Chapter XXXI. "Golden Joys."
 

The voyage to the Cape was long and tedious. On the whole way out, Guy made but few friends, and talked very little to his fellow passengers. That unhappy recognition by Granville Kelmscott the evening he went on board the Cetewayo poisoned the fugitive's mind for the entire passage. He felt himself, in fact, a moral outcast; he slunk away from his kind; he hardly dared to meet Kelmscott's eyes for shame, whenever he passed him. But for one thing at least he was truly grateful. Though Kelmscott had evidently discovered from the papers the nature of Guy's crime, and knew his real name well, it was clear he had said nothing of any sort on the subject to the other passengers. Only one man on board was aware of his guilt, Guy believed, and that one man he shunned accordingly as far as was possible within the narrow limits of the saloon and the quarter-deck.

Granville Kelmscott, of course, took a very different view of Guy Waring's position. He had read in the paper he bought at Plymouth that Guy was the murderer of Montague Nevitt. Regarding him, therefore, as a criminal of the deepest dye now flying from justice, he wasn't at all surprised at Guy's shrinking and shunning him; what astonished him rather was the man's occasional and incredible fits of effrontery. How that fellow could ever laugh and talk at all among the ladies on deck--with the hangman at his back--simply appalled and horrified the proud soul of a Kelmscott. Granville had hard work to keep from expressing his horror openly at times. But still, with an effort, he kept his peace. With the picture of his father and Lady Emily now strong before his mind, he couldn't find it in his heart to bring his own half-brother, however guilty and criminal the man might be, to the foot of the gallows.

So they voyaged on together without once interchanging a single word, all the way from Plymouth to the Cape Colony. And the day they landed at Port Elizabeth, it was an infinite relief indeed to Guy to think he could now get well away for ever from that fellow Kelmscott. Not being by any means over-burdened with ready cash, however, Guy determined to waste no time in the coastwise towns, but to make his way at once boldly up country towards Kimberley. The railway ran then only as far as Grahamstown; the rest of his journey to the South African Golconda was accomplished by road, in a two-wheeled cart, drawn by four small horses, which rattled along with a will, up hill and down dale, over the precarious highways of that semi-civilized upland.

To Guy, just fresh from England and the monotonous sea, there was a certain exhilaration in this first hasty glimpse of the infinite luxuriance of sub-tropical nature. At times he almost forgot Montague Nevitt and the forgery in the boundless sense of freedom and novelty given him by those vast wastes of rolling tableland, thickly covered with grass or low thorny acacias, and stretching illimitably away in low range after range to the blue mountains in the distance. It was strange indeed to him on the wide plains through which they scurried in wild haste to see the springbok rush away from the doubtful track at the first whirr of their wheels, or the bolder bustard stand and gaze among the long grass, with his wary eye turned sideways to look at them. Guy felt for the moment he had left Europe and its reminiscences now fairly behind him; in this free new world, he was free once more himself; his shame was cast aside; he could revel like the antelopes in the immensity of a land where nobody knew him and he knew nobody.

What added most of all, however, to this quaint new sense of vastness and freedom was the occasional appearance of naked blacks, roaming at large through the burnt-up fields of which till lately they had been undisputed possessors. Day after day Guy drove on along the uncertain roads, past queer outlying towns of white wooden houses--Cradock, and Middelburg, and Colesberg, and others--till they crossed at last the boundary of Orange River into the Free State, and halted for a while in the main street of Philippolis.

It was a dreary place; Guy began now to see the other side of South Africa. Though he had left England in autumn, it was spring-time at the Cape, and the winter drought had parched up all the grass, leaving the bare red dust in the roads or streets as dry and desolate as the sand of the desert. The town itself consisted of some sixty melancholy and distressful houses, bare, square, and flat-roofed, standing unenclosed along a dismal high-road, and with that congenitally shabby look, in spite of their newness, which seems to belong by nature to all southern buildings. Some stagnant pools alone remained to attest the presence after rain of a roaring brook, the pits in whose dried-up channel they now occupied; over their tops hung the faded foliage of a few dust-laden trees, struggling hard for life with the energy of despair against depressing circumstances. It was a picture that gave Guy a sudden attack of pessimism; if this was the El Dorado towards which he was going, he earnestly wished himself back again once more, forgery or no forgery, among the breezy green fields of dear old England.

On to Fauresmith he travelled with less comfort than before in a rickety buggy of most primitive construction, designed to meet the needs of rough mountain roads, and as innocent of springs as Guy himself of the murder of Montague Nevitt. It was a wretched drive. The drought had now broken; the wet season had begun; rain fell heavily. A piercing cold wind blew down from the nearer mountains; and Guy began to feel still more acutely than ever that South Africa was by no means an earthly paradise. As he drove on and on this feeling deepened upon him. Huge blocks of stone obstructed the rough road, intersected as it was by deep cart-wheel ruts, down which the rain-water now flowed in impromptu torrents. The Dutch driver, too, anxious to show the mettle of his coarse-limbed steeds, persisted in dashing over the hummocky ground at a break-neck pace, while Guy balanced himself with difficulty on the narrow seat, hanging on to his portmanteau for dear life among the jerks and jolts, till his ringers were numbed with cold and exposure.

They held out against it all, before the pelting rain, till man and beast were well-nigh exhausted. At last, about three-quarters of the way to Fauresmith, on the bleak bare hill-tops, sleety snow began to fall in big flakes, and the barking of a dog to be heard in the distance. The Boer driver pricked up his ears at the sound.

