So Trooper No. 2, with the glory-thirst upon him, bustled off with one black boy and four black men in red and blue.
After he was safely out of the way Trooper No. I fainted. It had been hard for him to keep going so long as he had. I spread a blanket for him and made him a pillow. He was not long in coming round. Meanwhile the great moon had climbed a little. The light of the sunset was losing its brilliance as hers grew splendid.
The sound of two shots came sharply to us. A minute or so after No. 2's mule was galloping wildly past us through rocks and ruins. A native trooper rushed for it, but missed its bridle. Soon after that Trooper No. 2 galloped up on his feet. I should judge from the pace he showed that he was a real sprinter. I had noted him before as a trim little man and ruddy, and a sort of personification of self-respect. Now he was blue and demoralized.
'Have you caught my mule?' he panted anxiously.
'Have you stopped our man?' Trooper No. 1 asked him coldly, his face set very hard.
'There's a lion in the way,' gasped Trooper No. 2, quoting Scripture, whether he knew it or not. 'I got off my mule, I fired two shots. Then my mule bolted.'
'And you bolted,' said No. 1 with a sneer. He took no further notice of him, but called the Black Watch corporal and gave him his orders. 'Take three men,' he said. 'Get to the drift. Run for your lives. Leave the path and go through the bush if there's really a lion.' The four Black Watch were off almost as soon as he had spoken.
Trooper No. 2 began to explain matters at length to his senior. But the latter did not suffer him at all gladly. Then it was that I started down the drift road, asking No. 2's boy if he would show me the place where they had seen the lion. I asked him if he thought it was wounded. He answered me disdainfully. He showed me how Trooper No. 2 shot the panic way the way to heaven.
Then we came in sight of the lion standing, haloed by the disc of the moon. As I have told you, I tried to give No. 2 a chance to wipe out his stain. I went back to fetch him; he was taking things hardly, doubtless, and I ought to try and do him a good turn. He came, but the lion did not stand still to await him. Why was I so glad he escaped? I don't think it was only because I was afraid. Yet glad I was. So we gave him up, and tramped back to the kraal.
Soon after we were back one of the pursuers returned. He had seen Carrot splash through the drift. He took his time and went at it leisurely, I gathered, with his piccanin astride upon his shoulders. On the other side a crowd of natives had received him in triumph. They jeered at the police and shook their spears and knobkerries. Carrot was safely across the border and among his friends.
'It's a lost trip,' said No. 1, and looked No. 2 up and down, as we sat by the camp fire. No. 2 looked injured and ashamed at one and the same time. He was not a hero on principle, I should think, and he had not risen to this occasion. Some people seem to hold that Britishers are heroes on principle all along our frontiers, and rise to all occasions. I can testify that this is not the truth, for I know my own deficiencies. As to No. 2, there is some sort of mitigating explanation of his conduct to be yet recounted. But no, even when I have allowed for this, I am not disposed to write him down heroically efficient or journalistically British not on that night at least. Just as a Colenso now and then slips into our big campaigns, so the monotony of our frontier triumphs gets diversified, I fear, and not so very seldom. No. 2. is by no means the only man of the diversifying type I seem to have met. I refuse to admire No. 2 as he was that night, though I would excuse him.
For the hero of that night, let us look away from him. What a splendid night it was in the late autumn in the very end of May! Stars seemed to fall in profusion. But the steady ranks that were left showed no thinning to my dazzled eyes. I had much time to watch them, I remember.
Ours was a gloomy camp among the ruins under the stars. One trooper was convalescent and irritable as well as disappointed. The other was shaken and sulky with little to say. There were great pauses in the talk. I thought how I congratulated Carrot, the cheerful and irresponsible, on his escape. Assuredly his would-be captors would have seemed to him dull dogs. Of course he would have thoroughly deserved ordinary boredom. But theirs was like a London fog. So it fell about that I had much time to give heed to the Black Watch as they chattered over their fire hard by. One was telling tales of lions, tales where the terror was glamorous and ghostly. A hint of a surmise floated to me. It recalled a type of mediaeval tale that had once entranced me. But I said nothing to those young white men beside me whose frowning faces were a study, and a pitiful one. I was intensely sorry for them both. I just smoked my pipe, and made ready to go to bed betimes. I was soon asleep, to dream of holy water and silver bullets and to wake and rise as the cock was crowing (for the second cock-crow I suppose) away down the hillside; I said an added prayer of eager devotion, feeling myself to be a postulant in great need of its answer. I made for the rock of vantage. I found the lion's spoor in the growing light, and followed it slowly and timorously into the bush and beyond. There had been a shower yesterday about noon, and it was easy enough to follow it. It led down and then up again. I guessed it might be leading me to Carrot's huts and the troopers once more. But, no, it dipped far down to that other group of huts wedged amongst the rocks, where Carrot's boon comrades lived, where I had bandaged the hurt head, where I had heard but just now the cock crowing. Two huts I could see to be empty. It did not lead to either of these. It led straight to the other wherein the embers of a fire shone red. There was no lion within. I looked for the spoor of the lion's exit. There was none.
The retainer who had had his head broken by Carrot lay curled in his blanket by the fire. He was sleeping an exhausted man's sleep. It was hard work waking him. At last he sat up, a squat patriarch with grizzled bushy beard and shrewd watchful eyes. He was huddled in a queer parti-colored blanket purple and brown and orange and grey. I tried to testify to him with zeal against blackness of witchcraft. I told him with zest of the Light. He looked blank enough. Afterwards I spoke of Carrot's escape. His eyes underwent a change as I watched. The Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world, showed in them, as it seemed to me. He was genuinely glad that his baas was out of the wood. So clear an affection for the man whose mark he was wearing touched me. I half emptied my tobacco bag into his hand ere I said Good-bye in the roaring south-easter, under the saffron streamered dawn.
I surmised that Carrot owed his escape largely to a real hero ready to face fire at need, whom we white men had not recognized.
A new feeling of pity for Trooper No. 2 took me. Haply he had miscalculated things as he pursued his unsanctified way. Haply he a modern, had been handicapped from his lack of equipment, lack of such discarded kit as I had dreamed about. Quite conceivably he had wrestled last night, not only against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers unknown.
AS TREES WALKING
It was in the spring of last year that I started for a holiday journey towards some ruins about a hundred miles away. I had suffered much in the cold weather from fever and broken rest, so I longed to renew my strength before the heats of summer should be fully come.
I started on a bright and calm September morning by the main southward track, hoping to reach a friend's Mission Station on the eve of the third day.
I reached it then, but I had provoked my enemies by walking in the chilly hours, and walking to weariness. I was feverish and spent ere I reached Greenwood's Mission House.
It stood under a towering granite kopje some ten miles only from the ruins. I had never entered it before. When I last visited Greenwood, quite two years ago, he had been working on a town station. He was a dark, lean, rather ascetic-looking person, not very talkative. I remembered the days when I had fought shy of him; we had seemed to disagree on so many subjects, and he had seemed to resent disagreement so intensely. But he had written me two or three most friendly letters of late, and that nigh?, when I came to his door so sick and sorry, he seemed to be kindness itself. I soon revived by his fireside, ate my supper, and smoked and talked with him to my great content. We were speaking about roughing it, and told many camp-fire and roadside tales. As I told and listened, I seemed to be my old self of a year ago once more, tough and dogged, and rather sinfully contemptuous of mosquitoes and malaria. Yet I had but a poor night after all, and the yawning and shuddering chills came on with vigor at Church in the early morning. I went back to my blankets after an aguish breakfast, and Greenwood dosed me and told me to go to sleep. He spoke with authority, and I obeyed. I did not wake up till the early afternoon. I seemed to have lost much weight in those last steaming hours, and also, to my joy, the fever.
'I hope I'll sleep well to-night and get an early start to-morrow after all,' I said to Greenwood. He looked at me rather intently with his resolute grey eyes.
'The fever is gone for the time,' he said, 'but I don't like the look of your eyes at all. If I were you, I'd change your room to-night and sleep in the Hospital.'
'Where's that?' I asked.
'Oh, not very far; half a mile at most. It's Saint Lucy's little hospice on the hill there across the valley.'
Afterwards, when I went out and sat on the sunny stoep with him, he showed me the place. I could see a grove of trees standing up on a near ridge and two or three thatched buildings in among them; yes, and a white cross surmounting one of these.
'It looks lonely over there,' I pleaded.
'Oh, I'll come with you,' he said. 'I want to tell you the story of the place before we blow our candle out; it may help the cure.' So when sundown was near, he and three of his native retainers started with me for the Hospice of Saint Lucy, carrying goodly packs every one. I was rather dubious about that expedition.
