Chapter XXXVI. Deserted.
 

That was almost the last thing Granville Kelmscott knew. Some strange shadowy dreams, to be sure, disturbed the lethargy into which he fell soon after; but they were intermittent and indefinite. He was vaguely aware of being lifted with gentle care into somebody's arms, and of the somebody staggering along with him, not without considerable difficulty, over the rough stony ground of that South African plateau. He remembered also, as in a trance, some sound of angry voices--a loud expostulation--a hasty palaver--a long slow pause--a gradual sense of reconciliation and friendliness--during all which, as far as he could recover the circumstances afterwards, he must have been extended on the earth, with his back propped against a great ledge of jutting rock, and his head hanging listless on his sinking breast. Thenceforward all was blank, or just dimly perceived at long intervals between delirium and unconsciousness. He was ill for many days, where or how he knew not.

In some half dreamy way, he was aware too, now and again, of strange voices by his side, strange faces tending him. But they were black faces, all, and the voices spoke in deep guttural tones, unlike even the clicks and harsh Bantu jerks with which he had grown so familiar in eighteen months among the Barolong. This that he heard now, or seemed to hear in his delirium, like distant sounds of water, was a wholly different and very much harsher tongue--the tongue of the Namaquas, in fact, though Granville was far too ill and too drowsy just then to think of reasoning about it or classifying it in any way. All he knew for the moment was that sometimes, when he turned round feebly on his bed of straw, and asked for drink or help in a faltering voice, no white man appeared to answer his summons. Black, faces all--black, black, and unfamiliar. Very intermittently he was conscious of a faint sense of loneliness. He knew not why. But he thought he could guess. Guy Waring had deserted him!

At last, one morning, after more days had passed than Granville could possibly count, all of a sudden, in a wild whirl, he came to himself again at once, with that instant revulsion of complete awakening which often occurs at the end of long fits of delirium in malarious fever. A light burst in upon him with a flash. In a moment, his brain seemed to clear all at once, and everything to grow plain as day before him. He raised himself on one wasted elbow and gazed around him with profound awe. He saw it all now; he remembered everything, everything.

He was alone, among savages in the far heart of Africa.

He lay on his back, on a heap of fresh straw, in a close and filthy mud-built hut. Under his aching neck a wooden pillow or prop of native make supported his head. Two women and a man bent over him and smiled. Their faces, though black, were far from unkindly. They were pleased to see him stare about with such meaning in his eyes. They were friendly, no doubt. They seemed really to take an interest in their patient's recovery.

But where was Guy Waring? Dead? Dead? Or run away? Had his half-brother, in this utmost need, then, so basely deserted him?

For some minutes, Granville gazed around him, half dazed, and in a turmoil of surprise, yet with a vivid passion of acute inquiry. Now he was once well awake, he must know all immediately. But how? Who to ask? This was terrible, terrible. He had no means of intercommunication with the people in the hut. He knew none of their language, nor they of his. He was utterly alone, among unmitigated savages.

Meanwhile, the man and the women talked loud among themselves in their own harsh speech, evidently well pleased and satisfied at their guest's improvement. With a violent effort, Granville began to communicate with them in the language of signs which every savage knows as he knows his native tongue, and in which the two Englishmen had already made some progress during their stay in Barolong land.

Pointing first to himself, with one hand on his breast, he held up two fingers before the observant Namaqua, to indicate that at first there had been a couple of them on the road, both white men. The latter point he still further elaborated by showing the white skin on his own bare wrist, and once more holding up the two fingers demonstratively. The Namaqua nodded. He had seized the point well. He held up two fingers in return himself; then looked at his own black wrist and shook his head in dissent--they were not black men; after which he touched Granville's fair forearm with his hand; yes, yes, just so; he took it in; two white men.

What had become of the other one? Granville asked in the same fashion, by looking around him on all sides in dumb show, inquiringly. One finger only was held up now, pointing about the hut; one hand was laid upon his own breast to show that a single white man alone remained. He glanced about him uneasily. What had happened to his companion?

