Page images
PDF
EPUB

try looked as if uninhabited, there uncertain in his temper towards the were numerous villages hidden away natives, and sometimes he would in the long grass and brushwood, fall asleep in the evenings on a sofa, invisible at a distance, being huts and talk to himself at such a rate of thatch or mud, and not so high while asleep that I would grow frightas the grass among which they were ened, and wake him, when he would placed. From these villages came stare about him for a little until he most of our servants, and also the gathered consciousness, and then middlemen, who acted as brokers he would stagger off to bed to fall between us, the white men, and the asleep again almost immediately. negroes who brought ivory, and Also his hands trembled much, and gum, and india-rubber from the far he began to lose flesh. All this interior for sale. Our trade was prin- troubled me, for his own sake as cipally in ivory, and when an un- well as my own, and I resolved to usually large number of elephants' ask him to see the doetor of the tusks arrived upon the Point for sale next mail-steamer that came. With it would be crowded with bushmen, this idea I went one day to the end strange and uncouth, and hideously of the Point, and found him in his ugly, and armed, and then we would usual attitude, seated on the long be very busy; for sometimes as inany grass, looking seaward. He did as two hundred tusks would be not hear me approach, and when brought to us at the same time, and I spoke he started to his feet, and each of these had to be bargained demanded fiercely why I disturbed for and paid for by exchange of him. I replied, as mildly as I cotton cloths, guns, knives, powder, could, for I was rather afraid of the and a host of small wares.

glittering look that was in his eyes, For some time after my arrival, that I wished to ask him if he did our factory, along with the others on not feel ill. the coast belonging to Messrs. Flint He regarded me with a steady Brothers, was very well supplied by but softened glance for a little, and them with goods for the trade; but then saidby degrees their shipments became “My lad, I thank you for your less frequent, and small when they trouble; but I want no doctor. Do did come.

In spite of repeated you think I'm looking ill ?" letters we could gain no reason from " Indeed you are," I answered, the firm for this fact, nor could the “ill and thin ; and, do you know, I other factories, and gradually we hear you talk to yourself in your found ourselves with an empty sleep nearly every night.” storehouse, and nearly all our goods “What do I say?” he asked, gone. Then followed a weary inter- eagerly. val, during which we had nothing “ That I cannot tell," I replied. whatever to do, and day succeeded “It is all rambling talk—the same day through the long hot season. It things over and over again, and was now that I began to feel that nearly all about one person—Lucy." Jackson had become of late more “Boy !” he cried out, as if in silent and reserved with me than ever pain, or as if something had touched he had been. I noticed, too, that he him to the quick, “sit you down, had contracted a habit of wandering and I'll tell you why I think of her out to the extreme end of the Point, -she was my wife.” where he would sit for hours gazing He moved nearer to the edge of upon the ocean before him. In ad- the cliff, and we sat down, almost dition to this he grew morose and over the restless sea beneath us.

“She lives in my memory," he was deadened within me, so that I continued, speaking more to him- could go to sea again, which I did, self than to me, and looking far out before the mast, under the name of to the horizon beneath which the Jackson, in a barque that traded setting sun had begun to sink, “in to this coast here. And the old spite of all I can do or think of to sailor rose to his feet and turned make her appear base in my eyes. abruptly away, leaving me sitting For she left me to go with another alone. man-a scoundrel. This was how I saw that he did not wish to be it was,” he added, quickly : “I mar- followed, so I stayed where I was ried her, and thought her as pure and watched the grey twilight as a flower; but I could not take creep over the face of the sea, and her to sea with me because I was the night quickly succeed to it. only the mate of a vessel, so I left Not a cloud had been in the sky all her among her own friends, in the the day long, and as the darkness village where she was born. In a increased the stars came out, until little cottage by herself I settled the whole heavens were studded her, comfortable and happy as I with glittering gems. thought. God! how she hung Suddenly, low down, close to round my neck and sobbed when the sea, a point of light flickered I went away the first time! and yet and disappeared, shone again for a -yet-within a year she left me." moment, wavered and went out, And he stopped for several minutes, only to reappear and shine steadily. resting his head upon his hands. “A steamer's mast-head light,” "I “At first I could get no trace of thought, and ran to the house to her," he resumed. “Her friends give the news; but Jackson had knew nothing more of her than that already seen the light, and proshe had left the village suddenly. nounced it to be that of a mailGradually I found out the name steamer, and shortly we saw her of the scoundrel who had seduced side-lights, and the sound of a gun her away. He had bribed her announced that she had anchored friends so that they were silent; but until the morning. At daybreak I over-bribed them with the last there she was, dipping her sides to money that I had, and I followed the swell of the sea as it rolled behim and my wife on foot. I never neath her. It was my duty to go found them, nor did I ever know off to her in one of the surf-boats why she had deserted me for him. belonging to the factory; and so If I had only known the reason; I scrambled down the cliff to the if I could have been told of my little strip of smooth beach that fault; if she had only written to served us for a landing-place. say that she was tired of me; that When I arrived there I found I was too old, too rough for her that the white-crested breakers were soft ways, I think I could have heavier than I had thought they borne the heavy stroke the villain would be. However, there was the had dealt me better. The end of boat lying on the beach with its prow my search was that I dropped towards the waves, and round it were down in the streets of Liverpool, the boat-boys with their loin-cloths whither I thought I had tracked girded, ready to start ; so I clamthem, and was carried to the hos- bered into the stern, or rather-for pital with brain fever upon me. the boat was shaped alike at stem Two months afterwards I came out and stern—the end from which the cured, and the sense of my loss steersman, or patrao, used his long

