When he came near, it came towards him, the figure of an old native with a ragged grey beard, all hunched up in a blanket.
'Tom.' called Julian to him in his shrill voice, 'You've got to come down to town tonight. No, you swine, to-morrow won't do. Tonight before sunset, or there'll be trouble. You know what I want you to do, what you did last Christmas.' The drive back to town was uneventful.
Julian sat on his stoep half an hour before dinner, smoking and pondering. He was anxious about that plunge he meant to make to-morrow. His philosophy of life, so largely commercial, found room for a cult or two of superstition. He had consulted Mrs. Puce's oracle time and time again. He had had recourse to his boy Jim's father, Tom Nyoka, twice before. He had got him to use for him a rude and illegal form of divination. He had been helped by it before, at least so he opined. He might be helped again. He sat looking at the sun dropping smoothly in a cloudless sky. As he watched, Jim came out to him to tell him that his father was in the kitchen. 'I'll come directly, Jim,' he said.
The piccanin was sent off to get water, the kitchen door was safely locked. The throwing of the bones began, while Julian watched with understanding eyes. His hard grip of his subjects, generally, extended to this remote ritual.
To-night the answer seemed to be inconclusive, but as they sought the answer, a clear sign appeared as it were by the way, and unsought. Julian was watching haggardly. He snarled a question at Jim. His cook-boy's big round eyes showed very big and very round just now. He was watching with painful intentness.
'Yes,' he answered his master, 'Yes, sir, it is so.'
Julian whistled and turned away moodily, with his hands in his pockets, staring into space.
The old man the diviner was talking at large as he gathered the fingers of wood with their rude traceries together. Julian paid little heed to his words and gesticulations when he awoke from his day-dream.
'Give him some skoff and a bit of meat, Jim,' he said. 'Tell him I'll give him ten bob when I've got change.'
The old man was clamoring to him to make up his money to a sovereign, but Julian paid no heed to what he said. He swung out of the hut and off to wash for dinner, still brooding moodily.
At dinner. Tommy Bates found Julian the reverse of good company. He did not keep his gloom to himself, and he snapped at any excuse for snapping. Tommy left as the sweets came in, with an excuse about meeting some friends at 8:30.
'Don't be late,' said Julian peremptorily. 'I want you here at eleven sharp. I want to see about tomorrow's letters before I go to bed.'
At 8:30 a pink note came in with the coffee. Mrs. Puce had sent it down. It contained but a few lines:
I'm so sorry, but I couldn't make head nor tail of the answer. What I was told clearly was that you were likely to be in some trouble to-night about midnight. I don't know what sort of trouble, but somebody who lives at the back of your house may have something to do with it. Do take care of yourself. I trust you to do that for my sake. I think you are sensible enough to do it, now you are forewarned. Come up to-morrow to breakfast and reassure me,
Yours, in ever so much of a shudder,
Julian turned rather green as he read. 'I don't like it,' he growled, 'Two signs, and independent ones. The one sign death. I saw it myself when the bones were thrown. The other sign danger. And Celia hasn't the sort of conscience that would let her invent it. I don't know what to set about doing. But I must do something or other.' He began to reflect. He started from the unsubstantial grounds of twofold superstition, and tried to be practical in his own defense.
'About midnight,' he thought, 'Well, I can trust Jim. And I can't trust the other two boys that inhabit my back kitchen. Piet has some of his own to get back for what I did last Christmas, and the other boy I simply don't know. He was only sent to me to-day. I'll tell Jim to go over to the location and take the other two with him, and look after them for all of to-night. Tommy should be back by eleven. We two ought to be able to look after ourselves. Likely enough it's all moonshine this back-of-the-house business.' He pitied himself for his anxieties, and took an extra drink to dispel them. He went to the kitchen. Jim and the new piccanin were just discussing the movements of somebody as he arrived.
'When was it?' asked Jim.
'Just when the sun set,' the piccanin answered.
'Where?' asked Jim.
Then Julian cut them short, heedless of what they were saying.
'Lock up at once, and go over to the location. Mind, Jim, you must look after the other two and see they don't come back here. I don't want any boys on the place to-night. D'you hear?' Julian proceeded to enlarge on the bigness of reward or punishment in certain eventualities.
Julian went to his study, and put on his slippers. He called Jim to light the wood-fire before he left. The night seemed a bitter one, or was it that he had taken a chill? He took up a local paper when Jim was gone. 'It's been a busy day,' he reflected, as he straightened it out. 'Fancy my not looking at a paper of any sort till this time of night.'
He searched the columns impatiently.
'No news to speak of,' he thought. But then he cried out as his eye caught an out-of-the-way corner. 'Why, Hunter's dead!' The news seemed to take his breath like a body-blow. 'A good man!' he said to himself. 'The man who gave me the sop when he had dipped it. The best of that Church gang! A man who called me an apostate straight out more than once! The man who sent me that weird card this morning! Yes and he sent me a quaint souvenir, a sort of "Memento Mori," once before, last Christmas, just when my boom came off. I haven't forgotten the words yet. I will say to my soul, "Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry." And God said unto him, "Thou fool, this night."
'This night,' he muttered. 'I wish this night were well over.'
IV. VICISTI GALILAEE!
Julian was in a strange fit of tension when he heard Tommy Bates' steps coming up the garden path. They were very uncertain steps.
Julian threw open his study door as the secretary reeled into the hall. He had longed for company this last grey craven hour or two, and this was all the company he was to enjoy for to-night at least!
Humming and lurching and stinking of whisky as Tommy was, there was not much comfort to be sought from him.
Julian swore at him sonorously then he hustled him off to bed. Soon he was snoring. Julian had somehow shuffled away his fear in his coercion of Tommy.
'I'll get my blankets and pillow out of my room, and lie down in Tommy's. I feel I can sleep now,' he thought.
He went into his room heedlessly in the dark and trod on something or somebody, just as he was striking a match.
It was the big black snake that lived in the ant-hill at the back of the house whose movements Jim and the piccanin had been discussing. The snake dealt with Julian.
Julian staggered about looking for crystals and a lancet. They were locked up safely and perhaps Jim, or perhaps Tommy had the key.
Tommy would not wake to any purpose. Just as Julian was shaking him, the clock in the study a clock Julian had won in his sprinting days chimed twelve very melodiously. Everything seemed to be locked up. Had Jim the key of the spirit cupboard or Tommy? Julian was growing drowsy in his struggles against the current of fortune. Hadn't he better give in, and let himself be carried down? Almost before he knew it, he was lying on the sofa in his study where the lamp with the red shade was burning so cosily. Likely enough his eye caught a quaint ornament on his study table at the juncture the figure of the Serpent on the Cross.
It may be too, that some sort of startled respect came to him for the Worm that had turned at last, not vindictively, but in the interests of the Commonweal.
Probability points to this one fact at least, that Julian fumbled for something in his pocket-book ere he resigned himself finally to the growing torpor.
A card was found on the study floor when morning came; they found the pocket-book itself on the conch beside him.
The card was the one that had come at his last breakfast-time from Dick Hunter, the card that he had reserved rather indignantly for future consideration.
On the one side of it was a color-process reproduction, very good of its kind Christ in Glory the Rex Tremendoe Majestatis and also the Fons Pietatis of the Dies Ira with tears in His Eyes and thorns on His Brows as He judged just judgment. On the other side were four lines from Browning, faithfully transcribed save for the change of a name. They were written in the shaking writing of a sick man, in Hunter's round, unformed hand:
'For the main criminal I have no hope Except in such a suddenness of fate So may the truth be by one blow flashed out. And Julian see one instant and be saved.'
There is no question as to the suddenness of the stroke of fate that ended Julian's career in South Africa. There is an open question as to the illuminative force of that blow, and we must wait for the answer.
THE DOUBLE CABIN
We had been close to a certain line of fire together, and yet we had not seen much fighting. That is to say, we were taking part in a campaign together that was for the time being an affair of patrols near a certain border an affair that flashed into fire now and then as between man and man. As between sun and man the firing was fairly continuous for eight hours of most days. Were we not within a hundred miles or so of the equator? In that climatic struggle (so much the more constant of the two for us Northerners) I on my noncombatant job came off lightly, he, as a combatant, suffered. He was down with malaria time and time again. He had it on him that night when he put me up at his place a night when the old year was almost out. He was then inhabiting a border outpost a clean little camp tucked away behind a native village. It was none too airy, I thought, with its heavy curtains of cactus hedging. He seemed a little better that next morning, when I said prayers, and afterwards rehearsed a certain Rite. He stayed to the end of my ministrations. After breakfast I started again on my journey, a round that took me far from the centre of our small world. When I touched that centre again I heard his news, which was not so very reassuring. He had gone down with blackwater, and been carried into a small hospital. There, having almost gone out, he had rallied enough to be put on board a ship crossing the lake. So he came to a greater hospital. It was thither that I followed him up. He had had another crisis, I found, but he was better again by the time I got to him. Then he improved a little, and seemed to be convalescing. Then malaria chose to interfere with the running of her sister fever's course. This seemed extraordinarily meddlesome, and made things hazardous still, though they were as well as one expected, when the time of my going on leave came.
