KING SOLOMON'S MINES
by H. Rider Haggard
NOW THAT this book is printedand about to be given to the worldthe senseof its shortcomingsboth in style and contentsweighs very heavily upon me. Asregards the latterI can only say that it does not pretend to be a full accountof everything we did and saw. There are many things connected with our journeyinto Kukuanaland which I should have liked to dwell upon at lengthand whichhaveas it isbeen scarcely alluded to. Among these are the curious legendswhich I collected about the chain armor that saved us from destruction in thegreat battle of Looand also about the "silent ones" or colossi atthe mouth of the stalactite cave. Againif I had given way to my own impulses Ishould have liked to go into the differencessome of which are to my mind verysuggestivebetween the Zulu and Kukuana dialects. Alsoa few pages mightprofitably have been given up to the consideration of the indigenous flora andfauna of Kukuanaland. * Then there remains the most interesting subject- whichas it ishas been only incidentally alluded to- of the magnificent system ofmilitary organization in force in that countrywhich isin my opinionmuchsuperior to that inaugurated by Chaka in Zululandinasmuch as it permits ofeven more rapid mobilizationand does not necessitate the employment of thepernicious system of forced celibacy. AndlastlyI have scarcely touched onthe domestic and family customs of the Kukuanasmany of which are exceedinglyquaintor on their proficiency in the art of smelting and welding metals. Thislast they carry to considerable perfectionof which a good example is to beseen in their "tollas" or heavy throwing knivesthe backs of theseknives being made of hammered ironand the edges of beautiful steel welded withgreat skill onto the iron backs. The fact of the matter is that I thought (andso did Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good) that the best plan would be to tellthe story in a plainstraightforward mannerand leave these matters to bedealt with subsequently in whatever way may ultimately appear to be desirable.In the meanwhile I shallof coursebe delighted to give any information in mypower to anybody interested in such things. -
* I discovered eight varieties of antelope with which I was previouslytotally unacquaintedand many new species of plantsfor the most part of thebulbous tribe.- A. Q. -
And now it only remains for me to offer my apologies for my blunt way ofwriting. I can only say in excuse for it that I am more accustomed to handle arifle than a penand cannot make any pretense to the grand literary flights andflourishes which I see in novels- for I sometimes like to read a novel. Isuppose they- the flights and flourishes- are desirableand I regret not beingable to supply them; but at the same time I cannot help thinking that simplethings are always the most impressiveand books are easier to understand whenthey are written in plain languagethough I have perhaps no right to set up anopinion on such a matter. "A sharp spear" runs the Kukuana saying"needs no polish" and on the same principle I venture to hope that atrue storyhowever strange it may bedoes not require to be decked out in finewords.
1. I Meet Sir Henry Curtis -
IT IS a curious thing that at my age- fifty-five last birthday- I should findmyself taking up a pen to try and write a history. I wonder what sort of ahistory it will be when I have done itif I ever come to the end of the trip! Ihave done a good many things in my lifewhich seems a long one to meowing tomy having begun so youngperhaps. At an age when other boys are at school I wasearning my living as a trader in the old Colony. I have been tradinghuntingfightingor mining ever since. And yet it is only eight months ago that I mademy pile. It is a big pile now I have got it- I don't yet know how big- but Idon't think I would go through the last fifteen or sixteen months again for it;nonot if I knew that I should come out safe at the endpile and all. But thenI am a timid manand don't like violenceand am pretty sick of adventure. Iwonder why I am going to write this book; it is not in my line. I am not aliterary manthough very devoted to the Old Testament and also to the IngoldsbyLegends. Let me try and set down my reasonsjust to see if I have any.
First reason: Because Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good asked me to.
Second reason: Because I am laid up here at Durban with the pain and troublein my left leg. Ever since that confounded lion got hold of me I have beenliable to itand its being rather bad just now makes me limp more than ever.There must be some poison in a lion's teethotherwise how is it that when yourwounds are healed they break out againgenerallymark youat the same time ofyear that you got your mauling? It is a hard thingwhen one has shot sixty-fivelionsas I have in the course of my lifethat the sixty-sixth should chew yourleg like a quid of tobacco. It breaks the routine of the thingandputtingother considerations asideI am an orderly man and don't like that. This is bythe way.
Third reason: Because I want my boy Harrywho is over there at the hospitalin London studying to become a doctorto have something to amuse him and keephim out of mischief for a week or so. Hospital work must sometimes pall and getrather dullfor even of cutting up dead bodies there must come satietyand asthis history won't be dullwhatever else it may beit may put a little lifeinto things for a day or two while he is reading it.
Fourth reason and last: Because I am going to tell the strangest story that Iknow of. It may seem a queer thing to say thatespecially considering thatthere is no woman in it- except Foulata. Stopthoughthere is Gagaoolaif shewas a woman and not a fiend. But she was a hundred at leastand therefore notmarriageableso I don't count her. At any rateI can safely say that there isnot a petticoat in the whole history. WellI had better come to the yoke. It'sa stiff placeand I feel as though I were bogged up to the axle. But "sutjessutjes" as the Boers say (I'm sure I don't know how they spell it)softlydoes it. A strong team will come through at lastthat is if they ain't too poor.You will never do anything with poor oxen. Nowto begin.
IAllan Quatermainof DurbanNatalGentlemanmake oath and say- That'show I began my deposition before the magistrate about poor Khiva's andVentvogel's sad deaths; but somehow it doesn't seem quite the right way to begina book. Andbesidesam I a gentleman? What is a gentleman? I don't quite knowand yet I have had to do with niggers- noI'll scratch that word "niggers"outfor I don't like it- I've known natives who areand so you'll sayHarrymy boybefore you're done with this taleand I have known mean whites withlots of money and fresh out from hometoowho ain't. Wellat any rate I wasborn a gentlemanthough I've been nothing but a poor traveling trader andhunter all my life. Whether I have remained so I know not; you must judge ofthat. Heaven knows I've tried. I've killed many men in my timebut I have neverslain wantonly or stained my hand in innocent bloodonly in self-defense. TheAlmighty gave us our livesand I suppose he meant us to defend them; at least Ihave always acted on thatand I hope it won't be brought up against me when myclock strikes. Therethere; it is a cruel and a wicked worldandfor a timidmanI have been mixed up in a deal of slaughter. I can't tell the rights of itbut at any rate I have never stolenthough I once cheated a Kaffir out of aherd of cattle. But thenhe had done me a dirty turnand it has troubled meever since into the bargain.
Wellit's eighteen months or so ago since I first met Sir Henry Curtis andCaptain Goodand it was in this way. I had been up elephant hunting beyondBamangwatoand had had bad luck. Everything went wrong that tripand to top upwith I got the fever badly. So soon as I was well enough I trekked down to thediamond fieldssold such ivory as I hadand also my wagon and oxendischargedmy huntersand took the post cart to the Cape. After spending a week in CapeTownfinding that they overcharged me at the hoteland having seen everythingthere was to seeincluding the botanical gardenswhich seem to me likely toconfer a great benefit on the countryand the new Houses of Parliamentwhich Iexpect will do nothing of the sortI determined to go on back to Natal by theDunkeldthen lying in the docks waiting for the Edinburgh Castle due in fromEngland. I took my berth and went aboardand that afternoon the Natalpassengers from the Edinburgh Castle transhippedand we weighed anchor and putout to sea.
Among the passengers who came on board there were two who excited mycuriosity. Onea man of about thirtywas one of the biggest-chested andlongest-armed men I ever saw. He had yellow haira big yellow beardclear-cutfeaturesand large gray eyes set deep into his head. I never saw afiner-looking manand somehow he reminded me of an ancient Dane. Not that Iknow much of ancient Danesthough I remember a modern Dane who did me out often pounds; but I remember once seeing a picture of some of those gentrywhoItake itwere a kind of white Zulus. They were drinking out of big hornsandtheir long hair hung down their backsand as I looked at my friend standingthere by the companion ladderI thought that if he only let his hair grow abitput one of those chain shirts onto those great shoulders of hisand gavehim a battle-ax and a horn mughe might have sat as a model for that picture.Andby the wayit is a curious thingand just shows how the blood will showoutI found out afterwards that Sir Henry Curtisfor that was the big man'snamewas of Danish blood. * He also reminded me strongly of somebody elsebutat that time I could not remember who it was. -
* Mr. Quatermain's ideas about ancient Danes seem to be rather confused; wehave always understood that they were dark-haired people. Probably he wasthinking of Saxons.- EDITOR. -
The other manwho stood talking to Sir Henrywas of quite a different cut.I suspected at once that he was a naval officer. I don't know whybut it isdifficult to mistake a navy man. I have gone on shooting trips with several ofthem in the course of my lifeand they have always been just the best andbravest and nicest fellows I ever metthough given to the use of profanelanguage.
I askeda page or two backwhat is a gentleman? I'll answer it now: a RoyalNavy officer isin a general sort of a waythoughof coursethere may be ablack sheep among them here and there. I fancy it is just the wide sea and thebreath of God's winds that washes their hearts and blows the bitterness out oftheir minds and makes them what men ought to be. Wellto returnI was rightagain; I found out that he was a naval officera lieutenant of thirty-onewhoafter seventeen years' servicehad been turned out of her majesty's employ withthe barren honor of a commander's rankbecause it was impossible that he shouldbe promoted. This is what people who serve the queen have to expect: to be shotout into the cold world to find a living just when they are beginning to reallyunderstand their workand to get to the prime of life. WellI suppose theydon't mind itbut for my part I had rather earn my bread as a hunter. One'shalf-pence are as scarceperhapsbut you don't get so many kicks. His nameIfound out- by referring to the passengers' list- was Good- Captain John Good. Hewas broadof medium heightdarkstoutand rather a curious man to look at.He was so very neat and so very clean shavedand he always wore an eyeglass inhis right eye. It seemed to grow therefor it had no stringand he never tookit out except to wipe it. At first I thought he used to sleep in itbut Iafterwards found that this was a mistake. He put it in his trousers pocket whenhe went to bedtogether with his false teethof which he had two beautifulsets that have oftenmy own being none of the bestcaused me to break theTenth Commandment. But I am anticipating.
Soon after we had got under way evening closed inand brought with it verydirty weather. A keen breeze sprang up off landand a kind of aggravated Scotchmist soon drove everybody from the deck. And as for that Dunkeldshe is aflat-bottomed puntandgoing up light as she wasshe rolled very heavily. Italmost seemed as though she would go right overbut she never did. It was quiteimpossible to walk aboutso I stood near the engineswhere it was warmandamused myself with watching the pendulumwhich was fixed opposite to meswinging slowly backward and forward as the vessel rolledand marking the angleshe touched at each lurch.
"That pendulum's wrong; it is not properly weighted" suddenly saida voice at my shoulder somewhat testily. Looking round I saw the naval officer Ihad noticed when the passengers came aboard.
"Indeed; now what makes you think so?" I asked.
"Think so. I don't think at all. Why there"- as she righted herselfafter a roll- "if the ship had really rolled to the degree that thingpointed to then she would never have rolled againthat's all. But it is justlike these merchant skippersthey always are so confoundedly careless."
Just then the dinner bell rangand I was not sorryfor it is a dreadfulthing to have to listen to an officer of the Royal Navy when he gets onto thatsubject. I know only one worse thingand that is to hear a merchant skipperexpress his candid opinion of officers of the Royal Navy.
Captain Good and I went down to dinner togetherand there we found Sir HenryCurtis already seated. He and Captain Good sat togetherand I sat opposite tothem. The captain and I soon got into talk about shooting and what notheasking me many questionsand I answering as well as I could. Presently he gotonto elephants.
"Ahsir" called out somebody who was sitting near me"you'vegot to the right man for that; hunter Quatermain should be able to tell youabout elephants if anybody can."
Sir Henrywho had been sitting quite quiet listening to our talkstartedvisibly.
"Excuse mesir" he saidleaning forward across the tableandspeaking in a lowdeep voicea very suitable voiceit seemed to meto comeout of those great lungs. "Excuse mesirbut is your name AllanQuatermain?"
I said it was.
The big man made no further remarkbut I heard him mutter"Fortunate" into his beard.
Presently dinner came to an endand as we were leaving the saloon Sir Henrycame up and asked me if I would come into his cabin and smoke a pipe. I acceptedand he led the way to the Dunkeld deck cabinand a very good cabin it was. Ithad been two cabinsbut when Sir Garnetor one of those big swellswent downthe coast in the Dunkeld they had knocked away the partition and never put it upagain. There was a sofa in the cabinand a little table in front of it. SirHenry sent the steward for a bottle of whiskyand the three of us sat down andlit our pipes.
"Mr. Quatermain" said Sir Henry Curtiswhen the steward hadbrought the whisky and lit the lamp"the year before lastabout thistimeyou wereI believeat a place called Bamangwatoto the north of theTransvaal."
"I was" I answeredrather surprised that this gentleman should beso well acquainted with my movementswhich were notso far as I was awareconsidered of general interest.
"You were trading therewere you not?" put in Captain Good in hisquick way.
"I was. I took up a wagonload of goods and made a camp outside thesettlementand stopped till I had sold them."
Sir Henry was sitting opposite to me in a Madeira chairhis arms leaning onthe table. He now looked upfixing his large gray eyes full upon my face. Therewas a curious anxiety in themI thought.
"Did you happen to meet a man called Neville there?"
"Ohyes; he outspanned alongside of me for a fortnightto rest hisoxen before going on to the interior. I had a letter from a lawyera few monthsbackasking me if I knew what had become of himwhich I answered to the bestof my ability at the time."
"Yes" said Sir Henry"your letter was forwarded to me. Yousaid in it that the gentleman called Neville left Bamangwato in the beginning ofMayin a wagonwith a drivera voorlooperand a Kaffir hunter called Jimannouncing his intention of trekkingif possibleas far as Inyatithe extremetrading post in the Matabele countrywhere he would sell his wagon and proceedon foot. You also said that he did sell his wagonforsix months afterwardsyou saw the wagon in the possession of a Portuguese traderwho told you that hehad bought it at Inyati from a white man whose name he had forgottenand thatthe white manwith a native servanthad started off for the interior on ashooting triphe believed."
Then came a pause.
"Mr. Quatermain" said Sir Henry suddenly"I suppose you knowor can guess nothing more of the reasons of my- of Mr. Neville's journey to thenorthwardor as to what point that journey was directed?"
"I heard something" I answeredand stopped. The subject was onewhich I did not dare to discuss.
Sir Henry and Captain Good looked at each otherand Captain Good nodded.
"Mr. Quatermain" said the former"I am going to tell you astoryand ask your adviceand perhaps your assistance. The agent who forwardedme your letter told me that I might implicitly rely upon itas you were"he said"well known and universally respected in Nataland especiallynoted for your discretion."
I bowedand drank some whisky-and-water to hide my confusionfor I am amodest man; and Sir Henry went on.
"Mr. Neville was my brother."
"Oh" I saidstarting; for now I knew who Sir Henry had remindedme of when I first saw him. His brother was a much smaller man and had a darkbeardbutnow I thought of ithe possessed eyes of the same shade of gray andwith the same keen look in themand the featurestoowere not unlike.
"He was" went on Sir Henry"my only and younger brotherandtill five years ago I do not suppose we were ever a month away from each other.But just about five years ago a misfortune befell usas sometimes does happenin families. We had quarreled bitterlyand I behaved very unjustly to mybrother in my anger." Here Captain Good nodded his head vigorously tohimself. The ship gave a big roll just thenso that the looking glasswhichwas fixed opposite us to starboardwas for a moment nearly over our headsandas I was sitting with my hands in my pockets and staring upwardI could see himnodding like anything.
"As I dare say you know" went on Sir Henry"if a man diesintestateand has no property but land- real property it is called in England-it all descends to his eldest son. It so happened that just at the time when wequarreled our father died intestate. He had put off making his will until it wastoo late. The result was that my brotherwho had not been brought up to anyprofessionwas left without a penny. Of course it would have been my duty toprovide for himbut at the time the quarrel between us was so bitter that I didnot- to my shame I say it"- and he sighed deeply - "offer to doanything. It was not that I grudged him anythingbut I waited for him to makeadvancesand he made none. I am sorry to trouble you with all thisMr.Quatermainbut I mustto make things clear; ehGood?"
"Quite soquite so" said the captain. "Mr. Quatermain willI am surekeep this history to himself."
"Of course" said Ifor I rather pride myself on my discretion.
"Well" went on Sir Henry"my brother had a few hundredpounds to his account at the timeand without saying anything to me he drew outthis paltry sumandhaving adopted the name of Nevillestarted off for SouthAfrica in the wild hope of making a fortune. This I heard afterwards. Some threeyears passedand I heard nothing of my brotherthough I wrote several times.Doubtless the letters never reached him. But as time went on I grew more andmore troubled about him. I found outMr. Quatermainthat blood is thicker thanwater."
"That's true" said Ithinking of my boy Harry.
"I found outMr. Quatermainthat I would have given half my fortune toknow that my brother Georgethe only relation I havewas safe and wellandthat I should see him again."
"But you never didCurtis" jerked out Captain Goodglancing atthe big man's face.
"WellMr. Quatermainas time went on I became more and more anxious tofind out if my brother was alive or deadandif aliveto get him home again.I set inquiries on footand your letter was one
of the results. So far as it went it was satisfactoryfor it showed thattill lately George was alive; but it did not go far enough. Soto cut a longstory shortI made up my mind to come out and look for him myselfand CaptainGood was so kind as to come with me."
"Yes" said the captain; "nothing else to doyou see. Turnedout by my lords of the admiralty to starve on half pay. And nowperhapssiryou will tell us what you know or have heard of the gentleman calledNeville."
2. The Legend of Solomon's Mines -
"WHAT WAS it that you heard about my brother's journey atBamangwato?" said Sir Henryas I paused to fill my pipe before answeringCaptain Good.
"I heard this" I answered"and I have never mentioned it toa soul till today. I heard that he was starting for Solomon's Mines."
"Solomon's Mines!" ejaculated both my hearers at once. "Whereare they?"
"I don't know" I said; "I know where they are said to be. Ionce saw the peaks of the mountains that border thembut there was a hundredand thirty miles of desert between me and themand I am not aware that anywhite man ever got across itsave one. But perhaps the best thing I can do istell you the legend of Solomon's Mines as I know ityou passing your word notto reveal anything I tell you without my permission. Do you agree to that? Ihave my reasons for asking it."
Sir Henry noddedand Captain Good replied"Certainlycertainly."
"Well" I began"as you may guessin a general way elephanthunters are a rough set of menand don't trouble themselves with much beyondthe facts of life and the ways of Kaffirs. But here and there you meet a man whotakes the trouble to collect traditions from the nativesand tries to make outa little piece of the history of this dark land. It was such a man as this whofirst told me the legend of Solomon's Minesnow a matter of nearly thirty yearsago. It was when I was on my first elephant hunt in the Matabele country. Hisname was Evansand he was killed next yearpoor fellowby a wounded buffaloand lies buried near the Zambesi Falls. I was telling Evans one nightIrememberof some wonderful workings I had found while hunting koodoo and elandin what is now the Lydenburg district of the Transvaal. I see they have comeacross these workings again lately in prospecting for goldbut I knew of themyears ago. There is a great wide wagon road cut out of the solid rockandleading to the mouth of the working or gallery. Inside the mouth of this galleryare stacks of gold quartz piled up ready for crushingwhich shows that theworkerswhoever they weremust have left in a hurryand about twenty paces inthe gallery is built acrossand a beautiful bit of masonry it is.
"'Ay' said Evans'but I will tell you a queerer thing than that' andhe went on to tell me how he had found in the far interior a ruined citywhichhe believed to be the Ophir of the Bible- andby the wayother more learnedmen have said the same long since poor Evans's time. I wasI rememberlistening open-eared to all these wondersfor I was young at the timeand thisstory of an ancient civilizationand of the treasure which those old Jewish orPhoenician adventurers used to extract from a country long since lapsed into thedarkest barbarismtook a great hold upon my imaginationwhen suddenly he saidto me'Laddid you hear of the Suliman Mountains up to the northwest of theMashukulumbwe country?' I told him I never had. 'Ahwell' he said'that waswhere Solomon really had his mines- his diamond minesI mean.'
"'How do you know that?' I asked.
"'Know it? Whywhat is "Suliman" but a corruption of Solomon?* Andbesidesan old isanusi [witch doctor] up in the Manica country told meall about it. She said that the people who lived across those mountains were abranch of the Zulusspeaking a dialect of Zulubut finer and bigger men even;that there lived among them great wizardswho had learned their art from whitemen when "all the world was dark" and who had the secret of awonderful mine of "bright stones."' -
* Suliman is the Arabic form of Solomon.- EDITOR. -
"WellI laughed at this story at the timethough it interested meforthe diamond fields were not discovered thenand poor Evans went off and gotkilledand for twenty years I never thought any more of the matter. But justtwenty years afterwards- and that is a long timegentlemen; an elephant hunterdoes not often live for twenty years at his business- I heard something moredefinite about Suliman's Mountains and the country which lies beyond them. I wasup beyond the Manica country at a place called Sitanda's Kraaland a miserableplace it wasfor one could get nothing to eat thereand there was but littlegame about. I had an attack of feverand was in a bad way generallywhen oneday a Portugee arrived with a single companion- a half-breed. Now I know yourDelagoa Portugee well. There is no greater devil unhungin a general waybattening as he does upon human agony and flesh in the shape of slaves. But thiswas quite a different type of man to the low fellows I had been accustomed tomeet; he reminded me more of the polite dons I have read about. He was tall andthinwith large dark eyes and curling gray mustache. We talked together alittlefor he could speak broken Englishand I understood a little Portugeeand he told me that his name was Jose Silvestreand that he had a place nearDelagoa Bay; and when he went on next daywith his half-breed companionhesaid'Good-by' taking off his hat quite in the old style. 'Good-bysenor' hesaid; 'if ever we meet again I shall be the richest man in the worldand I willremember you.' I laughed a little- I was too weak to laugh much- and watched himstrike out for the great desert to the westwondering if he was mador what hethought he was going to find there.
"A week passedand I got the better of my fever. One evening I wassitting on the ground in front of the little tent I had with mechewing thelast leg of a miserable fowl I had bought from a native for a bit of cloth worthtwenty fowlsand staring at the hotred sun sinking down into the desertwhensuddenly I saw a figureapparently that of a Europeanfor it wore a coatonthe slope of the rising ground opposite to meabout three hundred yards away.The figure crept along on its hands and kneesthen it got up and staggeredalong a few yards on its legsonly to fall and crawl along again. Seeing thatit must be somebody in distressI sent one of my hunters to help himandpresently he arrivedand who do you suppose it turned out to be?"
"Jose Silvestreof course" said Captain Good.
"YesJose Silvestreor rather his skeleton and a little skin. His facewas bright yellow with bilious feverand his largedark eyes stood nearly outof his headfor all his flesh had gone. There was nothing but yellowparchment-like skinwhite hairand the gaunt bones sticking up beneath.
"'Water! For the sake of Christwater!' he moaned. I saw that his lipswere crackedand his tonguewhich protruded between themwas swollen andblackish.
"I gave him water with a little milk in itand he drank it in greatgulpstwo quarts or morewithout stopping. I would not let him have any more.Then the fever took him againand he fell down and began to rave aboutSuliman's Mountainsand the diamondsand the desert. I took him into the tentand did what I could for himwhich was little enough; but I saw how it mustend. About eleven o'clock he got quieterand I lay down for a little rest andwent to sleep. At dawn I woke againand saw him in the half light sitting upastrangegaunt formand gazing out towards the desert. Presently the first rayof the sun shot right across the wide plain before us till it reached thefaraway crest of one of the tallest of the Suliman Mountainsmore than ahundred miles away.
"'There it is!' cried the dying man in Portuguesestretching out hislongthin arm'but I shall never reach itnever. No one will ever reach it!'
"Suddenly he pausedand seemed to take a resolution. 'Friend' he saidturning towards me'are you there? My eyes grow dark.'
"'Yes' I said; 'yeslie down nowand rest.'
"'Ay' he answered'I shall rest soon; I have time to rest- alleternity. ListenI am dying! You have been good to me. I will give you thepaper. Perhaps you will get there if you can live through the desertwhich haskilled my poor servant and me.'
"Then he groped in his shirt and brought out what I thought was a Boertobacco pouch of the skin of the Swartvet-pens [sable antelope]. It was fastenedwith a little strip of hidewhat we call a rimpiand this he tried to untiebut could not. He handed it to me. 'Untie it' he said. I did soand extracteda bit of torn yellow linenon which something was written in rusty letters.Inside was a paper.
"Then he went on feeblyfor he was growing weak: 'The paper has it allthat is on the rag. It took me years to read. Listen: my ancestora politicalrefugee from Lisbon and one of the first Portuguese who landed on these shoreswrote that when he was dying on those mountains which no white foot ever pressedbefore or since. His name was Jose da Silvestraand he lived three hundredyears ago. His slavewho waited for him on this side the mountainsfound himdeadand brought the writing home to Delagoa. It has been in the family eversincebut none have cared to read it till at last I did. And I have lost mylife over itbut another may succeedand become the richest man in the world-the richest man in the world. Only give it to no one; go yourself!' Then hebegan to wander againand in an hour it was all over.
"God rest him! He died very quietlyand I buried him deepwith bigboulders on his breast; so I do not think that the Jackals can have dug him up.And then I came away."
"Aybut the document" said Sir Henryin a tone of deep interest.
"Yesthe document; what was in it?" added the captain.
"Wellgentlemenif you like I will tell you. I have never showed it toanybody yet except my dear wifewho is deadand she thought it was allnonsenseand a drunken old Portuguese trader who translated it for meand hadforgotten all about it next morning. The original rag is at my home in Durbantogether with poor Don Jose's translationbut I have the English rendering inmy pocketbookand a facsimile of the mapif it can be called a map. Here itis." -
(See illustration.) -
IJose da Silvestrawho am now dying of hunger in the little cave where nosnow is on the north side of the nipple of the southernmost of the two mountainsI have named Sheba's Breastswrite this in the year 1590 with a cleft bone upona remnant of my raimentmy blood being the ink. If my slave should find it whenhe comesand should bring it to Delagoalet my friend [name illegible] bringthe matter to the knowledge of the kingthat he may send an army whichif theylive through the desert and the mountainsand can overcome the brave Kukuanesand their devilish artsto which end many priests should be broughtwill makehim the richest king since Solomon. With my own eyes have I seen the countlessdiamonds stored in Solomon's treasure chamber behind the white Death; butthrough the treachery of Gagool the witchfinder I might bring nought awayscarcely my life. Let him who comes follow the mapand climb the snow ofSheba's left breast till he comes to the nippleon the north side of which isthe great road Solomon madefrom whence three days' journey to the King'sPlace. Let him kill Gagool. Pray for my soul. Farewell.
JOSE DA SILVESTRA * -
* Eu Jose da Silvestra que estou morrendo de fome na pequena cova onde nao haneve ao lado norte do bico mais ao sul das duas montanhas que chamei seio deSheba; escrevo isto no anno 1590; escrevo isto com um pedaco d' osso n' umfarrapo de minha roupa e com sangue meu por tinta; se o meu escravo der com istoquando venha ao levar para Lourenzo Marquezque o meu amigo [___] leve a cousaao conhecimento d' El Reipara que possa mandar um exercito quese desfilerpelo deserto e pelas montanhas e mesmo sobrepujar os bravos Kukuanes e suasartes diabolicaspelo que se deviam trazer muitos padres Fara o Rei mais ricodepois de Salomao. Com meus proprios olhos ve os di amantes sem conto guardadosnas camaras do thesouro de Salomao a traz da morte brancamas pela traicao deGagoal a feiticeira achadoranada poderia levare apenas a minha vida. Quemvier siga o mappa e trepe pela neve de Sheba peito a esquerda ate chegar aobicodo lado norte do qual esta a grande estrada do Salomao por elle feitadonde ha tres dias de journada ate ao Palacio do Rei. Mate Gagoal. Reze porminha alma. Adeos.
JOSE DA SILVESTRA -
When I had finished reading the above and shown the copy of the mapdrawn bythe dying hand of the old don with his blood for inkthere followed a silenceof astonishment.
"Well" said Captain Good"I have been round the world twiceand put in at most portsbut may I be hung if I ever heard a yarn like that outof a storybookor in it eitherfor the matter of that."
"It's a queer storyMr. Quatermain" said Sir Henry. "Isuppose you are not hoaxing us? It isI knowsometimes thought allowable totake a greenhorn in."
"If you think thatSir Henry" I saidmuch put outand pocketingmy paperfor I do not like to be thought one of those silly fellows whoconsider it witty to tell liesand who are forever boasting to newcomers ofextraordinary hunting adventures which never happened"why there is an endof the matter" and I rose to go.
Sir Henry laid his large hand upon my shoulder. "Sit downMr.Quatermain" he said"I beg your pardon; I see very well you do notwish to deceive usbut the story sounded so extraordinary that I could hardlybelieve it."
"You shall see the original map and writing when we reach Durban"I saidsomewhat mollified; for reallywhen I came to consider the matteritwas scarcely wonderful that he should doubt my good faith. "But I have nottold you about your brother. I knew the man Jim who was with him. He was aBechuana by birtha good hunterandfor a nativea very clever man. Themorning Mr. Neville was startingI saw Jim standing by my wagon and cutting uptobacco on the disselboom.
"'Jim' said I'where are you off to this trip? Is it elephants?'
"'NoBaas' he answered'we are after something worth more thanivory.'
"'And what might that be?' I said; for I was curious. 'Is it gold?'
"'NoBaassomething worth more than gold' and he grinned.
"I did not ask any more questionsfor I did not like to lower mydignity by seeming curiousbut I was puzzled. Presently Jim finished cuttinghis tobacco.
"'Baas' said he.
"I took no notice.
"'Baas' said he again.
"'Ehboywhat is it?' said I.
"'Baaswe are going after diamonds.'
"'Diamonds! Whythenyou are going in the wrong direction; you shouldhead for the fields.'
"'Baashave you ever heard of Suliman's Berg?' (Solomon's Mountains.)
"'Have you ever heard of the diamonds there?'
"'I have heard a foolish storyJim.'
"'It is no storyBaas. I once knew a woman who came from thereand gotto Natal with her child. She told me; she is dead now.'
"'Your master will feed the Assvogels [vultures]Jimif he tries toreach Suliman's countryand so will youif they can get any pickings off yourworthless old carcass' said I.
"He grinned. 'MayhapBaas. Man must die; I'd rather like to try a newcountry myself; the elephants are getting worked out about here.'
"'Ahmy boy' I said'you wait till the "pale old man"[death] gets a grip of your yellow throatand then we'll hear what sort of atune you sing.'
"Half an hour after that I saw Neville's wagon move off. Presently Jimcame running back. 'Good-byBaas' he said. 'I didn't like to start withoutbidding you good-byfor I dare say you are rightand we shall never come backagain.'
"'Is your master really going to Suliman's BergJimor are you lying?'
"'No' says he; 'he is going. He told me he was bound to make hisfortune somehowor try to; so he might as well try the diamonds.'
"'Oh!' said I. 'Wait a bitJim; you will take a note to your masterJimand promise not to give it to him until you reach Inyati?' (which was somehundred miles off).
"'Yes' said he.
"So I took a scrap of paper and wrote on it'Let him who comes... climbthe snow of Sheba's left breast till he comes to the nippleon the north sideof which is the great road Solomon made.'
"'NowJim' I said'when you give this to your mastertell him he hadbetter follow the advice implicitly. You are not to give it to him nowbecauseI don't want him back asking me questions which I won't answer. Now be offyouidle fellowthe wagon is nearly out of sight.'
"Jim took the note and wentand that is all I know about your brotherSir Henry; but I am much afraid-"
"Mr. Quatermain" said Sir Henry"I am going to look for mybrother; I am going to trace him to Suliman's Mountainsand over themifnecessaryuntil I find himor until I know that he is dead. Will you come withme?"
I amas I think I have saida cautious manindeeda timid oneand Ishrank from such an idea. It seemed to me that to start on such a journey wouldbe to go to certain deathandputting other things asideas I had a son tosupportI could not afford to die just then.
"Nothank youSir HenryI think I had rather not" I answered."I am too old for wild-goose chases of that sortand we should only end uplike my poor friend Silvestre. I have a son dependent on meso cannot afford torisk my life."
Both Sir Henry and Captain Good looked very disappointed.
"Mr. Quatermain" said the former"I am well offand I ambent upon this business. You may put the remuneration for your services atwhatever figure you likein reasonand it shall be paid over to you before westart. MoreoverI willbefore we startarrange that in the event of anythinghappening to us or to youyour son shall be suitably provided for. You will seefrom this how necessary I think your presence. Alsoif by any chance we shouldreach this placeand find diamondsthey shall belong to you and Good equally.I do not want them. But of course the chance is as good as nothingthough thesame thing would apply to any ivory we might get. You may pretty well make yourown terms with meMr. Quatermain; of course I shall pay all expenses."
"Sir Henry" said I"this is the most liberal offer I everhadand one not to be sneezed at by a poor hunter and trader. But the job isthe biggest I ever came acrossand I must take time to think it over. I willgive you my answer before we get to Durban."
"Very good" answered Sir Henryand then I said good night andturned inand dreamed about poorlong-dead Silvestre and the diamonds.
3. Umbopa Enters Our Service -
IT TAKES from four to five daysaccording to the vessel and the state of theweatherto run up from the Cape to Durban. Sometimesif the landing is bad atEast Londonwhere they have not yet got that wonderful harbor they talk so muchof and sink such a mint of money inone is delayed for twenty-four hours beforethe cargo boats can get out to take the goods off. But on this occasion we hadnot to wait at allfor there were no breakers on the bar to speak ofand thetugs came out at once with their long strings of uglyflat-bottomed boatsintowhich the goods were bundled with a crash. It did not matter what they wereover they wentslap-bang! Whether they were china or woolen goods they met withthe same treatment. I saw one case containing four dozen bottles of champagnesmashed all to bitsand there was the champagne fizzing and boiling about inthe bottom of the dirty cargo boat. It was a wicked wasteand so evidently theKaffirs in the boat thoughtfor they found a couple of unbroken bottlesandknocking the tops off drank the contents. But they had not allowed for theexpansion caused by the fizz in the wineand feeling themselves swellingrolled about in the bottom of the boatcalling out that the good liquor was"tagati" (bewitched). I spoke to them from the vesseland told themthat it was the white man's strongest medicineand that they were as good asdead men. They went onto the shore in a very great frightand I do not thinkthey will touch champagne again.
Wellall the time we were running up to Natal I was thinking over Sir HenryCurtis's offer. We did not speak any more on the subject for a day or twothough I told them many hunting yarnsall true ones. There is no need to telllies about huntingfor so many curious things happen within the knowledge of aman whose business it is to hunt; but this is by the way.
At lastone beautiful evening in Januarywhich is our hottest monthwesteamed along the coast of Natalexpecting to make Durban Point by sunset. Itis a lovely coast all along from East Londonwith its red sandhills and widesweeps of vivid greendotted here and there with Kaffir kraalsand bordered bya ribbon of white surf which spouts up in pillars of foam where it hits therocks. But just before you get to Durban there is a peculiar richness about it.There are the deep kloofs cut in the hills by the rushing rains of centuriesdown which the rivers sparkle; there is the deepest green of the bushgrowingas God planted itand the other greens of the mealie gardens and the sugarpatcheswhile here and there a white housesmiling out at the placid seaputsa finish and gives an air of homeliness to the scene. For to my mindhoweverbeautiful a view may beit requires the presence of man to make it completebut perhaps that is because I have lived so much in the wildernessandtherefore know the value of civilizationthoughto be sureit drives away thegame. The Garden of Edenno doubtwas fair before man wasbut I always thinkit must have been fairer when Eve was walking about it. But we had miscalculateda littleand the sun was well down before we dropped anchor off the Pointandheard the gun which told the good folk that the English mail was in. It was toolate to think of getting over the bar that nightso we went down comfortably todinnerafter seeing the mail carried off in the lifeboat.
When we came up again the moon was upand shining so brightly over sea andshore that she almost paled the quicklarge flashes from the lighthouse. Fromthe shore floated sweet spicy odors that always remind me of hymns andmissionariesand in the windows of the houses on the Berea sparkled a hundredlights. From a large brig lying near came the music of the sailors as theyworked at getting the anchor up to be ready for the wind. Altogether it was aperfect nightsuch a night as you get only in southern Africaand it threw agarment of peace over everybody as the moon threw a garment of silver overeverything. Even the great bulldog belonging to a sporting passenger seemed toyield to the gentle influencesandgiving up yearning to come to closequarters with the baboon in a cage on the fo'c'stlesnored happily in the doorof the cabindreamingno doubtthat he had finished himand happy in hisdream.
We all- that isSir Henry CurtisCaptain Goodand myself- went and sat bythe wheeland were quiet for a while.
"WellMr. Quatermain" said Sir Henry presently"have youbeen thinking about my proposals?"
"Ay" echoed Captain Good"what do you think of themMr.Quatermain? I hope you are going to give us the pleasure of your company as faras Solomon's Minesor wherever the gentleman you knew as Neville may have gotto."
I rose and knocked out my pipe before I answered. I had not made up my mindand wanted the additional moment to complete it. Before the burning tobacco hadfallen into the sea it was completed; just that little extra second did thetrick. It is often the way when you have been bothering a long time over athing.
"Yesgentlemen" I saidsitting down again"I will goandby your leave I will tell you why and on what terms. Firstfor the terms whichI ask.
"1. You are to pay all expensesand any ivory or other valuables we mayget is to be divided between Captain Good and myself.
"2. That you pay me L500 for my service on the trip before we startIundertaking to serve you faithfully till you choose to abandon the enterpriseor till we succeedor disaster overtakes us.
"3. That before we start you execute a deed agreeing in the event of mydeath or disablementto pay my boy Harrywho is studying medicine over therein London at Guy's Hospitala sum of L200 a year for five yearsby which timehe ought to be able to earn a living for himself. That is allI thinkand Idare say you will say quite enoughtoo."
"No" answered Sir Henry"I accept them gladly. I am bentupon this projectand would pay more than that for your helpespeciallyconsidering the peculiar knowledge you possess."
"Very well. And now that I have made my terms I will tell you my reasonsfor making up my mind to go. First of allgentlemenI have been observing youboth for the last few daysand if you will not think me impertinent I will saythat I like youand think that we shall come up well to the yoke together. Thatis somethinglet me tell youwhen one has a long journey like this before one.
"And now as to the journey itselfI tell you flatlySir Henry andCaptain Goodthat I do not think it probable that we can come out of it alivethat isif we attempt to cross the Suliman Mountains. What was the fate of theold Don da Silvestra three hundred years ago? What was the fate of hisdescendant twenty years ago? What has been your brother's fate? I tell youfranklygentlementhat as their fate was so I believe ours will be."
I paused to watch the effect of my words. Captain Good looked a littleuncomfortable; but Sir Henry's face did not change. "We must take ourchance" he said.
"You may perhaps wonder" I went on"whyif I think thisIwho amas I told youa timid manshould undertake such a journey. It is fortwo reasons. FirstI am a fatalistand believe that my time is appointed tocome quite independently of my own movementsand that if I am to go to SulimanMountains to be killedI shall go there and shall be killed there. GodAlmightyno doubtknows his mind about meso I need not trouble on thatpoint. SecondlyI am a poor man. For nearly forty years I have hunted andtradedbut I have never made more than a living. WellgentlemenI don't knowif you are aware that the average life of an elephant hunter from the time hetakes to the trade is from four to five years. So you see I have lived throughabout seven generations of my classand I should think that my time cannot befar offanyway. Nowif anything were to happen to me in the ordinary course ofbusinessby the time my debts were paid there would be nothing left to supportmy son Harry while he was getting in the way of earning a livingwhereas now hewould be provided for for five years. There is the whole affair in anutshell."
"Mr. Quatermain" said Sir Henrywho had been giving me the mostserious attention"your motives for undertaking an enterprise which youbelieve can only end in disaster reflect a great deal of credit on you. Whetheror not you are righttime and the eventof coursealone can show. But whetheryou are right or wrongI may as well tell you at once that I am going throughwith it to the endsweet or bitter. If we are going to be knocked on the headall that I have to say is that I hope we shall get a little shooting first- ehGood?"
"Yesyes" put in the captain. "We have all three of us beenaccustomed to face dangerand hold our lives in our hands in various wayssoit is no good turning back now."
"And now I vote we go down to the saloon and take an observationjustfor luckyou know." And we did- through the bottom of a tumbler.
Next day we went ashoreand I put Sir Henry and Captain Good up at thelittle shanty I have on the Bereaand which I call my home. There are onlythree rooms and a kitchen in itand it is built of green brick with agalvanized iron roofbut there is a good gardenwith the best loquot trees init that I knowand some nice young mangoesof which I hope great things. Thecurator of the botanical gardens gave them to me. It is looked after by an oldhunter of minenamed Jackwhose thigh was so badly broken by a buffalo cow inSikukunis country that he will never hunt again. But he can potter about andgardenbeing a Griqua by birth. You can never get your Zulu to take muchinterest in gardening. It is a peaceful artand peaceful arts are not in hisline.
Sir Henry and Good slept in a tent pitched in my little grove of orange treesat the end of the garden (for there was no room for them in the house)and whatwith the smell of the bloom and the sight of the green and golden fruit- for inDurban you will see all three on the tree together- I dare say it is a pleasantplace enough (for we have few mosquitoes here unless there happens to come anunusually heavy rain).
Wellto get on- for unless I do you will be tired of my story before ever wefetch up at Suliman's Mountains- having once made up my mind to goI set aboutmaking the necessary preparations. First I got the deed from Sir Henryproviding for my boy in case of accidents. There was some little difficultyabout getting this legally executedas Sir Henry was a stranger hereand theproperty to be charged was over the water; but it was ultimately got over withthe help of a lawyerwho charged L20 for the job- a price that I thoughtoutrageous. Then I got my check for L500. Having paid this tribute to my bump ofcautionI bought a wagon and a span of oxen on Sir Henry's behalfand beautiesthey were. It was a twenty-two-foot wagon with iron axlesvery strongverylightand built throughout of stink-wood. It was not quite a new onehavingbeen to the diamond fields and backbut in my opinion it was all the better forthatfor one could see that the wood was well seasoned. If anything is going togive in a wagonor if there is green wood in itit will show out on the firsttrip. It was what we call a "half-tented" wagon- that is to sayitwas only covered in over the after twelve feetleaving all the front part freefor the necessaries we had to carry with us. In this after part was a hide"cartle" or bedon which two people could sleepalso racks forriflesand many other little conveniences. I gave L125 for itand think it wascheap at the price. Then I bought a beautiful team of twenty "salted"Zulu oxenwhich I had had my eye on for a year or two. Sixteen oxen are theusual number for a teambut I had four extra to allow for casualties. TheseZulu oxen are small and lightnot more than half the size of the Africanderoxenwhich are generally used for transport purposes; but they will live wherethe Africander will starveand with a light load will make five miles a daybetter goingbeing quicker and not so liable to get footsore. What is morethis lot were thoroughly "salted"- that isthey had worked all overSouth Africaand so had become proof (comparatively speaking) against redwaterwhich so frequently destroys whole teams of oxen when they get ontostrange "veldt" (grass country). As for "lung sick" whichis a dreadful form of pneumoniavery prevalent in this countrythey had allbeen inoculated against it. This is done by cutting a slit in the tail of an oxand binding in a piece of the diseased lung of an animal which has died of thesickness. The result is that the ox sickenstakes the disease in a mild formwhich causes its tail to drop offas a rule about a foot from the rootandbecomes proof against future attacks. It seems cruel to rob the animal of histailespecially in a country where there are so many fliesbut it is better tosacrifice the tail and keep the ox than to lose both tail and oxfor a tailwithout an ox is not much good except to dust with. Still it does look odd totrek along behind twenty stumpswhere there ought to be tails. It seems asthough Nature had made a trifling mistakeand stuck the stern ornaments of alot of prize bulldogs onto the rumps of the oxen.
