Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: She and Allan
Author: Haggard, H. Rider (Henry Rider), 1856-1925
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "She and Allan" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



SHE AND ALLAN

By H. Rider Haggard

First Published 1921.



NOTE BY THE LATE MR. ALLAN QUATERMAIN

My friend, into whose hands I hope that all these manuscripts of mine
will pass one day, of this one I have something to say to you.

A long while ago I jotted down in it the history of the events that
it details with more or less completeness. This I did for my own
satisfaction. You will have noted how memory fails us as we advance
in years; we recollect, with an almost painful exactitude, what we
experienced and saw in our youth, but the happenings of our middle
life slip away from us or become blurred, like a stretch of low-lying
landscape overflowed by grey and nebulous mist. Far off the sun still
seems to shine upon the plains and hills of adolescence and early
manhood, as yet it shines about us in the fleeting hours of our age,
that ground on which we stand to-day, but the valley between is filled
with fog. Yes, even its prominences, which symbolise the more startling
events of that past, often are lost in this confusing fog.

It was an appreciation of these truths which led me to set down the
following details (though of course much is omitted) of my brief
intercourse with the strange and splendid creature whom I knew under the
names of _Ayesha_, or _Híya_, or _She-who-commands_; not indeed with any
view to their publication, but before I forgot them that, if I wished to
do so, I might re-peruse them in the evening of old age to which I hope
to attain.

Indeed, at the time the last thing I intended was that they should be
given to the world even after my own death, because they, or many of
them, are so unusual that I feared lest they should cause smiles and
in a way cast a slur upon my memory and truthfulness. Also, as you will
read, as to this matter I made a promise and I have always tried to
keep my promises and to guard the secrets of others. For these reasons I
proposed, in case I neglected or forgot to destroy them myself, to leave
a direction that this should be done by my executors. Further, I have
been careful to make no allusion _whatever_ to them either in casual
conversation or in anything else that I may have written, my desire
being that this page of my life should be kept quite private, something
known only to myself. Therefore, too, I never so much as hinted of them
to anyone, not even to yourself to whom I have told so much.

Well, I recorded the main facts concerning this expedition and its
issues, simply and with as much exactness as I could, and laid them
aside. I do not say that I never thought of them again, since amongst
them were some which, together with the problems they suggested, proved
to be of an unforgettable nature.

Also, whenever any of Ayesha's sayings or stories which are not
preserved in these pages came back to me, as has happened from time to
time, I jotted them down and put them away with this manuscript. Thus
among these notes you will find a history of the city of Kôr as she told
it to me, which I have omitted here. Still, many of these remarkable
events did more or less fade from my mind, as the image does from
an unfixed photograph, till only their outlines remained, faint if
distinguishable.

To tell the truth, I was rather ashamed of the whole story in which
I cut so poor a figure. On reflection it was obvious to me, although
honesty had compelled me to set out all that is essential exactly as it
occurred, adding nothing and taking nothing away, that I had been the
victim of very gross deceit. This strange woman, whom I had met in the
ruins of a place called Kôr, without any doubt had thrown a glamour over
my senses and at the moment almost caused me to believe much that is
quite unbelievable.

For instance, she had told me ridiculous stories as to interviews
between herself and certain heathen goddesses, though it is true that,
almost with her next breath, these she qualified or contradicted. Also,
she had suggested that her life had been prolonged far beyond our mortal
span, for hundreds and hundreds of years, indeed; which, as Euclid says,
is absurd, and had pretended to supernatural powers, which is still more
absurd. Moreover, by a clever use of some hypnotic or mesmeric power,
she had feigned to transport me to some place beyond the earth and in
the Halls of Hades to show me what is veiled from the eyes of man,
and not only me, but the savage warrior Umhlopekazi, commonly called
Umslopogaas of the Axe, who, with Hans, a Hottentot, was my companion
upon that adventure. There were like things equally incredible, such as
her appearance, when all seemed lost, in the battle with the troll-like
Rezu. To omit these, the sum of it was that I had been shamefully duped,
and if anyone finds himself in that position, as most people have at one
time or another in their lives, Wisdom suggests that he had better keep
the circumstances to himself.

Well, so the matter stood, or rather lay in the recesses of my mind--and
in the cupboard where I hide my papers--when one evening someone, as a
matter of fact it was Captain Good, an individual of romantic tendencies
who is fond, sometimes I think too fond, of fiction, brought a book to
this house which he insisted over and over again really I must peruse.

Ascertaining that it was a novel I declined, for to tell the truth I am
not fond of romance in any shape, being a person who has found the hard
facts of life of sufficient interest as they stand.

Reading I admit I like, but in this matter, as in everything else, my
range is limited. I study the Bible, especially the Old Testament, both
because of its sacred lessons and of the majesty of the language of its
inspired translators; whereof that of Ayesha, which I render so poorly
from her flowing and melodious Arabic, reminded me. For poetry I turn
to Shakespeare, and, at the other end of the scale, to the Ingoldsby
Legends, many of which I know almost by heart, while for current affairs
I content myself with the newspapers.

For the rest I peruse anything to do with ancient Egypt that I happen to
come across, because this land and its history have a queer fascination
for me, that perhaps has its roots in occurrences or dreams of which
this is not the place to speak. Lastly now and again I read one of the
Latin or Greek authors in a translation, since I regret to say that my
lack of education does not enable me to do so in the original. But for
modern fiction I have no taste, although from time to time I sample it
in a railway train and occasionally am amused by such excursions into
the poetic and unreal.

So it came about that the more Good bothered me to read this particular
romance, the more I determined that I would do nothing of the sort.
Being a persistent person, however, when he went away about ten o'clock
at night, he deposited it by my side, under my nose indeed, so that it
might not be overlooked. Thus it came about that I could not help seeing
some Egyptian hieroglyphics in an oval on the cover, also the title,
and underneath it your own name, my friend, all of which excited
my curiosity, especially the title, which was brief and enigmatic,
consisting indeed of one word, "_She_."

I took up the work and on opening it the first thing my eye fell upon
was a picture of a veiled woman, the sight of which made my heart stand
still, so painfully did it remind me of a certain veiled woman whom once
it had been my fortune to meet. Glancing from it to the printed page one
word seemed to leap at me. It was _Kôr_! Now of veiled women there are
plenty in the world, but were there also two Kôrs?

Then I turned to the beginning and began to read. This happened in
the autumn when the sun does not rise till about six, but it was broad
daylight before I ceased from reading, or rather rushing through that
book.

Oh! what was I to make of it? For here in its pages (to say nothing of
old Billali, who, by the way lied, probably to order, when he told Mr.
Holly that no white man had visited his country for many generations,
and those gloomy, man-eating Amahagger scoundrels) once again I
found myself face to face with _She-who-commands_, now rendered as
_She-who-must-be-obeyed_, which means much the same thing--in her case
at least; yes, with Ayesha the lovely, the mystic, the changeful and the
imperious.

Moreover the history filled up many gaps in my own limited experiences
of that enigmatical being who was half divine (though, I think, rather
wicked or at any rate unmoral in her way) and yet all woman. It is true
that it showed her in lights very different from and higher than those
in which she had presented herself to me. Yet the substratum of her
character was the same, or rather of her characters, for of these she
seemed to have several in a single body, being, as she said of herself
to me, "not One but Many and not Here but Everywhere."

Further, I found the story of Kallikrates, which I had set down as a
mere falsehood invented for my bewilderment, expanded and explained. Or
rather not explained, since, perhaps that she might deceive, to me
she had spoken of this murdered Kallikrates without enthusiasm, as a
handsome person to whom, because of an indiscretion of her youth, she
was bound by destiny and whose return--somewhat to her sorrow--she must
wait. At least she did so at first, though in the end when she bared her
heart at the moment of our farewell, she vowed she loved him only and
was "appointed" to him "by a divine decree."

Also I found other things of which I knew nothing, such as the Fire of
Life with its fatal gift of indefinite existence, although I remember
that like the giant Rezu whom Umslopogaas defeated, she did talk of a
"Cup of Life" of which she had drunk, that might have been offered to my
lips, had I been politic, bowed the knee and shown more faith in her and
her supernatural pretensions.

Lastly I saw the story of her end, and as I read it I wept, yes, I
confess I wept, although I feel sure that she will return again. Now I
understood why she had quailed and even seemed to shrivel when, in my
last interview with her, stung beyond endurance by her witcheries and
sarcasms, I had suggested that even for her with all her powers, Fate
might reserve one of its shrewdest blows. Some prescience had told her
that if the words seemed random, Truth spoke through my lips, although,
and this was the worst of it, she did not know what weapon would deal
the stroke or when and where it was doomed to fall.

I was amazed, I was overcome, but as I closed that book I made up my
mind, first that I would continue to preserve absolute silence as to
Ayesha and my dealings with her, as, during my life, I was bound by
oath to do, and secondly that I would _not_ cause my manuscript to be
destroyed. I did not feel that I had any right to do so in view of what
already had been published to the world. There let it lie to appear one
day, or not to appear, as might be fated. Meanwhile my lips were sealed.
I would give Good back his book without comment and--buy another copy!

One more word. It is clear that I did not touch more than the fringe
of the real Ayesha. In a thousand ways she bewitched and deceived me so
that I never plumbed her nature's depths. Perhaps this was my own fault
because from the first I shewed a lack of faith in her and she wished to
pay me back in her own fashion, or perhaps she had other private reasons
for her secrecy. Certainly the character she discovered to me differed
in many ways from that which she revealed to Mr. Holly and to Leo
Vincey, or Kallikrates, whom, it seems, once she slew in her jealousy
and rage.

She told me as much as she thought it fit that I should know, and no
more!

Allan Quatermain.

The Grange, Yorkshire.



SHE AND ALLAN



CHAPTER I

THE TALISMAN

I believe it was the old Egyptians, a very wise people, probably indeed
much wiser than we know, for in the leisure of their ample centuries
they had time to think out things, who declared that each individual
personality is made up of six or seven different elements, although the
Bible only allows us three, namely, body, soul, and spirit. The body
that the man or woman wore, if I understand their theory aright which
perhaps I, an ignorant person, do not, was but a kind of sack or fleshly
covering containing these different principles. Or mayhap it did not
contain them all, but was simply a house as it were, in which they lived
from time to time and seldom all together, although one or more of them
was present continually, as though to keep the place warmed and aired.

This is but a casual illustrative suggestion, for what right have
I, Allan Quatermain, out of my little reading and probably erroneous
deductions, to form any judgment as to the theories of the old
Egyptians? Still these, as I understand them, suffice to furnish me with
the text that man is not one, but many, in which connection it may be
remembered that often in Scripture he is spoken of as being the home of
many demons, seven, I think. Also, to come to another far-off example,
the Zulus talk of their witch-doctors as being inhabited by "a multitude
of spirits."

Anyhow of one thing I am quite sure, we are not always the same.
Different personalities actuate us at different times. In one hour
passion of this sort or the other is our lord; in another we are reason
itself. In one hour we follow the basest appetites; in another we hate
them and the spirit arising through our mortal murk shines within or
above us like a star. In one hour our desire is to kill and spare not;
in another we are filled with the holiest compassion even towards an
insect or a snake, and are ready to forgive like a god. Everything
rules us in turn, to such an extent indeed, that sometimes one begins to
wonder whether we really rule anything.

Now the reason of all this homily is that I, Allan, the most practical
and unimaginative of persons, just a homely, half-educated hunter and
trader who chances to have seen a good deal of the particular little
world in which his lot was cast, at one period of my life became the
victim of spiritual longings.

I am a man who has suffered great bereavements in my time such as have
seared my soul, since, perhaps because of my rather primitive and simple
nature, my affections are very strong. By day or night I can never
forget those whom I have loved and whom I believe to have loved me.

For you know, in our vanity some of us are apt to hold that certain
people with whom we have been intimate upon the earth, really did
care for us and, in our still greater vanity--or should it be called
madness?--to imagine that they still care for us after they have left
the earth and entered on some new state of society and surroundings
which, if they exist, inferentially are much more congenial than any
they can have experienced here. At times, however, cold doubts strike us
as to this matter, of which we long to know the truth. Also behind looms
a still blacker doubt, namely whether they live at all.

For some years of my lonely existence these problems haunted me day by
day, till at length I desired above everything on earth to lay them
at rest in one way or another. Once, at Durban, I met a man who was a
spiritualist to whom I confided a little of my perplexities. He laughed
at me and said that they could be settled with the greatest ease. All
I had to do was to visit a certain local medium who for a fee of one
guinea would tell me everything I wanted to know. Although I rather
grudged the guinea, being more than usually hard up at the time, I
called upon this person, but over the results of that visit, or rather
the lack of them, I draw a veil.

My queer and perhaps unwholesome longing, however, remained with me and
would not be abated. I consulted a clergyman of my acquaintance, a good
and spiritually-minded man, but he could only shrug his shoulders and
refer me to the Bible, saying, quite rightly I doubt not, that with what
it reveals I ought to be contented. Then I read certain mystical
books which were recommended to me. These were full of fine words,
undiscoverable in a pocket dictionary, but really took me no forwarder,
since in them I found nothing that I could not have invented myself,
although while I was actually studying them, they seemed to convince
me. I even tackled Swedenborg, or rather samples of him, for he is very
copious, but without satisfactory results. [Ha!--JB]

Then I gave up the business.



Some months later I was in Zululand and being near the Black Kloof
where he dwelt, I paid a visit to my acquaintance of whom I have
written elsewhere, the wonderful and ancient dwarf, Zikali, known as
"The-Thing-that-should-never-have-been-born," also more universally
among the Zulus as "Opener-of-Roads." When we had talked of many things
connected with the state of Zululand and its politics, I rose to leave
for my waggon, since I never cared for sleeping in the Black Kloof if it
could be avoided.

"Is there nothing else that you want to ask me, Macumazahn?" asked
the old dwarf, tossing back his long hair and looking at--I had almost
written through--me.

I shook my head.

"That is strange, Macumazahn, for I seem to see something written on
your mind--something to do with spirits."

Then I remembered all the problems that had been troubling me, although
in truth I had never thought of propounding them to Zikali.

"Ah! it comes back, does it?" he exclaimed, reading my thought. "Out
with it, then, Macumazahn, while I am in a mood to answer, and before
I grow tired, for you are an old friend of mine and will so remain till
the end, many years hence, and if I can serve you, I will."

I filled my pipe and sat down again upon the stool of carved red-wood
which had been brought for me.

"You are named 'Opener-of-Roads,' are you not, Zikali?" I said.

"Yes, the Zulus have always called me that, since before the days of
Chaka. But what of names, which often enough mean nothing at all?"

"Only that _I_ want to open a road, Zikali, that which runs across the
River of Death."

"Oho!" he laughed, "it is very easy," and snatching up a little assegai
that lay beside him, he proffered it to me, adding, "Be brave now and
fall on that. Then before I have counted sixty the road will be wide
open, but whether you will see anything on it I cannot tell you."

Again I shook my head and answered,

"It is against our law. Also while I still live I desire to know whether
I shall meet certain others on that road after my time has come to cross
the River. Perhaps you who deal with spirits, can prove the matter to
me, which no one else seems able to do."

"Oho!" laughed Zikali again. "What do my ears hear? Am I, the poor Zulu
cheat, as you will remember once you called me, Macumazahn, asked
to show that which is hidden from all the wisdom of the great White
People?"

"The question is," I answered with irritation, "not what you are asked
to do, but what you can do."

"That I do not know yet, Macumazahn. Whose spirits do you desire to see?
If that of a woman called Mameena is one of them, I think that perhaps I
whom she loved----"[*]

     [*] For the history of Mameena see the book called "Child of
     Storm."--Editor.

"She is _not_ one of them, Zikali. Moreover, if she loved you, you paid
back her love with death."

"Which perhaps was the kindest thing I could do, Macumazahn, for reasons
that you may be able to guess, and others with which I will not trouble
you. But if not hers, whose? Let me look, let me look! Why, there seems
to be two of them, head-wives, I mean, and I thought that white men only
took one wife. Also a multitude of others; their faces float up in the
water of your mind. An old man with grey hair, little children, perhaps
they were brothers and sisters, and some who may be friends. Also very
clear indeed that Mameena whom you do not wish to see. Well, Macumazahn,
this is unfortunate, since she is the only one whom I can show you,
or rather put you in the way of finding. Unless indeed there are other
Kaffir women----"

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"I mean, Macumazahn, that only black feet travel on the road which I can
open; over those in which ran white blood I have no power."

"Then it is finished," I said, rising again and taking a step or two
towards the gate.

"Come back and sit down, Macumazahn. I did not say so. Am I the only
ruler of magic in Africa, which I am told is a big country?"

I came back and sat down, for my curiosity, a great failing with me, was
excited.

"Thank you, Zikali," I said, "but I will have no dealings with more of
your witch-doctors."

"No, no, because you are afraid of them; quite without reason,
Macumazahn, seeing that they are all cheats except myself. I am the last
child of wisdom, the rest are stuffed with lies, as Chaka found out when
he killed every one of them whom he could catch. But perhaps there might
be a white doctor who would have rule over white spirits."

"If you mean missionaries----" I began hastily.

"No, Macumazahn, I do not mean your praying men who are cast in one
mould and measured with one rule, and say what they are taught to say,
not thinking for themselves."

"Some of them think, Zikali."

"Yes, and then the others fall on them with big sticks. The real priest
is he to whom the Spirit comes, not he who feeds upon its wrappings, and
speaks through a mask carved by his father's fathers. I am a priest like
that, which is why all my fellowship have hated me."

"If so, you have paid back their hate, Zikali, but cease to cast round
the lion, like a timid hound, and tell me what you mean. Of whom do you
speak?"

"That is the trouble, Macumazahn. I do not know. This lion, or rather
lioness, lies hid in the caves of a very distant mountain and I have
never seen her--in the flesh."

"Then how can you talk of what you have never seen?"

"In the same way, Macumazahn, that your priests talk of what they have
never seen, because they, or a few of them, have knowledge of it. I
will tell you a secret. All seers who live at the same time, if they are
great, commune with each other because they are akin and their spirits
meet in sleep or dreams. Therefore I know of a mistress of our craft, a
very lioness among jackals, who for thousands of years has lain sleeping
in the northern caves and, humble though I am, she knows of me."

"Quite so," I said, yawning, "but perhaps, Zikali, you will come to the
point of the spear. What of her? How is she named, and if she exists
will she help me?"

"I will answer your question backwards, Macumazahn. I think that she
will help you if you help her, in what way I do not know, because
although witch-doctors sometimes work without pay, as I am doing now,
Macumazahn, witch-doctoresses never do. As for her name, the only one
that she has among our company is 'Queen,' because she is the first of
all of them and the most beauteous among women. For the rest I can tell
you nothing, except that she has always been and I suppose, in this
shape or in that, will always be while the world lasts, because she has
found the secret of life unending."

"You mean that she is immortal, Zikali," I answered with a smile.

"I do not say that, Macumazahn, because my little mind cannot shape the
thought of immortality. But when I was a babe, which is far ago, she had
lived so long that scarce would she knew the difference between then
and now, and already in her breast was all wisdom gathered. I know it,
because although, as I have said, we have never seen each other, at
times we walk together in our sleep, for thus she shares her loneliness,
and I think, though this may be but a dream, that last night she told me
to send you on to her to seek an answer to certain questions which you
would put to me to-day. Also to me she seemed to desire that you should
do her a service; I know not what service."

Now I grew angry and asked,

"Why does it please you to fool me, Zikali, with such talk as this? If
there is any truth in it, show me where the woman called _Queen_ lives
and how I am to come to her."

The old wizard took up the little assegai which he had offered to me and
with its blade raked our ashes from the fire that always burnt in front
of him. While he did so, he talked to me, as I thought in a random
fashion, perhaps to distract my attention, of a certain white man whom
he said I should meet upon my journey and of his affairs, also of other
matters, none of which interested me much at the time. These ashes
he patted down flat and then on them drew a map with the point of his
spear, making grooves for streams, certain marks for bush and forest,
wavy lines for water and swamps and little heaps for hills.

When he had finished it all he bade me come round the fire and study the
picture across which by an after-thought he drew a wandering furrow with
the edge of the assegai to represent a river, and gathered the ashes in
a lump at the northern end to signify a large mountain.

"Look at it well, Macumazahn," he said, "and forget nothing, since if
you make this journey and forget, you die. Nay, no need to copy it in
that book of yours, for see, I will stamp it on your mind."

Then suddenly he gathered up the warm ashes in a double handful and
threw them into my face, muttering something as he did so and adding
aloud,

"There, now you will remember."

"Certainly I shall," I answered, coughing, "and I beg that you will not
play such a joke upon me again."

As a matter of fact, whatever may have been the reason, I never forgot
any detail of that extremely intricate map.

"That big river must be the Zambesi," I stuttered, "and even then the
mountain of your Queen, if it be her mountain, is far away, and how can
I come there alone?"

"I don't know, Macumazahn, though perhaps you might do so in company. At
least I believe that in the old days people used to travel to the place,
since I have heard a great city stood there once which was the heart of
a mighty empire."

Now I pricked up my ears, for though I believed nothing of Zikali's
story of a wonderful Queen, I was always intensely interested in past
civilisations and their relics. Also I knew that the old wizard's
knowledge was extensive and peculiar, however he came by it, and I did
not think that he would lie to me in this matter. Indeed to tell the
truth, then and there I made up my mind that if it were in any way
possible, I would attempt this journey.

"How did people travel to the city, Zikali?"

"By sea, I suppose, Macumazahn, but I think that you will be wise not to
try that road, since I believe that on the sea side the marshes are now
impassable and you will be safer on your feet."

"You want me to go on this adventure, Zikali. Why? I know you never do
anything without motive."

"Oho! Macumazahn, you are clever and see deeper into the trunk of a tree
than most. Yes, I want you to go for three reasons. First, that you
may satisfy your soul on certain matters and I would help you to do so.
Secondly, because I want to satisfy mine, and thirdly, because I know
that you will come back safe to be a prop to me in things that will
happen in days unborn. Otherwise I would have told you nothing of this
story, since it is necessary to me that you should remain living beneath
the sun."

"Have done, Zikali. What is it that you desire?"

"Oh! a great deal that I shall get, but chiefly two things, so with
the rest I will not trouble you. First I desire to know to know whether
these dreams of mine of a wonderful white witch-doctoress, or witch, and
of my converse with her are indeed more than dreams. Next I would learn
whether certain plots of mine at which I have worked for years, will
succeed."

"What plots, Zikali, and how can my taking a distant journey tell you
anything about them?"

"You know them well enough, Macumazahn; they have to do with the
overthrow of a Royal House that has worked me bitter wrong. As to how
your journey can help me, why, thus. You shall promise to me to ask
of this Queen whether Zikali, Opener-of-Roads, shall triumph or be
overthrown in that on which he has set his heart."

"As you seem to know this witch so well, why do you not ask her
yourself, Zikali?"

"To ask is one thing, Macumazahn. To get an answer is another. I have
asked in the watches of the night, and the reply was, 'Come hither and
perchance I will tell you.' 'Queen,' I said, 'how can I come save in the
spirit, who am an ancient and a crippled dwarf scarcely able to stand
upon my feet?'

"'Then send a messenger, Wizard, and be sure that he is white, for of
black savages I have seen more than enough. Let him bear a token also
that he comes from you and tell me of it in your sleep. Moreover let
that token be something of power which will protect him on the journey.'

"Such is the answer that comes to me in my dreams, Macumazahn."

"Well, what token will you give me, Zikali?"

He groped about in his robe and produced a piece of ivory of the size
of a large chessman, that had a hole in it, through which ran a plaited
cord of the stiff hairs from an elephant's tail. On this article, which
was of a rusty brown colour, he breathed, then having whispered to it
for a while, handed it to me.

I took the talisman, for such I guessed it to be, idly enough, held it
to the light to examine it, and started back so violently that almost
I let it fall. I do not quite know why I started, but I think it was
because some influence seemed to leap from it to me. Zikali started also
and cried out,

"Have a care, Macumazahn. Am I young that I can bear bring dashed to the
ground?"

"What do you mean?" I asked, still staring at the thing which I
perceived to be a most wonderfully fashioned likeness of the old dwarf
himself as he appeared before me crouched upon the ground. There were
the deepset eyes, the great head, the toad-like shape, the long hair,
all.

"It is a clever carving, is it not, Macumazahn? I am skilled in that
art, you know, and therefore can judge of carving."

"Yes, I know," I answered, bethinking me of another statuette of his
which he had given to me on the morrow of the death of her from whom it
was modelled. "But what of the thing?"

"Macumazahn, it has come down to me through the ages. As you may
have heard, all great doctors when they die pass on their wisdom and
something of their knowledge to another doctor of spirits who is still
living on the earth, that nothing may be lost, or as little as possible.
Also I have learned that to such likenesses as these may be given the
strength of him or her from whom they were shaped."

Now I bethought me of the old Egyptians and their _Ka_ statues of which
I had read, and that these statues, magically charmed and set in the
tombs of the departed, were supposed to be inhabited everlastingly by
the Doubles of the dead endued with more power even than ever these
possessed in life. But of this I said nothing to Zikali, thinking that
it would take too much explanation, though I wondered very much how he
had come by the same idea.

"When that ivory is hung over your heart, Macumazahn, where you must
always wear it, learn that with it goes the strength of Zikali; the
thought that would have been his thought and the wisdom that is his
wisdom, will be your companions, as much as though he walked at your
side and could instruct you in every peril. Moreover north and south and
east and west this image is known to men who, when they see it, will
bow down and obey, opening a road to him who wears the medicine of the
Opener-of-Roads."

"Indeed," I said, smiling, "and what is this colour on the ivory?"

"I forget, Macumazahn, who have had it a great number of years, ever
since it descended to me from a forefather of mine, who was fashioned in
the same mould as I am. It looks like blood, does it not? It is a pity
that Mameena is not still alive, since she whose memory was so excellent
might have been able to tell you," and as he spoke, with a motion that
was at once sure and swift, he threw the loop of elephant hair over my
head.

Hastily I changed the subject, feeling that after his wont this old
wizard, the most terrible man whom ever I knew, who had been so much
concerned with the tragic death of Mameena, was stabbing at me in some
hidden fashion.

"You tell me to go on this journey," I said, "and not alone. Yet for
companion you give me only an ugly piece of ivory shaped as no man ever
was," here I got one back at Zikali, "and from the look of it, steeped
in blood, which ivory, if I had my way, I would throw into the camp
fire. Who, then, am I to take with me?"

"Don't do that, Macumazahn--I mean throw the ivory into the fire--since
I have no wish to burn before my time, and if you do, you who have worn
it might burn with me. At least certainly you would die with the magic
thing and go to acquire knowledge more quickly than you desire. No, no,
and do not try to take it off your neck, or rather try if you will."

I did try, but something seemed to prevent me from accomplishing my
purpose of giving the carving back to Zikali as I wished to do. First
my pipe got in the way of my hand, then the elephant hairs caught in the
collar of my coat; then a pang of rheumatism to which I was accustomed
from an old lion-bite, developed of a sudden in my arm, and lastly I
grew tired of bothering about the thing.

Zikali, who had been watching my movements, burst out into one of his
terrible laughs that seemed to fill the whole kloof and to re-echo from
its rocky walls. It died away and he went on, without further reference
to the talisman or image.

"You asked whom you were to take with you, Macumazahn. Well, as to this
I must make inquiry of those who know. Man, my medicines!"

From the shadows in the hut behind darted out a tall figure carrying
a great spear in one hand and in the other a catskin bag which with a
salute he laid down at the feet of his master. This salute, by the way,
was that of a Zulu word which means "Lord" or "Home" of Ghosts.

Zikali groped in the bag and produced from it certain knuckle-bones.

"A common method," he muttered, "such as every vulgar wizard uses, but
one that is quick and, as the matter concerned is small, will serve my
turn. Let us see now, whom you shall take with you, Macumazahn."

Then he breathed upon the bones, shook them up in his thin hands and
with a quick turn of the wrist, threw them into the air. After this
he studied them carefully, where they lay among the ashes which he had
raked out of the fire, those that he had used for the making of his map.

"Do you know a man named Umslopogaas, Macumazahn, the chief of a tribe
that is called The People of the Axe, whose titles of praise are Bulalio
or the Slaughterer, and Woodpecker, the latter from the way he handles
his ancient axe? He is a savage fellow, but one of high blood and
higher courage, a great captain in his way, though he will never come to
anything, save a glorious death--in your company, I think, Macumazahn."
(Here he studied the bones again for a while.) "Yes, I am sure, in your
company, though not upon this journey."

"I have heard of him," I answered cautiously. "It is said in the land
that he is a son of Chaka, the great king of the Zulus."

"Is it, Macumazahn? And is it said also that he was the slayer of
Chaka's brother, Dingaan, also the lover of the fairest woman that the
Zulus have ever seen, who was called Nada the Lily? Unless indeed a
certain Mameena, who, I seem to remember, was a friend of yours, may
have been even more beautiful?"

"I know nothing of Nada the Lily," I answered.

"No, no, Mameena, 'the Waiting Wind,' has blown over her fame, so
why should you know of one who has been dead a long while? Why also,
Macumazahn, do you always bring women into every business? I begin to
believe that although you are so strict in a white man's fashion, you
must be too fond of them, a weakness which makes for ruin to any man.
Well, now, I think that this wolf-man, this axe-man, this warrior,
Umslopogaas should be a good fellow to you on your journey to visit the
white witch, Queen--another woman by the way, Macumazahn, and
therefore one of whom you should be careful. Oh! yes, he will come with
you--because of a man called Lousta and a woman named Monazi, a wife of
his who hates him and does--not hate Lousta. I am almost sure that he
will come with you, so do not stop to ask questions about him."

"Is there anyone else?" I inquired.

Zikali glanced at the bones again, poking them about in the ashes with
his toe, then replied with a yawn,

"You seem to have a little yellow man in your service, a clever snake
who knows how to creep through grass, and when to strike and when to lie
hidden. I should take him too, if I were you."

"You know well that I have such a man, Zikali, a Hottentot named Hans,
clever in his way but drunken, very faithful too, since he loved my
father before me. He is cooking my supper in the waggon now. Are there
to be any others?"

"No, I think you three will be enough, with a guard of soldiers from the
People of the Axe, for you will meet with fighting and a ghost or two.
Umslopogaas has always one at his elbow named Nada, and perhaps you have
several. For instance, there was a certain Mameena whom I always seem to
feel about me when you are near, Macumazahn.

"Why, the wind is rising again, which is odd on so still an evening.
Listen to how it wails, yes, and stirs your hair, though mine hangs
straight enough. But why do I talk of ghosts, seeing that you travel to
seek other ghosts, white ghosts, beyond my ken, who can only deal with
those who were black?

"Good-night, Macumazahn, good-night. When you return from visiting the
white Queen, that Great One beneath those feet I, Zikali, who am also
great in my way, am but a grain of dust, come and tell me her answer to
my question.

"Meanwhile, be careful always to wear that pretty little image which I
have given you, as a young lover sometimes wears a lock of hair cut from
the head of some fool-girl that he thinks is fond of him. It will bring
you safety and luck, Macumazahn, which, for the most part, is more than
the lock of hair does to the lover. Oh! it is a strange world, full of
jest to those who can see the strings that work it. I am one of them,
and perhaps, Macumazahn, you are another, or will be before all is
done--or begun.

"Good-night, and good fortune to you on your journeyings, and,
Macumazahn, although you are so fond of women, be careful not to fall in
love with that white Queen, because it would make others jealous; I mean
some who you have lost sight of for a while, also I think that being
under a curse of her own, she is not one whom you can put into your
sack. _Oho! Oho-ho!_ Slave, bring me my blanket, it grows cold, and my
medicine also, that which protects me from the ghosts, who are thick
to-night. Macumazahn brings them, I think. _Oho-ho!_"

I turned to depart but when I had gone a little way Zikali called me
back again and said, speaking very low,

"When you meet this Umslopogaas, as you will meet him, he who is called
the Woodpecker and the Slaughterer, say these words to him,

"'A bat has been twittering round the hut of the Opener-of-Roads, and
to his ears it squeaked the name of a certain Lousta and the name of a
woman called Monazi. Also it twittered another greater name that may not
be uttered, that of an elephant who shakes the earth, and said that this
elephant sniffs the air with his trunk and grows angry, and sharpens his
tusks to dig a certain Woodpecker out of his hole in a tree that grows
near the Witch Mountain. Say, too, that the Opener-of-Roads thinks that
this Woodpecker would be wise to fly north for a while in the company of
one who watches by night, lest harm should come to a bird that pecks at
the feet of the great and chatters of it in his nest.'"



Then Zikali waved his hand and I went, wondering into what plot I had
stumbled.



CHAPTER II

THE MESSENGERS

I did not rest as I should that night who somehow was never able to
sleep well in the neighbourhood of the Black Kloof. I suppose that
Zikali's constant talk about ghosts, with his hints and innuendoes
concerning those who were dead, always affected my nerves till, in a
subconscious way, I began to believe that such things existed and were
hanging about me. Many people are open to the power of suggestion, and I
am afraid that I am one of them.

However, the sun which has such strength to kill noxious things, puts an
end to ghosts more quickly even than it does to other evil vapours and
emanations, and when I woke up to find it shining brilliantly in a pure
heaven, I laughed with much heartiness over the whole affair.

Going to the spring near which we were outspanned, I took off my
shirt to have a good wash, still chuckling at the memory of all the
hocus-pocus of my old friend, the Opener-of-Roads.

While engaged in this matutinal operation I struck my hand against
something and looking, observed that it was the hideous little ivory
image of Zikali, which he had set about my neck. The sight of the
thing and the memory of his ridiculous talk about it, especially of its
assertion that it had come down to him through the ages, which it could
not have done, seeing that it was a likeness of himself, irritated me so
much that I proceeded to take it off with the full intention of throwing
it into the spring.

As I was in the act of doing this, from a clump of reeds mixed with
bushes, quite close to me, there came a sound of hissing, and suddenly
above them appeared the head of a great black _immamba_, perhaps the
deadliest of all our African snakes, and the only one I know which will
attack man without provocation.

Leaving go of the image, I sprang back in a great hurry towards where my
gun lay. Then the snake vanished and making sure that it had departed to
its hole, which was probably at a distance, I returned to the pool, and
once more began to take off the talisman in order to consign it to the
bottom of the pool.

After all, I reflected, it was a hideous and probably a blood-stained
thing which I did not in the least wish to wear about my neck like a
lady's love-token.

Just as it was coming over my head, suddenly from the other side of
the bush that infernal snake popped up again, this time, it was
clear, really intent on business. It began to move towards me in the
lightning-like way _immambas_ have, hissing and flicking its tongue.

I was too quick for my friend, however, for snatching up the gun that I
had lain down beside me, I let it have a charge of buckshot in the
neck which nearly cut it in two, so that it fell down and expired with
hideous convulsive writhings.

Hearing the shot Hans came running from the waggon to see what was the
matter. Hans, I should say, was that same Hottentot who had been the
companion of most of my journeyings since my father's day. He was with
me when as a young fellow I accompanied Retief to Dingaan's kraal,
and like myself, escaped the massacre.[*] Also we shared many other
adventures, including the great one in the Land of the Ivory Child where
he slew the huge elephant-god, Jana, and himself was slain. But of this
journey we did not dream in those days.

[*] See the book called "Marie."--Editor.

For the rest Hans was a most entirely unprincipled person, but as the
Boers say, "as clever as a waggonload of monkeys." Also he drank when he
got the chance. One good quality he had, however; no man was ever more
faithful, and perhaps it would be true to say that neither man nor woman
ever loved me, unworthy, quite so well.

In appearance he rather resembled an antique and dilapidated baboon;
his face was wrinkled like a dried nut and his quick little eyes were
bloodshot. I never knew what his age was, any more than he did himself,
but the years had left him tough as whipcord and absolutely untiring.
Lastly he was perhaps the best hand at following a spoor that ever I
knew and up to a hundred and fifty yards or so, a very deadly shot
with a rifle especially when he used a little single-barrelled,
muzzle-loading gun of mine made by Purdey which he named _Intombi_ or
Maiden. Of that gun, however, I have written in "The Holy Flower" and
elsewhere.

"What is it, Baas?" he asked. "Here there are no lions, nor any game."

"Look the other side of the bush, Hans."

He slipped round it, making a wide circle with his usual caution, then,
seeing the snake which was, by the way, I think, the biggest _immamba_
I ever killed, suddenly froze, as it were, in a stiff attitude that
reminded me of a pointer when it scents game. Having made sure that it
was dead, he nodded and said,

"Black _'mamba_, or so you would call it, though I know it for something
else."

"What else, Hans?"

"One of the old witch-doctor Zikali's spirits which he sets at the mouth
of this kloof to warn him of who comes or goes. I know it well, and so
do others. I saw it listening behind a stone when you were up the kloof
last evening talking with the Opener-of-Roads."

"Then Zikali will lack a spirit," I answered, laughing, "which perhaps
he will not miss amongst so many. It serves him right for setting the
brute on me."

"Quite so, Baas. He will be angry. I wonder why he did it?" he added
suspiciously, "seeing that he is such a friend of yours."

"He didn't do it, Hans. These snakes are very fierce and give battle,
that is all."

Hans paid no attention to my remark, which probably he thought only
worthy of a white man who does not understand, but rolled his yellow,
bloodshot eyes about, as though in search of explanations. Presently
they fell upon the ivory that hung about my neck, and he started.

"Why do you wear that pretty likeness of the Great One yonder over your
heart, as I have known you do with things that belonged to women in
past days, Baas? Do you know that it is Zikali's Great Medicine, nothing
less, as everyone does throughout the land? When Zikali sends an order
far away, he always sends that image with it, for then he who receives
the order knows that he must obey or die. Also the messenger knows that
he will come to no harm if he does not take it off, because, Baas, the
image is Zikali himself, and Zikali is the image. They are one and the
same. Also it is the image of his father's father's father--or so he
says."

"That is an odd story," I said.

Then I told Hans as much as I thought advisable of how this horrid
little talisman came into my possession.

Hans nodded without showing any surprise.

"So we are going on a long journey," he said. "Well, I thought it was
time that we did something more than wander about these tame countries
selling blankets to stinking old women and so forth, Baas. Moreover,
Zikali does not wish that you should come to harm, doubtless because he
does wish to make use of you afterwards--oh! it's safe to talk now when
that spirit is away looking for another snake. What were you doing with
the Great Medicine, Baas, when the _'mamba_ attacked you?"

"Taking it off to throw it into the pool, Hans, as I do not like the
thing. I tried twice and each time the _immamba_ appeared."

"Of course it appeared, Baas, and what is more, if you had taken that
Medicine off and thrown it away _you_ would have disappeared, since the
_'mamba_ would have killed you. Zikali wanted to show you that, Baas,
and that is why he set the snake at you."

"You are a superstitious old fool, Hans."

"Yes, Baas, but my father knew all about that Great Medicine before me,
for he was a bit of a doctor, and so does every wizard and witch for a
thousand miles or more. I tell you, Baas, it is known by all though no
one ever talks about it, no, not even the king himself. Baas, speaking
to you, not with the voice of Hans the old drunkard, but with that of
the Predikant, your reverend father, who made so good a Christian of
me and who tells me to do so from up in Heaven where the hot fires are
which the wood feeds of itself, I beg you not to try to throw away the
Medicine again, or if you wish to do so, to leave me behind on this
journey. For you see, Baas, although I am now so good, almost like one
of those angels with the pretty goose's wings in the pictures, I feel
that I should like to grow a little better before I go to the Place of
Fires to make report to your reverend father, the Predikant."

Thinking of how horrified my dear father would be if he could hear all
this string of ridiculous nonsense and learn the result of his moral and
religious lessons on raw Hottentot material, I burst out laughing. But
Hans went on as gravely as a judge,

"Wear the Great Medicine, Baas, wear it; part with the liver inside you
before you part with that, Baas. It may not be as pretty or smell as
sweet as a woman's hair in a little gold bottle, but it is much more
useful. The sight of the woman's hair will only make you sick in your
stomach and cause you to remember a lot of things which you had much
better forget, but the Great Medicine, or rather Zikali who is in it,
will keep the assegais and sickness out of you and turn back bad magic
on to the heads of those who sent it, and always bring us plenty to eat
and perhaps, if we are lucky, a little to drink too sometimes."

"Go away," I said, "I want to wash."

"Yes, Baas, but with the Baas's leave I will sit on the other side of
that bush with the gun--not to look at the Baas without his clothes,
because white people are always so ugly that it makes me feel ill to see
them undressed, also because--the Baas will forgive me--but because they
smell. No, not for that, but just to see that no other snake comes."

"Get out of the road, you dirty little scoundrel, and stop your
impudence," I said, lifting my foot suggestively.

Thereon he scooted with a subdued grin round the other side of the bush,
whence as I knew well he kept his eye fixed on me to be sure that I made
no further attempt to take off the Great Medicine.



Now of this talisman I may as well say at once that I am no believer
in it or its precious influences. Therefore, although it was useful
sometimes, notably twice when Umslopogaas was concerned, I do not know
whether personally I should have done better or worse upon that journey
if I had thrown it into the pool.

It is true, however, that until quite the end of this history when
it became needful to do so to save another, I never made any further
attempt to remove it from my neck, not even when it rubbed a sore in my
skin, because I did not wish to offend the prejudices of Hans.

It is true, moreover, that this hideous ivory had a reputation which
stretched very far from the place where it was made and was regarded
with great reverence by all kinds of queer people, even by the Amahagger
themselves, of whom presently, as they say in pedigrees, a fact of which
I found sundry proofs. Indeed, I saw a first example of it when a little
while later I met that great warrior, Umslopogaas, Chief of the People
of the Axe.

For, after determining firmly, for reasons which I will set out, that
I would not visit this man, in the end I did so, although by then I
had given up any idea of journeying across the Zambesi to look for a
mysterious and non-existent witch-woman, as Zikali had suggested that I
should do. To begin with I knew that his talk was all rubbish and,
even if it were not, that at the bottom of it was some desire of the
Opener-of-Roads that I should make a path for him to travel towards an
indefinite but doubtless evil object of his own. Further, by this time
I had worn through that mood of mine which had caused me to yearn
for correspondence with the departed and a certain knowledge of their
existence.

I wonder whether many people understand, as I do, how entirely distinct
and how variable are these moods which sway us, or at any rate some of
us, at sundry periods of our lives. As I think I have already suggested,
at one time we are all spiritual; at another all physical; at one time
we are sure that our lives here are as a dream and a shadow and that the
real existence lies elsewhere; at another that these brief days of ours
are the only business with which we have to do and that of it we must
make the best. At one time we think our loves much more immortal than
the stars; at another that they are mere shadows cast by the baleful sun
of desire upon the shallow and fleeting water we call Life which seems
to flow out of nowhere into nowhere. At one time we are full of
faith, at another all such hopes are blotted out by a black wall of
Nothingness, and so on _ad infinitum_. Only very stupid people, or
humbugs, are or pretend to be, always consistent and unchanging.

To return, I determined not only that I would not travel north to seek
that which no living man will ever find, certainty as to the future,
but also, to show my independence of Zikali, that I would not visit
this chief, Umslopogaas. So, having traded all my goods and made a fair
profit (on paper), I set myself to return to Natal, proposing to rest
awhile in my little house at Durban, and told Hans my mind.

"Very good, Baas," he said. "I, too, should like to go to Durban. There
are lots of things there that we cannot get here," and he fixed his
roving eye upon a square-faced gin bottle, which as it happened was
filled with nothing stronger than water, because all the gin was drunk.
"Yet, Baas, we shall not see the Berea for a long while."

"Why do you say that?" I asked sharply.

"Oh! Baas, I don't know, but you went to visit the Opener-of-Roads,
did you not, and he told you to go north and lent you a certain Great
Medicine, did he not?"

Here Hands proceeded to light his corncob pipe with an ash from the
fire, all the time keeping his beady eyes fixed upon that part of me
where he knew the talisman was hung.

"Quite true, Hans, but now I mean to show Zikali that I am not his
messenger, for south or north or east or west. So to-morrow morning we
cross the river and trek for Natal."

"Yes, Baas, but then why not cross it this evening? There is still
light."

"I have said that we will cross it to-morrow morning," I answered with
that firmness which I have read always indicates a man of character,
"and I do not change my word."

"No, Baas, but sometimes other things change besides words. Will the
Baas have that buck's leg for supper, or the stuff out of a tin with a
dint in it, which we bought at a store two years ago? The flies have got
at the buck's leg, but I cut out the bits with the maggots on it and ate
them myself."



Hans was right, things do change, especially the weather. That night,
unexpectedly, for when I turned in the sky seemed quite serene, there
came a terrible rain long before it was due, which lasted off and on for
three whole days and continued intermittently for an indefinite period.
Needless to say the river, which it would have been so easy to cross
on this particular evening, by the morning was a raging torrent, and so
remained for several weeks.

In despair at length I trekked south to where a ford was reported,
which, when reached, proved impracticable.

I tried another, a dozen miles further on, which was very hard to come
to over boggy land. It looked all right and we were getting across
finely, when suddenly one of the wheels sank in an unsuspected hole and
there we stuck. Indeed, I believe the waggon, or bits of it, would
have remained in the neighbourhood of that ford to this day, had I not
managed to borrow some extra oxen belonging to a Christian Kaffir, and
with their help to drag it back to the bank whence we had started.

As it happened I was only just in time, since a new storm which had
burst further up the river, brought it down in flood again, a very heavy
flood.

In this country, England, where I write, there are bridges everywhere
and no one seems to appreciate them. If they think of them at all it
is to grumble about the cost of their upkeep. I wish they could have
experienced what a lack of them means in a wild country during times of
excessive rain, and the same remark applied to roads. You should
think more of your blessings, my friends, as the old woman said to her
complaining daughter who had twins two years running, adding that they
might have been triplets.

To return--after this I confessed myself beaten and gave up until such
time as it should please Providence to turn off the water-tap. Trekking
out of sight of that infernal river which annoyed me with its constant
gurgling, I camped on a comparatively dry spot that overlooked a
beautiful stretch of rolling veld. Towards sunset the clouds lifted
and I saw a mile or two away a most extraordinary mountain on the lower
slopes of which grew a dense forest. Its upper part, which was of bare
rock, looked exactly like the seated figure of a grotesque person with
the chin resting on the breast. There was the head, there were the arms,
there were the knees. Indeed, the whole mass of it reminded me strongly
of the effigy of Zikali which was tied about my neck, or rather of
Zikali himself.

"What is that called?" I said to Hans, pointing to this strange hill,
now blazing in the angry fire of the setting sun that had burst out
between the storm clouds, which made it appear more ominous even than
before.

"That is the Witch Mountain, Baas, where the Chief Umslopogaas and a
blood brother of his who carried a great club used to hunt with the
wolves. It is haunted and in a cave at the top of it lie the bones of
Nada the Lily, the fair woman whose name is a song, she who was the love
of Umslopogaas."[*]

     [*] For the story of Umslopogaas and Nada see the book
     called "Nada the Lily."--Editor.

"Rubbish," I said, though I had heard something of all that story and
remembered that Zikali had mentioned this Nada, comparing her beauty to
that of another whom once I knew.

"Where then lives the Chief Umslopogaas?"

"They say that his town is yonder on the plain, Baas. It is called the
Place of the Axe and is strongly fortified with a river round most of
it, and his people are the People of the Axe. They are a fierce people,
and all the country round here is uninhabited because Umslopogaas has
cleaned out the tribes who used to live in it, first with his wolves
and afterwards in war. He is so strong a chief and so terrible in battle
that even Chaka himself was afraid of him, and they say that he brought
Dingaan the King to his end because of a quarrel about this Nada.
Cetywayo, the present king, too leaves him alone and to him he pays no
tribute."

Whilst I was about to ask Hans from whom he had collected all this
information, suddenly I heard sounds, and looking up, saw three tall men
clad in full herald's dress rushing towards us at great speed.

"Here come some chips from the Axe," said Hans, and promptly bolted into
the waggon.

I did not bolt because there was no time to do so without loss of
dignity, but, although I wished I had my rifle with me, just sat still
upon my stool and with great deliberation lighted my pipe, taking not
the slightest notice of the three savage-looking fellows.

These, who I noted carried axes instead of assegais, rushed straight at
me with the axes raised in such a fashion that anyone unacquainted with
the habits of Zulu warriors of the old school, might have thought that
they intended nothing short of murder.

As I expected, however, within about six feet of me they halted suddenly
and stood there still as statues. For my part I went on lighting my pipe
as though I did not see them and when at length I was obliged to lift my
head, surveyed them with an air of mild interest.

Then I took a little book out of my pocket, it was my favourite copy of
the Ingoldsby Legends--and began to read.

The passage which caught my eye, if "axe" be substituted for "knife" was
not inappropriate. It was from "The Nurse's Story," and runs,

     "But, oh! what a thing 'tis to see and to know
     That the bare knife is raised in the hand of the foe,
     Without hope to repel or to ward off the blow!"

This proceeding of mine astonished them a good deal who felt that they
had, so to speak, missed fire. At last the soldier in the middle said,

"Are you blind, White Man?"

"No, Black Fellow," I answered, "but I am short-sighted. Would you be so
good as to stand out of my light?" a remark which puzzled them so much
that all three drew back a few paces.

When I had read a little further I came to the following lines,

                                 "'Tis plain,
     As anatomists tell us, that never again,
     Shall life revisit the foully slain
     When once they've been cut through the jugular vein."

In my circumstances at that moment this statement seemed altogether too
suggestive, so I shut up the book and remarked,

"If you are wanderers who want food, as I judge by your being so thin,
I am sorry that I have little meat, but my servants will give you what
they can."

"_Ow!_" said the spokesman, "he calls us wanderers! Either he must be a
very great man or he is mad."

"You are right. I _am_ a great man," I answered, yawning, "and if you
trouble me too much you will see that I can be mad also. Now what do you
want?"

"We are messengers from the great Chief Umslopogaas, Captain of the
People of the Axe, and we want tribute," answered the man in a somewhat
changed tone.

"Do you? Then you won't get it. I thought that only the King of Zululand
had a right to tribute, and your Captain's name is not Cetywayo, is it?"

"Our Captain is King here," said the man still more uncertainly.

"Is he indeed? Then away with you back to him and tell this King of whom
I have never heard, though I have a message for a certain Umslopogaas,
that Macumazahn, Watcher-by-Night, intends to visit him to-morrow, if
he will send a guide at the first light to show the best path for the
waggon."

"Hearken," said the man to his companions, "this is Macumazahn himself
and no other. Well, we thought it, for who else would have dared----"

Then they saluted with their axes, calling me "Chief" and other fine
names, and departed as they had come, at a run, calling out that my
message should be delivered and that doubtless Umslopogaas would send
the guide.



So it came about that, quite contrary to my intention, after all
circumstances brought me to the Town of the Axe. Even to the last moment
I had not meant to go there, but when the tribute was demanded I saw
that it was best to do so, and having once passed my word it could
not be altered. Indeed, I felt sure that in this event there would be
trouble and that my oxen would be stolen, or worse.

So Fate having issued its decree, of which Hans's version was that
Zikali, or his Great Medicine, had so arranged things, I shrugged my
shoulders and waited.



CHAPTER III

UMSLOPOGAAS OF THE AXE

Next morning at the dawn guides arrived from the Town of the Axe,
bringing with them a yoke of spare oxen, which showed that its Chief was
really anxious to see me. So, in due course we inspanned and started,
the guides leading us by a rough but practicable road down the steep
hillside to the saucer-like plain beneath, where I saw many cattle
grazing. Travelling some miles across this plain, we came at last to a
river of no great breadth that encircled a considerable Kaffir town
on three sides, the fourth being protected by a little line of koppies
which were joined together with walls. Also the place was strongly
fortified with fences and in every other way known to the native mind.

With the help of the spare oxen we crossed the river safely at the ford,
although it was very full, and on the further side were received by a
guard of men, tall, soldierlike fellows, all of them armed with axes as
the messengers had been. They led us up to the cattle enclosure in the
centre of the town, which although it could be used to protect beasts in
case of emergency, also served the practical purpose of a public square.

Here some ceremony was in progress, for soldiers stood round the kraal
while heralds pranced and shouted. At the head of the place in front
of the chief's big hut was a little group of people, among whom a big,
gaunt man sat upon a stool clad in a warrior's dress with a great and
very long axe hafted with wire-lashed rhinoceros horn, laid across his
knees.

Our guides led me, with Hans sneaking after me like a dejected and
low-bred dog (for the waggon had stopped outside the gate), across the
kraal to where the heralds shouted and the big man sat yawning. At once
I noted that he was a very remarkable person, broad and tall and spare
of frame, with long, tough-looking arms and a fierce face which reminded
me of that of the late King Dingaan. Also he had a great hole in his
head above the temple where the skull had been driven in by some blow,
and keen, royal-looking eyes.

He looked up and seeing me, cried out,

"What! Has a white man come to fight me for the chieftainship of the
People of the Axe? Well, he is a small one."

"No," I answered quietly, "but Macumazahn, Watcher-by-Night, has come
to visit you in answer to your request, O Umslopogaas; Macumazahn whose
name was known in this land before yours was told of, O Umslopogaas."

The Chief heard and rising from his seat, lifted the big axe in salute.

"I greet you, O Macumazahn," he said, "who although you are small
in stature, are very great indeed in fame. Have I not heard how you
conquered Bangu, although Saduko slew him, and of how you gave up the
six hundred head of cattle to Tshoza and the men of the Amangwane who
fought with you, the cattle that were your own? Have I not heard how you
led the Tulwana against the Usutu and stamped flat three of Cetywayo's
regiments in the days of Panda, although, alas! because of an oath of
mine I lifted no steel in that battle, I who will have nothing to do
with those that spring from the blood of Senzangacona--perhaps because
I smell too strongly of it, Macumazahn. Oh! yes, I have heard these and
many other things concerning you, though until now it has never been
my fortune to look upon your face, O Watcher-by-Night, and therefore I
greet you well, Bold one, Cunning one, Upright one, Friend of us Black
People."

"Thank you," I answered, "but you said something about fighting. If
there is to be anything of the sort, let us get it over. If you want to
fight, I am quite ready," and I tapped the rifle which I carried.

The grim Chief broke into a laugh and said,

"Listen. By an ancient law any man on this day in each year may fight me
for this Chieftainship, as I fought and conquered him who held it before
me, and take it from me with my life and the axe, though of late none
seems to like the business. But that law was made before there were
guns, or men like Macumazahn who, it is said, can hit a lizard on a wall
at fifty paces. Therefore I tell you that if you wish to fight me with a
rifle, O Macumazahn, I give in and you may have the chieftainship," and
he laughed again in his fierce fashion.

"I think it is too hot for fighting either with guns or axes, and
Chieftainships are honey that is full of stinging bees," I answered.

Then I took my seat on a stool that had been brought for me and placed
by the side of Umslopogaas, after which the ceremony went on.

The heralds cried out the challenge to all and sundry to come and fight
the Holder of the Axe for the chieftainship of the Axe without the
slightest result, since nobody seemed to desire to do anything of the
sort. Then, after a pause, Umslopogaas rose, swinging his formidable
weapon round his head and declared that by right of conquest he was
Chief of the Tribe for the ensuing year, an announcement that everybody
accepted without surprise.

Again the heralds summoned all and sundry who had grievances, to come
forward and to state them and receive redress.

After a little pause there appeared a very handsome woman with large
eyes, particularly brilliant eyes that rolled as though they were in
search of someone. She was finely dressed and I saw by the ornaments she
wore that she held the rank of a chief's wife.

"I, Monazi, have a complaint to make," she said, "as it is the right
of the humblest to do on this day. In succession to Zinita whom Dingaan
slew with her children, I am your _Inkosikaas_, your head-wife, O
Umslopogaas."

"That I know well enough," said Umslopogaas, "what of it?"

"This, that you neglect me for other women, as you neglected Zinita
for Nada the Beautiful, Nada the witch. I am childless, as are all your
wives because of the curse that this Nada left behind her. I demand that
this curse should be lifted from me. For your sake I abandoned Lousta
the Chief, to whom I was betrothed, and this is the end of it, that I am
neglected and childless."

"Am I the Heavens Above that I can cause you to bear children, woman?"
asked Umslopogaas angrily. "Would that you had clung to Lousta, my
blood-brother and my friend, whom you lament, and left me alone."

"That still may chance, if I am not better treated," answered Monazi
with a flash of her eyes. "Will you dismiss yonder new wife of yours and
give me back my place, and will you lift the curse of Nada off me, or
will you not?"

"As to the first," answered Umslopogaas, "learn, Monazi, that I will not
dismiss my new wife, who at least is gentler-tongued and truer-hearted
than you are. As to the second, you ask that which it is not in my power
to give, since children are the gift of Heaven, and barrenness is its
bane. Moreover, you have done ill to bring into this matter the name of
one who is dead, who of all women was the sweetest and most innocent.
Lastly, I warn you before the people to cease from your plottings or
traffic with Lousta, lest ill come of them to you, or him, even though
he be my blood-brother, or to both."

"Plottings!" cried Monazi in a shrill and furious voice. "Does
Umslopogaas talk of plottings? Well, I have heard that Chaka the Lion
left a son, and that this son has set a trap for the feet of him who
sits on Chaka's throne. Perchance that king has heard it also; perchance
the People of the Axe will soon have another Chief."

"Is it thus?" said Umslopogaas quietly. "And if so, will he be named
Lousta?"

Then his smouldering wrath broke out and in a kind of roaring voice he
went on,

"What have I done that the wives of my bosom should be my betrayers,
those who would give me to death? Zinita betrayed me to Dingaan and
in reward was slain, and my children with her. Now would you, Monazi,
betray me to Cetywayo--though in truth there is naught to betray? Well,
if so, bethink you and let Lousta bethink him of what chanced to Zinita,
and of what chances to those who stand before the axe of Umslopogaas.
What have I done, I say, that women should thus strive to work me ill?"

"This," answered Monazi with a mocking laugh, "that you have loved one
of them too well. If he would live in peace, he who has wives should
favour all alike. Least of anything should he moan continually over one
who is dead, a witch who has left a curse behind her and thus insulted
and do wrong to the living. Also he would be wise to attend to the
matters of his own tribe and household and to cease from ambitions that
may bring him to the assegai, and them with him."

"I have heard your counsel, Wife, so now begone!" said Umslopogaas,
looking at her very strangely, and it seemed to me not without fear.

"Have you wives, Macumazahn?" he asked of me in a low voice when she was
out of hearing.

"Only among the spirits," I answered.

"Well for you then; moreover, it is a bond between us, for I too have
but one true wife and she also is among the spirits. But go rest a
while, and later we will talk."

So I went, leaving the Chief to his business, thinking as I walked away
of a certain message with which I was charged for him and of how into
that message came names that I had just heard, namely that of a man
called Lousta and of a woman called Monazi. Also I thought of the hints
which in her jealous anger and disappointment at her lack of children,
this woman had dropped about a plot against him who sat on the throne of
Chaka, which of course must mean King Cetywayo himself.

I came to the guest-hut, which proved to be a very good place and clean;
also in it I found plenty of food made ready for me and for my servants.
After eating I slept for a time as it is always my fashion to do when I
have nothing else on hand, since who knows for how long he may be kept
awake at night? Indeed, it was not until the sun had begun to sink
that a messenger came, saying that the Chief desired to see me if I had
rested. So I went to his big hut which stood alone with a strong fence
set round it at a distance, so that none could come within hearing of
what was said, even at the door of the hut. I observed also that a man
armed with an axe kept guard at the gateway in this fence round which he
walked from time to time.

The Chief Umslopogaas was seated on a stool by the door of his hut with
his rhinoceros-horn-handled axe which was fastened to his right wrist
by a thong, leaning against his thigh, and a wolfskin hanging from his
broad shoulders. Very grim and fierce he looked thus, with the red light
of the sunset playing on him. He greeted me and pointed to another stool
on which I sat myself down. Apparently he had been watching my eyes, for
he said,

"I see that like other creatures which move at night, such as leopards
and hyenas, you take note of all, O Watcher-by-Night, even of the
soldier who guards this place and of where the fence is set and of how
its gate is fashioned."

"Had I not done so I should have been dead long ago, O Chief."

"Yes, and because it is not my nature to do so as I should, perchance
I shall soon be dead. It is not enough to be fierce and foremost in the
battle, Macumazahn. He who would sleep safe and of whom, when he dies,
folk will say 'He has eaten' (i.e., he has lived out his life), must do
more than this. He must guard his tongue and even his thoughts! he must
listen to the stirring of rats in the thatch and look for snakes in
the grass; he must trust few, and least of all those who sleep upon his
bosom. But those who have the Lion's blood in them or who are prone to
charge like a buffalo, often neglect these matters and therefore in the
end they fall into a pit."

"Yes," I answered, "especially those who have the lion's blood in them,
whether that lion be man or beast."

This I said because of the rumours I had heard that this Slaughterer was
in truth the son of Chaka. Therefore not knowing whether or no he were
playing on the word "lion," which was Chaka's title, I wished to draw
him, especially as I saw in his face a great likeness to Chaka's brother
Dingaan, whom, it was whispered, this same Umslopogaas had slain. As it
happened I failed, for after a pause he said,

"Why do you come to visit me, Macumazahn, who have never done so
before?"

"I do not come to visit you, Umslopogaas. That was not my intention. You
brought me, or rather the flooded rivers and you together brought me,
for I was on my way to Natal and could not cross the drifts."

"Yet I think you have a message for me, White Man, for not long ago a
certain wandering witch-doctor who came here told me to expect you and
that you had words to say to me."

"Did he, Umslopogaas? Well, it is true that I have a message, though it
is one that I did not mean to deliver."

"Yet being here, perchance you will deliver it, Macumazahn, for those
who have messages and will not speak them, sometimes come to trouble."

"Yes, being here, I will deliver it, seeing that so it seems to be
fated. Tell me, do you chance to know a certain Small One who is
great, a certain Old One whose brain is young, a doctor who is called
Opener-of-Roads?"

"I have heard of him, as have my forefathers for generations."

"Indeed, and if it pleases you to tell me, Umslopogaas, what might be
the names of those forefathers of yours, who have heard of this doctor
for generations? They must have been short-lived men and as such I
should like to know of them."

"That you cannot," replied Umslopogaas shortly, "since they are
_hlonipa_ (i.e. not to be spoken) in this land."

"Indeed," I said again. "I thought that rule applied only to the names
of kings, but of course I am but an ignorant white man who may well be
mistaken on such matters of your Zulu customs."

"Yes, O Macumazahn, you may be mistaken or--you may not. It matters
nothing. But what of this message of yours?"

"It came at the end of a long story, O Bulalio. But since you seek to
know, these were the words of it, so nearly as I can remember them."

Then sentence by sentence I repeated to him all that Zikali had said to
me when he called me back after bidding me farewell, which doubtless he
did because he wished to cut his message more deeply into the tablets of
my mind.

Umslopogaas listened to every syllable with a curious intentness, and
then asked me to repeat it all again, which I did.

"Lousta! Monazi!" he said slowly. "Well, you heard those names to-day,
did you not, White Man? And you heard certain things from the lips
of this Monazi who was angry, that give colour to that talk of the
Opener-of-Roads. It seems to me," he added, glancing about him and
speaking in a low voice, "that what I suspected is true and that without
doubt I am betrayed."

"I do not understand," I replied indifferently. "All this talk is dark
to me, as is the message of the Opener-of-Roads, or rather its meaning.
By whom and about what are you betrayed?"

"Let that snake sleep. Do not kick it with your foot. Suffice it you to
know that my head hangs upon this matter; that I am a rat in a forked
stick, and if the stick is pressed on by a heavy hand, then where is the
rat?"

"Where all rats go, I suppose, that is, unless they are wise rats that
bite the hand which holds the stick before it is pressed down."

"What is the rest of this story of yours, Macumazahn, which was told
before the Opener-of-Roads gave you that message? Does it please you to
repeat it to me that I may judge of it with my ears?"

"Certainly," I answered, "on one condition, that what the ears hear, the
heart shall keep to itself alone."

Umslopogaas stooped and laid his hand upon the broad blade of the weapon
beside him, saying,

"By the Axe I swear it. If I break the oath be the Axe my doom."

Then I told him the tale, as I have set it down already, thinking
to myself that of it he would understand little, being but a wild
warrior-man. As it chanced, however, I was mistaken, for he seemed to
understand a great deal, perchance because such primitive natures are in
closer touch with high and secret things than we imagine; perchance for
other reasons with which I became acquainted later.

"It stands thus," he said when I had finished, "or so I think. You,
Macumazahn, seek certain women who are dead to learn whether they still
live, or are really dead, but so far have failed to find them. Still
seeking, you asked the counsel of Zikali, Opener-of-Roads, he who among
other titles is also called 'Home of Spirits.' He answered that he could
not satisfy your heart because this tree was too tall for him to climb,
but that far to the north there lives a certain white witch who has
powers greater than his, being able to fly to the top of any tree, and
to this white witch he bade you go. Have I the story right thus far?"

I answered that he had.

"Good! Then Zikali went on to choose you companions for your journey,
but two, leaving out the guards or servants. I, Umhlopekazi, called
Bulalio the Slaughterer, called the Woodpecker also, was one of these,
and that little yellow monkey of a man whom I saw with you to-day,
called Hansi, was the other. Then you made a mock of Zikali by
determining not to visit me, Umhlopekazi, and not to go north to find
the great white Queen of whom he had told you, but to return to Natal.
Is that so?"

I said it was.

"Then the rain fell and the winds blew and the rivers rose in wrath so
that you could not return to Natal, and after all by chance, or by fate,
or by the will of Zikali, the wizard of wizards, you drifted here to the
kraal of me, Umhlopekazi, and told me this story."