How glad I was to get off! My Good-byes were hurried when once the brown envelope had come. I saw him on the hospital stoep (baraza, did they call it in that alien part of Africa?) just as I was rushing down to the station. He had lost his blue color, but still looked rather flickery.
'If you go to Bulawayo, you'll remember, won't you?' he said. 'You've got the plan?'
He had given me an elaborate little drawing of two streets that converged. His bungalow stood upon an island betwixt their confluence and the shading that he had marked waste ground. The pink paper was in my breast pocket, but, knowing my way with papers, I had already learned those streets' names.
'All right,' I said. 'But I'm not likely to go that way. And the time's so short. I'll try though.'
His face lit, and his eyes gleamed. 'Do try,' he said.
'Don't build on it,' I entreated him. 'I'll try to write to her anyway.'
Then he looked downcast indeed; he had fallen from such a confident height. But he said 'Goodbye' like a real friend.
I forgot him almost completely for the next four days or so. There were excitements, seeing somebody at headquarters, wiring business wires, writing friendly letters against time, steering a forlorn small native and a more forlorn small dog, who were sharing my fortunes, down to the coast. At last I was there, and discussing shipping news with new-found keenness. My prospects of getting off with speed looked black for a bit; then came the flash of a fresh idea. As there was no ship for the African port I knew, why not book for the unknown? There were transports returning to a port beyond, I had heard. True, the cost of railway traveling thence was hard to forecast, resources were of a modest sort, and there were three of us to find fares for.
Yet ways and means began to show their forms out of the mist soon. I chose to sail almost at once by the untried road, and I wrote to friends', telling them how I had chosen. I wrote to my friend in hospital, among others. I was going the Bulawayo way after all, and I might do what he wanted quite unbelievably easily. Who would have thought it when we parted? I scribbled down the great news against time. (I had an importunate proof to correct before sailing; proofs are apt to take hours, I find, and my sailing hour was near.) He might be expected to have my scribble handed to him on the hospital stoep about three days after. So I calculated. I flattered myself that I knew the ins and outs of our despatches and mail deliveries, also that I had allowed in my calculation for censorial delay. It was pleasant to think how pleased he might be expected to be. I well-wished him with a prayer. Then I started down the glaring white road for the wharf. I had dismissed him from my mind, I regret to say, for another three days or more.
I traveled down from that east coast fighting-base on a transport that had brought up mules and horses. She had naturally enough, shipped a goodly crew of flies with them. The mules and horses had gone their ways, but the flies had by no means all gone with them. Now with no quadrupeds to be their prime care, those that remained were apt to obtrude themselves upon us. I deprecated at heart the ruthless warfare that marine authority waged upon them. But for all that I found my afternoon slumbers often distracted by the survivors. On the first and second afternoons of that voyage I awoke not long after I dropped off. I awoke, and thought about nothing in particular. On the third afternoon my waking thoughts took a very definite shape.
I was in a cabin or stateroom that two officers had shared going up doubtless of the veterinary profession. Now on this return journey I had the place to myself. I lay in my bunk with my boots off, and observed the empty couch beside me.
It was my friend that I thought of my friend as I had taken leave of him, reclining on the hospital stoep, straining with eager eyes at mine. It was his breathless voice that I remembered. It was saying over and over, 'You will go and see her, won't you? I'll be with you in spirit in this your trek for her and home.'
Surely he was on that couch in the cabin now beside me, and surely he was saying the same thing over and over again, just as regularly and restlessly as if he were yonder electric fan curveting with the same sort of panting iteration.
And yet, don't mistake me, I don't pretend to have seen anything or heard anything extraordinary in the ordinary way of seeing or hearing. Only I was dead sure that he was there with the same old entreaty. Afterwards I lighted a pipe, went above, talked to the skipper's wife, read, investigated my boy's and also my dog's welfare rather perfunctorily, settled down to saying an evening Office, made an end more or less of that, just as night came on, and then again took time to think over things. I remembered that he would have possibly got my letter, the letter which announced my sailing in this ship of the Archangel Line, just about the very time that he had seemed so near me. It was natural enough, then, that his eager mind should have embarked with me on the 'Saint Raphael.' He knew now that I was going home, contrary to previous expectation, by the very way he had desired, the way to see his wife and tell her his news.
That night, when I said my prayers, I took but a corner of that couch for my elbows. I gave him room, so to speak, with odd scrupulous courtesy, just as if he were lying there in the body. For I knew he was there, there by his own subtle means of transport. That night the wind rose, and for the next three days about, we were on the downgrade as regards weather. Our captain opined that there had been a hurricane of sorts to south-east, out Madagascar way. We were in the troughs of a mighty swell that grew in might till the third morn of its reign was over. In the mad tilting of my cabin floor, and the scuffling of my cabin accessories, that last morning, the unseen and unheard presence that I was now growing used to, reclined unperturbed. Elsewhere I would forget it lightly enough, as soon as ever I left the cabin, at the saloon table, where plate and cup fretted themselves up and down against the table frames, in the skipper's basket lounge chair wherein I read contrasted romances, East End and Zulu, on the deck where I groped from hold-by to hold-by, longing to change grey sky and green sea-trenches for sunshine and blue levels of sea and sky. The weather calmed and brightened, but the presence was unaffected. It remained to my perception eager and sanguine, no less, no more, than it had seemed at first.
At last the Bluff loomed to south-east. Soon a game of pitch-and-toss precluded our access to harbor. At last we transshipped, all three of us, boy and dog and I, to a steam-launch, and were soon ashore. No, I won't say four of us. The presence did not make itself felt as taking a share in that scramble of ours. I was rather surprised at missing its company, when I found time to think about it. I was standing at ease in the Base Office then. Soon I was on my way back again to the station where I had left my convoy. The boy was mounting guard over dog and gear. Yes, everything seemed all right. I turned towards the ticket office. As I waited for our tickets I evolved a sort of rationale of my consciousness of that presence. He who had accompanied me was very weak, distinctly convalescent. He could but make himself felt clinically, so to speak. When at length I was aboard the train I had opportunity to test my surmises. There were six sleeping berths in the Jo'burg second class compartment (there was no third class, worse luck, on that train) wherein I found myself. On one side slept the dark Theosophist who was to lend me 'The Star of the East' next morning. Under him slept the Norwegian recruit bound for Potchefstroom. Under him again a fresh-colored, wizened little Colonist. On my side slept an Africander recruit for Potchefstroom (God love him! I hope he was better than his looks and conversation). I was bedded over him. Above me on the sixth sleeping ledge was only a certain amount of luggage. So we had arranged, and so my eyes assured me. But I became firmly conscious that the presence was reclining there.
Next night I was able to travel on third class from Johannesburg without missing my train's connection. I had the carriage to myself (not without misgivings, for the guard had cleared a native out, and other compartments seemed likely to be rather crowded). I lay down somewhat prayerlessly. The last light seemed to have not long faded on the white mine-banks. I woke in the chill of the dawn. The train was nearing Mafeking. The presence I had been too tired to think much about last night, was assuredly there on the other side of the carriage. Yet there was only my bag to be seen on the seat, my bag that I had set there to search for a towel.
The next night we drew near to Bulawayo. I had a Jew for traveling companion then. He was to get off about midnight at Francistown. I dropped off to sleep somehow. I don't know exactly how the trick was done, I was so excited at nearing my own country. When I awoke the Jew was gone, and the seat opposite me was empty, empty save for the presence which reclined there. I gave it a share of my attention amongst other persons and matters. I was far too full of plans and anticipations now to sleep. Yet I fought for sleep that next hour or two. Then, as the cocks had crowed undoubtedly, I lighted a pipe. Afterwards I stole out in the faint light to shave. When I returned, I was confronted by an old acquaintance a detective. He wanted information about me, naturally enough, as it was war-time. He sat himself down on the seat whereon the presence was. I had squirmed when he shook hands with me so heartily (I had twisted my hand, slipping on a warship's deck). I was disposed to squirm once again. When he sat down rudely on that seat which I knew to be occupied, I forgot myself at once, and drew him to a seat beside me. 'Can't you see what's there?' I said hastily. Of course he could not see, and thought me a little mad. Then, when I explained that the seat had been kept, he looked suspicious, If only he had enjoyed the same perceptiveness as myself, what pages he might have filled in that expensive-looking note book. I chuckled to myself as I thought of his description his, who had crossed the Rhodesian border with me at Plumtree on such special service. What would that note book make of him? The note book's master looked at me hard. Doubtless I aroused certain unnecessary alarums and excursions in the imagination of a useful and already overworked official. But I had given him nothing tangible in the way of incrimination. He looked at me as one who much desired to keep me under observation, but he said 'Goodbye!'
The house answered the pink paper's description. It was on the verge of some waste ground. But I had expected a more prosperous-looking place.
