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时间:2023-09-25 18:18:37来源:China Sailing and Windsurfing Association website 作者:Chen Haode

was by nature a retiring man, a trifle shy even, and to find himself saddled with so delicate and painful a task as the breaking of this news to her, was simply appalling. He was a well-to-do man, with a wife and family of his own, yet it is to be feared that during the three dozen paces which it took them to reach the front door, he almost wished he could change places with poor Tom Carhayes.He wished so altogether as they gained the stoep. For in the doorway stood a tall figure—erect, rigid as a post—with face of a ghastly white, lips livid and trembling.“What does this mean?” gasped Eanswyth. “What ‘bad news’ is it? Please tell me. I can bear it.”She was holding out a scrap of pencilled paper, Shelton’s open note, which Mrs Hoste, in her flurry and horror, had dropped as she went out. It only contained a couple of lines:Dear Mrs Hoste:There is very bad news to tell, which regards Mrs Carhayes. Please follow the bearer at once.Yours truly, Henry Shelton.“Quick—what is it—the ‘bad news’? I can bear it—Quick—you are killing me,” gasped Eanswyth, speaking now in a dry whisper.One look at his accomplice convinced Shelton that he would have to take the whole matter into his own hands.“Try and be brave, Mrs Carhayes,” he said gravely. “It concerns your husband.”“Is he—is he—is it the worst!” she managed to get out.“It is the worst,” he answered simply, deeming it best to get it over as soon as possible.

companion had made it, in one form or another, at least half a dozen times already. Then the sound of a light footstep was heard, and a tall, dark figure stood before them in the gloom, with a muttered salutation.“Greeting, Xalasa!” said Eustace, handing the new arrival a large piece of Boer tobacco. “We will smoke while we talk. The taste of the fragrant plant is to conversation even as the oil unto the axles of a heavily laden waggon.”The Kafir promptly filled his pipe. The two white men did likewise.“Have you been in the war, Xalasa?” went on Eustace, when the pipes were in full blast. “You need not be afraid of saying anything to us. We are not Government people.”“Au!” said the Gaika, with a quizzical grin upon his massive countenance. “I am a ‘loyal,’ Ixeshane.”“The chiefs of the Ama Ngqika, Sandili and the rest of them, have acted like children,” replied Eustace, with apparent irrelevance. “They have allowed themselves to be dragged into war at the ‘word’ of Kreli, and against the advice of their real friends, and where are they now? In prison, with a lot of thieves and common criminals, threatened with the death of a dog!”The Kafir uttered an emphatic murmur of assent. Hoste, who was excusably wondering what the deuce the recent bad behaviour, and eventual fate of Sandili and Co., had to do with that of Tom Carhayes, could hardly restrain his impatience. But Eustace knew what he was about. The Briton may, as he delights to boast, prefer plain and straightforward talking in matters of importance—or he may not. The savage, of whatever race or clime, unequivocally does not. He dearly loves what we should call beating around the bush. However important the subject under discussion, it must be led up to. To dash straight at the point is not his way. So after some further talk on the prospects and politics of the Gaika nation, and of the Amaxosa race in general—past, present, and to come—Eustace went on:“You were not always a ‘loyal,’ Xalasa?”“Whau!” cried the man, bringing his hand to his mouth, in expressive native fashion. “When the fire trumpet first sounded in the midnight sky, I answered its call. While the chiefs of the Ama Ngqika yet sat still, many of their children went forth to war at the ‘word’ of the Paramount Chief. Many of us crossed into the Gcaléka country and fought at the side of our brethren. Many of us did not return. Hau!”“Then you became a ‘loyal’?”“Ihuvumenté (The Government) was very strong. We could not stand against it. Ha! Amasoja—Amapolisi—bonké. (Soldiers—police—all) I thought of all the men who had crossed the Kei with me. I thought of the few who had returned. Then I thought, ‘Art thou a fool, Xalasa? Is thy father’s son an ox that he should give himself to be slain to make strength for Sarili’s fighting men?’ Hau! I came home again and resolved to ‘sit still.’”“But your eyes and ears were open among the Ama-Gcaléka. They saw—they heard of my brother, Umlilwane?”“Thy brother, Umlilwane, was alive at the time the white Amagcagca (Rabble) knocked me down and kicked me. He is alive still.”“How do you know he is alive still?” said Eustace, mastering his voice with an effort, for his pulses were beating like a hammer as he hung upon the other’s reply. It came—cool, impassive, confident:“The people talk.”“Where is he, Xalasa?”“Listen, Ixeshane,” said the Kafir, glancing around and sinking his voice to an awed whisper. “Where is he! Au! Kwa ’Zinyoka.”“Kwa ’Zinyoka! ‘The Home of the Serpents!’” Well he remembered the jeering, but ominous, words of the hideous witch-doctress at the time his unfortunate cousin was being dragged away insensible under the

