To desperation turn my trust and hope.

What if this cursed hand

Were thicker than itself with brother's blood,

Is there not rain enough in the sweet heavens

To wash it white as snow?

I'll have prepared him

A chalice for the nonce whereon but sipping

... he...

Chaunted snatches of old tunes,

As one incapable.

The drink—the drink—... the foul practice

Hath turned itself on me; lo, here I lie...

I can no more: the King—the King's to blame.—Hamlet.

OSWIN Markham dined at the hotel late in the evening, and when he was in the act Harwood came into the room dressed for a dinner-party at Greenpoint to which he had been invited.

“Your friend Mr. Despard is not here?” said Harwood, looking around the room. “I wanted to see him for a moment to give him a few words of advice that may be useful to him. I wish to goodness you would speak to him, Markham; he has been swaggering about in a senseless way, talking of having his pockets full of sovereigns, and in the hearing of every stranger that comes into the hotel. In the bar a few hours ago he repeated his boast to the Malay who brought him his horse. Now, for Heaven's sake, tell him that unless he wishes particularly to have a bullet in his head or a khris in his body some of these nights, he had better hold his tongue about his wealth—that is what I meant to say to him.”

“And you are right,” cried Oswin, starting up suddenly. “He has been talking in the hearing of men who would do anything for the sake of a few sovereigns. What more likely than that some of them should follow him and knock him down? That will be his end, Harwood.”

“It need not be,” replied Harwood. “If you caution him, he will most likely regard what you say to him.”

“I will caution him—if I see him again,” said Markham; then Harwood left the room, and Markham sat down again, but he did not continue his dinner. He sat there staring at his plate. “What more likely?” he muttered. “What more likely than that he should be followed and murdered by some of these men? If his body should be found with his pockets empty, no one could doubt it.”

He sat there for a considerable time—until the streets had become dark; then he rose and went up to his own room for a while, and finally he put on his hat and left the hotel.

He looked at his watch as he walked to the railway station, and saw that he would be just in time to catch a train leaving for Wynberg. He took a ticket for the station on the Cape Town side of Mowbray, where he got out.

He walked from the station to the road and again looked at his watch: it was not yet nine o'clock; and then he strolled aside upon a little foot-track that led up the lower slopes of the Peak above Mowbray. The night was silent and moonless. Upon the road only at intervals came the rumbling of bullock wagons and the shouts of the Kafir drivers. The hill above him was sombre and untouched by any glance of light, and no breeze stirred up the scents of the heath. He walked on in the silence until he had come to the ravine of silver firs. He passed along the track at the edge and was soon at the spot where he had sat at the feet of Daireen a month before. He threw himself down on the short coarse grass just as he had done then, and every moment of the hour they had passed together came back to him. Every word that had been spoken, every thought that had expressed itself upon that lovely face which the delicate sunset light had touched—all returned to him.

What had he said to her? That the past life he had lived was blotted out from his mind? Yes, he had tried to make himself believe that; but now how Fate had mocked him! He had been bitterly forced to acknowledge that the past was a part of the present. His week so full of bitterest suffering had not formed a dividing line between the two lives he fancied might be his.

“Is this the justice of God?” he cried out now to the stars, clasping his hands in agony above his head. “It is unjust. My life would have been pure and good now, if I had been granted my right of forgetfulness. But I have been made the plaything of God.” He stood with his hands clasped on his head for long. Then he gave a laugh. “Bah!” he said; “man is master of his fate. I shall do myself the justice that God has denied me.”

He came down from that solemn mount, and crossed he road at a nearer point than the Mowbray avenue.

He soon found himself by the brink of that little river which flowed past Rondebosch and Mowbray. He got beneath the trees that bordered its banks, and stood for a long time in the dead silence of the night. The mighty dog-lilies were like pictures beneath him; and only now and again came some of those mysterious sounds of night—the rustling of certain leaves when all the remainder were motionless, the winnowing of the wings of some night creature whose form remained invisible, the sudden stirring of ripples upon the river without a cause being apparent—the man standing there heard all, and all appeared mysterious to him. He wondered how he could have so often been by night in places like this, without noticing how mysterious the silence was—how mysterious the strange sounds.