"That must a house be," he remarked in his Dutch pigeon-English to Guy; and Guy felt in his soul that the most miserable and filthy of Kaffir huts would just then be a welcome sight to his weary eyes. He would have given a sovereign, indeed, from the scanty store he possessed, for a night's lodging in a convenient dog-kennel. He was agreeably surprised, therefore, to find it was a comfortable farmhouse, where the lights in the casement beamed forth a cheery welcome on the wet and draggled wayfarers from real glass windows. The farmer within received them hospitably. Business was brisk to-day. Another traveller, he said, had just gone on towards Fauresmith.

"A young man like yourself, fresh from England," the farmer observed, scanning Guy closely. "He's off for the diamond diggings. I think to Dutoitspan."

Guy rested the right there, thinking nothing of the stranger, and went on next day more quietly to Fauresmith. Thence to the diamond fields, the country became at each step more sombre and more monotonous than ever. In the afternoon they rested at Jacobsdal, another dusty, dreary, comfortless place, consisting of about five and twenty bankrupt houses scattered in bare clumps over a scorched-up desert. Then on again next day, over a drearier and ever drearier expanse of landscape. It was ghastly. It was horrible. At last, on the top of a dismal hill range, looking down on a deep dale, the driver halted. In the vast flat below, a dull dense fog seemed to envelop the world with inscrutable mists. The driver pointed to it with his demonstrative whip.

"Down yonder," he said encouragingly, as he put the skid on his wheel, "down yonder's the diamond fields--that's Dutoitspan before you."

"What makes it so grey?" Guy asked, looking in front of him with a sinking heart. This first view of his future home was by no means encouraging.

"Oh, the sand make it be like that," the driver answered unconcernedly. "Diamond fields all make up of fine red sand; and diggers pile it about around their own claims. Then the wind comes and blow, and make sandstorm always around Dutoitspan."

Guy groaned inwardly. This was certainly not the El Dorado of his fancy. They descended the hill, at the same break-neck pace as before, and entered the miserable mushroom town of diamond-grubbers. Amidst the huts in the diggings great heaps of red earth lay piled up everywhere. Dust and sand rose high on the hot breeze into the stifling air. As they reached the encampment--for Dutoitspan then was little more than a camp--the blinding mists of solid red particles drove so thick in their eyes that Guy could hardly see a few yards before him. Their clothes and faces were literally encrusted in thick coats of dust. The fine red mist seemed to pervade everything. It filled their eyes, their nostrils, their ears, their mouths. They breathed solid dust. The air was laden deep with it.

And this was the diamond fields! This was the Golconda where Guy was to find six thousand pounds ready made to recover his losses and to repay Cyril. Oh, horrible, horrible. His heart sank low at it.

And still they went on, and on, and on, and on, through the mist of dust to the place for out-spanning. Guy only shared the common fate of all new-comers to "the fields" in feeling much distressed and really ill. The very horses in the cart snorted and sneezed and showed their high displeasure by trying every now and then to jib and turn back again. Here and there, on either side, to right and left, where the gloom permitted it, Guy made out dimly a few round or oblong tents, with occasional rude huts of corrugated iron. A few uncertain figures lounged vaguely in the background. On closer inspection they proved to be much-grimed and half-naked natives, resting their weary limbs on piles of dry dust after their toil in the diggings.

It was an unearthly scene. Guy's heart sank lower and lower still at every step the horses took into that howling wilderness.

At last the driver drew up with a jolt in front of a long low hut of corrugated iron, somewhat larger than the rest, but no less dull and dreary. "The hotel," he said briefly; and Guy jumped out to secure himself a night's lodging or so at this place of entertainment, till he could negotiate for a hut and a decent claim, and commence his digging.

At the bar of the primitive saloon where he found himself landed, a man in a grey tweed suit was already seated. He was drinking something fizzy from a tall soda-water glass. With a sudden start of horror Guy recognised him at once. Oh, great heavens, what was this? It was Granville Kelmscott!

Then Granville, too, was bound for the diamond fields like himself. What an incredible coincidence! How strange! How inexplicable! That rich man's son, the pampered heir to Tilgate! what could he be doing here, in this out-of-the-way spot, this last resort of poor broken-down men, this miserable haunt of wretched gambling money-grubbers?

Here curiosity, surely, must have drawn him to the spot. He couldn't have come to dig! Guy gazed in amazement at that grey tweed suit. He must be staying for a day or two in search of adventure. No more than just that! He couldn't mean to stop here.

As he gazed and stood open-mouthed in the shadow of the door, Granville Kelmscott, who hadn't seen him enter, laid down his glass, wiped his lips with gusto, and continued his conversation with the complacent barman.

"Yes, I want a hut here," he said, "and to buy a good claim. I've been looking over the kopje down by Watson's spare land, and I think I've seen a lot that's likely to suit me."

Guy sould hardly restrain his astonishment and surprise. He had come, then, to dig! Oh, incredible! impossible!

But at any rate this settled his own immediate movements. Guy's mind was made up at once. If Granville Kelmscott was going to dig at Dutoitspan--why, clearly Dutoitspan was no place for him. He could never stand the continual presence of the one man in South Africa who knew his deadly secret. Come what might he must leave the neighbourhood without a moment's delay. He must strike out at once for the far interior. As he paused, Granville Kelmscott turned round and saw him. Their eyes met with a start. Each was equally astonished. Then Granville rose slowly from his seat, and murmured in a low voice, as he regarded him fixedly--

"You here again, Mr. Billington! This is once too often. I hardly expected this. There's no room here for both of us."

And he strode from the saloon, with a very black brow, leaving Guy for the moment alone with the barman.