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Chapter 12 THE END.

  • WHEN I recovered consciousness I found a stranger dressed in uniform kneelin_eside me. What was more singular still I was not under the waggon as before, but was lying surrounded by a dozen or so of my comrades in the verandah of m_wn house. Agnes was kneeling beside me, and her father was holding a basin o_ater at my feet.
  • "There is nothing at all to be alarmed about, my dear young lady," the man i_niform was saying as he felt my pulse. "Your friend here will live to figh_nother day, or a hundred other days for that matter. By this time to-morro_e'll be as well as ever." Then, turning to me, he asked: "how do you fee_ow?"
  • I replied that I felt much stronger; and then, looking up at Mr. Maybourne, enquired if we had beaten off the enemy.
  • "They have been utterly routed," replied the gentleman I addressed. "Th_redit, however, is due to Captain Haviland and his men; but for their timel_rrival I fear we should have been done for. Flesh and blood could not hav_tood the strain another half hour."
  • "Stuff and nonsense," said the doctor, "for such I afterwards discovered h_as, all the credit is due to yourselves; and, by George, you deserve it. _iner stand was never made in this country, or for that matter in any other."
  • After a few minutes' rest and another sip of brandy, I managed to get on to m_eet. It was a sad sight I had before me. Stretched out in rows beyond th_erandah rails were the bodies of the gallant fellows who had bee_illed—twelve in number. On rough beds placed in the verandah itself and als_n the house were the wounded; while on the plain all round beyond the laage_ight have been seen the bodies of the Matabele dead. On the left of the hous_he regiment of mounted infantry, who had so opportunely come to ou_ssistance, were unsaddling after chasing the enemy, and preparing to camp.
  • After I had had a few moments' conversation with the doctor, Mr. Maybourne an_gnes came up to me again, and congratulated me on having saved the stranger'_ife. The praise they gave me was altogether undeserved, for, as I hav_lready explained, I had done the thing on the spur of the moment without fo_n instant considering the danger to which I had exposed myself. When they ha_inished I enquired where the man was, and in reply they led me into th_ouse.
  • "The doctor says it is quite a hopeless case," said Agnes, turning to me i_he doorway; "the poor fellow must have injured his spine when his horse fel_ith him."
  • I followed her into the room which had once been my own sleeping apartment. I_as now filled with wounded. The man I had brought in lay upon a mattress i_he corner by the window, and, with Agnes beside me, I went across to him.
  • Once there I looked down at his face, and then, with a cry that even on pai_f death I could not have kept back, I fell against the wall, as Agne_fterwards told me, pallid to the very lips. I don't know how to tell you wh_ saw there; I don't know how to make you believe it, or how to enable you t_ppreciate my feelings. One thing was certain, lying on the bed before me, hi_ead bandaged up, and a bushy beard clothing the lower half of his face, wa_no less a person than Richard Bartrand—my old enemy and the man I believe_yself to have murdered in London so many months before._  I could hardl_elieve my eyes; I stared at him and then looked away—only to look back agai_alf expecting to find him gone. Could this be any mistake? I asked myself.
  • Could it be only a deceiving likeness, or an hallucination of an overtaxe_rain? Hardly knowing what I did I dragged Agnes by the wrist out of the hous_o a quiet corner, where I leant against the wall feeling as if I were goin_o faint again.
  • "What is the matter, Gilbert?" she cried. "Oh, what is the matter with you?"
  • "Matter!" I almost shouted in my joy. "This is the matter. I a_ree—free—free! Free to marry you—free to do as I please, and live as _lease, and go where I please!!! For there in that bed is my old enemy, th_an I told you I had killed."
  • For a second she must have thought me mad, for I noticed she shrank a ste_way from me, and looked at me with an apprehensive glance. But she soo_ecovered her composure, and asked if I were certain of what I said.
  • "As certain as I am that you are standing before me now," I answered. "_hould know him anywhere. Where is the doctor?"
  • A moment later I had found the doctor.
  • "Doctor," I said, "there is a man in that room yonder whom, I am told, you sa_as a broken back. He is unconscious. Will he remain so until he dies?"
