The second anniversary of the hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan | Accidental bombings and shootings disrupted the U.S. troops’ evacuation, causing chaos and tragedy

[Zhang Xinzhe] 时间:2023-09-24 04:55:35 来源:Watercress, candied dates and crucian carp soup website 作者:Mai Junlong 点击:57次

“The Curse has come upon me...”

of the savages. The wild yelling chorus of the barbarous incendiaries, executing their fierce war-dances around their work of destruction, was borne distinctly upon the night.“The sooner we get into Komgha the better now,” he went on, sending the buggy spinning down the long declivity which lay in front. At the bottom of this the road was intersected by a dry water course, fringed with bush; otherwise the veldt was for the most part open, dotted with straggling clumps of mimosa.Down went the buggy into the dry sandy drift. Suddenly the horses shied violently, then stopped short with a jerk which nearly upset the vehicle. A dark firm, springing panther-like, apparently from the ground, had seized the reins.Instinctively Eustace recognised that this was no time for parleying. Quick as thought he drew his revolver and fired. The assailant relaxed his hold, staggered, spun round, then fell heavily to the earth. The horses, thus released, tore wildly onward, mad with terror.A roar and a red, sheeting flash split the darkness behind. The missiles hummed overhead, one of them tearing a hole in the wide brim of Eanswyth’s hat. This aroused all the demon in the blood of her companion. Standing up in his seat, regardless of prudence, he pointed his revolver at the black onrushing mass discernible in the starlight, and fired three shots in rapid succession. A horrible, shrill, piercing scream, showed that they had told with widespread and deadly effect.“Ha! Bulala abelúngu!” (Death to the whites) howled the exasperated barbarians. And dropping flat on the ground they poured another volley into the retiring vehicle.But the latter had gained some distance now. The horses, panic-stricken and well-nigh unmanageable, were tearing up the hill on the other side of the drift, and it was all their driver could do in the darkness to keep them in the track. The buggy swayed fearfully, and twice catching a wheel in an ant-heap was within an ace of turning over.Suddenly one of the horses stumbled heavily, then fell. All his driver’s efforts to raise him were useless. The poor beast had been struck by a bullet, and lay, feebly struggling, the blood pouring from a jagged wound in his flank.The black bolt of despair shot through Eustace’s heart. There was a feeble chance of escape for Eanswyth, but a very feeble one. Of himself he did not think. Quickly he set to work to cut loose the other horse.But the traditional sagacity of that quadruped, as is almost invariably the case, failed in an emergency. He plunged and kicked in such wise as to hinder seriously, if not defeat, every effort to disengage him from the harness. Eustace, his listening powers at their utmost tension, caught the light pit-pat of the pursuers’ footsteps racing up the hill in the darkness. They would be upon him before—Ha! The horse was loose.“Quick, Eanswyth. Mount! It is your only chance!” he said, shortening the reins into a bridle and holding them for her.“I will not.”“Quick, quick! Every moment lost is a life!”“I will not. We will die together. I will not live without you,” and the heroic flash in the grand eyes was visible in the starlight.The stealthy footsteps were now plainly audible. They could not have been two hundred yards distant. Suddenly the horse, catching a renewed access of panic, plucked the reins from Eustace’s hand, and careered wildly away into the veldt. The last chance of escape was cut off. They must die together now. Facing round, crouching low behind the broken-down vehicle, they listened for the approach of the pursuers.All the bitterness of the moment was upon those two—upon him especially—crouching there in the dark and lonely veldt. Their reunion was only to be a reunion in death.

The second anniversary of the hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan | Accidental bombings and shootings disrupted the U.S. troops’ evacuation, causing chaos and tragedy

The last dread act was drawing on. The stealthy steps of the approaching foe were now more distinctly audible. With a deadly and vengeful fire at his heart, Eustace prepared to sell their lives as dearly as ever life was sold.“We need not fear, my sweet one,” whispered the heroine at his side. “We are dying together.”Nearer—nearer, came those cat-like footfalls. Then they ceased. The pulses of the two anxious listeners beat with an intense and surging throb of expectation in the dead silence.But instead of those stealthy feet, swift to shed blood, there was borne upon the night the sound of horses’ hoofs. Then a crash of fire-arms, and a ringing cheer. No savage war-cry that, but a genuine British shout.“That you, Milne?” cried a familiar voice. “All right: keep cool, old man. We shan’t hit you by mistake. How many are there?”“I don’t know. Better not tackle them in the dark, Hoste. Who is with you?”“Some Police. But where are the niggers?”Where indeed? Savages have no stomach for facing unknown odds. Their late assailants had prudently made themselves scarce.“We seem to be only just in time, anyway?” said Hoste, with a long whistle of consternation as he realised the critical position of affairs. “Is Mrs Carhayes all right?” he added anxiously.“Quite, thanks, Mr Hoste,” replied Eanswyth. “But you are, as you say, only just in time.”Two of the Police horses were inspanned to the buggy, the men mounting behind comrades, and the party set forth. It would not do to linger. The enemy might return in force at any moment.Their escape had indeed been a narrow one. It was only late in the afternoon that Hoste had, by chance, learned from a trustworthy source that the Gaikas meant to rise that night. Horror-stricken, he had rushed off to the officer in command of the Mounted Police to beg for some troopers as a protective escort in order to bring Eanswyth away from her lonely and perilous situation. An experienced sergeant and twenty-five men had been immediately ordered out—arriving in the very nick of time, as we have seen.“Well, we are all burnt out now, anyway,” said Hoste as they journeyed along as rapidly as possible. “Look at my old place, what a flare-up it’s making. And the hotel at Draaibosch! It’s making a bigger blaze than all.”“That’s McDonald’s ‘Cape Smoke,’” (An inferior quality of Cape brandy is thus popularly termed) laughed the police sergeant.It was a weird and awesome sight. The whole country was literally in a blaze—the murk of the reddened smoke of burning homesteads obliterating the stars. And ever and anon the fierce, tumultuous thunder of a distant war-dance was borne upon the air, with the vengeful shouts of excited savages, beginning their orgy of torch and assegai.Chapter Thirty Five.Eustace becomes Unpopular.The state of excitement prevailing in Komgha during the period of hostilities within the Transkei, was as nothing to that which prevailed now that the tide of war was rolling around the very outposts of the settlement itself.The once sleepy little village had become a vast armed camp, garrisoned by regular troops, as well as being the halting place for numerous bodies of irregulars—mounted burghers or Fingo levies—once more called out or volunteering for active service, the latter with more zest this time, inasmuch as the enemy was within their very gates. It was the headquarters of operations, and all day long—frequently all night too —what with expeditions or patrols setting out, or returning, or preparing; the arrival of reinforcements; the flash and trappings of the military element; the exaggerated and conflicting rumours varying with every half-hour that went by. With all these things, we say, the sojourners in that favoured settlement found things as lively as they could wish.There was no mistaking the position of affairs now. The Gaikas, whose locations occupied the whole northern half of British Kaffraria, the Hlambi clans, who held the rugged country along the eastern slopes of the Amatola Mountains, were all up in arms. All, that is, save an insignificant fraction, who applied to the Government for protection as ‘loyals’; their loyalty consisting in taking no part in hostilities themselves, but aiding with supplies and information those who did—as well as affording a refuge in time of need to the women and cattle belonging to their hostile countrymen. Communication with the Colony was practically cut off—for, except to strong parties, the King Williamstown road was closed. A strong escort, consisting of Police and military, was attacked within a few miles of the settlement itself, only getting through by dint of hard fighting; and ever in their bushy hiding places, on the surrounding hills, hovered dark clouds of armed Savages ready to swoop down upon lonely express-rider or waggon train insufficiently guarded. The smoke of

The second anniversary of the hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan | Accidental bombings and shootings disrupted the U.S. troops’ evacuation, causing chaos and tragedy

ruined homesteads rose from the fair plains of British Kaffraria, and by night the lurid signals of the hostile barbarians flamed forth from many a lofty peak.In the Transkei matters were rather worse than before the previous three months of campaigning. Very far from crushed, the Gcalékas swarmed back into their oft-swept country, and with the aid of their new allies set to work with redoubled ardour to make things as lively for the white man as they possibly could. This kept nearly all the forces then at the front actively employed in that direction, leaving the field open to the residue of the Gaikas and Hlambis to burn and pillage throughout British Kaffraria at their own sweet will. The destruction of property was great and widespread.Still, on the whole, men seemed rather to enjoy the prevailing state of things than otherwise, even those who were severe losers, strange to say. The colonial mind, adventurous at bottom, dearly loves excitement, once it has drunk at that enchanted fountain. Perhaps one of the best illustrations of this is to be found in the numbers who remained, and do remain, on at Johannesburg after the collapse, in a state of semi-starvation—rather than exchange the liveliness and stir of that restless and mushroom town for the surer but more sober conditions of life offered by the scenes of their birth. In British Kaffraria, the renewed outbreak of hostilities afforded plenty of excitement, which went as a set-off against the aforesaid losses—for the time being at any rate. Those who had already taken part in the first campaign either volunteered for the second or stayed at home and talked about both. Though whether he had been out or not made no difference as regarded the talking part of it, for every man jack you might meet in a day’s wandering was open to give you his opinion upon what had been done, and what hadn’t been done; above all upon what should have been done; in a word, felt himself entirely competent to direct the whole of the field operations there and then, and without even the traditional minute’s notice.But however enjoyable all this may have been to society at large, as there represented, there was one to whom it was intolerably irksome, and that one was Eustace Milne. The reasons for this were diverse. In the first place, in the then crowded state of the community, he could hardly everobtain an opportunity of talking, with Eanswyth alone; which was not wholly without advantage in that it enabled the latter to keep up her rôle; for if her former sorrowing and heart-wrung condition had now become the hollowest mockery, there was no reason why everybody should be informed thereof, but very much the reverse. He could not see her alone in the house, for it was always full of people, and when it was not, still, the walls were thin. He could not take her for a ride outside the settlement, for in those early days the enemy was daring, and did not always keep at a respectful distance. It would not do to run any more risks. In the next place, all the “talking big,” and indeed the talking at all, that went on, morning, noon, and night, on the well-worn, and threadbare topic was wearisome to him. The thing had become, in fact, a bore of the first water. But the most distasteful side of it all was the notoriety which he himself had, all involuntarily, attained. A man who had been reported slain, and then turned up safe and sound after having been held a prisoner for some weeks by the savage and ordinarily ruthless enemy they were then fighting, was sure to attract considerable attention throughout the frontier community. Friends, neighbours, intimates, people they had never seen or heard of before, would call on the Hostes all day and every day—literally in swarms, as the victim of these attentions put it —in order to see Eustace, and haply, to extract a “yarn” as to his late captivity. If he walked through the township some effusive individual was bound to rush at him with an “I say, Mister, ’scuse me, but we’re told you’re the man that was taken prisoner by old Kreli. Now, do us the favour to step round and have a drink. We don’t see a man who has escaped from them black devils every day.” And then, under pain of being regarded as churlish to a degree, he would find himself compelled to join a group of jovial, but under the circumstances excessively unwelcome, strangers, and proceed to the nearest bar to be cross questioned within an inch of his life, and expected to put away sundry “splits” that he did not want. Or those in charge of operations, offensive and defensive, would make his acquaintance and ask him to dine, always with the object of eliciting useful information. But to these Eustace was very reticent and proved, in fact, a sore disappointment. He had been treated fairly well by his captors. They were savages, smarting under a sense of defeat and loss. They might have put him to death amid cruel torments; instead of which they had given him his liberty. For the said

The second anniversary of the hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan | Accidental bombings and shootings disrupted the U.S. troops’ evacuation, causing chaos and tragedy

liberty he had yet to pay—to pay pretty smartly, too, but this was only fair and might be looked upon in the light of ransom. He was not going to give any information to their detriment merely because, under a doubtfully administered system of organisation, they had taken up arms against the Colony. Besides, as a matter of fact, it was doubtful whether he had any information to give.So his entertainers were disappointed. Everyone who accosted him upon the objectionable topic was disappointed. He became unpopular.The infinitesimal intellect of the community felt slighted. The far from infinitesimal sense of self-importance of the said community was wounded to the core. Here was a man who had passed through strange and startling experiences which everyone else was dying to share—at second hand. Yet he kept them to himself. Who was he, indeed, they would like to know? Other men, had they gone through the same experiences, would have had them on tap all day long, for the benefit of all comers, good measure and brimming over. This one, on the contrary, was as close as death itself. Who was he that he should affect a singularity?When a man is unpopular in a small community, he is pretty sure before long to be made aware of that fact. In this instance there were not wanting individuals the ingenuity of whose inventive powers was equal to the occasion. No wonder Milne was reticent as to what he had gone through—hinted these—for it was almost certainly not to his credit. It was a singular thing that he should have emerged from the ordeal unhurt and smiling, while poor Tom Carhayes had been mercilessly butchered. It looked, fishy—uncommonly so. The more you looked at it, the more it began to take on the aspect of a put-up job. Indeed it would not be surprising if it turned out that the expedition across the Bashi was a cunningly devised trap, not originating with the Kafirs either. The escape of Hoste and Payne was part of the programme—no motive existing why these two should be put out of the way.Motive? Motive for desiring Tom Carhayes’ death? Well, any fool could see that, one might have thought. Was there not a young and beautiful widow in the case—who would succeed lo the dead man’s

extremely comfortable possessions, and whom, by this time, any one could see with half an eye, was desperately in love with the plotting and unscrupulous cousin? That was motive enough, one would think.It was easy, moreover, now to see through the predilection of that arch-schemer for their native neighbours and now enemies. It was all part of the plot. Doubtless he was even no sending them secret information and advice in return for what they had done for him. It would be surprising if he turned out anything better than a Kafir spy, were the real truth known.These amiable hints and innuendoes, sedulously buzzed around, were not long in reaching the object of them. But they affected his impenetrable self-possession about as much as the discharge of a pea-shooter might affect the back of the mail-plated armadillo. His philosophical mind saw no earthly reason for disturbing itself about any rumours which a pack of spiteful idiots might choose to set afloat. Hoste’s advice to him, to run two or three of these amiable gentry to earth and visit them with a good sound kicking, only made him laugh. Why should he mind what anybody said? If people chose to believe it they might—but if they didn’t they wouldn’t, and that was all about it.True, he was tempted, on one or two occasions, to follow his friend’s advice—and that was when Eanswyth was brought into the matter. But he remembered that you cannot strangle a widespread slander by force, and that short of the direst necessity the association in an ordinary row of any woman’s name is justifiable neither by expediency nor good taste. But he resolved to get her to move down to Swaanepoel’s Hoek at the very earliest opportunity.Chapter Thirty Six.A Row in the Camp.There was just this much to bear out the ill-natured comments of the scandal-mongers, in that the re-appearance of the missing cousin had gone very far towards consoling the young widow for the loss of the dead1.B. 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