Sunday, October 7, 2007


Allan Quatermain

Allan Quatermain
by H. Rider Haggard
December 23
'I have just buried my boy, my poor handsome boy of whom I was so
proud, and my heart is broken. It is very hard having only one
son to lose him thus, but God's will be done. Who am I that I
should complain? The great wheel of Fate rolls on like a
Juggernaut, and crushes us all in turn, some soon, some late--it
does not matter when, in the end, it crushes us all. We do not
prostrate ourselves before it like the poor Indians; we fly
hither and thither--we cry for mercy; but it is of no use, the
black Fate thunders on and in its season reduces us to powder.
'Poor Harry to go so soon! just when his life was opening to him.
He was doing so well at the hospital, he had passed his last
examination with honours, and I was proud of them, much prouder
than he was, I think. And then he must needs go to that smallpox
hospital. He wrote to me that he was not afraid of smallpox and
wanted to gain the experience; and now the disease has killed
him, and I, old and grey and withered, am left to mourn over him,
without a chick or child to comfort me. I might have saved him,
too--I have money enough for both of us, and much more than
enough--King Solomon's Mines provided me with that; but I said,
"No, let the boy earn his living, let him labour that he may
enjoy rest." But the rest has come to him before the labour.
Oh, my boy, my boy!
'I am like the man in the Bible who laid up much goods and
builded barns--goods for my boy and barns for him to store them
in; and now his soul has been required of him, and I am left
desolate. I would that it had been my soul and not my boy's!
'We buried him this afternoon under the shadow of the grey and
ancient tower of the church of this village where my house is.
It was a dreary December afternoon, and the sky was heavy with
snow, but not much was falling. The coffin was put down by the
grave, and a few big flakes lit upon it. They looked very white
upon the black cloth! There was a little hitch about getting the
coffin down into the grave--the necessary ropes had been
forgotten: so we drew back from it, and waited in silence
watching the big flakes fall gently one by one like heavenly
benedictions, and melt in tears on Harry's pall. But that was
not all. A robin redbreast came as bold as could be and lit upon
the coffin and began to sing. And then I am afraid that I broke
down, and so did Sir Henry Curtis, strong man though he is; and
as for Captain Good, I saw him turn away too; even in my own
distress I could not help noticing it.'
The above, signed 'Allan Quatermain', is an extract from my diary
written two years and more ago. I copy it down here because it
seems to me that it is the fittest beginning to the history that
I am about to write, if it please God to spare me to finish it.
If not, well it does not matter. That extract was penned seven
thousand miles or so from the spot where I now lie painfully and
slowly writing this, with a pretty girl standing by my side
fanning the flies from my august countenance. Harry is there and
I am here, and yet somehow I cannot help feeling that I am not
far off Harry.
When I was in England I used to live in a very fine house--at
least I call it a fine house, speaking comparatively, and judging
from the standard of the houses I have been accustomed to all my
life in Africa--not five hundred yards from the old church where
Harry is asleep, and thither I went after the funeral and ate
some food; for it is no good starving even if one has just buried
all one's earthly hopes. But I could not eat much, and soon I
took to walking, or rather limping--being permanently lame from
the bite of a lion--up and down, up and down the oak-panelled
vestibule; for there is a vestibule in my house in England. On
all the four walls of this vestibule were placed pairs of
horns--about a hundred pairs altogether, all of which I had shot
myself. They are beautiful specimens, as I never keep any horns
which are not in every way perfect, unless it may be now and
again on account of the associations connected with them. In the
centre of the room, however, over the wide fireplace, there was a
clear space left on which I had fixed up all my rifles. Some of
them I have had for forty years, old muzzle-loaders that nobody
would look at nowadays. One was an elephant gun with strips of
rimpi, or green hide, lashed round the stock and locks, such as
used to be owned by the Dutchmen--a 'roer' they call it. That
gun, the Boer I bought it from many years ago told me, had been
used by his father at the battle of the Blood River, just after
Dingaan swept into Natal and slaughtered six hundred men, women,
and children, so that the Boers named the place where they died
'Weenen', or the 'Place of Weeping'; and so it is called to this
day, and always will be called. And many an elephant have I shot
with that old gun. She always took a handful of black powder and
a three-ounce ball, and kicked like the very deuce.
Well, up and down I walked, staring at the guns and the horns
which the guns had brought low; and as I did so there rose up in
me a great craving: --I would go away from this place where I
lived idly and at ease, back again to the wild land where I had
spent my life, where I met my dear wife and poor Harry was born,
and so many things, good, bad, and indifferent, had happened to
me. The thirst for the wilderness was on me; I could tolerate
this place no more; I would go and die as I had lived, among the
wild game and the savages. Yes, as I walked, I began to long to
see the moonlight gleaming silvery white over the wide veldt and
mysterious sea of bush, and watch the lines of game travelling
down the ridges to the water. The ruling passion is strong in
death, they say, and my heart was dead that night. But,
independently of my trouble, no man who has for forty years lived
the life I have, can with impunity go coop himself in this prim
English country, with its trim hedgerows and cultivated fields,
its stiff formal manners, and its well-dressed crowds. He begins
to long--ah, how he longs!--for the keen breath of the desert
air; he dreams of the sight of Zulu impis breaking on their foes
like surf upon the rocks, and his heart rises up in rebellion
against the strict limits of the civilized life.
Ah! this civilization, what does it all come to? For forty years
and more I lived among savages, and studied them and their ways;
and now for several years I have lived here in England, and have
in my own stupid manner done my best to learn the ways of the
children of light; and what have I found? A great gulf fixed?
No, only a very little one, that a plain man's thought may spring
across. I say that as the savage is, so is the white man, only
the latter is more inventive, and possesses the faculty of
combination; save and except also that the savage, as I have
known him, is to a large extent free from the greed of money,
which eats like a cancer into the heart of the white man. It is
a depressing conclusion, but in all essentials the savage and the
child of civilization are identical. I dare say that the highly
civilized lady reading this will smile at an old fool of a
hunter's simplicity when she thinks of her black bead-bedecked
sister; and so will the superfine cultured idler scientifically
eating a dinner at his club, the cost of which would keep a
starving family for a week. And yet, my dear young lady, what
are those pretty things round your own neck?--they have a strong
family resemblance, especially when you wear that VERY low dress,
to the savage woman's beads. Your habit of turning round and
round to the sound of horns and tom-toms, your fondness for
pigments and powders, the way in which you love to subjugate
yourself to the rich warrior who has captured you in marriage,
and the quickness with which your taste in feathered head-dresses
varies--all these things suggest touches of kinship; and you
remember that in the fundamental principles of your nature you
are quite identical. As for you, sir, who also laugh, let some
man come and strike you in the face whilst you are enjoying that
marvellous-looking dish, and we shall soon see how much of the
savage there is in YOU.
There, I might go on for ever, but what is the good?
Civilization is only savagery silver-gilt. A vainglory is it,
and like a northern light, comes but to fade and leave the sky
more dark. Out of the soil of barbarism it has grown like a
tree, and, as I believe, into the soil like a tree it will once
more, sooner or later, fall again, as the Egyptian civilization
fell, as the Hellenic civilization fell, and as the Roman
civilization and many others of which the world has now lost
count, fell also. Do not let me, however, be understood as
decrying our modern institutions, representing as they do the
gathered experience of humanity applied for the good of all. Of
course they have great advantages--hospitals for instance; but
then, remember, we breed the sickly people who fill them. In a
savage land they do not exist. Besides, the question will arise:
How many of these blessings are due to Christianity as distinct
from civilization? And so the balance sways and the story
runs--here a gain, there a loss, and Nature's great average
struck across the two, whereof the sum total forms one of the
factors in that mighty equation in which the result will equal
the unknown quantity of her purpose.
I make no apology for this digression, especially as this is an
introduction which all young people and those who never like to
think (and it is a bad habit) will naturally skip. It seems to
me very desirable that we should sometimes try to understand the
limitations of our nature, so that we may not be carried away by
the pride of knowledge. Man's cleverness is almost indefinite,
and stretches like an elastic band, but human nature is like an
iron ring. You can go round and round it, you can polish it
highly, you can even flatten it a little on one side, whereby you
will make it bulge out the other, but you will NEVER, while the
world endures and man is man, increase its total circumference.
It is the one fixed unchangeable thing--fixed as the stars, more
enduring than the mountains, as unalterable as the way of the
Eternal. Human nature is God's kaleidoscope, and the little bits
of coloured glass which represent our passions, hopes, fears,
joys, aspirations towards good and evil and what not, are turned
in His mighty hand as surely and as certainly as it turns the
stars, and continually fall into new patterns and combinations.
But the composing elements remain the same, nor will there be one
more bit of coloured glass nor one less for ever and ever.
This being so, supposing for the sake of argument we divide
ourselves into twenty parts, nineteen savage and one civilized,
we must look to the nineteen savage portions of our nature, if we
would really understand ourselves, and not to the twentieth,
which, though so insignificant in reality, is spread all over the
other nineteen, making them appear quite different from what they
really are, as the blacking does a boot, or the veneer a table.
It is on the nineteen rough serviceable savage portions that we
fall back on emergencies, not on the polished but unsubstantial
twentieth. Civilization should wipe away our tears, and yet we
weep and cannot be comforted. Warfare is abhorrent to her, and
yet we strike out for hearth and home, for honour and fair fame,
and can glory in the blow. And so on, through everything.
So, when the heart is stricken, and the head is humbled in the
dust, civilization fails us utterly. Back, back, we creep, and
lay us like little children on the great breast of Nature, she
that perchance may soothe us and make us forget, or at least rid
remembrance of its sting. Who has not in his great grief felt a
longing to look upon the outward features of the universal
Mother; to lie on the mountains and watch the clouds drive across
the sky and hear the rollers break in thunder on the shore, to
let his poor struggling life mingle for a while in her life; to
feel the slow beat of her eternal heart, and to forget his woes,
and let his identity be swallowed in the vast imperceptibly
moving energy of her of whom we are, from whom we came, and with
whom we shall again be mingled, who gave us birth, and will in a
day to come give us our burial also.
And so in my trouble, as I walked up and down the oak-panelled
vestibule of my house there in Yorkshire, I longed once more to
throw myself into the arms of Nature. Not the Nature which you
know, the Nature that waves in well-kept woods and smiles out in
corn-fields, but Nature as she was in the age when creation was
complete, undefiled as yet by any human sinks of sweltering
humanity. I would go again where the wild game was, back to the
land whereof none know the history, back to the savages, whom I
love, although some of them are almost as merciless as Political
Economy. There, perhaps, I should be able to learn to think of
poor Harry lying in the churchyard, without feeling as though my
heart would break in two.
And now there is an end of this egotistical talk, and there shall
be no more of it. But if you whose eyes may perchance one day
fall upon my written thoughts have got so far as this, I ask you
to persevere, since what I have to tell you is not without its
interest, and it has never been told before, nor will again.
A week had passed since the funeral of my poor boy Harry, and one
evening I was in my room walking up and down and thinking, when
there was a ring at the outer door. Going down the steps I
opened it myself, and in came my old friends Sir Henry Curtis and
Captain John Good, RN. They entered the vestibule and sat
themselves down before the wide hearth, where, I remember, a
particularly good fire of logs was burning.
'It is very kind of you to come round,' I said by way of making a
remark; 'it must have been heavy walking in the snow.'
They said nothing, but Sir Henry slowly filled his pipe and lit
it with a burning ember. As he leant forward to do so the fire
got hold of a gassy bit of pine and flared up brightly, throwing
the whole scene into strong relief, and I thought, What a
splendid-looking man he is! Calm, powerful face, clear-cut
features, large grey eyes, yellow beard and hair--altogether a
magnificent specimen of the higher type of humanity. Nor did his
form belie his face. I have never seen wider shoulders or a
deeper chest. Indeed, Sir Henry's girth is so great that, though
he is six feet two high, he does not strike one as a tall man.
As I looked at him I could not help thinking what a curious
contrast my little dried-up self presented to his grand face and
form. Imagine to yourself a small, withered, yellow-faced man of
sixty-three, with thin hands, large brown eyes, a head of
grizzled hair cut short and standing up like a half-worn
scrubbing-brush--total weight in my clothes, nine stone six--and
you will get a very fair idea of Allan Quatermain, commonly
called Hunter Quatermain, or by the natives Macumazahn'--Anglice,
he who keeps a bright look-out at night, or, in vulgar English, a
sharp fellow who is not to be taken in.
Then there was Good, who is not like either of us, being short,
dark, stout--VERY stout--with twinkling black eyes, in one of
which an eyeglass is everlastingly fixed. I say stout, but it is
a mild term; I regret to state that of late years Good has been
running to fat in a most disgraceful way. Sir Henry tells him
that it comes from idleness and over-feeding, and Good does not
like it at all, though he cannot deny it.
We sat for a while, and then I got a match and lit the lamp that
stood ready on the table, for the half-light began to grow
dreary, as it is apt to do when one has a short week ago buried
the hope of one's life. Next, I opened a cupboard in the
wainscoting and got a bottle of whisky and some tumblers and
water. I always like to do these things for myself: it is
irritating to me to have somebody continually at my elbow, as
though I were an eighteen-month-old baby. All this while Curtis
and Good had been silent, feeling, I suppose, that they had
nothing to say that could do me any good, and content to give me
the comfort of their presence and unspoken sympathy; for it was
only their second visit since the funeral. And it is, by the
way, from the PRESENCE of others that we really derive support in
our dark hours of grief, and not from their talk, which often
only serves to irritate us. Before a bad storm the game always
herd together, but they cease their calling.
They sat and smoked and drank whisky and water, and I stood by
the fire also smoking and looking at them.
At last I spoke. 'Old friends,' I said, 'how long is it since we
got back from Kukuanaland?'
'Three years,' said Good. 'Why do you ask?'
'I ask because I think that I have had a long enough spell of
civilization. I am going back to the veldt.'
Sir Henry laid his head back in his arm-chair and laughed one of
his deep laughs. 'How very odd,' he said, 'eh, Good?'
Good beamed at me mysteriously through his eyeglass and murmured,
'Yes, odd--very odd.'
'I don't quite understand,' said I, looking from one to the
other, for I dislike mysteries.
'Don't you, old fellow?' said Sir Henry; 'then I will explain.
As Good and I were walking up here we had a talk.'
'If Good was there you probably did,' I put in sarcastically, for
Good is a great hand at talking. 'And what may it have been
'What do you think?' asked Sir Henry.
I shook my head. It was not likely that I should know what Good
might be talking about. He talks about so many things.
'Well, it was about a little plan that I have formed--namely,
that if you were willing we should pack up our traps and go off
to Africa on another expedition.'
I fairly jumped at his words. 'You don't say so!' I said.
'Yes I do, though, and so does Good; don't you, Good?'
'Rather,' said that gentleman.
'Listen, old fellow,' went on Sir Henry, with considerable
animation of manner. 'I'm tired of it too, dead-tired of doing
nothing more except play the squire in a country that is sick of
squires. For a year or more I have been getting as restless as
an old elephant who scents danger. I am always dreaming of
Kukuanaland and Gagool and King Solomon's Mines. I can assure
you I have become the victim of an almost unaccountable craving.
I am sick of shooting pheasants and partridges, and want to have
a go at some large game again. There, you know the feeling--when
one has once tasted brandy and water, milk becomes insipid to the
palate. That year we spent together up in Kukuanaland seems to
me worth all the other years of my life put together. I dare say
that I am a fool for my pains, but I can't help it; I long to go,
and, what is more, I mean to go.' He paused, and then went on
again. 'And, after all, why should I not go? I have no wife or
parent, no chick or child to keep me. If anything happens to me
the baronetcy will go to my brother George and his boy, as it
would ultimately do in any case. I am of no importance to any
'Ah!' I said, 'I thought you would come to that sooner or later.
And now, Good, what is your reason for wanting to trek; have you
got one?'
'I have,' said Good, solemnly. 'I never do anything without a
reason; and it isn't a lady--at least, if it is, it's several.'
I looked at him again. Good is so overpoweringly frivolous.
'What is it?' I said.
'Well, if you really want to know, though I'd rather not speak of
a delicate and strictly personal matter, I'll tell you: I'm
getting too fat.'
'Shut up, Good!' said Sir Henry. 'And now, Quatermain, tell us,
where do you propose going to?'
I lit my pipe, which had gone out, before answering.
'Have you people ever heard of Mt Kenia?' I asked.
'Don't know the place,' said Good.
'Did you ever hear of the Island of Lamu?' I asked again.
'No. Stop, though--isn't it a place about 300 miles north of
'Yes. Now listen. What I have to propose is this. That we go
to Lamu and thence make our way about 250 miles inland to Mt
Kenia; from Mt Kenia on inland to Mt Lekakisera, another 200
miles, or thereabouts, beyond which no white man has to the best
of my belief ever been; and then, if we get so far, right on into
the unknown interior. What do you say to that, my hearties?'
'It's a big order,' said Sir Henry, reflectively.
'You are right,' I answered, 'it is; but I take it that we are
all three of us in search of a big order. We want a change of
scene, and we are likely to get one--a thorough change. All my
life I have longed to visit those parts, and I mean to do it
before I die. My poor boy's death has broken the last link
between me and civilization, and I'm off to my native wilds. And
now I'll tell you another thing, and that is, that for years and
years I have heard rumours of a great white race which is
supposed to have its home somewhere up in this direction, and I
have a mind to see if there is any truth in them. If you fellows
like to come, well and good; if not, I'll go alone.'
'I'm your man, though I don't believe in your white race,' said
Sir Henry Curtis, rising and placing his arm upon my shoulder.
'Ditto,' remarked Good. 'I'll go into training at once. By all
means let's go to Mt Kenia and the other place with an
unpronounceable name, and look for a white race that does not
exist. It's all one to me.'
'When do you propose to start?' asked Sir Henry.
'This day month,' I answered, 'by the British India steamboat;
and don't you be so certain that things have no existence because
you do not happen to have heard of them. Remember King Solomon's
Some fourteen weeks or so had passed since the date of this
conversation, and this history goes on its way in very different
After much deliberation and inquiry we came to the conclusion
that our best starting-point for Mt Kenia would be from the
neighbourhood of the mouth of the Tana River, and not from
Mombassa, a place over 100 miles nearer Zanzibar. This
conclusion we arrived at from information given to us by a German
trader whom we met upon the steamer at Aden. I think that he was
the dirtiest German I ever knew; but he was a good fellow, and
gave us a great deal of valuable information. 'Lamu,' said he,
'you goes to Lamu--oh ze beautiful place!' and he turned up his
fat face and beamed with mild rapture. 'One year and a half I
live there and never change my shirt--never at all.'
And so it came to pass that on arriving at the island we
disembarked with all our goods and chattels, and, not knowing
where to go, marched boldly up to the house of Her Majesty's
Consul, where we were most hospitably received.
Lamu is a very curious place, but the things which stand out most
clearly in my memory in connection with it are its exceeding
dirtiness and its smells. These last are simply awful. Just
below the Consulate is the beach, or rather a mud bank that is
called a beach. It is left quite bare at low tide, and serves as
a repository for all the filth, offal, and refuse of the town.
Here it is, too, that the women come to bury coconuts in the mud,
leaving them there till the outer husk is quite rotten, when they
dig them up again and use the fibres to make mats with, and for
various other purposes. As this process has been going on for
generations, the condition of the shore can be better imagined
than described. I have smelt many evil odours in the course of
my life, but the concentrated essence of stench which arose from
that beach at Lamu as we sat in the moonlit night--not under, but
ON our friend the Consul's hospitable roof--and sniffed it, makes
the remembrance of them very poor and faint. No wonder people
get fever at Lamu. And yet the place was not without a certain
quaintness and charm of its own, though possibly--indeed
probably--it was one which would quickly pall.
'Well, where are you gentlemen steering for?' asked our friend
the hospitable Consul, as we smoked our pipes after dinner.
'We propose to go to Mt Kenia and then on to Mt Lekakisera,'
answered Sir Henry. 'Quatermain has got hold of some yarn about
there being a white race up in the unknown territories beyond.'
The Consul looked interested, and answered that he had heard
something of that, too.
'What have you heard?' I asked.
'Oh, not much. All I know about it is that a year or so ago I
got a letter from Mackenzie, the Scotch missionary, whose
station, "The Highlands", is placed at the highest navigable
point of the Tana River, in which he said something about it.'
'Have you the letter?' I asked.
'No, I destroyed it; but I remember that he said that a man had
arrived at his station who declared that two months' journey
beyond Mt Lekakisera, which no white man has yet visited--at
least, so far as I know--he found a lake called Laga, and that
then he went off to the north-east, a month's journey, over
desert and thorn veldt and great mountains, till he came to a
country where the people are white and live in stone houses.
Here he was hospitably entertained for a while, till at last the
priests of the country set it about that he was a devil, and the
people drove him away, and he journeyed for eight months and
reached Mackenzie's place, as I heard, dying. That's all I know;
and if you ask me, I believe that it is a lie; but if you want to
find out more about it, you had better go up the Tana to
Mackenzie's place and ask him for information.'
Sir Henry and I looked at each other. Here was something
'I think that we will go to Mr Mackenzie's,' I said.
'Well,' answered the Consul, 'that is your best way, but I warn
you that you are likely to have a rough journey, for I hear that
the Masai are about, and, as you know, they are not pleasant
customers. Your best plan will be to choose a few picked men for
personal servants and hunters, and to hire bearers from village
to village. It will give you an infinity of trouble, but perhaps
on the whole it will prove a cheaper and more advantageous course
than engaging a caravan, and you will be less liable to
Fortunately there were at Lamu at this time a part of Wakwafi
Askari (soldiers). The Wakwafi, who are a cross between the
Masai and the Wataveta, are a fine manly race, possessing many of
the good qualities of the Zulu, and a great capacity for
civilization. They are also great hunters. As it happened,
these particular men had recently been on a long trip with an
Englishman named Jutson, who had started from Mombasa, a port
about 150 miles below Lamu, and journeyed right rough
Kilimanjaro, one of the highest known mountains in Africa. Poor
fellow, he had died of fever when on his return journey, and
within a day's march of Mombasa. It does seem hard that he
should have gone off thus when within a few hours of safety, and
after having survived so many perils, but so it was. His hunters
buried him, and then came on to Lamu in a dhow. Our friend the
Consul suggested to us that we had better try and hire these men,
and accordingly on the following morning we started to interview
the party, accompanied by an interpreter.
In due course we found them in a mud hut on the outskirts of the
town. Three of the men were sitting outside the hut, and fine
frank-looking fellows they were, having a more or less civilized
appearance. To them we cautiously opened the object of our
visit, at first with very scant success. They declared that they
could not entertain any such idea, that they were worn and weary
with long travelling, and that their hearts were sore at the loss
of their master. They meant to go back to their homes and rest
awhile. This did not sound very promising, so by way of
effecting a diversion I asked where the remainder of them were.
I was told there were six, and I saw but three. One of the men
said they slept in the hut, and were yet resting after their
labours--'sleep weighed down their eyelids, and sorrow made their
hearts as lead: it was best to sleep, for with sleep came
forgetfulness. But the men should be awakened.'
Presently they came out of the hut, yawning--the first two men
being evidently of the same race and style as those already
before us; but the appearance of the third and last nearly made
me jump out of my skin. He was a very tall, broad man, quite six
foot three, I should say, but gaunt, with lean, wiry-looking
limbs. My first glance at him told me that he was no Wakwafi:
he was a pure bred Zulu. He came out with his thin
aristocratic-looking hand placed before his face to hide a yawn,
so I could only see that he was a 'Keshla' or ringed man, *{Among
the Zulus a man assumes the ring, which is made of a species of
black gum twisted in with the hair, and polished a brilliant
black, when he has reached a certain dignity and age, or is the
husband of a sufficient number of wives. Till he is in a
position to wear a ring he is looked on as a boy, though he may
be thirty-five years of age, or even more. --A. Q.} and that he
had a great three-cornered hole in his forehead. In another
second he removed his hand, revealing a powerful-looking Zulu
face, with a humorous mouth, a short woolly beard, tinged with
grey, and a pair of brown eyes keen as a hawk's. I knew my man
at once, although I had not seen him for twelve years. 'How do
you do, Umslopogaas?' I said quietly in Zulu.
The tall man (who among his own people was commonly known as the
'Woodpecker', and also as the 'Slaughterer') started, and almost
let the long-handled battleaxe he held in his hand fall in his
astonishment. Next second he had recognized me, and was saluting
me in an outburst of sonorous language which made his companions
the Wakwafi stare.
'Koos' (chief), he began, 'Koos-y-Pagete! Koos-y-umcool! (Chief
from of old--mighty chief) Koos! Baba! (father) Macumazahn,
old hunter, slayer of elephants, eater up of lions, clever one!
watchful one! brave one! quick one! whose shot never misses, who
strikes straight home, who grasps a hand and holds it to the
death (i.e. is a true friend) Koos! Baba! Wise is the voice of
our people that says, "Mountain never meets with mountain, but at
daybreak or at even man shall meet again with man." Behold! a
messenger came up from Natal, "Macumazahn is dead!" cried he.
"The land knows Macumazahn no more." That is years ago. And
now, behold, now in this strange place of stinks I find
Macumazahn, my friend. There is no room for doubt. The brush of
the old jackal has gone a little grey; but is not his eye as
keen, and are not his teeth as sharp? Ha! ha! Macumazahn,
mindest thou how thou didst plant the ball in the eye of the
charging buffalo--mindest thou--'
I had let him run on thus because I saw that his enthusiasm was
producing a marked effect upon the minds of the five Wakwafi, who
appeared to understand something of his talk; but now I thought
it time to put a stop to it, for there is nothing that I hate so
much as this Zulu system of extravagant praising--'bongering' as
they call it. 'Silence!' I said. 'Has all thy noisy talk been
stopped up since last I saw thee that it breaks out thus, and
sweeps us away? What doest thou here with these men--thou whom I
left a chief in Zululand? How is it that thou art far from thine
own place, and gathered together with strangers?'
Umslopogaas leant himself upon the head of his long battleaxe
(which was nothing else but a pole-axe, with a beautiful handle
of rhinoceros horn), and his grim face grew sad.
'My Father,' he answered, 'I have a word to tell thee, but I
cannot speak it before these low people (umfagozana),' and he
glanced at the Wakwafi Askari; 'it is for thine own ear. My
Father, this will I say,' and here his face grew stern again, 'a
woman betrayed me to the death, and covered my name with
shame--ay, my own wife, a round-faced girl, betrayed me; but I
escaped from death; ay, I broke from the very hands of those who
came to slay me. I struck but three blows with this mine axe
Inkosikaas--surely my Father will remember it--one to the right,
one to the left, and one in front, and yet I left three men dead.
And then I fled, and, as my Father knows, even now that I am old
my feet are as the feet of the Sassaby, *{One of the fleetest of
the African antelopes. --A. Q.} and there breathes not the man
who, by running, can touch me again when once I have bounded from
his side. On I sped, and after me came the messengers of death,
and their voice was as the voice of dogs that hunt. From my own
kraal I flew, and, as I passed, she who had betrayed me was
drawing water from the spring. I fleeted by her like the shadow
of Death, and as I went I smote with mine axe, and lo! her head
fell: it fell into the water pan. Then I fled north. Day after
day I journeyed on; for three moons I journeyed, resting not,
stopping not, but running on towards forgetfulness, till I met
the party of the white hunter who is now dead, and am come hither
with his servants. And nought have I brought with me. I who was
high-born, ay, of the blood of Chaka, the great king--a chief,
and a captain of the regiment of the Nkomabakosi--am a wanderer
in strange places, a man without a kraal. Nought have I brought
save this mine axe; of all my belongings this remains alone.
They have divided my cattle; they have taken my wives; and my
children know my face no more. Yet with this axe'--and he swung
the formidable weapon round his head, making the air hiss as he
clove it--'will I cut another path to fortune. I have spoken.'
I shook my head at him. 'Umslopogaas,' I said, 'I know thee from
of old. Ever ambitious, ever plotting to be great, I fear me
that thou hast overreached thyself at last. Years ago, when thou
wouldst have plotted against Cetywayo, son of Panda, I warned
thee, and thou didst listen. But now, when I was not by thee to
stay thy hand, thou hast dug a pit for thine own feet to fall in.
Is it not so? But what is done is done. Who can make the dead
tree green, or gaze again upon last year's light? Who can recall
the spoken word, or bring back the spirit of the fallen? That
which Time swallows comes not up again. Let it be forgotten!
'And now, behold, Umslopogaas, I know thee for a great warrior
and a brave man, faithful to the death. Even in Zululand, where
all the men are brave, they called thee the "Slaughterer", and at
night told stories round the fire of thy strength and deeds.
Hear me now. Thou seest this great man, my friend'--and I
pointed to Sir Henry; 'he also is a warrior as great as thou,
and, strong as thou art, he could throw thee over his shoulder.
Incubu is his name. And thou seest this one also; him with the
round stomach, the shining eye, and the pleasant face. Bougwan
(glass eye) is his name, and a good man is he and a true, being
of a curious tribe who pass their life upon the water, and live
in floating kraals.
'Now, we three whom thou seest would travel inland, past Dongo
Egere, the great white mountain (Mt Kenia), and far into the
unknown beyond. We know not what we shall find there; we go to
hunt and seek adventures, and new places, being tired of sitting
still, with the same old things around us. Wilt thou come with
us? To thee shall be given command of all our servants; but what
shall befall thee, that I know not. Once before we three
journeyed thus, in search of adventure, and we took with us a man
such as thou--one Umbopa; and, behold, we left him the king of a
great country, with twenty Impis (regiments), each of 3,000
plumed warriors, waiting on his word. How it shall go with thee,
I know not; mayhap death awaits thee and us. Wilt thou throw
thyself to Fortune and come, or fearest thou, Umslopogaas?'
The great man smiled. 'Thou art not altogether right,
Macumazahn,' he said; 'I have plotted in my time, but it was not
ambition that led me to my fall; but, shame on me that I should
have to say it, a fair woman's face. Let it pass. So we are
going to see something like the old times again, Macumazahn, when
we fought and hunted in Zululand? Ay, I will come. Come life,
come death, what care I, so that the blows fall fast and the
blood runs red? I grow old, I grow old, and I have not fought
enough! And yet am I a warrior among warriors; see my
scars'--and he pointed to countless cicatrices, stabs and cuts,
that marked the skin of his chest and legs and arms. 'See the
hole in my head; the brains gushed out therefrom, yet did I slay
him who smote, and live. Knowest thou how many men I have slain,
in fair hand-to-hand combat, Macumazahn? See, here is the tale
of them'--and he pointed to long rows of notches cut in the
rhinoceros-horn handle of his axe. 'Number them, Macumazahn--one
hundred and three--and I have never counted but those whom I have
ripped open, *{Alluding to the Zulu custom of opening the stomach
of a dead foe. They have a superstition that, if this is not
done, as the body of their enemy swells up so will the bodies of
those who killed him swell up. --A. Q.} nor have I reckoned those
whom another man had struck.'
'Be silent,' I said, for I saw that he was getting the
blood-fever on him; 'be silent; well art thou called the
"Slaughterer". We would not hear of thy deeds of blood.
Remember, if thou comest with us, we fight not save in
self-defence. Listen, we need servants. These men,' and I
pointed to the Wakwafi, who had retired a little way during our
'indaba' (talk), 'say they will not come.'
'Will not come!' shouted Umslopogaas; 'where is the dog who says
he will not come when my Father orders? Here, thou'--and with a
single bound he sprang upon the Wakwafi with whom I had first
spoken, and, seizing him by the arm, dragged him towards us.
'Thou dog!' he said, giving the terrified man a shake, 'didst
thou say that thou wouldst not go with my Father? Say it once
more and I will choke thee'--and his long fingers closed round
his throat as he said it--'thee, and those with thee. Hast thou
forgotten how I served thy brother?'
'Nay, we will come with the white man,' gasped the man.
'White man!' went on Umslopogaas, in simulated fury, which a very
little provocation would have made real enough; 'of whom speakest
thou, insolent dog?'
'Nay, we will go with the great chief.'
'So!' said Umslopogaas, in a quiet voice, as he suddenly released
his hold, so that the man fell backward. 'I thought you would.'
'That man Umslopogaas seems to have a curious MORAL ascendency
over his companions,' Good afterwards remarked thoughtfully.
In due course we left Lamu, and ten days afterwards we found
ourselves at a spot called Charra, on the Tana River, having gone
through many adventures which need not be recorded here. Amongst
other things we visited a ruined city, of which there are many on
this coast, and which must once, to judge from their extent and
the numerous remains of mosques and stone houses, have been very
populous places. These ruined cities are immeasurably ancient,
having, I believe, been places of wealth and importance as far
back as the Old Testament times, when they were centres of trade
with India and elsewhere. But their glory has departed now--the
slave trade has finished them--and where wealthy merchants from
all parts of the then civilized world stood and bargained in the
crowded market-places, the lion holds his court at night, and
instead of the chattering of slaves and the eager voices of the
bidders, his awful note goes echoing down the ruined corridors.
At this particular place we discovered on a mound, covered up
with rank growth and rubbish, two of the most beautiful stone
doorways that it is possible to conceive. The carving on them
was simply exquisite, and I only regret that we had no means of
getting them away. No doubt they had once been the entrances to
a palace, of which, however, no traces were now to be seen,
though probably its ruins lay under the rising mound.
Gone! quite gone! the way that everything must go. Like the
nobles and the ladies who lived within their gates, these cities
have had their day, and now they are as Babylon and Nineveh, and
as London and Paris will one day be. Nothing may endure. That
is the inexorable law. Men and women, empires and cities,
thrones, principalities, and powers, mountains, rivers, and
unfathomed seas, worlds, spaces, and universes, all have their
day, and all must go. In this ruined and forgotten place the
moralist may behold a symbol of the universal destiny. For this
system of ours allows no room for standing still--nothing can
loiter on the road and check the progress of things upwards
towards Life, or the rush of things downwards towards Death. The
stern policeman Fate moves us and them on, on, uphill and
downhill and across the level; there is no resting-place for the
weary feet, till at last the abyss swallows us, and from the
shores of the Transitory we are hurled into the sea of the
At Charra we had a violent quarrel with the headman of the
bearers we had hired to go as far as this, and who now wished to
extort large extra payment from us. In the result he threatened
to set the Masai--about whom more anon--on to us. That night he,
with all our hired bearers, ran away, stealing most of the goods
which had been entrusted to them to carry. Luckily, however,
they had not happened to steal our rifles, ammunition, and
personal effects; not because of any delicacy of feeling on their
part, but owing to the fact that they chanced to be in the charge
of the five Wakwafis. After that, it was clear to us that we had
had enough of caravans and of bearers. Indeed, we had not much
left for a caravan to carry. And yet, how were we to get on?
It was Good who solved the question. 'Here is water,' he said,
pointing to the Tana River; 'and yesterday I saw a party of
natives hunting hippopotami in canoes. I understand that Mr
Mackenzie's mission station is on the Tana River. Why not get
into canoes and paddle up to it?'
This brilliant suggestion was, needless to say, received with
acclamation; and I instantly set to work to buy suitable canoes
from the surrounding natives. I succeeded after a delay of three
days in obtaining two large ones, each hollowed out of a single
log of some light wood, and capable of holding six people and
baggage. For these two canoes we had to pay nearly all our
remaining cloth, and also many other articles.
On the day following our purchase of the two canoes we effected a
start. In the first canoe were Good, Sir Henry, and three of our
Wakwafi followers; in the second myself, Umslopogaas, and the
other two Wakwafis. As our course lay upstream, we had to keep
four paddles at work in each canoe, which meant that the whole
lot of us, except Good, had to row away like galley-slaves; and
very exhausting work it was. I say, except Good, for, of course,
the moment that Good got into a boat his foot was on his native
heath, and he took command of the party. And certainly he worked
us. On shore Good is a gentle, mild-mannered man, and given to
jocosity; but, as we found to our cost, Good in a boat was a
perfect demon. To begin with, he knew all about it, and we
didn't. On all nautical subjects, from the torpedo fittings of a
man-of-war down to the best way of handling the paddle of an
African canoe, he was a perfect mine of information, which, to
say the least of it, we were not. Also his ideas of discipline
were of the sternest, and, in short, he came the royal naval
officer over us pretty considerably, and paid us out amply for
all the chaff we were wont to treat him to on land; but, on the
other hand, I am bound to say that he managed the boats
After the first day Good succeeded, with the help of some cloth
and a couple of poles, in rigging up a sail in each canoe, which
lightened our labours not a little. But the current ran very
strong against us, and at the best we were not able to make more
than twenty miles a day. Our plan was to start at dawn, and
paddle along till about half-past ten, by which time the sun got
too hot to allow of further exertion. Then we moored our canoes
to the bank, and ate our frugal meal; after which we ate or
otherwise amused ourselves till about three o'clock, when we
again started, and rowed till within an hour of sundown, when we
called a halt for the night. On landing in the evening, Good
would at once set to work, with the help of the Askari, to build
a little 'scherm', or small enclosure, fenced with thorn bushes,
and to light a fire. I, with Sir Henry and Umslopogaas, would go
out to shoot something for the pot. Generally this was an easy
task, for all sorts of game abounded on the banks of the Tana.
One night Sir Henry shot a young cow-giraffe, of which the
marrow-bones were excellent; on another I got a couple of
waterbuck right and left; and once, to his own intense
satisfaction, Umslopogaas (who, like most Zulus, was a vile shot
with a rifle) managed to kill a fine fat eland with a Martini I
had lent him. Sometimes we varied our food by shooting some
guinea-fowl, or bush-bustard (paau)--both of which were
numerous--with a shot-gun, or by catching a supply of beautiful
yellow fish, with which the waters of the Tana swarmed, and which
form, I believe, one of the chief food-supplies of the
Three days after our start an ominous incident occurred. We were
just drawing in to the bank to make our camp as usual for the
night, when we caught sight of a figure standing on a little
knoll not forty yards away, and intensely watching our approach.
One glance was sufficient--although I was personally unacquainted
with the tribe--to tell me that he was a Masai Elmoran, or young
warrior. Indeed, had I had any doubts, they would have quickly
been dispelled by the terrified ejaculation of 'MASAI!' that
burst simultaneously from the lips of our Wakwafi followers, who
are, as I think I have said, themselves bastard Masai.
And what a figure he presented as he stood there in his savage
war-gear! Accustomed as I have been to savages all my life, I do
not think that I have ever before seen anything quite so
ferocious or awe-inspiring. To begin with, the man was
enormously tall, quite as tall as Umslopogaas, I should say, and
beautifully, though somewhat slightly, shaped; but with the face
of a devil. In his right hand he held a spear about five and a
half feet long, the blade being two and a half feet in length, by
nearly three inches in width, and having an iron spike at the end
of the handle that measured more than a foot. On his left arm
was a large and well-made elliptical shield of buffalo hide, on
which were painted strange heraldic-looking devices. On his
shoulders was a huge cape of hawk's feathers, and round his neck
was a 'naibere', or strip of cotton, about seventeen feet long,
by one and a half broad, with a stripe of colour running down the
middle of it. The tanned goatskin robe, which formed his
ordinary attire in times of peace, was tied lightly round his
waist, so as to serve the purposes of a belt, and through it were
stuck, on the right and left sides respectively, his short
pear-shaped sime, or sword, which is made of a single piece of
steel, and carried in a wooden sheath, and an enormous
knobkerrie. But perhaps the most remarkable feature of his
attire consisted of a headdress of ostrich-feathers, which was
fixed on the chin, and passed in front of the ears to the
forehead, and, being shaped like an ellipse, completely framed
the face, so that the diabolical countenance appeared to project
from a sort of feather fire-screen. Round the ankles he wore
black fringes of hair, and, projecting from the upper portion of
the calves, to which they were attached, were long spurs like
spikes, from which flowed down tufts of the beautiful black and
waving hair of the Colobus monkey. Such was the elaborate array
of the Masai Elmoran who stood watching the approach of our two
canoes, but it is one which, to be appreciated, must be seen;
only those who see it do not often live to describe it. Of
course I could not make out all these details of his full dress
on the occasion of this my first introduction, being, indeed,
amply taken up with the consideration of the general effect, but
I had plenty of subsequent opportunities of becoming acquainted
with the items that went to make it up.
Whilst we were hesitating what to do, the Masai warrior drew
himself up in a dignified fashion, shook his huge spear at us,
and, turning, vanished on the further side of the slope.
'Hulloa!' holloaed Sir Henry from the other boat; 'our friend the
caravan leader has been as good as his word, and set the Masai
after us. Do you think it will be safe to go ashore?'
I did not think it would be at all safe; but, on the other hand,
we had no means of cooking in the canoes, and nothing that we
could eat raw, so it was difficult to know what to do. At last
Umslopogaas simplified matters by volunteering to go and
reconnoitre, which he did, creeping off into the bush like a
snake, while we hung off in the stream waiting for him. In half
an hour he returned, and told us that there was not a Masai to be
seen anywhere about, but that he had discovered a spot where they
had recently been encamped, and that from various indications he
judged that they must have moved on an hour or so before; the man
we saw having, no doubt, been left to report upon our movements.
Thereupon we landed; and, having posted a sentry, proceeded to
cook and eat our evening meal. This done, we took the situation
into our serious consideration. Of course, it was possible that
the apparition of the Masai warrior had nothing to do with us,
that he was merely one of a band bent upon some marauding and
murdering expedition against another tribe. But when we recalled
the threat of the caravan leader, and reflected on the ominous
way in which the warrior had shaken his spear at us, this did not
appear very probable. On the contrary, what did seem probable
was that the part was after us and awaiting a favourable
opportunity to attack us. This being so, there were two things
that we could do--one of which was to go on, and the other to go
back. The latter idea was, however, rejected at once, it being
obvious that we should encounter as many dangers in retreat as in
advance; and, besides, we had made up our minds to journey
onwards at any price. Under these circumstances, however, we did
not consider it safe to sleep ashore, so we got into our canoes,
and, paddling out into the middle of the stream, which was not
very wide here, managed to anchor them by means of big stones
fastened to ropes made of coconut-fibre, of which there were
several fathoms in each canoe.
Here the mosquitoes nearly ate us up alive, and this, combined
with anxiety as to our position, effectually prevented me from
sleeping as the others were doing, notwithstanding the attacks of
the aforesaid Tana mosquitoes. And so I lay awake, smoking and
reflecting on many things, but, being of a practical turn of
mind, chiefly on how we were to give those Masai villains the
slip. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and, notwithstanding
the mosquitoes, and the great risk we were running from fever
from sleeping in such a spot, and forgetting that I had the cramp
very badly in my right leg from squatting in a constrained
position in the canoe, and that the Wakwafi who was sleeping
beside me smelt horribly, I really began to enjoy myself. The
moonbeams played upon the surface of the running water that
speeded unceasingly past us towards the sea, like men's lives
towards the grave, till it glittered like a wide sheet of silver,
that is in the open where the trees threw no shadows. Near the
banks, however, it was very dark, and the night wind sighed sadly
in the reeds. To our left, on the further side of the river, was
a little sandy bay which was clear of trees, and here I could
make out the forms of numerous antelopes advancing to the water,
till suddenly there came an ominous roar, whereupon they all made
off hurriedly. Then after a pause I caught sight of the massive
form of His Majesty the Lion, coming down to drink his fill after
meat. Presently he moved on, then came a crashing of the reeds
about fifty yards above us, and a few minutes later a huge black
mass rose out of the water, about twenty yards from me, and
snorted. It was the head of a hippopotamus. Down it went
without a sound, only to rise again within five yards of where I
sat. This was decidedly too near to be comfortable, more
especially as the hippopotamus was evidently animated by intense
curiosity to know what on earth our canoes were. He opened his
great mouth, to yawn, I suppose, and gave me an excellent view of
his ivories; and I could not help reflecting how easily he could
crunch up our frail canoe with a single bite. Indeed, I had half
a mind to give him a ball from my eight-bore, but on reflection
determined to let him alone unless he actually charged the boat.
Presently he sank again as noiselessly as before, and I saw no
more of him. Just then, on looking towards the bank on our
right, I fancied that I caught sight of a dark figure flitting
between the tree trunks. I have very keen sight, and I was
almost sure that I saw something, but whether it was bird, beast,
or man I could not say. At the moment, however, a dark cloud
passed over the moon, and I saw no more of it. Just then, too,
although all the other sounds of the forest had ceased, a species
of horned owl with which I was well acquainted began to hoot with
great persistency. After that, save for the rustling of trees
and reeds when the wind caught them, there was complete silence.
But somehow, in the most unaccountable way, I had suddenly become
nervous. There was no particular reason why I should be, beyond
the ordinary reasons which surround the Central African
traveller, and yet I undoubtedly was. If there is one thing more
than another of which I have the most complete and entire scorn
and disbelief, it is of presentiments, and yet here I was all of
a sudden filled with and possessed by a most undoubted
presentiment of approaching evil. I would not give way to it,
however, although I felt the cold perspiration stand out upon my
forehead. I would not arouse the others. Worse and worse I
grew, my pulse fluttered like a dying man's, my nerves thrilled
with the horrible sense of impotent terror which anybody who is
subject to nightmare will be familiar with, but still my will
triumphed over my fears, and I lay quiet (for I was half sitting,
half lying, in the bow of the canoe), only turning my face so as
to command a view of Umslopogaas and the two Wakwafi who were
sleeping alongside of and beyond me.
In the distance I heard a hippopotamus splash faintly, then the
owl hooted again in a kind of unnatural screaming note, *{No
doubt this owl was a wingless bird. I afterwards learnt that the
hooting of an owl is a favourite signal among the Masai tribes.
--A. Q.} and the wind began to moan plaintively through the
trees, making a heart-chilling music. Above was the black bosom
of the cloud, and beneath me swept the black flood of the water,
and I felt as though I and Death were utterly alone between them.
It was very desolate.
Suddenly my blood seemed to freeze in my veins, and my heart to
stand still. Was it fancy, or were we moving? I turned my eyes
to look for the other canoe which should be alongside of us. I
could not see it, but instead I saw a lean and clutching black
hand lifting itself above the gunwale of the little boat. Surely
it was a nightmare! At the same instant a dim but
devilish-looking face appeared to rise out of the water, and then
came a lurch of the canoe, the quick flash of a knife, and an
awful yell from the Wakwafi who was sleeping by my side (the same
poor fellow whose odour had been annoying me), and something warm
spurted into my face. In an instant the spell was broken; I knew
that it was no nightmare, but that we were attacked by swimming
Masai. Snatching at the first weapon that came to hand, which
happened to be Umslopogaas' battleaxe, I struck with all my force
in the direction in which I had seen the flash of the knife. The
blow fell upon a man's arm, and, catching it against the thick
wooden gunwale of the canoe, completely severed it from the body
just above the wrist. As for its owner, he uttered no sound or
cry. Like a ghost he came, and like a ghost he went, leaving
behind him a bloody hand still gripping a great knife, or rather
a short sword, that was buried in the heart of our poor servant.
Instantly there arose a hubbub and confusion, and I fancied,
rightly or wrongly, that I made out several dark heads gliding
away towards the right-hand bank, whither we were rapidly
drifting, for the rope by which we were moored had been severed
with a knife. As soon as I had realized this fact, I also
realized that the scheme had been to cut the boat loose so that
it should drift on to the right bank (as it would have done with
the natural swing of the current), where no doubt a party of
Masai were waiting to dig their shovel-headed spears into us.
Seizing one paddle myself, I told Umslopogaas to take another
(for the remaining Askari was too frightened and bewildered to be
of any use), and together we rowed vigorously out towards the
middle of the stream; and not an instant too soon, for in another
minute we should have been aground, and then there would have
been an end of us.
As soon as we were well out, we set to work to paddle the canoe
upstream again to where the other was moored; and very hard and
dangerous work it was in the dark, and with nothing but the notes
of Good's stentorian shouts, which he kept firing off at
intervals like a fog-horn, to guide us. But at last we fetched
up, and were thankful to find that they had not been molested at
all. No doubt the owner of the same hand that severed our rope
should have severed theirs also, but was led away from his
purpose by an irresistible inclination to murder when he got the
chance, which, while it cost us a man and him his hand,
undoubtedly saved all the rest of us from massacre. Had it not
been for that ghastly apparition over the side of the boat--an
apparition that I shall never forget till my dying hour--the
canoe would undoubtedly have drifted ashore before I realized
what had happened, and this history would never have been written
by me.
We made the remains of our rope fast to the other canoe, and sat
waiting for the dawn and congratulating ourselves upon our
merciful escape, which really seemed to result more from the
special favour of Providence than from our own care or prowess.
At last it came, and I have not often been more grateful to see
the light, though so far as my canoe was concerned it revealed a
ghastly sight. There in the bottom of the little boat lay the
unfortunate Askari, the sime, or sword, in his bosom, and the
severed hand gripping the handle. I could not bear the sight, so
hauling up the stone which had served as an anchor to the other
canoe, we made it fast to the murdered man and dropped him
overboard, and down he went to the bottom, leaving nothing but a
train of bubbles behind him. Alas! when our time comes, most of
us like him leave nothing but bubbles behind, to show that we
have been, and the bubbles soon burst. The hand of his murderer
we threw into the stream, where it slowly sank. The sword, of
which the handle was ivory, inlaid with gold (evidently Arab
work), I kept and used as a hunting-knife, and very useful it
Then, a man having been transferred to my canoe, we once more
started on in very low spirits and not feeling at all comfortable
as to the future, but fondly hoping to arrive at the 'Highlands'
station by night. To make matters worse, within an hour of
sunrise it came on to rain in torrents, wetting us to the skin,
and even necessitating the occasional baling of the canoes, and
as the rain beat down the wind we could not use the sails, and
had to get along as best as we could with our paddles.
At eleven o'clock we halted on an open piece of ground on the
left bank of the river, and, the rain abating a little, managed
to make a fire and catch and broil some fish. We did not dare to
wander about to search for game. At two o'clock we got off
again, taking a supply of broiled fish with us, and shortly
afterwards the rain came on harder than ever. Also the river
began to get exceedingly difficult to navigate on account of the
numerous rocks, reaches of shallow water, and the increased force
of the current; so that it soon became clear to us that we should
not reach the Rev. Mackenzie's hospitable roof that night--a
prospect that did not tend to enliven us. Toil as we would, we
could not make more than an average of a mile an hour, and at
five o'clock in the afternoon (by which time we were all utterly
worn out) we reckoned that we were still quite ten miles below
the station. This being so, we set to work to make the best
arrangements we could for the night. After our recent
experience, we simply did not dare to land, more especially as
the banks of the Tana were clothed with dense bush that would
have given cover to five thousand Masai, and at first I thought
that we were going to have another night of it in the canoes.
Fortunately, however, we espied a little rocky islet, not more
than fifteen miles of so square, situated nearly in the middle of
the river. For this we paddled, and, making fast the canoes,
landed and made ourselves as comfortable as circumstances would
permit, which was very uncomfortable indeed. As for the weather,
it continued to be simply vile, the rain coming down in sheets
till we were chilled to the marrow, and utterly preventing us
from lighting a fire. There was, however, one consoling
circumstance about this rain; our Askari declared that nothing
would induce the Masai to make an attack in it, as they intensely
disliked moving about in the wet, perhaps, as Good suggested,
because they hate the idea of washing. We ate some insipid and
sodden cold fish--that is, with the exception of Umslopogaas,
who, like most Zulus, cannot bear fish--and took a pull of
brandy, of which we fortunately had a few bottles left, and then
began what, with one exception--when we same three white men
nearly perished of cold on the snow of Sheba's Breast in the
course of our journey to Kukuanaland--was, I think, the most
trying night I ever experienced. It seemed absolutely endless,
and once or twice I feared that two of the Askari would have died
of the wet, cold, and exposure. Indeed, had it not been for
timely doses of brandy I am sure that they would have died, for
no African people can stand much exposure, which first paralyses
and then kills them. I could see that even that iron old warrior
Umslopogaas felt it keenly; though, in strange contrast to the
Wakwafis, who groaned and bemoaned their fate unceasingly, he
never uttered a single complaint. To make matters worse, about
one in the morning we again heard the owl's ominous hooting, and
had at once to prepare ourselves for another attack; though, if
it had been attempted, I do not think that we could have offered
a very effective resistance. But either the owl was a real one
this time, or else the Masai were themselves too miserable to
think of offensive operations, which, indeed, they rarely, if
ever, undertake in bush veldt. At any rate, we saw nothing of
At last the dawn came gliding across the water, wrapped in
wreaths of ghostly mist, and, with the daylight, the rain ceased;
and then, out came the glorious sun, sucking up the mists and
warming the chill air. Benumbed, and utterly exhausted, we
dragged ourselves to our feet, and went and stood in the bright
rays, and were thankful for them. I can quite understand how it
is that primitive people become sun worshippers, especially if
their conditions of life render them liable to exposure.
In half an hour more we were once again making fair progress with
the help of a good wind. Our spirits had returned with the
sunshine, and we were ready to laugh at difficulties and dangers
that had been almost crushing on the previous day.
And so we went on cheerily till about eleven o'clock. Just as we
were thinking of halting as usual, to rest and try to shoot
something to eat, a sudden bend in the river brought us in sight
of a substantial-looking European house with a veranda round it,
splendidly situated upon a hill, and surrounded by a high stone
wall with a ditch on the outer side. Right against and
overshadowing the house was an enormous pine, the tope of which
we had seen through a glass for the last two days, but of course
without knowing that it marked the site of the mission station.
I was the first to see the house, and could not restrain myself
from giving a hearty cheer, in which the others, including the
natives, joined lustily. There was no thought of halting now.
On we laboured, for, unfortunately, though the house seemed quite
near, it was still a long way off by river, until at last, by one
o'clock, we found ourselves at the bottom of the slope on which
the building stood. Running the canoes to the bank, we
disembarked, and were just hauling them up on to the shore, when
we perceived three figures, dressed in ordinary English-looking
clothes, hurrying down through a grove of trees to meet us.
'A gentleman, a lady, and a little girl,' ejaculated Good, after
surveying the trio through his eyeglass, 'walking in a civilized
fashion, through a civilized garden, to meet us in this place.
Hang me, if this isn't the most curious thing we have seen yet!'
Good was right: it certainly did seem odd and out of place--more
like a scene out of a dream or an Italian opera than a real
tangible fact; and the sense of unreality was not lessened when
we heard ourselves addressed in good broad Scotch, which,
however, I cannot reproduce.
'How do you do, sirs,' said Mr Mackenzie, a grey-haired, angular
man, with a kindly face and red cheeks; 'I hope I see you very
well. My natives told me an hour ago they spied two canoes with
white men in them coming up the river; so we have just come down
to meet you.'
'And it is very glad that we are to see a white face again, let
me tell you,' put in the lady--a charming and refined-looking
We took off our hats in acknowledgment, and proceeded to
introduce ourselves.
'And now,' said Mr Mackenzie, 'you must all be hungry and weary;
so come on, gentlemen, come on, and right glad we are to see you.
The last white who visited us was Alphonse--you will see Alphonse
presently--and that was a year ago.'
Meanwhile we had been walking up the slope of the hill, the lower
portion of which was fenced off, sometimes with quince fences and
sometimes with rough stone walls, into Kaffir gardens, just now
full of crops of mealies, pumpkins, potatoes, etc. In the
corners of these gardens were groups of neat mushroom-shaped
huts, occupied by Mr Mackenzie's mission natives, whose women and
children came pouring out to meet us as we walked. Through the
centre of the gardens ran the roadway up which we were walking.
It was bordered on each side by a line of orange trees, which,
although they had only been planted ten years, had in the lovely
climate of the uplands below Mt Kenia, the base of which is about
5,000 feet above the coastline level, already grown to imposing
proportions, and were positively laden with golden fruit. After
a stiffish climb of a quarter of a mile or so--for the hillside
was steep--we came to a splendid quince fence, also covered with
fruit, which enclosed, Mr Mackenzie told us, a space of about
four acres of ground that contained his private garden, house,
church, and outbuildings, and, indeed, the whole hilltop. And
what a garden it was! I have always loved a good garden, and I
could have thrown up my hands for joy when I saw Mr Mackenzie's.
First there were rows upon rows of standard European fruit-trees,
all grafted; for on top of this hill the climate was so temperate
that nearly all the English vegetables, trees, and flowers
flourished luxuriantly, even including several varieties of the
apple, which, generally, runs to wood in a warm climate and
obstinately refuses to fruit. Then there were strawberries and
tomatoes (such tomatoes!), and melons and cucumbers, and, indeed,
every sort of vegetable and fruit.
'Well, you have something like a garden!' I said, overpowered
with admiration not untouched by envy.
'Yes,' answered the missionary, 'it is a very good garden, and
has well repaid my labour; but it is the climate that I have to
thank. If you stick a peach-stone into the ground it will bear
fruit the fourth year, and a rose-cutting with bloom in a year.
It is a lovely clime.'
Just then we came to a ditch about ten feet wide, and full of
water, on the other side of which was a loopholed stone wall
eight feet high, and with sharp flints plentifully set in mortar
on the coping.
'There,' said Mr Mackenzie, pointing to the ditch and wall, 'this
is my magnum opus; at least, this and the church, which is the
other side of the house. It took me and twenty natives two years
to dig the ditch and build the wall, but I never felt safe till
it was done; and now I can defy all the savages in Africa, for
the spring that fills the ditch is inside the wall, and bubbles
out at the top of the hill winter and summer alike, and I always
keep a store of four months' provision in the house.'
Crossing over a plank and through a very narrow opening in the
wall, we entered into what Mrs Mackenzie called HER
domain--namely, the flower garden, the beauty of which is really
beyond my power to describe. I do not think I ever saw such
roses, gardenias, or camellias (all reared from seeds or cuttings
sent from England); and there was also a patch given up to a
collection of bulbous roots mostly collected by Miss Flossie, Mr
Mackenzie's little daughter, from the surrounding country, some
of which were surpassingly beautiful. In the middle of this
garden, and exactly opposite the veranda, a beautiful fountain of
clear water bubbled up from the ground, and fell into a
stone-work basin which had been carefully built to receive it,
whence the overflow found its way by means of a drain to the moat
round the outer wall, this moat in its turn serving as a
reservoir, whence an unfailing supply of water was available to
irrigate all the gardens below. The house itself, a massively
built single-storied building, was roofed with slabs of stone,
and had a handsome veranda in front. It was built on three sides
of a square, the fourth side being taken up by the kitchens,
which stood separate from the house--a very good plan in a hot
country. In the centre of this square thus formed was, perhaps,
the most remarkable object that we had yet seen in this charming
place, and that was a single tree of the conifer tribe, varieties
of which grow freely on the highlands of this part of Africa.
This splendid tree, which Mr Mackenzie informed us was a landmark
for fifty miles round, and which we had ourselves seen for the
last forty miles of our journey, must have been nearly three
hundred feet in height, the trunk measuring about sixteen feet in
diameter at a yard from the ground. For some seventy feet it
rose a beautiful tapering brown pillar without a single branch,
but at that height splendid dark green boughs, which, looked at
from below, had the appearance of gigantic fern-leaves, sprang
out horizontally from the trunk, projecting right over the house
and flower-garden, to both of which they furnished a grateful
proportion of shade, without--being so high up--offering any
impediment to the passage of light and air.
