Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything
- What's Bred In the Bone - 40/56 -
of corrugated iron, somewhat larger than the rest, but no less dull and dreary. "The hotel," he said briefly; and Guy jumped out to secure himself a night's lodging or so at this place of entertainment, till he could negotiate for a hut and a decent claim, and commence his digging.
At the bar of the primitive saloon where he found himself landed, a man in a grey tweed suit was already seated. He was drinking something fizzy from a tall soda-water glass. With a sudden start of horror Guy recognised him at once. Oh, great heavens, what was this? It was Granville Kelmscott!
Then Granville, too, was bound for the diamond fields like himself. What an incredible coincidence! How strange! How inexplicable! That rich man's son, the pampered heir to Tilgate! what could HE be doing here, in this out-of-the-way spot, this last resort of poor broken-down men, this miserable haunt of wretched gambling money-grubbers?
Here curiosity, surely, must have drawn him to the spot. He couldn't have come to DIG! Guy gazed in amazement at that grey tweed suit. He must be staying for a day or two in search of adventure. No more than just that! He couldn't mean to STOP here.
As he gazed and stood open-mouthed in the shadow of the door, Granville Kelmscott, who hadn't seen him enter, laid down his glass, wiped his lips with gusto, and continued his conversation with the complacent barman.
"Yes, I want a hut here," he said, "and to buy a good claim. I've been looking over the kopje down by Watson's spare land, and I think I've seen a lot that's likely to suit me."
Guy sould hardly restrain his astonishment and surprise. He had come, then, to dig! Oh, incredible! impossible!
But at any rate this settled his own immediate movements. Guy's mind was made up at once. If Granville Kelmscott was going to dig at Dutoitspan--why, clearly Dutoitspan was no place for HIM. He could never stand the continual presence of the one man in South Africa who knew his deadly secret. Come what might he must leave the neighbourhood without a moment's delay. He must strike out at once for the far interior. As he paused, Granville Kelmscott turned round and saw him. Their eyes met with a start. Each was equally astonished. Then Granville rose slowly from his seat, and murmured in a low voice, as he regarded him fixedly--
"You here again, Mr. Billington! This is once too often. I hardly expected THIS. There's no room here for both of us."
And he strode from the saloon, with a very black brow, leaving Guy for the moment alone with the barman.
A NEW DEPARTURE.
A fortnight later, one sultry afternoon, Granville Kelmscott found himself, after various strange adventures and escapes by the way, in a Koranna hut, far in the untravelled heart of the savage Barolong country.
The tenement where he sat, or more precisely squatted, was by no means either a commodious or sweet-scented one. Yet it was the biggest of a group on the river-bank, some five feet high from floor to roof, so that a Kelmscott couldn't possibly stand erect at full length in it; and it was roughly round in shape, like an overgrown beehive, the framework consisting of branches of trees, arranged in a rude circle, over whose arching ribs native rush mats had been thrown or sewn with irregular order. The door was a hole, through which the proud descendant of the squires of Tilgate had to creep on all fours; a hollow pit dug out in the centre served as the only fireplace; smoke and stagnant air formed the staples of the atmosphere. A more squalid hovel Granville Kelmscott had never even conceived as possible. It was as dirty and as loathsome as the most vivid imagination could picture the hut of the lowest savages.
Yet here that delicately nurtured English gentleman was to be cooped up for an indefinite time, as it seemed, by order of the black despot who ruled over the Barolong with a rod of iron.
What had led Granville Kelmscott into this extraordinary scrape it would not be hard to say. The Kelmscott nature, in all its embodiments, worked on very simple but very fixed lines. The moment Granville saw his half-brother Guy at Dutoitspan, his mind was made up at once as to his immediate procedure. He wouldn't stop one day--one hour longer than necessary where he could see that fellow who committed the murder. Come what might, he would make his escape at once into the far interior.
As before in England, so now in Africa, both brothers were moved by the self-same impulses. And each carried them out with characteristic promptitude.
