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Title: Allan and the Holy Flower
Author: Haggard, H. Rider (Henry Rider)
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 "Allan and the Holy Flower" ***

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ALLAN AND THE HOLY FLOWER

By H. Rider Haggard

First Published 1915.



CHAPTER I

                             BROTHER JOHN

I do not suppose that anyone who knows the name of Allan Quatermain
would be likely to associate it with flowers, and especially with
orchids. Yet as it happens it was once my lot to take part in an orchid
hunt of so remarkable a character that I think its details should not
be lost. At least I will set them down, and if in the after days anyone
cares to publish them, well--he is at liberty to do so.

It was in the year--oh! never mind the year, it was a long while ago
when I was much younger, that I went on a hunting expedition to the
north of the Limpopo River which borders the Transvaal. My companion was
a gentleman of the name of Scroope, Charles Scroope. He had come out to
Durban from England in search of sport. At least, that was one of his
reasons. The other was a lady whom I will call Miss Margaret Manners,
though that was not her name.

It seems that these two were engaged to be married, and really attached
to each other. Unfortunately, however, they quarrelled violently about
another gentlemen with whom Miss Manners danced four consecutive dances,
including two that were promised to her fiancé at a Hunt ball in Essex,
where they all lived. Explanations, or rather argument, followed. Mr.
Scroope said that he would not tolerate such conduct. Miss Manners
replied that she would not be dictated to; she was her own mistress and
meant to remain so. Mr. Scroope exclaimed that she might so far as he
was concerned. She answered that she never wished to see his face again.
He declared with emphasis that she never should and that he was going to
Africa to shoot elephants.

What is more, he went, starting from his Essex home the next day without
leaving any address. As it transpired afterwards, long afterwards, had
he waited till the post came in he would have received a letter that
might have changed his plans. But they were high-spirited young people,
both of them, and played the fool after the fashion of those in love.

Well, Charles Scroope turned up in Durban, which was but a poor place
then, and there we met in the bar of the Royal Hotel.

“If you want to kill big game,” I heard some one say, who it was
I really forget, “there’s the man to show you how to do it--Hunter
Quatermain; the best shot in Africa and one of the finest fellows, too.”

I sat still, smoking my pipe and pretending to hear nothing. It is
awkward to listen to oneself being praised, and I was always a shy man.

Then after a whispered colloquy Mr. Scroope was brought forward and
introduced to me. I bowed as nicely as I could and ran my eye over him.
He was a tall young man with dark eyes and a rather romantic aspect
(that was due to his love affair), but I came to the conclusion that I
liked the cut of his jib. When he spoke, that conclusion was affirmed. I
always think there is a great deal in a voice; personally, I judge by it
almost as much as by the face. This voice was particularly pleasant and
sympathetic, though there was nothing very original or striking in the
words by which it was, so to speak, introduced to me. These were:

“How do you do, sir. Will you have a split?”

I answered that I never drank spirits in the daytime, or at least not
often, but that I should be pleased to take a small bottle of beer.

When the beer was consumed we walked up together to my little house
on which is now called the Berea, the same in which, amongst others, I
received my friends, Curtis and Good, in after days, and there we dined.
Indeed, Charlie Scroope never left that house until we started on our
shooting expedition.

Now I must cut all this story short, since it is only incidentally that
it has to do with the tale I am going to tell. Mr. Scroope was a rich
man and as he offered to pay all the expenses of the expedition while I
was to take all the profit in the shape of ivory or anything else that
might accrue, of course I did not decline his proposal.

Everything went well with us on that trip until its unfortunate end.
We only killed two elephants, but of other game we found plenty. It was
when we were near Delagoa Bay on our return that the accident happened.

We were out one evening trying to shoot something for our dinner, when
between the trees I caught sight of a small buck. It vanished round a
little promontory of rock which projected from the side of the kloof,
walking quietly, not running in alarm. We followed after it. I was the
first, and had just wriggled round these rocks and perceived the buck
standing about ten paces away (it was a bush-bok), when I heard a rustle
among the bushes on the top of the rock not a dozen feet above my head,
and Charlie Scroope’s voice calling:

“Look out, Quatermain! He’s coming.”

“Who’s coming?” I answered in an irritated tone, for the noise had made
the buck run away.

Then it occurred to me, all in an instant of course, that a man would
not begin to shout like that for nothing; at any rate when his supper
was concerned. So I glanced up above and behind me. To this moment I can
remember exactly what I saw. There was the granite water-worn boulder,
or rather several boulders, with ferns growing in their cracks of the
maiden-hair tribe, most of them, but some had a silver sheen on the
under side of their leaves. On one of these leaves, bending it down, sat
a large beetle with red wings and a black body engaged in rubbing its
antennæ with its front paws. And above, just appearing over the top of
the rock, was the head of an extremely fine leopard. As I write to
seem to perceive its square jowl outlined against the arc of the quiet
evening sky with the saliva dropping from its lips.

This was the last thing which I did perceive for a little while, since
at that moment the leopard--we call them tigers in South Africa--dropped
upon my back and knocked me flat as a pancake. I presume that it also
had been stalking the buck and was angry at my appearance on the scene.
Down I went, luckily for me, into a patch of mossy soil.

“All up!” I said to myself, for I felt the brute’s weight upon my back
pressing me down among the moss, and what was worse, its hot breath upon
my neck as it dropped its jaws to bite me in the head. Then I heard
the report of Scroope’s rifle, followed by furious snarling from the
leopard, which evidently had been hit. Also it seemed to think that I
had caused its injuries, for it seized me by the shoulder. I felt its
teeth slip along my skin, but happily they only fastened in the shooting
coat of tough corduroy that I was wearing. It began to shake me, then
let go to get a better grip. Now, remembering that Scroope only carried
a light, single-barrelled rifle, and therefore could not fire again,
I knew, or thought I knew, that my time had come. I was not exactly
afraid, but the sense of some great, impending chance became very
vivid. I remembered--not my whole life, but one or two odd little things
connected with my infancy. For instance, I seemed to see myself seated
on my mother’s knee, playing with a little jointed gold-fish which she
wore upon her watch-chain.

After this I muttered a word or two of supplication, and, I think, lost
consciousness. If so, it can only have been for a few seconds. Then my
mind returned to me and I saw a strange sight. The leopard and Scroope
were fighting each other. The leopard, standing on one hind leg, for
the other was broken, seemed to be boxing Scroope, whilst Scroope was
driving his big hunting knife into the brute’s carcase. They went down,
Scroope undermost, the leopard tearing at him. I gave a wriggle and came
out of that mossy bed--I recall the sucking sound my body made as it
left the ooze.

Close by was my rifle, uninjured and at full cock as it had fallen from
my hand. I seized it, and in another second had shot the leopard through
the head just as it was about to seize Scroope’s throat.

It fell stone dead on the top of him. One quiver, one contraction of the
claws (in poor Scroope’s leg) and all was over. There it lay as though
it were asleep, and underneath was Scroope.

The difficulty was to get it off him, for the beast was very heavy, but
I managed this at last with the help of a thorn bough I found which some
elephant had torn from a tree. This I used as a lever. There beneath
lay Scroope, literally covered with blood, though whether his own or
the leopard’s I could not tell. At first I thought that he was dead,
but after I had poured some water over him from the little stream that
trickled down the rock, he sat up and asked inconsequently:

“What am I now?”

“A hero,” I answered. (I have always been proud of that repartee.)

Then, discouraging further conversation, I set to work to get him back
to the camp, which fortunately was close at hand.

When we had proceeded a couple of hundred yards, he still making
inconsequent remarks, his right arm round my neck and my left arm round
his middle, suddenly he collapsed in a dead faint, and as his weight was
more than I could carry, I had to leave him and fetch help.

In the end I got him to the tents by aid of the Kaffirs and a blanket,
and there made an examination. He was scratched all over, but the only
serious wounds were a bite through the muscles of the left upper arm and
three deep cuts in the right thigh just where it joins the body, caused
by a stroke of the leopard’s claws. I gave him a dose of laudanum to
send him to sleep and dressed these hurts as best I could. For three
days he went on quite well. Indeed, the wounds had begun to heal
healthily when suddenly some kind of fever took him, caused, I suppose,
by the poison of the leopard’s fangs or claws.

Oh! what a terrible week was that which followed! He became delirious,
raving continually of all sorts of things, and especially of Miss
Margaret Manners. I kept up his strength as well as was possible with
soup made from the flesh of game, mixed with a little brandy which I
had. But he grew weaker and weaker. Also the wounds in the thigh began
to suppurate.

The Kaffirs whom we had with us were of little use in such a case, so
that all the nursing fell on me. Luckily, beyond a shaking, the leopard
had done me no hurt, and I was very strong in those days. Still the lack
of rest told on me, since I dared not sleep for more than half an hour
or so at a time. At length came a morning when I was quite worn out.
There lay poor Scroope turning and muttering in the little tent, and
there I sat by his side, wondering whether he would live to see another
dawn, or if he did, for how long I should be able to tend him. I called
to a Kaffir to bring me my coffee, and just was I was lifting the
pannikin to my lips with a shaking hand, help came.

It arrived in a very strange shape. In front of our camp were two
thorn trees, and from between these trees, the rays from the rising
sun falling full on him, I saw a curious figure walking towards me in
a slow, purposeful fashion. It was that of a man of uncertain age, for
though the beard and long hair were white, the face was comparatively
youthful, save for the wrinkles round the mouth, and the dark eyes were
full of life and vigour. Tattered garments, surmounted by a torn kaross
or skin rug, hung awkwardly upon his tall, thin frame. On his feet
were veld-schoen of untanned hide, on his back a battered tin case was
strapped, and in his bony, nervous hand he clasped a long staff made
of the black and white wood the natives call _unzimbiti_, on the top
of which was fixed a butterfly net. Behind him were some Kaffirs who
carried cases on their heads.

I knew him at once, since we had met before, especially on a certain
occasion in Zululand, when he calmly appeared out of the ranks of a
hostile native _impi_. He was one of the strangest characters in all
South Africa. Evidently a gentleman in the true sense of the word, none
knew his history (although I know it now, and a strange story it is),
except that he was an American by birth, for in this matter at times his
speech betrayed him. Also he was a doctor by profession, and to judge
from his extraordinary skill, one who must have seen much practice both
in medicine and in surgery. For the rest he had means, though where
they came from was a mystery, and for many years past had wandered about
South and Eastern Africa, collecting butterflies and flowers.

By the natives, and I might add by white people also, he was universally
supposed to be mad. This reputation, coupled with his medical skill,
enabled him to travel wherever he would without the slightest fear of
molestation, since the Kaffirs look upon the mad as inspired by God.
Their name for him was “Dogeetah,” a ludicrous corruption of the English
word “doctor,” whereas white folk called him indifferently “Brother
John,” “Uncle Jonathan,” or “Saint John.” The second appellation he got
from his extraordinary likeness (when cleaned up and nicely dressed)
to the figure by which the great American nation is typified in comic
papers, as England is typified by John Bull. The first and third arose
in the well-known goodness of his character and a taste he was supposed
to possess for living on locusts and wild honey, or their local
equivalents. Personally, however, he preferred to be addressed as
“Brother John.”

Oh! who can tell the relief with which I saw him; an angel from heaven
could scarcely have been more welcome. As he came I poured out a second
jorum of coffee, and remembering that he liked it sweet, put in plenty
of sugar.

“How do you do, Brother John?” I said, proffering him the coffee.

“Greeting, Brother Allan,” he answered--in those days he affected a kind
of old Roman way of speaking, as I imagine it. Then he took the coffee,
put his long finger into it to test the temperature and stir up the
sugar, drank it off as though it were a dose of medicine, and handed
back the tin to be refilled.

“Bug-hunting?” I queried.

He nodded. “That and flowers and observing human nature and the
wonderful works of God. Wandering around generally.”

“Where from last?” I asked.

“Those hills nearly twenty miles away. Left them at eight in the
evening; walked all night.”

“Why?” I said, looking at him.

“Because it seemed as though someone were calling me. To be plain, you,
Allan.”

“Oh! you heard about my being here and the trouble?”

“No, heard nothing. Meant to strike out for the coast this morning.
Just as I was turning in, at 8.5 exactly, got your message and started.
That’s all.”

“My message----” I began, then stopped, and asking to see his watch,
compared it with mine. Oddly enough, they showed the same time to within
two minutes.

“It is a strange thing,” I said slowly, “but at 8.5 last night I did try
to send a message for some help because I thought my mate was dying,”
 and I jerked my thumb towards the tent. “Only it wasn’t to you or any
other man, Brother John. Understand?”

“Quite. Message was expressed on, that’s all. Expressed and I guess
registered as well.”

I looked at Brother John and Brother John looked at me, but at the time
we made no further remark. The thing was too curious, that is, unless
he lied. But nobody had ever known him to lie. He was a truthful person,
painfully truthful at times. And yet there are people who do not believe
in prayer.

“What is it?” he asked.

“Mauled by leopard. Wounds won’t heal, and fever. I don’t think he can
last long.”

“What do you know about it? Let me see him.”

Well, he saw him and did wonderful things. That tin box of his was full
of medicines and surgical instruments, which latter he boiled before he
used them. Also he washed his hands till I thought the skin would come
off them, using up more soap than I could spare. First he gave poor
Charlie a dose of something that seemed to kill him; he said he had that
drug from the Kaffirs. Then he opened up those wounds upon his thigh and
cleaned them out and bandaged them with boiled herbs. Afterwards, when
Scroope came to again, he gave him a drink that threw him into a sweat
and took away the fever. The end of it was that in two days’ time his
patient sat up and asked for a square meal, and in a week we were able
to begin to carry him to the coast.

“Guess that message of yours saved Brother Scroope’s life,” said old
John, as he watched him start.

I made no answer. Here I may state, however, that through my own men I
inquired a little as to Brother John’s movements at the time of what he
called the message. It seemed that he _had_ arranged to march towards
the coast on the next morning, but that about two hours after sunset
suddenly he ordered them to pack up everything and follow him. This they
did and to their intense disgust those Kaffirs were forced to trudge all
night at the heels of Dogeetah, as they called him. Indeed, so weary
did they become, that had they not been afraid of being left alone in an
unknown country in the darkness, they said they would have thrown down
their loads and refused to go any further.

That is as far as I was able to take the matter, which may be explained
by telepathy, inspiration, instinct, or coincidence. It is one as to
which the reader must form his own opinion.

During our week together in camp and our subsequent journey to Delagoa
Bay and thence by ship to Durban, Brother John and I grew very intimate,
with limitations. Of his past, as I have said, he never talked, or of
the real object of his wanderings which I learned afterwards, but of his
natural history and ethnological (I believe that is the word) studies he
spoke a good deal. As, in my humble way, I also am an observer of such
matters and know something about African natives and their habits from
practical experience, these subjects interested me.

Amongst other things, he showed me many of the specimens that he had
collected during his recent journey; insects and beautiful butterflies
neatly pinned into boxes, also a quantity of dried flowers pressed
between sheets of blotting paper, amongst them some which he told me
were orchids. Observing that these attracted me, he asked me if I would
like to see the most wonderful orchid in the whole world. Of course I
said yes, whereon he produced out of one of his cases a flat package
about two feet six square. He undid the grass mats in which it was
wrapped, striped, delicately woven mats such as they make in the
neighbourhood of Zanzibar. Within these was the lid of a packing-case.
Then came more mats and some copies of _The Cape Journal_ spread out
flat. Then sheets of blotting paper, and last of all between two pieces
of cardboard, a flower and one leaf of the plant on which it grew.

Even in its dried state it was a wondrous thing, measuring twenty-four
inches from the tip of one wing or petal to the tip of the other, by
twenty inches from the top of the back sheath to the bottom of the
pouch. The measurement of the back sheath itself I forget, but it must
have been quite a foot across. In colour it was, or had been, bright
golden, but the back sheath was white, barred with lines of black, and
in the exact centre of the pouch was a single black spot shaped like the
head of a great ape. There were the overhanging brows, the deep recessed
eyes, the surly mouth, the massive jaws--everything.

Although at that time I had never seen a gorilla in the flesh, I had
seen a coloured picture of the brute, and if that picture had been
photographed on the flower the likeness could not have been more
perfect.

“What is it?” I asked, amazed.

“Sir,” said Brother John, sometimes he used this formal term when
excited, “it is the most marvellous Cypripedium in the whole earth, and,
sir, I have discovered it. A healthy root of that plant will be worth
£20,000.”

“That’s better than gold mining,” I said. “Well, have you got the root?”

Brother John shook his head sadly as he answered:

“No such luck.”

“How’s that as you have the flower?”

“I’ll tell you, Allan. For a year past and more I have been collecting
in the district back of Kilwa and found some wonderful things, yes,
wonderful. At last, about three hundred miles inland, I came to a tribe,
or rather, a people, that no white man had ever visited. They are called
the Mazitu, a numerous and warlike people of bastard Zulu blood.”

“I have heard of them,” I interrupted. “They broke north before the days
of Senzangakona, two hundred years or more ago.”

“Well, I could make myself understood among them because they still
talk a corrupt Zulu, as do all the tribes in those parts. At first they
wanted to kill me, but let me go because they thought that I was mad.
Everyone thinks that I am mad, Allan; it is a kind of public delusion,
whereas I think that I am sane and that most other people are mad.”

“A private delusion,” I suggested hurriedly, as I did not wish to
discuss Brother John’s sanity. “Well, go on about the Mazitu.”

“Later they discovered that I had skill in medicine, and their king,
Bausi, came to me to be treated for a great external tumour. I risked
an operation and cured him. It was anxious work, for if he had died I
should have died too, though that would not have troubled me very much,”
 and he sighed. “Of course, from that moment I was supposed to be a great
magician. Also Bausi made a blood brotherhood with me, transfusing some
of his blood into my veins and some of mine into his. I only hope he has
not inoculated me with his tumours, which are congenital. So I became
Bausi and Bausi became me. In other words, I was as much chief of the
Mazitu as he was, and shall remain so all my life.”

“That might be useful,” I said, reflectively, “but go on.”

“I learned that on the western boundary of the Mazitu territory were
great swamps; that beyond these swamps was a lake called Kirua, and
beyond that a large and fertile land supposed to be an island, with
a mountain in its centre. This land is known as Pongo, and so are the
people who live there.”

“That is a native name for the gorilla, isn’t it?” I asked. “At least so
a fellow who had been on the West Coast told me.”

“Indeed, then that’s strange, as you will see. Now these Pongo are
supposed to be great magicians, and the god they worship is said to be
a gorilla, which, if you are right, accounts for their name. Or rather,”
 he went on, “they have two gods. The other is that flower you see there.
Whether the flower with the monkey’s head on it was the first god and
suggested the worship of the beast itself, or _vice versa_, I don’t
know. Indeed I know very little, just what I was told by the Mazitu and
a man who called himself a Pongo chief, no more.”

“What did they say?”

“The Mazitu said that the Pongo people are devils who came by the secret
channels through the reeds in canoes and stole their children and women,
whom they sacrificed to their gods. Sometimes, too, they made raids upon
them at night, ‘howling like hyenas.’ The men they killed and the women
and children they took away. The Mazitu want to attack them but cannot
do so, because they are not water people and have no canoes, and
therefore are unable to reach the island, if it is an island. Also they
told me about the wonderful flower which grows in the place where the
ape-god lives, and is worshipped like the god. They had the story of it
from some of their people who had been enslaved and escaped.”

“Did you try to get to the island?” I asked.

“Yes, Allan. That is, I went to the edge of the reeds which lie at the
end of a long slope of plain, where the lake begins. Here I stopped for
some time catching butterflies and collecting plants. One night when I
was camped there by myself, for none of my men would remain so near the
Pongo country after sunset, I woke up with a sense that I was no longer
alone. I crept out of my tent and by the light of the moon, which was
setting, for dawn drew near, I saw a man who leant upon the handle of a
very wide-bladed spear which was taller than himself, a big man over six
feet two high, I should say, and broad in proportion. He wore a long,
white cloak reaching from his shoulders almost to the ground. On his
head was a tight-fitting cap with lappets, also white. In his ears were
rings of copper or gold, and on his wrists bracelets of the same metal.
His skin was intensely black, but the features were not at all negroid.
They were prominent and finely-cut, the nose being sharp and the lips
quite thin; indeed of an Arab type. His left hand was bandaged, and on
his face was an expression of great anxiety. Lastly, he appeared to be
about fifty years of age. So still did he stand that I began to wonder
whether he were one of those ghosts which the Mazitu swore the Pongo
wizards send out to haunt their country.

“For a long while we stared at each other, for I was determined that I
would not speak first or show any concern. At last he spoke in a low,
deep voice and in Mazitu, or a language so similar that I found it easy
to understand.

“‘Is not your name Dogeetah, O White Lord, and are you not a master of
medicine?’

“‘Yes,’ I answered, ‘but who are you who dare to wake me from my sleep?’

“‘Lord, I am the Kalubi, the Chief of the Pongo, a great man in my own
land yonder.’

“‘Then why do you come here alone at night, Kalubi, Chief of the Pongo?’

“‘Why do _you_ come here alone, White Lord?’ he answered evasively.

“‘What do you want, anyway?’ I asked.

“‘O! Dogeetah, I have been hurt, I want you to cure me,’ and he looked
at his bandaged hand.

“‘Lay down that spear and open your robe that I may see you have no
knife.’

“He obeyed, throwing the spear to some distance.

“‘Now unwrap the hand.’

“He did so. I lit a match, the sight of which seemed to frighten him
greatly, although he asked no questions about it, and by its light
examined the hand. The first joint of the second finger was gone. From
the appearance of the stump which had been cauterized and was tied
tightly with a piece of flexible grass, I judged that it had been bitten
off.

“‘What did this?’ I asked.

“‘Monkey,’ he answered, ‘poisonous monkey. Cut off the finger, O
Dogeetah, or tomorrow I die.’

“‘Why do you not tell your own doctors to cut off the finger, you who
are Kalubi, Chief of the Pongo?’

“‘No, no,’ he replied, shaking his head. ‘They cannot do it. It is not
lawful. And I, I cannot do it, for if the flesh is black the hand must
come off too, and if the flesh is black at the wrist, then the arm must
be cut off.’

“I sat down on my camp stool and reflected. Really I was waiting for the
sun to rise, since it was useless to attempt an operation in that light.
The man, Kalubi, thought that I had refused his petition and became
terribly agitated.

“‘Be merciful, White Lord,’ he prayed, ‘do not let me die. I am afraid
to die. Life is bad, but death is worse. O! If you refuse me, I will
kill myself here before you and then my ghost will haunt you till you
die also of fear and come to join me. What fee do you ask? Gold or ivory
or slaves? Say and I will give it.’

“‘Be silent,’ I said, for I saw that if he went on thus he would throw
himself into a fever, which might cause the operation to prove fatal.
For the same reason I did not question him about many things I should
have liked to learn. I lit my fire and boiled the instruments--he
thought I was making magic. By the time that everything was ready the
sun was up.

“‘Now,’ I said, ‘let me see how brave you are.’

“Well, Allan, I performed that operation, removing the finger at the
base where it joins the hand, as I thought there might be something in
his story of the poison. Indeed, as I found afterwards on dissection,
and can show you, for I have the thing in spirits, there was, for the
blackness of which he spoke, a kind of mortification, I presume, had
crept almost to the joint, though the flesh beyond was healthy enough.
Certainly that Kalubi was a plucky fellow. He sat like a rock and never
even winced. Indeed, when he saw that the flesh was sound he uttered a
great sigh of relief. After it was all over he turned a little faint, so
I gave him some spirits of wine mixed with water which revived him.

“‘O Lord Dogeetah,’ he said, as I was bandaging his hand, ‘while I live
I am your slave. Yet, do me one more service. In my land there is a
terrible wild beast, that which bit off my finger. It is a devil; it
kills us and we fear it. I have heard that you white men have magic
weapons which slay with a noise. Come to my land and kill me that wild
beast with your magic weapon. I say, Come, Come, for I am terribly
afraid,’ and indeed he looked it.

“‘No,’ I answered, ‘I shed no blood; I kill nothing except butterflies,
and of these only a few. But if you fear this brute why do you not
poison it? You black people have many drugs.’

“‘No use, no use,’ he replied in a kind of wail. ‘The beast knows
poisons, some it swallows and they do not harm it. Others it will not
touch. Moreover, no black man can do it hurt. It is white, and it has
been known from of old that if it dies at all, it must be by the hand of
one who is white.’

“‘A very strange animal,’ I began, suspiciously, for I felt sure that he
was lying to me. But just at that moment I heard the sound of my men’s
voices. They were advancing towards me through the giant grass, singing
as they came, but as yet a long way off. The Kalubi heard it also and
sprang up.

“‘I must be gone,’ he said. ‘None must see me here. What fee, O Lord of
medicine, what fee?’

“‘I take no payment for my medicine,’ I said. ‘Yet--stay. A wonderful
flower grows in your country, does it not? A flower with wings and a cup
beneath. I would have that flower.’

“‘Who told you of the Flower?’ he asked. ‘The Flower is holy. Still, O
White Lord, still for you it shall be risked. Oh, return and bring with
you one who can kill the beast and I will make you rich. Return and call
to the reeds for the Kalubi, and the Kalubi will hear and come to you.’

“Then he ran to his spear, snatched it from the ground and vanished
among the reeds. That was the last I saw, or am ever likely to see, of
him.”

“But, Brother John, you got the flower somehow.”

“Yes, Allan. About a week later when I came out of my tent one morning,
there it was standing in a narrow-mouthed, earthenware pot filled with
water. Of course I meant that he was to send me the plant, roots and
all, but I suppose he understood that I wanted a bloom. Or perhaps he
dared not send the plant. Anyhow, it is better than nothing.”

“Why did you not go into the country and get it for yourself?”

“For several reasons, Allan, of which the best is that it was
impossible. The Mazitu swear that if anyone sees that flower he is put
to death. Indeed, when they found that I had a bloom of it, they forced
me to move to the other side of the country seventy miles away. So I
thought that I would wait till I met with some companions who would
accompany me. Indeed, to be frank, Allan, it occurred to me that you
were the sort of man who would like to interview this wonderful beast
that bites off people’s fingers and frightens them to death,” and
Brother John stroked his long, white beard and smiled, adding, “Odd that
we should have met so soon afterwards, isn’t it?”

“Did you?” I replied, “now did you indeed? Brother John, people say
all sorts of things about you, but I have come to the conclusion that
there’s nothing the matter with your wits.”

Again he smiled and stroked his long, white beard.



CHAPTER II

                           THE AUCTION ROOM

I do not think that this conversion about the Pongo savages who were
said to worship a Gorilla and a Golden Flower was renewed until we
reached my house at Durban. Thither of course I took Mr. Charles
Scroope, and thither also came Brother John who, as bedroom
accommodation was lacking, pitched his tent in the garden.

One night we sat on the step smoking; Brother John’s only concession to
human weakness was that he smoked. He drank no wine or spirits; he never
ate meat unless he was obliged, but I rejoice to say that he smoked
cigars, like most Americans, when he could get them.

“John,” said I, “I have been thinking over that yarn of yours and have
come to one or two conclusions.”

“What may they be, Allan?”

“The first is that you were a great donkey not to get more out of the
Kalubi when you had the chance.”

“Agreed, Allan, but, amongst other things, I am a doctor and the
operation was uppermost in my mind.”

“The second is that I believe this Kalubi had charge of the gorilla-god,
as no doubt you’ve guessed; also that it was the gorilla which bit off
his finger.”

“Why so?”

“Because I have heard of great monkeys called _sokos_ that live in
Central East Africa which are said to bite off men’s toes and fingers. I
have heard too that they are very like gorillas.”

“Now you mention it, so have I, Allan. Indeed, once I saw a _soko_,
though some way off, a huge, brown ape which stood on its hind legs and
drummed upon its chest with its fists. I didn’t see it for long because
I ran away.”

“The third is that this yellow orchid would be worth a great deal of
money if one could dig it up and take it to England.”

“I think I told you, Allan, that I valued it at £20,000, so that
conclusion of yours is not original.”

“The fourth is that I should like to dig up that orchid and get a share
of the £20,000.”

Brother John became intensely interested.

“Ah!” he said, “now we are getting to the point. I have been wondering
how long it would take you to see it, Allan, but if you are slow, you
are sure.”

“The fifth is,” I went on, “that such an expedition to succeed would
need a great deal of money, more than you or I could find. Partners
would be wanted, active or sleeping, but partners with cash.”

Brother John looked towards the window of the room in which Charlie
Scroope was in bed, for being still weak he went to rest early.

“No,” I said, “he’s had enough of Africa, and you told me yourself that
it will be two years before he is really strong again. Also there’s a
lady in this case. Now listen. I have taken it on myself to write to
that lady, whose address I found out while he didn’t know what he was
saying. I have said that he was dying, but that I hoped he might live.
Meanwhile, I added, I thought she would like to know that he did nothing
but rave of her; also that he was a hero, with a big H twice underlined.
My word! I did lay it on about the hero business with a spoon, a real
hotel gravy spoon. If Charlie Scroope knows himself again when he sees
my description of him, well, I’m a Dutchman, that’s all. The letter
caught the last mail and will, I hope, reach the lady in due course. Now
listen again. Scroope wants me to go to England with him to look after
him on the voyage--that’s what he says. What he means is that he hopes
I might put in a word for him with the lady, if I should chance to
be introduced to her. He offers to pay all my expenses and to give me
something for my loss of time. So, as I haven’t seen England since I was
three years old, I think I’ll take the chance.”

Brother John’s face fell. “Then how about the expedition, Allan?” he
asked.

“This is the first of November,” I answered, “and the wet season in
those parts begins about now and lasts till April. So it would be no use
trying to visit your Pongo friends till then, which gives me plenty of
time to go to England and come out again. If you’ll trust that flower
to me I’ll take it with me. Perhaps I might be able to find someone who
would be willing to put down money on the chance of getting the plant on
which it grew. Meanwhile, you are welcome to this house if you care to
stay here.”

“Thank you, Allan, but I can’t sit still for so many months. I’ll go
somewhere and come back.” He paused and a dreamy look came into his dark
eyes, then went on, “You see, Brother, it is laid on me to wander and
wander through all this great land until--I know.”

“Until you know what?” I asked, sharply.

He pulled himself together with a jerk, as it were, and answered with a
kind of forced carelessness.

“Until I know every inch of it, of course. There are lots of tribes I
have not yet visited.”

“Including the Pongo,” I said. “By the way, if I can get the money
together for a trip up there, I suppose you mean to come too, don’t
you? If not, the thing’s off so far as I am concerned. You see, I am
reckoning on you to get us through the Mazitu and into Pongo-land by the
help of your friends.”

“Certainly I mean to come. In fact, if you don’t go, I shall start
alone. I intend to explore Pongo-land even if I never come out of it
again.”

Once more I looked at him as I answered:

“You are ready to risk a great deal for a flower, John. Or are you
looking for more than a flower? If so, I hope you will tell me the
truth.”

This I said as I was aware that Brother John had a foolish objection to
uttering, or even acting lies.

“Well, Allan, as you put it like that, the truth is that I heard
something more about the Pongo than I told you up country. It was after
I had operated on that Kalubi, or I would have tried to get in alone.
But this I could not do then as I have said.”

“And what did you hear?”

“I heard that they had a white goddess as well as a white god.”

“Well, what of it? A female gorilla, I suppose.”

“Nothing, except that goddesses have always interested me. Good night.”

“You are an odd old fish,” I remarked after him, “and what is more you
have got something up your sleeve. Well, I’ll have it down one day.
Meanwhile, I wonder whether the whole thing is a lie, no; not a lie, an
hallucination. It can’t be--because of that orchid. No one can explain
away the orchid. A queer people, these Pongo, with their white god and
goddess and their Holy Flower. But after all Africa is a land of queer
people, and of queer gods too.”



And now the story shifts away to England. (Don’t be afraid, my
adventurous reader, if ever I have one, it is coming back to Africa
again in a very few pages.)

Mr. Charles Scroope and I left Durban a day or two after my last
conversation with Brother John. At Cape Town we caught the mail, a
wretched little boat you would think it now, which after a long and
wearisome journey at length landed us safe at Plymouth. Our companions
on that voyage were very dull. I have forgotten most of them, but one
lady I do remember. I imagine that she must have commenced life as a
barmaid, for she had the orthodox tow hair and blowsy appearance. At any
rate, she was the wife of a wine-merchant who had made a fortune at the
Cape. Unhappily, however, she had contracted too great a liking for her
husband’s wares, and after dinner was apt to become talkative. For some
reason or other she took a particular aversion to me. Oh! I can see her
now, seated in that saloon with the oil lamp swinging over her head (she
always chose the position under the oil lamp because it showed off
her diamonds). And I can hear her too. “Don’t bring any of your
elephant-hunting manners here, Mr. Allan” (with an emphasis on the
Allan) “Quatermain, they are not fit for polite society. You should go
and brush your hair, Mr. Quatermain.” (I may explain that my hair sticks
up naturally.)

Then would come her little husband’s horrified “Hush! hush! you are
quite insulting, my dear.”

Oh! why do I remember it all after so many years when I have even
forgotten the people’s names? One of those little things that stick in
the mind, I suppose. The Island of Ascension, where we called, sticks
also with its long swinging rollers breaking in white foam, its bare
mountain peak capped with green, and the turtles in the ponds. Those
poor turtles. We brought two of them home, and I used to look at them
lying on their backs in the forecastle flapping their fins feebly. One
of them died, and I got the butcher to save me the shell. Afterwards I
gave it as a wedding present to Mr. and Mrs. Scroope, nicely polished
and lined. I meant it for a work-basket, and was overwhelmed with
confusion when some silly lady said at the marriage, and in the hearing
of the bride and bridegroom, that it was the most beautiful cradle
she had ever seen. Of course, like a fool, I tried to explain, whereon
everybody tittered.

But why do I write of such trifles that have nothing to do with my
story?

I mentioned that I had ventured to send a letter to Miss Margaret
Manners about Mr. Charles Scroope, in which I said incidentally that if
the hero should happen to live I should probably bring him home by
the next mail. Well, we got into Plymouth about eight o’clock in the
morning, on a mild, November day, and shortly afterwards a tug arrived
to take off the passengers and mails; also some cargo. I, being an early
riser, watched it come and saw upon the deck a stout lady wrapped in
furs, and by her side a very pretty, fair-haired young woman clad in a
neat serge dress and a pork-pie hat. Presently a steward told me that
someone wished to speak to me in the saloon. I went and found these two
standing side by side.

“I believe you are Mr. Allan Quatermain,” said the stout lady. “Where is
Mr. Scroope whom I understand you have brought home? Tell me at once.”

Something about her appearance and fierce manner of address alarmed me
so much that I could only answer feebly:

“Below, madam, below.”

“There, my dear,” said the stout lady to her companion, “I warned you to
be prepared for the worst. Bear up; do not make a scene before all these
people. The ways of Providence are just and inscrutable. It is your own
temper that was to blame. You should never have sent the poor man off to
these heathen countries.”

Then, turning to me, she added sharply: “I suppose he is embalmed; we
should like to bury him in Essex.”

“Embalmed!” I gasped. “Embalmed! Why, the man is in his bath, or was a
few minutes ago.”

In another second that pretty young lady who had been addressed was
weeping with her head upon my shoulder.

“Margaret!” exclaimed her companion (she was a kind of heavy aunt), “I
told you not to make a scene in public. Mr. Quatermain, as Mr. Scroope
is alive, would you ask him to be so good as to come here.”

Well, I fetched him, half-shaved, and the rest of the business may be
imagined. It is a very fine thing to be a hero with a big H. Henceforth
(thanks to me) that was Charlie Scroope’s lot in life. He has
grandchildren now, and they all think him a hero. What is more, he does
not contradict them. I went down to the lady’s place in Essex, a fine
property with a beautiful old house. On the night I arrived there was a
dinner-party of twenty-four people. I had to make a speech about Charlie
Scroope and the leopard. I think it was a good speech. At any rate
everybody cheered, including the servants, who had gathered at the back
of the big hall.

I remember that to complete the story I introduced several other
leopards, a mother and two three-part-grown cubs, also a wounded
buffalo, and told how Mr. Scroope finished them off one after the other
with a hunting knife. The thing was to watch his face as the history
proceeded. Luckily he was sitting next to me and I could kick him under
the table. It was all very amusing, and very happy also, for these two
really loved each other. Thank God that I, or rather Brother John, was
able to bring them together again.

It was during that stay of mine in Essex, by the way, that I first met
Lord Ragnall and the beautiful Miss Holmes with whom I was destined to
experience some very strange adventures in the after years.



After this interlude I got to work. Someone told me that there was a
firm in the City that made a business of selling orchids by auction,
flowers which at this time were beginning to be very fashionable among
rich horticulturists. This, thought I, would be the place for me to
show my treasure. Doubtless Messrs. May and Primrose--that was their
world-famed style--would be able to put me in touch with opulent
orchidists who would not mind venturing a couple of thousands on the
chance of receiving a share in a flower that, according to Brother John,
should be worth untold gold. At any rate, I would try.

So on a certain Friday, about half-past twelve, I sought out the place
of business of Messrs. May and Primrose, bearing with me the golden
Cypripedium, which was now enclosed in a flat tin case.

As it happened I chose an unlucky day and hour, for on arriving at the
office and asking for Mr. May, I was informed that he was away in the
country valuing.

“Then I would like to see Mr. Primrose,” I said.

“Mr. Primrose is round at the Rooms selling,” replied the clerk, who
appeared to be very busy.

“Where are the Rooms?” I asked.

“Out of the door, turn to the left, turn to the left again and under the
clock,” said the clerk, and closed the shutter.

So disgusted was I with his rudeness that I nearly gave up the
enterprise. Thinking better of it, however, I followed the directions
given, and in a minute or two found myself in a narrow passage that led
to a large room. To one who had never seen anything of the sort before,
this room offered a curious sight. The first thing I observed was a
notice on the wall to the effect that customers were not allowed to
smoke pipes. I thought to myself that orchids must be curious flowers
if they could distinguish between the smoke of a cigar and a pipe, and
stepped into the room. To my left was a long table covered with pots of
the most beautiful flowers that I had ever seen; all of them orchids.
Along the wall and opposite were other tables closely packed with
withered roots which I concluded were also those of orchids. To my
inexperienced eye the whole lot did not look worth five shillings, for
they seemed to be dead.

At the head of the room stood the rostrum, where sat a gentleman with an
extremely charming face. He was engaged in selling by auction so rapidly
that the clerk at his side must have had difficulty in keeping a record
of the lots and their purchasers. In front of him was a horseshoe table,
round which sat buyers. The end of this table was left unoccupied so
that the porters might exhibit each lot before it was put up for sale.
Standing under the rostrum was yet another table, a small one, upon
which were about twenty pots of flowers, even more wonderful than
those on the large table. A notice stated that these would be sold at
one-thirty precisely. All about the room stood knots of men (such ladies
as were present sat at the table), many of whom had lovely orchids
in their buttonholes. These, I found out afterwards, were dealers and
amateurs. They were a kindly-faced set of people, and I took a liking to
them.

The whole place was quaint and pleasant, especially by contrast with
the horrible London fog outside. Squeezing my small person into a corner
where I was in nobody’s way, I watched the proceedings for a while.
Suddenly an agreeable voice at my side asked me if I would like a look
at the catalogue. I glanced at the speaker, and in a sense fell in love
with him at once--as I have explained before, I am one of those to whom
a first impression means a great deal. He was not very tall, though
strong-looking and well-made enough. He was not very handsome, though
none so ill-favoured. He was just an ordinary fair young Englishman,
four or five-and-twenty years of age, with merry blue eyes and one of
the pleasantest expressions that I ever saw. At once I felt that he
was a sympathetic soul and full of the milk of human kindness. He was
dressed in a rough tweed suit rather worn, with the orchid that seemed
to be the badge of all this tribe in his buttonhole. Somehow the costume
suited his rather pink and white complexion and rumpled fair hair, which
I could see as he was sitting on his cloth hat.

“Thank you, no,” I answered, “I did not come here to buy. I know nothing
about orchids,” I added by way of explanation, “except a few I have seen
growing in Africa, and this one,” and I tapped the tin case which I held
under my arm.

“Indeed,” he said. “I should like to hear about the African orchids.
What is it you have in the case, a plant or flowers?”

“One flower only. It is not mine. A friend in Africa asked me to--well,
that is a long story which might not interest you.”

“I’m not sure. I suppose it must be a Cymbidium scape from the size.”

I shook my head. “That’s not the name my friend mentioned. He called it
a Cypripedium.”

The young man began to grow curious. “One Cypripedium in all that large
case? It must be a big flower.”

“Yes, my friend said it is the biggest ever found. It measures
twenty-four inches across the wings, petals I think he called them, and
about a foot across the back part.”

“Twenty-four inches across the petals and a foot across the dorsal
sepal!” said the young man in a kind of gasp, “and a Cypripedium! Sir,
surely you are joking?”

“Sir,” I answered indignantly, “I am doing nothing of the sort. Your
remark is tantamount to telling me that I am speaking a falsehood. But,
of course, for all I know, the thing may be some other kind of flower.”

“Let me see it. In the name of the goddess Flora let me see it!”

I began to undo the case. Indeed it was already half-open when two other
gentlemen, who had either overheard some of our conversation or noted my
companion’s excited look, edged up to us. I observed that they also wore
orchids in their buttonholes.

“Hullo! Somers,” said one of them in a tone of false geniality, “what
have you got there?”

“What has your friend got there?” asked the other.

“Nothing,” replied the young man who had been addressed as Somers,
“nothing at all; that is--only a case of tropical butterflies.”

“Oh! butterflies,” said No. 1 and sauntered away. But No. 2, a
keen-looking person with the eye of a hawk, was not so easily satisfied.

“Let us see these butterflies,” he said to me.

“You can’t,” ejaculated the young man. “My friend is afraid lest the
damp should injure their colours. Ain’t you, Brown?”

“Yes, I am, Somers,” I replied, taking his cue and shutting the tin case
with a snap.

Then the hawk-eyed person departed, also grumbling, for that story about
the damp stuck in his throat.

“Orchidist!” whispered the young man. “Dreadful people, orchidists, so
jealous. Very rich, too, both of them. Mr. Brown--I hope that is your
name, though I admit the chances are against it.”

“They are,” I replied, “my name is Allan Quatermain.”

“Ah! much better than Brown. Well, Mr. Allan Quatermain, there’s a
private room in this place to which I have admittance. Would you mind
coming with that----” here the hawk-eyed gentleman strolled past again,
“that case of butterflies?”

“With pleasure,” I answered, and followed him out of the auction chamber
down some steps through the door to the left, and ultimately into a
little cupboard-like room lined with shelves full of books and ledgers.

He closed the door and locked it.

“Now,” he said in a tone of the villain in a novel who at last has
come face to face with the virtuous heroine, “now we are alone. Mr.
Quatermain, let me see--those butterflies.”

I placed the case on a deal table which stood under a skylight in the
room. I opened it; I removed the cover of wadding, and there,
pressed between two sheets of glass and quite uninjured after all its
journeyings, appeared the golden flower, glorious even in death, and by
its side the broad green leaf.

The young gentleman called Somers looked at it till I thought his eyes
would really start out of his head. He turned away muttering something
and looked again.

“Oh! Heavens,” he said at last, “oh! Heavens, is it possible that such
a thing can exist in this imperfect world? You haven’t faked it, Mr.
Half--I mean Quatermain, have you?”

“Sir,” I said, “for the second time you are making insinuations. Good
morning,” and I began to shut up the case.

“Don’t be offhanded,” he exclaimed. “Pity the weaknesses of a poor
sinner. You don’t understand. If only you understood, you would
understand.”

“No,” I said, “I am bothered if I do.”

“Well, you will when you begin to collect orchids. I’m not mad, really,
except perhaps on this point, Mr. Quatermain,”--this in a low and
thrilling voice--“that marvellous Cypripedium--your friend is right, it
is a Cypripedium--is worth a gold mine.”

“From my experience of gold mines I can well believe that,” I said
tartly, and, I may add, prophetically.

“Oh! I mean a gold mine in the figurative and colloquial sense, not as
the investor knows it,” he answered. “That is, the plant on which it
grew is priceless. Where is the plant, Mr. Quatermain?”

“In a rather indefinite locality in Africa east by south,” I replied. “I
can’t place it to within three hundred miles.”

“That’s vague, Mr. Quatermain. I have no right to ask it, seeing that
you know nothing of me, but I assure you I am respectable, and in short,
would you mind telling me the story of this flower?”

“I don’t think I should,” I replied, a little doubtfully. Then, after
another good look at him, suppressing all names and exact localities,
I gave him the outline of the tale, explaining that I wanted to find
someone who would finance an expedition to the remote and romantic spot
where this particular Cypripedium was believed to grow.

Just as I finished my narrative, and before he had time to comment on
it, there came a violent knocking at the door.

“Mr. Stephen,” said a voice, “are you there, Mr. Stephen?”

“By Jove! that’s Briggs,” exclaimed the young man. “Briggs is my
father’s manager. Shut up the case, Mr. Quatermain. Come in, Briggs,” he
went on, unlocking the door slowly. “What is it?”

“It is a good deal,” replied a thin and agitated person who thrust
himself through the opening door. “Your father, I mean Sir Alexander,
has come to the office unexpectedly and is in a nice taking because he
didn’t find you there, sir. When he discovered that you had gone to the
orchid sale he grew furious, sir, furious, and sent me to fetch you.”

“Did he?” replied Mr. Somers in an easy and unruffled tone. “Well, tell
Sir Alexander I am coming at once. Now please go, Briggs, and tell him I
am coming at once.”

Briggs departed not too willingly.

“I must leave you, Mr. Quatermain,” said Mr. Somers as he shut the door
behind him. “But will you promise me not to show that flower to anyone
until I return? I’ll be back within half an hour.”

“Yes, Mr. Somers. I’ll wait half an hour for you in the sale room, and I
promise that no one shall see that flower till you return.”

“Thank you. You are a good fellow, and I promise you shall lose nothing
by your kindness if I can help it.”

We went together into the sale room, where some thought suddenly struck
Mr. Somers.

“By Jove!” he said, “I nearly forgot about that Odontoglossum. Where’s
Woodden? Oh! come here, Woodden, I want to speak to you.”

The person called Woodden obeyed. He was a man of about fifty,
indefinite in colouring, for his eyes were very light-blue or grey and
his hair was sandy, tough-looking and strongly made, with big hands that
showed signs of work, for the palms were horny and the nails worn down.
He was clad in a suit of shiny black, such as folk of the labouring
class wear at a funeral. I made up my mind at once that he was a
gardener.

“Woodden,” said Mr. Somers, “this gentleman here has got the most
wonderful orchid in the whole world. Keep your eye on him and see that
he isn’t robbed. There are people in this room, Mr. Quatermain, who
would murder you and throw your body into the Thames for that flower,”
 he added, darkly.

On receipt of this information Woodden rocked a little on his feet as
though he felt the premonitory movements of an earthquake. It was a
habit of his whenever anything astonished him. Then, fixing his pale
eye upon me in a way which showed that my appearance surprised him, he
pulled a lock of his sandy hair with his thumb and finger and said:

“‘Servant, sir, and where might this horchid be?”

I pointed to the tin case.

“Yes, it’s there,” went on Mr. Somers, “and that’s what you’ve got to
watch. Mr. Quatermain, if anyone attempts to rob you, call for Woodden
and he will knock them down. He’s my gardener, you know, and entirely to
be trusted, especially if it is a matter of knocking anyone down.”

“Aye, I’ll knock him down surely,” said Woodden, doubling his great fist
and looking round him with a suspicious eye.

“Now listen, Woodden. Have you looked at that Odontoglossum Pavo, and if
so, what do you think of it?” and he nodded towards a plant which stood
in the centre of the little group that was placed on the small table
beneath the auctioneer’s desk. It bore a spray of the most lovely white
flowers. On the top petal (if it is a petal), and also on the lip of
each of these rounded flowers was a blotch or spot of which the general
effect was similar to the iridescent eye on the tail feathers of a
peacock, whence, I suppose, the flower was named “Pavo,” or Peacock.

“Yes, master, and I think it the beautifullest thing that ever I saw.
There isn’t a ‘glossum in England like that there ‘glossum Paving,”
 he added with conviction, and rocked again as he said the word. “But
there’s plenty after it. I say they’re a-smelling round that blossom
like, like--dawgs round a rat hole. And” (this triumphantly) “they don’t
do that for nothing.”

“Quite so, Woodden, you have got a logical mind. But, look here, we must
have that ‘Pavo’ whatever it costs. Now the Governor has sent for me.
I’ll be back presently, but I might be detained. If so, you’ve got to
bid on my behalf, for I daren’t trust any of these agents. Here’s your
authority,” and he scribbled on a card, “Woodden, my gardener, has
directions to bid for me.--S.S.” “Now, Woodden,” he went on, when he
had given the card to an attendant who passed it up to the auctioneer,
“don’t you make a fool of yourself and let that ‘Pavo’ slip through your
fingers.”

In another instant he was gone.

“What did the master say, sir?” asked Woodden of me. “That I was to get
that there ‘Paving’ whatever it cost?”

“Yes,” I said, “that’s what he said. I suppose it will fetch a good
deal--several pounds.”

“Maybe, sir, can’t tell. All I know is that I’ve got to buy it as you
can bear me witness. Master, he ain’t one to be crossed for money. What
he wants, he’ll have, that is if it be in the orchid line.”

“I suppose you are fond of orchids, too, Mr. Woodden?”

“Fond of them, sir? Why, I loves ‘em!” (Here he rocked.) “Don’t feel for
nothing else in the same way; not even for my old woman” (then with a
burst of enthusiasm) “no, not even for the master himself, and I’m fond
enough of him, God knows! But, begging your pardon, sir” (with a pull
at his forelock), “would you mind holding that tin of yours a little
tighter? I’ve got to keep an eye on that as well as on ‘O. Paving,’ and
I just see’d that chap with the tall hat alooking at it suspicious.”

After this we separated. I retired into my corner, while Woodden took
his stand by the table, with one eye fixed on what he called the “O.
Paving” and the other on me and my tin case.

An odd fish truly, I thought to myself. Positive, the old woman;
Comparative, his master; Superlative, the orchid tribe. Those were his
degrees of affection. Honest and brave and a good fellow though, I bet.

The sale languished. There were so many lots of one particular sort of
dried orchid that buyers could not be found for them at a reasonable
price, and many had to be bought in. At length the genial Mr. Primrose
in the rostrum addressed the audience.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “I quite understand that you didn’t come here
to-day to buy a rather poor lot of Cattleya Mossiæ. You came to buy,
or to bid for, or to see sold the most wonderful Odontoglossum that has
ever been flowered in this country, the property of a famous firm of
importers whom I congratulate upon their good fortune in having obtained
such a gem. Gentlemen, this miraculous flower ought to adorn a royal
greenhouse. But there it is, to be taken away by whoever will pay the
most for it, for I am directed to see that it will be sold without
reserve. Now, I think,” he added, running his eye over the company,
“that most of our great collectors are represented in this room to-day.
It is true that I do not see that spirited and liberal young orchidist,
Mr. Somers, but he has left his worthy head-gardener, Mr. Woodden, than
whom there is no finer judge of an orchid in England” (here Woodden
rocked violently) “to bid for him, as I hope, for the glorious flower of
which I have been speaking. Now, as it is exactly half-past one, we will
proceed to business. Smith, hand the ‘Odontoglossum Pavo’ round, that
everyone may inspect its beauties, and be careful you don’t let it fall.
Gentlemen, I must ask you not to touch it or to defile its purity with
tobacco smoke. Eight perfect flowers in bloom, gentlemen, and four--no,
five more to open. A strong plant in perfect health, six pseudo-bulbs
with leaves, and three without. Two black leads which I am advised
can be separated off at the proper time. Now, what bids for the
‘Odontoglossum Pavo.’ Ah! I wonder who will have the honour of becoming
the owner of this perfect, this unmatched production of Nature. Thank
you, sir--three hundred. Four. Five. Six. Seven in three places. Eight.
Nine. Ten. Oh! gentlemen, let us get on a little faster. Thank you,
sir--fifteen. Sixteen. It is against you, Mr Woodden. Ah! thank you,
seventeen.”

There came a pause in the fierce race for “O. Pavo,” which I occupied in
reducing seventeen hundred shillings to pounds sterling.

My word! I thought to myself, £85 is a goodish price to pay for one
plant, however rare. Woodden is acting up to his instructions with a
vengeance.

The pleading voice of Mr. Primrose broke in upon my meditations.

“Gentlemen, gentlemen!” he said, “surely you are not going to allow the
most wondrous production of the floral world, on which I repeat there
is no reserve, to be knocked down at this miserable figure. Come, come.
Well, if I must, I must, though after such a disgrace I shall get no
sleep to-night. One,” and his hammer fell for the first time. “Think,
gentlemen, upon my position, think what the eminent owners, who with
their usual delicacy have stayed away, will say to me when I am obliged
to tell them the disgraceful truth. Two,” and his hammer fell a second
time. “Smith, hold up that flower. Let the company see it. Let them know
what they are losing.”

Smith held up the flower at which everybody glared. The little ivory
hammer circled round Mr. Primrose’s head. It was about to fall, when a
quiet man with a long beard who hitherto had not joined in the bidding,
lifted his head and said softly:

“Eighteen hundred.”

“Ah!” exclaimed Mr. Primrose, “I thought so. I thought that the owner of
the greatest collection in England would not see this treasure slip from
his grasp without a struggle. Against you, Mr. Woodden.”

“Nineteen, sir,” said Woodden in a stony voice.

“Two thousand,” echoed the gentleman with the long beard.

“Twenty-one hundred,” said Woodden.

“That’s right, Mr. Woodden,” cried Mr. Primrose, “you are indeed
representing your principal worthily. I feel sure that you do not mean
to stop for a few miserable pounds.”

“Not if I knows it,” ejaculated Woodden. “I has my orders and I acts up
to them.”

“Twenty-two hundred,” said Long-beard.

“Twenty-three,” echoed Woodden.

“Oh, damn!” shouted Long-beard and rushed from the room.

“‘Odontoglossum Pavo’ is going for twenty-three hundred, only
twenty-tree hundred,” cried the auctioneer. “Any advance on twenty-three
hundred? What? None? Then I must do my duty. One. Two. For the last
time--no advance? Three. Gone to Mr. Woodden, bidding for his principal,
Mr. Somers.”

The hammer fell with a sharp tap, and at this moment my young friend
sauntered into the room.

“Well, Woodden,” he said, “have they put the ‘Pavo’ up yet?”

“It’s up and it’s down, sir. I’ve bought him right enough.”

“The deuce you have! What did it fetch?”

Woodden scratched his head.

“I don’t rightly know, sir, never was good at figures, not having much
book learning, but it’s twenty-three something.”

“£23? No, it would have brought more than that. By Jingo! it must be
£230. That’s pretty stiff, but still, it may be worth it.”

At this moment Mr. Primrose, who, leaning over his desk, was engaged in
animated conversation with an excited knot of orchid fanciers, looked
up:

“Oh! there you are, Mr. Somers,” he said. “In the name of all this
company let me congratulate you on having become the owner of the
matchless ‘Odontoglossum Pavo’ for what, under all the circumstances, I
consider the quite moderate price of £2,300.”

Really that young man took it very well. He shivered slightly and turned
a little pale, that is all. Woodden rocked to and fro like a tree about
to fall. I and my tin box collapsed together in the corner. Yes, I was
so surprised that my legs seemed to give way under me. People began to
talk, but above the hum of the conversation I heard young Somers say in
a low voice:

“Woodden, you’re a born fool.” Also the answer: “That’s what my mother
always told me, master, and she ought to know if anyone did. But what’s
wrong now? I obeyed orders and bought ‘O. Paving.’”

“Yes. Don’t bother, my good fellow, it’s my fault, not yours. I’m the
born fool. But heavens above! how am I to face this?” Then, recovering
himself, he strolled up to the rostrum and said a few words to the
auctioneer. Mr. Primrose nodded, and I heard him answer:

“Oh, that will be all right, sir, don’t bother. We can’t expect an
account like this to be settled in a minute. A month hence will do.”

Then he went on with the sale.



CHAPTER III

                      SIR ALEXANDER AND STEPHEN

It was just at this moment that I saw standing by me a fine-looking,
stout man with a square, grey beard and a handsome, but not very
good-tempered face. He was looking about him as one does who finds
himself in a place to which he is not accustomed.

“Perhaps you could tell me, sir,” he said to me, “whether a gentleman
called Mr. Somers is in this room. I am rather short-sighted and there
are a great many people.”

“Yes,” I answered, “he has just bought the wonderful orchid called
‘Odontoglossum Pavo.’ That is what they are all talking about.”

“Oh, has he? Has he indeed? And pray what did he pay for the article?”

“A huge sum,” I answered. “I thought it was two thousand three hundred
shillings, but it appears it was £2,300.”

The handsome, elderly gentleman grew very red in the face, so red that
I thought he was going to have a fit. For a few moments he breathed
heavily.

“A rival collector,” I thought to myself, and went on with the story
which, it occurred to me, might interest him.

“You see, the young gentleman was called away to an interview with his
father. I heard him instruct his gardener, a man named Woodden, to buy
the plant at any price.”

“At any price! Indeed. Very interesting; continue, sir.”

“Well, the gardener bought it, that’s all, after tremendous competition.
Look, there he is packing it up. Whether his master meant him to go as
far as he did I rather doubt. But here he comes. If you know him----”

The youthful Mr. Somers, looking a little pale and _distrait_, strolled
up apparently to speak to me; his hands were in his pockets and an
unlighted cigar was in his mouth. His eyes fell upon the elderly
gentleman, a sight that caused him to shape his lips as though to
whistle and drop the cigar.

“Hullo, father,” he said in his pleasant voice. “I got your message
and have been looking for you, but never thought that I should find you
here. Orchids aren’t much in your line, are they?”

“Didn’t you, indeed!” replied his parent in a choked voice. “No, I
haven’t much use for--this stinking rubbish,” and he waved his umbrella
at the beautiful flowers. “But it seems that you have, Stephen.
This little gentlemen here tells me you have just bought a very fine
specimen.”

“I must apologize,” I broke in, addressing Mr. Somers. “I had not the
slightest idea that this--big gentleman,” here the son smiled faintly,
“was your intimate relation.”

“Oh! pray don’t, Mr. Quatermain. Why should you not speak of what will
be in all the papers. Yes, father, I have bought a very fine specimen,
the finest known, or at least Woodden has on my behalf, while I was
hunting for you, which comes to the same thing.”

“Indeed, Stephen, and what did you pay for this flower? I have heard a
figure, but think that there must be some mistake.”

“I don’t know what you heard, father, but it seems to have been knocked
down to me at £2,300. It’s a lot more than I can find, indeed, and I was
going to ask you to lend me the money for the sake of the family credit,
if not for my own. But we can talk about that afterwards.”

“Yes, Stephen, we can talk of that afterwards. In fact, as there is no
time like the present, we will talk of it now. Come to my office.
And, sir” (this was to me) “as you seem to know something of the
circumstances, I will ask you to come also; and you too, Blockhead”
 (this was to Woodden, who just then approached with the plant).

Now, of course, I might have refused an invitation conveyed in such a
manner. But, as a matter of fact, I didn’t. I wanted to see the thing
out; also to put in a word for young Somers, if I got the chance. So
we all departed from that room, followed by a titter of amusement from
those of the company who had overheard the conversation. In the street
stood a splendid carriage and pair; a powdered footman opened its door.
With a ferocious bow Sir Alexander motioned to me to enter, which I did,
taking one of the back seats as it gave more room for my tin case. Then
came Mr. Stephen, then Woodden bundled in holding the precious plant
in front of him like a wand of office, and last of all, Sir Alexander,
having seen us safe, entered also.

“Where to, sir?” asked the footman.

“Office,” he snapped, and we started.

Four disappointed relatives in a funeral coach could not have been more
silent. Our feelings seemed to be too deep for words. Sir Alexander,
however, did make one remark and to me. It was:

“If you will remove the corner of that infernal tin box of yours from my
ribs I shall be obliged to you, sir.”

“Your pardon,” I exclaimed, and in my efforts to be accommodating,
dropped it on his toe. I will not repeat the remark he made, but I may
explain that he was gouty. His son suddenly became afflicted with a
sense of the absurdity of the situation. He kicked me on the shin, he
even dared to wink, and then began to swell visibly with suppressed
laughter. I was in agony, for if he had exploded I do not know what
would have happened. Fortunately, at this moment the carriage stopped at
the door of a fine office. Without waiting for the footman Mr. Stephen
bundled out and vanished into the building--I suppose to laugh in
safety. Then I descended with the tin case; then, by command, followed
Woodden with the flower, and lastly came Sir Alexander.

“Stop here,” he said to the coachman; “I shan’t be long. Be so good as
to follow me, Mr. What’s-your-name, and you, too, Gardener.”

We followed, and found ourselves in a big room luxuriously furnished
in a heavy kind of way. Sir Alexander Somers, I should explain, was an
enormously opulent bullion-broker, whatever a bullion-broker may be. In
this room Mr. Stephen was already established; indeed, he was seated on
the window-sill swinging his leg.

“Now we are alone and comfortable,” growled Sir Alexander with sarcastic
ferocity.

“As the boa-constrictor said to the rabbit in the cage,” I remarked.

I did not mean to say it, but I had grown nervous, and the thought leapt
from my lips in words. Again Mr. Stephen began to swell. He turned his
face to the window as though to contemplate the wall beyond, but I
could see his shoulders shaking. A dim light of intelligence shone in
Woodden’s pale eyes. About three minutes later the joke got home. He
gurgled something about boa-constrictors and rabbits and gave a short,
loud laugh. As for Sir Alexander, he merely said:

“I did not catch your remark, sir, would you be so good as to repeat
it?”

As I appeared unwilling to accept the invitation, he went on:

“Perhaps, then, you would repeat what you told me in that sale-room?”

“Why should I?” I asked. “I spoke quite clearly and you seemed to
understand.”

“You are right,” replied Sir Alexander; “to waste time is useless.” He
wheeled round on Woodden, who was standing near the door still holding
the paper-wrapped plant in front of him. “Now, Blockhead,” he shouted,
“tell me why you brought that thing.”

Woodden made no answer, only rocked a little. Sir Alexander reiterated
his command. This time Woodden set the plant upon a table and replied:

“If you’re aspeaking to me, sir, that baint my name, and what’s more, if
you calls me so again, I’ll punch your head, whoever you be,” and very
deliberately he rolled up the sleeves on his brawny arms, a sight at
which I too began to swell with inward merriment.

“Look here, father,” said Mr. Stephen, stepping forward. “What’s the use
of all this? The thing’s perfectly plain. I did tell Woodden to buy the
plant at any price. What is more I gave him a written authority which
was passed up to the auctioneer. There’s no getting out of it. It
is true it never occurred to me that it would go for anything like
£2,300--the odd £300 was more my idea, but Woodden only obeyed his
orders, and ought not to be abused for doing so.”

“There’s what I call a master worth serving,” remarked Woodden.

“Very well, young man,” said Sir Alexander, “you have purchased this
article. Will you be so good as to tell me how you propose it should be
paid for.”

“I propose, father, that you should pay for it,” replied Mr. Stephen
sweetly. “Two thousand three hundred pounds, or ten times that amount,
would not make you appreciably poorer. But if, as is probable, you take
a different view, then I propose to pay for it myself. As you know a
certain sum of money came to me under my mother’s will in which you have
only a life interest. I shall raise the amount upon that security--or
otherwise.”

If Sir Alexander had been angry before, now he became like a mad bull
in a china shop. He pranced round the room; he used language that should
not pass the lips of any respectable merchant of bullion; in short, he
did everything that a person in his position ought not to do. When he
was tired he rushed to a desk, tore a cheque from a book and filled it
in for a sum of £2,300 to bearer, which cheque he blotted, crumpled up
and literally threw at the head of his son.

“You worthless, idle young scoundrel,” he bellowed. “I put you in this
office here that you may learn respectable and orderly habits and in due
course succeed to a very comfortable business. What happens? You don’t
take a ha’porth of interest in bullion-broking, a subject of which I
believe you to remain profoundly ignorant. You don’t even spend your
money, or rather my money, upon any gentleman-like vice, such as
horse-racing, or cards, or even--well, never mind. No, you take to
flowers, miserable, beastly flowers, things that a cow eats and clerks
grow in back gardens.”

“An ancient and Arcadian taste. Adam is supposed to have lived in a
garden,” I ventured to interpolate.

“Perhaps you would ask your friend with the stubbly hair to remain
quiet,” snorted Sir Alexander. “I was about to add, although for the
sake of my name I meet your debts, that I have had enough of this kind
of thing. I disinherit you, or will do if I live till 4 p.m. when the
lawyer’s office shuts, for thank God! there are no entailed estates, and
I dismiss you from the firm. You can go and earn your living in any
way you please, by orchid-hunting if you like.” He paused, gasping for
breath.

“Is that all, father?” asked Mr. Stephen, producing a cigar from his
pocket.

“No, it isn’t, you cold-blooded young beggar. That house you occupy at
Twickenham is mine. You will be good enough to clear out of it; I wish
to take possession.”

“I suppose, father, I am entitled to a week’s notice like any other
tenant,” said Mr. Stephen, lighting the cigar. “In fact,” he added, “if
you answer no, I think I shall ask you to apply for an ejection order.
You will understand that I have arrangements to make before taking a
fresh start in life.”

“Oh! curse your cheek, you--you--cucumber!” raged the infuriated
merchant prince. Then an inspiration came to him. “You think more of an
ugly flower than of your father, do you? Well, at least I’ll put an end
to that,” and he made a dash at the plant on the table with the evident
intention of destroying the same.

But the watching Woodden saw. With a kind of lurch he interposed his big
frame between Sir Alexander and the object of his wrath.

“Touch ‘O. Paving’ and I knocks yer down,” he drawled out.

Sir Alexander looked at “O. Paving,” then he looked at Woodden’s
leg-of-mutton fist, and--changed his mind.

“Curse ‘O. Paving,’” he said, “and everyone who has to do with it,” and
swung out of the room, banging the door behind him.

“Well, that’s over,” said Mr. Stephen gently, as he fanned himself with
a pocket-handkerchief. “Quite exciting while it lasted, wasn’t it, Mr.
Quatermain--but I have been there before, so to speak. And now what do
you say to some luncheon? Pym’s is close by, and they have very good
oysters. Only I think we’ll drive round by the bank and hand in this
cheque. When he’s angry my parent is capable of anything. He might even
stop it. Woodden, get off down to Twickenham with ‘O. Pavo.’ Keep it
warm, for it feels rather like frost. Put it in the stove for to-night
and give it a little, just a little tepid water, but be careful not to
touch the flower. Take a four-wheeled cab, it’s slow but safe, and mind
you keep the windows up and don’t smoke. I shall be home for dinner.”