  • "Most probably," was the other's matter-of-fact reply as he began to bind u_he arm of the man he had been operating on. "Why do you ask?"
  • "Because it is a matter of the most vital importance that I should speak wit_im before he dies. All the happiness of my life and another's depends upo_t."
  • "Very well. Don't worry yourself. I'll see what I can do for you. Now go awa_nd be quiet. I'm busy."
  • I went away as he ordered me, and leant against the verandah rails at the bac_f the house. My head was swimming, and I could hardly think coherently. No_hat Bartrand was alive, every obstacle was cleared away—I was free to marr_gnes as soon as her father would let me; free to do whatever I pleased in th_orld. The reaction was almost more than I could bear. No words could over- estimate my relief and joy.
  • Half an hour later the doctor came to me.
  • "Your man is conscious now," he said. "But you'd better look sharp if you wan_o ask him anything. He won't last long."
  • I followed him into the house to the corner where the sick man lay. As soon a_e saw me, Bartrand showed with his eyes that he recognized me.
  • "Pennethorne," he whispered, as I knelt by the bed, "this is a strang_eeting. Do you know I've been hunting for you these nine months past?"
  • "Hunting for me?" I said. "Why, I thought you dead!"
  • "I allowed it to be supposed that I was," he answered. "I can tell you, Pennethorne, that money I swindled you out of never brought me an ounce o_uck—nor Gibbs either. He turned cocktail and sent his share back to me almos_t once. He was drinking himself to death on it, I heard. Now look at me, I'_ere—dying in South Africa. They tell me you saved me to-day at the risk o_our life."
  • "Never mind that now," I said. "We've got other things to talk about."
  • "But I must mind," he answered. "Listen to what I have to tell you, and don'_nterrupt me. Three nights before I disappeared last winter, I made my will, leaving you everything. It's more than the value of the mine, for I brough_ff some big speculations with the money, and almost doubled my capital. Yo_ay not believe it, but I always felt sorry for you, even when I stole you_ecret. I'm a pretty bad lot, but I couldn't steal your money and not be a bi_orry. But, funny as it may seem to say so, I hated you all the time too—hate_ou more than any other man on God's earth. Now you've risked your life fo_e, and I'm dying in your house. How strangely things turn out, don't they?"
  • Here the doctor gave him something to drink, and bade me let him be quiet fo_ few moments. Presently Bartrand recovered his strength, and began again.
  • "One day, soon after I arrived in London from Australia, I fell in tow with _an named Nikola. I tell you, Pennethorne, if ever you see that man beware o_im, for he's the Devil, and nobody else. I tell you he proposed the mos_iendish things to me and showed me such a side of human nature that, if _adn't quarrelled with him and not seen so much of him I should have bee_riven into a lunatic asylum. I can tell you it's not altogether a life o_oses to be a millionaire. About this time I began to get threatening letter_rom men all over Europe trying to extort money from me for one purpose o_nother. Eventually Nikola found out that I was the victim of a secre_ociety. How he managed it, the deuce only knows. They wanted money badly, an_inally Nikola told me that for half a million he could get me clear. If I di_ot pay up I'd be dead, he said, in a month. But I wasn't to be frightene_ike that, so I told him I wouldn't give it. From that time forward attempt_ere made on my life until my nerve gave way—and in a blue funk I determine_o forego the bulk of my wealth and clear out of England in the hopes o_eginning a new life elsewhere."
  • He paused once more for a few moments; his strength was nearly exhausted, an_ could see with half an eye that the end was not far distant now. When h_poke again his voice was much weaker, and he seemed to find it difficult t_oncentrate his ideas.
  • "Nikola wanted sixty thousand for himself, I suppose for one of hi_evilments," he said, huskily. "He used every means in his power to induce m_o give it to him, but I refused time after time. He showed me his power, tried to hypnotize me even, and finally told me I should he a dead man in _eek if I did not let him have the money. I wasn't going to be bluffed, so _eclined again. By this time I distrusted my servants, my friends, an_verybody with whom I came in contact. I could not sleep, and I could not eat.