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directions of his implacable foe, Hlangani. “He will wake. But he will never be seen again.” And now this man’s testimony seemed to bear out her words.“What is this ‘Home of the Serpents,’ Xalasa?” he said.“Au!” returned the Kafir, after a thoughtful pause, and speaking in a low and apprehensive tone as a timid person in a haunted room might talk of ghosts. “It is a fearsome place. None who go there ever return— none—no, not one,” he added, shaking his head. “But they say your magic is great, Ixeshane. It may be that you will find your brother alive. The war is nearly over now, but the war leaves every man poor. I have lost all I possessed. When you find your brother you will perhaps think Xalàsa is a poor man, and I have too many cattle in my kraal. I will send four or five cows to the man who told me my brother was alive.”In his heart of hearts Eustace thought how willingly he would send him a hundred for precisely the opposite intelligence.“Where is ‘The Home of the Serpents’?” he said.“Where? Who knows? None save Ngcenika, who talks with the spirits. None save Hlangani, who rejoices in his revenge as he sees his enemy there, even the man who struck him, and drew the blood of the Great Chief’s herald. Who knows? Not I. Those who go there never return,” he added impressively, conveying the idea that in his particular instance “ignorance is bliss.”Eustace’s first instinct was one of relief. If no one knew where the place was, clearly no one could tell. Then it struck him that this rather tended to complicate matters than to simplify them. There had been quite enough insinuated as to himself, and though guiltless as to his cousin’s fate, yet once it got wind that the unfortunate man was probably alive somewhere, it would devolve upon himself to leave no stone unturned until that probability should become a certainty. Public opinion would demand that much, and he knew the world far too well to make the blunder of treating public opinion, in a matter of this kind, as a negligeable quantity.“But if you don’t know where the place is, Xalasa, how am I to find it?” he said at length. “I would give much to the man who would guide me to it. Think! Is there no man you know of who could do so?”But the Kafir shook his head. “There is none!” he said. “None save Ngcenika. Whau, Ixeshane! Is not thy magic as powerful as hers? Will it not aid thee to find it? Now I must go. Where the ‘Home of the Serpents’ is, thy brother is there. That is all I can tell thee.”He spoke hurriedly now and in an altered tone—even as a man who has said too much and is not free from misgiving as to the consequences. He seemed anxious to depart, and seeing that nothing more was to be got out of him for the present, the two made no objection.Hardly had he departed than Josane appeared. He had noted the arrival of Xalasa, though Xalasa was under the impression that he was many miles distant. He had waited until the amakosi (Literally “chiefs.” In this connection “masters”) had finished their indaba (Talk) and here he was. He was filled with delight at the sight of Ixeshane and his eyes felt good. His “father” and his “friend” had been away for many moons, but now he was back again and the night was lighter than the day. His “father” could see, too, how he had kept his trust, the old man went on. Where were the houses of all the other white amakosi! Heaps of ashes. The house of his “father” alone was standing—it alone the torch had passed by. As for the destruction which had taken place within it, that could not be prevented. The people “saw red.” It had taxed the utmost effort of himself and Ncanduku to preserve the house. Reft of hyperbole, his narrative was plain enough. A marauding band had made a descent upon the place on the very night they had quitted it, and, although with difficulty dissuaded from burning it down, the savages had wrecked the furniture and looted the stores, as we have shown. This, however, was comparatively a small evil.Hoste, wearied with all this talk, which moreover he understood but imperfectly, had waxed restive and strolled away. No sooner was he out of earshot than Josane, sinking his voice, remarked suddenly:“Xalasa is a fool!”Eustace merely assented. He saw that something was coming, and prepared to listen attentively.