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HOME > Classical Novels > A Traitor in London > CHAPTER XXIII. A DUTCH LOCHINVAR.
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Dusty and draggled from her fall, and with a swimming head, Brenda sat on an ant-hill, wondering how she could extricate herself from so unpleasant a position. The pony was far away, lost in the shadows of the karoo, and she was miles and miles from camp. It might be that the animal would find its own way home, and that they would send out in search of her, but busy as they were with the hurry and bustle of the advance, it was very possible that her absence would not be noticed. Had her husband been there--but she knew that he was far away in the enemy\'s country taking stock of the Boer movements and waiting for the division to come up. Wilfred was but a scatter-brain. She could not trust him. On the whole, she thought it was most unlikely that any one would trouble about her, or, in the confusion, even miss her. She was lost in the veldt.

Fortunately she had plenty of courage; and when her brain had steadied from the shock she began to look about her. One thing was certain, she would not, and could not, remain in the veldt all night. If it was fine perhaps there would be no great hardship in that, in spite of the cold, but a heavy storm was coming on, and she would be drenched to the skin. The red sun sank down behind the hills; dark clouds labored up from the east; and the wide plain around her was swallowed up in the gloom. The place and the time were eerie; and the girl felt a superstitious thrill as she rose painfully to her feet, trying hard to collect her thoughts. At first it was the cause of the disaster which puzzled her.

Why had the pony run away? She had ridden him frequently, and there was not an ounce of vice in the little beast. That he should suddenly bolt without rhyme or reason was quite incomprehensible. Perhaps, had she looked back and seen the evil grin on the face of the Kaffir who had saddled him, she would not have been at such a loss to explain the little pony\'s freak.

But something she must do. She would walk on till she came to a Boer farmhouse, and get them to take her in for the night. Then she would get a horse and return to the camp in the morning. Perhaps she might even chance on some English people, seeing that she was in an English colony and one loyal to the Queen. That there were rebels there it was true, but not on that side of the river. Having a wholesome dread of their foes at close quarters, they would not dare to cross. So far, then, she felt safe; what she needed was food and shelter. Kilting up her riding skirt she went forth in the fast-gathering darkness in search of them.

It was weary work plodding over the loose sand, and after the first quarter of a mile she was quite worn out. It seemed as though she would have to pass the night on the open veldt. Then it occurred to her that if she shouted some one might hear and come to her rescue. And if by chance she did fall into the hands of the enemy they would surely treat her kindly. Whatever his faults, the Boer was too religious to be wholly a scoundrel. Assistance she must have, so straightway she hollowed her hands and shouted through them. Her long, shrill cry pierced the air time after time, but there was no response. The echo died away and the quiet shut down again, and she heard the desert talking to itself--the faint murmur of the wind rustling over the sand, the gurgle of the river, and at times the wail of a solitary bird. Again and again he shouted with a courage born of despair. All was silent, silent as the grave. Then a sound fell upon her ears. It came nearer and nearer until it took shape and defined itself as the steady gallop of a horse.

For a moment she was afraid; but luckily she had with her a small but serviceable revolver which Harold made her carry. She drew it from her belt. She was prepared to use it if necessary against an enemy; even against herself. But perhaps it was some well-meaning and kindly Boer, or, better still, an Englishman. She resolved to risk attracting his attention. Anything was better than a night alone on that desolate waste. Taking her courage in both hands, she cried again, and the galloping of the horse was now close upon her. Then a man\'s voice shouted. She replied and ran forward to meet her preserver, as she prayed he might prove to be. Already she thanked God for her deliverance. She came up close with him, and peered anxiously through the lowering light to take in his features. Instantly she recognized them. Her blood seemed to freeze in her veins as she did so. Those features she knew only too well; there was no mistaking that stalwart figure. That it should be he of all men!--Waldo van Zwieten!

"What! Mrs. Burton?" he said politely, as he swung himself off his big black steed. "Well, I am surprised. This is indeed an unexpected pleasure." Brenda shrank back and fumbled for her revolver. Brave as she was, the man\'s mocking suavity terrified her. She said not a word, but looked at him as he stood, strong and tall and masterful, beside his horse.

