- CHAPTER XVI. VAN TYL SHOOTS.
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VAN TYL SHOOTS.
IN the meantime, while Bobbie Glynn fought her way through the difficulties of the kopje path to get to Sir James, his preparations for the night went on apace. He was not a man who talked much with his boys--only a few may do that without loss of dignity--but as the emissaries from Shagann's kraal retired with the salt and matches they had asked for, he looked after them quizzically and remarked to his personal boy Jim: "Pretty evil-looking scoundrels! I wonder they are not drinking with the rest."
"Bad kraal, Shagann's," Jim answered. "Mashonas no use there. All Mashonas round here lazy, no good."
Sir James laughed. "Plenty of wives to work?" he suggested. "No need for husbands to do anything."
Jim grinned, looking rather scornful. "Women no good, either. Dirty, lazy, too."
Jim was a northern boy, and he had little but scorn for the Mashonas at any time, who are of a very inferior race. To the northern tribes they represented merely a people who were overcome yearly by the Matabele, and had their few warriors killed and their young women and children raided.| | 150
Their resistance was half-hearted and feeble, and consisted chiefly in retiring to fastnesses in the kopjes, where they hid until the Matabele grew tired of looking for them and went back to their own country. Although few tribes have any written records, things like these are always known, and the sturdy northern boys held them in great contempt. But among Jim's tribe there were many boys who would stand by their masters through anything, and be ready to die defending them. One of his brothers was the proud possessor of a watch bearing an inscription relating how the owner had saved his master's life. It was a family heirloom they justly valued beyond any other possession, and Jim was never tired of talking about it. His brother, M'Tana by name, had gone on a shooting expedition with a well-known hunter in Northern Rhodesia. One day, after a long, weary tramp of many miles, they started homewards towards evening without having seen any game at all. Then suddenly a sound, half growl and half roar, aroused them, and they saw a solitary lion watching them from some grass about two hundred yards away. The fact that he stood and watched them, making his muttered protest, showed that he was probably an old marauder, the worst of all to encounter, as they cannot get their food so easily as the younger. and more agile. Likely enough, too, he had had a bad day's hunt and was fiercely hungry.
M'Tana eyed him keenly. "Don't shoot, Baas," he said, as his master raised his rifle. "Light not good enough. He bad, angry lion."
But his master was disgusted with his long, useless tramp and unlucky day, and, taking no notice, he | | 151 aimed carefully and fired. With a great roar of fury the lion sprang into the air, and they saw at once he was only slightly hurt, just enough to make him thoroughly dangerous. The next moment, in headlong rush, he was coming for them. The hunter dropped to his knee and waited, taking steady aim, while the native clambered into the nearest tree,and several other boys with them ran for their lives and vanished. But the long day in the hot sun, walking fruitlessly, had exhausted the sportsman, and when he fired he missed his kill and again only wounded. A second later the lion sprang upon him and pinned him down to the ground. In such circumstances most natives would have run away, but M'Tana crept down from his tree and swiftly approached the prostrate man.
The rifle! the hunter gasped, and with his free arm pushed it towards him. A terrible moment followed, in which the boy said that he did not know how to use it, and, writhing in agony, the hunter explained as well as he could, while the lion tore through his leather gaiters as it crouched across his legs. Then the boy raised the rifle, held it close to the lion's head, pulled the trigger, and saved his master's life. When he was asked afterwards what reward he would like, he chose only a watch bearing the inscription describing his deed. This he guarded jealously night and day, knowing well it would be a good talisman for ever where there were white people, and all his relations basked in the light of his bravery.
Jim had come south for the sake of the higher wages paid, ten years ago, and he had been with Sir James Fortescue ever since. Because of his | | 152 excellence, Sir James had dispensed with his white valet for good, and he was wont to say he wanted no better service. Jim starched and ironed his shirts and collars as well as any laundress, darned his socks, sewed on his buttons, and, if necessary, did the shopping and cooking. Few white men-servants are to be compared with a really good black one, for they stand upon no dignity as to their own sphere of work, and willingly do whatever is wanted. And if they are thieves inborn, at least it is only things that are easily replaced, such as food and tobacco. Money they scarcely ever take, though it lies about under their hands for days.
