-opened, and a flush on her cheek.

There, in her hand, lay the missing copy of the map!

Each in turn took it, turned it over and over with a blank look.

“Well, I’m hanged,” muttered Webster, under his breath. “That fellow must have placed that paper in the tube after I left the cave, and probably watched me the whole time, yet I never caught a glimpse of him.”

“He is some half-witted native,” said Hume, after a long pause.

“You forget the cry, after your disappearance. That was the voice of a white man who knew you or your uncle, and had learnt the object of our journey.”

“True, I had forgotten that. Still, one of my uncle’s men, escaping from the attack made upon his camp, may have taken up his home in the cave, and have lost his mind in the solitude. Such a man might have learnt about the Golden Rock, and he would have picked up a few words of English.”

They now heard the lowing of oxen, and presently Klaas appeared with the runaways. Hume quickly counted fifteen.

“Well, Klaas, did you search far?”

The Gaika stretched his naked arm out and swept it round. “They stood all about, some in one place, some in others, but I whistled to them, and they were joyful to see a man. Three I could not find, but the body of one.”

“You have done well, Klaas. What are these things?” and Hume handed over the bag and contents.

“Yoh! Kaffir man made these, but a white man uses them.”

“A white man?”

“Yah, sieur, it is so. It smell white man.”

The three looked at each other with uplifted eyebrows, while Klaas turned the necklet over in his hand.

“That settles it,” said Hume. “Let us search for the stranger. But, as he may be on the look-out, I will make a circuit to the top of the krantz, while you go towards the base, and leave the bag on some rock that can be seen from above.”

This was done. Webster placed the bag on a rock well out in the river, and then retired towards the camp, while Hume watched behind an aloe. For an hour he waited without seeing aught, then descended to the bottom, and himself examined the cave, without, however, finding any fresh evidence. He then returned to the camp.

“It is no use,” he said; “we should be wasting valuable time in searching for this mysterious being. If he had some design in taking that map we should be serving his purpose by lingering here. Inspan, Klaas.”

The oxen were yoked, and the waggon moved on slowly, Hume going ahead to mark out the road, and Webster, taking the “trek-tow,” or looped rheim to guide the leaders.

Before dusk they outspanned on a grassy knoll, and set to work at once with axes to build a fence round. The oxen were driven to the water, allowed to graze a short time, then driven into the enclosure and tied up. Fuel was stacked up in preparation for fires, supper was made and eaten, and then they sat talking about the man of the krantz until the clamorous howling of jackals warned them to be on watch. Miss Anstrade retired to the waggon, the sail was drawn down and two huge fires lit, one on either side of the oxen. Hume crept under, the waggon, and was soon in a deep sleep, while Webster and Klaas, on either side the waggon, kept watch.

Chapter Twenty Two.

A Startling Visit.

To Webster there was nothing unfamiliar in the lonely watches of the night, and the first long silent stretch recalled to him many a fleeting memory of hours spent upon the bridge amid the dark waters, when the mystery of night would close down upon the ship, bringing with it all manner of fancies and haunting superstitions. There was here, in this unpeopled land, the same brooding stillness, the same murmur in the air; and the deep darkness, too, was instinct and alive with the same sense of things unreal. It seemed as though, beyond the flickering circle of ruddy light cast by the crackling fires, there were forms peering in, under cover of the shadows which concealed them, at those within the light, and now and again he would strain his eyes and finger the rifle that rested across his knees.

The minutes slipped by quietly, with an occasional sigh from a contented ox; then the long, wailing cry of a jackal rose and fell, to be followed, as though it were a signal, by the deep, hollow growl of a lion. The oxen stirred uneasily, and Klaas came softly up with his red blanket wrapped about him.

“Seen anything, Klaas?”

“Nix, sieur; but I hear de leeuw.”

“Will he jump the fence?”

“Ek dink so. The wind blows across, and he will come from that side.”

“We will hear him when he springs?”

“Neh, baas, he will come over where it is dark, and lie still against the ground, so that we could walk up to him without seeing, though he sees us.”

Webster picked up a bull’s-eye lantern, pushed back the slide, and shot a vivid fan-like shaft into the gloom.

“Come, then, you hold this, and I will shoot.”

They piled fresh wood on the fires, then mounted to the waggon-box, and tried the range of the light over the oxen. At the radiance they turned their heads, and their large eyes shone reflected. Webster pushed back the slide, and they sat waiting—the one with his finger on the trigger of his Express, and the other with the lantern, which sent up a steaming vapour into his face, and a faint reflection shining upon his gleaming eyes.

Presently, just beyond the fence on the right, there broke out a booming roar that made the air vibrate, and brought the oxen to their feet. It died away in a hollow growl, and was repeated again and again from different quarters. The oxen bunched together, and Miss Anstrade knocked against the tent, while Hume called out from his lair beneath the waggon.

“It’s all right,” said Webster, “the fires are burning, and we are prepared.”

Hume crept out, and finding that the back of the waggon was unprotected, he hung a lantern there, and then went back to his couch, with the muzzle of his rifle pointing into the light thus thrown.

Klaas called out to his oxen by name to soothe them, and at the sound of his voice the two great red-and-white wheelers laid down with a grunt.

For a time there was a spell of stillness, more disquieting than the terrific chorus that had awakened far-off echoes from every roving troop of jackals.

“De leeuw talk now,” whispered Klaas.

“Talk—what about?”

“They tell what they do. The young ones wait over there and shout; the old man creep round on this side, say nothing, and jump over.”

“And you think they are settling that plan now?”

“Yoh, sieur; they make plan, bymby begin work. See, there!”

A second burst of roaring made the ground tremble, and the movement and the vibration in the air seemed to communicate more quickly the terror in the sound. It swelled and fell, and rose again, and at each pause the after-growl came in more threatening and ferocious.

“There, baas,” said the Gaika, in a thrilling whisper, dropping his long hand in a fierce grasp on Webster’s arm.

“What?” asked Webster, raising his rifle, and looking eagerly to the left.

“He jumped just now. Is the baas ready?”


The slide was opened, and the brilliant light, released, shot out into the darkness beyond the fires, and, under the steady hand of the Gaika, swept along the fence, throwing out the white scars on the broken branches. It crept back again, and the two men, with eager eyes and every nerve alert, followed the beam for sign of the fierce visitor. Three times the light swept over the ground, and Webster levelled his rifle; but just then the lamp was held still and the Kaffir made a slight noise, while his breathing became quicker.

Webster followed the light in vain.

“What is it?” he whispered.

“Skit, baas, skit!” said the Kaffir.

“I can see nothing.”

“There, there, sieur!” pointing with his assegai.

Suddenly out of the path of the light, near the ground, and apparently detached from any object, glared two balls of yellow fire, and at the same time came a low growl.

Guided now by these two luminous orbs, Webster saw a faint outline on the yellow ground.

The Kaffir clicked with his tongue impatiently.

Webster sighted between the eyes and fired.

Upon the report there followed a savage roar, and the next moment the waggon shook to the thud of some great body hurled against it.

There was a shriek from the waggon, then a muffled report.

“What is it?” shouted Hume, as he crept out from under the waggon. He caught the lantern and rushed round, just as Webster had slipped another cartridge into his rifle. The uproar was terrific. The oxen bellowed as they strained at their rheims, the lions beyond the fence roared, and from beside the waggon there rose a series of blood-curdling growls and coughs. Both guns flashed out together and the assailant laid stretched out. It was a huge yellow-maned lion, still gasping. The Kaffir drove his assegai into the heaving body, and then both Hume and Webster rushed to the waggon.

“Are you all right?” they cried.

She drew the canvas flap on one side and looked out, with her hair falling forward in heavy coils.

“What was it?” she asked.

“A wounded lion sprang upon the waggon tent.”

“Is anyone hurt?”

“No; but the lion is dead.”

“I thought something dreadful had happened, and fired as much from terror as anything.”

Hume rolled the great body over and examined it.

“Your bullet went home, at any rate, Miss Laura, and you have killed your first lion.”

“Let me see.” She drew her wraps about her, and was about to descend, when, with a shudder and a nervous laugh, she crept back, dismayed by the darkness.

The three men now walked round the enclosure, fired a couple of chance shots, restarted the fires, and returned to their posts. The uproar had subsided, and was succeeded by another spell of oppressive silence, broken at lessening intervals by a vague sound, which grew in volume, but not in distinctness, and before which the other sounds did not revive. As it grew louder it took on a rhythmical beat not unpleasant.

“It sounds like a human voice,” said Webster.

“Yes, it is a black man chanting, eh, Klaas?”

“Eweh, inkose, he sings as he walks;” and so speaking, the Kaffir stretched himself by the fire and drew his blanket over his head.

“He evidently fears no danger,” remarked Webster.

“I don’t know,” said Hume, and stirred the Gaika; “what manner of man can this be who walks abroad in the night, making sign of his presence to the lions?”

“It is the wizard,” replied the Gaika solemnly, “and it is not well to look on him. Even the beasts quit his path;” and once again he pulled the blanket over his head.

The man approached rapidly, and now the deep chest notes rolling forth in a rough melody took shape from the mighty volume of sound, and now he was at the fence; and now, with a cry of “Layate,” he leaped the thorns—a wonderful bound—and still chanting, he came up to the waggon, paused a moment at the body of the lion, then stepped to the fire, and stood there with the glow upon his tall form and in his smouldering eyes. A black man he was, of gigantic mould, with a tiger skin knotted by the fore-paws round his neck, and with a mass of bone necklets that clattered at every movement. On his forehead was a large ball of hair, behind which rose two eagle’s feathers, and he carried a bundle of sticks and assegais, while from his shoulder hung a large skin bag.

“Who are you, and what is your business?” asked Hume, after looking intently at the stranger.

The man shook his head, and his wild, roving eyes, shifting uneasily like those of an animal, glanced from object to object, dwelling at last upon the rolled-up figure of Klaas. Him, presently, he prodded with the butt of an assegai, and grinned till his white teeth gleamed.

“Stand up, Klaas,” said Hume sternly, and the Gaika, with a sullen look, rose, and gradually raised his eyes from the feet to the dreaded face. Then, like two fierce and strange dogs meeting, they stood fronting each other—the one with a commanding look, the other with lowering frown and quivering nostrils.

The stranger spoke, but the Gaika shook his head in turn.

“What does he say?” asked Hume.

“He speaks strangely, sieur.”

“Is he a witch-doctor?”

“He is not of my people, nor of the Zulus, and his toes turn out.”

“I wonder if this is our hermit?” said Webster.

“Ay, the same thought occurred to me; and the man who could leap over that fence as he did could have no difficulty in knocking me down.”

While they were talking the stranger looked at them furtively.

Hume cut a piece off a twist of Boer tobacco, and handed it to the man, who took it with a gleam of satisfaction, cut a fragment off with his assegai and put it into his mouth. The Gaika stalked away and crept under the waggon, the stranger stopping his jaws to watch him, until he heard the sigh of a man who lies down to sleep, when he appeared more at ease. Presently he squatted by the fire, spreading his hands before him, and, in a guttural voice, said, “Brandy.”

“His vocabulary may be limited,” said Webster dryly; “but it is useful,” and he went to the waggon-box for the stone demijohn in which they carried the Dop brandy.

Hume had his eye on the man and saw him shift an assegai to his right hand, whereupon he pulled back the hammer of his rifle with a click that drew a swift, furtive glance upon him.

The brandy was poured out and drunk with a resounding smack, and in jubilation he shouted out, after the Kaffir fashion, a few words of praise, and at the noise the oxen stirred.

“Yoh!” came a sharp exclamation.

“Is that you, Klaas?”

“The bush, sieur—the bush; it moves!”

“What the devil— Look after that fellow, Jim, while I see into this,” and Hume bolted round the waggon.

“Well, Klaas?”

The Gaika was not there, but Hume heard him talking to the oxen, and ran forward.

“What is it?”

“Men come in to cut rheims again, and take away the bush fence.”

“Where are they?” said Hume, throwing up his rifle.

“They run when they see me. That man by the fire no good. So I went by the waggon and watch—bymby, when he drink and cry out one word, he shout in Zulu, baleka (quick). So I leave the waggon.”

“Hold that fellow!” shouted Hume, but there came a stifled cry from Webster, and when he got round the man had gone, and Jim was rubbing his eyes.

“Hang the swab,” he said; “he threw a handful of dust in my eyes when I attempted to seize him, and bounded away. What new devilment’s afoot?”

“That fellow was in league with someone, and another attempt has been made to stampede the oxen. They beat us at every turn.”

“You are very noisy out there,” said a voice from the waggon.

“We have been entertaining a guest, and he has just left us,” said Hume, with a wry face.

“A guest in this place, and at such an hour! You should have given me an opportunity of sharing the pleasure.”

“We did not wish to disturb you.”

A close inspection was made of the fence, and three large branches, which had been removed, were replaced. Then the three men, each taking up a different post, kept watch again until the dawn.

Chapter Twenty Three.

A Duel.

They agreed to keep back from Laura the alarming incident of the night, and when she stepped out in the morning, full of curiosity, they made light of their strange visitor, and drew her attention instead to the huge body of the old lion. But though they would give her no cause for fresh anxiety, their minds were troubled and their glances continually roaming over the country for sign of the danger they were sure was preparing for them.

“It is not right,” said Hume, “that we should expose her to these terrors and risks.”

“True, my lad; and there is a look in her eyes already which I do not like.”

“What are you talking about so gloomily?” she asked.

“The fact is,” said Frank gravely, “we have made a mistake in bringing you into this wilderness, and we think we should take you back to Pretoria, or, at any rate, to some farm where you could stay safely while we returned from the search.”

“Then something did occur last night,” she said, looking from one to the other.

“The lion occurred,” said Webster, with the ghost of a smile.

“There is nothing very terrible in a dead lion. You are keeping back something from me.”

“We are just entering upon the most dangerous part of our journey, and the risks we have encountered are nothing compared to those we must expect, but they have been bad enough to alarm us on your account. We feel that we cannot expose you to the dangers and strain of constant alarms.”

“You should know by this time,” she said slowly, “that I am prepared to encounter danger, and we have already discussed and faced this very matter when we reckoned up the difficulties and hardships of the enterprise. I am resolved to continue unless my presence tires you.”

“Heaven forbid!” they muttered.

“Then be satisfied,” she said, with a sad smile; “you are relieved of the responsibility which you think due to me because I am a woman, for if I knew death were awaiting me over there among those grim mountains I would not draw back.”

They shuddered.

“Come,” she said, “I have put into words what was in your thoughts. Tell me now what happened last night, and let me judge whether the danger be the greater.”

So they told her.

“Now, see, if you had not told me I should have magnified horrors out of the unknown; but now the incident sinks into the plot of a cunning native to steal our oxen. These people can have no designs on your lives.”

They sat down to their little camp table, and then for an hour afterwards they cut bundles of long grass for their oxen that night, as Hume was determined to make long treks until they reached the vlei or lake.

The oxen were then inspanned, and they started, Hume going on ahead, Miss Anstrade sitting in the back of the waggon with her little rifle, while Webster handled the long whip, and Klaas led the oxen. They passed along a ridge, whose wooded slopes sank to the river, disturbing many troops of big game as the waggon creaked and rumbled slowly on between huge ant-hills, and in and out among aloes standing like sentinels. At noon they reached the lip of the plateau, and below them stretched a wide plain, where gleamed a large sheet of water, with moving troops of game around. Here they outspanned for the mid-day rest, and with the map before them traced the route taken by Old Hume, away to the right, across the river, through a wide belt of reeds, which shone in the sun like a white streak, then up the far-distant range of rugged mountains.

“I feel within me the glow of the explorer who sees the mists veiling the bed of a mighty and unknown river,” said Miss Anstrade, as she looked with kindling eyes over the low-lying country. “But the way seems so easy that a horrible doubt arises. Surely someone must have been before us.”

“What do you think, Webster?”

“It seems to me to be plain sailing; but no doubt a nearer view would open up reefs and difficulties.”

“Yes, difficulties enough. Now, see that belt of reeds looking like a ribbon for thickness: it must be three miles in width and saturated with water. It will need a struggle to get through. Then there is the mountain to climb, and a particular spot in it to find, and beyond that the dangers from those who are said to protect the Rock; but before we enter upon any of those tasks we have to reach that sheet of water, which must be some twenty miles off, and there we may be forced to abandon our waggon.”

“Why should we?—the country looks quiet enough.”

“Well, our party is too small to divide, and in anything we attempt we must keep together. As for the country being quiet, I can see smoke rising from three different kraals, and depend upon it, as soon as the people see us they will swarm round, ready to beg, steal, or fight.”

The day was sultry, with a hot steam rising from the marshy lowlands, and they soon sought the welcome shade of the baobab, whose wide-spreading branches sent down roots to the ground. The ground beneath, in a wide circle, had been trampled bare of grass by buffalo and wild beast, which had here resorted to rub their tough hides against the rough stems; there were the remains, too, of old fires, and on the parent trunk, high up, where the bark was smooth, the handiwork of some roving white man, who had deeply scored his initials.

“It is quite a fresh scar,” said Webster, noticing the marks.

“By Jove, yes! and made within the day; for, see, here are parts of the old bark on the ground. What is it? D.H.—the initials of my uncle.”

“Baas,” said Klaas warningly; “here come men.”

They started round, snatched up their rifles, and looked about to see a small body of natives hesitating whether to advance or not.

“Advance,” said Hume in Zulu.

The leading man at once stepped forward, the others following, and in a few moments six stalwart natives, armed with assegais and shields, were looking curiously at the small party of whites.

“Greeting, inkose,” said the leader in deep tones, looking out of the corner of his eye at Miss Anstrade.

“To you also,” said Hume quietly.

The men stood silent for a full minute; but their quick glances took in every detail, coming back always to the slender form of the white lady.

“I come from the great chief, Gungunhama, the strong one,” said the leader, “and demand a present from the stranger.”

“Demand?” said Hume.

“Oh, ay, the country is his, the game in it, and the people. Inkose must pay, or take the path he has travelled.”

“You have flown fast if you come from Gungunhama, for his kraal is six suns away.”

“My chief is not one who sends a word to each white man who enters his country. He moves himself only when he wishes to strike, and his word is spoken to little people through his Indunas.”

“So,” said Hume, swallowing his wrath, “I have a present for the chief; but I must know that the man I give it to is the one authorised to receive.”

“You are few, and one of you is a woman,” said the Zulu, coolly taking a pinch of snuff. “So I brought only these men. If your present is large I can bring a regiment, that of Incornati, to-night, and my young men are quick to anger.”

This was a veiled threat that checked Hume, who had been disposed to carry matters with a high hand.

“Sit!” he said, “and eat. Klaas, give these men meat.”

Klaas did as he was ordered, and the Zulus eyed him disdainfully at first, then subjected him to a running fire of stinging criticism. Presently he answered back, and one of the younger men struck at his shins with a kerrie.

The Gaika’s blood was up, and flinging the venison down in the ashes, he ran for his sticks, while the young Zulu, with a jeering laugh, rose to his feet.

“Drop those sticks, Klaas,” shouted Hume angrily.

Klaas hesitated, then sullenly replaced his kerries and turned away, whereat the Zulus laughed again.

“It is not fitting that we should serve ourselves,” said the Induna; “let this servant wait on us.”

Hume called to the Gaika to attend to the guests, but he clicked his tongue and would not move.

“Come,” said Miss Anstrade gently; “do as you are told, Klaas.”

Thereupon Klaas moved slowly to the fire, placed the kettle on to boil, and made coffee, while all the time a running fire of chaff was turned on him.

“It seems they want to provoke him,” muttered Webster, with an unfriendly glance at the arrogant natives.

“Yes,” said Hume, “and it is contrary to their custom, for Zulus are aristocrats.”

When the visitors had fed, Hume brought out from the waggon a roll of coloured print, a railway rug, and a few knives, which he laid on the ground.

The Induna regarded them contemptuously, and, after a long argument, Hume added a couple of blankets and a roll of brass wire to the articles. At a shout from the Induna, four other men appeared, gathered up the presents, and departed. Then the Induna demanded something for himself, and receiving a quarter of what he asked, presently rose, whereupon the young Zulu, a tall and powerful savage, deliberately emptied the steaming contents of his pannikin over Klaas’ bare feet. With a bound Klaas reached his sticks, and this time Hume did not interfere.

“You will not let them fight,” implored Miss Anstrade.

“Yes,” said Hume; “Klaas comes of a tribe who have no equals in the use of sticks, and he will teach this young brute a lesson. Now,” he continued, turning to the Induna, “you wish these men to fight. Let them; but if one of you raises a hand to help I will shoot him.”

The Induna smiled contemptuously.

“A Zulu is better than three slaves and sons of slaves. My man will beat him; but you must not help either. Let them battle in the open, and we will stand here.”

Miss Anstrade cast one shuddering look at the two men; then, suddenly running forward, she dipped her handkerchief in the water, bade Klaas lift his foot, and made a bandage round the inflamed ankle. Then she climbed into the waggon and stopped her ears to the fierce sound of the strife.

Klaas threw his head back and shouted the Gaika war-cry, then rolled a blanket about his left arm, and moved forward with his long iron-wood kerrie outstretched. He was an older man than the Zulu, shorter, and thinner, and his much-patched clothes made his movements appear awkward when compared with the agile grace of the almost naked Zulu, whose smooth skin shone like satin. In his left hand the Zulu held a long shield, while he twirled in his left hand a short but heavily-knobbed kerrie.

“They are not fairly matched,” growled Webster; “and that fellow has a further advantage in his shield and heavy stick.”

“The Gaika does not think so. Look at his face.”

The small eyes of the Kaffir glistened like those of an animal, and he followed every movement of the Zulu, who was going through a performance by which he meant to strike his opponent with terror at his prowess. He leaped into the air, bounded from side to side, danced on his toes, twisted, turned, struck at the ground—all the time accompanying these antics with shouts and deep grunts.

“Enough,” said the Gaika; “these are for children. Stand still and fight.”

The Zulu paused, astonished, then, with his shield before him, he advanced, crouching to the attack, and springing suddenly into the air struck swiftly a blow that would have settled the fate of Klaas had he not been prepared, but springing lightly to one side, he rapped his enemy across his broad back.

The Zulu bounded forward out of reach, turned, and again advanced impetuously, his glaring eyeballs showing above the feathered tuft at the end of his shield.

This time Klaas did not wait, but swinging his five feet of tough kerrie, he delivered, in rapid succession, three sweeping blows, one at the head, the next at the body, and the last at the bare toes, and then sprang back to keep the proper distance for a telling blow. The Zulu rushed in again, to be again beaten back by blows delivered with lightning rapidity, one of which drew the blood from his forehead; then he sprang from side to side, advanced, retreated, and feinted, until his movements were almost too rapid to follow, and at last bounded forward with stick uplifted.

“By Jove!” muttered Webster, “he will kill him.”

The Gaika had his kerrie trailing from his side, and as the Zulu bounded through the air he made a sweeping blow upwards, which, falling full on the Zulu’s elbow, made him drop his stick. As it fell, Klaas knocked it away with a backhanded blow, and sprang between it and his foe.

There was a fierce cry from the Induna, a triumphant shout from the two white men, and the tall Zulu, standing with his arm at his side, looked with bloodshot eyes and curling lips at the despised Kaffir. A minute he stood panting heavily, then his hand stole behind his shield, and he drew forth a short-hafted, long-bladed stabbing assegai.

“Stop!” thundered Hume.

“It is a fight,” said the Induna, sullenly fingering his assegai.

“All right, my baas,” said Klaas, and, with his left arm across his body, he shook his stick.

The Zulu threw forward his shield at full length, and walked forward warily, determined to get in one stab, his right arm held back out of reach of that whirling stick.

“It is murder,” said Webster hoarsely.

Twice the long blade darted out like the tongue of a snake, and the second time it pierced the Gaika’s thigh; but the Gaika was not idle, and the air whistled to his rushing blows, and the drumming on the hard shield was continuous. Still the Zulu pressed relentlessly, though the blood trickled over his face, and his shoulders showed the marks of angry blows. At last he gave his war-cry, “Zu-tu,” and throwing his shield above his head, made one fierce thrust. The blade was caught, however, in the folds of the blanket, and the kerrie came with a sounding crack across the unprotected shins, bringing the Zulu to the ground. Klaas picked up the assegai, and threw his hand back to stab, but Hume, expecting this, reached his side and seized his wrist. Then the prostrate Zulu bounded to his feet, and ran to his friends for another assegai.

“Enough!” cried Hume sternly. “Go!”

In five minutes the little party were left alone, the Induna and his followers having moved off without a word.

“Are you hurt, Klaas?” said Hume, while Webster shook the Kaffir by his bruised and bleeding hand.

“Neh, baas; the Zulu is no good with kerrie. Will baas give me supje brandy?”

The baas gave him two, which Klaas drank with a smack of his lips, then with his eyes still glowing, he swelled out his chest and sang his song of victory.

An hour afterwards, when his wounds had been looked to, the order was given to inspan.

The oxen were grazing near the waggon when the Zulus appeared; but now they were missing. A few minutes’ search showed them far down the plain, being driven away, while the sun shone on the spears of a large number of blacks seated in a circle behind them.

Hume brought out the glass and examined the group.

“There is the Induna,” he said, shutting the glass and turning with a set face to Webster and Miss Anstrade.

“Well,” said Webster, “of course he is there; but you have paid him, and he will send the oxen back.”

“No, they mean trouble. They came here prepared to kill Klaas, and they have stolen our oxen so that they can attack us at their leisure. What do you say, Klaas?”

“Yah, sieur. They think Kaffir too quick, and they want to kill him first, then kill masters after. Chief tell his people now that we hurt one of his men. That is enough.”

“It is pretext enough,” said Hume bitterly; “and I should not have allowed the fight.”

“We have four guns,” said Webster, “and plenty of ammunition and provisions if they attack us.”

“And if they don’t,” said Miss Anstrade quietly, “we must leave the waggon and walk.”

“We have first to think of defence,” said Hume gloomily, eyeing the waggon and the great tree. “We shall want time to talk over our plans and get together the articles we want. They may attack to-night.” He paced off the width of the tree, then did the same to the waggon. “That is it, we must draw the waggon up parallel with the trunk, leaving a space of twelve feet between, then build a turf wall with an outer fence of thorns.”

This was done. After strenuous efforts the heavy waggon was drawn up, and with pick, shovel, and axe they set to work in feverish haste.