"Can you not speak?" he said impatiently. "How comes it that I find you here?"

"My horse ran away with me and threw me," said Brenda, keeping at a safe distance from the preserver Fate had so ironically sent her. "Will you please to conduct me back to the camp, Mr. van Zwieten?"

"What! and run the chance of arrest? No, thank you. But there is a Boer farmhouse a couple of miles away, near the river. I can take you there if you like."

"Can I trust you?" asked Brenda, in a tremulous voice.

"You can trust the man who loves you."

"If you talk to me like that I won\'t go with you."

"Then I am afraid you will have to pass the night on the veldt."

"Mr. van Zwieten," she said with dignity, "an accident has placed me in your company, but not in your power. I have a revolver, and if you attempt to insult me I shall----"

"Kill me, I suppose."

"No, but I will kill myself!"

His face twitched. He knew she would do what she said, and his love for her was so great that he would prevent that, even at the cost of his own life. "You need have no fear, Mrs. Burton," he said in a low tone; "I will treat you with all respect. Get on my horse and we will make for the farmhouse I speak of."

Unpleasant as it was, there seemed nothing for it but to accept his offer. The position could not be worse, and it might be made better. So far, she thought, she had the upper hand; but she was puzzled by his politeness, and mistrusted it. However, she had no time to analyze her sensations, for the darkness was coming on apace, and the sooner she reached human habitation the better.

"I will go with you," she said bravely; "I will accept your offer. I do not think you are a good man, and I have used hard words to you, I know; still, I will trust you now."

Van Zwieten bowed. He said no word, but held the stirrup for her to mount. With his assistance she swung herself into the saddle, and being a good horse-woman, she settled herself comfortably on it without much difficulty.

In silence he began to lead the horse across the veldt. All the while she kept a tight grasp on her little revolver and a sharp eye on his every action. For some time they proceeded thus without a word. Then Van Zwieten laughed in a low, musical way. "What a fool I am!" he said slowly. "I love you madly; I have you in my power, and yet I do not take so much as a kiss. I am a coward!"

Her face burned in the darkness, but she gave no sign of fear.

"You call yourself a coward," she said calmly. "I call you a brave man."

"Oh, I am a spy!" he cried scornfully.

"You are a spy and, for all I know, a murderer; but you are a brave man, Mr. van Zwieten, all the same, for you can rule yourself. I never thought of you as I do at this moment."

"You say that because you wish to conciliate me," he retorted angrily, "not because you think so. I am not a good man. I know myself to be bad; but I love you too well to harm a hair of your head. All the same, I intend to marry you."

"That is impossible. I am married already, and if Harold were to die--well, you know what I said."

"That was only supposing I killed him," argued Van Zwieten. "But suppose he were killed fighting, as he may easily be?"

"Then I would remain a widow for the rest of my days. I love my husband. I should always remain true to his memory. You could never be anything to me. Not until this moment have I ever been able to feel the faintest glimmer of respect for you."

"Even if that is so, I wonder that you choose to speak like that to me, situated as you are now. It is calculated to scatter the good intentions of a better man than I."

"I cannot help it. I have told you I am not in your power. I am not afraid to die. That I prove by not shooting you as you stand there. As it is! I keep these little bullets for myself."

Van Zwieten groaned. "To think of this woman being wasted on a worthless fool like Burton!" said he.

"He is not a fool."

"You may not think so. You cannot expect me to agree. Oh, if you had only listened to me, only given me a chance, I would have been a better man!"

"I think you are a better man, or you would not have behaved as you are doing now. You are a strange mixture of good and bad."

He shrugged his shoulders. "It often happens so," he said. "Those who think to find a bad man all bad or a good man all good are invariably disappointed. I have met the best of men, and hated them for their meanness, just as I have met the worst and loved them for some delightful incongruity. We are a pie-bald lot indeed."

Then again for a few moments they went on silently. In the distance now could be seen a light, and on the wind came the barking of dogs. The murmur of the river continued all the while like............
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