Woodden pulled his forelock, seized the pot in his left hand, and
departed with his right fist raised--I suppose in case Sir Alexander
should be waiting for him round the corner.

Then we departed also and, after stopping for a minute at the bank
to pay in the cheque, which I noted, notwithstanding its amount, was
accepted without comment, ate oysters in a place too crowded to allow of
conversation.

“Mr. Quatermain,” said my host, “it is obvious that we cannot talk here,
and much less look at that orchid of yours, which I want to study at
leisure. Now, for a week or so at any rate I have a roof over my head,
and in short, will you be my guest for a night or two? I know nothing
about you, and of me you only know that I am the disinherited son of a
father, to whom I have failed to give satisfaction. Still it is possible
that we might pass a few pleasant hours together talking of flowers and
other things; that is, if you have no previous engagement.”

“I have none,” I answered. “I am only a stranger from South Africa
lodging at an hotel. If you will give me time to call for my bag, I will
pass the night at your house with pleasure.”

By the aid of Mr. Somers’ smart dog-cart, which was waiting at a city
mews, we reached Twickenham while there was still half an hour of
daylight. The house, which was called Verbena Lodge, was small, a
square, red-brick building of the early Georgian period, but the gardens
covered quite an acre of ground and were very beautiful, or must have
been so in summer. Into the greenhouse we did not enter, because it was
too late to see the flowers. Also, just when we came to them, Woodden
arrived in his four-wheeled cab and departed with his master to see to
the housing of “O. Pavo.”

Then came dinner, a very pleasant meal. My host had that day been turned
out upon the world, but he did not allow this circumstance to interfere
with his spirits in the least. Also he was evidently determined to
enjoy its good things while they lasted, for his champagne and port were
excellent.

“You see, Mr. Quatermain,” he said, “it’s just as well we had the row
which has been boiling up for a long while. My respected father has made
so much money that he thinks I should go and do likewise. Now I don’t
see it. I like flowers, especially orchids, and I hate bullion-broking.
To me the only decent places in London are that sale-room where we met
and the Horticultural Gardens.”

“Yes,” I answered rather doubtfully, “but the matter seems a little
serious. Your parent was very emphatic as to his intentions, and after
this kind of thing,” and I pointed to the beautiful silver and the port,
“how will you like roughing it in a hard world?”

“Don’t think I shall mind a bit; it would be rather a pleasant change.
Also, even if my father doesn’t alter his mind, as he may, for he likes
me at bottom because I resemble my dear mother, things ain’t so very
bad. I have got some money that she left me, £6,000 or £7,000, and I’ll
sell that ‘Odontoglossum Pavo’ for what it will fetch to Sir Joshua
Tredgold--he was the man with the long beard who you tell me ran up
Woodden to over £2,000--or failing him to someone else. I’ll write
about it to-night. I don’t think I have any debts to speak of, for the
Governor has been allowing me £3,000 a year, at least that is my share
of the profits paid to me in return for my bullion-broking labours, and
except flowers, I have no expensive tastes. So the devil take the past,
here’s to the future and whatever it may bring,” and he polished off the
glass of port he held and laughed in his jolly fashion.

Really he was a most attractive young man, a little reckless, it is
true, but then recklessness and youth mix well, like brandy and soda.

I echoed the toast and drank off my port, for I like a good glass of
wine when I can get it, as would anyone who has had to live for months
on rotten water, although I admit that agrees with me better than the
port.

“Now, Mr. Quatermain,” he went on, “if you have done, light your pipe
and let’s go into the other room and study that Cypripedium of yours. I
shan’t sleep to-night unless I see it again first. Stop a bit, though,
we’ll get hold of that old ass, Woodden, before he turns in.”

“Woodden,” said his master, when the gardener had arrived, “this
gentleman, Mr. Quatermain, is going to show you an orchid that is ten
times finer than ‘O. Pavo!’”

“Beg pardon, sir,” answered Woodden, “but if Mr. Quatermain says that,
he lies. It ain’t in Nature; it don’t bloom nowhere.”

I opened the case and revealed the golden Cypripedium. Woodden stared at
it and rocked. Then he stared again and felt his head as though to make
sure it was on his shoulders. Then he gasped.

“Well, if that there flower baint made up, it’s a MASTER ONE! If I could
see that there flower ablowing on the plant I’d die happy.”

“Woodden, stop talking, and sit down,” exclaimed his master. “Yes,
there, where you can look at the flower. Now, Mr. Quatermain, will
you tell us the story of that orchid from beginning to end. Of course
omitting its habitat if you like, for it isn’t fair to ask that secret.
Woodden can be trusted to hold his tongue, and so can I.”

I remarked that I was sure they could, and for the next half-hour talked
almost without interruption, keeping nothing back and explaining that
I was anxious to find someone who would finance an expedition to search
for this particular plant; as I believed, the only one of its sort that
existed in the world.

“How much will it cost?” asked Mr. Somers.

“I lay it at £2,000,” I answered. “You see, we must have plenty of men
and guns and stores, also trade goods and presents.”

“I call that cheap. But supposing, Mr. Quatermain, that the expedition
proves successful and the plant is secured, what then?”

“Then I propose that Brother John, who found it and of whom I have told
you, should take one-third of whatever it might sell for, that I as
captain of the expedition should take one-third, and that whoever finds
the necessary money should take the remaining third.”

“Good! That’s settled.”

“What’s settled?” I asked.

“Why, that we should divide in the proportions you named, only I bargain
to be allowed to take my whack in kind--I mean in plant, and to have the
first option of purchasing the rest of the plant at whatever value may
be agreed upon.”

“But, Mr. Somers, do you mean that you wish to find £2,000 and make this
expedition in person?”

“Of course I do. I thought you understood that. That is, if you will
have me. Your old friend, the lunatic, you and I will together seek for
and find this golden flower. I say that’s settled.”

On the morrow accordingly, it was settled with the help of a document,
signed in duplicate by both of us.

Before these arrangements were finally concluded, however, I insisted
that Mr. Somers should meet my late companion, Charlie Scroope, when
I was not present, in order that the latter might give him a full
and particular report concerning myself. Apparently the interview
was satisfactory, at least so I judged from the very cordial and even
respectful manner in which young Somers met me after it was over. Also I
thought it my duty to explain to him with much clearness in the presence
of Scroope as a witness, the great dangers of such an enterprise as that
on which he proposed to embark. I told him straight out that he must be
prepared to find his death in it from starvation, fever, wild beasts or
at the hands of savages, while success was quite problematical and very
likely would not be attained.

“_You_ are taking these risks,” he said.

“Yes,” I answered, “but they are incident to the rough trade I follow,
which is that of a hunter and explorer. Moreover, my youth is past,
and I have gone through experiences and bereavements of which you know
nothing, that cause me to set a very slight value on life. I care little
whether I die or continue in the world for some few added years. Lastly,
the excitement of adventure has become a kind of necessity for me. I
do not think that I could live in England for very long. Also I’m a
fatalist. I believe that when my time comes I must go, that this hour is
foreordained and that nothing I can do will either hasten or postpone it
by one moment. Your circumstances are different. You are quite young.
If you stay here and approach your father in a proper spirit, I have
no doubt but that he will forget all the rough words he said to you the
other day, for which indeed you know you gave him some provocation. Is
it worth while throwing up such prospects and undertaking such
dangers for the chance of finding a rare flower? I say this to my own
disadvantage, since I might find it hard to discover anyone else who
would risk £2,000 upon such a venture, but I do urge you to weigh my
words.”

Young Somers looked at me for a little while, then he broke into one of
his hearty laughs and exclaimed, “Whatever else you may be, Mr. Allan
Quatermain, you are a gentleman. No bullion-broker in the City could
have put the matter more fairly in the teeth of his own interests.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“For the rest,” he went on, “I too am tired of England and want to
see the world. It isn’t the golden Cypripedium that I seek, although I
should like to win it well enough. That’s only a symbol. What I seek are
adventure and romance. Also, like you I am a fatalist. God chose His own
time to send us here, and I presume that He will choose His own time to
take us away again. So I leave the matter of risks to Him.”

“Yes, Mr. Somers,” I replied rather solemnly. “You may find adventure
and romance, there are plenty of both in Africa. Or you may find a
nameless grave in some fever-haunted swamp. Well, you have chosen, and I
like your spirit.”

Still I was so little satisfied about this business, that a week or so
before we sailed, after much consideration, I took it upon myself to
write a letter to Sir Alexander Somers, in which I set forth the whole
matter as clearly as I could, not blinking the dangerous nature of our
undertaking. In conclusion, I asked him whether he thought it wise to
allow his only son to accompany such an expedition, mainly because of a
not very serious quarrel with himself.

As no answer came to this letter I went on with our preparations.
There was money in plenty, since the re-sale of “O. Pavo” to Sir Joshua
Tredgold, at some loss, had been satisfactorily carried out, which
enabled me to invest in all things needful with a cheerful heart. Never
before had I been provided with such an outfit as that which preceded us
to the ship.

At length the day of departure came. We stood on the platform at
Paddington waiting for the Dartmouth train to start, for in those days
the African mail sailed from that port. A minute or two before the train
left, as we were preparing to enter our carriage I caught sight of
a face that I seemed to recognise, the owner of which was evidently
searching for someone in the crowd. It was that of Briggs, Sir
Alexander’s clerk, whom I had met in the sale-room.

“Mr. Briggs,” I said as he passed me, “are you looking for Mr. Somers?
If so, he is in here.”

The clerk jumped into the compartment and handed a letter to Mr. Somers.
Then he emerged again and waited. Somers read the letter and tore off a
blank sheet from the end of it, on which he hastily wrote some words. He
passed it to me to give to Briggs, and I could not help seeing what was
written. It was: “Too late now. God bless you, my dear father. I hope
we may meet again. If not, try to think kindly of your troublesome and
foolish son, Stephen.”

In another minute the train had started.

“By the way,” he said, as we steamed out of the station, “I have heard
from my father, who enclosed this for you.”

I opened the envelope, which was addressed in a bold, round hand that
seemed to me typical of the writer, and read as follows:


 “My Dear Sir,--I appreciate the motives which caused you to write
  to me and I thank you very heartily for your letter, which shows
  me that you are a man of discretion and strict honour. As you
  surmise, the expedition on which my son has entered is not one
  that commends itself to me as prudent. Of the differences between
  him and myself you are aware, for they came to a climax in your
  presence. Indeed, I feel that I owe you an apology for having
  dragged you into an unpleasant family quarrel. Your letter only
  reached me to-day having been forwarded to my place in the country
  from my office. I should have at once come to town, but
  unfortunately I am laid up with an attack of gout which makes it
  impossible for me to stir. Therefore, the only thing I can do is
  to write to my son hoping that the letter which I send by a
  special messenger will reach him in time and avail to alter his
  determination to undertake this journey. Here I may add that
  although I have differed and do differ from him on various points,
  I still have a deep affection for my son and earnestly desire his
  welfare. The prospect of any harm coming to him is one upon which
  I cannot bear to dwell.

 “Now I am aware that any change of his plans at this eleventh hour
  would involve you in serious loss and inconvenience. I beg to
  inform you formally, therefore, that in this event I will make
  good everything and will in addition write off the £2,000 which I
  understand he has invested in your joint venture. It may be,
  however, that my son, who has in him a vein of my own obstinacy,
  will refuse to change his mind. In that event, under a Higher
  Power I can only commend him to your care and beg that you will
  look after him as though he were your own child. I can ask and you
  can do no more. Tell him to write me as opportunity offers, as
  perhaps you will too; also that, although I hate the sight of
  them, I will look after the flowers which he has left at the house
  at Twickenham.--

                        “Your obliged servant, ALEXANDER SOMERS.”


This letter touched me much, and indeed made me feel very uncomfortable.
Without a word I handed it to my companion, who read it through
carefully.

“Nice of him about the orchids,” he said. “My dad has a good heart,
although he lets his temper get the better of him, having had his own
way all his life.”

“Well, what will you do?” I asked.

“Go on, of course. I’ve put my hand to the plough and I am not going
to turn back. I should be a cur if I did, and what’s more, whatever
he might say he’d think none the better of me. So please don’t try to
persuade me, it would be no good.”

For quite a while afterwards young Somers seemed to be comparatively
depressed, a state of mind that in his case was rare indeed. At last,
he studied the wintry landscape through the carriage window and
said nothing. By degrees, however, he recovered, and when we reached
Dartmouth was as cheerful as ever, a mood that I could not altogether
share.

Before we sailed I wrote to Sir Alexander telling him exactly how things
stood, and so I think did his son, though he never showed me the letter.

At Durban, just as we were about to start up country, I received an
answer from him, sent by some boat that followed us very closely. In
it he said that he quite understood the position, and whatever happened
would attribute no blame to me, whom he should always regard with
friendly feelings. He told me that, in the event of any difficulty or
want of money, I was to draw on him for whatever might be required, and
that he had advised the African Bank to that effect. Further, he added,
that at least his son had shown grit in this matter, for which he
respected him.

And now for a long while I must bid good-bye to Sir Alexander Somers and
all that has to do with England.



CHAPTER IV

                           MAVOVO AND HANS

We arrived safely at Durban at the beginning of March and took up our
quarters at my house on the Berea, where I expected that Brother John
would be awaiting us. But no Brother John was to be found. The old, lame
Griqua, Jack, who looked after the place for me and once had been one of
my hunters, said that shortly after I went away in the ship, Dogeetah,
as he called him, had taken his tin box and his net and walked off
inland, he knew not where, leaving, as he declared, no message or letter
behind him. The cases full of butterflies and dried plants were also
gone, but these, I found he had shipped to some port in America, by a
sailing vessel bound for the United States which chanced to put in at
Durban for food and water. As to what had become of the man himself I
could get no clue. He had been seen at Maritzburg and, according to some
Kaffirs whom I knew, afterwards on the borders of Zululand, where, so
far as I could learn, he vanished into space.

This, to say the least of it, was disconcerting, and a question arose
as to what was to be done. Brother John was to have been our guide. He
alone knew the Mazitu people; he alone had visited the borders of the
mysterious Pongo-land, I scarcely felt inclined to attempt to reach that
country without his aid.

When a fortnight had gone by and still there were no signs of him,
Stephen and I held a solemn conference. I pointed out the difficulties
and dangers of the situation to him and suggested that, under the
circumstances, it might be wise to give up this wild orchid-chase and go
elephant-hunting instead in a certain part of Zululand, where in those
days these animals were still abundant.

He was inclined to agree with me, since the prospect of killing
elephants had attractions for him.

“And yet,” I said, after reflection, “it’s curious, but I never remember
making a successful trip after altering plans at the last moment, that
is, unless one was driven to it.”

“I vote we toss up,” said Somers; “it gives Providence a chance. Now
then, heads for the Golden Cyp, and tails for the elephants.”

He spun a half-crown into the air. It fell and rolled under a great,
yellow-wood chest full of curiosities that I had collected, which
it took all our united strength to move. We dragged it aside and not
without some excitement, for really a good deal hung upon the chance, I
lit a match and peered into the shadow. There in the dust lay the coin.

“What is it?” I asked of Somers, who was stretched on his stomach on the
chest.

“Orchid--I mean head,” he answered. “Well, that’s settled, so we needn’t
bother any more.”

The next fortnight was a busy time for me. As it happened there was a
schooner in the bay of about one hundred tons burden which belonged to
a Portuguese trader named Delgado, who dealt in goods that he carried
to the various East African ports and Madagascar. He was a
villainous-looking person whom I suspected of having dealings with the
slave traders, who were very numerous and a great power in those days,
if indeed he were not one himself. But as he was going to Kilwa whence
we proposed to start inland, I arranged to make use of him to carry our
party and the baggage. The bargain was not altogether easy to strike for
two reasons. First, he did not appear to be anxious that we should hunt
in the districts at the back of Kilwa, where he assured me there was no
game, and secondly, he said that he wanted to sail at once. However, I
overcame his objections with an argument he could not resist--namely,
money, and in the end he agreed to postpone his departure for fourteen
days.

Then I set about collecting our men, of whom I had made up my mind there
must not be less than twenty. Already I had sent messengers summoning
to Durban from Zululand and the upper districts of Natal various hunters
who had accompanied me on other expeditions. To the number of a dozen or
so they arrived in due course. I have always had the good fortune to be
on the best of terms with my Kaffirs, and where I went they were ready
to go without asking any questions. The man whom I had selected to be
their captain under me was a Zulu of the name of Mavovo. He was a
short fellow, past middle age, with an enormous chest. His strength was
proverbial; indeed, it was said that he could throw an ox by the horns,
and myself I have seen him hold down the head of a wounded buffalo that
had fallen, until I could come up and shoot it.

When I first knew Mavovo he was a petty chief and witch doctor in
Zululand. Like myself, he had fought for the Prince Umbelazi in the
great battle of the Tugela, a crime which Cetewayo never forgave him.
About a year afterwards he got warning that he had been smelt out as a
wizard and was going to be killed. He fled with two of his wives and a
child. The slayers overtook them before he could reach the Natal border,
and stabbed the elder wife and the child of the second wife. They were
four men, but, made mad by the sight, Mavovo turned on them and killed
them all. Then, with the remaining wife, cut to pieces as he was, he
crept to the river and through it to Natal. Not long after this wife
died also; it was said from grief at the loss of her child. Mavovo did
not marry again, perhaps because he was now a man without means, for
Cetewayo had taken all his cattle; also he was made ugly by an assegai
wound which had cut off his right nostril. Shortly after the death of
his second wife he sought me out and told me he was a chief without a
kraal and wished to become my hunter. So I took him on, a step which I
never had any cause to regret, since although morose and at times given
to the practice of uncanny arts, he was a most faithful servant and
brave as a lion, or rather as a buffalo, for a lion is not always brave.

Another man whom I did not send for, but who came, was an old Hottentot
named Hans, with whom I had been more or less mixed up all my life.
When I was a boy he was my father’s servant in the Cape Colony and my
companion in some of those early wars. Also he shared some very terrible
adventures with me which I have detailed in the history I have written
of my first wife, Marie Marais. For instance, he and I were the only
persons who escaped from the massacre of Retief and his companions by
the Zulu king, Dingaan. In the subsequence campaigns, including the
Battle of the Blood River, he fought at my side and ultimately received
a good share of captured cattle. After this he retired and set up a
native store at a place called Pinetown, about fifteen miles out of
Durban. Here I am afraid he got into bad ways and took to drink more or
less; also to gambling. At any rate, he lost most of his property,
so much of it indeed that he scarcely knew which way to turn. Thus it
happened that one evening when I went out of the house where I had been
making up my accounts, I saw a yellow-faced white-haired old fellow
squatted on the verandah smoking a pipe made out of a corn-cob.

“Good day, Baas,” he said, “here am I, Hans.”

“So I see,” I answered, rather coldly. “And what are you doing here,
Hans? How can you spare time from your drinking and gambling at Pinetown
to visit me here, Hans, after I have not seen you for three years?”

“Baas, the gambling is finished, because I have nothing more to stake,
and the drinking is done too, because but one bottle of Cape Smoke makes
me feel quite ill next morning. So now I only take water and as little
of that as I can, water and some tobacco to cover up its taste.”

“I am glad to hear it, Hans. If my father, the Predikant who baptised
you, were alive now, he would have much to say about your conduct as
indeed I have no doubt he will presently when you have gone into a
hole (i.e., a grave). For there in the hole he will be waiting for you,
Hans.”

“I know, I know, Baas. I have been thinking of that and it troubles me.
Your reverend father, the Predikant, will be very cross indeed with me
when I join him in the Place of Fires where he sits awaiting me. So I
wish to make my peace with him by dying well, and in your service, Baas.
I hear that the Baas is going on an expedition. I have come to accompany
the Baas.”

“To accompany me! Why, you are old, you are not worth five shillings a
month and your _scoff_ (food). You are a shrunken old brandy cask that
will not even hold water.”

Hans grinned right across his ugly face.

“Oh! Baas, I am old, but I am clever. All these years I have been
gathering wisdom. I am as full of it as a bee’s nest is with honey when
the summer is done. And, Baas, I can stop those leaks in the cask.”

“Hans, it is no good, I don’t want you. I am going into great danger. I
must have those about me whom I can trust.”

“Well, Baas, and who can be better trusted than Hans? Who warned you
of the attack of the Quabies on Maraisfontein, and so saved the life
of----”

“Hush!” I said.

“I understand. I will not speak the name. It is holy not to be
mentioned. It is the name of one who stands with the white angels before
God; not to be mentioned by poor drunken Hans. Still, who stood at your
side in that great fight? Ah! it makes me young again to think of it,
when the roof burned; when the door was broken down; when we met the
Quabies on the spears; when you held the pistol to the head of the Holy
One whose name must not be mentioned, the Great One who knew how to die.
Oh! Baas, our lives are twisted up together like the creeper and the
tree, and where you go, there I must go also. Do not turn me away. I ask
no wages, only a bit of food and a handful of tobacco, and the light of
your face and a word now and again of the memories that belong to both
of us. I am still very strong. I can shoot well--well, Baas, who was it
that put it into your mind to aim at the tails of the vultures on the
Hill of Slaughter yonder in Zululand, and so saved the lives of all the
Boer people, and of her whose holy name must not be mentioned? Baas, you
will not turn me away?”

“No,” I answered, “you can come. But you will swear by the spirit of my
father, the Predikant, to touch no liquor on this journey.”

“I swear by his spirit and by that of the Holy One,” and he flung
himself forward on to his knees, took my hand and kissed it. Then he
rose and said in a matter-of-fact tone, “If the Baas can give me two
blankets, I shall thank him, also five shillings to buy some tobacco
and a new knife. Where are the Baas’s guns? I must go to oil them. I
beg that the Baas will take with him that little rifle which is named
_Intombi_ (Maiden), the one with which he shot the vultures on the Hill
of Slaughter, the one that killed the geese in the Goose Kloof when I
loaded for him and he won the great match against the Boer whom Dingaan
called Two-faces.”

“Good,” I said. “Here are the five shillings. You shall have the
blankets and a new gun and all things needful. You will find the guns in
the little back room and with them those of the Baas, my companion, who
also is your master. Go see to them.”

At length all was ready, the cases of guns, ammunition, medicines,
presents and food were on board the _Maria_. So were four donkeys that
I had bought in the hope that they would prove useful, either to ride
or as pack beasts. The donkey, be it remembered, and man are the only
animals which are said to be immune from the poisonous effects of the
bite of tsetse fly, except, of course, the wild game. It was our last
night at Durban, a very beautiful night of full moon at the end of
March, for the Portugee Delgado had announced his intention of sailing
on the following afternoon. Stephen Somers and I were seated on the
stoep smoking and talking things over.

“It is a strange thing,” I said, “that Brother John should never have
turned up. I know that he was set upon making this expedition, not only
for the sake of the orchid, but also for some other reason of which he
would not speak. I think that the old fellow must be dead.”

“Very likely,” answered Stephen (we had become intimate and I called him
Stephen now), “a man alone among savages might easily come to grief
and never be heard of again. Hark! What’s that?” and he pointed to some
gardenia bushes in the shadow of the house near by, whence came a sound
of something that moved.

“A dog, I expect, or perhaps it is Hans. He curls up in all sorts of
places near to where I may be. Hans, are you there?”

A figure arose from the gardenia bushes.

“_Ja_, I am here, Baas.”

“What are you doing, Hans?”

“I am doing what the dog does, Baas--watching my master.”

“Good,” I answered. Then an idea struck me. “Hans, you have heard of the
white Baas with the long beard whom the Kaffirs call Dogeetah?”

“I have heard of him and once I saw him, a few moons ago passing
through Pinetown. A Kaffir with him told me that he was going over the
Drakensberg to hunt for things that crawl and fly, being quite mad,
Baas.”

“Well, where is he now, Hans? He should have been here to travel with
us.”

“Am I a spirit that I can tell the Baas whither a white man has
wandered. Yet, stay. Mavovo may be able to tell. He is a great doctor,
he can see through distance, and even now, this very night his Snake
of divination has entered into him and he is looking into the future,
yonder, behind the house. I saw him form the circle.”

I translated what Hans said to Stephen, for he had been talking in
Dutch, then asked him if he would like to see some Kaffir magic.

“Of course,” he answered, “but it’s all bosh, isn’t it?”

“Oh, yes, all bosh, or so most people say,” I answered evasively.
“Still, sometimes these _Inyangas_ tell one strange things.”

Then, led by Hans, we crept round the house to where there was a
five-foot stone wall at the back of the stable. Beyond this wall, within
the circle of some huts where my Kaffirs lived, was an open space with
an ant-heap floor where they did their cooking. Here, facing us, sat
Mavovo, while in a ring around him were all the hunters who were to
accompany us; also Jack, the lame Griqua, and the two house-boys. In
front of Mavovo burned a number of little wood fires. I counted them and
found that there were fourteen, which, I reflected, was the exact
number of our hunters, plus ourselves. One of the hunters was engaged
in feeding these fires with little bits of stick and handfuls of
dried grass so as to keep them burning brightly. The others sat round
perfectly silent and watched with rapt attention. Mavovo himself looked
like a man who is asleep. He was crouched on his haunches with his big
head resting almost upon his knees. About his middle was a snake-skin,
and round his neck an ornament that appeared to be made of human teeth.
On his right side lay a pile of feathers from the wings of vultures, and
on his left a little heap of silver money--I suppose the fees paid by
the hunters for whom he was divining.

After we had watched him for some while from our shelter behind the wall
he appeared to wake out of his sleep. First he muttered; then he looked
up to the moon and seemed to say a prayer of which I could not catch
the words. Next he shuddered three times convulsively and exclaimed in a
clear voice:

“My Snake has come. It is within me. Now I can hear, now I can see.”

Three of the little fires, those immediately in front of him, were
larger than the others. He took up his bundle of vultures’ feathers,
selected one with care, held it towards the sky, then passed it through
the flame of the centre one of the three fires, uttering as he did so,
my native name, Macumazana. Withdrawing it from the flame he examined
the charred edges of the feather very carefully, a proceeding that
caused a cold shiver to go down my back, for I knew well that he was
inquiring of his “Spirit” what would be my fate upon this expedition.
How it answered, I cannot tell, for he laid the feather down and
took another, with which he went through the same process. This time,
however, the name he called out was Mwamwazela, which in its shortened
form of Wazela, was the Kaffir appellation that the natives had given
to Stephen Somers. It means a Smile, and no doubt was selected for him
because of his pleasant, smiling countenance.

Having passed it through the right-hand fire of the three, he examined
it and laid it down.

So it went on. One after another he called out the names of the hunters,
beginning with his own as captain; passed the feather which represented
each of them through the particular fire of his destiny, examined
and laid it down. After this he seemed to go to sleep again for a few
minutes, then woke up as a man does from a natural slumber, yawned and
stretched himself.

“Speak,” said his audience, with great anxiety. “Have you seen? Have you
heard? What does your Snake tell you of me? Of me? Of me? Of me?”

“I have seen, I have heard,” he answered. “My Snake tells me that this
will be a very dangerous journey. Of those who go on it six will die by
the bullet, by the spear or by sickness, and others will be hurt.”

“_Ow?_” said one of them, “but which will die and which will come out
safe? Does not your Snake tell you that, O Doctor?”

“Yes, of course my Snake tells me that. But my Snake tells me also
to hold my tongue on the matter, lest some of us should be turned to
cowards. It tells me further that the first who should ask me more, will
be one of those who must die. Now do you ask? Or you? Or you? Or you?
Ask if you will.”

Strange to say no one accepted the invitation. Never have I seen a body
of men so indifferent to the future, at least to every appearance. One
and all they seemed to come to the conclusion that so far as they were
concerned it might be left to look after itself.

“My Snake told me something else,” went on Mavovo. “It is that if among
this company there is any jackal of a man who, thinking that he might be
one of the six to die, dreams to avoid his fate by deserting, it will be
of no use. For then my Snake will point him out and show me how to deal
with him.”

Now with one voice each man present there declared that desertion from
the lord Macumazana was the last thing that could possibly occur to him.
Indeed, I believe that those brave fellows spoke truth. No doubt they
put faith in Mavovo’s magic after the fashion of their race. Still the
death he promised was some way off, and each hoped he would be one of
the six to escape. Moreover, the Zulu of those days was too accustomed
to death to fear its terrors over much.

One of them did, however, venture to advance the argument, which
Mavovo treated with proper contempt, that the shillings paid for this
divination should be returned by him to the next heirs of such of them
as happened to decease. Why, he asked, should these pay a shilling in
order to be told that they must die? It seemed unreasonable.

Certainly the Zulu Kaffirs have a queer way of looking at things.

“Hans,” I whispered, “is your fire among those that burn yonder?”

“Not so, Baas,” he wheezed back into my ear. “Does the Baas think me a
fool? If I must die, I must die; if I am to live, I shall live. Why
then should I pay a shilling to learn what time will declare? Moreover,
yonder Mavovo takes the shillings and frightens everybody, but tells
nobody anything. _I_ call it cheating. But, Baas, do you and the Baas
Wazela have no fear. You did not pay shillings, and therefore Mavovo,
though without doubt he is a great _Inyanga_, cannot really prophesy
concerning you, since his Snake will not work without a fee.”

The argument seems remarkably absurd. Yet it must be common, for now
that I come to think of it, no gipsy will tell a “true fortune” unless
her hand is crossed with silver.

“I say, Quatermain,” said Stephen idly, “since our friend Mavovo seems
to know so much, ask him what has become of Brother John, as Hans
suggested. Tell me what he says afterwards, for I want to see
something.”

So I went through the little gate in the wall in a natural kind of way,
as though I had seen nothing, and appeared to be struck by the sight of
the little fires.

“Well, Mavovo,” I said, “are you doing doctor’s work? I thought that it
had brought you into enough trouble in Zululand.”

“That is so, _Baba_,” replied Mavovo, who had a habit of calling me
“father,” though he was older than I. “It cost me my chieftainship and
my cattle and my two wives and my son. It made of me a wanderer who
is glad to accompany a certain Macumazana to strange lands where many
things may befall me, yes,” he added with meaning, “even the last of all
things. And yet a gift is a gift and must be used. You, _Baba_, have a
gift of shooting and do you cease to shoot? You have a gift of wandering
and can you cease to wander?”

He picked up one of the burnt feathers from the little pile by his side
and looked at it attentively. “Perhaps, _Baba_, you have been told--my
ears are very sharp, and I thought I heard some such words floating
through the air just now--that we poor Kaffir _Inyangas_ can prophesy
nothing true unless we are paid, and perhaps that is a fact so far
as something of the moment is concerned. And yet the Snake in the
_Inyanga_, jumping over the little rock which hides the present from it,
may see the path that winds far and far away through the valleys, across
the streams, up the mountains, till it is lost in the ‘heaven above.’
Thus on this feather, burnt in my magic fire, I seem to see something of
your future, O my father Macumazana. Far and far your road runs,” and he
drew his finger along the feather. “Here is a journey,” and he flicked
away a carbonised flake, “here is another, and another, and another,”
 and he flicked off flake after flake. “Here is one that is very
successful, it leaves you rich; and here is yet one more, a wonderful
journey this in which you see strange things and meet strange people.
Then”--and he blew on the feather in such a fashion that all the charred
filaments (Brother John says that _laminae_ is the right word for them)
fell away from it--“then, there is nothing left save such a pole as some
of my people stick upright on a grave, the Shaft of Memory they call it.
O, my father, you will die in a distant land, but you will leave a great
memory behind you that will live for hundreds of years, for see how
strong is this quill over which the fire has had no power. With some of
these others it is quite different,” he added.

“I daresay,” I broke in, “but, Mavovo, be so good as to leave me out of
your magic, for I don’t at all want to know what is going to happen to
me. To-day is enough for me without studying next month and next year.
There is a saying in our holy book which runs: ‘Sufficient to the day is
its evil.’”

“Quite so, O Macumazana. Also that is a very good saying as some of
those hunters of yours are thinking now. Yet an hour ago they were
forcing their shillings on me that I might tell them of the future. And
_you_, too, want to know something. You did not come through that gate
to quote to me the wisdom of your holy book. What is it, _Baba_? Be
quick, for my Snake is getting very tired. He wishes to go back to his
hole in the world beneath.”

“Well, then,” I answered in rather a shamefaced fashion, for Mavovo had
an uncanny way of seeing into one’s secret motives, “I should like to
know, if you can tell me, which you can’t, what has become of the white
man with the long beard whom you black people call Dogeetah? He should
have been here to go on this journey with us; indeed, he was to be our
guide and we cannot find him. Where is he and why is he not here?”

“Have you anything about you that belonged to Dogeetah, Macumazana?”

“No,” I answered; “that is, yes,” and from my pocket I produced the
stump of pencil that Brother John had given me, which, being economical,
I had saved up ever since. Mavovo took it, and after considering it
carefully as he had done in the case of the feathers, swept up a pile
of ashes with his horny hand from the edge of the largest of the little
fires, that indeed which had represented myself. These ashes he patted
flat. Then he drew on them with the point of the pencil, tracing what
seemed to me to be the rough image of a man, such as children scratch
upon whitewashed walls. When he had finished he sat up and contemplated
his handiwork with all the satisfaction of an artist. A breeze had risen
from the sea and was blowing in little gusts, so that the fine ashes
were disturbed, some of the lines of the picture being filled in and
others altered or enlarged.

For a while Mavovo sat with his eyes shut. Then he opened them, studied
the ashes and what remained of the picture, and taking a blanket that
lay near by, threw it over his own head and over the ashes. Withdrawing
it again presently he cast it aside and pointed to the picture which
was now quite changed. Indeed, in the moonlight, it looked more like a
landscape than anything else.

“All is clear, my father,” he said in a matter-of-fact voice. “The white
wanderer, Dogeetah, is not dead. He lives, but he is sick. Something is
the matter with one of his legs so that he cannot walk. Perhaps a bone
is broken or some beast has bitten him. He lies in a hut such as Kaffirs
make, only this hut has a verandah round it like your stoep, and there
are drawings on the wall. The hut is a long way off, I don’t know
where.”

“Is that all?” I asked, for he paused.

“No, not all. Dogeetah is recovering. He will join us in that country
whither we journey, at a time of trouble. That is all, and the fee is
half-a-crown.”

“You mean one shilling,” I suggested.

“No, my father Macumazana. One shilling for simple magic such as
foretelling the fate of common black people. Half-a-crown for very
difficult magic that has to do with white people, magic of which only
great doctors, like me, Mavovo, are the masters.”

I gave him the half-crown and said:

“Look here, friend Mavovo, I believe in you as a fighter and a hunter,
but as a magician I think you are a humbug. Indeed, I am so sure of it
that if ever Dogeetah turns up at a time of trouble in that land whither
we are journeying, I will make you a present of that double-barrelled
rifle of mine which you admired so much.”

One of his rare smiles appeared upon Mavovo’s ugly face.

“Then give it to me now, _Baba_,” he said, “for it is already earned. My
Snake cannot lie--especially when the fee is half-a-crown.”

I shook my head and declined, politely but with firmness.

“Ah!” said Mavovo, “you white men are very clever and think that you
know everything. But it is not so, for in learning so much that is new,
you have forgotten more that is old. When the Snake that is in you,
Macumazana, dwelt in a black savage like me a thousand thousand years
ago, you could have done and did what I do. But now you can only mock
and say, ‘Mavovo the brave in battle, the great hunter, the loyal man,
becomes a liar when he blows the burnt feather, or reads what the wind
writes upon the charmed ashes.’”

“I do not say that you are a liar, Mavovo, I say that you are deceived
by your own imaginings. It is not possible that man can know what is
hidden from man.”

“Is it indeed so, O Macumazana, Watcher by Night? Am I, Mavovo, the
pupil of Zikali, the Opener of Roads, the greatest of wizards, indeed
deceived by my own imaginings? And has man no other eyes but those in
his head, that he cannot see what is hidden from man? Well, you say so
and all we black people know that you are very clever, and why should I,
a poor Zulu, be able to see what you cannot see? Yet when to-morrow one
sends you a message from the ship in which we are to sail, begging you
to come fast because there is trouble on the ship, then bethink you of
your words and my words, and whether or no man can see what is hidden
from man in the blackness of the future. Oh! that rifle of yours is mine
already, though you will not give it to me now, you who think that I
am a cheat. Well, my father Macumazana, because you think I am a cheat,
never again will I blow the feather or read what the wind writes upon
the ashes for you or any who eat your food.”

Then he rose, saluted me with uplifted right hand, collected his little
pile of money and bag of medicines and marched off to the sleeping hut.

On our way round the house we met my old lame caretaker, Jack.

“_Inkoosi_,” he said, “the white chief Wazela bade me say that he and
the cook, Sam, have gone to sleep on board the ship to look after the
goods. Sam came up just now and fetched him away; he says he will show
you why to-morrow.”

I nodded and passed on, wondering to myself why Stephen had suddenly
determined to stay the night on the _Maria_.



CHAPTER V

                                HASSAN

I suppose it must have been two hours after dawn on the following
morning that I was awakened by knocks upon the door and the voice of
Jack saying that Sam, the cook, wanted to speak to me.

Wondering what he could be doing there, as I understood he was sleeping
on the ship, I called out that he was to come in. Now this Sam, I should
say, hailed from the Cape, and was a person of mixed blood. The original
stock, I imagine, was Malay which had been crossed with Indian coolie.
Also, somewhere or other, there was a dash of white and possibly, but of
this I am not sure, a little Hottentot. The result was a person of
few vices and many virtues. Sammy, I may say at once, was perhaps the
biggest coward I ever met. He could not help it, it was congenital,
though, curiously enough, this cowardice of his never prevented him from
rushing into fresh danger. Thus he knew that the expedition upon which
I was engaged would be most hazardous; remembering his weakness I
explained this to him very clearly. Yet that knowledge did not deter him
from imploring that he might be allowed to accompany me. Perhaps this
was because there was some mutual attachment between us, as in the case
of Hans. Once, a good many years before, I had rescued Sammy from a
somewhat serious scrape by declining to give evidence against him. I
need not enter into the details, but a certain sum of money over which
he had control had disappeared. I will merely say, therefore, that at
the time he was engaged to a coloured lady of very expensive tastes,
whom in the end he never married.

After this, as it chanced, he nursed me through an illness. Hence the
attachment of which I have spoken.

Sammy was the son of a native Christian preacher, and brought up upon
what he called “The Word.” He had received an excellent education for a
person of his class, and in addition to many native dialects with which
a varied career had made him acquainted, spoke English perfectly, though
in the most bombastic style. Never would he use a short word if a long
one came to his hand, or rather to his tongue. For several years of his
life he was, I believe, a teacher in a school at Capetown where coloured
persons received their education; his “department,” as he called it,
being “English Language and Literature.”

Wearying of or being dismissed from his employment for some reason that
he never specified, he had drifted up the coast to Zanzibar, where he
turned his linguistic abilities to the study of Arabic and became the
manager or head cook of an hotel. After a few years he lost this billet,
I know not how or why, and appeared at Durban in what he called a
“reversed position.” Here it was that we met again, just before my
expedition to Pongo-land.

In manners he was most polite, in disposition most religious; I believe
he was a Baptist by faith, and in appearance a small, brown dandy of
a man of uncertain age, who wore his hair parted in the middle and,
whatever the circumstances, was always tidy in his garments.

I took him on because he was in great distress, an excellent cook, the
best of nurses, and above all for the reason that, as I have said,
we were in a way attached to each other. Also, he always amused me
intensely, which goes for something on a long journey of the sort that I
contemplated.

Such in brief was Sammy.

As he entered the room I saw that his clothes were very wet and asked
him at once if it were raining, or whether he had got drunk and been
sleeping in the damp grass.

“No, Mr. Quatermain,” he answered, “the morning is extremely fine, and
like the poor Hottentot, Hans, I have abjured the use of intoxicants.
Though we differ on much else, in this matter we agree.”

“Then what the deuce is up?” I interrupted, to cut short his flow of
fine language.

“Sir, there is trouble on the ship” (remembering Mavovo I started at
these words) “where I passed the night in the company of Mr. Somers at
his special request.” (It was the other way about really.) “This
morning before the dawn, when he thought that everybody was asleep, the
Portuguese captain and some of his Arabs began to weigh the anchor quite
quietly; also to hoist the sails. But Mr. Somers and I, being very much
awake, came out of the cabin and he sat upon the capstan with a revolver
in his hand, saying--well, sir, I will not repeat what he said.”

“No, don’t. What happened then?”

“Then, sir, there followed much noise and confusion. The Portugee and
the Arabs threatened Mr. Somers, but he, sir, continued to sit upon
the capstan with the stern courage of a rock in a rushing stream, and
remarked that he would see them all somewhere before they touched it.
After this, sir, I do not know what occurred, since while I watched from
the bulwarks someone knocked me head over heels into the sea and being
fortunately, a good swimmer, I gained the shore and hurried here to
advise you.”

“And did you advise anyone else, you idiot?” I asked.

“Yes, sir. As I sped along I communicated to an officer of the port that
there was the devil of a mess upon the _Maria_ which he would do well to
investigate.”

By this time I was in my shirt and trousers and shouting to Mavovo and
the others. Soon they arrived, for as the costume of Mavovo and his
company consisted only of a moocha and a blanket, it did not take them
long to dress.

“Mavovo,” I began, “there is trouble on the ship----”

“O _Baba_,” he interrupted with something resembling a grin, “it is very
strange, but last night I dreamed that I told you----”

“Curse your dreams,” I said. “Gather the men and go down--no, that won’t
work, there would be murder done. Either it is all over now or it is
all right. Get the hunters ready; I come with them. The luggage can be
fetched afterwards.”

Within less than an hour we were at that wharf off which the _Maria_
lay in what one day will be the splendid port of Durban, though in
those times its shipping arrangements were exceedingly primitive. A
strange-looking band we must have been. I, who was completely dressed,
and I trust tidy, marched ahead. Next came Hans in the filthy wide-awake
hat which he usually wore and greasy corduroys and after him the
oleaginous Sammy arrayed in European reach-me-downs, a billy-cock and a
bright blue tie striped with red, garments that would have looked very
smart had it not been for his recent immersion. After him followed the
fierce-looking Mavovo and his squad of hunters, all of whom wore the
“ring” or _isicoco_, as the Zulus call it; that is, a circle of polished
black wax sewn into their short hair. They were a grim set of fellows,
but as, according to a recent law it was not allowable for them to
appear armed in the town, their guns had already been shipped, while
their broad stabbing spears were rolled up in their sleeping mats, the
blades wrapped round with dried grass.

Each of them, however, bore in his hand a large knobkerry of red-wood,
and they marched four by four in martial fashion. It is true that when
we embarked on the big boat to go to the ship much of their warlike
ardour evaporated, since these men, who feared nothing on the land, were
terribly afraid of that unfamiliar element, the water.

We reached the _Maria_, an unimposing kind of tub, and climbed aboard.
On looking aft the first thing that I saw was Stephen seated on the
capstan with a pistol in his hand, as Sammy had said. Near by, leaning
on the bulwark was the villainous-looking Portugee, Delgado, apparently
in the worst of tempers and surrounded by a number of equally
villainous-looking Arab sailors clad in dirty white. In front was the
Captain of the port, a well-known and esteemed gentleman of the name
of Cato, like myself a small man who had gone through many adventures.
Accompanied by some attendants, he was seated on the after-skylight,
smoking, with his eyes fixed upon Stephen and the Portugee.

“Glad to see you, Quatermain,” he said. “There’s some row on here, but
I have only just arrived and don’t understand Portuguese, and the
gentleman on the capstan won’t leave it to explain.”

“What’s up, Stephen?” I asked, after shaking Mr. Cato by the hand.

“What’s up?” replied Somers. “This man,” and he pointed to Delgado,
“wanted to sneak out to sea with all our goods, that’s all, to say
nothing of me and Sammy, whom, no doubt, he’d have chucked overboard,
as soon as he was out of sight of land. However, Sammy, who knows
Portuguese, overheard his little plans and, as you see, I objected.”

Well, Delgado was asked for his version of the affair, and, as I
expected, explained that he only intended to get a little nearer to the
bar and there wait till we arrived. Of course he lied and knew that we
were aware of the fact and that his intention had been to slip out to
sea with all our valuable property, which he would sell after having
murdered or marooned Stephen and the poor cook. But as nothing could be
proved, and we were now in strong enough force to look after ourselves
and our belongings, I did not see the use of pursuing the argument. So I
accepted the explanation with a smile, and asked everybody to join in a
morning nip.

Afterwards Stephen told me that while I was engaged with Mavovo on the
previous night, a message had reached him from Sammy who was on board
the ship in charge of our belongings, saying that he would be glad of
some company. Knowing the cook’s nervous nature, fortunately enough
he made up his mind at once to go and sleep upon the _Maria_. In the
morning trouble arose as Sammy had told me. What he did not tell me was
that he was not knocked overboard, as he said, but took to the water of
his own accord, when complications with Delgado appeared imminent.

“I understand the position,” I said, “and all’s well that ends well. But
it’s lucky you thought of coming on board to sleep.”

After this everything went right. I sent some of the men back in the
charge of Stephen for our remaining effects, which they brought safely
aboard, and in the evening we sailed. Our voyage up to Kilwa was
beautiful, a gentle breeze driving us forward over a sea so calm that
not even Hans, who I think was one of the worst sailors in the world,
or the Zulu hunters were really sick, though as Sammy put it, they
“declined their food.”

I think it was on the fifth night of our voyage, or it may have been
the seventh, that we anchored one afternoon off the island of Kilwa, not
very far from the old Portuguese fort. Delgado, with whom we had little
to do during the passage, hoisted some queer sort of signal. In response
a boat came off containing what he called the Port officials, a band of
cut-throat, desperate-looking, black fellows in charge of a
pock-marked, elderly half-breed who was introduced to us as the Bey
Hassan-ben-Mohammed. That Mr. Hassan-ben-Mohammed entirely disapproved
of our presence on the ship, and especially of our proposed landing
at Kilwa, was evident to me from the moment that I set eyes upon his
ill-favoured countenance. After a hurried conference with Delgado, he
came forward and addressed me in Arabic, of which I could not understand
a word. Luckily, however, Sam the cook, who, as I think I said, was a
great linguist, had a fair acquaintance with this tongue, acquired, it
appears, while at the Zanzibar hotel; so, not trusting Delgado, I called
on him to interpret.

“What is he saying, Sammy?” I asked.

He began to talk to Hassan and replied presently:

“Sir, he makes you many compliments. He says that he has heard what a
great man who are from his friend, Delgado, also that you and Mr. Somers
are English, a nation which he adores.”

“Does he?” I exclaimed. “I should never have thought it from his looks.
Thank him for his kind remarks and tell him that we are going to land
here and march up country to shoot.”

Sammy obeyed, and the conversation went on somewhat as follows:

“With all humility I (i.e. Hassan) request you not to land. This country
is not a fit place for such noble gentlemen. There is nothing to eat and
no head of game has been seen for years. The people in the interior
are savages of the worst sort, whom hunger has driven to take to
cannibalism. I would not have your blood upon my head. I beg of you,
therefore, to go on in this ship to Delagoa Bay, where you will find a
good hotel, or to any other place you may select.”

A.Q.: “Might I ask you, noble sir, what is your position at Kilwa, that
you consider yourself responsible for our safety?”

H.: “Honoured English lord, I am a trader here of Portuguese
nationality, but born of an Arab mother of high birth and brought up
among that people. I have gardens on the mainland, tended by my native
servants who are as children to me, where I grow palms and cassava
and ground nuts and plantains and many other kinds of produce. All
the tribes in this district look upon me as their chief and venerated
father.”

A.Q.: “Then, noble Hassan, you will be able to pass us through them,
seeing that we are peaceful hunters who wish to harm no one.”

(A long consultation between Hassan and Delgado, during which I ordered
Mavovo to bring his Zulus on deck with their guns.)

H.: “Honoured English lord, I cannot allow you to land.”

A.Q.: “Noble son of the Prophet, I intend to land with my friend, my
followers, my donkeys and my goods early to-morrow morning. If I can
do so with your leave I shall be glad. If not----” and I glanced at the
fierce group of hunters behind me.

H.: “Honoured English lord, I shall be grieved to use force, but let me
tell you that in my peaceful village ashore I have at least a hundred
men armed with rifles, whereas here I see under twenty.”

A.Q., after reflection and a few words with Stephen Somers: “Can you
tell me, noble sir, if from your peaceful village you have yet sighted
the English man-of-war, _Crocodile_; I mean the steamer that is engaged
in watching for the dhows of wicked slavers? A letter from her captain
informed me that he would be in these waters by yesterday. Perhaps,
however, he has been delayed for a day or two.”

If I had exploded a bomb at the feet of the excellent Hassan its effect
could scarcely have been more remarkable than that of this question. He
turned--not pale, but a horrible yellow, and exclaimed:

“English man-of-war! _Crocodile_! I thought she had gone to Aden to
refit and would not be back at Zanzibar for four months.”

A.Q.: “You have been misinformed, noble Hassan. She will not refit till
October. Shall I read you the letter?” and I produced a piece of paper
from my pocket. “It may be interesting since my friend, the captain,
whom you remember is named Flowers, mentions you in it. He says----”

Hassan waved his hand. “It is enough. I see, honoured lord, that you are
a man of mettle not easily to be turned from your purpose. In the name
of God the Compassionate, land and go wheresoever you like.”

A.Q.: “I think that I had almost rather wait until the _Crocodile_ comes
in.”

H.: “Land! Land! Captain Delgado, get up the cargo and man your boat.
Mine too is at the service of these lords. You, Captain, will like to
get away by this night’s tide. There is still light, Lord Quatermain,
and such hospitality as I can offer is at your service.”

A.Q.: “Ah! I knew Bey Hassan, that you were only joking with me when you
said that you wished us to go elsewhere. An excellent jest, truly, from
one whose hospitality is so famous. Well, to fall in with your wishes,
we will come ashore this evening, and if the Captain Delgado chances to
sight the Queen’s ship _Crocodile_ before he sails, perhaps he will be
so good as to signal to us with a rocket.”

“Certainly, certainly,” interrupted Delgado, who up to this time had
pretended that he understood no English, the tongue in which I was
speaking to the interpreter, Sammy.

Then he turned and gave orders to his Arab crew to bring up our
belongings from the hold and to lower the _Maria’s_ boat.

Never did I see goods transferred in quicker time. Within half an hour
every one of our packages was off that ship, for Stephen Somers kept a
count of them. Our personal baggage went into the _Maria’s_ boat, and
the goods together with the four donkeys which were lowered on to the
top of them, were rumbled pell-mell into the barge-like punt belonging
to Hassan. Here also I was accommodated, with about half of our people,
the rest taking their seats in the smaller boat under the charge of
Stephen.

At length all was ready and we cast off.

“Farewell, Captain,” I cried to Delgado. “If you should sight the
_Crocodile_----”

At this point Delgado broke into such a torrent of bad language in
Portuguese, Arabic and English that I fear the rest of my remarks never
reached him.

As we rowed shorewards I observed that Hans, who was seated near to me
under the stomach of a jackass, was engaged in sniffing at the sides and
bottom of the barge, as a dog might do, and asked him what he was about.

“Very odd smell in this boat,” he whispered back in Dutch. “It stinks of
Kaffir man, just like the hold of the _Maria_. I think this boat is used
to carry slaves.”

“Be quiet,” I whispered back, “and stop nosing at those planks.” But to
myself I thought, Hans is right, we are in a nest of slave-traders, and
this Hassan is their leader.

We rowed past the island, on which I observed the ruins of an old
Portuguese fort and some long grass-roofed huts, where, I reflected, the
slaves were probably kept until they could be shipped away. Observing my
glance fixed upon these, Hassan hastened to explain, through Sammy, that
they were storehouses in which he dried fish and hides, and kept goods.

“How interesting!” I answered. “Further south we dry hides in the sun.”

Crossing a narrow channel we arrived at a rough jetty where we
disembarked, whence we were led by Hassan not to the village which I now
saw upon our left, but to a pleasant-looking, though dilapidated
house that stood a hundred yards from the shore. Something about the
appearance of this house impressed me with the idea that it was never
built by slavers; the whole look of the place with its verandah and
garden suggested taste and civilisation. Evidently educated people had
designed it and resided here. I glanced about me and saw, amidst a grove
of neglected orange trees that were surrounded with palms of some
age, the ruins of a church. About this there was no doubt, for there,
surmounted by a stone cross, was a little pent-house in which still hung
the bell that once summoned the worshippers to prayer.

“Tell the English lord,” said Hassan to Sammy, “that these buildings
were a mission station of the Christians, who abandoned them more than
twenty years ago. When I came here I found them empty.”

“Indeed,” I answered, “and what were the names of those who dwelt in
them?”

“I never heard,” said Hassan; “they had been gone a long while when I
came.”

Then we went up to the house, and for the next hour and more were
engaged with our baggage which was piled in a heap in what had been the
garden and in unpacking and pitching two tents for the hunters which I
caused to be placed immediately in front of the rooms that were assigned
to us. Those rooms were remarkable in their way. Mine had evidently
been a sitting chamber, as I judged from some such broken articles of
furniture, that appeared to be of American make. That which Stephen
occupied had once served as a sleeping-place, for the bedstead of iron
still remained there. Also there were a hanging bookcase, now fallen,
and some tattered remnants of books. One of these, that oddly enough was
well-preserved, perhaps because the white ants or other creatures did
not like the taste of its morocco binding, was a Keble’s _Christian
Year_, on the title-page of which was written, “To my dearest Elizabeth
on her birthday, from her husband.” I took the liberty to put it in my
pocket. On the wall, moreover, still hung the small watercolour picture
of a very pretty young woman with fair hair and blue eyes, in the corner
of which picture was written in the same handwriting as that in the
book, “Elizabeth, aged twenty.” This also I annexed, thinking that it
might come in useful as a piece of evidence.

“Looks as if the owners of this place had left it in a hurry,
Quatermain,” said Stephen.

“That’s it, my boy. Or perhaps they didn’t leave; perhaps they stopped
here.”

“Murdered?”

I nodded and said, “I dare say friend Hassan could tell us something
about the matter. Meanwhile as supper isn’t ready yet, let us have a
look at that church while it is light.”

We walked through the palm and orange grove to where the building stood
finely placed upon a mound. It was well-constructed of a kind of coral
rock, and a glance showed us that it had been gutted by fire; the
discoloured walls told their own tale. The interior was now full of
shrubs and creepers, and an ugly, yellowish snake glided from what had
been the stone altar. Without, the graveyard was enclosed by a broken
wall, only we could see no trace of graves. Near the gateway, however,
was a rough mound.

“If we could dig into that,” I said, “I expect we should find the bones
of the people who inhabited this place. Does that suggest anything to
you, Stephen?”

“Nothing, except that they were probably killed.”

“You should learn to draw inferences. It is a useful art, especially in
Africa. It suggests to me that, if you are right, the deed was not done
by natives, who would never take the trouble to bury the dead. Arabs,
on the contrary, might do so, especially if there were any bastard
Portuguese among them who called themselves Christians. But whatever
happened must have been a long while ago,” and I pointed to a self-sown
hardwood tree growing from the mound which could scarcely have been less
than twenty years old.

We returned to the house to find that our meal was ready. Hassan had
asked us to dine with him, but for obvious reasons I preferred that
Sammy should cook our food and that he should dine with us. He appeared
full of compliments, though I could see hate and suspicion in his eye,
and we fell to on the kid that we had bought from him, for I did not
wish to accept any gifts from this fellow. Our drink was square-face
gin, mixed with water that I sent Hans to fetch with his own hands from
the stream that ran by the house, lest otherwise it should be drugged.

At first Hassan, like a good Mohammedan, refused to touch any spirits,
but as the meal went on he politely relented upon this point, and I
poured him out a liberal tot. The appetite comes in eating, as the
Frenchman said, and the same thing applies to drinking. So at least it
was in Hassan’s case, who probably thought that the quantity swallowed
made no difference to his sin. After the third dose of square-face he
grew quite amiable and talkative. Thinking the opportunity a good one,
I sent for Sammy, and through him told our host that we were anxious to
hire twenty porters to carry our packages. He declared that there was
not such a thing as a porter within a hundred miles, whereon I gave him
some more gin. The end of it was that we struck a bargain, I forget for
how much, he promising to find us twenty good men who were to stay with
us for as long as we wanted them.

Then I asked him about the destruction of the mission station, but
although he was half-drunk, on this point he remained very close. All he
would say was that he had heard that twenty years ago the people called
the Mazitu, who were very fierce, had raided right down to the coast and
killed those who dwelt there, except a white man and his wife who had
fled inland and never been seen again.

“How many of them were buried in that mound by the church?” I asked
quickly.

“Who told you they were buried there?” he replied, with a start, but
seeing his mistake, went on, “I do not know what you mean. I never heard
of anyone being buried. Sleep well, honoured lords, I must go and see to
the loading of my goods upon the _Maria_.” Then rising, he salaamed and
walked, or rather rolled, away.

“So the _Maria_ hasn’t sailed after all,” I said, and whistled in a
certain fashion. Instantly Hans crept into the room out of the darkness,
for this was my signal to him.

“Hans,” I said, “I hear sounds upon that island. Slip down to the shore
and spy out what is happening. No one will see you if you are careful.”

“No, Baas,” he answered with a grin, “I do not think that anyone will
see Hans if he is careful, especially at night,” and he slid away as
quietly as he had come.

Now I went out and spoke to Mavovo, telling him to keep a good watch
and to be sure that every man had his gun ready, as I thought that these
people were slave-traders and might attack us in the night.

In that event, I said, they were to fall back upon the stoep, but not to
fire until I gave the word.

“Good, my father,” he answered. “This is a lucky journey; I never
thought there would be hope of war so soon. My Snake forgot to mention
it the other night. Sleep safe, Macumazana. Nothing that walks shall
reach you while we live.”

“Don’t be so sure,” I answered, and we lay down in the bedroom with our
clothes on and our rifles by our sides.

The next thing I remember was someone shaking me by the shoulder. I
thought it was Stephen, who had agreed to keep awake for the first part
of the night and to call me at one in the morning. Indeed, he was awake,
for I could see the glow from the pipe he smoked.

“Baas,” whispered the voice of Hans, “I have found out everything. They
are loading the _Maria_ with slaves, taking them in big boats from the
island.”

“So,” I answered. “But how did you get here? Are the hunters asleep
without?”

He chuckled. “No, they are not asleep; they look with all their eyes and
listen with all their ears, yet old Hans passed through them; even the
Baas Somers did not hear him.”

“That I didn’t,” said Stephen; “thought a rat was moving, no more.”

I stepped through the place where the door had been on to the stoep.
By the light of the fire which the hunters had lit without I could see
Mavovo sitting wide awake, his gun upon his knees, and beyond him two
sentries. I called him and pointed to Hans.

“See,” I said, “what good watchmen you are when one can step over your
heads and enter my room without your knowing it!”

Mavovo looked at the Hottentot and felt his clothes and boots to see
whether they were wet with the night dew.

“_Ow!_” he exclaimed in a surly voice, “I said that nothing which walks
could reach you, Macumazana, but this yellow snake has crawled between
us on his belly. Look at the new mud that stains his waistcoat.”

“Yet snakes can bite and kill,” answered Hans with a snigger. “Oh! you
Zulus think that you are very brave, and shout and flourish spears and
battleaxes. One poor Hottentot dog is worth a whole impi of you after
all. No, don’t try to strike me, Mavovo the warrior, since we both serve
the same master in our separate ways. When it comes to fighting I will
leave the matter to you, but when it is a case of watching or spying,
do you leave it to Hans. Look here, Mavovo,” and he opened his hand in
which was a horn snuff-box such as Zulus sometimes carry in their ears.
“To whom does this belong?”

“It is mine,” said Mavovo, “and you have stolen it.”

“Yes,” jeered Hans, “it is yours. Also I stole it from your ear as I
passed you in the dark. Don’t you remember that you thought a gnat had
tickled you and hit up at your face?”

“It is true,” growled Mavovo, “and you, snake of a Hottentot, are great
in your own low way. Yet next time anything tickles me, I shall strike,
not with my hand, but with a spear.”

Then I turned them both out, remarking to Stephen that this was a good
example of the eternal fight between courage and cunning. After this, as
I was sure that Hassan and his friends were too busy to interfere with
us that night, we went to bed and slept the sleep of the just.

When I got up the next morning I found that Stephen Somers had already
risen and gone out, nor did he appear until I was half through my
breakfast.

“Where on earth have you been?” I asked, noting that his clothes were
torn and covered with wet moss.

“Up the tallest of those palm trees, Quatermain. Saw an Arab climbing
one of them with a rope and got another Arab to teach me the trick. It
isn’t really difficult, though it looks alarming.”

“What in the name of goodness----” I began.

“Oh!” he interrupted, “my ruling passion. Looking through the glasses I
thought I caught sight of an orchid growing near the crown, so went
up. It wasn’t an orchid after all, only a mass of yellow pollen. But I
learned something for my pains. Sitting in the top of that palm I saw
the _Maria_ working out from under the lee of the island. Also, far
away, I noted a streak of smoke, and watching it through the glasses,
made out what looked to me uncommonly like a man-of-war steaming slowly
along the coast. In fact, I am sure it was, and English too. Then the
mist came up and I lost sight of them.”

“My word!” I said, “that will be the _Crocodile_. What I told our host,
Hassan, was not altogether bunkum. Mr. Cato, the port officer at Durban,
mentioned to me that the _Crocodile_ was expected to call there within
the next fortnight to take in stores after a slave-hunting cruise down
the coast. Now it would be odd if she chanced to meet the _Maria_ and
asked to have a look at her cargo, wouldn’t it?”

“Not at all, Quatermain, for unless one or the other of them changes her
course that is just what she must do within the next hour or so, and I
jolly well hope she will. I haven’t forgiven that beast, Delgado, the
trick he tried to play on us by slipping away with our goods, to say
nothing of those poor devils of slaves. Pass the coffee, will you?”

For the next ten minutes we ate in silence, for Stephen had an excellent
appetite and was hungry after his morning climb.

Just as we finished our meal Hassan appeared, looking even more
villainous than he had done the previous day. I saw also that he was
in a truculent mood, induced perhaps by the headache from which he was
evidently suffering as a result of his potations. Or perhaps the fact
that the _Maria_ had got safe away with the slaves, as he imagined
unobserved by us, was the cause of the change of his demeanour. A third
alternative may have been that he intended to murder us during the
previous night and found no safe opportunity of carrying out his amiable
scheme.

We saluted him courteously, but without salaaming in reply he asked me
bluntly through Sammy when we intended to be gone, as such “Christian
dogs defiled his house,” which he wanted for himself.

I answered, as soon as the twenty bearers whom he had promised us
appeared, but not before.

“You lie,” he said. “I never promised you bearers; I have none here.”

“Do you mean that you shipped them all away in the _Maria_ with the
slaves last night?” I asked, sweetly.

My reader, have you ever taken note of the appearance and proceedings
of a tom-cat of established age and morose disposition when a little
dog suddenly disturbs it on the prowl? Have you observed how it contorts
itself into arched but unnatural shapes, how it swells visibly to almost
twice its normal size, how its hair stands up and its eyes flash, and
the stream of unmentionable language that proceeds from its open mouth?
If so, you will have a very good idea of the effect produced upon Hassan
by this remark of mine. The fellow looked as though he were going to
burst with rage. He rolled about, his bloodshot eyes seemed to protrude,
he cursed us horribly, he put his hand upon the hilt of the great knife
he wore, and finally he did what the tom-cat does, he spat.

Now, Stephen was standing with me, looking as cool as a cucumber and
very much amused, and being, as it chanced, a little nearer to Hassan
than I was, received the full benefit of this rude proceeding. My word!
didn’t it wake him up. He said something strong, and the next second
flew at the half-breed like a tiger, landing him a beauty straight upon
the nose. Back staggered Hassan, drawing his knife as he did so, but
Stephen’s left in the eye caused him to drop it, as he dropped himself.
I pounced upon the knife, and since it was too late to interfere, for
the mischief had been done, let things take their course and held back
the Zulus who had rushed up at the noise.

Hassan rose and, to do him credit, came on like a man, head down. His
great skull caught Stephen, who was the lighter of the two, in the chest
and knocked him over, but before the Arab could follow up the advantage,
he was on his feet again. Then ensued a really glorious mill. Hassan
fought with head and fists and feet, Stephen with fists alone. Dodging
his opponent’s rushes, he gave it to him as he passed, and soon his
coolness and silence began to tell. Once he was knocked over by a hooked
one under the jaw, but in the next round he sent the Arab literally
flying head over heels. Oh! how those Zulus cheered, and I, too, danced
with delight. Up Hassan came again, spitting out several teeth and,
adopting new tactics, grabbed Stephen round the middle. To and fro they
swung, the Arab trying to kick the Englishman with his knees and to bite
him also, till the pain reminded him of the absence of his front teeth.
Once he nearly got him down--nearly, but not quite, for the collar by
which he had gripped him (his object was to strangle) burst and, at that
juncture, Hassan’s turban fell over his face, blinding him for a moment.

Then Stephen gripped him round the middle with his left arm and with his
right pommelled him unmercifully till he sank in a sitting position to
the ground and held up his hand in token of surrender.

“The noble English lord has beaten me,” he gasped.

“Apologise!” yelled Stephen, picking up a handful of mud, “or I shove
this down your dirty throat.”

He seemed to understand. At any rate, he bowed till his forehead touched
the ground, and apologised very thoroughly.

“Now that is over,” I said cheerfully to him, “so how about those
bearers?”

“I have no bearers,” he answered.

“You dirty liar,” I exclaimed; “one of my people has been down to your
village there and says it is full of men.”

“Then go and take them for yourself,” he replied, viciously, for he knew
that the place was stockaded.

Now I was in a fix. It was all very well to give a slave-dealer the
thrashing he deserved, but if he chose to attack us with his Arabs we
should be in a poor way. Watching me with the eye that was not bunged
up, Hassan guessed my perplexity.

“I have been beaten like a dog,” he said, his rage returning to him with
his breath, “but God is compassionate and just, He will avenge in due
time.”

The words had not left his lips for one second when from somewhere out
at sea there floated the sullen boom of a great gun. At this moment,
too, an Arab rushed up from the shore, crying:

“Where is the Bey Hassan?”

“Here,” I said, pointing at him.

The Arab stared until I thought his eyes would drop out, for the Bey
Hassan was indeed a sight to see. Then he gabbled in a frightened voice:

“Captain, an English man-of-war is chasing the _Maria_.”

Boom went the great gun for the second time. Hassan said nothing, but
his jaw dropped, and I saw that he had lost exactly three teeth.

“That is the _Crocodile_,” I remarked slowly, causing Sammy to
translate, and as I spoke, produced from my inner pocket a Union Jack
which I had placed there after I heard that the ship was sighted.
“Stephen,” I went on as I shook it out, “if you have got your wind,
would you mind climbing up that palm tree again and signalling with this
to the _Crocodile_ out at sea?”