Where could Granville go, however? Well, it was rumoured at Dutoitspan that "pebbles" had been found far away to the north in the Barolong country. "Pebbles," of course, is good South African for diamonds; and at this welcome news all Kimberley and Griqualand pricked up their ears with congenial delight; for business was growing flat on the old-established diamond fields. The palmy era of great finds and lucky hits was now long past; the day of systematic and prosaic industry had set in instead for the over-stocked diggings. It was no longer possible for the luckiest fresh hand to pick up pebbles lying loose on the surface; the mode of working had become highly skilled and scientific.
Machines and scaffolds, and washing-cradles and lifting apparatus were now required to make the business a success; the simple old gambling element was rapidly going out, and the capitalist was rapidly coming up in its stead as master of the situation. So Granville Kelmscott, being an enterprising young man, though destitute of cash, and utterly ignorant of South African life, determined to push on with all his might and main into the Barolong country, and to rush for the front among the first in the field in these rumoured new diggings on the extreme north frontier of civilization.
He started alone, as a Kelmscott might do, and made his way adventurously, without any knowledge of the Koranna language or manners, through many wild villages of King Khatsua's dominions. Night after night he camped out in the open; and day after day he tramped on by himself, buying food as he went from the natives for English silver, in search of precious stones, over that dreary tableland. At last, on the fourteenth day, in a deep alluvial hollow near a squalid group of small Barolong huts, he saw a tiny round stone, much rubbed and water-worn, which he picked up and examined with no little curiosity. The two days he had spent at Dutoitspan had not been wasted. He had learnt to recognise the look of the native gem. Once glance told him at once what his pebble was. He recognised it at sight as one of those small but much-valued diamonds of the finest water, which diggers know by the technical name of "glass-stones."
The hollow where he stood was in fact an ancient alluvial pit or volcanic mud-crater. Scoriac rubble filled it in to a very great depth; and in the interstices of this rubble were embedded here and there rude blocks of greenstone, containing almond-shaped chalcedonies and agate and milk-quartz, with now and then a tiny water-worn spec which an experienced eye would have detected at once as the finest "riverstones."
Here indeed was a prize! The solitary Englishman recognised in a second that he was the first pioneer of a new and richer Kimberley.
But as Granville Kelmscott stood still, looking hard at his find through the little pocket-lens he had brought with him from England, with a justifiable tremor of delight at the pleasant thought that here, perhaps, he had lighted on the key to something which might restore him once more to his proper place at Tilgate, he was suddenly roused from his delightful reverie by a harsh negro voice, shrill and clear, close behind him, saying, in very tolerable African-English--
"Hillo, you white man! what dat you got there? You come here to Barolong land, so go look for diamond?"
Granville turned sharply round, and saw standing by his side a naked and stalwart black man, smiling blandly at his discovery with broad negro amusement.
"It's a pebble," the Englishman said, pocketing it as carelessly as he could, and trying to look unconcerned, for his new acquaintance held a long native spear in his stout left hand, and looked by no means the sort of person to be lightly trifled with.
"Oh, dat a pebble, mistah white man!" the Barolong said sarcastically, holding out his black right hand with a very imperious air. "Den you please hand him over dat pebble you find. Me got me orders. King Khatsua no want any diamond digging in Barolong land."
Granville tried to parley with the categorical native; but his attempts at palaver were eminently unsuccessful. The naked black man was master of the situation.
"You hand over dat stone, me friend," he said, assuming a menacing attitude, and holding out his hand once more with no very gentle air, "or me run you trew de body wit me assegai--just so! King Khatsua, him no want any diamond diggings in Barolong land."
And, indeed, Granville Kelmscott couldn't help admitting to himself, when he came to think of it, that King Khatsua was acting wisely in his generation. For the introduction of diggers into his dominions would surely have meant, as everywhere else, the speedy proclamation of a British protectorate, and the final annihilation of King Khatsua himself and his dusky fellow-countrymen.
There is nothing, to say the truth, the South African native dreads so much as being "eaten up," as he calls it, by those aggressive English. King Khatsua knew his one chance in life consisted in keeping the diggers firmly out of his dominions; and he was prepared to deny the very existence of diamonds throughout the whole of Barolong land, until the English, by sheer force, should come in
Previous Page Next Page
1 10 20 30 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 50 56
Schulers Books Online
books - games - software - wallpaper - everything