  • All my arrangements were made, and I was going to leave England on th_aturday. On the Wednesday Nikola and I were to meet at a house on specia_usiness. We saw each other at a club, and I called a hansom, intending to g_n and wait for him. I had a dreadful cold, and carried some cough drops in _ittle silver box in my pocket. He must have got possession of it, an_ubstituted some preparations of his own. Feeling my cough returning, I too_ne in the cab as I drove along. After that I remember no more till I cam_ound and found myself lying in the middle of the road, half covered wit_now, and with a bruise the size of a tea-cup on the back of my head. For som_eason of his own Nikola had tried to do for me; and the cabman, frightened a_y state, had pitched me out and left me. As soon as I could walk, and it wa_aylight, I determined to find you at your hotel, in order to hand over to yo_he money I had stolen from you, and then I was going to bolt from England fo_y life. But when I reached Blankerton's I was told that you had left. _raced your luggage to Aberdeen; but, though I wasted a week looking,  _I_ouldn't find you there. Three months ago I chanced upon a snapshot photograp_aken in Cape Town, and reproduced in an American illustrated paper. I_epresented one of the only two survivors of the  _Fiji Princess,_  and _ecognised you immediately, and followed you, first to Cape Town and then, bi_y bit, out here. Now listen to me, for I've not much time left. My will is i_y coat-pocket; when I'm dead, you can take it out and do as you like with it.
  • You'll find yourself one of the richest men in the world, or I'm mistaken. _an only say I hope you'll have better luck with the money than I have had.
  • I'm glad you've got it again; for, somehow, I'd fixed the idea in my head tha_ shouldn't rest quietly in my grave unless I restored it to you. One caution!
  • Don't let Nikola get hold of it, that's all—for he's after you, I'm certain.
  • He's been tracking you down these months past; and I've heard he's on his wa_ere. I'm told he thinks I'm dead. He'll be right in his conjecture soon."
  • "Bartrand," I said, as solemnly as I knew how, "I will not take one halfpenn_f the money. I am firmly resolved upon that. Nothing shall ever make me."
  • "Not take it? But it's your own. I never had any right to it from th_eginning. I stole your secret while you were ill."
  • "That may be; but I'll not touch the money, come what may."
  • "But I must leave it to somebody."
  • "Then leave it to the London hospitals. I will not have a penny of it. Goo_eavens, man, you little know how basely I behaved towards you!"
  • "I've not time to hear it now, then," he answered. "Quick! let me make ane_ill while I've strength to sign it."
  • Pens, paper, and ink were soon forthcoming; and at his instruction Mr.
  • Maybourne and the doctor between them drafted the will. When it was finishe_he dying man signed it, and then those present witnessed it, and the man la_ack and closed his eyes. For a moment I thought he was gone, but I wa_istaken. After a silence of about ten minutes he opened his eyes and looke_t me.
  • "Do you remember Markapurlie?" he said. That was all. Then, with a grim smil_pon his lips, he died, just as the clock on the wall above his head struc_welve. His last speech, for some reason or other, haunted me for weeks.
  • Towards sundown that afternoon I was standing in the verandah of my house, watching a fatigue party digging a grave under a tree in the paddock beyon_he mine buildings, when a shout from Mr. Maybourne, who was on his way to th_ffice, attracted my attention. "When I reached his side, he pointed to _mall speck of dust about a mile to the northward.
  • "It's a horseman," he cried; "but who can it be?"
  • "I have no possible notion," I answered; "but we shall very soon see."
  • The rider, whoever he was, was in no hurry. When he came nearer, we could se_hat he was cantering along as coolly as if he were riding in Rotten Row. B_he time he was only a hundred yards or so distant, I was trembling wit_xcitement. Though I had never seen the man on horseback before, I should hav_nown his figure anywhere.  _It was Dr. Nikola._  There could be no possibl_oubt about that. Bartrand was quite right when he told me that he was in th_eighbourhood.
  • I heard Mr. Maybourne say something about news from the township, but the rea_mport of his words I did not catch. I seemed to be watching the advancin_igure with my whole being. When he reached the laager he sprang from hi_orse, and then it was that I noticed Mr. Maybourne had left my side and wa_iving instructions to let him in. I followed to receive him.
  • On reaching the inside of our defences, Nikola raised his hat politely to Mr.
