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   Chapter 3 THE TRADER OF LAST NOTCH

The Second Class Passenger: Fifteen Stories By Perceval Gibbon Characters: 32041

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


In Manicaland, summer wears the livery of the tropics. At the foot of the hills north of Macequece every yard of earth is vocal with life, and the bush is brave with color. Where the earth shows it is red, as though a wound bled. The mimosas have not yet come to flower, but amid their delicate green-the long thorns, straight or curved like claws, gleam with the flash of silver. Palms poise aloft, brilliant and delicate, and under foot, flowers are abroad. The flame-blossom blazes in scarlet. The sangdieu burns in sullen vermilion. Insects fill the world with the noise of their business-spiders, butterflies, and centipedes, ants, beetles, and flies, and mysterious entities that crawl nameless under foot. A pea-hen shrieks in the grass, and a kite whistles aloft. A remote speck in the sky denotes a watchful vulture, alert for any mishap to the citizens of the woods, and a crash of twigs may mean anything from a buck to a rhinoceros. There is a hectic on the face of nature.

The trader of Last Notch went homewards to his store through such a maze of urgent life, and panted in the heat. He had been out to shoot guinea-fowl, had shot none and expended all his cartridges, and his gun, glinting in the strong light as he walked, was heavy to his shoulder and hot to his hand. His mood was one of patient protest, for the sun found him an easy prey and he had yet some miles to go. Where another man would have said: "Damn the heat," and done with it, John Mills, the trader, tasted the word on his lips, forbore to slip it, and counted it to himself for virtue. He set a large value on restraint, which, in view of his strength and resolute daring, was perhaps not wholly false. He was a large man, more noticeable for a sturdy solidness of proportion than for height, and his strong face was won to pleasantness by a brown beard, which he wore "navy fash." His store, five big huts above the kloof known as Last Notch, was at the heart of a large Kafir population; and the natives, agriculturists by convention and warriors between whiles, patronized him very liberally. The Englishmen and Portuguese of the country held him in favor, and he enjoyed that esteem which a strong quiet man, who has proved himself to have reserves of violence, commonly wins from turbulent neighbors.

He was trying for a short cut home, and purposed to wade the Revue river wherever he should strike it. Over the low bush about him he could see his hills yet a couple of hours off, and he sighed for thirst and extreme discomfort. No one, he knew, lived thereabouts-no one, at least, who was likely to have whisky at hand, though, for the matter of that, he would have welcomed a hut and a draught of Kafir itywala. His surprise was the greater, then, when there appeared from the growth beside his path as white a man as himself, a tall, somewhat ragged figure-but rags tell no news at all in Manicaland- who wore a large black moustache and smiled affably on him.

He noted that the stranger was a fine figure of a man, tall and slim, with clear dark eyes and tanned face, and he saw, too, that he wore a heavy Webley on his right hip. The newcomer continued to smile as Mills scanned him over, and waited for the trader to speak first.

"Hullo!" said Mills at length.

"'Ullo!" replied the stranger, smiling still. He had a capital smile, and Mills was captivated into smiling in sympathy.

"Who may you be?" he asked agreeably; "didn't expect to meet no white men about here. Where's your boys?"

The tall man waved his hand vaguely in the direction of the coast, as though to imply that he had carriers somewhere in that part of the world.

"Yais," he said pleasantly. "An' you are Jone Mills, eh?"

"That's me," said Mills promptly, lowering the butt of his gun to the ground and resting both hands on the muzzle. The stranger started slightly, but did not cease to smile.

"I don't seem to know you," pondered Mills. "I can't fix you at all."

"Ah, but you will. Le' me see. Was it Beira, eh?"

Mills shook his head decidedly. "I never was in Beira," he said.

"Not Beira?" queried the stranger. "Oh, but surelee. No? Well,

Mandega's, per'aps?"

"Mandega's? Yes, I was there for a bit. I had a block of claims on the ditch, next to old Jimmy Ryan's."

"Ah yais," said the tall man eagerly. "I know 'im. An' there you shoot the Intendente, not? That was ver' fine. I see you coom down all quiet, an' shoot 'im in the 'ead. It was done ver' naice, eh!"