'I hope it's warm there,' grumbled I to myself. 'If Greenwood's as strong as a horse, I am not so just now. I wish he'd camp at home in peace.'
However, I tried to look interested as they made ready for us to go and delighted, as we started away.
Just as we went across the narrow valley the sun went down behind St. Lucy's hill, and bells or gongs answered one another from either side.
'So you have a bell up there at the Hospital,' I said.
'There's more than you expect to see at the Hospital,' said Greenwood mysteriously.
So there was. It wasn't a Hospital at all in our wonted modern sense, but a rather ornate round Church. Outside, it was plain enough, but within it gave me a sense of studied charm and even costliness. No drug-covered or dispenser's table was admitted within its doors, though both were to be found in one of its neighbor buildings. The main building housed aids to recovery, but they were of another type. Over the Altar was a life-sized picture of Saint Lucy, golden-haired and blue grey-eyed, with great splendor of shapeliness and stature, and real English apple-blossom cheeks. She came along a rocky path through an African forest; she was smiling, and had a far-shining lantern in her hand. You could single out the trees in the forest, there was the crimson-flowered tree yet leafless, and the wild fig-tree in full leaf and cluster, and the wild orange-tree; the wild acacias and the cactus trees were growing among the stones above. Far off in the distance, at the back of the picture, there were dim cliffs and pale sands and waves breaking in the bright star-light.
The time was meant to be cock-crow. At least it seemed so, for a red cock was perched on a tree-pole in the foreground of the picture, crowing with a will. In the sky were many stars. The quarter over the sea whence the Saint came was of excelling brightness. There the morning star hung in a haze of glory.
The Altar itself was of granite slabs and masses. Before it burnt a purple-glass lamp, hung by chains of native smithy-work, rather incongruously heavy, I thought. But who was I to cavil at this jewel of a shrine in our wilderness?
'Where are we to sleep?' I asked.
'Here, before the Altar,' said Greenwood solemnly.
Even as he spoke his house-boy came in with hushed feet, and began to spread out our rush mats and many-colored blankets. Then we went into the dispensary hut, and had our supper and many pipes together, while the native boys chatted and chewed roasted monkey-nuts in the hut beside us. I felt very hungry and happy and healthy generally that night, and we sat at our table long, and then smoked far into the hours of darkness. But, though he told me many tales, Greenwood would not tell me the tale of the place, however much I begged him to do so. That was kept for the Shrine itself. That was not as other tales.
We kept up a good fire, for the night was a cold one.
The talk turned on pilgrimages at last; we spoke of many Shrines, of old-time ones and of others in the heyday of their youth still. Greenwood talked well on that subject. Was the aura of his own Saint in the air of that dispensary? He talked with a passionate faith about more than one Shrine, that left me almost breathless.
Then we argued about the Pilgrims' Way in Kent, as to where it was that most pilgrims forded the Medway, and about certain homely Kentish legends.
Suddenly he rose and went to the door. He looked out on the mighty vista of sable earth and spangled sky.
'The moon is just going down and you ought to be sleeping,' he said. 'And remember there is my tale still to tell.'
So we went to the Church. We had one candle between us there. Moreover, the purple lamp was burning, its quaint cup of wire-gauze averted doom from many self-immolant flies. We knelt beneath it, and he said the Prayers of the Shrine, then our own prayers followed then he began to tell:
'I was coming back from England twenty months ago and I chose to come by the East Coast. It is a beautiful way to come. I saw Zanzibar, where there are many hopes and memories. I slept two nights far out of the city there, in a grove of palm trees. Then the boat came back from the mainland and I went aboard again.
'We started for a four days' voyage or so, to Beira. She came aboard at Zanzibar, I think. Some one told me this, when I asked about her afterwards. But I was never really conscious of her presence till the second night of our voyaging. Then we met at a Concert in the Third Class, that I had strolled down the deck to patronize. To my shame I was traveling second, while she was in the crowded family of the third. I went and spoke to her.
'A child had had a bad fall from some steps, and she was mothering him. It was a lovely and pleasant thing to see how she did it.
'He should wake up without much pain,' she said, with a smile, at last. She handed the boy to his own admiring mother. Then she turned to me, for I had been asking after him.
'She began to talk about our common work. "I want to climb on a new boat at Chinde, and go the way of the Lakes," she said.
'Are you going to teach?' I asked.
'"I hope I may teach at whiles," she said, "But I am sent first of all to heal."
'She told me about her hopes for her work.
'"They tell me I have healing hands," she said. "I have a seed-grain of faith, I think, and that is the secret of them."
'I saw her only for a few moments. I will try to tell you or rather to show you what she looked like, when I have ended my story. She enlightened me not a little. I saw how lame a thing my own journey was my leisurely dawdling back to my work. This girl came as it were on wings, with power in her heart and will, that would take no denial but God's. Her few words as we walked up and down the well-deck were words that burnt and shone in the cold dark. I am talking about things as I saw them just then. As a matter of fact, I believe it was a blazing night with a moon at the full, and stars dropping over one another. I remember that I slept on deck afterwards. I had a sort of Midsummer South African Christmas picnic feeling (up till cock-crow, when the fever that had dogged me that month came again). It was really a consummate night. But as she talked, she made it seem cold and dark, her words were so radiantly kind.
'T think we talked about Saint Vincent of Paris mostly, and of men that had carried in their bodies the marks of the Lord Jesus; and of the imitation of Jesus in India and Africa. Then she said "Good night!" and was gone.
'Next day that return of fever blurred my new visions of the Light. Yet I was to see her again. An hour before we came off Chinde, she asked leave to come up on to our second-class deck and to bid me "Good-bye."
'I was lying in a deck-chair, my hat tilted over my eyes, under the morning sun. She was suddenly beside me and speaking to me. She gave me a watchword out of that confident ending of Saint Mark, to which, some people, who have their misgivings, attach so little credit. It was this, "They shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover." Then she prayed for me, lifting up her healing hands. And she held out to me a tiny flask that I might anneal myself, "For that is your own office," she said.
'My head had defied sleep, but now sleep came apace. It seemed to me it came breathing about me with the light gusts of wind. I slept, nor did I know when she said "Good-bye."
'When I awoke the sun was westering. Some passengers had trans-shipped for Chinde four hours or more ago, a man told me. She was gone, and I was well. No, not well in one way, but mending. That is all or almost all of my tale.'
He had told it reverently. Towards the end of the telling, he himself seemed to wander as he told.
'What was she like?' I asked after a silence.
'She was much like that picture of Saint Lucy,' he said.
'I found a man in the third class, who had taken a really fine photo of her, not a little snapshot. I had helped him with a sketch of the voyage he was writing for some magazine, and he was pleased enough to print me another copy. I sent it home that month. A friend painted me that panel. I suggested that the name of the Saint should be Lucy, it was on Saint Lucy's day she had said "Good-bye." The picture came a day or two before this Midsummer. He has done wondrously well, I think, if you remember that he never saw her.'
'How do you know that he never saw her?' I asked.
'Yes, you may well say that,' he said. 'I sometimes think that he had seen her, even as I. He has painted something of her light and spirit. Look how she threads' that forest by night!' He held the candle near, then he pulled it away.
'Forgive me! How can you see her duly by this light? You must have a real session before her in the morning.'
I awoke early, but not too early, as it seemed to me. Dawn was growing very bright, and spring seemed to be in the air that came from the doorway. I sprang up and looked out. Light that was already almost flame kindled the east. The leaves of the grove about me had their spring colors on. There was quite enough illumination to show how brilliant and tender they were ruddy and green and mauve, and bronze that was almost gold. Day was coming fast and so was Spring. I turned within and lit the candles on the Altar. The purple lamp was burning low. I knelt down, and saw Dawn and Spring, aye, and Summer too, in that picture. Eastern light was streaming from that lantern Saint Lucy held. It was of coral and silver set with pearls. Eastern light was in her happy face. You could see even in that cock-crow dusk in the forest, how the fig-tree and all the trees were stirring for Spring and Summer. I took note now that Saint Lucy's wreath was of orchard leaves and blossoms. I lifted up my thanksgiving there and then, as the first sunbeams shone about me, for the rest and the light that I had found, found at last for good as I hope in sultry and weary Africa.
Soon we were kneeling at the morning Sacrifice, then we went out and broke our fast in the sunshine, sitting on rocks by the wood fire. How hungry I was in that hill's pure air!
When he had done, Greenwood showed me some of the workings of the Shrine. A young mother, filleted and stately, brought her baby to him. Almost naked but roped with beads, the boy hung in the pied sheep-skin at her back. Greenwood folded a handkerchief that he had brought from the Altar about his dusky head. It was of faded blue and silver. Then he said prayers to the Father and to Christ, and again to both of them, for the prayers of Saint Lucy and that other.