It had a long row of white palings that lacked repainting. The house itself looked rather poverty-stricken. I had hurried over my breakfast at the station, then I had asked my way, and found it. I knocked once and again. That wife, whom I had never seen before, came slowly to the door. He had shown me her portrait more than once, and I remembered it. It certainly had not flattered her. She was dressed in black. Her face would have been fresh under her bright hair, but the eyes were drawn, and the lips quivered that spoke to me, quivered in a pitiful fashion. I told her how I came from her husband. I embarked on a longish rigmarole as to the luck that brought me her way after all, against expectations. She listened without saying a word. Then I told her about him, and she listened patiently. 'I seem to have felt him with me on my way,' I said. 'He was so keen that I should bring you his love,' I said. Then she burst out crying. 'It is all very interesting,' she sobbed. 'But I have got later news than yours.'
I shuddered. 'Was there a relapse, then?' I said.
'I suppose there must have been,' she murmured, steadying herself. 'He came to me just at sunrise,' she said, 'this sunrise, this very morning. I saw him so plainly coming into the room just after I had opened my eyes. He always said he was sure he would be able to come, by God's mercy, if it should come to that . . .' Her voice shook, and I knew what 'that' meant.
No doubt they had loved one another very dearly, no doubt he had been able, so strong was his affection, to follow my journey towards her, while he was still in life. Then, at the moment of the great change, he had doubtless gathered strength to come to her and manifest himself. Such things have surely happened before, and are likely to happen again whilst our lives linger in the midst of death, and love is love.
'It is just on church-time,' she said, 'all but eight o'clock. I was getting ready to go when you knocked. You won't mind my going now, will you? You won't mind my saying Good-bye?'
So we said 'Good-bye' outside the church door, our ways went so far together. Then I went off by the station road; my train was to go on in another hour or so.
When I got into an empty carriage I was conscious of some sense of forlornness. I had lost my traveling companion. Yet I was glad somehow to think that the strain of his interest in my journey was at an end. I gave thanks for that new rest of his.
As for her I am glad to remember where it was that she parted from me so graciously. That church was a poor, corrugated iron structure, but I looked in and saw a gladsome light burning before its altar. Her eyes were on that light, I think, as she knelt down. Truly a sanctuary of God seemed the place of places to leave her in. They were so desperately fond of one another, and he was so devoted to his religion, as well as to her. If in God's sanctuary the Psalmist found most satisfaction as to his own riddle of the ungodly's vitality, I feel sure she found some comfortable answer to her own contrasted problem the mortality of one so dear to her and to his Lord.
I was staying with an Intelligence Officer on a certain island. Our people had but just succeeded in occupying it with a force of occupation. It was a very green and richly tropical island with the faults of its qualities, I should say. Most of its German tenants were prisoners now, a few had escaped in canoes. Their sergeant of askaris, a stout fellow, had passed the word of 'no surrender.' But for all that very few native soldiers seemed to be in the bush now. Most seemed to have surrendered, or to have transformed themselves into civilians.
I had reached my host's lodging just before sundown on Saturday night. We dined simply, as far as courses went, but our conversation came easily and took many turns. There seemed to be something in the air that night. There were three of us at the table, my host and Hunter and I. Hunter was a naval man who had walked up with me, and was staying the night. He was very fresh and pleasant to look at; he seemed old for his years, which were few; he had a range of interests as well as powers of expression. Did he seem just a little conscious of his tender age? Was he not a bit too anxious to profess disillusion? Yes, he was cynical about Belgians, also about France, also about the Foreign Office. I suffered him thus far with a certain guilty gladness. But the Intelligence Officer demurred grimly. He was a patriot and a fighting man. They had switched a maxim on to him years before, but he was still going hardily, albeit he limped. He had fought in an irregular white corps in the present campaign; he had raised an irregular black corps; our adversaries were said to have priced his head. He had charming manners; he had befriended me nobly not once nor twice. He was a man surely of extraordinary dash and resource. I had no sort of reason to doubt the great stories I had heard of him, of his coolness under fire and in tight places. I had seen every reason to believe them. For all that, my affection for him was mixed with another feeling. He was very tall. His face wore a sort of perennial fever-flush. He was very dark. His eyes were fine and fierce, too; he wore a strange he-goat-tuft on his chin. I found myself chuckling privately that evening over a bizarre fancy of mine. I had remembered a certain mediaeval print of a famous character. Yes, there certainly was a likeness.
We discussed Intelligence Work a branch of War Service as to which I am apt to be prejudiced. To my indefensible delight. Hunter excelled himself at giving my own views voice over the pudding. Never did I hear an indictment more sweeping. He spoke of the reading of people's letters, the bluffing of unhappy natives. He hinted darkly at dark methods of persuasion. He hammered in the debasing futility of the whole spy system, our own and the other side's. He ended with schoolboy personalities about people he had met, some of our host's own agents. His remarks about them were unworthy of the eloquence that had gone before. Our host took it all in very kindly part. He was a man of deeds rather than of words.
'I never thought I'd come so low as I did to-day,' he admitted. 'You heard of the German who got away with his wife and kids in canoes. I was turning over one of the kids' money-boxes. Just five rupees or so in it. But I'll try to get it back to the youngster. I never thought to come quite so low.'
I tackled him about a horrid practice he had admitted having recourse to. 'Torture, or torture-witchcraft possibly! It seems a hopeful way of eliciting true intelligence, not to speak of playing the game in any sort of British sense.' He hung his head penitently. He pleaded that this expedient had saved an execution only the other day. There had been none after all. Had there been, as had looked likely at one time, an innocent man would have died.
'Oh, why not be without reproach as well as without fear?' I pleaded.
'How am I to get truth from them? It's a usage of their own.' He was pleading back.
'Not that way.' I was inflexible in my scorn and horror, for I knew that I was right.
By this time we had about finished dinner. Soon we were outside Hunter in a deck-chair, I on a box, my host on a looted camp-stool. We smoked on under the stars.
We spoke of looting. The naval man scintillated about the conduct of the army at a raid on a neighboring town. I was with him most of the way.
'So they cleared away with their swags for fear of enemy reinforcements. And they had a report printed that the natives had looted the place. That put the lid on it,' he said. But then came purgatory for me. The Native Question cropped up. Our host was away just then, conferring about chits that his spies had brought in. Hunter fairly coruscated with cynicism, when it came to the Native Question. He had expressed very different views upon it the last time that I had met him (the day before at lunchtime). Now he expressed himself cured of any sneaking wish to treat natives with kindness rather than kiboko. His boy, to whom he had granted leave of absence, had not come back to his day, and the whole fabric of Native sympathies, so far as he was concerned, had crashed to the ground. Henceforth he would know how to treat natives, the way to have no trouble with them. Any other way was not worth while. I objected, but my objections were as little rocks over which his periods broke in foam.
They enhanced the effect. Our host came back and laughed a little, till he saw how little I was enjoying it. Then he rotted the orator on his lordly oblivion of one fact. Were there not limits to his experience of Africa? He himself avowed his sympathies with the African. If he had a hobby, it was natives. He wanted to win their trust for a great many reasons. It was worth while having it. He told a certain story and the talk diverged. It was quite sympathetic talk, from my point of view thenceforward, up till bed-time. We slept in that big room within, all three of us. I had brought next to no kit, and I had noted with some awe my naval friend's scorn of the ill-provided in the course of the evening. He had described how a Belgian he had shared a room with, lacked certain accessories of civilization. So I was in the mood now to feel my own deficiency. But the censor was not so very observant, and he seemed sleepy. Soon he was sleeping.
My host and I exchanged a few undertones. Tomorrow was Whitsunday. I wanted to have Service very early. 'That'll be all right,' he said. Soon he put our hurricane lamp out, but I was not to win sleep for quite a long while. In the early morning, moreover, something happened. Some red-ant skirmishers were about, and I had a hot time in my bed on the floor. I' might well have felt more grateful than I did feel. Yes, had I only known what battalions would have engaged me, had they decided to attack before dawn! At dawn I was to see for myself what were the numbers of their host. Meanwhile, their scouts gave me trouble, if only a moderate amount. A cock crowed close by. Then another and another. The dawn was not so very far then surely. The thunder that had boomed when I first awoke, boomed louder. A rushing mighty wind seized upon the shanty where we slept, a very airy shanty. The fact that the Day that came was Pentecost, recurred to me. Then the storm broke in fury. The rain smashed down, and the lightning forked and flickered. The roar and tumult raged and swelled and thudded overhead. My host awakened.
'It's near,' he said. 'Too near for me,' I murmured, as I ducked involuntarily when a perfervid flash came.
'Look at the Navy!' he said. I looked.
The cynic slept like a child. His face was very calm and intensely optimistic. 'He told me he had slept through big guns' fire on his ship,' I said admiringly. 'He has great powers.'
A curious lingering flash came. It played round the sleeper's head. A huge peal seemed to come almost with it, the last huge peal ere that brief passionate storm withdrew.
Then the sleeper began to talk.
He talked too well too well for me to mix his actual phrases up with this secular story.
The Intelligence man began to laugh. The thing struck him as funny. But suddenly I caught familiar words, and I put my finger on my lips. My host's black eyes looked into mine, and I saw, as I had never seen before, how much there was in them. First they kindled, and then they grew soft, and he turned his head away. The sleeper had been repeating the end of the fifth chapter of S. Matthew the bit about the God (whose sons we Christians are) that makes His sun to shine, and His rain to fall so impartially.