'What a beautiful tree!' exclaimed Sir Henry.
'Yes, you are right; it is a beautiful tree. There is not
another like it in all the country round, that I know of,'
answered Mr Mackenzie. 'I call it my watch tower. As you see, I
have a rope ladder fixed to the lowest bough; and if I want to
see anything that is going on within fifteen miles or so, all I
have to do is to run up it with a spyglass. But you must be
hungry, and I am sure the dinner is cooked. Come in, my friends;
it is but a rough place, but well enough for these savage parts;
and I can tell you what, we have got--a French cook.' And he led
the way on to the veranda.
As I was following him, and wondering what on earth he could mean
by this, there suddenly appeared, through the door that opened on
to the veranda from the house, a dapper little man, dressed in a
neat blue cotton suit, with shoes made of tanned hide, and
remarkable for a bustling air and most enormous black mustachios,
shaped into an upward curve, and coming to a point for all the
world like a pair of buffalo-horns.
'Madame bids me for to say that dinnar is sarved. Messieurs, my
compliments;' then suddenly perceiving Umslopogaas, who was
loitering along after us and playing with his battleaxe, he threw
up his hands in astonishment. 'Ah, mais quel homme!' he
ejaculated in French, 'quel sauvage affreux! Take but note of
his huge choppare and the great pit in his head.'
'Ay,' said Mr Mackenzie; 'what are you talking about, Alphonse?'
'Talking about!' replied the little Frenchman, his eyes still
fixed upon Umslopogaas, whose general appearance seemed to
fascinate him; 'why I talk of him'--and he rudely pointed--'of ce
monsieur noir.'
At this everybody began to laugh, and Umslopogaas, perceiving
that he was the object of remark, frowned ferociously, for he had
a most lordly dislike of anything like a personal liberty.
'Parbleu!' said Alphonse, 'he is angered--he makes the grimace.
I like not his air. I vanish.' And he did with considerable
Mr Mackenzie joined heartily in the shout of laughter which we
indulged in. 'He is a queer character--Alphonse,' he said. 'By
and by I will tell you his history; in the meanwhile let us try
his cooking.'
'Might I ask,' said Sir Henry, after we had eaten a most
excellent dinner, 'how you came to have a French cook in these
'Oh,' answered Mrs Mackenzie, 'he arrived here of his own accord
about a year ago, and asked to be taken into our service. He had
got into some trouble in France, and fled to Zanzibar, where he
found an application had been made by the French Government for
his extradition. Whereupon he rushed off up-country, and fell
in, when nearly starved, with our caravan of men, who were
bringing us our annual supply of goods, and was brought on here.
You should get him to tell you the story.'
When dinner was over we lit our pipes, and Sir Henry proceeded to
give our host a description of our journey up here, over which he
looked very grave.
'It is evident to me,' he said, 'that those rascally Masai are
following you, and I am very thankful that you have reached this
house in safety. I do not think that they will dare to attack
you here. It is unfortunate, though, that nearly all my men have
gone down to the coast with ivory and goods. There are two
hundred of them in the caravan, and the consequence is that I
have not more than twenty men available for defensive purposes in
case they should attack us. But, still, I will just give a few
orders;' and, calling a black man who was loitering about outside
in the garden, he went to the window, and addressed him in a
Swahili dialect. The man listened, and then saluted and
'I am sure I devoutly hope that we shall bring no such calamity
upon you,' said I, anxiously, when he had taken his seat again.
'Rather than bring those bloodthirsty villains about your ears,
we will move on and take our chance.'
'You will do nothing of the sort. If the Masai come, they come,
and there is an end on it; and I think we can give them a pretty
warm greeting. I would not show any man the door for all the
Masai in the world.'
'That reminds me,' I said, 'the Consul at Lamu told me that he
had had a letter from you, in which you said that a man had
arrived here who reported that he had come across a white people
in the interior. Do you think that there was any truth in his
story? I ask, because I have once or twice in my life heard
rumours from natives who have come down from the far north of the
existence of such a race.'
Mr Mackenzie, by way of answer, went out of the room and
returned, bringing with him a most curious sword. It was long,
and all the blade, which was very thick and heavy, was to within
a quarter of an inch of the cutting edge worked into an
ornamental pattern exactly as we work soft wood with a fret-saw,
the steel, however, being invariably pierced in such a way as not
to interfere with the strength of the sword. This in itself was
sufficiently curious, but what was still more so was that all the
edges of the hollow spaces cut through the substance of the blade
were most beautifully inlaid with gold, which was in some way
that I cannot understand welded on to the steel. *{Since I saw
the above I have examined hundreds of these swords, but have
never been able to discover how the gold plates were inlaid in
the fretwork. The armourers who make them in Zu-vendis bind
themselves by oath not to reveal the secret. --A. Q.}
'There,' said Mr Mackenzie, 'did you ever see a sword like that?'
We all examined it and shook our heads.
'Well, I have got it to show you, because this is what the man
who said he had seen the white people brought with him, and
because it does more or less give an air of truth to what I
should otherwise have set down as a lie. Look here; I will tell
you all that I know about the matter, which is not much. One
afternoon, just before sunset, I was sitting on the veranda, when
a poor, miserable, starved-looking man came limping up and
squatted down before me. I asked him where he came from and what
he wanted, and thereon he plunged into a long rambling narrative
about how he belonged to a tribe far in the north, and how his
tribe was destroyed by another tribe, and he with a few other
survivors driven still further north past a lake named Laga.
Thence, it appears, he made his way to another lake that lay up
in the mountains, "a lake without a bottom" he called it, and
here his wife and brother died of an infectious
sickness--probably smallpox--whereon the people drove him out of
their villages into the wilderness, where he wandered miserably
over mountains for ten days, after which he got into dense thorn
forest, and was one day found there by some WHITE MEN who were
hunting, and who took him to a place where all the people were
white and lived in stone houses. Here he remained a week shut up
in a house, till one night a man with a white beard, whom he
understood to be a "medicine-man", came and inspected him, after
which he was led off and taken through the thorn forest to the
confines of the wilderness, and given food and this sword (at
least so he said), and turned loose.'
'Well,' said Sir Henry, who had been listening with breathless
interest, 'and what did he do then?'
'Oh! he seems, according to his account, to have gone through
sufferings and hardships innumerable, and to have lived for weeks
on roots and berries, and such things as he could catch and kill.
But somehow he did live, and at last by slow degrees made his way
south and reached this place. What the details of his journey
were I never learnt, for I told him to return on the morrow,
bidding one of my headmen look after him for the night. The
headman took him away, but the poor man had the itch so badly
that the headman's wife would not have him in the hut for fear of
catching it, so he was given a blanket and told to sleep outside.
As it happened, we had a lion hanging about here just then, and
most unhappily he winded this unfortunate wanderer, and,
springing on him, bit his head almost off without the people in
the hut knowing anything about it, and there was an end of him
and his story about the white people; and whether or no there is
any truth in it is more than I can tell you. What do you think,
Mr Quatermain?'
I shook my head, and answered, 'I don't know. There are so many
queer things hidden away in the heart of this great continent
that I should be sorry to assert that there was no truth in it.
Anyhow, we mean to try and find out. We intend to journey to
Lekakisera, and thence, if we live to get so far, to this Lake
Laga; and, if there are any white people beyond, we will do our
best to find them.'
'You are very venturesome people,' said Mr Mackenzie, with a
smile, and the subject dropped.
After dinner we thoroughly inspected all the outbuildings and
grounds of the station, which I consider the most successful as
well as the most beautiful place of the sort that I have seen in
Africa. We then returned to the veranda, where we found
Umslopogaas taking advantage of this favourable opportunity to
clean all the rifles thoroughly. This was the only WORK that he
ever did or was asked to do, for as a Zulu chief it was beneath
his dignity to work with his hands; but such as it was he did it
very well. It was a curious sight to see the great Zulu sitting
there upon the floor, his battleaxe resting against the wall
behind him, whilst his long aristocratic-looking hands were
busily employed, delicately and with the utmost care, cleaning
the mechanism of the breech-loaders. He had a name for each gun.
One--a double four-bore belonging to Sir Henry--was the
Thunderer; another, my 500 Express, which had a peculiarly sharp
report, was 'the little one who spoke like a whip'; the
Winchester repeaters were 'the women, who talked so fast that you
could not tell one word from another'; the six Martinis were 'the
common people'; and so on with them all. It was very curious to
hear him addressing each gun as he cleaned it, as though it were
an individual, and in a vein of the quaintest humour. He did the
same with his battle-axe, which he seemed to look upon as an
intimate friend, and to which he would at times talk by the hour,
going over all his old adventures with it--and dreadful enough
some of them were. By a piece of grim humour, he had named this
axe 'Inkosi-kaas', which is the Zulu word for chieftainess. For
a long while I could not make out why he gave it such a name, and
at last I asked him, when he informed me that the axe was very
evidently feminine, because of her womanly habit of prying very
deep into things, and that she was clearly a chieftainess because
all men fell down before her, struck dumb at the sight of her
beauty and power. In the same way he would consult 'Inkosi-kaas'
if in any dilemma; and when I asked him why he did so, he
informed me it was because she must needs be wise, having 'looked
into so many people's brains'.
I took up the axe and closely examined this formidable weapon.
It was, as I have said, of the nature of a pole-axe. The haft,
made out of an enormous rhinoceros horn, was three feet three
inches long, about an inch and a quarter thick, and with a knob
at the end as large as a Maltese orange, left there to prevent
the hand from slipping. This horn haft, though so massive, was
as flexible as cane, and practically unbreakable; but, to make
assurance doubly sure, it was whipped round at intervals of a few
inches with copper wire--all the parts where the hands grip being
thus treated. Just above where the haft entered the head were
scored a number of little nicks, each nick representing a man
killed in battle with the weapon. The axe itself was made of the
most beautiful steel, and apparently of European manufacture,
though Umslopogaas did not know where it came from, having taken
it from the hand of a chief he had killed in battle many years
before. It was not very heavy, the head weighing two and a half
pounds, as nearly as I could judge. The cutting part was
slightly concave in shape--not convex, as it generally the case
with savage battleaxes--and sharp as a razor, measuring five and
three-quarter inches across the widest part. From the back of
the axe sprang a stout spike four inches long, for the last two
of which it was hollow, and shaped like a leather punch, with an
opening for anything forced into the hollow at the punch end to
be pushed out above--in fact, in this respect it exactly
resembled a butcher's pole-axe. It was with this punch end, as
we afterwards discovered, that Umslopogaas usually struck when
fighting, driving a neat round hole in his adversary's skull, and
only using the broad cutting edge for a circular sweep, or
sometimes in a melee. I think he considered the punch a neater
and more sportsmanlike tool, and it was from his habit of pecking
at his enemy with it that he got his name of 'Woodpecker'.
Certainly in his hands it was a terribly efficient one.
Such was Umslopogaas' axe, Inkosi-kaas, the most remarkable and
fatal hand-to-hand weapon that I ever saw, and one which he
cherished as much as his own life. It scarcely ever left his
hand except when he was eating, and then he always sat with it
under his leg.
Just as I returned his axe to Umslopogaas, Miss Flossie came up
and took me off to see her collection of flowers, African
liliums, and blooming shrubs, some of which are very beautiful,
many of the varieties being quite unknown to me and also, I
believe, to botanical science. I asked her if she had ever seen
or heard of the 'Goya' lily, which Central African explorers have
told me they have occasionally met with and whose wonderful
loveliness has filled them with astonishment. This lily, which
the natives say blooms only once in ten years, flourishes in the
most arid soil. Compared to the size of the bloom, the bulb is
small, generally weighing about four pounds. As for the flower
itself (which I afterwards saw under circumstances likely to
impress its appearance fixedly in my mind), I know not how to
describe its beauty and splendour, or the indescribable sweetness
of its perfume. The flower--for it has only one bloom--rises
from the crown of the bulb on a thick fleshy and flat-sided stem,
the specimen that I saw measured fourteen inches in diameter, and
is somewhat trumpet-shaped like the bloom of an ordinary
'longiflorum' set vertically. First there is the green sheath,
which in its early stage is not unlike that of a water-lily, but
which as the bloom opens splits into four portions and curls back
gracefully towards the stem. Then comes the bloom itself, a
single dazzling arch of white enclosing another cup of richest
velvety crimson, from the heart of which rises a golden-coloured
pistil. I have never seen anything to equal this bloom in beauty
or fragrance, and as I believe it is but little known, I take the
liberty to describe it at length. Looking at it for the first
time I well remember that I realized how even in a flower there
dwells something of the majesty of its Maker. To my great
delight Miss Flossie told me that she knew the flower well and
had tried to grow it in her garden, but without success, adding,
however, that as it should be in bloom at this time of the year
she thought that she could procure me a specimen.
After that I fell to asking her if she was not lonely up here
among all these savage people and without any companions of her
own age.
'Lonely?' she said. 'Oh, indeed no! I am as happy as the day is
long, and besides I have my own companions. Why, I should hate
to be buried in a crowd of white girls all just like myself so
that nobody could tell the difference! Here,' she said, giving
her head a little toss, 'I am I; and every native for miles
around knows the "Water-lily",--for that is what they call
me--and is ready to do what I want, but in the books that I have
read about little girls in England it is not like that.
Everybody thinks them a trouble, and they have to do what their
schoolmistress likes. Oh! it would break my heart to be put in a
cage like that and not to be free--free as the air.'
'Would you not like to learn?' I asked.
'So I do learn. Father teaches me Latin and French and
'And are you never afraid among all these wild men?'
'Afraid? Oh no! they never interfere with me. I think they
believe that I am "Ngai" (of the Divinity) because I am so white
and have fair hair. And look here,' and diving her little hand
into the bodice of her dress she produced a double-barrelled
nickel-plated Derringer, 'I always carry that loaded, and if
anybody tried to touch me I should shoot him. Once I shot a
leopard that jumped upon my donkey as I was riding along. It
frightened me very much, but I shot it in the ear and it fell
dead, and I have its skin upon my bed. Look there!' she went on
in an altered voice, touching me on the arm and pointing to some
far-away object, 'I said just now that I had companions; there is
one of them.'
I looked, and for the first time there burst upon my sight the
glory of Mount Kenia. Hitherto the mountain had always been
hidden in mist, but now its radiant beauty was unveiled for many
thousand feet, although the base was still wrapped in vapour so
that the lofty peak or pillar, towering nearly twenty thousand
feet into the sky, appeared to be a fairy vision, hanging between
earth and heaven, and based upon the clouds. The solemn majesty
and beauty of this white peak are together beyond the power of my
poor pen to describe. There it rose straight and sheer--a
glittering white glory, its crest piercing the very blue of
heaven. As I gazed at it with that little girl I felt my whole
heart lifted up with an indescribable emotion, and for a moment
great and wonderful thoughts seemed to break upon my mind, even
as the arrows of the setting sun were breaking upon Kenia's
snows. Mr Mackenzie's natives call the mountain the 'Finger of
God', and to me it did seem eloquent of immortal peace and of the
pure high calm that surely lies above this fevered world.
Somewhere I had heard a line of poetry,
A thing of beauty is a joy for ever,
and now it came into my mind, and for the first time I thoroughly
understood what it meant. Base, indeed, would be the man who
could look upon that mighty snow-wreathed pile--that white old
tombstone of the years--and not feel his own utter
insignificance, and, by whatever name he calls Him, worship God
in his heart. Such sights are like visions of the spirit; they
throw wide the windows of the chamber of our small selfishness
and let in a breath of that air that rushes round the rolling
spheres, and for a while illumine our darkness with a far-off
gleam of the white light which beats upon the Throne.
Yes, such things of beauty are indeed a joy for ever, and I can
well understand what little Flossie meant when she talked of
Kenia as her companion. As Umslopogaas, savage old Zulu that he
was, said when I pointed out to him the peak hanging in the
glittering air: 'A man might look thereon for a thousand years
and yet be hungry to see.' But he gave rather another colour to
his poetical idea when he added in a sort of chant, and with a
touch of that weird imagination for which the man was remarkable,
that when he was dead he should like his spirit to sit upon that
snow-clad peak for ever, and to rush down the steep white sides
in the breath of the whirlwind, or on the flash of the lightning,
and 'slay, and slay, and slay'.
'Slay what, you old bloodhound?' I asked.
This rather puzzled him, but at length he answered--
'The other shadows.'
'So thou wouldst continue thy murdering even after death?' I
'I murder not,' he answered hotly; 'I kill in fair fight. Man is
born to kill. He who kills not when his blood is hot is a woman,
and no man. The people who kill not are slaves. I say I kill in
fair fight; and when I am "in the shadow", as you white men say,
I hope to go on killing in fair fight. May my shadow be accursed
and chilled to the bone for ever if it should fall to murdering
like a bushman with his poisoned arrows!' And he stalked away
with much dignity, and left me laughing.
Just then the spies whom our host had sent out in the morning to
find out if there were any traces of our Masai friends about,
returned, and reported that the country had been scoured for
fifteen miles round without a single Elmoran being seen, and that
they believed that those gentry had given up the pursuit and
returned whence they came. Mr Mackenzie gave a sigh of relief
when he heard this, and so indeed did we, for we had had quite
enough of the Masai to last us for some time. Indeed, the
general opinion was that, finding we had reached the mission
station in safety, they had, knowing its strength, given up the
pursuit of us as a bad job. How ill-judged that view was the
sequel will show.
After the spies had gone, and Mrs Mackenzie and Flossie had
retired for the night, Alphonse, the little Frenchman, came out,
and Sir Henry, who is a very good French scholar, got him to tell
us how he came to visit Central Africa, which he did in a most
extraordinary lingo, that for the most part I shall not attempt
to reproduce.
'My grandfather,' he began, 'was a soldier of the Guard, and
served under Napoleon. He was in the retreat from Moscow, and
lived for ten days on his own leggings and a pair he stole from a
comrade. He used to get drunk--he died drunk, and I remember
playing at drums on his coffin. My father--'
Here we suggested that he might skip his ancestry and come to the
'Bien, messieurs!' replied this comical little man, with a polite
bow. 'I did only wish to demonstrate that the military principle
is not hereditary. My grandfather was a splendid man, six feet
two high, broad in proportion, a swallower of fire and gaiters.
Also he was remarkable for his moustache. To me there remains
the moustache and--nothing more.
'I am, messieurs, a cook, and I was born at Marseilles. In that
dear town I spent my happy youth. For years and years I washed
the dishes at the Hotel Continental. Ah, those were golden
days!' and he sighed. 'I am a Frenchman. Need I say, messieurs,
that I admire beauty? Nay, I adore the fair. Messieurs, we
admire all the roses in a garden, but we pluck one. I plucked
one, and alas, messieurs, it pricked my finger. She was a
chambermaid, her name Annette, her figure ravishing, her face an
angel's, her heart--alas, messieurs, that I should have to own
it!--black and slippery as a patent leather boot. I loved to
desperation, I adored her to despair. She transported me--in
every sense; she inspired me. Never have I cooked as I cooked
(for I had been promoted at the hotel) when Annette, my adored
Annette, smiled on me. Never'--and here his manly voice broke
into a sob--'never shall I cook so well again.' Here he melted
into tears.
'Come, cheer up!' said Sir Henry in French, smacking him smartly
on the back. 'There's no knowing what may happen, you know. To
judge from your dinner today, I should say you were in a fair way
to recovery.'
Alphonse stopped weeping, and began to rub his back. 'Monsieur,'
he said, 'doubtless means to console, but his hand is heavy. To
continue: we loved, and were happy in each other's love. The
birds in their little nest could not be happier than Alphonse and
his Annette. Then came the blow--sapristi!--when I think of it.
Messieurs will forgive me if I wipe away a tear. Mine was an
evil number; I was drawn for the conscription. Fortune would be
avenged on me for having won the heart of Annette.
'The evil moment came; I had to go. I tried to run away, but I
was caught by brutal soldiers, and they banged me with the
butt-end of muskets till my mustachios curled with pain. I had a
cousin a linen-draper, well-to-do, but very ugly. He had drawn a
good number, and sympathized when they thumped me. "To thee, my
cousin," I said, "to thee, in whose veins flows the blue blood of
our heroic grandparent, to thee I consign Annette. Watch over
her whilst I hunt for glory in the bloody field."
'"Make your mind easy," said he; "I will." As the sequel shows,
he did!
'I went. I lived in barracks on black soup. I am a refined man
and a poet by nature, and I suffered tortures from the coarse
horror of my surroundings. There was a drill sergeant, and he
had a cane. Ah, that cane, how it curled! Alas, never can I
forget it!
'One morning came the news; my battalion was ordered to Tonquin.
The drill sergeant and the other coarse monsters rejoiced. I--I
made enquiries about Tonquin. They were not satisfactory. In
Tonquin are savage Chinese who rip you open. My artistic
tastes--for I am also an artist--recoiled from the idea of being
ripped open. The great man makes up his mind quickly. I made up
my mind. I determined not to be ripped open. I deserted.
'I reached Marseilles disguised as an old man. I went to the
house of my cousin--he in whom runs my grandfather's heroic
blood--and there sat Annette. It was the season of cherries.
They took a double stalk. At each end was a cherry. My cousin
put one into his mouth, Annette put the other in hers. Then they
drew the stalks in till their eyes met--and alas, alas that I
should have to say it!--they kissed. The game was a pretty one,
but it filled me with fury. The heroic blood of my grandfather
boiled up in me. I rushed into the kitchen. I struck my cousin
with the old man's crutch. He fell--I had slain him. Alas, I
believe that I did slay him. Annette screamed. The gendarmes
came. I fled. I reached the harbour. I hid aboard a vessel.
The vessel put to sea. The captain found me and beat me. He
took an opportunity. He posted a letter from a foreign port to
the police. He did not put me ashore because I cooked so well.
I cooked for him all the way to Zanzibar. When I asked for
payment he kicked me. The blood of my heroic grandfather boiled
within me, and I shook my fist in his face and vowed to have my
revenge. He kicked me again. At Zanzibar there was a telegram.
I cursed the man who invented telegraphs. Now I curse him again.
I was to be arrested for desertion, for murder, and que sais-je?
I escaped from the prison. I fled, I starved. I met the men of
Monsieur le Cure. They brought me here. I am full of woe. But
I return not to France. Better to risk my life in these horrible
places than to know the Bagne.'
He paused, and we nearly choked with laughter, having to turn our
faces away.
'Ah! you weep, messieurs,' he said. 'No wonder--it is a sad
'Perhaps,' said Sir Henry, 'the heroic blood of your grandparent
will triumph after all; perhaps you will still be great. At any
rate we shall see. And now I vote we go to bed. I am dead
tired, and we had not much sleep on that confounded rock last
And so we did, and very strange the tidy rooms and clean white
sheets seemed to us after our recent experiences.
Next morning at breakfast I missed Flossie and asked where she
'Well,' said her mother, 'when I got up this morning I found a
note put outside my door in which-- But here it is, you can read
it for yourself,' and she gave me the slip of paper on which the
following was written: --
'DEAREST M--,--It is just dawn, and I am off to the hills to get
Mr Q--a bloom of the lily he wants, so don't expect me till you
see me. I have taken the white donkey; and nurse and a couple of
boys are coming with me--also something to eat, as I may be away
all day, for I am determined to get the lily if I have to go
twenty miles for it. --FLOSSIE.'
'I hope she will be all right,' I said, a little anxiously; 'I
never meant her to trouble after the flower.'
'Ah, Flossie can look after herself,' said her mother; 'she often
goes off in this way like a true child of the wilderness.' But
Mr Mackenzie, who came in just then and saw the note for the
first time, looked rather grave, though he said nothing.
After breakfast was over I took him aside and asked him whether
it would not be possible to send after the girl and get her back,
having in view the possibility of there still being some Masai
hanging about, at whose hands she might come to harm.
'I fear it would be of no use,' he answered. 'She may be fifteen
miles off by now, and it is impossible to say what path she has
taken. There are the hills;' and he pointed to a long range of
rising ground stretching almost parallel with the course followed
by the river Tana, but gradually sloping down to a dense
bush-clad plain about five miles short of the house.
Here I suggested that we might get up the great tree over the
house and search the country round with a spyglass; and this,
after Mr Mackenzie had given some orders to his people to try and
follow Flossie's spoor, we did.
The ascent of the mighty tree was rather an alarming performance,
even with a sound rope-ladder fixed at both ends to climb up, at
least to a landsman; but Good came up like a lamplighter.
On reaching the height at which the first fern-shaped boughs
sprang from the bole, we stepped without any difficulty upon a
platform made of boards, nailed from one bough to another, and
large enough to accommodate a dozen people. As for the view, it
was simply glorious. In ever direction the bush rolled away in
great billows for miles and miles, as far as the glass would
show, only here and there broken by the brighter green of patches
of cultivation, or by the glittering surface of lakes. To the
northwest, Kenia reared his mighty head, and we could trace the
Tana river curling like a silver snake almost from his feet, and
far away beyond us towards the ocean. It is a glorious country,
and only wants the hand of civilized man to make it a most
productive one.
But look as we would, we could see no signs of Flossie and her
donkey, so at last we had to come down disappointed. On reaching
the veranda I found Umslopogaas sitting there, slowly and lightly
sharpening his axe with a small whetstone he always carried with
'What doest thou, Umslopogaas?' I asked.
'I smell blood,' was the answer; and I could get no more out of
After dinner we again went up the tree and searched the
surrounding country with a spyglass, but without result. When we
came down Umslopogaas was still sharpening Inkosi-kaas, although
she already had an edge like a razor. Standing in front of him,
and regarding him with a mixture of fear and fascination, was
Alphonse. And certainly he did seem an alarming object--sitting
there, Zulu fashion, on his haunches, a wild look upon his
intensely savage and yet intellectual face, sharpening,
sharpening, sharpening at the murderous-looking axe.
'Oh, the monster, the horrible man!' said the little French cook,
lifting his hands in amazement. 'See but the hole in his head;
the skin beats on it up and down like a baby's! Who would nurse
such a baby?' and he burst out laughing at the idea.
For a moment Umslopogaas looked up from his sharpening, and a
sort of evil light played in his dark eyes.
'What does the little "buffalo-heifer"[so named by Umslopogaas,
on account of his mustachios and feminine characteristics] say?
Let him be careful, or I will cut his horns. Beware, little man
monkey, beware!'
Unfortunately Alphonse, who was getting over his fear of him,
went on laughing at 'ce drole d'un monsieur noir'. I was about
to warn him to desist, when suddenly the huge Zulu bounded off
the veranda on to the open space where Alphonse was standing, his
features alive with a sort of malicious enthusiasm, and began
swinging the axe round and round over the Frenchman's head.
'Stand still,' I shouted; 'do not move as you value your life--he
will not hurt you;' but I doubt if Alphonse heard me, being,
fortunately for himself, almost petrified with horror.
Then followed the most extraordinary display of sword, or rather
of axemanship, that I ever saw. First of all the axe went flying
round and round over the top of Alphonse's head, with an angry
whirl and such extraordinary swiftness that it looked like a
continuous band of steel, ever getting nearer and yet nearer to
that unhappy individual's skull, till at last it grazed it as it
flew. Then suddenly the motion was changed, and it seemed to
literally flow up and down his body and limbs, never more than an
eighth of an inch from them, and yet never striking them. It was
a wonderful sight to see the little man fixed there, having
apparently realized that to move would be to run the risk of
sudden death, while his black tormentor towered over him, and
wrapped him round with the quick flashes of the axe. For a
minute or more this went on, till suddenly I saw the moving
brightness travel down the side of Alphonse's face, and then
outwards and stop. As it did so a tuft of something black fell
to the ground; it was the tip of one of the little Frenchman's
curling mustachios.
Umslopogaas leant upon the handle of Inkosi-kaas, and broke into
a long, low laugh; and Alphonse, overcome with fear, sank into a
sitting posture on the ground, while we stood astonished at this
exhibition of almost superhuman skill and mastery of a weapon.
'Inkosi-kaas is sharp enough,' he shouted; 'the blow that clipped
the "buffalo-heifer's" horn would have split a man from the crown
to the chin. Few could have struck it but I; none could have
struck it and not taken off the shoulder too. Look, thou little
heifer! Am I a good man to laugh at, thinkest thou? For a space
hast thou stood within a hair's-breadth of death. Laugh not
again, lest the hair's-breadth be wanting. I have spoken.'
'What meanest thou by such mad tricks?' I asked of Umslopogaas,
indignantly. 'Surely thou art mad. Twenty times didst thou go
near to slaying the man.'
'And yet, Macumazahn, I slew not. Thrice as Inkosi-kaas flew the
spirit entered into me to end him, and send her crashing through
his skull; but I did not. Nay, it was but a jest; but tell the
"heifer" that it is not well to mock at such as I. Now I go to
make a shield, for I smell blood, Macumazahn--of a truth I smell
blood. Before the battle hast thou not seen the vulture grow of
a sudden in the sky? They smell the blood, Macumazahn, and my
scent is more keen than theirs. There is a dry ox-hide down
yonder; I go to make a shield.'
'That is an uncomfortable retainer of yours,' said Mr Mackenzie,
who had witnessed this extraordinary scene. 'He has frightened
Alphonse out of his wits; look!' and he pointed to the Frenchman,
who, with a scared white face and trembling limbs, was making his
way into the house. 'I don't think that he will ever laugh at
"le monsieur noir" again.'
'Yes,' answered I, 'it is ill jesting with such as he. When he
is roused he is like a fiend, and yet he has a kind heart in his
own fierce way. I remember years ago seeing him nurse a sick
child for a week. He is a strange character, but true as steel,
and a strong stick to rest on in danger.'
'He says he smells blood,' said Mr Mackenzie. 'I only trust he
is not right. I am getting very fearful about my little girl.
She must have gone far, or she would be home by now. It is
half-past three o'clock.'
I pointed out that she had taken food with her, and very likely
would not in the ordinary course of events return till nightfall;
but I myself felt very anxious, and fear that my anxiety betrayed
Shortly after this, the people whom Mr Mackenzie had sent out to
search for Flossie returned, stating that they had followed the
spoor of the donkey for a couple of miles and had then lost it on
some stony ground, nor could they discover it again. They had,
however, scoured the country far and wide, but without success.
After this the afternoon wore drearily on, and towards evening,
there still being no signs of Flossie, our anxiety grew very
keen. As for the poor mother, she was quite prostrated by her
fears, and no wonder, but the father kept his head wonderfully
well. Everything that could be done was done: people were sent
out in all directions, shots were fired, and a continuous outlook
kept from the great tree, but without avail.
And then it grew dark, and still no sign of fair-haired little
At eight o'clock we had supper. It was but a sorrowful meal, and
Mrs Mackenzie did not appear at it. We three also were very
silent, for in addition to our natural anxiety as to the fate of
the child, we were weighed down by the sense that we had brought
this trouble on the head of our kind host. When supper was
nearly at an end I made an excuse to leave the table. I wanted
to get outside and think the situation over. I went on to the
veranda and, having lit my pipe, sat down on a seat about a dozen
feet from the right-hand end of the structure, which was, as the
reader may remember, exactly opposite one of the narrow doors of
the protecting wall that enclosed the house and flower garden. I
had been sitting there perhaps six or seven minutes when I
thought I heard the door move. I looked in that direction and I
listened, but, being unable to make out anything, concluded that
I must have been mistaken. It was a darkish night, the moon not
having yet risen.
Another minute passed, when suddenly something round fell with a
soft but heavy thud upon the stone flooring of the veranda, and
came bounding and rolling along past me. For a moment I did not
rise, but sat wondering what it could be. Finally, I concluded
it must have been an animal. Just then, however, another idea
struck me, and I got up quick enough. The thing lay quite still
a few feet beyond me. I put down my hand towards it and it did
not move: clearly it was not an animal. My hand touched it. It
was soft and warm and heavy. Hurriedly I lifted it and held it
up against the faint starlight.
I am an old hand and not easily upset, but I own that that
ghastly sight made me feel sick. How had the thing come there?
Whose was it? I put it down and ran to the little doorway. I
could see nothing, hear nobody. I was about to go out into the
darkness beyond, but remembering that to do so was to expose
myself to the risk of being stabbed, I drew back, shut the door,
and bolted it. Then I returned to the veranda, and in as
careless a voice as I could command called Curtis. I fear,
however, that my tones must have betrayed me, for not only Sir
Henry but also Good and Mackenzie rose from the table and came
hurrying out.
'What is it?' said the clergyman, anxiously.
Then I had to tell them.
Mr Mackenzie turned pale as death under his red skin. We were
standing opposite the hall door, and there was a light in it so
that I could see. He snatched the head up by the hair and held
it against the light.
'It is the head of one of the men who accompanied Flossie,' he
said with a gasp. 'Thank God it is not hers!'
We all stood and stared at each other aghast. What was to be
Just then there was a knocking at the door that I had bolted, and
a voice cried, 'Open, my father, open!'
The door was unlocked, and in sped a terrified man. He was one
of the spies who had been sent out.
'My father,' he cried, 'the Masai are on us! A great body of
them have passed round the hill and are moving towards the old
stone kraal down by the little stream. My father, make strong
thy heart! In the midst of them I saw the white ass, and on it
sat the Water-lily [Flossie]. An Elmoran [young warrior] led the
ass, and by its side walked the nurse weeping. The men who went
with her in the morning I saw not.'
'Was the child alive?' asked Mr Mackenzie, hoarsely.
'She was white as the snow, but well, my father. They passed
quite close to me, and looking up from where I lay hid I saw her
face against the sky.'
'God help her and us!' groaned the clergyman.
'How many are there of them?' I asked.
'More than two hundred--two hundred and half a hundred.'
Once more we looked one on the other. What was to be done? Just
then there rose a loud insistent cry outside the wall.
'Open the door, white man; open the door! A herald--a herald to
speak with thee.' Thus cried the voice.
Umslopogaas ran to the wall, and, reaching with his long arms to
the coping, lifted his head above it and gazed over.
'I see but one man,' he said. 'He is armed, and carries a basket
in his hand.'
'Open the door,' I said. 'Umslopogaas, take thine axe and stand
thereby. Let one man pass. If another follows, slay.'
The door was unbarred. In the shadow of the wall stood
Umslopogaas, his axe raised above his head to strike. Just then
the moon came out. There was a moment's pause, and then in
stalked a Masai Elmoran, clad in the full war panoply that I have
already described, but bearing a large basket in his hand. The
moonlight shone bright upon his great spear as he walked. He was
physically a splendid man, apparently about thirty-five years of
age. Indeed, none of the Masai that I saw were under six feet
high, though mostly quite young. When he got opposite to us he
halted, put down the basket, and stuck the spike of his spear
into the ground, so that it stood upright.
'Let us talk,' he said. 'The first messenger we sent to you
could not talk;' and he pointed to the head which lay upon the
paving of the stoep--a ghastly sight in the moonlight; 'but I
have words to speak if ye have ears to hear. Also I bring
presents;' and he pointed to the basket and laughed with an air
of swaggering insolence that is perfectly indescribable, and yet
which one could not but admire, seeing that he was surrounded by
'Say on,' said Mr Mackenzie.
'I am the "Lygonani" [war captain] of a part of the Masai of the
Guasa Amboni. I and my men followed these three white men,' and
he pointed to Sir Henry, Good, and myself, 'but they were too
clever for us, and escaped hither. We have a quarrel with them,
and are going to kill them.'
'Are you, my friend?' said I to myself.
'In following these men we this morning caught two black men, one
black woman, a white donkey, and a white girl. One of the black
men we killed--there is his head upon the pavement; the other ran
away. The black woman, the little white girl, and the white ass
we took and brought with us. In proof thereof have I brought
this basket that she carried. Is it not thy daughter's basket?'
Mr Mackenzie nodded, and the warrior went on.
'Good! With thee and thy daughter we have no quarrel, nor do we
wish to harm thee, save as to thy cattle, which we have already
gathered, two hundred and forty head--a beast for every man's
father.' *{The Masai Elmoran or young warriors can own no
property, so all the booty they may win in battle belongs to
their fathers alone. --A. Q.}
Here Mr Mackenzie gave a groan, as he greatly valued this herd of
cattle, which he bred with much care and trouble.
'So, save for the cattle, thou mayst go free; more especially,'
he added frankly, glancing at the wall, 'as this place would be a
difficult one to take. But as to these men it is otherwise; we
have followed them for nights and days, and must kill them. Were
we to return to our kraal without having done so, all the girls
would make a mock of us. So, however troublesome it may be, they
must die.
'Now I have a proposition for thee. We would not harm the little
girl; she is too fair to harm, and has besides a brave spirit.
Give us one of these three men--a life for a life--and we will
let her go, and throw in the black woman with her also. This is
a fair offer, white man. We ask but for one, not for the three;
we must take another opportunity to kill the other two. I do not
even pick my man, though I should prefer the big one,' pointing
to Sir Henry; 'he looks strong, and would die more slowly.'
'And if I say I will not yield the man?' said Mr Mackenzie.
'Nay, say not so, white man,' answered the Masai, 'for then thy
daughter dies at dawn, and the woman with her says thou hast no
other child. Were she older I would take her for a servant; but
as she is so young I will slay her with my own hand--ay, with
this very spear. Thou canst come and see, an' thou wilt. I give
thee a safe conduct;' and the fiend laughed aloud as his brutal
Meanwhile I had been thinking rapidly, as one does in
emergencies, and had come to the conclusion that I would exchange
myself against Flossie. I scarcely like to mention the matter
for fear it should be misunderstood. Pray do not let any one be
misled into thinking that there was anything heroic about this,
or any such nonsense. It was merely a matter of common sense and
common justice. My life was an old and worthless one, hers was
young and valuable. Her death would pretty well kill her father
and mother also, whilst nobody would be much the worse for mine;
indeed, several charitable institutions would have cause to
rejoice thereat. It was indirectly through me that the dear
little girl was in her present position. Lastly, a man was
better fitted to meet death in such a peculiarly awful form than
a sweet young girl. Not, however, that I meant to let these
gentry torture me to death--I am far too much of a coward to
allow that, being naturally a timid man; my plan was to see the
girl safely exchanged and then to shoot myself, trusting that the
Almighty would take the peculiar circumstances of the case into
consideration and pardon the act. All this and more went through
my mind in very few seconds.
'All right, Mackenzie,' I said, 'you can tell the man that I will
exchange myself against Flossie, only I stipulate that she shall
be safely in this house before they kill me.'
'Eh?' said Sir Henry and Good simultaneously. 'That you don't.'
'No, no,' said Mr Mackenzie. 'I will have no man's blood upon my
hands. If it please God that my daughter should die this awful
death, His will be done. You are a brave man (which I am not by
any means) and a noble man, Quatermain, but you shall not go.'
'If nothing else turns up I shall go,' I said decidedly.
'This is an important matter,' said Mackenzie, addressing the
Lygonani, 'and we must think it over. You shall have our answer
at dawn.'
'Very well, white man,' answered the savage indifferently; 'only
remember if thy answer is late thy little white bud will never
grow into a flower, that is all, for I shall cut it with this,'
and he touched the spear. 'I should have thought that thou
wouldst play a trick and attack us at night, but I know from the
woman with the girl that your men are down at the coast, and that
thou hast but twenty men here. It is not wise, white man,' he
added with a laugh, 'to keep so small a garrison for you "boma"
[kraal]. Well, good night, and good night to you also, other
white men, whose eyelids I shall soon close once and for all. At
dawn thou wilt bring me word. If not, remember it shall be as I
have said.' Then turning to Umslopogaas, who had all the while
been standing behind him and shepherding him as it were, 'Open
the door for me, fellow, quick now.'
This was too much for the old chief's patience. For the last ten
minutes his lips had been, figuratively speaking, positively
watering over the Masai Lygonani, and this he could not stand.
Placing his long hand on the Elmoran's shoulder he gripped it and
gave him such a twist as brought him face to face with himself.
Then, thrusting his fierce countenance to within a few inches of
the Masai's evil feather-framed features, he said in a low
growling voice: --
'Seest thou me?'
'Ay, fellow, I see thee.'
'And seest thou this?' and he held Inkosi-kaas before his eyes.
'Ay, fellow, I see the toy; what of it?'
'Thou Masai dog, thou boasting windbag, thou capturer of little
girls, with this "toy" will I hew thee limb from limb. Well for
thee that thou art a herald, or even now would I strew thy
members about the grass.'
The Masai shook his great spear and laughed loud and long as he
answered, 'I would that thou stoodst against me man to man, and
we would see,' and again he turned to go still laughing.
'Thou shalt stand against me man to man, be not afraid,' replied
Umslopogaas, still in the same ominous voice. 'Thou shalt stand
face to face with Umslopogaas, of the blood of Chaka, of the
people of the Amazulu, a captain in the regiment of the
Nkomabakosi, as many have done before, and bow thyself to
Inkosi-kaas, as many have done before. Ay, laugh on, laugh on!
tomorrow night shall the jackals laugh as they crunch thy ribs.'
When the Lygonani had gone, one of us thought of opening the
basket he had brought as a proof that Flossie was really their
prisoner. On lifting the lid it was found to contain a most
lovely specimen of both bulb and flower of the Goya lily, which I
have already described, in full bloom and quite uninjured, and
what was more a note in Flossie's childish hand written in pencil
upon a greasy piece of paper that had been used to wrap up some
food in: --
'DEAREST FATHER AND MOTHER,' ran the note, 'The Masai caught us
when we were coming home with the lily. I tried to escape but
could not. They killed Tom: the other man ran away. They have
not hurt nurse and me, but say that they mean to exchange us
against one of Mr Quatermain's party. I WILL HAVE NOTHING OF THE
SORT. Do not let anybody give his life for me. Try and attack
them at night; they are going to feast on three bullocks they
have stolen and killed. I have my pistol, and if no help comes
by dawn I will shoot myself. They shall not kill me. If so,
remember me always, dearest father and mother. I am very
frightened, but I trust in God. I dare not write any more as
they are beginning to notice. Goodbye. --FLOSSIE.'
Scrawled across the outside of this was 'Love to Mr Quatermain.
They are going to take the basket, so he will get the lily.'
When I read those words, written by that brave little girl in an
hour of danger sufficiently near and horrible to have turned the
brain of a strong man, I own I wept, and once more in my heart I
vowed that she should not die while my life could be given to
save her.
Then eagerly, quickly, almost fiercely, we fell to discussing the
situation. Again I said that I would go, and again Mackenzie
negatived it, and Curtis and Good, like the true men that they
are, vowed that, if I did, they would go with me, and die back to
back with me.
'It is,' I said at last, 'absolutely necessary that an effort of
some sort should be made before the morning.'
'Then let us attack them with what force we can muster, and take
our chance,' said Sir Henry.
'Ay, ay,' growled Umslopogaas, in Zulu; 'spoken like a man,
Incubu. What is there to be afraid of? Two hundred and fifty
Masai, forsooth! How many are we? The chief there [Mr
Mackenzie] has twenty men, and thou, Macumazahn, hast five men,
and there are also five white men--that is, thirty men in
all--enough, enough. Listen now, Macumazahn, thou who art very
clever and old in war. What says the maid? These men eat and
make merry; let it be their funeral feast. What said the dog
whom I hope to hew down at daybreak? That he feared no attack
because we were so few. Knowest thou the old kraal where the men
have camped? I saw it this morning; it is thus:' and he drew an
oval on the floor; 'here is the big entrance, filled up with
thorn bushes, and opening on to a steep rise. Why, Incubu, thou
and I with axes will hold it against an hundred men striving to
break out! Look, now; thus shall the battle go. Just as the
light begins to glint upon the oxen's horns--not before, or it
will be too dark, and not later, or they will be awakening and
perceive us--let Bougwan creep round with ten men to the top end
of the kraal, where the narrow entrance is. Let them silently
slay the sentry there so that he makes no sound, and stand ready.
Then, Incubu, let thee and me and one of the Askari--the one with
the broad chest--he is a brave man--creep to the wide entrance
that is filled with thorn bushes, and there also slay the sentry,
and armed with battleaxes take our stand also one on each side of
the pathway, and one a few paces beyond to deal with such as pass
the twain at the gate. It is there that the rush will come.
That will leave sixteen men. Let these men be divided into two
parties, with one of which shalt thou go, Macumazahn, and with
one the "praying man" [Mr Mackenzie], and, all armed with rifles,
let them make their way one to the right side of the kraal and
one to the left; and when thou, Macumazahn, lowest like an ox,
all shall open fire with the guns upon the sleeping men, being
very careful not to hit the little maid. Then shall Bougwan at
the far end and his ten men raise the war-cry, and, springing
over the wall, put the Masai there to the sword. And it shall
happen that, being yet heavy with food and sleep, and bewildered
by the firing of the guns, the falling of men, and the spears of
Bougwan, the soldiers shall rise and rush like wild game towards
the thorn-stopped entrance, and there the bullets from either
side shall plough through them, and there shall Incubu and the
Askari and I wait for those who break across. Such is my plan,
Macumazahn; if thou hast a better, name it.'
When he had done, I explained to the others such portions of his
scheme as they had failed to understand, and they all joined with
me in expressing the greatest admiration of the acute and skilful
programme devised by the old Zulu, who was indeed, in his own
savage fashion, the finest general I ever knew. After some
discussion we determined to accept the scheme, as it stood, it
being the only one possible under the circumstances, and giving
the best chance of success that such a forlorn hope would admit
of--which, however, considering the enormous odds and the
character of our foe, was not very great.
'Ah, old lion!' I said to Umslopogaas, 'thou knowest how to lie
in wait as well as how to bite, where to seize as well as where
to hang on.'
'Ay, ay, Macumazahn,' he answered. 'For thirty years have I been
a warrior, and have seen many things. It will be a good fight.
I smell blood--I tell thee, I smell blood.'
As may be imagined, at the very first sign of a Masai the entire
population of the Mission Station had sought refuge inside the
stout stone wall, and were now to be seen--men, women, and
countless children--huddled up together in little groups, and all
talking at once in awed tones of the awfulness of Masai manners
and customs, and of the fate that they had to expect if those
bloodthirsty savages succeeded in getting over the stone wall.
Immediately after we had settled upon the outline of our plan of
action as suggested by Umslopogaas, Mr Mackenzie sent for four
sharp boys of from twelve to fifteen years of age, and despatched
them to various points where they could keep an outlook upon the
Masai camp, with others to report from time to time what was
going on. Other lads and even women were stationed at intervals
along the wall in order to guard against the possibility of
After this the twenty men who formed his whole available fighting
force were summoned by our host into the square formed by the
house, and there, standing by the bole of the great conifer, he
earnestly addressed them and our four Askari. Indeed, it formed
a very impressive scene--one not likely to be forgotten by
anybody who witnessed it. Immediately by the tree stood the
angular form of Mr Mackenzie, one arm outstretched as he talked,
and the other resting against the giant bole, his hat off, and
his plain but kindly face clearly betraying the anguish of his
mind. Next to him was his poor wife, who, seated on a chair, had
her face hidden in her hand. On the other side of her was
Alphonse, looking exceedingly uncomfortable, and behind him stood
the three of us, with Umslopogaas' grim and towering form in the
background, resting, as usual, on his axe. In front stood and
squatted the group of armed men--some with rifles in their hands,
and others with spears and shields--following with eager
attention every word that fell from the speaker's lips. The
white light of the moon peering in beneath the lofty boughs threw
a strange wild glamour over the scene, whilst the melancholy
soughing of the night wind passing through the millions of pine
needles overhead added a sadness of its own to what was already a
sufficiently tragic occasion.
'Men,' said Mr Mackenzie, after he had put all the circumstances
of the case fully and clearly before them, and explained to them
the proposed plan of our forlorn hope--'men, for years I have
been a good friend to you, protecting you, teaching you, guarding
you and yours from harm, and ye have prospered with me. Ye have
seen my child--the Water-lily, as ye call her--grow year by year,
from tenderest infancy to tender childhood, and from childhood on
towards maidenhood. She has been your children's playmate, she
has helped to tend you when sick, and ye have loved her.'
'We have,' said a deep voice, 'and we will die to save her.'
'I thank you from my heart--I thank you. Sure am I that now, in
this hour of darkest trouble; now that her young life is like to
be cut off by cruel and savage men--who of a truth "know not what
they do"--ye will strive your best to save her, and to save me
and her mother from broken hearts. Think, too, of your own wives
and children. If she dies, her death will be followed by an
attack upon us here, and at the best, even if we hold our own,
your houses and gardens will be destroyed, and your goods and
cattle swept away. I am, as ye well know, a man of peace. Never
in all these years have I lifted my hand to shed man's blood; but
now I say strike, strike, in the name of God, Who bade us protect
our lives and homes. Swear to me,' he went on with added
fervour--'swear to me that whilst a man of you remains alive ye
will strive your uttermost with me and with these brave white men
to save the child from a bloody and cruel death.'
'Say no more, my father,' said the same deep voice, that belonged
to a stalwart elder of the Mission; 'we swear it. May we and
ours die the death of dogs, and our bones be thrown to the
jackals and the kites, if we break the oath! It is a fearful
thing to do, my father, so few to strike at so many, yet will we
do it or die in the doing. We swear!'
'Ay, thus say we all,' chimed in the others.
'Thus say we all,' said I.
'It is well,' went on Mr Mackenzie. 'Ye are true men and not
broken reeds to lean on. And now, friends--white and black
together--let us kneel and offer up our humble supplication to
the Throne of Power, praying that He in the hollow of Whose hand
lie all our lives, Who giveth life and giveth death, may be
pleased to make strong our arms that we may prevail in what
awaits us at the morning's light.'
And he knelt down, an example that we all followed except
Umslopogaas, who still stood in the background, grimly leaning on
Inkosi-kaas. The fierce old Zulu had no gods and worshipped
nought, unless it were his battleaxe.
'Oh God of gods!' began the clergyman, his deep voice, tremulous
with emotion, echoing up in the silence even to the leafy roof;
'Protector of the oppressed, Refuge of those in danger, Guardian
of the helpless, hear Thou our prayer! Almighty Father, to Thee
we come in supplication. Hear Thou our prayer! Behold, one
child hast Thou given us--an innocent child, nurtured in Thy
knowledge--and now she lies beneath the shadow of the sword, in
danger of a fearful death at the hands of savage men. Be with
her now, oh God, and comfort her! Save her, oh Heavenly Father!
Oh God of battle, Who teacheth our hands to war and our fingers
to fight, in Whose strength are hid the destinies of men, be Thou
with us in the hour of strife. When we go forth into the shadow
of death, make Thou us strong to conquer. Breathe Thou upon our
foes and scatter them; turn Thou their strength to water, and
bring their high-blown pride to nought; compass us about with Thy
protection; throw over us the shield of Thy power; forget us not
now in the hour of our sore distress; help us now that the cruel
man would dash our little ones against the stones! Hear Thou our
prayer! And for those of us who, kneeling now on earth in health
before Thee, shall at the sunrise adore Thy Presence on the
Throne, hear our prayer! Make them clean, oh God; wash away
their offences in the blood of the Lamb; and when their spirits
pass, oh receive Thou them into the haven of the just. Go forth,
oh Father, go forth with us into the battle, as with the
Israelites of old. Oh God of battle, hear Thou our prayer!'
He ceased, and after a moment's silence we all rose, and then
began our preparations in good earnest. As Umslopogaas said, it
was time to stop 'talking' and get to business. The men who were
to form each little party were carefully selected, and still more
carefully and minutely instructed as to what was to be done.
After much consideration it was agreed that the ten men led by
Good, whose duty it was to stampede the camp, were not to carry
firearms; that is, with the exception of Good himself, who had a
revolver as well as a short sword--the Masai 'sime' which I had
taken from the body of our poor servant who was murdered in the
canoe. We feared that if they had firearms the result of three
cross-fires carried on at once would be that some of our own
people would be shot; besides, it appeared to all of us that the
work they had to do would best be carried out with cold
steel--especially to Umslopogaas, who was, indeed, a great
advocate of cold steel. We had with us four Winchester repeating
rifles, besides half a dozen Martinis. I armed myself with one
of the repeaters--my own; an excellent weapon for this kind of
work, where great rapidity of fire is desirable, and fitted with
ordinary flap-sights instead of the cumbersome sliding mechanism
which they generally have. Mr Mackenzie took another, and the
two remaining ones were given to two of his men who understood
the use of them and were noted shots. The Martinis and some
rifles of Mr Mackenzie's were served out, together with a
plentiful supply of ammunition, to the other natives who were to
form the two parties whose duty it was to be to open fire from
separate sides of the kraal on the sleeping Masai, and who were
fortunately all more or less accustomed to the use of a gun.
As for Umslopogaas, we know how he was armed--with an axe. It
may be remembered that he, Sir Henry, and the strongest of the
Askari were to hold the thorn-stopped entrance to the kraal
against the anticipated rush of men striving to escape. Of
course, for such a purpose as this guns were useless. Therefore
Sir Henry and the Askari proceeded to arm themselves in like
fashion. It so happened that Mr Mackenzie had in his little
store a selection of the very best and English-made hammer-backed
axe-heads. Sir Henry selected one of these weighing about two
and a half pounds and very broad in the blade, and the Askari
took another a size smaller. After Umslopogaas had put an extra
edge on these two axe-heads, we fixed them to three feet six
helves, of which Mr Mackenzie fortunately had some in stock, made
of a light but exceedingly tough native wood, something like
English ash, only more springy. When two suitable helves had
been selected with great care and the ends of the hafts notched
to prevent the hand from slipping, the axe-heads were fixed on
them as firmly as possible, and the weapons immersed in a bucket
of water for half an hour. The result of this was to swell the
wood in the socket in such a fashion that nothing short of
burning would get it out again. When this important matter had
been attended to by Umslopogaas, I went into my room and
proceeded to open a little tin-lined deal case, which
contained--what do you think?--nothing more or less than four
mail shirts.
It had happened to us three on a previous journey that we had
made in another part of Africa to owe our lives to iron shirts of
native make, and remembering this, I had suggested before we
started on our present hazardous expedition that we should have
some made to fit us. There was a little difficulty about this,
as armour-making is pretty well an extinct art, but they can do
most things in the way of steel work in Birmingham if they are
put to it and you will pay the price, and the end of it was that
they turned us out the loveliest steel shirts it is possible to
see. The workmanship was exceedingly fine, the web being
composed of thousands upon thousands of stout but tiny rings of
the best steel made. These shirts, or rather steel-sleeved and
high-necked jerseys, were lined with ventilated wash leather,
were not bright, but browned like the barrel of a gun; and mine
weighed exactly seven pounds and fitted me so well that I found I
could wear it for days next to my skin without being chafed. Sir
Henry had two, one of the ordinary make, viz. a jersey with
little dependent flaps meant to afford some protection to the
upper part of the thighs, and another of his own design fashioned
on the pattern of the garments advertised as 'combinations' and
weighing twelve pounds. This combination shirt, of which the
seat was made of wash-leather, protected the whole body down to
the knees, but was rather more cumbersome, inasmuch as it had to
be laced up at the back and, of course, involved some extra
weight. With these shirts were what looked like four brown cloth
travelling caps with ear pieces. Each of these caps was,
however, quilted with steel links so as to afford a most valuable
protection for the head.
It seems almost laughable to talk of steel shirts in these days
of bullets, against which they are of course quite useless; but
where one has to do with savages, armed with cutting weapons such
as assegais or battleaxes, they afford the most valuable
protection, being, if well made, quite invulnerable to them. I
have often thought that if only the English Government had in our
savage wars, and more especially in the Zulu war, thought fit to
serve out light steel shirts, there would be many a man alive
today who, as it is, is dead and forgotten.
To return: on the present occasion we blessed our foresight in
bringing these shirts, and also our good luck, in that they had
not been stolen by our rascally bearers when they ran away with
our goods. As Curtis had two, and after considerable
deliberation, had made up his mind to wear his combination one
himself--the extra three or four pounds' weight being a matter of
no account to so strong a man, and the protection afforded to the
thighs being a very important matter to a fighting man not armed
with a shield of any kind--I suggested that he should lend the
other to Umslopogaas, who was to share the danger and the glory
of his post. He readily consented, and called the Zulu, who came
bearing Sir Henry's axe, which he had now fixed up to his
satisfaction, with him. When we showed him the steel shirt, and
explained to him that we wanted him to wear it, he at first
declined, saying that he had fought in his own skin for thirty
years, and that he was not going to begin now to fight in an iron
one. Thereupon I took a heavy spear, and, spreading the shirt
upon the floor, drove the spear down upon it with all my
strength, the weapon rebounding without leaving a mark upon the
tempered steel. This exhibition half converted him; and when I
pointed out to him how necessary it was that he should not let
any old-fashioned prejudices he might possess stand in the way of
a precaution which might preserve a valuable life at a time when
men were scarce, and also that if he wore this shirt he might
dispense with a shield, and so have both hands free, he yielded
at once, and proceeded to invest his frame with the 'iron skin'.
And indeed, although made for Sir Henry, it fitted the great Zulu
like a skin. The two men were almost of a height; and, though
Curtis looked the bigger man, I am inclined to think that the
difference was more imaginary than real, the fact being that,
although he was plumper and rounder, he was not really bigger,
except in the arm. Umslopogaas had, comparatively speaking, thin
arms, but they were as strong as wire ropes. At any rate, when
they both stood, axe in hand, invested in the brown mail, which
clung to their mighty forms like a web garment, showing the swell
of every muscle and the curve of every line, they formed a pair
that any ten men might shrink from meeting.
It was now nearly one o'clock in the morning, and the spies
reported that, after having drunk the blood of the oxen and eaten
enormous quantities of meat, the Masai were going to sleep round
their watchfires; but that sentries had been posted at each
opening of the kraal. Flossie, they added, was sitting not far
from the wall in the centre of the western side of the kraal, and
by her were the nurse and the white donkey, which was tethered to
a peg. Her feet were bound with a rope, and warriors were lying
about all round her.
As there was absolutely nothing further that could be done then
we all took some supper, and went to lie down for a couple of
hours. I could not help admiring the way in which old
Umslopogaas flung himself upon the floor, and, unmindful of what
was hanging over him, instantly sank into a deep sleep. I do not
know how it was with the others, but I could not do as much.
Indeed, as is usual with me on these occasions, I am sorry to say
that I felt rather frightened; and, now that some of the
enthusiasm had gone out of me, and I began to calmly contemplate
what we had undertaken to do, truth compels me to add that I did
not like it. We were but thirty men all told, a good many of
whom were no doubt quite unused to fighting, and we were going to
engage two hundred and fifty of the fiercest, bravest, and most
formidable savages in Africa, who, to make matters worse, were
protected by a stone wall. It was, indeed, a mad undertaking,
and what made it even madder was the exceeding improbability of
our being able to take up our positions without attracting the
notice of the sentries. Of course if we once did that--and any
slight accident, such as the chance discharge of a gun, might do
it--we were done for, for the whole camp would be up in a second,
and our only hope lay in surprise.