oar.

With a shout the boys laid fore me stood' a tall man with hold of the sides of the boat, and black hair and whiskers, and dark the next moment it was dancing on piercing eyes, who asked me if I the spent waves next to the beach. was the agent for Flint Brothers. The patrao kept its head steady, I answered that the agent was and the boys jumped in and seized on shore, and that I was his asthe oars, and began pulling with a sistant. Whereupon he informed will, standing up to their stroke. me that he had been appointed Slowly the heavy craft gathered by the firm to liquidate all their way, and approached a dark and stations and businesses on the unbroken roller that hastened to- coast, and “ he would be obliged wards the beach. Then the patrao by my getting his luggage into shouted to the crew, and they lay the boat.” This was said in a on their oars, and the wave with peremptory sort of way, as if he a roar burst right in front of the had spoken to a servant, and very boat, sending the spray of its crest much against the grain I obeyed high above our heads.

his orders. * Rema! rema força !(row

That the man was new to the strongly) now shouted the patrao, coast was evident, and my consospeaking Portuguese, as mostly all lation was that he would be very African coast natives do,—and the soon sick of it and pretty well crew gave way. The next roller frightened before he even got on we had to meet in its strength; shore, for the weather was freshand save for the steady force of the ening rapidly, a fact of which he patrao's oar, I believe it would have appeared to take no heed. Not so tossed us aside and we would have the boat-boys, who were anxious to been swept under its curving wall be off. At last we started, and I of water. As it was, the good boat soon had my revenge. As we drew gave a mighty bound as it felt its near the shore the rollers rolled force, and its stem pitched high higher and higher, and I perceived into the air as it slid down its broad that my gentleman clutched the back into the deep.

gunwale of the boat very tightly, Another and yet another wave and when the first wave that were passed, and we could now see showed signs of breaking overtook them breaking behind us, shutting us, he grew very white in the face out the beach from view. Then until it had passed. the last roller was overcome, and The next one or two breakers there was nothing but the long were small, much to his relief I heave of the deep sea to contend could see, though he said nothing. against. Presently we arrived at Before he had well recovered his the steamer, whose side towered equanimity, however, a tremendous above us, an iron wall.

wave approached us somewhat sudA shout came to me, pitching denly. Appalled by its threatening and lurching with the boat far aspect, he sprang from his seat and below, “Come on board at once." seized the arm of the patrao, who But to come on board was only roughly shook him off. to be done by watching a chance "My God!" he cried, “we are as the boat rose on the top of a swamped !” and for the moment roller. Taking such a one, I seized it really looked like it; but the the side-ropes, swung a moment in patrao, with a dexterous sweep of mid-air, and the next was on the his long oar, turned the boat's head stcamer's clean white deck. Be- towards the roller. It broke just

off-hand way,

as it reached us and gave us the into the sea; the crew sprang overbenefit of its crest, which came in board, some of them seized the new over the top sides of the boat as arrival; I clambered on the back it passed by, and deluged every of the patrao; a crowd of negroes, one of us.

