A Simpleton by Charles Reade
Next morning, Staines and Dick Dale walked through the streets of Cape Town side by side. Dick felt the uneasiness of a sane man, not familiar with the mentally afflicted, who suddenly finds himself alone with one. Insanity turns men oftenest into sheep and hares; but it does now and then make them wolves and tigers; and that has saddled the insane in general with a character for ferocity. Young Dale, then, cast many a suspicious glance at his comrade, as he took him along. These glances were reassuring: Christopher's face had no longer the mobility, the expressive changes, that mark the superior mind; his countenance was monotonous: but the one expression was engaging; there was a sweet, patient, lamb-like look: the glorious eye a little troubled and perplexed, but wonderfully mild. Dick Dale looked and looked, and his uneasiness vanished. And the more he looked, the more did a certain wonder creep over him, and make him scarce believe the thing he knew; viz., that a learned doctor had saved him from the jaws of death by rare knowledge, sagacity, courage, and skill combined: and that mighty man of wisdom was brought down to this lamb, and would go north, south, east, or west, with sweet and perfect submission, even as he, Dick Dale, should appoint. With these reflections honest Dick felt his eyes get a little misty, and, to use those words of Scripture, which nothing can surpass or equal, his bowels yearned over the man.
As for Christopher, he looked straight forward, and said not a word till they cleared the town; but when he saw the vast flowery vale, and the far-off violet hills, like Scotland glorified, he turned to Dick with an ineffable expression of sweetness and good fellowship, and said, "Oh, beautiful! We'll hunt the past together."
"We--will--so," said Dick, with a sturdy and indeed almost a stern resolution.
Now, this he said, not that he cared for the past, nor intended to waste the present by going upon its predecessor's trail; but he had come to a resolution--full three minutes ago--to humor his companion to the top of his bent, and say "Yes" with hypocritical vigor to everything not directly and immediately destructive to him and his.
The next moment they turned a corner and came upon the rest of their party, hitherto hidden by the apricot hedge and a turning in the road. A blue-black Kafir, with two yellow Hottentot drivers, man and boy, was harnessing, in the most primitive mode, four horses on to the six oxen attached to the wagon; and the horses were flattening their ears, and otherwise resenting the incongruity. Meantime a fourth figure, a colossal young Kafir woman, looked on superior with folded arms, like a sable Juno looking down with that absolute composure upon the struggles of man and other animals, which Lucretius and his master Epicurus assigned to the Divine nature. Without jesting, the grandeur, majesty, and repose of this figure were unsurpassable in nature, and such as have vanished from sculpture two thousand years and more.
Dick Dale joined the group immediately, and soon arranged the matter. Meantime, Phoebe descended from the wagon, and welcomed Christopher very kindly, and asked him if he would like to sit beside her, or to walk.
He glanced into the wagon; it was covered and curtained, and dark as a cupboard. "I think," said he, timidly, "I shall see more of the past out here."
"So you will, poor soul," said Phoebe kindly, "and better for your health: but you must not go far from the wagon, for I'm a fidget; and I have got the care of you now, you know, for want of a better. Come, Ucatella; you must ride with me, and help me sort the things; they are all higgledy-piggledy." So those two got into the wagon through the back curtains. Then the Kafir driver flourished his kambok, or long whip, in the air, and made it crack like a pistol, and the horses reared, and the oxen started and slowly bored in between them, for they whinnied, and kicked, and spread out like a fan all over the road; but a flick or two from the terrible kambok soon sent them bleeding and trembling and rubbing shoulders, and the oxen, mildly but persistently goring their recalcitrating haunches, the intelligent animals went ahead, and revenged themselves by breaking the harness. But that goes for little in Cape travel.
The body of the wagon was long and low and very stout. The tilt strong and tight-made. The roof inside, and most of the sides, lined with green baize. Curtains of the same to the little window and the back. There was a sort of hold literally built full of purchases; a small fireproof safe; huge blocks of salt; saws, axes, pickaxes, adzes, flails, tools innumerable, bales of wool and linen stuff, hams, and two hundred empty sacks strewn over all. In large pigeon-holes fixed to the sides were light goods, groceries, collars, glaring cotton handkerchiefs for Phoebe's aboriginal domestics, since not every year did she go to Cape Town, a twenty days' journey by wagon: things dangled from the very roof; but no hard goods there, if you please, to batter one's head in a spill. Outside were latticed grooves with tent, tent-poles, and rifles. Great pieces of cork, and bags of hay and corn, hung dangling from mighty hooks--the latter to feed the cattle, should they be compelled to camp out on some sterile spot on the Veldt, and methinks to act as buffers, should the whole concern roll down a nullah or little precipice, no very uncommon incident in the blessed region they must pass to reach Dale's Kloof.