The bed whereon I lay indulging in these uncomfortable
reflections was near an open window that looked on to the
veranda, through which came an extraordinary sound of groaning
and weeping. For a time I could not make out what it was, but at
last I got up and, putting my head out of the window, stared
about. Presently I saw a dim figure kneeling on the end of the
veranda and beating his breast--in which I recognized Alphonse.
Not being able to understand his French talk or what on earth he
was at, I called to him and asked him what he was doing.
'Ah, monsieur,' he sighed, 'I do make prayer for the souls of
those whom I shall slay tonight.'
'Indeed,' I said, 'then I wish that you would do it a little more
Alphonse retreated, and I heard no more of his groans. And so
the time passed, till at length Mr Mackenzie called me in a
whisper through the window, for of course everything had now to
be done in the most absolute silence. 'Three o'clock,' he said:
'we must begin to move at half-past.'
I told him to come in, and presently he entered, and I am bound
to say that if it had not been that just then I had not got a
laugh anywhere about me, I should have exploded at the sight he
presented armed for battle. To begin with, he had on a
clergyman's black swallow-tail and a kind of broad-rimmed black
felt hat, both of which he had donned on account, he said, of
their dark colour. In his hand was the Winchester repeating
rifle we had lent him; and stuck in an elastic cricketing belt,
like those worn by English boys, were, first, a huge
buckhorn-handled carving knife with a guard to it, and next a
long-barrelled Colt's revolver.
'Ah, my friend,' he said, seeing me staring at his belt, 'you are
looking at my "carver". I thought it might come in handy if we
came to close quarters; it is excellent steel, and many is the
pig I have killed with it.'
By this time everybody was up and dressing. I put on a light
Norfolk jacket over my mail shirt in order to have a pocket handy
to hold my cartridges, and buckled on my revolver. Good did the
same, but Sir Henry put on nothing except his mail shirt,
steel-lined cap, and a pair of 'veldt-schoons' or soft hide
shoes, his legs being bare from the knees down. His revolver he
strapped on round his middle outside the armoured shirt.
Meanwhile Umslopogaas was mustering the men in the square under
the big tree and going the rounds to see that each was properly
armed, etc. At the last moment we made one change. Finding that
two of the men who were to have gone with the firing parties knew
little or nothing of guns, but were good spearsmen, we took away
their rifles, supplied them with shields and long spears of the
Masai pattern, and took them off to join Curtis, Umslopogaas, and
the Askari in holding the wide opening; it having become clear to
us that three men, however brave and strong, were too few for the
Then there was a pause, and we stood there in the chilly silent
darkness waiting till the moment came to start. It was, perhaps,
the most trying time of all--that slow, slow quarter of an hour.
The minutes seemed to drag along with leaden feet, and the quiet,
the solemn hush, that brooded over all--big, as it were, with a
coming fate, was most oppressive to the spirits. I once remember
having to get up before dawn to see a man hanged, and I then went
through a very similar set of sensations, only in the present
instance my feelings were animated by that more vivid and
personal element which naturally appertains rather to the person
to be operated on than to the most sympathetic spectator. The
solemn faces of the men, well aware that the short passage of an
hour would mean for some, and perhaps all of them, the last great
passage to the unknown or oblivion; the bated whispers in which
they spoke; even Sir Henry's continuous and thoughtful
examination of his woodcutter's axe and the fidgety way in which
Good kept polishing his eyeglass, all told the same tale of
nerves stretched pretty nigh to breaking-point. Only
Umslopogaas, leaning as usual upon Inkosi-kaas and taking an
occasional pinch of snuff, was to all appearance perfectly and
completely unmoved. Nothing could touch his iron nerves.
The moon went down. For a long while she had been getting nearer
and nearer to the horizon. Now she finally sank and left the
world in darkness save for a faint grey tinge in the eastern sky
that palely heralded the dawn.
Mr Mackenzie stood, watch in hand, his wife clinging to his arm
and striving to stifle her sobs.
'Twenty minutes to four,' he said, 'it ought to be light enough
to attack at twenty minutes past four. Captain Good had better
be moving, he will want three or four minutes' start.'
Good gave one final polish to his eyeglass, nodded to us in a
jocular sort of way--which I could not help feeling it must have
cost him something to muster up--and, ever polite, took off his
steel-lined cap to Mrs Mackenzie and started for his position at
the head of the kraal, to reach which he had to make a detour by
some paths known to the natives.
Just then one of the boys came in and reported that everybody in
the Masai camp, with the exception of the two sentries who were
walking up and down in front of the respective entrances,
appeared to be fast asleep. Then the rest of us took the road.
First came the guide, then Sir Henry, Umslopogaas, the Wakwafi
Askari, and Mr Mackenzie's two mission natives armed with long
spears and shields. I followed immediately after with Alphonse
and five natives all armed with guns, and Mr Mackenzie brought up
the rear with the six remaining natives.
The cattle kraal where the Masai were camped lay at the foot of
the hill on which the house stood, or, roughly speaking, about
eight hundred yards from the Mission buildings. The first five
hundred yards of this distance we traversed quietly indeed, but
at a good pace; after that we crept forward as silently as a
leopard on his prey, gliding like ghosts from bush to bush and
stone to stone. When I had gone a little way I chanced to look
behind me, and saw the redoubtable Alphonse staggering along with
white face and trembling knees, and his rifle, which was at full
cock, pointed directly at the small of my back. Having halted
and carefully put the rifle at 'safety', we started again, and
all went well till we were within one hundred yards or so of the
kraal, when his teeth began to chatter in the most aggressive
'If you don't stop that I will kill you,' I whispered savagely;
for the idea of having all our lives sacrificed to a
tooth-chattering cook was too much for me. I began to fear that
he would betray us, and heartily wished we had left him behind.
'But, monsieur, I cannot help it,' he answered, 'it is the cold.'
Here was a dilemma, but fortunately I devised a plan. In the
pocket of the coat I had on was a small piece of dirty rag that I
had used some time before to clean a gun with. 'Put this in your
mouth,' I whispered again, giving him the rag; 'and if I hear
another sound you are a dead man.' I knew that that would stifle
the clatter of his teeth. I must have looked as if I meant what
I said, for he instantly obeyed me, and continued his journey in
Then we crept on again.
At last we were within fifty yards of the kraal. Between us and
it was an open space of sloping grass with only one mimosa bush
and a couple of tussocks of a sort of thistle for cover. We were
still hidden in fairly thick bush. It was beginning to grow
light. The stars had paled and a sickly gleam played about the
east and was reflected on the earth. We could see the outline of
the kraal clearly enough, and could also make out the faint
glimmer of the dying embers of the Masai camp-fires. We halted
and watched, for the sentry we knew was posted at the opening.
Presently he appeared, a fine tall fellow, walking idly up and
down within five paces of the thorn-stopped entrance. We had
hoped to catch him napping, but it was not to be. He seemed
particularly wide awake. If we could not kill that man, and kill
him silently, we were lost. There we crouched and watched him.
Presently Umslopogaas, who was a few paces ahead of me, turned
and made a sign, and next second I saw him go down on his stomach
like a snake, and, taking an opportunity when the sentry's head
was turned, begin to work his way through the grass without a
The unconscious sentry commenced to hum a little tune, and
Umslopogaas crept on. He reached the shelter of the mimosa bush
unperceived and there waited. Still the sentry walked up and
down. Presently he turned and looked over the wall into the
camp. Instantly the human snake who was stalking him glided on
ten yards and got behind one of the tussocks of the thistle-like
plant, reaching it as the Elmoran turned again. As he did so his
eye fell upon this patch of thistles, and it seemed to strike him
that it did not look quite right. He advanced a pace towards
it--halted, yawned, stooped down, picked up a little pebble and
threw it at it. It hit Umslopogaas upon the head, luckily not
upon the armour shirt. Had it done so the clink would have
betrayed us. Luckily, too, the shirt was browned and not bright
steel, which would certainly have been detected. Apparently
satisfied that there was nothing wrong, he then gave over his
investigations and contented himself with leaning on his spear
and standing gazing idly at the tuft. For at least three minutes
did he stand thus, plunged apparently in a gentle reverie, and
there we lay in the last extremity of anxiety, expecting every
moment that we should be discovered or that some untoward
accident would happen. I could hear Alphonse's teeth going like
anything on the oiled rag, and turning my head round made an
awful face at him. But I am bound to state that my own heart was
at much the same game as the Frenchman's castanets, while the
perspiration was pouring from my body, causing the
wash-leather-lined shirt to stick to me unpleasantly, and
altogether I was in the pitiable state known by schoolboys as a
'blue fright'.
At last the ordeal came to an end. The sentry glanced at the
east, and appeared to note with satisfaction that his period of
duty was coming to an end--as indeed it was, once and for
all--for he rubbed his hands and began to walk again briskly to
warm himself.
The moment his back was turned the long black snake glided on
again, and reached the other thistle tuft, which was within a
couple of paces of his return beat.
Back came the sentry and strolled right past the tuft, utterly
unconscious of the presence that was crouching behind it. Had he
looked down he could scarcely have failed to see, but he did not
do so.
He passed, and then his hidden enemy erected himself, and with
outstretched hand followed in his tracks.
A moment more, and, just as the Elmoran was about to turn, the
great Zulu made a spring, and in the growing light we could see
his long lean hands close round the Masai's throat. Then
followed a convulsive twining of the two dark bodies, and in
another second I saw the Masai's head bent back, and heard a
sharp crack, something like that of a dry twig snapping, and he
fell down upon the ground, his limbs moving spasmodically.
Umslopogaas had put out all his iron strength and broken the
warrior's neck.
For a moment he knelt upon his victim, still gripping his throat
till he was sure that there was nothing more to fear from him,
and then he rose and beckoned to us to advance, which we did on
all fours, like a colony of huge apes. On reaching the kraal we
saw that the Masai had still further choked this entrance, which
was about ten feet wide--no doubt in order to guard against
attack--by dragging four or five tops of mimosa trees up to it.
So much the better for us, I reflected; the more obstruction
there was the slower would they be able to come through. Here we
separated; Mackenzie and his party creeping up under the shadow
of the wall to the left, while Sir Henry and Umslopogaas took
their stations one on each side of the thorn fence, the two
spearmen and the Askari lying down in front of it. I and my men
crept on up the right side of the kraal, which was about fifty
paces long.
When I was two-thirds up I halted, and placed my men at distances
of four paces from one another, keeping Alphonse close to me,
however. Then I peeped for the first time over the wall. It was
getting fairly light now, and the first thing I saw was the white
donkey, exactly opposite to me, and close by it I could make out
the pale face of little Flossie, who was sitting as the lad had
described, some ten paces from the wall. Round her lay many
warriors, sleeping. At distances all over the surface of the
kraal were the remains of fires, round each of which slept some
five-and-twenty Masai, for the most part gorged with food. Now
and then a man would raise himself, yawn, and look at the east,
which was turning primrose; but none got up. I determined to
wait another five minutes, both to allow the light to increase,
so that we could make better shooting, and to give Good and his
party--of whom we could see or hear nothing--every opportunity to
make ready.
The quiet dawn began to throw her ever-widening mantle over plain
and forest and river--mighty Kenia, wrapped in the silence of
eternal snows, looked out across the earth--till presently a beam
from the unrisen sun lit upon his heaven-kissing crest and
purpled it with blood; the sky above grew blue, and tender as a
mother's smile; a bird began to pipe his morning song, and a
little breeze passing through the bush shook down the dewdrops in
millions to refresh the waking world. Everywhere was peace and
the happiness of arising strength, everywhere save in the heart
of cruel man!
Suddenly, just as I was nerving myself for the signal, having
already selected my man on whom I meant to open fire--a great
fellow sprawling on the ground within three feet of little
Flossie--Alphonse's teeth began to chatter again like the hoofs
of a galloping giraffe, making a great noise in the silence. The
rag had dropped out in the agitation of his mind. Instantly a
Masai within three paces of us woke, and, sitting up, gazed about
him, looking for the cause of the sound. Moved beyond myself, I
brought the butt-end of my rifle down on to the pit of the
Frenchman's stomach. This stopped his chattering; but, as he
doubled up, he managed to let off his gun in such a manner that
the bullet passed within an inch of my head.
There was no need for a signal now. From both sides of the kraal
broke out a waving line of fire, in which I myself joined,
managing with a snap shot to knock over my Masai by Flossie, just
as he was jumping up. Then from the top end of the kraal there
rang an awful yell, in which I rejoiced to recognize Good's
piercing notes rising clear and shrill above the din, and in
another second followed such a scene as I have never seen before
nor shall again. With an universal howl of terror and fury the
brawny crowd of savages within the kraal sprang to their feet,
many of them to fall again beneath our well-directed hail of lead
before they had moved a yard. For a moment they stood undecided,
and then hearing the cries and curses that rose unceasingly from
the top end of the kraal, and bewildered by the storm of bullets,
they as by one impulse rushed down towards the thorn-stopped
entrance. As they went we kept pouring our fire with terrible
effect into the thickening mob as fast as we could load. I had
emptied my repeater of the ten shots it contained and was just
beginning to slip in some more when I bethought me of little
Flossie. Looking up, I saw that the white donkey was lying
kicking, having been knocked over either by one of our bullets or
a Masai spear-thrust. There were no living Masai near, but the
black nurse was on her feet and with a spear cutting the rope
that bound Flossie's feet. Next second she ran to the wall of
the kraal and began to climb over it, an example which the little
girl followed. But Flossie was evidently very stiff and cramped,
and could only go slowly, and as she went two Masai flying down
the kraal caught sight of her and rushed towards her to kill her.
The first fellow came up just as the poor little girl, after a
desperate effort to climb the wall, fell back into the kraal. Up
flashed the great spear, and as it did so a bullet from my rifle
found its home in the holder's ribs, and over he went like a shot
rabbit. But behind him was the other man, and, alas, I had only
that one cartridge in the magazine! Flossie had scrambled to her
feet and was facing the second man, who was advancing with raised
spear. I turned my head aside and felt sick as death. I could
not bear to see him stab her. Glancing up again, to my surprise
I saw the Masai's spear lying on the ground, while the man
himself was staggering about with both hands to his head.
Suddenly I saw a puff of smoke proceeding apparently from
Flossie, and the man fell down headlong. Then I remembered the
Derringer pistol she carried, and saw that she had fired both
barrels of it at him, thereby saving her life. In another
instant she had made an effort, and assisted by the nurse, who
was lying on the top, had scrambled over the wall, and I knew
that she was, comparatively speaking, safe.
All this takes time to tell, but I do not suppose that it took
more than fifteen seconds to enact. I soon got the magazine of
the repeater filled again with cartridges, and once more opened
fire, not on the seething black mass which was gathering at the
end of the kraal, but on fugitives who bethought them to climb
the wall. I picked off several of these men, moving down towards
the end of the kraal as I did so, and arriving at the corner, or
rather the bend of the oval, in time to see, and by means of my
rifle to assist in, the mighty struggle that took place there.
By this time some two hundred Masai--allowing that we had up to
the present accounted for fifty--had gathered together in front
of the thorn-stopped entrance, drive thither by the spears of
Good's men, whom they doubtless supposed were a large force
instead of being but ten strong. For some reason it never
occurred to them to try and rush the wall, which they could have
scrambled over with comparative ease; they all made for the
fence, which was really a strongly interwoven fortification.
With a bound the first warrior went at it, and even before he
touched the ground on the other side I saw Sir Henry's great axe
swing up and fall with awful force upon his feather head-piece,
and he sank into the middle of the thorns. Then with a yell and
a crash they began to break through as they might, and ever as
they came the great axe swung and Inkosi-kaas flashed and they
fell dead one by one, each man thus helping to build up a barrier
against his fellows. Those who escaped the axes of the pair fell
at the hands of the Askari and the two Mission Kaffirs, and those
who passed scatheless from them were brought low by my own and
Mackenzie's fire.
Faster and more furious grew the fighting. Single Masai would
spring upon the dead bodies of their comrades, and engage one or
other of the axemen with their long spears; but, thanks chiefly
to the mail shirts, the result was always the same. Presently
there was a great swing of the axe, a crashing sound, and another
dead Masai. That is, if the man was engaged with Sir Henry. If
it was Umslopogaas that he fought with the result indeed would be
the same, but it would be differently attained. It was but
rarely that the Zulu used the crashing double-handed stroke; on
the contrary, he did little more than tap continually at his
adversary's head, pecking at it with the pole-axe end of the axe
as a woodpecker *{As I think I have already said, one of
Umslopogaas's Zulu names was the 'Woodpecker'. I could never
make out why he was called so until I saw him in action with
Inkosi-kaas, when I at once recognized the resemblance. --A. Q.}
pecks at rotten wood. Presently a peck would go home, and his
enemy would drop down with a neat little circular hole in his
forehead or skull, exactly similar to that which a cheese-scoop
makes in a cheese. He never used the broad blade of the axe
except when hard pressed, or when striking at a shield. He told
me afterwards that he did not consider it sportsmanlike.
Good and his men were quite close by now, and our people had to
cease firing into the mass for fear of killing some of them (as
it was, one of them was slain in this way). Mad and desperate
with fear, the Masai by a frantic effort burst through the thorn
fence and piled-up dead, and, sweeping Curtis, Umslopogaas, and
the other three before them, into the open. And now it was that
we began to lose men fast. Down went our poor Askari who was
armed with the axe, a great spear standing out a foot behind his
back; and before long the two spearsmen who had stood with him
went down too, dying fighting like tigers; and others of our
party shared their fate. For a moment I feared the fight was
lost--certainly it trembled in the balance. I shouted to my men
to cast down their rifles, and to take spears and throw
themselves into the meleee. They obeyed, their blood being now
thoroughly up, and Mr Mackenzie's people followed their example.
This move had a momentary good result, but still the fight hung
in the balance.
Our people fought magnificently, hurling themselves upon the dark
mass of Elmoran, hewing, thrusting, slaying, and being slain.
And ever above the din rose Good's awful yell of encouragement as
he plunged to wherever the fight was thickest; and ever, with an
almost machine-like regularity, the two axes rose and fell,
carrying death and disablement at every stroke. But I could see
that the strain was beginning to tell upon Sir Henry, who was
bleeding from several flesh wounds: his breath was coming in
gasps, and the veins stood out on his forehead like blue and
knotted cords. Even Umslopogaas, man of iron that he was, was
hard pressed. I noticed that he had given up 'woodpecking', and
was now using the broad blade of Inkosi-kaas, 'browning' his
enemy wherever he could hit him, instead of drilling scientific
holes in his head. I myself did not go into the melee, but
hovered outside like the swift 'back' in a football scrimmage,
putting a bullet through a Masai whenever I got a chance. I was
more use so. I fired forty-nine cartridges that morning, and I
did not miss many shots.
Presently, do as we would, the beam of the balance began to rise
against us. We had not more than fifteen or sixteen effectives
left now, and the Masai had at least fifty. Of course if they
had kept their heads, and shaken themselves together, they could
soon have made an end of the matter; but that is just what they
did not do, not having yet recovered from their start, and some
of them having actually fled from their sleeping-places without
their weapons. Still by now many individuals were fighting with
their normal courage and discretion, and this alone was
sufficient to defeat us. To make matters worse just then, when
Mackenzie's rifle was empty, a brawny savage armed with a 'sime',
or sword, made a rush for him. The clergyman flung down his gun,
and drawing his huge carver from his elastic belt (his revolver
had dropped out in the fight), they closed in desperate struggle.
Presently, locked in a close embrace, missionary and Masai rolled
on the ground behind the wall, and for some time I, being amply
occupied with my own affairs, and in keeping my skin from being
pricked, remained in ignorance of his fate or how the duel had
To and fro surged the fight, slowly turning round like the vortex
of a human whirlpool, and the matter began to look very bad for
us. Just then, however, a fortunate thing happened.
Umslopogaas, either by accident or design, broke out of the ring
and engaged a warrior at some few paces from it. As he did so,
another man ran up and struck him with all his force between his
shoulders with his great spear, which, falling on the tough steel
shirt, failed to pierce it and rebounded. For a moment the man
stared aghast--protective armour being unknown among these
tribes--and then he yelled out at the top of his voice--
panic, he threw down his spear, and began to fly. I cut short
his career with a bullet, and Umslopogaas brained his man, and
then the panic spread to the others.
'BEWITCHED, BEWITCHED!' they cried, and tried to escape in every
direction, utterly demoralized and broken-spirited, for the most
part even throwing down their shields and spears.
On the last scene of that dreadful fight I need not dwell. It
was a slaughter great and grim, in which no quarter was asked or
given. One incident, however, is worth detailing. Just as I was
hoping that it was all done with, suddenly from under a heap of
slain where he had been hiding, an unwounded warrior sprang up,
and, clearing the piles of dying dead like an antelope, sped like
the wind up the kraal towards the spot where I was standing at
the moment. But he was not alone, for Umslopogaas came gliding
on his tracks with the peculiar swallow-like motion for which he
was noted, and as they neared me I recognized in the Masai the
herald of the previous night. Finding that, run as he would, his
pursuer was gaining on him, the man halted and turned round to
give battle. Umslopogaas also pulled up.
'Ah, ah,' he cried, in mockery, to the Elmoran, 'it is thou whom
I talked with last night--the Lygonani! the Herald! the capturer
of little girls--he who would kill a little girl! And thou didst
hope to stand man to man and face to face with Umslopogaas, an
Induna of the tribe of the Maquilisini, of the people of the
Amazulu? Behold, thy prayer is granted! And I didst swear to
hew thee limb from limb, thou insolent dog. Behold, I will do it
even now!'
The Masai ground his teeth with fury, and charged at the Zulu
with his spear. As he came, Umslopogaas deftly stepped aside,
and swinging Inkosi-kaas high above his head with both hands,
brought the broad blade down with such fearful force from behind
upon the Masai's shoulder just where the neck is set into the
frame, that its razor edge shore right through bone and flesh and
muscle, almost severing the head and one arm from the body.
'OU!' ejaculated Umslopogaas, contemplating the corpse of his
foe; 'I have kept my word. It was a good stroke.'
And so the fight was ended. On returning from the shocking scene
it sudden struck me that I had seen nothing of Alphonse since the
moment, some twenty minutes before--for though this fight has
taken a long while to describe, it did not take long in
reality--when I had been forced to hit him in the wind with the
result of nearly getting myself shot. Fearing that the poor
little man had perished in the battle, I began to hunt among the
dead for his body, but, not being able either to see or hear
anything of it, I concluded that he must have survived, and
walked down the side of the kraal where we had first taken our
stand, calling him by name. Now some fifteen paces back from the
kraal wall stood a very ancient tree of the banyan species. So
ancient was it that all the inside had in the course of ages
decayed away, leaving nothing but a shell of bark.
'Alphonse,' I called, as I walked down the wall. 'Alphonse!'
'Oui, monsieur,' answered a voice. 'Here am I.'
I looked round but could see nobody. 'Where?' I cried.
'Here am I, monsieur, in the tree.'
I looked, and there, peering out of a hole in the trunk of the
banyan about five feet from the ground, I saw a pale face and a
pair of large mustachios, one clipped short and the other as
lamentably out of curl as the tail of a newly whipped pug. Then,
for the first time, I realized what I had suspected
before--namely, that Alphonse was an arrant coward. I walked up
to him. 'Come out of that hole,' I said.
'Is it finished, monsieur?' he asked anxiously; 'quite finished?
Ah, the horrors I have undergone, and the prayers I have
'Come out, you little wretch,' I said, for I did not feel
amiable; 'it is all over.'
'So, monsieur, then my prayers have prevailed? I emerge,' and he
As we were walking down together to join the others, who were
gathered in a group by the wide entrance to the kraal, which now
resembled a veritable charnel-house, a Masai, who had escaped so
far and been hiding under a bush, suddenly sprang up and charged
furiously at us. Off went Alphonse with a howl of terror, and
after him flew the Masai, bent upon doing some execution before
he died. He soon overtook the poor little Frenchman, and would
have finished him then and there had I not, just as Alphonse made
a last agonized double in the vain hope of avoiding the yard of
steel that was flashing in his immediate rear, managed to plant a
bullet between the Elmoran's broad shoulders, which brought
matters to a satisfactory conclusion so far as the Frenchman was
concerned. But just then he tripped and fell flat, and the body
of the Masai fell right on the top of him, moving convulsively in
the death struggle. Thereupon there arose such a series of
piercing howls that I concluded that before he died the savage
must have managed to stab poor Alphonse. I ran up in a hurry and
pulled the Masai off, and there beneath him lay Alphonse covered
with blood and jerking himself about like a galvanized frog.
Poor fellow! thought I, he is done for, and kneeling down by him
I began to search for his wound as well as his struggles would
'Oh, the hole in my back!' he yelled. 'I am murdered. I am
dead. Oh, Annette!'
I searched again, but could see no wound. Then the truth dawned
on me--the man was frightened, not hurt.
'Get up!' I shouted, 'Get up. Aren't you ashamed of yourself?
You are not touched.'
Thereupon he rose, not a penny the worse. 'But, monsieur, I
thought I was,' he said apologetically; 'I did not know that I
had conquered.' Then, giving the body of the Masai a kick, he
ejaculated triumphantly, 'Ah, dog of a black savage, thou art
dead; what victory!'
Thoroughly disgusted, I left Alphonse to look after himself,
which he did by following me like a shadow, and proceeded to join
the others by the large entrance. The first thing that I saw was
Mackenzie, seated on a stone with a handkerchief twisted round
his thigh, from which he was bleeding freely, having, indeed,
received a spear-thrust that passed right through it, and still
holding in his hand his favourite carving knife now bent nearly
double, from which I gathered that he had been successful in his
rough and tumble with the Elmoran.
'Ah, Quatermain!' he sang out in a trembling, excited voice, 'so
we have conquered; but it is a sorry sight, a sorry sight;' and
then breaking into broad Scotch and glancing at the bent knife in
his hand, 'It fashes me sair to have bent my best carver on the
breastbone of a savage,' and he laughed hysterically. Poor
fellow, what between his wound and the killing excitement he had
undergone his nerves were much shaken, and no wonder! It is hard
upon a man of peace and kindly heart to be called upon to join in
such a gruesome business. But there, fate puts us sometimes into
very comical positions!
At the kraal entrance the scene was a strange one. The slaughter
was over by now, and the wounded men had been put out of their
pain, for no quarter had been given. The bush-closed entrance
was trampled flat, and in place of bushes it was filled with the
bodies of dead men. Dead men, everywhere dead men--they lay
about in knots, they were flung by ones and twos in every
position upon the open spaces, for all the world like the people
on the grass in one of the London parks on a particularly hot
Sunday in August. In front of this entrance, on a space which
had been cleared of dead and of the shields and spears which were
scattered in all directions as they had fallen or been thrown
from the hands of their owners, stood and lay the survivors of
the awful struggle, and at their feet were four wounded men. We
had gone into the fight thirty strong, and of the thirty but
fifteen remained alive, and five of them (including Mr Mackenzie)
were wounded, two mortally. Of those who held the entrance,
Curtis and the Zulu alone remained. Good had lost five men
killed, I had lost two killed, and Mackenzie no less than five
out of the six with him. As for the survivors they were, with
the exception of myself who had never come to close quarters, red
from head to foot--Sir Henry's armour might have been painted
that colour--and utterly exhausted, except Umslopogaas, who, as
he grimly stood on a little mound above a heap of dead, leaning
as usual upon his axe, did not seem particularly distressed,
although the skin over the hole in his head palpitated violently.
'Ah, Macumazahn!' he said to me as I limped up, feeling very
sick, 'I told thee that it would be a good fight, and it has.
Never have I seen a better, or one more bravely fought. As for
this iron shirt, surely it is "tagati" [bewitched]; nothing could
pierce it. Had it not been for the garment I should have been
THERE,' and he nodded towards the great pile of dead men beneath
'I give it thee; thou art a brave man,' said Sir Henry, briefly.
'Koos!' answered the Zulu, deeply pleased both at the gift and
the compliment. 'Thou, too, Incubu, didst bear thyself as a man,
but I must give thee some lessons with the axe; thou dost waste
thy strength.'
Just then Mackenzie asked about Flossie, and we were all greatly
relieved when one of the men said he had seen her flying towards
the house with the nurse. Then bearing such of the wounded as
could be moved at the moment with us, we slowly made our way
towards the Mission-house, spent with toil and bloodshed, but
with the glorious sense of victory against overwhelming odds
glowing in our hearts. We had saved the life of the little maid,
and taught the Masai of those parts a lesson that they will not
forget for ten years--but at what a cost!
Painfully we made our way up the hill which, just a little more
than an hour before, we had descended under such different
circumstances. At the gate of the wall stood Mrs Mackenzie
waiting for us. When her eyes fell upon us, however, she
shrieked out, and covered her face with her hands, crying,
'Horrible, horrible!' Nor were her fears allayed when she
discovered her worthy husband being borne upon an improvized
stretcher; but her doubts as to the nature of his injury were
soon set at rest. Then when in a few brief words I had told her
the upshot of the struggle (of which Flossie, who had arrived in
safety, had been able to explain something) she came up to me and
solemnly kissed me on the forehead.
'God bless you all, Mr Quatermain; you have saved my child's
life,' she said simply.
Then we went in and got our clothes off and doctored our wounds;
I am glad to say I had none, and Sir Henry's and Good's were,
thanks to those invaluable chain shirts, of a comparatively
harmless nature, and to be dealt with by means of a few stitches
and sticking-plaster. Mackenzie's, however, were serious, though
fortunately the spear had not severed any large artery. After
that we had a bath, and what a luxury it was! And having clad
ourselves in ordinary clothes, proceeded to the dining-room,
where breakfast was set as usual. It was curious sitting down
there, drinking tea and eating toast in an ordinary
nineteenth-century sort of way just as though we had not employed
the early hours in a regular primitive hand-to-hand Middle-Ages
kind of struggle. As Good said, the whole thing seemed more as
though one had had a bad nightmare just before being called, than
as a deed done. When we were finishing our breakfast the door
opened, and in came little Flossie, very pale and tottery, but
quite unhurt. She kissed us all and thanked us. I congratulated
her on the presence of mind she had shown in shooting the Masai
with her Derringer pistol, and thereby saving her own life.
'Oh, don't talk of it!' she said, beginning to cry hysterically;
'I shall never forget his face as he went turning round and
round, never--I can see it now.'
I advised her to go to bed and get some sleep, which she did, and
awoke in the evening quite recovered, so far as her strength was
concerned. It struck me as an odd thing that a girl who could
find the nerve to shoot a huge black ruffian rushing to kill her
with a spear should have been so affected at the thought of it
afterwards; but it is, after all, characteristic of the sex.
Poor Flossie! I fear that her nerves will not get over that
night in the Masai camp for many a long year. She told me
afterwards that it was the suspense that was so awful, having to
sit there hour after hour through the livelong night utterly
ignorant as to whether or not any attempt was to be made to
rescue her. She said that on the whole she did not expect it,
knowing how few of us, and how many of the Masai--who, by the
way, came continually to stare at her, most of them never having
seen a white person before, and handled her arms and hair with
their filthy paws. She said also that she had made up her mind
that if she saw no signs of succour by the time the first rays of
the rising sun reached the kraal she would kill herself with the
pistol, for the nurse had heard the Lygonani say that they were
to be tortured to death as soon as the sun was up if one of the
white men did not come in their place. It was an awful
resolution to have to take, but she meant to act on it, and I
have little doubt but what she would have done so. Although she
was at an age when in England girls are in the schoolroom and
come down to dessert, this 'child of the wilderness' had more
courage, discretion, and power of mind than many a woman of
mature age nurtured in idleness and luxury, with minds carefully
drilled and educated out of any originality or self-resource that
nature may have endowed them with.
When breakfast was over we all turned in and had a good sleep,
only getting up in time for dinner; after which meal we once more
adjourned, together with all the available population--men,
women, youths, and girls--to the scene of the morning's
slaughter, our object being to bury our own dead and get rid of
the Masai by flinging them into the Tana River, which ran within
fifty yards of the kraal. On reaching the spot we disturbed
thousands upon thousands of vultures and a sort of brown bush
eagle, which had been flocking to the feast from miles and miles
away. Often have I watched these great and repulsive birds, and
marvelled at the extraordinary speed with which they arrive on a
scene of slaughter. A buck falls to your rifle, and within a
minute high in the blue ether appears a speck that gradually
grows into a vulture, then another, and another. I have heard
many theories advanced to account for the wonderful power of
perception nature has given these birds. My own, founded on a
good deal of observation, is that the vultures, gifted as they
are with powers of sight greater than those given by the most
powerful glass, quarter out the heavens among themselves, and
hanging in mid-air at a vast height--probably from two to three
miles above the earth--keep watch, each of them, over an enormous
stretch of country. Presently one of them spies food, and
instantly begins to sink towards it. Thereon his next neighbour
in the airy heights sailing leisurely through the blue gulf, at a
distance perhaps of some miles, follows his example, knowing that
food has been sighted. Down he goes, and all the vultures within
sight of him follow after, and so do all those in sight of them.
In this way the vultures for twenty miles round can be summoned
to the feast in a few minutes.
We buried our dead in solemn silence, Good being selected to read
the Burial Service over them (in the absence of Mr Mackenzie,
confined to bed), as he was generally allowed to possess the best
voice and most impressive manner. It was melancholy in the
extreme, but, as Good said, it might have been worse, for we
might have had 'to bury ourselves'. I pointed out that this
would have been a difficult feat, but I knew what he meant.
Next we set to work to load an ox-wagon which had been brought
round from the Mission with the dead bodies of the Masai, having
first collected the spears, shields, and other arms. We loaded
the wagon five times, about fifty bodies to the load, and emptied
it into the Tana. From this it was evident that very few of the
Masai could have escaped. The crocodiles must have been well fed
that night. One of the last bodies we picked up was that of the
sentry at the upper end. I asked Good how he managed to kill
him, and he told me that he had crept up much as Umslopogaas had
done, and stabbed him with his sword. He groaned a good deal,
but fortunately nobody heard him. As Good said, it was a
horrible thing to have to do, and most unpleasantly like
cold-blooded murder.
And so with the last body that floated away down the current of
the Tana ended the incident of our attack on the Masai camp. The
spears and shields and other arms we took up to the Mission,
where they filled an outhouse. One incident, however, I must not
forget to mention. As we were returning from performing the
obsequies of our Masai friends we passed the hollow tree where
Alphonse had secreted himself in the morning. It so happened
that the little man himself was with us assisting in our
unpleasant task with a far better will than he had shown where
live Masai were concerned. Indeed, for each body that he handled
he found an appropriate sarcasm. Alphonse throwing Masai into
the Tana was a very different creature from Alphonse flying for
dear life from the spear of a live Masai. He was quite merry and
gay, he clapped his hands and warbled snatches of French songs as
the grim dead warriors went 'splash' into the running waters to
carry a message of death and defiance to their kindred a hundred
miles below. In short, thinking that he wanted taking down a
peg, I suggested holding a court-martial on him for his conduct
in the morning.
Accordingly we brought him to the tree where he had hidden, and
proceeded to sit in judgment on him, Sir Henry explaining to him
in the very best French the unheard-of cowardice and enormity of
his conduct, more especially in letting the oiled rag out of his
mouth, whereby he nearly aroused the Masai camp with
teeth-chattering and brought about the failure of our plans:
ending up with a request for an explanation.
But if we expected to find Alphonse at a loss and put him to open
shame we were destined to be disappointed. He bowed and scraped
and smiled, and acknowledged that his conduct might at first
blush appear strange, but really it was not, inasmuch as his
teeth were not chattering from fear--oh, dear no! oh, certainly
not! he marvelled how the 'messieurs' could think of such a
thing--but from the chill air of the morning. As for the rag, if
monsieur could have but tasted its evil flavour, being compounded
indeed of a mixture of stale paraffin oil, grease, and gunpowder,
monsieur himself would have spat it out. But he did nothing of
the sort; he determined to keep it there till, alas! his stomach
'revolted', and the rag was ejected in an access of involuntary
'And what have you to say about getting into the hollow tree?'
asked Sir Henry, keeping his countenance with difficulty.
'But, monsieur, the explanation is easy; oh, most easy! it was
thus: I stood there by the kraal wall, and the little grey
monsieur hit me in the stomach so that my rifle exploded, and the
battle began. I watched whilst recovering myself from monsieur's
cruel blow; then, messieurs, I felt the heroic blood of my
grandfather boil up in my veins. The sight made me mad. I
ground my teeth! Fire flashed from my eyes! I shouted "En
avant!" and longed to slay. Before my eyes there rose a vision
of my heroic grandfather! In short, I was mad! I was a warrior
indeed! But then in my heart I heard a small voice: "Alphonse,"
said the voice, "restrain thyself, Alphonse! Give not way to
this evil passion! These men, though black, are brothers! And
thou wouldst slay them? Cruel Alphonse!" The voice was right.
I knew it; I was about to perpetrate the most horrible cruelties:
to wound! to massacre! to tear limb from limb! And how restrain
myself? I looked round; I saw the tree, I perceived the hole.
"Entomb thyself," said the voice, "and hold on tight! Thou wilt
thus overcome temptation by main force!" It was bitter, just
when the blood of my heroic grandfather boiled most fiercely; but
I obeyed! I dragged my unwilling feet along; I entombed myself!
Through the hole I watched the battle! I shouted curses and
defiance on the foe! I noted them fall with satisfaction! Why
not? I had not robbed them of their lives. Their gore was not
upon my head. The blood of my heroic--'
'Oh, get along with you, you little cur!' broke out Sir Henry,
with a shout of laughter, and giving Alphonse a good kick which
sent him flying off with a rueful face.
In the evening I had an interview with Mr Mackenzie, who was
suffering a good deal from his wounds, which Good, who was a
skilful though unqualified doctor, was treating him for. He told
me that this occurrence had taught him a lesson, and that, if he
recovered safely, he meant to hand over the Mission to a younger
man, who was already on his road to join him in his work, and
return to England.
'You see, Quatermain,' he said, 'I made up my mind to it, this
very morning, when we were creeping down those benighted savages.
"If we live through this and rescue Flossie alive," I said to
myself, "I will go home to England; I have had enough of
savages." Well, I did not think that we should live through it
at the time; but thanks be to God and you four, we have lived
through it, and I mean to stick to my resolution, lest a worse
thing befall us. Another such time would kill my poor wife. And
besides, Quatermain, between you and me, I am well off; it is
thirty thousand pounds I am worth today, and every farthing of it
made by honest trade and savings in the bank at Zanzibar, for
living here costs me next to nothing. So though it will be hard
to leave this place, which I have made to blossom like a rose in
the wilderness, and harder still to leave the people I have
taught, I shall go.'
'I congratulate you on your decision,' answered I, 'for two
reasons. The first is, that you owe a duty to your wife and
daughter, and more especially to the latter, who should receive
some education and mix with girls of her own race, otherwise she
will grow up wild, shunning her kind. The other is, that as sure
as I am standing here, sooner or later the Masai will try to
avenge the slaughter inflicted on them today. Two or three men
are sure to have escaped the confusion who will carry the story
back to their people, and the result will be that a great
expedition will one day be sent against you. It might be delayed
for a year, but sooner or later it will come. Therefore, if only
for that reason, I should go. When once they have learnt that
you are no longer here they may perhaps leave the place alone.'
*{By a sad coincidence, since the above was written by Mr
Quatermain, the Masai have, in April 1886, massacred a missionary
and his wife--Mr and Mrs Houghton--on this very Tana River, and
at the spot described. These are, I believe, the first white
people who are known to have fallen victims to this cruel tribe.
'You are quite right,' answered the clergyman. 'I will turn my
back upon this place in a month. But it will be a wrench, it
will be a wrench.'
A week had passed, and we all sat at supper one night in the
Mission dining-room, feeling very much depressed in spirits, for
the reason that we were going to say goodbye to our kind friends,
the Mackenzies, and depart upon our way at dawn on the morrow.
Nothing more had been seen or heard of the Masai, and save for a
spear or two which had been overlooked and was rusting in the
grass, and a few empty cartridges where we had stood outside the
wall, it would have been difficult to tell that the old cattle
kraal at the foot of the slope had been the scene of so desperate
a struggle. Mackenzie was, thanks chiefly to his being so
temperate a man, rapidly recovering from his wound, and could get
about on a pair of crutches; and as for the other wounded men,
one had died of gangrene, and the rest were in a fair way to
recovery. Mr Mackenzie's caravan of men had also returned from
the coast, so that the station was now amply garrisoned.
Under these circumstances we concluded, warm and pressing as were
the invitations for us to stay, that it was time to move on,
first to Mount Kenia, and thence into the unknown in search of
the mysterious white race which we had set our hearts on
discovering. This time we were going to progress by means of the
humble but useful donkey, of which we had collected no less than
a dozen, to carry our goods and chattels, and, if necessary,
ourselves. We had now but two Wakwafis left for servants, and
found it quite impossible to get other natives to venture with us
into the unknown parts we proposed to explore--and small blame to
them. After all, as Mr Mackenzie said, it was odd that three
men, each of whom possessed many of those things that are
supposed to make life worth living--health, sufficient means, and
position, etc.--should from their own pleasure start out upon a
wild-goose chase, from which the chances were they never would
return. But then that is what Englishmen are, adventurers to the
backbone; and all our magnificent muster-roll of colonies, each
of which will in time become a great nation, testify to the
extraordinary value of the spirit of adventure which at first
sight looks like a mild form of lunacy. 'Adventurer'--he that
goes out to meet whatever may come. Well, that is what we all do
in the world one way or another, and, speaking for myself, I am
proud of the title, because it implies a brave heart and a trust
in Providence. Besides, when many and many a noted Croesus, at
whose feet the people worship, and many and many a time-serving
and word-coining politician are forgotten, the names of those
grand-hearted old adventurers who have made England what she is,
will be remembered and taught with love and pride to little
children whose unshaped spirits yet slumber in the womb of
centuries to be. Not that we three can expect to be numbered
with such as these, yet have we done something--enough, perhaps,
to throw a garment over the nakedness of our folly.
That evening, whilst we were sitting on the veranda, smoking a
pipe before turning in, who should come up to us but Alphonse,
and, with a magnificent bow, announce his wish for an interview.
Being requested to 'fire away', he explained at some length that
he was anxious to attach himself to our party--a statement that
astonished me not a little, knowing what a coward the little man
was. The reason, however, soon appeared. Mr Mackenzie was going
down to the coast, and thence on to England. Now, if he went
down country, Alphonse was persuaded that he would be seized,
extradited, sent to France, and to penal servitude. This was the
idea that haunted him, as King Charles's head haunted Mr Dick,
and he brooded over it till his imagination exaggerated the
danger ten times. As a matter of fact, the probability is that
his offence against the laws of his country had long ago been
forgotten, and that he would have been allowed to pass unmolested
anywhere except in France; but he could not be got to see this.
Constitutional coward as the little man was, he infinitely
preferred to face the certain hardships and great risks and
dangers of such an expedition as ours, than to expose himself,
notwithstanding his intense longing for his native land, to the
possible scrutiny of a police officer--which is after all only
another exemplification of the truth that, to the majority of
men, a far-off foreseen danger, however shadowy, is much more
terrible than the most serious present emergency. After
listening to what he had to say, we consulted among ourselves,
and finally agreed, with Mr Mackenzie's knowledge and consent, to
accept his offer. To begin with, we were very short-handed, and
Alphonse was a quick, active fellow, who could turn his hand to
anything, and cook--ah, he COULD cook! I believe that he would
have made a palatable dish of those gaiters of his heroic
grandfather which he was so fond of talking about. Then he was a
good-tempered little man, and merry as a monkey, whilst his
pompous, vainglorious talk was a source of infinite amusement to
us; and what is more, he never bore malice. Of course, his being
so pronounced a coward was a great drawback to him, but now that
we knew his weakness we could more or less guard against it. So,
after warning him of the undoubted risks he was exposing himself
to, we told him that we would accept his offer on condition that
he would promise implicit obedience to our orders. We also
promised to give him wages at the rate of ten pounds a month
should he ever return to a civilized country to receive them. To
all of this he agreed with alacrity, and retired to write a
letter to his Annette, which Mr Mackenzie promised to post when
he got down country. He read it to us afterwards, Sir Henry
translating, and a wonderful composition it was. I am sure the
depth of his devotion and the narration of his sufferings in a
barbarous country, 'far, far from thee, Annette, for whose adored
sake I endure such sorrow,' ought to have touched the feelings of
the stoniest-hearted chambermaid.
Well, the morrow came, and by seven o'clock the donkeys were all
loaded, and the time of parting was at hand. It was a melancholy
business, especially saying goodbye to dear little Flossie. She
and I were great friends, and often used to have talks
together--but her nerves had never got over the shock of that
awful night when she lay in the power of those bloodthirsty
Masai. 'Oh, Mr Quatermain,' she cried, throwing her arms round
my neck and bursting into tears, 'I can't bear to say goodbye to
you. I wonder when we shall meet again?'
'I don't know, my dear little girl,' I said, 'I am at one end of
life and you are at the other. I have but a short time before me
at best, and most things lie in the past, but I hope that for you
there are many long and happy years, and everything lies in the
future. By-and-by you will grow into a beautiful woman, Flossie,
and all this wild life will be like a far-off dream to you; but I
hope, even if we never do meet again, that you will think of your
old friend and remember what I say to you now. Always try to be
good, my dear, and to do what is right, rather than what happens
to be pleasant, for in the end, whatever sneering people may say,
what is good and what is happy are the same. Be unselfish, and
whenever you can, give a helping hand to others--for the world is
full of suffering, my dear, and to alleviate it is the noblest
end that we can set before us. If you do that you will become a
sweet and God-fearing woman, and make many people's lives a
little brighter, and then you will not have lived, as so many of
your sex do, in vain. And now I have given you a lot of
old-fashioned advice, and so I am going to give you something to
sweeten it with. You see this little piece of paper. It is what
is called a cheque. When we are gone give it to your father with
this note--not before, mind. You will marry one day, my dear
little Flossie, and it is to buy you a wedding present which you
are to wear, and your daughter after you, if you have one, in
remembrance of Hunter Quatermain.
Poor little Flossie cried very much, and gave me a lock of her
bright hair in return, which I still have. The cheque I gave her
was for a thousand pounds (which being now well off, and having
no calls upon me except those of charity, I could well afford),
and in the note I directed her father to invest it for her in
Government security, and when she married or came of age to buy
her the best diamond necklace he could get for the money and
accumulated interest. I chose diamonds because I think that now
that King Solomon's Mines are lost to the world, their price will
never be much lower than it is at present, so that if in
after-life she should ever be in pecuniary difficulties, she will
be able to turn them into money.
Well, at last we got off, after much hand-shaking, hat-waving,
and also farewell saluting from the natives, Alphonse weeping
copiously (for he has a warm heart) at parting with his master
and mistress; and I was not sorry for it at all, for I hate those
goodbyes. Perhaps the most affecting thing of all was to witness
Umslopogaas' distress at parting with Flossie, for whom the grim
old warrior had conceived a strong affection. He used to say
that she was as sweet to see as the only star on a dark night,
and was never tired of loudly congratulating himself on having
killed the Lygonani who had threatened to murder her. And that
was the last we saw of the pleasant Mission-house--a true oasis
in the desert--and of European civilization. But I often think
of the Mackenzies, and wonder how they got down country, and if
they are now safe and well in England, and will ever see these
words. Dear little Flossie! I wonder how she fares there where
there are no black folk to do her imperious bidding, and no
sky-piercing snow-clad Kenia for her to look at when she gets up
in the morning. And so goodbye to Flossie.
After leaving the Mission-house we made our way, comparatively
unmolested, past the base of Mount Kenia, which the Masai call
'Donyo Egere', or the 'speckled mountain', on account of the
black patches of rock that appear upon its mighty spire, where
the sides are too precipitous to allow of the snow lying on them;
then on past the lonely lake Baringo, where one of our two
remaining Askari, having unfortunately trodden on a puff-adder,
died of snake-bite, in spite of all our efforts to save him.
Thence we proceeded a distance of about a hundred and fifty miles
to another magnificent snow-clad mountain called Lekakisera,
which has never, to the best of my belief, been visited before by
a European, but which I cannot now stop to describe. There we
rested a fortnight, and then started out into the trackless and
uninhabited forest of a vast district called Elgumi. In this
forest alone there are more elephants than I ever met with or
heard with before. The mighty mammals literally swarm there
entirely unmolested by man, and only kept down by the natural law
that prevents any animals increasing beyond the capacity of the
country they inhabit to support them. Needless to say, however,
we did not shoot many of them, first because we could not afford
to waste ammunition, of which our stock was getting perilously
low, a donkey loaded with it having been swept away in fording a
flooded river; and secondly, because we could not carry away the
ivory, and did not wish to kill for the mere sake of slaughter.
So we let the great beasts be, only shooting one or two in
self-protection. In this district, the elephants, being
unacquainted with the hunter and his tender mercies, would allow
one to walk up to within twenty yards of them in the open, while
they stood, with their great ears cocked for all the world like
puzzled and gigantic puppy-dogs, and stared at that new and
extraordinary phenomenon--man. Occasionally, when the inspection
did not prove satisfactory, the staring ended in a trumpet and a
charge, but this did not often happen. When it did we had to use
our rifles. Nor were elephants the only wild beasts in the great
Elgumi forest. All sorts of large game abounded, including
lions--confound them! I have always hated the sight of a lion
since one bit my leg and lamed me for life. As a consequence,
another thing that abounded was the dreadful tsetse fly, whose
bite is death to domestic animals. Donkeys have, together with
men, hitherto been supposed to enjoy a peculiar immunity from its
attacks; but all I have to say, whether it was on account of
their poor condition, or because the tsetse in those parts is
more poisonous than usual, I do not know, but ours succumbed to
its onslaught. Fortunately, however, that was not till two
months or so after the bites had been inflicted, when suddenly,
after a two days' cold rain, they all died, and on removing the
skins of several of them I found the long yellow streaks upon the
flesh which are characteristic of death from bites from the
tsetse, marking the spot where the insect had inserted his
proboscis. On emerging from the great Elgumi forest, we, still
steering northwards, in accordance with the information Mr
Mackenzie had collected from the unfortunate wanderer who reached
him only to die so tragically, struck the base in due course of
the large lake, called Laga by the natives, which is about fifty
miles long by twenty broad, and of which, it may be remembered,
he made mention. Thence we pushed on nearly a month's journey
over great rolling uplands, something like those in the
Transvaal, but diversified by patches of bush country.
All this time we were continually ascending at the rate of about
one hundred feet every ten miles. Indeed the country was on a
slope which appeared to terminate at a mass of snow-tipped
mountains, for which we were steering, and where we learnt the
second lake of which the wanderer had spoken as the lake without
a bottom was situated. At length we arrived there, and, having
ascertained that there WAS a large lake on top of the mountains,
ascended three thousand feet more till we came to a precipitous
cliff or edge, to find a great sheet of water some twenty miles
square lying fifteen hundred feet below us, and evidently
occupying an extinct volcanic crater or craters of vast extent.
Perceiving villages on the border of this lake, we descended with
great difficulty through forests of pine trees, which now clothed
the precipitous sides of the crater, and were well received by
the people, a simple, unwarlike folk, who had never seen or even
heard of a white man before, and treated us with great reverence
and kindness, supplying us with as much food and milk as we could
eat and drink. This wonderful and beautiful lake lay, according
to our aneroid, at a height of no less than 11,450 feet above
sea-level, and its climate was quite cold, and not at all unlike
that of England. Indeed, for the first three days of our stay
there we saw little or nothing of the scenery on account of an
unmistakable Scotch mist which prevailed. It was this rain that
set the tsetse poison working in our remaining donkeys, so that
they all died.
This disaster left us in a very awkward position, as we had now
no means of transport whatever, though on the other hand we had
not much to carry. Ammunition, too, was very short, amounting to
but one hundred and fifty rounds of rifle cartridges and some
fifty shot-gun cartridges. How to get on we did not know; indeed
it seemed to us that we had about reached the end of our tether.
Even if we had been inclined to abandon the object of our search,
which, shadow as it was, was by no means the case, it was
ridiculous to think of forcing our way back some seven hundred
miles to the coast in our present plight; so we came to the
conclusion that the only thing to be done was to stop where we
were--the natives being so well disposed and food plentiful--for
the present, and abide events, and try to collect information as
to the countries beyond.
Accordingly, having purchased a capital log canoe, large enough
to hold us all and our baggage, from the headman of the village
we were staying in, presenting him with three empty cold-drawn
brass cartridges by way of payment, with which he was perfectly
delighted, we set out to make a tour of the lake in order to find
the most favourable place to make a camp. As we did not know if
we should return to this village, we put all our gear into the
canoe, and also a quarter of cooked water-buck, which when young
is delicious eating, and off we set, natives having already gone
before us in light canoes to warn the inhabitants of the other
villages of our approach.
As we were puddling leisurely along Good remarked upon the
extraordinary deep blue colour of the water, and said that he
understood from the natives, who were great fishermen--fish,
indeed, being their principal food--that the lake was supposed to
be wonderfully deep, and to have a hole at the bottom through
which the water escaped and put out some great fire that was
raging below.
I pointed out to him that what he had heard was probably a legend
arising from a tradition among the people which dated back to the
time when one of the extinct parasitic volcanic cones was in
activity. We saw several round the borders of the lake which had
no doubt been working at a period long subsequent to the volcanic
death of the central crater which now formed the bed of the lake
itself. When it finally became extinct the people would imagine
that the water from the lake had run down and put out the big
fire below, more especially as, though it was constantly fed by
streams running from the snow-tipped peaks about, there was no
visible exit to it.
The farther shore of the lake we found, on approaching it, to
consist of a vast perpendicular wall of rock, which held the
water without any intermediate sloping bank, as elsewhere.
Accordingly we paddled parallel with this precipice, at a
distance of about a hundred paces from it, shaping our course for
the end of the lake, where we knew that there was a large
As we went we began to pass a considerable accumulation of
floating rushes, weed, boughs of trees, and other rubbish,
brought, Good supposed, to this spot by some current, which he
was much puzzled to account for. Whilst we were speculating
about this, Sir Henry pointed out a flock of large white swans,
which were feeding on the drift some little way ahead of us. Now
I had already noticed swans flying about this lake, and, having
never come across them before in Africa, was exceedingly anxious
to obtain a specimen. I had questioned the natives about them,
and learnt that they came from over the mountain, always arriving
at certain periods of the year in the early morning, when it was
very easy to catch them, on account of their exhausted condition.
I also asked them what country they came from, when they shrugged
their shoulders, and said that on the top of the great black
precipice was stony inhospitable land, and beyond that were
mountains with snow, and full of wild beasts, where no people
lived, and beyond the mountains were hundreds of miles of dense
thorn forest, so thick that even the elephants could not get
through it, much less men. Next I asked them if they had ever
heard of white people like ourselves living on the farther side
of the mountains and the thorn forest, whereat they laughed. But
afterwards a very old woman came and told me that when she was a
little girl her grandfather had told her that in his youth HIS
grandfather had crossed the desert and the mountains, and pierced
the thorn forest, and seen a white people who lived in stone
kraals beyond. Of course, as this took the tale back some two
hundred and fifty years, the information was very indefinite; but
still there it was again, and on thinking it over I grew firmly
convinced that there was some truth in all these rumours, and
equally firmly determined to solve the mystery. Little did I
guess in what an almost miraculous way my desire was to be
Well, we set to work to stalk the swans, which kept drawing, as
they fed, nearer and nearer to the precipice, and at last we
pushed the canoe under shelter of a patch of drift within forty
yards of them. Sir Henry had the shot-gun, loaded with No. 1,
and, waiting for a chance, got two in a line, and, firing at
their necks, killed them both. Up rose the rest, thirty or more
of them, with a mighty splashing; and, as they did so, he gave
them the other barrel. Down came one fellow with a broken wing,
and I saw the leg of another drop and a few feathers start out of
his back; but he went on quite strong. Up went the swans,
circling ever higher till at last they were mere specks level
with the top of the frowning precipice, when I saw them form into
a triangle and head off for the unknown north-east. Meanwhile we
had picked up our two dead ones, and beautiful birds they were,
weighing not less than about thirty pounds each, and were chasing
the winged one, which had scrambled over a mass of driftweed into
a pool of clear water beyond. Finding a difficulty in forcing
the canoe through the rubbish, I told our only remaining Wakwafi
servant, whom I knew to be an excellent swimmer, to jump over,
dive under the drift, and catch him, knowing that as there were
no crocodiles in this lake he could come to no harm. Entering
into the fun of the thing, the man obeyed, and soon was dodging
about after the winged swan in fine style, getting gradually
nearer to the rock wall, against which the water washed as he did
Presently he gave up swimming after the swan, and began to cry
out that he was being carried away; and, indeed, we saw that,
though he was swimming with all his strength towards us, he was
being drawn slowly to the precipice. With a few desperate
strokes of our paddles we pushed the canoe through the crust of
drift and rowed towards the man as hard as we could, but, fast as
we went, he was drawn faster to the rock. Suddenly I saw that
before us, just rising eighteen inches or so above the surface of
the lake, was what looked like the top of the arch of a submerged
cave or railway tunnel. Evidently, from the watermark on the
rock several feet above it, it was generally entirely submerged;
but there had been a dry season, and the cold had prevented the
snow from melting as freely as usual; so the lake was low and the
arch showed. Towards this arch our poor servant was being sucked
with frightful rapidity. He was not more than ten fathoms from
it, and we were about twenty when I saw it, and with little help
from us the canoe flew along after him. He struggled bravely,
and I thought that we should have saved him, when suddenly I
perceived an expression of despair come upon his face, and there
before our eyes he was sucked down into the cruel swirling blue
depths, and vanished. At the same moment I felt our canoe seized
as with a mighty hand, and propelled with resistless force
towards the rock.
We realized our danger now and rowed, or rather paddled,
furiously in our attempt to get out of the vortex. In vain; in
another second we were flying straight for the arch like an
arrow, and I thought that we were lost. Luckily I retained
sufficient presence of mind to shout out, instantly setting the
example by throwing myself into the bottom of the canoe, 'Down on
your faces--down!' and the others had the sense to take the hint.
In another instant there was a grinding noise, and the boat was
pushed down till the water began to trickle over the sides, and I
thought that we were gone. But no, suddenly the grinding ceased,
and we could again feel the canoe flying along. I turned my head
a little--I dared not lift it--and looked up. By the feeble
light that yet reached the canoe, I could make out that a dense
arch of rock hung just over our heads, and that was all. In
another minute I could not even see as much as that, for the
faint light had merged into shadow, and the shadows had been
swallowed up in darkness, utter and complete.
For an hour or so we lay there, not daring to lift our heads for
fear lest the brains should be dashed out of them, and scarcely
able to speak even, on account of the noise of the rushing water
which drowned our voices. Not, indeed, that we had much
inclination to speak, seeing that we were overwhelmed by the
awfulness of our position and the imminent fear of instant death,
either by being dashed against the sides of the cavern, or on a
rock, or being sucked down in the raging waters, or perhaps
asphyxiated by want of air. All of these and many other modes of
death presented themselves to my imagination as I lay at the
bottom of the canoe, listening to the swirl of the hurrying
waters which ran whither we knew not. One only other sound could
I hear, and that was Alphonse's intermittent howl of terror
coming from the centre of the canoe, and even that seemed faint
and unnatural. Indeed, the whole thing overpowered my brain, and
I began to believe that I was the victim of some ghastly
spirit-shaking nightmare.