who had been waiting on

the I laughed, although it was no beach, laid hold of the tow-rope of laughing matter, at the plight the the boat, and it and we were landed liquidator was now in. He was simultaneously on the dry sand. changed in a moment from a spruce Once on shore Mr. Bransome, for and natty personage into a miser- that was the new man's name, able and draggled being. From rapidly recovered his presence of every part of him the salt water mind and manner, and, by way of was streaming, and the curl was covering his past confusion, recompletely taken out of his whis- marked that he supposed the surf kers. He could not speak from was seldom so bad as it then was. terror, which the boat-boys soon I replied in an saw, for none are quicker than meaning to make fun of him, that negroes to detect signs of fear in what he had passed through was those whom they are accustomed nothing, and appealed to the patrao to consider superior to themselves. to confirm what I had said. That Familiar with the surf, and full negro, seeing the joke, grinned all of mischievous fun, they began to over his black face; and Mr. Branshout and gesticulate with the set- some, perceiving that he was being tled purpose of making matters ap- laughed at, snatched a good-sized pear worse than they were, and of stick from a native standing near, enjoying the white man's discom- and struck the patrao repeatedly fiture,-all but the patrao, who over the back. was an old hand, and on whom In vain Sooka, for that was the depended the safety of us all. patrao's name, protested, and deHe kept a steady look-out sea- manded to know what wrong thing Ward, and stood upright and firm, he had done.

was grasping his oar with both hands. furious, and showered his blows With him it was a point of honour upon the black. Equally in vain to bring the white men intrusted I shouted that Sooka had done well to his care safely through the surf. by us, and that he, Mr. Bransome,

We waited for more than half an was making an enemy of a man hour, bow on, meeting each roller who would have him now and then as it came to us; and by the end of in his power. At length Sooka that time the unfortunate liqui- took to his heels, and, sure enough, dator had evidently given up all when he had got a little way off, he hope of ever reaching the shore. began to threaten vengeance for Luckily, the worst was soon to what he had received. I sympa: pass. After one last tremendous thised with him, for I knew what wave there was a lull for a few a loss to his dignity it was to be moments, and the patrao, who had beaten without cause before his watched for such a chance, swiftly fellows, and I feared that Mr. Branturned the boat round, and giv- some would indeed be sorry, sooner ing the word to the crew, they or later, for what he had done. pulled lustily towards the shore. I now suggested to him, by way In a few minutes we were again of diverting his thoughts from poor in safety The boat grounded on Sooka, that standing on the beach the beach; the oars were tossed in wet clothes was the very way to

The agent

catch the coast fever straight off, ened expression on his face, which and he instantly suffered himself blanched slightly. But he quickly to be carried up to the factory resumed his composure and perThere Jackson received him in a emptory way, and said, “Show sort of “who on earth are you?” me a room; I must get these wet manner; and Mr. Bransome, clear things off me." ing his throat, announced himself As, however, he addressed himand his authority, adding that he self this time to me rather than to intended to make the factory a Jackson-who, indeed, regarded point of departure to all the others him no longer, but stood with the on the coast; then, very abruptly, letter loose in his hand, looking at he requested Jackson to prepare the floor of the room, as if in deep quarters for him without delay. meditation—I showed him into my

The change that came over Jack- own room, where I ordered his son's face as he learnt the quality trunks to be brought. These, of of the stranger and his requests course, were wet; but he found was great. The old salt, who had some things in the middle of them been king of his house and of the that were not more than slightly Point for so long a time, had evi- damp, and with the help of a pair dently never even thought of the of old canvas trousers of mine he probability of such an intrusion as managed to make his appearance was now presented to him, and he, at dinner-time. was amazed at what he considered Jackson was not at the meal. to be the unwarrantable assurance He had left the house shortly after of the stranger. However, he re- his interview with the new agent, covered himself smartly and asked and had, I fancied, gone on one of the new man if he had any written his solitary rambles. At any rate credentials.

he did not return until late that “Certainly,” replied he, pulling night. out a document all wet with salt- I thought Mr. Bransome seemed water. “ Here is a letter from to be somewhat relieved when he Messrs. Flint Brothers, of which, saw that the old man was not no doubt, you will have a copy in coming; and he became more your mail-bag."

affable than I had expected him to Jackson took the letter and be, and relinquished his arrogant opened it, and seemed to read it style altogether when he began to slowly to himself. All at once he question me about Jackson—who started, looked at the new agent, he was ? what had he been? how advanced a step or two towards long he had lived on the coast ! him, muttering, “ Bransome, Bran- To all which questions I returned some," then stopped and asked him cautious answers, remembering that in a strange constrained voice, “Is I was under a promise to the old your name Bransome?"

man not to repeat his story. “Yes," replied the latter, aston- By the next morning, to my surished at the old man's question. prise, Jackson appeared to have

“I knew a Bransome once,” said become reconciled to the fact that Jackson, steadily, "and he was a he had been superseded by a man scoundrel.”

who knew nothing of the coast, For a moment the two men and of his own accord he offered to looked at each other Jackson with tell Mr. Bransome the clues to the a gleam of hatred in his eyes, while letter-locks on the doors of the Bransome had a curiously fright- various store-rooms; for we on the

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »