Chapter XXXVII. Aux Armes!

For a day or two more, Granville remained seriously ill in the dirty hut. At the end of that time, weak and wasted as he was, he insisted upon getting up and setting out alone on his long march seaward.

It was a wild resolve. He was utterly unfit for it. The hospitable Namaqua, whose wives had nursed him well through that almost hopeless illness, did his best to persuade the rash Englishman from so mad a course, by gestures and entreaties, in his own mute language. But Granville was obstinate. He would not sit down quietly and be robbed like this of the fruit of his labours. He would not be despoiled. He would not be trampled upon. He would make for the coast, if he staggered in like a skeleton, and would confront the robber with his own vile crime, be it at Angra Pequena, or Cape Town, or London, or Tilgate.

In short, he would do much as Guy himself had done when he discovered Montague Nevitt's theft of the six thousand. He would follow the villain till he ran him to earth, and would tax him at last to his face with the open proofs of his consummate treachery. What's bred in the bone will out in the blood. The Kelmscott strain worked alike its own way in each of them.

The Namaqua, to be sure, tried in vain to explain to Granville by elaborate signs that the other white man had given orders to the contrary. The other white man had strictly enjoined upon him not to let the invalid escape from his hut on any pretext whatever. The other white man had promised him a reward, a very large reward--money, guns, ammunition--if he kept him safely and didn't allow him to escape. Granville Kelmscott smiled to himself a bitter, cynical, smile. Poor confiding savage! He didn't know Guy as well as he, his brother, did.

And yet, in the midst of it all, in spite of the revulsion, Granville was conscious now and then of some little ingratitude somewhere to his half-brother's memory. After all, Guy had shown him time and again no small kindness. Some excuse should be made for a man who saves his own life first in very dire extremities. But none, no, none for one who has the incredible and inhuman meanness to rob his own brother of his hard-earned gams, in a strange wild land, when he thinks him dying.

For it was the robbery, not the desertion, Granville could never forgive. The man who was capable of doing that basest of acts was capable also of murder or any crime in the decalogue.

So the fevered white man rose at last one morning on his shrunken limbs, and staggered, as best he might, from his protector's hut in a wild impulse of resolution, on his mad journey seaward. When the Namaqua saw nothing on earth would induce him to remain, he shouldered his arms and went out beside him, fully equipped for fight with matchlock and assegai. Not that the savage made any undue pretence to a purely personal devotion to the belated white man. On the contrary, he signified to Granville with many ingenious signs that he was afraid of losing the great reward he had been promised, if once he let the invalid get out of his sight unattended.

Granville smiled once more that bitter smile of new-born cynicism. Well, let the fellow follow him if he liked! He would reward him himself if ever they reached the coast in safety. And in any case, it was better to go attended by a native. An interpreter who can communicate in their own tongue with the people through whose territory you are going to pass is always, useful in a savage country.

How Granville got over that terrible journey seaward he could never tell. He crawled on and on, supported by the faithful Namaqua with unfailing good-humour, over that endless veldt, for three long days of wretched footsore marching. And for three long nights he slept, or lay awake, under the clear desert stars, on the open ground of barren Namaqua land. It was a terrible time. Worn and weary with the fever, Granville was wholly unfit for any kind of travelling. Nothing but the iron constitution of the Kelmscotts could ever have stood so severe an ordeal. But the son of six generations of soldiers, who had commanded in the fever-stricken flats of Walcheren, or followed Wellesley through the jungles of tropical India, or forced their way with Napier into the depths of Abyssinia, was not to be daunted even by the nameless horrors of that South African desert. Granville still endured, for three days and nights, and was ready to march, or crawl on, once more, upon the fourth morning.

Here, however, his Namaqua, guide, with every appearance of terror, made strong warnings of danger. The country beyond, he signified by strange gestures, lay in the hands of a hostile tribe, hereditarily at war with his fellow-clansmen. He didn't even know whether the other white man, with the diamonds round his waist, had got safely through, or whether the hostile tribe beyond the frontier had assegaied him and "eaten him up," as the picturesque native phrase goes. It was difficult enough for even a strong warrior to force his way through that district with a good company of followers; impossible for a single weak invalid like Granville, attended only by one poor, ill-armed Namaqua.

So the savage seemed to say in his ingenious pantomime. If they went on, they'd be killed and eaten up resistlessly. If they stopped they might pull through. They must wait and camp there. For what they were to wait, Granville hadn't the faintest conception. But the Namaqua insisted upon it, and Granville was helpless as a child in his hands. The man was alarmed, apparently, for his promised reward. If Granville insisted, he showed in very frank dumb show, why--a thrust with the assegai explained the rest most persuasively. Granville still had his revolver, to be sure, and a few rounds of ball cartridge. But he was too weak to show fight; the savage overmastered him.

They were seated on a stony ridge or sharp hog's back, overlooking the valley of a dry summer stream. The watershed on which they sat separated, with its chine of rugged rocks, the territory of the two rival tribes. But the Namaqua was evidently very little afraid that the enemy might transgress the boundaries of his fellow-tribesmen. He dared not himself go beyond the jagged crest of the ridge; but he seemed to think it pretty certain the people of the other tribe wouldn't, for their part, in turn come across to molest him. He sat down there doggedly, as if expecting something or other to turn up in the course of time; and more than once he made signs to Granville which the Englishman interpreted to mean that after so many days and nights from some previous event unspecified, somebody would arrive on the track from the coast at the point of junction between the hostile races.

Granville was gazing at the Namaqua in the vain attempt to interpret these signs more fully to himself, when, all of a sudden, an unexpected noise in the valley below attracted his attention. He pricked up his ears, Impossible! Incredible! It couldn't be--yes, it was--the sharp hiss of firearms!

At the very same moment the Namaqua leapt to his feet in sudden alarm, and, shading his eyes with his dusky hand, gazed intently in front of him. For a minute or so he stood still, with brows knit and neck craning. Then he called out something in an excited tone two or three times over in his own tongue to Granville. The Englishman stared in the same direction, but could make out nothing definite just at first, in the full glare of the sunlight. But the Namaqua, with a cry of joy, held up his two fingers as before, to symbolize the two white men, and pointed with one of them to his guest, while with the other he indicated some object in the valley, nodding many times over. Granville seized his meaning at once. Could it be true, what he said in this strange mute language? Could relief be at hand? Could the firing beneath show that Guy was returning?

As he looked and strained his eyes, peering down upon the red plain, under the shadow of his open palm, the objects by the water-course grew gradually clearer. Granville could make out now that a party of natives, armed with spears and matchlocks, was attacking some little encampment on the bank of the dry torrent. The small force in the encampment was returning the fire with great vigour and spirit, though apparently over-powered by the superior numbers of their swarming assailants. Even as Granville looked, their case grew more desperate. A whole horde of black men seemed to be making an onset on some small white object, most jealously guarded, round which the defenders of the camp rallied with infinite energy. At the head of the little band of strangers, a European in a pith helmet was directing the fire, and fighting hard himself for the precious white object. The rest were blacks, he thought, in half-civilized costume. Granville's heart gave a bound as the leader sprang forth upon one approaching savage. His action, as he leapt, stamped the man at once. There was Kelmscott in the leap. Granville knew in a second it was indeed Guy Waring.

The Namaqua recognised him too, and pointed enthusiastically forward. Granville saw what he meant. To the front! To the front! If there was fighting to be done, let them help their friends. Let them go forward and claim the great reward offered.

Next moment, with a painful thrill of shame and remorse, the Englishman saw what was the nature of the object they were so jealously guarding. His heart stood still within him. It was a sort of sedan chair, or invalid litter, borne on poles by four native porters. Talk about coals of fire! Granville Kelmscott hardly knew how to forgive himself for his unworthy distrust. Then Guy must have reached the coast in safety, after leaving him in charge of the Namaqua and fighting his way through, and now he was on his way back to the interior again, with a sufficient escort and a palanquin to fetch him.

Even as he looked, the assailants closed in more fiercely than ever on the faltering little band. One of them thrust out with an assegai at Guy. In an agony of horror, Granville cried aloud where he stood. Surely, surely, they must be crushed to earth. No arms of precision could ever avail them against such a swarm of assailants, poured forth over their camp as if from some human ant-hill.

"Let us run!" the sick man cried to the Namaqua, pointing to the fight below; and the Namaqua, comprehending the gesture, if not the words, set forward to run with him down the slope into the valley.

At about a hundred yards off from the crowd, Granville, crouched behind a clump of thorny acacia, and, signalling to the Namaqua to hide at the same time, drew his revolver and fired point-blank at the hindmost natives.

The effect was electrical. In a moment the savages turned and gazed around them astonished. One of their number was hit and wounded in the leg. Granville had aimed so purposely, to maim and terrify them. The natives faltered and fell back. As they did so, Granville emerged from the shelter of the acacia bush, and fired a second shot from another point at them. At the same instant the Namaqua raised a loud native battle-cry, and brandished his assegai. The effect was electrical. The hostile tribe broke up in wild panic at once. They cried in their own tongue that the Namaquas were down upon them, under English guidance: and, quick as lightning, they dispersed as if by magic, to hide themselves about in the thick bush jungle.

Two seconds later, Guy was wringing Granville's hand in a fervour of gratitude. Each man had saved the other's life. In the rapid interchange of question and answer that followed, one point alone puzzled them both for a minute or two.

"But why on earth didn't you leave a line to explain what you'd done?" Granville cried, now thoroughly ashamed of his unbelief, "If only I'd known, you were coming back to the village it would have saved me so much distress, so much sleepless misery."

"Why, so I did," Guy answered, still thoroughly out of breath, and stained with blood and powder. "I tore a leaf from my note-book and gave it to the Namaqua, explaining to him by signs that he was to let you have it at once, the moment you were conscious. Here, you, sir," he went on, turning round to their faithful black ally, and holding up the note-book before his eyes to refresh his memory, "why didn't you give it to the gentleman as I told you?"

The Namaqua, catching hastily at the meaning from the mere tone of the question, as well as from Guy's instinctive and graphic imitation of the act of writing, pulled out from his waistband the last relics of a very brown and tattered fragment of paper, on which were still legible in pencil the half-obliterated words: "My dear Granville,--I find there is no chance of conveying you to the coast through the territory of the next tribe in your present condition, unless---"

The rest was torn off. Guy looked at it dubiously. But the Namaqua, anxious to show he had followed out all instructions to the very letter, tore off the next scrap before their eyes, rolled it up between his palms into a nice greasy pill, and proceeded to offer it for Granville's acceptance. The misapprehension was too absurd. Guy went off into a hearty peal of laughter at once. The Namaqua had taken the mysterious signs for "a very great medicine," and had administered the magical paper accordingly, as he understood himself to be instructed, at fixed intervals to his unfortunate patient. That was the medicine Granville remembered having forced down his throat at the moment when he first learned, as he thought, his half-brother's treachery.