"Just so," I answered.

"Well, White Man, how am I to know that all this is not but a trap for
my feet which already seem to feel cords between the toes of both of
them? What token do you bring, O Watcher-by-Night? How am I to know that
the Opener-of-Roads really sent me this message which has been delivered
so strangely by one who wished to travel on another path? The wandering
witch-doctor told me that he who came would bear some sign."

"I can't say," I answered, "at least in words. But," I added after
reflection, "as you ask for a token, perhaps I might be able to show you
something that would bring proof to your heart, if there were any secret
place----"

Umslopogaas walked to the gateway of the fence and saw that the sentry
was at his post. Then he walked round the hut casting an eye upon its
roof, and muttered to me as he returned.

"Once I was caught thus. There lived a certain wife of mine who set her
ear to the smoke-hole and so brought about the death of many, and among
them of herself and of our children. Enter. All is safe. Yet if you
talk, speak low."

So we went into the hut taking the stools with us, and seated ourselves
by the fire that burned there on to which Umslopogaas threw chips of
resinous wood.

"Now," he said.

I opened my shirt and by the clear light of the flame showed him the
image of Zikali which hung about my neck. He stared at it, though touch
it he would not. Then he stood up and lifting his great axe, he saluted
the image with the word "_Makosi!_" the salute that is given to great
wizards because they are supposed to be the home of many spirits.

"It is the big Medicine, the Medicine itself," he said, "that which has
been known in the land since the time of Senzangacona, the father of the
Zulu Royal House, and as it is said, before him."

"How can that be?" I asked, "seeing that this image represents Zikali,
Opener-of-Roads, as an old man, and Senzangacona died many years ago?"

"I do not know," he answered, "but it is so. Listen. There was a certain
Mopo, or as some called him, Umbopo, who was Chaka's body-servant and my
foster-father, and he told me that twice this Medicine," and he pointed
to the image, "was sent to Chaka, and that each time the Lion obeyed the
message that came with it. A third time it was sent, but he did not obey
the message and then--where was Chaka?"

Here Umslopogaas passed his hand across his mouth, a significant gesture
amongst the Zulus.

"Mopo," I said, "yes, I have heard the story of Mopo, also that Chaka's
body became _his_ servant in the end, since Mopo killed him with the
help of the princes Dingaan and Umhlangana. Also I have heard that this
Mopo still lives, though not in Zululand."

"Does he, Macumazahn?" said Umslopogaas, taking snuff from a spoon and
looking at me keenly over the spoon. "You seem to know a great deal,
Macumazahn; too much as some might think."

"Yes," I answered, "perhaps I do know too much, or at any rate more than
I want to know. For instance, O fosterling of Mopo and son of--was the
lady named Baleka?--I know a good deal about _you_."

Umslopogaas stared at me and laying his hand upon the great axe, half
rose. Then he sat down again.

"I think that this," and I touched the image of Zikali upon my breast,
"would turn even the blade of the axe named Groan-maker," I said and
paused. As nothing happened, I went on, "For instance, again I think I
know--or have I dreamed it?--that a certain chief, whose mother's name
I believe was Baleka--by the way, was she not one of Chaka's
'sisters'?--has been plotting against that son of Panda who sits upon
the throne, and that his plots have been betrayed, so that he is in some
danger of his life."

"Macumazahn," said Umslopogaas hoarsely, "I tell you that did you not
wear the Great Medicine on your breast, I would kill you where you sit
and bury you beneath the floor of the hut, as one who knows--too much."

"It would be a mistake, Umslopogaas, one of the many that you have made.
But as I _do_ wear the Medicine, the question does not arise, does it?"

Again he made no answer and I went on, "And now, what about this journey
to the north? If indeed I must make it, would you wish to accompany me?"

Umslopogaas rose from the stool and crawled out of the hut, apparently
to make some inspection. Presently he returned and remarked that the
night was clear although there were heavy storm clouds on the horizon,
by which I understood him to convey in Zulu metaphor that it was safe
for us to talk, but that danger threatened from afar.

"Macumazahn," he said, "we speak under the blanket of the
Opener-of-Roads who sits upon your heart, and whose sign you bring to
me, as he sent me word that you would, do we not?"

"I suppose so," I answered. "At any rate we speak as man to man, and
hitherto the honour of Macumazahn has not been doubted in Zululand. So
if you have anything to say, Chief Bulalio, say it at once, for I am
tired and should like to eat and rest."

"Good, Macumazahn. I have this to say. I who am the son of one who was
greater than he, have plotted to seize the throne of Zululand from him
who sits upon that throne. It is true, for I grew weary of my idleness
as a petty chief. Moreover, I should have succeeded with the help of
Zikali, who hates the House of Senzangacona, though me, who am of its
blood, he does not hate, because ever I have striven against that House.
But it seems from his message and those words spoken by an angry woman,
that I have been betrayed, and that to-night or to-morrow night, or
by the next moon, the slayers will be upon me, smiting me before I can
smite, at which I cannot grumble."

"By whom have you been betrayed, Umslopogaas?"

"By that wife of mine, as I think, Macumazahn. Also by Lousta, my
blood-brother, over whom she has cast her net and made false to me,
so that he hopes to win her whom he has always loved and with her the
Chieftainship of the Axe. Now what shall I do?--Tell me, you whose eyes
can see in the dark."

I thought a moment and answered, "I think that if I were you, I would
leave this Lousta to sit in my place for a while as Chief of the People
of the Axe, and take a journey north, Umslopogaas. Then if trouble comes
from the Great House where a king sits, it will come to Lousta who can
show that the People of the Axe are innocent and that you are far away."

"That is cunning, Macumazahn. There speaks the Great Medicine. If I go
north, who can say that I have plotted, and if I leave my betrayer in my
place, who can say that I was a traitor, who have set him where I used
to sit and left the land upon a private matter? And now tell me of this
journey of yours."

So I told him everything, although until that moment I had not made up
my mind to go upon this journey, I who had come here to his kraal
by accident, or so it seemed, and by accident had delivered to him a
certain message.

"You wish to consult a white witch-doctoress, Macumazahn, who according
to Zikali lives far to the north, as to the dead. Now I too, though
perchance you will not think it of a black man, desire to learn of the
dead; yes, of a certain wife of my youth who was sister and friend as
well as wife, whom too I loved better than all the world. Also I desire
to learn of a brother of mine whose name I never speak, who ruled the
wolves with me and who died at my side on yonder Witch-Mountain, having
made him a mat of men to lie on in a great and glorious fight. For of
him as of the woman I think all day and dream all night, and I would
know if they still live anywhere and I may look to see them again when
I have died as a warrior should and as I hope to do. Do you understand,
Watcher-by-Night?"

I answered that I understood very well, as his case seemed to be like my
own.

"It may happen," went on Umslopogaas, "that all this talk of the dead
who are supposed to live after they are dead, is but as the sound of
wind whispering in the reeds at night, that comes from nowhere and goes
nowhere and means nothing. But at least ours will be a great journey in
which we shall find adventure and fighting, since it is well known in
the land that wherever Macumazahn goes there is plenty of both. Also it
seems well for reasons that have been spoken of between us, as Zikali
says, that I should leave the country of the Zulus for a while, who
desire to die a man's death at the last and not to be trapped like a
jackal in a pit. Lastly I think that we shall agree well together though
my temper is rough at times, and that neither of us will desert the
other in trouble, though of that little yellow dog of yours I am not so
sure."

"I answer for him," I replied. "Hans is a true man, cunning also when
once he is away from drink."



Then we spoke of plans for our journey, and of when and where we should
meet to make it, talking till it was late, after which I went to sleep
in the guest-hut.



CHAPTER IV

THE LION AND THE AXE

Next day early I left the town of the People of the Axe, having bid a
formal farewell to Umslopogaas, saying in a voice that all could
hear that as the rivers were still flooded, I proposed to trek to the
northern parts of Zululand and trade there until the weather was better.
Our private arrangement, however, was that on the night of the next
full moon, which happened about four weeks later, we should meet at the
eastern foot of a certain great, flat-topped mountain known to both of
us, which stands to the north of Zululand but well beyond its borders.

So northward I trekked, slowly to spare my oxen, trading as I went. The
details do not matter, but as it happened I met with more luck upon that
journey than had come my way for many a long year. Although I worked
on credit since nearly all my goods were sold, as owing to my repute I
could always do in Zululand, I made some excellent bargains in cattle,
and to top up with, bought a large lot of ivory so cheap that really I
think it must have been stolen.

All of this, cattle, and ivory together, I sent to Natal in charge of a
white friend of mine whom I could trust, where the stuff was sold
very well indeed, and the proceeds paid to my account, the "trade"
equivalents being duly remitted to the native vendors.

In fact, my good fortune was such that if I had been superstitious like
Hans, I should have been inclined to attribute it to the influence of
Zikali's "Great Medicine." As it was I knew it to be one of the chances
of a trader's life and accepted it with a shrug as often as I had been
accustomed to do in the alternative of losses.

Only one untoward incident happened to me. Of a sudden a party of
the King's soldiers under the command of a well-known _Induna_ or
Councillor, arrived and insisted upon searching my waggon, as I thought
at first in connection with that cheap lot of ivory which had already
departed to Natal. However, never a word did they say of ivory, nor
indeed was a single thing belonging to me taken by them.

I was very indignant and expressed my feelings to the _Induna_ in no
measured terms. He on his part was most apologetic, and explained that
what he did he was obliged to do "by the King's orders." Also he let it
slip that he was seeking for a certain "evil-doer" who, it was thought,
might be with me without my knowing his real character, and as this
"evil-doer," whose name he would not mention, was a very fierce man, it
had been necessary to bring a strong guard with him.

Now I bethought me of Umslopogaas, but merely looked blank and shrugged
my shoulders, saying that I was not in the habit of consorting with
evil-doers.

Still unsatisfied, the _Induna_ questioned me as to the places where
I had been during this journey of mine in the Zulu country. I told him
with the utmost frankness, mentioning among others--because I was sure
that already he knew all my movements well--the town of the People of
the Axe.

Then he asked me if I had seen its Chief, a certain Umslopogaas or
Bulalio. I answered, Yes, that I had met him there for the first time
and thought him a very remarkable man.

With this the _Induna_ agreed emphatically, saying that perhaps I did
not know _how_ remarkable. Next he asked me where he was now, to which
I replied that I had not the faintest idea, but I presumed in his kraal
where I had left him. The _Induna_ explained that he was _not_ in his
kraal; that he had gone away leaving one Lousta and his own head wife
Monazi to administer the chieftainship for a while, because, as he
stated, he wished to make a journey.

I yawned as if weary of the subject of this chief, and indeed of the
whole business. Then the _Induna_ said that I must come to the King and
repeat to him all the words that I had spoken. I replied that I could
not possibly do so as, having finished my trading, I had arranged to go
north to shoot elephants. He answered that elephants lived a long while
and would not die while I was visiting the King.

Then followed an argument which grew heated and ended in his declaring
that to the King I must come, even if he had to take me there by force.

I sat silent, wondering what to say or do and leant forward to pick a
piece of wood out of the fire wherewith to light my pipe. Now my shirt
was not buttoned and as it chanced this action caused the ivory image of
Zikali that hung about my neck to appear between its edges. The _Induna_
saw it and his eyes grew big with fear.

"Hide that!" he whispered, "hide that, lest it should bewitch me.
Indeed, already I feel as though I were being bewitched. It is the Great
Medicine itself."

"That will certainly happen to you," I said, yawning again, "if you
insist upon my taking a week's trek to visit the Black One, or interfere
with me in any way now or afterwards," and I lifted my hand towards the
talisman, looking him steadily in the face.

"Perhaps after all, Macumazahn, it is not necessary for you to visit the
King," he said in an uncertain voice. "I will go and make report to him
that you know nothing of this evil-doer."

And he went in such a hurry that he never waited to say good-bye. Next
morning before the dawn I went also and trekked steadily until I was
clear of Zululand.



In due course and without accident, for the weather, which had been
so wet, had now turned beautifully fine and dry, we came to the great,
flat-topped hill that I have mentioned, trekking thither over high,
sparsely-timbered veld that offered few difficulties to the waggon. This
peculiar hill, known to such natives as lived in those parts by a long
word that means "Hut-with-a-flat-roof," is surrounded by forest, for
here trees grow wonderfully well, perhaps because of the water that
flows from its slopes. Forcing our way through this forest, which was
full of game, I reached its eastern foot and there camped, five
days before that night of full moon on which I had arranged to meet
Umslopogaas.

That I should meet him I did not in the least believe, firstly because
I thought it very probable that he would have changed his mind about
coming, and secondly for the excellent reason that I expected he had
gone to call upon the King against his will, as I had been asked to do.
It was evident to me that he was up to his eyes in some serious plot
against Cetywayo, in which he was the old dwarf Zikali's partner, or
rather, tool; also that his plot had been betrayed, with the result that
he was "wanted" and would have little chance of passing safely through
Zululand. So taking one thing with another I imagined that I had seen
his grim face and his peculiar, ancient-looking axe for the last time.

To tell the truth I was glad. Although at first the idea had appealed to
me a little, I did not want to make this wild-goose, or wild-witch chase
through unknown lands to seek for a totally fabulous person who dwelt
far across the Zambesi. I had, as it were, been forced into the thing,
but if Umslopogaas did not appear, my obligations would be at an end
and I should return to Natal at my leisure. First, however, I would do
a little shooting since I found that a large herd of elephants haunted
this forest. Indeed I was tempted to attack them at once, but did not
do so since, as Hans pointed out, if we were going north it would be
difficult to carry the ivory, especially if we had to leave the waggon,
and I was too old a hunter to desire to kill the great beasts for the
fun of the thing.

So I just sat down and rested, letting the oxen feed throughout the
hours of light on the rich grasses which grew upon the bottom-most
slopes of the big mountain where we were camped by a stream, not more
than a hundred yards above the timber line.

At some time or other there had been a native village at this spot;
probably the Zulus had cleaned it out in long past years, for I
found human bones black with age lying in the long grass. Indeed, the
cattle-kraal still remained and in such good condition that by piling
up a few stones here and there on the walls and closing the narrow
entrances with thorn bushes, we could still use it to enclose our oxen
at night. This I did for fear lest there should be lions about, though I
had neither seen nor heard them.

So the days went by pleasantly enough with lots to eat, since whenever
we wanted meat I had only to go a few yards to shoot a fat buck at a
spot whither they trekked to drink in the evening, till at last came the
time of full moon. Of this I was also glad, since, to tell the truth, I
had begun to be bored. Rest is good, but for a man who has always led an
active life too much of it is very bad, for then he begins to think and
thought in large doses is depressing.

Of the fire-eating Umslopogaas there was no sign, so I made up my mind
that on the morrow I would start after those elephants and when I had
shot--or failed to shoot--some of them, return to Natal. I felt unable
to remain idle any more; it never was my gift to do so, which is perhaps
why I employ my ample leisure here in England in jotting down such
reminiscences as these.

Well, the full moon came up in silver glory and after I had taken a good
look at her for luck, also at all the veld within sight, I turned in. An
hour or two later some noise from the direction of the cattle-kraal woke
me up. As it did not recur, I thought that I would go to sleep again.
Then an uneasy thought came to me that I could not remember having
looked to see whether the entrance was properly closed, as it was
my habit to do. It was the same sort of troublesome doubt which in
a civilised house makes a man get out of bed and go along the cold
passages to the sitting-room to see whether he has put out the lamp.
It always proves that he _has_ put it out, but that does not prevent a
repetition of the performance next time the perplexity arises.

I reflected that perhaps the noise was caused by the oxen pushing their
way through the carelessly-closed entrance, and at any rate that I had
better go to see. So I slipped on my boots and a coat and went without
waking Hans or the boys, only taking with me a loaded, single-barrelled
rifle which I used for shooting small buck, but no spare cartridges.

Now in front of the gateway of the cattle-kraal, shading it, grew a
single big tree of the wild fig order. Passing under this tree I looked
and saw that the gateway was quite securely closed, as now I remembered
I had noted at sunset. Then I started to go back but had not stepped
more than two or three paces when, in the bright moonlight, I saw the
head of my smallest ox, a beast of the Zulu breed, suddenly appear
over the top of the wall. About this there would have been nothing
particularly astonishing, had it not been for the fact that this head
belonged to a dead animal, as I could tell from the closed eyes and the
hanging tongue.

"What in the name of goodness----" I began to myself, when my
reflections were cut short by the appearance of another head, that of
one of the biggest lions I ever saw, which had the ox by the throat, and
with the enormous strength that is given to these creatures, by getting
its back beneath the body, was deliberately hoisting it over the wall,
to drag it away to devour at its leisure.

There was the brute within twelve feet of me, and what is more, it saw
me as I saw it, and stopped, still holding the ox by the throat.

"What a chance for Allan Quatermain! Of course he shot it dead," one can
fancy anyone saying who knows me by repute, also that by the gift of
God I am handy with a rifle. Well, indeed, it should have been, for even
with the small-bore piece that I carried, a bullet ought to have pierced
through the soft parts of its throat to the brain and to have killed
that lion as dead as Julius Cæsar. Theoretically the thing was easy
enough; indeed, although I was startled for a moment, by the time that
I had the rifle to my shoulder I had little fear of the issue, unless
there was a miss-fire, especially as the beast seemed so astonished that
it remained quite still.

Then the unexpected happened as generally it does in life, particularly
in hunting, which, in my case, is a part of life. I fired, but by
misfortune the bullet struck the tip of the horn of that confounded ox,
which tip either was or at that moment fell in front of the spot on the
lion's throat whereat half-unconsciously I had aimed. Result: the ball
was turned and, departing at an angle, just cut the skin of the lion's
neck deeply enough to hurt it very much and to make it madder than all
the hatters in the world.

Dropping the ox, with a most terrific roar it came over the wall at
me--I remember that there seemed to be yards of it--I mean of the
lion--in front of which appeared a cavernous mouth full of gleaming
teeth.

I skipped back with much agility, also a little to one side, because
there was nothing else to do, reflecting in a kind of inconsequent way,
that after all Zikali's Great Medicine was not worth a curse. The lion
landed on my side of the wall and reared itself upon its hind legs
before getting to business, towering high above me but slightly to my
left.

Then I saw a strange thing. A shadow thrown by the moon flitted past
me--all I noted of it was the distorted shape of a great, lifted axe,
probably because the axe came first. The shadow fell and with it another
shadow, that of a lion's paw dropping to the ground. Next there was a
most awful noise of roaring, and wheeling round I saw such a fray as
never I shall see again. A tall, grim, black man was fighting the great
lion, that now lacked one paw, but still stood upon its hind legs,
striking at him with the other.

The man, who was absolutely silent, dodged the blow and hit back with
the axe, catching the beast upon the breast with such weight that it
came to the ground in a lopsided fashion, since now it had only one
fore-foot on which to light.

The axe flashed up again and before the lion could recover itself, or do
anything else, fell with a crash upon its skull, sinking deep into the
head. After this all was over, for the beast's brain was cut in two.

"I am here at the appointed time, Macumazahn," said Umslopogaas, for it
was he, as with difficulty he dragged his axe from the lion's severed
skull, "to find you watching by night as it is reported that you always
do."

"No," I retorted, for his tone irritated me, "you are late, Bulalio, the
moon has been up some hours."

"I said, O Macumazahn, that I would meet you on the _night_ of the full
moon, not at the rising of the moon."

"That is true," I replied, mollified, "and at any rate you came at a
good moment."

"Yes," he answered, "though as it happens in this clear light the thing
was easy to anyone who can handle an axe. Had it been darker the end
might have been different. But, Macumazahn, you are not so clever as I
thought, since otherwise you would not have come out against a lion with
a toy like that," and he pointed to the little rifle in my hand.

"I did not know that there was a lion, Umslopogaas."

"That is why you are not so clever as I thought, since of one sort or
another there is always a lion which wise men should be prepared to
meet, Macumazahn."

"You are right again," I replied.

At that moment Hans arrived upon the scene, followed at a discreet
distance by the waggon boys, and took in the situation at a glance.

"The Great Medicine of the Opener-of-Roads has worked well," was all he
said.

"The great medicine of the Opener-of-Heads has worked better," remarked
Umslopogaas with a little laugh and pointing to his red axe.
"Never before since she came into my keeping has _Inkosikaas_ (i.e.
'Chieftainess,' for so was this famous weapon named) sunk so low as to
drink the blood of beasts. Still, the stroke was a good one so she need
not be ashamed. But, Yellow Man, how comes it that you who, I have been
told, are cunning, watch your master so ill?"

"I was asleep," stuttered Hans indignantly.

"Those who serve should never sleep," replied Umslopogaas sternly. Then
he turned and whistled, and behold! out of the long grass that grew at a
little distance, emerged twelve great men, all of them bearing axes and
wearing cloaks of hyena skins, who saluted me by raising their axes.

"Set a watch and skin me this beast by dawn. It will make us a mat,"
said Umslopogaas, whereon again they saluted silently and melted away.

"Who are these?" I asked.

"A few picked warriors whom I brought with me, Macumazahn. There were
one or two more, but they got lost on the way."

Then we went to the waggon and spoke no more that night.



Next morning I told Umslopogaas of the visit I had received from the
_Induna_ of the King who wished me to come to the royal kraal. He nodded
and said,

"As it chances certain thieves attacked me on my journey, which is why
one or two of my people remain behind who will never travel again. We
made good play with those thieves; not one of them escaped," he
added grimly, "and their bodies we threw into a river where are many
crocodiles. But their spears I brought away and I think that they are
such as the King's guard use. If so, his search for them will be long,
since the fight took place where no man lives and we burned the shields
and trappings. Oho! he will think that the ghosts have taken them."

That morning we trekked on fast, fearing lest a regiment searching for
these "thieves" should strike and follow our spoor. Luckily the ox that
the lion had killed was one of some spare cattle which I was driving
with me, so its loss did not inconvenience us. As we went Umslopogaas
told me that he had duly appointed Lousta and his wife Monazi to rule
the tribe during his absence, an office which they accepted doubtfully,
Monazi acting as Chieftainess and Lousta as her head _Induna_ or
Councillor.

I asked him whether he thought this wise under all the circumstances,
seeing that it had occurred to me since I made the suggestion, that they
might be unwilling to surrender power on his return, also that other
domestic complications might ensue.

"It matters little, Macumazahn," he said with a shrug of his great
shoulders, "for of this I am sure, that I have played my part with the
People of the Axe and to stop among them would have meant my death,
who am a man betrayed. What do I care who love none and now have no
children? Still, it is true that I might have fled to Natal with the
cattle and there have led a fat and easy life. But ease and plenty I do
not desire who would live and fall as a warrior should.

"Never again, mayhap, shall I see the Ghost-Mountain where the wolves
ravened and the old Witch sits in stone waiting for the world to die,
or sleep in the town of the People of the Axe. What do I want with wives
and oxen while I have _Inkosikaas_ the Groan-maker and she is true to
me?" he added, shaking the ancient axe above his head so that the sun
gleamed upon the curved blade and the hollow gouge or point at the back
beyond the shaft socket. "Where the Axe goes, there go the strength and
virtue of the Axe, O Macumazahn."

"It is a strange weapon," I said.

"Aye, a strange and an old, forged far away, says Zikali, by a
warrior-wizard hundreds of years ago, a great fighter who was also the
first of smiths and who sits in the Under-world waiting for it to return
to his hand when its work is finished beneath the sun. That will be
soon, Macumazahn, since Zikali told me that I am the last Holder of the
Axe."

"Did you then see the Opener-of-Roads?" I asked.

"Aye, I saw him. He it was who told me which way to go to escape from
Zululand. Also he laughed when he heard how the flooded rivers brought
you to my kraal, and sent you a message in which he said that the spirit
of a snake had told him that you tried to throw the Great Medicine into
a pool, but were stopped by that snake, whilst it was still alive. This,
he said, you must do no more, lest he should send another snake to stop
_you_."

"Did he?" I replied indignantly, for Zikali's power of seeing or
learning about things that happened at a distance puzzled and annoyed
me.

Only Hans grinned and said,

"I told you so, Baas."



On we travelled from day to day, meeting with such difficulties and
dangers as are common on roadless veld in Africa, but no more, for the
grass was good and there was plenty of game, of which we shot what we
wanted for meat. Indeed, here in the back regions of what is known as
Portuguese South East Africa, every sort of wild animal was so numerous
that personally I wished we could turn our journey into a shooting
expedition.

But of this Umslopogaas, whom hunting bored, would not hear. In fact,
he was much more anxious than myself to carry out our original purpose.
When I asked him why, he answered because of something Zikali had told
him. What this was he would not say, except that in the country whither
we wandered he would fight a great fight and win much honour.

Now Umslopogaas was by nature a fighting man, one who took a positive
joy in battle, and like an old Norseman, seemed to think that thus only
could a man decorously die. This amazed me, a peaceful person who
loves quiet and a home. Still, I gave way, partly to please him, partly
because I hoped that we might discover something of interest, and still
more because, having once undertaken an enterprise, my pride prompted me
to see it through.

Now while he was preparing to draw his map in the ashes, or afterwards,
I forget which, Zikali had told me that when we drew near to the great
river we should come to a place on the edge of bush-veld that ran down
to the river, where a white man lived, adding, after casting his bones
and reading from them, that he thought this white man was a "trek-Boer."
This, I should explain, means a Dutchman who has travelled away from
wherever he lived and made a home for himself in the wilderness, as some
wandering spirit and the desire to be free of authority often prompt
these people to do. Also, after another inspection of his enchanted
knuckle-bones, he had declared that something remarkable would happen to
this man or his family, while I was visiting him. Lastly in that map he
drew in the ashes, the details of which were impressed so indelibly
upon my memory, he had shown me where I should find the dwelling of this
white man, of whom and of whose habitation doubtless he knew through
the many spies who seemed to be at the service of all witch-doctors, and
more especially of Zikali, the greatest among them.

Travelling by the sun and the compress I had trekked steadily in
the exact direction which he indicated, to find that in this useful
particular he was well named the "Opener-of-Roads," since always before
me I found a practicable path, although to the right or to the left
there would have been none. Thus when we came to mountains, it was at a
spot where we discovered a pass; when we came to swamps it was where a
ridge of high ground ran between, and so forth. Also such tribes as we
met upon our journey always proved of a friendly character, although
perhaps the aspect of Umslopogaas and his fierce band whom, rather
irreverently, I named his twelve Apostles, had a share in inducing this
peaceful attitude.

So smooth was our progress and so well marked by water at certain
intervals, that at last I came to the conclusion that we must be
following some ancient road which at a forgotten period of history, had
run from south to north, or _vice versâ_. Or rather, to be honest, it
was the observant Hans who made this discovery from various indications
which had escaped my notice. I need not stop to detail them, but one
of these was that at certain places the water-holes on a high, rather
barren land had been dug out, and in one or more instances, lined with
stones after the fashion of an ancient well. Evidently we were following
an old trade route made, perhaps, in forgotten ages when Africa was more
civilised than it is now.

Passing over certain high, misty lands during the third week of our
trek, where frequently at this season of the year the sun never showed
itself before ten o'clock and disappeared at three or four in the
afternoon, and where twice we were held up for two whole days by dense
fog, we came across a queer nomadic people who seemed to live in movable
grass huts and to keep great herds of goats and long-tailed sheep.

These folk ran away from us at first, but when they found that we did
them no harm, became friendly and brought us offerings of milk, also of
a kind of slug or caterpillar which they seemed to eat. Hans, who was
a great master of different native dialects, discovered a tongue, or a
mixture of tongues, in which he could make himself understood to some of
them.

They told him that in their day they had never seen a white man,
although their fathers' fathers (an expression by which they meant their
remote ancestors) had known many of them. They added, however, that if
we went on steadily towards the north for another seven days' journey,
we should come to a place where a white man lived, one, they had heard,
who had a long beard and killed animals with guns, as we did.

Encouraged by this intelligence we pushed forward, now travelling down
hill out of the mists into a more genial country. Indeed, the veld
here was beautiful, high, rolling plains like those of the East African
plateau, covered with a deep and fertile chocolate-coloured soil, as
we could see where the rains had washed out dongas. The climate, too,
seemed to be cool and very healthful. Altogether it was a pity to see
such lands lying idle and tenanted only by countless herds of game, for
there were not any native inhabitants, or at least we met none.

On we trekked, our road still sloping slightly down hill, till at length
we saw far away a vast sea of bush-veld which, as I guessed correctly,
must fringe the great Zambesi River. Moreover we, or rather Hans, whose
eyes were those of a hawk, saw something else, namely buildings of a
more or less civilised kind, which stood among trees by the side of a
stream several miles on this side of the great belt of bush.

"Look, Baas," said Hans, "those wanderers did not lie; there is the
house of the white man. I wonder if he drinks anything stronger than
water," he added with a sigh and a kind of reminiscent contraction of
his yellow throat.

As it happened, he did.



CHAPTER V

INEZ

We had sighted the house from far away shortly after sunrise and by
midday we were there. As we approached I saw that it stood almost
immediately beneath two great baobab trees, babyan trees we call them in
South Africa, perhaps because monkeys eat their fruit. It was a thatched
house with whitewashed walls and a stoep or veranda round it, apparently
of the ordinary Dutch type. Moreover, beyond it, at a little distance
were other houses or rather shanties with waggon sheds, etc., and
beyond and mixed up with these a number of native huts. Further on were
considerable fields green with springing corn; also we saw herds of
cattle grazing on the slopes. Evidently our white man was rich.

Umslopogaas surveyed the place with a soldier's eye and said to me,

"This must be a peaceful country, Macumazahn, where no attack is feared,
since of defences I see none."

"Yes," I answered, "why not, with a wilderness behind it and bush-veld
and a great river in front?"

"Men can cross rivers and travel through bush-veld," he answered, and
was silent.

Up to this time we had seen no one, although it might have been presumed
that a waggon trekking towards the house was a sufficiently unusual
sight to have attracted attention.

"Where can they be?" I asked.

"Asleep, Baas, I think," said Hans, and as a matter of fact he was
right. The whole population of the place was indulging in a noonday
siesta.

At last we came so near to the house that I halted the waggon and
descended from the driving-box in order to investigate. At this moment
someone did appear, the sight of whom astonished me not a little,
namely, a very striking-looking young woman. She was tall, handsome,
with large dark eyes, good features, a rather pale complexion, and I
think the saddest face that I ever saw. Evidently she had heard the
noise of the waggon and had come out to see what caused it, for she
had nothing on her head, which was covered with thick hair of a raven
blackness. Catching sight of the great Umslopogaas with his gleaming axe
and of his savage-looking bodyguard, she uttered an exclamation and not
unnaturally turned to fly.

"It's all right," I sang out, emerging from behind the oxen, and in
English, though before the words had left my lips I reflected that there
was not the slightest reason to suppose that she would understand them.
Probably she was Dutch, or Portuguese, although by some instinct I had
addressed her in English.

To my surprise she answered me in the same tongue, spoken, it is true,
with a peculiar accent which I could not place, as it was neither Scotch
nor Irish.

"Thank you," she said. "I, sir, was frightened. Your friends look----"
Here she stumbled for a word, then added, "terrocious."

I laughed at this composite adjective and answered,

"Well, so they are in a way, though they will not harm you or me. But,
young lady, tell me, can we outspan here? Perhaps your husband----"

"I have no husband, I have only a father, sir," and she sighed.

"Well, then, could I speak to your father? My name is Allan Quatermain
and I am making a journey of exploration, to find out about the country
beyond, you know."

"Yes, I will go to wake him. He is asleep. Everyone sleeps here at
midday--except me," she said with another sigh.

"Why do you not follow their example?" I asked jocosely, for this young
woman puzzled me and I wanted to find out about her.

"Because I sleep little, sir, who think too much. There will be plenty
of time to sleep soon for all of us, will there not?"

I stared at her and inquired her name, because I did not know what else
to say.

"My name is Inez Robertson," she answered. "I will go to wake my father.
Meanwhile please unyoke your oxen. They can feed with the others; they
look as though they wanted rest, poor things." Then she turned and went
into the house.

"Inez Robertson," I said to myself, "that's a queer combination. English
father and Portuguese mother, I suppose. But what can an Englishman be
doing in a place like this? If it had been a trek-Boer I should not have
been surprised." Then I began to give directions about out-spanning.

We had just got the oxen out of the yokes, when a big, raw-boned,
red-bearded, blue-eyed, roughly-clad man of about fifty years of age
appeared from the house, yawning. I threw my eye over him as he advanced
with a peculiar rolling gait, and formed certain conclusions. A drunkard
who has once been a gentleman, I reflected to myself, for there was
something peculiarly dissolute in his appearance, also one who has had
to do with the sea, a diagnosis which proved very accurate.

"How do you do, Mr. Allan Quatermain, which I think my daughter said is
your name, unless I dreamed it, for it is one that I seem to have heard
before," he exclaimed with a broad Scotch accent which I do not attempt
to reproduce. "What in the name of blazes brings you here where no real
white man has been for years? Well, I am glad enough to see you any way,
for I am sick of half-breed Portuguese and niggers, and snuff-and-butter
girls, and gin and bad whisky. Leave your people to attend to those oxen
and come in and have a drink."

"Thank you, Mr. Robertson----"

"Captain Robertson," he interrupted. "Man, don't look astonished. You
mightn't guess it, but I commanded a mail-steamer once and should like
to hear myself called rightly again before I die."

"I beg your pardon--Captain Robertson, but myself, I don't drink
anything before sundown. However, if you have something to eat----?"

"Oh yes, Inez--she's my daughter--will find you a bite. Those men of
yours," and he also looked doubtfully at Umslopogaas and his savage
company, "will want food as well. I'll have a beast killed for them;
they look as if they could eat it, horns and all. Where are my people?
All asleep, I suppose, the lazy lubbers. Wait a bit, I'll wake them up."

Going to the house he snatched a great sjambok cut from hippopotamus
hide, from where it hung on a nail in the wall, and ran towards the
group of huts which I have mentioned, roaring out the name Thomaso, also
a string of oaths such as seamen use, mixed with others of a Portuguese
variety. What happened there I could not see because boughs were in
the way, but presently I heard blows and screams, and caught sight of
people, all dark-skinned, flying from the huts.

A little later a fat, half-breed man--I should say from his curling hair
that his mother was a negress and his father a Portuguese--appeared
with some other nondescript fellows and began to give directions in a
competent fashion about our oxen, also as to the killing of a calf. He
spoke in bastard Portuguese, which I could understand, and I heard him
talk of Umslopogaas to whom he pointed, as "that nigger," after the
fashion of such cross-bred people who choose to consider themselves
white men. Also he made uncomplimentary remarks about Hans, who of
course understood every word he said. Evidently Thomaso's temper had
been ruffled by this sudden and violent disturbance of his nap.

Just then our host appeared puffing with his exertions and declaring
that he had stirred up the swine with a vengeance, in proof of which he
pointed to the sjambok that was reddened with blood.

"Captain Robertson," I said, "I wish to give you a hint to be passed on
to Mr. Thomaso, if that is he. He spoke of the Zulu soldier there as a
nigger, etc. Well, he is a chief of a high rank and rather a terrible
fellow if roused. Therefore I recommend Mr. Thomaso not to let him
understand that he is insulting him."

"Oh! that's the way of these 'snuff-and-butters' one of whose
grandmothers once met a white man," replied the Captain, laughing, "but
I'll tell him," and he did in Portuguese.

His retainer listened in silence, looking at Umslopogaas rather sulkily.
Then we walked into the house. As we went the Captain said,

"Señor Thomaso--he calls himself Señor--is my manager here and a clever
man, honest too in his way and attached to me, perhaps because I
saved his life once. But he has a nasty temper, as have all these
cross-breeds, so I hope he won't get wrong with that native who carries
a big axe."

"I hope so too, for his own sake," I replied emphatically.

The Captain led the way into the sitting-room; there was but one in the
house. It proved a queer kind of place with rude furniture seated with
strips of hide after the Boer fashion, and yet bearing a certain air of
refinement which was doubtless due to Inez, who, with the assistance
of a stout native girl, was already engaged in setting the table.
Thus there was a shelf with books, Shakespeare was one of these, I
noticed--over which hung an ivory crucifix, which suggested that Inez
was a Catholic. On the walls, too, were some good portraits, and on the
window-ledge a jar full of flowers. Also the forks and spoons were of
silver, as were the mugs, and engraved with a tremendous coat-of-arms
and a Portuguese motto.

Presently the food appeared, which was excellent and plentiful, and the
Captain, his daughter and I sat down and ate. I noted that he drank gin
and water, an innocent-looking beverage but strong as he took it. It was
offered to me, but like Miss Inez, I preferred coffee.

During the meal and afterwards while we smoked upon the veranda, I
told them as much as I thought desirable of my plans. I said that I was
engaged upon a journey of exploration of the country beyond the Zambesi,
and that having heard of this settlement, which, by the way, was called
Strathmuir, as I gathered after a place in far away Scotland where
the Captain had been born and passed his childhood, I had come here to
inquire as to how to cross the great river, and about other things.

The Captain was interested, especially when I informed him that I was
that same "Hunter Quatermain" of whom he had heard in past years, but he
told me that it would be impossible to take the waggon down into the low
bush-veld which we could see beneath us, as there all the oxen would die
of the bite of the tsetse fly. I answered that I was aware of this and
proposed to try to make an arrangement to leave it in his charge till I
returned.

"That might be managed, Mr. Quatermain," he answered. "But, man, will
you ever return? They say there are queer folk living on the other side
of the Zambesi, savage men who are cannibals, Amahagger I think they
call them. It was they who in past years cleaned out all this country,
except a few river tribes who live in floating huts or on islands among
the reeds, and that's why it is so empty. But this happened long ago,
much before my time, and I don't suppose they will ever cross the river
again."

"If I might ask, what brought you here, Captain?" I said, for the point
was one on which I felt curious.

"That which brings most men to wild places, Mr. Quatermain--trouble. If
you want to know, I had a misfortune and piled up my ship. There were
some lives lost and, rightly or wrongly, I got the sack. Then I started
as a trader in a God-forsaken hole named Chinde, one of the Zambesi
mouths, you know, and did very well, as we Scotchmen have a way of
doing.

"There I married a Portuguese lady, a real lady of high blood, one of
the old sort. When my girl, Inez, was about twelve years old I got into
more trouble, for my wife died and it pleased a certain relative of hers
to say that it was because I had neglected her. This ended in a row and
the truth is that I killed him--in fair fight, mind you. Still, kill him
I did though I scarcely knew that I had done it at the time, after which
the place grew too hot to hold me. So I sold up and swore that I would
have no more to do with what they are pleased to call civilisation on
the East Coast.

"During my trading I had heard that there was fine country up this way,
and here I came and settled years ago, bringing my girl and Thomaso, who
was one of my managers, also a few other people with me. And here I have
been ever since, doing very well as before, for I trade a lot of ivory
and other things and grow stuff and cattle, which I sell to the River
natives. Yes, I am a rich man now and could go to live on my means in
Scotland, or anywhere."

"Why don't you?" I asked.

"Oh! for many reasons. I have lost touch with all that and become half
wild and I like this life and the sunshine and being my own master.
Also, if I did, things might be raked up against me, about that man's
death. Also, though I daresay it will make you think badly of me for it,
Mr. Quatermain, I have ties down there," and he waved is hand towards
the village, if so it could be called, "which it wouldn't be easy for
me to break. A man may be fond of his children, Mr. Quatermain, even
if their skins ain't so white as they ought to be. Lastly I have
habits--you see, I am speaking out to you as man to man--which might get
me into trouble again if I went back to the world," and he nodded his
fine, capable-looking head in the direction of the bottle on the table.

"I see," I said hastily, for this kind of confession bursting out of
the man's lonely heart when what he had drunk took a hold of him, was
painful to hear. "But how about your daughter, Miss Inez?"

"Ah!" he said, with a quiver in his voice, "there you touch it. She
ought to go away. There is no one for her to marry here, where we
haven't seen a white man for years, and she's a lady right enough, like
her mother. But who is she to go to, being a Roman Catholic whom my own
dour Presbyterian folk in Scotland, if any of them are left, would turn
their backs on? Moreover, she loves me in her own fashion, as I love
her, and she wouldn't leave me because she thinks it her duty to
stay and knows that if she did, I should go to the devil altogether.
Still--perhaps you might help me about her, Mr. Quatermain, that is if
you live to come back from your journey," he added doubtfully.

I felt inclined to ask how I could possibly help in such a matter, but
thought it wisest to say nothing. This, however, he did not notice, for
he went on,

"Now I think I will have a nap, as I do my work in the early morning,
and sometimes late at night when my brain seems to clear up again, for
you see I was a sailor for many years and accustomed to keeping watches.
You'll look after yourself, won't you, and treat the place as your own?"
Then he vanished into the house to lie down.

When I had finished my pipe I went for a walk. First I visited the
waggon where I found Umslopogaas and his company engaged in cooking
the beast that had been given them, Zulu fashion; Hans with his usual
cunning had already secured a meal, probably from the servants, or from
Inez herself; at least he left them and followed me. First we went down
to the huts, where we saw a number of good-looking young women of mixed
blood, all decently dressed and engaged about their household duties.
Also we saw four or five boys and girls, to say nothing of a baby
in arms, fine young people, one or two of whom were more white than
coloured.

"Those children are very like the Baas with the red beard," remarked
Hans reflectively.

"Yes," I said, and shivered, for now I understood the awfulness of this
poor man's case. He was the father of a number of half-breeds who tied
him to this spot as anchors tie a ship. I went on rather hastily past
some sheds to a long, low building which proved to be a store. Here
the quarter-blood called Thomaso, and some assistants were engaged in
trading with natives from the Zambesi swamps, men of a kind that I had
never seen, but in a way more civilised than many further south. What
they were selling or buying, I did not stop to see, but I noticed that
the store was full of goods of one sort or another, including a great
deal of ivory, which, as I supposed, had come down the river from
inland.

Then we walked on to the cultivated fields where we saw corn growing
very well, also tobacco and other crops. Beyond this were cattle kraals
and in the distance we perceived a great number of cattle and goats
feeding on the slopes.

"This red-bearded Baas must be very rich in all things," remarked the
observant Hans when we had completed our investigations.

"Yes," I answered, "rich and yet poor."

"How can a man be both rich and yet poor, Baas?" asked Hans.

Just at that moment some of the half-breed children whom I have
mentioned, ran past us more naked than dressed and whooping like little
savages. Hans contemplated them gravely, then said,

"I think I understand now, Baas. A man may be rich in things he loves
and yet does not want, which makes him poor in other ways."

"Yes," I answered, "as you _are_, Hans, when you take too much to
drink."

Just then we met the stately Miss Inez returning from the store,
carrying some articles in a basket, soap, I think, and tea in a packet,
amongst them. I told Hans to take the basket and bear it to the
house for her. He went off with it and, walking slowly, we fell into
conversation.

"Your father must do very well here," I said, nodding at the store with
the crowd of natives round it.

"Yes," she answered, "he makes much money which he puts in a bank at the
coast, for living costs us nothing and there is great profit in what he
buys and sells, also in the crops he grows and in the cattle. But," she
added pathetically, "what is the use of money in a place like this?"

"You can get things with it," I answered vaguely.

"That is what my father says, but what does he get? Strong stuff to
drink; dresses for those women down there, and sometimes pearls, jewels
and other things for me which I do not want. I have a box full of them
set in ugly gold, or loose which I cannot use, and if I put them on, who
is there to see them? That clever half-breed, Thomaso--for he is clever
in his way, faithful too--or the women down there--no one else."

"You do not seem to be happy, Miss Inez."

"No. I cannot tell how unhappy others are, who have met none, but
sometimes I think that I must be the most miserable woman in the world."

"Oh! no," I replied cheerfully, "plenty are worse off."

"Then, Mr. Quatermain, it must be because they cannot feel. Did you ever
have a father whom you loved?"

"Yes, Miss Inez. He is dead, but he was a very good man, a kind of
saint. Ask my servant, the little Hottentot Hans; he will tell you about
him."

"Ah! a very good man. Well, as you may have guessed, mine is not, though
there is much good in him, for he has a kind heart, and a big brain. But
the drink and those women down there, they ruin him," and she wrung her
hands.

"Why don't you go away?" I blurted out.

"Because it is my duty to stop. That is what my religion teaches me,
although of it I know little except through books, who have seen no
priest for years except one who was a missionary, a Baptist, I think,
who told me that my faith was false and would lead me to hell. Yes, not
understanding how I lived, he said that, who did not know that hell is
here. No, I cannot go, who hopes always that still God and the Saints
will show me how to save my father, even though it be with my blood. And
now I have said too much to you who are quite a stranger. Yet, I do not
know why, I feel that you will not betray me, and what is more, that
you will help me if you can, since you are not one of those who drink,
or----" and she waved her hand towards the huts.

"I have my faults, Miss Inez," I answered.

"Yes, no doubt, else you would be a saint, not a man, and even the
saints had their faults, or so I seem to remember, and became saints by
repentance and conquering them. Still, I am sure that you will help me
if you can."

Then with a sudden flash of her dark eyes that said more than all her
words, she turned and left me.

Here's a pretty kettle of fish, thought I to myself as I strolled back
to the waggon to see how things were going on there, and how to get the
live fish out of the kettle before they boil or spoil is more than I
know. I wonder why fate is always finding me such jobs to do.

Even as I thought thus a voice in my heart seemed to echo that poor
girl's words--because it is your duty--and to add others to them--woe
betide him who neglects his duty. I was appointed to try to hook a few
fish out of the vast kettle of human woe, and therefore I must go on
hooking. Meanwhile this particular problem seemed beyond me. Perhaps
Fate would help, I reflected. As a matter of fact, in the end Fate did,
if Fate is the right word to use in this connection.



CHAPTER VI

THE SEA-COW HUNT

Now it had been my intention to push forward across the river at once,
but here luck, or our old friend, Fate, was against me. To begin with
several of Umslopogaas' men fell sick with a kind of stomach trouble,
arising no doubt from something they had eaten. This, however, was not
their view, or that of Umslopogaas himself. It happened that one of
these men, Goroko by name, who practised as a witch-doctor in his
lighter moments, naturally suspected that a spell had been cast upon
them, for such people see magic in everything.

Therefore he organised a "smelling-out" at which Umslopogaas, who was
as superstitious as the rest, assisted. So did Hans, although he called
himself a Christian, partly out of curiosity, for he was as curious as
a magpie, and partly from fear lest some implication should be brought
against him in his absence. I saw the business going on from a little
distance, and, unseen myself, thought it well to keep an eye upon the
proceedings in case anything untoward should occur. This I did with Miss
Inez, who had never witnessed anything of the sort, as a companion.

The circle, a small one, was formed in the usual fashion; Goroko rigged
up in the best witch-doctor's costume that he could improvise, duly
came under the influence of his "Spirit" and skipped about, waving a
wildebeeste's tail, and so forth.

Finally to my horror he broke out of the ring, and running to a group
of spectators from the village, switched Thomaso, who was standing among
them with a lordly and contemptuous air, across the face with the gnu's
tail, shouting out that he was the wizard who had poisoned the bowels of
the sick men. Thereon Thomaso, who although he could be insolent, like
most crossbreeds was not remarkable for courage, seeing the stir that
this announcement created amongst the fierce-faced Zulus and fearing
developments, promptly bolted, none attempting to follow him.

After this, just as I thought that everything was over and that the time
had come for me to speak a few earnest words to Umslopogaas, pointing
out that matters must go no further as regards Thomaso, whom I knew that
he and his people hated, Goroko went back to the circle and was seized
with a new burst of inspiration.

Throwing down his whisk, he lifted his arms above his head and stared at
the heavens. Then he began to shout out something in a loud voice which
I was too far off to catch. Whatever it may have been, evidently it
frightened his hearers, as I could see from the expressions on their
faces. Even Umslopogaas was alarmed, for he let his axe fall for a
moment, rose as though to speak, then sat down again and covered his
eyes with his hands.

In a minute it was over; Goroko seemed to become normal, took some snuff
and as I guessed, after the usual fashion of these doctors, began to
ask what he had been saying while the "Spirit" possessed him, which he
either had, or affected to have, forgotten. The circle, too, broke up
and its members began to talk to each other in a subdued way, while
Umslopogaas remained seated on the ground, brooding, and Hans slipped
away in his snake-like fashion, doubtless in search of me.

"What was it all about, Mr. Quatermain?" asked Inez.

"Oh! a lot of nonsense," I said. "I fancy that witch-doctor declared
that your friend Thomaso put something into those men's food to make
them sick."

"I daresay that he did; it would be just like him, Mr. Quatermain, as I
know that he hates them, especially Umslopogaas, of whom I am very fond.
He brought me some beautiful flowers this morning which he had found
somewhere, and made a long speech which I could not understand."

The idea of Umslopogaas, that man of blood and iron, bringing flowers
to a young lady, was so absurd that I broke out laughing and even the
sad-faced Inez smiled. Then she left me to see about something and I
went to speak to Hans and asked him what had happened.

"Something rather queer, I think, Baas," he answered vacuously, "though
I did not quite understand the last part. The doctor, Goroko, smelt out
Thomaso as the man who had made them sick, and though they will not kill
him because we are guests here, those Zulus are very angry with Thomaso
and I think will beat him if they get a chance. But that is only the
small half of the stick," and he paused.

"What is the big half, then?" I asked with irritation.

"Baas, the Spirit in Goroko----"

"The jackass in Goroko, you mean," I interrupted. "How can you, who are
a Christian, talk such rubbish about spirits? I only wish that my father
could hear you."

"Oh! Baas, your reverend father, the Predikant, is now wise enough
to know all about Spirits and that there are some who come into black
witch-doctors though they turn up their noses at white men and leave
them alone. However, whatever it is that makes Goroko speak, got hold
of him so that his lips said, though he remembered nothing of it
afterwards, that soon this place would be red with blood--that there
would be a great killing here, Baas. That is all."

"Red with blood! Whose blood? What did the fool mean?"

"I don't know, Baas, but what you call the jackass in Goroko, declared
that those who are 'with the Great Medicine'--meaning what you wear,
Baas--will be quite safe. So I hope that it will not be our blood; also
that you will get out of this place as soon as you can."

Well, I scolded Hans because he believed in what this doctor said, for
I could see that he did believe it, then went to question Umslopogaas,
whom I found looking quite pleased, which annoyed me still more.

"What is it that Goroko has been saying and why do you smile, Bulalio?"
I asked.

"Nothing much, Macumazahn, except that the man who looks like tallow
that has gone bad, put something in our food which made us sick, for
which I would kill him were he not Red-beard's servant and that it would
frighten the lady his daughter. Also he said that soon there will be
fighting, which is why I smiled, who grow weary of peace. We came out to
fight, did we not?"

"Certainly not," I answered. "We came out to make a quiet journey in
strange lands, which is what I mean to do."

"Ah! well, Macumazahn, in strange lands one meets strange men with whom
one does not always agree, and then _Inkosikaas_ begins to talk," and he
whirled the great axe round his head, making the air whistle as it was
forced through the gouge at its back.

I could get no more out of him, so having extracted a promise from him
that nothing should happen to Thomaso who, I pointed out, was probably
quite unjustly accused, I went away.

Still, the whole incident left a disagreeable impression on my mind,
and I began to wish that we were safe across the Zambesi without more
trouble. But we could not start at once because two of the Zulus were
still not well enough to travel and there were many preparations to
be made about the loads, and so forth, since the waggon must be left
behind. Also, and this was another complication--Hans had a sore upon
his foot, resulting from the prick of a poisonous thorn, and it was
desirable that this should be quite healed before we marched.

So it came about that I was really glad when Captain Robertson suggested
that we should go down to a certain swamp formed, I gathered, by some
small tributary of the Zambesi to take part in a kind of hippopotamus
battue. It seemed that at this season of the year these great animals
always frequented the place in numbers, also that by barring a neck of
deep water through which they gained it, they, or a proportion of them,
could be cut off and killed.

This had been done once or twice in the past, though not of late,
perhaps because Captain Robertson had lacked the energy to organise such
a hunt. Now he wished to do so again, taking advantage of my presence,
both because of the value of the hides of the sea-cows which were cut up
to be sent to the coast and sold as _sjamboks_ or whips, and because of
the sport of the thing. Also I think he desired to show me that he was
not altogether sunk in sloth and drink.

I fell in with the idea readily enough, since in all my hunting life I
had never seen anything of the sort, especially as I was told that the
expedition would not take more than a week and I reckoned that the sick
men and Hans would not be fit to travel sooner. So great preparations
were made. The riverside natives, whose share of the spoil was to be the
carcases of the slain sea-cows, were summoned by hundreds and sent off
to their appointed stations to beat the swamps at a signal given by the
firing of a great pile of reeds. Also many other things were done upon
which I need not enter.

Then came the time for us to depart to the appointed spot over twenty
miles away, most of which distance it seemed we could trek in the
waggon. Captain Robertson, who for the time had cut off his gin, was
as active about the affair as though he were once more in command of a
mail-steamer. Nothing escaped his attention; indeed, in the care which
he gave to details he reminded me of the captain of a great ship that
is leaving port, and from it I learned how able a man he must once have
been.

"Does your daughter accompany us?" I asked on the night before we
started.

"Oh! no," he answered, "she would only be in the way. She will be quite
safe here, especially as Thomaso, who is no hunter, remains in charge
of the place with some of the older natives to look after the women and
children."

Later I saw Inez herself, who said that she would have liked to come,
although she hated to see great beasts killed, but that her father was
against it because he thought she might catch fever. So she supposed
that she had better remain where she was.

I agreed, though in my heart I was doubtful, and said that I would leave
Hans, whose foot was not as yet quite well, and with whom she had made
friends as she had done with Umslopogaas, to look after her. Also there
would be with him the two great Zulus who were now recovering from their
attack of stomach sickness, so that she would have nothing to fear. She
answered with her slow smile that she feared nothing, still, she would
have liked to come with us. Then we parted, as it proved for a long
time.

It was quite a ceremony. Umslopogaas, "in the name of the Axe" solemnly
gave over Inez to the charge of his two followers, bidding them guard
her with so much earnestness that I began to suspect he feared something
which he did not choose to mention. My mind went back indeed to the
prophecy of the witch-doctor Goroko, of which it was possible that he
might be thinking, but as while he spoke he kept his fierce eyes fixed
upon the fat and pompous quarter-breed, Thomaso, I concluded that here
was the object of his doubts.

It might have occurred to him that this Thomaso would take the
opportunity of her father's absence to annoy Inez. If so I was sure that
he was mistaken for various reasons, of which I need only quote one,
namely, that even if such an idea had ever entered his head, Thomaso was
far too great a coward to translate it into action. Still, suspecting
something, I also gave Hans instructions to keep a sharp eye on Inez
and generally to watch the place, and if he saw anything suspicious, to
communicate with us at once.

"Yes, Baas," said Hans, "I will look after 'Sad-Eyes'"--for so with
their usual quickness of observation our Zulus had named Inez--"as
though she were my grandmother, though what there is to fear for her, I
do not know. But, Baas, I would much rather come and look after you, as
your reverend father, the Predikant, told me to do always, which is my
duty, not girl-herding, Baas. Also my foot is now quite well and--I want
to shoot sea-cows, and----" Here he paused.

"And what, Hans?"

"And Goroko said that there was going to be much fighting and if there
should be fighting and you should come to harm because I was not there
to protect you, what would your reverend father think of me then?"

All of which meant two things: that Hans never liked being separated
from me if he could help it, and that he much preferred a shooting trip
to stopping alone in this strange place with nothing to do except eat
and sleep. So I concluded, though indeed I did not get quite to the
bottom of the business. In reality Hans was putting up a most gallant
struggle against temptation.

As I found out afterwards, Captain Robertson had been giving him strong
drink on the sly, moved thereto by sympathy with a fellow toper. Also he
had shown him where, if he wanted it, he could get more, and Hans always
wanted gin very badly indeed. To leave it within his reach was like
leaving a handful of diamonds lying about in the room of a thief. This
he knew, but was ashamed to tell me the truth, and thence came much
trouble.

"You will stop here, Hans, look after the young lady and nurse your
foot," I said sternly, whereon he collapsed with a sigh and asked for
some tobacco.

Meanwhile Captain Robertson, who I think had been taking a stirrup cup
to cheer him on the road, was making his farewells down in what was
known as "the village," for I saw him there kissing a collection of
half-breed children, and giving Thomaso instructions to look after them
and their mothers. Returning at length, he called to Inez, who remained
upon the veranda, for she always seemed to shrink from her father after
his visits to the village, to "keep a stiff upper lip" and not feel
lonely, and commanded the cavalcade to start.

So off we went, about twenty of the village natives, a motley crew armed
with every kind of gun, marching ahead and singing songs. Then came the
waggon with Captain Robertson and myself seated on the driving-box,
and lastly Umslopogaas and his Zulus, except the two who had been left
behind.

We trekked along a kind of native road over fine veld of the same
character as that on which Strathmuir stood, having the lower-lying
bush-veld which ran down to the Zambesi on our right. Before nightfall
we came to a ridge whereon this bush-veld turned south, fringing that
tributary of the great river in the swamps of which we were to hunt for
sea-cows. Here we camped and next morning, leaving the waggon in charge
of my _voorlooper_ and a couple of the Strathmuir natives, for the
driver was to act as my gun-bearer--we marched down into the sea of
bush-veld. It proved to be full of game, but at this we dared not fire
for fearing of disturbing the hippopotami in the swamps beneath, whence
in that event they might escape us back to the river.

About midday we passed out of the bush-veld and reached the place where
the drive was to be. Here, bordered by steep banks covered with bush,
was swampy ground not more than two hundred yards wide, down the centre
of which ran a narrow channel of rather deep water, draining a vast
expanse of morass above. It was up this channel that the sea-cows
travelled to the feeding ground where they loved to collect at that
season of the year.

There with the assistance of some of the riverside natives we made our
preparations under the direction of Captain Robertson. The rest of these
men, to the number of several hundreds, had made a wide détour to the
head of the swamps, miles away, whence they were to advance at a certain
signal. These preparations were simple. A quantity of thorn trees were
cut down and by means of heavy stones fastened to their trunks, anchored
in the narrow channel of deep water. To their tops, which floated on the
placid surface, were tied a variety of rags which we had brought with
us, such as old red flannel shirts, gay-coloured but worn-out blankets,
and I know not what besides. Some of these fragments also were attached
to the anchored ropes under water.

Also we selected places for the guns upon the steep banks that I have
mentioned, between which this channel ran. Foreseeing what would happen,
I chose one for myself behind a particularly stout rock and what is
more, built a stone wall to the height of several feet on the landward
side of it, as I guessed that the natives posted near to me would prove
wild in their shooting.

These labours occupied the rest of that day, and at night we retired to
higher ground to sleep. Before dawn on the following morning we returned
and took up our stations, some on one side of the channel and some on
the other which we had to reach in a canoe brought for the purpose by
the river natives.

Then, before the sun rose, Captain Robertson fired a huge pile of dried
reeds and bushes, which was to give the signal to the river natives
far away to begin their beat. This done, we sat down and waited, after
making sure that every gun had plenty of ammunition ready.

As the dawn broke, by climbing a tree near my _schanze_ or shelter, I
saw a good many miles away to the south a wide circle of little fires,
and guessed that the natives were beginning to burn the dry reeds of the
swamp. Presently these fires drew together into a thin wall of flame.
Then I knew that it was time to return to the _schanze_ and prepare. It
was full daylight, however, before anything happened.

Watching the still channel of water, I saw ripples on it and bubbles
of air rising. Suddenly there appeared the head of a great
bull-hippopotamus which, having caught sight of our rag barricade,
either above or below water, had risen to the surface to see what it
might be. I put a bullet from an eight-bore rifle through its brain,
whereon it sank, as I guessed, stone dead to the bottom of the channel,
thus helping to increase the barricade by the bulk of its great body.
Also it had another effect. I have observed that sea-cows cannot bear
the smell and taint of blood, which frightens them horribly, so that
they will expose themselves to almost any risk, rather than get it into
their nostrils.

Now, in this still water where there was no perceptible current, the
blood from the dead bull soon spread all about so that when the herd,
following their leader, began to arrive they were much alarmed. Indeed,
the first of them on winding or tasting it, turned and tried to get
back up the channel where, however, they met others following, and
there ensued a tremendous confusion. They rose to the surface, blowing,
snorting, bellowing and scrambling over each other in the water, while
continually more and more arrived behind them, till there was a perfect
pandemonium in that narrow place.

All our guns opened fire wildly upon the mass; it was like a battle
and through the smoke I caught sight of the riverside natives who were
acting as beaters, advancing far away, fantastically dressed, screaming
with excitement and waving spears, or sometimes torches of flaming
reeds. Most of these were scrambling along the banks, but some of
the bolder spirits advanced over the lagoon in canoes, driving the
hippopotami towards the mouth of the channel by which alone they could
escape into the great swamps below and so on to the river. In all my
hunting experience I do not think I ever saw a more remarkable scene.
Still, in a way, to me it was unpleasant, for I flatter myself that I am
a sportsman and a battle of this sort is not sport as I understand the
term.

At length it came to this; the channel for quite a long way was
literally full of hippopotami--I should think there must have been a
hundred of them or more of all sorts and sizes, from great bulls down to
little calves. Some of these were killed, not many, for the shooting of
our gallant company was execrable and almost at hazard. Also for every
sea-cow that died, of which number I think that Captain Robertson and
myself accounted for most--many were only wounded.

Still, the unhappy beasts, crazed with noise and fire and blood, did not
seem to dare to face our frail barricade, probably for the reason that
I have given. For a while they remained massed together in the water, or
under it, making a most horrible noise. Then of a sudden they seemed to
take a resolution. A few of them broke back towards the burning reeds,
the screaming beaters and the advancing canoes. One of these, indeed,
a wounded bull, charged a canoe, crushed it in its huge jaws and killed
the rower, how exactly I do not know, for his body was never found. The
majority of them, however, took another counsel, for emerging from the
water on either side, they began to scramble towards us along the steep
banks, or even to climb up them with surprising agility. It was at this
point in the proceedings that I congratulated myself earnestly upon
the solid character of the water-worn rock which I had selected as a
shelter.

Behind this rock together with my gun-bearer and Umslopogaas, who, as
he did not shoot, had elected to be my companion, I crouched and banged
away at the unwieldy creatures as they advanced. But fire fast as I
might with two rifles, I could not stop the half of them--they were
drawing unpleasantly near. I glanced at Umslopogaas and even then
was amused to see that probably for the first time in his life that
redoubtable warrior was in a genuine fright.

"This is madness, Macumazahn," he shouted above the din. "Are we to stop
here and be stamped flat by a horde of water-pigs?"

"It seems so," I answered, "unless you prefer to be stamped flat
outside--or eaten," I added, pointing to a great crocodile that had also
emerged from the channel and was coming along towards us with open jaws.

"By the Axe!" shouted Umslopogaas again, "I--a warrior--will not die
thus, trodden on like a slug by an ox."

Now I have mentioned a tree which I climbed. In his extremity
Umslopogaas rushed for that tree and went up it like a lamplighter, just
as the crocodile wriggled past its trunk, snapping at his retreating
legs.

After this I took no more note of him, partly because of the advancing
sea-cows, and more for the reason that one of the village natives posted
above me, firing wildly, put a large round bullet through the sleeve
of my coat. Indeed, had it not been for the wall which I built that
protected us, I am certain that both my bearer and I would have been
killed, for afterwards I found it splashed over with lead from bullets
which had struck the stones.

Well, thanks to the strength of my rock and to the wall, or as Hans said
afterwards, to Zikali's Great Medicine, we escaped unhurt. The rush went
by me; indeed, I killed one sea-cow so close that the powder from the
rifle actually burned its hide. But it did go by, leaving us untouched.
All, however, were not so fortunate, since of the village natives two
were trampled to death, while a third had his leg broken.

Also, and this was really amusing--a bewildered bull charging at full
speed, crashed into the trunk of Umslopogaas' tree, and as it was not
very thick, snapped it in two. Down came the top in which the dignified
chief was ensconced like a bird in a nest, though at that moment there
was precious little dignity about him. However, except for scratches he
was not hurt, as the hippopotamus had other business in urgent need of
attention and did not stop to settle with him.

"Such are the things which happen to a man who mixes himself up with
matters of which he knows nothing," said Umslopogaas sententiously to
me afterwards. But all the same he could never bear any allusion to this
tree-climbing episode in his martial career, which, as it happened, had
taken place in full view of his retainers, among whom it remained the
greatest of jokes. Indeed, he wanted to kill a man, the wag of the
party, who gave him a slang name which, being translated, means
"_He-who-is-so-brave-that-he-dares-to-ride-a-water-horse-up-a-tree._"

It was all over at last, for which I thanked Providence devoutly. A good
many of the sea-cows were dead, I think twenty-one was out exact bag,
but the majority of them had escaped in one way or another, many as I
fear, wounded. I imagine that at the last the bulk of the herd overcame
its fears and swimming through our screen, passed away down the channel.
At any rate they were gone, and having ascertained that there was
nothing to be done for the man who had been trampled on my side of the
channel, I crossed it in the canoe with the object of returning quietly
to our camp to rest.

But as yet there was to be no quiet for me, for there I found Captain
Robertson, who I think had been refreshing himself out of a bottle and
was in a great state of excitement about a native who had been killed
near him who was a favourite of his, and another whose leg was broken.
He declared vehemently that the hippopotamus which had done this had
been wounded and rushed into some bushes a few hundred yards away, and
that he meant to take vengeance upon it. Indeed, he was just setting off
to do so.