“Do you want to find Umlilwane?” went on the old Kafir with ever so slight an expression on the “want.”“Of course I do,” was the unhesitating reply. But for the space of half a minute the white man and the savage gazed fixedly into each other’s faces in the starlight.“Au! If I had known that!” muttered Josane in a disappointed tone. “If I had known that, I could have told you all that Xalasa has—could have told you many moons ago.”“You knew it, then?”“Yes.”“And is it true—that—that he is alive now?”“Yes.”“But, Josane, how is it you kept your knowledge to yourself? He might have been rescued all this time. Now it may be too late.”“Whau, Ixeshane! Did you want him rescued?” said the old fellow shrewdly. “Did the Inkosikazi want him rescued?”This was putting matters with uncomfortable plainness. Eustace reddened in the darkness.“Whatever we ‘wanted,’ or did not want, is nothing,” he answered. “This is a matter of life and death. He must be rescued.”“As you will,” was the reply in a tone which implied that in the speaker’s opinion the white man was a lunatic. And from his point of view such was really the case. The old savage was, in fact, following out a thoroughly virtuous line of conduct according to his lights. All this while, in order to benefit the man he liked, he had coolly and deliberately been

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sacrificing the man he—well, did not like.“Where is ‘The Home of the Serpents,’ Josane? Do you know?”“Yes. I know?”Eustace started.“Can you guide me to it?” he said, speaking quickly.“I can. But it is a frightful place. The bravest white man would take to his heels and run like a hunted buck before he had gone far inside. You have extraordinary nerve, Ixeshane—but—You will see.”This sounded promising. But the old man’s tone was quiet and confident. He was not given to vapouring.“How do you know where to find this place, Josane?” said Eustace, half incredulously in spite of himself. “Xalasa told us it was unknown to everybody—everybody but the witch-doctress?”“Xalasa was right. I know where it is, because I have seen it. I was condemned to it.”“By Ngcenika?”“By Ngcenika. But my revenge is coming—my sure revenge is coming,” muttered the old Gcaléka, crooning the words in a kind of ferocious refrain—like that of a war-song.As this juncture they were rejoined by Hoste.“Well, Milne,” he said. “Had enough indaba? Because, if so, we may as well trek home again. Seems to me we’ve had a lot of trouble for nothing and been made mortal fools of down to the ground by that schelm, Xalasa’s, cock-and-bull yarns.”“You’re wrong this time,” replied Eustace. “Just listen here a while and you’ll see that we’re thoroughly on the right scent.”At the end of half an hour the Kafir and the two white men arose. Their plans were laid. The following evening—at sundown—was the time fixed on as that for starting upon their perilous and somewhat dimly mysterious mission.“You are sure three of us will be enough, Josane?” said Hoste.“Quite enough. There are still bands of the Gcaléka fighting men in the forest country. If we go in a strong party they will discover us and we shall have to fight—Au! ‘A fight is as the air we breathe,’ you will say, Amakosi,” parenthesised the old Kafir, whimsically—“But it will not help us to find ‘The Home of the Serpents.’ Still, there would be no harm in having one more in the party.”“Who can we get?” mused Hoste. “There’s George Payne; but he’s away down in the Colony—Grahamstown, I believe. It would take him days to get here and even then he might cry off. I have it; Shelton’s the man, and I think he’ll go, too. Depend upon it, Milne, Shelton’s the very man. He’s on his farm now—living in a Kafir hut, seeing after the rebuilding of his old house. We’ll look him up this very night; we can get there in a couple of hours.”This was agreed to, and having arranged where Josane was to meet them the following evening, the two men saddled up and rode off into the darkness.Chapter Forty Two.The Search Party.Midwinter as it was, the heat in the valley of the Bashi that morning was something to remember.Not so much the heat as an extraordinary closeness and sense of oppression in the atmosphere. As the sun rose, mounting higher and higher into the clear blue of the heavens, it seemed that all his rays were concentrated and focussed down into this broad deep valley, whose