“By George! that’s a good idea,” said Stephen, whose jovial face,
although swollen, was now again wreathed in smiles. “Hans, bring me a
long stick and a bit of string.”

But Hassan did not think it at all a good idea.

“English lord,” he gasped, “you shall have the bearers. I will go to
fetch them.”

“No, you won’t,” I said, “you will stop here as a hostage. Send that
man.”

Hassan uttered some rapid orders and the messenger sped away, this time
towards the stockaded village on the right.

As he went another messenger arrived, who also stared amazedly at the
condition of his chief.

“Bey--if you are the Bey,” he said, in a doubtful voice, for by now
the amiable face of Hassan had begun to swell and colour, “with the
telescope we have seen that the English man-of-war has sent a boat and
boarded the _Maria_.”

“God is great!” muttered the discomfited Hassan, “and Delgado, who is a
thief and a traitor from his mother’s breast, will tell the truth. The
English sons of Satan will land here. All is finished; nothing is left
but flight. Bid the people fly into the bush and take the slaves--I mean
their servants. I will join them.”

“No, you won’t,” I interrupted, through Sammy; “at any rate, not at
present. You will come with us.”

The miserable Hassan reflected, then he asked:

“Lord Quatermain” (I remember the title, because it is the nearest I
ever got, or am likely to get, to the peerage), “if I furnish you with
the twenty bearers and accompany you for some days on your journey
inland, will you promise not to signal to your countrymen on the ship
and bring them ashore?”

“What do you think?” I asked of Stephen.

“Oh!” he answered, “I think I’d agree. This scoundrel has had a pretty
good dusting, and if once the _Crocodile_ people land, there’ll be an
end of our expedition. As sure as eggs are eggs they will carry us off
to Zanzibar or somewhere to give evidence before a slave court. Also
nothing will be gained, for by the time the sailors get here, all these
rascals will have bolted, except our friend, Hassan. You see it isn’t
as though we were sure he would be hung. He’d probably escape after all.
International law, subject of a foreign Power, no direct proof--that
kind of thing, you know.”

“Give me a minute or two,” I said, and began to reflect very deeply.

Whilst I was thus engaged several things happened. I saw twenty natives
being escorted towards us, doubtless the bearers who had been promised;
also I saw many others, accompanied by other natives, flying from the
village into the bush. Lastly, a third messenger arrived, who announced
that the _Maria_ was sailing away, apparently in charge of a prize-crew,
and that the man-of-war was putting about as though to accompany her.
Evidently she had no intention of effecting a landing upon what was,
nominally at any rate, Portuguese territory. Therefore, if anything was
to be done, we must act at once.

Well, the end of it was that, like a fool, I accepted Stephen’s advice
and did nothing, always the easiest course and generally that which
leads to most trouble. Ten minutes afterwards I changed my mind, but
then it was too late; the _Crocodile_ was out of signalling distance.
This was subsequent to a conversation with Hans.

“Baas,” said that worthy, in his leery fashion, “I think you have made a
mistake. You forget that these yellow devils in white robes who have
run away will come back again, and that when you return from up country,
they may be waiting for you. Now if the English man-of-war had destroyed
their town, and their slave-sheds, they might have gone somewhere else.
However,” he added, as an afterthought, glancing at the disfigured
Hassan, “we have their captain, and of course you mean to hang him,
Baas. Or if you don’t like to, leave it to me. I can hang men very well.
Once, when I was young, I helped the executioner at Cape Town.”

“Get out,” I said, but, nevertheless, I knew that Hans was right.



CHAPTER VI

                            THE SLAVE ROAD

The twenty bearers having arrived, in charge of five or six Arabs armed
with guns, we went to inspect them, taking Hassan with us, also
the hunters. They were a likely lot of men, though rather thin and
scared-looking, and evidently, as I could see from their physical
appearance and varying methods of dressing the hair, members of
different tribes. Having delivered them, the Arabs, or rather one of
them, entered into excited conversation with Hassan. As Sammy was not
at hand I do not know what was said, although I gathered that they were
contemplating his rescue. If so, they gave up the idea and began to run
away as their companions had done. One of them, however, a bolder fellow
than the rest, turned and fired at me. He missed by some yards, as I
could tell from the sing of the bullet, for these Arabs are execrable
shots. Still his attempt at murder irritated me so much that I
determined he should not go scot-free. I was carrying the little rifle
called “Intombi,” that with which, as Hans had reminded me, I shot the
vultures at Dingaan’s kraal many years before. Of course, I could have
killed the man, but this I did not wish to do. Or I could have shot him
through the leg, but then we should have had to nurse him or leave him
to die! So I selected his right arm, which was outstretched as he fled,
and at about fifty paces put a bullet through it just above the elbow.

“There,” I said to the Zulus as I saw it double up, “that low fellow
will never shoot at anyone again.”

“Pretty, Macumazana, very pretty!” said Mavovo, “but as you can aim so
well, why not have chosen his head? That bullet is half-wasted.”

Next I set to work to get into communication with the bearers, who
thought, poor devils, that they had been but sold to a new master. Here
I may explain that they were slaves not meant for exportation, but men
kept to cultivate Hassan’s gardens. Fortunately I found that two of them
belonged to the Mazitu people, who it may be remembered are of the
same blood as the Zulus, although they separated from the parent stock
generations ago. These men talked a dialect that I could understand,
though at first not very easily. The foundation of it was Zulu, but it
had become much mixed with the languages of other tribes whose women the
Mazitu had taken to wife.

Also there was a man who could speak some bastard Arabic, sufficiently
well for Sammy to converse with him.

I asked the Mazitus if they knew the way back to their country. They
answered yes, but it was far off, a full month’s journey. I told them
that if they would guide us thither, they should receive their freedom
and good pay, adding that if the other men served us well, they also
should be set free when we had done with them. On receiving this
information the poor wretches smiled in a sickly fashion and looked at
Hassan-ben-Mohammed, who glowered at them and us from the box on which
he was seated in charge of Mavovo.

How can we be free while that man lives, their look seemed to say. As
though to confirm their doubts Hassan, who understood or guessed what
was passing, asked by what right we were promising freedom to his
slaves.

“By right of that,” I answered, pointing to the Union Jack which Stephen
still had in his hand. “Also we will pay you for them when we return,
according as they have served us.”

“Yes,” he muttered, “you will pay me for them when you return, or
perhaps before that, Englishman.”

It was three o’clock in the afternoon before we were able to make a
start. There was so much to be arranged that it might have been wiser
to wait till the morrow, had we not determined that if we could help it
nothing would induce us to spend another night in that place. Blankets
were served out to each of the bearers who, poor naked creatures, seemed
quite touched at the gift of them; the loads were apportioned, having
already been packed at Durban in cases such as one man could carry. The
pack saddles were put upon the four donkeys which proved to be none the
worse for their journey, and burdens to a weight of about 100 lbs. each
fixed on them in waterproof hide bags, besides cooking calabashes and
sleeping mats which Hans produced from somewhere. Probably he stole them
out of the deserted village, but as they were necessary to us I confess
I asked no questions. Lastly, six or eight goats which were wandering
about were captured to take with us for food till we could find game.
For these I offered to pay Hassan, but when I handed him the money he
threw it down in a rage, so I picked it up and put it in my pocket again
with a clear conscience.

At length everything was more or less ready, and the question arose as
to what was to be done with Hassan. The Zulus, like Hans, wished to kill
him, as Sammy explained to him in his best Arabic. Then this murderous
fellow showed what a coward he was at heart. He flung himself upon his
knees, he wept, he invoked us in the name of the Compassionate Allah
who, he explained, was after all the same God that we worshipped, till
Mavovo, growing impatient of the noise, threatened him with his kerry,
whereon he became silent. The easy-natured Stephen was for letting him
go, a plan that seemed to have advantages, for then at least we should
be rid of his abominable company. After reflection, however, I decided
that we had better take him along with us, at any rate for a day or so,
to hold as a hostage in case the Arabs should follow and attack us. At
first he refused to stir, but the assegai of one of the Zulu hunters
pressed gently against what remained of his robe, furnished an argument
that he could not resist.

At length we were off. I with the two guides went ahead. Then came the
bearers, then half of the hunters, then the four donkeys in charge of
Hans and Sammy, then Hassan and the rest of the hunters, except Mavovo,
who brought up the rear with Stephen. Needless to say, all our rifles
were loaded, and generally we were prepared for any emergency. The only
path, that which the guides said we must follow, ran by the seashore
for a few hundred yards and then turned inland through Hassan’s village
where he lived, for it seemed that the old mission house was not used by
him. As we marched along a little rocky cliff--it was not more than ten
feet high--where a deep-water channel perhaps fifty yards in breadth
separated the mainland from the island whence the slaves had been loaded
on to the _Maria_, some difficulty arose about the donkeys. One of these
slipped its load and another began to buck and evinced an inclination to
leap into the sea with its precious burden. The rearguard of hunters ran
to get hold of it, when suddenly there was a splash.

The brute’s in! I thought to myself, till a shout told me that not
the ass, but Hassan had departed over the cliff’s edge. Watching his
opportunity and being, it was clear, a first-rate swimmer, he had flung
himself backwards in the midst of the confusion and falling into deep
water, promptly dived. About twenty yards from the shore he came up for
a moment, then dived again heading for the island. I dare say I could
have potted him through the head with a snap shot, but somehow I did
not like to kill a man swimming for his life as though he were a
hippopotamus or a crocodile. Moreover, the boldness of the manoeuvre
appealed to me. So I refrained from firing and called to the others to
do likewise.

As our late host approached the shore of the island I saw Arabs running
down the rocks to help him out of the water. Either they had not left
the place, or had re-occupied it as soon as H.M.S. _Crocodile_ had
vanished with her prize. As it was clear that to recapture Hassan would
involve an attack upon the garrison of the island which we were in no
position to carry out, I gave orders for the march to be resumed. These,
the difficulty with the donkey having been overcome, were obeyed at
once.

It was fortunate that we did not delay, for scarcely had the caravan got
into motion when the Arabs on the island began to fire at us. Luckily no
one was hit, and we were soon round a point and under cover; also their
shooting was as bad as usual. One missile, however, it was a pot-leg,
struck a donkey-load and smashed a bottle of good brandy and a tin of
preserved butter. This made me angry, so motioning to the others to
proceed I took shelter behind a tree and waited till a torn and dirty
turban, which I recognised as that of Hassan, poked up above a rock.
Well, I put a bullet through that turban, for I saw the thing fly, but
unfortunately, not through the head beneath it. Having left this P.P.C.
card on our host, I bolted from the rock and caught up the others.

Presently we passed round the village; through it I would not go for
fear of an ambuscade. It was quite a big place, enclosed with a strong
fence, but hidden from the sea by a rise in the intervening land. In the
centre was a large eastern-looking house, where doubtless Hassan
dwelt with his harem. After we had gone a little way further, to my
astonishment I saw flames breaking out from the palm-leaf roof of this
house. At the time I could not imagine how this happened, but when,
a day or two later, I observed Hans wearing a pair of large and very
handsome gold pendants in his ears and a gold bracelet on his wrist, and
found that he and one of the hunters were extremely well set up in the
matter of British sovereigns--well, I had my doubts. In due course
the truth came out. He and the hunter, an adventurous spirit, slipped
through a gate in the fence without being observed, ran across the
deserted village to the house, stole the ornaments and money from the
women’s apartments and as they departed, fired the place “in exchange
for the bottle of good brandy,” as Hans explained.

I was inclined to be angry, but after all, as we had been fired on,
Hans’s exploit became an act of war rather than a theft. So I made him
and his companion divide the gold equally with the rest of the hunters,
who no doubt had kept their eyes conveniently shut, not forgetting
Sammy, and said no more. They netted £8 apiece, which pleased them very
much. In addition to this I gave £1 each, or rather goods to that value,
to the bearers as their share of the loot.

Hassan, I remarked, was evidently a great agriculturist, for the gardens
which he worked by slave labour were beautiful, and must have brought
him in a large revenue.

Passing through these gardens we came to sloping land covered with bush.
Here the track was not too good, for the creepers hampered our progress.
Indeed, I was very glad when towards sunset we reached the crest of a
hill and emerged upon a tableland which was almost clear of trees and
rose gradually till it met the horizon. In that bush we might easily
have been attacked, but in this open country I was not so much afraid,
since the loss to the Arabs would have been great before we were
overpowered. As a matter of fact, although spies dogged us for days no
assault was ever attempted.

Finding a convenient place by a stream we camped for the night, but as
it was so fine, did not pitch the tents. Afterwards I was sorry that
we had not gone further from the water, since the mosquitoes bred by
millions in the marshes bordering the stream gave us a dreadful time. On
poor Stephen, fresh from England, they fell with peculiar ferocity, with
the result that in the morning what between the bruises left by Hassan
and their bites, he was a spectacle for men and angels. Another thing
that broke our rest was the necessity of keeping a strict watch in case
the slave-traders should elect to attack us in the hours of darkness;
also to guard against the possibility of our bearers running away and
perhaps stealing the goods. It is true that before they went to sleep I
explained to them very clearly that any of them who attempted to give us
the slip would certainly be seen and shot, whereas if they remained with
us they would be treated with every kindness. They answered through the
two Mazitu that they had nowhere to go, and did not wish to fall again
into the power of Hassan, of whom they spoke literally with shudders,
pointing the while to their scarred backs and the marks of the slave
yokes upon their necks. Their protestations seemed and indeed proved to
be sincere, but of this of course we could not then be sure.

As I was engaged at sunrise in making certain that the donkeys had not
strayed and generally that all was well, I noted through the thin mist
a little white object, which at first I thought was a small bird sitting
on an upright stick about fifty yards from the camp. I went towards it
and discovered that it was not a bird but a folded piece of paper stuck
in a cleft wand, such as natives often use for the carrying of letters.
I opened the paper and with great difficulty, for the writing within was
bad Portuguese, read as follows:


 “English Devils.--Do not think that you have escaped me. I know
  where you are going, and if you live through the journey it will
  be but to die at my hands after all. I tell you that I have at my
  command three hundred brave men armed with guns who worship Allah
  and thirst for the blood of Christian dogs. With these I will
  follow, and if you fall into my hands alive, you shall learn what
  it is to die by fire or pinned over ant-heaps in the sun. Let us
  see if your English man-of-war will help you then, or your false
  God either. Misfortune go with you, white-skinned robbers of
  honest men!”


This pleasing epistle was unsigned, but its anonymous author was not
hard to identify. I showed it to Stephen who was so infuriated at its
contents that he managed to dab some ammonia with which he was treating
his mosquito bites into his eye. When at length the pain was soothed by
bathing, we concocted this answer:


 “Murderer, known among men as Hassan-ben-Mohammed--Truly we sinned
  in not hanging you when you were in our power. Oh! wolf who grows
  fat upon the blood of the innocent, this is a fault that we shall
  not commit again. Your death is near to you and we believe at our
  hands. Come with all your villains whenever you will. The more
  there are of them the better we shall be pleased, who would rather
  rid the world of many fiends than of a few,

                           “Till we meet again, Allan Quatermain,
                                                  Stephen Somers.”


“Neat, if not Christian,” I said when I had read the letter over.

“Yes,” replied Stephen, “but perhaps just a little bombastic in tone. If
that gentleman did arrive with three hundred armed men--eh?”

“Then, my boy,” I answered, “in this way or in that we shall thrash him.
I don’t often have an inspiration, but I’ve got one now, and it is to
the effect that Mr. Hassan has not very long to live and that we shall
be intimately connected with his end. Wait till you have seen a slave
caravan and you will understand my feelings. Also I know these gentry.
That little prophecy of ours will get upon his nerves and give him a
foretaste of things. Hans, go and set this letter in that cleft stick.
The postman will call for it before long.”



As it happened, within a few days we did see a slave caravan, some of
the merchandise of the estimable Hassan.

We had been making good progress through a beautiful and healthy
country, steering almost due west, or rather a little to the north of
west. The land was undulating and rich, well-watered and only bush-clad
in the neighbourhood of the streams, the higher ground being open, of
a park-like character, and dotted here and there with trees. It was
evident that once, and not very long ago, the population had been dense,
for we came to the remains of many villages, or rather towns with large
market-places. Now, however, these were burned with fire, or deserted,
or occupied only by a few old bodies who got a living from the overgrown
gardens. These poor people, who sat desolate and crooning in the sun, or
perhaps worked feebly at the once fertile fields, would fly screaming
at our approach, for to them men armed with guns must of necessity be
slave-traders.

Still from time to time we contrived to catch some of them, and through
one member of our party or the other to get at their stories. Really it
was all one story. The slaving Arabs, on this pretext or on that, had
set tribe against tribe. Then they sided with the stronger and conquered
the weaker by aid of their terrible guns, killing out the old folk and
taking the young men, women and children (except the infants whom they
butchered) to be sold as slaves. It seemed that the business had begun
about twenty years before, when Hassan-ben-Mohammed and his companions
arrived at Kilwa and drove away the missionary who had built a station
there.

At first this trade was extremely easy and profitable, since the
raw material lay near at hand in plenty. By degrees, however, the
neighbouring communities had been worked out. Countless numbers of them
were killed, while the pick of the population passed under the slave
yoke, and those of them who survived, vanished in ships to unknown
lands. Thus it came about that the slavers were obliged to go further
afield and even to conduct their raids upon the borders of the territory
of the great Mazitu people, the inland race of Zulu origin of whom I
have spoken. According to our informants, it was even rumoured that they
proposed shortly to attack these Mazitus in force, relying on their guns
to give them the victory and open to them a new and almost inexhaustible
store of splendid human merchandise. Meanwhile they were cleaning out
certain small tribes which hitherto had escaped them, owing to the fact
that they had their residence in bush or among difficult hills.

The track we followed was the recognised slave road. Of this we soon
became aware by the numbers of skeletons which we found lying in the
tall grass at its side, some of them with heavy slave-sticks still upon
their wrists. These, I suppose, had died from exhaustion, but others, as
their split skulls showed had been disposed of by their captors.

On the eighth day of our march we struck the track of a slave caravan.
It had been travelling towards the coast, but for some reason or other
had turned back. This may have been because its leaders had been warned
of the approach of our party. Or perhaps they had heard that another
caravan, which was at work in a different district, was drawing near,
bringing its slaves with it, and wished to wait for its arrival in order
that they might join forces.

The spoor of these people was easy to follow. First we found the body
of a boy of about ten. Then vultures revealed to us the remains of two
young men, one of whom had been shot and the other killed by a blow from
an axe. Their corpses were roughly hidden beneath some grass, I know not
why. A mile or two further on we heard a child wailing and found it by
following its cries. It was a little girl of about four who had been
pretty, though now she was but a living skeleton. When she saw us she
scrambled away on all fours like a monkey. Stephen followed her, while
I, sick at heart, went to get a tin of preserved milk from our
stores. Presently I heard him call to me in a horrified voice. Rather
reluctantly, for I knew that he must have found something dreadful,
I pushed my way through the bush to where he was. There, bound to the
trunk of a tree, sat a young woman, evidently the mother of the child,
for it clung to her leg.

Thank God she was still living, though she must have died before another
day dawned. We cut her loose, and the Zulu hunters, who are kind folk
enough when they are not at war, carried her to camp. In the end with
much trouble we saved the lives of that mother and child. I sent for the
two Mazitus, with whom I could by now talk fairly well, and asked them
why the slavers did these things.

They shrugged their shoulders and one of them answered with a rather
dreadful laugh:

“Because, Chief, these Arabs, being black-hearted, kill those who can
walk no more, or tie them up to die. If they let them go they might
recover and escape, and it makes the Arabs sad that those who have been
their slaves should live to be free and happy.”

“Does it? Does it indeed?” exclaimed Stephen with a snort of rage that
reminded me of his father. “Well, if ever I get a chance I’ll make them
sad with a vengeance.”

Stephen was a tender-hearted young man, and for all his soft and
indolent ways, an awkward customer when roused.

Within forty-eight hours he got his chance, thus: That day we camped
early for two reasons. The first was that the woman and child we had
rescued wee so weak they could not walk without rest, and we had no men
to spare to carry them; the second that we came to an ideal spot to
pass the night. It was, as usual, a deserted village through which ran a
beautiful stream of water. Here we took possession of some outlying huts
with a fence round them, and as Mavovo had managed to shoot a fat eland
cow and her half-grown calf, we prepared to have a regular feast. Whilst
Sammy was making some broth for the rescued woman, and Stephen and I
smoked our pipes and watched him, Hans slipped through the broken gate
of the thorn fence, or _boma_, and announced that Arabs were coming, two
lots of them with many slaves.

We ran out to look and saw that, as he had said, two caravans were
approaching, or rather had reached the village, but at some distance
from us, and were now camping on what had once been the market-place.
One of these was that whose track we had followed, although during the
last few hours of our march we had struck away from it, chiefly because
we could not bear such sights as I have described. It seemed to comprise
about two hundred and fifty slaves and over forty guards, all black men
carrying guns, and most of them by their dress Arabs, or bastard Arabs.
In the second caravan, which approached from another direction, were not
more than one hundred slaves and about twenty or thirty captors.

“Now,” I said, “let us eat our dinner and then, if you like, we will
go to call upon those gentlemen, just to show that we are not afraid
of them. Hans, get the flag and tie it to the top of that tree; it will
show them to what country we belong.”

Up went the Union Jack duly, and presently through our glasses we saw
the slavers running about in a state of excitement; also we saw the poor
slaves turn and stare at the bit of flapping bunting and then begin to
talk to each other. It struck me as possible that someone among their
number had seen a Union Jack in the hands of an English traveller, or
had heard of it as flying upon ships or at points on the coast, and what
it meant to slaves. Or they may have understood some of the remarks of
the Arabs, which no doubt were pointed and explanatory. At any rate,
they turned and stared till the Arabs ran among them with sjambocks,
that is, whips of hippopotamus hide, and suppressed their animated
conversation with many blows.

At first I thought that they would break camp and march away; indeed,
they began to make preparations to do this, then abandoned the idea,
probably because the slaves were exhausted and there was no other water
they could reach before nightfall. In the end they settled down and lit
cooking fires. Also, as I observed, they took precautions against attack
by stationing sentries and forcing the slaves to construct a _boma_ of
thorns about their camp.

“Well,” said Stephen, when we had finished our dinner, “are you ready
for that call?”

“No!” I answered, “I do not think that I am. I have been considering
things, and concluded that we had better leave well alone. By this time
those Arabs will know all the story of our dealings with their worthy
master, Hassan, for no doubt he has sent messengers to them. Therefore,
if we go to their camp, they may shoot us at sight. Or, if they receive
us well, they may offer hospitality and poison us, or cut our throats
suddenly. Our position might be better, still it is one that I believe
they would find difficult to take. So, in my opinion, we had better stop
still and await developments.”

Stephen grumbled something about my being over-cautious, but I took no
heed of him. One thing I did do, however. Sending for Hans, I told him
to take one of the Mazitu--I dared not risk them both for they were our
guides--and another of the natives whom we had borrowed from Hassan,
a bold fellow who knew all the local languages, and creep down to the
slavers’ camp as soon as it was quite dark. There I ordered him to find
out what he could, and if possible to mix with the slaves and explain
that we were their friends. Hans nodded, for this was exactly the kind
of task that appealed to him, and went off to make his preparations.

Stephen and I also made some preparations in the way of strengthening
our defences, building large watch-fires and setting sentries.

The night fell, and Hans with his companions departed stealthily as
snakes. The silence was intense, save for the occasional wailings of
the slaves, which now and again broke out in bursts of melancholy sound,
“_La-lu-La-lua!_” and then died away, to be followed by horrid screams
as the Arabs laid their lashes upon some poor wretch. Once too, a shot
was fired.

“They have seen Hans,” said Stephen.

“I think not,” I answered, “for if so there would have been more than
one shot. Either it was an accident or they were murdering a slave.”

After this nothing more happened for a long while, till at length Hans
seemed to rise out of the ground in front of me, and behind him I saw
the figures of the Mazitu and the other man.

“Tell your story,” I said.

“Baas, it is this. Between us we have learned everything. The Arabs know
all about you and what men you have. Hassan has sent them orders to kill
you. It is well that you did not go to visit them, for certainly you
would have been murdered. We crept near and overheard their talk. They
purpose to attack us at dawn to-morrow morning unless we leave this
place before, which they will know of as we are being watched.”

“And if so, what then?” I asked.

“Then, Baas, they will attack as we are making up the caravan, or
immediately afterwards as we begin to march.”

“Indeed. Anything more, Hans?”

“Yes, Baas. These two men crept among the slaves and spoke with
them. They are very sad, those slaves, and many of them have died of
heart-pain because they have been taken from their homes and do not know
where they are going. I saw one die just now; a young woman. She
was talking to another woman and seemed quite well, only tired, till
suddenly she said in a loud voice, ‘I am going to die, that I may come
back as a spirit and bewitch these devils till they are spirits too.’
Then she called upon the fetish of her tribe, put her hands to her
breast and fell down dead. At least,” added Hans, spitting reflectively,
“she did not fall quite down because the slave-stick held her head off
the ground. The Arabs were very angry, both because she had cursed them
and was dead. One of them came and kicked her body and afterwards shot
her little boy who was sick, because the mother had cursed them. But
fortunately he did not see us, because we were in the dark far from the
fire.”

“Anything more, Hans?”

“One thing, Baas. These two men lent the knives you gave them to two
of the boldest among the slaves that they might cut the cords of the
slave-sticks and the other cords with which they were tied, and then
pass them down the lines, that their brothers might do the same. But
perhaps the Arabs will find it out, and then the Mazitu and the other
must lose their knives. That is all. Has the Baas a little tobacco?”

“Now, Stephen,” I said when Hans had gone and I had explained
everything, “there are two courses open to us. Either we can try to give
these gentlemen the slip at once, in which case we must leave the woman
and child to their fate, or we can stop where we are and wait to be
attacked.”

“I won’t run,” said Stephen sullenly; “it would be cowardly to desert
that poor creature. Also we should have a worse chance marching.
Remember Hans said that they are watching us.”

“Then you would wait to be attacked?”

“Isn’t there a third alternative, Quatermain? To attack them?”

“That’s the idea,” I said. “Let us send for Mavovo.”

Presently he came and sat down in front of us, while I set out the case
to him.

“It is the fashion of my people to attack rather than to be attacked,
and yet, my father, in this case my heart is against it. Hans” (he
called him _Inblatu_, a Zulu word which means Spotted Snake, that was
the Hottentot’s Kaffir name) “says that there are quite sixty of the
yellow dogs, all armed with guns, whereas we have not more than fifteen,
for we cannot trust the slave men. Also he says that they are within a
strong fence and awake, with spies out, so that it will be difficult to
surprise them. But here, father, we are in a strong fence and cannot be
surprised. Also men who torture and kill women and children, except in
war must, I think, be cowards, and will come on faintly against good
shooting, if indeed they come at all. Therefore, I say, ‘Wait till
the buffalo shall either charge or run.’ But the word is with you,
Macumazana, wise Watcher-by-Night, not with me, your hunter. Speak, you
who are old in war, and I will obey.”

“You argue well,” I answered; “also another reason comes to my mind.
Those Arab brutes may get behind the slaves, of whom we should butcher
a lot without hurting them. Stephen, I think we had better see the thing
through here.”

“All right, Quatermain. Only I hope that Mavovo is wrong in thinking
that those blackguards may change their minds and run away.”

“Really, young man, you are becoming very blood-thirsty--for an orchid
grower,” I remarked, looking at him. “Now, for my part, I devoutly hope
that Mavovo is right, for let me tell you, if he isn’t it may be a nasty
job.”

“I’ve always been peaceful enough up to the present,” replied Stephen.
“But the sight of those unhappy wretches of slaves with their heads cut
open, and of the woman tied to a tree to starve----”

“Make you wish to usurp the functions of God Almighty,” I said. “Well,
it is a natural impulse and perhaps, in the circumstances, one that will
not displease Him. And now, as we have made up our minds what we are
going to do, let’s get to business so that these Arab gentlemen may find
their breakfast ready when they come to call.”



CHAPTER VII

                        THE RUSH OF THE SLAVES

Well, we did all that we could in the way of making ready. After we had
strengthened the thorn fence of our _boma_ as much as possible and lit
several large fires outside of it to give us light, I allotted his place
to each of the hunters and saw that their rifles were in order and that
they had plenty of ammunition. Then I made Stephen lie down to sleep,
telling him that I would wake him to watch later on. This, however,
I had no intention of doing as I wanted him to rise fresh and with a
steady nerve on the occasion of his first fight.

As soon as I saw that his eyes were shut I sat down on a box to think.
To tell the truth, I was not altogether happy in my mind. To begin with
I did not know how the twenty bearers would behave under fire. They
might be seized with panic and rush about, in which case I determined to
let them out of the _boma_ to take their chance, for panic is a catching
thing.

A worse matter was our rather awkward position. There were a good many
trees round the camp among which an attacking force could take cover.
But what I feared much more than this, or even than the reedy banks of
the stream along which they could creep out of reach of our bullets, was
a sloping stretch of land behind us, covered with thick grass and scrub
and rising to a crest about two hundred yards away. Now if the Arabs got
round to this crest they would fire straight into our _boma_ and make it
untenable. Also if the wind were in their favour, they might burn us out
or attack under the clouds of smoke. As a matter of fact, by the special
mercy of Providence, none of these things happened, for a reason which I
will explain presently.

In the case of a night, or rather a dawn attack, I have always found
that hour before the sky begins to lighten very trying indeed. As a rule
everything that can be done is done, so that one must sit idle. Also
it is then that both the physical and the moral qualities are at their
lowest ebb, as is the mercury in the thermometer. The night is dying,
the day is not yet born. All nature feels the influence of that hour.
Then bad dreams come, then infants wake and call, then memories of
those who are lost to us arise, then the hesitating soul often takes its
plunge into the depths of the Unknown. It is not wonderful, therefore,
that on this occasion the wheels of Time drave heavily for me. I knew
that the morning was at hand by many signs. The sleeping bearers turned
and muttered in their sleep, a distant lion ceased its roaring and
departed to its own place, an alert-minded cock crew somewhere, and our
donkeys rose and began to pull at their tether-ropes. As yet, however,
it was quite dark. Hans crept up to me; I saw his wrinkled, yellow face
in the light of the watch-fire.

“I smell the dawn,” he said and vanished again.

Mavovo appeared, his massive frame silhouetted against the blackness.

“Watcher-by-Night, the night is done,” he said. “If they come at all,
the enemy should soon be here.”

Saluting, he too passed away into the dark, and presently I heard the
sounds of spear-blades striking together and of rifles being cocked.

I went to Stephen and woke him. He sat up yawning, muttered something
about greenhouses; then remembering, said:

“Are those Arabs coming? We are in for a fight at last. Jolly, old
fellow, isn’t it?”

“You are a jolly old fool!” I answered inconsequently; and marched off
in a rage.

My mind was uneasy about this inexperienced young man. If anything
should happen to him, what should I say to his father? Well, in that
event, it was probable that something would happen to me too. Very
possibly we should both be dead in an hour. Certainly I had no intention
of allowing myself to be taken alive by those slaving devils. Hassan’s
remarks about fires and ant-heaps and the sun were too vividly impressed
upon my memory.

In another five minutes everybody was up, though it required kicks to
rouse most of the bearers from their slumbers. They, poor men, were
accustomed to the presence of Death and did not suffer him to disturb
their sleep. Still I noted that they muttered together and seemed
alarmed.

“If they show signs of treachery, you must kill them,” I said to Mavovo,
who nodded in his grave, silent fashion.

Only we left the rescued slave-woman and her child plunged in the stupor
of exhaustion in a corner of the camp. What was the use of disturbing
her?

Sammy, who seemed far from comfortable, brought two pannikins of coffee
to Stephen and myself.

“This is a momentous occasion, Messrs. Quatermain and Somers,” he said
as he gave us the coffee, and I noted that his hand shook and his teeth
chattered. “The cold is extreme,” he went on in his copybook English by
way of explaining these physical symptoms which he saw I had observed.
“Mr. Quatermain, it is all very well for you to paw the ground and smell
the battle from afar, as is written in the Book of Job. But I was not
brought up to the trade and take it otherwise. Indeed I wish I was back
at the Cape, yes, even within the whitewashed walls of the Place of
Detention.”

“So do I,” I muttered, keeping my right foot on the ground with
difficulty.

But Stephen laughed outright and asked:

“What will you do, Sammy, when the fighting begins?”

“Mr. Somers,” he answered, “I have employed some wakeful hours in making
a hole behind that tree-trunk, through which I hope bullets will not
pass. There, being a man of peace, I shall pray for our success.”

“And if the Arabs get in, Sammy?”

“Then, sir, under Heaven, I shall trust to the fleetness of my legs.”

I could stand it no longer, my right foot flew up and caught Sammy in
the place at which I had aimed. He vanished, casting a reproachful look
behind him.

Just then a terrible clamour arose in the slavers’ camp which hitherto
had been very silent, and just then also the first light of dawn glinted
on the barrels of our guns.

“Look out!” I cried, as I gulped down the last of my coffee, “there’s
something going on there.”

The clamour grew louder and louder till it seemed to fill the skies with
a concentrated noise of curses and shrieking. Distinct from it, as it
were, I heard shouts of alarm and rage, and then came the sounds of
gunshots, yells of agony and the thud of many running feet. By now
the light was growing fast, as it does when once it comes in these
latitudes. Three more minutes, and through the grey mist of the dawn
we saw dozens of black figures struggling up the slope towards us. Some
seemed to have logs of wood tied behind them, others crawled along on
all fours, others dragged children by the hand, and all yelled at the
top of their voices.

“The slaves are attacking us,” said Stephen, lifting his rifle.

“Don’t shoot,” I cried. “I think they have broken loose and are taking
refuge with us.”

I was right. These unfortunates had used the two knives which our men
smuggled to them to good purpose. Having cut their bonds during the
night they were running to seek the protection of the Englishmen and
their flag. On they surged, a hideous mob, the slave-sticks still fast
to the necks of many of them, for they had not found time or opportunity
to loose them all, while behind came the Arabs firing. The position
was clearly very serious, for if they burst into our camp, we should
be overwhelmed by their rush and fall victims to the bullets of their
captors.

“Hans,” I cried, “take the men who were with you last night and try
to lead those slaves round behind us. Quick! Quick now before we are
stamped flat.”

Hans darted away, and presently I saw him and the two other men running
towards the approaching crowd, Hans waving a shirt or some other white
object to attract their attention. At the time the foremost of them had
halted and were screaming, “Mercy, English! Save us, English!” having
caught sight of the muzzles of our guns.

This was a fortunate occurrence indeed, for otherwise Hans and his
companions could never have stopped them. The next thing I saw was the
white shirt bearing away to the left on a line which led past the fence
of our _boma_ into the scrub and high grass behind the camp. After it
struggled and scrambled the crowd of slaves like a flock of sheep after
the bell-wether. To them Hans’s shirt was a kind of “white helmet of
Navarre.”

So that danger passed by. Some of the slaves had been struck by the Arab
bullets or trodden down in the rush or collapsed from weakness, and at
those of them who still lived the pursuers were firing. One woman, who
had fallen under the weight of the great slave-stick which was fastened
about her throat, was crawling forward on her hands and knees. An Arab
fired at her and the bullet struck the ground under her stomach but
without hurting her, for she wriggled forward more quickly. I was sure
that he would shoot again, and watched. Presently, for by now the light
was good, I saw him, a tall fellow in a white robe, step from behind the
shelter of a banana-tree about a hundred and fifty yards away, and take
a careful aim at the woman. But I too took aim and--well, I am not bad
at this kind of snap-shooting when I try. That Arab’s gun never went
off. Only he went up two feet or more into the air and fell backwards,
shot through the head which was the part of his person that I had
covered.

The hunters uttered a low “_Ow!_” of approval, while Stephen, in a sort
of ecstasy, exclaimed:

“Oh! what a heavenly shot!”

“Not bad, but I shouldn’t have fired it,” I answered, “for they haven’t
attacked us yet. It is a kind of declaration of war, and,” I added, as
Stephen’s sun-helmet leapt from his head, “there’s the answer. Down, all
of you, and fire through the loopholes.”

Then the fight began. Except for its grand finale it wasn’t really
much of a fight when compared with one or two we had afterwards on this
expedition. But, on the other hand, its character was extremely awkward
for us. The Arabs made one rush at the beginning, shouting on Allah as
they came. But though they were plucky villains they did not repeat that
experiment. Either by good luck or good management Stephen knocked
over two of them with his double-barrelled rifle, and I also emptied
my large-bore breech-loader--the first I ever owned--among them, not
without results, while the hunters made a hit or two.

After this the Arabs took cover, getting behind trees and, as I had
feared, hiding in the reeds on the banks of the stream. Thence they
harassed us a great deal, for amongst them were some very decent shots.
Indeed, had we not taken the precaution of lining the thorn fence with a
thick bank of earth and sods, we should have fared badly. As it was, one
of the hunters was killed, the bullet passing through the loophole
and striking him in the throat as he was about to fire, while the
unfortunate bearers who were on rather higher ground, suffered a good
deal, two of them being dispatched outright and four wounded. After this
I made the rest of them lie flat on the ground close against the fence,
in such a fashion that we could fire over their bodies.

Soon it became evident that there were more of these Arabs than we had
thought, for quite fifty of them were firing from different places.
Moreover, by slow degrees they were advancing with the evident object
of outflanking us and gaining the high ground behind. Some of them, of
course, we stopped as they rushed from cover to cover, but this kind of
shooting was as difficult as that at bolting rabbits across a woodland
ride, and to be honest, I must say that I alone was much good at the
game, for here my quick eye and long practice told.

Within an hour the position had grown very serious indeed, so much so
that we found it necessary to consider what should be done. I pointed
out that with our small number a charge against the scattered riflemen,
who were gradually surrounding us, would be worse than useless, while
it was almost hopeless to expect to hold the _boma_ till nightfall.
Once the Arabs got behind us, they could rake us from the higher ground.
Indeed, for the last half-hour we had directed all our efforts to
preventing them from passing this _boma_, which, fortunately, the stream
on the one side and a stretch of quite open land on the other made it
very difficult for them to do without more loss than they cared to face.

“I fear there is only one thing for it,” I said at length, during
a pause in the attack while the Arabs were either taking counsel or
waiting for more ammunition, “to abandon the camp and everything and
bolt up the hill. As those fellows must be tired and we are all good
runners, we may save our lives in that way.”

“How about the wounded,” asked Stephen, “and the slave-woman and child?”

“I don’t know,” I answered, looking down.

Of course I did know very well, but here, in an acute form, arose the
ancient question: Were we to perish for the sake of certain individuals
in whom we had no great interest and whom we could not save by remaining
with them? If we stayed where we were our end seemed fairly certain,
whereas if we ran for it, we had a good chance of escape. But this
involved the desertion of several injured bearers and a woman and
child whom we had picked up starving, all of whom would certainly be
massacred, save perhaps the woman and child.

As these reflections flitted through my brain I remembered that a
drunken Frenchman named Leblanc, whom I had known in my youth and who
had been a friend of Napoleon, or so he said, told me that the great
emperor when he was besieging Acre in the Holy Land, was forced to
retreat. Being unable to carry off his wounded men, he left them in
a monastery on Mount Carmel, each with a dose of poison by his side.
Apparently they did not take the poison, for according to Leblanc, who
said he was present there (not as a wounded man), the Turks came and
butchered them. So Napoleon chose to save his own life and that of his
army at the expense of his wounded. But, after all, I reflected, he
was no shining example to Christian men and I hadn’t time to find any
poison. In a few words I explained the situation to Mavovo, leaving out
the story of Napoleon, and asked his advice.

“We must run,” he answered. “Although I do not like running, life is
more than stores, and he who lives may one day pay his debts.”

“But the wounded, Mavovo; we cannot carry them.”

“I will see to them, Macumazana; it is the fortune of war. Or if they
prefer it, we can leave them--to be nursed by the Arabs,” which of
course was just Napoleon and his poison over again.

I confess that I was about to assent, not wishing that I and Stephen,
especially Stephen, should be potted in an obscure engagement with some
miserable slave-traders, when something happened.

It will be remembered that shortly after dawn Hans, using a shirt for a
flag, had led the fugitive slaves past the camp up to the hill behind.
There he and they had vanished, and from that moment to this we had seen
nothing of him or them. Now of a sudden he reappeared still waving the
shirt. After him rushed a great mob of naked men, two hundred of them
perhaps, brandishing slave-sticks, stones and the boughs of trees. When
they had almost reached the _boma_ whence we watched them amazed, they
split into two bodies, half of them passing to our left, apparently
under the command of the Mazitu who had accompanied Hans to the
slave-camp, and the other half to the right following the old Hottentot
himself. I stared at Mavovo, for I was too thunderstruck to speak.

“Ah!” said Mavovo, “that Spotted Snake of yours” (he referred to Hans),
“is great in his own way, for he has even been able to put courage into
the hearts of slaves. Do you not understand, my father, that they are
about to attack those Arabs, yes, and to pull them down, as wild dogs do
a buffalo calf?”

It was true: this was the Hottentot’s superb design. Moreover, it
succeeded. Up on the hillside he had watched the progress of the fight
and seen how it must end. Then, through the interpreter who was with
him, he harangued those slaves, pointing out to them that we, their
white friends, were about to be overwhelmed, and that they must either
strike for themselves, or return to the yoke. Among them were some who
had been warriors in their own tribes, and through these he stirred the
others. They seized the slave-sticks from which they had been freed,
pieces of rock, anything that came to their hands, and at a given signal
charged, leaving only the women and children behind them.

Seeing them come the scattered Arabs began to fire at them, killing
some, but thereby revealing their own hiding-places. At these the slaves
rushed. They hurled themselves upon the Arabs; they tore them, they
dashed out their brains in such fashion that within another five minutes
quite two-thirds of them were dead; and the rest, of whom we took some
toll with our rifles as they bolted from cover, were in full flight.

It was a terrible vengeance. Never did I witness a more savage scene
than that of these outraged men wreaking their wrongs upon their
tormentors. I remember that when most of the Arabs had been killed and
a few were escaped, the slaves found one, I think it was the captain of
the gang, who had hidden himself in a little patch of dead reeds washed
up by the stream. Somehow they managed to fire these; I expect that
Hans, who had remained discreetly in the background after the fighting
began, emerged when it was over and gave them a match. In due course out
came the wretched Arab. Then they flung themselves on him as marching
ants do upon a caterpillar, and despite his cries for mercy, tore him to
fragments, literally to fragments. Being what they were, it was hard
to blame them. If we had seen our parents shot, our infants pitilessly
butchered, our homes destroyed and our women and children marched off
in the slave-sticks to be sold into bondage, should we not have done the
same? I think so, although we are not ignorant savages.

Thus our lives were saved by those whom we had tried to save, and for
once justice was done even in those dark parts of Africa, for in that
time they were dark indeed. Had it not been for Hans and the courage
which he managed to inspire into the hearts of these crushed blacks, I
have little doubt but that before nightfall we should have been dead,
for I do not think that any attempt at retreat would have proved
successful. And if it had, what would have happened to us in that wild
country surrounded by enemies and with only the few rounds of ammunition
that we could have carried in our flight?

“Ah! Baas,” said the Hottentot a little while later, squinting at me
with his bead-like eyes, “after all you did well to listen to my prayer
and bring me with you. Old Hans is a drunkard, yes, or at least he used
to be, and old Hans gambles, yes, and perhaps old Hans will go to hell.
But meanwhile old Hans can think, as he thought one day before the
attack on Maraisfontein, as he thought one day on the Hill of Slaughter
by Dingaan’s kraal, and as he thought this morning up there among the
bushes. Oh! he knew how it must end. He saw that those dogs of Arabs
were cutting down a tree to make a bridge across that deep stream and
get round to the high ground at the back of you, whence they would
have shot you all in five minutes. And now, Baas, my stomach feels very
queer. There was no breakfast on the hillside and the sun was very
hot. I think that just one tot of brandy--oh! I know, I promised not to
drink, but if _you_ give it me the sin is yours, not mine.”

Well, I gave him the tot, a stiff one, which he drank quite neat,
although it was against my principles, and locked up the bottle
afterwards. Also I shook the old fellow’s hand and thanked him, which
seemed to please him very much, for he muttered something to the effect
that it was nothing, since if I had died he would have died too, and
therefore he was thinking of himself, not of me. Also two big tears
trickled down his snub nose, but these may have been produced by the
brandy.

Well, we were the victors and elated as may be imagined, for we knew
that the few slavers who had escaped would not attack us again. Our
first thought was for food, for it was now past midday and we were
starving. But dinner presupposed a cook, which reminded us of Sammy.
Stephen, who was in such a state of jubilation that he danced rather
than walked, the helmet with a bullet-hole through it stuck ludicrously
upon the back of his head, started to look for him, and presently called
to me in an alarmed voice. I went to the back of the camp and, staring
into a hole like a small grave, that had been hollowed behind a solitary
thorn tree, at the bottom of which lay a huddled heap, I found him. It
was Sammy to all appearance. We got hold of him, and up he came, limp,
senseless, but still holding in his hand a large, thick Bible, bound in
boards. Moreover, in the exact centre of this Bible was a bullet-hole,
or rather a bullet which had passed through the stout cover and buried
itself in the paper behind. I remember that the point of it reached to
the First Book of Samuel.

As for Sammy himself, he seemed to be quite uninjured, and indeed after
we had poured some water on him--he was never fond of water--he revived
quickly enough. Then we found out what had happened.

“Gentlemen,” he said, “I was seated in my place of refuge, being as I
have told you a man of peace, enjoying the consolation of religion”--he
was very pious in times of trouble. “At length the firing slackened, and
I ventured to peep out, thinking that perhaps the foe had fled, holding
the Book in front of my face in case of accidents. After that I remember
no more.”

“No,” said Stephen, “for the bullet hit the Bible and the Bible hit your
head and knocked you silly.”

“Ah!” said Sammy, “how true is what I was taught that the Book shall be
a shield of defence to the righteous. Now I understand why I was moved
to bring the thick old Bible that belonged to my mother in heaven,
and not the little thin one given to me by the Sunday school teacher,
through which the ball of the enemy would have passed.”

Then he went off to cook the dinner.

Certainly it was a wonderful escape, though whether this was a direct
reward of his piety, as he thought, is another matter.

As soon as we had eaten, we set to work to consider our position, of
which the crux was what to do with the slaves. There they sat in groups
outside the fence, many of them showing traces of the recent conflict,
and stared at us stupidly. Then of a sudden, as though with one voice,
they began to clamour for food.

“How are we to feed several hundred people?” asked Stephen.

“The slavers must have done it somehow,” I answered. “Let’s go and
search their camp.”

So we went, followed by our hungry clients, and, in addition to many
more things, to our delight found a great store of rice, mealies and
other grain, some of which was ground into meal. Of this we served out
an ample supply together with salt, and soon the cooking pots were full
of porridge. My word! how those poor creatures did eat, nor, although
it was necessary to be careful, could we find it in our hearts to stint
them of the first full meal that had passed their lips after weeks
of starvation. When at length they were satisfied we addressed them,
thanking them for their bravery, telling them that they were free and
asking what they meant to do.

Upon this point they seemed to have but one idea. They said that they
would come with us who were their protectors. Then followed a great
_indaba_, or consultation, which really I have not time to set out.
The end of it was that we agreed that so many of them as wished should
accompany us till they reached country that they knew, when they would
be at liberty to depart to their own homes. Meanwhile we divided up the
blankets and other stores of the Arabs, such as trade goods and beads,
among them, and then left them to their own devices, after placing a
guard over the foodstuffs. For my part I hoped devoutly that in the
morning we should find them gone.

After this we returned to our _boma_ just in time to assist at a sad
ceremony, that of the burial of my hunter who had been shot through the
head. His companions had dug a deep hole outside the fence and within
a few yards of where he fell. In this they placed him in a sitting
position with his face turned towards Zululand, setting by his side two
gourds that belonged to him, one filled with water and the other with
grain. Also they gave him a blanket and his two assegais, tearing the
blanket and breaking the handles of the spears, to “kill” them as they
said. Then quietly enough they threw in the earth about him and filled
the top of the hole with large stones to prevent the hyenas from digging
him up. This done, one by one, they walked past the grave, each man
stopping to bid him farewell by name. Mavovo, who came last, made a
little speech, telling the deceased to _namba kachle_, that is, go
comfortably to the land of ghosts, as, he added, no doubt he would do
who had died as a man should. He requested him, moreover, if he returned
as a spirit, to bring good and not ill-fortune on us, since otherwise
when he, Mavovo, became a spirit in his turn, he would have words to say
to him on the matter. In conclusion, he remarked that as his, Mavovo’s
Snake, had foretold this event at Durban, a fact with which the deceased
would now be acquainted he, the said deceased, could never complain of
not having received value for the shilling he had paid as a divining
fee.

“Yes,” exclaimed one of the hunters with a note of anxiety in his voice,
“but your Snake mentioned six of us to you, O doctor!”

“It did,” replied Mavovo, drawing a pinch of snuff up his uninjured
nostril, “and our brother there was the first of the six. Be not afraid,
the other five will certainly join him in due course, for my Snake must
speak the truth. Still, if anyone is in a hurry,” and he glared round
the little circle, “let him stop and talk with me alone. Perhaps I could
arrange that his turn----” here he stopped, for they were all gone.

“Glad _I_ didn’t pay a shilling to have my fortune told by Mavovo,” said
Stephen, when we were back in the _boma_, “but why did they bury his
pots and spears with him?”

“To be used by the spirit on its journey,” I answered. “Although they do
not quite know it, these Zulus believe, like all the rest of the world,
that man lives on elsewhere.”



CHAPTER VIII

                           THE MAGIC MIRROR

I did not sleep very well that night, for now that the danger was over
I found that the long strain of it had told upon my nerves. Also there
were many noises. Thus, the bearers who were shot had been handed over
to their companions, who disposed of them in a simple fashion, namely by
throwing them into the bush where they attracted the notice of hyenas.
Then the four wounded men who lay near to me groaned a good deal, or
when they were not groaning uttered loud prayers to their local gods.
We had done the best we could for these unlucky fellows. Indeed, that
kind-hearted little coward, Sammy, who at some time in his career served
as a dresser in a hospital, had tended their wounds, none of which were
mortal, very well indeed, and from time to time rose to minister to
them.

But what disturbed me most was the fearful hubbub which came from
the camp below. Many of the tropical African tribes are really
semi-nocturnal in their habits, I suppose because there the night is
cooler than the day, and on any great occasion this tendency asserts
itself.

Thus every one of these freed slaves seemed to be howling his loudest to
an accompaniment of clashing iron pots or stones, which, lacking their
native drums, they beat with sticks.

Moreover, they had lit large fires, about which they flitted in an
ominous and unpleasant fashion, that reminded me of some mediaeval
pictures of hell, which I had seen in an old book.

At last I could stand it no longer, and kicking Hans who, curled up like
a dog, slept at my feet, asked him what was going on. His answer caused
me to regret the question.

“Plenty of those slaves cannibal men, Baas. Think they eat the Arabs and
like them very much,” he said with a yawn, then went to sleep again.

I did not continue the conversation.

When at length we made a start on the following morning the sun was high
over us. Indeed, there was a great deal to do. The guns and ammunition
of the dead Arabs had to be collected; the ivory, of which they carried
a good store, must be buried, for to take it with us was impossible, and
the loads apportioned.[*] Also it was necessary to make litters for the
wounded, and to stir up the slaves from their debauch, into the nature
of which I made no further inquiries, was no easy task. On mustering
them I found that a good number had vanished during the night, where
to I do not know. Still a mob of well over two hundred people, a
considerable portion of whom were women and children, remained, whose
one idea seemed to be to accompany us wherever we might wander. So with
this miscellaneous following at length we started.

[*] To my sorrow we never saw this ivory again.--A.Q.

To describe our adventures during the next month would be too long if
not impossible, for to tell the truth, after the lapse of so many years,
these have become somewhat entangled in my mind. Our great difficulty
was to feed such a multitude, for the store of rice and grain, upon
which we were quite unable to keep a strict supervision, they soon
devoured. Fortunately the country through which we passed, at this time
of the year (the end of the wet season) was full of game, of which,
travelling as we did very slowly, we were able to shoot a great deal.
But this game killing, delightful as it may be to the sportsman,
soon palled on us as a business. To say nothing of the expenditure of
ammunition, it meant incessant work.

Against this the Zulu hunters soon began to murmur, for, as Stephen and
I could rarely leave the camp, the burden of it fell on them. Ultimately
I hit upon this scheme. Picking out thirty or forty of the likeliest men
among the slaves, I served out to each of them ammunition and one of the
Arab guns, in the use of which we drilled them as best we could. Then
I told them that they must provide themselves and their companions with
meat. Of course accidents happened. One man was accidentally shot and
three others were killed by a cow elephant and a wounded buffalo. But in
the end they learned to handle their rifles sufficiently well to supply
the camp. Moreover, day by day little parties of the slaves disappeared,
I presume to seek their own homes, so that when at last we entered the
borders of the Mazitu country there were not more than fifty of them
left, including seventeen of those whom we had taught to shoot.

Then it was that our real adventures began.

One evening, after three days’ march through some difficult bush in
which lions carried off a slave woman, killed one of the donkeys and
mauled another so badly that it had to be shot, we found ourselves upon
the edge of a great grassy plateau that, according to my aneroid, was
1,640 feet above sea level.

“What place is this?” I asked of the two Mazitu guides, those same men
whom we had borrowed from Hassan.

“The land of our people, Chief,” they answered, “which is bordered on
one side by the bush and on the other by the great lake where live the
Pongo wizards.”

I looked about me at the bare uplands that already were beginning to
turn brown, on which nothing was visible save vast herds of buck such as
were common further south. A dreary prospect it was, for a slight rain
was falling, accompanied by mist and a cold wind.

“I do not see your people or their kraals,” I said; “I only see grass
and wild game.”

“Our people will come,” they replied, rather nervously. “No doubt even
now their spies watch us from among the tall grass or out of some hole.”

“The deuce they do,” I said, or something like it, and thought no more
of the matter. When one is in conditions in which anything _may_ happen,
such as, so far as I am concerned, have prevailed through most of my
life, one grows a little careless as to what _will_ happen. For my part
I have long been a fatalist, to a certain extent. I mean I believe that
the individual, or rather the identity which animates him, came out from
the Source of all life a long while, perhaps hundreds of thousands or
millions of years ago, and when his career is finished, perhaps hundreds
of thousands or millions of years hence, or perhaps to-morrow, will
return perfected, but still as an individual, to dwell in or with that
Source of Life. I believe also that his various existences, here or
elsewhere, are fore-known and fore-ordained, although in a sense he may
shape them by the action of his free will, and that nothing which he can
do will lengthen or shorten one of them by a single hour. Therefore, so
far as I am concerned, I have always acted up to the great injunction of
our Master and taken no thought for the morrow.

However, in this instance, as in many others of my experience, the
morrow took plenty of thought for itself. Indeed, before the dawn, Hans,
who never seemed really to sleep any more than a dog does, woke me up
with the ominous information that he heard a sound which he thought was
caused by the tramp of hundreds of marching men.

“Where?” I asked, after listening without avail--to look was useless,
for the night was dark as pitch.

He put his ear to the ground and said:

“There.”

I put _my_ ear to the ground, but although my senses are fairly acute,
could hear nothing.

Then I sent for the sentries, but these, too, could hear nothing. After
this I gave the business up and went to sleep again.

However, as it proved, Hans was quite right; in such matters he
generally was right, for his senses were as keen as those of any wild
beast. At dawn I was once more awakened, this time by Mavovo, who
reported that we were being surrounded by a regiment, or regiments. I
rose and looked out through the mist. There, sure enough, in dim and
solemn outline, though still far off, I perceived rank upon rank of men,
armed men, for the light glimmered faintly upon their spears.

“What is to be done, Macumazana?” asked Mavovo.

“Have breakfast, I think,” I answered. “If we are going to be killed
it may as well be after breakfast as before,” and calling the trembling
Sammy, I instructed him to make the coffee. Also I awoke Stephen and
explained the situation to him.

“Capital!” he answered. “No doubt these are the Mazitu, and we have
found them much more easily than we expected. People generally take such
a lot of hunting for in this confounded great country.”

“That’s not such a bad way of looking at things,” I answered, “but would
you be good enough to go round the camp and make it clear that not on
any account is anyone to fire without orders. Stay, collect all the guns
from those slaves, for heaven knows what they will do with them if they
are frightened!”

Stephen nodded and sauntered off with three or four of the hunters.
While he was gone, in consultation with Mavovo, I made certain little
arrangements of my own, which need not be detailed. They were designed
to enable us to sell our lives as dearly as possible, should things come
to the worst. One should always try to make an impression upon the enemy
in Africa, for the sake of future travellers if for no other reason.

In due course Stephen and the hunters returned with the guns, or most of
them, and reported that the slave people were in great state of terror,
and showed a disposition to bolt.

“Let them bolt,” I answered. “They would be of no use to us in a row
and might even complicate matters. Call in the Zulus who are watching at
once.”

He nodded, and a few minutes later I heard--for the mist which hung
about the bush to the east of the camp was still too dense to allow
of my seeing anything--a clamour of voices, followed by the sound of
scuttling feet. The slave people, including our bearers, had gone, every
one of them. They even carried away the wounded. Just as the soldiers
who surrounded us were completing their circle they bolted between the
two ends of it and vanished into the bush out of which we had marched
on the previous evening. Often since then I have wondered what became
of them. Doubtless some perished, and the rest worked their way back
to their homes or found new ones among other tribes. The experiences of
those who escaped must be interesting to them if they still live. I can
well imagine the legends in which these will be embodied two or three
generations hence.

Deducting the slave people and the bearers whom we had wrung out of
Hassan, we were now a party of seventeen, namely eleven Zulu hunters
including Mavovo, two white men, Hans and Sammy, and the two Mazitus
who had elected to remain with us, while round us was a great circle of
savages which closed in slowly.

As the light grew--it was long in coming on that dull morning--and
the mist lifted, I examined these people, without seeming to take any
particular notice of them. They were tall, much taller than the average
Zulu, and slighter in their build, also lighter in colour. Like the
Zulus they carried large hide shields and one very broad-bladed spear.
Throwing assegais seemed to be wanting, but in place of them I saw
that they were armed with short bows, which, together with a quiver
of arrows, were slung upon their backs. The officers wore a short
skin cloak or kaross, and the men also had cloaks, which I found out
afterwards were made from the inner bark of trees.

They advanced in the most perfect silence and very slowly. Nobody said
anything, and if orders were given this must have been done by signs. I
could not see that any of them had firearms.

“Now,” I said to Stephen, “perhaps if we shot and killed some of those
fellows, they might be frightened and run away. Or they might not; or if
they did they might return.”

“Whatever happened,” he remarked sagely, “we should scarcely be welcome
in their country afterwards, so I think we had better do nothing unless
we are obliged.”

I nodded, for it was obvious that we could not fight hundreds of
men, and told Sammy, who was perfectly livid with fear, to bring the
breakfast. No wonder he was afraid, poor fellow, for we were in great
danger. These Mazitu had a bad name, and if they chose to attack us we
should all be dead in a few minutes.

The coffee and some cold buck’s flesh were put upon our little
camp-table in front of the tent which we had pitched because of the
rain, and we began to eat. The Zulu hunters also ate from a bowl of
mealie porridge which they had cooked on the previous night, each of
them with his loaded rifle upon his knees. Our proceedings appeared
to puzzle the Mazitu very much indeed. They drew quite near to us, to
within about forty yards, and halted there in a dead circle, staring at
us with their great round eyes. It was like a scene in a dream; I shall
never forget it.

Everything about us appeared to astonish them, our indifference, the
colour of Stephen and myself (as a matter of fact at that date Brother
John was the only white man they had ever seen), our tent and our two
remaining donkeys. Indeed, when one of these beasts broke into a bray,
they showed signs of fright, looking at each other and even retreating a
few paces.

At length the position got upon my nerves, especially as I saw that
some of them were beginning to fiddle with their bows, and that their
General, a tall, one-eyed old fellow, was making up his mind to do
something. I called to one of the two Mazitus, whom I forgot to say we
had named Tom and Jerry, and gave him a pannikin of coffee.

“Take that to the captain there with my good wishes, Jerry, and ask him
if he will drink with us,” I said.

Jerry, who was a plucky fellow, obeyed. Advancing with the steaming
coffee, he held it under the Captain’s nose. Evidently he knew the man’s
name, for I heard him say:

“O Babemba, the white lords, Macumazana and Wazela, ask if you will
share their holy drink with them?”

I could perfectly understand the words, for these people spoke a dialect
so akin to Zulu that by now it had no difficulty for me.

“Their holy drink!” exclaimed the old fellow, starting back. “Man, it is
hot red-water. Would these white wizards poison me with _mwavi_?”

Here I should explain that _mwavi_ or _mkasa_, as it is sometimes
called, is the liquor distilled from the inner bark of a sort of
mimosa tree or sometimes from a root of the strychnos tribe, which is
administered by the witch-doctors to persons accused of crime. If it
makes them sick they are declared innocent. If they are thrown into
convulsions or stupor they are clearly guilty and die, either from the
effects of the poison or afterwards by other means.

“This is no _mwavi_, O Babemba,” said Jerry. “It is the divine liquor
that makes the white lords shoot straight with their wonderful guns
which kill at a thousand paces. See, I will swallow some of it,” and he
did, though it must have burnt his tongue.

Thus encouraged, old Babemba sniffed at the coffee and found it
fragrant. Then he called a man, who from his peculiar dress I took to be
a doctor, made him drink some, and watched the results, which were that
the doctor tried to finish the pannikin. Snatching it away indignantly
Babemba drank himself, and as I had half-filled the cup with sugar,
found the mixture good.

“It is indeed a holy drink,” he said, smacking his lips. “Have you any
more of it?”

“The white lords have more,” said Jerry. “They invite you to eat with
them.”

Babemba stuck his finger into the tin, and covering it with the sediment
of sugar, sucked and reflected.

“It’s all right,” I whispered to Stephen. “I don’t think he’ll kill us
after drinking our coffee, and what’s more, I believe he is coming to
breakfast.”

“This may be a snare,” said Babemba, who now began to lick the sugar out
of the pannikin.

“No,” answered Jerry with creditable resource; “though they could easily
kill you all, the white lords do not hurt those who have partaken of
their holy drink, that is unless anyone tries to harm them.”

“Cannot you bring some more of the holy drink here?” he asked, giving a
final polish to the pannikin with his tongue.

“No,” said Jerry, “if you want it you must go there. Fear nothing. Would
I, one of your own people, betray you?”

“True!” exclaimed Babemba. “By your talk and your face you are a Mazitu.
How came you--well, we will speak of that afterwards. I am very thirsty.
I will come. Soldiers, sit down and watch, and if any harm happens to
me, avenge it and report to the king.”

Now, while all this was going on, I had made Hans and Sammy open one of
the boxes and extract therefrom a good-sized mirror in a wooden
frame with a support at the back so that it could be stood anywhere.
Fortunately it was unbroken; indeed, our packing had been so careful
that none of the looking-glasses or other fragile things were injured.
To this mirror I gave a hasty polish, then set it upright upon the
table.

Old Babemba came along rather suspiciously, his one eye rolling over us
and everything that belonged to us. When he was quite close it fell
upon the mirror. He stopped, he stared, he retreated, then drawn by his
overmastering curiosity, came on again and again stood still.

“What is the matter?” called his second in command from the ranks.

“The matter is,” he answered, “that here is great magic. Here I see
myself walking towards myself. There can be no mistake, for one eye is
gone in my other self.”

“Advance, O Babemba,” cried the doctor who had tried to drink all
the coffee, “and see what happens. Keep your spear ready, and if your
witch-self attempts to harm you, kill it.”

Thus encouraged, Babemba lifted his spear and dropped it again in a
great hurry.

“That won’t do, fool of a doctor,” he shouted back. “My other self lifts
a spear also, and what is more all of you who should be behind are in
front of me. The holy drink has made me drunk; I am bewitched. Save me!”

Now I saw that the joke had gone too far, for the soldiers were
beginning to string their bows in confusion. Luckily at this moment, the
sun at length came out almost opposite to us.

“O Babemba,” I said in a solemn voice, “it is true that this magic
shield, which we have brought as a gift to you, gives you another self.
Henceforth your labours will be halved, and your pleasures doubled, for
when you look into this shield you will be not one but two. Also it
has other properties--see,” and lifting the mirror I used it as a
heliograph, flashing the reflected sunlight into the eyes of the long
half-circle of men in front of us. My word! didn’t they run.

“Wonderful!” exclaimed old Babemba, “and can I learn to do that also,
white lord?”

“Certainly,” I answered, “come and try. Now, hold it so while I say
the spell,” and I muttered some hocus-pocus, then directed it towards
certain of the Mazitu who were gathering again. “There! Look! Look!
You have hit them in the eye. You are a master of magic. They run,
they run!” and run they did indeed. “Is there anyone yonder whom you
dislike?”

“Yes, plenty,” answered Babemba with emphasis, “especially that
witch-doctor who drank nearly all the holy drink.”

“Very well; by-and-by I will show you how you can burn a hole in him
with this magic. No, not now, not now. For a while this mocker of the
sun is dead. Look,” and dipping the glass beneath the table I produced
it back first. “You cannot see anything, can you?”

“Nothing except wood,” replied Babemba, staring at the deal slip with
which it was lined.

Then I threw a dish-cloth over it and, to change the subject, offered
him another pannikin of the “holy drink” and a stool to sit on.

The old fellow perched himself very gingerly upon the stool, which was
of the folding variety, stuck the iron-tipped end of his great spear in
the ground between his knees and took hold of the pannikin. Or rather
he took hold of a pannikin and not the right one. So ridiculous was his
appearance that the light-minded Stephen, who, forgetting the perils
of the situation, had for the last minute or two been struggling with
inward laughter, clapped down his coffee on the table and retired into
the tent, where I heard him gurgling in unseemly merriment. It was this
coffee that in the confusion of the moment Sammy gave to old Babemba.
Presently Stephen reappeared, and to cover his confusion seized the
pannikin meant for Babemba and drank it, or most of it. Then Sammy,
seeing his mistake, said:

“Mr. Somers, I regret that there is an error. You are drinking from the
cup which that stinking savage has just licked clean.”

The effect was dreadful and instantaneous, for then and there Stephen
was violently sick.

“Why does the white lord do that?” asked Babemba. “Now I see that you
are truly deceiving me, and that what you are giving me to swallow is
nothing but hot _mwavi_, which in the innocent causes vomiting, but that
in those who mean evil, death.”

“Stop that foolery, you idiot,” I muttered to Stephen, kicking him on
the shins, “or you’ll get our throats cut.” Then, collecting myself with
an effort, I said:

“Oh! not at all, General. This white lord is the priest of the holy
drink and--what you see is a religious rite.”