“They are moving,” said Miss Anstrade, who was keeping watch, “and coming this way.”

Chapter Twenty Four.

The Attack.

“They are coming this way,” said Miss Anstrade.

“Open fire at them,” said Hume, “when they come within range,” and he stooped his back to widen the trench around the little camp.

Webster drove in his pick, and looked sidelong at Laura, who stood with her rifle in her hand, staring blankly at Hume.

“I may hit them,” she said falteringly.

“So much the better,” was the grim response.

The sod wall rose higher against the outside wheels of the waggon, and the Gaika had already lopped off a large number of branches from the mimosa-trees, together with some stunted wacht-en-beetje bushes.

“We must close up the ends with bags and boxes. Let us have them out.”

“I can see the colour of their shields now, and some of the men are springing into the air.”

“They mean to attack, then,” said Hume, pausing a moment to glance down the hill. “Put up the five hundred yards’ sight.”

“Hark, I hear them shouting.”

Klaas heard, too, and as he swung the axe, he answered with a deep-chested war-cry.

A moment later there was a dull report, and a bullet whistled overhead.

“By Jove, they have rifles, and there can be no mistake about their intention. Shoot, Laura.”

The little rifle came to the shoulder, and her white cheek was pressed to the butt, but the barrel shook, and she lowered it. She looked round at the two men, and seeing the look of anxiety on their faces as they hurried on with their work, she threw the rifle up again and pressed the trigger.

A deep, booming shout replied.

“I hope I have not hit anyone,” she said anxiously.

Webster laughed; but Klaas, in his excitement at the first shot, bounded forward, swinging his axe and hurling insults at the foe.

“Come back, you fool!” shouted Hume hoarsely.

The Gaika danced back on his toes, and at his curious antics Miss Anstrade laughed; but at the sight of the passion in his face the laugh ended hysterically.

“Come behind the boxes, Laura,” cried Webster.

“I would rather stand here until you are ready,” she said proudly, while with trembling fingers she extracted the empty cartridge and inserted another. The sharp crack of her rifle rang out again, and then she began to fire rapidly.

At last the barricade was finished, and the little laager was complete, flanked on one side by the huge tree, on the left by the waggon and bank of turf, at the ends by boxes and bags.

“Now for the outer fence,” said Hume; and climbing over the boxes they began quickly to draw the thorn branches, with the stems in. This outer fence left a clear space of about fifteen feet.

“Pass up, sieur,” cried Klaas, as Hume walked out to cut down another tree; “there are men creeping round.”

“Get my gun!”

Klaas sprang for the heavy weapon; and Hume stood on an ant-hill to take a look at the foe. They appeared halting about three hundred yards off, with their shields before them, and their waving plumes nodding above, while their assegai blades threw off the sunlight in sparks.

“They have not moved,” said Miss Anstrade, “since I fired.”

But Klaas knew differently, and his keen eyes had seen a few men glide into the long grass, to show themselves momentarily at lessening intervals, and when he judged they were too near to be pleasant he cried out:

“There, baas! there, my good baas, by the round bush!” indicating a spot about one hundred yards away.

As Hume raised his Express a bullet struck the ant-hill beneath him, while a cloud of smoke drifted away from a rock to the right of the bush. At this there was a shout from the main body, and the enemy dashed forward.

The Express covered the bush, and as the leaves shook it cracked, then, swinging his gun round, he covered one of the advancing troop and fired again.

“Hit!” said Webster.

“To the laager!” shouted Hume; and the little party clambered into the enclosure.

“Lie down, Laura, there, under the waggon.”

“Will they get in?” she asked.

Hume fired twice.

“Too high, Jim; aim at their feet. No, they won’t come within sixty yards;” and he fired again.

The shouts of the Zulus rose hoarse and terrible, mingled with shrill whistling. On they rushed, right up to the outer barricade, and then, as they were brought up, and the terrible Express bullets tore through them, they hurled their throwing assegais, then scattered and fled for shelter. Some of the assegais entered the little fort and were embedded in the earth, their hafts quivering; others glanced along the branches, and many stuck into the waggon.

“That was a warm rush,” said Webster; “and if it had not been for the mercy of that fence we would have been speared to a certainty.”

Hume was passing a cleaner through the barrels of his Express, and looking over the box barricade at the enemy, or, rather, for a sign of them, for they had apparently sunk into the earth. He did not reply, but turned presently and looked at Miss Anstrade.

“Well?” she questioned.

“If they make another rush, having now warmed to it, two rifles will not keep them back, and then—”


“There can only be one end,” he looked at her with sad eyes, and then added, “for us.”

“And for me?” she asked.

He turned away.

She came from under the waggon.

“I understand,” she said firmly; “and if they come again there will be three rifles.”

No sooner had she stood up, than an assegai, hurled from the rear, whizzed by her head and plunged into the tree. Before they could turn, Klaas with one bound sprang over the barricade, and, throwing his hand back, launched an assegai at a small bush beyond the fence, then quickly darted another; and, as the second spear rattled through the leaves, a tall Zulu sprang up. Springing over the bushes he leapt towards the fence, and, with one terrific bound cleared its bristling height, the tufted armlets and long feathers streaming behind, and as he reached the ground he thundered his war-cry. Before this magnificent rush the Gaika held his ground, his body stooping, the slender assegai quivering in his fingers as he poised it, and, as the Zulu struck the ground the weapon sped from his hand. Swift it flew, and straight, so that it seemed there could be no escape from its thirsting blade; but the Zulu’s shield met it, and with a sure turn of the wrist, sent it whirring harmlessly through the thorns.

Then the Gaika, weaponless, tore the shirt from his body, baring his naked breast, and stood with folded arms. The Zulu caught the Kaffir by his arm, and, towering up a full head taller, glared down into his eyes, and raised his stabbing assegai.

At the sight, the three spectators in the little fort stood horrified, while from behind numerous ant-hills there rose up men to watch the scene.

“Klaas,” said a quiet, authoritative voice, “fall down, and I will shoot.”

At the voice the Zulu fixed his fierce and bloodshot eyes upon the group, dwelt for a moment on the white face of the lady, then rested with a questioning look.

“Eh, Hu-em,” he cried, then drew the point of his spear across the muscular breast of the Kaffir, leaving a lone red line. His hand relaxed, and Klaas, turning, was inside the laager in a moment, where he picked up another assegai.

The Zulu stood between the fence and the barricade, calmly looking at the white men, and presenting, as he stood there, the very picture of war, with courage expressed in the poise of his head, command in the fearless glance of his eye, character and will in the clear sweep of his clean-cut jaws, strength in the broad shoulders, and activity in the straight limbs, all bone and muscle.

“Do not shoot him,” answered Miss Anstrade.

“Shoot him! Good heavens, no! Is it Sirayo?”


Hume sprang over the boxes, and ran with outstretched hands to the great warrior, who had led the last charge at the battle of Ulundi, and had distinguished himself in a hundred desperate fights.

“Why are you fighting against us, Sirayo, my friend?”

“I was told you were bad people. So I came here to kill or die. What matters it? Sirayo is no longer a chief, his assegai is at anyone’s command.”

“Come in, my friend. We are not bad; these people have three times tried to steal our cattle, now they would take our lives. We are but four, and one is a woman.”

“Tell me the story,” said the Zulu, “and I will listen.”

Hume told him all that had occurred, and when he had finished Sirayo turned once more, dragged a thorn-bush away, and stepping through, advanced into the open.

Hume stood anxiously waiting, and Webster, coming to his side, asked if he should shoot.

“Wait; I know this man well. There is no treachery in him, and he may prove our friend.” Still he waited breathlessly.

Sirayo stopped when he was near the enemy, and then, striking his assegai against his shield, he told them they had lied.

“You brought me against these people with false stories; I find they are my friends, and my shield is their shield, my assegai is their assegai. But, inasmuch as you came here thinking you had the help of Sirayo, I stand here to meet any of you hand to hand, lest you say I fled from you when there was danger.”

No one took up the challenge, which was received with a howl of rage, but presently man called to man until the news was carried to the Induna, who directed the attack from afar, and at his command there was a general movement towards that end of the laager where Sirayo stood.

At this the chief, not carrying defiance to the point of foolishness, returned into the camp, closing up the fence after him, and entered the laager. There was no time for talk, for the enemy appeared to be gathering for another rush, and fire was opened to check them, but when they altered their minds and drew off, Hume asked the chief the paramount question, whether the laager was strong enough to resist a determined attack.

Sirayo stretched his arms.

“You are in a hole; good if you can keep them out, but a death-trap if they enter, and when the night comes they will pull away the thorns. See this tree? I already had marked it, and meant in the dark to send six young men. They would have climbed secretly into its branches and dropped among you. No; if you would live you must steal away.”

“They will be on the watch.”

“No. They know you cannot attack them, and before the dawn, after they have drawn away the thorns, they will come. By that time you must be away.”

Hume interpreted, and it was resolved to take the chief’s advice. It was necessary, however, to get together as many necessaries as they could carry, and while Hume busied himself with this work, the others went out beyond the laager, for, as Sirayo advised, it was better to show they were not afraid. They paced round and round, longing, yet fearing, for the night to come, and frequently the glances of Miss Anstrade and Webster stole to the tall figure of the chief, half doubtful still of his intentions, while the Gaika regarded him sullenly in the light of an interloper.

Presently the two natives stood silently regarding some object on the plain, and, attracted by their attention, Miss Anstrade asked what it was they saw.

“White men,” said Klaas.

“White men! Oh, then, we need not fly from our waggon, our home.”

Klaas shook his head.

“Bad men, they.”

“How can you tell, when they are so far that I cannot even see them?”

“They bad men,” said Klaas, shaking his head, with the Kaffir’s reluctance or incapacity to explain the reasons that led up to his firm opinion.

White men they certainly were, and presently they were met by a native. Were they friends or not? Anxiously they were watched as the men leisurely approached, and when they were close enough to be distinctly seen even by the untrained eyes of the Europeans, Miss Anstrade waved her handkerchief.

“Pass op,” shouted Klaas, “he will skit,” and at the cry four men sprang before Laura, while a tiny puff of smoke rolled up above the strangers, and a bullet whizzed unpleasantly near. That was the reply to the salute!

Hume, who had come out at the news of the strangers, flung up his rifle and fired, but the heavy Express carried wide at a long range.

“They are preparing,” said Sirayo quietly, and took a pinch of snuff, while as he held the powder to his nostrils he pointed with his assegai to where the gleam of shields showed thick among the bushes.

Hume took from Miss Anstrade her light and beautifully finished rifle. Then, throwing a handful of dust into the air to get the direction of the wind, he put up the 500 yards sight.

“If I can pick that brute off I may stop the rush,” and he nodded at one of the two whites who stood upon an ant-hill.

“Three hundred yards, I think,” said Webster, measuring the distance with his eye.

“No; the clear air takes off from the distance. Now, Klaas, see where the bullet strikes. I will shoot better beyond the fence;” and pulling away a thorn, he walked out to an ant-hill.

“They come,” cried Miss Anstrade, as the nodding plumes of the Zulus moved forward.

Hume knelt down, and resting the barrel on the conical top of the ant-mound, aimed long—so long, that Webster felt tempted to rush out and pull him in. At last came the crack.

“Missed, by heavens!” shouted Webster, and he emptied his two barrels at the dark mass which was now moving on the left in a direction parallel to the camp.

“Baas shoot too strong,” cried Klaas, and Hume put up 450 yards, and inserted another cartridge.

“Come in, man, come in; they are running.”

Sirayo moved out of the fence with the Express, after motioning Miss Anstrade to the laager.

Hume aimed again—longer than before—and the beat of the bare feet over the grass rose louder and louder, like the rush of a river in flood. At last!

“Oh, ay,” shouted Klaas, “he is dead,” and the man on the ant-hill, throwing up his arms, fell forward.

Then Hume, rising, took the Express from Sirayo, and, whipping round, dropped a warrior to each barrel, and, Webster firing rapidly too, caused a check, most of the men dropping to the grass to advance with more safety. But a dozen warriors, tempted by the chance of catching Hume outside the fence, leapt on, swallowing the ground with enormous strides, and twisting whenever the deadly rifle covered one of them. On they came in silence, their shields before them, and the short assegais that won victory for the Zulus held in readiness, and now the gleam of their eyes could be seen, and now a low moan breaks from their lips as they feel their prey.

Webster gradually slipped nearer to the fence with Klaas at his side, and as the Zulus came together in the last rush, the four barrels were emptied and the revolvers drawn.

Now Sirayo’s terrible war-cry was raised as he suddenly bounded forward; in a few strides the lean Gaika was by his side with his sheaf of assegais. There was a shock of shield striking shield, and the foremost Zulu fell with a groan, while, in the same breath almost, the tough shield of the chief met the thrust of the next man, and his red blade plunged deep beneath the arm. “Eh, Zu-tu!” he shouted, springing back from another blow, while his third assailant ate the assegai of the Gaika. Then came the sharp crack-crack of heavy navy revolvers, and the five surviving Zulus turned and ran.

Then they retired into the laager, having taught the enemy a terrible lesson, and then the chief offered snuff with his red hand to the Gaika, who took this pledge of friendship.

“You are a great warrior,” said Hume to Sirayo, “and you, Klaas, have fought like a lion.”

“It is nought,” said the Zulu. “I have killed ten men of the Nkobomokase in a feud when first I got my ring as a married man, and they were warriors every one—not men of the swamps like these, who are feeble. But it is well. They will not attack again to-night, and when the jackal calls we may go safely.”

Chapter Twenty Five.

The Escape.

When the night swiftly settled down, a ring of fires sprang up about the little camp, and the warriors seated round chanted their battle songs with many a burst of merriment. But in the camp thus hemmed in there was silence—the silence of despair. Though they had beaten their foes off the victory would not lay with them, as they had to abandon their waggon, the home of many happy days; their possessions, which became more valuable with each day’s move from civilisation; and had to face the hardships and dangers of progress through savage country on foot, themselves their own porters.

“Is there no hope of holding out?” asked Webster.

Hume glanced significantly at Miss Anstrade, who, with head averted, was listening, with evident nervousness, to the ominous chants of the Zulus.

“We must escape,” he muttered.

“At least, let us scuttle the ship before we leave her, lay a train to the powder-room, and blow her up.”

“And so tell them that we have left the camp. No; I’m afraid we must leave everything standing. I have made four large bundles, and we can take away enough to last.”

Blankets and rugs, rolled up and tied at their ends, were slung like horse-collars over their shoulders and across their breasts, rifles were picked up, bundles tied on with the ox rheims; and so prepared they waited the return of Sirayo, who had gone off scouting into the night. And as they waited their first regret at leaving gave place to a nervous anxiety to be off, for the darkness brought to them a thorough sense of the insecurity of their position. A rustle in the leaves of the huge tree rising above them like a dome made them look up apprehensively, lest some daring savage was already in lurking amid the branches, and when at last Klaas signalled the approach of Sirayo, they stepped forward eagerly to meet him.

“Is the way open, chief?” whispered Hume.

“They watch like jackals when the lion has killed,” he said gloomily. “The order has gone round.”

“What! do they fear we will attempt to escape?”

“They know. Their white chief has told them.”

“Could we not get through while they are singing?” asked Hume, looking moodily into the darkness.

“Those who sing are not those who watch; they are nearer, and will close in until they are a fence right round.”

Hume turned despondently to explain, and all tightened their grasp on their weapons, and listened for any sign of this living and deadly ring, narrowing its coil for the final crush.

“Baas, I have a plan,” said the Gaika suddenly.

“What is it?”

“Which way would the baas go?”

“Towards the river,” said Hume impatiently.

“My plan is this. I will creep out on the other side and cry out that you have escaped there. The men will then run up and you may then quickly move for the river.”

“It is a good plan,” growled Sirayo. “I also will go, and when we meet those in the way we will fight and at the sound all will rush up.”

“And you would be killed,” said Hume, after weighing it over, “and they would follow on after us. No, no, if we cannot escape together we will fight here and die together.”

“Let it be so,” said Sirayo, squatting by the fire and proceeding to eat.

The others looked at him for some time, then Miss Anstrade, with a sudden start, laid her hand on Hume’s shoulder.

“I have it,” she said breathlessly. “Those rockets; you remember you bought some at Pretoria in case we wished to signal from the camp to any lagger. Let us fire them off, and perchance these strange fiery stars will terrify the natives.”

“By Jove!” exclaimed Hume, “there’s something in that,” and he dived into the waggon to emerge presently with a bundle of fireworks.

“You’ll get the full effect in this darkness,” remarked Webster dryly, “and the blacks should be greatly pleased.”

“The idea may seem to you childish,” said Hume, fixing a couple of rockets, “but try and imagine your sensations if for the first time you saw a rocket streaming into the night.”

The experiment was tried. Into the darkness rushed the rockets, exploded high up, and sent down a shower of coloured sparks, which, slowly fading as they sank, left a blacker darkness than before.

From the two Kaffirs in the camp there rung exclamations of surprise, and Sirayo strove hard to conceal his astonishment; but from beyond there was no response, either in fear or admiration.

“Fire the next just close to the ground,” suggested Webster; and they gathered behind Hume, peering into the dark, their faces coming and going out of the shadow as the light from the match fell on them. There was a flash, a long stream of light darted out, hissing, and as the light swiftly flashed, they say a row of shields, the glint of assegais: then there was a yell, as the warriors, who had been arrested in their stealthy advance by the mysterious fire, now broke and fled.

“They run!” said Sirayo loudly; “they say it is witchcraft, that you talk with the stars. Come!”

Quickly they slipped out, Hume remaining a moment to fix two other rockets with slow fuses, and then, after closing up the opening in the fence, he overtook the others. With Sirayo ahead, Webster and Hume on either side of Laura, and Klaas behind, they felt their way cautiously over the rough ground, and, as they went, there streamed out towards the sky the other two rockets. A deep murmur arose from the awestruck natives, who would, no doubt, remain fixedly gazing towards the camp for more portents; and the little party, taking advantage of their opportunity, pushed on rapidly till they reached the long slope stretching down to the thick bush on the banks of the river. Now they could advance with less caution and more speed, and their spirits rose as the hope of safety increased, for they had not time yet to realise this disaster that had overwhelmed them. At last the outlying mimosas of the thick woods arrested their progress, and, for the first time, they halted to readjust their burdens.

“Which way does your path lie?” asked Sirayo.

“Down the river, and then up into the mountains.”

“Yoh!” exclaimed the chief, astonished, “the safe path is back on the way you came, and into the white man’s country.”

“We undertook this journey for a purpose, and it is not now we will turn back. You will come with us?”

“When Sirayo sets forth on a journey, he knows beforehand whither he goes and why. You are not hunting, and your lives are dearer to you than the sight of the mountain.”

“We have heard a tale of a yellow rock that lies beyond the mountain, and we would see whether the tale is true.”

“Soh! I have heard that tale from the people we have left. They have talked much about it, and of a strange man who knows of it. Many, they say, have set out to find that rock, but never one came back.”

“Then it is there?” said Hume.

“Oh, ay; yet if it has not been found it may not exist. A tale grows easily out of nothing, and lives long on the tongues of old men. This rock has been polished by the gossips till it shines like a flame, but the man who set the tale going may have seen only the sun striking on a girl’s armlet.”

“Well, we will search for it, and with your aid.”

The chief took a pinch of snuff, as could be judged from the loud sniff. “We must cover up the spoor. Let your friend come with me so that we may lay a new spoor away from this, and do you keep on the river.”

This was done. Webster remained with Sirayo, while the others went on slowly and with many pauses till they heard the river flowing, when they waited for the dawn, wrapping themselves up in their blankets to keep off the night chill. At dawn they continued their flight for several miles along the bank of the river until they reached a place where the bed narrowed between granite banks, where a halt was cried and they waited for the other two, who came up close on noon, having smothered the trail and laid a false track up stream. Preparations were made to cross, for it was feared the Zulus might lay dogs upon the spoor, and Webster, in a marvellously short time, made a small raft out of driftwood. It was large enough to hold Laura, the rifles and goods, and the men, stripped to the waist, swam at the sides, splashing vigorously to frighten the crocodiles. Without accident they reached the further shore, landing amid a confused mass of boulders, over which they struggled to the shelter of the woods. As before, Webster and the chief remained behind, this time to watch if the enemy discovered their crossing, while the others pushed on wearily down wide game tracks into a patch of forest trees, where they rested, at last, under a wild fig-tree, whose light-coloured branches stretched wide and high. Here, with the driest of wood, a fire was made, and carefully nursed so that it should not give forth thick smoke; a tin hold-all was produced from one of the bundles, the kettle set to boil, the blankets spread on the branches, and a small leafy shelter made for Laura. This work occupied them until they were joined by the others, who reported that they had heard only the distant shouts of the Zulus, but had seen no one.

“They are content,” said Sirayo; “they have got what they wanted—your waggon, your oxen, your goods, and if they have lost a few men there are less to share the spoil.”

“But the white men who were with them will not give up the pursuit so readily.”

“Oh, ay; the white man’s hate, like his bullet, reaches far, and strikes when you are out of sight and have forgotten, but those were not of your race; they are yellow men from the coast, and maybe they, too, are in search of the flaming stone.”


“I know not, but they chatter much, make much trouble with the women, and show their teeth when they are angry; moreover, they are idle and of little stature.”

“They are certainly Portuguese,” said Hume, with a sly glance at Laura, as he interpreted.

“You may depend,” she said, “that Lieutenant Gobo is still following us, though surely he must have some other motive than that of revenge. His persistence would be out of all proportion to the injury he has received. And you remember the offer he made to me if I disclosed the object of our mission.”

Chapter Twenty Six.

On the March.

They had passed their first night in safety, disturbed only at intervals by the snorting of buffalo, and in the morning they were seated round the fire, eating rather unpalatable “cookies” of meal baked under the coals, and drinking black coffee, steaming hot, from tin pannikins, Hume having made a good selection of stores.

Suddenly Webster planted his tin in the soft ground, threw his head back, and laughed long and hearty.

“Well?” questioned Laura, parting her lips in a smile.

“Excuse me,” said Webster helplessly; “but, upon my word, of all going-a-fishing, this is the funniest,” and he laughed again.

“I don’t see the joke,” growled Hume, as he looked through the steam of his coffee.

“Exactly; that’s what makes it so absurd. Lord, just think of it; we’ve been to great expense and enormous trouble, and have taken a year or a month—I don’t know for the life of me which—to get here, and now here we are adrift with about two weeks’ provisions.”

“I see no fun in that.”

“Man, it’s brimful of fun, if you only look at it in a proper light,” and carefully lifting up his tin, he began to sip his coffee, the light of laughter still gleaming pleasantly in his eyes.

“The most dreadful part, to my mind,” said Laura, “is the ease with which we adapt ourselves to the most sudden changes. Look at my hands; how coarse they are!”

It was now Hume’s turn to laugh. “That is an extraordinary ground for complaint,” he said, “when you have so many greater grievances at hand.”

“What greater grievance can a woman have than that of diminishing charms? I believe my face is freckling. Give me that tin plate. Thank you.”

She took the plate from Webster, polished the bottom of it, and then calmly studied her reflection.

“I am sorry I did not think of a looking-glass,” said Hume, “but I must confess I was not in a state to pick and choose carefully.”

“You did well,” said Webster heartily; “though it was a pity you forgot my razor, both for me and yourself. By-the-way, why did you burden yourself with that small crowbar?”

Hume looked a little confused. “Well,” he said, after a pause, “I thought that if we did find this—this infernal rock—the crowbar would be of use.”

“Of course,” replied Webster gravely; “of course. Let me see, what would be the value of fifty pounds of raw gold?”

“Close on 3,000 pounds.”

“Is that all. Lord love you! and has it not struck you that we could never get away with fifty pounds weight of dead metal about each of us? So that if there is a ton of gold it would not be worth to us more than the little we could carry away.”

They looked at each other blankly.

“We could hide a great quantity away, to be recovered on another journey.”

“Gentlemen, may I remind you of Mrs Glass’s advice to catch your hare before you cook him?”

“Now we’ve lost our bearings again,” said Webster, “and just, too, when we’d almost put into port and got the precious cargo on board, though by the same token the breadth of our backs is the only space at the disposal of our supercargo.”

“By Jove, you are right! we have lost our bearings,” growled Hume. “If you’ll believe me, I never thought of retrieving the gold, a work of uncommon difficulty, since we cannot possibly coax the metal from its matrix and will have to load ourselves with a worthless weight of quartz. If the rock is as rich as the specimen implies, we would have to carry away half of quartz, giving twenty-five pounds of gold to each, or only 1,500 pounds. Now, is it worth while advancing for such a little?”

“Nonsense,” said Miss Anstrade, with a frown.

“I am merely looking at the matter from a common-sense point, and Jim has just considered the humorous side. We both apparently come into the same ‘blind alley,’ and see the absurdity of running against a stone wall. We have lost everything, we have narrowly escaped with our lives, and now, even if, when not properly equipped for continuing the enterprise, we do succeed, the reward sinks to insignificant proportions—insignificant, that is, compared to the boundless wealth we originally contemplated.”

“Nonsense,” she repeated; “you originally had the very slightest faith in the existence of this rock, and the value of the reward is not the consideration you would prize. We have risked all and braved all to find it. Let us find it, and the pride of discovery after so many dangers and disappointments will be our reward. You mean to continue the search?”

“Of course,” said Hume.

“How about a canoe?” said Webster, getting up, and jobbing his hunting knife into the fig-tree.

“We don’t want a canoe, for the distance to the belt of reeds must be about nineteen miles, and we can walk that before you would finish your vessel. Afterwards we will ask you to build us a raft, which I think would be better, as there are many rocks in the channel.”

“A raft,” she said, with a smile; “then what would there be to prevent your making two or three trips to load your raft with as much of the metal as you like?”

“Good,” said Hume, laughing; “but, as you observed, we must first catch our hare, and he appears to be vanishing while we talk. Opstan—Klaas—we march.”

In half an hour they struck out of the forest into the glare of the sun, slightly tempered by the feathery mimosa, whose little fluffy buds of yellow bloom scented the heavy air. From the river banks there rose in thick masses the lustrous green foliage of the wild palmiet, rising from out of a ring of golden yellow, where the old leaves drooping had faded, and above the river, defining its winding course, rested a slight vapour, while beyond was the wide plain of rolling grass out of which had come their enemies.

