Prester John
Chapter XXIII: My Uncle's Gift Is Many Times Multiplied

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We got at the treasure by blowing open the turnstile. It was easy enough to trace the spot in the rock where it stood, but the most patient search did not reveal its secret. Accordingly we had recourse to dynamite, and soon laid bare the stone steps, and ascended to the gallery. The chasm was bridged with planks, and Arcoll and I crossed alone. The cave was as I had left it. The bloodstains on the floor had grown dark with time, but the ashes of the sacramental fire were still there to remind me of the drama I had borne a part in. When I looked at the way I had escaped my brain grew dizzy at the thought of it. I do not think that all the gold on earth would have driven me a second time to that awful escalade. As for Arcoll, he could not see its possibility at all.

‘Only a madman could have done it,’ he said, blinking his eyes at the green linn. ‘Indeed, Davie, I think for about four days you were as mad as they make. It was a fortunate thing, for your madness saved the country.’

With some labour we got the treasure down to the path, and took it under a strong guard to Pietersdorp. The Government were busy with the settling up after the war, and it took many weeks to have our business disposed of. At first things looked badly for me. The Attorney-General set up a claim to the whole as spoils of war, since, he argued, it was the war-chest of the enemy we had conquered. I do not know how the matter would have gone on legal grounds, though I was advised by my lawyers that the claim was a bad one. But the part I had played in the whole business, more especially in the visit to Inanda’s Kraal, had made me a kind of popular hero, and the Government thought better of their first attitude. Besides, Arcoll had great influence, and the whole story of my doings, which was told privately by him to some of the members of the Government, disposed them to be generous. Accordingly they agreed to treat the contents of the cave as ordinary treasure trove, of which, by the law, one half went to the discoverer and one half to the Crown.

This was well enough so far as the gold was concerned, but another difficulty arose about the diamonds; for a large part of these had obviously been stolen by labourers from the mines, and the mining people laid claim to them as stolen goods. I was advised not to dispute this claim, and consequently we had a great sorting-out of the stones in the presence of the experts of the different mines. In the end it turned out that identification was not an easy matter, for the experts quarrelled furiously among themselves. A compromise was at last come to, and a division made; and then the diamond companies behaved very handsomely, voting me a substantial sum in recognition of my services in recovering their property. What with this and with my half share of the gold and my share of the unclaimed stones, I found that I had a very considerable fortune. The whole of my stones I sold to De Beers, for if I had placed them on the open market I should have upset the delicate equipoise of diamond values. When I came finally to cast up my accounts, I found that I had secured a fortune of a trifle over a quarter of a million pounds.

The wealth did not dazzle so much as it solemnized me. I had no impulse to spend any part of it in a riot of folly. It had come to me like fairy gold out of the void; it had been bought with men’s blood, almost with my own. I wanted to get away to a quiet place and think, for of late my life had been too crowded with drama, and there comes a satiety of action as well as of idleness. Above all things I wanted to get home. They gave me a great send-off, and sang songs, and good fellows shook my hand till it ached. The papers were full of me, and there was a banquet and speeches. But I could not relish this glory as I ought, for I was like a boy thrown violently out of his bearings. Not till I was in the train nearing Cape Town did I recover my equanimity. The burden of the past seemed to slip from me suddenly as on the morning when I had climbed the linn. I saw my life all lying before me; and already I had won success. I thought of my return to my own country, my first sight of the grey shores of Fife, my visit to Kirkcaple, my meeting with my mother. I was a rich man now who could choose his career, and my mother need never again want for comfort. My money seemed pleasant to me, for if men won theirs by brains or industry, I had won mine by sterner methods, for I had staked against it my life. I sat alone in the railway carriage and cried with pure thankfulness. These were comforting tears, for they brought me back to my old common-place self.

My last memory of Africa is my meeting with Tam Dyke. I caught sight of him in the streets of Cape Town, and running after him, clapped him on the shoulder. He stared at me as if he had seen a ghost.

‘Is it yourself, Davie?’ he cried. ‘I never looked to see you again in this world. I do nothing but read about you in the papers. What for did ye not send for me? Here have I been knocking about inside a ship and you have been getting famous. They tell me you’re a millionaire, too.’

I had Tam to dinner at my hotel, and later, sitting smoking on the terrace and watching the flying-ants among the aloes, I told him the better part of the story I have here written down.

‘Man, Davie,’ he said at the end, ‘you’ve had a tremendous time. Here are you not eighteen months away from home, and you’re going back with a fortune. What will you do with it?’ I told him that I proposed, to begin with, to finish my education at Edinburgh College. At this he roared with laughter.

‘That’s a dull ending, anyway. It’s me that should have the money, for I’m full of imagination. You were aye a prosaic body, Davie.’

‘Maybe I am,’ I said; ‘but I am very sure of one thing. If I hadn’t been a prosaic body, I wouldn’t be sitting here to-night.’

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