Harness mended; fresh start. The Hottentots and Kafir vociferated and yelled, and made the unearthly row of a dozen wild beasts wrangling: the horses drew the bullocks, they the wagon; it crawled and creaked, and its appendages wobbled finely.
Slowly they creaked and wobbled past apricot hedges and detached houses and huts, and got into an open country without a tree, but here and there a stunted camel-thorn. The soil was arid, and grew little food for man or beast; yet, by a singular freak of nature, it put forth abundantly things that here at home we find it harder to raise than homely grass and oats; the ground was thickly clad with flowers of delightful hues; pyramids of snow or rose-color bordered the track; yellow and crimson stars bejewelled the ground, and a thousand bulbous plants burst into all imaginable colors, and spread a rainbow carpet to the foot of the violet hills; and all this glowed, and gleamed, and glittered in a sun shining with incredible brightness and purity of light, but, somehow, without giving a headache or making the air sultry.
Christopher fell to gathering flowers, and interrogating the past by means of them; for he had studied botany: the past gave him back some pitiably vague ideas. He sighed. "Never mind," said he to Dick, and tapped his forehead: "it is here: it is only locked up."
"All right," said Dick; "nothing is lost when you know where 'tis."
"This is a beautiful country," suggested Christopher. "It is all flowers. It is like the garden of--the garden of--locked up."
"It is de--light--ful," replied the self-compelled optimist sturdily. But here nature gave way; he was obliged to relieve his agricultural bile by getting into the cart and complaining to his sister. "'Twill take us all our time to cure him. He have been bepraising this here soil, which it is only fit to clean the women's kettles. 'Twouldn't feed three larks to an acre, I know; no, nor half so many."
"Poor soul! mayhap the flowers have took his eye. Sit here a bit, Dick. I want to talk to you about a many things."
While these two were conversing, Ucatella, who was very fond of Phoebe, but abhorred wagons, stepped out and stalked by the side, like an ostrich, a camelopard, or a Taglioni; nor did the effort with which she subdued her stride to the pace of the procession appear: it was the poetry of walking. Christopher admired it a moment; but the noble expanse tempted him, and he strode forth like a giant, his lungs inflating in the glorious air, and soon left the wagon far behind.
The consequence was that when they came to a halt, and Dick and Phoebe got out to release and water the cattle, there was Christopher's figure retiring into space.
"Hanc rem aegre tulit Phoebe," as my old friend Livy would say. "Oh dear! oh dear! if he strays so far from us, he will be eaten up at nightfall by jackals, or lions, or something. One of you must go after him."
"Me go, missy," said Ucatella zealously, pleased with an excuse for stretching her magnificent limbs.
"Ay, but mayhap he will not come back with you: will he, Dick?"
"That he will, like a lamb." Dick wanted to look after the cattle.
"Yuke, my girl," said Phoebe, "listen. He has been a good friend of ours in trouble; and now he is not quite right here. So be very kind to him, but be sure and bring him back, or keep him till we come."
"Me bring him back alive, certain sure," said Ucatella, smiling from ear to ear. She started with a sudden glide, like a boat taking the water, and appeared almost to saunter away, so easy was the motion; but when you looked at the ground she was covering, the stride, or glide, or whatever it was, was amazing.
"She seem'd in walking to devour the way."
Christopher walked fast, but nothing like this; and as he stopped at times to botanize and gaze at the violet hills, and interrogate the past, she came up with him about five miles from the halting- place.
She laid her hand quietly on his shoulder, and said, with a broad genial smile, and a musical chuckle, "Ucatella come for you. Missy want to speak you."
"Oh! very well;" and he turned back with her, directly; but she took him by the hand to make sure; and they marched back peaceably, in silence, and hand in hand. But he looked and looked at her, and at last he stopped dead short, and said, a little arrogantly, "Come, I know you. You are not locked up;" and he inspected her point-blank. She stood like an antique statue, and faced the examination. "You are 'the noble savage,'" said he, having concluded his inspection.
