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The Gold Kloof

L. T. Meade

  Produced by Al Haines.

  Cover art]

  The rhinoceros, snorting loudly, was upon them.]

  *The Gold Kloof*



  THOMAS NELSON AND SONS _London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and New York_ 1907


  I. _School Days_ II. _Bamborough Farm_ III. _Up-country Life_ IV. _The Gold Spoor_ V. _The Trek Begins_ VI. _The Shadowers and the Shadowed_ VII. _Adventures in the Veldt_ VIII. _The Elephant Country_ IX. _In the Thirst-land_ X. _Tom's Story.--The Baboon Boy_ XI. _The Berg Damaras_ XII. _The Lion Camp_ XIII. _Guy is Missing_ XIV. _Poeskop to the Rescue_ XV. _The Kloof_ XVI. _Gathering Gold_ XVII. _The Shadowers' Attack_ XVIII. _The Last of Karl Engelbrecht_ XIX. _Homeward Bound_


  *Chapter I.*


  It was a fine, hot July day on the banks of the Severn river atTewkesbury, that quaint, old-world, and somewhat decayed town, whichoffers to the inspection of the visitor and the archaeologist some ofthe most ancient and interesting buildings to be seen in any part ofbroad England. There was some stir on the banks of the river, for twopublic schools, one of them situate in the west of England, the otherhailing from a Midland shire, were about to contest with one another intheir annual boat race. From the Western school a considerablecontingent of lads had come over; these were discussing, with theenthusiasm of schoolboys, the prospects of the races. On the banks,gathered near the winning-post, were also to be seen a number of otherspectators, some from the town itself, others from the neighbouringcountry-side.

  The fateful moment at length had come; the two boats were to be seen inthe distance, their oarsmen battling with one another with all thedesperate energy that youth and strength and an invincible determinationcould put into their task. As they drew nearer it was to be seen thatthe Midland school was leading by nearly half a length. A quarter of amile remained to be rowed. Loud cries from the Western school resoundedalong the banks. Hope struggled against hope in every youthful breast;yet it seemed that if the oarsmen of the Western school were to makethat final effort for which they were famous, it was now almost toolate. But, no! the Western stroke is seen to be calling upon his crew;their flashing blades dip quicker, and yet quicker; they are welltogether, all apparently animated by the vigour and the reserve of forcedisplayed by their leader. Foot by foot they diminish the lead of theiradversaries, who are striving desperately, yet ineffectually, to retaintheir advantage. A hundred yards from the winning-post the Western ladsare level; and as the post is passed they have defeated theiradversaries, after one of the finest races ever rowed between the twoschools, by a quarter of a length.

  Amid the exultant and tremendous cheering that now greets the triumph ofthe Western school, both crews paddle to the boat-house and disembark.The boats are got out and housed, and all but the Western captain andstroke, Guy Hardcastle, are inside the boathouse, bathing and changingtheir clothes. Guy Hardcastle, a strong, well-set-up lad of seventeen,lingers on the platform in conversation with his house-master, Mr.Brimley-Fair, who has come down to congratulate him on his victory. Heis a good-looking lad, fresh complexioned, with fair brown hair, a firmmouth, and a pair of steady, blue-gray eyes, which look the worldfrankly in the face, with an aspect of candour, friendliness, andself-reliance that most people find very attractive.

  While master and boy are talking together for a brief minute or two, asudden cry comes from the river, followed by others. They look thatway, and see instantly the reason of the outcry. Some country people,rowing across from the other side, are evidently not accustomed toboating. Two of them attempt to change places in mid-stream: they arewomenfolk; they become alarmed and shift in their places, the heavilyladen boat is upset, and half a dozen people are struggling in thewater.

  Guy Hardcastle is nothing if not prompt. His resolution is instantlytaken. He is in his light rowing kit, well prepared for swimming.Kicking off his shoes, he dives neatly into the water, and swims rapidlyupstream towards the group of struggling people sixty yards away. Ofthese, three are clinging to the boat; one man is swimming for the shorewith a child; the sixth, a girl of fourteen, has just sunk ten yardsbeyond the boat down-stream. Her danger is manifestly great andimminent. Boats are putting off from the bank, but they may be toolate. Guy Hardcastle, surveying the disaster with cool eye as he swimsthat way, has concentrated all his energies on this drowning andterror-stricken girl. He is within fifteen yards of where she sank; andnow, a few seconds later, just as the girl, now partly insensible, comesto the surface again, he grasps her firmly, turns her over on herback--a task of some difficulty--and, himself also swimming on his back,tows her towards the bank. It is not an easy task. The girl is nolight weight, encumbered as she is with soddened clothing; the stream isstrong, and Guy himself is by no means so fresh as he might have been,after that hard and exhausting race of a few minutes since. Still, withinvincible determination, the plucky lad struggles with his burdentowards the boat-house. Help comes unexpectedly. His house-master, Mr.Brimley-Fair, has foreseen his difficulties, and, jumping into a dingy,has rowed out to his assistance. Presently he is alongside.

