King Solomon's Mines
by H. Rider Haggard
THIS FAITHFUL BUT UNPRETENDING RECORD
OF A REMARKABLE ADVENTURE
IS HEREBY RESPECTFULLY DEDICATED
BY THE NARRATOR,
TO ALL THE BIG AND LITTLE BOYS
WHO READ IT.
CHAPTER I. I
MEET SIR HENRY
CHAPTER II. THE
CHAPTER IV. AN
CHAPTER V. OUR
MARCH INTO THE
CHAPTER VIII. WE
TWALA THE KING.
CHAPTER X. THE
CHAPTER XI. WE
GIVE A SIGN.
CHAPTER XIV. THE
LAST STAND OF
CHAPTER XV. GOOD
CHAPTER XVI. THE
PLACE OF DEATH.
WE ABANDON HOPE.
Now that this book is printed, and about to be given to the world,
the sense of its shortcomings, both in style and contents, weighs very
heavily upon me. As regards the latter, I can only say that it does not
pretend to be a full account of everything we did and saw. There are
many things connected with our journey into Kukuanaland which I should
have liked to dwell upon at length, and which have, as it is, been
scarcely alluded to. Amongst these are the curious legends which I
collected about the chain armour that saved us from destruction in the
great battle of Loo, and also about the "silent ones" or colossi at the
mouth of the stalactite cave. Again, if I had given way to my own
impulses, I should have liked to go into the differences, some of which
are to my mind very suggestive, between the Zulu and Kukuana dialects.
Also a few pages might profitably have been given up to the
consideration of the indigenous flora and fauna of Kukuanaland. Then
there remains the most interesting subject—that, as it is, has only
been incidentally alluded to—of the magnificent system of military
organisation in force in that country, which is, in my opinion, much
superior to that inaugurated by Chaka in Zululand, inasmuch as it
permits of even more rapid mobilisation, and does not necessitate the
employment of the pernicious system of forced celibacy. And, lastly, I
have scarcely touched on the domestic and family customs of the
Kukuanas, many of which are exceedingly quaint, or on their proficiency
in the art of smelting and welding metals. This last they carry to
considerable perfection, of which a good example is to be seen in their
"tollas," or heavy throwing knives, the backs of these knives being
made of hammered iron, and the edges of beautiful steel welded with
great skill on to the iron backs. The fact of the matter is, that I
thought (and so did Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good) that the best
plan would be to tell the story in a plain, straightforward manner, and
leave these matters to be dealt with subsequently in whatever way may
ultimately appear to be desirable. In the meanwhile I shall, of course,
be delighted to give any information in my power to anybody interested
in such things.
And now it only remains for me to offer my apologies for my blunt
way of writing. I can only say in excuse for it that I am more
accustomed to handle a rifle than a pen, and cannot make any pretence
to the grand literary flights and flourishes which I see in
novels—for I sometimes like to read a novel. I suppose they—the
flights and flourishes—are desirable, and I regret not being able to
supply them; but at the same time I cannot help thinking that simple
things are always the most impressive, and books are easier to
understand when they are written in plain language, though I have
perhaps no right to set up an opinion on such a matter. "A sharp
spear," runs the Kukuana saying, "needs no polish;" and on the same
principle I venture to hope that a true story, however strange it may
be, does not require to be decked out in fine words.
CHAPTER I. I MEET SIR HENRY CURTIS.
It is a curious thing that at my age—fifty-five last birthday—I
should find myself taking up a pen to try and write a history. I wonder
what sort of a history it will be when I have done it, if I ever come
to the end of the trip! I have done a good many things in my life,
which seems a long one to me, owing to my having begun so young,
perhaps. At an age when other boys are at school, I was earning my
living as a trader in the old Colony. I have been trading, hunting,
fighting, or mining ever since. And yet it is only eight months ago
that I made my pile. It is a big pile now I have got it—I don't yet
know how big—but I don't think I would go through the last fifteen or
sixteen months again for it; no, not if I knew that I should come out
safe at the end, pile and all. But then I am a timid man, and don't
like violence, and am pretty sick of adventure. I wonder why I am going
to write this book: it is not in my line. I am not a literary man,
though very devoted to the Old Testament and also to the "Ingoldsby
Legends." Let me try and set down my reasons, just to see if I have any.
First reason: Because Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good asked
Second reason: Because I am laid up here at Durban with the pain and
trouble in my left leg. Ever since that confounded lion got hold of me
I have been liable to it, and its being rather bad just now makes me
limp more than ever. There must be some poison in a lion's teeth,
otherwise how is it that when your wounds are healed they break out
again, generally, mark you, at the same time of year that you got your
mauling? It is a hard thing that when one has shot sixty-five lions as
I have in the course of my life, that the sixty-sixth should chew your
leg like a quid of tobacco. It breaks the routine of the thing, and
putting other considerations aside, I am an orderly man and don't like
that. This is by the way.
Third reason: Because I want my boy Harry, who is over there at the
hospital in London studying to become a doctor, to have something to
amuse him and keep him out of mischief for a week or so. Hospital work
must sometimes pall and get rather dull, for even of cutting up dead
bodies there must come satiety, and as this history won't be dull,
whatever else it may be, it may put a little life into things for a day
or two while he is reading it.
Fourth reason and last: Because I am going to tell the strangest
story that I know of. It may seem a queer thing to say that,
especially considering that there is no woman in it—except Foulata.
Stop, though! there is Gagaoola, if she was a woman and not a fiend.
But she was a hundred at least, and therefore not marriageable, so I
don't count her. At any rate, I can safely say that there is not a
petticoat in the whole history. Well I had better come to the yoke.
It's a stiff place, and I feel as though I were bogged up to the axle.
But "sutjes, sutjes," as the Boers say (I'm sure I don't know how they
spell it), softly does it. A strong team will come through at last,
that is if they ain't too poor. You will never do anything with poor
oxen. Now to begin.
I, Allan Quatermain, of Durban, Natal, Gentleman, make oath and
say—That's how I began my deposition before the magistrate, about
poor Khiva's and Ventvögel's sad deaths; but somehow it doesn't seem
quite the right way to begin a book. And, besides, am I a gentleman?
What is a gentleman? I don't quite know, and yet I have had to do with
niggers—no, I'll scratch that word "niggers" out, for I don't like
it. I've known natives who are, and so you'll say, Harry, my boy,
before you're done with this tale, and I have known mean whites with
lots of money and fresh out from home, too, who ain't. Well, at any
rate, I was born a gentleman, though I've been nothing but a poor
travelling trader and hunter all my life. Whether I have remained so I
know not, you must judge of that. Heaven knows I've tried. I've killed
many men in my time, but I have never slain wantonly or stained my
hand in innocent blood, only in self-defence. The Almighty gave us our
lives, and I suppose he meant us to defend them, at least I have always
acted on that, and I hope it won't be brought up against me when my
clock strikes. There, there, it is a cruel and a wicked world, and for
a timid man I have been mixed up in a deal of slaughter. I can't tell
the rights of it, but at any rate I have never stolen, though I once
cheated a Kafir out of a herd of cattle. But then he had done me a
dirty turn, and it has troubled me ever since into the bargain.
Well it's eighteen months or so ago since I first met Sir Henry
Curtis and Captain Good, and it was in this way. I had been up elephant
hunting beyond Bamamgwato, and had bad luck. Everything went wrong that
trip, and to top up with I got the fever badly. So soon as I was well
enough I trekked down to the Diamond Fields, sold such ivory as I had,
and also my wagon and oxen, discharged my hunters, and took the
post-cart to the Cape. After spending a week in Cape Town, finding that
they overcharged me at the hotel, and having seen everything there was
to see, including the botanical gardens, which seem to me likely to
confer a great benefit on the country, and the new Houses of
Parliament, which I expect will do nothing of the sort, I determined to
go on back to Natal by the Dunkeld, then lying in the docks waiting for
the Edinburgh Castle due in from England. I took my berth and went
aboard, and that afternoon the Natal passengers from the Edinburgh
Castle transhipped, and we weighed and put out to sea.
Among the passengers who came on board there were two who excited my
curiosity. One, a man of about thirty, was one of the biggest-chested
and longest-armed men I ever saw. He had yellow hair, a big yellow
beard, clear-cut features, and large grey eyes set deep into his head.
I never saw a finer-looking man, and somehow he reminded me of an
ancient Dane. Not that I know much of ancient Danes, though I remember
a modern Dane who did me out of ten pounds; but I remember once seeing
a picture of some of those gentry, who, I take it, were a kind of white
Zulus. They were drinking out of big horns, and their long hair hung
down their backs, and as I looked at my friend standing there by the
companion-ladder, I thought that if one only let his hair grow a bit,
put one of those chain shirts on to those great shoulders of his, and
gave him a big battle-axe and a horn mug, he might have sat as a model
for that picture. And by the way it is a curious thing, and just shows
how the blood will show out, I found out afterwards that Sir Henry
Curtis, for that was the big man's name, was of Danish blood. He also
reminded me strongly of somebody else, but at the time I could not
remember who it was.
The other man who stood talking to Sir Henry was short, stout, and
dark, and of quite a different cut. I suspected at once that he was a
naval officer. I don't know why, but it is difficult to mistake a navy
man. I have gone shooting trips with several of them in the course of
my life, and they have always been just the best and bravest and nicest
fellows I ever met, though given to the use of profane language.
I asked a page or two back, what is a gentleman? I'll answer it now:
a Royal Naval officer is, in a general sort of a way, though, of
course, there may be a black sheep among them here and there. I fancy
it is just the wide sea and the breath of God's winds that washes their
hearts and blows the bitterness out of their minds and makes them what
men ought to be. Well, to return, I was right again; I found out that
he was a naval officer, a lieutenant of thirty-one, who, after
seventeen years' service, had been turned out of her Majesty's employ
with the barren honour of a commander's rank, because it was impossible
that he should be promoted. That is what people who serve the Queen
have to expect: to be shot out into the cold world to find a living
just when they are beginning to really understand their work, and to
get to the prime of life. Well, I suppose they don't mind it, but for
my part I had rather earn my bread as a hunter. One's halfpence are as
scarce perhaps, but you don't get so many kicks. His name I found
out—by referring to the passenger's list—was Good—Captain John
Good. He was broad, of medium height, dark, stout, and rather a curious
man to look at. He was so very neat and so very clean shaved, and he
always wore an eye-glass in his right eye. It seemed to grow there, for
it had no string, and he never took it out except to wipe it. At first
I thought he used to sleep in it, but I afterwards found that this was
a mistake. He put it in his trousers pocket when he went to bed,
together with his false teeth, of which he had two beautiful sets that
have often, my own being none of the best, caused me to break the tenth
commandment. But I am anticipating.
Soon after we had got under weigh evening closed in, and brought
with it very dirty weather. A keen breeze sprang up off land, and a
kind of aggravated Scotch mist soon drove everybody from the deck. And
as for that Dunkeld, she is a flat-bottomed punt, and going up light as
she was, she rolled very heavily. It almost seemed as though she would
go right over, but she never did. It was quite impossible to walk
about, so I stood near the engines where it was warm, and amused myself
with watching the pendulum, which was fixed opposite to me, swinging
slowly backwards and forwards as the vessel rolled, and marking the
angle she touched at each lurch.
"That pendulum's wrong; it is not properly weighted," suddenly said
a voice at my shoulder, somewhat testily. Looking round I saw the naval
officer I had noticed when the passengers came aboard.
"Indeed, now what makes you think so?" I asked.
"Think so. I don't think at all. Why there"—as she righted
herself after a roll—"if the ship had really rolled to the degree
that thing pointed to then she would never have rolled again, that's
all. But it is just like these merchant skippers, they always are so
Just then the dinner-bell rang, and I was not sorry, for it is a
dreadful thing to have to listen to an officer of the Royal Navy when
he gets on to that subject. I only know one worse thing, and that is to
hear a merchant skipper express his candid opinion of officers of the
Captain Good and I went down to dinner together, and there we found
Sir Henry Curtis already seated. He and Captain Good sat together, and
I sat opposite to them. The captain and I soon got into talk about
shooting and what not; he asking me many questions, and I answering as
well as I could. Presently he got on to elephants.
"Ah, sir," called out somebody who was sitting near me, "you've got
to the right man for that; Hunter Quatermain should be able to tell you
about elephants if anybody can."
Sir Henry, who had been sitting quite quite listening to our talk,
"Excuse me, sir," he said, leaning forward across the table, and
speaking in a low, deep voice, a very suitable voice it seemed to me,
to come out of those great lungs. "Excuse me, sir, but is your name
I said it was.
The big man made no further remark, but I heard him mutter
"fortunate" into his beard.
Presently dinner came to an end, and as we were leaving the saloon
Sir Henry came up and asked me if I would come into his cabin and smoke
a pipe. I accepted, and he led the way to the Dunkeld deck cabin, and a
very good cabin it was. It had been two cabins, but when Sir Garnet or
one of those big swells went down the coast in the Dunkeld, they had
knocked away the partition and never put it up again. There was a sofa
in the cabin, and a little table in front of it. Sir Henry sent the
steward for a bottle of whisky, and the three of us sat down and lit
"Mr. Quatermain," said Sir Henry Curtis, when the steward had
brought the whisky and lit the lamp, "the year before last about this
time you were, I believe, at a place called Bamangwato, to the north of
"I was," I answered, rather surprised that this gentleman should be
so well acquainted with my movements, which were not, so far as I was
aware, considered of general interest.
"You were trading there, were you not?" put in Captain Good, in his
"I was. I took up a wagon load of goods, and made a camp outside the
settlement, and stopped till I had sold them."
Sir Henry was sitting opposite to me in a Madeira chair, his arms
leaning on the table. He now looked up, fixing his large grey eyes
full upon my face. There was a curious anxiety in them I thought.
"Did you happen to meet a man called Neville there?"
"Oh, yes; he outspanned alongside of me for a fortnight to rest his
oxen before going on to the interior. I had a letter from a lawyer a
few months back asking me if I knew what had become of him, which I
answered to the best of my ability at the time."
"Yes," said Sir Henry, "your letter was forwarded to me. You said in
it that the gentleman called Neville left Bamangwato in the beginning
of May in a wagon with a driver, a voorlooper, and a Kafir hunter
called Jim, announcing his intention of trekking if possible as far as
Inyati, the extreme trading post in the Matabele country, where he
would sell his wagon and proceed on foot. You also said that he did
sell his wagon, for six months afterwards you saw the wagon in the
possession of a Portuguese trader, who told you that he had bought it
at Inyati from a white man whose name he had forgotten, and that the
white man with a native servant had started off for the interior on a
shooting trip, he believed."
Then came a pause.
"Mr. Quatermain," said Sir Henry, suddenly, "I suppose you know or
can guess nothing more of the reasons of my—of Mr. Neville's journey
to the northward, or as to what point that journey was directed?"
"I heard something," I answered, and stopped. The subject was one
which I did not care to discuss.
Sir Henry and Captain Good looked at each other, and Captain Good
"Mr. Quatermain," said the former, "I am going to tell you a story,
and ask your advice, and perhaps your assistance. The agent who
forwarded me your letter told me that I might implicitly rely upon it,
as you were," he said, "well known and universally respected in Natal,
and especially noted for your discretion."
I bowed and drank some whisky and water to hide my confusion, for I
am a modest man—and Sir Henry went on.
"Mr. Neville was my brother."
"Oh," I said, starting, for now I knew who Sir Henry had reminded me
of when I first saw him. His brother was a much smaller man and had a
dark beard, but now I thought of it, he possessed eyes of the same
shade of grey and with the same keen look in them, and the features too
were not unlike.
"He was," went on Sir Henry, "my only and younger brother, and till
five years ago I do not suppose we were ever a month away from each
other. But just about five years ago a misfortune befell us, as
sometimes does happen in families. We had quarrelled bitterly, and I
behaved very unjustly to my brother in my anger." Here Captain Good
nodded his head vigorously to himself. The ship gave a big roll just
then, so that the looking-glass, which was fixed opposite us to
starboard, was for a moment nearly over our heads, and as I was
sitting with my hands in my pockets and staring upwards, I could see
him nodding like anything.
"As I daresay you know," went on Sir Henry, "if a man dies
intestate, and has no property but land, real property it is called in
England, it all descends to his eldest son. It so happened that just at
the time when we quarrelled our father died intestate. He had put off
making his will until it was too late. The result was that my brother,
who had not been brought up to any profession, was left without a
penny. Of course it would have been my duty to provide for him, but at
the time the quarrel between us was so bitter that I did not—to my
shame I say it (and he sighed deeply) offer to do anything. It was not
that I grudged him anything, but I waited for him to make advances, and
he made none. I am sorry to trouble you with all this, Mr. Quatermain,
but I must to make things clear, eh, Good?"
"Quite so, quite so," said the captain. "Mr. Quatermain will, I am
sure, keep this history to himself."
"Of course," said I, for I rather pride myself on my discretion."
"Well," went on Sir Henry, "my brother had a few hundred pounds to
his account at the time, and without saying anything to me he drew out
this paltry sum, and, having adopted the name of Neville, started off
for South Africa in the wild hope of making a fortune. This I heard
afterwards. Some three years passed, and I heard nothing of my
brother, though I wrote several times. Doubtless the letters never
reached him. But as time went on I grew more and more troubled about
him. I found out, Mr. Quatermain, that blood is thicker than water."
"That's true," said I, thinking of my boy Harry.
"I found out, Mr. Quatermain, that I would have given half my
fortune to know that my brother George, the only relation I have, was
safe and well, and that I should see him again."
"But you never did, Curtis," jerked out Captain Good, glancing at
the big man's face.
"Well, Mr. Quatermain, as time went on, I became more and more
anxious to find out if my brother was alive or dead, and if alive to
get him home again. I set inquiries on foot, and your letter was one of
the results. So far as it went it was satisfactory, for it shewed that
till lately George was alive, but it did not go far enough. So, to cut
a long story short, I made up my mind to come out and look for him
myself, and Captain Good was so kind as to come with me."
"Yes," said the captain; "nothing else to do, you see. Turned out by
my Lords of the Admiralty to starve on half pay. And now perhaps, sir,
you will tell us what you know or have heard of the gentleman called
CHAPTER II. THE LEGEND OF SOLOMON'S
"What was it that you heard about my brother's journey at
Bamangwato?" said Sir Henry, as I paused to fill my pipe before
answering Captain Good.
"I heard this," I answered, "and I have never mentioned it to a soul
till to-day. I heard that he was starting for Solomon's Mines."
"Solomon's Mines!" ejaculated both my hearers at once. "Where are
"I don't know," I said; "I know where they are said to be. I once
saw the peaks of the mountains that border them, but there was a
hundred and thirty miles of desert between me and them, and I am not
aware that any white man ever got across it save one. But perhaps the
best thing I can do is to tell you the legend of Solomon's Mines as I
know it, you passing your word not to reveal anything I tell you
without my permission. Do you agree to that? I have my reasons for
Sir Henry nodded, and Captain Good replied, "Certainly, certainly."
"Well," I began, "as you may guess, in a general way, elephant
hunters are a rough set of men, and don't trouble themselves with much
beyond the facts of life and the ways of Kafirs. But here and there you
meet a man who takes the trouble to collect traditions from the
natives, and tries to make out a little piece of the history of this
dark land. It was such a man as this who first told me the legend of
Solomon's Mines, now a matter of nearly thirty years ago. It was when I
was on my first elephant hunt in the Matabele country. His name was
Evans, and he was killed next year, poor fellow, by a wounded buffalo,
and lies buried near the Zambesi Falls. I was telling Evans one night,
I remember, of some wonderful workings I had found whilst hunting
koodoo and eland in what is now the Lydenburg district of the
Transvaal. I see they have come across these workings again lately in
prospecting for gold, but I knew of them years ago. There is a great
wide waggon road cut out of the solid rock, and leading to the mouth of
the working or gallery. Inside the mouth of this gallery are stacks of
gold quartz piled up ready for crushing, which shows that the workers,
whoever they were, must have left in a hurry, and about twenty paces in
the gallery is built across, and a beautiful bit of masonry it is.
"'Ay,' said Evans, 'but I will tell you a queerer thing than that;'
and he went on to tell me how he had found in the far interior a ruined
city, which he believed to be the Ophir of the Bible, and, by the way,
other more learned men have said the same long since poor Evans' time.
I was, I remember, listening open-eared to all these wonders, for I
was young at the time, and this story of an ancient civilisation and of
the treasure which those old Jewish or Phoenician adventurers used to
extract from a country long since lapsed into the darkest barbarism
took a great hold upon my imagination, when suddenly he said to me,
"Lad, did you ever hear of the Suliman Mountains up to the north-west
of the Mashukulumbwe country?" I told him I never had. "Ah, well," he
said, "that was where Solomon really had his mines, his diamond mines,
"'How do you know that?' I asked.
"'Know it; why what is "Suliman" but a corruption of Solomon! and,
besides, an old Isanusi (witch doctor) up in the Manica country told me
all about it. She said that the people who lived across those mountains
were a branch of the Zulus, speaking a dialect of Zulu, but finer and
bigger men even; that there lived among them great wizards, who had
learnt their art from white men when 'all the world was dark,' and who
had the secret of a wonderful mine of "bright stones."'
"Well, I laughed at this story at the time, though it interested me,
for the diamond fields were not discovered then, and poor Evans went
off and got killed, and for twenty years I never thought any more of
the matter. But just twenty years afterwards—and that is a long time,
gentlemen, an elephant hunter does not often live for twenty years at
his business—I heard something more definite about Suliman's
Mountains and the country which lies beyond it. I was up beyond the
Manica country at a place called Sitanda's Kraal, and a miserable place
it was, for one could get nothing to eat there, and there was but
little game about. I had an attack of fever, and was in a bad way
generally, when one day a Portugee arrived with a single companion—a
half-breed. Now I know your Delagoa Portugee well. There is no greater
devil unhung in a general way, battening as he does upon human agony
and flesh in the shape of slaves. But this was quite a different type
of man to the low fellows I had been accustomed to meet; he reminded
me more of the polite dons I have read about. He was tall and thin,
with large dark eyes and curling grey moustachios. We talked together a
little, for he could speak broken English, and I understood a little
Portugee, and he told me that his name was José Silvestre, and that he
had a place near Delagoa Bay; and when he went on next day with his
half-breed companion, he said, 'Good-bye,' taking off his hat quite in
the old style. 'Good-bye, senör,' he said; 'if ever we meet again I
shall be the richest man in the world, and I will remember you.' I
laughed a little—I was too weak to laugh much—and watched him
strike out for the great desert to the west, wondering if he was mad,
or what he thought he was going to find there.
"A week passed, and I got the better of my fever One evening I was
sitting on the ground in front of the little tent I had with me,
chewing the last leg of a miserable fowl I had bought from a native
for a bit of cloth worth twenty fowls, and staring at the hot red sun
sinking down into the desert, when suddenly I saw a figure, apparently
that of a European, for it wore a coat, on the slope of the rising
ground opposite to me, about three hundred yards away. The figure crept
along on its hands and knees, then it got up and staggered along a few
yards on its legs, only to fall and crawl along again. Seeing that it
must be somebody in distress, I sent one of my hunters to help him, and
presently he arrived, and who do you suppose it turned out to be?"
"José Silvestre, of course," said Captain Good.
"Yes, José Silvestre, or rather his skeleton and a little skin. His
face was bright yellow with bilious fever, and his large, dark eyes
stood nearly out of his head, for all his flesh had gone. There was
nothing but yellow parchment-like skin, white hair, and the gaunt bones
sticking up beneath.
"'Water! for the sake of Christ, water!' he moaned. I saw that his
lips were cracked, and his tongue, which protruded between them,
swollen and blackish.
"I gave him water with a little milk in it, and he drank it in great
gulps, two quarts or more, without stopping. I would not let him have
any more. Then the fever took him again, and he fell down and began to
rave about Suliman's Mountains, and the diamonds, and the desert. I
took him into the tent and did what I could for him, which was little
enough; but I saw how it must end. About eleven o'clock he got quieter,
and I lay down for a little rest and went to sleep. At dawn I woke
again, and saw him in the half light sitting up, a strange, gaunt form,
and gazing out towards the desert. Presently the first ray of the sun
shot right across the wide plain before us till it reached the far-away
crest of one of the tallest of the Suliman Mountains more than a
hundred miles away.
"'There it is!' cried the dying man in Portuguese, stretching out
his long, thin arm, 'but I shall never reach it, never. No one will
ever reach it!'
"Suddenly he paused, and seemed to take a resolution. 'Friend,' he
said, turning towards me, 'are you there? My eyes grow dark.'
"'Yes,' I said; 'yes, lie down now, and rest.'
"'Ay,' he answered, 'I shall rest soon, I have time to rest—all
eternity. Listen, I am dying! You have been good to me. I will give you
the paper. Perhaps you will get there if you can live through the
desert, which has killed my poor servant and me.'
"Then he groped in his shirt and brought out what I thought was a
Boer tobacco pouch of the skin of the Swart-vet-pens (sable antelope).
It was fastened with a little strip of hide, what we call a rimpi, and
this he tried to untie, but could not. He handed it to me. 'Untie it,'
he said. I did so, and extracted a bit of torn yellow linen (see
Frontispiece), on which something was written in rusty letters. Inside
was a paper.
"Then he went on feebly, for he was growing weak: 'The paper has it
all, that is on the rag. It took me years to read. Listen: my ancestor,
a political refugee from Lisbon, and one of the first Portuguese who
landed on these shores, wrote that when he was dying on those mountains
which no white foot ever pressed before or since. His name was José da
Silvestra, and he lived three hundred years ago. His slave, who waited
for him on this side the mountains, found him dead, and brought the
writing home to Delagoa. It has been in the family ever since, but none
have cared to read it till at last I did. And I have lost my life over
it, but another may succeed, and become the richest man in the
world—the richest man in the world. Only give it to no one; go
yourself!' Then he began to wander again, and in an hour it was all
"God rest him! he died very quietly, and I buried him deep, with big
boulders on his breast; so I do not think that the jackals can have dug
him up. And then I came away."
"Ay, but the document," said Sir Henry, in a tone of deep interest.
"Yes, the document; what was in it?" added the captain.
"Well, gentlemen, if you like I will tell you. I have never showed
it to anybody yet except my dear wife, who is dead, and she thought it
was all nonsense, and a drunken old Portuguese trader who translated it
for me, and had forgotten all about it next morning. The original rag
is at my home in Durban, together with poor Don José's translation, but
I have the English rendering in my pocket-book, and a fac-simile of the
map, if it can be called a map. Here it is."