They stood long with fixed gaze bent upon the wide expanse for sign, but could see nothing but herds of game, with a fine group on the opposite bank of gemsbok, whose long horns, when the game looked up, rested lightly on the striped haunches. Flocks of blue starlings, their wings glittering with a metallic lustre, flew across the river, and the birds alighted on the bucks to hunt for parasites.

“I can see no one,” said Hume, “but, nevertheless, we must proceed with caution, and before we advance into this blaze we must take the glint off our weapons. A gleaming spark, even from the point of an assegai, would be seen when the sharpest eyes could not detect us.”

“It is well,” said Sirayo, when the necessity was explained; “but of what use to dim your weapons when you have white about your clothes?”

Hume and Webster wore only shirts of grey flannel, the sleeves turned up to the elbows, leaving bare the brawny arms, bronzed almost to the colour of old oak, but their wide-brimmed hats were of a light blue, and Miss Anstrade wore a white puggaree.

“Have you some red clay, Klaas?”

The Gaika produced a small lump which he had himself used that morning to paint his face, and Hume deliberately stained all those articles of clothing which showed white.

“Why do you smear that red over your face, Klaas?”

“Make the skin soft, missy.”

“Oh, vanity of vanities, and I have seen you men smile when I have used a powder-puff. Does it really make the skin soft?”

“Oh, yes, the sun does not burn through the red clay; all mooi Kaffir girls put on red clay when the sun is hot.”

“That decides it; give me the clay!”

“Surely—” expostulated Hume.

“Give it to me; now Klaas, come.”

With an imbecile grin, Klaas followed the lady to a little stream of water, and performed the necessary toilet duties.

“Merciful heavens!” gasped Webster, when the two returned, while Hume tried gallantly to preserve a look of stoical indifference.

The beautiful white skin was covered by a hideous mask of red, out of which blazed the black eyes with a challenge that dared them to laugh at their peril.

“Forward,” said Hume, and off they went in single file; and as they went, their eyes would ever and again seek the great mountain before them, no longer blue and shadowy, but grey and rugged, with a cloud coming and going about its highest peak. They went on now among a litter of stones, now in and out among ant-hills standing above their heads, now struggling through some intervening kloof, or breasting the far side of a steep valley, whose tributary stream crept slowly on through thick rushes to the great river. In one of these valleys, where the water opened up into a shallow lagoon, a large reed buck, standing up to its belly, regarded them unmoved, and at another spot a long tree snake of vivid green whipped across their path at incredible speed and streamed up a small bush, above which its head appeared as though carved; locusts of strange form and brilliant colours flew from their path, while a brace of hawks accompanied their march for some distance. Their shadows from the right dwindled down to little round patches at their feet, then gradually lengthened out on their left, and the shrill cry of the cicada pulsating through the air beat upon their brains.

“Is it time we came to our moorings?” said Webster.

“A little further,” said Hume, looking at the mountain; and they went on over a ridge and down into a rounded valley, where a small vlei shone like a jewel. They were leaving this sheet of water on their left, when Hume suddenly halted.

“What a sight!” he whispered. “Look there!”

Out of the centre of the vlei rose the clear-cut head of a lioness, with her eyes gleaming green as emeralds. She was lying there in the shallow water for coolness.

“She cannot see us,” said Hume; “the sun is shining in her eyes. See how they glow like bits of glass.”

They stood absorbed in the spectacle; but the lioness hearing, though she could not see, began to move her head, then sat up like a dog, with the water streaming from her yellow shoulders, and her eyes still sparkling with green fire. She thrust her head forward, then, detecting some taint in the air, gave a low growl, whereupon, from out the withered grass on the further side, rose a huge lion, who, being out of the direct rays of the sun, saw the silent group, and fetched a deep growl. Thereupon, the lioness walked towards him, and, after one long stare over her shoulder, she lay on the grass and rolled over like a big dog, and the lion crouched down with his shaggy head on his outstretched paws.

With many a backward glance, the party moved on, glad that they had seen such a spectacle without being compelled to fire in defence. They rested at noon for lunch, then pushed on steadily, gradually edging along to the higher watershed, away for miles within easy view. Presently there came to them a low, tremulous murmur, which grew as they advanced, until it sounded at last like the sweep of the outermost fringe of the waves swinging to and fro over loose shells.

“It is the voice of the reeds swayed by the wind,” said Hume; “and when we reach the ridge above we shall be above this leafy sea.”

“Oh, how beautiful!” murmured Laura, a few minutes later, as they looked over a vast sea of feathered green; now shining with a silver reflection as the sun struck upon the leaves all bent in one direction by the wind; now with a ripple of dark shadows as the light tops sprang back together; now mottled all over with specks and splashes of black and white, and yellow. And all the time there rose the sweet, soft murmur and sibilant swishing, low and melancholy. As far as the eye could see stretched this moving mass, and it widened out to a dense fringe of bush on the right, beyond which, again, rose the buttresses of the mountain, springing to where, in one straight mass of frowning granite, seamed and scarred into a thousand fissures, towered the precipitous sides of the mountain itself.

Resting on their weapons, they stood gazing from the restless level of green to the grim sentinel of rock, its brow among the clouds, and its front overlooking the lowlands; and as they looked it was borne in upon them by the melancholy in the voice of the reeds and by the impassive face of the mountain that there might well be some dark mystery of Nature hidden away in this desolate place, but there could be no hope, or joy, or sound of laughter. Here was Nature of vast unpeopled places, of voiceless rivers languishing through thirsty sands, of rock-strewn uplands, and arid flats—Nature gloomy, mournful, and yet majestic too.

They sat down and, while there was still light, studied once more the well-thumbed map, with its vague outlines, and no longer simple when compared with the tossed and broken zigzag of mountain kloof and gorge.

“It would seem easier,” said Webster, “to flank the mountain from the spot where we now stand, rather than attempt to scale its front in search of that profile of a face, whose likeness may have appeared plain to your uncle, but which very likely will offer to us no resemblance.”

“I think so also,” said Laura, “for, see, when we get round the mountain through the forest here marked, we enter apparently a wide valley where we should have no difficulty in finding the ruins said to exist, and the rock bears to the north-west, distant about ten miles.”

“I should prefer to follow the old hunter’s directions,” said Hume; “but if we cannot find the face in the mountain, then we could adopt your suggestion.”

“Very well,” said Webster, “but it will be more difficult to scale that wall than to strike through the forest.”

“Perhaps, but I have a desire to stand where he stood in the place of the eye at sunrise and see the flaming signal as he saw it, or fail to see, for now I have lost faith.”

“No, my friend, you have not,” said Laura; “for then you would have no wish to follow your uncle’s wanderings. He must have been a man of rare courage to have struggled alone as he did, and as we are five, if we have but a part of his determination we must succeed. How desolate, how melancholy, the place is, with scarce a sign of life, except for that eagle soaring there.”

“Yet those reeds must shelter herds of buffalo, and sea-cow, and we know not what else.”

“We are seen,” broke in Sirayo’s deep tones.

“Seen! By whom?”

Sirayo pointed with an assegai to the nearest peak, distant about two miles, and shading their eyes, for they stood in the light, while the slopes running towards them were in shadow, they looked anxiously up.

“I see nothing,” said Laura.

“There is a man standing on a rock,” said Klaas.

“It may be a bush or stone,” muttered Webster.

“Neh, sieur, it is a man.”

“They are right,” said Hume; “look!” and he pointed to where a column of smoke rose straight into the air from a spur which ran to the forest behind them.

As they watched, another column shot into the air behind; then a third, from the summit of the mountain; then a fourth, faintly descried still more distant; and as they looked, the darkness swept over the scene, and in place of the smoke there gleamed out a spot of red on the peak.

“They speak to one another of our coming,” said Sirayo.

“There you see Kaffir telegraphy, Miss Laura; in five minutes the villages within ten miles have warning. The way through the forest you suggested is guarded; we must seek the shelter of the reeds and push on under their cover. There must be no fires to-night. Forward!”

Slowly they picked their way over loose stones, through dongas deep and slippery, through thorns and bushes, until the reeds closed upon them. Then, with their heavy hunting knives, they cut out an open space, stacked the fallen reeds in a wall, made beds with the leaves of others, and passed the night.

Chapter Twenty Seven.

A Night in the Reeds.

The day’s long march had tired them, and wanting the sociable aid of a fire, they soon fell asleep, each one on his own bed of reeds, lulled by the continuous ripple and murmur of the waving mass. The two blacks slept with their blankets completely drawn over their heads, so that no sound disturbed them, but the other three in turn would start, and with lifted head peer vainly into the blackness round them, and twice Laura reached out a hand on either side to feel if her protectors were there, and each time the hand instinctively was grasped in a strong palm.

At a deep, low growl of some prowling animal, perchance the lion seen on the march, Hume sat up gently and cradled his gun on his knees, giving ear to the soft, mysterious creeping noises, as though a legion of elves were whispering in the reeds, and eyeing the stars for comfort. As he listened he heard the beast outside move off, uttering a deep-drawn sigh, and he was about to lie down again, when he fancied he heard the sound of another animal sniffing. The noise, however, was not repeated, or the heavy breathing of the sleepers prevented him from tracing it, but he was on his guard again, with every sense on the alert. He could feel that something was stealing in upon them, and the slight path they could not avoid making when they entered was no doubt being used. He had fixed his couch opposite the entrance, and held his rifle with the muzzle towards it; but if his suspicions were correct, and something was approaching, the movement was more stealthy than the advance of a footless serpent. Presently, however, raising his glance until he dimly outlined the waving heads of the reeds against the stars, he saw a reed bend slowly away, and then another, each one disappearing as though gently drawn down.

There could only be one solution to that mystery. The reeds must have been cut at their base, and then gently lowered, and whose work could this be but that of a human foe, patient and cunning? At once he cocked the trigger, and the sharp click woke Webster with a start.

“Ssh!” Hume hissed, while still keeping his eyes fixed on the reed tops.

The click of the gun and the noise of the waking man had been heard, for the movement stopped. The moments went slowly by, and for the one who was in ignorance the suspense was keen.

“What is it?” whispered Webster at last.

Hume bent over to reply. “I think we have been tracked. Waken Sirayo.”

Webster laid his hand on the chief’s blanket, and slowly drew it from his face.

He saw the gleam of the fierce eyes as the cold night air at once awakened the sleeper; then there was a deep-drawn sniff, and without a sound, the Zulu was sitting up.

Hume still kept his eyes fixed on the reeds, but noting no further movement, he rose gently to his feet, and slipping over the bundle of reeds, sank to the ground, and with his rifle held before him, with one hand crawled slowly to the edge without hint to anyone. On returning, however, he felt on either side, and found reeds carefully laid after being cut.

He had made noise enough, and on his return to the enclosure he found all the party astir.

“There is no doubt of it,” he said; “we have been followed.”

“Yes,” said Sirayo; “there are people afoot.”

“How do you know, chief, since you slept when this man stole in on us? and how he came, and when he went, is to me a mystery. He cut the reeds as he advanced, and lowered each one to the ground. Before he came I heard the sigh of a lion.”

“Mawoh!” exclaimed the Gaika.

“Well, Klaas, what is it?”

“It is the wizard; the same who came to the kraal after the lion sprang over. They go in couples.”

“It may be the same,” muttered Hume; “what do you say, Sirayo?”

“I know not,” said the Zulu gloomily, “for the ways of those men are dark; but there are people afoot; I can hear them now.”

There was a long spell of silence after this, as they listened, with a feeling at their hearts that if there were people moving it was in search of them.

“Eweh! it is true!” broke in Klaas; “they are men on the war-trail, and they sing of battles.”

“I hear nothing,” said Laura, trembling.

“Nor I,” growled Webster.

“Neither do I,” said Hume; “but these men do. If they sing, however, they must be halting round their fires, and if they are after us there is nothing to fear now; but we must shift our quarters before we are trapped. What do you say, Sirayo?”

“Yebo, we must fly to the mountain and hide. No man can live long in these reeds, and a woman would be quickly struck down by the sickness.”

“Yes, we must reach the mountains.”

“What!” said Webster; “at first we fly to the reeds, to escape the people on the hills—people we cannot see; and now you ask us to fly to the mountains to escape people we cannot hear. It seems to me we are dodging shadows.”

“You are right,” said Hume wearily; “for what but a shadow could have stolen in like this man did just now while I watched and listened? For all we know he may have returned.”

“Don’t!” gasped Laura; “when I look round I see eyes staring at me, and in every noise I hear a footstep. It is horrible, this place, and the air seems heavy.”

“Let us get out, then,” said Webster; “but it is a mystery to me why we should have entered a place which is now considered to be a trap.”

“It is no use discussing the matter; let us quickly get our traps together;” and suiting the action to the word, Hume rolled up his blanket. Luckily the bundles containing the kits were still intact.

Soon they were all ready, and then they followed Hume deeper into the reeds, until one of the numerous game tracks was crossed, upon which they followed it to the edge, coming out about two hundred yards below the spot where they entered. Then, treading softly to leave no spoor, they advanced for a considerable distance, when the pace was quickened up the rising and rock-strewn ground. And now they were out in the open they heard, unmistakably, the murmur of many voices, and caught, afar off, on the edge of the reeds, the reflection of fires. Their fears at once saw enemies seated about those fires, and gave them energy to pursue their way. Gradually the ground grew rougher, the incline more steep; but Sirayo unerringly kept to a ridge that wound tortuously up among valleys whose growing depth could only be felt. Up and up they went doggedly, with bodies bent forward to the incline, and the two friends took Laura each by an arm, and always spurring them on came the faint echo of that deep-throated war-chant.

“I can go no further,” said Laura presently, with her hand to her side.

“Rest awhile,” said Hume gently; and she sank to the ground, while the men stood near drawing deep breaths.

“The sun is soon up,” said Sirayo, “and the watchers on the mountain will see us.”

Webster thrust his gun into Hume’s hands, and, picking her up, went staggering on a few ineffectual yards.

“Thank you,” she said, as she sank to the ground, and at the words Hume recalled the stinging rebuff he had received when he had lifted her in his arms on the Swift. Time and the alarms of many dangers had since then tamed her spirit to indifference as to the degree of respect due to her, and she would not have revolted had the Gaika carried her; but Hume read in her thanks a deeper meaning.

“The horizon on the east is brightening, and in an hour there will be light. Let us find shelter, and rest the day,” he said.

“Go on,” she said; “but as for me, I will stay here.”

“And I, too,” said Webster.

“Stay, Klaas,” said Hume quietly; then went off with Sirayo up the ridge.

“He has left you to me,” murmured Webster.

“I am content,” she said; “his energy tires me.”

“I care not, if we are together.”

“The baas has gone to find a hiding-place; he will return,” said Klaas.

“Of course,” said Webster bitterly; “it is of our safety he is thinking, and the mischief is that I am completely helpless in my ignorance.”

“I am too tired to talk,” she muttered; and he sat looking out over the dark expanse to a light in the eastern sky.

In a few minutes Hume and Sirayo were back again.

“There is a place above here where we can halt against the shelter of a precipice, which will screen us from any people above. It is but a short distance.”

“It is so restful here,” she said.

“Persuade her,” he said, turning to Webster.

“I have not the will, even if I had the privilege,” he replied; “she is tired.”

“Come,” said Hume harshly; “this is no time to be nice. We can take no risks, and must reach the shelter.”

She rose up, and disdaining any offer of help, walked on; and so, in silence, they continued until the precipice was reached. Here among some huge boulders they spread their blankets, and in a minute Laura and the two blacks were in deep slumber.

“Sleep, Frank,” said Webster; “you will wear yourself out.”

“So much the better for you,” he said.

“Look here, Frank, you are the leader, and I follow you with my eyes shut; but heavens above, man, my helplessness breeds in me a feeling of desperation, which finds vent now and again in bad humour. You must bear with me.”

“Ay, and what of myself? I have brought you all here, and am answerable for your safety. That is anxiety enough without the additional weight of your ill humour and her dislike.”

“It will be all right when the morning breaks; now sleep, my lad.”

Frank stretched himself out and Webster remained on guard till the dawn broke in a red glory, and the heavy mists began to roll up from the river. Then Sirayo and Klaas arose and went away to a fountain, which gurgled from the rock, to wash the sleep from their eyes, and to polish their white teeth with bits of stick. Then one of them made a fire with dry sticks, trusting to the curling wraiths of mist to hide the slight smoke, and the other filled the kettle. They built up a screen of rocks to hide the blaze, then sat down to warm their hands and feet. Then Hume woke, and when the coffee was ready Laura stirred under her blanket and lifted her head to look around.

“For heaven’s sake, Laura,” said Webster, “do go and wash that hideous mask from your face! It is a nightmare.”

“Thank you,” she said stiffly, but, nevertheless, was prompt to take the hint, Webster leading her to the fountain, while Hume looked after them with a sigh. His face had a worn and anxious look, and his cheeks seemed to have suddenly hollowed.

“Laura,” said Webster gravely; “we did not behave well to Frank last night, and he feels it deeply. Be kind to him.”

She looked at him with a flash in her eyes. “You presume too much,” she said coldly; but, nevertheless, on returning to the fire, she took her place next to Hume, and treated him with a winning deference that soon smoothed the lines from his face.

Then they sat and watched the mist fade and the country below appear suddenly fresh and brilliant in the soft light, and presently, as they looked, they saw a band of warriors move quickly along the edge of the reeds. In the clear light they were plainly seen even to the colour of their shields, and it was noticed that at intervals small bodies broke away to enter the reeds, while the rest followed the lead of a solitary warrior who went ahead.

“They are hunting,” said Hume.

“Yebo—they hunt us; and the men who enter the reeds are stationed in game tracks. It is good; they think we are still there.”

“And if we had remained,” said Laura, “could we not have hidden?”

“No, Inkosikasi; those men who continue will presently enter in the rear of our retreat. They will then spread out and advance. If we were there we should be driven ahead like game, and those stationed in the paths would see us sooner or later. Oh, ay, it is a good plan they have made, but we have made a better.”

She put her hand on Hume’s shoulder.

“You were right, Frank.”

They watched in breathless interest, and it followed as Sirayo had said. When the main body of warriors reached the spot they entered the reeds, leaving half a dozen men on the outside, who turned and followed the line of beaters.

“Two of those are white men,” said Klaas; “they carry guns.”

“The devils,” growled Webster; “there is some mystery in the hate with which they pursue us.”

“No mystery,” answered Laura; “they have the key to the Golden Rock, and know we are in search of it.”

“I’m afraid it is so,” said Hume. “They do not shout as they would if they were after game; and, see, a buffalo has broken cover, and the men on the outside do not fire.”

For an hour the man hunt went on, and from time to time game of all kinds broke out, circled round unnoticed, and re-entered the reeds. At last a gun was fired as a signal, and the men straggled out in twos and threes till the whole body had re-assembled about a mile below the point they had entered. They remained for some time, after which they lit fires, while half a dozen men again advanced, quartering the ground along the reeds, searching evidently for spoor.

“It is well we were careful to leave no spoor when quitting the reeds,” muttered Hume, as he brushed his hand across his brow.

Slowly the six men advanced until they were opposite the retreat, when they again entered the reeds, remaining hidden for some time, to emerge at last from the very game track followed by the fugitives.

Hume grasped his rifle, while Sirayo’s hand felt for his assegai.

The men stayed a few minutes gesticulating; then four of them started back for the main body, leaving two, who moved about for some time with their bodies bent. Then, straightening up, they advanced swiftly.

“Good God!” muttered Hume; “they have hit off the spoor. Behind the rocks!”

Sirayo said a word to the Gaika, and, slipping off their blankets, they each took an assegai and went down, one on each side of the ridge, taking so much advantage of the shelter, that, after a few moments, even Hume could not follow them.

“Have they deserted?” said Laura, with a gasp.

“No,” said Hume, in a suppressed whisper; “they are taking the only measure that will save us. They are brave men and faithful, and our lives depend on them.”

“It is true,” she murmured, while her eyes grew large. “I said it when you first told me of the accursed Rock—it can only be reached through blood.”

From the shelter of the rocks they saw the two men breast the ridge, following on the spoor like bloodhounds, and stopping at intervals to look over the ground ahead. Gradually their pace slackened, until, when they had reached the place where Laura had rested, they halted, and seemed reluctant to advance further; indeed, after looking long at the precipice which crossed the ridge, they turned to retreat.

They were about four hundred yards off, and Hume raised his rifle.

“If they escape,” he said, “the whole crowd will be about us, and if I fire it will also draw them.”

At this moment the men sprang aside as though suddenly alarmed, and in the same breath the two concealed foes hurled themselves upon them. There was a shout, the sharp click of assegais, a death hug and tumble, and two men arose to continue their flight down the hill.

The three spectators looked at each other horrified.

“Our men are killed,” said Webster, moistening his lips.

“This is the beginning of the end,” she whispered; “poor Klaas, who was so willing, and Sirayo so strong and brave.”

Hume looked after the two men with despair in his eyes. They reached the bottom of the ridge, shouted after the four men, who were half-way to the main body, and then entered the reeds.

Chapter Twenty Eight.

The Face of Rock.

“It won’t be long before they attack us, will it?” asked Webster quietly; “the main body may be two miles away, or perhaps three, allowing for the roughness of the ground. They will learn where we are in half an hour. We’ve got an hour—plenty of time to build a circular wall from the base of the cliff.”

“We three are left,” murmured Laura; “and if we are to die, let us die together.”

“Don’t let us talk of dying,” said Hume, who had been in a brown study.

“We’ve beaten them off before, and we’ll do it again,” continued Webster; “but we must have our bulwarks high and stanch. Let us begin.”

“There is no necessity; at least, I hope so. Wait until I return,” and he cautiously went down the ridge.

“What’s in the wind now?” muttered Webster, as the two looked anxiously at each other, and then stood waiting in silence while they searched the ground in vain for any sign of him. At last, after a torturing interval, they saw him reach the scene of the fight, saw him a moment, and then underwent the same suspense. It might have been an hour after he left them that he suddenly appeared below them from behind a bush, and his face told its tale before he cried, “It is all right.”

“How,” they said, “can it be right? Surely there were two men killed, and the others escaped?”

“Yes,” said Hume, rubbing his knees, for he had crawled for many a yard; “but the two men killed were our enemies.”

“But why, then, did our men leave us?”

“Be sure they have some good reason. When I saw the two retreat after the fight, I thought, with you, that Sirayo and Klaas had been killed; but I could not understand how a man like Sirayo could fall before a foe not armed with a gun, and something in their walk aroused my hopes. When they entered the reeds, I was convinced they were our men; for, naturally, the others, if they had escaped, would have run on at once to the main body.”

“Shake, old man,” said Webster; “you’ve put me in good heart again;” and the two brown and sinewy hands came together in an iron grasp.

“Don’t leave me out,” she whispered, and with the first laugh that had left their lips for some time, the three crossed hands. Then, seating themselves on the long grass between the rocks, they watched the Zulus right through the morning, and into the afternoon. There was no movement until the sun was on the downward slope, and the shadow of the mountain had lengthened out, when, the warriors fell into four companies, and entered upon what, from the deep-throated shouts that marked time to their antics, was evidently a war-dance.

“See!” said Hume anxiously, “they are preparing to attack; there can be no doubting that dance. Can it be possible that they know we are here?”

“If our men have told them,” said Webster gloomily. “But,” he added grimly, “let them come, and have done with this suspense.”

“They are moving now!”

“And coming this way!”

“Yes, by heavens!”

“Hark,” said Laura, “what booming noise is that?”

The two men looked at her, at the wild gleam in her eyes, at the parted lips and heaving breast, and the dew stood in beads on their foreheads at the awful thought that her mind had given way.

“Why do you look at me so? Do you not hear it—there!”

Hume started, and bent his eyes to the top of the krantz.

“I have it!” he almost shouted, “they are not coming to attack us; that noise you hear is made by the people above sounding the alarm with their horns.”

“But the Zulus are coming this way,” said Webster.

“They may turn off before they reach the ridge.”

On came the band of warriors, walking in column of six abreast, with their Indunas on their left. A ribbon of white ran down the dark line, made by the mark on their shields, and presently the nodding plumes could be seen. Suddenly they wheeled to the left and wound their way up to a spur of the mountain, until the long column of about six hundred men was marching parallel to the ridge where the fugitives hid, and bars of light shone between the ranks. As the shadows darkened the column was hidden by the rising ground, and, except for an occasional horn blast echoing from the mountain, there was nothing to tell of the presence of savages near.

So the long day drew to its close, leaving the three uneasy and wearied in spirit from the recurring strains, and they waited with fresh suspense for the return of Sirayo and Klaas. Happily, however, they were not kept long waiting, for soon after the night had fallen a low whistle sounded below them, and Hume responding, the two suddenly appeared out of the darkness.

They were overwhelmed with questions, for the joy of the three at their safe return broke down the barriers of reserve observed in intercourse between them.

“We have not eaten,” said Klaas practically.

“We may build a fire,” said Sirayo, and throwing down their assegais, they were about to bring in wood and water.

“Rest,” said Hume; “we will do this,” and very soon a fire was made under the shelter of a rock, the kettle was put on, and the food brought out.

The two natives were left to their repast, and when at last they filled their pipes they were again questioned.

“We went into the reeds,” said Sirayo, “as you saw.”

“We thought at first you had been killed.”

“Yoh! we each smote our man, for they were startled; then we took their shields, called to the other four to throw them off their guard, and entered the reeds. We went through them till we came abreast of the impi. Then we lay and watched. There were four Indunas and two white men. They ate and slept, and in the afternoon took medicine from the amapakati, a big man whom the Gaika had seen before.”

“Eweh,” interposed Klaas, whose eyes gleamed through the dark, “the same who came to the kraal, and who last night crept in upon us.”

“They took medicine and danced. Then they marched, and we thought at first they were going to eat you up. I saw the people on the mountain. They took alarm; the horns sounded, and I knew the impi was not on your spoor. They have made their fires high up, and in the morning will ascend. It is well. Our path will be clear.”

“And the white men?”

“One I have seen before,” said Klaas, “a small man with a yellow skin. The other I know not, but his arm is hurt. It was he the baas hit when we were at the waggon.”

“You have done good service, and we will remember. They will have their hands full with the mountain people.”

“Oh, ayi, and with the people beyond if they enter the valley.”

“Then our chances improve,” said Hume, turning to Webster, “for while they are fighting we may slip through undetected.”

