Imágenes de páginas

heard, but who never was seen anywhere nor introduced to any visitor. Mrs Ainslie uttered a suppressed exclamation and clutched Susie's arm; but at the same time hurried her along to the front of the house, where she dropped upon one of the garden benches with a face deeply flushed, and panting for breath. The dining-room had another window on this side, but the blinds were drawn down to keep out the sunshine. This did not, however, keep out the sound of the voices, to which she listened with the profoundest attention, still clutching Susie's arm. 'My goodness gracious! my merciful goodness gracious!" Mrs Ainslie said. Susie was not, it is to be feared, sympathetic or interested. She pulled her arm away. "Have you lost your breath again?" she said.


Mrs Ainslie remained on the bench for some time, panting and listening. The voices were quite loud and unrestrained. One of them was telling stories with names freely mentioned, at which the other laughed, and at which this lady sitting outside clenched her fist in her light glove. After a minute Susie left her, saying, "I will go and find Mrs Ogilvy," and she remained there alone, with the most extraordinary`expressions going over her face. Her usual little affectations and fine-ladyism were gone. It must have been an expressive face by nature; for the power with which it expressed deadly panic, then hatred, then a rising fierceness of anger, was extraordinary. There came upon her countenance, which was that of a well-looking, not unamiable, but affected, middle-aged woman in ordinary life, something of that snarl of mingled terror and ferocity which one sees in an outraged dog not yet wound up to a spring upon his offender. She sat and panted, and by some curious gift which belongs

to highly-strained feeling heard every word.

This would not have happened had Mrs Ogilvy been at home-the voices would not have been loud enough to be audible so clearly out of doors; for the respect of things out of doors and of possible listeners, and all the safeguards of decorum, were always involved in her presence. Also, that story would not have been told; there was a woman in it who was not a good woman, nor well treated by Lew's strong speech: therefore everything that happened afterwards no doubt sprang from that visit of Mrs Ogilvy's to Edinburgh; and, indeed, she herself had foreseen, if not this harm, which she could not have divined, at least harm of some kind proceeding from the self-indulgence to which for one afternoon she gave way.

[ocr errors]

'No, Miss Susie, the mistress is no in, and I canna understand it. She went to Edinburgh to see her man of business, but was to be back long before the dinner. The gentlemen-that is, Mr Robert and his friend-are just at the end o't, as ye may hear them talking. I'll just run ben and tell Mr Robert you are here."

"Don't do that on any account, Janet. Mrs Ainslie is with me, sitting on the bench outside, and she has lost her breath coming up the hill. Probably she would like a glass of water or something. Don't disturb Mr Robert. It is of no consequence. I'll come and see Mrs Ogilvy another day."

"You are a sight for sore een as it is. The mistress misses ye awfu', Miss Susie: you're no kind to her, and her in trouble."

"In trouble, Janet! now that Robbie has come home!"

"Oh, Miss Susie, wherever there are men folk there is trouble; but I'll get a glass of wine for the lady."

Janet's passage into the diningroom to get the wine was signalised by an immediate lowering of the tone of the conversation going on within. She came out carrying a glass of sherry, and was reluctantly followed by Robert, who came into the drawing-room, somewhat down-looked and shame-faced, to see his old companion and playmate. Janet, for her part, took the sherry to Mrs Ainslie, who had drawn her veil, a white one, over her face, concealing a little her agitated and excited countenance. The lady was profuse in her thanks, swallowed the wine hastily, and gave back the glass to Janet, almost pushing her away. "Thanks, thanks very much; that will do. Now leave me quiet a little to recover myself." 'Maybe you would like to lie down on the sofa in the drawingroom out of the sun. The mistress is no in, but Mr Robert is there with Miss Susie."

