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Prester John

8. I Fall In Again With The Reverend John Laputa
Once, as a boy, I had earnestly desired to go into the army, and had hopes of
rising to be a great general. Now that I know myself better, I do not think I would
have been much good at a general's work. I would have shirked the loneliness of
it, the isolation of responsibility. But I think I would have done well in a subaltern
command, for I had a great notion of carrying out orders, and a certain zest in the
mere act of obedience. Three days before I had been as nervous as a kitten
because I was alone and it was 'up to me,' as Americans say, to decide on the
next step. But now that I was only one wheel in a great machine of defence my
nervousness seemed to have fled. I was well aware that the mission I was bound
on was full of risk; but, to my surprise, I felt no fear. Indeed, I had much the same
feeling as a boy on a Saturday's holiday who has planned a big expedition. One
thing only I regretted - that Tam Dyke was not with me to see the fun. The
thought of that faithful soul, now beating somewhere on the seas, made me long
for his comradeship. As I shaved, I remember wondering if I would ever shave
again, and the thought gave me no tremors. For once in my sober life I was
strung up to the gambler's pitch of adventure.
My job was to go to Umvelos' as if on my ordinary business, and if possible find
out something of the evening's plan of march. The question was how to send
back a message to Arcoll, assuming I had any difficulty in getting away. At first
this puzzled us both, and then I thought of Colin. I had trained the dog to go
home at my bidding, for often when I used to go hunting I would have occasion to
visit a kraal where he would have been a nuisance. Accordingly, I resolved to
take Colin with me, and, if I got into trouble, to send word by him.
I asked about Laputa's knowledge of our preparations. Arcoll was inclined to
think that he suspected little. The police and the commandos had been kept very
secret, and, besides, they were moving on the high veld and out of the ken of the
tribes. Natives, he told me, were not good scouts so far as white man's work was
concerned, for they did not understand the meaning of what we did. On the other
hand, his own native scouts brought him pretty accurate tidings of any Kaffir
movements. He thought that all the bush country of the plain would be closely
watched, and that no one would get through without some kind of pass. But he
thought also that the storekeeper might be an exception, for his presence would
give rise to no suspicions. Almost his last words to me were to come back hell-
for-leather if I saw the game was hopeless, and in any case to leave as soon as I
got any news. 'If you're there when the march begins,' he said, 'they'll cut your
throat for a certainty.' I had all the various police posts on the Berg clear in my
mind, so that I would know where to make for if the road to
Blaauwildebeestefontein should be closed.
I said good-bye to Arcoll and Wardlaw with a light heart, though the schoolmaster
broke down and implored me to think better of it. As I turned down into the gorge
I heard the sound of horses' feet far behind, and, turning back, saw white riders
dismounting at the dorp. At any rate I was leaving the country well guarded in my
rear.
 
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