On we flew, drawn by the mighty current, till at last I noticed
that the sound of the water was not half so deafening as it had
been, and concluded that this must be because there was more room
for the echoes to disperse in. I could now hear Alphonse's howls
much more distinctly; they were made up of the oddest mixture of
invocations to the Supreme Power and the name of his beloved
Annette that it is possible to conceive; and, in short, though
their evident earnestness saved them from profanity, were, to say
the least, very remarkable. Taking up a paddle I managed to
drive it into his ribs, whereon he, thinking that the end had
come, howled louder than ever. Then I slowly and cautiously
raised myself on my knees and stretched my hand upwards, but
could touch no roof. Next I took the paddle and lifted it above
my head as high as I could, but with the same result. I also
thrust it out laterally to the right and left, but could touch
nothing except water. Then I bethought me that there was in the
boat, amongst our other remaining possessions, a bull's-eye
lantern and a tin of oil. I groped about and found it, and
having a match on me carefully lit it, and as soon as the flame
had got a hold of the wick I turned it on down the boat. As it
happened, the first thing the light lit on was the white and
scared face of Alphonse, who, thinking that it was all over at
last, and that he was witnessing a preliminary celestial
phenomenon, gave a terrific yell and was with difficulty
reassured with the paddle. As for the other three, Good was
lying on the flat of his back, his eyeglass still fixed in his
eye, and gazing blankly into the upper darkness. Sir Henry had
his head resting on the thwarts of the canoe, and with his hand
was trying to test the speed of the water. But when the beam of
light fell upon old Umslopogaas I could really have laughed. I
think I have said that we had put a roast quarter of water-buck
into the canoe. Well, it so happened that when we all prostrated
ourselves to avoid being swept out of the boat and into the water
by the rock roof, Umslopogaas's head had come down uncommonly
near this roast buck, and so soon as he had recovered a little
from the first shock of our position it occurred to him that he
was hungry. Thereupon he coolly cut off a chop with Inkosi-kaas,
and was now employed in eating it with every appearance of
satisfaction. As he afterwards explained, he thought that he was
going 'on a long journey', and preferred to start on a full
stomach. It reminded me of the people who are going to be
hanged, and who are generally reported in the English daily
papers to have made 'an excellent breakfast'.
As soon as the others saw that I had managed to light the lamp,
we bundled Alphonse into the farther end of the canoe with a
threat which calmed him down wonderfully, that if he would insist
upon making the darkness hideous with his cries we would put him
out of suspense by sending him to join the Wakwafi and wait for
Annette in another sphere, and began to discuss the situation as
well as we could. First, however, at Good's suggestion, we bound
two paddles mast-fashion in the bows so that they might give us
warning against any sudden lowering of the roof of the cave or
waterway. It was clear to us that we were in an underground
river or, as Alphonse defined it, 'main drain', which carried off
the superfluous waters of the lake. Such rivers are well known
to exist in many parts of the world, but it has not often been
the evil fortune of explorers to travel by them. That the river
was wide we could clearly see, for the light from the bull's-eye
lantern failed to reach from shore to shore, although
occasionally, when the current swept us either to one side or the
other, we could distinguish the rock wall of the tunnel, which,
as far as we could make out, appeared to arch about twenty-five
feet above our heads. As for the current itself, it ran, Good
estimated, at least eight knots, and, fortunately for us, was, as
is usual, fiercest in the middle of the stream. Still, our first
act was to arrange that one of us, with the lantern and a pole
there was in the canoe, should always be in the bows ready, if
possible, to prevent us from being stove in against the side of
the cave or any projecting rock. Umslopogaas, having already
dined, took the first turn. This was absolutely, with one
exception, all that we could do towards preserving our safety.
The exception was that another of us took up a position in the
stern with a paddle by means of which it was possible to steer
the canoe more or less and to keep her from the sides of the
cave. These matters attended to, we made a somewhat sparing meal
off the cold buck's meat (for we did not know how long it might
have to last us), and then feeling in rather better spirits I
gave my opinion that, serious as it undoubtedly was, I did not
consider our position altogether without hope, unless, indeed,
the natives were right, and the river plunged straight down into
the bowels of the earth. If not, it was clear that it must
emerge somewhere, probably on the other side of the mountains,
and in that case all we had to think of was to keep ourselves
alive till we got there, wherever 'there' might be. But, of
course, as Good lugubriously pointed out, on the other hand we
might fall victims to a hundred unsuspected horrors--or the river
might go on winding away inside the earth till it dried up, in
which case our fate would indeed be an awful one.
'Well, let us hope for the best and prepare ourselves for the
worst,' said Sir Henry, who is always cheerful and even
spirited--a very tower of strength in the time of trouble. 'We
have come out of so many queer scrapes together, that somehow I
almost fancy we shall come out of this,' he added.
This was excellent advice, and we proceeded to take it each in
our separate way--that is, except Alphonse, who had by now sunk
into a sort of terrified stupor. Good was at the helm and
Umslopogaas in the bows, so there was nothing left for Sir Henry
and myself to do except to lie down in the canoe and think. It
certainly was a curious, and indeed almost a weird, position to
be placed in--rushing along, as we were, through the bowels of
the earth, borne on the bosom of a Stygian river, something after
the fashion of souls being ferried by Charon, as Curtis said.
And how dark it was! The feeble ray from our little lamp did but
serve to show the darkness. There in the bows sat old
Umslopogaas, like Pleasure in the poem, *{Mr Allan Quatermain
misquotes--Pleasure sat at the helm. --EDITOR.} watchful and
untiring, the pole ready to his hand, and behind in the shadow I
could just make out the form of Good peering forward at the ray
of light in order to make out how to steer with the paddle that
he held and now and again dipped into the water.
'Well, well,' thought I, 'you have come in search of adventures,
Allan my boy, and you have certainly got them. At your time of
life, too! You ought to be ashamed of yourself; but somehow you
are not, and, awful as it all is, perhaps you will pull through
after all; and if you don't, why, you cannot help it, you see!
And when all's said and done an underground river will make a
very appropriate burying-place.'
At first, however, I am bound to say that the strain upon the
nerves was very great. It is trying to the coolest and most
experienced person not to know from one hour to another if he has
five minutes more to live, but there is nothing in this world
that one cannot get accustomed to, and in time we began to get
accustomed even to that. And, after all, our anxiety, though no
doubt natural, was, strictly speaking, illogical, seeing that we
never know what is going to happen to us the next minute, even
when we sit in a well-drained house with two policemen patrolling
under the window--nor how long we have to live. It is all
arranged for us, my sons, so what is the use of bothering?
It was nearly midday when we made our dive into darkness, and we
had set our watch (Good and Umslopogaas) at two, having agreed
that it should be of a duration of five hours. At seven o'clock,
accordingly, Sir Henry and I went on, Sir Henry at the bow and I
at the stern, and the other two lay down and went to sleep. For
three hours all went well, Sir Henry only finding it necessary
once to push us off from the side; and I that but little steering
was required to keep us straight, as the violent current did all
that was needed, though occasionally the canoe showed a tendency
which had to be guarded against to veer and travel broadside on.
What struck me as the most curious thing about this wonderful
river was: how did the air keep fresh? It was muggy and thick,
no doubt, but still not sufficiently so to render it bad or even
remarkably unpleasant. The only explanation that I can suggest
is that the water of the lake had sufficient air in it to keep
the atmosphere of the tunnel from absolute stagnation, this air
being given out as it proceeded on its headlong way. Of course I
only give the solution of the mystery for what it is worth, which
perhaps is not much.
When I had been for three hours or so at the helm, I began to
notice a decided change in the temperature, which was getting
warmer. At first I took no notice of it, but when, at the
expiration of another half-hour, I found that it was getting
hotter and hotter, I called to Sir Henry and asked him if he
noticed it, or if it was only my imagination. 'Noticed it!' he
answered; 'I should think so. I am in a sort of Turkish bath.'
Just about then the others woke up gasping, and were obliged to
begin to discard their clothes. Here Umslopogaas had the
advantage, for he did not wear any to speak of, except a moocha.
Hotter it grew, and hotter yet, till at last we could scarcely
breathe, and the perspiration poured out of us. Half an hour
more, and though we were all now stark naked, we could hardly
bear it. The place was like an antechamber of the infernal
regions proper. I dipped my hand into the water and drew it out
almost with a cry; it was nearly boiling. We consulted a little
thermometer we had--the mercury stood at 123 degrees. From the
surface of the water rose a dense cloud of steam. Alphonse
groaned out that we were already in purgatory, which indeed we
were, though not in the sense that he meant it. Sir Henry
suggested that we must be passing near the seat of some
underground volcanic fire, and I am inclined to think, especially
in the light of what subsequently occurred, that he was right.
Our sufferings for some time after this really pass my powers of
description. We no longer perspired, for all the perspiration
had been sweated out of us. We simply lay in the bottom of the
boat, which we were now physically incapable of directing,
feeling like hot embers, and I fancy undergoing very much the
same sensations that the poor fish do when they are dying on
land--namely, that of slow suffocation. Our skins began to
crack, and the blood to throb in our heads like the beating of a
This had been going on for some time, when suddenly the river
turned a little, and I heard Sir Henry call out from the bows in
a hoarse, startled voice, and, looking up, saw a most wonderful
and awful thing. About half a mile ahead of us, and a little to
the left of the centre of the stream--which we could now see was
about ninety feet broad--a huge pillar-like jet of almost white
flame rose from the surface of the water and sprang fifty feet
into the air, when it struck the roof and spread out some forty
feet in diameter, falling back in curved sheets of fire shaped
like the petals of a full-blown rose. Indeed this awful gas jet
resembled nothing so much as a great flaming flower rising out of
the black water. Below was the straight stalk, a foot or more
thick, and above the dreadful bloom. And as for the fearfulness
of it and its fierce and awesome beauty, who can describe it?
Certainly I cannot. Although we were now some five hundred yards
away, it, notwithstanding the steam, lit up the whole cavern as
clear as day, and we could see that the roof was here about forty
feet above us, and washed perfectly smooth with water. The rock
was black, and here and there I could make out long shining lines
of ore running through it like great veins, but of what metal
they were I know not.
On we rushed towards this pillar of fire, which gleamed fiercer
than any furnace ever lit by man.
'Keep the boat to the right, Quatermain--to the right,' shouted
Sir Henry, and a minute afterwards I saw him fall forward
senseless. Alphonse had already gone. Good was the next to go.
There they lay as though dead; only Umslopogaas and I kept our
senses. We were within fifty yards of it now, and I saw the
Zulu's head fall forward on his hands. He had gone too, and I
was alone. I could not breathe; the fierce heat dried me up.
For yards and yards round the great rose of fire the rock-roof
was red-hot. The wood of the boat was almost burning. I saw the
feathers on one of the dead swans begin to twist and shrivel up;
but I would not give in. I knew that if I did we should pass
within three or four yards of the gas jet and perish miserably.
I set the paddle so as to turn the canoe as far from it as
possible, and held on grimly.
My eyes seemed to be bursting from my head, and through my closed
lids I could see the fierce light. We were nearly opposite now;
it roared like all the fires of hell, and the water boiled
furiously around it. Five seconds more. We were past; I heard
the roar behind me.
Then I too fell senseless. The next thing that I recollect is
feeling a breath of air upon my face. My eyes opened with great
difficulty. I looked up. Far, far above me there was light,
though around me was great gloom. Then I remembered and looked.
The canoe still floated down the river, and in the bottom of it
lay the naked forms of my companions. 'Were they dead?' I
wondered. 'Was I left alone in this awful place?' I knew not.
Next I became conscious of a burning thirst. I put my hand over
the edge of the boat into the water and drew it up again with a
cry. No wonder: nearly all the skin was burnt off the back of
it. The water, however, was cold, or nearly so, and I drank
pints and splashed myself all over. My body seemed to suck up
the fluid as one may see a brick wall suck up rain after a
drought; but where I was burnt the touch of it caused intense
pain. Then I bethought myself of the others, and, dragging
myself towards them with difficulty, I sprinkled them with water,
and to my joy they began to recover--Umslopogaas first, then the
others. Next they drank, absorbing water like so many sponges.
Then, feeling chilly--a queer contrast to our recent
sensations--we began as best we could to get into our clothes.
As we did so Good pointed to the port side of the canoe: it was
all blistered with heat, and in places actually charred. Had it
been built like our civilized boats, Good said that the planks
would certainly have warped and let in enough water to sink us;
but fortunately it was dug out of the soft, willowy wood of a
single great tree, and had sides nearly three inches and a bottom
four inches thick. What that awful flame was we never
discovered, but I suppose that there was at this spot a crack or
hole in the bed of the river through which a vast volume of gas
forced its way from its volcanic home in the bowels of the earth
towards the upper air. How it first became ignited is, of
course, impossible to say--probably, I should think, from some
spontaneous explosion of mephitic gases.
As soon as we had got some things together and shaken ourselves
together a little, we set to work to make out where we were now.
I have said that there was light above, and on examination we
found that it came from the sky. Our river that was, Sir Henry
said, a literal realization of the wild vision of the poet,
*{Where Alph the sacred river ran / Through caverns measureless
to man / Down to a sunless sea} was no longer underground, but
was running on its darksome way, not now through 'caverns
measureless to man', but between two frightful cliffs which
cannot have been less than two thousand feet high. So high were
they, indeed, that though the sky was above us, where we were was
dense gloom--not darkness indeed, but the gloom of a room closely
shuttered in the daytime. Up on either side rose the great
straight cliffs, grim and forbidding, till the eye grew dizzy
with trying to measure their sheer height. The little space of
sky that marked where they ended lay like a thread of blue upon
their soaring blackness, which was unrelieved by any tree or
creeper. Here and there, however, grew ghostly patches of a long
grey lichen, hanging motionless to the rock as the white beard to
the chin of a dead man. It seemed as though only the dregs or
heavier part of the light had sunk to the bottom of this awful
place. No bright-winged sunbeam could fall so low: they died
far, far above our heads.
By the river's edge was a little shore formed of round fragments
of rock washed into this shape by the constant action of water,
and giving the place the appearance of being strewn with
thousands of fossil cannon balls. Evidently when the water of
the underground river is high there is no beach at all, or very
little, between the border of the stream and the precipitous
cliffs; but now there was a space of seven or eight yards. And
here, on this beach, we determined to land, in order to rest
ourselves a little after all that we had gone through and to
stretch our limbs. It was a dreadful place, but it would give an
hour's respite from the terrors of the river, and also allow of
our repacking and arranging the canoe. Accordingly we selected
what looked like a favourable spot, and with some little
difficulty managed to beach the canoe and scramble out on to the
round, inhospitable pebbles.
'My word,' called out Good, who was on shore the first, 'what an
awful place! It's enough to give one a fit.' And he laughed.
Instantly a thundering voice took up his words, magnifying them a
hundred times. 'GIVE ONE A FIT--HO! HO! HO!'--'A FIT, HO! HO!
HO!' answered another voice in wild accents from far up the
cliff--A FIT! A FIT! A FIT! chimed in voice after voice--each
flinging the words to and fro with shouts of awful laughter to
the invisible lips of the other till the whole place echoed with
the words and with shrieks of fiendish merriment, which at last
ceased as suddenly as they had begun.
'Oh, mon Dieu!' yelled Alphonse, startled quite out of such
self-command as he possessed.
'MON DIEU! MON DIEU! MON DIEU!' the Titanic echoes thundered,
shrieked, and wailed in every conceivable tone.
'Ah,' said Umslopogaas calmly, 'I clearly perceive that devils
live here. Well, the place looks like it.'
I tried to explain to him that the cause of all the hubbub was a
very remarkable and interesting echo, but he would not believe
'Ah,' he said, 'I know an echo when I hear one. There was one
lived opposite my kraal in Zululand, and the Intombis [maidens]
used to talk with it. But if what we hear is a full-grown echo,
mine at home can only have been a baby. No, no--they are devils
up there. But I don't think much of them, though,' he added,
taking a pinch of snuff. 'They can copy what one says, but they
don't seem to be able to talk on their own account, and they dare
not show their faces,' and he relapsed into silence, and
apparently paid no further attention to such contemptible fiends.
After this we found it necessary to keep our conversation down to
a whisper--for it was really unbearable to have every word one
uttered tossed to and fro like a tennis-ball, as precipice called
to precipice.
But even our whispers ran up the rocks in mysterious murmurs till
at last they died away in long-drawn sighs of sound. Echoes are
delightful and romantic things, but we had more than enough of
them in that dreadful gulf.
As soon as we had settled ourselves a little on the round stones,
we went on to wash and dress our burns as well as we could. As
we had but a little oil for the lantern, we could not spare any
for this purpose, so we skinned one of the swans, and used the
fat off its breast, which proved an excellent substitute. Then
we repacked the canoe, and finally began to take some food, of
which I need scarcely say we were in need, for our insensibility
had endured for many hours, and it was, as our watches showed,
midday. Accordingly we seated ourselves in a circle, and were
soon engaged in discussing our cold meat with such appetite as we
could muster, which, in my case at any rate, was not much, as I
felt sick and faint after my sufferings of the previous night,
and had besides a racking headache. It was a curious meal. The
gloom was so intense that we could scarcely see the way to cut
our food and convey it to our mouths. Still we got on pretty
well, till I happened to look behind me--my attention being
attracted by a noise of something crawling over the stones, and
perceived sitting upon a rock in my immediate rear a huge species
of black freshwater crab, only it was five times the size of any
crab I ever saw. This hideous and loathsome-looking animal had
projecting eyes that seemed to glare at one, very long and
flexible antennae or feelers, and gigantic claws. Nor was I
especially favoured with its company. From every quarter dozens
of these horrid brutes were creeping up, drawn, I suppose, by the
smell of the food, from between the round stones and out of holes
in the precipice. Some were already quite close to us. I stared
quite fascinated by the unusual sight, and as I did so I saw one
of the beasts stretch out its huge claw and give the unsuspecting
Good such a nip behind that he jumped up with a howl, and set the
'wild echoes flying' in sober earnest. Just then, too, another,
a very large one, got hold of Alphonse's leg, and declined to
part with it, and, as may be imagined, a considerable scene
ensued. Umslopogaas took his axe and cracked the shell of one
with the flat of it, whereon it set up a horrid screaming which
the echoes multiplied a thousandfold, and began to foam at the
mouth, a proceeding that drew hundreds more of its friends out of
unsuspected holes and corners. Those on the spot perceiving that
the animal was hurt fell upon it like creditors on a bankrupt,
and literally rent it limb from limb with their huge pincers and
devoured it, using their claws to convey the fragments to their
mouths. Seizing whatever weapons were handy, such as stones or
paddles, we commenced a war upon the monsters--whose numbers were
increasing by leaps and bounds, and whose stench was
overpowering. So fast as we cracked their armour others seized
the injured ones and devoured them, foaming at the mouth, and
screaming as they did so. Nor did the brutes stop at that. When
they could they nipped hold of us--and awful nips they were--or
tried to steal the meat. One enormous fellow got hold of the
swan we had skinned and began to drag it off. Instantly a score
of others flung themselves upon the prey, and then began a
ghastly and disgusting scene. How the monsters foamed and
screamed, and rent the flesh, and each other! It was a sickening
and unnatural sight, and one that will haunt all who saw it till
their dying day--enacted as it was in the deep, oppressive gloom,
and set to the unceasing music of the many-toned nerve-shaking
echoes. Strange as it may seem to say so, there was something so
shockingly human about these fiendish creatures--it was as though
all the most evil passions and desires of man had got into the
shell of a magnified crab and gone mad. They were so dreadfully
courageous and intelligent, and they looked as if they
UNDERSTOOD. The whole scene might have furnished material for
another canto of Dante's 'Inferno', as Curtis said.
'I say, you fellows, let's get out of this or we shall all go off
our heads,' sung out Good; and we were not slow to take the hint.
Pushing the canoe, around which the animals were now crawling by
hundreds and making vain attempts to climb, off the rocks, we
bundled into it and got out into mid-stream, leaving behind us
the fragments of our meal and the screaming, foaming, stinking
mass of monsters in full possession of the ground.
'Those are the devils of the place,' said Umslopogaas with the
air of one who has solved a problem, and upon my word I felt
almost inclined to agree with him.
Umslopogaas' remarks were like his axe--very much to the point.
'What's to be done next?' said Sir Henry blankly.
'Drift, I suppose,' I answered, and we drifted accordingly. All
the afternoon and well into the evening we floated on in the
gloom beneath the far-off line of blue sky, scarcely knowing when
day ended and night began, for down in that vast gulf the
difference was not marked, till at length Good pointed out a star
hanging right above us, which, having nothing better to do, we
observed with great interest. Suddenly it vanished, the darkness
became intense, and a familiar murmuring sound filled the air.
'Underground again,' I said with a groan, holding up the lamp.
Yes, there was no doubt about it. I could just make out the
roof. The chasm had come to an end and the tunnel had
recommenced. And then there began another long, long night of
danger and horror. To describe all its incidents would be too
wearisome, so I will simply say that about midnight we struck on
a flat projecting rock in mid-stream and were as nearly as
possible overturned and drowned. However, at last we got off,
and went upon the uneven tenor of our way. And so the hours
passed till it was nearly three o'clock. Sir Henry, Good, and
Alphonse were asleep, utterly worn out; Umslopogaas was at the
bow with the pole, and I was steering, when I perceived that the
rate at which we were travelling had perceptibly increased.
Then, suddenly, I heard Umslopogaas make an exclamation, and next
second came a sound as of parting branches, and I became aware
that the canoe was being forced through hanging bushes or
creepers. Another minute, and the breath of sweet open air
fanned my face, and I felt that we had emerged from the tunnel
and were floating upon clear water. I say felt, for I could see
nothing, the darkness being absolutely pitchy, as it often is
just before the dawn. But even this could scarcely damp my joy.
We were out of that dreadful river, and wherever we might have
got to this at least was something to be thankful for. And so I
sat down and inhaled the sweet night air and waited for the dawn
with such patience as I could command.
For an hour or more I sat waiting (Umslopogaas having meanwhile
gone to sleep also) till at length the east turned grey, and huge
misty shapes moved over the surface of the water like ghosts of
long-forgotten dawns. They were the vapours rising from their
watery bed to greet the sun. Then the grey turned to primrose,
and the primrose grew to red. Next, glorious bars of light
sprang up across the eastern sky, and through them the radiant
messengers of the dawn came speeding upon their arrowy way,
scattering the ghostly vapours and awaking the mountains with a
kiss, as they flew from range to range and longitude to
longitude. Another moment, and the golden gates were open and
the sun himself came forth as a bridegroom from his chamber, with
pomp and glory and a flashing as of ten million spears, and
embraced the night and covered her with brightness, and it was
But as yet I could see nothing save the beautiful blue sky above,
for over the water was a thick layer of mist exactly as though
the whole surface had been covered with billows of cotton wool.
By degrees, however, the sun sucked up the mists, and then I saw
that we were afloat upon a glorious sheet of blue water of which
I could not make out the shore. Some eight or ten miles behind
us, however, there stretched as far as the eye could reach a
range of precipitous hills that formed a retaining wall of the
lake, and I have no doubt but that it was through some entrance
in these hills that the subterranean river found its way into the
open water. Indeed, I afterwards ascertained this to be the
fact, and it will be some indication of the extraordinary
strength and directness of the current of the mysterious river
that the canoe, even at this distance, was still answering to it.
Presently, too, I, or rather Umslopogaas, who woke up just then,
discovered another indication, and a very unpleasant one it was.
Perceiving some whitish object upon the water, Umslopogaas called
my attention to it, and with a few strokes of the paddle brought
the canoe to the spot, whereupon we discovered that the object
was the body of a man floating face downwards. This was bad
enough, but imagine my horror when Umslopogaas having turned him
on to his back with the paddle, we recognized in the sunken
features the lineaments of--whom do you suppose? None other than
our poor servant who had been sucked down two days before in the
waters of the subterranean river. It quite frightened me. I
thought that we had left him behind for ever, and behold! borne
by the current, he had made the awful journey with us, and with
us had reached the end. His appearance also was dreadful, for he
bore traces of having touched the pillar of fire--one arm being
completely shrivelled up and all his hair being burnt off. The
features were, as I have said, sunken, and yet they preserved
upon them that awful look of despair that I had seen upon his
living face as the poor fellow was sucked down. Really the sight
unnerved me, weary and shaken as I felt with all that we had gone
through, and I was heartily glad when suddenly and without any
warning the body began to sink just as though it had had a
mission, which having been accomplished, it retired; the real
reason no doubt being that turning it on its back allowed a free
passage to the gas. Down it went to the transparent
depths--fathom after fathom we could trace its course till at
last a long line of bright air-bubbles, swiftly chasing each
other to the surface, alone remained where it had passed. At
length these, too, were gone, and that was an end of our poor
servant. Umslopogaas thoughtfully watched the body vanish.
'What did he follow us for?' he asked. ''Tis an ill omen for
thee and me, Macumazahn.' And he laughed.
I turned on him angrily, for I dislike these unpleasant
suggestions. If people have such ideas, they ought in common
decency to keep them to themselves. I detest individuals who
make on the subject of their disagreeable presentiments, or who,
when they dream that they saw one hanged as a common felon, or
some such horror, will insist upon telling one all about it at
breakfast, even if they have to get up early to do it.
Just then, however, the others woke up and began to rejoice
exceedingly at finding that we were out of that dreadful river
and once more beneath the blue sky. Then followed a babel of
talk and suggestions as to what we were to do next, the upshot of
all of which was that, as we were excessively hungry, and had
nothing whatsoever left to eat except a few scraps of biltong
(dried game-flesh), having abandoned all that remained of our
provisions to those horrible freshwater crabs, we determined to
make for the shore. But a new difficulty arose. We did not know
where the shore was, and, with the exception of the cliffs
through which the subterranean river made its entry, could see
nothing but a wide expanse of sparkling blue water. Observing,
however, that the long flights of aquatic birds kept flying from
our left, we concluded that they were advancing from their
feeding-grounds on shore to pass the day in the lake, and
accordingly headed the boat towards the quarter whence they came,
and began to paddle. Before long, however, a stiffish breeze
sprang up, blowing directly in the direction we wanted, so we
improvized a sail with a blanket and the pole, which took us
along merrily. This done, we devoured the remnants of our
biltong, washed down with the sweet lake water, and then lit our
pipes and awaited whatever might turn up.
When we had been sailing for an hour, Good, who was searching the
horizon with the spy-glass, suddenly announced joyfully that he
saw land, and pointed out that, from the change in the colour of
the water, he thought we must be approaching the mouth of a
river. In another minute we perceived a great golden dome, not
unlike that of St Paul's, piercing the morning mists, and while
we were wondering what in the world it could be, Good reported
another and still more important discovery, namely, that a small
sailing-boat was advancing towards us. This bit of news, which
we were very shortly able to verify with our own eyes, threw us
into a considerable flutter. That the natives of this unknown
lake should understand the art of sailing seemed to suggest that
they possessed some degree of civilization. In a few more
minutes it became evident that the occupant or occupants of the
advancing boat had made us out. For a moment or two she hung in
the wind as though in doubt, and then came tacking towards us
with great swiftness. In ten more minutes she was within a
hundred yards, and we saw that she was a neat little boat--not a
canoe 'dug out', but built more or less in the European fashion
with planks, and carrying a singularly large sail for her size.
But our attention was soon diverted from the boat to her crew,
which consisted of a man and a woman, NEARLY AS WHITE AS
We stared at each other in amazement, thinking that we must be
mistaken; but no, there was no doubt about it. They were not
fair, but the two people in the boat were decidedly of a white as
distinguished from a black race, as white, for instance, as
Spaniards or Italians. It was a patent fact. So it was true,
after all; and, mysteriously led by a Power beyond our own, we
had discovered this wonderful people. I could have shouted for
joy when I thought of the glory and the wonder of the thing; and
as it was, we all shook hands and congratulated each other on the
unexpected success of our wild search. All my life had I heard
rumours of a white race that existed in the highlands of this
vast continent, and longed to put them to the proof, and now here
I saw it with my own eyes, and was dumbfounded. Truly, as Sir
Henry said, the old Roman was right when he wrote 'Ex Africa
semper aliquid novi', which he tells me means that out of Africa
there always comes some new thing.
The man in the boat was of a good but not particularly fine
physique, and possessed straight black hair, regular aquiline
features, and an intelligent face. He was dressed in a brown
cloth garment, something like a flannel shirt without the
sleeves, and in an unmistakable kilt of the same material. The
legs and feet were bare. Round the right arm and left leg he
wore thick rings of yellow metal that I judged to be gold. The
woman had a sweet face, wild and shy, with large eyes and curling
brown hair. Her dress was made of the same material as the
man's, and consisted, as we afterwards discovered, first of a
linen under-garment that hung down to her knee, and then of a
single long strip of cloth, about four feet wide by fifteen long,
which was wound round the body in graceful folds and finally
flung over the left shoulder so that the end, which was dyed blue
or purple or some other colour, according to the social standing
of the wearer, hung down in front, the right arm and breast
being, however, left quite bare. A more becoming dress,
especially when, as in the present case, the wearer was young and
pretty, it is quite impossible to conceive. Good (who has an eye
for such things) was greatly struck with it, and so indeed was I.
It was so simple and yet so effective.
Meanwhile, if we had been astonished at the appearance of the man
and woman, it was clear that they were far more astonished at us.
As for the man, he appeared to be overcome with fear and wonder,
and for a while hovered round our canoe, but would not approach.
At last, however, he came within hailing distance, and called to
us in a language that sounded soft and pleasing enough, but of
which we could not understand one word. So we hailed back in
English, French, Latin, Greek, German, Zulu, Dutch, Sisutu,
Kukuana, and a few other native dialects that I am acquainted
with, but our visitor did not understand any of these tongues;
indeed, they appeared to bewilder him. As for the lady, she was
busily employed in taking stock of us, and Good was returning the
compliment by staring at her hard through his eyeglass, a
proceeding that she seemed rather to enjoy than otherwise. At
length, the man, being unable to make anything of us, suddenly
turned his boat round and began to head off for the shore, his
little boat skimming away before the wind like a swallow. As she
passed across our bows the man turned to attend to the large
sail, and Good promptly took the opportunity to kiss his hand to
the young lady. I was horrified at this proceeding, both on
general grounds and because I feared that she might take offence,
but to my delight she did not, for, first glancing round and
seeing that her husband, or brother, or whoever he was, was
engaged, she promptly kissed hers back.
'Ah!' said I. 'It seems that we have at last found a language
that the people of this country understand.'
'In which case,' said Sir Henry, 'Good will prove an invaluable
I frowned, for I do not approve of Good's frivolities, and he
knows it, and I turned the conversation to more serious subjects.
'It is very clear to me,' I said, 'that the man will be back
before long with a host of his fellows, so we had best make up
our minds as to how we are going to receive them.'
'The question is how will they receive us?' said Sir Henry.
As for Good he made no remark, but began to extract a small
square tin case that had accompanied us in all our wanderings
from under a pile of baggage. Now we had often remonstrated with
Good about this tin case, inasmuch as it had been an awkward
thing to carry, and he had never given any very explicit account
as to its contents; but he had insisted on keeping it, saying
mysteriously that it might come in very useful one day.
'What on earth are you going to do, Good?' asked Sir Henry.
'Do--why dress, of course! You don't expect me to appear in a
new country in these things, do you?' and he pointed to his
soiled and worn garments, which were however, like all Good's
things, very tidy, and with every tear neatly mended.
We said no more, but watched his proceedings with breathless
interest. His first step was to get Alphonse, who was thoroughly
competent in such matters, to trim his hair and beard in the most
approved fashion. I think that if he had had some hot water and
a cake of soap at hand he would have shaved off the latter; but
he had not. This done, he suggested that we should lower the
sail of the canoe and all take a bath, which we did, greatly to
the horror and astonishment of Alphonse, who lifted his hands and
ejaculated that these English were indeed a wonderful people.
Umslopogaas, who, though he was, like most high-bred Zulus,
scrupulously cleanly in his person, did not see the fun of
swimming about in a lake, also regarded the proceeding with mild
amusement. We got back into the canoe much refreshed by the cold
water, and sat to dry in the sun, whilst Good undid his tin box,
and produced first a beautiful clean white shirt, just as it had
left a London steam laundry, and then some garments wrapped first
in brown, then in white, and finally in silver paper. We watched
this undoing with the tenderest interest and much speculation.
One by one Good removed the dull husks that hid their splendours,
carefully folding and replacing each piece of paper as he did so;
and there at last lay, in all the majesty of its golden
epaulettes, lace, and buttons, a Commander of the Royal Navy's
full-dress uniform--dress sword, cocked hat, shiny patent leather
boots and all. We literally gasped.
'WHAT!' we said, 'WHAT! Are you going to put those things on?'
'Certainly,' he answered composedly; 'you see so much depends
upon a first impression, especially,' he added, 'as I observe
that there are ladies about. One at least of us ought to be
decently dressed.'
We said no more; we were simply dumbfounded, especially when we
considered the artful way in which Good had concealed the
contents of that box for all these months. Only one suggestion
did we make--namely, that he should wear his mail shirt next his
skin. He replied that he feared it would spoil the set of his
coat, now carefully spread in the sun to take the creases out,
but finally consented to this precautionary measure. The most
amusing part of the affair, however, was to see old Umslopogaas's
astonishment and Alphonse's delight at Good's transformation.
When at last he stood up in all his glory, even down to the
medals on his breast, and contemplated himself in the still
waters of the lake, after the fashion of the young gentleman in
ancient history, whose name I cannot remember, but who fell in
love with his own shadow, the old Zulu could no longer restrain
his feelings.
'Oh, Bougwan!' he said. 'Oh, Bougwan! I always thought thee an
ugly little man, and fat--fat as the cows at calving time; and
now thou art like a blue jay when he spreads his tail out.
Surely, Bougwan, it hurts my eyes to look at thee.'
Good did not much like this allusion to his fat, which, to tell
the truth, was not very well deserved, for hard exercise had
brought him down three inches; but on the whole he was pleased at
Umslopogaas's admiration. As for Alphonse, he was quite
'Ah! but Monsieur has the beautiful air--the air of the warrior.
It is the ladies who will say so when we come to get ashore.
Monsieur is complete; he puts me in mind of my heroic grand--'
Here we stopped Alphonse.
As we gazed upon the beauties thus revealed by Good, a spirit of
emulation filled our breasts, and we set to work to get ourselves
up as well as we could. The most, however, that we were able to
do was to array ourselves in our spare suits of shooting clothes,
of which we each had several, all the fine clothes in the world
could never make it otherwise than scrubby and insignificant; but
Sir Henry looked what he is, a magnificent man in his nearly new
tweed suit, gaiters, and boots. Alphonse also got himself up to
kill, giving an extra turn to his enormous moustaches. Even old
Umslopogaas, who was not in a general way given to the vain
adorning of his body, took some oil out of the lantern and a bit
of tow, and polished up his head-ring with it till it shone like
Good's patent leather boots. Then he put on the mail shirt Sir
Henry had given him and his 'moocha', and, having cleaned up
Inkosi-kaas a little, stood forth complete.
All this while, having hoisted the sail again as soon as we had
finished bathing, we had been progressing steadily for the land,
or, rather, for the mouth of a great river. Presently--in all
about an hour and a half after the little boat had left us--we
saw emerging from the river or harbour a large number of boats,
ranging up to ten or twelve tons burden. One of these was
propelled by twenty-four oars, and most of the rest sailed.
Looking through the glass we soon made out that the row-boat was
an official vessel, her crew being all dressed in a sort of
uniform, whilst on the half-deck forward stood an old man of
venerable appearance, and with a flowing white beard, and a sword
strapped to his side, who was evidently the commander of the
craft. The other boats were apparently occupied by people
brought out by curiosity, and were rowing or sailing towards us
as quickly as they could.
'Now for it,' said I. 'What is the betting? Are they going to
be friendly or to put an end to us?'
Nobody could answer this question, and, not liking the warlike
appearance of the old gentleman and his sword, we felt a little
Just then Good spied a school of hippopotami on the water about
two hundred yards off us, and suggested that it would not be a
bad plan to impress the natives with a sense of our power by
shooting some of them if possible. This, unluckily enough,
struck us as a good idea, and accordingly we at once got out our
eight-bore rifles, for which we still had a few cartridges left,
and prepared for action. There were four of the animals, a big
bull, a cow, and two young ones, one three parts grown. We got
up to them without difficulty, the great animals contenting
themselves with sinking down into the water and rising again a
few yards farther on; indeed, their excessive tameness struck me
as being peculiar. When the advancing boats were about five
hundred yards away, Sir Henry opened the ball by firing at the
three parts grown young one. The heavy bullet struck it fair
between the eyes, and, crashing through the skull, killed it, and
it sank, leaving a long train of blood behind it. At the same
moment I fired at the cow, and Good at the old bull. My shot
took effect, but not fatally, and down went the hippopotamus with
a prodigious splashing, only to rise again presently blowing and
grunting furiously, dyeing all the water round her crimson, when
I killed her with the left barrel. Good, who is an execrable
shot, missed the head of the bull altogether, the bullet merely
cutting the side of his face as it passed. On glancing up, after
I had fired my second shot, I perceived that the people we had
fallen among were evidently ignorant of the nature of firearms,
for the consternation caused by our shots and their effect upon
the animals was prodigious. Some of the parties in the boats
began to cry out in fear; others turned and made off as hard as
they could; and even the old gentleman with the sword looked
greatly puzzled and alarmed, and halted his big row-boat. We
had, however, but little time for observation, for just then the
old bull, rendered furious by the wound he had received, rose
fair within forty yards of us, glaring savagely. We all fired,
and hit him in various places, and down he went. We all fired,
and hit him in various places, and down he went, badly wounded.
Curiosity now began to overcome the fear of the onlookers, and
some of them sailed on up close to us, amongst these being the
man and woman whom we had first seen a couple of hours or so
before, who drew up almost alongside. Just then the great brute
rose again within ten yards of their base, and instantly with a
roar of fury made at it open-mouthed. The woman shrieked, and
the man tried to give the boat way, but without success. In
another second I saw the huge red jaws and gleaming ivories close
with a crunch on the frail craft, taking an enormous mouthful out
of its side and capsizing it. Down went the boat, leaving its
occupants struggling in the water. Next moment, before we could
do anything towards saving them, the huge and furious creature
was up again and making open-mouthed at the poor girl, who was
struggling in the water. Lifting my rifle just as the grinding
jaws were about to close on her, I fired over her head right down
the hippopotamus's throat. Over he went, and commenced turning
round and round, snorting, and blowing red streams of blood
through his nostrils. Before he could recover himself, however,
I let him have the other barrel in the side of the throat, and
that finished him. He never moved or struggled again, but
instantly sank. Our next effort was directed towards saving the
girl, the man having swum off towards another boat; and in this
we were fortunately successful, pulling her into the canoe
(amidst the shouts of the spectators) considerably exhausted and
frightened, but otherwise unhurt.
Meanwhile the boats had gathered together at a distance, and we
could see that the occupants, who were evidently much frightened,
were consulting what to do. Without giving them time for further
consideration, which we thought might result unfavourably to
ourselves, we instantly took our paddles and advanced towards
them, Good standing in the bow and taking off his cocked hat
politely in ever direction, his amiable features suffused by a
bland but intelligent smile. Most of the craft retreated as we
advanced, but a few held their ground, while the big row-boat
came on to meet us. Presently we were alongside, and I could see
that our appearance--and especially Good's and
Umslopogaas's--filled the venerable-looking commander with
astonishment, not unmixed with awe. He was dressed after the
same fashion as the man we first met, except that his shirt was
not made of brown cloth, but of pure white linen hemmed with
purple. The kilt, however, was identical, and so were the thick
rings of gold around the arm and beneath the left knee. The
rowers wore only a kilt, their bodies being naked to the waist.
Good took off his hat to the old gentleman with an extra
flourish, and inquired after his health in the purest English, to
which he replied by laying the first two fingers of his right
hand horizontally across his lips and holding them there for a
moment, which we took as his method of salutation. Then he also
addressed some remarks to us in the same soft accents that had
distinguished our first interviewer, which we were forced to
indicate we did not understand by shaking our heads and shrugging
our shoulders. This last Alphonse, being to the manner born, did
to perfection, and in so polite a way that nobody could take any
offence. Then we came a standstill, till I, being exceedingly
hungry, thought I might as well call attention to the fact, and
did so first by opening my mouth and pointing down it, and then
rubbing my stomach. These signals the old gentleman clearly
understood, for he nodded his head vigorously, and pointed
towards the harbour; and at the same time one of the men on his
boat threw us a line and motioned to us to make it fast, which we
did. The row-boat then took us in tow, and went with great
rapidity towards the mouth of the river, accompanied by all the
other boats. In about twenty minutes more we reached the
entrance to the harbour, which was crowded with boats full of
people who had come out to see us. We observed that all the
occupants were more or less of the same type, though some were
fairer than others. Indeed, we noticed certain ladies whose skin
was of a most dazzling whiteness; and the darkest shade of colour
which we saw was about that of a rather swarthy Spaniard.
Presently the wide river gave a sweep, and when it did so an
exclamation of astonishment and delight burst from our lips as we
caught our first view of the place that we afterwards knew as
Milosis, or the Frowning City (from mi, which means city, and
losis, a frown).
At a distance of some five hundred yards from the river's bank
rose a sheer precipice of granite, two hundred feet or so in
height, which had no doubt once formed the bank itself--the
intermediate space of land now utilized as docks and roadways
having been gained by draining, and deepening and embanking the
On the brow of this precipice stood a great building of the same
granite that formed the cliff, built on three sides of a square,
the fourth side being open, save for a kind of battlement pierced
at its base by a little door. This imposing place we afterwards
discovered was the palace of the queen, or rather of the queens.
At the back of the palace the town sloped gently upwards to a
flashing building of white marble, crowned by the golden dome
which we had already observed. The city was, with the exception
of this one building, entirely built of red granite, and laid out
in regular blocks with splendid roadways between. So far as we
could see also the houses were all one-storied and detached, with
gardens round them, which gave some relief to the eye wearied
with the vista of red granite. At the back of the palace a road
of extraordinary width stretched away up the hill for a distance
of a mile and a half or so, and appeared to terminate at an open
space surrounding the gleaming building that crowned the hill.
But right in front of us was the wonder and glory of Milosis--the
great staircase of the palace, the magnificence of which took our
breath away. Let the reader imagine, if he can, a splendid
stairway, sixty-five feet from balustrade to balustrade,
consisting of two vast flights, each of one hundred and
twenty-five steps of eight inches in height by three feet broad,
connected by a flat resting-place sixty feet in length, and
running from the palace wall on the edge of the precipice down to
meet a waterway or canal cut to its foot from the river. This
marvellous staircase was supported upon a single enormous granite
arch, of which the resting-place between the two flights formed
the crown; that is, the connecting open space lay upon it. From
this archway sprang a subsidiary flying arch, or rather something
that resembled a flying arch in shape, such as none of us had
seen in any other country, and of which the beauty and wonder
surpassed all that we had ever imagined. Three hundred feet from
point to point, and no less than five hundred and fifty round the
curve, that half-arc soared touching the bridge it supported for
a space of fifty feet only, one end resting on and built into the
parent archway, and the other embedded in the solid granite of
the side of the precipice.
This staircase with its supports was, indeed, a work of which any
living man might have been proud, both on account of its
magnitude and its surpassing beauty. Four times, as we
afterwards learnt, did the work, which was commenced in remote
antiquity, fail, and was then abandoned for three centuries when
half-finished, till at last there rose a youthful engineer named
Rademas, who said that he would complete it successfully, and
staked his life upon it. If he failed he was to be hurled from
the precipice he had undertaken to scale; if he succeeded, he was
to be rewarded by the hand of the king's daughter. Five years
was given to him to complete the work, and an unlimited supply of
labour and material. Three times did his arch fall, till at
last, seeing failure to be inevitable, he determined to commit
suicide on the morrow of the third collapse. That night,
however, a beautiful woman came to him in a dream and touched his
forehead, and of a sudden he saw a vision of the completed work,
and saw too through the masonry and how the difficulties
connected with the flying arch that had hitherto baffled his
genius were to be overcome. Then he awoke and once more
commenced the work, but on a different plan, and behold! he
achieved it, and on the last day of the five years he led the
princess his bride up the stair and into the palace. And in due
course he became king by right of his wife, and founded the
present Zu-Vendi dynasty, which is to this day called the 'House
of the Stairway', thus proving once more how energy and talent
are the natural stepping-stones to grandeur. And to commemorate
his triumph he fashioned a statue of himself dreaming, and of the
fair woman who touched him on the forehead, and placed it in the
great hall of the palace, and there it stands to this day.
Such was the great stair of Milosis, and such the city beyond.
No wonder they named it the 'Frowning City', for certainly those
mighty works in solid granite did seem to frown down upon our
littleness in their sombre splendour. This was so even in the
sunshine, but when the storm-clouds gathered on her imperial brow
Milosis looked more like a supernatural dwelling-place, or some
imagining of a poet's brain, than what she is--a mortal city,
carven by the patient genius of generations out of the red
silence of the mountain side.
The big rowing-boat glided on up the cutting that ran almost to
the foot of the vast stairway, and then halted at a flight of
steps leading to the landing-place. Here the old gentleman
disembarked, and invited us to do so likewise, which, having no
alternative, and being nearly starved, we did without
hesitation--taking our rifles with us, however. As each of us
landed, our guide again laid his fingers on his lips and bowed
deeply, at the same time ordering back the crowds which had
assembled to gaze on us. The last to leave the canoe was the
girl we had picked out of the water, for whom her companion was
waiting. Before she went away she kissed my hand, I suppose as a
token of gratitude for having saved her from the fury of the
hippopotamus; and it seemed to me that she had by this time quite
got over any fear she might have had of us, and was by no means
anxious to return in such a hurry to her lawful owners. At any
rate, she was going to kiss Good's hand as well as mine, when the
young man interfered and led her off. As soon as we were on
shore, a number of the men who had rowed the big boat took
possession of our few goods and chattels, and started with them
up the splendid staircase, our guide indicating to us by means of
motions that the things were perfectly safe. This done, he
turned to the right and led the way to a small house, which was,
as I afterwards discovered, an inn. Entering into a good-sized
room, we saw that a wooden table was already furnished with food,
presumably in preparation for us. Here our guide motioned us to
be seated on a bench that ran the length of the table. We did
not require a second invitation, but at once fell to ravenously
on the viands before us, which were served on wooden platters,
and consisted of cold goat's-flesh, wrapped up in some kind of
leaf that gave it a delicious flavour, green vegetables
resembling lettuces, brown bread, and red wine poured from a skin
into horn mugs. This wine was peculiarly soft and good, having
something of the flavour of Burgundy. Twenty minutes after we
sat down at that hospitable board we rose from it, feeling like
new men. After all that we had gone through we needed two
things, food and rest, and the food of itself was a great
blessing to us. Two girls of the same charming cast of face as
the first whom we had seen waited on us while we ate, and very
nicely they did it. They were also dressed in the same fashion
namely, in a white linen petticoat coming to the knee, and with
the toga-like garment of brown cloth, leaving bare the right arm
and breast. I afterwards found out that this was the national
dress, and regulated by an iron custom, though of course subject
to variations. Thus, if the petticoat was pure white, it
signified that the wearer was unmarried; if white, with a
straight purple stripe round the edge, that she was married and a
first or legal wife; if with a black stripe, that she was a
widow. In the same way the toga, or 'kaf', as they call it, was
of different shades of colour, from pure white to the deepest
brown, according to the rank of the wearer, and embroidered at
the end in various ways. This also applies to the 'shirts' or
tunics worn by the men, which varied in material and colour; but
the kilts were always the same except as regards quality. One
thing, however, every man and woman in the country wore as the
national insignia, and that was the thick band of gold round the
right arm above the elbow, and the left leg beneath the knee.
People of high rank also wore a torque of gold round the neck,
and I observed that our guide had one on.
So soon as we had finished our meal our venerable conductor, who
had been standing all the while, regarding us with inquiring
eyes, and our guns with something as like fear as his pride would
allow him to show, bowed towards Good, whom he evidently took for
the leader of the party on account of the splendour of his
apparel, and once more led the way through the door and to the
foot of the great staircase. Here we paused for a moment to
admire two colossal lions, each hewn from a single block of pure
black marble, and standing rampant on the terminations of the
wide balustrades of the staircase. These lions are magnificently
executed, and it is said were sculptured by Rademas, the great
prince who designed the staircase, and who was without doubt, to
judge from the many beautiful examples of his art that we saw
afterwards, one of the finest sculptors who ever lived, either in
this or any other country. Then we climbed almost with a feeling
of awe up that splendid stair, a work executed for all time and
that will, I do not doubt, be admired thousands of years hence by
generations unborn unless an earthquake should throw it down.
Even Umslopogaas, who as a general rule made it a point of honour
not to show astonishment, which he considered undignified, was
fairly startled out of himself, and asked it the 'bridge had been
built by men or devils', which was his vague way of alluding to
any supernatural power. But Alphonse did not care about it. Its
solid grandeur jarred upon the frivolous little Frenchman, who
said that it was all 'tres magnifique, mais triste--ah, triste!'
and went on to suggest that it would be improved if the
balustrades were GILT.
On we went up the first flight of one hundred and twenty steps,
across the broad platform joining it to the second flight, where
we paused to admire the glorious view of one of the most
beautiful stretches of country that the world can show, edged by
the blue waters of the lake. Then we passed on up the stair till
at last we reached the top, where we found a large standing space
to which there were three entrances, all of small size. Two of
these opened on to rather narrow galleries or roadways cut in the
face of the precipice that ran round the palace walls and led to
the principal thoroughfares of the city, and were used by the
inhabitants passing up and down from the docks. These were
defended by gates of bronze, and also, as we afterwards learnt,
it was possible to let down a portion of the roadways themselves
by withdrawing certain bolts, and thus render it quite
impracticable for an enemy to pass. The third entrance consisted
of a flight of ten curved black marble steps leading to a doorway
cut in the palace wall. This wall was in itself a work of art,
being built of huge blocks of granite to the height of forty
feet, and so fashioned that its face was concave, whereby it was
rendered practically impossible for it to be scaled. To this
doorway our guide led us. The door, which was massive, and made
of wood protected by an outer gate of bronze, was closed; but on
our approach it was thrown wide, and we were met by the challenge
of a sentry, who was armed with a heavy triangular-bladed spear,
not unlike a bayonet in shape, and a cutting sword, and protected
by breast and back plates of skilfully prepared hippopotamus
hide, and a small round shield fashioned of the same tough
material. The sword instantly attracted our attention; it was
practically identical with the one in the possession of Mr
Mackenzie which he had obtained from the ill-starred wanderer.
There was no mistaking the gold-lined fretwork cut in the
thickness of the blade. So the man had told the truth after all.
Our guide instantly gave a password, which the soldier
acknowledged by letting the iron shaft of his spear fall with a
ringing sound upon the pavement, and we passed on through the
massive wall into the courtyard of the palace. This was about
forty yards square, and laid out in flower-beds full of lovely
shrubs and plants, many of which were quite new to me. Through
the centre of this garden ran a broad walk formed of powdered
shells brought from the lake in the place of gravel. Following
this we came to another doorway with a round heavy arch, which is
hung with thick curtains, for there are no doors in the palace
itself. Then came another short passage, and we were in the
great hall of the palace, and once more stood astonished at the
simple and yet overpowering grandeur of the place.
The hall is, as we afterwards learnt, one hundred and fifty feet
long by eighty wide, and has a magnificent arched roof of carved
wood. Down the entire length of the building there are on either
side, and at a distance of twenty feet from the wall, slender
shafts of black marble springing sheer to the roof, beautifully
fluted, and with carved capitals. At one end of this great place
which these pillars support is the group of which I have already
spoken as executed by the King Rademas to commemorate his
building of the staircase; and really, when we had time to admire
it, its loveliness almost struck us dumb. The group, of which
the figures are in white, and the rest is black marble, is about
half as large again as life, and represents a young man of noble
countenance and form sleeping heavily upon a couch. One arm is
carelessly thrown over the side of this couch, and his head
reposes upon the other, its curling locks partially hiding it.
Bending over him, her hand resting on his forehead, is a draped
female form of such white loveliness as to make the beholder's
breath stand still. And as for the calm glory that shines upon
her perfect face--well, I can never hope to describe it. But
there it rests like the shadow of an angel's smile; and power,
love, and divinity all have their part in it. Her eyes are fixed
upon the sleeping youth, and perhaps the most extraordinary thing
about this beautiful work is the success with which the artist
has succeeded in depicting on the sleeper's worn and weary face
the sudden rising of a new and spiritual thought as the spell
begins to work within his mind. You can see that an inspiration
is breaking in upon the darkness of the man's soul as the dawn
breaks in upon the darkness of night. It is a glorious piece of
statuary, and none but a genius could have conceived it. Between
each of the black marble columns is some such group of figures,
some allegorical, and some representing the persons and wives of
deceased monarchs or great men; but none of them, in our opinion,
comes up the one I have described, although several are from the
hand of the sculptor and engineer, King Rademas.
In the exact centre of the hall was a solid mass of black marble
about the size of a baby's arm-chair, which it rather resembled
in appearance. This, as we afterwards learnt, was the sacred
stone of this remarkable people, and on it their monarchs laid
their hand after the ceremony of coronation, and swore by the sun
to safeguard the interests of the empire, and to maintain its
customs, traditions, and laws. This stone was evidently
exceedingly ancient (as indeed all stones are), and was scored
down its sides with long marks or lines, which Sir Henry said
proved it to have been a fragment that at some remote period in
its history had been ground in the iron jaws of glaciers. There
was a curious prophecy about this block of marble, which was
reported among the people to have fallen from the sun, to the
effect that when it was shattered into fragments a king of alien
race should rule over the land. As the stone, however, looked
remarkably solid, the native princes seemed to have a fair chance
of keeping their own for many a long year.
At the end of the hall is a dais spread with rich carpets, on
which two thrones are set side by side. These thrones are shaped
like great chairs, and made of solid gold. The seats are richly
cushioned, but the backs are left bare, and on each is carved the
emblem of the sun, shooting out his fiery rays in all directions.
The footstools are golden lions couchant, with yellow topazes set
in them for eyes. There are no other gems about them.
The place is lighted by numerous but narrow windows, placed high
up, cut on the principle of the loopholes to be seen in ancient
castles, but innocent of glass, which was evidently unknown here.
Such is a brief description of this splendid hall in which we now
found ourselves, compiled of course from our subsequent knowledge
of it. On this occasion we had but little time for observation,
for when we entered we perceived that a large number of men were
gathered together in front of the two thrones, which were
unoccupied. The principal among them were seated on carved
wooden chairs ranged to the right and the left of the thrones,
but not in front of them, and were dressed in white tunics, with
various embroideries and different coloured edgings, and armed
with the usual pierced and gold-inlaid swords. To judge from the
dignity of their appearance, they seemed one and all to be
individuals of very great importance. Behind each of these great
men stood a small knot of followers and attendants.
Seated by themselves, in a little group to the left of the
throne, were six men of a different stamp. Instead of wearing
the ordinary kilt, they were clothed in long robes of pure white
linen, with the same symbol of the sun that is to be seen on the
back of the chairs, emblazoned in gold thread upon the breast.
This garment was girt up at the waist with a simple golden
curb-like chain, from which hung long elliptic plates of the same
metal, fashioned in shiny scales like those of a fish, that, as
their wearers moved, jingled and reflected the light. They were
all men of mature age and of a severe and impressive cast of
features, which was rendered still more imposing by the long
beards they wore.
The personality of one individual among them, however, impressed
us at once. He seemed to stand out among his fellows and refuse
to be overlooked. He was very old--eighty at least--and
extremely tall, with a long snow-white beard that hung nearly to
his waist. His features were aquiline and deeply cut, and his
eyes were grey and cold-looking. The heads of the others were
bare, but this man wore a round cap entirely covered with gold
embroidery, from which we judged that he was a person of great
importance; and indeed we afterwards discovered that he was Agon,
the High Priest of the country. As we approached, all these men,
including the priests, rose and bowed to us with the greatest
courtesy, at the same time placing the two fingers across the
lips in salutation. Then soft-footed attendants advanced from
between the pillars, bearing seats, which were placed in a line
in front of the thrones. We three sat down, Alphonse and
Umslopogaas standing behind us. Scarcely had we done so when
there came a blare of trumpets from some passage to the right,
and a similar blare from the left. Next a man with a long white
wand of ivory appeared just in front of the right-hand throne,
and cried out something in a loud voice, ending with the word
NYLEPTHA, repeated three times; and another man, similarly
attired, called out a similar sentence before the other throne,
but ending with the word SORAIS, also repeated thrice. Then came
the tramp of armed men from each side entrance, and in filed
about a score of picked and magnificently accoutred guards, who
formed up on each side of the thrones, and let their heavy
iron-handled spears fall simultaneously with a clash upon the
black marble flooring. Another double blare of trumpets, and in
from either side, each attended by six maidens, swept the two
Queens of Zu-Vendis, everybody in the hall rising to greet them
as they came.
I have seen beautiful women in my day, and am no longer thrown
into transports at the sight of a pretty face; but language fails
me when I try to give some idea of the blaze of loveliness that
then broke upon us in the persons of these sister Queens. Both
were young--perhaps five-and-twenty years of age--both were tall
and exquisitely formed; but there the likeness stopped. One,
Nyleptha, was a woman of dazzling fairness; her right arm and
breast bare, after the custom of her people, showed like snow
even against her white and gold-embroidered 'kaf', or toga. And
as for her sweet face, all I can say is, that it was one that few
men could look on and forget. Her hair, a veritable crown of
gold, clustered in short ringlets over her shapely head, half
hiding the ivory brow, beneath which eyes of deep and glorious
grey flashed out in tender majesty. I cannot attempt to describe
her other features, only the mouth was most sweet, and curved
like Cupid's bow, and over the whole countenance there shone an
indescribable look of loving-kindness, lit up by a shadow of
delicate humour that lay upon her face like a touch of silver on
a rosy cloud.
She wore no jewels, but on her neck, arm, and knee were the usual
torques of gold, in this instance fashioned like a snake; and her
dress was of pure white linen of excessive fineness, plentifully
embroidered with gold and with the familiar symbols of the sun.
Her twin sister, Sorais, was of a different and darker type of
beauty. Her hair was wavy like Nyleptha's but coal-black, and
fell in masses on her shoulders; her complexion was olive, her
eyes large, dark, and lustrous; the lips were full, and I thought
rather cruel. Somehow her face, quiet and even cold as it is,
gave an idea of passion in repose, and caused one to wonder
involuntarily what its aspect would be if anything occurred to
break the calm. It reminded me of the deep sea, that even on the
bluest days never loses its visible stamp of power, and in its
murmuring sleep is yet instinct with the spirit of the storm.
Her figure, like her sister's, was almost perfect in its curves
and outlines, but a trifle more rounded, and her dress was
absolutely the same.
As this lovely pair swept onwards to their respective thrones,
amid the deep attentive silence of the Court, I was bound to
confess to myself that they did indeed fulfil my idea of royalty.
Royal they were in every way--in form, in grace, and queenly
dignity, and in the barbaric splendour of their attendant pomp.
But methought that they needed no guards or gold to proclaim
their power and bind the loyalty of wayward men. A glance from
those bright eyes or a smile from those sweet lips, and while the
red blood runs in the veins of youth women such as these will
never lack subjects ready to do their biddings to the death.
But after all they were women first and queens afterwards, and
therefore not devoid of curiosity. As they passed to their seats
I saw both of them glance swiftly in our direction. I saw, too,
that their eyes passed by me, seeing nothing to charm them in the
person of an insignificant and grizzled old man. Then they
looked with evident astonishment on the grim form of old
Umslopogaas, who raised his axe in salutation. Attracted next by
the splendour of Good's apparel, for a second their glance rested
on him like a humming moth upon a flower, then off it darted to
where Sir Henry Curtis stood, the sunlight from a window playing
upon his yellow hair and peaked beard, and marking the outlines
of his massive frame against the twilight of the somewhat gloomy
hall. He raised his eyes, and they met the fair Nyleptha's full,
and thus for the first time the goodliest man and woman that it
has ever been my lot to see looked one upon another. And why it
was I know not, but I saw the swift blood run up Nyleptha's skin
as the pink lights run up the morning sky. Red grew her fair
bosom and shapely arm, red the swanlike neck; the rounded cheeks
blushed red as the petals of a rose, and then the crimson flood
sank back to whence it came and left her pale and trembling.
I glanced at Sir Henry. He, too, had coloured up to the eyes.
'Oh, my word!' thought I to myself, 'the ladies have come on the
stage, and now we may look to the plot to develop itself.' And I
sighed and shook my head, knowing that the beauty of a woman is
like the beauty of the lightning--a destructive thing and a cause
of desolation. By the time that I had finished my reflections
both the Queens were on the thrones, for all this had happened in
about six seconds. Once more the unseen trumpets blared out, and
then the Court seated itself, and Queen Sorais motioned to us to
do likewise.
Next from among the crowd whither he had withdrawn stepped
forward our guide, the old gentleman who had towed us ashore,
holding by the hand the girl whom we had seen first and
afterwards rescued from the hippopotamus. Having made obeisance
he proceeded to address the Queens, evidently describing to them
the way and place where we had been found. It was most amusing
to watch the astonishment, not unmixed with fear, reflected upon
their faces as they listened to his tale. Clearly they could not
understand how we had reached the lake and been found floating on
it, and were inclined to attribute our presence to supernatural
causes. Then the narrative proceeded, as I judged from the
frequent appeals that our guide made to the girl, to the point
where we had shot the hippopotami, and we at once perceived that
there was something very wrong about those hippopotami, for the
history was frequently interrupted by indignant exclamations from
the little group of white-robed priests and even from the
courtiers, while the two Queens listened with an amazed
expression, especially when our guide pointed to the rifles in
our hands as being the means of destruction. And here, to make
matters clear, I may as well explain at once that the inhabitants
of Zu-Vendis are sun-worshippers, and that for some reason or
another the hippopotamus is sacred among them. Not that they do
not kill it, because at a certain season of the year they
slaughter thousands--which are specially preserved in large lakes
up the country--and use their hides for armour for soldiers; but
this does not prevent them from considering these animals as
sacred to the sun. *{Mr Quatermain does not seem to have been
aware that it is common for animal-worshipping people to annually
sacrifice the beasts they adore. See Herodotus, ii. 45.
--EDITOR.} Now, as ill luck would have it, the particular
hippopotami we had shot were a family of tame animals that were
kept in the mouth of the port and daily fed by priests whose
special duty it was to attend to them. When we shot them I
thought that the brutes were suspiciously tame, and this was, as
we afterwards ascertained, the cause of it. Thus it came about
that in attempting to show off we had committed sacrilege of a
most aggravated nature.
When our guide had finished his tale, the old man with the long
beard and round cap, whose appearance I have already described,
and who was, as I have said, the High Priest of the country, and
known by the name of Agon, rose and commenced an impassioned
harangue. I did not like the look of his cold grey eye as he
fixed it on us. I should have liked it still less had I known
that in the name of the outraged majesty of his god he was
demanding that the whole lot of us should be offered up as a
sacrifice by means of being burnt alive.
After he had finished speaking the Queen Sorais addressed him in
a soft and musical voice, and appeared, to judge from his
gestures of dissent, to be putting the other side of the question
before him. Then Nyleptha spoke in liquid accents. Little did
we know that she was pleading for our lives. Finally, she turned
and addressed a tall, soldierlike man of middle age with a black
beard and a long plain sword, whose name, as we afterwards
learnt, was Nasta, and who was the greatest lord in the country;
apparently appealing to him for support. Now when Sir Henry had
caught her eye and she had blushed so rosy red, I had seen that
the incident had not escaped this man's notice, and, what is
more, that it was eminently disagreeable to him, for he bit his
lip and his hand tightened on his sword-hilt. Afterwards we
learnt that he was an aspirant for the hand of this Queen in
marriage, which accounted for it. This being so, Nyleptha could
not have appealed to a worse person, for, speaking in slow, heavy
tones, he appeared to confirm all that the High Priest Agon had
said. As he spoke, Sorais put her elbow on her knee, and,
resting her chin on her hand, looked at him with a suppressed
smile upon her lips, as though she saw through the man, and was
determined to be his match; but Nyleptha grew very angry, her
cheek flushed, her eyes flashed, and she did indeed look lovely.
Finally she turned to Agon and seemed to give some sort of
qualified assent, for he bowed at her words; and as she spoke she
moved her hands as though to emphasize what she said; while all
the time Sorais kept her chin on her hand and smiled. Then
suddenly Nyleptha made a sign, the trumpets blew again, and
everybody rose to leave the hall save ourselves and the guards,
whom she motioned to stay.
When they were all gone she bent forward and, smiling sweetly,
partially by signs and partially by exclamations made it clear to
us that she was very anxious to know where we came from. The
difficulty was how to explain, but at last an idea struck me. I
had my large pocket-book in my pocket and a pencil. Taking it
out, I made a little sketch of a lake, and then as best I could I
drew the underground river and the lake at the other end. When I
had done this I advanced to the steps of the throne and gave it
to her. She understood it at once and clapped her hands with
delight, and then descending from the throne took it to her
sister Sorais, who also evidently understood. Next she took the
pencil from me, and after examining it with curiosity proceeded
to make a series of delightful little sketches, the first
representing herself holding out both hands in welcome, and a man
uncommonly like Sir Henry taking them. Next she drew a lovely
little picture of a hippopotamus rolling about dying in the
water, and of an individual, in whom we had no difficulty in
recognizing Agon the High Priest, holding up his hands in horror
on the bank. Then followed a most alarming picture of a dreadful
fiery furnace and of the same figure, Agon, poking us into it
with a forked stick. This picture perfectly horrified me, but I
was a little reassured when she nodded sweetly and proceeded to
make a fourth drawing--a man again uncommonly like Sir Henry, and
of two women, in whom I recognized Sorais and herself, each with
one arm around him, and holding a sword in protection over him.
To all of these Sorais, who I saw was employed in carefully
taking us all in--especially Curtis--signified her approval by
At last Nyleptha drew a final sketch of a rising sun, indicating
that she must go, and that we should meet on the following
morning; whereat Sir Henry looked so disappointed that she saw
it, and, I suppose by way of consolation, extended her hand to
him to kiss, which he did with pious fervour. At the same time
Sorais, off whom Good had never taken his eyeglass during the
whole indaba [interview], rewarded him by giving him her hand to
kiss, though, while she did so, her eyes were fixed upon Sir
Henry. I am glad to say that I was not implicated in these
proceedings; neither of them gave ME her hand to kiss.
Then Nyleptha turned and addressed the man who appeared to be in
command of the bodyguard, apparently from her manner and his
frequent obeisances, giving him very stringent and careful
orders; after which, with a somewhat coquettish nod and smile,
she left the hall, followed by Sorais and most of the guards.
When the Queens had gone, the officer whom Nyleptha had addressed
came forward and with many tokens of deep respect led us from the
hall through various passages to a sumptuous set of apartments
opening out of a large central room lighted with brazen swinging
lamps (for it was now dusk) and richly carpeted and strewn with
couches. On a table in the centre of the room was set a
profusion of food and fruit, and, what is more, flowers. There
was a delicious wine also in ancient-looking sealed earthenware
flagons, and beautifully chased golden and ivory cups to drink it
from. Servants, male and female, also were there to minister to
us, and whilst we ate, from some recess outside the apartment
'The silver lute did speak between
The trumpet's lordly blowing;'
and altogether we found ourselves in a sort of earthly paradise
which was only disturbed by the vision of that disgusting High
Priest who intended to commit us to the flames. But so very
weary were we with our labours that we could scarcely keep
ourselves awake through the sumptuous meal, and as soon as it was
over we indicated that we desired to sleep. As a further
precaution against surprise we left Umslopogaas with his axe to
sleep in the main chamber near the curtained doorways leading to
the apartments which we occupied respectively, Good and I in the
one, and Sir Henry and Alphonse in the other. Then throwing off
our clothes, with the exception of the mail shirts, which we
considered it safer to keep on, we flung ourselves down upon the
low and luxurious couches, and drew the silk-embroidered
coverlids over us.
In two minutes I was just dropping off when I was aroused by
Good's voice.
'I say, Quatermain,' he said, 'did you ever see such eyes?'
'Eyes!' I said, crossly; 'what eyes?'
'Why, the Queen's, of course! Sorais, I mean--at least I think
that is her name.'
'Oh, I don't know,' I yawned; 'I didn't notice them much: I
suppose they are good eyes,' and again I dropped off.
Five minutes or so elapsed, and I was once more awakened.
'I say, Quatermain,' said the voice.
'Well,' I answered testily, 'what is it now?'
'Did you notice her ankle? The shape--'
This was more than I could stand. By my bed stood the
veldtschoons I had been wearing. Moved quite beyond myself, I
took them up and threw them straight at Good's head--and hit it.
Afterwards I slept the sleep of the just, and a very heavy sleep
it must be. As for Good, I don't know if he went to sleep or if
he continued to pass Sorais' beauties in mental review, and, what
is more, I don't care.
And now the curtain is down for a few hours, and the actors in
this novel drama are plunged in dewy sleep. Perhaps we should
except Nyleptha, whom the reader may, if poetically inclined,
imagine lying in her bed of state encompassed by her maidens,
tiring women, guards, and all the other people and appurtenances
that surround a throne, and yet not able to slumber for thinking
of the strangers who had visited a country where no such
strangers had ever come before, and wondering, as she lay awake,
who they were and what their past has been, and if she was ugly
compared to the women of their native place. I, however, not
being poetically inclined, will take advantage of the lull to
give some account of the people among whom we found ourselves,
compiled, needless to state, from information which we
subsequently collected.
The name of this country, to begin at the beginning, is
Zu-Vendis, from Zu, 'yellow', and Vendis, 'place or country'.
Why it is called the Yellow Country I have never been able to
ascertain accurately, nor do the inhabitants themselves know.
Three reasons are, however, given, each of which would suffice to
account for it. The first is that the name owes its origin to
the great quantity of gold that is found in the land. Indeed, in
this respect Zu-Vendis is a veritable Eldorado, the precious
metal being extraordinarily plentiful. At present it is
collected from purely alluvial diggings, which we subsequently
inspected, and which are situated within a day's journey from
Milosis, being mostly found in pockets and in nuggets weighing
from an ounce up to six or seven pounds in weight. But other
diggings of a similar nature are known to exist, and I have
besides seen great veins of gold-bearing quartz. In Zu-Vendis
gold is a much commoner metal than silver, and thus it has
curiously enough come to pass that silver is the legal tender of
the country.
The second reason given is, that at certain times of the year the
native grasses of the country, which are very sweet and good,
turn as yellow as ripe corn; and the third arises from a
tradition that the people were originally yellow skinned, but
grew white after living for many generations upon these high
lands. Zu-Vendis is a country about the size of France, is,
roughly speaking, oval in shape; and on every side cut off from
the surrounding territory by illimitable forests of impenetrable
thorn, beyond which are said to be hundreds of miles of morasses,
deserts, and great mountains. It is, in short, a huge, high
tableland rising up in the centre of the dark continent, much as
in southern Africa flat-topped mountains rise from the level of
the surrounding veldt. Milosis itself lies, according to my
aneroid, at a level of about nine thousand feet above the sea,
but most of the land is even higher, the greatest elevation of
the open country being, I believe, about eleven thousand feet.
As a consequence the climate is, comparatively speaking, a cold
one, being very similar to that of southern England, only
brighter and not so rainy. The land is, however, exceedingly
fertile, and grows all cereals and temperate fruits and timber to
perfection; and in the lower-lying parts even produces a hardy
variety of sugar-cane. Coal is found in great abundance, and in
many places crops out from the surface; and so is pure marble,
both black and white. The same may be said of almost every metal
except silver, which is scarce, and only to be obtained from a
range of mountains in the north.
Zu-Vendis comprises in her boundaries a great variety of scenery,
including two ranges of snow-clad mountains, one on the western
boundary beyond the impenetrable belt of thorn forest, and the
other piercing the country from north to south, and passing at a
distance of about eighty miles from Milosis, from which town its
higher peaks are distinctly visible. This range forms the chief
watershed of the land. There are also three large lakes--the
biggest, namely that whereon we emerged, and which is named
Milosis after the city, covering some two hundred square miles of
country--and numerous small ones, some of them salt.
The population of this favoured land is, comparatively speaking,
dense, numbering at a rough estimate from ten to twelve millions.
It is almost purely agricultural in its habits, and divided into
great classes as in civilized countries. There is a territorial
nobility, a considerable middle class, formed principally of
merchants, officers of the army, etc.; but the great bulk of the
people are well-to-do peasants who live upon the lands of the
lords, from whom they hold under a species of feudal tenure. The
best bred people in the country are, as I think I have said, pure
whites with a somewhat southern cast of countenance; but the
common herd are much darker, though they do not show any negro or
other African characteristics. As to their descent I can give no
certain information. Their written records, which extend back
for about a thousand years, give no hint of it. One very ancient
chronicler does indeed, in alluding to some old tradition that
existed in his day, talk of it as having probably originally
'come down with the people from the coast', but that may mean
little or nothing. In short, the origin of the Zu-Vendi is lost
in the mists of time. Whence they came or of what race they are
no man knows. Their architecture and some of their sculptures
suggest an Egyptian or possibly an Assyrian origin; but it is
well known that their present remarkable style of building has
only sprung up within the last eight hundred years, and they
certainly retain no traces of Egyptian theology or customs.
Again, their appearance and some of their habits are rather
Jewish; but here again it seems hardly conceivable that they
should have utterly lost all traces of the Jewish religion.
Still, for aught I know, they may be one of the lost ten tribes
whom people are so fond of discovering all over the world, or
they may not. I do not know, and so can only describe them as I
find them, and leave wiser heads than mine to make what they can
out of it, if indeed this account should ever be read at all,
which is exceedingly doubtful.
And now after I have said all this, I am, after all, going to
hazard a theory of my own, though it is only a very little one,
as the young lady said in mitigation of her baby. This theory is
founded on a legend which I have heard among the Arabs on the
east coast, which is to the effect that 'more than two thousand
years ago' there were troubles in the country which was known as
Babylonia, and that thereon a vast horde of Persians came down to
Bushire, where they took ship and were driven by the north-east
monsoon to the east coast of Africa, where, according to the
legend, 'the sun and fire worshippers' fell into conflict with
the belt of Arab settlers who even then were settled on the east
coast, and finally broke their way through them, and, vanishing
into the interior, were no more seen. Now, I ask, is it not at
least possible that the Zu-Vendi people are the descendants of
these 'sun and fire worshippers' who broke through the Arabs and
vanished? As a matter of fact, there is a good deal in their
characters and customs that tallies with the somewhat vague ideas
that I have of Persians. Of course we have no books of reference
here, but Sir Henry says that if his memory does not fail him,
there was a tremendous revolt in Babylon about 500 BC, whereon a
vast multitude were expelled from the city. Anyhow, it is a
well-established fact that there have been many separate
emigrations of Persians from the Persian Gulf to the east coast
of Africa up to as lately as seven hundred years ago. There are
Persian tombs at Kilwa, on the east coast, still in good repair,
which bear dates showing them to be just seven hundred years old.
*{There is another theory which might account for the origin of
the Zu-Vendi which does not seem to have struck my friend Mr
Quatermain and his companions, and that is, that they are
descendants of the Phoenicians. The cradle of the Phoenician
race is supposed to have been have been on the western shore of
the Persian Gulf. Thence, as there is good evidence to show,
they emigrated in two streams, one of which took possession of
the shores of Palestine, while the other is supposed by savants
to have immigrated down the coast of Eastern Africa where, near
Mozambique, signs and remains of their occupation are not
wanting. Indeed, it would have been very extraordinary if they
did not, when leaving the Persian Gulf, make straight for the
East Coast, seeing that the north-east monsoon blows for six
months in the year dead in that direction, while for the other
six months it blows back again. And, by the way of illustrating
the probability, I may add that to this day a very extensive
trade is carried on between the Persian Gulf and Lamu and other
East African ports as far south as Madagascar, which is of course
the ancient Ebony Isle of the 'Arabian Nights'. --EDITOR.}
In addition to being an agricultural people, the Zu-Vendi are,
oddly enough, excessively warlike, and as they cannot from the
exigencies of their position make war upon other nations, they
fight among each other like the famed Kilkenny cats, with the
happy result that the population never outgrows the power of the
country to support it. This habit of theirs is largely fostered
by the political condition of the country. The monarchy is
nominally an absolute one, save in so far as it is tempered by
the power of the priests and the informal council of the great
lords; but, as in many other institutions, the king's writ does
not run unquestioned throughout the length and breadth of the
land. In short, the whole system is a purely feudal one (though
absolute serfdom or slavery is unknown), all the great lords
holding nominally from the throne, but a number of them being
practically independent, having the power of life and death,
waging war against and making peace with their neighbours as the
whim or their interests lead them, and even on occasion rising in
open rebellion against their royal master or mistress, and,
safely shut up in their castles and fenced cities, as far from
the seat of government, successfully defying them for years.
Zu-Vendis has had its king-makers as well as England, a fact that
will be well appreciated when I state that eight different
dynasties have sat upon the throne in the last one thousand
years, every one of which took its rise from some noble family
that succeeded in grasping the purple after a sanguinary
struggle. At the date of our arrival in the country things were
a little better than they had been for some centuries, the last
king, the father of Nyleptha and Sorais, having been an
exceptionally able and vigorous ruler, and, as a consequence, he
kept down the power of the priests and nobles. On his death, two
years before we reached Zu-Vendis, the twin sisters, his
children, were, following an ancient precedent, called to the
throne, since an attempt to exclude either would instantly have
provoked a sanguinary civil war; but it was generally felt in the
country that this measure was a most unsatisfactory one, and
could hardly be expected to be permanent. Indeed, as it was, the
various intrigues that were set on foot by ambitious nobles to
obtain the hand of one or other of the queens in marriage had
disquieted the country, and the general opinion was that there
would be bloodshed before long.
I will now pass on to the question of the Zu-Vendi religion,
which is nothing more or less than sun-worship of a pronounced
and highly developed character. Around this sun-worship is
grouped the entire social system of the Zu-Vendi. It sends its
roots through every institution and custom of the land. From the
cradle to the grave the Zu-Vendi follows the sun in every sense
of the saying. As an infant he is solemnly held up in its light
and dedicated to 'the symbol of good, the expression of power,
and the hope of Eternity', the ceremony answering to our baptism.
Whilst still a tiny child, his parents point out the glorious orb
as the presence of a visible and beneficent god, and he worships
it at its up-rising and down-setting. Then when still quite
small, he goes, holding fast to the pendent end of his mother's
'kaf' (toga), up to the temple of the Sun of the nearest city,
and there, when at midday the bright beams strike down upon the
golden central altar and beat back the fire that burns thereon,
he hears the white-robed priests raise their solemn chant of
praise and sees the people fall down to adore, and then, amidst
the blowing of the golden trumpets, watched the sacrifice thrown
into the fiery furnace beneath the altar. Here he comes again to
be declared 'a man' by the priests, and consecrated to war and to
good works; here before the solemn altar he leads his bride; and
here too, if differences shall unhappily arise, he divorces her.
And so on, down life's long pathway till the last mile is
travelled, and he comes again armed indeed, and with dignity, but
no longer a man. Here they bear him dead and lay his bier upon
the falling brazen doors before the eastern altar, and when the
last ray from the setting sun falls upon his white face the bolts
are drawn and he vanishes into the raging furnace beneath and is
The priests of the Sun do not marry, but are recruited by young
men specially devoted to the work by their parents and supported
by the State. The nomination to the higher offices of the
priesthood lies with the Crown, but once appointed the nominees
cannot be dispossessed, and it is scarcely too much to say that
they really rule the land. To begin with, they are a united body
sworn to obedience and secrecy, so that an order issued by the
High Priest at Milosis will be instantly and unhesitatingly acted
upon by the resident priest of a little country town three or
four hundred miles off. They are the judges of the land,
criminal and civil, an appeal lying only to the lord paramount of
the district, and from him to the king; and they have, of course,
practically unlimited jurisdiction over religious and moral
offences, together with a right of excommunication, which, as in
the faiths of more highly civilized lands, is a very effective
weapon. Indeed, their rights and powers are almost unlimited,
but I may as well state here that the priests of the Sun are wise
in their generation, and do not push things too far. It is but
very seldom that they go to extremes against anybody, being more
inclined to exercise the prerogative of mercy than run the risk
of exasperating the powerful and vigorous-minded people on whose
neck they have set their yoke, lest it should rise and break it
off altogether.
Another source of the power of the priests is their practical
monopoly of learning, and their very considerable astronomical
knowledge, which enables them to keep a hold on the popular mind
by predicting eclipses and even comets. In Zu-Vendis only a few
of the upper classes can read and write, but nearly all the
priests have this knowledge, and are therefore looked upon as
learned men.
The law of the country is, on the whole, mild and just, but
differs in several respects from our civilized law. For
instance, the law of England is much more severe upon offences
against property than against the person, as becomes a people
whose ruling passion is money. A man may half kick his wife to
death or inflict horrible sufferings upon his children at a much
cheaper rate of punishment than he can compound for the theft of
a pair of old boots. In Zu-Vendis this is not so, for there they
rightly or wrongly look upon the person as of more consequence
than goods and chattels, and not, as in England, as a sort of
necessary appendage to the latter. For murder the punishment is
death, for treason death, for defrauding the orphan and the
widow, for sacrilege, and for attempting to quit the country
(which is looked on as a sacrilege) death. In each case the
method of execution is the same, and a rather awful one. The
culprit is thrown alive into the fiery furnace beneath one of the
altars to the Sun. For all other offences, including the offence
of idleness, the punishment is forced labour upon the vast
national buildings which are always going on in some part of the
country, with or without periodical floggings, according to the
The social system of the Zu-Vendi allows considerable liberty to
the individual, provided he does not offend against the laws and
customs of the country. They are polygamous in theory, though
most of them have only one wife on account of the expense. By
law a man is bound to provide a separate establishment for each
wife. The first wife also is the legal wife, and her children
are said to be 'of the house of the Father'. The children of the
other wives are of the houses of their respective mothers. This
does not, however, imply any slur upon either mother or children.
Again, a first wife can, on entering into the married state, make
a bargain that her husband shall marry no other wife. This,
however, is very rarely done, as the women are the great
upholders of polygamy, which not only provides for their surplus
numbers but gives greater importance to the first wife, who is
thus practically the head of several households. Marriage is
looked upon as primarily a civil contract, and, subject to
certain conditions and to a proper provision for children, is
dissoluble at the will of both contracting parties, the divorce,
or 'unloosing', being formally and ceremoniously accomplished by
going through certain portions of the marriage ceremony
The Zu-Vendi are on the whole a very kindly, pleasant, and
light-hearted people. They are not great traders and care little
about money, only working to earn enough to support themselves in
that class of life in which they were born. They are exceedingly
conservative, and look with disfavour upon changes. Their legal
tender is silver, cut into little squares of different weights;
gold is the baser coin, and is about of the same value as our
silver. It is, however, much prized for its beauty, and largely
used for ornaments and decorative purposes. Most of the trade,
however, is carried on by means of sale and barter, payment being
made in kind. Agriculture is the great business of the country,
and is really well understood and carried out, most of the
available acreage being under cultivation. Great attention is
also given to the breeding of cattle and horses, the latter being
unsurpassed by any I have ever seen either in Europe or Africa.
The land belongs theoretically to the Crown, and under the Crown
to the great lords, who again divide it among smaller lords, and
so on down to the little peasant farmer who works his forty
'reestu' (acres) on a system of half-profits with his immediate
lord. In fact the whole system is, as I have said, distinctly
feudal, and it interested us much to meet with such an old friend
far in the unknown heart of Africa.
The taxes are very heavy. The State takes a third of a man's
total earnings, and the priesthood about five per cent on the
remainder. But on the other hand, if a man through any cause
falls into bona fide misfortune the State supports him in the
position of life to which he belongs. If he is idle, however, he
is sent to work on the Government undertakings, and the State
looks after his wives and children. The State also makes all the
roads and builds all town houses, about which great care is
shown, letting them out to families at a small rent. It also
keeps up a standing army of about twenty thousand men, and
provides watchmen, etc. In return for their five per cent the
priests attend to the service of the temples, carry out all
religious ceremonies, and keep schools, where they teach whatever
they think desirable, which is not very much. Some of the
temples also possess private property, but priests as individuals
cannot hold property.
And now comes a question which I find some difficulty in
answering. Are the Zu-Vendi a civilized or barbarous people?
Sometimes I think the one, sometimes the other. In some branches
of art they have attained the very highest proficiency. Take for
instance their buildings and their statuary. I do not think that
the latter can be equalled either in beauty or imaginative power
anywhere in the world, and as for the former it may have been
rivalled in ancient Egypt, but I am sure that it has never been
since. But, on the other hand, they are totally ignorant of many
other arts. Till Sir Henry, who happened to know something about
it, showed them how to do it by mixing silica and lime, they
could not make a piece of glass, and their crockery is rather
primitive. A water-clock is their nearest approach to a watch;
indeed, ours delighted them exceedingly. They know nothing about
steam, electricity, or gunpowder, and mercifully for themselves
nothing about printing or the penny post. Thus they are spared
many evils, for of a truth our age has learnt the wisdom of the
old-world saying, 'He who increaseth knowledge, increaseth
As regards their religion, it is a natural one for imaginative
people who know no better, and might therefore be expected to
turn to the sun and worship him as the all-Father, but it cannot
justly be called elevating or spiritual. It is true that they do
sometimes speak of the sun as the 'garment of the Spirit', but it
is a vague term, and what they really adore is the fiery orb
himself. They also call him the 'hope of eternity', but here
again the meaning is vague, and I doubt if the phrase conveys any
very clear impression to their minds. Some of them do indeed
believe in a future life for the good--I know Nyleptha does
firmly--but it is a private faith arising from the promptings of
the spirit, not an essential of their creed. So on the whole I
cannot say that I consider this sun-worship as a religion
indicative of a civilized people, however magnificent and
imposing its ritual, or however moral and high-sounding the
maxims of its priests, many of whom, I am sure, have their own
opinions on the whole subject; though of course they have nothing
but praise for a system which provides them with so many of the
good things of this world.
There are now only two more matters to which I need
allude--namely, the language and the system of calligraphy. As
for the former, it is soft-sounding, and very rich and flexible.
Sir Henry says that it sounds something like modern
Greek, but of course it has no connection with it. It is easy to
acquire, being simple in its construction, and a peculiar quality
about it is its euphony, and the way in which the sound of the
words adapts itself to the meaning to be expressed. Long before
we mastered the language, we could frequently make out what was
meant by the ring of the sentence. It is on this account that
the language lends itself so well to poetical declamation, of
which these remarkable people are very fond. The Zu-Vendi
alphabet seems, Sir henry says, to be derived, like every other
known system of letters, from a Phoenician source, and therefore
more remotely still from the ancient Egyptian hieratic writing.
Whether this is a fact I cannot say, not being learned in such
matters. All I know about it is that their alphabet consists of
twenty-two characters, of which a few, notably B, E, and O, are
not very unlike our own. The whole affair is, however, clumsy
and puzzling. *{There are twenty-two letters in the Phoenician
alphabet (see Appendix, Maspero's Histoire ancienne des peuples
de l'Orient, p. 746, etc.) Unfortunately Mr Quatermain gives us
no specimen of the Zu-Vendi writing, but what he here states
seems to go a long way towards substantiating the theory advanced
in the note on p. 149. --EDITOR.} But as the people of Zu-Vendi
are not given to the writing of novels, or of anything except
business documents and records of the briefest character, it
answers their purpose well enough.
It was half-past eight by my watch when I woke on the morning
following our arrival at Milosis, having slept almost exactly
twelve hours, and I must say that I did indeed feel better. Ah,
what a blessed thing is sleep! and what a difference twelve hours
of it or so makes to us after days and nights of toil and danger.
It is like going to bed one man and getting up another.
I sat up upon my silken couch--never had I slept upon such a bed
before--and the first thing that I saw was Good's eyeglass fixed
on me from the recesses of his silken couch. There was nothing
else of him to be seen except his eyeglass, but I knew from the
look of it that he was awake, and waiting till I woke up to
'I say, Quatermain,' he commenced sure enough, 'did you observe
her skin? It is as smooth as the back of an ivory hairbrush.'
'Now look here, Good,' I remonstrated, when there came a sound at
the curtain, which, on being drawn, admitted a functionary, who
signified by signs that he was there to lead us to the bath. We
gladly consented, and were conducted to a delightful marble
chamber, with a pool of running crystal water in the centre of
it, into which we gaily plunged. When we had bathed, we returned
to our apartment and dressed, and then went into the central room
where we had supped on the previous evening, to find a morning
meal already prepared for us, and a capital meal it was, though I
should be puzzled to describe the dishes. After breakfast we
lounged round and admired the tapestries and carpets and some
pieces of statuary that were placed about, wondering the while
what was going to happen next. Indeed, by this time our minds
were in such a state of complete bewilderment that we were, as a
matter of fact, ready for anything that might arrive. As for our
sense of astonishment, it was pretty well obliterated. Whilst we
were still thus engaged, our friend the captain of the guard
presented himself, and with many obeisances signified that we
were to follow him, which we did, not without doubts and
heart-searchings--for we guessed that the time had come when we
should have to settle the bill for those confounded hippopotami
with our cold-eyed friend Agon, the High Priest. However, there
was no help for it, and personally I took great comfort in the
promise of the protection of the sister Queens, knowing that if
ladies have a will they can generally find a way; so off we
started as though we liked it. A minute's walk through a passage
and an outer court brought us to the great double gates of the
palace that open on to the wide highway which runs uphill through
the heart of Milosis to the Temple of the Sun a mile away, and
thence down the slope on the farther side of the temple to the
outer wall of the city.
These gates are very large and massive, and an extraordinarily
beautiful work in metal. Between them--for one set is placed at
the entrance to an interior, and one at that of the exterior
wall--is a fosse, forty-five feet in width. This fosse is filled
with water and spanned by a drawbridge, which when lifted makes
the palace nearly impregnable to anything except siege guns. As
we came, one half of the wide gates were flung open, and we
passed over the drawbridge and presently stood gazing up one of
the most imposing, if not the most imposing, roadways in the
world. It is a hundred feet from curb to curb, and on either
side, not cramped and crowded together, as is our European
fashion, but each standing in its own grounds, and built
equidistant from and in similar style to the rest, are a series
of splendid, single-storied mansions, all of red granite. These
are the town houses of the nobles of the Court, and stretch away
in unbroken lines for a mile or more till the eye is arrested by
the glorious vision of the Temple of the Sun that crowns the hill
and heads the roadway.
As we stood gazing at this splendid sight, of which more anon,
there suddenly dashed up to the gateway four chariots, each drawn
by two white horses. These chariots are two-wheeled, and made of
wood. They are fitted with a stout pole, the weight of which is
supported by leathern girths that form a portion of the harness.
The wheels are made with four spokes only, are tired with iron,
and quite innocent of springs. In the front of the chariot, and
immediately over the pole, is a small seat for the driver, railed
round to prevent him from being jolted off. Inside the machine
itself are three low seats, one at each side, and one with the
back to the horses, opposite to which is the door. The whole
vehicle is lightly and yet strongly made, and, owing to the grace
of the curves, though primitive, not half so ugly as might be
But if the chariots left something to be desired, the horses did
not. They were simply splendid, not very large but strongly
built, and well ribbed up, with small heads, remarkably large and
round hoofs, and a great look of speed and blood. I have often
and often wondered whence this breed, which presents many
distinct characteristics, came, but like that of its owners, it
history is obscure. Like the people the horses have always been
there. The first and last of these chariots were occupied by
guards, but the centre two were empty, except for the driver, and
to these we were conducted. Alphonse and I got into the first,
and Sir Henry, Good, and Umslopogaas into the one behind, and
then suddenly off we went. And we did go! Among the Zu-Vendi it
is not usual to trot horses either riding or driving, especially
when the journey to be made is a short one--they go at full
gallop. As soon as we were seated the driver called out, the
horses sprang forward, and we were whirled away at a speed
sufficient to take one's breath, and which, till I got accustomed
to it, kept me in momentary fear of an upset. As for the
wretched Alphonse, he clung with a despairing face to the side of
what he called this 'devil of a fiacre', thinking that every
moment was his last. Presently it occurred to him to ask where
we were going, and I told him that, as far as I could ascertain,
we were going to be sacrificed by burning. You should have seen
his face as he grasped the side of the vehicle and cried out in
his terror.
But the wild-looking charioteer only leant forward over his
flying steeds and shouted; and the air, as it went singing past,
bore away the sound of Alphonse's lamentations.
And now before us, in all its marvellous splendour and dazzling
loveliness, shone out the Temple of the Sun--the peculiar pride
of the Zu-Vendi, to whom it was what Solomon's, or rather
Herod's, Temple was to the Jews. The wealth, and skill, and
labour of generations had been given to the building of this
wonderful place, which had been only finally completed within the
last fifty years. Nothing was spared that the country could
produce, and the result was indeed worthy of the effort, not so
much on account of its size--for there are larger fanes in the
world--as because of its perfect proportions, the richness and
beauty of its materials, and the wonderful workmanship. The
building (that stands by itself on a space of some eight acres of
garden ground on the hilltop, around which are the
dwelling-places of the priests) is built in the shape of a
sunflower, with a dome-covered central hall, from which radiate
twelve petal-shaped courts, each dedicated to one of the twelve
months, and serving as the repositories of statues reared in
memory of the illustrious dead. The width of the circle beneath
the dome is three hundred feet, the height of the dome is four
hundred feet, and the length of the rays is one hundred and fifty
feet, and the height of their roofs three hundred feet, so that
they run into the central dome exactly as the petals of the
sunflower run into the great raised heart. Thus the exact
measurement from the centre of the central altar to the extreme
point of any one of the rounded rays would be three hundred feet
(the width of the circle itself), or a total of six hundred feet
from the rounded extremity of one ray or petal to the extremity
of the opposite one. *{These are internal measurements. --A. Q.}
The building itself is of pure and polished white marble, which
shows out in marvellous contrast to the red granite of the
frowning city, on whose brow it glistens indeed like an imperial
diadem upon the forehead of a dusky queen. The outer surface of
the dome and of the twelve petal courts is covered entirely with
thin sheets of beaten gold; and from the extreme point of the
roof of each of these petals a glorious golden form with a
trumpet in its hand and widespread wings is figured in the very
act of soaring into space. I really must leave whoever reads
this to imagine the surpassing beauty of these golden roofs
flashing when the sun strikes--flashing like a thousand fires
aflame on a mountain of polished marble--so fiercely that the
reflection can be clearly seen from the great peaks of the range
a hundred miles away.
It is a marvellous sight--this golden flower upborne upon the
cool white marble walls, and I doubt if the world can show such
another. What makes the whole effect even more gorgeous is that
a belt of a hundred and fifty feet around the marble wall of the
temple is planted with an indigenous species of sunflower, which
were at the time when we first saw them a sheet of golden bloom.
The main entrance to this wonderful place is between the two
northernmost of the rays or petal courts, and is protected first
by the usual bronze gates, and then by doors made of solid
marble, beautifully carved with allegorical subjects and overlaid
with gold. When these are passed there is only the thickness of
the wall, which is, however, twenty-five feet (for the Zu-Vendi
build for all time), and another slight wall also of white
marble, introduced in order to avoid causing a visible gap in the
inner skin of the wall, and you stand in the circular hall under
the great dome. Advancing to the central altar you look upon as
beautiful a sight as the imagination of man can conceive. You
are in the middle of the holy place, and above you the great
white marble dome (for the inner skin, like the outer, is of
polished marble throughout) arches away in graceful curves
something like that of St Paul's in London, only at a slighter
angle, and from the funnel-like opening at the exact apex a
bright beam of light pours down upon the golden altar. At the
east and the west are other altars, and other beams of light stab
the sacred twilight to the heart. In ever direction, 'white,
mystic, wonderful', open out the ray-like courts, each pierced
through by a single arrow of light that serves to illumine its
lofty silence and dimly to reveal the monuments of the dead.
*{Light was also admitted by sliding shutters under the eaves of
the dome and in the roof. --A. Q.}
Overcome at so awe-inspiring a sight, the vast loveliness of
which thrills the nerves like a glance from beauty's eyes, you
turn to the central golden altar, in the midst of which, though
you cannot see it now, there burns a pale but steady flame
crowned with curls of faint blue smoke. It is of marble overlaid
with pure gold, in shape round like the sun, four feet in height,
and thirty-six in circumference. Here also, hinged to the
foundations of the altar, are twelve petals of beaten gold. All
night and, except at one hour, all day also, these petals are
closed over the altar itself exactly as the petals of a
water-lily close over the yellow crown in stormy weather; but
when the sun at midday pierces through the funnel in the dome and
lights upon the golden flower, the petals open and reveal the
hidden mystery, only to close again when the ray has passed.
Nor is this all. Standing in semicircles at equal distances from
each other on the north and south of the sacred place are ten
golden angels, or female winged forms, exquisitely shaped and
draped. These figures, which are slightly larger than life-size,
stand with bent heads in an attitude of adoration, their faces
shadowed by their wings, and are most imposing and of exceeding
There is but one thing further which calls for description in
this altar, which is, that to the east the flooring in front of
it is not of pure white marble, as elsewhere throughout the
building, but of solid brass, and this is also the case in front
of the other two altars.
The eastern and western altars, which are semicircular in shape,
and placed against the wall of the building, are much less
imposing, and are not enfolded in golden petals. They are,
however, also of gold, the sacred fire burns on each, and a
golden-winged figure stands on either side of them. Two great
golden rays run up the wall behind them, but where the third or
middle one should be is an opening in the wall, wide on the
outside, but narrow within, like a loophole turned inwards.
Through the eastern loophole stream the first beams of the rising
sun, and strike right across the circle, touching the folded
petals of the great gold flower as they pass till they impinge
upon the western altar. In the same way at night the last rays
of the sinking sun rest for a while on the eastern altar before
they die away into darkness. It is the promise of the dawn to
the evening and the evening to the dawn.
With the exception of those three altars and the winged figures
about them, the whole space beneath the vast white dome is
utterly empty and devoid of ornamentation--a circumstance that to
my fancy adds greatly to its splendour.
Such is a brief description of this wonderful and lovely
building, to the glories of which, to my mind so much enhanced by
their complete simplicity, I only wish I had the power to do
justice. But I cannot, so it is useless talking more about it.
But when I compare this great work of genius to some of the
tawdry buildings and tinsel ornamentation produced in these
latter days by European ecclesiastical architects, I feel that
even highly civilized art might learn something from the Zu-Vendi
masterpieces. I can only say that the exclamation which sprang
to my lips as soon as my eyes first became accustomed to the dim
light of that glorious building, and its white and curving
beauties, perfect and thrilling as those of a naked goddess, grew
upon me one by one, was, 'Well! a dog would feel religious here.'
It is vulgarly put, but perhaps it conveys my meaning more
clearly than any polished utterance.
At the temple gates our party was received by a guard of
soldiers, who appeared to be under the orders of a priest; and by
them we were conducted into one of the ray or 'petal' courts, as
the priests call them, and there left for at least half-an-hour.
Here we conferred together, and realizing that we stood in great
danger of our lives, determined, if any attempt should be made
upon us, to sell them as dearly as we could--Umslopogaas
announcing his fixed intention of committing sacrilege on the
person of Agon, the High Priest, by splitting his head with
Inkosi-kaas. From where we stood we could perceive that an
immense multitude were pouring into the temple, evidently in
expectation of some unusual event, and I could not help fearing
that we had to do with it. And here I may explain that every
day, when the sunlight falls upon the central altar, and the
trumpets sound, a burnt sacrifice is offered to the Sun,
consisting generally of the carcase of a sheep or ox, or
sometimes of fruit or corn. This even comes off about midday; of
course, not always exactly at that hour, but as Zu-Vendis is
situated not far from the Line, although--being so high above the
sea it is very temperate--midday and the falling of the sunlight
on the altar were generally simultaneous. Today the sacrifice
was to take place at about eight minutes past twelve.
Just at twelve o'clock a priest appeared, and made a sign, and
the officer of the guard signified to us that we were expected to
advance, which we did with the best grace that we could muster,
all except Alphonse, whose irrepressible teeth instantly began to
chatter. In a few seconds we were out of the court and looking
at a vast sea of human faces stretching away to the farthest
limits of the great circle, all straining to catch a glimpse of
the mysterious strangers who had committed sacrilege; the first
strangers, mind you, who, to the knowledge of the multitude, had
ever set foot in Zu-Vendis since such time that the memory of man
runneth not to the contrary.
As we appeared there was a murmur through the vast crowd that
went echoing away up the great dome, and we saw a visible blush
of excitement grow on the thousands of faces, like a pink light
on a stretch of pale cloud, and a very curious effect it was. On
we passed down a lane cut through the heart of the human mass,
till presently we stood upon the brazen patch of flooring to the
east of the central altar, and immediately facing it. For some
thirty feet around the golden-winged figures the space was roped
off, and the multitudes stood outside the ropes. Within were a
circle of white-robed gold-cinctured priests holding long golden
trumpets in their hands, and immediately in front of us was our
friend Agon, the High Priest, with his curious cap upon his head.
His was the only covered head in that vast assemblage. We took
our stand upon the brazen space, little knowing what was prepared
for us beneath, but I noticed a curious hissing sound proceeding
apparently from the floor for which I could not account. Then
came a pause, and I looked around to see if there was any sign of
the two Queens, Nyleptha and Sorais, but they were not there. To
the right of us, however, was a bare space that I guessed was
reserved for them.
We waited, and presently a far-off trumpet blew, apparently high
up in the dome. Then came another murmur from the multitude, and
up a long lane, leading to the open space to our right, we saw
the two Queens walking side by side. Behind them were some
nobles of the Court, among whom I recognized the great lord
Nasta, and behind them again a body of about fifty guards. These
last I was very glad to see. Presently they had all arrived and
taken their stand, the two Queens in the front, the nobles to the
right and left, and the guards in a double semicircle behind
Then came another silence, and Nyleptha looked up and caught my
eye; it seemed to me that there was meaning in her glance, and I
watched it narrowly. From my eye it travelled down to the brazen
flooring, on the outer edge of which we stood. Then followed a
slight and almost imperceptible sidelong movement of the head. I
did not understand it, and it was repeated. Then I guessed that
she meant us to move back off the brazen floor. One more glance
and I was sure of it--there was danger in standing on the floor.
Sir Henry was placed on one side of me, Umslopogaas on the other.
Keeping my eyes fixed straight before me, I whispered to them,
first in Zulu and then in English, to draw slowly back inch by
inch till half their feet were resting on the marble flooring
where the brass ceased. Sir Henry whispered on to Good and
Alphonse, and slowly, very very slowly, we shifted backwards; so
slowly that nobody, except Nyleptha and Sorais, who saw
everything seemed to notice the movement. Then I glanced again
at Nyleptha, and saw that, by an almost imperceptible nod, she
indicated approval. All the while Agon's eyes were fixed upon
the altar before him apparently in an ecstasy of contemplation,
and mine were fixed upon the small of his back in another sort of
ecstasy. Suddenly he flung up his long arm, and in a solemn and
resounding voice commenced a chant, of which for convenience'
sake I append a rough, a VERY rough, translation here, though, of
course, I did not then comprehend its meaning. It was an
invocation to the Sun, and ran somewhat as follows: --
There is silence upon the face of the Earth and the waters
Yea, the silence doth brood on the waters like a nesting
The silence sleepeth also upon the bosom of the profound
Only high up in the great spaces star doth speak unto star,
The Earth is faint with longing and wet with the tears of
her desire;
The star-girdled night doth embrace her, but she is not
She lies enshrouded in mists like a corpse in the
And stretches her pale hands to the East.
Lo! away in the farthest East there is the shadow of a
The Earth seeth and lifts herself. She looks out from
beneath the hollow of her hand.
Then thy great angels fly forth from the Holy Place, oh Sun,
They shoot their fiery swords into the darkness and shrivel
it up.
They climb the heavens and cast down the pale stars from
their thrones;
Yea, they hurl the changeful stars back into the womb of the
They cause the moon to become wan as the face of a dying
And behold! Thy glory comes, oh Sun!
Oh, Thou beautiful one, Thou drapest thyself in fire.
The wide heavens are thy pathway: thou rollest o'er them as
a chariot.
The Earth is thy bride. Thou dost embrace her and she
brings forth children;
Yea, Thou favourest her, and she yields her increase.
Thou art the All Father and the giver of life, oh Sun.
The young children stretch out their hands and grow in thy
The old men creep forth and seeing remember their strength.
Only the dead forget Thee, oh Sun!
When Thou art wroth then Thou dost hide Thy face;
Thou drawest around Thee a thick curtain of shadows.
Then the Earth grows cold and the Heavens are dismayed;
They tremble, and the sound thereof is the sound of thunder:
They weep, and their tears are outpoured in the rain;
They sigh, and the wild winds are the voice of their
The flowers die, the fruitful fields languish and turn pale;
The old men and the little children go unto their appointed
When Thou withdrawest thy light, oh Sun!
Say, what art Thou, oh Thou matchless Splendour--
Who set Thee on high, oh Thou flaming Terror?
When didst Thou begin, and when is the day of Thy ending?
Thou art the raiment of the living Spirit. *{This line is
interesting as being one of the few allusions to be found in the
Zu-Vendi ritual to a vague divine essence independent of the
material splendour of the orb they worship. 'Taia', the word
used here, has a very indeterminate meaning, and signifies
essence, vital principle, spirit, or even God.}
None did place Thee on high, for Thou was the Beginning.
Thou shalt not be ended when thy children are forgotten;
Nay, Thou shalt never end, for thy hours are eternal.
Thou sittest on high within thy golden house and measurest
out the centuries.
Oh Father of Life! oh dark-dispelling Sun!
He ceased this solemn chant, which, though it seems a poor enough
thing after going through my mill, is really beautiful and
impressive in the original; and then, after a moment's pause, he
glanced up towards the funnel-sloped opening in the dome and
As he spoke a wonderful and a beautiful thing happened. Down
from on high flashed a splendid living ray of light, cleaving the
twilight like a sword of fire. Full upon the closed petals it
fell and ran shimmering down their golden sides, and then the
glorious flower opened as though beneath the bright influence.
Slowly it opened, and as the great petals fell wide and revealed
the golden altar on which the fire ever burns, the priests blew a
blast upon the trumpets, and from all the people there rose a
shout of praise that beat against the domed roof and came echoing
down the marble walls. And now the flower altar was open, and
the sunlight fell full upon the tongue of sacred flame and beat
it down, so that it wavered, sank, and vanished into the hollow
recesses whence it rose. As it vanished, the mellow notes of the
trumpets rolled out once more. Again the old priest flung up his
hands and called aloud--
Once more I caught Nyleptha's eye; it was fixed upon the brazen
'Look out,' I said, aloud; and as I said it, I saw Agon bend
forward and touch something on the altar. As he did so, the
great white sea of faces around us turned red and then white
again, and a deep breath went up like a universal sigh. Nyleptha
leant forward, and with an involuntary movement covered her eyes
with her hand. Sorais turned and whispered to the officer of the
royal bodyguard, and then with a rending sound the whole of the
brazen flooring slid from before our feet, and there in its place
was suddenly revealed a smooth marble shaft terminating in a most
awful raging furnace beneath the altar, big enough and hot enough
to heat the iron stern-post of a man-of-war.
With a cry of terror we sprang backwards, all except the wretched
Alphonse, who was paralysed with fear, and would have fallen into
the fiery furnace which had been prepared for us, had not Sir
Henry caught him in his strong hand as he was vanishing and
dragged him back.
Instantly there arose the most fearful hubbub, and we four got
back to back, Alphonse dodging frantically round our little
circle in his attempts to take shelter under our legs. We all
had our revolvers on--for though we had been politely disarmed of
our guns on leaving the palace, of course these people did not
know what a revolver was. Umslopogaas, too, had his axe, of
which no effort had been made to deprive him, and now he whirled
it round his head and sent his piercing Zulu war-shout echoing up
the marble walls in fine defiant fashion. Next second, the
priests, baffled of their prey, had drawn swords from beneath
their white robes and were leaping on us like hounds upon a stag
at bay. I saw that, dangerous as action might be, we must act or
be lost, so as the first man came bounding along--and a great
tall fellow he was--I sent a heavy revolver ball through him, and
down he fell at the mouth of the shaft, and slid, shrieking
frantically, into the fiery gulf that had been prepared for us.
Whether it was his cries, or the, to them, awful sound and effect
of the pistol shot, or what, I know not, but the other priests
halted, paralysed and dismayed, and before they could come on
again Sorais had called out something, and we, together with the
two Queens and most of the courtiers, were being surrounded with
a wall of armed men. In a moment it was done, and still the
priests hesitated, and the people hung in the balance like a herd
of startled buck as it were, making no sign one way or the other.
The last yell of the burning priest had died away, the fire had
finished him, and a great silence fell upon the place.
Then the High Priest Agon turned, and his face was as the face of
a devil. 'Let the sacrifice be sacrificed,' he cried to the
Queens. 'Has not sacrilege enough been done by these strangers,
and would ye, as Queens, throw the cloak of your majesty over
evildoers? Are not the creatures sacred to the Sun dead? And is
not a priest of the Sun also dead, but now slain by the magic of
these strangers, who come as the winds out of heaven, whence we
know not, and who are what we know not? Beware, oh Queens, how
ye tamper with the great majesty of the God, even before His high
altar! There is a Power that is more than your power; there is a
Justice that is higher than your justice. Beware how ye lift an
impious hand against it! Let the sacrifice be sacrificed, oh
Then Sorais made answer in her deep quiet tones, that always
seemed to me to have a suspicion of mockery about them, however
serious the theme: 'Oh, Agon, thou hast spoken according to thy
desire, and thou hast spoken truth. But it is thou who wouldst
lift an impious hand against the justice of thy God. Bethink
thee the midday sacrifice is accomplished; the Sun hath claimed
his priest as a sacrifice.'
This was a novel idea, and the people applauded it.
'Bethink thee what are these men? They are strangers found
floating on the bosom of a lake. Who brought them here? How
came they here? How know you that they also are not servants of
the Sun? Is this the hospitality that ye would have our nation
show to those whom chance brings to them, to throw them to the
flames? Shame on you! Shame on you! What is hospitality? To
receive the stranger and show him favour. To bind up his wounds,
and find a pillow for his head, and food for him to eat. But thy
pillow is the fiery furnace, and thy food the hot savour of the
flame. Shame on thee, I say!'
She paused a little to watch the effect of her speech upon the
multitude, and seeing that it was favourable, changed her tone
from one of remonstrance to one of command.
'Ho! place there,' she cried; 'place, I say; make way for the
Queens, and those whom the Queens cover with their "kaf"
'And if I refuse, oh Queen?' said Agon between his teeth.
'Then will I cut a path with my guards,' was the proud answer;
'ay, even in the presence of thy sanctuary, and through the
bodies of thy priests.'
Agon turned livid with baffled fury. He glanced at the people as
though meditating an appeal to them, but saw clearly that their
sympathies were all the other way. The Zu-Vendi are a very
curious and sociable people, and great as was their sense of the
enormity that we had committed in shooting the sacred
hippopotami, they did not like the idea of the only real live
strangers they had seen or heard of being consigned to a fiery
furnace, thereby putting an end for ever to their chance of
extracting knowledge and information from, and gossiping about
us. Agon saw this and hesitated, and then for the first time
Nyleptha spoke in her soft sweet voice.
'Bethink thee, Agon,' she said, 'as my sister Queen has said,
these men may also be servants of the Sun. For themselves they
cannot speak, for their tongues are tied. Let the matter be
adjourned till such time as they have learnt our language. Who
can be condemned without a hearing? When these men can plead for
themselves, then it will be time to put them to the proof.'
Here was a clever loophole of escape, and the vindictive old
priest took it, little as he liked it.
'So be it, oh Queens,' he said. 'Let the men go in peace, and
when they have learnt our tongue then let them speak. And I,
even I, will make humble supplication at the altar lest
pestilence fall on the land by cause of the sacrilege.'
These words were received with a murmur of applause, and in
another minute we were marching out of the temple surrounded by
the royal guards.
But it was not till long afterwards that we learnt the exact
substance of what had passed, and how hardly our lives had been
wrung out of the cruel grip of the Zu-Vendi priesthood, in the
face of which even the Queens were practically powerless. Had it
not been for their strenuous efforts to protect us we should have
been slain even before we set foot in the Temple of the Sun. The
attempt to drop us bodily into the fiery pit as an offering was a
last artifice to attain this end when several others quite
unsuspected by us had already failed.
After our escape from Agon and his pious crew we returned to our
quarters in the palace and had a very good time. The two Queens,
the nobles and the people vied with each other in doing us honour
and showering gifts upon us. As for that painful little incident
of the hippopotami it sank into oblivion, where we were quite
content to leave it. Every day deputations and individuals
waited on us to examine our guns and clothing, our chain shirts,
and our instruments, especially our watches, with which they were
much delighted. In short, we became quite the rage, so much so
that some of the fashionable young swells among the Zu-Vendi
began to copy the cut of some of our clothes, notably Sir Henry's
shooting jacket. One day, indeed, a deputation waited on us and,
as usual, Good donned his full-dress uniform for the occasion.
This deputation seemed somehow to be a different class to those
who generally came to visit us. They were little insignificant
men of an excessively polite, not to say servile, demeanour; and
their attention appeared to be chiefly taken up with observing
the details of Good's full-dress uniform, of which they took
copious notes and measurements. Good was much flattered at the
time, not suspecting that he had to deal with the six leading
tailors of Milosis. A fortnight afterwards, however, when on
attending court as usual he had the pleasure of seeing some seven
or eight Zu-Vendi 'mashers' arrayed in all the glory of a very
fair imitation of his full-dress uniform, he changed his mind. I
shall never forget his face of astonishment and disgust. It was
after this, chiefly to avoid remark, and also because our clothes
were wearing out and had to be saved up, that we resolved to
adopt the native dress; and a very comfortable one we found it,
though I am bound to say that I looked sufficiently ridiculous in
it, and as for Alphonse! Only Umslopogaas would have none of
these things; when his moocha was worn out the fierce old Zulu
made him a new one, and went about unconcerned, as grim and naked
as his own battleaxe.
Meanwhile we pursued our study of the language steadily and made
very good progress. On the morning following our adventure in
the temple, three grave and reverend signiors presented
themselves armed with manuscript books, ink-horns and feather
pens, and indicated that they had been sent to teach us. So,
with the exception of Umslopogaas, we all buckled to with a will,
doing four hours a day. As for Umslopogaas, he would have none
of that either. He did not wish to learn that 'woman's talk',
not he; and when one of the teachers advanced on him with a book
and an ink-horn and waved them before him in a mild persuasive
way, much as a churchwarden invitingly shakes the offertory bag
under the nose of a rich but niggardly parishioner, he sprang up
with a fierce oath and flashed Inkosi-kaas before the eyes of our
learned friend, and there was an end of the attempt to teach HIM
Thus we spent our mornings in useful occupation which grew more
and more interesting as we proceeded, and the afternoons were
given up to recreation. Sometimes we made trips, notably one to
the gold mines and another to the marble quarries both of which I
wish I had space and time to describe; and sometimes we went out
hunting buck with dogs trained for that purpose, and a very
exciting sport it is, as the country is full of agricultural
enclosures and our horses were magnificent. This is not to be
wondered at, seeing that the royal stables were at our command,
in addition to which we had four splendid saddle horses given to
us by Nyleptha.
Sometimes, again, we went hawking, a pastime that is in great
favour among the Zu-Vendi, who generally fly their birds at a
species of partridge which is remarkable for the swiftness and
strength of its flight. When attacked by the hawk this bird
appears to lose its head, and, instead of seeking cover, flies
high into the sky, thus offering wonderful sport. I have seen
one of these partridges soar up almost out of sight when followed
by the hawk. Still better sport is offered by a variety of
solitary snipe as big as a small woodcock, which is plentiful in
this country, and which is flown at with a very small, agile, and
highly-trained hawk with an almost red tail. The zigzagging of
the great snipe and the lightning rapidity of the flight and
movements of the red-tailed hawk make the pastime a delightful
one. Another variety of the same amusement is the hunting of a
very small species of antelope with trained eagles; and it
certainly is a marvellous sight to see the great bird soar and
soar till he is nothing but a black speck in the sunlight, and
then suddenly come dashing down like a cannon-ball upon some
cowering buck that is hidden in a patch of grass from everything
but that piercing eye. Still finer is the spectacle when the
eagle takes the buck running.
On other days we would pay visits to the country seats at some of
the great lords' beautiful fortified places, and the villages
clustering beneath their walls. Here we saw vineyards and
corn-fields and well-kept park-like grounds, with such timber in
them as filled me with delight, for I do love a good tree. There
it stands so strong and sturdy, and yet so beautiful, a very type
of the best sort of man. How proudly it lifts its bare head to
the winter storms, and with what a full heart it rejoices when
the spring has come again! How grand its voice is, too, when it
talks with the wind: a thousand aeolian harps cannot equal the
beauty of the sighing of a great tree in leaf. All day it points
to the sunshine and all night to the stars, and thus passionless,
and yet full of life, it endures through the centuries, come
storm, come shine, drawing its sustenance from the cool bosom of
its mother earth, and as the slow years roll by, learning the
great mysteries of growth and of decay. And so on and on through
generations, outliving individuals, customs, dynasties--all save
the landscape it adorns and human nature--till the appointed day
when the wind wins the long battle and rejoices over a reclaimed
space, or decay puts the last stroke to his fungus-fingered work.