Seeing his agitated state I thought it wisest to follow him. What
happened need not be set out in detail. It is sufficient to say that
he found that hippopotamus and blazed both barrels at it in the bushes,
hitting it, but not seriously. Out lumbered the creature with its mouth
open, wishing to escape. Robertson turned to fly as he was in its path,
but from one cause or another, tripped and fell down. Certainly he would
have been crushed beneath its huge feet had I not stepped in front of
him and sent two solid eight-bore bullets down that yawning throat,
killing it dead within three feet of where Robertson was trying to rise,
and I may add, of myself.

This narrow escape sobered him, and I am bound to say that his gratitude
was profuse.

"You are a brave man," he said, "and had it not been for you by now I
should be wherever bad people go. I'll not forget it, Mr. Quatermain,
and if ever you want anything that John Robertson can give, why, it's
yours."

"Very well," I answered, being seized by an inspiration, "I do want
something that you can give easily enough."

"Give it a name and it's yours, half my place, if you like."

"I want," I went on as I slipped new cartridges into the rifle, "I want
you to promise to give up drink for your daughter's sake. That's what
nearly did for you just now, you know."

"Man, you ask a hard thing," he said slowly. "But by God I'll try for
her sake and for yours too."

Then I went to help to set the leg of the injured man, which was all the
rest I got that morning.



CHAPTER VII

THE OATH

We spent three more days at that place. First it was necessary to allow
time to elapse before the gases which generated in their great bodies
caused those of the sea-cows which had been killed in the water, to
float. Then they must be skinned and their thick hides cut into strips
and pieces to be traded for _sjamboks_ or to make small native shields
for which some of the East Coast tribes will pay heavily.

All this took a long while, during which I amused, or disgusted myself
in watching those river natives devouring the flesh of the beasts.
The lean, what there was of it, they dried and smoked into a kind of
"biltong," but a great deal of the fat they ate at once. I had the
curiosity to weigh a lump which was given to one thin, hungry-looking
fellow. It scaled quite twenty pounds. Within four hours he had eaten it
to the last ounce and lay there, a distended and torpid log. What would
not we white people give for such a digestion!

At last all was over and we started homewards, the man with a broken leg
being carried in a kind of litter. On the edge of the bush-veld we found
the waggon quite safe, also one of Captain Robertson's that had followed
us from Strathmuir in order to carry the expected load of hippopotamus'
hides and ivory. I asked my _voorlooper_ if anything had happened during
our absence. He answered nothing, but on the previous evening after
dark, he had seen a glow in the direction of Strathmuir which lay on
somewhat lower ground about twenty miles away, as though numerous fires
had been lighted there. It struck him so much, he added, that he
climbed a tree to observe it better. He did not think, however, that any
building had been burned there, as the glow was not strong enough for
that.

I suggested that it was caused by some grass fire or reed-burning, to
which he replied indifferently that he did not think so as the line of
the glow was not sufficiently continuous.

There the matter ended, though I confess that the story made me anxious,
for what exact reason I could not say. Umslopogaas also, who had
listened to it, for our talk was in Zulu, looked grave, but made no
remark. But as since his tree-climbing experience he had been singularly
silent, of this I thought little.

We had trekked at a time which we calculated would bring us to
Strathmuir about an hour before sundown, allowing for a short halt half
way. As my oxen were got in more quickly than those of the other waggon
after this outspan, I was the first away, followed at a little distance
by Umslopogaas, who preferred to walk with his Zulus. The truth was that
I could not get that story about the glow of fires out of my mind and
was anxious to push on, which had caused me to hurry up the inspanning.

Perhaps we had covered a couple of miles of the ten or twelve which
still lay between us and Strathmuir, when far off on the crest of one
of the waves of the veld which much resembled those of the swelling sea
frozen while in motion, I saw a small figure approaching us at a rapid
trot. Somehow that figure suggested Hans to my mind, so much so that I
fetched my glasses to examine it more closely. A short scrutiny through
them convinced me that Hans it was, Hans and no other, advancing at a
great pace.

Filled with uneasiness, I ordered the driver to flog up the oxen,
with the result that in a little over five minutes we met. Halting the
waggon, I leapt from the waggon-box and calling to Umslopogaas who had
kept up with us at a slow, swinging trot, went to Hans, who, when he saw
me, stood still at a little distance, swinging his apology for a hat in
his hand, as was his fashion when ashamed or perplexed.

"What is the matter, Hans?" I asked when we were within speaking
distance.

"Oh! Baas, everything," he answered, and I noticed that he kept his eyes
fixed upon the ground and that his lips twitched.

"Speak, you fool, and in Zulu," I said, for by now Umslopogaas had
joined me.

"Baas," he answered in that tongue, "a terrible thing has come about
at the farm of Red-Beard yonder. Yesterday afternoon at the time when
people are in the habit of sleeping there till the sun grows less hot,
a body of great men with fierce faces who carried big spears--perhaps
there were fifty of them, Baas--crept up to the place through the long
grass and growing crops, and attacked it."

"Did you see them come?" I asked.

"No, Baas. I was watching at a little distance as you bade me do and the
sun being hot, I shut my eyes to keep out the glare of it, so that I did
not see them until they had passed me and heard the noise."

"You mean that you were asleep or drunk, Hans, but go on."

"Baas, I do not know," he answered shamefacedly, "but after that I
climbed a tall tree with a kind of bush at the top of it" (I ascertained
afterwards that this was a sort of leafy-crowned palm), "and from it I
saw everything without being seen."

"What did you see, Hans?" I asked him.

"I saw the big men run up and make a kind of circle round the village.
Then they shouted, and the people in the village came out to see what
was the matter. Thomaso and some of the men caught sight of them first
and ran away fast into the hillside at the back where the trees grow,
before the circle was complete. Then the women and the children came out
and the big men killed them with their spears--all, all!"

"Good God!" I exclaimed. "And what happened at the house and to the
lady?"

"Baas, some of the men had surrounded that also and when she heard the
noise the lady Sad-Eyes came out on to the stoep and with her came
the two Zulus of the Axe who had been left sick but were now quite
recovered. A number of the big men ran as though to take her, but the
two Zulus made a great fight in front of the little steps to the stoep,
having their backs protected by the stoep, and killed six of them before
they themselves were killed. Also Sad-Eyes shot one with a pistol she
carried, and wounded another so that the spear fell out of his hand.

"Then the rest fell on her and tied her up, setting her in a chair on
the stoep where two remained to watch her. They did her no hurt, Baas;
indeed, they seemed to treat her as gently as they could. Also they
went into the house and there they caught that tall fat yellow girl who
always smiles and is called Janee, she who waits upon the Lady Sad-Eyes,
and brought her out to her. I think they told her, Baas, that she must
look after her mistress and that if she tried to run away she would be
killed, for afterwards I saw Janee bring her food and other things."

"And then, Hans?"

"Then, Baas, most of the great men rested a while, though some of them
went through the store gathering such things as they liked, blankets,
knives and iron cooking-pots, but they set fire to nothing, nor did they
try to catch the cattle. Also they took dry wood from the pile and lit
big fires, eight or nine of them, and when the sun set they began to
feast."

"What did they feast on, Hans, if they took no cattle?" I asked with a
shiver, for I was afraid of I knew not what.

"Baas," answered Hans, turning his head away and looking at the ground,
"they feasted on the children whom they had killed, also on some of the
young women. These tall soldiers are men-eaters, Baas."

At this horrible intelligence I turned faint and felt as though I was
going to fall, but recovering myself, signed to him to go on with his
story.

"They feasted quite nicely, Baas," he continued, "making no noise. Then
some of them slept while others watched, and that went on all night. As
soon as it was dark, but before the moon rose, I slid down the tree and
crept round to the back of the house without being seen or heard, as
I can, Baas. I got into the house by the back door and crawled to
the window of the sitting-room. It was open and peeping through I saw
Sad-Eyes still tied to the seat on the stoep not more than a pace away,
while the girl Janee crouched on the floor at her feet--I think she was
asleep or fainting.

"I made a little noise, like a night-adder hissing, and kept on making
it, till at last Sad-Eyes turned her head. Then I spoke in a very low
whisper, for fear lest I should wake the two guards who were dozing on
either side of her wrapped in their blankets, saying, 'It is I, Hans,
come to help you.' 'You cannot,' she answered, also speaking very low.
'Get to your master and tell him and my father to follow. These men are
called Amahagger and live far away across the river. They are going to
take me to their home, as I understand, to rule them, because they want
a white woman to be a queen over them who have always been ruled by a
certain white queen, against whom they have rebelled. I do not think
they mean to do me any harm, unless perhaps they want to marry me
to their chief, but of this I am not sure from their talk which I
understand badly. Now go, before they catch you.'

"'I think you might get away,' I whispered back. 'I will cut your bonds.
When you are free, slip through the window and I will guide you.'

"'Very well, try it,' she said.

"So I drew my knife and stretched out my arm. But then, Baas, I showed
myself a fool--if the Great Medicine had still been there I might have
known better. I forgot the starlight which shone upon the blade of the
knife. That girl Janee came out of her sleep or swoon, lifted her head
and saw the knife. She screamed once, then at a word from her mistress
was silent. But it was enough, for it woke up the guards who glared
about them and threatened Janee with their great spears, also they went
to sleep no more, but began to talk together, though what they said I
could not hear, for I was hiding on the floor of the room. After this,
knowing that I could do no good and might do harm and get myself killed,
I crept out of the house as I had crept in, and crawled back to my
tree."

"Why did you not come to me?" I asked.

"Because I still hoped I might be able to help Sad-Eyes, Baas. Also I
wanted to see what happened, and I knew that I could not bring you here
in time to be any good. Yet it is true I thought of coming though I did
not know the road."

"Perhaps you were right."

"At the first dawn," continued Hans, "the great men who are called
Amahagger rose and ate what was left over from the night before. Then
they gathered themselves together and went to the house. Here they found
a large chair, that seated with _rimpis_ in which the Baas Red-Beard
sits, and lashed two poles to the chair. Beneath the chair they tied
the garments and other things of the Lady Sad-Eyes which they made
Janee gather as Sad-Eyes directed her. This done, very gently they sat
Sad-Eyes herself in the chair, bowing while they made her fast. After
this eight of them set the poles upon their shoulders, and they all went
away at a trot, heading for the bush-veld, driving with them a herd of
goats which they had stolen from the farm, and making Janee run by the
chair. I saw everything, Baas, for they passed just beneath my tree.
Then I came to seek you, following the outward spoor of the waggons
which I could not have done well at night. That is all, Baas."

"Hans," I said, "you have been drinking and because of it the lady
Sad-Eyes is taken a prisoner by cannibals; for had you been awake and
watching, you might have seen them coming and saved her and the rest.
Still, afterwards you did well, and for the rest you must answer to
Heaven."

"I must tell your reverend father, the Predikant, Baas, that the white
master, Red-Beard, gave me the liquor and it is rude not to do as a
great white master does, and drink it up. I am sure he will understand,
Baas," said Hans abjectly.

I thought to myself that it was true and that the spear which Robertson
cast had fallen upon his own head, as the Zulus say, but I made no
answer, lacking time for argument.

"Did you say," asked Umslopogaas, speaking for the first time, "that my
servants killed only six of these men-eaters?"

Hans nodded and answered, "Yes, six. I counted the bodies."

"It was ill done, they should have killed six each," said Umslopogaas
moodily. "Well, they have left the more for us to finish," and he
fingered the great axe.

Just then Captain Robertson arrived in his waggon, calling out anxiously
to know what was the matter, for some premonition of evil seemed to have
struck him. My heart sank at the sight of him, for how was I to tell
such a story to the father of the murdered children and of the abducted
girl?

In the end I felt that I could not. Yes, I turned coward and saying that
I must fetch something out of the waggon, bolted into it, bidding Hans
go forward and repeat his tale. He obeyed unwillingly enough and looking
out between the curtains of the waggon tent I saw all that happened,
though I could not hear the words that passed.

Robertson had halted the oxen and jumping from the waggon-box strode
forward and met Hans, who began to speak with him, twitching his hat in
his hands. Gradually as the tale progressed, I saw the Captain's face
freeze into a mask of horror. Then he began to argue and deny, then to
weep--oh! it was a terrible sight to see that great man weeping over
those whom he had lost, and in such a fashion.

After this a kind of blind rage seized him and I thought he was going
to kill Hans, who was of the same opinion, for he ran away. Next he
staggered about, shaking his fists, cursing and shouting, till presently
he fell of a heap and lay face downwards, beating his head against the
ground and groaning.

Now I went to him and sat up.

"That's a pretty story, Quatermain, which this little yellow monkey has
been gibbering at me. Man, do you understand what he says? He says that
all those half-blood children of mine are dead, murdered by savages from
over the Zambesi, yes, and eaten, too, with their mothers. Do you take
the point? Eaten like lambs. Those fires your man saw last night
were the fires on which they were cooked, my little _so-and-so_ and
_so-and-so_," and he mentioned half a dozen different names. "Yes,
cooked, Quatermain. And that isn't all of it, they have taken Inez too.
They didn't eat her, but they have dragged her off a captive for God
knows what reason. I couldn't understand. The whole ship's crew is gone,
except the captain absent on leave and the first officer, Thomaso, who
deserted with some Lascar stokers, and left the women and children to
their fate. My God, I'm going mad. I'm going mad! If you have any mercy
in you, give me something to drink."

"All right," I said, "I will. Sit here and wait a minute."

Then I went to the waggon and poured out a stiff tot of spirits into
which I put an amazing doze of bromide from a little medicine chest I
always carry with me, and thirty drops of chlorodyne on the top of it.
All this compound I mixed up with a little water and took it to him in a
tin cup so that he could not see the colour.

He drank it at a gulp and throwing the pannikin aside, sat down on the
veld, groaning while the company watched him at a respectful distance,
for Hans had joined the others and his tale had spread like fire in
drought-parched grass.

In a few minutes the drugs began to take effect upon Robertson's
tortured nerves, for he rose and said quietly,

"What now?"

"Vengeance, or rather justice," I answered.

"Yes," he exclaimed, "vengeance. I swear that I will be avenged, or
die--or both."

Again I saw my opportunity and said, "You must swear more than that,
Robertson. Only sober men can accomplish great things, for drink
destroys the judgment. If you wish to be avenged for the dead and to
rescue the living, you must be sober, or I for one will not help you."

"Will you help me if I do, to the end, good or ill, Quatermain?" he
added.

I nodded.

"That's as much as another's oath," he muttered. "Still, I will put my
thought in words. I swear by God, by my mother--like these natives--and
by my daughter born in honest marriage, that I will never touch another
drop of strong drink, until I have avenged those poor women and their
little children, and rescued Inez from their murderers. If I do you may
put a bullet through me."

"That's all right," I said in an offhand fashion, though inwardly I
glowed with pride at the success of my great idea, for at the time I
thought it great, and went on,

"Now let us get to business. The first thing to do is to trek to
Strathmuir and make preparations; the next to start upon the trail. Come
to sit on the waggon with me and tell me what guns and ammunition you
have got, for according to Hans those savages don't seem to have touched
anything, except a few blankets and a herd of goats."

He did as I asked, telling me all he could remember. Then he said,

"It is a strange thing, but now I recall that about two years ago a
great savage with a high nose, who talked a sort of Arabic which, like
Inez, I understand, having lived on the coast, turned up one day and
said he wanted to trade. I asked him what in, and he answered that
he would like to buy some children. I told him that I was not a
slave-dealer. Then he looked at Inez, who was moving about, and said
that he would like to buy her to be a wife for his Chief, and offered
some fabulous sum in ivory and in gold, which he said should be paid
before she was taken away. I snatched his big spear from his hand, broke
it over his head and gave him the best hiding with its shaft that he had
ever heard of. Then I kicked him off the place. He limped away but when
he was out of reach, turned and called out that one day he would come
again with others and take her, meaning Inez, without leaving the price
in ivory and gold. I ran for my gun, but when I got back he had gone and
I never thought of the matter again from that day to this."

"Well, he kept his promise," I said, but Robertson made no answer, for
by this time that thundering dose of bromide and laudanum had taken
effect on him and he had fallen asleep, of which I was glad, for I
thought that this sleep would save his sanity, as I believe it did for a
while.

We reached Strathmuir towards sunset, too late to think of attempting
the pursuit that day. Indeed, during our trek, I had thought the matter
out carefully and come to the conclusion that to try to do so would be
useless. We must rest and make preparations; also there was no hope of
our overtaking these brutes who already had a clear twelve hours' start,
by a sudden spurt. They must be run down patiently by following their
spoor, if indeed they could be run down at all before they vanished into
the vast recesses of unknown Africa. The most we could do this night was
to get ready.

Captain Robertson was still sleeping when we passed the village and of
this I was heartily glad, since the remains of a cannibal feast are not
pleasant to behold, especially when they are----! Indeed, of these I
determined to be rid at once, so slipping off the waggon with Hans and
some of the farm boys, for none of the Zulus would defile themselves by
touching such human remnants--I made up two of the smouldering fires,
the light of which the _voorlooper_ had seen upon the sky, and on to
them cast, or caused to be cast, those poor fragments. Also I told the
farm natives to dig a big grave and in it to place the other bodies and
generally to remove the traces of murder.

Then I went on to the house, and not too soon. Seeing the waggons arrive
and having made sure that the Amahagger were gone, Thomaso and the other
cowards emerged from their hiding-places and returned. Unfortunately for
the former the first person he met was Umslopogaas, who began to revile
the fat half-breed in no measured terms, calling him dog, coward, and
other opprobrious names, such as deserter of women and children, and so
forth--all of which someone translated.

Thomaso, an insolent person, tried to swagger the matter out, saying
that he had gone to get assistance. Infuriated at this lie, Umslopogaas
leapt upon him with a roar and though he was a strong man, dealt with
him as a lion does with a buck. Lifting him from his feet, he hurled him
to the ground, then as he strove to rise and run, caught him again and
as it seemed to me, was about to break his back across his knee. Just at
this juncture I arrived.

"Let the man go," I shouted to him. "Is there not enough death here
already?"

"Yes," answered Umslopogaas, "I think there is. Best that this jackal
should live to eat his own shame," and he cast Thomaso to the ground,
where he lay groaning.

Robertson, who was still asleep in the waggon, woke up at the noise, and
descended from it, looking dazed. I got him to the house and in doing so
made my way past, or rather between the bodies of the two Zulus and of
the six men whom they had killed, also of him whom Inez had shot. Those
Zulus had made a splendid fight for they were covered with wounds, all
of them in front, as I found upon examination.

Having made Robertson lie down upon his bed, I took a good look at the
slain Amahagger. They were magnificent men, all of them; tall, spare
and shapely with very clear-cut features and rather frizzled hair.
From these characteristics, as well as the lightness of their colour,
I concluded that they were of a Semitic or Arab type, and that the
admixture of their blood with that of the Bantus was but slight, if
indeed there were any at all. Their spears, of which one had been cut
through by a blow of a Zulu's axe, were long and broad, not unlike to
those used by the Masai, but of finer workmanship.

By this time the sun was setting and thoroughly tired by all that I had
gone through, I went into the house to get something to eat, having told
Hans to find food and prepare a meal. As I sat down Robertson joined me
and I made him also eat. His first impulse was to go to the cupboard and
fetch the spirit bottle; indeed, he rose to do so.

"Hans is making coffee," I said warningly.

"Thank you," he answered, "I forgot. Force of habit, you know."

Here I may state that never from that moment did I see him touch another
drop of liquor, not even when I drank my modest tot in front of him.
His triumph over temptation was splendid and complete, especially as the
absence of his accustomed potations made him ill for some time and of
course depressed his spirits, with painful results that were apparent in
due course.

In fact, the man became totally changed. He grew gloomy but resourceful,
also full of patience. Only one idea obsessed him--to rescue his
daughter and avenge the murder of his people; indeed, except his sins,
he thought of and found interest in nothing else. Moreover, his iron
constitution cast off all the effects of his past debauchery and he
grew so strong that although I was pretty tough in those days, he could
out-tire me.

To return; I engaged him in conversation and with his help made a list
of what we should require on our vendetta journey, all of which served
to occupy his mind. Then I sent him to bed, saying that I would call him
before dawn, having first put a little more bromide into his third cup
of coffee. After this I turned in and notwithstanding the sight of those
remains of the cannibal feast and the knowledge of the dead men who lay
outside my window, I slept like a top.

Indeed, it was the Captain who awakened me, not I the Captain, saying
that daylight was on the break and we had better be stirring. So we went
down to the Store, where I was thankful to find that everything had been
tidied up in accordance with my directions.

On our way Robertson asked me what had become of the remains, whereon I
pointed to the smouldering ashes of one of the great fires. He went to
it and kneeling down, said a prayer in broad Scotch, doubtless one that
he had learned at his mother's knee. Then he took some of the ashes from
the edge of the pyre--for such it was--and threw them into the glowing
embers where, as he knew, lay all that was left of those who had sprung
from him. Also he tossed others of them into the air, though what he
meant by this I did not understand and never asked. Probably it was
some rite indicative of expiation or of revenge, or both, which he had
learned from the savages among whom he had lived so long.

After this we went into the Store and with the help of some of
the natives, or half-breeds, who had accompanied us on the sea-cow
expedition, selected all the goods we wanted, which we sent to the
house.

As we returned thither I saw Umslopogaas and his men engaged, with the
usual Zulu ceremonies, in burying their two companions in a hole they
had made in the hillside. I noted, however, that they did not inter
their war-axes or their throwing-spears with them as usual, probably
because they thought that these might be needed. In place of them they
put with the dead little models roughly shaped of bits of wood, which
models they "killed" by first breaking them across.

I lingered to watch the funeral and heard Goroko, the witch-doctor, make
a little speech.

"O Father and Chief of the Axe," he said, addressing Umslopogaas, who
stood silent leaning on his weapon and watching all, a portentous figure
in the morning mist, "O Father, O Son of the Heavens" (this was an
allusion to the royal blood of Umslopogaas of which the secret was well
known, although it would never have been spoken aloud in Zululand), "O
Slaughterer (Bulalio), O Woodpecker who picks at the hearts of men; O
King-Slayer; O Conqueror of the Halakazi; O Victor in a hundred fights;
O Gatherer of the Lily-bloom that faded in the hand; O Wolf-man, Captain
of the Wolves that ravened; O Slayer of Faku; O Great One whom it
pleases to seem small, because he must follow his blood to the end
appointed----"

This was the opening of the speech, the "_bonga_-ing" or giving of
Titles of Praise to the person addressed, of which I have quoted but a
sample, for there were many more of them that I have forgotten. Then the
speaker went on,

"It was told to me, though of it I remember nothing, that when my Spirit
was in me a while ago I prophesied that this place would flow with
blood, and lo! the blood has flowed, and with it that of these our
brothers," and he gave the names of the two dead Zulus, also those of
their forefathers for several generations.

"It seems, Father, that they died well, as you would have wished them
to die, and as doubtless they desired to die themselves, leaving a tale
behind them, though it is true that they might have died better, killing
more of the men-eaters, as it is certain they would have done, had they
not been sick inside. They are finished; they have gone beyond to await
us in the Under-world among the ghosts. Their story is told and soon to
their children they will be but names whispered in honour after the sun
has set. Enough of them who have showed us how to die as our fathers did
before them."

Goroko paused a while, then added with a waving of his hands,

"My Spirit comes to me again and I know that these our brothers shall
not pass unavenged. Chief of the Axe, great glory awaits the Axe, for it
shall feed full. I have spoken."

"Good words!" grunted Umslopogaas. Then he saluted the dead by raising
_Inkosikaas_ and came to me to consult about our journey.



CHAPTER VIII

PURSUIT

After all we did not get away much before noon, because first there was
a great deal to be done. To begin with the loads had to be arranged.
These consisted largely of ammunition, everything else being cut down to
an irreducible minimum. To carry them we took two donkeys there were
on the place, also half a dozen pack oxen, all of which animals were
supposed to be "salted"--that is, to have suffered and recovered from
every kind of sickness, including the bite of the deadly tsetse fly.
I suspected, it is true, that they would not be proof against further
attacks, still, I hoped that they would last for some time, as indeed
proved to be the case.

In the event of the beasts failing us, we took also ten of the best
of those Strathmuir men who had accompanied us on the sea-cow trip, to
serve as bearers when it became necessary. It cannot be said that these
snuff-and-butter fellows--for most, if not all of them had some dash of
white blood in their veins--were exactly willing volunteers. Indeed, if
a choice had been left to them, they would, I think, have declined this
adventure.

But there was no choice. Their master, Robertson, ordered them to come
and after a glance at the Zulus they concluded that the command was one
which would be enforced and that if they stopped behind, it would not
be as living men. Also some of them had lost wives or children in the
slaughter, which, if they were not very brave, filled them with a desire
for revenge. Lastly, they could all shoot after a fashion and had good
rifles; moreover if I may say so, I think that they put confidence in my
leadership. So they made the best of a bad business and got themselves
ready.

Then arrangements must be made about the carrying on of the farm and
store during our absence. These, together with my waggon and oxen, were
put in the charge of Thomaso, since there was no one else who could be
trusted at all--a very battered and crestfallen Thomaso, by the way.
When he heard of it he was much relieved, since I think he feared lest
he also should be expected to take part in the hunt of the Amahagger
man-eaters. Also it may have occurred to him that in all probability
none of us would ever come back at all, in which case by a process of
natural devolution, he might find himself the owner of the business and
much valuable property. However, he swore by sundry saints--for Thomaso
was nominally a Catholic--that he would look after everything as though
it were his own, as no doubt he hoped it might become.

"Hearken, fat pig," said Umslopogaas, Hans obligingly translating so
that there might be no mistake, "if I come back, and come back I shall
who travel with the Great Medicine--and find even one of the cattle of
the white lord, Macumazahn, Watcher-by-Night, missing, or one article
stolen from his waggon, or the fields of your master not cultivated or
his goods wasted, I swear by the Axe that I will hew you into pieces
with the axe; yes, if to do it I have to hunt you from where the sun
rises to where it sets and down the length of the night between. Do
you understand, fat pig, deserter of women and children, who to save
yourself could run faster than a buck?"

Thomaso replied that he understood very clearly indeed, and that, Heaven
helping him, all should be kept safe and sound. Still, I was sure that
in his manly heart he was promising great gifts to the saints if they
would so arrange matters that Umslopogaas and his axe were never seen at
Strathmuir again, and reflecting that after all the Amahagger had their
uses. However, as I did not trust him in the least, much against their
will, I left my driver and _voorlooper_ to guard my belongings.

At last we did get off, pursued by the fervent blessings of Thomaso and
the prayers of the others that we would avenge their murdered relatives.
We were a curious and motley procession. First went Hans, because at
following a spoor he was, I believe, almost unequalled in Africa, and
with him, Umslopogaas, and three of his Zulus to guard against surprise.
These were followed by Captain Robertson, who seemed to prefer to walk
alone and whom I thought it best to leave undisturbed. Then I came
and after me straggled the Strathmuir boys with the pack animals, the
cavalcade being closed by the remaining Zulus under the command of
Goroko. These walked last in case any of the mixed-bloods should attempt
to desert, as we thought it quite probable that they would.

Less than an hour's tramp brought us to the bush-veld where I feared
that our troubles might begin, since if the Amahagger were cunning,
they would take advantage of it to confuse or hide their spoor. As it
chanced, however, they had done nothing of the sort and a child could
have followed their march. Just before nightfall we came to their first
halting-place where they had made a fire and eaten one of the herd of
farm goats which they had driven away with them, although they left the
cattle, I suppose, because goats are docile and travel well.

Hans showed us everything that had happened; where the chair in which
Inez was carried was set down, where she and Janee had been allowed to
walk that she might stretch her stiff limbs, the dregs of some coffee
that evidently Janee had made in a saucepan, and so forth.

He even told us the exact number of the Amahagger, which he said
totalled forty-one, including the man whom Inez had wounded. His spoor
he distinguished from that of the others both by an occasional drop of
blood and because he walked lightly on his right foot, doubtless for
the reason that he wished to avoid jarring his wound, which was on that
side.

At this spot we were obliged to stay till daybreak, since it was
impossible to follow the spoor by night, a circumstance that gave the
cannibals a great advantage over us.

The next two days were repetitions of the first, but on the fourth we
passed out of the bush-veld into the swamp country that bordered the
great river. Here our task was still easy since the Amahagger had
followed one of the paths made by the river-dwellers who had their
habitations on mounds, though whether these were natural or artificial I
am not sure, and sometimes on floating islands.

On our second day in the reeds we came upon a sad sight. To our left
stood one of these mound villages, if a village it could be called,
since it consisted only of four or five huts inhabited perhaps by twenty
people. We went up to it to obtain information and stumbled across the
body of an old man lying in the pathway. A few yards further on we
found the ashes of a big fire and by it such remains as we had seen at
Strathmuir. Here there had been another cannibal feast. The miserable
huts were empty, but as at Strathmuir, had not been burnt.

We were going away when the acute ears of Hans caught the sound of
groans. We searched about and in a clump of reeds near the foot of the
mound, found an old woman with a great spear wound just above her
skinny thigh piercing deep into the vitals, but of a nature which is
not immediately mortal. One of Robertson's people who understood the
language of these swamp-dwellers well, spoke to her. She told him that
she wanted water. It was brought and she drank copiously. Then in answer
to his questions she began to talk.

She said that the Amahagger had attacked the village and killed all who
could not escape. They had eaten a young woman and three children. She
had been wounded by a spear and fled away into the place where we found
her, where none of them took the trouble to follow her as she "was not
worth eating."

By my direction the man asked her whether she knew anything of these
Amahagger. She replied that her grandfathers had, though she had heard
nothing of them since she was a child, which must have been seventy
years before. They were a fierce people who lived far up north across
the Great River, the remnants of a race that had once "ruled the world."

Her grandfathers used to say that they were not always cannibals, but
had become so long before because of a lack of food and now had acquired
the taste. It was for this purpose that they still raided to get
other people to eat, since their ruler would not allow them to eat one
another. The flesh of cattle they did not care for, although they had
plenty of them, but sometimes they ate goats and pigs because they said
they tasted like man. According to her grandfathers they were a very
evil people and full of magic.

All of this the old woman told us quite briskly after she had drunk the
water, I think because her wound had mortified and she felt no pain. Her
information, however, as is common with the aged, dealt entirely with
the far past; of the history of the Amahagger since the days of her
forebears she knew nothing, nor had she seen anything of Inez. All she
could tell us was that some of them had attacked her village at dawn and
that when she ran out of the hut she was speared.

While Robertson and I were wondering what we should do with the poor old
creature whom it seemed cruel to leave here to perish, she cleared up
the question by suddenly expiring before our eyes. Uttering the name of
someone with whom, doubtless, she had been familiar in her youth, three
or four times over, she just sank down and seemed to go to sleep and on
examination we found that she was dead. So we left her and went on.

Next day we came to the edge of the Great River, here a sheet of placid
running water about a mile across, for at this time of the year it was
low. Perceiving quite a big village on our left, we went to it and
made enquiries, to find that it had not been attacked by the cannibals,
probably because it was too powerful, but that three nights before some
of their canoes had been stolen, in which no doubt these had crossed the
river.

As the people of this village had traded with Robertson at Strathmuir,
we had no difficulty in obtaining other canoes from them in which to
cross the Zambesi in return for one of our oxen that I could see was
already sickening from tsetse bite. These canoes were large enough to
take the donkeys that were patient creatures and stood still, but the
cattle we could not get into them for fear of an upset. So we killed
the two driven beasts that were left to us and took them with us as
dead meat for food, while the three remaining pack oxen we tried to swim
across, dragging them after the canoes with hide _reims_ round their
horns. As a result two were drowned, but one, a bold-hearted and
enterprising animal, gained the other bank.

Here again we struck a sea of reeds in which, after casting about, Hans
once more found the spoor of the Amahagger. That it was theirs beyond
doubt was proved by the circumstance that on a thorny kind of weed we
found a fragment of a cotton dress which, because of the pattern stamped
on it, we all recognised as one that Inez had been wearing. At first I
thought that this had been torn off by the thorns, but on examination
we became certain that it had been placed there purposely, probably
by Janee, to give us a clue. This conclusion was confirmed when at
subsequent periods of the hunt we found other fragments of the same
garment.

Now it would be useless for me to set out the details of this prolonged
and arduous chase which in all endured for something over three weeks.
Again and again we lost the trail and were only able to recover it by
long and elaborate search, which occupied much time. Then, after we
escaped from the reeds and swamps, we found ourselves upon stony
uplands where the spoor was almost impossible to follow, indeed, we only
rediscovered it by stumbling across the dead body of that cannibal whom
Inez had wounded. Evidently he had perished from his hurt, which I could
see had mortified. From the state of his remains we gathered that the
raiders must be about two days' march ahead of us.

Striking their spoor again on softer ground where the impress of their
feet remained--at any rate to the cunning sight of Hans--we followed
them down across great valleys wherein trees grew sparsely, which
valleys were separated from each other by ridges of high and barren
land. On these belts of rocky soil our difficulties were great, but here
twice we were put on the right track by more fragments torn from the
dress of Inez.

At length we lost the spoor altogether; not a sign of it was to be
found. We had no idea which way to go. All about us appeared these
valleys covered with scattered bush running this way and that, so that
we could not tell which of them to follow or to cross. The thing seemed
hopeless, for how could we expect to find a little body of men in
that immensity? Hans shook his head and even the fierce and steadfast
Robertson was discouraged.

"I fear my poor lassie is gone," he said, and relapsed into brooding as
had become his wont.

"Never say die! It's dogged as does it!" I replied cheerfully in the
words of Nelson, who also had learned what it meant to hunt an enemy
over trackless wastes, although his were of water.

I walked to the top of the rise where we were encamped, and sat down
alone to think matters over. Our condition was somewhat parlous; all
our beasts were now dead, even the second donkey, which was the last of
them, having perished that morning, and been eaten, for food was scanty
since of late we had met with little game. The Strathmuir men, who now
must carry the loads, were almost worn out and doubtless would have
deserted, except for the fact that there was no place to which they
could go. Even the Zulus were discouraged, and said they had come
away from home across the Great River to fight, not to run about in
wildernesses and starve, though Umslopogaas made no complaint, being
buoyed up by the promise of his soothsayer, Goroko, that battle was
ahead of him in which he would win great glory.

Hans, however, remained cheerful, for the reason, as he remarked
vacuously, that the Great Medicine was with us and that therefore,
however bad things seemed to be, all in fact was well; an argument that
carried no conviction to my soul.

It was on a certain evening towards sunset that I went away thus alone.
I looked about me, east and west and north. Everywhere appeared the
same bush-clad valleys and barren rises, miles upon miles of them. I
bethought me of the map that old Zikali had drawn in the ashes, and
remembered that it showed these valleys and rises and that beyond them
there should be a great swamp, and beyond the swamp a mountain. So it
seemed that we were on the right road to the home of his white Queen,
if such a person existed, or at any rate we were passing over country
similar to that which he had pictured or imagined.

But at this time I was not troubling my head about white queens. I was
thinking of poor Inez. That she was alive a few days before we knew from
the fragments of her dress. But where was she now? The spoor was utterly
lost on that stony ground, or if any traces of it remained a heavy
deluge of rain had washed them away. Even Hans had confessed himself
beaten.

I stared about me helplessly, and as I did so a flying ray of light
from the setting sun reflected downwards from a storm-cloud, fell upon a
white patch on the crest of one of the distant land-waves. It struck me
that probably limestone outcropped at this spot, as indeed proved to be
the case; also that such a patch of white would be a convenient guide
for any who were travelling across that sea of bush. Further, some
instinct within seemed to impel me to steer for it, although I had all
but made up my mind to go in a totally different direction many more
points to the east. It was almost as though a voice were calling to me
to take this path and no other. Doubtless this was an effect produced
by weariness and mental overstrain. Still, there it was, very real and
tangible, one that I did not attempt to combat.

So next morning at the dawn I headed north by west, laying my course for
that white patch and for the first time breaking the straight line of
our advance. Captain Robertson, whose temper had not been bettered
by prolonged and frightful anxiety, or I may add, by his unaccustomed
abstinence, asked me rather roughly why I was altering the course.

"Look here, Captain," I answered, "if we were at sea and you did
something of the sort, I should not put such a question to you, and if
by any chance I did, I should not expect you to answer. Well, by your
own wish I am in command here and I think that the same argument holds."

"Yes," he replied. "I suppose you have studied your chart, if there
is any of this God-forsaken country, and at any rate discipline is
discipline. So steam ahead and don't mind me."

The others accepted my decision without comment; most of them were so
miserable that they did not care which way we went, also they were good
enough to repose confidence in my judgment.

"Doubtless the Baas has reasons," said Hans dubiously, "although the
spoor, when last we saw it, headed towards the rising sun and as the
country is all the same, I do not see why those man-eaters should have
returned."

"Yes," I said, "I have reasons," although in fact I had none at all.

Hans surveyed me with a watery eye as though waiting for me to explain
them, but I looked haughty and declined to oblige.

"The Baas has reasons," continued Hans, "for taking us on what I think
to be the wrong side of that great ridge, there to hunt for the spoor of
the men-eaters, and they are so deep down in his mind that he cannot
dig them up for poor old Hans to look at. Well, the Baas wears the Great
Medicine and perhaps it is there that the reasons sit. Those Strathmuir
fellows say that they can go no further and wish to die. Umslopogaas
has just gone to them with his axe to tell them that he is ready to help
them to their wish. Look, he has got there, for they are coming quickly,
who after all prefer to live."

Well, we started for my white patch of stones which no one else had
noticed and of which I said nothing to anyone, and reached it by the
following evening, to find, as I expected, that it was a lime outcrop.

By now we were in a poor way, for we had practically nothing left to
eat, which did not tend to raise the spirits of the party. Also that
lime outcrop proved to be an uninteresting spot overlooking a wide
valley which seemed to suggest that there were other valleys of a
similar sort beyond it, and nothing more.

Captain Robertson sat stern-faced and despondent at a distance muttering
into his beard, as had become a habit with him. Umslopogaas leaned upon
his axe and contemplated the heavens, also occasionally the Strathmuir
men who cowered beneath his eye. The Zulus squatted about sharing such
snuff as remained to them in economic pinches. Goroko, the witch-doctor,
engaged himself in consulting his "Spirit," by means of bone-throwing,
upon the humble subject of whether or no we should succeed in killing
any game for food to-morrow, a point on which I gathered that his
"Spirit" was quite uncertain. In short, the gloom was deep and universal
and the sky looked as though it were going to rain.

Hans became sarcastic. Sneaking up to me in his most aggravating way,
like a dog that means to steal something and cover up the theft with
simulated affection, he pointed out one by one all the disadvantages of
our present position. He indicated _per contra_, that if _his_ advice
had been followed, his conviction was that even if we had not found the
man-eaters and rescued the lady called Sad-Eyes, our state would have
been quite different. He was sure, he added, that the valley which he
had suggested we should follow, was one full of game, inasmuch as he had
seen their spoor at its entrance.

"Then why did you not say so?" I asked.

Hans sucked at his empty corn-cob pipe, which was his way of indicating
that he would like me to give him some tobacco, much as a dog groans
heavily under the table when he wants a bit to eat, and answered that it
was not for him to point out things to one who knew everything, like the
great Macumazahn, Watcher-by-Night, his honoured master. Still, the luck
did seem to have gone a bit wrong. The privations could have been put up
with (here he sucked very loudly at the empty pipe and looked at mine,
which was alight), everything could have been put up with, if only there
had been a chance of coming even with those men-eaters and rescuing the
Lady Sad-Eyes, whose face haunted his sleep. As it was, however, he
was convinced that by following the course I had mapped out we had lost
their spoor finally and that probably they were now three days' march
away in another direction. Still, the Baas had said that he had his
reasons, and that of course was enough for him, Hans, only if the Baas
would condescend to tell him, he would as a matter of curiosity like to
know what the reasons were.

At that moment I confess that, much as I was attached to him, I should
have liked to murder Hans, who, I felt, believing that he had me "on
toast," to use a vulgar phrase, was taking advantage of my position to
make a mock of me in his sly, Hottentot way.

I tried to continue to look grand, but felt that the attitude did
not impress. Then I stared about me as though taking counsel with the
Heavens, devoutly hoping that the Heavens would respond to my mute
appeal. As a matter of fact they did.

"There is my reason, Hans," I said in my most icy voice, and I pointed
to a faint line of smoke rising against the twilight sky on the further
side of the intervening valley.

"You will perceive, Hans," I added, "that those Amahagger cannibals have
forgotten their caution and lit a fire yonder, which they have not done
for a long time. Perhaps you would like to know why this has happened.
If so I will tell you. It is because for some days past I have purposely
lost their spoor, which they knew we were following, and lit fires to
puzzle them. Now, thinking that they have done with us, they have become
incautious and shown us where they are. That is my reason, Hans."

He heard and, although of course he did not believe that I had lost the
spoor on purpose, stared at me till I thought his little eyes were going
to drop out of his head. But even in his admiration he contrived to
convey an insult as only a native can.

"How wonderful is the Great Medicine of the Opener-of-Roads, that it
should have been able thus to instruct the Baas," he said. "Without
doubt the Great Medicine is right and yonder those men-eaters are
encamped, who might just as well as have been anywhere else within a
hundred miles."

"Drat the Great Medicine," I replied, but beneath my breath, then added
aloud,

"Be so good, Hans, as to go to Umslopogaas and to tell him that
Macumazahn, or the Great Medicine, proposes to march at once to attack
the camp of the Amahagger, and--here is some tobacco."

"Yes, Baas," answered Hans humbly, as he snatched the tobacco and
wriggled away like a worm.

Then I went to talk with Robertson.

The end of it was that within an hour we were creeping across that
valley towards the spot where I had seen the line of smoke rising
against the twilight sky.

Somewhere about midnight we reached the neighbourhood of this place. How
near or how far we were from it, we could not tell since the moon was
invisible, as of course the smoke was in the dark. Now the question was,
what should we do?

Obviously there would be enormous advantages in a night attack, or at
least in locating the enemy, so that it might be carried out at dawn
before he marched. Especially was this so, since we were scarcely in a
condition even if we could come face to face with them, to fight these
savages when they were prepared and in the light of day. Only we two
white men, with Hans, Umslopogaas and his Zulus, could be relied upon
in such a case, since the Strathmuir mixed-bloods had become entirely
demoralised and were not to be trusted at a pinch. Indeed, tired and
half starving as we were, none of us was at his best. Therefore a
surprise seemed our only chance. But first we must find those whom we
wished to surprise.

Ultimately, after a hurried consultation, it was agreed that Hans and
I should go forward and see if we could locate the Amahagger. Robertson
wished to come too, but I pointed out that he must remain to look after
his people, who, if he left them, might take the opportunity to melt
away in the darkness, especially as they knew that heavy fighting was
at hand. Also if anything happened to me it was desirable that one white
man should remain to lead the party. Umslopogaas, too, volunteered, but
knowing his character, I declined his help. To tell the truth, I was
almost certain that if we came upon the men-eaters, he would charge the
whole lot of them and accomplish a fine but futile end after hacking
down a number of cannibal barbarians, whose extinction or escape
remained absolutely immaterial to our purpose, namely, the rescue of
Inez.

So it came about that Hans and I started alone, I not at all enjoying
the job. I suppose that there lurks in my nature some of that primeval
terror of the dark, which must continually have haunted our remote
forefathers of a hundred or a thousand generations gone and still
lingers in the blood of most of us. At any rate even if I am named the
Watcher-by-Night, greatly do I prefer to fight or to face peril in the
sunlight, though it is true that I would rather avoid both at any time.

In fact, I wished heartily that the Amahagger were at the other side
of Africa, or in heaven, and that I, completely ignorant of the person
called Inez Robertson, were seated smoking the pipe of peace on my own
stoep in Durban. I think that Hans guessed my state of mind, since
he suggested that he should go alone, adding with his usual unveiled
rudeness, that he was quite certain that he would do much better without
me, since white men always made a noise.

"Yes," I replied, determined to give him a Roland for his Oliver, "I
have no doubt you would--under the first bush you came across, where you
would sleep till dawn, and then return and say that you could not find
the Amahagger."

Hans chuckled, quite appreciating the joke, and having thus mutually
affronted each other, we started on our quest.



CHAPTER IX

THE SWAMP

Neither Hans nor I carried rifles that we knew would be in the way on
our business, which was just to scout. Moreover, one is always tempted
to shoot if a gun is at hand, and this I did not want to do at present.
So, although I had my revolver in case of urgent necessity, my only
other weapon was a Zulu axe, that formerly had belonged to one of those
two men who died defending Inez on the veranda at Strathmuir, while Hans
had nothing but his long knife. Thus armed, or unarmed, we crept forward
towards that spot whence, as we conjectured, we had seen the line of
smoke rising some hours before.

For about a quarter of a mile we went on thus without seeing or hearing
anything, and a difficult job it was in that gloom among the scattered
trees with no light save such as the stars gave us. Indeed, I was about
to suggest that we had better abandon the enterprise until daybreak when
Hans nudged me, whispering,

"Look to the right between those twin thorns."

I obeyed and following the line of sight which he had indicated,
perceived, at a distance of about two hundred yards a faint glow, so
faint indeed that I think only Hans would have noticed it. Really it
might have been nothing more than the phosphorescence rising from a heap
of fungus, or even from a decaying animal.

"The fire of which we saw the smoke that has burnt to ashes," whispered
Hans again. "I think that they have gone, but let us look."

So we crawled forward very cautiously to avoid making the slightest
noise; so cautiously, indeed, that it must have taken us nearly half an
hour to cover those two hundred yards.

At length we were within about forty yards of that dying fire and,
afraid to go further, came to a stand--or rather, a lie-still--behind
some bushes until we knew more. Hans lifted his head and sniffed with
his broad nostrils; then he whispered into my ear, but so low that I
could scarcely hear him.

"Amahagger there all right, Baas, I smell them."

This of course was possible, since what wind there was blew from the
direction of the fire, although I whose nose is fairly keen could smell
nothing at all. So I determined to wait and watch a while, and indicated
my decision to Hans, who, considering our purpose accomplished, showed
signs of wishing to retreat.

Some minutes we lay thus, till of a sudden this happened. A branch of
resinous wood of which the stem had been eaten through by the flames,
fell upon the ashes of the fire and burnt up with a brilliant light. In
it we saw that the Amahagger were sleeping in a circle round the fire
wrapped in their blankets.

Also we saw another thing, namely that nearer to us, not more than a
dozen yards away, indeed, was a kind of little tent, also made of fur
rugs or blankets, which doubtless sheltered Inez. Indeed, this was
evident from the fact that at the mouth of it, wrapped up in something,
lay none other than her maid, Janee, for her face being towards us, was
recognised by us both in the flare of the flaming branch. One more thing
we noted, namely, that two of the cannibals, evidently a guard, were
sleeping between us and the little tent. Of course they ought to have
been awake, but fatigue had overcome them and there they slumbered,
seated on the ground, their heads hanging forward almost upon their
knees.

An idea came to me. If we could kill those men without waking the others
in that gloom, it might be possible to rescue Inez at once. Rapidly I
weighed the _pros_ and _cons_ of such an attempt. Its advantages, if
successful, were that the object of our pursuit would be carried through
without further trouble and that it was most doubtful whether we should
ever get such a chance again. If we returned to fetch the others and
attacked in force, the probability was that those Amahagger, or one of
them, would hear some sound made by the advance of a number of men, and
fly into the darkness; or, rather than lose Inez, they might kill her.
Or if they stood and fought, she might be slain in the scrimmage. Or,
as after all we had only about a dozen effectives, for the Strathmuir
bearers could not be relied upon, they might defeat and kill us whom
they outnumbered by two or three to one.

These were the arguments for the attempt. Those for not making it were
equally obvious. To begin with it was one of extraordinary risk; the two
guards or someone else behind them might wake up--for such people, like
dogs, mostly sleep with one eye open, especially when they knew that
they are being pursued. Or if they did not we might bungle the business
so that they raised an outcry before they grew silent for ever, in which
case both of us and perhaps Inez also would probably pay the penalty
before we could get away.

Such was the horned dilemma upon one point or other of which we ran the
risk of being impaled. For a full minute or more I considered the matter
with an earnestness almost amounting to mental agony, and at last all
but came to the conclusion that the danger was too enormous. It would be
better, notwithstanding the many disadvantages of that plan, to go back
and fetch the others.

But then it was that I made one of my many mistakes in life. Most of
us do more foolish things than wise ones and sometimes I think that
in spite of a certain reputation for caution and far-sightedness, I am
exceptionally cursed in this respect. Indeed, when I look back upon my
past, I can scarcely see the scanty flowers of wisdom that decorate
its path because of the fat, ugly trees of error by which it is
overshadowed.

On that occasion, forgetting past experiences where Hans was concerned,
my natural tendency to blunder took the form of relying upon another's
judgment instead of on my own. Although I had formed a certain view as
to what should be done, the _pros_ and _cons_ seemed so evenly balanced
that I determined to consult the little Hottentot and accept his
verdict. This, after all, was but a form of gambling like pitch and
toss, since, although it is true Hans was a clever, or at any rate a
cunning man according to his lights, and experienced, it meant that
I was placing my own judgment in abeyance, which no one considering
a life-and-death enterprise should do, taking the chance of that of
another, whatever it might be. However, not for the first time, I did
so--to my grief.

In the tiniest of whispers with my lips right against his smelly head, I
submitted the problem to Hans, asking him what we should do, go on or go
back. He considered a while, then answered in a voice which he contrived
to make like the drone of a night beetle.

"Those men are fast asleep, I know it by their breathing. Also the Baas
has the Great Medicine. Therefore I say go on, kill them and rescue
Sad-Eyes."

Now I saw that the Fates to which I had appealed had decided against me
and that I must accept their decree. With a sick and sinking heart--for
I did not at all like the business--I wondered for a moment what had
led Hans to take this view, which was directly opposite to any I had
expected from him. Of course his superstition about the Great Medicine
had something to do with it, but I felt convinced that this was not all.

Even then I guessed that two arguments appealed to him, of which
the first was that he desired, if possible, to put an end to this
intolerable and unceasing hunt which had worn us all out, no matter
what that end might be. The second and more powerful, however, was, I
believed, and rightly, that the idea of this stealthy, midnight blow
appealed irresistibly to the craft of his half-wild nature in which the
strains of the leopard and the snake seemed to mingle with that of the
human being. For be it remembered that notwithstanding his veneer of
civilisation, Hans was a savage whose forefathers for countless ages had
preserved themselves alive by means of such attacks and stratagems.

The die having been cast, in the same infinitesimal whispers we made our
arrangements, which were few and simple. They amounted to this--that
we were to creep on to the men and each of us to kill that one who was
opposite to him, I with the axe and Hans with his knife, remembering
that it must be done with a single stroke--that is, if they did not
wake up and kill us--after which we were to get Inez out of her shelter,
dressed or undressed, and make off with her into the darkness where we
were pretty sure of being able to baffle pursuit until we reached our
own camp.

Provided that we could kill the two guards in the proper fashion--rather
a large proviso, I admit--the thing was simple as shelling peas which,
notwithstanding the proverb, in my experience is not simple at all,
since generally the shells crack the wrong way and at least one of the
peas remained in the pod. So it happened in this case, for Janee, whom
we had both forgotten, remained in the pod.

I am sure I don't know why we overlooked her; indeed, the error was
inexcusable, especially as Hans had already experienced her foolishness
and she was lying there before our eyes. I suppose that our minds were
so concentrated upon the guard-killing and the tragic and impressive
Inez that there was no room in them for the stolid and matter-of-fact
Janee. At any rate she proved to be the pea that would not come out of
the pod.

Often in my life I have felt terrified, not being by nature one of those
who rejoices in dangers and wild adventures for their own sake, which
only the stupid do, but who has, on the contrary, been forced to
undertake them by the pressure of circumstances, a kind of hydraulic
force that no one can resist, and who, having undertaken, has been
carried through them, triumphing over the shrinkings of his flesh by
some secret reserve of nerve power. Almost am I tempted to call it
spirit-power, something that lives beyond and yet inspires our frail and
fallible bodies.

Well, rarely have I been more frightened than I was at this moment.
Actually I hung back until I saw that Hans slithering through the grass
like a thick yellow snake with the great knife in his right hand,
was quite a foot ahead of me. Then my pride came to the rescue and I
spurted, if one can spurt upon one's stomach, and drew level with him.
After this we went at a pace so slow that any able-bodied snail would
have left us standing still. Inch by inch we crept forward, lying
motionless a while after each convulsive movement, once for quite a
long time, since the left-hand cannibal seemed about to wake up, for he
opened his mouth and yawned. If so, he changed his mind and rolling from
a sitting posture on to his side, went to sleep much more soundly than
before.

A minute or so later the right-hand ruffian, my man, also stirred, so
sharply that I thought he had heard something. Apparently, however, he
was only haunted by dreams resulting from an evil life, or perhaps
by the prescience of its end, for after waving his arm and muttering
something in a frightened voice, he too, wearied out, poor devil, sank
back into sleep.

At last we were on them, but paused because we could not see exactly
where to strike and knew, each of us, that our first blow must be the
last and fatal. A cloud had come up and dimmed what light there was, and
we must wait for it to pass. It was a long wait, or so it seemed.

At length that cloud did pass and in faint outline I saw the classical
head of my Amahagger bowed in deep sleep. With a heart beating as it
does only in the fierce extremities of love or war, I hissed like a
snake, which was our agreed signal. Then rising to my knees, I lifted
the Zulu axe and struck with all my strength.

The blow was straight and true; Umslopogaas himself could not have
dealt a better. The victim in front of me uttered no sound and made
no movement; only sank gently on to his side, and there lay as dead as
though he had never been born.

It appeared that Hans had done equally well, since the other man kicked
out his long legs, which struck me on the knees. Then he also became
strangely still. In short, both of them were stone dead and would tell
no stories this side of Judgment Day.

Recovering my axe, which had been wrenched from my hand, I crept forward
and opened the curtain-like rugs or blankets, I do not know which they
were, that covered Inez. I heard her stir at once. The movement had
wakened her, since captives sleep lightly.

"Make no noise, Inez," I whispered. "It is I, Allan Quatermain, come to
rescue you. Slip out and follow me; do you understand?"

"Yes, quite," she whispered back and began to rise.

At this moment a blood-curdling yell seemed to fill earth and heaven, a
yell at the memory of which even now I feel faint, although I am writing
years after its echoes died away.

I may as well say at once that it came from Janee who, awaking suddenly,
had perceived against the background of the sky, Hans standing over her,
looking like a yellow devil with a long knife in his hand, which she
thought was about to be used to murder her.

So, lacking self-restraint, she screamed in the most lusty fashion, for
her lungs were excellent, and--the game was up.

Instantly every man sleeping round the fire leapt to his feet and rushed
in the direction of the echoes of Janee's yell. It was impossible to get
Inez free of her tent arrangement or to do anything, except whisper to
her,

"Feign sleep and know nothing. We will follow you. Your father is with
us."

Then I bolted back into the bushes, which Hans had reached already.

A minute or two later when we were clear of the hubbub and nearing our
own camp, Hans remarked to me sententiously,

"The Great Medicine worked well, Baas, but not quite well enough, for
what medicine can avail against a woman's folly?"

"It was our own folly we should blame," I answered. "We ought to have
known that fool-girl would shriek, and taken precautions."

"Yes, Baas, we ought to have killed her too, for nothing else would have
kept her quiet," replied Hans in cheerful assent. "Now we shall have to
pay for our mistake, for the hunt must go on."

At this moment we stumbled across Robertson and Umslopogaas who, with
the others, and every living thing within a mile or two had also heard
Janee's yell, and briefly told our story. When he learned how near we
had been to rescuing his daughter, Robertson groaned, but Umslopogaas
only said,

"Well, there are two less of the men-eaters left to deal with. Still,
for once your wisdom failed you, Macumazahn. When you had found the camp
you should have returned, so that we might all attack it together. Had
we done so, before the dawn there would not have been one of them left."

"Yes," I answered, "I think that my wisdom did fail me, if I have any to
fail. But come; perhaps we may catch them yet."

So we advanced, Hans and I showing the road. But when we reached the
place it was too late, for all that remained of the Amahagger, or of
Inez and Janee, were the two dead men whom we had killed, and in that
darkness pursuit was impossible. So we went back to our own camp to rest
and await the dawn before taking up the trail, only to find ourselves
confronted with a new trouble. All the Strathmuir half-breeds whom we
had left behind as useless, had taken advantage of our absence and that
of the Zulus, to desert. They had just bolted back upon our tracks and
vanished into the sea of bush. What became of them I do not know, as we
never saw them again, but my belief is that these cowardly fellows all
perished, for certainly not one of them reached Strathmuir.

Fortunately for us, however, they departed in such a hurry that they
left all their loads behind them, and even some of the guns they
carried. Evidently Janee's yell was the last straw which broke the back
of such nerve as remained to them. Doubtless they believed it to be the
signal of attack by hordes of cannibals.

As there was nothing to said or done, since any pursuit of these curs
was out of the question, we made the best of things as they were. It
proved a simple business. From the loads we selected such articles as
were essential, ammunition for the most part, to carry ourselves--and
the rest we abandoned, hiding it under a pile of stones in case we
should ever come that way again.

The guns they had thrown aside we distributed among the Zulus who had
none, though the thought that they possessed them, so far as I was
concerned, added another terror to life. The prospect of going into
battle with those wild axemen letting off bullets in every direction was
not pleasant, but fortunately when that crisis came, they cast them away
and reverted to the weapons to which they were accustomed.

Now all this sounds much like a tale of disaster, or at any rate of
failure. It is, however, wonderful by what strange ways good results
are brought about, so much so that at times I think that these seeming
accidents must be arranged by an Intelligence superior to our own, to
fulfil through us purposes of which we know nothing, and frequently,
be it admitted, of a nature sufficiently obscure. Of course this is a
fatalistic doctrine, but then, as I have said before, within certain
limits I am a fatalist.

To take the present case, for instance, the whole Inez episode at first
sight might appear to be an excrescence on my narrative, of which the
object is to describe how I met a certain very wonderful woman and what
I heard and experienced in her company. Yet it is not really so, since
had it not been for the Inez adventure, it is quite clear that I should
never have reached the home of this woman, if woman she were, or have
seen her at all. Before long this became very obvious to me, as shall be
told.

From the night upon which Hans and I failed to rescue Inez we had
no more difficulty in following the trail of the cannibals, who
thenceforward were never more than a few hours ahead of us and had no
time to be careful or to attempt to hide their spoor. Yet so fast did
they travel that do what we would, burdened and wearied as we were, it
proved impossible to overtake them.

For the first three days the track ran on through scattered, rolling
bush-veld of the character that I have described, but tending
continually down hill. When we broke camp on the morning of the fourth
day, eating a hasty meal at dawn (for now game had become astonishingly
plentiful, so that we did not lack food) the rising sun showed beneath
us an endless sea of billowy mist stretching in every direction far as
the sight could carry.

To the north, however, it did come to an end, for there, as I judged
fifty or sixty miles away, rose the grim outline of what looked like a
huge fortress, which I knew must be one of those extraordinary mountain
formations, probably owing their origin to volcanic action, that are to
be met with here and there in the vast expanses of Central and Eastern
Africa. Being so distant it was impossible to estimate its size, which
I guessed must be enormous, but in looking at it I bethought me of that
great mountain in which Zikali said the marvellous white Queen lived,
and wondered whether it could be the same, as from my memory of his map
upon the ashes, it well might be, that is, if such a place existed
at all. If so the map had shown it as surrounded by swamps and--well,
surely that mist hid the face of a mighty swamp?

It did indeed, since before nightfall, following the spoor of those
Amahagger, we had plunged into a morass so vast that in all my
experience I have never seen or heard of its like. It was a veritable
ocean of papyrus and other reeds, some of them a dozen or more feet
high, so that it was impossible to see a yard in any direction.

Here it was that the Amahagger ahead of us proved our salvation, since
without them to guide us we must soon have perished. For through that
gigantic swamp there ran a road, as I think an ancient road, since in
one or two places I saw stone work which must have been laid by man. Yet
it was not a road which it would have been possible to follow without
a guide, seeing that it also was overgrown with reeds. Indeed, the only
difference between it and the surrounding swamp was that on the road
the soil was comparatively firm, that is to say, one seldom sank into
it above the knee, whereas on either side of it quagmires were often
apparently bottomless, and what is more, partook of the nature of
quicksand.

This we found out soon after we entered the swamp, since Robertson,
pushing forward with the fierce eagerness which seemed to consume him,
neglected to keep his eye upon the spoor and stepped off the edge on to
land that appeared to be exactly similar to its surface. Instantly he
began to sink in greasy and tenacious mud. Umslopogaas and I were only
twenty yards behind, yet by the time we reached him in answer to his
shouts, already he was engulfed up to his middle and going down so
rapidly that in another minute he would have vanished altogether. Well,
we got him out but not with ease, for that mud clung to him like the
tentacles of an octopus. After this we were more careful.

Nor did this road run straight; on the contrary, it curved about and
sometimes turned at right angles, doubtless to avoid a piece of swamp
over which it had proved impossible for the ancients to construct a
causeway, or to follow some out-crop of harder soil beneath.

The difficulties of that horrible place are beyond description, and
indeed can scarcely be imagined. First there was that of a kind of grass
which grew among the roots of the reeds and had edges like to those of
knives. As Robertson and I wore gaiters we did not suffer so much from
it, but the poor Zulus with their bare legs were terribly cut about and
in some cases lame.

Then there were the mosquitoes which lived here by the million and all
seemed anxious for a bite; also snakes of a peculiarly deadly kind were
numerous. A Zulu was bitten by one of them of so poisonous a nature that
he died within three minutes, for the venom seemed to go straight to his
heart. We threw his body into the swamp, where it vanished at once.

Lastly there was the all-pervading stench and the intolerable heat of
the place, since no breath of air could penetrate that forest of
reeds, while a minor trouble was that of the multitude of leeches
which fastened on to our bodies. By looking one could see the creatures
sitting on the under side of leaves with their heads stretched out
waiting to attack anything that went by. As wayfarers there could not
have been numerous, I wondered what they had lived on for the last few
thousand years. By the way, I found that paraffin, of which we had a
small supply for our hand-lamps, rubbed over all exposed surfaces, was
to some extent a protection against these blood-sucking worms and the
gnats, although it did make one go about smelling like a dirty oil tin.

During the day, except for the occasional rush of some great iguana
or other reptile, and the sound of the wings of the flocks of wildfowl
passing over us from time to time, the march was deathly silent. But at
night it was different, for then the bull-frogs boomed incessantly, as
did the bitterns, while great swamp owls and other night-flying birds
uttered their weird cries. Also there were mysterious sucking noises
caused, no doubt, by the sinking of areas of swamp, with those of
bursting bubbles of foul, up-rushing gas.

Strange lights, too, played about, will-o'-the-wisps or St. Elmo fires,
as I believe they are called, that frightened the Zulus very much, since
they believed them to be spirits of the dead. Perhaps this superstition
had something to do with their native legend that mankind was "torn out
of the reeds." If so, they may have imagined that the ghosts of men went
back to the reeds, of which there were enough here to accommodate those
of the entire Zulu nation. Any way they were much scared; even the bold
witch-doctor, Goroko, was scared and went through incantations with the
little bag of medicines he carried to secure protection for himself and
his companions. Indeed, I think even the iron Umslopogaas himself was
not as comfortable as he might have been, although he did inform me that
he had come out to fight and did not care whether it were with man, or
wizard, or spirit.

In short, of all the journeys that I have made, with the exception of
the passage of the desert on our way to King Solomon's Mines, I think
that through this enormous swamp was the most miserable. Heartily did I
curse myself for ever having undertaken such a quest in a wild attempt
to allay that sickness, or rather to quench that thirst of the soul
which, I imagine, at times assails most of those who have hearts and
think or dream.

For this was at the bottom of the business: this it was which had
delivered me into the hands of Zikali, Opener-of-Roads, who, as now I
am sure, was merely making use of me for his private occult purposes. He
desired to consult the distant Oracle, if such a person existed, as to
great schemes of his own, and therefore, to attain his end, made use
of my secret longings which I had been so foolish as to reveal to him,
quite careless of what happened to me in the process. [A bit narrow and
uncharitable, this view. It seems to me that Zikali is taking a big risk
in giving him the Great Medicine.--JB]

Well, I was in for the business and must follow it to the finish
whatever that might be. After all it was very interesting and if
there were anything in what Zikali said (if there were not I could not
conceive what object he had in sending me on such a wild-goose chase
through this home of geese and ducks), it might become more interesting
still. For being pretty well fever-proof I did not think I should die
in that morass, as of course nine white men out of ten would have done,
and, beyond it lay the huge mountain which day by day grew larger and
clearer.

Nor did Hans, who, with a childlike trust, pinned his faith to the Great
Medicine. This, he remarked, was the worst veld through which he had
ever travelled, but as the Great Medicine would never consent to be
buried in that stinking mud, he had no doubt that we should come safely
through it some time. I replied that this wonderful medicine of his had
not saved one of our companions who had now made a grave in the same
mud.

"No, Baas," he said, "but those Zulus have nothing to do with the
Medicine which was given to you, and to me who accompanied you when we
saw the Opener-of-Roads. Therefore perhaps they will all die, except
Umslopogaas, whom you were told to take with you. If so, what does
it matter, since there are plenty of Zulus, although there be but one
Macumazahn or one Hans? Also the Baas may remember that he began by
offending a snake and therefore it is quite natural that this snake's
brother should have bitten the Zulu."

"If you are right, he should have bitten me, Hans."