“I suppose there can be little doubt that this is Lieutenant Gobo, and that he has somehow possessed himself of the secret of the Rock.”

“And he has lost much time in his efforts to put us out of the way. We’ll be before him yet, unless we take this opportunity of escaping.”

“No, no,” cried Laura; “we have already undergone in imagination the terror of violent death, and we must continue. I have watched you to-day, and saw how anxiety has left its mark on your faces. Imagine how it has been with me. I can feel that there are grey hairs on my forehead, that my cheeks have thinned, my mind is stored with the memory of alarms, and if we retired there would be nothing for me but the bitterness of disappointment and of failure. I must reach this Golden Rock, and then the future will once more brighten before me. This mission stands for me in place of everything I have lost, and you know what that loss has been.”

“Do you recall how the Swift leapt at the great sides of the cruiser through a fury of shot?” asked Webster slowly, his mind going back to that one great tragedy of their lives.

“Yes,” said Hume softly, “and I think we said we would do something for the relatives of the gallant fellows who went to their death with Captain Pardoe.”

“Then we advance,” said Laura. “When?”

“Well, we must wait until the Zulus have broken camp, then we must strike across their line of march, and continue south, about six miles, I should say, from my recollection of the map, to bring us opposite that bend in the mountain where the Rock may be seen from. I cannot understand why Gobo, if he is in search of the treasure, should approach the mountain at the spot selected.”

They continued to discuss this absorbing subject for some time before seeking rest. In the morning a sharp outlook was kept on the movements of the Zulus from the top of the krantz, and they were seen to be afoot soon after dawn; and as the clouds lifted later on it was also seen that the people on the mountain had gathered in small bodies. When the last of the Zulus had been swallowed up in the deep gorges which scarred the face of the granite mass, the little party set out on a course parallel with the base of the mountain. This presently took them across the wide track beaten down in the grass by the naked feet of the warriors, and, taking advantage of the shelter, they pushed on until noon, when the mountain dipped round to the south. Before this they had heard the sound of firing reverberating from the deep ravines, but the shoulder of the mountain now concealed them. They paused now for a rest after their sharp burst, and to prepare for the arduous labour of the ascent in search of the Eye in the face of rock.

Above them towered the great mass, bare of trees, and grim with scars and fissures cut by the sharp teeth of the wind and rain. As is the case with many African mountains, the summit was rimmed with a sheer precipice that seemed from far below quite impassable. They traced the contour of the upper rim for sign of profiles, which are often fantastically outlined by the rock, but without success, and, having sufficiently rested, began the ascent.

They had carefully marked off their position by the map, and, in the excitement of nearing their goal, had completely forgotten the neighbourhood of rivals and enemies in the field. They went on from spur to spur, and whenever they topped a ridge the face of the mountain took fresh shape, and they would pause to scan its rugged front.

At last, after one of these halts, there suddenly opened before them, and above, a narrow fissure in the mountain; and at the very top, sharply defined against the sky, stood out the profile of a human face, the forehead sloping back to the very sky-line of the mountain, the nose straight and clear-cut, the lips full, the chin with a bold and sweeping curve, and the neck clearly defined before it joined the parent rock. This profile would have been accounted something curious, but not unusual, if it had not been for the marvel of the eye, which seemed actually to sparkle with a look of mortal intelligence. The eyebrow was clearly marked—the lines beneath as well; but what gave to the feature its magic touch of realism was a spark of light from the retina. This lent majesty to the face. The eye seemed to follow them as they moved, and they could not suppress a feeling that there was some living and awful power bending its gaze in severe displeasure upon them.

Hume drew a long breath, and then began, in his excitement, to fill his pipe, while, with a smile of triumph, he stood looking at the face.

“By Jove,” he said, “the old man was right after all!”

“It is wonderful,” said Laura, with a shiver; “but I wish it had not such a human look.”

“There is something in it,” said Webster, in a low voice, “that reminds me of an eye shining through a layer of still clouds.”

After an exclamation that broke from their lips at the first shock of startled surprise, the two natives turned their backs to this mysterious and threatening portent.

Hume alone was not oppressed. Whether because he was free from superstition, and had little imagination, he regarded the face as merely a natural curiosity, and was moved only because it did exist.

“Come,” he said cheerily, “let us reach it before nightfall. See, the ravine before us leads right up, and though the mountain rises to the face apparently in a straight wall, there is no doubt a way up. Take your bearings, Webster.”

They looked at the face, and then at the points around that were most conspicuous, and then they looked at each other, startled and dismayed.

When their gaze again returned to the face, the eye was no longer there, and the face itself, deprived of that living spark, seemed not the same.

“Never mind,” said Hume, with a strange laugh, “we have seen it. Forward!”

Somewhat reluctantly, they moved on, casting questioning glances above; but when presently the face was hidden by an intervening ridge, they shook off their fear, to be revived again when they entered the ravine. This cut deeply into the heart of a mountain, a vast and gloomy fissure where the sun scarcely entered, the haunt of the owl, but of no other living creature. Lofty walls towered above them, and the bottom was covered with a litter of loose stones and gigantic boulders. At each step the stones clattered away, and the sounds echoed and re-echoed.

They did not speak above a whisper, for a loudly uttered word was tossed back from side to side and rolled up in deep mutterings. And then the gloom was so deep, especially when a slight bend to the left shut out the opening behind, that it seemed as if night had already fallen, and one of them looking up, saw pale stars appear out of the blue. Still they plodded on, with many rests, as the incline grew rapidly steeper, and Hume affirmed that in an hour they would reach the top.

“It only wants that time to sunset,” said Webster, “and before then it will be too dark in this wolfs throat to see a yard.”

“At any rate, let us get as near the top as we can, so that we can reach the face before sunrise.”

“If it is there still,” muttered Webster gloomily.

Again they advanced, the darkness deepening, and the walls narrowing in upon them, until Hume, who was leading, uttered a sharp cry.

“What is it now, in Heaven’s name?”

“The way is barred. We’re in a cul-de-sac!”

They went up to Hume and stood against a great wall, which, as they could dimly see, stretched right across.

All sank to the ground with a first feeling of relief that they had to go no further, except Hume, and he went from side to side, feeling with his hands for some way over this obstacle.

“It is no good,” he cried; “we must halt here and try again to-morrow.”

His words were met by a sound of weeping as Laura, tired out, for the first time gave way to a spasm of sobs which shook her frame and awoke echoes the most melancholy in that profound abyss. This sign of womanly weakness at once restored to the men courage to face this new trouble with cheerfulness, and, deeming it best to leave her to the relief of tears, they busied themselves in making for her a comfortable couch, finding material in a mass of fern which grew at one spot where water oozed from the rock. The dried ferns also served for fuel, and presently the flames flickered up, casting fantastic shadows. They made light of their position, being rewarded by seeing Laura take her coffee, and tasteless damper and tough biltong, with the relish of hunger. Pipes were lit, she rolled a cigarette, and they leant back to gaze up at the stars, now out in all their brilliancy, increased by the darkness from which they looked.

Then, rolling themselves in their blankets, they fell into a profound sleep, in spite of the hard rocks, and were not disturbed until far into the night, when they were aroused by the sound of the wind moaning down the ravine. They drew their covering tighter to shut out the cold, but the noise coming and going in a manner weird beyond the power of words to express, they sat up to listen. Then they found there was no breath of air stirring about them, and that the noise came intermittently in blasts from one direction, being caught up by the echoes and sent booming from side to side. When the echoes rolled away there would be a fresh blast, a wailing note, a gasp as if the wind were struggling in some long funnel, and, mingled with this sound, they fancied there was some human note.

“There is a mystery here,” said Hume, rising.

“It is the wizard of the mountain,” said Klaas, shivering. “His breath will wither your flesh.”

“Oh, hang the wizard!” growled Hume, as he moved off away from the barrier; but the sound came again, rising from a moan to a shrill screech.

They stood to their arms, driven to a pitch of fury by the disturbing noise, until there was light enough to reveal objects at hand, when they peered up at the walls above.

Suddenly the Gaika yelled aloud, and covered his eyes.

“What do you see?” asked Hume sternly.

“The white breath of the wizard, sieur!”

Hume stood by Klaas, and looked up just as from a point about fifty feet above a puff of white darted from the rock, followed by the now familiar wail. He laughed at the sight.

“Here is our tormentor,” he cried; “a blast of wind blowing through a natural funnel,” and he pointed to the spot.

They gathered near him, and Webster, with a quick glance at the rock, began to climb. From point to point he went with seeming ease, until, reaching a ledge, he stood before the aperture.

“By Jove,” he cried, “there’s a gale of wind blowing through!” then, after a pause, while his face was at the opening: “A light! I can see through. Hume, suppose this is the way after all.”

“Is the opening large enough for a man to pass through?”

“I will see.”

They saw dimly his body disappear, and waited anxiously while the moments slipped swiftly by.

“He is a long time,” muttered Hume.

“He is in danger,” said Laura, in a low voice, coming close to his side; “I feel it.”

“I will see,” he said.

“Yes,” she whispered; “I suppose you must,” but she laid a trembling hand on his arm, while her face looked ghastly white.

Sirayo let slip the blanket from his shoulders, and with a piece of fat rubbed his skin until it shone. Then quickly he scaled the rock and disappeared.

And the three left behind stood there looking up at the hole, while across the cleft above struck a broad fan of light, making a silver track along the rocks on their right, and by the pale reflection they saw the opening more clearly, and were startled by the sudden appearance of the chief. Hume placed his hand on Laura’s shoulder.

“Have you found him?” asked Hume quietly.

“Yebo. But it is bad. He is dead!”

“Dead!” they muttered; “dead!”

“He lies here in the passage.”

“Let us go to him,” said Laura, shaking off her fears at once.

“Is the way easy?” asked Hume.

“It is easy.”

She sprang to the rock, and Sirayo came down to help her, while Hume saw that her footing was secure. They entered a tunnel, which for some distance was quite round, and through which, one at a time, they crawled. Then there was more room, and, guided by the light of day ahead, they went on where the tunnel opened out on a wide ledge. Here lay their comrade with his face to the sky, and blood oozing from a wound on his head.

About fifty yards to their right and above them was the Face!

Chapter Twenty Nine.

A Fearful Position.

“He is not dead,” said Hume, as he earnestly studied the white face.

“Oh, thank Heaven! Quick! bring him in here out of the sun;” and, sitting down in the shadow of the opening, she took the wounded head upon her lap, and, with a firm, yet soft touch, parted the matted hairs. “Now get water and brandy.”

Hume went swiftly back to the place they had just left, and on his return with water he found she had cut away the hair with her scissors, which she always carried.

“It is only a surface wound. I think we have some maize meal left; give me some.”

Hume unbound a small bundle, and produced a packet of meal, of which she grasped a handful and laid it on the wound, pressing it with her hand till the oozing blood caked it into an impervious plaster.

“That will stop the bleeding. Now a drop of brandy,” and, taking a pannikin handed to her, she poured a few drops into his mouth, bathing his forehead with the rest. “Make a couch there with the blankets.” This was done, and the insensible form laid softly down.

Then she sat by his side, bathing his forehead at intervals, and watching with an absorbed look, while Hume stood near pale and silent, and the two natives crouched in the cave.

“Don’t stand there,” she said, without removing her gaze; “it irritates me. Find out how it happened.”

Hume stepped out on to a broad ledge and stood in a maze, looking without seeing anything, until the rush of an eagle before his face made him recoil and restored his faculties. Then he keenly noted the surroundings. The ledge terminated at the cave, and from its lip a frightful precipice sank down and down into the rock-strewn depths. On his right the ledge swept up the face of the krantz to where the Face stood out from the rock, about two hundred feet above. He noted that the outline was not so clear, the smoothness observable from a distance being broken up by cracks and inequalities, while the neck was detached, and in the eye was a jagged opening without design. Slowly he mounted towards the profile, scanning the ledge for a sign of human presence, but finding nothing but a certain polish on the rock, which might have been caused by the passage of human feet. Without difficulty, and without emotion, he stepped into the socket of the eye; but no sooner was he there, with one hand holding to the rock to support him, than he thrilled to the thought that at last the mysterious Golden Rock was in the range of his vision. He drew a deep breath, and, forgetting everything, stood looking at the scene spread in noble beauty at his feet. There it lay, calm, beautiful and peaceful, the valley of the shining rock; the place where no white man had entered; whose secret had been jealously protected for centuries, to find its way at last through those gloomy ravines to the solitary hunter, and from him to the three who had been so strangely thrown together, and who were risking all to win it. Far and wide stretched the valley, flanked on the east and south by the frowning battlement of rocky mountains; on the north and west by deep forests, whose dark and sombre mantle stretched without a break, a valley of gentle grassy undulations, with clusters of trees scattered about, and with a broad and shining river running through its centre. On the further side large herds of cattle grazed, the slopes leading to the river showed green in patches, where the mealies grew, while dozens of native kraals were visible, and diminutive figures moved about in the fields, about the huts, or along the winding paths. On the nearer side there were no cattle, neither people nor villages, nor the criss-cross of trodden paths, but only an irregular structure overgrown with bush, which marked, no doubt, the site of the ruins referred to in the map. Long he stood drinking in the scene, and making many guesses as to the place where the rock should be, until he remembered that there was no one with him to share this pleasure. Then he examined the rock about him, and saw that a ledge ran from his feet along the front of the mountain facing the valley, to disappear round a projecting shoulder about one hundred yards away. Returning to the cave, he found Laura still sitting by the still figure. She looked up with a smile as he entered.

“He is breathing regularly now, and the bleeding has stopped.”

“You have saved his life, then,” he said warmly; and added softly, “his life is yours.”

A deep flush suffused her face, and her lips trembled.

“Did you find anything?” she asked absently.

“No,” he answered, with a sigh; “but I have seen the casket that holds our treasure. I have looked on the valley from the eye. We are very near it at last. Will you come and see?”

“I will wait till he can join us. It is at sunrise only—is it not?—we can see the Golden Rock. And to-morrow, then, let us stand together and watch for the ray that is to guide us.”

Hume looked at Webster, and he remembered the silent mysterious foe who had dogged their footsteps. “If to-morrow’s sun shines for us,” he murmured.

At last, in the afternoon, Webster suddenly sat up, and with a wild glare in his eyes, stared around him.

“We are here, Jim,” she whispered softly.

The bloodshot eyes sought her pale face. “And Frank?” he asked. She drew aside, showing Hume standing there.

“Look out!” he cried hoarsely, “there is danger here. I was struck down just now by some unseen hand. Give me my rifle.”

“There is no fear at present,” she said gently. “Several hours have gone since we found you here.”

“And Laura has nursed you all that time;” and Hume placed her hand in that of the wounded man.

Then he stepped out again to keep guard, while Klaas, who had been very subdued, took infinite pains to make the kettle boil out of such scanty fuel as he could find. When night closed down Webster was able to sit up, but was still too dizzy to stand, and could not, much to his concern, take his turn at guard. Klaas was stationed at the back of the cave, Sirayo at its mouth, while Hume went forward to seat himself in the eye itself.

There was a profound silence up in that lofty eyrie, and the long-continued strain they had been subjected to made them more liable to the sad influence of the surroundings. In the dim light Laura could see the blanketed figure of the Zulu chief, seated like a stone image on the ledge overhanging the deep ravine, and as she watched the blurred outline minute after minute without seeing any movement, she began at first to speculate on his reflections; but this train of thought rapidly melted into a vague uneasiness, giving way again to a feeling of superstition. Her breath came quicker, and to still her fears she moved softly out on to the ledge and laid a timid hand on the bowed shoulder of the immovable savage.

He turned his head quickly at the touch, his eyes gleaming.

“I was afraid,” she whispered, shuddering, and sat down near him, while he, after a steady look around, gravely took snuff.

“Much dark,” he growled in broken English. “Inkosikasi not like. Sit here; sleep—no!” and leaning over, he gently touched the lip of the precipice with his assegai.

“It is very deep,” she whispered. “What did you see down there in the dark that you looked so steadily.”

He shook his head. “Still,” he said; “listen.”

Drawing his blanket more closely round him, he became motionless as before, his sombre eyes fixed on the gloomy depths and his ears alert, while she, feeling a little comforted by the presence of this watchful figure, turned her white face to the brilliant stars.

In the cave Webster was recovering his strength in a profound sleep, while behind him the lean Gaika, stretched at length in the narrow tunnel, kept doggedly on guard, his position being the safest but the most trying, from the cramped surroundings and intense gloom.

The post of danger, however, was on the eye, where Hume sat barring the only possible way of approach to the unknown enemy who had struck down Webster. Fully two thousand feet below him was the wide valley, hidden now by the blackness of night, and showing its depth only by one tiny point of red where a fire blazed in some kraal. To him there rose soft sounds, the lowing of cattle, the cry of wild animals, a song of natives, intermingled, and subdued by distance. There was a sense of companionship in the sounds, showing as they did the presence of living creatures near that lonely height; but they did not appeal to his stern nature. He sat with a grim purpose, his rifle cocked, his ears bent to detect some other noise, and his mind fixed only on the one purpose of defending his position. In this mysterious being, who had dogged their footsteps, whose every visit had put them to a severe trial, he knew he had to deal with someone not only possessed of extraordinary cunning, but who had a secret knowledge of his name and his mission. He would not sound the dangerous depth of speculation about the identity of the unknown, but sat on, determined and watchful.

So they continued at their several posts well into the night until the wind rose, poured into the ravine, and as on the previous night, went moaning into the ear of the cave, and through the narrow tunnel.

Hume stirred in his seat, and placed his finger on the trigger. The moment, he thought, had come. Then the faint crack of a rifle broke on his ear, followed by a confused murmur of voices, and almost at his feet, though far down, a circle of fires pierced the darkness with their red points. The fires were evidently on the deserted right side of the valley, and, as he judged, in the neighbourhood of the ruins.

Bringing the rifle to his shoulder, and with his elbow resting on his knee, he idly sighted at one of these gleaming points. While his finger played with a come-and-go touch in the curve of the trigger, his nerves suddenly tightened at a slight sound. It was a sound made by a man expanding his nostrils, the noise he had heard at the reeds—and slowly bringing the muzzle round, he fired into the night. There was the vivid flash, the crashing report suddenly breaking the silence, and a startled cry from his rear, where Laura still sat dreaming near the still figure of the chief.

Then a deeper silence than before, save that the wind wailed down the ravine; and Hume, softly rising to his feet, slipped in another cartridge.

In a moment Sirayo was by his side, having come without a sound, and the two stood intently listening, without a whisper even of what had occurred.

“Are you safe? Oh! what is it?” It was Laura’s frightened voice hailing.

Sirayo clicked with his tongue at the interruption, and Hume half turned his head.

“Frank,” she cried again, nearer at hand. “Frank; oh, how dark!”

Hume thought of the narrow ledge, of the fearful precipice, of the danger of one false step in the dark, and cried out:

“Stand where you are. I am coming.”

Immediately the darkness below was pierced by lurid flashes, and bullets smacked against the rock or whistled fiercely overhead.

Hume fired both barrels, and then swung behind the projecting rock which formed the ear of the face.

“Oh, merciful Lady!” came in a gasp from behind.

“Take her to the cave, chief,” said Hume quickly, “and return with the other gun.”

Sirayo slipped away, and Hume, taking a heavy Colt’s revolver from his belt in his left hand, swung himself round and fired along the ledge on the further face of the mountain. The first shot was swiftly answered, and as quick as lightning, he emptied the remaining barrels, guided by the flashes.

Sirayo returned, and Hume explained to him that the enemy must be advancing along a ledge which sloped away to their right for about one hundred paces, to disappear around a projecting rock.

“We should hold this place against a hundred. The only danger is lest two or three should crawl up while their companions fire to attract our attention.”

“It is easy to shoot wide in the dark,” muttered Sirayo, “but when a man gets close enough to thrust an assegai it is different.” He felt about with his naked feet to find the nature of the foothold.

Hume fired again, drawing as before an instant reply, the bullets singing viciously overhead.

“They fire high,” said Hume.

“How wide is the ledge?”

“It will take two men, crawling side by side.”

“Soh! Here is a plan. Let one of us get out flat on the ledge. The other will stand here and fire. Then the other will hear if any advance on their bellies, and shoot.”

“It is good; I will take the ledge.”

“Nay, the plan is mine; I will take the ledge, and if the bullet misses, the assegai will not.”

“No, chief; your assegai is good against one or two, but this little gun holds six lives.”

“Go, then,” said Sirayo, with a grim chuckle; “but when your little gun has spoken let me try my assegai.”

Hume took off his boots, laid his rifle and cartridge-belt aside, and then, feeling his way with his hands, he crept out, inch by inch, several yards, until he was well out on the ledge.

Then he sat close against the wall of rock, with his revolver ready—waiting. It was a dangerous position, and his life depended on the keenness of his hearing and steadiness of nerve. Before him were cunning foes stealthily advancing, and within a yard was the lip of the sheer precipice.

No sooner had he sat down than Sirayo, standing well out in the eye, fired, and the bullet, striking the side of the mountain, went humming into the darkness. A solitary shot replied; then another nearer, and a third still nearer; and immediately after the third report a shout rolled out, deep and fierce, thundering taunts.

“Look out!” hissed Sirayo, and fired again.

The shouting increased, and Hume’s grasp tightened on his revolver, while his breathing came quicker. What was that? The sound of metal touching the rock—just touching it—but the faint tinkle was enough. There were men crawling up, then! That soft noise—it must be made by naked men creeping. His arm stiffened—his eyes were riveted—he now scarcely breathed. Was that a darker shadow before him?—almost within reach—his finger closed on the trigger. There was a groan—the rattle of a spear falling—the flash of a gun almost in his face, so that the burning powder scorched his eyes, and he emptied his remaining barrels before covering his eyes with his hand. As he did so he heard at his side the double report as Sirayo, advancing, fired; heard the terrible Zulu war-cry, the clash of blades, the fierce grunting of men in a death struggle. But he sat helpless, blinded, in an agony of pain and apprehension. The sound of the fighting retreated, grew more fitful, died away, and with trembling fingers he refilled the empty chambers of his pistol, and waited, with his hand over his throbbing eyeballs. But the enemy did not come; instead he heard the voice of Sirayo calling:

“Eh, Hu-em—Inkose!”—calling surely in some strangely unfamiliar tone of fear.

“Hu-em, my friend, do not desert me.”

“What is it, chief?”

“Come; I cling to the rock.”

“Good God!” cried Hume; “wait,” and painfully he groped his blind way along, grinding his teeth.

“Quick, my friend!” cried the chief hoarsely.

“Yes, yes; oh, God, for one moment’s strength!”

“Frank, oh, Frank, where are you?”

He turned his head at the sound. “Laura!” he cried.

“Oh, thank Heaven!”

“Listen,” he cried, steadying his voice by a supreme effort. “You will find a ledge on your right. Keep your right hand, to the rock and come on quickly, quickly, for God’s sake!”

There was a sobbing reply, but he heard her come.

“Where are you?”

“Here; but go on quickly to the chief. He is in danger.”

“But you—you are hurt?”

“Go on,” he cried fiercely; and he felt the touch of her dress and heard her voice go out in a quivering cry for Sirayo.

“Inkosikasi,” came the faint reply.

She gave a shriek of terror as, guided by the heavy breathing of the chief, she felt his wrist, and slipping her hand over the straining muscles of the arm, found that he was hanging from the ledge.

“Your other hand,” she said.

“Broken!” he growled. “Woman weak—where Hu-em?”

She stretched herself on the ledge, and, reaching over, grasped the shoulder-strap from which his bag was suspended.

“No good,” he panted; then, in Zulu, he muttered: “It is a far drop, and every bone will be broken. To die like this. Inkosikasi!”

“Well!” she gasped.

“A gun is near. Find it and shoot! So Sirayo dies! Go—find.”

“Hold on—help comes. If you fall you drag me. Frank!”

There was a movement by her side, fingers felt along her outstretched hands, then closed upon the warrior’s wrist in a grasp of iron, and Hume, shutting his teeth, put forth all his strength.

There was a scramble, a sob, the sound of deep panting breaths, and Sirayo was saved. Hume, with a cold sweat on his brow, fell back, almost swooning from the fierce throbbing of his eyes. Laura gave way to a fit of crying, and Sirayo, crawling along the ledge, lay at full length, breathing deeply.

If the enemy had come now, not one of them could have lifted a finger in defence.

Chapter Thirty.

The Place of the Eye.

Some minutes they remained helpless in that perilous position, then Laura aroused, but at the deep silence—significant of, perhaps, more disaster—she cried out, frightened.

Hume muttered some inarticulate reply.

“Oh, let us get away from here,” she said, almost in a whisper. “The precipice so near seems to draw me to it, and in every breath of wind I hear a stealthy footstep.”

“Yes, let us go,” he said in a low voice, trying to keep his agony from her knowledge. “Keep your left hand against the rock, and tread firmly. Sirayo!”

“My strength has returned,” answered the chief, though he still breathed heavily. “Pass by, and I will follow,” and there was a movement as he edged to the brink of the krantz.

“I will go first,” said Hume; “follow me closely, Laura;” and setting his teeth so that no groan should escape, he groped his way along. She came fearfully behind, catching her breath now and again, and Sirayo followed.

Now that the excitement, which had supported them before, had died away, the return along that giddy height, with no other guide than the sense of touch, was full of terrors, and these increased in the slow and hesitating advance. If she had known that the one who led was blind, that at times he almost reeled through pain, she must inevitably have broken down; but Hume forced himself to the task with a desperate resolve.

At last he felt the ridge made by the eye, and climbing up, helped her to ascend, then asked her if she could go on to the cave; then, as she went on, he sat with his head bowed on his hands.

“What is it, friend?” asked Sirayo, as he, in his turn, reached the place.

“I am blind, chief, blind!” was the bitter reply.

“Yoh!” and, overcome by the terrible nature of the injury the Zulu remained dumb.

“Say nothing to her, for it will soon be morning, and she must stand in the eye and watch. Bind this handkerchief about my eyes.”

“I cannot—my arm is broken; but I will send Klaas with water. It is bad—this thing that has happened. It would have been better had you let me go out on the ledge.”

“And your arm is broken,” muttered Hume. “We owe our lives to her, and the mountain is slipping away.”

Sirayo caught him, and laid him in a corner of the rock, then went down rapidly to the cave, where he called to Klaas.

“Where is he?” asked Laura.