“Is it so,” said Babemba. “Then I hope that the rite is not catching.”

“Never,” I replied, proffering him a biscuit. “And now, General Babemba,
tell me, why do you come against us with about five hundred armed men?”

“To kill you, white lords--oh! how hot is this holy drink, yet pleasant.
You said that it was not catching, did you not? For I feel----”

“Eat the cake,” I answered. “And why do you wish to kill us? Be so good
as to tell me the truth now, or I shall read it in the magic shield
which portrays the inside as well as the out,” and lifting the cloth I
stared at the glass.

“If you can read my thoughts, white lord, why trouble me to tell them?”
 asked Babemba sensibly enough, his mouth full of biscuit. “Still, as
that bright thing may lie, I will set them out. Bausi, king of our
people, has sent me to kill you, because news has reached him that you
are great slave dealers who come hither with guns to capture the Mazitus
and take them away to the Black Water to be sold and sent across it
in big canoes that move of themselves. Of this he has been warned by
messengers from the Arab men. Moreover, we know that it is true, for
last night you had with you many slaves who, seeing our spears, ran away
not an hour ago.”

Now I stared hard at the looking-glass and answered coolly:

“This magic shield tells a somewhat different story. It says that your
king, Bausi, for whom by the way we have many things as presents, told
you to lead us to him with honour, that we might talk over matters with
him.”

The shot was a good one. Babemba grew confused.

“It is true,” he stammered, “that--I mean, the king left it to my
judgment. I will consult the witch-doctor.”

“If he left it to your judgment, the matter is settled,” I said, “since
certainly, being so great a noble, you would never try to murder those
of whose holy drink you have just partaken. Indeed if you did so,” I
added in a cold voice, “you would not live long yourself. One secret
word and that drink will turn to _mwavi_ of the worst sort inside of
you.”

“Oh! yes, white lord, it is settled,” exclaimed Babemba, “it is settled.
Do not trouble the secret word. I will lead you to the king and you
shall talk with him. By my head and my father’s spirit you are safe from
me. Still, with your leave, I will call the great doctor, Imbozwi,
and ratify the agreement in his presence, and also show him the magic
shield.”

So Imbozwi was sent for, Jerry taking the message. Presently he arrived.
He was a villainous-looking person of uncertain age, humpbacked like
the picture of Punch, wizened and squint-eyed. His costume was of
the ordinary witch-doctor type being set off with snake skins, fish
bladders, baboon’s teeth and little bags of medicine. To add to his
charms a broad strip of pigment, red ochre probably, ran down his
forehead and the nose beneath, across the lips and chin, ending in a red
mark the size of a penny where the throat joins the chest. His woolly
hair also, in which was twisted a small ring of black gum, was soaked
with grease and powdered blue. It was arranged in a kind of horn,
coming to a sharp point about five inches above the top of the skull.
Altogether he looked extremely like the devil. What was more, he was a
devil in a bad temper, for the first words he said embodied a reproach
to us for not having asked him to partake of our “holy drink” with
Babemba.

We offered to make him some more, but he refused, saying that we should
poison him.

Then Babemba set the matter out, rather nervously I thought, for
evidently he was afraid of this old wizard, who listened in complete
silence. When Babemba explained that without the king’s direct order it
would be foolish and unjustifiable to put to death such magicians as
we were, Imbozwi spoke for the first time, asking why he called us
magicians.

Babemba instanced the wonders of the shining shield that showed
pictures.

“Pooh!” said Imbozwi, “does not calm water or polished iron show
pictures?”

“But this shield will make fire,” said Babemba. “The white lords say it
can burn a man up.”

“Then let it burn me up,” replied Imbozwi with ineffable contempt, “and
I will believe that these white men are magicians worthy to be kept
alive, and not common slave-traders such as we have often heard of.”

“Burn him, white lords, and show him that I am right,” exclaimed the
exasperated Babemba, after which they fell to wrangling. Evidently they
were rivals, and by this time both of them had lost their tempers.

The sun was now very hot, quite sufficiently so to enable us to give
Mr. Imbozwi a taste of our magic, which I determined he should have.
Not being certain whether an ordinary mirror would really reflect enough
heat to scorch, I drew from my pocket a very powerful burning-glass
which I sometimes used for the lighting of fires in order to save
matches, and holding the mirror in one hand and the burning-glass in
the other, I worked myself into a suitable position for the experiment.
Babemba and the witch-doctor were arguing so fiercely that neither
of them seemed to notice what I was doing. Getting the focus right,
I directed the concentrated spark straight on to Imbozwi’s greased
top-knot, where I knew he would feel nothing, my plan being to char
a hole in it. But as it happened this top-knot was built up round
something of a highly inflammable nature, reed or camphor-wood, I
expect. At any rate, about thirty seconds later the top-knot was burning
like a beautiful torch.

“_Ow!_” said the Kaffirs who were watching. “My Aunt!” exclaimed
Stephen. “Look, look!” shouted Babemba in tones of delight. “Now will
you believe, O blown-out bladder of a man, that there are greater
magicians than yourself in the world?”

“What is the matter, son of a dog, that you make a mock of me?”
 screeched the unfuriated Imbozwi, who alone was unaware of anything
unusual.

As he spoke some suspicion rose in his mind which caused him to put his
hand to his top-knot, and withdraw it with a howl. Then he sprang up and
began to dance about, which of course only fanned the fire that had now
got hold of the grease and gum. The Zulus applauded; Babemba clapped his
hands; Stephen burst into one of his idiotic fits of laughter. For my
part I grew frightened. Near at hand stood a large wooden pot such as
the Kaffirs make, from which the coffee kettle had been filled, that
fortunately was still half-full of water. I seized it and ran to him.

“Save me, white lord!” he howled. “You are the greatest of magicians and
I am your slave.”

Here I cut him short by clapping the pot bottom upwards on his burning
head, into which it vanished as a candle does into an extinguisher.
Smoke and a bad smell issued from beneath the pot, the water from which
ran all over Imbozwi, who stood quite still. When I was sure the fire
was out, I lifted the pot and revealed the discomfited wizard, but
without his elaborate head-dress. Beyond a little scorching he was not
in the least hurt, for I had acted in time; only he was bald, for when
touched the charred hair fell off at the roots.

“It is gone,” he said in an amazed voice after feeling at his scalp.

“Yes,” I answered, “quite. The magic shield worked very well, did it
not?”

“Can you put it back again, white lord?” he asked.

“That will depend upon how you behave,” I replied.

Then without another word he turned and walked back to the soldiers,
who received him with shouts of laughter. Evidently Imbozwi was not a
popular character, and his discomfiture delighted them.

Babemba also was delighted. Indeed, he could not praise our magic
enough, and at once began to make arrangements to escort us to the king
at his head town, which was called Beza, vowing that we need fear no
harm at his hands or those of his soldiers. In fact, the only person who
did not appreciate our black arts was Imbozwi himself. I caught a look
in his eye as he marched off which told me that he hated us bitterly,
and reflected to myself that perhaps I had been foolish to use that
burning-glass, although in truth I had not intended to set his head on
fire.

“My father,” said Mavovo to me afterwards, “it would have been better to
let that snake burn to death, for then you would have killed his poison.
I am something of a doctor myself, and I tell you there is nothing our
brotherhood hates so much as being laughed at. You have made a fool of
him before all his people and he will not forget it, Macumazana.”



CHAPTER IX

                            BAUSI THE KING

About midday we made a start for Beza Town where King Bausi lived, which
we understood we ought to reach on the following evening. For some hours
the regiment marched in front, or rather round us, but as we complained
to Babemba of the noise and dust, with a confidence that was quite
touching, he sent it on ahead. First, however, he asked us to pass our
word “by our mothers,” which was the most sacred of oaths among many
African peoples, that we would not attempt to escape. I confess that I
hesitated before giving an answer, not being entirely enamoured of the
Mazitu and of our prospects among them, especially as I had discovered
through Jerry that the discomfited Imbozwi had departed from the
soldiers on some business of his own. Had the matter been left to me,
indeed, I should have tried to slip back into the bush over the border,
and there put in a few months shooting during the dry season, while
working my way southwards. This, too, was the wish of the Zulu hunters,
of Hans, and I need not add of Sammy. But when I mentioned the matter to
Stephen, he implored me to abandon the idea.

“Look here, Quatermain,” he said, “I have come to this God-forsaken
country to get that great Cypripedium, and get it I will or die in the
attempt. Still,” he added after surveying our rather blank faces, “I
have no right to play with your lives, so if you think the thing
too dangerous I will go on alone with this old boy, Babemba. Putting
everything else aside, I think that one of us ought to visit Bausi’s
kraal in case the gentleman who you call Brother John should turn up
there. In short, I have made up my mind, so it is no use talking.”

I lit my pipe, and for quite a time contemplated this obstinate young
man while considering the matter from every point of view. Finally, I
came to the conclusion that he was right and I was wrong. It was true
that by bribing Babemba, or otherwise, there was still an excellent
prospect of effecting a masterly retreat and of avoiding many perils. On
the other hand, we had not come to this wild place in order to retreat.
Further, at whose expense had we come here? At that of Stephen Somers
who wished to proceed. Lastly, to say nothing of the chance of meeting
Brother John, to whom I felt no obligation since he had given us the
slip at Durban, I did not like the idea of being beaten. We had started
out to visit some mysterious savages who worshipped a monkey and a
flower, and we might as well go on till circumstances were too much for
us. After all, dangers are everywhere; those who turn back because of
dangers will never succeed in any life that we can imagine.

“Mavovo,” I said presently, pointing to Stephen with my pipe, “the
_inkoosi_ Wazela does not wish to try to escape. He wishes to go on
to the country of the Pongo people if we can get there. And, Mavovo,
remember that he has paid for everything; we are his hired servants.
Also that he says that if we run back he will walk forward alone with
these Mazitus. Still, if any of you hunters desire to slip off, he will
not look your way, nor shall I. What say you?”

“I say, Macumazana, that, though young, Wazela is a chief with a great
heart, and that where you and he go, I shall go also, as I think will
the rest of us. I do not like these Mazitu, for if their fathers were
Zulus their mothers were low people. They are bastards, and of the Pongo
I hear nothing but what is evil. Still, no good ox ever turns in the
yoke because of a mud-hole. Let us go on, for if we sink in the swamp
what does it matter? Moreover, my Snake tells me that we shall not sink,
at least not all of us.”

So it was arranged that no effort should be made to return. Sammy, it is
true, wished to do so, but when it came to the point and he was offered
one of the remaining donkeys and as much food and ammunition as he could
carry, he changed his mind.

“I think it better, Mr. Quatermain,” he said, “to meet my end in the
company of high-born, lofty souls than to pursue a lonely career towards
the inevitable in unknown circumstances.”

“Very well put, Sammy,” I answered; “so while waiting for the
inevitable, please go and cook the dinner.”

Having laid aside our doubts, we proceeded on the journey comfortably
enough, being well provided with bearers to take the place of those who
had run away. Babemba, accompanied by a single orderly, travelled with
us, and from him we collected much information. It seemed that the
Mazitu were a large people who could muster from five to seven thousand
spears. Their tradition was that they came from the south and were of
the same stock as the Zulus, of whom they had heard vaguely. Indeed,
many of their customs, to say nothing of their language, resembled
those of that country. Their military organisation, however, was not
so thorough, and in other ways they struck me as a lower race. In one
particular, it is true, that of their houses, they were more advanced,
for these, as we saw in the many kraals that we passed, were better
built, with doorways through which one could walk upright, instead of
the Kaffir bee-holes.

We slept in one of these houses on our march, and should have found
it very comfortable had it not been for the innumerable fleas which at
length drove us out into the courtyard. For the rest, these Mazitu much
resembled the Zulus. They had kraals and were breeders of cattle; they
were ruled by headmen under the command of a supreme chief or king; they
believed in witchcraft and offered sacrifice to the spirits of their
ancestors, also in some kind of a vague and mighty god who dominated the
affairs of the world and declared his will through the doctors. Lastly,
they were, and I dare say still are, a race of fighting men who loved
war and raided the neighbouring peoples upon any and every pretext,
killing their men and stealing their women and cattle. They had their
virtues, too, being kindly and hospitable by nature, though cruel enough
to their enemies. Moreover, they detested dealing in slaves and those
who practised it, saying that it was better to kill a man than to
deprive him of his freedom. Also they had a horror of the cannibalism
which is so common in the dark regions of Africa, and for this reason,
more than any other, loathed the Pongo folk who were supposed to be
eaters of men.

On the evening of the second day of our march, during which we had
passed through a beautiful and fertile upland country, very well
watered, and except in the valleys, free from bush, we arrived at Beza.
This town was situated on a wide plain surrounded by low hills and
encircled by a belt of cultivated land made beautiful by the crops
of maize and other cereals which were then ripe to harvest. It was
fortified in a way. That is, a tall, unclimbable palisade of timber
surrounded the entire town, which fence was strengthened by prickly
pears and cacti planted on its either side.

Within this palisade the town was divided into quarters more or
less devoted to various trades. Thus one part of it was called the
Ironsmiths’ Quarter; another the Soldiers’ Quarter; another the Quarter
of the Land-tillers; another that of the Skin-dressers, and so on. The
king’s dwelling and those of his women and dependents were near the
North gate, and in front of these, surrounded by semi-circles of huts,
was a wide space into which cattle could be driven if necessary. This,
however, at the time of our visit, was used as a market and a drilling
ground.

We entered the town, that must in all have contained a great number of
inhabitants, by the South gate, a strong log structure facing a wooded
slope through which ran a road. Just as the sun was setting we marched
to the guest-huts up a central street lined with the population of the
place who had gathered to stare at us. These huts were situated in the
Soldiers’ Quarter, not far from the king’s house and surrounded by an
inner fence to keep them private.

None of the people spoke as we passed them, for the Mazitu are polite by
nature; also it seemed to me that they regarded us with awe tempered
by curiosity. They only stared, and occasionally those of them who were
soldiers saluted us by lifting their spears. The huts into which we were
introduced by Babemba, with whom we had grown very friendly, were good
and clean.

Here all our belongings, including the guns which we had collected just
before the slaves ran away, were placed in one of the huts over which
a Mazitu mounted guard, the donkeys being tied to the fence at a little
distance. Outside this fence stood another armed Mazitu, also on guard.

“Are we prisoners here?” I asked of Babemba.

“The king watches over his guests,” he answered enigmatically. “Have
the white lords any message for the king whom I am summoned to see this
night?”

“Yes,” I answered. “Tell the king that we are the brethren of him who
more than a year ago cut a swelling from his body, whom we have arranged
to meet here. I mean the white lord with a long beard who among you
black people is called Dogeetah.”

Babemba started. “You are the brethren of Dogeetah! How comes it then
that you never mentioned his name before, and when is he going to meet
you here? Know that Dogeetah is a great man among us, for with him alone
of all men the king has made blood-brotherhood. As the king is, so is
Dogeetah among the Mazitu.”

“We never mentioned him because we do not talk about everything at once,
Babemba. As to when Dogeetah will meet us I am not sure; I am only sure
that he is coming.”

“Yes, lord Macumazana, but when, when? That is what the king will want
to know and that is what you must tell him. Lord,” he added, dropping
his voice, “you are in danger here where you have many enemies, since it
is not lawful for white men to enter this land. If you would save your
lives, be advised by me and be ready to tell the king to-morrow when
Dogeetah, whom he loves, will appear here to vouch for you, and see that
he does appear very soon and by the day you name. Since otherwise when
he comes, if come he does, he may not find you able to talk to him. Now
I, your friend, have spoken and the rest is with you.”

Then without another word he rose, slipped through the door of the hut
and out by the gateway of the fence from which the sentry moved aside
to let him pass. I, too, rose from the stool on which I sat and danced
about the hut in a perfect fury.

“Do you understand what that infernal (I am afraid I used a stronger
word) old fool told me?” I exclaimed to Stephen. “He says that we must
be prepared to state exactly when that other infernal old fool, Brother
John, will turn up at Beza Town, and that if we don’t we shall have our
throats cut as indeed has already been arranged.”

“Rather awkward,” replied Stephen. “There are no express trains to Beza,
and if there were we couldn’t be sure that Brother John would take one
of them. I suppose there _is_ a Brother John?” he added reflectively.
“To me he seems to be--intimately connected with Mrs. Harris.”

“Oh! there is, or there was,” I explained. “Why couldn’t the confounded
ass wait quietly for us at Durban instead of fooling off butterfly
hunting to the north of Zululand and breaking his leg or his neck there
if he has done anything of the sort?”

“Don’t know, I am sure. It’s hard enough to understand one’s own
motives, let alone Brother John’s.”

Then we sat down on our stools again and stared at each other. At this
moment Hans crept into the hut and squatted down in front of us. He
might have walked in as there was a doorway, but he preferred to creep
on his hands and knees, I don’t know why.

“What is it, you ugly little toad?” I asked viciously, for that was just
what he looked like; even the skin under his jaw moved like a toad’s.

“The Baas is in trouble?” remarked Hans.

“I should think he was,” I answered, “and so will you be presently when
you are wriggling on the point of a Mazitu spear.”

“They are broad spears that would make a big hole,” remarked Hans
again, whereupon I rose to kick him out, for his ideas were, as usual,
unpleasant.

“Baas,” he went on, “I have been listening--there is a very good hole in
this hut for listening if one lies against the wall and pretends to
be asleep. I have heard all and understood most of your talk with that
one-eyed savage and the Baas Stephen.”

“Well, you little sneak, what of it?”

“Only, Baas, that if we do not want to be killed in this place from
which there is no escape, it is necessary that you should find out
exactly on what day and at what hour Dogeetah is going to arrive.”

“Look here, you yellow idiot,” I exclaimed, “if you are beginning
that game too, I’ll----” then I stopped, reflecting that my temper was
getting the better of me and that I had better hear what Hans had to say
before I vented it on him.

“Baas, Mavovo is a great doctor; it is said that his Snake is the
straightest and the strongest in all Zululand save that of his master,
Zikali, the old slave. He told you that Dogeetah was laid up somewhere
with a hurt leg and that he was coming to meet you here; no doubt
therefore he can tell you also _when_ he is coming. I would ask him, but
he won’t set his Snake to work for me. So you must ask him, Baas, and
perhaps he will forget that you laughed at his magic and that he swore
you would never see it again.”

“Oh! blind one,” I answered, “how do I know that Mavovo’s story about
Dogeetah was not all nonsense?”

Hans stared at me amazed.

“Mavovo’s story nonsense! Mavovo’s Snake a liar! Oh! Baas, that is what
comes of being too much a Christian. Now, thanks to your father the
Predikant, I am a Christian too, but not so much that I have forgotten
how to know good magic from bad. Mavovo’s Snake a liar, and after he
whom we buried yonder was the first of the hunters whom the feathers
named to him at Durban!” and he began to chuckle in intense amusement,
then added, “Well, Baas, there it is. You must either ask Mavovo, and
very nicely, or we shall all be killed. _I_ don’t mind much, for I
should rather like to begin again a little younger somewhere else, but
just think what a noise Sammy will make!” and turning he crept out as he
had crept in.

“Here’s a nice position,” I groaned to Stephen when he had gone. “I,
a white man, who, in spite of some coincidences with which I am
acquainted, know that all this Kaffir magic is bosh am to beg a savage
to tell me something of which he _must_ be ignorant. That is, unless we
educated people have got hold of the wrong end of the stick altogether.
It is humiliating; it isn’t Christian, and I’m hanged if I’ll do it!”

“I dare say you will be--hanged I mean--whether you do it or whether you
don’t,” replied Stephen with his sweet smile. “But I say, old fellow,
how do you know it is all bosh? We are told about lots of miracles which
weren’t bosh, and if miracles ever existed, why can’t they exist now?
But there, I know what you mean and it is no use arguing. Still, if
you’re proud, I ain’t. I’ll try to soften the stony heart of Mavovo--we
are rather pals, you know--and get him to unroll the book of his occult
wisdom,” and he went.

A few minutes later I was called out to receive a sheep which, with
milk, native beer, some corn, and other things, including green forage
for the donkeys, Bausi had sent for us to eat. Here I may remark that
while we were among the Mazitu we lived like fighting cocks. There was
none of that starvation which is, or was, so common in East Africa where
the traveller often cannot get food for love or money--generally because
there is none.

When this business was settled by my sending a message of thanks to the
king with an intimation that we hoped to wait upon him on the morrow
with a few presents, I went to seek Sammy in order to tell him to kill
and cook the sheep. After some search I found, or rather heard him
beyond a reed fence which divided two of the huts. He was acting as
interpreter between Stephen Somers and Mavovo.

“This Zulu man declares, Mr. Somers,” he said, “that he quite
understands everything you have been explaining, and that it is probable
that we shall all be butchered by this savage Bausi, if we cannot tell
him when the white man, Dogeetah, whom he loves, will arrive here. He
says also that he thinks that by his magic he could learn when this will
happen--if it is to happen at all--(which of course, Mr. Somers, for
your private information only, is a mighty lie of the ignorant heathen).
He adds, however, that he does not care one brass farthing--his actual
expression, Mr. Somers, is ‘one grain of corn on a mealie-cob’--about
his or anybody else’s life, which from all I have heard of his
proceedings I can well believe to be true. He says in his vulgar
language that there is no difference between the belly of a Mazitu-land
hyena and that of any other hyena, and that the earth of Mazitu-land
is as welcome to his bones as any other earth, since the earth is the
wickedest of all hyenas, in that he has observed that soon or late it
devours everlastingly everything which once it bore. You must forgive me
for reproducing his empty and childish talk, Mr. Somers, but you bade me
to render the words of this savage with exactitude. In fact, Mr. Somers,
this reckless person intimates, in short that some power with which he
is not acquainted--he calls it the ‘Strength that makes the Sun to
shine and broiders the blanket of the night with stars’ (forgive me for
repeating his silly words), caused him ‘to be born into this world, and,
at an hour already appointed, will draw him from this world back into
its dark, eternal bosom, there to be rocked in sleep, or nursed to life
again, according to its unknown will’--I translate exactly, Mr. Somers,
although I do not know what it all means--and that he does not care a
curse when this happens. Still, he says that whereas he is growing old
and has known many sorrows--he alludes here, I gather, to some nigger
wives of his whom another savage knocked on the head; also to a child to
whom he appears to have been attached--you are young with all your days
and, he hopes, joys, before you. Therefore he would gladly do anything
in his power to save your life, because although you are white and he
is black he has conceived an affection for you and looks on you as his
child. Yes, Mr. Somers, although I blush to repeat it, this black
fellow says he looks upon you as his child. He adds, indeed, that if the
opportunity arises, he will gladly give his life to save your life,
and that it cuts his heart in two to refuse you anything. Still he must
refuse this request of yours, that he will ask the creature he calls his
Snake--what he means by that, I don’t know, Mr. Somers--to declare
when the white man, named Dogeetah, will arrive in this place. For this
reason, that he told Mr. Quatermain when he laughed at him about his
divinations that he would make no more magic for him or any of you, and
that he will die rather than break his word. That’s all, Mr. Somers, and
I dare say you will think--quite enough, too.”

“I understand,” replied Stephen. “Tell the chief, Mavovo” (I observed he
laid an emphasis on the word, _chief_) “that I _quite_ understand, and
that I thank him very much for explaining things to me so fully. Then
ask him whether, as the matter is so important, there is no way out of
this trouble?”

Sammy translated into Zulu, which he spoke perfectly, as I noted without
interpolations or additions.

“Only one way,” answered Mavovo in the intervals of taking snuff. “It is
that Macumazana himself shall ask me to do this thing, Macumazana is my
old chief and friend, and for his sake I will forget what in the case
of others I should always remember. If he will come and ask me, without
mockery, to exercise my skill on behalf of all of us, I will try to
exercise it, although I know very well that he believes it to be but as
an idle little whirlwind that stirs the dust, that raises the dust and
lets it fall again without purpose or meaning, forgetting, as the wise
white men forget, that even the wind which blows the dust is the same
that breathes in our nostrils, and that to it, we also are as is the
dust.”

Now I, the listener, thought for a moment or two. The words of this
fighting savage, Mavovo, even those of them of which I had heard only
the translation, garbled and beslavered by the mean comments of the
unutterable Sammy, stirred my imagination. Who was I that I should dare
to judge of him and his wild, unknown gifts? Who was I that I should
mock at him and by my mockery intimate that I believed him to be a
fraud?

Stepping through the gateway of the fence, I confronted him.

“Mavovo,” I said, “I have overheard your talk. I am sorry if I laughed
at you in Durban. I do not understand what you call your magic. It is
beyond me and may be true or may be false. Still, I shall be grateful to
you if you will use your power to discover, if you can, whether Dogeetah
is coming here, and if so, when. Now, do as it may please you; I have
spoken.”

“And I have heard, Macumazana, my father. To-night I will call upon my
Snake. Whether it will answer or what it will answer, I cannot say.”

Well, he did call upon his Snake with due and portentous ceremony and,
according to Stephen, who was present, which I declined to be, that
mystic reptile declared that Dogeetah, alias Brother John, would arrive
in Beza Town precisely at sunset on the third day from that night. Now
as he had divined on Friday, according to our almanac, this meant that
we might hope to see him--hope exactly described my state of mind on the
matter--on the Monday evening in time for supper.

“All right,” I said briefly. “Please do not talk to me any more about
this impious rubbish, for I want to go to sleep.”

Next morning early we unpacked our boxes and made a handsome selection
of gifts for the king, Bausi, hoping thus to soften his royal heart.
It included a bale of calico, several knives, a musical box, a cheap
American revolver, and a bundle of tooth-picks; also several pounds
of the best and most fashionable beads for his wives. This truly noble
present we sent to the king by our two Mazitu servants, Tom and Jerry,
who were marched off in the charge of several sentries, for I hoped
that these men would talk to their compatriots and tell them what good
fellows we were. Indeed I instructed them to do so.

Imagine our horror, therefore, when about an hour later, just as we were
tidying ourselves up after breakfast, there appeared through the gate,
not Tom and Jerry, for they had vanished, but a long line of Mazitu
soldiers each of whom carried one of the articles that we had sent.
Indeed the last of them held the bundle of toothpicks on his fuzzy head
as though it were a huge faggot of wood. One by one they set them down
upon the lime flooring of the verandah of the largest hut. Then their
captain said solemnly:

“Bausi, the Great Black One, has no need of the white men’s gifts.”

“Indeed,” I replied, for my dander was up. “Then he won’t get another
chance at them.”

The men turned away without more words, and presently Babemba turned up
with a company of about fifty soldiers.

“The king is waiting to see you, white lords,” he said in a voice of
very forced jollity, “and I have come to conduct you to him.”

“Why would he not accept our presents?” I asked, pointing to the row of
them.

“Oh! that is because of Imbozwi’s story of the magic shield. He said he
wanted no gifts to burn his hair off. But, come, come. He will explain
for himself. If the Elephant is kept waiting he grows angry and
trumpets.”

“Does he?” I said. “And how many of us are to come?”

“All, all, white lord. He wishes to see every one of you.”

“Not me, I suppose?” said Sammy, who was standing close by. “I must stop
to make ready the food.”

“Yes, you too,” replied Babemba. “The king would look on the mixer of
the holy drink.”

Well, there was no way out of it, so off we marched, all well armed as I
need not say, and were instantly surrounded by the soldiers. To give an
unusual note to the proceedings I made Hans walk first, carrying on his
head the rejected musical box from which flowed the touching melody of
“Home, Sweet Home.” Then came Stephen bearing the Union Jack on a pole,
then I in the midst of the hunters and accompanied by Babemba, then the
reluctant Sammy, and last of all the two donkeys led by Mazitus, for it
seemed that the king had especially ordered that these should be brought
also.

It was a truly striking cavalcade, the sight of which under any other
circumstances would have made me laugh. Nor did it fail in its effect,
for even the silent Mazitu people through whom we wended our way, were
moved to something like enthusiasm. “Home, Sweet Home” they evidently
thought heavenly, though perhaps the two donkeys attracted them most,
especially when these brayed.

“Where are Tom and Jerry?” I asked of Babemba.

“I don’t know,” he answered; “I think they have been given leave to go
to see their friends.”

Imbozwi is suppressing evidence in our favour, I thought to myself, and
said no more.

Presently we reached the gate of the royal enclosure. Here to my dismay
the soldiers insisted on disarming us, taking away our rifles, our
revolvers, and even our sheath knives. In vain did I remonstrate, saying
that we were not accustomed to part with these weapons. The answer was
that it was not lawful for any man to appear before the king armed even
with so much as a dancing-stick. Mavovo and the Zulus showed signs of
resisting and for a minute I thought there was going to be a row, which
of course would have ended in our massacre, for although the Mazitus
feared guns very much, what could we have done against hundreds of
them? I ordered him to give way, but for once he was on the point of
disobeying me. Then by a happy thought I reminded him that, according to
his Snake, Dogeetah was coming, and that therefore all would be well. So
he submitted with an ill grace, and we saw our precious guns borne off
we knew not where.

Then the Mazitu soldiers piled their spears and bows at the gate of the
kraal and we proceeded with only the Union Jack and the musical box,
which was now discoursing “Britannia rules the waves.”

Across the open space we marched to where several broad-leaved trees
grew in front of a large native house. Not far from the door of this
house a fat, middle-aged and angry-looking man was seated on a stool,
naked except for a moocha of catskins about his loins and a string of
large blue beads round his neck.

“Bausi, the King,” whispered Babemba.

At his side squatted a little hunchbacked figure, in whom I had no
difficulty in recognising Imbozwi, although he had painted his scorched
scalp white with vermillion spots and adorned his snub nose with a
purple tip, his dress of ceremony I presume. Round and behind there were
a number of silent councillors. At some signal or on reaching a given
spot, all the soldiers, including old Babemba, fell upon their hands and
knees and began to crawl. They wanted us to do the same, but here I drew
the line, feeling that if once we crawled we must always crawl.

So at my word we advanced upright, but with slow steps, in the midst of
all this wriggling humanity and at length found ourselves in the august
presence of Bausi, “the Beautiful Black One,” King of the Mazitu.



CHAPTER X

                             THE SENTENCE

We stared at Bausi and Bausi stared at us.

“I am the Black Elephant Bausi,” he exclaimed at last, worn out by our
solid silence, “and I trumpet! I trumpet! I trumpet!” (It appeared that
this was the ancient and hallowed formula with which a Mazitu king was
wont to open a conversation with strangers.)

After a suitable pause I replied in a cold voice:

“We are the white lions, Macumazana and Wazela, and we roar! we roar! we
roar!”

“I can trample,” said Bausi.

“And we can bite,” I said haughtily, though how we were to bite or do
anything else effectual with nothing but a Union Jack, I did not in the
least know.

“What is that thing?” asked Bausi, pointing to the flag.

“That which shadows the whole earth,” I answered proudly, a remark that
seemed to impress him, although he did not at all understand it, for he
ordered a soldier to hold a palm leaf umbrella over him to prevent it
from shadowing _him_.

“And that,” he asked again, pointing to the music box, “which is not
alive and yet makes a noise?”

“That sings the war-song of our people,” I said. “We sent it to you as a
present and you returned it. Why do you return our presents, O Bausi?”

Then of a sudden this potentate grew furious.

“Why do you come here, white men,” he asked, “uninvited and against
the law of my land, where only one white man is welcome, my brother
Dogeetah, who cured me of sickness with a knife? I know who you are. You
are dealers in men. You come here to steal my people and sell them into
slavery. You had many slaves with you on the borders of my country,
but you sent them away. You shall die, you shall die, you who call
yourselves lions, and the painted rag which you say shadows the world,
shall rot with your bones. As for that box which sings a war-song, I
will smash it; it shall not bewitch me as your magic shield bewitched my
great doctor, Imbozwi, burning off his hair.”

Then springing up with wonderful agility for one so fat, he knocked the
musical box from Hans’ head, so that it fell to the ground and after a
little whirring grew silent.

“That is right,” squeaked Imbozwi. “Trample on their magic, O Elephant.
Kill them, O Black One; burn them as they burned my hair.”

Now things were, I felt, very serious, for already Bausi was looking
about him as though to order his soldiers to make an end of us. So I
said in desperation:

“O King, you mentioned a certain white man, Dogeetah, a doctor of
doctors, who cured you of sickness with a knife, and called him your
brother. Well, he is our brother also, and it was by his invitation that
we have come to visit you here, where he will meet us presently.”

“If Dogeetah is your friend, then you are my friends,” answered Bausi,
“for in this land he rules as I rule, he whose blood flows in my veins,
as my blood flows in his veins. But you lie. Dogeetah is no brother of
slave-dealers, his heart is good and yours are evil. You say that he
will meet you here. When will he meet you? Tell me, and if it is soon, I
will hold my hand and wait to hear his report of you before I put you to
death, for if he speaks well of you, you shall not die.”

Now I hesitated, as well I might, for I felt that looking at our case
from his point of view, Bausi, believing us to be slave-traders, was
not angry without cause. While I was racking my brains for a reply that
might be acceptable to him and would not commit us too deeply, to my
astonishment Mavovo stepped forward and confronted the king.

“Who are you, fellow?” shouted Bausi.

“I am a warrior, O King, as my scars show,” and he pointed to the
assegai wounds upon his breast and to his cut nostril. “I am a chief of
a people from whom your people sprang and my name is Mavovo, Mavovo who
is ready to fight you or any man whom you may name, and to kill him or
you if you will. Is there one here who wishes to be killed?”

No one answered, for the mighty-chested Zulu looked very formidable.

“I am a doctor also,” went on Mavovo, “one of the greatest of doctors
who can open the ‘Gates of Distance’ and read that which is hid in the
womb of the Future. Therefore I will answer your questions which you
put to the lord Macumazana, the great and wise white man whom I serve,
because we have fought together in many battles. Yes, I will be his
Mouth, I will answer. The white man Dogeetah, who is your blood-brother
and whose word is your word among the Mazitu, will arrive here at sunset
on the second day from now. I have spoken.”

Bausi looked at me in question.

“Yes,” I exclaimed, feeling that I must say something and that it did
not much matter what I said, “Dogeetah will arrive here on the second
day from now within half an hour after sunset.”

Something, I know not what, prompted me to allow that extra half-hour,
which in the event, saved all our lives. Now Bausi consulted a while
with the execrable Imbozwi and also with the old one-eyed General
Babemba while we watched, knowing that our fate hung upon the issue.

At length he spoke.

“White men,” he said, “Imbozwi, the head of the witch-finders here,
whose hair you burnt off by your evil magic, says that it would be
better to kill you at once as your hearts are bad and you are planning
mischief against my people. So I think also. But Babemba my General,
with whom I am angry because he did not obey my orders and put you
to death on the borders of my country when he met you there with your
caravan of slaves, thinks otherwise. He prays me to hold my hand, first
because you have bewitched him into liking you and secondly because if
you should happen to be speaking the truth--which we do not believe--and
to have come here at the invitation of my brother Dogeetah, he,
Dogeetah, would be pained if he arrived and found you dead, nor could
even he bring you to life again. This being so, since it matters little
whether you die now or later, my command is that you be kept prisoners
till sunset of the second day from this, and that then you will be
led out and tied to stakes in the market-place, there to wait till
the approach of darkness, by when you say Dogeetah will be here. If
he arrives and owns you as his brethren, well and good; if he does not
arrive, or disowns you--better still, for then you shall be shot to
death with arrows as a warning to all other stealers of men not to cross
the borders of the Mazitu.”

I listened to this atrocious sentence with horror, then gasped out:

“We are not stealers of men, O King, we are freers of men, as Tom and
Jerry of your own people could tell you.”

“Who are Tom and Jerry?” he asked, indifferently. “Well, it does not
matter, for doubtless they are liars like the rest of you. I have
spoken. Take them away, feed them well and keep them safe till within an
hour of sunset on the second day from this.”

Then, without giving us any further opportunity of speaking, Bausi rose,
and followed by Imbozwi and his councillors, marched off into his big
hut. We too, were marched off, this time under a double guard commanded
by someone whom I had not seen before. At the gate of the kraal we
halted and asked for the arms that had been taken from us. No answer was
given; only the soldiers put their hands upon our shoulders and thrust
us along.

“This is a nice business,” I whispered to Stephen.

“Oh! it doesn’t matter,” he answered. “There are lots more guns in the
huts. I am told that these Mazitus are dreadfully afraid of bullets. So
all we have to do is just to break out and shoot our way through them,
for of course they will run when we begin to fire.”

I looked at him but did not answer, for to tell the truth I felt in no
mood for argument.

Presently we arrived at our quarters, where the soldiers left us, to
camp outside. Full of his warlike plan, Stephen went at once to the hut
in which the slavers’ guns had been stored with our own spare rifles and
all the ammunition. I saw him emerge looking very blank indeed and asked
him what was the matter.

“Matter!” he answered in a voice that for once really was full of
dismay. “The matter is that those Mazitu have stolen all the guns
and all the ammunition. There’s not enough powder left to make a blue
devil.”

“Well,” I replied, with the kind of joke one perpetrates under such
circumstances, “we shall have plenty of blue devils without making any
more.”

Truly ours was a dreadful situation. Let the reader imagine it. Within
a little more than forty-eight hours we were to be shot to death with
arrows if an erratic old gentleman who, for aught I knew might be
dead, did not turn up at what was then one of the remotest and most
inaccessible spots in Central Africa. Moreover, our only hope that such
a thing would happen, if hope it could be called, was the prophecy of a
Kaffir witch-doctor.

To rely on this in any way was so absurd that I gave up thinking of
it and set my mind to considering if there were any possible means of
escape. After hours of reflection I could find none. Even Hans, with
all his experience and nearly superhuman cunning, could suggest none.
We were unarmed and surrounded by thousands of savages, all of whom
save perhaps Babemba, believed us to be slave-traders, a race that very
properly they held in abhorrence, who had visited the country with the
object of stealing their women and children. The king, Bausi, a very
prejudiced fellow, was dead against us. Also by a piece of foolishness
which I now bitterly regretted, as indeed I regretted the whole
expedition, or at any rate entering on it in the absence of Brother
John, we had made an implacable enemy of the head medicine-man, who to
these folk was a sort of Archbishop of Canterbury. Short of a miracle,
there was no hope for us. All that we could do was to say our prayers
and prepare for the end.

Mavovo, it is true, remained cheerful. His faith in his “Snake” was
really touching. He offered to go through that divination process again
in our presence and demonstrate that there was no mistake. I declined
because I had no faith in divinations, and Stephen also declined, for
another reason, namely that the result might prove to be different,
which, he held, would be depressing. The other Zulus oscillated between
belief and scepticism, as do the unstable who set to work to study the
evidences of Christianity. But Sammy did not oscillate, he literally
howled, and prepared the food which poured in upon us so badly that I
had to turn on Hans to do the cooking, for however little appetite we
might have, it was necessary that we should keep up our strength by
eating.

“What, Mr. Quatermain,” asked Sammy between his tears, “is the use of
dressing viands that our systems will never have time to thoroughly
assimilate?”

The first night passed somehow, and so did the next day and the next
night which heralded our last morning. I got up quite early and watched
the sunrise. Never, I think, had I realised before what a beautiful
thing the sunrise is, at least not to the extent I did now when I was
saying good-bye to it for ever. Unless indeed there should prove to be
still lovelier sunrises beyond the dark of death! Then I went into
our hut, and as Stephen, who had the nerves of a rhinoceros, was still
sleeping like a tortoise in winter, I said my prayers earnestly enough,
mourned over my sins which proved to be so many that at last I gave up
the job in despair, and then tried to occupy myself by reading the Old
Testament, a book to which I have always been extremely attached.

As a passage that I lit on described how the prophet Samuel for whom I
could not help reading “Imbozwi,” hewed Agag in pieces after Bausi--I
mean Saul--had relented and spared his life, I cannot say that it
consoled me very much. Doubtless, I reflected, these people believe that
I, like Agag, had “made women childless” by my sword, so there remained
nothing save to follow the example of that unhappy king and walk
“delicately” to doom.

Then, as Stephen was still sleeping--how _could_ he do it, I wondered--I
set to work to make up the accounts of the expedition to date. It had
already cost £1,423. Just fancy expending £1,423 in order to be tied to
a post and shot to death with arrows. And all to get a rare orchid! Oh!
I reflected to myself, if by some marvel I should escape, or if I should
live again in any land where these particular flowers flourish, I would
never even look at them. And as a matter of fact I never have.

At length Stephen did wake up and, as criminals are reported to do in
the papers before execution, made an excellent breakfast.

“What’s the good of worrying?” he said presently. “I shouldn’t if it
weren’t for my poor old father. It must have come to this one day, and
the sooner it is over the sooner to sleep, as the song says. When one
comes to think of it there are enormous advantages in sleep, for that’s
the only time one is quite happy. Still, I should have liked to see that
Cypripedium first.”

“Oh! drat the Cypripedium!” I exclaimed, and blundered from the hut to
tell Sammy that if he didn’t stop his groaning I would punch his head.

“Jumps! Regular jumps! Who’d have thought it of Quatermain?” I heard
Stephen mutter in the intervals of lighting his pipe.

The morning went “like lightning that is greased,” as Sammy remarked.
Three o’clock came and Mavovo and his following sacrificed a kid to
the spirits of their ancestors, which, as Sammy remarked again, was “a
horrible, heathen ceremony much calculated to prejudice our cause with
Powers Above.”

When it was over, to my delight, Babemba appeared. He looked so pleasant
that I jumped to the conclusion that he brought the best of news
with him. Perhaps that the king had pardoned us, or perhaps--blessed
thought--that Brother John had really arrived before his time.

But not a bit of it! All he had to say was that he had caused inquiries
to be made along the route that ran to the coast and that certainly
for a hundred miles there was at present no sign of Dogeetah. So as the
Black Elephant was growing more and more enraged under the stirrings
up of Imbozwi, it was obvious that that evening’s ceremony must be
performed. Indeed, as it was part of his duty to superintend the
erection of the posts to which we were to be tied and the digging of
our graves at their bases, he had just come to count us again to be sure
that he had not made any mistake as to the number. Also, if there were
any articles that we would like buried with us, would we be so kind as
to point them out and he would be sure to see to the matter. It would be
soon over, and not painful, he added, as he had selected the very best
archers in Beza Town who rarely missed and could, most of them, send an
arrow up to the feather into a buffalo.

Then he chatted a little about other matters, as to where he should
find the magic shield I had given him, which he would always value as a
souvenir, etc., took a pinch of snuff with Mavovo and departed, saying
that he would be sure to return again at the proper time.

It was now four o’clock, and as Sammy was quite beyond it, Stephen made
himself some tea. It was very good tea, especially as we had milk to put
in it, although I did not remember what it tasted like till afterwards.

Now, having abandoned hope, I went into a hut alone to compose myself
to meet my end like a gentleman, and seated there in silence and
semi-darkness my spirit grew much calmer. After all, I reflected, why
should I cling to life? In the country whither I travelled, as the
reader who has followed my adventures will know, were some whom I
clearly longed to see again, notably my father and my mother, and two
noble women who were even more to me. My boy, it is true, remained (he
was alive then), but I knew that he would find friends, and as I was not
so badly off at that time, I had been able to make a proper provision
for him. Perhaps it was better that I should go, seeing that if I lived
on it would only mean more troubles and more partings.

What was about to befall me of course I could not tell, but I knew then
as I know now, that it was not extinction or even that sleep of which
Stephen had spoken. Perhaps I was passing to some place where at length
the clouds would roll away and I should understand; whence, too, I
should see all the landscape of the past and future, as an eagle does
watching from the skies, and be no longer like one struggling through
dense bush, wild-beast and serpent haunted, beat upon by the storms of
heaven and terrified with its lightnings, nor knowing whither I hewed
my path. Perhaps in that place there would be no longer what St. Paul
describes as another law in my members warring against the law of my
mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin. Perhaps there
the past would be forgiven by the Power which knows whereof we are made,
and I should become what I have always longed to be--good in every sense
and even find open to me new and better roads of service. I take these
thoughts from a note that I made in my pocket-book at the time.

Thus I reflected and then wrote a few lines of farewell in the fond
and foolish hope that somehow they might find those to whom they were
addressed (I have those letters still and very oddly they read to-day).
This done, I tried to throw out my mind towards Brother John if he still
lived, as indeed I had done for days past, so that I might inform him of
our plight and, I am afraid, reproach him for having brought us to such
an end by his insane carelessness or want of faith.

Whilst I was still engaged thus Babemba arrived with his soldiers to
lead us off to execution. It was Hans who came to tell me that he was
there. The poor old Hottentot shook me by the hand and wiped his eyes
with his ragged coat-sleeve.

“Oh! Baas, this is our last journey,” he said, “and you are going to
be killed, Baas, and it is all my fault, Baas, because I ought to have
found a way out of the trouble which is what I was hired to do. But
I can’t, my head grows so stupid. Oh! if only I could come even with
Imbozwi I shouldn’t mind, and I will, I _will_, if I have to return as a
ghost to do it. Well, Baas, you know the Predikant, your father, told
us that we don’t go out like a fire, but burn again for always
elsewhere----”

(“I hope not,” I thought to myself.)

“And that quite easily without anything to pay for the wood. So I hope
that we shall always burn together, Baas. And meanwhile, I have brought
you a little something,” and he produced what looked like a peculiarly
obnoxious horseball. “You swallow this now and you will never feel
anything; it is a very good medicine that my grandfather’s grandfather
got from the Spirit of his tribe. You will just go to sleep as nicely
as though you were very drunk, and wake up in the beautiful fire which
burns without any wood and never goes out for ever and ever, Amen.”

“No, Hans,” I said, “I prefer to die with my eyes open.”

“And so would I, Baas, if I thought there was any good in keeping them
open, but I don’t, for I can’t believe any more in the Snake of that
black fool, Mavovo. If it had been a good Snake, it would have told him
to keep clear of Beza Town, so I will swallow one of these pills and
give the other to the Baas Stephen,” and he crammed the filthy mess into
his mouth and with an effort got it down, as a young turkey does a ball
of meal that is too big for its throat.

Then, as I heard Stephen calling me, I left him invoking a most
comprehensive and polyglot curse upon the head of Imbozwi, to whom he
rightly attributed all our woes.

“Our friend here says it is time to start,” said Stephen, rather
shakily, for the situation seemed to have got a hold of him at last,
and nodding towards old Babemba, who stood there with a cheerful smile
looking as though he were going to conduct us to a wedding.

“Yes, white lord,” said Babemba, “it is time, and I have hurried so as
not to keep you waiting. It will be a very fine show, for the ‘Black
Elephant’ himself is going to do you the honour to be present, as will
all the people of Beza Town and those for many miles round.”

“Hold your tongue, you old idiot,” I said, “and stop your grinning. If
you had been a man and not a false friend you would have got us out of
this trouble, knowing as you do very well that we are no sellers of men,
but rather the enemy of those who do such things.”

“Oh! white lord,” said Babemba, in a changed voice, “believe me I only
smile to make you happy up to the end. My lips smile, but I am crying
inside. I know that you are good and have told Bausi so, but he will
not believe me, who thinks that I have been bribed by you. What can I
do against that evil-hearted Imbozwi, the head of the witch-doctors, who
hates you because he thinks you have better magic than he has and who
whispers day and night into the king’s ear, telling him that if he does
not kill you, all our people will be slain or sold for slaves, as
you are only the scouts or a big army that is coming. Only last night
Imbozwi held a great divination _indaba_, and read this and a great
deal more in the enchanted water, making the king think he saw it in
pictures, whereas I, looking over his shoulder, could see nothing at
all, except the ugly face of Imbozwi reflected in the water. Also he
swore that his spirit told me that Dogeetah, the king’s blood-brother,
being dead, would never come to Beza Town again. I have done my best.
Keep your heart white towards me, O Macumazana, and do not haunt me,
for I tell you I have done my best, and if ever I should get a chance
against Imbozwi, which I am afraid I shan’t, as he will poison me first,
I will pay him back. Oh! he shall not die quickly as you will.”

“I wish I could get a chance at him,” I muttered, for even in this
solemn moment I could cultivate no Christian spirit towards Imbozwi.

Feeling that he was honest after all, I shook old Babemba’s hand and
gave him the letters I had written, asking him to try and get them to
the coast. Then we started on our last walk.

The Zulu hunters were already outside the fence, seated on the ground,
chatting and taking snuff. I wondered if this was because they really
believed in Mavovo’s confounded Snake, or from bravado, inspired by the
innate courage of their race. When they saw me they sprang to their
feet and, lifting their right hands, gave me a loud and hearty salute
of “Inkoosi! Baba! Inkoosi! Macumazana!” Then, at a signal from Mavovo,
they broke into some Zulu war-chant, which they kept up till we reached
the stakes. Sammy, too, broke into a chant, but one of quite a different
nature.

“Be quiet!” I said to him. “Can’t you die like a man?”

“No, indeed I cannot, Mr. Quatermain,” he answered, and went on howling
for pity in about twenty different languages.

Stephen and I walked together, he still carrying the Union Jack, of
which no one tried to deprive him. I think the Mazitu believed it was
his fetish. We didn’t talk much, though once he said:

“Well, the love of orchids has brought many a man to a bad end. I wonder
whether the Governor will keep my collection or sell it.”

After this he relapsed into silence, and not knowing and indeed not
caring what would happen to his collection, I made no answer.

We had not far to go; personally I could have preferred a longer walk.
Passing with our guards down a kind of by-street, we emerged suddenly at
the head of the market-place, to find that it was packed with thousands
of people gathered there to see our execution. I noticed that they were
arranged in orderly companies and that a broad open roadway was left
between them, running to the southern gate of the market, I suppose to
facilitate the movements of so large a crowd.

All this multitude received us in respectful silence, though Sammy’s
howls caused some of them to smile, while the Zulu war-chant appeared to
excite their wonder, or admiration. At the head of the market-place, not
far from the king’s enclosure, fifteen stout posts had been planted on
as many mounds. These mounds were provided so that everyone might see
the show and, in part at any rate, were made of soil hollowed from
fifteen deep graves dug almost at the foot of the mounds. Or rather
there were seventeen posts, an extra large one being set at each end of
the line in order to accommodate the two donkeys, which it appeared were
also to be shot to death. A great number of soldiers kept a space
clear in front of the posts. On this space were gathered Bausi, his
councillors, some of his head wives, Imbozwi more hideously painted than
usual, and perhaps fifty or sixty picked archers with strung bows and an
ample supply of arrows, whose part in the ceremony it was not difficult
for us to guess.

“King Bausi,” I said as I was led past that potentate, “you are a
murderer and Heaven Above will be avenged upon you for this crime. If
our blood is shed, soon you shall die and come to meet us where _we_
have power, and your people shall be destroyed.”

My words seemed to frighten the man, for he answered:

“I am no murderer. I kill you because you are robbers of men. Moreover,
it is not I who have passed sentence on you. It is Imbozwi here, the
chief of the doctors, who has told me all about you, and whose spirit
says you must die unless my brother Dogeetah appears to save you. If
Dogeetah comes, which he cannot do because he is dead, and vouches for
you, then I shall know that Imbozwi is a wicked liar, and as you were to
die, so he shall die.”

“Yes, yes,” screeched Imbozwi. “If Dogeetah comes, as that false wizard
prophesies,” and he pointed to Mavovo, “then I shall be ready to die in
your place, white slave-dealers. Yes, yes, then you may shoot _me_ with
arrows.”

“King, take note of those words, and people, take note of those words,
that they may be fulfilled if Dogeetah comes,” said Mavovo in a great,
deep voice.

“I take note of them,” answered Bausi, “and I swear by my mother on
behalf of all the people, that they shall be fulfilled--if Dogeetah
comes.”

“Good,” exclaimed Mavovo, and stalked on to the stake which had been
pointed out to him.

As he went he whispered something into Imbozwi’s ear that seemed to
frighten that limb of Satan, for I saw him start and shiver. However, he
soon recovered, for in another minute he was engaged in superintending
those whose business it was to lash us to the posts.

This was done simply and effectively by tying our wrists with a grass
rope behind these posts, each of which was fitted with two projecting
pieces of wood that passed under our arms and practically prevented
us from moving. Stephen and I were given the places of honour in the
middle, the Union Jack being fixed, by his own request, to the top of
Stephen’s stake. Mavovo was on my right, and the other Zulus were ranged
on either side of us. Hans and Sammy occupied the end posts respectively
(except those to which the poor jackasses were bound). I noted that Hans
was already very sleepy and that shortly after he was fixed up, his head
dropped forward on his breast. Evidently his medicine was working, and
almost I regretted that I had not taken some while I had the chance.

When we were all fastened, Imbozwi came round to inspect. Moreover, with
a piece of white chalk he made a round mark on the breast of each of us;
a kind of bull’s eye for the archers to aim at.

“Ah! white man,” he said to me as he chalked away at my shooting coat,
“you will never burn anyone’s hair again with your magic shield. Never,
never, for presently I shall be treading down the earth upon you in that
hole, and your goods will belong to me.”

I did not answer, for what was the use of talking to this vile brute
when my time was so short. So he passed on to Stephen and began to chalk
him. Stephen, however, in whom the natural man still prevailed, shouted:

“Take your filthy hands off me,” and lifting his leg, which was
unfettered, gave the painted witch-doctor such an awful kick in the
stomach, that he vanished backwards into the grave beneath him.

“_Ow!_ Well done, Wazela!” said the Zulus, “we hope that you have killed
him.”

“I hope so too,” said Stephen, and the multitude of spectators gasped to
see the sacred person of the head witch-doctor, of whom they evidently
went in much fear, treated in such a way. Only Babemba grinned, and even
the king Bausi did not seem displeased.

But Imbozwi was not to be disposed of so easily, for presently, with the
help of sundry myrmidons, minor witch-doctors, he scrambled out of the
grave, cursing and covered with mud, for it was wet down there. After
that I took no more heed of him or of much else. Seeing that I had only
half an hour to live, as may be imagined, I was otherwise engaged.



CHAPTER XI

                        THE COMING OF DOGEETAH

The sunset that day was like the sunrise, particularly fine, although
as in the case of the tea, I remembered little of it till afterwards.
In fact, thunder was about, which always produces grand cloud effects in
Africa.

The sun went down like a great red eye, over which there dropped
suddenly a black eyelid of cloud with a fringe of purple lashes.

There’s the last I shall see of you, my old friend, thought I to myself,
unless I catch you up presently.

The gloom began to gather. The king looked about him, also at the sky
overhead, as though he feared rain, then whispered something to Babemba,
who nodded and strolled up to my post.

“White lord,” he said, “the Elephant wishes to know if you are ready, as
presently the light will be very bad for shooting?”

“No,” I answered with decision, “not till half an hour after sundown as
was agreed.”

Babemba went to the king and returned to me.

“White lord, the king says that a bargain is a bargain, and he will keep
to his word. Only you must not then blame him if the shooting is bad,
since of course he did not know that the night would be so cloudy, which
is not usual at this time of year.”

It grew darker and darker, till at length we might have been lost in a
London fog. The dense masses of the people looked like banks, and the
archers, flitting to and fro as they made ready, might have been shadows
in Hades. Once or twice lightning flashed and was followed after a pause
by the distant growling of thunder. The air, too, grew very oppressive.
Dense silence reigned. In all those multitudes no one spoke or stirred;
even Sammy ceased his howling, I suppose because he had become exhausted
and fainted away, as people often do just before they are hanged. It was
a most solemn time. Nature seemed to be adapting herself to the mood of
sacrifice and making ready for us a mighty pall.

At length I heard the sound of arrows being drawn from their quivers,
and then the squeaky voice of Imbozwi, saying:

“Wait a little, the cloud will lift. There is light behind it, and it
will be nicer if they can see the arrows coming.”

The cloud did begin to lift, very slowly, and from beneath it flowed a
green light like that in a cat’s eye.

“Shall we shoot, Imbozwi?” asked the voice of the captain of the
archers.

“Not yet, not yet. Not till the people can watch them die.”

The edge of cloud lifted a little more; the green light turned to a
fiery red thrown by the sunk sun and reflected back upon the earth from
the dense black cloud above. It was as though all the landscape had
burst into flames, while the heaven over us remained of the hue of ink.
Again the lightning flashed, showing the faces and staring eyes of the
thousands who watched, and even the white teeth of a great bat that
flittered past. That flash seemed to burn off an edge of the lowering
cloud and the light grew stronger and stronger, and redder and redder.

Imbozwi uttered a hiss like a snake. I heard a bow-string twang, and
almost at the same moment the thud of an arrow striking my post just
above my head. Indeed, by lifting myself I could touch it. I shut my
eyes and began to see all sorts of queer things that I had forgotten
for years and years. My brain swam and seemed to melt into a kind of
confusion. Through the intense silence I thought I heard the sound of
some animal running heavily, much as a fat bull eland does when it is
suddenly disturbed. Someone uttered a startled exclamation, which caused
me to open my eyes again. The first thing I saw was the squad of savage
archers lifting their bows--evidently that first arrow had been a kind
of trial shot. The next, looking absolutely unearthly in that terrible
and ominous light, was a tall figure seated on a white ox shambling
rapidly towards us along the open roadway that ran from the southern
gate of the market-place.

Of course, I knew that I dreamed, for this figure exactly resembled
Brother John. There was his long, snowy beard. There in his hand was his
butterfly net, with the handle of which he seemed to be prodding the ox.
Only he was wound about with wreaths of flowers as were the great horns
of the ox, and on either side of him and before and behind him ran
girls, also wreathed with flowers. It was a vision, nothing else, and I
shut my eyes again awaiting the fatal arrow.

“Shoot!” screamed Imbozwi.

“Nay, shoot not!” shouted Babemba. “_Dogeetah is come!_”

A moment’s pause, during which I heard arrows falling to the ground;
then from all those thousands of throats a roar that shaped itself to
the words:

“Dogeetah! Dogeetah is come to save the white lords.”

I must confess that after this my nerve, which is generally pretty good,
gave out to such an extent that I think I fainted for a few minutes.
During that faint I seemed to be carrying on a conversation with Mavovo,
though whether it ever took place or I only imagined it I am not sure,
since I always forgot to ask him.

He said, or I thought he said, to me:

“And now, Macumazana, my father, what have you to say? Does my Snake
stand upon its tail or does it not? Answer, I am listening.”

To which I replied, or seemed to reply:

“Mavovo, my child, certainly it appears as though your Snake _does_
stand upon its tail. Still, I hold that all this is a phantasy; that
we live in a land of dream in which nothing is real except those things
which we cannot see or touch or hear. That there is no me and no you
and no Snake at all, nothing but a Power in which we move, that shows us
pictures and laughs when we think them real.”

Whereon Mavovo said, or seemed to say:

“Ah! at last you touch the truth, O Macumazana, my father. All things
are a shadow and we are shadows in a shadow. But what throws the shadow,
O Macumazana, my father? Why does Dogeetah appear to come hither riding
on a white ox and why do all these thousands think that my Snake stands
so very stiff upon its tail?”

“I’m hanged if I know,” I replied and woke up.

There, without doubt, _was_ old Brother John with a wreath of flowers--I
noted in disgust that they were orchids--hanging in a bacchanalian
fashion from his dinted sun-helmet over his left eye. He was in a
furious rage and reviling Bausi, who literally crouched before him, and
I was in a furious rage and reviling him. What I said I do not remember,
but he said, his white beard bristling with indignation while he
threatened Bausi with the handle of the butterfly net:

“You dog! You savage, whom I saved from death and called Brother. What
were you doing to these white men who are in truth my brothers, and to
their followers? Were you about to kill them? Oh! if so, I will forget
my vow, I will forget the bond that binds us and----”

“Don’t, pray don’t,” said Bausi. “It is all a horrible mistake; I am
not to be blamed at all. It is that witch-doctor, Imbozwi, whom by the
ancient law of the land I must obey in such matters. He consulted his
Spirit and declared that you were dead; also that these white lords
were the most wicked of men, slave-traders with spotted hearts, who came
hither to spy out the Mazitu people and to destroy them with magic and
bullets.”

“Then he lied,” thundered Brother John, “and he knew that he lied.”

“Yes, yes, it is evident that he lied,” answered Bausi. “Bring him here,
and with him those who serve him.”

Now by the light of the moon which was shining brightly in the heavens,
for the thunder-clouds had departed with the last glow of sunset,
soldiers began an active search for Imbozwi and his confederates. Of
these they caught eight or ten, all wicked-looking fellows hideously
painted and adorned like their master, but Imbozwi himself they could
not find.

I began to think that in the confusion he had given us the slip, when
presently from the far end of the line, for we were still all tied to
our stakes, I heard the voice of Sammy, hoarse, it is true, but quite
cheerful now, saying:

“Mr. Quatermain, in the interests of justice, will you inform his
Majesty that the treacherous wizard for whom he is seeking, is now
peeping and muttering at the bottom of the grave which was dug to
receive my mortal remains.”

I did inform his Majesty, and in double-quick time our friend Imbozwi
was once more fished out of a grave by the strong arms of Babemba and
his soldiers, and dragged into the presence of the irate Bausi.

“Loose the white lords and their followers,” said Bausi, “and let them
come here.”

So our bonds were undone and we walked to where the king and Brother
John stood, the miserable Imbozwi and his attendant doctors huddled in a
heap before them.

“Who is this?” said Bausi to him, pointing at Brother John. “Is it not
he whom you vowed was dead?”

Imbozwi did not seem to think that the question required an answer, so
Bausi continued:

“What was the song that you sang in our ears just now--that if Dogeetah
came you would be ready to be shot to death with arrows in the place of
these white lords whose lives you swore away, was it not?”

Again Imbozwi made no answer, although Babemba called his attention to
the king’s query with a vigorous kick. Then Bausi shouted:

“By your own mouth are you condemned, O liar, and that shall be done
to you which you have yourself decreed,” adding almost in the words of
Elijah after he had triumphed over the priests of Baal, “Take away these
false prophets. Let none of them escape. Say you not so, O people?”

“Aye,” roared the multitude fiercely, “take them away.”

“Not a popular character, Imbozwi,” Stephen remarked to me in a
reflective voice. “Well, he is going to be served hot on his own toast
now, and serve the brute right.”

“Who is the false doctor now?” mocked Mavovo in the silence
that followed. “Who is about to sup on arrow-heads, O
Painter-of-white-spots?” and he pointed to the mark that Imbozwi had
so gleefully chalked over his heart as a guide to the arrows of the
archers.

Now, seeing that all was lost, the little humpbacked villain with a
sudden twist caught me by the legs and began to plead for mercy. So
piteously did he plead, that being already softened by the fact of our
wonderful escape from those black graves, my heart was melted in me. I
turned to ask the king to spare his life, though with little hope that
the prayer would be granted, for I saw that Bausi feared and hated the
man and was only too glad of the opportunity to be rid of him. Imbozwi,
however, interpreted my movement differently, since among savages the
turning of the back always means that a petition is refused. Then, in
his rage and despair, the venom of his wicked heart boiled over. He
leapt to his feet, and drawing a big, carved knife from among his
witch-doctor’s trappings, sprang at me like a wild cat, shouting:

“At least you shall come too, white dog!”

Most mercifully Mavovo was watching him, for that is a good Zulu saying
which declares that “Wizard is Wizard’s fate.” With one bound he was on
him. Just as the knife touched me--it actually pricked my skin
though without drawing blood, which was fortunate as probably it was
poisoned--he gripped Imbozwi’s arm in his grasp of iron and hurled him
to the ground as though he were but a child.

After this of course all was over.

“Come away,” I said to Stephen and Brother John; “this is no place for
us.”

So we went and gained our huts without molestation and indeed quite
unobserved, for the attention of everyone in Beza Town was fully
occupied elsewhere. From the market-place behind us rose so hideous a
clamour that we rushed into my hut and shut the door to escape or lessen
the sound. It was dark in the hut, for which I was really thankful, for
the darkness seemed to soothe my nerves. Especially was this so when
Brother John said:

“Friend, Allan Quatermain, and you, young gentleman, whose name I don’t
know, I will tell you what I think I never mentioned to you before,
that, in addition to being a doctor, I am a clergyman of the American
Episcopalian Church. Well, as a clergyman, I will ask your leave to
return thanks for your very remarkable deliverance from a cruel death.”

“By all means,” I muttered for both of us, and he did so in a most
earnest and beautiful prayer. Brother John may or may not have been
a little touched in the head at this time of his life, but he was
certainly an able and a good man.

Afterwards, as the shrieks and shouting had now died down to a confused
murmur of many voices, we went and sat outside under the projecting
eaves of the hut, where I introduced Stephen Somers to Brother John.

“And now,” I said, “in the name of goodness, where do you come from tied
up in flowers like a Roman priest at sacrifice, and riding on a bull
like the lady called Europa? And what on earth do you mean by playing
us such a scurvy trick down there in Durban, leaving us without a word
after you had agreed to guide us to this hellish hole?”

Brother John stroked his long beard and looked at me reproachfully.

“I guess, Allan,” he said in his American fashion, “there is a mistake
somewhere. To answer the last part of your question first, I did not
leave you without a word; I gave a letter to that lame old Griqua
gardener of yours, Jack, to be handed to you when you arrived.”

“Then the idiot either lost it and lied to me, as Griquas will, or he
forgot all about it.”

“That is likely. I ought to have thought of that, Allan, but I didn’t.
Well, in that letter I said that I would meet you here, where I should
have been six weeks ago awaiting you. Also I sent a message to Bausi to
warn him of your coming in case I should be delayed, but I suppose that
something happened to it on the road.”

“Why did you not wait and come with us like a sensible man?”

“Allan, as you ask me straight out, I will tell you, although the
subject is one of which I do not care to speak. I knew that you were
going to journey by Kilwa; indeed it was your only route with a lot
of people and so much baggage, and I did not wish to visit Kilwa.” He
paused, then went on: “A long while ago, nearly twenty-three years to be
accurate, I went to live at Kilwa as a missionary with my young wife. I
built a mission station and a church there, and we were happy and fairly
successful in our work. Then on one evil day the Swahili and other Arabs
came in dhows to establish a slave-dealing station. I resisted them, and
the end of it was that they attacked us, killed most of my people and
enslaved the rest. In that attack I received a cut from a sword on the
head--look, here is the mark of it,” and drawing his white hair apart he
showed us a long scar that was plainly visible in the moonlight.

“The blow knocked me senseless just about sunset one evening. When
I came to myself again it was broad daylight and everybody was gone,
except one old woman who was tending me. She was half-crazed with grief
because her husband and two sons had been killed, and another son, a
boy, and a daughter had been taken away. I asked her where my young wife
was. She answered that she, too, had been taken away eight or ten hours
before, because the Arabs had seen the lights of a ship out at sea, and
thought they might be those of a British man-of-war that was known to be
cruising on the coast. On seeing these they had fled inland in a hurry,
leaving me for dead, but killing the wounded before they went. The old
woman herself had escaped by hiding among some rocks on the seashore,
and after the Arabs had gone had crept back to the house and found me
still alive.