'It is not good to drug children so young, is it? He asked the question as though defending himself.
'I think this may soothe him better than a powder.'
He told me how he had found that kerchief wrapped about his own head on a certain sunny day when he lay sick aboard ship. 'It was hers,' he said, 'handkerchiefs and aprons are Bible remedies.'
Other pilgrims or patients came to him after that mother with her child. He persuaded three or four of them to carry letters to the doctor in the town. But he prayed for these too, and signed them with oil from the Shrine lamp, ere he trusted them to his friend's salves or surgery. By and by came three young men with a boy. He was stricken and mad, they said. He had come home from work in a distant town last month. Now he would stay speechless for hours. He would wander far by day, and brood over the fire by night.
'Let him stay if he will,' Greenwood said. 'Let him wait in peace here, and eat and sleep his fill, if he so desires. If he shall sleep in the Holy Place a few nights, who can say what wonder Christ may do?'
The boy seemed to be an old friend of his, and stayed quietly by him. His companions started off joyously down the hill, one of them playing on the marimba. 'This is Merrie England come again,' said I. 'Did not an unburnt Lollard upbraid the bagpipe din or other music of pilgrims long ago? Wasn't that "lewd losel" told by the Kentish Archbishop how useful such music might be say if a pilgrim struck his toe on a stone?'
'There are many pilgrims at this Shrine,' said Greenwood smiling. 'I am glad about it. I think she would be glad if she knew.'
'Where is she?' I asked. 'Doesn't she know?'
'I have tried hard to track her,' he said. 'Not a trace have I found. I have asked our missions, I have asked the White Fathers. I have asked Africans and Scots and Dutch and Portuguese. But she has gone on her way out of sight.'
'She has done some work here,' I said.
'Yes,' he said, 'Angel or Saint, Faith Healer or Revenante from Paradise, she has worked wonders here. Do you know, there is a simple native cure I have ever so much faith in? It comes from the root of a tree. Have not some men and women the same sort of virtue in their wills and hands that trees have in their roots? I seem to see men and women such as Father John of Kronstadt and this my Saint Lucy of the Ship even as trees walking.
The outstanding virtue of my patroness was surely in her blossom, and in the fruit that blossom can yet bring forth. "As the apple-tree among the trees of the wood" I found her. I sat down under her shadow for those moments of time. And now, and all my days of grace, will her fruit be sweet to my taste.'
THE BLACK DEATH
This is a story of a voyage home. The boat was one of the finest on the line and we were not overcrowded. We had wonderful weather that trip, brilliant sunshine relieved by a fresh little breeze that kept its place, doing its duty without taking too much upon itself, or making itself obnoxious. In the third-class we were quiet on the whole, and what is called well-behaved, though neither with millennial serenity nor millennial sobriety.
A red-cheeked gentleman took a red-cheeked married lady and her child under his vigilant protection. Two or three Rhodesians and Jo'burgers enriched the bar with faithful fondness. Cards and sweeps on the run of the boat and the selling of sweep-tickets these all stimulated the circulation of savings. Hues of language vied with hues of sunset not seldom of an eventide.
Life was not so very thrilling on that voyage, the treading of 'border-land dim 'twixt vice and virtue' is apt to be rather a dull business.
There was no such incident as that which stirred us on another voyage the taking of a carving knife to the purser by a drunkard. On the other hand there was no unusual battle-noise of spiritual combat such as may have quickened the pulses of one or two of the boats the year of the English Mission.
We were middling, and dull at that, on the "Sluys Castle," till we reached Madeira. Then the description I have given of our voyage ceases to apply. The two or three days after that were exciting enough to one or two passengers at any rate.
James Carraway had come down from Kimberley, he told me. He was a spare, slight man, with a red moustache. He sought me occasionally of an eventide, and confided to me views of life in general, and of some of his fellow-passengers in particular. I remember one night especially, when the Southern Cross was in full view and the water about the keel splotched with phosphorescence. Carraway had a big grievance that night. He commented acridly on a colored woman that I had espied on board. She was not very easily visible herself, but one or two faintly colored children played often about the deck, and she herself might now and then be seen nursing a baby. I had seen her on a bench sometimes when I had gone to the library to change a book. I had seen her more rarely in the sunshine on deck, nursing the aforesaid baby.
'One man's brought a Kaffir wife on board,' growled Carraway.
I said, 'I thought she might be a nurse.'
'No, she's his wife,' contended Carraway. 'It's cheek of him bringing her on board with the third-class passengers.'
I said, 'Which is her husband?'
'He's been pointed out to me,' he said. 'The other white men seem rather to avoid him. I don't know what your opinion on this point may be,' he said. 'I consider that a man who marries a Kaffir sinks to her status.'
I said nothing. He did not like my silence much, I gathered. He was not so very cordial afterwards. He was a man with many grievances Carraway.
When we were drawing close to Madeira, two nights before, on the Sunday, Carraway touched the subject again.
The parson had preached incidentally on the advisability of being white—white all round. I thought he played to his gallery a bit, in what he said.
'An excellent sermon,' said Carraway. 'Did you hear how he got at that josser with the Kaffir wife? That parson's a white man.'
I said nothing.
'What God hath divided let no man unite,' said Carraway, improving the occasion. 'I don't uphold Kaffirs. The white man must always be top dog,' etc., etc.
Carraway grew greasily fluent on rather well-worn lines. I smoked my pipe and made no comment. By-and-bye he tired of his monologue.
He gave me no further confidences till the night after we left Madeira.
Then he came to me suddenly about eleven o'clock as I stood on the well-deck, smoking a pipe before turning in.
'Come and have a walk,' he said, in a breathless sort of way.
We climbed some steps and paced the upper deck towards the wheel-house. There were few electric lights burning now. After a turn or two he drew up under one of them, and looked round to see whether anyone listened.
'Don't give me away for God's sake,' he said. He held up a hand towards the light pathetically. 'It's showing,' he said. 'God knows why. God knows what I've done to bring it.'
I said nothing, but looked at him and considered him carefully. He certainly did not seem to be drunk.
Then I examined the hand he gave me.
'I don't see anything particular,' I said. 'What's wrong?'
'Good Lord! The nails.'
But the nails looked to me pink and healthy.
'Tell me,' I said, 'What you think's wrong.'
Yet he could not tell me that night. He tried to tell me. He was just like a little boy in most awful trepidation, trying to confess some big transgression. He gasped and spluttered, but he never got it out that night. I couldn't make head nor tail of what he said. After he was gone to bed it is true I put two and two together and guessed something. But I was fairly puzzled at the time.
'You're a bit upset to-night,' I said. 'You're not quite yourself, it's the sea I suppose, or something. Come to bed and get a good night.' His teeth chattered as he came down the ladder. I got him down to his cabin.
'Thanks!' he said. 'Good night! I may come all right in the morning. Anyhow I'll have a bath and try.'
He said it so naively that I could not help laughing.
'Yes, have a sea-water-bath, a jolly good idea,' I said. 'You'll have to be up early. There's only one and there's a run on it before breakfast. Goodnight!'
I saw him again in the morning outside the bathroom. He came out in his pink-and-white pyjamas; the pink was aggressive and fought with the tint of his moustache. He looked very blue and wretched.
'Well,' I asked, 'Have you slept it off whatever it was?'
'No,' he said, 'let me tell you about it.' He began to gasp and splutter.
Just then another postulant came up, making for the bath-room door.
'Afterwards!' I said, 'After breakfast.' And I vanished into the bath-room. It was probably Carraway, I thought, that had left a little collection of soaps in that bath-room. He had brought a bucket of fresh water with him apparently to give them a fair trial. There was yellow soap, a pumice stone, and carbolic soap, and scented soap. 'I'll keep them for him,' I thought. 'Somebody may jump them if I leave them here. I wonder why in the world he's so distrait.' I had my suspicions as to the reason, and I laughed softly to myself.
After breakfast he invited me back to the bathroom; there was no run on it then.
'It's quiet,' he said. Then after many gasps and splutters he enlightened me. His nails were turning color, he told me.
'Anyone would think I had Kaffir blood in me,' he said.
Also his skin was giving him grave cause for solicitude. I did not resist the temptation to take him rather seriously. I administered philosophic consolation. I reminded him of Dumas and other serviceable colored people. I rather enjoyed his misery; poetic justice seemed to me to need some satisfaction. He, the negrophobe, who was so ultra-keen on drawing the line was now enjoying imaginative experiences on the far side of it.