Ah, one should always think twice before one cuts down a tree!
In the evenings it was customary for Sir Henry, Good, and myself
to dine, or rather sup, with their Majesties--not every night,
indeed, but about three or four times a week, whenever they had
not much company, or the affairs of state would allow of it. And
I am bound to say that those little suppers were quite the most
charming things of their sort that I ever had to do with. How
true is the saying that the very highest in rank are always the
most simple and kindly. It is from your half-and-half sort of
people that you get pomposity and vulgarity, the difference
between the two being very much what you one sees every day in
England between the old, out-at-elbows, broken-down county
family, and the overbearing, purse-proud people who come and
'take the place'. I really think that Nyleptha's greatest charm
is her sweet simplicity, and her kindly genuine interest even in
little things. She is the simplest woman I ever knew, and where
her passions are not involved, one of the sweetest; but she can
look queenly enough when she likes, and be as fierce as any
savage too.
For instance, never shall I forget that scene when I for the
first time was sure that she was really in love with Curtis. It
came about in this way--all through Good's weakness for ladies'
society. When we had been employed for some three months in
learning Zu-Vendi, it struck Master Good that he was getting
rather tired of the old gentlemen who did us the honour to lead
us in the way that we should go, so he proceeded, without saying
a word to anybody else, to inform them that it was a peculiar
fact, but that we could not make any real progress in the deeper
intricacies of a foreign language unless we were taught by
ladies--young ladies, he was careful to explain. In his own
country, he pointed out, it was habitual to choose the very
best-looking and most charming girls who could be found to
instruct any strangers who happened to come that way, etc.
All of this the old gentlemen swallowed open-mouthed. There was,
they admitted, reason in what he said, since the contemplation of
the beautiful, as their philosophy taught, induced a certain
porosity of mind similar to that produced upon the physical body
by the healthful influences of sun and air. Consequently it was
probable that we might absorb the Zu-Vendi tongue a little faster
if suitable teachers could be found. Another thing was that, as
the female sex was naturally loquacious, good practice would be
gained in the viva voce department of our studies.
To all of this Good gravely assented, and the learned gentlemen
departed, assuring him that their orders were to fall in with our
wishes in every way, and that, if possible, our views should be
Imagine, therefore the surprise and disgust of myself, and I
trust and believe Sir Henry, when, on entering the room where we
were accustomed to carry on our studies the following morning, we
found, instead of our usual venerable tutors, three of the
best-looking young women whom Milosis could produce--and that is
saying a good deal--who blushed and smiled and curtseyed, and
gave us to understand that they were there to carry on our
instruction. Then Good, as we gazed at one another in
bewilderment, thought fit to explain, saying that it had slipped
his memory before--but the old gentlemen had told him, on the
previous evening, that it was absolutely necessary that our
further education should be carried on by the other sex. I was
overwhelmed, and appealed to Sir Henry for advice in such a
'Well,' he said, 'you see the ladies are here, ain't they? If we
sent them away, don't you think it might hurt their feelings, eh?
One doesn't like to be rough, you see; and they look regular
BLUES, don't they, eh?'
By this time Good had already begun his lessons with the
handsomest of the three, and so with a sigh I yielded. That day
everything went very well: the young ladies were certainly very
clever, and they only smiled when we blundered. I never saw Good
so attentive to his books before, and even Sir Henry appeared to
tackle Zu-Vendi with a renewed zest. 'Ah,' thought I, 'will it
always be thus?'
Next day we were much more lively, our work was pleasingly
interspersed with questions about our native country, what the
ladies were like there, etc., all of which we answered as best as
we could in Zu-Vendi, and I heard Good assuring his teacher that
her loveliness was to the beauties of Europe as the sun to the
moon, to which she replied with a little toss of the head, that
she was a plain teaching woman and nothing else, and that it was
not kind 'to deceive a poor girl so'. Then we had a little
singing that was really charming, so natural and unaffected. The
Zu-Vendi love-songs are most touching. On the third day we were
all quite intimate. Good narrated some of his previous love
affairs to his fair teacher, and so moved was she that her sighs
mingled with his own. I discoursed with mine, a merry blue-eyed
girl, upon Zu-Vendian art, and never saw that she was waiting for
an opportunity to drop a specimen of the cockroach tribe down my
back, whilst in the corner Sir Henry and his governess appeared,
so far as I could judge, to be going through a lesson framed on
the great educational principles laid down by Wackford Squeers
Esq., though in a very modified or rather spiritualized form.
The lady softly repeated the Zu-Vendi word for 'hand', and he
took hers; 'eyes', and he gazed deep into her brown orbs; 'lips',
and--but just at that moment MY young lady dropped the cockroach
down my back and ran away laughing. Now if there is one thing I
loathe more than another it is cockroaches, and moved quite
beyond myself, and yet laughing at her impudence, I took up the
cushion she had been sitting on and threw it after her. Imagine
then my shame--my horror, and my distress--when the door opened,
and, attended by two guards only, in walked NYLEPTHA. The
cushion could not be recalled (it missed the girl and hit one of
the guards on the head), but I instantly and ineffectually tried
to look as though I had not thrown it. Good ceased his sighing,
and began to murder Zu-Vendi at the top of his voice, and Sir
Henry whistled and looked silly. As for the poor girls, they
were utterly dumbfounded.
And Nyleptha! she drew herself up till her frame seemed to tower
even above that of the tall guards, and her face went first red,
and then pale as death.
'Guards,' she said in a quiet choked voice, and pointing at the
fair but unconscious disciple of Wackford Squeers, 'slay me that
The men hesitated, as well they might.
'Will ye do my bidding,' she said again in the same voice, 'or
will ye not?'
Then they advanced upon the girl with uplifted spears. By this
time Sir Henry had recovered himself, and saw that the comedy was
likely to turn into a tragedy.
'Stand back,' he said in a voice of thunder, at the same time
getting in front of the terrified girl. 'Shame on thee,
Nyleptha--shame! Thou shalt not kill her.'
'Doubtless thou hast good reason to try to protect her. Thou
couldst hardly do less in honour,' answered the infuriated Queen;
'but she shall die--she shall die,' and she stamped her little
'It is well,' he answered; 'then will I die with her. I am thy
servant, oh Queen; do with me even as thou wilt.' And he bowed
towards her, and fixed his clear eyes contemptuously on her face.
'I could wish to slay thee too,' she answered; 'for thou dost
make a mock of me;' and then feeling that she was mastered, and I
suppose not knowing what else to do, she burst into such a storm
of tears and looked so royally lovely in her passionate distress,
that, old as I am, I must say I envied Curtis his task of
supporting her. It was rather odd to see him holding her in his
arms considering what had just passed--a thought that seemed to
occur to herself, for presently she wrenched herself free and
went, leaving us all much disturbed.
Presently, however, one of the guards returned with a message to
the girls that they were, on pain of death, to leave the city and
return to their homes in the country, and that no further harm
would come to them; and accordingly they went, one of them
remarking philosophically that it could not be helped, and that
it was a satisfaction to know that they had taught us a little
serviceable Zu-Vendi. Mine was an exceedingly nice girl, and,
overlooking the cockroach, I made her a present of my favourite
lucky sixpence with a hole in it when she went away. After that
our former masters resumed their course of instruction, needless
to say to my great relief.
That night, when in fear and trembling we attended the royal
supper table, we found that Nyleptha was laid up with a bad
headache. That headache lasted for three whole days; but on the
fourth she was present at supper as usual, and with the most
gracious and sweet smile gave Sir Henry her hand to lead her to
the table. No allusion was made to the little affair described
above beyond her saying, with a charming air of innocence, that
when she came to see us at our studies the other day she had been
seized with a giddiness from which she had only now recovered.
She supposed, she added with a touch of the humour that was
common to her, that it was the sight of people working so hard
which had affected her.
In reply Sir Henry said, dryly, that he had thought she did not
look quite herself on that day, whereat she flashed one of those
quick glances of hers at him, which if he had the feelings of a
man must have gone through him like a knife, and the subject
dropped entirely. Indeed, after supper was over Nyleptha
condescended to put us through an examination to see what we had
learnt, and to express herself well satisfied with the results.
Indeed, she proceeded to give us, especially Sir Henry, a lesson
on her own account, and very interesting we found it.
And all the while that we talked, or rather tried to talk, and
laughed, Sorais would sit there in her carven ivory chair, and
look at us and read us all like a book, only from time to time
saying a few words, and smiling that quick ominous smile of hers
which was more like a flash of summer lightning on a dark cloud
than anything else. And as near to her as he dared would sit
Good, worshipping through his eyeglass, for he really was getting
seriously devoted to this sombre beauty, of whom, speaking
personally, I felt terribly afraid. I watched her keenly, and
soon I found out that for all her apparent impassibility she was
at heart bitterly jealous of Nyleptha. Another thing I found
out, and the discovery filled me with dismay, and that was, that
she ALSO was growing devoted to Sir Henry Curtis. Of course I
could not be sure; it is not easy to read so cold and haughty a
woman; but I noticed one or two little things, and, as elephant
hunters know, dried grass shows which way the wind has set.
And so another three months passed over us, by which time we had
all attained to a very considerable mastery of the Zu-Vendi
language, which is an easy one to learn. And as the time went on
we became great favourites with the people, and even with the
courtiers, gaining an enormous reputation for cleverness,
because, as I think I have said, Sir Henry was able to show them
how to make glass, which was a national want, and also, by the
help of a twenty-year almanac that we had with us, to predict
various heavenly combinations which were quite unsuspected by the
native astronomers. We even succeeded in demonstrating the
principle of the steam-engine to a gathering of the learned men,
who were filled with amazement; and several other things of the
same sort we did. And so it came about that the people made up
their minds that we must on no account be allowed to go out of
the country (which indeed was an apparent impossibility even if
we had wished it), and we were advanced to great honour and made
officers to the bodyguards of the sister Queens while permanent
quarters were assigned to us in the palace, and our opinion was
asked upon questions of national policy.
But blue as the sky seemed, there was a cloud, and a big one, on
the horizon. We had indeed heard no more of those confounded
hippopotami, but it is not on that account to be supposed that
our sacrilege was forgotten, or the enmity of the great and
powerful priesthood headed by Agon appeased. On the contrary, it
was burning the more fiercely because it was necessarily
suppressed, and what had perhaps begun in bigotry was ending in
downright direct hatred born of jealousy. Hitherto, the priests
had been the wise men of the land, and were on this account, as
well as from superstitious causes, looked on with peculiar
veneration. But our arrival, with our outlandish wisdom and our
strange inventions and hints of unimagined things, dealt a
serious blow to this state of affairs, and, among the educated
Zu-Vendi, went far towards destroying the priestly prestige. A
still worse affront to them, however, was the favour with which
we were regarded, and the trust that was reposed in us. All
these things tended to make us excessively obnoxious to the great
sacerdotal clan, the most powerful because the most united
faction in the kingdom.
Another source of imminent danger to us was the rising envy of
some of the great lords headed by Nasta, whose antagonism to us
had at best been but thinly veiled, and which now threatened to
break out into open flame. Nasta had for some years been a
candidate for Nyleptha's hand in marriage, and when we appeared
on the scene I fancy, from all I could gather, that though there
were still many obstacles in his path, success was by no means
out of his reach. But now all this had changed; the coy Nyleptha
smiled no more in his direction, and he was not slow to guess the
cause. Infuriated and alarmed, he turned his attention to
Sorais, only to find that he might as well try to woo a mountain
side. With a bitter jest or two about his fickleness, that door
was closed on him for ever. So Nasta bethought himself of the
thirty thousand wild swordsmen who would pour down at his bidding
through the northern mountain passes, and no doubt vowed to adorn
the gates of Milosis with our heads.
But first he determined, as I learned, to make one more attempt
and to demand the hand of Nyleptha in the open Court after the
formal annual ceremony of the signing of the laws that had been
proclaimed by the Queens during the year.
Of this astounding fact Nyleptha heard with simulated
nonchalance, and with a little trembling of the voice herself
informed us of it as we sat at supper on the night preceding the
great ceremony of the law-giving.
Sir Henry bit his lip, and do what he could to prevent it plainly
showed his agitation.
'And what answer will the Queen be pleased to give to the great
Lord?' asked I, in a jesting manner.
'Answer, Macumazahn' (for we had elected to pass by our Zulu
names in Zu-Vendis), she said, with a pretty shrug of her ivory
shoulder. 'Nay, I know not; what is a poor woman to do, when the
wooer has thirty thousand swords wherewith to urge his love?'
And from under her long lashes she glanced at Curtis.
Just then we rose from the table to adjourn into another room.
'Quatermain, a word, quick,' said Sir Henry to me. 'Listen. I
have never spoken about it, but surely you have guessed: I love
Nyleptha. What am I to do?'
Fortunately, I had more or less already taken the question into
consideration, and was therefore able to give such answer as
seemed the wisest to me.
'You must speak to Nyleptha tonight,' I said. 'Now is your time,
now or never. Listen. In the sitting-chamber get near to her,
and whisper to her to meet you at midnight by the Rademas statue
at the end of the great hall. I will keep watch for you there.
Now or never, Curtis.'
We passed on into the other room. Nyleptha was sitting, her
hands before her, and a sad anxious look upon her lovely face. A
little way off was Sorais talking to Good in her slow measured
The time went on; in another quarter of an hour I knew that,
according to their habit, the Queens would retire. As yet, Sir
Henry had had no chance of saying a word in private: indeed,
though we saw much of the royal sisters, it was by no means easy
to see them alone. I racked my brains, and at last an idea came
to me.
'Will the Queen be pleased,' I said, bowing low before Sorais,
'to sing to her servants? Our hearts are heavy this night; sing
to us, oh Lady of the Night' (Sorais' favourite name among the
'My songs, Macumazahn, are not such as to lighten the heavy
heart, yet will I sing if it pleases thee,' she answered; and she
rose and went a few paces to a table whereon lay an instrument
not unlike a zither, and struck a few wandering chords.
Then suddenly, like the notes of some deep-throated bird, her
rounded voice rang out in song so wildly sweet, and yet with so
eerie and sad a refrain, that it made the very blood stand still.
Up, up soared the golden notes, that seemed to melt far away, and
then to grow again and travel on, laden with all the sorrow of
the world and all the despair of the lost. It was a marvellous
song, but I had not time to listen to it properly. However, I
got the words of it afterwards, and here is a translation of its
burden, so far as it admits of being translated at all.
As a desolate bird that through darkness its lost way is
As a hand that is helplessly raised when Death's sickle is
So is life! ay, the life that lends passion and breath to my
As the nightingale's song that is full of a sweetness
As a spirit unbarring the gates of the skies for a token,
So is love! ay, the love that shall fall when his pinion is
As the tramp of the legions when trumpets their challenge
are sending,
As the shout of the Storm-god when lightnings the black sky
are rending,
So is power! ay, the power that shall lie in the dust at its
So short is our life; yet with space for all things to
forsake us,
A bitter delusion, a dream from which nought can awake us,
Till Death's dogging footsteps at morn or at eve shall
o'ertake us.
Oh, the world is fair at the dawning--dawning--dawning,
But the red sun sinks in blood--the red sun sinks in blood.
I only wish that I could write down the music too.
'Now, Curtis, now,' I whispered, when she began the second verse,
and turned my back.
'Nyleptha,' he said--for my nerves were so much on the stretch
that I could hear every word, low as it was spoken, even through
Sorais' divine notes--'Nyleptha, I must speak with thee this
night, upon my life I must. Say me not nay; oh, say me not nay!'
'How can I speak with thee?' she answered, looking fixedly before
her; 'Queens are not like other people. I am surrounded and
'Listen, Nyleptha, thus. I will be before the statue of Rademas
in the great hall at midnight. I have the countersign and can
pass in. Macumazahn will be there to keep guard, and with him
the Zulu. Oh come, my Queen, deny me not.'
'It is not seemly,' she murmured, 'and tomorrow--'
Just then the music began to die in the last wail of the refrain,
and Sorais slowly turned her round.
'I will be there,' said Nyleptha, hurriedly; 'on thy life see
that thou fail me not.'
It was night--dead night--and the silence lay on the Frowning
City like a cloud.
Secretly, as evildoers, Sir Henry Curtis, Umslopogaas, and myself
threaded our way through the passages towards a by-entrance to
the great Throne Chamber. Once we were met by the fierce
rattling challenge of the sentry. I gave the countersign, and
the man grounded his spear and let us pass. Also we were
officers of the Queens' bodyguard, and in that capacity had a
right to come and go unquestioned.
We gained the hall in safety. So empty and so still was it, that
even when we had passed the sound of our footsteps yet echoed up
the lofty walls, vibrating faintly and still more faintly against
the carven roof, like ghosts of the footsteps of dead men
haunting the place that once they trod.
It was an eerie spot, and it oppressed me. The moon was full,
and threw great pencils and patches of light through the high
windowless openings in the walls, that lay pure and beautiful
upon the blackness of the marble floor, like white flowers on a
coffin. One of these silver arrows fell upon the statue of the
sleeping Rademas, and of the angel form bent over him, illumining
it, and a small circle round it, with a soft clear light,
reminding me of that with which Catholics illumine the altars of
their cathedrals.
Here by the statue we took our stand, and waited. Sir Henry and
I close together, Umslopogaas some paces off in the darkness, so
that I could only just make out his towering outline leaning on
the outline of an axe.
So long did we wait that I almost fell asleep resting against the
cold marble, but was suddenly aroused by hearing Curtis give a
quick catching breath. Then from far away there came a little
sound as though the statues that lined the walls were whispering
to each other some message of the ages.
It was the faint sweep of a lady's dress. Nearer it grew, and
nearer yet. We could see a figure steal from patch to patch of
moonlight, and even hear the soft fall of sandalled feet.
Another second and I saw the black silhouette of the old Zulu
raise its arm in mute salute, and Nyleptha was before us.
Oh, how beautiful she looked as she paused a moment just within
the circle of the moonlight! Her hand was pressed upon her
heart, and her white bosom heaved beneath it. Round her head a
broidered scarf was loosely thrown, partially shadowing the
perfect face, and thus rendering it even more lovely; for beauty,
dependent as it is to a certain extent upon the imagination, is
never so beautiful as when it is half hid. There she stood
radiant but half doubting, stately and yet so sweet. It was but
a moment, but I then and there fell in love with her myself, and
have remained so to this hour; for, indeed, she looked more like
an angel out of heaven than a loving, passionate, mortal woman.
Low we bowed before her, and then she spoke.
'I have come,' she whispered, 'but it was at great risk. Ye know
not how I am watched. The priests watch me. Sorais watches me
with those great eyes of hers. My very guards are spies upon me.
Nasta watches me too. Oh, let him be careful!' and she stamped
her foot. 'Let him be careful; I am a woman, and therefore hard
to drive. Ay, and I am a Queen, too, and can still avenge. Let
him be careful, I say, lest in place of giving him my hand I take
his head,' and she ended the outburst with a little sob, and then
smiled up at us bewitchingly and laughed.
'Thou didst bid me come hither, my Lord Incubu' (Curtis had
taught her to call him so). 'Doubtless it is about business of
the State, for I know that thou art ever full of great ideas and
plans for my welfare and my people's. So even as a Queen should
I have come, though I greatly fear the dark alone,' and again she
laughed and gave him a glance from her grey eyes.
At this point I thought it wise to move a little, since secrets
'of the State' should not be made public property; but she would
not let me go far, peremptorily stopping me within five yards or
so, saying that she feared surprise. So it came to pass that,
however unwillingly, I heard all that passed.
'Thou knowest, Nyleptha,' said Sir Henry, 'that it was for none
of these things that I asked thee to meet me at this lonely
place. Nyleptha, waste not the time in pleasantry, but listen to
me, for--I love thee.'
As he said the words I saw her face break up, as it were, and
change. The coquetry went out of it, and in its place there
shone a great light of love which seemed to glorify it, and make
it like that of the marble angel overhead. I could not help
thinking that it must have been a touch of prophetic instinct
which made the long dead Rademas limn, in the features of the
angel of his inspiring vision, so strange a likeness of his own
descendant. Sir Henry, also, must have observed and been struck
by the likeness, for, catching the look upon Nyleptha's face, he
glanced quickly from it to the moonlit statue, and then back
again at his beloved.
'Thou sayest thou dost love me,' she said in a low voice, 'and
thy voice rings true, but how am I to know that thou dost speak
the truth?'
'Though,' she went on with proud humility, and in the stately
third person which is so largely used by the Zu-Vendi, 'I be as
nothing in the eyes of my lord,' and she curtseyed towards him,
'who comes from among a wonderful people, to whom my people are
but children, yet here am I a queen and a leader of men, and if I
would go to battle a hundred thousand spears shall sparkle in my
train like stars glimmering down the path of the bent moon. And
although my beauty be a little thing in the eyes of my lord,' and
she lifted her broidered skirt and curtseyed again, 'yet here
among my own people am I held right fair, and ever since I was a
woman the great lords of my kingdom have made quarrel concerning
me, as though forsooth,' she added with a flash of passion, 'I
were a deer to be pulled down by the hungriest wolf, or a horse
to be sold to the highest bidder. Let my lord pardon me if I
weary my lord, but it hath pleased my lord to say that he loves
me, Nyleptha, a Queen of the Zu-Vendi, and therefore would I say
that though my love and my hand be not much to my lord, yet to me
are they all.'
'Oh!' she cried, with a sudden and thrilling change of voice, and
modifying her dignified mode of address. 'Oh, how can I know
that thou lovest but me? How can I know that thou wilt not weary
of me and seek thine own place again, leaving me desolate? Who
is there to tell me but that thou lovest some other woman, some
fair woman unknown to me, but who yet draws breath beneath this
same moon that shines on me tonight? Tell me HOW am I to know?'
And she clasped her hands and stretched them out towards him and
looked appealingly into his face.
'Nyleptha,' answered Sir Henry, adopting the Zu-Vendi way of
speech; 'I have told thee that I love thee; how am I to tell thee
how much I love thee? Is there then a measure for love? Yet
will I try. I say not that I have never looked upon another
woman with favour, but this I say that I love thee with all my
life and with all my strength; that I love thee now and shall
love thee till I grow cold in death, ay, and as I believe beyond
my death, and on and on for ever: I say that thy voice is music
to my ear, and thy touch as water to a thirsty land, that when
thou art there the world is beautiful, and when I see thee not it
is as though the light was dead. Oh, Nyleptha, I will never
leave thee; here and now for thy dear sake I will forget my
people and my father's house, yea, I renounce them all. By thy
side will I live, Nyleptha, and at thy side will I die.'
He paused and gazed at her earnestly, but she hung her head like
a lily, and said never a word.
'Look!' he went on, pointing to the statue on which the moonlight
played so brightly. 'Thou seest that angel woman who rests her
hand upon the forehead of the sleeping man, and thou seest how at
her touch his soul flames up and shines out through his flesh,
even as a lamp at the touch of the fire, so is it with me and
thee, Nyleptha. Thou hast awakened my soul and called it forth,
and now, Nyleptha, it is not mine, not mine, but THINE and thine
only. There is no more for me to say; in thy hands is my life.'
And he leaned back against the pedestal of the statue, looking
very pale, and his eyes shining, but proud and handsome as a god.
Slowly, slowly she raised her head, and fixed her wonderful eyes,
all alight with the greatness of her passion, full upon his face,
as though to read his very soul. Then at last she spoke, low
indeed, but clearly as a silver bell.
'Of a truth, weak woman that I am, I do believe thee. Ill will
be the day for thee and for me also if it be my fate to learn
that I have believed a lie. And now hearken to me, oh man, who
hath wandered here from far to steal my heart and make me all
thine own. I put my hand upon thy hand thus, and thus I, whose
lips have never kissed before, do kiss thee on the brow; and now
by my hand and by that first and holy kiss, ay, by my people's
weal and by my throne that like enough I shall lose for thee--by
the name of my high House, by the sacred Stone and by the eternal
majesty of the Sun, I swear that for thee will I live and die.
And I swear that I will love thee and thee only till death, ay,
and beyond, if as thou sayest there be a beyond, and that thy
will shall be my will, and thy ways my ways.
'Oh see, see, my lord! thou knowest not how humble is she who
loves; I, who am a Queen, I kneel before thee, even at thy feet I
do my homage;' and the lovely impassioned creature flung herself
down on her knees on the cold marble before him. And after that
I really do not know, for I could stand it no longer, and cleared
off to refresh myself with a little of old Umslopogaas' society,
leaving them to settle it their own way, and a very long time
they were about it.
I found the old warrior leaning on Inkosi-kaas as usual, and
surveying the scene in the patch of moonlight with a grim smile
of amusement.
'Ah, Macumazahn,' he said, 'I suppose it is because I am getting
old, but I don't think that I shall ever learn to understand the
ways of you white people. Look there now, I pray thee, they are
a pretty pair of doves, but what is all the fuss about,
Macumazahn? He wants a wife, and she wants a husband, then why
does he not pay his cows down *{Alluding to the Zulu custom. --A.
Q.} like a man and have done with it? It would save a deal of
trouble, and we should have had our night's sleep. But there
they go, talk, talk, talk, and kiss, kiss, kiss, like mad things.
Some three-quarters of an hour afterwards the 'pair of doves'
came strolling towards us, Curtis looking slightly silly, and
Nyleptha remarking calmly that the moonlight made very pretty
effects on the marble. Then, for she was in a most gracious
mood, she took my hand and said that I was 'her Lord's' dear
friend, and therefore most dear to her--not a word for my own
sake, you see. Next she lifted Umslopogaas' axe, and examined it
curiously, saying significantly as she did so that he might soon
have cause to use it in defence of her.
After that she nodded prettily to us all, and casting on tender
glance at her lover, glided off into the darkness like a
beautiful vision.
When we got back to our quarters, which we did without accident,
Curtis asked me jocularly what I was thinking about.
'I am wondering,' I answered, 'on what principle it is arranged
that some people should find beautiful queens to fall in love
with them, while others find nobody at all, or worse than nobody;
and I am also wondering how many brave men's lives this night's
work will cost.' It was rather nasty of me, perhaps, but somehow
all the feelings do not evaporate with age, and I could not help
being a little jealous of my old friend's luck. Vanity, my sons;
vanity of vanities!
On the following morning, Good was informed of the happy
occurrence, and positively rippled with smiles that, originating
somewhere about the mouth, slowly travelled up his face like the
rings in a duckpond, till they flowed over the brim of his
eyeglass and went where sweet smiles go. The fact of the matter,
however, was that not only was Good rejoiced about the thing on
its own merits but also for personal reasons. He adored Sorais
quite as earnestly as Sir Henry adored Nyleptha, and his
adoration had not altogether prospered. Indeed, it had seemed to
him and to me also that the dark Cleopatra-like queen favoured
Curtis in her own curious inscrutable way much more than Good.
Therefore it was a relief to him to learn that his unconscious
rival was permanently and satisfactorily attached in another
direction. His face fell a little, however, when he was told
that the whole thing was to be kept as secret as the dead, above
all from Sorais for the present, inasmuch as the political
convulsion which would follow such an announcement at the moment
would be altogether too great to face and would very possibly, if
prematurely made, shake Nyleptha from her throne.
That morning we again attended in the Throne Hall, and I could
not help smiling to myself when I compared the visit to our last,
and reflecting that, if walls could speak, they would have
strange tales to tell.
What actresses women are! There, high upon her golden throne,
draped in her blazoned 'kaf' or robe of state, sat the fair
Nyleptha, and when Sir Henry came in a little late, dressed in
the full uniform of an officer of her guard and humbly bent
himself before her, she merely acknowledged his salute with a
careless nod and turned her head coldly aside. It was a very
large Court, for not only did the signing of the laws attract
many outside of those whose duty it was to attend, but also the
rumour that Nasta was going to publicly ask the hand of Nyleptha
in marriage had gone abroad, with the result that the great hall
was crowded to its utmost capacity. There were our friends the
priests in force, headed by Agon, who regarded us with a
vindictive eye; and a most imposing band they were, with their
long white embroidered robes girt with a golden chain from which
hung the fish-like scales. There, too, were a number of the
lords, each with a band of brilliantly attired attendants, and
prominent among them was Nasta, stroking his black beard
meditatively and looking unusually pleasant. It was a splendid
and impressive sight, especially when the officer after having
read out each law handed them to the Queens to sign, whereon the
trumpets blared out and the Queens' guard grounded their spears
with a crash in salute. This reading and signing of the laws
took a long time, but at length it came to an end, the last one
reciting that 'whereas distinguished strangers, etc.', and
proceeding to confer on the three of us the rank of 'lords',
together with certain military commands and large estates
bestowed by the Queen. When it was read the trumpets blared and
the spears clashed down as usual, but I saw some of the lords
turn and whisper to each other, while Nasta ground his teeth.
They did not like the favour that was shown to us, which under
all the circumstances was not perhaps unnatural.
Then there came a pause, and Nasta stepped forward and bowing
humbly, though with no humility in his eye, craved a boon at the
hands of the Queen Nyleptha.
Nyleptha turned a little pale, but bowed graciously, and prayed
the 'well-beloved lord' to speak on, whereon in a few
straightforward soldier-like words he asked her hand in marriage.
Then, before she could find words to answer, the High Priest Agon
took up the tale, and in a speech of real eloquence and power
pointed out the many advantages of the proposed alliance; how it
would consolidate the kingdom, for Nasta's dominions, of which he
was virtually king, were to Zu-Vendis much what Scotland used to
be to England; how it would gratify the wild mountaineers and be
popular among the soldiery, for Nasta was a famous general; how
it would set her dynasty firmly on the throne, and would gain the
blessing and approval of the 'Sun', i.e. of the office of the
High Priest, and so on. Many of his arguments were undoubtedly
valid, and there was, looking at it from a political point of
view, everything to be said for the marriage. But unfortunately
it is difficult to play the game of politics with the persons of
young and lovely queens as though they were ivory effigies of
themselves on a chessboard. Nyleptha's face, while Agon spouted
away, was a perfect study; she smiled indeed, but beneath the
smile it set like a stone, and her eyes began to flash ominously.
At last he stopped, and she prepared herself to answer. Before
she did so, however, Sorais leant towards her and said in a voice
sufficiently loud for me to catch what she said, 'Bethink thee
well, my sister, ere thou dost speak, for methinks that our
thrones may hang upon thy words.'
Nyleptha made no answer, and with a shrug and a smile Sorais
leant back again and listened.
'Of a truth a great honour has been done to me,' she said, 'that
my poor hand should not only have been asked in marriage, but
that Agon here should be so swift to pronounce the blessing of
the Sun upon my union. Methinks that in another minute he would
have wed us fast ere the bride had said her say. Nasta, I thank
thee, and I will bethink me of thy words, but now as yet I have
no mind for marriage, that as a cup of which none know the taste
until they begin to drink it. Again I thank thee, Nasta,' and
she made as though she would rise.
The great lord's face turned almost as black as his beard with
fury, for he knew that the words amounted to a final refusal of
his suit.
'Thanks be to the Queen for her gracious words,' he said,
restraining himself with difficulty and looking anything but
grateful, 'my heart shall surely treasure them. And now I crave
another boon, namely, the royal leave to withdraw myself to my
own poor cities in the north till such time as the Queen shall
say my suit nay or yea. Mayhap,' he added, with a sneer, 'the
Queen will be pleased to visit me there, and to bring with her
these stranger lords,' and he scowled darkly towards us. 'It is
but a poor country and a rough, but we are a hardy race of
mountaineers, and there shall be gathered thirty thousand
swordsmen to shout a welcome to her.'
This speech, which was almost a declaration of rebellion, was
received in complete silence, but Nyleptha flushed up and
answered it with spirit.
'Oh, surely, Nasta, I will come, and the strange lords in my
train, and for every man of thy mountaineers who calls thee
Prince, will I bring two from the lowlands who call me Queen, and
we will see which is the staunchest breed. Till then farewell.'
The trumpets blared out, the Queens rose, and the great assembly
broke up in murmuring confusion, and for myself I went home with
a heavy heart foreseeing civil war.
After this there was quiet for a few weeks. Curtis and the Queen
did not often meet, and exercised the utmost caution not to allow
the true relation in which they stood to each other to leak out;
but do what they would, rumours as hard to trace as a buzzing fly
in a dark room, and yet quite as audible, began to hum round and
round, and at last to settle on her throne.
And now it was that the trouble which at first had been but a
cloud as large as a man's hand began to loom very black and big
upon our horizon, namely, Sorais' preference for Sir Henry. I
saw the storm drawing nearer and nearer; and so, poor fellow, did
he. The affection of so lovely and highly-placed a woman was not
a thing that could in a general way be considered a calamity by
any man, but, situated as Curtis was, it was a grievous burden to
To begin with, Nyleptha, though altogether charming, was, it must
be admitted, of a rather jealous disposition, and was sometimes
apt to visit on her lover's head her indignation at the marks of
what Alphonse would have called the 'distinguished consideration'
with which her royal sister favoured him. Then the enforced
secrecy of his relation to Nyleptha prevented Curtis from taking
some opportunity of putting a stop, or trying to put a stop, to
this false condition of affairs, by telling Sorais, in a casual
but confidential way, that he was going to marry her sister. A
third sting in Sir Henry's honey was that he knew that Good was
honestly and sincerely attached to the ominous-looking but most
attractive Lady of the Night. Indeed, poor Bougwan was wasting
himself to a shadow of his fat and jolly self about her, his face
getting so thin that his eyeglass would scarcely stick in it;
while she, with a sort of careless coquetry, just gave him
encouragement enough to keep him going, thinking, no doubt, that
he might be useful as a stalking-horse. I tried to give him a
hint, in as delicate a way as I could, but he flew into a huff
and would not listen to me, so I was determined to let ill along,
for fear of making it worse. Poor Good, he really was very
ludicrous in his distress, and went in for all sorts of
absurdities, under the belief that he was advancing his suit.
One of them was the writing--with the assistance of one of the
grave and revered signiors who instructed us, and who, whatever
may have been the measure of his erudition, did not understand
how to scan a line--of a most interminable Zu-Vendi love-song, of
which the continually recurring refrain was something about 'I
will kiss thee; oh yes, I will kiss thee!' Now among the
Zu-Vendi it is a common and most harmless thing for young men to
serenade ladies at night, as I believe they do in the southern
countries of Europe, and sing all sorts of nonsensical songs to
them. The young men may or may not be serious; but no offence is
meant and none is taken, even by ladies of the highest rank, who
accept the whole thing as an English girl would a
gracefully-turned compliment.
Availing himself of this custom, Good bethought him that would
serenade Sorais, whose private apartments, together with those of
her maidens, were exactly opposite our own, on the further side
of a narrow courtyard which divided one section of the great
palace from another. Accordingly, having armed himself with a
native zither, on which, being an adept with the light guitar, he
had easily learned to strum, he proceeded at midnight--the
fashionable hour for this sort of caterwauling--to make night
hideous with his amorous yells. I was fast asleep when they
began, but they soon woke me up--for Good possesses a tremendous
voice and has no notion of time--and I ran to my window-place to
see what was the matter. And there, standing in the full
moonlight in the courtyard, I perceived Good, adorned with an
enormous ostrich feather head-dress and a flowing silken cloak,
which it is the right thing to wear upon these occasions, and
shouting out the abominable song which he and the old gentleman
had evolved, to a jerky, jingling accompaniment. From the
direction of the quarters of the maids of honour came a
succession of faint sniggerings; but the apartments of Sorais
herself--whom I devoutly pitied if she happened to be there--were
silent as the grave. There was absolutely no end to that awful
song, with its eternal 'I will kiss thee!' and at last neither I
nor Sir Henry, whom I had summoned to enjoy the sight, could
stand it any longer; so, remembering the dear old story, I put my
head to the window opening, and shouted, 'For Heaven's sake,
Good, don't go on talking about it, but KISS her and let's all go
to sleep!' That choked him off, and we had no more serenading.
Then whole thing formed a laughable incident in a tragic
business. How deeply thankful we ought to be that even the most
serious matters have generally a silver lining about them in the
shape of a joke, if only people could see it. The sense of
humour is a very valuable possession in life, and ought to be
cultivated in the Board schools--especially in Scotland.
Well, the more Sir Henry held off the more Sorais came on, as is
not uncommon in such cases, till at last things got very queer
indeed. Evidently she was, by some strange perversity of mind,
quite blinded to the true state of the case; and I, for one,
greatly dreaded the moment of her awakening. Sorais was a
dangerous woman to be mixed up with, either with or without one's
consent. At last the evil moment came, as I saw it must come.
One fine day, Good having gone out hawking, Sir Henry and I were
sitting quietly talking over the situation, especially with
reference to Sorais, when a Court messenger arrived with a
written note, which we with some difficulty deciphered, and which
was to the effect that 'the Queen Sorais commanded the attendance
of the Lord Incubu in her private apartments, whither he would be
conducted by the bearer'.
'Oh my word!' groaned Sir Henry. 'Can't you go instead, old
'Not if I know it,' I said with vigour. 'I had rather face a
wounded elephant with a shot-gun. Take care of your own
business, my boy. If you will be so fascinating you must take
the consequences. I would not be in your place for an empire.'
'You remind me of when I was going to be flogged at school and
the other boys came to console me,' he said gloomily. 'What
right has this Queen to command my attendance, I should like to
know? I won't go.'
'But you must; you are one of her officers and bound to obey her,
and she knows it. And after all it will soon be over.'
'That's just what they used to say,' he said again. 'I only hope
she won't put a knife into me. I believe that she is quite
capable of it.' And off he started very faintheartedly, and no
I sat and waited, and at the end of about forty-five minutes he
returned, looking a good deal worse than when he went.
'Give me something to drink,' he said hoarsely.
I got him a cup of wine, and asked what was the matter.
'What is the matter? Why if ever there was trouble there's
trouble now. You know when I left you? Well, I was shown
straight into Sorais' private chamber, and a wonderful place it
is; and there she sat, quite alone, upon a silken couch at the
end of the room, playing gently upon that zither of hers. I
stood before her, and for a while she took no notice of me, but
kept on playing and singing a little, and very sweet music it
was. At last she looked up and smiled.
'"So thou art come," she said. "I thought perchance thou hadst
gone about the Queen Nyleptha's business. Thou art ever on her
business, and I doubt not a good servant and a true."
'To this I merely bowed, and said I was there to receive the
Queen's word.
'"Ah yes, I would talk with thee, but be thou seated. It wearies
me to look so high," and she made room for me beside her on the
couch, placing herself with her back against the end, so as to
have a view of my face.
'"It is not meet," I said, "that I should make myself equal with
the Queen."
'"I said be seated," was her answer, so I sat down, and she began
to look at me with those dark eyes of hers. There she sat like
an incarnate spirit of beauty, hardly talking at all, and when
she did, very low, but all the while looking at me. There was a
white flower in her black hair, and I tried to keep my eyes on it
and count the petals, but it was of no use. At last, whether it
was her gaze, or the perfume in her hair, or what I do not know,
but I almost felt as though I was being mesmerized. At last she
roused herself.
'"Incubu," she said, "lovest thou power?"
'I replied that I supposed all men loved power of one sort or
'"Thou shalt have it," she said. "Lovest thou wealth?"
'I said I liked wealth for what it brought.
'"Thou shalt have it," she said. "And lovest thou beauty?"
'To this I replied that I was very fond of statuary and
architecture, or something silly of that sort, at which she
frowned, and there was a pause. By this time my nerves were on
such a stretch that I was shaking like a leaf. I knew that
something awful was going to happen, but she held me under a kind
of spell, and I could not help myself.
'"Incubu," she said at length, "wouldst thou be a king? Listen,
wouldst thou be a king? Behold, stranger, I am minded to make
thee king of all Zu-Vendis, ay and husband of Sorais of the
Night. Nay, peace and hear me. To no man among my people had I
thus opened out my secret heart, but thou art an outlander and
therefore I speak without shame, knowing all I have to offer and
how hard it had been thee to ask. See, a crown lies at thy feet,
my lord Incubu, and with that fortune a woman whom some have
wished to woo. Now mayst thou answer, oh my chosen, and soft
shall thy words fall upon mine ears."
'"Oh Sorais," I said, "I pray thee speak not thus"--you see I had
not time to pick and choose my words--"for this thing cannot be.
I am bethrothed to thy sister Nyleptha, oh Sorais, and I love her
and her alone."
'Next moment it struck me that I had said an awful thing, and I
looked up to see the results. When I spoke, Sorais' face was
hidden in her hands, and as my words reached her she slowly
raised it, and I shrank back dismayed. It was ashy white, and
her eyes were flaming. She rose to her feet and seemed to be
choking, but the awful thing was that she was so quiet about it
all. Once she looked at a side table, on which lay a dagger, and
from it to me, as though she thought of killing me; but she did
not take it up. At last she spoke one word, and one only--
'And I went, and glad enough I was to get out of it, and here I
am. Give me another cup of wine, there's a good fellow, and tell
me, what is to be done?'
I shook my head, for the affair was indeed serious. As one of
the poets says,
'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned',
more especially if the woman is a queen and a Sorais, and indeed
I feared the very worst, including imminent danger to ourselves.
'Nyleptha had better be told of this at once,' I said, 'and
perhaps I had better tell her; she might receive your account
with suspicion.'
'Who is captain of her guard tonight?' I went on.
'Very well then, there will be no chance of her being got at.
Don't look surprised. I don't think that her sister would stick
at that. I suppose one must tell Good of what has happened.'
'Oh, I don't know,' said Sir Henry. 'It would hurt his feelings,
poor fellow! You see, he takes a lively personal interest in
'That's true; and after all, perhaps there is no need to tell
him. He will find out the truth soon enough. Now, you mark my
words, Sorais will throw in her lot with Nasta, who is sulking up
in the North there, and there will be such a war as has not been
known in Zu-Vendis for centuries. Look there!' and I pointed to
two Court messengers, who were speeding away from the door of
Sorais' private apartments. 'Now follow me,' and I ran up a
stairway into an outlook tower that rose from the roof of our
quarters, taking the spyglass with me, and looked out over the
palace wall. The first thing we saw was one of the messengers
speeding towards the Temple, bearing, without any doubt, the
Queen's word to the High Priest Agon, but for the other I
searched in vain. Presently, however, I spied a horseman riding
furiously through the northern gate of the city, and in him I
recognized the other messenger.
'Ah!' I said, 'Sorais is a woman of spirit. She is acting at
once, and will strike quick and hard. You have insulted her, my
boy, and the blood will flow in rivers before the stain is washed
away, and yours with it, if she can get hold of you. Well, I'm
off to Nyleptha. Just you stop where you are, old fellow, and
try to get your nerves straight again. You'll need them all, I
can tell you, unless I have observed human nature in the rough
for fifty years for nothing.' And off I went accordingly.
I gained audience of the Queen without trouble. She was
expecting Curtis, and was not best pleased to see my
mahogany-coloured face instead.
'Is there aught wrong with my Lord, Macumazahn, that he waits not
upon me? Say, is he sick?'
I said that he was well enough, and then, without further ado, I
plunged into my story and told it from beginning to end. Oh,
what a rage she flew into! It was a sight to see her, she looked
so lovely.
'How darest thou come to me with such a tale?' she cried. 'It is
a lie to say that my Lord was making love to Sorais, my sister.'
'Pardon me, oh Queen,' I answered, 'I said that Sorais was making
love to thy lord.'
'Spin me no spiders' webs of words. Is not the thing the same
thing? The one giveth, the other taketh; but the gift passes,
and what matters it which is the most guilty? Sorais! oh, I hate
her--Sorais is a queen and my sister. She had not stooped so low
had he not shown the way. Oh, truly hath the poet said that man
is like a snake, whom to touch is poison, and whom none can
'The remark, oh Queen, is excellent, but methinks thou hast
misread the poet. Nyleptha,' I went on, 'thou knowest well that
thy words are empty foolishness, and that this is no time for
'How darest thou?' she broke in, stamping her foot. 'Hast my
false lord sent thee to me to insult me also? Who art thou,
stranger, that thou shouldst speak to me, the Queen, after this
sort? How darest thou?'
'Yea, I dare. Listen. The moments which thou dost waste in idle
anger may well cost thee thy crown and all of us our lives.
Already Sorais' horsemen go forth and call to arms. In thee
days' time Nasta will rouse himself in his fastnesses like a lion
in the evening, and his growling will be heard throughout the
North. The "Lady of the Night" (Sorais) hath a sweet voice, and
she will not sing in vain. Her banner will be borne from range
to range and valley to valley, and warriors will spring up in its
track like dust beneath a whirlwind; half the army will echo her
war-cry; and in every town and hamlet of this wide land the
priests will call out against the foreigner and will preach her
cause as holy. I have spoken, oh Queen!'
Nyleptha was quite calm now; her jealous anger had passed; and
putting off the character of a lovely headstrong lady, with a
rapidity and completeness that distinguished her, she put on that
of a queen and a woman of business. The transformation was
sudden but entire.
'Thy words are very wise, Macumazahn. Forgive me my folly. Ah,
what a Queen I should be if only I had no heart! To be
heartless--that is to conquer all. Passion is like the
lightning, it is beautiful, and it links the earth to heaven, but
alas it blinds!
'And thou thinkest that my sister Sorais would levy war upon me.
So be it. She shall not prevail against me. I, too, have my
friends and my retainers. There are many, I say, who will shout
"Nyleptha!" when my pennon runs up on peak and pinnacle, and the
light of my beacon fires leaps tonight from crag to crag, bearing
the message of my war. I will break her strength and scatter her
armies. Eternal night shall be the portion of Sorais of the
Night. Give me that parchment and the ink. So. Now summon the
officer in the ante-room. He is a trusty man.'
I did as I was bid! and the man, a veteran and quiet-looking
gentleman of the guard, named Kara, entered, bowing low.
'Take this parchment,' said Nyleptha; 'it is thy warrant; and
guard every place of in and outgoing in the apartments of my
sister Sorais, the "Lady of the Night", and a Queen of the
Zu-Vendi. Let none come in and none go out, or thy life shall
pay the cost.'
The man looked startled, but he merely said, 'The Queen's word be
done,' and departed. Then Nyleptha sent a messenger to Sir
Henry, and presently he arrived looking uncommonly uncomfortable.
I thought that another outburst was about to follow, but
wonderful are the ways of woman; she said not a word about Sorais
and his supposed inconstancy, greeting him with a friendly nod,
and stating simply that she required his advice upon high
matters. All the same there was a look in her eye, and a sort of
suppressed energy in her manner towards him, that makes me think
that she had not forgotten the affair, but was keeping it for a
private occasion.
Just after Curtis arrived the officer returned, and reported that
Sorais was GONE. The bird had flown to the Temple, stating that
she was going, as was sometimes the custom among Zu-Vendi ladies
of rank, to spend the night in meditation before the altar. We
looked at each other significantly. The blow had fallen very
Then we set to work.
Generals who could be trusted were summoned from their quarters,
and as much of the State affairs as was thought desirable was
told to each, strict injunctions being given to them to get all
their available force together. The same was done with such of
the more powerful lords as Nyleptha knew she could rely on,
several of whom left that very day for distant parts of the
country to gather up their tribesmen and retainers. Sealed
orders were dispatched to the rulers of far-off cities, and some
twenty messengers were sent off before nightfall with
instructions to ride early and late till they reached the distant
chiefs to whom their letters were addressed: also many spies
were set to work. All the afternoon and evening we laboured,
assisted by some confidential scribes, Nyleptha showing an energy
and resource of mind that astonished me, and it was eight o'clock
before we got back to our quarters. Here we heard from Alphonse,
who was deeply aggrieved because our non-return had spoilt his
dinner (for he had turned cook again now), that Good had come
back from his hawking and gone on duty. As instructions had
already been given to the officer of the outer guard to double
the sentries at the gate, and as we had no reason to fear any
immediate danger, we did not think it worth while to hunt him up
and tell him anything of what had passed, which at best was,
under the peculiar circumstances of the case, one of those tasks
that one prefers to postpone, so after swallowing our food we
turned in to get some much-needed rest. Before we did so,
however, it occurred to Curtis to tell old Umslopogaas to keep a
look-out in the neighbourhood of Nyleptha's private apartments.
Umslopogaas was now well known about the place, and by the
Queen's order allowed to pass whither he would by the guards, a
permission of which he often availed himself by roaming about the
palace during the still hours in a nocturnal fashion that he
favoured, and which is by no means uncommon amongst black men
generally. His presence in the corridors would not, therefore,
be likely to excite remark. Without any comment the Zulu took up
his axe and departed, and we also departed to bed.
I seemed to have been asleep but a few minutes when I was
awakened by a peculiar sensation of uneasiness. I felt that
somebody was in the room and looking at me, and instantly sat up,
to see to my surprise that it was already dawn, and that there,
standing at the foot of my couch and looking peculiarly grim and
gaunt in the grey light, was Umslopogaas himself.
'How long hast thou been there?' I asked testily, for it is not
pleasant to be aroused in such a fashion.
'Mayhap the half of an hour, Macumazahn. I have a word for
'Speak on,' I said, now wide enough awake.
'As I was bid I went last night to the place of the White Queen
and hid myself behind a pillar in the second anteroom, beyond
which is the sleeping-place of the Queen. Bougwan (Good) was in
the first anteroom alone, and outside the curtain of that room
was a sentry, but I had a mind to see if I could pass in unseen,
and I did, gliding behind them both. There I waited for many
hours, when suddenly I perceived a dark figure coming secretly
towards me. It was the figure of a woman, and in her hand she
held a dagger. Behind that figure crept another unseen by the
woman. It was Bougwan following in her tracks. His shoes were
off, and for so fat a man he followed very well. The woman
passed me, and the starlight shone upon her face.'
'Who was it?' I asked impatiently.
'The face was the face of the "Lady of the Night", and of a truth
she is well named.
'I waited, and Bougwan passed me also. Then I followed. So we
went slowly and without a sound up the long chamber. First the
woman, then Bougwan, and then I; and the woman saw not Bougwan,
and Bougwan saw not me. At last the "Lady of the Night" came to
the curtains that shut off the sleeping place of the White Queen,
and put out her left hand to part them. She passed through, and
so did Bougwan, and so did I. At the far end of the room is the
bed of the Queen, and on it she lay very fast asleep. I could
hear her breathe, and see one white arm lying on the coverlid
like a streak of snow on the dry grass. The "Lady of the Night"
doubled herself thus, and with the long knife lifted crept
towards the bed. So straight did she gaze thereat that she never
thought to look behind her. When she was quite close Bougwan
touched her on the arm, and she caught her breath and turned, and
I saw the knife flash, and heard it strike. Well was it for
Bougwan that he had the skin of iron on him, or he had been
pierced. Then for the first time he saw who the woman was, and
without a word he fell back astonished, and unable to speak.
She, too, was astonished, and spoke not, but suddenly she laid
her finger on her lip, thus, and walked towards and through the
curtain, and with her went Bougwan. So close did she pass to me
that her dress touched me, and I was nigh to slaying her as she
went. In the first outer room she spoke to Bougwan in a whisper
and, clasping her hands thus, she pleaded with him, but what she
said I know not. And so they passed on to the second outer room,
she pleading and he shaking his head, and saying, "Nay, nay,
nay". And it seemed to me that he was about to call the guard,
when she stopped talking and looked at him with great eyes, and I
saw that he was bewitched by her beauty. Then she stretched out
her hand and he kissed it, whereon I gathered myself together to
advance and take her, seeing that now had Bougwan become a woman,
and no longer knew the good from the evil, when behold! she was
'Gone!' I ejaculated.
'Ay, gone, and there stood Bougwan staring at the wall like one
asleep, and presently he went too, and I waited a while and came
away also.'
'Art thou sure, Umslopogaas,' said I, 'that thou hast not been a
dreamer this night?'
In reply he opened his left hand, and produced about three inches
of a blade of a dagger of the finest steel. 'If I be,
Macumazahn, behold what the dream left with me. The knife broke
upon Bougwan's bosom and as I passed I picked this up in the
sleeping-place of the White Queen.'
Telling Umslopogaas to wait, I tumbled into my clothes and went
off with him to Sir Henry's room, where the Zulu repeated his
story word for word. It was a sight to watch Curtis' face as he
heard it.
'Great Heavens!' he said: 'here have I been sleeping away while
Nyleptha was nearly murdered--and all through me, too. What a
fiend that Sorais must be! It would have served her well if
Umslopogaas had cut her down in the act.'
'Ay,' said the Zulu. 'Fear not; I should have slain her ere she
struck. I was but waiting the moment.'
I said nothing, but I could not help thinking that many a
thousand doomed lives would have been saved if he had meted out
to Sorais the fate she meant for her sister. And, as the issue
proved, I was right.
After he had told his tale Umslopogaas went off unconcernedly to
get his morning meal, and Sir Henry and I fell to talking.
At first he was very bitter against Good, who, he said, was no
longer to be trusted, having designedly allowed Sorais to escape
by some secret stair when it was his duty to have handed her over
to justice. Indeed, he spoke in the most unmeasured terms on the
matter. I let him run on awhile, reflecting to myself how easy
we find it to be hard on the weaknesses of others, and how tender
we are to our own.
'Really, my dear fellow,' I said at length, 'one would never
think, to hear you talk, that you were the man who had an
interview with this same lady yesterday, and found it rather
difficult to resist her fascinations, notwithstanding your ties
to one of the loveliest and most loving women in the world. Now
suppose it was Nyleptha who had tried to murder Sorais, and YOU
had caught her, and she had pleaded with you, would you have been
so very eager to hand her over to an open shame, and to death by
fire? Just look at the matter through Good's eyeglass for a
minute before you denounce an old friend as a scoundrel.'
He listened to this jobation submissively, and then frankly
acknowledged that he had spoken hardly. It is one of the best
points in Sir Henry's character that he is always ready to admit
it when he is in the wrong.
But, though I spoke up thus for Good, I was not blind to the fact
that, however natural his behaviour might be, it was obvious that
he was being involved in a very awkward and disgraceful
complication. A foul and wicked murder had been attempted, and
he had let the murderess escape, and thereby, among other things,
allowed her to gain a complete ascendency over himself. In fact,
he was in a fair way to become her tool--and no more dreadful
fate can befall a man than to become the tool of an unscrupulous
woman, or indeed of any woman. There is but one end to it: when
he is broken, or has served her purpose, he is thrown
away--turned out on the world to hunt for his lost self-respect.
Whilst I was pondering thus, and wondering what was to be
done--for the whole subject was a thorny one--I suddenly heard a
great clamour in the courtyard outside, and distinguished the
voice of Umslopogaas and Alphonse, the former cursing furiously,
and the latter yelling in terror.
Hurrying out to see what was the matter, I was met by a ludicrous
sight. The little Frenchman was running up the courtyard at an
extraordinary speed, and after him sped Umslopogaas like a great
greyhound. Just as I came out he caught him, and, lifting him
right off his legs, carried him some paces to a beautiful but
very dense flowering shrub which bore a flower not unlike the
gardenia, but was covered with short thorns. Next, despite his
howls and struggles, he with one mighty thrust plunged poor
Alphonse head first into the bush, so that nothing but the calves
of his legs and heels remained in evidence. Then, satisfied with
what he had done, the Zulu folded his arms and stood grimly
contemplating the Frenchman's kicks, and listening to his yells,
which were awful.
'What art thou doing?' I said, running up. 'Wouldst thou kill
the man? Pull him out of the bush!'
With a savage grunt he obeyed, seizing the wretched Alphonse by
the ankle, and with a jerk that must have nearly dislocated it,
tearing him out of the heart of the shrub. Never did I see such
a sight as he presented, his clothes half torn off his back, and
bleeding as he was in every direction from the sharp thorns.
There he lay and yelled and rolled, and there was no getting
anything out of him.
At last, however, he got up and, ensconcing himself behind me,
cursed old Umslopogaas by every saint in the calendar, vowing by
the blood of his heroic grandfather that he would poison him, and
'have his revenge'.
At last I got to the truth of the matter. It appeared that
Alphonse habitually cooked Umslopogaas's porridge, which the
latter ate for breakfast in the corner of the courtyard, just as
he would have done at home in Zululand, from a gourd, and with a
wooden spoon. Now Umslopogaas had, like many Zulus, a great
horror of fish, which he considered a species of water-snake; so
Alphonse, who was as fond of playing tricks as a monkey, and who
was also a consummate cook, determined to make him eat some.
Accordingly he grated up a quantity of white fish very finely,
and mixed it with the Zulu's porridge, who swallowed it nearly
all down in ignorance of what he was eating. But, unfortunately
for Alphonse, he could not restrain his joy at this sight, and
came capering and peering round, till at last Umslopogaas, who
was very clever in his way, suspected something, and, after a
careful examination of the remains of his porridge, discovered
'the buffalo heifer's trick', and, in revenge, served him as I
have said. Indeed, the little man was fortunate not to get a
broken neck for his pains; for, as one would have thought, he
might have learnt from the episode of his display of axemanship
that 'le Monsieur noir' was an ill person to play practical jokes
This incident was unimportant enough in itself, but I narrate it
because it led to serious consequences. As soon as he had
stanched the bleeding from his scratches and washed himself,
Alphonse went off still cursing, to recover his temper, a process
which I knew from experience would take a very long time. When
he had gone I gave Umslopogaas a jobation and told him that I was
ashamed of his behaviour.
'Ah, well, Macumazahn,' he said, 'you must be gentle with me, for
here is not my place. I am weary of it, weary to death of eating
and drinking, of sleeping and giving in marriage. I love not
this soft life in stone houses that takes the heart out of a man,
and turns his strength to water and his flesh to fat. I love not
the white robes and the delicate women, the blowing of trumpets
and the flying of hawks. When we fought the Masai at the kraal
yonder, ah, then life was worth the living, but here is never a
blow struck in anger, and I begin to think I shall go the way of
my fathers and lift Inkosi-kaas no more,' and he held up the axe
and gazed at it in sorrow.
'Ah,' I said, 'that is thy complaint, is it? Thou hast the
blood-sickness, hast thou? And the Woodpecker wants a tree. And
at thy age, too. Shame on thee! Umslopogaas.'
'Ay, Macumazahn, mine is a red trade, yet is it better and more
honest than some. Better is it to slay a man in fair fight than
to suck out his heart's blood in buying and selling and usury
after your white fashion. Many a man have I slain, yet is there
never a one that I should fear to look in the face again, ay,
many are there who once were friends, and whom I should be right
glad to snuff with. But there! there! thou hast thy ways, and I
mine: each to his own people and his own place. The high-veldt
ox will die in the fat bush country, and so is it with me,
Macumazahn. I am rough, I know it, and when my blood is warm I
know not what to do, but yet wilt thou be sorry when the night
swallows me and I am utterly lost in blackness, for in thy heart
thou lovest me, my father, Macumazahn the fox, though I be nought
but a broken-down Zulu war-dog--a chief for whom there is no room
in his own kraal, an outcast and a wanderer in strange places:
ay, I love thee, Macumazahn, for we have grown grey together, and
there is that between us that cannot be seen, and yet is too
strong for breaking;' and he took his snuff-box, which was made
of an old brass cartridge, from the slit in his ear where he
always carried it, and handed it to me for me to help myself.
