The Witch's Head/Book III/Chapter VII
Dorothy and Ernest returned to Dum's Ness just in time to dress for dinner, for since Ernest and Jeremy had come back, Dorothy, whose will in that house was law, had instituted late dinner. The dinner passed over as usual, Dorothy sitting between Ernest and her grandfather, and attending to the wants of those two unfortunates, both of whom would have found it rather difficult to get through their meal without her gentle, unobtrusive help. But when dinner was over and the cloth removed, and Grice had placed the wine upon the table and withdrawn, an unusual thing happened.
Ernest asked Dorothy to fill his glass with port, and when she had done so he said:
“Uncle and Jeremy, I am going to ask you to drink a health.”
The old man looked up sharply. “What is it, Ernest, my boy?”
As for Dorothy, she blushed a rosy red, guessing what was coming, and not knowing whether to be pleased or angry.
“It is this, uncle—it is the health of my future wife, Dorothy.”
Then came a silence of astonishment. Mr. Cardus broke it:
“Years ago, Ernest, my dear nephew, I told you that I wished this to come to pass; but other things happened to thwart my plans, and I never expected to see it. Now in God's good time it has come, and I drink the health with all my heart. My children, I know that I am a strange man, and my life has been devoted to a single end, which is now drawing near its final development; but I have found time in it to learn to love you both. Dorothy, my daughter, I drink your health. May the happiness that was denied to your mother fall upon your head, her share and your share too! Ernest, you have passed through many troubles, and have been preserved almost miraculously to see this day. In Dorothy you will find a reward for everything, for she is a good woman. Perhaps I shall never live to see your happiness and the children of your happiness—I do not think I shall; but may the solemn blessing I give you now rest upon your dear heads! God bless you both, my children. All peace go with you, Dorothy and Ernest!”
“Amen!” said Jeremy, in a loud voice, and with a vague idea that he was in church. Next he got up and shook Ernest's hand so hard in his fearful grip that the latter was constrained to cry out, and lifted Dolly out of her chair like a plaything, and kissed her boisterously, knocking the orchid-bloom she wore out of her hair in the process. Then they all sat down again and beamed at one another and drank port-wine—at least the men did—and were inanely happy.
Indeed, the only person to whom the news was not satisfactory was Mazooku.
“Ou!” he said, with a grunt, when Jeremy communicated it to him. “So the Rosebud is going to become the Rose, and I shan't even be able to lead my father to bed now. Ou!” And from that day forward Mazooku's abstracted appearance showed that he was meditating deeply on something.
Next morning his uncle sent for Ernest into the office. Dorothy led him in.
“O, here you are!” said his uncle.
“Yes, here we are, Reginald,” answered Dorothy; “what is it? Shall I go away?”
“No, don't go away. What I have to say concerns you both. Come and look at the orchids, Ernest; they are beautiful. Ah!” he went on, stammering, “I forgot you can't see them. Forgive me.”
“Never mind, uncle, I can smell them;” and they went into the blooming-house appropriated to the temperate kinds.
At the end of this house was a little table and some iron chairs, where Mr. Cardus would sometimes come to smoke a cigarette. Here they sat down.
“Now, young people,” said Mr. Cardus, wiping his bald head, “you are going to get married. May I ask what you are going to get married on?”
“By Jove,” said Ernest, “I never thought of that! I haven't got much, except a title, a mansion with 'numerous and valuable heirlooms, and one hundred and eighty acres of deer park,'“ he added laughing.
“No, I don't suppose you have; but, luckily for you both, I am not so badly off, and I mean to do something for you. What do you think would be the proper thing? Come, Dorothy, my little housewife, what do you reckon you can live on—living here, I mean, for I suppose that you do not mean to run away and leave me alone in my old age, do you?”
Dorothy wrinkled up her forehead as she used to as a child, and began to calculate upon her fingers. Presently she answered:
“Three hundred a year comfortably, quietly on two.”
“What!” said Mr. Cardus, “when the babies begin to come?”
Dorothy blushed, old gentlemen are so unpleasantly outspoken, and Ernest jumped, for the prospect of unlimited babies is alarming till one gets used to it.
“Better make it five hundred,” he said.
“Oh,” said Mr. Cardus, “that's what you think, is it? Well, I tell you what I think. I am going to allow you young people two thousand a year and to pay the housekeeping bills.”
“My dear uncle, that is far more than we want.”
“Nonsense, Ernest! it is there and to spare; and why should you not have it, instead of its piling up in the bank or in investments? There are enough of them now, I can tell you. Everything that I have touched has turned to gold; I believe it has often been the case with unfortunate men. Money! I have more than I know what to do with, and there are idiots who think that to have lots of money is to be happy.”
He paused awhile and then went on:
“I would give you more, but you are both comparatively young, and I do not wish to encourage habits of extravagance in you. The world is full of vicissitudes, and it is impossible for anybody to know how he may be pecuniarily situated in ten years' time. But I wish you, Ernest, to keep up your rank—moderately, if you like, but still to keep it up. Life is all before you now, and whatever you choose to go in for, you shall not want money to back you. Look here, my children, I may as well tell you that when I die you will inherit nearly all I have got; I have left it to be divided equally between you, with reversion to the survivor. I drew up that will some years back, and I do not think that it is worth while altering it now.”
“Forgive me,” said Ernest, “but how about Jeremy?”
Mr. Cardus's face changed a little. He had never got over his dislike of Jeremy, though his sense of justice caused him to stifle it.
“I have not forgotten Jeremy,” he said, in a tone that indicated that he did not wish to pursue the conversation.
Ernest and Dorothy thanked the old man for his goodness, but he would not listen, so they went off and left him to return to his letter-writing. In the passage Dorothy peeped through the glass half of the door which opened into her grandfather's room.
There sat the old man writing, writing, his long iron-grey hair hanging all about his face. Presently he seemed to think of something, and a smile, which the contorted mouth made ghastly, spread itself over the pallid countenance. Rising, he went to the corner and extracted a long tally-stick on which notches were cut. Sitting down again, he counted the remaining notches over and over, then took a penknife and cut one out. This done, he put the stick back, and looking at the wall, began to mutter—for he was not quite dumb—and to clasp and unclasp his powerful hand. Dorothy entered the room quickly.
“Grandfather, what are you doing?” she said sharply.
The old man started, and his jaw dropped. Then the eyes grew dull, and his usual apathetic look stole over his face. Taking up his slate, he wrote, “Cutting out my notches.”
Dorothy asked him some further questions, but could get nothing more out of him.
“I don't at all like the way grandfather has been going on lately,” she said to Ernest. “He is always muttering and clinching his hand as though he had some one by the throat. You know he thinks that he has been serving the fiend all these years, and that his time will be up shortly, whereas, though Reginald had no cause to love him, he has been very kind to him. If it had not been for Reginald, my grandfather would have been sent to the madhouse; but because he was connected with his loss of fortune, he thinks he is the devil. He forgets how he served Reginald; you see even in madness the mind only remembers the injuries inflicted on itself, and forgets those it inflicted on others. I don't at all like his way.”
“I should think that he had better be shut up.”
“Oh, Reginald would never do it. Come, dear, let us go out.”
It was a month or so after Mr. Cardus's announcement of his pecuniary intentions that a little wedding-party stood before the altar in Kesterwick Church. It was a very small party, consisting, indeed, only of Ernest, Dorothy, Mr. Cardus, Jeremy, and a few idlers, who, seeing the church door open, had strolled in to see what was going on. Indeed, the marriage had been kept a profound secret; for since he had been blind, Ernest had developed a great dislike to being stared at. Nor, indeed, had he any liking for the system under which a woman proclaims with loud and unseemly rejoicings that she has found a man to marry her, and the clan of her relations celebrate her departure with a few outward and visible tears and much inward and spiritual joy.
But among that small crowd, unobserved by any of them, quite close up in the shadow of one of the massive pillars, sat a veiled woman. She sat quite quiet and still; she might have been carved in stone; but as the service went on she raised her thick veil, and fixed her keen eyes upon the two who stood before the altar. As she did so, the lips of this shadowy lady trembled a little, and a mist of trouble rose from the unhealthy marshes of her mind and clouded her fine-cut features. Long and steadily she gazed, then dropped the veil again, and said beneath her breath:
“Was it worth while for this? Well, I have seen him.”
Then this shadowy noble-looking lady rose, and glided from the church, bearing away with her the haunting burden of her sin.
And Ernest? He stood there and said the responses in his clear manly voice; but even as he did so there rose before him the semblance of the little room in far-away Pretoria, and the vision which he had seen of this very church, and of a man standing where he himself stood now, and a lovely woman standing where stood Dorothy his wife. Well, it was gone, as all visions go—as we, who are but visions of a longer life, go too. It was gone—gone into that limbo of the past which is ever opening its insatiable maw and swallowing us and our joys and our sorrows—our virtues and our sins—making a meal of the atoms of to-day that it may support itself till the atoms of to-morrow are ready for its appetite.
It was gone, and he was married, and Dorothy his wife stood there wreathed in smiles and blushes which he could not see, and Mr. Halford's voice, now grown weak and quavering, was formulating heartfelt congratulations, which were being repeated in the gigantic echo of Jeremy's deep tones, and in his uncles quick jerky utterances. So he took Dorothy his wife into his arms and kissed her, and she led him down the church to the old vestry, into which so many thousand newly-married couples had passed during the course of the last six centuries, and he signed his name where they placed his pen upon the parchment, wondering the while if he was signing it straight, and then went out, and was helped into the carriage, and driven home.
Ernest and his wife went upon no honeymoon; they stopped quietly there at the old house, and began to accustom themselves to their new relationship. Indeed, to the outsider at any rate, there seemed to be little difference between it and the former one; for they could not be much more together now than they had been before. Yet in Dorothy's face there was a difference. A great peace, an utter satisfaction which had been wanting before, came down and brooded upon it, and made it beautiful. She both looked and was a happy woman.
But to the Zulu Mazooku this state of affairs did not appear to be satisfactory.
One day—it was three days after the marriage—Ernest and Dorothy were walking together outside the house, when Jeremy, coming in from a visit to a distant farm, advanced, and, joining them, began to converse on agricultural matters; for he was already becoming intensely and annoyingly technical. Presently, as they talked, they became aware of the sound of naked feet running swiftly over the grass.
“That sounds like a Zulu dancing,” said Ernest, quickly.
It was a Zulu: it was Mazooku, but Mazooku transformed. It had been his fancy to bring a suit of war finery, such as he had worn when he was one of Cetywayo's soldiers, with him from Natal; and now he had donned it all, and stood before them, a striking yet an alarming figure. From his head a single beautiful grey feather, taken from the Bell crane, rose a good two feet into the air; around his waist hung a kilt of white ox-tails, and beneath his right knee and shoulder were small circles of white goat's hair. For the rest, he was naked. In his left hand he held a milk-white fighting-shield made of ox-hide, and in his right his great “bangwan,” or stabbing assegai. Still as a statue he stood before them, his plume bending in the breeze; and Dorothy, looking with wondering eyes, marvelled at the broad chest scarred all over with assegai wounds, and the huge sinewy limbs. Suddenly he raised the spear, and saluted in sonorous tones:
“Speak,” said Ernest.
“I speak, Mazimba, my father. I come to meet my father as a man meets a man. I come with spear and shield, but not in war. With my father I came from the land of the sun into this cold land, where the sun is as pale as the white faces it shines on. Is it not so, my father?”
“I hear you.”
“With my father I came. Did you my father and I stand together for many a day? Did I not slay the two Basutos down in the land of Secocoeni, chief of the Bapedi, at my father's bidding? Did I not once save my father from the jaws of the wild beast that walks by night—from the fangs of the lion? Did I not stand by the side of my father at the place of the Little Hand, when all the plain of Isandhlwana was red with blood? Do I dream in the night, or was it so, my father?”
“I hear you. It was so.”
“Then when the heavens above smelt out my father, and smote him with their fire, did I not say, 'Ah, my father, now art thou blind, and canst fight no more, and no more play the part of a man. Better that thou hadst died a man's death, O my father! But as thou art blind, lo! whither thou goest, thither I will go also and be my father's dog.' Did I not say this, O Mazimba, my father?”
“Thou didst say it.”