[ocr errors]

"No, thanks; I am very well where I am," said Mrs Ainslie, with a wave of her hand. The conversation inside had ceased, and from the other side of the house there came a small murmur of voices. Mrs Ainslie waited until Janet had disappeared, and then she moved cautiously, making no sound with her feet upon the gravel, round the corner once more to the end window. Cautiously she stooped down to the window ledge and looked in. He was still seated opposite to the window, stretching out his long legs, and laying back his head as if after his dinner he was inclined for a nap. His eyes were closed. He was most perfectly at the mercy of the spy, who gazed in upon him with a fierce eagerness, noting his dress, his thickly grown beard, all the peculiarities of his appearance. She even noticed with an experienced eye the heaviness of his pocket, betraying something within that

pocket to which he had moved his hand without conveying any knowledge to Mrs Ogilvy. All of these things this woman knew. She devoured his face with her keen eyes, and there came from her a little unconscious sound of excitement which, though it was not loud, conveyed itself to his watchful ear. He opened his eyes drowsily, said something, and then closed them again, taking no more notice. Lew had dined well and drank well; he was very nearly asleep.

She crept round again to the front and took her seat on the bench, again pulling down and arranging the white veil, which was almost like a mask over her face. Susie and Robert came out to her a few minutes after, she leading, he following. "If you will come in and rest," said Robert, " mother will probably be back very soon."


[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

"All the village knows that," said the lady, "but not who he is. Now I have the advantage of the rest, for I saw him through the window."

Robert was still more startled and disturbed. "We're not fond of society-neither he nor I. I was trying to explain to Susie ; but it sounds disagreeable. I— can't leave him, and he knows nobody, so he won't come with me."

"Tell him he has an acquaintance now. You will come to see me, won't you? I've been a great deal about the world, and I've met almost everybody-perhaps you, Mr Robert, I thought so the other day, and certainly-most other people:

you can come to see me when you go out for your night walks that people talk of so. Oh, I like night walks. I might perhaps go out a bit with you. Dark is very long of coming these Scotch nights, ain't it? But one of these evenings I'll look out for you." She paused here, and gave him a malicious look through her veil. "I'll look for you, Mr Robert and Lew."

Robert stood thunderstruck as the ladies went away. Susie's eyes had sought his with a wistful look, a sort of appeal for a word to herself, a something to be said which should not be merely formal. But Robbie was far too much concerned to have a thought to spare for Susie. She had not heard Mrs Ainslie's last words: if she had heard them, she would have cared nothing, nor thought anything of them. What could this woman be to Robbie? was she trying to charm him as she had charmed the innocent unconscious minister? Susie turned away indignantly, and with a sore heart. She saw that she was nothing to her old comrade, her early lover; but yet she did not know how entirely she was nothing to him, and how full his mind was of another interest. He hurried back into the dining-room with panic in his soul. Lew lay stretched out on his chair as Mrs Ainslie had seen him; the warm afternoon and the heavy meal had overcome him; his long legs stretched half across the room; his head was thrown back on the high back of his chair. His eyes were shut, his mouth a little open. More complete rest never enveloped and soothed any fat and greasy citizen after dinner. Robert looked at him with mingled irritation and admiration. It is true that there was no thought of peril in the outlaw's mind- this long interval of quiet had put all his alarms to sleep-but he would have

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small][merged small][merged small]

"For heaven's sake," cried Robert, "be done with nonsense. serious. She's not a I've heard of her stranger, but has got some influence in the place. She saw you as she passed that window."


"I thought I saw some one pass that window - it's a devil of a window, a complete spy-hole."

"And she must have recognised you. She invited me to come to see her when we were out on one of our night walks,—and to bring Lew."

Lew gave a long whistle: the colour rose slightly on his cheek. "We'll take her challenge, Bob, my fine fellow, and see what she knows. Jove! I've been getting bored with all this quiet. A start's a fine thing. We'll go and look after her to-night.'


Now that amid the European scramble for Africa prominent notice has been attracted to Harrar and its surrounding districts, some account of a journey recently made there by the writer may not be inopportune. While no little mention has been made pro and con of the annexation of Harrar by Italy, so far but little or no account of what advantages, or disadvantages, the country offers to Europeans, whether Italian or French, has appeared. The English travellers who in recent years have been tempted to push into that remote corner of Africa, except in pursuit of sport in Somaliland, have been so few and far between that the country remains almost a terra incognita. Yet at one time Harrar was, for a period at least, a spot that attracted some little attention, for it was the goal of Burton's first explorations, when still a subaltern at Aden, and to him belongs the honour of having been the first European to reach that city. This was in 1854. A year later happened one of those tragedies that unfortunately have recurred too often in the vicinity of Aden, either in the Yemen or in the Somali country; for a small expedition organised by the Government of Bombay for the exploration of Somaliland came to a disastrous end, and of the four officers in charge, Lieutenant Stroyan was killed, and Lieutenants Burton and Speke wounded, in a night attack. The two latter escaped, together with Lieutenant Herne, in a native boat, and crossed to Aden.1

ture that the British Government ever came to hold any jurisdiction over Somaliland, for in punishment of this act of treachery a blockade was enforced along that coast, which entirely put a stop to the trade of Berbera and other ports during the season of 1855-56. In order to realise how serious a matter this meant for the natives of the Somali coast, a few words are necessary.