“He is tired; moreover, he says the morning is near at hand, when you will stand in the place above.”

“To see the Golden Rock,” she murmured. “At last; but at what cost of suffering!”

“What do you say about the rock?” asked Webster, sitting up suddenly.

“Are you better?” she asked gently.

“Ay, except that my head feels strangely light. Where is Hume?”

“He has been watching through the night, and is still out on the ledge.”

“Good fellow. I will take his watch when I am well.” And with a sigh he sank back on to the couch to sleep again.

A faint smile hovered about her lips, then she bound Sirayo’s damaged arm, and at last, drawing her blanket over her, she sank into a profound slumber.

On the rock above, Klaas put a bandage round his master’s injured eyes, gave him water, and made a pillow for his head. Sirayo went out on the ledge again to keep watch, bearing his injury with stoic indifference, and grimly bent on doing his duty.

“Sit with your face to the sunrise, Klaas,” whispered Hume, “and when you see the sky turn red bring your mistress here.”

“Eweh, my master.”

So they sat in the darkness and silence deep and brooding.

“Do you sleep, Klaas?”

“Neh, sieur.”

“I feel the touch of the morning wind.”

“The stars are white, all but one that shines red.”

“The morning star. The sun will soon be up. Are the clouds rising, do you think?”

“The sky shines like the eye of a pool when the moon looks on it.”

“And the mist; look below.”

“It is black below, sieur.”

The minutes went slowly by.

“It must be time,” he muttered. “What noise is that?”

“Birds flying over. They smell the morning; and the buck will now take his stand at the edge of the kloof, to catch the first warmth of the sun. Ayi; the red line spreads along the sky.”

“Call your mistress!” Hume cried. “The moment is at hand!” he murmured; “and I—I will not see this wonder.”

Presently she came and stood by him.

“I am here, Frank.”

“Stand in the opening above, with your face to the west, and look below to your right. At the first ray of the sun you should see the light on the Golden Rock.”

“Am I to stand there alone,” she said, “at this moment we have looked forward to so intently?”

“Where is Webster?” he asked impatiently.

“He is still weak and asleep. And you, Frank—I can see you have been wounded.”

“For Heaven’s sake!” he said, almost fiercely, “take your stand there. I am all right, but knocked up.”

She sighed, and stepped into the embrasure, and stood there waiting, with an oppression at her heart that robbed the moment of all its expected joy. The two natives sat near, calm and unmoved, perhaps marvelling at the strange ways of these restless white people.

“What do you see?” asked Hume anxiously, to make her talk, so that she should not hear him moan with the pain he suffered.

“I see the rocks on my right, the outlines of the mountains beyond, a tremulous light around, but below it is jet black. No—there is a faint luminous track winding through the blackness.”

“That is the layer of mist over the river.”

“There is a glow on the summits of the distant mountains; and, oh! above me, on the rocks, there is the reflection as from fire. It is the sunlight streaming, and it stretches out, fan-shaped, pouring its radiance down into the darkness in countless quivering threads of silver.”

“Follow that gleam,” he cried; “don’t let your gaze wander.”

“It is shivered by a projecting rock on the mountain side,” she continued; “but the centre broadens out and flows on deeper and deeper, the darkness flying before it, and now there is a lake lying far below; no, it is land, I think—rolling prairie, and oh!”


“Come and look at this—a gleaming spot far off, that glows like the heart of a furnace. Give me your hand.”

“No; I am tired. Laura, that is the rock; look well at it.”

“Is that the rock? it glows, it flashes back the light. There is a pale radiance that quivers above and around, and a wide belt of purple about its base—a belt of colour that widens, contracts, and coils upon itself. Purple—no, it is not purple; it is like a band of opal; now ’tis red, blood-red,” and her voice sank to an awed whisper, “and the yellow flame above shines wonderfully.”

“Mawoh,” muttered Klaas.

“Well, what now?”

“It is gone—faded!” And she stood looking below her with wide-opened eyes and parted lips, and a glow of colour in her cheeks. “Frank, it was such a sight I saw when we were on the mid-Atlantic.”

“And has it repaid you for all you have suffered?” he asked.

“Repaid me; it was beautiful! But it has not repaid me, and will not till I stand beside the rock itself.”

“That cannot be,” he said in low tones.

“And why?” she asked, still looking away.

“Webster is ill.”

“He is rapidly recovering, I am sure; and the news that we have seen the Golden Rock will restore him.”

“Then Sirayo is wounded.”

“His arm is bruised, not broken; and then we have you.”

“But,” he said, “I am blind!” and the long restraint he had put upon himself giving way, he flung his hands out before him with a groan of bitter disappointment.

“Blind!” she murmured, “blind!” and sinking beside him, she caught his hands in a convulsive grasp, and looked into his drawn and bandaged face. “Oh, Frank! why did not you tell me of this before? How did it happen? But never mind now; let me lead you to the cave. Blind! and out on that fearful ledge.”

“Yes,” he said, with a ghastly smile; “lead me to the hospital.”

“Hullo!” shouted Webster, as they approached the opening, “I thought you had left me, cast me adrift without compass or food, and I have a most extravagant appetite. Don’t look so downcast; I assure you I am quite well. Why, what is it?”

“You see, I am crippled, Jim, disabled, helpless, worse than useless.”

“Lad, I don’t believe it;” and rising, Webster stepped to Hume’s side, took his hand, then, as he caught the signs of suffering, he gently pressed him to the couch, while Laura leant against the rock with her hands before her face, her courage gone at last.

“Hurt, while I have been lying here like a log. Well, it is my turn to help now. Let us look at it.” Gently he drew away the roughly-tied bandage, and caught his breath at what he saw. He looked quickly over his shoulder. “Laura, tell Klaas to get some water.” She went out slowly, and he examined the injury. The upper part of Hume’s face was blackened, the eyelashes and eyebrows burnt off, the eyelids glued to the cheeks. “Poor lad!” he muttered. “She must not see this.”

“Is it so bad; will I ever see again, Jim?”

“Ay, man, that you will! I have seen a worse case mend within a week with the proper treatment. Laura, you look worn—lie down and rest. This is my case. Klaas, bring water and some clean damp moss.”

Klaas quickly returned, and Webster began, with a gentle touch, to moisten the eyelids.

Hume caught him by the wrists.

“Leave me alone—it’s torture.”

“Good—the powder has pierced the lids, and what you feel is the grit on the eyeballs,” and he went on sponging. “The upper part of your face is a colourable imitation of Klaas’s.”

“Jim, don’t be so cruel.”

“Oblige me by going to sleep, young lady. Now for the damp moss,” and, picking out all the coarse stuff, he placed a portion over each eye, and tied the bandage. “Now, take this brandy, and keep quiet.” Then, in singular contradiction to his own words, he burst out: “How the devil did this happen?”

An hour after he sponged the eyes again, and continued at lesser intervals throughout the morning, heedless of his patient’s terrible sufferings.

“I’ll tell you what,” he said, as though with a sudden inspiration, “we’ll get back to the river, and drift down to the coast on a raft; the rest will do us all good.”

“Yes,” she said; “let us go quickly; I have lost all desire to see the rock.”

Sirayo’s form darkened the opening.

“What!” almost shouted Webster, “are you wounded, too?”

“The people are moving down below,” said the chief; “the same we fought, and there are others gathering beyond the river. I think they will fight.”

“Which way do the Zulus move?” asked Hume, sitting up.

“Away towards the shining place from the spot where we saw the fires burn last night.”

“Are there many of the other people?”

“Ay, they outnumber the Zulus, but they are not eager for the fight. Maybe they have already been attacked.”

“We will descend, then!”

“Descend!” asked Laura, bewildered.

“Yes; don’t you see,” he continued quickly, though his lips trembled at the pain, “this is our chance? If there is to be a fight our help may decide the day, and instead of being opposed by the people of the valley, they would assist us in return for our support. Don’t you see that, Jim?”

“No, I don’t. I know nothing of the people of the valley, and it will be folly now to continue.”

“You must not,” cried Laura; “you are not fit to face fresh dangers.”

“I have brought you thus far,” he replied doggedly, “now you must take me down. I swear if you do not I will not budge from here. Let us pack up and go while there is still light, for the day must be far advanced.”

In vain they tried to persuade him, but opposition only made him the more stubborn, and after noon they began the long and perilous descent. Klaas, as being the most active, went ahead; Sirayo followed, then Laura, Hume, and Webster, with rheims connecting them. Of necessity their advance was slow, but after they had passed over the scene of the night’s conflicts, with its stains of blood, and rounded the projecting rock, they struck the top of a ravine, down which the way was safer, though more difficult to traverse because of the loose shale. From the ledge they saw a body of Zulus marching on one side of the valley, while beyond the river a larger body was massed inside a wide military kraal. After many a rest they arrived safely near the bottom, and, waiting until Klaas, who had been sent on to scout, returned with a favourable report, they reached the valley near sunset.

Chapter Thirty One.

A Strange Awakening.

Immediately before them rose a conspicuous mound, which they believed to be the ruins marked on the map, and though, from the fires still smouldering near, they knew the Zulus had camped there, they rapidly determined it was the best position for them to hold. Quickly, therefore, they struck across and found themselves under a broken bush-covered wall, which surrounded an irregular mass of masonry, out of which rose a crown of foliage. They walked round seeking for an inlet, and stepped off the circumference at one hundred and fifty yards. On the south, where the wall was intact, it rose to a height of ten feet, and appeared to be of great thickness, and, though at other points it was lower, there was a continuous natural fence of stiff brushwood, showing no entrance anywhere. They saw, too, from the ring of fires, that the Zulus had camped quite a hundred yards from the ruins at a spot where a spring of clear water bubbled from a belt of rushes.

“It would not be safe to camp out here,” said Webster; “and if there is no inlet to this place there is no reason why we should not climb over the outer wall.” He very quickly mounted to the top, and, springing down, disappeared. “Come on,” he cried presently; “there is good shelter in here and a clean floor, in the very centre of winding passages.”

Very soon they were all on the wall, and Webster led them along a narrow passage, which coiled round and round between heavy walls to an inner chamber, whose floor was covered with sand.

It seemed so retired, was so silent, that in security they placed no guard, they made no fire, neither did they talk; but stretched themselves on the sand and slept, and the sky was blue above them when they opened their eyes again.

Yet weariness weighed upon their lids, their limbs were heavy, and the morning air was charged with a sweet odour that seemed to lull the senses.

Slowly they opened their eyes, blinked at the strong light, closed them again, without any feeling of surprise that they had slept so long, then remained still, listening idly. They heard, afar off, the drowsy war-song of the Zulu warriors; but it was a sound detached from their surroundings that no longer moved them. They did not ask themselves where they were nor why. A strange relaxation of mind and body had overcome them—the reaction possibly from the fierce impulse which had impelled them on in face of all danger. Constant anxiety, want of sleep, and poor food had worn them out. Was that the explanation of their stupor, or did it arise from some other source—that faint and subtle odour that recalled to Laura, at least, the swinging of a censer in some dimly-lighted aisle? She saw the shadowy figures of priests moving softly to and fro, the forms of women kneeling, and involuntarily there broke from her lips, in a tremulous whisper, the petition, “Ave Maria.”

Webster stirred, and muttered with a yawn:

“Eight bells, and my watch; a calm sea, and a bright night.”

“Eh!” said Hume; “what’s the matter with my eyes? I cannot open them.”

“We’re bewitched!” shouted Klaas.

They sat up, and then with a cry of fear and amazement looked at each other. They were bound hand and foot!

Bound with the very rheims which they had used to secure their packs, their weapons removed, and all their belongings. And yet not one of them had felt the slightest touch, or heard the faintest movement of their enemies, neither was there anyone visible beyond themselves.

The room was about ten feet square, its roof opened to the sky, the walls covered with the shining leaves and twisted tendrils of the wild vine.

“What is the matter?” asked Hume, struggling wildly to free his hands.

“Heaven knows!” muttered Webster, staring helplessly at his bonds.

“And to be bound like this!” cried Hume, in fierce and bitter despair. “Sirayo, what do you say?”

There were beads of sweat on the chief’s forehead, for his bruised arm had been torn from the sling and tightly bound, while his fingers trembled with the pain.

“It is true, we have been bewitched,” he said hoarsely, “for I felt no one touch me, even though they bound my wounded arm.”

“Laura, are you also bound?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

Webster struggled to free himself, then rolled over until with his fingers he could touch her cold hand.

“This is awful,” muttered Hume. “Can’t you see any spoor?”

“No,” growled Webster; “the sand has been kicked up, but I can see no footmarks.”

For many minutes they stared at each other with wild eyes, then making a frantic effort, Webster rose to his feet, swayed about a moment, then, in a series of jumps, reached the opening, where he steadied himself. “Good heavens!” he gasped.

They all heard his cry with a feeling of something terrible impending.

“What now?” cried Hume.

“Nothing,” came the faint reply, “but the tightening of the ropes;” but when he turned, his face was ghastly white, and there was a look of horror in his eyes.

Slowly he shuffled to his former place, then turned his head to watch the opening, while his breath came quickly.

“You have seen something,” she whispered, with her eyes fixed on the opening.

“No,” he said; “there is no one there. Laura, can you move up against the far end of the wall? You will be in the shade there. Try, please.”

She slowly crept to the wall, then Hume was asked to join her, and, with a deep groan at his weakness, he did so. Then Webster, with a sigh of relief, sat with his back to them, and his face to the opening, and there came into his eyes that same look of horror. The two warriors saw his fixed gaze, caught, too, the fear in it, and their eyes were fastened on the opening.

“Why don’t you talk,” said Hume, “and tell me what you see; the size of the room, its appearance, anything to relieve this darkness and suspense.”

“Be still,” muttered Webster, in hollow tones.

Hume suppressed the fierce retort that rose to his lips, and the others sat staring at the opening, finding in this new suggestion of unknown danger a fear which quenched the speculation about the mysterious nature of their bondage. So they sat on, while from beyond there came to them a confused sound of shouting, while the sunlight streamed in in a white light, and the broad leaves of the vine rustled softly, and imagination working on their fears kept their senses on the rack. The air grew closer, their lips were parched, and the sweet odour in the heavy air oppressed their breathing.

“Speak,” whispered Laura, moistening her lips.

“Yes, for God’s sake break this silence! It is worse than death;” and Hume rolled impatiently from side to side.

“Yes,” muttered Webster; “it is terrible, this waiting. Shall we talk of the Golden Rock?”

“No, no,” she cried, with a shudder.

“I remember once,” he resumed slowly, “when on the sea—shall I ever feel the touch of the salt breeze again?—the look-out reported the sea-serpent ahead, and, sure enough, we saw the gleaming curves of his body. I recall well how we all grouped forward till the captain gruffly dusted us for a lot of swabs, though he himself had kept his eye glued to his glass. The sea-serpent proved to be a floating mast with a trailing mass of rope and a dead body caught in the raffle.”

Laura laughed hysterically.

“A pleasant story,” said Hume savagely.

“Man, I can’t think of a joke; my brain revolts from the effort. Why were serpents created footless, stealthy, lidless, implacable—the living embodiment of cunning, their very presence—” He stopped short, and the hairs of his moustache bristled. “It comes,” he whispered. “There! there!”

Spellbound, they gazed at something that flickered in the opening at a height of about three feet from the ground, something strange, black, supple, that quivered in the air like a thin flame of fire, insignificant in size, yet suggestive in its lightning play of something terrible. Scarcely breathing, they waited for what was to follow, and in a moment found themselves looking into the unwinking eyes of a huge serpent. The long head and about two feet of the muscular neck alone showed, held high above the ground, and remaining there fixed as if cast in bronze. The sunlight pouring on the large scales made them glow like bits of burnished metal in tints of blue and yellow, while a greenish light smouldered in the unwinking eyes. In the actual size of the head there was nothing alarming. It was no bigger than a man’s hand, with the thumb bent in, the fingers extended, and the knuckles arched, while the neck was no thicker than a man’s wrist. A strong man might grasp it by the neck and strangle it—so Webster thought—but the eyes—ah! in their fixed, impenetrable stare, there was the suggestion of unknown power and mysterious force. Suddenly the forked tongue darted out from the aperture in the grim jaws, quivered rapidly, and then the head was withdrawn.

“Thank God!” murmured Webster.

With a faint cry, Laura fainted away, and was mercifully spared the fresh trial.

“Ah! heavens! Again!” whispered Webster, while, with an awful cry, the Gaika wriggled back to the far end of the room, and turned his face to the wall.

Suddenly the snake darted its head along the floor, and the body poured in with a swift and silent motion, the muscles standing out in a ridge along its swelling bulk. Half-way it reached across the floor in that swift dart; then its head and neck curved back, and the body was bent like a huge S to permit the fatal strike at its destined victim.

“I can feel there is something awful in the room,” said Hume, in hollow tones; “tell me what!”

Webster gulped down a lump in his throat. “A snake!” he gasped, and his eyes, wild and starting, were held as in a spell. He was the nearer, for Sirayo had shrunk against the wall at the side. This thing he felt could only take one. He was to be that one. Well, all right; he would not see Laura die.

Then he went through an ordeal that nearly shook his reason. The snake moved its head from side to side, and his head moved also. The tongue darted out, and his lips quivered. The head was suddenly uplifted, and he staggered to his feet. He began to laugh—foolishly—and his features twitched horribly. His body swayed to and fro, and, with an inarticulate cry he fell forward, his outstretched hands striking against the cold scales. With a loud hiss the reptile darted forward till its head rested on Laura’s insensible body, and its coils gathered upon Webster’s. So it remained a minute, then the head was reared against the wall, the leaves rustled to the strange, flowing movement of the heavy coils, the tail presently slithered over the sand, went up the wall, and disappeared.

Sirayo followed it with bloodshot eyes, looked a moment at the entrance to see if some new horror were in store, looked at the motionless figures about him, then shouted in Zulu: “It is gone; wake up!”

As if in response to his shout, a low music broke out, thin and monotonous, the strains from a native bow, and gradually, as each one of the helpless band revived, they listened with intense relief to these signs of human presence. In the grim silence of that room they had begun to think that there was something magical in the manner of their capture, and they would have welcomed any foe in human form rather than think of another visit from the python.

The monotonous strain rose and fell on the heavy air, a sickly vapour sifted in through the cracks in the wall, suspense gave way before the torture of thirst which suddenly assailed them, and Klaas shouted out to the unseen foes to come and kill him. The music rose to a wail as if in mockery, then receded, grew fainter, died away, was heard again from another point, grew nearer, retreated again, until even Sirayo’s iron nerves broke down under the irritation as he shouted hoarsely.

Suddenly, without sound or notice, the passage was darkened by the form of an old woman, black and withered. She looked at the prostrate captives with a mingling of fear and rage, but they looked not at her, but at a calabash poised on her head, on which glittered a few precious drops of water. Was this to be another mode of torture? No, she moved timidly forward, lifted her calabash from her head, while they followed her movements with glittering eyes, then shot a cooling stream into each mouth gaping wide to receive it. Then the old witch stood there talking passionately, stretching her skinny arms, pointing now to the passage, then at the broad trail of the python.

“Silence,” said Sirayo, “bring someone here who can listen as well as talk.”

She shook her lean hand in his face until the bones cracked, then shuffled out, still shrilly grumbling.

“I am past all feeling of curiosity,” groaned Webster, as his eyes shifted uneasily round the room; “but I should like to know two things: why that old woman has been cursing us after giving us water, and what became of the snake.” He turned his head to scan the wall. “I have a strange feeling in my bones,” he said with a shudder, “that those evil eyes are still fixed upon me!”

Laura shuddered, too, violently, and her dark eyes, looking unnaturally large and bright, glanced about restlessly. “I hope this will soon end,” she whispered.

“Good God!” groaned Hume; “if I could only see!”

They lapsed once more into silence, and listened again to the wailing of the native instrument, heard a sudden outbreak, the sharp crack of rifles, the shouts of men, the wild din of battle.

Chapter Thirty Two.

Defending the Passage.

Unmistakably the sounds of battle. The small Zulu force of marauders must have come into collision with the people of the valley. It had happened as Hume had said, up to a certain point; but that point left them very far short of the possibility of taking advantage of the fight. Whether the Zulus conquered or were defeated, the result could matter little to the prisoners in the ruined chamber.

They heard, without hope as without fear, the roar of the distant fighting, but what affected them keenly was the wailing of the native music, which all along continued to send forth its monotonous cry. They could not understand what was meant by this persistent sound, having in it a wild note of appeal, but they felt it had a closer bearing on their lives than the din of battle.

Presently, however, they became aware that the fight was coming nearer. They heard shrill whistling, the occasional sharp crack of a rifle, the deep shouts of individual warriors, and the loud, continuous roar of conflict.

It was evident that one party must be in retreat, but fighting stubbornly.

“The Zulus are getting the worst of it,” muttered Hume.

“If we were only free!” growled Webster, and he made a violent struggle to release his hands.

“The shouts of victory,” said Sirayo, “are from the Zulus.”

“The fight is coming this way rapidly. The retreating party will surely make a stand in these ruins, and then—”

“And then we’ll be put out of our misery.”

Louder and fiercer grew the shouts; but through it all pierced the thin music, and it, too, came nearer, shrill and despairing—now nearer, until the musician himself appeared at the door—a wild figure tricked out with bones and teeth, feathers, and whisps of hair. He stood there glaring at them a minute like a wild beast; then dashing his reed instrument to the ground with a yell of rage, he grasped a small battle-axe that hung from his waist, and flourishing it about, poured out a flood of denunciation, exactly as the old woman had done.

“Good heavens above,” growled Webster, “to be sworn at by a thing like that.”

There came a wild yell of terror from beyond the walls, a cry several times repeated, there was a rush of many feet, and the triumphant shout of victory from the pursuers.

“Yoh!” said Sirayo, while a sudden light leapt to his eyes.

The musician was also affected. His eyes rolled, his lips foamed, and with a scream he rushed forward.

“Hold!” shouted Sirayo in Zulu.

The man stood with his axe poised and glared at the chief.

“You have lost your familiar, your protecting spirit, the great snake!”

The native gnashed his teeth and howled in his fury: “Killed! They have slain it, and now our nation is doomed; but you who caused this shall not escape.”

“Fool! Would you destroy your friends? The snake itself fled, though we were bound, because our fetish is more powerful.”

The native dropped his arm, and looked half terrified at the eyes that were fixed upon him by the silent and helpless group.

There was a sound of men climbing the wall, of metal striking against the rocks, of the Zulu war-shout, ringing loud above the despairing cries of their defeated foes.

“Release us, dog, before it is too late!” cried Sirayo hoarsely, while the blood, rushing to his eyes, gave them an awful appearance, as he glared at the now cowed native.

A man appeared at the door panting, streaming with blood, a broken feather drooping from his hair. He staggered into the room, and, as he advanced, the first native grovelled at his feet, sobbing.

Sirayo thrust out his hands, calling out: “Cut these; the Zulus are our enemies.”

The new-comer brushed his hand across his brow and flicked the blood from his fingers.

“Who are you?”

“A chief, like you. Quick—cut; we can save you.”

There was a fall of stones, the Zulu cry rose within the walls. The wounded man, stooping, severed the tough rheims with the sharp blade of his stabbing assegai, then drew it across the thongs about the ankles.

Sirayo paused a moment to rub his arms, then, rising up, snatched the battle-axe from the still grovelling native and reached the door. A moment later the blade descended with a crashing blow upon the head of a Zulu who was rushing in. Stooping, he snatched the shield from the dead man, and forced his wounded arm through the band. Up the narrow passage, with eyes gleaming, with a low moaning noise, came a second Zulu. Without a pause he rushed forward, stepped, unheeding, on the quivering body, then bounded at Sirayo. The fierce onset drove the giant warrior back a few feet, but his shield received the thrust, then he struck so fiercely that the blade remained fixed in the skull, and the handle was torn from his grasp by the fall of the stricken man.

“Mawoh, oh chief, a stroke for an ox!” came from behind, and Sirayo saw the Gaika at his side.

“There is not room for two,” said the chief, as with his toes he grasped the haft of an assegai and lifted it to his hand. “See to the others.”

“They are free, but they cannot yet stand, their flesh being too soft, and not of iron, like yours.” The Gaika stooped and pulled the battle-axe from the skull.

“Give me room,” growled Sirayo, and Klaas, looking under the chief’s arm, saw three Zulus standing in the passage. He drew back a step, and rubbing his hand in the sand, took a firmer grip of the handle.

The Zulus stood awhile, with their nostrils quivering at the scent of blood, and their eyes gleaming with satisfaction to think that one of the fugitives had courage to face them. They did not know it was a warrior from the famous fighting stock of their own nation; but they feared nothing now.

“To the good death!” cried the first man, and advanced alone, pausing to roll the dead body against the wall. Then he balanced a throwing assegai, and launched it. The narrow blade struck Sirayo’s shield full, passed through the tough hide, pierced the forearm of the chief, and struck against his ribs.

“A good throw,” said the chief, and bounding forward, drove in his assegai under his opponent’s arm before he could raise his shield. The warrior reeled—then sunk to the ground.

“To the good death!” cried the second Zulu, bounding forward at once, and hurling himself on Sirayo; he grasped the haft of the assegai that still protruded from the shield, and pushed fiercely at it. The chief slipped and fell backwards, and with a hoarse shout of triumph the enemy lifted his arm to plunge his weapon into the broad and naked breast. With an answering shout the Gaika hurled his battle-axe. It struck the Zulu on the temple and flew high into the air. The man himself fell with his hands outspread upon Sirayo, and before the chief could struggle to his feet the third Zulu, whirling a heavy knob-kerrie, rushed to avenge the death of his comrades. Sirayo, by a herculean effort, raised the dead body as a shield, warding off the furious blow, then, seizing his assailant by the leg, he hurled him against the wall, when the warrior, shaken by the grim and blood-stained figure that rose to confront him, turned and fled with a cry of “Sirayo.” Each separate duel had followed with breathless rapidity, and the chief, exhausted by his morning’s fast and suffering from the second wound in his left arm, leant dizzy and faint against the wall, his lips still curling from his white teeth.

The desperate struggle could not be renewed by him if the Zulus returned, and at any moment a fresh string of them might appear. Already there were eager shouts as the escaped warrior spread the news of the presence of Sirayo. Well they knew him from the fight at the waggon; and they would esteem it an honour to vanquish him. Mingled, too, with the cries of his name were the names of his white companions and of the white lady. What would be her fate when they triumphed, as in the end they must?

