Chapter XXXV. Perils by the Way.
 

Three weeks later, two torn and tattered, half-starved Europeans sat under a burning South African sun by the dry bed of a shrunken summer torrent. It was in the depths of Namaqua land, among the stony Karoo; and the fugitives were straggling, helplessly and hopelessly, seaward, thirsty and weary, through a half-hostile country, making their marches as best they could at dead of night and resting by day where the natives would permit them.

Their commissariat had indeed been a lean and hungry one. Though they carried many thousand pounds' worth of diamonds about their persons, they had nothing negotiable with which to buy food or shelter from the uncivilized Namaquas. Ivory, cloth, and beads were the currency of the country. No native thereabouts would look for a moment at their little round nobs of water-worn pebbles. The fame of the diamond fields hadn't penetrated as yet so far west in the land as to have reached to the huts of the savage Namaquas.

And now their staying power was almost worn out Granville Kelmscott lay down on the sandy soil with a wild gesture of despair. All around were bare rocks and the dry sweltering veldts, covered only with round stones and red sand and low bushy vegetation.

"Waring," he said feebly, in a very faint voice, "I wish you'd leave me and go on by yourself. I'm no good any more. I'm only a drag upon you. This fever's too bad for me to stand much longer. I can never pull through to the coast alive. I've no energy left, were it even to try. I'd like to lie down here and die where I sit. Do go and leave me."

"Never!" Guy answered resolutely. "I'll never desert you, Kelmscott, while I've a drop of blood left. If I carry you on my back to the coast, I'll get you there at last, or else we'll both die on the veldt together."

Granville held his friend's hand in his own fevered fingers as he might have held a woman's.

"Oh, Waring," he cried once more, in a voice half choked with profound emotion, "I don't know how to thank you enough for all you've done for me. You've behaved to me like a brother--like a brother indeed. It makes me ashamed to think, when I see how unselfish, and good, and kind you've been--ashamed to think I once distrusted you. You've been an angel to me all through. Without you, I don't know how I could ever have lived on through this journey at all. And I can't bear to feel now I may spoil your retreat--can't bear to know I'm a drag and burden to you."

"My dear fellow," Guy said, holding the thin and fevered hand very tenderly in his, "don't talk to me like that. I feel to you every bit as you feel to me in this matter. I was afraid of you at first, because I knew you misunderstood me. But the more I've seen of you, the better we've each of us learned to sympathize with the other. We've long been friends. I love you now, as you say, like a brother."

Granville hesitated for a moment. Should he out with it or not? Then at last the whole long-suppressed truth came out with a burst. He seized his companion's two hands at once in a convulsive grasp.

"That's not surprising either," he said, "after all--for Guy, do you know, we are really brothers!"

Guy gazed at him in astonishment. For a moment he thought his friend's reason was giving way. Then slowly and gradually he took it all in.

"Are really brothers!" he repeated, in a dazed sort of way. "Do you mean it, Kelmscott? Then my father and Cyril's--"

"Was mine too, Waring. Yes; I couldn't bear to die without telling you that. And I tell it now to you. You two are the heirs of the Tilgate estates. And the unknown person who paid six thousand pounds to Cyril, just before you left England, was your father and mine--Colonel Henry Kelmscott."

Guy bent over him for a few seconds in speechless surprise. Words failed him at first. "How do you know all this, Kelmscott?" he said at last faintly.

Granville told him in as few words as possible--for indeed he was desperately weak and ill--by what accident he had discovered his father's secret. But he told him only what he knew himself. For, of course, he was ignorant as yet of the Colonel's seizure and sudden death on the very day after they had sailed from England.

Guy listened to it all in profound silence. It was a strange, and for him a momentous tale. Then he said at last, as Granville finished, "And you never told me this all these long months, Kelmscott."

"I always meant to tell you, Guy," his half-brother answered, in a sudden fit of penitence. "I always meant in the end you and your brother Cyril should come into your own at Tilgate as you ought. I was only waiting--"

"Till you'd realized enough to make good some part of your personal loss," Guy suggested, not unkindly.

"Oh no," Granville answered, flushing up at the suggestion. "I wasn't waiting for that. Don't think me so mercenary. I was waiting for you, in your turn to extend to me your own personal confidence. You know, Guy," he went on, dropping into a still more hushed and solemn undertone, "I saw an evening paper the night we left Plymouth--"

"Oh, I know, I know," Guy cried, interrupting him, with a very pale face. "Don't speak to me of that. I can't bear to think of it. Kelmscott, I was mad when I did that deed. I wasn't myself. I acted under somebody else's compulsion and influence. The man had a sort of hypnotic power over my will, I believe. I couldn't help doing whatever he ordered me. It was he who suggested it. It was he that did it. And it's he who was really and truly guilty."

"And who was that man?" Granville Kelmscott asked with some little curiosity.

"There's no reason I shouldn't tell you," Guy answered, "now we've once broken the ice; and I'm glad in my heart, I must say, that we've broken it. For a year and a half, day and night, that barrier has been raised between us always, and I've longed to get rid of it. But I was afraid to speak of it to you, and you to me! Well, the man, if you must know, was Montague Nevitt!"

Granville Kelmscott looked up at him in credulous surprise. But he was too ill and weak to ask the meaning of this riddle. Montague Nevitt! What on earth could Waring mean by that? How on earth could Montague Nevitt have influenced and directed him in assaulting and murdering Montague Nevitt?

For a long time there was silence. Each brother was thinking his own thoughts to himself about this double disclosure. At last, Granville lifted his head and spoke again.

"And you'll go home to England now," he said, "under an assumed name, I suppose; and arrange with your brother Cyril for him to claim the Kelmscott estates, and allow you something out of them in retirement somewhere."

"Oh no," Guy answered manfully. "I'm going home to England now, if I go at all, under my own proper name that I've always borne, to repay Cyril in full every penny I owe him, to make what reparation I can for the wrong I've done, and to give myself up to the police for trial."

Granville gazed at him, more surprised and more admiring than ever.

"You're a brave man, Waring," he said slowly. "I don't understand it at all. But I know you're right. And I almost believe you. I almost believe it was not your fault. I should like to get through to England after all, if it was only to see you safe out of your troubles."

Guy looked at him fixedly.

"My dear fellow," he said, in a compassionate tone, "you mustn't talk any more. You've talked a great deal too much already. I see a hut, I fancy, over yonder, beside that dark patch of brush. Now, you must do exactly as I bid you. Don't struggle or kick. Lie as still as you can. I'll carry you there on my back, and then we'll see if we can get you anyhow a drop of pure water."