He said the words very clearly, as articulately as if he were a child saying repetition. What made our host's eyes melt so curiously was what came after.
The sleeper said a sort of child's prayer about sun and rain, and just and unjust, and good and evil, praying quite simply to God to bless everybody and to do the best for them English and Germans, black men and white.
'Yes, and my boy,' he said, as if that petition furnished a sort of limit to the mercy he invoked. 'And the mtoto,' he added a minute after.
'What's his name?' he asked innocently. He had forgotten the name of his boy's apprentice, and his forgetfulness was on his mind.
The strain was a bit too much for us when it came to that question.
We laughed rather hysterically. Then we pulled ourselves together, but we had not disturbed him. He spoke no more save for two or three detached words proper names I think. But he breathed long breaths peacefully.
The dawn was quite near on its way now. A dove called from the wood to its mate. Surely it desired to tell it that morning came.
'We've got some fresh Intelligence,' my host said gravely.
'Pentecostal Illumination, rather,' I said.
'Did you happen to remember what the Day was?'
He nodded. 'We'd better not sit up talking,' he told me. 'It might seem to spoil it somehow. We'd better try to get a little sleep. Come over here out of the ants.'
So we shifted my mattress.
After our Pentecostal Service, and our breakfast, we compared notes, we two alone.
Once more Hunter had talked a lot at table. It was somehow a little hard completely to identify the Hunter of breakfast time with the Hunter of cock-crow. 'Our friend was rather angelical, only rather,' my host said.
'He was cynical about your cynical business,' I said. He laughed. 'Have you forgotten what he said about missionaries?' he asked.
I smiled ruefully. 'It certainly wasn't up to his level,' I said, 'his cock-crow level.'
'I've got a theory,' said my chin-tufted friend (I have made up my mind to recall Don Quixote in future when I think of him rather than that mediaeval print). 'The subliminal self of the Navy was revealed by that Pentecostal flash. Pentecost was in the air. We saw the real lieutenant in his sleeping sub-consciousness. It's a pity the real self isn't top-dog in ordinary life; it's under-dog for the present, worse luck!'
'But in sleep he's a child still, and a good child at that,' I said.
'Yes, or he couldn't have responded to that Pentecostal suggestion. You or I wouldn't have responded; anyhow, not so readily.'
He sighed. 'It's a wicked world,' he said smiling, 'and we learn many tricks of our respective trades.'
'Speak for yourself and your own trade,' I said sternly. Then I begged him to give up that unmentionable way of obtaining intelligence.
'Let's try to live up to the cock-crow level,' I said. 'We two have seen what we have seen, and heard what we have heard. We have received unexpected Intelligence. We have got some hints as to self and soul, truth and falsehood.'
'Yes, I'll allow that,' he admitted.
A CREDIT BALANCE
The siding was on such soil as recalled South Devon; flanking the name-board there were a few pepper-trees with dry, fern-like foliage, and bunches of red berries just then, the month being March. Alfred Home drew up before that name-board in scorching sunshine, wiped his face, and looked at his watch. Was he in time?
He had heard nothing of the train yet, and it was not to be seen approaching. His watch told him that it had been due for ten minutes now. Surely it could not have gone! No, there it was. Its whistle sounded, and soon it came winding through the sparse woodlands. He gave a sigh of relief, and squatted down to wait for it. Soon it drew up at Pepper-tree Siding.
He climbed on to a third-class carriage, which carried natives and colored people, also one European in lonely majesty. This last stood smoking a cigarette in an amber or mock-amber mouthpiece. He was a boy not long out of his teens, a boy with a dazzling complexion if, indeed, he were not a girl in a boy's grey suit. He introduced himself, as he ushered his fellow-traveler into a compartment. 'I'm the only one here,' he said. 'I've been alone since Mafeking. I'm George Donald, and I'm just out from Derry.' Home accepted the cigarette that was offered him. Then he wiped his face again a dark, fiercely-burnt face. He was a man over forty; he looked more than his age, or as if he had had very hard times. 'Going far?' he asked. 'Not much further now,' the boy said cheerfully. 'My station's fifty miles beyond Gwelo. I'm about sick of it. I traveled second class on the boat. But they never sent any money for expenses, so I've had to pig it on this train.' Home smiled. 'Ever been out before?' he asked. Donald shook his head. Then he indulged in many confidences. 'I'm going to be partner in a trading concern,' he said. 'Soldana's is the name of the place.' He went on to describe the voyage out, with free criticisms of the food and of fellow-passengers. They had had a concert or two on board, and he had recited at the second-class concert last week. 'What did you recite?' Home asked him. 'Oh, I gave them "Sir Galahad." I had to grind it up, with lots more of Tennyson, for an exam. You know it?' Home nodded. His lips moved. 'How ever does it go?' he said a moment after. 'I only remember tags of lines here and there "And star-like mingles with the stars." That's authentic, isn't it?' The boy repeated the stanza whence those words came. 'Would you like any more?' he asked. Home grinned. 'May as well have it through, if it's all the same to you,' he said. So the boy began at the beginning, and continued, and made an end, Home watching him all the while. His eyes had satire in them as he watched, but they had also admiration. Two or three hours after, they drew up at another siding, and Home got together his belongings. He handed them to a Bechuana boy who stood waiting for them outside on the step. Then he settled himself down again, for the engine was waiting to take water. He wrote a few words on a half-sheet and handed it to Donald. 'That's my address,' he said. 'Do write or look me up at my store, if I can be of any use at any time.' The reciter of 'Sir Galahad' shook his hand warmly, promising that he would do so. Then Home scrambled out into the noontide heat. Soon the slow train woke up again, and lumbered on.
It was much more than three years after when Donald came to Home's store. He looked fagged and weary as he came up the wagon-road, having done his thirty miles that day. He had a knapsack on his back, but that was not heavy. Home was sitting on a case under his verandah. The sun had just set, and he had closed the store for the day, just before the traveler showed in sight. Now that he drew near, he knew him at once. 'Hullo! I've often thought about you,' was his greeting. 'But what have you been doing with yourself?' The boy's face he looked boyish still, though no longer girlish was worn. He was very pale, and had blue marks under his eyes. 'I've had a hell of a time,' he muttered. 'Well, come and have some skoff,' Home said. 'After that you can tell me about it all.' The boy ate but languidly, though he emptied cup after cup. He said hardly anything; he looked down on his luck. The zest was gone out of his talk, as the rose-pink out of his cheeks, since they last met.
Home tried to say something cheerful. 'Do you know, if you'd come this day week I don't think you'd have found me here. I've sold this store. I'm meaning to go home, and to settle down there.' The boy congratulated him rather listlessly. Then he spoke with a sparkle of his old keenness. 'I wish I were going home,' he said.
'Why don't you?'
'I haven't a shilling,' the boy said; 'only minus shillings, only debts.' Home tried to say something pleasant about luck turning, but it came out flatly. After supper the boy told a story, but he did not seem to tell it candidly by any manner of means. The partnership he had gone to had been dissolved a year ago. He had been trading, backed up by a Jew, this last cold weather. He had had horrible luck; his store had been burnt down in August. It was November now. He had been knocking about in a certain town for a month or two. Then he had taken to the road. Some people had been kind to him as he came along; others hadn't.
'What do you owe?' Home asked him abruptly. 'Oh, a pound or two,' he answered, coloring. 'It's more than that, isn't it?' Home said gently. The boy denied its being more than that. Then all of a sudden he owned up. 'One Jew, they were partners, said it was twenty-five; the other said he'd take fifteen. It wasn't really more than fifteen, honor bright.'
'So you owe him fifteen,' Home said. 'Do you mean to pay him?'
'Not unless I'm forced,' the boy said savagely. He spoke in quite an open way now. 'I'd rather pay him out than pay him back, the .. .' Home changed the subject.
Just before they went to bed he recalled their brief journey together so long ago now. He reached a newish Tennyson down from his candle-box bookshelf. 'Do you mind saying that piece over again that piece you said in the train?' Home spoke shyly.
The boy flushed up before he answered. 'I've forgotten it,' he said.
'Well, read it, then, won't you, please? I've got it here.' The boy started to read the lines. He read rather badly that night, so Home thought to himself. He stuck in one place. 'Here, you'd better go on,' he said hoarsely. So Home finished the poem to the last line of it:
Until I find the Holy Grail.
'Do you know?' he said, when he had ended, 'I owe you a debt. You've got a big balance to draw on so far as I'm concerned. I bucked up a bit, beginning from that day when we met in the train. I'd been thinking of giving up whisky, and other things, before that day. But you gave me what I wanted a start. "Now or never," I said, having seen you coming out so fresh as you did yes, and heard you recite. I won't describe you as you were then; you may or may not remember what you were like. That bit in the poem about riding in lonely places through the dark caught my fancy. I used to think of you who had gone away in the train northwards. I thought of you trading on the Mashonaland veld, and passing unscathed and unafraid over it by night and day you that had nothing to be ashamed of. Thinking so helped to buck me up. I've done better since that train journey than I ever did before out here. Now I'm doing quite well, else it wouldn't be likely I'd be thinking of going home, as I am.'