“By the Lord, has a single man done this?” It was Webster who spoke. He had heard the conflict, had seen the first blow given by Sirayo, and had rubbed fiercely to bring back the blood to his numbed limbs.

“They will come,” said Sirayo, speaking slowly; “I will hold them for a time. When I fall be ready to take my place. The inkosikasi, does she live?”

“Yes,” said Webster, with his eyes brightening at the unyielding courage of the savage warrior.

“Give her an assegai,” he said, and put the point of his blood-stained blade to his throat.

Webster shuddered at the fearful significance of the gesture, then picked up an assegai, and stood waiting with the Gaika to bar the passage.

There was a cry from Laura. “Come,” she said, “quick!”

Webster turned with a roar, expecting to face the foe; but he stood amazed to see the native who had so opportunely arrived to cut their bands disappearing through a hole in the wall. Laura stood by, holding Hume by the hand, while with the disengaged hand she pointed at the hole.

“A refuge,” she whispered; “a hiding-place.”

“Hold the passage a minute, Sirayo,” he cried, then ran to her, and looked through into a dark cavern. “Is it safe?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Hume; “but I have lost half my perception with the loss of sight; there is some sort of cave here, I think. The man told me he had run here for shelter.”

There was a shout from beyond.

Laura struggled through; then Webster lifted Hume, and almost shot him in. “Klaas, come!”

The Gaika looked along the passage and hesitated. Webster ran, caught him by the neck, and jammed his head in the hole, then shoved him through by main force.

“Jim, come in!” cried Laura.

He was already advancing to the passage, but he turned. “I cannot, Laura. Sirayo must come too;” and he rushed away to join the chief, who stood astride the passage eyeing a fresh body of the enemy, whose glaring eyes and quivering nostrils met the view above the striped shields.

Two men stood shoulder to shoulder, their shields before them, and two behind held their bucklers above the heads of those in advance.

“Now!” they cried, “together!” and advancing in a solid mass, by their sheer weight pushed back their two opponents into the open room; but beyond the opening the two would not budge.

Webster drove his fist full in the face of the foremost native, who fell, stunned, against the men behind, and in the opening made Sirayo plunged his assegai. Then the two of them struck and thrust furiously, while the Zulus in front, who could not use their hands, cried to those behind to give them room, but the latter, scenting blood, pressed on the more fiercely, till at last they forced their way and, by their impetus, fell headlong into the room. Webster and the chief sprang aside a moment, and then dashed among their foes before they could rally; and the desperate rush they made, and their great strength exerted to the utmost in each swift blow, combined with the fierce war-shout and terrible vigour of the great Zulu, produced a panic. The injured men at first ran crying out, and then the survivors fled, leaving the two alone with a few writhing figures. Then they struggled, all blood-stained and panting, through the hole to the hiding-place, and the stone was replaced.

Chapter Thirty Three.

The Chief’s Plan.

They had entered a narrow chamber, into which the light streamed through numerous cracks, in volume sufficient to bring every object into dim relief. For several minutes the little band, snatched from certain death at the last moment, stood anxiously listening for the movements of their enemies, scarcely daring to hope that their hiding-place would not be immediately detected; then, with a sigh of relief, they grasped each other’s hands and peered about them.

At one corner of the room was the old woman who had first visited them, mixing something in a stone dish; near her crouched the witch-doctor, with his head bent in a state of utter dejection, while, with his back to the wall and his eyes fixed upon the woman, leant the warrior whose prompt action had so timely released the captives. Sirayo was seated on the floor, with the Gaika endeavouring to stanch the blood that still trickled down his arm. Hume stood with his hands to his eyes, having torn off the bandage, which, in its sun-dried state, had increased his torture, his face looking haggard and white. As her eyes, growing accustomed to the darkness, dwelt upon his pathetic action, and noticed the signs of suffering in his face, Laura realised what he must have endured through the long hours of darkness. She moved to his side, and gently took his arm, the tears gathering in her eyes.

The old woman rose up, washed away the blood from the wounds of the warrior of her own race, then anointed them with the preparation on which she had been engaged, and over the wounds so treated laid a thin leaf peeled from a large bulbous root. The man turned away, and took a deep draught of water from a calabash, the gurgling noise breaking strangely on the silence.

Sirayo stood up, and thrust his arm before the old woman, and she, without a word, busied herself with it, probing it with her skinny fingers to feel if the bones were broken, and giving a satisfied grunt when she found it was sound. Moving the limb under a stream of sunlight, and bidding Klaas support it, she washed out the wound, then brought the gaping ends together, and stitched them with a dried thorn of mimosa and sinews. She spread ointment on the wound, and bound the arm up with a curious fragment cut from a long strip stretched along the wall. With the same material she made a sling for his arm, then, with a dry chuckle, dismissed him, and cast a questioning gaze at the others.

Seeing, from the expression of Hume’s face, that he was the only other needing her attention, she stepped to his side, drew his hand away, and with glittering eyes peered into his mutilated face. Then, roughly pushing Laura aside, she drew him to the light and again scrutinised him, while the others looked on in silence, subdued by the confidence in her own power of this old and withered savage.

She whispered to the crouching witch-doctor, and he submissively brought her first a calabash of water, with which she moistened the blackened and inflamed lids, then some vegetable, which she began to chew with her almost toothless gums, making awful grimaces. Then, taking the masticated pulp, she spread it over the lids, stretched on them leaves from the bulb, and with the handkerchief made a bandage.

Hume had submitted with a strange patience, and, now that the operation was over, stood with his face in the light.

Laura stole to his side again. “Do you feel any relief?” she murmured.

“Hush,” whispered Webster.

They listened, and heard a sharp exclamation outside. Those who stood near the wall peeped through the crack, and saw a Zulu standing in the centre of the vacated chamber, looking around him curiously at the signs of the struggle.

There was a fierce hiss, and the Zulu, with a cry of alarm, darted off, while the old woman opened wide her mouth in a silent laugh, and cracked her fingers. She it was who had made this noise.

They heard a noise of men leaping to the ground, and a distant shouting, gradually sinking to a confused murmur.

“They have gone,” said Sirayo. “Old mother, have you any food?”

The old dame responded not very amiably, but at an authoritative order from her own chief she disappeared through a narrow opening, hitherto—hidden in the gloom, into another apartment, while, at the prospect of food, the men brightened up. A man may soon become indifferent to danger, but peril never deadens the edge of hunger, so that many a man condemned to death has breakfasted heartily a few minutes before the hour set for his execution. The fare laid before them was not tempting, but they ate the food ravenously and felt the better for it. Laura retired into the other compartment, after somewhat timidly eyeing the old woman, and the strange crone followed her, mumbling and smiling, as well as her toothless gums would permit, at this new type of feminine beauty. The natives prepared to sleep, that appearing to them the most natural alternative, but the developed nerves of the civilised white rebelled against such indulgence at such a time. Hume leant against the wall with his arms folded, putting a few whispered questions to Webster, who restlessly moved up and down, as though pacing the bridge.

“I want to get out of this place,” he growled. “It isn’t natural—it’s cramped, dark, uncanny, with the dried skin of a snake on the wall, and in its evil-smelling corners the lurking superstition of a mysterious and bloody past. If we stay here we’ll deserve the worst kind of ill-luck.”

“How large are these ruins?” asked Hume.

“About fifty yards across, but with a multitude of passages coiling round the centre chamber, from which we escaped into this hole, which, I take it, lies between the first curve of the passage and the inner chamber.”

“Then, if the Zulus, knowing we are concealed somewhere in the pile, made a systematic search, they must find us?”

“Certainly; and knowing we were in the inner chamber they will begin their search from that point, and discover our hiding-place at once.”

“Would it not be best, then, to find out what the Zulus are about?”

“Good; anything to get out of this place. I’d better get out the way I squeezed in. Where’s the port-hole—the loose stone?”

“Stop; Jim, you must not go; you’re too clumsy for this work. Klaas!”


“We are in great danger here. To get free we need the help of a brave man, a man who can move softly, and use his eyes and ears well. You are he.”

“Eweh, Inkose, I am that man.”

“You will get out of this place, and, keeping yourself concealed, see where the Zulus are and what they do.”

“I will do it,” and he fixed the point of his assegai in a crack in the wall where the movable stone was fixed.

“Stay,” said Hume; “I have been thinking. There must be another outlet. The woman was here when we entered; I heard her voice. She must have crept in by another way after bringing us water when we were bound.”

“I never thought of that,” muttered Webster.

Klaas spoke a word to the witch-doctor, and, at the sullen reply, removed a strip of hide in a corner, slipped through a hole, and disappeared.

There was an exclamation from Laura, and she came swiftly in, holding one of the rifles. “Look,” she said, “I have found all our guns and belongings.”

Webster caught the rifle and opened the breech. “Loaded! Ah, now we’re all right.”

Hume sighed heavily.

“Do your eyes pain you still?” she asked gently.

“No; I was thinking of my rifle. If I could only see a little—a very little.”

She looked into his face, and, with a curious thrill, saw that the tears were streaming down his cheeks. She took his hand and patted it.

“I am not weeping,” he said, with a ghost of a smile, “but the treatment of the old woman makes my eyes water.”

“Thank God,” said Webster fervently; and he grasped Hume’s disengaged hand in a warm pressure.

“What do you mean?” asked Frank hoarsely, while his hand tightened in a convulsive grasp on Laura’s fingers.

“I mean that your eyesight will be restored. I saw a similar recovery on the Barracouta, and I remember the surgeon’s joy when he saw the water run from the powder-burnt eyes of the patient.”

“I cannot see yet,” muttered Hume, as he raised his fingers to the bandage.

“Nay, man, wait a little longer; you are in the hands of the old woman, and must trust the cure to her. But, believe me, Frank, you will see the sight on your rifle when the Zulus come again.”

“And the sunlight and the trees,” he whispered.

“Which,” Laura said, “would you like to see first?”

“Well,” he said, “I would like very much to see my feet, for they appear now not to belong to me, and then one look round the horizon. But the idea frightens me,” and he leant against the wall again with folded arms, while Webster paced to and fro, and Laura stood looking at the quiet figure and the three natives, dimly outlined on the floor.

Suddenly the shafts of sunlight that streamed through the lower cracks were cut off, and the black line of shadow crept steadily up the wall, until the narrow cell was faintly illumined by one broad stream only, and this they watched slowly fade away, leaving them in impenetrable gloom.

“It is very still,” muttered Hume.

“Yes,” said Webster; “it is oppressive. I suppose the night is upon us, but the light has been turned off as though it had been under command. We must not stay here; it would be folly—madness.”

There came a sound of shuffling, and the voice of Klaas, sounding hollow, called out:

“Are you there?”

“What have you seen?”

“Ah, it was so still I thought you had been swallowed up. The Zulus are in three parties; one has marched up the valley, another is by the river, and the rest stay near here, where they were encamped before.”

“Are they keeping watch over the ruins?”

“Neh, sieur, I think they fear the stones and the things in them at night.”

“Then let us get out of this,” said Webster.

“Wait awhile,” said Hume, for an animated discussion had sprung up between the natives, and he was listening intently. The strange chief was evidently emphasising some point with great earnestness, and the smack of his fingers into the open palm marked off each point.

“Does he think the Zulus are determined to find us?” asked Hume.

“Oh, ay,” said Sirayo; “yoh, I have no more snuff. They will attack to-morrow, and if they do not succeed the others will come to their help. But they do not seek us!”

“They do not seek us?”

“So the chief says. They came here in search of riches stored below,” and the thud of his assegai was heard as it struck the floor. “They find us here. It is the worse for us—but they do not seek us. So says the chief.”

“Is there such a treasure?”

“No chief would tell where the grain pit is dug in the kraal, or if it were full of grain. But the Zulus do not hunt on a cold spoor. If they come after riches, who will say they are not here?”

“But who told the Zulus of the store? They were encamped here before, and did not enter the ruins.”

Sirayo repeated this, and the chief, with an angry exclamation, poured out a volume of excited words.

“He says the secret must have been told them by one of the witch-doctors who lived here, and who alone knew of it with the chiefs.”

There was a noise in the room of someone moving. Laura cried out that something had brushed against her, and there was a scraping, followed by a rush of cold wind.

Each grasped a weapon, and deep silence ensued as they listened; then Webster struck a match, and, as the feeble light spread, they followed its path through the blackness.

“Yoh!” exclaimed Klaas, whose eyes gleamed as they rolled, “the umtagati (witch-doctor) has gone,” and he thrust his assegai through an opening in the wall opposite to the gap through which they had entered.

The match went out, and the stranger chief gave a sharp exclamation.

“What the devil is in the wind now?” demanded Webster impatiently.

“Treachery,” said Hume. “Was that the informer?” he asked in Zulu.

“Eweh,” said Sirayo fiercely; “my fingers itched to grasp him by the throat as he sat there like an evil toad through the afternoon. He is one of those who knew the secret, so says Umkomaas, the chief, and he must have given the word to the Zulus last night.”

“And now he will go straight to them, tell them where we are, and that half of us are wounded.”

“Eweh, he will do that.”

“For Heaven’s sake,” said Webster, “give me the bearings of this matter.”

Hume explained.

Webster laughed fiercely.

“We’ve missed port again, but I’m hanged if I weigh anchor now.”

“A few minutes ago you were anxious to get away from here.”

“Look here, Frank, we are after a treasure. There’s no doubt we’ve been mad to push on; but if there is a treasure here we would be mad to give it up. What do you think yourself?”

“Leave me out of the question; let Laura decide.”

Sirayo’s deep voice interposed.

“The chief Umkomaas has a plan.”

“Wait awhile, Laura. What is this plan?”

“He says it would be no good to leave this place unless you take the backward path up the mountain, for on the plain you would be seen and attacked in the open. This is a strong place, and the only place that a few men can hold. The Zulus will attack in the morning after they have eaten. You will hold them off till the sun is high. To-night one of us will leave, cross the river, and gather the people to fall on the Zulus. He cannot go, for his hurts are deep; neither a white man, for the people would not follow him; neither the Gaika, for he is not of their race. It is I who will go. Soh! That is the plan, and it is good.”

Hume interpreted, and Webster banged his clenched hand into the open palm.

“Splendid!” he cried.

“Now, Laura, the decision remains with you.”

“I am tired,” she said in low tones. “I could not climb the mountain if we retreated. Let us stay.”

Hume sighed, and laid his hand upon hers.

“What we decide to do must be done quickly,” said Sirayo.

“If you find your way to the people, Sirayo, will they not turn upon you?”

“The chief has given me the word and a sign. They will follow Sirayo,” said the chief proudly.

“Then let it be as you wish.”

“I will go,” said the chief, rising; “I must swim the river, and though the way is not far, it will be longer than if I had both arms. But when the shadow is small at your feet you will hear Sirayo’s war-cry.”

Without another word he passed from the room by the way Klaas had taken.

Chapter Thirty Four.

Sirayo’s Mission.

After climbing through the hole, Sirayo found himself in a passage so narrow that his broad shoulders jammed, and he was obliged to edge along sideways, and so dark that he had to feel his way with his toes. It bent sharply to the left, and after he had shuffled on about twenty paces he found an opening above, and mounting on projecting stones, reached the top of the wall, from which he dropped into the open passage. This coiled round and round in widening circles until at last he stood on the outermost fringe, from which he saw the light of Zulu fires about two hundred yards distant. Creeping round the wall to the opposite side, he saw, far off, the gleam of camp fires straight ahead in the direction of the Golden Rock, and then to the left, towards the river, the lights of still another encampment.

The stars shone brilliantly out of the black sky, the air was cool and refreshing. He drew a long breath, looked back at the dark pile, so much like a mound of the dead that he almost shuddered, then sprang lightly to the ground, paused awhile, listening, and silently slipped away in the direction of the river, straight towards the Zulu fires.

He heard the distant lowing of cattle complaining at being hurriedly driven in the night, the sharp yelping of dogs, the angry muttering of a war-song chanted by deep throats. They were sounds familiar to his ear. They told of war and victory, of premeditated riot in the morning, of a frightened people deserting their kraals in the night with such of their goods and their cattle as they could hastily collect, of terrified children and wailing women, of men who had lost heart. He knew them well. Often in his daring youth and stormy manhood he had burst upon some peaceful village slumbering amid waving fields of maize, and seen the scattered survivors flying to the woods or rocky retreats in a neighbouring krantz. Like a hurricane he had swept over the land, leaving desolation in his track; and the wailing of innumerable women widowed by his terrible regiment, the quavering cry of children made fatherless by him, seemed to mingle with that tremulous cry that came on the night air from beyond the river. His iron soul stirred under these blood-stained memories at the thought that now, in his grim age, the last of his band, an outcast, without authority or possessions beyond the assegai in his hand, he was hurrying to the relief of the helpless. He strode on faster over the level plain, his nostrils expanding, his tireless sinews stiffening until his gait was as clean and springy almost as in his youth, when he led his victorious warriors to the fight.

The reflection before him shone in a ring of fire, then as he rapidly advanced this split up into separate flames, and he slackened his speed to approach stealthily. There were ten fires, and in a circle about each there squatted ten warriors, some of them chattering as they ate, others flinging their war-cry across the river, telling what they would do in the morning. Little did they dream in their confidence of the dreaded enemy whose fierce eyes took note of their numbers, and who, slipping away to the right, turned his steps to the river.

He stood on the high bank, listening to its soft, mysterious murmur, trying to pierce the gloom on the further bank, and unshaken by the eye-like reflections of the brighter stars, through which Icanti, the spirit of the river, looks out upon the venturous mortal, seeking to draw him into the clutch of the waters. At a spot where the bank was low he went down to the water, felt the depth with his assegai, then gently slipping in, so that he made no sound to disturb a lurking crocodile, he waded until the cold waters mounted to his chin, when he fixed his assegai in his waistband, and struck out with his right arm. A few strokes he made, until with his toe he touched the bottom again, then struggled on to the bank, reached the top, and all wet as he was ran in the direction of a confused noise.

His way was soon barred by the thorn fences to the cultivated lands, in which he could hear some stray cattle munching at the forbidden food, but with unerring instinct he found a footpath, and passed through several kraals, deserted by everything save a few curs, which yelped at his heels before returning to forage in the abandoned huts. Then he came up with a string of old people, feebly struggling along, who stood still to look after him with bleared eyes, and next upon a band of women, swinging along under great bundles borne on their heads. At the sight of this glistening figure at their side, that had come without warning, and of his head-ring, sign of the dreaded Zulu, they threw down their bundles and ran shrieking away, while at the noise young children ahead cried out shrilly, communicating the alarm to the men who were in advance driving the cattle.

The men called to each other, and the rush of their feet could be heard.

“What is it?” they shouted.

“We know not,” said a boy’s clear voice; “but our mothers cried that the Zulus were upon us. Give me an assegai. I will fight, too.”

“Run, my child, run!” called out a woman’s voice.

“Stand where you are, and I will do you no harm;” and as the deep voice rolled above the noise there was immediate silence. “Soh! Let your chief Induna come forward; I have a message.”

“Do not heed him,” cried the woman; “he will slay you.”

“There is but one,” cried another, “kill him; nay, let us tear him to pieces.”

“Stop, or by the bones of Chaka I will beat you till you cry for mercy. Let the boy who spoke advance. Come.”

“My son, my son, do not heed.”

“Nay, I will go, since I am chief;” and there came to the great Zulu a stripling, with his eyes gleaming, and the hand that held the assegai thrown back. “You speak to us as though we were dogs! Who are you?”

Sirayo’s eyes rested on the boy, then glanced around.

“Tell your men to keep back. I hear them stealing through the grass like snakes.”

The boy turned, and called to the men to keep back.

“Good! You will be a chief some day.”

“I am a chief now,” said the boy proudly, “since my father is killed.”

A strange light leapt from Sirayo’s eyes. “Take that, O chief, and tell me what it is!” and he held out something, after sticking the point of his assegai in the ground.

The boy looked at the gigantic figure before him, then snatched the thing, and held it close to his eyes.

“It is the war-plume of my father—Umkomaas.”

“Yebo. He lives; but he is in danger, and if you would save him you must obey me. Say that to the people.”

The boy turned instantly and shouted the message, whereupon the women came forward, while the men talked.

“How do we know this is true?” asked an old man suspiciously.

“You know by the plume, by the word that your chief lies in the old place of stones, by the wound I received in his defence, by the sign of the snakeskin round my arm. I have said enough. Let those who obey the chief Umkomaas stand on this side.”

Sirayo, beginning suavely, ended by ringing out in a stern command, and, quelled by the authority in his tone, a few of the young men ranged up behind him.

“What means this, son of Umkomaas? are your warriors quicker to run than to obey?”

There was a threatening murmur from the dark mass of men who had gathered opposite to Sirayo and his small party.

“Who are you that we should obey?”

“Who am I? Well do you ask, for never yet have you seen a warrior like me. I am he who was the first war chief of the Zulus of the south. I have led, I have fought, I have conquered since I was a boy like this son of Umkomaas: I am Sirayo!”

They fell back before this name, and the women fled again; for the fame of the great chief, spreading from tribe to tribe, had entered their remote valley.

“Yes, I am Sirayo, and there never was a warrior yet who would not have left all to follow him at his command. You have heard; now, without more words, will you obey?”

“Bayate!” they cried, and thundered on their shields—all but a few Indunas, who would feign probe their suspicions by prolonged discussion.

“It is well. Let there be no more thought of flight. Your women will return to their kraals. The men will take their weapons and meet in the great kraal. Every man will take his place in his own regiment, and the Indunas will take their proper positions. Advance!”

Under the spell of this born leader the courage of the people returned; the men poured on in one direction, talking excitedly, and Sirayo followed with the young chief by his side, whose head was thrown back, while his eyes continually turned upon his formidable companion.

In a vast semicircle within the great kraal the men drew up in something like order, regiment on regiment, to the number of two thousand, each regiment with shields differing in colour from those carried by the others.

Sirayo marched through the lines, towering a head above them, and the rows of gleaming eyes followed him, trying in the dark to decipher the features of their new leader. It was an impressive scene—this large body of men, silent and waiting, drawn up under the stars within the wide circle of huts.

Sirayo smiled grimly on returning to the head of the column, after judging the number, to think that so large a body should dream of flying before the small band of Zulus.

“Your enemies are few,” he said; “you are many. Why did you think of flight?”

“They had killed our fetich, and the witch-doctors said we were doomed,” came the response.

“They lied; they were in league with the enemy. Which of the regiments suffered most in the fight?”

“We of the Rock,” said a young Induna proudly; “nearly half of our brothers lie beyond, and they fell facing the foe. I, Inyame, say it.”

“The Regiment of the Rock will draw up on my right.”

There was a movement, and from the mass, with active steps, a body of about three hundred drew up. Sirayo recognised the red and white shields of the men who had first sided with him.

“The regiment of tried fighting men will now draw up on my left.”

“It is the Regiment of the Snake,” said a deep voice, and at the command a body of about five hundred fine warriors marched to the left, giving a booming shout as they fell into columns.

“Who leads the Regiment of the Snake?”

“I, Chanda.”

“Chanda, listen! You will at once lead your men down the river towards the place of stones. On the further bank you will see the fires of a band of Zulus. Camp over against them, singing your war-song. In the morning, when they retire, you will cross the river and attack them in the rear.”

“Will they retire?”

“I have said it. Heed my words. When they retreat you must cross and follow. Depart, and make much noise.”

Chanda gave his orders, and the regiment, accompanied by a shrill whistling from those who remained, filed out of the gates and went chanting into the night, and as they sang they struck the hafts of their assegais against their shields.

“Chanda has done well. Let the others obey as promptly. I want, now, picked men from the regiments in the centre to make good the Regiment of the Rock. Inyami, select your men.”

The young Induna advanced and touched, with his assegai, the men he wanted, ticking them off on his fingers, until two hundred stood out and fell in with the Regiment of the Rock.

“Son of Umkomaas, little chief with the big heart, I place you over the men who remain in the centre. You will sleep here, but when the sun is up you will march quickly to the old stones where your father lies.”

“Shall I not go at once, O chief?”

“Nay, do as I say. Inyami, listen. The largest body of Zulus lie at the place of the shining Rock. Is it not so?”

“It is so, great chief.”

“You will lead on to the nearest drift. We will cross the river to-night with your regiment, and draw up before the Zulus. There must be no noise. We steal like panthers on the prey—silent and hungry. If any man speaks so much as one word it will be his last. Do you heed?”

“Eweh, O chief!”

“Come, then;” and placing himself beside Inyami, he led the regiment towards the river. The war-song of Chanda’s regiment on the march came plainly on the wind, and in response they heard the deep booming of the Zulu chant. The enemy recognised that some movement was afoot, though in their confidence they never expected that their defeated foes would dare to attack them.

Chapter Thirty Five.

At Bay!

When Sirayo left, Webster, chafing at the narrow limits of the stifling den, knocked away the loose stone and wriggled through into the inner chamber, where they had passed the previous night in a stupor of sodden sleep. The Gaika presently glided to his side, and Laura soon struggled out to drink in the fresher air. The two men went along the passage, still bearing its ghastly burdens.

She leant against the rough wall, with her white face to the stars, weary in body and mind, worn out by the unequal struggle against the accumulating horrors and dangers, in which there was no wild dash of romance. She was beaten. Her courage had lost its resolution; her pride had been burnt out.

“Where have you gone?” asked Hume, with a touch of reproach in his tones.

She shuddered, but did not move or speak.

“It is very dark,” he muttered, as he groped about with his hands until he came upon the opening, when he thrust his head through, moving it helplessly from side to side.

“Don’t!” she gasped; “you frighten me.”

“I am sorry,” he said.

“For heaven’s sake!” whispered Webster as he hurried up, “keep quiet, man. Someone has entered, and is coming along the passage.”

With a low cry, Laura placed her hands before her face.

“I will protect you!” murmured Webster passionately, and Hume silently withdrew his head, a feeling of fierce despair at his heart.

He stood in the narrow den, hoping in his bitterness that death would free him from his torture, when the old woman suddenly clicked with her tongue angrily, then muttered to the wounded chief. He rose up, and she supported him to the hole, calling on the Gaika to help him through. She followed, and said a few words to Klaas, who, with a stifled exclamation, began tapping the sanded floor with the butt of his assegai.

“What are you doing?” demanded Webster.

