Chapter XXXIV. A Stroke for Freedom.
 

In Africa, meanwhile, during those eighteen months, King Khatsua had kept his royal word. He had held his two European prisoners under close watch and ward in the Koranna hut he had assigned them for their residence.

Like most other negro princes, indeed, Khatsua was a shrewd man of business in his own way; and while he meant to prevent the English strangers from escaping seaward with news of the new El Dorado they had discovered in Barolong land, he hadn't the least idea of turning away on that account the incidental advantages to be gained for himself by permitting them to hunt freely in his dominions for diamonds. So long as they acquiesced in the rough-and-ready royalty of 50 per cent, he had proposed to them when he first decided to detain them in his own territory--one stone for the king, and one for the explorers--they were free to pursue their quest after gems to their hearts' content in the valleys of Barolong land. And as the two Englishmen, for their part, had nothing else to do in Africa, and as they still went on hoping against hope for some chance of escape or rescue, they dug for diamonds with a will, and secured a number of first-class stones that would have made their fortunes indeed--if only they could have got them to the sea or to England.

Of course they lived perforce in the Koranna hut assigned them by the king, in pretty much the same way as the Korannas themselves did. King Khatsua's men supplied them abundantly with grain, and fruits, and game; and even at times procured them ready-made clothes, by exchange with Kimberley. In other respects, they were not ill-treated; they were merely detained "during his majesty's pleasure." But as his majesty had no intention of killing the goose that laid the golden eggs, or of letting them go, if he could help it, to spread the news of their find among their greedy fellow-countrymen, it seemed to them both as if they might go on being detained like this in Barolong land for an indefinite period.

Still, things went indifferently with them. As they lived and worked together in their native hut by Khatsua's village, a change began slowly but irresistibly to come over Granville Kelmscott's feelings towards his unacknowledged half-brother. At first, it was with the deepest sense of distaste and loathing that the dispossessed heir found himself compelled to associate with Guy Waring in such close companionship. But, bit by bit, as they two saw more and more of one another, this feeling of distaste began to wear off piecemeal. Granville Kelmscott was more than half ashamed to admit it even to himself, but in process of time he really almost caught himself beginning to like--well, to like the man he believed to be a murderer. It was shocking and horrible, no doubt; but what else was he to do? Guy formed now his only European society. By the side of those savage Barolongs, whose chief thought nothing of perpetrating the most nameless horrors before their very eyes, for the gratification of mere freaks of passion or jealousy, a European murderer of the gentlemanly class seemed almost by comparison a mild and gentle personage. Granville hardly liked to allow it in his own mind, but it was nevertheless the case; he was getting positively fond of this man, Guy Waring.

Besides, blood is generally thicker than water. Living in such close daily communion with Guy, and talking with him unrestrainedly at last upon all possible points--save that one unapproachable one, which both seemed to instinctively avoid alluding to in any way--Granville began to feel that, murderer or no murderer, Guy was in all essentials very near indeed to him. Nay, more, he found himself at times actually arguing the point with his own conscience that, after all, Guy was a very good sort of fellow; and if ever he had murdered Montague Nevitt at all--which looked very probable--he must have murdered him under considerably extenuating circumstances.

There was only one thing about Guy that Granville didn't like when he got to know him. This homicidal half-brother of his was gentle as a woman; tender, kindhearted, truthful, affectionate; a gentleman to the core, and a jolly good fellow into the bargain; but--there's always a but--he was a terrible money-grubber! Even there in the lost heart of Africa, at such a distance from home, with so little chance of ever making any use of his hoarded wealth, the fellow used to hunt up those wretched small stones, and wear them night and day in a belt round his waist, as if he really loved them for their own mere sakes--dirty high-priced little baubles! Granville, for his part, couldn't bear to see such ingrained love of pelf. It was miserable; it was mercenary.

To be sure, he himself hunted diamonds every day of his life, just as hard as Guy did; there was nothing else to do in this detestable place, and a man must find something to turn his idle hands to. Also he carried them, like Guy, bound up in a girdle round his own waist; it was a pity they should be lost, if ever he should chance to get away safe in the end to England. But then, don't you see, the cases were so different. Guy hoarded up his diamonds for mere wretched gain; whereas Granville valued his (he said to himself often) not for the mere worth in money of those shimmering little trinkets, but for his mother's sake, and Gwendoline's, and the credit of the family. He wanted Lady Emily to see her son filling the place in the world she had always looked forward with hope to his filling; and, by Heaven's help, he thought, he could still fill it. He couldn't marry Gwendoline on a beggar's pittance; and, by Heaven's help, he hoped still to be able to marry her.

Guy, on the other hand, found himself almost equally surprised in turn at the rapid way he grew really to be fond of Granville Kelmscott. Though Kelmscott knew, as he thought, the terrible secret of his half-unconscious crime--for he could feel now how completely he had acted under Montague Nevitt's compelling influence--Guy was aware before long of such a profound and deep-seated sympathy existing between them, that he became exceedingly attached in time to his friendly fellow-prisoner. In spite of the one barrier they could never break down, he spoke freely by degrees to Granville of everything else in his whole life; and Granville in return spoke to him just as freely. A good fellow, Granville, when you got to know him. There was only a single trait in his character Guy couldn't endure; and that was his ingrained love of money-grubbing. For the way the man pounced down upon those dirty little stones, when he saw them in the mud, and hoarded them up in his belt, and seemed prepared to defend them with his very life-blood, Guy couldn't conceal from himself-the fact that he fairly despised him. Such vulgar, common-place, unredeemed love of pelf! Such mere bourgeois avarice! Of what use could those wretched pebbles be to him here in the dusty plains of far inland Africa?

