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Prester John

20.
My Last Sight Of The Reverend John Laputa
It was dark before I got into the gorge of the Letaba. I passed many patrols, but
few spoke to me, and none tried to stop me. Some may have known me, but I
think it was my face and figure which tied their tongues. I must have been pale as
death, with tangled hair and fever burning in my eyes. Also on my left temple was
the splash of blood.
At Main Drift I found a big body of police holding the ford. I splashed through and
stumbled into one of their camp-fires. A man questioned me, and told me that
Arcoll had got his quarry. 'He's dead, they say. They shot him out on the hills
when he was making for the Limpopo.' But I knew that this was not true. It was
burned on my mind that Laputa was alive, nay, was waiting for me, and that it
was God's will that we should meet in the cave.
A little later I struck the track of the Kaffirs' march. There was a broad, trampled
way through the bush, and I followed it, for it led to Dupree's Drift. All this time I
was urging the Schimmel with all the vigour I had left in me. I had quite lost any
remnant of fear. There were no terrors left for me either from Nature or man. At
Dupree's Drift I rode the ford without a thought of crocodiles. I looked placidly at
the spot where Henriques had slain the Keeper and I had stolen the rubies.
There was no interest or imagination lingering in my dull brain. My nerves had
suddenly become things of stolid, untempered iron. Each landmark I passed was
noted down as one step nearer to my object. At Umvelos' I had not the leisure to
do more than glance at the shell which I had built. I think I had forgotten all about
that night when I lay in the cellar and heard Laputa's plans. Indeed, my doings of
the past days were all hazy and trivial in my mind. I only saw one sight clearly -
two men, one tall and black, the other little and sallow, slowly creeping nearer to
the Rooirand, and myself, a midget on a horse, spurring far behind through the
bush on their trail. I saw the picture as continuously and clearly as if I had been
looking at a scene on the stage. There was only one change in the setting; the
three figures seemed to be gradually closing together.
I had no exhilaration in my quest. I do not think I had even much hope, for
something had gone numb and cold in me and killed my youth. I told myself that
treasure-hunting was an enterprise accursed of God, and that I should most likely
die. That Laputa and Henriques would die I was fully certain. The three of us
would leave our bones to bleach among the diamonds, and in a little the Prester's
collar would glow amid a little heap of human dust. I was quite convinced of all
this, and quite apathetic. It really did not matter so long as I came up with Laputa
and Henriques, and settled scores with them. That mattered everything in the
world, for it was my destiny.
I had no means of knowing how long I took, but it was after midnight before I
passed Umvelos', and ere I got to the Rooirand there was a fluttering of dawn in
the east. I must have passed east of Arcoll's men, who were driving the bush
towards Majinje's. I had ridden the night down and did not feel so very tired. My
horse was stumbling, but my own limbs scarcely pained me. To be sure I was
 
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