A fortnight later, one sultry afternoon, Granville Kelmscott found himself, after various strange adventures and escapes by the way, in a Koranna hut, fa_n the untravelled heart of the savage Barolong country.
The tenement where he sat, or more precisely squatted, was by no means eithe_ commodious or sweet-scented one. Yet it was the biggest of a group on th_iver-bank, some five feet high from floor to roof, so that a Kelmscot_ouldn't possibly stand erect at full length in it; and it was roughly roun_n shape, like an overgrown beehive, the framework consisting of branches o_rees, arranged in a rude circle, over whose arching ribs native rush mats ha_een thrown or sewn with irregular order. The door was a hole, through whic_he proud descendant of the squires of Tilgate had to creep on all fours; _ollow pit dug out in the centre served as the only fireplace; smoke an_tagnant air formed the staples of the atmosphere. A more squalid hove_ranville Kelmscott had never even conceived as possible. It was as dirty an_s loathsome as the most vivid imagination could picture the hut of the lowes_avages.
Yet here that delicately nurtured English gentleman was to be cooped up for a_ndefinite time, as it seemed, by order of the black despot who ruled over th_arolong with a rod of iron.
What had led Granville Kelmscott into this extraordinary scrape it would no_e hard to say. The Kelmscott nature, in all its embodiments, worked on ver_imple but very fixed lines. The moment Granville saw his half-brother Guy a_utoitspan, his mind was made up at once as to his immediate procedure. H_ouldn't stop one day—one hour longer than necessary where he could see tha_ellow who committed the murder. Come what might, he would make his escape a_nce 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 welcom_ews all Kimberley and Griqualand pricked up their ears with congenia_elight; 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 o_ystematic and prosaic industry had set in instead for the over-stocke_iggings. It was no longer possible for the luckiest fresh hand to pick u_ebbles lying loose on the surface; the mode of working had become highl_killed and scientific.
Machines and scaffolds, and washing-cradles and lifting apparatus were no_equired to make the business a success; the simple old gambling element wa_apidly going out, and the capitalist was rapidly coming up in its stead a_aster of the situation. So Granville Kelmscott, being an enterprising youn_an, 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 ne_iggings 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 wil_illages of King Khatsua's dominions. Night after night he camped out in th_pen; and day after day he tramped on by himself, buying food as he went fro_he natives for English silver, in search of precious stones, over that drear_ableland. At last, on the fourteenth day, in a deep alluvial hollow near _qualid group of small Barolong huts, he saw a tiny round stone, much rubbe_nd water-worn, which he picked up and examined with no little curiosity. Th_wo days he had spent at Dutoitspan had not been wasted. He had learnt t_ecognise the look of the native gem. Once glance told him at once what hi_ebble was. He recognised it at sight as one of those small but much-value_iamonds of the finest water, which diggers know by the technical name of
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 th_nterstices of this rubble were embedded here and there rude blocks o_reenstone, containing almond-shaped chalcedonies and agate and milk-quartz, with now and then a tiny water-worn spec which an experienced eye would hav_etected at once as the finest "riverstones."
Here indeed was a prize! The solitary Englishman recognised in a second tha_e was the first pioneer of a new and richer Kimberley.
But as Granville Kelmscott stood still, looking hard at his find through th_ittle pocket-lens he had brought with him from England, with a justifiabl_remor of delight at the pleasant thought that here, perhaps, he had lighte_n the key to something which might restore him once more to his proper plac_t Tilgate, he was suddenly roused from his delightful reverie by a hars_egro voice, shrill and clear, close behind him, saying, in very tolerabl_frican-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 an_talwart black man, smiling blandly at his discovery with broad negr_musement.
"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 nativ_pear in his stout left hand, and looked by no means the sort of person to b_ightly trifled with.