The Namaqua pointed with his finger to the door of the hut, as much as to say the other man was gone. He seized every sign at once with true savage quickness.

Then Granville tried once more. Was his companion dead? Had he been killed in a fight? Was that the reason of his absence? He lunged forward with his hand holding an imaginary assegai. He pressed on upon the foe; he drove it through a body. Then he fell, as if dead, on the floor, with a groan and a shriek. After which, picking himself up as well as he was able, and crawling back to his straw, he proceeded in mute pantomime to bury himself decently.

The Namaqua shook his head again with a laugh of dissent. Oh no; not like that. It had happened quite otherwise. The missing white man was well and vigorous, a slap on his own chest sufficiently indicated that news. He placed his two first fingers in the ground, astride like legs, and made them walk along fast, one in front of the other. The white man had gone away. He had gone on foot. Granville nodded acquiescence. The savage took water in a calabash and laid it on the floor. Then he walked once more with his fingers, as if on a long and weary march, to the water's brink. Granville nodded comprehension again. He understood the signs. The white man had gone away, alone, on foot--and seaward.

At that instant, with a sudden cry of terror, the invalid's hands went down to his waist, where he wore the girdle that contained those precious diamonds--the diamonds that were to be the ransom of some fraction of Tilgate. An awful sense of desertion broke over him all at once. He called aloud in his horror. It was too much to believe. The girdle was gone, and the diamonds with it!

Hypocrite! Hypocrite! Thief! Murderer! Robber! He had trusted that vile creature, that plausible wretch, in spite of all the horrible charges he knew against him. And this was the sequel of their talk that day! This was how Guy Waring had requited his confidence.

He had stolen the fruits of eighteen months' labour.

Granville turned to the Namaqua, wild with his terrible loss, and pointed angrily to his loins, where the diamonds were not. The savage nodded; looked wise and shook his head; pretended to gird himself round the waist with a cloth; then went over to Granville, who lay still in the straw, undid an imaginary belt, with deliberate care, tied it round his own body above the other one, with every appearance of prudence and forethought, counted the small stones in it one by one, in his hand, to the exact number, with grotesque fidelity, and finally set his fingers to walk a second time at a rapid pace, in the direction of the calabash which represented the ocean.

Granville fell back on his wooden pillow with a horrible groan of awakened distrust. The man had gone off, that was clear, and had stolen his diamonds That is what comes of intrusting your life and property to a discovered murderer. How could he ever have been such a fool? He would never forgive himself.

The desertion itself was bad enough in all conscience; but it was as nothing at all in Granville's mind to the wickedness of the robbery.

He might have known it, of course. How that fellow toiled and moiled and gloated over his wretched diamonds! How little he seemed to think of the stain of blood on his hands, and how much of the mere chance of making filthy lucre! Pah! Pah! it was pitiable. The man's whole mind was distorted by a hideous fungoid growth--the love of gain, which is the root of all evil. For a few miserable stones, he would plunder his own brother, lying helpless and ill in that African hut, and make off with the booty himself, saving his own skin, seaward.

If it hadn't been for the unrequited kindness of these mere savage Namaquas, Granville cried to himself in his bitterness, he might have died of want in the open desert. And now he would go down to the coast, after all, a ruined man, penniless and friendless. It was a hard thought indeed for a Kelmscott to think he should have been abandoned and robbed by his own half-brother, and should owe his life now to a heathen African. The tender mercies of a naked barbarian in a mud-built hut were better than the false friendship of his father's son, the true heir of Tilgate.

It was miserable! pitiable! The shock of that discovery threw Granville back once more into a profound fever. For several hours he relapsed into delirium. And the worst of it was, the negroes wouldn't let him die quietly in his own plain way. In the midst of it all, he was dimly aware of a dose thrust down his throat. It was the Namaqua administering him a pill--some nauseous native decoction, no doubt--which tasted as if it were made of stiff white paper.