He walked along by the bank of the slow river, until he was just opposite Mowbray. A little bridge with rustic rails was, he knew, at hand, by which he would cross the stream—for he must cross it. But before he had reached it, he heard a sound. He paused. Could it be possible that it was the sound of a horse's hoofs? There he waited until something white passed from under the trees and reached the bridge, standing between him and the other side of the river—something that barred his way. He leant against the tree nearest to him, for he seemed to be falling to the ground, and then through the stillness of the night the voice of Daireen came singing a snatch of song—his song. She was on the little bridge and leaning upon the rail. In a few moments she stood upright, and listlessly walked under the trees where he was standing, though she could not see him.

“Daireen,” he said gently, so that she might not be startled; and she was not startled, she only walked backwards a few steps until she was again at the bridge.

“Did any one speak?” she said almost in a whisper. And then he stood before her while she laughed with happiness.

“Why do you stand there?” he said in a tone of wonder. “What was it sent you to stand there between me and the other side of that river?”

“I said to papa that I would wait for him here. He went to see Major Crawford part of the way to the house where the Crawfords are staying; but what can be keeping him from returning I don't know. I promised not to go farther than the avenue, and I have just been here a minute.”

He looked at her standing there before him. “Oh God! oh God!” he said, as he reflected upon what his own thoughts had been a moment before. “Daireen, you are an angel of God—that angel which stood between the living and the dead. Stay near me. Oh, child! what do I not owe to you? my life—the peace of my soul for ever and ever. And yet—must we speak no word of love together, Daireen?”

“Not one—here,” she said. “Not one—only—ah, my love, my love, why should we speak of it? It is all my life—I breathe it—I think it—it is myself.”

He looked at her and laughed. “This moment is ours,” he said with tremulous passion. “God cannot pluck it from us. It is an immortal moment, if our souls are immortal. Child, can God take you away from me before I have kissed you on the mouth?” He held her face between his hands and kissed her. “Darling, I have taken your white soul into mine,” he said.

Then they stood apart on that bridge.

“And now,” she said, “you must never frighten me with your strange words again. I do not know what you mean sometimes, but then that is because I don't know very much. I feel that you are good and true, and I have trusted you.”

“I will be true to you,” he said gently. “I will die loving you better than any hope man has of heaven. Daireen, never dream, whatever may happen, that I shall not love you while my soul lives.”

“I will believe you,” she said; and then voices were heard coming down the lane of aloes at the other side of the river—voices and the sound of a horse's hoofs. Colonel Gerald and Major Crawford were coming along leading a horse, across whose saddle lay a black mass. Oswin Markham gave a start. Then Daireen's father hastened forward to where she was standing.

“Child,” he said quickly, “go back—go back to the house. I will come to you in a few minutes.”

“What is the matter, papa?” she asked. “No one is hurt?—Major Crawford is not hurt?”

“No, no, he is here; but go, Daireen—go at once.”

She turned and went up the avenue without a word. But she saw that Oswin was not looking at her—that he was grasping the rail of the bridge while he gazed to where the horse with its burden stood a few yards away among the aloes.

“I am glad you chance to be here, Markham,” said Colonel Gerald hurriedly. “Something has happened—that man Despard——”

“Not dead—not murdered!” gasped Oswin, clutching the rail with both hands.

“Murdered? no; how could he be murdered? he must have fallen from his horse among the trees.”

“And he is dead—he is dead?”

“Calm yourself, Markham,” said the colonel; “he is not dead.”

“Not in that sense, my boy,” laughed Major Crawford. “By gad, if we could leave the brute up to the neck in the river here for a few hours I fancy he would be treated properly. Hold him steady, Markham.”