Mills's face darkened. "He was robbin' me, the swine," he answered. "He'd been robbin' me for six months. But that's nobody's business but mine, and anyhow I didn't shoot him in the head. It was in the chest. An' now, who the blazes are you?"

"You do' know me?" smiled the stranger; "but I know you. Oh, ver' well. I see you ver' often. You see. My name is Jacques."

"Jack what?" demanded Mills.

"Not Jack-Jacques. Tha's all. All the people call me Frenchy, eh?

You don' remember?"

"No," said Mills thoughtfully; "but then I seen a good many chaps, and I'd be like to forget some o' them. You doin' anything round here?"

The man who called himself Jacques held up a finger. "Ah, you wan' to know, eh? Well, I don' tell you. I fin' anything, I don' tell all the people; I don' blow the gaff. I sit still, eh? I lie low, eh? I keep 'im all for me, eh? You see?"

"Well, of course," agreed Mills; "struck a pocket, I suppose. I shouldn't have thought you'd have found much here. But then, of course, you're not going to give your game away. Where's your camp? I could do with a drink."

"Back there," said the Frenchman, pointing in the direction whence Mills had come. "'Bout five miles. You don' wan' to come, eh? Too far, eh?"

"Yes, I reckon it's too far," replied Mills. "I'm not more than four miles from my own kia now. You goin' on?"

"Yais," agreed the Frenchman. "I go a leetle bit. Not too far, eh!"

They moved on through the bush. Mills shifted his; gun from shoulder to shoulder, and suffered still from heat and sweat. His taller companion went more easily, striding along as Mills thought, glancing at him, "like a fox." The warmth appeared not to distress him in the least.

"By Jove," exclaimed the trader. "You're the build of man for this blooming country. You travel as if you was born to it. Don't the heat trouble you at all?"

"Oh no," answered the Frenchman carelessly. "You see, I come from a 'ot country. In France it is ver' often 'ot. But you don' like it, eh?"

"No," said the trader, with emphasis. "I was after pea-hen, or you wouldn't see me out this time o' the day. English chaps can't stand it."

"Eh?"

"English chaps can't stand it, I said," repeated Mills. "They mos'ly lie up till it's cooler."

"Ah yais."

They were now nearing the river. A steam rose over the bushes and spiraled into the air, and the hum of water going slowly was audible. A few minutes of walking brought them to its banks. The stream flowed greasily and dark, some forty yards wide, but in the middle it forked about a spit of sand not more than ten paces broad. It was a very Lethe of a river, running oilily and with a slumberous sound, and its reputation for crocodiles was vile.

Mills sat down and began to pull off his boots.

"As well here as anywhere," he said. "I'll try it, anyhow."

"I go back now," said the Frenchman. "Some day I come up an' see you, eh? You like that?"

"Come along any time," replied Mills cheerfully as he slung his boots across his shoulders. "You don't think that island's a quicksand, eh?"

The Frenchman turned and stared at it. "I do' know," he answered.

"Per'aps. You goin' to try, eh?"

"Yes, I'll have a shot at it. You can mos'ly trust yourself on 'em if you walk light an' quick. But we'll see."

The Frenchman watched him as he waded out. The black water reached no higher than his knees, but the ground was soft under foot, and he floundered anxiously.

"It sucks at you," he called. "It's all greasy."

He moved on, and came to the sand island.

"It's better here," he called. "I'll be all right now."

The Frenchman jumped to his feet.

"Look out!" he shouted, gesticulating violently. "You go down; walk off 'im!"

Mills glanced down, and saw that the creeping sand had him knee-deep. He dragged his right foot forth and plunged forward, but with the action his left leg sank to the crutch, and he only kept his balance with a violent effort.

The Frenchman danced on the bank. "Throw you' gun down," he shouted. "Throw you' boots down. You' in to the waist now. Push yo'self back to the water. Push hard."

He wrung his hands together with excitement.

Mills threw down his gun, and the sand swallowed it at once. He turned his head to the man at the bank.

"It's no good, chum," he said quietly. "I reckon you better take a shot at me with that revolver."

The sand was in his armpits. The Frenchman ceased to jump and wring his hands, and smiled at him oddly. Mills, in the midst of his trouble, felt an odd sense of outraged propriety. The smile, he reflected, was ill-timed-and he was sinking deeper.

"What you grinning at?" he gasped. "Shoot, can't you?"

"I coom pull you out," said the Frenchman, fumbling at the buckle of his belt, and he forthwith stepped into the water.

He waded swiftly to within five feet of the sinking man, and flung him the end of the belt. Mills failed to catch it, and the Frenchman shifted his feet cautiously and flung again.

"Now," he shouted as the trader gripped it, "catch 'old tight," and he started to drag him bodily forwards.

"Careful," cried Mills; "you're sinking!"

The Frenchman stepped free hastily, and strained on the belt again.

Mills endeavored to kick with his entombed legs, and called a warning

as his rescuer sunk in the sands. Thus they wrestled, and at length

Mills found his head in the water and his body free.

He rose, and they waded to the bank.

"Of all the quicksands I ever saw," said the trader slowly, as he sat down and gazed at the place that had so nearly been his grave, "that one's the worst."

"'Orrid," agreed the Frenchman, smiling amicably. "You was ver' near buried, eh?"

"Yes," said the trader thoughtfully. "I suppose anyone 'ud say you saved my life, Frenchy."

"Yea," replied the other.

"Exactly," said Mills. "Well there's my hand for you, Frenchy. You done me a good turn. I'll do as much for you one of these days."

"Eh?" said the Frenchman as he shook hands.

"You've got a nasty habit of saying 'Eh?'" retorted the trader. "I said I'd do as much for you one of these days. Comprenny?"

"Oh yais," smiled the Frenchman. "I think you will. Tha's all right."

"Well," said Mills, "I wish you'd come up and see me at my kia. Sure you can't come now?"

"Yais, I coom now," answered the other.

Mills stared. "'Fraid you can't trust me to go alone, are you?" he queried. "'Cause, if so--"

"Tha's all right," interrupted the Frenchman. "I coom now."

"Right you are," said Mills heartily. "Come along then!"

They strode off in the direction of the drift, Mills going thoughtfully, with an occasional glance at his companion. The Frenchman smiled perpetually, and once he laughed out.

"What's the joke?" demanded the trader.

"I think I do a good piece of business to-day," replied the

Frenchman.

"H'm, yes," continued Mills suspiciously.

It was a longish uphill walk to the trader's store, and the night fell while they were yet on the way. With the darkness came a breeze, cool and refreshing; the sky filled with sharp points of light, and the bush woke with a new life. The crackle of their boots on the stiff grass as they walked sent live things scattering to left and right, and once a night-adder hissed malevolently at the Frenchman's heel. They talked little as they went, but Mills noticed that now and again his companion appeared to check a laugh. He experienced a feeling of vague indignation against the man who had saved his life; he was selfish in not sharing his point of view and the thoughts which amused him. At times reserve can be the most selfish thing imaginable, and one might as well be reticent on a desert island as in Manicaland. Moreover, despite the tolerant manners of the country, Mills was conscious of something unexplained in his companion- something which engendered a suspicion on general grounds.

The circle of big dome-shaped huts which constituted the store of Last Notch came into view against a sky of dull velvet as they breasted the last rise. The indescribable homely smell of a wood-fire greeted the nostrils with the force of a spoken welcome. They could hear the gabble of the Kafirs at their supper and the noise of their shrill, empty laughter.

"That's home," said Mills, breaking a long silence.

"Yais," murmured the Frenchman; "'ome, eh? Yais. Ver' naice."

"You may say what you like," continued the trader aggressively. "Home is something. Though never so 'umble, ye know, there's no place like home."

"Tha's all right," assented the other gaily. "I know a man name' Albert Smith, an' 'e sing that in the jail at Beira. Sing all the night till I stop 'im with a broom. Yais."

Mills grunted, and they entered the skoff kia-the largest of the huts, sacred to the uses of a dining-room. It contained two canvas chairs, a camp table, a variety of boxes to sit upon, and some picture-paper illustration on the mud wall. A candle in a bottle illuminated it, and a bird in the thatch overhead twittered volubly at their presence. Some tattered books lay in the corner.

They washed in the open air, sluicing themselves from buckets, and dressed again in clean dungarees in another hut.

"Skoff (food) 'll be ready by now," said Mills; "but I think a gargle's the first thing. You'll have whisky, or gin?"

The Frenchman pronounced for whisky, and took it neat. Mills stared.

"If I took off a dose like that," he observed, "I should be as drunk as an owl. You know how to shift it!"

"Eh?"

"Gimme patience," prayed the trader. "You bleat like a yowe. I said you can take it, the drink. Savvy? Wena poosa meningi sterrik. Have some more?"

"Oh yais," smiled the guest. "Ver' good w'isky, eh?"

He tossed off another four fingers of the liquor, and they sat down to their meal. The food was such as most tables in Manicaland offered. Everything was tinned, and the menu ran the gamut of edibles from roast capon (cold) to pate de foie gras in a pot. When they had finished Mills passed over his tobacco and sat back. He watched the other light up and blow a white cloud, and then spoke.

"Look here, Frenchy," he said, looking at him steadily; "I don't quite cotton to you, and I think it proper you should say a bit more than you have said."

"Eh!" queried the other, smiling.

Mills glowered, but restrained himself. "I want to know who you are, and I guess I mean to know too, so out with it!"

"Ah yais," replied the Frenchman, and removed his pipe from his mouth. He trimmed the bowl fastidiously with his thumb, smiling the while. Of a sudden he looked up, and the smile was gone. He gave Mills back a look as purposeful as his own.

"I'm the man that save' you in the river," he said meaningly.

"Well," began the trader hotly, but stopped.

"That's true," he answered thoughtfully, as though speaking to himself. "Yes, that's true. You've got me, Frenchy."

"Yais," went on the Frenchman, leaning forward across the table, and speaking with an emphasis that was like an insult. "You sink there in the sand. I stop and save you. I stop, you see, although the men from Macequece coom after me and want to kill me."

"But I don' run away; I don' say to you, 'I can' stop. You go down; you die.' I don' say that. I stop. I save you. An' now you say to me, 'Frenchy, 'oo the 'ell are you?' Yais."

Mills shrugged protestingly. The appeal was to the core of his nature; the demand was one he could not dishonor.

"I didn't say just t

hat," he urged. "But what are the chaps from

Macequece after you for?"

"Tha's all right," replied the Frenchman with a wave of his hand.

"You say, 'Frenchy, I don' like you. Dam' you, Frenchy!' Ver' well.

The men coom, you give me to them. They shoot me. Tha's all right;

yais!"

He replaced his pipe and commenced again to smoke with an expression of weary indifference.

"I'm not that sort," said Mills. "I'm open to admit I didn't quite take to you-at first. I can't say fairer than that. But tell me what you done to rile the chaps. Did you kill a bloke, or what?"

"Jone Mills," said the Frenchman "Jone Mills shoot the Intendente at Mandega's. Kill 'im dead. Dead as pork. They don' chase Jone Mills. They don' wan' to shoot Jone Mills. No. Frenchy-po' ol' Frenchy-'e shoot a man in Macequece. Shoot 'im dead. Dead as pork. Then they all coom after 'im. Wan' to shoot 'im. An' po' ol' Frenchy, 'e stop to pull Jone Mills out of the river. 'E save Jone Mills. Jone squeak an' say, 'Shoot me quick befo' I choke.' But Frenchy stop an' pull 'im out. Yais. An' then they shoot Frenchy. Yais!" He blew a huge volume of smoke and lay back serenely.

"Look 'ere, Frenchy," cried Mills, stretching his hand across the table, "I'm in this. They won't catch you here, old son. Savvy? There's my hand for you."

"Eh?"

"There's my hand, I'm tellin' you. Shake hands, old son. You may be a hard case, but you did save my life, and it's up to me to see you through. We'll be able to call quits then."

The Frenchman rose with a serious face, and the two shook hands over the candle. The Frenchman held Mills's hand a moment longer.

"I know you," he said. "You do' know me. I trust you, Jone. I know yo' a good man."

He sat back again, and Mills turned matters over. In that rough community no man would own himself devoid of gratitude. "I'll do as much for you" was the common acknowledgment of a favor. It appeared to Mills that his new acquaintance might be a precious scoundrel, but that point was not at present in issue, and there remained a debt to be satisfied before he could raise it. The knowledge that Frenchy had shot a man did not trouble him in the least, so long as the accompanying circumstances and the motive were in accordance with the simple standards of Manicaland. Here came in the doubt, engendered by nothing more concrete or citable than a trifle of mystery in the man's manner, and some undefined quality that disagreed with the trader. He glanced over to him; the Frenchman was blowing rings of smoke and smiling at them. There was nothing in his face but innocent and boyish amusement.

"Gad, you're a cool hand!" exclaimed Mills. "How d'you reckon we better work it?"

"I do' know," replied the other indifferently.

"You don't, eh? Well, d'you think they'll follow you all night?"

"I don' think," said the Frenchman, with confidence and a swelling of his chest-"I don' think they wan' to meet me in the night. Not ver' naice eh? Leetle dangerous."

"H'm. You've got a bit of an opinion of yerself, anyhow. If that's all right, it'll be time enough to clear by daylight. Did you bolt just as you are-no niggers, no skoff, no anything?"

"No time," was the answer. "So I coom out-with-out everything. Just like this."

"I can get you a couple of niggers," mused Mills, "an' you'll want a gun. Then, with skoff for a fortnight, you ought to be up at the Mazoe before they find your spoor. What do you think?"

"I think i's ver' naice," smiled the other.

"Then we'll hamba lala" (go to sleep), said Mills rising. "I don't know how you feel, but I'm just done up."

A bed was soon fixed for the Frenchman, who retired with a light- hearted "goo' night." Mills, keeping full in view his guest's awkward position, and the necessity for packing him off at daylight, determined not to sleep. He went out of the kraal and listened to the night. It spoke with a thousand voices; the great factory of days and nights was in full swing; but he caught no sound of human approach, and returned to the huts to prepare his guest's kit for the departure. He found and partially cleaned an old rifle, and unpacked a generous donation of cartridges. Meal for the carriers, blankets and tinned meats for the Frenchman, were all at hand. Candles, a lantern, matches, gin, a pannikin, a pair of pots, and so on, soon completed the outfit. Packing is generally an interesting operation, and Mills was an expert in it. He forgot most of his perplexity and ill-ease as he adjusted the bundles and measured the commodities. He had the whole of the gear spread out on the floor of the skoff kia when a voice accosted him.

"You needn't bother no more, Jack," it said softly.

A man tiptoed in. He was short and lightly built, and carried a sporting rifle in his hand. His reddish moustache was draggled with dew and his clothes were soaked in it. He looked at Mills with gleeful blue eyes.

"Where's Frenchy?" he asked softly.

Mills labored to express surprise. "What're you talkin' about?" he demanded loudly.

"Don't shout, blast yer!" whispered the other vehemently. "We saw yer go up 'ere together, Jack, and nobody ain't gone away since. There's five of us, Jack, and we want that swine-we want 'im bad."

"What for?" asked Mills desperately, without lowering his voice.

The other made an impatient gesture for silence, but his words were arrested by a clamor in the yard. There were shouts and curses and the sound of blows.

"We've got him, Charley," shouted some one triumphantly.

The smaller man rushed out, and Mills followed swiftly. There was a blackness of moving forms in the open, and some one struck a match. The man called Charley stepped forward. Mills saw the face and hand of a man standing upright, brilliantly illuminated by the flame of the match; and on the ground three men, who knelt on and about a prostrate figure. One was busy with some cord. In the background stood Mills's Kafirs. The match burned down to the holder's fingers, and he dropped it.

"Well, Dave," said Mills, "what's the meanin' o' this game o' yours- comin' to a man's kia in the middle o' the night and ropin' his mate out o' bed?"

The man who had lit the match laughed. "That you, Jack?" he said. "Well, you wouldn't be so ready to call this bloke 'mate' if you knew what he'd been up to."

"The-swine!" commented Charley.

"Get a lantern," commanded Mills to the Kafirs. "What d'you mean?" he asked of the tall man.

"He shot a woman," said Dave. The tone was eloquent of the speaker's rage and disgust.

Mills stared open-mouthed. "A woman!" he gasped.

"A woman," replied Dave. "Shot her, as bold as the devil, on the street, in the daytime, and did a bolt for the bush. Every man that could put foot to the ground is out after him."