"Nay," said she. "I be the housemaid."
"Iss, the housemaid, Ucatella. So come on." And she drew him along, sore perplexed.
They met the cavalcade a mile from the halting-place, and Phoebe apologized a little to Christopher. "I hope you'll excuse me, sir," said she, "but I am just for all the world like a hen with her chickens; if but one strays, I'm all in a flutter till I get him back."
"Madam," said Christopher, "I am very unhappy at the way things are locked up. Please tell me truly, is this 'the housemaid,' or 'the noble savage'?"
"Well, she is both, if you go to that, and the best creature ever breathed."
"Then she is 'the noble savage'?"
"Ay, so they call her, because she is black."
"Then, thank Heaven," said Christopher, "the past is not all locked up."
That afternoon they stopped at an inn. But Dick slept in the cart. At three in the morning they took the road again, and creaked along supernaturally loud under a purple firmament studded with huge stars, all bright as moons, that lit the way quite clear, and showed black things innumerable flitting to and fro; these made Phoebe shudder, but were no doubt harmless; still Dick carried his double rifle, and a revolver in his belt.
They made a fine march in the cool, until some slight mists gathered, and then they halted and breakfasted near a silvery kloof, and watered the cattle. While thus employed, suddenly a golden tinge seemed to fall like a lash on the vapors of night; they scudded away directly, as jackals before the lion; the stars paled, and with one incredible bound, the mighty sun leaped into the horizon, and rose into the sky. In a moment all the lesser lamps of heaven were out, though late so glorious, and there was nothing but one vast vaulted turquoise, and a great flaming topaz mounting with eternal ardor to its centre.
This did not escape Christopher. "What is this?" said he. "No twilight. The tropics!" He managed to dig that word out of the past in a moment.
At ten o'clock the sun was so hot that they halted, and let the oxen loose till sun-down. Then they began to climb the mountains.
The way was steep and rugged; indeed, so rough in places, that the cattle had to jump over the holes, and as the wagon could not jump so cleverly, it jolted appallingly, and many a scream issued forth.
Near the summit, when the poor beasts were dead beat, they got into clouds and storms, and the wind rushed howling at them through the narrow pass with such fury it flattened the horses' ears, and bade fair to sweep the whole cavalcade to the plains below.
Christopher and Dick walked close behind, under the lee of the wagon. Christopher said in Dick's ear, "D'ye hear that? Time to reef topsails, captain."
"It is time to do something," said Dick. He took advantage of a jutting rock, drew the wagon half behind it and across the road, propped the wheels with stones, and they all huddled to leeward, man and beast indiscriminately.
"Ah!" said Christopher, approvingly; "we are lying to: a very-- proper--course."
They huddled and shivered three hours, and then the sun leaped into the sky, and lo! a transformation scene. The cold clouds were first rosy fleeces, then golden ones, then gold-dust, then gone; the rain was big diamonds, then crystal sparks, then gone; the rocks and the bushes sparkled with gem-like drops, and shone and smiled.
The shivering party bustled, and toasted the potent luminary in hot coffee; for Phoebe's wagon had a stove and chimney; and then they yoked their miscellaneous cattle again, and breasted the hill. With many a jump, and bump, and jolt, and scream from inside, they reached the summit, and looked down on a vast slope, flowering but arid, a region of gaudy sterility.
The descent was more tremendous than the ascent, and Phoebe got out, and told Christopher she would liever cross the ocean twice than this dreadful mountain once.
The Hottentot with the reins was now bent like a bow all the time, keeping the cattle from flowing diverse over precipices, and the Kafir with his kambok was here, and there, and everywhere, his whip flicking like a lancet, and cracking like a horse-pistol, and the pair vied like Apollo and Pan, not which could sing sweetest, but swear loudest. Having the lofty hill for some hours between them and the sun, they bumped, and jolted, and stuck in mud-holes, and flogged and swore the cattle out of them again, till at last they got to the bottom, where ran a turbid kloof or stream. It was fordable, but the recent rains had licked away the slope; so the existing bank was two feet above the stream. Little recked the demon drivers or the parched cattle; in they plunged promiscuously, with a flop like thunder, followed by an awful splashing. The wagon stuck fast in the mud, the horses tied themselves in a knot, and rolled about in the stream, and the oxen drank imperturbably.
"Oh, the salt! the salt!" screamed Phoebe, and the rocks re-echoed her lamentations.
The wagon was inextricable, the cattle done up, the savages lazy, so they stayed for several hours. Christopher botanized, but not alone. Phoebe drew Ucatella apart, and explained to her that when a man is a little wrong in the head, it makes a child of him: "So," said she, "you must think he is your child, and never let him out of your sight."
"All right," said the sable Juno, who spoke English ridiculously well, and rapped out idioms; especially "Come on," and "All right."
About dusk, what the drivers had foreseen, though they had not the sense to explain it, took place; the kloof dwindled to a mere gutter, and the wagon stuck high and dry. Phoebe waved her handkerchief to Ucatella. Ucatella, who had dogged Christopher about four hours without a word, now took his hand, and said, "My child, missy wants us; come on;" and so led him unresistingly.
The drivers, flogging like devils, cursing like troopers, and yelling like hyenas gone mad, tried to get the wagon off; but it was fast as a rock. Then Dick and the Hottentot put their shoulders to one wheel, and tried to prise it up, while the Kafir encouraged the cattle with his thong. Observing this, Christopher went in, with his sable custodian at his heels, and heaved at the other embedded wheel. The wagon was lifted directly, so that the cattle tugged it out, and they got clear. On examination, the salt had just escaped.
Says Ucatella to Phoebe, a little ostentatiously, "My child is strong and useful; make little missy a good slave."
"A slave! Heaven forbid!" said Phoebe. "He'll be a father to us all, once he gets his head back; and I do think it is coming--but very slow."
The next three days offered the ordinary incidents of African travel, but nothing that operated much on Christopher's mind, which is the true point of this narrative; and as there are many admirable books of African travel, it is the more proper I should confine myself to what may be called the relevant incidents of the journey.
On the sixth day from Cape Town, they came up with a large wagon stuck in a mud-hole. There was quite a party of Boers, Hottentots, Kafirs, round it, armed with whips, shamboks, and oaths, lashing and cursing without intermission, or any good effect; and there were the wretched beasts straining in vain at their choking yokes, moaning with anguish, trembling with terror, their poor mild eyes dilated with agony and fear, and often, when the blows of the cruel shamboks cut open their bleeding flesh, they bellowed to Heaven their miserable and vain protest against this devil's work.
Then the past opened its stores, and lent Christopher a word.
"Barbarians!" he roared, and seized a gigantic Kafir by the throat, just as his shambok descended for the hundredth time. There was a mighty struggle, as of two Titans; dust flew round the combatants in a cloud; a whirling of big bodies, and down they both went with an awful thud, the Saxon uppermost, by Nature's law.
The Kafir's companions, amazed at first, began to roll their eyes and draw a knife or two; but Dick ran forward, and said, "Don't hurt him: he is wrong here."
This representation pacified them more readily than one might have expected. Dick added hastily, "We'll get you out of the hole our way, and cry quits."
The proposal was favorably received, and the next minute Christopher and Ucatella at one wheel, and Dick and the Hottentot at the other, with no other help than two pointed iron bars bought for their shepherds, had effected what sixteen oxen could not. To do this Dick Dale had bared his arm to the shoulder; it was a stalwart limb, like his sister's, and he now held it out all swollen and corded, and slapped it with his other hand. "Look'ee here, you chaps," said he: "the worst use a man can put that there to is to go cutting out a poor beast's heart for not doing more than he can. You are good fellows, you Kafirs; but I think you have sworn never to put your shoulder to a wheel. But, bless your poor silly hearts, a little strength put on at the right place is better than a deal at the wrong."
"You hear that, you Kafir chaps?" inquired Ucatella, a little arrogantly--for a Kafir.
The Kafirs, who had stood quite silent to imbibe these remarks, bowed their heads with all the dignity and politeness of Roman senators, Spanish grandees, etc.; and one of the party replied gravely, "The words of the white man are always wise."
"And his arm blanked* strong," said Christopher's late opponent, from whose mind, however, all resentment had vanished.
* I take this very useful expression from a delightful volume by Mr. Boyle.
Thus spake the Kafirs; yet to this day never hath a man of all their tribe put his shoulder to a wheel, so strong is custom in South Africa; probably in all Africa; since I remember St. Augustin found it stronger than he liked, at Carthage.