The boy looked up at him wretchedly. 'It all went wrong nearly from the first,' he said, 'so far as I was concerned.'
'Yet all the while you helped me,' Home said. 'So I owe you a debt, and I mean to pay my debts, whatever you mean to do about yours. Come on, now. Take this bed. I'm sleeping in the store.'
Thus it came about that in the morning Home, having slept upon his resolve, brought out some money. He stacked it on the table impressively. 'I'm glad I slept upon it,' he said. 'I thought last night that I'd give you the money to go home this year. I'd made up my mind almost to go next year instead of this.'
The boy's eyes lighted up. Gratitude looked out of them. Then they changed. It seemed that gloomy Fear had taken Gratitude's place at the double window. Donald stammered a bit; then he spoke out. 'I'd like to lie to you, like I did last night; but I can't somehow. No, I'm going to tell you utter' truth. I'd like you to give me the money well enough in one way. But if you did I know what I'd do. You don't know how gone-in I am. If I ever got as far as Capetown I'd drink out what was left there, or I'd blow it some way. But I'd never get so far as Capetown; I'll be honest with you. Yet thanks all the same. You meant kindly.'
'That's all right,' Home said kindly enough. 'Thanks for being straight. I thought over that first plan of mine last night. I wasn't long in chucking it for a second.' The boy listened languidly. 'I was going second,' Home went on; 'I was going second if I'd gone alone. Now let's both go together! Supposing I square the Jew for you probably you understated his account a bit (I've allowed for that) I may have enough for two thirds and something to spare. You won't mind my going too, and my keeping the bag, will you?'
'Mind?' the other said. 'I shouldn't think I'd mind, seeing it's a one-and-only sort of chance. But I don't see why you should give it me.'
'It's only paying you something on account,' Home said. 'Remember, there'll be a credit balance still after the journey's over, but you'll give me a little time to pay off that, won't you?'
So they went together in the following week by a slow train, the same sort of slow train as had carried them of old one that stopped at Peppertree Siding.
'I'd like to refund you,' the boy said while they waited there. He was beginning to get a little of his own back by then, Home thought; Home was beginning to suffer him as an inseparable much more gladly. 'I've written some things that might sell,' Donald murmured; 'things I wrote when I was traveling in lonely places among the hills, or in the bush-veld, or by the river that held me up for three days.'
'What sort of things? "Sir Galahad" sort of things?' Home asked with a twinkle.
The boy shuddered. 'No, just the other sort of things,' he answered. 'Not seeing everything right because one feels right, but seeing everything devilish because one feels devilish.'
'Hadn't you better, perhaps, burn the lot?' Home said. 'Don't talk about a refund to me. Why, man, I tell you I owe you quite a lot. Make yourself easy; you've a big credit balance to draw on.'
MAN'S AIRY NOTIONS
It is quaint how a catch of a song or a phrase of a lyric will haunt one along the lonely miles of a walk, up hill and down dale of one's pilgrimage. Hood found a phrase of a lyric dogging him down the first stages of his home-road last year. He thought little of the circumstance at the time, but afterwards he remembered it, and wondered why the thing had befallen so. The lines of the phrase had by that time gained meaning for him, more meaning than he had suspected to be in them, when he said them over to himself:
'In a wife's lap, as in a grave, Man's airy notions mix with earth.' *
* From 'The Splendid Spur,' by Q.
He remembered saying them over and over to himself along one long, sandy, thirsty stretch. Then again, when he sat down by the drift in huge content waiting for his kettle to boil; then again on a certain melodramatic night as he paddled in the rain a night he is not likely to forget.
He had been a missionary in South-Eastern Africa for ten or fifteen years, I forget which, and his leave that came every five years was once more due. He started for the railhead, some forty odd miles from his home, going by way of the post-town, and calling there for his share of the last mail.
Yes, it was all right. Nothing near at hand in Africa, or far overseas in England, barred his home-road as far as he could learn. On the other hand, at least two Southern letters bade him go back and prosper, and a new welcome had come forward to him from the North in a writing that he remembered. It was posted in an Upper River village not many miles from Oxford, and it was a bidding to a meeting of Oxford contemporaries arranged for the coming July. They had met on about that same day (the birthday of the host) five years before.
Hood remembered that day of meeting, as he sat by the drift, reading his letter, and waiting for the kettle to boil. He remembered walking out from the city of the spires, and the way the house looked as he came to it by a path through water-meadows. What gardens and green shades and coolness of comfort, he remembered, and linked with that time and that place. He dreamed a dream with the smell of new-turned hay in it, then awoke to find himself repeating that mellifluous tag of his about man's airy notions. The kettle had boiled.
The letter of invitation was written in high spirits. It was sanguine as to the completeness of their numbers when they should meet. All but one was likely to be there if only Hood would come all but one who had fallen out of the ranks. Hood was, somehow, I think, more overcast by the thought of the one exception, than rejoiced by the prospect of such a noble muster. Yet, as he strode along the road, pondering the letter, his longing for England seemed to grow amazingly. His stride lengthened as his satisfaction deepened. Twenty miles gave him little trouble that March forenoon and afternoon. He crossed the wide river in a crazily perilous ferry-boat, forded a narrow one, and supped with great content on his bread and cheese.
Meanwhile his carriers fell heartily to hungry men's rations of bully beef and millet-meal. The rains had been heavy those two or three days in that last week, as the rivers testified. Now the clouds were closing up again, and the carriers shook their heads. Their road was a lonely one. A kraal was some six miles ahead, the railhead inn was almost nine. When they had gone on for about a mile of their road, the rain began to come down heavily, just as the night began. On and on they splashed through the pools and currents of the wagon-way. Then the rain slackened. A red, elusive light shone ahead in the dip of a hollow. It seemed a wandering fire to Hood's eyes as the road twisted suddenly. But no it was a humdrum wagon-fire of logs. They clustered round it, chilly and dripping, his carriers and he. A voice called out to them from the folds of a buck-sail above. A Mashona boy was crouching in shelter there. He told them that his master was asleep on the wagon. Hood tried a greeting to this master, but it gained no answer. He began to take counsel with his comrades, as they squatted by the fire. 'Wouldn't it be fine to sleep under the wagon? Who wanted to tramp through a black night with perhaps a pouring roof of sky above, and certainly a soaked mud floor beneath?'
The carriers and he agreed to risk the storm (threatening even now in the distance). Night-prayers were said by that gladsome fire. Still, the larger of the two muffled shapes above made no sign. Afterwards Hood's bed was made by the stretching out of a strip of sailcloth. A blanket was laid over it, and a knapsack crowned it as a pillow. Hood began to settle himself in with huge content, a pipe between his teeth. One carrier wriggled himself up beside him. The two others laid themselves at his feet. By this time the thunder was rolling up relentlessly, and the flashes shone green and sinister. The storm was not long in breaking over them. The rain swished in from the west the way of Hood's right side. He wrapped his head in his five-shilling blanket; its cotton-waste was not very waterproof. He had a few more draws at his pipe in the dark. Pools were filling under him. He put his pipe down. He made haste for the frontiers of sleep. He must have got some way in that direction, for he soon found himself in his bath on the threshold of a dream. Of course, he should have hardened his heart hygienically. He should have risen and stridden on with his retainers the miles that remained. But he had his vein of weakness and sloth; he took the fury of that night lying down.
At whiles he was across the drift of Lethe in the darkness, but never for long together. Once he woke uneasily with a start and saw a flash. The crash followed as in one beat, and the rain was like the rain in King Lear. He was broadly awake now. Two carriers were nestling near him. He felt fearfully for his pipe, and almost mourned for it as washed away. He found it, and turned over with a happy sigh. 'Man's airy notions!' 'as in a grave,' 'mix with earth' he hummed himself to sleep with that brave sing-song.
The dawn had come ere he had roused himself again. It was good to find that the rain was over and the night gone, and that the fire was blazing. His carriers were chafing their hands and feet. His sleeping host bulked still as a molded shape in the buck-sail. Had he moved at all since last night? The big black-and-white and red-and-white oxen were tethered still. Would their wardens ever wake up and see them fed? The carriers tied up his packs, and moved forward with a swing. Still there was no sign from the buck-sail, boy and master alike were still within, though the sun had climbed over the hills. Hood shrugged his shoulders, and moved off down the west road. He left that little mystery, as he had left bigger riddles in Africa, utterly unsolved.
Soon they dried themselves at a hospitable hut-fire in a village. It was Lady Day. Hood noted the seasonable blue-and-white of his blanket as he hung it on a rafter. He made the morning Offering behind that vaporous screen. Then they ate their food, and drugged themselves belatedly with quinine against those perils of the night.
Hood for one felt cheerily defiant, if somewhat stiff from long bathing. 'This is life,' he thought as the sun came out, and they strode mile after mile down the valley. Afterwards came the shining drift, and the last climb up to the Station.