It was evident, on this particular evening, that Jim did not approve of the two other carriers going to the beer-drink at the kraal. First he harangued them, and, finding they only laughed at him, ventured a protest to Sir James. But Sir James was always very easy-going on trek, and he saw no harm in it, provided they did not stay long. So, when they had fetched water and wood, they went off, having undertaken to come back early. Then Jim spread the little camp-table with a spotless tablecloth and well-cleaned silver, and set himself to prepare a savoury dinner consisting of a nice fat pheasant and buck rissoles and "Welsh rare bit."
Sir James sat idly in his chair and watched the lovely changing lights in the sky as the sun sank to the horizon. That curious trait of Rhodesia, the lovely mauve effects, was very much to the fore to-night, and he gazed dreamily as the pinky-purply shades stole over the landscape and sky, mingling exquisitely with the more usual blue and crimson | | 153 and gold. As often before, he felt regretful that so lovely a land should be so difficult to reach from home, because of the time and expense of the journey, and wished that great numbers of sturdy Englishmen might flock out to people the vast untenanted spaces. Of course, they would come some day; but while Canada and Australia were able to count their thousands yearly, Rhodesia was held back by the high expense of getting there and the heavy cost of living. He wished he were a multi-millionaire, and could give his wealth to improving the conditions, for his faith in the richness of the country was unbounded. Then his thoughts turned again to the Glynns and their plucky uphill struggle, and he decided, as soon as his new mine was opened on Loka kopje, he would offer one of the brothers the managership. His mind ran on, and he wondered if either would accept a post, supposing he heard of one, somewhere near Lobenwayo. He did not consider their mine a suitable place for the two girls to live, and cogitated if, for their sake, he could not think out a plan. He gathered from observation that they were very short of money, and probably had no choice between a home with their brothers or seeking posts among strangers. And he rather admired the spirit that made them brave the wilderness, to make those unpretentious huts home-like for the young miners as long as they could pay their way. Yet, if stern necessity were about to break up the strange little home, he thought he would be glad to help them to start afresh nearer to civilisation rather than lose sight of them altogether. Still musing on the problem, he sat down absent-mindedly to his dainty repast, wishing meanwhile that Shag- | | 154 ann's kraal and all it contained was at the bottom of the sea, because of the irritating, incessant noise of the tom-toms. All Mashona kraals give themselves up to beer-drinks occasionally, and then, for anyone dwelling near, the noise of the tom-toms is a nerve- racking misery. Legislation has restrained it up to a certain point, but, wherever police supervision is far distant, they still occur regularly, and may be heard far over the countryside throughout the night.
By the time he had finished dinner, it was quite dusk, and, as he did not feel inclined to read, he went into his tent for the night. But, standing at the entrance, to take a last glance round, he thought he heard a faint shout come across the vlei from the direction he had journeyed in the morning. He asked Jim about it, but the boy only shook his head, and said he could not hear for the noise at the kraal. In any case, it was likely to be some night bird, and Sir James entered his tent without any misgivings. Fifteen minutes later he got into his little camp-bed and blew out the candle. Jim cleared away the remains of the repast, put the plates on one side to wash in the morning, rolled himself up in his blanket, and was soon fast asleep at the side of the tent. Over all the quiet stars looked down, while the deep hush of the Rhodesian ' evening lay upon the wide horizon, broken only by the discordant sounds of tom-toms where the blot of a group of humans drank and revelled.
But in the silence and the darkness the watching stars saw yet other humans--securely hidden near the river, whispering low together, two men whose every movement showed them wound up to some | | 155 extreme tension, the one, grim, hard, defiant, an Englishman; the other, low and coarse, even in his tension, his whole face expressing a story of long years of reckless sinning and bestial living, hardened and intensified by many years in a South African prison, a man of whom no one could expect mercy, or other than brutality.