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sides were broken up into a grand panorama of soaring krantzes and wild rocky gorges, which latter, as also the great terraced slopes, were covered with dense forest, where the huge and spreading yellow-wood, all dangling with monkey trailers, alternated with the wild fig and the mimosa, the spekboem scrub and the waacht-een-bietje thorn, the spiky aloe and the plumed euphorbia, and where, in the cool dank shade, flourished many a rare orchid, beginning to show sign of blossoming, winter as it was.But the four men riding there, making a path for themselves through this well-nigh virgin forest, had little thought to give to the beauties of Nature. Seriousness and anxiety was absent from none of those countenances. For to-day would see the object of their quest attained.So far their expedition had been in no wise unattended by danger. Four men would be a mere mouthful if discovered by any of the scattered bands of the enemy, who still roamed the country in its wildest and most rugged parts. The ferocity of these savages, stimulated by a sullen but vengeful consciousness of defeat, would render them doubly formidable. Four men constituted a mere handful. So the party had travelled by circuitous ways, only advancing at night, and lying hidden during the daytime in the most retired and sequestered spots. Twice from such judicious hiding places had they espied considerable bodies of the enemy marching northward, and two or three times, patrols, or armed forces of their own countrymen. But these they were almost as careful to avoid as the savage Gcalékas. Four men advancing into the hostile country was an uncommon sight. They did not want their expedition talked about, even among their own countrymen, just yet. And now they were within two hours of the object of their search.The dangers they had gone through, and those which were yet to come, were courted, be it remembered, not in search of treasure or riches, not even out of love of adventure. They were braved in order to rescue a friend and comrade from an unknown fate, whose mysteriousness was enhanced by vague hints at undefined horrors, on the part of the only man qualified to speak, viz., their guide.For Josane had proved extraordinarily reticent as to details; and all

attempts to draw him out during their journey had failed. As they drew near the dreaded spot this reticence had deepened to a remarkable degree. The old Gcaléka displayed an ominous taciturnity, a gloom even, which was in no degree calculated to raise the spirits of the three white men. Even Eustace failed to elicit from him any definite facts. He had been “smelt out” and condemned to “the Home of the Serpents” and had escaped while being taken into it, and to do this he had almost had to fly through the air. But the place would try their nerves to the uttermost; of that he warned them. Then he would subside again into silence, regardless of any further attempt to “draw” him.There was one of the party whose motives, judged by ordinary human standards, were little short of heroic, and that one was Eustace Milne. He had nothing to gain by the present undertaking, nor had the others. But then they had nothing to lose by it except their lives, whereas he had not only that but everything that made life worth living into the bargain. Again and again he found himself cursing Xalasa’s “gratitude,” from the very depths of his soul. Yet never for a moment did he swerve in his resolve to save his unfortunate cousin if the thing were to be done, although there were times when he marvelled over himself as a strange and unaccountable paradox. A silence was upon them all, as they moved at a foot’s pace through the dense and jungly tangle, mounting ever upwards. After an hour of this travelling they had reached a considerable height. Here in a sequestered glade Josane called a halt.“We must leave the horses,” he said. “It is impossible to take them where we are going. Whau!” he went on, looking upwards and snuffing the air like a stag. “There will be plenty of thunder by and by. We have no time to lose.”Taking with them a long twisted rawhide rope, of amazing strength, which might be necessary for climbing purposes, and a few smaller reims, together with a day’s provisions, and every available cartridge, they started on foot, Josane leading the way. Each was armed with a double gun—one barrel rifled—and a revolver. The Gcaléka carried three small-bladed casting assegais, and a broad headed, close-quarter one, as well as a they would deny the premise, and retort that life was just what we chose to make it; which is a fallacy, in that it assumes that any one atom in the human scheme is absolutely independent—firstly, of the rest of the crowd; secondly, of circumstances—in fact, is competent to boss the former and direct the latter. Which, in the words of the immortal Euclid, is absurd.”“Yet if any man is thus competent, it is yourself, Eustace.”