Ucatella went to Phoebe, and said, "Missy, my child is good and brave."
"Bother you and your child!" said poor Phoebe. "To think of his flying at a giant like that, and you letting of him. I'm all of a tremble from head to foot:" and Phoebe relieved herself with a cry.
"Oh, missy!" said Ucatella.
"There, never mind me. Do go and look after your child, and keep him out of more mischief. I wish we were safe at Dale's Kloof, I do."
Ucatella complied, and went botanizing with Dr. Staines; but that gentleman, in the course of his scientific researches into camomile flowers and blasted heath, which were all that lovely region afforded, suddenly succumbed and stretched out his limbs, and said, sleepily, "Good-night--U--cat--" and was off into the land of Nod.
The wagon, which, by the way, had passed the larger but slower vehicle, found him fast asleep, and Ucatella standing by him as ordered, motionless and grand.
"Oh, dear! what now?" said Phoebe: but being a sensible woman, though in the hen and chickens line, she said, "'Tis the fighting and the excitement. 'Twill do him more good than harm, I think:" and she had him bestowed in the wagon, and never disturbed him night nor day. He slept thirty-six hours at a stretch; and when he awoke, she noticed a slight change in his eye. He looked at her with an interest he had not shown before, and said, "Madam, I know you."
"Thank God for that," said Phoebe.
"You kept a little shop, in the other world."
Phoebe opened her eyes with some little alarm.
"You understand--the world that is locked up--for the present."
"Well, sir, so I did; and sold you milk and butter. Don't you mind?"
"No--the milk and butter--they are locked up."
The country became wilder, the signs of life miserably sparse; about every twenty miles the farmhouse or hut of a degenerate Boer, whose children and slaves pigged together, and all ran jostling, and the mistress screamed in her shrill Dutch, and the Hottentots all chirped together, and confusion reigned for want of method: often they went miles, and saw nothing but a hut or two, with a nude Hottentot eating flesh, burnt a little, but not cooked, at the door; and the kloofs became deeper and more turbid, and Phoebe was in an agony about her salt, and Christopher advised her to break it in big lumps, and hang it all about the wagon in sacks; and she did, and Ucatella said profoundly, "My child is wise;" and they began to draw near home, and Phoebe to fidget; and she said to Christopher, "Oh, dear! I hope they are all alive and well: once you leave home, you don't know what may have happened by then you come back. One comfort, I've got Sophy: she is very dependable, and no beauty, thank my stars."
That night, the last they had to travel, was cloudy, for a wonder, and they groped with lanterns.
Ucatella and her child brought up the rear. Presently there was a light pattering behind them. The swift-eared Ucatella clutched Christopher's arm, and turning round, pointed back, with eyeballs white and rolling. There were full a dozen animals following them, whose bodies seemed colorless as shadows, but their eyes little balls of flaming lime-light.
"Gun!" said Christie, and gave the Kafir's arm a pinch. She flew to the caravan; he walked backwards, facing the foe. The wagon was halted, and Dick ran back with two loaded rifles. In his haste he gave one to Christopher, and repented at leisure; but Christopher took it, and handled it like an experienced person, and said, with delight, "Volunteer." But with this the cautious animals had vanished like bubbles. But Dick told Christopher they would be sure to come back; he ordered Ucatella into the wagon, and told her to warn Phoebe not to be frightened if guns should be fired. This soothing message brought Phoebe's white face out between the curtains, and she implored them to get into the wagon, and not tempt Providence.
"Not till I have got thee a kaross of jackal's fur."
"I'll never wear it!" said Phoebe violently, to divert him from his purpose.
"Time will show," said Dick dryly. "These varmint are on and off like shadows, and as cunning as Old Nick. We two will walk on quite unconcerned like, and as soon as ever the varmint are at our heels you give us the office; and we'll pepper their fur--won't we, doctor?"
"We--will--pepper--their fur," said Christopher, repeating what to him was a lesson in the ancient and venerable English tongue.
So they walked on expectant; and by and by the four-footed shadows with large lime-light eyes came stealing on; and Phoebe shrieked, and they vanished before the men could draw a bead on them.
"Thou's no use at this work, Pheeb," said Dick. "Shut thy eyes, and let us have Yuke."
"Iss, master: here I be."
"You can bleat like a lamb; for I've heard ye."