"Oh, dat a pebble, mistah white man!" the Barolong said sarcastically, holdin_ut his black right hand with a very imperious air. "Den you please hand hi_ver dat pebble you find. Me got me orders. King Khatsua no want any diamon_igging in Barolong land."
Granville tried to parley with the categorical native; but his attempts a_alaver were eminently unsuccessful. The naked black man was master of th_ituation.
"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 yo_rew de body wit me assegai—just so! King Khatsua, him no want any diamon_iggings in Barolong land."
And, indeed, Granville Kelmscott couldn't help admitting to himself, when h_ame 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, a_verywhere else, the speedy proclamation of a British protectorate, and th_inal annihilation of King Khatsua himself and his dusky fellow-countrymen.
There is nothing, to say the truth, the South African native dreads so much a_eing "eaten up," as he calls it, by those aggressive English. King Khatsu_new his one chance in life consisted in keeping the diggers firmly out of hi_ominions; and he was prepared to deny the very existence of diamond_hroughout the whole of Barolong land, until the English, by sheer force, should come in flocks and unearth them.
In obedience to his chief's command, therefore, the naked henchman still hel_ut his hand menacingly.
"Dis land King Khatsua's," he repeated once more, in an angry voice. "Al_iamonds found on it belong to King Khatsua. Just you hand dat over. No steal; no tief-ee."
The instincts of the land-owning class were too strong in Granville Kelmscot_ot to make him admit at once to himself the justice of this claim. The owne_f the soil had a right to the diamonds. He handed over the stone with a pan_f regret. The savage grinned to himself, and scanned it attentively. The_xtending his spear, as one might do to a cow or a sheep, he drove Granvill_efore him.
"You come along a' me," he said shortly, in a most determined voice.
"You come along a' me. King Khatsua's orders."
Granville went before him without one word of remonstrance, much wonderin_hat was likely to happen next, till he found himself suddenly driven int_hat noisome hut, where he was forced to enter ignominiously on all fours, like an eight months' old baby.
By the light of the fire that burned dimly in the midst of his captor's hous_e could see, as his eyes grew gradually accustomed to the murky gloom, _trange and savage scene, such as he had never before in his life dreamt of.
In the pit of the hut some embers glowed feebly, from whose midst a fleec_bject was sputtering and hissing. A second glance assured him that th_avoury morsel was the head of an antelope in process of roasting. Two greas_lack women, naked to the waist, were superintending this primitive cookery; all round, a group of unclad little imps, as black as their mothers, lounge_dly about, with their eyes firmly fixed on the chance of dinner. As Granvill_ntered, the husband and father, poking in his head, shouted a few words afte_im. Another native outside kept watch and ward with a spear at the doo_eanwhile, to prevent his escape against King Khatsua's orders.
For two long hours the Englishman waited there, fretting and fuming, in tha_tifling atmosphere. Meanwhile, the antelope's head was fully cooked, and th_omen and children falling on it like wild beasts, tore off the scorche_leece and snatched the charred flesh from the bones with their finger_reedily. It was a hideous sight; it sickened him to see it.
By—and—by Granville heard a loud voice outside. He listened in surprise. I_ounded as though Barolong had another prisoner. There was a pause and _cuffle. Then, all of a sudden, somebody else came bundling unceremoniousl_hrough the hole that served for a door, in the same undignified fashion as h_imself had done. Granville's eyes, now accustomed to the gloom, recognise_he stranger at once with a thrill of astonishment. He could hardly trust hi_enses at the sight. It was—no, it couldn't be—yes, it was—Guy Waring.
Guy Waring, sure enough; as before, they were companions. The Kelmscot_haracter had worked itself out exactly alike in each of them. They had com_ndependently by the self-same road to the rumoured diamond fields of th_arolong country.
It was some minutes, however, before Guy, for his part, recognised his fellow- prisoner in the dark and gloomy hut. Then each stared at the other in mut_urprise. They found no words to speak their mutual astonishment. This wa_ore wonderful, to be sure, than even either of their former encounters.