“No,” he said, shaking his head meditatively. “You are mistaken. I am certainly not independent of the action of anyone who may elect to do me a good or an ill turn. He, she, or it, has me at a disadvantage all round, for I possess the gift of foresight in a degree so limited as to be practically nil. As for circumstances—so far from pretending to direct them I am the mere creature of them. So are we all.”“What has started you upon this train of thought?” she asked suddenly.“Several things. But I’ll give you an instance of what I was saying just now. This morning I was surprised and surrounded by a gang of Kafirs, all armed to the teeth. Nearly all of them were on the very verge of shying their assegais bang through me, and if Ncanduku—you know him— Nteya’s brother—hadn’t appeared on the scene just in the very nick of time, I should have been a dead man. As it was, we sat down, had an indaba and a friendly smoke, and parted on the best of terms. Now, wasn’t I helplessly, abjectly, the creature of circumstances—first in being molested at all—second in Ncandúku’s lucky arrival?”“Eustace! And you never told me this!”“I told Tom—just as he was starting—and he laughed. He didn’t seem to think much of it. To tell the truth, neither did I. Why—what’s the matter, Eanswyth?”Her face was deathly white. Her eyes, wide open, were dilated with horror; then they filled with tears. The next moment she was sobbing wildly—locked in his close embrace.

“Eanswyth, darling—my darling. What is it? Do not give way so! There is nothing to be alarmed about now—nothing.”His tones had sunk to a murmur of thrilling tenderness. He was showering kisses upon her lips, her brow, her eyes—upon stray tresses of soft hair which escaped beneath her hat. What had become of their attitude of guarded self-control now? Broken down, swept away at one stroke as the swollen mountain stream sweeps away the frail barricade of timber and stones which thought to dam its course—broken down before the passionate outburst of a strong nature awakened to the knowledge of itself—startled into life by the magic touch, by the full force and fury of a consciousness of real love.“You are right,” she said at last. “We must go away from here. I cannot bear that you should be exposed to such frightful peril. O Eustace! Why did we ever meet!”Why, indeed! he thought. And the fierce, wild thrill of exultation which fan through him at the consciousness that her love was his—that for good or for ill she belonged to him—belonged to him absolutely—was dashed by the thought: How was it going to end? His clear-sighted, disciplined nature could not altogether get rid of that consideration. But clear-sighted, disciplined as it was, he could not forego that which constituted the whole joy and sweetness of living. “Sufficient for the day” must be his motto. Let the morrow take care of itself.“Why did we ever meet?” he echoed. “Ah, does not that precisely exemplify what I was saying just now? Life is full of surprises. Surprise Number 1, when I first found you here at all. Number 2, when I awoke to the fact that you were stealing away my very self. And I soon did awake to that consciousness.”“You did?”“I did. And I have been battling hard against it—against myself— against you—and your insidiously enthralling influence ever since.”His tone had become indescribably sweet and winning. If the powerof the man invariably made itself felt by all with whom he was brought into contact in the affairs of everyday life, how much more was it manifested now as he poured the revelation of his long pent-up love—the love of a strong, self-contained nature which had broken bounds at last— into the ears of this woman whom he had subjugated—yes, subjugated, utterly, completely.And what of her?It was as though all heaven had opened before her eyes. She stood there tightly clasped in that embrace, drinking in the entrancing tenderness of those tones—hungrily devouring the straight glance of those magnetic eyes, glowing into hers. She had yielded—utterly, completely, for she was not one to do things by halves. Ah, the rapture of it!But every medal has its obverse side. Like the stab of a sword it came home to Eanswyth. This wonderful, enthralling, beautiful love which had thrown a mystic glamour as of a radiant Paradise upon her life, had come just a trifle too late.“O Eustace,” she cried, tearing herself away from him, and yet keeping his hands clenched tightly in hers as though she would hold him at arm’s length but could not. “O Eustace! my darling! How is it going to end? How?”The very thought which had passed unspoken through his own mind.“Dearest, think only of the present. For the future—who knows! Did we not agree just now—life is full of surprises?”“Au!”Both started. Eanswyth could not repress a little scream, while even Eustace realised that he was taken at a disadvantage, as he turned to confront the owner of the deep bass voice which had fired off the above ejaculation.