“I asked her where my wife had been taken. She said she did not know,
but some others of our people told her that they had heard the Arabs
say they were going to some place a hundred miles inland, to join their
leader, a half-bred villain named Hassan-ben-Mohammed, to whom they were
carrying my wife as a present.

“Now we knew this wretch, for after the Arabs landed at Kilwa, but
before actual hostilities broke out between us, he had fallen sick of
smallpox and my wife had helped to nurse him. Had it not been for her,
indeed, he would have died. However, although the leader of the band,
he was not present at the attack, being engaged in some slave-raiding
business in the interior.

“When I learned this terrible news, the shock of it, or the loss of
blood, brought on a return of insensibility, from which I only awoke
two days later to find myself on board a Dutch trading vessel that was
sailing for Zanzibar. It was the lights of this ship that the Arabs had
seen and mistaken for those of an English man-of-war. She had put into
Kilwa for water, and the sailors, finding me on the verandah of the
house and still living, in the goodness of their hearts carried me on
board. Of the old woman they had seen nothing; I suppose that at their
approach she ran away.

“At Zanzibar, in an almost dying condition, I was handed over to a
clergyman of our mission, in whose house I lay desperately ill for a
long while. Indeed six months went by before I fully recovered my right
mind. Some people say that I have never recovered it; perhaps you are
one of them, Allan.

“At last the wound in my skull healed, after a clever English naval
surgeon had removed some bits of splintered bone, and my strength came
back to me. I was and still am an American subject, and in those days we
had no consul at Zanzibar, if there is one there now, of which I am not
sure, and of course no warship. The English made what inquiries they
could for me, but could find out little or nothing, since all the
country about Kilwa was in possession of Arab slave-traders who were
supported by a ruffian who called himself the Sultan of Zanzibar.”

Again he paused, as though overcome by the sadness of his recollections.

“Did you never hear any more of your wife?” asked Stephen.

“Yes, Mr. Somers; I heard at Zanzibar from a slave whom our mission
bought and freed, that he had seen a white woman who answered to her
description alive and apparently well, at some place I was unable to
identify. He could only tell me that it was fifteen days’ journey from
the coast. She was then in charge of some black people, he did not know
of what tribe, who, he believed, had found her wandering in the bush.
He noted that the black people seemed to treat her with the greatest
reverence, although they could not understand what she said. On the
following day, whilst searching for six lost goats, he was captured by
Arabs who, he heard afterwards, were out looking for this white woman.
The day after the man had told me this, he was seized with inflammation
of the lungs, of which, being in a weak state from his sufferings in
the slave gang, he quickly died. Now you will understand why I was not
particularly anxious to revisit Kilwa.”

“Yes,” I said, “we understand that, and a good deal more of which we
will talk later. But, to change the subject, where do you come from now,
and how did you happen to turn up just in the nick of time?”

“I was journeying here across country by a route I will show you on my
map,” he answered, “when I met with an accident to my leg” (here Stephen
and I looked at each other) “which kept me laid up in a Kaffir hut for
six weeks. When I got better, as I could not walk very well I rode upon
oxen that I had trained. That white beast you saw is the last of them;
the others died of the bite of the tsetse fly. A fear which I could
not define caused me to press forward as fast as possible; for the last
twenty-four hours I have scarcely stopped to eat or sleep. When I got
into the Mazitu country this morning I found the kraals empty, except
for some women and girls, who knew me again, and threw these flowers
over me. They told me that all the men had gone to Beza Town for a great
feast, but what the feast was they either did not know or would not
reveal. So I hurried on and arrived in time--thank God in time! It is a
long story; I will tell you the details afterwards. Now we are all too
tired. What’s that noise?”

I listened and recognised the triumphant song of the Zulu hunters, who
were returning from the savage scene in the market-place. Presently
they arrived, headed by Sammy, a very different Sammy from the wailing
creature who had gone out to execution an hour or two before. Now he
was the gayest of the gay, and about his neck were strung certain weird
ornaments which I identified as the personal property of Imbozwi.

“Virtue is victorious and justice has been done, Mr. Quatermain. These
are the spoils of war,” he said, pointing to the trappings of the late
witch-doctor.

“Oh! get out, you little cur! We want to know nothing more,” I said.
“Go, cook us some supper,” and he went, not in the least abashed.

The hunters were carrying between them what appeared to be the body
of Hans. At first I was frightened, thinking that he must be dead, but
examination showed that he was only in a state of insensibility such as
might be induced by laudanum. Brother John ordered him to be wrapped up
in a blanket and laid by the fire, and this was done.

Presently Mavovo approached and squatted down in front of us.

“Macumazana, my father,” he said quietly, “what words have you for me?”

“Words of thanks, Mavovo. If you had not been so quick, Imbozwi would
have finished me. As it is, the knife only touched my skin without
breaking it, for Dogeetah has looked to see.”

Mavovo waved his hand as though to sweep this little matter aside, and
asked, looking me straight in the eyes:

“And what other words, Macumazana? As to my Snake I mean.”

“Only that you were right and I was wrong,” I answered shamefacedly.
“Things have happened as you foretold, how or why I do not understand.”

“No, my father, because you white men are so vain” (“blown out” was his
word), “that you think you have all wisdom. Now you have learned that
this is not so. I am content. The false doctors are all dead, my father,
and I think that Imbozwi----”

I held up my hand, not wishing to hear details. Mavovo rose, and with a
little smile, went about his business.

“What does he mean about his Snake?” inquired Brother John curiously.

I told him as briefly as I could, and asked him if he could explain the
matter. He shook his head.

“The strangest example of native vision that I have ever heard of,” he
answered, “and the most useful. Explain! There is no explanation, except
the old one that there are more things in heaven and earth, etc., and
that God gives different gifts to different men.”

Then we ate our supper; I think one of the most joyful meals of which I
have ever partaken. It is wonderful how good food tastes when one never
expected to swallow another mouthful. After it was finished the others
went to bed but, with the still unconscious Hans for my only companion,
I sat for a while smoking by the fire, for on this high tableland the
air was chilly. I felt that as yet I could not sleep; if for no other
reason because of the noise that the Mazitu were making in the town, I
suppose in celebration of the execution of the terrible witch-doctors
and the return of Dogeetah.

Suddenly Hans awoke, and sitting up, stared at me through the bright
flame which I had recently fed with dry wood.

“Baas,” he said in a hollow voice, “there you are, here I am, and there
is the fire which never goes out, a very good fire. But, Baas, why are
we not inside of it as your father the Predikant promised, instead of
outside here in the cold?”

“Because you are still in the world, you old fool, and not where you
deserve to be,” I answered. “Because Mavovo’s Snake was a snake with a
true tongue after all, and Dogeetah came as it foretold. Because we are
all alive and well, and it is Imbozwi with his spawn who are dead upon
the posts. That is why, Hans, as you would have seen for yourself if you
had kept awake, instead of swallowing filthy medicine like a frightened
woman, just because you were afraid of death, which at your age you
ought to have welcomed.”

“Oh! Baas,” broke in Hans, “don’t tell me that things are so and that
we are really alive in what your honoured father used to call this gourd
full of tears. Don’t tell me, Baas, that I made a coward of myself and
swallowed that beastliness--if you knew what it was made of you would
understand, Baas--for nothing but a bad headache. Don’t tell me that
Dogeetah came when my eyes were not open to see him, and worst of all,
that Imbozwi and his children were tied to those poles when I was not
able to help them out of the bottle of tears into the fire that burns
for ever and ever. Oh! it is too much, and I swear, Baas, that however
often I have to die, henceforward it shall always be with my eyes open,”
 and holding his aching head between his hands he rocked himself to and
fro in bitter grief.

Well might Hans be sad, seeing that he never heard the last of the
incident. The hunters invented a new and gigantic name for him, which
meant “The little-yellow-mouse-who-feeds-on-sleep-while-the-black-rats
eat-up-their-enemies.” Even Sammy made a mock of him, showing him the
spoils which he declared he had wrenched unaided from the mighty master
of magic, Imbozwi. As indeed he had--after the said Imbozwi was stone
dead at the stake.

It was very amusing until things grew so bad that I feared Hans would
kill Sammy, and had to put a stop to the joke.



CHAPTER XII

                         BROTHER JOHN’S STORY

Although I went to bed late I was up before sunrise. Chiefly because I
wished to have some private conversation with Brother John, whom I knew
to be a very early riser. Indeed, he slept less than any man I ever met.

As I expected, I found him astir in his hut; he was engaged in pressing
flowers by candlelight.

“John,” I said, “I have brought you some property which I think you
have lost,” and I handed him the morocco-bound _Christian Year_ and the
water-colour drawing which we had found in the sacked mission house at
Kilwa.

He looked first at the picture and then at the book; at least, I suppose
he did, for I went outside the hut for a while--to observe the sunrise.
In a few minutes he called me, and when the door was shut, said in an
unsteady voice:

“How did you come by these relics, Allan?”

I told him the story from beginning to end. He listened without a word,
and when I had finished said:

“I may as well tell what perhaps you have guessed, that the picture is
that of my wife, and the book is her book.”

“Is!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, Allan. I say _is_ because I do not believe that she is dead. I
cannot explain why, any more than I could explain last night how that
great Zulu savage was able to prophesy my coming. But sometimes we can
wring secrets from the Unknown, and I believe that I have won this truth
in answer to my prayers, that my wife still lives.”

“After twenty years, John?”

“Yes, after twenty years. Why do you suppose,” he asked almost fiercely,
“that for two-thirds of a generation I have wandered about among African
savages, pretending to be crazy because these wild people revere the mad
and always let them pass unharmed?”

“I thought it was to collect butterflies and botanical specimens.”

“Butterflies and botanical specimens! These were the pretext. I have
been and am searching for my wife. You may think it a folly, especially
considering what was her condition when we separated--she was expecting
a child, Allan--but I do not. I believe that she is hidden away among
some of these wild peoples.”

“Then perhaps it would be as well not to find her,” I answered,
bethinking me of the fate which had overtaken sundry white women in the
old days, who had escaped from shipwrecks on the coast and become the
wives of Kaffirs.

“Not so, Allan. On that point I fear nothing. If God has preserved my
wife, He has also protected her from every harm. And now,” he went on,
“you will understand why I wish to visit these Pongo--the Pongo who
worship a white goddess!”

“I understand,” I said and left him, for having learned all there was to
know, I thought it best not to prolong a painful conversation. To me
it seemed incredible that this lady should still live, and I feared
the effect upon him of the discovery that she was no more. How full
of romance is this poor little world of ours! Think of Brother John
(Eversley was his real name as I discovered afterwards), and what his
life had been. A high-minded educated man trying to serve his Faith in
the dark places of the earth, and taking his young wife with him,
which for my part I have never considered a right thing to do. Neither
tradition nor Holy Writ record that the Apostles dragged their wives and
families into the heathen lands where they went to preach, although I
believe that some of them were married. But this is by the way.

Then falls the blow; the mission house is sacked, the husband escapes by
a miracle and the poor young lady is torn away to be the prey of a vile
slave-trader. Lastly, according to the quite unreliable evidence of
some savage already in the shadow of death, she is seen in the charge of
other unknown savages. On the strength of this the husband, playing the
part of a mad botanist, hunts for her for a score of years, enduring
incredible hardships and yet buoyed up by a high and holy trust. To my
mind it was a beautiful and pathetic story. Still, for reasons which I
have suggested, I confess that I hoped that long ago she had returned
into the hands of the Power which made her, for what would be the state
of a young white lady who for two decades had been at the mercy of these
black brutes?

And yet, and yet, after my experience of Mavovo and his Snake, I did not
feel inclined to dogmatise about anything. Who and what was I, that I
should venture not only to form opinions, but to thrust them down the
throats of others? After all, how narrow are the limits of the knowledge
upon which we base our judgments. Perhaps the great sea of intuition
that surrounds us is safer to float on than are these little islets of
individual experience, whereon we are so wont to take our stand.

Meanwhile my duty was not to speculate on the dreams and mental
attitudes of others, but like a practical hunter and trader, to carry to
a successful issue an expedition that I was well paid to manage, and to
dig up a certain rare flower root, if I could find it, in the marketable
value of which I had an interest. I have always prided myself upon my
entire lack of imagination and all such mental phantasies, and upon an
aptitude for hard business and an appreciation of the facts of life,
that after all are the things with which we have to do. This is the
truth; at least, I hope it is. For if I were to be _quite_ honest, which
no one ever has been, except a gentleman named Mr. Pepys, who, I think,
lived in the reign of Charles II, and who, to judge from his memoirs,
which I have read lately, did not write for publication, I should have
to admit that there is another side to my nature. I sternly suppress it,
however, at any rate for the present.

While we were at breakfast Hans who, still suffering from headache and
remorse, was lurking outside the gateway far from the madding crowd
of critics, crept in like a beaten dog and announced that Babemba was
approaching followed by a number of laden soldiers. I was about to
advance to receive him. Then I remembered that, owing to a queer native
custom, such as that which caused Sir Theophilus Shepstone, whom I used
to know very well, to be recognised as the holder of the spirit of the
great Chaka and therefore as the equal of the Zulu monarchs, Brother
John was the really important man in our company. So I gave way and
asked him to be good enough to take my place and to live up to that
station in savage life to which it had pleased God to call him.

I am bound to say he rose to the occasion very well, being by nature
and appearance a dignified old man. Swallowing his coffee in a hurry,
he took his place at a little distance from us, and stood there in a
statuesque pose. To him entered Babemba crawling on his hands and knees,
and other native gentlemen likewise crawling, also the burdened soldiers
in as obsequious an attitude as their loads would allow.

“O King Dogeetah,” said Babemba, “your brother king, Bausi, returns the
guns and fire-goods of the white men, your children, and sends certain
gifts.”

“Glad to hear it, General Babemba,” said Brother John, “although it
would be better if he had never taken them away. Put them down and get
on to your feet. I do not like to see men wriggling on their stomachs
like monkeys.”

The order was obeyed, and we checked the guns and ammunition; also
our revolvers and the other articles that had been taken away from us.
Nothing was missing or damaged; and in addition there were four fine
elephant’s tusks, an offering to Stephen and myself, which, as a
business man, I promptly accepted; some karosses and Mazitu weapons,
presents to Mavovo and the hunters, a beautiful native bedstead with
ivory legs and mats of finely-woven grass, a gift to Hans in testimony
to his powers of sleep under trying circumstances (the Zulus roared when
they heard this, and Hans vanished cursing behind the huts), and for
Sammy a weird musical instrument with a request that in future he would
use it in public instead of his voice.

Sammy, I may add, did not see the joke any more than Hans had done, but
the rest of us appreciated the Mazitu sense of humour very much.

“It is very well, Mr. Quatermain,” he said, “for these black babes and
sucklings to sit in the seat of the scornful. On such an occasion silent
prayers would have been of little use, but I am certain that my loud
crying to Heaven delivered you all from the bites of the heathen
arrows.”

“O Dogeetah and white lords,” said Babemba, “the king invites your
presence that he may ask your forgiveness for what has happened,
and this time there will be no need for you to bring arms, since
henceforward no hurt can come to you from the Mazitu people.”

So presently we set out once more, taking with us the gifts that had
been refused. Our march to the royal quarters was a veritable triumphal
progress. The people prostrated themselves and clapped their hands
slowly in salutation as we passed, while the girls and children pelted
us with flowers as though we were brides going to be married. Our road
ran by the place of execution where the stakes, at which I confess I
looked with a shiver, were still standing, though the graves had been
filled in.

On our arrival Bausi and his councillors rose and bowed to us. Indeed,
the king did more, for coming forward he seized Brother John by the
hand, and insisted upon rubbing his ugly black nose against that of this
revered guest. This, it appeared, was the Mazitu method of embracing,
an honour which Brother John did not seem at all to appreciate. Then
followed long speeches, washed down with draughts of thick native beer.
Bausi explained that his evil proceedings were entirely due to the
wickedness of the deceased Imbozwi and his disciples, under whose
tyranny the land had groaned for long, since the people believed them to
speak “with the voice of ‘Heaven Above.’”

Brother John, on our behalf, accepted the apology, and then read a
lecture, or rather preached a sermon, that took exactly twenty-five
minutes to deliver (he is rather long in the wind), in which he
demonstrated the evils of superstition and pointed to a higher and a
better path. Bausi replied that he would like to hear more of that path
another time which, as he presumed that we were going to spend the rest
of our lives in his company, could easily be found--say during the next
spring when the crops had been sown and the people had leisure on their
hands.

After this we presented our gifts, which now were eagerly accepted. Then
I took up my parable and explained to Bausi that so far from stopping in
Beza Town for the rest of our lives, we were anxious to press forward
at once to Pongo-land. The king’s face fell, as did those of his
councillors.

“Listen, O lord Macumazana, and all of you,” he said. “These Pongo are
horrible wizards, a great and powerful people who live by themselves
amidst the swamps and mix with none. If the Pongo catch Mazitu or folk
of any other tribe, either they kill them or take them as prisoners to
their own land where they enslave them, or sometimes sacrifice them to
the devils they worship.”

“That is so,” broke in Babemba, “for when I was a lad I was a slave
to the Pongo and doomed to be sacrificed to the White Devil. It was in
escaping from them that I lost this eye.”

Needless to say, I made a note of this remark, though I did not think
the moment opportune to follow the matter up. If Babemba has once been
to Pongo-land, I reflected to myself, Babemba can go again or show us
the way there.

“And if we catch any of the Pongo,” went on Bausi, “as sometimes we do
when they come to hunt for slaves, we kill them. Ever since the Mazitu
have been in this place there has been hate and war between them and
the Pongo, and if I could wipe out those evil ones, then I should die
happily.”

“That you will never do, O King, while the White Devil lives,” said
Babemba. “Have you not heard the Pongo prophecy, that while the White
Devil lives and the Holy Flower blooms, they will live. But when the
White Devil dies and the Holy Flower ceases to bloom, then their women
will become barren and their end will be upon them.”

“Well, I suppose that this White Devil will die some day,” I said.

“Not so, Macumazana. It will never die of itself. Like its wicked
Priest, it has been there from the beginning and will always be there
unless it is killed. But who is there that can kill the White Devil?”

I thought to myself that I would not mind trying, but again I did not
pursue the point.

“My brother Dogeetah and lords,” exclaimed Bausi, “it is not possible
that you should visit these wizards except at the head of an army.
But how can I send an army with you, seeing that the Mazitu are a land
people and have no canoes in which to cross the great lake, and no trees
whereof to make them?”

We answered that we did not know but would think the matter over, as we
had come from our own place for this purpose and meant to carry it out.

Then the audience came to an end, and we returned to our huts, leaving
Dogeetah to converse with his “brother Bausi” on matters connected with
the latter’s health. As I passed Babemba I told him that I should like
to see him alone, and he said that he would visit me that evening after
supper. The rest of the day passed quietly, for we had asked that people
might be kept away from our encampment.

We found Hans, who had not accompanied us, being a little shy of
appearing in public just then, engaged in cleaning the rifles, and this
reminded me of something. Taking the double-barrelled gun of which I
have spoken, I called Mavovo and handed it to him, saying:

“It is yours, O true prophet.”

“Yes, my father,” he answered, “it is mine for a little while, then
perhaps it will be yours again.”

The words struck me, but I did not care to ask their meaning. Somehow I
wanted to hear no more of Mavovo’s prophecies.

Then we dined, and for the rest of that afternoon slept, for all of us,
including Brother John, needed rest badly. In the evening Babemba came,
and we three white men saw him alone.

“Tell us about the Pongo and this white devil they worship,” I said.

“Macumazana,” he answered, “fifty years have gone by since I was in that
land and I see things that happened to me there as through a mist. I
went to fish amongst the reeds when I was a boy of twelve, and tall
men robed in white came in a canoe and seized me. They led me to a town
where there were many other such men, and treated me very well, giving
me sweet things to eat till I grew fat and my skin shone. Then in the
evening I was taken away, and we marched all night to the mouth of a
great cave. In this cave sat a horrible old man about whom danced robed
people, performing the rites of the White Devil.

“The old man told me that on the following morning I was to be cooked
and eaten, for which reason I had been made so fat. There was a canoe at
the mouth of the cave, beyond which lay water. While all were asleep I
crept to the canoe. As I loosed the rope one of the priests woke up and
ran at me. But I hit him on the head with the paddle, for though only a
boy I was bold and strong, and he fell into the water. He came up again
and gripped the edge of the canoe, but I struck his fingers with the
paddle till he let go. A great wind was blowing that night, tearing off
boughs from the trees which grew upon the other shore of the water. It
whirled the canoe round and round and one of the boughs struck me in the
eye. I scarcely felt it at the time, but afterwards the eye withered.
Or perhaps it was a spear or a knife that struck me in the eye, I do
not know. I paddled till I lost my senses and always that wind blew. The
last thing that I remember was the sound of the canoe being driven
by the gale through reeds. When I woke up again I found myself near a
shore, to which I waded through the mud, scaring great crocodiles. But
this must have been some days later, for now I was quite thin. I fell
down upon the shore, and there some of our people found me and nursed me
till I recovered. That is all.”

“And quite enough too,” I said. “Now answer me. How far was the town
from the place where you were captured in Mazitu-land?”

“A whole day’s journey in the canoe, Macumazana. I was captured in the
morning early and we reached the harbour in the evening at a place where
many canoes were tied up, perhaps fifty of them, some of which would
hold forty men.”

“And how far was the town from this harbour?”

“Quite close, Macumazana.”

Now Brother John asked a question.

“Did you hear anything about the land beyond the water by the cave?”

“Yes, Dogeetah. I heard then, or afterwards--for from time to time
rumours reach us concerning these Pongo--that it is an island where
grows the Holy Flower, of which you know, for when last you were here
you had one of its blooms. I heard, too, that this Holy Flower was
tended by a priestess named Mother of the Flower, and her servants, all
of whom were virgins.”

“Who was the priestess?”

“I do not know, but I heave heard that she was one of those people
who, although their parents are black, are born white, and that if any
females among the Pongo are born white, or with pink eyes, or deaf and
dumb, they are set apart to be the servants of the priestess. But this
priestess must now be dead, seeing that when I was a boy she was already
old, very, very old, and the Pongo were much concerned because there was
no one of white skin who could be appointed to succeed her. Indeed she
_is_ dead, since many years ago there was a great feast in Pongo-land
and numbers of slaves were eaten, because the priests had found
a beautiful new princess who was white with yellow hair and had
finger-nails of the right shape.”

Now I bethought me that this finding of the priestess named “Mother
of the Flower,” who must be distinguished by certain personal
peculiarities, resembled not a little that of the finding of the Apis
bull-god, which also must have certain prescribed and holy markings,
by the old Egyptians, as narrated by Herodotus. However, I said nothing
about it at the time, because Brother John asked sharply:

“And is this priestess also dead?”

“I do not know, Dogeetah, but I think not. If she were dead I think that
we should have heard some rumour of the Feast of the eating of the dead
Mother.”

“Eating the dead mother!” I exclaimed.

“Yes, Macumazana. It is the law among the Pongo that, for a certain
sacred reason, the body of the Mother of the Flower, when she dies, must
be partaken of by those who are privileged to the holy food.”

“But the White Devil neither dies nor is eaten?” I said.

“No, as I have told you, he never dies. It is he who causes others to
die, as if you go to Pongo-land doubtless you will find out,” Babemba
added grimly.

Upon my word, thought I to myself, as the meeting broke up because
Babemba had nothing more to say, if I had my way I would leave
Pongo-land and its white devil alone. Then I remembered how Brother John
stood in reference to this matter, and with a sigh resigned myself to
fate. As it proved it, I mean Fate, was quite equal to the occasion. The
very next morning, early, Babemba turned up again.

“Lords, lords,” he said, “a wonderful thing has happened! Last night we
spoke of the Pongo and now behold! an embassy from the Pongo is here; it
arrived at sunrise.”

“What for?” I asked.

“To propose peace between their people and the Mazitu. Yes, they ask
that Bausi should send envoys to their town to arrange a lasting peace.
As if anyone would go!” he added.

“Perhaps some might dare to,” I answered, for an idea occurred to me,
“but let us go to see Bausi.”

Half an hour later we were seated in the king’s enclosure, that is,
Stephen and I were, for Brother John was already in the royal hut,
talking to Bausi. As we went a few words had passed between us.

“Has it occurred to you, John,” I asked, “that if you really wish to
visit Pongo-land here is perhaps what you would call a providential
opportunity. Certainly none of these Mazitu will go, since they fear
lest they should find a permanent peace--inside of the Pongo. Well, you
are a blood-brother to Bausi and can offer to play the part of Envoy
Extraordinary, with us as the members of your staff.”

“I have already thought of it, Allan,” he replied, stroking his long
beard.

We sat down among a few of the leading councillors, and presently Bausi
came out of his hut accompanied by Brother John, and having greeted us,
ordered the Pongo envoys to be admitted. They were led in at once, tall,
light-coloured men with regular and Semitic features, who were clothed
in white linen like Arabs, and wore circles of gold or copper upon their
necks and wrists.

In short, they were imposing persons, quite different from ordinary
Central African natives, though there was something about their
appearance which chilled and repelled me. I should add that their spears
had been left outside, and that they saluted the king by folding their
arms upon their breasts and bowing in a dignified fashion.

“Who are you?” asked Bausi, “and what do you want?”

“I am Komba,” answered their spokesman, quite a young man with flashing
eyes, “the Accepted-of-the-Gods, who, in a day to come that perhaps is
near, will be the Kalubi of the Pongo people, and these are my servants.
I have come here bearing gifts of friendship which are without, by the
desire of the holy Motombo, the High Priest of the gods----”

“I thought that the Kalubi was the priest of your gods,” interrupted
Bausi.

“Not so. The Kalubi is the King of the Pongo as you are the King of the
Mazitu. The Motombo, who is seldom seen, is King of the spirits and the
Mouth of the gods.”

Bausi nodded in the African fashion, that is by raising the chin, not
depressing it, and Komba went on:

“I have placed myself in your power, trusting to your honour. You can
kill me if you wish, though that will avail nothing, since there are
others waiting to become Kalubi in my place.”

“Am I a Pongo that I should wish to kill messengers and eat them?” asked
Bausi, with sarcasm, a speech at which I noticed the Pongo envoys winced
a little.

“King, you are mistaken. The Pongo only eat those whom the White God
has chosen. It is a religious rite. Why should they who have cattle in
plenty desire to devour men?”

“I don’t know,” grunted Bausi, “but there is one here who can tell a
different story,” and he looked at Babemba, who wriggled uncomfortably.

Komba also looked at him with his fierce eyes.

“It is not conceivable,” he said, “that anybody should wish to eat one
so old and bony, but let that pass. I thank you, King, for your promise
of safety. I have come here to ask that you should send envoys to confer
with the Kalubi and the Motombo, that a lasting peace may be arranged
between our peoples.”

“Why do not the Kalubi and the Motombo come here to confer?” asked
Bausi.

“Because it is not lawful that they should leave their land, O King.
Therefore they have sent me who am the Kalubi-to-come. Hearken. There
has been war between us for generations. It began so long ago that only
the Motombo knows of its beginning which he has from the gods. Once the
Pongo people owned all this land and only had their sacred places beyond
the water. Then your forefathers came and fell on them, killing many,
enslaving many and taking their women to wife. Now, say the Motombo and
the Kalubi, in the place of war let there be peace; where there is but
barren sand, there let corn and flowers grow; let the darkness, wherein
men lose their way and die, be changed to pleasant light in which they
can sit in the sun holding each other’s hands.”

“Hear, hear!” I muttered, quite moved by this eloquence. But Bausi was
not at all moved; indeed, he seemed to view these poetic proposals with
the darkest suspicion.

“Give up killing our people or capturing them to be sacrificed to your
White Devil, and then in a year or two we may listen to your words that
are smeared with honey,” he said. “As it is, we think that they are
but a trap to catch flies. Still, if there are any of our councillors
willing to visit your Motombo and your Kalubi and hear what they have to
propose, taking the risk of whatever may happen to them there, I do not
forbid it. Now, O my Councillors, speak, not altogether, but one by
one, and be swift, since to the first that speaks shall be given this
honour.”

I think I never heard a denser silence than that which followed this
invitation. Each of the _indunas_ looked at his neighbour, but not one
of them uttered a single word.

“What!” exclaimed Bausi, in affected surprise. “Do none speak? Well,
well, you are lawyers and men of peace. What says the great general,
Babemba?”

“I say, O King, that I went once to Pongo-land when I was young, taken
by the hair of my head, to leave an eye there and that I do not wish to
visit it again walking on the soles of my feet.”

“It seems, O Komba, that since none of my people are willing to act as
envoys, if there is to be talk of peace between us, the Motombo and the
Kalubi must come here under safe conduct.”

“I have said that cannot be, O King.”

“If so, all is finished, O Komba. Rest, eat of our food and return to
your own land.”

Then Brother John rose and said:

“We are blood-brethren, Bausi, and therefore I can speak for you. If you
and your councillors are willing, and these Pongos are willing, I and
my friends do not fear to visit the Motombo and the Kalubi, to talk with
them of peace on behalf of your people, since we love to see new lands
and new races of mankind. Say, Komba, if the king allows, will you
accept us as ambassadors?”

“It is for the king to name his own ambassadors,” answered Komba. “Yet
the Kalubi has heard of the presence of you white lords in Mazitu-land
and bade me say that if it should be your pleasure to accompany the
embassy and visit him, he would give you welcome. Only when the matter
was laid before the Motombo, the oracle spoke thus:

“‘Let the white men come if come they will, or let them stay away. But
if they come, let them bring with them none of those iron tubes, great
or small, whereof the land has heard, that vomit smoke with a noise and
cause death from afar. They will not need them to kill meat, for meat
shall be given to them in plenty; moreover, among the Pongo they will be
safe, unless they offer insult to the god.’”

These words Komba spoke very slowly and with much emphasis, his piercing
eyes fixed upon my face as though to read the thoughts it hid. As I
heard them my courage sank into my boots. Well, I knew that the Kalubi
was asking us to Pongo-land that we might kill this Great White Devil
that threatened his life, which, I took it, was a monstrous ape. And how
could we face that or some other frightful brute without firearms? My
mind was made up in a minute.

“O Komba,” I said, “my gun is my father, my mother, my wife and all my
other relatives. I do not stir from here without it.”

“Then, white lord,” answered Komba, “you will do well to stop in this
place in the midst of your family, since, if you try to bring it with
you to Pongo-land, you will be killed as you set foot upon the shore.”

Before I could find an answer Brother John spoke, saying:

“It is natural that the great hunter, Macumazana, should not wish to be
parted from what which to him is as a stick to a lame man. But with me
it is different. For years I have used no gun, who kill nothing that
God made, except a few bright-winged insects. I am ready to visit
your country with naught save this in my hand,” and he pointed to the
butterfly net that leaned against the fence behind him.

“Good, you are welcome,” said Komba, and I thought that I saw his eyes
gleam with unholy joy. There followed a pause, during which I explained
everything to Stephen, showing that the thing was madness. But here, to
my horror, that young man’s mulish obstinacy came in.

“I say, you know, Quatermain,” he said, “we can’t let the old boy go
alone, or at least I can’t. It’s another matter for you who have a son
dependent on you. But putting aside the fact that I mean to get----”
 he was about to add, “the orchid,” when I nudged him. Of course, it was
ridiculous, but an uneasy fear took me lest this Komba should in some
mysterious way understand what he was saying. “What’s up? Oh! I see,
but the beggar can’t understand English. Well, putting aside everything
else, it isn’t the game, and there you are, you know. If Mr. Brother
John goes, I’ll go too, and indeed if he doesn’t go, I’ll go alone.”

“You unutterable young ass,” I muttered in a stage aside.

“What is it the young white lord says he wishes in our country?” asked
the cold Komba, who with diabolical acuteness had read some of Stephen’s
meaning in his face.

“He says that he is a harmless traveller who would like to study the
scenery and to find out if you have any gold there,” I answered.

“Indeed. Well, he shall study the scenery and we have gold,” and he
touched the bracelets on his arm, “of which he shall be given as much
as he can carry away. But perchance, white lords, you would wish to talk
this matter over alone. Have we your leave to withdraw a while, O King?”

Five minutes later we were seated in the king’s “great house” with Bausi
himself and Babemba. Here there was a mighty argument. Bausi implored
Brother John not to go, and so did I. Babemba said that to go would be
madness, as he smelt witchcraft and murder in the air, he who knew the
Pongo.

Brother John replied sweetly that he certainly intended to avail himself
of this heaven-sent opportunity to visit one of the few remaining
districts in this part of Africa through which he had not yet wandered.
Stephen yawned and fanned himself with a pocket-handkerchief, for the
hut was hot, and remarked that having come so far after a certain rare
flower he did not mean to return empty-handed.

“I perceive, Dogeetah,” said Bausi at last, “that you have some reason
for this journey which you are hiding from me. Still, I am minded to
hold you here by force.”

“If you do, it will break our brotherhood,” answered Brother John. “Seek
not to know what I would hide, Bausi, but wait till the future shall
declare it.”

Bausi groaned and gave in. Babemba said that Dogeetah and Wazela were
bewitched, and that I, Macumazana, alone retained my senses.

“Then that’s settled,” exclaimed Stephen. “John and I are to go as
envoys to the Pongo, and you, Quatermain, will stop here to look after
the hunters and the stores.”

“Young man,” I replied, “do you wish to insult me? After your father
put you in my charge, too! If you two are going, I shall come also, if I
have to do so mother-naked. But let me tell you once and for all in the
most emphatic language I can command, that I consider you a brace of
confounded lunatics, and that if the Pongo don’t eat you, it will be
more than you deserve. To think that at my age I should be dragged among
a lot of cannibal savages without even a pistol, to fight some unknown
brute with my bare hands! Well, we can only die once--that is, so far as
we know at present.”

“How true,” remarked Stephen; “how strangely and profoundly true!”

Oh! I could have boxed his ears.

We went into the courtyard again, whither Komba was summoned with his
attendants. This time they came bearing gifts, or having them borne
for them. These consisted, I remember, of two fine tusks of ivory which
suggested to me that their country could not be entirely surrounded by
water, since elephants would scarcely live upon an island; gold dust
in a gourd and copper bracelets, which showed that it was mineralized;
white native linen, very well woven, and some really beautiful decorated
pots, indicating that the people had artistic tastes. Where did they
get them from, I wonder, and what was the origin of their race? I cannot
answer the question, for I never found out with any certainty. Nor do I
think they knew themselves.

The _indaba_ was resumed. Bausi announced that we three white men with
a servant apiece (I stipulated for this) would visit Pongo-land as his
envoys, taking no firearms with us, there to discuss terms of peace
between the two peoples, and especially the questions of trade and
intermarriage. Komba was very insistent that this should be included;
at the time I wondered why. He, Komba, on behalf of the Motombo and the
Kalubi, the spiritual and temporal rulers of his land, guaranteed
us safe conduct on the understanding that we attempted no insult or
violence to the gods, a stipulation from which there was no escape,
though I liked it little. He swore also that we should be delivered safe
and sound in the Mazitu country within six days of our having left its
shores.

Bausi said that it was good, adding that he would send five hundred
armed men to escort us to the place where we were to embark, and to
receive us on our return; also that if any hurt came to us he would wage
war upon the Pongo people for ever until he found means to destroy them.

So we parted, it being agreed that we were to start upon our journey on
the following morning.



CHAPTER XIII

                              RICA TOWN

As a matter of fact we did not leave Beza Town till twenty-four hours
later than had been arranged, since it took some time for old Babemba,
who was to be in charge of it, to collect and provision our escort of
five hundred men.

Here, I may mention, that when we got back to our huts we found the two
Mazitu bearers, Tom and Jerry, eating a hearty meal, but looking
rather tired. It appeared that in order to get rid of their favourable
evidence, the ceased witch-doctor, Imbozwi, who for some reason or other
had feared to kill them, caused them to be marched off to a distant part
of the land where they were imprisoned. On the arrival of the news of
the fall and death of Imbozwi and his subordinates, they were set at
liberty, and at once returned to us at Beza Town.

Of course it became necessary to explain to our servants what we were
about to do. When they understood the nature of our proposed expedition
they shook their heads, and when they learned that we had promised to
leave our guns behind us, they were speechless with amazement.

“_Kransick! Kransick!_” which means “ill in the skull,” or “mad,”
 exclaimed Hans to the others as he tapped his forehead significantly.
“They have caught it from Dogeetah, one who lives on insects which he
entangles in a net, and carries no gun to kill game. Well, I knew they
would.”

The hunters nodded in assent, and Sammy lifted his arms to Heaven as
though in prayer. Only Mavovo seemed indifferent. Then came the question
of which of them was to accompany us.

“So far as I am concerned that is soon settled,” said Mavovo. “I go with
my father, Macumazana, seeing that even without a gun I am still strong
and can fight as my male ancestors fought with a spear.”

“And I, too, go with the Baas Quatermain,” grunted Hans, “seeing that
even without a gun I am cunning, as _my_ female ancestors were before
me.”

“Except when you take medicine, Spotted Snake, and lose yourself in the
mist of sleep,” mocked one of the Zulus. “Does that fine bedstead which
the king sent you go with you?”

“No, son of a fool!” answered Hans. “I’ll lend it to you who do not
understand that there is more wisdom within me when I am asleep than
there is in you when you are awake.”

It remained to be decided who the third man should be. As neither
of Brother John’s two servants, who had accompanied him on his
cross-country journey, was suitable, one being ill and the other afraid,
Stephen suggested Sammy as the man, chiefly because he could cook.

“No, Mr. Somers, no,” said Sammy, with earnestness. “At this proposal
I draw the thick rope. To ask one who can cook to visit a land where he
will be cooked, is to seethe the offspring in its parent’s milk.”

So we gave him up, and after some discussion fixed upon Jerry, a smart
and plucky fellow, who was quite willing to accompany us. The rest of
that day we spent in making our preparations which, if simple, required
a good deal of thought. To my annoyance, at the time I wanted to find
Hans to help me, he was not forthcoming. When at length he appeared I
asked him where he had been. He answered, to cut himself a stick in
the forest, as he understood we should have to walk a long way. Also he
showed me the stick, a long, thick staff of a hard and beautiful kind of
bamboo which grows in Mazitu-land.

“What do you want that clumsy thing for,” I said, “when there are plenty
of sticks about?”

“New journey, new stick! Baas. Also this kind of wood is full of air and
might help me to float if we are upset into the water.”

“What an idea!” I exclaimed, and dismissed the matter from my mind.

At dawn, on the following day, we started, Stephen and I riding on the
two donkeys, which were now fat and lusty, and Brother John upon his
white ox, a most docile beast that was quite attached to him. All the
hunters, fully armed, came with us to the borders of the Mazitu country,
where they were to await our return in company with the Mazitu regiment.
The king himself went with us to the west gate of the town, where he
bade us all, and especially Brother John, an affectionate farewell.
Moreover, he sent for Komba and his attendants, and again swore to him
that if any harm happened to us, he would not rest till he had found a
way to destroy the Pongo, root and branch.

“Have no fear,” answered the cold Komba, “in our holy town of Rica we do
not tie innocent guests to stakes to be shot to death with arrows.”

The repartee, which was undoubtedly neat, irritated Bausi, who was not
fond of allusions to this subject.

“If the white men are so safe, why do you not let them take their guns
with them?” he asked, somewhat illogically.

“If we meant evil, King, would their guns help them, they being but few
among so many. For instance, could we not steal them, as you did when
you plotted the murder of these white lords. It is a law among the Pongo
that no such magic weapon shall be allowed to enter their land.”

“Why?” I asked, to change the conversation, for I saw that Bausi was
growing very wrath and feared complications.

“Because, my lord Macumazana, there is a prophecy among us that when a
gun is fired in Pongo-land, its gods will desert us, and the Motombo,
who is their priest, will die. That saying is very old, but until a
little while ago none knew what it meant, since it spoke of ‘a hollow
spear that smoked,’ and such a weapon was not known to us.”

“Indeed,” I said, mourning within myself that we should not be in a
position to bring about the fulfilment of that prophecy, which, as Hans
said, shaking his head sadly, “was a great pity, a very great pity!”

Three days’ march over country that gradually sloped downwards from the
high tableland on which stood Beza Town, brought us to the lake called
Kirua, a word which, I believe, means The Place of the Island. Of the
lake itself we could see nothing, because of the dense brake of tall
reeds which grew out into the shallow water for quite a mile from
the shore and was only pierced here and there with paths made by the
hippopotami when they came to the mainland at night to feed. From a high
mound which looked exactly like a tumulus and, for aught I know, may
have been one, however, the blue waters beyond were visible, and in the
far distance what, looked at through glasses, appeared to be a tree-clad
mountain top. I asked Komba what it might be, and he answered that it
was the Home of the gods in Pongo-land.

“What gods?” I asked again, whereon he replied like a black Herodotus,
that of these it was not lawful to speak.

I have rarely met anyone more difficult to pump than that frigid and
un-African Komba.

On the top of this mound we planted the Union Jack, fixed to the tallest
pole that we could find. Komba asked suspiciously why we did so, and
as I was determined to show this unsympathetic person that there were
others as unpumpable as himself, I replied that it was the god of our
tribe, which we set up there to be worshipped, and that anyone who
tried to insult or injure it, would certainly die, as the witch-doctor,
Imbozwi, and his children had found out. For once Komba seemed a little
impressed, and even bowed to the bunting as he passed by.

What I did not inform him was that we had set the flag there to be a
sign and a beacon to us in case we should ever be forced to find our way
back to this place unguided and in a hurry. As a matter of fact, this
piece of forethought, which oddly enough originated with the most
reckless of our party, Stephen, proved our salvation, as I shall tell
later on. At the foot of the mound we set our camp for the night, the
Mazitu soldiers under Babemba, who did not mind mosquitoes, making
theirs nearer to the lake, just opposite to where a wide hippopotamus
lane pierced the reeds, leaving a little canal of clear water.

I asked Komba when and how we were to cross the lake. He said that we
must start at dawn on the following morning when, at this time of the
year, the wind generally blew off shore, and that if the weather were
favourable, we should reach the Pongo town of Rica by nightfall. As to
how we were to do this, he would show me if I cared to follow him. I
nodded, and he led me four or five hundred yards along the edge of the
reeds in a southerly direction.

As we went, two things happened. The first of these was that a very
large, black rhinoceros, which was sleeping in some bushes, suddenly got
our wind and, after the fashion of these beasts, charged down on us from
about fifty yards away. Now I was carrying a heavy, single-barrelled
rifle, for as yet we and our weapons were not parted. On came the
rhinoceros, and Komba, small blame to him for he only had a spear,
started to run. I cocked the rifle and waited my chance.

When it was not more than fifteen paces away the rhinoceros threw up its
head, at which, of course, it was useless to fire because of the horn,
and I let drive at the throat. The bullet hit it fair, and I suppose
penetrated to the heart. At any rate, it rolled over and over like a
shot rabbit, and with a single stretch of its limbs, expired almost at
my feet.

Komba was much impressed. He returned; he stared at the dead rhinoceros
and at the hole in its throat; he stared at me; he stared at the still
smoking rifle.

“The great beast of the plains killed with a noise!” he muttered.
“Killed in an instant by this little monkey of a white man” (I thanked
him for that and made a note of it) “and his magic. Oh! the Motombo was
wise when he commanded----” and with an effort he stopped.

“Well, friend, what is the matter?” I asked. “You see there was no need
for you to run. If you had stepped behind me you would have been as safe
as you are now--after running.”

“It is so, lord Macumazana, but the thing is strange to me. Forgive me
if I do not understand.”

“Oh! I forgive you, my lord Kalubi--that is--to be. It is clear that you
have a good deal to learn in Pongo-land.”

“Yes, my lord Macumazana, and so perhaps have you,” he replied dryly,
having by this time recovered his nerve and sarcastic powers.

Then after telling Mavovo, who appeared mysteriously at the sound of the
shot--I think he was stalking us in case of accidents--to fetch men to
cut up the rhinoceros, Komba and I proceeded on our walk.

A little further on, just by the edge of the reeds, I caught sight of
a narrow, oblong trench dug in a patch of stony soil, and of a rusted
mustard tin half-hidden by some scanty vegetation.

“What is that?” I asked, in seeming astonishment, though I knew well
what it must be.

“Oh!” replied Komba, who evidently was not yet quite himself, “that is
where the white lord Dogeetah, Bausi’s blood-brother, set his little
canvas house when he was here over twelve moons ago.”

“Really!” I exclaimed, “he never told me he was here.” (This was a lie,
but somehow I was not afraid of lying to Komba.) “How do you know that
he was here?”

“One of our people who was fishing in the reeds saw him.”

“Oh! that explains it, Komba. But what an odd place for him to fish in;
so far from home; and I wonder what he was fishing for. When you have
time, Komba, you must explain to me what it is that you catch amidst the
roots of thick reeds in such shallow water.”

Komba replied that he would do so with pleasure--when he had time. Then,
as though to avoid further conversation he ran forward, and thrusting
the reeds apart, showed me a great canoe, big enough to hold thirty or
forty men, which with infinite labour had been hollowed out of the trunk
of a single, huge tree. This canoe differed from the majority of those
that personally I have seen used on African lakes and rivers, in that it
was fitted for a mast, now unshipped. I looked at it and said it was a
fine boat, whereon Komba replied that there were a hundred such at Rica
Town, though not all of them were so large.

Ah! thought I to myself as we walked back to the camp. Then, allowing an
average of twenty to a canoe, the Pongo tribe number about two
thousand males old enough to paddle, an estimate which turned out to be
singularly correct.

Next morning at dawn we started, with some difficulty. To begin with,
in the middle of the night old Babemba came to the canvas shelter under
which I was sleeping, woke me up and in a long speech implored me not to
go. He said he was convinced that the Pongo intended foul play of some
sort and that all this talk of peace was a mere trick to entrap us white
men into the country, probably in order to sacrifice us to its gods for
a religious reason.

I answered that I quite agreed with him, but that as my companions
insisted upon making this journey, I could not desert them. All that
I could do was to beg him to keep a sharp look-out so that he might be
able to help us in case we got into trouble.

“Here I will stay and watch for you, lord Macumazana,” he answered, “but
if you fall into a snare, am I able to swim through the water like a
fish, or to fly through the air like a bird to free you?”

After he had gone one of the Zulu hunters arrived, a man named Ganza,
a sort of lieutenant to Mavovo, and sang the same song. He said that
it was not right that I should go without guns to die among devils and
leave him and his companions wandering alone in a strange land.

I answered that I was much of the same opinion, but that Dogeetah
insisted upon going and that I had no choice.

“Then let us kill Dogeetah, or at any rate tie him up, so that he can
do no more mischief in his madness,” Ganza suggested blandly, whereon I
turned him out.

Lastly Sammy arrived and said:

“Mr. Quatermain, before you plunge into this deep well of foolishness,
I beg that you will consider your responsibilities to God and man, and
especially to us, your household, who are now but lost sheep far from
home, and further, that you will remember that if anything disagreeable
should overtake you, you are indebted to me to the extent of two months’
wages which will probably prove unrecoverable.”

I produced a little leather bag from a tin box and counted out to Sammy
the wages due to him, also those for three months in advance.

To my astonishment he began to weep. “Sir,” he said, “I do not seek
filthy lucre. What I mean is that I am afraid you will be killed by
these Pongo, and, alas! although I love you, sir, I am too great a
coward to come and be killed with you, for God made me like that. I pray
you not to go, Mr. Quatermain, because I repeat, I love you, sir.”

“I believe you do, my good fellow,” I answered, “and I also am afraid of
being killed, who only seem to be brave because I must. However, I hope
we shall come through all right. Meanwhile, I am going to give this
box and all the gold in it, of which there is a great deal, into your
charge, Sammy, trusting to you, if anything happens to us, to get it
safe back to Durban if you can.”

“Oh! Mr. Quatermain,” he exclaimed, “I am indeed honoured, especially
as you know that once I was in jail for--embezzlement--with extenuating
circumstances, Mr. Quatermain. I tell you that although I am a coward, I
will die before anyone gets his fingers into that box.”

“I am sure that you will, Sammy my boy,” I said. “But I hope, although
things look queer, that none of us will be called upon to die just yet.”



The morning came at last, and the six of us marched down to the canoe
which had been brought round to the open waterway. Here we had to
undergo a kind of customs-house examination at the hands of Komba
and his companions, who seemed terrified lest we should be smuggling
firearms.

“You know what rifles are like,” I said indignantly. “Can you see any in
our hands? Moreover, I give you my word that we have none.”

Komba bowed politely, but suggested that perhaps some “little guns,” by
which he meant pistols, remained in our baggage--by accident. Komba was
a most suspicious person.

“Undo all the loads,” I said to Hans, who obeyed with an enthusiasm
which I confess struck me as suspicious.

Knowing his secretive and tortuous nature, this sudden zeal for openness
seemed almost unnatural. He began by unrolling his own blanket, inside
of which appeared a miscellaneous collection of articles. I remember
among them a spare pair of very dirty trousers, a battered tin cup, a
wooden spoon such as Kaffirs use to eat their _scoff_ with, a bottle
full of some doubtful compound, sundry roots and other native medicines,
an old pipe I had given him, and last but not least, a huge head of
yellow tobacco in the leaf, of a kind that the Mazitu, like the Pongos,
cultivate to some extent.

“What on earth do you want so much tobacco for, Hans?” I asked.

“For us three black people to smoke, Baas, or to take as snuff, or to
chew. Perhaps where we are going we may find little to eat, and then
tobacco is a food on which one can live for days. Also it brings sleep
at nights.”

“Oh! that will do,” I said, fearing lest Hans, like a second Walter
Raleigh, was about to deliver a long lecture upon the virtue of tobacco.

“There is no need for the yellow man to take this weed to our land,”
 interrupted Komba, “for there we have plenty. Why does he cumber himself
with the stuff?” and he stretched out his hand idly as though to take
hold of and examine it closely.

At this moment, however, Mavovo called attention to his bundle which
he had undone, whether on purpose or by accident, I do not know, and
forgetting the tobacco, Komba turned to attend to him. With a marvellous
celerity Hans rolled up his blanket again. In less than a minute the
lashings were fast and it was hanging on his back. Again suspicion took
me, but an argument which had sprung up between Brother John and Komba
about the former’s butterfly net, which Komba suspected of being a
new kind of gun or at least a magical instrument of a dangerous sort,
attracted my notice. After this dispute, another arose over a common
garden trowel that Stephen had thought fit to bring with him. Komba
asked what it was for. Stephen replied through Brother John that it was
to dig up flowers.

“Flowers!” said Komba. “One of our gods is a flower. Does the white lord
wish to dig up our god?”

Of course this was exactly what Stephen did desire to do, but not
unnaturally he kept the fact to himself. The squabble grew so hot that
finally I announced that if our little belongings were treated with so
much suspicion, it might be better that we should give up the journey
altogether.

“We have passed our word that we have no firearms,” I said in the most
dignified manner that I could command, “and that should be enough for
you, O Komba.”

Then Komba, after consultation with his companions, gave way. Evidently
he was anxious that we should visit Pongo-land.

So at last we started. We three white men and our servants seated
ourselves in the stern of the canoe on grass cushions that had been
provided. Komba went to the bows and his people, taking the broad
paddles, rowed and pushed the boat along the water-way made by the
hippopotami through the tall and matted reeds, from which ducks and
other fowl rose in multitudes with a sound like thunder. A quarter of an
hour or so of paddling through these weed-encumbered shallows brought
us to the deep and open lake. Here, on the edge of the reeds a tall
pole that served as a mast was shipped, and a square sail, made of
closely-woven mats, run up. It filled with the morning off-land breeze
and presently we were bowling along at a rate of quite eight miles
the hour. The shore grew dim behind us, but for a long while above the
clinging mists I could see the flag that we had planted on the mound. By
degrees it dwindled till it became a mere speck and vanished. As it grew
smaller my spirits sank, and when it was quite gone, I felt very low
indeed.

Another of your fool’s errands, Allan my boy, I said to myself. I wonder
how many more you are destined to survive.

The others, too, did not seem in the best of spirits. Brother John
stared at the horizon, his lips moving as though he were engaged in
prayer, and even Stephen was temporarily depressed. Jerry had fallen
asleep, as a native generally does when it is warm and he has nothing
to do. Mavovo looked very thoughtful. I wondered whether he had been
consulting his Snake again, but did not ask him. Since the episode of
our escape from execution by bow and arrow I had grown somewhat afraid
of that unholy reptile. Next time it might foretell our immediate doom,
and if it did I knew that I should believe.

As for Hans, he looked much disturbed, and was engaged in wildly hunting
for something in the flap pockets of an antique corduroy waistcoat
which, from its general appearance, must, I imagine, years ago have
adorned the person of a British game-keeper.

“Three,” I heard him mutter. “By my great grandfather’s spirit! only
three left.”

“Three what?” I asked in Dutch.

“Three charms, Baas, and there ought to have been quite twenty-four. The
rest have fallen out through a hole that the devil himself made in this
rotten stuff. Now we shall not die of hunger, and we shall not be shot,
and we shall not be drowned, at least none of those things will happen
to me. But there are twenty-one other things that may finish us, as I
have lost the charms to ward them off. Thus----”

“Oh! stop your rubbish,” I said, and fell again into the depths of my
uncomfortable reflections. After this I, too, went to sleep. When I woke
it was past midday and the wind was falling. However, it held while
we ate some food we had brought with us, after which it died away
altogether, and the Pongo people took to their paddles. At my suggestion
we offered to help them, for it occurred to me that we might just as
well learn how to manage these paddles. So six were given to us, and
Komba, who now I noted was beginning to speak in a somewhat imperious
tone, instructed us in their use. At first we made but a poor hand at
the business, but three or four hours’ steady practice taught us a good
deal. Indeed, before our journey’s end, I felt that we should be quite
capable of managing a canoe, if ever it became necessary for us to do
so.

By three in the afternoon the shores of the island we were
approaching--if it really was an island, a point that I never cleared
up--were well in sight, the mountain top that stood some miles inland
having been visible for hours. In fact, through my glasses, I had been
able to make out its configuration almost from the beginning of the
voyage. About five we entered the mouth of a deep bay fringed on
either side with forests, in which were cultivated clearings with small
villages of the ordinary African stamp. I observed from the smaller size
of the trees adjacent to these clearings, that much more land had once
been under cultivation here, probably within the last century, and asked
Komba why this was so.

He answered in an enigmatic sentence which impressed me so much that I
find I entered it verbatim in my notebook.

“When man dies, corn dies. Man is corn, and corn is man.”

Under this entry I see that I wrote “Compare the saying, ‘Bread is the
staff of life.’”

I could not get any more out of him. Evidently he referred, however, to
a condition of shrinking in the population, a circumstance which he did
not care to discuss.

After the first few miles the bay narrowed sharply, and at its end came
to a point where a stream of no great breadth fell into it. On either
side of this stream that was roughly bridged in many places stood the
town of Rica. It consisted of a great number of large huts roofed with
palm leaves and constructed apparently of whitewashed clay, or rather,
as we discovered afterwards, of lake mud mixed with chopped straw or
grass.

Reaching a kind of wharf which was protected from erosion by piles
formed of small trees driven into the mud, to which were tied a fleet
of canoes, we landed just as the sun was beginning to sink. Our approach
had doubtless been observed, for as we drew near the wharf a horn was
blown by someone on the shore, whereon a considerable number of men
appeared. I suppose out of the huts, and assisted to make the canoe
fast. I noted that these all resembled Komba and his companions in
build and features; they were so like each other that, except for the
difference of their ages, it was difficult to tell them apart. They
might all have been members of one family; indeed, this was practically
the case, owing to constant intermarriage carried on for generations.

There was something in the appearance of these tall, cold,
sharp-featured, white-robed men that chilled my blood, something
unnatural and almost inhuman. Here was nothing of the usual African
jollity. No one shouted, no one laughed or chattered. No one crowded on
us, trying to handle our persons or clothes. No one appeared afraid
or even astonished. Except for a word or two they were silent, merely
contemplating us in a chilling and distant fashion, as though the
arrival of three white men in a country where before no white man had
ever set foot were an everyday occurrence.

Moreover, our personal appearance did not seem to impress them, for
they smiled faintly at Brother John’s long beard and at my stubbly hair,
pointing these out to each other with their slender fingers or with the
handles of their big spears. I remarked that they never used the blade
of the spear for this purpose, perhaps because they thought that we
might take this for a hostile or even a warlike demonstration. It is
humiliating to have to add that the only one of our company who seemed
to move them to wonder or interest was Hans. His extremely ugly and
wrinkled countenance, it was clear, did appeal to them to some extent,
perhaps because they had never seen anything in the least like it
before, or perhaps for another reason which the reader may guess in due
course.

At any rate, I heard one of them, pointing to Hans, ask Komba whether
the ape-man was our god or only our captain. The compliment seemed to
please Hans, who hitherto had never been looked on either as a god or
a captain. But the rest of us were not flattered; indeed, Mavovo was
indignant, and told Hans outright that if he heard any more such talk he
would beat him before these people, to show them that he was neither a
captain nor a god.

“Wait till I claim to be either, O butcher of a Zulu, before you
threaten to treat me thus!” ejaculated Hans, indignantly. Then he added,
with his peculiar Hottentot snigger, “Still, it is true that before all
the meat is eaten (i.e. before all is done) you may think me both,” a
dark saying which at the time we did not understand.

When we had landed and collected our belongings, Komba told us to follow
him, and led us up a wide street that was very tidily kept and bordered
on either side by the large huts whereof I have spoken. Each of these
huts stood in a fenced garden of its own, a thing I have rarely seen
elsewhere in Africa. The result of this arrangement was that although as
a matter of fact it had but a comparatively small population, the area
covered by Rica was very great. The town, by the way, was not surrounded
with any wall or other fortification, which showed that the inhabitants
feared no attack. The waters of the lake were their defence.

For the rest, the chief characteristic of this place was the silence
that brooded there. Apparently they kept no dogs, for none barked, and
no poultry, for I never heard a cock crow in Pongo-land. Cattle and
native sheep they had in abundance, but as they did not fear any enemy,
these were pastured outside the town, their milk and meat being brought
in as required. A considerable number of people were gathered to
observe us, not in a crowd, but in little family groups which collected
separately at the gates of the gardens.

For the most part these consisted of a man and one or more wives, finely
formed and handsome women. Sometimes they had children with them, but
these were very few; the most I saw with any one family was three, and
many seemed to possess none at all. Both the women and the children,
like the men, were decently clothed in long, white garments, another
peculiarity which showed that these natives were no ordinary African
savages.

Oh! I can see Rica Town now after all these many years: the wide street
swept and garnished, the brown-roofed, white-walled huts in their
fertile, irrigated gardens, the tall, silent folk, the smoke from the
cooking fires rising straight as a line in the still air, the graceful
palms and other tropical trees, and at the head of the street, far away
to the north, the rounded, towering shape of the forest-clad mountain
that was called House of the Gods. Often that vision comes back to me in
my sleep, or at times in my waking hours when some heavy odour reminds
me of the overpowering scent of the great trumpet-like blooms which hung
in profusion upon broad-leaved bushes that were planted in almost every
garden.

On we marched till at last we reached a tall, live fence that was
covered with brilliant scarlet flowers, arriving at its gate just as the
last red glow of day faded from the sky and night began to fall. Komba
pushed open the gate, revealing a scene that none of us are likely to
forget. The fence enclosed about an acre of ground of which the back
part was occupied by two large huts standing in the usual gardens.

In front of these, not more than fifteen paces from the gate, stood
another building of a totally different character. It was about fifty
feet in length by thirty broad and consisted only of a roof supported
upon carved pillars of wood, the spaces between the pillars being filled
with grass mats or blinds. Most of these blinds were pulled down, but
four exactly opposite the gate were open. Inside the shed forty or fifty
men, who wore white robes and peculiar caps and who were engaged in
chanting a dreadful, melancholy song, were gathered on three sides of a
huge fire that burned in a pit in the ground. On the fourth side, that
facing the gate, a man stood alone with his arms outstretched and his
back towards us.

Of a sudden he heard our footsteps and turned round, springing to the
left, so that the light might fall on us. Now we saw by the glow of the
great fire, that over it was an iron grid not unlike a small bedstead,
and that on this grid lay some fearful object. Stephen, who was a little
ahead, stared, then exclaimed in a horrified voice:

“My God! it is a woman!”

In another second the blinds fell down, hiding everything, and the
singing ceased.



CHAPTER XIV

                          THE KALUBI’S OATH

“Be silent!” I whispered, and all understood my tone if they did not
catch the words. Then steadying myself with an effort, for this hideous
vision, which might have been a picture from hell, made me feel faint, I
glanced at Komba, who was a pace or two in front of us. Evidently he was
much disturbed--the motions of his back told me this--by the sense of
some terrible mistake that he had made. For a moment he stood still,
then wheeled round and asked me if we had seen anything.

“Yes,” I answered indifferently, “we saw a number of men gathered round
a fire, nothing more.”

He tried to search our faces, but luckily the great moon, now almost
at her full, was hidden behind a thick cloud, so that he could not read
them well. I heard him sigh in relief as he said:

“The Kalubi and the head men are cooking a sheep; it is their custom to
feast together on those nights when the moon is about to change. Follow
me, white lords.”

Then he led us round the end of the long shed at which we did not even
look, and through the garden on its farther side to the two fine huts I
have mentioned. Here he clapped his hands and a woman appeared, I know
not whence. To her he whispered something. She went away and presently
returned with four or five other women who carried clay lamps filled
with oil in which floated a wick of palm fibre. These lamps were set
down in the huts that proved to be very clean and comfortable places,
furnished after a fashion with wooden stools and a kind of low table of
which the legs were carved to the shape of antelope’s feet. Also there
was a wooden platform at the end of the hut whereon lay beds covered
with mats and stuffed with some soft fibre.

“Here you may rest safe,” he said, “for, white lords, are you not the
honoured guests of the Pongo people? Presently food” (I shuddered at the
word) “will be brought to you, and after you have eaten well, if it is
your pleasure, the Kalubi and his councillors will receive you in yonder
feast-house and you can talk with them before you sleep. If you need
aught, strike upon that jar with a stick,” and he pointed to what looked
like a copper cauldron that stood in the garden of the hut near the
place where the women were already lighting a fire, “and some will wait
on you. Look, here are your goods; none are missing, and here comes
water in which you may wash. Now I must go to make report to the
Kalubi,” and with a courteous bow he departed.

So after a while did the silent, handsome women--to fetch our meal, I
understood one of them to say, and at length we were alone.

“My aunt!” said Stephen, fanning himself with his pocket-handkerchief,
“did you see that lady toasting? I have often heard of cannibals, those
slaves, for instance, but the actual business! Oh! my aunt!”

“It is no use addressing your absent aunt--if you have got one. What did
you expect if you would insist on coming to a hell like this?” I asked
gloomily.

“Can’t say, old fellow. Don’t trouble myself much with expectations as
a rule. That’s why I and my poor old father never could get on. I always
quoted the text ‘Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof’ to him,
until at length he sent for the family Bible and ruled it out with red
ink in a rage. But I say, do you think that we shall be called upon to
understudy St. Lawrence on that grid?”

“Certainly, I do,” I replied, “and, as old Babemba warned you, you can’t
complain.”

“Oh! but I will and I can. And so will you, won’t you, Brother John?”

Brother John woke up from a reverie and stroked his long beard.

“Since you ask me, Mr. Somers,” he said, reflectively, “if it were a
case of martyrdom for the Faith, like that of the saint to whom you have
alluded, I should not object--at any rate in theory. But I confess that,
speaking from a secular point of view, I have the strongest dislike to
being cooked and eaten by these very disagreeable savages. Still, I
see no reason to suppose that we shall fall victims to their domestic
customs.”

I, being in a depressed mood, was about to argue to the contrary, when
Hans poked his head into the hut and said:

“Dinner coming, Baas, very fine dinner!”

So we went out into the garden where the tall, impassive ladies were
arranging many wooden dishes on the ground. Now the moon was clear of
clouds, and by its brilliant light we examined their contents. Some
were cooked meat covered with a kind of sauce that made its nature
indistinguishable. As a matter of fact, I believe it was mutton,
but--who could say? Others were evidently of a vegetable nature. For
instance, there was a whole platter full of roasted mealie cobs and
a great boiled pumpkin, to say nothing of some bowls of curdled milk.
Regarding this feast I became aware of a sudden and complete conversion
to those principles of vegetarianism which Brother John was always
preaching to me.

“I am sure you are quite right,” I said to him, nervously, “in holding
that vegetables are the best diet in a hot climate. At any rate I have
made up my mind to try the experiment for a few days,” and throwing
manners to the winds, I grabbed four of the upper mealie cobs and the
top of the pumpkin which I cut off with a knife. Somehow I did not seem
to fancy that portion of it which touched the platter, for who knew what
those dishes might have contained and how often they were washed.

Stephen also appeared to have found salvation on this point, for he,
too, patronized the mealie cobs and the pumpkin; so did Mavovo, and so
did even that inveterate meat-eater, Hans. Only the simple Jerry tackled
the fleshpots of Egypt, or rather of Pongo-land, with appetite, and
declared that they were good. I think that he, being the last of us
through the gateway, had not realized what it was which lay upon the
grid.

At length we finished our simple meal--when you are very hungry it takes
a long time to fill oneself with squashy pumpkin, which is why I suppose
ruminants and other grazing animals always seem to be eating--and washed
it down with water in preference to the sticky-looking milk which we
left to the natives.

“Allan,” said Brother John to me in a low voice as we lit our pipes,
“that man who stood with his back to us in front of the gridiron was the
Kalubi. Against the firelight I saw the gap in his hand where I cut away
the finger.”

“Well, if we want to get any further, you must cultivate him,” I
answered. “But the question is, shall we get further than--that grid? I
believe we have been trapped here to be eaten.”

Before Brother John could reply, Komba arrived, and after inquiring
whether our appetites had been good, intimated that the Kalubi and
head men were ready to receive us. So off we went with the exception of
Jerry, whom we left to watch our things, taking with us the presents we
had prepared.

Komba led us to the feast-house, where the fire in the pit was out,
or had been covered over, and the grid and its horrible burden had
disappeared. Also now all the mats were rolled up, so that the clear
moonlight flowed into and illuminated the place. Seated in a semicircle
on wooden stools with their faces towards the gateway were the Kalubi,
who occupied the centre, and eight councillors, all of them grey-haired
men. This Kalubi was a tall, thin individual of middle age with, I
think, the most nervous countenance that I ever saw. His features
twitched continually and his hands were never still. The eyes, too, as
far as I could see them in that light, were full of terrors.

He rose and bowed, but the councillors remained seated, greeting us with
a long-continued and soft clapping of the hands, which, it seemed, was
the Pongo method of salute.

We bowed in answer, then seated ourselves on three stools that had been
placed for us, Brother John occupying the middle stool. Mavovo and Hans
stood behind us, the latter supporting himself with his large bamboo
stick. As soon as these preliminaries were over the Kalubi
called upon Komba, whom he addressed in formal language as
“You-who-have-passed-the-god,” and “You-the-Kalubi-to-be” (I thought I
saw him wince as he said these words), to give an account of his mission
and of how it came about that they had the honour of seeing the white
lords there.

