I Carry The Collar Of Prester John
I ran till my breath grew short, for some kind of swift motion I had to have or
choke. The events of the last few minutes had inflamed my brain. For the first
time in my life I had seen men die by violence - nay, by brutal murder. I had put
my soul into the blow which laid out Henriques, and I was still hot with the pride
of it. Also I had in my pocket the fetich of the whole black world; I had taken their
Ark of the Covenant, and soon Laputa would be on my trail. Fear, pride, and a
blind exultation all throbbed in my veins. I must have run three miles before I
came to my sober senses.
I put my ear to the ground, but heard no sound of pursuit. Laputa, I argued,
would have enough to do for a little, shepherding his flock over the water. He
might surround and capture the patrol, or he might evade it; the vow prevented
him from fighting it. On the whole I was clear that he would ignore it and push on
for the rendezvous. All this would take time, and the business of the priest would
have to wait. When Henriques came to he would no doubt have a story to tell,
and the scouts would be on my trail. I wished I had shot the Portugoose while I
was at the business. It would have been no murder, but a righteous execution.
Meanwhile I must get off the road. The sand had been disturbed by an army, so
there was little fear of my steps being traced. Still it was only wise to leave the
track which I would be assumed to have taken, for Laputa would guess I had fled
back the way to Blaauwildebeestefontein. I turned into the bush, which here was
thin and sparse like whins on a common.
The Berg must be my goal. Once on the plateau I would be inside the white
man's lines. Down here in the plains I was in the country of my enemies. Arcoll
meant to fight on the uplands when it came to fighting. The black man might rage
as he pleased in his own flats, but we stood to defend the gates of the hills.
Therefore over the Berg I must be before morning, or there would be a dead man
with no tales to tell.
I think that even at the start of that night's work I realized the exceeding
precariousness of my chances. Some twenty miles of bush and swamp
separated me from the foot of the mountains. After that there was the climbing of
them, for at the point opposite where I now stood the Berg does not descend
sharply on the plain, but is broken into foot-hills around the glens of the Klein
Letaba and the Letsitela. From the spot where these rivers emerge on the flats to
the crown of the plateau is ten miles at the shortest. I had a start of an hour or so,
but before dawn I had to traverse thirty miles of unknown and difficult country.
Behind me would follow the best trackers in Africa, who knew every foot of the
wilderness. It was a wild hazard, but it was my only hope. At this time I was
feeling pretty courageous. For one thing I had Henriques' pistol close to my leg,
and for another I still thrilled with the satisfaction of having smitten his face.
I took the rubies, and stowed them below my shirt and next my skin. I remember
taking stock of my equipment and laughing at the humour of it. One of the heels
was almost twisted off my boots, and my shirt and breeches were old at the best
and ragged from hard usage. The whole outfit would have been dear at five