Next came the question of provisioning and medicinesone which required themost careful considerationfor what one had to do was to avoid lumbering thewagon upand yet take everything absolutely necessary. Fortunatelyit turnedout that Good was a bit of a doctorhaving at some period in his previouscareer managed to pass through a course of medical and surgical instructionwhich he had more or less kept up. He was notof coursequalifiedbut he knewmore about it than many a man who could write M.D. after his nameas we foundout afterwardsand he had a splendid traveling medicine chest and a set ofinstruments. While we were at Durban he cut off a Kaffir's big toe in a waywhich it was a pleasure to see. But he was quite flabbergasted when the Kaffirwho had sat stolidly watching the operationasked him to put on anothersayingthat a "white one" would do at a pinch.
There remainedwhen these questions were satisfactorily settledtwo furtherimportant points for considerationnamelythat of arms and that of servants.As to the arms I cannot do better than put down a list of those we finallydecided on from among the ample store that Sir Henry had brought with him fromEnglandand those which I had. I copy it from my pocketbookwhere I made theentry at the time:
"Three heavy breechloading double-eight elephant gunsweighing aboutfifteen pounds eachwith a charge of eleven drams of black powder." Two ofthese were by a well-known London firmmost excellent makersbut I do not knowby whom minewhich was not so highly finishedwas made. I had used it onseveral tripsand shot a good many elephants with itand it had always proveda most superior weaponthoroughly to be relied on.
"Three double .500 expressesconstructed to carry a charge of sixdrams" sweet weaponsand admirable for medium-sized gamesuch as elandor sable antelopeor for menespecially in an open country and with thesemihollow bullet.
"One double No. 12 central-fire Keeper's shotgunfull choke bothbarrels." This gun proved of the greatest service to us afterwards inshooting game for the pot.
"Three Winchester repeating rifles (not carbines)" spare guns.
"Three single-action Colt's revolverswith the heavier pattern ofcartridge."
This was our total armamentand the reader will doubtless observe that theweapons of each class were of the same make and caliberso that the cartridgeswere interchangeablea very important point. I make no apology for detailing itat lengthfor every experienced hunter will know how vital a proper supply ofguns and ammunition is to the success of an expedition.
Now as to the men who were to go with us. After much consultation we decidedthat their number should be limited to fivenamelya drivera leaderandthree servants.
The driver and leader I got without much difficultytwo Zulusnamedrespectively Goza and Tom; but the servants were a more difficult matter. It wasnecessary that they should be thoroughly trustworthy and brave menas in abusiness of this sort our lives might depend upon their conduct. At last Isecured twoone a Hottentot called Ventvogel ("Wind-bird")and one alittle Zulu named Khivawho had the merit of speaking English perfectly.Ventvogel I had known before; he was one of the most perfect "spoorer"(game trackers) I ever had to do withand tough as whipcord. He never seemed totire. But he had one failingso common with his racedrink. Put him withinreach of a bottle of grog and you could not trust him. But as we were goingbeyond the region of grogshops this little weakness of his did not so muchmatter.
Having got these two men I looked in vain for a third to suit my purposesowe determined to start without onetrusting to luck to find a suitable man onour way upcountry. But on the evening before the day we had fixed for ourdeparture the Zulu Khiva informed me that a man was waiting to see me.Accordinglywhen we had done dinnerfor
we were at table at the timeI told him to bring him in. Presently a verytallhandsome-looking mansomewhere about thirty years of ageand verylight-colored for a Zuluenteredandlifting his knob stick by way of salutesquatted himself down in the corner on his haunches and sat silent. I did nottake any notice of him for a whilefor it is a great mistake to do so. If yourush into conversation at once a Zulu is apt to think you a person of littledignity or consideration. I observedhoweverthat he was a "keshla"(ringed man)that isthat he wore on his head the black ringmade of aspecies of gum polished with fat and worked in with the hairusually assumed byZulus on attaining a certain age or dignity. Alsoit struck me that his facewas familiar to me.
"Well" I said at last"what is your name?"
"Umbopa" answered the manin a slowdeep voice.
"I have seen your face before."
"Yes; the Inkoosi [chief] saw my face at the place of the Little Hand[Isandhlwana] the day before the battle."
Then I remembered. I had been one of Lord Chelmsford's guides in that unluckyZulu warand had had the good fortune to leave the camp in charge of somewagons the day before the battle. While I had been waiting for the cattle to beinspanned I had fallen into conversation with this manwho held some smallcommand among the native auxiliariesand he had expressed to me his doubts ofthe safety of the camp. At the time I had told him to hold his tongueand leavesuch matters to wiser heads; but afterwards I thought of his words.
"I remember" I said; "what is it you want?"
"It is thisMacumazahn [that is my Kaffir nameand means the man whogets up in the middle of the night; orin vulgar Englishhe who keeps his eyesopen]I hear that you go on a great expedition far into the north with thewhite chiefs from over the water. Is it a true word?"
"I hear that you go even to the Lukanga Rivera moon's journey beyondthe Manica country. Is this so alsoMacumazahn?"
"Why do you ask whither we go? What is it to thee?" I answeredsuspiciouslyfor the objects of our journey had been kept a dead secret.
"It is thisO white menthat if indeed you travel so far I wouldtravel with you."
There was a certain assumption of dignity in the man's mode of speechandespecially in his use of the words "O white men" instead of "Oinkoosis" (chiefs)which struck me.
"You forget yourself a little" I said. "Your words come outunawares. That is not the way to speak. What is your nameand where is yourkraal? Tell usthat we may know with whom we have to deal."
"My name is Umbopa. I am of the Zulu peopleyet not of them. The houseof my tribe is in the far north; it was left behind when the Zulus came downhere a 'thousand years ago' long before Chaka reigned in Zululand. I have nokraal. I have wandered for many years. I came from the north as a child toZululand. I was Cetywayo's man in the Nkomabakosi regiment. I ran away fromZululand and came to Natal because I wanted to see the white man's ways. Then Iserved against Cetywayo in the war. Since then I have been working in Natal. NowI am tiredand would go north again. Here is not my place. I want no moneybutI am a brave manand am worth my place and meat. I have spoken."
I was rather puzzled at this man and his way of speech. It was evident to mefrom his manner that he was in the main telling the truthbut he was somehowdifferent from the ordinary run of Zulusand I rather mistrusted his offer tocome without pay. Being in a difficultyI translated his words to Sir Henry andGoodand asked them their opinion. Sir Henry told me to ask him to stand up.Umbopa did soat the same time slipping off the long military greatcoat heworeand revealing himself naked except for the moocha round his middle and anecklace of lions' claws. He certainly was a magnificent-looking man; I neversaw a finer native. Standing about six foot three highhe was broad inproportionand very shapely. In that lighttoohis skin looked scarcely morethan darkexcept here and there where deepblack scars marked old assegaiwounds. Sir Henry walked up to him and looked into his proudhandsome face.
"They make a good pairdon't they?" said Good; "one as big asthe other."
"I like your looksMr. Umbopaand I will take you as my servant"said Sir Henry in English.
Umbopa evidently understood himfor he answered in Zulu"It iswell" and thenwith a glance at the white man's great stature andbreadth"we are menyou and I."
4. An Elephant Hunt -
NOW I DO not propose to narrate at full length all the incidents of our longjourney up to Sitanda's Kraalnear the junction of the Lukanga and Kalukweriversa journey of more than a thousand miles from Durbanthe last threehundred or so of whichowing to the frequent presence of the dreadful tsetseflywhose bite is fatal to all animals except donkeys and menwe had to makeon foot.
We left Durban at the end of Januaryand it was in the second week of Maythat we camped near Sitanda's Kraal. Our adventures on the way were many andvariousbut as they were of the sort which befall every African hunterI shallnot- with one exception to be presently detailed- set them down herelest Ishould render this history too wearisome.
At Inyatithe outlying trading station in the Matabele countryof whichLobengula (a great scoundrel) is kingwe with many regrets parted from ourcomfortable wagon. Only twelve oxen remained to us out of the beautiful span oftwenty which I had bought at Durban. One we had lost from the bite of a cobrathree had perished from the want of waterone had been lostand the otherthree had died from eating the poisonous herb called tulip. Five more sickenedfrom this causebut we managed to cure them with doses of an infusion made byboiling down the tulip leaves. If administered in time this is a very effectiveantidote. The wagon and oxen we left in the immediate charge of Goza and Tomthe driver and leaderboth of them trustworthy boysrequesting a worthy Scotchmissionary who lived in this wild place to keep an eye to it. Thenaccompaniedby UmbopaKhivaVentvogeland half a dozen bearers whom we hired on the spotwe started off on foot upon our wild quest. I remember we were all a littlesilent on the occasion of that departureand I think that each of us waswondering if we should ever see that wagon again; for my partI never expectedto. For a while we tramped on in silencetill Umbopawho was marching infrontbroke into a Zulu chant about how some brave mentired of life and thetameness of thingsstarted off into a great wilderness to find new things ordieand howlo and beholdwhen they had got far into the wildernesstheyfound it was not a wilderness at allbut a beautiful place full of young wivesand fat cattleof game to hunt and enemies to kill.
Then we all laughed and took it for a good omen. He was a cheerful savagewas Umbopain a dignified sort of waywhen he had not got one of his fits ofbroodingand had a wonderful knack of keeping one's spirits up. We all got veryfond of him. And now for the one adventure I am going to treat myself tofor Ido heartily love a hunting yarn.
About a fortnight's march from Inyati we came across a peculiarly beautifulbit of fairly-watered wooded country. The kloofs in the hills were covered withdense bushidoro bushas the natives call itand in some places with thewacht-een-beche (wait-a-little) thornand there were great quantities of thebeautiful machabell treeladen with refreshing yellow fruit with enormousstones. This tree is the elephant's favorite foodand there were not wantingsigns that the great brutes were aboutfor not only was their spoor frequentbut in many places the trees were broken down and even uprooted. The elephant isa destructive feeder.
One eveningafter a long day's marchwe came to a spot of peculiarloveliness. At the foot of a bush-clad hill was a dry riverbedin whichhoweverwere to be found pools of crystal water all trodden round with thehoofprints of game. Facing this hill was a parklike plainwhere grew clumps offlat-topped mimosavaried with occasional glossy-leaved machabellsand allround was the great sea of pathlesssilent bush.
As we emerged into this riverbed path we suddenly started a troop of tallgiraffeswho gallopedorrathersailed offwith their strange gaittheirtails screwed up over their backsand their hoofs rattling like castanets. Theywere about three hundred yards from usand therefore practically out of shotbut Goodwho was walking ahead and had an express loaded with solid ball in hishandcould not resistbut upped gun and let drive at the lasta young cow. Bysome extraordinary chance the ball struck it full on the back of the neckshattering the spinal columnand that giraffe went rolling head over heels justlike a rabbit. I never saw a more curious thing.
"Curse it!" said Good- for I am sorry to say he had a habit ofusing strong language when excited- contracted no doubtin the course of hisnautical career. "Curse itI've killed him."
"OuBougwan" ejaculated the Kaffirs; "Ou! Ou!"
They called Good "Bougwan" ("Glass Eye") because of hiseyeglass.
"Oh'Bougwan'!" reechoed Sir Henry and I; and from that day Good'sreputation as a marvelous shot was establishedat any rate among the Kaffirs.Really he was a bad onebut whenever he missed we overlooked it for the sake ofthat giraffe.
Having set some of the "boys" to cut off the best of the giraffemeatwe went to work to build a "scherm" near one of the pools abouta hundred yards to the right of it. This is done by cutting a quantity of thornbushes and laying them in the shape of a circular hedge. Then the space enclosedis smoothedand dry tambouki grassif obtainableis made into a bed in thecenterand a fire or fires lighted.
By the time the scherm was finished the moon was coming upand our dinner ofgiraffe steaks and roasted marrowbones was ready. How we enjoyed thosemarrowbonesthough it was rather a job to crack them! I know no greater luxurythan giraffe marrowunless it is elephant's heartand we had that on themorrow. We ate our simple mealpausing at times to thank Good for his wonderfulshotby the light of the full moonand then we began to smoke and yarnand acurious picture we must have made squatted there round the fire. Iwith myshort grizzled hair sticking up straightand Sir Henry with his yellow lockswhich were getting rather longwere rather a contrastespecially as I am thinand short and darkweighing only nine stone and a halfand Sir Henry is talland broad and fairand weighs fifteen. But perhaps the most curious-looking ofthe threetaking all the circumstances of the case into considerationwasCaptain John GoodR.N. There he sat upon a leather baglooking just as thoughhe had come in from a comfortable day's shooting in a civilized countryabsolutely cleantidyand well dressed. He had on a shooting suit of browntweedwith a hat to matchand neat gaiters. He wasas usualbeautifullyshavenhis eyeglass and his false teeth appeared to be in perfect orderandaltogether he was the neatest man I ever had to do with in the wilderness. Heeven had on a collarof which he had a supplymade of white gutta-percha.
"You seethey weigh so little" he said to me innocentlywhen Iexpressed my astonishment at the fact; "I always liked to look like agentleman."
Wellthere we all sat yarning away in the beautiful moonlightand watchingthe Kaffirs a few yards off sucking their intoxicating "daccha" in apipe of which the mouthpiece was made of the horn of an elandtill they one byone rolled themselves up in their blankets and went to sleep by the firethatisall except Umbopawho sat a little apart (I noticed he never mixed muchwith the other Kaffirs)his chin resting on his handapparently thinkingdeeply.
Presentlyfrom the depths of the bush behind us came a loud "Woof!Woof!" "That's a lion" said Iand we all started up to listen.Hardly had we done sowhen from the poolabout a hundred yards offcame thestrident trumpeting of an elephant. "Unkungunklovo! Unkungunklovo!"("Elephant! Elephant!") whispered the Kaffirs; and a few minutesafterwards we saw a succession of vast shadowy forms moving slowly from thedirection of the water towards the bush. Up jumped Goodburning for slaughterand thinkingperhapsthat it was as easy to kill elephant as he had found itto shoot giraffebut I caught him by the arm and pulled him down.
"It's no good" I said"let them go."
"It seems that we are in a paradise of game. I vote we stop here a dayor twoand have a go at them" said Sir Henry presently.
I was rather surprisedfor hitherto Sir Henry had always been for pushing onas fast as possiblemore especially since we had ascertained at Inyati thatabout two years ago an Englishman of the name of Neville had sold his wagonthereand gone on upcountry; but I suppose his hunter instincts had got thebetter of him.
Good jumped at the ideafor he was longing to have a go at those elephants;and soto speak the truthdid Ifor it went against my conscience to let sucha herd as that escape without having a pull at them.
"All rightmy hearties" said I. "I think we want a littlerecreation. And now let's turn infor we ought to be off by dawnand thenperhaps we may catch them feeding before they move on."
The others agreedand we proceeded to make preparations. Good took off hisclothesshook themput his eyeglass and his false teeth into his trouserspocketandfolding them all up neatlyplaced them out of the dew under acorner of his mackintosh sheet. Sir Henry and I contented ourselves with rougherarrangementsand were soon curled up in our blankets and dropping off into thedreamless sleep that rewards the traveler.
Goinggoinggo- What was that?
Suddenlyfrom the direction of the water came a sound of violent scufflingand next instant there broke upon our ears a succession of the most awful roars.There was no mistaking what they came from; only a lion could make such a noiseas that. We all jumped up and looked towards the waterin the direction ofwhich we saw a confused massyellow and black in colorstaggering andstruggling towards us. We seized our riflesandslipping on our veldtschoons(shoes made of untanned hide)ran out of the scherm towards it. By this time ithad fallenand was rolling over and over on the groundand by the time wereached itit struggled no longerbut was quite still.
And this was what it was. On the grass there lay a sable antelope bull- themost beautiful of all the African antelopes- quite deadand transfixed by itsgreat curved horns was a magnificent black-maned lionalso dead. What hadhappenedevidentlywas this. The sable antelope had come down to drink at thepoolwhere the lion- no doubt the same we had heard- had been lying in wait.While the antelope was drinking the lion had sprung upon himbut was receivedupon the sharpcurved horns and transfixed. I once saw the same thing happenbefore. The lionunable to free himselfhad torn and beaten at the back andneck of the bullwhichmaddened with fear and painhad rushed on till itdropped dead.
As soon as we had sufficiently examined the dead beasts we called thekaffirsand between us managed to drag their carcasses up to the scherm. Thenwe went in and lay downto wake no more till dawn.
With the first light we were up and making ready for the fray. We took withus the three eight-bore riflesa good supply of ammunitionand our large waterbottles filled with weakcold teawhich I have always found the best stuff toshoot on. After swallowing a little breakfast we startedUmbopaKhivaandVentvogel accompanying us. The other Kaffirs we leftwith instructions to skinthe lion and the sable antelopeand cut up the latter.
We had no difficulty in finding the broad elephant trailwhich Ventvogelafter examinationpronounced to have been made by between twenty and thirtyelephantsmost of them full-grown bulls. But the herd had moved on some wayduring the nightand it was nine o'clockand already very hotbeforefromthe broken treesbruised leaves and barkand smoking dungwe knew we couldnot be far off them.
Presently we caught sight of the herdnumberingas Ventvogel had saidbetween twenty and thirtystanding in a hollowhaving finished their morningmealand flapping their great ears. It was a splendid sight.
They were about two hundred yards from us. Taking a handful of dry grassIthrew it into the air to see how the wind was; for if once they winded us I knewthey would be off before we could get a shot. Finding thatif anythingit blewfrom the elephants to uswe crept stealthily onandthanks to the covermanaged to get within forty yards or so of the great brutes. Just in front of usand broadside on stood three splendid bullsone of them with enormous tusks. Iwhispered to the others that I would take the middle one; Sir Henry covered theone to the leftand Good the bull with the big tusks.
"Now" I whispered.
Boom! Boom! Boom! went the three heavy riflesand down went Sir Henry'selephantdead as a hammershot right through the heart. Mine fell onto itskneesand I thought he was going to diebut in another moment he was up andofftearing along straight past me. As he went I gave him the second barrel inhis ribsand this brought him down in good earnest. Hastily slipping in twofresh cartridgesI ran up close to himand a ball through the brain put an endto the poor brute's struggles. Then I turned to see how Good had fared with thebig bullwhich I had heard screaming with rage and pain as I gave mine itsquietus. On reaching the captain I found him in a great state of excitement. Itappeared that on receiving the bullet the bull had turned and come straight forhis assailantwho had barely time to get out of his wayand then chargedblindly on past himin the direction of our encampment. Meanwhile the herd hadcrashed off in wild alarm in the other direction.
For a while we debated whether to go after the wounded bull or follow theherdand finally decided for the latter alternativeand departed thinking thatwe had seen the last of those big tusks. I have often wished since that we had.It was easy work to follow the elephantsfor they had left a trail like acarriage road behind themcrushing down the thick bush in their furious flightas though it were tambouki grass.
But to come up with them was another matterand we had struggled on under abroiling sun for over two hours before we found them. They werewith theexception of one bullstanding togetherand I could seefrom their unquietway and the manner in which they kept lifting their trunks to test the airthatthey were on the lookout for mischief. The solitary bull stood fifty yards or sothis side of the herdover which he was evidently keeping sentryand aboutsixty yards from us. Thinking that he would see or wind usand that it wouldprobably start them all off again if we tried to get nearerespecially as theground was rather openwe all aimed at this bull andat my whispered wordfired. All three shots took effectand down he wentdead. Again the herdstarted onbutunfortunately for themabout a hundred yards farther on was anullahor dried water trackwith steep banksa place very much resembling theone the Prince Imperial was killed in in Zululand. Into this the elephantsplungedand when we reached the edge we found them struggling in wild confusionto get up the other bankand filling the air with their screamsand trumpetingas they pushed one another aside in their selfish panicjust like so many humanbeings. Now was our opportunityandfiring away as quick as we could loadwekilled five of the poor beastsand no doubt should have bagged the whole herdhad they not suddenly given up their attempts to climb the bank and rushedheadlong down the nullah. We were too tired to follow themand perhaps also alittle sick of slaughtereight elephants being a pretty good bag for one day.
Soafter we had rested a little and the Kaffirs had cut out the hearts oftwo of the dead elephants for supperwe started homewardvery well pleasedwith ourselveshaving made up our minds to send the bearers on the morrow tochop out the tusks.
Shortly after we had passed the spot where Good had wounded the patriarchalbull we came across a herd of elandbut did not shoot at themas we hadalready plenty of meat. They trotted past usand then stopped behind a littlepatch of bush about a hundred yards away and wheeled round to look at us. AsGood was anxious to get a near view of themnever having seen an eland closehe handed his rifle to Umbopaandfollowed by Khivastrolled up to the patchof bush. We sat down and waited for himnot sorry of the excuse for a littlerest.
The sun was just going down in its reddest gloryand Sir Henry and I wereadmiring the lovely scenewhen suddenly we heard an elephant screamand sawits huge and charging form with uplifted trunk and tail silhouetted against thegreat red globe of the sun. Next second we saw something elseand that was Goodand Khiva tearing back towards us with the wounded bull (for it was he) chargingafter them. For a moment we did not dare to fire- though it would have beenlittle use if we had at that distance- for fear of hitting one of themand thenext a dreadful thing happened: Good fell a victim to his passion for civilizeddress. Had he consented to discard his trousers and gaiters as we hadand huntin a flannel shirt and a pair of veldtschoonsit would have been all rightbutas it was his trousers cumbered him in that desperate raceand presentlywhenhe was about sixty yards from ushis bootpolished by the dry grassslippedand down he went on his face right in front of the elephant.
We gave a gaspfor we knew he must dieand ran as hard as we could towardshim. In three seconds it had endedbut not as we thought. Khivathe Zulu boyhad seen his master fallandbrave lad that
he washad turned and flung his assegai straight into the elephant's face.It stuck in his trunk.
With a scream of pain the brute seized the poor Zuluhurled him to theearthandplacing his huge foot onto his body about the middletwined histrunk round his upper part and tore him in two.
We rushed upmad with horrorand fired again and againand presently theelephant fell upon the fragments of the Zulu.
As for Goodhe got up and wrung his hands over the brave man who had givenhis life to save him; and myselfthough an old handI felt a lump in mythroat. Umbopa stood and contemplated the huge dead elephant and the mangledremains of poor Khiva.
"Ahwell" he said presently"he is deadbut he died like aman."
5. Our March into the Desert -
WE HAD KILLED nine elephantsand it took us two days to cut out the tusksand get them home and bury them carefully in the sand under a large treewhichmade a conspicuous mark for miles round. It was a wonderfully fine lot of ivory.I never saw a betteraveraging as it did between forty and fifty pounds a tusk.The tusks of the great bull that killed poor Khiva scaled one hundred andseventy pounds the pairas nearly as we could judge.
As for Khiva himselfwe buried what remained of him in an ant-bear holetogether with an assegai to protect himself with on his journey to a betterworld. On the third day we started onhoping that we might one day return todig up our buried ivoryand in due courseafter a long and wearisome trampand many adventures which I have not space to detailreached Sitanda's Kraalnear the Lukanga Riverthe real starting-point of our expedition. Very well doI recollect our arrival at that place. To the right was a scattered nativesettlement with a few stone cattle kraals and some cultivated lands down by thewaterwhere these savages grew their scanty supply of grainand beyond itgreat tracts of waving veldt covered with tall grassover which herds of thesmaller game were wandering. To the left was the vast desert. This spot appearedto be the outpost of the fertile countryand it would be difficult to say towhat natural causes such an abrupt change in the character of the soil was due.But so it was. Just below our encampment flowed a little streamon the fartherside of which was a stony slopethe same down which I had twenty years beforeseen poor Silvestre creeping back after his attempt to reach Solomon's Minesand beyond that slope began the waterless desert covered with a species of karooshrub. It was evening when we pitched our campand the great fiery ball of thesun was sinking into the desertsending glorious rays of many-colored lightflying over all the vast expanse. Leaving Good to superintend the arrangement ofour little campI took Sir Henry with meand we walked to the top of the slopeopposite and gazed out across the desert. The air was very clearand farfaraway I could distinguish the faint blue outlineshere and there capped withwhiteof the great Suliman Berg.
"There" I said"there is the wall of Solomon's MinesbutGod knows if we shall ever climb it."
"My brother should be thereand if he is I shall reach himsomehow" said Sir Henryin that tone of quiet confidence which marked theman.
"I hope so" I answeredand turned to go back to the campwhen Isaw that we were not alone. Behind usalso gazing earnestly towards the far-offmountainswas the great ZuluUmbopa.
The Zulu spoke when he saw that I had observed himbut addressed himself toSir Henryto whom he had attached himself.
"Is it to that land that thou wouldst journeyIncubu [a native wordmeaningI believean elephantand the name given to Sir Henry by theKaffirs]?" he saidpointing towards the mountains with his broad assegai.
I asked him sharply what he meant by addressing his master in that familiarway. It is very well for natives to have a name for one among themselvesbut itis not decent that they should call one by their heathenish appellations toone's face. The man laughed a quiet little laugh which angered me.
"How dost thou know that I am not the equal of the Inkoosi Iserve?" he said. "He is of a royal houseno doubt; one can see it inhis size and in his eye; somayhapam I. At least I am as great a man. Be mymouthO Macumazahnand say my words to the InkoosiIncubumy masterfor Iwould speak to him and to thee."
I was angry with the manfor I am not accustomed to be talked to in that wayby Kaffirsbut somehow he impressed meand besides I was curious to know whathe had to sayso I translatedexpressing my opinion at the same time that hewas an impudent fellowand that his swagger was outrageous.
"YesUmbopa" answered Sir Henry"I would journeythere."
"The desert is wide and there is no water; the mountains are high andcovered with snowand man cannot say what is beyond thembehind the placewhere the sun sets; how shalt thou come thitherIncubuand wherefore dost thougo?"
I translated again.
"Tell him" answered Sir Henry"that I go because I believethat a man of my bloodmy brotherhas gone there before meand I go to seekhim."
"That is soIncubu; a man I met on the road told me that a white manwent out into the desert two years ago towards those mountains with one servanta hunter. They never came back."
"How do you know it was my brother?" asked Sir Henry.
"NayI know not. But the manwhen I asked what the white man was likesaid that he had your eyes and a black beard. He saidtoothat the name of thehunter with him was Jimthat he was a Bechuana hunter and wore clothes."
"There is no doubt about it" said I; "I knew Jim well."
Sir Henry nodded. "I was sure of it" he said. "If George sethis mind upon a thing he generally did it. It was always so from his boyhood. Ifhe meant to cross the Suliman Berg he has crossed itunless some accident hasovertaken himand we must look for him on the other side."
Umbopa understood Englishthough he rarely spoke it.
"It is a far journeyIncubu" he put inand I translated hisremark.
"Yes" answered Sir Henry"it is far. But there is no journeyupon this earth that a man may not make if he sets his heart to it. There isnothingUmbopathat he cannot dothere are no mountains he may not climbthere are no deserts he cannot crosssave a mountain and a desert of which youare spared the knowledgeif love leads himand he holds his life in his handcounting it as nothingready to keep it or to lose it as Providence mayorder."
"Great wordsmy father" answered the Zulu (I always called him aZuluthough he was not really one)"greatswelling wordsfit to fillthe mouth of a man. Thou art rightmy father Incubu. Listen! What is life? Itis a feather; it is the seed of the grassblown hither and thithersometimesmultiplying itself and dying in the actsometimes carried away into theheavens. But if the seed be good and heavy it may perchance travel a little wayon the road it will. It is well to try and journey one's road and to fight withthe air. Man must die. At the worst he can but die a little sooner. I will gowith thee across the desert and over the mountainsunless perchance I fall tothe ground on the waymy father."
He paused awhileand then went on with one of those strange bursts ofrhetorical eloquence which Zulus sometimes indulge inand whichto my mindfull as they are of vain repetitionsshow that the race is by no means devoidof poetic instinct and of intellectual power.
"What is life? Tell meO white menwho are wisewho know the secretsof the worldand the world of starsand the world that lies above and roundthe stars; who flash their words from afar without a voice; tell mewhite menthe secret of our life- whither it goes and whence it comes!
"Ye cannot answer; ye know not. ListenI will answer. Out of the darkwe cameinto the dark we go. Like a storm-driven bird at night we fly out ofthe Nowhere; for a moment our wings are seen in the light of the fireandlowe are gone again into the Nowhere. Life is nothing. Life is all. It is the handwith which we hold off death. It is the glowworm that shines in the nighttimeand is black in the morning; it is the white breath of the oxen in winter; it isthe little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself at sunset."
"You are a strange man" said Sir Henrywhen he ceased.
Umbopa laughed. "It seems to me that we are much alikeIncubu. PerhapsI seek a brother over the mountains."
I looked at him suspiciously. "What dost thou mean?" I asked."What dost thou know of the mountains?"
"A little; a very little. There is a strange land therea land ofwitchcraft and beautiful things; a land of brave people and of trees and streamsand white mountains and of a great white road. I have heard of it. But what isthe good of talking? It grows dark. Those who live to see will see."
Again I looked at him doubtfully. The man knew too much.
"Ye need not fear meMacumazahn" he saidinterpreting my look."I dig no holes for ye to fall in. I make no plots. If ever we cross thosemountains behind the sunI will tell what I know. But death sits upon them. Bewiseand turn back. Go and hunt elephant. I have spoken."
And without another word he lifted his spear in salutation and returnedtowards the campwhere shortly afterwards we found him cleaning a gun like anyother Kaffir.
"That is an odd man" said Sir Henry.
"Yes" answered I"too odd by half. I don't like his littleways. He knows somethingand won't speak out. But I suppose it is no usequarreling with him. We are in for a curious tripand a mysterious Zulu won'tmake much difference one way or another."
Next day we made our arrangements for starting. Of course it was impossibleto drag our heavy elephant rifles and other kit with us across the desertsodismissing our bearerswe made an arrangement with an old native who had akraal close by to take care of them till we returned. It went to my heart toleave such things as those sweet tools to the tender mercies of an old thiefofa savage whose greedy eyes I could see gloating over them. But I took someprecautions.
First of all I loaded all the riflesand informed him that if he touchedthem they would go off. He instantly tried the experiment with my eight-boreand it did go offand blew a bole right through one of his oxenwhich werejust then being driven up to the kraalto say nothing of knocking him head overheels with the recoil. He got up considerably startledand not at all pleasedat the loss of the oxwhich he had the impudence to ask me to pay forandnothing would induce him to touch them again.
"Put the live devils up there in the thatch" he said"out ofthe wayor they will kill us all."
Then I told him that ifwhen we came backone of those things was missing Iwould kill him and all his people by witchcraft; and if we died and he tried tosteal the thingsI would come and haunt him and turn his cattle mad and hismilk sour till life was a wearinessand make the devils in the guns come outand talk to him in a way he would not likeand generally gave him a good ideaof judgment to come. After that he swore he would look after them as though theywere his father's spirit. He was a very superstitious old Kaffir and a greatvillain.
Having thus disposed of our superfluous gear we arranged the kit we five- SirHenryGoodmyselfUmbopaand the Hottentot Ventvogel- were to take with uson our journey. It was small enoughbut do what we would we could not get itdown under about forty pounds a man. This is what it consisted of:
The three express rifles and two hundred rounds of ammunition.
The two Winchester repeating rifles (for Umbopa and Ventvogel)with twohundred rounds of cartridge.
Three Colt revolvers and sixty rounds of cartridge.
Five Cochrane's water bottleseach holding four pints.
Twenty-five pounds' weight of biltong (sun-dried game flesh).
Ten pounds' weight of best mixed beads for gifts.
A selection of medicineincluding an ounce of quinineand one or two smallsurgical instruments.
Our knivesa few sundriessuch as a compassmatchesa pocket filtertobaccoa trowela bottle of brandyand the clothes we stood in.
This was our total equipmenta small oneindeedfor such a venturebut wedared not attempt to carry more. As it wasthat load was a heavy one per man totravel across the burning desert withfor in such places every additional ouncetells upon one. But try as we would we could not see our way to reducing it.There was nothing but what was absolutely necessary.
With great difficultyand by the promise of a present of a good huntingknife eachI succeeded in persuading three wretched natives from the village tocome with us for the first stagetwenty milesand to carry each a large gourdholding a gallon of water. My object was to enable us to refill our waterbottles after the first night's marchfor we determined to start in the cool ofthe night. I gave out to these natives that we were going to shoot ostricheswith which the desert abounded. They jabbered and shrugged their shouldersandsaid we were mad and should perish of thirstwhich I must say seemed veryprobable; but being desirous of obtaining the kniveswhich were almost unknowntreasures up therethey consented to comehaving probably reflected thatafter allour subsequent extinction would be no affair of theirs.
All next day we rested and sleptand at sunset ate a hearty meal of freshbeef washed down with teathe lastas Good sadly remarkedwe were likely todrink for many a long day. Thenhaving made our final preparationswe lay downand waited for the moon to rise. At lastabout nine o'clockup she came in allher chastened gloryflooding the wild country with silver light and throwing aweird sheen on the vast expanse of rolling desert before uswhich looked assolemn and quiet and as alien to man as the star-studded firmament above. Werose upand in a few minutes were readyand yet we hesitated a littleashuman nature is prone to hesitate on the threshold of an irrevocable step. Wethree white men stood there by ourselves. Umbopaassegai in hand and the rifleacross his shoulders
a few paces ahead of uslooked out fixedly across the desert; the threehired nativeswith gourds of waterand Ventvogel were gathered in a littleknot behind.
"Gentlemen" said Sir Henry presentlyin his lowdeep voice"we are going on about as strange a journey as men can make in this world.It is very doubtful if we can succeed in it. But we are three men who will standtogether for good or for evil to the last. And now before we start let us for amoment pray to the Power who shapes the destinies of menand who ages since hasmarked out our pathsthat it may please him to direct our steps in accordancewith his will."
Taking off his hathefor the space of a minute or socovered his facewith his handsand Good and I did likewise.
I do not say that I am a first-rate praying man; few hunters are; and as forSir HenryI never heard him speak like that beforeand only once sincethoughdeep down in his heart I believe he is very religious. Goodtoois piousthough very apt to swear. AnyhowI do not think I everexcepting on one singleoccasionput in a better prayer in my life than I did during that minuteandsomehow I felt the happier for it. Our future was so completely unknownand Ithink the unknown and the awful always bring a man nearer to his Maker.
"And now" said Sir Henry"trek."
So we started.
We had nothing to guide ourselves by except the distant mountains and oldJose da Silvestra's chartwhichconsidering that it was drawn by a dying andhalf distraught man on a fragment of linen three centuries agowas not a verysatisfactory sort of thing to work on. Stillsuch as it wasour sole hope ofsuccess depended on it. If we failed in finding that pool of bad water which theold don had marked as being situated in the middle of the desertabout sixtymiles from our starting point and as far from the mountainswe must in allprobability perish miserably of thirst. And to my mind the chances of ourfinding it in that great sea of sand and karoo scrub seemed almostinfinitesimal. Even supposing Da Silvestra had marked it rightwhat was thereto prevent its having been generations ago dried up by the sunor trampled inby gameor filled with drifting sand?
On we tramped silently as shades through the night and in the heavy sand. Thekaroo bushes caught our shins and retarded usand the sand got into ourveldtschoons and Good's shooting bootsso that every few miles we had to stopand empty them; but still the night was fairly coolthough the atmosphere wasthick and heavygiving a sort of creamy feel to the airand we made fairprogress. It was very still and lonely there in the desertoppressively soindeed. Good felt thisand once began to whistle "The Girl I Left BehindMe" but the notes sounded lugubrious in that vast placeand he gave itup. Shortly afterwards a little incident occurred whichthough it made us jumpat the timegave rise to a laugh. Goodas the holder of the compasswhichbeing a sailorof course he thoroughly understoodwas leadingand we weretoiling along in single file behind himwhen suddenly we heard the sound of anexclamationand he vanished. Next second there arose all round us a mostextraordinary hubbub- snortsgroanswild sounds of rushing feet. In the faintlighttoowe could descry dimgalloping forms half hidden by wreaths of sand.The natives threw down their loads and prepared to boltbutremembering thatthere was nowhere to bolt tocast themselves upon the ground and howled outthat it was the devil. As for Sir Henry and myselfwe stood amazed; nor was ouramazement lessened when we perceived the form of Good careering off in thedirection of the mountainsapparently mounted on the back of a horse andhalloing like mad. In another second he threw up his armsand we heard him cometo the earth with a thud. Then I saw what had happened: we had stumbled right onto a herd of sleeping quaggaonto the back of one of which Good had actuallyfallenand the brute had naturally enough got up and made off with him. Singingout to the others that it was all rightI ran towards Goodmuch afraid lest heshould be hurtbut to my great relief found him sitting in the sandhiseyeglass still fixed firmly in his eyerather shaken and very much startledbut not in any way injured.
After this we traveled on without any further misadventure till after oneo'clockwhen we called a haltand having drunk a little water- not muchforwater was precious- and rested for half an hourstarted on again.
Onon we wenttill at last the east began to blush like the cheek of agirl. Then there came faint rays of primrose light that changed presently togolden barsthrough which the dawn glided out across the desert. The stars grewpale and paler stilltill at last they vanished; the golden moon waxed wanandher mountain ridges stood out clear against her sickly face like the bones onthe face of a dying man; then came spear upon spear of glorious light flashingfar away across the boundless wildernesspiercing and firing the veils of misttill the desert was draped in a tremulous golden glowand it was day.
Still we did not haltthough by this time we should have been glad enough todo sofor we knew that when once the sun was fully up it would be almostimpossible for us to travel in it. At lengthabout six o'clockwe spied alittle pile of rocks rising out of the plainand to this we dragged ourselves.As luck would have ithere we found an overhanging slab of rock carpetedbeneath with smooth sandwhich afforded a most grateful shelter from the heat.Underneath this we creptand having drunk some water each and eaten a bit ofbiltongwe lay down and were soon sound asleep.
It was three o'clock in the afternoon before we woketo find our threebearers preparing to return. They had already had enough of the desertand nonumber of knives would have tempted them to come a step farther. So we had ahearty drinkandhaving emptied our water bottlesfilled them up again fromthe gourds they had brought with themand then watched them depart on theirtwenty miles' tramp home.
At half-past four we also started on. It was lonely and desolate workforwith the exception of a few ostrichesthere was not a single living creature tobe seen on all the vast expanse of sandy plain. It was evidently too dry forgameandwith the exception of a deadly-looking cobra or twowe saw noreptiles. One insecthoweverwas abundantand that was the common or housefly. There they came"not as single spiesbut in battalions" as Ithink the Old Testament says somewhere. He is an extraordinary animalis thehouse fly. Go where you will you find himand so it must always have been. Ihave seen him enclosed in amber which mustI was toldhave been half a millionyears oldlooking exactly like his descendant of todayand I have little doubtthat when the last man on the earth lies dying he will be buzzing round- if thatevent should happen to occur in summer- watching for an opportunity to settle onhis nose.
At sunset we haltedwaiting for the moon to rise. At ten she came upbeautiful and serene as everandwith one halt about two o'clock in themorningwe trudged wearily on through the nighttill at last the welcome sunput a period to our labors. We drank a little and flung ourselves downthoroughly tired outon the sandand were soon all asleep. There was no needto set a watchfor we had nothing to fear from anybody or anything in thatvastuntenanted plain. Our only enemies were heatthirstand fliesbut farrather would I have faced any danger from man or beast than that awful trinity.This time we were not so lucky as to find a sheltering rock to guard us from theglare of the sunwith the result that about seven o'clock we woke upexperiencing the exact sensations one would attribute to a beefsteak on agridiron. We were literally being baked through and through. The burning sunseemed to be sucking our very blood out of us. We sat up and gasped.
"Phew!" said Igrabbing at the halo of flies which buzzedcheerfully round my head. The heat did not affect them.
"My word" said Sir Henry.
"It is hot!" said Good.
It was hotindeedand there was not a bit of shelter to be had. Look wherewe would there was no rock or tree; nothing but an unending glarerendereddazzling by the hot air which danced over the surface of the desert as it doesover a red-hot stove.
"What is to be done?" asked Sir Henry. "We can't stand thisfor long."
We looked at each other blankly.
"I have it" said Good; "we must dig a hole and get into itand cover ourselves with the karoo bushes."
It did not seem a very promising suggestionbut at least it was better thannothingso we set to workandwith the trowel we had brought with us and ourhandssucceeded in about an hour in delving out a patch of ground about tenfeet long by twelve wide to the depth of two feet. Then we cut a quantity of lowscrub with our hunting knivesandcreeping into the holepulled it over usallwith the exception of Ventvogelon whombeing a Hottentotthe sun had noparticular effect. This gave us some slight shelter from the burning rays of thesunbut the heat in that amateur grave can be better imagined than described.The Black Hole of Calcutta must have been a fool to it; indeedto this momentI do not know how we lived through the day. There we lay pantingand every nowand again moistening our lips from our scanty supply of water. Had we followedour inclinations we should have finished off all we had in the first two hoursbut we had to exercise the most rigid carefor if our water failed us we knewthat we must quickly perish miserably.
But everything has an endif only you live long enough to see itandsomehow that miserable day wore on towards evening. About three o'clock in theafternoon we determined that we could stand it no longer. It would be better todie walking than to be slowly killed by heat and thirst in that dreadful hole.Sotaking each of us a little drink from our fast diminishing supply of waternow heated to about the same temperature as a man's bloodwe staggered on.
We had now covered some fifty miles of desert. If my reader will refer to therough copy and translation of old Da Silvestra's maphe will see that thedesert is marked as being forty leagues acrossand the "pan badwater" is set down as being about in the middle of it. Nowforty leaguesis one hundred and twenty miles; consequentlywe ought at the most to have beenwithin twelve or fifteen miles of the waterif any really existed.
Through the afternoon we crept slowly and painfully alongscarcely doingmore than a mile and a half an hour. At sunset we again restedwaiting for themoonandafter drinking a littlemanaged to get some sleep.
Before we lay down Umbopa pointed out to us a slight and indistinct hillockon the flat surface of the desert about eight miles away. At the distance itlooked like an ant hilland as I was dropping off to sleep I fell to wonderingwhat it could be.
With the moon we started on againfeeling dreadfully exhaustedandsuffering tortures from thirst and prickly heat. Nobody who has not felt it canknow what we went through. We no longer walkedwe staggerednow and againfalling from exhaustionand being obliged to call a halt every hour or so. Wehad scarcely energy left in us to speak. Up to now Good had chatted and jokedfor he was a merry fellow; but now he had not a joke left in him.
At lastabout two o'clockutterly worn out in body and mindwe came to thefoot of this queer hillor sand koppiewhich did at first sight resemble agigantic ant heap about a hundred feet highand covering at the base nearly amorgen (two acres) of ground.
Here we haltedanddriven by our desperate thirstsucked down our lastdrops of water. We had but half a pint a headand we could each have drunk agallon.
Then we lay down. Just as I was dropping off to sleep I heard Umbopa remarkto himself in Zulu"If we cannot find water we shall all be dead beforethe moon rises tomorrow."
I shudderedhot as it was. The near prospect of such an awful death is notpleasantbut even the thought of it could not keep me from sleeping.