"Iss, master. I bleats beautiful;" and she showed snowy teeth from ear to ear.
"Well, then, when the varmint are at our heels, draw in thy woolly head, and bleat like a young lamb. They won't turn from that, I know, the vagabonds."
Matters being thus prepared, they sauntered on; but the jackals were very wary. They came like shadows, so departed--a great many times: but at last being re-enforced, they lessened the distance, and got so close, that Ucatella withdrew her head, and bleated faintly inside the wagon. The men turned, levelling their rifles, and found the troop within twenty yards of them. They wheeled directly: but the four barrels poured their flame, four loud reports startled the night, and one jackal lay dead as a stone, another limped behind the flying crowd, and one lay kicking. He was soon despatched, and both carcasses flung over the patient oxen; and good-by jackals for the rest of that journey.
Ucatella, with all a Kafir's love of fire-arms, clapped her hands with delight. "My child shoots loud and strong," said she.
"Ay, ay," replied Phoebe; "they are all alike; wherever there's men, look for quarrelling and firing off. We had only to sit quiet in the wagon."
"Ay." said Dick, "the cattle especially--for it is them the varmint were after--and let 'em eat my Hottentots."
At this picture of the cattle inside the wagon, and the jackals supping on cold Hottentot alongside, Phoebe, who had no more humor than a cat, but a heart of gold, shut up, and turned red with confusion at her false estimate of the recent transaction in fur.
When the sun rose they found themselves in a tract somewhat less arid and inhuman; and, at last, at the rise of a gentle slope, they saw, half a mile before them, a large farmhouse partly clad with creepers, and a little plot of turf, the fruit of eternal watering; item, a flower-bed; item, snow-white palings; item, an air of cleanliness and neatness scarcely known to those dirty descendants of clean ancestors, the Boers. At some distance a very large dam glittered in the sun, and a troop of snow-white sheep were watering at it.
"England!" cried Christopher.
"Ay, sir," said Phoebe; "as nigh as man can make it." But soon she began to fret: "Oh, dear! where are they all? If it was me, I'd be at the door looking out. Ah, there goes Yuke to rouse them up."
"Come, Pheeb, don't you fidget," said Dick kindly. "Why, the lazy lot are scarce out of their beds by this time."
"More shame for 'em. If they were away from me, and coming home, I should be at the door day and night, I know. Ah!"
She uttered a scream of delight, for just then, out came Ucatella, with little Tommy on her shoulder, and danced along to meet her. As she came close, she raised the chubby child high in the air, and he crowed; and then she lowered him to his mother, who rushed at him, seized, and devoured him with a hundred inarticulate cries of joy and love unspeakable.
"Nature!" said Christopher dogmatically, recognizing an old acquaintance, and booking it as one more conquest gained over the past. But there was too much excitement over the cherub to attend to him. So he watched the woman gravely, and began to moralize with all his might. "This," said he, "is what we used to call maternal love; and all animals had it, and that is why the noble savage went for him. It was very good of you, Miss Savage," said the poor soul sententiously.
"Good of her!" cried Phoebe. "She is all goodness. Savage, find me a Dutchwoman like her! I'll give her a good cuddle for it;" and she took the Kafir round the neck, and gave her a hearty kiss, and made the little boy kiss her too.
At this moment out came a collie dog, hunting Ucatella by scent alone, which process landed him headlong in the group; he gave loud barks of recognition, fawned on Phoebe and Dick, smelt poor Christopher, gave a growl of suspicion, and lurked about squinting, dissatisfied, and lowering his tail.
"Thou art wrong, lad, for once," said Dick; "for he's an old friend, and a good one."
"After the dog, perhaps some Christian will come to welcome us," said poor Phoebe.
Obedient to the wish, out walked Sophy, the English nurse, a scraggy woman, with a very cocked nose and thin, pinched lips, and an air of respectability and pertness mingled. She dropped a short courtesy, shot the glance of a basilisk at Ucatella, and said stiffly, "You are welcome home, ma'am." Then she took the little boy as one having authority. Not that Phoebe would have surrendered him; but just then Mr. Falcon strolled out, with a cigar in his mouth, and Phoebe, with her heart in her mouth, flew to meet him. There was a rapturous conjugal embrace, followed by mutual inquiries; and the wagon drew up at the door. Then, for the first time, Falcon observed Staines, saw at once he was a gentleman, and touched his hat to him, to which Christopher responded in kind, and remembered he had done so in the locked-up past.