"I, José da Silvestra, who am now dying of hunger in the little cave
where no snow is on the north side of the nipple of the southernmost of
the two mountains I have named Sheba's Breasts, write this in the year
1590 with a cleft bone upon a remnant of my raiment, my blood being the
ink. If my slave should find it when he comes, and should bring it to
Delagoa, let my friend (name illegible) bring the matter to the
knowledge of the king, that he may send an army which, if they live
through the desert and the mountains, and can overcome the brave
Kukuanes and their devilish arts, to which end many priests should be
brought, will make him the richest king since Solomon. With my own eyes
have I seen the countless diamonds stored in Solomon's treasure chamber
behind the white Death; but through the treachery of Gagool the
witch-finder I might bring nought away, scarcely my life. Let him who
comes follow the map, and climb the snow of Sheba's left breast till he
comes to the nipple, on the north side of which is the great road
Solomon made, from whence three days' journey to the King's Place. Let
him kill Gagool. Pray for my soul. Farewell.
"José da Silvestra."
When I had finished reading the above and shewn the copy of the map,
dran by the dying hand of the old Don with his blood for ink, there
followed a silence of astonishment.
"Well," said Captain Good, "I have been round the world twice, and
put in at most ports, but may I be hung if I ever heard a yarn like
that out of a story book, or in it either, for the matter of that."
"It's a queer story, Mr. Quatermain," said Sir Henry. "I suppose you
are not hoaxing us? It is, I know, sometimes thought allowable to take
a greenhorn in."
"If you think that, Sir Henry," I said, much put out, and pocketing
my paper, for I do not like to be thought one of those silly fellows
who consider it witty to tell lies, and who are for ever boasting to
new comers of extraordinary hunting adventures which never happened,
"why there is an end of the matter," and I rose to go.
Sir Henry laid his large hand upon my shoulder. "Sir down, Mr.
Quatermain," he said, "I beg your pardon; I see very well you do not
wish to deceive us, but the story sounded so extraordinary that I could
hardly believe it."
"You shall see the original map and writing when we reach Durban," I
said, somewhat mollified, for really when I came to consider the matter
it was scarcely wonderful that he should doubt my good faith. "But I
have not told you about your brother. I knew the man Jim who was with
him. He was a Bechuana by birth, a good hunter, and for a native a very
clever man. The morning Mr. Neville was starting, I saw Jim standing by
my waggon and cutting up tobacco on the disselboom.
"'Jim,' said I, 'where are you off to this trip? Is it elephants?'
"'No, Baas,' he answered, 'we are after something worth more than
"'And what might that be?' I said, for I was curious. 'Is it gold?'
"'No, Baas, something worth more than gold,' and he grinned.
"I did not ask any more questions, for I did not like to lower my
dignity by seeming curious, but I was puzzled. Presently Jim finished
cutting his tobacco.
"'Baas,' said he.
"I took no notice.
"'Baas,' said he again.
"'Eh, boy, what is it?' said I.
"'Baas, we are going after diamonds.'
"'Diamonds! why, then, you are going in the wrong direction; you
should head for the Fields.'
"'Baas, have you ever heard of Suliman's Berg?' (Solomon's
"'Have you ever heard of the diamonds there?'
"'I have heard a foolish story, Jim.'
"'It is no story, Baas. I once knew a woman who came from there,
and got to Natal with her child, she told me:—she is dead now.'
"'Your master will feed the aasvogels (vultures), Jim, if he tries
to reach Suliman's country, and so will you if they can get any
pickings off your worthless old carcass,' said I.
"He grinned. 'Mayhap, Baas. Man must die; I'd rather like to try a
new country myself; the elephants are getting worked out about here.'
"'Ah! my boy,' I said, 'you wait till the "pale old man" (death)
gets a grip of your yellow throat, and then we'll hear what sort of a
tune you sing.'
"Half an hour after that I saw Neville's waggon move off. Presently
Jim came running back. 'Good-bye, Baas,' he said. 'I didn't like to
start without bidding you good-bye, for I daresay you are right, and we
shall never come back again.'
"'Is your master really going to Suliman's Berg, Jim, or are you
"'No,' says he; 'he is going. He told me he was bound to make his
fortune somehow, or try to; so he might as well try the diamonds.'
"'Oh!' said I; 'wait a bit, Jim; will you take a note to your
master, Jim, and promise not to give it to him till you reach Inyati?'
(which was some hundred miles off).
"'Yes,' said he.
"So I took a scrap of paper, and wrote on it, 'Let him who comes ...
climb the snow of Sheba's left breast, till he comes to the nipple, on
the north side of which is Solomon's great road.'
"'Now, Jim,' I said, 'when you give this to your master, tell him he
had better follow the advice implicitly. You are not to give it to him
now, because I don't want him back asking me questions which I won't
answer. Now be off, you idle fellow, the waggon is nearly out of sight.'
"Jim took the note and went, and that is all I know about your
brother, Sir Henry; but I am much afraid—"
"Mr. Quatermain," said Sir Henry, "I am going to look for my
brother; I am going to trace him to Suliman's Mountains, and over them
if necessary, till I find him, or till I know that he is dead. Will you
come with me?"
I am, as I think I have said, a cautious man, indeed a timid one,
and I shrunk from such an idea. It seemed to me that to start on such a
journey would be to go to certain death, and putting other things
aside, as I had a son to support, I could not afford to die just then.
"No, thank you, Sir Henry, I think I had rather not," I answered. "I
am too old for wild-goose chases of that sort, and we should only end
up like my poor friend Silvestre. I have a son dependent on me, so
cannot afford to risk my life."
Both Sir Henry and Captain Good looked very disappointed.
"Mr. Quatermain," said the former, "I am well off, and I am bent
upon this business. You may put the remuneration for your services at
whatever figure you like in reason, and it shall be paid over to you
before we start. Moreover, I will, before we start, arrange that in the
event of anything happening to us or to you, that your son shall be
suitably provided for. You will see from this how necessary I think
your presence. Also if by any chance we should reach this place, and
find diamonds, they shall belong to you and Good equally. I do not want
them. But of course the chance is as good as nothing, though the same
thing would apply to any ivory we might get. You may pretty well make
your own terms with me, Mr. Quatermain; and of course I shall pay all
"Sir Henry," said I, "this is the most liberal offer I ever had, and
one not to be sneezed at by a poor hunter and trader. But the job is
the biggest I ever came across, and I must take time to think it over.
I will give you my answer before we get to Durban."
"Very good," answered Sir Henry, and then I said good-night and
turned in, and dreamt about poor long- dead Silvestre and the diamonds.
CHAPTER III. UMBOPA ENTERS OUR
It takes from four to five days, according to the vessel and the
state of the weather, to run up from the Cape to Durban. Sometimes, if
the landing is bad at East London, where they have not yet got that
wonderful harbour they talk so much of, and sink such a mint of money
in, one is delayed for twenty-four hours before the cargo boats can get
out to take the goods off. But on this occasion we had not to wait at
all, for there were no breakers on the Bar to speak of, and the tugs
came out at once with their long strings of ugly flat-bottomed boats,
into which the goods were bundled with a crash. It did not matter what
they were, over they went slap bang; whether they were china or woollen
goods they met with the same treatment. I saw one case containing four
dozen of champagne smashed all to bits, and there was the champagne
fizzing and boiling about in the bottom of the dirty cargo boat. It was
a wicked waste, and so evidently the Kafirs in the boat thought, for
they found a couple of unbroken bottles, and knocking the tops off
drank the contents. But they had not allowed for the expansion caused
by the fizz in the wine, and feeling themselves swelling, rolled about
in the bottom of the boat, calling out that the good liquor was
"tagati" (bewitched). I spoke to them from the vessel, and told them
that it was the white man's strongest medicine, and that they were as
good as dead men. They went on to the shore in a very great fright, and
I do not think that they will touch champagne again.
Well, all the time we were running up to Natal I was thinking over
Sir Henry Curtis' offer. We did not speak any more on the subject for a
day or two, though I told them many hunting yarns, all true ones. There
is no need to tell lies about hunting, for so many curious things
happen within the knowledge of a man whose business it is to hunt; but
this is by the way.
At last, one beautiful evening in January, which is our hottest
month, we steamed along the coast of Natal, expecting to make Durban
Point by sunset. It is a lovely coast all along from East London, with
its red sandhills and wide sweeps of vivid green, dotted here and there
with Kafir kraals, and bordered by a ribbon of white surf, which spouts
up in pillars of foam where it hits the rocks. But just before you get
to Durban there is a peculiar richness about it. There are the deep
kloofs cut in the hills by the rushing rains of centuries, down which
the rivers sparkle; there is the deepest green of the bush, growing as
God planted it, and the other greens of the mealie gardens and the
sugar patches, while here and there a white house, smiling out at the
placid sea, puts a finish and gives an air of homeliness to the scene.
For to my mind, however beautiful a view may be, it requires the
presence of man to make it complete, but perhaps that is because I have
lived so much in the wilderness, and therefore know the value of
civilisation, though to be sure it drives away the game. The Garden of
Eden, no doubt, was fair before man was, but I always think it must
have been fairer when Eve was walking about it. But we had
miscalculated a little, and the sun was well down before we dropped
anchor off the Point, and heard the gun which told the good folk that
the English Mail was in. It was too late to think of getting over the
Bar that night, so we went down comfortably to dinner, after seeing the
Mails carried off in the lifeboat.
When we came up again the moon was up, and shining so brightly over
sea and shore that she almost paled the quick large flashes from the
lighthouse. From the shore floated sweet spicy odours that always
remind me of hymns and missionaries, and in the windows of the house on
the Berea sparkled a hundred lights. From a large brig lying near came
the music of the sailors as they worked at getting the anchor up to be
ready for the wind. Altogether it was a perfect night, such a night as
you only get in Southern Africa, and it threw a garment of peace over
everybody as the moon threw a garment of silver over everything. Even
the great bulldog, belonging to a sporting passenger, seemed to yield
to the gentle influences, and giving up yearning to come to close
quarters with the baboon in a cage on the foc'sle, snored happily in
the door of the cabin, dreaming no doubt that he had finished him, and
happy in his dream.
We all—that, is Sir Henry Curtis, Captain Good, and myself—went
and sat by the wheel, and were quiet for a while.
"Well, Mr. Quatermain," said Sir Henry, presently, "have you been
thinking about my proposals?"
"Ay," echoed Captain Good, "what do you think of them, Mr.
Quatermain? I hope you are going to give us the pleasure of your
company as far as Solomon's Mines, or wherever the gentleman you knew
as Neville may have got to."
I rose and knocked out my pipe before I answered. I had not made up
my mind, and wanted the additional moment to complete it. Before the
burning tobacco had fallen into the sea it was completed; just that
little extra second did the trick. It is often the way when you have
been bothering a long time over a thing.
"Yes, gentlemen," I said, sitting down again, "I will go, and by
your leave I will tell you why and on what terms. First for the terms
which I ask.
"1. You are to pay all expenses, and any ivory or other valuables we
may get is to be divided between Captain Good and myself.
"2. That you pay me £500 for my services on the trip before we
start, I undertaking to serve you faithfully till you choose to abandon
the enterprise, or till we succeed, or disaster overtakes us.
"3. That before we start you execute a deed agreeing, in the event
of my death or disablement, to pay my boy Harry, who is studying
medicine over there in London at Guy's Hospital, a sum of £200 a year
for five years, by which time he ought to be able to earn a living for
himself. That is all, I think, and I daresay you will say quite enough
"No," answered Sir Henry,"I accept them gladly. I am bent upon this
project, and would pay more than that for your help, especially
considering the peculiar knowledge you possess."
"Very well. And now that I have made my terms I will tell you my
reasons for making up my mind to go. First of all, gentlemen, I have
been observing you both for the last few days, and if you will not
think me impertinent I will say that I like you, and think that we
shall come up well to the yoke together. That is something, let me tell
you, when one has a long journey like this before one.
"And now as to the journey itself, I tell you flatly, Sir Henry and
Captain Good, that I do not think it probable that we can come out of
it alive, that is, if we attempt to cross the Suliman Mountains. What
was the fate of the old Don da Silvestra three hundred years ago? What
was the fate of his descendant twenty years ago? What has been your
brother's fate? I tell you frankly, gentlemen, that as their fate was
so I believe ours will be."
I paused to watch the effect of my words. Captain Good looked a
little uncomfortable; but Sir Henry's face did not change. "We must
take our chance," he said.
"You may perhaps wonder," I went on, "why, if I think this, I, who
am, as I told you, a timid man, should undertake such a journey. It is
for two reasons. First I am a fatalist, and believe that my time is
appointed to come quite independently of my own movements, and that if
I am to go to Suliman's Mountains to be killed, I shall go there and
shall be killed there. God Almighty, no doubt, knows His mind about me,
so I need not trouble on that point. Secondly, I am a poor man. For
nearly forty years I have hunted and traded, but I have never made more
than a living. Well, gentlemen, I don't know if you are aware that the
average life of an elephant hunter from the time he takes to the trade
is from four to five years. So you see I have lived through about seven
generations of my class, and I should think that my time cannot be far
off anyway. Now, if anything were to happen to me in the ordinary
course of business, by the time my debts were paid there would be
nothing left to support my son Harry whilst he was getting in the way
of earning a living, whereas now he would be provided for for five
years. There is the whole affair in a nutshell."
"Mr. Quatermain," said Sir Henry, who had been giving me the most
serious attention; "your motives for undertaking an enterprise which
you believe can only end in disaster reflect a great deal of credit on
you. Whether or not you are right, time and the event of course alone
can show. But whether you are right or wrong, I may as well tell you at
once that I am going through with it to the end, sweet or bitter. If we
are going to be knocked on the head, all I have to say is that I hope
we shall get a little shooting first, eh, Good?"
"Yes, yes," put in the captain. "We have all three of us been
accustomed to face danger, and hold our lives in our hands in various
ways, so it is no good turning back now."
"And now I vote we go down to the saloon and take an observation,
just for luck, you know." And we did—through the bottom of a tumbler.
Next day we went ashore, and I put Sir Henry and Captain Good up at
the little shanty I have on the Berea, and which I call my home. There
are only three rooms and a kitchen in it, and it is built of green
brick with a galvanised iron roof, but there is a good garden with the
best loquot trees in it that I know, and some nice young mangoes, of
which I hope great things. The curator of the botanical gardens gave
them to me. It is looked after by an old hunter of mine, named Jack,
whose thigh was so badly broken by a buffalo cow in Sikukunïs country,
that he will never hunt again. But he can potter about and garden,
being a Griqua by birth. You can never get your Zulu to take much
interest in gardening. It is a peaceful art, and peaceful arts are not
in his line.
Sir Henry and Good slept in a tent pitched in my little grove of
orange trees at the end of the garden (for there was no room for them
in the house), and what with the smell of the bloom and the sight of
the green and golden fruit—for in Durban you will see all three on
the tree together—I daresay it is a pleasant place enough (for we
have few mosquitoes here unless there happens to come an unusually
Well, to get on—for unless I do you will be tired of my story
before ever we fetch up at Suliman's Mountains —having once made up
my mind to go I set about making the necessary preparations. First I
got the deed from Sir Henry, providing for my boy in case of accidents.
There was some little difficulty about getting this legally executed,
as Sir Henry was a stranger here, and the property to be charged was
over the water, but it was ultimately got over with the help of a
lawyer, who charged £20 for the job—a price that I thought
outrageous. Then I got my cheque for £500. Having paid this tribute to
my bump of caution, I bought a waggon and a span of oxen on Sir Henry's
behalf, and beauties they were. It was a twenty-two-foot waggon with
iron axles, very strong, very light, and built throughout of stink
wood. It was not quite a new one, having been to the Diamond Fields and
back, but in my opinion it was all the better for that, for one could
see that the wood was well seasoned. If anything is going to give in a
waggon, or if there is green wood in it, it will show out on the first
trip. It was what we call a "half-tented" waggon, that is to say, it
was only covered in over the after twelve feet, leaving all the front
part free for the necessaries we had to carry with us. In this after
part was a hide "cartle," or bed, on which two people could sleep, also
racks for rifles, and many other little conveniences. I gave £125 for
it, and think it was cheap at the price. Then I bought a beautiful team
of twenty salted Zulu oxen, which I had had my eye on for a year or
two. Sixteen oxen are the usual number for a team, but I had four extra
to allow for casualties. These Zulu oxen are small and light, not more
than half the size of the Africander oxen, which are generally used for
transport purposes; but they will live where the Africanders will
starve, and with a light load will make five miles a day better going,
being quicker and not so liable to get footsore. What is more, this lot
were thoroughly "salted," that is, they had worked all over South
Africa, and so had become proof (comparatively speaking) against red
water, which so frequently destroys whole teams of oxen when they get
on to strange "veldt" (grass country). As for "lung sick," which is a
dreadful form of pneumonia, very prevalent in this country, they had
all been inoculated against it. This is done by cutting a slit in the
tail of an ox, and binding in a piece of the diseased lung of an animal
which has died of the sickness. The result is that the ox sickens,
takes the disease in a mild form, which causes its tail to drop off, as
a rule about a foot from the root, and becomes proof against future
attacks. It seems cruel to rob the animal of his tail, especially in a
country where there are so many flies, but it is better to sacrifice
the tail and keep the ox than to lose both tail and ox, for a tail
without an ox is not much good except to dust with. Still it does look
odd to trek along behind twenty stumps, where there ought to be tails.
It seems as though nature had made a trifling mistake, and stuck the
stern ornaments of a lot of prize bulldogs on to the rumps of the oxen.
Next came the question of provisioning and medicines, one which
required the most careful consideration, for what on had to do was to
avoid lumbering the waggon up, and yet take everything absolutely
necessary. Fortunately, it turned out that Good was a bit of a doctor,
having at some period in his previous career managed to pass through a
course of medical and surgical instruction, which he had more or less
kept up. He was not, of course, qualified, but he knew more about it
than many a man who coùld write M.D. after his name, as we found out
afterwards, and he had a splendid travelling medicine chest and a set
of instruments. Whilst we were at Durban he cut off a Kafir's big toe
in a way which it was a pleasure to see. But he was quite flabbergasted
when the Kafir, who had sat stolidly watching the operation, asked him
to put on another, saying that a "white one" would do at a pinch.
There remained, when these questions were satisfactorily settled,
two further important points for consideration, namely, that of arms
and that of servants. As to the arms I cannot do better than put down a
list of those we finally decided on from among the ample store that Sir
Henry had brought with him from England, and those which I had. I copy
it from my pocket-book, where I made the entry at the time.
"Three heavy breechloading double-eight elephant guns, weighing
about fifteen pounds each, with a charge of eleven drachms of black
powder." Two of these were by a well-known London firm, most excellent
makers, but I do not know by whom mine, which was not so highly
finished, was made. I had used it on several trips, and shot a good
many elephants with it, and it had always proved a most superior
weapon, thoroughly to be relied on.
"Three double .500 expresses, constructed to carry a charge of six
drachms," sweet weapons, and admirable for medium-sized game, such as
eland or sable antelope, or for men, especially in an open country and
with the semi-hollow bullet.
"One double No. 12 central-fire Keeper's shotgun, full choke both
barrels." This gun proved of the greatest service to us afterwards in
shooting game for the pot.
"Three Winchester repeating rifles (not carbines), spare guns.
"Three single-action Colt's revolvers, with the heavier pattern of
This was our total armament, and the reader will doubtless observe
that the weapons of each class were of the same make and calibre, so
that the cartridges were interchangeable, a very important point. I
make no apology for detailing it at length, for every experienced
hunter will know how vital a proper supply of guns and ammunition is to
the success of an expedition.
Now as to the men who were to go with us. After much consultation we
decided that their number should be limited to five, namely, a driver,
a leader, and three servants.
The driver and leader I got without much difficulty, two Zulus,
named respectively Goza and Tom; but the servants were a more difficult
matter. It was necessary that they should be thoroughly trustworthy and
brave men, as in a business of this sort our lives might depend upon
their conduct. At last I secured two, one a Hottentot called Ventvögel
(wind-bird), and one a little Zulu named Khiva, who had the merit of
speaking English perfectly. Ventvögel I had known before; he was one of
the most perfect "spoorers" (game trackers) I ever had to do with, and
tough as whipcord. He never seemed to tire. But he had one failing, so
common with his race, drink. Put him within reach of a bottle of grog
and you could not trust him. But as we were going beyond the region of
grog-shops this little weakness of his did not so much matter.
Having got these two men I looked in vain for a third to suit my
purpose, so we determined to start without one, trusting to luck to
find a suitable man on our way up country. But on the evening before
the day we had fixed for our departure the Zulu Khiva informed me that
a man was waiting to see me. Accordingly when we had done dinner, for
we were at table at the time, I told him to bring him in. Presently a
very tall, handsome-looking man, somewhere about thirty years of age,
and very light-coloured for a Zulu, entered, and, lifting his
knob-stick by way of salute, squatted himself down in the corner on his
haunches, and sat silent. I did not take any notice of him for a while,
for it is a great mistake to do so. If you rush into conversation at
once, a Zulu is apt to think you a person of little dignity or
consideration. I observed, however, that he was a "Keshla" (ringed
man), that is, that he wore on his head the black ring, made of a
species of gum polished with fat and worked in with the hair, usually
assumed by Zulus on attaining a certain age or dignity. Also it struck
me that his face was familiar to me.
"Well," I said at last, "what is your name?"
"Umbopa," answered the man in a slow, deep voice.
"I have seen your face before."
"Yes; the Inkoosi (chief) saw my face at the place of the Little
Hand (Isandhlwana) the day before the battle."
Then I remembered. I had been one of Lord Chelmsford's guides in
that unlucky Zulu War, and had had the good fortune to leave the camp
in charge of some waggons the day before the battle. While I had been
waiting for the cattle to be inspanned I had fallen into conversation
with this man, who held some small command among the native
auxiliaries, and he had expressed to me his doubts of the safety of the
camp. At the time I had told him to hold his tongue, and leave such
matters to wiser heads; but afterwards I thought of his words.
"I remember," I said; "what is it you want?"
"It is this, 'Macumazahn' (that is my Kafir name, and means the man
who gets up in the middle of the night, or, in vulgar English, he who
keeps his eyes open). I hear that you go on a great expedition far into
the North with the white chiefs from over the water. Is it a true word?"
"I hear that you go even to the Lukanga River, a moon's journey
beyond the Manica country. Is this so also, 'Macumazahn?'"
"Why do you ask whither we go? What is it to thee?" I answered,
suspiciously, for the objects of our journey had been kept a dead
"It is this, oh, white men, that if indeed you travel so far I would
travel with you."
There was a certain assumption of dignity in the man's mode of
speech, and especially in his use of the words "oh, white men," instead
of "oh, Inkosis" (chiefs), which struck me.
"You forget yourself a little," I said. "Your words come out
unawares. That is not the way to speak. What is your name, and where is
your kraal? Tell us, that we may know with whom we have to deal."
"My name is Umbopa. I am of the Zulu people, yet not of them. The
house of my tribe is in the far North; it was left behind when the
Zulus came down here a 'thousand years ago,' long before Chaka reigned
in in Zululand. I have no kraal. I have wandered for many years. I came
from the North as a child to Zululand. I was Cetywayo's man in the
Nkomabakosi Regiment. I ran away from Zululand and came to Natal
because I wanted to see the white man's ways. Then I served against
Cetywayo in the war. Since then I have been working in Natal. Now I am
tired, and would go North again. Here is not my place. I want no money,
but I am a brave man, and am worth my place and meat. I have spoken."
I was rather puzzled at this man and his way of speech. It was
evident to me from his manner that he was in the main telling the
truth, but he was somehow different from the ordinary run of Zulus, and
I rather mistrusted his offer to come without pay. Being in a
difficulty, I translated his words to Sir Henry and Good, and asked
them their opinion. Sir Henry told me to ask him to stand up. Umbopa
did so, at the same time slipping off the long military great coat he
wore, and revealing himself naked except for the moocha round his
centre and a necklace of lions' claws. He certainly was a
magnificent-looking man; I never saw a finer native. Standing about six
foot three high he was broad in proportion, and very shapely. In that
light, too, his skin looked scarcely more than dark, except here and
there where deep black scars marked old assegai wounds. Sir Henry
walked up to him and looked into his proud, handsome face.
"They make a good pair, don't they?" said Good; "one as big as the
"I like your looks, Mr. Umbopa, and I will take you as my servant,"
said Sir Henry in English.
Umbopa evidently understood him, for he answered in Zulu, "It is
well;" and then with a glance at the white man's great stature and
breadth, "we are men, you and I."
CHAPTER IV. AN ELEPHANT HUNT.
Now I do not propose to narrate at full length all the incidents of
our long journey up to Sitanda's Kraal, near the junction of the
Lukanga and Kalukwe Rivers, a journey of more than a thousand miles
from Durban, the last three hundred or so of which, owing to the
frequent presence of the dreadful "tsetse" fly, whose bite is fatal to
all animals except donkeys and men, we had to make on foot.
We left Durban at the end of January, and it was in the second week
of May that we camped near Sitanda's Kraal. Our adventures on the way
were many and various, but as they were of the sort which befall every
African hunter, I shall not—with one exception to be presently
detailed—set them down here, lest I should render this history too
At Inyati, the outlying trading station in the Matabele country, of
which Lobengula (a great scoundrel) is king, we with many regrets
parted from our comfortable waggon. Only twelve oxen remained to us out
of the beautiful span of twenty which I had bought at Durban. One we
had lost from the bite of a cobra, three had perished from poverty and
the want of water, one had been lost, and the other three had died
from eating the poisonous herb called "tulip." Five more sickened from
this cause, but we managed to cure them with doses of an infusion made
by boiling down the tulip leaves. If administered in time this is a
very effective antidote. The waggon and oxen we left in the immediate
charge of Goza and Tom, the driver and leader, both of them trustworthy
boys, requesting a worthy Scotch missionary who lived in this wild
place to keep an eye to it. The, accompanied by Umbopa, Khiva,
Ventvögel, and half a dozen bearers whom we hired on the spot, we
started off on foot upon our wild quest. I remember we were all a
little silent on the occasion of that departure, and I think that each
of us was wondering if we should ever see that waggon again; for my
part I never expected to. For a while we tramped on in silence, till
Umbopa, who was marching in front, broke into a Zulu chant about how
some brave men, tired of life and the tameness of things, started off
into a great wilderness to find new things or die, and how, lo, and
behold! when they had got far into the wilderness, they found it was
not a wilderness at all, but a beautiful place full of young wives and
fat cattle, of game to hunt and enemies to kill.