6. Water! Water! -
IN TWO HOURS' timeabout four o'clockI woke up. As soon as the first heavydemand of bodily fatigue had been satisfiedthe torturing thirst from which Iwas suffering asserted itself. I could sleep no more. I had been dreaming that Iwas bathing in a running stream with green banksand trees upon themand Iawoke to find myself in that arid wildernessand to remember thatas Umbopahad saidif we did not find water that day we must certainly perish miserably.No human creature could live long without water in that heat. I sat up andrubbed my grimy face with my dry and horny hands. My lips and eyelids were stucktogetherand it was only after some rubbing and with an effort that I was ableto open them. It was not far from dawnbut there was none of the bright feel ofdawn in the airwhich was thick with a hot murkiness I cannot describe. Theothers were still sleeping. Presently it began to grow light enough to readsoI drew out a little pocket copy of the Ingoldsby Legends I had brought with meand read the "Jackdaw of Rheims." When I got to where -
A nice little boy held a golden ewer
Embossedand filled with water as pure
As any that flows between Rheims and Namur-
I literally smacked my cracked lipsorrathertried to smack them. Themere thought of that pure water made me mad. If the cardinal had been there withhis bellbookand candleI would have whipped in and drunk his water upyeseven if he had already filled it with the suds of soap worthy of washing thehands of the popeand I knew that the whole concentrated curse of the CatholicChurch should fall upon me for so doing. I almost think I must have been alittle light-headed with thirst and weariness and want of food; for I fell tothinking how astonished the cardinal and his nice little boy and the jackdawwould have looked to see a burned-upbrown-eyedgrizzled-haired littleelephant hunter suddenly bound in and put his dirty face into the basin andswallow every drop of the precious water. The idea amused me so that I laughedor rather cackledaloudwhich woke the others upand they began to rub theirdirty faces and get their gummed-up lips and eyelids apart.
As soon as we were all well awakewe fell to discussing the situationwhichwas serious enough. Not a drop of water was left. We turned the water bottlesupside down and licked the topsbut it was a failure; they were as dry as abone. Goodwho had charge of the bottle of brandygot it out and looked at itlongingly; but Sir Henry promptly took it away from himfor to drink raw spiritwould only have been to precipitate the end.
"If we do not find water we shall die" he said.
"If we can trust to the old don's map there should be some about"I said; but nobody seemed to derive much satisfaction from that remarkit wasso evident that no great faith could be put in the map. It was now graduallygrowing lightand as we sat blankly staring at each other I observed theHottentot Ventvogel rise and begin to walk about with his eyes on the ground.Presently he stopped short anduttering a guttural exclamationpointed to theearth.
"What is it?" we exclaimedand simultaneously rose and went towhere he was standing pointing at the ground.
"Well" I said"it is pretty fresh springbok spoor; what ofit?"
"Springbucks do not go far from water" he answered in Dutch.
"No" I answered"I forgot; and thank God for it."
This little discovery put new life into us; it is wonderful howwhen one isin a desperate positionone catches at the slightest hopeand feels almosthappy in it. On a dark night a single star is better than nothing.
MeanwhileVentvogel was lifting his snub noseand sniffing the hot air forall the world like an old impala ram who scents danger. Presently he spokeagain.
"I smell water" he said.
Then we felt quite jubilantfor we knew what a wonderful instinct thesewild-bred men possess.
Just at that moment the sun came up gloriously and revealed so grand a sightto our astonished eyes that for a moment or two we forgot even our thirst.
For therenot more than forty or fifty miles from usglittering like silverin the early rays of the morning sunwere Sheba's breasts; and stretching awayfor hundreds of miles on each side of them was the great Suliman Berg. Now thatIsitting hereattempt to describe the extraordinary grandeur and beauty ofthat sightlanguage seems to fail me. I am impotent even before its memory.Therestraight before uswere two enormous mountainsthe like of which arenotI believeto be seen in Africaifindeedthere are any other such inthe worldmeasuring each at least fifteen thousand feet in heightstanding notmore than a dozen miles apartconnected by a precipitous cliff of rockandtowering up in awful white solemnity straight into the sky. These mountainsstanding thuslike the pillars of a gigantic gatewayare shaped exactly like awoman's breasts. Their bases swelled gently up from the plainlookingat thatdistanceperfectly round and smooth; and on the top of each was a vast roundhillock covered with snowexactly corresponding to the nipple on the femalebreast. The stretch of cliff which connected them appeared to be some thousandfeet in heightand perfectly precipitousand on each side of themas far asthe eye could reachextended similar lines of cliffbroken only here and thereby flattable-topped mountainssomething like the world-famed one at CapeTown- a formationby the wayvery common in Africa.
To describe the grandeur of the whole view is beyond my powers. There wassomething so inexpressibly solemn and overpowering about those huge volcanoes-for doubtless they are extinct volcanoes- that it fairly took our breath away.For a while the morning lights played upon the snow and the brown and swellingmasses beneathand thenas though to veil the majestic sight from our curiouseyesstrange mists and clouds gathered and increased around themtillpresently we could only trace their pure and gigantic outline swelling ghostlikethrough the fleecy envelope. Indeedas we afterwards discoveredthey werenormally wrapped in this curious gauzy mistwhich doubtless accounted for ournot having made them out more clearly before.
Scarcely had the mountains vanished into cloud-clad privacy before ourthirst- literally a burning question- reasserted itself.
It was all very well for Ventvogel to say he smelled waterbut look whichway we would we could see no signs of it. So far as the eye could reach therewas nothing but aridsweltering sand and karoo scrub. We walked round thehillock and gazed about anxiously on the other sidebut it was the same storynot a drop of water was to be seen; there was no indication of a pana poolora spring.
"You are a fool" I said angrily to Ventvogel; "there is nowater."
But still he lifted his ugly snub nose and sniffed.
"I smell itBaas" he answered; "it is somewhere in theair."
"Yes" I said"no doubt it is in the cloudsand about twomonths hence it will fall and wash our bones."
Sir Henry stroked his yellow beard thoughtfully. "Perhaps it is on thetop of the hill" he suggested.
"Rot" said Good. "Who ever heard of water being found on thetop of a hill?"
"Let us go and look" I put inand hopelessly enough we scrambledup the sandy sides of the hillockUmbopa leading. Presently he stopped asthough he were petrified.
"Nanzia manzie!" ("Here is water!") he cried with a loudvoice.
We rushed up to himand theresure enoughin a deep cup or indentation onthe very top of the sand koppiewas an undoubted pool of water. How it came tobe in such a strange place we did not stop to inquirenor did we hesitate atits black and uninviting appearance. It was wateror a good imitation of itand that was enough for us. We gave a bound and a rushand in another secondwere all down on our stomachs sucking up the uninviting fluid as though it werenectar fit for the gods. Heavenshow we did drink! Thenwhen we had donedrinkingwe tore off our clothes and sat down in itabsorbing the moisturethrough our parched skins. Youmy readerwho have only to turn on a couple oftaps and summon "hot" and "cold" from an unseenvastyboilercan have little idea of the luxury of that muddy wallow in brackishtepid water.
After a while we arose from itrefreshed indeedand fell to on our biltongof which we had scarcely been able to touch a mouthful for twenty-four hoursand ate our fill. Then we smoked a pipeand lay down by the side of thatblessed pool under the overhanging shadow of the bank and slept till midday.
All that day we rested there by the waterthanking our stars that we hadbeen lucky enough to find itbad as it wasand not forgetting to render a dueshare of gratitude to the shade of the long-departed Da Silvestrawho hadcorked it down so accurately on the tail of his shirt. The wonderful thing to uswas that it should have lasted so longand the only way that I can account forit is by the supposition that it is fed by some spring deep down in the sand.
Having filled both ourselves and our water bottles as full as possibleinfar better spirits we started off again with the moon. That night we coverednearly five-and-twenty milesbutneedless to sayfound no more waterthoughwe were lucky enough on the following day to get a little shade behind some antheaps. When the sun rose andfor a whilecleared away the mysterious mistsSuliman's Berg and the two majestic breastsnow only about twenty miles offseemed to be towering right above usand looked grander than ever. At theapproach of evening we started on againandto cut a long story shortbydaylight next morning found ourselves upon the lowest slopes of Sheba's leftbreastfor which we had been steadily steering. By this time our water wasagain exhausted and we were suffering severely from thirstnor indeed could wesee any chance of relieving it till we reached the snow linefarfar above us.After resting an hour or twodriven to it by our torturing thirstwe went onagaintoiling painfully in the burning heat up the lava slopesfor we foundthat the huge base of the mountain was composed entirely of lava beds belchedout in some far-past age.
By eleven o'clock we were utterly exhaustedand weregenerally speakingina very bad way indeed. The lava clinkerover which we had to make our waythough comparatively smooth compared with some clinker I have heard ofsuch asthat on the island of Ascensionfor instancewas yet rough enough to make ourfeet very soreand thistogether with our other miserieshad pretty wellfinished us. A few hundred yards above us were some large lumps of lavaandtowards these we made with the intention of lying down beneath their shade. Wereached themand to our surpriseso far as we had a capacity for surprise leftin uson a little plateau or ridge close by we saw that the lava was coveredwith a dense green growth. Evidently soil formed from decomposed lava had restedthereand in due course had become the receptacle of seeds deposited by birds.But we did not take much further interest in the green growthfor one cannotlive on grasslike Nebuchadnezzar. That requires a special dispensation ofProvidence and peculiar digestive organs. So we sat down under the rocks andgroanedand Ifor oneheartily wished that we had never started on thisfool's errand. As we were sitting there I saw Umbopa get up and hobble offtowards the patch of greenand a few minutes afterwardsto my greatastonishmentI perceived that usually uncommonly dignified individual dancingand shouting like a maniacand waving something green. Off we all scrambledtowards him as fast as our wearied limbs would carry ushoping that he hadfound water.
"What is itUmbopason of a fool?" I shouted in Zulu.
"It is food and waterMacumazahn" and again he waved the greenthing.
Then I saw what he had got. It was a melon. We had hit upon a patch of wildmelonsthousands of themand dead ripe.
"Melons!" I yelled to Goodwho was next me; and in another secondhe had his false teeth fixed in one.
I think we ate about six each before we had doneandpoor fruit as theywereI doubt if I ever thought anything nicer.
But melons are not very satisfyingand when we had satisfied our thirst withtheir pulpy substanceand set a stock to cool by the simple process of cuttingthem in two and setting them end on in the hot sun to get cold by evaporationwe began to feel exceedingly hungry. We had still some biltong leftbut ourstomachs turned from biltongandbesideswe had to be very sparing of itforwe could not say when we should get more food. Just at this moment a lucky thinghappened. Looking towards the desert I saw a flock of about ten large birdsflying straight towards us.
"SkitBaasskit!" ("ShootMasterShoot!") whisperedthe Hottentotthrowing himself on his facean example which we all followed.
Then I saw that the birds were a flock of pauw (bustards)and that theywould pass within fifty yards of my head. Taking one of the repeatingWinchestersI waited till they were nearly over usand then jumped onto myfeet. On seeing me the pauw bunched up togetheras I expected they wouldand Ifired two shots straight into the thick of themandas luck would have itbrought one downa fine fellowwhich weighed about twenty pounds. In half anhour we had a fire made of dry melon stalksand he was toasting over itand wehad such a feed as we had not had for a week. We ate that pauw- nothing was leftof him but his bones and his beak- and felt not a little the better afterwards.
That night we again went on with the mooncarrying as many melons as wecould with us. As we got higher up we found the air got cooler and coolerwhichwas a great relief to usand at dawnso far as we could judgewere not morethan about a dozen miles from the snow line. Here we found more melonsso hadno longer any anxiety about waterfor we knew that we should soon get plenty ofsnow. But the ascent had now become very precipitousand we made but slowprogressnot more than a mile an hour. Also that night we ate our last morselof biltong. As yetwith the exception of the pauwwe had seen no living thingon the mountainnor had we come across a single spring or stream of waterwhich struck us as very oddconsidering all the snow above uswhich must wethought melt sometimes. But as we afterwards discoveredowing to some causewhich it is quite beyond my power to explainall the streams flowed down uponthe north side of the mountains.
We now began to grow very anxious about food. We had escaped death by thirstbut it seemed probable that it was only to die of hunger. The events of the nextthree miserable days are best described by copying the entries made at the timein my notebook.
"21st May.- Started 11:00 A.M.finding the atmosphere quite cold enoughto travel by daycarrying some watermelons with us. Struggled on all daybutsaw no more melonshavingevidentlypassed out of their district. Saw no gameof any sort. Halted for the night at sundownhaving had no food for many hours.Suffered much during the night from cold.
"22d.- Started at sunrise againfeeling very faint and weak. Only madefive miles all day; found some patches of snow of which we atebut nothingelse. Camped at night under the edge of a great plateau. Cold bitter. Drank alittle brandy eachand huddled ourselves togethereach wrapped up in ourblanket to keep ourselves alive. Are now suffering frightfully from starvationand weariness. Thought that Ventvogel would have died during the night.
"23d.- Struggled forward once more as soon as the sun was well upandhad thawed our limbs a little. We are now in a dreadful plightand I fear thatunless we get food this will be our last day's journey. But little brandy left.GoodSir Henryand Umbopa bear up wonderfullybut Ventvogel is in a very badway. Like most Hottentotshe cannot stand cold. Pangs of hunger not so badbuthave a sort of numb feeling about the stomach. Others say the same. We are nowon a level with the precipitous chainor wall of lavaconnecting the twobreastsand the view is glorious. Behind us the great glowing desert rolls awayto the horizonand before us lies mile upon mile of smoothhard snow almostlevelbut swelling gently upwardout of the center of which the nipple of themountainwhich appears to be some miles in circumferencerises about fourthousand feet into the sky. Not a living thing is to be seen. God help usIfear our time has come."
And now I will drop the journalpartly because it is not very interestingreadingand partly because what follows requires perhaps rather more accuratetelling.
All that day (the twenty-third of May) we struggled slowly on up the inclineof snowlying down from time to time to rest. A strangegaunt crew we musthave lookedasladen as we werewe dragged our weary feet over the dazzlingplainglaring round us with hungry eyes. Not that there was much use inglaringfor there was nothing to eat. We did not do more than seven miles thatday. Just before sunset we found ourselves right under the nipple of Sheba'sleft breastwhich towered up thousands of feet into the air above usa vastsmooth hillock of frozen snow. Bad as we feltwe could not but appreciate thewonderful scenemade even more wonderful by the flying rays of light from thesetting sunwhich here and there stained the snow blood redand crowned thetowering mass above us with a diadem of glory.
"I say" gasped Good presently"we ought to be somewhere nearthe cave the old gentleman wrote about."
"Yes" said I"if there is a cave."
"ComeQuatermain" groaned Sir Henry"don't talk like that;I have every faith in the don; remember the water. We shall find the placesoon."
"If we don't find it before dark we are dead menthat is all aboutit" was my consolatory reply.
For the next ten minutes we trudged on in silencewhen suddenly Umbopawhowas marching along beside mewrapped up in his blanket and with a leather beltstrapped so tight round his stomachto "make his hunger small" as hesaidthat his waist looked like a girl'scaught me by the arm.
"Look!" he saidpointing towards the springing slope of thenipple.
I followed his glanceand perceivedsome two hundred yards from uswhatappeared to be a hole in the snow.
"It is the cave" said Umbopa.
We made the rest of our way to the spotand foundsure enoughthat thehole was the mouth of a caveno doubt the same as that of which Da Silvestrawrote. We were none too soonfor just as we reached shelter the sun went downwith startling rapidityleaving the whole place nearly dark. In these latitudesthere is but little twilight. We crept into the cavewhich did not appear to bevery bigandhuddling ourselves together for warmthswallowed what remainedof our brandy- barely a mouthful each- and tried to forget our miseries insleep. But this the cold was too intense to allow us to do. I am convinced thatat that great altitude the thermometer cannot have been less than fourteen orfifteen degrees below freezing point. What this meant to usenervated as wewere by hardshipwant of foodand the great heat of the desertmy reader canimagine better than I can describe. Suffice it to say that it was something asnear death from exposure as I have ever felt. There we sat hour after hourthrough the bitter nightfeeling the frost wander round and nip us now in thefingernow in the footand now in the face. In vain did we huddle up closerand closer; there was no warmth in our miserablestarved carcasses. Sometimesone of us would drop into an uneasy slumber for a few minutesbut we could notsleep longand perhaps it was fortunatefor I doubt if we should ever havewaked again. I believe it was only by force of will that we kept ourselves aliveat all.
Not very long before dawn I heard the Hottentot Ventvogelwhose teeth hadbeen chattering all night like castanetsgive a deep sighand then his teethstopped chattering. I did not think anything of it at the timeconcluding thathe had gone to sleep. His back was resting against mineand it seemed to growcolder and coldertill at last it was like ice.
At length the air began to grow gray with lightthen swift golden arrowscame flashing across the snowand at last the glorious sun peeped up above thelava wall and looked in upon our half-frozen forms and upon Ventvogelsittingthere among us stone dead. No wonder his back had felt coldpoor fellow. He haddied when I heard him sighand was now almost frozen stiff. Shocked beyondmeasurewe dragged ourselves from the corpse (strangethe horror we all haveof the companionship of a dead body)and left it still sitting therewith itsarms clasped round its knees.
By this time the sunlight was pouring its cold rays (for here they were cold)straight in at the mouth of the cave. Suddenly I heard an exclamation of fearfrom someoneand turned my head down the cave.
And this was what I saw. Sitting at the end of itfor it was not more thantwenty feet longwas another formof which the head rested on the chest andthe long arms hung down. I stared at itand saw that it too was a dead manandwhat was morea white man.
The others saw ittooand the sight proved too much for our shatterednerves. One and all we scrambled out of the cave as fast as our half-frozenlimbs would allow.
7. Solomon's Road -
OUTSIDE the cave we haltedfeeling rather foolish.
"I am going back" said Sir Henry.
"Why?" asked Good.
"Because it has struck me that- what we saw- may be my brother."
This was a new ideaand we re-entered the cave to put it to the proof. Afterthe bright light outside our eyesweak as they were with staring at the snowcould not for a while pierce the gloom of the cave. Presentlyhoweverwe grewaccustomed to the semi-darknessand advanced to the dead form.
Sir Henry knelt down and peered into its face.
"Thank God" he said with a sigh of relief"it is not mybrother."
Then I went and looked. The corpse was that of a tall man in middle lifewith aquiline featuresgrizzled hairand a long black mustache. The skin wasperfectly yellowand stretched tightly over the bones. Its clothingwith theexception of what seemed to be the remains of a pair of woolen hosehad beenremovedleaving the skeleton-like frame naked. Round the neck hung a yellowivory crucifix. The corpse was frozen perfectly stiff.
"Who on earth can it be?" said I.
"Can't you guess?" asked Good.
I shook my head.
"Whythe old donJose da Silvestraof course- who else?"
"Impossible!" I gasped. "He died three hundred yearsago."
"And what is there to prevent his lasting for three thousand years inthis atmosphereI should like to know?" asked Good. "If only the airis cold enoughflesh and blood will keep as fresh as New Zealand muttonforeverand Heaven knows it is cold enough here. The sun never gets in here; noanimal comes here to tear or destroy. No doubt his slaveof whom he speaks onthe maptook off his clothes and left him. He could not have buried him alone.Look here" he went onstooping down and picking up a queer-shaped bonescraped at the end into a sharp point"here is the 'cleft bone' that heused to draw the map with."
We gazed astonished for a momentforgetting our own miseries in theextraordinary andas it seemed to ussemimiraculous sight.
"Ay" said Sir Henry"and here is where he got his inkfrom" and he pointed to a small wound on the dead man's left arm."Did ever man see such a thing before?"
There was no longer any doubt about the matterwhich I confessfor my ownpartperfectly appalled me. There he satthe dead manwhose directionswritten some ten generations agohad led us to this spot. There in my own handwas the rude pen with which he had written themand there round his neck wasthe crucifix his dying lips had kissed. Gazing at him my imagination couldreconstruct the whole scene: the traveler dying of cold and starvationand yetstriving to convey the great secret he had discovered to the world; the awfulloneliness of his deathof which the evidence sat before us. It even seemed tome that I could trace in his strongly marked features a likeness to those of mypoor friend Silvestrehis descendantwho had died twenty years ago in my armsbut perhaps that was fancy. At any ratethere he sata sad memento of the fatethat so often overtakes those who would penetrate into the unknown; and thereprobably he will still sitcrowned with the dread majesty of deathforcenturies yet unbornto startle the eyes of wanderers like ourselvesif anysuch should ever come again to invade his loneliness. The thing overpowered usalready nearly done to death as we were with cold and hunger.
"Let us go" said Sir Henry in a low voice; "staywe willgive him a companion" andlifting up the dead body of the HottentotVentvogelhe placed it near that of the old don. Then he stooped down and witha jerk broke the rotten string of the crucifix round his neckfor his fingerswere too cold to attempt to unfasten it. I believe that he still has it. I tookthe penand it is before me as I write- sometimes I sign my name with it.
Thenleaving those twothe proud white man of a past age and the poorHottentotto keep their eternal vigil in the midst of the eternal snowswecrept out of the cave into the welcome sunshine and resumed our pathwonderingin our hearts how many hours it would be before we were even as they are.
When we had gone about half a mile we came to the edge of the plateauforthe nipple of the mountain did not rise out of its exact centerthough from thedesert side it seemed to do so. What lay below us we could not seefor thelandscape was wreathed in billows of morning mist. Presentlyhoweverthehigher layers of mist cleared a littleand revealedsome five hundred yardsbeneath usat the end of a long slope of snowa patch of green grassthroughwhich a stream was running. Nor was this all. By the streambasking in themorning sunstood and lay a group of from ten to fifteen large antelopes- atthat distance we could not see exactly what they were.
The sight filled us with an unreasoning joy. There was food in plenty if onlywe could get it. But the question was how to get it. The beasts were fully sixhundred yards offa very long shotand one not to be depended on when one'slife hung on the results.
Rapidly we discussed the advisability of trying to stalk the gamebutfinally reluctantly dismissed it. To begin withthe wind was not favorableandfurtherwe should be certain to be perceivedhowever careful we wereagainstthe blinding background of snow which we should be obliged to traverse.
"Wellwe must have a try from where we are" said Sir Henry."Which shall it beQuatermainthe repeating rifles or theexpresses?"
Here again was a question. The Winchester repeaters- of which we had twoUmbopa carrying poor Ventvogel's as well as his own- were sighted up to athousand yardswhereas the expresses were only sighted to three hundred andfiftybeyond which distance shooting with them was more or less guesswork. Onthe other handif they did hitthe express bulletsbeing expandingwere muchmore likely to bring the game down. It was a knotty pointbut I made up my mindthat we must risk it and use the expresses.
"Let each of us take the buck opposite to him. Aim well at the point ofthe shoulderand high up" said I; "and Umbopado you give the wordso that we may all fire together."
Then came a pauseeach man aiming his level bestas indeed one is likely todo when one knows that life itself depends upon the shot.
"Fire!" said Umbopa in Zuluand at almost the same instant thethree rifles rang out loudly; three clouds of smoke hung for a moment before usand a hundred echoes went flying away over the silent snow. Presently the smokeclearedand revealed- ohjoy!- a great buck lying on its back and kickingfuriously in its death agony. We gave a yell of triumph; we were savedweshould not starve. Weak as we werewe rushed down the intervening slope ofsnowand in ten minutes from the time of firingthe animal's heart and liverwere lying smoking before us. But now a new difficulty arose; we had no fueland therefore could make no fire to cook them at. We gazed at each other indismay.
"Starving men must not be fanciful" said Good; "we must eatraw meat."
There was no other way out of the dilemmaand our gnawing hunger made theproposition less distasteful than it would otherwise have been. So we took theheart and liver and buried them for a few minutes in a patch of snow to coolthem off. Then we washed them in the ice-cold water of the streamand lastlyate them greedily. It sounds horrible enoughbuthonestlyI never tastedanything so good as that raw meat. In a quarter of an hour we were changed men.Our life and our vigor came back to usour feeble pulses grew strong againandthe blood went coursing through our veins. Butmindful of the results ofoverfeeding on starving stomachswe were careful not to eat too muchstoppingwhile we were still hungry.
"Thank God!" said Sir Henry. "That brute has saved our lives.What is itQuatermain?"
I rose and went to look at the antelopefor I was not certain. It was aboutthe size of a donkeywith largecurved horns. I had never seen one like itbeforethe species was new to me. It was brown with faint red stripes and athick coat. I afterwards discovered that the natives of that wonderful countrycalled the species "inco." It was very rareand only found at a greataltitudewhere no other game would live. The animal was fairly shot high up inthe shoulderthough whose bullet it was that brought it down we could notofcoursediscover. I believe that Goodmindful of his marvelous shot at thegiraffesecretly set it down to his own prowessand we did not contradict him.
We had been so busy satisfying our starving stomaches that we had hithertonot found time to look about us. But nowhaving set Umbopa to cut off as muchof the best meat as we were likely to be able to carrywe began to inspect oursurroundings. The mist had now cleared awayfor it was eight o'clockand thesun had sucked it upso we were able to take in all the country before us at aglance. I know not how to describe the glorious panorama which unfolded itselfto our enraptured gaze. I have never seen anything like it beforenor shallIsupposeagain.
Behind and over us towered Sheba's snowy breastsand belowsome fivethousand feet beneath where we stoodlay league on league of the most lovelychampaign country. Here were dense patches of lofty forestthere a great riverwound its silvery way. To the left stretched a vast expanse of richundulatingveldton which we could just make out countless herds of game or cattleatthat distance we could not tell which. This expanse appeared to be ringed in bya wall of distant mountains. To the right the country was more or lessmountainousthat issolitary hills stood up from its levelwith stretches ofcultivated lands betweenamong which we could distinctly see groups ofdome-shaped huts. The landscape lay before us like a mapin which riversflashed like silver snakesand Alplike peaks crowned with wildly twisted snowwreaths rose in solemn grandeurwhile over all was the glad sunlight and thewide breath of Nature's happy life.
Two curious things struck us as we gazed. Firstthat the country before usmust lie at least five thousand feet higher than the desert we had crossedandsecondlythat all the rivers flowed from south to north. As we had painfulreason to knowthere was no water at all on the southern side of the vast rangeon which we stoodbut on the northern side were many streamsmost of whichappeared
to unite with the great river we could trace winding away farther than wecould follow it.
We sat down for a while and gazed in silence at this wonderful view.Presently Sir Henry spoke.
"Isn't there something on the map about Solomon's Great Road?" hesaid.
I noddedmy eyes still looking out over the far country.
"Welllook; there it is!" and he pointed a little to our right.
Good and I looked accordinglyand therewinding away towards the plainwaswhat appeared to be a wide turnpike road. We had not seen it at first becauseiton reaching the plainturned behind some broken country. We did not sayanythingat least not much; we were beginning to lose the sense of wonder.Somehow it did not seem particularly unnatural that we should find a sort ofRoman road in this strange land. We accepted the factthat was all.
"Well" said Good"it must be quite near us if we cut off tothe right. Hadn't we better be making a start?"
This was sound adviceand so soon as we had washed our faces and hands inthe stream we acted on it. For a mile or so we made our way over boulders andacross patches of snowtill suddenlyon reaching the top of the little risethere lay the road at our feet. It was a splendid road cut out of the solidrockat least fifty feet wideand apparently well kept; but the odd thingabout it was that it seemed to begin there. We walked down and stood on itbutone single hundred paces behind usin the direction of Sheba's breastsitvanishedthe whole surface of the mountain being strewed with bouldersinterspersed with patches of snow.
"What do you make of thatQuatermain?" asked Sir Henry.
I shook my headI could make nothing of it.
"I have it!" said Good. "The road no doubt ran right over therange and across the desert on the other sidebut the sand of the desert hascovered it upand above us it has been obliterated by some volcanic eruption ofmolten lava."
This seemed a good suggestion; at any ratewe accepted itand proceededdown the mountain. It was a very different business traveling along downhill onthat magnificent pathway with full stomachsto what it had been travelinguphill over the snow quite starved and almost frozen. Indeedhad it not beenfor melancholy recollections of poor Ventvogel's sad fateand of that grim cavewhere he kept company with the old donwe should have been positively cheerfulnotwithstanding the sense of unknown dangers before us. Every mile we walked theatmosphere grew softer and balmierand the country before us shone with a yetmore luminous beauty. As for the road itselfI never saw such an engineeringworkthough Sir Henry said that the great road over the St. Gothard inSwitzerland was very like it. No difficulty had been too great for the Old Worldengineer who designed it. At one place we came to a great ravine three hundredfeet broad and at least a hundred deep. This vast gulf was actually filled inapparently with huge blocks of dressed stonewith arches pierced at the bottomfor a waterwayover which the road went sublimely on. At another place it wascut in zigzags out of the side of a precipice five hundred feet deepand in athird it tunneled right through the base of an intervening ridge a space ofthirty yards or more.
Here we noticed that the sides of the tunnel were covered with quaintsculpturesmostly of mailed figures driving chariots. Onewhich wasexceedingly beautifulrepresented a whole battle scene with a convoy ofcaptives being marched off in the distance.
"Well" said Sir Henryafter inspecting this ancient work of art"it is very well to call this Solomon's Roadbut my humble opinion is thatthe Egyptians have been here before Solomon's people ever set a foot on it. Ifthat isn't Egyptian handiworkall I have to say is it is very like it."
By midday we had advanced sufficiently far down the mountain to reach theregion where wood was to be met with. First we came to scattered bushes whichgrew more and more frequenttill at last we found the road winding through avast grove of silver trees similar to those which are to be seen on the slopesof Table Mountain at Cape Town. I had never before met with them in all mywanderingsexcept at the Capeand their appearance here astonished me greatly.
"Ah!" said Goodsurveying these shining-leaved trees with evidententhusiasm. "Here is lots of woodlet us stop and cook some dinner; I haveabout digested that raw meat."
Nobody objected to thisso leaving the roadwe made our way to a streamwhich was babbling away not far offand soon had a goodly fire of dry boughsblazing. Cutting off some substantial hunks from the flesh of the inco which wehad brought with uswe proceeded to toast them on the ends of sharp sticksasone sees the Kaffirs doand ate them with relish. After filling ourselveswelit our pipes and gave ourselves up to enjoymentwhichcompared to thehardships we had recently undergoneseemed almost heavenly.
The brookof which the banks were clothed with dense masses of a giganticspecies of maidenhair fern interspersed with feathery tufts of wild asparagusbabbled away merrily at our sidethe soft air murmured through the leaves ofthe silver treesdoves cooed aroundand bright-winged birds flashed likeliving gems from bough to bough. It was like Paradise.
The magic of the placecombined with the overwhelming sense of dangers leftbehind and of the promised land reached at lastseemed to charm us intosilence. Sir Henry and Umbopa sat conversing in a mixture of broken English andKitchen Zulu in a low voicebut earnestly enoughand I laywith my eyes halfshutupon that fragrant bed of fern and watched them. Presently I missed Goodand looked to see what had become of him. As I did so I observed him sitting bythe bank of the streamin which he had been bathing. He had nothing on but hisflannel shirtandhis natural habits of extreme neatness having reassertedthemselveswas actively employed in making a most elaborate toilet. He hadwashed his gutta-percha collarthoroughly shaken out his trouserscoatandwaistcoatand was now folding them up neatly till he was ready to put them onshaking his head sadly as he did so over the numerous rents and tears in themwhich had naturally resulted from our frightful journey. Then he took his bootsscrubbed them over with a handful of fernand finally rubbed them over with apiece of fat which he had carefully saved from the inco meattill they lookedcomparatively speakingrespectable. Having inspected them judiciously throughhis eyeglasshe put them on and began a fresh operation. From a little bag hecarried he produced a pocketcomb in which was fixed a tiny looking glassand inthis surveyed himself. Apparently he was not satisfiedfor he proceeded to dohis hair with great care. Then came a pause while he again contemplated theeffect; still it was not satisfactory. He felt his chinon which was now theaccumulated scrub of a ten days' beard. "Surely" thought I"heis not going to try and shave." But so it was. Taking the piece of fat withwhich he had greased his bootshe washed it carefully in the stream. Thendiving again into the baghe brought out a little pocket razor with a guard toitsuch as are sold to people afraid of cutting themselvesor to those aboutto undertake a sea voyage. Then he vigorously scrubbed his face and chin withthe fat and began. But it was evidently a painful processfor he groaned verymuch over itand I was convulsed with inward laughter as I watched himstruggling with that stubbly beard. It seemed so very odd that a man should takethe trouble to shave himself with a piece of fat in such a place and under suchcircumstances. At last he succeeded in getting the worst of the scrub off theright side of his face and chinwhen suddenly Iwho was watchingbecame awareof a flash of light that passed just by his head.
Good sprang up with a profane exclamation (if it had not been a safety razorhe would certainly have cut his throat)and so did Iwithout the exclamationand this was what I saw. Standing therenot more than twenty paces from where Iwasand ten from Goodwas a group of men. They were very tall andcopper-coloredand some of them wore great plumes of black feathers and shortcloaks of leopard skins; this was all I noticed at the moment. In front of themstood a youth of about seventeenhis hand still raised and his body bentforward in the attitude of a Grecian statue of a spear thrower. Evidently theflash of light had been a weaponand he had thrown it.
As I looked an oldsoldierly-looking man stepped forward out of the groupandcatching the youth by the armsaid something to him. Then they advancedupon us.
Sir HenryGoodand Umbopa had by this time seized their rifles and liftedthem threateningly. The party of natives still came on. It struck me that theycould not know what rifles wereor they would not have treated them with suchcontempt.
"Put down your guns!" I halloed to the othersseeing that our onlychance of safety lay in conciliation. They obeyedandwalking to the frontIaddressed the elderly man who had checked the youth.
"Greeting" I said in Zulunot knowing what language to use. To mysurprise I was understood.
"Greeting" answered the mannotindeedin the same tonguebutin a dialect so closely allied to it that neither Umbopa nor myself had anydifficulty in understanding it. Indeedas we afterwards found outthe languagespoken by this people was an old-fashioned form of the Zulu tonguebearingabout the same relationship to it that the English of Chaucer does to theEnglish of the nineteenth century.
"Whence come ye?" he went on. "What are ye? And why are thefaces of three of ye whiteand the face of the fourth as the face of ourmothers' sons?" and he pointed to Umbopa. I looked at Umbopa as he said itand it flashed across me that he was right Umbopa's face was like the faces ofthe men before me; so was his great form. But I had no time to reflect on thiscoincidence.
"We are strangersand come in peace" I answeredspeaking veryslowso that he might understand me"and this man is our servant."
"Ye lie" he answered"no strangers can cross the mountainswhere all things die. But what do your lies matter; if ye are strangers then yemust diefor no strangers may live in the land of the Kukuanas. It is theking's law. Prepare then to dieO strangers!"
I was slightly staggered at thismore especially as I saw the hands of someof the party of men steal down to their sideswhere hung on each what looked tome like a large and heavy knife.
"What does that beggar say?" asked Good.
"He says we are going to be scragged" I answered grimly.
"OhLord" groaned Goodandas was his way when perplexedputhis hand to his false teethdragging the top set down and allowing them to flyback to his jaw with a snap. It was a most fortunate movefor next second thedignified crowd of Kukuanas gave a simultaneous yell of horrorand bolted backsome yards.
"What's up?" said I.
"It's his teeth" whispered Sir Henry excitedly. "He movedthem. Take them outGoodtake them out!"
He obeyedslipping the set into the sleeve of his flannel shirt.
In another second curiosity had overcome fearand the men advanced slowly.Apparently they had now forgotten their amiable intentions of doing for us.
"How is itO strangers" asked the old man solemnly"thatthe teeth of the man"- (pointing to Goodwho had nothing on but a flannelshirtand had only half finished his shaving)- "whose body is clothedandwhose legs are barewho grows hair on one side of his sickly face and not onthe otherand who has one shining and transparent eyemove of themselvescoming away from the jaws and returning of their own will?"
"Open your mouth" I said to Goodwho promptly curled up his lipsand grinned at the old gentleman like an angry dogrevealing to theirastonished gaze two thin red lines of gum as utterly innocent of ivories as anewborn elephant. His audience gasped.
"Where are his teeth?" they shouted. "With our eyes we sawthem."
Turning his head slowly and with a gesture of ineffable contemptGood swepthis hand across his mouth. Then he grinned againand lo! there were two rows oflovely teeth.
The young man who had flung the knife threw himself down on the grass andgave vent to a prolonged howl of terror; and as for the old gentlemanhis kneesknocked together with fear.
"I see that ye are spirits" he said falteringly; "did everman born of woman have hair on one side of his face and not on the otheror around and transparent eyeor teeth which moved and melted away and grew again?Pardon usO my lords."
Here was luck indeedandneedless to sayI jumped at the chance.
"It is granted" I saidwith an imperial smile. "Nayyeshall know the truth. We come from another worldthough we are men such as ye;we come" I went on"from the biggest star that shines atnight."
"Oh! Oh!" groaned the chorus of astonished aborigines.
"Yes" I went on"we doindeed" and I again smiledbenignly as I uttered that amazing lie. "We come to stay with you a littlewhileand bless you by our sojourn. Ye will seeO friendsthat I haveprepared myself by learning your language."
"It is soit is so" said the chorus.
"Onlymy lord" put in the old gentleman"thou hast learnedit very badly."
I cast an indignant glance at him and he quailed.
"Nowfriends" I continued"ye might think that after solong a journey we should find it in our hearts to avenge such a receptionmayhap to strike cold in death the impious hand that- thatin short- threw aknife at the head of him whose teeth come and go."
"Spare himmy lords" said the old man in supplication; "heis the king's sonand I am his uncle. If anything befalls him his blood will berequired at my hands."
"Yesthat is certainly so" put in the young man with greatemphasis.
"You may perhaps doubt our power to avenge" I went onheedless ofthis byplay. "StayI will show you. Hereyou dog and slave"-addressing Umbopa in a savage tone- "give me the magic tube thatspeaks"; and I tipped a wink towards my express rifle.
Umbopa rose to the occasionand with something as nearly resembling a grinas I have ever seen on his dignified facehanded me the rifle.
"It is hereO lord of lords" he said with a deep obeisance.
Nowjust before I asked for the rifle I had perceived a little klipspringerantelope standing on a mass of rock about seventy yards awayand determined torisk a shot at it.
"Ye see that buck" I saidpointing the animal out to the partybefore me. "Tell meis it possible for manborn of womanto kill it fromhere with a noise?"
"It is not possiblemy lord" answered the old man.
"Yet shall I kill it" I said quietly.
The old man smiled. "That my lord cannot do" he said.
I raised the rifleand covered the buck. It was a small animaland onewhich one might well be excused for missingbut I knew that it would not do tomiss.
I drew a deep breathand slowly pressed on the trigger. The buck stood stillas stone.
Bang! Thud! The buck sprang into the air and fell on the rock dead as adoornail.
A groan of terror burst from the group before us.
"If ye want meat" I remarked coolly"go fetch thatbuck."
The old man made a sign and one of his followers departedand presentlyreturned bearing the klipspringer. I noticedwith satisfactionthat I had hitit fairly behind the shoulder. They gathered round the poor creature's bodygazing at the bullet hole in consternation.
"Ye see" I said"I do not speak empty words."
There was no answer.
"If ye yet doubt our power" I went on"let one of ye gostand upon that rockthat I may make him as this buck."
None of them seemed at all inclined to take the hinttill at last the king'sson spoke.
"It is well said. Do thoumy unclego stand upon the rock. It is but abuck that the magic has killed. Surely it cannot kill a man."
The old gentleman did not take the suggestion in good part. Indeedhe seemedhurt.
"Nono!" he ejaculated hastily. "My old eyes have seenenough. These are wizardsindeed. Let us bring them to the king. Yet if anyshould wish a further prooflet him stand upon the rockthat the magic tubemay speak with him."
There was a most general and hasty expression of dissent.
"Let not good magic be wasted on our poor bodies" said one"we are satisfied. All the witchcraft of our people cannot show the like ofthis."
"It is so" remarked the old gentleman in a tone of intense relief;"without any doubt it is so. Listenchildren of the starschildren of theshining eye and the movable teethwho roar out in thunder and slay from afar. Iam Infadoosson of Kafaonce king of the Kukuana people. This youth isScragga."
"He nearly scragged me" murmured Good.
"Scraggason of Twalathe great king- Twalahusband of a thousandwiveschief and lord paramount of the Kukuanaskeeper of the great roadterror of his enemiesstudent of the Black Artsleader of a hundred thousandwarriors: Twala the One-eyedthe Blackthe Terrible."
"So" said I superciliously"lead us then to Twala. We do nottalk with low people and underlings."
"It is wellmy lordswe will lead youbut the way is long. We arehunting three days' journey from the place of the king. But let my lords havepatienceand we will lead them."
"It is well" I said carelessly. "All time is before usforwe do not die. We are ready; lead on. But Infadoosand thouScraggabeware!Play us no tricksmake for us no snaresfor before your brains of mud havethought of them we shall know them and avenge them. The light from thetransparent eye of him with the bare legs and the half-haired face [Good] shalldestroy youand go through your land; his vanishing teeth shall fix themselvesfast in you and eat you upyou and your wives and children; the magic tubesshall talk with you loudlyand make you as sieves. Beware!"
This magnificent address did not fail of its effect; indeedit was hardlyneededso deeply were our friends already impressed with our powers.
The old man made a deep obeisanceand murmured the word "KoomKoom" which I afterwards discovered was their royal salutecorrespondingto the Bayete of the Zulusandturningaddressed his followers. These at onceproceeded to lay hold of all our goods and chattelsin order to bear them forusexcepting only the gunswhich they would on no account touch. They evenseized Good's clotheswhich wereas the reader may rememberneatly folded upbeside him.
He at once made a dive for themand a loud altercation ensued.
"Let not my lord of the transparent eye and the melting teeth touchthem" said the old man. "Surely his slaves shall carry thethings."
"But I want to put 'em on!" roared Good in nervous English.
"Naymy lord" put in Infadoos"would my lord cover up hisbeautiful white legs"- although he was so dark Good had a singularly whiteskin- "from the eyes of his servants? Have we offended my lord that heshould do such a thing?"
Here I nearly exploded with laughing; and meanwhileone of the men startedon with the garments.
"Damn it!" roared Good. "That black villain has got mytrousers."
"Look hereGood" said Sir Henry"you have appeared in thiscountry in a certain characterand you must live up to it. It will never do foryou to put on trousers again. Henceforth you must live in a flannel shirtapair of bootsand an eyeglass."
"Yes" I said"and with whiskers on one side of your face andnot on the other. If you change any of these things they will think that we areimpostors. I am very sorry for youbutseriouslyyou must do it. If once theybegin to suspect usour lives will not be worth a brass farthing."
"Do you really think so?" said Good gloomily.
"I do indeed. Your 'beautiful white legs' and your eyeglass are now thefeature of our partyandas Sir Henry saysyou must live up to them. Bethankful that you have got your boots onand that the air is warm."
Good sighedand said no morebut it took him a fortnight to get accustomedto his attire.
8. We Enter Kukuanaland -
ALL THAT afternoon we traveled on along the magnificent roadwaywhich headedsteadily in a northwesterly direction. Infadoos and Scragga walked with usbuttheir followers marched about one hundred paces ahead.
"Infadoos" I said at length"who made this road?"
"It was mademy lordof old timenone knew how or whennot even thewise womanGagoolwho has lived for generations. We are not old enough toremember its making. None can make such roads nowbut the king lets no grassgrow upon it."
"And whose are the writings on the walls of the caves through which wehave passed on the road?" I askedreferring to the Egyptian-likesculptures we had seen.
"My lordthe hands that made the road wrote the wonderful writings. Weknow not who wrote them."
"When did the Kukuana race come into this country?"
"My lordthe race came down here like the breath of a storm tenthousand thousand moons agofrom the great lands which lie there beyond"and he pointed to the north. "They could travel no fartherso say the oldvoices of our fathers that have come down to usthe childrenand so saysGagoolthe wise womanthe smeller-out of
witchesbecause of the great mountains which ring in the land" and hepointed to the snow-clad peaks. "The countrytoowas goodso theysettled here and grew strong and powerfuland now our numbers are like the seasandand when Twala the king calls up his regiment their plumes cover the plainas far as the eye of man can reach."
"And if the land is walled in with mountainswho is there for theregiments to fight with?"
"Naymy lordthe country is open there" and again he pointedtowards the north"and now and again warriors sweep down upon us in cloudsfrom a land we know notand we slay them. It is the third part of the life of aman since there was a war. Many thousands died in itbut we destroyed those whocame to eat us up. Sosince then there has been no war."
"Your warriors must grow weary of resting on their spears."
"My lordthere was one warjust after we destroyed the people thatcame down upon usbut it was a civil war- dog eat dog."
"How was that?"
"My lordthe kingmy half-brotherhad a brother born at the samebirth and of the same woman. It is not our custommy lordto let twins live;the weakest must always die. But the mother of the king hid away the weakestchildwhich was born the lastfor her heart yearned over itand the child isTwala the king. I am his younger brother born of another wife."
"My lordKafaour fatherdied when we came to manhoodand my brotherImotu was made king in his placeand for a space reigned and had a son by hisfavorite wife. When the babe was three years oldjust after the great warduring which no man could sow or reapa famine came upon the landand thepeople murmured because of the famineand looked round like a starved lion forsomething to rend. Then it was that Gagoolthe wise and terrible womanwhodoes not dieproclaimed to the peoplesaying'The king Imotu is no king.' Andat the time Imotu was sick with a woundand lay in his hut not able to move.
"Then Gagool went into a hut and led out Twalamy half-brotherand thetwin brother of the kingwhom she had hidden since he was born among the cavesand rocksandstripping the moocha off his loinsshowed the people of theKukuanas the mark of the sacred snake coiled round his waistwherewith theeldest son of the king is marked at birthand cried out loud'Beholdyourkingwhom I have saved for you even to this day!' And the peoplebeing madwith hunger and altogether bereft of reason and the knowledge of truthcriedout'The king! The king!' but I knew that it was not sofor Imotumy brotherwas the elder of the twinsand was the lawful king. And just as the tumult wasat its height Imotu the kingthough he was very sickcame crawling from hishut holding his wife by the handand followed by his little son Ignosi [TheLightning].
"'What is this noise?' he asked. 'Why cry ye The king! The king!'
"Then Twalahis own brotherborn of the same woman and in the samehourran to himandtaking him by the hairstabbed him through the heartwith his knife. And the peoplebeing fickleand ever ready to worship therising sunclapped their hands and cried'Twala is king! Now we know thatTwala is king!'"
"And what became of his wife and her son Ignosi? Did Twala kill themtoo?"
"Naymy lord. When she saw that her lord was dead she seized the childwith a cryand ran away. Two days afterwards she came to a kraal very hungryand none would give her milk or foodnow that her lord the king was deadforall men hate the unfortunate. But at nightfall a little childa girlcrept outand brought her to eatand she blessed the childand went on towards themountains with her boy before the sun rose againwhere she must have perishedfor none have seen her sincenor the child Ignosi."
"Then if this child Ignosi had livedhe would be the true king of theKukuana people?"
"That is somy lord; the sacred snake is round his middle. If he liveshe is the king; but alas! he is long dead."
"Seemy lord" and he pointed to a vast collection of hutssurrounded with a fencewhich was in its turn surrounded by a great ditchthatlay on the plain beneath us. "That is the kraal where the wife of Imotu waslast seen with the child Ignosi. It is there that we shall sleep tonightifindeed" he added doubtfully"my lords sleep at all upon thisearth."
"When we are among the Kukuanasmy good friend Infadooswe do as theKukuanas do" I said majesticallyand I turned round suddenly to addressGoodwho was tramping along sullenly behindhis mind fully occupied withunsatisfactory attempts to keep his flannel shirt from flapping up in theevening breezeand to my astonishment butted into Umbopawho was walking alongimmediately behind meand had very evidently been listening with the greatestinterest to my conversation with Infadoos. The expression on his face was mostcuriousand gave the idea of a man who was struggling with partial success tobring something long ago forgotten back into his mind.
All this while we had been pressing on at a good rate down towards theundulating plain beneath. The mountains we had crossed now loomed high above usand Sheba's breasts were modestly veiled in diaphanous wreaths of mist. As wewent on the country grew more and more lovely. The vegetation was luxuriantwithout being tropical; the sun was bright and warmbut not burningand agracious breeze blew softly along the odorous slopes of the mountains. Andindeedthis new land was little less than an earthly paradise; in beautyinnatural wealthand in climate I have never seen its like. The Transvaal is afine countrybut it is nothing to Kukuanaland.
So soon as we startedInfadoos had dispatched a runner on to warn the peopleof the kraalwhichby the waywas in his military commandof our arrival.This man had departed at an extraordinary speedwhich Infadoos had informed mehe would keep up all the wayas running was an exercise much practiced amonghis people.
The result of this message now became apparent. When we got within two milesof the kraal we could see that company after company of men was issuing from itsgates and marching towards us.
Sir Henry laid his hand upon my armand remarked that it looked as though wewere going to meet with a warm reception. Something in his tone attractedInfadoos' attention.
"Let not my lords be afraid" he said hastily"for in mybreast there dwells no guile. This regiment is one under my commandand comesout by my orders to greet you."
I nodded easilythough I was not quite easy in my mind. About half a milefrom the gates of the kraal was a long stretch of rising ground sloping gentlyupward from the roadand on this the companies formed. It was a splendid sightto see themeach company about three hundred strongcharging swiftly up theslopewith flashing spears and waving plumesand taking their appointed place.By the time we came to the slope twelve such companiesor in all three thousandsix hundred menhad passed out and taken up their positions along the road.
Presently we came to the first companyand were able to gaze in astonishmenton the most magnificent set of men I have ever seen. They were all men of matureagemostly veterans of about fortyand not one of them was under six feet inheightwhile many were six feet three or four. They wore upon their heads heavyblack plumes of sacaboola featherslike those which adorned our guides. Roundtheir waists and also beneath the right knee were bound circlets of white oxtailsand in their left hands were round shields about twenty inches across.These shields were very curious. The framework consisted of an iron plate beatenout thinover which was stretched milk-white ox hide. The weapons that each manbore were simplebut most effectiveconsisting of a short and very heavytwo-edged spear with a wooden shaftthe blade being about six inches across atthe widest part. These spears were not used for throwingbutlike the Zulu"bangwan" or stabbing assegaiwere for close quarters onlywhen thewound inflicted by them was terrible. In addition to these bangwans each manalso carried three large and heavy kniveseach knife weighing about two pounds.One knife was fixed in the ox-tail girdleand the other two at the back of theround shield. These kniveswhich are called "tollas" by the Kukuanastake the place of the throwing assegai of the Zulus. A Kukuana warrior can throwthem with great accuracy at a distance of fifty yardsand it is their custom oncharging to hurl a volley of them at the enemy as they come to close quarters.
Each company stood like a collection of bronze statues till we were oppositeto itwhenat a signal given by its commanding officerwhodistinguished bya leopard-skin cloakstood some paces in frontevery spear was raised into theairand from three hundred throats sprang forth with a sudden roar the royalsalute of "Koom!" Thenwhen we had passedthe company formed behindus and followed us towards the kraaltill at last the whole regiment of the"Grays" (so called from their white shields)the crack corps of theKukuana peoplewas marching behind us with a tread that shook the ground.
At lengthbranching off from Solomon's Great Roadwe came to the wide fossesurrounding the kraalwhich was at least a mile round and fenced with a strongpalisade of piles formed of the trunks of trees. At the gateway this fosse wasspanned by a primitive drawbridge which was let down by the guard to allow us topass in. The kraal was exceedingly well laid out. Through the center ran a widepathway intersected at right angles by other pathways so arranged as to cut thehuts into square blockseach block being the quarters of a company. The hutswere dome-shapedand builtlike those of the Zulusof a framework of wattlebeautifully thatched with grass; butunlike the Zulu hutsthey had doorwaysthrough which one could walk. Alsothey were much largerand surrounded with averanda about six feet widebeautifully paved with powdered lime trodden hard.All along each side of the wide pathway that pierced the kraal were rangedhundreds of womenbrought out by curiosity to look at us. These women arefora native raceexceedingly handsome. They are tall and gracefuland theirfigures are wonderfully fine. The hairthough shortis rather curly thanwoollythe features are frequently aquilineand the lips are not unpleasantlythickas is the case in most African races. But what struck us most was theirexceeding quietdignified air. They were as well bred in their way as thehabitues of a fashionable drawing roomand in this respect differ from Zuluwomenand their cousinsthe Masaiwho inhabit the district behind Zanzibar.Their curiosity had brought them out to see usbut they allowed no rudeexpression of wonder or savage criticism to pass their lips as we trudgedwearily in front of them. Not even when old Infadoos with a surreptitious motionof the hand pointed out the crowning wonder of poor Good's "beautiful whitelegs" did they allow the feeling of intense admiration which evidentlymastered their minds to find expression. They fixed their dark eyes upon theirsnowy lovelinessand that was all. But this was quite enough for Goodwho ismodest by nature.
When we got to the center of the kraal Infadoos halted at the door of a largehutwhich was surrounded at a distance by a circle of smaller ones.
"Entersons of the stars" he said in a magniloquent voice"and deign to rest awhile in our humble habitations. A little food shall bebrought to youso that ye shall have no need to draw your belts tight fromhunger; some honey and some milkand an ox or twoand a few sheep; not muchmy lordsbut still a little food."
"It is good" said I. "Infadooswe are weary with travelingthrough realms of air; now let us rest."
Accordingly we entered into the hutwhich we found amply prepared for ourcomfort. Couches of tanned skins were spread for us to rest onand water wasplaced for us to wash in.
Presently we heard a shouting outsideandstepping to the doorsaw a lineof damsels bearing milk and roasted mealies and honey in a pot. Behind therewere some youths driving a fat young ox. We received the giftsand then one ofthe young men took the knife from his girdle and dexterously cut the ox'sthroat. In ten minutes it was deadskinnedand cut up. The best of the meatwas then cut off for usand the rest Iin the name of our partypresented tothe warriors round uswho took it off and distributed the "white men'sgift."
Umbopa set to workwith the assistance of an extremely prepossessing youngwomanto boil our portion in a large earthenware pot over a fire which wasbuilt outside the hutand when it was nearly ready we sent a message toInfadoosand asked himand Scragga the king's sonto join us.
Presently they cameandsitting down upon little stoolsof which therewere several about the hut (for the Kukuanas do not in general squat upon theirhaunches like the Zulus)helped us to get through our dinner. The old gentlemanwas most affable and politebut it struck us that the young one regarded uswith suspicion. He hadtogether with the rest of the partybeen overawed byour white appearance and by our magic properties; but it seemed to me that ondiscovering that we atedrankand slept like other mortalshis awe wasbeginning to wear off and be replaced by a sullen suspicionwhich made us feelrather uncomfortable.
In the course of our meal Sir Henry suggested to me that it might be well totry and discover if our hosts knew anything of his brother's fateor if theyhad ever seen or heard of him; buton the wholeI thought that it would bewiser to say nothing of the matter at that time.
After supper we filled our pipes and lit thema proceeding which filledInfadoos and Scragga with astonishment. The Kukuanas were evidently unacquaintedwith the divine uses of tobacco smoke. The plant was grown among themextensively; butlike the Zulusthey only used it for snuffand quite failedto identify it in its new form.
Presently I asked Infadoos when we were to proceed on our journeyand wasdelighted to learn that preparations had been made for us to leave on thefollowing morningmessengers having already left to inform Twalathe kingofour coming. It appeared that Twala was at his principal placeknown as Loomaking ready for the great annual feast which was held in the first week ofJune. At this gathering all the regimentswith the exception of certaindetachments left behind for garrison purposeswere brought up and paradedbefore the kingand the great annual witch huntof which more by and bywasheld.
We were to start at dawn; and Infadooswho was to accompany usexpectedthat we shouldunless we were detained by accident or by swollen riversreachLoo on the night of the second day.
When they had given us this information our visitors bade us good night; andhaving arranged to watch turn and turn aboutthree of us flung ourselves downand slept the sweet sleep of the wearywhile the fourth sat up on the lookoutfor possible treachery.
9. Twalathe King -
IT WILL NOT be necessary for me to detail at length the incidents of ourjourney to Loo. It took two good days' traveling along Solomon's Great Roadwhich pursued its even course right into the heart of Kukuanaland. Suffice it tosay that as we went the country seemed to grow richer and richerand thekraalswith their wide surrounding belts of cultivationmore and morenumerous. They were all built upon the same principles as the first one we hadreachedand were guarded by ample garrisons of troops. Indeedin Kukuanalandas among the Germansthe Zulusand the Masaievery able-bodied man is asoldierso that the whole force of the nation is available for its warsoffensive or defensive. As we traveled along we were overtaken by thousands ofwarriors hurrying up to Loo to be present at the great annual review andfestivaland a grander series of troops I never saw. At sunset on the secondday we stopped to rest awhile upon the summit of some heights over which theroad ranand thereon a beautiful and fertile plain before uswas Loo itself.For a native town it was an enormous placequite five miles roundI shouldsaywith outlying kraals jutting out from itwhich served on grand occasionsas cantonments for the regimentsand a curious horseshoe-shaped hillwithwhich we were destined to become better acquaintedabout two miles to thenorth. It was beautifully situatedand through the center of the kraaldividing it into two portionsran a riverwhich appeared to be bridged atseveral placesthe sameperhapsthat we had seen from the slopes of Sheba'sbreasts. Sixty or seventy miles away three great snowcapped mountainsplacedlike the points of a trianglestarted up out of the level plain. Theconformation of these mountains was unlike that of Sheba's breastsbeing sheerand precipitousinstead of smooth and rounded.
Infadoos saw us looking at them and volunteered a remark:
"The road ends there" he saidpointing to the mountainsknownamong the Kukuanas as the "Three Witches."
"Why does it end?" I asked.
"Who knows?" he answered with a shrug. "The mountains are fullof cavesand there is a great pit between them. It is there that the wise menof old time used to go to get whatever it was they came to this country forandit is there now that our kings are buried in the Place of Death."
"What was it they came for?" I asked eagerly.
"NayI know not. My lords who come from the stars should know" heansweredwith a quick look. Evidently he knew more than he chose to say.
"Yes" I went on"you are right; in the stars we know manythings. I have heardfor instancethat the wise men of old came to thosemountains to get bright stonespretty playthingsand yellow iron."
"My lord is wise" he answered coldly. "I am but a child andcannot talk with my lord on such things. My lord must speak with Gagool the oldat the king's placewho is wise even as my lord" and he turned away.
As soon as he was gone I turned to the others and pointed out the mountains."There are Solomon's diamond mines" I said.
Umbopa was standing with themapparently plunged in one of the fits ofabstraction which were common to himand caught my words.
"YesMacumazahn" he put inin Zulu"the diamonds aresurely thereand you shall have themsince you white men are so fond of toysand money."
"How dost thou know thatUmbopa?" I asked sharplyfor I did notlike his mysterious ways.
He laughed. "I dreamed it in the nightwhite men" and then he tooturned upon his heel and went.
"Now what" said Sir Henry"is our black friend at? He knowsmore than he chooses to saythat is clear. By the wayQuatermainhas he heardanything of- of my brother?"
"Nothing; he has asked everyone he has got friendly withbut they alldeclare no white man has ever been seen in the country before."
"Do you suppose he ever got here at all?" suggested Good. "Wehave only reached the place by a miracle; is it likely he could have reached itat all without the map?"
"I don't know" said Sir Henry gloomily"but somehow I thinkthat I shall find him."
Slowly the sun sankand then suddenly darkness rushed down on the land likea tangible thing. There was no breathing place between the day and the nightnosoft transformation scenefor in these latitudes twilight does not exist. Thechange from day to night is as quick and as absolute as the change from life todeath. The sun sank and the world was wreathed in shadows. But not for longforseein the east there is a glowthen a bent edge of silver lightand at lastthe full bow of the crescent moon peeps above the plain and shoots its gleamingarrows far and widefilling the earth with a faint refulgenceas the glow of agood man's deeds shines for a while upon his little world after his sun has setlighting the faint-hearted travelers who follow on towards a fuller dawn.
We stood and watched the lovely sightwhile the stars grew pale before thischastened majestyand felt our hearts lifted up in the presence of a beauty wecould not realizemuch less describe. Mine has been a rough lifemy readerbut there are a few things I am thankful to have lived forand one of them isto have seen that moon rise over Kukuanaland. Presently our meditations werebroken in upon by our polite friend Infadoos.
"If my lords are ready we will journey on to Loowhere a hut is madeready for my lords tonight. The moon is now brightso that we shall not fall onthe way."
We assentedand in an hour's time were at the outskirts of the townofwhich the extentmapped out as it was by thousands of campfiresappearedabsolutely endless. IndeedGoodwho was always fond of a bad jokechristenedit "Unlimited Loo." Presently we came to a moat with a drawbridgewhere we were met by the rattling of arms and the hoarse challenge of a sentry.Infadoos gave some password that I could not catchwhich was met with a saluteand we passed on through the central street of the great grass city. Afternearly half an hour's tramp past endless lines of hutsInfadoos at last haltedat the gate of a little group of huts which surrounded a small courtyard ofpowdered limestoneand informed us that these were to be our "poor"quarters.
We enteredand found that a hut had been assigned to each of us. These hutswere superior to any which we had yet seenand in each was a most comfortablebed made of tanned skins spread upon mattresses of aromatic grass. Foodtoowas ready for usand as soon as we had washed ourselves with waterwhich stoodready in earthenware jarssome young women of handsome appearance brought usroasted meat and mealie cobs daintily served on wooden plattersand presentedit to us with deep obeisances.
We ate and drankand thenthe beds having by our request been all movedinto one huta precaution at which the amiable young ladies smiledwe flungourselves down to sleepthoroughly wearied out with our long journey.
When we wokeit was to find that the sun was high in the heavensand thatthe female attendantswho did not seem to be troubled by any false shamewerealready standing inside the huthaving been ordered to attend and help us to"make ready."
"Make readyindeed" growled Good; "when one has only aflannel shirt and a pair of bootsthat does not take long. I wish you would askthem for my trousers."
I asked accordinglybut was informed that those sacred relics had alreadybeen taken to the kingwho would see us in the forenoon.
Havingsomewhat to their astonishment and disappointmentrequested theyoung ladies to step outsidewe proceeded to make the best toilet that thecircumstances admitted of. Good even went the length of again shaving the rightside of his face; the lefton which now appeared a very fair crop of whiskerswe impressed upon him he must on no account touch. As for ourselveswe werecontented with a good wash and combing our hair. Sir Henry's yellow locks werenow almost down to his shouldersand he looked more like an ancient Dane thaneverwhile my grizzled scrub was fully an inch longinstead of half an inchwhich in a general way I considered my maximum length.
By the time that we had eaten our breakfast and smoked a pipea message wasbrought to us by no less a personage than Infadoos himself that Twalathe kingwas ready to see usif we would be pleased to come.
We remarked in reply that we should prefer to wait until the sun was a littlehigherwe were yet weary with our journeyetc. It is always wellwhen dealingwith uncivilized peoplenot to be in too great a hurry. They are apt to mistakepoliteness for awe or servility. Soalthough we were quite as anxious to seeTwala as Twala could be to see uswe sat down and waited for an houremployingthe interval in preparing such presents as our slender stock of goods permitted-namelythe Winchester rifle which had been used by poor Ventvogeland somebeads. The rifle and ammunition we determined to present to his royal highnessand the beads were for his wives and courtiers. We had already given a few toInfadoos and Scraggaand found that they were delighted with themnever havingseen anything like them before. At length we declared that we were readyandguided by Infadoosstarted off to the leveeUmbopa carrying the rifle and thebeads.
After walking a few hundred yards we came to an enclosuresomething likethat which surrounded the huts that had been allotted to usonly fifty times asbig. It could not have been less than six or seven acres in extent. All roundthe outside fence was a row of hutswhich were the habitations of the king'swives. Exactly opposite the gatewayon the farther side of the open spacewasa very large hutwhich stood by itselfin which his majesty resided. All therest was open ground; that is to sayit would have been open had it not beenfilled by company after company of warriorswho were mustered there to thenumber of seven or eight thousand. These men stood still as statues as weadvanced through themand it would be impossible to give an idea of thegrandeur of the spectacle which they presentedin their waving plumestheirglancing spearsand iron-backed ox-hide shields.
The space in front of the large hut was emptybut before it were placedseveral stools. On three of theseat a sign from Infadooswe seated ourselvesUmbopa standing behind us. As for Infadooshe took up a position by the door ofthe hut. So we waited for ten minutes or more in the midst of a dead silencebut conscious that we were the object of the concentrated gaze of some eightthousand pairs of eyes. It was a somewhat trying ordealbut we carried it offas best we could. At length the door of the hut openedand a gigantic figurewith a splendid tigerskin karross flung over its shouldersstepped outfollowed by the boy Scraggaand what appeared to us to be a withered-up monkeywrapped in a fur cloak. The figure seated itself upon a stoolScragga took hisstand behind itand the withered-up monkey crept on all fours into the shade ofthe hut and squatted down.
Still there was silence.
Then the gigantic figure slipped off the karross and stood up before usatruly alarming spectacle. It was that of an enormous man with the most entirelyrepulsive countenance we had ever beheld. The lips were as thick as a Negro'sthe nose was flatit had but one gleaming black eye (for the other wasrepresented by a hollow in the face)and its whole expression was cruel andsensual to a degree. From the large head rose a magnificent plume of whiteostrich feathersthe body was clad in a shirt of shining chain armorwhileround the waist and right knee was the usual garnish of white ox tails. In theright hand was a huge spear. Round the neck was a thick torque of goldandbound onto the forehead was a single enormous uncut diamond.
Still there was silence; but not for long. Presently the figurewhom werightly guessed to be the kingraised the great spear in his hand. Instantlyeight thousand spears were raised in answerand from eight thousand throatsrang out the royal salute of "Koom!" Three times this was repeatedand each time the earth shook with the noisewhich can only be compared to thedeepest notes of thunder.
"Be humbleO people" piped out a thin voice which seemed to comefrom the monkey in the shade; "it is the king."
"It is the king" boomed out eight thousand throatsin answer."Be humbleO people; it is the king!"
Then there was silence again- dead silence. Presentlyhoweverit wasbroken. A soldier on our left dropped his shieldwhich fell with a clatter onthe limestone flooring.
Twala turned his one cold eye in the direction of the noise.
"Come hitherthou" he said in a voice of thunder.
A fine young man stepped out of the ranksand stood before him.
"It was thy shield that fellthou awkward dog. Wilt thou make me areproach in the eyes of strangers from the stars? What hast thou to say?"
And then we saw the poor fellow turn pale under his dusky skin.
"It was by chanceO calf of the black cow" he murmured.
"Then it is a chance for which thou must pay. Thou hast made me foolish;prepare for death."
"I am the king's ox" was the low answer.
"Scragga" roared the king"let me see how thou canst use thyspear. Kill me this awkward dog."
Scragga stepped forward with an ill-favored grinand lifted his spear. Thepoor victim covered his eyes with his hand and stood still. As for uswe werepetrified with horror.
Oncetwicehe waved the spear and then struck- ahGod!- right home- thespear stood out a foot behind the soldier's back. He flung up his hands anddropped dead. From the multitude rose something like a murmur; it rolled roundand roundand died away. The tragedy was finished- there lay the corpse- and wehad not yet realized that it had been enacted. Sir Henry sprang up and swore agreat oaththenoverpowered by the sense of silencesat down again.
"The thrust was a good one" said the king; "take himaway."
Four men stepped out of the ranksandlifting the body of the murdered mancarried it away.
"Cover up the bloodstainscover them up" piped out the thin voicefrom the monkey-like figure; "the king's word is spokenthe king's doom isdone." Thereupon a girl came forward from behind the hutbearing a jarfilled with powdered limewhich she scattered over the red markblotting itfrom sight.
Sir Henry meanwhile was boiling with rage at what had happened; indeeditwas with difficulty that we could keep him still.
"Sit downfor heaven's sake" I whispered; "our lives dependon it."
He yielded and remained quiet.
Twala sat still until the traces of the tragedy had been removedthen headdressed us.
"White people" he said"who come hitherwhence I know notand why I know notgreeting."
"GreetingTwalaKing of the Kukuanas" I answered.
"White peoplewhence come yeand what seek ye?"
"We come from the starsask us not how. We come to see this land."
"Ye come from far to see a little thing. And that man with ye"pointing to Umbopa"does he too come from the stars?"
"Even so; there are people of thy color in the heavens above; but asknot of matters too high for theeTwalathe King."
"Ye speak with a loud voicepeople of the stars" Twala answeredin a tone which I scarcely liked. "Remember that the stars are far offandye are here. How if I make ye as him whom they bare away?"
I laughed out loudthough there was little laughter in my heart.
"O King" I said"be careful; walk warily over hot stoneslest thou shouldst burn thy feet; hold the spear by the handlelest thoushouldst cut thy hands. Touch but one hair of our headsand destruction shallcome upon thee. Whathave not these"- pointing to Infadoos and Scragga(whoyoung villain that he waswas employed in cleaning the blood of thesoldier off his spear)- "told thee what manner of men we are? Hast thouever seen the like of us?" and I pointed to Goodfeeling quite sure thathe had never seen anybody before who looked in the least like him as he thenappeared.
"It is trueI have not" said the king.
"Have they not told thee how we strike with death from afar?" Iwent on.
"They have told mebut I believe them not. Let me see you kill. Kill mea man among those who stand yonder"- and he pointed to the opposite side ofthe kraal- "and I will believe."
"Nay" I answered; "we shed no blood of man except in justpunishment; but if thou wilt seebid thy servants drive in an ox through thekraal gatesand before he has run twenty paces I will strike him dead."
"Nay" laughed the king"kill me a manand I willbelieve."
"GoodO Kingso be it" I answered coolly; "do thou walkacross the open spaceand before thy feet reach the gate thou shalt be dead;orif thou wilt notsend thy son Scragga" (whom at that moment it wouldhave given me much pleasure to shoot)
On hearing this suggestion Scragga gave a sort of howland bolted into thehut.
Twala frowned majestically; the suggestion did not please him.
"Let a young ox be driven in" he said.
Two men at once departedrunning swiftly.
"NowSir Henry" said I"do you shoot. I want to show thisruffian that I am not the only magician of the party."
Sir Henry accordingly took the expressand made ready.
"I hope I shall make a good shot" he groaned.
"You must" I answered. "If you miss with the first barrellet him have the second. Sight for one hundred and fifty yardsand wait tillthe beast turns broadside on."
Then came a pausetill presently we caught sight of an ox running straightfor the kraal gate. It came on through the gateand thencatching sight of thevast concourse of peoplestopped stupidlyturned roundand bellowed.
"Now's your time" I whispered.
Up went the rifle.
Bang! Thud! And the ox was kicking on his backshot in the ribs. Thesemihollow bullet had done its work welland a sigh of astonishment went upfrom the assembled thousands.
I turned coolly round. "Have I liedO King?"
"Naywhite manit is a truth" was the somewhat awed answer.
"ListenTwala" I went on. "Thou hast seen. Now know we comein peacenot in war. See here" and I held up the Winchester repeater"here is a hollow staff that shall enable you to kill even as we killonlythis charm I lay upon itthou shalt kill no man with it. If thou liftest itagainst a manit shall kill thee. StayI will show thee. Bid a man step fortypaces and place the shaft of a spear in the ground so that the flat blade lookstowards us."
In few seconds it was done.
"NowseeI will break the spear."
Taking a careful sightI fired. The bullet struck the flat of the spear andbroke the blade into fragments.
Again the sigh of astonishment went up.
"NowTwala"- handing him the rifle- "this magic tube we giveto theeand by and by I will show thee how to use it; but beware how thou usestthe magic of the stars against a man of earth" and I handed him the rifle.He took it very gingerlyand laid it down at his feet. As he did so I observedthe wizenedmonkey-like figure creeping up from the shadow of the hut. It crepton all foursbut when it reached the place where the king sat it rose upon itsfeetandthrowing the furry covering off its facerevealed a mostextraordinary and weird countenance. It was (apparently) that of a woman ofgreat ageso shrunken that in size it was no larger than that of a year-oldchildand was made up of a collection of deepyellow wrinkles. Set in thewrinkles was a sunken slit that represented the mouthbeneath which the chincurved outward to a point. There was no nose to speak of; indeedthe wholecountenance might have been taken for that of a sundried corpse had it not beenfor a pair of large black eyesstill full of fire and intelligencewhichgleamed and played under the snow-white eyebrows and the projectingparchment-colored skulllike jewels in a charnel house. As for the skullitselfit was perfectly bareand yellow in huewhile its wrinkled scalp movedand contracted like the hood of a cobra.
The figure to whom this fearful countenancewhich caused a shiver of fear topass through us as we gazed on itbelonged stood still for a momentand thensuddenly projected a skinny claw armed with nails nearly an inch longand laidit on the shoulder of Twalathe kingand began to speak in a thinpiercingvoice.
"ListenO King! ListenO people! ListenO mountains and plains andrivershome of the Kukuana race! ListenO skies and sunO rain and storm andmist! Listenall things that live and must die! Listenall dead things thatmust live again- again to die! Listenthe spirit of life is in meand Iprophesy. I prophesy! I prophesy!"
The words died away in a faint wailand terror seemed to seize upon thehearts of all who heard themincluding ourselves. The old woman was veryterrible.
"Blood! Blood! Blood! Rivers of blood; blood everywhere. I see itIsmell itI taste it- it is salt; it runs red upon the groundit rains downfrom the skies.
"Footsteps! Footsteps! Footsteps! The tread of the white man coming fromafar. It shakes the earth; the earth trembles before her master.
"Blood is goodthe red blood is bright; there is no smell like thesmell of new-shed blood. The lions shall lap it and roarthe vultures shallwash their wings in it and shriek in joy.
"I am old! I am old! I have seen much blood; but I shall see more ere Idieand be merry. How old am Ithink ye? Your fathers knew meand theirfathers knew meand their fathers' fathers. I have seen the white manand knowhis desires. I am oldbut the mountains are older than I. Who made the greatroadtell me? Who wrote in pictures on the rockstell me? Who reared up thethree silent ones yonderwho gaze across the pittell me?" (And shepointed towards the three precipitous mountains we had noticed on the previousnight.)
"Ye know notbut I know. It was a white people who were before ye werewho shall be when ye are notwho shall eat ye up and destroy ye. Yea! Yea! Yea!
"And what came they forthe white onesthe terrible onesthe skilledin magic and all learningthe strongthe unswerving? What is that bright stoneupon thy foreheadO King? Whose hands made the iron garments upon thy breastOKing? Ye know notbut I know. I the old oneI the wise oneI the Isanusi[Witch Doctress]!"
Then she turned her baldvulture head towards us.
"What seek yewhite men of the stars? Ahyesof the stars! Do ye seeka lost one? Ye shall not find him here. He is not here. Never for ages upon ageshas a white foot pressed this land; never but onceand he left it but to die.Ye come for bright stones; I know it- I know it; ye shall find them when theblood is dry; but shall ye return whence ye cameor shall ye stop with me? Hahaha!
"And thouthou with the dark skin and the proud bearing"- pointingher skinny finger at Umbopa- "who art thouand what seekest thou? Notstones that shine; not yellow metal that gleams; that thou leavest to 'white menfrom the stars.' Methinks I know thee; methinks I can smell the smell of theblood in thy veins. Strip off the girdle-"
Here the features of this extraordinary creature became convulsedand shefell to the ground foaming in an epileptic fit and was carried off into the hut.
The king rose uptremblingand waved his hand. Instantly the regimentsbegan to file offand in ten minutessave for ourselvesthe kingand a fewattendantsthe great space was left clear.
"White people" he said"it passes in my mind to kill ye.Gagool has spoken strange words. What say ye?"
I laughed. "Be carefulO Kingwe are not easy to slay. Thou hast seenthe fate of the ox; wouldst thou be as the ox?"
The king frowned. "It is not well to threaten a king."
"We threaten notwe speak what is true. Try to kill usO kingandlearn."
The great man put his hand to his forehead.
"Go in peace" he said at length. "Tonight is the great dance.Ye shall see it. Fear not that I shall set a snare for ye. Tomorrow I shallthink."
"It is wellO King" I answered unconcernedlyand thenaccompanied by Infadooswe rose and went back to our kraal.
10. The Witch Hunt -
ON REACHING our hutI motioned to Infadoos to enter with us.
"NowInfadoos" I said"we would speak with thee."
"Let my lords say on."
"It seems to usInfadoosthat Twalathe kingis a cruel man."
"It is somy lords. Alasthe land cries out with his cruelties.Tonight ye will see. It is the great witch huntand many will be smelled out aswizards and slain. No man's life is safe. If the king covets a man's cattle or aman's lifeor if he fears a man that he should excite a rebellion against himthen Gagoolwhom ye sawor some of the witch-finding women whom she hastaughtwill smell that man out as a wizardand he will be killed. Many willdie before the moon grows pale tonight. It is ever so. Perhaps I too shall bekilled. As yet I have been sparedbecause I am skilled in war and beloved bythe soldiers; but I know not how long I shall live. The land groans at thecruelties of Twalathe king; it is wearied of him and his red ways."
"Then why is itInfadoosthat the people do not cast him down?"
"Naymy lordshe is the kingand if he were killed Scragga wouldreign in his placeand the heart of Scragga is blacker than the heart of Twalahis father. If Scragga were king the yoke upon our neck would be heavier thanthe yoke of Twala. If Imotu had never been slainor if Ignosihis sonhadlivedit had been otherwise; but they are both dead."
"How know you that Ignosi is dead?" said a voice behind us. Welooked round with astonishment to see who spoke. It was Umbopa.
"What meanest thouboy?" asked Infadoos. "Who told thee tospeak?"
"ListenInfadoos" was the answer"and I will tell thee astory. Years ago the king Imotu was killed in this countryand his wife fledwith the boy Ignosi. Is it not so?"
"It is so."
"It was said that the woman and the boy died upon the mountains. Is itnot so?"
"It is even so."
"Wellit came to pass that the mother and the boy Ignosi did not die.They crossed the mountainsand were led by a tribe of wandering desert menacross the sands beyondtill at last they came to water and grass and treesagain."
"How knowest thou?"
"Listen. They traveled on and onmany months' journeytill theyreached a land where a people called the Amazuluwho too are of the Kukuanastocklive by warand with them they tarried many yearstill at length themother died. Then the sonIgnosiagain became a wandererand went on into aland of wonderswhere white people liveand for many more years learned thewisdom of the white people."
"It is a pretty story" said Infadoos incredulously.
"For many years he lived there working as a servant and a soldierbutholding in his heart all that his mother had told him of his own placeandcasting about in his mind to find how he might get back there to see his ownpeople and his father's house before he died. For many years he lived andwaitedand at last the time cameas it ever comes to him who can wait for itand he met some white men who would seek this unknown landand joined himselfto them. The white men started and journeyed on and onseeking for one who islost. They crossed the burning desertthey crossed the snow-clad mountainsandreached the land of the Kukuanasand there they met theeO Infadoos."
"Surely thou art mad to talk thus" said the astonished oldsoldier.
"Thou thinkest so; seeI will show theeO my uncle. I am Ignosirightful king of the Kukuanas!"
Thenwith a single movementhe slipped off the moocha round his middleandstood naked before us.
"Look" he said; "what is this?" and he pointed to themark of a great snake tattooed in blue round his middleits tail disappearingin its open mouth just above where the thighs are set into the body.
Infadoos lookedhis eyes starting nearly out of his headand then fell uponhis knees. "Koom! Koom!" he ejaculated. "It is my brother's son;it is the king."
"Did I not tell thee somy uncle? Rise; I am not yet the kingbut withthy helpand with the help of these brave white menwho are my friendsIshall be. But the old woman Gagool was right; the land shall run with bloodfirstand hers shall run with itfor she killed my father with her wordsanddrove my mother forth. And nowInfadooschoose thou. Wilt thou put thy handsbetween my hands and be my man? Wilt thou share the dangers that lie before meand help me to overthrow this tyrant and murdereror wilt thou not? Choosethou?"
The old man put his hand to his head and thought. Then he roseandadvancing to where Umbopaor rather Ignosistoodknelt before him and tookhis hand.
"Ignosirightful king of the KukuanasI put my hand between thy handsand am thy man till death. When thou wast a babe I dandled thee upon my knee;now shall my old arm strike for thee and freedom."
"It is wellInfadoos; if I conquerthou shalt be the greatest man inthe kingdom after the king. If I failthou canst only dieand death is not faroff for thee. Risemy uncle.
"And yewhite menwill ye help me? What have I to offer ye! The whitestonesif I conquer and you can find themye shall have as many as ye cancarry hence. Will that suffice ye?"
I translated this remark.
"Tell him" answered Sir Henry"that he mistakes anEnglishman. Wealth is goodand if it comes in our way we will take it; but agentleman does not sell himself for wealth. Butspeaking for myselfI saythis: I have always like Umbopaand so far as in me lies will stand by him inthis business. It will be very pleasant to me to try and square matters withthat cruel devilTwala. What do you sayGoodand youQuatermain?"
"Well" said Good"to adopt the language of hyperboleinwhich all these people seem to indulgeyou can tell him that a row is surelygoodand warms the cockles of the heartand thatso far as I am concernedI'm his boy. My only stipulation is that he allow me to wear trousers."
I translated these answers.
"It is wellmy friends" said Ignosilate Umbopa; "and whatsay youMacumazahn; art thou too with meold huntercleverer than a woundedbuffalo?"
I thought awhile and scratched my head.
"Umbopaor Ignosi" I said"I don't like revolutions. I am aman of peaceand a bit of a coward"- (here Umbopa smiled)- "butonthe other handI stick to my friendsIgnosi. You have stuck to us and playedthe part of a manand I will stick to you. Butmind youI am a traderandhave to make my living; so I accept your offer about those diamondsin case weshould ever be in a position to avail ourselves of it. Another thing: we cameas you knowto look for Incubu's [Sir Henry's] lost brother. You must help usto find him."
"That will I do" answered Ignosi. "StayInfadoos; by thesign of the snake round my middletell me the truth. Has any white man to thyknowledge set his foot within the land?"
"If any white man had been seen or heard ofwouldst thou have knownit?"
"I should certainly have known."
"Thou hearestIncubu?" said Ignosi to Sir Henry. "He has notbeen here."
"Wellwell" said Sir Henrywith a sigh; "there it is; Isuppose he never got here. Poor fellowpoor fellow! So it has all been fornothing. God's will be done."
"Now for business" I put inanxious to escape from a painfulsubject. "It is very well to be a king by right divineIgnosibut howdost thou propose to become a king indeed?"
"NayI know not. Infadooshast thou a plan?"
"Ignosison of the lightning" answered his uncle"tonightis the great dance and witch hunt. Many will be smelled out and perishand inthe hearts of many others there will be grief and anguish and anger against theking Twala. When the dance is overthen will I speak to some of the greatchiefswho in turnif I can win them overshall speak to their regiments. Ishall speak to the chiefs softly at firstand bring them to see that thou artindeed the kingand I think that by tomorrow's light thou shalt have twentythousand spears at thy command. And now must I go and think and hear and makeready. After the dance is done I willif I am yet aliveand we are all alivemeet thee hereand we will talk. At the best there will be war."
At this moment our conference was interrupted by the cry that messengers hadcome from the king. Advancing to the door of the hutwe ordered that theyshould be admittedand presently three men enteredeach bearing a shiningshirt of chain armor and a magnificent battle-ax.
"The gifts of my lordthe kingto the white men from the stars!"exclaimed a herald who had come with them.
"We thank the king" I answered; "withdraw."
The men wentand we examined the armor with great interest. It was the mostbeautiful chain work we had ever seen. A whole coat fell together so closelythat it formed a mass of links scarcely too big to be covered with both hands.
"Do you make these things in this countryInfadoos?" I asked."They are very beautiful."
"Naymy lord; they come down to us from our forefathers. We know notwho made themand there are but few left. None but those of royal blood maywear them. They are magic coats through which no spear can pass. He who wearsthem is well-nigh safe in the battle. The king is well pleased or much afraidor he would not have sent them. Wear them tonightmy lords."
The rest of the day we spent quietly resting and talking over the situationwhich was sufficiently exciting. At last the sun went downthe thousand watchfires glowed outand through the darkness we heard the tramp of many feet andthe clashing of hundreds of spearsas the regiments passed to their appointedplaces to be ready for the great dance. About ten the full moon came up insplendorand as we stood watching her ascent Infadoos arrivedclad in full wartoggeryand accompanied by a guard of twenty men to escort us to the dance. Wehad alreadyas he recommendeddonned the shirts of chain armor which the kinghad sent usputting them on under our ordinary clothingand finding to oursurprise that they were neither very heavy nor uncomfortable. These steelshirtswhich had evidently been made for men of a very large staturehungsomewhat loosely upon Good and myselfbut Sir Henry's fitted his magnificentframe like a glove. Thenstrapping our revolvers round our waistsand takingthe battle-axes which the king had sent with the armor in our handswe started.
On arriving at the great kraal where we had that morning been interviewed bythe kingwe found that it was closely packed with some twenty thousand menarranged in regiments round it. The regiments were in turn divided intocompaniesand between each company was a little path to allow free passage tothe witch finders to pass up and down. Anything more imposing than the sightthat was presented by this vast and orderly concourse of armed men it isimpossible for one to conceive. There they stood perfectly silentand themoonlight poured its light upon the forest of their raised spearsupon theirmajestic formswaving plumesand the harmonious shading of theirvarious-colored shields. Wherever we looked was line upon line of set facessurmounted by range upon range of glittering spears.
"Surely" I said to Infadoos"the whole army is here?"
"NayMacumazahn" he answered"but a third part of it. Onethird part is present at this dance each yearanother third part is musteredoutside in case there should be trouble when the killing beginsten thousandmore garrison the outposts round Looand the rest watch at the kraals in thecountry. Thou seest it is a very great people."
"They are very silent" said Good; andindeedthe intensestillness among such a vast concourse of living men was almost overpowering.
"What says Bougwan?" asked Infadoos.
"Those over whom the shadow of death is hovering are silent" heanswered grimly.
"Will many be killed?"
"It seems" I said to the others"that we are going to assistat a gladiatorial show arranged regardless of expense."
Sir Henry shiveredand Good said that he wished that we could get out of it.
"Tell me" I asked Infadoos"are we in danger?"
"I know notmy lords- I trust not; but do not seem afraid. If ye livethrough the night all may go well. The soldiers murmur against the king."
All this while we had been advancing steadily towards the center of the openspacein the midst of which were placed some stools. As we proceeded weperceived another small party coming from the direction of the royal hut.
"It is the kingTwalaand Scragga his sonand Gagool the oldandseewith them are those who slay" and he pointed to a little group ofabout a dozen gigantic and savage-looking menarmed with spears in one hand andheavy kerries in the other.
The king seated himself upon the center stoolGagool crouched at his feetand the others stood behind.
"Greetingwhite lords" he cried as we came up; "be seatedwaste not the precious time- the night is all too short for the deeds that mustbe done. Ye come in a good hourand shall see a glorious show. Look roundwhite lords; look round" and he rolled his one wicked eye from regiment toregiment. "Can the stars show ye such a sight as this? See how they shakein their wickednessall those who have evil in their hearts and fear thejudgment of 'Heaven above.'"
"Begin! Begin!" cried out Gagool in her thinpiercing voice."The hyenas are hungrythey howl for food. Begin! Begin!" Then for amoment there was intense stillnessmade horrible by a presage of what was tocome.
The king lifted his spearand suddenly twenty thousand feet were raisedasthough they belonged to one manand brought down with a stamp upon the earth.This was repeated three timescausing the solid ground to shake and tremble.Then from a far point of the circle a solitary voice began a wailing songofwhich the refrain ran something as follows:
"What is the lot of man born of woman?"
Back came the answer rolling out from every throat in that vast company:
Graduallyhoweverthe song was taken up by company after companytill thewhole armed multitude was singing itand I could no longer follow the wordsexcept in so far as they appeared to represent various phases of human passionsfearsand joys. Now it seemed to be a love songnow a majestic swelling warchantand last of all a death dirgeending suddenly in one heartbreaking wailthat went echoing and rolling away in a volume of bloodcurdling sound.
Again the silence fell upon the placeand again it was broken by the king'slifting up his hand. Instantly there was a pattering of feetand from out ofthe masses of the warriors strange and awful figures came running towards us. Asthey drew near we saw that they were those of womenmost of them agedfortheir white hairornamented with small bladders taken from fishstreamed outbehind them. Their faces were painted in stripes of white and yellow; down theirbacks hung snake skinsand round their waists rattled circlets of human boneswhile each held in her shriveled hand a small forked wand. In all there were tenof them.
When they arrived in front of us they haltedand one of thempointing withher wand towards the crouching figure of Gagoolcried out: "Motheroldmotherwe are here."
"Good! Good! Good!" piped out that aged iniquity. "Are youreyes keenIsanusis [Witch Doctresses]ye seers in dark places?"
"Motherthey are keen."
"Good! Good! Good! Are your ears openIsanusisye who hear words thatcome not from the tongue?"
"Motherthey are open."
"Good! Good! Good! Are your senses awakeIsanusis- can ye smell bloodcan ye purge the land of the wicked ones who compass evil against the king andagainst their neighbors? Are ye ready to do the justice of 'Heaven above' yewhom I have taughtwho have eaten of the bread of my wisdom and drunk of thewater of my magic?"
"Then go! Tarry notye vultures; see the slayers"- pointing to theominous group of executioners behind- "make sharp their spears; the whitemen from afar are hungry to see. Go."
With a wild yell the weird party broke away in every directionlikefragments from a shellandthe dry bones round their waists rattling as theyranmade direct for various points of the dense human circle. We could notwatch them allso fixed our eyes upon the Isanusi nearest us. When she camewithin a few paces of the warriorsshe halted and began to dance wildlyturning round and round with an almost incredible rapidityand shrieking outsentences such as: "I smell himthe evildoer!" "He is nearhewho poisoned his mother!" "I hear the thoughts of him who thought evilof the king!"
Quicker and quicker she dancedtill she lashed herself into such a frenzy ofexcitement that the foam flew in flecks from her gnashing jawsher eyes seemedto start from her headand her flesh to quiver visibly. Suddenly she stoppeddeadand stiffened all overlike a pointer dog when he scents gameand thenwith outstretched wand began to creep stealthily towards the soldiers beforeher. It seemed to us that as she came their stoicism gave wayand that theyshrank from her. As for ourselveswe followed her movements with a horriblefascination. Presentlystill creeping and crouching like a dogshe was beforethem. Then she stopped and pointedand then again crept on a pace or two.
Suddenly the end came. With a shriek she sprang in and touched a tall warriorwith the forked wand. Instantly two of his comradesthose standing immediatelynext to himseized the doomed maneach by one armand advanced with himtowards the king.
He did not resistbut we saw that he dragged his limbs as though they wereparalyzedand his fingersfrom which the spear had fallenwere as limp asthose of a man newly dead.
As he cametwo of the villainous executioners stepped forward to meet him.Presently they metand the executioners turned round towards the king as thoughfor orders.
"Kill!" said the king.
"Kill!" squeaked Gagool.
"Kill!" re-echoed Scraggawith a hollow chuckle.
Almost before the words were utteredthe horrible deed was done. One man haddriven his spear into the victim's heartandto make assurance doubly surethe other had dashed out his brains with his great club.
"One" counted Twalathe kingjust like a black Madame Defargeas Good saidand the body was dragged a few paces away and stretched out.
Hardly was this done before another poor wretch was brought uplike an ox tothe slaughter. This time we could seefrom the leopard-skin cloakthat the manwas a person of rank. Again the awful syllables were spokenand the victim felldead.
"Two" counted the king.
And so the deadly game went ontill some hundred bodies were stretched inrows behind us. I have heard of the gladiatorial shows of the Caesarsand ofthe Spanish bullfightsbut I take the liberty of doubting if they were eitherof them half as horrible as this Kukuana witch hunt. Gladiatorial shows andSpanish bullfightsat any ratecontributed to the public amusementwhichcertainly was not the case here. The most confirmed sensation-monger would fightshy of sensation if he knew that it was well on the cards that he wouldin hisown proper personbe the subject of the next "event."
Once we rose and tried to remonstratebut were sternly repressed by Twala.
"Let the law take its coursewhite men. These dogs are magicians andevildoers; it is well that they should die" was the only answer vouchsafedto us.
About midnight there was a pause. The witch finders gathered themselvestogetherapparently exhausted with their bloody workand we thought that thewhole performance was done with. But it was not sofor presentlyto oursurprisethe old womanGagoolrose from her crouching positionandsupporting herself with a stickstaggered off into the open space. It was anextraordinary sight to see this frightfulvulture-headed old creaturebentnearly double with extreme agegather strength by degrees till at last sherushed about almost as actively as her ill-omened pupils. To and fro she ranchanting to herselftill suddenly she made a dash at a tall man standing infront of one of the regimentsand touched him. As she did so a sort of groanwent up from the regimentwhich he evidently commanded. But all the same two ofits members seized him and brought him up for execution. We afterwards learnedthat he was a man of great wealth and importancebeingindeeda cousin of theking's.
He was slainand the king counted one hundred and three. Then Gagool againsprang to and frogradually drawing nearer and nearer to ourselves.
"Hang me if I don't believe she is going to try her games on us"ejaculated Good in horror.
"Nonsense!" said Sir Henry.
As for myselfas I saw that old fiend dancing nearer and nearermy heartpositively sank into my boots. I glanced behind us at the long rows of corpsesand shivered.
Nearer and nearer waltzed Gagoollooking for all the world like an animatedcrooked stickher horrid eyes gleaming and glowing with a most unholy luster.
Nearer she cameand nearer yetevery pair of eyes in that vast assemblagewatching her movements with intense anxiety. At last she stood still andpointed.
"Which is it to be?" asked Sir Henry to himself.
In a moment all doubts were set at restfor the old woman had rushed in andtouched Umbopanow Ignosion the shoulder.
"I smell him out!" she shrieked. "Kill himkill himhe isfull of evil; kill himthe strangerbefore blood flows for him. Slay himOKing."
There was a pausewhich I instantly took advantage of.
"O King" I called outrising from my seat"this man is theservant of thy guestshe is their dog; whosoever sheds the blood of our dogsheds our blood. By the sacred law of hospitality I claim protection forhim."
"Gagoolmother of the witch doctorshas smelled him out; he must diewhite men" was the sullen answer.
"Nayhe shall not die" I replied; "he who tries to touch himshall die indeed."
"Seize him!" roared Twala to the executionerswho stood round redto the eyes with the blood of their victims.
They advanced towards usand then hesitated. As for Ignosihe raised hisspearand raised it as though determined to sell his life dearly.
"Stand backye dogs" I shouted"if ye would see tomorrow'slight. Touch one hair of his head and your king dies" and I covered Twalawith my revolver. Sir Henry and Good also drew their pistolsSir Henry pointinghis at the leading executionerwho was advancing to carry out the sentenceandGood taking a deliberate aim at Gagool.
Twala winced perceptiblyas my barrel came in a line with his broad chest.
"Well" I said"what is it to beTwala?"
Then he spoke.
"Put away your magic tubes" he said; "ye have adjured me inthe name of hospitalityand for that reasonbut not from fear of what ye candoI spare him. Go in peace."
"It is well" I answered unconcernedly; "we are weary ofslaughterand would sleep. Is the dance ended?"
"It is ended" Twala answered sulkily. "Let these dogs"-pointing to the long rows of corpses- "be flung out to the hyenas and thevultures" and he lifted his spear.
Instantly the regiments began in perfect silence to defile off through thekraal gatewaya fatigue party only remaining behind to drag away the corpses ofthose who had been sacrificed.
Then we too roseandmaking our salaam to his majestywhich he hardlydeigned to acknowledgedeparted to our kraal.
"Well" said Sir Henryas we sat downhaving first lit a lamp ofthe sort used by the Kukuanasof which the wick is made of the fiber of aspecies of palm leaf and the oil of clarified hippopotamus fat"wellIfeel uncommonly inclined to be sick."
"If I had any doubts about helping Umbopa to rebel against that infernalblackguard" put in Good"they are gone now. It was as much as Icould do to sit still while that slaughter was going on. I tried to keep my eyesshutbut they would open just at the wrong time. I wonder where Infadoos is.Umbopamy friendyou ought to be grateful to us; your skin came near to havingan air hole made in it."
"I am gratefulBougwan" was Umbopa's answerwhen I hadtranslated"and I shall not forget. As for Infadooshe will be here byand by. We must wait."
So we lit our pipes and waited.
11. We Give a Sign
FOR A LONG while- two hoursI should think- we sat there in silencefor wewere too overwhelmed by the recollection of the horrors we had seen to talk. Atlastjust as we were thinking of turning in- for already there were faintstreaks of light in the eastern sky- we heard the sound of steps. Then came thechallenge of the sentry who was posted at the kraal gatewhich was apparentlyansweredthough not in an audible tonefor the steps came on; and in anothersecond Infadoos had entered the hutfollowed by some half a dozenstately-looking chiefs.
"My lords" he said"I have comeaccording to my word. Mylords and Ignosirightful king of the KukuanasI have brought with me thesemen" pointing to the row of chiefs"who are great men among ushaving each one of them the command of three thousand soldierswho live but todo their biddingunder the king's. I have told them of what I have seenandwhat my ears have heard. Now let them also see the sacred snake round theeandhear thy storyIgnosithat they may say whether or no they will make causewith thee against Twala the king."
For answerIgnosi again stripped off his girdle and exhibited the snaketattooed around him. Each chief in turn drew near and examined it by the dimlight of the lampand without saying a word passed on to the other side.
Then Ignosi resumed his moocha andaddressing themrepeated the history hehad detailed in the morning.
"Now ye have heardchiefs" said Infadooswhen he had done"what say ye; will ye stand by this man and help him to his father'sthroneor will ye not? The land cries out against Twalaand the blood of thepeople flows like the waters in spring. Ye have seen tonight. Two other chiefsthere were with whom I had it in my mind to speakand where are they now? Thehyenas howl over their corpses. Soon will ye be as they are if ye strike not.Choosethenmy brothers."
The eldest of the six mena shortthick-set warrior with white hairstepped forward a pace and answered
"Thy words are trueInfadoos; the land cries out. My own brother isamong those who died tonight; but this is a great matterand the thing is hardto believe. How know we that if we lift our spears it may not be for animpostor? It is a great matterI sayand none may see the end of it. For ofthis be sureblood will flow in rivers before the deed is done; many will stillcleave to the kingfor men worship the sun that still shines bright in theheavensand not that which has not risen. These white men from the starstheirmagic is greatand Ignosi is under the cover of their wing. If he be indeed therightful kinglet them give us a signand let the people have a signthat allmay see. So shall men cleave to usknowing that the white man's magic is withthem."
"Ye have the sign of the snake" I answered.
"My lordit is not enough. The snake may have been placed there sincethe man's birth. Show us a sign. We will not move without a sign."
The others gave a decided assentand I turned in perplexity to Sir Henry andGoodand explained the situation.
"I think I have it" said Good exultingly; "ask them to giveus a moment to think."
I did soand the chiefs withdrew. As soon as they were goneGood went tothe little box in which his medicines wereunlocked itand took out anotebookin the front of which was an almanac. "Nowlook hereyoufellowsisn't tomorrow the fourth of June?"
We had kept a careful note of the daysso were able to answer that it was.
"Very good; then here we have it- '4 Junetotal eclipse of the suncommences at 11:15 Greenwich timevisible in these islandsAfricaetc.'There's a sign for you. Tell them that you will darken the sun tomorrow."
The idea was a splendid one; indeedthe only fear about it was a fear lestGood's almanac might be incorrect. If we made a false prophecy on such asubjectour prestige would be gone foreverand so would Ignosi's chance of thethrone of the Kukuanas.
"Suppose the almanac is wrong?" suggested Sir Henry to Goodwhowas busily employed in working out something on the flyleaf of the book.
"I don't see any reason to suppose anything of the sort" was hisanswer. "Eclipses always come up to time; at leastthat is my experienceof themand it especially states that it will be visible in Africa. I haveworked out the reckonings as well as I can without knowing our exact position;and I make out that the eclipse should begin here about one o'clock tomorrowand last till half-past two. For half an hour or more there should be totaldarkness."
"Well" said Sir Henry"I suppose we had better riskit."
I acquiescedthough doubtfullyfor eclipses are queer cattle to deal withand sent Umbopa to summon the chiefs back.
Presently they cameand I addressed them thus: "Great men of theKukuanasand thouInfadooslisten. We are not fond of showing our powerssince to do so is to interfere with the course of natureand plunge the worldinto fear and confusion; but as this matter is a great oneand as we areangered against the king because of the slaughter we have seenand because ofthe act of the Isanusi Gagoolwho would have put our friend Ignosi to deathwehave determined to do soand to give such a sign as all men may see. Comethither" and I led them to the door of the hut and pointed to the fieryball of the rising sun. "What see ye there?"
"We see the rising sun" answered the spokesman of the party.
"It is so. Now tell mecan any mortal man put out that sunso thatnight comes down on the land at midday?"
The chief laughed a little. "Nomy lordthat no man can do. The sun isstronger than man who looks on him."
"Ye say so. Yet I tell you that this dayone hour after middaywill weput out that sun for a space of an hourand darkness shall cover the earthandit shall be for a sign that we are indeed men of honorand that Ignosi isindeed the king of the Kukuanas. If we do this thing will it satisfy ye?"
"Yeamy lords" answered the old chief with a smilewhich wasreflected on the faces of his companions; "if ye do this thing we will besatisfied indeed."
"It shall be done: we threeIncubu the ElephantBougwan theclear-eyedand Macumazahnwho watches in the nighthave said itand it shallbe done. Dost thou hearInfadoos?"
"I hearmy lordbut it is a wonderful thing that ye promiseto putout the sunthe father of all thingswho shines forever."
"Yet shall we do itInfadoos."
"It is wellmy lords. Todaya little after middaywill Twala send formy lords to witness the girls danceand one hour after the dance begins shallthe girl whom Twala thinks the fairest be killed by Scraggathe king's sonasa sacrifice to the silent stone oneswho sit and keep watch by the mountainsyonder" and he pointed to the three strange-looking peaks where Solomon'sRoad was supposed to end. "Then let my lords darken the sunand save themaiden's lifeand the people will indeed believe."
"Ay" said the old chiefstill smiling a little"the peoplewill believeindeed."
"Two miles from Loo" went on Infadoos"there is a hillcurved like
the new moona strongholdwhere my regimentand three other regimentswhich these men commandare stationed. This morning we will make a plan wherebyother regimentstwo or threemay be moved there also. Thenif my lords canindeed darken the sunin the darkness I will take my lords by the hand and leadthem out of Loo to this placewhere they shall be safeand thence can we makewar upon Twalathe king."
"It is good" said I. "Now leave us to sleep awhile and makeready our magic."
Infadoos roseandhaving saluted usdeparted with the chiefs.
"My friends" said Ignosias soon as they were gone"can yeindeed do this wonderful thingor were ye speaking empty words to themen?"
"We believe that we can do itUmbopa- IgnosiI mean."
"It is strange" he answered"and had ye not been EnglishmenI would not have believed it; but English 'gentlemen' tell no lies. If we livethrough the matterbe sure I will repay ye!"
"Ignosi" said Sir Henry"promise me one thing."
"I will promiseIncubumy friendeven before I hear it"answered the big man with a smile. "What is it?"
"This: that if you ever come to be king of this people you will do awaywith the smelling out of witches such as we have seen last night; and that thekilling of men without trial shall not take place in the land."
Ignosi thought for a momentafter I had translated thisand then answered:"The ways of black people are not as the ways of white menIncubunor dowe hold life so high as ye. Yet will I promise it. If it be in my power to holdthem backthe witch finders shall hunt no morenor shall any man die the deathwithout judgment."
"That's a bargainthen" said Sir Henry; "and now let us geta little rest."
Thoroughly wearied outwe were soon sound asleepand slept till Ignosi wokeus about eleven o'clock. Then we got upwashedand ate a hearty breakfastnotknowing when we should get any more food. After that we went outside the hut andstared at the sunwhich we were distressed to observe presented a remarkablyhealthy appearancewithout a sign of an eclipse anywhere about it.
"I hope it will come off" said Sir Henry doubtfully. "Falseprophets often find themselves in painful positions."
"If it does notit will soon be up with us" I answeredmournfully; "for so sure as we are living mensome of those chiefs willtell the whole story to the kingand then there will be another sort ofeclipseand one that we shall not like."
Returning to the hutwe dressed ourselvesputting on the mail shirts whichthe king had sent us as before. Scarcely had we done so when a messenger camefrom Twala to bid us to the great annual "dance of girls" which wasabout to be celebrated.
Taking our rifles and ammunition with usso as to have them handy in case wehad to flyas suggested by Infadooswe started boldly enoughthough withinward fear and trembling. The great space in front of the king's kraalpresented a very different appearance from what it had done on the previousevening. In the place of the grim ranks of serried warriors were company aftercompany of Kukuana girlsnot overdressedso far as clothing wentbut eachcrowned with a wreath of flowersand holding a palm leaf in one hand and a tallwhite lily (the arum) in the other. In the center of the open space sat Twalathe kingwith old Gagool at his feetattended by Infadoosthe boy Scraggaand about a dozen guards. There were also present about a score of chiefsamongwhom I recognized most of our friends of the night before.
Twala greeted us with much apparent cordialitythough I saw him fix his oneeye viciously on Umbopa.
"Welcomewhite men from the stars" he said; "this is adifferent sight from what your eyes gazed on by the light of last night's moonbut it is not so good a sight. Girls are pleasantand were it not for such asthese"- and he pointed round him- "we should none of us be here today;but men are better. Kisses and the tender words of women are sweetbut thesound of the clashing of men's spearsand the smell of men's bloodare sweeterfar! Would ye have wives from among our peoplewhite men? If sochoose thefairest hereand ye shall have themas many as ye will" and he pausedfor an answer.
As the prospect did not seem to be without attractions to Goodwho waslikemost sailorsof a susceptible natureIbeing elderly and wiseand foreseeingthe endless complications that anything of the sort would involve (for womenbring trouble as surely as the night follows the day)put in a hasty answer.
"ThanksO Kingbut we white men wed only with white women likeourselves. Your maidens are fairbut they are not for us!"
The king laughed. "It is well. In our land there is a proverb whichsays'Woman's eyes are always brightwhatever the color' and another whichsays'Love her who is presentfor be sure she who is absent is false to thee'but perhaps these things are not so in the stars. In a land where men are whiteall things are possible. So be itwhite menthe girls will not go begging!Welcome again; and welcometoothou black one; if Gagool here had had her waythou wouldst have been stiff and cold now. It is lucky that thoutoocamestfrom the stars; haha!"
"I can kill thee before thou killest meO King" was Ignosi's calmanswer"and thou shalt be stiff before my limbs cease to bend."
Twala started. "Thou speakest boldlyboy" he replied angrily;"Presume not too far."
"He may well be bold in whose lips are truth. The truth is a sharp spearwhich flies home and fails not. It is a message from 'the stars' O King!"
Twala scowledand his one eye gleamed fiercelybut he said nothing more.
"Let the dance begin" he criedand next second the flower-crownedgirls sprang forward in companiessinging a sweet song and waving the delicatepalms and white flowers. On they dancednow whirling round and roundnowmeeting in mimic warfareswayingeddying here and therecoming forwardfalling back in an ordered confusion delightful to witness. At last they pausedand a beautiful young woman sprang out of the ranks and began to pirouette infront of us with a grace and vigor which would have put most ballet girls toshame. At length she fell back exhaustedand another took her placethenanother and anotherbut none of themeither in graceskillor personalattractionscame up to the first.
At length the king lifted his hand.
"Which think ye the fairestwhite men?" he asked.
"The first" said I unthinkingly. Next second I regretted itfor Iremembered that Infadoos had said that the fairest woman was offered as asacrifice.
"Then is my mind as your mindsand my eyes as your eyes. She is thefairest; and a sorry thing it is for herfor she must die!"
"Aymust die!" piped out Gagoolcasting a glance from her quickeyes in the direction of the poor girlwhoas yet ignorant of the awful fatein store for herwas standing some twenty yards off in front of a company ofgirlsengaged in nervously picking a flower from her wreath to piecespetal bypetal.
"WhyO King?" said Irestraining my indignation with difficulty."The girl has danced well and pleased us; she is fairtoo; it would behard to reward her with death."
Twala laughed as he answered"It is our customand the figures who sitin stone yonder"- and he pointed towards the three distant peaks-"must have their due. Did I fail to put the fairest girl to death todaymisfortune would fall upon me and my house. Thus runs the prophecy of my people:'If the king offer not a sacrifice of a fair girl on the day of the dance ofmaidens to the old ones who sit and watch on the mountainsthen shall he falland his house.' Look yewhite menmy brother who reigned before me offered notthe sacrificebecause of the tears of the womanand he felland his houseand I reign in his stead. It is finished; she must die!" Thenturning tothe guards: "Bring her hither; Scraggamake sharp thy spear."
Two of the men stepped forwardand as they did so the girlfor the firsttime realizing her impending fatescreamed aloud and turned to fly. But thestrong hands caught her fastand brought herstruggling and weepingup beforeus.
"What is thy namegirl?" piped Gagool. "What! wilt thou notanswer; shall the king's son do his work at once?"
At this hint Scraggalooking more evil than everadvanced a step and liftedhis great spearand as he did so I saw Good's hand creep to his revolver. Thepoor girl caught the glint of the cold steel through her tearsand it soberedher anguish. She ceased strugglingbut merely clasped her hands convulsivelyand stood shuddering from head to foot.
"See" cried Scragga in high glee"she shrinks from the sightof my little plaything even before she has tasted it" and he tapped thebroad blade of the spear.
"If I ever get the chanceyou shall pay for thatyou younghound!" I heard Good mutter beneath his breath.
"Now that thou art quietgive us thy namemy dear. Comespeak upandfear not" said Gagool in mockery.
"Ohmother" answered the girl in trembling accents"my nameis Foulataof the house of Suko. Ohmotherwhy must I die? I have done nowrong!"
"Be comforted" went on the old woman in her hateful tone ofmockery. "Thou must dieindeedas a sacrifice to the old ones who sityonder"- and she pointed to the peaks- "but it is better to sleep inthe night than to toil in the daytime; it is better to die than to liveandthou shalt die by the royal hand of the king's own son."
The girl Foulata wrung her hands in anguishand cried out aloud: "Ohcruel; and I so young! What have I done that I should never again see the sunrise out of the nightor the stars come following on his track in the evening:that I should no more gather the flowers when the dew is heavyor listen to thelaughing of the waters! Woe is methat I shall never see my father's hut againnor feel my mother's kissnor tend the kid that is sick! Woe is methat nolover shall put his arm around me and look into my eyesnor shall men childrenbe born of me! Ohcruelcruel!" and again she wrung her hands and turnedher tear-stainedflower-crowned face to heavenlooking so lovely in herdespair- for she was indeed a beautiful woman- that it would assuredly havemelted the hearts of any one less cruel than the three fiends before us. PrinceArthur's appeal to the ruffians who came to blind him was not more touching thanthis savage girl's.
But it did not move Gagool or Gagool's masterthough I saw signs of pityamong the guard behind and on the faces of the chiefs; and as for Goodhe gavea sort of snort of indignationand made a motion as though to go to her. Withall a woman's quicknessthe doomed girl interpreted what was passing in hismindand with a sudden movement flung herself before himand clasped his"beautiful white legs" with her hands.
"Ohwhite father from the stars!" she cried. "Throw over methe mantle of thy protection; let me creep into the shadow of thy strengththatI may be saved. Ohkeep me from these cruel men and from the mercies ofGagool!"
"All rightmy heartyI'll look after you" sang out Goodinnervous Saxon. "Comeget upthere's a good girl" and he stooped andcaught her hand.
Twala turned and motioned to his sonwho advanced with his spear lifted.
"Now's your time" whispered Sir Henry to me; "what are youwaiting for?"
"I am waiting for the eclipse" I answered; "I have had my eyeon the sun for the last half hourand I never saw it look healthier."
"Wellyou must risk it now or the girl will be killed. Twala is losingpatience."
Recognizing the force of the argumenthaving cast one more despairing lookat the bright face of the sunfor never did the most ardent astronomer with atheory to prove await a celestial event with such anxietyI steppedwith allthe dignity I could commandbetween the prostrate girl and the advancing spearof Scragga.
"King" I said; "this shall not be; we will not tolerate sucha thing; let the girl go in safety."
Twala rose from his seat in his wrath and astonishmentand from the chiefsand serried ranks of girlswho had slowly closed in upon us in anticipation ofthe tragedycame a murmur of amazement.
"Shall not bethou white dogwho yaps at the lion in his cave; shallnot be! Art thou mad? Be careful lest this chicken's fate overtake thee andthose with thee. How canst thou prevent it? Who art thouthat thou standestbetween me and my will? WithdrawI say. Scraggakill her. Hoguards! Seizethese men."
At his cry armed men came running swiftly from behind the hutwhere they hadevidently been placed beforehand.
Sir HenryGoodand Umbopa ranged themselves alongside of me and liftedtheir rifles.
"Stop!" I shouted boldlythough at the moment my heart was in myboots. "Stop! Wethe white men from the starssay that it shall not be.Come but one pace nearer and we will put out the sun and plunge the land indarkness. Ye shall taste of our magic."
My threat produced an effect; the men haltedand Scragga stood still beforeushis spear lifted.
"Hear him! Hear him!" piped Gagool: "Hear the liar who says hewill put out the sun like a lamp. Let him do it and the girl shall be spared.Yeslet him do itor die with the girlhe and those with him."
I glanced up at the sunandto my intense joy and reliefsaw that we hadmade no mistake. On the edge of its brilliant surface was a faint rim of shadow.
I lifted my hand solemnly towards the skyan example which Sir Henry andGood followedand quoted a line or two of the Ingoldsby Legends at it in themost impressive tones I could command. Sir Henry followed suit with a verse outof the Old Testamentwhile Good addressed the king of day in a volume of themost classical bad language that he could think of.
Slowly the dark rim crept on over the blazing surfaceand as it did so Iheard a deep gasp of fear rise from the multitude around.
"LookO King! LookGagool! Lookchiefs and people and womenand seeif the white men from the stars keep their wordor if they be but empty liars!
"The sun grows dark before your eyes; soon there will be night- aynight in the noontime. Ye have asked for a sign; it is given to ye. Grow darkOsun! Withdraw thy lightthou bright one; bring the proud heart to the dustandeat up the world with shadows."
A groan of terror rose from the onlookers. Some stood petrified with fearothers threw themselves upon their knees and cried out. As for the kinghe satstill and turned pale beneath his dusky skin. Only Gagool kept her courage.
"It will pass" she cried; "I have seen the like before; noman can put out the sun; lose not heart; sit still- the shadow will pass."
"Waitand ye shall see" I repliedhopping with excitement.
"Keep it upGood; I can't remember any more poetry. Curse awaythere'sa good fellow."
Good responded nobly to the tax upon his inventive faculties. Never beforehad I the faintest conception of the breadth and depth and height of a navalofficer's objurgatory powers. For ten minutes he went on without stoppingandhe scarcely ever repeated himself.
Meanwhile the dark ring crept on. Strange and unholy shadows encroached uponthe sunlightan ominous quiet filled the placethe birds chirped outfrightened notes and then were still; only the cocks began to crow.
Onyet oncrept the ring of darkness; it was now more than half over thereddening orb. The air grew thick and dusky. Onyet ontill we could scarcelysee the fierce faces of the group before us. No sound now rose from thespectatorsand Good stopped swearing.
"The sun is dying- the wizards have killed the sun" yelled out theboy Scragga at last. "We shall all die in the dark" andanimated byfear or furyor bothhe lifted his spear and drove it with all his force atSir Henry's broad chest. But he had forgotten the mail shirts that the king hadgiven usand which we wore beneath our clothing. The steel rebounded harmlessand before he could repeat the blow Sir Henry had snatched the spear from hishand and sent it straight through him. He dropped dead.
At the sightand driven mad with fear at the gathering gloomthe companiesof girls broke up in wild confusion and ran screeching for the gateways. Nor didthe panic stop there. The king himselffollowed by the guardssome of thechiefsand Gagoolwho hobbled away after them with marvelous alacrityfledfor the hutsso that in another minute or so ourselvesthe would-be victimFoulataInfadoosand some of the chiefs who had interviewed us on the previousnight were left alone upon the scene with the dead body of Scragga.
"Nowchiefs" I said"we have given you the sign. If ye aresatisfiedlet us fly swiftly to the place ye spoke of. The charm cannot now bestopped. It will work for an hour. Let us take advantage of the darkness."
"Come" said Infadoosturning to goan example which was followedby the awed chiefsourselvesand the girl Foulatawhom Good took by the hand.
Before we reached the gate of the kraal the sun went out altogether.
Holding each other by the handwe stumbled on through the darkness.
12. Before the Battle -
LUCKILY for usInfadoos and the chiefs knew all the pathways of the greattown perfectlyso thatnotwithstanding the intense gloomwe made fairprogress.
For an hour or more we journeyed ontill at length the eclipse began topassand that edge of the sun which had disappeared the first became againvisible. In another five minutes there was sufficient light to see ourwhereaboutsand we then discovered that we were clear of the town of Looandapproaching a largeflat-topped hillmeasuring some two miles incircumference. This hillwhich was of a formation very common in southernAfricawas not very high; indeedits greatest elevation was not more than twohundred feetbut it was shaped like a horseshoeand its sides were ratherprecipitous and strewn with boulders. On the grass tableland at the top wasample camping groundwhich had been utilized as a military cantonment of nomean strength. Its ordinary garrison was one regiment of three thousand menbutas we toiled up the steep side of the hill in the returning daylight weperceived that there were many more warriors than that upon it.
Reaching the tableland at lastwe found crowds of men huddled together inthe utmost consternation at the natural phenomenon which they were witnessing.Passing through these without a wordwe gained a hut in the center of thegroundwhere we were astonished to find two men waitingladen with our fewgoods and chattelswhichof coursewe had been obliged to leave behind in ourhasty flight.
"I sent for them" explained Infadoos; "also for these"and he lifted up Good's long-lost trousers.
With an exclamation of rapturous delight Good sprang at themand instantlyproceeded to put them on.
"Surely my lord will not hide his beautiful white legs!" exclaimedInfadoos regretfully.
But Good persistedand once only did the Kukuana people get the chance ofseeing his beautiful legs again. Good is a very modest man. Henceforward theyhad to satisfy their esthetic longings with one whiskerhis transparent eyeand his movable teeth.
Still gazing with fond remembrance at Good's trousersInfadoos next informedus that he had summoned the regiments to explain to them fully the rebellionwhich was decided on by the chiefsand to introduce to them the rightful heirto the throneIgnosi.
In half an hour the troopsin all nearly twenty thousand menconstitutingthe flower of the Kukuana armywere mustered on a largeopen spaceto whichwe proceeded. The men were drawn up in three sides of a dense squareandpresented a magnificent spectacle. We took our station on the open side of thesquareand were speedily surrounded by all the principal chiefs and officers.
Theseafter silence had been proclaimedInfadoos proceeded to address. Henarrated to them in vigorous and graceful language- forlike most Kukuanas ofhigh rankhe was a born orator- the history of Ignosi's fatherhow he had beenbasely murdered by Twalathe kingand his wife and child driven out to starve.Then he pointed out how the land suffered and groaned under Twala's cruel ruleinstancing the proceedings of the previous nightwhenunder pretense of theirbeing evildoersmany of the noblest in the land had been hauled forth andcruelly done to death. Next he went on to say that the white lords from thestarslooking down on the landhad perceived its troubleand determinedatgreat personal inconvenienceto alleviate its lot; how they had accordinglytaken the real king of the countryIgnosiwho was languishing in exileby thehand and led him over the mountains; how they had seen the wickedness of Twala'sdoingsand for a sign to the waveringand to save the life of the girlFoulatahad actuallyby the exercise of their high magicput out the sun andslain the young fiendScragga; and how they were prepared to stand by themandassist them to overthrow Twalaand set up the rightful kingIgnosiin hisplace.
He finished his discourse amid a murmur of approbationand then Ignosistepped forward and began to speak. Having reiterated all that Infadooshisunclehad saidhe concluded a powerful speech in these words: "O chiefscaptainssoldiersand peopleye have heard my words. Now must ye make choicebetween me and him who sits
upon my thronethe uncle who killed his brotherand hunted his brother'schild forth to die in the cold and the night. That I am indeed the kingthese"- pointing to the chiefs- "can tell yefor they have seen thesnake about my middle. If I were not the kingwould these white men be on mysidewith all their magic? Tremblechiefscaptainssoldiersand people! Isnot the darkness they have brought upon the land to confound Twalaand coverour flightyet before your eyes?"
"It is" answered the soldiers.
"I am the king; I say to yeI am the king" went on Ignosidrawing up his great stature to its fulland lifting his broad-bladed battle-axabove his head. "If there be any man among ye who says that it is not solet him stand forthand I will fight him nowand his blood shall be a redtoken that I tell ye true. Let him stand forthI say" and he shook thegreat ax till it flashed in the sunlight.
As nobody seemed inclined to respond to this heroic version of "DillyDillycome and be killed" our late henchman proceeded with his address.
"I am indeed the kingand if ye do stand by my side in the battleif Iwin the day ye shall go with me to victory and honor. I will give ye oxen andwivesand ye shall take place of all the regiments; and if ye fall I will fallwith ye.
"And beholdthis promise do I give yethat when I sit upon the seat ofmy fathersbloodshed shall cease in the land. No longer shall ye cry forjustice to find slaughterno longer shall the witch finder hunt ye out so thatye be slain without a cause. No man shall die save he who offendeth against thelaws. The 'eating up' of your kraals shall cease; each shall sleep secure in hisown hut and fear notand justice shall walk blind throughout the land. Have yechosenchiefscaptainssoldiersand people?"
"We have chosenO King" came back the answer.
"It is well. Turn your heads and see how Twala's messengers go forthfrom the great towneast and westand north and southto gather a mighty armyto slay me and yethese my friends and my protectors. Tomorrowor perchancethe next daywill he come with all who are faithful to him. Then shall I seethe man who is indeed my manthe man who fears not to die for his cause; and Itell ye he shall not be forgotten in the time of spoil. I have spokenO chiefscaptainssoldiersand people. Now go to your huts and make you ready forwar."
There was a pauseand then one of the chiefs lifted his handand out rolledthe royal salute"Koom!" It was a sign that the regiments acceptedIgnosi as their king. Then they marched off in battalions.
Half an hour afterwards we held a council of warat which all the commandersof regiments were present. It was evident to us that before very long we shouldbe attacked in overwhelming force. Indeedfrom our point of vantage on the hillwe could see troops musteringand messengers going forth from Loo in everydirectiondoubtless to summon regiments to the king's assistance. We had on ourside about twenty thousand mencomposed of seven of the best regiments in thecountry. Twala hadso Infadoos and chiefs calculatedat least thirty tothirty-five thousand on whom he could rely at present assembled in Looand theythought that by midday on the morrow he would be able to gather another fivethousand or more to his aid. It wasof coursepossible that some of his troopswould desert and come over to usbut it was not a contingency that could bereckoned on. Meanwhileit was clear that active preparations were being made tosubdue us. Already strong bodies of armed men were patrolling round and roundthe foot of the hilland there were other signs of a coming attack.
Infadoos and the chiefshoweverwere of opinion that no attack would takeplace that nightwhich would be devoted to preparation and to the removal byevery possible means of the moral effect produced upon the minds of the soldieryby the supposed magical darkening of the sun. The attack would be on the morrowthey saidand they proved to be right.
Meanwhilewe set to work to strengthen the position as much as possible.Nearly the entire force was turned outand in two hours which yet remained tosundown wonders were done. The paths up the hill- which was rather a sanitariumthan a fortressbeing used generally as the camping place of regimentssuffering from recent service in unhealthy portions of the country- werecarefully blocked with masses of stonesand every other possible approach wasmade as impregnable as time would allow. Piles of boulders were collected atvarious spots to be rolled down upon an advancing enemystations were appointedto the different regimentsand every other preparation which our jointingenuity could suggest was taken.
Just before sundown we perceived a small company of men advancing towards usfrom the direction of Looone of whom bore a palm leaf in his hand as a signthat he came as a herald.
As he cameIgnosiInfadoosone or two chiefsand ourselves went down tothe foot of the mountain to meet him. He was a gallant-looking fellowwith theregulation leopard-skin cloak.
"Greeting!" he criedas he came near. "The king's greeting tothose who make unholy war against the king; the lion's greeting to the jackalswho snarl around his heels."
"Speak" I said.
"These are the king's words. Surrender to the king's mercy ere a worsething befall ye. Already the shoulder has been torn from the black bulland theking drives him bleeding about the camp." * -
* This cruel custom is not confined to the Kukuanasbut is by no meansuncommon among African tribes on the occasion of the outbreak of war or anyother important public event.- A. Q. -
"What are Twala's terms?" I askedfor curiosity.
"His terms are mercifulworthy of a great king. These are the words ofTwalathe one-eyedthe mightythe husband of a thousand wiveslord of theKukuanaskeeper of the Great Roadbeloved of the strange ones who sit insilence at the mountains yonder [the Three Witches]calf of the black cowelephant whose tread shakes the earthterror of the evildoerostrich whosefeet devour the deserthuge oneblack onewise oneking from generation togeneration! these are the words of Twala: 'I will have mercy and be satisfiedwith a little blood. One in every ten shall diethe rest shall go free; but thewhite man Incubuwho slew Scraggamy sonand Infadoosmy brotherwho brewsrebellion against methese shall die by torture as an offering to the silentones.' Such are the merciful words of Twala."
After consulting with the others a little I answered him in a loud voicesothat the soldiers might hearthus: "Go backthou dogto Twalawho senttheeand say that weIgnosiveritable king of the KukuanasIncubuBougwanand Macumazahnthe wise white ones from the stars who make dark the sunInfadoosof the royal houseand the chiefscaptainsand people heregatheredmake answer and say'That we will not surrender; that before the sunhas twice gone down Twala's corpse shall stiffen at Twala's gateand Ignosiwhose father Twala slewshall reign in his stead.' Now goere we whip theeawayand beware how ye lift a hand against such as we."
The herald laughed loud. "Ye frighten not men with such swellingwords" he cried out. "Show yourselves as bold tomorrowO ye whodarken the sun. Be boldfightand be merrybefore the crows pick your bonestill they are whiter than your faces. Farewell; perhaps we may meet in thefight; wait for meI praywhite men." And with this shaft of sarcasm heretiredand almost immediately the sun sank.
That night was a busy one for usforas far as was possible by themoonlightall preparations for the morrow's fight were continued. Messengerswere constantly coming and going from the place where we sat in council. Atlastabout an hour after midnighteverything that could be done was doneandthe campsave for the occasional challenge of a sentrysank into sleep. SirHenry and Iaccompanied by Ignosi and one of the chiefsdescended the hill andmade the round of the vedettes. As we wentsuddenlyfrom all sorts ofunexpected placesspears gleamed out in the moonlightonly to vanish again aswe uttered the password. It was clear to us that none were sleeping at theirposts. Then we returnedpicking our way through thousands of sleeping warriorsmany of whom were taking their last earthly rest.
The moonlight flickered along their spearsand played upon their featuresand made them ghastly; the chilly night wind tossed their tall and hearselikeplumes. There they lay in wild confusionwith arms outstretched and twistedlimbs; their sternstalwart forms looking weird and unhuman in the moonlight.
"How many of these do you suppose will be alive at this timetomorrow?" asked Sir Henry.
I shook my head and looked again at the sleeping menand to my tired and yetexcited imagination it seemed as though death had already touched them. Mymind's eye singled out those who were sealed to slaughterand there rushed inupon my heart a great sense of the mystery of human lifeand an overwhelmingsorrow at its futility and sadness. Tonight these thousands slept their healthysleep; tomorrow theyand many others with themourselves perhaps among themwould be stiffening in the cold; their wives would be widowstheir childrenfatherlessand their place know them no more forever. Only the old moon wouldshine serenely onthe night wind would stir the grassesand the wide earthwould take its happy resteven as it did eons before these wereand will doeons after they have been forgotten.
Yet man dies not while the worldat once his mother and his monumentremains. His name is forgottenindeedbut the breath he breathed yet stirs thepine tops on the mountainsthe sound of the words he spoke yet echoes onthrough space; the thoughts his brain gave birth to we have inherited today; hispassions are our cause of life; the joys and sorrows that he felt are ourfamiliar friends- the end from which he fled aghast will surely overtake usalso.
Truly the universe is full of ghosts; not sheetedchurchyard spectresbutthe inextinguishable and immortal elements of lifewhichhaving once beencannever diethough they blend and change and change again forever.
All sorts of reflections of this sort passed through my mind- for as I getolder I regret to say that a detestable habit of thinking seems to be getting ahold on me- while I stood and stared at those grim yet fantastic lines ofwarriors sleepingas their saying goes"upon their spears."
"Curtis" I said to Sir Henry"I am in a condition ofpitiable funk."
Sir Henry stroked his yellow beard and laughed as he answered"I'veheard you make that sort of remark beforeQuatermain."
"WellI mean it now. Do you knowI very much doubt if one of us willbe alive tomorrow night. We shall be attacked in overwhelming forceand it isexceedingly doubtful if we can hold this place."
"We'll give a good account of some of themat any rate. Look hereQuatermainthe business is a nasty oneand one with whichproperly speakingwe ought not to be mixed up; but we are in for itso we must make the best ofit. Speaking personallyI had rather be killed fighting than any other wayandnow that there seems little chance of finding my poor brotherit makes the ideaeasier to me. But fortune favors the braveand we may succeed. Anywaytheslaughter will be awfuland as we have a reputation to keep upwe shall haveto be in the thick of it."
Sir Henry made this last remark in a mournful voicebut there was a gleam inhis eye which belied it. I have a sort of idea that Sir Henry Curtis actuallylikes fighting.
After this we went and slept for a couple of hours.
Just about dawn we were awakened by Infadooswho came to say that greatactivity was to be observed in Looand that parties of the king's skirmisherswere driving in our vedettes.
We got up and dressed ourselves for the frayeach putting on his chain-armorshirtfor which at the present juncture we felt exceedingly thankful. Sir Henrywent the whole length about the matterand dressed himself like a nativewarrior. "When you are in Kukuanalanddo as the Kukuanas do" heremarked as he drew the shining steel over his broad shoulderswhich it fittedlike a glove. Nor did he stop there. At his requestInfadoos had provided himwith a complete set of war uniform. Round his throat he fastened theleopard-skin cloak of a commanding officeron his brows he bound the plume ofblack ostrich feathers worn only by generals of high rankand round his centera magnificent moocha of white ox tails. A pair of sandalsa leglet of goat'shaira heavy battle-ax with a rhinoceros-horn handlea round iron shieldcovered with white ox hideand the regulation number of tollasor throwingknivesmade up his equipmentto whichhoweverhe added his revolver. Thedress wasno doubta savage one; but I am bound to say I never saw a finersight than Sir Henry Curtis presented in this guise. It showed off hismagnificent physique to the greatest advantageand when Ignosi arrivedpresentlyarrayed in similar costumeI thought to myself that I never beforesaw two such splendid men. As for Good and myselfthe chain armor did not suitus nearly so well. To begin withGood insisted upon keeping on his trousersand a stoutshort gentleman with an eyeglassand one half of his face shavedarrayed in a mail shirt carefully tucked into a very seedy pair of corduroyslooks more striking than imposing. As for myselfmy chain shirt being too bigfor meI put it on over all my clotheswhich caused it to bulge out in asomewhat ungainly fashion. I discarded my trousershoweverdetermined to gointo battle with bare legsin order to be the lighter in case it becamenecessary to retire quicklyretaining only my veldtschoons. Thisa spearashieldwhich I did not know how to usea couple of tollasa revolverand ahuge plumewhich I pinned into the top of my shooting hat in order to give abloodthirsty finish to my appearancecompleted my modest equipment. In additionto all these articlesof coursewe had our riflesbut as ammunition wasscarceand they would be useless in case of a chargewe had arranged to havethem carried behind us by bearers.
As soon as we had equipped ourselves we hastily swallowed some foodand thenstarted out to see how things were progressing. At one point in the tableland ofthe mountain there was a little koppie of brown stonewhich served for thedouble purpose of headquarters and a conning tower. Here we found Infadoossurrounded by his own regimentthe Grayswhich was undoubtedly the finest inthe Kukuana armyand the same which we had first seen at the outlying kraal.This regimentnow three thousand five hundred strongwas being held inreserveand the men were lying down on the grass in companiesand watching theking's forces creep out of Loo in longantlike columns. There seemed to be noend to those columns- three in alland each numbering at least eleven or twelvethousand men.
As soon as they were clear of the townthey formed up. Then one body marchedoff to the rightone to the leftand the third came slowly on towards us.
"Ah" said Infadoos"they are going to attack us on threesides at once."
This was rather serious newsfor as our position on the top of the mountainwhich was at least a mile and a half in circumferencewas an extended oneitwas important to us to concentrate our comparatively small defending force asmuch as possible. Butas it was impossible for us to dictate in what way weshould be attackedwe had to make the best of itand accordingly sent ordersto the various regiments to prepare to receive the separate onslaughts.
13. The Attack -
SLOWLYand without the slightest appearance of hasteor excitementthethree columns crept on. When within about five hundred yards of usthe main orcenter column halted at the root of a tongue of open plain which ran up into thehillto enable the other two to circumvent our positionwhich was shaped moreor less in the form of a horseshoethe two points being towards the town ofLootheir object beingno doubtthat the threefold assault should bedelivered simultaneously.
"Ohfor a gatling!" groaned Goodas he contemplated the serriedphalanxes beneath us. "I would clear the plain in twenty minutes."
"We have not got oneso it is no use yearning for it; but suppose youtry a shotQuatermain. See how near you can go to that tall fellow who appearsto be in command. Two to one you miss himand an even sovereignto be honestlypaid if ever we get out of thisthat you don't drop the ball within tenyards."
This piqued mesoloading the express with solid ballI waited till myfriend walked some ten yards out from his forcein order to get a better viewof our positionaccompanied only by an orderlyand thenlying down andresting the express upon a rockI covered him. The riflelike all expresseswas only sighted to three hundred and fifty yardssoto allow for the drop intrajectoryI took him halfway down the neckwhich oughtI calculatedto findhim in the chest. He stood quite still and gave me every opportunitybutwhether it was the excitement or the windor the fact of the man being a longshotI don't knowbut this was what happened. Getting dead onas I thoughtafine sightI pressedand when the puff of smoke had cleared away Ito mydisgustsaw my man standing unharmedwhile his orderlywho was at least threepaces to the leftwas stretched upon the groundapparently dead. Turningswiftlythe officer I had aimed at began to run towards his forcein evidentalarm.
"BravoQuatermain!" sang out Good. "You've frightenedhim."
This made me very angryfor if possible to avoid itI hate to miss inpublic. When one can only do one thing wellone likes to keep up one'sreputation in that thing. Moved quite out of myself at my failureI did a rashthing. Rapidly covering the general as he ranI let drive with the secondbarrel. The poor man threw up his arms and fell forward on his face. This time Ihad made no mistake; and- I say it as a proof of how little we think of otherswhen our own pride or reputation is in question- I was brute enough to feeldelighted at the sight.
The regiments who had seen the feat cheered wildly at this exhibition of thewhite man's magicwhich they took as an omen of successwhile the force towhich the general had belonged- whichindeedas we afterwards ascertainedhehad commanded- began to fall back in confusion. Sir Henry and Good now took uptheir rifles and began to firethe latter industriously "browning"the dense mass before him with a Winchester repeaterand I also had anothershot or twowith the result thatso far as we could judgewe put some eightor ten men hors de combat before they got out of range.
Just as we stopped firing there came an ominous roar from our far rightthena similar roar from our left. The two other divisions were engaging us.
At the sound the mass of men before us opened out a littleand came ontowards the hill up the spit of bare grassland at a slow trotsinging adeep-throated song as they advanced. We kept up a steady fire from our rifles asthey cameIgnosi joining in occasionallyand accounted for several menbut ofcourse produced no more effect upon that mighty rush of armed humanity than hewho throws pebbles does on the advancing wave.
On they camewith a shout and the clashing of spears; now they were drivingin the outposts we had placed among the rocks at the foot of the hill. Afterthat the advance was a little slowerforthough as yet we had offered noserious oppositionthe attacking force had to come uphilland came slowly tosave their breath. Our first line of defense was about halfway up the sideoursecond fifty yards farther backwhile our third occupied the edge of the plain.
On they cameshouting their war cry"Twala! Twala! Chiele!Chiele!" ("Twala! Twala! Smite! Smite!") "Ignosi! Ignosi!Chiele! Chiele!" answered our people. They were quite close nowand thetollas began to flash backward and forwardand now with an awful yell thebattle closed in.
To and fro swayed the mass of struggling warriorsmen falling thick asleaves in an autumn wind; but before long the superior weight of the attackingforce began to telland our first line of defense was slowly pressed backtillit merged into the second. Here the struggle was very fiercebut again ourpeople were driven back and uptill at lengthwithin twenty minutes of thecommencement of the fightour third line came into action.
But by this time the assailants were much exhaustedand hadbesideslostmany men killed and woundedand to break through that third impenetrable hedgeof spears proved beyond their powers. For a while the dense mass of strugglingwarriors swung backward and forward in the fierce ebb and flow of battleandthe issue was doubtful. Sir Henry watched the desperate struggle with a kindlingeyeand then without a word he rushed offfollowed by Goodand flung himselfinto the hottest of the fray. As for myselfI stopped where I was.
The soldiers caught sight of his tall form as he plunged into the battleandthere rose a cry of"Nanzia Incubu!" ("Here is theElephant!") "Chiele! Chiele!"
From that moment the issue was no longer in doubt. Inch by inchfightingwith desperate gallantrythe attacking force was pressed back down thehillsidetill at last it retreated upon its reserves in something likeconfusion. At that momenttooa messenger arrived to say that the left attackhad been repulsedand I was just beginning to congratulate myself that theaffair was over for the presentwhento our horrorwe perceived our men whohad been engaged in the right defense being driven towards us across the plainfollowed by swarms of the enemywho had evidently succeeded at this point.
Ignosiwho was standing by metook in the situation at a glanceand issueda rapid order. Instantly the reserve regiment round us (the Grays) extendeditself.
Again Ignosi gave a word of commandwhich was taken up and repeated
by the captainsand in another secondto my intense disgustI found myselfinvolved in a furious onslaught upon the advancing foe. Getting as much as Icould behind Ignosi's huge frameI made the best of a bad joband toddledalong to be killedas though I liked it. In a minute or two- the time seemedall too short to me- we were plunging through the flying groups of our menwhoat once began to re-form behind usand then I am sure I do not know whathappened. All I can remember is a dreadful rolling noise of the meeting ofshieldsand the sudden apparition of a huge ruffianwhose eyes seemedliterally to be starting out of his headmaking straight at me with a bloodyspear. But- I say it with pride- I rose to the occasion. It was an occasionbefore which most people would have collapsed once and for all. Seeing that if Istood where I was I must be done forIas the horrid apparition cameflungmyself down in front of him so cleverly thatbeing unable to stop himselfhetook a header right over my prostrate form. Before he could rise again I hadrisen and settled the matter from behind with my revolver.
Shortly after this somebody knocked me downand I remember no more of thecharge.
When I came to I found myself back at the koppiewith Good bending over mewith some water in a gourd.
"How do you feelold fellow?" he asked anxiously.
I got up and shook myself before answering.
"Pretty wellthank you" I answered.
"Thank heaven! When I saw them carry you in I felt quite sick; I thoughtyou were done for."
"Not this timemy boy. I fancy I only got a rap on the headwhichknocked me out of time. How has it ended?"
"They are repulsed at every point for the time. The loss is dreadfullyheavy; we have lost quite two thousand killed and woundedand they must havelost three. Lookthere's a sight!" and he pointed to long lines of menadvancing by fours. In the center ofand being borne byeach group of four wasa kind of hide trayof which a Kukuana force always carried a quantitywith aloop for a handle at each corner. On these trays- and their number seemedendless- lay wounded menwho as they arrived were hastily examined by themedicine menof whom ten were attached to each regiment. If the wound was notof a fatal character the sufferer was taken away and attended to as carefully ascircumstances would allow. But ifon the other handthe wounded man'scondition was hopelesswhat followed was very dreadfulthough doubtless it wasthe truest mercy. One of the doctorsunder pretense of carrying out anexaminationswiftly opened an artery with a sharp knifeand in a minute or twothe sufferer expired painlessly. There were many cases that day in which thiswas done. In factit was done in most cases when the wound was in the bodyforthe gash made by the entry of the enormously broad spears used by the Kukuanasgenerally rendered recovery hopeless. In most cases the sufferers were alreadyunconsciousand in others the fatal "nick" of the artery was done soswiftly and painlessly that they did not seem to notice it. Stillit was aghastly sightand one from which we were glad to escape; indeedI neverremember one which affected me more than seeing those gallant soldiers thus putout of pain by the red-handed medicine menexceptindeedon an occasion whenafter an attackI saw a force of Swazis burying their hopelessly wounded alive.
Hurrying from this dreadful scene to the farther side of the koppiewe foundSir Henry (who still held a bloody battle-ax in his hand)IgnosiInfadoosandone or two of the chiefs in deep consultation.
"Thank heavenhere you areQuatermain! I can't make out what Ignosiwants to do. It seems thatthough we have beaten off the attackTwala is nowreceiving large reinforcementsand is showing a disposition to invest uswitha view of starving us out."
"Yes; especially as Infadoos says that the water supply has givenout."
"My lordthat is so" said Infadoos; "the spring cannotsupply the wants of so great a multitudeand is failing rapidly. Before nightwe shall all be thirsty. ListenMacumazahn. Thou art wiseand hast doubtlessseen many wars in the lands from whence thou camest- that is ifindeedtheymake wars in the stars. Now tell uswhat shall we do? Twala has brought up manyfresh men to take the place of those who have fallen. But Twala has learned alesson; the hawk did not think to find the heron ready; but our beak has piercedhis breast; he will not strike at us again. Wetooare woundedand he willwait for us to die; he will wind himself round us like a snake round a buckandfight the fight of 'sit down.'"
"I hear you" I said.
"SoMacumazahnthou seest we have no water hereand but a littlefoodand we must choose between these three things- to languish like a starvinglion in his denor to strive to break away towards the northor"- andhere he rose and pointed towards the dense mass of our foes- "to launchourselves straight at Twala's throat. Incubuthe great warrior- for today hefought like a buffalo in a netand Twala's soldiers went down before his axlike corn before the hail; with these eyes I saw it- Incubu says 'charge' butthe Elephant is ever prone to charge. Now what says Macumazahnthe wily oldfoxwho has seen much and loves to bite his enemy from behind? The last word isin Ignosithe kingfor it is a king's right to speak of war; but let us hearthy voiceO Macumazahnwho watchest by nightand the voice too of him of thetransparent eye."
"What sayest thouIgnosi?"
"Naymy father" answered our quondam servantwho nowclad as hewas in the full panoply of savage warlooked every inch a warrior king"do thou speakand let mewho am but a child in wisdom beside theehearken to thy words."
Thus abjuredIafter taking hasty counsel with Good and Sir Henrydelivered my opinion briefly to the effectthatbeing trappedour bestchanceespecially in view of the failure of our water supplywas to initiatean attack upon Twala's forcesand then I recommended that the attack should bedelivered at once"before our wounds grew stiff" and also before thesight of Twala's overpowering force caused the hearts of our soldiers "towax small like fat before a fire." OtherwiseI pointed outsome of thecaptains might change their mindsandmaking peace with Twaladesert to himor even betray us into his hands.
This expression of opinion seemedon the wholeto be favorably received;indeedamong the Kukuanas my utterances met with a respect which has never beenaccorded to them before or since. But the real decision as to our course laywith Ignosiwhosince he had been recognized as rightful kingcould exercisethe almost unbounded rights of sovereigntyincludingof coursethe finaldecision on matters of generalshipand it was to him that all eyes were nowturned.
At lengthafter a pauseduring which he appeared to be thinking deeplyhespoke:
"IncubuMacumazahnand Bougwanbrave white menand my friends;Infadoosmy uncleand chiefs; my heart is fixed. I will strike at Twala thisdayand set my fortunes on the blowayand my life; my life and your livesalso. Listen: thus will I strike. Ye see how the hill curves round like the halfmoonand how the plain runs like a green tongue towards us within thecurve?"
We see" I answered.
"Good; it is now middayand the men eat and rest after the toil ofbattle. When the sun has turned and traveled a little way towards the darkletthy regimentmy uncleadvance with one other down to the green tongue. And itshall be that when Twala sees it he shall hurl his force at it to crush it. Butthe spot is narrowand the regiments can come against thee one at a time onlyso shall they be destroyed one by oneand the eyes of all Twala's army shall befixed upon a struggle the like of which has not been seen by living man. Andwith theemy uncleshall go Incubumy friendthat when Twala sees hisbattle-ax flashing in the first rank of the Grays his heart may grow faint. AndI will come with the second regimentthat which follows theeso that if ye aredestroyedas it may happenthere may yet be a king left to fight for; and withme shall come Macumazahn the wise."
"It is wellO King" said Infadoosapparently contemplating thecertainty of the complete annihilation of his regiment with perfect calmness.Truly these Kukuanas are a wonderful people. Death has no terrors for them whenit is incurred in the course of duty.
"And while the eyes of the multitude of Twala's regiments are thus fixedupon the fight" went on Ignosi"beholdone third of the men who areleft alive to us" (i.e.about six thousand) "shall creep along theright horn of the hill and fall upon the left flank of Twala's forceand onethird shall creep along the left horn and fall upon Twala's right flank. Andwhen I see that the horns are ready to toss Twalathen will Iwith the men whoare left to mecharge home in Twala's faceand if fortune goes with us the daywill be oursand before Night drives her horses from the mountains to themountains we shall sit in peace at Loo. And now let us eat and make ready; andInfadoosdo thou preparethat the plan be carried out; and staylet my whitefatherBougwango with the right hornthat his shining eye may give courageto the men."
The arrangements for the attack thus briefly indicated were set in motionwith a rapidity that spoke well for the perfection of the Kukuana militarysystem. Within little more than an hour rations had been served out to the menand devouredthe three divisions were formedthe plan of attack explained tothe leadersand the whole force- with the exception of a guard left with thewounded- now numbering about eighteen thousand men in allwas ready to be putin motion.
Presently Good came up and shook hands with Sir Henry and myself.
"Good-byyou fellows" he said"I am off with the rightwingaccording to orders; and so I have come to shake hands in case we shouldnot meet againyou know" he added significantly.
We shook hands in silenceand not without the exhibition of as much emotionas Englishmen are wont to show.
"It is a queer business" said Sir Henryhis deep voice shaking alittle"and I confess I never expect to see tomorrow's sun. As far as Ican make outthe Grayswith whom I am to goare to fight until they are wipedout in order to enable the wings to slip round unawares and outflank Twala.Wellso be it; at any rateit will be a man's death! Good-byold fellow. Godbless you! I hope you will pull through and live to collar the diamonds; but ifyou dotake my advice and don't have anything more to do with pretenders!"
In another second Good had wrung us both by the hand and gone; and thenInfadoos came up and led off Sir Henry to his place in the forefront of theGrayswhilewith many misgivingsI departed with Ignosi to my station in thesecond attacking regiment.
14. The Last Stand of the Grays -
IN A FEW more minutes the regiments destined to carry out the flankingmovements had tramped off in silencekeeping carefully under the lee of therising ground in order to conceal the movement from the keen eyes of Twala'sscouts.
Half an hour or more was allowed to elapse between the setting out of thehorns or wings of the army before any movement was made by the Grays and thesupporting regimentknown as the Buffaloesand which were destined to bear thebrunt of the battle.
Both of these regiments were almost perfectly freshand of full strengththe Grays having been in reserve in the morningand having lost but a smallnumber of men in sweeping back that part of the attack which had provedsuccessful in breaking the line of defense on the occasion when I charged withthem and got knocked silly for my pains. As for the Buffaloesthey had formedthe third line of defense on the leftand as the attacking force at that pointhad not succeeded in breaking through the secondhad scarcely come into actionat all.
Infadooswho was a wary old generaland knew the absolute importance ofkeeping up the spirits of his men on the eve of such a desperate encounteremployed the pause in addressing his own regimentthe Graysin poeticallanguage; in explaining to them the honor that they were receiving in being putthus in the forefront of the battleand in having the great white warrior fromthe stars to fight with them in their ranksand in promising large rewards ofcattle and promotion to all who survived in the event of Ignosi's arms beingsuccessful.
I looked down the long lines of waving black plumes and stern faces beneaththemand sighed to think that within one short hour mostif not allof thosemagnificent veteran warriorsnot a man of whom was under forty years of agewould be laid dead or dying in the dust. It could not be otherwise; they werebeing condemnedwith that wise recklessness of human life that marks the greatgeneraland often saves his forces and attains his endsto certain slaughterin order to give the cause and the remainder of the army a chance of success.They were foredoomed to dieand they knew it. It was to be their task to engageregiment after regiment of Twala's army on the narrow strip of green beneath ustill they were exterminatedor till the wings found a favorable opportunity fortheir onslaught. And yet they never hesitatednor could I detect a sign of fearupon the face of a single warrior. There they were- going to certain deathabout to quit the blessed light of day foreverand yet able to contemplatetheir doom without a tremor. I could noteven at that momenthelp contrastingtheir state of mind with my ownwhich was far from comfortableand breathing asigh of envy and admiration. Never before had I seen such an absolute devotionto the idea of dutyand such a complete indifference to its bitter fruits.
"Behold your king!" ended old Infadoospointing to Ignosi."Go fight and fall for himas is the duty of brave menand cursed andshameful forever be the name of him who shrinks from death for his kingor whoturns his back to his enemy. Behold your king! Chiefscaptainsand soldiers;now do your homage to the sacred snakeand then follow onthat Incubu and Imay show ye the road to the heart of Twala's forces."
There was a moment's pausethen suddenly there rose from the serriedphalanxes before us a murmurlike the distant whisper of the seacaused by thegentle tapping of the handles of six thousand spears against their holders'shields. Slowly it swelledtill its growing volume deepened and widened into aroar of rolling noise that echoed like thunder against the mountainsand filledthe air with heavy waves of sound. Then it decreased and slowly died away into
nothingand suddenly out crashed the royal salute.
IgnosiI thought to myselfmight well be a proud man that dayfor no Romanemperor ever had such a salutation from gladiators "about to die."
Ignosi acknowledged this magnificent act of homage by lifting his battle-axand then the Grays filed off in a triple-line formationeach line containingabout one thousand fighting menexclusive of officers. When the last line hadgone some five hundred yardsIgnosi put himself at the head of the Buffaloeswho were drawn up in a similar three-line formationand gave the word to marchand off we wentIneedless to sayuttering the most heartfelt prayers that Imight come out of that job with a whole skin. Many a queer position have I foundmyself inbut never before in one quite so unpleasant as the presentor one inwhich my chance of coming off safe was so small.
By the time that we reached the edge of the plateau the Grays were alreadyhalfway down the slope ending in the tongue of grassland that ran up into thebend of the mountainsomething as the frog of a horse's foot runs up into theshoe. The excitement in Twala's camp on the plain beyond was very greatandregiment after regiment was starting forward at a long swinging trot in order toreach the root of the tongue of land before the attacking force could emergeinto the plain of Loo.
This tongue of landwhich was some three hundred yards in depthwasevenat its root or widest partnot more than three hundred and fifty paces acrosswhile at its tip it scarcely measured ninety. The Grayswhoin passing downthe side of the hill and on to the tip of the tonguehad formed in columnonreaching the spot where it broadened out again reassumed their triple-lineformationand halted dead.
Then we- that isthe Buffaloes- moved down the tip of the tongue and tookour stand in reserveabout one hundred yards behind the last line of the Graysand on slightly higher ground. Meanwhilewe had leisure to observe Twala'sentire forcewhich had evidently been reinforced since the morning attackandcould not nownotwithstanding their lossesnumber less than forty thousandmoving swiftly up towards us. But as they drew near the root of the tongue theyhesitatedhaving discovered that only one regiment could advance into the gorgeat a timeand that theresome seventy yards from the mouth of itunassailableexcept in fronton account of the high walls of boulder-strewn ground on eithersidestood the famous regiment of Graysthe pride and glory of the Kukuanaarmyready to hold the way against their forces as the three Romans once heldthe bridge against thousands. They hesitatedand finally stopped their advance;there was no eagerness to cross spears with those three lines of grim warriorswho stood so firm and ready. Presentlyhowevera tall generalwith thecustomary headdress of nodding ostrich plumescame running upattended by agroup of chiefs and orderliesbeingI thoughtnone other than Twala himselfand gave an orderand the first regiment raised a shoutand charged up towardsthe Grayswho remained perfectly still and silent until the attacking troopswere within forty yardsand a volley of tollasthe throwing knivescamerattling among their ranks.
Then suddenlywith a bound and a roarthey sprang forward with upliftedspearsand the two regiments met in deadly strife. Next second the roll of themeeting shields came to our ears like the sound of thunderand the whole plainseemed to be alive with flashes of light reflected from the stabbing spears. Toand fro swung the heaving mass of strugglingstabbing humanitybut not forlong. Suddenly the attacking lines seemed to grow thinnerand then with a slowlong heave the Grays passed over themjust as a great wave heaves up and passesover a sunken ridge. It was done; that regiment was completely destroyedbutthe Grays had but two lines left now; a third of their number were dead.
Closing up shoulder to shoulder once morethey halted in silence and awaitedattack; and I was rejoiced to catch sight of Sir Henry's yellow beard as hemoved to and froarranging the ranks. So he was yet alive!
Meanwhilewe moved up onto the ground of the encounterwhich was cumberedby about four thousand prostrate human beingsdeaddyingand woundedandliterally stained red with blood. Ignosi issued an orderwhich was rapidlypassed down the ranksto the effect that none of the enemy's wounded were to bekilledandso far as we could seethis order was scrupulously carried out. Itwould have been a shocking sightif we had had time to think of it.
But now a second regimentdistinguished by white plumeskiltsand shieldswas moving up to the attack of the two thousand remaining Grayswho stoodwaiting in the same ominous silence as beforetill the foe was within fortyyards or sowhen they hurled themselves with irresistible force upon them.Again there came the awful roll of the meeting shieldsand as we watchedthegrim tragedy repeated itself. But this time the issue was left longer in doubt;indeedit seemed for a while almost impossible that the Grays should againprevail. The attacking regimentwhich was one formed of young menfought withthe utmost furyand at first seemed by sheer weight to be driving the veteransback. The slaughter was something awfulhundreds falling every minute; and fromamong the shouts of the warriors and the groans of the dyingset to theclashing music of meeting spearscame a continuous hissing undertone of"S'gees'gee" the note of triumph of each victor as he passed hisspear through and through the body of his fallen foe.
But perfect discipline and steady and unchanging valor can do wondersandone veteran soldier is worth two young onesas soon became apparent in thepresent case. For just as we thought that it was all up with the Graysand werepreparing to take their place so soon as they made room by being destroyedIheard Sir Henry's deep voice ringing out above the dinand caught a glimpse ofhis circling battle-ax as he waved it high above his plumes. Then came a change;the Grays ceased to give; they stood still as a rockagainst which the furiouswaves of spearmen broke again and againonly to recoil. Presently they began tomove again- forward this time; as they had no firearms there was no smokeso wecould see it all. Another minute and the onslaught grew fainter.
"Ahthey are men indeed; they will conquer again" called outIgnosiwho was grinding his teeth with excitement at my side. "Seeit isdone!"
Suddenlylike puffs of smoke from the mouth of a cannonthe attackingregiment broke away in flying groupstheir white headdresses streaming behindthem in the windand left their opponents victorsindeedbutalas! no more aregiment. Of the gallant triple linewhich forty minutes before had gone intoaction three thousand strongthere remained at most some six hundredblood-bespattered men; the rest were underfoot. And yet they cheered and wavedtheir spears in triumphand theninstead of falling back upon us as weexpectedthey ran forwardfor a hundred yards or soafter the flying groupsof foementook possession of a gently rising knoll of groundandresuming theold triple formationformed a threefold ring round it. And thenthanks be toGodstanding on the top of a mound for a minuteI saw Sir Henryapparentlyunharmedand with him our old friend Infadoos. Then Twala's regiments rolleddown upon the doomed bandand once more the battle closed in. As those who readthis history will probably long ago have gatheredI amto be honesta bit ofa cowardand certainly in no way given to fightingthoughsomehowit hasoften been my lot to get into unpleasant positionsand to be obliged to shedmen's blood. But I have always hated itand kept my own blood as undiminishedin quantity as possiblesometimes by a judicious use of my heels. At thismomenthoweverfor the first time in my lifeI felt my bosom burn withmartial ardor. Warlike fragments from the Ingoldsby Legendstogether withnumbers of sanguinary verses from the Old Testamentsprang up in my brain likemushrooms in the dark; my bloodwhich hitherto had been half-frozen withhorrorwent beating through my veinsand there came upon me a savage desire tokill and spare not. I glanced round at the serried ranks of warriors behind usand somehowall in an instantbegan to wonder if my face looked like theirs.There they stoodtheir heads craned forward over their shieldsthe handstwitchingthe lips apartthe fierce features instinct with the hungry lust ofbattleand in the eyes a look like the glare of a bloodhound when he sights hisquarry.
Only Ignosi's heart seemedto judge from his comparative self-possessiontoall appearanceto beat as calmly as ever beneath his leopard-skin cloakthougheven he still kept on grinding his teeth. I could stand it no longer.
"Are we to stand here till we put out rootsUmbopa- IgnosiI mean-while Twala swallows our brothers yonder?" I asked.
"NayMacumazahn" was the answer; "seenow is the ripemoment; let us pluck it."
As he spoke a fresh regiment rushed past the ring upon the little moundandwheeling roundattacked it from the hither side.
Thenlifting his battle-axIgnosi gave the signal to advanceandraisingthe Kukuana battle crythe Buffaloes charged home with a rush like the rush ofthe sea.
What followed immediately on this it is out of my power to tell. All I canremember is a wild yet ordered rushing that seemed to shake the ground; a suddenchange of front and forming up on the part of the regiment against which thecharge was directed; then an awful shocka dull roar of voicesand acontinuous flashing of spearsseen through a red mist of blood.
When my mind cleared I found myself standing inside the remnant of the Graysnear the top of the moundand just behind no less a person than Sir Henryhimself. How I got there I hadat the momentno ideabut Sir Henry afterwardstold me that I was borne up by the first furious charge of the Buffaloes almostto his feetand then leftas they in turn were pressed back. Thereon he dashedout of the circle and dragged me into it.
As for the fight that followedwho can describe it? Again and again themultitudes surged up against our momentarily lessening circleand again andagain we beat them back. -
The stubborn spearsmen still made good
The dark impenetrable wood;
Each stepping where his comrade stood
The instant that he fell... -
as I think the Ingoldsby Legends beautifully puts it.
It was a splendid thing to see those brave battalions come on time after timeover the barriers of their deadsometimes holding corpses before them toreceive our spear thrustsonly to leave their own corpses to swell the risingpiles. It was a gallant sight to see that sturdy old warriorInfadoosas coolas though he were on paradeshouting out orderstauntsand even jeststokeep up the spirit of his few remaining menand thenas each charge rolled upstepping forward to wherever the fighting was thickestto bear his share inrepelling it. And yet more gallant was the vision of Sir Henrywhose ostrichplumes had been shorn off by a spear strokeso that his long yellow hairstreamed out in the breeze behind him. There he stoodthe great Danefor hewas nothing elsehis handshis axand his armor all red with bloodand nonecould live before his stroke. Time after time I saw it come sweeping downassome great warrior ventured to give him battleand as he struck he shouted"Oh-hoy! Oh-hoy!" like his Berserkir forefathersand the blow wentcrashing through shield and spearthrough headdresshairand skulltill atlast none would of their own will come near the great white "tagati"(wizard)who killed and failed not.
But suddenly there rose a cry of "Twalay' Twala" and out of thepress sprang forward none other than the gigantic one-eyed king himselfalsoarmed with battle-ax and shieldand clad in chain armor.
"Where art thouIncubuthou white manwho slew Scraggamy son- seeif thou canst kill me!" he shoutedand at the same time hurled a tollastraight at Sir Henrywhofortunatelysaw it comingand caught it on hisshieldwhich transfixed itso that it remained wedged in the iron plate behindthe hide.
Thenwith a cryTwala sprang forward straight at himand with hisbattle-ax struck him such a blow upon the shield that the mere force and shockof it brought Sir Henrystrong man as he wasdown upon his knees.
But at the time the matter went no furtherfor at that instant there rosefrom the regiments pressing round us something like a shout of dismayand onlooking up I saw the cause.
To the right and to the left the plain was alive with the plumes of chargingwarriors. The outflanking squadrons had come to our relief. The time could nothave been better chosen. All Twala's army hadas Ignosi had predicted would bethe casefixed their attention on the bloody struggle which was raging roundthe remnant of the Grays and the Buffaloeswho were now carrying on a battle oftheir own at a little distancewhich two regiments had formed the chest of ourarmy. It was not until the horns were about to close upon them that they haddreamed of their approach. And nowbefore they could even assume a properformation for defensethe outflanking Impis had leapedlike greyhoundsontheir flanks.
In five minutes the fate of the battle was decided. Taken on both flanksanddismayed by the awful slaughter inflicted upon them by the Grays and BuffaloesTwala's regiments broke into flightand soon the whole plain between us and Loowas scattered with groups of flying soldiersmaking good their retreat. As forthe forces that had so recently surrounded us and the Buffaloesthey meltedaway as though by magicand presently we were left standing there like a rockfrom which the sea has retreated. But what a sight it was! Around us the deadand dying lay in heaped-up massesand of the gallant Grays there remained alivebut ninety-five men. More than two thousand nine hundred had fallen in this oneregimentmost of them never to rise again.
"Men" said Infadoos calmlyas between the intervals of binding upa wound in his arm he surveyed what remained to him of his corps"ye havekept up the reputation of your regimentand this day's fighting will be spokenof by our children's children." Then he turned round and shook Sir HenryCurtis by the hand. "Thou art a great manIncubu" he said simply;"I have lived a long life among warriorsand known many a brave oneyethave I never seen a man like thee."
At this moment the Buffaloes began to march past our position on the road toLooand as they did so a message was brought to us from Ignosi requestingInfadoosSir Henryand myself to join him. Accordinglyorders having beenissued to the remaining men of the Grays to employ themselves in collecting thewoundedwe joined Ignosiwho informed us that he was pressing on to Loo tocomplete the victory by capturing Twalaif that should be possible. Before wehad gone far we suddenly discovered the figure of Good sitting on an ant heapabout one hundred paces from us. Close beside him was the body of a Kukuana.
"He must be wounded" said Sir Henry anxiously. As he made theremarkan untoward thing happened. The dead body of the Kukuana soldierorrather what had appeared to be his dead bodysuddenly sprang upknocked Goodhead over heels off the ant heapand began to spear him. We rushed forward interrorand as we drew near we saw the brawny warrior making dig after dig atthe prostrate Goodwho at each prod jerked all his limbs into the air. Seeingus comingthe Kukuana gave one final most vicious digand with a shout of"Take thatwizard" bolted off. Good did not moveand we concludedthat our poor comrade was done for. Sadly we came towards himand wereastonished to find him pale and faint indeedbut with a serene smile upon hisfaceand his eyeglass still fixed in his eye.
"Capital armor this" he murmuredon catching sight of our facesbending over him. "How sold he must have been" and then he fainted.On examination we discovered that he had been seriously wounded in the leg by atolla in the course of the pursuitbut that the chain armor had prevented hislast assailant's spear from doing anything more than bruise him badly. It was amerciful escape. As nothing could be done for him at the momenthe was placedon one of the wicker shields used for the woundedand carried along with us.
On arriving before the nearest gate of Loo we found one of our regimentswatching it in obedience to orders received from Ignosi. The remaining regimentswere in the same way watching the other exits to the town. The officer incommand of this regiment coming upsaluted Ignosi as kingand informed himthat Twala's army had taken refuge in the townwhither Twala himself had alsoescapedbut that he thought they were thoroughly demoralizedand wouldsurrender. Thereupon Ignosiafter taking counsel with ussent forward heraldsto each gate ordering the defenders to openand promising on his royal wordlife and forgiveness to every soldier who laid down his arms. The message wasnot without its effect. Presentlyamid the shouts and cheers of the Buffaloesthe bridge was dropped across the fosseand the gates upon the farther sideflung open.
Taking due precautions against treacherywe marched on into the town. Allalong the roadways stood dejected warriorstheir heads drooping and theirshields and spears at their feetwhoas Ignosi passedsaluted him as king. Onwe marchedstraight to Twala's kraal. When we reached the great spacewhere aday or two previously we had seen the review and the witch huntwe found itdeserted. Nonot quite desertedfor thereon the farther sidein front ofhis hutsat Twala himselfwith but one attendant- Gagool.
It was a melancholy sight to see him seated therehis battle-ax and shieldby his sidehis chin upon his mailed breastwith but one old crone forcompanionandnotwithstanding his cruelties and misdeedsa pang of compassionshot through me as I saw him thus "fallen from his high estate." Not asoldier of all his armiesnot a courtier out of the hundreds who had cringedround himnot even a solitary wiferemained to share his fate or halve thebitterness of his fall. Poor savage! He was learning the lesson that fateteaches to most who live long enoughthat the eyes of mankind are blind to thediscreditedand that he who is defenseless and fallen finds few friends andlittle mercy. Norindeedin this case did he deserve any.
Filing through the kraal gatewe marched straight across the open space towhere the ex-king sat. When within about fifty yards the regiment was haltedandaccompanied only by a small guardwe advanced towards himGagool revilingus bitterly as we came. As we drew nearTwalafor the first timelifted uphis plumed headand fixed his one eyewhich seemed to flash with suppressedfury almost as brightly as the great diadem bound round his foreheadupon hissuccessful rival- Ignosi.
"HailO King!" he said with bitter mockery. "Thou who hasteaten of my breadand now by the aid of the white man's magic hast seduced myregiments and defeated mine armyhail! What fate hast thou for meOKing?"
"The fate thou gavest to my fatherwhose throne thou hast sat on thesemany years!" was the stern answer.
"It is well. I will show thee how to diethat thou mayest remember itagainst thine own time. Seethe sun sinks in blood" and he pointed withhis red battle-ax towards the fiery orb now going down; "it is well that mysun should sink with it. And nowO King! I am ready to diebut I crave theboon of the Kukuana royal house * to die fighting. Thou canst not refuse itoreven those cowards who fled today will bold thee shamed." -
* It is a law among the Kukuanas that no man of the royal blood can be put todeath unless by his own consentwhich ishowevernever refused. He is allowedto choose a succession of antagoniststo be approved by the kingwith whom hefights until one of them kills him. -
"It is granted. Choose- with whom wilt thou fight? MyselfI cannotfight with theefor the king fights not except in war."
Twala's somber eye ran up and down our ranksand I feltas for a moment itrested on myselfthat the position had developed a new horror. What if he choseto begin by fighting me? What chance should I have against a desperate savagesix feet five highand broad in proportion? I might as well commit suicide atonce. Hastily I made up my mind to decline the combateven if I were hooted outof Kukuanaland as a consequence. It isI thinkbetter to be hooted than to bequartered with a battle-ax.
Presently he spoke.
"Incubuwhat sayest thoushall we end what we began todayor shall Icall thee cowardwhite- even to the liver?"
"Nay" interposed Ignosi hastily; "thou shalt not fight withIncubu."
"Not if he is afraid" said Twala.
Unfortunately Sir Henry understood this remarkand the blood flamed up intohis cheeks.
"I will fight him" he said; "he shall see if I amafraid."
"For God's sake" I entreated"don't risk your life againstthat of a desperate man. Anybody who saw you today will know that you are not acoward."
"I will fight him" was the sullen answer. "No living manshall call me a coward. I am ready now!" and he stepped forward and liftedhis ax.
I wrung my hands over this absurd piece of Quixotism; but if he wasdetermined on fightingof course I could not stop him.
"Fight notmy white brother" said Ignosilaying his handaffectionately on Sir Henry's arm; "thou hast fought enoughand if aughtbefell thee at his hands it would cut my heart in twain."
"I will fightIgnosi" was Sir Henry's answer.
"It is wellIncubu; thou art a brave man. It will be a good
fight. BeholdTwalathe Elephant is ready for thee."
The ex-king laughed savagelyand stepped forward and faced Curtis. For amoment they stood thusand the setting sun caught their stalwart frames andclothed them both in fire. They were a well-matched pair.
Then they began to circle round each othertheir battle-axes raised.
Suddenly Sir Henry sprang forward and struck a fearful blow at Twalawhostepped to one side. So heavy was the stroke that the striker half overbalancedhimselfa circumstance of which his antagonist took a prompt advantage.Circling his heavy battle-ax round his headhe brought it down with tremendousforce. My heart jumped into my mouth; I thought the affair was already finished.But no; with a quick upward movement of the left arm Sir Henry interposed hisshield between himself and the axwith the result that its outer edge was shornclean offthe ax falling on his left shoulderbut not heavily enough to do anyserious damage. In another second Sir Henry got in another blowwhich was alsoreceived by Twala upon his shield. Then followed blow upon blowwhich wereinturneither received upon the shield or avoided. The excitement grew intense;the regiment which was watching the encounter forgot its disciplineanddrawing nearshouted and groaned at every stroke. Just at this timetooGoodwho had been laid upon the ground by merecovered from his faintand sittingupperceived what was going on. In an instant he was upandcatching hold ofmy armhopped about from place to place on one legdragging me after himyelling out encouragements to Sir Henry.
"Go itold fellow!" he cried. "That was a good one! Give ithim amidships" and so on.
Presently Sir Henryhaving caught a fresh stroke upon his shieldhit outwith all his force. The stroke cut through Twala's shield and through the toughchain armor behind itgashing him in the shoulder. With a yell of pain and furyTwala returned the stroke with interestandsuch was his strengthshearedright through the rhinoceros-horn handle of his antagonist's battle-axstrengthened as it was with bands of steelwounding Curtis in the face.
A cry of dismay rose from the Buffaloes as our hero's broad ax head fell tothe ground; and Twalaagain raising his weaponflew at him with a shout. Ishut my eyes. When I opened them againit was to see Sir Henry's shield lyingon the groundand Sir Henry himself with his great arms twined round Twala'smiddle. To and fro they swunghugging each other like bearsstraining with alltheir mighty muscles for dear life and dearer honor. With a supreme effort Twalaswung the Englishman clean off his feetand down they came togetherrollingover and over on the lime pavingTwala striking out at Curtis' head with thebattle-axand Sir Henry trying to drive the tolla he had drawn from his beltthrough Twala's armor.
It was a mighty struggle and an awful thing to see.
"Get his ax!" yelled Good; and perhaps our champion heard him.
At any ratedropping the tollahe made a grab at the axwhich was fastenedto Twala's wrist by a strip of buffalo hideandstill rolling over and overthey fought for it like wildcatsdrawing their breath in heavy gasps. Suddenlythe hide string burstand thenwith a great effortSir Henry freed himselfthe weapon remaining in his grasp. Another second and he was up on his feetthered blood streaming from the wound in his faceand so was Twala. Drawing theheavy tolla from his belthe staggered straight at Curtis and struck him uponthe breast. The blow came home true and strongbut whoever it was made thatchain armor understood his artfor it withstood the steel. Again Twala struckout with a savage yelland again the heavy knife rebounded and Sir Henry wentstaggering back. Once more Twala came onand as he came our great Englishmangathered himself togetherandswinging the heavy ax round his headhit at himwith all his force. There was a shriek of excitement from a thousand throatsandbehold! Twala's head seemed to spring from his shouldersand then fell andcame rolling and bounding along the ground towards Ignosistopping just at hisfeet. For a second the corpse stood uprightthe blood spouting in fountainsfrom the severed arteries; then with a dull crash it fell to the earthand thegold torque from the neck went rolling away across the pavement. As it did soSir Henryoverpowered by faintness and loss of bloodfell heavily across it.
In a second he was lifted upand eager hands were pouring water on his face.Another minuteand the great gray eyes opened wide.
He was not dead.
Then Ijust as the sun sankstepping to where Twala's head lay in the dustunloosed the diamond from the dead brows and handed it to Ignosi.
"Take it" I said"lawful king of the Kukuanas."
Ignosi bound the diadem upon his browsand then advancing placed his footupon the broad chest of his headless foe and broke out into a chantor rather apaean of victoryso beautifuland yet so utterly savagethat I despair ofbeing able to give an adequate idea of it. I once heard a scholar with a finevoice read aloud from the Greek poet Homerand I remember that the sound of therolling lines seemed to make my blood stand still. Ignosi's chantuttered as itwas in a language as beautiful and sonorous as the old Greekproduced exactlythe same effect on mealthough I was exhausted with toil and many emotions.
"Now" he began"now is our rebellion swallowed up invictoryand our evildoing justified by strength.
"In the morning the oppressors rose up and shook themselves; they boundon their plumes and made them ready for war.
"They rose up and grasped their spears: the soldiers called to thecaptains'Comelead us'- and the captains cried to the king'Direct thou thebattle.'
"They rose up in their pridetwenty thousand menand yet a twentythousand.
"Their plumes covered the earth as the plumes of a bird cover her nest;they shook their spears and shoutedyeathey hurled their spears into thesunlight; they lusted for the battle and were glad.
"They came up against me; their strong ones came running swiftly tocrush me; they cried'Ha! Ha! He is as one already dead.'
"Then breathed I on themand my breath was as the breath of a stormand lo! they were not.
"My lightnings pierced them; I licked up their strength with thelightning of my spears; I shook them to the earth with the thunder of myshouting.
"They broke- they scattered- they were gone as the mists of the morning.
"They are food for the crows and the foxesand the place of battle isfat with their blood.
"Where are the mighty ones who rose up in the morning?
"Where are the proud ones who tossed their plumes and cried'He is asone already dead'?
"They bow their headsbut not in sleep; they are stretched outbut notin sleep.
"They are forgotten; they have gone into the blacknessand shall notreturn; yeaothers shall lead away their wivesand their children shallremember them no more.
"And I- I- the king- like an eagle have I found my eyrie"Behold!Far have I wandered in the nighttimeyet have I returned to my little ones atthe daybreak.
"Creep ye under the shadow of my wingsO peopleand I will comfort yeand ye shall not be dismayed.
"Now is the good timethe time of spoil.
"Mine are the cattle in the valleysthe virgins in the kraals are minealso.
"The winter is overpastthe summer is at hand.
"Now shall Evil cover up her faceand prosperity shall bloom in theland like a lily.
"Rejoicerejoicemy people! Let all the land rejoice in that thetyranny is trodden downin that I am the king."
He pausedand out of the gathering gloom there came back the deep reply:"Thou art the king."
Thus it was that my prophecy to the herald came trueand within theforty-eight hours Twala's headless corpse was stiffening at Twala's gate.