The Somalis are, one and all, a wandering people, whose sole means of livelihood are their flocks and herds and the products thereof, such as ghee-preserved butter-&c.; and as they engage in no agricultural pursuits, they obtain many of the necessaries of life from extraneous sources. These necessaries consist for the most part of dates and rice; and before the running of steamships between the African ports and Aden, their sole means of obtaining supplies was by the trade of the native craft-buggalows, they are called. Owing to the regularity of the monsoons, there gradually sprang up at Berbera a great winter fair, lasting several months, the boats coming down, principally from the Persian Gulf, at the beginning of the north-east monsoon, and returning as soon as the weather broke and the south-west monsoon commenced. So regular became this institution of a winter fair-and it still exists-that the Somalis from all over the great districts they inhabit would collect their produce during the summer, and bring it down to Berbera as It the north-east monsoon began, when exchange of goods became

was through this sad misadven


1 See What Led to the Discovery of the Source of the Nile.' By Captain Speke. William Blackwood & Sons: 1864.

the order of the day-the native craft taking away such products as the Somalis offered in exchange for the necessaries of life, of which a sufficient stock would have to be laid in to maintain existence during the spring and summer. To be entirely cut off from this trade must have completely shaken the country from end to end, and the blockade instituted by the British Government was so successful as to prevent, as has above been stated, the great winter fair of 1855-56. It is as well, in cases of this sort, not to look too closely into the results of such an action, for the distress must necessarily have been appalling, and to remember only the treachery that caused its institution, and the beneficial results that have accrued from it -and these are very great. Before raising the blockade, the assistant Political President at Aden, Captain (now Sir) R. L. Playfair, visited Berbera, and carried out a treaty with the Habr Awal tribe, ensuring due respect to British subjects, certain rights of trade, and a clause for the delivering up of such as violated the treaty. These conditions were ratified by Lord Canning, then Viceroy of India, on January 23, 1857.

This, then, was the real commencement of British influence in Somaliland, and though instituted by vigorous means, the benefits that have resulted have been most satisfactory. England, through the Indian Government, has kept such guard over the coast, and so protected the interests of the natives, that to-day the country exhibits a wonderful example of response to British influence; while a policy so beneficial to the natives has been throughout carried on-such, for instance, as the veto on the importation on arms, and the exceedingly heavy duties on spirits-that little or no trouble is experienced in

[ocr errors]

keeping peace amongst some of the wildest and most warrior-like of all the many peoples of Africa. But no code of laws, no manner of legislation, could possibly have led to the results now existing had not the Indian Government been most careful in selecting the two or three English officers, whose duty it is not only to watch events in Somaliland, but to act as consul, judge, arbitrator, or in any other capacity that may be necessary; and the writer can speak from experience of the immense moral influence exercised by the Political Residents of the Indian Government at Zeilah, Berbera, and Bulhar-and speak too for more than their moral influence,-for their popularity also; while the fact that one is an Englishman is sufficient passport to travel in almost perfect security all over the country. The writer's nationality led him to receive a pleasant reception during the whole of his journey, together with an amount of confidence and trust such as he has experienced in no other part of the world.

With these few words as to Somaliland in general, some account will now be given of the writer's personal experiences.

At early dawn, after some sixteen hours' passage from Aden, we sighted the low coral-reefs that lie off the port of Zeilah, and render so difficult its navigation. Then as we proceeded the white town rose into view, for so low is the coast on which it is situated that one sees only the white houses standing up as it were upon the horizon. A long way from the shore we dropped anchor, and leaving Abdurrahman, my ever-faithful Arab servant, to follow with my baggage, I was rowed ashore, and a few minutes later found myself being kindly welcomed by the assistant Political Resident, Mr

« AnteriorContinuar »