“Wait, sieur;” and the tapping of the assegai continued. “This is the place;” and Klaas with his naked foot pushed the sand away, leaving bare a flat stone in the centre of the room. With the point of his assegai he prised up the stone and then started back, for there was a yawning pit disclosed, out of which came a rush of damp and sickly air.

“Where does that lead?” asked Webster.

“I don’t know, sieur. The old woman will say.”

She spoke rapidly, pointing with skinny forefinger at the pit, and turning her gleaming eyes from face to face.

“She says we must go down,” said Klaas; “but I am afraid.”

“Hark!” said Laura; “I hear voices.”

The old woman drew Umkomaas to the hole, then, seizing Laura by the arm, pulled her violently forward.

“What the deuce does the old witch mean?” growled Webster impatiently.

“I think,” said Klaas, “she say this is the last place of hiding; and the Amazulus will find us if we stay here.”

“Go down, then.”

“Neh, sieur. It is too dark.”

“It is no blacker than a ship’s hold. Stand away;” and, dropping his feet through, Webster lowered himself till he touched ground, when immediately Umkomaas almost fell on top of him, and he was obliged to catch the helpless chief and stagger back with him.

Before she could utter a word of protest, Laura was seized by wiry arms and dropped into the pit, and the Gaika, with a grunt of anger at such treatment of his mistress, followed her. Then the old woman quickly slid the stone over the opening, rapidly spread the sand above, and stood listening.

Hume had heard the exclamations, the excited whispers, and a muffled cry from Webster calling his name, and in the silence which suddenly cut short this commotion he read some fresh calamity, and stood for a moment trembling violently. Then he groped once more to the hole, and, thrusting his head through, called softly:


No answer came to the murmur.

“Webster!” he cried, a little louder. “Jim! are you there?”

“Ssh! be still,” came a suppressed cry in the native tongue.

“I have been still too long—where are you?”

“Listen. The men know that hiding-place. I heard two come and retreat. They will return in greater numbers. Be not afraid for your people; they are safe with Umkomaas, my chief, under the ground here;” and she stamped with her feet.

“They are safe,” he muttered—“safe, you say? Why did they leave me?”

“You must stay there and tell the Amazulus that your people have fled.”

“And then?”

“They will kill you. Your strength has gone; it is well.”

“Good heavens!” he gasped in horror; “did they know that? No, no, no! It is a lie. They would not leave me. Jim!”

“Ssh!” she hissed, then swiftly climbed the wild vine and crouched flat on the wall.

“My God!” he cried, “my God! and is this the end, to be left in a hole, blind, helpless, and alone? And I lost my sight for them! would have lost my life to save them”—he paused—“ay,” he continued softly, “may do so yet.” There was the ring of metal against stones, and he drew in his head instinctively and grasped his rifle. “Good!” he muttered fiercely; “I hope there are many, so that even a blind man may strike home.”

He heard the soft sound of men brushing against the stones, heard their exclamations of fury as they kicked against the bodies of dead Zulus, and knew they had reached the inner chamber.

“Is this the place?” said one harshly, in Portuguese.

“This is the place, Captain,” answered a deep voice that seemed familiar to Hume.

“And where are those robbers hidden?”

“In the wall there. See! there is the gap by which they entered.”

“Hark ye,” said the first man, raising his voice, and speaking in English, “you who are hidden in there. I will lay a train of powder and blow the walls in upon you if you so much as lift a finger upon us. Do you hear?”

“I hear,” said Hume sternly; “and I warn you also that I will shoot you like the dog you are if you attempt to injure one of us.”

There was a laugh, and a third man, whom Hume judged to be Lieutenant Gobo, said: “Would it not be better to blow them in now, Captain?”

“What! and kill the girl you rave about?” said the Captain in Portuguese. “We’ll get her first—moreover, we have no time to waste; the people across the river may yet show fight. Hark to their singing! Blow them up when we have finished this job.”

The deep chant of Chanda’s regiment rolled from beyond.

“Now,” said the man who had been addressed as Captain, “let us begin. Ferrara, which is the entrance to this hidden treasure? It must be in the centre. Where is that witch-doctor—ah, you thief of night, come here! Now, Ferrara, tell him to point out the place.”

As the witch-doctor stepped forward, a loud hiss arrested his steps.

“What in the devil’s name was that?”

“Look!” said Gobo, trembling; “there is something moving on the wall. Is it a snake?”

“Serpent or not, here goes.” A report rang out, followed by a wild cry, the rustling of leaves, and the fall of a heavy body.

“Carrambo! What have we here? A woman—a witch. Gobo, here is your serpent;” and the Captain laughed. “Do you hear that, you inside? If you do not keep quiet you will be served in the same way.”

The old woman, with a last effort, called to Hume: “Keep watch; they look for the secret place of hiding.”

“Be silent!” cried the Captain; “and, Ferrara, show us this place of treasure, if you have not lied.”

“I do not lie,” replied a deep voice, “and you have done wrong to shoot that woman. She has given warning of our search.”

“And what then? Are we afraid of a parcel of sick men? By the saints! I will give them this old witch for company.”

“Stay; here is the place. Yes—see the crack! Your knife, Captain, to force it open.”

Hume heard the scrape of the knife, the thud of the stone as it fell back.

“Carrambo!” exclaimed the Captain. “What a hole of night! Who goes down first? I will lead. A light—give me a light.”

There was a light, a flash of red flame from the hole in the wall, as Hume, who had listened, with nerves all quivering, fired blindly to save his friends.

“Bayate!” gasped the old woman. “It is well done, O Mole.”

There was a sound of rushing feet, followed by a storm of curses from the passage, where the men had rushed for shelter. Hume drew his revolver, and, with his arm out of the hole, fired in the direction of the voices.

“The powder!” roared the Captain, hoarse with fury. “Give me the powder, and I will blow in the wall on their heads.”

“Nay!” said Ferrara; “the falling stones may crush in the secret chamber below. Let two of us fire into the hole while the other descends.”

“No, the powder! That bullet grazed my head. I will lay it against the wall. Good! here is a projecting stone. Get back, all of you, to the inner curve.”

Hume, listening, heard the men retreat.

“Listen in there! In one minute you will be crushed. I have laid the train”—there was a scratch—“I have fired it—good-bye!”

Hume stood a moment; then felt wildly for a hole, struggled through, and as he fell free of the wall he heard the spluttering of the powder. The next instant he was hurled aside, and in his ears there roared the heavy blast of the explosion, coupled with the hollow rumble of falling stones, while the floor beneath him shook and trembled to the shock. He remained for a time on his face motionless, almost stunned by the noise of the explosion and by the force with which he was flung aside. Then, as his senses returned, he heard a murmur of voices as though afar off—then more clearly a man speaking:

“By the saints! that is well done. They have had decent burial, Captain.”

“Ay, too good; now we can get to work at our ease. But what a dust! First let it settle; it chokes me.”

Hume rallied his senses, and softly rolled over, feeling for his rifle, which he had dropped. Then he put his hand to his eyes, to feel that the bandage had been torn away by the rush, of air. With his fingers he pushed back the lids, which by long pressure remained as though gummed down. With his eyes blinking at the falling dust, he sat in hopeless darkness; then a sharp cry escaped his lips, for it seemed to him that the darkness was not so black. He shut his eyes tightly, then opened them wide, and before him there was a yellow blur. A brilliant spark flashed through it; then it changed to a deep violet, and from his trembling lips there leapt a cry, for he saw the looming dark walls, and above caught the sparkle of innumerable stars.

“I can see!” he cried. “My God! I can see!”

“Hark! It is one of them crying out.”

“It was a fearful voice,” whispered Gobo. “The men say this place is possessed.”

Hume saw the sheen of something bright, and, with his heart beating, softly drew his rifle to him. He shut his eyes, and opened them with a joy he could scarce restrain; then, gently cocking the hammer, he rose to his feet.

“Curse this dust!” growled the Captain; “one can neither see nor hear. But we cannot remain here like a lot of children frightened by a sound. Come.”

“Stop!” shouted Hume sternly. “I can see you—ay, I can see you well; and if a man moves I will shoot him.”

“If you can see in this light, you have good eyes, my friend,” said the Captain, with a nervous laugh. “But who in the devil’s name are you?”

“Stand aside, Captain,” whispered Gobo.

“Stand where you are,” said Hume fiercely. “Now give an account of yourselves. You have hunted us, keeping yourselves, like the shabbiest curs, well out of danger; and now, when you have brought us to bay, you have taken the last damnable measure of cowardice against us—thinking, too, there was a lady here. I see that third man move—by heavens! I will shoot.”

“Be calm, my friend,” said the Captain in his hoarse voice; “we do not wish to harm you. Now, can’t you make some agreement with us? You are perhaps alone?”

“Thanks to you,” said Hume grimly.

“Alone—one man against two hundred. What can you do? Just think: you may kill one of us; but then you are yourself killed, or perhaps wounded and given over as a plaything to the Zulus, who are like tigers because of their friends who died.”

“Well, what do you propose?” said Hume, listening to the louder cry of Chanda’s regiment, and to a confused murmur that quivered through the fresh morning air.

“You know why we are here, as we know why you have come. We have been racing against each other for a hidden treasure, and you would not accept the warnings we gave you to desist. There are three of us; let us sink all differences, and do you come in, taking fourth share.”

“And my friends?”

“Your friends? It was the fortune of war that—”

“War do you call it? The better name would be murder.”

“We need not split hairs,” said the Captain impatiently. “But why speak of your friends, since they are dead?”

“You lie! they live. The treasure is not for you. They have already secured it, and are in safety with the people beyond the river. Fools! while you slept they marched away, and Sirayo is now leading an army against your men.”

“You lie yourself, dog of an Englishman!” cried the Captain.


The distant murmur increased to a hoarse roar, threatening, and nearer rose the shouts of Zulus calling to each other.

Behind the three men in the passage were some Zulus, who had remained silent; but now they broke out in fierce excitement, all speaking together.

“What do they say?” shouted the Captain shrilly.

“They say there is a fight where the greatest number of our men are, and the enemy have gathered also by the river, where our second force is stationed. This man speaks truly. The people would not fight unless they had a fresh leader, and who can that leader be but Sirayo? But as for the treasure, those feeble people could not have carried it away.”

“Carrambo!” said Gobo, “I recognise this fellow now.”

“We met before at Madeira,” said Hume grimly; and as the light increased the scowling faces of the three men stood out.

“Mother of God! what a sight! His eyes are red and look out from a black mask.”

“He is like a devil,” muttered Gobo; and, with his gun at his hip, he pressed the trigger.

“Baleka!” cried a warrior, pushing in. “Sirayo eats our men up by the lone rock, and men are swarming across the river for this place.”

“To the mountain!” cried Gobo, turning to fly.

“Not I!” cried the Captain furiously.

“Nor I!” said Ferrara.

And the two dashed at Hume.

He fired and the Captain fell; but Ferrara gripped him by the throat, and the two reeled about in a fierce struggle, and in their ears, though without conveying much meaning, there came the sound of shouting beyond the walls. As they stood for a spell, gasping for breath to renew the struggle, they heard the Zulus calling to each other to fly, and Ferrara by a terrific effort hurled Hume away, sent him staggering, to fall heavily over the heap of fallen stones, then himself vanished into the underground passage, a moment before the little son of Umkomaas dashed into the ruined chamber at the head of his victorious warriors.

Chapter Thirty Six.

The Underground Chamber.

Sirayo’s leadership had prevailed. He attacked the main body of the enemy before sunrise, and the young warriors of the Rock, fired by his ferocious courage, had withstood the desperate rush of the Zulus until Chanda’s regiment came up on the trail of the second detachment, when the enemy, terribly thinned, took the path to the mountain wisely left open for them.

Before the fight Sirayo had taken the long throwing assegai from Inyami and snapped the haft across his knee within three feet of the blade.

“Do ye likewise,” he said to the regiment, “and you will fight the Zulus hand-to-hand with their own weapons, for it is by their short assegais they have conquered.”

The young warriors obeyed, and for the first time they went into a fight without hurling their spears.

After the great fight, which left the ground about a lonely rock of strange shape strewn with dead and dying, the women flocked to the scene, to attend to the wounded, and Sirayo, with the remnant of his band, marched to the ruins. As they neared the place, the men broke out with their song of victory—a deep-throated roar tossed to the mountain—and the warriors about the ruins formed up to meet them, whistling shrilly and drumming on their shields, while the boy-chief stood before the ranks, his black eyes glittering.

“Bayate!” they thundered. “Great is Sirayo, the big black bull, the swooping eagle!”

The air vibrated to their shouts, and the warriors of the Rock, with the marks of battle on them, gave an answering shout, and proclaimed Sirayo as their chief.

If the Zulu had been a younger man, he would perhaps have seized the opportunity and grasped the proffered honour, which would have meant instant death to the little chief, and a fierce attack upon any suspected of supporting him.

As it was, the chief took a pinch of snuff, while his bloodshot eyes glared fiercely at the son of Umkomaas, standing within reach of his red and dripping assegai.

“Do you hear, little chief?” he said in his deep tones.

“I hear, and I know. Strike if you will.”

Sirayo took from his head the broken eagle plume, and fixed it on the head of the child.

“Behold your chief!” he cried, lifting his assegai and letting his dark glance sweep along the ranks of excited men. “He is a babe, but he has the heart of a lion. Chief, see your men; they fought like my own Zulus of the far south. Take thought that your heart never turns black towards them.”

Then Sirayo turned into the ruins, and found Hume wetting with his dripping handkerchief the lips of the old woman, who lay bleeding slowly from a wound in the breast. The chief looked at the fallen stones and at the prone body of the Portuguese Captain.

“What evil has happened?” he asked.

“I heard them shout your name, chief,” said Hume, keeping his face bent over the woman; “you have triumphed?”

“Yebo! it was well done, and it was a great fight. Your eyes are no longer dark; that is better than my victory. Ay, it is good! Where are the others?”

“Down there;” and he pointed at the hole.

“Did they go before the fight, and leave you alone?”

“I could not see, and they were hurried. They forgot me.”

“Yoh! And do they hide there like jackals? It was not a good thing to leave a blind man.”

“They did it without thought I fear there is something dark thereunder, chief, for a strange man, I think, has gone down. I would have followed, but my head was dizzy from a fall; and then I heard this old woman crying feebly for water, and I went out to the spring. We must go down.”

Sirayo called for men, and when a few came in with wild looks he bid them carry the old woman to the spring and tend to her. The men exclaimed, when they saw Hume, and clapped their hands to their mouths, but Sirayo sternly bid them go.

“They do not like my face,” said Hume, with a bitter smile.

“They are not women, that they should be terrified at a scar received in battle.”

“Then my face would frighten a woman;” and he shuddered. “Will you go first, chief?”

A faint smile flickered for a second about the grim mouth of the warrior; then he lowered himself into the hole. “We shall need a light,” he said, and split the haft of an assegai. They found themselves in a narrow passage curiously arched and ribbed, which coiled round and widened as they advanced, turning always to the left. The walls were polished, as if by constant friction, and where the ribs met overhead was a well-defined ridge, or backbone, regularly articulated. It was very still, the stagnant air heavy with a sickly odour, and twice they paused to struggle against a feeling of dizziness; but a slight current of air, coming with a cooling touch, freshened them, so they were able to struggle on, through a short length where the passage suddenly narrowed, to a large wedge-shaped chamber.

They stood peering by the flickering and waning light at some dim forms stretched upon the floor, at two spots of light at the far end through which the air came, at a double row of shining objects on either side the narrow end of the wedge, and at an object in the centre from which there came a wreath of smoke, spreading the odour that had so disturbed them.

As Hume hesitated, with a sharp fear at his heart, one of the figures moved, then rose up, swaying to the side for support.

“Thank God!” he cried; and at the sound of the voice the figure started back, moved his head from side to side as though he tried in vain to pierce the gloom behind the spark of fire, and then cried hoarsely:

“Quien es?”

“Ah, it is you! Surrender; we are armed.”

The man made no answer; but, stooping, he appeared to grope among the prostrate forms; then with a fierce growl of satisfaction lifted one, and by the light that filtered through the two openings they caught the sheen of steel in his hand; they saw, too, the face of Laura, white and deathlike.

“I will not surrender!” he said slowly; “and if I die she dies also.”

“Don’t!” cried Hume hoarsely. “Give her to me, for Heaven’s sake!”

“Not I,” he growled, and placed her face in the stream of light, so that Hume could see the closed eyes and white cheeks.

Hume trembled and went faint with terror. “For mercy’s sake, take her out of this, into the fresh air.”

“And what of me?”

“Ask what you like; but be quick, or it will be worse for you—I swear it!”

“Do not threaten,” said the other darkly; “I want my life!”


“My liberty, and safe passage from the valley.”

“Ay, I will see you out myself; but, for God’s sake, be quick!”

“And more—a full half-share of any treasure there may be here. I have lived years for it, and less I will not take.”

“I know nothing of any treasure; but if there is any, halt is yours—the whole if you will hasten.”

“Nay, half will do; I would not try you with the loss of the whole. How do I know you can dispose of it?”

Hume swore under his breath, and made a step forward.

“Stop!” cried the other, with so menacing a voice that Hume reeled back. “You are wasting time now, and I feel her heart beats more slowly. What claim have you to give half the treasure away?”

“I—I am captain of this party.”

“Ay, but you are not the chief of the people here.”

“No,” said Hume quickly; “but here he is. Sirayo!” And he spoke hurriedly to the chief.

“Half is his,” said Sirayo.

“Good!” said the man, this time in Zulu. “Swear it. I think I will trust you—since I have watched you for many nights—had your lives in my power, but spared you.”

“Then bring her out!”

“Take her yourself.”

And the next minute Hume was staggering blindly, fiercely through the dark and tortuous passage, with his precious burden.

Then the stranger overturned the burning vessel in the middle of the room, and stamped on the smouldering herbs; next he lifted Webster’s heavy form, to stagger off with it; while Sirayo did the same for Klaas, both returning to carry the chief, Umkomaas. They were all taken to the spring, shelters of rushes built over them, and a medicine man called to attend them. They had been all stupefied by the fumes of burning herbs, by the same fumes which, stealing through the cracks in the floor, had overcome them on their first night in the ruins; and the witch-doctor, after much waste of time over muttered incantations, brought them slowly to their senses, though they were too languid to move.

When Hume found that they had shaken off the stupor in which they were locked, he went down to the spring and stooped to quench his burning thirst; but he paused as he knelt, appalled by the reflection he saw in the clear pool—the reflection of a terrible face: the eyes red, inflamed, without eyelashes; the forehead blackened, as though covered by a mask. In his anxiety for Laura, in his joy at her recovery, he had forgotten about his injury; and now this sudden revelation filled him with horror. He turned away from the pool with a feeling of repulsion for himself, and went off to the now deserted ruins, where he faced this new trouble, and all that it meant to him of ruined hopes. With these awful eyes of his he could not face her—no, nor mingle among his fellows. He remembered how the Portuguese had exclaimed at seeing his face; and he writhed at the thought that men would start at sight of him, and women would turn shuddering away. A great bitterness filled his heart, and when he thought of Webster, he ground his teeth at the cursed chance which left him maimed, while leaving his friend free. A feeling of resentment towards Laura sprang up also, because she had feared him even in the dark.

“Would to Heaven,” he muttered savagely, “I had been killed!”

And he sat staring blankly at the wall before him, and suddenly there came before him the calm face of Mr Dixon, the engineer, going to his death, cooped up in the bowels of the Swift, and the stern features of Captain Pardoe. Then he rose with a faint smile about his lips and went to the inner chamber, where he found Ferrara preparing a torch, while Sirayo sat near, as calm and indifferent as though he had passed an uneventful day.

“Are your mends better?” asked Ferrara.

“Yes,” was the curt reply. “What do you hope to find here?”

“That which has brought you to this valley, and led us upon your tracks, and sent many of us on the longest journey of all—the love of gain.”

“And what good, after all?”

“Very little good to you, my friend; but for me—I am not too old to have one last fling after having lived the life of a savage. Now let us find and share.”

He lit the torch and held it close to the arched roof, and the flaming light was reflected on a double row of shining objects. His eyes glittered as he examined them closely.

“Ah,” he muttered, “the man did not lie, then. These are the teeth of gold.”

“Teeth,” said Hume, throwing off his moody air—“teeth of what?”

“Why, of this serpent. Have you not been through the coils?—and this place is the head. The temple above was reared on the coils of a serpent, and the simple people of the valley have kept alive the old worship in some of its forms. These two points of light at the narrow end are the nostrils. But you knew of this.”

“Nothing. We came in search of the Golden Rock.”

“Yes; I have seen that wondrous thing, but it was not to be carried away bodily, while these treasures may.”

And with a strong tug he wrenched one of the curved teeth from its socket, and as it lay in the broad palm, the three heads bent over to examine it—a finely-wrought piece of pure metal, two inches in length, and about a quarter of a pound in weight. There were altogether forty-eight of these teeth, and in an hour they had all been wrenched from the sockets which had retained them in glittering rows for many centuries.

“My knowledge of values is rather musty. What would you judge the worth of these?”

“About a thousand,” said Hume, after a mental calculation.

“Is that all? Then my share will not purchase a month’s enjoyment. You gave me half for the life of that girl, yet I had you all at my mercy, and spared you. Come, comrade, what say you to my taking the whole? Remember, you offered me all.”

Hume divided the yellow pile into two parts, and emptied one half into Sirayo’s skin bag.

“There! that is your share,” he said sternly, and Ferrara, muttering to himself, stored the precious burden about his person.

Hume looked curiously at the tall dark man.

“Who are you?” he asked, “and why have you followed us so closely?”

“Who am I? Ho, ho! I scarcely know. Ask the Zulus; they will tell you I am the great Witch-Doctor, whose coming and going no man knows. Ask the white traders—they will tell you I am the Hermit of the River. Ask the Portuguese—they will say I am Alfonse Ferrara, the lieutenant who killed his captain at Delagoa Bay. I am all these, and for twenty years I have lived on the banks of the river, alone—alone with the running water, the brooding trees, and the things that move in the night.”

“The animals?” whispered Hume, awed by the light which smouldered in the dark eyes opposite him.

“The animals—phaugh! they shrink at my coming. No, no, the soft, silent, gliding things that lurk in the shadows; that watch me looking over their shoulders, or peeping from the shelter of rocks, or from out the dark pool. I want to get away from them;” and he glared round the cavern, shuddering.

Hume shuddered too at the glimpse of madness in Ferrara’s gesture.

“But why did you dog us?”

“Because I knew what you were after, and I wanted it for myself. Years ago I knew of the secret of this valley. It was I who set your uncle upon the quest, in the hope I might afterwards rob him. I have haunted this place, but in vain, for they kept too close a watch. It was necessary to have help, and before you came, I sent a message to a Portuguese trader. You came when my plans were ready, and if it had not been that I mistrusted my countrymen, you would have been killed while you slept; but if they had played me false, I would have sought your help.”

“You appeared to us as a savage,” said Hume, repressing a feeling of abhorrence.

“Yes,” replied Ferrara with a mysterious air, and dropping his voice. “You see, I have donned this clothing to deceive them—the voiceless people who are searching for me. If they found me”—and he looked cautiously round—“they would drag me back to the river.”

After another glance round the chamber, Hume and Sirayo withdrew, leaving Ferrara alone, and Hume, surrendering himself again to gloomy thoughts of his maimed face, sat on the outer coping of the wall, with his face resting on his hand.

Long he sat there thinking whether he, too, would not do well to lead the life of a hermit, rather than be an object of disgust to his friends, when he heard a hoarse cry behind him, and, turning, saw Ferrara standing with his head turned, looking back along the passage.

The strange being had stripped himself of his clothes. His huge form stood naked as that of a savage, his breast was heaving, the muscles of his arms rigid, and when he turned his face it was contorted with the passion of terror and rage.

“What in Heaven’s name is it now?” cried Hume, springing to his feet.

Ferrara fixed his eyes on Hume; his lips moved, but without sound, and he seized his throat savagely. Then with a wild cry in Zulu of “They come! they come!” he sprang over the wall and fled towards the mountain, while Hume faced the passage, expecting he knew not what. Presently he entered cautiously, until he came once again to the underground coil without meeting anyone; but while he stood peering down into the dark pit, he realised that Ferrara had in the stillness of that gloomy retreat fallen a victim to his dark fancies of the “voiceless people.”

Chapter Thirty Seven.

The Last of the Rock.

Laura recovered from her prostration filled with an intense longing to get away from the savage surroundings, which had too surely left their mark upon her spirits. The whole enterprise had lost for her its zest, and under the reaction which had set in she wondered how she could have entered upon the expedition.

“Let us go,” she said to Webster. “Take me away from this. It fills me with disgust.”

“I do not wonder,” he said gloomily, running his eyes over her frayed dress. “You look ill; won’t you rest?”

“It is not rest, but change—change from this fearful, this degrading life—that I need.”


“Yes, degrading!” she replied passionately. “Where is Mr Hume?”

“I do not know,” he said.

“Find him, then.”

He rose slowly, looked at her a moment dully, then heavily moved off towards the ruins, where after a long search he found Hume seated with his hands over his eyes. He waited for some time patiently, but as Frank showed no signs of his presence he touched him on the shoulder.

“Miss Anstrade asks for you. She wishes to return.”

There was no reply.

“You must go back with her. She is weary of this life—sick of it and of me. I will remain here for a time. You hear me, don’t you, Frank? besides, it is necessary your eyes should be looked to. Of course,” he went on patiently, “I understand how you feel. I have seen that you have shunned me, but God knows, my lad, I would not have left you alone in the ruins if I could have helped it Frank, I tried to get back to you, but I was overcome by those cursed fumes. Do you believe it, Frank?”

“Ay, I believe it, Jim.”

“Ah!” he said with a sigh of relief. “Now will you take her back, my lad? Take her away out of this, and when you are once again back among your fellows, forget that ever I had the impudence to make a pact about her. Forget it, and win her.”

Hume withdrew his hand from his eyes, and, rising slowly, faced his friend, his worn face pale, his eyes burning from out that blackened mask.

“My God!” said Webster, drawing back. “But you can see,” he muttered.

“I can see—yes,” said Hume, in hollow tones. “See how you shrink from me. Do you ask me now to take her back?”

Webster said nothing, but a groan shook his frame, and he caught his friend’s hand and held it.

“You don’t speak?”

“The black will fade out. It is only powder.”