Then we all laughed and took it for a good omen. He was a cheerful
savage was Umbopa, in a dignified sort of a way, when he had not got
one of his fits of brooding, and had a wonderful knack of keeping one's
spirits up. We all got very fond of him.
And now for the one adventure I am going to treat myself to, for I
do dearly love a hunting yarn.
About a fortnight's march from Inyati, we came across a peculiarly
beautiful bit of fairly-watered wooded country. The kloofs in the hills
were covered with dense bush, "idoro" bush as the natives call it, and
in some places, with the "wacht-een-beche" (wait-a-little) thorn, and
there were great quantities of the beautiful "machabell" tree, laden
with refreshing yellow fruit with enormous stones. This tree is the
elephant's favourite food, and there were not wanting signs that the
great brutes were about, for not only was their spoor frequent, but in
many places the trees were broken down and even up-rooted. The elephant
is a destructive feeder.
One evening, after a long day's march, we came to a spot of peculiar
loveliness. At the foot of a bush-clad hill was a dry river-bed, in
which, however, were to be found pools of crystal water all trodden
round with the hoof-prints of game. Facing this hill was a park-like
plain, where grew clumps of flat-topped mimosa, varied with occasional
glossy-leaved machabells, and all round was the great sea of pathless,
As we emerged into this river-bed path we suddenly started a troop
of tall giraffes, who galloped, or rather sailed off, with their
strange gait, their tails screwed up over their backs, and their hoofs
rattling like castanets. They were about three hundred yards from us,
and therefore practically out of shot, but Good, who was walking ahead,
and had an express loaded with solid ball in his hand, could not
resist, but upped gun and let drive at the last, a young cow. By some
extraordinary chance the ball struck it full on the back of the neck,
shattering the spinal column, and that giraffe went rolling head over
heels just like a rabbit. I never saw a more curious thing.
"Curse it!" said Good—for I am sorry to say he had a habit of
using strong language when excited—contracted, no doubt, in the
course of his nautical career; "curse it! I've killed him."
"Ou, Bougwan," ejaculated the Kafirs; "ou! ou!"
They called Good "Bougwan" (glass eye) because of his eyeglass.
"Oh, 'Bougwan!'" re-echoed Sir Henry and I, and from that day Good's
reputation as a marvellous shot was established, at any rate among the
Kafirs. Really he was a bad one, but whenever he missed we overlooked
it for the sake of that giraffe.
Having set some of the "boys" to cut off the best of the giraffe
meat, we went to work to build a "scherm" near one of the pools about a
hundred yards to the right of it. This is done by cutting a quantity of
thorn bushes and laying them in the shape of a circular hedge. Then the
space enclosed is smoothed, and dry tambouki grass, if obtainable, is
made into a bed in the centre, and a fire or fires lighted.
By the time the "scherm" was finished the moon was coming up, and
our dinner of giraffe steaks and roasted marrow bones was ready. How we
enjoyed those marrow-bones, though it was rather a job to crack them!
I know no greater luxury than giraffe marrow, unless it is elephant's
heart, and we had that on the morrow. We ate our simple meal, pausing
at times to thank Good for his wonderful shot, by the light of the full
moon, and then we began to smoke and yarn, and a curious picture we
must have made squatted there round the fire. I, with my short grizzled
hair sticking up straight, and Sir Henry with his yellow locks, which
were getting rather long, were rather a contrast, especially as I am
thin, and short, and dark, weighing only nine stone and a half, and Sir
Henry is tall, and broad, and fair, and weighs fifteen. But perhaps the
most curious looking of the three, taking all the circumstances of the
case into consideration, was Captain John Good, R.N. There he sat upon
a leather bag, looking just as though he had come in from a comfortable
day's shooting in a civilised country, absolutely clean, tidy, and well
dressed. He had on a shooting suit of brown tweed, with a hat to match,
and neat gaiters. He was, as usual, beautifully shaved, his eyeglass
and his false teeth appeared to be in perfect order, and altogether he
was the neatest man I ever had to do with in the wilderness. He even
had on a collar, of which he had a supply, made of white gutta-percha.
"You see, they weigh so little," he said to me, innocently, when I
expressed my astonishment at the fact; "I always like to look like a
Well, there we all sat yarning away in the beautiful moonlight, and
watching the Kafirs a few yards off sucking their intoxicating "daccha"
in a pipe of which the mouthpiece was made of the horn of an eland,
till they one by one rolled themselves up in their blankets and went to
sleep by the fire, that is, all except Umbopa, who sat a little apart
(I noticed he never mixed much with the other Kafirs), his chin resting
on his hand, apparently thinking deeply.
Presently, from the depths of the bush behind us, came a loud "woof,
woof!" "That's a lion," said I, and we all started up to listen. Hardly
had we done so, when from the pool, about a hundred yards off, came the
strident trumpeting of an elephant. "Incubu! Incubu!" (elephant!
elephant!) whispered the Kafirs; and a few minutes afterwards we saw a
succession of vast shadowy forms moving slowly from the direction of
the water towards the bush. Up jumped Good, burning for slaughter, and
thinking, perhaps, that it was as easy to kill elephant as he had found
it to shoot giraffe, but I caught him by the arm and pulled him down.
"It's no good," I said, "let them go."
"It seems that we are in a paradise of game. I vote we stop here a
day or two, and have a go at them," said Sir Henry, presently.
I was rather surprised, for hitherto Sir Henry had always been for
pushing on as fast as possible, more especially since we had
ascertained at Inyati that about two years ago an Englishman of the
name of Neville had sold his waggon there, and gone on up country;
but I suppose his hunter instincts had got the better of him.
Good jumped at the idea, for he was longing to have a go at those
elephants; and so, to speak the truth, did I, for it went against my
conscience to let such a herd as that escape without having a pull at
"All right, my hearties," said I. "I think we want a little
recreation. And now let's turn in, for we ought to be off by dawn, and
then perhaps we may catch them feeding before they move on."
The others agreed, and we proceeded to make preparations. Good took
off his clothes, shook them, put his eyeglass and his false teeth into
his trousers pocket, and folding them all up neatly, placed them out of
the dew under a corner of his mackintosh sheet. Sir Henry and I
contented ourselves with rougher arrangements, and were soon curled up
in our blankets, and dropping off into the dreamless sleep that rewards
Going, going, go—What was that?
Suddenly from the direction of the water came a sound of violent
scuffling, and next instant there broke upon our ears a succession of
the most awful roars. There was no mistaking what they came from; only
a lion could make such a noise as that. We all jumped up and looked
towards the water, in the direction of which we saw a confused mass,
yellow and black in colour, staggering and struggling towards us. We
seized our rifles, and slipping on our veldtschoons (shoes made of
untanned hide), ran out of the scherm towards it. By this time it had
fallen, and was rolling over and over on the ground, and by the time we
reached it struggled no longer, but was quite still.
And this was what it was. On the grass there lay a sable antelope
bull—the most beautiful of all the African antelopes—quite dead,
and transfixed by its great curved horns was a magnificent black-maned
lion, also dead. What had happened evidently was this. The sable
antelope had come down to drink at the pool where the lion—no doubt
the same we had heard—had been lying in wait. While the antelope was
drinking the lion had sprung upon him, but was received upon the sharp
curved horns and transfixed. I once saw the same thing happen before.
The lion, unable to free himself, had torn and bitten at the back and
neck of the bull, which, maddened with fear and pain, had rushed on
till it dropped dead.
As soon as we had sufficiently examined the dead beasts we called
the Kafirs, and between us managed to drag their carcasses up to the
scherm. Then we went in and laid down, to wake no more till dawn.
With the first light we were up and making ready for the fray. We
took with us the three eight-bore rifles, a good supply of ammunition,
and our large water-bottles, filled with weak, cold tea, which I have
always found the best stuff to shoot on. After swalowing a little
breakfast we started, Umbopa, Khiva, and Ventvögel accompanying us. The
other Kafirs we left with instructions to skin the lion and the sable
antelope, and cut up the latter.
We had no difficulty in finding the broad elephant trail, which
Ventvögel, after examination, pronounced to have been made by between
twenty and thirty elephants, most of them full-grown bulls. But the
herd had moved on some way during the night, and it was nine o'clock,
and already very hot, before, from the broken trees, bruised leaves and
bark, and smoking dung, we knew we could not be far off them.
Presently we caught sight of the herd, numbering, as Ventvögel had
said, between twenty and thirty, standing in a hollow, having finished
their morning meal, and flapping their great ears. It was a splendid
They were about two hundred yards from us. Taking a handful of dry
grass I threw it into the air to see how the wind was; for if once they
winded us I knew they would be off before we could get a shot. Finding
that, if anything, it blew from the elephants to us, we crept
stealthily on, and thanks to the cover managed to get within forty
yards or so of the great brutes. Just in front of us and broadside on
stood three splendid bulls, one of them with enormous tusks. I
whispered to the others that I would take the middle one; Sir Henry
covered the one to the left, and Good the bull with the big tusks.
"Now," I whispered.
Boom! boom! boom! went the three heavy rifles, and down went Sir
Henry's elephant dead as a hammer, shot right through the heart. Mine
fell on to its knees, and I thought he was going to die, but in another
moment he was up and off, tearing along straight past me. As he went I
gave him the second barrel in the ribs, and this brought him down in
good earnest. Hastily slipping in two fresh cartridges, I ran close up
to him, and a ball through the brain put an end to the poor brute's
struggles. Then I turned to see how Good had fared with the big bull,
which I had heard screaming with rage and pain as I gave mine its
quietus. On reaching the captain I found him in a great state of
excitement. It appeared that on receiving the bullet the bull had
turned and come straight for his assailant, who had barely time to get
out of his way, and then charged blindly on past him, in the direction
of our encampment. Meanwhile the herd had crashed off in wild alarm in
the other direction.
For a while we debated whether to go after the wounded bull or
follow the herd, and finally decided for the latter alternative, and
departed thinking that we had seen the last of those big tusks. I have
often wished since that we had. It was easy work to follow the
elephants, for they had left a trail like a carriage road behind them,
crushing down the thick bush in their furious flight as though it were
But to come up with them was another matter, and we had struggled on
under a broiling sun for over two hours before we found them. They
were, with the exception of one bull, standing together, and I could
see, from their unquiet way and the manner in which they kept lifting
their trunks to test the air, that they were on the look out for
mischief. The solitary bull stood fifty yards or so this side of the
herd, over which he was evidently keeping sentry, and about sixty yards
from us. Thinking that he would see or wind us, and that it would
probably start them all off again if we tried to get nearer, especially
as the ground was rather open, we all amied at this bull, and at my
whispered word fired. All three shots took effect, and down he went
dead. Again the herd started on, but unfortunately for them about a
hundred yards farther on was a nullah, or dried water track, with steep
banks, a place very much resembling the one the Prince Imperial was
killed in in Zululand. Into this the elephants plunged, and when we
reached the edge we found them struggling in wild confusion to get up
the other bank, and filling the air with their screams, and trumpeting
as they pushed one another aside in their selfish panic, just like so
many human beings. Now was our opportunity, and firing away as quick as
we could load we killed five of the poor beasts, and no doubt should
have bagged the whole herd had they not suddenly given up their
attempts to climb the bank and rushed headlong down the nullah. We were
too tired to follow them, and perhaps also a little sick of slaughter,
eight elephants being a pretty good bag for one day.
So after we had rested a little, and the Kafirs had cut out the
hearts of two of the dead elephants for supper, we started homewards,
very well pleased with ourselves, having made up our minds to send the
bearers on the morrow to chop out the tusks.
Shortly after we had passed the spot where Good had wounded the
patriarchal bull we came across a herd of eland, but did not shoot at
them, as we had already plenty of meat. They trotted past us, and then
stopped behind a little patch of bush about a hundred yards away and
wheeled round to look at us. As Good was anxious to get a near view of
them, never having seen an eland close, he handed his rifle to Umbopa,
and, followed by Khiva, strolled up to the patch of bush. We sat down
and waited for him, not sorry of the excuse for a little rest.
The sun was just going down in its reddest glory, and Sir Henry and
I were admiring the lovely scene, when suddenly we heard an elephant
scream, and saw its huge and charging form with uplifted trunk and tail
silhouetted against the great red globe of the sun. Next second we saw
something else, and that was Good and Khiva tearing back towards us
with the wounded bull (for it was he) charging after them. For a moment
we did not dare to fire—thought it would have been little use if we
had at that distance—for fear of hitting one of them, and the next a
dreadful thing happened—Good fell a victim to his passion for
civilised dress. Had he consented to discard his trousers and gaiters
as we had, and hunt in a flannel shirt and a pair of veldtschoons, it
would have been all right, but as it was his trousers cumbered him in
that desperate race, and presently, when he was about sixty yards from
us, his boot, polished by the dry grass, slipped, and down he went on
his face right in front of the elephant.
We gave a gasp, for we knew he must die, and ran as hard as we could
towards him. In three seconds it had ended, but not as we thought.
Khiva, the Zulu boy, had seen his master fall, and brave lad that he
was, had turned and flung his assegai straight into the elephant's
face. It stuck in his trunk.
With a scream of pain the brute seized the poor Zulu, hurled him to
the earth, and placing his huge foot on to his body about the middle,
twined his trunk round his upper part and tore him in two.
We rushed up mad with horror, and fired again, and again, and
presently the elephant fell upon the fragments of the Zulu.
As for Good, he got up and wrung his hands over the brave man who
had given his life to save him, and myself, though an old hand, I felt
a lump in my throat. As for Umbopa, he stood and contemplated the huge
dead elephant and the mangled remains of poor Khiva.
"Ah, well," he said, presently, "he is dead, but he died like a man."
CHAPTER V. OUR MARCH INTO THE
We had killed nine elephants, and it took us two days to cut out the
tusks and get them home and bury them carefully in the sand under a
large tree, which made a conspicuous mark for miles round. It was a
wonderfully fine lot of ivory. I never saw a better, averaging as it
did between forty and fifty pounds a tusk. The tusks of the great bull
that killed poor Khiva scaled one hundred and seventy pounds the pair,
as nearly as we could judge.
As for Khiva himself, we buried what remained of him in an ant-bear
hole, together with an assegai to protect himself with on his journey
to a better world. On the third day we started on, hoping that we might
one day return to dig up our buried ivory, and in due course, after a
long and wearisome tramp, and many adventures which I have not space to
detail, reached Sitanda's Kraal, near the Lukanga River, the real
starting-point of our expedition. Very well do I recollect our arrival
at that place. To the right was a scattered native settlement with a
few stone cattle kraals and some cultivated lands down by the water,
where these savages grew their scanty supply of grain, and beyond it
great tracts of waving "veldt" covered with tall grass, over which
herds of the smaller game were wandering. To the left was the vast
desert. This spot appeared to be the outpost of the fertile country,
and it would be difficult to say to what natural causes such an abrupt
change in the character of the soil was due. But so it was. Just below
our encampment flowed a little stream, on the further side of which was
a stony slope, the same down which I had twenty years before seen poor
Silvestre creeping back after his attempt to reach Solomon's Mines, and
beyond that slope began the waterless desert covered with a species of
karoo shrub. It was evening when we pitched our camp, and the great
fiery ball of the sun was sinking into the desert, sending glorious
rays of many-coloured light flying over all the vast expanse. Leaving
Good to superintend the arrangement of our little camp, I took Sir
Henry with me, and we walked to the top of the slope opposite and gazed
out across the desert. The air was very clear, and far, far away I
could distinguish the faint blue outlines here and there capped with
white of the great Suliman Berg.
"There," I said, "there is the wall of Solomon's Mines, but God
knows if we shall ever climb it."
"My brother should be there, and if he is, I shall reach him
somehow," said Sir Henry, in that tone of quiet confidence which marked
"I hope so," I answered, and turned to go back to the camp, when I
saw that we were not alone. Behind us, also gazing earnestly towards
the far-off mountains, stood the great Zulu Umbopa.
The Zulu spoke when he saw that I had observed him, but addressed
himself to Sir Henry, to whom he had attached himself.
"Is it to that land that you would journey, Incubu?" (Elephant—Sir
Henry's Zulu name), he said, pointing towards the mountains with his
I asked him sharply what he meant by addressing his master in that
familiar way. It is very well for natives to have a name for one among
themselves, but it is not decent that they should call one by their
heathenish appellations to one's face. The man laughed a quiet little
laugh which riled me.
"How do you know that I am not the equal of the Inkosi I serve?" he
said. "He is of a royal house, no doubt; one can see it in his size and
in his eye; so perhaps am I. At least I am as great a man. Be my mouth,
oh Macumazahn, and say my words to the Inkoos Incubu, my master, for I
would speak to him and to you."
I was angry with the man, for I am not accustomed to be talked to in
that way by Kafirs, but somehow he impressed me, and besides I was
curious to know what he had to say, so I translated, expressing my
opinion at the same time that he was an impudent fellow, and that his
swagger was outrageous.
"Yes, Umbopa," answered Sir Henry, "I would journey there."
"The desert is wide and there is no water, the mountains are high
and covered with snow, and man cannot say what is beyond them behind
the place where the sun sets; how shall you come thither, Incubu, and
wherefore do you go?"
I translated again.
"Tell him," answered Sir Henry, "that I go because I believe that a
man of my blood, my brother, has gone there before me, and I go to seek
"That is so, Incubu; a man I met on the road told me that a white
man went out into the desert two years ago towards those mountains with
one servant, a hunter. They never came back."
"How do you know it was my brother?" asked Sir Henry.
"Nay, I know not. But the man, when I asked what the white man was
like, said that he had your eyes and a black beard. He said, too, that
the name of the hunter with him was Jim, that he was a Bechuana hunter
and wore clothes."
"There is no doubt about it," said I; "I knew Jim well."
Sir Henry nodded. "I was sure of it," he said. "If George set his
mind upon a thing he generally did it. It was always so from his
boyhood. If he meant to cross the Suliman Berg he has crossed it,
unless some accident has overtaken him, and we must look for him on the
Umbopa understood English, though he rarely spoke it.
"It is a far journey, Incubu," he put in, and I translated his
"Yes," answered Sir Henry, "it is far. But there is no journey upon
this earth that a man may not make if he sets his heart to it. There is
nothing, Umbopa, that he cannot do, there are no mountains he may not
climb, there are no deserts he cannot cross, save a mountain and a
desert of which you are spared the knowledge, if love leads him and he
holds his life in his hand counting it as nothing, ready to keep it or
to lose it as Providence may order."
"Great words, my father," answered the Zulu (I always called him a
Zulu, though he was not really one), "great swelling words fit to fill
the mouth of a man. You are right, my father Incubu. Listen! what is
life? It is a feather, it is the seed of the grass, blown hither and
thither, sometimes multiplying itself and dying in the act, sometimes
carried away into the heavens. But if the seed be good and heavy it may
perchance travel a little way on the road it wills. It is well to try
and journey one's road and to fight with the air. Man must die. At the
worst he can but die a little sooner. I will go with you across the
desert and over the mountains, unless perchance I fall to the ground on
the way, my father."
He paused awhile, and then went on with one of those strange bursts
of rhetorical eloquence which Zulus sometimes indulge in, and which to
my mind, full as they are of vain repetitions, show that the race is
by no means devoid of a sort of intellectual power.
"What is life? Tell me, oh! white men, who are wise, who know the
secrets of the world, and the world of stars, and the world that lies
above and around the stars; who flash their words from afar without a
voice; tell me, white men, the secret of our life—whither it goes
and whence it comes!
"Ye cannot answer; ye know not. Listen, I will answer. Out of the
dark we came, into the dark we go. Like a storm-driven bird at night we
fly out of the Nowhere; for a moment our wings are seen in the light of
the fire, and, lo! we are gone again into the Nowhere. Life is nothing.
Life is all. It is as the glow-worm that shines in the night-time and
is black in the morning; it is as the white breath of the oxen in
winter; it is as the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses
itself at sunset. I have spoken."
"You are a strange man," said Sir Henry.
Umbopa laughed. "It seems to me that we are much alike, Incubu.
Perhaps I seek a brother over the mountains."
I looked at him suspiciously. "What do you mean?" I asked; "what do
you know of the mountains?"
"A little; a very little. There is a strange land there, a land of
witchcraft and beautiful things; a land of brave people, and of trees,
and streams, and white mountains, and of a great white road. I have
heard of it. But what is the good of talking? it grows dark. Those who
live to see will see."
Again I looked at him doubtfully. The man knew too much.
"Ye need not fear me, Macumazahn," he said, interpreting my look. "I
dig no holes for ye to fall in. I make no plots. If ever we cross those
mountains behind the sun, I will tell what I know. But Death sits upon
them. Be wise and turn back. Go and hunt elephant. I have spoken."
And without another word he lifted his spear in salutation, and
returned towards the camp, where shortly afterwards we found him
cleaning a gun like any other Kafir.
"That is an odd man," said Sir Henry.
"Yes," answered I, "too odd by half. I don't like his little ways.
He knows something, and won't speak out. But I suppose it is no use
quarrelling with him. We are in for a curious trip, and a mysterious
Zulu won't make much difference one way or another."
Next day we made our arrangements for starting. Of course it was
impossible to drag our heavy elephant rifles and other kit with us
across the desert, so dismissing our bearers we made an arrangement
with an old native who had a kraal close by to take care of them till
we returned. It went to my heart to leave such things as those sweet
tools to the tender mercies of an old thief, of a savage whose greedy
eyes I could see gloating over them. But I took some precautions.
First of all I loaded all the rifles, and informed him that if he
touched them they would go off. He instantly tried the experiment with
my eight bore, and it did go off, and blew a hole right through one of
his oxen, which were just then being driven up to the kraal, to say
nothing of knocking him head over heels with the recoil. He got up
considerably startled, and not at all pleased at the loss of the ox,
which he had the impudence to ask me to pay for, and nothing would
induce him to touch them again.
"Put the live devils up there in the thatch," he said, "out of the
way, or they will kill us all."
Then I told him that if, when we came back, one of those things was
missing I would kill him and all his people by witchcraft; and if we
died and he tried to steal the things I would come and haunt him and
turn his cattle mad and his milk sour till life was a weariness, and
make the devils in the guns come out and talk to him in a way he would
not like, and generally gave him a good idea of judgment to come. After
that he swore he would look after them as though they were his father's
spirit. He was a very superstitious old Kafir and a great villain.
Having thus disposed of our superfluous gear we arranged the kit we
five—Sir Henry, Good, myself, Umbopa, and the Hottentot
Ventvögel—were to take with us on our journey. It was small enough,
but do what we would we could not get it down under about forty pounds
a man. This is what it consisted of:—
The three express rifles and two hundred rounds of ammunition.
The two Winchester repeating rifles (for Umbopa and Ventvögel), with
two hundred rounds of cartridge.
Three "Colt" revolvers and sixty rounds of cartridge.
Five Cochrane's water-bottles, each holding four pints.
Twenty-five pounds' weight of biltong (sun-dried game flesh).
Ten pounds' weight of best mixed beads for gifts.
A selection of medicine, including an ounce of quinine, and one or
two small surgical instruments.
Our knives, a few sundries, such as a compass, matches, a pocket
filter, tobacco, a trowel, a bottle of brandy, and the clothes we stood
This was our total equipment, a small one indeed for such a venture,
but we dared not attempt to carry more. As it was that load was a heavy
one per man to travel across the burning desert with, for in such
places every additional ounce tells upon one. But try as we would we
could not see our way to reducing it. There was nothing but what was
With great difficulty, and by the promise of a present of a good
hunting knife each, I succeeded in persuading three wretched natives
from the village to come with us for the first stage, twenty miles, and
to carry each a large gourd holding a gallon of water. My object was to
enable us to refill our water-bottles after the first night's march,
for we determined to start in the cool of the night. I gave out to
these natives that we were going to shoot ostriches, with which the
desert abounded. They jabbered and shrugged their shoulders, and said
we were mad and should perish of thirst, which I must say seemed very
probable; but being desirous of obtaining the knives, which were almost
unknown treasures up there, they consented to come, having probably
reflected that, after all, our subsequent extinction would be no affair
All next day we rested and slept, and at sunset ate a hearty meal of
fresh beef washed down with tea, the last, as Good sadly remarked, we
were likely to drink for many a long day. Then, having made our final
preparations, we lay down and waited for the moon to rise. At last
about nine o'clock up she came in all her chastened glory, flooding the
wild country with silver light, and throwing a weird sheen on the vast
expanse of rolling desert before us, which looked as solemn and quiet
and as alien to man as the star-studded firmament above. We rose up,
and in a few minutes were ready, and yet we hesitated a little, as
human nature is prone to hesitate on the threshold of an irrevocable
step. We three white men stood there by ourselves. Umbopa, assegai in
hand and the rifle across his shoulders, a few paces ahead of us,
looked out fixedly across the desert; the three hired natives, with the
gourds of water, and Ventvögel, were gathered in a little knot behind.
"Gentlemen," said Sir Henry, presently, in his low, deep voice, "we
are going on about as strange a journey as men can make in this world.
It is very doubtful if we can succeed in it. But we are three men who
will stand together for good or for evil to the last. And now before we
start let us for a moment pray to the Power who shapes the destinies of
men, and who ages since has marked out our paths, that it may please
Him to direct our steps in accordance with His will."
Taking off his hat he, for the space of a minute or so, covered his
face with his hands, and Good and I did likewise.
I do not say that I am a first-rate praying man, few hunters are,
and as for Sir Henry I never heard him speak like that before, and only
once since, though deep down in his heart I believe he is very
religious. Good too is pious, though very apt to swear. Anyhow I do not
think I ever, excepting on one single occasion, put in a better prayer
in my life than I did during that minute, and somehow I felt the
happier for it. Our future was so completely unknown, and I think the
unknown and the awful always bring a man nearer to his Maker.
"And now," said Sir Henry, "trek."
So we started.
We had nothing to guide ourselves by except the distant mountains
and old José da Silvestra's chart, which, considering that it was drawn
by a dying and half distraught man on a fragment of linen three
centuries ago, was not a very satisfactory sort of thing to work on.
