Why, look you now, how unworthy a thing you make of me! You would play upon me; you would seem to know my stops; you would pluck out the heart of my mystery; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my compass....'S blood, do you think I am easier to be played on than a pipe? Call me what instrument you will, though you can fret me, yet you cannot play upon me.—Hamlet.

OSWIN Markham sat in his own room in the hotel. The window was open, and through it from the street below came the usual sounds of Cape Town—terrible Dutch mingling with Malay and dashed with Kafir. It was not the intensity of a desire to listen to this polyglot mixture that caused Markham to go upon the balcony and stand looking out to the night.

He reflected upon what had passed since he had been in this place a month before. He had gone up to Natal, and in company of Harwood he had had a brief hunting expedition. He had followed the spoor of the gemsbok over veldt and through kloof, sleeping in the house of the hospitable boers when chance offered; but all the time he had been possessed of one supreme thought—one supreme hope that made his life seem a joyous thing—he had looked forward to this day—the day when he would have returned, when he would again be able to look into the face that moved like a phantom before him wherever he went. And he had returned—for this—this looking, not into her face, but into the street below him, while he thought if it would not be better for him to step out beyond the balcony—out into the blank that would follow his casting of himself down.

He came to the conclusion that it would not be better to step beyond the balcony. A thought seemed to strike him as he stood out there. He returned to his chamber and threw himself on his bed, but he did not remain passive for long; once more he stepped into the air, and now he had need to wipe his forehead with his handkerchief.

It was an hour afterwards that he undressed himself; but the bugle at the barracks had sounded a good many times before he fell asleep.

Mr. Harwood, too, had an hour of reflection when he went to his room; but his thoughts were hardly of the excitable type of Markham's; they had, however, a definite result, which caused him to seek out Mr. Despard in the morning.

Mr. Despard had just finished a light and salutary breakfast consisting of a glass of French brandy in a bottle of soda-water, and he was smoking another sample of that box of cigars on the balcony.

“Good-morning to you, mister,” he said, nodding as Harwood came, as if by chance, beside him.

“Ah, how do you do?” said Harwood. “Enjoying your morning smoke, I see. Well, I hope you are nothing the worse for your plunge yesterday.”

“No, sir, nothing; I only hope that Missy out there will be as sound. I don't think they insisted on her drinking enough afterwards.”

“Ah, perhaps not. Your friend Markham has not come down yet, they tell me.”

“He was never given to running ties with the sun,” said Mr. Despard.

“He told me you were a particular friend of his in Australia?” continued Mr. Harwood.

“Yes, men very soon get to be friends out there; but Oswin and myself were closer than brothers in every row and every lark.”

“Of which you had, no doubt, a good many?

“A good few, yes; a few that wouldn't do to be printed specially as prizes for young ladies' boarding-schools—not but what the young ladies would read them if they got the chance.”

“Few fellows would care to write their autobiographies and go into the details of their life,” said Harwood. “I suppose you got into trouble now and again?”

“Trouble? Well, yes, when the money ran short, and there was no balance at the bank; that's real trouble, let me tell you.”

“It certainly is; but I mean, did you not sometimes need the friendly offices of a lawyer after a wild few days?”

“Sir,” said Despard, throwing away the end of his cigar, “if your idea of a wild few days is housebreaking or manslaughter, it wasn't ours, I can tell you. No, my boy, we never took to bushranging; and though I've had my turn with Derringer's small cannons when I was at Chokeneck Gulch, it was only because it was the custom of the country. No, sir; Oswin, though he seems to have turned against me here, will still have my good word, for I swear to you he never did anything that made the place too hot for him, though I don't suppose that if he was in a competitive examination for a bishopric the true account of his life in Melbourne would help him greatly.”

“There are none of us here who mean to be bishops,” laughed Harwood. “But I understood from a few words Markham let fall that—well, never mind, he is a right good fellow, as I found when we went up country together a couple of weeks ago. By the way, do you mean to remain here long, Mr. Despard?”

“Life is short, mister, and I've learned never to make arrangements very far in advance. I've about eighty sovereigns with me, and I'll stay here till they're spent.”

“Then your stay will be proportionate to your spending powers.”

“In an inverse ratio, as they used to say at school,” said Despard.

When Mr. Harwood went into the room he reflected that on the whole he had not gained much information from Mr. Despard; and Mr. Despard reflected that on the whole Mr. Harwood had not got much information by his system of leading questions.

About half an hour afterwards Markham came out upon the balcony, and gave a little unaccountable start on seeing its sole occupant.

“Hallo, my boy! have you turned up at last?” cried Despard. “Our good old Calapash friend will tell you that unless you get up with the lark you'll never do anything in the world. You should have been here a short time ago to witness the hydraulic experiments.”

“The what?” said Markham.

“Hydraulic experiments. The patent pump of the Dominant Trumpeter was being tested upon me. Experiments failed, not through any incapacity of the pump, but through the contents of the reservoir worked upon not running free enough in the right direction.”

“Was Mr. Harwood here?”

“He was, my boy. And he wanted to know all about how we lived in Melbourne.”

“And you told him——”

“To get up a little earlier in the morning when he wants to try his pumping apparatus. But what made you give that start? Don't you know that all I could tell would be some of our old larks, and he wouldn't have thought anything the worse of you on account of them? Hang it all, you don't mean to say you're going into holy orders, that you mind having any of the old times brought back? If you do, I'm afraid that it will be awkward for you if I talk in my ordinary way. I won't bind myself not to tell as many of our larks as chime in with the general conversation. I only object on principle to be pumped.”

“Talk away,” said Oswin spasmodically. “Tell of all our larks. How could I be affected by anything you may tell of them?”

“Bravo! That's what I say. Larks are larks. There was no manslaughter nor murder. No, there was no murder.”

“No, there was no murder,” said Markham.

The other burst into a laugh that startled a Malay in the street below.

“By heavens, from the way you said that one would fancy there had been a murder,” he cried.

Then there was a long pause, which was broken by Markham.

“You still intend to go out to dine with that man you met yesterday?” he said.

“Don't call him a man, Oswin; you wouldn't call a bishop a man, and why call a king one. Yes, I have ordered a horse that is said to know the way across those Flats without a pocket compass.”

“Where did you say the house was?”

“It's near a place called Rondebosch. I remember the locality well, though it's ten years since I was there. The shortest way back is through a pine-wood at the far end of The Flats—you know that place, of course.”

“I know The Flats. And you mean to come through the pine-wood?”

“I do mean it. It's a nasty place to ride through, but the horse always goes right in a case like that, and I'll give him his head.”

“Take care that you have your own at that time,” said Markham. “The house of the Irishman is not like Colonel Gerald's.”

“I hope not, for a more thirsty evening I never spent than at your friend's cottage. The good society hardly made up for the want of drink. It put me in mind of the story of the man that found the pearls when he was starving in the desert. What are bishops and kings to a fellow if he is thirsty?”

“You will leave the house to return here between eleven and twelve, I suppose?” said Oswin.

“Well, I should say that about eleven will see me on my way.”

“And you will go through the pine-wood?”

“I will, my boy, and across The Flats until I pass the little river—it's there still, I suppose. And now suppose I buy you a drink?”

But Oswin Markham declined to be the object of such a purchase. He went back to his own room, and threw himself on his bed, where he remained for more than an hour. Then he rose and wiped his forehead.

He pulled down some books that he had bought, and tried to read bits of one or two. He sat diligently down as if he meant to go through a day's reading, but he did not appear to be in the mood for applying himself to anything. He threw the books aside and turned over some newspapers; but these did not seem to engross him any more than the books had done. He lay back in his chair, and after a while his restlessness subsided: he had fallen asleep.

It was the afternoon before he awoke with a sudden start. He heard the sound of voices in the street below his window. He went forward, and, looking out, was just in time to see Harry Despard mounting his horse at the hotel door.

“I will be back about midnight,” he said to the porter of the hotel, and then he trotted off.

Markham heard the sound of the horse's hoofs die away on the street, and he repeated the man's words: “About midnight.”

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