“And so we sailed across the black water, thou, Mazimba, and I and the great Lion, like unto whom no man was ever born of woman, and came hither, and have lived for many moons the lives of women, have eaten and drunken, and have not fought or hunted, or known the pleasure of men. Is it not so, Mazimba, my father?”
“Thou speakest truly, Mazooku; it is even so.”
“Yes, we sailed the black water in the smoking ship, sailed to the land of wonders, which is full of houses and trees, so that a man cannot breathe in it, or throw out his arms lest they should strike a wall; and, behold! there came an ancient one with a shining head wonderful to look on, and a girl Rosebud, small but very sweet, and greeted my father and the Lion, and led them away in the carriages which put the horses inside them, and set them in this place, where they may look for ever at the sadness of the sea.
“And then, behold, the Rosebud said, 'What doth this black dog here? Shall a dog lead Mazimba by the hand? Begone, thou black dog, and walk in front or ride behind; it is I who will hold Mazimba's hand.'
“Then my father, sinking deep in ease, and becoming a fat man, rich in oxen and waggons and corn, said to himself, 'I will take this Rosebud to wife.' So the Rosebud opened her petals, and closed them round my father, and became a rose; and now she sheds her fragrance round him day by day and night by night, and the black dog stands and howls outside the door.
“Thus, my father, it came to pass that Mazooku, thy ox and thy dog, communed with his heart, and said: 'Here is no more any place for thee. Mazimba thy chief has no longer any need of thee, and behold! O Soldier in this land of women thou, too, shalt grow like a woman. So arise and go to thy father, and say to him, “O my father, years ago I put my hand between thy hands, and became a loyal man to thee; now I would withdraw it, and return to the land whence we came; for here I am not wanted, and here I cannot breathe.”' I have spoken, O my father and my chief.”
“Mazooku, umdanda ga Ingoluvu, umfana ga Amazulu” (son of Ingoluvu, child of the Zulu race), answered Ernest, adopting the Zulu metaphor, his voice sounding wonderfully soft as the liquid tongue he spoke so well came rolling out, “thou hast been a good man to me and I have loved thee. But thou shalt go. Thou art right: now is my life the life of a woman; never again shall I hear the sound of rifles or the ringing of steel in war. And so thou goest, Mazooku. It is well. But at times thou wilt think of thy blind master Mazimba, and of Alston, the wise captain who sleeps, and of the Lion who threw the ox over his shoulder. Go, and be happy. Many be thy wives, many thy children, and countless thy cattle! The Lion shall take thee by the hand and lead thee to the sea, and shall give thee of my bounty wherewith to buy a little food when thou comest to thine own land, and a few oxen, and a piece of ground, or a waggon or two, so that thou shalt not be hungry, nor want for cattle to give for wives. Mazooku, fare thee well!”
“One word, Mazimba, my father, and I will trouble thine ears no more, since for thee my voice shall be silent for ever. When the time has come for thee to die, and thou dost pass, as the white men say, up 'into the heavens above,' and thy sight dawns again, and thou art once more a man eager for battle, then turn thee and cry with a loud voice: 'Mazooku, son of Ingoluvu, of the tribe of the Maquilisini, where art thou, O my dog? Come thou and serve me!' And surely, if I still live, then I shall hear thy voice, and groan and die, that I may pass to thee; and if I be already dead, then shall I be at thy side, even as thou callest. This thou wilt do for me, O Mazimba, my father and my chief, because, lo! I have loved thee as the child loves her who suckled it, and I would look upon thy face again, O my father from the olden time, my chief from generation to generation!”
“If it be in my power, this I will do, Mazooku.”
The great Zulu drew himself up, raised his spear, and for the first and last time in his life gave Ernest the royal salute—to which, by the way, he had no right at all—“Bayète, Bayète!” Then he turned and ran swiftly thence, nor would he see Ernest again before he went. “The pain of death was over,” he said.
As the sound of his footsteps grew faint, Ernest turned his head aside and sighed.
“There goes our last link with South Africa, Jeremy, my boy. It is a good thing, for he was growing too fond of the bottle and the women; they all do here. But it makes me very sad, and sometimes I think that, as Mazooku says, it is a pity we did not go under with Alston and the others. It would all have been over now.”
“Thank you,” said Jeremy, after reflecting; “on the whole, I am pretty comfortable as I am.”