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Prester John

10.
I Go Treasure-Hunting
For a mile or so I kept the bush, which was open and easy to ride through, and
then turned into the path. The moon was high, and the world was all a dim dark
green, with the track a golden ivory band before me. I had looked at my watch
before I started, and seen that it was just after eight o'clock. I had a great horse
under me, and less than thirty miles to cover. Midnight should see me at the
cave. With the password I would gain admittance, and there would wait for
Laputa and Henriques. Then, if my luck held, I should see the inner workings of
the mystery which had puzzled me ever since the Kirkcaple shore. No doubt I
should be roughly treated, tied up prisoner, and carried with the army when the
march began. But till Inanda's Kraal my life was safe, and before that came the
ford of the Letaba. Colin would carry my message to Arcoll, and at the Drift the
tables would be turned on Laputa's men.
Looking back in cold blood, it seems the craziest chain of accidents to count on
for preservation. A dozen possibilities might have shattered any link of it. The
password might be wrong, or I might never get the length of those who knew it.
The men in the cave might butcher me out of hand, or Laputa might think my
behaviour a sufficient warrant for the breach of the solemnest vow. Colin might
never get to Blaauwildebeestefontein, Laputa might change his route of march,
or Arcoll's men might fail to hold the Drift. Indeed, the other day at Portincross I
was so overcome by the recollection of the perils I had dared and God's
goodness towards me that I built a new hall for the parish kirk as a token of
gratitude.
Fortunately for mankind the brain in a life of action turns more to the matter in
hand than to conjuring up the chances of the future. Certainly it was in no
discomfort of mind that I swung along the moonlit path to the north. Truth to tell, I
was almost happy. The first honours in the game had fallen to me. I knew more
about Laputa than any man living save Henriques; I had my finger on the central
pulse of the rebellion. There was hid treasure ahead of me - a great necklace of
rubies, Henriques had said. Nay, there must be more, I argued. This cave of the
Rooirand was the headquarters of the rising, and there must be stored their
funds - diamonds, and the gold they had been bartered for. I believe that every
man has deep in his soul a passion for treasure-hunting, which will often drive a
coward into prodigies of valour. I lusted for that treasure of jewels and gold. Once
I had been high-minded, and thought of my duty to my country, but in that night
ride I fear that what I thought of was my duty to enrich David Crawfurd. One other
purpose simmered in my head. I was devoured with wrath against Henriques.
Indeed, I think that was the strongest motive for my escapade, for even before I
heard Laputa tell of the vows and the purification, I had it in my mind to go at all
costs to the cave. I am a peaceable man at most times, but I think I would rather
have had the Portugoose's throat in my hands than the collar of Prester John.
But behind my thoughts was one master-feeling, that Providence had given me
my chance and I must make the most of it. Perhaps the Calvinism of my father's
preaching had unconsciously taken grip of my soul. At any rate I was a fatalist in
 
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