Oswin put his hand mechanically to the feet of the man who was lying helplessly across the saddle.

“Not dead, not dead,” he whispered.

“Only dead drunk, unless his skull is fractured, my boy,” laughed the major. “We'll take him to the stables, of course, George?”

“No, no, to the house,” said Colonel Gerald.

“Run on and get the key of the stables, George,” said the major authoritatively. “Don't you suppose in any way that your house is to be turned into an hospital for dipsomaniacs. Think of the child.”

Colonel Gerald made a little pause, and then hastened forward to awaken the groom to get the key of the stables, which were some distance from the cottage.

“By gad, Markham, I'd like to spill the brute into that pond,” whispered the major to Oswin, as they waited for the colonel's return.

“How did you find him? Did you see any accident?” asked Oswin.

“We met the horse trotting quietly along the avenue without a rider, and when we went on among the trees we found the fellow lying helpless. George said he was killed, but I knew better. Irish whisky, my boy, was what brought him down, and you will find that I am right.”

They let the man slide from the saddle upon a heap of straw when the stable door was opened by the half-dressed groom.

“Not dead, Jack?” said Colonel Gerald as a lantern was held to the man's face. Only the major was looking at the man; Markham could not trust himself even to glance towards him.

“Dead?” said the major. “Why, since we have laid him down I have heard him frame three distinct oaths. Have you a bucket of water handy, my good man? No, it needn't be particularly clean. Ah, that will do. Now, if you don't hear a choice selection of colonial blasphemy, he's dead and, by gad, sir, so am I.”

The major's extensive experience of the treatment of colonial complaints had, as the result proved, led him to form a correct if somewhat hasty diagnosis of the present case. Not more than a gallon of the water had been thrown upon the man before he recovered sufficient consciousness to allow of his expressing himself with freedom on the subject of his treatment.

“I told you so,” chuckled the major. “Fill the bucket again, my man.”

Colonel Gerald could only laugh now that his fears had been dispelled. He hastened to the house to tell Daireen that there was no cause for alarm.

By the time the second bucketful had been applied, in pursuance of the major's artless system of resuscitation, Despard was sitting up talking of the oppressions under which a certain nation was groaning. He was sympathetic and humorous in turn; weeping after particular broken sentences, and chuckling with laughter after other parts of his speech.

“The Irish eloquence and the Irish whisky have run neck and neck for the fellow's soul,” said the major. “If we hadn't picked him up he would be in a different state now. Are you going back to Cape Town to-night, Markham?”

“I am,” said Oswin.

“That's lucky. You mustn't let George have his way in this matter. This brute would stay in the cottage up there for a month.”

“He must not do that,” cried Markham eagerly.

“No, my boy; so you will drive with him in the Cape cart to the hotel. He will give you no trouble if you lay him across the floor and keep your feet well down upon his chest. Put one of the horses in, my man,” continued the major, turning to the groom. “You will drive in with Mr. Markham, and bring the cart back.”

Before Colonel Gerald had returned from the house a horse was harnessed to the Cape cart, Despard had been lifted up and placed in an easy attitude against one of the seats. And only a feeble protest was offered by the colonel.

“My dear Markham,” he said, “it was very lucky you were passing where my daughter saw you. You know this man Despard—how could I have him in my house?”

“In your house!” cried Markham. “Thank God I was here to prevent that.”

The Cape cart was already upon the avenue and the lamps were lighted. But a little qualm seemed to come to the colonel.

“Are you sure he is not injured—that he has quite recovered from any possible effects?” he said.

Then came the husky voice of the man.

“Go'night, king, go'night. I'm alright—horse know's way. We're tram'led on, king—'pressed people—but wormil turn—wormil turn—never mind—Go save Ireland—green flag litters o'er us—tread th' land that bore us—go'night.”

The cart was in motion before the man's words had ceased.

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