Still, such as it was, our sole hope of success depended on it. If we
failed in finding that pool of bad water which the old Don marked as
being situated in the middle of the desert, about sixty miles from our
starting-point, and as far from the mountains, we must in all
probability perish miserably of thirst. And to my mind the chances of
our finding it in that great sea of sand and karoo scrub seemed almost
infinitesimal. Even supposing da Silvestra had marked it right, what
was there to prevent its having been generations ago dried up by the
sun, or trampled in by game, or filled with the drifting sand?
On we tramped silently as shades through the night and in the
heavysand. The karoo bushes caught our shins and retarded us, and the
sand got into our veldtschoons and Good's shooting boots, so that every
few miles we had to stop and empty them; but still the night was fairly
cool, though the atmosphere was thick and heavy, giving a sort of
creamy feel to the air, and we made fair progress. It was very still
and lonely there in the desert, oppressively so indeed. Good felt this,
and once began to whistle the "Girl I left behind me," but the notes
sounded lugubrious in that vast place, and he gave it up. Shortly
afterwards a little incident occurred which, though it made us jump at
the time, gave rise to a laugh. Good, as the holder of the compass,
which being a sailor, of course he thoroughly understood, was leading,
and we were toiling along in single file behind him, when suddenly we
heard the sound of an exclamation, and he vanished. Next second there
arose all round us a most extraordinary hubbub, snorts, groans, wild
sounds of rushing feet. In the faint light too we could descry dim
galloping forms half hidden by wreaths of sand. The natives threw down
their loads and prepared to bolt, but remembering that there was
nowhere to bolt, cast themselves upon the ground and howled out that it
was the devil. As for Sir Henry and myself we stood amazed; nor was our
amazement lessened when we perceived the form of Good careering off in
the direction of the mountains, apparently mounted on the back of a
horse and halloaing like mad. In another second he threw up his arms,
and we heard him come to the earth with a thud. Then I saw what had
happened; we had stumbled right on to a herd of sleeping quagga, on to
the back of one of which Good had actually fallen, and the brute had
naturally enough got up and made off with him. Singing out to the
others that it was all right I ran towards Good, much afraid lest he
should be hurt, but to my great relief found him sitting in the sand,
his eye-glass still fixed firmly in his eye, rather shaken and very
much startled, but not in any way injured.
After this we travelled on without any further misadventure till
after one o'clock, when we called a halt, and having drunk a little
water, not much, for water was precious, and rested for half an hour,
started on again.
On, on we went, till at last the east began to blush like the cheek
of a girl. Then there came faint rays of primrose light, that changed
presently to golden bars, through which the dawn glided out across the
desert. The stars grew pale and paler still till at last they vanished;
the golden moon waxed wan, and her mountain ridges stood out clear
against her sickly face like the bones on the face of a dying man; then
came spear upon spear of glorious light flashing far away across the
boundless wilderness, piercing and firing the veils of mist, till the
desert was draped in a tremulous golden glow, and it was day.
Still we did not halt, though by this time we should have been glad
enough to do so, for we knew that when once the sun was fully up it
would be almost impossible for us to travel in it. At length, about six
o'clock, we spied a little pile of rocks rising out of the plain, and
to this we dragged ourselves. As luck would have it here we found an
overhanging slab of rock carpeted beneath with smooth sand, which
afforded a most grateful shelter from the heat. Underneath this we
crept, and having drank some water each and eaten a bit of biltong, we
laid down and were soon sound asleep.
It was three o'clock in the afternoon before we woke, to find our
three bearers preparing to return. They had already had enough of the
desert, and no number of knives would have tempted them to come a step
further. So we had a hearty drink, and having emptied our water
bottles filled them up again from the gourds they had brought with
them, and then watched them depart on their twenty miles' tramp home.
At half-past four we also started on. It was lonely and desolate
work, for with the exception of a few ostriches there was not a single
living creature to be seen on all the vast expanse of sandy plain. It
was evidently too dry for game, and with the exception of a
deadly-looking cobra or two we saw no reptiles. One insect, however,
was abundant, and that was the common or house fly. There they came,
"not as single spies, but in battalions," as I think the Old Testament
says somewhere. He is an extraordinary animal is the house fly. Go
where you will you find him, and so it must always have been. I have
seen him enclosed in amber, which must, I was told, have been half a
million years old, looking exactly like his descendant of to-day, and I
have little doubt but that when the last man lies dying on the earth he
will be buzzing round— if that event should happen to occur in
summer—watching for an opportunity to settle on his nose.
At sunset we halted, waiting for the moon to rise. At ten she came
up beautiful and serene as ever, and with one halt about two o'clock in
the morning, we trudged wearily on through the night, till at last the
welcome sun put a period to our labours. We drank a little and flung
ourselves down, thoroughly tired out, on the sand, and were soon all
asleep. There was no need to set a watch, for we had nothing to fear
from anybody or anything in that vast untenanted plain. Our only
enemies were heat, thirst, and flies, but far rather would I have faced
any danger from man or beast than that awful trinity. This time we were
not so lucky as to find a sheltering rock to guard us from the glare of
the sun, with the result that about seven o'clock we woke up
experiencing the exact sensations one would attribute to a beefsteak on
a gridiron. We were literally being baked through and through. The
burning sun seemed to be sucking our very blood out of us. We sat up
"Phew," said I, grabbing at the halo of flies, which buzzed
cheerfully round my head. The heat did not affect them.
"My word," said Sir Henry.
"It is hot!" said Good.
It was hot, indeed, and there was not a bit of shelter to be had.
Look where we would there was no rock or tree, nothing but an unending
glare, rendered dazzling by the hot air which danced over the surface
of the desert as it does over a red-hot stove.
"What is to be done?" asked Sir Henry; "we can't stand this for
We looked at each other blankly.
"I have it," said Good, "we must dig a hole and get in it, and cover
ourselves with the karoo bushes."
It did not seem a very promising suggestion, but at least it was
better than nothing, so we set to work, and with the trowel we had
brought with us and our hands succeeded in about an hour in delving
out a patch of ground about ten foot long by twelve wide to the depth
of two feet. Then we cut a quantity of low scrub with our hunting
knives, and creeping into the hole pulled it over us all, with the
exception of Ventvögel, on whom, being a Hottentot, the sun had no
particular effect. This gave us some slight shelter from the burning
rays of the sun, but the heat in that amateur grave can be better
imagined than described. The Black Hole of Calcutta must have been a
fool to it; indeed, to this moment I do not know how we lived through
the day. There we lay panting, and every now and again moistening our
lips from our scanty supply of water. Had we followed our inclinations
we should have finished all we had off in the first two hours, but we
had to exercise the most rigid care, for if our water failed us we knew
that we must quickly perish miserably.
But everything has an end, if only you live long enough to see it,
and somehow that miserable day wore on towards evening. About three
o'clock in the afternoon we determined that we could stand it no
longer. It would be better to die walking than to be slowly killed by
heat and thirst in that dreadful hole. So taking each of us a little
drink from our fast diminishing supply of water, now heated to about
the same temperature as a man's blood, we staggered on.
We had now covered some fifty miles of desert. If my reader will
refer to the rough copy and translation of old da Silvestra's map, he
will see that the desert is marked as being forty leagues across, and
the "pan bad water" is set down as being about in the middle of it.
Now forty leagues is one hundred and twenty miles, consequently we
ought at the most to be within twelve or fifteen miles of the water if
any should really exist.
Through the afternoon we crept slowly and painfully along, scarcely
doing more than a mile and a half an hour. At sunset we again rested,
waiting for the moon, and after drinking a little managed to get some
Before we lay down Umbopa pointed out to us a slight and indistinct
hillock on the flat surface of the desert about eight miles away. At
the distance it looked like an ant-hill, and as I was dropping off to
sleep I fell to wondering what it could be.
With the moon we started on again, feeling dreadfully exhausted, and
suffering tortures from thirst and prickly heat. Nobody who has not
felt it can know what we went through. We no longer walked, we
staggered, now and again falling from exhaustion, and being obliged to
call a halt every hour or so. We had scarcely energy left in us to
speak. Up to now Good had chatted and joked, for he was a merry fellow;
but now he had not a joke left in him.
At last, about two o'clock, utterly worn out in body and mind, we
came to the foot of this queer hill, or sand koppie, which did at first
sight resemble a gigantic ant-heap about a hundred feet high, and
covering at the base nearly a morgen (two acres) of ground.
Here we halted, and driven by our desperate thirst sucked down our
last drops of water. We had but half a pint a head, and we could each
have drunk a gallon.
Then we lay down. Just as I was dropping off to sleep I heard Umbopa
remark to himself in Zulu—
"If we cannot find water we shall all be dead before the moon rises
I shuddered, hot as it was. The near prospect of such an awful death
is not pleasant, but even the thought of it could not keep me from
CHAPTER VI. WATER! WATER!
In two hours time, about four o'clock, I woke up. As soon as the
first heavy demand of bodily fatigue had been satisfied, the torturing
thirst from which I was suffering asserted itself. I could sleep no
more. I had been dreaming that I was bathing in a running stream, with
green banks and trees upon them, and I awoke to find myself in that
arid wilderness, and to remember that, as Umbopa had said, if we did
not find water that day we must certainly perish miserably. No human
creature could live long without water in that heat. I sat up and
rubbed my grimy face with my dry and horny hands. My lips and eyelids
were stuck together, and it was only after some rubbing and with an
effort that I was able to open them. It was not far off the dawn, but
there was none of the bright feel of dawn in the air, which was thick
with a hot murkiness I cannot describe. The others were still sleeping.
Presently it began to grow light enough to read, so I drew out a little
pocket copy of the "Ingoldsby Legends" I had brought with me, and read
the "Jackdaw of Rheims." When I got to where "A nice little boy held a
Embossed, and filled with water as pure
As any that flows between Rheims and Namur," I literally smacked
my cracked lips, or rather tried to smack them. The mere thought of
that pure water made me mad. If the Cardinal had been there with his
bell, book, and candle, I would have whipped in and drank his water up,
yes, even if he had already filled it with the suds of soap worthy of
washing the hands of the Pope, and I knew that the whole concentrated
curse of the Catholic Church should fall upon me for so doing. I almost
think I must have been a little light-headed with thirst and weariness
and want of food; for I fell to thinking how astonished the Cardinal
and his nice little boy and the jackdaw would have looked to see a
burnt up, brown-eyed, grizzled-haired little elephant hunter suddenly
bound in and put his dirty face into the basin, and swallow every drop
of the precious water. The idea amused me so that I laughed or rather
cackled aloud, which woke the others up, and they began to rub their
dirty faces and get their gummed-up lips and eyelids apart.
As soon as we were all well awake, we fell to discussing the
situation, which was serious enough. Not a drop of water was left. We
turned the water-bottles upside down, and licked the tops, but it was a
failure, they were as dry as a bone. Good, who had charge of the bottle
of brandy, got it out and looked at it longingly; but Sir Henry
promptly took it away from him, for to drink raw spirit would only have
been to precipitate the end.
"If we do not find water we shall die," he said.
"If we can trust to the old Don's map there should be some about," I
said; but nobody seemed to derive much satisfaction from that remark.
It was so evident that no great faith could be put in the map. It was
now gradually growing light, and as we sat blankly staring at each
other, I observed the Hottentot Ventvögel rise and begin to walk about
with his eyes on the ground. Presently he stopped short, and uttering a
guttural exclamation, pointed to the earth.
"What is it?" we exclaimed; and simultaneously rose and went to
where he was standing pointing at the ground.
"Well," I said, "it is pretty fresh Springbok spoor; what of it?"
"Sprinbucks do not go far from water," he answered in Dutch.
"No," I answered, "I forgot; and thank God for it."
This little discovery put new life into us; it is wonderful how,
when one is in a desperate position, one catches at the slightest hope,
and feels almost happy in it. On a dark night a single star is better
Meanwhile Ventvögel was lifting his snub nose, and sniffing the hot
air for all the world like an old Impala ram who scents danger.
Presently he spoke again.
"I smell water," he said.
Then we felt quite jubilant, for we knew what a wonderful instinct
these wild-bred men possess.
Just at that moment the sun came up gloriously, and revealed so
grand a sight to our astonished eyes that for a moment or two we even
forgot our thirst.
For there, not more than forty or fifty miles from us, glittering
like silver in the early rays of the morning sun, were Sheba's breasts;
and stretching away for hundreds of miles on each side of them was the
great Suliman Berg. Now that I, sitting here, attempt to describe the
extraordinary grandeur and beauty of that sight language seems to fail
me. I am impotent even before its memory. There, straight before us,
were two enormous mountains, the like of which are not, I believe, to
be seen in Africa, if, indeed, there are any other such in the world,
measuring each at least fifteen thousand feet in height, standing not
more than a dozen miles apart, connected by a precipitous cliff of
rock, and towering up in awful white solemnity straight into the sky.
These mountains standing thus, like the pillars of a gigantic gateway,
are shaped exactly like a woman's breasts. Their bases swelled gently
up from the plain, looking, at that distance, perfectly round and
smooth; and on the top of each was a vast round hillock covered with
snow, exactly corresponding to the nipple on the female breast. The
stretch of cliff which connected them appeared to be some thousand feet
in height, and perfectly precipitous, and on each side of them; as far
as the eye could reach, extended similar lines of cliff, broken only
here and there by flat table-topped mountains, something like the
world-famed one at Cape Town; a formation, by the way, very common in
To describe the grandeur of the whole view is beyond my powers.
There was something so inexpressibly solemn and overpowering about
those huge volcanoes—for doubtless they are extinct volcanoes—
that it fairly took our breath away. For awhile the morning lights
played upon the snow and the brown and swelling masses beneath, and
then, as though to veil the majestic sight from our curious eyes,
strange mists and clouds gathered and increased around them, till
presently we could only trace their pure and gigantic outline swelling
ghostlike through the fleecy envelope. Indeed, as we afterwards
discovered, they were normally wrapped in this curious gauzy mist,
which doubtless accounted for one not having made them out more clearly
Scarcely had the mountains vanished into cloud-clad privacy before
our thirst—literally a burning question— reasserted itself.
It was all very well for Ventvögel to say he smelt water, but look
which way we would we could see no signs of it. So far as the eye could
reach there was nothing but arid sweltering sand and karoo scrub. We
walked round the hillock and gazed about anxiously on the other side,
but it was the same story, not a drop of water was to be seen; there
was no indication of a pan, a pool, or a spring.
"You are a fool," I said, angrily, to Ventvögel; "there is no
But still he lifted his ugly snub nose and sniffed.
"I smell it, Baas" (master), he answered; "it is somewhere in the
"Yes," I said, "no doubt it is in the clouds, and about two months
hence it will fall and wash our bones."
Sir Henry stroked his yellow beard thoughtfully. "Perhaps it is on
the top of the hill," he suggested.
"Rot," said Good; "whoever heard of water being found on the top of
"Let us go and look," I put in, and hopelessly enough we scrambled
up the sandy sides of the hillock, Umbopa leading. Presently he stopped
as though he was petrified.
"Nanzia manzie!" (here is water), he cried with a loud voice.
We rushed up to him, and there, sure enough, in a deep cup or
indentation on the very top of the sand koppie was an undoubted pool of
water. How it came to be in such a strange place we did not stop to
inquire, nor did we hesitate at its black and uninviting appearance. It
was water, or a good imitation of it, and that was enough for us. We
gave a bound and a rush, and in another second were all down on our
stomachs sucking up the uninviting fluid as though it were nectar fit
for the gods. Heavens, how we did drink! Then when we had done drinking
we tore off our clothes and sat down in it, absorbing the moisture
through our parched skins. You, my reader, who have only to turn on a
couple of taps and summon "hot" and "cold" from an unseen vasty
boiler, can have little idea of the luxury of that muddy wallow in
brackish tepid water.
After awhile we arose from it, refreshed indeed, and fell to on our
"biltong," of which we had scarcely been able to touch a mouthful for
twenty-four hours, and eat our fill. Then we smoked a pipe, and lay
down by the side of that blessed pool under the overhanging shadow of
the bank, and slept till mid-day.
All that day we rested there by the water, thanking our stars that
we had been lucky enough to find it, bad as it was, and not forgetting
to render a due share of gratitude to the shade of the long-departed da
Silvestra, who had corked it down so accurately on the tail of his
shirt. The wonderful thing to us was that it should have lasted so
long, and the only way that I can account for it is by the supposition
that it is fed by some spring deep down in the sand.
Having filled both ourselves and our water-bottles as full as
possible, in far better spirits we started off again with the moon.
That night we covered nearly five-and-twenty miles, but, needless to
say, found no more water, though we were lucky enough on the following
day to get a little shade behind some ant-heaps. When the sun rose and,
for awhile, cleared away the mysterious mists, Suliman's Berg and the
two majestic breasts, now only about twenty miles off, seemed to be
towering right above us, and looked grander than ever. At the approach
of evening we started on again, and, to cut a long story short, by
daylight next morning found ourselves upon the lowest slopes of Sheba's
left breast, for which we had been steadily steering. But this time our
water was again exhausted and we were suffering severely from thirst,
nor indeed could we see any chance of relieving it till we reached the
snow line far above us. After resting an hour or two, driven to it by
our torturing thirst, we went on again, toiling painfully in the
burning heat up the lava slopes, for we found that the huge base of the
mountain was composed entirely of lava beds belched out in some far
By eleven o'clock we were utterly exhausted, and were, generally
speaking, in a very bad way indeed. The lava clinker, over which we had
to make our way, though comparatively smooth compared with some clinker
I have heard of, such as that on the Island of Ascension for instance,
was yet rough enough to make our feet very sore, and this, together
with our other miseries, had pretty well finished us. A few hundred
yards above us were some large lumps of lava, and towards these we made
with the intention of lying down beneath their shade. We reached them,
and to our surprise, so far as we had a capacity for surprise left in
us, on a little plateau or ridge close by we saw that the lava was
covered with a dense green growth. Evidently soil formed from
decomposed lava had rested there, and in due course had become the
receptacle of seeds deposited by birds. But we did not take much
further interest in the green growth, for one cannot live on grass like
Nebuchadnezzar. That requires a special dispensation of Providence and
peculiar digestive organs. So we sat down under the rocks and groaned,
and I for one heartily wished that we had never started on this fool's
errand. As we were sitting there I saw Umbopa get up and hobble off
towards the patch of green, and a few minutes afterwards, to my great
astonishment, I perceived that usually uncommonly dignified individual
dancing and shouting like a maniac, and waving something green. Off we
all scrambled towards him as fast as our wearied limbs would carry us,
hoping that he had found water.
"What is it, Umbopa, son of a fool?" I shouted in Zulu.
"It is food and water, Macumazahn," and again he waved the green
Then I saw what he had got. It was a melon. We had hit upon a patch
of wild melons, thousands of them, and dead ripe.
"Melons!" I yelled to Good, who was next me; and in another second
he had his false teeth fixed in one.
I think we ate about six each before we had done, and, poor fruit as
they were, I doubt if I ever thought anything nicer.
But melons are not very satisfying, and when we had satisfied our
thirst with their pulpy substance, and set a stock to cool by the
simple process of cutting them in two and setting them end on in the
hot sun to get cold by evaporation, we began to feel exceedingly
hungry. We had still some biltong left, but our stomachs turned from
biltong, and besides we had to be very sparing of it, for we could not
say when we should get more food. Just at this moment a lucky thing
happened. Looking towards the desert I saw a flock of about ten large
birds flying straight towards us.
"Skit, Baas, skit!" (shoot, master, shoot), whispered the Hottentot,
throwing himself on his face, an example which we all followed.
Then I saw that the birds were a flock of pauw (bustards), and that
they would pass within fifty yards of my head. Taking one of the
repeating Winchesters I waited till they were nearly over us, and then
jumped on to my feet. On seeing me the pauw bunched up together, as I
expected they would, and I fired two shots straight into the thick of
them, and, as luck would have it, brought one down, a fine fellow, that
weighed about twenty pounds. In half an hour we had a fire made of dry
melon stalks, and he was toasting over it, and we had such a feed as we
had not had for a week. We ate that pauw; nothing was left of him but
his bones and his beak, and felt not a little the better afterwards.
That night we again went on with the moon, carrying as many melons
as we could with us. As we got higher up we found the air get cooler
and cooler, which was a great relief to us, and at dawn, so far as we
could judge, were not more than about a dozen miles from the snow
line. Here we found more melons, so had no longer any anxiety about
water, for we knew that we should soon get plenty of snow. But the
ascent had now become very precipitous, and we made but slow progress,
not more than a mile an hour. Also that night we ate our last morsel of
biltong. As yet, with the exception of the pauw, we had seen no living
thing on the mountain, nor had we come across a single spring or stream
of water, which struck us as very odd, considering all the snow above
us, which must, we thought, melt sometimes. But as we afterwards
discovered, owing to some cause, which it is quite beyond my power to
explain, all the streams flowed down upon the north side of the
We now began to grow very anxious about food. We had escaped death
by thirst, but it seemed probable that it was only to die of hunger.
The events of the next three miserable days are best described by
copying the entries made at the time in my note-book.
21st May.—Started 11 a.m., finding the atmosphere quite cold
enough to travel by day, carrying some watermelons with us. Struggled
on all day, but saw no more melons, having, evidently, passed out of
their district. Saw no game of any sort. Halted for the night at
sundown, having had no food for many hours. Suffered much during the
night from cold.
22nd.—Started at sunrise again, feeling very faint and weak. Only
made five miles all day; found some patches of snow, of which we ate,
but nothing else. Camped at night under the edge of a great plateau.
Cold bitter. Drank a little brandy each, and huddled ourselves
together, each wrapped up in our blanket to keep ourselves alive. Are
now suffering frightfully from starvation and weariness. Thought that
Ventvögel would have died during the night.
23rd.—Struggled forward once more as soon as the sun was well up,
and had thawed our limbs a little. We are now in a dreadful plight, and
I fear that unless we get food this will be our last day's journey. But
little brandy left. Good, Sir Henry, and Umbopa bear up wonderfully,
but Ventvögel is in a very bad way. Like most Hottentots, he cannot
stand cold. Pangs of hunger not so bad, but have a sort of numb feeling
about the stomach. Others say the same. We are now on a level with the
precipitous chain, or wall of lava, connecting the two breasts, and the
view is glorious. Behind us the great glowing desert rolls away to the
horizon, and before us lies mile upon mile of smooth hard snow almost
level, but swelling gently upwards, out of the centre of which the
nipple of the mountain, which appears to be some miles in
circumference, rises about four thousand feet into the sky. Not a
living thing is to be seen. God help us, I fear our time has come.
And now I will drop the journal, partly because it is not very
interesting reading, and partly because what follows requires perhaps
rather more accurate telling.
All that day (the 23rd May) we struggled slowly on up the incline of
snow, lying down from time to time to rest. A strange, gaunt crew we
must have looked, as, laden as we were, we dragged our weary feet over
the dazzling plain, glaring round us with hungry eyes. Not that there
was much use in glaring, for there was nothing to eat. We did not do
more than seven miles that day. Just before sunset we found ourselves
right under the nipple of Sheba's left breast, which towered up
thousands of feet into the air above us, a vast, smooth hillock of
frozen snow. Bad as we felt we could not but appreciate the wonderful
scene, made even more wonderful by the flying rays of light from the
setting sun, which here and there stained the snow blood red, and
crowned the towering mass above us with a diadem of glory.
"I say," gasped Good, presently, "we ought to be somewhere near the
cave the old gentleman wrote about."
"Yes," said I, "if there is a cave."
"Come, Quatermain," groaned Sir Henry, "don't talk like that; I have
every faith in the Don; remember the water. We shall find the place
"If we don't find it before dark we are dead men, that is all about
it," was my consolatory reply.
For the next ten minutes we trudged on in silence, when suddenly
Umbopa, who was marching along beside me, wrapped up in his blanket,
and with a leather belt strapped so tight round his stomach to "make
his hunger small," as he said, that his waist looked like a girl's,
caught me by the arm.
"Look!" he said, pointing towards the springing slope of the nipple.
I followed his glance, and perceived some two hundred yards from us
what appeared to be a hole in the snow.
"It is the cave," said Umbopa.
We made the best of our way to the spot, and found sure enough that
the hole was the mouth of a cave, no doubt the same as that of which da
Silvestra wrote. We were none too soon, for just as we reached shelter
the sun went down with startling rapidity, leaving the whole place
nearly dark. In these latitudes there is but little twilight. We crept
into the cave, which did not appear to be very big, and huddling
ourselves together for warmth, swallowed what remained of our
brandy—barely a mouthful each—and tried to forget our miseries in
sleep. But this the cold was too intense to allow us to do. I am
convinced that at that great altitude the thermometer cannot have been
less than fourteen or fifteen degrees below freezing point. What this
meant to us, enervated as we were by hardship, want of food, and the
great heat of the desert, my reader can imagine better than I can
describe. Suffice it to say that it was something as near death from
exposure as I have ever felt. There we sat hour after hour through the
bitter night, feeling the frost wander round and nip us now in the
finger, now in the foot, and now in the face. In vain did we huddle up
closer and closer; there was no warmth in our miserable starved
carcasses. Sometimes one of us would drop into an uneasy slumber for a
few minutes, but we could not sleep long, and perhaps it was fortunate,
for I doubt if we should ever have woke again. I believe it was only by
force of will that we kept ourselves alive at all.
Not very long before dawn I heard the Hottentot Ventvögel, whose
teeth had been chattering all night like castanets, give a deep sigh,
and then his teeth stopped chattering. I did not think anything of it
at the time, concluding that he had gone to sleep. His back was resting
against mine, and it seemed to grow colder and colder, till at last it
was like ice.
At length the air began to grow grey with light, then swift golden
arrows came flashing across the snow, and at last the glorious sun
peeped up above the lava wall and looked in upon our half-frozen forms
and upon Ventvögel, sitting there amongst us stone dead. No wonder his
back had felt cold, poor fellow. He had died when I heard him sigh, and
was now almost frozen stiff. Shocked beyond measure we dragged
ourselves from the corpse (strange the horror we all have of the
companionship of a dead body), and left it still sitting there, with
its arms clasped round its knees.
By this time the sunlight was pouring its cold rays (for here they
were cold) straight in at the mouth of the cave. Suddenly I heard an
exclamation of fear from someone, and turned my head down the cave.
And this was what I saw. Sitting at the end of it, for it was not
more than twenty feet long, was another form, of which the head rested
on the chest and the long arms hung down. I stared at it, and saw that
it too was a dead man, and what was more a white man.
