The two negroes chattered together the rest of the way to the hut, and Tom was left to his by no means pleasant reflections. His dearest wish was to make his way to the frontier as soon as he was fit to travel, and to join the British forces which, he supposed, were gathering to resist the German invasion. Equally tall, he was slim and loosely built, with lean, sunburnt, hairless cheeks, a clean upper lip that curved slightly in a natural smile, and brown eyes that flashed a look of intelligent interest around. The qualities which marked Mr. He had noticed, moreover, the going and the coming of Reinecke, also with his gun; and he had been troubled when the German returned alone, and when at sunset the Englishman was still absent. I wish to goodness Reinecke would come.
Want to fight, young Tom? It seemed, indeed, as if Reinecke was determined to make him feel that he had overstayed his welcome. If the plantation can't be made to pay, there's only one way out--sacrifice our interest. It was impossible for Reinecke to mistake the lad he had come to meet. Fires had been kindled at several points of the circuit. Reinecke's explanation had been plausible enough, and it was possible Tom was mistaken in his recollection of the numbers on the vouchers. A sudden raucous cry, apparently near at hand, caused him to seize the spike for defence in case some unwary beast should stumble into the pit.
This Reinecke opened with a key, and he stood back with a smile and a bow as he invited Tom, now on his feet, to enter. They were all sullen and resentful; but cowed by the presence of the armed askaris and in constant fear of the whip, they gave no utterance to their feelings in face of their taskmasters, pouring out their hearts only in the seclusion of their own huts and sheds. Now, however, no children sported upon it. After three hours the caravan halted, for the purpose of refreshing the Europeans with cool lager beer from bottles carried in ice-packs by one of the natives. He put his hand in, thinking that something had probably become wedged between the upper part of the drawer and the one above. The sergeant bellowed an order, in words that seemed to be German acclimatised; the negroes hesitated, then, each interpreting the command in his own way, became a mob instead of a half company. I don't like him, but then I don't like Germans.
Still, I daresay the niggers could dispose of him. How naturally the Englishman's disappearance could be explained! They had established a camp some eight miles from the plantation. The gangway was pulled in, a seaman cast off the mooring rope, and thevessel sheered off from the landing-stage with those seemingly aimlessmovements with which a steamer, until she is well under way, responds tothe signals from the bridge. The second presented a striking contrast. To ward off suspicion among the servants, he ordered them to hasten preparations for the meal which Reinecke would expect on his arrival, then hurried back to the negroes' quarters, his brain busy with his plans. Though he was aware of their habit of exaggeration, Tom was conscious of a consuming anxiety, but had self-command enough to present a calm and smiling front to the natives, in whom the least sign of wavering on his part would have started a panic. Indeed, even among the Germans, settlers and soldiers alike, in those early days of the war, no rumour was too fantastic to find easy credence.
Yelling with pain and rage, the victim had sprung upon the sergeant, hurled him to the ground, and seized him by the throat. He worked one out of the ground, and rose to his feet, wincing with the pain that shot through his sprained ankle. The thought, terrible as it was, would not be stifled. He cooked some manioc for Tom and himself; and when Tom sank into heavy sleep, the boy kept watch all night by the fire. It was not till the dense blackness of night brooding over the nullah deepened his feeling of solitude that Tom doubted whether he had done right. The voice had ceased; the sunlight fell unchecked: and Tom, in a last flash of illumination before the darkness of unconsciousness enshrouded him, realised that Reinecke had betrayed him and had left him here to die. The Arab, whose whip had formerly been a terror to them, was chased across the plantation, and, just as he reached the gate, was seized by a score of sinewy hands and hauled back with yells of triumphant glee, to join the other prisoners in the lock-up.
Mwesa, like others, had seen the Englishman start, unattended, with his gun. Tom's a good name--better than riches! It appears that when we landed our stores from the Hedwig von Wissmann that day, we were one porter short, and this fellow, a sturdy lad, was hanging about and appeared to have nothing to do. It must be some one from the plantation. Impatient with himself at the length his imagination had carried him, Tom shouted again, fired off another cartridge--the last but one. They remembered that they had always fought against the Germans, not for them; and some of the elder men said they would rather fight against them again.
Finding that Tom understood German, Reinecke conversed in that language, dropping into English now and then to explain technical terms. He had no chance if he was caught; the likelihood of his being able to release Mirambo had almost vanished. It would give slight protection against heavy rain, but the rainy season was not yet due, and Tom agreed that the hut would form a very serviceable shelter during the short time he expected to occupy it. He had done so before: those who saw him go marked the fact as they marked all that he did, but thought no more about it--except Mwesa, who watched all day for his hero's return. Please God, we'll whip Germany into good behaviour.
Some have at times cut a way through the hedge. When about ten days had slipped away, and even Mwesa had nothing to occupy him except the daily search for food, Tom began to fidget for news. Tom envied the boy's dexterity. Knowing the whereabouts of the white man who had befriended his cousin, he had stolen out at midday when even the indefatigable German rested, and had come to beg the m'sungu to save his father. He reached the appointed spot, and ventured to cast about in various directions, without, however, finding any traces of the eland. A number of children playing in front of the huts stopped and clustered together in silent groups when the two white men appeared.