Phoebe instantly drew her husband apart by the sleeve. "Who do you think that is? You'll never guess. 'Tis the great doctor that saved Dick's life in England with cutting of his throat. But, oh, my dear, he is not the man he was. He is afflicted. Out of his mind partly. Well, we must cure him, and square the account for Dick. I'm a proud woman at finding him, and bringing him here to make him all right again, I can tell you. Oh, I am happy, I am happy. Little did I think to be so happy as I am. And, my dear, I have brought you a whole sackful of newspapers, old and new."
"That is a good girl. But tell me a little more about him. What is his name?"
"No doubt. He wasn't an apothecary, or a chemist, you may be sure, but a high doctor, and the cleverest ever was or ever will be: and isn't it sad, love, to see him brought down so? My heart yearns for the poor man: and then his wife--the sweetest, loveliest creature you ever--oh!" Phoebe stopped very short, for she remembered something all of a sudden; nor did she ever again give Falcon a chance of knowing that the woman, whose presence had so disturbed him, was this very Dr. Christie's wife. "Curious!" thought she to herself, "the world to be so large, and yet so small:" then aloud, "They are unpacking the wagon; come, dear. I don't think I have forgotten anything of yours. There's cigars, and tobacco, and powder, and shot, and bullets, and everything to make you comfortable, as my duty 'tis; and--oh, but I'm a happy woman."
Hottentots, big and little, clustered about the wagon. Treasure after treasure was delivered with cries of delight; the dogs found out it was a joyful time, and barked about the wheeled treasury; and the place did not quiet down till sunset.
A plain but tidy little room was given to Christopher, and he slept there like a top. Next morning his nurse called him up to help her water the grass. She led the way with a tub on her head and two buckets in it. She took him to the dam; when she got there she took out the buckets, left one on the bank, and gave the other to Christie. She then went down the steps till the water was up to her neck, and bade Christie fill the tub. He poured eight bucketsful in. Then she came slowly out, straight as an arrow, balancing this tub full on her head. Then she held out her hands for the two buckets. Christie filled them, wondering, and gave them to her. She took them like toy buckets, and glided slowly home with this enormous weight, and never spilled a drop. Indeed, the walk was more smooth and noble than ever, if possible.
When she reached the house, she hailed a Hottentot, and it cost the man and Christopher a great effort of strength to lower her tub between them.
"What a vertebral column you must have!" said Christopher.
"You must not speak bad words, my child," said she. "Now, you water the grass and the flowers." She gave him a watering-pot, and watched him maternally; but did not put a hand to it. She evidently considered this part of the business as child's play, and not a fit exercise of her powers.
It was only by drowning that little oasis twice a day that the grass was kept green and the flowers alive.
She found him other jobs in course of the day, and indeed he was always helping somebody or other, and became quite ruddy, bronzed, and plump of cheek, and wore a strange look of happiness, except at times when he got apart, and tried to recall the distant past. Then he would knit his brow, and looked perplexed and sad.
They were getting quite used to him, and he to them, when one day he did not come in to dinner. Phoebe sent out for him; but they could not find him.
The sun set. Phoebe became greatly alarmed, and even Dick was anxious.
They all turned out, with guns and dogs, and hunted for him beneath the stars.
Just before daybreak Dick Dale saw a fire sparkle by the side of a distant thicket. He went to it, and there was Ucatella seated, calm and grand as antique statue, and Christopher lying by her side, with a shawl thrown over him. As Dale came hurriedly up, she put her finger to her lips, and said, "My child sleeps. Do not wake him. When he sleeps, he hunts the past, as Collie hunts the springbok."
"Here's a go," said Dick. Then, hearing a chuckle, he looked up, and was aware of a comical appendage to the scene. There hung, head downwards, from a branch, a Kafir boy, who was, in fact, the brother of the stately Ucatella, only went further into antiquity for his models of deportment; for, as she imitated the antique marbles, he reproduced the habits of that epoch when man roosted, and was arboreal. Wheel somersaults, and, above all, swinging head downwards from a branch, were the sweeteners of his existence.
"Oh! You are there, are you?" said Dick.
"Iss," said Ucatella. "Tim good boy. Tim found my child."