  "Here you are, Hardcastle," he cries; "catch hold of her side!"

  Guy clutches with one hand at the boat's gunwale, and feels that he andhis burden are now pretty safe.

  "Now, hang on while I row you in," says Mr. Brimley-Fair, "and we'llsoon have you all right."

  Guy does as he is told, and in fifty strokes the boathouse is reached,and girl and rescuer are safe. A storm of cheering, greater even thanthat which greeted the winning of the boat race, now testifies to thegallantry of the boy's second feat and the relief of all that the girlis safe. Meanwhile, the remainder of the overturned crew have beenrescued by boats rowed from the bank.

  Arrived at the boat-house, willing hands hung on to the dingy while Mr.Brimley-Fair stepped out of her. Then, bringing her side gently to theplatform, they grasped Guy Hardcastle and his burden and lifted theminto safety. The girl was pale and insensible, but she breathed; adoctor was quickly in attendance; and after the usual restorativemethods had been applied for a quarter of an hour, the patient cameround, was carried to a neighbouring hotel, put to bed, and by theevening was well enough to be taken home.

  After the doctor had taken charge of the half-drowned girl, Mr.Brimley-Fair turned his attention to Guy Hardcastle, still dripping fromhis immersion.

  "Now, my boy," he said, kindly patting him on the shoulder, "you havedone splendidly. That was a plucky thing to do. You remembered allyour life-saving lessons--which some of the boys seem to think abore--and deserve, and I hope will get, the Humane Society's Medal.But, medal or no medal, you did your duty and a brave thing, and we areall proud of you. Now go and get your clothes off and a rub down. Youlook tired and chilled, as well you may, after rowing that fine race andsaving a girl's life. I've sent for some brandy, and you'll soon be allright again."

  "All right, sir," said the boy, cheerful though shivering. "I shall bequite fit as soon as I get into my clothes."

  The brandy soon arrived, and the lad was given a small quantity in somewater. Thoroughly dried and rubbed down, he was, not long after,clothed and comfortable again, and quite equal to doing his duty by hisadversaries of the recent boat race, who with his own schoolmates wereloud in admiration of his latest feat.

  The rival crews had some food together, under the chairmanship
of Mr.Brimley-Fair; and later on, the Midland crew having been seen off at thestation, the Western lads took train for their own school.

  About ten days after these events, Guy Hardcastle received news thataltered the whole course of his life. The son of a mining engineer,whose duties took him much away from England into distant parts of theworld, the lad had had the misfortune to lose his mother at a very earlyage. He lived during his vacations with an aunt, a sister of hisfather's, a Miss Hardcastle, who lived at a quiet country house in thecounty of Durham. Beyond two families of cousins living in the samecounty, the lad had few other relatives in England. He had, however, anUncle Charles, his mother's only brother, living in South Africa, whocame home occasionally to England, and to whom he was greatly attached.In fact, next to his father, the lad looked upon his Uncle Charles ashis greatest friend. Guy was now a month or two past seventeen. He hadbeen four years at his present school, where he was an immensefavourite. Captain of the rowing club, he had not time or opportunityto devote himself, as he would have liked, to cricket, and was nottherefore in the eleven. But he was in the twenty-two. He was also adistinguished member of the football team, and a good athlete. At thelast sports he had won the mile in the record time for his school offour minutes forty-nine seconds, and had, in addition, carried off thehalf-mile, the quarter-mile, and the grand steeplechase. Winning aswell the long jump and throwing the cricket ball, he was easily _victorludorum_ in the school sports.

  Although not a brilliantly clever boy, he was possessed of quite averagebrains. He was, in addition, a steady and consistent worker, with theresult that he was now in the highest form in the school, on the modernside, and a prefect. A thoroughly good stamp of an English schoolboy,excellent at work, keen at games, good tempered, reliable, and steady,Guy Hardcastle was undoubtedly all round the most popular boy in theschool. He owed not a little of his popularity to his character, whichwas strong, simple, and always to be relied upon. His schoolfellowsknew that he hated meanness and lying; that he was the foe of the bullyand the sneak; that the side he took was the side always of truth andhonour and duty. In his own house his force of character and his steadyexample had insensibly created within the last year or so a vastimprovement in the whole tone and spirit of the community of fifty boys;and his house-master, Mr. Brimley-Fair, well knew how valuable an allyhe had in the boy, in those directions where the precepts andadmonitions of the master are not always able to penetrate.