When Hood reached Capetown, he found a letter awaiting him. His chosen traveling companion an explorer was delayed up-country. Hood was sorry to get that letter. Then the possibilities of a lonely journey struck him. He revived the remembrances of long-room life as an under-schoolboy. He took an open berth for a three weeks' voyage. Whereas, in the English public school he had gone to, Gentiles had been many and Jews the exception, the balance was now redressed.
It was a good time on the whole that he had on this voyage, but he was glad indeed to be out of the boat and in England once more, his own South-country England! The spring and early summer were kind to Hood, then July came and brought the gathering in Berkshire. All the old forgatherers of five years ago were there, all but that one they had left behind in Africa. He had gone to sleep there, three long years ago in the past.
'How I do miss Hunter!' confided the explorer to Hood. 'They seem to have aged a lot, some of the others,' he explained forlornly.
Hood stared at him as he steered their boat down the river. He reflected.
'I think you're right,' he said. 'But you haven't aged a bit. Nor have I. Nor has our host so very much. That's how the dividing line comes in. The others are all married, much married, and like their little comforts.'
'You're right there,' said the explorer, disconsolately. 'A bread-and-cheese lunch in a bar parlor and a twenty-mile walk didn't suit Warner. He used not to be like that. If only he'd kept out in Africa after the war.'
'Warner's better than somebody we both know,' grumbled Hood. 'Having a car of his own hasn't made him any younger.'
'Never mind,' the explorer said, 'there's two of us out in Africa yet, and not likely to marry. There used to be three, usedn't there?'
'I do wish we had one to spare,' said Hood. 'It'd be rather a tragedy for the other one if one of us two deserted. But you'll try not, won't you, and I'll try too.'
While they stayed with their bachelor host, friends of his, married and single alike, were very kind to them. The rector, who had only come last year, asked them to make themselves at home in his garden. It had a blaze of civilization in its front borders, now, but at the back of the house it was rather wild and very shady. The rector's youngest sister, Perpetua, kept house for him, a girl whose English coloring took a pretty and subdued form; Hood and the explorer were much interested in her romance. The curate, Warner said, was her continual worshipper. He was a keen sort of curate that.
She had been kind to him till quite recently. Now she was uninterested, or seemed so.
The Good-bye of the reunion came round, but the explorer and Hood went not with the others. The married guests went off to their home comforts, but these two stayed on for at least a week more. They became fast friends with both Perpetua and the curate, but they found it best for social joy not to mix them.
Perpetua shared a sailing expedition with the strangers. Therein they explored much of the Evenlode, the hay-harvest breeze favoring them. Another day she went with them afoot to the Hinkseys. Certain moot points of poetic identification were hardly settled by that trip, so another followed. They came home by Cumner both days.
'She would do for Africa,' confided the explorer to Hood one night. The village band had been playing, and they had thought no scorn of it. The groups under the dreaming garden trees, and the full moon, and the white evening-star' had been memorable that evening.
'She might do for Africa,' said Hood doubtfully, 'but I wouldn't let her go and spoil her complexion.'
'If you were the curate?' asked the explorer with a smile.
'What's he to do with it?' said Hood impatiently. 'Didn't he almost promise he'd sail with me in two months' time? I want him for work.'
'That's too bad,' said the explorer; 'cut that labor-agent business. Let him stay at home and marry Perpetua. There's a family living waiting for him across the river. Won't they be happy just?'
'I don't know,' said Hood, thinking fast.
Next morning the explorer had a touch of fever. The village doctor dropped in as an anxious friend. He mustered up his courage to prescribe two grains of quinine. His patient smiled, and promised to take them with additions. Then he went to sleep, and left Hood to escort Perpetua to Bab-lock-hythe. She was adventurous that afternoon. 'She has outgrown the curate,' Hood thought. The explorer's words recurred to him: 'She might do for Africa.' 'Not if I know it,' he answered them in his own mind.
His interest in her grew that day, and the next day, when the explorer was convalescent. The day after that he said 'Good-bye,' and escorted the convalescent to Oxford.
'Good luck!' said the explorer as they parted near the Martyrs' Memorial, each bound for his own college. 'Let's stick to our own way of life, we two. Don't let's get middle-aged just yet, like Warner and Davies. And, mind, drop that agency rot, and leave the curate to Perpetua. They're just the age she twenty, he twenty-five. You, who're forty-one, have pity!'
That evening Hood smoked his pipe in a college garden. One who had taught him years ago was there. Hood was fairly candid as to his real thoughts when he talked to him. He was telling the tale of that rainy night, as the summer twilight darkened, 'I'm just forty,' he said. 'It seems as if I could hold my own a bit with younger men, D.G.!'
His friend looked at him thoughtfully. 'It's fictitious youth, he said. 'Supposing you were to try marrying and settling down. Supposing you were to try deserting your perennially youthful bride the Great Adventure, or the High Romance, or the New Jerusalem, or whatsoever you call her. Supposing you settle down with an earthly bride say, a sweet-and-twenty one! Supposing you had to toe the line of four-meals-a-day in a country vicarage. You would know your age then.'
Hood looked uninterested and aloof. But he recurred to the subject again later on, and he asked whether a certain living in the near neighborhood had been filled.
'No,' said his friend; do you want it?'
Hood flushed up. 'It's the sort of place I'd like to settle down in,' he said, 'if I were coming home. But why should I come?'
His friend made no answer at once. The same sort of wistful look came into his eyes that Hood had noticed in the explorer's eyes that afternoon.
'Why should you not?' he said at last. 'Yet I for one would like you not to renounce the perpetually juvenile lady. I'm not in a hurry to see the last of your glad, perennial youth.'
That night Hood lay in his friend's spare room, looking out over the Gardens. He was reading in bed a college list. It had pencil notes of the deaths or careers of some contemporaries. Rousing himself from his researches, he sprang up and put the book away. He leaned down to the window-shelf. What was that book with the stained red cover! He remembered a romance that had come out in his college days of twenty years ago, a book by one who had had his own rooms before him. He took it back to bed with him, and turned over the pages. At last he found the lyric he sought. One of its verses held the tag he had remembered so often, but had forgotten, and wanted that evening, wanted to confirm his own halting decision:
'In a wife's lap, as in a grave, Man's airy notions mix with earth.'
He put down the book and switched off the electric light. He lay a long while in the moonlight, thinking himself far away to earthen walls and guttering candles. He thought of the chill penury of lack of blankets that he had known in winter. Also of the sun's summer glare on white wagon-roads and Kaffir paths. What wonder that wayfarers' eyes amass many wrinkles around them? Yet how young one had kept after all; and at what speed one would age here with electric light and sheets and a stately dinner to tempt one! 'Man's airy notions.' Yes, he had got some very airy notions still, whereof the earth was not worthy. Getting old didn't matter, of course, so much; but he wanted to stick to doing his own work (his Lord's work) in his own way. He didn't want to leave like-minded friends in the lurch either. Nor did he see his way to hug the shore at home with Perpetua, while the curate braved the 'foam of perilous seas.' Would he ever have the heart to watch her fresh face spoiling in Africa? Could he bear to see it wizened and withered in the Tropic of Capricorn? No!
He was soon asleep.
His first waking knowledge was of his friend's asking him the question, 'Are you going to apply for that living?' He had his 'No!' ready from that last night.
'I'm glad,' his friend said. '"Fly our paths, our feverish contact fly!" I'd like you to take my advice and be happy yes, and useful as well as youthful.'
'All right,' smiled Hood from his pillow. 'I mean sailing next month.'
He went to his home in Kent that same day, and rejoiced in the Weald. His sister and he made a pilgrimage to Canterbury before the month was over, from Sevenoaks by way of the Downs.
'This was where Marlowe went to school,' she reminded him. 'I think he might have been almost as great as Shakespeare, don't you?'
'I don't know,' Hood answered. 'He was a different sort. I can't imagine him settled down in middle age at Canterbury like Shakespeare at Stratford. "His raptures were all air and fire." His airy notions refused to mix with earth somehow.'
The conversation was not very important, but it showed the continuing trend of Hood's purpose. He hardened his heart and went to the Upper River no more ere his sailing from Southampton, nor did he press the curate to sail with him. The latter wrote him a very dubious letter. He would make no promises about work in Africa now. Hood gathered that Perpetua was relenting.
The explorer sailed with him, to his joy, instead of the curate. They went up from Capetown in continuing amity together. At last they parted far upcountry. Hood went on his lonely way, not without some retrospects and some doubts as to his decision.
At a roadside station a well-tried comrade came to greet him. This friend had married last year, and his wife was donkey-riding and foot-faring with him. They were but just back from many miles in very wild country. Seven carriers were with them.
'Heavy loads!' said Hood, shaking his head. 'So you carry chairs and a table into the Veld?'
'Home comforts,' growled his fellow-missionary. 'Why not be comfortable? And why, too, didn't you bring a wife back? Some one said.'
Hood smiled, and the missionary's wife smiled back at him. 'He's better as he is, dear,' said she to her grunting husband. 'He's a foot-slogging free-lance. We're the household heavy cavalry. He's different.'
'Wait and see if he remains so,' rejoined her husband solemnly. Then the train screamed and went off.
