What's Bred In the Bone by Grant Allen
Chapter XXXII. A New Departure.
A fortnight later, one sultry afternoon, Granville Kelmscott found himself, after various strange adventures and escapes by the way, in a Koranna hut, far in the untravelled heart of the savage Barolong country.
The tenement where he sat, or more precisely squatted, was by no means either a commodious or sweet-scented one. Yet it was the biggest of a group on the river-bank, some five feet high from floor to roof, so that a Kelmscott couldn't possibly stand erect at full length in it; and it was roughly round in shape, like an overgrown beehive, the framework consisting of branches of trees, arranged in a rude circle, over whose arching ribs native rush mats had been thrown or sewn with irregular order. The door was a hole, through which the proud descendant of the squires of Tilgate had to creep on all fours; a hollow pit dug out in the centre served as the only fireplace; smoke and stagnant air formed the staples of the atmosphere. A more squalid hovel Granville Kelmscott had never even conceived as possible. It was as dirty and as loathsome as the most vivid imagination could picture the hut of the lowest savages.
Yet here that delicately nurtured English gentleman was to be cooped up for an indefinite time, as it seemed, by order of the black despot who ruled over the Barolong with a rod of iron.
What had led Granville Kelmscott into this extraordinary scrape it would not be hard to say. The Kelmscott nature, in all its embodiments, worked on very simple but very fixed lines. The moment Granville saw his half-brother Guy at Dutoitspan, his mind was made up at once as to his immediate procedure. He wouldn't stop one day--one hour longer than necessary where he could see that fellow who committed the murder. Come what might, he would make his escape at once into the far interior.
As before in England, so now in Africa, both brothers were moved by the self-same impulses. And each carried them out with characteristic promptitude.
Where could Granville go, however? Well, it was rumoured at Dutoitspan that "pebbles" had been found far away to the north in the Barolong country. "Pebbles," of course, is good South African for diamonds; and at this welcome news all Kimberley and Griqualand pricked up their ears with congenial delight; for business was growing flat on the old-established diamond fields. The palmy era of great finds and lucky hits was now long past; the day of systematic and prosaic industry had set in instead for the over-stocked diggings. It was no longer possible for the luckiest fresh hand to pick up pebbles lying loose on the surface; the mode of working had become highly skilled and scientific.
Machines and scaffolds, and washing-cradles and lifting apparatus were now required to make the business a success; the simple old gambling element was rapidly going out, and the capitalist was rapidly coming up in its stead as master of the situation. So Granville Kelmscott, being an enterprising young man, though destitute of cash, and utterly ignorant of South African life, determined to push on with all his might and main into the Barolong country, and to rush for the front among the first in the field in these rumoured new diggings on the extreme north frontier of civilization.
He started alone, as a Kelmscott might do, and made his way adventurously, without any knowledge of the Koranna language or manners, through many wild villages of King Khatsua's dominions. Night after night he camped out in the open; and day after day he tramped on by himself, buying food as he went from the natives for English silver, in search of precious stones, over that dreary tableland. At last, on the fourteenth day, in a deep alluvial hollow near a squalid group of small Barolong huts, he saw a tiny round stone, much rubbed and water-worn, which he picked up and examined with no little curiosity. The two days he had spent at Dutoitspan had not been wasted. He had learnt to recognise the look of the native gem. Once glance told him at once what his pebble was. He recognised it at sight as one of those small but much-valued diamonds of the finest water, which diggers know by the technical name of "glass-stones."
The hollow where he stood was in fact an ancient alluvial pit or volcanic mud-crater. Scoriac rubble filled it in to a very great depth; and in the interstices of this rubble were embedded here and there rude blocks of greenstone, containing almond-shaped chalcedonies and agate and milk-quartz, with now and then a tiny water-worn spec which an experienced eye would have detected at once as the finest "riverstones."
Here indeed was a prize! The solitary Englishman recognised in a second that he was the first pioneer of a new and richer Kimberley.