The others saw it too, and the sight proved too much for our
shattered nerves. One and all we scrambled out of the cave as fast as
our half-frozen limbs would allow.
CHAPTER VII. SOLOMON'S ROAD.
Outside the cave we halted, feeling rather foolish.
"I am going back," said Sir Henry.
"Why?" asked Good.
"Because it has struck me that—what we saw—may be my brother."
This was a new idea, and we re-entered the cave to put it to the
proof. After the bright light outside, our eyes, weak as they were with
staring at the snow, could not for awhile pierce the gloom of the cave.
Presently however we grew accustomed to the semi-darkness, and advanced
on the dead form.
Sir Henry knelt down and peered into its face.
"Thank God," he said, with a sigh of relief, "it is not my brother."
Then I went and looked. The corpse was that of a tall man in middle
life with aquiline features, grizzled hair, and a long black moustache.
The skin was perfectly yellow, and stretched tightly over the bones.
Its clothing, with the exception of what seemed to be the remains of a
woollen pair of hose, had been removed, leaving the skeleton-like frame
naked. Round the neck hung a yellow ivory crucifix. The corpse was
frozen perfectly stiff.
"Who on earth can it be?" said I.
"Can't you guess?" asked Good.
I shook my head.
"Why, the old Don, José da Silvestra, of course—who else?"
"Impossible," I gasped, "he died three hundred years ago."
"And what is there to prevent his lasting for three thousand years
in this atmosphere I should like to know?" asked Good. "If only the air
is cold enough flesh and blood will keep as fresh as New Zealand mutton
for ever, and Heaven knows it is cold enough here. The sun never gets
in here; no animal comes here to tear or destroy. No doubt his slave,
of whom he speaks on the map, took off his clothes and left him. He
could not have buried him alone. Look here," he went on, stooping down
and picking up a queer shaped bone scraped at the end into a sharp
point, "here is the 'cleft-bone' that he used to draw the map with."
We gazed astonished for a moment, forgetting our own miseries in
this extraordinary and, as it seemed to us, semi-miraculous sight.
"Ay," said Sir Henry, "and here is where he got his ink from," and
he pointed to a small wound on the dead man's left arm. "Did ever man
see such a thing before?"
There was no longer any doubt about the matter, which I confess for
my own part perfectly appalled me. There he sat, the dead man, whose
directions, written some ten generations ago, had led us to this spot.
There in my own hand was the rude pen with which he had written them,
and there round his neck was the crucifix his dying lips had kissed.
Gazing at him my imagination could reconstruct the whole scene, the
traveller dying of cold and starvation, and yet striving to convey the
great secret he had discovered to the world:—the awful loneliness of
his death, of which the evidence sat before us. It even seemed to me
that I could trace in his strongly marked features a likeness to those
of my poor friend Silvestre his descendant, who had died twenty years
ago in my arms, but perhaps that was fancy. At any rate, there he sat,
a sad memento of the fate that so often overtakes those who would
penetrate into the unknown; and there probably he will still sit,
crowned with the dread majesty of death, for centuries yet unborn, to
startle the eyes of wanderers like ourselves, if any such should ever
come again to invade his loneliness. The thing overpowered us, already
nearly done to death as we were with cold and hunger.
"Let us go," said Sir Henry, in a low voice; "stay, we will give him
a companion," and lifting up the dead body of the Hottentot Ventvögel,
he placed it near that of the old Don. Then he stooped down, and with a
jerk broke the rotten string of the crucifix round his neck, for his
fingers were too cold to attempt to unfasten it. I believe that he
still has it. I took the pen, and it is before me as I
write—sometimes I sign my name with it.
Then leaving those two, the proud white man of a past age, and the
poor Hottentot, to keep their eternal vigil in the midst of the eternal
snows, we crept out of the cave into the welcome sunshine and resumed
our path, wondering in our hearts how many hours it would be before we
were even as they are.
When we had gone about half a mile we came to the edge of the
plateau, for the nipple of the mountain did not rise out of its exact
centre, though from the desert side it seemed to do so. What lay below
us we could not see, for the landscape was wreathed in billows of
morning mist. Presently, however, the higher layers of mist cleared a
little, and revealed some five hundred yards beneath us, at the end of
a long slope of snow, a patch of green grass, through which a stream
was running. Nor was this all. By the stream, basking in the morning
sun, stood and lay a group of from ten to fifteen large antelopes—at
that distance we could not see what they were.
The sight filled us with an unreasoning joy. There was food in
plenty if only we could get it. But the question was how to get it. The
beasts were fully six hundred yards off, a very long shot, and one not
to be depended on when one's life hung on the results.
Rapidly we discussed the advisability of trying to stalk the game,
but finally reluctantly dismissed it. To begin with the wind was not
favourable, and further, we should be certain to be perceived, however
careful we were, against the blinding background of snow, which we
should be obliged to traverse.
"Well, we must have a try from where we are," said Sir Henry.
"Which shall it be, Quatermain, the repeating rifles or the expresses?"
Here again was a question. The Winchester repeaters—of which we
had two, Umbopa carrying poor Ventvögel's as well as his own—were
sighted up to a thousand yards, whereas the expresses were only sighted
to three hundred and fifty, beyond which distance shooting with them
was more or less guess work. On the other hand, if they did hit, the
express bullets being expanding, were much more likely to bring the
game down. It was a knotty point, but I made up my mind that we must
risk it and use the expresses.
"Let each of us take the buck opposite to him. Aim well at the point
of the shoulder, and high up," said I; "and Umbopa do you give the
word, so that we may all fire together."
Then came a pause, each man aiming his level best, as indeed one is
likely to do when one knows that life itself depends upon the shot.
"Fire!" said Umbopa, in Zulu, and at almost the same instant the
three rifles rang out loudly; three clouds of smoke hung for a moment
before us, and a hundred echoes went flying away over the silent snow.
Presently the smoke cleared, and revealed—oh, joy!—a great buck
lying on its back and kicking furiously in its death agony. We gave a
yell of triumph—we were saved, we should not starve. Weak as we were,
we rushed down the intervening slope of snow, and in ten minutes from
the time of firing the animal's heart and liver were lying smoking
before us. But now a new difficulty arose, we had no fuel, and
therefore could make no fire to cook them at. We gazed at each other in
"Starving men must not be fanciful," said Good; "we must eat raw
There was no other way out of the dilemma, and our gnawing hunger
made the proposition less distasteful than it would otherwise have
been. So we took the heart and liver and buried them for a few minutes
in a patch of snow to cool them. Then we washed them in the ice-cold
water of the stream, and lastly ate them greedily. It sounds horrible
enough, but honestly, I never tasted anything so good as that raw meat.
In a quarter of an hour we were changed men. Our life and our vigour
came back to us, our feeble pulses grew strong again, and the blood
went coursing through our veins. But mindful of the results of
over-feeding on starving stomachs, we were careful not to eat too much,
stopping whilst we were still hungry.
"Thank God!" said Sir Henry; "that brute has saved our lives. What
is it, Quatermain?"
I rose and went to look at the antelope, for I was not certain. It
was about the size of a donkey, with large curved horns. I had never
seen one like it before, the species was new to me. It was brown, with
faint red stripes, and a thick coat. I afterwards discovered that the
natives of that wonderful country called the species "Inco." It was
very rare, and only found at a great altitude where no other game would
live. The animal was fairly shot high up in the shoulder, though whose
bullet it was that brought it down we could not, of course, discover. I
believe that Good, mindful of his marvellous shot at the giraffe,
secretly set it down to his own prowess, and we did not contradict him.
We had been so busy satisfying our starving stomachs that we had
hitherto not found time to look about us. But now, having set Umbopa to
cut off as much of the best meat as we were likely to be able to carry,
we began to inspect our surroundings. The mist had now cleared away,
for it was eight o'clock, and the sun had sucked it up, so we were able
to take in all the country before us at a glance. I know not how to
describe the glorious panorama which unfolded itself to our enraptured
gaze. I have never seen anything like it before, nor shall, I suppose,
Behind and over us towered Sheba's snowy breasts, and below, some
five thousand feet beneath where we stood, lay league on league of the
most lovely champaign country. Here were dense patches of lofty forest,
there a great river wound its silvery way. To the left stretched a vast
expanse of rich undulating veldt or grass land, on which we could just
make out countless herds of game or cattle, at that distance we could
not tell which. This expanse appeared to be ringed in by a wall of
distant mountains. To the right the country was more or less
mountainous, that is, solitary hills stood up from its level, with
stretches of cultivated lands between, amongst which we could
distinctly see groups of domeshaped huts. The landscape lay before us
like a map, in which rivers flashed like silver snakes, and Alp-like
peaks crowned with wildly twisted snow wreaths rose in solemn grandeur,
whilst over all was the glad sunlight and the wide breath of Nature's
Two curious things struck us as we gazed. First, that the country
before us must lie at least five thousand feet higher than the desert
we had crossed, and secondly, that all the rivers flowed from south to
north. As we had painful reason to know, there was no water at all on
the southern side of the vast range on which we stood, but on the
northern side were many streams, most of which appeared to unite with
the great river we could trace winding away further than we could
We sat down for a while and gazed in silence at this wonderful view.
Presently Sir Henry spoke.
"Isn't there something on the map about Solomon's Great Road?" he
I nodded, my eyes still looking out over the far country.
"Well, look; there it is!" and he pointed a little to our right.
Good and I looked accordingly, and there, winding away towards the
plain, was what appeared to be a wide turnpike road. We had not seen it
at first because it, on reaching the plain, turned behind some broken
country. We did not say anything, at least not much; we were
beginning to lose the sense of wonder. Somehow it did not seem
particularly unnatural that we should find a sort of Roman road in this
strange land. We accepted the fact, that was all.
"Well," said Good, "it must be quite near us if we cut off to the
right. Hadn't we better be making a start?"
This was sound advice, and so soon as we had washed our faces and
hands in the stream, we acted on it. For a mile or so we made our way
over boulders and across patches of snow, till suddenly, on reaching
the top of the little rise, there lay the road at our feet. It was a
splendid road cut out of the solid rock, at least fifty feet wide, and
apparently well kept; but the odd thing about it was that it seemed to
begin there. We walked down and stood on it, but one single hundred
paces behind us, in the direction of Sheba's breasts, it vanished, the
whole surface of the mountain being strewn with boulders interspersed
with patches of snow.
"What do you make of that, Quatermain?" asked Sir Henry.
I shook my head, I could make nothing of it.
"I have it!" said Good; "the road no doubt ran right over the range
and across the desert the other side, but the sand of the desert has
covered it up, and above us it has been obliterated by some volcanic
eruption of molten lava."
This seemed a good suggestion; at any rate, we accepted it, and
proceeded down the mountain. It was a very different business
travelling along down hill on that magnificent pathway with full
stomachs to what it had been travelling up hill over the snow quite
starved and almost frozen. Indeed, had it not been for melancholy
recollections of poor Ventvögel's sad fate, and of that grim cave where
he kept company with the old Don, we should have been positively
cheerful, notwithstanding the sense of unknown dangers before us. Every
mile we walked the atmosphere grew softer and balmier, and the country
before us shone with a yet more luminous beauty. As for the road
itself, I never saw such an engineering work, though Sir Henry said
that the great road over the St. Gothard in Switzerland was very like
it. No difficulty had been too great for the Old World engineer who
designed it. At one place we came to a great ravine three hundred feet
broad and at least a hundred deep. This vast gulf was actually filled
in, apparently with huge blocks of dressed stone, with arches pierced
at the bottom for a water-way, over which the road went sublimely on.
At another place it was cut in zigzags out of the side of a precipice
five hundred feet deep, and in a third it tunnelled right through the
base of an intervening ridge a space of thirty yards or more.
Here we noticed that the sides of the tunnel were covered with
quaint sculptures mostly of mailed figures driving in chariots. One,
which was exceedingly beautiful, represented a whole battle scene with
a convoy of captives being marched off in the distance.
"Well," said Sir Henry, after inspecting this ancient work of art,
"it is very well to call this Solomon's Road, but my humble opinion is
that the Egyptians have been here before Solomon's people ever set a
foot on it. If that isn't Egyptian handiwork, all I have to say is it
is very like it."
By midday we had advanced sufficiently far down the mountain to
reach the region where wood was to be met with. First we came to
scattered bushes which grew more and more frequent, till at last we
found the road winding through a vast grove of silver trees similar to
those which are to be seen on the slopes of Table Mountain at Cape
Town. I had never before met with them in all my wanderings, except at
the Cape, and their appearance here astonished me greatly.
"Ah!" said Good, surveying these shining-leaved trees with evident
enthusiasm, "here is lots of wood, let us stop and cook some dinner; I
have about digested that raw meat."
Nobody objected to this, so leaving the road we made our way to a
stream which was babbling away not far off, and soon had a goodly fire
of dry boughs blazing. Cutting off some substantial hunks from the
flesh of the inco which we had brought with us, we proceeded to toast
them on the end of sharp sticks, as one sees the Kafirs do, and ate
them with relish. After filling ourselves, we lit our pipes and gave
ourselves up to enjoyment, which, compared to the hardships we had
recently undergone, seemed almost heavenly.
The brook, of which the banks were clothed with dense masses of a
gigantic species of maidenhair fern interpersed with feathery tufts of
wild asparagus, babbled away merrily at our side, the soft air murmured
through the leaves of the silver trees, doves cooed around, and
bright-winged birds flashed like living gems from bough to bough. It
was like Paradise.
The magic of the place, combined with the overwhelming sense of
dangers left behind, and of the promised land reached at last, seemed
to charm us into silence. Sir Henry and Umbopa sat conversing in a
mixture of broken English and Kitchin Zulu in a low voice, but
earnestly enough, and I lay, with my eyes half shut, upon that fragrant
bed of fern and watched them. Presently I missed Good, and looked to
see what had become of him. As I did so I observed him sitting by the
bank of the stream, in which he had been bathing. He had nothing on but
his flannel shirt, and his natural habits of extreme neatness having
reasserted themselves, was actively employed in making a most elaborate
toilet. He had washed his gutta-percha collar, thoroughly shaken out
his trousers, coat, and waistcoat, and was now folding them up neatly
till he was ready to put them on, shaking his head sadly as he did so
over the numerous rents and tears in them, which had naturally resulted
from our frightful journey. Then he took his boots, scrubbed them with
a handful of fern, and finally rubbed them over with a piece of fat,
which he had carefully saved from the inco meat, till they looked,
comparatively speaking, respectable. Having inspected them judiciously
through his eye-glass, he put them on and began a fresh operation. From
a little bag he carried he produced a pocket comb in which was fixed a
tiny looking-glass, and in this he surveyed himself. Apparently he was
not satisfied, for he proceeded to do his hair with great care. Then
came a pause whilst he again contemplated the effect; still it was not
satisfactory. He felt his chin, on which was now the accumulated scrub
of a ten days' beard. "Surely," thought I, "he is not going to try and
shave." But so it was. Taking the piece of fat with which he had
greased his boots he washed it carefully in the stream. Then diving
again into the bag he brought out a little pocket razor with a guard to
it, such as are sold to people afraid of cutting themselves, or to
those about to undertake a sea voyage. Then he vigorously scrubbed his
face and chin with the fat and began. But it was evidently a painful
process, for he groaned very much over it, and I was convulsed with
inward laughter as I watched him struggling with that stubbly beard. It
seemed so very odd that a man should take the trouble to shave himself
with a piece of fat in such a place and under such circumstances. At
last he succeeded in getting the worst of the scrub off the right side
of his face and chin, when suddenly I, who was watching, became aware
of a flash of light that passed just by his head.
Good sprang up with a profane exclamation (if it had not been a
safety razor he would certainly have cut his throat), and so did I,
without the exclamation, and this was what I saw. Standing there, not
more than twenty paces from where I was, and ten from Good, were a
group of men. They were very tall and copper-coloured, and some of them
wore great plumes of black feathers and short cloaks of leopard skins;
this was all I noticed at the moment. In front of them stood a youth of
about seventeen, his hand still raised and his body bent forward in the
attitude of a Grecian statue of a spear thrower. Evidently the flash of
light had been a weapon, and he had thrown it.
As I looked an old soldier-like looking man stepped forward out of
the group, and catching the youth by the arm said something to him.
Then they advanced upon us.
Sir Henry, Good, and Umbopa had by this time seized their rifles and
lifted them threateningly. The party of natives still came on. It
struck me that they could not know what rifles were, or they would not
have treated them with such contempt.
"Put down your guns!" I halloed to the others, seeing that our only
chance of safety lay in conciliation. They obeyed, and walking to the
front I addressed the elderly man who had checked the youth.
"Greeting," I said, in Zulu, not knowing what language to use. To my
surprise I was understood.
"Greeting," answered the man, not, indeed, in the same tongue, but
in a dialect so closely allied to it, that neither Umbopa or myself had
any difficulty in understanding it. Indeed, as we afterwards found out,
the language spoken by this people was an old-fashioned form of the
Zulu tongue, bearing about the same relationship to it that the English
of Chaucer does to the English of the nineteenth century.
"Whence come ye?" he went on, "what are ye? and why are the faces of
three of ye white, and the face of the fourth as the face of our
mother's sons?" and he pointed to Umbopa. I looked at Umbopa as he
said it, and it flashed across me that he was right. Umbopa was like
the faces of the men before me, so was his great form. But I had not
time to reflect on this coincidence.
"We are strangers, and come in peace," I answered, speaking very
slow, so that he might understand me, "and this man is our servant."
"Ye lie," he answered, "no strangers can cross the mountains where
all things die. But what do your lies matter, if ye are strangers then
ye must die, for no strangers may live in the land of the Kukuanas. It
is the king's law. Prepare then to die, oh strangers!"
I was slightly staggered at this, more especially as I saw the hands
of some of the party of men steal down to their sides, where hung on
each what looked to me like a large and heavy knife.
"What does that beggar say?" asked Good.
"He says we are going to be scragged," I answered grimly.
"Oh, Lord," groaned Good; and, as was his way when perplexed, put
his hand to his false teeth, dragging the top set down and allowing
them to fly back to his jaw with a snap. It was a most fortunate move,
for next second the dignified crowd of Kukuanas gave a simultaneous
yell of horror, and bolted back some yards.
"What's up?" said I.
"It's his teeth," whispered Sir Henry, excitedly. "He moved them.
Take them out, Good, take them out!"
He obeyed, slipping the set into the sleeve of his flannel shirt.
In another second curiosity had overcome fear, and the men advanced
slowly. Apparently they had now forgotten their amiable intentions of
doing for us.
"How is it, oh strangers," asked the old man solemnly, "that the
teeth of the man (pointing to Good, who had nothing on but a flannel
shirt, and had only half finished his shaving) whose body is clothed,
and whose legs are bare, who grows hair on one side of his sickly face
and not on the other, and who has one shining and transparent eye, and
teeth that move of themselves, coming away from the jaws and returning
of their own will?"
"Open your mouth," I said to Good, who promptly curled up his lips
and grinned at the old gentleman like an angry dog, revealing to their
astonished gaze two thin red lines of gum as utterly innocent of
ivories as a new-born elephant. His audience gasped.
"Where are his teeth?" they shouted; "with our eyes we saw them."
Turning his head slowly and with a gesture of ineffable contempt,
Good swept his hand across his mouth. Then he grinned again, and lo,
there were two rows of lovely teeth.
The young man who had flung the knife threw himself down on the
grass and gave vent to a prolonged howl of terror; and as for the old
gentleman his knees knocked together with fear.
"I see that ye are spirits," he said, falteringly; "did ever man
born of woman have hair on one side of his face and not on the other,
or a round and transparent eye, or teeth which moved and melted away
and grew again? Pardon us, oh, my lords."
Here was luck indeed, and, needless to say, I jumped at the chance.
"It is granted," I said, with an imperial smile. "Nay, ye shall know
the truth. We come from another world, though we are men such as ye; we
come," I went on, "from the biggest star that shines at night."
"Oh! oh!" groaned the chorus of astonished aborigines.
"Yes," I went on, "we do, indeed;" and I again smiled benignly as I
uttered that amazing lie. "We come to stay with you a little while,
and bless you by our sojourn. Ye will see, oh, friends, that I have
prepared myself by learning your language."
"It is so, it is so," said the chorus.
"Only, my lord," put in the old gentleman, "thou hast learnt it very
I cast an indignant glance at him, and he quailed.
"Now, friends," I continued, "ye might think that after so long a
journey we should find it in our hearts to avenge such a reception,
mayhap to strike cold in death the impious hand that—that, in
short—threw a knife at the head of him whose teeth come and go."
"Spare him, my lords," said the old man in supplication; "he is the
king's son, and I am his uncle. If anything befalls him his blood will
be required at my hands."
"Yes, that is certainly so," put in the young man with great
"You may perhaps doubt our power to avenge," I went on, heedless of
this by-play. "Stay, I will show you. Here, you dog and slave
(addressing Umbopa in a savage tone), give me the magic tube that
speaks;" and I tipped a wink towards my express rifle.
Umbopa rose to the occasion, and with something as nearly resembling
a grin as I have ever seen on his dignified face, handed me the rifle.
"It is here, oh, lord of lords," he said, with a deep obeisance.
Now, just before I asked for the rifle I had perceived a little
klipspringer antelope standing on a mass of rock about seventy yards
away, and determined to risk a shot at it.
"Ye see that buck," I said, pointing the animal out to the party
before me. "Tell me, is it possible for man, born of woman, to kill it
from here with a noise?"
"It is not possible, my lord," answered the old man.
"Yet shall I kill it," said I, quietly.
The old man smiled. "That my lord cannot do," he said.
I raised the rifle, and covered the buck. It was a small animal, and
one which one might well be excused for missing, but I knew that it
would not do to miss.
I drew a deep breath, and slowly pressed on the trigger. The buck
stood still as stone.
"Bang! thud!" The buck sprang into the air and fell on the rock dead
as a door nail.
A groan of terror burst from the group before us.
"If ye want meat," I remarked coolly, "go fetch that buck."
The old man made a sign, and one of his followers departed, and
presently returned bearing the klipspringer. I noticed, with
satisfaction, that I had hit it fairly behind the shoulder. They
gathered round the poor creature's body, gazing at the bullet hole in
"Ye see," I said, "I do not speak empty words."
There was no answer.
"If ye yet doubt our power," I went on, "let one of ye go stand upon
that rock that I may make him as this buck."
None of them seemed at all inclined to take the hint, till at last
the king's son spoke.
"It is well said. Do thou, my uncle, go stand upon the rock. It is
but a buck that the magic has killed. Surely it cannot kill a man."
The old gentleman did not take the suggestion in good part. Indeed,
he seemed hurt.
"No! no!" he ejaculated, hastily, "my old eyes have seen enough.
These are wizards, indeed. Let us bring them to the king. Yet if any
should wish a further proof, let him stand upon the rock, that the
magic tube may speak with him."
There was a most general and hasty expression of dissent.
"Let not good magic be wasted on our poor bodies," said one, "we
are satisfied. All the witchcraft of our people cannot show the like of
"It is so," remarked the old gentleman, in a tone of intense relief;
"without any doubt it is so. Listen, children of the stars, children of
the shining eye and the movable teeth, who roar out in thunder and slay
from afar. I am Infadoos, son of Kafa, once King of the Kukuana people.
This youth is Scragga."
"He nearly scragged me," murmured Good.
"Scragga, son of Twala, the great king—Twala, husband of a
thousand wives, chief and lord paramount of the Kukuanas, keeper of
the great road, terror of his enemies, student of the Black Arts,
leader of an hundred thousand warriors, Twala the One-eyed, the Black,
"So," said I, superciliously, "lead us then to Twala. We do not talk
with low people and underlings."
"It is well, my lords, we will lead you, but the way is long. We are
hunting three days' journey from the place of the king. But let my
lords have patience, and we will lead them."
"It is well," I said, carelessly, "all time is before us, for we do
not die. We are ready, lead on. But Infadoos, and thou Scragga, beware!
Play us no tricks, make for us no snares, for before your brains of mud
have thought of them, we shall know them and avenge them. The light
from the transparent eye of him with the bare legs and the half-haired
face (Good) shall destroy you, and go through your land: his vanishing
teeth shall fix themselves fast in you and eat you up, you and your
wives and children; the magic tubes shall talk with you loudly, and
make you as sieves. Beware!"
This magnificent address did not fail of its effect; indeed, it was
hardly needed, so deeply were our friends already impressed with our
The old man made a deep obeisance, and murmured the word "Koom,
Koom," which I afterwards discovered was their royal salute,
corresponding to the Bayéte of the Zulus, and turning, addressed his
followers. These at once proceeded to lay hold of all our goods and
chattels, in order to bear them for us, excepting only the guns, which
they would on no account touch. They even seized Good's clothes, which
were, as the reader may remember, neatly folded up beside him.
He at once made a dive for them, and a loud altercation ensued.
"Let not my lord of the transparent eye and the melting teeth touch
them," said the old man. "Surely his slaves shall carry the things."
"But I want to put'em on!" roared Good, in nervous English.
"Nay, my lord," put in Infadoos, "would my lord cover up his
beautiful white legs (although he was so dark Good had a singularly
white skin) from the eyes of his servants? Have we offended my lord
that he should do such a thing?"
Here I nearly exploded with laughing; and meanwhile, one of the men
started on with the garments.
"Damn it!" roared Good, "that black villain has got my trousers."
"Look here, Good," said Sir Henry, "you have appeared in this
country in a certain character, and you must live up to it. It will
never do for you to put on trousers again. Henceforth you must live in
a flannel shirt, a pair of boots, and an eye-glass."
"Yes," I said, "and with whiskers on one side of your face and not
on the other. If you change any of these things they will think that
we are impostors. I am very sorry for you, but, seriously, you must do
it. If once they begin to suspect us, our lives will not be worth a
"Do you really think so?" said Good, gloomily.
"I do, indeed. Your 'beautiful white legs' and your eye-glass are
now the feature of our party, and as Sir Henry says, you must live up
to them. Be thankful that you have got your boots on, and that the air
Good sighed, and said no more, but it took him a fortnight to get
accustomed to his attire.
CHAPTER VIII. WE ENTER KUKUANALAND.
All that afternoon we travelled on along the magnificent roadway,
which headed steadily in a north-westerly direction. Infadoos and
Scragga walked with us, but their followers marched about one hundred
"Infadoos," I said at length, "who made this road?"
"It was made, my lord, of old time, none know how or when, not even
the wise woman Gagool, who has lived for generations. We are not old
enough to remember its making. None can make such roads now, but the
king lets no grass grow upon it."