Komba obeyed. After addressing the Kalubi with every possible title
of honour, such as “Absolute Monarch,” “Master whose feet I kiss,”
 “He whose eyes are fire and whose tongue is a sword,” “He at whose nod
people die,” “Lord of the Sacrifice, first Taster of the Sacred meat,”
 “Beloved of the gods” (here the Kalubi shrank as though he had been
pricked with a spear), “Second to none on earth save the Motombo the
most holy, the most ancient, who comes from heaven and speaks with the
voice of heaven,” etc., etc., he gave a clear but brief account of all
that had happened in the course of his mission to Beza Town.

Especially did he narrate how, in obedience to a message which he had
received from the Motombo, he had invited the white lords to Pongo-land,
and even accepted them as envoys from the Mazitu when none would respond
to King Bausi’s invitation to fill that office. Only he had stipulated
that they should bring with them none of their magic weapons which
vomited out smoke and death, as the Motombo had commanded. At this
information the expressive countenance of the Kalubi once more betrayed
mental disturbance that I think Komba noted as much as we did. However,
he said nothing, and after a pause, Komba went on to explain that no
such weapons had been brought, since, not satisfied with our word that
this was so, he and his companions had searched our baggage before we
left Mazitu-land.

Therefore, he added, there was no cause to fear that we should bring
about the fulfilment of the old prophecy that when a gun was fired among
the Pongo the gods would desert the land and the people cease to be a
people.

Having finished his speech, he sat down in a humble place behind us.
Then the Kalubi, after formally accepting us as ambassadors from Bausi,
King of the Mazitu, discoursed at length upon the advantages which would
result to both peoples from a lasting peace between them. Finally he
propounded the articles of such a peace. These, it was clear, had been
carefully prepared, but to set them out would be useless, since they
never came to anything, and I doubt whether it was intended that they
should. Suffice it to say that they provided for intermarriage, free
trade between the countries, blood-brotherhood, and other things that
I have forgotten, all of which was to be ratified by Bausi taking a
daughter of the Kalubi to wife, and the Kalubi taking a daughter of
Bausi.

We listened in silence, and when he had finished, after a pretended
consultation between us, I spoke as the Mouth of Brother John, who,
I explained, was too grand a person to talk himself, saying that the
proposals seemed fair and reasonable, and that we should be happy to
submit them to Bausi and his council on our return.

The Kalubi expressed great satisfaction at this statement, but remarked
incidentally that first of all the whole matter must be laid before the
Motombo for his opinion, without which no State transaction had legal
weight among the Pongo. He added that with our approval he proposed that
we should visit his Holiness on the morrow, starting when the sun was
three hours old, as he lived at a distance of a day’s journey from Rica.
After further consultation we replied that although we had little time
to spare, as we understood that the Motombo was old and could not
visit us, we, the white lords, would stretch a point and call on him.
Meanwhile we were tired and wished to go to bed. Then we presented our
gifts, which were gracefully accepted, with an intimation that return
presents would be made to us before we left Pongo-land.

After this the Kalubi took a little stick and broke it, to intimate that
the conference was at an end, and having bade him and his councillors
good night we retired to our huts.

I should add, because it has a bearing on subsequent events, that
on this occasion we were escorted, not by Komba, but by two of the
councillors. Komba, as I noted for the first time when we rose to say
good-bye, was no longer present at the council. When he left it I cannot
say, since it will be remembered that his seat was behind us in the
shadow, and none of us saw him go.



“What do you make of all that?” I asked the others when the door was
shut.

Brother John merely shook his head and said nothing, for in those days
he seemed to be living in a kind of dreamland.

Stephen answered. “Bosh! Tommy rot! All my eye and my elbow! Those
man-eating Johnnies have some game up their wide sleeves, and whatever
it may be, it isn’t peace with the Mazitu.”

“I agree,” I said. “If the real object were peace they would have
haggled more, stood out for better terms, or hostages, or something.
Also they would have got the consent of this Motombo beforehand. Clearly
he is the master of the situation, not the Kalubi, who is only his tool;
if business were meant he should have spoken first, always supposing
that he exists and isn’t a myth. However, if we live we shall learn, and
if we don’t, it doesn’t matter, though personally I think we should be
wise to leave Motombo alone and to clear out to Mazitu-land by the first
canoe to-morrow morning.”

“I intend to visit this Motombo,” broke in Brother John with decision.

“Ditto, ditto,” exclaimed Stephen, “but it’s no use arguing that all
over again.”

“No,” I replied with irritation. “It is, as you remark, of no use
arguing with lunatics. So let’s go to bed, and as it will probably be
our last, have a good night’s sleep.”

“Hear, hear!” said Stephen, taking off his coat and placing it doubled
up on the bed to serve as a pillow. “I say,” he added, “stand clear a
minute while I shake this blanket. It’s covered with bits of something,”
 and he suited the action to the word.

“Bits of something?” I said suspiciously. “Why didn’t you wait a minute
to let me see them. I didn’t notice any bits before.”

“Rats running about the roof, I expect,” said Stephen carelessly.

Not being satisfied, I began to examine this roof and the clay walls,
which I forgot to mention were painted over in a kind of pattern with
whorls in it, by the feeble light of the primitive lamps. While I was
thus engaged there was a knock on the door. Forgetting all about the
dust, I opened it and Hans appeared.

“One of these man-eating devils wants to speak to you, Baas. Mavovo
keeps him without.”

“Let him in,” I said, since in this place fearlessness seemed our best
game, “but watch well while he is with us.”

Hans whispered a word over his shoulder, and next moment a tall man
wrapped from head to foot in white cloth, so that he looked like a
ghost, came or rather shot into the hut and closed the door behind him.

“Who are you?” I asked.

By way of answer he lifted or unwrapped the cloth from about his face,
and I saw that the Kalubi himself stood before us.

“I wish to speak alone with the white lord, Dogeetah,” he said in
a hoarse voice, “and it must be now, since afterwards it will be
impossible.”

Brother John rose and looked at him.

“How are you, Kalubi, my friend?” he asked. “I see that your wound has
healed well.”

“Yes, yes, but I would speak with you alone.”

“Not so,” replied Brother John. “If you have anything to say, you must
say it to all of us, or leave it unsaid, since these lords and I are
one, and that which I hear, they hear.”

“Can I trust them?” muttered the Kalubi.

“As you can trust me. Therefore speak, or go. Yet, first, can we be
overheard in this hut?”

“No, Dogeetah. The walls are thick. There is no one on the roof, for I
have looked all round, and if any strove to climb there, we should hear.
Also your men who watch the door would see him. None can hear us save
perhaps the gods.”

“Then we will risk the gods, Kalubi. Go on; my brothers know your
story.”

“My lords,” he began, rolling his eyes about him like a hunted creature,
“I am in a terrible pass. Once, since I saw you, Dogeetah, I should have
visited the White God that dwells in the forest on the mountain yonder,
to scatter the sacred seed. But I feigned to be sick, and Komba, the
Kalubi-to-be, ‘who has passed the god,’ went in my place and returned
unharmed. Now to-morrow, the night of the full moon, as Kalubi, I must
visit the god again and once more scatter the seed and--Dogeetah, he
will kill me whom he has once bitten. He will certainly kill me unless
I can kill him. Then Komba will rule as Kalubi in my stead, and he will
kill you in a way you can guess, by the ‘Hot death,’ as a sacrifice to
the gods, that the women of the Pongo may once more become the mothers
of many children. Yes, yes, unless we can kill the god who dwells in
the forest, we all must die,” and he paused, trembling, while the sweat
dropped from him to the floor.

“That’s pleasant,” said Brother John, “but supposing that we kill the
god how would that help us or you to escape from the Motombo and these
murdering people of yours? Surely they would slay us for the sacrilege.”

“Not so, Dogeetah. If the god dies, the Motombo dies. It is known from
of old, and therefore the Motombo watches over the god as a mother over
her child. Then, until a new god is found, the Mother of the Holy Flower
rules, she who is merciful and will harm none, and I rule under her and
will certainly put my enemies to death, especially that wizard Komba.”

Here I thought I heard a faint sound in the air like the hiss of a
snake, but as it was not repeated and I could see nothing, concluded
that I was mistaken.

“Moreover,” he went on, “I will load you with gold dust and any gifts
you may desire, and set you safe across the water among your friends,
the Mazitu.”

“Look here,” I broke in, “let us understand matters clearly, and, John,
do you translate to Stephen. Now, friend Kalubi, first of all, who and
what is this god you talk of?”

“Lord Macumazana, he is a huge ape white with age, or born white, I know
not which. He is twice as big as any man, and stronger than twenty men,
whom he can break in his hands, as I break a reed, or whose heads he can
bite off in his mouth, as he bit off my finger for a warning. For that
is how he treats the Kalubis when he wearies of them. First he bites off
a finger and lets them go, and next he breaks them like a reed, as also
he breaks those who are doomed to sacrifice before the fire.”

“Ah!” I said, “a great ape! I thought as much. Well, and how long has
this brute been a god among you?”

“I do not know how long. From the beginning. He was always there, as the
Motombo was always there, for they are one.”

“That’s a lie any way,” I said in English, then went on. “And who is
this Mother of the Holy Flower? Is she also always there, and does she
live in the same place as the ape god?”

“Not so, lord Macumazana. She dies like other mortals, and is succeeded
by one who takes her place. Thus the present Mother is a white woman of
your race, now of middle age. When she dies she will be succeeded by her
daughter, who also is a white woman and very beautiful. After she dies
another who is white will be found, perhaps one who is of black parents
but born white.”

“How old is this daughter?” interrupted Brother John in a curiously
intent voice, “and who is her father?”

“The daughter was born over twenty years ago, Dogeetah, after the Mother
of the Flower was captured and brought here. She says that the father
was a white man to whom she was married, but who is dead.”

Brother John’s head dropped upon his chest, and his eyes shut as though
he had gone to sleep.

“As for where the Mother lives,” went on the Kalubi, “it is on the
island in the lake at the top of the mountain that is surrounded by
water. She has nothing to do with the White God, but those women who
serve her go across the lake at times to tend the fields where grows the
seed that the Kalubi sows, of which the corn is the White God’s food.”

“Good,” I said, “now we understand--not much, but a little. Tell us next
what is your plan? How are we to come into the place where this great
ape lives? And if we come there, how are we to kill the beast, seeing
that your successor, Komba, was careful to prevent us from bringing our
firearms to your land?”

“Aye, lord Macumazana, may the teeth of the god meet in his brain for
that trick; yes, may he die as I know how to make him die. That prophecy
of which he told you is no prophecy from of old. It arose in the land
within the last moon only, though whether it came from Komba or from
the Motombo I know not. None save myself, or at least very few here, had
heard of the iron tubes that throw out death, so how should there be a
prophecy concerning them?”

“I am sure I don’t know, Kalubi, but answer the rest of the question.”

“As to your coming into the forest--for the White God lives in a forest
on the slopes of the mountain, lords--that will be easy since the
Motombo and the people will believe that I am trapping you there to be a
sacrifice, such as they desire for sundry reasons,” and he looked at the
plump Stephen in a very suggestive way. “As to how you are to kill the
god without your tubes of iron, that I do not know. But you are very
brave and great magicians. Surely you can find a way.”

Here Brother John seemed to wake up again.

“Yes,” he said, “we shall find a way. Have no fear of that, O Kalubi. We
are not afraid of the big ape whom you call a god. Yet it must be at a
price. We will not kill this beast and try to save your life, save at a
price.”

“What price?” asked the Kalubi nervously. “There are wives and
cattle--no, you do not want the wives, and the cattle cannot be taken
across the lake. There are gold dust and ivory. I have already promised
these, and there is nothing more that I can give.”

“The price is, O Kalubi, that you hand over to us to be taken away
the white woman who is called Mother of the Holy Flower, with her
daughter----”

“And,” interrupted Stephen, to whom I had been interpreting, “the Holy
Flower itself, all of it dug up by the roots.”

When he heard these modest requests the poor Kalubi became like one upon
the verge of madness.

“Do you understand,” he gasped, “do you understand that you are asking
for the gods of my country?”

“Quite,” replied Brother John with calmness; “for the gods of your
country--nothing more nor less.”

The Kalubi made as though he would fly from the hut, but I caught him by
the arm and said:

“See, friend, things are thus. You ask us, at great danger to ourselves,
to kill one of the gods of your country, the highest of them, in order
to save your life. Well, in payment we ask you to make a present of the
remaining gods of your country, and to see us and them safe across the
lake. Do you accept or refuse?”

“I refuse,” answered the Kalubi sullenly. “To accept would mean the last
curse upon my spirit; that is too horrible to tell.”

“And to refuse means the first curse upon your body; namely, that in a
few hours it must be broken and chewed by a great monkey which you call
a god. Yes, broken and chewed, and afterwards, I think, cooked and eaten
as a sacrifice. Is it not so?”

The Kalubi nodded his head and groaned.

“Yet,” I went on, “for our part we are glad that you have refused, since
now we shall be rid of a troublesome and dangerous business and return
in safety to Mazitu land.”

“How will you return in safety, O lord Macumazana, you who are doomed to
the ‘Hot Death’ if you escape the fangs of the god?”

“Very easily, O Kalubi, by telling Komba, the Kalubi-to-be, of your
plots against this god of yours, and how we have refused to listen to
your wickedness. In fact, I think this may be done at once while you are
here with us, O Kalubi, where perhaps you do not expect to be found.
I will go strike upon the pot without the door; doubtless though it is
late, some will hear. Nay, man, stand you still; we have knives and our
servants have spears,” and I made as though to pass him.

“Lord,” he said, “I will give you the Mother of the Holy Flower and her
daughter; aye, and the Holy Flower itself dug up by the roots, and I
swear that if I can, I will set you and them safe across the lake, only
asking that I may come with you, since here I dare not stay. Yet the
curse will come too, but if so, it is better to die of a curse in a day
to be, than to-morrow at the fangs of the god. Oh! why was I born! Why
was I born!” and he began to weep.

“That is a question many have asked and none have been able to answer, O
friend Kalubi, though mayhap there is an answer somewhere,” I replied in
a kind voice.

For my heart was stirred with pity of this poor wretch mazed and lost in
his hell of superstition; this potentate who could not escape from the
trappings of a hateful power, save by the door of a death too horrible
to contemplate; this priest whose doom it was to be slain by the very
hands of his god, as those who went before him had been slain, and as
those who came after him would be slain.

“Yet,” I went on, “I think you have chosen wisely, and we hold you to
your word. While you are faithful to us, we will say nothing. But
of this be sure--that if you attempt to betray us, we who are not so
helpless as we seem, will betray you, and it shall be you who die, not
us. Is it a bargain?”

“It is a bargain, white lord, although blame me not if things go wrong,
since the gods know all, and they are devils who delight in human woe
and mock at bargains and torment those who would injure them. Yet, come
what will, I swear to keep faith with you thus, by the oath that may not
be broken,” and drawing a knife from his girdle, he thrust out the tip
of his tongue and pricked it. From the puncture a drop of blood fell to
the floor.

“If I break my oath,” he said, “may my flesh grow cold as that blood
grows cold, and may it rot as that blood rots! Aye, and may my spirit
waste and be lost in the world of ghosts as that blood wastes into the
air and is lost in the dust of the world!”

It was a horrible scene and one that impressed me very much, especially
as even then there fell upon me a conviction that this unfortunate man
was doomed, that a fate which he could not escape was upon him.

We said nothing, and in another moment he had thrown his white wrappings
over his face and slipped through the door.

“I am afraid we are playing it rather low down on that jumpy old boy,”
 said Stephen remorsefully.

“The white woman, the white woman and her daughter,” muttered Brother
John.

“Yes,” reflected Stephen aloud. “One is justified in doing anything to
get two white women out of this hell, if they exist. So one may as well
have the orchid also, for they’d be lonely without it, poor things,
wouldn’t they? Glad I thought of that, it’s soothing to the conscience.”

“I hope you’ll find it so when we are all on that iron grid which I
noticed is wide enough for three,” I remarked sarcastically. “Now be
quiet, I want to go to sleep.”

I am sorry to have to add that for the most of that night Want remained
my master. But if I couldn’t sleep, I could, or rather was obliged to,
think, and I thought very hard indeed.

First I reflected on the Pongo and their gods. What were these and why
did they worship them? Soon I gave it up, remembering that the problem
was one which applied equally to dozens of the dark religions of this
vast African continent, to which none could give an answer, and least
of all their votaries. That answer indeed must be sought in the horrible
fears of the unenlightened human heart, which sees death and terror
and evil around it everywhere and, in this grotesque form or in that,
personifies them in gods, or rather in devils who must be propitiated.
For always the fetish or the beast, or whatever it may be, is not
the real object of worship. It is only the thing or creature which is
inhabited by the spirit of the god or devil, the temple, as it were,
that furnishes it with a home, which temple is therefore holy. And these
spirits are diverse, representing sundry attributes or qualities.

Thus the great ape might be Satan, a prince of evil and blood. The Holy
Flower might symbolise fertility and the growth of the food of man from
the bosom of the earth. The Mother of the Flower might represent mercy
and goodness, for which reason it was necessary that she should be
white in colour, and dwell, not in the shadowed forest, but on a soaring
mountain, a figure of light, in short, as opposed to darkness. Or she
might be a kind of African Ceres, a goddess of the corn and harvest
which were symbolised in the beauteous bloom she tended. Who could tell?
Not I, either then or afterwards, for I never found out.

As for the Pongo themselves, their case was obvious. They were a dying
tribe, the last descendants of some higher race, grown barren from
intermarriage. Probably, too, they were at first only cannibals
occasionally and from religious reasons. Then in some time of dearth
they became very religious in that respect, and the habit overpowered
them. Among cannibals, at any rate in Africa, as I knew, this dreadful
food is much preferred to any other meat. I had not the slightest doubt
that although the Kalubi himself had brought us here in the wild
hope that we might save him from a terrible death at the hands of the
Beelzebub he served, Komba and the councillors, inspired thereto by the
prophet called Motombo, designed that we should be murdered and eaten as
an offering to the gods. How we were to escape this fate, being unarmed,
I could not imagine, unless some special protection were vouchsafed to
us. Meanwhile, we must go on to the end, whatever it might be.

Brother John, or to give him his right name, the Reverend John Eversley,
was convinced that the white woman imprisoned in the mountain was none
other than the lost wife for whom he had searched for twenty weary
years, and that the second white woman of whom we had heard that night
was, strange as it might seem, her daughter and his own. Perhaps he
was right and perhaps he was wrong. But even in the latter case, if two
white persons were really languishing in this dreadful land, our path
was clear. We must go on in faith until we saved them or until we died.

 “Our life is granted, not in Pleasure’s round,
    Or even Love’s sweet dream, to lapse, content;
  Duty and Faith are words of solemn sound,
    And to their echoes must the soul be bent,”

as some one or other once wrote, very nobly I think. Well, there was but
little of “Pleasure’s round” about the present entertainment, and any
hope of “Love’s sweet dream” seemed to be limited to Brother John (here
I was quite mistaken, as I so often am). Probably the “echoes” would be
my share; indeed, already I seemed to hear their ominous thunder.

At last I did go to sleep and dreamed a very curious dream. It seemed to
me that I was disembodied, although I retained all my powers of thought
and observation; in fact, dead and yet alive. In this state I hovered
over the people of the Pongo who were gathered together on a great plain
under an inky sky. They were going about their business as usual, and
very unpleasant business it often was. Some of them were worshipping a
dim form that I knew was the devil; some were committing murders; some
were feasting--at that on which they feasted I would not look; some were
labouring or engaged in barter; some were thinking. But I, who had
the power of looking into them, saw within the breast of each a tiny
likeness of the man or woman or child as it might be, humbly bent
upon its knees with hands together in an attitude of prayer, and with
imploring, tear-stained face looking upwards to the black heaven.

Then in that heaven there appeared a single star of light, and from this
star flowed lines of gentle fire that spread and widened till all the
immense arc was one flame of glory. And now from the pulsing heart of
the Glory, which somehow reminded me of moving lips, fell countless
flakes of snow, each of which followed an appointed path till it lit
upon the forehead of one of the tiny, imploring figures hidden within
those savage breasts, and made it white and clean.

Then the Glory shrank and faded till there remained of it only
the similitude of two transparent hands stretched out as though in
blessing--and I woke up wondering how on earth I found the fancy to
invent such a vision, and whether it meant anything or nothing.

Afterwards I repeated it to Brother John, who was a very spiritually
minded as well as a good man--the two things are often quite
different--and asked him to be kind enough to explain. At the time he
shook his head, but some days later he said to me:

“I think I have read your riddle, Allan; the answer came to me quite of
a sudden. In all those sin-stained hearts there is a seed of good and
an aspiration towards the right. For every one of them also there is at
last mercy and forgiveness, since how could they learn who never had a
teacher? Your dream, Allan, was one of the ultimate redemption of even
the most evil of mankind, by gift of the Grace that shall one day glow
through the blackness of the night in which they wander.”

That is what he said, and I only hope that he was right, since at
present there is something very wrong with the world, especially in
Africa.

Also we blame the blind savage for many things, but on the balance are
we so much better, considering our lights and opportunities? Oh!
the truth is that the devil--a very convenient word that--is a good
fisherman. He has a large book full of flies of different sizes and
colours, and well he knows how to suit them to each particular fish. But
white or black, every fish takes one fly or the other, and then comes
the question--is the fish that has swallowed the big gaudy lure so much
worse or more foolish than that which has fallen to the delicate white
moth with the same sharp barb in its tail?

In short, are we not all miserable sinners as the Prayer Book says, and
in the eye of any judge who can average up the elemental differences of
those waters wherein we were bred and are called upon to swim, is there
so much to choose between us? Do we not all need those outstretched
Hands of Mercy which I saw in my dream?

But there, there! What right has a poor old hunter to discuss things
that are too high for him?



CHAPTER XV

                             THE MOTOMBO

After my dream I went to sleep again, till I was finally aroused by a
strong ray of light hitting me straight in the eye.

Where the dickens does that come from? thought I to myself, for these
huts had no windows.

Then I followed the ray to its source, which I perceived was a small
hole in the mud wall some five feet above the floor. I rose and examined
the said hole, and noted that it appeared to have been freshly made, for
the clay at the sides of it was in no way discoloured. I reflected that
if anyone wanted to eavesdrop, such an aperture would be convenient, and
went outside the hut to pursue my investigations. Its wall, I found, was
situated about four feet from the eastern part of the encircling reed
fence, which showed no signs of disturbance, although there, in the
outer face of the wall, was the hole, and beneath it on the lime
flooring lay some broken fragments of plaster. I called Hans and asked
him if he had kept watch round the hut when the wrapped-up man visited
us during the night. He answered yes, and that he could swear that no
one had come near it, since several times he had walked to the back and
looked.

Somewhat comforted, though not satisfied, I went in to wake up the
others, to whom I said nothing of this matter since it seemed foolish
to alarm them for no good purpose. A few minutes later the tall, silent
women arrived with our hot water. It seemed curious to have hot water
brought to us in such a place by these very queer kind of housemaids,
but so it was. The Pongo, I may add, were, like the Zulus, very clean in
their persons, though whether they all used hot water, I cannot say. At
any rate, it was provided for us.

Half an hour later they returned with breakfast, consisting chiefly of
a roasted kid, of which, as it was whole, and therefore unmistakable,
we partook thankfully. A little later the Majestic Komba appeared.
After many compliments and inquiries as to our general health, he asked
whether we were ready to start on our visit to the Motombo who, he
added, was expecting us with much eagerness. I inquired how he knew
that, since we had only arranged to call on him late on the previous
night, and I understood that he lived a day’s journey away. But Komba
put the matter by with a smile and a wave of his hand.

So in due course off we went, taking with us all our baggage, which now
that it had been lightened by the delivery of the presents, was of no
great weight.

Five minutes’ walk along the wide, main street led us to the northern
gate of Rica Town. Here we found the Kalubi himself with an escort of
thirty men armed with spears; I noted that unlike the Mazitu they had no
bows and arrows. He announced in a loud voice that he proposed to do us
the special honour of conducting us to the sanctuary of the Holy One, by
which we understood him to mean the Motombo. When we politely begged him
not to trouble, being in an irritable mood, or assuming it, he told us
rudely to mind our own business. Indeed, I think this irritability was
real enough, which, in the circumstances known to the reader, was not
strange. At any rate, an hour or so later it declared itself in an act
of great cruelty which showed us how absolute was this man’s power in
all temporal matters.

Passing through a little clump of bush we came to some gardens
surrounded by a light fence through which a number of cattle of a small
and delicate breed--they were not unlike Jerseys in appearance--had
broken to enjoy themselves by devouring the crops. This garden, it
appeared, belonged to the Kalubi for the time being, who was furious at
the destruction of its produce by the cattle which also belonged to him.

“Where is the herd?” he shouted.

A hunt began--and presently the poor fellow--he was no more than a lad,
was discovered asleep behind a bush. When he was dragged before him the
Kalubi pointed, first to the cattle, then to the broken fence and the
devastated garden. The lad began to mutter excuses and pray for mercy.

“Kill him!” said the Kalubi, whereon the herd flung himself to the
ground, and clutching him by the ankles, began to kiss his feet, crying
out that he was afraid to die. The Kalubi tried to kick himself free,
and failing in this, lifted his big spear and made an end of the poor
boy’s prayers and life at a single stroke.

The escort clapped their hands in salute or approval, after which four
of them, at a sign, took up the body and started with it at a trot for
Rica Town, where probably that night it appeared upon the grid. Brother
John saw, and his big white beard bristled with indignation like the
hair on the back of an angry cat, while Stephen spluttered something
beginning with “You brute,” and lifted his fist as though to knock the
Kalubi down. This, had I not caught hold of him, I have no doubt he
would have done.

“O Kalubi!” gasped Brother John, “do you not know that blood calls for
blood? In the hour of your own death remember this death.”

“Would you bewitch me, white man?” said the Kalubi, glaring at him
angrily. “If so----” and once more he lifted the spear, but as John
never stirred, held it poised irresolutely. Komba thrust himself between
them, crying:

“Back, Dogeetah, who dare to meddle with our customs! Is not the Kalubi
Lord of life and death?”

Brother John was about to answer, but I called to him in English:

“For Heaven’s sake be silent, unless you want to follow the boy. We are
in these men’s power.”

Then he remembered and walked away, and presently we marched forward as
though nothing had happened. Only from that moment I do not think that
any of us worried ourselves about the Kalubi and what might befall him.
Still, looking back on the thing, I think that there was this excuse to
be made for the man. He was mad with the fear of death and knew not what
he did.

All that day we travelled on through a rich, flat country that, as we
could tell from various indications, had once been widely cultivated.
Now the fields were few and far between, and bush, for the most part a
kind of bamboo scrub, was reoccupying the land. About midday we halted
by a water-pool to eat and rest, for the sun was hot, and here the four
men who had carried off the boy’s body rejoined us and made some report.
Then we went forward once more towards what seemed to be a curious
and precipitous wall of black cliff, beyond which the volcanic-looking
mountain towered in stately grandeur. By three o’clock we were near
enough to this cliff, which ran east and west as far as the eye could
reach, to see a hole in it, apparently where the road terminated, that
appeared to be the mouth of a cave.

The Kalubi came up to us, and in a shy kind of way tried to make
conversation. I think that the sight of this mountain, drawing ever
nearer, vividly recalled his terrors and caused him to desire to efface
the bad impression he knew he had made on us, to whom he looked for
safety. Among other things he told us that the hole we saw was the door
of the House of the Motombo.

I nodded my head, but did not answer, for the presence of this murderous
king made me feel sick. So he went away again, looking at us in a humble
and deprecatory manner.

Nothing further happened until we reached the remarkable wall of rock
that I have mentioned, which I suppose is composed of some very
hard stone that remained when the softer rock in which it lay was
disintegrated by millions of years of weather or washings by the water
of the lake. Or perhaps its substance was thrown out of the bowels of
the volcano when this was active. I am no geologist, and cannot say,
especially as I lacked time to examine the place. At any rate there it
was, and there in it appeared the mouth of a great cave that I presume
was natural, having once formed a kind of drain through which the lake
overflowed when Pongo-land was under water.

We halted, staring dubiously at this darksome hole, which no doubt was
the same that Babemba had explored in his youth. Then the Kalubi gave
an order, and some of the soldiers went to huts that were built near the
mouth of the cave, where I suppose guardians or attendants lived,
though of these we saw nothing. Presently they returned with a number of
lighted torches that were distributed among us. This done, we plunged,
shivering (at least, I shivered), into the gloomy recesses of that great
cavern, the Kalubi going before us with half of our escort, and Komba
following behind us with the remainder.

The floor of the place was made quite smooth, doubtless by the action of
water, as were the walls and roof, so far as we could see them, for it
was very wide and lofty. It did not run straight, but curved about in
the thickness of the cliff. At the first turn the Pongo soldiers set up
a low and eerie chant which they continued during its whole length, that
according to my pacings was something over three hundred yards. On we
wound, the torches making stars of light in the intense blackness, till
at length we rounded a last corner where a great curtain of woven grass,
now drawn, was stretched across the cave. Here we saw a very strange
sight.

On either side of it, near to the walls, burned a large wood fire that
gave light to the place. Also more light flowed into it from its further
mouth that was not more than twenty paces from the fires. Beyond the
mouth was water which seemed to be about two hundred yards wide, and
beyond the water rose the slopes of the mountain that was covered with
huge trees. Moreover, a little bay penetrated into the cavern, the point
of which bay ended between the two fires. Here the water, which was not
more than six or eight feet wide, and shallow, formed the berthing place
of a good-sized canoe that lay there. The walls of the cavern, from
the turn to the point of the tongue of water, were pierced with four
doorways, two on either side, which led, I presume, to chambers hewn in
the rock. At each of these doorways stood a tall woman clothed in
white, who held in her hand a burning torch. I concluded that these were
attendants set there to guide and welcome us, for after we had passed,
they vanished into the chambers.

But this was not all. Set across the little bay of water just above the
canoe that floated there was a wooden platform, eight feet or so square,
on either side of which stood an enormous elephant’s tusk, bigger indeed
than any I have seen in all my experience, which tusks seemed to be
black with age. Between the tusks, squatted upon rugs of some kind of
rich fur, was what from its shape and attitude I at first took to be a
huge toad. In truth, it had all the appearance of a very bloated toad.
There was the rough corrugated skin, there the prominent backbone (for
its back was towards us), and there were the thin, splayed-out legs.

We stared at this strange object for quite a long while, unable to make
it out in that uncertain light, for so long indeed, that I grew nervous
and was about to ask the Kalubi what it might be. As my lips opened,
however, it stirred, and with a slow, groping, circular movement turned
itself towards us very slowly. At length it was round, and as the head
came in view all the Pongo from the Kalubi down ceased their low, weird
chant and flung themselves upon their faces, those who had torches still
holding them up in their right hands.

Oh! what a thing appeared! It was not a toad, but a man that moved upon
all fours. The large, bald head was sunk deep between the shoulders,
either through deformity or from age, for this creature was undoubtedly
very old. Looking at it, I wondered how old, but could form no answer in
my mind. The great, broad face was sunken and withered, like to leather
dried in the sun; the lower lip hung pendulously upon the prominent and
bony jaw. Two yellow, tusk-like teeth projected one at each corner of
the great mouth; all the rest were gone, and from time to time it licked
the white gums with a red-pointed tongue as a snake might do. But the
chief wonder of the Thing lay in its eyes that were large and round,
perhaps because the flesh had shrunk away from them, which gave them
the appearance of being set in the hollow orbits of a skull. These eyes
literally shone like fire; indeed, at times they seemed positively to
blaze, as I have seen a lion’s eyes do in the dark. I confess that the
aspect of the creature terrified and for a while paralysed me; to think
that it was human was awful.

I glanced at the others and saw that they, too, were frightened. Stephen
turned very white. I thought that he was going to be sick again, as
he was after he drank the coffee out of the wrong bowl on the day we
entered Mazitu-land. Brother John stroked his white beard and muttered
some invocation to Heaven to protect him. Hans exclaimed in his
abominable Dutch:

“_Oh! keek, Baas, da is je lelicher oud deel!_” (“Oh! look, Baas, there
is the ugly old devil himself!”)

Jerry went flat on his face among the Pongo, muttering that he saw Death
before him. Only Mavovo stood firm; perhaps because as a witch-doctor of
repute he felt that it did not become him to show the white feather in
the presence of an evil spirit.

The toad-like creature on the platform swayed its great head slowly as
a tortoise does, and contemplated us with its flaming eyes. At length
it spoke in a thick, guttural voice, using the tongue that seemed to
be common to this part of Africa and indeed to that branch of the Bantu
people to which the Zulus belong, but, as I thought, with a foreign
accent.

“So _you_ are the white men come back,” it said slowly. “Let me count!”
 and lifting one skinny hand from the ground, it pointed with the
forefinger and counted. “One. Tall, with a white beard. Yes, that is
right. Two. Short, nimble like a monkey, with hair that wants no comb;
clever, too, like a father of monkeys. Yes, that is right. Three.
Smooth-faced, young and stupid, like a fat baby that laughs at the sky
because he is full of milk, and thinks that the sky is laughing at him.
Yes, that is right. All three of you are just the same as you used to
be. Do you remember, White Beard, how, while we killed you, you said
prayers to One Who sits above the world, and held up a cross of bone to
which a man was tied who wore a cap of thorns? Do you remember how you
kissed the man with the cap of thorns as the spear went into you? You
shake your head--oh! you are a clever liar, but I will show you that you
are a liar, for I have the thing yet,” and snatching up a horn which lay
on the kaross beneath him, he blew.

As the peculiar, wailing note that the horn made died away, a woman
dashed out of one of the doorways that I have described and flung
herself on her knees before him. He muttered something to her and she
dashed back again to re-appear in an instant holding in her hand a
yellow ivory crucifix.

“Here it is, here it is,” he said. “Take it, White Beard, and kiss it
once more, perhaps for the last time,” and he threw the crucifix
to Brother John, who caught it and stared at it amazed. “And do you
remember, Fat Baby, how we caught you? You fought well, very well,
but we killed you at last, and you were good, very good; we got much
strength from you.

“And do you remember, Father of Monkeys, how you escaped from us by your
cleverness? I wonder where you went to and how you died. I shall not
forget you, for you gave me this,” and he pointed to a big white scar
upon his shoulder. “You would have killed me, but the stuff in that iron
tube of yours burned slowly when you held the fire to it, so that I had
time to jump aside and the iron ball did not strike me in the heart as
you meant that it should. Yet, it is still here; oh! yes, I carry it
with me to this day, and now that I have grown thin I can feel it with
my finger.”

I listened astonished to this harangue, which if it meant anything,
meant that we had all met before, in Africa at some time when men used
matchlocks that were fired with a fuse--that is to say, about the year
1700, or earlier. Reflection, however, showed me the interpretation of
this nonsense. Obviously this old priest’s forefather, or, if one put
him at a hundred and twenty years of age, and I am sure that he was not
a day less, perhaps his father, as a young man, was mixed up with
some of the first Europeans who penetrated to the interior of Africa.
Probably these were Portuguese, of whom one may have been a priest
and the other two an elderly man and his son, or young brother, or
companion. The manner of the deaths of these people and of what happened
to them generally would of course be remembered by the descendants of
the chief or head medicine-man of the tribe.

“Where did we meet, and when, O Motombo?” I asked.

“Not in this land, not in this land, Father of Monkeys,” he replied in
his low rumbling voice, “but far, far away towards the west where the
sun sinks in the water; and not in this day, but long, long ago. Twenty
Kalubis have ruled the Pongo since that day; some have ruled for many
years and some have ruled for a few years--that depends upon the will
of my brother, the god yonder,” and he chuckled horribly and jerked his
thumb backwards over his shoulder towards the forest on the mountain.
“Yes, twenty have ruled, some for thirty years and none for less than
four.”

“Well, you _are_ a large old liar,” I thought to myself, for, taking the
average rule of the Kalubis at ten years, this would mean that we met
him two centuries ago at least.

“You were clothed otherwise then,” he went on, “and two of you wore
hats of iron on the head, but that of White Beard was shaven. I caused a
picture of you to be beaten by the master-smith upon a plate of copper.
I have it yet.”

Again he blew upon his horn; again a woman darted out, to whom he
whispered; again she went to one of the chambers and returned bearing an
object which he cast to us.

We looked at it. It was a copper or bronze plaque, black, apparently
with age, which once had been nailed on something for there were the
holes. It represented a tall man with a long beard and a tonsured head
who held a cross in his hand; and two other men, both short, who wore
round metal caps and were dressed in queer-looking garments and boots
with square toes. These man carried big and heavy matchlocks, and in the
hand of one of them was a smoking fuse. That was all we could make out
of the thing.

“Why did you leave the far country and come to this land, O Motombo?” I
asked.

“Because we were afraid that other white men would follow on your steps
and avenge you. The Kalubi of that day ordered it, though I said No,
who knew that none can escape by flight from what must come when it must
come. So we travelled and travelled till we found this place, and here
we have dwelt from generation to generation. The gods came with us also;
my brother that dwells in the forest came, though we never saw him on
the journey, yet he was here before us. The Holy Flower came too, and
the white Mother of the Flower--she was the wife of one of you, I know
not which.”

“Your brother the god?” I said. “If the god is an ape as we have heard,
how can he be the brother of a man?”

“Oh! you white men do not understand, but we black people understand. In
the beginning the ape killed my brother who was Kalubi, and his spirit
entered into the ape, making him as a god, and so he kills every other
Kalubi and their spirits enter also into him. Is it not so, O Kalubi of
to-day, you without a finger?” and he laughed mockingly.

The Kalubi, who was lying on his stomach, groaned and trembled, but made
no other answer.

“So all has come about as I foresaw,” went on the toad-like creature.
“You have returned, as I knew you would, and now we shall learn whether
White Beard yonder spoke true words when he said that his god would be
avenged upon our god. You shall go to be avenged on him if you can,
and then we shall learn. But this time you have none of your iron tubes
which alone we fear. For did not the god declare to us through me that
when the white men came back with an iron tube, then he, the god, would
die, and I, the Motombo, the god’s Mouth, would die, and the Holy Flower
would be torn up, and the Mother of the Flower would pass away, and the
people of the Pongo would be dispersed and become wanderers and slaves?
And did he not declare that if the white men came again without their
iron tubes, then certain secret things would happen--oh! ask them not,
in time they shall be known to you, and the people of the Pongo who were
dwindling would again become fruitful and very great? And that is why we
welcome you, white men, who arise again from the land of ghosts, because
through you we, the Pongo, shall become fruitful and very great.”

Of a sudden he ceased his rumbling talk, his head sank back between his
shoulders and he sat silent for a long while, his fierce, sparkling
eyes playing on us as though he would read our very thoughts. If he
succeeded, I hope that mine pleased him. To tell the truth, I was filled
with mixed fear, fury and loathing. Although, of course, I did not
believe a word of all the rubbish he had been saying, which was akin to
much that is evolved by these black-hearted African wizards, I hated the
creature whom I felt to be only half-human. My whole nature sickened at
his aspect and talk. And yet I was dreadfully afraid of him. I felt as
a man might who wakes up to find himself alone with some peculiarly
disgusting Christmas-story kind of ghost. Moreover I was quite sure that
he meant us ill, fearful and imminent ill. Suddenly he spoke again:

“Who is that little yellow one,” he said, “that old one with a face like
a skull,” and he pointed to Hans, who had kept as much out of sight as
possible behind Mavovo, “that wizened, snub-nosed one who might be a
child of my brother the god, if ever he had a child? And why, being so
small, does he need so large a staff?” Here he pointed again to Hans’s
big bamboo stick. “I think he is as full of guile as a new-filled gourd
with water. The big black one,” and he looked at Mavovo, “I do not fear,
for his magic is less than my magic,” (he seemed to recognise a brother
doctor in Mavovo) “but the little yellow one with the big stick and the
pack upon his back, I fear him. I think he should be killed.”

He paused and we trembled, for if he chose to kill the poor Hottentot,
how could we prevent him? But Hans, who saw the great danger, called his
cunning to his aid.

“O Motombo,” he squeaked, “you must not kill me for I am the servant of
an ambassador. You know well that all the gods of every land hate and
will be revenged upon those who touch ambassadors or their servants,
whom they, the gods, alone may harm. If you kill me I shall haunt you.
Yes, I shall sit on your shoulder at night and jibber into your ear so
that you cannot sleep, until you die. For though you are old you must
die at last, Motombo.”

“It is true,” said the Motombo. “Did I not tell you that he was full of
cunning? All the gods will be avenged upon those who kill ambassadors
or their servants. That”--here he laughed again in his dreadful way--“is
the rights of the gods alone. Let the gods of the Pongo settle it.”

I uttered a sigh of relief, and he went on in a new voice, a dull,
business-like voice if I may so describe it:

“Say, O Kalubi, on what matter have you brought these white men to speak
with me, the Mouth of the god? Did I dream that it was a matter of a
treaty with the King of the Mazitu? Rise and speak.”

So the Kalubi rose and with a humble air set out briefly and clearly the
reason of our visit to Pongo-land as the envoys of Bausi and the heads
of the treaty that had been arranged subject to the approval of the
Motombo and Bausi. We noted that the affair did not seem to interest the
Motombo at all. Indeed, he appeared to go to sleep while the speech was
being delivered, perhaps because he was exhausted with the invention
of his outrageous falsehoods, or perhaps for other reasons. When it was
finished he opened his eyes and pointed to Komba, saying:

“Arise, Kalubi-that-is-to-be.”

So Komba rose, and in his cold, precise voice narrated his share in the
transaction, telling how he had visited Bausi, and all that had happened
in connection with the embassy. Again the Motombo appeared to go to
sleep, only opening his eyes once as Komba described how we had been
searched for firearms, whereon he nodded his great head in approval and
licked his lips with his thin red tongue. When Komba had done, he said:

“The gods tell me that the plan is wise and good, since without new
blood the people of the Pongo will die, but of the end of the matter the
god knows alone, if even he can read the future.”

He paused, then asked sharply:

“Have you anything more to say, O Kalubi-that-is-to-be? Now of a sudden
the god puts it into my mouth to ask if you have anything more to say?”

“Something, O Motombo. Many moons ago the god bit _off_ the finger of
our High Lord, the Kalubi. The Kalubi, having heard that a white man
skilled in medicine who could cut off limbs with knives, was in the
country of the Mazitu and camped on the borders of the great lake, took
a canoe and rowed to where the white man was camped, he with the beard,
who is named Dogeetah, and who stands before you. I followed him in
another canoe, because I wished to know what he was doing, also to see
a white man. I hid my canoe and those who went with me in the reeds far
from the Kalubi’s canoe. I waded through the shallow water and concealed
myself in some thick reeds quite near to the white man’s linen house.
I saw the white man cut off the Kalubi’s finger and I heard the Kalubi
pray the white man to come to our country with the iron tubes that
smoke, and to kill the god of whom he was afraid.”

Now from all the company went up a great gasp, and the Kalubi fell down
upon his face again, and lay still. Only the Motombo seemed to show no
surprise, perhaps because he already knew the story.

“Is that all?” he asked.

“No, O Mouth of the god. Last night, after the council of which you have
heard, the Kalubi wrapped himself up like a corpse and visited the white
men in their hut. I thought that he would do so, and had made ready.
With a sharp spear I bored a hole in the wall of the hut, working from
outside the fence. Then I thrust a reed through from the fence across
the passage between the fence and the wall, and through the hole in the
hut, and setting my ear to the end of the reed, I listened.”

“Oh! clever, clever!” muttered Hans in involuntary admiration, “and
to think that I looked and looked too low, beneath the reed. Oh! Hans,
though you are old, you have much to learn.”

“Among much else I heard this,” went on Komba in sentences so clear and
cold that they reminded me of the tinkle of falling ice, “which I
think is enough, though I can tell you the rest if you wish, O Mouth.
I heard,” he said, in the midst of a silence that was positively awful,
“our lord, the Kalubi, whose name is Child of the god, agree with the
white men that they should kill the god--how I do not know, for it was
not said--and that in return they should receive the persons of the
Mother of the Holy Flower and of her daughter, the Mother-that-is-to-be,
and should dig up the Holy Flower itself by the roots and take it away
across the water, together with the Mother and the Mother-that-is-to-be.
That is all, O Motombo.”

Still in the midst of an intense silence, the Motombo glared at the
prostrate figure of the Kalubi. For a long while he glared. Then the
silence was broken, for the wretched Kalubi sprang from the floor,
seized a spear and tried to kill himself. Before the blade touched
him it was snatched from his hand, so that he remained standing, but
weaponless.

Again there was silence and again it was broken, this time by the
Motombo, who rose from his seat before which he stood, a huge, bloated
object, and roared aloud in his rage. Yes, he roared like a wounded
buffalo. Never would I have believed that such a vast volume of sound
could have proceeded from the lungs of a single aged man. For fully a
minute his furious bellowings echoed down that great cave, while all
the Pongo soldiers, rising from their recumbent position, pointed their
hands, in some of which torches still burned, at the miserable Kalubi
on whom their wrath seemed to be concentrated, rather than on us, and
hissed like snakes.

Really it might have been a scene in hell with the Motombo playing the
part of Satan. Indeed, his swollen, diabolical figure supported on the
thin, toad-like legs, the great fires burning on either side, the lurid
lights of evening reflected from the still water beyond and glowering
among the tree tops of the mountain, the white-robed forms of the tall
Pongo, bending, every one of them, towards the wretched culprit and
hissing like so many fierce serpents, all suggested some uttermost deep
in the infernal regions as one might conceive them in a nightmare.

It went on for some time, I don’t know how long, till at length the
Motombo picked up his fantastically shaped horn and blew. Thereon the
women darted from the various doorways, but seeing that they were not
wanted, checked themselves in their stride and remained standing so, in
the very attitude of runners about to start upon a race. As the blast
of the horn died away the turmoil was suddenly succeeded by an utter
stillness, broken only by the crackling of the fires whose flames,
of all the living things in that place, alone seemed heedless of the
tragedy which was being played.

“All up now, old fellow!” whispered Stephen to me in a shaky voice.

“Yes,” I answered, “all up high as heaven, where I hope we are going.
Now back to back, and let’s make the best fight we can. We’ve got the
spears.”

While we were closing in the Motombo began to speak.

“So you plotted to kill the god, Kalubi-who-_was_,” he screamed, “with
these white ones whom you would pay with the Holy Flower and her who
guards it. Good! You shall go, all of you, and talk with the god. And I,
watching here, will learn who dies--you or the god. Away with them!”



CHAPTER XVI

                               THE GODS

With a roar the Pongo soldiers leapt on us. I think that Mavovo managed
to get his spear up and kill a man, for I saw one of them fall backwards
and lie still. But they were too quick for the rest of us. In half a
minute we were seized, the spears were wrenched from our hands and we
were thrown headlong into the canoe, all six of us, or rather seven
including the Kalubi. A number of the soldiers, including Komba, who
acted as steersman, also sprang into the canoe that was instantly pushed
out from beneath the bridge or platform on which the Motombo sat and
down the little creek into the still water of the canal or estuary,
or whatever it may be, that separates the wall of rock which the cave
pierces from the base of the mountain.

As we floated out of the mouth of the cave the toad-like Motombo, who
had wheeled round upon his stool, shouted an order to Komba.

“O Kalubi,” he said, “set the Kalubi-who-_was_ and the three white men
and their three servants on the borders of the forest that is named
House-of-the-god and leave them there. Then return and depart, for here
I would watch alone. When all is finished I will summon you.”

Komba bowed his handsome head and at a sign two of the men got out
paddles, for more were not needed, and with slow and gentle strokes
rowed us across the water. The first thing I noted about this water at
the time was that its blackness was inky, owing, I suppose, to its depth
and the shadows of the towering cliff on one side and of the tall trees
on the other. Also I observed--for in this emergency, or perhaps because
of it, I managed to keep my wits about me--that its banks on either side
were the home of great numbers of crocodiles which lay there like logs.
I saw, further, that a little lower down where the water seemed to
narrow, jagged boughs projected from its surface as though great trees
had fallen, or been thrown into it. I recalled in a numb sort of way
that old Babemba had told us that when he was a boy he had escaped in a
canoe down this estuary, and reflected that it would not be possible for
him to do so now because of those snags. Unless, indeed, he had floated
over them in a time of great flood.

A couple of minutes or so of paddling brought us to the further shore
which, as I think I have said, was only about two hundred yards from the
mouth of the cave. The bow of the canoe grated on the bank, disturbing a
huge crocodile that vanished into the depths with an angry plunge.

“Land, white lords, land,” said Komba with the utmost politeness, “and
go, visit the god who doubtless is waiting for you. And now, as we shall
meet no more--farewell. You are wise and I am foolish, yet hearken to my
counsel. If ever you should return to the Earth again, be advised by me.
Cling to your own god if you have one, and do not meddle with those of
other peoples. Again farewell.”

The advice was excellent, but at that moment I felt a hate for Komba
which was really superhuman. To me even the Motombo seemed an angel of
light as compared with him. If wishes could have killed, our farewell
would indeed have been complete.

Then, admonished by the spear points of the Pongo, we landed in the
slimy mud. Brother John went first with a smile upon his handsome
countenance that I thought idiotic under the circumstances, though
doubtless he knew best when he ought to smile, and the wretched Kalubi
came last. Indeed, so great was his shrinking from that ominous
shore, that I believe he was ultimately propelled from the boat by his
successor in power, Komba. Once he had trodden it, however, a spark of
spirit returned to him, for he wheeled round and said to Komba,

“Remember, O Kalubi, that my fate to-day will be yours also in a day to
come. The god wearies of his priests. This year, next year, or the year
after; he always wearies of his priests.”

“Then, O Kalubi-that-was,” answered Komba in a mocking voice as the
canoe was pushed off, “pray to the god for me, that it may be the year
after; pray it as your bones break in his embrace.”

While we watched that craft depart there came into my mind the memory
of a picture in an old Latin book of my father’s, which represented the
souls of the dead being paddled by a person named Charon across a river
called the Styx. The scene before us bore a great resemblance to that
picture. There was Charon’s boat floating on the dreadful Styx. Yonder
glowed the lights of the world, here was the gloomy, unknown shore. And
we, we were the souls of the dead awaiting the last destruction at the
teeth and claws of some unknown monster, such as that which haunts the
recesses of the Egyptian hell. Oh! the parallel was painfully exact. And
yet, what do you think was the remark of that irrepressible young man
Stephen?

“Here we are at last, Allan, my boy,” he said, “and after all without
any trouble on our own part. I call it downright providential. Oh! isn’t
it jolly! Hip, hip, hooray!”

Yes, he danced about in that filthy mud, threw up his cap and cheered!

I withered, or rather tried to wither him with a look, muttering the
single word: “Lunatic.”

Providential! Jolly! Well, it’s fortunate that some people’s madness
takes a cheerful turn. Then I asked the Kalubi where the god was.

“Everywhere,” he replied, waving his trembling hand at the illimitable
forest. “Perhaps behind this tree, perhaps behind that, perhaps a long
way off. Before morning we shall know.”

“What are you going to do?” I inquired savagely.

“Die,” he answered.

“Look here, fool,” I exclaimed, shaking him, “you can die if you like,
but we don’t mean to. Take us to some place where we shall be safe from
this god.”

“One is never safe from the god, lord, especially in his own House,” and
he shook his silly head and went on, “How can we be safe when there is
nowhere to go and even the trees are too big to climb?”

I looked at them, it was true. They were huge and ran up for fifty
or sixty feet without a bough. Moreover, it was probable that the god
climbed better than we could. The Kalubi began to move inland in an
indeterminate fashion, and I asked him where he was going.

“To the burying-place,” he answered. “There are spears yonder with the
bones.”

I pricked up my ears at this--for when one has nothing but some clasp
knives, spears are not to be despised--and ordered him to lead on. In
another minute we were walking uphill through the awful wood where the
gloom at this hour of approaching night was that of an English fog.

Three or four hundred paces brought us to a kind of clearing, where
I suppose some of the monster trees had fallen down in past years and
never been allowed to grow up again. Here, placed upon the ground, were
a number of boxes made of imperishable ironwood, and on the top of each
box sat, or rather lay, a mouldering and broken skull.

“Kalubi-that-were!” murmured our guide in explanation. “Look, Komba has
made my box ready,” and he pointed to a new case with the lid off.

“How thoughtful of him!” I said. “But show us the spears before it gets
quite dark.” He went to one of the newer coffins and intimated that we
should lift off the lid as he was afraid to do so.

I shoved it aside. There within lay the bones, each of them separate
and wrapped up in something, except of course the skull. With these were
some pots filled apparently with gold dust, and alongside of the pots
two good spears that, being made of copper, had not rusted much. We went
on to other coffins and extracted from them more of these weapons that
were laid there for the dead man to use upon his journey through the
Shades, until we had enough. The shafts of most of them were somewhat
rotten from the damp, but luckily they were furnished with copper
sockets from two and a half to three feet long, into which the wood of
the shaft fitted, so that they were still serviceable.

“Poor things these to fight a devil with,” I said.

“Yes, Baas,” said Hans in a cheerful voice, “very poor. It is lucky that
I have got a better.”

I stared at him; we all stared at him.

“What do you mean, Spotted Snake?” asked Mavovo.

“What do you mean, child of a hundred idiots? Is this a time to jest? Is
not one joker enough among us?” I asked, and looked at Stephen.

“Mean, Baas? Don’t you know that I have the little rifle with me, that
which is called _Intombi_, that with which you shot the vultures at
Dingaan’s kraal? I never told you because I was sure you knew; also
because if you didn’t know it was better that you should not know, for
if _you_ had known, those Pongo _skellums_ (that is, vicious ones) might
have come to know also. And if _they_ had known----”

“Mad!” interrupted Brother John, tapping his forehead, “quite mad, poor
fellow! Well, in these depressing circumstances it is not wonderful.”

I inspected Hans again, for I agreed with John. Yet he did not look mad,
only rather more cunning than usual.

“Hans,” I said, “tell us where this rifle is, or I will knock you down
and Mavovo shall flog you.”

“Where, Baas! Why, cannot you see it when it is before your eyes?”

“You are right, John,” I said, “he’s off it”; but Stephen sprang at Hans
and began to shake him.

“Leave go, Baas,” he said, “or you may hurt the rifle.”

Stephen obeyed in sheer astonishment. Then, oh! then Hans did something
to the end of his great bamboo stick, turned it gently upside down and
out of it slid the barrel of a rifle neatly tied round with greased
cloth and stoppered at the muzzle with a piece of tow!

I could have kissed him. Yes, such was my joy that I could have kissed
that hideous, smelly old Hottentot.

“The stock?” I panted. “The barrel isn’t any use without the stock,
Hans.”

“Oh! Baas,” he answered, grinning, “do you think that I have shot with
you all these years without knowing that a rifle must have a stock to
hold it by?”

Then he slipped off the bundle from his back, undid the lashings of the
blanket, revealing the great yellow head of tobacco that had excited my
own and Komba’s interest on the shores of the lake. This head he tore
apart and produced the stock of the rifle nicely cleaned, a cap set
ready on the nipple, on to which the hammer was let down, with a little
piece of wad between to prevent the cap from being fired by any sudden
jar.

“Hans,” I exclaimed, “Hans, you are a hero and worth your weight in
gold!”

“Yes, Baas, though you never told me so before. Oh! I made up my mind
that I wouldn’t go to sleep in the face of the Old Man (death). Oh!
which of you ought to sleep now upon that bed that Bausi sent me?” he
asked as he put the gun together. “_You_, I think, you great stupid
Mavovo. _You_ never brought a gun. If you were a wizard worth the name
you would have sent the rifles on and had them ready to meet us here.
Oh! will you laugh at me any more, you thick-head of a Zulu?”

“No,” answered Mavovo candidly. “I will give you _sibonga_. Yes, I will
make for you Titles of Praise, O clever Spotted Snake.”

“And yet,” went on Hans, “I am not all a hero; I am worth but half my
weight in gold. For, Baas, although I have plenty of powder and bullets
in my pocket, I lost the caps out of a hole in my waistcoat. You
remember, Baas, I told you it was charms I lost. But three remain; no,
four, for there is one on the nipple. There, Baas, there is _Intombi_
all ready and loaded. And now when the white devil comes you can shoot
him in the eye, as you how to do up to a hundred yards, and send him to
the other devils down in hell. Oh! won’t your holy father the Predikant
be glad to see him there.”

Then with a self-satisfied smirk he half-cocked the rifle and handed it
to me ready for action.

“I thank God!” said Brother John solemnly, “who has taught this poor
Hottentot how to save us.”

“No, Baas John, God never taught me, I taught myself. But, see, it grows
dark. Had we not better light a fire,” and forgetting the rifle he began
to look about for wood.

“Hans,” called Stephen after him, “if ever we get out of this, I will
give you £500, or at least my father will, which is the same thing.”

“Thank you, Baas, thank you, though just now I’d rather have a drop of
brandy and--I don’t see any wood.”

He was right. Outside of the graveyard clearing lay, it is true, some
huge fallen boughs. But these were too big for us to move or cut.
Moreover, they were so soaked with damp, like everything in this forest,
that it would be impossible to fire them.

The darkness closed in. It was not absolute blackness, because presently
the moon rose, but the sky was rainy and obscured it; moreover, the huge
trees all about seemed to suck up whatever light there was. We crouched
ourselves upon the ground back to back as near as possible to the centre
of the place, unrolled such blankets as we had to protect us from the
damp and cold, and ate some biltong or dried game flesh and parched
corn, of which fortunately the boy Jerry carried a bagful that had
remained upon his shoulders when he was thrown into the canoe. Luckily I
had thought of bringing this food with us; also a flask of spirits.

Then it was that the first thing happened. Far away in the forest
resounded a most awful roar, followed by a drumming noise, such a roar
as none of us had ever heard before, for it was quite unlike that of a
lion or any other beast.

“What is that?” I asked.

“The god,” groaned the Kalubi, “the god praying to the moon with which
he always rises.”

I said nothing, for I was reflecting that four shots, which was all
we had, was not many, and that nothing should tempt me to waste one of
them. Oh! why had Hans put on that rotten old waistcoat instead of the
new one I gave him in Durban?

Since we heard no more roars Brother John began to question the Kalubi
as to where the Mother of the Flower lived.

“Lord,” answered the man in a distracted way, “there, towards the East.
You walk for a quarter of the sun’s journey up the hill, following
a path that is marked by notches cut upon the trees, till beyond
the garden of the god at the top of the mountain more water is found
surrounding an island. There on the banks of the water a canoe is hidden
in the bushes, by which the water may be crossed to the island, where
dwells the Mother of the Holy Flower.”

Brother John did not seem to be quite satisfied with the information,
and remarked that he, the Kalubi, would be able to show us the road on
the morrow.

“I do not think that I shall ever show you the road,” groaned the
shivering wretch.

At that moment the god roared again much nearer. Now the Kalubi’s nerve
gave out altogether, and quickened by some presentiment, he began to
question Brother John, whom he had learned was a priest of an unknown
sort, as to the possibility of another life after death.

Brother John, who, be it remembered, was a very earnest missionary by
calling, proceeded to administer some compressed religious consolations,
when, quite near to us, the god began to beat upon some kind of very
large and deep drum. He didn’t roar this time, he only worked away at
a massed-band military drum. At least that is what it sounded like, and
very unpleasant it was to hear in that awful forest with skulls arranged
on boxes all round us, I can assure you, my reader.

The drumming ceased, and pulling himself together, Brother John
continued his pious demonstrations. Also just at that time a thick
rain-cloud quite obscured the moon, so that the darkness grew dense. I
heard John explaining to the Kalubi that he was not really a Kalubi,
but an immortal soul (I wonder whether he understood him). Then I became
aware of a horrible shadow--I cannot describe it in any other
way--that was blacker than the blackness, which advanced towards us at
extraordinary speed from the edge of the clearing.

Next second there was a kind of scuffle a few feet from me, followed by
a stifled yell, and I saw the shadow retreating in the direction from
which it had come.

“What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Strike a match,” answered Brother John; “I think something has
happened.”

I struck a match, which burnt up very well, for the air was quite still.
In the light of it I saw first the anxious faces of our party--how
ghastly they looked!--and next the Kalubi who had risen and was waving
his right arm in the air, a right arm that was bloody and _lacked the
hand_.

“The god has visited me and taken away my hand!” he moaned in a wailing
voice.

I don’t think anybody spoke; the thing was beyond words, but we tried to
bind the poor fellow’s arm up by the light of matches. Then we sat down
again and watched.

The darkness grew still denser as the thick of the cloud passed over the
moon, and for a while the silence, that utter silence of the tropical
forest at night, was broken only by the sound of our breathing, the buzz
of a few mosquitoes, the distant splash of a plunging crocodile and the
stifled groans of the mutilated man.

Again I saw, or thought I saw--this may have been half an hour
later--that black shadow dart towards us, as a pike darts at a fish in
a pond. There was another scuffle, just to my left--Hans sat between me
and the Kalubi--followed by a single prolonged wail.

“The king-man has gone,” whispered Hans. “I felt him go as though a wind
had blown him away. Where he was there is nothing but a hole.”

Of a sudden the moon shone out from behind the clouds. In its sickly
light about half-way between us and the edge of the clearing, say thirty
yards off, I saw--oh! what did I see! The devil destroying a lost soul.
At least, that is what it looked like. A huge, grey-black creature,
grotesquely human in its shape, had the thin Kalubi in its grip. The
Kalubi’s head had vanished in its maw and its vast black arms seemed to
be employed in breaking him to pieces.

Apparently he was already dead, though his feet, that were lifted off
the ground, still moved feebly.

I sprang up and covered the beast with the rifle which was cocked,
getting full on to its head which showed the clearest, though this was
rather guesswork, since I could not see distinctly the fore-sight. I
pulled, but either the cap or the powder had got a little damp on
the journey and hung fire for the fraction of a second. In that
infinitesimal time the devil--it is the best name I can give the
thing--saw me, or perhaps it only saw the light gleaming on the barrel.
At any rate it dropped the Kalubi, and as though some intelligence
warned it what to expect, threw up its massive right arm--I remember how
extraordinarily long the limb seemed and that it looked thick as a man’s
thigh--in such a fashion as to cover its head.

Then the rifle exploded and I heard the bullet strike. By the light of
the flash I saw the great arm tumble down in a dead, helpless kind of
way, and next instant the whole forest began to echo with peal upon peal
of those awful roarings that I have described, each of which ended with
a dog-like _yowp_ of pain.

“You have hit him, Baas,” said Hans, “and he isn’t a ghost, for he
doesn’t like it. But he’s still very lively.”

“Close up,” I answered, “and hold out the spears while I reload.”

My fear was that the brute would rush on us. But it did not. For all
that dreadful night we saw or heard it no more. Indeed, I began to hope
that after all the bullet had reached some mortal part and that the
great ape was dead.

At length, it seemed to be weeks afterwards, the dawn broke and revealed
us sitting white and shivering in the grey mist; that is, all except
Stephen, who had gone comfortably to sleep with his head resting on
Mavovo’s shoulder. He is a man so equably minded and so devoid of
nerves, that I feel sure he will be one of the last to be disturbed by
the trump of the archangel. At least, so I told him indignantly when at
length we roused him from his indecent slumbers.

“You should judge things by results, Allan,” he said with a yawn. “I’m
as fresh as a pippin while you all look as though you had been to a ball
with twelve extras. Have you retrieved the Kalubi yet?”

Shortly afterwards, when the mist lifted a little, we went out in a
line to “retrieve the Kalubi,” and found--well, I won’t describe what we
found. He was a cruel wretch, as the incident of the herd-boy had told
us, but I felt sorry for him. Still, his terrors were over, or at least
I hope so.

We deposited him in the box that Komba had kindly provided in
preparation for this inevitable event, and Brother John said a prayer
over his miscellaneous remains. Then, after consultation and in the very
worst of spirits, we set out to seek the way to the home of the Mother
of the Flower. The start was easy enough, for a distinct, though very
faint path led from the clearing up the slope of the hill. Afterwards it
became more difficult for the denser forest began. Fortunately very
few creepers grew in this forest, but the flat tops of the huge trees
meeting high above entirely shut out the sky, so that the gloom was
great, in places almost that of night.

Oh! it was a melancholy journey as, filled with fears, we stole, a
pallid throng, from trunk to trunk, searching them for the notches that
indicated our road, and speaking only in whispers, lest the sound of our
voices should attract the notice of the dreadful god. After a mile or
two of this we became aware that its notice was attracted despite our
precautions, for at times we caught glimpses of some huge grey thing
slipping along parallel to us between the boles of the trees. Hans
wanted me to try a shot, but I would not, knowing that the chances of
hitting it were small indeed. With only three charges, or rather three
caps left, it was necessary to be saving.

We halted and held a consultation, as a result of which we decided
that there was no more danger in going on than in standing still or
attempting to return. So we went on, keeping close together. To me, as
I was the only one with a rifle, was accorded what I did not at all
appreciate, the honour of heading the procession.

Another half-mile and again we heard that strange rolling sound which
was produced, I believe, by the great brute beating upon its breast, but
noted that it was not so continuous as on the previous night.

“Ha!” said Hans, “he can only strike his drum with one stick now. Your
bullet broke the other, Baas.”

A little farther and the god roared quite close, so loudly that the air
seemed to tremble.

“The drum is all right, whatever may have happened to the sticks,” I
said.

A hundred yards or so more and the catastrophe occurred. We had reached
a spot in the forest where one of the great trees had fallen down,
letting in a little light. I can see it to this hour. There lay the
enormous tree, its bark covered with grey mosses and clumps of a giant
species of maidenhair fern. On our side of it was the open space
which may have measured forty feet across, where the light fell in a
perpendicular ray, as it does through the smoke-hole of a hut. Looking
at this prostrate trunk, I saw first two lurid and fiery eyes that
glowed red in the shadow; and then, almost in the same instant, made
out what looked like the head of a fiend enclosed in a wreath of the
delicate green ferns. I can’t describe it, I can only repeat that it
looked like the head of a very large fiend with a pallid face, huge
overhanging eyebrows and great yellow tushes on either side of the
mouth.

Before I had even time to get the rifle up, with one terrific roar the
brute was on us. I saw its enormous grey shape on the top of the trunk,
I saw it pass me like a flash, running upright as a man does, but with
the head held forward, and noted that the arm nearest to me was swinging
as though broken. Then as I turned I heard a scream of terror and
perceived that it had gripped the poor Mazitu, Jerry, who walked last
but one of our line which was ended by Mavovo. Yes, it had gripped him
and was carrying him off, clasped to its breast with its sound arm.
When I say that Jerry, although a full-grown man and rather inclined to
stoutness, looked like a child in that fell embrace, it will give some
idea of the creature’s size.