“Yes, and my eyebrows will grow,” he said with a bitter laugh, “and the red will disappear from my eyes; but before that she would have learnt to dread my presence. Do you still ask me to take her?”

“No, lad; you must not see her until you have recovered.”

“Then, you must take her, and I will at once see Sirayo about your departure. By the way, he has our share of one part of the treasure already found, and it will be sufficient to pay your way to Cape Town and to take her passage.”

He related what had occurred in the underground chamber.

“You will come also, of course, keeping near by day, and sharing our camp by night?”

“You have forgotten the Golden Rock. I will remain here.”

“Impossible! I could not leave you behind.”

“I will stay.”

“But what must I tell her?”

“Tell her that, as we came for the Golden Rock, it would be folly for the whole of us to return at the very time when the natives are friendly, and that I have remained behind in the interests of the party.”

“She will want to hear that from your own lips.”

“I will see Sirayo—tell him to make arrangements for your departure, and will leave for the rock. If she asks for me I will not be within call.”

“It is a miserable ending,” said Webster.

“Not for you,” said Hume meaningly.


“You will have an opportunity to push your suit, and you may do so.”

“Look here, Frank: I will take Miss Anstrade to Pretoria or Cape Town, and part with her as a friend—if she is willing to call me friend—and I will come back here to you. How long will it take for the double journey?”

“Three months.”

“In three months, then, I will be back.”

He went to the camp, and Miss Anstrade advanced quickly to meet him.

“Have you seen him?” she asked impatiently.


“Why, then, is he not with you?”

“He is making arrangements for our departure, and I am afraid you will not see him—at any rate, at present.”

“Why not?”

“You will remember that we came here for a certain purpose, and that, certainly, was not to return as soon as we had arrived. One of us is to remain, and it is decided that I go with you.”

“Oh,” she said, looking haughtily at him, “is this your arrangement?”

“Yes,” he answered slowly; “I made it.”

“Then I decline to go with you.”

“I am afraid you must.”

“Where is Mr Hume?” she asked, as the blood flashed in her cheeks.

“Frank asked me to say good-bye. He is very busy. I told him how important it was he should lose no time.”

“Would you leave a blind man alone, and again seek the safest course yourself, you—you coward?”

“I should have told you,” he said gravely, “that Frank has recovered his sight;” and he stood waiting for her to speak, but she turned away, and, with a wild look around, he moved heavily down to the river, where he stood with head sunk, watching the water.

Sirayo made arrangements that evening with the people, and next morning a party of men with two trained oxen approached the little camp. Laura was persuaded to mount one of these; the kit was packed on another, and Webster, with Klaas and five natives, moved off in the direction of the forest for a secret path which led directly over the mountains beyond into the Transvaal.

Hume, from the ruins, saw the little party go, and watched them across the plain—watched them until they were out of sight, and afterwards stood there looking towards the west with a half-formed hope that they might return. For now in his loneliness the bitterness and pride of his spirit melted away. And so, he thought, had ended their great quest, his companions surrendering in disgust, himself filled with disappointment, though he had reached the goal.

The Golden Rock, the golden dreams, the links of friendship, the ties of love—where were they now? Ah, well, there was still the rock. He turned from the ruins, and with Sirayo went along the right side of the valley in search of it. Away over the river the women moved among the fields singing, and beyond in the great kraal the men were drinking beer; their drinking-song had gone droning on through the night, and was still coming in snatches.

“They sing loud and drink deep,” said Sirayo; “to-day they will slay whole armies in song; to-morrow they will have forgotten Sirayo and the help he gave. Already they have asked me about the gold that was in my sack.”

“Is there any danger, then?” asked Hume listlessly.

“I care not,” said Sirayo; “and your heart is heavy too. What will it matter?”

Hume stopped and looked anxiously across the river. “As you say, chief, what does it matter? But are our friends safe?”

“They are safe, for they go and have the word of Umkomaas the chief; but we are here, and they would love us better if we were away.”

“But you have done them a service, and they would have made you chief.”

“I have done them a service, and when they were hot they would have set me above them; but some of them will think the service was too great for any reward but death. Water will run, and men will always act the same. See where the vultures circle; below them lays the field of the fight.”

The unclean birds, with their bald heads bent earthwards between the vast sweep of their fringed wings, were circling round above the stained and trampled ground, whereon were many scores of dark figures rigid in death, and each swift circle bringing them nearer to their dreadful repast.

“Phaugh! to think that a warrior should come at last to the maw of such a creature!”

They moved among the dead, lying as they fell, with gaping wounds on the naked breasts, and saw standing alone a large rock rising from a bed of flat stone stained red with blood.

“See the stone of blood!” said Sirayo. “It was here they made their last stand.”

The Golden Rock! Hume looked at it with a feeling of horror and disgust, as though it were itself answerable for that ominous tinge of red; then his eye was caught by a singular life-like appearance, and advancing, he saw that the rock had been carved into the semblance of a coiled serpent, with the head slightly raised and projecting, giving to it a touch of defiance.

Looking closer, he saw that the coils were beautifully carved, the muscles standing out with startling distinctness, while each scale was clearly defined, and the whole polished to the smoothness of marble. The head stood about five feet from the ground, and the tail ran out in a small ridge across the flat rock at the back. Under the throat a broad vein of white quartz gave a wonderful touch of reality to the carving, and along the side of the coils were patches of yellow and black, while the topmost coils in line with the head were richly marked with yellow. From the broad blunt nose there was a continuous line of yellow over the head and along the backbone of the topmost coil.

“It is gold,” said Hume hoarsely—“pure gold—and if these veins and splashes run through the mass there must be thousands of ounces.”

“There are men hurrying from the kraal,” said Sirayo quietly.

“Let them come;” and Hume, without turning his head, drew his knife and began feverishly to scratch a yellow patch. “It is as hard as iron,” he muttered; “we shall have to blow it to pieces.”

“It has been long here,” said Sirayo, “that snake of stone, looking over the plain at the mountains. The people think it watches over them.”

“The people are fools,” said Hume gruffly. “There is gold enough here to buy up their cattle ten times over.”

“Soh! If they had so many cattle, other nations would have eaten them up. As it is, they have lived in peace to the present.”

“A fragment has been broken off here,” muttered Hume, going down on his knees; “and the vein runs right into the rock. Why, it spreads right over here!” He crept over the flat rock, thinking nothing of the stains of blood, and cried out that the whole bed was thickly shot with gold. “The rock has been cut down all round—see, here are the marks of the chisel! Miners have been at work here—white men.”

“No white people have been here. So they told me; but here are those who can answer best.”

A band of warriors led by an old Induna rapidly approached. The leader held a white wand in his hand; the warriors wore their blankets, which fell gracefully over their right shoulders, covering their right arms.

“Greeting!” said the old man.

“Greeting!” said Sirayo courteously.

“Why do you linger here among the dead, when on the other side there is plenty of beer and merriment? And what was the white man doing crawling around the rock?”

“And why have you left the feast to question me?”

“These questions are through my mouth, but they come from Umkomaas, the chief. He would have you near him, and he has sent a message.”

“Hu-em!” said Sirayo, while his nostrils expanded; “the time has come. Say what shall it be—one last fight, or, like an old lion weary of life, shall we die as we stand without a sound or a movement? I care not.”

“Why,” said Hume, “they are peaceful men;” but he brought his heavy rifle forward and stood beside the chief with his back to the rock.

“I know your message,” said Sirayo in his deep voice. “I can see it in your eyes, that fear to look straight. You carry it under your blankets, and it has a sharp edge to it. Stop!” he thundered, as there was a movement among the men. “I have a word to say to you. Let slip your blankets; the air is warm, and I know what you hold beneath them.”

The blankets slipped to the ground, and every man stood revealed with a stabbing assegai in his hand.

“Soh! It is well. Look around on the dead and tell me who they are.”

“Amazulus!” was the sullen cry.

“Yebo—Amazulus; and they lie as still as the blades of grass beneath them. Look, and think how ye would have fared, had not Sirayo fought against them. Where to-day would have been your flocks and your women? Sirayo is a great chief; it is because he is great that Umkomaas has sent you each with a message—Umkomaas, who was drawn by these hands out of the hole. Do you think that men such as you can slay me?” and he took a stride towards them.

They fell back, looking at each other, and the old Induna lifted his hands. “It is the will of Umkomaas and the headmen in council, O chief.”

“Learn—Sirayo cannot be slain. See these wounds—the blood yet drips from them—these scars; they tell you that Sirayo cannot be slain unless he so wishes.” He let his fierce gaze dwell on them, and his giant form seemed to tower above them. “Let this white man go, and to-night you may do the will of the chief; but if harm befalls my friend, my spirit will return; you will hear your cattle moan in the night, and in the morning they will be dead.”

“Never!” said Hume, who had followed the strange speech without difficulty. “I will not take my life on such terms.”

“Hu-em! my day has passed and the night comes. Of what use is it that we should both die? Take the road to the forest while there is light, and the dread of me will keep these men quiet till I give them the sign.”

“And they will follow me up!”

“What say you? can the white man go? Remember my words: Sirayo living is not to be so feared as Sirayo dead.”

“Ay, he can go; the chief said nothing concerning him.”

“Go, my friend, and when you grow old, see that you have children about you. It is not well to be alone then.”

“I stay with you, chief,” said Hume quietly.

“Is that the last word?”


“It is a fight, then;” and the big Zulu, throwing back his head, began to shout of his deeds, while he stamped on the rock in a sort of dance, a dance that grew quicker, winding up with a terrific bound in the direction of the men. They did not wait for him, but turned and fled, and Sirayo stood looking after them in amazement.

“You frightened them,” said Hume with a laugh.

The chief shook his head, took a pinch of snuff, and smiled grimly.

“Ay,” he said; “they will have some lies to tell the council. You see it was as I said: they would like us better if we went away. I cannot frighten them with words when they come again. Why stay, since they don’t want us, and you cannot carry that rock away with you?”

Hume laid his hand on the carved head of the serpent, and looked gloomily across the river, then at the deserted stretch of the valley on the near side. Its desolation struck him, and he called his companion’s attention to it.

“How is it that this side of the valley is deserted, while beyond there are so many? The ground looks rich, and the grass is good.”

“It is some folly of the witch-doctors, from what I have heard.”

Under cover of the night they went back to the ruins, and there they found the old witch-woman alone, sitting smoking over the fire.

“I thought,” she said, “you would have been crow’s meat before this. The witch-doctors smelt you out last night. They doctored some warriors; how is it you escaped?”

“Oh, they were old women. They came, but I shook my fingers at them, and they ran.”

“Ho, ho! if they’d been old women they would not have run. So they ran; and you—why did you not run also?”

“We have come for the stone of fire, old mother.”

“Yinny! That is where the amapagati dance and make their medicine. No one can touch the rock and live.”

“We have touched it. The amapagati are fools; but surely if they touch it now that we claim it, they will die.”

The old dame grinned.

“See,” she said. “I know. You cannot frighten me with such things. But, as you say, the wise men are fools; they have made this side of the valley a fear to the people. Oh, I know their tricks—how they would prick cattle, when they strayed on this side, with a snake’s tooth, and then tell the people the deed was done by the fetich, the great snake-spirit. Ay, they have slain men too, and girls who went to the river for water have disappeared.”

“If that is so,” said Hume, “it would be better if the snake rock were removed.”

“Eweh, O red eyes—and the amapagati as well. They have beaten me. Let them die, I say.”

Hume gave a bit of tobacco to her, and as she filled her pipe he shot a significant look across at Sirayo.

“It is not well for an old woman to be here without good food and warm shelter. You should have a hut in the kraal,” said Sirayo.

“They killed my son when he brought me food one night,” she said hoarsely; “and they threaten to smell out my daughter if I leave these rocks—the sons of dogs and earth-pigs!”

“Soh! we will talk over this in the morning. In the meantime go you to the river, and call out that we have gone.”

“But you will stay and slay them?”

“We have said it.”

“Oh ay, I will go. They have grown fat on lies; now I will repay them. I will show you this night where they keep their girls, all young and fat, the he-goats that they are.”

When she had gone, Hume immediately pointed out that they could turn the superstitious fears of the people to their own advantage.

“Well, for my part,” said Sirayo, “I am curious about these girls. If they have put up long with the company of snuffy old men, they will know how to receive a man and a warrior;” and he stretched his limbs.

The old woman, having done her mission by shouting until someone heard her, returned, and led them up the mountain, where, in a kloof whose narrow entrance was almost hidden by huge rocks, they found a small kraal and saw the light of fires.

The old woman clapped her hands and called out:

“Come and see what presents I have brought you, children!”

A door was opened and three girls crept out, laughing, one of them, with her naked toe, pushing the half-burnt logs on to the smouldering coals.

“What is it, mother?”

“Guess, my children.”

“A young kid,” said one, smacking her lips.

“Tobacco,” said another.

“Hark to them!” said a third scornfully. “You bring news, is it not so? We heard sounds of a fight. Our people have fled, and we are free!”

“Ay, there was a big fight, and our people have won.”

“You gabble, old woman! Our men have no stomach for fighting. They can only talk.”

“Noenti, how you chatter! If our folk have won, they will be feasting and dancing.”

“Oh, your news is old like yourself, mother,” said Noenti. “We saw the fighting, and our people won; but it was because of the stranger who led them—a great man.”

“Oh, well, if you know everything I will return; when I was a girl I always listened to what my elders had to say. So you saw the fight and the great chief. I could have told about him, but you already know.”

“Tell us!” they all cried together. “Catch her, hold her fast!” and, running round the fire, they came full tilt against Sirayo.

“Yinny!” they cried, and bolted like rabbits for the hut, while the old dame laugh shrilly.

Presently they peeped out, and after much giggling emerged once more, and came and peeped up at Sirayo, and walked round him.

“What say you, my children, have I not done well? Here is the great chief himself.”

The girls shrieked with laughter, and then, under the direction of Noenti, brought out meat and thick Kaffir beer.

Hume left them seated round the fire, chattering like children all together, and sat at the mouth of the kloof, gazing idly before him. And as he sat there watching the stars in the east he heard footsteps approaching stealthily, so he stepped gently from the rock, crouching down in the shadow.

As the group at the fire laughed while the girls filled the calabash, seeing how much their magnificent visitor could drink, Hume appeared within the circle of light with a man in his grasp.

“Here is another visitor,” he said.

“Yoh!” exclaimed one of the girls, “it is our master;” and she ran frightened away, while the old dame seized a brand from the fire, and held it before the malignant face of the same man who had led the Zulus to the ruins.

“Soh! it is you,” said Sirayo; “you are welcome; come, sit by me;” and, seizing the man by the leg, he jerked him over the fire to his side. “The beer is good—drink, man, drink.”

“Nay,” cried the old dame, “drink he shall not.”

“Drink,” said Sirayo, with a frightful grimace; “for it is the last your lips will touch. Since you have walked into the den, you will not leave it alive.”

“No, chief,” said Hume; “you must not take the blood of such a creature.”

“As you say, Hu-em. Let us leave him to the old woman; but this tuft on your hair let me have it, and this necklet of teeth, and this bag of old bones;” and Sirayo stripped from the cowering man all the ornaments and trappings of his office. “Now, Noenti, fix them on me; I will to-night play the part of witch-doctor.”

“There is a place in the hut here for you,” she said.

“Keep it warm for me, then, but to-night I will cross the river and listen to their talk. Is it not well, Hu-em?”

“No, the plan is wild; they will detect you at once.”

“I will crouch under a blanket and keep in the shadow. Moreover, I see there is a good time for me if I can keep them on their side. I will frighten them with a tale of the spirit of the snake; and is it not said among the tribes that in council Sirayo is as cunning as the jackal? though it is a mangy beast. Yes, I will go.”

“If you will go, warn them that when the sun is up they must collect the dead on the field, and bury them well and deep, lest a pestilence strike them.”

“Ho, ho! I see you would work by the rock. Good! I will say the spirit is offended by the dead.”

Noenti having finished fixing on the witch-doctor’s belongings, Sirayo bounded over the fire, and was in a moment out of sight, while the old dame, with the willing help of the girls, bound the despoiled rascal tightly, and thrust him into a hen-coop with unnecessary violence. Whether the man died of fright, or whether some darker fate befell him, Hume never found out, but in the morning he saw that the coop was empty.

Before daybreak Sirayo returned, cool and uninjured, with the report that the people had already set out to bury the dead, and that they fully believed that he and Hume had fled. Then he rolled himself in his blanket and slept soundly till morn, when he awoke to eat heartily, and then to play and talk with the girls, who were merry enough, no matter what part they might have taken in the disappearance of the witch-doctor.

They remained within the shelter of their retreat through the day, and in the night, with the laughing help of the girls, they made strange noises by the river, and bore aloft on poles weird globes of light to frighten the natives and imbue them with respect for the sanctity of the deserted side of the valley. Those mysterious, pale, and ghostly globes that flitted in the air were but the rinds of hollowed pumpkins, luminous from the light of burning tinder within; but they produced a great sensation on the people, who on the following day crossed the river with presents of food which they placed round the Golden Rock. This was, however, an unwelcome sign of respect, and when the darkness once brought down hundreds of people to the river to watch for the globes of spirit-light, they saw suddenly a horrid face literally blaze out of the night, with a tongue of flame and fiery eyes, while a slow, solemn, thunderous voice bade them keep to their huts, lest they should be driven into the water. That lesson was enough for the credulous folk; the hollowed pumpkin with the punctured eyes and mouth was put away, Sirayo dallied with the girls, and Hume, with the crowbar he had carried from the waggon, slowly bored into the carved rock.

In the still nights when the wide valley was hushed in silence, except only for the melancholy howl of a jackal, he laboured to destroy that old, old work of human hands, done in a time long past. It was eerie work, and there were times when he would lay down his tool and stare at the menacing head of the great snake, then take a slow look around him. It was very quiet, and the darkness shut him in like a wall, but that still, erect head he could always see outlined as he sat, against the stars, and one night suddenly he thought of the lone hermit of the river and shivered. It seemed that there were strange forms peering at him also, undefined, shadowy shapes with muffled faces. He stood up, looked around him fiercely, as though he would invite his fancies to take shape so that he might confront them, then he ran blindly away. In the daylight he smiled bitterly at his fears, but that night again the forbidding phantoms crowded thick and thicker on his imagination, until, without accomplishing a stroke, he once more fled from his task.

“You have seen,” said Sirayo, as he looked at Hume’s face by the light of the fire. “What have you seen?”

“I am a child again, chief. I am frightened by shadows.”

“See,” said the old woman solemnly; “I said they would come.”

“Yebo!” said Sirayo, “a rock is a rock, and it cannot speak; but when men have breathed into it, have put themselves into it, have taken it into their inmost thoughts, it is no longer a rock. No man has said that I fear, but yet if, not knowing of it, I came on that rock in the night, I should be afraid. Leave it, my friend, lest the spirit take possession of you, and you start and mutter, and grow wild-eyed.”

“I have bored three holes,” said Hume; “to-morrow I will split it without doing more work.”

“It is true: white men are never content. They have been bitten by the water-beetle, and never rest.”

The next night the people in the kraals saw once again the pale globe flitting about, and as they marvelled there was a flash of fire and a dull rumbling report. The next morning, when they looked across, they saw that the Golden Rock was no more, and, with a sense of something old and familiar gone from their lives, they wailed in their sorrow.

Chapter Thirty Eight.

Better than Gold.

When Sirayo saw that no harm befell Hume for the act of sacrilege, he helped him bring the scattered fragments of the rock to the hidden valley, and when the mass of now shapeless ore was stored up, with its threads and veins of gold gleaming yellow, preparations were made to break it up. From the crowbar, after much labour about a roughly-made furnace, Hume made two great hammers, and for days he and Sirayo battered at the hard quartz, reducing it by slow degrees to small fragments. This work they had done on a wide flat rock, banked in so that nothing should be lost, and next, with native-made shallow dishes of baked clay, they began on the less arduous and more exciting business of washing for gold-dust. So alternately washing and crushing from week to week, they at last succeeded with their primitive methods in rescuing a vast amount of gold-dust, coarse grains, and large pellets from the mass of rich ore.

At one time they were threatened with trouble, a prying witch-doctor having braved the unknown dangers by crossing the river and surprising the little party at work. Sirayo and the old woman, setting their wits to work, managed, however, to detach Inyame, who moved over with his entire regiment, and placed himself under the chief. A fierce conflict was prevented by a meeting between Sirayo and Umkomaas, and by the time Webster was expected back a new kraal had been built about the shattered rock, and herds of cattle grazed on the rich grass.

Sirayo was now a respected chief with a royal household, the lively Noenti being the head wife.

Gradually Hume’s face regained some of its comeliness, but he seemed to live in an atmosphere of gloom, and spent much of his time alone, looking to the west for the return of his friend. The interest which had kept him up so long as there was a lump of quartz to crush had failed him. He was listless, silent and moody, so that the children shunned him, and the women turned away when he came near. They thought he was possessed; and so he was—by a melancholy of the mind and irritability of nerves, severely shaken by the hardships he had undergone. He had succeeded, so he told himself. He had alone won the Golden Rock and by indomitable energy broken it up, but this gave him no pleasure. Nay, he grew to doubt whether he had done right. What right had he to destroy that carved image, that masterpiece of ancient workers, to shed blood for its possession? So he brooded gloomily in his loneliness, and the only comfort he derived was the spectacle of growing crops on the land that was formerly shunned.

And Webster would not return. Why should he? He had, no doubt, crossed the ocean with her, and by this time they would be married, for sailors were always quick in their loves. But he would wait. And yet while these thoughts ran always in his mind he would look towards the west, growing thin, haggard and unkempt.

One day the scouts reported the arrival of a stranger, and Hume watched him come—a mounted man with a servant behind, leading a spare horse.

“This is some traveller,” said Hume—“some chance traveller who has entered the valley. I will hide till he goes.”

But it was Webster, and the little son of Umkomaas led him up to the stones, led him to where a battered figure of a man lay face downward on the ground.

“Frank!” rang out the familiar voice, “what ails you, my lad? are you asleep?”

But Hume rose and stood before his friend, thin, long-haired, gaunt, with a fierce, almost defiant, glare in his hollow eyes.

“My God, Hume! you are ill.”

Hume looked long at the big, healthy, handsome man before him, and he shuddered.

“No,” he said in a hoarse voice, “I am not ill. I’ve been waiting”—he paused and looked round—“but I did not expect you.”

Webster put his hand to his throat, for there was that in the forlorn figure before him that told its own story.

“Why did you come?”

“Frank, old friend, how can you ask me that?”

“For the gold, eh? Well, it is there, in three calabashes—the dust, the coarser, and the nuggets. You can take two: one for you, one for—for her.”

“Damn the gold!” said Webster, as the blood mounted to his face.

“And so you have come?” Hume went on.

“Yes,” said Webster hopelessly; “I have come. You don’t seem glad to see me.”

“Yes, I am glad—why shouldn’t I be?” he added with a sudden flare. “I suppose you are hungry. I think there is something in my hut. Let us see.”

“Wait a minute, Frank. I have been looking forward to this meeting so long, and now you almost repulse me. What is it? have you anything on your mind?”

“No,” said Hume, looking around.

“Is it,” said Webster sternly, “that you have grown to love your gold? If so, learn that I will have none of it.”

“You must have your share. It is yours; you cannot refuse it.”

“So it is that?” said Webster quietly. “Ah, my poor friend, I can understand how in your loneliness you must have felt yourself neglected, and that your thoughts may have dwelt for compensation on the wealth you have earned; but, man, believe me, I care not if I never see it, still less possess it.”

“Neither do I,” muttered Hume.

“Then what the devil is it?”

The two stood looking at each other, and the contrast between them was painful, and so obvious that Hume seemed to shrink within himself.

“Ah,” continued Webster, while a sudden smile broke the cloud on his face, “you think of Laura! Come, Frank, you trusted me. Can you believe that I would abuse it—more especially when you were left behind?”

“Then,” said Hume, meeting his friend’s convincing glance, “you have not asked her?”

“No, my lad,” said Webster gently; “and if I had asked her, it would have been of no use. She loves you.”

“Loves me!” cried Hume with a wild laugh—“loves me! Look at me—you can see what I am.”

“You require a wash,” said Webster gravely, “and a shave, and a new rig.”

Hume started back, as though he had been stung, with a forbidding look on his face; but presently he began to laugh. “Thank God!” muttered Webster.

“Ay, thank God!” said Hume solemnly; “if it had not been for the mercy of that laugh, Jim, I would have flown at you.”

They went down to the village, and soon after Hume reappeared properly clad and groomed. Sirayo, already growing sleek, joined them, and Klaas, who had followed his master back, sat with his eye on a comely maid.

Soon after that they left the valley with half a dozen men, and these they sent back to the valley with a goodly number of cows, and goods dear to Kaffir girls. Klaas remained to settle down in Sirayo’s kraal.

Five months later the two friends saw Miss Anstrade in London, but she was so changed from the woman who, in a short skirt and gaiters, had tramped beside them in the wilds that their hearts sank within them.

It was absurd to suppose that brilliant, magnificent woman, with those wondrous eyes and that imperious bearing, could condescend to hear them. Yet they went, and for courage they went together.

“Oh, merciful Lady!” she said, between crying and laughter, “I could not marry both of you.”

“No, I suppose not,” said Webster, stroking his fair beard and looking hard at Hume. “Perhaps I should not have spoken, but Frank would have me come.”

“It is a conspiracy,” she said, with a flash in her eyes. “You have come together out of some absurd notion of honour.”

“No,” said Frank, turning red under her glance, “we thought it was hopeless, yet we came to show that we loved you.”

“And what are you going to do now?” she said, biting her lip.

“Ah! I see someone in the street,” muttered Webster. “I will see you again;” and he darted out hurriedly.

Hume looked as though he would follow, but was arrested by a faint sound, and, turning his head, he saw that she was laughing.

“It is no crime for a brave man to love you,” he said, “and he deserves something more than laughter.”

“I am not laughing at him,” she said.

“At me, then? Am I, then, an object of ridicule?”

“You never could understand,” she said.

“No,” he said with a smile of courage; “I never did understand you, and I never shall. I love you. Must I go also?”

“My friend,” she said, with a sad smile about her lips, “I have been wanting to call on Miss Webster; do you remember Captain Pardoe? You must come with me.”

“And Jim?” he whispered.

“Jim will be our brother; he will be pleased. His friendship is better than gold.”

The End.

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