"Yes, Baas, and so no doubt he would have done had you not been
protected by the Great Medicine, and me too had not my grandfather been
a snake-charmer, to say nothing of the smell of the Medicine being on me
as well. The snakes know those that they should bite, Baas."

"So do the mosquitoes," I answered, grabbing a handful of them. "The
Great Medicine has no effect upon them."

"Oh! yes, Baas, it has, since though it pleases them to bite, the bites
do us no harm, or at least not much, and all are made happy. Still,
I wish we could get out of these reeds of which I never want to see
another, and Baas, please keep your rifle ready for I think I hear a
crocodile stirring there."

"No need, Hans," I remarked sarcastically. "Go and tell him that I have
the Great Medicine."

"Yes, Baas, I will; also that if he is very hungry, there are some Zulus
camped a few yards further down the road," and he went solemnly to the
reeds a little way off and began to talk to them.

"You infernal donkey!" I murmured, and drew my blanket over my head in
a vain attempt to keep out the mosquitoes and smoking furiously with the
same object, tried to get to sleep.



At last the swamp bottom began to slope upwards a little, with the
result that as the land dried through natural drainage, the reeds grew
thinner by degrees, until finally they ceased and we found ourselves on
firmer ground; indeed, upon the lowest slopes of the great mountain that
I have mentioned, that now towered above us, forbidden and majestic.

I had made a little map in my pocket-book of the various twists and
turns of the road through that vast Slough of Despond, marking them from
hour to hour as we followed its devious wanderings. On studying this
at the end of that part of our journey I realised afresh how utterly
impossible it would have been for us to thread that misty maze where a
few false steps would always have meant death by suffocation, had it not
been for the spoor of those Amahagger travelling immediately ahead of us
who were acquainted with its secrets. Had they been friendly guides they
could not have done us a better turn.

What I wondered was why they had not tried to ambush us in the reeds,
since our fires must have shown them that we were close upon their
heels. That they did try to burn us out was clear from certain evidences
that I found, but fortunately at this season of the year in the absence
of a strong wind the rank reeds were too green to catch fire. For the
rest I was soon to learn the reason of their neglect to attack us in
that dense cover.

They were waiting for a better opportunity!



CHAPTER X

THE ATTACK

We won out of the reeds at last, for which I fervently thanked God,
since to have crossed that endless marsh unguided, with the loss of only
one man, seemed little less than miraculous. We emerged from them late
in the afternoon and being wearied out, stopped for a while to rest and
eat of the flesh of a buck that I had been fortunate enough to shoot
upon their fringe. Then we pushed forward up the slope, proposing to
camp for the night on the crest of it a mile or so away where I thought
we should escape from the deadly mist in which we had been enveloped for
so long, and obtain a clear view of the country ahead.

Following the bank of a stream which here ran down into the marsh, we
came at length to this crest just as the sun was sinking. Below us lay
a deep valley, a fold, as it were, in the skin of the mountain, well
but not densely bushed. The woods of this valley climbed up the mountain
flank for some distance above it and then gave way to grassy slopes that
ended in steep sides of rock, which were crowned by a black and frowning
precipice of unknown height.

There was, I remember, something very impressive about this towering
natural wall, which seemed to shut off whatever lay beyond the gaze of
man, as though it veiled an ancient mystery. Indeed, the aspect of it
thrilled me, I knew not why. I observed, however, that at one point in
the mighty cliff there seemed to be a narrow cleft down which, no doubt,
lava had flowed in a remote age, and it occurred to me that up this
cleft ran a roadway, probably a continuation of that by which we had
threaded the swamp. The fact that through my glasses I could see herds
of cattle grazing on the slopes of the mountain went to confirm this
view, since cattle imply owners and herdsmen, and search as I would, I
could find no native villages on the slopes. The inference seemed to be
that those owners dwelt beyond or within the mountain.

All of these things I saw and pointed out to Robertson in the light of
the setting sun.

Meanwhile Umslopogaas had been engaged in selecting the spot where we
were to camp for the night. Some soldierlike instinct, or perchance some
prescience of danger, caused him to choose a place particularly suitable
to defence. It was on a steep-sided mound that more or less resembled a
gigantic ant-heap. Upon one side this mound was protected by the stream
which because of a pool was here rather deep, while at the back of it
stood a collection of those curious and piled-up water-worn rocks that
are often to be found in Africa. These rocks, lying one upon another
like the stones of a Cyclopean wall, curved round the western side of
the mound, so that practically it was only open for a narrow space,
say thirty or forty feet, upon that face of it which looked on to the
mountain.

"Umslopogaas expects battle," remarked Hans to me with a grin,
"otherwise with all this nice plain round us he would not have chosen to
camp in a place which a few men could hold against many. Yes, Baas, he
thinks that those cannibals are going to attack us."

"Stranger things have happened," I answered indifferently, and having
seen to the rifles, went to lie down, observing as I did so that the
tired Zulus seemed already to be asleep. Only Umslopogaas did not sleep.
On the contrary, he stood leaning on his axe staring at the dim outlines
of the opposing precipice.

"A strange mountain, Macumazahn," he said, "compared to it that of the
Witch, beneath which my kraal lies, is but a little baby. I wonder what
we shall find within it. I have always loved mountains, Macumazahn, ever
since a dead brother of mine and I lived with the wolves in the Witch's
lap, for on them I have had the best of my fighting."

"Perhaps it is not done with yet," I answered wearily.

"I hope not, Macumazahn, since some is due for us, after all these days
of mud and stench. Sleep a while now, Macumazahn, for that head of yours
which you use so much, must need rest. Fear not, I and the little yellow
man who do not think as much as you do, will keep watch and wake you if
there is need, as mayhap there will be before the dawn. Here none can
come at us except in front, and the place is narrow."

So I lay down and slept as soundly as ever I had done in my life, for a
space of four or five hours I suppose. Then, by some instinct perhaps, I
awoke suddenly, feeling much refreshed in that sweet mountain air, a new
man indeed, and in the moonlight saw Umslopogaas striding towards me.

"Arise, Macumazahn," he said, "I hear men stirring below us."

At this moment Hans slipped past him, whispering,

"The cannibals are coming, Baas, a good number of them. I think they
mean to attack before dawn."

Then he passed behind me to warn the Zulus. As he went by, I said to
him,

"If so, Hans, now is the time for your Great Medicine to show what it
can do."

"The Great Medicine will look after you and me all right, Baas," he
replied, pausing and speaking in Dutch, which Umslopogaas did not
understand, "but I expect there will be fewer of those Zulus to cook for
before the sun grows hot. Their spirits will be turned into snakes and
go back into the reeds from which they say they were 'torn out,'" he
added over his shoulder.

I should explain that Hans acted as cook to our party and it was a
grievance with him that the Zulus ate so much of the meat which he was
called upon to prepare. Indeed, there is never much sympathy between
Hottentots and Zulus.

"What is the little yellow man saying about us?" asked Umslopogaas
suspiciously.

"He is saying that if it comes to battle, you and your men will make a
great fight," I replied diplomatically.

"Yes, we will do that, Macumazahn, but I thought he said that we should
be killed and that this pleased him."

"Oh dear no!" I answered hastily. "How could he be pleased if that
happened, since then he would be left defenceless, if he were not killed
too. Now, Umslopogaas, let us make a plan for this fight."

So, together with Robertson, rapidly we discussed the thing. As a
result, with the help of the Zulus, we dragged together some loose
stones and the tops of three small thorn trees which we had cut
down, and with them made a low breastwork, sufficient to give us some
protection if we lay down to shoot. It was the work of a few minutes
since we had prepared the material when we camped in case an emergency
should arise.

Behind this breastwork we gathered and waited, Robertson and I being
careful to get a little to the rear of the Zulus, who it will be
remembered had the rifles which the Strathmuir bastards had left behind
them when they bolted, in addition to their axes and throwing assegais.
The question was how these cannibals would fight. I knew that they were
armed with long spears and knives but I did not know if they used those
spears for thrusting or for throwing. In the former case it would be
difficult to get at them with the axes because they must have the longer
reach. Fortunately as it turned out, they did both.

At length all was ready and there came that long and trying wait, the
most disagreeable part of a fight in which one grows nervous and begins
to reflect earnestly upon one's sins. Clearly the Amahagger, if they
really intended business, did not mean to attack till just before dawn,
after the common native fashion, thinking to rush us in the low and
puzzling light. What perplexed me was that they should wish to attack
us at all after having let so many opportunities of doing so go by.
Apparently these men were now in sight of their own home, where no doubt
they had many friends, and by pushing on could reach its shelter before
us, especially as they knew the roads and we did not.

They had come out for a secret purpose that seemed to have to do with
the abduction of a certain young white woman for reasons connected
with their tribal statecraft or ritual, which is the kind of thing that
happens not infrequently among obscure and ancient African tribes. Well,
they had abducted their young woman and were in sight of safety and
success in their objects, whatever these might be. For what possible
reason, then, could they desire to risk a fight with the outraged
friends and relatives of that young woman?

It was true that they outnumbered us and therefore had a good chance
of victory, but on the other hand, they must know that it would be very
dearly won, and if it were not won, that we should retake their captive,
so that all their trouble would have been for nothing. Further they must
be as exhausted and travel-worn as we were ourselves and in no condition
to face a desperate battle.

The problem was beyond me and I gave it up with the reflection that
either this threatened attack was a mere feint to delay us, or that
behind it was something mysterious, such as a determination to prevent
us at all hazards from discovering the secrets of that mountain
stronghold.

When I put the riddle to Hans, who was lying next to me, he was ready
with another solution.

"They are men-eaters, Baas," he said, "and being hungry, wish to eat us
before they get to their own land where doubtless they are not allowed
to eat each other."

"Do you think so," I answered, "when we are so thin?" and I surveyed
Hans' scraggy form in the moonlight.

"Oh! yes, Baas, we should be quite good boiled--like old hens, Baas.
Also it is the nature of cannibals to prefer thin man to fat beef. The
devil that is in them gives them that taste, Baas, just as he makes me
like gin, or you turn your head to look at pretty women, as those Zulus
say you always did in their country, especially at a certain witch who
was named Mameena and whom you kissed before everybody----"

Here I turned my head to look at Hans, proposing to smite him with
words, or physically, since to have this Mameena myth, of which I have
detailed the origin in the book called _Child of Storm_, re-arise out
of his hideous little mouth was too much. But before I could get out a
syllable he held up his finger and whispered,

"Hush! the dawn breaks and they come. I hear them."

I listened intently but could distinguish nothing. Only straining my
eyes, presently I thought that about a hundred yards down the slope
beneath us in the dim light I caught sight of ghostlike figures flitting
from tree to tree; also that these figures were drawing nearer.

"Look out!" I said to Robertson on my right, "I believe they are
coming."

"Man," he answered sternly, "I hope so, for whom else have I wanted to
meet all these days?"

Now the figures vanished into a little fold of the ground. A minute or
so later they re-appeared upon its hither side where such light as there
was from the fading stars and the gathering dawn fell full upon them,
for here were no trees. I looked and a thrill of horror went through me,
for with one glance I recognised that these were _not the men whom we
had been following_. To begin with, there were many more of them, quite
a hundred, I should think, also they had painted shields, wore feathers
in their hair, and generally so far as I could judge, seemed to be fat
and fresh.

"We have been led into an ambush," I said first in Zulu to Umslopogaas
immediately in front, and then in English to Robertson.

"If so, man, we must just do the best we can," answered the latter, "but
God help my poor daughter, for those other devils will have taken her
away, leaving their brethren to make an end of us."

"It is so, Macumazahn," broke in Umslopogaas. "Well, whatever the end of
it, we shall have a better fight. Now do you give the word and we will
obey."

The savages, for so I call them, although I admit that cannibals or not,
they looked more like high-class Arabs than savages, came on in perfect
silence, hoping, I suppose, to catch us asleep. When they were about
fifty yards away, running in a treble line with spears advanced, I
called out "Fire!" in Zulu, and set the example by loosing off both
barrels of my express rifle at men whom I had picked out as leaders,
with results that must have been more satisfactory to me than to the two
Amahagger whose troubles in this world came to an end.

There followed a tremendous fusillade, the Zulus banging off their guns
wildly, but even at that distance managing for the most part to shoot
over the enemy's heads. Captain Robertson and Hans, however, did better
and the general result was that the Amahagger, who appeared to be
unaccustomed to firearms, retreated in a hurry to a fold of the ground
whence they had emerged. Before the last of them got there I loaded
again, so that two more stopped behind. Altogether we had put nine or
ten of them out of action.

Now I hoped that they would give the business up. But this was not so,
for being brave fellows, after a pause of perhaps five minutes, once
more they charged in a body, hoping to overwhelm us. Again we greeted
them with bullets and knocked out several, whereon the rest threw
a volley of their long spears at us. I was glad to see them do this
although one of the Zulus got his death from it, while two more were
wounded. I myself had a very narrow escape, for a spear passed between
my neck and shoulder. Each of them carried but one of these weapons
and I knew that if they used them up in throwing, only their big knives
would remain to them with which to attack us.

After this discharge of spears which was kept up for some time, they
rushed at us and there followed a great fight. The Zulus, throwing down
their guns, rose to their feet and holding their little fighting shields
which had been carried in their mats, in the left hand, wielded their
axes with the right. Umslopogaas, who stood in the centre of them,
however, had no shield and swung his great axe with both arms. This was
the first time that I had seen him fight and the spectacle was in a way
magnificent. Again and again the axe crashed down and every time it
fell it left one dead beneath the stroke, till at length those Amahagger
shrank back out of his reach.

Meanwhile Robertson, Hans and I, standing on some stones at the back,
kept up a continual fire upon them, shooting over the heads of the
Zulus, who were playing their part like men. Yes, they shrank back,
leaving many dead behind them. Then a captain tried to gather them for
another rush, and once more they moved forward. I killed that captain
with a revolver shot, for my rifle had become too hot to hold, and at
the sight of his fall, they broke and ran back into the little hollow
where our bullets could not reach them.

So far we had held our own, but at a price, for three of the Zulus were
now dead and three more wounded, one of them severely, the other two but
enough to cripple them. In fact, now there were left of them but three
untouched men, and Umslopogaas, so that in all for fighting purposes
we were but seven. What availed it that we had killed a great number of
these Amahagger, when we were but seven? How could seven men withstand
such another onslaught?

There in the pale light of the dawn we looked at each other dismayed.

"Now," said Umslopogaas, leaning on his red axe, "there remains but one
thing to do, make a good end, though I would that it were in a greater
cause. At least we must either fight or fly," and he looked down at the
wounded.

"Think not of us, Father," murmured one of them, the man who had a
mortal hurt. "If it is best, kill us and begone that you may live to
bear the Axe in years to come."

"Well spoken!" said Umslopogaas, and again stood still a while, then
added, "The word is with you, Macumazahn, who are our captain."

I set out the situation to Robertson and Hans as briefly as I could,
showing that there was a chance of life if we ran, but so far as I could
see, none if we stayed.

"Go if you like, Quatermain," answered the Captain, "but I shall stop
and die here, for since my girl is gone I think I'm better dead."

I motioned to Hans to speak.

"Baas," he answered, "the Great Medicine is here with us upon the earth
and your reverend father, the Predikant, is with us in the sky, so I
think we had better stop here and do what we can, especially as I do not
want to see those reeds any more at present."

"So do I," I said briefly, giving no reasons.

So we made ready for the next attack which we knew would be the last,
strengthening our little wall and dragging the dead Amahagger up against
it as an added protection. As we were thus engaged the sun rose and in
its first beams, some miles away on the opposing slopes of the mountain
looking tiny against the black background of the precipice, we saw
a party of men creeping forward. Lifting my glasses I studied it and
perceived that in its midst was a litter.

"There goes your daughter," I said, and handed the glasses to Robertson.

"Oh! my God," he answered, "those villains have outwitted us after all."

Another minute and the litter, or rather the chair with its escort,
had vanished into the shadow of the great cliffs, probably up some pass
which we could not see.

Next moment our thoughts were otherwise engaged, since from various
symptoms we gathered that the attack was about to be renewed. Spears
upon which shone the light of the rising sun, appeared above the edge of
the ground-fold that I have mentioned, which to the east increased to a
deep, bush-clad ravine. Also there were voices as of leaders encouraging
their men to a desperate effort.

"They are coming," I said to Robertson.

"Yes," he answered, "they are coming and we are going. It's a queer
end to the thing we call life, isn't it, Quatermain, and hang it all!
I wonder what's beyond? Not much for me, I expect, but whatever it is
could scarcely be worse than what I've gone through here below in one
way and another."

"There's hope for all of us," I replied as cheerfully as I could, for
the man's deep depression disturbed me.

"Mayhap, Quatermain, for who knows the infinite mercy of whatever made
us as we are? My old mother used to preach of it and I remember her
words now. But in my case I expect it will stop at hope, or sleep, and
if it wasn't for Inez, I'd not mind so much, for I tell you I've had
enough of the world and life. Look, there's one of them. Take that, you
black devil!" and lifting his rifle he aimed and fired at an Amahagger
who appeared upon the edge of the fold of ground. What is more he hit
him, for I saw the man double up and fall backwards.

Then the game began afresh, for the cannibals (I suppose they were
cannibals like their brethren) crept out of shelter, advancing on their
stomachs or their hands and knees, so as to offer a smaller mark, and
dragging between them a long and slender tree-trunk with which clearly
they intended to batter down our wall.

Of course I blazed away at them, pretty carefully too, for I was
determined that what I believed to be the last exercise of the gift of
shooting that has been given to me, should prove a record. Therefore
I selected my men and even where I would hit them, and as subsequent
examination showed, I made no mistakes in the seven or eight shots that
I fired. But all the while, like poor Captain Robertson, I was thinking
of other things; namely, where I was bound for presently and if I should
meet certain folk there and what was the meaning of this show called
Life, which unless it leads somewhere, according to my judgment has none
at all. Until these questions were solved, however, my duty was to kill
as many of those ruffians as I could, and this I did with finish and
despatch.

Robertson and Hans were firing also, with more or less success, but
there were too many to be stopped by our three rifles. Still they came
on till at length their fierce faces were within a few yards of our
little parapet and Umslopogaas had lifted his great axe to give them
greeting. They paused a moment before making their final rush, and so
did we to slip in fresh cartridges.

"Die well, Hans," I said, "and if you get there first, wait for me on
the other side."

"Yes, Baas, I always meant to do that, though not yet. We are not going
to die this time, Baas. Those who have the Great Medicine don't die; it
is the others who die, like that fellow," and he pointed to an Amahagger
who went reeling round and round with a bullet from his Winchester
through the middle, for he had fired in the midst of his remarks.

"Curse--I mean bless--the Great Medicine," I said as I lifted my rifle
to my shoulder.

At that moment all those Amahagger--there were about sixty of them
left--became seized with a certain perturbation. They stood still, they
stared towards the fold of ground out of which they had emerged; they
called to each other words which I did not catch, and then--they turned
to run.

Umslopogaas saw, and with a leader's instinct, acted. Springing over the
parapet, followed by his remaining Zulus of the Axe, he leapt upon them
with a roar. Down they went before _Inkosikaas_, like corn before a
sickle. The thing was marvellous to see, it was like the charge of a
leopard, so swift was the rush and so lightning-like were the strokes or
rather the pecks of that flashing axe, for now he was tapping at their
heads or spines with the gouge-like point upon its back. Nor were these
the only victims, for those brave followers of his also did their part.
In a minute all who remained upon their feet of the Amahagger were in
full flight, vanishing this way and that among the trees. Hans fired
a parting shot after the last of them, then sat down upon a stone and
finding his corn-cob pipe, proceeded to fill it.

"The Great Medicine, Baas," he began sententiously, "or perhaps
your reverend father, the Predikant----" Here he paused and pointed
doubtfully with the bowl of the pipe towards the fold in the ground,
adding, "Here it is, but I think it must be your reverend father, not
the Great Medicine, yes, the Predikant himself, returned from Heaven,
the Place of Fires!"

Looking vaguely in the direction indicated, for I could not conceive
what he meant and thought that the excitement must have made him mad, I
perceived a venerable old man with a long white beard and clothed in a
flowing garment, also white, who reminded me of Father Christmas at a
child's party, walking towards us and radiating benignancy. Also behind
him I perceived a whole forest of spear points emerging from the gully.
He seemed to take it for granted that we should not shoot at him, for he
came on quite unconcerned, carefully picking his way among the corpses.
When he was near enough he stopped and said in a kind of Arabic which I
could understand,

"I greet you, Strangers, in the name of her I serve. I see that I am
just in time, but this does not surprise me, since she said that it
would be so. You seem to have done very well with these dogs," and
he prodded a dead Amahagger with his sandalled foot. "Yes, very well
indeed. You must be great warriors."

Then he paused and we stared at each other.



CHAPTER XI

THROUGH THE MOUNTAIN WALL

"These do not seem to be friends of yours," I said, pointing to the
fallen. "And yet," I added, nodding towards the spearmen who were now
emerging from the gully, "they are very like your friends."

"Puppies from the same litter are often alike, yet when they grow up
sometimes they fight each other," replied Father Christmas blandly.
"At least these come to save and not to kill you. Look! they kill the
others!" and he pointed to them making an end of some of the wounded
men. "But who are these?" and he glanced with evident astonishment,
first at the fearsome-looking Umslopogaas and then at the grotesque
Hans. "Nay, answer not, you must be weary and need rest. Afterwards we
can talk."

"Well, as a matter of fact we have not yet breakfasted," I replied.
"Also I have business to attend to here," and I glanced at our wounded.

The old fellow nodded and went to speak to the captains of his force,
doubtless as to the pursuit of the enemy, for presently I saw a company
spring forward on their tracks. Then, assisted by Hans and the remaining
Zulus, of whom one was Goroko, I turned to attend to our own people.
The task proved lighter than I expected, since the badly injured man
was dead or dying and the hurts of the two others were in their legs
and comparatively slight, such as Goroko could doctor in his own native
fashion.

After this, taking Hans to guard my back, I went down to the stream and
washed myself. Then I returned and ate, wondering the while that I could
do so with appetite after the terrible dangers which we had passed.
Still, we had passed them, and Robertson, Umslopogaas with three of his
men, I and Hans were quite unharmed, a fact for which I returned thanks
in silence but sincerely enough to Providence.

Hans also returned thanks in his own fashion, after he had filled
himself, not before, and lit his corn-cob pipe. But Robertson made no
remark; indeed, when he had satisfied his natural cravings, he rose and
walking a few paces forward, stood staring at the cleft in the mountain
cliff into which he had seen the litter vanish that bore his daughter to
some fate unknown.

Even the great fight that we had fought and the victory we had won
against overpowering odds did not appear to impress him. He only glared
at the mountain into the heart of which Inez had been raped away, and
shook his fist. Since she was gone all else went for nothing, so much so
that he did not offer to assist with the wounded Zulus or show curiosity
about the strange old man by whom we had been rescued.

"The Great Medicine, Baas," said Hans in a bewildered way, "is even more
powerful than I thought. Not only has it brought us safely through the
fighting and without a scratch, for those Zulus there do not matter and
there will be less cooking for me to do now that they are gone; it has
also brought down your reverend father the Predikant from the Place of
Fires in Heaven, somewhat changed from what I remember him, it is
true, but still without doubt the same. When I make my report to him
presently, if he can understand my talk, I shall----"

"Stop your infernal nonsense, you son of a donkey," I broke in, for at
this moment old Father Christmas, smiling more benignly than before,
re-appeared from the kloof into which he had vanished and advanced
towards us bowing with much politeness.

Having seated himself upon the little wall that we had built up,
he contemplated us, stroking his beautiful white beard, then said,
addressing me,

"Of a certainty you should be proud who with a few have defeated so
many. Still, had I not been ordered to come at speed, I think that by
now you would have been as those are," and he looked towards the dead
Zulus who were laid out at a distance like men asleep, while their
companions sought for a place to bury them.

"Ordered by whom?" I asked.

"There is only one who can order," he answered with mild astonishment.
"'She-who-commands, She-who-is-everlasting'!"

It occurred to me that this must be some Arabic idiom for the Eternal
Feminine, but I only looked vague and said,

"It would appear that there are some whom this exalted everlasting She
cannot command; those who attacked us; also those who have fled away
yonder," and I waved my hand towards the mountain.

"No command is absolute; in every country there are rebels, even, as I
have heard, in Heaven above us. But, Wanderer, what is your name?"

"Watcher-by-Night," I answered.

"Ah! a good name for one who must have watched well by night, and by day
too, to reach this country living where She-who-commands says that no
man of your colour has set foot for many generations. Indeed, I think
she told me once that two thousand years had gone by since she spoke to
a white man in the City of Kôr."

"Did she indeed?" I exclaimed, stifling a cough.

"You do not believe me," he went on, smiling. "Well, She-who-commands
can explain matters for herself better than I who was not alive two
thousand years ago, so far as I remember. But what must I call him with
the Axe?"

"Warrior is his name."

"Again a good name, as to judge by the wounds on them, certain of those
rebels I think are now telling each other in Hell. And this man, if
indeed he be a man----" he added, looking doubtfully at Hans.

"Light-in-Darkness is his name."

"I see, doubtless because his colour is that of the winter sun in thick
fog, or a bad egg broken into milk. And the other white man who mutters
and whose brow is like a storm?"

"He is called Avenger; you will learn why later on," I answered
impatiently, for I grew tired of this catechism, adding, "And what are
you called and, if you are pleased to tell it to us, upon what errand do
you visit us in so fortunate an hour?"

"I am named Billali," he answered, "the servant and messenger of
She-who-commands, and I was sent to save you and to bring you safely to
her."

"How can this be, Billali, seeing that none knew of our coming?"

"Yet She-who-commands knew," he said with his benignant smile. "Indeed,
I think that she learned of it some moons ago through a message that was
sent to her and so arranged all things that you should be guided safely
to her secret home; since otherwise how would you have passed a great
pathless swamp with the loss, I think she said, of but one man whom a
snake bit?"

Now I stared at the old fellow, for how could he know of the death of
this man, but thought it useless to pursue the conversation further.

"When you are rested and ready," he went on, "we will start. Meanwhile I
leave you that I may prepare litters to carry those wounded men, and
you also, Watcher-by-Night, if you wish." Then with a dignified bow,
for everything about this old fellow was stately, he turned and vanished
into the kloof.

The next hour or so was occupied in the burial of the dead Zulus, a
ceremony in which I took no part beyond standing up and raising my hat
as they were borne away, for as I have said somewhere, it is best to
leave natives alone on these occasions. Indeed, I lay down, reflecting
that strangely enough there seemed to be something in old Zikali's tale
of a wonderful white Queen who lived in a mountain fastness, since there
was the mountain as he had drawn it on the ashes, and the servants of
that Queen who, apparently, had knowledge of our coming, appeared in the
nick of time to rescue us from one of the tightest fixes in which ever I
found myself.

Moreover, the antique and courteous individual called Billali, spoke of
her as "She-who-is-everlasting." What the deuce could he mean by that,
I wondered? Probably that she was very old and therefore disagreeable to
look on, which I confessed to myself would be a disappointment.

And how did she know that we were coming? I could not guess and when I
asked Robertson, he merely shrugged his shoulders and intimated that he
took no interest in the matter. The truth is that nothing moved the man,
whose whole soul was wrapped in one desire, namely to rescue, or avenge,
the daughter against whom he knew he had so sorely sinned.

In fact, this loose-living but reformed seaman was becoming a
monomaniac, and what is more, one of the religious type. He had a Bible
with him that had been given to him by his mother when he was a boy, and
in this he read constantly; also he was always on his knees and at night
I could hear him groaning and praying aloud. Doubtless now that the
chains of drink had fallen off him, the instincts and the blood of
the dour old Covenanters from whom he was descended, were asserting
themselves. In a way this was a good thing though for some time past
I had feared lest it should end in his going mad, and certainly as a
companion he was more cheerful in his unregenerate days.

Abandoning speculation as useless and taking my chance of being murdered
where I lay, for after all Billali's followers were singularly like
the men with whom we had been fighting and for aught I knew might be
animated by identical objects--I just went to sleep, as I can do at
any time, to wake up an hour or so later feeling wonderfully refreshed.
Hans, who when I closed my eyes was already asleep slumbering at my feet
curled up like a dog on a spot where the sun struck hotly, roused me by
saying:

"Awake, Baas, they are here!"

I sprang up, snatching at my rifle, for I thought that he meant that
we were being attacked again, to see Billali advancing at the head of
a train of four litters made of bamboo with grass mats for curtains
and coverings, each of which was carried by stalwart Amahagger, as I
supposed that they must be. Two of these, the finest, Billali indicated
were for Robertson and myself, and the two others for the wounded.
Umslopogaas and the remaining Zulus evidently were expected to walk, as
was Hans.

"How did you make these so quickly," I asked, surveying their elegant
and indeed artistic workmanship.

"We did not make them, Watcher-by-Night, we brought them with us folded
up. She-who-commands looked in her glass and said that four would be
needed, besides my own which is yonder, two for white lords and two for
wounded black men, which you see is the number required."

"Yes," I answered vaguely, marvelling what kind of a glass it was that
gave the lady this information.

Before I could inquire upon the point Billali added,

"You will be glad to learn that my men caught some of those rebels who
dared to attack you, eight or ten of them who had been hurt by your
missiles or axe-cuts, and put them to death in the proper fashion--yes,
quite the proper fashion," and he smiled a little. "The rest had gone
too far where it would have been dangerous to follow them among the
rocks. Enter now, my lord Watcher-by-Night, for the road is steep and we
must travel fast if we would reach the place where She-who-commands is
camped in the ancient holy city, before the moon sinks behind the cliffs
to-night."

So having explained matters to Robertson and Umslopogaas, who announced
that nothing would induce _him_ to be carried like an old woman, or
a corpse upon a shield, and seen that the hurt Zulus were comfortably
accommodated, Robertson and I got into our litters, which proved to be
delightfully easy and restful.

Then when our gear was collected by the hook-nosed bearers to whom we
were obliged to trust, though we kept with us our rifles and a certain
amount of ammunition, we started. First went a number of Billali's
spearmen, then came the litters with the wounded alongside of which
Umslopogaas and his three uninjured Zulus talked or trotted, then
another litter containing Billali, then my own by which ran Hans,
and Robertson's, and lastly the rest of the Amahagger and the relief
bearers.

"I see now, Baas," said Hans, thrusting his head between my curtains,
"that yonder Whitebeard cannot be your reverend father, the Predikant,
after all."

"Why not?" I asked, though the fact was fairly obvious.

"Because, Baas, if he were, he would not have left Hans, of whom he
always thought so well, to run in the sun like a dog, while he and
others travel in carriages like great white ladies."

"You had better save your breath instead of talking nonsense, Hans," I
said, "since I believe that you have a long way to go."

In fact, it proved to be a very long way indeed, especially as after we
began to breast the mountain, we must travel slowly. We started about
ten o'clock in the morning, for the fight which after all did not take
long--had, it will be remembered, begun shortly after dawn, and it was
three in the afternoon before we reached the base of the towering cliff
which I have mentioned.

Here, at the foot of a remarkable, isolated column of rock, on which I
was destined to see a strange sight in the after days, we halted and ate
of the remaining food which we had brought with us, while the Amahagger
consumed their own, that seemed to consist largely of curdled milk, such
as the Zulus call _maas_, and lumps of a kind of bread.

I noted that they were a very curious people who fed in silence and on
whose handsome, solemn faces one never saw a smile. Somehow it gave me
the creeps to look at them. Robertson was affected in the same way, for
in one of the rare intervals of his abstraction he remarked that they
were "no canny." Then he added,

"Ask yon old wizard who might be one of the Bible prophets come to
life--what those man-eating devils have done with my daughter."

I did so, and Billali answered,

"Say that they have taken her away to make a queen of her, since having
rebelled against their own queen, they must have another who is white.
Say too that She-who-commands will wage war on them and perhaps win her
back, unless they kill her first."

"Ah!" Robertson repeated when I had translated, "unless they kill her
first--or worse." Then he relapsed into his usual silence.

Presently we started on again, heading straight for what looked like a
sheer wall of black rock a thousand feet or more in height, up a path so
steep that Robertson and I got out and walked, or rather scrambled, in
order to ease the bearers. Billali, I noticed, remained in his litter.
The convenience of the bearers did not trouble him; he only ordered an
extra gang to the poles. I could not imagine how we were to negotiate
this precipice. Nor could Umslopogaas, who looked at it and said,

"If we are to climb that, Macumazahn, I think that the only one who will
live to get to the top will be that little yellow monkey of yours," and
he pointed with his axe at Hans.

"If I do," replied that worthy, much nettled, for he hated to be called
a "yellow monkey" by the Zulus, "be sure that I will roll down stones
upon any black butcher whom I see sprawling upon the cliff below."

Umslopogaas smiled grimly, for he had a sense of humour and could
appreciate a repartee even when it hit him hard. Then we stopped talking
for the climb took all our breath.

At length we came to the cliff face where, to all appearance, our
journey must end. Suddenly, however, out of the blind black wall in
front of us started the apparition of a tall man armed with a great
spear and wearing a white robe, who challenged us hoarsely.

Suddenly he stood before us, as a ghost might do, though whence he came
we could not see. Presently the mystery was explained. Here in the cliff
face there was a cleft, though one invisible even from a few paces away,
since its outer edge projected over the inner wall of rock. Moreover,
this opening was not above four feet in width, a mere split in the huge
mountain mass caused by some titanic convulsion in past ages. For it was
a definite split since, once entered, far, far above could be traced
a faint line of light coming from the sky, although the gloom of the
passage was such that torches, which were stored at hand, must be used
by those who threaded it. One man could have held the place against a
hundred--until he was killed. Still, it was guarded, not only at the
mouth where the warrior had appeared, but further along at every turn in
the jagged chasm, and these were many.

Into this grim place we went. The Zulus did not like it at all, for
they are a light-loving people and I noted that even Umslopogaas
seemed scared and hung back a little. Nor did Hans, who with his usual
suspicion, feared some trap; nor, for the matter of that, did I, though
I thought it well to appear much interested. Only Robertson seemed quite
indifferent and trudged along stolidly after a man carrying a torch.

Old Billali put his head out of the litter and shouted back to me
to fear nothing, since there were no pitfalls in the path, his voice
echoing strangely between those narrow walls of measureless height.

For half an hour or more we pursued this dreary, winding path round the
corners of which the draught tore in gusts so fierce that more than once
the litters with the wounded men and those who bore them were nearly
blown over. It was safe enough, however, since on either side of us,
smooth and without break, rose the sheer walls of rock over which lay
the tiny ribbon of blue sky. At length the cleft widened somewhat and
the light grew stronger, making the torches unnecessary.

Then of a sudden we came to its end and found ourselves upon a little
plateau in the mountainside. Behind us for a thousand feet or so rose
the sheer rock wall as it did upon the outer face, while in front and
beneath, far beneath, was a beautiful plain circular in shape and of
great extent, which plain was everywhere surrounded, so far as I could
see, by the same wall of rock. In short, notwithstanding its enormous
size, without doubt it was neither more nor less than the crater of a
vast extinct volcano. Lastly, not far from the centre of this plain was
what appeared to be a city, since through my glasses I could see great
walls built of stone, and what I thought were houses, all of them of a
character more substantial than any that I had discovered in the wilds
of Africa.

I went to Billali's litter and asked him who lived in the city.

"No one," he answered, "it has been dead for thousands of years, but
She-who-commands is camped there at present with an army, and thither we
go at once. Forward, bearers."

So, Robertson and I having re-entered our litters, we started on down
hill at a rapid pace, for the road, though steep, was safe and kept in
good order. All the rest of that afternoon we travelled and by sunset
reached the edge of the plain, where we halted a while to rest and eat,
till the light of the growing moon grew strong enough to enable us to
proceed. Umslopogaas came up and spoke to me.

"Here is a fortress indeed, Macumazahn," he said, "since none can climb
that fence of rock in which the holes seem to be few and small."

"Yes," I answered, "but it is one out of which those who are in, would
find it difficult to get out. We are buffaloes in a pit, Umslopogaas."

"That is so," he answered, "I have thought it already. But if any would
meddle with us we still have our horns and can toss for a while."

Then he went back to his men.

The sunset in that great solemn place was a wonderful thing to see.
First of all the measureless crater was filled with light like a bowl
with fire. Then as the great orb sank behind the western cliff, half of
the plain became quite dark while shadows seemed to rush forward over
the eastern part of its surface, till that too was swallowed up in gloom
and for a little while there remained only a glow reflected from the
cliff face and from the sky above, while on the crest of the parapet of
rock played strange and glorious fires. Presently these too vanished and
the world was dark.

Then the half moon broke from behind a bank of clouds and by its silver,
uncertain light we struggled forward across the flat plain, rather
slowly now, for even the iron muscles of those bearers grew tired. I
could not see much of it, but I gathered that we were passing through
crops, very fine crops to judge by their height, as doubtless they would
be upon this lava soil; also once or twice we splashed through streams.

At length, being tired and lulled by the swaying of the litter and by
the sound of a weird, low chant that the bearers had set up now that
they neared home and were afraid of no attack, I sank into a doze. When
I awoke again it was to find that the litter had halted and to hear the
voice of Billali say,

"Descend, White Lords, and come with your companions, the black Warrior
and the yellow man who is named Light-in-Darkness. She-who-commands
desires to see you at once before you eat and sleep, and must not be
kept waiting. Fear not for the others, they will be cared for till you
return."



CHAPTER XII

THE WHITE WITCH

I descended from the litter and told the others what the old fellow had
said. Robertson did not want to come, and indeed refused to do so until
I suggested to him that such conduct might prejudice a powerful person
against us. Umslopogaas was indifferent, putting, as he remarked, no
faith in a ruler who was a woman.

Only Hans, although he was so tired, acquiesced with some eagerness,
the fact being that his brain was more alert and that he had all the
curiosity of the monkey tribe which he so much resembled in appearance,
and wanted to see this queen whom Zikali revered.

In the end we started, conducted by Billali and by men who carried
torches whereof the light showed me that we were passing between houses,
or at any rate walls that had been those of houses, and along what
seemed to be a paved street.

Walking under what I took to be a great arch or portico, we came into
a court that was full of towering pillars but unroofed, for I could see
the stars above. At its end we entered a building of which the doorway
was hung with mats, to find that it was lighted with lamps and that
all down its length on either side guards with long spears stood at
intervals.

"Oh, Baas," said Hans hesitatingly, "this is the mouth of a trap," while
Umslopogaas glared about him suspiciously, fingering the handle of his
great axe.

"Be silent," I answered. "All this mountain is a trap, therefore another
does not matter, and we have our pistols."

Walking forward between the double line of guards who stood immovable as
statues, we came to some curtains hung at the end of a long, narrow hall
which, although I know little of such things, were, I noted, made of
rich stuff embroidered in colours and with golden threads. Before these
curtains Billali motioned us to halt.

After a whispered colloquy with someone beyond carried on through the
join of the curtains, he vanished between them, leaving us alone for
five minutes or more. At length they opened and a tall and elegant woman
with an Arab cast of countenance and clad in white robes, appeared and
beckoned to us to enter. She did not speak or answer when I spoke to
her, which was not wonderful as afterwards I discovered that she was a
mute. We went in, I wondering very much what we were going to see.

On the further side of the curtains was a room of no great size
illumined with lamps of which the light fell upon sculptured walls. It
looked to me as though it might once have been the inmost court or a
sanctuary of some temple, for at its head was a dais upon which once
perhaps had stood the shrine or statue of a god. On this dais there was
now a couch and on the couch--a goddess!

There she sat, straight and still, clothed in shining white and veiled,
but with her draperies so arranged that they emphasised rather than
concealed the wonderful elegance of her tall form. From beneath the
veil, which was such as a bride wears, appeared two plaits of glossy,
raven hair of great length, to the end of each of which was suspended a
single large pearl. On either side of her stood a tall woman like to her
who had led us through the curtains, and on his knees in front, but to
the right, knelt Billali.

About this seated personage there was an air of singular majesty, such
as might pervade a queen as fancy paints her, though she had a nobler
figure than any queen I ever saw depicted. Mystery seemed to flow from
her; it clothed her like the veil she wore, which of course heightened
the effect. Beauty flowed from her also; although it was shrouded I knew
that it was there, no veil or coverings could obscure it--at least, to
my imagination. Moreover she breathed out power also; one felt it in the
air as one feels a thunderstorm before it breaks, and it seemed to me
that this power was not quite human, that it drew its strength from afar
and dwelt a stranger to the earth.

To tell the truth, although my curiosity, always strong, was enormously
excited and though now I felt glad that I had attempted this journey
with all its perils, I was horribly afraid, so much afraid that I should
have liked to turn and run away. From the beginning I knew myself to
be in the presence of an unearthly being clothed in soft and perfect
woman's flesh, something alien, too, and different from our human race.

What a picture it all made! There she sat, quiet and stately as a
perfect marble statue; only her breast, rising and falling beneath the
white robe, showed that she was alive and breathed as others do. Another
thing showed it also--her eyes. At first I could not see them through
the veil, but presently either because I grew accustomed to the light,
or because they brightened as those of certain animals have power to do
when they watch intently, it ceased to be a covering to them. Distinctly
I saw them now, large and dark and splendid with a tinge of deep blue
in the iris; alluring and yet awful in their majestic aloofness which
seemed to look through and beyond, to embrace all without seeking and
without effort. Those eyes were like windows through which light flows
from within, a light of the spirit.

I glanced round to see the effect of this vision upon my companions. It
was most peculiar. Hans had sunk to his knees; his hands were joined in
the attitude of prayer and his ugly little face reminded me of that of a
big fish out of water and dying from excess of air. Robertson, startled
out of his abstraction, stared at the royal-looking woman on the couch
with his mouth open.

"Man," he whispered, "I've got them back although I have touched nothing
for weeks, only this time they are lovely. For yon's no human lady, I
feel it in my bones."

Umslopogaas stood great and grim, his hands resting on the handle of his
tall axe; and he stared also, the blood pulsing against the skin that
covered the hole in his head.

"Watcher-by-Night," he said to me in his deep voice, but also speaking
in a whisper, "this chieftainess is not one woman, but all women.
Beneath those robes of hers I seem to see the beauty of one who has
'gone Beyond,' of the Lily who is lost to me. Do you not feel it thus,
Macumazahn?"

Now that he mentioned it, certainly I did; indeed, I had felt it
all along although amid the rush of sensations this one had scarcely
disentangled itself in my mind. I looked at the draped shape and
saw--well, never mind whom I saw; it was not one only but several in
sequence; also a woman who at that time I did not know although I came
to know her afterwards, too well, perhaps, or at any rate quite
enough to puzzle me. The odd thing was that in this hallucination the
personalities of these individuals seemed to overlap and merge, till at
last I began to wonder whether they were not parts of the same entity
or being, manifesting itself in sundry shapes, yet springing from one
centre, as different coloured rays flow from the same crystal, while the
beams from their source of light shift and change. But the fancy is too
metaphysical for my poor powers to express as clearly as I would. Also
no doubt it was but a hallucination that had its origin, perhaps, in the
mischievous brain of her who sat before us.

At length she spoke and her voice sounded like silver bells heard over
water in a great calm. It was low and sweet, oh! so sweet that at its
first notes for a moment my senses seemed to swoon and my pulse to stop.
It was to me that she addressed herself.

"My servant here," and ever so slightly she turned her head towards the
kneeling Billali, "tells me that you who are named Watcher-in-the-Night,
understand the tongue in which I speak to you. Is it so?"

"I understand Arabic of a kind well enough, having learned it on the
East Coast and from Arabs in past years, but not such Arabic as you use,
O----" and I paused.

"Call me _Hiya_," she broke in, "which is my title here, meaning, as you
know, She, or Woman. Or if that does not please you, call me Ayesha.
It would rejoice me after so long to hear the name I bore spoken by the
lips of one of my colour and of gentle blood."

I blushed at the compliment so artfully conveyed, and repeated stupidly
enough,

"--Not such Arabic as you use, O--Ayesha."

"I thought that you would like the sound of the word better than that
of _Hiya_, though afterwards I will teach you to pronounce it as you
should, O--have you any other name save Watcher-by-Night, which seems
also to be a title?"

"Yes," I answered. "Allan."

"--O--Allan. Tell me of these," she went on quickly, indicating my
companions with a sweep of her slender hand, "for they do not speak
Arabic, I think. Or stay, I will tell you of them and you shall say if
I do so rightly. This one," and she nodded towards Robertson, "is a man
bemused. There comes from him a colour which I see if you cannot, and
that colour betokens a desire for revenge, though I think that in his
time he has desired other things also, as I remember men always did from
the beginning, to their ruin. Human nature does not change, Allan, and
wine and women are ancient snares. Enough of him for this time. The
little yellow one there is afraid of me, as are all of you. That is
woman's greatest power, although she is so weak and gentle, men are
still afraid of her just because they are so foolish that they cannot
understand her. To them after a million years she still remains the
Unknown and to us all the Unknown is also the awful. Do you remember the
proverb of the Romans that says it well and briefly?"

I nodded, for it was one of the Latin tags that my father had taught me.

"Good. Well, he is a little wild man, is he not, nearer to the apes from
whose race our bodies come? But do you know that, Allan?"

I nodded again, and said,

"There are disputes upon the point, Ayesha."

"Yes, they had begun in my day and we will discuss them later. Still, I
say--nearer to the ape than you or I, and therefore of interest, as the
germ of things is always. Yet he has qualities, I think; cunning, and
fidelity and love which in its round is all in all. Do you understand,
Allan, that love is all in all?"

I answered warily that it depended upon what she meant by love, to which
she replied that she would explain afterwards when we had leisure to
talk, adding,

"What this little yellow monkey understands by it at least has served
you well, or so I believe. You shall tell me the tale of it some day.
Now of the last, this Black One. Here I think is a man indeed, a warrior
of warriors such as there used to be in the early world, if a savage.
Well, believe me, Allan, savages are often the best. Moreover, all are
still savage at heart, even you and I. For what is termed culture is
but coat upon coat of paint laid on to hide our native colour, and often
there is poison in the paint. That axe of his has drunk deep, I think,
though always in fair fight, and I say that it shall drink deeper yet.
Have I read these men aright, Allan?"

"Not so ill," I answered.

"I thought it," she said with a musical laugh, "although at this place I
rust and grow dull like an unused sword. Now you would rest. Go--all of
you. To-morrow you and I will talk alone. Fear nothing for your safety;
you are watched by my slaves and I watch my slaves. Until to-morrow,
then, farewell. Go now, eat and sleep, as alas we all must do who linger
on this ball of earth and cling to a life we should do well to lose.
Billali, lead them hence," and she waved her hand to signify that the
audience was ended.

At this sign Hans, who apparently was still much afraid, rose from his
knees and literally bolted through the curtains. Robertson followed him.
Umslopogaas stood a moment, drew himself up and lifting the great axe,
cried _Bayéte_, after which he too turned and went.

"What does that word mean, Allan?" she asked.

I explained that it was the salutation which the Zulu people only give
to kings.

"Did I not say that savages are often the best?" she exclaimed in a
gratified voice. "The white man, your companion, gave me no salute, but
the Black One knows when he stands before a woman who is royal."

"He too is of royal blood in his own land," I said.

"If so, we are akin, Allan."

Then I bowed deeply to her in my best manner and rising from her couch
for the first time she stood up, looking very tall and commanding, and
bowed back.

After this I went to find the others on the further side of the
curtains, except Hans, who had run down the long narrow hall and through
the mats at its end. We followed, marching with dignity behind Billali
and between the double line of guards, who raised their spears as we
passed them, and on the further side of the mats discovered Hans, still
looking terrified.

"Baas," he said to me as we threaded our way through the court of
columns, "in my life I have seen all kinds of dreadful things and faced
them, but never have I been so much afraid as I am of that white witch.
Baas, I think that she is the devil of whom your reverend father, the
Predikant, used to talk so much, or perhaps his wife."

"If so, Hans," I answered, "the devil is not so black as he is painted.
But I advise you to be careful of what you say as she may have long
ears."

"It doesn't matter at all what one says, Baas, because she reads
thoughts before they pass the lips. I felt her doing it there in that
room. And do you be careful, Baas, or she will eat up your spirit and
make you fall in love with her, who, I expect, is very ugly indeed,
since otherwise she would not wear a veil. Whoever saw a pretty woman
tie up her head in a sack, Baas?"

"Perhaps she does this because she is so beautiful, Hans, that she fears
the hearts of men who look upon her would melt."

"Oh, no, Baas, all women want to melt men's hearts; the more the better.
They seem to have other things in their minds, but really they think of
nothing else until they are too old and ugly, and it takes them a long
while to be sure of that."

So Hans went on talking his shrewd nonsense till, following so far as
I could see, the same road as that by which we had come, we reached our
quarters, where we found food prepared for us, broiled goat's flesh
with corncakes and milk, I think it was; also beds for us two white men
covered with skin rugs and blankets woven of wool.

These quarters, I should explain, consisted of rooms in a house built
of stone of which the walls had once been painted. The roof of the house
was gone now, for we could see the stars shining above us, but as the
air was very soft in this sheltered plain, this was an advantage rather
than otherwise. The largest room was reserved for Robertson and myself,
while another at the back was given to Umslopogaas and his Zulus, and a
third to the two wounded men.

Billali showed us these arrangements by the light of lamps and
apologised that they were not better because, as he explained, the place
was a ruin and there had been no time to build us a house. He added that
we might sleep without fear as we were guarded and none would dare to
harm the guests of She-who-commands, on whom he was sure we, or at any
rate I and the black Warrior, had produced an excellent impression. Then
he bowed himself out, saying that he would return in the morning, and
left us to our own devices.

Robertson and I sat down on stools that had been set for us, and ate,
but he seemed so overcome by his experiences, or by his sombre thoughts,
that I could not draw him into conversation. All he remarked was that
we had fallen into queer company and that those who supped with Satan
needed a long spoon. Having delivered himself of this sentiment he
threw himself upon the bed, prayed aloud for a while as had become his
fashion, to be "protected from warlocks and witches," amongst other
things, and went to sleep.

Before I turned in I visited Umslopogaas's room to see that all was well
with him and his people, and found him standing in the doorway staring
at the star-spangled sky.

"Greeting, Macumazahn," he said, "you who are white and wise and I am
black and a fighter have seen many strange things beneath the sun, but
never such a one as we have looked upon to-night. Who and what is that
chieftainess, Macumazahn?"

"I do not know," I said, "but it is worth while to have lived to see
her, even though she be veiled."

"Nor do I, Macumazahn. Nay, I do know, for my heart tells me that she
is the greatest of all witches and that you will do well to guard your
spirit lest she should steal it away. If she were not a witch, should I
have seemed to behold the shape of Nada the Lily who was the wife of my
youth, beneath those white robes of hers, and though the tongue in which
she spoke was strange to me, to hear the murmur of Nada's voice between
her lips, of Nada who has gone further from me than those stars. It
is good that you wear the Great Medicine of Zikali upon your breast,
Macumazahn, for perhaps it will shield you from harm at those hands that
are shaped of ivory."

"Zikali is another of the tribe," I answered, laughing, "although less
beautiful to see. Also I am not afraid of any of them, and from this
one, if she be more than some white woman whom it pleases to veil
herself, I shall hope to gather wisdom."

"Yes, Macumazahn, such wisdom as Spirits and the dead have to give."

"Mayhap, Umslopogaas, but we came here to seek Spirits and the dead, did
we not?"

"Aye," answered Umslopogaas, "these and war, and I think that we shall
find enough of all three. Only I hope that war will come the first, lest
the Spirits and the dead should bewitch me and take away my skill and
courage."

Then we parted, and too tired even to wonder any more, I threw myself
down on my bed and slept.



I was awakened when the sun was already high, by the sound of Robertson,
who was on his knees, praying aloud as usual, a habit of his which I
confess got on my nerves. Prayer, in my opinion, is a private matter
between man and his Creator, that is, except in church; further, I did
not in the least wish to hear all about Robertson's sins, which seemed
to have been many and peculiar. It is bad enough to have to bear the
burden of one's own transgressions without learning of those of other
people, that is, unless one is a priest and must do so professionally.
So I jumped up to escape and make arrangements for a wash, only to
butt into old Billali, who was standing in the doorway contemplating
Robertson with much interest and stroking his white beard.

He greeted me with his courteous bow and said,

"Tell your companion, O Watcher, that it is not necessary for him to go
upon his knees to She-who-commands--and must be obeyed," he added with
emphasis, "when he is not in her presence, and that even then he would
do well to keep silent, since so much talking in a strange tongue might
trouble her."

I burst out laughing and answered,

"He does not go upon his knees and pray to She-who-commands, but to the
Great One who is in the sky."

"Indeed, Watcher. Well, here we only know a Great One who is upon the
earth, though it is true that perhaps she visits the skies sometimes."

"Is it so, Billali?" I answered incredulously. "And now, I would ask you
to take me to some place where I can bathe."

"It is ready," he replied. "Come."

So I called to Hans, who was hanging about with a rifle on his arm, to
follow with a cloth and soap, of which fortunately we had a couple of
pieces left, and we started along what had once been a paved roadway
running between stone houses, whereof the time-eaten ruins still
remained on either side.

"Who and what is this Queen of yours, Billali?" I asked as we went.
"Surely she is not of the Amahagger blood."

"Ask it of herself, O Watcher, for I cannot tell you. All I know is
that I can trace my own family for ten generations and that my tenth
forefather told his son on his deathbed, for the saying has come down
through his descendants--that when he was young She-who-commands had
ruled the land for more scores of years than he could count months of
life."

I stopped and stared at him, since the lie was so amazing that it seemed
to deprive me of the power of motion. Noting my very obvious disbelief
he continued blandly,

"If you doubt, ask. And now here is where you may bathe."

Then he led me through an arched doorway and down a wrecked passage to
what very obviously once had been a splendid bath-house such as some I
have seen pictures of that were built by the Romans. Its size was that
of a large room; it was constructed of a kind of marble with a sloping
bottom that varied from three to seven feet in depth, and water still
ran in and out of it through large glazed pipes. Moreover round it was
a footway about five feet across, from which opened chambers, unroofed
now, that the bathers used as dressing-rooms, while between these
chambers stood the remains of statues. One at the end indeed, where an
alcove had protected it from sun and weather, was still quite perfect,
except for the outstretched arms which were gone (the right hand I
noticed lying at the bottom of the bath). It was that of a nude young
woman in the attitude of diving, a very beautiful bit of work, I
thought, though of course I am no judge of sculpture. Even the smile
mingled with trepidation upon the girl's face was most naturally
portrayed.

This statue showed two things, that the bath was used by females and
that the people who built it were highly civilised, also that they
belonged to an advanced if somewhat Eastern race, since the girl's nose
was, if anything, Semitic in character, and her lips, though prettily
shaped, were full. For the rest, the basin was so clean that I presume
it must have been made ready for me or other recent bathers, and at
its bottom I discovered gratings and broken pipes of earthenware which
suggested that in the old days the water could be warmed by means of a
furnace.

This relic of a long-past civilisation excited Hans even more than it
did myself, since having never seen anything of the sort, he thought it
so strange that, as he informed me, he imagined that it must have been
built by witchcraft. In it I had a most delightful and much-needed bath.
Even Hans was persuaded to follow my example--a thing I had rarely known
him to do before--and seated in its shallowest part, splashed some water
over his yellow, wrinkled anatomy. Then we returned to our house, where
I found an excellent breakfast had been provided which was brought to
us by tall, silent, handsome women who surveyed us out of the corners of
their eyes, but said nothing.

Shortly after I had finished my meal, Billali, who had disappeared, came
back again and said that She-who-commands desired my presence as she
would speak with me; also that I must come alone. So, after attending to
the wounded, who both seemed to be getting on well, I went, followed by
Hans armed with his rifle, though I only carried my revolver. Robertson
wished to accompany me, as he did not seem to care about being left
alone with the Zulus in that strange place, but this Billali would not
allow. Indeed, when he persisted, two great men stepped forward and
crossed their spears before him in a somewhat threatening fashion. Then
at my entreaty, for I feared lest trouble should arise, he gave in and
returned to the house.

Following our path of the night before, we walked up a ruined street
which I could see was only one of scores in what had once been a very
great city, until we came to the archway that I have mentioned, a large
one now overgrown with plants that from their yellow, sweet-scented
bloom I judged to be a species of wallflower, also with a kind of
houseleek or saxifrage.

Here Hans was stopped by guards, Billali explaining to me that he must
await my return, an order which he obeyed unwillingly enough. Then I
went on down the narrow passage, lined as before by guards who stood
silent as statues, and came to the curtains at the end. Before these at
a motion from Billali, who did not seem to dare to speak in this place,
I stood still and waited.



CHAPTER XIII

ALLAN HEARS A STRANGE TALE

For some minutes I remained before those curtains until, had it not been
for something electric in the air which got into my bones, a kind of
force that, perhaps in my fancy only, seemed to pervade the place,
I should certainly have grown bored. Indeed I was about to ask my
companion why he did not announce our arrival instead of standing there
like a stuck pig with his eyes shut as though in prayer or meditation,
when the curtains parted and from between them appeared one of
those tall waiting women whom we had seen on the previous night. She
contemplated us gravely for a few moments, then moved her hand twice,
once forward, towards Billali as a signal to him to retire, which he did
with great rapidity, and next in a beckoning fashion towards myself to
invite me to follow her.

I obeyed, passing between the thick curtains which she fastened in some
way behind me, and found myself in the same roofed and sculptured room
that I have already described. Only now there were no lamps, such light
as penetrated it coming from an opening above that I could not see, and
falling upon the dais at its head, also on her who sat upon the dais.

Yes, there she was in her white robes and veil, the point and centre of
a little lake of light, a wondrous and in a sense a spiritual vision,
for in truth there was something about her which was not of the world,
something that drew and yet frightened me. Still as a statue she sat,
like one to whom time is of no account and who has grown weary of
motion, and on either side of her yet more still, like caryatides
supporting a shrine, stood two of the stately women who were her
attendants.

For the rest a sweet and subtle odour pervaded the chamber which took
hold of my senses as _hasheesh_ might do, which I was sure proceeded
from her, or from her garments, for I could see no perfumes burning. She
spoke no word, yet I knew she was inviting me to come nearer and moved
forward till I reached a curious carved chair that was placed just
beneath the dais, and there halted, not liking to sit down without
permission.

For a long while she contemplated me, for as before I could feel her
eyes searching me from head to foot and as it were looking through me as
though she would discover my very soul. Then at length she moved, waving
those two ivory arms of hers outwards with a kind of swimming stroke,
whereon the women to right and left of her turned and glided away, I
know not whither.

"Sit, Allan," she said, "and let us talk, for I think we have much to
say to each other. Have you slept well? And eaten?--though I fear that
the food is but rough. Also was the bath made ready for you?"

"Yes, Ayesha," I answered to all three questions, adding, for I knew not
what to say, "It seems to be a very ancient bath."

"When I last saw it," she replied, "it was well enough with statues
standing round it worked by a sculptor who had seen beauty in his
dreams. But in two thousand years--or is it more?--the tooth of Time
bites deep, and doubtless like all else in this dead place it is now a
ruin."

I coughed to cover up the exclamation of disbelief that rose to my lips
and remarked blandly that two thousand years was certainly a long time.

"When you say one thing, Allan, and mean another, your Arabic is even
more vile than usual and does not serve to cloak your thought."

"It may be so, Ayesha, for I only know that tongue as I do many other of
the dialects of Africa by learning it from common men. My own speech
is English, in which, if you are acquainted with it, I should prefer to
talk."

"I know not English, which doubtless is some language that has arisen
since I left the world. Perhaps later you shall teach it to me. I tell
you, you anger me whom it is not well to anger, because you believe
nothing that passes my lips and yet do not dare to say so."

"How can I believe one, Ayesha, who if I understand aright, speaks of
having seen a certain bath two thousand years ago, whereas one hundred
years are the full days of man? Forgive me therefore if I cannot believe
what I know to be untrue."

Now I thought that she would be very angry and was sorry that I had
spoken. But as it happened she was not.

"You must have courage to give me the lie so boldly--and I like
courage," she said, "who have been cringed to for so long. Indeed, I
know that you are brave, who have heard how you bore yourself in the
fight yesterday, and much else about you. I think that we shall be
friends, but--seek no more."

"What else should I seek, Ayesha?" I asked innocently.

"Now you are lying again," she said, "who know well that no man who is
a man sees a woman who is beautiful and pleases him, without wondering
whether, should he desire it, she could come to love him, that is, if
she be young."

"Which at least is not possible if she has lived two thousand years.
Then naturally she would prefer to wear a veil," I said boldly, seeking
to avoid the argument into which I saw she wished to drag me.

"Ah!" she answered, "the little yellow man who is named
Light-in-Darkness put that thought into your heart, I think. Oh, do not
trouble as to how I know it, who have many spies here, as he guessed
well enough. So a woman who has lived two thousand years must be hideous
and wrinkled, must she? The stamp of youth and loveliness must long have
fled from her; of that you, the wise man, are sure. Very well. Now you
tempt me to do what I had determined I would not do and you shall pluck
the fruit of that tree of curiosity which grows so fast within you.
Look, Allan, and say whether I am old and hideous, even though I have
lived two thousand years upon the earth and mayhap many more."

Then she lifted her hands and did something to her veil, so that for
a moment--only one moment--her face was revealed, after which the veil
fell into its place.

I looked, I saw, and if that chair had lacked a back I believe that I
should have fallen out of it to the ground. As for what I saw--well,
it cannot be described, at any rate by me, except perhaps as a flash of
glory.

Every man has dreamed of perfect beauty, basing his ideas of it perhaps
on that of some woman he has met who chanced to take his fancy, with
a few accessories from splendid pictures or Greek statues thrown in,
_plus_ a garnishment of the imagination. At any rate I have, and here
was that perfect beauty multiplied by ten, such beauty, that at the
sight of it the senses reeled. And yet I repeat that it is not to be
described.

I do not know what the nose or the lips were like; in fact, all that I
can remember with distinctness is the splendour of the eyes, of which
I had caught some hint through her veil on the previous night. Oh, they
were wondrous, those eyes, but I cannot tell their colour save that the
groundwork of them was black. Moreover they seemed to be more than eyes
as we understand them. They were indeed windows of the soul, out of
which looked thought and majesty and infinite wisdom, mixed with all the
allurements and the mystery that we are accustomed to see or to imagine
in woman.

Here let me say something at once. If this marvellous creature expected
that the revelation of her splendour was going to make me her slave; to
cause me to fall in love with her, as it is called, well, she must have
been disappointed, for it had no such effect. It frightened and in a
sense humbled me, that is all, for I felt myself to be in the presence
of something that was not human, something alien to me as a man, which I
could fear and even adore as humanity would adore that which is Divine,
but with which I had no desire to mix. Moreover, was it divine, or was
it something very different? I did not know, I only knew that it was not
for me; as soon should I have thought of asking for a star to set within
my lantern.

I think that she felt this, felt that her stroke had missed, as the
French say, that is if she meant to strike at all at this moment.
Of this I am not certain, for it was in a changed voice, one with a
suspicion of chill in it that she said with a little laugh,

"Do you admit now, Allan, that a woman may be old and still remain fair
and unwrinkled?"

"I admit," I answered, although I was trembling so much that I could
hardly speak with steadiness, "that a woman may be splendid and lovely
beyond anything that the mind of man can conceive, whatever her age, of
which I know nothing. I would add this, Ayesha, that I thank you very
much for having revealed to me the glory that is hid beneath your veil."

"Why?" she asked, and I thought that I detected curiosity in her
question.

"For this reason, Ayesha. Now there is no fear of my troubling you in
such a fashion as you seemed to dread a little while ago. As soon would
a man desire to court the moon sailing in her silver loveliness through
heaven."

"The moon! It is strange that you should compare me to the moon," she
said musingly. "Do you know that the moon was a great goddess in Old
Egypt and that her name was Isis and--well, once I had to do with Isis?
Perhaps you were there and knew it, since more lives than one are given
to most of us. I must search and learn. For the rest, all have not
thought as you do, Allan. Many, on the contrary, love and seek to win
the Divine."

"So do I at a distance, Ayesha, but to come too near to it I do not
aspire. If I did perhaps I might be consumed."

"You have wisdom," she replied, not without a note of admiration in her
voice. "The moths are few that fear the flame, but those are the moths
which live. Also I think that you have scorched your wings before and
learned that fire hurts. Indeed, now I remember that I have heard of
three such fires of love through which you have flown, Allan, though all
of them are dead ashes now, or shine elsewhere. Two burned in your youth
when a certain lady died to save you, a great woman that, is it not so?
And the third, ah! she was fire indeed, though of a copper hue. What was
her name? I cannot remember, but I think it had something to do with the
wind, yes, with the wind when it wails."

I stared at her. Was this Mameena myth to be dug up again in a secret
place in the heart of Africa? And how the deuce did she know anything
about Mameena? Could she have been questioning Hans or Umslopogaas? No,
it was not possible, for she had never seen them out of my presence.

"Perhaps," she went on in a mocking voice, "perhaps once again you
disbelieve, Allan, whose cynic mind is so hard to open to new truths.
Well, shall I show you the faces of these three? I can," and she waved
her hand towards some object that stood on a tripod to the right of her
in the shadow--it looked like a crystal basin. "But what would it serve
when you who know them so well, believed that I drew their pictures out
of your own soul? Also perchance but one face would appear and that one
strange to you. [Lady Ragnall perhaps?--JB]

"Have you heard, Allan, that among the wise some hold that not all of
us is visible at once here on earth within the same house of flesh; that
the whole self in its home above, separates itself into sundry parts,
each of which walks the earth in different form, a segment of life's
circle that can never be dissolved and must unite again at last?"