  • Maybourne, while he handed his reins to a trooper standing by.
  • "Mr. Maybourne, I believe," he said. "My name is Nikola. I am afraid I a_hrusting myself upon you in a very unseemly fashion, and at a time when yo_ave no desire to be burdened with outsiders. My friendship for our frien_rexford here must be my excuse. I left Buluwayo at daylight this morning i_rder to see him."
  • He held out his hand to me and I found myself unable to do anything but tak_t. As usual it was as cold as ice. For the moment I was so fascinated by th_vil glitter in his eyes that I forgot to wonder how he knew my assumed name.
  • However, I managed to stammer out something by way of a welcome, and the_sked how long he had been in South Africa.
  • "I arrived two months ago," he answered, "and after a week in Cape Town, wher_ had some business to transact, made my way up here to see you. It appears _ave arrived at an awkward moment, but if I can help you in any way I hope yo_ill command my services. I am a tolerable surgeon, and I have the advantag_f considerable experience of assegai wounds."
  • While he was speaking the bell rang for tea, and at Mr. Maybourne's invitatio_r. Nikola accompanied us to where the meal was spread—picnic fashion—on th_round by the kitchen door. Agnes was waiting for us, and I saw her start wit_urprise when her father introduced the newcomer as Dr. Nikola, a friend o_r. Wrexford'g. She bowed gravely to him, but said nothing. I could see tha_he knew him for the man Bartrand had warned me against, and for this reaso_he was by no means prepossessed in his favour.
  • During the meal Nikola exerted all his talents to please. And such was hi_evilish—I can only call it by that name—cleverness, that by the time we ros_rom the meal he had put himself on the best of terms with everyone. Eve_gnes seemed to have, for the moment, lost much of her distrust of him. Onc_ut in the open again I drew Nikola away from the others, and having walke_im out of earshot of the house, asked the meaning of his visit.
  • "Is it so hard to guess?" he said, as he seated himself on the pole of _aggon, and favoured me with one of his peculiar smiles. "I should hav_hought not."
  • "I have not tried to guess," I answered, having by this time resolved upon m_ine of action; "and I do not intend to do so. I wish you to tell me."
  • "My dear Pennethorne-Wrexford, or Wrexford-Pennethorne," he said quietly, "_hould advise you not to adopt that tone with me. You know very well why _ave put myself to the trouble of running you to earth."
  • "I have not the least notion," I replied, "and that is the truth. I thought _ad done with you when I said good-bye to you in Golden Square that awfu_ight."
  • "Nobody can hope to have done with me," he answered, "when they do not ac_airly by me."
  • "Act fairly by you? What do you mean? How have I not acted fairly by you?"
  • "By running away in that mysterious fashion, when it was agreed between u_hat I should arrange everything. You might have ruined me."
  • "Still I do not understand you! How might I have ruined you?"
  • This time I took him unawares. He looked at me for a moment in sheer surprise.
  • "I should advise you to give up this sort of thing," he said, licking his lip_n that peculiar cat-like fashion I had noticed in London. "Remember I kno_verything, and one word in our friend Maybourne's ear, and—well—you know wha_he result will be. Perhaps he does not know what an illustrious criminal h_s purposing to take for a son-in-law."
  • "One insinuation like that again, Nikola," I cried, "and I'll have you put of_his place before you know where you are.  _You_  dare to call _me_  _riminal— _you,_  who plotted and planned the murders that shocked an_errified all England!"
  • "That I do not admit. I only remember that I assisted you to obtain you_evenge on a man who had wronged you. On summing up so judiciously, pray d_ot forget that point."
  • Nikola evidently thought he had obtained an advantage, and was quick t_mprove on it.
  • "Come, come," he said, "what is the use of our quarrelling like a pair o_hildren? All I want of you is an answer to two simple questions."
  • "What are your questions?"
  • "I want to know, first, what you did with Bartrand's body when you got rid o_t out of the cab."
  • "You really wish to know that?"
  • He nodded.
  • "Then come with me," I said, "and I'll tell you." I led him into the house, and, having reached the bed in the corner, pulled down the sheet.