"And whose are the writings on the walls of the caves through which
we have passed on the road?" I asked, referring to the Egyptian-like
sculptures we had seen.
"My lord, the hands that made the road wrote the wonderful writings.
We know not who wrote them."
"When did the Kukuana race come into this country?"
"My lord, the race came down here like the breath of a storm ten
thousand thousand moons ago, from the great lands which lie there
beyond," and he pointed to the north. "They could travel no further, so
say the old voices of our fathers that have come down to us, the
children, and so says Gagool, the wise woman, the smeller out of
witches, because of the great mountains which ring in the land," and he
pointed to the snowclad peaks. "The country, too, was good, so they
settled here and grew strong and powerful, and now our numbers are like
the sea sand, and when Twala the king calls up his regiments their
plumes cover the plain as far as the eye of man can reach."
"And if the land is walled in with mountains, who is there for the
regiments to fight with?"
"Nay, my lord, the country is open there," and again he pointed
towards the north, "and now and again warriors sweep down upon us in
clouds from a land we know not, and we slay them. It is the third part
of the life of a man since there was a war. Many thousands died in it,
but we destroyed those who came to eat us up. So since then there has
been no war."
"Your warriors must grow weary of resting on their spears."
"My lord, there was one war, just after we destroyed the people that
came down upon us, but it was a civil war, dog eat dog."
"How was that?"
"My lord, the king, my half-brother, had a brother born at the same
birth, and of the same woman. It is not our custom, my lord, to let
twins to live, the weakest must always die. But the mother of the king
hid away the weakest child, which was born the last, for her heart
yearned over it, and the child is Twala the king. I am his younger
brother born of another wife."
"My lord, Kafa, our father, died when we came to manhood, and my
brother Imotu was made king in his place, and for a space reigned and
had a son by his favourite wife. When the babe was three years old,
just after the great war, during which no man could sow or reap, a
famine came upon the land, and the people murmured because of the
famine, and looked round like a starved lion for something to rend.
Then it was that Gagool, the wise woman, who does not die, proclaimed
to the people, saying, 'The king Imotu is no king.' And at the time
Imotu was sick with a wound, and lay in his hut not able to move.
"Then Gagool went into a hut and led out Twala, my half-brother, and
the twin brother of the king, whom she had hidden since he was born
among the caves and rocks, and stripping the 'moocha' (waist-cloth) off
his loins, showed the people of the Kukuanas the mark of the sacred
snake coiled round his waist, wherewith the eldest son of the king is
marked at birth, and cried out loud, 'Behold, your king whom I have
saved for you even to this day!' And the people being mad with hunger,
and altogether bereft of reason and the knowledge of truth, cried out,
'The king! The king!' but I knew that it was not so, for Imotu, my
brother, was the elder of the twins, and was the lawful king. And just
as the tumult was at its height Imotu the king, though he was very
sick, came crawling from his hut holding his wife by the hand, and
followed by his little son Ignosi (the lightning).
"'What is this noise?' he asked; 'Why cry ye The king! The king?'
"Then Twala, his own brother, born of the same woman and in the same
hour, ran to him, and taking him by the hair stabbed him through the
heart with his knife. And the people being fickle, and ever ready to
worship the rising sun, clapped their hands and cried, 'Twala is king!
Now we know that Twala is king!'"
"And what became of his wife and her son Ignosi? Did Twala kill them
"Nay, my lord. When she saw that her lord was dead, she seized the
child with a cry, and ran away. Two days afterwards she came to a kraal
very hungry, and none would give her milk or food, now that her lord
the king was dead, for all men hate the unfortunate. But at nightfall a
little child, a girl, crept out and brought her to eat, and she blessed
the child, and went on towards the mountains with her boy before the
sun rose again, where she must have perished, for none have seen her
since, nor the child Ignosi."
"Then if this child Ignosi had lived, he would be the true king of
the Kukuana people?"
"That is so, my lord; the sacred snake is round his middle. If he
lives he is the king; but alas! he is long dead."
"See, my lord," and he pointed to a vast collection of huts
surrounded with a fence, which was in its turn surrounded by a great
ditch, that lay on the plain beneath us. "That is the kraal where the
wife of Imotu was last seen with the child Ignosi. It is there that we
shall sleep to-night, if, indeed," he added, doubtfully, "my lords
sleep at all upon this earth."
"When we are among the Kukuanas, my good friend Infadoos, we do as
the Kukuanas do," I said, majestically, "and I turned round suddenly to
address Good, who was tramping along sullenly behind, his mind fully
occupied with unsatisfactory attempts to keep his flannel shirt from
flapping up in the evening breeze, and to my astonishment butted into
Umbopa, who was walking along immediately behind me, and had very
evidently been listening with the greatest interest to my conversation
with Infadoos. The expression on his face was most curious, and gave
the idea of a man who was struggling with partial success to bring
something long ago forgotten back into his mind.
All this while we had been pressing on at a good rate down towards
the undulating plain beneath. The mountains we had crossed now loomed
high above us, and Sheba's breasts were modestly veiled in diaphanous
wreaths of mist. As we went on the country grew more and more lovely.
The vegetation was luxuriant; without being tropical, the sun was
bright and warm, but not burning, and a gracious breeze blew softly
along the odorous slopes of the mountains. And, indeed, this new land
was little less than an earthly paradise; in beauty, in natural wealth,
and in climate I have never seen its like. The Transvaal is a fine
country, but it is nothing to Kukuanaland.
So soon as we started, Infadoos had despatched a runner on to warn
the people of the kraal, which, by the way, was in his military
command, of our arrival. This man had departed at an extraordinary
speed, which Infadoos had informed me he would keep up all the way, as
running was an exercise much practised among his people.
The result of this message now became apparent. When we got within
two miles of the kraal we could see that company after company of men
was issuing from its gates and marching towards us.
Sir Henry laid his hand upon my arm, and remarked that it looked as
though we were going to meet with a warm reception. Something in his
tone attracted Infadoos' attention.
"Let not my lords be afraid," he said hastily, "for in my breast
there dwells no guile. This regiment is one under my command, and comes
out by my orders to greet you."
I nodded easily, though I was not quite easy in my mind.
About half a mile from the gates of the kraal was a long stretch of
rising ground sloping gently upwards from the road, and on this the
companies formed up. It was a splendid sight to see them, each company
about three hundred strong, charging swiftly up the slope, with
flashing spears and waving plumes, and taking their appointed place. By
the time we came to the slope twelve such companies, or in all three
thousand six hundred men, had passed out and taken up their positions
along the road.
Presently we came to the first company, and were able to gaze in
astonishment on the most magnificent set of men I have ever seen. They
were all men of mature age, mostly veterans of about forty, and not one
of them was under six feet in height, whilst many were six feet three
or four. They wore upon their heads heavy black plumes of Sacaboola
feathers, like those which adorned our guides. Round their waists and
also beneath the right knee were bound circlets of white ox tails, and
in their left hands were round shields about twenty inches across.
These shields were very curious. The framework consisted of an iron
plate beaten out thin, over which was stretched milk-white ox hide. The
weapons that each man bore were simple, but most effective, consisting
of a short and very heavy two-edged spear with a wooden shaft, the
blade being about six inches across at the widest part. These spears
were not used for throwing, but like the Zulu "bangwan," or stabbing
assegai, were for close quarters only, when the wound inflicted by them
was terrible. In addition to these bangwans each man also carried three
large and heavy knives, each knife weighing about two pounds. One
knife was fixed in the ox tail girdle, and the other two at the back of
the round shield. These knives, which are called "tollas" by the
Kukuanas, take the place of the throwing assegai of the Zulus. A
Kukuana warrior can throw them with great accuracy at a distance of
fifty yards, and it is their custom on charging to hurl a volley of
them at the enemy as they come to close quarters.
Each company stood like a collection of bronze statues till we were
opposite to it, when at a signal given by its commanding officer who,
distinguished by a leopard skin cloak, stood some paces in front, every
spear was raised into the air, and from three hundred throats sprang
forth with a sudden roar the royal salute of "Koom." Then when we had
passed the company formed up behind us, and followed us towards the
kraal, till at last the whole regiment of the "Greys" (so called from
their white shields), the crack corps of the Kukuana people, was
marching behind us with a tread that shook the ground.
At length, branching off from Solomon's Great Road, we came to the
wide fosse surrounding the kraal, which was at least a mile round, and
fenced with a strong palisade of piles formed of the trunks of trees.
At the gateway this fosse was spanned by a primitive drawbridge which
was let down by the guard to allow us to pass in. The kraal was
exceedingly well laid out. Through the centre ran a wide pathway
intersected at right angles by other pathways so arranged as to cut
the huts into square blocks, each block being the quarters of a
company. The huts were dome-shaped, and built, like those of the Zulus,
of a framework of wattle, beautifully thatched with grass; but, unlike
the Zulu huts, they had doorways through which one could walk. Also
they were much larger, and surrounded with a verandah about six feet
wide, beautifully paved with powdered lime trodden hard. All along each
side of the wide pathway that pierced the kraal were ranged hundreds of
women, brought out by curiosity to look at us. These women are, for a
native race, exceedingly handsome. They are tall and graceful, and
their figures are wonderfully fine. The hair, though short, is rather
curly than woolly, the features are frequently aquiline, and the lips
are not unpleasantly thick as is the case in most African races. But
what struck us most was their exceedingly quiet dignified air. They
were as well-bred in their way as the habituées of a fashionable
drawing-room and in this respect differ from Zulu women, and their
cousins the Masai who inhabit the district behind Zanzibar. Their
curiosity had brought them out to see us, but they allowed no rude
expressions of wonder or savage criticism to pass their lips as we
trudged wearily in front of them. Not even when old Infadoos with a
surreptitious motion of the hand pointed out the crowning wonder of
poor Good's "beautiful white legs," did they allow the feeling of
intense admiration which evidently mastered their minds to find
expression. They fixed their dark eyes upon their snowy loveliness
(Good's skin is exceedingly white), and that was all. But this was
quite enough for Good, who is modest by nature.
When we got to the centre of the kraal, Infadoos halted at the door
of a large hut, which was surrounded at a distance by a circle of
"Enter, sons of the stars," he said, in a magniloquent voice, "and
deign to rest awhile in our humble habitations. A little food shall be
brought to you, so that ye shall have no need to draw your belts tight
from hunger; some honey and some milk, and an ox or two, and a few
sheep; not much, my lords, but still a little food."
"It is good," said I, "Infadoos, we are weary with travelling
through realms of air; now let us rest."
Accordingly we entered into the hut, which we found amply prepared
for our comfort. Couches of tanned skins were spread for us to rest on,
and water was placed for us to wash in.
Presently we heard a shouting outside, and stepping to the door, saw
a line of damsels bearing milk and roasted mealies, and honey in a pot.
Behind these were some youths driving a fat young ox. We received the
gifts, and then one of the young men took the knife from his girdle and
dexterously cut the ox's throat. In ten minutes it was dead, skinned,
and cut up. The best of the meat was then cut off for us, and the rest
I, in the name of our party, presented to the warriors round us, who
took it off and distributed the "white men's gift."
Umbopa set to work, with the assistance of an extremely
prepossessing young woman, to boil our portion in a large earthenware
pot over a fire which was built outside the hut, and when it was nearly
ready we sent a message to Infadoos, and asked him, and Scragga the
king's son, to join us.
Presently they came, and sitting down upon little stools, of which
there were several about the hut (for the Kukuanas do not in general
squat upon their haunches like the Zulus), helped us to get through our
dinner. The old gentleman was most affable and polite, but it struck us
that the young one regarded us with suspicion. He had, together with
the rest of the party, been overawed by our white appearance and by our
magic properties; but it seemed to me that on discovering that we ate,
drank, and slept like other mortals, his awe was beginning to wear off
and be replaced by a sullen suspicion—which made us feel rather
In the course of our meal Sir Henry suggested to me that it might be
well to try and discover if our hosts knew anything of his brother's
fate, or if they had ever seen or heard of him; but, on the whole, I
thought that it would be wiser to say nothing of the matter at that
After supper we filled our pipes and lit them: a proceeding which
filled Infadoos and Scragga with astonishment. The Kukuanas were
evidently unacquainted with the divine uses of tobacco-smoke. The herb
was grown among them extensively; but, like the Zulus, they only used
it for snuff, and quite failed to identify it in its new form.
Presently I asked Infadoos when we were to proceed on our journey,
and was delighted to learn that preparations had been made for us to
leave on the following morning, messengers having already left to
inform Twala the king of our coming. It appeared that Twala was at his
principal place, known as Loo, making ready for the great annual feast
which was held in the first week of June. At this gathering all the
regiments, with the exception of certain detachments left behind for
garrison purposes, were brought up and paraded before the king; and the
great annual witch-hunt, of which more by-and-by, was held.
We were to start at dawn; and Infadoos, who was to accompany us,
expected that we should, unless we were detained by accident or by
swollen rivers, reach Loo on the night of the second day.
When they had given us this information our visitors bade us good
night; and, having arranged to watch turn and turn about, three of us
flung ourselves down and slept the sweet sleep of the weary, whilst the
fourth sat up on the look-out for possible treachery.
CHAPTER IX. TWALA THE KING.
It will not be necessary for me to detail at length the incidents of
our journey to Loo. It took two good days' travelling along Solomon's
Great Road, which pursued its even course right into the heart of
Kukuanaland. Suffice it to say that as we went the country seemed to
grow richer and richer, and the kraals, with their wide surrounding
belts of cultivation, more and more numerous. They were all built upon
the same principles as the first one we had reached, and were guarded
by ample garrisons of troops. Indeed, in Kukuanaland, as among the
Germans, the Zulus, and the Masai, every able-bodied man is a soldier,
so that the whole force of the nation is available for its wars,
offensive or defensive. As we travelled along we were overtaken by
thousands of warriors hurrying up to Loo to be present at the great
annual review and festival, and a grander series of troops I never saw.
At sunset on the second day we stopped to rest awhile upon the summit
of some heights over which the road ran, and there on a beautiful and
fertile plain before us was Loo itself. For a native town it was an
enormous place, quite five miles round I should say, with outlying
kraals jutting out from it, which served on grand occasions as
cantonments for the regiments, and a curious horse-shoe-shaped hill,
with which we were destined to become better acquainted, about two
miles to the north. It was beautifully situated, and through the centre
of the kraal, dividing it into two portions, ran a river, which
appeared to be bridged at several places, the same perhaps that we had
seen from the slopes of Sheba's Breasts. Sixty or seventy miles away
three great snowcapped mountains, placed like the points of a triangle,
started up out of the level plain. The conformation of these mountains
was unlike that of Sheba's Breasts, being sheer and precipitous,
instead of smooth and rounded.
Infadoos saw us looking at them and volunteered a remark—
"The road ends there," he said, pointing to the mountains known
among the Kukuanas as the "Three Witches."
"Why does it end?" I asked.
"Who knows?" he answered, with a shrug; "the mountains are full of
caves, and there is a great pit between them. It is there that the wise
men of old time used to go to get whatever it was they came to this
country for, and it is there now that our kings are buried in the Place
"What was it they came for?" I asked eagerly.
"Nay, I know not. My lords who come from the stars should know," he
answered with a quick look. Evidently he knew more than he chose to say.
"Yes," I went on, "you are right, in the stars we know many things.
I have heard, for instance, that the wise men of old came to those
mountains to get bright stones, pretty playthings, and yellow iron."
"My lord is wise," he answered coldly, "I am but a child and cannot
talk with my lord on such things. My lord must speak with Gagool the
old, at the king's place, who is wise even as my lord," and he turned
As soon as he was gone, I turned to the others and pointed out the
mountains. "There are Solomon's diamond mines," I said.
Umbopa was standing with them, apparently plunged in one of the fits
of abstraction which were common to him, and caught my words.
"Yes, Macumazahn," he put in, in Zulu, "the diamonds are surely
there, and you shall have them since you white men are so fond of toys
"How do you know that, Umbopa?" I asked sharply, for I did not like
his mysterious ways.
He laughed; "I dreamed it in the night, white men," and then he too
turned upon his heel and went.
"Now what," said Sir Henry, "is our black friend at? He knows more
than he chooses to say, that is clear. By the way, Quatermain, has he
heard anything of—of my brother?"
"Nothing; he has asked every one he has got friendly with, but they
all declare no white man has ever been seen in the country before."
"Do you suppose he ever got here at all?" suggested Good; "we have
only reached the place by a miracle; is it likely he could have
reached it at all without the map?"
"I don't know," said Sir Henry, gloomily, "but somehow I think that
I shall find him."
Slowly the sun sank, and then suddenly darkness rushed down on the
land like a tangible thing. There was no breathing-space between the
day and the night, no soft transformation scene, for in these latitudes
twilight does not exist. The change from day to night is as quick and
as absolute as the change from life to death. The sun sank and the
world was wreathed in shadows. But not for long, for see in the east
there is a glow, then a bent edge of silver light, and at last the full
bow of the crescent moon peeps above the plain and shoots its gleaming
arrows far and wide, filling the earth with a faint refulgence, as the
glow of a good man's deeds shines for awhile upon his little world
after his sun has set, lighting the traveller to a fuller dawn.
We stood and watched the lovely sight, whilst the stars grew pale
before this chastened majesty, and felt our hearts lifted up in the
presence of a beauty we could not realise, much less describe. Mine has
been a rough life, my reader, but there are a few things I am thankful
to have lived for, and one of them is to have seen that moon rise over
Kukuanaland. Presently our meditations were broken in upon by our
polite friend Infadoos.
"If my lords are ready we will journey on to Loo; where a hut is
made ready for my lords to-night. The moon is now bright, so that we
shall not fall on the way."
We assented, and in an hour's time were at the out- skirts of the
town, of which the extent, mapped out as it was by thousands of camp
fires, appeared absolutely endless. Indeed, Good, who was always fond
of a bad joke, christened it "Unlimited Loo." Presently we came to a
moat with a drawbridge, where we were met by the rattling of arms and
the hoarse challenge of a sentry. Infadoos gave some password that I
could not catch, which was met with a salute, and we passed on through
the central street of the great grass city. After nearly half an hour's
tramp, past endless lines of huts, Infadoos at last halted at the gate
of a little group of huts which surrounded a small courtyard of
powdered limestone, and informed us that these were to be our "poor"
We entered, and found that a hut had been assigned to each of us.
These huts were superior to any which we had yet seen, and in each was
a most comfortable bed made of tanned skins spread upon mattresses of
aromatic grass. Food too was ready for us, and as soon as we had washed
ourselves with water, which stood ready in earthenware jars, some young
women of handsome appearance brought us roasted meat and mealie cobs
daintily served on wooden platters, and presented it to us with deep
We ate and drank, and then the beds having by our request been all
moved into one hut, a precaution at which the amiable young ladies
smiled, we flung ourselves down to sleep, thoroughly wearied out with
our long journey.
When we woke, it was to find that the sun was high in the heavens,
and that the female attendants, who did not seem to be troubled by any
false shame, were already standing inside the hut, having been ordered
to attend and help us to "make ready."
"Make ready, indeed," growled Good, "when one has only a flannel
shirt and a pair of boots, that does not take long. I wish you would
ask them for my trousers."
I asked accordingly, but was informed that these sacred relics had
already been taken to the king, who would see us in the forenoon.
Having, somewhat to their astonishment and disappointment, requested
the young ladies to step outside, we proceeded to make the best toilet
that the circumstances admitted of. Good even went the length of again
shaving the right side of his face; the left, on which now appeared a
very fair crop of whiskers, we inpressed upon him he must on no account
touch. As for ourselves, we were contented with a good wash and combing
our hair. Sir Henry's yellow locks were now almost down to his
shoulders, and he looked more like an ancient Dane than ever, while my
grizzled scrub was fully an inch long, instead of half an inch, which
in a general way I considered my maximum length.
By the time that we had eaten our breakfasts, and smoked a pipe, a
message was brought to us by no less a personage than Infadoos himself
that Twala, the king, was ready to see us, if we would be pleased to
We remarked in reply that we should prefer to wait till the sun was
a little higher, we were yet weary with our journey, &c. &c. It is
always well, when dealing with uncivilised people, not to be in too
great a hurry. They are apt to mistake politeness for awe or servility.
So, although we were quite as anxious to see Twala as Twala could be to
see us, we sat down and waited for an hour, employing the interval in
preparing such presents as our slender stock of goods
permitted—namely, the Winchester rifle which had been used by poor
Ventvögel, and some beads. The rifle and ammunition we determined to
present to his Royal Highness, and the beads were for his wives and
courtiers. We had already given a few to Infadoos and Scragga, and
found that they were delighted with them, never having seen anything
like them before. At length we declared that we were ready, and guided
by Infadoos, started off to the levée, Umbopa carrying the rifle and
After walking a few hundred yards, we came to an enclosure,
something like that which surrounded the huts that had been allotted to
us, only fifty times as big. It could not have been less than six or
seven acres in extent. All round the outside fence was a row of huts,
which were the habitations of the king's wives. Exactly opposite the
gateway, on the further side of the open space, was a very large hut,
which stood by itself, in which his Majesty resided. All the rest was
open ground; that is to say, it would have been open had it not been
filled by company after company of warriors, who were mustered there to
the number of seven or eight thousand. These men stood still as statues
as we advanced through them, and it would be impossible to give an idea
of the grandeur of the spectacle which they presented, in their waving
plumes, their glancing spears, and iron-backed ox-hide shields.
The space in front of the large hut was empty, but before it were
placed several stools. On three of these, at a sign from Infadoos, we
seated ourselves, Umbopa standing behind us. As for Infadoos, he took
up a position by the door of the hut. So we waited for ten minutes or
more in the midst of a dead silence, but conscious that we were the
object of the concentrated gaze of some eight thousand pairs of eyes.
It was a somewhat trying ordeal, but we carried it off as best we
could. At length the door of the hut opened, and a gigantic figure,
with a splendid tiger-skin karross flung over its shoulders, stepped
out, followed by the boy Scragga, and what appeared to us to be a
withered-up monkey, wrapped in a fur cloak. The figure seated itself
upon a stool, Scragga took his stand behind it, and the withered-up
monkey crept on all fours into the shade of the hut and squatted down.
Still there was silence.
Then the gigantic figure slipped off the karross and stood up before
us, a truly alarming spectacle. It was that of an enormous man with the
most entirely repulsive countenance we had ever beheld. The lips were
as thick as a negro's, the nose was flat, it had but one gleaming black
eye (for the other was represented by a hollow in the face), and its
whole expression was cruel and sensual to a degree. From the large head
rose a magnificent plume of white ostrich feathers, the body was clad
in a shirt of shining chain armour, whilst round the waist and right
knee was the usual garnish of white ox-tails. In the right hand was a
huge spear. Round the neck was a thick torque of gold, and bound on to
the forehead was a single and enormous uncut diamond.
Still there was silence; but not for long. Presently the figure,
whom we rightly guessed to be the king, raised the great spear in its
hand. Instantly eight thousand spears were raised in answer, and from
eight thousand throats rang out the royal salute of "Koom." Three
times this was repeated, and each time the earth shook with the noise,
that can only be compared to the deepest notes of thunder.
"Be humble, oh people," piped out a thin voice which seemed to come
from the monkey in the shade, "it is the king."
"It is the king," boomed out eight thousand throats, in answer. "Be
humble, oh people, it is the king."
Then there was silence again—dead silence. Presently, however, it
was broken. A soldier on our left dropped his shield, which fell with a
clatter on the limestone flooring.
Twala turned his one cold eye in the direction of the noise.
"Come hither, thou," he said, in a voice of thunder.
A fine young man stepped out of the ranks, and stood before him.
"It was thy shield that fell, thou awkward dog. Wilt thou make me a
reproach in the eyes of strangers from the stars? What hast thou to
And then we saw the poor fellow turn pale under his dusky skin.
"It was by chance, oh calf of the black cow," he murmured.
"Then it is a chance for which thou must pay. Thou hast made me
foolish; prepare for death."
"I am the king's ox," was the low answer.
"Scragga," roared the king, "let me see how thou canst use thy
spear. Kill me this awkward dog."
Scragga stepped forward with an ill-favoured grin, and lifted his
spear. The poor victim covered his eyes with his hand and stood still.
As for us, we were petrified with horror.
"Once, twice," he waved the spear and then struck, ah, God! right
home—the spear stood out a foot behind the soldier's back. He flung
up his hands and dropped dead. From the multitude around rose something
like a murmur, it rolled round and round, and died away. The tragedy
was finished; there lay the corpse, and we had not yet realised that it
had been enacted. Sir Henry sprang up and swore a great oath, then,
overpowered by the sense of silence, sat down again.
"The thrust was a good one," said the king; "take him away."
Four men stepped out of the ranks, and lifting the body of the
murdered man, carried it away.
"Cover up the blood-stains, cover them up," piped out the thin voice
from the monkey-like figure; "the king's word is spoken, the king's
doom is done."
Thereupon a girl came forward from behind the hut, bearing a jar
filled with powdered lime, which she scattered over the red mark,
blotting it from sight.
Sir Henry meanwhile was boiling with rage at what had happened;
indeed, it was with difficulty that we could keep him still.
"Sit down, for heaven's sake," I whispered; "our lives depend on it."
He yielded and remained quiet.
Twala sat still until the traces of the tragedy had been removed,
then he addressed us.
"White people," he said, "who come hither, whence I know not, and
why I know not, greeting."
"Greeting Twala, King of the Kukuanas," I answered.
"White people, whence come ye, and what seek ye?"
"We come from the stars, ask us not how. We come to see this land."
"Ye come from far to see a little thing. And that man with ye,"
pointing to Umbopa, "does he too come from the stars?"
"Even so; there are people of thy colour in the heavens above; but
ask not of matters too high for thee, Twala, the king."
"Ye speak with a loud voice, people of the stars," Twala answered,
in a tone which I scarcely liked. "Remember that the stars are far off,
and ye are here. How if I make ye as him whom they bear away?"
I laughed out loud, though there was little laughter in my heart.
"Oh, king," I said, "be careful, walk warily over hot stones, lest
thou shouldst burn thy feet; hold the spear by the handle, lest thou
shouldst cut thy hands. Touch but one hair of our heads, and
destruction shall come upon thee. What, have not these," pointing to
Infadoos and Scragga (who, young villain that he was, was employed in
cleaning the blood of the soldier off his spear), "told thee what
manner of men we are? Hast thou ever seen the like of us?" and I
pointed to Good, feeling quite sure that he had never seen anybody
before who looked in the least like him as he then appeared.