Soon Hood was landing at his own rail-head and receiving the greetings of many brown people. They seemed glad to see him as he straggled back so forlornly to them up the platform, and out of the station. His holiday was done.
But he was soon forlorn no longer. They had so many delights and anxieties to share with him his traveling comrades. Soon they were striding away far up the remembered road together. They were through the drift. How low it was now in this droughty time. Then they wound along the valley. Hood peered curiously among the ruddy-leaved bushes as they came round the shoulder of a hill. Was the silent teamster still outspanned there? No, he was not there to make them welcome, or to sleep away the tyranny of their presence. He had fled their 4 greetings, fled their speech and smiles.' Never mind. If the road was lonely, Spring was in the land. How the trees and the bushes glowed! 'Surely no man ever in a land of exile found more of a warmth of welcome home!' he thought to himself.
It was on Christmas Day (last Christmas Day) that, Hood tells me, a momentous letter came to hand. It was from Berkshire, and he did not read it till the time came for him to turn towards his veld-home. He had held Christmas services in various places.
He was now looking forward to a rest and to supper-time. He was sitting outside a wayside school as he read that letter. Some Mashona children had brought him clay figures as Christmas presents. They graced the grey rock beside him one big figure and a little figure or two in clay skirts, also a quaint version of a perambulator. They showed up rather drably against the glory of Western sun and blue sky.
The letter announced Perpetua's plighted troth. It was from the curate. He added that they were both looking forward to settling down shortly in the family living. They might be married in April or in June. Hood smiled and lit his pipe resignedly.
'So his airy notions of Africa are mixed with earth,' he thought, 'honest Berkshire earth, hurst sand, or down chalk, I suppose. No, I'm forgetting. That rectory's across the river in Bucks or Oxon, I forget which. Anyhow the earth's got the better of the air, and it's arranged that Africa's not to see him.' His eyes fell upon the clay family grouped beside him. 'It's good Perpetua's having a home and a family in prospect,' he thought. 'One understands that there's a good deal to be said for such things when Christmas comes round, at any rate.'
Some words came into his head, words of his favorite poet weren't they? 'I hope I shall never marry; the roaring wind is my wife, and the stars through the window-panes are my children: the mighty abstract idea of beauty I have in all things stifles the more divided and minute domestic happiness.' He looked at those clay grotesques rather tenderly. He was thinking of a story in a life of St. Francis he had read only yesterday, how he had made him figures of snow and called them in irony his wife and children and servants. 'Here is thy wife, these are thy sons and daughters, the other two are thy servant and thy handmaid; and for all these thou art bound to provide. But if the care of so many trouble thee, be thou careful to serve one Lord alone.'
He said over to himself those unforgotten words, sadly rather than scornfully this time:
'In a wife's lap, as in a grave, Man's airy notions mix with earth.'
He shouldered his knapsack. Then he commended the clay figures to their donors; he asked them if they would mind looking after them. He was very grateful; he would have them kept in the school to remind him of things that earthy little family of his own.
Then airily and fierily he splashed away down the path for home. Through the marshland he went, and down towards the stream. He forded the wagon-torn drift eagerly, climbed up out of it, and strode away beyond.
How young and fresh he felt as he went away again on his campaign with earth and water! How air and fire subdued their sister elements to themselves!
We had been going sixteen days on the home course to England, and I had come to know him fairly well. He was a seaman who had sailed the self-same mail-boat for some years past. I remembered him on a brighter trip in summer-time when I was a good deal younger and took the languors of the voyage less slumberously. Now it was winter-time on the home-side of the Line, and I was sailing under a cloud of news grave and stern. So I was rather prone to see most things as much alike in a sort of dream of neutral colors. My seafaring friend had helped me in the sultry nights further south, had shown me a sleeping place high up among the ropes, had called me in the grey dawn, or warned me when lightning flashed and it seemed that a downpour threatened. Afterwards we had passed Madeira, a cheering vista with its white walls and red roofs and purple bougainvillea, and settled down into wintry weather and storm-vexed seas. Now the last night up the Channel had come, and the weather was calmer. We had seen the scowling Ushant coast in the sun and shower of an icy mid-day. So we were looking for a light to show very soon now an English light, a Dorset light and the pulse of our chill quickened to racing rhythm. 'How many voyages have you made before this one?' I asked my friend as we leant over a rail together. He mentioned an astonishing number. 'You must know a lot about the things that I want to know' I said, 'the going to and fro of people, their starting out and their coming back again. Doesn't it all seem pretty stale to you by now?' 'No,' he said; 'it's my living, and besides that it interests me watching the game. It's an interesting bit of the game that I see, don't you think, sir, coming to the fringes of two Promised Lands, and not tackling the job of settling down in either? I've got interests, though, in both of them.' He was silent, and we both filled our pipes again. This friend of mine interested me: his reading tastes had surprised me: he borrowed Mr. Masefield's works and Miss Olive Schreiner's, but I had not often found him communicative till that last night before reaching home. 'I'm better where I am earning a sure living,' he went on. 'I've got a boy put to school at Southampton; no, not mine I'm not married. But he's staying at school a long while. I don't particularly want him to go out to South Africa, speaking for myself. His father didn't do particularly well there as people reckon, but yet I don't know. He enjoyed his life in his own way, I think. I saw enough of him to understand that, and the boy seems bound to go back there: bound or tied's the very word. He was born up the country, and carried on a Kaffir woman's back in her goatskin, and knew more Kaffir than English, and wore veld-schoen when he came back on the boat with me.' 'When was that?' I asked. 'When his father, Walter Holmes, came aboard seven years ago come this next March. That was the second time his father traveled with me. He came on before, fifteen years earlier, when first he traveled to Africa, and I remembered him well enough. I was on the old boat. I've only served on the two boats all my time.' 'What did he go out to do?' I asked. 'Oh! he went up to join the pioneers at Kimberley. A counter-jumper he'd been, and he'd got his head all stuffed full. It was 1890, one of Rhodes' big years, the year they went north. It would have done you good to hear him talk. He was so keen, and his eyes glowed. Just like the water glows near the keel in the tropics.' 'That must have been a time,' I said; 'I've only read about it. It was before I saw the country.' The sailor grinned and spat. 'I reckon there hadn't been better days for young fellows to live in,' he said, 'not since Queen Elizabeth's reign. It came just between the two Jubilees the time. Kimberley and Rhodesia and the native wars and the Raid, and the big war looming on ahead for by and by. I reckon it was something like it was in Drake's and Hawkins' and Sir Walter's days.' That was a new view to me. But it sounded likely enough to hear him bring it out, who believed in it so evidently. 'It was all Ophir and El Dorado,' he went on; 'I used to hear lots of it from people to and fro. I'd see them going out to Africa and all the excitement after the lagging times along the coast, when they came with the dawn into Table Bay. I'd see them coming back, too, greedy enough to see Portland Light then, like that stout party over there.' He pointed to a paunchy miner who was flinging his leather cap up. 'He's seen it,' he said; 'yes, look there! One! Two! Three! 'Four!'