And in the bush just above the now silent little camp, three dark figures, creeping, gliding, crawling stealthily, each armed with a murderous native axe, and with evil faces full of greed and cunning, gloating already over the gains they anticipated. What was it to them if the victim they sought was the strength and leader of a young country, urgently needing to be led --a man who had done as much as any white man better the condition of their race, protecting them from their perpetual enemy, the Matabele, and helping to win for them the enlightened treatment that checks disease and suffering? Down there in that isolated district they cared nothing for civilisation, did not want it, scorned its benefits. Among themselves they were content to fight and quarrel and drink beer while the women worked, and, as for the Matabele--well, they could always hide. If killing this white man was to give them the quantities of matches and tobacco and limbo the Dutchman had promised, with money to buy cattle, and obtain more wives to brew more beer and grow more meal, naturally they would make a good try to carry out the monstrous plot. Unfortunately for them, they believed in this open-handed Dutchman and his promises. Anyone who could give them all the things he gave, and promise all that he promised, was a man to follow. And then | | 156 it was so simple, the white man asleep there in his tent unarmed, and only one native from an arrogant alien tribe to guard him. It would be good to kill a native from that tribe, who jeered at them, if they chanced to encounter each other, for being dirty and lazy and cowards!
And all the time the stars gazed down, seeing, seeing, and making no sign. It seemed that surely a meteor might have fallen beside that silent little tent and aroused its occupant, or a thunderstorm have come up and blown the canvas away, uprooting trees and sending deafening echoes among the hills, so that neither white man nor black could sleep in peace; or even a monarch of the wilderness, led by an unseen hand, have crept stealthily into that awful waiting stillness and roared menace and defiance at the dastardly overhanging fate. Was it that those myriad watching eyes in the far heavens saw and did not care? Was the world so big, so vast, and one human of so little consequence, that they but twinkled on in utter unconcern? Or was help at hand? Was a warning coming in time?
What was that again, over there by the vlei? Nearer now, near enough to catch its gasping, agonised note--a sound like a shout, a shout that seemed to cry out urgently: "Sir James, Sir James, get up, get up!"
The two men by the river were aroused at last, and the stealthily creeping natives paused. Van Tyl muttered a dreadful curse and listened with every nerve tense. "Is that a human voice?" he asked, and cursed again. Blake listened, too, with a deep perpendicular line between his eyes, grinding his teeth together. A second, and the call came again, | | 157 still a little nearer, the call of a human approaching. Reeling off curses without a pause, Van Tyl got to his feet and peered from his hiding-place, with his gun at full cock. Desperation was in his face. He had staked too much. If he were baulked now, someone should pay with a life. Blake sat still and waited. Suddenly the dying embers of Sir James's camp fire flared into a bright flame, which lit up the scene immediately around it, lit up the little tent, with its flap thrown back to let in air, lit up the huddled sleeping form of the native in his blanket. Sir James stirred in his sleep and half opened his eyes, conscious of a strange uneasiness, of some unaccountable tension filling the air.
Then into the flickering light stumbled a figure, dragging itself painfully and gaspingly towards the tent. "Sir James!" cried the agonised voice once more, and the figure stood a moment outlined against the white canvas.
Sharpened by love, Blake's unerring instinct recognised her instantly. "My God!" he exclaimed, "it's Bobbie Glynn!"
Then he saw Van Tyl sharply raise his gun, and made a frantic grab. Too late! A shot rang out, striking terror into those who heard it, and then tearing in reverberating echoes amid the silent hills. Almost at the same moment Blake closed with Van Tyl, but a terrific blow from an iron fist sent him reeling down the bank into a limp heap on the ground. Meanwhile, at sound of the shot, Sir James snatched up his revolver and dashed outside, just in time to see Bobbie's face as she staggered, reeled, and fell at his feet, shot by the Dutchman's bullet.
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