'It seems then,' I remarked, 'That you are now a person of color.'
He nearly fainted. He did not swear. He seemed to have lost all his old truculence. He began to whimper like a child.
'After all, I never shared your prejudices.' I said. 'Cheer up, old man, I won't drop you like a hot potato even if you have a touch of the tar brush.'
He cried as if his heart would break. I saw I had gone too far. If was like dancing on a trodden worm.
'Carraway,' I said, 'It's a pure delusion. Your nails are all right, and so's your skin. You're dreaming, man. You've got nerves or indigestion, or something. It's something inside you that's wrong. There's nothing outside for anyone to see.'
His eyes gleamed. He shook my hand feebly. Then he held up his own hand to the light.
'It's there,' he said wearily, after a while. 'You want to be kind, but you can't make black white. That's what I've always said. It's the Will of God, and there's nothing to gain by fighting it. Black will be black, and white will be white till crack of doom.'
I told him sternly that I was going to fetch the doctor to him. He sprang at me and gripped my arm.
'I trusted you,' he said. 'I needn't have told you. You promised.'
So I had like a simpleton.
'Only give me two days,' he said, 'then I'll go to the doctor myself, if nothing works in all that time.'
So I said I would respect my promise loyally for those two days.
'I only told you,' he said, 'because my head was splitting with keeping it in. It's awful to me. I thought you were a negrophile and wouldn't think so much of it as other fellows. But for God's sake don't give me away to them. There's lots of things to try yet. By the way, ask that parson to pray for one afflicted and distressed in mind, body, and estate.'
He did try many sorts of things, poor fellow. He was in and out of that bath-room a good share of both days. He also tried drugs and patent medicines. I saw his cabin littered with them. He would sneak into meals those two days when people had almost finished, and gobble his food furtively.
I caught him once or twice smoking his pipe in the bath-room or the bath-room passage. He would not venture amid the crowd on deck. Only when many of the passengers were in bed would he come up with me, and take my arm and walk up and down. That was on the Wednesday night.
Wednesday night came, then Thursday morning. Thursday forenoon was long, and Thursday afternoon longer.
At last the sun was low, and I began to count the hours to the time when I might consult the doctor.
I secured an interview with Carraway in the bathroom soon after sunset.
'Any better?' I asked for about the twentieth time.
He shook his head dejectedly.
'All right. We must go to the doctor to-morrow morning. But, O Carraway, do go to him to-night, don't be afraid. It's only imagination. Do go.'
'I'll see,' he said in a dazed, dreary sort of way, 'I'll see, but I want to play the last card I have in my hand before I go. It's a trump card perhaps.'
'On my honor,' I said, 'You're tormenting yourself for nothing. You're as white as ever you were.'
Then I said 'Good-night.' I stopped for a moment outside the door, and heard him begin splashing and scrubbing. The thing was getting on my own nerves.
I went off up on deck, and smoked hard, then I read, and wrote letters, and smoked again, and went to bed very late. I had steered clear of the bathroom and all Carraway's haunts so far as I could. Yes, and I had gone over to the second class, and I had asked the parson to do as he wanted. I had asked him the day before. Now I asked him over again.
The steward handed me a letter when he brought me my coffee in the morning. I opened it and read:
DEAR SIR, Perhaps my negrophoby is wrong. Anyhow, it's real to me. I had and have it, and see no way to get rid of it properly here on earth. Now God has touched me, me the negrophobe, and colored me. And to me the thing seems very hard to bear. Therefore I am trying the sea to-night.
'In the bath-room there never seemed to be enough water. I want to try a bath with plenty of water. But I am afraid it may be with me as it would have been with Macbeth or Lady Macbeth. Those red hands of murder could not be washed white by the ocean, they could only "the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red." What if I cannot be decolorized by any sea? What if my flesh only pollutes the sea, when I plunge, and makes all black? God help me!!! You are a negrophile and don't half understand.
I questioned the steward. He had found the letter in my place at table.
Sure enough there was a third-class passenger missing. I suppose Carraway had slipped off quietly in the moonlight to try his desperate experiment. It was a cruel business his monomania.
If I had broken my promise and called the doctor earlier, could he have been cured? Or would he have lingered in an asylum shuddering over the fictitious glooming of his nails and skin, shaking in a long ague of negrophoby.
Anyhow, I'm sorry I didn't do more for him, didn't walk him round the deck the last night at least, and try my best to cheer him. Yes, I blame myself badly for not doing that.
May God who allowed his delusion pardon that last maneuver of his! I do not think Carraway had any clear wish to take his own life.
I can imagine the scene so convincingly Carraway pausing, hesitating, then plunging into the moon-blanched water from the dizzy height above, eager to find which the multitudinous seas would do would they change his imagined color, or would they suddenly darken, matching in their tints his own discoloration?
AN OLD-WORLD SCRUPLE
'If you come back, which Heaven ordain, you'll be all the more use to the priesthood,' the Superintendent of Missions said. 'Go and serve with our fearless and faithful, approach as an acolyte the altar of freedom. Supposing you don't see your way to go, I would remind you of a certain passage about "Curse ye Meroz!" I need not insult your knowledge of the Scriptures by finishing my quotation.'
Osborne listened respectfully, but his eyes were looking far away, with dreams of the veld in them.
The Superintendent's preaching of a sort of Christian Jehad appealed to him infinitesimally.
There was a silence. He knocked his pipe out, and offered the Superintendent a sundowner.
'I'm glad to have had your opinion,' he said. 'I take it you don't want me just now as a candidate for ordination?'
The Superintendent flushed and hesitated.
'You mustn't put it like that,' he said almost irritably. 'The decision rests with you, of course. Of course we want men now and want them badly. Yet I wouldn't press my recruiting needs just now. It doesn't seem to me the right time to do so. Afterwards. . . . '
He gulped and spluttered as the big words rushed so fast to his lips.
He was enlarging on the big days for God's priesthood, when the war, please God, should be over. Big days, that is to say, if the only sort of fit and proper issue should be reached, as doubtless it would be before long.
'You mean a complete knock-out for the other side?' his hearer interpolated crudely.
'I mean a supreme vindication of our holy cause,' amended the Superintendent with conviction.
Then they changed the subject.
Afterwards, when they smoked late on the lamp-lit stoep, conversation was apt to flag a little. The layman's eyes would grow abstracted in the intervals of his ceremonious hospitality. The Superintendent watched his face intently once or twice. The man was a mystery to him. He had an uneasy sense that he had not taken his measure, and had been responsible for some sort of a misfit more than once in conversation. Why was he not more like ordinary people? Probably because he had lived a lonely life on the veld much too long. The Superintendent was conscious of a profound distrust of the untamed veld, its influence and its inhabitants. Yet his natural kindliness, reinforced assuredly by his grace of orders and Christian sense of duty, strove quite heroically against that distrust.
David Osborne walked over to see me next week, but he did not find me at home; I was camping with a native teacher's wagon some twenty miles away.
He slept at my place, and came on after me. A thirty miles' tramp or so it meant to overtake me, but he did not shrink from it. He wanted to think out things, and he liked foot-slogging on a big scale as a stimulus to thought. I was on a high ledge above the windings of the Sawi River when he found me a ledge with a great view of the Wedza hills. The sun was going down then, and their blue was just dying into purple. I got him some tea, and he drank and ate like a veldsman one who had broken his journey but little since he broke his morning fast. He told me the Superintendent's point of view, which I have already chronicled. 'It provides a certain amount of excuse,' Osborne said, 'for what I want to do. That's about all I can say for it.'
'Then you want to go?' I asked.
'I want a change,' he said, 'and adventures and all that. As to any war's being a holy war, that's Greek to me.' I smiled. I understood what he meant.
I had only just come back from a limited experience of war as a non-combatant. 'Why don't you say outright what you think?' he pressed me. 'The Superintendent does do that apparently, I'll say that much for him. Isn't Saint Telemachus still your bright particular star of Christian sainthood in wartime? And isn't Tolstoy still in your eyes a sort of forlorn hope the most hopeful of modern war-time philosophers? Or have you changed all that?'
I looked him straight in the eyes, considering.
'I have changed,' I said. He looked at me hopefully. He hadn't seen me since I had come back from the war. 'So the holy war's all right?' he asked. 'And the acolyte to the altar of freedom and all that sort of thing? I attach some importance to your opinion, remember, so don't say more than you mean. Having seen war, which do you plump for? Tolstoy, Saint Telemachus, or the Superintendent? Speak now, and kiss the Book on it.'
I would have liked to laugh, but I did not dare. He was in such desperate earnest. I answered: 'I have changed for the worse from the Superintendent's point of view. I am not the same as I was. I am more so.'