Mavovo, who had the courage of a buffalo, charged at it and drove the
copper spear he carried into its side. They all charged like berserkers,
except myself, for even then, thank Heaven! I knew a trick worth two of
that. In three seconds there was a struggling mass in the centre of the
clearing. Brother John, Stephen, Mavovo and Hans were all stabbing at
the enormous gorilla, for it was a gorilla, although their blows seemed
to do it no more harm than pinpricks. Fortunately for them, for its
part, the beast would not let go of Jerry, and having only one sound
arm, could but snap at its assailants, for if it had lifted a foot to
rend them, its top-heavy bulk would have caused it to tumble over.

At length it seemed to realise this, and hurled Jerry away, knocking
down Brother John and Hans with his body. Then it leapt on Mavovo, who,
seeing it come, placed the copper socket of the spear against his own
breast, with the result that when the gorilla tried to crush him, the
point of the spear was driven into its carcase. Feeling the pain,
it unwound its arm from about Mavovo, knocking Stephen over with the
backward sweep. Then it raised its great hand to crush Mavovo with a
blow, as I believe gorillas are wont to do.

This was the chance for which I was waiting. Up till that moment I had
not dared to fire, fearing lest I should kill one of my companions. Now
for an instant it was clear of them all, and steadying myself, I aimed
at the huge head and let drive. The smoke thinned, and through it I
saw the gigantic ape standing quite still, like a creature lost in
meditation.

Then it threw up its sound arm, turned its fierce eyes to the sky, and
uttering one pitiful and hideous howl, sank down dead. The bullet had
entered just behind the ear and buried itself in the brain.

The great silence of the forest flowed in over us, as it were; for quite
a while no one did or said anything. Then from somewhere down amidst the
mosses I heard a thin voice, the sound of which reminded me of air being
squeezed out of an indiarubber cushion.

“Very good shot, Baas,” it piped up, “as good as that which killed the
king-vulture at Dingaan’s kraal, and more difficult. But if the Baas
could pull the god off me I should say--Thank you.”

The “thank you” was almost inaudible, and no wonder, for poor Hans had
fainted. There he lay under the huge bulk of the gorilla, just his nose
and mouth appearing between the brute’s body and its arm. Had it not
been for the soft cushion of wet moss in which he reclined, I think that
he would have been crushed flat.

We rolled the creature off him somehow and poured a little brandy down
his throat, which had a wonderful effect, for in less than a minute he
sat up, grasping like a dying fish, and asked for more.

Leaving Brother John to examine Hans to see if he was really injured,
I bethought me of poor Jerry and went to look at him. One glance was
enough. He was quite dead. Indeed, he seemed to be crushed out of shape
like a buck that has been enveloped in the coils of a boa-constrictor.
Brother John told me afterwards that both his arms and nearly all
his ribs had been broken in that terrible embrace. Even his spine was
dislocated.

I have often wondered why the gorilla ran down the line without touching
me or the others, to vent his rage upon Jerry. I can only suggest that
it was because the unlucky Mazitu had sat next to the Kalubi on the
previous night, which may have caused the brute to identify him by smell
with the priest whom he had learned to hate and killed. It is true that
Hans had sat on the other side of the Kalubi, but perhaps the odour of
the Pongo had not clung to him so much, or perhaps it meant to deal with
him after it had done with Jerry.

When we knew that the Mazitu was past human help and had discovered
to our joy that, save for a few bruises, no one else was really
hurt, although Stephen’s clothes were half-torn off him, we made an
examination of the dead god. Truly it was a fearful creature.

What its exact weight or size may have been we had no means of
ascertaining, but I never saw or heard of such an enormous ape, if a
gorilla is really an ape. It needed the united strength of the five of
us to lift the carcase with a great effort off the fainting Hans and
even to roll it from side to side when subsequently we removed the skin.
I would never have believed that so ancient an animal of its stature,
which could not have been more than seven feet when it stood erect,
could have been so heavy. For ancient undoubtedly it was. The long,
yellow, canine tusks were worn half-away with use; the eyes were sunken
far into the skull; the hair of the head, which I am told is generally
red or brown, was quite white, and even the bare breast, which should
be black, was grey in hue. Of course, it was impossible to say, but one
might easily have imagined that this creature was two hundred years or
more old, as the Motombo had declared it to be.

Stephen suggested that it should be skinned, and although I saw little
prospect of our being able to carry away the hide, I assented and helped
in the operation on the mere chance of saving so great a curiosity.
Also, although Brother John was restless and murmured something about
wasting time, I thought it necessary that we should have a rest after
our fearful anxieties and still more fearful encounter with this
consecrated monster. So we set to work, and as a result of more than an
hour’s toil, dragged off the hide, which was so tough and thick that,
as we found, the copper spears had scarcely penetrated to the flesh.
The bullet that I had put into it on the previous night struck,
we discovered, upon the bone of the upper arm, which it shattered
sufficiently to render that limb useless, if it did not break it
altogether. This, indeed, was fortunate for us, for had the creature
retained both its arms uninjured, it would certainly have killed more
of us in its attack. We were saved only by the fact that when it was
hugging Jerry it had no limb left with which it could strike, and
luckily did not succeed in its attempts to get hold with its tremendous
jaws that had nipped off the Kalubi’s hand as easily as a pair of
scissors severs the stalk of a flower.

When the skin was removed, except that of the hands, which we did not
attempt to touch, we pegged it out, raw side uppermost, to dry in the
centre of the open place where the sun struck. Then, having buried poor
Jerry in the hollow trunk of the great fallen tree, we washed ourselves
with the wet mosses and ate some of the food that remained to us.

After this we started forward again in much better spirits. Jerry, it
was true, was dead, but so was the god, leaving us happily still alive
and practically untouched. Never more would the Kalubis of Pongo-land
shiver out their lives at the feet of this dreadful divinity who soon or
late must become their executioner, for I believe, with the exception of
two who committed suicide through fear, that no Kalubi was ever known to
have died except by the hand--or teeth--of the god.

What would I not give to know that brute’s history? Could it possibly,
as the Motombo said, have accompanied the Pongo people from their home
in Western or Central Africa, or perhaps have been brought here by them
in a state of captivity? I am unable to answer the question, but it
should be noted that none of the Mazitu or other natives had ever heard
of the existence of more true gorillas in this part of Africa. The
creature, if it had its origin in the locality, must either have been
solitary in its habits or driven away from its fellows, as sometimes
happens to old elephants, which then, like this gorilla, become
fearfully ferocious.

That is all I can say about the brute, though of course the Pongo had
their own story. According to them it was an evil spirit in the shape
of an ape, which evil spirit had once inhabited the body of an early
Kalubi, and had been annexed by the ape when it killed the said Kalubi.
Also they declared that the reason the creature put all the Kalubis to
death, as well as a number of other people who were offered up to it,
was that it needed “to refresh itself with the spirits of men,” by which
means it was enabled to avoid the effects of age. It will be remembered
that the Motombo referred to this belief, of which afterwards I heard
in more detail from Babemba. But if this god had anything supernatural
about it, at least its magic was no shield against a bullet from a
Purdey rifle.

Only a little way from the fallen tree we came suddenly upon a large
clearing, which we guessed at once must be that “Garden of the god”
 where twice a year the unfortunate Kalubis were doomed to scatter the
“sacred seed.” It was a large garden, several acres of it, lying on a
shelf, as it were, of the mountain and watered by a stream. Maize grew
in it, also other sorts of corn, while all round was a thick belt of
plantain trees. Of course these crops had formed the food of the god
who, whenever it was hungry, came to this place and helped itself, as we
could see by many signs. The garden was well kept and comparatively free
from weeds. At first we wondered how this could be, till I remembered
that the Kalubi, or someone, had told me that it was tended by the
servants of the Mother of the Flower, who were generally albinos or
mutes.

We crossed it and pushed on rapidly up the mountain, once more following
an easy and well-beaten path, for now we saw that we were approaching
what we thought must be the edge of a crater. Indeed, our excitement was
so extreme that we did not speak, only scrambled forward, Brother John,
notwithstanding his lame leg, leading at a greater pace than we could
equal. He was the first to reach our goal, closely followed by Stephen.
Watching, I saw him sink down as though in a swoon. Stephen also
appeared astonished, for he threw up his hands.

I rushed to them, and this was what I saw. Beneath us was a steep slope
quite bare of forest, which ceased at its crest. This slope stretched
downwards for half a mile or more to the lip of a beautiful lake, of
which the area was perhaps two hundred acres. Set in the centre of
the deep blue water of this lake, which we discovered afterwards to
be unfathomable, was an island not more than five and twenty or thirty
acres in extent, that seemed to be cultivated, for on it we could see
fields, palms and other fruit-bearing trees. In the middle of the island
stood a small, near house thatched after the fashion of the country, but
civilized in its appearance, for it was oblong, not round, and encircled
by a verandah and a reed fence. At a distance from this house were a
number of native huts, and in front of it a small enclosure surrounded
by a high wall, on the top of which mats were fixed on poles as though
to screen something from wind or sun.

“The Holy Flower lives there, you bet,” gasped Stephen excitedly--he
could think of nothing but that confounded orchid. “Look, the mats
are up on the sunny side to prevent its scorching, and those palms are
planted round to give it shade.”

“The Mother of the Flower lives there,” whispered Brother John, pointing
to the house. “Who is she? Who is she? Suppose I should be mistaken
after all. God, let me not be mistaken, for it would be more than I can
bear.”

“We had better try to find out,” I remarked practically, though I am
sure I sympathised with his suspense, and started down the slope at a
run.

In five minutes or less we reached the foot of it, and, breathless and
perspiring though we were, began to search amongst the reeds and bushes
growing at the edge of the lake for the canoe of which we had been told
by the Kalubi. What if there were none? How could we cross that
wide stretch of deep water? Presently Hans, who, following certain
indications which caught his practised eye, had cast away to the left,
held up his hand and whistled. We ran to him.

“Here it is, Baas,” he said, and pointed to something in a tiny
bush-fringed inlet, that at first sight looked like a heap of dead
reeds. We tore away at the reeds, and there, sure enough, was a canoe of
sufficient size to hold twelve or fourteen people, and in it a number of
paddles.

Another two minutes and we were rowing across that lake.

We came safely to the other side, where we found a little landing-stage
made of poles sunk into the lake. We tied up the canoe, or rather I did,
for nobody else remembered to take that precaution, and presently were
on a path which led through the cultivated fields to the house. Here I
insisted upon going first with the rifle, in case we should be suddenly
attacked. The silence and the absence of any human beings suggested to
me that this might very well happen, since it would be strange if we had
not been seen crossing the lake.

Afterwards I discovered why the place seemed so deserted. It was owing
to two reasons. First, it was now noontime, an hour at which these poor
slaves retired to their huts to eat and sleep through the heat of the
day. Secondly, although the “Watcher,” as she was called, had seen
the canoe on the water, she concluded that the Kalubi was visiting the
Mother of the Flower and, according to practice on these occasions,
withdrew herself and everybody else, since the rare meetings of the
Kalubi and the Mother of the Flower partook of the nature of a religious
ceremony and must be held in private.

First we came to the little enclosure that was planted about with palms
and, as I have described, screened with mats. Stephen ran at it and,
scrambling up the wall, peeped over the top.

Next instant he was sitting on the ground, having descended from the
wall with the rapidity of one shot through the head.

“Oh! by Jingo!” he ejaculated, “oh! by Jingo!” and that was all I could
get out of him, though it is true I did not try very hard at the time.

Not five paces from this enclosure stood a tall reed fence that
surrounded the house. It had a gate also of reeds, which was a little
ajar. Creeping up to it very cautiously, for I thought I heard a voice
within, I peeped through the half-opened gate. Four or five feet away
was the verandah from which a doorway led into one of the rooms of the
house where stood a table on which was food.

Kneeling on mats upon this verandah were--_two white women_--clothed in
garments of the purest white adorned with a purple fringe, and wearing
bracelets and other ornaments of red native gold. One of these appeared
to be about forty years of age. She was rather stout, fair in colouring,
with blue eyes and golden hair that hung down her back. The other might
have been about twenty. She also was fair, but her eyes were grey and
her long hair was of a chestnut hue. I saw at once that she was tall and
very beautiful. The elder woman was praying, while the other, who knelt
by her side, listened and looked up vacantly at the sky.

“O God,” prayed the woman, “for Christ’s sake look in pity upon us two
poor captives, and if it be possible, send us deliverance from this
savage land. We thank Thee Who hast protected us unharmed and in health
for so many years, and we put our trust in Thy mercy, for Thou alone
canst help us. Grant, O God, that our dear husband and father may still
live, and that in Thy good time we may be reunited to him. Or if he be
dead and there is no hope for us upon the earth, grant that we, too, may
die and find him in Thy Heaven.”

Thus she prayed in a clear, deliberate voice, and I noticed that as she
did so the tears ran down her cheeks. “Amen,” she said at last, and
the girl by her side, speaking with a strange little accent, echoed the
“Amen.”

I looked round at Brother John. He had heard something and was utterly
overcome. Fortunately enough he could not move or even speak.

“Hold him,” I whispered to Stephen and Mavovo, “while I go in and talk
to these ladies.”

Then, handing the rifle to Hans, I took off my hat, pushed the gate
a little wider open, slipped through it and called attention to my
presence by coughing.

The two women, who had risen from their knees, stared at me as though
they saw a ghost.

“Ladies,” I said, bowing, “pray do not be alarmed. You see God Almighty
sometimes answers prayers. In short, I am one of--a party--of white
people who, with some trouble, have succeeded in getting to this place
and--and--would you allow us to call on you?”

Still they stared. At length the elder woman opened her lips.

“Here I am called the Mother of the Holy Flower, and for a stranger to
speak with the Mother is death. Also if you are a man, how did you reach
us alive?”

“That’s a long story,” I answered cheerfully. “May we come in? We will
take the risks, we are accustomed to them and hope to be able to do you
a service. I should explain that three of us are white men, two English
and one--American.”

“American!” she gasped, “American! What is he like, and how is he
named?”

“Oh!” I replied, for my nerve was giving out and I grew confused, “he is
oldish, with a white beard, rather like Father Christmas in short, and
his Christian name (I didn’t dare to give it all at once) is--er--John,
Brother John, we call him. Now I think of it,” I added, “he has some
resemblance to your companion there.”

I thought that the lady was going to die, and cursed myself for my
awkwardness. She flung her arm about the girl to save herself from
falling--a poor prop, for she, too, looked as though she were going
to die, having understood some, if not all, of my talk. It must be
remembered that this poor young thing had never even seen a white man
before.

“Madam, madam,” I expostulated, “I pray you to bear up. After living
through so much sorrow it would be foolish to decease of--joy. May
I call in Brother John? He is a clergyman and might be able to say
something appropriate, which I, who am only a hunter, cannot do.”

She gathered herself together, opened her eyes and whispered:

“Send him here.”

I pushed open the gate behind which the others were clustered. Catching
Brother John, who by now had recovered somewhat, by the arm, I dragged
him forward. The two stood staring at each other, and the young lady
also looked with wide eyes and open mouth.

“Elizabeth!” said John.

She uttered a faint scream, then with a cry of “_Husband!_” flung
herself upon his breast.

I slipped through the gate and shut it fast.



“I say, Allan,” said Stephen, when we had retreated to a little
distance, “did you see her?”

“Her? Who? Which?” I asked.

“The young lady in the white clothes. She is lovely.”

“Hold your tongue, you donkey!” I answered. “Is this a time to talk of
female looks?”

Then I went away behind the wall and literally wept for joy. It was one
of the happiest moments of my life, for how seldom things happen as they
should!

Also I wanted to put up a little prayer of my own, a prayer of
thankfulness and for strength and wit to overcome the many dangers that
yet awaited us.



CHAPTER XVII

                     THE HOME OF THE HOLY FLOWER

Half an hour or so passed, during which I was engaged alternately in
thinking over our position and in listening to Stephen’s rhapsodies.
First he dilated on the loveliness of the Holy Flower that he had caught
a glimpse of when he climbed the wall, and secondly, on the beauty of
the eyes of the young lady in white. Only by telling him that he might
offend her did I persuade him not to attempt to break into the sacred
enclosure where the orchid grew. As we were discussing the point, the
gate opened and she appeared.

“Sirs,” she said, with a reverential bow, speaking slowly and in
the drollest halting English, “the mother and the father--yes, the
father--ask, will you feed?”

We intimated that we would “feed” with much pleasure, and she led the
way to the house, saying:

“Be not astonished at them, for they are very happy too, and please
forgive our unleavened bread.”

Then in the politest way possible she took me by the hand, and followed
by Stephen, we entered the house, leaving Mavovo and Hans to watch
outside.

It consisted of but two rooms, one for living and one for sleeping. In
the former we found Brother John and his wife seated on a kind of couch
gazing at each other in a rapt way. I noted that they both looked as
though they had been crying--with happiness, I suppose.

“Elizabeth,” said John as we entered, “this is Mr. Allan Quatermain,
through whose resource and courage we have come together again, and this
young gentleman is his companion, Mr. Stephen Somers.”

She bowed, for she seemed unable to speak, and held out her hand, which
we shook.

“What be ‘resource and courage’?” I heard her daughter whisper to
Stephen, “and why have you none, O Stephen Somers?”

“It would take a long time to explain,” he said with his jolly laugh,
after which I listened to no more of their nonsense.

Then we sat down to the meal, which consisted of vegetables and a large
bowl of hard-boiled ducks’ eggs, of which eatables an ample supply was
carried out to Hans and Mavovo by Stephen and Hope. This, it seemed, was
the name that her mother had given to the girl when she was born in the
hour of her black despair.

It was an extraordinary story that Mrs. Eversley had to tell, and yet a
short one.

She _had_ escaped from Hassan-ben-Mohammed and the slave-traders, as the
rescued slave told her husband at Zanzibar before he died, and, after
days of wandering, been captured by some of the Pongo who were scouring
the country upon dark business of their own, probably in search of
captives. They brought her across the lake to Pongo-land and, the former
Mother of the Flower, an albino, having died at a great age, installed
her in the office on this island, which from that day she had never
left. Hither she was led by the Kalubi of the time and some others who
had “passed the god.” This brute, however, she had never seen, although
once she heard him roar, for it did not molest them or even appear upon
their journey.

Shortly after her arrival on the island her daughter was born, on which
occasion some of the women “servants of the Flower” nursed her. From
that moment both she and the child were treated with the utmost care and
veneration, since the Mother of the Flower and the Flower itself being
in some strange way looked upon as embodiments of the natural forces of
fertility, this birth was held to be the best of omens for the dwindling
Pongo race. Also it was hoped that in due course the “Child of the
Flower” would succeed the Mother in her office. So here they dwelt
absolutely helpless and alone, occupying themselves with superintending
the agriculture of the island. Most fortunately also when she was
captured, Mrs. Eversley had a small Bible in her possession which she
had never lost. From this she was able to teach her child to read and
all that is to be learned in the pages of Holy Writ.

Often I have thought that if I were doomed to solitary confinement
for life and allowed but one book, I would choose the Bible, since,
in addition to all its history and the splendour of its language,
it contains the record of the hope of man, and therefore should be
sufficient for him. So at least it had proved to be in this case.

Oddly enough, as she told us, like her husband, Mrs. Eversley during all
those endless years had never lost some kind of belief that she would
one day be saved otherwise than by death.

“I always thought that you still lived and that we should meet again,
John,” I heard her say to him.

Also her own and her daughter’s spirits were mysteriously supported,
for after the first shock and disturbance of our arrival we found them
cheerful people; indeed, Miss Hope was quite a merry soul. But then
she had never known any other life, and human nature is very adaptable.
Further, if I may say so, she had grown up a lady in the true sense of
the word. After all, why should she not, seeing that her mother,
the Bible and Nature had been her only associates and sources of
information, if we except the poor slaves who waited on them, most of
whom were mutes.

When Mrs. Eversley’s story was done, we told ours, in a compressed form.
It was strange to see the wonder with which these two ladies listened to
its outlines, but on that I need not dwell. When it was finished I heard
Miss Hope say:

“So it would seem, O Stephen Somers, that it is you who are saviour to
us.”

“Certainly,” answered Stephen, “but why?”

“Because you see the dry Holy Flower far away in England, and you say,
‘I must be Holy Father to that Flower.’ Then you pay down shekels (here
her Bible reading came in) for the cost of journey and hire brave hunter
to kill devil-god and bring my old white-head parent with you. Oh yes,
you are saviour,” and she nodded her head at him very prettily.

“Of course,” replied Stephen with enthusiasm; “that is, not exactly,
but it is all the same thing, as I will explain later. But, Miss Hope,
meanwhile could you show us the Flower?”

“Oh! Holy Mother must do that. If you look thereon without her, you
die.”

“Really!” said Stephen, without alluding to his little feat of wall
climbing.

Well, the end of it was that after a good deal of hesitation, the Holy
Mother obliged, saying that as the god was dead she supposed nothing
else mattered. First, however, she went to the back of the house and
clapped her hands, whereon an old woman, a mute and a very perfect
specimen of an albino native, appeared and stared at us wonderingly.
To her Mrs. Eversley talked upon her fingers, so rapidly that I could
scarcely follow her movements. The woman bowed till her forehead nearly
touched the ground, then rose and ran towards the water.

“I have sent her to fetch the paddles from the canoe,” said Mrs.
Eversley, “and to put my mark upon it. Now none will dare to use it to
cross the lake.”

“That is very wise,” I replied, “as we don’t want news of our
whereabouts to get to the Motombo.”

Next we went to the enclosure, where Mrs. Eversley with a native knife
cut a string of palm fibres that was sealed with clay on to the door
and one of its uprights in such a fashion that none could enter without
breaking the string. The impression was made with a rude seal that she
wore round her neck as a badge of office. It was a very curious object
fashioned of gold and having deeply cut upon its face a rough image of
an ape holding a flower in its right paw. As it was also ancient, this
seemed to show that the monkey god and the orchid had been from the
beginning jointly worshipped by the Pongo.

When she had opened the door, there appeared, growing in the centre of
the enclosure, the most lovely plant, I should imagine, that man ever
saw. It measured some eight feet across, and the leaves were dark green,
long and narrow. From its various crowns rose the scapes of bloom. And
oh! those blooms, of which there were about twelve, expanded now in the
flowering season. The measurements made from the dried specimen I have
given already, so I need not repeat them. I may say here, however, that
the Pongo augured the fertility or otherwise of each succeeding year
from the number of the blooms on the Holy Flower. If these were many
the season would prove very fruitful; if few, less so; while if, as
sometimes happened, the plant failed to flower, draught and famine were
always said to follow. Truly those were glorious blossoms, standing as
high as a man, with their back sheaths of vivid white barred with black,
their great pouches of burnished gold and their wide wings also of gold.
Then in the centre of each pouch appeared the ink-mark that did indeed
exactly resemble the head of a monkey. But if this orchid astonished me,
its effect upon Stephen, with whom this class of flower was a mania, may
be imagined. Really he went almost mad. For a long while he glared at
the plant, and finally flung himself upon his knees, causing Miss Hope
to exclaim:

“What, O Stephen Somers! do you also make sacrifice to the Holy Flower?”

“Rather,” he answered; “I’d--I’d--die for it!”

“You are likely to before all is done,” I remarked with energy, for I
hate to see a grown man make a fool of himself. There’s only one thing
in the world which justifies _that_, and it isn’t a flower.

Mavovo and Hans had followed us into the enclosure, and I overheard a
conversation between them which amused me. The gist of it was that Hans
explained to Mavovo that the white people admired this weed--he called
it a weed--because it was like gold, which was the god they really
worshipped, although that god was known among them by many names.
Mavovo, who was not at all interested in the affair, replied with a
shrug that it might be so, though for his part he believed the true
reason to be that the plant produced some medicine which gave courage or
strength. Zulus, I may say, do not care for flowers unless they bear a
fruit that is good to eat.

When I had satisfied myself with the splendour of these magnificent
blooms, I asked Mrs. Eversley what certain little mounds might be that
were dotted about the enclosure, beyond the circle of cultivated peaty
soil which surrounded the orchid’s roots.

“They are the graves of the Mothers of the Holy Flower,” she answered.
“There are twelve of them, and here is the spot chosen for the
thirteenth, which was to have been mine.”

To change the subject I asked another question, namely: If there were
more such orchids growing in the country?

“No,” she replied, “or at least I never heard of any. Indeed, I have
always been told that this one was brought from far away generations
ago. Also, under an ancient law, it is never allowed to increase. Any
shoots it sends up beyond this ring must be cut off by me and destroyed
with certain ceremonies. You see that seed-pod which has been left to
grow on the stalk of one of last year’s blooms. It is now ripe, and on
the night of the next new moon, when the Kalubi comes to visit me,
I must with much ritual burn it in his presence, unless it has burst
before he arrives, in which case I must burn any seedlings that may
spring up with almost the same ritual.”

“I don’t think the Kalubi will come any more; at least, not while you
are here. Indeed, I am sure of it,” I said.

As we were leaving the place, acting on my general principle of making
sure of anything of value when I get the chance, I broke off that ripe
seed-pod, which was of the size of an orange. No one was looking at the
time, and as it went straight into my pocket, no one missed it.

Then, leaving Stephen and the young lady to admire this Cypripedium--or
each other--in the enclosure, we three elders returned to the house to
discuss matters.

“John and Mrs. Eversley,” I said, “by Heaven’s mercy you are reunited
after a terrible separation of over twenty years. But what is to be
done now? The god, it is true, is dead, and therefore the passage of the
forest will be easy. But beyond it is the water which we have no means
of crossing and beyond the water that old wizard, the Motombo, sits in
the mouth of his cave watching like a spider in its web. And beyond
the Motombo and his cave are Komba, the new Kalubi and his tribe of
cannibals----”

“Cannibals!” interrupted Mrs. Eversley, “I never knew that they were
cannibals. Indeed, I know little about the Pongo, whom I scarcely ever
see.”

“Then, madam, you must take my word for it that they are; also, as I
believe, that they have every expectation of eating _us_. Now, as I
presume that you do not wish to spend the rest of your lives, which
would probably be short, upon this island, I want to ask how you propose
to escape safely out of the Pongo country?”

They shook their heads, which were evidently empty of ideas. Only John
stroked his white beard, and inquired mildly:

“What have you arranged, Allan? My dear wife and I are quite willing to
leave the matter to you, who are so resourceful.”

“Arranged!” I stuttered. “Really, John, under any other
circumstances----” Then after a moment’s reflection I called to Hans and
Mavovo, who came and squatted down upon the verandah.

“Now,” I said, after I had put the case to them, “what have _you_
arranged?” Being devoid of any feasible suggestions, I wished to pass on
that intolerable responsibility.

“My father makes a mock of us,” said Mavovo solemnly. “Can a rat in a
pit arrange how it is to get out with the dog that is waiting at the
top? So far we have come in safety, as the rat does into the pit. Now I
see nothing but death.”

“That’s cheerful,” I said. “Your turn, Hans.”

“Oh! Baas,” replied the Hottentot, “for a while I grew clever again when
I thought of putting the gun _Intombi_ into the bamboo. But now my head
is like a rotten egg, and when I try to shake wisdom out of it my brain
melts and washes from side to side like the stuff in the rotten egg.
Yet, yet, I have a thought--let us ask the Missie. Her brain is young
and not tired, it may hit on something: to ask the Baas Stephen is no
good, for already he is lost in other things,” and Hans grinned feebly.

More to give myself time than for any other reason I called to Miss
Hope, who had just emerged from the sacred enclosure with Stephen, and
put the riddle to her, speaking very slowly and clearly, so that she
might understand me. To my surprise she answered at once.

“What is a god, O Mr. Allen? Is it not more than man? Can a god be bound
in a pit for a thousand years, like Satan in Bible? If a god want to
move, see new country and so on, who can say no?”

“I don’t quite understand,” I said, to draw her out further, although,
in fact, I had more than a glimmering of what she meant.

“O Allan, Holy Flower there a god, and my mother priestess. If Holy
Flower tired of this land, and want to grow somewhere else, why
priestess not carry it and go too?”

“Capital idea,” I said, “but you see, Miss Hope, there are, or were, two
gods, one of which cannot travel.”

“Oh! that very easy, too. Put skin of god of the woods on to this man,”
 and she pointed to Hans, “and who know difference? They like as two
brothers already, only he smaller.”

“She’s got it! By Jingo, she’s got it!” exclaimed Stephen in admiration.

“What Missie say?” asked Hans, suspiciously.

I told him.

“Oh! Baas,” exclaimed Hans, “think of the smell inside of that god’s
skin when the sun shines on it. Also the god was a very big god, and I
am small.”

Then he turned and made a proposal to Mavovo, explaining that his
stature was much better suited to the job.

“First will I die,” answered the great Zulu. “Am I, who have high blood
in my veins and who am a warrior, to defile myself by wrapping the skin
of a dead brute about me and appear as an ape before men? Propose it to
me again, Spotted Snake, and we shall quarrel.”

“See here, Hans,” I said. “Mavovo is right. He is a soldier and very
strong in battle. You also are very strong in your wits, and by doing
this you will make fools of all the Pongo. Also, Hans, it is better that
you should wear the skin of a gorilla for a few hours than that I, your
master, and all these should be killed.”

“Yes, Baas, it is true, Baas; though for myself I almost think that,
like Mavovo, I would rather die. Yet it would be sweet to deceive those
Pongo once again, and, Baas, I won’t see you killed just to save myself
another bad smell or two. So, if you wish it, I will become a god.”

Thus through the self-sacrifice of that good fellow, Hans, who is the
real hero of this history, that matter was settled, if anything could
be looked on as settled in our circumstances. Then we arranged that
we would start upon our desperate adventure at dawn on the following
morning.

Meanwhile, much remained to be done. First, Mrs. Eversley summoned her
attendants, who, to the number of twelve, soon appeared in front of
the verandah. It was very sad to see these poor women, all of whom were
albinos and unpleasant to look on, while quite half appeared to be deaf
and dumb. To these, speaking as a priestess, she explained that the god
who dwelt in the woods was dead, and that therefore she must take the
Holy Flower, which was called “Wife of the god” and make report to the
Motombo of this dreadful catastrophe. Meanwhile, they must remain on the
island and continue to cultivate the fields.

This order threw the poor creatures, who were evidently much attached
to their mistress and her daughter, into a great state of consternation.
The eldest of them all, a tall, thin old lady with white wool and pink
eyes who looked, as Stephen said, like an Angora rabbit, prostrated
herself and kissing the Mother’s foot, asked when she would return,
since she and the “Daughter of the Flower” were all they had to love,
and without them they would die of grief.

Suppressing her evident emotion as best she could, the Mother replied
that she did not know; it depended on the will of Heaven and the
Motombo. Then to prevent further argument she bade them bring their
picks with which they worked the land; also poles, mats, and
palmstring, and help to dig up the Holy Flower. This was done under
the superintendence of Stephen, who here was thoroughly in his element,
although the job proved far from easy. Also it was sad, for all these
women wept as they worked, while some of them who were not dumb, wailed
aloud.

Even Miss Hope cried, and I could see that her mother was affected with
a kind of awe. For twenty years she had been guardian of this plant,
which I think she had at last not unnaturally come to look upon with
some of the same veneration that was felt for it by the whole Pongo
people.

“I fear,” she said, “lest this sacrilege should bring misfortune upon
us.”

But Brother John, who held very definite views upon African
superstitions, quoted the second commandment to her, and she became
silent.

We got the thing up at last, or most of it, with a sufficiency of
earth to keep it alive, injuring the roots as little as possible in the
process. Underneath it, at a depth of about three feet, we found several
things. One of these was an ancient stone fetish that was rudely shaped
to the likeness of a monkey and wore a gold crown. This object, which
was small, I still have. Another was a bed of charcoal, and amongst the
charcoal were some partially burnt bones, including a skull that was
very little injured. This may have belonged to a woman of a low type,
perhaps the first Mother of the Flower, but its general appearance
reminded me of that of a gorilla. I regret that there was neither time
nor light to enable me to make a proper examination of these remains,
which we found it impossible to bring away.

Mrs. Eversley told me afterwards, however, that the Kalubis had a
tradition that the god once possessed a wife which died before the Pongo
migrated to their present home. If so, these may have been the bones of
that wife. When it was finally clear of the ground on which it had grown
for so many generations, the great plant was lifted on to a large mat,
and after it had been packed with wet moss by Stephen in a most skilful
way, for he was a perfect artist at this kind of work, the mat was
bound round the roots in such a fashion that none of the contents could
escape. Also each flower scape was lashed to a thin bamboo so as to
prevent it from breaking on the journey. Then the whole bundle was
lifted on to a kind of bamboo stretcher that we made and firmly secured
to it with palm-fibre ropes.

By this time it was growing dark and all of us were tired.

“Baas,” said Hans to me, as we were returning to the house, “would it
not be well that Mavovo and I should take some food and go sleep in the
canoe? These women will not hurt us there, but if we do not, I, who have
been watching them, fear lest in the night they should make paddles of
sticks and row across the lake to warn the Pongo.”

Although I did not like separating our small party, I thought the idea
so good that I consented to it, and presently Hans and Mavovo, armed
with spears and carrying an ample supply of food, departed to the lake
side.

One more incident has impressed itself upon my memory in connection with
that night. It was the formal baptism of Hope by her father. I never saw
a more touching ceremony, but it is one that I need not describe.

Stephen and I slept in the enclosure by the packed flower, which he
would not leave out of his sight. It was as well that we did so, since
about twelve o’clock by the light of the moon I saw the door in the wall
open gently and the heads of some of the albino women appear through
the aperture. Doubtless, they had come to steal away the holy plant they
worshipped. I sat up, coughed, and lifted the rifle, whereon they fled
and returned no more.

Long before dawn Brother John, his wife and daughter were up and making
preparations for the march, packing a supply of food and so forth.
Indeed, we breakfasted by moonlight, and at the first break of day,
after Brother John had first offered up a prayer for protection,
departed on our journey.

It was a strange out-setting, and I noted that both Mrs. Eversley and
her daughter seemed sad at bidding good-bye to the spot where they had
dwelt in utter solitude and peace for so many years; where one of them,
indeed, had been born and grown up to womanhood. However, I kept on
talking to distract their thoughts, and at last we were off.

I arranged that, although it was heavy for them, the two ladies, whose
white robes were covered with curious cloaks made of soft prepared bark,
should carry the plant as far as the canoe, thinking it was better that
the Holy Flower should appear to depart in charge of its consecrated
guardians. I went ahead with the rifle, then came the stretcher and the
flower, while Brother John and Stephen, carrying the paddles, brought up
the rear. We reached the canoe without accident, and to our great relief
found Mavovo and Hans awaiting us. I learned, however, that it was
fortunate they had slept in the boat, since during the night the albino
women arrived with the evident object of possessing themselves of it,
and only ran away when they saw that it was guarded. As we were making
ready the canoe those unhappy slaves appeared in a body and throwing
themselves upon their faces with piteous words, or those of them who
could not speak, by signs, implored the Mother not to desert them, till
both she and Hope began to cry. But there was no help for it, so we
pushed off as quickly as we could, leaving the albinos weeping and
wailing upon the bank.

I confess that I, too, felt compunction at abandoning them thus, but
what could we do? I only trust that no harm came to them, but of course
we never heard anything as to their fate.

On the further side of the lake we hid away the canoe in the bushes
where we had found it, and began our march. Stephen and Mavovo, being
the two strongest among us, now carried the plant, and although Stephen
never murmured at its weight, how the Zulu did swear after the first few
hours! I could fill a page with his objurgations at what he considered
an act of insanity, and if I had space, should like to do so, for really
some of them were most amusing. Had it not been for his friendship for
Stephen I think that he would have thrown it down.

We crossed the Garden of the god, where Mrs. Eversley told me the Kalubi
must scatter the sacred seed twice a year, thus confirming the story
that we had heard. It seems that it was then, as he made his long
journey through the forest, that the treacherous and horrid brute which
we had killed, would attack the priest of whom it had grown weary. But,
and this shows the animal’s cunning, the onslaught always took place
_after_ he had sown the seed which would in due season produce the food
it ate. Our Kalubi, it is true, was killed before we had reached the
Garden, which seems an exception to the rule. Perhaps, however, the
gorilla knew that his object in visiting it was not to provide for its
needs. Or perhaps our presence excited it to immediate action.

Who can analyse the motives of a gorilla?

These attacks were generally spread over a year and a half. On the first
occasion the god which always accompanied the priest to the garden and
back again, would show animosity by roaring at him. On the second he
would seize his hand and bite off one of the fingers, as happened to our
Kalubi, a wound that generally caused death from blood poisoning. If,
however, the priest survived, on the third visit it killed him, for the
most part by crushing his head in its mighty jaws. When making these
visits the Kalubi was accompanied by certain dedicated youths, some of
whom the god always put to death. Those who had made the journey six
times without molestation were selected for further special trials,
until at last only two remained who were declared to have “passed” or
“been accepted by” the god. These youths were treated with great honour,
as in the instance of Komba and on the destruction of the Kalubi, one of
them took his office, which he generally filled without much accident,
for a minimum of ten years, and perhaps much longer.

Mrs. Eversley knew nothing of the sacramental eating of the remains of
the Kalubi, or of the final burial of his bones in the wooden coffins
that we had seen, for such things, although they undoubtedly happened,
were kept from her. She added, that each of the three Kalubis whom she
had known, ultimately went almost mad through terror at his approaching
end, especially after the preliminary roarings and the biting off of the
finger. In truth uneasy lay the head that wore a crown in Pongo-land,
a crown that, mind you, might not be refused upon pain of death by
torture. Personally, I can imagine nothing more terrible than the
haunted existence of these poor kings whose pomp and power must
terminate in such a fashion.

I asked her whether the Motombo ever visited the god. She answered, Yes,
once in every five years. Then after many mystic ceremonies he spent a
week in the forest at a time of full moon. One of the Kalubis had told
her that on this occasion he had seen the Motombo and the god sitting
together under a tree, each with his arm round the other’s neck and
apparently talking “like brothers.” With the exception of certain tales
of its almost supernatural cunning, this was all that I could learn
about the god of the Pongos which I have sometimes been tempted to
believe was really a devil hid in the body of a huge and ancient ape.

No, there was one more thing which I quote because it bears out
Babemba’s story. It seems that captives from other tribes were sometimes
turned into the forest that the god might amuse itself by killing them.
This, indeed, was the fate to which we ourselves had been doomed in
accordance with the hateful Pongo custom.

Certainly, thought I to myself when she had done, I did a good deed in
sending that monster to whatever dim region it was destined to inhabit,
where I sincerely trust it found all the dead Kalubis and its other
victims ready to give it an appropriate welcome.



After crossing the god’s garden, we came to the clearing of the Fallen
Tree, and found the brute’s skin pegged out as we had left it, though
shrunken in size. Only it had evidently been visited by a horde of the
forest ants which, fortunately for Hans, had eaten away every particle
of flesh, while leaving the hide itself absolutely untouched, I suppose
because it was too tough for them. I never saw a neater job. Moreover,
these industrious little creatures had devoured the beast itself.
Nothing remained of it except the clean, white bones lying in the exact
position in which we had left the carcase. Atom by atom that marching
myriad army had eaten all and departed on its way into the depths of the
forest, leaving this sign of their passage.

How I wished that we could carry off the huge skeleton to add to my
collection of trophies, but this was impossible. As Brother John said,
any museum would have been glad to purchase it for hundreds of pounds,
for I do not suppose that its like exists in the world. But it was too
heavy; all I could do was to impress its peculiarities upon my mind by
a close study of the mighty bones. Also I picked out of the upper right
arm, and kept the bullet I had fired when it carried off the Kalubi.
This I found had sunk into and shattered the bone, but without
absolutely breaking it.

On we went again bearing with us the god’s skin, having first stuffed
the head, hands and feet (these, I mean the hands and feet, had been
cleaned out by the ants) with wet moss in order to preserve their shape.
It was no light burden, at least so declared Brother John and Hans, who
bore it between them upon a dead bough from the fallen tree.

Of the rest of our journey to the water’s edge there is nothing to tell,
except that notwithstanding our loads, we found it easier to walk down
that steep mountain side than it had been to ascend the same. Still our
progress was but slow, and when at length we reached the burying-place
only about an hour remained to sunset. There we sat down to rest and
eat, also to discuss the situation.

What was to be done? The arm of stagnant water lay near to us, but we
had no boat with which to cross to the further shore. And what was that
shore? A cave where a creature who seemed to be but half-human, sat
watching like a spider in its web. Do not let it be supposed that this
question of escape had been absent from our minds. On the contrary, we
had even thought of trying to drag the canoe in which we crossed to
and from the island of the Flower through the forest. The idea was
abandoned, however, because we found that being hollowed from a single
log with a bottom four or five inches thick, it was impossible for us to
carry it so much as fifty yards. What then could we do without a boat?
Swimming seemed to be out of the question because of the crocodiles.
Also on inquiry I discovered that of the whole party Stephen and I alone
could swim. Further there was no wood of which to make a raft.

I called to Hans and leaving the rest in the graveyard where we knew
that they were safe, we went down to the edge of the water to study the
situation, being careful to keep ourselves hidden behind the reeds and
bushes of the mangrove tribe with which it was fringed. Not that there
was much fear of our being seen, for the day, which had been very hot,
was closing in and a great storm, heralded by black and bellying
clouds, was gathering fast, conditions which must render us practically
invisible at a distance.

We looked at the dark, slimy water--also at the crocodiles which
sat upon its edge in dozens waiting, eternally waiting, for what, I
wondered. We looked at the sheer opposing cliff, but save where a black
hole marked the cave mouth, far as the eye could see, the water came
up against it, as that of a moat does against the wall of a castle.
Obviously, therefore, the only line of escape ran through this cave,
for, as I have explained, the channel by which I presume Babemba reached
the open lake, was now impracticable. Lastly, we searched to see if
there was any fallen log upon which we could possibly propel ourselves
to the other side, and found--nothing that could be made to serve, no,
nor, as I have said, any dry reeds or brushwood out of which we might
fashion a raft.

“Unless we can get a boat, here we must stay,” I remarked to Hans, who
was seated with me behind a screen of rushes at the water’s edge.

He made no answer, and as I thought, in a sort of subconscious way,
I engaged myself in watching a certain tragedy of the insect world.
Between two stout reeds a forest spider of the very largest sort had
spun a web as big as a lady’s open parasol. There in the midst of this
web of which the bottom strands almost touched the water, sat the spider
waiting for its prey, as the crocodiles were waiting on the banks, as
the great ape had waited for the Kalubis, as Death waits for Life, as
the Motombo was waiting for God knows what.

It rather resembled the Motombo in his cave, did that huge, black
spider with just a little patch of white upon its head, or so I thought
fancifully enough. Then came the tragedy. A great, white moth of the
Hawk species began to dart to and fro between the reeds, and presently
struck the web on its lower side some three inches above the water. Like
a flash that spider was upon it. It embraced the victim with its long
legs to still its tremendous battlings. Next, descending below, it began
to make the body fast, when something happened. From the still surface
of the water beneath poked up the mouth of a very large fish which quite
quietly closed upon the spider and sank again into the depths, taking
with it a portion of the web and thereby setting the big moth free.
With a struggle it loosed itself, fell on to a piece of wood and floated
away, apparently little the worse for the encounter.

“Did you see that, Baas?” said Hans, pointing to the broken and empty
web. “While you were thinking, I was praying to your reverend father the
Predikant, who taught me how to do it, and he has sent us a sign from
the Place of Fire.”

Even then I could not help laughing to myself as I pictured what my
dear father’s face would be like if he were able to hear his convert’s
remarks. An analysis of Hans’s religious views would be really
interesting, and I only regret that I never made one. But sticking to
business I merely asked:

“What sign?”

“Baas, this sign: That web is the Motombo’s cave. The big spider is the
Motombo. The white moth is us, Baas, who are caught in the web and going
to be eaten.”

“Very pretty, Hans,” I said, “but what is the fish that came up and
swallowed the spider so that the moth fell on the wood and floated
away?”

“Baas, _you_ are the fish, who come up softly, softly out of the water
in the dark, and shoot the Motombo with the little rifle, and then the
rest of us, who are the moth, fall into the canoe and float away. There
is a storm about to break, Baas, and who will see you swim the stream in
the storm and the night?”

“The crocodiles,” I suggested.

“Baas, I didn’t see a crocodile eat the fish. I think the fish is
laughing down there with the fat spider in its stomach. Also when
there is a storm crocodiles go to bed because they are afraid lest the
lightning should kill them for their sins.”

Now I remembered that I had often heard, and indeed to some extent
noted, that these great reptiles do vanish in disturbed weather,
probably because their food hides away. However that might be, in an
instant I made up my mind.

As soon as it was quite dark I would swim the water, holding the little
rifle, _Intombi_, above my head, and try to steal the canoe. If the old
wizard was watching, which I hoped might not be the case, well, I
must deal with him as best I could. I knew the desperate nature of the
expedient, but there was no other way. If we could not get a boat we
must remain in that foodless forest until we starved. Or if we returned
to the island of the Flower, there ere long we should certainly be
attacked and destroyed by Komba and the Pongos when they came to look
for our bodies.

“I’ll try it, Hans,” I said.

“Yes, Baas, I thought you would. I’d come, too, only I can’t swim and
when I was drowning I might make a noise, because one forgets oneself
then, Baas. But it will be all right, for if it were otherwise I am sure
that your reverend father would have shown us so in the sign. The moth
floated off quite comfortably on the wood, and just now I saw it spread
its wings and fly away. And the fish, ah! how he laughs with that fat
old spider in his stomach!”



CHAPTER XVIII

                              FATE STABS

We went back to the others whom we found crouched on the ground among
the coffins, looking distinctly depressed. No wonder; night was closing
in, the thunder was beginning to growl and echo through the forest and
rain to fall in big drops. In short, although Stephen remarked that
every cloud has a silver lining, a proverb which, as I told him, I
seemed to have heard before, in no sense could the outlook be considered
bright.

“Well, Allan, what have you arranged?” asked Brother John, with a faint
attempt at cheerfulness as he let go of his wife’s hand. In those days
he always seemed to be holding his wife’s hand.

“Oh!” I answered, “I am going to get the canoe so that we can all row
over comfortably.”

They stared at me, and Miss Hope, who was seated by Stephen, asked in
her usual Biblical language:

“Have you the wings of a dove that you can fly, O Mr. Allan?”

“No,” I answered, “but I have the fins of a fish, or something like
them, and I can swim.”

Now there arose a chorus of expostulation.

“You shan’t risk it,” said Stephen, “I can swim as well as you and I’m
younger. I’ll go, I want a bath.”

“That you will have, O Stephen,” interrupted Miss Hope, as I thought in
some alarm. “The latter rain from heaven will make you clean.” (By now
it was pouring.)

“Yes, Stephen, you can swim,” I said, “but you will forgive me for
saying that you are not particularly deadly with a rifle, and clean
shooting may be the essence of this business. Now listen to me, all of
you. I am going. I hope that I shall succeed, but if I fail it does not
so very much matter, for you will be no worse off than you were before.
There are three pairs of you. John and his wife; Stephen and Miss Hope;
Mavovo and Hans. If the odd man of the party comes to grief, you will
have to choose a new captain, that is all, but while I lead I mean to be
obeyed.”

Then Mavovo, to whom Hans had been talking, spoke.

“My father Macumazana is a brave man. If he lives he will have done his
duty. If he dies he will have done his duty still better, and, on the
earth or in the under-world among the spirits of our fathers, his name
shall be great for ever; yes, his name shall be a song.”

When Brother John had translated these words, which I thought fine,
there was silence.

“Now,” I said, “come with me to the water’s edge, all of you. You will
be in less danger from the lightning there, where are no tall trees.
And while I am gone, do you ladies dress up Hans in that gorilla-skin
as best you can, lacing it on to him with some of that palm-fibre string
which we brought with us, and filling out the hollows and the head with
leaves or reeds. I want him to be ready when I come back with the canoe.

Hans groaned audibly, but made no objection and we started with our
impedimenta down to the edge of the estuary where we hid behind a clump
of mangrove bushes and tall, feathery reeds. Then I took off some of my
clothes, stripping in fact to my flannel shirt and the cotton pants I
wore, both of which were grey in colour and therefore almost invisible
at night.

Now I was ready and Hans handed me the little rifle.

“It is at full cock, Baas, with the catch on,” he said, “and carefully
loaded. Also I have wrapped the lining of my hat, which is very full of
grease, for the hair makes grease especially in hot weather, Baas, round
the lock to keep away the wet from the cap and powder. It is not tied,
Baas, only twisted. Give the rifle a shake and it will fall off.”

“I understand,” I said, and gripped the gun with my left hand by the
tongue just forward of the hammer, in such a fashion that the horrid
greased rag from Hans’s hat was held tight over the lock and cap. Then
I shook hands with the others and when I came to Miss Hope I am proud to
add that she spontaneously and of her own accord imprinted a kiss upon
my mediaeval brow. I felt inclined to return it, but did not.

“It is the kiss of peace, O Allan,” she said. “May you go and return in
peace.”

“Thank you,” I said, “but get on with dressing Hans in his new clothes.”

Stephen muttered something about feeling ashamed of himself. Brother
John put up a vigorous and well-directed prayer. Mavovo saluted with the
copper assegai and began to give me _sibonga_ or Zulu titles of praise
beneath his breath, and Mrs. Eversley said:

“Oh! I thank God that I have lived to see a brave English gentleman
again,” which I thought a great compliment to my nation and myself,
though when I afterwards discovered that she herself was English by
birth, it took off some of the polish.

Next, just after a vivid flash of lightning, for the storm had broken in
earnest now, I ran swiftly to the water’s edge, accompanied by Hans, who
was determined to see the last of me.

“Get back, Hans, before the lightning shows you,” I said, as I slid
gently from a mangrove-root into that filthy stream, “and tell them to
keep my coat and trousers dry if they can.”

“Good-bye, Baas,” he murmured, and I heard that he was sobbing. “Keep a
good heart, O Baas of Baases. After all, this is nothing to the vultures
of the Hill of Slaughter. _Intombi_ pulled us through then, and so she
will again, for she knows who can hold her straight!”

That was the last I heard of Hans, for if he said any more, the hiss of
the torrential rain smothered his words.

Oh! I had tried to “keep a good heart” before the others, but it is
beyond my powers to describe the deadly fright I felt, perhaps the worst
of all my life, which is saying a great deal. Here I was starting on one
of the maddest ventures that was ever undertaken by man. I needn’t put
its points again, but that which appealed to me most at the moment
was the crocodiles. I have always hated crocodiles since--well, never
mind--and the place was as full of them as the ponds at Ascension are of
turtles.

Still I swam on. The estuary was perhaps two hundred yards wide, not
more, no great distance for a good swimmer as I was in those days. But
then I had to hold the rifle above the water with my left hand at
all cost, for if once it went beneath it would be useless. Also I was
desperately afraid of being seen in the lightning flashes, although to
minimise this risk I had kept my dark-coloured cloth hat upon my head.
Lastly there was the lightning itself to fear, for it was fearful and
continuous and seemed to be striking along the water. It was a fact that
a fire-ball or something of the sort hit the surface within a few yards
of me, as though it had aimed at the rifle-barrel and just missed. Or so
I thought, though it may have been a crocodile rising at the moment.

In one way, or rather, in two, however, I was lucky. The first was the
complete absence of wind which must have raised waves that might have
swamped me and would at any rate have wetted the rifle. The second was
that there was no fear of my losing my path for in the mouth of the cave
I could see the glow of the fires which burned on either side of the
Motombo’s seat. They served the same purpose to me as did the lamp of
the lady called Hero to her lover Leander when he swam the Hellespont
to pay her clandestine visits at night. But he had something pleasant to
look forward to, whereas I----! Still, there was another point in common
between us. Hero, if I remember right, was a priestess of the Greek
goddess of love, whereas the party who waited me was also in a religious
line of business. Only, as I firmly believe, he was a priest of the
devil.

I suppose that swim took me about a quarter-of-an-hour, for I went
slowly to save my strength, although the crocodiles suggested haste. But
thank Heaven they never appeared to complicate matters. Now I was quite
near the cave, and now I was beneath the overhanging roof and in the
shallow water of the little bay that formed a harbour for the canoe. I
stood upon my feet on the rock bottom, the water coming up to my breast,
and peered about me, while I rested and worked my left arm, stiff with
the up-holding of the gun, to and fro. The fires had burnt somewhat low
and until my eyes were freed from the raindrops and grew accustomed to
the light of the place I could not see clearly.

I took the rag from round the lock of the rifle, wiped the wet off the
barrel with it and let it fall. Then I loosed the catch and by touching
a certain mechanism, made the rifle hair-triggered. Now I looked again
and began to make out things. There was the platform and there, alas! on
it sat the toad-like Motombo. But his back was to me; he was gazing
not towards the water, but down the cave. I hesitated for one fateful
moment. Perhaps the priest was asleep, perhaps I could get the canoe
away without shooting. I did not like the job; moreover, his head was
held forward and invisible, and how was I to make certain of killing him
with a shot in the back? Lastly, if possible, I wished to avoid firing
because of the report.

At that instant the Motombo wheeled round. Some instinct must have
warned him of my presence, for the silence was gravelike save for the
soft splash of the rain without. As he turned the lightning blazed and
he saw me.

“It is the white man,” he muttered to himself in his hissing whisper,
while I waited through the following darkness with the rifle at my
shoulder, “the white man who shot me long, long ago, and again he has a
gun! Oh! Fate stabs, doubtless the god is dead and I too must die!”

Then as if some doubt struck him he lifted the horn to summon help.

Again the lightning flashed and was accompanied by a fearful crack of
thunder. With a prayer for skill, I covered his head and fired by the
glare of it just as the trumpet touched his lips. It fell from his hand.
He seemed to shrink together, and moved no more.

Oh! thank God, thank God! in this supreme moment of trial the art of
which I am a master had not failed me. If my hand had shaken ever so
little, if my nerves, strained to breaking point, had played me false
in the least degree, if the rag from Hans’s hat had not sufficed to keep
away the damp from the cap and powder! Well, this history would never
have been written and there would have been some more bones in the
graveyard of the Kalubis, that is all!

For a moment I waited, expecting to see the women attendants dart from
the doorways in the sides of the cave, and to hear them sound a shrill
alarm. None appeared, and I guessed that the rattle of the thunder had
swallowed up the crack of the rifle, a noise, be it remembered, that
none of them had ever heard. For an unknown number of years this ancient
creature, I suppose, had squatted day and night upon that platform,
whence, I daresay, it was difficult for him to move. So after they had
wrapped his furs round him at sunset and made up the fires to keep him
warm, why should his women come to disturb him unless he called them
with his horn? Probably it was not even lawful that they should do so.

Somewhat reassured I waded forward a few paces and loosed the canoe
which was tied by the prow. Then I scrambled into it, and laying down
the rifle, took one of the paddles and began to push out of the creek.
Just then the lightning flared once more, and by it I caught sight of
the Motombo’s face that was now within a few feet of my own. It seemed
to be resting almost on his knees, and its appearance was dreadful. In
the centre of the forehead was a blue mark where the bullet had entered,
for I had made no mistake in that matter. The deep-set round eyes were
open and, all their fire gone, seemed to stare at me from beneath the
overhanging brows. The massive jaw had fallen and the red tongue hung
out upon the pendulous lip. The leather-like skin of the bloated cheeks
had assumed an ashen hue still streaked and mottled with brown.

Oh! the thing was horrible, and sometimes when I am out of sorts, it
haunts me to this day. Yet that creature’s blood does not lie heavy on
my mind, of it my conscience is not afraid. His end was necessary to
save the innocent and I am sure that it was well deserved. For he was a
devil, akin to the great god ape I had slain in the forest, to whom, by
the way, he bore a most remarkable resemblance in death. Indeed if their
heads had been laid side by side at a little distance, it would not have
been too easy to tell them apart with their projecting brows, beardless,
retreating chins and yellow tushes at the corners of the mouth.

Presently I was clear of the cave. Still for a while I lay to at one
side of it against the towering cliff, both to listen in case what I
had done should be discovered, and for fear lest the lightning which was
still bright, although the storm centre was rapidly passing away, should
reveal me to any watchers.

For quite ten minutes I hid thus, and then, determining to risk it,
paddled softly towards the opposite bank keeping, however, a little
to the west of the cave and taking my line by a certain very tall tree
which, as I had noted, towered up against the sky at the back of the
graveyard.

As it happened my calculations were accurate and in the end I directed
the bow of the canoe into the rushes behind which I had left my
companions. Just then the moon began to struggle out through the
thinning rain-clouds, and by its light they saw me, and I saw what for
a moment I took to be the gorilla-god himself waddling forward to seize
the boat. There was the dreadful brute exactly as he had appeared in the
forest, except that it seemed a little smaller.

Then I remembered and laughed and that laugh did me a world of good.

“Is that you, Baas?” said a muffled voice, speaking apparently from the
middle of the gorilla. “Are you safe, Baas?”

“Of course,” I answered, “or how should I be here?” adding cheerfully,
“Are you comfortable in that nice warm skin on this wet night, Hans?”

“Oh! Baas,” answered the voice, “tell me what happened. Even in this
stink I burn to know.”

“Death happened to the Motombo, Hans. Here, Stephen, give me your hand
and my clothes, and, Mavovo, hold the rifle and the canoe while I put
them on.”

Then I landed and stepping into the reeds, pulled off my wet shirt and
pants, which I stuffed away into the big pockets of my shooting coat,
for I did not want to lose them, and put on the dry things that,
although scratchy, were quite good enough clothing in that warm climate.
After this I treated myself to a good sup of brandy from the flask, and
ate some food which I seemed to require. Then I told them the story, and
cutting short their demonstrations of wonder and admiration, bade them
place the Holy Flower in the canoe and get in themselves. Next with the
help of Hans who poked out his fingers through the skin of the gorilla’s
arms, I carefully re-loaded the rifle, setting the last cap on the
nipple. This done, I joined them in the canoe, taking my seat in the
prow and bidding Brother John and Stephen paddle.

Making a circuit to avoid observation as before, in a very short time
we reached the mouth of the cave. I leant forward and peeped round the
western wall of rock. Nobody seemed to be stirring. There the fires
burned dimly, there the huddled shape of the Motombo still crouched
upon the platform. Silently, silently we disembarked, and I formed our
procession while the others looked askance at the horrible face of the
dead Motombo.

I headed it, then came the Mother of the Flower, followed by Hans,
playing his part of the god of the forest; then Brother John and Stephen
carrying the Holy Flower. After it walked Hope, while Mavovo brought up
the rear. Near to one of the fires, as I had noted on our first passage
of the cave, lay a pile of the torches which I have already mentioned.
We lit some of them, and at a sign from me, Mavovo dragged the canoe
back into its little dock and tied the cord to its post. Its appearance
there, apparently undisturbed, might, I thought, make our crossing of
the water seem even more mysterious. All this while I watched the doors
in the sides of the cave, expecting every moment to see the women rush
out. But none came. Perhaps they slept, or perhaps they were absent; I
do not know to this day.

We started, and in solemn silence threaded our way down the windings
of the cave, extinguishing our torches as soon as we saw light at its
inland outlet. At a few paces from its mouth stood a sentry. His
back was towards the cave, and in the uncertain gleams of the moon,
struggling with the clouds, for a thin rain still fell, he never noted
us till we were right on to him. Then he turned and saw, and at the
awful sight of this procession of the gods of his land, threw up his
arms, and without a word fell senseless. Although I never asked, I think
that Mavovo took measures to prevent his awakening. At any rate when I
looked back later on, I observed that he was carrying a big Pongo spear
with a long shaft, instead of the copper weapon which he had taken from
one of the coffins.

On we marched towards Rica Town, following the easy path by which we had
come. As I have said, the country was very deserted and the inhabitants
of such huts as we passed were evidently fast asleep. Also there were no
dogs in this land to awake them with their barking. Between the cave and
Rica we were not, I think, seen by a single soul.

Through that long night we pushed on as fast was we could travel, only
stopping now and again for a few minutes to rest the bearers of the Holy
Flower. Indeed at times Mrs. Eversley relieved her husband at this
task, but Stephen, being very strong, carried his end of the stretcher
throughout the whole journey.

Hans, of course, was much oppressed by the great weight of the gorilla
skin, which, although it had shrunk a good deal, remained as heavy as
ever. But he was a tough old fellow, and on the whole got on better than
might have been expected, though by the time we reached the town he
was sometimes obliged to follow the example of the god itself and
help himself forward with his hands, going on all fours, as a gorilla
generally does.

We reached the broad, long street of Rica about half an hour before
dawn, and proceeded down it till we were past the Feast-house still
quite unobserved, for as yet none were stirring on that wet morning.
Indeed it was not until we were within a hundred yards of the harbour
that a woman possessed of the virtue, or vice, of early rising, who
had come from a hut to work in her garden, saw us and raised an awful,
piercing scream.

“The gods!” she screamed. “The gods are leaving the land and taking the
white men with them.”

Instantly there arose a hubbub in the houses. Heads were thrust out of
the doors and people ran into the gardens, every one of whom began to
yell till one might have thought that a massacre was in progress. But as
yet no one came near us, for they were afraid.

“Push on,” I cried, “or all is lost.”

They answered nobly. Hans struggled forward on all fours, for he was
nearly done and his hideous garment was choking him, while Stephen and
Brother John, exhausted though they were with the weight of the great
plant, actually broke into a feeble trot. We came to the harbour and
there, tied to the wharf, was the same canoe in which we had crossed
to Pongo-land. We sprang into it and cut the fastenings with my knife,
having no time to untie them, and pushed off from the wharf.

By now hundreds of people, among them many soldiers were hard upon and
indeed around us, but still they seemed too frightened to do anything.
So far the inspiration of Hans’ disguise had saved us. In the midst of
them, by the light of the rising sun, I recognised Komba, who ran up, a
great spear in his hand, and for a moment halted amazed.

Then it was that the catastrophe happened which nearly cost us all our
lives.

Hans, who was in the stern of the canoe, began to faint from exhaustion,
and in his efforts to obtain air, for the heat and stench of the skin
were overpowering him, thrust his head out through the lacings of the
hide beneath the reed-stuffed mask of the gorilla, which fell over
languidly upon his shoulder. Komba saw his ugly little face and knew it
again.

“It is a trick!” he roared. “These white devils have killed the god and
stolen the Holy Flower and its priestess. The yellow man is wrapped in
the skin of the god. To the boats! To the boats!”

“Paddle,” I shouted to Brother John and Stephen, “paddle for your lives!
Mavovo, help me get up the sail.”

As it chanced on that stormy morning the wind was blowing strongly
towards the mainland.

We laboured at the mast, shipped it and hauled up the mat sail, but
slowly for we were awkward at the business. By the time that it began
to draw the paddles had propelled us about four hundred yards from the
wharf, whence many canoes, with their sails already set, were starting
in pursuit. Standing in the prow of the first of these, and roaring
curses and vengeance at us, was Komba, the new Kalubi, who shook a great
spear above his head.

An idea occurred to me, who knew that unless something were done we
must be overtaken and killed by these skilled boatmen. Leaving Mavovo
to attend to the sail, I scrambled aft, and thrusting aside the fainting
Hans, knelt down in the stern of the canoe. There was still one charge,
or rather one cap, left, and I meant to use it. I put up the largest
flapsight, lifted the little rifle and covered Komba, aiming at the
point of his chin. _Intombi_ was not sighted for or meant to use at this
great distance, and only by this means of allowing for the drop of the
bullet, could I hope to hit the man in the body.

The sail was drawing well now and steadied the boat, also, being still
under the shelter of the land, the water was smooth as that of a pond,
so really I had a very good firing platform. Moreover, weary though I
was, my vital forces rose to the emergency and I felt myself grow rigid
as a statue. Lastly, the light was good, for the sun rose behind me, its
level rays shining full on to my mark. I held my breath and touched the
trigger. The charge exploded sweetly and almost at the instant; as
the smoke drifted to one side, I saw Komba throw up his arms and fall
backwards into the canoe. Then, quite a long while afterwards, or so it
seemed, the breeze brought the faint sound of the thud of that fateful
bullet to our ears.

Though perhaps I ought not to say so, it was really a wonderful shot
in all the circumstances, for, as I learned afterwards, the ball struck
just where I hoped that it might, in the centre of the breast, piercing
the heart. Indeed, taking everything into consideration, I think that
those four shots which I fired in Pongo-land are the real record of my
career as a marksman. The first at night broke the arm of the gorilla
god and would have killed him had not the charge hung fire and given
him time to protect his head. The second did kill him in the midst of
a great scrimmage when everything was moving. The third, fired by the
glare of lightning after a long swim, slew the Motombo, and the fourth,
loosed at this great distance from a moving boat, was the bane of that
cold-blooded and treacherous man, Komba, who thought that he had trapped
us to Pongo-land to be murdered and eaten as a sacrifice. Lastly there
was always the consciousness that no mistake must be made, since with
but four percussion caps it could not be retrieved.

I am sure that I could not have done so well with any other rifle,
however modern and accurate it might be. But to this little Purdey
weapon I had been accustomed from my youth, and that, as any marksman
will know, means a great deal. I seemed to know it and it seemed to know
me. It hangs on my wall to this day, although of course I never use it
now in our breech-loading era. Unfortunately, however, a local gunsmith
to whom I sent it to have the lock cleaned, re-browned it and scraped
and varnished the stock, etc., without authority, making it look almost
new again. I preferred it in its worn and scratched condition.

To return: the sound of the shot, like that of John Peel’s horn, aroused
Hans from his sleep. He thrust his head between my legs and saw Komba
fall.

“Oh! beautiful, Baas, beautiful!” he said faintly. “I am sure that the
ghost of your reverend father cannot kill his enemies more nicely down
there among the Fires. Beautiful!” and the silly old fellow fell to
kissing my boots, or what remained of them, after which I gave him the
last of the brandy.

This quite brought him to himself again, especially when he was free
from that filthy skin and had washed his head and hands.

The effect of the death of Komba upon the Pongos was very strange. All
the other canoes clustered round that in which he lay. Then, after a
hurried consultation, they hauled down their sails and paddled back to
the wharf. Why they did this I cannot tell. Perhaps they thought that
he was bewitched, or only wounded and required the attentions of a
medicine-man. Perhaps it was not lawful for them to proceed except under
the guidance of some reserve Kalubi who had “passed the god” and who was
on shore. Perhaps it was necessary, according to their rites, that the
body of their chief should be landed with certain ceremonies. I do not
know. It is impossible to be sure as to the mysterious motives that
actuate many of these remote African tribes.

At any rate the result was that it gave us a great start and a chance
of life, who must otherwise have died upon the spot. Outside the bay the
breeze blew merrily, taking us across the lake at a spanking pace, until
about midday when it began to fall. Fortunately, however, it did
not altogether drop till three o’clock by which time the coast of
Mazitu-land was comparatively near; we could even distinguish a speck
against the skyline which we knew was the Union Jack that Stephen had
set upon the crest of a little hill.