A kafir arrived then with the lantern Mills had designed for the Frenchman, and by its light he was able to see the faces of the men. They were all known to him. The man who was cording the prisoner's arms had seen his daring work at Mandega's. He knelt on the prostrate form as he worked, and the Frenchman's face showed like a waxen mask on the ground. Blood was running from a deep cut on his cheek.

"I save yo' life, Jone," he gasped.

"Shut up!" snapped one of the men, and struck him on the mouth.

"Here," protested Mills; "go slow, can't you, There's no call to bang him about."

They stared at him with astonishment. "Why, man," exclaimed Charley, "didn't we tell you he shot a woman?"

"What's that he said about savin' your life?" demanded Dave.

"He did," explained Mills. He told them the story, and they listened without sympathy.

"It was a bloomin' plucky thing to do," concluded the trader. "I'd ha' bin dead by now but for him, and I owe 'im one for it."

"Oh, nobody's sayin' he isn't plucky," said the man who had 'been tying the Frenchman's arms, as he rose to his feet. "He's the dare- devillist swine alive, but he's done with it now."

Dave came round and clapped Mills on the shoulder.

"It's worked you a bit soft, old man," he said. "Why, hang it all, you wouldn't have us let him go after shooting a woman, would you?"

"Oh! stow it," broke in one of the others. "If it wasn't that 'e's got to go back to Macequece to be shot, I'd blow his head off now."

"I'm not asking you to let him go," cried Mills. "But give the bloke a chance, give 'im a run for it. Why, I wouldn't kill a dog so; it's awful-an'-an'-he saved my life, chaps; he saved my life."

"But he shot a woman," said Charley.

That closed the case-the man had committed the ultimate crime.

Nothing could avail him now. He had shot a woman-he must suffer.

"Jone," moaned the Frenchman-the cords were eating into his flesh-

"Jone, I saved yo' life."

"Why couldn't you tell me?" cried Mills passionately; "why couldn't you trust me? I could ha' got you away."

"That'll do," interrupted Dave, thrusting Mills aside. "We'll trouble you for a drink and a bite, old boy, an' then we'll start back."

Mills led the way to the skoff kia in silence. There was food and drink still on the table, and the men sat down to it at once. The Frenchman lay in the middle of the kraal, bound; his captors' weapons lay at their feet. He was as effectually a prisoner as if their five barrels were covering him. Mills stood moodily watching the men eat, his brain drumming on the anguished problem of the Frenchman's life or death without effort or volition on his part.

"Got any more poosa, old boy?" asked Dave, setting down the whisky- bottle empty.

"Yes," said Mills thoughtfully. "Plenty." He shouted for a boy, and one came running.

"Go to the store-hut," ordered Mills slowly, "and bring a bottle of whisky." He spoke the "kitchen-Kafir" that every one in Manicaland understands.

"Yes, bass," said the native.

"But first," said Mills, still speaking slowly and quietly, "take a knife and cut loose the man on the ground. Quick!" The last word was a shout.

Dave sprang to his feet and stood motionless. The others were arrested in the action of rising or reaching their weapons. From the wall beside him Mills had reached a revolver and held them covered. The barrel moved over them, presenting its black threatful mouth to one after the other. It moved in jerks, but not without purpose. It held them all subject, and the first movement doomed.

"Jack!" cried Dave.

"Shut up!" commanded Mills. "Don't move now. For God's sake don't move. I'll shoot the first one that does."

"He shot a woman," they protested.

"He saved my life," said Mills. "Are you'all right, Frenchy?"

"Yais," came the answer, and with it the ghost of a laugh.

Mills did not look round, and the steady remorseless barrel still sailed to and fro across the faces of the men in the hut.

"Clear out, then," he shouted. "I'll only give you five minutes. You shot a woman. And, Frenchy--"

"Yais, Jone."

"This makes us quits, see?"

"Ver' good, Jone. Good-bye."

"Good-bye, Frenchy."

Dave ripped out a curse and shifted slightly. The barrel sprang round to him, and he froze into stillness.

"Don't do that again, Davy," warned Mills.

"You'll catch it hot for this," snarled one of them.