It proceeded from a tall, athletic Kafir, who, barely ten yards off, stood calmly surveying the pair. His grim and massive countenance was wreathed into an amused smile. His nearly naked body was anointed with the usual red ochre, and round the upper part of his left arm he wore a splendid ivory ring. He carried a heavy knob-kerrie and several assegais, one of which he was twisting about in easy, listless fashion in his right hand.At sight of this extremely unwelcome, not to say formidable, apparition, Eustace’s hand instinctively and with a quick movement sought the back of his hip—a movement which a Western man would thoroughly have understood. But he withdrew it—empty. For his eye, familiar with every change of the native countenance, noted that the expression of this man’s face was good-humoured rather than aggressive. And withal it seemed partly familiar to him.“Who are you—and what do you want?” he said shortly. Then as his glance fell upon a bandage wrapped round the barbarian’s shoulder: “Ah. I know you—Hlangani.”“Keep your ‘little gun’ in your pocket, Ixeshane,” said the Kafir, speaking in a tone of good-humoured banter. “I am not the man to be shot at twice. Besides, I am not your enemy. If I were, I could have killed you many times over already, before you saw me; could have killed you both, you and the Inkosikazi.”This was self-evident. Eustace, recognising it, felt rather small. He to be taken thus at a disadvantage, he, who had constituted himself Eanswyth’s special protector against this very man! Yes. He felt decidedly small, but he was not going to show it.“You speak the truth, Hlangani,” he answered calmly. “You are not my enemy. No man of the race of Xosa is. But why do you come here? There is bad blood between you and the owner of this place. Surely the land is wide enough for both. Why should your pathways cross?”“Ha! You say truly, Ixeshane. There is blood between me and the man of whom you speak. Blood—the blood of a chief of the House ofGcaléka. Ha!”The eyes of the savage glared, and his countenance underwent a transformation almost magical in its suddenness. The smiling, good-humoured expression gave way to one of deadly hate, of a ruthless ferocity that was almost appalling to contemplate. So effective was it upon Eustace that carelessly, and as if by accident, he interposed his body between Eanswyth and the speaker, and though he made no movement, his every sense was on the alert. He was ready to draw his revolver with lightning-like rapidity at the first aggressive indication. But no such indication was manifested.“No. You have no enemies among our people—neither you nor the Inkosikazi”—went on Hlangani as his countenance resumed its normal calm. “You have always been friends to us. Why are you not living here together as our friends and neighbours—you two, without the poison of our deadly enemy to cause ill-blood between us and you—you alone together? I would speak with you apart, Ixeshane.”Now, Eanswyth, though living side by side with the natives, was, like most colonial people, but poorly versed in the Xosa tongue. She knew a smattering of it, just sufficient for kitchen purposes, and that was all; consequently, but for a word here and there, the above dialogue was unintelligible to her. But it was otherwise with her companion. His familiarity with the language was all but complete, and not only with the language, but with all its tricks. He knew that the other was “talking dark,” and his quick perception readily grasped the meaning which was intended to be conveyed. With the lurid thoughts indulged in that morning as regarded his cousin still fresh in his mind, it could hardly have been otherwise.He hated the man: he loved the man’s wife. “How is it going to end?” had been his unuttered cry just now. “How is it going to end!” she had re-echoed. Well, here was a short and easy solution ready to hand. A flush of blood surged to his face, and his heart beat fiercely under the terrible temptation thus thrown in his way. Yet so fleeting was it as scarcely to constitute a temptation at all. Now that it was put nakedly to him he could not do this thing. He could not consent to a murder—a cold-blooded,