During those hours of peace we ate the food that remained to us, washed
ourselves as thoroughly as we could and rested. Well was it, in view of
what followed, that we had this time of repose. For just as the breeze
was failing I looked aft and there, coming up behind us, still holding
the wind, was the whole fleet of Pongo canoes, thirty or forty of them
perhaps, each carrying an average of about twenty men. We sailed on
for as long as we could, for though our progress was but slow, it was
quicker than what we could have made by paddling. Also it was necessary
that we should save our strength for the last trial.

I remember that hour very well, for in the nervous excitement of it
every little thing impressed itself upon my mind. I remember even the
shape of the clouds that floated over us, remnants of the storm of the
previous night. One was like a castle with a broken-down turret showing
a staircase within; another had a fantastic resemblance to a wrecked
ship with a hole in her starboard bow, two of her masts broken and one
standing with some fragments of sails flapping from it, and so forth.

Then there was the general aspect of the great lake, especially at a
spot where two currents met, causing little waves which seemed to fight
with each other and fall backwards in curious curves. Also there were
shoals of small fish, something like chub in shape, with round mouths
and very white stomachs, which suddenly appeared upon the surface,
jumping at invisible flies. These attracted a number of birds that
resembled gulls of a light build. They had coal-black heads, white
backs, greyish wings, and slightly webbed feet, pink as coral, with
which they seized the small fish, uttering as they did so, a peculiar
and plaintive cry that ended in a long-drawn _e-e-é_. The father of the
flock, whose head seemed to be white like his back, perhaps from age,
hung above them, not troubling to fish himself, but from time to
time forcing one of the company to drop what he had caught, which he
retrieved before it reached the water. Such are some of the small things
that come back to me, though there were others too numerous and trivial
to mention.

When the breeze failed us at last we were perhaps something over three
miles from the shore, or rather from the great bed of reeds which at
this spot grow in the shallows off the Mazitu coast to a breadth of
seven or eight hundred yards, where the water becomes too deep for them.
The Pongos were then about a mile and a half behind. But as the wind
favoured them for a few minutes more and, having plenty of hands, they
could help themselves on by paddling, when at last it died to a complete
calm, the distance between us was not more than one mile. This meant
that they must cover four miles of water, while we covered three.

Letting down our now useless sail and throwing it and the mast overboard
to lighten the canoe, since the sky showed us that there was no more
hope of wind, we began to paddle as hard as we could. Fortunately the
two ladies were able to take their share in this exercise, since they
had learned it upon the Lake of the Flower, where it seemed they kept
a private canoe upon the other side of the island which was used for
fishing. Hans, who was still weak, we set to steer with a paddle aft,
which he did in a somewhat erratic fashion.

A stern chase is proverbially a long chase, but still the enemy with
their skilled rowers came up fast. When we were a mile from the reeds
they were within half a mile of us, and as we tired the proportion of
distance lessened. When we were two hundred yards from the reeds they
were not more than fifty or sixty yards behind, and then the real
struggle began.

It was short but terrible. We threw everything we could overboard,
including the ballast stones at the bottom of the canoe and the heavy
hide of the gorilla. This, as it proved, was fortunate, since the thing
sank but slowly and the foremost Pongo boats halted a minute to recover
so precious a relic, checking the others behind them, a circumstance
that helped us by twenty or thirty yards.

“Over with the plant!” I said.

But Stephen, looking quite old from exhaustion and with the sweat
streaming from him as he laboured at his unaccustomed paddle, gasped:

“For Heaven’s sake, no, after all we have gone through to get it.”

So I didn’t insist; indeed there was neither time nor breath for
argument.

Now we were in the reeds, for thanks to the flag which guided us, we had
struck the big hippopotamus lane exactly, and the Pongos, paddling
like demons, were about thirty yards behind. Thankful was I that those
interesting people had never learned the use of bows and arrows, and
that their spears were too heavy to throw. By now, or rather some time
before, old Babemba and the Mazitu had seen us, as had our Zulu hunters.
Crowds of them were wading through the shallows towards us, yelling
encouragements as they came. The Zulus, too, opened a rather wild fire,
with the result that one of the bullets struck our canoe and another
touched the brim of my hat. A third, however, killed a Pongo, which
caused some confusion in the ranks of Tusculum.

But we were done and they came on remorselessly. When their leading boat
was not more than ten yards from us and we were perhaps two hundred from
the shore, I drove my paddle downwards and finding that the water was
less than four feet deep, shouted:

“Overboard, all, and wade. It’s our last chance!”

We scrambled out of that canoe the prow of which, as I left it the last,
I pushed round across the water-lane to obstruct those of the Pongo. Now
I think all would have gone well had it not been for Stephen, who after
he had floundered forward a few paces in the mud, bethought him of his
beloved orchid. Not only did he return to try to rescue it, he also
actually persuaded his friend Mavovo to accompany him. They got back to
the boat and began to lift the plant out when the Pongo fell upon them,
striking at them with their spears over the width of our canoe. Mavovo
struck back with the weapon he had taken from the Pongo sentry at the
cave mouth, and killed or wounded one of them. Then some one hurled
a ballast stone at him which caught him on the side of the head and
knocked him down into the water, whence he rose and reeled back, almost
senseless, till some of our people got hold of him and dragged him to
the shore.

So Stephen was left alone, dragging at the great orchid, till a Pongo
reaching over the canoe drove a spear through his shoulder. He let go of
the orchid because he must and tried to retreat. Too late! Half a dozen
or more of the Pongo pushed themselves between the stern or bow of our
canoe and the reeds, and waded forward to kill him. I could not help,
for to tell the truth at the moment I was stuck in a mud-hole made by
the hoof of a hippopotamus, while the Zulu hunters and the Mazitu were
as yet too far off. Surely he must have died had it not been for the
courage of the girl Hope, who, while wading shorewards a little in front
of me, had turned and seen his plight. Back she came, literally bounding
through the water like a leopard whose cubs are in danger.

Reaching Stephen before the Pongo she thrust herself between him and
them and proceeded to address them with the utmost vigour in their own
language, which of course she had learned from those of the albinos who
were not mutes.

What she said I could not exactly catch because of the shouts of the
advancing Mazitu. I gathered, however, that she was anathematizing them
in the words of some old and potent curse that was only used by the
guardians of the Holy Flower, which consigned them, body and spirit,
to a dreadful doom. The effect of this malediction, which by the way
neither the young lady nor her mother would repeat to me afterwards, was
certainly remarkable. Those men who heard it, among them the would-be
slayers of Stephen, stayed their hands and even inclined their heads
towards the young priestess, as though in reverence or deprecation, and
thus remained for sufficient time for her to lead the wounded Stephen
out of danger. This she did wading backwards by his side and keeping her
eyes fixed full upon the Pongo. It was perhaps the most curious rescue
that I ever saw.

The Holy Flower, I should add, they recaptured and carried off, for I
saw it departing in one of their canoes. That was the end of my orchid
hunt and of the money which I hoped to make by the sale of this floral
treasure. I wonder what became of it. I have good reason to believe that
it was never replanted on the Island of the Flower, so perhaps it was
borne back to the dim and unknown land in the depths of Africa whence
the Pongo are supposed to have brought it when they migrated.

After this incident of the wounding and the rescue of Stephen by the
intrepid Miss Hope, whose interest in him was already strong enough
to induce her to risk her life upon his behalf, all we fugitives were
dragged ashore somehow by our friends. Here, Hans, I and the ladies
collapsed exhausted, though Brother John still found sufficient strength
to do what he could for the injured Stephen and Mavovo.

Then the Battle of the Reeds began, and a fierce fray it was. The Pongos
who were about equal in numbers to our people, came on furiously, for
they were mad at the death of their god with his priest, the Motombo,
of which I think news had reached them and at the carrying off of the
Mother of the Flower. Springing from their canoes because the waterway
was too narrow for more than one of these to travel at a time, they
plunged into the reeds with the intention of wading ashore. Here their
hereditary enemies, the Mazitu, attacked them under the command of old
Babemba. The struggle that ensued partook more of the nature of a series
of hand-to-hand fights than of a set battle. It was extraordinary to see
the heads of the combatants moving among the reeds as they stabbed at
each other with the great spears, till one went down. There were few
wounded in that fray, for those who fell sank in the mud and water and
were drowned.

On the whole the Pongo, who were operating in what was almost their
native element, were getting the best of it, and driving the Mazitu
back. But what decided the day against them were the guns of our Zulu
hunters. Although I could not lift a rifle myself I managed to collect
these men round me and to direct their fire, which proved so terrifying
to the Pongos that after ten or a dozen of them had been knocked over,
they began to give back sullenly and were helped into their canoes by
those men who were left in charge of them.

Then at length at a signal they got out their paddles, and, still
shouting curses and defiance at us, rowed away till they became but
specks upon the bosom of the great lake and vanished.

Two of the canoes we captured, however, and with them six or seven
Pongos. These the Mazitu wished to put to death, but at the bidding
of Brother John, whose orders, it will be remembered, had the same
authority in Mazitu-land as those of the king, they bound their arms and
made them prisoners instead.

In about half an hour it was all over, but of the rest of that day I
cannot write, as I think I fainted from utter exhaustion, which was not,
perhaps, wonderful, considering all that we had undergone in the four
and a half days that had elapsed since we first embarked upon the Great
Lake. For constant strain, physical and mental, I recall no such four
days during the whole of my adventurous life. It was indeed wonderful
that we came through them alive.

The last thing I remember was the appearance of Sammy, looking very
smart, in his blue cotton smock, who, now that the fighting was over,
emerged like a butterfly when the sun shines after rain.

“Oh! Mr. Quatermain,” he said, “I welcome you home again after arduous
exertions and looking into the eyes of bloody war. All the days of
absence, and a good part of the nights, too, while the mosquitoes hunted
slumber, I prayed for your safety like one o’clock, and perhaps, Mr.
Quatermain, that helped to do the trick, for what says poet? Those who
serve and wait are almost as good as those who cook dinner.”

Such were the words which reached and, oddly enough, impressed
themselves upon my darkening brain. Or rather they were part of the
words, excerpts from a long speech that there is no doubt Sammy had
carefully prepared during our absence.



CHAPTER XIX

                         THE TRUE HOLY FLOWER

When I came to myself again it was to find that I had slept fifteen or
sixteen hours, for the sun of a new day was high in the heavens. I was
lying in a little shelter of boughs at the foot of that mound on which
we flew the flag that guided us back over the waters of the Lake Kirua.
Near by was Hans consuming a gigantic meal of meat which he had cooked
over a neighbouring fire. With him, to my delight, I saw Mavovo, his
head bound up, though otherwise but little the worse. The stone, which
probably would have killed a thin-skulled white man, had done no more
than knock him stupid and break the skin of his scalp, perhaps because
the force of it was lessened by the gum man’s-ring which, like most
Zulus of a certain age or dignity, he wore woven in his hair.

The two tents we had brought with us to the lake were pitched not far
away and looked quite pretty and peaceful there in the sunlight.

Hans, who was watching me out of the corner of his eye, ran to me with
a large pannikin of hot coffee which Sammy had made ready against my
awakening; for they knew that my sleep was, or had become of a natural
order. I drank it to the last drop, and in all my life never did I enjoy
anything more. Then while I began upon some pieces of the toasted meat,
I asked him what had happened.

“Not much, Baas,” he answered, “except that we are alive, who should be
dead. The Maam and the Missie are still asleep in that tent, or at least
the Maam is, for the Missie is helping Dogeetah, her father, to nurse
Baas Stephen, who has an ugly wound. The Pongos have gone and I think
will not return, for they have had enough of the white man’s guns. The
Mazitu have buried those of their dead whom they could recover, and have
sent their wounded, of whom there were only six, back to Beza Town on
litters. That is all, Baas.”

Then while I washed, and never did I need a bath more, and put on my
underclothes, in which I had swum on the night of the killing of the
Motombo, that Hans had wrung out and dried in the sun, I asked that
worthy how he was after his adventures.

“Oh! well enough, Baas,” he answered, “now that my stomach is full,
except that my hands and wrists are sore with crawling along the ground
like a babyan (baboon), and that I cannot get the stink of that god’s
skin out of my nose. Oh! you don’t know what it was: if I had been a
white man it would have killed me. But, Baas, perhaps you did well to
take drunken old Hans with you on this journey after all, for I was
clever about the little gun, wasn’t I? Also about your swimming of the
Crocodile Water, though it is true that the sign of the spider and the
moth which your reverend father sent, taught me that. And now we have
got back safe, except for the Mazitu, Jerry, who doesn’t matter,
for there are plenty more like him, and the wound in Baas Stephen’s
shoulder, and that heavy flower which he thought better than brandy.”

“Yes, Hans,” I said, “I did well to take you and you are clever, for had
it not been for you, we should now be cooked and eaten in Pongo-land. I
thank you for your help, old friend. But, Hans, another time please sew
up the holes in your waistcoat pocket. Four caps wasn’t much, Hans.”

“No, Baas, but it was enough; as they were all good ones. If there had
been forty you could not have done much more. Oh! your reverend father
knew all that” (my departed parent had become a kind of patron saint to
Hans) “and did not wish this poor old Hottentot to have more to carry
than was needed. He knew you wouldn’t miss, Baas, and that there were
only one god, one devil, and one man waiting to be killed.”

I laughed, for Hans’s way of putting things was certainly original, and
having got on my coat, went to see Stephen. At the door of the tent I
met Brother John, whose shoulder was dreadfully sore from the rubbing of
the orchid stretcher, as were his hands with paddling, but who otherwise
was well enough and of course supremely happy.

He told me that he had cleansed and sewn up Stephen’s wound, which
appeared to be doing well, although the spear had pierced right through
the shoulder, luckily without cutting any artery. So I went in to see
the patient and found him cheerful enough, though weak from weariness
and loss of blood, with Miss Hope feeding him with broth from a wooden
native spoon. I didn’t stop very long, especially after he got on to
the subject of the lost orchid, about which he began to show signs of
excitement. This I allayed as well as I could by telling him that I had
preserved a pod of the seed, news at which he was delighted.

“There!” he said. “To think that you, Allan, should have remembered to
take that precaution when I, an orchidist, forgot all about it!”

“Ah! my boy,” I answered, “I have lived long enough to learn never to
leave anything behind that I can possibly carry away. Also, although not
an orchidist, it occurred to me that there are more ways of propagating
a plant than from the original root, which generally won’t go into one’s
pocket.”

Then he began to give me elaborate instructions as to the preservation
of the seed-pod in a perfectly dry and air-tight tin box, etc., at which
point Miss Hope unceremoniously bundled me out of the tent.

That afternoon we held a conference at which it was agreed that we
should begin our return journey to Beza Town at once, as the place where
we were camped was very malarious and there was always a risk of the
Pongo paying us another visit.

So a litter was made with a mat stretched over it in which Stephen could
be carried, since fortunately there were plenty of bearers, and our
other simple preparations were quickly completed. Mrs. Eversley and Hope
were mounted on the two donkeys; Brother John, whose hurt leg showed
signs of renewed weakness, rode his white ox, which was now quite fat
again; the wounded hero, Stephen, as I have said, was carried; and I
walked, comparing notes with old Babemba on the Pongo, their manners,
which I am bound to say were good, and their customs, that, as the
saying goes, were “simply beastly.”

How delighted that ancient warrior was to hear again about the sacred
cave, the Crocodile Water, the Mountain Forest and its terrible god,
of the death of which and of the Motombo he made me tell him the
story three times over. At the conclusion of the third recital he said
quietly:

“My lord Macumazana, you are a great man, and I am glad to have lived if
only to know you. No one else could have done these deeds.”

Of course I was complimented, but felt bound to point out Hans’s share
in our joint achievement.

“Yes, yes,” he answered, “the Spotted Snake, Inhlatu, has the cunning to
scheme, but you have the power to do, and what is the use of a brain to
plot without the arm to strike? The two do not go together because the
plotter is not a striker. His mind is different. If the snake had
the strength and brain of the elephant, and the fierce courage of the
buffalo, soon there would be but one creature left in the world. But
the Maker of all things knew this and kept them separate, my lord
Macumazana.”

I thought, and still think, that there was a great deal of wisdom in
this remark, simple as it seems. Oh! surely many of these savages whom
we white men despise, are no fools.

After about an hour’s march we camped till the moon rose which it did
at ten o’clock, when we went on again till near dawn, as it was thought
better that Stephen should travel in the cool of the night. I remember
that our cavalcade, escorted before, behind and on either flank by
the Mazitu troops with their tall spears, looked picturesque and even
imposing as it wound over those wide downs in the lovely and peaceful
light of the moon.

There is no need for me to set out the details of the rest of our
journey, which was not marked by any incident of importance.

Stephen bore it very well, and Brother John, who was one of the best
doctors I ever met, gave good reports of him, but I noted that he did
not seem to get any stronger, although he ate plenty of food. Also, Miss
Hope, who nursed him, for her mother seemed to have no taste that way,
informed me that he slept but little, as indeed I found out for myself.

“O Allan,” she said, just before we reached Beza Town, “Stephen, your
son” (she used to call him my son, I don’t know why) “is sick. The
father says it is only the spear-hurt, but I tell you it is more than
the spear-hurt. He is sick in himself,” and the tears that filled her
grey eyes showed me that she spoke what she believed. As a matter of
fact she was right, for on the night after we reached the town, Stephen
was seized with an attack of some bad form of African fever, which in
his weak state nearly cost him his life, contracted, no doubt, at that
unhealthy Crocodile Water.

Our reception at Beza was most imposing, for the whole population,
headed by old Bausi himself, came out to meet us with loud shouts of
welcome, from which we had to ask them to desist for Stephen’s sake.

So in the end we got back to our huts with gratitude of heart. Indeed,
we should have been very happy there for a while, had it not been for
our anxiety about Stephen. But it is always thus in the world; who was
ever allowed to eat his pot of honey without finding a fly or perhaps a
cockroach in his mouth?

In all, Stephen was really ill for about a month. On the tenth day after
our arrival at Beza, according to my diary, which, having little else
to do, I entered up fully at this time, we thought that he would surely
die. Even Brother John, who attended him with the most constant skill,
and who had ample quinine and other drugs at his command, for these we
had brought with us from Durban in plenty, gave up the case. Day and
night the poor fellow raved and always about that confounded orchid, the
loss of which seemed to weigh upon his mind as though it were a whole
sackful of unrepented crimes.

I really think that he owed his life to a subterfuge, or rather to a
bold invention of Hope’s. One evening, when he was at his very worst and
going on like a mad creature about the lost plant--I was present in the
hut at the time alone with him and her--she took his hand and pointing
to a perfectly open space on the floor, said:

“Look, O Stephen, the flower has been brought back.”

He stared and stared, and then to my amazement answered:

“By Jove, so it has! But those beggars have broken off all the blooms
except one.”

“Yes,” she echoed, “but one remains and it is the finest of them all.”

After this he went quietly to sleep and slept for twelve hours, then
took some food and slept again and, what is more, his temperature went
down to, or a little below, normal. When he finally woke up, as it
chanced, I was again present in the hut with Hope, who was standing
on the spot which she had persuaded him was occupied by the orchid. He
stared at this spot and he stared at her--me he could not see, for I was
behind him--then said in a weak voice:

“Didn’t you tell me, Miss Hope, that the plant was where you are and
that the most beautiful of the flowers was left?”

I wondered what on earth her answer would be. However, she rose to the
occasion.

“O Stephen,” she replied, in her soft voice and speaking in a way so
natural that it freed her words from any boldness, “it is here, for am
I not its child”--her native appellation, it will be remembered, was
“Child of the Flower.” “And the fairest of the flowers is here, too, for
I am that Flower which you found in the island of the lake. O Stephen, I
pray you to trouble no more about a lost plant of which you have seed
in plenty, but make thanks that you still live and that through you
my mother and I still live, who, if you had died, would weep our eyes
away.”

“Through me,” he answered. “You mean through Allan and Hans. Also it was
you who saved my life there in the water. Oh! I remember it all now. You
are right, Hope; although I didn’t know it, you are the true Holy Flower
that I saw.”

She ran to him and kneeling by his side, gave him her hand, which he
pressed to his pale lips.

Then I sneaked out of that hut and left them to discuss the lost flower
that was found again. It was a pretty scene, and one that to my mind
gave a sort of spiritual meaning to the whole of an otherwise rather
insane quest. He sought an ideal flower, he found--the love of his life.

After this, Stephen recovered rapidly, for such love is the best of
medicines--if it be returned.

I don’t know what passed between the pair and Brother John and his wife,
for I never asked. But I noted that from this day forward they began to
treat him as a son. The new relationship between Stephen and Hope seemed
to be tacitly accepted without discussion. Even the natives accepted it,
for old Mavovo asked me when they were going to be married and how many
cows Stephen had promised to pay Brother John for such a beautiful wife.
“It ought to be a large herd,” he said, “and of a big breed of cattle.”

Sammy, too, alluded to the young lady in conversation with me, as “Mr.
Somers’s affianced spouse.” Only Hans said nothing. Such a trivial
matter as marrying and giving in marriage did not interest him.
Or, perhaps, he looked upon the affair as a foregone conclusion and
therefore unworthy of comment.

We stayed at Bausi’s kraal for a full month longer whilst Stephen
recovered his strength. I grew thoroughly bored with the place and so
did Mavovo and the Zulus, but Brother John and his wife did not seem to
mind. Mrs. Eversley was a passive creature, quite content to take things
as they came and after so long an absence from civilization, to bide a
little longer among savages. Also she had her beloved John, at whom she
would sit and gaze by the hour like a cat sometimes does at a person to
whom it is attached. Indeed, when she spoke to him, her voice seemed
to me to resemble a kind of blissful purr. I think it made the old boy
rather fidgety sometimes, for after an hour or two of it he would rise
and go to hunt for butterflies.

To tell the truth, the situation got a little on my nerves at last, for
wherever I looked I seemed to see there Stephen and Hope making love
to each other, or Brother John and his wife admiring each other, which
didn’t leave me much spare conversation. Evidently they thought that
Mavovo, Hans, Sammy, Bausi, Babemba and Co. were enough for me--that is,
if they reflected on the matter at all. So they were, in a sense, for
the Zulu hunters began to get out of hand in the midst of this idleness
and plenty, eating too much, drinking too much native beer, smoking too
much of the intoxicating _dakka_, a mischievous kind of help, and making
too much love to the Mazitu women, which of course resulted in the usual
rows that I had to settle.

At last I struck and said that we must move on as Stephen was now fit to
travel.

“Quite so,” said Brother John, mildly. “What have you arranged, Allan?”

With some irritation, for I hated that sentence of Brother John’s, I
replied that I had arranged nothing, but that as none of them seemed to
have any suggestions to make, I would go out and talk the matter over
with Hans and Mavovo, which I did.

I need not chronicle the results of our conference since other
arrangements were being made for us at which I little guessed.

It all came very suddenly, as great things in the lives of men and
nations sometimes do. Although the Mazitu were of the Zulu family, their
military organization had none of the Zulu thoroughness. For instance,
when I remonstrated with Bausi and old Babemba as to their not keeping
up a proper system of outposts and intelligence, they laughed at me and
answered that they never had been attacked and now that the Pongo had
learnt a lesson, were never likely to be.

By the way, I see that I have not yet mentioned that at Brother John’s
request those Pongos who had been taken prisoners at the Battle of
the Reeds were conducted to the shores of the lake, given one of the
captured canoes and told that they might return to their own happy land.
To our astonishment about three weeks later they reappeared at Beza Town
with this story.

They said that they had crossed the lake and found Rica still standing,
but utterly deserted. They then wandered through the country and even
explored the Motombo’s cave. There they discovered the remains of the
Motombo, still crouched upon his platform, but nothing more. In one hut
of a distant village, however, they came across an old and dying woman
who informed them with her last breath that the Pongos, frightened by
the iron tubes that vomited death and in obedience to some prophecy,
“had all gone back whence they came in the beginning,” taking with them
the recaptured “Holy Flower.” She had been left with a supply of food
because she was too weak to travel. So, perhaps, that flower grows
again in some unknown place in Africa, but its worshippers will have to
provide themselves with another god of the forest, another Mother of the
Flower, and another high-priest to fill the office of the late Motombo.

These Pongo prisoners, having now no home, and not knowing where their
people had gone except that it was “towards the north,” asked for
leave to settle among the Mazitu, which was granted them. Their story
confirmed me in my opinion that Pongo-land is not really an island, but
is connected on the further side with the continent by some ridge or
swamp. If we had been obliged to stop much longer among the Mazitu, I
would have satisfied myself as to this matter by going to look. But
that chance never came to me until some years later when, under curious
circumstances, I was again destined to visit this part of Africa.

To return to my story. On the day following this discussion as to our
departure we all breakfasted very early as there was a great deal to
be done. There was a dense mist that morning such as in these Mazitu
uplands often precedes high, hot wind from the north at this season of
the year, so dense indeed that it was impossible to see for more than
a few yards. I suppose that this mist comes up from the great lake in
certain conditions of the weather. We had just finished our breakfast
and rather languidly, for the thick, sultry air left me unenergetic, I
told one of the Zulus to see that the two donkeys and the white ox which
I had caused to be brought into the town in view of our near departure
and tied up by our huts, were properly fed. Then I went to inspect all
the rifles and ammunition, which Hans had got out to be checked
and overhauled. It was at this moment that I heard a far-away and
unaccustomed sound, and asked Hans what he thought it was.

“A gun, Baas,” he answered anxiously.

Well might he be anxious, for as we both knew, no one in the
neighbourhood had guns except ourselves, and all ours were accounted
for. It is true that we had promised to give the majority of those we
had taken from the slavers to Bausi when we went away, and that I had
been instructing some of his best soldiers in the use of them, but not
one of these had as yet been left in their possession.

I stepped to a gate in the fence and ordered the sentry there to run to
Bausi and Babemba and make report and inquiries, also to pray them to
summon all the soldiers, of whom, as it happened, there were at the time
not more than three hundred in the town. As perfect peace prevailed,
the rest, according to their custom, had been allowed to go to their
villages and attend to their crops. Then, possessed by a rather
undefined nervousness, at which the others were inclined to laugh, I
caused the Zulus to arm and generally make a few arrangements to meet
any unforeseen crisis. This done I sat down to reflect what would be the
best course to take if we should happen to be attacked by a large force
in that straggling native town, of which I had often studied all the
strategic possibilities. When I had come to my own conclusion I asked
Hans and Mavovo what they thought, and found that they agreed with me
that the only defensible place was outside the town where the road to
the south gate ran down to a rocky wooded ridge with somewhat steep
flanks. It may be remembered that it was by this road and over this
ridge that Brother John had appeared on his white ox when we were about
to be shot to death with arrows at the posts in the market-place.

Whilst we were still talking two of the Mazitu captains appeared,
running hard and dragging between them a wounded herdsman, who had
evidently been hit in the arm by a bullet.

This was his story. That he and two other boys were out herding the
king’s cattle about half a mile to the north of the town, when suddenly
there appeared a great number of men dressed in white robes, all of whom
were armed with guns. These men, of whom he thought there must be three
or four hundred, began to take the cattle and seeing the three herds,
fired on them, wounding him and killing his two companions. He then
ran for his life and brought the news. He added that one of the men had
called after him to tell the white people that they had come to kill
them and the Mazitu who were their friends and to take away the white
women.

“Hassan-ben-Mohammed and his slavers!” I said, as Babemba appeared at
the head of a number of soldiers, crying out:

“The slave-dealing Arabs are here, lord Macumazana. They have crept
on us through the mist. A herald of theirs has come to the north gate
demanding that we should give up you white people and your servants,
and with you a hundred young men and a hundred young women to be sold as
slaves. If we do not do this they say that they will kill all of us save
the unmarried boys and girls, and that you white people they will take
and put to death by burning, keeping only the two women alive. One
Hassan sends this message.”

“Indeed,” I answered quietly, for in this fix I grew quite cool as was
usual with me. “And does Bausi mean to give us up?”

“How can Bausi give up Dogeetah who is his blood brother, and you, his
friend?” exclaimed the old general, indignantly. “Bausi sends me to
his brother Dogeetah that he may receive the orders of the white man’s
wisdom, spoken through your mouth, lord Macumazana.”

“Then there’s a good spirit in Bausi,” I replied, “and these are
Dogeetah’s orders spoken through my mouth. Go to Hassan’s messengers and
ask him whether he remembers a certain letter which two white men left
for him outside their camp in a cleft stick. Tell him that the time has
now come for those white men to fulfil the promise they made in that
letter and that before to-morrow he will be hanging on a tree. Then,
Babemba, gather your soldiers and hold the north gate of the town for as
long as you can, defending it with bows and arrows. Afterwards retreat
through the town, joining us among the trees on the rocky slope that is
opposite the south gate. Bid some of your men clear the town of all the
aged and women and children and let them pass though the south gate and
take refuge in the wooded country beyond the slope. Let them not tarry.
Let them go at once. Do you understand?”

“I understand everything, lord Macumazana. The words of Dogeetah shall
be obeyed. Oh! would that we had listened to you and kept a better
watch!”

He rushed off, running like a young man and shouting orders as he went.

“Now,” I said, “we must be moving.”

We collected all the rifles and ammunition, with some other things, I
am sure I forget what they were, and with the help of a few guards whom
Babemba had left outside our gate started through the town, leading
with us the two donkeys and the white ox. I remember by an afterthought,
telling Sammy, who was looking very uncomfortable, to return to the huts
and fetch some blankets and a couple of iron cooking-pots which might
become necessities to us.

“Oh! Mr. Quatermain,” he answered, “I will obey you, though with fear
and trembling.”

He went and when a few hours afterwards I noted that he had never
reappeared, I came to the conclusion, with a sigh, for I was very fond
of Sammy in a way, that he had fallen into trouble and been killed.
Probably, I thought, “his fear and trembling” had overcome his reason
and caused him to run in the wrong direction with the cooking-pots.

The first part of our march through the town was easy enough, but after
we had crossed the market-place and emerged into the narrow way that ran
between many lines of huts to the south gate it became more difficult,
since this path was already crowded with hundreds of terrified
fugitives, old people, sick being carried, little boys, girls, and women
with infants at the breast. It was impossible to control these poor
folk; all we could do was to fight our way through them. However, we got
out at last and climbing the slope, took up the best position we could
on and just beneath its crest where the trees and scattered boulders
gave us very fair cover, which we improved upon in every way feasible in
the time at our disposal, by building little breastworks of stone and so
forth. The fugitives who had accompanied us, and those who followed, a
multitude in all, did not stop here, but flowed on along the road and
vanished into the wooded country behind.

I suggested to Brother John that he should take his wife and daughter
and the three beasts and go with them. He seemed inclined to accept the
idea, needless to say for their sakes, not for his own, for he was a
very fearless old fellow. But the two ladies utterly refused to budge.
Hope said that she would stop with Stephen, and her mother declared that
she had every confidence in me and preferred to remain where she was.
Then I suggested that Stephen should go too, but at this he grew so
angry that I dropped the subject.

So in the end we established them in a pleasant little hollow by a
spring just over the crest of the rise, where unless our flank were
turned or we were rushed, they would be out of the reach of bullets.
Moreover, without saying anything more we gave to each of them a
double-barrelled and loaded pistol.



CHAPTER XX

                        THE BATTLE OF THE GATE

By now heavy firing had begun at the north gate of the town, accompanied
by much shouting. The mist was still too thick to enable us to see
anything at first. But shortly after the commencement of the firing
a strong, hot wind, which always followed these mists, got up and
gradually gathered to a gale, blowing away the vapours. Then from the
top of the crest, Hans, who had climbed a tree there, reported that the
Arabs were advancing on the north gate, firing as they came, and that
the Mazitu were replying with their bows and arrows from behind the
palisade that surrounded the town. This palisade, I should state,
consisted of an earthen bank on the top of which tree trunks were set
close together. Many of these had struck in that fertile soil, so that
in general appearance this protective work resembled a huge live fence,
on the outer and inner side of which grew great masses of prickly pear
and tall, finger-like cacti. A while afterwards Hans reported that the
Mazitu were retreating and a few minutes later they began to arrive
through the south gate, bringing several wounded with them. Their
captain said that they could not stand against the fire of the guns and
had determined to abandon the town and make the best fight they could
upon the ridge.

A little later the rest of the Mazitu came, driving before them all the
non-combatants who remained in the town. With these was King Bausi, in a
terrible state of excitement.

“Was I not wise, Macumazana,” he shouted, “to fear the slave-traders and
their guns? Now they have come to kill those who are old and to take the
young away in their gangs to sell them.”

“Yes, King,” I could not help answering, “you were wise. But if you had
done what I said and kept a better look-out Hassan could not have crept
on you like a leopard on a goat.”

“It is true,” he groaned; “but who knows the taste of a fruit till he
has bitten it?”

Then he went to see to the disposal of his soldiers along the ridge,
placing, by my advice, the most of them at each end of the line
to frustrate any attempt to out-flank us. We, for our part, busied
ourselves in serving out those guns which we had taken in the first
fight with the slavers to the thirty or forty picked men whom I had been
instructing in the use of firearms. If they did not do much damage, at
least, I thought, they could make a noise and impress the enemy with the
idea that we were well armed.

Ten minutes or so later Babemba arrived with about fifty men, all the
Mazitu soldiers who were left in the town. He reported that he had held
the north gate as long as he could in order to gain time, and that the
Arabs were breaking it in. I begged him to order the soldiers to pile
up stones as a defence against the bullets and to lie down behind them.
This he went to do.

Then, after a pause, we saw a large body of the Arabs who had effected
an entry, advancing down the central street towards us. Some of them
had spears as well as guns, on which they carried a dozen or so of human
heads cut from the Mazitus who had been killed, waving them aloft and
shouting in triumph. It was a sickening sight, and one that made me
grind my teeth with rage. Also I could not help reflecting that ere long
our heads might be upon those spears. Well, if the worst came to the
worst I was determined that I would not be taken alive to be burned in
a slow fire or pinned over an ant-heap, a point upon which the others
agreed with me, though poor Brother John had scruples as to suicide,
even in despair.

It was just then that I missed Hans and asked where he had gone.
Somebody said that he thought he had seen him running away, whereon
Mavovo, who was growing excited, called out:

“Ah! Spotted Snake has sought his hole. Snakes hiss, but they do not
charge.”

“No, but sometimes they bite,” I answered, for I could not believe that
Hans had showed the white feather. However, he was gone and clearly we
were in no state to send to look for him.

Now our hope was that the slavers, flushed with victory, would advance
across the open ground of the market-place, which we could sweep with
our fire from our position on the ridge. This, indeed, they began to do,
whereon, without orders, the Mazitu to whom we had given the guns, to
my fury and dismay, commenced to blaze away at a range of about four
hundred yards, and after a good deal of firing managed to kill or wound
two or three men. Then the Arabs, seeing their danger, retreated and,
after a pause, renewed their advance in two bodies. This time, however,
they followed the streets of huts that were built thickly between the
outer palisade of the town and the market-place, which, as it had been
designed to hold cattle in time of need, was also surrounded with a
wooden fence strong enough to resist the rush of horned beasts. On that
day, I should add, as the Mazitu never dreamed of being attacked, all
their stock were grazing on some distant veldt. In this space between
the two fences were many hundreds of huts, wattle and grass built, but
for the most part roofed with palm leaves, for here, in their separate
quarters, dwelt the great majority of the inhabitants of Beza Town, of
which the northern part was occupied by the king, the nobles and the
captains. This ring of huts, which entirely surrounded the market-place
except at the two gateways, may have been about a hundred and twenty
yards in width.

Down the paths between these huts, both on the eastern and the western
side, advanced the Arabs and half-breeds, of whom there appeared to
be about four hundred, all armed with guns and doubtless trained to
fighting. It was a terrible force for us to face, seeing that although
we may have had nearly as many men, our guns did not total more
than fifty, and most of those who held them were quite unused to the
management of firearms.

Soon the Arabs began to open fire on us from behind the huts, and a very
accurate fire it was, as our casualties quickly showed, notwithstanding
the stone _schanzes_ we had constructed. The worst feature of the thing
also was that we could not reply with any effect, as our assailants, who
gradually worked nearer, were effectively screened by the huts, and we
had not enough guns to attempt organised volley firing. Although I tried
to keep a cheerful countenance I confess that I began to fear the worst
and even to wonder if we could possibly attempt to retreat. This idea
was abandoned, however, since the Arabs would certainly overtake and
shoot us down.

One thing I did. I persuaded Babemba to send about fifty men to build
up the southern gate, which was made of trunks of trees and opened
outwards, with earth and the big stones that lay about in plenty. While
this was being done quickly, for the Mazitu soldiers worked at the task
like demons and, being sheltered by the palisade, could not be shot, all
of a sudden I caught sight of four or five wisps of smoke that arose
in quick succession at the north end of the town and were instantly
followed by as many bursts of flame which leapt towards us in the strong
wind.

Someone was firing Beza Town! In less than an hour the flames, driven by
the gale through hundreds of huts made dry as tinder by the heat, would
reduce Beza to a heap of ashes. It was inevitable, nothing could save
the place! For an instant I thought that the Arabs must have done
this thing. Then, seeing that new fires continually arose in different
places, I understood that no Arabs, but a friend or friends were at
work, who had conceived the idea of _destroying the Arabs with fire_.

My mind flew to Sammy. Without doubt Sammy had stayed behind to carry
out this terrible and masterly scheme, of which I am sure none of the
Mazitu would have thought, since it involved the absolute destruction
of their homes and property. Sammy, at whom we had always mocked, was,
after all, a great man, prepared to perish in the flames in order to
save his friends!

Babemba rushed up, pointing with a spear to the rising fire. Now my
inspiration came.

“Take all your men,” I said, “except those who are armed with guns.
Divide them, encircle the town, guard the north gate, though I think
none can win back through the flames, and if any of the Arabs succeed in
breaking through the palisade, kill them.”

“It shall be done,” shouted Babemba, “but oh! for the town of Beza where
I was born! Oh! for the town of Beza!”

“Drat the town of Beza!” I holloaed after him, or rather its native
equivalent. “It is of all our lives that I’m thinking.”

Three minutes later the Mazitu, divided into two bodies, were running
like hares to encircle the town, and though a few were shot as they
descended the slope, the most of them gained the shelter of the palisade
in safety, and there at intervals halted by sections, for Babemba
managed the matter very well.

Now only we white people, with the Zulu hunters under Mavovo, of whom
there were twelve in all, and the Mazitu armed with guns, numbering
about thirty, were left upon the slope.

For a little while the Arabs did not seem to realise what had happened,
but engaged themselves in peppering at the Mazitu, who, I think, they
concluded were in full flight. Presently, however, they either heard or
saw.

Oh! what a hubbub ensued. All the four hundred of them began to shout
at once. Some of them ran to the palisade and began to climb it, but as
they reached the top of the fence were pinned by the Mazitu arrows and
fell backwards, while a few who got over became entangled in the prickly
pears on the further side and were promptly speared. Giving up this
attempt, they rushed back along the lane with the intention of escaping
at the north-gate. But before ever they reached the head of the
market-place the roaring, wind-swept flames, leaping from hut to hut,
had barred their path. They could not face that awful furnace.

Now they took another counsel and in a great confused body charged down
the market-place to break out at the south gate, and our turn came. How
we raked them as they sped across the open, an easy mark! I know that
I fired as fast as I could using two rifles, swearing the while at Hans
because he was not there to load for me. Stephen was better off in this
respect, for, looking round, to my astonishment I saw Hope, who had
left her mother on the other side of the hill, in the act of capping his
second gun. I should explain that during our stay in Beza Town we had
taught her how to use a rifle.

I called to him to send her away, but again she would not go, even after
a bullet had pierced her dress.

Still, all our shooting could not stop that rush of men, made desperate
by the fear of a fiery death. Leaving many stretched out behind them,
the first of the Arabs drew near to the south gate.

“My father,” said Mavovo in my ear, “now the real fighting is going to
begin. The gate will soon be down. _We_ must be the gate.”

I nodded, for if the Arabs once got through, there were enough of them
left to wipe us out five times over. Indeed, I do not suppose that up
to this time they had actually lost more than forty men. A few words
explained the situation to Stephen and Brother John, whom I told to
take his daughter to her mother and wait there with them. The Mazitu I
ordered to throw down their guns, for if they kept these I was sure they
would shoot some of us, and to accompany us, bringing their spears only.

Then we rushed down the slope and took up our position in a little open
space in front of the gate, that now was tottering to its fall beneath
the blows and draggings of the Arabs. At this time the sight was
terrible and magnificent, for the flames had got hold of the two
half-circles of huts that embraced the market-place, and, fanned by
the blast, were rushing towards us like a thing alive. Above us swept
a great pall of smoke in which floated flakes of fire, so thick that it
hid the sky, though fortunately the wind did not suffer it to sink
and choke us. The sounds also were almost inconceivable, for to the
crackling roar of the conflagration as it devoured hut after hut, were
added the coarse, yelling voices of the half-bred Arabs, as in mingled
rage and terror they tore at the gateway or each other, and the reports
of the guns which many of them were still firing, half at hazard.

We formed up before the gate, the Zulus with Stephen and myself in front
and the thirty picked Mazitu, commanded by no less a person than Bausi,
the king, behind. We had not long to wait, for presently down the thing
came and over it and the mound of earth and stones we had built beyond,
began to pour a mob of white-robed and turbaned men whose mixed and
tumultuous exit somehow reminded me of the pips and pulp being squeezed
out of a grenadilla fruit.

I gave the word, and we fired into that packed mass with terrible
effect. Really I think that each bullet must have brought down two or
three of them. Then, at a command from Mavovo, the Zulus threw down
their guns and charged with their broad spears. Stephen, who had got
hold of an assegai somehow, went with them, firing a Colt’s revolver as
he ran, while at their backs came Bausi and his thirty tall Mazitu.

I will confess at once that I did not join in this terrific onslaught. I
felt that I had not weight enough for a scrimmage of the sort, also that
I should perhaps be better employed using my wits outside and watching
for a chance to be of service, like a half-back in a football field,
than in getting my brains knocked out in a general row. Or mayhap my
heart failed me and I was afraid. I dare say, for I have never pretended
to great courage. At any rate, I stopped outside and shot whenever I got
the chance, not without effect, filling a humble but perhaps a useful
part.

It was really magnificent, that fray. How those Zulus did go in. For
quite a long while they held the narrow gateway and the mound against
all the howling, thrusting mob, much as the Roman called Horatius and
his two friends held the entrance to some bridge or other long ago at
Rome against a great force of I forget whom. They shouted their Zulu
battle-cry of _Laba! Laba!_ that of their regiment, I suppose, for
most of them were men of about the same age, and stabbed and fought and
struggled and went down one by one.

Back the rest of them were swept; then, led by Mavovo, Stephen and
Bausi, charged again, reinforced with the thirty Mazitu. Now the tongues
of flame met almost over them, the growing fence of prickly pear and
cacti withered and crackled, and still they fought on beneath that arch
of fire.

Back they were driven again by the mere weight of numbers. I saw Mavovo
stab a man and go down. He rose and stabbed another, then fell again for
he was hard hit.

Two Arabs rushed to kill him. I shot them both with a right and left,
for fortunately my rifle was just reloaded. He rose once more and killed
a third man. Stephen came to his support and grappling with an Arab,
dashed his head against the gate-post so that he fell. Old Bausi,
panting like a grampus, plunged in with his remaining Mazitu and the
combatants became so confused in the dark gloom of the overhanging smoke
that I could scarcely tell one from the other. Yet the maddened Arabs
were winning, as they must, for how could our small and ever-lessening
company stand against their rush?

We were in a little circle now of which somehow I found myself the
centre, and they were attacking us on all sides. Stephen got a knock
on the head from the butt end of a gun, and tumbled against me, nearly
upsetting me. As I recovered myself I looked round in despair.

Now it was that I saw a very welcome sight, namely Hans, yes, the lost
Hans himself, with his filthy hat whereof I noticed even then the frayed
ostrich feathers were smouldering, hanging by a leather strap at the
back of his head. He was shambling along in a sly and silent sort
of way, but at a great rate with his mouth open, beckoning over his
shoulder, and behind him came about one hundred and fifty Mazitu.

Those Mazitu soon put another complexion upon the affair, for charging
with a roar, they drove back the Arabs, who had no space to develop
their line, straight into the jaws of that burning hell. A little later
the rest of the Mazitu returned with Babemba and finished the job. Only
quite a few of the Arabs got out and were captured after they had thrown
down their guns. The rest retreated into the centre of the market-place,
whither our people followed them. In this crisis the blood of these
Mazitu told, and they stuck to the enemy as Zulus themselves would
certainly have done.

It was over! Great Heaven! it was over, and we began to count
our losses. Four of the Zulus were dead and two others were badly
wounded--no, three, including Mavovo. They brought him to me leaning on
the shoulder of Babemba and another Mazitu captain. He was a shocking
sight, for he was shot in three places, and badly cut and battered as
well. He looked at me a little while, breathing heavily, then spoke.

“It was a very good fight, my father,” he said. “Of all that I have
fought I can remember none better, although I have been in far greater
battles, which is well as it is my last. I foreknew it, my father, for
though I never told it you, the first death lot that I drew down yonder
in Durban was my own. Take back the gun you gave me, my father. You did
but lend it me for a little while, as I said to you. Now I go to the
Underworld to join the spirits of my ancestors and of those who have
fallen at my side in many wars, and of those women who bore my children.
I shall have a tale to tell them there, my father, and together we will
wait for you--till you, too, die in war!”

Then he lifted up his arm from the neck of Babemba, and saluted me with
a loud cry of _Baba! Inkosi!_ giving me certain great titles which I
will not set down, and having done so sank to the earth.

I sent one of the Mazitu to fetch Brother John, who arrived presently
with his wife and daughter. He examined Mavovo and told him straight out
that nothing could help him except prayer.

“Make no prayers for me, Dogeetah,” said the old heathen; “I have
followed my star,” (i.e. lived according to my lights) “and am ready to
eat the fruit that I have planted. Or if the tree prove barren, then to
drink of its sap and sleep.”

Waving Brother John aside he beckoned to Stephen.

“O Wazela!” he said, “you fought very well in that fight; if you go on
as you have begun in time you will make a warrior of whom the Daughter
of the Flower and her children will sing songs after you have come to
join me, your friend. Meanwhile, farewell! Take this assegai of mine and
clean it not, that the red rust thereon may put you in mind of Mavovo,
the old Zulu doctor and captain with whom you stood side by side in the
Battle of the Gate, when, as though they were winter grass, the fire
burnt up the white-robed thieves of men who could not pass our spears.”

Then he waved his hand again, and Stephen stepped aside muttering
something, for he and Mavovo had been very intimate and his voice choked
in his throat with grief. Now the old Zulu’s glazing eye fell upon Hans,
who was sneaking about, I think with a view of finding an opportunity of
bidding him a last good-bye.

“Ah! Spotted Snake,” he cried, “so you have come out of your hole now
that the fire has passed it, to eat the burnt frogs in the cinders. It
is a pity that you who are so clever should be a coward, since our lord
Macumazana needed one to load for him on the hill and would have killed
more of the hyenas had you been there.”

“Yes, Spotted Snake, it is so,” echoed an indignant chorus of the other
Zulus, while Stephen and I and even the mild Brother John looked at him
reproachfully.

Now Hans, who generally was as patient under affront as a Jew, for once
lost his temper. He dashed his hat upon the ground, and danced on it; he
spat towards the surviving Zulu hunters; he even vituperated the dying
Mavovo.

“O son of a fool!” he said, “you pretend that you can see what is hid
from other men, but I tell you that there is a lying spirit in your
lips. You called me a coward because I am not big and strong as you
were, and cannot hold an ox by the horns, but at least there is more
brain in my stomach than in all your head. Where would all of you be now
had it not been for poor Spotted Snake the ‘coward,’ who twice this day
has saved every one of you, except those whom the Baas’s father, the
reverend Predikant, has marked upon the forehead to come and join him in
a place that is even hotter and brighter than that burning town?”

Now we looked at Hans, wondering what he meant about saving us twice,
and Mavovo said:

“Speak on quickly, O Spotted Snake, for I would hear the end of your
story. How did you help us in your hole?”

Hans began to grub about in his pockets, from which finally he produced
a match-box wherein there remained but one match.

“With this,” he said. “Oh! could none of you see that the men of
Hassan had all walked into a trap? Did none of you know that fire burns
thatched houses, and that a strong wind drives it fast and far? While
you sat there upon the hill with your heads together, like sheep waiting
to be killed, I crept away among the bushes and went about my business.
I said nothing to any of you, not even to the Baas, lest he should
answer me, ‘No, Hans, there may be an old woman sick in one of those
huts and therefore you must not fire them.’ In such matters who does
not know that white people are fools, even the best of them, and in fact
there were several old women, for I saw them running for the gateway.
Well, I crept up by the green fence which I knew would not burn and I
came to the north gate. There was an Arab sentry left there to watch.

“He fired at me, look! Well for Hans his mother bore him short”; and he
pointed to a hole in the filthy hat. “Then before that Arab could load
again, poor coward Hans got his knife into him from behind. Look!” and
he produced a big blade, which was such as butchers use, from his belt
and showed it to us. “After that it was easy, since fire is a wonderful
thing. You make it small and it grows big of itself, like a child, and
never gets tired, and is always hungry, and runs fast as a horse. I lit
six of them where they would burn quickest. Then I saved the last match,
since we have few left, and came through the gate before the fire ate me
up; me, its father, me the Sower of the Red Seed!”

We stared at the old Hottentot in admiration, even Mavovo lifted his
dying head and stared. But Hans, whose annoyance had now evaporated,
went on in a jog-trot mechanical voice:

“As I was returning to find the Baas, if he still lived, the heat of the
fire forced me to the high ground to the west of the fence, so that I
saw what was happening at the south gate, and that the Arab men must
break through there because you who held it were so few. So I ran down
to Babemba and the other captains very quickly, telling them there was
no need to guard the fence any more, and that they must get to the south
gate and help you, since otherwise you would all be killed, and they,
too, would be killed afterwards. Babemba listened to me and started
sending out messengers to collect the others and we got here just in
time. Such is the hole I hid in during the Battle of the Gate, O Mavovo.
That is all the story which I pray that you will tell to the Baas’s
reverend father, the Predikant, presently, for I am sure that it will
please him to learn that he did not teach me to be wise and help all
men and always to look after the Baas Allan, to no purpose. Still, I am
sorry that I wasted so many matches, for where shall we get any more now
that the camp is burnt?” and he gazed ruefully at the all but empty box.

Mavovo spoke once more in a slow, gasping voice.

“Never again,” he said, addressing Hans, “shall you be called Spotted
Snake, O little yellow man who are so great and white of heart. Behold!
I give you a new name, by which you shall be known with honour from
generation to generation. It is ‘Light in Darkness.’ It is ‘Lord of the
Fire.’”

Then he closed his eyes and fell back insensible. Within a few minutes
he was dead. But those high names with which he christened Hans with his
dying breath, clung to the old Hottentot for all his days. Indeed from
that day forward no native would ever have ventured to call him by any
other. Among them, far and wide, they became his titles of honour.

The roar of the flames grew less and the tumult within their fiery
circle died away. For now the Mazitu were returning from the last fight
in the market-place, if fight it could be called, bearing in their arms
great bundles of the guns which they had collected from the dead Arabs,
most of whom had thrown down their weapons in a last wild effort to
escape. But between the spears of the infuriated savages on the one hand
and the devouring fire on the other what escape was there for them?
The blood-stained wretches who remained in the camps and towns of the
slave-traders, along the eastern coast of Africa, or in the Isle of
Madagascar, alone could tell how many were lost, since of those who went
out from them to make war upon the Mazitu and their white friends, none
returned again with the long lines of expected captives. They had gone
to their own place, of which sometimes that flaming African city has
seemed to me a symbol. They were wicked men indeed, devils stalking the
earth in human form, without pity, without shame. Yet I could not help
feeling sorry for them at the last, for truly their end was awful.

They brought the prisoners up to us, and among them, his white
robe half-burnt off him, I recognised the hideous pock-marked
Hassan-ben-Mohammed.

“I received your letter, written a while ago, in which you promised
to make us die by fire, and, this morning, I received your message,
Hassan,” I said, “brought by the wounded lad who escaped from you when
you murdered his companions, and to both I sent you an answer. If none
reached you, look around, for there is one written large in a tongue
that all can read.”

The monster, for he was no less, flung himself upon the ground, praying
for mercy. Indeed, seeing Mrs. Eversley, he crawled to her and catching
hold of her white robe, begged her to intercede for him.

“You made a slave of me after I had nursed you in the spotted sickness,”
 she answered, “and tried to kill my husband for no fault. Through you,
Hassan, I have spent all the best years of my life among savages, alone
and in despair. Still, for my part, I forgive you, but oh! may I never
see your face again.”

Then she wrenched herself free from his grasp and went away with her
daughter.

“I, too, forgive you, although you murdered my people and for twenty
years made my time a torment,” said Brother John, who was one of the
truest Christians I have ever known. “May God forgive you also”; and he
followed his wife and daughter.

Then the old king, Bausi, who had come through that battle with a slight
wound, spoke, saying:

“I am glad, Red Thief, that these white people have granted you what
you asked--namely, their forgiveness--since the deed is greatly to their
honour and causes me and my people to think them even nobler than we did
before. But, O murderer of men and woman and trafficker in children, I
am judge here, not the white people. Look on your work!” and he pointed
first to the lines of Zulu and Mazitu dead, and then to his burning
town. “Look and remember the fate you promised to us who have never
harmed you. Look! Look! Look! O Hyena of a man!”

At this point I too went away, nor did I ever ask what became of Hassan
and his fellow-captives. Moreover, whenever any of the natives or Hans
tried to inform me, I bade them hold their tongues.



                               EPILOGUE

I have little more to add to this record, which I fear has grown into
quite a long book. Or, at any rate, although the setting of it down has
amused me during the afternoons and evenings of this endless English
winter, now that the spring is come again I seem to have grown weary of
writing. Therefore I shall leave what remains untold to the imagination
of anyone who chances to read these pages.



We were victorious, and had indeed much cause for gratitude who still
lived to look upon the sun. Yet the night that followed the Battle of
the Gate was a sad one, at least for me, who felt the death of my friend
the foresighted hero, Mavovo, of the bombastic but faithful Sammy, and
of my brave hunters more than I can say. Also the old Zulu’s prophecy
concerning me, that I too should die in battle, weighed upon me, who
seemed to have seen enough of such ends in recent days and to desire one
more tranquil.

Living here in peaceful England as I do now, with no present prospect
of leaving it, it does not appear likely that it will be fulfilled. Yet,
after my experience of the divining powers of Mavovo’s “Snake”--well,
those words of his make me feel uncomfortable. For when all is said
and done, who can know the future? Moreover, it is the improbable that
generally happens[*]

[*] As the readers of “Allan Quatermain” will be aware, this prophecy
of the dying Zulu was fulfilled. Mr. Quatermain died at Zuvendis as a
result of the wound he received in the battle between the armies of the
rival Queens.--Editor.

Further, the climatic conditions were not conducive to cheerfulness, for
shortly after sunset it began to rain and poured for most of the night,
which, as we had little shelter, was inconvenient both to us and to all
the hundreds of the homeless Mazitu.

However, the rain ceased in due time, and on the following morning
the welcome sun shone out of a clear sky. When we had dried and warmed
ourselves a little in its rays, someone suggested that we should visit
the burned-out town where, except for some smouldering heaps that
had been huts, the fire was extinguished by the heavy rain. More from
curiosity than for any other reason I consented and accompanied by
Bausi, Babemba and many of the Mazitu, all of us, except Brother John,
who remained behind to attend to the wounded, climbed over the debris
of the south gate and walked through the black ruins of the huts, across
the market-place that was strewn with dead, to what had been our own
quarters.

These were a melancholy sight, a mere heap of sodden and still smoking
ashes. I could have wept when I looked at them, thinking of all the
trade goods and stores that were consumed beneath, necessities for the
most part, the destruction of which must make our return journey one of
great hardship.

Well, there was nothing to be said or done, so after a few minutes of
contemplation we turned to continue our walk through what had been the
royal quarters to the north gate. Hans, who, I noted, had been ferreting
about in his furtive way as though he were looking for something, and I
were the last to leave. Suddenly he laid his hand upon my arm and said:

“Baas, listen! I hear a ghost. I think it is the ghost of Sammy asking
us to bury him.”

“Bosh!” I answered, and then listened as hard as I could.

Now I also seemed to hear something coming from I knew not where, words
which were frequently repeated and which seemed to be:

“_O Mr. Quatermain, I beg you to be so good as to open the door of this
oven._”

For a while I thought I must be cracked. However, I called back the
others and we all listened. Of a sudden Hans made a pounce, like a
terrier does at the run of a mole that he hears working underground, and
began to drag, or rather to shovel, at a heap of ashes in front of us,
using a bit of wood as they were still too hot for his hands. Then we
listened again and this time heard the voice quite clearly coming from
the ground.

“Baas,” said Hans, “it is Sammy in the corn-pit!”

Now I remembered that such a pit existed in front of the huts which,
although empty at the time, was, as is common among the Bantu natives,
used to preserve corn that would not immediately be needed. Once I
myself went through a very tragic experience in one of these pits,
as any who may read the history of my first wife, that I have called
_Marie_, can see for themselves.

Soon we cleared the place and had lifted the stone, with ventilating
holes in it--well was it for Sammy that those ventilating holes existed;
also that the stone did not fit tight. Beneath was a bottle-shaped and
cemented structure about ten feet deep by, say, eight wide. Instantly
through the mouth of this structure appeared the head of Sammy with his
mouth wide open like that of a fish gasping for air. We pulled him out,
a process that caused him to howl, for the heat had made his skin
very tender, and gave him water which one of the Mazitu fetched from
a spring. Then I asked him indignantly what he was doing in that hole,
while we wasted our tears, thinking that he was dead.

“Oh! Mr. Quatermain,” he said, “I am a victim of too faithful service.
To abandon all these valuable possessions of yours to a rapacious enemy
was more than I could bear. So I put every one of them in the pit, and
then, as I thought I heard someone coming, got in myself and pulled down
the stone. But, Mr. Quatermain, soon afterwards the enemy added arson to
murder and pillage, and the whole place began to blaze. I could hear the
fire roaring above and a little later the ashes covered the exit so that
I could no longer lift the stone, which indeed grew too hot to touch.
Here, then, I sat all night in the most suffocating heat, very much
afraid, Mr. Quatermain, lest the two kegs of gunpowder that were with me
should explode, till at last, just as I had abandoned hope and prepared
to die like a tortoise baked alive by a bushman, I heard your welcome
voice. And Mr. Quatermain, if there is any soothing ointment to spare, I
shall be much obliged, for I am scorched all over.”

“Ah! Sammy, Sammy,” I said, “you see what comes of cowardice? On the
hill with us you would not have been scorched, and it is only by the
merest chance of owing to Hans’s quick hearing that you were not left to
perish miserably in that hole.”

“That is so, Mr. Quatermain. I plead guilty to the hot impeachment. But
on the hill I might have been shot, which is worse than being scorched.
Also you gave me charge of your goods and I determined to preserve them
even at the risk of personal comfort. Lastly, the angel who watches me
brought you here in time before I was quite cooked through. So all’s
well that ends well, Mr. Quatermain, though it is true that for my
part I have had enough of bloody war, and if I live to regain civilized
regions I propose henceforth to follow the art of food-dressing in the
safe kitchen of an hotel; that is, if I cannot obtain a berth as an
instructor in the English tongue!”

“Yes,” I answered, “all’s well that ends well, Sammy my boy, and at any
rate you have saved the stores, for which we should be thankful to you.
So go along with Mr. Stephen and get doctored while we haul them out of
that grain-pit.”

Three days later we bid farewell to old Bausi, who almost wept at
parting with us, and the Mazitu, who were already engaged in the
re-building of their town. Mavovo and the other Zulus who died in the
Battle of the Gate, we buried on the ridge opposite to it, raising
a mound of earth over them that thereby they might be remembered in
generations to come, and laying around them the Mazitu who had fallen
in the fight. As we passed that mound on our homeward journey, the
Zulus who remained alive, including two wounded men who were carried
in litters, stopped and saluted solemnly, praising the dead with loud
songs. We white people too saluted, but in silence, by raising our hats.

By the way, I should add that in this matter also Mavovo’s “Snake” did
not lie. He had said that six of his company would be killed upon our
expedition, and six were killed, neither more nor less.

After much consulting we determined to take the overland route back
to Natal, first because it was always possible that the slave-trading
fraternity, hearing of their terrible losses, might try to attack us
again on the coast, and secondly for the reason that even if they did
not, months or perhaps years might pass before we found a ship at Kilwa,
then a port of ill repute, to carry us to any civilized place. Moreover,
Brother John, who had travelled it, knew the inland road well and had
established friendly relations with the tribes through whose country we
must pass, till we reached the brothers of Zululand, where I was always
welcome. So as the Mazitu furnished us with an escort and plenty
of bearers for the first part of the road and, thanks to Sammy’s
stewardship in the corn-pit, we had ample trade goods left to hire
others later on, we made up our minds to risk the longer journey.

As it turned out this was a wise conclusion, since although it took
four weary months, in the end we accomplished it without any accident
whatsoever, if I except a slight attack of fever from which both Miss
Hope and I suffered for a while. Also we got some good shooting on the
road. My only regret was that this change of plan obliged us to abandon
the tusks of ivory we had captured from the slavers and buried where we
alone could find them.

Still, it was a dull time for me, who, for obvious reasons, of which I
have already spoken, was literally a fifth wheel to the coach. Hans was
an excellent fellow, and, as the reader knows, quite a genius in his
own way, but night after night in Hans’s society began to pall on me at
last, while even his conversation about my “reverend father,” who seemed
positively to haunt him, acquired a certain sameness. Of course, we
had other subjects in common, especially those connected with Retief’s
massacre, whereof we were the only two survivors, but of these I seldom
cared to speak. They were and still remain too painful.

Therefore, for my part I was thankful when at last, in Zululand, we fell
in with some traders whom I knew, who hired us one of their wagons. In
this vehicle, abandoning the worn-out donkeys and the white ox, which
we presented to a chief of my acquaintance, Brother John and the ladies
proceeded to Durban, Stephen attending them on a horse that we had
bought, while I, with Hans, attached myself to the traders.

At Durban a surprise awaited us since, as we trekked into the town,
which at that time was still a small place, whom should we meet but Sir
Alexander Somers, who, hearing that wagons were coming from Zululand,
had ridden out in the hope of obtaining news of us. It seemed that the
choleric old gentleman’s anxiety concerning his son had so weighed on
his mind that at length he made up his mind to proceed to Africa to hunt
for him. So there he was. The meeting between the two was affectionate
but peculiar.

“Hullo, dad!” said Stephen. “Whoever would have thought of seeing you
here?”

“Hullo, Stephen,” said his father. “Whoever would have expected to find
you alive and looking well--yes, very well? It is more than you deserve,
you young ass, and I hope you won’t do it again.”

Having delivered himself thus, the old boy seized Stephen by the hair
and solemnly kissed him on the brow.

“No, dad,” answered his son, “I don’t mean to do it again, but thanks
to Allan there we’ve come through all right. And, by the way, let me
introduce you to the lady I am going to marry, also to her father and
mother.”

Well, all the rest may be imagined. They were married a fortnight later
in Durban and a very pleasant affair it was, since Sir Alexander, who
by the way, treated me most handsomely from a business point of
view, literally entertained the whole town on that festive occasion.
Immediately afterwards Stephen, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Eversley
and his father, took his wife home “to be educated,” though what that
process consisted of I never heard. Hans and I saw them off at the Point
and our parting was rather sad, although Hans went back the richer
by the £500 which Stephen had promised him. He bought a farm with the
money, and on the strength of his exploits, established himself as a
kind of little chief. Of whom more later--as they say in the pedigree
books.

Sammy, too, was set up as the proprietor of a small hotel, where
he spent most of his time in the bar dilating to the customers in
magnificent sentences that reminded me of the style of a poem called
“The Essay on Man” (which I once tried to read and couldn’t), about
his feats as a warrior among the wild Mazitu and the man-eating,
devil-worshipping Pongo tribes.

Two years or less afterwards I received a letter, from which I must
quote a passage:


 “As I told you, my father has given a living which he owns to Mr.
  Eversley, a pretty little place where there isn’t much for a
  parson to do. I think it rather bores my respected parents-in-law.
  At any rate, ‘Dogeetah’ spends a lot of his time wandering about
  the New Forest, which is near by, with a butterfly-net and trying
  to imagine that he is back in Africa. The ‘Mother of the Flower’
  (who, after a long course of boot-kissing mutes, doesn’t get on
  with English servants) has another amusement. There is a small
  lake in the Rectory grounds in which is a little island. Here she
  has put up a reed fence round a laurustinus bush which flowers at
  the same time of year as did the Holy Flower, and within this reed
  fence she sits whenever the weather will allow, as I believe going
  through ‘the rites of the Flower.’ At least when I called upon her
  there one day, in a boat, I found her wearing a white robe and
  singing some mystical native song.”


Many years have gone by since then. Both Brother John and his wife have
departed to their rest and their strange story, the strangest almost of
all stories, is practically forgotten. Stephen, whose father has also
departed, is a prosperous baronet and rather heavy member of Parliament
and magistrate, the father of many fine children, for the Miss Hope
of old days has proved as fruitful as a daughter of the Goddess of
Fertility, for that was the “Mother’s” real office, ought to be.

“Sometimes,” she said to me one day with a laugh, as she surveyed a
large (and noisy) selection of her numerous offspring, “sometimes, O
Allan”--she still retains that trick of speech--“I wish that I were back
in the peace of the Home of the Flower. Ah!” she added with something of
a thrill in her voice, “never can I forget the blue of the sacred lake
or the sight of those skies at dawn. Do you think that I shall see them
again when I die, O Allan?”

At the time I thought it rather ungrateful of her to speak thus, but
after all human nature is a queer thing and we are all of us attached to
the scenes of our childhood and long at times again to breathe our natal
air.

I went to see Sir Stephen the other day, and in his splendid greenhouses
the head gardener, Woodden, an old man now, showed me three noble,
long-leaved plants which sprang from the seed of the Holy Flower that I
had saved in my pocket.

But they have not yet bloomed.

Somehow I wonder what will happen when they do. It seems to me as though
when once more the glory of that golden bloom is seen of the eyes of
men, the ghosts of the terrible god of the Forest, of the hellish and
mysterious Motombo, and perhaps of the Mother of the Flower herself,
will be there to do it reverence. If so, what gifts will they bring to
those who stole and reared the sacred seed?



P.S.--I shall know ere long, for just as I laid down my pen a triumphant
epistle from Stephen was handed to me in which he writes excitedly that
at length two of the three plants are _showing for flower_.

                                                 Allan Quatermain.





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