For another long hour the two unfriendly English-men huddled away from on_nother in opposite corners of that native hut, without speaking a word of an_ort in their present straits. At the end of that time, a voice spoke at th_oor some guttural sentences in the Barolong language. The natives insid_esponded alike in their own savage clicks. Next the voice spoke in English; it was Granville's captor, he now knew well.
"White men, you come out; King Khatsua himself, him go to 'peak to you."
They crawled out, one at a time, in sorry guise, through the narrow hole. I_as a pitiful exhibition. Were it not for the danger and uncertainty of th_vent, they could almost themselves have fairly laughed at it. King Khatsu_tood before them, a tall, full-blooded black, in European costume, with _ound felt hat and a crimson tie, surrounded by his naked wives an_ttendants. In his outstretched hand he held before their faces tw_ncriminating diamonds. He spoke to them with much dignity at considerabl_ength in the Barolong tongue, to a running accompaniment of laudator_xclamations—"Oh, my King! Oh, wise words!"—from the mouths of his courtiers.
Neither Granville nor Guy understood, of course, a single syllable of th_tately address; but that didn't in the least disturb the composure of th_usky monarch. He went right through to the end with his solemn warning, scolding them both roundly, as they guessed, in his native tongue, like _aster reproving a pair of naughty schoolboys.
As he finished, their captor stood forth with great importance to act a_nterpreter. He had been to the Kimberly diamond mines himself as a labourer, and was therefore accounted by his own people a perfect model of Englis_cholarship.
"King Khatsua say this," he observed curtly. "You very bad men; you come t_arolong land. King Khatsua say, Barolong land for Barolong. No allow whit_an dig here for diamonds. If white man come, him eat up Barolong. Keep whit_an out; keep land for King Khatsua."
"Does King Khatsua want us to leave his country, then?" Granville Kelmscot_sked, with a distinct tremor in his voice, for the great chief and hi_ollowers looked decidedly hostile.
The interpreter threw back his head and laughed a loud long laugh.
"King Khatsua not a fool!" he answered at last, after a rhetorical pause.
"King Khatsua no want to give up his land to white man. If you two white ma_o back to Kimberley, you tell plenty other people, 'Diamonds in Barolon_and.' You say, 'Come along o' me to Barolong land with gun; we show you wher_o dig 'um!' No, no, King Khatsua not a fool. King Khatsua say this. You tw_hite man no go back to Kimberley. You spies. You stop here plenty time alon_' King Khatsua. Never go back, till King Khatsua give leave. So no let an_ther white man come along into Barolong land."
Granville looked at Guy, and Guy looked at Granville. In this last extremity, before those domineering blacks, they almost forgot everything, save that the_ere both English. What were they to do now? The situation was becoming trul_errible.
The interpreter went on once more, however, with genuine savage enjoyment o_he consternation he was causing them.
"King Khatsua say this," he continued, in a very amused tone. "You stop her_lenty days, very good, in Barolong land. King Khatsua give you hut; Kin_hatsua give you claim; Barolong man bring spear and guard you. No do you an_arm for fear of Governor. Governor keep plenty guns in Cape Town. You tw_hite man live in hut together, dig diamonds together; get plenty pebbles.
Keep one diamond you find for yourself; give one diamond after that to Kin_hatsua. Barolong man bring you plenty food, plenty drink, but no let you g_ack. You try to go, then Barolong man spear you."
The playful dig with which the savage thrust forward his assegai at that fina_emark showed Granville Kelmscott in a moment this was no idle threat. It wa_lear for the present they must accept the inevitable. They must remain i_arolong land; and he must share hut and work with that doubly hatefu_reature—the man who had deprived him of his patrimony at Tilgate, and whom h_irmly believed to be the murderer of Montague Nevitt. This was what had com_hen of his journey to Africa! Truly, adversity makes us acquainted wit_trange bedfellows!