"It is true, I have not," said the king.
"Have they not told thee how we strike with death from afar?" I went
"They have told me, but I believe them not. Let me see you kill.
Kill me a man among those who stand yonder"—and he pointed to the
opposite side of the kraal—"and I will believe."
"Nay," I answered; "we shed no blood of man except in just
punishment; but if thou wilt see, bid thy servants drive in an ox
through the kraal gates, and before he has run twenty paces I will
strike him dead."
"Nay," laughed the king, "kill me a man, and I will believe."
"Good, oh king, so be it," I answered, coolly; "do thou walk across
the open space, and before thy feet reach the gate thou shalt be dead;
or if thou wilt not, send thy son Scragga" (whom at that moment it
would have given me much pleasure to shoot).
On hearing this suggestion Scragga gave a sort of howl, and bolted
into the hut.
Twala frowned majestically; the suggestion did not please him.
"Let a young ox be driven in," he said.
Two men at once departed, running swiftly.
"Now, Sir Henry," said I, "do you shoot. I want to show this ruffian
that I am not the only magician of the party."
Sir Henry accordingly took the "express," and made ready.
"I hope I shall make a good shot," he groaned.
"You must," I answered. "If you miss with the first barrel, let him
have the second. Sight for 150 yards, and wait till the beast turns
Then came a pause, till presently we caught sight of an ox running
straight for the kraal gate. It came on through the gate, and then,
catching sight of the vast concourse of people, stopped stupidly,
turned round, and bellowed.
"Now's your time," I whispered.
Up went the rifle.
Bang! thud! and the ox was kicking on his back, shot in the ribs.
The semi-hollow bullet had done its work well, and a sigh of
astonishment went up from the assembled thousands.
I turned coolly round—
"Have I lied, oh king?"
"Nay, white man, it is a truth," was the somewhat awed answer.
"Listen, Twala," I went on. "Thou hast seen. Now know we come in
peace, not in war. See here" (and I held up the Winchester repeater);
"here is a hollow staff that shall enable you to kill even as we kill,
only this charm I lay upon it, thou shalt kill no man with it. If thou
liftest it against a man, it shall kill thee. Stay, I will show thee.
Bid a man step forty paces and place the shaft of a spear in the ground
so that the flat blade looks towards us."
In a few seconds it was done.
"Now, see, I will break the spear."
Taking a careful sight I fired. The bullet struck the flat of the
spear, and broke the blade into fragments.
Again the sigh of astonishment went up.
"Now, Twala" (handing him the rifle), "this magic tube we give to
thee, and by-and-by I will show thee how to use it; but beware how thou
usest the magic of the stars against a man of earth," and I handed him
the rifle. He took it very gingerly, and laid it down at his feet. As
he did so I observed the wizened monkey-like figure creeping up from
the shadow of the hut. It crept on all fours, but when it reached the
place where the king sat, it rose upon its feet, and throwing the furry
covering off its face, revealed a most extraordinary and weird
countenance. It was (apparently) that of a woman of great age, so
shrunken that in size it was no larger than that of a year-old child,
and was made up of a collection of deep yellow wrinkles. Set in the
wrinkles was a sunken slit, that represented the mouth, beneath which
the chin curved outwards to a point. There was no nose to speak of;
indeed, the whole countenance might have been taken for that of a
sun-dried corpse had it not been for a pair of large black eyes, still
full of fire and intelligence, which gleamed and played under the
snow-white eyebrows, and the projecting parchment-coloured skull, like
jewels in a charnel-house. As for the skull itself, it was perfectly
bare, and yellow in hue.
The figure to whom this fearful countenance, which caused a shiver
of fear to pass through us as we gazed on it, belonged, stood still for
a moment, and then suddenly projected a skinny claw armed with nails
nearly an inch long, and laid it on the shoulder of Twala, the king,
and began to speak in a thin, piercing voice—
"Listen, oh king! Listen, oh people! Listen, oh mountains and plains
and rivers, home of the Kukuana race! Listen, oh skies and sun, oh rain
and storm and mist! Listen, all things that live and must die! Listen,
all dead things that must live to die again! Listen, the spirit of life
is in me, and I prophesy. I prophesy! I prophesy!"
The words died away in a faint wail, and terror seemed to seize upon
the hearts of all who heard them, including ourselves. The old woman
was very terrible.
"Blood! blood! blood! rivers of blood; blood everywhere. I see it, I
smell it, I taste it—it is salt; it runs red upon the ground, it
rains down from the skies.
"Footsteps! footsteps! footsteps! the tread of the white man coming
from afar. It shakes the earth; the earth trembles before her master.
"Blood is good, the red blood is bright; there is no smell like the
smell of new-shed blood. The lions shall lap it and roar, the vultures
shall wash their wings in it, and shriek in joy.
"I am old! I am old! I have seen much blood; ha, ha! but I shall
see more ere I die, and be merry. How old am I, think ye? Your fathers
knew me, and their fathers knew me, and their fathers' fathers. I have
seen the white man, and know his desires. I am old, but the mountains
are older than I. Who made the great road, tell me? Who wrote in
pictures on the rocks, tell me? Who reared up the three silent ones
yonder, who gaze across the pit, tell me?" (And she pointed towards the
three precipitous mountains we had noticed on the previous night.)
"Ye know not, but I know. It was a white people who were before ye
are, who shall be when ye are not, who shall eat ye up, and destroy ye.
Yea! yea! yea!
"And what came they for, the white ones, the terrible ones, the
skilled in magic and all learning, the strong, the unswerving? What is
that bright stone upon thy forehead, oh king? Whose hands made the iron
garments upon thy breast, oh king? Ye know not, but I know. I the old
one, I the wise one, I the Isanusi!" (witch doctress.)
Then she turned her bald vulture-head towards us.
"What seek ye, white men of the stars—ah, yes, of the stars? Do ye
seek a lost one? Ye shall not find him here. He is not here. Never for
ages upon ages has a white foot pressed this land; never but once, and
he left it but to die. Ye come for bright stones; ye shall find them
when the blood is dry; but shall ye return whence ye came, or shall ye
stop with me? Ha! ha! ha!
"And thou, thou with the dark skin and the proud bearing" (pointing
her skinny finger at Umbopa), "who art thou, and what seekest thou? Not
stones that shine, not yellow metal that gleams, that thou leavest to
'white men from the stars.' Methinks I know thee; methinks I can smell
the smell of the blood in thy veins. Strip off the girdle—"
Here the features of this extraordinary creature be came convulsed,
and she fell to the ground foaming in an epileptic fit, and was carried
off into the hut.
The king rose up trembling, and waved his hand. Instantly the
regiments began to file off, and in ten minutes, save for ourselves,
the king, and a few attendants, the great space was left clear.
"White people," he said, "it passes in my mind to kill ye. Gagool
has spoken strange words. What say ye?"
I laughed. "Be careful, oh king, we are not easy to slay. Thou hast
seen the fate of the ox; wouldst thou be as the ox?"
The king frowned. "It is not well to threaten a king."
"We threaten not, we speak what is true. Try to kill us, oh king,
The great man put his hand to his forehead.
"Go in peace," he said, at length. "To-night is the great dance. Ye
shall see it. Fear not that I shall set a snare for ye. To-morrow I
"It is well, oh king," I answered, unconcernedly, and then,
accompanied by Infadoos, we rose, and went back to our kraal.
CHAPTER X. THE WITCH-HUNT.
On reaching our hut, I motioned to Infadoos to enter with us.
"Now, Infadoos," I said, "we would speak with thee."
"Let my lords say on."
"It seems to us, Infadoos, that Twala, the king, is a cruel man."
"It is so, my lords. Alas! the land cries out with his cruelties.
To-night ye will see. It is the great witch-hunt, and many will be
smelt out as wizards and slain. No man's life is safe. If the king
covets a man's cattle, or a man's life, or if he fears a man that he
should excite a rebellion against him, then Gagool, whom ye saw, or
some of the witch-finding women whom she has taught, will smell that
man out as a wizard, and he will be killed. Many will die before the
moon grows pale to-night. It is ever so. Perhaps I too shall be killed.
As yet I have been spared, because I am skilled in war, and beloved by
the soldiers; but I know not how long I shall live. The land groans at
the cruelties of Twala, the king; it is wearied of him and his red
"Then why is it, Infadoos, that the people do not cast him down?"
"Nay, my lords, he is the king, and if he were killed Scragga would
reign in his place, and the heart of Scragga is blacker than the heart
of Twala, his father. If Scragga were king the yoke upon our neck would
be heavier than the yoke of Twala. If Imotu had never been slain, or if
Ignosi, his son, had lived, it had been otherwise; but they are both
"How know you that Ignosi is dead?" said a voice behind us. We
looked round with astonishment to see who spoke. It was Umbopa.
"What meanest thou, boy?" asked Infadoos; "who told thee to speak?"
"Listen, Infadoos," was the answer, "and I will tell thee a story.
Years ago the King Imotu was killed in this country, and his wife fled
with the boy Ignosi. Is it not so?"
"It is so."
"It was said that the woman and the boy died upon the mountains. Is
it not so?"
"It is even so."
"Well, it came to pass that the mother and the boy Ignosi did not
die. They crossed the mountains, and were led by a tribe of wandering
desert men across the sands beyond, till at last they came to water and
grass and trees again."
"How knowest thou that?"
"Listen. They travelled on and on, many months' journey, till they
reached a land where a people called the Amazulu, who too are of the
Kukuana stock, live by war, and with them they tarried many years, till
at length the mother died. Then the son, Ignosi, again became a
wanderer, and went on into a land of wonders, where white people live,
and for many more years learned the wisdom of the white people."
"It is a pretty story," said Infadoos, incredulously.
"For many years he lived there working as a servant and a soldier,
but holding in his heart all that his mother had told him of his own
place, and casting about in his mind to find how he might get back
there to see his own people and his father's house before he died. For
many years he lived and waited, and at last the time came, as it ever
comes to him who can wait for it, and he met some white men who would
seek this unknown land, and joined himself to them. The white men
started and journeyed on and on, seeking for one who is lost. They
crossed the burning desert, they crossed the snow-clad mountains, and
reached the land of the Kukuanas, and there they met thee, oh Infadoos."
"Surely thou art mad to talk thus," said the astonished old soldier.
"Thou thinkest so; see, I will show thee, oh my uncle.
"I am Ignosi, rightful king of the Kukuanas!"
Then with a single movement he slipped off the "moocha" or girdle
round his middle, and stood naked before us.
"Look," he said; "what is this?" and he pointed to the mark of a
great snake tattooed in blue round his middle, its tail disappearing in
its open mouth just above where the thighs are set into the body.
Infadoos looked, his eyes starting nearly out of his head, and then
fell upon his knees.
"Koom! Koom!" he ejaculated; "it is my brother's son; it is the
"Did I not tell thee so, my uncle? Rise; I am not yet the king, but
with thy help, and with the help of these brave white men, who are my
friends, I shall be. But the old woman Gagool was right, the land shall
run with blood first, and hers shall run with it, for she killed my
father with her words, and drove my mother forth. And now, Infadoos,
choose thou. Wilt thou put thy hands between my hands and be my man?
Wilt thou share the dangers that lie before me, and help me to
overthrow this tyrant and murderer, or wilt thou not? Choose thou."
The old man put his hand to his head and thought. Then he rose, and
advancing to where Umbopa, or rather Ignosi, stood, knelt before him
and took his hand.
"Ignosi, rightful king of the Kukuanas, I put my hand between thy
hands, and am thy man till death. When thou wast a babe I dandled thee
upon my knee, now shall my old arm strike for thee and freedom."
"It is well, Infadoos; if I conquer, thou shalt be the greatest man
in the kingdom after the king. If I fail, thou canst only die, and
death is not far off for thee. Rise, my uncle."
"And ye, white men, will ye help me? What have I to offer ye! The
white stones, if I conquer and can find them, ye shall have as many as
ye can carry hence. Will that suffice ye?"
I translated this remark.
"Tell him," answered Sir Henry, "that he mistakes an Englishman.
Wealth is good, and if it comes in our way we will take it; but a
gentleman does not sell himself for wealth. But, speaking for myself, I
say this. I have always liked Umbopa, and so far as lies in me will
stand by him in this business. It will be very pleasant to me to try
and square matters with that cruel devil, Twala. What do you say, Good,
and you, Quatermain?"
"Well," said Good, to adopt the language of hyperbole, in which all
these people seem to indulge, "you can tell him that a row is surely
good, and warms the cockles of the heart, and that so far as I am
concerned I'm his boy. My only stipulation is, that he allows me to
I translated these answers.
"It is well, my friends," said Ignosi, late Umbopa; "and what say
you, Macumazahn, art thou too with me, old hunter, cleverer than a
I thought awhile and scratched my head.
"Umbopa, or Ignosi," I said, "I don't like revolutions. I am a man
of peace, and a bit of a coward" (here Umbopa smiled), "but, on the
other hand, I stick to my friends, Ignosi. You have stuck to us and
played the part of a man, and I will stick to you. But mind you I am a
trader, and have to make my living, so I accept your offer about those
diamonds in case we should ever be in a position to avail ourselves of
it. Another thing: we came, as you know, to look for Incubu's (Sir
Henry's) lost brother. You must help us to find him."
"That will I do," answered Ignosi. "Stay, Infadoos, by the sign of
the snake round my middle, tell me the truth. Has any white man to thy
knowledge set his foot within the land?"
"None, oh Ignosi."
"If any white man had been seen or heard of, wouldst thou have known
"I should certainly have known."
"Thou hearest, Incubu," said Ignosi to Sir Henry, "he has not been
"Well, well," said Sir Henry, with a sigh; "there it is; I suppose
he never got here. Poor fellow, poor fellow! So it has all been for
nothing. God's will be done."
"Now for business," I put in, anxious to escape from a painful
subject. "It is all very well to be a king by right divine, Ignosi, but
how do you purpose to become a king indeed?"
"Nay, I know not. Infadoos, hast thou a plan?"
"Ignosi, son of the lightning," answered his uncle, "to-night is
the great dance and witch-hunt. Many will be smelt out and perish, and
in the hearts of many others there will be grief and anguish and anger
against the King Twala. When the dance is over, then will I speak to
some of the great chiefs, who in turn, if I can win them over, shall
speak to their regiments. I shall speak to the chiefs softly at first,
and bring them to see that thou art indeed the king, and I think that
by tomorrow's light thou shalt have twenty thousand spears at thy
command. And now must I go and think, and hear, and make ready. After
the dance is done I will, if I am yet alive, and we are all alive, meet
thee here, and we will talk. At the best there will be war."
At this moment our conference was interrupted by the cry that
messengers had come from the king. Advancing to the door of the hut we
ordered that they should be admitted, and presently three men entered,
each bearing a shining shirt of chain armour, and a magnificent
"The gifts of my lord the king to the white men from the stars!"
exclaimed a herald who came with them.
"We thank the king," I answered; "withdraw."
The men went, and we examined the armour with great interest. It was
the most beautiful chain work we had ever seen. A whole coat fell
together so closely that it formed a mass of links scarcely too big to
be covered with both hands.
"Do you make these things in this country, Infadoos?" I asked;
"they are very beautiful."
"Nay, my lord, they come down to us from our forefathers. We know
not who made them, and there are but few left. None but those of royal
blood may wear them. They are magic coats through which no spear can
pass. He who wears them is wellnigh safe in the battle. The king is
well pleased or much afraid, or he would not have sent them. Wear them
to-night, my lords."
The rest of the day we spent quietly resting and talking over the
situation, which was sufficiently exciting. At last the sun went down,
the thousand watchfires glowed out, and through the darkness we heard
the tramp of many feet and the clashing of hundreds of spears, as the
regiments passed to their appointed places to be ready for the great
dance. About ten the full moon came up in splendour, and as we stood
watching her ascent Infadoos arrived, clad in full war toggery, and
accompanied by a guard of twenty men to escort us to the dance. We had
already, as he recommended, donned the shirts of chain armour which the
king had sent us, putting them on under our ordinary clothing, and
finding to our surprise that they were neither very heavy nor
uncomfortable. These steel shirts, which had evidently been made for
men of a very large stature, hung somewhat loosely upon Good and
myself, but Sir Henry's fitted his magnificent frame like a glove. Then
strapping our revolvers round our waists, and taking the battle-axes
which the king had sent with the armour in our hands, we started.
On arriving at the great kraal, where we had that morning been
interviewed by the king, we found that it was closely packed with some
twenty thousand men arranged in regiments round it. The regiments were
in turn divided into companies, and between each company was a little
path to allow free passage to the witch-finders to pass up and down.
Anything more imposing than the sight that was presented by this vast
and orderly concourse of armed men it is impossible to conceive. There
they stood perfectly silent, and the bright moonlight poured its light
upon the forest of their raised spears, upon their majestic forms,
waving plumes, and the harmonious shading of their various-coloured
shields. Wherever we looked was line upon line of set faces surmounted
by range upon range of glittering spears.
"Surely," I said to Infadoos, "the whole army is here?"
"Nay, Macumazahn," he answered, "but a third part of it. One third
part is present at this dance each year, another third part is mustered
outside in case there should be trouble when the killing begins, ten
thousand more garrison the outposts round Loo, and the rest watch at
the kraals in the country. Thou seest it is a very great people."
"They are very silent," said Good; and indeed the intense stillness
among such a vast concourse of living men was almost overpowering.
"What says Bougwan?" asked Infadoos.
"Those over whom the shadow of Death is hovering are silent," he
"Will many be killed?"
"It seems," I said to the others, "that we are going to assist at a
gladiatorial show arranged regardless of expense."
Sir Henry shivered, and Good said that he wished that we could get
out of it.
"Tell me," I asked Infadoos, "are we in danger?"
"I know not, my lords, I trust not; but do not seem afraid. If ye
live through the night all may go well. The soldiers murmur against the
All this while we had been advancing steadily towards the centre of
the open space, in the midst of which were placed some stools. As we
proceeded we perceived another small party coming from the direction of
the royal hut.
"It is the king, Twala, and Scragga his son, and Gagool the old, and
see, with them are those who slay," and he pointed to a little group
of about a dozen gigantic and savage-looking men, armed with spears in
one hand and clubs in the other.
The king seated himself upon the centre stool, Gagool crouched at
his feet, and the others stood behind.
"Greeting, white lords," he cried, as we came up; "be seated, waste
not the precious time—the night is all too short for the deeds that
must be done. Ye come in a good hour, and shall see a glorious show.
Look round, white lords; look round," and he rolled his one wicked eye
from regiment to regiment. "Can the stars show ye such a sight as this?
See how they shake in their wickedness, all those who have evil in
their hearts and fear the judgment of 'heaven above.'"
"Begin! begin!" cried out Gagool in her thin piercing voice; "the
hyænas are hungry, they howl for food. Begin! begin!" Then for a moment
there was intense stillness, made horrible by a presage of what was to
The king lifted his spear, and suddenly twenty thousand feet were
raised, as though they belonged to one man, and brought down with a
stamp upon the earth. This was repeated three times, causing the solid
ground to shake and tremble. Then from a far point of the circle a
solitary voice began a wailing song, of which the refrain ran something
"What is the lot of man born of woman?"
Back came the answer rolling out from every throat in that vast
Gradually, however, the song was taken up by company after company,
till the whole armed multitude were singing it, and I could no longer
follow the words, except in so far as they appeared to represent
various phases of human passions, fears, and joys. Now it seemed to be
a love song, now a majestic swelling war chant, and last of all a
death-dirge ending suddenly in one heartbreaking wail that went echoing
and rolling away in a volume of blood-curdling sound. Again the silence
fell upon the place, and again it was broken by the king lifting up his
hand. Instantly there was a pattering of feet, and from out of the
masses of the warriors strange and awful figures came running towards
us. As they drew near we saw that they were those of women, most of
them aged, for their white hair, ornamented with small bladders taken
from fish, streamed out behind them. Their faces were painted in
stripes of white and yellow; down their backs hung snake-skins, and
round their waists rattled circlets of human bones, while each held in
her shrivelled hand a small forked wand. In all there were ten of them.
When they arrived in front of us they halted, and one of them pointing
with her wand towards the crouching figure of Gagool, cried out—
"Mother, old mother, we are here."
"Good! good! good!" piped out that aged iniquity. "Are your eyes
keen, Isanusis (witch doctresses), ye seers in dark places?"
"Mother, they are keen."
"good! good! good! Are your ears open, Isanusis, ye who hear words
that come not from the tongue?"
"Mother, they are open."
"good! good! good! Are your senses awake, Isanusis—can ye smell
blood, can ye purge the land of the wicked ones who compass evil
against the king and against their neighbours? Are ye ready to do the
justice of 'Heaven above,' ye whom I have taught, who have eaten of the
bread of my wisdom and drunk of the water of my magic?"
"Mother, we can."
"Then go! Tarry not, ye vultures; see the slayers," pointing to the
ominous group of executioners behind; "make sharp their spears; the
white men from afar are hungry to see. Go."
With a wild yell the weird party broke away in every direction, like
fragments from a shell, and the dry bones round their waists rattling
as they ran, made direct for various points of the dense human circle.
We could not watch them all, so fixed our eyes upon the Isanusi nearest
us. When she came within a few paces of the warriors, she halted and
began to dance wildly, turning round and round with an almost
incredible rapidity, and shrieking out sentences such as "I smell him,
the evil-doer!" "He is near, he who poisoned his mother!" "I hear the
thoughts of him who thought evil of the king!"
Quicker and quicker she danced, till she lashed herself into such a
frenzy of excitement that the foam flew in flecks from her gnashing
jaws, her eyes seemed to start from her head, and her flesh to quiver
visibly. Suddenly she stopped dead, and stiffened all over, like a
pointer dog when he scents game, and then with outstretched wand began
to creep stealthily towards the soldiers before her. It seemed to us
that as she came their stoicism gave way, and that they shrank from
her. As for ourselves, we followed her movements with a horrible
fascination. Presently, still creeping and crouching like a dog, she
was before them. Then she stopped and pointed, and then again crept on
a pace or two.
Suddenly the end came. With a shriek she sprang in and touched a
tall warrior with the forked wand. Instantly two of his comrades, those
standing immediately next to him, seized the doomed man, each by one
arm, and advanced with him towards the king.
He did not resist, but we saw that he dragged his limbs as though
they were paralysed, and his fingers, from which the spear had fallen,
were limp as those of a man newly dead.
As he came, two of the villainous executioners stepped forward to
meet him. Presently they met, and the executioners turned round towards
the king as though for orders.
"Kill!" said the king.
"Kill!" squeaked Gagool.
"Kill!" re-echoed Scragga, with a hollow chuckle.
Almost before the words were uttered, the horrible deed was done.
One man had driven his spear into the victim's heart, and to make
assurance doubly sure, the other had dashed out his brains with his
"One," counted Twala the king, just like a black Madame Defarge, as
Good said, and the body was dragged a few paces away and stretched out.
Hardly was this done, before another poor wretch was brought up,
like an ox to the slaughter. This time we could see, from the
leopard-skin cloak, that the man was a person of rank. Again the awful
syllables were spoken, and the victim fell dead.
"Two," counted the king.
And so the deadly game went on, till some hundred bodies were
stretched in rows behind us. I have heard of the gladiatorial shows of
the Cæsars, and of the Spanish bull-fights, but I take the liberty of
doubting if they were either of them half as horrible as this Kukuana
witch hunt. Gladiatorial shows and Spanish bull-fights, at any rate,
contributed to the public amusement, which certainly was not the case
here. The most confirmed sensation-monger would fight shy of sensation
if he knew that it was well on the cards that he would, in his own
proper person, be the subject of the next "event."
Once we rose and tried to remonstrate, but were sternly repressed by
"Let the law take its course, white men. These dogs are magicians
and evil-doers; it is well that they should die," was the only answer
vouchsafed to us.
About midnight there was a pause. The witch- finders gathered
themselves together, apparently exhausted with their bloody work, and
we thought that the whole performance was done with. But it was not
so, for presently, to our surprise, the old woman, Gagool, rose from
her crouching position, and supporting herself with a stick, staggered
off into the open space. It was an extraordinary sight to see this
frightful vulture-headed old creature, bent nearly double with extreme
age, gather strength by degrees till at last she rushed about almost as
actively as her ill-omened pupils. To and fro she ran, chanting to
herself, till suddenly she made a dash at a tall man standing in front
of one of the regiments, and touched him. As she did so, a sort of
groan went up from the regiment, which he evidently commanded. But all
the same, two of its members seized him and brought him up for
execution. We afterwards learned that he was a man of great wealth and
importance, being, indeed, a cousin of the king's.
He was slain, and the king counted one hundred and three. Then
Gagool again sprang to and fro, gradually drawing nearer and nearer to
"Hang me if I don't believe she is going to try her games on us,"
ejaculated Good in horror.
"Nonsense!" said Sir Henry.
As for myself, as I saw that old fiend dancing nearer and nearer, my
heart positively sank into my boots. I glanced behind us at the long
rows of corpses, and shivered.
Nearer and nearer waltzed Gagool, looking for all the world like an
animated crooked stick, her horrid eyes gleaming and glowing with a
most unholy lustre.
Nearer she came, and nearer yet, every pair of eyes in that vast
assemblage watching her movements with intense anxiety. At last she
stood still and pointed.
"Which is it to be?" asked Sir Henry to himself.
In a moment all doubts were set at rest, for the old woman had
rushed in and touched Umbopa, alias Ignosi, on the shoulder.
"I smell him out," she shrieked. "Kill him, kill him, he is full of
evil; kill him, the stranger, before blood flows for him. Slay him, O
There was a pause, which I instantly took advantage of.
"O King," I called out, rising from my seat, "this man is the
servant of thy guests, he is their dog; whosoever sheds the blood of
our dog sheds our blood. By the sacred law of hospitality I claim
protection for him."
"Gagool, mother of the witch doctors, has smelt him out; he must
die, white men," was the sullen answer.
"Nay, he shall not die," I replied; "he who tries to touch him shall
"Seize him!" roared Twala to the executioners, who stood around red
to the eyes with the blood of their victims.
They advanced towards us, and then hesitated. As for Ignosi, he
raised his spear, and raised it as though determined to sell his life
"Stand back, ye dogs," I shouted, "if ye would see to-morrow's
light. Touch one hair of his head and your king dies," and I covered
Twala with my revolver. Sir Henry and Good also drew their pistols, Sir
Henry pointing his at the leading executioner, who was advancing to
carry out the sentence, and Good taking a deliberate aim at Gagool.
