A LETTER FROM HOME

“I thought that our old life was over and done with,
And ever apart we would wander alone,
That Clotho had broken the distaff she spun with,
Weaving the weird web that made my life one with Your own.

“Yea, but this letter unbidden appeareth,
A sorrowful ghost of the sweetness of yore.
Bringing dear thoughts which the lonely heart cheereth,
Recalling the words which the heavy soul heareth
No more.

“Ah, but love’s blossom can ne’er bloom again, love,
Withered and brown it lies dead in my heart,
There let it faded and broken remain, love,
We must live ever while years wax and wane, love,
Apart.”

At the entrance to a tent a man sat silent, watching the setting sun.
A wild scene, truly, far beyond the bounds of civilization, where the
foot of the white man had never trodden before, where the savage
tribes had lived since the first of Time in primeval simplicity, where
Nature, with lavish hand, spread her uncultured luxuriance in forest,
in mountain, and in plain, under a burning, tropical sky. It was a
scene far in the interior of Africa, that mysterious continent, which
has yet to yield up her secrets to the dogged curiosity of European
races.

The man was reading a letter, a letter that had come through swamp,
through jungle, over mountains, across plains, by the hands of savage
carriers, the last letter he would receive before plunging still
deeper into the unknown lands beyond, the last link that bound him to
civilization–a letter from home.

Inside the tent, another man was also reading letters, from friends
and club companions, which gave him all the latest gossip of that
London, now so far away, but he read them lightly, and tossed them
aside with a careless hand. The man outside, however, had only one
letter, and, as he read it, his eyes grew moist, blinding him so much
that he could not see the writing, and looking up, gazed at the scene
before him through a blurred mist of tears.

Undulating grass plains, a wide river winding through the country like
a silver serpent, clumps of tropical trees, and a distant vision of
fantastic peaks, all flushed with splendid colours under the fierce
light of the sunset. And the sky, like a delicate shell of pale pink,
fading off in the east to cold blue and sombre shadows, in the west
deepening into vivid billowy masses of golden clouds, which tried
unsuccessfully to veil the intolerable splendour of the sinking sun. A
breath of odorous wind under the burning sky, the chattering of
monkeys, the shrieking of brilliant-coloured parrots, and the low,
guttural song of a naked negro cleaning his weapons in the near camp.

The man looked at all this with vague, unseeing eyes, for his thoughts
were far away, then, dashing away the tears, he once more began to
read the letter he held in his hand.

“MY DEAR EUSTACE,

“I can hardly believe that it is nine months since you left us. I
wonder in what part of Africa you will read this letter, that is, if
it ever reaches you, of which I have considerable doubt. The papers,
of course, informed us of your many months of delay at Zanzibar before
you could go forward, so perhaps this letter may reach you before you
get beyond the confines of civilization. I was very much astonished to
hear you were at Zanzibar, as I thought you left England with the
intention of going up the Nile, and getting into the inland country
that way. However, I suppose you had good reason for changing your
plans, and are now pushing forward into unknown lands.

“I have a great deal to tell you about ourselves and friends, which I
am sure you will be pleased to hear. In the first place, both my wife
and myself are completely happy–all the clouds of our earlier life
have vanished, and I think that no married pair can have such perfect
confidence and love for one another. I ascribe this happy state of
things to you, dear old fellow, for had you not made Mrs. Veilsturm
leave San Remo, and brought my wife to my sick bed, we could never
have come together again. I know, good friend that you are, you
will be pleased to hear we are so perfectly happy, and that every
year–every day–every hour, my wife grows dearer to me. As I write
these words her dear face is bending over my shoulder to read what I
have set down, and she cordially endorses what I have said.

“Thanks to your kind gift of Aunt Jelly’s money, all things
pecuniarily are well with me. I have paid off the mortgages on the
Hall, and invested the rest of the money, so what with the income
arising from such investments, and my rents, now regularly coming to
me instead of to the lawyers, I am quite a rich man, and the
Erringtons can once wore hold up their head in the county as a
representative family.

“By-the-way, I have some news to give you about our mutual friend,
Mrs. Veilsturm, with whom I was so infatuated. She went on to New
York, followed by Dolly Thambits, and has now married him. He is a
young idiot to be sure, but then he has an excellent income, and that
is all she cares about. Won’t she spend his thousands for him? Well, I
think you and I agree on that subject. Regarding Major Griff, she
evidently found him less useful after than before she became Mrs.
Thambits, so she has pensioned him off with a few thousands, and I
hear the Major has gone to Central America, with a view to entering
the service of one of the republics of those regions. His future fate
is not hard to prophesy, as he will either become President or be
shot, but in either event I don’t think he’ll trouble our fair friend
again who has retired so peacefully into married life. Next year, I
believe, she is coming to town, and is going to cut a great dash,
so no doubt Mrs. Thambits will be even more popular than Mrs.
Veilsturm–although, I dare say, there will not be any Sunday evenings
of the Monte Carlo style.

“You will perhaps wonder at my writing so coolly about this lady, but
the fact is, I now see only too clearly the danger I escaped. She
would have ruined my life, and certainly made a good attempt to do so,
only you fortunately intervened in time. What magic you used to force
her to leave me alone I do not know, but I certainly have to thank you
for extricating me from a very perilous position.

“Another item of news. Mrs. Macjean has presented the delighted
Otterburn with a son and heir. By-the-way, I should not call him
Otterburn, as, by the death of his father four months ago, he is
now Lord Dunkeld. But old habits are hard to get rid of, and I always
talk of them as Mrs. Macjean and Otterburn. They are very happy, as
they deserve to be, for Dunkeld is a real good fellow, and Lady
Dunkeld–well, she is all that is charming.

“Do you remember Miss Minnie Pelch, poor Aunt Jelly’s companion? She
is now down at Errington with us, as she was so lonely in town that
Alizon took pity on her, and she is installed as companion at the
Hall. Her volume of verse came out in due splendour, and was entirely
overlooked by the press, at which I am not sorry, as if the poems had
been noticed–well, you know the poems of old. Minnie, however, thinks
this silence is jealousy, and quite looks upon herself as a shining
light of the Victorian age, so neither Alizon nor I undeceive her, for
she is a good little woman, though somewhat of a bore with her
infernal–I mean eternal–poetry.

“I really don’t think there is any more news to tell you, except that
good old Mrs. Trubbles is dead–apoplexy–and her dear Harry is now on
the look-out for another spouse with political influence–I wish it
was ‘poetical influence,’ and we might manage to marry him to Miss
Pelch.

“Mr. Dolser and ‘The Pepper Box’ have both gone under, never to rise
again I hope. Some dreadful libel on a high personage appeared, at
which the H.P. took umbrage, and the editor is now expiating his
offence in prison. I can’t say I’m very sorry, as when he is released
Mr. Dolser will no doubt leave other people’s affairs alone. Such men
as he are the curse of the present age, and should all be sunk in the
Atlantic for at least half an hour–after that I think we’d have no
more trouble with them.

“And now, my dear cousin, I must close this long letter, but first, in
confidence, let me hint to you that my wife is expecting an
interesting event to take place shortly, which will once more render
the nursery a necessity. Poor Alizon has borne up bravely since the
death of Sammy, but I know she longs for a child of her own to fill
the vacant place in her heart. I am no longer afraid of having a rival
in my child, as my wife loves and trusts me now, and my lot is as
perfectly happy a one as any mortal can hope for.

“So now goodbye, my dear Eustace. I hope we will soon see you back
again at the Hall, where there is always a place for you. My wife
sends her kindest regards to you, and so do I, thus closing this
letter, and remaining

“Your affectionate Cousin,

“GUY ERRINGTON.”

When Eustace finished reading the letter he let it fall on the ground,
and laughed bitterly.

“Kindest regards,” he said sadly, “and I gave her love.”

The sun was sinking swiftly behind the dark hills, and Gartney, with
his hand supporting his chin, sat watching it, thinking of the days
that were no more.

So sad, so melancholy he felt, as he thought of the past, of the woman
he loved so fondly, whom he had restored to the arms of her husband at
the cost of his own happiness. Surely, if he had been selfish, vain
and egotistical all his life, he had expiated these sins by his
voluntary sacrifice of self–a sacrifice that had banished all delight
from his heart.

And he sat there a lonely exile, with sorrow behind him, and danger
before him, while the sun sank in the burning west, and the sable
wings of night spread over the earth like a sombre pall.

There was darkness on the world, there was darkness in his heart, and
from the midst of the shadows still sounded the melancholy chaunt of
the slave.

* * * * * *

EXTRACT FROM “THE MORNING PLANET.”

“By a telegram from Zanzibar there now seems no doubt that the two
young Englishmen, who went into the interior of Africa some months
ago, have been massacred. Only one survivor of the expedition escaped
and managed to get safely to the coast. According to his story, Mr.
Laxton was speared first by hostile natives from an ambush. Afterwards
Mr. Gartney met with the same fate, although he defended himself for
some time with his revolver.

“Much regret will be felt in England at this sad news, as the two
deceased gentlemen were both very popular, Mr. Gartney especially
being widely known as a charming poet and essayist. He, was very
wealthy, and we hear that all his property, by a will executed before
he left England, has been left to Lady Errington, of Errington Hall,
Dreamshire.”

* * * * * *

So that was the end of Eustace Gartney.