He went to the war. But he went with a share of Reuben's curse upon him. He wrote to me quite frankly from his East African camps about the things that appealed to him, and the other things. His experience seemed to bear out my own, for the most part. He considered that some deplorable things had been done on both sides, and also some very fine things. But as to the efficacy of the machine guns he ministered to, in promoting the Kingdom of God, he was under no illusions. He was possibly disposed to exaggerate things, e.g., the vitiating influence of war upon life about one. He was certainly disposed, I think, to exaggerate his own coarsening, as a not very reputable campaign proceeded. He harped somewhat morbidly on one particular strain in his letters. How much better, he surmised, it would be for Christianity and civilization if he and others like him should never return to resume their places in Christian society! Some verses that he sent me when he was under orders to join a rather hazardous expedition, have, I believe, a certain sincerity in their ruggedness. They are not very cheerful, are they?
They have a note attached to them. N.B. We had Church parade this morning, and the lesson was about Nebuchadnezzar's going into retreat.
They drove him forth as beast and not as man Till seven times had pass'd. At last he came Back to his Babylon, but not the same. Nay! For he now had learn'd of Lips on high, Herded with cattle, 'neath a dewy sky, How patience cannot fail where passion can. But we, war's wehr-wolves, we than wolves more fain.
(Grace-harden'd, deaf to Gospel, blind to Rood), Fain to seek night-long horrors of the wood Where the blood-trail is red, the blood-scent hot, Shall we return in time? God, were it not Best for Thy world we should not come again?
But he was to come again, for all his reluctance and shrinking from a return. He was to come through that campaign all right, and back to our part of Africa that he loved so dearly.
'We shall have him back, I hope, before the end of this month,' the Superintendent of Missions told me. 'The Bishop seems willing to ordain him before Christmas. He's not likely to need a long diaconate, is he? Our Bishop agrees with me that he's had just the kind of training for his priesthood that was most to be desired.' I nodded dubiously.
We were sitting in the Superintendent's well-ordered study, which he preferred to call his office. Its big window took a discreet peep at the veld, but it was not the untamed veld, only Rosebery Commonage. I searched in my pockets, and after uneasy gropings, unearthed a crumpled letter begrimed and tobacco-dusty. 'This doesn't look much like his coming up for ordination,' I said. I read an extract: 'Please give that Chinde boy in the College at Cape Town a message from me. I was glad to hear from you how well he was doing. I always liked that boy extraordinarily, and I think I had a sort of glimmer of his pastoral destiny quite early, soon after he came our way as a straying sheep. Now, from what you say, he bids fair to be a quite respectable candidate for the native ministry. Will you please offer him two or three more years at the College to enable him to qualify, should that be his own wish. I am quite prepared to be at charges for him. It's a happy augury that his baptismal name happens to be Solomon, even as it was rather a tragic one that mine happened to be David. I don't see my way to building up God's House on the old farm now, either literally or metaphorically, in the way a priest should.
I look on your boy at Cape Town as a likely substitute. Vicariously I hope to offer by his hands, since mine are now too stained to offer to my own satisfaction. I'll do David's part, please God, and help him to build up the House, in both senses, the house I might have built with my own hands, had they been otherwise occupied than they have been these last months. I am quite resigned now. It is all for the best, doubtless.'
'What does he mean?' The Superintendent's rather assured face grew quite indeterminate and puzzled.
'What he says, probably,' I hazarded. 'He's got a scruple an old-world scruple.'
I picked up the Superintendent's khaki-covered Bible, and turned over hastily the red, blue, and white edges.
'Here's the passage,' I said. 'Listen to what his namesake, the other David, said: "But God said unto me, 'Thou shalt not build an house for My Name, because thou hast been a man of war, and hast shed blood."'
'Oh, that text!' said the Superintendent not very reverentially. 'I don't think that it's particularly relevant.'
'Isn't it what he thinks that matters?' I asked. 'No, make your mind up to it. When he followed your own advice and went off to the war, he decided. He decided to remain a layman to the end of his earthly days. Some of us have got our scruples. His took shape that way.'
'I don't see why,' said the Superintendent rather piteously. He was genuinely disappointed. I liked him for the unconscious tribute he was paying to him whom we discussed.
'Be consoled,' I said with a twinkle. 'His farm promises to be a real lay centre of Christian influence. May we not rest assured of that? Trust him to encourage native industries and native ideas; Trust him to believe in the veld. Trust him to read to his veld-dwellers the Sermon on the Mount; trust him to live it rather. Trust him to deprecate, by example, as well as precept, excessive care for food and raiment. Our missions are apt to be rather over-ecclesiastical, aren't they? Far too much of an urban and Europeanized type, don't you think? Be consoled, his lay settlement may be trusted to teach us a lot. God grant that his native priest-designate he has chosen to be his Solomon, may soon come along! Be consoled!'
The Superintendent looked slightly aghast. 'I don't see where the consolation comes in,' he groaned.
FOR HIS COUNTRY'S GOOD
Percy Benson opened his eyes and looked around him. He was lying in a tiny grass-hut. How did he get there? He thought for a while slowly; his head was very hot and heavy.
Of course! This must be one of the hoppers' houses, and he had got back into Kent or East Sussex somehow. Where had he been lately? Not in Kent, or even in England. He could remember only a confused medley of traveling by land and water, and a huge home-sickness. Never mind, all's well that ends well. Here he was back in Kent surely, and in a hoppers' house. What time of year was it? That rather puzzled him. For was not that a mass of cherry-blossom not twenty yards from the tiny doorway? Why should they put up a hoppers' house before September? Why in the world should they put it up when cherries were in flower?
Never mind, he was in Kent; he would sleep ever so much better now for knowing that. He put the cup of water that he found beside him to his lips. Then he closed his eyes and slept anew. When he woke again, hours after, a big man in flannel shirt and wide-brimmed grey hat was standing by a wood fire outside the doorway. It seemed to be just growing dark. The man was cooking something in a pan over the fire. As he turned, Benson knew his face. This was his old school and City friend John Haslar. He had not seen him for years he could not remember how many.
'Hullo, Jack!' he said.
'Hullo!' said John with a start. 'That's much better. You've slept well this last time! How do you feel now?'
'Oh, better, much better,' said Benson. 'But I've had it badly. Influenza, isn't it?'
John looked at him with a question in his eyes, but did not answer. 'I think you'll do now,' he said. 'You must take some nourishment and your medicine, and then try to sleep again. I'm your man for a talk in the morning, if only you get a good night. I didn't come eighty miles to see you for nothing, I can tell you.'
Benson felt weak and weary, and did as he was told. Just as he closed his eyes he said, 'I'm glad to be back in Kent ever so glad.' He sighed a little sigh of relief. 'I can't think where I've been all this time. I am really back again, am I not?' He did not wait for an answer, but fell asleep.
He woke up once in the night, and saw John sitting by the fire and smoking his pipe.
"This is a hoppers' house, isn't it?" he began.
John turned round and looked at him with interest and pity. 'It looks very much like it,' he said.
Benson gave a contented sigh, and turned over on his side again.
When he awoke in the morning his strength was really beginning to come again. He was hungry for breakfast. He caught sight of a dark, tall form by the fire on waking. But a minute or two after it was gone, and John was back again.
'Ready for breakfast?' he asked.
Benson was soon at his porridge, and debating as to whether he should finish with eggs or chops.
'You'd better have what you really care for,' said John, and stepped outside and gave a call.
'Who's that gypsy-looking fellow?' asked Benson.
'Oh, he helps me,' said John. 'He's all right.' He went out of the hut and received a dish from somebody as he spoke.
It was after breakfast that Benson made a request. 'I believe I know where I am,' he said. 'Though I'm not quite sure, because my head's still dizzy. I believe I'm back again in High Wood, just near Hawkenbury, not two miles from my old home. What do you think?'
'I don't think I know that country,' said John, looking uncomfortable. 'And I'm sure I've never been here before.'
'I remember,' Percy Benson said, 'there used to be a little grocer's shop down in Hawkenbury Street, where they sold mixed biscuits, with lots of pink and white and yellow sugar, and glass-stoppered ginger-beer. I haven't forgotten the taste, though it's years ago. Do you think you could go down there, or send somebody, and get me a bottle of ginger-beer and a pound of biscuits. They're just what I'd fancy.'
John looked doubtful. 'I know a place that isn't so very far off, where they keep groceries,' he said. 'But I don't know whether they keep ginger-beer in glass-stoppered bottles, or if they keep that particular sort of biscuits. However, we'll try.'
Benson slept a good deal that day. He talked between whiles rather feverishly about the place, and how glad he was to be back there again. John said very little, but that seemed not to matter. Benson was glad enough to ramble on and on. He did not appear to take much notice whether you answered his questions or not. He was ecstatic rather than curious.
The biscuits came and were a fair success.
'Not quite so good as they used to be, but very good,' said Benson. 'I like these sugar ones immensely; the ones with the pink sugar are the pick.' But the ginger-beer was not of the time-honored brand. It was drinkable enough, but it had a cork tied, instead of a long cool mouth with a glass stopper.
'I must walk down and do some shopping for myself to-morrow,' Benson said. 'What a summer we're having. Did you ever see such blue sky as we've had yesterday and to-day?'
Next morning he was much better, and could get up and walk about a little. John looked uncomfortable at times, as they sat over their breakfast by the fire under the great trees. He was trying to make up his mind to tell his friend where he was, and to recall what had happened to him. He could see that, now the fever-mists were melting, he was likely to be remembering for himself before long. But how could he break things to him easily without giving him a dire shock in his worn-out state?
Then to him pondering, the crisis came of itself.
Suddenly out of the woodland stepped a party of natives with monkey-nuts, sweet potatoes, and other wares, very cheery and smiling.
Benson started and his eyes grew troubled. 'Is this Africa?' he said. 'Then I'm not home after all not home after all.'
'You're in Africa,' said John. 'You came up here about three months ago, so they told me.'
'I remember,' said Benson. 'There was some money trouble in the City some bad trouble. Then I had to leave my little place in Kent near Seven-oaks, just as I was getting it to rights.' He looked miserable as he thought over things, this sallow little City man.
Meanwhile John traded some monkey-nuts and sweet potatoes for salt, and sent the traffickers away.
Afterwards Benson began to talk out of the bitterness of his soul, and John lit his pipe and listened gravely. He talked about his little estate near Sevenoaks, the cottages and the farm, the Elizabethan manor-house, the school and church, the timber and the planting of the new trees. 'I was just getting the place into shape,' he said. And then he nearly broke down and cried as he told about the trouble in the City, and how a family council had been called, and he had agreed to go to this country for his country's good, and to keep away. 'Oh this farm, as they call it,' he said 'these thousands of acres of grass and rocks with a tin shanty to die of fever in! How wretched I've been here! But we aren't on the farm still, are we? This seems a bit better. It regularly took me in, this place. I did really think I was in Kent again.'
John knocked out his pipe solemnly, and was just going to try and say something comforting.
But Benson began again. 'And how did you get here you, the only friend I've got in this wretched country?'
John told him that he had come down to see him, when he did, without knowing how ill he was. He had had a letter from him, at his store up in Rosebery last month, and for old sakes' sake he had driven down when he had a chance to come away. When he reached the farm he had found Benson lying at his homestead unconscious from fever. The natives who were waiting on him seemed to think him in danger. They said he had been sick for days. John had gone to bed early that night of his coming to the farm a glorious moonlit night. But long before dawn he had been roused by a Kaffir boy with the news that Benson had risen and rushed out. They tracked his wanderings to that beautiful stretch of woodland, and managed to house him in a garden-hut of grass, close by a clearing among the trees. Either John or his native boy kept watch over him day and night then. But when he awoke with that happy fancy of being at home, John kept away the native boy, and put away, as far as he could, all the distinctive signs of Africa. That dream of being at home might be a real help in tiding his friend over a very wretched time. There he camped under the two great trees with the wild white-flowered bush so like an English cherry-tree in full September bloom about him, and wondered what the issue of that comfortable delusion of Benson's would be. It could not be expected to last anyhow, now that he was coming back to sense and strength.
Benson writhed as John finished his story. He went on with the tale of his own black loneliness and grey home-sickness. The glory of Kent and the charm of High Wood seemed to be gone like the shadows of a dream already. What good had they done him after all?
John felt miserable as he heard him out. 'Look here!' he said, 'I've been doing well at the store, and I've got a good many cattle that I'd like to run on this farm, if we can come to terms; and I'll try and drive down every month or other month, and stay with you for a bit and see how they're getting on.'
Percy Benson's face grew bright again at that saying. He was very weak, and prone to sudden ups and downs.
'Oh, do promise you'll come every month,' he said. 'Weeks are so long, and the one mail-day a week comes always terribly slowly. Do promise.'
John promised faithfully.
Next day they went back to the homestead, a dull little iron building on a rather feverish site. 'If I were you,' said John, 'I'd build where you have been lying sick. I don't like the look of this other place at all.'
'Yes, I shall build in High Wood; I want to call it so now. It's a magical place, I think: I shall always feel something is home-like when I'm there.'
Life was growing brighter to him. His fever-fancy had opened his eyes a little to the charm of the new country it was, at least, here and there, not unlike the old country.
'I think I shall fancy this place more now,' he said to John on the morning they parted. 'But, oh, if you could only have seen that little place of mine five miles from Sevenoaks!'
'Look here!' said John. 'You've got a bigger estate here than ever you had there, and you can find the same sort of interests in it. Study your Kaffir tenants, and help them with ideas about stock and ploughing and church and school. Your neighbors don't. Well, more simpletons and arrant wasters, they! Believe me, you'll find the new life much more like the old life in Kent, if you do. Then study tree-planting, and look after this grand old native timber. Expect me next month, on the 23rd.'
He went away and left Benson lonely. But the real blackness of his loneliness was gone. The planning of the new homestead would keep him busy for a long while now. Was not healing virtue exuding from that soil, which the happy dreams of his recovery had consecrated? His fever had given him a new point of view, or rather given him back his old Kentish point of view delight in God's own country sights and scenes, care for his tenants, and hope.
LE ROI EST MORT
The railway had almost crept up to Alexandra Then—the seventy-three miles of its sandy pilgrimage were all but complete. In three months or so it would be open to those who could afford their penny a mile no, but I am forgetting, on the privileged group to which it belongs no European may travel third-class.
I did not welcome that railway with any warmth. The district that it tapped had seemed to me a camping-ground of refuge, as civilization pressed on. That district was a haven for the Kaffir-trader, a haven for the transport-rider, a haven too for the foot-slogging missionary, like myself. We have our faults, all three doubtless, and deserve the spurning of civilization's iron feet, when our time comes, doubtless. On the other hand our displacement is a matter for some sympathy, it is likely to hurt like other displacements. Also we are prone to note that the admirable iron feet of our displacer are not unmixed with baser clay.
I came to Shumba Siding last Eastertide, on my way to Alexandra. Charles Miller was there in charge of the line, and he offered me a thirty-one mile ride in to within two miles of town if I would only wait for a construction train. I declined in my stupid sentimentality. For one thing I hate breaking up a plan of combined foot-travel; it seems to me hard on one's native fellow-travelers, on whom one is apt to call for big efforts. To ride on ahead, and leave them struggling alone with the sandy monster of a road for any long distance, seems vile desertion, and I was by no means sure that the invitation to board the train included them. Moreover, this might be my last journey in, on the old road, under the old order.
So I declined, but I lunched with Charles Miller Before I went on. Marvell was there, the Kaffir store-keeper from ten miles away. He had much to tell me of his wonderful good luck. The big firm that were putting up the new Store at Alexandra, that rail-head terminus designate, had asked him to manage it.
He could marry now on his prospects. He had wanted to see me, and had waylaid me on my road. The bride was due by coach to-morrow. He hoped to get a Special License when once she had arrived. Would I marry them on Monday?
We had a good lunch with healths afterwards, but they let me drink them in tea. Miller proposed the health of the bridegroom, to whom the railway, or ever it came, had brought luck. Might his luck last while the rails lasted, and grow heavier when they should be replaced by heavier metals! Might he never make less in a year than that railway had cost per mile! 'Three thousand five hundred will take some making,' Marvell sighed to me. He acknowledged the toast and proposed the Railway's prosperity. He grew rather florid to my thinking, about the benefit to the District how Kaffir gardens were to be displaced by up-to-date farming, how tourists were to pour in athirst to explore its ruins. He discoursed of the blessedness of ranching, and of chrome and asbestos syndicates. He said that we were in at the death alike of malaria, of blackwater, and horse-sickness. Then I spoke up for the other side. I asked them to remember the old Era in silence, and if they must drink, to drink to the transport-road and the transport-riders, and to all pioneers, and old hands going and gone, to the big native district and its dependencies, so rich in cattle and so rich in grain, to God's Eden of a country, and the people that He Himself had chosen to set there to dress it, and to keep it before our coming. My toast fell rather flat, I noticed. They both looked rather bored.
Soon I pressed on, with fifteen miles or so to cover before our camping-place would be reached.
I had gone some ten miles before the construction train passed me, and my carriers pressed through bushes and long grass for a nearer view of it.
With three or four white men on the engine, a Black Watch or two and a few other natives on the trucks, it snorted along through the woodland. As the night deepened and the moon rose, we came close to the last coach-stable, and were soon encamped.
The old Basuto near by gave me a drink of fairish water, but water was far away, I was told. My boys straggled away wearily, and came back at last, having seemingly missed the dipping-place. They had brought something between a liquid and a solid. Boiled, it was no doubt wholesome enough, but its taste was not such as to tempt to excess.
That night I dreamed, with a tag of Marvell's speech buzzing in my head (I had garrisoned it with quinine before I slept). That tag rang out in boastful refrain like the natives' curfew-bell of Alexandra, a bell not always very punctually rung. 'We are in at the death of malaria, of black-water, and of horse-sickness.'
So clanged the bell, the bell in the market tower, the tower of the dismantled pioneer fort. And it seemed to me that I saw Malaria a lean yellow ague-shaken shape with a Cape-boy sort of face, steal away out of the town past the new Railway Station, and across the river. He went, like a frightened Kaffir dog with a jackal-like yelp, far away into the Veld. I am not sure whether he did not become canine on the way, at least cynocephalous. I followed him. I went far in that following, over country that I remember as very difficult, there were so many stumps of trees about. Moreover, it had abundance of black-jacks to stud one's socks with. 'He is going through dry places seeking rest,' I thought. 'Soon he will return.' And sure enough we were to return by-and by. And a jackal pack of seven, that I was somehow expecting to come, came with us. We saw the lights of Alexandra soon, but the people had gone to bed, it seemed. There was no one about anywhere. Then the leading jackal fed foul and lapped long at a great black drain. Afterwards he howled under a window of the Hospital, and leaped through it, straddling his legs. Then I awoke.
I married Marvell on the following Monday, and partook of his wedding-lunch. He made a far more florescent speech than that earlier one, it compared with it as the nuptial champagne with Miller's bottled beer.
'The old Pioneer is now dead,' he told us, 'as dead as the Dodo or the Great Auk. No longer need we take Quinine to be "our grim chamberlain to usher us and draw" . . .' (here his memory of Hood failed him). 'No more need we shiver in our Kaffir blankets at Kaffir Stores 'fifty miles from the dead-ends of rail-less post-towns. "Le roi est mort." Malaria is dead or dying so far as Alexandra is concerned. We Alexandrians are now becoming wholesome Englishmen in a wholesome White Man's country. Long live the railway, and may it perforate the Alexandra District!' 'Amen,' said the best-man fervently. But I said nothing.
I admired Marvell. It was just like him to press a guinea on me for my Mission, though I told him there was no fee of any kind, and that I was ever so glad to be there. The remembrance of my dream stung me. I said something for conscience sake. 'Civilization has its perils,' I said dully, 'immature civilization. The period between no-drains and the up-to-date drainage system wants some living through.' 'That's all right,' Marvell declared. 'I'll watch it. I didn't go through Bloemfontein in the War for nothing.'
'Le roi est mort: vive le roi! 'Alack! If Malaria slackened hold, enteric tightened its clutch. People were found to say that the latter state of Alexandra was worse than the former. Marvell and Rose Marvell both got enteric. But, thank God, the uneasy misgivings engendered by that eight-devil dream of mine about Alexandra were not justified! They both won through. They are going back to England for a change next month (the hay-making month at home), they tell me.
'God made the country, and man made the town, and the devil made the little railway-swollen, transitional, Alexandra-sort-of-town.' So Marvell wrote to me by last mail. He is not so keen now on the transition stage of civilization for his wife's residence. He is thinking of a pioneer place in Northern Rhodesia, either that or London. If the perils of the old regime in Alexandra are diminished, the perils of the new regime appear to have a knack of growing.
THE RIDING OF THE RED HORSE
Isaka rubbed his eyes, but he did not unroll himself yet out of his blankets. He was lying in the darkness with a round of white walls dimly seen about him. Through a hole in the grass roof, a star met his fixed gaze. The cocks had but just crowed the second time, and the light was but just winning way in the east. The night was holding out steadily so far.
Was it he, Isaka, who had awakened, or some other? He was not very clear. Strange alike looked the happiness behind, and the hope before him. He was not sure of himself in that twilight of his senses. It seemed scarcely believable his title to either gift of heaven to memory or to expectation.
Surely but slowly his brain cleared, his doubt grew faint as that star was growing, his outlook bright as the one pane in the wall, looking east. He sprang up with one of the best wills in the world; he was far too happy to be drowsy any longer. Soon he was washing himself, and dressing himself in white, with real zest. Last night had been a joy-night indeed, and the morning promised brilliantly. It was doubtless he himself who had both reached and enjoyed the night's happenings, he also who now stood firm on the threshold of the morning, having reached that also. Isaka, who had been Kadona, was a native of an African village with a far glimpse on fair days of Kilimanjaro. Being born where he was, and dwelling where he did, he belonged to a certain Central European Power. Certain manifestations of that Power had made him uneasy from his goat-herding boyhood onwards.
He had walked warily, and kept an unscored back, but he gathered that fellow subjects were not always so fortunate. At last the claims on his attendance of a Government School had become importunate. Suddenly he took his fate into his hands, bade his family farewell (was not his mother dead these two years?), and made for a track through the forest. Since he must go to school, he would choose his own schoolmaster, and he chose one that he knew. This teacher, as it happened, stood for another European Power further west. He was fast ageing now, he could remember the days before Europe divided up with such appetite so much of Africa. He had been traveling on some teaching errand, and had fallen sick and lain nearly a whole month at Kadona's village. Kadona had brought him many gifts milk and ground-nuts and honey. The sick man for his part had not been thankless. As for gifts, he had given a knife and salt and soap and matches, but he had also shown fellow-feeling, which meant much more. Their friendship, signed and sealed outwardly by what they gave, was underlain by affection of a promising sort. So Kadona went to this teacher's mission, as to a city of refuge, traveling through a bush country, and sleeping in huts of a strange speaking tribe two or three nights of his way. He came to his host as man and friend, and his trust was not abused. Afterwards his host, known better, revealed new uses, he could doctor a little, he could teach more than a little, he also held keys of certain joys and wonders.
By and by Kadona was illuminated to some extent by his friend. He was allowed to exchange his name when the approved fullness of time was come, on a day of benevolent mysteries. Henceforth he was Isaka. He had changed his name six months before the eventful morning I have chronicled changed it at the season he had come to reckon the years by the good time of Christmas.
Now this last night had been a brilliant one in the church that he had learned to care for. There had been much glow of candles and splendor of psalms and anthem. He had been taught to make himself ready with light, so to speak, in view of the greatest illumination on earth the Sacred Banquet of the morning. The words of the anthem had rung in his ears like a trumpet in the night, they had peopled and painted his dream. 'And I saw and behold a white horse: . . . and He went forth conquering and to conquer.' This morning was the Banquet morning. It was no marvel that Kadona had been wonder-stricken at his awaking. The sense of moving in a vision was hard to escape from, it seemed to him. He moved towards the church like a man in a dream, and his feet felt for the steps. Was it he who had been herding goats but a few years ago, who had seen what he had seen on nights and at dances, who had felt so naked and helpless before a harsh Government not so very long ago? It did seem that it was he, and he was very grateful. He stole into the church soft-footed, and glided towards the blazing altar. Then he waited, trying to remember what it was best to remember at such an hour. Had he repentance, faith, gratitude, and love? He had so much of the last two surely as to make some amends for defects of the others, or at least he thought so. Yes, there was no mistaking his thanks, he thought to himself. He remembered his night's dream afterwards when the bell rang, and the Rider on the White Horse drew so near. Then he lifted up his heart that he might meet Him on His way, tried to open his heart as wide as it would go for the conquering Presence to ride into it.
The scene was a mission station once more, but a different sort of interest appeared to be paramount in this busy station, other than plain Evangelism. This was a Lutheran Mission, used now in time of war as a collecting centre for the rice of the countryside. The foreboding of Isaka's teacher had come but too true. When Isaka had been telling him (on the day after the great day) his dream of the White Horse and his Rider, he had read to him the story of other horses and other riders out of Saint John's Vision. And his face had grown troubled as he added, 'We have proved what the riding of the black horse means here in this mission of ours. Do you remember years ago how the rains were short here, and how the people went hungry afterwards? And now there are clouds in the sky clouds not of rain. Will the Red Horse be ridden, as some prophesy? I seem to see him with the bit in his teeth spurred by his rider our way. Pray, Isaka, I beseech you, that the Red Horse and his rider be turned in their road.' And he told Isaka something of what he meant, also something of what that riding might mean to them all. And he would have Isaka pray, and his schoolmates pray also. And they prayed, but for all that this mad rider came galloping, the rider of whom Saint John wrote, 'And there went out another horse that was red; and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: . . .'