Guy himself kept close count of his finds, to be sure; but then, the cases, don't you see, were so different! He wanted his diamonds to discharge the great debt of his life to Cyril, and to appear an honest man, rehabilitated once more, before the brother he had so deeply wronged and humiliated. Whereas Granville Kelmscott, a rich man's son, and the heir to a great estate beyond the dreams of avarice--that he should have come risking his life in these savage wilds for mere increase of superfluous wealth, why, it was simply despicable.

So eighteen months wore away, in mutual friendship, tempered to a certain degree by mutual contempt, and little chance of escape came to the captives in Barolong land.

At last, as the second winter came round once more, for two or three weeks the Englishmen in their huts began to perceive that much bustle and confusion was going on all around in King Khatsua's dominions. Preparations for a war on a considerable scale were clearly taking place. Men mustered daily on the dusty plain with firearms and assegais. Much pombe was drunk; many palavers took place; a constant drumming of gongs and tom-toms disturbed their ears by day and by night. The Englishmen concluded some big marauding expedition was in contemplation. And they were quite right. King Khatsua was about to concentrate his forces for an attack on a neighbouring black monarch, as powerful and perhaps as cruel as himself, Montisive of the Bush Veldt.

Slowly the preparations went on all around. Then the great day came at last, and King Khatsua set forth on his mighty campaign, to the sound of big drums and the blare of native trumpets.

When the warriors had marched out of the villages on their way northward to the war, Guy saw the two prisoners' chance of escape had arrived in earnest. They were guarded as usual, of course; but not so strictly as before; and during the night, in particular, Guy noticed with pleasure, little watch was now kept upon them. The savage, indeed, can't hold two ideas in his head at once. If he's making war on his neighbour on one side, he has no room left to think of guarding his prisoners on the other.

"To-night," Guy said, one evening, as they sat together in their hut, over their native supper of mealie cakes and springbok venison, "we must make a bold stroke. We must creep out of the kraal as well as we can, and go for the sea westward, through Namaqua land to Angra Pequena."

"Westward?" Granville answered, very dubiously. "But why westward, Waring? Surely our shortest way to the coast is down to Kimberley and so on to the Cape. It'll take us weeks and weeks to reach the sea, won't it, by way of Namaqua land?"

"No matter for that," Guy replied, with confidence. He knew the map pretty well, and had thought it all over. "As soon as the Barolong miss us in the morning, they'll naturally think we've gone south, as you say, towards our own people. So they'll pursue us in that direction and try to take us; and if they were to catch us after we'd once run away, you may be sure they'd kill us as soon as look at us. But it would never occur to them, don't you see, we were going away west. They won't follow us that way. So west we'll go, and strike out for the sea, as I say, at Angra Pequena."

They sat up through the night discussing plans low to themselves in the dark, till nearly two in the morning. Then, when all was silent around, and the Barolong slept, they stole quietly out, and began their long march across the country to westward. Each man had his diamonds tied tightly round his waist, and his revolver at his belt. They were prepared to face every unknown danger.

Crawling past the native huts with very cautious steps, they made for the open, and emerged from the village on to the heights that bounded the valley of the Lugura. They had proceeded in this direction for more than an hour, walking as hard as their legs would carry them, when the sound of a man running fast, but barefoot, fell on their ears from behind in a regular pit-a-pat. Guy looked back in dismay, and saw a naked Barolong just silhouetted against the pale sky on the top of a long low ridge they had lately crossed over. At the very same instant Granville raised his revolver and pointed it at the man, who evidently had not yet perceived them. With a sudden gesture of horror, Guy knocked down his hand and prevented his taking aim.

"Don't shoot," he cried, in a voice of surprised dismay and disapproval. "We mustn't take his life. How do we know he's an enemy at all? He mayn't be pursuing us."

"Best shoot on spec, anyway," Granville answered, somewhat discomposed. "All's fair in war. The fellow's after us no doubt. And, at any rate, if he sees us he may go and report our whereabouts to the village."

"What? shoot an unarmed man who shows no signs of hostility! Why, it would be sheer murder," Guy cried, with some horror. "We mustn't make our retreat on those principles, Kelmscott; it'd be quite indefensible. I decline to fire except when we're attacked. I won't be any party, myself, to needless bloodshed."

Granville Kclmscott gazed at him, there in the grey dawn, in unspeakable surprise. Not shoot at a negro! In such straits, too, as theirs! And this rebuke had come to him--from the mouth of the murderer!

Turn it over as he might, Granville couldn't understand it.

The Barolong ran along on the crest of the ridge, still at the top of his speed, without seeming to notice them in the gloom of the valley. Presently, he disappeared over the edge to southward. Guy was right, after all. He wasn't in pursuit of them. More likely he was only a runaway slave, taking advantage, like themselves, of King Khatsua's absence.