"Very like," replied the trader.

He counted a liberal five minutes by guess. He dared not look away from his men. At last he spoke.

"It was up to me, boys," he said with a sigh. "I couldn't do no less. If it 'ad been a man 'e shot I'd ha' kept you here all day. But I've done enough, I reckon, seein' it was a woman."

He dropped the revolver to the ground.

"Now!" he said.

They sat round and stared at him. For full a minute no one spoke. Mills gave them back their eyes gloomily, leaning with folded arms against the wall. Then Dave drew a long breath, a very sigh.

"Well, Jack," he said, shaking his head, "I didn't think it of you-I didn't indeed. A skunk like that! a woman-shooter, and a Frenchman! You didn't use to be like this."

"We're quits now, him and me," answered Mills. "He saved my life, and I'm satisfied. So if you've got anything to say-or do-then get it over."

Charley burst out at this in a fuss of anger. "You ought to be shot," he shouted. "That's all you're fit for."

"Charley's right," growled one of the others.

"Oh, cut it off," cried Dave impatiently; "we're not going to shoot

Jack. But I guess we won't say we've lost the Frenchman yet."

He lowered his brows and turned his eyes on Mills.

"You an' him's quits, Jack," he said. "What do you think about it?"

Mills looked up slowly, like a man newly awaked from a dream.

"You might get a shot at him from the path," he answered musingly.

"That is, if he's keeping north. I'll show you the place."

"You don't think we'd have a chance of catching him?"

"Not a ghost," replied the trader decisively. "Once you get into the kloof, he's lost. All you can do is wait till he breaks cover down below, an' try a long shot. By God!" he cried with sudden energy, "I'll try a lick at him myself. We're quits now, the-the woman- shooter!"

He snatched a rifle and led the way, the others tumbling after him. Some hundred yards beyond the kraal the footpath dipped abruptly towards the valley, and at an angle of it there was to be gained a clear view of the bush beneath, where it surged at the foot of the hill and ran down the kloof; at the lower part of the kloof it ceased, and the ground was bare red earth for a space of some thousand yards. Mills sat down on a stone. Dave squatted beside him, and the others grouped themselves on adjacent boulders.

The sun was well into the sky by now-it was about six o'clock in the morning. The air was of diamond, and the chill of the night had already passed. The men glued their eyes on the bare patch and waited.

"Funny game you played up there," whispered Dave to the trader.

Mills nodded without speaking.

"I'm not blaming you," continued the other. "I reckon I understand, old boy. But are you goin' to shoot at him?"

"I am that," was the reply.

"Well, I hope you get him," said Dave. "The chaps'll forget the other business then. They didn't like it, you know-nobody would."

"It's not because I care for them or what they think--" began

Mills.

"I know it's not," interrupted Dave. "You know all the ranges, I suppose?"

"Nine hundred yards to that black spot," said Mills. "The spot's a bit of a hole in the ground. Twelve hundred to the big boulder."

He rose off the stone he was sitting on and lay down on the path, belly under, and ran up the back sight of his rifle with care. Flinging back the bolt, he blew into the chamber and thrust a cartridge in; tested the air with a wet finger, and wriggled the butt home into his shoulder. Dave watched him in silence; Mills was, he knew, a good shot, and he was now preparing, with all the little tricks and graces of the rifle-range, to pull trigger on the man he had risked-nay, almost thrown away-his life to save from the consequences of an unspeakable crime.

"Ah!" breathed Mills, with an artist's luxurious satisfaction.

Down the valley a figure had broken from the bush, and was plainly to be seen against the red ground. The men on the hill flopped down and prepared to shoot.

"Don't fire," Dave warned the others. He was watching Mills. The trader's face bore no signs of his recent mental struggle. It carried no expression whatever, save one of cool interest, just touched with a craftsman's confidence. His barrel was steady as his head. The little figure below was moving over the rough ground towards the black spot. They could see its legs working grotesquely, like a mechanical toy.

"So," murmured Mills. "Now just a little farther. So!"

He fired.

There was no leap into the air, no tragic bound and sprawling tumble.

The little figure in the valley fell where it was, and never moved.

Mills jerked open his breech.

"I'll bet that took him in the spine," he said.

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