My own eyes glowed and my heart hopped up and down. Yonder was a verity of England once more after years of absence. People came along to our corner of the deck and questioned and stared and laughed to one another. 'But I want to hear the end of that story,' I said, and I enticed him away with me past the wheel-house to a place far out of the talk and the tramping up and down. 'How used the people to come back, did you say?' I asked him. 'Oh! some had done fairly well,' he said, 'and some were broken, but it was good to see how slow they found the boat go, getting back again, and how they hung on the lights.' 'Yet they didn't stay long in England some of them?' I hazarded. 'No,' he said; 'I'd see some coming back, and hear of lots more. The same thing over again it would seem when we came into Table Bay, only they were a bit older.' 'But some didn't come home to England, did they?' I wanted him to tell me. 'No,' he said; 'you're right there no doubt. This friend of mine named Holmes took a long time coming. But I heard from him sometimes when he was up country. He found the business of settling Canaan rough, I gathered. I think I'm glad I heard about it from a distance. It mightn't have suited me.' 'And he got married up there, did you say?' 'Yes, his girl came out on this ship when he'd been out seven years or so. He used to write to me sometimes, and he arranged about the boat she came by. She was full of the farm she was going to; he had written about it. She seemed to think that it was a regular Kentish homestead. She wrote afterwards and thanked me for looking after her on the voyage, and said she had found two huts on a kopje when she got there. All their cattle died when her boy was about six years old. Then she died. Holmes had a lot of trouble that year. So he sold up and came on board the year after. Waited for my boat, worse luck, and contracted enteric in Cape Town. I thought we should lose him off Cape Verde. But it wasn't a clammy night the night we passed the wind blew fresh and we got him by. How he longed for home, for settling down in Kent. Rhodesia was all very well when one was young, he had said. She hadn't treated him so very well, but she had taught him to value things at home. I thought we might land him home after all, when we were a whole day or so past Cape Verde. But that night a change came and he was gone. We dropped him over at sunrise, only four or five hours after, so as not to cast a gloom over the passengers, you understand.' 'And you took on his child?' I asked. 'Yes, and wanted him to settle down in the south country. No, not Africa Kent I mean. I thought I'd settle down with him in the better of my two countries. For it is the better. I who've looked down at both, like Moses on the mountain, have found out that much. But it doesn't look a bit now as if he'll believe in my advice.' 'And if he goes out, you'll follow him?' I questioned. He smiled. 'I think I'll be simple enough for it,' he said; 'I seem to want to renew my youth. I somehow used to be sorry I missed my chance to follow his father up. Now that generation's about gone the generation of King Solomon's Mines. It doesn't seem like putting myself forward so much if the boy himself asks me to come up with him, does it, sir?' 'And you want to go.' 'Well if you look over Moses' Moabitish mountain long enough, at a promised land, so to speak, you may get a hankering to go in,' he said. 'It's not a better country. It's not a heavenly; I don't make any mistake about that. But it's a country that people have thought big things about, if they have carried them out badly. I seem to have seen something of the right and the wrong of it all these nights coming north to Southampton Water or south into Table Bay.' 'And what's the conclusion of the whole matter?' I said. We were almost alone on the deck now. (There was just one lonely, lanky passenger strolling up and down. I guessed that the rest were in bed, or going to bed or having a last drink below. We went down the deck together and took our stand behind that forsaken watcher of the shore-light. He stood at gaze, pulling deeply from his pipe and drinking in the four-a-time flashes with owlish contentment.) 'Oh! the conclusion's what Solomon said right enough,' he muttered. 'Fear and keep, and keep and fear. Perhaps he'd been out and visited the men on his mines up-country.' He paused. I seemed to hear the jingling of bar-glasses in a back-veld canteen as he did so. The thud of drums, too, from Kaffir villages seemed to bear down on us. The Channel breeze came to me as it were heavily laden with the sounding challenges of the South. 'I suppose,' I said, 'it makes a big difference when one loses the northern star. Those southern skies painted with unnumbered sparks are all very well, but one lacks the pole-star of honor one steered by in England.' 'Yes,' he said, 'It's there I reckon the Southern Cross comes in, and people going south make a mistake not to notice it. When one's out of sight of the old compass-point of English opinion one feels the want of believing, if one's to make any sort of a show. It's a bad look-out if, when one lives under the Southern Cross, one can't understand it. Fear God and keep His Commandments. Do you think God would have put that cluster of stars to south if the South did not need it most?'
A LION IN THE WAY*
* This tale may seem obscure, I suppose, if read in modern English. It may be interpreted in the light of two ideas:
(1) The African idea about leanthropy or transmutation of man into lion, an idea likely to linger on, I should think.
(2) An idea prevalent as it seems in our Europe of old '. . . the idea that when a witch in animal form is wounded, say by a blow or a shot, the natural wound will appear on the human body when the witch returns to her own person.'
But I have topsy-turvied (2) in my tale. A.S.C.
I saw the lion with my own eyes, his shaggy head haloed by the rising moon. The Mashona who was with me had far sharper eyes than mine. He saw a dark scar across its brow. He would know that lion again, he told me. It was not a gun-shot wound it carried. Surely it was the caress of a brother lion.
The trader's road led down from the half-deserted kraal to the drift. It forked into two wagon ways with a huge rock to part them. There on the rock stood the lion expectant. That may not be a heraldic term, but it is a true description of him as I saw him. We watched him from the height above for what seemed a longish time.
Then in haste I stole back to the desolate kraal that I might find Trooper No. 2. Had he not the chance of his life now to shoot a lion? I found him in the kraal, angry with himself and swearing at his Black Watch boy who suffered him silently. While he swore at him I gave him some idea of what I was thinking, as to his need of humility. Had I not seen him run ten minutes before? All this took time. When at last his flow of words dried up and he came with me, we were too late. The lion was no longer against the sky-line. He had taken cover in the bush below. We heard him there once or twice, but we saw him no more. This is how these things came about.
I had traveled into that forlorn country the day before, looking for Carrot. He had been a pioneer and a reputed hero, not so many years gone past. Now he was an Ishmael, receding and receding before the tide of civilization. Like the eagle in Byron's lines on Kirke White, he might blame himself, or at any rate credit himself, for the turn things had taken. He had winged the shaft that was draining his life, or at least his livelihood. He had helped to bring on a native war that had expedited matters. He had helped to wind it up in a very few months.
So now the abomination of civilization, as he deemed it, was set up in high places of the land. It was increasingly hard for him to be a law to himself anywhere within the land's limits. He had retired further and further yet again into the fastnesses of the hill-country. Yet civilization had a graceless way of looking him up.
He was just by the Portuguese border when I visited him. I knew him of old, and I wanted him to let his eldest son come to school. He had told me a year ago to ask again.
I went through a frowning gorge of rocks to the part-deserted kraal, and found him sitting at his beer with three native courtiers. He was a tall West-countryman, with a ragged dark beard. His khaki was badly stained, and his hair was poking through his hat. He spoke the tongue of this southern country most volubly. He also reinforced it with ne'er-do-well words from Europe that did her no particular credit. Just as I came up a quarrel was in full swing. A free fight followed. Carrot broke a black earthen pot over the head of one of those three. Out came his swarthy wife that he had paid many cattle for, with his baby in a goat-skin at her back; also his other children, aged about eight, six, five, and four.
There was much confused crying and protesting. But Carrot dominated the scene in the end. The courtiers retired crying 'Shame!' and under protest. The most truculent of them was bleeding freely from his broken head. I followed him to their hamlet far down among the rocks and bandaged him. I camped outside the Carrot homestead that night and the next day, and learned something of the family's way of life.
Carrot was shooting big buck sable and roan without a license, I gathered. He was trading cattle for most of the venison that he amassed. He had by now a goodly herd feeding in a green vlei near the border. By and by he would sell them, he thought, and set himself up in a wayside public-house. That was to say, if an ungrateful Government could be squared somehow. He chuckled at my protests. He had many tales in the speech of North Devon to tell me.
Many of them concerned the police, and were not altogether unkindly, though disparaging. To Carrot, who could both ride and find his way about the veld, the police seemed often deficient as pathfinders and horsemen. The story he told about the five European members of a police camp delighted me. One had got lost. He who went out to look for him had got lost also. There was an epidemic or something of the sort just then among the native police, who, as a rule, piloted the troopers about and did nurses' work at need. One after another of the remaining three Europeans was engulfed in this exhaustive search. Then a grass fire effaced the empty police camp. Carrot ended with a speculation as to whether they were still looking for one another or whether they had begun to miss their camp yet.
He was good in a feudal way, I gathered a severely feudal way to his retainers. He threw pots but seldom. His eldest child he seemed to worship in some sort of pagan fashion of his own.
The boy might have sat for a child Dionysos with his leopard-skin, and his arm of golden copper thrown about his father's pot of beer; black and big that pot should be painted.
No, his father wouldn't let him come away with me; at least, not this year. He graciously hesitated twice or thrice. But he ended with the same proposal each time a drink and a postponement of decision. I wanted neither. I would not go on wasting my days on postponements, and I meant to start with dawn on the second morning. But at sunset the night before there had been a surprise.
Just as the sun went down a strange native appeared in hot haste and told a tale.
Two ma-Johnnies were coming down the wagon road with five or six, native police and camp-followers. The Government was looking up Carrot once again. He had had two pots of beer that afternoon, or most of them, and was not quite himself, otherwise he might have gone his way at his ease.
But as it was, a ghastly row woke the echoes, what with the children crying, and the father singing and swearing, and the mother scolding, as they tied up their bundles. Carrot kept untying his in good humor, and searching for patent medicines and a safety razor that could not be found. Then after he had started he came back at least twice to give me a parting word. Meanwhile the western glow began to be rivaled by an eastern glow. The moon was brimming over the horizon. The Philistines of civilization were almost riding into the kraal before Carrot had really gone. My Adullamite friend was slow indeed with his farewells. Would he ever be through with them? 'Good-bye!' he said. He was enjoying the emergency hugely now that he was sobered. 'You'd better walk down the road and meet 'em. Do remind 'em not to lose their mules this time. No, I won't worry you to see me off. They might ask questions. You must honor and obey the King and those who are set in authority. But you won't want to give me away exactly. So good-bye till next time!'
A hundred yards from Carrot's dwelling I met Troopers 1 and 2 Trooper No. I dusty and disheveled and livid with fever a lanky, dark man; Trooper No. 2 trim and ruddy. The former could hardly sit his mule as he trotted up to me. 'Have you seen Carrot?' he asked in a sort of groan. I said 'Good evening,' and passed on. Promptly he gasped to two native police to bring me along, and went his way forward to explore the ruinous kraal. He felt doubtful whether I was or was not Carrot, he told me afterwards. He went for the three Carrot huts at once and began to search them. There were no finds there. Then he questioned me sharply. Two of his black watch knew me by sight, and I was soon set free to go my ways. Then he gave clear decisive orders to No. 2 to ride for all he was worth to the drift. 'The river's the border,' he said; 'it's his old game to dodge across it. If he's taken his kids with him he can't cross anywhere. It's a big river, and there's only the one drift so far as I know. Go for the drift, man, and we'll have him yet!'