  • He bent over the figure lying there so still, and then started back with a cr_f surprise. For a moment I could see that he was  _non-plussed_ as he ha_robably not been in his life before, but by the time one could have counte_wenty, this singular being was himself again.
  • "I congratulate you," he said, turning to me and holding out his hand. "Th_ing has come into his own again. You are now one of the richest men in th_orld, and I can ask my second question."
  • "Be certain first," I said. "I inherit nothing from Mr. Bartrand."
  • "What do you mean by that? I happen to know that his will was made in you_avour."
  • "You are quite mistaken. He made a later will this afternoon, leaving all hi_oney and estates to four London hospitals."
  • Nikola's face went paler than I had ever seen it yet. His thin lips tremble_erceptibly. The man was visibly anxious.
  • "You will excuse my appearing to doubt you, I hope," he said, "but may I se_hat will?"
  • I called Mr. Maybourne into the room and asked him if he had any objection t_llowing Dr. Nikola to see the paper in question. He handed it to him withou_esitation, keeping close to his elbow while he perused it. The Doctor read i_lowly from beginning to end, examined the signature, noted the names of th_xecutors, and also of the witnesses, and when he had done so, returned it t_r. Maybourne with a bow.
  • "Thank you," he said, politely. "It is excellently drawn up, and, with you_vidence against me, I fear it would be foolish for me to dispute it. In tha_ase, I don't think I need trouble your hospitality any further."
  • Then, turning to me, he led me from the house across to where his horse wa_tanding.
  • "Good-bye, Pennethorne," he said. "All I can say of you is that your luck i_reater than your cleverness. I am not so  _blase_  but I can admire a man wh_an surrender three millions without a sigh. I must confess I am vulgar enoug_o find that it costs me a pang to lose even my sixty thousand. I wanted i_adly. Had my  _coup_  only come off, and the dead man in there not been suc_n inveterate ass, I should have had the whole amount of his fortune in m_ands by this time, and in six months I would have worked out a scheme tha_ould have paralyzed Europe. As it is, I must look elsewhere for the amount.
  • When you wish to be proud of yourself, try to remember that you have baulke_r. Nikola in one of his best-planned schemes, and saved probabl_alf-a-million lives by doing so. Believe me, there are far cleverer men tha_ou who have tried to outwit me and failed. I suppose you will marry Mis_aybourne now. Well, I wish you luck with her. If I am a judge of character, she will make you an able wife. In ten years' time you will be a commonplac_ich man, with scarcely any idea outside your own domestic circle, whil_—well the devil himself knows where or what I shall be then. I wonder whic_ill be the happier? Now I must be off. Though you may not think it, I alway_iked you, and if you had thrown in your lot with me, I might have mad_omething of you. Good-bye."
  • He held out his hand, and as he did so he looked me full in the face. For th_ast time I felt the influence of those extraordinary eyes. I took the hand h_ffered and bade him good-bye with almost a feeling of regret, mad as it ma_eem to say so, at the thought that in all probability I should never see hi_gain. Next moment he was on his horse's back and out on the veldt making fo_he westward. I stood and watched him till he was lost in the gathering gloom, and then went slowly back to the house thinking of the change that had com_nto my life, thanking God for my freedom.
  • * * *
  • Three months have passed since the events just narrated took place, and I a_ack in Cape Town again, finishing the writing of this story of the mos_dventurous period of my life, in Mr. Maybourne's study. To-morrow my wife (for I have been married a week to-day) and I leave South Africa on a tri_ound the world. What a honeymoon it will be!
  • "The Pride of the South," you will be glad to hear, has made gallant stride_ince the late trouble in Rhodesia, and as my shares have quadrupled in value, to say nothing of the other ventures in which I have been associated with m_ather-in-law, I am making rapid progress towards becoming a rich man. And no_t only remains for me to bring my story to a close. By way of an epilogue le_e say that no better, sweeter, or more loyal wife than I possess coul_ossibly be desired by any mortal man. I love her with my whole heart an_oul, as she loves me, and I can only hope that every masculine reader who ma_ave the patience to wade through these, to me, interminable pages, may prov_s fortunate in his choice as I have been. More fortunate, it is certain, h_ould not be.
  • **THE END**