"Well," said Dick, "he has chosen a nice place. This is the clump the last lion came out of, at least they say so. For my part, I never saw an African lion; Falcon says they've all took ship, and gone to England. However, I shall stay here with my rifle till daybreak. 'Tis tempting Providence to lie down on the skirt of a wood for Lord knows what to jump out on ye unawares."
Tim was sent home for Hottentots, and Christopher was carried home, still sleeping, and laid on his own bed.
He slept twenty-four hours more, and, when he was fairly awake, a sort of mist seemed to clear away in places, and he remembered things at random. He remembered being at sea on the raft with the dead body; that picture was quite vivid to him. He remembered, too, being in the hospital, and meeting Phoebe, and every succeeding incident; but as respected the more distant past, he could not recall it by any effort of his will. His mind could only go into that remoter past by material stepping-stones; and what stepping-stones he had about him here led him back to general knowledge, but not to his private history.
In this condition he puzzled them all strangely at the farm; his mind was alternately so clear and so obscure. He would chat with Phoebe, and sometimes give her a good practical hint; but the next moment, helpless for want of memory, that great faculty without which judgment cannot act, having no material.
After some days of this, he had another great sleep. It brought him back the distant past in chapters. His wedding-day. His wife's face and dress upon that day. His parting with her: his whole voyage out: but, strange to say, it swept away one-half of that which he had recovered at his last sleep, and he no longer remembered clearly how he came to be at Dale's Kloof.
Thus his mind might be compared to one climbing a slippery place, who gains a foot or two, then slips back; but on the whole gains more than he loses.
He took a great liking to Falcon. That gentleman had the art of pleasing, and the tact never to offend.
Falcon affected to treat the poor soul's want of memory as a common infirmity; pretended he was himself very often troubled in the same way, and advised him to read the newspapers. "My good wife," said he, "has brought me a whole file of the Cape Gazette. I'd read them if I was you. The deuce is in it, if you don't rake up something or other."
Christopher thanked him warmly for this: he got the papers to his own little room, and had always one or two in his pocket for reading. At first he found a good many hard words that puzzled him; and he borrowed a pencil of Phoebe, and noted them down. Strange to say, the words that puzzled him were always common words, that his unaccountable memory had forgotten: a hard word, he was sure to remember that.
One day he had to ask Falcon the meaning of "spendthrift." Falcon told him briefly. He could have illustrated the word by a striking example; but he did not. He added, in his polite way, "No fellow can understand all the words in a newspaper. Now, here's a word in mine--'Anemometer;' who the deuce can understand such a word?"
"Oh, that is a common word enough," said poor Christopher. "It means a machine for measuring the force of the wind."
"Oh, indeed," said Falcon; but did not believe a word of it.
One sultry day Christopher had a violent headache, and complained to Ucatella. She told Phoebe, and they bound his brows with a wet handkerchief, and advised him to keep in-doors. He sat down in the coolest part of the house, and held his head with his hands, for it seemed as if it would explode into two great fragments.
All in a moment the sky was overcast with angry clouds, whirling this way and that. Huge drops of hail pattered down, and the next minute came a tremendous flash of lightning, accompanied, rather than followed, by a crash of thunder close over their heads.
This was the opening. Down came a deluge out of clouds that looked mountains of pitch, and made the day night but for the fast and furious strokes of lightning that fired the air. The scream of wind and awful peals of thunder completed the horrors of the scene.
In the midst of this, by what agency I know no more than science or a sheep does, something went off inside Christopher's head, like a pistol-shot. He gave a sort of scream, and dashed out into the weather.
Phoebe heard his scream and his flying footstep, and uttered an ejaculation of fear. The whole household was alarmed, and, under other circumstances, would have followed him; but you could not see ten yards.
A chill sense of impending misfortune settled on the house. Phoebe threw her apron over her head, and rocked in her chair.
Dick himself looked very grave.
Ucatella would have tried to follow him; but Dick forbade her. "'Tis no use," said he. "When it clears, we that be men will go for him."
"Pray Heaven you may find him alive!"
"I don't think but what we shall. There's nowhere he can fall down to hurt himself, nor yet drown himself, but our dam; and he has not gone that way. But"--
"If we do find him, we must take him back to Cape Town, before he does himself, or some one, a mischief. Why, Phoebe, don't you see the man has gone raving mad?"