It was nearly a year now since that morning Isaka remembered so well, when the White Horse was ridden his way. Once again when awaked.
Isaka, Kadona, was not sure if he was dreaming, but this time the main reason for doubt was that things seemed too bad rather than too good to be true, things that had come or were coming, upon the earth. Nearly a year ago now the news of the riding of the Red Horse had come. Europe was in a horrible temper, and Africans must do as usually, not what they wanted to do, but what Europe bade. Isaka's English teacher must leave his school or his liberty, he must either run away or stay fast in the Government's hands a Government that was fighting England. He chose to remain, hoping to help Isaka and others, but he had very little power on earth left to him. For a little while he was allowed to stay in his old home, and the school began to be broken up only little by little. Then the pace quickened; some were drafted off as porters, some as soldiers, some were allowed to stay and cultivate for the Government. Its local officials' tempers had apparently not improved with its troubles. None on this alien mission within its borders were liable to be accounted trustworthy, all were liable to suspicion. Yet Isaka worked on happily for a while. When his teacher was moved to a place of internment he was allowed to keep one body servant. He invited Isaka to come, and Isaka came right willingly. He might have been passed by, and the choice lain among others, but his teacher asked him as the first choice of all, if he would come with him? Was it likely that he would refuse?
Then suspicion fell upon Isaka in a day of rebuke and blasphemy. Probably he was to blame, probably he said more than he should have said, probably he did not recognize how well off he was. Anyhow the blow fell, and he was to be envied no longer, as he had been.
He was beaten rather mercilessly, and taken to be a Government porter in a district far away. The tears came into his teacher's eyes when he bade Isaka farewell; his own captivity was wearisome, he was beginning to feel his age now; also this boy had been as a son to him.
It was all like an evil dream, this war, so fecund of death and parting among friends, this riding of the Red Horse that had haunted Isaka's visions of the night. The light was just coming when he awaked from them at the German Mission Station. He was loath and slow to unroll himself from his one torn blanket and to step out of it. But someone kicked him angrily, and then needs must. He had come on these last days ever so many miles, and carried a full load. He struggled up stiffly, and crept to the little fire that two of his fellows were heaping and lighting while they chattered together. They were tribesmen of a district far from his own. One was telling a story of how their white masters with native soldiers had raided, a village. The other, whose village it was, full-stopped the story with grunts or deprecations. There had been some throats cut. Folk had been bidden to lie down, so the teller said; they had lain down as for the lash, but they had been paid in cold steel. Isaka listened dazedly. The end of his Christian era seemed to have come as suddenly and unexplainedly as the end of his Pagan era. His teacher had preached 'love,' 'love,' 'love,' with Pauline iteration, and not a little self-repetition. His teacher had taught that war was an unclean thing haunting the heathen world, and lurking in the blackness of Pagan villages. His teacher had deprecated violence; it was his rule never to strike, nor ever to rule by such fear as cast out love.
Now, an askari (a native soldier) came up to the three, and he was storming furiously. He laid on his lash right and left. Isaka did not escape. They were to carry their loads at once, it was said, by forced marches to a rice mill at the lakeside. In another five minutes the big train of porters took the road, and spread itself like a serpent up the trackway. Isaka was the twentieth or the twenty-first in their advance. I do not think that his illness which was to show itself in a day or two, was really manifest on that day. Yet he went very heavily. Such maladies were certainly upon him as a poet has diagnosed, 'blank misgivings of a Creature moving about in worlds half realized.' The ridings of Red and White Horses had so fast succeeded one another in Isaka's circle, and had brought such different worlds and atmospheres in their respective wakes!
The Riding of the Red Horse 253
Three days after, they were at the rice mill, and a July day was breaking. Isaka lay and listened to the lapping of the lake water lapping of the water in the greatest of African lakes. He was lying beside a creek that was papyrus-fringed with curtains of feathery green. A cloud of lake flies hung dark in the distance. The soft lake haze redeemed landscape and waterscape now from overclarity of outline the besetting blemish, as some might think, of its mid-day. Isaka was really ill that morning. He could hardly stir hand or foot. An askari came and looked at him, and said something to his German officer. The latter came and laid his hand not unkindly on his brow, found what the heat of his body was, and gave him some drug out of their scanty store. The great war with their fellow Christians was pinching them sorely in the matter of medicines these sturdy patriots of Central Europe. They were keeping their flag flying in a feverish land where febrifuges meant much indeed. Isaka was let lie, and he brooded over his dream the old dream that had come back so intrusively last night into such alien surroundings. For he in the province of the red-mounted rider had dreamed that He on the White Horse came as an invader, the light of daybreak in His looks, the faith of conquest in His eyes.
Now, a friend happened upon Isaka that morning, one who had been reared upon the self-same mission-crowned hill whither Isaka's homesick mood harked back. How they spoke of old days together, and warmed their chilled hearts again! Surely Isaka's dream had heralded a measure of restored joy for him that morning, if nothing better and more lasting. He spoke of his dream, and of how it came first as the prelude of that Banquet, and of how his heart had danced on that Banquet morning, and the sun had danced in his sight at the sunrise. His friend was allowed to stay by him, for the transport officer was kindly, and they talked on and on. Isaka knew now that they thought his sickness a great one. Suddenly came a wild stir among porters and native soldiers. One of the English lake ships had shown round the point to northward, and was heading fast for the bay. The one German hurried down among the transport crowd, bidding them make haste and take cover. His friend left Isaka. He was one of the few soldiers who were to line the trench in a banana grove ready to dispute a landing. But Isaka was bestowed in some long grass; there was little time to carry him far. The ship rang and slowed down, then she crept like a lean black panther into the place that suited her spring. Soon she rang again, and stopped dead. There was a ghastly pause of stillness. Crash! Her twelve-pounder spoke. Crash! and crash! again, five times over. The rice mill showed a gaping wound by now. Then two boats were lowered, the Indian Ship's Guard and the British officers crowded into them, and the African sailors pulled for the shore. Isaka crawled to a hummock, and peered out to see what was happening. The shell fire had made him pant and shake, his lips were full of prayers remembered and half-remembered. The boats came nearer, they were almost up to the log-built pier now. Had they been left alone till they had come further, there might have been hope for the ambush of a great bag, while the Indians were bunched together on the landing place. But those in the banana grove trench were eager, they would not hold their fire. The rifles cracked, the bullets thrashed up the water, men crouched down in the drifting boats with oars and rifles waving rather helplessly. It looked as though they were likely to pay toll, wide though the shots had gone as yet. Then the oarsmen pulled themselves together, and rowed back for the ship's protection. There was not even an oar or a boat hit after all.
Isaka stared eagerly at the fight. He showed himself. A minute after the ship's shrapnel burst near him, putting death's fear upon his weakness. Someone had said that the ambush was in the grass rather than in the banana grove, the ambush that was screened so well. Was there just will and time left to invoke the Rider on the White Horse of that unforgotten and abiding vision? I think there was. Then the shrapnel burst over Isaka. He was blotted, as his fellow Christians of the ship and her guns might have expressed it. The twelve-pounder (or was it the four-inch?) crashed again and again. The Maxim coughed and spat in a paroxysm. The Rider on the Red Horse rode on relentlessly.
THREE AND AFRICA
We all three went a common way with rather a bad grace, and Africa in a measure dominated our movements, or at least our proposed destinations. I think she tightened her grip on all our three affections by that journey, she made us more of her slaves she has ever a hankering after the slave-trade, has she not? In her shrewdness she gained a grip on us by very diverse expedients. Me the restless, so feverishly tired of her, she exercised in fresh fields. One result was, that I found out in those trial-grounds ever so many reasons why flight from Africa would be unthinkable for me. While as to him, my friend, whose doom of exile from her she had herself done much to bring about, I am sure that she dazzled him on that his road to the railway (his Via Dolorosa,) making assurance much more sure that he must leave his heart with her. As to her, my other friend, who had taken Africa so complacently and so very much for granted, Africa made revelations to her at each stage of a journey that was rousing in itself, for it brought her away from her western station to a very different countryside. And if these revelations were not prone to stimulate affection, I am quite mistaken. I could make out a strong case against Africa, on the grounds of that journey, as capricious, inconsiderate, and so on. Yet before I have done, I want to indicate pleas of extenuation.