15. Good Falls Sick -
AFTER THE fight was ended Sir Henry and Good were carried into Twala's hutwhere I joined them. They were both utterly exhausted by exertion and loss ofbloodandindeedmy own condition was little better. I am very wiryand canstand more fatigue than most menprobably on account of my light weight andlong training; but that night I was fairly done upandas is always the casewith me when exhaustedthat old wound the lion gave me began to pain me. Alsomy head was aching violently from the blow I had received in the morningwhen Iwas knocked senseless. Altogethera more miserable trio than we were thatevening it would have been difficult to discover; and our only comfort lay inthe reflection that we were exceedingly fortunate to be there to feel miserableinstead of being stretched dead upon the plainas so many thousands of bravemen were that nightwho had risen well and strong in the morning. Somehowwiththe assistance of the beautiful Foulatawhosince we had been the means ofsaving her lifehad constituted herself our handmaidenand especially Good'swe managed to get off the chain shirtswhich had certainly saved the lives oftwo of us that daywhen we found that the flesh underneath was terriblybruisedforthough the steel links had prevented the weapons from enteringthey had not prevented them from bruising. Both Sir Henry and Good were a massof bruisesand I was by no means free. As a remedy Foulata brought us somepounded green leaves with an aromatic odorwhichwhen applied as a plastergave us considerable relief. But though the bruises were painfulthey did notgive us such anxiety as Sir Henry's and Good's wounds. Good had a hole rightthrough the fleshy part of his "beautiful white leg" from which hehad lost a great deal of blood; and Sir Henry had a deep cut over the jawinflicted by Twala's battle-ax. Luckily Good was a very decent surgeonand assoon as his small box of medicines was forthcominghehaving thoroughlycleansed the woundsmanaged to stitch up first Sir Henry's and then his ownpretty satisfactorilyconsidering the imperfect light given by the primitiveKukuana lamp in the hut. Afterwards he plentifully smeared the wounds with someantiseptic ointmentof which there was a pot in the little boxand we coveredthem with the remains of a pocket-handkerchief which we possessed.
Meanwhile Foulata had prepared us some strong brothfor we were too weary toeat. This we swallowedand then threw ourselves down on the piles ofmagnificent karrossesor fur rugswhich were scattered about the dead king'sgreat hut. By a very strange instance of the irony of fateit was on Twala'sown couchand wrapped in Twala's own particular karrossthat Sir Henrytheman who had slain himslept that night.
I say slept; but after that day's work sleep was indeed difficult. To beginwithin very truth the air was full -
Of farewells to the dying
And mournings for the dead. -
From every direction came the sound of the wailing of women whose husbandssonsand brothers had perished in the fight. No wonder that they wailedforover twenty thousand menor nearly a third of the Kukuana armyhad beendestroyed in that awful struggle. It was heart-rending to lie and listen totheir cries for those who would never return; and it made one realize the fullhorror of the work done that day to further man's ambition. Towards midnighthoweverthe ceaseless crying of the women grew less frequenttill at lengththe silence was only broken at intervals of a few minutes by a longpiercinghowl that came from a hut in our immediate rearand which I afterwardsdiscovered proceeded from Gagool wailing for the dead kingTwala.
After that I got a little fitful sleeponly to wake from time to time with astartthinking that I was once more an actor in the terrible events of the lasttwenty-four hours. Now I seemed to see that warriorwhom my hand had sent tohis last accountcharging at me on the mountain top; now I was once more inthat glorious ring of Grayswhich made its immortal stand against all Twala'sregimentsupon the little mound; and now again I saw Twala's plumed and goryhead roll past my feet with gnashing teeth and glaring eye. At lastsomehow orotherthe night passed away; but when dawn broke I found that my companions hadslept no better than myself. Goodindeedwas in a high feverand very soonafterwards began to grow light-headedand alsoto my alarmto spit bloodtheresultno doubtof some internal injury inflicted by the desperate effortsmade by the Kukuana warrior on the previous day to get his big spear through thechain armor. Sir Henryhoweverseemed pretty freshnotwithstanding the woundon his facewhich made eating difficult and laughter an impossibilitythoughhe was so sore and stiff that he could scarcely stir.
About eight o'clock we had a visit from Infadooswho seemed but little theworse- tough old warrior that he was- for his exertions on the previous daythough he informed us he had been up all night. He was delighted to see usthough much grieved at Good's conditionand shook hands cordially; but Inoticed that he addressed Sir Henry with a kind of reverenceas though he weresomething more than man; andindeedas we afterwards found outthe greatEnglishman was looked on throughout Kukuanaland as a supernatural being. No manthe soldiers saidcould have fought as he foughtor couldat the end of a dayof such toil and bloodshedhave slain Twalawhoin addition to being thekingwas supposed to be the strongest warrior in Kukuanalandin single combatsheering through his bull-neck at a stroke. Indeedthat stroke becameproverbial in Kukuanalandand any extraordinary blow or feat of strength wasthenceforth known as "Incubu's blow."
Infadoos told us also that all Twala's regiments had submitted to Ignosiandthat like submissions were beginning to arrive from chiefs in the country.Twala's death at the hands of Sir Henry had put an end to all further chance ofdisturbance; for Scragga had been his only sonand there was no rival claimantleft alive.
I remarked that Ignosi had swum to the throne through blood. The old chiefshrugged his shoulders. "Yes" he answered; "but the Kukuanapeople can only be kept cool by letting the blood flow sometimes. Many werekilledindeedbut the women were leftand others will soon grow up to takethe places of the fallen. After this the land will be quiet for a while."
Afterwardsin the course of the morningwe had a short visit from Ignosion whose brows the royal diadem was now bound. As I contemplated him advancingwith kingly dignityan obsequious guard following his stepsI could not helprecalling to my mind the tall Zulu who had presented himself to us at Durbansome few months backasking to be taken into our serviceand reflecting on thestrange revolutions of the wheel of fortune.
"HailO King!" I saidrising.
"YesMacumazahn. King at lastby the grace of your three righthands" was the ready answer.
All washe saidgoing on well; and he hoped to arrange a great feast in twoweeks' timein order to show himself to the people.
I asked him what he had settled to do with Gagool.
"She is the evil genius of the land" he answered"and Ishall kill herand all the witch doctors with her! She has lived so long thatnone can remember when she was not oldand always she it is who has trained thewitch huntersand made the land evil in the sight of the heavens above."
"Yet she knows much" I replied; "it is easier to destroyknowledgeIgnosithan to gather it."
"It is so" he saidthoughtfully. "Sheand she onlyknowsthe secret of the Three Witches yonderwhither the great road runswhere thekings are buriedand the silent ones sit."
"Yesand the diamonds are. Forget not thy promiseIgnosi; thou mustlead us to the mineseven if thou hast to spare Gagool alive to show theway."
"I will not forgetMacumazahnand I will think on what thousayest."
After Ignosi's visit I went to see Goodand found him quite delirious. Thefever from his wound seemed to have taken a firm hold of his systemand to becomplicated by an internal injury. For four or five days his condition was mostcritical; indeedI firmly believe that had it not been for Foulata'sindefatigable nursing he must have died.
Women are womenall the world overwhatever their color. Yet somehow itseemed curious to watch this dusky beauty bending night and day over the feveredman's couchand performing all the merciful errands of the sickroom as swiftlygentlyand with as fine an instinct as a trained hospital nurse. For the firstnight or two I tried to help herand so did Sir Henry so soon as his stiffnessallowed him to movebut she bore our interference with impatienceand finallyinsisted upon our leaving him to hersaying that our movements made himrestlesswhich I think was true. Day and night she watched and tended himgiving him his only medicinea native cooling drink made of milkin which wasinfused the juice of the bulb of a species of tulipand keeping the flies fromsettling on him. I can see the whole picture now as it appeared night afternight by the light of our primitive lampGood tossing to and frohis featuresemaciatedhis eyes shining large and luminousand jabbering nonsense by theyard; and seated on the ground by his sideher back resting against the wall ofthe hutthe soft-eyedshapely Kukuana beautyher whole faceweary as it wasanimated by a look of infinite compassion- or was it something more thancompassion?
For two days we thought that he must dieand crept about with heavy hearts.Only Foulata would not believe it.
"He will live" she said.
For three hundred yards or more around Twala's chief hutwhere the suffererlaythere was silence; for by the king's order all who lived in the habitationsbehind it hadexcept Sir Henry and myselfbeen removedlest any noise shouldcome to the sick man's ear. One nightit was the fifth night of his illnessaswas my habit I went across to see how he was getting on before turning in for afew hours.
I entered the hut carefully. The lamp placed upon the floor showed the figureof Goodtossing no morebut lying quite still.
So it had come at last! And in the bitterness of my heart I gave somethinglike a sob.
"Hush- h- h!" came from the patch of dark shadow behind Good'shead.
Thencreeping closerI saw that he was not deadbut sleeping soundlywithFoulata's tapered fingers clasped tightly in his poor white hand. The crisis hadpassedand he would live. He slept like that for eighteen hours; and I scarcelylike to say itfor fear I should not be believedbut during that entire perioddid that devoted girl sit by himfearing that if she moved and drew away herhand it would wake him. What she must have suffered from crampstiffnessandwearinessto say nothing of want of foodnobody will ever know; but it is afact thatwhen at last he wokeshe had to be carried away- her limbs were sostiff that she could not move them.
After the turn had once been takenGood's recovery was rapid and complete.It was not till he was nearly well that Sir Henry told him of all he owed toFoulata; and when he came to the story of how she sat by his side for eighteenhoursfearing lest by moving she should wake himthe honest sailor's eyesfilled with tears. He turned and went straight to the hut where Foulata waspreparing the midday meal (we were back in our old quarters now)taking me withhim to interpret in case he could not make his meaning clear to herthough I ambound to say she understood him marvelously as a rule considering how extremelylimited was his foreign vocabulary.
"Tell her" said Good"that I owe her my lifeand that Iwill never forget her kindness."
I interpretedand under her dark skin she actually seemed to blush.
Turning to him with one of those swift and graceful motions that in heralways reminded me of the flight of a wild birdshe answered softlyglancingat him with her large brown eyes"Naymy lord; my lord forgets! Did henot save my lifeand am I not my lord's handmaiden?"
It will be observed that the young lady appeared to have entirely forgottenthe share which Sir Henry and myself had had in her preservation from Twala'sclutches. But that is the way of women! I remember my dear wife was just thesame. I retired from that little interview sad at heart. I did not like MissFoulata's soft glancesfor I knew the fatal amorous propensities of sailors ingeneraland Good in particular.
There are two things in the worldas I have found itwhich cannot beprevented: you cannot keep a Zulu from fightingor a sailor from falling inlove upon the slightest provocation!
It was a few days after this last occurrence that Ignosi held his great"indaba" (council)and was formally recognized as king by the"indunas" (head men) of Kukuanaland. The spectacle was a most imposingoneincludingas it dida great review of troops. On this day the remainingfragment of the Grays were formally paradedand in the face of the army thankedfor their splendid conduct in the great battle. To each man the king made alarge present of cattlepromoting them one and all to the rank of officers inthe new corps of Grays which was in process of formation. An order was alsopromulgated throughout the length and breadth of Kukuanaland thatwhile wehonored the country with our presencewe three were to be greeted with theroyal saluteto be treated with the same ceremony and respect that was bycustom accorded to the kingand the power of life and death was publiclyconferred upon us. Ignositooin the presence of his peoplereaffirmed thepromises that he had madeto the effect that no man's blood should be shedwithout trialand that witch hunting should cease in the land.
When the ceremony was over we waited upon Ignosiand informed him that wewere now anxious to investigate the mystery of the mines to which Solomon's Roadranasking him if he had discovered anything about them.
"My friends" he answered"this have I discovered. It isthere that the three great figures sitwho here are called the Silent Onesandto whom Twala would have offered the girlFoulataas a sacrifice. It is theretooin a great cave deep in the mountainthat the kings of the land areburied; there ye shall find Twala's bodysitting with those who went beforehim. Theretoois a great pit whichat some timelong dead men dug outmayhap for the stones ye speak ofsuch as I have heard men in Natal speak of atKimberley. Theretooin the Place of Death is a secret chamberknown to nonebut the king and Gagool. But Twalawho knew itis deadand I know it notnorknow I what is in it. But there is a legend in the land that oncemanygenerations gonea white man crossed the mountainsand was led by a woman tothe secret chamber and shown the wealthbut before he could take it shebetrayed himand he was driven by the king of the day back to the mountainsand since then no man has entered the chamber."
"The story is surely trueIgnosifor on the mountains we found thewhite man" I said.
"Yeswe found him. And now I have promised ye that if ye can find thatchamberand the stones are there-"
"The stone upon thy forehead proves that they are there" I put inpointing to the great diamond I had taken from Twala's dead brows.
"Mayhap; if they are there" he said"ye shall have as manyas ye can take hence- ifindeedye would leave memy brothers."
"First we must find the chamber" said I.
"There is but one who can show it to thee- Gagool."
"And if she will not?"
"Then shall she die" said Ignosi sternly. "I have saved heralive but for this. Stayshe shall choose" andcalling to a messengerhe ordered Gagool to be brought.
In a few minutes she camehurried along by two guardswhom she was cursingas she walked.
"Leave her" said the king to the guards.
As soon as their support was withdrawn the withered old bundlefor shelooked more like a bundle than anything elsesank into a heap on the flooroutof which her two brightwicked eyes gleamed like a snake's.
"What will ye with meIgnosi?" she piped. "Ye dare not touchme. If ye touch me I will blast ye as ye sit. Beware of my magic."
"Thy magic could not save Twalaold she wolfand it cannot hurtme" was the answer. "Listen: I will this of theethat thou revealwhere is the chamber where are the shining stones."
"Haha!" she piped. "None know but Iand I will never tellthee. The white devils shall go hence empty-handed."
"Thou wilt tell me. I will make thee tell me."
"HowO King? Thou art greatbut can thy power wring the truth from awoman?"
"It is difficultyet will I do it."
"Naythus; if thou tellest not thou shalt slowly die."
"Die!" she shrieked in terror and fury. "Ye dare not touch me-manye know not who I am. How old think ye am I? I knew your fathersand yourfathers' fathers' fathers. When the country was young I was herewhen thecountry grows old I shall still be here. I cannot die unless I be killed bychancefor none dare slay me."
"Yet will I slay thee. SeeGagoolmother of evilthou art so old thoucanst no longer love thy life. What can life be to such a hag as theewho hastno shapenor formnor hairnor teeth- hast naughtsave wickedness and evileyes? It will be mercy to slay theeGagool."
"Thou fool" shrieked the old fiend"thou accursed foolthinkest thou that life is sweet only to the young? It is not soand naughtthou knowest of the heart of man to think it. To the youngindeeddeath issometimes welcomefor the young can feel. They love and sufferand it wringsthem to see their beloved pass to the land of shadows. But the old feel notthey love notandhaha! they laugh to see another go out into the dark; haha! they laugh to see the evil that is done under the sun. All they love islifethe warmwarm sunand the sweetsweet air. They are afraid of the cold;afraid of the cold and the darkhahaha!" and the old hag writhed onthe ground in ghastly merriment.
"Cease thine evil talk and answer me" said Ignosi angrily."Wilt thou show the place where the stones areor wilt thou not? If thouwilt notthou diesteven now" and he seized a spear and held it overher.
"I will not show it; thou darest not kill medarest not. He who slaysme will be accursed forever."
Slowly Ignosi brought down the spear till it pricked the prostrate heap ofrags.
With a wild yell she sprang to her feetand then again fell and rolled uponthe floor.
"Nay; I will show it. Only let me livelet me sit in the sun and have abit of meat to suckand I will show thee."
"It is well. I thought I should find a way to reason with thee. Tomorrowshalt thou go with Infadoos and my white brothers to the placeand beware howthou failestfor if thou showest it notthen shalt thou slowly die. I havespoken."
"I will not failIgnosi. I always keep my word: hahaha! Once awoman showed the place to a white man beforeand behold evil befell him"and here her wicked eyes glinted. "Her name was Gagooltoo. Perchance Iwas that woman."
"Thou liest" I said"that was ten generations gone."
"Mayhapmayhap; when one lives long one forgets. Perhaps it was mymother's mother who told me; surely her name was Gagoolalso. But markye willfind in the place where the bright playthings are a bag of hide full of stones.The man filled that bagbut he never took it away. Evil befell himI say; evilbefell him! Perhaps it was my mother's mother who told me. It will be a merryjourney- we can see the bodies of those who died in the battle as we go. Theireyes will be gone by nowand their ribs will be hollow. Hahaha!"
16. The Place of Death -
IT WAS already dark on the third day after the scene described in theprevious chapterwhen we camped in some huts at the foot of the Three Witches.Our party consisted of our three selves and Foulatawho waited on us-especially on Good- InfadoosGagoolwho was borne along in a litterinsidewhich she could be heard muttering and cursing all day longand a party ofguards and attendants. The mountainsor rather the three peaks of themountainsfor the whole mass evidently consisted of a solitary upheavalwereas I have saidin the form of a triangleof which the base was towards usone
peak being on our rightone on our leftand one straight in front of us.Never shall I forget the sight afforded by those three towering peaks in theearly sunlight of the following morning. Highhigh above usup into the blueairsoared their twisted snow wreaths. Beneath the snow the peaks were purplewith heathand so were the wild moors that ran up the slopes towards them.Straight before us the white ribbon of Solomon's Great Road stretched awayuphill to the foot of the center peakabout five miles from usand thenstopped. This was its terminus.
I had better leave the feelings of intense excitement with which we set outon our march that morning to the imagination of those who read this history. Atlast we were drawing near to the wonderful mines that had been the cause of themiserable death of the old Portuguese donthree centuries agoof my poorfriendhis ill-starred descendantand alsoas we fearedof George CurtisSir Henry's brother. Were we destinedafter all that we had gone throughtofare any better? Evil befell themas that old fiendGagoolsaid; would italso befall us? Somehowas we were marching up that last stretch of beautifulroadI could not help feeling a little superstitious about the matterand soI thinkdid Good and Sir Henry.
For an hour and a half or more we tramped on up the heather-fringed roadgoing so fast in our excitement that the bearers with Gagool's hammock couldscarcely keep pace with usand its occupant piped out to us to stop.
"Go more slowlywhite men" she saidprojecting her hideousshriveled countenance between the curtainsand fixing her gleaming eyes uponus. "Why will ye run to meet the evil that shall befall yeye seekersafter treasure?" and she laughed that horrible laugh which always sent acold shiver down my backand which for a while took the enthusiasm out of us.
Howeveron we wenttill we saw before usand between ourselves and thepeaka vast circular hole with sloping sidesthree hundred feet or more indepthand quite half a mile round.
"Can't you guess what this is?" I said to Sir Henry and Goodwhowere staring in astonishment down into the awful pit before us.
They shook their heads.
"Then it is clear that you have never seen the diamond mines atKimberley. You may depend on it that this is Solomon's diamond mine; lookthere" I saidpointing to the stiff blue clay which was yet to be seenamong the grass and bushes which clothed the sides of the pit"theformation is the same. I'll be bound that if we went down there we should find'pipes' of soapybrecciated rock. Looktoo" and I pointed to a series ofwornflat slabs of rock which were placed on a gentle slope below the level ofa watercourse which had in some past age been cut out of the solid rock."If those are not tables once used to wash the 'stuff' I'm aDutchman."
At the edge of this vast holewhich was the pit marked on the old don's mapthe great road branched into two and circumvented it. In many places thiscircumventing road was built entirely of vast blocks of stoneapparently withthe object of supporting the edges of the pit and preventing falls of reef.Along this road we presseddriven by curiosity to see what the three toweringobjects were which we could discern from the hither side of the great hole. Aswe got nearer we perceived that they were colossi of some sort or anotherandrightly conjectured that these were the three "Silent Ones" that wereheld in such awe by the Kukuana people. But it was not until we got quite closethat we recognized the full majesty of these "Silent Ones."
Thereupon huge pedestals of dark rocksculptured in unknown characterstwenty paces between eachand looking down the road which crossed some sixtymiles of plain to Loowere three colossal seated forms- two males and onefemale- each measuring about twenty feet from the crown of the head to thepedestal.
The female formwhich was nudewas of great though severe beautybutunfortunately the features were injured by centuries of exposure to the weather.Rising from each side of her head were the points of a crescent. The two malecolossi wereon the contrarydrapedand presented a terrifying cast offeaturesespecially the one to our rightwhich had the face of a devil. Thatto our left was serene in countenancebut the calm upon it was dreadful. It wasthe calm of inhuman crueltythe crueltySir Henry remarkedthat the ancientsattributed to beings potent for goodwho could yet watch the sufferings ofhumanityif not with rejoicingat least without suffering themselves. Thethree formed a most awe-inspiring trinityas they sat there in their solitudeand gazed out across the plain forever. Contemplating these "SilentOnes" as the Kukuanas called theman intense curiosity again seized us toknow whose were the hands that had shaped themwho was it that had dug the pitand made the road. While I was gazing and wonderingit suddenly occurred to me(being familiar with the Old Testament) that Solomon went astray after strangegodsthe names of three of whom I remembered- "Ashtoreth the goddess ofthe ZidoniansChemosh the god of the Moabitesand Milcom the god of thechildren of Ammon"- and I suggested to my companions that the three figuresbefore us might represent these false divinities.
"Hum" said Sir Henrywho was a scholarhaving taken a highdegree in classics at college"there may be something in that; Ashtorethof the Hebrews was the Astarte of the Phoenicianswho were the great traders ofSolomon's time. Astartewho afterwards was the Aphrodite of the Greekswasrepresented with horns like the half-moonand there on the brow of the femalefigure are distinct horns. Perhaps these colossi were designed by somePhoenician official who managed the mines. Who can say?"
Before we had finished examining these extraordinary relics of remoteantiquityInfadoos came upandhaving saluted the "Silent Ones" bylifting his spearasked us if we intended entering the "Place ofDeath" at onceor if we would wait till after we had taken food at midday.If we were ready to go at onceGagool had announced her willingness to guideus. As it was not more than eleven o'clockwe- driven to it by a burningcuriosity- announced our intention of proceeding at onceand I suggested thatin case we should be detained in the cavewe should take some food with us.Accordingly Gagool's litter was brought upand that lady herself assisted outof it; and meanwhile Foulataat my requeststored some biltong together with acouple of gourds of waterin a reed basket. Straight in front of usat adistance of some fifty paces from the backs of the colossirose a sheer wall ofrockeighty feet or more in heightthat gradually sloped up till it formed thebase of the lofty snow-wreathed peak which soared up into the air three thousandfeet above us. As soon as she was clear of her hammock Gagool cast one evil grinupon usand thenleaning on a stickhobbled off towards the sheer face of therock. We followed her till we came to a narrow portal solidly archedthatlooked like the opening of a gallery of a mine.
Here Gagool was waiting for usstill with that evil grin upon her horridface.
"Nowwhite men from the stars" she piped; "great warriorsIncubuBougwanand Macumazahn the wiseare ye ready? BeholdI am here to dothe bidding of my lord the kingand to show ye the store of brightstones."
"We are ready" I said. "Good! Good! Make strong your heartsto bear what ye shall see. Comest thou tooInfadooswho betrayed thymaster?"
Infadoos frowned as he answered; "NayI come not; it is not for me toenter there. But thouGagoolcurb thy tongueand beware how thou dealest withmy lords. At thy hands will I require themand if a hair of them be hurtGagoolbe thou fifty times a witchthou shalt die. Hearest thou?"
"I hearInfadoos; I know theethou didst ever love big words; whenthou wast a babe I remember thou didst threaten thine own mother. That was butthe other day. But fear notfear not; I live but to do the bidding of the king.I have done the bidding of many kingsInfadoostill in the end they did mine.Haha! I go to look upon their faces once moreand Twala'stoo! Come oncomeonhere is the lamp" and she drew a great gourd full of oiland fittedwith a rush wickfrom under her fur cloak.
"Art thou comingFoulata?" asked Good in his villainous KitchenKukuanain which he had been improving himself under that lady's tuition.
"I fearmy lord" the girl answered timidly.
"Then give me the basket."
"Naymy lordwhither thou goestthere will I go also."
"The deuce you will!" thought I to myself; "that will berather awkward if ever we get out of this."
Without further ado Gagool plunged into the passagewhich was wide enough toadmit of two walking abreastand quite darkwe following her voice as shepiped to us to come onin some fear and tremblingwhich was not allayed by thesound of a sudden rush of wings.
"Hullo! what's that?" hulloed Good. "Somebody hit me in theface."
"Bats" said I; "on you go."
When we hadas far as we could judgegone some fifty paces we perceivedthat the passage was growing faintly light. Another minuteand we stood in themost wonderful place that the eyes of living man ever lit on.
Let the reader picture to himself the hall of the vastest cathedral he everstood inwindowlessindeedbut dimly lighted from above (presumably by shaftsconnected with the outer air and driven in the roofwhich arched away a hundredfeet above our heads)and he will get some idea of the size of the enormouscave in which we stoodwith the difference that this cathedral designed ofnature was loftier and wider than any built by man. But its stupendous size wasthe least of the wonders of the placeforrunning in rows adown its lengthwere gigantic pillars of what looked like icebut werein realityhugestalactites. It is impossible for me to convey any idea of the overpoweringbeauty and grandeur of these pillars of white sparsome of which were not lessthan twenty feet in diameter at the baseand sprang up in lofty and yetdelicate beauty sheer to the distant roof. Others again were in process offormation. On the rock floor there was in these cases what lookedSir Henrysaidexactly like a broken column in an old Grecian templewhile high abovedepending from the roofthe point of a huge icicle could be dimly seen. Andeven as we gazed we could hear the process going onfor presently with a tinysplash a drop of water would fall from the far-off icicle onto the column below.On some columns the drops only fell once in two or three minutesand in thesecases it would form an interesting calculation to discover how longat thatrate of drippingit would take to form a pillarsay eighty feet high by ten indiameter. That the process wasin at least one instanceincalculably slowthefollowing instance will suffice to show. Cut on one of these pillars wediscovered a rude likeness of a mummyby the head of which sat what appeared tobe one of the Egyptian godsdoubtless the handiwork of some Old-World laborerin the mine. This work of art was executed at about the natural height at whichan idle fellowbe he Phoenician workman or British cadis in the habit oftrying to immortalize himself at the expense of nature's masterpiecesnamelyabout five feet from the ground; yet at the time that we saw itwhich must havebeen nearly three thousand years after the date of the execution of the drawingthe column was only eight feet highand was still in process of formationwhich gives a rate of growth of a foot to a thousand yearsor an inch and afraction to a century. This we knew becauseas we were standing by itwe hearda drop of water fall.
Sometimes the stalactites took strange formspresumably where the droppingof the water had not always been on the same spot. Thusone huge masswhichmust have weighed a hundred tons or sowas in the form of a pulpitbeautifullyfretted over outside with what looked like lace. Others resembled strangebeastsand on the sides of the cave were fanlike ivory tracingssuch as thefrost leaves upon a pane.
Out of the vast main aisle there opened here and there smaller cavesexactlySir Henry saidas chapels open out of great cathedrals. Some werelargebut one or two- and this is a wonderful instance of how Nature carriesout her handiwork by the same unvarying lawsutterly irrespective of size- weretiny. One little nookfor instancewas no larger than an unusually big doll'shouseand yet it might have been the model of the whole placefor the waterdroppedthe tiny icicles hungand the spar columns were forming in just thesame way.
We had not timehoweverto examine this beautiful place as thoroughly as weshould have liked to dofor unfortunately Gagool seemed to be indifferent tostalactitesand only anxious to get her business over. This annoyed me themoreas I was particularly anxious to discoverif possibleby what system thelight was admitted into the placeand whether it was by the hand of man or ofnature that this was done; also if it had been used in any way in ancient timesas seemed probable. Howeverwe consoled ourselves with the idea that we wouldexamine it thoroughly on our returnand followed on after our uncanny guide.
On she led usstraight to the top of the vast and silent cavewhere wefound another doorwaynot arched as the first wasbut square at the topsomething like the doorways of Egyptian temples.
"Are ye prepared to enter the Place of Death?" asked Gagoolevidently with a view to making us feel uncomfortable.
"Lead onMacduff" said Good solemnlytrying to look as though hewas not at all alarmedas indeed did we all except Foulatawho caught Good bythe arm for protection.
"This is getting rather ghastly" said Sir Henrypeeping into thedark doorway. "Come onQuatermain- seniores priores. Don't keep the oldlady waiting!" and he politely made way for me to lead the vanfor which Iinwardly did not bless him.
Taptap went old Gagool's stick down the passageas she trotted alongchuckling hideously; andstill overcome by some unaccountable presentiment ofevilI hung back.
"Comeget onold fellow" said Good"or we shall lose ourfair guide."
Thus adjuredI started down the passageand after about twenty paces foundmyself in a gloomy apartment some forty feet long by thirty broad and thirtyhighwhich in some past age had evidently been hollowedby hand laborout ofthe mountain. This apartment was not nearly so well lighted as the vaststalactite ante-caveand at the first glance all I could make out was a massivestone table running its lengthwith a colossal white figure at its headandlife-sized white figures all round it. Next I made out a brown thingseated onthe table in the centerand in another moment my eyes grew accustomed to thelightand I saw what all these things wereand I was tailing out of it as hardas my legs would carry me. I am not a nervous manin a general wayand verylittle troubled with superstitionsof which I have lived to see the folly; butI am free to own that that sight quite upset meand had it not been that SirHenry caught me by the collar and held meI do honestly believe that in anotherfive minutes I should have been outside that stalactite caveand that thepromise of all the diamonds in Kimberley would not have induced me to enter itagain. But he held me tightso I stopped because I could not help myself. Butnext second his eyes got accustomed to the lighttooand he let go of me andbegan to mop the perspiration off his forehead. As for Goodhe swore feeblyand Foulata threw her arms round his neck and shrieked.
Only Gagool chuckled loud and long.
It was a ghastly sight. There at the end of the long stone tablesat Deathhimselfshaped in the form of a colossal human skeletonfifteen feet or morein height. High above his head he held the spearas though in the act ofstriking; one bony hand rested on the stone table before himin the position aman assumes on rising from his seatwhile his frame was bent forward so thatthe vertebrae of the neck and the grinninggleaming skull projected towards usand fixed its hollow eye places upon usthe jaws a little openas though itwere about to speak.
"Great heavens!" said I faintlyat last. "What can itbe?"
"And what are those things?" said Goodpointing to the whitecompany round the table.
"And what on earth is that thing?" said Sir Henrypointing to thebrown creature seated on the table.
"Heeheehee!" laughed Gagool. "To those who enter the Hallof the Deadevil comes. Heeheehee! Haha!
"Come Incububrave in battlecome and see him thou slewest" andthe old creature caught his coat in her skinny fingersand led him away towardsthe table. We followed.
Presently she stopped and pointed at the brown object seated on the table.Sir Henry lookedand started back with an exclamation; and no wonderfor thereseatedquite nakedon the tablethe head which Sir Henry's battle-ax hadshorn from the body resting on its kneeswas the gaunt corpse of Twalalastking of the Kukuanas. Yestherethe head perched upon the kneesit sat in allits uglinessthe vertebrae projecting a full inch above the level of theshrunken flesh of the neckfor all the world like a black double of HamiltonTighe. * Over the whole surface of the corpse there was gathered a thinglassyfilmwhich made its appearance yet more appallingand for which we wereatthe momentquite unable to accounttill we presently observed that from theroof of the chamber the water fell steadily- dripdripdrip!- onto the neck ofthe corpsefrom whence it ran down over the entire surfaceand finally escapedinto the rock through a tiny hole in the table. Then I guessed what it was-Twala's body was being transformed into a stalactite. -
* Now haste yemy handmaidenshaste and see
How he sits there and glowers with his head on his knee. -
A look at the white forms seated on the stone bench that ran round thatghastly board confirmed this view. They were human formsindeedor rather hadbeen human forms; now they were stalactites. This was the way in which theKukuana people had from time immemorial preserved their royal dead. Theypetrified them. What the exact system wasif there was any beyond placing themfor a long period of years under the dripI never discoveredbut there theysaticed over and preserved forever by the siliceous fluid. Anything moreawe-inspiring than the spectacle of this long line of departed royaltieswrapped in a shroud of ice-like sparthrough which the features could be dimlymade out (there were twenty-seven of themthe last being Ignosi's father)andseated round that inhospitable boardwith Death himself for a hostit isimpossible to imagine. That the practice of thus preserving their kings musthave been an ancient one is evident from the numberwhichallowing for anaverage reign of fifteen yearswouldsupposing that every king who reigned wasplaced here- an improbable thingas some are sure to have perished in battlefar from home- fix the date of its commencement at four and a quarter centuriesback. But the colossal Death who sits at the head of the board is far older thanthatandunless I am much mistakenowes his origin to the same artist whodesigned the three colossi. He was hewn out of a single stalactiteandlookedat as a work of artwas most admirably conceived and executed. Goodwhounderstood anatomydeclared thatso far as he could seethe anatomical designof the skeleton was perfect down to the smallest bones.
My own idea is that this terrific object was a freak of fancy on the part ofsome Old-World sculptorand that its presence had suggested to the Kukuanas theidea of placing their royal dead under its awful presidency. Or perhaps it wasplaced there to frighten away any marauders who might have designs upon thetreasure chamber beyond. I cannot say. All I can do is to describe it as it isand the reader must form his own conclusion.
Suchat any ratewas the white Death and such were the white dead!
17. Solomon's Treasure Chamber -
WHILE WE had been engaged in getting over our frightand in examining thegrisly wonders of the placeGagool had been differently occupied. Somehow orother- for she was marvelously active when she chose- she had scrambled onto thegreat table and made her way to where our departed friend Twala was placed underthe dripto seesuggested Goodhow he was "pickling" or for somedark purpose of her own. Then she came hobbling backstopping now and again toaddress a remark (the tenor of which I could not catch) to one or other of theshrouded formsjust as you or I might greet an old acquaintance. Having gonethrough this mysterious and horrible ceremonyshe squatted herself down on thetable immediately under the white Deathand beganso far as I could make outto offer up prayers to it. The spectacle of this wicked old creature pouring outsupplications (evil onesno doubt) to the archenemy of mankind was so uncannythat it caused us to hasten our inspection.
"NowGagool" said I in a low voice- somehow one did not dare tospeak above a whisper in that place- "lead us to the chamber."
The old creature promptly scrambled down off the table.
"My lords are not afraid?" she saidleering up into my face.
"Goodmy lords" and she hobbled round to the back of the greatDeath. "Here is the chamber; let my lords light the lampand enter"and she placed the gourd full of oil upon the floorand leaned herself againstthe side of the cave. I took out a matchof which we still had a few in a boxand lit the rush wickand then looked for the doorwaybut there was nothingbefore us but the solid rock. Gagool grinned. "The way is theremylords."
"Do not jest with us" I said sternly.
"I jest notmy lords. See!" and she pointed at the rock. As shedid soon holding up the lamp we perceived that a mass of stone was slowlyrising from the floor and vanishing into the rock abovewhere doubtless therewas a cavity prepared to receive it. The mass was of the width of a good-sizeddoorabout ten feet high and not less than five feet thick. It must haveweighed at least twenty or thirty tonsand was clearly moved upon some simplebalance principleprobably the same as that upon which the opening and shuttingof an ordinary modern window is arranged. How the principle was set in motionof course none of us saw; Gagool was careful to avoid that; but I have littledoubt that there was some very simple leverwhich was moved ever so little bypressure on a secret spotthereby throwing additional weight onto the hiddencounterbalancesand causing the whole huge mass to be lifted from the ground.Very slowly and gently the great stone raised itselftill at last it hadvanished altogetherand a dark hole presented itself to us in the place whichit had filled.
Our excitement was so intenseas we saw the way to Solomon's treasurechamber at last thrown openthat I for one began to tremble and shake. Would itprove a hoax after allI wonderedor was old Da Silvestra right? And werethere vast hoards of wealth stored in that dark placehoards which would makeus the richest men in the whole world? We should know in a minute or two.
"Enterwhite men from the stars" said Gagooladvancing into thedoorway"but first hear your servantGagaoola the old. The bright stonesthat ye will see were dug out of the pit over which the Silent Ones are setandstored hereI know not by whom. But once has this place been entered since thetime that those who stored the stones departed in hasteleaving them behind.The report of the treasure went down among the people who lived in the countryfrom age to agebut none knew where the chamber wasnor the secret of thedoor. But it happened that a white man reached this country from over themountainsperchance he too came 'from the stars' and was well received of theking of the day. He it is who sits yonder" and she pointed to the fifthking at the table of the dead. "And it came to pass that he and a woman ofthe country who was with him came to this placeand that by chance the womanlearned the secret of the door- a thousand years might ye searchbut ye shouldnever find it. Then the white man entered with the woman and found the stonesand filled with stones the skin of a small goatwhich the woman had with her tohold food. And as he was going from the chamber he took up one more stonealarge oneand held it in his hand." Here she paused.
"Well" I askedbreathless with interestas we all were"what happened to Da Silvestra?"
The old hag started at the mention of the name.
"How knowest thou the dead man's name?" she asked sharply. Andthenwithout waiting for an answershe went on"None knew what happened;but it came about that the white man was frightenedfor he flung down thegoatskin with the stonesand fled out with only the one stone in his handandthat the king tookand it is the stone that thouMacumazahndidst take fromTwala's brow."
"Have none entered here since?" I askedpeering again down thedark passage.
"Nonemy lords. Only the secret of the door hath been keptand everyking hath opened itthough he hath not entered. There is a sayingthat thosewho enter there will die within a mooneven as the white man died in the caveupon the mountainwhere ye found himMacumazahn. Haha! Mine are truewords."
Our eyes met as she said itand I turned sick and cold. How did the old hagknow all these things?
"Entermy lords. If I speak truth the goatskin with the stones will lieupon the floor; and if there is truth as to whether it is death to enter herethat will ye learn afterwards. Hahaha!" And she hobbled through thedoorwaybearing the light with her; but I confess that once more I hesitatedabout following.
"Ohconfound it all!" said Good. "Here goes. I am not goingto be frightened by that old devil." Andfollowed by Foulatawhohoweverevidently did not at all like the jobfor she was shivering with fearhe plunged into the passage after Gagool- an example which we quickly followed.
A few yards down the passagein the narrow way hewn out of the living rockGagool had pausedand was waiting for us.
"Seemy lords" she saidholding the light before her"those who stored the treasure here fled in hasteand bethought them toguard against any who should find the secret of the doorbut had not thetime" and she pointed to large square blocks of stonewhich hadto theheight of two courses (about two feet three)been placed across the passagewith a view to walling it up. Along the side of the passage were similar blocksready for useandmost curious of alla heap of mortar and a couple oftrowelswhichso far as we had time to examine themappeared to be of asimilar shape and make to those used by workmen of this day.
Here Foulatawho had throughout been in a state of great fear and agitationsaid that she felt faint and could go no fartherbut would wait there.Accordingly we set her down on the unfinished wallplacing the basket ofprovisions by her sideand left her to recover.
Following the passage for about fifteen paces fartherwe suddenly came to anelaborately painted wooden door. It was standing wide open. Whoever was lastthere had either not had the timeor had forgotten to shut it.
Across the threshold lay a skin bagformed of a goatskinthat appeared tobe full of pebbles.
"Heeheewhite men" sniggered Gagoolas the light from the lampfell upon it. "What did I tell yethat the white man who came here fled inhasteand dropped the woman's bag- behold it!"
Good stooped down and lifted it. It was heavy and jingled.
"By Jove! I believe it's full of diamonds" he said in an awedwhisper; andindeedthe idea of a small goatskin full of diamonds is enough toawe anybody.
"Go on" said Sir Henry impatiently. "Hereold ladygive methe lamp" andtaking it from Gagool's handhe stepped through thedoorway and held it high above his head.
We pressed in after himforgetfulfor the momentof the bag of diamondsand found ourselves in Solomon's treasure chamber.
At firstall that the somewhat faint light given by the lamp revealed was aroom hewn out of the living rockand apparently not more than ten feet square.Next there came into sightstored one on the other as high as the roofasplendid collection of elephant tusks. How many of them there were we did notknowfor of course we could not see how far they went backbut there could nothave been less than the ends of four of five hundred tusks of the first qualityvisible to our eyes. Therealonewas enough ivory before us to make a manwealthy for life. PerhapsI thoughtit was from this very store that Solomondrew his material for his "great throne of ivory" of which there wasnot the like made in any kingdom.
On the opposite side of the chamber were about a score of wooden boxessomething like Martini-Henry ammunition boxesonly rather largerand paintedred.
"There are the diamonds!" cried I. "Bring the light."
Sir Henry did soholding it close to the top boxof which the lidrenderedrotten by time even in that dry placeappeared to have been smashed inprobably by Da Silvestra himself. Pushing my hand through the hole in the lid Idrew it out fullnot of diamondsbut of gold piecesof a shape that none ofus had seen beforeand with what looked like Hebrew characters stamped uponthem.
"Ah!" I saidreplacing the coin"we shan't go backempty-handedanyhow. There must be a couple of thousand pieces in each boxandthere are eighteen boxes. I suppose it was the money to pay the workmen andmerchants."
"Well" put in Good"I think that is the lot; I don't see anydiamondsunless the old Portuguese put them all into this bag."
"Let my lords look yonder where it is darkestif they would find thestones" said Gagoolinterpreting our looks. "There my lords willfind a nookand three stone chests in the nooktwo sealed and one open."
Before interpreting this to Sir Henrywho had the lightI could not resistasking how she knew these thingsif no one had entered the place since thewhite mangenerations ago.
"AhMacumazahnwho watchest by night" was the mocking answer"ye who live in the starsdo ye not know that some have eyes that can seethrough rock?"
"Look in that cornerCurtis" I saidindicating the spot Gagoolhad pointed out.
"Hulloyou fellows" he said"here's a recess. Greatheavens! Look here."
We hurried up to where he was standing in a nooksomething like a small bowwindow. Against the wall of this recess were placed three stone chestseachabout two feet square. Two were fitted with stone lids; the lid of the thirdrested against the side of the chestwhich was open.
"Look!" he repeated hoarselyholding the lamp over the open chest.We lookedand for a moment could make nothing outon account of a silverysheen that dazzled us. When our eyes got used to it we saw that the chest wasthree quarters full of uncut diamondsmost of them of considerable size.StoopingI picked some up. Yesthere was no mistake about itthere was theunmistakable soapy feel about them.
I fairly gasped as I dropped them.
"We are the richest men in the whole world" I said. "MonteCristo is a fool to us."
"We shall flood the market with diamonds" said Good.
"Got to get them there first" suggested Sir Henry.
And we stood with pale faces and stared at each otherwith the lantern inthe middleand the glimmering gems belowas though we were conspirators aboutto commit a crimeinstead of beingas we thoughtthe three most fortunate menon earth.
"Heeheehee!" went old Gagool behind usas she flitted aboutlike a vampire bat. "There are the bright stones that ye lovewhite menas many as ye will; take themrun them through your fingerseat of themheehee! Drink of themhaha!"
There was something so ridiculous at that moment to my mind in the idea ofeating and drinking diamonds that I began to laugh outrageouslyan examplewhich the others followedwithout knowing why. There we stood and shrieked withlaughter over the gems which were ourswhich had been found for us thousands ofyears ago by the patient delvers in the great hole yonderand stored for us bySolomon's long-dead overseerwhose nameperchancewas written in thecharacters stamped on the faded wax that yet adhered to the lids of the chests.Solomon never got themnor Davidnor Da Silvestranor anybody else. We hadgot them; there before us were millions of pounds' worth of diamondsandthousands of pounds' worth of gold and ivoryonly waiting to be taken away.
Suddenly the fit passed offand we stopped laughing.
"Open the other chestswhite men" croaked Gagool"there aresurely more therein. Take your fillwhite lords!"
Thus adjuredwe set to work to pull up the stone lids on the other twofirst- not without a feeling of sacrilege- breaking the seals that fastenedthem.
Hoorah! They were full toofull to the brim; at least the second one was; nowretched Da Silvestra had been filling goatskins out of that. As for the thirdchestit was only about a fourth fullbut the stones were all picked onesnone less than twenty caratsand some of them as large as pigeon eggs. Some ofthese biggest oneshoweverwe could see by holding them up to the lightwerea little yellow"off colored" as they call it at Kimberley.
What we did not seehoweverwas the look of fearful malevolence that oldGagool favored us with as she creptcrept like a snakeout of the treasurechamber and down the passage towards the massive door of solid rock. -
Hark! Cry upon cry comes ringing up the vaulted path. It is Foulata's voice!
"OhBougwan! Help! Help! The rock falls!"
"Help! Help! She has stabbed me!"