I took the pinch of snuff with some emotion. It was quite true,
I was much attached to the bloodthirsty old ruffian. I do not
know what was the charm of his character, but it had a charm;
perhaps it was its fierce honesty and directness; perhaps one
admired his almost superhuman skill and strength, or it may have
been simply that he was so absolutely unique. Frankly, with all
my experience of savages, I never knew a man quite like him, he
was so wise and yet such a child with it all; and though it seems
laughable to say so, like the hero of the Yankee parody, he 'had
a tender heart'. Anyway, I was very fond of him, though I should
never have thought of telling him so.
'Ay, old wolf,' I said, 'thine is a strange love. Thou wouldst
split me to the chin if I stood in thy path tomorrow.'
'Thou speakest truth, Macumazahn, that would I if it came in the
way of duty, but I should love thee all the same when the blow
had gone fairly home. Is there any chance of some fighting here,
Macumazahn?' he went on in an insinuating voice. 'Methought that
what I saw last night did show that the two great Queens were
vexed one with another. Else had the "Lady of the Night" not
brought that dagger with her.'
I agreed with him that it showed that more or less pique and
irritation existed between the ladies, and told him how things
stood, and that they were quarrelling over Incubu.
'Ah, is it so?' he exclaimed, springing up in delight; 'then will
there be war as surely as the rivers rise in the rains--war to
the end. Women love the last blow as well as the last word, and
when they fight for love they are pitiless as a wounded buffalo.
See thou, Macumazahn, a woman will swim through blood to her
desire, and think nought of it. With these eyes have I seen it
once, and twice also. Ah, Macumazahn, we shall see this fine
place of houses burning yet, and hear the battle cries come
ringing up the street. After all, I have not wandered for
nothing. Can this folk fight, think ye?'
Just then Sir Henry joined us, and Good arrived, too, from
another direction, looking very pale and hollow-eyed. The moment
Umslopogaas saw the latter he stopped his bloodthirsty talk and
greeted him.
'Ah, Bougwan,' he cried, 'greeting to thee, Inkoos! Thou art
surely weary. Didst thou hunt too much yesterday?' Then,
without waiting for an answer, he went on--
'Listen, Bougwan, and I will tell thee a story; it is about a
woman, therefore wilt thou hear it, is it not so?
'There was a man and he had a brother, and there was a woman who
loved the man's brother and was beloved of the man. But the
man's brother had a favourite wife and loved not the woman, and
he made a mock of her. Then the woman, being very cunning and
fierce-hearted for revenge, took counsel with herself and said to
the man, "I love thee, and if thou wilt make war upon thy brother
I will marry thee." And he knew it was a lie, yet because of his
great love of the woman, who was very fair, did he listen to her
words and made war. And when many people had been killed his
brother sent to him, saying, "Why slayest thou me? What hurt
have I done unto thee? From my youth up have I not loved thee?
When thou wast little did I not nurture thee, and have we not
gone down to war together and divided the cattle, girl by girl,
ox by ox, and cow by cow? Why slayest thou me, my brother, son
of my own mother?"
'Then the man's heart was heavy, and he knew that his path was
evil, and he put aside the tempting of the woman and ceased to
make war on his brother, and lived at peace in the same kraal
with him. And after a time the woman came to him and said, "I
have lost the past, I will be thy wife." And in his heart he
knew that it was a lie and that she thought the evil thing, yet
because of his love did he take her to wife.
'And the very night that they were wed, when the man was plunged
into a deep sleep, did the woman arise and take his axe from his
hand and creep into the hut of his brother and slay him in his
rest. Then did she slink back like a gorged lioness and place
the thong of the red axe back upon his wrist and go her ways.
'And at the dawning the people came shouting, "Lousta is slain in
the night," and they came unto the hut of the man, and there he
lay asleep and by him was the red axe. Then did they remember
the war and say, "Lo! he hath of a surety slain his brother," and
they would have taken and killed him, but he rose and fled
swiftly, and as he fleeted by he slew the woman.
'But death could not wipe out the evil she had done, and on him
rested the weight of all her sin. Therefore is he an outcast and
his name a scorn among his own people; for on him, and him only,
resteth the burden of her who betrayed. And, therefore, does he
wander afar, without a kraal and without an ox or a wife, and
therefore will he die afar like a stricken buck and his name be
accursed from generation to generation, in that the people say
that he slew his brother, Lousta, by treachery in the
The old Zulu paused, and I saw that he was deeply agitated by his
own story. Presently he lifted his head, which he had bowed to
his breast, and went on:
'I was the man, Bougwan. Ou! I was that man, and now hark thou!
Even as I am so wilt thou be--a tool, a plaything, an ox of
burden to carry the evil deeds of another. Listen! When thou
didst creep after the "Lady of the Night" I was hard upon thy
track. When she struck thee with the knife in the sleeping place
of the White Queen I was there also; when thou didst let her slip
away like a snake in the stones I saw thee, and I knew that she
had bewitched thee and that a true man had abandoned the truth,
and he who aforetime loved a straight path had taken a crooked
way. Forgive me, my father, if my words are sharp, but out of a
full heart are they spoken. See her no more, so shalt thou go
down with honour to the grave. Else because of the beauty of a
woman that weareth as a garment of fur shalt thou be even as I
am, and perchance with more cause. I have said.'
Throughout this long and eloquent address Good had been perfectly
silent, but when the tale began to shape itself so aptly to his
own case, he coloured up, and when he learnt that what had passed
between him and Sorais had been overseen he was evidently much
distressed. And now, when at last he spoke, it was in a tone of
humility quite foreign to him.
'I must say,' he said, with a bitter little laugh, 'that I
scarcely thought that I should live to be taught my duty by a
Zulu; but it just shows what we can come to. I wonder if you
fellows can understand how humiliated I feel, and the bitterest
part of it is that I deserve it all. Of course I should have
handed Sorais over to the guard, but I could not, and that is a
fact. I let her go and I promised to say nothing, more is the
shame to me. She told me that if I would side with her she would
marry me and make me king of this country, but thank goodness I
did find the heart to say that even to marry her I could not
desert my friends. And now you can do what you like, I deserve
it all. All I have to say is that I hope that you may never love
a woman with all your heart and then be so sorely tempted of
her,' and he turned to go.
'Look here, old fellow,' said Sir Henry, 'just stop a minute. I
have a little tale to tell you too.' And he went on to narrate
what had taken place on the previous day between Sorais and
This was a finishing stroke to poor Good. It is not pleasant to
any man to learn that he has been made a tool of, but when the
circumstances are as peculiarly atrocious as in the present case,
it is about as bitter a pill as anybody can be called on to
'Do you know,' he said, 'I think that between you, you fellows
have about worked a cure,' and he turned and walked away, and I
for one felt very sorry for him. Ah, if the moths would always
carefully avoid the candle, how few burnt wings there would be!
That day was a Court day, when the Queens sat in the great hall
and received petitions, discussed laws, money grants, and so
forth, and thither we adjourned shortly afterwards. On our way
we were joined by Good, who was looking exceedingly depressed.
When we got into the hall Nyleptha was already on her throne and
proceeding with business as usual, surrounded by councillors,
courtiers, lawyers, priests, and an unusually strong guard. It
was, however, easy to see from the air of excitement and
expectation on the faces of everybody present that nobody was
paying much attention to ordinary affairs, the fact being that
the knowledge that civil war was imminent had now got abroad. We
saluted Nyleptha and took our accustomed places, and for a little
while things went on as usual, when suddenly the trumpets began
to call outside the palace, and from the great crowd that was
gathered there in anticipation of some unusual event there rose a
roar of 'SORAIS! SORAIS!'
Then came the roll of many chariot wheels, and presently the
great curtains at the end of the hall were drawn wide and through
them entered the 'Lady of the Night' herself. Nor did she come
alone. Preceding her was Agon, the High Priest, arrayed in his
most gorgeous vestments, and on either side were other priests.
The reason for their presence was obvious--coming with them it
would have been sacrilege to attempt to detain her. Behind her
were a number of the great lords, and behind them a small body of
picked guards. A glance at Sorais herself was enough to show
that her mission was of no peaceful kind, for in place of her
gold embroidered 'kaf' she wore a shining tunic formed of golden
scales, and on her head a little golden helmet. In her hand,
too, she bore a toy spear, beautifully made and fashioned of
solid silver. Up the hall she came, looking like a lioness in
her conscious pride and beauty, and as she came the spectators
fell back bowing and made a path for her. By the sacred stone
she halted, and laying her hand on it, she cried out with a loud
voice to Nyleptha on the throne, 'Hail, oh Queen!'
'All hail, my royal sister!' answered Nyleptha. 'Draw thou near.
Fear not, I give thee safe conduct.'
Sorais answered with a haughty look, and swept on up the hall
till she stood right before the thrones.
'A boon, oh Queen!' she cried again.
'Speak on, my sister; what is there that I can give thee who hath
half our kingdom?'
'Thou canst tell me a true word--me and the people of Zu-Vendis.
Art thou, or art thou not, about to take this foreign wolf,' and
she pointed to Sir Henry with her toy spear, 'to be a husband to
thee, and share thy bed and throne?'
Curtis winced at this, and turning towards Sorais, said to her in
a low voice, 'Methinks that yesterday thou hadst other names than
wolf to call me by, oh Queen!' and I saw her bite her lips as,
like a danger flag, the blood flamed red upon her face. As for
Nyleptha, who is nothing if not original, she, seeing that the
thing was out, and that there was nothing further to be gained by
concealment, answered the question in a novel and effectual
manner, inspired thereto, as I firmly believe, by coquetry and a
desire to triumph over her rival.
Up she rose and, descending from the throne, swept in all the
glory of her royal grace on to where her lover stood. There she
stopped and untwined the golden snake that was wound around her
arm. Then she bade him kneel, and he dropped on one knee on the
marble before her, and next, taking the golden snake with both
her hands, she bent the pure soft metal round his neck, and when
it was fast, deliberately kissed him on the brow and called him
her 'dear lord'.
'Thou seest,' she said, when the excited murmur of the spectators
had died away, addressing her sister as Sir Henry rose to his
feet, 'I have put my collar round the "wolf's" neck, and behold!
he shall be my watchdog, and that is my answer to thee, Queen
Sorais, my sister, and to those with thee. Fear not,' she went
on, smiling sweetly on her lover, and pointing to the golden
snake she had twined round his massive throat, 'if my yoke be
heavy, yet is it of pure gold, and it shall not gall thee.'
Then, turning to the audience, she continued in a clear proud
tone, 'Ay, Lady of the Night, Lords, Priests, and People here
gathered together, by this sign do I take the foreigner to
husband, even here in the face of you all. What, am I a Queen,
and yet not free to choose the man whom I will love? Then should
I be lower than the meanest girl in all my provinces. Nay, he
hath won my heart, and with it goes my hand, and throne, and all
I have--ay, had he been a beggar instead of a great lord fairer
and stronger than any here, and having more wisdom and knowledge
of strange things, I had given him all, how much more so being
what he is!' And she took his hand and gazed proudly on him, and
holding it, stood there boldly facing the people. And such was
her sweetness and the power and dignity of her person, and so
beautiful she looked standing hand in hand there at her lover's
side, so sure of him and of herself, and so ready to risk all
things and endure all things for him, that most of those who saw
the sight, which I am sure no one of them will ever forget,
caught the fire from her eyes and the happy colour from her
blushing face, and cheered her like wild things. It was a bold
stroke for her to make, and it appealed to the imagination; but
human nature in Zu-Vendis, as elsewhere, loves that which is bold
and not afraid to break a rule, and is moreover peculiarly
susceptible to appeals to its poetical side.
And so the people cheered till the roof rang; but Sorais of the
Night stood there with downcast eyes, for she could not bear to
see her sister's triumph, which robbed her of the man whom she
had hoped to win, and in the awfulness of her jealous anger she
trembled and turned white like an aspen in the wind. I think I
have said somewhere of her that she reminded me of the sea on a
calm day, having the same aspect of sleeping power about her.
Well, it was all awake now, and like the face of the furious
ocean it awed and yet fascinated me. A really handsome woman in
a royal rage is always a beautiful sight, but such beauty and
such a rage I never saw combined before, and I can only say that
the effect produced was well worthy of the two.
She lifted her white face, the teeth set, and there were purple
rings beneath her glowing eyes. Thrice she tried to speak and
thrice she failed, but at last her voice came. Raising her
silver spear, she shook it, and the light gleamed from it and
from the golden scales of her cuirass.
'And thinkest thou, Nyleptha,' she said in notes which pealed
through the great hall like a clarion, 'thinkest thou that I,
Sorais, a Queen of the Zu-Vendi, will brook that this base
outlander shall sit upon my father's throne and rear up
half-breeds to fill the place of the great House of the Stairway?
Never! never! while there is life in my bosom and a man to follow
me and a spear to strike with. Who is on my side? Who?
'Now hand thou over this foreign wolf and those who came hither
to prey with him to the doom of fire, for have they not committed
the deadly sin against the sun? or, Nyleptha, I give thee
War--red War! Ay, I say to thee that the path of thy passion
shall be marked out by the blazing of thy towns and watered with
the blood of those who cleave to thee. On thy head rest the
burden of the deed, and in thy ears ring the groans of the dying
and the cries of the widows and those who are left fatherless for
ever and for ever.
'I tell thee I will tear thee, Nyleptha, the White Queen, from
thy throne, and that thou shalt be hurled--ay, hurled even from
the topmost stair of the great way to the foot thereof, in that
thou hast covered the name of the House of him who built it with
black shame. And I tell ye strangers--all save Bougwan, whom
because thou didst do me a service I will save alive if thou wilt
leave these men and follow me' (here poor Good shook his head
vigorously and ejaculated 'Can't be done' in English)--'that I
will wrap you in sheets of gold and hang you yet alive in chains
from the four golden trumpets of the four angels that fly east
and west and north and south from the giddiest pinnacles of the
Temple, so that ye may be a token and a warning to the land. And
as for thee, Incubu, thou shalt die in yet another fashion that I
will not tell thee now.'
She ceased, panting for breath, for her passion shook her like a
storm, and a murmur, partly of horror and partly of admiration,
ran through the hall. Then Nyleptha answered calmly and with
'Ill would it become my place and dignity, oh sister, so to speak
as thou hast spoken and so to threat as thou hast threatened.
Yet if thou wilt make war, then will I strive to bear up against
thee, for if my hand seem soft, yet shalt thou find it of iron
when it grips thine armies by the throat. Sorais, I fear thee
not. I weep for that which thou wilt bring upon our people and
on thyself, but for myself I say--I fear thee not. Yet thou, who
but yesterday didst strive to win my lover and my lord from me,
whom today thou dost call a "foreign wolf", to be THY lover and
THY lord' (here there was an immense sensation in the hall),
'thou who but last night, as I have learnt but since thou didst
enter here, didst creep like a snake into my sleeping-place--ay,
even by a secret way, and wouldst have foully murdered me, thy
sister, as I lay asleep--'
'It is false, it is false!' rang out Agon's and a score of other
'It is NOT false,' said I, producing the broken point of the
dagger and holding it up. 'Where is the haft from which this
flew, oh Sorais?'
'It is not false,' cried Good, determined at last to act like a
loyal man. 'I took the Lady of the Night by the White Queen's
bed, and on my breast the dagger broke.'
'Who is on my side?' cried Sorais, shaking her silver spear, for
she saw that public sympathy was turning against her. 'What,
Bougwan, thou comest not?' she said, addressing Good, who was
standing close to her, in a low, concentrated voice. 'Thou
pale-souled fool, for a reward thou shalt eat out thy heart with
love of me and not be satisfied, and thou mightest have been my
husband and a king! At least I hold THEE in chains that cannot
be broken.
'WAR! WAR! WAR!' she cried. 'Here, with my hand upon the
sacred stone that shall endure, so runs the prophecy, till the
Zu-Vendi set their necks beneath an alien yoke, I declare war to
the end. Who follows Sorais of the Night to victory and honour?'
Instantly the whole concourse began to break up in indescribable
confusion. Many present hastened to throw in their lot with the
'Lady of the Night', but some came from her following to us.
Amongst the former was an under officer of Nyleptha's own guard,
who suddenly turned and made a run for the doorway through which
Sorais' people were already passing. Umslopogaas, who was
present and had taken the whole scene in, seeing with admirable
presence of mind that if this soldier got away others would
follow his example, seized the man, who drew his sword and struck
at him. Thereon the Zulu sprang back with a wild shout, and,
avoiding the sword cuts, began to peck at his foe with his
terrible axe, till in a few seconds the man's fate overtook him
and he fell with a clash heavily and quite dead upon the marble
This was the first blood spilt in the war.
'Shut the gates,' I shouted, thinking that we might perhaps catch
Sorais so, and not being troubled with the idea of committing
sacrilege. But the order came too late, her guards were already
passing through them, and in another minute the streets echoed
with the furious galloping of horses and the rolling of her
So, drawing half the people after her, Sorais was soon passing
like a whirlwind through the Frowning City on her road to her
headquarters at M'Arstuna, a fortress situated a hundred and
thirty miles to the north of Milosis.
And after that the city was alive with the endless tramp of
regiments and preparations for the gathering war, and old
Umslopogaas once more began to sit in the sunshine and go through
a show of sharpening Inkosi-kaas's razor edge.
One person, however, did not succeed in getting out in time
before the gates were shut, and that was the High Priest Agon,
who, as we had every reason to believe, was Sorais' great ally,
and the heart and soul of her party. This cunning and ferocious
old man had not forgiven us for those hippopotami, or rather that
was what he said. What he meant was that he would never brook
the introduction of our wider ways of thought and foreign
learning and influence while there was a possibility of stamping
us out. Also he knew that we possessed a different system of
religion, and no doubt was in daily terror of our attempting to
introduce it into Zu-Vendis. One day he asked me if we had any
religion in our country, and I told him that so far as I could
remember we had ninety-five different ones. You might have
knocked him down with a feather, and really it is difficult not
to pity a high priest of a well-established cult who is haunted
by the possible approach of one or all of ninety-five new
When we knew that Agon was caught, Nyleptha, Sir Henry, and I
discussed what was to be done with him. I was for closely
incarcerating him, but Nyleptha shook her head, saying that it
would produce a disastrous effect throughout the country. 'Ah!'
she added, with a stamp of her foot, 'if I win and am once really
Queen, I will break the power of those priests, with their rites
and revels and dark secret ways.' I only wished that old Agon
could have heard her, it would have frightened him.
'Well,' said Sir Henry, 'if we are not to imprison him, I suppose
that we may as well let him go. He is of no use here.'
Nyleptha looked at him in a curious sort of way, and said in a
dry little voice, 'Thinkest thou so, my lord?'
'Eh?' said Curtis. 'No, I do not see what is the use of keeping
She said nothing, but continued looking at him in a way that was
as shy as it was sweet.
Then at last he understood.
'Forgive me, Nyleptha,' he said, rather tremulously. 'Dost thou
mean that thou wilt marry me, even now?'
'Nay, I know not; let my lord say,' was her rapid answer; 'but if
my lord wills, the priest is there and the altar is
there'--pointing to the entrance to a private chapel--'and am I
not ready to do the will of my lord? Listen, oh my lord! In
eight days or less thou must leave me and go down to war, for
thou shalt lead my armies, and in war--men sometimes fall, and so
I would for a little space have had thee all my own, if only for
memory's sake;' and the tears overflowed her lovely eyes and
rolled down her face like heavy drops of dew down the red heart
of a rose.
'Mayhap, too,' she went on, 'I shall lose my crown, and with my
crown my life and thine also. Sorais is very strong and very
bitter, and if she prevails she will not spare. Who can read the
future? Happiness is the world's White Bird, that alights
seldom, and flies fast and far till one day he is lost in the
clouds. Therefore should we hold him fast if by any chance he
rests for a little space upon our hand. It is not wise to
neglect the present for the future, for who knows what the future
will be, Incubu? Let us pluck our flowers while the dew is on
them, for when the sun is up they wither and on the morrow will
others bloom that we shall never see.' And she lifted her sweet
face to him and smiled into his eyes, and once more I felt a
curious pang of jealousy and turned and went away. They never
took much notice of whether I was there or not, thinking, I
suppose, that I was an old fool, and that it did not matter one
way or the other, and really I believe that they were right.
So I went back to our quarters and ruminated over things in
general, and watched old Umslopogaas whetting his axe outside the
window as a vulture whets his beak beside a dying ox.
And in about an hour's time Sir Henry came tearing over, looking
very radiant and wildly excited, and found Good and myself and
even Umslopogaas, and asked us if we should like to assist at a
real wedding. Of course we said yes, and off we went to the
chapel, where we found Agon looking as sulky as any High Priest
possibly could, and no wonder. It appeared that he and Nyleptha
had a slight difference of opinion about the coming ceremony. He
had flatly refused to celebrate it, or to allow any of his
priests to do so, whereupon Nyleptha became very angry and told
him that she, as Queen, was head of the Church, and meant to be
obeyed. Indeed, she played the part of a Zu-Vendi Henry the
Eighth to perfection, and insisted that, if she wanted to be
married, she would be married, and that he should marry her. *{In
Zu-Vendis members of the Royal House can only be married by the
High Priest or a formally appointed deputy. --A. Q.}
He still refused to go through the ceremony, so she clinched her
argument thus--
'Well, I cannot execute a High Priest, because there is an absurd
prejudice against it, and I cannot imprison him because all his
subordinates would raise a crying that would bring the stars down
on Zu-Vendis and crush it; but I CAN leave him to contemplate the
altar of the Sun without anything to eat, because that is his
natural vocation, and if thou wilt not marry me, O Agon! thou
shalt be placed before the altar yonder with nought but a little
water till such time as thou hast reconsidered the matter.'
Now, as it happened, Agon had been hurried away that morning
without his breakfast, and was already exceedingly hungry, so he
presently modified his views and consented to marry them, saying
at the same time that he washed his hands of all responsibility
in the matter.
So it chanced that presently, attended only by two of her
favourite maidens, came the Queen Nyleptha, with happy blushing
face and downcast eyes, dressed in pure white, without embroidery
of any sort, as seems to be the fashion on these occasions in
most countries of the world. She did not wear a single ornament,
even her gold circlets were removed, and I thought that if
possible she looked more lovely than ever without them, as really
superbly beautiful women do.
She came, curtseyed low to Sir Henry, and then took his hand and
led him up before the altar, and after a little pause, in a slow,
clear voice uttered the following words, which are customary in
Zu-Vendis if the bride desires and the man consents: --
'Thou dost swear by the Sun that thou wilt take no other woman to
wife unless I lay my hand upon her and bid her come?'
'I swear it,' answered Sir Henry; adding in English, 'One is
quite enough for me.'
Then Agon, who had been sulking in a corner near the altar, came
forward and gabbled off something into his beard at such a rate
that I could not follow it, but it appeared to be an invocation
to the Sun to bless the union and make it fruitful. I observed
that Nyleptha listened very closely to every word, and afterwards
discovered that she was afraid lest Agon should play her a trick,
and by going through the invocations backwards divorce them
instead of marry them. At the end of the invocations they were
asked, as in our service, if they took each other for husband and
wife, and on their assenting they kissed each other before the
altar, and the service was over, so far as their rites were
concerned. But it seemed to me that there was yet something
wanting, and so I produced a Prayer-Book, which has, together
which the 'Ingoldsby Legends', that I often read when I lie awake
at night, accompanied me in all my later wanderings. I gave it
to my poor boy Harry years ago, and after his death I found it
among his things and took it back again.
'Curtis,' I said, 'I am not a clergyman, and I do not know if
what I am going to propose is allowable--I know it is not
legal--but if you and the Queen have no objection I should like
to read the English marriage service over you. It is a solemn
step which you are taking, and I think that you ought, so far as
circumstances will allow, to give it the sanction of your own
'I have thought of that,' he said, 'and I wish you would. I do
not feel half married yet.'
Nyleptha raised no objection, fully understanding that her
husband wished to celebrate the marriage according to the rites
prevailing in his own country, and so I set to work and read the
service, from 'Dearly beloved' to 'amazement', as well as I
could; and when I came to 'I, Henry, take thee, Nyleptha,' I
translated, and also 'I, Nyleptha, take thee, Henry,' which she
repeated after me very well. Then Sir Henry took a plain gold
ring from his little finger and placed it on hers, and so on to
the end. The ring had been Curtis' mother's wedding-ring, and I
could not help thinking how astonished the dear old Yorkshire
lady would have been if she could have foreseen that her
wedding-ring was to serve a similar purpose for Nyleptha, a Queen
of the Zu-Vendi.
As for Agon, he was with difficulty kept calm while this second
ceremony was going on, for he at once understood that it was
religious in its nature, and doubtless bethought him of the
ninety-five new faiths which loomed so ominously in his eyes.
Indeed, he at once set me down as a rival High Priest, and hated
me accordingly. However, in the end off he went, positively
bristling with indignation, and I knew that we might look out for
danger from his direction.
And off went Good and I, and old Umslopogaas also, leaving the
happy pair to themselves, and very low we all felt. Marriages
are supposed to be cheerful things, but my experience is that
they are very much the reverse to everybody, except perhaps the
two people chiefly interested. They mean the breaking-up of so
many old ties as well as the undertaking of so many new ones, and
there is always something sad about the passing away of the old
order. Now to take this case for instance: Sir Henry Curtis is
the best and kindest fellow and friend in the world, but he has
never been quite the same since that little scene in the chapel.
It is always Nyleptha this and Nyleptha that--Nyleptha, in short,
from morning till night in one way or another, either expressed
or understood. And as for the old friends--well, of course they
have taken the place that old friends ought to take, and which
ladies are as a rule very careful to see they do take when a man
marries, and that is, the second place. Yes, he would be angry
if anybody said so, but it is a fact for all that. He is not
quite the same, and Nyleptha is very sweet and very charming, but
I think that she likes him to understand that she has married
HIM, and not Quatermain, Good, and Co. But there! what is the
use of grumbling? It is all very right and proper, as any
married lady would have no difficulty in explaining, and I am a
selfish, jealous old man, though I hope I never show it.
So Good and I went and ate in silence and then indulged in an
extra fine flagon of old Zu-Vendian to keep our spirits up, and
presently one of our attendants came and told a story that gave
us something to think about.
It may, perhaps, be remembered that, after his quarrel with
Umslopogaas, Alphonse had gone off in an exceedingly ill temper
to sulk over his scratches. Well, it appears that he walked
right past the Temple to the Sun, down the wide road on the
further side of the slope it crowns, and thence on into the
beautiful park, or pleasure gardens, which are laid out just
beyond the outer wall. After wandering about there for a little
he started to return, but was met near the outer gate by Sorais'
train of chariots, which were galloping furiously along the great
northern road. When she caught sight of Alphonse, Sorais halted
her train and called to him. On approaching he was instantly
seized and dragged into one of the chariots and carried off,
'crying out loudly', as our informant said, and as from my
general knowledge of him I can well believe.
At first I was much puzzled to know what object Sorais could have
had in carrying off the poor little Frenchman. She could hardly
stoop so low as to try to wreak her fury on one whom she knew was
only a servant. At last, however, an idea occurred to me. We
three were, as I think I have said, much revered by the people of
Zu-Vendis at large, both because we were the first strangers they
had ever seen, and because we were supposed to be the possessors
of almost supernatural wisdom. Indeed, though Sorais' cry
against the 'foreign wolves'--or, to translate it more
accurately, 'foreign hyenas'--was sure to go down very well with
the nobles and the priests, it was not as we learnt, likely to be
particularly effectual amongst the bulk of the population. The
Zu-Vendi people, like the Athenians of old, are ever seeking for
some new thing, and just because we were so new our presence was
on the whole acceptable to them. Again, Sir Henry's magnificent
personal appearance made a deep impression upon a race who
possess a greater love of beauty than any other I have ever been
acquainted with. Beauty may be prized in other countries, but in
Zu-Vendis it is almost worshipped, as indeed the national love of
statuary shows. The people said openly in the market-places that
there was not a man in the country to touch Curtis in personal
appearance, as with the exception of Sorais there was no woman
who could compete with Nyleptha, and that therefore it was meet
that they should marry; and that he had been sent by the Sun as a
husband for their Queen. Now, from all this it will be seen that
the outcry against us was to a considerable extent fictitious,
and nobody knew it better than Sorais herself. Consequently it
struck me that it might have occurred to her that down in the
country and among the country people, it would be better to place
the reason of her conflict with her sister upon other and more
general grounds than Nyleptha's marriage with the stranger. It
would be easy in a land where there had been so many civil wars
to rake out some old cry that would stir up the recollection of
buried feuds, and, indeed, she soon found an effectual one. This
being so, it was of great importance to her to have one of the
strangers with her whom she could show to the common people as a
great Outlander, who had been so struck by the justice of her
cause that he had elected to leave his companions and follow her
This, no doubt, was the cause of her anxiety to get a hold of
Good, whom she would have used till he ceased to be of service
and then cast off. But Good having drawn back she grasped at the
opportunity of securing Alphonse, who was not unlike him in
personal appearance though smaller, no doubt with the object of
showing him off in the cities and country as the great Bougwan
himself. I told Good that I thought that that was her plan, and
his face was a sight to see--he was so horrified at the idea.
'What,' he said, 'dress up that little wretch to represent me?
Why, I shall have to get out of the country! My reputation will
be ruined for ever.'
I consoled him as well as I could, but it is not pleasant to be
personated all over a strange country by an arrant little coward,
and I can quite sympathize with his vexation.
Well, that night Good and I messed as I have said in solitary
grandeur, feeling very much as though we had just returned from
burying a friend instead of marrying one, and next morning the
work began in good earnest. The messages and orders which had
been despatched by Nyleptha two days before now began to take
effect, and multitudes of armed men came pouring into the city.
We saw, as may be imagined, but very little of Nyleptha and not
too much of Curtis during those next few days, but Good and I sat
daily with the council of generals and loyal lords, drawing up
plans of action, arranging commissariat matters, the distribution
of commands, and a hundred and one other things. Men came in
freely, and all the day long the great roads leading to Milosis
were spotted with the banners of lords arriving from their
distant places to rally round Nyleptha.
After the first few days it became clear that we should be able
to take the field with about forty thousand infantry and twenty
thousand cavalry, a very respectable force considering how short
was the time we had to collect it, and that about half the
regular army had elected to follow Sorais.
But if our force was large, Sorais' was, according to the reports
brought in day by day by our spies, much larger. She had taken
up her headquarters at a very strong town called M'Arstuna,
situated, as I have said, to the north of Milosis, and all the
countryside was flocking to her standard. Nasta had poured down
from his highlands and was on his way to join her with no less
than twenty-five thousand of his mountaineers, the most terrible
soldiers to face in all Zu-Vendis. Another mighty lord, named
Belusha, who lived in the great horse-breeding district, had come
in with twelve thousand cavalry, and so on. Indeed, what between
one thing and another, it seemed certain that she would gather a
fully armed host of nearly one hundred thousand men.
And then came news that Sorais was proposing to break up her camp
and march on the Frowning City itself, desolating the country as
she came. Thereon arose the question whether it would be best to
meet her at Milosis or to go out and give her battle. When our
opinion was asked upon the subject, Good and I unhesitatingly
gave it in favour of an advance. If we were to shut ourselves up
in the city and wait to be attacked, it seemed to us that our
inaction would be set down to fear. It is so important,
especially on an occasion of this sort, when a very little will
suffice to turn men's opinions one way or the other, to be up and
doing something. Ardour for a cause will soon evaporate if the
cause does not move but sits down to conquer. Therefore we cast
our vote for moving out and giving battle in the open, instead of
waiting till we were drawn from our walls like a badger from a
Sir Henry's opinion coincided with ours, and so, needless to say,
did that of Nyleptha, who, like a flint, was always ready to
flash out fire. A great map of the country was brought and
spread out before her. About thirty miles this side of
M'Arstuna, where Sorais lay, and ninety odd miles from Milosis,
the road ran over a neck of land some two and a half miles in
width, and flanked on either side by forest-clad hills which,
without being lofty, would, if the road were blocked, be quite
impracticable for a great baggage-laden army to cross. She
looked earnestly at the map, and then, with a quickness of
perception that in some women amounts almost to an instinct, she
laid her finger upon this neck of rising ground, and turning to
her husband, said, with a proud air of confidence and a toss of
the golden head--
'Here shalt thou meet Sorais' armies. I know the spot, here
shalt thou meet them, and drive them before thee like dust before
the storm.'
But Curtis looked grave and said nothing.
It was on the third morning after this incident of the map that
Sir Henry and I started. With the exception of a small guard,
all the great host had moved on the night before, leaving the
Frowning City very silent and empty. Indeed, it was found
impossible to leave any garrison with the exception of a personal
guard for Nyleptha, and about a thousand men who from sickness or
one cause or another were unable to proceed with the army; but as
Milosis was practically impregnable, and as our enemy was in
front of and not behind us, this did not so much matter.
Good and Umslopogaas had gone on with the army, but Nyleptha
accompanied Sir Henry and myself to the city gates, riding a
magnificent white horse called Daylight, which was supposed to be
the fleetest and most enduring animal in Zu-Vendis. Her face
bore traces of recent weeping, but there were no tears in her
eyes now, indeed she was bearing up bravely against what must
have been a bitter trail to her. At the gate she reined in her
horse and bade us farewell. On the previous day she had reviewed
and addressed the officers of the great army, speaking to them
such high, eloquent words, and expressing so complete a
confidence in their valour and in their ultimate victory, that
she quite carried their hearts away, and as she rode from rank to
rank they cheered her till the ground shook. And now today the
same mood seemed to be on her.
'Fare thee well, Macumazahn!' she said. 'Remember, I trust to
thy wits, which are as a needle to a spear-handle compared to
those of my people, to save us from Sorais. I know that thou
wilt do thy duty.'
I bowed and explained to her my horror of fighting, and my fear
lest I should lose my head, at which she laughed gently and
turned to Curtis.
'Fare thee well, my lord!' she said. 'Come back with victory,
and as a king, or on thy soldiers' spears.' *{Alluding to the
Zu-Vendi custom of carrying dead officers on a framework of
Sir Henry said nothing, but turned his horse to go; perhaps he
had a bit of a lump in his throat. One gets over it afterwards,
but these sort of partings are trying when one has only been
married a week.
'Here,' added Nyleptha, 'will I greet thee when ye return in
triumph. And now, my lords, once more, farewell!'
Then we rode on, but when we had gone a hundred and fifty yards
or so, we turned and perceived her still sitting on her horse at
the same spot, and looking out after us beneath her hand, and
that was the last we saw of her. About a mile farther on,
however, we heard galloping behind us, and looking round, saw a
mounted soldier coming towards us, leading Nyleptha's matchless
'The Queen sends the white stallion as a farewell gift to her
Lord Incubu, and bids me tell my lord that he is the fleetest and
most enduring horse in all the land,' said the soldier, bending
to his saddle-bow before us.
At first Sir Henry did not want to take the horse, saying that he
was too good for such rough work, but I persuaded him to do so,
thinking that Nyleptha would be hurt if he did not. Little did I
guess at the time what service that noble horse would render in
our sorest need. It is curious to look back and realize upon
what trivial and apparently coincidental circumstances great
events frequently turn as easily and naturally as a door on its
Well, we took the horse, and a beauty he was, it was a perfect
pleasure to see him move, and Curtis having sent back his
greetings and thanks, we proceeded on our journey.
By midday we overtook the rear-guard of the great army of which
Sir Henry then formally took over the command. It was a heavy
responsibility, and it oppressed him very much, but the Queen's
injunctions on the point were such as did not admit of being
trifled with. He was beginning to find out that greatness has
its responsibilities as well as its glories.
Then we marched on without meeting with any opposition, almost
indeed without seeing anybody, for the populations of the towns
and villages along our route had for the most part fled, fearing
lest they should be caught between the two rival armies and
ground to powder like grain between the upper and the nether
On the evening of the fourth day, for the progress of so great a
multitude was necessarily slow, we camped two miles this side of
the neck or ridge I have spoken of, and our outposts brought us
word that Sorais with all her power was rolling down upon us, and
had pitched her camp that night ten miles the farther side of the
Accordingly before dawn we sent forward fifteen hundred cavalry
to seize the position. Scarcely had they occupied it, however,
before they were attacked by about as many of Sorais' horsemen,
and a very smart little cavalry fight ensued, with a loss to us
of about thirty men killed. On the advance of our supports,
however, Sorais' force drew off, carrying their dead and wounded
with them.
The main body of the army reached the neck about dinner-time, and
I must say that Nyleptha's judgment had not failed her, it was an
admirable place to give battle in, especially to a superior
The road ran down a mile or more, through ground too broken to
admit of the handling of any considerable force, till it reached
the crest of a great green wave of land, that rolled down a
gentle slope to the banks of a little stream, and then rolled
away again up a still gentler slope to the plain beyond, the
distance from the crest of the land-wave down to the stream being
a little over half a mile, and from the stream up to the plain
beyond a trifle less. The length of this wave of land at its
highest point, which corresponded exactly with the width of the
neck of the land between the wooded hills, was about two miles
and a quarter, and it was protected on either side by dense,
rocky, bush-clad ground, that afforded a most valuable cover to
the flanks of the army and rendered it almost impossible for them
to be turned.
It was on the hither slope of this neck of land that Curtis
encamped his army in the same formation that he had, after
consultation with the various generals, Good, and myself,
determined that they should occupy in the great pitched battle
which now appeared to be imminent.
Our force of sixty thousand men was, roughly speaking, divided as
follows. In the centre was a dense body of twenty thousand
foot-soldiers, armed with spears, swords, and hippopotamus-hide
shields, breast and back plates. *{The Zu-Vendi people do not use
bows. --A. Q.} These formed the chest of the army, and were
supported by five thousand foot, and three thousand horse in
reserve. On either side of this chest were stationed seven
thousand horse arranged in deep, majestic squadrons; and beyond
and on either side but slightly in front of them again were two
bodies, each numbering about seven thousand five hundred
spearmen, forming the right and left wings of the army, and each
supported by a contingent of some fifteen hundred cavalry. This
makes in all sixty thousand men.
Curtis commanded in chief, I was in command of the seven thousand
horse between the chest and right wing, which was commanded by
Good, and the other battalions and squadrons were entrusted to
Zu-Vendis generals.
Scarcely had we taken up our positions before Sorais' vast army
began to swarm on the opposite slope about a mile in front of us,
till the whole place seemed alive with the multitude of her
spearpoints, and the ground shook with the tramp of her
battalions. It was evident that the spies had not exaggerated;
we were outnumbered by at least a third. At first we expected
that Sorais was going to attack us at once, as the clouds of
cavalry which hung upon her flanks executed some threatening
demonstrations, but she thought better of it, and there was no
fight that day. As for the formation of her great forces I
cannot now describe it with accuracy, and it would only serve to
bewilder if I did, but I may say, generally, that in its leading
features it resembled our own, only her reserve was much greater.
Opposite our right wing, and forming Sorais' left wing, was a
great army of dark, wild-looking men, armed with sword and shield
only, which, I was informed, was composed of Nasta's twenty-five
thousand savage hillsmen.
'My word, Good,' said I, when I saw them, 'you will catch it
tomorrow when those gentlemen charge!' whereat Good not
unnaturally looked rather anxious.
All day we watched and waited, but nothing happened, and at last
night fell, and a thousand watch-fires twinkled brightly on the
slopes, to wane and die one by one like the stars they resembled.
As the hours wore on, the silence gradually gathered more deeply
over the opposing hosts.
It was a very wearying night, for in addition to the endless
things that had to be attended to, there was our gnawing suspense
to reckon with. The fray which tomorrow would witness would be
so vast, and the slaughter so awful, that stout indeed must the
heart have been that was not overwhelmed at the prospect. And
when I thought of all that hung upon it, I own I felt ill, and it
made me very sad to reflect that these mighty forces were
gathered for destruction, simply to gratify the jealous anger of
a woman. This was the hidden power which was to send those dense
masses of cavalry, flashing like human thunderbolts across the
plain, and to roll together the fierce battalions as clouds when
hurricane meets hurricane. It was a dreadful thought, and set
one wondering about the responsibilities of the great ones of the
earth. Deep into the night we sat, with pale faces and heavy
hearts, and took counsel, whilst the sentries tramped up and
down, down and up, and the armed and plumed generals came and
went, grim and shadow-like.
And so the time wore away, till everything was ready for the
coming slaughter; and I lay down and thought, and tried to get a
little rest, but could not sleep for fear of the morrow--for who
could say what the morrow would bring forth? Misery and death,
this was certain; beyond that we knew not, and I confess I was
very much afraid. But as I realized then, it is useless to
question that eternal Sphinx, the future. From day to day she
reads aloud the riddles of the yesterday, of which the puzzled
wordlings of all ages have not answered one, nor ever will, guess
they never so wildly or cry they never so loud.
And so at length I gave up wondering, being forced humbly to
leave the issue in the balancing hands of Providence and the
And at last up came the red sun, and the huge camps awoke with a
clash, and a roar, and gathered themselves together for battle.
It was a beautiful and awe-inspiring scene, and old Umslopogaas,
leaning on his axe, contemplated it with grim delight.
'Never have I seen the like, Macumazahn, never,' he said. 'The
battles of my people are as the play of children to what this
will be. Thinkest thou that they will fight it out?'
'Ay,' I answered sadly, 'to the death. Content thyself,
"Woodpecker", for once shalt thou peck thy fill.'
Time went on, and still there was no sign of an attack. A force
of cavalry crossed the brook, indeed, and rode slowly along our
front, evidently taking stock of our position and numbers. With
this we did not attempt to interfere, as our decision was to
stand strictly on the defensive, and not to waste a single man.
The men breakfasted and stood to their arms, and the hours wore
on. About midday, when the men were eating their dinner, for we
thought they would fight better on full stomachs, a shout of
'SORAIS, SORAIS' arose like thunder from the enemy's extreme
right, and taking the glass, I was able to clearly distinguish
the 'Lady of the Night' herself, surrounded by a glittering
staff, and riding slowly down the lines of her battalions. And
as she went, that mighty, thundering shout rolled along before
her like the rolling of ten thousand chariots, or the roaring of
the ocean when the gale turns suddenly and carries the noise of
it to the listener's ears, till the earth shook, and the air was
full of the majesty of sound.
Guessing that this was a prelude to the beginning of the battle,
we remained still and made ready.
We had not long to wait. Suddenly, like flame from a cannon's
mouth, out shot two great tongue-like forces of cavalry, and came
charging down the slope towards the little stream, slowly at
first, but gathering speed as they came. Before they got to the
stream, orders reached me from Sir Henry, who evidently feared
that the shock of such a charge, if allowed to fall unbroken upon
our infantry, would be too much for them, to send five thousand
sabres to meet the force opposite to me, at the moment when it
began to mount the stiffest of the rise about four hundred yards
from our lines. This I did, remaining behind myself with the
rest of my men.
Off went the five thousand horsemen, drawn up in a wedge-like
form, and I must say that the general in command handled them
very ably. Starting at a hand gallop, for the first three
hundred yards he rode straight at the tip of the tongue-shaped
mass of cavalry which, numbering, so far as I could judge, about
eight thousand sabres, was advancing to charge us. Then he
suddenly swerved to the right and put on the pace, and I saw the
great wedge curl round, and before the foe could check himself
and turn to meet it, strike him about halfway down his length,
with a crashing rending sound, like that of the breaking-up of
vast sheets of ice. In sank the great wedge, into his heart, and
as it cut its way hundreds of horsemen were thrown up on either
side of it, just as the earth is thrown up by a ploughshare, or
more like still, as the foaming water curls over beneath the bows
of a rushing ship. In, yet in, vainly does the tongue twist its
ends round in agony, like an injured snake, and strive to protect
its centre; still farther in, by Heaven! right through, and so,
amid cheer after cheer from our watching thousands, back again
upon the severed ends, beating them down, driving them as a gale
drives spray, till at last, amidst the rushing of hundreds of
riderless horses, the flashing of swords, and the victorious
clamour of their pursuers, the great force crumples up like an
empty glove, then turns and gallops pell-mell for safety back to
its own lines.
I do not think it reached them more than two-thirds as strong as
it went out ten minutes before. The lines which were now
advancing to the attack, opened and swallowed them up, and my
force returned, having only suffered a loss of about five hundred
men--not much, I thought, considering the fierceness of the
struggle. I could also see that the opposing bodies of cavalry
on our left wing were drawing back, but how the fight went with
them I do not quite know. It is as much as I can do to describe
what took place immediately around me.
By this time the dense masses of the enemy's left, composed
almost entirely of Nasta's swordsmen, were across the little
stream, and with alternate yells of 'Nasta' and 'Sorais', with
dancing banners and gleaming swords, were swarming up towards us
like ants.
Again I received orders to try and check this movement, and also
the main advance against the chest of our army, by means of
cavalry charges, and this I did to the best of my ability, by
continually sending squadrons of about a thousand sabres out
against them. These squadrons did the enemy much damage, and it
was a glorious sight to see them flash down the hillside, and
bury themselves like a living knife in the heart of the foe.
But, also, we lost many men, for after the experience of a couple
of these charges, which had drawn a sort of bloody St Andrew's
cross of dead and dying through the centre of Nasta's host, our
foes no longer attempted to offer an unyielding front to their
irresistible weight, but opened out to let the rush go through,
throwing themselves on the ground and hamstringing hundreds of
horses as they passed.
And so, notwithstanding all that we could do, the enemy drew
nearer, till at last he hurled himself upon Good's force of seven
thousand five hundred regulars, who were drawn up to receive them
in three strong squares. About the same time, too, an awful and
heartshaking roar told me that the main battle had closed in on
the centre and extreme left. I raised myself in my stirrups and
looked down to my left; so far as the eye could see there was a
long dazzling shimmer of steel as the sun glanced upon falling
sword and thrusting spear.
To and fro swung the contending lines in that dread struggle, now
giving way, now gaining a little in the mad yet ordered confusion
of attack and defence. But it was as much as I could do to keep
count of what was happening to our own wing; and, as for the
moment the cavalry had fallen back under cover of Good's three
squares, I had a fair view of this.
Nasta's wild swordsmen were now breaking in red waves against the
sullen rock-like squares. Time after time did they yell out
their war-cries, and hurl themselves furiously against the long
triple ridges of spear points, only to be rolled back as billows
are when they meet the cliff.
And so for four long hours the battle raged almost without a
pause, and at the end of that time, if we had gained nothing we
had lost nothing. Two attempts to turn our left flank by forcing
a way through the wood by which it was protected had been
defeated; and as yet Nasta's swordsmen had, notwithstanding their
desperate efforts, entirely failed to break Good's three squares,
though they had thinned their numbers by quite a third.
As for the chest of the army where Sir Henry was with his staff
and Umslopogaas, it had suffered dreadfully, but it had held its
own with honour, and the same may be said of our left battle.
At last the attacks slackened, and Sorais' army drew back,
having, I began to think, had enough of it. On this point,
however, I was soon undeceived, for splitting up her cavalry into
comparatively small squadrons, she charged us furiously with
them, all along the line, and then once more sullenly rolled her
tens of thousands of sword and spearmen down upon our weakened
squares and squadrons; Sorais herself directing the movement, as
fearless as a lioness heading the main attack. On they came like
an avalanche--I saw her golden helm gleaming in the van--our
counter charges of cavalry entirely failing to check their
forward sweep. Now they had struck us, and our centre bent in
like a bow beneath the weight of their rush--it parted, and had
not the ten thousand men in reserve charged down to its support
it must have been utterly destroyed. As for Good's three
squares, they were swept backwards like boats upon an incoming
tide, and the foremost one was burst into and lost half its
remaining men. But the effort was too fierce and terrible to
last. Suddenly the battle came, as it were, to a turning-point,
and for a minute or two stood still.
Then it began to move towards Sorais' camp. Just then, too,
Nasta's fierce and almost invincible highlanders, either because
they were disheartened by their losses or by way of a ruse, fell
back, and the remains of Good's gallant squares, leaving the
positions they had held for so many hours, cheered wildly, and
rashly followed them down the slope, whereon the swarms of
swordsmen turned to envelop them, and once more flung themselves
upon them with a yell. Taken thus on every side, what remained
of the first square was quickly destroyed, and I perceived that
the second, in which I could see Good himself mounted on a large
horse, was on the point of annihilation. A few more minutes and
it was broken, its streaming colours sank, and I lost sight of
Good in the confused and hideous slaughter that ensued.
Presently, however, a cream-coloured horse with a snow-white mane
and tail burst from the ruins of the square and came rushing past
me riderless and with wide streaming reins, and in it I
recognized the charger that Good had been riding. Then I
hesitated no longer, but taking with me half my effective cavalry
force, which now amounted to between four and five thousand men,
I commended myself to God, and, without waiting for orders, I
charged straight down upon Nasta's swordsmen. Seeing me coming,
and being warned by the thunder of my horses' hoofs, the majority
of them faced round, and gave us a right warm welcome. Not an
inch would they yield; in vain did we hack and trample them down
as we ploughed a broad red furrow through their thousands; they
seemed to re-arise by hundreds, driving their terrible sharp
swords into our horses, or severing their hamstrings, and then
hacking the troopers who came to the ground with them almost into
pieces. My horse was speedily killed under me, but luckily I had
a fresh one, my own favourite, a coal-black mare Nyleptha had
given me, being held in reserve behind, and on this I afterwards
mounted. Meanwhile I had to get along as best I could, for I was
pretty well lost sight of by my men in the mad confusion of the
moment. My voice, of course, could not be heard in the midst of
the clanging of steel and the shrieks of rage and agony.
Presently I found myself mixed up with the remnants of the
square, which had formed round its leader Good, and was fighting
desperately for existence. I stumbled against somebody, and
glancing down, caught sight of Good's eyeglass. He had been
beaten to his knee. Over him was a great fellow swinging a heavy
sword. Somehow I managed to run the man through with the sime I
had taken from the Masai whose hand I had cut off; but as I did
so, he dealt me a frightful blow on the left side and breast with
the sword, and though my chain shirt saved my life, I felt that I
was badly hurt. For a minute I fell on to my hands and knees
among the dead and dying, and turned sick and faint. When I came
to again I saw that Nasta's spearmen, or rather those of them who
remained, were retreating back across the stream, and that Good
was there by me smiling sweetly.
'Near go that,' he shouted; 'but all's well that ends well.'
I assented, but I could not help feeling that it had not ended
well for me. I was sorely hurt.
Just then we saw the smaller bodies of cavalry stationed on our
extreme right and left, and which were now reinforced by the
three thousand sabres which we had held in reserve, flash out
like arrows from their posts and fall upon the disordered flanks
of Sorais' forces, and that charge decided the issue of the
battle. In another minute or two the enemy was in slow and
sullen retreat across the little stream, where they once more
re-formed. Then came another lull, during which I managed to get
a second horse, and received my orders to advance from Sir Henry,
and then with one fierce deep-throated roar, with a waving of
banners and a wide flashing of steel, the remains of our army
took the offensive and began to sweep down, slowly indeed, but
irresistibly from the positions they had so gallantly held all
At last it was our turn to attack.
On we moved, over the piled-up masses of dead and dying, and were
approaching the stream, when suddenly I perceived an
extraordinary sight. Galloping wildly towards us, his arms
tightly clasped around his horse's neck, against which his
blanched cheek was tightly pressed, was a man arrayed in the full
costume of a Zu-Vendi general, but in whom, as he came nearer, I
recognized none other than our lost Alphonse. It was impossible
even then to mistake those curling mustachios. In a minute he
was tearing through our ranks and narrowly escaped being cut
down, till at last somebody caught his horse's bridle, and he was
brought to me just as a momentary halt occurred in our advance to
allow what remained of our shattered squares to form into line.
'Ah, monsieur,' he gasped out in a voice that was nearly
inarticulate with fright, 'grace to the sky, it is you! Ah, what
I have endured! But you win, monsieur, you win; they fly, the
laches. But listen, monsieur--I forget, it is no good; the Queen
is to be murdered tomorrow at the first light in the palace of
Milosis; her guards will leave their posts, and the priests are
going to kill her. Ah yes! they little thought it, but I was
ensconced beneath a banner, and I heard it all.'
'What?' I said, horror-struck; 'what do you mean?'
'What I say, monsieur; that devil of a Nasta he went last night
to settle the affair with the Archbishop [Agon]. The guard will
leave open the little gate leading from the great stair and go
away, and Nasta and Agon's priests will come in and kill her.
Themselves they would not kill her.'
'Come with me,' I said, and, shouting to the staff-officer next
to me to take over the command, I snatched his bridle and
galloped as hard as I could for the spot, between a quarter and
half a mile off, where I saw the royal pennon flying, and where I
knew that I should find Curtis if he were still alive. On we
tore, our horses clearing heaps of dead and dying men, and
splashing through pools of blood, on past the long broken lines
of spearmen to where, mounted on the white stallion Nasta had
sent to him as a parting gift, I saw Sir Henry's form towering
above the generals who surrounded him.
Just as we reached him the advance began again. A bloody cloth
was bound around his head, but I saw that his eye was as bright
and keen as ever. Beside him was old Umslopogaas, his axe red
with blood, but looking quite fresh and uninjured.
'What's wrong, Quatermain?' he shouted.
'Everything. There is a plot to murder the Queen tomorrow at
dawn. Alphonse here, who has just escaped from Sorais, has
overheard it all,' and I rapidly repeated to him what the
Frenchman had told me.
Curtis' face turned deadly pale and his jaw dropped.
'At dawn,' he gasped, 'and it is now sunset; it dawns before four
and we are nearly a hundred miles off--nine hours at the outside.
What is to be done?'
An idea entered into my head. 'Is that horse of yours fresh?' I
'Yes, I have only just got on to him--when my last was killed,
and he has been fed.'
'So is mine. Get off him, and let Umslopogaas mount; he can ride
well. We will be at Milosis before dawn, or if we are not--well,
we cannot help it. No, no; it is impossible for you to leave
now. You would be seen, and it would turn the fate of the
battle. It is not half won yet. The soldiers would think you
were making a bolt of it. Quick now.'
In a moment he was down, and at my bidding Umslopogaas sprang
into the empty saddle.
'Now farewell,' I said. 'Send a thousand horsemen with remounts
after us in an hour if possible. Stay, despatch a general to the
left wing to take over the command and explain my absence.'
'You will do your best to save her, Quatermain?' he said in a
broken voice.
'Ay, that I will. Go on; you are being left behind.'
He cast one glance at us, and accompanied by his staff galloped
off to join the advance, which by this time was fording the
little brook that now ran red with the blood of the fallen.
As for Umslopogaas and myself, we left that dreadful field as
arrows leave a bow, and in a few minutes had passed right out of
the sight of slaughter, the smell of blood, and the turmoil and
shouting, which only came to our ears as a faint, far-off roaring
like the sound of distant breakers.
At the top of the rise we halted for a second to breathe our
horses; and, turning, glanced at the battle beneath us, which,
illumined as it was by the fierce rays of the sinking sun
staining the whole scene red, looked from where we were more like
some wild titanic picture than an actual hand-to-hand combat.
The distinguishing scenic effect from that distance was the
countless distinct flashes of light reflected from the swords and
spears, otherwise the panorama was not so grand as might have
been expected. The great green lap of sward in which the
struggle was being fought out, the bold round outline of the
hills behind, and the wide sweep of the plain beyond, seemed to
dwarf it; and what was tremendous enough when one was in it, grew
insignificant when viewed from the distance. But is it not thus
with all the affairs and doings of our race about which we blow
the loud trumpet and make such a fuss and worry? How utterly
antlike, and morally and physically insignificant, must they seem
to the calm eyes that watch them from the arching depths above!
'We win the day, Macumazahn,' said old Umslopogaas, taking in the
whole situation with a glance of his practised eye. 'Look, the
Lady of the Night's forces give on every side, there is no
stiffness left in them, they bend like hot iron, they are
fighting with but half a heart. But alas! the battle will in a
manner be drawn, for the darkness gathers, and the regiments will
not be able to follow and slay!'--and he shook his head sadly.
'But,' he added, 'I do not think that they will fight again. We
have fed them with too strong a meat. Ah! it is well to have
lived! At last I have seen a fight worth seeing.'
By this time we were on our way again, and as we went side by
side I told him what our mission was, and how that, if it failed,
all the lives that had been lost that day would have been lost in
'Ah!' he said, 'nigh on a hundred miles and no horses but these,
and to be there before the dawn! Well--away! away! man can but
try, Macumazahn; and mayhap we shall be there in time to split
that old "witch-finder's" [Agon's] skull for him. Once he wanted
to burn us, the old "rain-maker", did he? And now he would set a
snare for my mother [Nyleptha], would he? Good! So sure as my
name is the name of the Woodpecker, so surely, be my mother alive
or dead, will I split him to the beard. Ay, by T'Chaka's head I
swear it!' and he shook Inkosi-kaas as he galloped. By now the
darkness was closing in, but fortunately there would be a moon
later, and the road was good.
On we sped through the twilight, the two splendid horses we
bestrode had got their wind by this, and were sweeping along with
a wide steady stride that neither failed nor varied for mile upon
mile. Down the side of slopes we galloped, across wide vales
that stretched to the foot of far-off hills. Nearer and nearer
grew the blue hills; now we were travelling up their steeps, and
now we were over and passing towards others that sprang up like
visions in the far, faint distance beyond.
On, never pausing or drawing rein, through the perfect quiet of
the night, that was set like a song to the falling music of our
horses' hoofs; on, past deserted villages, where only some
forgotten starving dog howled a melancholy welcome; on, past
lonely moated dwellings; on, through the white patchy moonlight,
that lay coldly upon the wide bosom of the earth, as though there
was no warmth in it; on, knee to knee, for hour after hour!
We spake not, but bent us forward on the necks of those two
glorious horses, and listened to their deep, long-drawn breaths
as they filled their great lungs, and to the regular unfaltering
ring of their round hoofs. Grim and black indeed did old
Umslopogaas look beside me, mounted upon the great white horse,
like Death in the Revelation of St John, as now and again lifting
his fierce set face he gazed out along the road, and pointed with
his axe towards some distant rise or house.
And so on, still on, without break or pause for hour after hour.
At last I felt that even the splendid animal that I rode was
beginning to give out. I looked at my watch; it was nearly
midnight, and we were considerably more than half way. On the
top of a rise was a little spring, which I remembered because I
had slept by it a few nights before, and here I motioned to
Umslopogaas to pull up, having determined to give the horses and
ourselves ten minutes to breathe in. He did so, and we
dismounted--that is to say, Umslopogaas did, and then helped me
off, for what with fatigue, stiffness, and the pain of my wound,
I could not do so for myself; and then the gallant horses stood
panting there, resting first one leg and then another, while the
sweat fell drip, drip, from them, and the steam rose and hung in
pale clouds in the still night air.
Leaving Umslopogaas to hold the horses, I hobbled to the spring
and drank deep of its sweet waters. I had had nothing but a
single mouthful of wine since midday, when the battle began, and
I was parched up, though my fatigue was too great to allow me to
feel hungry. Then, having laved my fevered head and hands, I
returned, and the Zulu went and drank. Next we allowed the
horses to take a couple of mouthfuls each--no more; and oh, what
a struggle we had to get the poor beasts away from the water!