I shook my head blankly, for I had never heard anything of the sort.

"You have still much to learn, Allan, although doubtless there are some
who think you wise," she went on in the same mocking voice. "Well, I
hold that this doctrine is built upon a rock of truth; also," she added
after studying me for a minute, "that in your case these three women
do not complete that circle. I think there is a fourth who as yet is
strange to you in this life, though you have known her well enough in
others."

I groaned, imagining that she alluded to herself, which was foolish of
me, for at once she read my mind and went on with a rather acid little
laugh,

"No, no, not the humble slave who sits before you, whom, as you have
told me, it would please you to reject as unworthy were she brought to
you in offering, as in the old days was done at the courts of the great
kings of the East. O fool, fool! who hold yourself so strong and do not
know that if I chose, before yon shadow had moved a finger's breadth, I
could bring you to my feet, praying that you might be suffered to kiss
my robe, yes, just the border of my robe."

"Then I beg of you not to choose, Ayesha, since I think that when there
is work to be done by both of us, we shall find more comfort side
by side than if I were on the ground seeking to kiss a garment that
doubtless then it would delight you to snatch away."

At these words her whole attitude seemed to change. I could see her
lovely shape brace itself up, as it were, beneath her robes and felt
in some way that her mind had also changed; that it had rid itself of
mockery and woman's pique and like a shifting searchlight, was directed
upon some new objective.

"Work to be done," she repeated after me in a new voice. "Yes, I thank
you who bring it to my mind, since the hours pass and that work presses.
Also I think there is a bargain to be made between us who are both of
the blood that keeps bargains, even if they be not written on a roll
and signed and sealed. Why do you come to me and what do you seek of
me, Allan, Watcher-in-the-Night? Say it and truthfully, for though I
may laugh at lies and pass them by when they have to do with the eternal
sword-play which Nature decrees between man and woman, until these break
apart or, casting down the swords, seek arms in which they agree too
well, when they have to do with policy and high purpose and ambition's
ends, why then I avenge them upon the liar."

Now I hesitated, as what I had to tell her seemed so foolish, indeed so
insane, while she waited patiently as though to give me time to shape my
thoughts. Speaking at last because I must, I said,

"I come to ask you, Ayesha, to show me the dead, if the dead still live
elsewhere."

"And who told you, Allan, that I could show you the dead, if they are
not truly dead? There is but one, I think, and if you are his messenger,
show me his token. Without it we do not speak together of this
business."

"What token?" I asked innocently, though I guessed her meaning well
enough.

She searched me with her great eyes, for I felt, and indeed saw them on
me through the veil, then answered,

"I think--nay, let me be sure," and half rising from the couch, she bent
her heard over the tripod that I have described, and stared into what
seemed to be a crystal bowl. "If I read aright," she said, straightening
herself presently, "it is a hideous thing enough, the carving of an
abortion of a man such as no woman would care to look on lest her babe
should bear its stamp. It is a charmed thing also that has virtues for
him who wears it, especially for you, Allan, since something tells me
that it is dyed with the blood of one who loved you. If you have it, let
it be revealed, since without it I do not talk with you of these dead
you seek."

Now I drew Zikali's talisman from its hiding-place and held it towards
her.

"Give it to me," she said.

I was about to obey when something seemed to warn me not to do so.

"Nay," I answered, "he who lent me this carving for a while, charged me
that except in emergency and to save others, I must wear it night and
day till I returned it to his hand, saying that if I parted from it
fortune would desert me. I believe none of this talk and tried to be rid
of it, whereon death drew near to me from a snake, such a snake as I see
you wear about you, which doubtless also has poison in its fangs, if of
another sort, Ayesha."

"Draw near," she said, "and let me look. Man, be not afraid."

So I rose from my chair and knelt before her, hoping secretly that
no one would see me in that ridiculous position, which the most
unsuspicious might misinterpret. I admit, however, that it proved to
have compensations, since even through the veil I saw her marvellous
eyes better than I had done before, and something of the pure outline of
her classic face; also the fragrance of her hair was wonderful.

She took the talisman in her hand and examined it closely.

"I have heard of this charm and it is true that the thing has power,"
she said, "for I can feel it running through my veins, also that it is
a shield of defence to him who wears it. Yes, and now I understand what
perplexed me somewhat, namely, how it came about that when you vexed me
into unveiling--but let that matter be. The wisdom was not your own, but
another's, that is all. Yes, the wisdom of one whose years have borne
him beyond the shafts that fly from woman's eyes, the ruinous shafts
which bring men down to doom and nothingness. Tell me, Allan, is this
the likeness of him who gave it to you?"

"Yes, Ayesha, the very picture, as I think, carved by himself, though he
said that it is ancient, and others tell that it has been known in the
land for centuries."

"So perchance has he," she answered drily, "since some of our company
live long. Now tell me this wizard's names. Nay, wait awhile for I would
prove that indeed you are his messenger with whom I may talk about the
dead, and other things, Allan. You can read Arabic, can you not?"

"A little," I answered.

Then from a stool at her side she took paper, or rather papyrus and a
reed pen, and on her knee wrote something on the sheet which she gave to
me folded up.

"Now tell me the names," she said, "and then let us see if they tally
with what I have written, for if so you are a true man, not a mere
wanderer or a spy."

"The principal names of this doctor are Zikali, the Opener-of-Roads, the
'_Thing-that-should-never-have-been-born_,'" I answered.

"Read the writing, Allan," she said.

I unfolded the sheet and read Arabic words which meant, "Weapons,
Cleaver-of-Rocks, One-at-whom-dogs-bark-and-children-wail."

"The last two are near enough," she said, "but the first is wrong."

"Nay, Ayesha, since in this man's tongue the word 'Zikali' means
'Weapons'"; intelligence at which she clapped her hands as a merry girl
might do. "The man," I went on, "is without doubt a great doctor, one
who sees and knows things that others do not, but I do not understand
why this token carved in his likeness should have power, as you say it
has."

"Because with it goes his spirit, Allan. Have you never heard of the
Egyptians, a very wise people who, as I remember, declared that man has
a _Ka_ or Double, a second self, that can either dwell in his statue or
be sent afar?"

I answered that I had heard this.

"Well the _Ka_ of this Zikali goes with that hideous image of him, which
is perhaps why you have come safe through many dangers and why also I
seemed to dream so much of him last night. Tell me now, what does Zikali
want of me whose power he knows very well?"

"An oracle, the answer to a riddle, Ayesha."

"Then set it out another time. So you decide to see the dead, and this
old dwarf, who is a home of wisdom, desires an oracle from one who is
greater than he. Good. And what are you, or both of you, prepared to pay
for these boons? Know, Allan, that I am a merchant who sells my favours
dear. Tell me then, will you pay?"

"I think that it depends upon the price," I answered cautiously. "Set
out the price, Ayesha."

"Be not afraid, O cunning dealer," she mocked. "I do not ask your soul
or even that love of yours which you guard so jealously, since these
things I could take without the asking. Nay, I ask only what a brave and
honest man may give without shame: your help in war, and perhaps," she
added with a softer tone, "your friendship. I think, Allan, that I like
you well, perhaps because you remind me of another whom I knew long
ago."

I bowed at the compliment, feeling proud and pleased at the prospect of
a friendship with this wonderful and splendid creature, although I was
aware that it had many dangers. Then I sat still and waited. She also
waited, brooding.

"Listen," she said after a while, "I will tell you a story and when you
have heard it you shall answer, even if you do not believe it, but not
before. Does it please you to listen to something of the tale of my life
which I am moved to tell you, that you may know with whom you have to
deal?"

Again I bowed, thinking to myself that I knew nothing that would please
me more, who was eaten up with a devouring curiosity about this woman.

Now she rose from her couch and descending off the dais, began to walk
up and down the chamber. I say, to walk, but her movements were more
like the gliding of an eagle through the air or the motion of a swan
upon still water, so smooth were they and gracious. As she walked she
spoke in a low and thrilling voice.

"Listen," she said again, "and even if my story seems marvellous to you,
interrupt, and above all, mock me not, lest I should grow angry, which
might be ill for you. I am not as other women are, O Allan, who having
conquered the secrets of Nature," here I felt an intense desire to ask
what secrets, but remembered and held my tongue, "to my sorrow have
preserved my youth and beauty through many ages. Moreover in the past,
perhaps in payment for my sins, I have lived other lives of which some
memory remains with me.

"By my last birth I am an Arab lady of royal blood, a descendant of the
Kings of the East. There I dwelt in the wilderness and ruled a people,
and at night I gathered wisdom from the stars and the spirits of the
earth and air. At length I wearied of it all and my people too wearied
of me and besought me to depart, for, Allan, I would have naught to do
with men, yet men went mad because of my beauty and slew each other out
of jealousy. Moreover other peoples made war upon my people, hoping to
take me captive that I might be a wife to their kings. So I left them,
and being furnished with great wealth in hoarded gold and jewels,
together with a certain holy man, my master, I wandered through the
world, studying the nations and their worships. At Jerusalem I tarried
and learned of Jehovah who is, or was, its God.

"At Paphos in the Isle of Chitim I dwelt a while till the folk of
that city thought that I was Aphrodite returned to earth and sought to
worship me. For this reason and because I made a mock of Aphrodite, I,
who, as I have said, would have naught to do with men, she through her
priests cursed me, saying that her yoke should lie more heavily upon my
neck from age to age than on that of any woman who had breathed beneath
the sun.

"It was a wondrous scene," she added reflectively, "that of the cursing,
since for every word I gave back two. Moreover I told the hoary villain
of a high-priest to make report to his goddess that long after she was
dead in the world, I would live on, for the spirit of prophecy was on me
in that hour. Yet the curse fell in its season, since in her day, doubt
it or not, Aphrodite had strength, as indeed under other names she has
and will have while the world endures, and for aught I know, beyond it.
Do they worship her now in any land, Allan?"

"No, only her statues because of their beauty, though Love is always
worshipped."

"Yes, who can testify to that better than you yourself, Allan, if he
who is called Zikali tells me the truth concerning you in the dreams he
sends? As for the statues, I saw some of them as they left the master's
hand in Greece, and when I told him that he might have found a better
model, once I was that model. If this marble still endures, it must be
the most famous of them all, though perchance Aphrodite has shattered it
in her jealous rage. You shall tell me of these statues afterwards;
mine had a mark on the left shoulder like to a mole, but the stone was
imperfect, not my flesh, as I can prove if you should wish."

Thinking it better not to enter on a discussion as to Ayesha's shoulder,
I remained silent and she went on.

"I dwelt in Egypt also, and there, to be rid of men who wearied me with
their sighs and importunities, also to acquire more wisdom of which she
was the mistress, I entered the service of the goddess Isis, Queen
of Heaven, vowing to remain virgin for ever. Soon I became her
high-priestess and in her most sacred shrines upon the Nile, I communed
with the goddess and shared her power, since from me her daughter, she
withheld none of her secrets. So it came about that though Pharaohs held
the sceptre, it was I who ruled Egypt and brought it and Sidon to their
fall, it matters not how or why, as it was fated that I must do. Yes,
kings would come to seek counsel from me where I sat throned, dressed in
the garb of Isis and breathing out her power. Yet, my task accomplished,
of it all I grew weary, as men will surely do of the heavens that they
preach, should they chance to find them."

I wondered what this "task" might be, but only asked, "Why?"

"Because in their pictured heaven all things lie to their hands and man,
being man, cannot be happy without struggle, and woman, being woman,
without victory over others. What is cheaply bought, or given, has no
value, Allan; to be enjoyed, it must first be won. But I bade you not to
break my thought."

I asked pardon and she went on,

"Then it was that the shadow of the curse of Aphrodite fell upon me,
yes, and of the curse of Isis also, so that these twin maledictions have
made me what I am, a lost soul dwelling in the wilderness waiting the
fulfilment of a fate whereof I know not the end. For though I have all
wisdom, all knowledge of the Past and much power together with the gift
of life and beauty, the future is as dark to me as night without its
moon and stars.

"Hearken, this chanced to me. Though it be to my shame I tell it you
that all may be clear. At a temple of Isis on the Nile where I ruled,
there was a certain priest, a Greek by birth, vowed like myself to the
service of the goddess and therefore to wed none but her, the goddess
herself--that is, in the spirit. He was named Kallikrates, a man of
courage and of beauty, such an one as those Greeks carved in the statues
of their god Apollo. Never, I think, was a man more beautiful in face
and form, though in soul he was not great, as often happens to men who
have all else, and well-nigh always happens to women, save myself and
perhaps one or two others that history tells of, doubtless magnifying
their fabled charms.

"The Pharaoh of that day, the last of the native blood, him whom the
Persians drove to doom, had a daughter, the Princess of Egypt, Amenartas
by name, a fair woman in her fashion, though somewhat swarthy. In her
youth this Amenartas became enamoured of Kallikrates and he of her, when
he was a captain of the Grecian Mercenaries at Pharaoh's Court. Indeed,
she brought blood upon his hands because of her, wherefore he fled to
Isis for forgiveness and for peace. Thither in after time she followed
him and again urged her love.

"Learning of the thing and knowing it for sacrilege, I summoned this
priest and warned him of his danger and of the doom which awaited him
should he continue in that path. He grew affrighted. He flung himself
upon the ground before me with groans and supplications, and kissing
my feet, vowed most falsely to me that his dealings with the royal
Amenartas were but a veil and that it was I whom he worshipped. His
unhallowed words filled me with horror and sternly I bade him begone and
do penance for his crime, saying that I would pray the goddess on behalf
of him.

"He went, leaving me alone lost in thought in the darkening shrine. Then
sleep fell on me and in my sleep I dreamed a dream, or saw a vision.
For suddenly there stood before me a woman beauteous as myself clad in
nothing save a golden girdle and a veil of gossamer.

"'O Ayesha,' she said in a honeyed voice, 'priestess of Isis of the
Egyptians, sworn to the barren worship of Isis and fed on the ashes of
her unprofitable wisdom, know that I am Aphrodite of the Greeks whom
many times thou hast mocked and defied, and Queen of the breathing
world, as Isis is Queen of the world that is dead. Now because thou
didst despise me and pour contempt upon my name, I smite thee with
my strength and lay a curse upon thee. It is that thou shalt love and
desire this man who but now hath kissed thy feet, ever longing till the
world's end to kiss his lips in payment, although thou art as far above
him as the moon thou servest is above the Nile. Think not that thou
shalt escape my doom, for know that however strong the spirit, here upon
the earth the flesh is stronger still and of all flesh I am the queen.'

"Then she laughed softly and smiting me across the eyes with a lock of
her scented hair, was gone.

"Allan, I awoke from my sleep and a great trouble fell upon me, for I
who had never loved before now was rent with a rage of love and for this
man who till that moment had been naught to me but as some beauteous
image of gold and ivory. I longed for him, my heart was racked with
jealousy because of the Egyptian who favoured him, an eating flame
possessed my breast. I grew mad. There in the shrine of Isis the divine
I cast myself upon my knees and cried to Aphrodite to return and give me
him I sought, for whose sake I would renounce all else, even if I must
pour my wisdom into a beauteous, empty cup. Yes, thus I prayed and lay
upon the ground and wept until, outworn, once more sleep fell upon me.

"Now in the darkness of the holy place once more there came a dream or
vision, since before me in her glory stood the goddess Isis crowned
with the crescent of the young moon and holding in her hand the jewelled
_sistrum_ that is her symbol, from which came music like to the melody
of distant bells. She gazed at me and in her great eyes were scorn and
anger.

"'O Ayesha, Daughter of Wisdom,' she said in a solemn voice, 'whom I,
Isis, had come to look upon rather as a child than a servant, since in
none other of my priestesses was such greatness to be found, and whom
in a day to be I had purposed to raise to the very steps of my heavenly
throne, thou hast broken thine oath and, forsaking me, hast worshipped
false Aphrodite of the Greeks who is mine enemy. Yea, in the eternal war
between the spirit and the flesh, thou hast chosen the part of flesh.
Therefore I hate thee and add my doom to that which Aphrodite laid upon
thee, which, hadst thou prayed to me and not to her, I would have lifted
from thy heart.

"'Hearken! The Grecian whom thou hast chosen, by Aphrodite's will, thou
shalt love as the Pathian said. More, thy love shall bring his blood
upon thy hands, nor mayest thou follow him to the grave. For I will show
thee the Source of Life and thou shalt drink of it to make thyself more
fair even than thou art and thus outpace thy rival, and when thy lover
is dead, in a desolate place thou shalt wait in grief and solitude till
he is born again and find thee there.

"'Yet shall this be but the beginning of thy sorrows, since through all
time thou shalt pursue thy fate till at length thou canst draw up this
man to the height on which thine own soul stands by the ropes of love
and loss and suffering. Moreover through it all thou shalt despise
thyself, which is man's and woman's hardest lot, thou who having the
rare feast of spirit spread out before thee, hast chosen to fill thyself
from the troughs of flesh.'

"Then, Allan, in my dream I made a proud answer to the goddess, saying,
'Hear me, mighty mistress of many Forms who dost appear in all that
lives! An evil fate has fallen upon me, but was it I who chose that
fate? Can the leaf contend against the driving gale? Can the falling
stone turn upwards to the sky, or when Nature draws it, can the tide
cease to flow? A goddess whom I have offended, that goddess whose
strength causes the whole world to be, has laid her curse upon me and
because I have bent before the storm, as bend I must, or break, another
goddess whom I serve, thou thyself, Mother Isis, hast added to the
curse. Where then is Justice, O Lady of the Moon?'

"'Not here, Woman,' she answered. 'Yet far away Justice lives and shall
be won at last and mayhap because thou art so proud and high-stomached,
it is laid upon thee to seek her blinded eyes through many an age. Yet
at last I think thou shalt set thy sins against her weights and find
the balance even. Therefore cease from questioning the high decrees
of destiny which thou canst not understand and be content to suffer,
remembering that all joy grows from the root of pain. Moreover, know
this for thy comfort, that the wisdom which thou hast shall grow and
gather on thee and with it thy beauty and thy power; also that at the
last thou shalt look upon my face again, in token whereof I leave to
thee my symbol, the _sistrum_ that I bear, and with it this command.
Follow that false priest of mine wherever he may go and avenge me upon
him, and if thou lose him there, wait while the generations pass till he
return again. Such and no other is thy destiny.'

"Allan, the vision faded and when I awoke the lights of dawn played upon
the image of the goddess in the sanctuary. They played, moreover,
upon the holy jewelled thing that in my dream her hand had held, the
_sistrum_ of her worship, shaped like the loop of life, the magic symbol
that she had vowed to me, wherewith goes her power, which henceforth was
mine.

"I took it and followed after the priest Kallikrates, to whom
thenceforward I was bound by passion's ties that are stronger than all
the goddesses in this wide universe."

Here I, Allan, could contain myself no longer and asked, "What for?"
then, fearing her wrath, wished that I had been silent.

But she was not angry, perhaps because this tale of her interviews
with goddesses, doubtless fabled, had made her humble, for she answered
quietly,

"By Aphrodite, or by Isis, or both of them I did not know. All I knew
was that I _must_ seek him, then and evermore, as seek I do to-day and
shall perchance through æons yet unborn. So I followed, as I was taught
and commanded, the _sistrum_ being my guide, how it matters not, and
giving me the means, and so at last I came to this ancient land whereof
the ruin in which you sit was once known as Kôr."



CHAPTER XIV

ALLAN MISSES OPPORTUNITY

All the while that she was talking thus the Lady or the Queen or the
Witch-woman, Ayesha, had been walking up and down the place from the
curtains to the foot of the dais, sweeping me with her scented robes as
she passed to and fro, and as she walked she waved her arms as an orator
might do to emphasise the more moving passages of her tale. Now at the
end of it, or what I took to be the end, she stepped on to the dais and
sank upon the couch as if exhausted, though I think her spirit was weary
rather than her body.

Here she sat awhile, brooding, her chin resting on her hand, then
suddenly looked up and fixing her glance upon me--for I could see the
flash of it through her thin veil--said,

"What think you of this story, Allan? Do you believe it and have you
ever heard its like?"

"_Never_," I answered with emphasis, "and of course I believe every
word. Only there are one or two questions that with your leave I would
wish to ask, Ayesha."

"By which you mean, Allan, that you believe nothing, being by nature
without faith and doubtful of all that you cannot see and touch and
handle. Well, perhaps you are wise, since what I have told you is not
all the truth. For example, it comes back to me now that it was not in
the temple on the Nile, or indeed upon the Earth, that I saw the vision
of Aphrodite and of Isis, but elsewhere; also that it was here in Kôr
that I was first consumed by passion for Kallikrates whom hitherto I had
scorned. In two thousand years one forgets much, Allan. Out with your
questions and I will answer them, unless they be too long."

"Ayesha," I said humbly, reflecting to myself that my questions would,
at any rate, be shorter than her varying tale, "even I who am not
learned have heard of these goddesses of whom you speak, of the Grecian
Aphrodite who rose from the sea upon the shores of Cyprus and dwelt at
Paphos and elsewhere----"

"Yes, doubtless like most men you have heard of her and perchance also
have been struck across the eyes with her hair, like your betters before
you," she interrupted with sarcasm.

"----Also," I went on, avoiding argument, "I have heard of Isis of the
Egyptians, Lady of the Moon, Mother of Mysteries, Spouse of Osiris whose
child was Horus the Avenger."

"Aye, and I think will hear more of her before you have done, Allan, for
now something comes back to me concerning you and her and another. I
am not the only one who has broken the oaths of Isis and received her
curse, Allan, as _you_ may find out in the days to come. But what of
these heavenly queens?"

"Only this, Ayesha; I have been taught that they were but phantasms
fabled by men with many another false divinity, and could have sworn
that this was true. And yet you talk of them as real and living, which
perplexes me."

"Being dull of understanding doubtless it perplexes you, Allan. Yet if
you had imagination you might understand that these goddesses are great
Principles of Nature; Isis, of throned Wisdom and strait virtue, and
Aphrodite, of Love, as it is known to men and women who, being human,
have it laid upon them that they must hand on the torch of Life in their
little hour. Also you would know that such Principles can seem to take
shape and form and at certain ages of the world appear to their servants
visible in majesty, though perchance to-day others with changed names
wield their sceptres and work their will. Now you are answered on this
matter. So to the next."

Privately I did not feel as though I were answered at all and I was sure
that I know nothing of the kind she indicated, but thinking it best to
leave the subject, I went on,

"If I understood rightly, Ayesha, the events which you have been pleased
first to describe to me, and then to qualify or contradict, took place
when the Pharaohs reigned. Now no Pharaoh has sat upon the throne of
Egypt for near two thousand years, for the last was a Grecian woman whom
the Romans conquered and drove to death. And yet, Ayesha, you speak as
though you have lived all through that gulf of time, and in this there
must be error, because it is impossible. Therefore I suppose you to mean
that this history has come down to you in writing, or perhaps in dreams.
I believe that even in such far-off times there were writers of romance,
and we all know of what stuff dreams are made. At least this thought
comes to me," I added hurriedly, fearing lest I had said too much, "and
one so wise as you are, I repeat, knows well that a woman who says she
has lived two thousand years must be mad or--suffer from delusions,
because I repeat, it is impossible."

At these quite innocent remarks she sprang to her feet in a rage that
might truly be called royal in every sense.

"Impossible! Romance! Dreams! Delusions! Mad!" she cried in a ringing
voice. "Oh! of a truth you weary me, and I have a mind to send you
whither you will learn what is impossible and what is not. Indeed, I
would do it, and now, only I need your services, and if I did there
would be none left for me to talk with, since your companion is
moonstruck and the others are but savages of whom I have seen enough.

"Hearken, fool! _Nothing_ is impossible. Why do you seek, you who talk
of the impossible, to girdle the great world in the span of your two
hands and to weigh the secrets of the Universe in the balance of your
petty mind and, of that which you cannot understand, to say that it is
not? Life you admit because you see it all about you. But that it should
endure for two thousand years, which after all is but a second's beat in
the story of the earth, that to you is 'impossible,' although in truth
the buried seed or the sealed-up toad can live as long. Doubtless, also,
you have some faith which promises you this same boon to all eternity,
after the little change called Death.

"Nay, Allan, it is possible enough, like to many other things of which
you do not dream to-day that will be common to the eyes of those who
follow after you. Mayhap you think it impossible that I should speak
with and learn of you from yonder old black wizard who dwells in the
country whence you came. And yet whenever I will I do so in the night
because he is in tune with me, and what I do shall be done by all men in
the years unborn. Yes, they shall talk together across the wide spaces
of the earth, and the lover shall hear her lover's voice although great
seas roll between them. Nor perchance will it stop at this; perchance in
future time men shall hold converse with the denizens of the stars, and
even with the dead who have passed into silence and the darkness. Do you
hear and understand me?"

"Yes, yes," I answered feebly.

"You lie, as you are too prone to do. You hear but you do not understand
nor believe, and oh! you vex me sorely. Now I had it in my mind to
tell you the secret of this long life of mine; long, mark you, but not
endless, for doubtless I must die and change and return again, like
others, and even to show you how it may be won. But you are not worthy
in your faithlessness."

"No, no, I am not worthy," I answered, who at that moment did not feel
the least desire to live two thousand years, perhaps with this woman as
a neighbour, rating me from generation to generation. Yet it is true,
that now when I am older and a certain event cannot be postponed much
longer, I do often regret that I neglected to take this unique chance,
if in truth there was one, of prolonging an existence which after all
has its consolations--especially when one has made one's pile. Certainly
it is a case, a flagrant case, of neglected opportunities, and my only
consolation for having lost them is that this was due to the uprightness
of my nature which made it so hard for me to acquiesce in alternative
statements that I had every cause to disbelieve and thus to give offence
to a very powerful and petulant if attractive lady.

"So that is done with," she went on with a little stamp of indignation,
"as soon you will be also, who, had you not crossed and doubted me,
might have lived on for untold time and become one of the masters of the
world, as I am."

Here she paused, choked, I think, with her almost childish anger, and
because I could not help it, I said,

"Such place and power, if they be yours, Ayesha, do not seem to bring
you much reward. If I were a master of the world I do not think that I
should choose to dwell unchangingly among savages who eat men and in
a pile of ruins. But perhaps the curses of Aphrodite and of Isis are
stronger masters still?" and I paused inquiringly.

This bold argument--for now I see that it was bold--seemed to astonish
and even bewilder my wonderful companion.

"You have more wisdom than I thought," she said reflectively, "who have
come to understand that no one is really lord of anything, since above
there is always a more powerful lord who withers all his pomp and pride
to nothingness, even as the great kings learned in olden days, and I,
who am higher than they are, am learning now. Hearken. Troubles beset me
wherein I would have your help and that of your companions, for which I
will pay each of you the fee that he desires. The brooding white man who
is with you shall free his daughter and unharmed; though that _he_ will
be unharmed I do not promise. The black savage captain shall fight his
fill and gain the glory that he seeks, also something that he seeks
still more. The little yellow man asks nothing save to be with his
master like a dog and to satisfy at once his stomach and his apish
curiosity. You, Allan, shall see those dead over whom you brood at
night, though the other guerdon that you might have won is now passed
from your reach because you mock me in your heart."

"What must we do to gain these things?" I asked. "How can we humble
creatures help one who is all powerful and who has gathered in her
breast the infinite knowledge of two thousand years?"

"You must make war under my banner and rid me of my foes. As for the
reason, listen to the end of my tale and you shall learn."

I reflected that it was a marvellous thing that this queen who claimed
supernatural powers should need our help in a war, but thinking it wiser
to keep my meditations to myself, said nothing. As a matter of fact I
might just as well have spoken, since as usual she read my thoughts.

"You are thinking that it is strange, Allan, that I, the Mighty and
Undying, should seek your aid in some petty tribal battle, and so it
would be were my foes but common savages. But they are more; they are
men protected by the ancient god of this immemorial city of Kôr, a great
god in his day whose spirit still haunts these ruins and whose strength
still protects the worshippers who cling to him and practise his unholy
rites of human sacrifice."

"How was this god named?" I asked.

"_Rezu_ was his name, and from him came the Egyptian Re or Ra, since in
the beginning Kôr was the mother of Egypt and the conquering people of
Kôr took their god with them when they burst into the valley of the
Nile and subdued its peoples long before the first Pharaoh, Menes, wore
Egypt's crown."

"Ra was the sun, was he not?" I asked.

"Aye, and Rezu also was a sun-god whom from his throne in the fires of
the Lord of Day, gave life to men, or slew them if he willed with his
thunderbolts of drought and pestilence and storm. He was no gentle king
of heaven, but one who demanded blood-sacrifice from his worshippers,
yes, even that of maids and children. So it came about that the people
of Kôr, who saw their virgins slain and eaten by the priests of Rezu,
and their infants burned to ashes in the fires that his rays lit, turned
themselves to the worship of the gentle moon, the goddess whom they
named _Lulala_, while some of them chose Truth for their queen, since
Truth, they said, was greater and more to be desired than the fierce
Sun-King or even the sweet Moon-Lady, Truth, who sat above them both
throned in the furthest stars of Heaven. Then the demon, Rezu, grew
wroth and sent a pestilence upon Kôr and its subject lands and slew
their people, save those who clung to him in the great apostasy, and
with them some others who served Lulala and Truth the Divine, that
escaped I know not how."

"Did you see this great pestilence?" I asked, much interested.

"Nay, it befell generations before I came to Kôr. One Junis, a priest,
wrote a record of it in the caves yonder where I have my home and where
is the burying-place of the countless thousands that it slew. In my
day Kôr, of which, should you desire to hear it, I will tell you the
history, was a ruin as it is now, though scattered in the lands amidst
the tumbled stones which once built up her subject cities, a people
named the Amahagger dwelt in Households, or Tribes and there sacrificed
men by fire and devoured them, following the rites of the demon Rezu.
For these were the descendants of those who escaped the pestilence. Also
there were certain others, children of the worshippers of Lulala whose
kingdom is the moon, and of Truth the Queen, who clung to the gentle
worship of their forefathers and were ever at war with the followers of
Rezu."

"What brought _you_ to Kôr, Ayesha?" I asked irrelevantly.

"Have I not said that I was led hither by the command and the symbol of
great Isis whom I serve? Also," she added after a pause, "that I might
find a certain pair, one of whom had broken his oaths to her, tempted
thereto by the other."

"And did you find them, Ayesha?" I asked.

"Aye, I found them, or rather they found me, and in my presence
the goddess executed her decree upon her false priest and drove his
temptress back to the world."

"That must have been dreadful for you, Ayesha, since I understood that
you also--liked this priest."

She sprang from her couch and in a low, hissing voice which resembled
the sound made by an angry snake and turned my blood cold to hear,
exclaimed,

"Man, do you dare to mock me? Nay, you are but a blundering, curious
fool, and it is well for you that this is so, since otherwise like
Kallikrates, never should you leave Kôr living. Cease from seeking that
which you may not learn. Suffice it for you to know that the doom of
Isis fell upon the lost Kallikrates, her priest forsworn, and that on me
also fell her doom, who must dwell here, dead yet living, till he return
again and the play begins afresh.

"Stranger," she went on in a softer voice, "perchance your faith,
whate'er it be, parades a hell to terrify its worshippers and give
strength to the arms of its prophesying priests, who swear they hold
the keys of doom or of the eternal joys. I see you sign assent" (I had
nodded at her extremely accurate guess) "and therefore can understand
that in such a hell as this, here upon the earth I have dwelt for some
two thousand years, expiating the crime of Powers above me whereof I
am but the hand and instrument, since those Powers which decreed that I
should love, decree also that I must avenge that love."

She sank down upon the couch as though exhausted by emotion, of which
I could only guess the reasons, hiding her face in her hands. Presently
she let them fall again and continued,

"Of these woes ask me no more. They sleep till the hour of their
resurrection, which I think draws nigh; indeed, I thought that you
perchance----But let that be. 'Twas near the mark; nearer, Allan, than
you know, not in it! Therefore leave them to their sleep as I would if
I might--ah! if I might, whose companions they are throughout the weary
ages. Alas! that through the secret which was revealed to me I remain
undying on the earth who in death might perhaps have found a rest,
and being human although half divine, must still busy myself with the
affairs of earth.

"Look you, Wanderer, after that which was fated had happened and I
remained in my agony of solitude and sorrow, after, too, I had drunk
of the cup of enduring life and like the Prometheus of old fable, found
myself bound to this changeless rock, whereon day by day the vultures
of remorse tear out my living heart which in the watches of the night is
ever doomed to grow again within my woman's breast, I was plunged into
petty troubles of the flesh, aye and welcomed them because their irk at
times gave me forgetfulness. When the savage dwellers in this land came
to know that a mighty one had arisen among them who was the servant of
the Lady of the Moon, those of them who still worshipped their goddess
Lulala, gathered themselves about me, while those of them who worshipped
Rezu sought to overthrow me.

"'Here,' they said, 'is the goddess Lulala come to earth. In the name
of Rezu let us slay her and make an end,' for these fools thought that I
could be killed. Allan, I conquered them, but their captain, who also
is named Rezu and whom they held and hold to be an emanation of the god
himself walking the earth, I could not conquer."

"Why not?" I asked.

"For this reason, Allan. In some past age his god showed him the same
secret that was shown to me. He too had drunk of the Cup of Life and
lives on unharmed by Time, so that being in strength my equal, no spear
of mine can reach his heart clad in the armour of his evil god."

"Then what spear can?" I inquired helplessly, who was bewildered.

"None at all, Allan, yet an _axe_ may, as you shall hear, or so I
think. For many generations there has been peace of a sort between the
worshippers of Lulala who dwell with me in the Plain of Kôr, or rather
of myself, since to these people _I_ am Lulala, and the worshippers of
Rezu, who dwell in the strongholds beyond the mountain crest. But of
late years their chief Rezu, having devastated the lands about, has
grown restless and threatened to attack on Kôr, which is not strong
enough to stand against him. Moreover he has sought for a white queen to
rule under him, purposing to set her up to mock my majesty."

"Is that why those cannibals carried away the daughter of my companion,
the Sea-Captain who is named Avenger?" I asked.

"It is, Allan, since presently he will give it out that I am dead or
fled, if he has not done so already, and that this new queen has arisen
in my place. Thereby he hopes to draw away many who cling to me ere he
advances upon Kôr, carrying with him this girl veiled as I am, so that
none may know the difference between us, since not a man of them has
ever looked upon my face, Allan. Therefore this Rezu must die, if die he
can; otherwise, although it is impossible that he should harm me, he may
slay or draw away my people and leave me with none to rule in this
place where by the decree of Fate I must dwell on until he whom I seek
returns. You are thinking in your heart that such savages would be
little loss and this is so, but still they serve as slaves to me in my
loneliness. Moreover I have sworn to protect them from the demon Rezu
and they have trusted in me and therefore my honour is at stake, for
never shall it be said that those who trusted in She-who-commands, were
overthrown because they put faith in one who was powerless."

"What do you mean about an axe, Ayesha?" I asked. "Why can an axe alone
kill Rezu?"

"The thing is a mystery, O Allan, of which I may not tell you all, since
to do so I must reveal secrets which I have determined you shall not
learn. Suffice it to you to know that when this Rezu drank of the Cup
of Life he took with him his axe. Now this axe was an ancient weapon
rumoured to have been fashioned by the gods and, as it chanced, that axe
drew to itself more and stronger life than did Rezu, how, it does not
matter, if indeed the tale be more than a fable. At least this I know is
true, for he who guarded the Gate of Life, a certain Noot, a master of
mysteries, and mine also in my day of youth, who being a philosopher and
very wise, chose never to pass that portal which was open to him, said
it to me himself ere he went the way of flesh. He told this Rezu
also that now he had naught to fear save his own axe and therefore he
counselled him to guard it well, since if it was lifted against him in
another's hands it would bring him down to death, which nothing
else could do. Like to the heel of Achilles whereof the great Homer
sings--have you read Homer, Allan?"

"In a translation," I answered.

"Good, then you will remember the story. Like to the heel of Achilles,
I say, that axe would be the only gate by which death could enter his
invulnerable flesh, or rather it alone could make the gate."

"How did Noot know that?" I asked.

"I cannot say," she answered with irritation. "Perchance he did not know
it. Perchance it is all an idle tale, but at least it is true that Rezu
believed and believes it, and what a man believes is true for him and
will certainly befall. If it were otherwise, what is the use of faith
which in a thousand forms supports our race and holds it from the
horrors of the Pit? Only those who believe nothing inherit what they
believe--nothing, Allan."

"It may be so," I replied prosaically, "but what happened about the
axe?"

"In the end it was lost, or as some say stolen by a woman whom Rezu had
deserted, and therefore he walks the world in fear from day to day. Nay,
ask no more empty questions" (I had opened my mouth to speak) "but hear
the end of the tale. In my trouble concerning Rezu I remembered this
wild legend of the axe and since, when lost in a forest every path that
may lead to safety should be explored, I sent my wisdom forth to make
inquiry concerning it, as I who am great, have the power to do, of
certain who are in tune with me throughout this wide land of Africa.
Amongst others, I inquired of that old wizard whom you named Zikali,
Opener of Roads, and he gave me an answer that there lived in his land a
certain warrior who ruled a tribe called the People of the Axe by right
of the Axe, of which axe none, not even he, knew the beginning or the
legend. On the chance, though it was a small one, I bade the wizard
send that warrior here with his axe. Last night he stood before me and I
looked upon him and the axe, which at least is ancient and has a story.
Whether it be the same that Rezu bore I do not know who never saw it,
yet perchance he who bears it now is prepared to hold it aloft in battle
even against Rezu, though he be terrible to see, and then we shall
learn."

"Oh! yes," I answered, "he is quite prepared, for that is his nature.
Also among this man's people, the holder of the Axe is thought to be
unconquerable."

"Yet some must have been conquered who held it," she replied musingly.
"Well, you shall tell me that tale later. Now we have talked long and
you are weary and astonished. Go, eat and rest yourself. To-night when
the moon rises I will come to where you are, not before, for I have much
that must be done, and show you those with whom you must fight against
Rezu, and make a plan of battle."

"But I do not want to fight," I answered, "who have fought enough and
came here to seek wisdom, not bloodshed."

"First the sacrifice, then the reward," she answered, "that is if any
are left to be rewarded. Farewell."



CHAPTER XV

ROBERTSON IS LOST

So I went and was conducted by Billali, the old chamberlain, for such
seemed to be his office, who had been waiting patiently without all this
while, back to our rest-house. On my way I picked up Hans, whom I found
sitting outside the arch, and found that as usual that worthy had been
keeping his eyes and ears open.

"Baas," he said, "did the White Witch tell you that there is a big
_impi_ encamped over yonder outside the houses, in what looks like a
great dry ditch, and on the edge of the plain beyond?"

"No, Hans, but she said that this evening she would show us those in
whose company we must fight."

"Well, Baas, they are there, some thousands of them, for I crept through
the broken walls like a snake and saw them. And, Baas, I do not think
they are men, I think that they are evil spirits who walk at night
only."

"Why, Hans?"

"Because when the sun is high, Baas, as it is now, they are all
sleeping. Yes, there they lie abed, fast asleep, as other people do at
night, with only a few sentries out on guard, and these are yawning and
rubbing their eyes."

"I have heard that there are folk like that in the middle of Africa
where the sun is very hot, Hans," I answered, "which perhaps is why
She-who-commands is going to take us to see them at night. Also these
people, it seems, are worshippers of the moon."

"No, Baas, they are worshippers of the devil and that White Witch is his
wife."

"You had better keep your thoughts to yourself, Hans, for whatever she
is I think that she can read thoughts from far away, as you guessed last
night. Therefore I would not have any if I were you."

"No, Baas, or if I must think, henceforth, it shall be only of gin which
in this place is also far away," he replied, grinning.

Then we came to the rest-house where I found that Robertson had already
eaten his midday meal and like the Amahagger gone to sleep, while
apparently Umslopogaas had done the same; at least I saw nothing of him.
Of this I was glad, since that wondrous Ayesha seemed to draw vitality
out of me and after my long talk with her I felt very tired. So I too
ate and then went to lie down under an old wall in the shade at a little
distance, and to reflect upon the marvellous things that I had heard.

Here be it said at once that I believed nothing of them, or at least
very little indeed. All the involved tale of Ayesha's long life I
dismissed at once as incredible. Clearly she was some beautiful woman
who was more or less mad and suffered from megalomania; probably an
Arab, who had wandered to this place for reasons of her own, and become
the chieftainess of a savage tribe whose traditions she had absorbed and
reproduced as personal experiences, again for reasons of her own.

For the rest, she was now threatened by another tribe and knowing that
we had guns and could fight from what happened on the yesterday, wished
naturally enough for our assistance in the coming battle. As for the
marvellous chief Rezu, or rather for his supernatural attributes and all
the cock-and-bull story about an axe--well, it was humbug like the rest,
and if she believed in it she must be more foolish than I took her
to be--even if she were unhinged on certain points. For the rest, her
information about myself and Umslopogaas doubtless had reached her from
Zikali in some obscure fashion, as she herself acknowledged.

But heavens! how beautiful she was! That flash of loveliness when out of
pique or coquetry she lifted her veil, blinded like the lightning. But
thank goodness, also like the lightning it frightened; instinctively one
felt that it was very dangerous, even to death, and with it I for one
wished no closer acquaintance. Fire may be lovely and attractive, also
comforting at a proper distance, but he who sits on the top of it is
cremated, as many a moth has found.

So I argued, knowing well enough all the while that if this particular
human--or inhuman--fire desired to make an holocaust of me, it could do
so easily enough, and that in reality I owed my safety so far to a lack
of that desire on its part. The glorious Ayesha saw nothing to attract
her in an insignificant and withered hunter, or at any rate in his
exterior, though with his mind she might find some small affinity.
Moreover to make a fool of him just for the fun of it would not
serve her purpose, since she needed his assistance in a business that
necessitated clear wits and unprejudiced judgment.

Lastly she had declared herself to be absorbed in some tiresome
complication with another man, of which it was rather difficult to
follow the details. It is true that she described him as a handsome but
somewhat empty-headed person whom she had last seen two thousand years
ago, but probably this only meant that she thought poorly of him because
he had preferred some other woman to herself, while the two thousand
years were added to the tale to give it atmosphere.

The worst of scandals becomes romantic and even respectable in two
thousand years; witness that of Cleopatra with Cæsar, Mark Antony and
other gentlemen. The most virtuous read of Cleopatra with sympathy, even
in boarding-schools, and it is felt that were she by some miracle to be
blotted out of the book of history, the loss would be enormous. The same
applied to Helen, Phryne, and other bad lots. In fact now that one comes
to think of it, most of the attractive personages in history, male or
female, especially the latter, were bad lots. When we find someone to
whose name is added "the good" we skip. No doubt Ayesha, being very
clever, appreciated this regrettable truth, and therefore moved her
murky entanglements of the past decade or so back for a couple of
thousand years, as many of us would like to do.

There remained the very curious circumstance of her apparent
correspondence with old Zikali who lived far away. This, however, after
all was not inexplicable. In the course of a great deal of experience I
have observed that all the witch-doctor family, to which doubtless she
belonged, have strange means of communication.

In most instances these are no doubt physical, carried on by help of
messengers, or messages passed from one to the other. But sometimes it
is reasonable to assume what is known as telepathy, as their link of
intercourse. Between two such highly developed experts as Ayesha and
Zikali, it might for the sake of argument safely be supposed that it
was thus they learned each other's mind and co-operated in each other's
projects, though perhaps this end was effected by commoner methods.

Whatever its interpretations, the issue of the business seemed to be
that I was to be let in for more fighting. Well, in any case this could
not be avoided, since Robertson's daughter, Inez, had to be saved at all
costs, if it could possibly be done, even if we lost our lives in the
attempt. Therefore fight we must, so there was nothing more to be said.
Also without doubt this adventure was particularly interesting and I
could only hope that good luck, or Zikali's Great Medicine, or rather
Providence, would see me through it safely.

For the rest the fact that our help was necessary to her in this
war-like venture showed me clearly enough that all this wonderful
woman's pretensions to supernatural powers were the sheerest nonsense.
Had they been otherwise she would not have needed our help in her tribal
fights, notwithstanding the rubbish she talked about the chief, Rezu,
who according to her account of him, must resemble one of the fabulous
"trolls," half-human and half-ghostly evil creatures, of whom I have
read in the Norse Sagas, who could only be slain by some particular hero
armed with a particular weapon.



Reflecting thus I went to sleep and did not wake until the sun was
setting. Finding that Hans was also sleeping at my feet just like a
faithful dog, I woke him up and we went back together to the rest-house,
which we reached as the darkness fell with extraordinary swiftness, as
it does in those latitudes, especially in a place surrounded by cliffs.

Not finding Robertson in the house, I concluded that he was somewhere
outside, possibly making a reconnaissance on his own account, and told
Hans to get supper ready for both of us. While he was doing so, by aid
of the Amahagger lamps, Umslopogaas suddenly appeared in the circle of
light, and looking about him, said,

"Where is Red-Beard, Macumazahn?"

I answered that I did not know and waited, for I felt sure that he had
something to say.

"I think that you had better keep Red-Beard close to you, Macumazahn,"
he went on. "This afternoon, when you had returned from visiting the
white doctoress and having eaten, had gone to sleep under the wall
yonder, I saw Red-Beard come out of the house carrying a gun and a bag
of cartridges. His eyes rolled wildly and he turned first this way and
then that, sniffing at the air, like a buck that scents danger. Then he
began to talk aloud in his own tongue and as I saw that he was speaking
with his Spirit, as those do who are mad, I went away and left him."

"Why?" I asked.

"Because, as you know, Macumazahn, it is a law among us Zulus never to
disturb one who is mad and engaged in talking with his Spirit. Moreover,
had I done so, probably he would have shot me, nor should I have
complained who would have thrust myself in where I had no right to be."

"Then why did you not come to call me, Umslopogaas?"

"Because then he might have shot you, for, as I have seen for some time
he is inspired of heaven and knows not what he does upon the earth,
thinking only of the Lady Sad-Eyes who has been stolen away from him, as
is but natural. So I left him walking up and down, and when I returned
later to look, saw that he was gone, as I thought into this walled hut.
Now when Hansi tells me that he is not here, I have come to speak to you
about him."

"No, certainly he is not here," I said, and I went to look at the bed
where Robertson slept to see if it had been used that evening.

Then for the first time I saw lying on it a piece of paper torn from a
pocketbook and addressed to myself. I seized and read it. It ran thus:


"The merciful Lord has sent me a vision of Inez and shown me where she
is over the cliff-edge away to the west, also the road to her. In
my sleep I heard her talking to me. She told me that she is in great
danger--that they are going to marry her to some brute--and called to
me to come at once and save her; yes, and to come alone without saying
anything to anyone. So I am going at once. Don't be frightened or
trouble about me. All will be well, all will be quite well. I will tell
you the rest when we meet."


Horrorstruck I translated this insane screed to Umslopogaas and Hans.
The former nodded gravely.

"Did I not tell you that he was talking with his Spirit, Macumazahn?" (I
had rendered "the merciful Lord" as the Good Spirit.) "Well, he has gone
and doubtless his Spirit will take care of him. It is finished."

"At any rate we cannot, Baas," broke in Hans, who I think feared that I
might send him out to look for Robertson. "I can follow most spoors, but
not on such a night as this when one could cut the blackness into lumps
and build a wall of it."

"Yes," I answered, "he has gone and nothing can be done at present,"
though to myself I reflected that probably he had not gone far and would
be found when the moon rose, or at any rate on the following morning.

Still I was most uneasy about the man who, as I had noted for a long
while, was losing his balance more and more. The shock of the barbarous
and dreadful slaughter of his half-breed children and of the abduction
of Inez by these grim, man-eating savages began the business, and I
think that it was increased and accentuated by his sudden conversion to
complete temperance after years of heavy drinking.

When I persuaded him to this course I was very proud of myself, thinking
that I had done a clever thing, but now I was not so sure. Perhaps it
would have been better if he had continued to drink something, at
any rate for a while, but the trouble is that in such cases there is
generally no half-way house. A man, or still more a woman, given to this
frailty either turns aggressively sober or remains very drunken. At
any rate, even if I had made a mess of it, I had acted for the best and
could not blame myself.

For the rest it was clear that in his new phase the religious
associations of his youth had re-asserted themselves with remarkable
vigour, for I gathered that he had been brought up almost as a
Calvinist, and in the rush of their return, had overset his equilibrium.
As I have said, he prayed night and day without any of those reserves
which most people prefer in their religious exercises, and when he
talked of matters outside our quest, his conversation generally revolved
round the devil, or hell and its torments, which, to say the truth, did
not make him a cheerful companion. Indeed in this respect I liked him
much better in his old, unregenerate days, being, I fear, myself a
somewhat worldly soul.

Well, the sum of it was that the poor fellow had gone mad and given us
the slip, and as Hans said, to search for him at once in that darkness
was impossible. Indeed, even if it had been lighter, I do not think that
it would have been safe among these Amahagger nightbirds whom I did not
trust. Certainly I could not have asked Hans to undertake the task, and
if I had, I do not think he would have gone since he was afraid of the
Amahagger. Therefore there was nothing to be done except wait and hope
for the best.

So I waited till at last the moon came and with it Ayesha, as she had
promised. Clad in a rich, dark cloak she arrived in some pomp, heralded
by Billali, followed by women, also cloaked, and surrounded by a guard
of tall spearmen. I was seated outside the house, smoking, when suddenly
she arrived from the shadows and stood before me.

I rose respectfully and bowed, while Umslopogaas, Goroko and the other
Zulus who were with me, gave her the royal salute, and Hans cringed like
a dog that is afraid of being kicked.

After a swift glance at them, as I guessed by the motion of her veiled
head, she seemed to fix her gaze upon my pipe that evidently excited
her curiosity, and asked me what it was. I explained as well as I could,
expatiating on the charms of smoking.

"So men have learned another useless vice since I left the world, and
one that is filthy also," she said, sniffing at the smoke and waving her
hand before her face, whereon I dropped the pipe into my pocket, where,
being alight, it burnt a hole in my best remaining coat.

I remember the remark because it showed me what a clever actress she was
who, to keep up her character of antiquity, pretended to be astonished
at a habit with which she must have been well acquainted, although I
believe that it was unknown in the ancient world.

"You are troubled," she went on, swiftly changing the subject, "I read
it in your face. One of your company is missing. Who is it? Ah! I see,
the white man you name Avenger. Where is he gone?"

"That is what I wish to ask you, Ayesha," I said.

"How can I tell you, Allan, who in this place lack any glass into which
to look for things that pass afar. Still, let me try," and pressing her
hands to her forehead, she remained silent for perhaps a minute, then
spoke slowly.

"I think that he has gone over the mountain lip towards the worshippers
of Rezu. I think that he is mad; sorrow and something else which I do
not understand have turned his brain; something that has to do with the
Heavens. I think also that we shall recover him living, if only for a
little while, though of this I cannot be sure since it is not given to
me to read the future, but only the past, and sometimes the things that
happen in the present though they be far away."

"Will you send to search for him, O Ayesha?" I asked anxiously.

"Nay, it is useless, for he is already distant. Moreover those who went
might be taken by the outposts of Rezu, as perchance has happened to
your companion wandering in his madness. Do you know what he went to
seek?"

"More or less," I answered and translated to her the letter that
Robertson had left for me.

"It may be as the man writes," she commented, "since the mad often see
well in their dreams, though these are not sent by a god as he imagines.
The mind in its secret places knows all things, O Allan, although it
seems to know little or nothing, and when the breath of vision or the
fury of a soul distraught blows away the veils or burns through the
gates of distance, then for a while it sees and learns, since, whatever
fools may think, often madness is true wisdom. Now follow me with the
little yellow man and the Warrior of the Axe. Stay, let me look upon
that axe."

I interpreted her wish to Umslopogaas who held it out to her but refused
to loose it from his wrist to which it was attached by the leathern
thong.

"Does the Black One think that I shall cut him down with his own weapon,
I who am so weak and gentle?" she asked, laughing.

"Nay, Ayesha, but it is his law not to part with this Drinker of Lives,
which he names 'Chieftainess and Groan-maker,' and clings to closer by
day and night than a man does to his wife."

"There he is wise, Allan, since a savage captain may get more wives but
never such another axe. The thing is ancient," she added musingly after
examining its every detail, "and who knows? It may be that whereof the
legend tells which is fated to bring Rezu to the dust. Now ask this
fierce-eyed Slayer whether, armed with his axe he can find courage to
face the most terrible of all men and the strongest, one who is a wizard
also, of whom it is prophesied that only by such an axe as this can he
be made to bite the dust."

I obeyed. Umslopogaas laughed grimly and answered,

"Say to the White Witch that there is no man living upon the earth whom
I would not face in war, I who have never been conquered in fair fight,
though once a chance blow brought me to the doors of death," and he
touched the great hole in his forehead. "Say to her also that I have no
fear of defeat, I from whom doom is, as I think, still far away, though
the Opener-of-Roads has told me that among a strange people I shall die
in war at last, as I desire to do, who from my boyhood have lived in
war."

"He speaks well," she answered with a note of admiration in her voice.
"By Isis, were he but white I would set him to rule these Amahagger
under me. Tell him, Allan, that if he lays Rezu low he shall have a
great reward."

"And tell the White Witch, Macumazahn," Umslopogaas replied when I had
translated, "that I seek no reward, save glory only, and with it the
sight of one who is lost to me but with whom my heart still dwells, if
indeed this Witch has strength to break the wall of blackness that is
built between me and her who is 'gone down.'"

"Strange," reflected Ayesha when she understood, "that this grim
Destroyer should yet be bound by the silken bonds of love and yearn for
one whom the grave has taken. Learn from it, Allan, that all humanity
is cast in the same mould, since my longings and your longings are his
also, though the three of us be far apart as are the sun and the moon
and the earth, and as different in every other quality. Yet it is true
that sun and moon and earth are born of the same black womb of chaos.
Therefore in the beginning they were identical, as doubtless they will
be in the end when, their journeyings done, they rush together to light
space with a flame at which the mocking gods that made them may warm
their hands. Well, so it is with men, Allan, whose soul-stuff is drawn
from the gulf of Spirit by Nature's hand, and, cast upon the cold air of
this death-driven world, freezes into a million shapes each different to
the other and yet, be sure, the same. Now talk no more, but follow me.
Slave" (this was addressed to Billali), "bid the guards lead on to the
camp of the servants of Lulala."

So we went through the silent ruins. Ayesha walked, or rather glided a
pace or two ahead, then came Umslopogaas and I side by side, while at
our heels followed Hans, very close at our heels since he did not wish
to be out of reach of the virtue of the Great Medicine and incidentally
of the protection of axe and rifle.

Thus we marched surrounded by the solemn guard for something between
a quarter and half a mile, till at length we climbed the debris of a
mighty wall that once had encompassed the city, and by the moonlight saw
beneath us a vast hollow which clearly at some unknown time had been the
bed of an enormous moat and filled with water.

Now, however, it was dry and all about its surface were dotted numerous
camp-fires round which men were moving, also some women who appeared to
be engaged in cooking food. At a little distance too, upon the
further edge of the moat-like depression were a number of white-robed
individuals gathered in a circle about a large stone upon which
something was stretched that resembled the carcase of a sheep or goat,
and round these a great number of spectators.

"The priests of Lulala who make sacrifice to the moon, as they do night
by night, save when she is dead," said Ayesha, turning back towards
me as though in answer to the query which I had conceived but left
unuttered.

What struck me about the whole scene was its extraordinary animation and
briskness. All the folk round the fires and outside of them moved about
quickly and with the same kind of liveliness which might animate a camp
of more natural people at the rising of the sun. It was as though they
had just got up full of vigour to commence their daily, or rather their
nightly round, which in truth was the case, since as Hans discovered,
by habitude these Amahagger preferred to sleep during the day unless
something prevented them, and to carry on the activities of life at
night. It only remains to add that there seemed to be a great number
of them, for their fires following the round of the dry moat, stretched
further than I could see.

Scrambling down the crumpled wall by a zig-zag pathway, we came upon the
outposts of the army beneath us who challenged, then seeing with whom
they had to do, fell flat upon their faces, leaving their great spears,
which had iron spikes on their shafts like to those of the Masai,
sticking in the ground beside them.

We passed on between some of the fires and I noted how solemn and
gloomy, although handsome, were the countenances of the folk by whom
these were surrounded. Indeed, they looked like denizens of a different
world to ours, one alien to the kindly race of men. There was nothing
social about these Amahagger, who seemed to be a people labouring under
some ancient ancestral curse of which they could never shake off
the memory. Even the women rarely smiled; their clear-cut, stately
countenances remained stern and set, except when they glowered at us
incuriously. Only when Ayesha passed they prostrated themselves like the
rest.

We went on through them and across the moat, climbing its further slope
and here suddenly came upon a host of men gathered in a hollow square,
apparently in order to receive us. They stood in ranks of five or six
deep and their spear-points glimmering in the moonlight looked like
long bands of level steel. As we entered the open side of the square all
these spears were lifted. Thrice they were lifted and at each uplifting
there rose a deep-throated cry of _Hiya_, which is the Arabic for She,
and I suppose was a salutation to Ayesha.

She swept on taking no heed, till we came to the centre of the square
where a number of men were gathered who prostrated themselves in the
usual fashion. Motioning to them to rise she said,

"Captains, this very night within two hours we march against Rezu and
the sun-worshippers, since otherwise as my arts tell me, they march
against us. She-who-commands is immortal, as your fathers have known
from generation to generation, and cannot be destroyed; but you, her
servants, can be destroyed, and Rezu, who also has drunk of the Cup of
Life, out-numbers you by three to one and prepares a queen to set up in
my place over his own people and such of you as remain. As though,"
she added with a contemptuous laugh, "any woman of a day could take my
place."

She paused and the spokesman of the captains said,

"We hear, O Hiya, and we understand. What wouldst thou have us do,
O Lulala-come-to-earth? The armies of Rezu are great and from the
beginning he has hated thee and us, also his magic is as thy magic and
his length of days as thy length of days. How then can we who are few,
three thousand men at the most, match ourselves against Rezu, Son of
the Sun? Would it not be better that we should accept the terms of Rezu,
which are light, and acknowledge him as our king?"

As she heard these words I saw the tall shape of Ayesha quiver beneath
her robes, as I think, not with fear but with rage, because the meaning
of them was clear enough, namely that rather than risk a battle with
Rezu, these people were contemplating surrender and her own deposition,
if indeed she could be deposed. Still she answered in a quiet voice,

"It seems that I have dealt too gently with you and with your fathers,
Children of Lulala, whose shadow I am here upon the earth, so that
because you only see the scabbard, you have forgotten the sword within
and that it can shine forth and smite. Well, why should I be wrath
because the brutish will follow the law of brutes, though it be true
that I am minded to slay you where you stand? Hearken! Were I less
merciful I would leave you to the clutching hands of Rezu, who would
drag you one by one to the stone of sacrifice and there offer up your
hearts to his god of fire and devour your bodies with his heat. But I
bethink me of your wives and children and of your forefathers whom I
knew in the dead days, and therefore, if I may, I still would save you
from yourselves and your heads from the glowing pot.

"Take counsel together now and say--Will you fight against Rezu, or will
you yield? If that is your desire, speak it, and by to-morrow's sun I
will begone, taking these with me," and she pointed to us, "whom I have
summoned to help us in the war. Aye, I will begone, and when you are
stretched upon the stone of sacrifice, and your women and children are
the slaves of the men of Rezu, then shall you cry,

"'Oh, where is Hiya whom our fathers knew? Oh, will she not return and
save us from this hell?'

"Yes, so shall you cry but there shall come no answer, since then she
will have departed to her own habitations in the moon and thence appear
no more. Now consult together and answer swiftly, since I weary of you
and your ways."

The captains drew apart and began to talk in low voices, while Ayesha
stood still, apparently quite unconcerned, and I considered the
situation.

It was obvious to me that these people were almost in rebellion against
their strange ruler, whose power over them was of a purely moral nature,
one that emanated from her personality alone. What I wondered was, being
what she seemed to be, why she thought it worth while to exercise it at
all. Then I remembered her statement that here and nowhere else she must
abide for some secret reason, until a certain mystical gentleman with
a Greek name came to fetch her away from this appointed _rendezvous_.
Therefore I supposed she had no choice, or rather, suffering as she did
from hallucinations, believed herself to have no choice and was obliged
to put up with a crowd of disagreeable savages in quarters which were
sadly out of repair.

Presently the spokesman returned, saluted with his spear, and asked,

"If we go up to fight against Rezu, who will lead us in the battle, O
Hiya?"

"My wisdom shall be your guide," she answered, "this white man shall be
your General and there stands the warrior who shall meet Rezu face to
face and bring him to the dust," and she pointed to Umslopogaas leaning
upon his axe and watching them with a contemptuous smile.

This reply did not seem to please the man for he withdrew to consult
again with his companions. After a debate which I suppose was animated
for the Amahagger, men of few words who did not indulge in oratory, all
of them advanced on us and the spokesman said,

"The choice of a General does not please us, Hiya. We know that the
white man is brave because of the fight he made against the men of Rezu
over the mountain yonder; also that he and his followers have weapons
that deal death from afar. But there is a prophecy among us of which
none know the beginning, that he who commands in the last great battle
between Lulala and Rezu must produce before the eyes of the People of
Lulala a certain holy thing, a charm of power, without which defeat will
be the portion of Lulala. Of this holy thing, this spirit-haunted shape
of power, we know the likeness and the fashion, for these have come down
among our priests, though who told it to them we cannot tell, but of it
I will say this only, that it speaks both of the spirit and the body, of
man and yet of more than man."

"And if this wondrous charm, this talisman of might, cannot be shown by
the white lord here, what then?" asked Ayesha coldly.

"Then, Hiya, this is the word of the People of Lulala, that we will not
serve under him in the battle, and this also is their word that we will
not go up against Rezu. That thou art mighty we know well, Hiya,
also that thou canst slay if thou wilt, but we know also that Rezu is
mightier and that against him thou hast no power. Therefore kill us if
thou dost so desire, until thy heart is satisfied with death. For it
is better that we should perish thus than upon the altar of sacrifice
wearing the red-hot crowns of Rezu."

"So say we all," exclaimed the rest of the company when he had finished.

"The thought comes to me to begin to satisfy my heart with thy coward
blood and that of thy companions," said Ayesha contemptuously. Then she
paused and turning to me, added, "O Watcher-by-Night, what counsel? Is
there aught that will convince these chicken-hearted ones over whom I
have spread my feathers for so long?"

I shook my head blankly, whereat they murmured together and made as
though they would go.

Then it was that Hans, who understood something of Arabic as he did of
most African tongues, pulled my sleeve and whispered in my ear.

"The Great Medicine, Baas! Show them Zikali's Great Medicine."

Here was an idea. The description of the article required, a
"spirit-haunted shape of power" that spoke "both of the spirit and the
body of man and yet of more than man," was so vague that it might mean
anything or nothing. And yet----

I turned to Ayesha and prayed her to ask them if what they wanted should
be produced, whether they would follow me bravely and fight Rezu to the
death. She did so and with one voice they replied,

"Aye, bravely and to the death, him and the Bearer of the Axe of whom
also our legend tells."

Then with deliberation I opened my shirt and holding out the image of
Zikali as far as the chain of elephant hair would allow, I asked,

"Is this the holy thing, the charm of power, of which your legend tells,
O People of the Amahagger and worshippers of Lulala?"

The spokesman glanced at it, then snatching a brand from a watch-fire
that burnt near by held it over the carving and stared, and stared
again; and as he did, so did the others bending over him.

"Dog! would you singe my beard?" I cried in affected rage, and seizing
the brand from his hand I smote him with it over the head.

But he took no heed of the affront which I had offered to him merely
to assert my authority. Still for a few moments he stared although the
sparks from the wood were frizzling in his greasy hair, then of a sudden
went down on his face before me, as did all the others and cried out,

"It is the Holy Thing! It is the spirit-haunted Shape of Power itself,
and we the Worshippers of Lulala will follow thee to the death, O white
lord, Watcher-by-Night. Yes, where thou goest and he goes who bears the
Axe, thither will we follow till not one of us is left upon his feet."

"Then that's settled," I said, yawning, since it is never wise to show
concern about anything before savages. Indeed personally I had no wish
to be the leader of this very peculiar tribe in an adventure of which I
knew nothing, and therefore had hoped that they would leave that honour
to someone else. Then I turned and told Umslopogaas what had passed, a
tale at which he only shrugged his great shoulders, handling his axe as
though he were minded to try its edge upon some of these "Dark-lovers,"
as he named the Amahagger people because of their nocturnal habits.

Meanwhile Ayesha gave certain orders. Then she came to me and said,

"These men march at once, three thousand strong, and by dawn will camp
on the northern mountain crest. At sunrise litters will come to bear you
and those with you if they will, to join them, which you should do by
midday. In the afternoon marshall them as you think wise, for the battle
will take place in the small hours of the following morning, since the
People of Lulala only fight at night. I have said."

"Do you not come with us?" I asked, dismayed.

"Nay, not in a war against Rezu, why it matters not. Yet my Spirit will
go with you, for I shall watch all that passes, how it matters not
and perchance you may see it there--I know not. On the third day from
to-morrow we shall meet again in the flesh or beyond it, but as I think
in the flesh, and you can claim the reward which you journeyed here to
seek. A place shall be prepared for the white lady whom Rezu would have
set up as a rival queen to me. Farewell, and farewell also to yonder
Bearer of the Axe that shall drink the blood of Rezu, also to the little
yellow man who is rightly named Light-in-Darkness, as you shall learn
ere all is done."