  Guy Hardcastle expected at this period to have another year of schoollife. After that time it was his father's intention to send him to theSchool of Mines in Jermyn Street, London, to prepare him for theprofession of a mining engineer, which he himself followed. The fatefulnews that Guy received came to him one morning in a letter which, by thehandwriting, postmark, and stamp, he knew was from his Uncle Charles, inBritish Bechuanaland. The first few lines read by him as he sat atbreakfast turned his ruddy cheek pale. He read no further, but thrustthe letter into his pocket, hurriedly finished his meal, and went to hisstudy. There he took out the letter again, and, sadly and with a cloudedbrow, perused the contents, which were as follows:--


  "MY DEAR GUY,--I am grieved indeed to have bad news to send you--theworst, in fact, that I could possibly have to write. Your dear fatherdied two months since at Abaquessa, some two hundred miles up countryfrom Cape Coast Castle, where, as you know, he was at work opening up amine. This is a sad blow for us all, more especially for you, who loseyour nearest and dearest relative, and one of the best and kindest offathers. I need not tell you how much I mourn his loss. He was a veryold and dear friend of mine, and the fact that he married my sister,Helen, rendered our friendship yet a closer one.

  "Your father's agent at Cape Coast Castle has forwarded me all hispapers and belongings, including two letters written to me by yourfather shortly before his death. From these two letters, and from Mr.Delvine's accounts, I gather that your father had had repeated attacksof the dangerous malarial fever which is so fatal on the West Coast.From the last of these he never recovered. In his last two letters tome, which I enclose for your perusal, he seems to have had a forebodingthat he would not recover; and in the very last (the few lines inpencil, written the day before his death) he asks me to take charge ofyou and look after you till you are able to manage your own affairs.You know, my dear Guy, how glad and willing I shall be to do whatever Ican for you, and what a pleasure to us it will be to see you out here,if it shall hereafter be settled that you come.

  "From what your father has told me, he has left behind him some L2,000.This will, of course, come to you, under the terms of the will, at theage of twenty-one. Meantime, you are to have the interest for yourmaintenance. I need hardly point out to you that your father's deathmakes a great difference in your future prospects. He earned a fairlygood income during his life, and had at one time saved considerably moremoney than he now leaves. Some unfortunate investments, and the veryheavy expenses of that patent lawsuit in which he was engaged--tryingvainly, as it turned out, to protect a very unique invention of his ownin connection with the concentration and chlorination ofpyrites--reduced his savings very considerably; and instead of someL5,000, which might have been looked for three or four years ago, younow only succeed, as I say, to about L2,000.

  "In his last two letters your father, as you will see, told me that hehad decided not to enter you into his own profession of a miningengineer. He had come to the conclusion that the life is too precariousa one; that although a man, if he is lucky, can occasionally make a bigincome, yet the prizes are few and the risks very great. The life is ahard one, as he points out. A mining engineer has to take his chance inall parts of the world; too often his work is cast in a pestilentialclimate, and, if he escapes death, his health and constitution are, asoften as not, completely ruined by the time he reaches middle age. Yourfather believed--and rightly, as it turned out--that the West Coastmining on which he was engaged, handsomely though he was paid, would bethe death of him sooner or later, and was very sorry he had accepted theappointment. However, he was under a contract, and could not well throwup his engagement; and the fever has, alas, proved, as it has for somany other good men, the death of him.

  "He reiterated, as you will see, in both these letters, the wish that,in case of his death, you should come out here to me and learn farming.He says, very rightly, that the life is a healthy one; that a man can dofairly well if he is steady and sticks to business; and that he isconvinced that you, with your open-air inclinations and active habits,would do very well in it. You will have enough to start you fairly whenyou are ready to take up land of your own. Your father knew, of course,that if you came out here, as I hope you may do, you would live with usat small expense--as a matter of fact I shall see that it costs younothing--and that you would have a fair chance of learningstock-farming, and would be well looked after.

  "Now, my dear boy, I want you to think over these things; to discussthem with your house-master, Mr. Brimley-Fair, whom I had the pleasureof meeting two years ago when I was home, and with your Aunt Effie, andmake up your mind what you think you would like to do in the world.Your father has left me your guardian, but I don't want to press my ownideas too much. I want you to think over your father's wishes, and giveme your own view of what you hope to do with your life. If you wish tostay on another year at school, I will see that the thing shall bemanaged. If, on the contrary, you desire to come out here to us, andtake up the business of stock-farming, I think it will be better toleave after this term. I have written Mr. Brimley-Fair, pointing outyour altered circumstances, and arranging that, if necessary, the usualquarter's notice shall be dispensed with. You will be going to yourAunt Effie's at the end of the term for your holidays. You and she musttalk things over, and if you settle to come out here she will help youto fit yourself out and see you off.