But as Granville Kelmscott stood still, looking hard at his find through the little pocket-lens he had brought with him from England, with a justifiable tremor of delight at the pleasant thought that here, perhaps, he had lighted on the key to something which might restore him once more to his proper place at Tilgate, he was suddenly roused from his delightful reverie by a harsh negro voice, shrill and clear, close behind him, saying, in very tolerable African-English--
"Hillo, you white man! what dat you got there? You come here to Barolong land, so go look for diamond?"
Granville turned sharply round, and saw standing by his side a naked and stalwart black man, smiling blandly at his discovery with broad negro amusement.
"It's a pebble," the Englishman said, pocketing it as carelessly as he could, and trying to look unconcerned, for his new acquaintance held a long native spear in his stout left hand, and looked by no means the sort of person to be lightly trifled with.
"Oh, dat a pebble, mistah white man!" the Barolong said sarcastically, holding out his black right hand with a very imperious air. "Den you please hand him over dat pebble you find. Me got me orders. King Khatsua no want any diamond digging in Barolong land."
Granville tried to parley with the categorical native; but his attempts at palaver were eminently unsuccessful. The naked black man was master of the situation.
"You hand over dat stone, me friend," he said, assuming a menacing attitude, and holding out his hand once more with no very gentle air, "or me run you trew de body wit me assegai--just so! King Khatsua, him no want any diamond diggings in Barolong land."
And, indeed, Granville Kelmscott couldn't help admitting to himself, when he came to think of it, that King Khatsua was acting wisely in his generation. For the introduction of diggers into his dominions would surely have meant, as everywhere else, the speedy proclamation of a British protectorate, and the final annihilation of King Khatsua himself and his dusky fellow-countrymen.
There is nothing, to say the truth, the South African native dreads so much as being "eaten up," as he calls it, by those aggressive English. King Khatsua knew his one chance in life consisted in keeping the diggers firmly out of his dominions; and he was prepared to deny the very existence of diamonds throughout the whole of Barolong land, until the English, by sheer force, should come in flocks and unearth them.
In obedience to his chief's command, therefore, the naked henchman still held out his hand menacingly.
"Dis land King Khatsua's," he repeated once more, in an angry voice. "All diamonds found on it belong to King Khatsua. Just you hand dat over. No steal; no tief-ee."
The instincts of the land-owning class were too strong in Granville Kelmscott not to make him admit at once to himself the justice of this claim. The owner of the soil had a right to the diamonds. He handed over the stone with a pang of regret. The savage grinned to himself, and scanned it attentively. Then extending his spear, as one might do to a cow or a sheep, he drove Granville before him.
"You come along a' me," he said shortly, in a most determined voice. "You come along a' me. King Khatsua's orders."
Granville went before him without one word of remonstrance, much wondering what was likely to happen next, till he found himself suddenly driven into that noisome hut, where he was forced to enter ignominiously on all fours, like an eight months' old baby.
By the light of the fire that burned dimly in the midst of his captor's house he could see, as his eyes grew gradually accustomed to the murky gloom, a strange and savage scene, such as he had never before in his life dreamt of. In the pit of the hut some embers glowed feebly, from whose midst a fleecy object was sputtering and hissing. A second glance assured him that the savoury morsel was the head of an antelope in process of roasting. Two greasy black women, naked to the waist, were superintending this primitive cookery; all round, a group of unclad little imps, as black as their mothers, lounged idly about, with their eyes firmly fixed on the chance of dinner. As Granville entered, the husband and father, poking in his head, shouted a few words after him. Another native outside kept watch and ward with a spear at the door meanwhile, to prevent his escape against King Khatsua's orders.
For two long hours the Englishman waited there, fretting and fuming, in that stifling atmosphere. Meanwhile, the antelope's head was fully cooked, and the women and children falling on it like wild beasts, tore off the scorched fleece and snatched the charred flesh from the bones with their fingers greedily. It was a hideous sight; it sickened him to see it.
By--and--by Granville heard a loud voice outside. He listened in surprise. It sounded as though Barolong had another prisoner. There was a pause and a scuffle. Then, all of a sudden, somebody else came bundling unceremoniously through the hole that served for a door, in the same undignified fashion as he himself had done. Granville's eyes, now accustomed to the gloom, recognised the stranger at once with a thrill of astonishment. He could hardly trust his senses at the sight. It was--no, it couldn't be--yes, it was--Guy Waring.