Then before I could speak she turned and glided away, swiftly surrounded
by her guards, leaving me astonished and very uncomfortable.



CHAPTER XVI

ALLAN'S VISION

The old chamberlain, Billali, conducted us back to our camp. As we went
he discoursed to me of these Amahagger, of whom it seemed he was himself
a developed specimen, one who threw back, perhaps tens of generations,
to some superior ancestor who lived before they became debased. In
substance he told me that they were a wild and lawless lot who lived
amongst ruins or in caves, or some of them in swamp dwellings, in
small separate communities, each governed by its petty headman who was
generally a priest of their goddess Lulala.

Originally they and the people of Rezu were the same, in times when they
worshipped the sun and the moon jointly, but "thousands of years" ago,
as he expressed it, they had separated, the Rezuites having gone to
dwell to the north of the Great Mountain, whence they continually
threatened the Lulalaites whom, had it not been for She-who-commands,
they would have destroyed long before. The Rezuites, it seemed, were
habitual cannibals, whereas the Lulalaite branch of the Amahagger only
practised cannibalism occasionally when by a lucky chance they got hold
of strangers. "Such as yourself, Watcher-by-Night, and your companions,"
he added with meaning. If their crime were discovered, however, Hiya,
She-who-commands, punished it by death.

I asked if she exercised an active rule over these people. He answered
that she did not, as she lacked sufficient interest in them; only when
she was angry with individuals she would destroy some of them by "her
arts," as she had power to do if she chose. Most of them indeed had
never seen her and only knew of her existence by rumour. To them she was
a spirit or a goddess who inhabited the ancient tombs that lay to the
south of the old city whither she had come because of the threatened war
with Rezu, whom alone she feared, he did not know why. He told me again,
moreover, that she was the greatest magician who had ever been, and
that it was certain she did not die, since their forefathers knew her
generations ago. Still she seemed to be under some curse, like the
Amahagger themselves, who were the descendants of those who had once
inhabited Kôr and the country round it, as far as the sea-coast and
for hundreds of miles inland, having been a mighty people in their day
before a great plague destroyed them.

For the rest he thought that she was a very unhappy woman who "lived
with her own soul mourning the dead" and consorting with none upon the
earth.

I asked him why she stayed here, whereat he shook his head and replied,
he supposed because of the "curse," since he could conceive of no other
reason. He informed me also that her moods varied very much. Sometimes
she was fierce and active and at others by comparison mild and
low-spirited. Just now she was passing through one of the latter stages,
perhaps because of the Rezu trouble, for she did not wish her people to
be destroyed by this terrible person; or perhaps for some other reason
with which he was not acquainted.

When she chose, she knew all things, except the distant future. Thus
she knew that we were coming, also the details of our march and that
we should be attacked by the Rezuites who were going out to meet
their returning company that had been sent afar to find a white queen.
Therefore she had ordered him to go with soldiers to our assistance. I
asked why she went veiled, and he replied, because of her beauty which
drove even savage men mad, so that in old days she had been obliged to
kill a number of them.

That was all he seemed to know about her, except that she was kind to
those who served her well, like himself, and protected them from evil of
every sort.

Then I asked him about Rezu. He answered that he was a dreadful person,
undying, it was said, like She-who-commands, though he had never seen
the man himself and never wanted to do so. His followers being cannibals
and having literally eaten up all those that they could reach, were now
desirous of conquering the people of Lulala that they might eat them
also at their leisure. Each other they did not eat, because dog does not
eat dog, and therefore they were beginning to grow hungry, although they
had plenty of grain and cattle of which they used the milk and hides.

As for the coming battle, he knew nothing about it or what would happen,
save that She-who-commands said that it would go well for the Lulalaites
under my direction. She was so sure that it would go well, that she did
not think it worth while to accompany the army, for she hated noise and
bloodshed.

It occurred to me that perhaps she was afraid that she too would be
taken captive and eaten, but I kept my reflection to myself.

Just then we arrived at our camp-house, where Billali bade me farewell,
saying that he wished to rest as he must be back at dawn with litters,
when he hoped to find us ready to start. Then he departed. Umslopogaas
and Hans also went away to sleep, leaving me alone who, having taken my
repose in the afternoon, did not feel drowsy at the moment. So lovely
was the night indeed that I made up my mind to take a little walk during
the midnight hours, after the manner of the Amahagger themselves, for
having now been recognised as Generalissimo of their forces, I had
little fear of being attacked, especially as I carried a pistol in my
pocket. So off I set strolling slowly down what seemed to have been
a main street of the ancient city, which in its general appearance
resembled excavated Pompeii, only on an infinitely larger scale.

As I went I meditated on the strange circumstances in which I found
myself. Really they tempted me to believe that I was suffering from
delusions and perhaps all the while in fact lay stretched upon a bed
in the delirium of fever. That marvellous woman, for instance--even
rejecting her tale of miraculously extended life, which I did--what was
I to make of her? I did not know, except that wondrous as she was,
it remained clear that she claimed a great deal more power than she
possessed. This was evident from her tone in the interview with the
captains, and from the fact that she had shuffled off the command of her
tribe on to my shoulders. If she were so mighty, why did she not command
it herself and bring her celestial, or infernal, powers to bear upon the
enemy? Again, I could not say, but one fact emerged, namely that she
was as interesting as she was beautiful, and uncommonly clever into the
bargain.

But what a task was this that she had laid upon me, to lead into battle,
with a foe of unascertained strength, a mob of savages probably quite
undisciplined, of whose fighting qualities I knew nothing and whom I had
no opportunity of organising. The affair seemed madness and I could only
hope that luck or destiny would take me through somehow.

To tell the truth, I believed it would, for I had grown almost as
superstitious about Zikali and his Great Medicine as was Hans himself.
Certainly the effect of it upon those captains was very odd, or would
have been had not the explanation come to me in a flash. On the first
night of our meeting, as I have described, I showed this talisman to
Ayesha, as a kind of letter of credentials, and now I could see that
it was she who had arranged all the scene with the captains, or their
tribal magician, in order to get her way about my appointment to the
command.

Everything about her conduct bore this out, even her feigning ignorance
of the existence of the charm and the leaving of it to Hans to
suggest its production, which perhaps she did by influencing his mind
subconsciously. No doubt more or less it fitted in with one of those
nebulous traditions which are so common amongst ancient savage races,
and therefore once shown to her confederate, or confederates, would be
accepted by the common people as a holy sign, after which the rest was
easy.

Such an obvious explanation involved the death of any illusions I might
still cherish about this Arab lady, Ayesha, and it is true that I parted
with them with regret, as we all do when we think we have discovered
something wonderful in the female line. But there it was, and to bother
any more about her, her history and aims, seemed useless.

So dismissing her and all present anxieties from my mind, I began to
look about me and to wonder at the marvellous scene which unfolded
itself before me in the moonlight. That I might see it better, although
I was rather afraid of snakes which might hide among the stones, by
an easy ascent I climbed a mount of ruins and up the broad slope of a
tumbled massive wall, which from its thickness I judged must have been
that of some fort or temple. On the crest of this wall, some seventy or
eighty feet above the level of the streets, I sat down and looked about
me.

Everywhere around me stretched the ruins of the great city, now as
fallen and as deserted as Babylon herself. The majestic loneliness
of the place was something awful. Even the vision of companies and
battalions of men crossing the plain towards the north with the
moonlight glistening on their spear-points, did little to lessen this
sense of loneliness. I knew that these were the regiments which I was
destined to command, travelling to the camp where I must meet them. But
in such silence did they move that no sound came from them even in the
deathly stillness of the perfect night, so that almost I was tempted to
believe them to be the shadow-ghosts of some army of old Kôr.

They vanished, and musing thus I think I must have dozed. At any rate it
seemed to me that of a sudden the city was as it had been in the days
of its glory. I saw it brilliant with a hundred colours; everywhere was
colour, on the painted walls and roofs, the flowering trees that lined
the streets and the bright dresses of the men and women who by thousands
crowded them and the marts and squares. Even the chariots that moved to
and fro were coloured as were the countless banners which floated from
palace walls and temple tops.

The enormous place teemed with every activity of life; brides being
borne to marriage and dead men to burial; squadrons marching, clad
in glittering armour; merchants chaffering; white-robed priests and
priestesses passing in procession (who or what did they worship? I
wondered); children breaking out of school; grave philosophers debating
in the shadow of a cool arcade; a royal person making a progress
preceded by runners and surrounded by slaves, and lastly the multitudes
of citizens going about the daily business of life.

Even details were visible, such as those of officers of the law chasing
an escaped prisoner who had a broken rope tied to his arm, and a
collision between two chariots in a narrow street, about the wrecks of
which an idle mob gathered as it does to-day if two vehicles collide,
while the owners argued, gesticulating angrily, and the police and
grooms tried to lift a fallen horse on to its feet. Only no sound of the
argument or of anything else reached me. I saw, and that was all. The
silence remained intense, as well it might do, since those chariots must
have come to grief thousands upon thousands of years ago.

A cloud seemed to pass before my eyes, a thin, gauzy cloud which somehow
reminded me of the veil that Ayesha wore. Indeed at the moment, although
I could not see her, I would have sworn that she was present at my side,
and what is more, that she was mocking me who had set her down as so
impotent a trickstress, which doubtless was part of the dream.

At any rate I returned to my normal state, and there about me were the
miles of desolate streets and the thousands of broken walls, and the
black blots of roofless houses and the wide, untenanted plain bounded by
the battlemented line of encircling mountain crests, and above all, the
great moon shining softly in a tender sky.

I looked and thrilled, though oppressed by the drear and desolate beauty
of the scene around me, descended the wall and the ruined slope and made
my way homewards, afraid even of my own shadow. For I seemed to be the
only living thing among the dead habitations of immemorial Kôr.



Reaching our camp I found Hans awake and watching for me.

"I was just coming to look for you, Baas," he said. "Indeed I should
have done so before, only I knew that you had gone to pay a visit to
that tall white 'Missis' who ties up her head in a blanket, and thought
that neither of you would like to be disturbed."

"Then you thought wrong," I answered, "and what is more, if you had made
that visit I think it might have been one from which you would never
have come back."

"Oh yes, Baas," sniggered Hans. "The tall white lady would not have
minded. It is you who are so particular, after the fashion of men whom
Heaven made very shy."

Without deigning to reply to the gibes of Hans I went to lie down,
wondering what kind of a bed poor Robertson occupied that night, and
soon fell asleep, as fortunately for myself I have the power to do,
whatever my circumstances at the moment. Men who can sleep are those who
do the work of the world and succeed, though personally I have had more
of the work than of the success.



I was awakened at the first grey dawn by Hans, who informed me that
Billali was waiting outside with litters, also that Goroko had already
made his incantations and doctored Umslopogaas and his two men for war
after the Zulu fashion when battle was expected. He added that these
Zulus had refused to be left behind to guard and nurse their wounded
companions, and said that rather than do so, they would kill them.

Somehow, he informed me, in what way he could not guess, this had come
to the ears of the White Lady who "hid her face from men because it was
so ugly," and she had sent women to attend to the sick ones, with
word that they should be well cared for. All of this proved to be true
enough, but I need not enter into the details.

In the end off we went, I in my litter following Billali's, with an
express and a repeating rifle and plenty of ammunition for both, and
Hans, also well armed, in that which had been sent for Umslopogaas, who
preferred to walk with Goroko and the two other Zulus.

For a little while Hans enjoyed the sensation of being carried by
somebody else, and lay upon the cushions smoking with a seraphic smile
and addressing sarcastic remarks to the bearers, who fortunately did not
understand them. Soon, however, he wearied of these novel delights and
as he was still determined not to walk until he was obliged, climbed on
to the roof of the litter, astride of which he sat as though it were
a horse, looking for all the world like a toy monkey on a horizontal
stick.

Our road ran across the level, fertile plain but a small portion of
which was cultivated, though I could see that at some time or other,
when its population was greater, every inch of it had been under crop.
Now it was largely covered by trees, many of them fruit-bearing,
between which meandered streams of water which once, I think, had been
irrigation channels.

About ten o'clock we reached the foot of the encircling cliffs and began
the climb of the escarpment, which was steep, tortuous and difficult.
By noon we reached its crest and here found all our little army encamped
and, except for the sentries, sleeping, as seemed to be the invariable
custom of these people in the daytime.

I caused the chief captains to be awakened and with them made a circuit
of the camp, reckoning the numbers of the men which came to about 3,250
and learning what I could concerning them and their way of fighting.
Then, accompanied by Umslopogaas and Hans with the Zulus as a guard,
also by three of the head-captains of the Amahagger, I walked forward to
study the lie of the land.

Coming to the further edge of the escarpment, I found that at this place
two broad-based ridges, shaped like those that spring from the boles of
certain tropical forest trees, ran from its crest to the plain beneath
at a gentle slope. Moreover I saw that on this plain between the ends
of the ridges an army was encamped which, by the aid of my glasses, I
examined and estimated to number at least ten thousand men.

This army, the Amahagger captains informed me, was that of Rezu, who,
they said, intended to commence his attack at dawn on the following
morning, since the People of Rezu, being sun-worshippers, would never
fight until their god appeared above the horizon. Having studied all
there was to see I asked the captains to set out their plan of battle,
if they had a plan.

The chief of them answered that it was to advance halfway down the
right-hand ridge to a spot where there was a narrow flat piece of
ground, and there await attack, since at this place their smaller
numbers would not so much matter, whereas these made it impossible for
them to assail the enemy.

"But suppose that Rezu should choose to come up to the other ridge and
get behind you. What would happen then?" I inquired.

He replied that he did not know, his ideas of strategy being, it was
clear, of a primitive order.

"Do your people fight best at night or in the day?" I went on.

He said undoubtedly at night, indeed in all their history there was no
record of their having done so in the daytime.

"And yet you propose to let Rezu join battle with you when the sun is
high, or in other words to court defeat," I remarked.

Then I went aside and discussed things for a while with Umslopogaas and
Hans, after which I returned and gave my orders, declining all argument.
Briefly these were that in the dusk before the rising of the moon, our
Amahagger must advance down the right-hand ridge in complete silence,
and hide themselves among the scrub which I saw grew thickly near its
root. A small party, however, under the leadership of Goroko, whom I
knew to be a brave and clever captain, was to pass halfway down the
left-hand ridge and there light fires over a wide area, so as to make
the enemy think that our whole force had encamped there. Then at the
proper moment which I had not yet decided upon, we would attack the army
of Rezu.

The Amahagger captains did not seem pleased with this plan which I think
was too bold for their fancy, and began to murmur together. Seeing that
I must assert my authority at once, I walked up to them and said to
their chief man,

"Hearken, my friend. By your own wish, not mine, I have been appointed
your general and I expect to be obeyed without question. From the moment
that the advance begins you will keep close to me and to the Black One,
and if so much as one of your men hesitates or turns back, you will
die," and I nodded towards the axe of Umslopogaas. "Moreover, afterwards
She-who-commands will see that others of you die, should you escape in
the fight."

Still they hesitated. Thereon without another word, I produced Zikali's
Great Medicine and held it before their eyes, with the result that the
sight of this ugly thing did what even the threat of death could not do.
They went flat on the ground, every one of them, and swore by Lulala
and by She-who-commands, her priestess, that they would do all I said,
however mad it seemed to them.

"Good," I answered. "Now go back and make ready, and for the rest, by
this time to-morrow we shall know who is or is not mad."

From that moment till the end I had no more trouble with these
Amahagger.



I will get on quickly with the story of this fight whereof the
preliminary details do not matter. At the proper time Goroko went off
with two hundred and fifty men and one of the two Zulus to light the
fires and, at an agreed signal, namely the firing of two shots in rapid
succession by myself, to begin shouting and generally make as much noise
as they could.

We also went off with the remaining three thousand, and before the moon
rose, crept as quietly as ghosts down the right-hand ridge. Being such
a silent folk who were accustomed to move at night and could see in
the dark almost as well as cats, the Amahagger executed this manoeuvre
splendidly, wrapping their spear-blades in bands of dry grass lest light
should glint on them and betray our movements. So in due course we came
to the patch of bush where the ridge widened out about five hundred
yards from the plain beneath, and there lay down in four companies or
regiments, each of them about seven hundred and fifty strong.

Now the moon had risen, but because of the mist which covered the
surface of the plain, we could see nothing of the camp of Rezu which we
knew must be within a thousand yards of us, unless indeed it had been
moved, as the silence seemed to suggest.

This circumstance gave me much anxiety, since I feared lest abandoning
their reputed habits, these Rezuites were also contemplating a night
attack. Umslopogaas, too, was disturbed on the subject, though because
of Goroko and his men whose fires began to twinkle on the opposing ridge
something over a mile away, they could not pass up there without our
knowledge.

Still, for aught I knew there might be other ways of scaling this
mountain. I did not trust the Amahagger, who declared that none existed,
since their local knowledge was slight as they never visited these
northern slopes because of their fear of Rezu. Supposing that the enemy
gained the crest and suddenly assaulted us in the rear! The thought of
it made me feel cold down the back.

While I was wondering how I could find out the truth, Hans, who was
squatted behind a bush, suddenly rose and gave the rifle he was carrying
to the remaining Zulu.

"Baas," he said, "I am going to look and find out what those people are
doing, if they are still there, and then you will know how and when to
attack them. Don't be afraid for me, Baas, it will be easy in that mist
and you know I can move like a snake. Also if I should not come back, it
does not matter and it will tell you that they _are_ there."

I hesitated who did not wish to expose the brave little Hottentot to
such risks. But when he understood, Umslopogaas said,

"Let the man go. It is his gift and duty to spy, as it is mine to smite
with the axe, and yours to lead, Macumazahn. Let him go, I say."

I nodded my head, and having kissed my hand in his silly fashion in
token of much that he did not wish to say, Hans slipped out of sight,
saying that he hoped to be back within an hour. Except for his great
knife, he went unarmed, who feared that if he took a pistol he might be
tempted to fire it and make a noise.



CHAPTER XVII

THE MIDNIGHT BATTLE

That hour went by very slowly. Again and again I consulted my watch by
the light of the moon, which was now rising high in the heavens, and
thought that it would never come to an end. Listen as I would, there was
nothing to be heard, and as the mist still prevailed the only thing
I could see except the heavens, was the twinkling of the fires lit by
Goroko and his party.

At length it was done and there was no sign of Hans. Another half hour
passed and still no sign of Hans.

"I think that Light-in-Darkness is dead or taken prisoner," said
Umslopogaas.

I answered that I feared so, but that I would give him another fifteen
minutes and then, if he did not appear, I proposed to order an advance,
hoping to find the enemy where we had last seen them from the top of the
mountain.

The fifteen minutes went by also, and as I could see that the Amahagger
captains who sat at a little distance were getting very nervous, I
picked up my double-barrelled rifle and turned round so that I faced
up hill with a view of firing it as had been agreed with Goroko, but in
such a fashion that the flashes perhaps would not be seen from the plain
below. For this purpose I moved a few yards to the left to get behind
the trunk of a tree that grew there, and was already lifting the rifle
to my shoulder, when a yellow hand clasped the barrel and a husky voice
said,

"Don't fire yet, Baas, as I want to tell you my story first."

I looked down and there was the ugly face of Hans wearing a grin that
might have frightened the man in the moon.

"Well," I said with cold indifference, assumed I admit to hide my
excessive joy at his safe return, "tell on, and be quick about it. I
suppose you lost your way and never found them."

"Yes, Baas, I lost my way for the fog was very thick down there. But in
the end I found them all right, by my nose, Baas, for those man-eating
people smell strong and I got the wind of one of their sentries. It was
easy to pass him in the mist, Baas, so easy that I was tempted to cut
his throat as I went, but I didn't for fear lest he should make a noise.
No, I walked on right into the middle of them, which was easy too, for
they were all asleep, wrapped up in blankets. They hadn't any fires
perhaps because they didn't want them to be seen, or perhaps because it
is so hot down in that low land, I don't know which.

"So I crept on taking note of all I saw, till at last I came to a little
hill of which the top rose above the level of the mist, so that I could
see on it a long hut built of green boughs with the leaves still fresh
upon them. Now I thought that I would crawl up to the hut since it came
into my mind that Rezu himself must be sleeping there and that I might
kill him. But while I stood hesitating I heard a noise like to that made
by an old woman whose husband had thrown a blanket over her head to keep
her quiet, or to that of a bee in a bottle, a sort of droning noise that
reminded me of something.

"I thought a while and remembered that when Red Beard was on his knees
praying to Heaven, as is his habit when he has nothing else to do, Baas,
he makes a noise just like that. I crept towards the sound and presently
there I found Red Beard himself tied upon a stone and looking as mad as
a buffalo bull stuck in a swamp, for he shook his head and rolled his
eyes about, just as though he had had two bottles of bad gin, Baas, and
all the while he kept saying prayers. Now I thought that I would cut him
loose, and bent over him to do so, when by ill-luck he saw my face and
began to shout, saying,

"'Go away, you yellow devil. I know you have come to take me to hell,
but you are too soon, and if my hands were loose I would twist your head
off your shoulders.'

"He said this in English, Baas, which as you know I can understand quite
well, after which I was sure that I had better leave him alone. Whilst
I was thinking, there came out of the hut above two old men dressed in
night-shirts, such as you white people wear, with yellow things upon
their heads that had a metal picture of the sun in front of them."

"Medicine-men," I suggested.

"Yes, Baas, or Predikants of some sort, for they were rather like
your reverend father when he dressed himself up and went into a box to
preach. Seeing them I slipped back a little way to where the mist began,
lay down and listened. They looked at Red Beard, for his shouts at me
had brought them out, but he took no notice of them, only went on making
a noise like a beetle in a tin can.

"'It is nothing,' said one of the Predikants to the other in the same
tongue that these Amahagger use. 'But when is he to be sacrificed? Soon,
I hope, for I cannot sleep because of the noise he makes.'

"'When the edge of the sun appears, not before,' answered the other
Predikant. 'Then the new queen will be brought out of the hut and this
white man will be sacrificed to her.'

"'I think it is a pity to wait so long,' said the first Predikant, 'for
never shall we sleep in peace until the red-hot pot is on his head.'

"'First the victory, then the feast,' answered the second Predikant,
'though he will not be so good to eat as that fat young woman who was
with the new queen.'

"Then, Baas, they both smacked their lips and one of them went back
towards the hut. But the other did not go back. No, he sat down on the
ground and glowered at Baas Red-Beard upon the stone. More, he struck
him on the face to make him quiet.

"Now, Baas, when I saw this and remembered that they had said that they
had eaten Janee whom I liked although she was such a fool, the spirit in
me grew so very angry and I thought that I would give this old _skellum_
(i.e. rascal) of a Predikant a taste of sacrifice himself, after which I
purposed to creep to the hut and see if I could get speech with the Lady
Sad-Eyes, if she was there.

"So I wriggled up behind the Predikant as he sat glowering over
Red-Beard, and stuck my knife into his back where I thought it would
kill him at once. But it didn't, Baas, for he fell on to his face and
began to make a noise like a wounded hyena before I could finish him.
Then I heard a sound of shouts, and to save my life was obliged to run
away into the mist, without loosing Red-Beard or seeing Lady Sad-Eyes.
I ran very hard, Baas, making a wide circle to the left, and so at last
got back here. That's all, Baas."

"And quite enough, too," I answered, "though if they did not see you,
the death of the Medicine-man may frighten them. Poor Janee! Well, I
hope to come even with those devils before they are three hours older."

Then I called up Umslopogaas and the Amahagger captains and told them
the substance of the story, also that Hans had located the army, or part
of it.

The end of it was that we made up our minds to attack at once; indeed
I insisted on this, as I was determined if I could to save that
unfortunate man, Robertson, who, from Hans' account, evidently was now
quite mad and raving. So I fired the two shots as had been arranged
and presently heard the sound of distant shoutings on the slope of
the opposing ridge. A few minutes later we started, Umslopogaas and I
leading the vanguard and the Amahagger captains following with the three
remaining companies.

Now the reader, presuming the existence of such a person, will think
that everything is sure to go right; that this cunning old fellow, Allan
Quatermain, is going to surprise and wipe the floor with those Rezuites,
who were already beguiled by the trick he had instructed Goroko to play.
That after this he will rescue Robertson who doubtless shortly recovers
his mind, also Inez with the greatest ease, in fact that everything will
happen as it ought to do if this were a romance instead of a mere record
of remarkable facts. But being the latter, as it happened, matters did
not work out quite in this convenient way.

To begin with, when those Amahagger told me that the Rezuites never
fought in the dark or before the sun was well up, either they lied or
they were much mistaken, for at any rate on this occasion they did the
exact contrary. All the while that we thought we were stalking them,
they were stalking us. The Goroko manoeuvre had not deceived them in the
least, since from their spies they knew its exact significance.

Here, I may add that those spies were in our own ranks, traitors, in
short, who were really in the pay of Rezu and possibly belonged to his
abominable faith, some of whom slipped away from time to time to the
enemy to report our progress and plans, so far as they knew them.

Further, what Hans had stumbled on was a mere rear guard left around the
place of sacrifice and the hut where Inez was confined. The real army he
never found at all. That was divided into two bodies and hidden in bush
to the right and left of the ridge which we were descending just at the
spot where it joined the plain beneath, and into the jaws of these two
armies we marched gaily.

Now that hypothetical reader will say, "Why didn't that silly old fool,
Allan, think of all these things? Why didn't he remember that he was
commanding a pack of savages with whom he had no real acquaintance,
among whom there were sure to be traitors, especially as they were of
the same blood as the Rezuites, and take precautions?"

Ah! my dear reader, I will only answer that I wish you had handled the
job yourself, and enjoyed the opportunity of seeing what _you_ could do
in the circumstances. Do you suppose I didn't think of all these points?
Of course I did. But have you ever heard of the difficulty of making
silk purses out of sows' ears, or of turning a lot of gloomy and
disagreeable barbarians whom you had never even drilled, into
trustworthy and efficient soldiers ready to fight three times their own
number and beat them?

Also I beg to observe that I did get through somehow, as you shall
learn, which is more than you might have done, Mr. Wisdom, though I
admit, not without help from another quarter. It is all very well for
you to sit in your armchair and be sapient and turn up your learned
nose, like the gentlemen who criticise plays and poems, an easy job
compared to the writing of them. From all of which, however, you
will understand that I am, to tell the truth, rather ashamed of what
followed, since _qui s'excuse, s'accuse_.

As we slunk down that hill in the moonlight, a queer-looking crowd, I
admit also that I felt very uncomfortable. To begin with I did not like
that remark of the Medicine-man which Hans reported, to the effect that
the feast must come after the victory, especially as he had said just
before that Robertson was to be sacrificed as the sun rose, which would
seem to suggest that the "victory" was planned to take place before that
event.

While I was ruminating upon this subject, I looked round for Hans to
cross-examine him as to the priest's exact words, only to find that he
had slunk off somewhere. A few minutes later he reappeared running back
towards us swiftly and, I noticed, taking shelter behind tree trunks and
rocks as he came.

"Baas," he gasped, for he was out of breath, "be careful, those Rezu men
are on either side ahead. I went forward and ran into them. They threw
many spears at me. Look!" and he showed a slight cut on his arm from
which blood was flowing.

Instantly I understood that we were ambushed and began to think very
hard indeed. As it chanced we were passing across a large flat space
upon the ridge, say seven or eight acres in extent, where the bush grew
lightly, though owing to the soil being better, the trees were tall.

On the steep slope below this little plain it seemed to be denser and
there it was, according to Hans, that the ambush was set. I halted my
regiment and sent back messengers to the others that they were to halt
also as they came up, on the pretext of giving them a rest before they
were marshalled and we advanced to the battle.

Then I told Umslopogaas what Hans said and asked him to send out his
Zulu soldier whom he could trust, to see if he could obtain confirmation
of the report. This he did at once. Also I asked him what he thought
should be done, supposing that it was true.

"Form the Amahagger into a ring or a square and await attack," he
answered.

I nodded, for that was my own opinion, but replied,

"If they were Zulus, the plan would be good. But how do we know that
these men will stand?"

"We know nothing, Macumazahn, and therefore can only try. If they run it
must be up-hill."

Then I called the captains and told them what was toward, which seemed
to alarm them very much. Indeed one or two of them wanted to retreat at
once, but I said I would shoot the first man who tried to do so. In
the end they agreed to my plan and said that they would post their best
soldiers above, at the top of the square, with the orders to stop any
attempt at a flight up the mountain.

After this we formed up the square as best we could, arranging it in
a rather rough, four-fold line. While we were doing this we heard some
shouts below and presently the Zulu returned, who reported that all
was as Hans had said and that Rezu's men were moving round us, having
discovered, as he thought, that we had halted and escaped their ambush.

Still the attack did not develop at once, for the reason that the Rezu
army was crawling up the steep flanks of the spur on either side of the
level piece of ground, with a view of encircling us altogether, so as
to make a clean sweep of our force. As a matter of fact, considered from
our point of view, this was a most fortunate move, since thereby they
stopped any attempt at a retreat on the part of our Amahagger, whose
bolt-hole was now blocked.

When we had done all we could, we sat down, or at least I did, and
waited. The night, I remember, was strangely still, only from the slopes
on either side of our plateau came a kind of rustling sound which
in fact was caused by the feet of Rezu's people, as they marched to
surround us.

It ceased at last and the silence grew complete, so much so that I could
hear the teeth of some of our tall Amahagger chattering with fear, a
sound that gave me little confidence and caused Umslopogaas to remark
that the hearts of these big men had never grown; they remained "as
those of babies." I told the captains to pass the word down the ranks
that those who stood might live, but those who fled would certainly die.
Therefore if they wished to see their homes again they had better stand
and fight like men. Otherwise most of them would be killed and the rest
eaten by Rezu. This was done, and I observed that the message seemed to
produce a steadying effect upon our ranks.

Suddenly all around us, from below, from above and on either side there
broke a most awful roar which seemed to shape itself into the word,
_Rezu_, and next minute also from above, below and either side, some ten
thousand men poured forth upon our square.

In the moonlight they looked very terrible with their flowing white
robes and great gleaming spears. Hans and I fired some shots, though
for all the effect they produced, we might as well have pelted a breaker
with pebbles. Then, as I thought that I should be more useful alive than
dead, I retreated within the square, Umslopogaas, his Zulu, and Hans
coming with me.

On the whole our Amahagger stood the attack better than I expected. They
beat back the first rush with considerable loss to the enemy, also the
second after a longer struggle. Then there was a pause during which we
re-formed our ranks, dragging the wounded men into the square.

Scarcely had we done this when with another mighty shout of "Rezu!" the
enemy attacked again--that was about an hour after the battle had begun.
But now they had changed their tactics, for instead of trying to rush
all sides of the square at once, they concentrated their efforts on the
western front, that which faced towards the plain below.

On they came, and among them in the forefront of the battle, now and
again I caught sight of a gigantic man, a huge creature who seemed to me
to be seven feet high and big in proportion. I could not see him clearly
because of the uncertain moonlight, but I noted his fierce aspect, also
that he had an enormous beard, black streaked with grey, that flowed
down to his middle, and that his hair hung in masses upon his shoulders.

"Rezu himself!" I shouted to Umslopogaas.

"Aye, Macumazahn, Rezu himself without doubt, and I rejoice to see him
for he will be a worthy foe to fight. Look! he carries an axe as I do.
Now I must save my strength for when we come face to face I shall need
it all."

I thought that I would spare Umslopogaas this exertion and watched my
opportunity to put a bullet through this giant. But I could never get
one. Once when I had covered him an Amahagger rushed in front of my gun
so that I could not shoot, and when a second chance came a little cloud
floated over the face of the moon and made him invisible. After that I
had other things to which to attend, since, as I expected would happen,
the western face of our square gave, and yelling like devils, the enemy
began to pour in through the gap.

A cold thrill went through me for I saw that the game was up. To re-form
these undisciplined Amahagger was impossible; nothing was to be expected
except panic, rout and slaughter. I cursed my folly for ever having had
anything to do with the business, while Hans screamed to me in a thin
voice that the only chance was for us three and the Zulu to bolt and
hide in the bush.

I did not answer him because, apart from any nasty pride, the thing was
impossible, for how could we get through those struggling masses of men
which surrounded us on every side? No, my clock had struck, so I went on
making a kind of mental sandwich of prayers and curses; prayers for
my soul and forgiveness for my sins, and curses on the Amahagger and
everything to do with them, especially Zikali and the woman called
Ayesha, who, between them, had led me into this affair.

"Perhaps the Great Medicine of Zikali," piped Hans again as he fired a
rifle at the advancing foe.

"Hang the Great Medicine," I shouted back, "and Ayesha with it. No
wonder she declined to take a hand in this business."

As I spoke the words I saw old Billali, who not being a man of war was
keeping as close to us as he could, go flat onto his venerable face, and
reflected that he must have got a thrown spear through him. Casting a
hurried glance at him to see if he were done for or only wounded, out
of the corner of my eye I caught sight of something diaphanous which
gleamed in the moonlight and reminded me of I knew not what at the
moment.

I looked round quickly to see what it might be and lo! there, almost at
my side was the veiled Ayesha herself, holding in her hand a little rod
made of black wood inlaid with ivory not unlike a field marshal's baton,
or a sceptre.

I never saw her come and to this day I do not know how she did so; she
was just there and what is more she must have put luminous paint or
something else on her robes, for they gleamed with a sort of faint,
phosphorescent fire, which in the moonlight made her conspicuous all
over the field of battle. Nor did she speak a single word, she only
waved the rod, pointed with it towards the fierce hordes who were
drawing near to us, killing as they came, and began to move forward with
a gliding motion.

Now from every side there went up a roar of "_She-who-commands!
She-who-commands!_" while the people of Rezu in front shouted "_Lulala!
Lulala!_ Fly, Lulala is upon us with the witchcrafts of the moon!"

She moved forward and by some strange impulse, for no order was given,
we all began to move after her. Yes, the ranks that a minute before were
beginning to give way to wild panic, became filled with a marvellous
courage and moved after her.

The men of Rezu also, and I suppose with them Rezu himself, for I saw no
more of him at that time, began to move uncommonly fast over the edge
of the plateau towards the plain beneath. In fact they broke into flight
and leaping over dead and dying, we rushed after them, always following
the gleaming robe of Ayesha, who must have been an extremely agile
person, since without any apparent exertion she held her place a few
steps ahead of us.

There was another curious circumstance about this affair, namely, that
terrified though they were, those Rezuites, after the first break, soon
seemed to find it impossible to depart with speed. They kept turning
round to look behind them at that following vision, as though they were
so many of Lot's wives. Moreover, the same fate overtook many of them
which fell upon that scriptural lady, since they appeared to become
petrified and stood there quite still, like rabbits fascinated by a
snake, until our people came up and killed them.

This slaying went on all down the last steep slope of the ridge, on
which I suppose at least two-thirds of the army of Rezu must have
perished, since our Amahagger showed themselves very handy men when it
came to exterminating foes who were too terror-struck to fight, and,
exhilarated by the occupation, gained courage every moment.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE SLAYING OF REZU

At last we were on the plain, the bemused remnant of Rezu's army still
doubling before us like a mob of game pursued by wild dogs. Here we
halted to re-form our ranks; it seemed to me, although still she spoke
no word, that some order reached me from the gleaming Ayesha that
I should do this. The business took twenty minutes or so, and then,
numbering about two thousand five hundred strong, for the rest had
fallen in the fight of the square, we advanced again.

Now there came that dusk which often precedes the rising of the sun, and
through it I could see that the battle was not yet over, since gathered
in front of us was still a force about equal to our own. Ayesha pointed
towards it with her wand and we leapt forward to the attack. Here the
men of Rezu stood awaiting us, for they seemed to overcome their terror
with the approach of day.

The battle was fierce, a very strange battle in that dim, uncertain
light, which scarcely showed us friend from foe. Indeed I am not sure
that we should have won it, since Ayesha was no longer visible to give
our Amahagger confidence, and as the courage of the Rezuites increased,
so theirs seemed to lessen with the passing of the night.

Fortunately, however, just as the issue hung doubtful, there was a
shout to our left and looking, I made out the tall shape of Goroko, the
witch-doctor, with the other Zulu, followed by his two hundred and fifty
men, and leaping on to the flank of the line of Rezu.

That settled the business. The enemy crumpled up and melted, and just
then the first lights of dawn appeared in the sky. I looked about me for
Ayesha, but she had gone, where to I knew not, though at the moment I
feared that she must have been killed in the mêlée.

Then I gave up looking and thinking, since now or never was the time
for action. Signalling and shouting to those hatchet-faced Amahagger to
advance, accompanied by Umslopogaas with Goroko who had joined us, and
Hans, I sprang forward to give them an example, which, to be just to
them, they took.

"This is the mound on which Red-Beard should be," cried Hans as we faced
a little slope.

I ran up it and through the gloom which precedes the actual dawn, saw a
group of men gathered round something, as people collect about a street
accident.

"Red-Beard on the stone. They are killing him," screeched Hans again.

It was so; at least several white-robed priests were bending over a
prostrate figure with knives in their hands, while behind stood the huge
fellow whom I took to be Rezu, staring towards the east as though he
were waiting for the rim of the sun to appear before he gave some order.
At that very moment it did appear, just a thin edge of bright light on
the horizon, and he turned, shouting the order.

Too late! For we were on them. Umslopogaas cut down one of the priests
with his axe, and the men about me dealt with the others, while Hans
with a couple of sweeps of his long knife, severed the cords with which
Robertson was tied.

The poor man who in the growing light I could see was raving mad, sprang
up, calling out something in Scotch about "the deil." Seizing a great
spear which had fallen from the hand of one of the priests, he rushed
furiously at the giant who had given the order, and with a yell drove
it at his heart. I saw the spear snap, from which I concluded that this
man, whom rightly I took to be Rezu, wore some kind of armour.

Next instant the axe he held, a great weapon, flashed aloft and down
went Robertson before its awful stroke, stone dead, for as we found out
afterwards, he was cloven almost in two. At the sight of the death of
my poor friend rage took hold of me. In my hand was a double-barrelled
rifle, an Express loaded with hollow-pointed bullets. I covered the
giant and let drive, first with one barrel and then with the other, and
what is more, distinctly I heard both bullets strike upon him.

Yet he did not fall. He rocked a little, that is all, then turned and
marched off towards a hut, that whereof Hans had told me, which stood
about fifty yards away.

"Leave him to me," shouted Umslopogaas. "Steel cuts where bullets cannot
pierce," and with a bound like to that of a buck, the great Zulu leapt
away after him.

I think that Rezu meant to enter the hut for some purpose of his own,
but Umslopogaas was too hard upon his tracks. At any rate he ran past it
and down the other slope of the little hill on to the plain behind where
the remnants of his army were trying to re-form. There in front of them
the giant turned and stood at bay.

Umslopogaas halted also, waiting for us to come up, since, cunning old
warrior as he was, he feared lest should he begin the fight before that
happened, the horde of them would fall on him. Thirty seconds later
we arrived and found him standing still with bent body, small shield
advanced and the great axe raised as though in the act of striking, a
wondrous picture outlined as it was against the swiftly rising-sun.

Some ten paces away stood the giant leaning on the axe he bore, which
was not unlike to that with which woodmen fell big trees. He was an evil
man to see and at this, my first full sight of him, I likened him in
my mind to Goliath whom David overthrew. Huge he was and hairy, with
deep-set, piercing eyes and a great hooked nose. His face seemed thin
and ancient also, when with a motion of the great head, he tossed his
long locks back from about it, but his limbs were those of a Hercules
and his movements full of a youthful vigour. Moreover his aspect as a
whole was that of a devil rather than of a man; indeed the sight of it
sickened me.

"Let me shoot him," I cried to Umslopogaas, for I had reloaded the rifle
as I ran.

"Nay, Watcher-by-Night," answered the Zulu without moving his head,
"rifle has had its chance and failed. Now let us see what axe can do. If
I cannot kill this man, I will be borne hence feet first who shall have
made a long journey for nothing."

Then the giant began to talk in a low, rumbling voice that reverberated
from the slope of the little hill behind us.

"Who are you?" he asked, speaking in the same tongue that the Amahagger
use, "who dare to come face to face with Rezu? Black hound, do you not
know that I cannot be slain who have lived a year for every week of your
life's days, and set my foot upon the necks of men by thousands. Have
you not seen the spear shatter and the iron balls melt upon my breast
like rain-drops, and would you try to bring me down with that toy you
carry? My army is defeated--I know it. But what matters that when I can
get me more? Because the sacrifice was not completed and the white queen
was not wed, therefore my army was defeated by the magic of Lulala, the
White Witch who dwells in the tombs. But _I_ am not defeated who cannot
be slain until I show my back, and then only by a certain axe which long
ago has rusted into dust."

Now of this long speech Umslopogaas understood nothing, so I answered
for him, briefly enough, but to the point, for there flashed into my
mind all Ayesha's tale about an axe.

"A certain axe!" I cried. "Aye, a certain axe! Well, look at that which
is held by the Black One, the captain who is named Slaughterer, the
ancient axe whose title is Chieftainess, because if so she wills, she
takes the lives of all. Look at it well, Rezu, Giant and Wizard, and
say whether it is not that which your forefather lost, that which is
destined to bring you to your doom?"

Thus I spoke, very loudly that all might hear, slowly also, pausing
between each word because I wished to give time for the light to
strengthen, seeing as I did that the rays of the rising sun struck upon
the face of the giant, whereas the eyes of Umslopogaas were less dazzled
by it.

Rezu heard, and stared at the axe which Umslopogaas held aloft, causing
it to quiver slightly by an imperceptible motion of his arm. As he
stared I saw his hideous face change, and that on it for the first time
gathered a look of something resembling fear. Also his followers behind
him who were also studying the axe, began to murmur together.

For here I should say that as though by common consent the battle had
been stayed; we no longer attacked and the enemy no longer ran. They,
or whose who were left of them, stood still as though they felt that the
real and ultimate issue of the fight depended upon the forthcoming duel
between these two champions, though of that issue they had little
doubt since, as I learned afterwards, they believed their king to be
invulnerable.

For quite a while Rezu went on staring. Then he said aloud as if he were
thinking to himself.

"It is like, very like. The horn haft is the same; the pointed gouge is
the same; the blade shaped like the young moon is the same. Almost could
I think that before me shook the ancient holy axe. Nay, the gods have
taken that back long ago and this is but a trick of the witch, Lulala of
the Caves."

Thus he spoke, but still for a moment hesitated.

"Umslopogaas," I said in the deep silence that followed, "hear me."

"I hear you," he answered without turning his head or moving his arms.
"What counsel, Watcher-by-Night?"

"This, Slaughterer. Strike not at that man's face and breast, for there
I think he is protected by witchcraft or by armour. Get behind him and
strike at his back. Do you understand?"

"Nay, Macumazahn, I understand not. Yet I will do your bidding because
you are wiser than I and utter no empty words. Now be still."

Then Umslopogaas threw the axe into the air and caught it as it fell,
and as he did so began to chant his own praises Zulu fashion.

"Oho!" he said, "I am the child of the Lion, the Black-maned Lion, whose
claws never loosened of their prey. I am the Wolf-king, he who hunted
with the wolves upon the Witch-mountain with my brother, Bearer of
the Club named Watcher-of-the-Fords, I am he who slew him called the
Unconquered, Chief of the People of the Axe, he who bore the ancient Axe
before me; I am he who smote the Halakazi tribe in their caves and won
me Nada the Lily to wife. I am he who took to the King Dingaan a gift
that he loved little, and afterward with Mopo, my foster-sire, hurled
this Dingaan down to death. I am the Royal One, named Bulalio the
Slaughterer, named Woodpecker, named Umhlopekazi the Captain, before
whom never yet man has stood in fair and open fight. Now, thou Wizard
Rezu, now thou Giant, now thou Ghost-man, come on against me and before
the sun has risen by a hand's breadth, all those who watch shall see
which of us is better at the game of war. Come on, then! Come on, for
I say that my blood boils over and my feet grow cold. Come on, thou
grinning dog, thou monster grown fat with eating the flesh of men, thou
hook-beaked vulture, thou old, grey-whiskered wolf!"

Thus he changed in his fierce, boastful way, while his two remaining
Zulus clapped their hands and sentence by sentence echoed his words, and
Goroko, the witch-doctor, muttered incantations behind him.

While he sang thus Umslopogaas began to stir. First only his head and
shoulders moved gently, swaying from side to side like a reed shaken in
the wind or a snake about to strike. Then slowly he put out first one
foot and next the other and drew them back again, as a dancer might do,
tempting Rezu to attack.

But the giant would not, his shield held before him, he stood still and
waited to see what this black warrior would do.

The snake struck. Umslopogaas darted in and let drive with the long
axe. Rezu raised his shield above his head and caught the blow. From the
clank it made I knew that this shield which seemed to be of hide, was
lined with iron. Rezu smote back, but before the blow could fall the
Zulu was out of his reach. This taught me how great was the giant's
strength, for though the stroke was heavy, like the steel-hatted axe he
bore, still when he saw that it had missed he checked the weapon in mid
air, which only a mighty man could have done.

Umslopogaas saw these things also and changed his tactics. His axe was
six or eight inches longer in the haft than that of Rezu, and therefore
he could reach where Rezu could not, for the giant was short-armed.
He twisted it round in his hand so that the moon-shaped blade was
uppermost, and keeping it almost at full length, began to peck with the
gouge-shaped point on the back at the head and arms of Rezu, that as I
knew was a favourite trick of his in fight from which he won his name
of "Woodpecker." Rezu defended his head with his shield as best he could
against the sharp points of steel which flashed all about him.

Twice it seemed to me that the Zulu's pecks went home upon the giant's
breast, but if so they did no harm. Either Rezu's thick beard, or armour
beneath it stopped them from penetrating his body. Still he roared
out as though with pain, or fury, or both, and growing mad, charged at
Umslopogaas and smote with all his strength.

The Zulu caught the blow upon his shield, through which it shore as
though the tough hide were paper. Stay the stroke it could not, yet it
turned its direction, so that the falling axe slid past Umslopogaas's
shoulder, doing him no hurt. Next instant, before Rezu could strike
again, the Zulu threw the severed shield into his face and seizing the
axe with both hands, leapt in and struck. It was a mighty blow, for I
saw the rhinoceros-horn handle of the famous axe bend like a drawn bow,
and it went home with a dull thud full upon Rezu's breast. He shook, but
no more. Evidently the razor edge of _Inkosikaas_ had failed to pierce.
There was a sound as though a hollow tree had been smitten and some
strands of the long beard, shorn off, fell to the ground, but that was
all.

"_Tagati!_ (bewitched)," cried the watching Zulus. "That stroke should
have cut him in two!" while I thought to myself that this man knew how
to make good armour.

Rezu laughed aloud, a bellowing kind of laugh, while Umslopogaas sprang
back astonished.

"Is it thus!" he cried in Zulu. "Well, all wizards have some door by
which their Spirit enters and departs. I must find the door, I must find
the door!"

So he spoke and with springing movements tried to get past Rezu, first
to the right and then to the left, all the while keeping out of reach.
But Rezu ever turned and faced him, as he did so retreating step by
step down the slope of the little hill and striking whenever he found a
chance, but without avail, for always Umslopogaas was beyond his reach.
Also the sunlight which now grew strong, dazzled him, or so I thought.
Moreover he seemed to tire somewhat--or so I thought also.

At any rate he determined to make an end of the play, for with a swift
motion, as Umslopogaas had done, he threw away his shield and grasping
the iron handle of his axe with both hands, charged the Zulu like a
bull. Umslopogaas leapt back out of reach. Then suddenly he turned and
ran up the rise. Yes, Bulalio the Slaughterer ran!

A roar of mockery went up from the sun-worshippers behind, while our
Amahagger laughed and Goroko and the two Zulus stared astonished and
ashamed. Only I read his mind aright and wondered what guile he had
conceived.

He ran, and Rezu ran after him, but never could he catch the
swiftest-footed man in Zululand. To and fro he followed him, for
Umslopogaas was taking a zig-zag path towards the crest of the slope,
till at length Rezu stopped breathless. But Umslopogaas still ran
another twenty yards or so until he reached the top of the slope and
there halted and wheeled round.

For ten seconds or more he stood drawing his breath in great gasps, and,
looking at his face, I saw that it had become as the face of a wolf.
His lips were drawn up into a terrible grin, showing the white teeth
between; his cheeks seemed to have fallen in and his eyes glared, while
the skin over the hole in his forehead beat up and down.

There he stood, gathering himself together for some mighty effort.

"Run on!" shouted the spectators. "Run back to Kôr, black dog!"

Umslopogaas knew that they were mocking him, but he took no heed, only
bent down and rubbed his sweating hand in the grit of the dry earth.
Then he straightened himself and charged down on Rezu.

I, Allan Quatermain, have seen many things in battle, but never before
or since did I see aught like to this charge. It was swift as that of
a lioness, so swift that the Zulu's feet scarcely seemed to touch the
ground. On he sped like a thrown spear, till, when within about a dozen
feet of Rezu who stood staring at him, he bent his frame almost double
and leapt into the air.

Oh! what a leap was that. Surely he must have learnt it from the lion,
or the spring-buck. High he rose and now I saw his purpose; it was to
clear the tall shape of Rezu. Aye, and he cleared him with half a foot
to spare, and as he passed above, smote downwards with the axe so that
the blow fell upon the back of Rezu's head. Moreover it went home this
time, for I saw the red blood stream and Rezu fell forward on his face.
Umslopogaas landed far beyond him, ran a little way because he must,
then wheeled round and charged again.

Rezu was rising, but before he gained his feet, the axe _Inkosikaas_
thundered down where the neck joins the shoulder and sank in. Still, so
great was his strength that Rezu found his feet and smote out wildly.
But now his movements were slow and again Umslopogaas got behind him,
smiting at his back. Once, twice, thrice, he smote, and at the third
blow it seemed as though the massive spine were severed, for his weapon
fell from Rezu's hand and slowly he sank down to the ground, and lay
there, a huddled heap.

Believing that all was over I ran to where he lay with Umslopogaas
standing over him, as it seemed to me, utterly exhausted, for he
supported himself by the axe and tottered upon his feet. But Rezu was
not yet dead. He opened his cavernous eyes and glared at the Zulu with a
look of hellish hate.

"_Thou_ hast not conquered me, Black One," he gasped. "It is thine axe
which gave thee victory; the ancient, holy axe that once was mine until
the woman stole it, yes, that and the craft of the Witch of the Caves
who told thee to smite where the Spirit of Life which I feared to enter
wholly, had not kissed my flesh, and there only left me mortal. Wolf of
a black man, may we meet elsewhere and fight this fray again. Ah! would
that I could get these hands about thy throat and take thee with me down
into the Darkness. But Lulala wins if only for a while, since her fate,
I think, shall be worse than mine. Ah! I see the magic beauty that she
boasts turn to shameful----"

Here of a sudden life left him and throwing his great arms wide, a last
breath passed bubbling from his lips.

As I stooped to examine the man's huge and hairy carcase that to me
looked only half human, with a thunder of feet our Amahagger rushed down
upon us and thrusting me aside, fell upon the body of their ancient foe
like hounds upon a helpless fox, and with hands and spears and knives
literally tore and hacked it limb from limb, till no semblance of
humanity remained.

It was impossible to stop them; indeed I was too outworn with labours
and emotions to make any such attempt. This I regret the more since
I lost the opportunity of making an examination of the body of this
troll-like man, and of ascertaining what kind of armour it was he wore
beneath that great beard of his, which was strong enough to stop my
bullets, and even the razor edge of the axe _Inkosikaas_ driven with all
the might of the arms of the Zulu, Bulalio. For when I looked again
at the sickening sight the giant was but scattered fragments and the
armour, whatever it might have been, was gone, rent to little pieces and
carried off, doubtless, by the Amahagger, perhaps to be divided between
them to serve as charms.

So of Rezu I know only that he was the hugest, most terrible-looking
man I have ever seen, one too who carried his vast strength very late
in life, since from the aspect of his countenance I imagine that he must
have been nigh upon seventy years of age, though his supposed unnatural
antiquity of course was nothing but a fable put about by the natives for
their own purposes.

Presently Umslopogaas seemed to recover from the kind of faint into
which he had fallen and opening his eyes, looked about him. The first
person they fell on was old Billali who stood stroking his white beard
and contemplating the scene with an air which was at once philosophic
and satisfied. This seemed to anger Umslopogaas, for he cried,

"I think it was you, ancient bag of words and sweeper of paths for the
feet of the great, who made a mock of me but now, when you thought
that I fled before the horns of yonder man-eating bull--" and he nodded
towards the fragments of what once had been Rezu. "Find now his axe
and though I am weak and weary, I will wash away the insult with your
blood."

"What does this glorious black hero say, Watcher-by-Night?" asked
Billali in his most courteous tones.

I told him word by word, whereon Billali lifted his hands in horror,
turned and fled. Nor did I see him again until we arrived at Kôr.



At the sight of the fall of their giant chief Rezu whom they believed
to be invulnerable, his followers, who were watching the fray, set up
a great wailing, a most mournful and uncanny noise to hear. Then, as I
think did the hosts of the Philistines when David brought down Goliath
by his admirable shot with a stone, they set out for their homes
wherever these may have been, at an absolutely record pace and in the
completest disarray.

Our Amahagger followed them for a while, but soon were left standing
still. So they contented themselves with killing any wounded they could
find and returned. I did not accompany them; indeed the battle being
won, metaphorically I washed my hands of them, and in my thoughts
consigned them to a certain locality as a people of whom it might
well be said that manners they had none and their customs were simply
beastly. Also, although fierce and cruel, these night-bats were not
good fighting men and in short never did I wish to have to do with such
another company.

Moreover, a very different matter pressed. The object of this business
so far as I was concerned, had been to rescue poor Inez, since had
it not been for her sake, never would I have consented to lead those
Amahagger against their fellow blackguards, the Rezuites.

But where was Inez? If Hans had understood the medicine-man aright,
she was, or had been, in the hut, where it was my earnest hope that she
still remained, since otherwise the hunt must be continued. This at
any rate was easy to discover. Calling Hans, who was amusing himself
by taking long shots at the flying enemy, so that they might not forget
him, as he said, and the Zulus, I walked up the slope to the hut, or
rather booth of boughs, for it was quite twenty feet long by twelve or
fifteen broad.

At its eastern end was a doorway or opening closed with a heavy curtain.
Here I paused full of tremors, and listened, for to tell the truth I
dreaded to draw that curtain, fearing what I might see within. Gathering
up my courage at length I tore it aside and, a revolver in my hand,
looked in. At first after the strong light without, for the sun was now
well up, I could see nothing, since those green boughs and palm leaves
were very closely woven. As my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom,
however, I perceived a glittering object seated on a kind of throne
at the end of the booth, while in a double row in front knelt six
white-robed women who seemed to wear chains about their necks and
carried large knives slung round their middles. On the floor between
these women and the throne lay a dead man, a priest of some sort as
I gathered from his garb, who still held a huge spear in his hand. So
silent were the figure on the throne and those that knelt before it,
that at first I thought that all of them must be dead.

"Lady Sad-Eyes," whispered Hans, "and her bride-women. Doubtless that
old Predikant came to kill her when he saw that the battle was lost, but
the bride-women killed him with their knives."

Here I may state that Hans' suppositions proved to be quite correct,
which shows how quick and deductive was his mind. The figure on the
throne was Inez; the priest in his disappointed rage _had_ come to kill
her, and the bride-women had killed _him_ with their knives before he
could do so.

I bade the Zulus tear down the curtain and pull away some of the end
boughs, so as to let in more light. Then we advanced up the place,
holding our pistols and spears in readiness. The kneeling women turned
their heads to look at us and I saw that they were all young and
handsome in their fashion, although fierce-faced. Also I saw their hands
go to the knives they wore. I called to them to let these be and come
out, and that if they did so they had nothing to fear. But if they
understood, they did not heed my words.

On the contrary while Hans and I covered them with our pistols, fearing
lest they should stab the person on the throne whom we took to be Inez,
at some word from one of them, they bowed simultaneously towards her,
then at another word, suddenly they drew the knives and plunged them to
their own hearts!

It was a dreadful sight and one of which I never saw the like. Nor to
this day do I know why the deed was done, unless perhaps the women were
sworn to the service of the new queen and feared that if they failed to
protect her, they would be doomed to some awful end. At any rate we got
them out dead or dying, for their blows had been strong and true, and
not one of them lived for more than a few minutes.

Then I advanced to the figure on the throne, or rather foot-stooled
chair of black wood inlaid with ivory, which sat so silent and
motionless that I was certain it was that of a dead woman, especially
when I perceived that she was fastened to the chair with leather straps,
which were sewn over with gold wire. Also she was veiled and, with one
exception, made up, if I may use the term, exactly to resemble the lady
Ayesha, even down to the two long plaits of black hair, each finished
with some kind of pearl and to the sandalled feet.

The exception was that about her hung a great necklace of gold ornaments
from which were suspended pendants also of gold representing the rayed
disc of the sun in rude but bold and striking workmanship.

I went to her and having cut the straps, since I could not stop to untie
their knots, lifted the veil.

Beneath it was Inez sure enough, and Inez living, for her breast rose
and fell as she breathed, but Inez senseless. Her eyes were wide open,
yet she was quite senseless. Probably she had been drugged, or perhaps
some of the sights of horror which she saw, had taken away her mind. I
confess that I was glad that this was so, who otherwise must have told
her the dreadful story of her father's end.

We bore her out and away from that horrible place, apparently quite
unhurt, and laid her under the shadow of a tree till a litter could be
procured. I could do no more who knew not how to treat her state, and
had no spirits with me to pour down her throat.



This was the end of our long pursuit, and thus we rescued Inez, whom the
Zulus called the Lady Sad-Eyes.



CHAPTER XIX

THE SPELL

Of our return to Kôr I need say nothing, except that in due course we
reached that interesting ruin. The journey was chiefly remarkable for
one thing, that on this occasion, I imagine for the first and last time
in his life, Umslopogaas consented to be carried in a litter, at least
for part of the way. He was, as I have said, unwounded, for the axe
of his mighty foe had never once so much as touched his skin. What he
suffered from was shock, a kind of collapse, since, although few would
have thought it, this great and utterly fearless warrior was at bottom a
nervous, highly-strung man.

It is only the nervous that climb the highest points of anything, and
this is true of fights as of all others. That fearful fray with Rezu had
been a great strain on the Zulu. As he put it himself, "the wizard had
sucked the strength" out of him, especially when he found that owing
to his armour he could not harm him in front, and owing to his cunning
could not get at him behind. Then it was that he conceived the desperate
expedient of leaping over his head and smiting backwards as he leapt,
a trick, he told me, that he had once played years before when he was
young, in order to break a shield ring and reach one who stood in its
centre.

In this great leap over Rezu's head Umslopogaas knew that he must
succeed, or be slain, which in turn would mean my death and that of the
others. For this reason he faced the shame of seeming to fly in order to
gain the higher ground, whence alone he could gather the speed necessary
to such a terrific spring.

Well, he made it and thereby conquered, and this was the end, but as he
said, it had left him, "weak as a snake when it crawls out of its hole
into the sun after the long winter sleep."

Of one thing, Umslopogaas added, he was thankful, namely that Rezu
had never succeeded in getting his arms round him, since he was quite
certain that if he had he would have broken him "as a baboon breaks a
mealie-stalk." No strength, not even his, could have resisted the iron
might of that huge, gorilla-like man.

I agreed with him who had noted Rezu's vast chest and swelling muscles,
also the weight of the blows that he struck with the steel-hafted
axe (which, by the way, when I sought for it, was missing, stolen, I
suppose, by one of the Amahagger).

Whence did that strength come, I wondered, in one who from his face
appeared to be old? Was there perchance, after all, some truth in the
legend of Samson and did it dwell in that gigantic beard and those long
locks of his? It was impossible to say and probably the man was but a
Herculean freak, for that he was as strong as Hercules all the stories
that I heard afterwards of his feats, left little room for doubt.

About one thing only was I certain in connection with him, namely, that
the tales of his supernatural abilities were the merest humbug. He was
simply one of the representatives of the family of "strong men," of whom
examples are still to be seen doing marvellous feats all over the earth.

For the rest, he was dead and broken up by those Amahagger blood-hounds
before I could examine him, or his body-armour either, and there was
an end of him and his story. But when I looked at the corpse of poor
Robertson, which I did as we buried it where he fell, and saw that
though so large and thick-set, it was cleft almost in two by a single
blow of Rezu's axe, I came to understand what the might of this savage
must have been.

I say savage, but I am not sure that this is a right description of
Rezu. Evidently he had a religion of a sort, also imagination, as was
shown by the theft of the white woman to be his queen; by his veiling
of her to resemble Ayesha whom he dreaded; by the intended propitiatory
sacrifice; by the guard of women sworn to her service who slew the
priest that tried to kill her, and afterwards committed suicide when
they had failed in their office, and by other things. All this indicated
something more than savagery, perhaps survivals from a forgotten
civilisation, or perhaps native ability on the part of an individual
ruler. I do not know and it matters nothing.

Rezu is dead and the world is well rid of him, and those who want to
learn more of his people can go to study such as remain of them in their
own habitat, which for my part I never wish to visit any more.



During our journey to Kôr poor Inez never stirred. Whenever I went to
look at her in the litter, I found her lying there with her eyes open
and a fixed stare upon her face which frightened me very much, since I
began to fear lest she should die. However I could do nothing to help
her, except urge the bearers to top speed. So swiftly did we travel down
the hill and across the plain that we reached Kôr just as the sun was
setting. As we crossed the moat I perceived old Billali coming to meet
us. This he did with many bows, keeping an anxious eye upon the litter
which he had learned contained Umslopogaas. Indeed his attitude and that
of the Amahagger towards the two of us, and even Hans, thenceforward
became almost abject, since after our victory over Rezu and his death
beneath the axe, they looked upon us as half divine and treated us
accordingly.

"O mighty General," he said, "She-who-commands bids me conduct the lady
who is sick to the place that has been made ready for her, which is near
your own so that you may watch over her if you will."

I wondered how Ayesha knew that Inez was sick, but being too tired
to ask questions, merely bade him lead on. This he did, taking us to
another ruined house next to our own quarters which had been swept,
cleaned and furnished after a fashion, and moreover cleverly roofed in
with mats, so that it was really quite comfortable. Here we found two
middle-aged women of a very superior type, who, Billali informed me,
were by trade nurses of the sick. Having seen her laid upon her bed, I
committed Inez to their charge, since the case was not one that I dared
to try to doctor myself, not knowing what drug of the few I possessed
should be administered to her. Moreover Billali comforted me with the
information that soon She-who-commands would visit her and "make her
well again," as she could do.

I answered that I hoped so and went to our quarters where I found an
excellent meal ready cooked and with it a stone flagon, of the contents
of which Billali said we were all three to drink by the command of
Ayesha, who declared that it would take away our weariness.

I tried the stuff, which was pale yellow in colour like sherry and, for
aught I knew, might be poison, to find it most comforting, though it
did not seem to be very strong to the taste. Certainly, too, its effects
were wonderful, since presently all my great weariness fell from me
like a discarded cloak, and I found myself with a splendid appetite and
feeling better and stronger than I had done for years. In short that
drink was a "cocktail" of the best, one of which I only wish I possessed
the recipe, though Ayesha told me afterwards that it was distilled from
quite harmless herbs and not in any sense a spirit.

Having discovered this, I gave some of it to Hans, also to Umslopogaas,
who was with the wounded Zulus, who, we found, were progressing well
towards complete recovery, and lastly to Goroko who also was worn
out. On all of these the effect of that magical brew proved most
satisfactory.

Then, having washed, I ate a splendid dinner, though in this respect
Hans, who was seated on the ground nearby, far outpassed my finest
efforts.

"Baas," he said, "things have gone very well with us when they might
have gone very ill. The Baas Red-Beard is dead, which is a good thing,
since a madman would have been difficult to look after, and a brain full
of moonshine is a bad companion for any one. Oh! without doubt he is
better dead, though your reverend father the Predikant will have a hard
job looking after him there in the Place of Fires."

"Perhaps," I said with a sigh, "since it is better to be dead than
to live a lunatic. But what I fear is that the lady his daughter will
follow him."

"Oh, no! Baas," replied Hans cheerfully, "though I daresay that she
will always be a little mad also, because you see it is in her blood and
doubtless she has looked on dreadful things. But the Great Medicine will
see to it that she does not die after we have taken so much trouble
and gone into such big dangers to save her. That Great Medicine is very
wonderful, Baas. First of all it makes you General over those Amahagger
who without you would never have fought, as the Witch who ties up her
head in a cloth knew well enough. Then it brings us safe through the
battle and gives strength to Umslopogaas to kill the old man-eating
giant."

"Why did it not give _me_ strength to kill him, Hans? I let him have two
Express bullets on his chest, which hurt him no more than a tap upon the
horns with a dancing stick would hurt a bull-buffalo."

"Oh! Baas, perhaps you missed him, who because you hit things sometimes,
think that you do so always."

Having waited to see if I would rise to this piece of insolence, which
of course I did not, he went on by way of letting me down easily, "Or
perhaps he wore very good armour under his beard, for I saw some of
those Amahagger who pulled his hair off and cut him to pieces, go away
with what looked like little bits of brass. Also the Great Medicine
meant that he should be killed by Umslopogaas and not by you, since
otherwise Umslopogaas would have been sad for the rest of his life,
whereas now he will walk about the world as proud as a cock with two
tails and crow all night as well as all day. Then, Baas, when Rezu broke
the square and the Amahagger began to run, without doubt it was the
Great Medicine which changed their hearts and made them brave again, so
that they charged at the right moment when they saw it going forward on
your breast, and instead of being eaten up, ate up the cannibals."

"Indeed! I thought that the Lady who dwells yonder had something to do
with that business. Did you see her, Hans?"

"Oh, yes! I saw her, Baas, and I think that without doubt she lifted the
cloth from over her head and when the people of Rezu saw how ugly was
the face beneath, it did frighten them a little. But doubtless the Great
Medicine put that thought into her also, for, Baas, what could a silly
woman do in such a case? Did you ever know of a woman who was of any use
in a battle, or for anything else except to nurse babies, and this one
does not even do that, no doubt because being so hideous under that
sheet, no man can be found to marry her."

Now I looked up by chance and in the light of the lamps saw Ayesha
standing in the room, which she had entered through the open doorway,
within six feet of Hans' back indeed.

"Be sure Baas," he went on, "that this bundle of rags is nothing but a
common old cheat who frightens people by pretending to be a spook, as,
if she dared to say that it was she who made those stinking Amahagger
charge, and not the Great Medicine of the Opener-of-Roads, I would tell
her to her face."

Now I was too paralysed to speak, and while I was reflecting that it was
fortunate Ayesha did not understand Dutch, she moved a little so that
one of the lamps behind her caused her shadow to fall on to the back
of the squatting Hans and over it on to the floor beyond. He saw it and
stared at the distorted shape of the hooded head, then slowly screwed
his neck round and looked upwards behind him.

For a moment he went on staring as though he were frozen, then uttering
a wild yell, he scrambled to his feet, bolted out of the house and
vanished into the night.

"It seems, Allan," said Ayesha slowly, "that yonder yellow ape of yours
is very bold at throwing sticks when the leopardess is not beneath the
tree. But when she comes it is otherwise with him. Oh! make no excuse,
for I know well that he was speaking ill things of me, because being
curious, as apes are, he burns to learn what is behind my veil, and
being simple, believes that no woman would hide her face unless its
fashion were not pleasing to the nice taste of men."

Then, to my relief, she laughed a little, softly, which showed me that
she had a sense of humour, and went on, "Well, let him be, for he is a
good ape and courageous in his fashion, as he showed when he went out to
spy upon the host of Rezu, and stabbed the murderer-priest by the stone
of sacrifice."

"How can you know the words of Hans, Ayesha," I asked, "seeing that he
spoke in a tongue which you have never learned?"

"Perchance I read faces, Allan."

"Or backs," I suggested, remembering that his was turned to her.

"Or backs, or voices, or hearts. It matters little which, since read I
do. But have done with such childish talk and lead me to this maiden who
has been snatched from the claws of Rezu and a fate that is worse than
death. Do you understand, Allan, that ere the demon Rezu took her to
wife, the plan was to sacrifice her own father to her and then eat him
as the woman with her was eaten, and before her eyes? Now the father is
dead, which is well, as I think the little yellow man said to you--nay,
start not, I read it from his back [Ha!--JB]--since had he lived whose
brain was rotted, he would have raved till his death's day. Better,
therefore, that he should die like a man fighting against a foe
unconquerable by all save one. But she still lives."

"Aye, but mindless, Ayesha."

"Which, in great trouble such as she has passed, is a blessed state, O
Allan. Bethink you, have there not been days, aye and months, in your
own life when you would have rejoiced to sleep in mindlessness? And
should we not, perchance, be happier, all of us, if like the beasts we
could not remember, foreknow and understand? Oh! men talk of Heaven, but
believe me, the real Heaven is one of dreamless sleep, since life
and wakefulness, however high their scale and on whatever star, mean
struggle, which being so oft mistaken, must breed sorrow--or remorse
that spoils all. Come now."

So I preceded her to the next ruined house where we found Inez lying on
the bed still clothed in her barbaric trappings, although the veil had
been drawn off her face. There she lay, wide-eyed and still, while the
women watched her. Ayesha looked at her a while, then said to me,

"So they tricked her out to be Ayesha's mock and image, and in time
accepted by those barbarians as my very self, and even set the seals
of royalty on her," and she pointed to the gold discs stamped with the
likeness of the sun. "Well, she is a fair maiden, white and gently bred,
the first such that I have seen for many an age. Nor did she wish this
trickery. Moreover she has taken no hurt; her soul has sunk deep into a
sea of horror and that is all, whence doubtless it can be drawn again.
Yet I think it best that for a while she should remember naught, lest
her brain break, as did her father's, and therefore no net of mine shall
drag her back to memory. Let that return gently in future days, and then
of it not too much, for so shall all this terror become to her a void in
which sad shapes move like shadows, and as shadows are soon forgot
and gone, no more to be held than dreams by the awakening sense. Stand
aside, Allan, and you women, leave us for a while."

I obeyed, and the women bowed and went. Then Ayesha drew up her veil,
and knelt down by the bed of Inez, but in such a fashion that I could
not see her face although I admit that I tried to do so. I could see,
however, that she set her lips against those of Inez and as I gathered
by her motions, seemed to breathe into her lips. Also she lifted her
hands and placing one of them upon the heart of Inez, for a minute or
more swayed the other from side to side above her eyes, pausing at times
to touch her upon the forehead with her finger-tips.

Presently Inez stirred and sat up, whereon Ayesha took a vessel of milk
which stood upon the floor and held it to her lips. Inez drank to the
last drop, then sank on to the bed again. For a while longer Ayesha
continued the motions of her hands, then let fall her veil and rose.

"Look, I have laid a spell upon her," she said, beckoning to me to draw
near.

I did so and perceived that now the eyes of Inez were shut and that she
seemed to be plunged in a deep and natural sleep.

"So she will remain for this night and that day which follows," said
Ayesha, "and when she wakes it will be, I think, to believe herself once
more a happy child. Not until she sees her home again will she find
her womanhood, and then all this story will be forgotten by her. Of
her father you must tell her that he died when you went out to hunt the
river-beasts together, and if she seeks for certain others, that they
have gone away. But I think that she will ask little more when she
learns that he is dead, since I have laid that command upon her soul."

"Hypnotic suggestion," thought I to myself, "and I only hope to heaven
that it will work."

Ayesha seemed to guess what was passing through my mind, for she nodded
and said,

"Have no fear, Allan, for I am what the black axe-bearer and the little
yellow man called a 'witch' which means, as you who are instructed know,
one who has knowledge of medicine and other things and who holds a key
to some of the mysteries that lie hid in Nature."

"For instance," I suggested, "of how to transport yourself into a battle
at the right moment, and out of it again--also at the right moment."

"Yes, Allan, since watching from afar, I saw that those Amahagger curs
were about to flee and that I was needed there to hearten them and to
put fear into the army of Rezu. So I came."

"But how did you come, Ayesha?"

She laughed as she answered,

"Perhaps I did not come at all. Perhaps you only thought I came; since I
seemed to be there the rest matters nothing."

As I still looked unconvinced she went on,

"Oh! foolish man, seek not to learn of that which is too high for you.
Yet listen. You in your ignorance suppose that the soul dwells within
the body, do you not?"

I answered that I had always been under this impression.

"Yet, Allan, it is otherwise, for the body dwells within the soul."

"Like the pearl in an oyster," I suggested.

"Aye, in a sense, since the pearl which to you is beautiful, is to the
oyster a sickness and a poison, and so is the body to the soul whose
temple it troubles and defiles. Yet round it is the white and holy soul
that ever seeks to bring the vile body to its own purity and colour, yet
oft-times fails. Learn, Allan, that flesh and spirit are the deadliest
foes joined together by a high decree that they may forget their hate
and perfect each other, or failing, be separate to all eternity, the
spirit going to its own place and the flesh to its corruption."

"A strange theory," I said.

"Aye, Allan, and one which is so new to you that never will you
understand it. Yet it is true and I set it out for this reason. The soul
of man, being at liberty and not cooped within his narrow breast, is in
touch with that soul of the Universe, which men know as God Whom they
call by many names. Therefore it has all knowledge and perhaps all
power, and at times the body within it, if it be a wise body, can draw
from this well of knowledge and abounding power. So at least can I. And
now you will understand why I am so good a doctoress and how I came to
appear in the battle, as you said, at the right time, and to leave it
when my work was done."

"Oh! yes," I answered, "I quite understand. I thank you much for putting
it so plainly."

She laughed a little, appreciating my jest, looked at the sleeping Inez,
and said,

"The fair body of this lady dwells in a large soul, I think, though one
of a somewhat sombre hue, for souls have their colours, Allan, and stain
that which is within them. She will never be a happy woman."

"The black people named her Sad-Eyes," I said.

"Is it so? Well, I name her Sad-Heart, though for such often there is
joy at last. Meanwhile she will forget; yes, she will forget the worst
and how narrow was the edge between her and the arms of Rezu."

"Just the width of the blade of the axe, _Inkosikaas_," I answered.
"But tell me, Ayesha, why could not that axe cut and why did my bullets
flatten or turn aside when these smote the breast of Rezu?"

"Because his front-armour was good, Allan, I suppose," she replied
indifferently, "and on his back he wore none."

"Then why did you fill my ears with such a different tale about that
horrible giant having drunk of a Cup of Life, and all the rest?" I asked
with irritation.

"I have forgotten, Allan. Perhaps because the curious, such as you are,
like to hear tales even stranger than their own, which in the days to be
may become their own. Therefore you will be wise to believe only what I
do, and of what I tell you, nothing."

"I don't," I exclaimed exasperated.

She laughed again and replied,

"What need to say to me that which I know already? Yet perhaps in the
future it may be different, since often by the alchemy of the mind the
fables of our youth are changed into the facts of our age, and we come
to believe in anything, as your little yellow man believes in some
savage named Zikali, and those Amahagger believe in the talisman round
your neck, and I who am the maddest of you all, believe in Love and
Wisdom, and the black warrior, Umslopogaas, believes in the virtue of
that great axe of his, rather than in those of his own courage and of
the strength that wields it. Fools, every one of us, though perchance
I am the greatest fool among them. Now take me to the warrior,
Umslopogaas, whom I would thank, as I thank you, Allan, and the little
yellow man, although he jeers at me with his sharp tongue, not knowing
that if I were angered, with a breath I could cause him to cease to be."

"Then why did you not choose Rezu to cease to be, and his army also,
Ayesha?"

"It seems that I have done these things through the axe of Umslopogaas
and by the help of your generalship, Allan. Why then, waste my own
strength when yours lay to my hand?"

"Because you had no power over Rezu, Ayesha, or so you told me."

"Have I not said that my words are snowflakes, meant to melt and leave
no trace, hiding my thoughts as this veil hides my beauty? Yet as the
beauty is beneath the veil, perchance there is truth beneath the words,
though not that truth you think. So you are well answered, and for the
rest, I wonder whether Rezu thought I had no power over him when yonder
on the mountain spur he saw me float down upon his companies like a
spirit of the night. Well, perchance some day I shall learn this and
many other things."

I made no answer, since what was the use of arguing with a woman who
told me frankly that all she said was false. So, although I longed to
ask her why these Amahagger had such reverence for the talisman that
Hans called the Great Medicine, since now I guessed that her first
explanations concerning it were quite untrue, I held my tongue.

Yet as we went out of the house, by some coincidence she alluded to this
very matter.

"I wish to tell you, Allan," she said, "why it was those Amahagger would
not accept you as a General till their eyes had seen that which you wear
upon your breast. Their tale of a legend of this very thing seemed that
of savages or of their cunning priests, not to be believed by a wise man
such as you are, like some others that you have heard in Kôr. Yet it has
in it a grain of truth, for as it chanced a little while ago, about a
hundred years ago, I think, the old wizard whose picture is cut upon
the wood, came to visit her who held my place before me as ruler of this
tribe--she was very like me and as I believe, my mother, Allan--because
of her repute for wisdom.

"At that time I have heard there was a question of war between the
worshippers of Lulala and the grandfather of Rezu. But this Zikali told
the People of Lulala that they must not fight the People of Rezu until
in a day to come a white man should visit Kôr and bring with him a piece
of wood on which was cut the image of a dwarf like to that of Zikali
himself. Then and not before they must fight and conquer the People of
Rezu. Now this story came down among them and you who may have thought
the first tale magical, will understand it in its simplicity: is it not
so, you wise Allan?"

"Oh! yes," I answered, "except that I do not see how Zikali can have
come here a hundred years ago, since men do not live as long, although
he pretends to have done so."

"No, Allan, nor do I, but perhaps it was his father, or his grandfather
who came, since being observant, you will have noted that if the parent
is mis-formed, so often are the descendants; also that the pretence of
wizardry at times comes down with the blood."

Again I made no answer for I saw that Ayesha was fooling me, and before
she could exhaust that amusement we reached the place where Umslopogaas
and his men were gathered round a camp fire. He sat silent, but Goroko
with much animation was telling the story of the fight in picturesque
and colourful language, or that part of it which he had seen, for the
benefit of the two wounded men who took no share in it and who, lying on
their blankets with heads thrust forward, were listening with eagerness
to the entrancing tale. Suddenly they caught sight of Ayesha, and those
of the party who could stand sprang to their feet, while one and all
they gave her the royal salute of _Bayéte_.

She waited till the sound had died away. Then she said,

"I come to thank you and your men, O Wielder of the Axe, who have shown
yourself very great in battle, and to say to you that my Spirit tells
me that every one of you, yes, even those who are still sick, will come
safe to your own land again and live out your years with honour."

Again they saluted at this pleasing intelligence, when I had translated
it to them, for of course they knew no Arabic. Then she went on,

"I am told, Umslopogaas, Son of the Lion, as a certain king was named in
your land, that the fight you made against Rezu was a very great fight,
and that such a leap as yours above his head when you smote him with the
axe on the hinder parts where he wore no armour, and brought him to his
death, has not been seen before, nor will be again."

I rendered the words, and Umslopogaas, preferring truth to modesty,
replied emphatically that this was the case.

"Because of that fight and that leap," Ayesha went on, "as for other
deeds that you have done and will do, my Spirit tells me that your name
will live in story for many generations. Yet of what use is fame to the
dead? Therefore I make you an offer. Bide here with me and you shall
rule these Amahagger, and with them the remnant of the People of Rezu.
Your cattle shall be countless and your wives the fairest in the land,
and your children many, for I will lift a certain curse from off you
so that no more shall you be childless. Do you accept, O Holder of the
Axe?"

When he understood, Umslopogaas, after pondering a moment, asked if I
meant to stay in this land and marry the white chieftainess who spoke
such wise words and could appear and disappear in the battle at her
will, and like a mountain-top hid her head in a cloud, which was his way
of alluding to her veil.

I answered at once and with decision that I intended to do nothing of
the sort and immediately regretted my words, since, although I spoke
in Zulu, I suppose she read their meaning from my face. At any rate she
understood the drift of them.

"Tell him, Allan," she said with a kind of icy politeness, "that you
will not stop here and marry me, because if ever I chose a husband he
would not be a little man at the doors of whose heart so many women's
hands have knocked--yes, even those that are black--and not, I think, in
vain. One, moreover, who holds himself so clever that he believes he
has nothing left to learn, and in every flower of truth that is shown to
him, however fair, smells only poison, and beneath, nurturing it, sees
only the gross root of falsehood planted in corruption. Tell him these
things, Allan, if it pleases you."

"It does not please me," I answered in a rage at her insults.

"Nor is it needful, Allan, since if I caught the meaning of that
barbarous tongue you use aright, you have told him already. Well, let
the jest pass, O man who least of all things desires to be Ayesha's
husband, and whom Ayesha least of all things desires as her spouse, and
ask the Axe-bearer nothing since I perceive that without you he will
not stay at Kôr. Nor indeed is it fated that he should do so, for now
my Spirit tells me what it hid from me when I spoke a moment gone, that
this warrior shall die in a great fight far away and that between then
and now much sorrow waits him who save that of one, knows not how to win
the love of women. Let him say moreover what reward he desires since if
I can give it to him, it shall be his."

Again I translated. Umslopogaas received her prophecies in stoical
silence, and as I thought with indifference, and only said in reply,

"The glory that I have won is my reward and the only boon I seek at this
queen's hands is that if she can she should give me sight of a woman for
whom my heart is hungry, and with it knowledge that this woman lives in
that land whither I travel like all men."

When she heard these words Ayesha said,

"True, I had forgotten. Your heart also is hungry, I think, Allan, for
the vision of sundry faces that you see no more. Well, I will do my
best, but since only faith fulfils itself, how can I who must strive to
pierce the gates of darkness for one so unbelieving, know that they will
open at my word? Come to me, both of you, at the sunset to-morrow."

Then as though to change the subject, she talked to me for a long while
about Kôr, of which she told me a most interesting history, true or
false, that I omit here.

At length, as though suddenly she had grown tired, waving her hand to
show that the conversation was ended, Ayesha went to the wounded men and
touched them each in turn.

"Now they will recover swiftly," she said, and leaving the place was
gone into the darkness.



CHAPTER XX

THE GATE OF DEATH

Before turning in I examined these wounded men for myself. The truth is
that I was anxious to learn their exact condition in order that I might
make an estimate as to when it would be possible for us to leave this
valley or crater bottom of Kôr, of which I was heartily tired. Who could
desire to stay in a place where he had not only been involved in a deal
of hard, doubtful, and very dangerous fighting from which all personal
interest was absent, but where also he was meshed in a perfect spider's
web of bewilderment, and exposed to continual insult into the bargain?

For that is what it came to; this Ayesha took every opportunity to jeer
at and affront me. And why? Just because I had conceived doubts, which
somehow she discovered, of the amazing tales with which it had amused
her to stuff me, as a farmer's wife does a turkey poult with meal
pellets. How could she expect me, a man, after all, of some experience,
to believe such lies, which, not half an hour before, in the coolest
possible fashion she had herself admitted to be lies and nothing else,
told for the mere pleasure of romancing?

The immortal Rezu, for instance, who had drunk of the Cup of Life or
some such rubbish, now turned out to be nothing but a brawny savage
descended from generations of chiefs also called Rezu. Moreover the
immemorial Ayesha, who also had drunk of Cups of Life, and according
to her first story, had lived in this place for thousands of years, had
come here with a mother, who filled the same mystic rôle before her for
the benefit of an extremely gloomy and disagreeable tribe of Semitic
savages. Yet she was cross with me because I had not swallowed her crude
and indigestible mixture of fable and philosophy without a moment's
question.

At least I supposed that this was the reason, though another possible
explanation did come into my mind. I had refused to be duly overcome
by her charms, not because I was unimpressed, for who could be, having
looked upon that blinding beauty even for a moment? but rather because,
after sundry experiences, I had at last attained to some power of
judgment and learned what it is best to leave alone. Perhaps this had
annoyed her, especially as no white man seemed to have come her way for
a long while and the fabulous Kallikrates had not put in his promised
appearance.

Also it was unfortunate that in one way or another--how did she do it, I
wondered--she had interpreted Umslopogaas' question to me about marrying
her, and my compromising reply. Not that for one moment, as I saw very
clearly, did she wish to marry me. But that fact, intuition suggested to
my mind, did not the least prevent her from being angry because I shared
her views upon this important subject.

Oh! the whole thing was a bore and the sooner I saw the last of that
veiled lady and the interesting but wearisome ruins in which she
dwelt, the better I should be pleased, although apparently I must trek
homewards with a poor young woman who was out of her mind, leaving
the bones of her unfortunate father behind me. I admitted to myself,
however, that there were consolations in the fact that Providence
had thus decreed, for Robertson since he gave up drink had not been a
cheerful companion, and two mad people would really have been more than
I could manage.

To return, for these reasons I examined the two wounded Zulus with
considerable anxiety, only to discover another instance of the chicanery
which it amused this Ayesha to play off upon me. For what did I find?
That they were practically well. Their hurts, which had never been
serious, had healed wonderfully in that pure air, as those of savages
have a way of doing, and they told me themselves that they felt quite
strong again. Yet with colossal impudence Ayesha had managed to suggest
to my mind that she was going to work some remarkable cure upon them,
who were already cured.

Well, it was of a piece with the rest of her conduct and there was
nothing to do except go to bed, which I did with much gratitude that
my resting place that night was not of another sort. The last thing I
remember was wondering how on earth Ayesha appeared and disappeared
in the course of that battle, a problem as to which I could find no
solution, though, as in the case of the others, I was sure that one
would occur to me in course of time.

I slept like a top, so soundly indeed that I think there was some kind
of soporific in the pick-me-up which looked like sherry, especially as
the others who had drunk of it also passed an excellent night.

About ten o'clock on the following morning I awoke feeling particularly
well and quite as though I had been enjoying a week at the seaside
instead of my recent adventures, which included an abominable battle and
some agonising moments during which I thought that my number was up upon
the board of Destiny.

I spent the most of that day lounging about, eating, talking over the
details of the battle with Umslopogaas and the Zulus and smoking more
than usual. (I forgot to say that these Amahagger grew some capital
tobacco of which I had obtained a supply, although like most Africans,
they only used it in the shape of snuff.) The truth was that after all
my marvellings and acute anxieties, also mental and physical exertions,
I felt like the housemaid who caused to be cut upon her tombstone that
she had gone to a better land where her ambition was to do nothing "for
ever and ever." I just wanted to be completely idle and vacuous-minded
for at least a month, but as I knew that all I could expect in that
line was a single bank holiday, like a City clerk on the spree, of it I
determined to make the most.

The result was that before the evening I felt very bored indeed. I had
gone to look at Inez, who was still fast asleep, as Ayesha said would be
the case, but whose features seemed to have plumped up considerably. The
reason of this I gathered from her Amahagger nurses, was that at
certain intervals she had awakened sufficiently to swallow considerable
quantities of milk, or rather cream, which I hoped would not make her
ill. I had chatted with the wounded Zulus, who were now walking about,
more bored even than I was myself, and heaping maledictions on their
ancestral spirits because they had not been well enough to take part in
the battle against Rezu.

I even took a little stroll to look for Hans, who had vanished in his
mysterious fashion, but the afternoon was so hot and oppressive with
coming thunder, that soon I came back again and fell into a variety of
reflections that I need not detail.

While I was thus engaged and meditating, not without uneasiness, upon
the ordeal that lay before me after sunset, for I felt sure that it
would be an ordeal, Hans appeared and said that the Amahagger _impi_
or army was gathered on that spot where I had been elected to the proud
position of their General. He added that he believed--how he got this
information I do not know--that the White Lady was going to hold a
review of them and give them the rewards that they had earned in the
battle.

Hearing this, Umslopogaas and the other Zulus said that they would like
to see this review if I would accompany them. Although I did not want to
go nor indeed desired ever to look at another Amahagger, I consented to
save the trouble of argument, on condition that we should do so from a
distance.

So, including the wounded men, we strolled off and presently came to the
crumbled wall of the old city, beyond which lay the great moat now dry,
that once had encircled it with water.

Here on the top of this wall we sat down where we could see without
being seen, and observed the Amahagger companies, considerably reduced
during the battle, being marshalled by their captains beneath us and
about a couple of hundred yards away. Also we observed several groups
of men under guard. These we took to be prisoners captured in the fight
with Rezu, who, as Hans remarked with a smack of his lips, were probably
awaiting sacrifice.

I said I hoped not and yawned, for really the afternoon was intensely
hot and the weather most peculiar. The sun had vanished behind clouds,
and vapours filled the still air, so dense that at times it grew almost
dark; also when these cleared for brief intervals, the landscape in the
grey, unholy light looked distorted and unnatural, as it does during an
eclipse of the sun.

Goroko, the witch-doctor, stared round him, sniffed the air and then
remarked ocularly that it was "wizard's weather" and that there were
many spirits about. Upon my word I felt inclined to agree with him, for
my feelings were very uncomfortable, but I only replied that if so, I
should be obliged if he, as a professional, would be good enough to keep
them off me. Of course I knew that electrical charges were about, which
accounted for my sensations, and wished that I had never left the camp.

It was during one of these periods of dense gloom that Ayesha must have
arrived upon the review ground. At least, when it lifted, there she
was in her white garments, surrounded by women and guards, engaged
apparently in making an oration, for although I could not hear a word, I
could see by the motions of her arms that she was speaking.

Had she been the central figure in some stage scene, no limelights could
have set her off to better advantage, than did those of the heavens
above her. Suddenly, through the blanket of cloud, flowing from a hole
in it that looked like an eye, came a blood-red ray which fell full upon
her, so that she alone was fiercely visible whilst all around was gloom
in which shapes moved dimly. Certainly she looked strange and even
terrifying in that red ray which stained her robe till I who had but
just come out of battle with its "confused noise," began to think of
"the garments rolled in blood" of which I often read in my favourite Old
Testament. For crimson was she from head to foot; a tall shape of terror
and of wrath.

The eye in heaven shut and the ray went out. Then came one of the spaces
of grey light and in it I saw men being brought up, apparently from the
groups of prisoners, under guard, and, to the number of a dozen or more,
stood in a line before Ayesha.

Then I saw nothing more for a long while, because blackness seemed to
flow in from every quarter of the heavens and to block out the scene
beneath. At least after a pause of perhaps five minutes, during which
the stillness was intense, the storm broke.

It was a very curious storm; in all my experience of African tempests I
cannot recall one which it resembled. It began with the usual cold and
wailing wind. This died away, and suddenly the whole arch of heaven was
alive with little lightnings that seemed to strike horizontally, not
downwards to the earth, weaving a web of fire upon the surface of the
sky.

By the illumination of these lightnings which, but for the swiftness of
their flashing and greater intensity, somewhat resembled a dense shower
of shooting stars, I perceived that Ayesha was addressing the men that
had been brought before her, who stood dejectedly in a long line with
their heads bent, quite unattended, since their guards had fallen back.

"If I were going to receive a reward of cattle or wives, I should look
happier than those moon-worshippers, Baas," remarked Hans reflectively.

"Perhaps it would depend," I answered, "upon what the cattle and wives
were like. If the cattle had red-water and would bring disease into your
herd, or wild bulls that would gore you, and the wives were skinny old
widows with evil tongues, then I think you would look as do those men,
Hans."

I don't quite know what made me speak thus, but I believe it was some
sense of pending death or disaster, suggested, probably, by the ominous
character of the setting provided by Nature to the curious drama of
which we were witnesses.

"I never thought of that, Baas," commented Hans, "but it is true that
all gifts are not good, especially witches' gifts."

As he spoke the little net-like lightnings died away, leaving behind
them a gross darkness through which, far above us, the wind wailed
again.

Then suddenly all the heaven was turned into one blaze of light, and by
it I saw Ayesha standing tall and rigid with her hand pointed towards
the line of men in front of her. The blaze went out, to be followed by
blackness, and to return almost instantly in a yet fiercer blaze which
seemed to fall earthwards in a torrent of fire that concentrated itself
in a kind of flame-spout upon the spot where Ayesha stood.

Through that flame or rather in the heart of it, I saw Ayesha and the
file of men in front of her, as the great King saw the prophets in the
midst of the furnace that had been heated sevenfold. Only these men did
not walk about in the fire; no, they fell backwards, while Ayesha alone
remained upon her feet with outstretched hand.

Next came more blackness and crash upon crash of such thunder that the
earth shook as it reverberated from the mountain cliffs. Never in my
life did I hear such fearful thunder. It frightened the Zulus so much,
that they fell upon their faces, except Goroko and Umslopogaas, whose
pride kept them upon their feet, the former because he had a reputation
to preserve as a "Heaven-herd," or Master of tempests.

I confess that I should have liked to follow their example, and lie
down, being dreadfully afraid lest the lightning should strike me. But
there--I did not.

At last the thunder died away and in the most mysterious fashion that
violent tempest came to a sudden end, as does a storm upon the stage. No
rain fell, which in itself was surprising enough and most unusual,
but in place of it a garment of the completest calm descended upon
the earth. By degrees, too, the darkness passed and the westering sun
reappeared. Its rays fell upon the place where the Amahagger companies
had stood, but now not one of them was to be seen.

They were all gone and Ayesha with them. So completely had they vanished
away that I should have thought that we suffered from illusions, were
it not for the line of dead men which lay there looking very small and
lonesome on the veld; mere dots indeed at that distance.

We stared at each other and at them, and then Goroko said that he would
like to inspect the bodies to learn whether lightning killed at Kôr as
it did elsewhere, also whether it had smitten them altogether or leapt
from man to man. This, as a professional "Heaven-herd," he declared he
could tell from the marks upon these unfortunates.

As I was curious also and wanted to make a few observations, I
consented. So with the exception of the wounded men, who I thought
should avoid the exertion, we scrambled down the débris of the tumbled
wall and across the open space beyond, reaching the scene of the tragedy
without meeting or seeing anyone.

There lay the dead, eleven of them, in an exact line as they had stood.
They were all upon their backs with widely-opened eyes and an expression
of great fear frozen upon their faces. Some of these I recognised, as
did Umslopogaas and Hans. They were soldiers or captains who had marched
under me to attack Rezu, although until this moment I had not seen any
of them after we began to descend the ridge where the battle took place.

"Baas," said Hans, "I believe that these were the traitors who slipped
away and told Rezu of our plans so that he attacked us on the ridge,
instead of our attacking him on the plain as we had arranged so nicely.
At least they were none of them in the battle and afterwards I heard the
Amahagger talking of some of them."

I remarked that if so the lightning had discriminated very well in this
instance.

Meanwhile Goroko was examining the bodies one by one, and presently
called out,

"These doomed ones died not by lightning but by witchcraft. There is not
a burn upon one of them, nor are their garments scorched."

I went to look and found that it was perfectly true; to all outward
appearance the eleven were quite unmarked and unharmed. Except for their
frightened air, they might have died a natural death in their sleep.

"Does lightning always scorch?" I asked Goroko.

"Always, Macumazahn," he answered, "that is, if he who has been struck
is killed, as these are, and not only stunned. Moreover, most of yonder
dead wear knives which should have melted or shattered with the sheaths
burnt off them. Yet those knives are as though they had just left the
smith's hammer and the whet-stone," and he drew some of them to show me.

Again it was quite true and here I may remark that my experience tallied
with that of Goroko, since I have never seen anyone killed by lightning
on whom or on whose clothing there was not some trace of its passage.

"_Ow!_" said Umslopogaas, "this is witchcraft, not Heaven-wrath. The
place is enchanted. Let us get away lest we be smitten also who have not
earned doom like those traitors."

"No need to fear," said Hans, "since with us is the Great Medicine of
Zikali which can tie up the lightning as an old woman does a bundle of
sticks."

Still I observed that for all his confidence, Hans himself was the
first to depart and with considerable speed. So we went back to our camp
without more conversation, since the Zulus were scared and I confess
that myself I could not understand the matter, though no doubt it
admitted of some quite simple explanation.

However that might be, this Kôr was a queer place with its legends, its
sullen Amahagger and its mysterious queen, to whom at times, in spite of
my inner conviction to the contrary, I was still inclined to attribute
powers beyond those that are common even among very beautiful and able
women.

This reflection reminded me that she had promised us a further
exhibition of those powers and within an hour or two. Remembering this
I began to regret that I had ever asked for any such manifestations, for
who knew what these might or might not involve?

So much did I regret it that I determined, unless Ayesha sent for us, as
she had said she would do, I would conveniently forget the appointment.
Luckily Umslopogaas seemed to be of the same way of thinking; at any
rate he went off to eat his evening meal without alluding to it at all.
So I made up my mind that I would not bring the matter to his notice and
having ascertained that Inez was still asleep, I followed his example
and dined myself, though without any particular appetite.

As I finished the sun was setting in a perfectly clear sky, so as there
was no sign of any messenger, I thought that I would go to bed early,
leaving orders that I was not to be disturbed. But on this point my luck
was lacking, for just as I had taken off my coat, Hans arrived and said
that old Billali was without and had come to take me somewhere.

Well, there was nothing to do but to put it on again. Before I had
finished this operation Billali himself arrived with undignified
and unusual haste. I asked him what was the matter, and he answered
inconsequently that the Black One, the slayer of Rezu, was at the door
"with his axe."

"That generally accompanies him," I replied. Then, remembering the cause
of Billali's alarm, I explained to him that he must not take too much
notice of a few hasty words spoken by an essentially gentle-natured
person whose nerve had given way beneath provocation and bodily effort.
The old fellow bowed in assent and stroked his beard, but I noticed that
while Umslopogaas was near, he clung to me like a shadow. Perhaps he
thought that nervous attacks might be recurrent, like those of fever.

Outside the house I found Umslopogaas leaning on his axe and looking at
the sky in which the last red rays of evening lingered.

"The sun has set, Macumazahn," he said, "and it is time to visit this
white queen as she bade us, and to learn whether she can indeed lead us
'down below' where the dead are said to dwell."

So he had not forgotten, which was disconcerting. To cover up my own
doubts I asked him with affected confidence and cheerfulness whether he
was not afraid to risk this journey "down below," that is, to the Realm
of Death.

"Why should I fear to tread a road that awaits the feet of all of us
and at the gate of which we knock day by day, especially if we chance
to live by war, as do you and I, Macumazahn?" he inquired with a quiet
dignity, which made me feel ashamed.

"Why indeed?" I answered, adding to myself, "though I should much prefer
any other highway."

After this we started without more words, I keeping up my spirits by
reflecting that the whole business was nonsense and that there could be
nothing to dread.

All too soon we passed the ruined archway and were admitted into
Ayesha's presence in the usual fashion. As Billali, who remained outside
of them, drew the curtains behind us, I observed, to my astonishment,
that Hans had sneaked in after me, and squatted down quite close to
them, apparently in the hope of being overlooked.

It seemed, as I gathered later, that somehow or other he had guessed, or
become aware of the object of our visit, and that his burning curiosity
had overcome his terror of the "White Witch." Or possibly he hoped to
discover whether or not she were so ugly as he supposed her veil-hidden
face to be. At any rate there he was, and if Ayesha noticed him, as I
think she did, for I saw by the motion of her head, that she was looking
in his direction, she made no remark.

For a while she sat still in her chair contemplating us both. Then she
said,

"How comes it that you are late? Those that seek their lost loves should
run with eager feet, but yours have tarried."

I muttered some excuse to which she did not trouble to listen, for she
went on,

"I think, Allan, that your sandals, which should be winged like to those
of the Roman Mercury, are weighted with the grey lead of fear. Well, it
is not strange, since you have come to travel through the Gates of Death
that are feared by all, even by Ayesha's self, for who knows what he may
find beyond them? Ask the Axe-Bearer if he also is afraid."

I obeyed, rendering all that she had said into the Zulu idiom as best I
could.

"Say to the Queen," answered Umslopogaas, when he understood, "that I
fear nothing, except women's tongues. I am ready to pass the Gates of
Death and, if need be, to come back no more. With the white people
I know it is otherwise because of some dark teachings to which they
listen, that tell of terrors to be, such as we who are black do not
dread. Still, we believe that there are ghosts and that the spirits of
our fathers live on and as it chances I would learn whether this is so,
who above all things desire to met a certain ghost, for which reason I
journeyed to this far land.

"Say these things to the white Queen, Macumazahn, and tell her that if
she should send me to a place whence there is no return, I who do not
love the world, shall not blame her overmuch, though it is true that I
should have chosen to die in war. Now I have spoken."

When I had passed on all this speech to Ayesha, her comment on it was,

"This black Captain has a spirit as brave as his body, but how is it
with your spirit, Allan? Are you also prepared to risk so much? Learn
that I can promise you nothing, save that when I loose the bonds of your
mortality and send out your soul to wander in the depths of Death, as
I believe that I can do, though even of this I am not certain--you
must pass through a gate of terrors that may be closed behind you by a
stronger arm than mine. Moreover, what you will find beyond it I do not
know, since be sure of this, each of us has his own heaven or his own
hell, or both, that soon or late he is doomed to travel. Now will you go
forward, or go back? Make choice while there is still time."

At all this ominous talk I felt my heart shrivel like a fire-withered
leaf, if I may use that figure, and my blood assume the temperature
and consistency of ice-cream. Earnestly did I curse myself for having
allowed my curiosity about matters which we are not meant to understand
to bring me to the edge of such a choice. Swiftly I determined to
temporise, which I did by asking Ayesha whether she would accompany me
upon this eerie expedition.

She laughed a little as she answered,

"Bethink you, Allan. Am I, whose face you have seen, a meet companion
for a man who desires to visit the loves that once were his? What would
they say or think, if they should see you hand in hand with such a one?"

"I don't know and don't care," I replied desperately, "but this is the
kind of journey on which one requires a guide who knows the road. Cannot
Umslopogaas go first and come back to tell me how it has fared with
him?"

"If the brave and instructed white lord, panoplied in the world's last
Faith, is not ashamed to throw the savage in his ignorance out like a
feather to test the winds of hell and watch the while to learn whether
these blow him back unscorched, or waft him into fires whence there is
no return, perchance it might so be ordered, Allan. Ask him yourself,
Allan, if he is willing to run this errand for your sake. Or perhaps the
little yellow man----" and she paused.

At this point Hans, who having a smattering of Arabic understood
something of our talk, could contain himself no longer.

"No, Baas," he broke in from his corner by the curtain, "not _me_. I
don't care for hunting spooks, Baas, which leave no spoor that you can
follow and are always behind when you think they are in front. Also
there are too many of them waiting for me down there and how can I stand
up to them until I am a spook myself and know their ways of fighting?
Also if you should die when your spirit is away, I want to be left that
I may bury you nicely."

"Be silent," I said in my sternest manner. Then, unable to bear more of
Ayesha's mockery, for I felt that as usual she was mocking me, I added
with all the dignity that I could command,

"I am ready to make this journey through the gate of Death, Ayesha, if
indeed you can show me the road. For one purpose and no other I came to
Kôr, namely to learn, if so I might, whether those who have died upon
the world, live on elsewhere. Now, what must I do?"



CHAPTER XXI

THE LESSON

"Yes," answered Ayesha, laughing very softly, "for that purpose alone,
O truth-seeking Allan, whose curiosity is so fierce that the wide world
cannot hold it, did you come to Kôr and not to seek wealth or new lands,
or to fight more savages. No, not even to look upon a certain Ayesha,
of whom the old wizard told you, though I think you have always loved to
try to lift the veil that hides women's hearts, if not their faces. Yet
it was I who brought you to Kôr for my own purposes, not your desire,
nor Zikali's map and talisman, since had not the white lady who lies
sick been stolen by Rezu, never would you have pursued the journey nor
found the way hither."

"How could you have had anything to do with that business?" I asked
testily, for my nerves were on edge and I said the first thing that came
into my mind.

"That, Allan, is a question over which you will wonder for a long while
either beneath or beyond the sun, as you will wonder concerning much
that has to do with me, which your little mind, shut in its iron box of
ignorance and pride, cannot understand to-day.

"For example, you have been wondering, I am sure, how the lightning
killed those eleven men whose bodies you went to look on an hour or two
ago, and left the rest untouched. Well, I will tell you at once that it
was not lightning that killed them, although the strength within me
was manifest to you in storm, but rather what that witch-doctor of your
following called wizardry. Because they were traitors who betrayed your
army to Rezu, I killed them with my wrath and by the wand of my power.
Oh! you do not believe, yet perhaps ere long you will, since thus to
fulfil your prayer I must also kill you--almost. That is the trouble,
Allan. To kill you outright would be easy, but to kill you just enough
to set your spirit free and yet leave one crevice of mortal life through
which it can creep back again, that is most difficult; a thing that only
I can do and even of myself I am not sure."

"Pray do not try the experiment----" I began thoroughly alarmed, but she
cut me short.

"Disturb me no more, Allan, with the tremors and changes of your
uncertain mind, lest you should work more evil than you think, and
making mine uncertain also, spoil my skill. Nay, do not try to fly, for
already the net has thrown itself about you and you cannot stir, who
are bound like a little gilded wasp in the spider's web, or like birds
beneath the eyes of basilisks."

This was true, for I found that, strive as I would, I could not move a
limb or even an eyelid. I was frozen to that spot and there was nothing
for it except to curse my folly and say my prayers.

All this while she went on talking, but of what she said I have not
the faintest idea, because my remaining wits were absorbed in these
much-needed implorations.



Presently, of a sudden, I appeared to see Ayesha seated in a temple,
for there were columns about her, and behind her was an altar on which
a fire burned. All round her, too, were hooded snakes like to that which
she wore about her middle, fashioned in gold. To these snakes she sang
and they danced to her singing; yes, with flickering tongues they danced
upon their tails! What the scene signified I cannot conceive, unless it
meant that this mistress of magic was consulting her familiars.

Then that vision vanished and Ayesha's voice began to seem very far away
and dreamy, also her wondrous beauty became visible to me through her
veil, as though I had acquired a new sense that overcame the limitations
of mortal sight. Even in this extremity I reflected it was well that the
last thing I looked on should be something so glorious. No, not quite
the last thing, for out of the corners of my eyes I saw that Umslopogaas
from a sitting position had sunk on to his back and lay, apparently
dead, with his axe still gripped tightly and held above his head, as
though his arm had been turned to ice.

After this terrible things began to happen to me and I became aware that
I was dying. A great wind seemed to catch me up and blow me to and fro,
as a leaf is blown in the eddies of a winter gale. Enormous rushes of
darkness flowed over me, to be succeeded by vivid bursts of brightness
that dazzled like lightning. I fell off precipices and at the foot of
them was caught by some fearful strength and tossed to the very skies.

From those skies I was hurled down again into a kind of whirlpool of
inky night, round which I spun perpetually, as it seemed for hours and
hours. But worst of all was the awful loneliness from which I suffered.
It seemed to me as though there were no other living thing in all the
Universe and never had been and never would be any other living thing. I
felt as though _I_ were the Universe rushing solitary through space for
ages upon ages in a frantic search for fellowship, and finding none.

Then something seemed to grip my throat and I knew that I had died--for
the world floated away from beneath me.

Now fear and every mortal sensation left me, to be replaced by a new and
spiritual terror. I, or rather my disembodied consciousness, seemed to
come up for judgment, and the horror of it was that I appeared to be my
own judge. There, a very embodiment of cold justice, my Spirit,
grown luminous, sat upon a throne and to it, with dread and merciless
particularity I set out all my misdeeds. It was as if some part of me
remained mortal, for I could see my two eyes, my mouth and my hands, but
nothing else--and strange enough they looked. From the eyes came tears,
from the mouth flowed words and the hands were joined, as though in
prayer to that throned and adamantine Spirit which was ME.

It was as though this Spirit were asking how my body had served
its purposes and advanced its mighty ends, and in reply--oh! what a
miserable tale I had to tell. Fault upon fault, weakness upon weakness,
sin upon sin; never before did I understand how black was my record. I
tried to relieve the picture with some incidents of attempted good, but
that Spirit would not hearken. It seemed to say that it had gathered up
the good and knew it all. It was of the evil that it would learn, not
of the good that had bettered it, but of the evil by which it had been
harmed.

Hearing this there rose up in my consciousness some memory of what
Ayesha had said; namely, that the body lived within the temple of the
spirit which is oft defied, and not the spirit in the body.



The story was told and I hearkened for the judgment, my own judgment on
myself, which I knew would be accepted without question and registered
for good or ill. But none came, since ere the balance sank this way or
that, ere it could be uttered, I was swept afar.

Through Infinity I was swept, and as I fled faster than the light, the
meaning of what I had seen came home to me. I knew, or seemed to know
for the first time, that at the last _man must answer to himself_,
or perhaps to a divine principle within himself, that out of his own
free-will, through long æons and by a million steps, he climbs or sinks
to the heights or depths dormant in his nature; that from what he was,
springs what he is, and what he is, engenders what he shall be for ever
and aye.

Now I envisaged Immortality and splendid and awful was its face. It
clasped me to its breast and in the vast circle of its arms I was
up-borne, I who knew myself to be without beginning and without end,
and yet of the past and of the future knew nothing, save that these were
full of mysteries.

As I went I encountered others, or overtook them, making the same
journey. Robertson swept past me, and spoke, but in a tongue I could
not understand. I noted that the madness had left his eyes and that his
fine-cut features were calm and spiritual. The other wanderers I did not
know.



I came to a region of blinding light; the thought rose in me that I
must have reached the sun, or a sun, though I felt no heat. I stood in a
lovely, shining valley about which burned mountains of fire. There were
huge trees in that valley, but they glowed like gold and their flowers
and fruit were as though they had been fashioned of many-coloured
flames.

The place was glorious beyond compare, but very strange to me and not
to be described. I sat me down upon a boulder which burned like a ruby,
whether with heat or colour I do not know, by the edge of a stream that
flowed with what looked like fire and made a lovely music. I stooped
down and drank of this water of flames and the scent and the taste of it
were as those of the costliest wine.

There, beneath the spreading limbs of a fire-tree I sat, and examined
the strange flowers that grew around, coloured like rich jewels and
perfumed above imagining. There were birds also which might have been
feathered with sapphires, rubies and amethysts, and their song was so
sweet that I could have wept to hear it. The scene was wonderful
and filled me with exaltation, for I thought of the land where it is
promised that there shall be no more night.

People began to appear; men, women, and even children, though whence
they came I could not see. They did not fly and they did not walk; they
seemed to drift towards me, as unguided boats drift upon the tide.
One and all they were very beautiful, but their beauty was not human
although their shapes and faces resembled those of men and women made
glorious. None were old, and except the children, none seemed very
young; it was as though they had grown backwards or forwards to middle
life and rested there at their very best.

Now came the marvel; all these uncounted people were known to me, though
so far as my knowledge went I had never set eyes on most of them before.
Yet I was aware that in some forgotten life or epoch I had been intimate
with every one of them; also that it was the fact of my presence and
the call of my sub-conscious mind which drew them to this spot. Yet
that presence and that call were not visible or audible to them, who,
I suppose, flowed down some stream of sympathy, why or whither they did
not know. Had I been as they were perchance they would have seen me,
as it was they saw nothing and I could not speak and tell them of my
presence.

Some of this multitude, however, I knew well enough even when they had
departed years and years ago. But about these I noted this, that every
one of them was a man or a woman or a child for whom I had felt love or
sympathy or friendship. Not one was a person whom I had disliked or whom
I had no wish to see again. If they spoke at all I could not hear--or
read--their speech, yet to a certain extent I could hear their thoughts.

Many of these were beyond the power of my appreciation on subjects which
I had no knowledge, or that were too high for me, but some were of quite
simple things such as concern us upon the earth, such as of friendship,
or learning, or journeys made or to be made, or art, or literature, or
the wonders of Nature, or of the fruits of the earth, as they knew them
in this region.

This I noted too, that each separate thought seemed to be hallowed and
enclosed in an atmosphere of prayer or heavenly aspiration, as a seed is
enclosed in the heart of a flower, or a fruit in its odorous rind, and
that this prayer or aspiration presently appeared to bear the thought
away, whither I knew not. Moreover, all these thoughts, even of the
humblest things, were beauteous and spiritual, nothing cruel or impure
or even coarse was to be found among them: they radiated charity, purity
and goodness.

Among them I perceived were none that had to do with our earth; this and
its affairs seemed to be left far behind these thinkers, a truth that
chilled my soul was alien to their company. Worse still, so far as I
could discover, although I knew that all these bright ones had been near
to me at some hour in the measurements of time and space, not one of
their musings dwelt upon me or on aught with which I had to do.

Between me and them there was a great gulf fixed and a high wall built.

Oh, look! One came shining like a star, and from far away came another
with dove-like eyes and beautiful exceedingly, and with this last a
maiden, whose eyes were as hers who my own heart told me was her mother.

Well, I knew them both; they were those whom I had come to seek, the
women who had been mind upon the earth, and at the sight of them my
spirit thrilled. Surely they would discover me. Surely at least they
would speak of me and feel my presence.

But, although they stayed within a pace or two of where I rested, alas!
it was not so. They seemed to kiss and to exchange swift thoughts about
many things, high things of which I will not write, and common things;
yes, even of the shining robes they wore, but never a one of _me!_ I
strove to rise and go to them, but could not; I strove to speak and
could not; I strove to throw out my thought to them and could not; it
fell back upon my head like a stone hurled heavenward.

They were remote from me, utterly apart. I wept tears of bitterness that
I should be so near and yet so far; a dull and jealous rage burned in
my heart, and this they did seem to feel, or so I fancied; at any rate,
apparently by mutual consent, they moved further from me as though
something pained them. Yes, my love could not reach their perfected
natures, but my anger hurt them.

As I sat chewing this root of bitterness, a man appeared, a very noble
man, in whom I recognised my father grown younger and happier-looking,
but still my father, with whom came others, men and women whom I knew
to be my brothers and sisters who had died in youth far away in
Oxfordshire. Joy leapt up in me, for I thought--these will surely know
me and give me welcome, since, though here sex has lost its power, blood
must still call to blood.

But it was not so. They spoke, or interchanged their thoughts, but not
one of me. I read something that passed from my father to them. It was
a speculation as to what had brought them all together there, and read
also the answer hazarded, that perhaps it might be to give welcome to
some unknown who was drawing near from below and would feel lonely and
unfriended. Thereon my father replied that he did not see or feel this
wanderer, and thought that it could not be so, since it was his mission
to greet such on their coming.



Then in an instant all were gone and that lovely, glowing plain was
empty, save for myself seated on the ruby-like stone, weeping tears of
blood and shame and loss within my soul.



So I sat a long while, till presently I was aware of a new presence, a
presence dusky and splendid and arrayed in rich barbaric robes. Straight
she came towards me, like a thrown spear, and I knew her for a
certain royal and savage woman who on earth was named Mameena, or
"Wind-that-wailed." Moreover she divined me, though see me she could
not.

"Art there, Watcher-in-the-Night, watching in the light?" she said or
thought, I know not which, but the words came to me in the Zulu tongue.

"Aye," she went on, "I know that thou art there; from ten thousand
leagues away I felt thy presence and broke from my own place to welcome
thee, though I must pay for it with burning chains and bondage. How did
those welcome thee whom thou camest out to seek? Did they clasp thee in
their arms and press their kisses on thy brow? Or did they shrink away
from thee because the smell of earth was on thy hands and lips?"

I seemed to answer that they did not appear to know that I was there.

"Aye, they did not know because their love is not enough, because they
have grown too fine for love. But I, the sinner, I knew well, and here
am I ready to suffer all for thee and to give thee place within this
stormy heart of mine. Forget them, then, and come to rule with me who
still am queen in my own house that thou shalt share. There we will live
royally and when our hour comes, at least we shall have had our day."

Now before I could reply, some power seemed to seize this splendid
creature and whirl her thence so that she departed, flashing these words
from her mind to mine,

"For a little while farewell, but remember always that Mameena, the
Wailing Wind, being still as a sinful woman in a woman's love and of
the earth, earthy, found thee, whom all the rest forgot. O
Watcher-in-the-Night, watch in the night for me, for there thou shalt
find me, the Child of Storm, again, and yet again."

She was gone and once more I sat in utter solitude upon that ruby stone,
staring at the jewelled flowers and the glorious flaming trees and the
lambent waters of the brook. What was the meaning of it all, I wondered,
and why was I deserted by everyone save a single savage woman, and why
had she a power to find me which was denied to all the rest? Well,
she had given me an answer, because she was "as a sinful woman with
a woman's love and of the earth, earthy," while with the rest it was
otherwise. Oh! this was clear, that in the heavens man has no friend
among the heavenly, save perhaps the greatest Friend of all Who
understands both flesh and spirit.

Thus I mused in this burning world which was still so beautiful, this
alien world into which I had thrust myself unwanted and unsought.
And while I mused this happened. The fiery waters of the stream were
disturbed by something and looking up I saw the cause.

A dog had plunged into them and was swimming towards me. At a glance
I knew that dog on which my eyes had not fallen for decades. It was a
mongrel, half spaniel and half bull-terrier, which for years had been
the dear friend of my youth and died at last on the horns of a wounded
wildebeeste that attacked me when I had fallen from my horse upon
the veld. Boldly it tackled the maddened buck, thus giving me time to
scramble to my rifle and shoot it, but not before the poor hound had
yielded its life for mine, since presently it died disembowelled, but
licking my hand and forgetful of its agonies. This dog, Smut by name, it
was that swam or seemed to swim the brook of fire. It scrambled to the
hither shore, it nosed the earth and ran to the ruby stone and stared
about it whining and sniffing.

At last it seemed to see or feel me, for it stood upon its hind legs
and licked my face, yelping with mad joy, as I could see though I
heard nothing. Now I wept in earnest and bent down to hug and kiss the
faithful beast, but this I could not do, since like myself it was only
shadow.


Then suddenly all dissolved in a cataract of many-coloured flames and I
fell down into an infinite gulf of blackness.


Surely Ayesha was talking to me! What did she say? What did she say? I
could not catch her words, but I caught her laughter and knew that after
her fashion she was making a mock of me. My eyelids were dragged down
as though with heavy sleep; it was difficult to lift them. At last they
were open and I saw Ayesha seated on her couch before me and--this I
noted at once--with her lovely face unveiled. I looked about me, seeking
Umslopogaas and Hans. But they were gone as I guessed they must be,
since otherwise Ayesha would not have been unveiled. We were quite
alone. She was addressing me and in a new fashion, since now she
had abandoned the formal "you" and was using the more impressive and
intimate "thou," much as is the manner of the French.

"Thou hast made thy journey, Allan," she said, "and what thou hast
seen there thou shalt tell me presently. Yet from thy mien I gather
this--that thou art glad to look upon flesh and blood again and, after
the company of spirits, to find that of mortal woman. Come then and sit
beside me and tell thy tale."

"Where are the others?" I asked as I rose slowly to obey, for my head
swam and my feet seemed feeble.

"Gone, Allan, who as I think have had enough of ghosts, which is perhaps
thy case also. Come, drink this and be a man once more. Drink it to me
whose skill and power have brought thee safe from lands that human feet
were never meant to tread," and taking a strange-shaped cup from a stool
that stood beside her, she offered it to me.

I drank to the last drop, neither knowing nor caring whether it were
wine or poison, since my heart seemed desperate at its failure and my
spirit crushed beneath the weight of its great betrayal. I suppose it
was the former, for the contents of that cup ran through my veins like
fire and gave me back my courage and the joy of life.

I stepped to the dais and sat me down upon the couch, leaning against
its rounded end so that I was almost face to face with Ayesha who had
turned towards me, and thence could study her unveiled loveliness. For a
while she said nothing, only eyed me up and down and smiled and smiled,
as though she were waiting for that wine to do its work with me.

"Now that thou art a man again, Allan, tell me what thou didst see when
thou wast more--or less--than man."

So I told her all, for some power within her seemed to draw the truth
out of me. Nor did the tale appear to cause her much surprise.

"There is truth in thy dream," she said when I had finished; "a lesson
also."

"Then it was all a dream?" I interrupted.

"Is not everything a dream, even life itself, Allan? If so, what can
this be that thou hast seen, but a dream within a dream, and itself
containing other dreams, as in the old days the ball fashioned by the
eastern workers of ivory would oft be found to contain another ball, and
this yet another and another and another, till at the inmost might be
found a bead of gold, or perchance a jewel, which was the prize of him
who could draw out ball from ball and leave them all unbroken. That
search was difficult and rarely was the jewel come by, if at all, so
that some said there was none, save in the maker's mind. Yes, I have
seen a man go crazed with seeking and die with the mystery unsolved. How
much harder, then, is it to come at the diamond of Truth which lies at
the core of all our nest of dreams and without which to rest upon they
could not be fashioned to seem realities?"

"But was it really a dream, and if so, what were the truth and the
lesson?" I asked, determined not to allow her to bemuse or escape me
with her metaphysical talk and illustrations.

"The first question has been answered, Allan, as well as I can answer,
who am not the architect of this great globe of dreams, and as yet
cannot clearly see the ineffable gem within, whose prisoned rays
illuminate their substance, though so dimly that only those with the
insight of a god can catch their glamour in the night of thought, since
to most they are dark as glow-flies in the glare of noon."

"Then what are the truth and the lesson?" I persisted, perceiving that
it was hopeless to extract from her an opinion as to the real nature of
my experiences and that I must content myself with her deductions from
them.

"Thou tellest me, Allan, that in thy dream or vision thou didst seem to
appear before thyself seated on a throne and in that self to find thy
judge. That is the Truth whereof I spoke, though how it found its way
through the black and ignorant shell of one whose wit is so small,
is more than I can guess, since I believed that it was revealed to me
alone."

(Now I, Allan, thought to myself that I began to see the origin of all
these fantasies and that for once Ayesha had made a slip. If she had a
theory and I developed that same theory in a hypnotic condition, it was
not difficult to guess its fount. However, I kept my mouth shut, and
luckily for once she did not seem to read my mind, perhaps because she
was too much occupied in spinning her smooth web of entangling words.)

"All men worship their own god," she went on, "and yet seem not to know
that this god dwells within them and that of him they are a part. There
he dwells and there they mould him to their own fashion, as the potter
moulds his clay, though whatever the shape he seems to take beneath
their fingers, still he remains the god infinite and unalterable. Still
he is the Seeker and the Sought, the Prayer and its Fulfilment, the Love
and the Hate, the Virtue and the Vice, since all these qualities the
alchemy of his spirit turns into an ultimate and eternal Good. For the
god is in all things and all things are in the god, whom men clothe with
such diverse garments and whose countenance they hide beneath so many
masks.

"In the tree flows the sap, yet what knows the great tree it nurtures of
the sap? In the world's womb burns the fire that gives life, yet what of
the fire knows the glorious earth it conceived and will destroy; in the
heavens the great globes swing through space and rest not, yet what know
they of the Strength that sent them spinning and in a time to come will
stay their mighty motions, or turn them to another course? Therefore of
everything this all-present god is judge, or rather, not one but many
judges, since of each living creature he makes its own magistrate to
deal out justice according to that creature's law which in the beginning
the god established for it and decreed. Thus in the breast of everyone
there is a rule and by that rule, at work through a countless chain of
lives, in the end he shall be lifted up to Heaven, or bound about and
cast down to Hell and death."

"You mean a conscience," I suggested rather feebly, for her thoughts and
images overpowered me.

"Aye, a conscience, if thou wilt, and canst only understand that term,
though it fits my theme but ill. This is my meaning, that consciences,
as thou namest them, are many. I have one; thou, Allan, hast another;
that black Axe-bearer has a third; the little yellow man a fourth, and
so on through the tale of living things. For even a dog such as thou
sawest has a conscience and--like thyself or I--must in the end be its
own judge, because of the spark that comes to it from above, the same
spark which in me burns as a great fire, and in thee as a smouldering
ember of green wood."

"When _you_ sit in judgment on yourself in a day to come, Ayesha,"
I could not help interpolating, "I trust that you will remember that
humility did not shine among your virtues."

She smiled in her vivid way--only twice or thrice did I see her smile
thus and then it was like a flash of summer lightning illumining a
clouded sky, since for the most part her face was grave and even sombre.

"Well answered," she said. "Goad the patient ox enough and even it will
grow fierce and paw the ground.

"Humility! What have I to do with it, O Allan? Let humility be the part
of the humble-souled and lowly, but for those who reign as I do, and
they are few indeed, let there be pride and the glory they have earned.
Now I have told thee of the Truth thou sawest in thy vision and wouldst
thou hear the Lesson?"

"Yes," I answered, "since I may as well be done with it at once, and
doubtless it will be good for me."

"The Lesson, Allan, is one which thou preachest--humility. Vain man
and foolish as thou art, thou didst desire to travel the Underworld in
search of certain ones who once were all in all to thee--nay, not all in
all since of them there were two or more--but at least much. Thus thou
wouldst do because, as thou saidest, thou didst seek to know whether
they still lived on beyond the gates of Blackness. Yes, thou saidest
this, but what thou didst hope to learn in truth was whether they lived
on in _thee_ and for _thee_ only. For thou, thou in thy vanity, didst
picture these departed souls as doing naught in that Heaven they had
won, save think of thee still burrowing on the earth, and, at times
lightening thy labours with kisses from other lips than theirs."

"Never!" I exclaimed indignantly. "Never! it is not true."

"Then I pray pardon, Allan, who only judged of thee by others that were
as men are made, and being such, not to be blamed if perchance from time
to time, they turned to look on women, who alas! were as they are made.
So at least it was when I knew the world, but mayhap since then its
richest wine has turned to water, whereby I hope it has been bettered.
At the least this was thy thought, that those women who had been thine
for an hour, through all eternity could dream of naught else save thy
perfections, and hope for naught else than to see thee at their sides
through that eternity, or such part of thee as thou couldst spare to
each of them. For thou didst forget that where they have gone there
may be others even more peerless than thou art and more fit to hold a
woman's love, which as we know on earth was ever changeful, and perhaps
may so remain where it is certain that new lights must shine and new
desires beckon. Dost understand me, Allan?"

"I think so," I answered with a groan. "I understand you to mean that
worldly impressions soon wear out and that people who have departed to
other spheres may there form new ties and forget the old."

"Yes, Allan, as do those who remain upon this earth, whence these others
have departed. Do men and women still re-marry in the world, Allan, as
in my day they were wont to do?"

"Of course--it is allowed."

"As many other things, or perchance this same thing, may be allowed
elsewhere, for when there are so many habitations from which to choose,
why should we always dwell in one of them, however strait the house or
poor the prospect?"

Now understanding that I was symbolised by the "strait house" and the
"poor prospect" I should have grown angry, had not a certain sense of
humour come to my rescue, who remembered that after all Ayesha's satire
was profoundly true. Why, beyond the earth, should anyone desire
to remain unalterably tied to and inextricably wrapped up in such a
personality as my own, especially if others of superior texture abounded
about them? Now that I came to think of it, the thing was absurd and
not to be the least expected in the midst of a thousand new and vivid
interests. I had met with one more disillusionment, that was all.

"Dost understand, Allan," went on Ayesha, who evidently was determined
that I should drink this cup to the last drop, "that these dwellers in
the sun, or the far planet where thou hast been according to thy tale,
saw thee not and knew naught of thee? It may chance therefore that at
this time thou wast not in their minds which at others dream of thee
continually. Or it may chance that they never dream of thee at all,
having quite forgotten thee, as the weaned cub forgets its mother."

"At least there was one who seemed to remember," I exclaimed, for her
poisoned mocking stung the words out of me, "one woman and--a dog."

"Aye, the savage, who being Nature's child, a sinner that departed hence
by her own act" (how Ayesha knew this I cannot say, I never told her),
"has not yet put on perfection and therefore still remembers him whose
kiss was last upon her lips. But surely, Allan, it is not thy desire
to pass from the gentle, ordered claspings of those white souls for the
tumultuous arms of such a one as this. Still, let that be, for who knows
what men will or will not do in jealousy and disappointed love? And the
dog, it remembered also and even sought thee out, since dogs are more
faithful and single-hearted than is mankind. There at least thou hast
thy lesson, namely to grow more humble and never to think again that
thou holdest all a woman's soul for aye, because once she was kind to
thee for a little while on earth."

"Yes," I answered, jumping up in a rage, "as you say, I have my lesson,
and more of it than I want. So by your leave, I will now bid you
farewell, hoping that when it comes to be _your_ turn to learn this
lesson, or a worse, Ayesha, as I am sure it will one day, for something
tells me so, you may enjoy it more than I have done."



CHAPTER XXII

AYESHA'S FAREWELL

Thus I spoke whose nerves were on edge after all that I had seen or, as
even then I suspected, seemed to see. For how could I believe that these
visions of mine had any higher origin than Ayesha's rather malicious
imagination? Already I had formed my theory.

It was that she must be a hypnotist of power, who, after she had put a
spell upon her subject, could project into his mind such fancies as she
chose together with a selection of her own theories. Only two points
remained obscure. The first was--how did she get the necessary
information about the private affairs of a humble individual like
myself, for these were not known even to Zikali with whom she seemed
to be in some kind of correspondence, or to Hans, at any rate in such
completeness?

I could but presume that in some mysterious way she drew them from, or
rather excited them in my own mind and memory, so that I seemed to see
those with whom once I had been intimate, with modifications and in
surroundings that her intelligence had carefully prepared. It would not
be difficult for a mind like hers familiar, as I gathered it was, with
the ancient lore of the Greeks and the Egyptians, to create a kind of
Hades and, by way of difference, to change it from one of shadow to one
of intense illumination, and into it to plunge the consciousness of him
upon whom she had laid her charm of sleep. I had seen nothing and heard
nothing that she might not thus have moulded, always given that she had
access to the needful clay of facts which I alone could furnish.

Granting this hypothesis, the second point was--what might be the object
of her elaborate and most bitter jest? Well, I thought that I could
guess. First, she wished to show her power, or rather to make me
believe that she had power of a very unusual sort. Secondly, she owed
Umslopogaas and myself a debt for our services in the war with Rezu
which we had been told would be repaid in this way. Thirdly, I had
offended her in some fashion and she took her opportunity of settling
the score. Also there was a fourth possibility--that really she
considered herself a moral instructress and desired, as she said, to
teach me a lesson by showing how futile were human hopes and vanities in
respect to the departed and their affections.

Now I do not pretend that all this analysis of Ayesha's motives occurred
to me at the moment of my interview with her; indeed, I only completed
it later after much careful thought, when I found it sound and good. At
that time, although I had inklings, I was too bewildered to form a just
judgment.

Further, I was too angry and it was from this bow of my anger that
I loosed a shaft at a venture as to some lesson which awaited _her_.
Perhaps certain words spoken by the dying Rezu had shaped that shaft. Or
perhaps some shadow of her advancing fate fell upon me.

The success of the shot, however, was remarkable. Evidently it pierced
the joints of her harness, and indeed went home to Ayesha's heart. She
turned pale; all the peach-bloom hues faded from her lovely face, her
great eyes seemed to lessen and grow dull and her cheeks to fall in.
Indeed, for a moment she looked old, very old, quite an aged woman.
Moreover she wept, for I saw two big tears drop upon her white raiment
and I was horrified.

"What has happened to you?" I said, or rather gasped.

"Naught," she answered, "save that thou hast hurt me sore. Dost thou not
know, Allan, that it is cruel to prophesy ill to any, since such words
feathered from Fate's own wing and barbed with venom, fester in the
breast and mayhap bring about their own accomplishment. Most cruel of
all is it when with them are repaid friendship and gentleness."

I reflected to myself--yes, friendship of the order that is called
candid, and gentleness such as is hid in a cat's velvet paw, but
contented myself with asking how it was that she who said she was so
powerful, came to fear anything at all.

"Because as I have told thee, Allan, there is no armour that can turn
the spear of Destiny which, when I heard those words of thine, it seemed
to me, I know not why, was directed by thy hand. Look now on Rezu who
thought himself unconquerable and yet was slain by the black Axe-bearer
and whose bones to-night stay the famine of the jackals. Moreover I am
accursed who sought to steal its servant from Heaven to be my love, and
how know I when and where vengeance will fall at last? Indeed, it has
fallen already on me, who through the long ages amid savages must mourn
widowed and alone, but not all of it--oh! I think, not all."

Then she began to weep in good earnest, and watching her, for the
first time I understood that this glorious creature who seemed to be so
powerful, was after all one of the most miserable of women and as much a
prey to loneliness, every sort of passion and apprehensive fear, as can
be any common mortal. If, as she said, she had found the secret of life,
which of course I did not believe, at least it was obvious that she had
lost that of happiness.

She sobbed softly and wept and while she did so the loveliness, which
had left her for a little while, returned to her like light to a grey
and darkened sky. Oh, how beautiful she seemed with the abundant locks
in disorder over her tear-stained face, how beautiful beyond imagining!
My heart melted as I studied her; I could think of nothing else except
her surpassing charm and glory.

"I pray you, do not weep," I said; "it hurts me and indeed I am sorry if
I said anything to give you pain."

But she only shook that glorious hair further about her face and behind
its veil wept on.

"You know, Ayesha," I continued, "you have said many hard things to me,
making me the target of your bitter wit, therefore it is not strange
that at last I answered you."

"And hast thou not deserved them, Allan?" she murmured in soft and
broken tones from behind that veil of scented locks.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because from the beginning thou didst defy me, showing in thine every
accent that thou heldest me a liar and one of no account in body or in
spirit, one not worthy of thy kind look, or of those gentle words which
once were my portion among men. Oh! thou hast dealt hardly with me and
therefore perchance--I know not--I paid thee back with such poor weapons
as a woman holds, though all the while I liked thee well."

Then again she fell to sobbing, swaying herself gently to and fro in her
sweet sorrow.

It was too much. Not knowing what else to do to comfort her, I patted
her ivory hand which lay upon the couch beside me, and as this appeared
to have no effect, I kissed it, which she did not seem to resent. Then
suddenly I remembered and let it fall.

She tossed back her hair from her face and fixing her big eyes on me,
said gently enough, looking down at her hand,

"What ails thee, Allan?"

"Oh, nothing," I answered; "only I remembered the story you told me
about some man called Kallikrates."

She frowned.

"And what of Kallikrates, Allan? Is it not enough that for my sins, with
tears, empty longings and repentance, I must wait for him through all
the weary centuries? Must I also wear the chains of this Kallikrates, to
whom I owe many a debt, when he is far away? Say, didst thou see him in
that Heaven of thine, Allan, for there perchance he dwells?"

I shook my head and tried to think the thing out while all the time
those wonderful eyes of hers seemed to draw the soul from me. It seemed
to me that she bent forward and held up her face to me. Then I lost my
reason and also bent forward. Yes, she made me mad, and, save her, I
forgot all.

Swiftly she placed her hand upon my heart, saying,

"Stay! What meanest thou? Dost love me, Allan?"

"I think so--that is--yes," I answered.

She sank back upon the couch away from me and began to laugh very
softly.

"What words are these," she said, "that they pass thy lips so easily and
so unmeant, perchance from long practice? Oh! Allan, I am astonished.
Art thou the same man who some few days ago told me, and this unasked,
that as soon wouldst thou think of courting the moon as of courting me?
Art thou he who not a minute gone swore proudly that never had his heart
and his lips wandered from certain angels whither they should not? And
now, and now----?"

I coloured to my eyes and rose, muttering,

"Let me be gone!"

"Nay, Allan, why? I see no mark here," and she held up her hand,
scanning it carefully. "Thou art too much what thou wert before, except
perhaps in thy soul, which is invisible," she added with a touch of
malice. "Nor am I angry with thee; indeed, hadst thou not tried to charm
away my woe, I should have thought but poorly of thee as a man. There
let it rest and be forgotten--or remembered as thou wilt. Still, in
answer to thy words concerning my Kallikrates, what of those adored ones
that, according to thy tale, but now thou didst find again in a place of
light? Because they seemed faithless, shouldst thou be faithless also?
Shame on thee, thou fickle Allan!"

She paused, waiting for me to speak.

Well, I could not. I had nothing to say who was utterly disgraced and
overwhelmed.

"Thou thinkest, Allan," she went on, "that I have cast my net about
thee, and this is true. Learn wisdom from it, Allan, and never again
defy a woman--that is, if she be fair, for then she is stronger than
thou art, since Nature for its own purpose made her so. Whatever I have
done by tears, that ancient artifice of my sex, as in other ways, is for
thy instruction, Allan, that thou mayest benefit thereby."

Again I sprang up, uttering an English exclamation which I trust Ayesha
did not understand, and again she motioned to me to be seated, saying,

"Nay, leave me not yet since, even if the light fancy of a man that
comes and goes like the evening wind and for a breath made me dear
to thee, has passed away, there remains certain work which we must do
together. Although, thinking of thyself alone, thou hast forgotten it,
having been paid thine own fee, one is yet due to that old wizard in a
far land who sent thee to visit Kôr and me, as indeed he has reminded me
and within an hour."

This amazing statement aroused me from my personal and painful
pre-occupation and caused me to stare at her blankly.

"Again thou disbelievest me," she said, with a little stamp. "Do so once
more, Allan, and I swear I'll bring thee to grovel on the ground and
kiss my foot and babble nonsense to a woman sworn to another man, such
as never for all thy days thou shalt think of without a blush of shame."

"Oh! no," I broke in hurriedly, "I assure you that you are mistaken. I
believe every word you have said, or say or will say; I do in truth."

"Now thou liest. Well, what is one more falsehood among so many? Let it
pass."

"What, indeed?" I echoed in eager affirmation, "and as for Zikali's
message----" and I paused.

"It was to recall to my mind that he desired to learn whether a certain
great enterprise of his will succeed, the details of which he says thou
canst tell me. Repeat them to me."

So, glad enough to get away from more dangerous topics, I narrated
to her as briefly and clearly as I could, the history of the old
witch-doctor's feud with the Royal House of Zululand. She listened,
taking in every word, and said,

"So now he yearns to know whether he will conquer or be conquered; and
that is why he sent, or thinks that he sent thee on this journey, not
for thy sake, Allan, but for his own. I cannot tell thee, for what have
I do to with the finish of this petty business, which to him seems so
large? Still, as I owe him a debt for luring the Axe-Bearer here to rid
me of mine enemy, and thee to lighten my solitude for an hour by the
burnishing of thy mind, I will try. Set that bowl before me, Allan,"
and she pointed to a marble tripod on which stood a basin half full of
water, "and come, sit close by me and look into it, telling me what thou
seest."

I obeyed her instructions and presently found myself with my head over
the basin, staring into the water in the exact attitude of a person who
is about to be shampooed.

"This seems rather foolish," I said abjectly, for at that moment I
resembled the Queen of Sheba in one particular, if in no other, namely,
that there was no more spirit in me. "What am I supposed to do? I see
nothing at all."

"Look again," she said, and as she spoke the water grew clouded. Then on
it appeared a picture. I saw the interior of a Kaffir hut dimly lighted
by a single candle set in the neck of a bottle. To the left of the door
of the hut was a bedstead and on it lay stretched a wasted and dying
man, in whom, to my astonishment, I recognised Cetywayo, King of the
Zulus. At the foot of the bed stood another man--myself grown older by
many years, and leaning over the bed, apparently whispering into the
dying man's ear, was a grotesque and malevolent figure which I knew to
be that of Zikali, Opener-of-Roads, whose glowing eyes were fixed upon
the terrified and tortured face of Cetywayo. All was as it happened
afterwards, as I have written down in the book called "Finished."

I described what I saw to Ayesha, and while I was doing so the picture
vanished away, so that nothing remained save the clear water in the
marble bowl. The story did not seem to interest her; indeed, she leaned
back and yawned a little.

"Thy vision is good, Allan," she said indifferently, "and wide also,
since thou canst see what passes in the sun or distant stars, and
pictures of things to be in the water, to say nothing of other pictures
in a woman's eyes, all within an hour. Well, this savage business
concerns me not and of it I want to know no more. Yet it would appear
that here the old wizard who is thy friend, has the answer that he
desires. For there in the picture the king he hates lies dying while he
hisses in his ear and thou dost watch the end. What more can he seek?
Tell him it when ye meet, and tell him also it is my will that in future
he should trouble me less, since I love not to be wakened from my sleep
to listen to his half-instructed talk and savage vapourings. Indeed,
he presumes too much. And now enough of him and his dark plots. Ye have
your desires, all of you, and are paid in full."

"Over-paid, perhaps," I said with a sigh.

"Ah, Allan, I think that Lesson thou hast learned pleases thee but
little. Well, be comforted for the thing is common. Hast never heard
that there is but one morsel more bitter to the taste than desire
denied, namely, desire fulfilled? Believe me that there can be no
happiness for man until he attains a land where all desire is dead."

"That is what the Buddha preaches, Ayesha."

"Aye, I remember the doctrines of that wise man well, who without doubt
had found a key to the gate of Truth, one key only, for, mark thou,
Allan, there are many. Yet, man being man must know desires, since
without them, robbed of ambitions, strivings, hopes, fears, aye and of
life itself, the race must die, which is not the will of the Lord of
Life who needs a nursery for his servant's souls, wherein his swords of
Good and Ill shall shape them to his pattern. So it comes about, Allan,
that what we think the worst is oft the best for us, and with that
knowledge, if we are wise, let us assuage our bitterness and wipe away
our tears."

"I have often thought that," I said.

"I doubt it not, Allan, since though it has pleased me to make a jest
of thee, I know that thou hast thy share of wisdom, such little share as
thou canst gather in thy few short years. I know, too, that thy heart is
good and aspires high, and Friend--well, I find in thee a friend indeed,
as I think not for the first time, nor certainly for the last. Mark,
Allan, what I say, not a lover, but a _friend_, which is higher far.
For when passion dies with the passing of the flesh, if there be no
friendship what will remain save certain memories that, mayhap, are well
forgot? Aye, how would those lovers meet elsewhere who were never more
than lovers? With weariness, I hold, as they stared into each other's
empty soul, or even with disgust.

"Therefore the wise will seek to turn those with whom Fate mates them
into friends, since otherwise soon they will be lost for aye. More, if
they are wiser still, having made them friends, they will suffer them
to find lovers where they will. Good maxims, are they not? Yet hard to
follow, or so, perchance, thou thinkest them--as I do."



She grew silent and brooded a while, resting her chin upon her hand and
staring down the hall. Thus the aspect of her face was different from
any that I had seen it wear. No longer had it the allure of Aphrodite or
the majesty of Hera; rather might it have been that of Athene herself.
So wise it seemed, so calm, so full of experience and of foresight, that
almost it frightened me.

What was this woman's true story, I wondered, what her real self, and
what the sum of her gathered knowledge? Perhaps it was accident, or
perhaps, again, she guessed my mind. At any rate her next words seemed
in some sense an answer to these speculations. Lifting her eyes she
contemplated me a while, then said,

"My friend, we part to meet no more in thy life's day. Often thou wilt
wonder concerning me, as to what in truth I am, and mayhap in the end
thy judgment will be to write me down some false and beauteous wanderer
who, rejected of the world or driven from it by her crimes, made
choice to rule among savages, playing the part of Oracle to that little
audience and telling strange tales to such few travellers as come her
way. Perhaps, indeed, I do play this part among many others, and if so,
thou wilt not judge me wrongly.

"Allan, in the old days, mariners who had sailed the northern seas, told
me that therein amidst mist and storm float mountains of ice, shed from
dizzy cliffs which are hid in darkness where no sun shines. They told
me also that whereas above the ocean's breast appears but a blue and
dazzling point, sunk beneath it is oft a whole frozen isle, invisible to
man.

"Such am I, Allan. Of my being thou seest but one little peak glittering
in light or crowned with storm, as heaven's moods sweep over it. But in
the depths beneath are hid its white and broad foundations, hollowed by
the seas of time to caverns and to palaces which my spirit doth inhabit.
So picture me, therefore, as wise and fair, but with a soul unknown, and
pray that in time to come thou mayest see it in its splendour.

"Hadst thou been other than thou art, I might have shown thee secrets,
making clear to thee the parable of much that I have told thee in
metaphor and varying fable, aye, and given thee great gifts of power
and enduring days of which thou knowest nothing. But of those who visit
shrines, O Allan, two things are required, worship and faith, since
without these the oracles are dumb and the healing waters will not flow.

"Now I, Ayesha, am a shrine; yet to me thou broughtest no worship until
I won it by a woman's trick, and in me thou hast no faith. Therefore for
thee the oracle will not speak and the waters of deliverance will not
flow. Yet I blame thee not, who art as thou wast made and the hard world
has shaped thee.

"And so we part: Think not I am far from thee because thou seest me not
in the days to come, since like that Isis whose majesty alone I still
exercise on earth, I, whom men name Ayesha, am in all things. I tell
thee that I am not One but Many and, being many, am both Here and
Everywhere. When thou standest beneath the sky at night and lookest on
the stars, remember that in them mine eyes behold thee; when the soft
winds of evening blow, that my breath is on thy brow and when the
thunder rolls, that there am I riding on the lightnings and rushing with
the gale."

"Do you mean that you are the goddess Isis?" I asked, bewildered.
"Because if so why did you tell me that you were but her priestess?"

"Have it as thou wilt, Allan. All sounds do not reach thine ears; all
sights are not open to thy eyes and therefore thou art both half deaf
and blind. Perchance now that her shrines are dust and her worship is
forgot, some spark of the spirit of that immortal Lady whose chariot was
the moon, lingers on the earth in this woman's shape of mine, though her
essence dwells afar, and perchance her other name is Nature, my mother
and thine, O Allan. At the least hath not the World a soul--and of that
soul am I not mayhap a part, aye, and thou also? For the rest are not
the priest and the Divine he bows to, oft the same?"

It was on my lips to answer, Yes, if the priest is a knave or a
self-deceiver, but I did not.

"Farewell, Allan, and let Ayesha's benison go with thee. Safe shalt
thou reach thy home, for all is prepared to take thee hence, and thy
companions with thee. Safe shalt thou live for many a year, till thy
time comes, and then, perchance, thou wilt find those whom thou hast
lost more kind than they seemed to be to-night."

She paused awhile, then added,

"Hearken unto my last word! As I have said, much that I have told thee
may bear a double meaning, as is the way of parables, to be interpreted
as thou wilt. Yet one thing is true. I love a certain man, in the old
days named Kallikrates, to whom alone I am appointed by a divine decree,
and I await him here. Oh, shouldest thou find him in the world without,
tell him that Ayesha awaits him and grows weary in the waiting. Nay,
thou wilt never find him, since even if he be born again, by what token
would he be known to thee? Therefore I charge thee, keep my secrets
well, lest Ayesha's curse should fall on thee. While thou livest tell
naught of me to the world thou knowest. Dost thou swear to keep my
secrets, Allan?"

"I swear, Ayesha."

"I thank thee, Allan," she answered, and grew silent for a while.

At length Ayesha rose and drawing herself up to the full of her height,
stood there majestic. Next she beckoned to me to come near, for I too
had risen and left the dais.

I obeyed, and bending down she held her hands over me as though in
blessing, then pointed towards the curtains which at this moment were
drawn asunder, by whom I do not know.

I went and when I reached them, turned to look my last on her.

There she stood as I had left her, but now her eyes were fixed upon the
ground and her face once more was brooding absently as though no such
a man as I had ever been. It came into my mind that already she had
forgotten me, the plaything of an hour, who had served her turn and been
cast aside.



CHAPTER XXIII

WHAT UMSLOPOGAAS SAW

Like one who drams I passed down the outer hall where stood the silent
guards as statues might, and out through the archway. Here I paused for
a moment, partly to calm my mind in the familiar surroundings of the
night, and partly because I thought that I heard someone approaching me
through the gloom, and in such a place where I might have many enemies,
it was well to be prepared.

As it chanced, however, my imaginary assailant was only Hans, who
emerged from some place where he had been hiding; a very disturbed and
frightened Hans.

"Oh, Baas," he said in a low and shaky whisper, "I am glad to see you
again, and standing on your feet, not being carried with them sticking
straight in front of you as I expected."

"Why?" I asked.

"Oh, Baas, because of the things that happened in that place where the
tall _vrouw_ with her head tied up as though she had tooth-ache, sits
like a spider in a web."

"Well, what happened, Hans?" I asked as we walked forward.

"This, Baas. The Doctoress talked and talked at you and Umslopogaas, and
as she talked, your faces began to look as though you had drunk half
a flask too much of the best gin, such as I wish I had some of here
to-night, at once wise and foolish, and full and empty, Baas. Then you
both rolled over and lay there quite dead, and whilst I was wondering
what I should do and how I should get out your bodies to bury them, the
Doctoress came down off her platform and bent, first over you and next
over Umslopogaas, whispering into the ears of both of you. Then she took
off a snake that looked as though it were made of gold with green eyes,
which she wears about her middle beneath the long dish-cloth, Baas, and
held it to your lips and next to those of Umslopogaas."

"Well, and what then, Hans?"

"After that all sorts of things came about, Baas, and I felt as though
the whole house were travelling through the air, Baas, twice as fast as
a bullet does from a rifle. Suddenly, too, the room became filled with
fire so hot that it scorched me, and so bright that it made my eyes
water, although they can look at the sun without winking. And, Baas,
the fire was full of spooks which walked around; yes, I saw some of them
standing on your head and stomach, Baas, also on that of Umslopogaas,
whilst others went and talked to the white Doctoress as quietly as
though they had met her in the market-place and wanted to sell her
eggs or butter. Then, Baas, suddenly I saw your reverend father, the
Predikant, who looked as though he were red-hot, as doubtless he is in
the Place of Fires. I thought he came up to me, Baas, and said, 'Get out
of this, Hans. This is no place for a good Hottentot like you, Hans, for
here only the very best Christians can bear the heat for long.'

"That finished me, Baas. I just answered that I handed you, the Baas
Allan his son, over to his care, hoping that he would see that you did
not burn in that oven, whatever happened to Umslopogaas. Then I shut my
eyes and mouth and held my nose, and wriggled beneath those curtains as
a snake does, Baas, and ran down the hall and across the kraal-yard
and through the archway out into the night, where I have been sitting
cooling myself ever since, waiting for you to be carried away, Baas.
And now you have come alive and with not even your hair burnt off, which
shows how wonderful must be the Great Medicine of Zikali, Baas, since
nothing else could have saved you in that fire, no, not even your
reverend father, the Predikant."

"Hans," I said when he had finished, "you are a very wonderful fellow,
for you can get drunk on nothing at all. Please remember, Hans, that
you have been drunk to-night, yes, very drunk indeed, and never dare to
repeat anything that you thought you saw while you were drunk."

"Yes, Baas, I understand that I was drunk and already have forgotten
everything. But, Baas, there is still a bottle full of brandy and if I
could have just one more tot I should forget _so_ much better!"

By now we had reached our camp and here I found Umslopogaas sitting in
the doorway and staring at the sky.

"Good-evening to you, Umslopogaas," I said in my most unconcerned
manner, and waited.

"Good-evening, Watcher-by-Night, who I thought was lost in the night,
since in the end the night is stronger than any of its watchers."

At this cryptic remark I looked bewildered but said nothing. At length
Umslopogaas, whose nature, for a Zulu, was impulsive and lacking in the
ordinary native patience, asked,

"Did you make a journey this evening, Macumazahn, and if so, what did
you see?"

"Did you have a dream this evening, Umslopogaas?" I inquired by way of
answer, "and if so, what was it about? I thought that I saw you shut
your eyes in the House of the White One yonder, doubtless because you
were weary of talk which you did not understand."

"Aye, Macumazahn, as you suppose I grew weary of that talk which flowed
from the lips of the White Witch like the music that comes from a little
stream babbling over stones when the sun is hot, and being weary, I fell
asleep and dreamed. What I dreamed does not much matter. It is enough
to say that I felt as though I were thrown through the air like a stone
cast from his sling by a boy who is set upon a stage to scare the birds
out of a mealie garden. Further than any stone I went, aye, further
than a shooting star, till I reached a wonderful place. It does not much
matter what it was like either, and indeed I am already beginning to
forget, but there I met everyone I have ever known. I met the Lion of
the Zulus, the Black One, the Earth-Shaker, he who had a 'sister' named
Baleka, which sister," here he dropped his voice and looked about him
suspiciously, "bore a child, which child was fostered by one Mopo,
that Mopo who afterwards slew the Black one with the Princes. Now,
Macumazahn, I had a score to settle with this Black One, aye, even
though our blood be much of the same colour, I had a score to settle
with him, because of the slaying of this sister of his, Baleka, together
with the Langeni tribe.[*] So I walked up to him and took him by the
head-ring and spat in his face and bade him find a spear and shield, and
meet me as man to man. Yes, I did this."

     [*] For the history of Baleka, the mother of Umslopogaas,
     and Mopo, see the book called "Nada the Lily."--Editor.

"And what happened then, Umslopogaas?" I said, when he paused in his
narrative.

"Macumazahn, nothing happened at all. My hand seemed to go through his
head-ring and the skull beneath, and to shut upon itself while he went
on talking to someone else, a captain whom I recognised, yes, one Faku,
whom in the days of Dingaan, the Black One's brother, I myself slew upon
the Ghost-Mountain.

"Yes, Macumazahn, and Faku was telling him the tale of how I killed him
and of the fight that I and my blood-brother and the wolves made, there
on the knees of the old witch who sits aloft on the Ghost Mountain
waiting for the world to die, for I could understand their talk, though
mine went by them like the wind.

"Macumazahn, they passed away and there came others, Dingaan among them,
aye, Dingaan who also knows something of the Witch-Mountain, seeing that
there Mopo and I hurled him to his death. With him also I would have had
words, but it was the same story, only presently he caught sight of the
Black One, yes, of Chaka whom he slew, stabbing him with the little
red assegai, and turned and fled, because in that land I think he still
fears Chaka, Macumazahn, or so the dream told.

"I went on and met others, men I had fought in my day, most of them,
among them was Jikiza, he who ruled the People of the Axe before me whom
I slew with his own axe. I lifted the axe and made me ready to fight
again, but not one of them took any note of me. There they walked about,
or sat drinking beer or taking snuff, but never a sup of the beer or a
pinch of the snuff did they offer me, no, not even those among them whom
I chanced not to have killed. So I left them and walked on, seeking for
Mopo, my foster-father, and a certain man, my blood-brother, by whose
side I hunted with the wolves, yes, for them, and for another."

"Well, and did you find them?" I asked.

"Mopo I found not, which makes me think, Macumazahn, that, as once you
hinted to me, he whom I thought long dead, perchance still lingers on
the earth. But the others I did find . . ." and he ceased, brooding.

Now I knew enough of Umslopogaas's history to be aware that he had loved
this man and woman of whom he spoke more than any others on the earth.
The "blood-brother," whose name he would not utter, by which he did not
mean that he was his brother in blood but one with whom he had made
a pact of eternal friendship by the interchange of blood or some such
ceremony, according to report, had dwelt with him on the Witch-Mountain
where legend told, though this I could scarcely believe, that they had
hunted with a pack of hyenas. There, it said also, they fought a great
fight with a band send out by Dingaan the king under the command of that
Faku whom Umslopogaas had mentioned, in which fight the "Blood-Brother,"
wielder of a famous club known as Watcher-of-the-Fords, got his death
after doing mighty deeds. There also, as I had heard, Nada the Lily,
whose beauty was still famous in the land, died under circumstances
strange as they were sad.

Naturally, remembering my own experiences, or rather what seemed to be
my experiences, for already I had made up my mind that they were but
a dream, I was most anxious to learn whether these two who had been so
dear to this fierce Zulu, had recognised him.

"Well, and what did they say to you, Umslopogaas?" I asked.

"Macumazahn, they said nothing at all. Hearken! There stood this pair,
or sometimes they moved to and fro; my brother, an even greater man
than he used to be, with the wolfskin girt about him and the club,
Watcher-of-the-Fords, which he alone could wield, upon his shoulder, and
Nada, grown lovelier even than she was of old, so lovely, Macumazahn,
that my heart rose into my throat when I saw her and stopped my breath.
Yes, Macumazahn, there they stood, or walked about arm in arm as lovers
might, and looked into each other's eyes and talked of how they had
known each other on the earth, for I could understand their words or
thoughts, and how it was good to be at rest together where they were."

"You see, they were old friends, Umslopogaas," I said.

"Yes, Macumazahn, very old friends as I thought. So much so that they
had never had a word to say of me who also was the old friend of both
of them. Aye, my brother, whose name I am sworn not to speak, the
woman-hater who vowed he loved nothing save me and the wolves, could
smile into the face of Nada the Lily, Nada the bride of my youth, yet
never a word of me, while she could smile back and tell him how great a
warrior he had been and never a word of me whose deeds she was wont to
praise, who saved her in the Halakazi caves and from Dingaan; no, never
a word of me although I stood there staring at them."

"I suppose that they did not see you, Umslopogaas."

"That is so, Macumazahn; I am sure that they did not see me, for if they
had they would not have been so much at ease. But I saw them and as they
would not take heed when I shouted, I ran up calling to my brother to
defend himself with his club. Then, as he still took no note, I lifted
the axe _Inkosikaas_, making it circle in the light, and smote with all
my strength."

"And what happened, Umslopogaas?"

"Only this, Macumazahn, that the axe went straight through my brother
from the crown of his head to the groin, cutting him in two, and he just
went on talking! Indeed, he did more, for stooping down he gathered a
white lily-bloom which grew there and gave it to Nada, who smelt at
it, smiled and thanked him, and then thrust it into her girdle, still
thanking him all the while. Yes, she did this for I saw it with my eyes,
Macumazahn."

Here the Zulu's voice broke and I think that he wept, for in the faint
light I saw him draw his long hand across his eyes, whereon I took the
opportunity to turn my back and light a pipe.

"Macumazahn," he went on presently, "it seems that madness took hold
of me for a long while, for I shouted and raved at them, thinking that
words and rage might hurt where good steel could not, and as I did
so they faded away and disappeared, still smiling and talking, Nada
smelling at the lily which, having a long stalk, rose up above her
breast. After this I rushed away and suddenly met that savage king,
Rezu, whom I slew a few days gone. At him I went with the axe, wondering
whether he would put up a better fight this second time."

"And did he, Umslopogaas?"

"Nay, but I think he felt me for he turned and fled and when I tried to
follow I could not see him. So I ran on and presently who should I find
but Baleka, Baleka, Chaka's 'sister' who--repeat it not, Macumazahn--was
my mother; and, Macumazahn, _she_ saw me. Yes, though I was but little
when last she looked on me who now am great and grim, she saw and knew
me, for she floated up to me and smiled at me and seemed to press her
lips upon my forehead, though I could feel no kiss, and to draw the
soreness out of my heart. Then she, too, was gone and of a sudden I fell
down through space, having, I suppose, stepped into some deep hole, or
perchance a well.

"The next thing I knew was that I awoke in the house of the White Witch
and saw you sleeping at my side and the Witch leaning back upon her bed
and smiling at me through the thin blanket with which she covers herself
up, for I could see the laughter in her eyes.

"Now I grew mad with her because of the things that I had seen in the
Place of Dreams, and it came into my heart that it would be well to kill
her that the world might be rid of her and her evil magic which can show
lies to men. So, being distraught, I sprang up and lifted the axe and
stepped towards her, whereon she rose and stood before me, laughing out
loud. Then she said something in the tongue I cannot understand, and
pointed with her finger, and lo! next moment it was as if giants had
seized me and were whirling me away, till presently I found myself
breathless but unharmed beyond the arch and--what does it all mean,
Macumazahn?"

"Very little, as I think, Umslopogaas, except that this queen has powers
to which those of Zikali are as nothing, and can cause visions to float
before the eyes of men. For know that such things as you saw, I saw, and
in them those whom I have loved also seemed to take no thought of me
but only to be concerned with each other. Moreover when I awoke and told
this to the queen who is called She-who-commands, she laughed at me as
she did at you, and said that it was a good lesson for my pride who in
that pride had believed that the dead only thought of the living. But
I think that the lesson came from her who wished to humble us,
Umslopogaas, and that it was her mind that shaped these visions which we
saw."

"I think so too, Macumazahn, but how she knew of all the matters of your
life and mine, I do not know, unless perchance Zikali told them to her,
speaking in the night-watches as wizards can."

"Nay, Umslopogaas, I believe that by her magic she drew our stories out
of our own hearts and then set them forth to us afresh, putting her own
colour on them. Also it may be that she drew something from Hans, and
from Goroko and the other Zulus with you, and thus paid us the fee that
she had promised for our service, but in lung-sick oxen and barren cows,
not in good cattle, Umslopogaas."

He nodded and said,

"Though at the time I seemed to go mad and though I know that women are
false and men must follow where they lead them, never will I believe
that my brother, the woman-hater, and Nada are lovers in the land below
and have there forgotten me, the comrade of one of them and the husband
of the other. Moreover I hold, Macumazahn, that you and I have met with
a just reward for our folly.

"We have sought to look through the bottom of the grave at things which
the Great-Great in Heaven above did not mean that men should see, and
now that we have seen we are unhappier than we were, since such dreams
burn themselves upon the heart as a red-hot iron burns the hide of an
ox, so that the hair will never grow again where it has been and the
hide is marred.

"To you, Watcher-by-Night, I say, 'Content yourself with your watching
and whatever it may bring to you in fame and wealth.' And to myself I
say, 'Holder of the Axe, content yourself with the axe and what it may
bring to you in fair fight and glory'; and to both of us I say, 'Let
the Dead sleep unawakened until we go to join them, which surely will be
soon enough.'"

"Good words, Umslopogaas, but they should have been spoken ere ever we
set out on this journey."

"Not so, Macumazahn, since that journey we were fated to make to save
one who lies yonder, the Lady Sad-Eyes, and, as they tell me, is
well again. Also Zikali willed it, and who can resist the will of the
Opener-of-Roads? So it is made and we have seen many strange things
and won some glory and come to know how deep is the pool of our own
foolishness, who thought that we could search out the secrets of Death,
and there have only found those of a witch's mind and venom, reflected
as in water. And now having discovered all these things I wish to be
gone from this haunted land. When do we march, Macumazahn?"

"To-morrow morning, I believe, if the Lady Sad-Eyes and the others are
well enough, as She-who-commands says they will be."

"Good. Then I would sleep who am more weary than I was after I had
killed Rezu in the battle on the mountain."

"Yes," I answered, "since it is harder to fight ghosts than men, and
dreams, if they be bad, are more dreadful than deeds. Good-night,
Umslopogaas."



He went, and I too went to see how it fared with Inez. I found that she
was fast asleep but in a quite different sleep to that into which Ayesha
seemed to have plunged her. Now it was absolutely natural and looking
at her lying there upon the bed, I thought how young and healthy was
her appearance. The women in charge of her also told me that she had
awakened at the hour appointed by She-who-commands, as it seemed,
quite well and very hungry, although she appeared to be puzzled by
her surroundings. After she had eaten, they added that she had "sung
a song," which was probably a hymn, and prayed upon her knees, "making
signs upon her breast" and then gone quietly to bed.

My anxiety relieved as regards Inez, I returned to my own quarters. Not
feeling inclined for slumber, however, instead of turning in I sat at
the doorway contemplating the beauty of the night while I watched the
countless fireflies that seemed to dust the air with sparks of burning
gold; also the great owls and other fowl that haunt the dark. These had
come out in numbers from their hiding-places among the ruins and sailed
to and fro like white-winged spirits, now seen and now lost in the
gloom.



While I sat thus many reflections came to me as to the extraordinary
nature of my experiences during the past few days. Had any man ever
known the like, I wondered? What could they mean and what could this
marvellous woman Ayesha be? Was she perhaps a personification of Nature
itself, as indeed to some extent all women are? Was she human at all,
or was she some spirit symbolising a departed people, faith and
civilisation, and haunting the ruins where once she reigned as queen?
No, the idea was ridiculous, since such beings do not exist, though it
was impossible to doubt that she possessed powers beyond those of common
humanity, as she possessed beauty and fascination greater than are given
to any other woman.

Of one thing I was certain, however, that the Shades I had seemed
to visit had their being in the circle of her own imagination and
intelligence. There Umslopogaas was right; we had seen no dead, we had
only seen pictures and images that she drew and fashioned.

Why did she do this, I wondered. Perhaps to pretend to powers which she
did not possess, perhaps out of sheer elfish mischief, or perhaps, as
she asserted, just to teach us a lesson and to humble us in our own
sight. Well, if so she had succeeded, for never did I feel so crushed
and humiliated as at that moment.

I had seemed to descend, or ascend, into Hades, and there had only seen
things that gave me little joy and did but serve to reopen old wounds.
Then, on awaking, I had been bewitched; yes, fresh from those visions
of the most dear dead, I had been bewitched by the overpowering magic of
this woman's loveliness and charm, and made a fool of myself, only to be
brought back to my senses by her triumphant mockery. Oh, I was humbled
indeed, and yet the odd thing is that I could not feel angry with her,
and what is more that, perhaps from vanity, I believed in her profession
of friendship towards myself.

Well, the upshot of it was that, like Umslopogaas, more than anything
else in the world did I desire to depart from this haunted Kôr and to
bury all its recollections in such activities as fortune might bring to
me. And yet, and yet it was well to have seen it and to have plucked the
flower of such marvellous experience, nor, as I knew even then, could I
ever inter the memory of Ayesha the wise, the perfect in all loveliness,
and the half-divine in power.



When I awoke the next morning the sun was well up and after I had taken
a swim in the old bath and dressed myself, I went to see how it
fared with Inez. I found her sitting at the door of her house looking
extremely well and with a radiant face. She was engaged in making a
chain of some small and beautiful blue flowers of the iris tribe, of
which quantities grew about, that she threaded together upon stalks of
dry grass.

This chain, which was just finished, she threw over her head so that
it hung down upon her white robe, for now she was dressed like an Arab
woman though without the veil. I watched her unseen for a little while
then came forward and spoke to her. She started at the sight of me and
rose as though to run away; then, apparently reassured by my appearance,
selected a particularly fine flower and offered it to me.

I saw at once that she did not know me in the least and thought that she
had never seen me before, in short, that her mind had gone, exactly as
Ayesha had said that it would do. By way of making conversation I asked
her if she felt well. She replied, Oh, yes, she had never felt better,
then added,

"Daddy has gone on a long journey and will not be back for weeks and
weeks."

An idea came to me and I answered,

"Yes, Inez, but I am a friend of his and he has sent me to take you to
a place where I hope that we shall find him. Only it is far away, so you
also must make a long journey."

She clapped her hands and answered,

"Oh, that will be nice, I do so love travelling, especially to find
Daddy, who I expect will have my proper clothes with him, not these
which, although they are very comfortable and pretty, seem different to
what I used to wear. You look very nice too and I am sure that we shall
be great friends, which I am glad of, for I have been rather lonely
since my mother went to live with the saints in Heaven, because, you
see, Daddy is so busy and so often away, that I do not see much of him."

Upon my word I could have wept when I heard her prattle on thus. It is
so terribly unnatural, almost dreadful indeed, to listen to a full grown
woman who talks in the accents and expresses the thoughts of a child.
However, under all the circumstances I recognised that her calamity was
merciful, and remembering that Ayesha had prophesied the recovery of her
mind as well as its loss and how great seemed to be her powers in these
directions, I took such comfort as I could.

Leaving her I went to see the two Zulus who had been wounded and found
to my joy that they were now quite well and fit to travel, for here,
too, Ayesha's prophecy had proved good. The other men also were
completely rested and anxious to be gone like Umslopogaas and myself.

While I was eating my breakfast Hans announced the venerable Billali,
who with a sweeping bow informed me that he had come to inquire when we
should be ready to start, as he had received orders to see to all the
necessary arrangements. I replied--within an hour, and he departed in a
hurry.

But little after the appointed time he reappeared with a number of
litters and their bearers, also with a bodyguard of twenty-five picked
men, all of whom we recognised as brave fellows who had fought well in
the battle. These men and the bearers old Billali harangued, telling
them that they were to guide, carry and escort us to the other side of
the great swamp, or further if we needed it, and that it was the word of
She-who-commands that if so much as the smallest harm came to any one
of us, even by accident, they should die every man of them "by the
hot-pot," whatever that might be, for I was not sure of the significance
of this horror.[*] Then he asked them if they understood. They replied
with fervour that they understood perfectly and would lead and guard us
as though we were their own mothers.

[*] For this see the book called "She."--Editor.

As a matter of fact they did, and I think would have done so
independently of Ayesha's command, since they looked upon Umslopogaas
and myself almost as gods and thought that we could destroy them all if
we wished, as we had destroyed Rezu and his host.

I asked Billali if he were not coming with us, to which he replied, No,
as She-who-commands had returned to her own place and he must follow
her at once. I asked him again where her own place might be, to which
he answered vaguely that it was everywhere and he stared first at the
heavens and then at the earth as though she inhabited most of them,
adding that generally it was "in the Caves," though what he meant by
that I did not know. Then he said that he was very glad to have met us
and that the sight of Umslopogaas killing Rezu was a spectacle that
he would remember with pleasure all his life. Also he asked me for a
present. I gave him a spare pencil that I possessed in a little German
silver case, with which he was delighted. Thus I parted with old
Billali, of whom I shall always think with a certain affection.

I noticed even then that he kept very clear indeed of Umslopogaas,
thinking, I suppose, that he might take a last opportunity to fulfil his
threats and introduce him to his terrible Axe.



CHAPTER XXIV

UMSLOPOGAAS WEARS THE GREAT MEDICINE

A little while later we started, some of us in litters, including the
wounded Zulus, who I insisted should be carried for a day or two, and
some on foot. Inez I caused to be borne immediately in front of myself
so that I could keep an eye upon her. Moreover I put her in the especial
charge of Hans, to whom fortunately she took a great fancy at once,
perhaps because she remembered subconsciously that she knew him and that
he had been kind to her, although when they met after her long sleep, as
in my own case, she did not recognise him in the least.

Soon, however, they were again the fastest of friends, so much so that
within a day or two the little Hottentot practically filled the place of
a maid to her, attending to her every want and looking after her
exactly as a nurse does after a child, with the result that it was quite
touching to see how she came to depend upon him, "her monkey," as she
called him, and how fond he grew of her.

Once, indeed, there was trouble, since hearing a noise, I came up to
find Hans bristling with fury and threatening to shoot one of the Zulus,
who stupidly, or perhaps rudely, had knocked against the litter of Inez
and nearly turned it over. For the rest, the Lady Sad-Eyes, as they
called her, had for the time became the Lady Glad-Eyes, since she was
merry as the day was long, laughing and singing and playing just as a
healthy happy child should do.

Only once did I see her wretched and weep. It was when a kitten which
she had insisted on bringing with her, sprang out of the litter and
vanished into some bush where it could not be found. Even when she
was soon consoled and dried her tears, when Hans explained to her in a
mixture of bad English and worse Portuguese, that it had only run away
because it wished to get back to its mother which it loved, and that it
was cruel to separate it from its mother.

We made good progress and by the evening of the first day were over the
crest of the cliff or volcano lip that encircles the great plain of Kôr,
and descending rapidly to a sheltered spot on the outer slope where our
camp was to be set for the night.

Not very far from this place, as I think I have mentioned, stood, and I
suppose still stands, a very curious pinnacle of rock, which, doubtless
being of some harder sort, had remained when, hundreds of thousands or
millions of years before, the surrounding lava had been washed or had
corroded away. This rock pillar was perhaps fifty feet high and as
smooth as though it had been worked by man; indeed, I remembered having
remarked to Hans, or Umslopogaas--I forget which--when we passed it on
our inward journey, that there was a column which no monkey could climb.

As we went by it for the second time, the sun had already disappeared
behind the western cliff, but a fierce ray from its sinking orb, struck
upon a storm-cloud that hung over us, and thence was reflected in a
glow of angry light of which the focus or centre seemed to fall upon the
summit of this strange and obelisk-like pinnacle of rock.

At the moment I was out of my litter and walking with Umslopogaas at
the end of the line, to make sure that no one straggled in the oncoming
darkness. When we had passed the column by some forty or fifty yards,
something caused Umslopogaas to turn and look back. He uttered an
exclamation which made me follow his example, with the result that I saw
a very wonderful thing. For there on the point of the pillar, like St.
Simeon Stylites on his famous column, glowing in the sunset rays as
though she were on fire, stood Ayesha herself!

It was a strange and in a way a glorious sight, for poised thus between
earth and heaven, she looked like some glowing angel rather than
a woman, standing as she seemed to do upon the darkness; since the
shadows, save for the faintest outline, had swallowed up the column that
supported her. Moreover, in the intense, rich light that was focussed
on her, we could see every detail of her form and face, for she was
unveiled, and even her large and tender eyes which gazed upwards emptily
(at this moment they seemed very tender), yes, and the little gold studs
that glittered on her sandals and the shine of the snake girdle she wore
about her waist.

We stared and stared till I said inconsequently,

"Learn, Umslopogaas, what a liar is that old Billali, who told me that
She-who-commands had departed from Kôr to her own place."

"Perhaps this rock edge is her own place, if she be there at all,
Macumazahn."

"If she be there," I answered angrily, for my nerves were at once
thrilled and torn. "Speak not empty words, Umslopogaas, for where else
can she be when we see her with our eyes?"

"Who am I that I should know the ways of witches who, like the winds,
are able to go and come as they will? Can a woman run up a wall of rock
like a lizard, Macumazahn?"

"Doubtless----" and I began some explanation which I have forgotten,
when a passing cloud, or I know not what, cut off the light so that both
the pinnacle and she who stood on it became invisible. A minute later
it returned for a little while, and there was the point of the
needle-shaped rock, but it was empty, as, save for the birds that rested
on it, it had been since the beginning of the world.

Then Umslopogaas and I shook our heads and pursued our way in silence.



This was the last that I saw of the glorious Ayesha, if indeed I did see
her and not her ghost. Yet it is true that for all the first part of the
journey, till we were through the great swamp in fact, from time to
time I was conscious, or imagined that I was conscious of her presence.
Moreover, once others saw her, or someone who might have been her. It
happened thus.

We were in the centre of the great swamp and the trained guides who were
leading came to a place where the path forked and were uncertain
which road to take. Finally they fixed on the right-hand path and were
preparing to follow it together with those who bore the litter of Inez,
by the side of which Hans was walking as usual.

At this moment, as Hans told me, the guides went down upon their faces
and he saw standing in front of them a white-veiled form who pointed to
the left-hand path, and then seemed to be lost in the mist. Without a
word the guides rose and followed this left-hand path. Hans stopped the
litter till I came up when he told me what had happened, while Inez also
began to chatter in her childish fashion about a "White Lady."

I had the curiosity to walk a little way along the right-hand path which
they were about to take. Only a few yards further on I found myself
sinking in a floating quagmire, from which I extricated myself with much
difficulty but just in time for as I discovered afterwards by probing
with a pole, the water beneath the matted reeds was deep. That night
I questioned the guides upon the subject, but without result, for they
pretended to have seen nothing and not to understand what I meant. Of
neither of these incidents have I any explanation to offer, except
that once contracted, it is as difficult to be rid of the habit of
hallucinations as of any other.



It is not necessary that I should give all the details of our long
homeward journey. So I will only say that having dismissed our bearers
and escorts when we reached higher ground beyond the horrible swamp,
keeping one litter for Inez in which the Zulus carried her when she
was tired, we accomplished it in complete safety and having crossed the
Zambesi, at last one evening reached the house called Strathmuir.

Here we found the waggon and oxen quite safe and were welcomed
rapturously by my Zulu driver and the _voorlooper_, who had made up
their minds that we were dead and were thinking of trekking homewards.
Here also Thomaso greeted us, though I think that, like the Zulus, he
was astonished at our safe return and indeed not over-pleased to see us.
I told him that Captain Robertson had been killed in a fight in which
we had rescued his daughter from the cannibals who had carried her off
(information which I cautioned him to keep to himself) but nothing else
that I could help.

Also I warned the Zulus through Umslopogaas and Goroko, that no mention
was to be made of our adventures, either then or afterwards, since if
this were done the curse of the White Queen would fall on them and bring
them to disaster and death. I added that the name of this queen and
everything that was connected with her, or her doings, must be locked up
in their own hearts. It must be like the name of dead kings, not to
be spoken. Nor indeed did they ever speak it or tell the story of our
search, because they were too much afraid both of Ayesha whom they
believed to be the greatest of all witches, and of the axe of their
captain, Umslopogaas.

Inez went to bed that night without seeming to recognise her old home,
to all appearance just a mindless child as she had been ever since she
awoke from her trance at Kôr. Next morning, however, Hans came to tell
me that she was changed and that she wished to speak with me. I went,
wondering, to find her in the sitting-room, dressed in European clothes
which she had taken from where she kept them, and once more a reasoning
woman.

"Mr. Quatermain," she said, "I suppose that I must have been ill, for
the last thing I remember is going to sleep on the night after you
started for the hippopotamus hunt. Where is my father? Did any harm come
to him while he was hunting?"

"Alas!" I answered, lying boldly, for I feared lest the truth
should take away her mind again, "it did. He was trampled upon by a
hippopotamus bull, which charged him, and killed, and we were obliged to
bury him where he died."

She bowed her head for a while and muttered some prayer for his soul,
then looked at me keenly and said,

"I do not think you are telling me everything, Mr. Quatermain, but
something seems to say that this is because it is not well that I should
learn everything."

"No," I answered, "you have been ill and out of your mind for quite a
long while; something gave you a shock. I think that you learned of your
father's death, which you have now forgotten, and were overcome with the
news. Please trust to me and believe that if I keep anything back from
you, it is because I think it best to do so for the present."

"I trust and I believe," she answered. "Now please leave me, but tell me
first where are those women and their children?"

"After your father died they went away," I replied, lying once more.

She looked at me again but made no comment.

Then I left her.



How much Inez ever learned of the true story of her adventures I do not
know to this hour, though my opinion is that it was but little. To
begin with, everyone, including Thomaso, was threatened with the direst
consequences if he said a word to her on the subject; moreover in her
way she was a wise woman, one who knew when it was best not to ask
questions. She was aware that she had suffered from a fit of aberration
or madness and that during this time her father had died and certain
peculiar things had happened. There she was content to leave the
business and she never again spoke to me upon the subject. Of this I was
very glad, as how on earth could I have explained to her about Ayesha's
prophecies as to her lapse into childishness and subsequent return to a
normal state when she reached her home seeing that I did not understand
them myself?

Once indeed she did inquire what had become of Janee to which I answered
that she had died during her sickness. It was another lie, at any rate
by implication, but I hold that there are occasions when it is righteous
to lie. At least these particular falsehoods have never troubled my
conscience.

Here I may as well finish the story of Inez, that is, as far as I can.
As I have shown she was always a woman of melancholy and religious
temperament, qualities that seemed to grow upon her after her return to
health. Certainly the religion did, for continually she was engaged in
prayer, a development with which heredity may have had something to do,
since after he became a reformed character and grew unsettled in his
mind, her father followed the same road.

On our return to civilisation, as it chanced, one of the first persons
with whom she came in contact was a very earnest and excellent old
priest of her own faith. The end of this intimacy was much what might
have been expected. Very soon Inez determined to renounce the world,
which I think never had any great attractions for her, and entered a
sisterhood of an extremely strict Order in Natal, where, added to her
many merits, her considerable possessions made her very welcome indeed.

Once in after years I saw her again when she expected before long to
become the Mother-Superior of her convent. I found her very cheerful and
she told me that her happiness was complete. Even then she did not ask
me the true story of what had happened to her during that period when
her mind was a blank. She said that she knew something had happened but
that as she no longer felt any curiosity about earthly things, she did
not wish to know the details. Again I rejoiced, for how could I tell
the true tale and expect to be believed, even by the most confiding and
simple-minded nun?

To return to more immediate events. When we had been at Strathmuir for
a day or two and I thought that her mind was clear enough to judge of
affairs, I told Inez that I must journey on to Natal, and asked her what
she wished to do. Without a moment's hesitation she replied that she
desired to come with me, as now that her father was dead nothing would
induce her to continue to live at Strathmuir without friends, or indeed
the consolations of religion.

Then she showed me a secret hiding-place cunningly devised in a sort of
cellar under the sitting-room floor, where her father was accustomed to
keep the spirits of which he consumed so great a quantity. In this hole
beneath some bricks, we discovered a large sum in gold stored away,
which Robertson had always told his daughter she would find there, in
the event of anything happening to him. With the money were his will
and securities, also certain mementos of his youth and some love-letters
together with a prayer-book that his mother had given him.

These valuables, of which no one knew the existence except herself, we
removed and then made our preparations for departure. They were simple;
such articles of value as we could carry were packed into the waggon and
the best of the cattle we drove with us. The place with the store and
the rest of the stock were handed over to Thomaso on a half-profit
agreement under arrangement that he should remit the share of Inez twice
a year to a bank on the coast, where her father had an account. Whether
or not he ever did this I am unable to say, but as no one wished to stop
at Strathmuir, I could conceive no better plan because purchasers of
property in that district did not exist.

As we trekked away one fine morning I asked Inez whether she was sorry
to leave the place.

"No," she replied with energy, "my life there has been a hell and I
never wish to see it again."



Now it was after this, on the northern borders of Zululand, that
Zikali's Great Medicine, as Hans called it, really played its chief
part, for without it I think that we should have been killed, every one
of us. I do not propose to set out the business in detail; it is too
long and intricate. Suffice it to say, therefore, that it had to do with
the plots of Umslopogaas against Cetywayo, which had been betrayed by
his wife Monazi and her lover Lousta, both of whom I have mentioned
earlier in this record. The result was that a watch for him was kept on
all the frontiers, because it was guessed that sooner or later he would
return to Zululand; also it had become known that he was travelling in
my company.

So it came about that when my approach was reported by spies, a company
was gathered under the command of a man connected with the Royal House,
and by it we were surrounded. Before attacking, however, this captain
sent men to me with the message that with me the King had no quarrel,
although I was travelling in doubtful company, and that if I would
deliver over to him Umslopogaas, Chief of the People of the Axe, and his
followers, I might go whither I wished unharmed, taking my goods with
me. Otherwise we should be attacked at once and killed every one of
us, since it was not desired that any witnesses should be left of what
happened to Umslopogaas. Having delivered this ultimatum and declined
any argument as to its terms, the messengers retired, saying that they
would return for my answer within half an hour.

When they were out of hearing Umslopogaas, who had listened to their
words in grim silence, turned and spoke in such fashion as might have
been expected of him.

"Macumazahn," he said, "now I come to the end of an unlucky journey,
though mayhap it is not so evil as it seems, since I who went out to
seek the dead but to be filled by yonder White Witch with the meat of
mocking shadows, am about to find the dead in the only way in which they
can be found, namely by becoming of their number."

"It seems that this is the case with all of us, Umslopogaas."

"Not so, Macumazahn. That child of the King will give you safe-conduct.
It is I and mine whose blood he seeks, as he has the right to do, since
it is true that I would have raised rebellion against the King, I who
wearied of my petty lot and knew that by blood his place was mine. In
this quarrel you have no share, though you, whose heart is as white as
your skin, are not minded to desert me. Moreover, even if you wished
to fight, there is one in the waggon yonder whose life is not yours to
give. The Lady Sad-Eyes is as a child in your arms and her you must bear
to safety."

Now this argument was so unanswerable that I did not know what to say.
So I only asked what he meant to do, as escape was impossible, seeing
that we were surrounded on every side.

"Make a glorious end, Macumazahn," he said with a smile. "I will go out
with those who cling to me, that is with all who remain of my men, since
my fate must be theirs, and stand back to back on yonder mound and there
wait till these dogs of the King come up against us. Watch a while,
Macumazahn, and see how Umslopogaas, Bearer of the Axe, and the warriors
of the Axe can fight and die."

Now I was silent for I knew not what to say. There we all stood silent,
while minute by minute I watched the shadow creeping forward towards a
mark that the head messenger had made with his spear upon the ground,
for he had said that when it touched that mark he would return for his
answer.

In this rather dreadful silence I heard a dry little cough, which I knew
came from the throat of Hans, and to be his method of indicating that he
had a remark to make.

"What is it?" I asked with irritation, for it was annoying to see him
seated there on the ground fanning himself with the remains of a hat and
staring vacantly at the sky.

"Nothing, Baas, or rather, only this, Baas: Those hyenas of Zulus are
even more afraid of the Great Medicine than were the cannibals up north,
since the maker of it is nearer to them, Baas. You remember, Baas, they
knelt to it, as it were, when we were going out of Zululand."

"Well, what of it, now that we are going into Zululand?" I inquired
sharply. "Do you want me to show it to them?"

"No, Baas. What is the use, seeing that they are ready to let you
pass, also the Lady Sad-Eyes, and me and the cattle with the driver and
_voorlooper_, which is better still, and all the other goods. So what
have you to gain by showing them the medicine? But perchance if it were
on the neck of Umslopogaas and _he_ showed it to them and brought it to
their minds that those who touch him who is in the shadow of Zikali's
Great Medicine, or aught that is his, die within three moons in this
way or in that--well, Baas, who knows?" and again he coughed drily and
stared up at the sky.

I translated what Hans had said in Dutch to Umslopogaas, who remarked
indifferently,

"This little yellow man is well named Light-in-Darkness; at least the
plan can be tried--if it fails there is always time to die."

So thinking that this was an occasion on which I might properly do so,
for the first time I took off the talisman which I had worn for so long,
and Umslopogaas put it over his head and hid it beneath his blanket.



A little while later the messengers returned and this time the captain
himself came with them, as he said to greet me, for I knew him slightly
and once we had dealt together about some cattle. After a friendly chat
he turned to the matter of Umslopogaas, explaining the case at some
length. I said that I quite understood his position but that it was a
_very_ awkward thing to interfere with a man who was the actual wearer
of the Great Medicine of Zikali itself. When the captain heard this his
eyes almost started out of his head.

"The Great Medicine of the Opener-of-Roads!" he exclaimed. "Oh, now
I understand why this Chief of the People of the Axe is
unconquerable--such a wizard that no one is able to kill him."

"Yes," I replied, "and you remember, do you not, that he who offends the
Great Medicine, or offers violence to him who wears it, dies horribly
within three moons, he and his household and all those with him?"

"I have heard it," he said with a sickly smile.

"And now you are about to learn whether the tale is true," I added
cheerfully.

Then he asked to see Umslopogaas alone.

I did not overhear their conversation, but the end of it was that
Umslopogaas came and said in a loud voice so that no one could miss a
single word, that as resistance was useless and he did not wish me,
his friend, to be involved in any trouble, together with his men he had
agreed to accompany this King's captain to the royal kraal where he had
been guaranteed a fair trial as to certain false charges which had been
brought against him. He added that the King's captain had sworn upon
the Great Medicine of the Opener-of-Roads to give him safe conduct and
attempt no mischief against him which, as was well known throughout
the land, was an oath that could not be broken by anyone who wished to
continue to look upon the sun.

I asked the captain if these things were so, also speaking in a loud
voice. He replied, Yes, since his orders were to take Umslopogaas alive
if he might. He was only to kill him if he would not come.

Afterwards, while pretending to give him certain articles out of the
waggon, I had a few private words with Umslopogaas, who told me that the
arrangement was that he should be allowed to escape at night with his
people.

"Be sure of this, Macumazahn," he said, "that if I do not escape,
neither will that captain, since I walk at his side and keep my axe,
and at the first sign of treachery the axe will enter the house of that
thick head of his and make friends with the brain inside.

"Macumazahn," he added, "we have made a strange journey together and
seen such things as I did not think the world had to show. Also I have
fought and killed Rezu in a mad battle of ghosts and men which alone
was worth all the trouble of the journey. Now it has come to an end as
everything must, and we part, but as I believe, not for always. I do
not think that I shall die on this journey with the captain, though I do
think that others will die at the end of it," he added grimly, a saying
which at the time I did not understand.

"It comes into my heart, Macumazahn, that in yonder land of witches and
wizards, the spirit of prophecy got caught in my moocha and crept into
my bowels. Now that spirit tells me that we shall meet again in the
after-years and stand together in a great fray which will be our last,
as I believe that the White Witch said. Or perhaps the spirit lives in
Zikali's Medicine which has gone down my throat and comes out of it in
words. I cannot say, but I pray that it is a true spirit, since although
you are white and I am black and you are small and I am big, and you are
gentle and cunning, whereas I am fierce and as open as the blade of my
own axe, yet I love you as well, Macumazahn, as though we were born
of the same mother and had been brought up in the same kraal. Now that
captain waits and grows doubtful of our talk, so farewell. I will return
the Great Medicine to Zikali, if I live, and if I die he must send one
of the ghosts that serve him, to fetch it from among my bones.

"Farewell to you also, Yellow Man," he went on to Hans, who had
appeared, hovering about like a dog that is doubtful of its welcome;
"well are you named Light-in-Darkness, and glad am I to have met you,
who have learned from you how a snake moves and strikes, and how a
jackal thinks and avoids the snare. Yes, farewell, for the spirit within
me does not tell me that you and I shall meet again."

Then he lifted the great axe, and gave me a formal salute, naming me
"Chief and Father, Great Chief and Father, from of old" (_Baba! Koos y
umcool! Koos y pagate!_), thereby acknowledging my superiority over him,
a thing that he had never done before, and as he did, so did Goroko
and the other Zulus, adding to their salute many titles of praise. In
another minute he had gone with the King's captain, to whose side I
noted he clung lovingly, his long, thin fingers playing about the horn
handle of the axe that was named _Inkosikaas_ and Groan-maker.

"I am glad we have seen the last of him and his axe, Baas," remarked
Hans, spitting reflectively. "It is very well to sleep in the same hut
with a tame lion sometimes, but after you have done so for many moons,
you begin to wonder when you will wake up at night to find him pulling
the blankets off you and combing your hair with his claws. Yes, I am
very glad that this half-tame lion is gone, since sometimes I have
thought that I should be obliged to poison it that we might sleep in
peace. You know he called me a snake, Baas, and poison is a snake's
only spear. Shall I tell the boys to inspan the oxen, Baas? I think
the further we get from that King's captain and his men, the more
comfortably shall we travel, especially now when we no longer have the
Great Medicine to protect us."

"You suggested giving it to him, Hans," I said.

"Yes, Baas, I had rather that Umslopogaas went away with the Great
Medicine, than that you kept the Great Medicine and he stopped with us
here. Never travel with a traitor, Baas, at any rate in the land of the
king whom he wishes to kill. Kings are very selfish people, Baas, and do
not like being killed, especially by someone who wants to sit upon their
stool and to take the royal salute. No one gives the royal salute to a
dead king, Baas, however great he was before he died, and no one thinks
the worse of a king who was a traitor before he became a king."



CHAPTER XXV

ALLAN DELIVERS THE MESSAGE

Once more I sat in the Black Kloof face to face with old Zikali.

"So you have got back safely, Macumazahn," he said. "Well, I told you
you would, did I not? As for what happened to you upon the journey, let
it be, for now that I am old long stories tire me and I daresay that
there is nothing wonderful about this one. Where is the charm I lent
you? Give it back now that it has served its turn."

"I have not got it, Zikali. I passed it on to Umslopogaas of the Axe to
save his life from the King's men."

"Oh! yes, so you did. I had forgotten. Here it is," and opening his robe
of fur, he showed me the hideous little talisman hanging about his
neck, then added, "Would you like a copy of it, Macumazahn, to keep as a
memory? If so, I will carve one for you."

"No," I answered, "I should not. Has Umslopogaas been here?"

"Yes, he has been and gone again, which is one of the reasons why I do
not wish to hear your tale a second time."

"Where to? The Town of the People of the Axe?"

"No, Macumazahn, he came thence, or so I understood, but thither he will
return no more."

"Why not, Zikali?"

"Because after his fashion he made trouble there and left some dead
behind him; one Lousta, I believe, whom he had appointed to sit on his
stool as chief while he was away, and a woman called Monazi, who was his
wife, or Lousta's wife, or the wife of both of them, I forget which. It
is said that having heard stories of her--and the ears of jealousy are
long, Macumazahn--he cut off this woman's head with a sweep of the axe
and made Lousta fight him till he fell, which the fool did almost before
he had lifted his shield. It served him right who should have made sure
that Umslopogaas was dead before he wrapped himself in his blanket and
took the woman to cook his porridge."

"Where has the Axe-bearer gone?" I asked without surprise, for this news
did not astonish me.

"I neither know nor care, Macumazahn. To become a wanderer, I suppose.
He will tell you the tale when you meet again in the after-days, as I
understand he thinks that you will do.[*] Hearken! I have done with this
lion's whelp, who is Chaka over again, but without Chaka's wit. Yes, he
is just a fighting man with a long reach, a sure eye and the trick of
handling an axe, and such are of little use to me who know too many of
them. Thrice have I tried to make him till my garden, but each time
he has broken the hoe, although the wage I promised him was a royal
_kaross_ and nothing less. So enough of Umslopogaas, the Woodpecker.
Almost I wish that you had not lent him the charm, for then the King's
men would have made an end of him, who knows too much and like some
silly boaster, may shout out the truth when his axe is aloft and he is
full of the beer of battle. For in battle he will live and in battle he
will die, Macumazahn, as perhaps you may see one day."

     [*] For the tale of this meeting see the book called "Allan
     Quatermain."--Editor.

"The fate of your friends does not trouble you over much,
Opener-of-Roads," I said with sarcasm.

"Not at all, Macumazahn, because I have none. The only friends of the
old are those whom they can turn to their own ends, and if these fail
them they find others."

"I understand, Zikali, and know now what to expect from you."

He laughed in his strange way and answered,

"Aye, and it is good that you must expect, good in the future as in the
past, for _you_, Macumazahn, who are brave in your own fashion, without
being a fool like Umslopogaas, and, although you know it not, like some
master-smith, forge my assegais out of the red ore I give you, tempering
them in the blood of men, and yet keep your mind innocent and your hands
clean. Friends like you are useful to such as I, Macumazahn, and must be
well paid in those wares that please them."

The old wizard brooded for a space, while I reflected upon his amazing
cynicism, which interested me in a way, for the extreme of unmorality is
as fascinating to study as the extreme of virtue and often more so. Then
jerking up his great head, he asked suddenly,

"What message had the White Queen for me?"

"She said that you troubled her too much at night in dreams, Zikali."

"Aye, but if I cease to do so, ever she desires to know the reason why,
for I hear her asking me in the voices of the wind, or in the twittering
of bats. After all, she is a woman, Macumazahn, and it must be dull
sitting alone from year to year with naught to stay her appetite save
the ashes of the past and dreams of the future, so dull that I wonder,
having once meshed you in her web, how she found the heart to let you
go before she had sucked out your life and spirit. I suppose that having
made a mock of you and drained you dry, she was content to throw you
aside like an empty gourd. Perchance, had she kept you at her side,
you would have been a stone in her path in days to come. Perchance,
Macumazahn, she waits for other travellers and would welcome them, or
one of them alone, saying nothing of a certain Watcher-by-Night who has
served her turn and vanished into the night.

"But what other message had the White Queen for the poor old savage
witch-doctor whose talk wearies her so much in her haunted sleep?"

Then I told him of the picture that Ayesha had shown me in the water;
the picture of a king dying in a hut and of two who watched his end.

Zikali listened intently to every word, then broke into a peal of his
unholy laughter.

"_Oho-ho!_" he laughed, "so all goes well, though the road be long,
since whatever this White One may have shown you in the fire of the
heavens above, she could show you nothing but truth in the water of
the earth below, for that is the law of our company of seers. You have
worked well for me, Macumazahn, and you have had your fee, the fee of
the vision of the dead which you desired above all mortal things."

"Aye," I answered indignantly, "a fee of bitter fruits whereof the juice
burns and twists the mouth and the stones still stick fast within the
gizzard. I tell you, Zikali, that she stuffed my heart with lies."

"I daresay, Macumazahn, I daresay, but they were very pretty lies, were
they not? And after all I am sure that there was wisdom in them, as you
will discover when you have thought them over for a score of years.

"Lies, lies, all is lies! But beyond the lie stands Truth, as the White
Witch stands behind her veil. You drew the veil, Macumazahn, and saw
that beneath which brought you to your knees. Why, it is a parable.
Wander on through the Valley of Lies till at last it takes a turn,
and, glittering in the sunshine, glittering like gold, you perceive the
Mountain of everlasting Truth, sought of all men but found by few.

"Lies, lies, all is lies! Yet beyond I tell you, beauteous and
eternal stands the Truth, Macumazahn. _Oho-ho! Oho-ho!_ Fare you well,
Watcher-by-Night, fare you well, Seeker after Truth. After the Night
comes Dawn and after Death comes what--Macumazahn? Well, you will learn
one day, for always the veil is lifted, at last, as the White Witch
shewed you yonder, Macumazahn."





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "She and Allan" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home