There were yet two minutes, and I employed it in hobbling up and
down to try and relieve my stiffness, and in inspecting the
condition of the horses. My mare, gallant animal though she was,
was evidently much distressed; she hung her head, and her eye
looked sick and dull; but Daylight, Nyleptha's glorious
horse--who, if he is served aright, should, like the steeds who
saved great Rameses in his need, feed for the rest of his days
out of a golden manger--was still comparatively speaking fresh,
notwithstanding the fact that he had had by far the heavier
weight to carry. He was 'tucked up', indeed, and his legs were
weary, but his eye was bright and clear, and he held his shapely
head up and gazed out into the darkness round him in a way that
seemed to say that whoever failed HE was good for those
five-and-forty miles that yet lay between us and Milosis. Then
Umslopogaas helped me into the saddle and--vigorous old savage
that he was!--vaulted into his own without touching a stirrup,
and we were off once more, slowly at first, till the horses got
into their stride, and then more swiftly. So we passed over
another ten miles, and then came a long, weary rise of some six
or seven miles, and three times did my poor black mare nearly
come to the ground with me. But on the top she seemed to gather
herself together, and rattled down the slope with long,
convulsive strides, breathing in gasps. We did that three or
four miles more swiftly than any since we had started on our wild
ride, but I felt it to be a last effort, and I was right.
Suddenly my poor horse took the bit between her teeth and bolted
furiously along a stretch of level ground for some three or four
hundred yards, and then, with two or three jerky strides, pulled
herself up and fell with a crash right on to her head, I rolling
myself free as she did so. As I struggled to my feet the brave
beast raised her head and looked at me with piteous bloodshot
eyes, and then her head dropped with a groan and she was dead.
Her heart was broken.
Umslopogaas pulled up beside the carcase, and I looked at him in
dismay. There were still more than twenty miles to do by dawn,
and how were we to do it with one horse? It seemed hopeless, but
I had forgotten the old Zulu's extraordinary running powers.
Without a single word he sprang from the saddle and began to
hoist me into it.
'What wilt thou do?' I asked.
'Run,' he answered, seizing my stirrup-leather.
Then off we went again, almost as fast as before; and oh, the
relief it was to me to get that change of horses! Anybody who
has ever ridden against time will know what it meant.
Daylight sped along at a long stretching hand-gallop, giving the
gaunt Zulu a lift at every stride. It was a wonderful thing to
see old Umslopogaas run mile after mile, his lips slightly parted
and his nostrils agape like the horse's. Every five miles or so
we stopped for a few minutes to let him get his breath, and then
flew on again.
'Canst thou go farther,' I said at the third of these stoppages,
'or shall I leave thee to follow me?'
He pointed with his axe to a dim mass before us. It was the
Temple of the Sun, now not more than five miles away.
'I reach it or I die,' he gasped.
Oh, that last five miles! The skin was rubbed from the inside of
my legs, and every movement of my horse gave me anguish. Nor was
that all. I was exhausted with toil, want of food and sleep, and
also suffering very much from the blow I had received on my left
side; it seemed as though a piece of bone or something was slowly
piercing into my lung. Poor Daylight, too, was pretty nearly
finished, and no wonder. But there was a smell of dawn in the
air, and we might not stay; better that all three of us should
die upon the road than that we should linger while there was life
in us. The air was thick and heavy, as it sometimes is before
the dawn breaks, and--another infallible sign in certain parts of
Zu-Vendis that sunrise is at hand--hundreds of little spiders
pendant on the end of long tough webs were floating about in it.
These early-rising creatures, or rather their webs, caught upon
the horse's and our own forms by scores, and, as we had neither
the time nor the energy to brush them off, we rushed along
covered with hundreds of long grey threads that streamed out a
yard or more behind us--and a very strange appearance they must
have given us.
And now before us are the huge brazen gates of the outer wall of
the Frowning City, and a new and horrible doubt strikes me: What
if they will not let us in?
'OPEN! OPEN!' I shout imperiously, at the same time giving the
royal password. 'OPEN! OPEN! a messenger, a messenger with
tidings of the war!'
'What news?' cried the guard. 'And who art thou that ridest so
madly, and who is that whose tongue lolls out'--and it actually
did--'and who runs by thee like a dog by a chariot?'
'It is the Lord Macumazahn, and with him is his dog, his black
dog. OPEN! OPEN! I bring tidings.'
The great gates ran back on their rollers, and the drawbridge
fell with a rattling crash, and we dashed on through the one and
over the other.
'What news, my lord, what news?' cried the guard.
'Incubu rolls Sorais back, as the wind a cloud,' I answered, and
was gone.
One more effort, gallant horse, and yet more gallant man!
So, fall not now, Daylight, and hold thy life in thee for fifteen
short minutes more, old Zulu war-dog, and ye shall both live for
ever in the annals of the land.
On, clattering through the sleeping streets. We are passing the
Flower Temple now--one mile more, only one little mile--hold on,
keep your life in thee, see the houses run past of themselves.
Up, good horse, up, there--but fifty yards now. Ah! you see your
stables and stagger on gallantly.
'Thank God, the palace at last!' and see, the first arrows of the
dawn are striking on the Temple's golden dome. *{Of course, the
roof of the Temple, being so high, caught the light some time
before the breaking of the dawn. --A. Q.} But shall I get in
here, or is the deed done and the way barred?
Once more I give the password and shout 'OPEN! OPEN!'
No answer, and my heart grows very faint.
Again I call, and this time a single voice replies, and to my joy
I recognize it as belonging to Kara, a fellow-officer of
Nyleptha's guards, a man I know to be as honest as the
light--indeed, the same whom Nyleptha had sent to arrest Sorais
on the day she fled to the temple.
'Is it thou, Kara?' I cry; 'I am Macumazahn. Bid the guard let
down the bridge and throw wide the gate. Quick, quick!'
Then followed a space that seemed to me endless, but at length
the bridge fell and one half of the gate opened and we got into
the courtyard, where at last poor Daylight fell down beneath me,
as I thought, dead. Except Kara, there was nobody to be seen,
and his look was wild, and his garments were all torn. He had
opened the gate and let down the bridge alone, and was now
getting them up and shut again (as, owing to a very ingenious
arrangement of cranks and levers, one man could easily do, and
indeed generally did do).
'Where are the guard?' I gasped, fearing his answer as I never
feared anything before.
'I know not,' he answered; 'two hours ago, as I slept, was I
seized and bound by the watch under me, and but now, this very
moment, have I freed myself with my teeth. I fear, I greatly
fear, that we are betrayed.'
His words gave me fresh energy. Catching him by the arm, I
staggered, followed by Umslopogaas, who reeled after us like a
drunken man, through the courtyards, up the great hall, which was
silent as the grave, towards the Queen's sleeping-place.
We reached the first ante-room--no guards; the second, still no
guards. Oh, surely the thing was done! we were too late after
all, too late! The silence and solitude of those great chambers
was dreadful, and weighed me down like an evil dream. On, right
into Nyleptha's chamber we rushed and staggered, sick at heart,
fearing the very worst; we saw there was a light in it, ay, and a
figure bearing the light. Oh, thank God, it is the White Queen
herself, the Queen unharmed! There she stands in her night gear,
roused, by the clatter of our coming, from her bed, the heaviness
of sleep yet in her eyes, and a red blush of fear and shame
mantling her lovely breast and cheek.
'Who is it?' she cries. 'What means this? Oh, Macumazahn, is it
thou? Why lookest thou so wildly? Thou comest as one bearing
evil tidings--and my lord--oh, tell me not my lord is dead--not
dead!' she wailed, wringing her white hands.
'I left Incubu wounded, but leading the advance against Sorais
last night at sundown; therefore let thy heart have rest. Sorais
is beaten back all along her lines, and thy arms prevail.'
'I knew it,' she cried in triumph. 'I knew that he would win;
and they called him Outlander, and shook their wise heads when I
gave him the command! Last night at sundown, sayest thou, and it
is not yet dawn? Surely--'
'Throw a cloak around thee, Nyleptha,' I broke in, 'and give us
wine to drink; ay, and call thy maidens quick if thou wouldst
save thyself alive. Nay, stay not.'
Thus adjured she ran and called through the curtains towards some
room beyond, and then hastily put on her sandals and a thick
cloak, by which time a dozen or so of half-dressed women were
pouring into the room.
'Follow us and be silent,' I said to them as they gazed with
wondering eyes, clinging one to another. So we went into the
first ante-room.
'Now,' I said, 'give us wine to drink and food, if ye have it,
for we are near to death.'
The room was used as a mess-room for the officers of the guards,
and from a cupboard some flagons of wine and some cold flesh were
brought forth, and Umslopogaas and I drank, and felt life flow
back into our veins as the good red wine went down.
'Hark to me, Nyleptha,' I said, as I put down the empty tankard.
'Hast thou here among these thy waiting-ladies any two of
'Ay,' she said, 'surely.'
'Then bid them go out by the side entrance to any citizens whom
thou canst bethink thee of as men loyal to thee, and pray them
come armed, with all honest folk that they can gather, to rescue
thee from death. Nay, question not; do as I say, and quickly.
Kara here will let out the maids.'
She turned, and selecting two of the crowd of damsels, repeated
the words I had uttered, giving them besides a list of the names
of the men to whom each should run.
'Go swiftly and secretly; go for your very lives,' I added.
In another moment they had left with Kara, whom I told to rejoin
us at the door leading from the great courtyard on to the
stairway as soon as he had made fast behind the girls. Thither,
too, Umslopogaas and I made our way, followed by the Queen and
her women. As we went we tore off mouthfuls of food, and between
them I told her what I knew of the danger which encompassed her,
and how we found Kara, and how all the guards and men-servants
were gone, and she was alone with her women in that great place;
and she told me, too, that a rumour had spread through the town
that our army had been utterly destroyed, and that Sorais was
marching in triumph on Milosis, and how in consequence thereof
all men had fallen away from her.
Though all this takes some time to tell, we had not been but six
or seven minutes in the palace; and notwithstanding that the
golden roof of the temple being very lofty was ablaze with the
rays of the rising sun, it was not yet dawn, nor would be for
another ten minutes. We were in the courtyard now, and here my
wound pained me so that I had to take Nyleptha's arm, while
Umslopogaas rolled along after us, eating as he went.
Now we were across it, and had reached the narrow doorway through
the palace wall that opened on to the mighty stair.
I looked through and stood aghast, as well I might. The door was
gone, and so were the outer gates of bronze--entirely gone. They
had been taken from their hinges, and as we afterwards found,
hurled from the stairway to the ground two hundred feet beneath.
There in front of us was the semicircular standing-space, about
twice the size of a large oval dining-table, and the ten curved
black marble steps leading on to the main stair--and that was
We looked at one another.
'Thou seest,' I said, 'they have taken away the door. Is there
aught with which we may fill the place? Speak quickly for they
will be on us ere the daylight.' I spoke thus, because I knew
that we must hold this place or none, as there were no inner
doors in the palace, the rooms being separated one from another
by curtains. I also knew that if we could by any means defend
this doorway the murderers could get in nowhere else; for the
palace is absolutely impregnable, that is, since the secret door
by which Sorais had entered on that memorable night of attempted
murder had, by Nyleptha's order, been closed up with masonry.
'I have it,' said Nyleptha, who, as usual with her, rose to the
emergency in a wonderful way. 'On the farther side of the
courtyard are blocks of cut marble--the workmen brought them
there for the bed of the new statue of Incubu, my lord; let us
block the door with them.'
I jumped at the idea; and having despatched one of the remaining
maidens down the great stair to see if she could obtain
assistance from the docks below, where her father, who was a
great merchant employing many men, had his dwelling-place, and
set another to watch through the doorway, we made our way back
across the courtyard to where the hewn marble lay; and here we
met Kara returning from despatching the first two messengers.
There were the marble blocks, sure enough, broad, massive lumps,
some six inches thick, and weighing about eighty pounds each, and
there, too, were a couple of implements like small stretchers,
that the workmen used to carry them on. Without delay we got
some of the blocks on to the stretchers, and four of the girls
carried them to the doorway.
'Listen, Macumazahn,' said Umslopogaas, 'if those low fellows
come, it is I who will hold the stair against them till the door
is built up. Nay, nay, it will be a man's death: gainsay me
not, old friend. It has been a good day, let it now be good
night. See, I throw myself down to rest on the marble there;
when their footsteps are nigh, wake thou me, not before, for I
need my strength,' and without a word he went outside and flung
himself down on the marble, and was instantly asleep.
At this time, I too was overcome, and was forced to sit down by
the doorway, and content myself with directing operations. The
girls brought the block, while Kara and Nyleptha built them up
across the six-foot-wide doorway, a triple row of them, for less
would be useless. But the marble had to be brought forty yards
and then there were forty yards to run back, and though the girls
laboured gloriously, even staggering along alone, each with a
block in her arms, it was slow work, dreadfully slow.
The light was growing now, and presently, in the silence, we
heard a commotion at the far-bottom of the stair, and the faint
clinking of armed men. As yet the wall was only two feet high,
and we had been eight minutes at the building of it. So they had
come. Alphonse had heard aright.
The clanking sound came nearer, and in the ghostly grey of the
dawning we could make out long files of men, some fifty or so in
all, slowly creeping up the stair. They were now at the half-way
standing place that rested on the great flying arch; and here,
perceiving that something was going on above, they, to our great
gain, halted for three or four minutes and consulted, then slowly
and cautiously advanced again.
We had been nearly a quarter of an hour at the work now, and it
was almost three feet high.
Then I woke Umslopogaas. The great man rose, stretched himself,
and swung Inkosi-kaas round his head.
'It is well,' he said. 'I feel as a young man once more. My
strength has come back to me, ay, even as a lamp flares up before
it dies. Fear not, I shall fight a good fight; the wine and the
sleep have put a new heart into me.'
'Macumazahn, I have dreamed a dream. I dreamed that thou and I
stood together on a star, and looked down on the world, and thou
wast as a spirit, Macumazahn, for light flamed through thy flesh,
but I could not see what was the fashion of mine own face. The
hour has come for us, old hunter. So be it: we have had our
time, but I would that in it I had seen some more such fights as
'Let them bury me after the fashion of my people, Macumazahn, and
set my eyes towards Zululand;' and he took my hand and shook it,
and then turned to face the advancing foe.
Just then, to my astonishment, the Zu-Vendi officer Kara
clambered over our improvised wall in his quiet, determined sort
of way, and took his stand by the Zulu, unsheathing his sword as
he did so.
'What, comest thou too?' laughed out the old warrior.
'Welcome--a welcome to thee, brave heart! Ow! for the man who
can die like a man; ow! for the death grip and the ringing of
steel. Ow! we are ready. We wet our beaks like eagles, our
spears flash in the sun; we shake our assegais, and are hungry to
fight. Who comes to give greeting to the Chieftainess
[Inkosi-kaas]? Who would taste her kiss, whereof the fruit is
death? I, the Woodpecker, I, the Slaughterer, I the Swiftfooted!
I, Umslopogaas, of the tribe of the Maquilisini, of the people of
Amazulu, a captain of the regiment of the Nkomabakosi: I,
Umslopogaas, the son of Indabazimbi, the son of Arpi the son of
Mosilikaatze, I of the royal blood of T'Chaka, I of the King's
House, I the Ringed Man, I the Induna, I call to them as a buck
calls, I challenge them, I await them. Ow! it is thou, it is
As he spake, or rather chanted, his wild war-song, the armed men,
among whom in the growing light I recognized both Nasta and Agon,
came streaming up the stair with a rush, and one big fellow,
armed with a heavy spear, dashed up the ten semicircular steps
ahead of his comrades and struck at the great Zulu with the
spear. Umslopogaas moved his body but not his legs, so that the
blow missed him, and next instant Inkosi-kaas crashed through
headpiece, hair and skull, and the man's corpse was rattling down
the steps. As he dropped, his round hippopotamus-hide shield
fell from his hand on to the marble, and the Zulu stooped down
and seized it, still chanting as he did so.
In another second the sturdy Kara had also slain a man, and then
began a scene the like of which has not been known to me.
Up rushed the assailants, one, two, three at a time, and as fast
as they came, the axe crashed and the sword swung, and down they
rolled again, dead or dying. And ever as the fight thickened,
the old Zulu's eye seemed to get quicker and his arm stronger.
He shouted out his war-cries and the names of chiefs whom he had
slain, and the blows of his awful axe rained straight and true,
shearing through everything they fell on. There was none of the
scientific method he was so fond of about this last immortal
fight of his; he had no time for it, but struck with his full
strength, and at every stroke a man sank in his tracks, and went
rattling down the marble steps.
They hacked and hewed at him with swords and spears, wounding him
in a dozen places till he streamed red with blood; but the shield
protected his head and the chain-shirt his vitals, and for minute
after minute, aided by the gallant Zu-Vendi, he still held the
At last Kara's sword broke, and he grappled with a foe, and they
rolled down together, and he was cut to pieces, dying like the
brave man that he was.
Umslopogaas was alone now, but he never blenched or turned.
Shouting out some wild Zulu battle-cry, he beat down a foe, ay,
and another, and another, till at last they drew back from the
slippery blood-stained steps, and stared at him with amazement,
thinking that he was no mortal man.
The wall of marble block was four feet six high now, and hope
rose in my teeth as I leaned there against it a miserable
helpless log, and ground my teeth, and watched that glorious
struggle. I could do no more for I had lost my revolver in the
And old Umslopogaas, he leaned too on his good axe, and, faint as
he was with wounds, he mocked them, he called them 'women'--the
grand old warrior, standing there one against so many! And for a
breathing space none would come against him, notwithstanding
Nasta's exhortations, till at last old Agon, who, to do him
justice, was a brave man, made with baffled rage, and seeing that
the wall would soon be built and his plans defeated, shook the
great spear he held, and rushed up the dripping steps.
'Ah, ah!' shouted the Zulu, as he recognized the priest's flowing
white beard, 'it is thou, old "witch-finder"! Come on! I await
thee, white "medicine man"; come on! come on! I have sworn to
slay thee, and I ever keep my faith.'
On he came, taking him at his word, and drave the big spear with
such force at Umslopogaas that it sunk right through the tough
shield and pierced him in the neck. The Zulu cast down the
transfixed shield, and that moment was Agon's last, for before he
could free his spear and strike again, with a shout of 'THERE'S
FOR THEE, RAIN-MAKER!' Umslopogaas gripped Inkosi-kaas with both
hands and whirled on high and drave her right on to his venerable
head, so that Agon rolled down dead among the corpses of his
fellow-murderers, and there was an end to him and his plots
altogether. And even as he fell, a great cry rose from the foot
of the stair, and looking out through the portion of the doorway
that was yet unclosed, we saw armed men rushing up to the rescue,
and called an answer to their shouts. Then the would-be
murderers who yet remained on the stairway, and amongst whom I
saw several priests, turned to fly, but, having nowhere to go,
were butchered as they fled. Only one man stayed, and he was the
great lord Nasta, Nyleptha's suitor, and the father of the plot.
For a moment the black-bearded Nasta stood with bowed face
leaning on his long sword as though in despair, and then, with a
dreadful shout, he too rushed up at the Zulu, and, swinging the
glittering sword around his head, dealt him such a mighty blow
beneath his guard, that the keen steel of the heavy blade bit
right through the chain armour and deep into Umslopogaas' side,
for a moment paralysing him and causing him to drop his axe.
Raising the sword again, Nasta sprang forward to make an end of
him, but little he knew his foe. With a shake and a yell of
fury, the Zulu gathered himself together and sprang straight at
Nasta's throat, as I have sometimes seen a wounded lion spring.
He struck him full as his foot was on the topmost stair, and his
long arms closing round him like iron bands, down they rolled
together struggling furiously. Nasta was a strong man and a
desperate, but he could not match the strongest man in Zululand,
sore wounded though he was, whose strength was as the strength of
a bull. In a minute the end came. I saw old Umslopogaas stagger
to his feet--ay, and saw him by a single gigantic effort swing up
the struggling Nasta and with a shout of triumph hurl him
straight over the parapet of the bridge, to be crushed to powder
on the rocks two hundred feet below.
The succour which had been summoned by the girl who had passed
down the stair before the assassins passed up was at hand, and
the loud shouts which reached us from the outer gates told us
that the town was also aroused, and the men awakened by the women
were calling to be admitted. Some of Nyleptha's brave ladies,
who in their night-shifts and with their long hair streaming down
their backs, just as they had been aroused from rest, went off to
admit them at the side entrance, whilst others, assisted by the
rescuing party outside, pushed and pulled down the marble blocks
they had placed there with so much labour.
Soon the wall was down again, and through the doorway, followed
by a crowd of rescuers, staggered old Umslopogaas, an awful and,
in a way, a glorious figure. The man was a mass of wounds, and a
glance at his wild eye told me that he was dying. The 'keshla'
gum-ring upon his head was severed in two places by sword-cuts,
one just over the curious hold in his skull, and the blood poured
down his face from the gashes. Also on the right side of his
neck was a stab from a spear, inflicted by Agon; there was a deep
cut on his left arm just below where the mail shirt-sleeve
stopped, and on the right side of his body the armour was severed
by a gash six inches long, where Nasta's mighty sword had bitten
through it and deep into its wearer's vitals.
On, axe in hand, he staggered, that dreadful-looking, splendid
savage, and the ladies forgot to turn faint at the scene of
blood, and cheered him, as well they might, but he never stayed
or heeded. With outstretched arms and tottering gait he pursued
his way, followed by us all along the broad shell-strewn walk
that ran through the courtyard, past the spot where the blocks of
marble lay, through the round arched doorway and the thick
curtains that hung within it, down the short passage and into the
great hall, which was now filling with hastily-armed men, who
poured through the side entrance. Straight up the hall he went,
leaving behind him a track of blood on the marble pavement, till
at last he reached the sacred stone, which stood in the centre of
it, and here his strength seemed to fail him, for he stopped and
leaned upon his axe. Then suddenly he lifted up his voice and
cried aloud--
'I die, I die--but it was a kingly fray. Where are they who came
up the great stair? I see them not. Art thou there, Macumazahn,
or art thou gone before to wait for me in the dark whither I go?
The blood blinds me--the place turns round--I hear the voice of
Next, as though a new thought had struck him, he lifted the red
axe and kissed the blade.
'Farewell, Inkosi-kaas,' he cried. 'Nay, nay, we will go
together; we cannot part, thou and I. We have lived too long one
with another, thou and I.
'One more stroke, only one! A good stroke! a straight stroke! a
strong stroke!' and, drawing himself to his full height, with a
wild heart-shaking shout, he with both hands began to whirl the
axe round his head till it looked like a circle of flaming steel.
Then, suddenly, with awful force he brought it down straight on
to the crown of the mass of sacred stone. A shower of sparks
flew up, and such was the almost superhuman strength of the blow,
that the massive marble split with a rending sound into a score
of pieces, whilst of Inkosi-kaas there remained but some
fragments of steel and a fibrous rope of shattered horn that had
been the handle. Down with a crash on to the pavement fell the
fragments of the holy stone, and down with a crash on to them,
still grasping the knob of Inkosi-kaas, fell the brave old
And thus the hero died.
A gasp of wonder and astonishment rose from all those who
witnessed the extraordinary sight, and then somebody cried, 'THE
PROPHECY! THE PROPHECY! He has shattered the sacred stone!' and
at once a murmuring arose.
'Ay,' said Nyleptha, with that quick wit which distinguishes her.
'Ay, my people, he has shattered the stone, and behold the
prophecy is fulfilled, for a stranger king rules in Zu-Vendis.
Incubu, my lord, hath beat Sorais back, and I fear her no more,
and to him who hath saved the Crown it shall surely be. And this
man,' she said, turning to me and laying her hand upon my
shoulder, 'wot ye that, though wounded in the fight of yesterday,
he rode with that old warrior who lies there, one hundred miles
'twixt sun set and rise to save me from the plots of cruel men.
Ay, and he has saved me, by a very little, and therefore because
of the deeds that they have done--deeds of glory such as our
history cannot shot the like--therefore I say that the name of
Macumazahn and the name of dead Umslopogaas, ay, and the name of
Kara, my servant, who aided him to hold the stair, shall be
blazoned in letters of gold above my throne, and shall be
glorious for ever while the land endures. I, the Queen, have
said it.'
This spirited speech was met with loud cheering, and I said that
after all we had only done our duty, as it is the fashion of both
Englishmen and Zulus to do, and there was nothing to make an
outcry about; at which they cheered still more, and then I was
supported across the outer courtyard to my old quarters, in order
that I might be put to bed. As I went, my eyes lit upon the
brave horse Daylight that lay there, his white head outstretched
on the pavement, exactly as he had fallen on entering the yard;
and I bade those who supported me take me near him, that I might
look on the good beast once more before he was dragged away. And
as I looked, to my astonishment he opened his eyes and, lifting
his head a little, whinnied faintly. I could have shouted for
joy to find that he was not dead, only unfortunately I had not a
shout left in me; but as it was, grooms were sent for and he was
lifted up and wine poured down his throat, and in a fortnight he
was as well and strong as ever, and is the pride and joy of all
the people of Milosis, who, whenever they see him, point him out
to the little children as the 'horse which saved the White
Queen's life'.
Then I went on and got off to bed, and was washed and had my mail
shirt removed. They hurt me a great deal in getting it off, and
no wonder, for on my left breast and side was a black bruise the
size of a saucer.
The next thing that I remember was the tramp of horsemen outside
the palace wall, some ten hours later. I raised myself and asked
what was the news, and they told me that a large body of cavalry
sent by Curtis to assist the Queen had arrived from the scene of
the battle, which they had left two hours after sundown. When
they left, the wreck of Sorais' army was in full retreat upon
M'Arstuna, followed by all our effective cavalry. Sir Henry was
encamping the remains of his worn-out forces on the site (such is
the fortune of war) that Sorais had occupied the night before,
and proposed marching to M'Arstuna on the morrow. Having heard
this, I felt that I could die with a light heart, and then
everything became a blank.
When next I awoke the first thing I saw was the round disc of a
sympathetic eyeglass, behind which was Good.
'How are you getting on, old chap?' said a voice from the
neighbourhood of the eyeglass.
'What are you doing here?' I asked faintly. 'You ought to be at
M'Arstuna--have you run away, or what?'
'M'Arstuna,' he replied cheerfully. 'Ah, M'Arstuna fell last
week--you've been unconscious for a fortnight, you see--with all
the honours of war, you know--trumpets blowing, flags flying,
just as though they had had the best of it; but for all that,
weren't they glad to go. Israel made for his tents, I can tell
you--never saw such a sight in my life.'
'And Sorais?' I asked.
'Sorais--oh, Sorais is a prisoner; they gave her up, the
scoundrels,' he added, with a change of tone--'sacrificed the
Queen to save their skins, you see. She is being brought up
here, and I don't know what will happen to her, poor soul!' and
he sighed.
'Where is Curtis?' I asked.
'He is with Nyleptha. She rode out to meet us today, and there
was a grand to-do, I can tell you. He is coming to see you
tomorrow; the doctors (for there is a medical "faculty" in
Zu-Vendis as elsewhere) thought that he had better not come
I said nothing, but somehow I thought to myself that
notwithstanding the doctors he might have given me a look; but
there, when a man is newly married and has just gained a great
victory, he is apt to listen to the advice of doctors, and quite
right too.
Just then I heard a familiar voice informing me that 'Monsieur
must now couch himself,' and looking up perceived Alphonse's
enormous black mustachios curling away in the distance.
'So you are here?' I said.
'Mais oui, Monsieur; the war is now finished, my military
instincts are satisfied, and I return to nurse Monsieur.'
I laughed, or rather tried to; but whatever may have been
Alphonse's failings as a warrior (and I fear that he did not come
up to the level of his heroic grandfather in this particular,
showing thereby how true is the saying that it is a bad thing to
be overshadowed by some great ancestral name), a better or kinder
nurse never lived. Poor Alphonse! I hope he will always think
of me as kindly as I think of him.
On the morrow I saw Curtis and Nyleptha with him, and he told me
the whole history of what had happened since Umslopogaas and I
galloped wildly away from the battle to save the life of the
Queen. It seemed to me that he had managed the thing exceedingly
well, and showed great ability as a general. Of course, however,
our loss had been dreadfully heavy--indeed, I am afraid to say
how many perished in the desperate battle I have described, but I
know that the slaughter has appreciably affected the male
population of the country. He was very pleased to see me, dear
fellow that he is, and thanked me with tears in his eyes for the
little that I had been able to do. I saw him, however, start
violently when his eyes fell upon my face.
As for Nyleptha, she was positively radiant now that 'her dear
lord' had come back with no other injury than an ugly scar on his
forehead. I do not believe that she allowed all the fearful
slaughter that had taken place to weigh ever so little in the
balance against this one fact, or even to greatly diminish her
joy; and I cannot blame her for it, seeing that it is the nature
of loving woman to look at all things through the spectacles of
her love, and little does she reck of the misery of the many if
the happiness of the ONE be assured. That is human nature, which
the Positivists tell us is just perfection; so no doubt it is all
'And what art thou going to do with Sorais?' I asked her.
Instantly her bright brow darkened to a frown.
'Sorais,' she said, with a little stamp of the foot; 'ah, but
Sir Henry hastened to turn the subject.
'You will soon be about and all right again now, old fellow,' he
I shook my head and laughed.
'Don't deceive yourselves,' I said. 'I may be about for a
little, but I shall never be all right again. I am a dying man,
Curtis. I may die slow, but die I must. Do you know I have been
spitting blood all the morning? I tell you there is something
working away into my lung; I can feel it. There, don't look
distressed; I have had my day, and am ready to go. Give me the
mirror, will you? I want to look at myself.'
He made some excuse, but I saw through it and insisted, and at
last he handed me one of the discs of polished silver set n a
wooden frame like a hand-screen, which serve as looking-glasses
in Zu-Vendis. I looked and put it down.
'Ah,' I said quietly, 'I thought so; and you talk of my getting
all right!' I did not like to let them see how shocked I really
was at my own appearance. My grizzled stubby hair was turned
snow-white, and my yellow face was shrunk like an aged woman's
and had two deep purple rings painted beneath the eyes.
Here Nyleptha began to cry, and Sir Henry again turned the
subject, telling me that the artists had taken a cast of the dead
body of old Umslopogaas, and that a great statue in black marble
was to be erected of him in the act of splitting the sacred
stone, which was to be matched by another statue in white marble
of myself and the horse Daylight as he appeared when, at the
termination of that wild ride, he sank beneath me in the
courtyard of the palace. I have since seen these statues, which
at the time of writing this, six months after the battle, are
nearly finished; and very beautiful they are, especially that of
Umslopogaas, which is exactly like him. As for that of myself,
it is good, but they have idealized my ugly face a little, which
is perhaps as well, seeing that thousands of people will probably
look at it in the centuries to come, and it is not pleasant to
look at ugly things.
Then they told me that Umslopogaas' last wish had been carried
out, and that, instead of being cremated, as I shall be, after
the usual custom here, he had been tied up, Zulu fashion, with
his knees beneath his chin, and, having been wrapped in a thin
sheet of beaten gold, entombed in a hole hollowed out of the
masonry of the semicircular space at the top of the stair he
defended so splendidly, which faces, as far as we can judge,
almost exactly towards Zululand. There he sits, and will sit for
ever, for they embalmed him with spices, and put him in an
air-tight stone coffer, keeping his grim watch beneath the spot
he held alone against a multitude; and the people say that at
night his ghost rises and stands shaking the phantom of
Inkosi-kaas at phantom foes. Certainly they fear during the dark
hours to pass the place where the hero is buried.
Oddly enough, too, a new legend or prophecy has arisen in the
land in that unaccountable way in which such things to arise
among barbarous and semi-civilized people, blowing, like the
wind, no man knows whence. According to this saying, so long as
the old Zulu sits there, looking down the stairway he defended
when alive, so long will the New House of the Stairway, springing
from the union of the Englishman and Nyleptha, endure and
flourish; but when he is taken from thence, or when, ages after,
his bones at last crumble into dust, the House will fall, and the
Stairway shall fall, and the Nation of the Zu-Vendi shall cease
to be a Nation.
It was a week after Nyleptha's visit, when I had begun to get
about a little in the middle of the day, that a message came to
me from Sir Henry to say that Sorais would be brought before them
in the Queen's first antechamber at midday, and requesting my
attendance if possible. Accordingly, greatly drawn by curiosity
to see this unhappy woman once more, I made shift, with the help
of that kind little fellow Alphonse, who is a perfect treasure to
me, and that of another waiting-man, to reach the antechamber. I
got there, indeed, before anybody else, except a few of the great
Court officials who had been bidden to be present, but I had
scarcely seated myself before Sorais was brought in by a party of
guards, looking as beautiful and defiant as ever, but with a worn
expression on her proud face. She was, as usual, dressed in her
royal 'kaf', emblazoned with the emblem of the Sun, and in her
right hand she still held the toy spear of silver. A pang of
admiration and pity went through me as I looked at her, and
struggling to my feet I bowed deeply, at the same time expressing
my sorrow that I was not able, owing to my condition, to remain
standing before her.
She coloured a little and then laughed bitterly. 'Thou dost
forget, Macumazahn,' she said, 'I am no more a Queen, save in
blood; I am an outcast and a prisoner, one whom all men should
scorn, and none show deference to.'
'At least,' I replied, 'thou art still a lady, and therefore one
to whom deference is due. Also, thou art in an evil case, and
therefore it is doubly due.'
'Ah!' she answered, with a little laugh, 'thou dost forget that I
would have wrapped thee in a sheet of gold and hung thee to the
angel's trumpet at the topmost pinnacle of the Temple.'
'No,' I answered, 'I assure thee that I forgot it not; indeed, I
often thought of it when it seemed to me that the battle of the
Pass was turning against us; but the trumpet is there, and I am
still here, though perchance not for long, so why talk of it
'Ah!' she went on, 'the battle! the battle! Oh, would that I
were once more a Queen, if only for one little hour, and I would
take such a vengeance on those accursed jackals who deserted me
in my need; that it should only be spoken of in whispers; those
woman, those pigeon-hearted half-breeds who suffered themselves
to be overcome!' and she choked in her wrath.
'Ay, and that little coward beside thee,' she went on, pointing
at Alphonse with the silver spear, whereat he looked very
uncomfortable; 'he escaped and betrayed my plans. I tried to
make a general of him, telling the soldiers it was Bougwan, and
to scourge valour into him' (here Alphonse shivered at some
unhappy recollection), 'but it was of no avail. He hid beneath a
banner in my tent and thus overheard my plans. I would that I
had slain him, but, alas! I held my hand.
'And thou, Macumazahn, I have hard of what thou didst; thou art
brave, and hast a loyal heart. And the black one too, ah, he was
a MAN. I would fain have seen him hurl Nasta from the stairway.'
'Thou art a strange woman, Sorais,' I said; 'I pray thee now
plead with the Queen Nyleptha, that perchance she may show mercy
unto thee.'
She laughed out loud. 'I plead for mercy!' she said and at that
moment the Queen entered, accompanied by Sir Henry and Good, and
took her seat with an impassive face. As for poor Good, he
looked intensely ill at ease.
'Greeting, Sorais!' said Nyleptha, after a short pause. 'Thou
hast rent the kingdom like a rag, thou hast put thousands of my
people to the sword, thou hast twice basely plotted to destroy my
life by murder, thou hast sworn to slay my lord and his
companions and to hurl me from the Stairway. What hast thou to
say why thou shouldst not die? Speak, O Sorais!'
'Methinks my sister the Queen hath forgotten the chief count of
the indictment,' answered Sorais in her slow musical tones. 'It
runs thus: "Thou didst strive to win the love of my lord
Incubu." It is for this crime that my sister will slay me, not
because I levied war. It is perchance happy for thee, Nyleptha,
that I fixed my mind upon his love too late.
'Listen,' she went on, raising her voice. 'I have nought to say
save that I would I had won instead of lost. Do thou with me
even as thou wilt, O Queen, and let my lord the King there'
(pointing to Sir Henry)--'for now will he be King--carry out the
sentence, as it is meet he should, for as he is the beginning of
the evil, let him also be the end.' And she drew herself up and
shot one angry glance at him from her deep fringed eyes, and then
began to toy with her spear.
Sir Henry bent towards Nyleptha and whispered something that I
could not catch, and then the Queen spoke.
'Sorais, ever have I been a good sister to thee. When our father
died, and there was much talk in the land as to whether thou
shouldst sit upon the throne with me, I being the elder, I gave
my voice for thee and said, "Nay, let her sit. She is twin with
me; we were born at a birth; wherefore should the one be
preferred before the other?" And so has it ever been 'twixt thee
and me, my sister. But now thou knowest in what sort thou hast
repaid me, but I have prevailed, and thy life is forfeit, Sorais.
And yet art thou my sister, born at a birth with me, and we
played together when we were little and loved each other much,
and at night we slept in the same cot with our arms each around
the other's neck, and therefore even now does my heart go out to
thee, Sorais.
'But not for that would I spare thy life, for thy offence has
been too heavy; it doth drag down the wide wings of my mercy even
to the ground. Also, while thou dost live the land will never be
at peace.
'Yet shalt thou not die, Sorais, because my dear lord here hath
begged thy life of me as a boon; therefore as a boon and as a
marriage gift give I it to him, to do with even as he wills,
knowing that, though thou dost love him, he loves thee not,
Sorais, for all thy beauty. Nay, though thou art lovely as the
night in all her stars, O Lady of the Night, yet it is me his
wife whom he loves, and not thee, and therefore do I give thy
life to him.'
Sorais flushed up to her eyes and said nothing, and I do not
think that I ever saw a man look more miserable than did Sir
Henry at that moment. Somehow, Nyleptha's way of putting the
thing, though true and forcible enough, was not altogether
'I understand,' stammered Curtis, looking at Good, 'I understood
that he were attached--eh--attached to--to the Queen Sorais. I
am--eh--not aware what the--in short, the state of your feelings
may be just now; but if they happened to be that way inclined, it
has struck me that--in short, it might put a satisfactory end to
an unpleasant business. The lady also has ample private estates,
where I am sure she would be at liberty to live unmolested as far
as we are concerned, eh, Nyleptha? Of course, I only suggest.'
'So far as I am concerned,' said Good, colouring up, 'I am quite
willing to forget the past; and if the Lady of the Night thinks
me worth the taking I will marry her tomorrow, or when she likes,
and try to make her a good husband.'
All eyes were now turned to Sorais, who stood with that same slow
smile upon her beautiful face which I had noticed the first time
that I ever saw her. She paused a little while, and cleared her
throat, and then thrice she curtseyed low, once to Nyleptha, once
to Curtis, and once to Good, and began to speak in measured
'I thank thee, most gracious Queen and royal sister, for the
loving-kindness thou hast shown me from my youth up, and
especially in that thou hast been pleased to give my person and
my fate as a gift to the Lord Incubu--the King that is to be.
May prosperity, peace and plenty deck the life-path of one so
merciful and so tender, even as flowers do. Long mayst thou
reign, O great and glorious Queen, and hold thy husband's love in
both thy hands, and many be the sons and daughters of thy beauty.
And I thank thee, my Lord Incubu--the King that is to be--I thank
thee a thousand times in that thou hast been pleased to accept
that gracious gift, and to pass it on to thy comrade in arms and
in adventure, the Lord Bougwan. Surely the act is worthy of thy
greatness, my Lord Incubu. And now, lastly, I thank thee also,
my Lord Bougwan, who in thy turn hast deigned to accept me and my
poor beauty. I thank thee a thousand times, and I will add that
thou art a good and honest man, and I put my hand upon my heart
and swear that I would that I could say thee "yea". And now that
I have rendered thanks to all in turn'--and again she smiled--'I
will add one short word.
'Little can you understand of me, Queen Nyleptha and my lords, if
ye know not that for me there is no middle path; that I scorn
your pity and hate you for it; that I cast off your forgiveness
as though it were a serpent's sting; and that standing here,
betrayed, deserted, insulted, and alone, I yet triumph over you,
mock you, and defy you, one and all, and THUS I answer you.' And
then, of a sudden, before anybody guessed what she intended to
do, she drove the little silver spear she carried in her hand
into her side with such a strong and steady aim that the keen
point projected through her back, and she fell prone upon the
Nyleptha shrieked, and poor Good almost fainted at the sight,
while the rest of us rushed towards her. But Sorais of the Night
lifted herself upon her hand, and for a moment fixed her glorious
eyes intently on Curtis' face, as though there were some message
in the glance, then dropped her head and sighed, and with a sob
her dark but splendid spirit passed.
Well, they gave her a royal funeral, and there was an end of her.
It was a month after the last act of the Sorais tragedy that a
great ceremony was held in the Flower Temple, and Curtis was
formally declared King-Consort of Zu-Vendis. I was too ill to go
myself; and indeed, I hate all that sort of thing, with the
crowds and the trumpet-blowing and banner-waving; but Good, who
was there (in his full-dress uniform), came back much impressed,
and told me that Nyleptha had looked lovely, and Curtis had borne
himself in a right royal fashion, and had been received with
acclamations that left no doubt as to his popularity. Also he
told me that when the horse Daylight was led along in the
procession, the populace had shouted 'MACUMAZAHN, MACUMAZAHN!'
till they were hoarse, and would only be appeased when he, Good,
rose in his chariot and told them that I was too ill to be
Afterwards, too, Sir Henry, or rather the King, came to see me,
looking very tired, and vowing that he had never been so bored in
his life; but I dare say that that was a slight exaggeration. It
is not in human nature that a man should be altogether bored on
such an extraordinary occasion; and, indeed, as I pointed out to
him, it was a marvellous thing that a man, who but little more
than one short year before had entered a great country as an
unknown wanderer, should today be married to its beautiful and
beloved Queen, and lifted, amidst public rejoicings, to its
throne. I even went the length to exhort him in the future not
to be carried away by the pride and pomp of absolute power, but
always to strive to remember that he was first a Christian
gentleman, and next a public servant, called by Providence to a
great and almost unprecedented trust. These remarks, which he
might fairly have resented, he was so good as to receive with
patience, and even to thank me for making them.
It was immediately after this ceremony that I caused myself to be
moved to the house where I am now writing. It is a very pleasant
country seat, situated about two miles from the Frowning City, on
to which it looks. That was five months ago, during the whole of
which time I have, being confined to a kind of couch, employed my
leisure in compiling this history of our wanderings from my
journal and from our joint memories. It is probable that it will
never be read, but it does not much matter whether it is or not;
at any rate, it has served to while away many hours of suffering,
for I have suffered a deal of pain lately. Thank God, however,
there will not be much more of it.
It is a week since I wrote the above, and now I take up my pen
for the last time, for I know that the end is at hand. My brain
is still clear and I can manage to write, though with difficulty.
The pain in my lung, which has been very bad during the last
week, has suddenly quite left me, and been succeeded by a feeling
of numbness of which I cannot mistake the meaning. And just as
the pain has gone, so with it all fear of that end has departed,
and I feel only as though I were going to sink into the arms of
an unutterable rest. Happily, contentedly, and with the same
sense of security with which an infant lays itself to sleep in
its mother's arms, do I lay myself down in the arms of the Angel
Death. All the tremors, all the heart-shaking fears which have
haunted me through a life that seems long as I looked back upon
it, have left me now; the storms have passed, and the Star of our
Eternal Hope shines clear and steady on the horizon that seems so
far from man, and yet is so very near to me tonight.
And so this is the end of it--a brief space of troubling, a few
restless, fevered, anguished years, and then the arms of that
great Angel Death. Many times have I been near to them, and now
it is my turn at last, and it is well. Twenty-four hours more
and the world will be gone from me, and with it all its hopes and
all its fears. The air will close in over the space that my form
filled and my place know me no more; for the dull breath of the
world's forgetfulness will first dim the brightness of my memory,
and then blot it out for ever, and of a truth I shall be dead.
So is it with us all. How many millions have lain as I lie, and
thought these thoughts and been forgotten!--thousands upon
thousands of years ago they thought them, those dying men of the
dim past; and thousands on thousands of years hence will their
descendants think them and be in their turn forgotten. 'As the
breath of the oxen in winter, as the quick star that runs along
the sky, as a little shadow that loses itself at sunset,' as I
once heard a Zulu called Ignosi put it, such is the order of our
life, the order that passeth away.
Well, it is not a good world--nobody can say that it is, save
those who wilfully blind themselves to facts. How can a world be
good in which Money is the moving power, and Self-interest the
guiding star? The wonder is not that it is so bad, but that
there should be any good left in it.
Still, now that my life is over, I am glad to have lived, glad to
have known the dear breath of woman's love, and that true
friendship which can even surpass the love of woman, glad to have
heard the laughter of little children, to have seen the sun and
the moon and the stars, to have felt the kiss of the salt sea on
my face, and watched the wild game trek down to the water in the
moonlight. But I should not wish to live again!
Everything is changing to me. The darkness draws near, and the
light departs. And yet it seems to me that through that darkness
I can already see the shining welcome of many a long-lost face.
Harry is there, and others; one above all, to my mind the
sweetest and most perfect woman that ever gladdened this grey
earth. But of her I have already written elsewhere, and at
length, so why speak of her now? Why speak of her after this
long silence, now that she is again so near to me, now that I go
where she has gone?
The sinking sun is turning the golden roof of the great Temple to
a fiery flame, and my fingers tire.
So to all who have known me, or known of me, to all who can think
one kindly thought of the old hunter, I stretch out my hand from
the far-off shore and bid a long farewell.
And now into the hands of Almighty God, who sent it, do I commit
my spirit.
'I HAVE SPOKEN,' as the Zulus say.
A year has elapsed since our most dear friend Allan Quatermain
wrote the words 'I HAVE SPOKEN' at the end of his record of our
adventures. Nor should I have ventured to make any additions to
the record had it not happened that by a most strange accident a
chance has arisen of its being conveyed to England. The chance
is but a faint one, it is true; but, as it is not probable that
another will arise in our lifetimes, Good and myself think that
we may as well avail ourselves of it, such as it is. During the
last six months several Frontier Commissions have been at work on
the various boundaries of Zu-Vendis, with a view of discovering
whether there exists any possible means of ingress or egress from
the country, with the result that a channel of communication with
the outer world hitherto overlooked has been discovered. This
channel, apparently the only one (for I have discovered that it
was by it that the native who ultimately reached Mr Mackenzie's
mission station, and whose arrival in the country, together with
the fact of his expulsion--for he DID arrive about three years
before ourselves--was for reasons of their own kept a dead secret
by the priests to whom he was brought), is about to be
effectually closed. But before this is done, a messenger is to
be despatched bearing with him this manuscript, and also one or
two letters from Good to his friends, and from myself to my
brother George, whom it deeply grieves me to think I shall never
see again, informing them, as our next heirs, that they are
welcome to our effects in England, if the Court of Probate will
allow them to take them, *{Of course the Court of Probate would
allow nothing of the sort. --EDITOR.} inasmuchas we have made up
our minds never to return to Europe. Indeed, it would be
impossible for us to leave Zu-Vendis even if we wished to do so.
The messenger who is to go--and I wish him joy of his journey--is
Alphonse. For a long while he has been wearied to death of
Zu-Vendis and its inhabitants. 'Oh, oui, c'est beau,' he says,
with an expressive shrug; 'mais je m'ennuie; ce n'est pas chic.'
Again, he complains dreadfully of the absence of cafes and
theatres, and moans continually for his lost Annette, of whom he
says he dreams three times a week. But I fancy his secret cause
of disgust at the country, putting aside the homesickness to
which ever Frenchman is subject, is that the people here laugh at
him so dreadfully about his conduct on the occasion of the great
battle of the Pass about eighteen months ago, when he hid beneath
a banner in Sorais's tent in order to avoid being sent forth to
fight, which he says would have gone against his conscience.
Even the little boys call out at him in the streets, thereby
offending his pride and making his life unbearable. At any rate,
he has determined to brave the horrors of a journey of almost
unprecedented difficulty and danger, and also to run the risk of
falling into the hands of the French police to answer for a
certain little indiscretion of his own some years old (though I
do not consider that a very serious matter), rather than remain
in ce triste pays. Poor Alphonse! we shall be very sorry to part
with him; but I sincerely trust, for his own sake and also for
the sake of this history, which is, I think, worth giving to the
world, that he may arrive in safety. If he does, and can carry
the treasure we have provided him with in the shape of bars of
solid gold, he will be, comparatively speaking, a rich man for
life, and well able to marry his Annette, if she is still in the
land of the living and willing to marry her Alphonse.
Anyhow, on the chance, I may as well add a word or two to dear
old Quatermain's narrative.
He died at dawn on the day following that on which he wrote the
last words of the last chapter. Nyleptha, Good and myself were
present, and a most touching and yet in its way beautiful scene
it was. An hour before the daybreak it became apparent to us
that he was sinking, and our distress was very keen. Indeed,
Good melted into tears at the idea--a fact that called forth a
last gentle flicker of humour from our dying friend, for even at
that hour he could be humorous. Good's emotion had, by loosening
the muscles, naturally caused his eyeglass to fall from its
accustomed place, and Quatermain, who always observed everything,
observed this also.
'At last,' he gasped, with an attempt at a smile, 'I have seen
Good without his eyeglass.'
After that he said no more till the day broke, when he asked to
be lifted up to watch the rising of the sun for the last time.
'In a very few minutes,' he said, after gazing earnestly at it,
'I shall have passed through those golden gates.'
Ten minutes afterwards he raised himself and looked us fixedly in
the face.
'I am going a stranger journey than any we have ever taken
together. Think of me sometimes,' he murmured. 'God bless you
all. I shall wait for you.' And with a sigh he fell back dead.
And so passed away a character that I consider went as near
perfection as any it has ever been my lot to encounter.
Tender, constant, humorous, and possessing of many of the
qualities that go to make a poet, he was yet almost unrivalled as
a man of action and a citizen of the world. I never knew any one
so competent to form an accurate judgment of men and their
motives. 'I have studied human nature all my life,' he would
say, 'and I ought to know something about it,' and he certainly
did. He had but two faults--one was his excessive modesty, and
the other a slight tendency which he had to be jealous of anybody
on whom he concentrated his affections. As regards the first of
these points, anybody who reads what he has written will be able
to form his own opinion; but I will add one last instance of it.
As the reader will doubtless remember, it is a favourite trick of
his to talk of himself as a timid man, whereas really, thought
very cautious, he possessed a most intrepid spirit, and, what is
more, never lost his head. Well, in the great battle of the
Pass, where he got the wound that finally killed him, one would
imagine from the account which he gives of the occurrence that it
was a chance blow that fell on him in the scrimmage. As a matter
of fact, however, he was wounded in a most gallant and successful
attempt to save Good's life, at the risk and, as it ultimately
turned out, at the cost of his own. Good was down on the ground,
and one of Nasta's highlanders was about to dispatch him, when
Quatermain threw himself on to his prostrate form and received
the blow on his own body, and then, rising, killed the soldier.
As regards his jealousy, a single instance which I give in
justice to myself and Nyleptha will suffice. The reader will,
perhaps, recollect that in one or two places he speaks as though
Nyleptha monopolized me, and he was left by both of us rather out
in the cold. Now Nyleptha is not perfect, any more than any
other woman is, and she may be a little exigeante at times, but
as regards Quatermain the whole thing is pure imagination. Thus
when he complains about my not coming to see him when he is ill,
the fact was that, in spite of my entreaties, the doctors
positively forbade it. Those little remarks of his pained me
very much when I read them, for I loved Quatermain as dearly as
though he were my own father, and should never have dreamed of
allowing my marriage to interfere with that affection. But let
it pass; it is, after all, but one little weakness, which makes
no great show among so many and such lovable virtues.
Well, he died, and Good read the Burial Service over him in the
presence of Nyleptha and myself; and then his remains were, in
deference to the popular clamour, accorded a great public
funeral, or rather cremation. I could not help thinking,
however, as I marched in that long and splendid procession up to
the Temple, how he would have hated the whole thing could he have
been there to see it, for he had a horror of ostentation.
And so, a few minutes before sunset, on the third night after his
death, they laid him on the brazen flooring before the altar, and
waited for the last ray of the setting sun to fall upon his face.
Presently it came, and struck him like a golden arrow, crowning
the pale brows with glory, and then the trumpets blew, and the
flooring revolved, and all that remained of our beloved friend
fell into the furnace below.
We shall never see his like again if we live a hundred years. He
was the ablest man, the truest gentleman, the firmest friend, the
finest sportsman, and, I believe, the best shot in all Africa.
And so ended the very remarkable and adventurous life of Hunter
Since then things have gone very well with us. Good has been,
and still is, busily employed in the construction of a navy on
Lake Milosis and another of the large lakes, by means of which we
hope to be able to increase trade and commerce, and also to
overcome some very troublesome and warlike sections of the
population who live upon their borders. Poor fellow! he is
beginning to get over the sad death of that misguided but most
attractive woman, Sorais, but it is a sad blow to him, for he was
really deeply attached to her. I hope, however, that he will in
time make a suitable marriage and get that unhappy business out
of his head. Nyleptha has one or two young ladies in view,
especially a daughter of Nasta's (who was a widower), a very fine
imperial-looking girl, but with too much of her father's
intriguing, and yet haughty, spirit to suit my taste.
As for myself, I should scarcely know where to begin if I set to
work to describe my doings, so I had best leave them undescribed,
and content myself with saying that, on the whole, I am getting
on very well in my curious position of King-Consort--better,
indeed, than I had any right to expect. But, of course, it is
not all plain sailing, and I find the responsibilities very
heavy. Still, I hope to be able to do some good in my time, and
I intend to devote myself to two great ends--namely, to the
consolidation of the various clans which together make up the
Zu-Vendi people, under one strong central government, and to the
sapping of the power of the priesthood. The first of these
reforms will, if it can be carried out, put an end to the
disastrous civil wars that have for centuries devastated this
country; and the second, besides removing a source of political
danger, will pave the road for the introduction of true religion
in the place of this senseless Sun worship. I yet hope to see
the shadow of the Cross of Christ lying on the golden dome of the
Flower Temple; or, if I do not, that my successors may.
There is one more thing that I intend to devote myself to, and
that is the total exclusion of all foreigners from Zu-Vendis.
Not, indeed, that any more are ever likely to get here, but if
they do, I warn them fairly that they will be shown the shortest
way out of the country. I do not say this from any sense of
inhospitality, but because I am convinced of the sacred duty that
rests upon me of preserving to this, on the whole, upright and
generous-hearted people the blessings of comparative barbarism.
Where would all my brave army be if some enterprising rascal were
to attack us with field-guns and Martini-Henrys? I cannot see
that gunpowder, telegraphs, steam, daily newspapers, universal
suffrage, etc., etc., have made mankind one whit the happier than
they used to be, and I am certain that they have brought many
evils in their train. I have no fancy for handing over this
beautiful country to be torn and fought for by speculators,
tourists, politicians and teachers, whose voice is as the voice
of Babel, just as those horrible creatures in the valley of the
underground river tore and fought for the body of the wild swan;
nor will I endow it with the greed, drunkenness, new diseases,
gunpowder, and general demoralization which chiefly mark the
progress of civilization amongst unsophisticated peoples. If in
due course it pleases Providence to throw Zu-Vendis open to the
world, that is another matter; but of myself I will not take the
responsibility, and I may add that Good entirely approves of my
decision. Farewell.
December 15, 18--.
PS--I quite forgot to say that about nine months ago Nyleptha
(who is very well and, in my eyes at any rate, more beautiful
than ever) presented me with a son and heir. He is a regular
curly-haired, blue-eyed young Englishman in looks, and, though he
is destined, if he lives, to inherit the throne of Zu-Vendis, I
hope I may be able to bring him up to become what an English
gentleman should be, and generally is--which is to my mind even a
prouder and a finer thing than being born heir apparent to the
great House of the Stairway, and, indeed, the highest rank that a
man can reach upon this earth.
H. C.
The MS of this history, addressed to me in the handwriting of my
dear brother Henry Curtis, whom we had given up for dead, and
bearing the Aden postmark, reached me in safety on December 20,
18--, or a little more than two years after it left his hands in
the far centre of Africa, and I hasten to give the astonishing
story it contains to the world. Speaking for myself, I have read
it with very mixed feelings; for though it is a great relief to
know that he and Good are alive and strangely prosperous, I
cannot but feel that for me and for all their friends they might
as well be dead, since we can never hope to see them more.
They have cut themselves off from old England and from their
homes and their relations for ever, and perhaps, under the
circumstances, they were right and wise to do so.
How the MS came to be posted I have been quite unable to
discover; but I presume, from the fact of its being posted at
all, that the little Frenchman, Alphonse, accomplished his
hazardous journey in safety. I have, however, advertised for him
and caused various inquiries to be made in Marseilles and
elsewhere with a view of discovering his whereabouts, but so far
without the slightest success. Possibly he is dead, and the
packet was posted by another hand; or possibly he is now happily
wedded to his Annette, but still fears the vengeance of the law,
and prefers to remain incognito. I cannot say, I have not yet
abandoned my hopes of finding him, but I am bound to say that
they grow fainter day by day, and one great obstacle to my search
is that nowhere in the whole history does Mr Quatermain mention
his surname. He is always spoken of as 'Alphonse', and there are
so many Alphonses. The letters which my brother Henry says he is
sending with the packet of manuscript have never arrived, so I
presume that they are lost or destroyed.
A novelist is not usually asked, like a historian, for his
'Quellen'. As I have, however, judging from certain experiences
in the past, some reason to anticipate such a demand, I wish to
acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr Thomson's admirable history of
travel 'Through Masai Land' for much information as to the habits
and customs of the tribes inhabiting that portion of the East
Coast, and the country where they live; also to my brother, John
G. Haggard, RN, HBM's consul at Madagascar, and formerly consul
at Lamu, for many details furnished by him of the mode of life
and war of those engaging people the Masai; also to my
sister-in-law, John Haggard, who kindly put the lines of p. 183
into rhyme for me; also to an extract in a review from some book
of travel of which I cannot recollect the name, to which I owe
the idea of the great crabs in the valley of the subterranean
river. *{It is suggested to me that this book is The Cruise of
the "Falcon", with which work I am personally unacquainted.} But
if I remember right, the crabs in the book when irritated
projected their eyes quite out of their heads. I regret that I
was not able to 'plagiarize' this effect, but I felt that,
although crabs may, and doubtless do, behave thus in real life,
in romance they 'will not do so.'
There is an underground river in 'Peter Wilkins', but at the time
of writing the foregoing pages I had not read that quaint but
entertaining work.
It has been pointed out to me that there exists a similarity
between the scene of Umslopogaas frightening Alphonse with his
axe and a scene in Far from the Madding Crowd. I regret this
coincidence, and believe that the talented author of that work
will not be inclined to accuse me of literary immorality on its
Finally, I may say that Mr Quatermain's little Frenchman appears
to belong to the same class of beings as those English ladies
whose long yellow teeth and feet of enormous size excite our
hearty amusement in the pages of the illustrated Gallic press.

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