By now we are running down the passageand this is what the light from thelamp falls on. The door of rock is slowly closing down; it is not three feetfrom the floor. Near it struggle Foulata and Gagool. The red blood of the formerruns to her kneebut still the brave girl holds the old witchwho fights likea wildcat. Ah! She is free! Foulata fallsand Gagool throws herself on thegroundto twist herself like a snake through the crack of the closing stone.She is under- ahGod! Too late! Too late! The stone nips herand she yells inagony. Downdown it comesall the thirty tons of itslowly pressing her oldbody against the rock below. Shriek upon shrieksuch as we never heardthen alongsickening crunchand the door was shut just as werushing down thepassagehurled ourselves against it.
It was all done in four seconds.
Then we turned to Foulata. The poor girl was stabbed in the bodyand couldnotI sawlive long.
"AhBougwanI die!" gasped the beautiful creature. "Shecrept out- Gagool; I did not see herI was faint- and the door began to fall;then she came backand was looking up the path- and I saw her come in throughthe slowly falling doorand caught her and held herand she stabbed meand IdieBougwan."
"Poor girl! Poor girl!" Good cried; and thenas he could donothing elsehe fell to kissing her.
"Bougwan" she saidafter a pause"is Macumazahn there? Itgrows so darkI cannot see."
"Here I amFoulata."
"Macumazahnbe my tongue for a momentI pray theefor Bougwan cannotunderstand meand before I go into the darkness- I would speak a word."
"Say onFoulataI will render it."
"Say to my lordBougwanthat- I love himand that I am glad to diebecause I know that he cannot cumber his life with such as mefor the suncannot mate with the darknessnor the white with the black.
"Say that at times I have felt as though there were a bird in my bosomwhich would one day fly hence and sing elsewhere; even nowthough I cannot liftmy handand my brain grows coldI do not feel as though my heart were dying;it is so full of love that could live a thousand yearsand yet be young. Saythat if I live againmayhap I shall see him in the starsand that- I willsearch them allthough perchance I should there still be black and he would-still be white. Say- nayMacumazahnsay no moresave that I love- Ohhold mecloserBougwanI cannot feel thine arms- Oh! Oh!"
"She is dead- she is dead!" said Goodrising in griefthe tearsrunning down his honest face.
"You need not let that trouble youold fellow" said Sir Henry.
"Eh!" said Good. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that you will soon be in a position to join her. Mandon't yousee that we are buried alive?"
Until Sir Henry uttered these wordsI do not think the full horror of whathad happened had come home to uspreoccupied as we were with poor Foulata'sdeath. But now we understood. The ponderous mass of rock had closedprobablyforeverfor the only brain which knew its secret was crushed to powder beneathit. This was a door that none could hope to force with anything short ofdynamite in large quantities. And we were the wrong side of it!
For a few minutes we stood horrified there over the corpse of Foulata. Allthe manhood seemed to have gone out of us. The first shock of this idea of theslow and miserable end that awaited us was overpowering. We saw it all now; thatfiend Gagool had planned this snare for us from the first. It would have beenjust the jest that her evil mind would have rejoiced inthe idea of the threewhite menwhomfor some reason of her ownshe had always hatedslowlyperishing of thirst and hunger in the company of the treasure they had coveted.I saw the point of that sneer of hers about eating and drinking the diamondsnow. Perhaps somebody had tried to serve the poor old don in the same waywhenhe abandoned the skin full of jewels.
"This will never do" said Sir Henry hoarsely; "the lamp willsoon go out. Let us see if we can't find the spring that works the rocks."
We sprang forward with desperate energyandstanding in a bloody oozebegan to feel up and down the door and the sides of the passage. But no knob orspring could we discover.
"Depend on it" I said"it does not work from the inside; ifit did Gagool would not have risked trying to crawl underneath the stone. It wasthe knowledge of this that made her try to escape at all hazardcurseher."
"At all events" said Sir Henry with a hard little laugh"retribution was swift; hers was almost as awful an end as ours is likelyto be. We can do nothing with the door; let us go back to the treasureroom." We turned and wentand as we did so I perceived by the unfinishedwall across the passage the basket of food which poor Foulata had carried. Itook it up and brought it with me back to that accursed treasure chamber thatwas to be our grave. Then we went back and reverently bore in Foulata's corpselaying it on the floor by the boxes of coin.
Next we seated ourselvesleaning our backs against the three stone chests ofpriceless treasures.
"Let us divide the food" said Sir Henry"so as to make itlast as long as possible." Accordingly we did so. It wouldwe reckonedmake four infinitesimally small meals for each of us; enoughsayto supportlife for a couple of days. Besides the biltongthere were two gourds of watereach holding about a quart.
"Now" said Sir Henry"let us eat and drinkfor tomorrow wedie."
We each ate a small portion of the biltongand drank a sip of water. We hadneedless to saybut little appetitethough we were sadly in need of foodandfelt better after swallowing it. Then we got up and made a systematicexamination of the walls of our prison housein the faint hope of finding somemeans of exitsounding them and the floor carefully.
There was none. It was not probable that there would be one to a treasurechamber.
The lamp began to burn dim. The fat was nearly exhausted.
"Quatermain" said Sir Henry"what is the time- your watchgoes?"
I drew it out and looked at it. It was six o'clock; we had entered the caveat eleven.
"Infadoos will miss us" I suggested. "If we do not returntonight he will search for us in the morningCurtis."
"He may search in vain. He does not know the secret of the doornoreven where it is. No living person knew it yesterdayexcept Gagool. Today noone knows it. Even if he found the door he could not break it down. All theKukuana army could not break through five feet of living rock. My friendsI seenothing for it but to bow ourselves to the will of the Almighty. The search fortreasure has brought many to a bad end; we shall go to swell their number."
The lamp grew dimmer yet.
Presently it flared up and showed the whole scene in strong reliefthe greatmass of white tusksthe boxes full of goldthe corpse of poor Foulatastretched before themthe goatskin full of treasurethe dim glimmer of thediamondsand the wildwan faces of us three white men seated there awaitingdeath by starvation.
Suddenly it sankand expired.
18. We Abandon Hope -
I CAN give no adequate description of the horrors of the night whichfollowed. Mercifully they were to some extent mitigated by sleepfor even insuch a position as ourswearied nature will sometimes assert itself. But Iatany ratefound it impossible to sleep much. Putting aside the terrifyingthought of our impending doom- for the bravest man on earth might well quailfrom such a fate as awaited usand I never had any great pretensions to bebrave- the silence itself was too great to allow of it. Readeryou may havelain awake at night and thought the silence oppressivebut I say withconfidence that you can have no idea what a vividtangible thing perfectsilence really is. On the surface of the earth there is always some sound ormotionand though it may in itself be imperceptibleyet does it deaden thesharp edge of absolute silence. But here there was none. We were buried in thebowels of a hugesnow-clad peak. Thousands of feet above us the fresh airrushed over the white snowbut no sound of it reached us. We were separated bya long tunnel and five feet of rock even from the awful chamber of the dead; andthe dead make no noise. The crashing of all the artillery of earth and heavencould not have come to our ears in our living tomb. We were cut off from allechoes of the world- we were as already dead.
And then the irony of the situation forced itself upon me. There around uslay treasures enough to pay off a moderate national debtor to build a fleet ofironcladsand yet we would gladly have bartered them all for the faintestchance of escape. Soondoubtlesswe should be glad to exchange them for a bitof food or a cup of waterandafter thateven for the speedy close to oursufferings. Truly wealthwhich men spend all their lives in acquiringis avalueless thing at the last.
And so the night wore on.
"Good" said Sir Henry's voice at lastand it sounded awful in theintense stillness"how many matches have you in the box?"
"Strike oneand let us see the time."
He did soand in contrast to the dense darkness the flame nearly blinded us.It was five o'clock by my watch. The beautiful dawn was now blushing on the snowwreaths far over our headsand the breeze would be stirring the night mists inthe hollows.
"We had better eat something and keep up our strength" said I.
"What is the good of eating?" answered Good. "The sooner wedie and get it over the better."
"While there is life there is hope" said Sir Henry.
Accordingly we ate and sipped some waterand another period of time passedwhen somebody suggested that it might be as well to get as near to the door aspossible and callon the faint chance of somebody catching a sound outside.Accordingly Goodwhofrom long practice at seahas a finepiercing notegroped his way down the passage and beganand I must say he made a mostdiabolical noise. I never heard such yells; but it might have been a mosquitobuzzing for all the effect it produced.
After a while he gave it upand came back very thirstyand had to have somewater. After that we gave up yellingas it encroached on the supply of water.
So we all sat down once more against our chests of useless diamonds in thatdreadful inaction which was one of the hardest circumstances of our fate; and Iam bound to say thatfor my partI gave way in despair. Laying my head againstSir Henry's broad shoulderI burst into tears; and I think I heard Good gulpingon the other sideand swearing hoarsely at himself for doing so.
Ahhow good and brave that great man was! Had we been two frightenedchildrenand he our nursehe could not have treated us more tenderly.Forgetting his own share of miserieshe did all he could to soothe our brokennervestelling stories of men who had been in somewhat similar circumstancesand miraculously escaped; and when these failed to cheer uspointing out howafter allit was only anticipating an end that must come to us allthat itwould soon be overand that death from exhaustion was a merciful one (which isnot true). Thenin a diffident sort of a wayas I had once before heard himdohe suggested that we should throw ourselves on the mercy of a higher Powerwhichfor my partI did with great vigor.
His is a beautiful charactervery quietbut very strong.
And so somehow the day went as the night had gone (ifindeedone can usethe terms where all was densest night)and when I lit a match to see the timeit was seven o'clock.
Once more we ate and drankand as we did so an idea occurred to me.
"How is it" said I"that the air in this place keeps fresh?It is thick and heavybut it is perfectly fresh."
"Great heavens!" said Goodstarting up"I never thought ofthat. It can't come through the stone doorfor it is airtightif ever a doorwas. It must come from somewhere. If there were no current of air in the placewe should have been stifled when we first came in. Let us have a look."
It was wonderful what a change this mere spark of hope wrought in us. In amoment we were all three groping about the place on our hands and kneesfeelingfor the slightest indication of a draft. Presently my ardor received a check. Iput my hand on something cold. It was poor Foulata's dead face.
For an hour or more we went on feeling abouttill at last Sir Henry and Igave it up in despairhaving got considerably hurt by constantly knocking ourheads against tuskschestsand the sides of the chamber. But Good stillperseveredsayingwith an approach to cheerfulnessthat it was better thandoing nothing.
"I sayyou fellows" he said presentlyin a constrained sort ofvoice"come here."
Needless to say we scrambled over towards him quick enough.
"Quatermainput your hand here where mine is. Nowdo you feelanything?"
"I think I feel air coming up."
"Now listen." He rose and stamped upon the place and a flame ofhope shot up in our hearts. It rang hollow.
With trembling hands I lit a match. I had only three leftand we saw that wewere in the angle of the far corner of the chambera fact that accounted forour not having noticed the hollow ring of the place during our former exhaustiveexamination. As the match burned we scrutinized the spot. There was a join inthe solid rock floorand- great heavens!- therelet in level with rockwas astone ring. We said no word; we were too excitedand our hearts beat too wildlywith hope to allow us to speak. Good had a knifeat the back of which was oneof those hooks that are made to extract stones from horses' hoofs. He opened itand scratched away at the ring with it. Finally he got it underand leveredaway gently for fear of breaking the hook. The ring began to move. Being ofstoneit had not got set fast in all the centuries it had lain thereas wouldhave been the case had it been of iron. Presently it was upright. Then he gothis hands into it and tugged with all his forcebut nothing budged.
"Let me try" I said impatientlyfor the situation of the stoneright in the angle of the cornerwas such that it was impossible for two topull at once. I got hold and strained awaybut with no results.
Then Sir Henry tried and failed.
Taking the hook againGood scratched all around the cracks where we felt theair coming up.
"NowCurtis" he said"tackle onand put your back into it;you are as strong as two. Stop" and he took off a stout black silkhandkerchiefwhichtrue to his habits of neatnesshe still woreand ran itthrough the ring. "Quatermainget Curtis round the middle and pull fordear life when I give the word. Now!"
Sir Henry put out all his enormous strengthand Good and I did the samewith such power as nature had given us.
"Heave! Heave! It's giving" gasped Sir Henry; and I heard themuscles of his great back cracking. Suddenly there came a parting soundthen arush of airand we were all on our backs on the floor with a great flagstone ontop of us. Sir Henry's strength had done itand never did muscular power standa man in better stead.
"Light a matchQuatermain" he saidas soon as we had pickedourselves up and got one breath; "carefully now."
I did soand there before us was- God be praised- the first step of a stonestair.
"Now what is to be done?" asked Good.
"Follow the stairof courseand trust to Providence."
"Stop!" said Sir Henry. "Quatermainget the bit of biltongand the water that is left; we may want them."
I went creeping back to our place by the chests for that purposeand as Iwas coming away an idea struck me. We had not thought much of the diamonds forthe last twenty-four hours or so; indeedthe idea of diamonds was nauseatingseeing what they had entailed upon us; butthought II may as well pocket afew in case we ever should get out of this ghastly hole. So I just stuck my fistinto the first chest and filled all the available pockets of my shooting coattopping up- this was a happy thought- with a couple of handfuls of big ones outof the third chest.
"I sayyou fellows" I sang out"won't you take somediamonds with you? I've filled my pockets."
"Ohhang the diamonds!" said Sir Henry. "I hope that I maynever see another."
As for Goodhe made no answer. He wasI thinktaking a last farewell ofall that was left of the poor girl who loved him so well. Andcurious as it mayseem to youmy readersitting at home at ease and reflecting on the vastindeedthe immeasurablewealth which we were thus abandoningI can assure youthat if you had passed some twenty-eight hours with next to nothing to eat anddrink in that placeyou would not have cared to cumber yourself with diamondswhile plunging down into the unknown bowels of the earthin the wild hope ofescape from an agonizing death. If it had notfrom the habits of a lifetimebecome a sort of second nature with me never to leave anything worth havingbehind if there was the slightest chance of my being able to carry it awayI amsure I should not have bothered to fill my pockets.
"Come onQuatermain" said Sir Henrywho was already standing onthe first step of the stone stair. "SteadyI will go first."
"Mind where you put your feet; there may be some awful holeunderneath" said I.
"Much more likely to be another room" said Sir Henryas he slowlydescendedcounting the steps as he went.
When he got to "fifteen" he stopped. "Here's the bottom"he said. "Thank goodness! I think it's a passage. Come on down."
Good descended nextand I followed lastand on reaching the bottom lit oneof the two remaining matches. By its light we could just see that we werestanding in a narrow tunnelwhich ran right and left at right angles to thestaircase we had descended. Before we could make out any more the match burnedmy fingers and went out. Then arose the delicate question of which way to turn.Of course it was impossible to know what the tunnel was or where it ran toandyet to turn one way might lead us to safetyand the other to destruction. Wewere utterly perplexedtill suddenly it struck Good that when I had lit thematch the draft of the passage blew the flame to the left.
"Let us go against the draft" he said; "air draws inwardnotoutward."
We took this suggestionandfeeling along the wall with our handswhiletrying the ground before at every stepwe departed from that accursed treasurechamber on our terrible quest. If ever it should be entered again by living manwhich I do not think it will behe will find a token of our presence in theopen chests of jewelsthe empty lampand the white bones of poor Foulata.
When we had groped our way for about a quarter of an hour along the passageit suddenly took a sharp turnor else was bisected by anotherwhich wefollowedonly in course of time to be led into a third. And so it went on forsome hours. We seemed to be in a stone labyrinth which led nowhere. What allthese passages areof course I cannot saybut we thought that they must be theancient workings of a mineof which the various shafts traveled hither andthither as the ore led them. This is the only way in which we could account forsuch a multitude of passages.
At length we haltedthoroughly worn out with fatigueand with that hopedeferred which maketh the heart sickand ate up our poor remaining piece ofbiltongand drank our last sup of waterfor our throats were like lime kilns.It seemed to us that we had escaped Death in the darkness of the chamber only tomeet him in the darkness of the tunnels.
As we stoodonce more utterly depressedI thought I caught a soundtowhich I called the attention of the others. It was very faint and very far offbut it was a sounda faintmurmuring soundfor the others heard it tooandno words can describe the blessedness of it after all those hours of utterawful stillness.
"By heavens! It's running water" said Good. "Come on."
Off we started again in the direction from which the faint murmur seemed tocomegroping our way as before along the rocky walls. As we went it got moreand more audibletill at last it seemed quite loud in the quiet. Onyet on;now we could distinctly make out the unmistakable swirl of rushing water. Andyet how could there be running water in the bowels of the earth? Now we werequite near to itand Goodwho was leadingswore that he could smell it.
"Go gentlyGood" said Sir Henry"we must be close."Splash! And a cry from Good.
He had fallen in.
"Good! Good! Where are you?" we shouted in terrified distress. Toour intense reliefan answer came back in a choky voice.
"All right; I've got hold of a rock. Strike a light to show me where youare."
Hastily I lit the last remaining match. Its faint gleam discovered to us adark mass of water running at our feet. How wide it was we could not seebuttheresome way outwas the dark form of our companion hanging on to aprojecting rock.
"Stand clear to catch me" sang out Good. "I must swim forit."
Then we heard a splash and a great struggle. Another minute and he hadgrabbed at and caught Sir Henry's outstretched handand we had pulled him uphigh and dry into the tunnel.
"My word!" he saidbetween his gasps"that was touch and go.If I hadn't caught that rockand known how to swimI should have been done. Itruns like a millraceand I could feel no bottom."
It was clear that this would not do; so after Good had rested a littleandwe had drunk our fill from the water of the subterranean riverwhich was sweetand freshand washed our faceswhich sadly needed itas well as we couldwestarted from the banks of this African Styxand began to retrace our stepsalong the tunnelGood dripping unpleasantly in front of us. At length we cameto another tunnel leading to our right.
"We may as well take it" said Sir Henry wearily; "all roadsare alike here; we can only go on till we drop."
Slowlyfor a longlong whilewe stumbledutterly wearyalong this newtunnelSir Henry leading now.
Suddenly he stoppedand we bumped up against him.
"Look!" he whispered. "Is my brain goingor is thatlight?"
We stared with all our eyesand thereyestherefar ahead of uswas afaint glimmering spotno larger than a cottage window-pane. It was so faintthat I doubt if any eyes except those whichlike ourshad for days seennothing but blackness could have perceived it at all.
With a sort of gasp of hope we pushed on. In five minutes there was no longerany doubt: it was a patch of faint light. A minute more and a breath of reallive air was fanning us. On we struggled. All at once the tunnel narrowed. SirHenry went on his knees. Smaller yet it grewtill it was only the size of alarge fox's earth- it was earth nowmind you; the rock had ceased.
A squeezea struggleand Sir Henry was outand so was Goodand so was Iand there above us were the blessed starsand in our nostrils was the sweetair; then suddenly something gaveand we were all rolling over and over andover through grass and bushes and softwet soil.
I caught at something and stopped. Sitting upI hulloed lustily. Ananswering shout came from just belowwhere Sir Henry's wild career had beenstopped by some level ground. I scrambled to himand found him unhurtthoughbreathless. Then we looked for Good. A little way off we found himtoojammedin a forked root. He was a good deal knocked aboutbut soon came to.
We sat down together there on the grassand the revulsion of feeling was sogreat that I really think we cried for joy. We had
escaped from that awful dungeonthat was so near to becoming our grave.Surely some merciful Power must have guided our footsteps to the jackal hole atthe termination of the tunnel (for that is what it must have been). And seethere on the mountainsthe dawn we had never thought to look upon again wasblushing rosy red.
Presently the gray light stole down the slopesand we saw that we were atthe bottomorrathernearly at the bottom of the vast pit in front of theentrance to the cave. Now we could make out the dim forms of the three colossiwho sat upon its verge. Doubtless those awful passagesalong which we hadwandered the live-long nighthad originally beenin some wayconnected withthe great diamond mine. As for the subterranean river in the bowels of themountainheaven only knows what it wasor whence it flowsor whither it goes.Ifor onehave no anxiety to trace its course.
Lighter it grewand lighter yet. We could see each other nowand such aspectacle as we presented I have never set eyes on before or since.Gaunt-cheekedhollow-eyed wretchessmeared all over with dust and mudbruisedbleedingthe long fear of imminent death yet written on ourcountenanceswe wereindeeda sight to frighten the daylight. And yet it is asolemn fact that Good's eyeglass was still fixed in Good's eye. I doubt whetherhe had ever taken it out at all. Neither the darknessnor the plunge in thesubterranean rivernor the roll down the slopehad been able to separate Goodand his eyeglass.
Presently we rosefearing that our limbs would stiffen if we stopped therelongerand commenced with slow and painful steps to struggle up the slopingsides of the great pit. For an hour or more we toiled steadfastly up the blueclaydragging ourselves on by the help of the roots and grasses with which itwas clothed.
At last it was doneand we stood on the Great Roadon the side of the pitopposite to the colossi.
By the side of the roada hundred yards offa fire was burning in front ofsome hutsand round the fire were figures. We made towards themsupporting oneanotherand halting every few paces. Presentlyone of the figures rosesawusand fell onto the groundcrying out for fear.
"InfadoosInfadoos! It is usthy friends."
We rose; he ran to usstaring wildlyand. still shaking with fear.
"Ohmy lordsmy lordsit is indeed you come back from the dead- comeback from the dead!"
And the old warrior flung himself down before usand clasped Sir Henry'skneesand wept aloud for joy.
19. Ignosi's Farewell -
TEN DAYS from that eventful morning found us once more in our old quarters atLoo; andstrange to saybut little the worse for our terrible experienceexcept that my stubbly hair came out of that cave about three shades grayer thanit went inand that Good never was quite the same after Foulata's deathwhichseemed to move him very greatly. I am bound to say thatlooking at the thingfrom the point of view of an oldish man of the worldI consider her removal afortunate occurrencesinceotherwisecomplications would have been sure toensue. The poor creature was no ordinary native girlbut a person of greatIhad almost said statelybeautyand of considerable refinement of mind. But noamount of beauty or refinement could have made an entanglement between Good andherself a desirable occurrence; foras she herself put it"The sun cannotmate with the darknessnor the white with the black."
I need hardly state that we never again penetrated into Solomon's treasurechamber. After we had recovered from our fatiguea process which took usforty-eight hourswe descended into the great pit in the hope of finding thehole by which we had crept out of the mountainbut with no success. To beginwithrain had fallenand obliterated our spoor; and what is morethe sides ofthe vast pit were full of ant bear and other holes. It was impossible to say towhich of these we owed our salvation. We alsoon the day before we started backto Loomade a further examination of the wonders of the stalactite caveanddrawn by a kind of restless feelingeven penetrated once more into the Chamberof the Dead; andpassing beneath the spear of the white Deathgazedwithsensations which it would be quite impossible for me to describeat the mass ofrock which had shut us off from escapethinkingthe whileof the pricelesstreasures beyondof the mysterious old hag whose flattened fragments laycrushed beneath itand of the fair girl of whose tomb it was the portal. I saygazed at the "rock" for examine as we would we could find no tracesof the join of the sliding door; norindeedcould we hit upon the secretnowutterly lostthat worked itthough we tried for an hour or more. It wascertainly a marvelous bit of mechanismcharacteristicin its massive and yetinscrutable simplicityof the age which produced it; and I doubt if the worldhas another such to show.
At last we gave it up in disgust; thoughif the mass had suddenly risenbefore our eyesI doubt if we should have screwed up courage to step overGagool's mangled remains and once more enter the treasure chambereven in thesure and certain hope of unlimited diamonds. And yet I could have cried at theidea of leaving all that treasurethe biggest treasure probably that has everin the world's history been accumulated in one spot. But there was no help forit. Only dynamite could force its way through five feet of solid rock. And so weleft it. Perhapsin some remote unborn centurya more fortunate explorer mayhit upon the "Open Sesame" and flood the world with gems. ButmyselfI doubt it. SomehowI seem to feel that the millions of pounds' worthof gems that lie in the three stone coffers will never shine round the neck ofan earthly beauty. They and Foulata's bones will keep cold company till the endof all things.
With a sigh of disappointment we made our way backand next day started forLoo. And yet it was really very ungrateful of us to be disappointed; foras thereader will rememberI hadby a lucky thoughttaken the precaution to fillthe pockets of my old shooting coat with gems before we left our prison house. Agood many of these fell out in the course of our roll down the side of the pitincluding most of the big oneswhich I had crammed in on the top. Butcomparatively speakingan enormous quantity still remainedincluding eighteenlarge stones ranging from about one hundred to thirty carats in weight. My oldshooting coat still held enough treasure to make us allif not millionairesatleast exceedingly wealthy menand yet to keep enough stones each to make thethree finest sets of gems in Europe. So we had not done so badly.
On arriving at Loo we were most cordially received by Ignosiwhom we foundwelland busily engaged in consolidating his power and reorganizing theregiments which had suffered most in the great struggle with Twala.
He listened with breathless interest to our wonderful story; but when we toldhim old Gagool's frightful endhe grew thoughtful.
"Come hither" he called to a very old "induna"(councilor)who was sitting with others in a circle round the kingbut out ofearshot. The old man roseapproachedsalutedand seated himself.
"Thou art old" said Ignosi.
"Aymy lord the king!"
"Tell mewhen thou wast littledidst thou know Gagaoolathe witch
"Aymy lord the king!"
"How was she then- younglike thee?"
"Not somy lord the king! She was even as now; old and driedveryuglyand full of wickedness."
"She is no more; she is dead."
"SoO King! then is a curse taken from the land."
"Koom! I goblack puppywho tore out the old dog's throat. Koom!"
"Ye seemy brothers" said Ignosi"this was a strange womanand I rejoice that she is dead. She would have let ye die in the dark placeandmayhap afterwards she had found a way to slay meas she found a way to slay myfather and set up Twalawhom her heart lovedin his place. Now go on with thetale; surely there never was the like!"
After I had narrated all the story of our escapeIas we had agreed betweenourselves that I shouldtook the opportunity to address Ignosi as to ourdeparture from Kukuanaland.
"And nowIgnosithe time has come for us to bid thee farewellandstart to seek once more our own land. BeholdIgnosiwith us thou camest aservantand now we leave thee a mighty king. If thou art grateful to usremember to do even as thou didst promise: to rule justlyto respect the lawand to put none to death without a cause. So shalt thou prosper. Tomorrowatbreak of dayIgnosiwilt thou give us an escort who shall lead us across themountains? Is it not soO King?"
Ignosi covered his face with his hands for a while before answering.
"My heart is sore" he said at last; "your words split myheart in twain. What have I done to yeIncubuMacumazahnand Bougwanthat yeshould leave me desolate? Ye who stood by me in rebellion and battlewill yeleave me in the day of peace and victory? What will ye- wives? Choose from outthe land! A place to live in? Beholdthe land is yours as far as you can see.The white man's houses? Ye shall teach my people how to build them. Cattle forbeef and milk? Every married man shall bring ye an ox or a cow. Wild game tohunt? Does not the elephant walk through my forestsand the river horse sleepin the reeds? Would ye make war? My impis [regiments] wait your word. If thereis anything more that I can givethat will I give ye."
"NayIgnosiwe want not these things" I answered; "we wouldseek our own place."
"Now do I perceive" said Ignosi bitterlyand with flashing eyes"that it is the bright stones that ye love more than meyour friend. Yehave the stones; now would ye go to Natal and across the black water and sellthemand be richas it is the desire of a white man's heart to be. Cursed foryour sake be the stonesand curse he who seeks them. Death shall it be to himwho sets foot in the Place of Death to seek them. I have spokenwhite men; yecan go."
I laid my hand upon his arm. "Ignosi" I said"tell uswhenthou didst wander in Zululandand among the white men in Nataldid not thineheart turn to the land thy mother told thee ofthy native landwhere thoudidst see the lightand play when thou wast littlethe land where thy placewas?"
"It was even soMacumazahn."
"Then thus do our hearts turn to our land and to our own place."
Then came a pause. When Ignosi broke itit was in a different voice.
"I do perceive that thy words arenow as everwise and full of reasonMacumazahn; that which flies in the air loves not to run along the ground; thewhite man loves not to live on the level of the black. Wellye must goandleave my heart sorebecause ye will be as dead to mesince from where ye willbe no tidings can come to me.
"But listenand let all the white men know my words. No other white manshall cross the mountainseven if any may live to come so far. I will see notraders with their guns and rum. My people shall fight with the spear and drinkwaterlike their forefathers before them. I will have no praying men to putfear of death into men's heartsto stir them up against the kingand make apath for the white men who follow to run on. If a white man comes to my gates Iwill send him back; if a hundred comeI will push them back; if an army comesI will make war on them with all my strengthand they shall not prevail againstme. None shall ever come for the shining stones; nonot an armyfor if theycome I will send a regiment and fill up the pitand break down the whitecolumns in the caves and fill them with rocksso that none can come even tothat door of which ye speakand whereof the way to move it is lost. But for yethreeIncubuMacumazahnand Bougwanthe path is always open; for beholdyeare dearer to me than aught that breathes.
"And ye would go. Infadoosmy uncle and my indunashall take thee bythe hand and guide theewith a regiment. There isas I have learnedanotherway across the mountains that he shall show ye. Farewellmy brothersbravewhite men. See me no morefor I have no heart to bear it. BeholdI make adecreeand it shall be published from the mountains to the mountains: yournamesIncubuMacumazahnand Bougwanshall be as the names of dead kingsandhe who speaks them shall die. * So shall your memory be preserved in the landforever. -
* This extraordinary and negative way of showing intense respect is by nomeans unknown among African peopleand the result is that ifas is usualthename in question has a significancethe meaning has to be expressed by an idiomor another word. In this way a memory is preserved for generationsor until thenew word supplants the old one. -
"Gonowere my eyes rain tears like a woman's. At times when ye lookback down the path of lifeor when ye are old and gather yourselves together tocrouch before the firebecause the sun has no more heatye will think of howwe stood shoulder to shoulder in that great battle that thy wise words plannedMacumazahn; of how thou wast the point of that horn that galled Twala's flankBougwan; whilst thou stoodst in the ring of the GraysIncubuand men went downbefore thine ax like corn before a sickle; ayand of how thou didst break thewild bull's [Twala's] strengthand bring his pride to dust. Fare ye wellforeverIncubuMacumazahnand Bougwanmy lords and my friends."
He roselooked earnestly at us for a few secondsand then threw the cornerof his karross over his headso as to cover his face from us.
We went in silence.
Next day at dawn we left Looescorted by our old friend Infadooswho washeartbroken at our departureand the regiment of Buffaloes. Early as the hourwasall the main street of the town was lined with multitudes of peoplewhogave us the royal salute as we passed at the head of the regimentwhile thewomen blessed us as having rid the land of Twalathrowing flowers before us aswe went. It really was very affectingand not the sort of thing one isaccustomed to meet with from natives.
One very ludicrous incident occurredhoweverwhich I rather welcomedas itgave us something to laugh at.
Just before we got to the confines of the town a pretty young girlwith somebeautiful lilies in her handcame running forward and
presented them to Good (somehow they all seemed to like Good; I think hiseyeglass and solitary whisker gave him a fictitious value)and then said shehad a boon to ask.
"Let my lord show his servant his beautiful white legsthat his servantmay look on themand remember them all her daysand tell of them to herchildren; his servant has traveled four days' journey to see themfor the fameof them has gone throughout the land."
"I'll be hanged if I do!" said Good excitedly.
"Comecomemy dear fellow" said Sir Henry"you can'trefuse to oblige a lady."
"I won't" said Goodobstinately; "it is positivelyindecent."
Howeverin the end he consented to draw up his trousers to the kneeamidstnotes of rapturous admiration from all the women presentespecially thegratified young ladyand in this guise he had to walk till we got clear of thetown.
Good's legs willI fearnever be so greatly admired again. Of his meltingteethand even of his 'transparent eye' they wearied more or lessbut of hislegsnever.
As we traveledInfadoos told us that there was another pass over themountainsto the north of the one followed by Solomon's Great Roador ratherthat there was a place where it was possible to climb down the wall of cliffthat separated Kukuanaland from the desertand was broken by the toweringshapes of Sheba's breasts. It appearedtoothat rather more than two yearspreviously a party of Kukuana hunters had descended this path into the desert insearch of ostricheswhose plumes were much prized among them for warheaddressesand that in the course of their hunt they had been led far from themountainsand were much troubled by thirst. Seeinghowevertrees on thehorizonthey made towards themand discovered a large and fertile oasis ofsome miles in extentand plentifully watered. It was by way of this oasis thathe suggested that we should returnand the idea seemed to us a good oneas itappeared that we should escape the rigors of the mountain passand as some ofthe hunters were in attendance to guide us to the oasisfrom whichtheystatedthey could perceive more fertile spots far away in the desert. * -
* It often puzzled all of us to understand how it was possible that Ignosi'smotherbearing the child with hershould have survived the dangers of thejourney across the mountains and the desertdangers which so nearly provedfatal to ourselves. It has since occurred to meand I give the idea to thereader for what it is worththat she must have taken this second routeandwandered out like Hagar into the desert. If she did sothere is no longeranything inexplicable about the storysince she may wellas Ignosi himselfrelatedhave been picked up by some ostrich hunters before she or the childwere exhaustedand led by them to the oasisand thence by stages to thefertile countryand so on by slow degrees southward to Zululand.- A. Q. -
Traveling easilyon the night of the fourth day's journey we found ourselvesonce more on the crest of the mountains that separate Kukuanaland from thedesertwhich rolled away in sandy billows at our feetand about twenty-fivemiles to the north of Sheba's breasts.
At dawn on the following day we were led to the commencement of a precipitousdescentby which we were to descend the precipiceand gain the desert twothousand and more feet below.
Here we bade farewell to that true friend and sturdy old warriorInfadooswho solemnly wished all good upon usand nearly wept with grief. "Nevermy lords" he said"shall mine old eyes see the like of ye again. Ah!The way that Incubu cut his men down in the battle! Ah! For the sight of thatstroke with which he swept off my brother Twala's head! It was beautiful-beautiful! I may never hope to see such anotherexcept perchance in happydreams."
We were very sorry to part from him; indeedGood was so moved that he gavehim as a souvenir- what do you think?- an eyeglass. (Afterwards we discoveredthat it was a spare one.) Infadoos was delightedforeseeing that the possessionof such an article would enormously increase his prestigeand after severalvain attempts actually succeeded in screwing it into his own eye. Anything moreincongruous than the old warrior with an eyeglass I never saw. Eyeglasses don'tgo well with leopard-skin cloaks and black ostrich plumes.
Thenhaving seen that our guides were well laden with water and provisionsand having received a thundering farewell salute from the Buffaloeswe wrungthe old warrior's handand began our downward climb. A very arduous business itproved to bebut somehow that evening we found ourselves at the bottom withoutaccident.
"Do you know" said Sir Henry that nightas we sat by our fire andgazed up at the beetling cliffs above us"I think that there are worseplaces than Kukuanaland in the worldand that I have spent unhappier times thanthe last month or twothough I have never spent such queer ones. Ehyoufellows?"
"I almost wish I were back" said Good with a sigh.
As for myselfI reflected that all's well that ends well; but in the courseof a long life of shaves I never had such shaves as those I had recentlyexperienced. The thought of that battle still makes me feel cold all overandas for our experience in the treasure chamber-!
Next morning we started on a toilsome march across the deserthaving with usa good supply of water carried by our five guidesand camped that night in theopenstarting again at dawn on the morrow.
By midday of the third day's journey we could see the trees of the oasis ofwhich the guides spokeand by an hour before sundown we were once more walkingupon grass and listening to the sound of running water.
20. Found -
AND NOW I come to perhaps the strangest thing that happened to us in all thatstrange businessand one which shows how wonderfully things are brought about.
I was walking quietly alongsome way in front of the other twodown thebanks of the stream which ran from the oasis till it was swallowed up in thehungry desert sandswhen suddenly I stopped and rubbed my eyesas well Imight. Therenot twenty yards in frontplaced in a charming situationunderthe shade of a species of fig-treeand facing the streamwas a cosy hutbuiltmore or less on the Kaffir principle of grass and withesonly with afull-length door instead of a bee hole.
"What the dickens" said I to myself"can a hut be doinghere!" Even as I said itthe door of the hut openedand there limped outof it a white man clothed in skinsand with an enormous black beard. I thoughtthat I must have got a touch of the sun. It was impossible. No hunter ever cameto such a place as this. Certainly no hunter would ever settle in it. I staredand staredand so did the other manand just at that juncture Sir Henry andGood came up.
"Look hereyou fellows" I said"is that a white manor amI mad?"
Sir Henry lookedand Good lookedand then all of a sudden the lame whiteman with the black beard gave a great cryand came hobbling towards us. When hegot close he fell down in a sort of faint.
With a spring Sir Henry was by his side.
"Great Powers!" he cried. "It is my brother George!"
At the sound of the disturbance another figurealso clad in skinsemergedfrom the hut with a gun in his handand came running towards us. On seeing mehe too gave a cry.
"Macumazahn" he hulloed"don't you know meBaas? I'm Jimthe hunter. I lost the note you gave me to give to the Bassand we have beenhere nearly two years." And the fellow fell at my feet and rolled over andoverweeping for joy.
"You careless scoundrel!" I said. "You ought to be wellhided."
Meanwhile the man with the black beard had recovered and got upand he andSir Henry were pump-handling away at each otherapparently without a word tosay. But whatever they had quarreled about in the past (I suspect it was a ladythough I never asked)it was evidently forgotten now.
"My dear old fellow" burst out Sir Henry at last"I thoughtthat you were dead. I have been over Solomon's Mountains to find youand now Icome across you perched in the desertlike an old Aasvogel [vulture]."
"I tried to go over Solomon's Mountains nearly two years ago" wasthe answerspoken in the hesitating voice of a man who has had little recentopportunity of using his tongue"but when I got herea boulder fell on myleg and crushed itand I have been able to go neither forward nor back."
Then I came up. "How do you doMr. Neville?" I said. "Do youremember me?"
"Why" he said"isn't it Quatermainehand Goodtoo? Holdon a minuteyou fellowsI am getting dizzy again. It is all so very strangeandwhen a man has ceased to hopeso very happy."
That eveningover the campfireGeorge Curtis told us his storywhichinits waywas almost as eventful as our ownand amountedbrieflyto this. Alittle short of two years beforehe had started from Sitanda's Kraalto tryand reach the mountains. As for the note I had sent him by Jimthat worthy hadlost itand he had never heard of it till today. Butacting upon informationhe had received from the nativeshe madenot for Sheba's breastsbut for theladder-like mountains down which we had just comewhich was clearly a betterroute than that marked out in old Don Silvestra's plan. In the desert he and Jimsuffered great hardshipsbut finally they reached this oasiswhere a terribleaccident befell George Curtis. On the day of their arrival he was sitting by thestreamand Jim was extracting the honey from the nest of a stingless beewhichis to be found in the deserton the top of the bank immediately above him. Inso doing he loosed a great boulder of rockwhich fell upon George Curtis'sright legcrushing it frightfully. From that day he had been so dreadfully lamethat he had found it impossible to go either forward or backand had preferredto take the chances of dying on the oasis to the certainty of perishing in thedesert.
As for foodhoweverthey had got on pretty wellfor they had a good supplyof ammunitionand the oasis was frequentedespecially at nightby largequantities of gamewhich came thither for water. These they shotor trapped inpitfallsusing their flesh for food andafter their clothes wore outtheirhides for covering.
"And so" he ended"we have lived for nearly two yearslikea second Robinson Crusoe and his man Fridayhoping against hope that somenatives might come here and help us awaybut none have come. Only last night wesettled that Jim should leave me and try to reach Sitanda's Kraal and getassistance. He was to go tomorrowbut I had little hope of ever seeing him backagain. And now youof all the people in the worldyou who I fancied had longago forgotten all about meand were living comfortably in old Englandturn upin a promiscuous way and find me where you least expected. It is the mostwonderful thing I ever heard ofand the most mercifultoo."
Then Sir Henry set to work and told him the main facts of our adventuressitting till late into the night to do it.
"By Jove!" he saidwhen I showed him some of the diamonds."Wellat least you have got something for your painsbesides my worthlessself."
Sir Henry laughed. "They belong to Quatermain and Good. It was part ofthe bargain that they should share any spoils there might be."
This remark set me thinkingandhaving spoken to GoodI told Sir Henrythat it was our unanimous wish that he should take a third share of thediamondsorif he would notthat his share should be handed to his brotherwho had suffered even more than ourselves on the chance of getting them.Finallywe prevailed upon him to consent to this arrangementbut George Curtisdid not know of it till some time afterwards. -
And hereat this pointI think I shall end this history. Our journey acrossthe desert back to Sitanda's Kraal was most arduousespecially as we had tosupport George Curtiswhose right leg was very weak indeedand continuallythrowing out splinters of bone; but we did accomplish itsomehowand to giveits details would only be to reproduce much of what happened to us on the formeroccasion.
Six months from the date of our rearrival at Sitanda'swhere we found ourguns and other goods quite safethough the old scoundrel in charge was muchdisgusted at our surviving to claim themsaw us all once more safe and sound atmy little place on the Bereanear Durbanwhere I am now writingand whence Ibid farewell to all who have accompanied me throughout the strangest trip I evermade in the course of a long and varied experience. -
Just as I had written the last word a Kaffir came up my avenue of orangetreeswith a letter in a cleft stickwhich he had brought from the post. Itturned out to be from Sir Henryandas it speaks for itselfI give it infull. -
Brayley HallYorkshire -
My Dear Quatermain
I sent you a line a few mails back to say that the three of usGeorgeGoodand myselffetched up all right in England. We got off the boat at Southamptonand went up to town. You should have seen what a swell Good turned out the verynext daybeautifully shavedfrock coat fitting like a glovebrand-neweyeglassetc.etc. I went and walked in the park with himwhere I met somepeople I knowand at once told them the story of his "beautiful whitelegs."
He is furiousespecially as some ill-natured person has printed it in asociety paper.
To come to businessGood and I took the diamonds to Streeter's to be valuedas we arrangedand I am really afraid to tell you what they put them atitseems so enormous. They say that of course it is more or less guessworkas suchstones have never to their knowledge been put on the market in anything likesuch quantities. It appears that they are (with the exception of one or two ofthe largest) of the finest waterand equal in every way to the best
Brazilian stones. I asked them if they would buy thembut they said it wasbeyond their power to do soand recommended us to sell by degreesfor fear weshould flood the market. They offerhowevera hundred and eighty thousand fora small portion of them.
You must come homeQuatermainand see about these thingsespecially if youinsist upon making the magnificent present of the third sharewhich does notbelong to meto my brother George. As for Goodhe is no good. His time is tomuch occupied in shavingand other matters connected with the vain adorning ofhis body. But I think he is still down on his luck about Foulata. He told methat since he had been home he hadn't seen a woman to touch hereither asregards her figure or the sweetness of her expression.
I want you to come homemy dear old comradeand buy a place near here. Youhave done your day's workand have lots of money nowand there is a place forsale quite close which would suit you admirably. Do come; the sooner the better;you can finish writing the story of our adventures on board ship. We haverefused to tell the story till it is written by youfor fear that we shall notbe believed. If you start on receipt of this you will reach here by Christmasand I book you to stay with me for that. Good is comingand Georgeand sobythe wayis your boy Harry (there's a bribe for you). I have had him down for aweek's shootingand like him. He is a cool young hand; he shot me in the legcut out the pelletsand then remarked upon the advantage of having a medicalstudent in every shooting-party.
Good-byeold boy; I can't say any morebut I know that you will comeif itis only to oblige your sincere friend
Henry Curtis -
P.S.- The tusks of the great bull that killed poor Khiva have now been put upin the hall hereover the pair of buffalo-horns you gave meand lookmagnificent; and the ax with which I chopped off Twala's head is stuck up overmy writing-table. I wish we could have managed to bring away the coats of chainarmor. H.C. -
Today is Tuesday. There is a steamer going on Fridayand I really think Imust take Curtis at his wordand sail by her for Englandif it is only to seemy boy Harry and see about the printing of this historywhich is a task I donot like to trust to anybody else. - -