Guy Waring, sure enough; as before, they were companions. The Kelmscott character had worked itself out exactly alike in each of them. They had come independently by the self-same road to the rumoured diamond fields of the Barolong country.
It was some minutes, however, before Guy, for his part, recognised his fellow-prisoner in the dark and gloomy hut. Then each stared at the other in mute surprise. They found no words to speak their mutual astonishment. This was more wonderful, to be sure, than even either of their former encounters.
For another long hour the two unfriendly English-men huddled away from one another in opposite corners of that native hut, without speaking a word of any sort in their present straits. At the end of that time, a voice spoke at the door some guttural sentences in the Barolong language. The natives inside responded alike in their own savage clicks. Next the voice spoke in English; it was Granville's captor, he now knew well.
"White men, you come out; King Khatsua himself, him go to 'peak to you."
They crawled out, one at a time, in sorry guise, through the narrow hole. It was a pitiful exhibition. Were it not for the danger and uncertainty of the event, they could almost themselves have fairly laughed at it. King Khatsua stood before them, a tall, full-blooded black, in European costume, with a round felt hat and a crimson tie, surrounded by his naked wives and attendants. In his outstretched hand he held before their faces two incriminating diamonds. He spoke to them with much dignity at considerable length in the Barolong tongue, to a running accompaniment of laudatory exclamations--"Oh, my King! Oh, wise words!"--from the mouths of his courtiers. Neither Granville nor Guy understood, of course, a single syllable of the stately address; but that didn't in the least disturb the composure of the dusky monarch. He went right through to the end with his solemn warning, scolding them both roundly, as they guessed, in his native tongue, like a master reproving a pair of naughty schoolboys.
As he finished, their captor stood forth with great importance to act as interpreter. He had been to the Kimberly diamond mines himself as a labourer, and was therefore accounted by his own people a perfect model of English scholarship.
"King Khatsua say this," he observed curtly. "You very bad men; you come to Barolong land. King Khatsua say, Barolong land for Barolong. No allow white man dig here for diamonds. If white man come, him eat up Barolong. Keep white man out; keep land for King Khatsua."
"Does King Khatsua want us to leave his country, then?" Granville Kelmscott asked, with a distinct tremor in his voice, for the great chief and his followers looked decidedly hostile.
The interpreter threw back his head and laughed a loud long laugh.
"King Khatsua not a fool!" he answered at last, after a rhetorical pause. "King Khatsua no want to give up his land to white man. If you two white man go back to Kimberley, you tell plenty other people, 'Diamonds in Barolong land.' You say, 'Come along o' me to Barolong land with gun; we show you where to dig 'um!' No, no, King Khatsua not a fool. King Khatsua say this. You two white man no go back to Kimberley. You spies. You stop here plenty time along o' King Khatsua. Never go back, till King Khatsua give leave. So no let any other white man come along into Barolong land."
Granville looked at Guy, and Guy looked at Granville. In this last extremity, before those domineering blacks, they almost forgot everything, save that they were both English. What were they to do now? The situation was becoming truly terrible.
The interpreter went on once more, however, with genuine savage enjoyment of the consternation he was causing them.
"King Khatsua say this," he continued, in a very amused tone. "You stop here plenty days, very good, in Barolong land. King Khatsua give you hut; King Khatsua give you claim; Barolong man bring spear and guard you. No do you any harm for fear of Governor. Governor keep plenty guns in Cape Town. You two white man live in hut together, dig diamonds together; get plenty pebbles. Keep one diamond you find for yourself; give one diamond after that to King Khatsua. Barolong man bring you plenty food, plenty drink, but no let you go back. You try to go, then Barolong man spear you."
The playful dig with which the savage thrust forward his assegai at that final remark showed Granville Kelmscott in a moment this was no idle threat. It was clear for the present they must accept the inevitable. They must remain in Barolong land; and he must share hut and work with that doubly hateful creature--the man who had deprived him of his patrimony at Tilgate, and whom he firmly believed to be the murderer of Montague Nevitt. This was what had come then of his journey to Africa! Truly, adversity makes us acquainted with strange bedfellows!