  "You will understand that I don't want to make a point of you
r throwingin your lot with me and taking to my business of farming out here. Iwant you to think well over the pros and cons. I don't know whether youhave ever thought of any other line of life. I would remind you,however, that doctoring and the law require a long and expensiveapprenticeship of five years at least before you can earn money foryourself; that you cannot afford an army career; and that you are nowtoo old for the navy. From what I know of you, I don't fancy you wouldtake very readily to the career of a bank clerk, or a clerk in amerchant's office.

  "If you do settle to join us here, I can only say that we shall all havethe very heartiest welcome for you, and that I shall do my best to fityou for the life of a South African farmer.

  "Now, my dear Guy, I must finish. With our deepest sympathy in yourheavy loss, and our kindest love,--Believe me, your affectionate Uncle,C. F. BLAKENEY."

  From this letter, which, it may well be imagined, Guy Hardcastle readwith the saddest feelings, he turned to the enclosures--his father'slast letters to his Uncle Charles. He himself had received, three weekssince, a most kind and affectionate letter from his father, written onlya week before the first of these two forwarded by his uncle. In thisletter his father, although mentioning that he had been down with fever,had said nothing to his boy of the fears which he had expressed to Mr.Blakeney. Guy could see well enough now, as he read the two lastletters, that his father had wished to spare him any anxiety. Theperusal of these two letters received by his uncle, and the tidings ofhis father's death; the remembrances of the happy days that he had hadwith him; his unvarying good temper and cheerfulness and thought forhim--all these things brought the tears welling to the boy's eyes. Sadwas it, indeed, to think that he should never again set eyes upon thatstrong and active form; never look into those keen blue eyes; never beable to depend upon that firm mind and excellent judgment, whichhitherto had always been at his disposal.

  After dinner on the following day, Guy, instead of going out with hisschoolfellows to their usual games, stayed behind in the house andwaited for a summons from Mr. Brimley-Fair, who had already spoken a fewkind words to him, sympathizing in his heavy loss, and telling him hewould be prepared to talk over matters with him after a day's interval.He was presently sent for. His house-master laid his hand kindly on thelad's shoulder and put him into a chair.

  "This is a very sad business, Hardcastle," he said. "I know what a lossyours is. Nothing, no other friend, can replace a good father, do whatwe can. I think you know that I feel with you most sincerely in yourtrouble. I knew your father, and liked and respected him much; and Ihad as little idea as yourself that he was so soon to be taken fromyou."

  The tears came to Guy's eyes at these words; his feelings were too muchfor him; he could just then say nothing. His master noticed the lad'strouble, and went on.

  "But we are now face to face with quite a different set of circumstancesfrom those of forty-eight hours ago. You have to go out into the world,not, thanks to your Uncle Charles, quite alone, but with the knowledgethat for the future you have to rely mainly upon your own exertions inthe battle which we all have to fight. I have had a long letter fromyour uncle; it contains very much the same information that he has sentyou. I have purposely left you a day for reflection before talkingthings over. I have always looked upon you as a sensible fellow. Whatare your ideas as to the future?"

  Guy had had time to recover himself, as his master intended he should.He was now able to answer in a fairly collected voice.

  "Well, sir, I have thought over things the greater part of the last dayand night, and the conclusion I have come to is, that I should preferabove all things to go out to Bechuanaland and join my uncle. Myreasons are best expressed, I think, by the last part of my uncle'sletter to me."

  He showed the letter to Mr. Brimley-Fair, who read it carefully.

  "Well," said the house-master, "there is a great deal in what your unclesays, and you are certainly restricted in your choice of a profession orbusiness. Still, your ideas may alter. Don't be in a hurry."

  "No, sir," the boy went on firmly, "my mind is quite made up, and Idon't think anything will alter it. My uncle's life, which I know a gooddeal about, will, I am certain, suit me better than any otheroccupation. I should like it above all things. Of course I shall hearwhat my Aunt Effie--Miss Hardcastle, I mean--has to say, but I amconvinced I shall not change my opinion."

  Miss Hardcastle came down from the north during the following week, andGuy's future was again seriously and thoroughly discussed. In the end,all three parties--Miss Hardcastle, Mr. Brimley-Fair, and GuyHardcastle--agreed that he, Guy, could not do better than go out to hisuncle and take up the life of a farmer in South Africa.

  Guy left that term, to the general regret of his schoolfellows, hishouse-master, and, a much more important personage, the headmaster ofthe school. In the following September, having chosen his modest kitand belongings, as advised by his Uncle Charles, Guy sailed for SouthAfrica in the fine Cape liner, the _Tantallon Castle_. He had anexcellent passage, and landed at Cape Town in the second week inOctober.