Twala winced perceptibly, as my barrel came in a line with his broad
"Well," I said, "what is it to be, Twala?"
Then he spoke.
"Put up your magic tubes," he said; "ye have adjured me in the name
of hospitality, and for that reason, but not from fear of what ye can
do, I spare him. Go in peace."
"It is well," I answered, unconcernedly; "we are weary of slaughter,
and would sleep. Is the dance ended?"
"It is ended," Twala answered, sulkily. "Let these dogs," pointing
to the long rows of corpses, "be flung out to the hyænas and the
vultures," and he lifted his spear.
Instantly the regiments began in perfect silence to defile off
through the kraal gateway, a fatigue party only remaining behind to
drag away the corpses of those who had been sacrificed.
Then we too rose, and making our salaam to his majesty, which he
hardly deigned to acknowledge, departed to our kraal.
"Well," said Sir Henry, as we sat down, having first lit a lamp of
the sort used by the Kukuanas, of which the wick is made of the fibre
of a species of palm leaf, and the oil of clarified hippopotamus fat,
"well, I feel uncommonly inclined to be sick."
"If I had any doubts about helping Umbopa to rebel against that
infernal blackguard," put in Good, "they are gone now. It was as much
as I could do to sit still while that slaughter was going on. I tried
to keep my eyes shut, but they would open just at the wrong time. I
wonder where Infadoos is. Umbopa, my friend, you ought to be grateful
to us; your skin came near to having an air-hole made in it."
"I am grateful, Bougwan," was Umbopa's answer, when I had
translated, "and I shall not forget. As for Infadoos, he will be here
by-and-by. We must wait."
So we lit our pipes and waited.
CHAPTER XI. WE GIVE A SIGN.
For a long while—two hours, I should think—we sat there in
silence, for we were too overwhelmed by the recollection of the horrors
we had seen to talk. At last, just as we were thinking of turning
in—for already there were faint streaks of light in the eastern
sky—we heard the sound of steps. Then came the challenge of the
sentry, who was posted at the kraal gate, which was apparently
answered, though not in an audible tone, for the steps came on; and in
another second Infadoos had entered the hut, followed by some
half-dozen stately looking chiefs.
"My lords," he said, "I have come according to my word. My lords and
Ignosi, rightful King of the Kukuanas, I have brought with me these
men," pointing to the row of chiefs, "who are great men among us,
having each one of them the command of three thousand soldiers, who
live but to do their bidding, under the king's. I have told them of
what I have seen, and what my ears have heard. Now let them also see
the sacred snake around thee, and hear thy story, Ignosi, that they may
say whether or no they will make cause with thee against Twala, the
For answer, Ignosi again stripped off his girdle, and exhibited the
snake tattooed around him. Each chief in turn drew near and examined it
by the dim light of the lamp, and without saying a word passed on to
the other side.
Then Ignosi resumed his moocha, and addressing them, repeated the
history he had detailed in the morning.
"Now ye have heard, chiefs," said Infadoos, when he had done, "what
say ye; will ye stand by this man and help him to his father's throne,
or will ye not? The land cries out against Twala, and the blood of the
people flows like the waters in spring. Ye have seen to-night. Two
other chiefs there were with whom I had it in my mind to speak, and
where are they now? The hyænas howl over their corpses. Soon will ye be
as they are if ye strike not. Choose then, my brothers."
The eldest of the six men, a short, thick-set warrior with white
hair, stepped forward a pace and answered—
"Thy words are true, Infadoos; the land cries out. My own brother is
among those who died to-night; but this is a great matter, and the
thing is hard to believe. How know we that if we lift our spears it may
not be for an impostor? It is a great matter, I say, and none may see
the end of it. For of this be sure, blood will flow in rivers before
the deed is done; many will still cleave to the king, for men worship
the sun that still shines bright in the heavens, and not that which has
not risen. These white men from the stars, their magic is great, and
Ignosi is under the cover of their wing. If he be indeed the rightful
king, let them give us a sign, and let the people have a sign, that all
may see. So shall men cleave to us, knowing that the white man's magic
is with them."
"Ye have the sign of the snake," I answered.
"My lord, it is not enough. The snake may have been placed there
since the man's birth. Show us a sign." We will not move without a
The others gave a decided assent, and I turned in perplexity to Sir
Henry and Good, and explained the situation.
"I think I have it," said Good, exultingly; "ask them to give us a
moment to think."
I did so, and the chiefs withdrew. As soon as they were gone, Good
went to the little box in which his medicines were, unlocked it, and
took out a note-book, in the front of which was an almanack. "Now, look
here, you fellows, isn't to-morrow the fourth of June?"
We had kept a careful note of the days, so were able to answer that
"Very good; then here we have it—'4 June, total eclipse of the sun
commences at 11.15 Greenwich time, visible in these Islands—Africa,
&c.' There's a sign for you. Tell them that you will darken the sun
The idea was a splendid one; indeed, the only fear about it was a
fear lest Good's almanack might be incorrect. If we made a false
prophecy on such a subject, our prestige would be gone for ever, and
so would Ignosi's chance of the throne of the Kukuanas.
"Suppose the almanack is wrong," suggested Sir Henry to Good, who
was busily employed in working out something on the fly-leaf of the
"I don't see any reason to suppose anything of the sort," was his
answer. "Eclipses always come up to time; at least, that is my
experience of them, and it especially states that it will be visible in
Africa. I have worked out the reckonings as well as I can, without
knowing our exact position; and I make out that the eclipse should
begin here about one o'clock to-morrow, and last till half-past two.
For half an hour or more there should be total darkness."
"Well," said Sir Henry, "I suppose we had better risk it."
I acquiesced, though doubtfully, for eclipses are queer cattle to
deal with, and sent Umbopa to summon the chiefs back. Presently they
came, and I addressed them thus—
"Great men of the Kukuanas, and thou, Infadoos, listen. We are not
fond of showing our powers, since to do so is to interfere with the
course of nature, and plunge the world into fear and confusion; but as
this matter is a great one, and as we are angered against the king
because of the slaughter we have seen, and because of the act of the
Isanusi Gagool, who would have put our friend Ignosi to death, we have
determined to do so, and to give such a sign as all men may see. Come
hither," and I led them to the door of the hut and pointed to the
fiery ball of the rising sun; "what see ye there?"
"We see the rising sun," answered the spokesman of the party.
"It is so. Now tell me, can any mortal man put out that sun, so that
night comes down on the land at mid-day?"
The chief laughed a little. "No, my lord, that no man can do. The
sun is stronger than man who looks on him."
"Ye say so. Yet I tell you that this day, one hour after mid-day,
will we put out that sun for a space of an hour, and darkness shall
cover the earth, and it shall be for a sign that we are indeed men of
honour, and that Ignosi is indeed King of the Kukuanas. If we do this
thing, will it satisfy ye?"
"Yea, my lords," answered the old chief with a smile, which was
reflected on the faces of his companions; "if ye do this thing we will
be satisfied indeed."
"It shall be done; we three, Incubu the Elephant, Bougwan the
clear-eyed, and Macumazahn, who watches in the night, have said it, and
it shall be done. Dost thou hear, Infadoos?"
"I hear, my lord, but it is a wonderful thing that ye promise, to
put out the sun, the father of all things, who shines for ever."
"Yet shall we do it, Infadoos."
"It is well, my lords. To-day, a little after midday will Twala send
for my lords to witness the girls dance, and one hour after the dance
begins shall the girl whom Twala thinks the fairest be killed by
Scragga, the king's son, as a sacrifice to the silent stone ones, who
sit and keep watch by the mountains yonder," and he pointed to the
three strange-looking peaks where Solomon's road was supposed to end.
"Then let my lords darken the sun, and save the maiden's life, and the
people will indeed believe."
"Ay," said the old chief, still smiling a little, "the people will
"Two miles from Loo," went on Infadoos, "there is a hill curved like
the new moon, a stronghold, where my regiment, and three other
regiments which these men command, are stationed. This morning we will
make a plan whereby other regiments, two or three, may be moved there
also. Then if my lords can indeed darken the sun, in the darkness I
will take my lords by the hand and lead them out of Loo to this place,
where they shall be safe, and thence can we make war upon Twala, the
"It is good," said I. "Now leave us to sleep awhile and make ready
Infadoos rose, and, having saluted us, departed with the chiefs.
"My friends," said Ignosi, as soon as they were gone, "can ye indeed
do this wonderful thing, or were ye speaking empty words to the men?"
"We believe that we can do it, Umbopa—Ignosi, I mean."
"It is strange," he answered, "and had ye not been Englishmen I
would not have believed it; but English 'gentlemen' tell no lies. If we
live through the matter, be sure I will repay ye!"
"Ignosi," said Sir Henry, "promise me one thing."
"I will promise, Incubu, my friend, even before I hear it," answered
the big man with a smile. "What is it?"
"This: that if you ever come to be king of this people you will do
away with the smelling out of witches such as we have seen last night;
and that the killing of men without trial shall not take place in the
Ignosi thought for a moment, after I had translated this, and then
"The ways of black people are not as the ways of white men, Incubu,
nor do we hold life so high as ye. Yet will I promise it. If it be in
my power to hold them back, the witch-finders shall hunt no more, nor
shall any man die the death without judgment."
"That's a bargain, then," said Sir Henry; "and now let us get a
Thoroughly wearied out, we were soon sound asleep, and slept till
Ignosi woke us about eleven o'clock. Then we got up, washed, and ate a
hearty breakfast, not knowing when we should get any more food. After
that we went outside the hut and stared at the sun, which we were
distressed to observe presented a remarkably healthy appearance,
without a sign of an eclipse anywhere about it.
"I hope it will come off," said Sir Henry, doubtfully. "False
prophets often find themselves in painful positions."
"If it does not, it will soon be up with us," I answered,
mournfully; "for so sure as we are living men, some of those chiefs
will tell the whole story to the king, and then there will be another
sort of eclipse, and one that we shall not like."
Returning to the hut we dressed ourselves, putting on the mail
shirts which the king had sent us as before. Scarcely had we done so
when a messenger came from Twala to bid us to the great annual "dance
of girls" which was about to be celebrated.
Taking our rifles and ammunition with us so as to have them handy in
case we had to fly, as suggested by Infadoos, we started boldly enough,
though with inward fear and trembling. The great space in front of the
king's kraal presented a very different appearance from what it had
done on the previous evening. In the place of the grim ranks of serried
warriors were company after company of Kukuana girls, not overdressed,
so far as clothing went, but each crowned with a wreath of flowers, and
holding a palm leaf in one hand and a tall white lily (the arum) in the
other. In the centre of the open space sat Twala, the king, with old
Gagool at his feet, attended by Infadoos, the boy Scragga, and about a
dozen guards. There were also present about a score of chiefs, amongst
whom I recognised most of our friends of the night before.
Twala greeted us with much apparent cordiality, though I saw him fix
his one eye viciously on Umbopa.
"Welcome, white men from the stars," he said; "this is a different
sight from what your eyes gazed on by the light of last night's moon,
but it is not so good a sight. Girls are pleasant, and were it not for
such as these" (and he pointed round him) "we should none of us be here
to-day; but men are better. Kisses and the tender words of women are
sweet, but the sound of the clashing of men's spears, and the smell of
men's blood, are sweeter far! Would ye have wives from among our
people, white men? If so, choose the fairest here, and ye shall have
them, as many as ye will," and he paused for an answer.
As the prospect did not seem to be without attractions to Good, who
was, like most sailors, of a susceptible nature, I, being elderly and
wise, and foreseeing the endless complications that anything of the
sort would involve (for women bring trouble as surely as the night
follows the day), put in a hasty answer—
"Thanks, O king, but we white men wed only with white women like
ourselves. Your maidens are fair, but they are not for us!"
The king laughed. "It is well. In our land there is a proverb which
says, 'Woman's eyes are always bright, whatever the colour,' and
another which says, 'Love her who is present, for be sure she who is
absent is false to thee;' but perhaps these things are not so in the
stars. In a land where men are white all things are possible. So be it,
white men; the girls will not go begging! Welcome again; and welcome,
too, thou black one; if Gagool here had had her way thou wouldst have
been stiff and cold now. It is lucky that thou, too, camest from the
stars; ha! ha!"
"I can kill thee before thou killest me, O king," was Ignosi's calm
answer, "and thou shalt be stiff before my limbs cease to bend."
Twala started. "Thou speakest boldly, boy," he replied, angrily;
"presume not too far."
"He may well be bold in whose lips are truth. The truth is a sharp
spear which flies home and fails not. It is a message from 'the stars,'
Twala scowled, and his one eye gleamed fiercely, but he said nothing
"Let the dance begin," he cried, and next second the flower-crowned
girls sprang forward in companies, singing a sweet song and waving the
delicate palms and white flowers. On they danced, now whirling round
and round, now meeting in mimic warfare, swaying, eddying here and
there, coming forward, falling back in an ordered confusion delightful
to witness. At last they paused, and a beautiful young woman sprang out
of the ranks and began to pirouette in front of us with a grace and
vigour which would have put most ballet girls to shame. At length she
fell back exhausted, and another took her place, then another and
another, but none of them, either in grace, skill, or personal
attractions, came up to the first.
At length the king lifted his hand.
"Which think ye the fairest, white men?" he asked.
"The first," said I, unthinkingly. Next second I regretted it, for I
remembered that Infadoos had said that the fairest woman was offered as
"Then is my mind as your minds, and my eyes as your eyes. She is the
fairest; and a sorry thing it is for her, for she must die!"
"Ay, must die!" piped out Gagool, casting a glance from her quick
eyes in the direction of the poor girl, who, as yet ignorant of the
awful fate in store for her, was standing some twenty yards off in
front of a company of girls, engaged in nervously picking a flower from
her wreath to pieces, petal by petal.
"Why, O king?" said I, restraining my indignation with difficulty;
"the girl has danced well and pleased us; she is fair, too; it would be
hard to reward her with death."
Twala laughed as he answered—
"It is our custom, and the figures who sit in stone yonder" (and he
pointed towards the three distant peaks) "must have their due. Did I
fail to put the fairest girl to death to-day misfortune would fall upon
me and my house. Thus runs the prophecy of my people: 'If the king
offer not a sacrifice of a fair girl on the day of the dance of maidens
to the old ones who sit and watch on the mountains, then shall he fall
and his house.' Look ye, white men, my brother who reigned before me
offered not the sacrifice, because of the tears of the woman, and he
fell, and his house, and I reign in his stead. It is finished; she must
die!" Then turning to the guards—"Bring her hither; Scragga, make
sharp thy spear."
Two of the men stepped forward, and as they did so, the girl, for
the first time realising her impending fate, screamed aloud and turned
to fly. But the strong hands caught her fast, and brought her,
struggling and weeping, up before us.
"What is thy name, girl?" piped Gagool. "What! wilt thou not answer;
shall the king's son do his work at once?"
At this hint Scragga, looking more evil than ever, advanced a step
and lifted his great spear, and as he did so I saw Sir Henry's hand
creep to his revolver. The poor girl caught the glint of the cold steel
through her tears, and it sobered her anguish. She ceased struggling,
but merely clasped her hands convulsively, and stood shuddering from
head to foot.
"See," cried Scragga in high glee, "she shrinks from the sight of my
little plaything even before she has tasted it," and he tapped the
broad blade of the spear.
"If ever I get the chance, you shall pay for that, you young hound!"
I heard Good mutter beneath his breath.
"Now that thou art quiet, give us thy name, my dear. Come, speak up,
and fear not," said Gagool in mockery.
"Oh, mother," answered the girl in trembling accents, "my name is
Foulata, of the house of Suko. Oh, mother,why must I die? I have done
"Be comforted," went on the old woman, in her hateful tone of
mockery. "Thou must die indeed, as a sacrifice to the old ones who sit
yonder" (and she pointed to the peaks); "but it is better to sleep in
the night than to toil in the day-time; it is better to die than to
live, and thou shalt die by the royal hand of the king's own son."
The girl Foulata wrung her hands in anguish, and cried out aloud:
"Oh, cruel; and I so young! What have I done that I should never again
see the sun rise out of the night, or the stars come following on his
track in the evening: that I should no more gather the flowers when the
dew is heavy, or listen to the laughing of the waters! Woe is me, that
I shall never see my father's hut again, nor feel my mother's kiss, nor
tend the kid that is sick! Woe is me, that no lover shall put his arm
around me and look into my eyes, nor shall men children be born of me!
Oh, cruel, cruel!" and again she wrung her hands and turned her
tear-stained, flower-crowned face to Heaven, looking so lovely in her
despair—for she was indeed a beautiful woman— that it would
assuredly have melted the hearts of any one less cruel than the three
fiends before us. Prince Arthur's appeal to the ruffians who came to
blind him was not more touching than this savage girl's.
But it did not move Gagool or Gagool's master, though I saw signs of
pity among the guard behind, and on the faces of the chiefs; and as for
Good, he gave a sort of snort of indignation, and made a motion as
though to go to her. With all a woman's quickness, the doomed girl
interpreted what was passing in his mind, and with a sudden movement
flung herself before him, and clasped his "beautiful white legs" with
"Oh, white father from the stars!" she cried, "throw over me the
mantle of thy protection; let me creep into the shadow of thy strength,
that I may be saved. Oh, keep me from these cruel men and from the
mercies of Gagool!"
"All right, my hearty, I'll look after you," sang out Good, in
nervous Saxon. "Come, get up, there's a good girl," and he stooped and
caught her hand.
Twala turned and motioned to his son, who advanced with his spear
"Now's your time," whispered Sir Henry to me; "what are you waiting
"I am waiting for the eclipse," I answered; "I have had my eye on
the sun for the last half-hour, and I never saw it look healthier."
"Well, you must risk it now, or the girl will be killed. Twala is
Recognising the force of the argument, having cast one more
despairing look at the bright face of the sun, for never did the most
ardent astronomer await a celestial event with such anxiety, I stepped
with all the dignity I could command between the prostrate girl and the
advancing spear of Scragga.
"King," I said, "this shall not be; we will not tolerate such a
thing; let the girl go in safety."
Twala rose from his seat in his wrath and astonishment, and from the
chiefs and serried ranks of girls, who had slowly closed up upon us in
anticipation of the tragedy, came a murmur of amazement.
"shall not be, thou white dog, who yaps at the lion in his cave,
shall not be! art thou mad? Be careful lest this chicken's fate
overtakes thee, and those with thee. How canst thou prevent it? Who art
thou that thou standest between me and my will? Withdraw, I say.
Scragga, kill her. Ho, guards! seize these men."
At his cry armed men came running swiftly from behind the hut, where
they had evidently been placed beforehand.
Sir Henry, Good, and Umbopa ranged themselves alongside of me, and
lifted their rifles.
"Stop!" I shouted boldly, though at the moment my heart was in my
boots. "Stop! we, the white men from the stars, say that it shall not
be. Come but one pace nearer, and we will put out the sun and plunge
the land in darkness. Ye shall taste of our magic."
My threat produced an effect; the men halted, and Scragga stood
still before us, his spear lifted.
"Hear him! hear him!" piped Gagool; "hear the liar who says he will
put out the sun like a lamp. Let him do it, and the girl shall be
spared. Yes, let him do it, or die with the girl, he and those with
I glanced up at the sun, and to my intense joy saw that we had made
no mistake. On the edge of its brilliant surface was a faint rim of
I lifted my hand solemnly towards the sky, an example which Sir
Henry and Good followed, and quoted a line or two of the "Ingoldsby
Legends" at it in the most impressive tones I could command. Sir Henry
followed suit with a verse out of the Old Testament, whilst Good
addressed the King of Day in a volume of the most classical bad
language that he could think of.
Slowly the dark rim crept on over the blazing surface, and as it did
so I heard a deep gasp of fear rise from the multitude around.
"Look, O king! look, Gagool! Look, chiefs and people and women, and
see if the white men from the stars keep their word, or if they be but
"The sun grows dark before your eyes; soon there will be night—ay,
night in the noontime. Ye have asked for a sign; it is given to ye.
Grow dark, O sun! withdraw thy light, thou bright one; bring the proud
heart to the dust, and eat up the world with shadows."
A groan of terror rose from the onlookers. Some stood petrified with
fear, others threw themselves upon their knees, and cried out. As for
the king, he sat still and turned pale beneath his dusky skin. Only
Gagool kept her courage.
"It will pass," she cried; "I have seen the like before; no man can
put out the sun; lose not heart; sit still—the shadow will pass."
"Wait, and ye shall see," I replied, hopping with excitement.
"Keep it up, Good, I can't remember any more poetry. Curse away,
there's a good fellow."
Good responded nobly to the tax upon his inventive faculties. Never
before had I the faintest conception of the breadth and depth and
height of a naval officer's objurgatory powers. For ten minutes he went
on without stopping, and he scarcely ever repeated himself.
Meanwhile the dark ring crept on. Strange and unholy shadows
encroached upon the sunlight, an ominous quiet filled the place, the
birds chirped out frightened notes, and then were still; only the cocks
began to crow.
On, yet on, crept the ring of darkness; it was now more than half
over the reddening orb. The air grew thick and dusky. On, yet on, till
we could scarcely see the fierce faces of the group before us. No sound
rose now from the spectators, and Good stopped swearing.
"The sun is dying—the wizards have killed the sun," yelled out
the boy Scragga at last. "We shall all die in the dark," and animated
by fear or fury, or both, he lifted his spear, and drove it with all
his force at Sir Henry's broad chest. But he had forgotten the mail
shirts that the king had given us, and which we wore beneath our
clothing. The steel rebounded harmless, and before he could repeat the
blow Sir Henry had snatched the spear from his hand, and sent it
straight through him. He dropped dead.
At the sight, and driven mad with fear at the gathering gloom, the
companies of girls broke up in wild confusion, and ran screeching for
the gateways. Nor did the panic stop there. The king himself, followed
by the guards, some of the chiefs, and Gagool, who hobbled away after
them with marvellous alacrity, fled for the huts, so that in another
minute or so ourselves, the would-be victim, Foulata, Infadoos, and
some of the chiefs, who had interviewed us on the previous night, were
left alone upon the scene with the dead body of Scragga.
"Now, chiefs," I said, "we have given you the sign. If ye are
satisfied, let us fly swiftly to the place ye spoke of. The charm
cannot now be stopped. It will work for an hour. Let us take advantage
of the darkness."
"Come," said Infadoos, turning to go, an example which was followed
by the awed chiefs, ourselves, and the girl Foulata, whom Good took by
Before we reached the gate of the kraal the sun went out altogether.
Holding each other by the hand we stumbled on through the darkness.
CHAPTER XII. BEFORE THE BATTLE.
Luckily for us, Infadoos and the chiefs knew all the pathways of the
great town perfectly, so that notwithstanding the intense gloom we made
For an hour or more we journeyed on, till at length the eclipse
began to pass, and that edge of the sun which had disappeared the
first, became again visible. In another five minutes there was
sufficient light to see our whereabouts, and we then discovered that we
were clear of the town of Loo, and approaching a large flat-topped
hill, measuring some two miles in circumference. This hill, which was
of a formation very common in Southern Africa, was not very high;
indeed, its greatest elevation was not more than 200 feet, but it was
shaped like a horse-shoe, and its sides were rather precipitous, and
strewn with boulders. On the grass table-land at the top was ample
camping ground, which had been utilised as a military cantonment of no
mean strength. Its ordinary garrison was one regiment of three thousand
men, but as we toiled up the steep side of the hill in the returning
daylight, we perceived that there were many more warriors than that
Reaching the table-land at last, we found crowds of men huddled
together in the utmost consternation at the natural phenomenon which
they were witnessing. Passing through these without a word, we gained a
hut in the centre of the ground, where we were astonished to find two
men waiting, laden with our few goods and chattels, which of course we
had been obliged to leave behind in our hasty flight.
"I sent for them," explained Infadoos; "also for these," and he
lifted up Good's long-lost trousers.
With an exclamation of rapturous delight Good sprang at them, and
instantly proceeded to put them on.
"Surely my lord will not hide his beautiful white legs!" exclaimed
But Good persisted, and once only did the Kukuana people get the
chance of seeing his beautiful legs again. Good is a very modest man.
Henceforward they had to satisfy their æsthetic longings with his one
whisker, his transparent eye, and his movable teeth.
Still gazing with fond remembrance at Good's trousers, Infadoos next
informed us that he had summoned the regiments to explain to them fully
the rebellion which was decided on by the chiefs, and to introduce to
them the rightful heir to the throne, Ignosi.
In half an hour the troops, in all nearly twenty thousand men,
constituting the flower of the Kukuana army, were mustered on a large
open space, to which we proceeded. The men were drawn up in three
sides of a dense square, and presented a magnificent spectacle. We took
our station on the open side of the square, and were speedily
surrounded by all the principal chiefs and officers.
These, after silence had been proclaimed, Infadoos proceeded to
address. He narrated to them in vigorous and graceful language—for
like most Kukuanas of high rank, he was a born orator—the history of
Ignosi's father, how he had been basely murdered by Twala, the king,
and his wife and child driven out to starve. Then he pointed out how
the land suffered and groaned under Twala's cruel rule, instancing the
proceedings of the previous night, when, under pretence of their being
evildoers, many of the noblest in the land had been haled forth and
cruelly done to death. Next he went on to say that the white lords from
the stars, looking down on the land, had perceived its trouble, and
determined, at great personal inconvenience, to alleviate its lot; how
they had accordingly taken the real king of the country, Ignosi, who
was languishing in exile, by the hand, and led him over the mountains;
how they had seen the wickedness of Twala's doings, and for a sign to
the wavering, and to save the life of the girl Foulata, had actually,
by the exercise of their high magic, put out the sun, and slain the
young fiend Scragga; and how they were prepared to stand by them, and
assist them to overthrow Twala, and set up the rightful king, Ignosi,
in his place.
He finished his discourse amidst a murmur of approbation, and then
Ignosi stepped forward, and began to speak. Having reiterated all that
Infadoos his uncle had said, he concluded a powerful speech in these
"Oh, chiefs, captains, soldiers, and people, ye have heard my words.
Now must ye make choice between me and him who sits upon my throne, the
uncle who killed his brother, and hunted his brother's child forth to
die in the cold and the night. That I am indeed the king
these"—pointing to the chiefs—"can tell ye, for they have seen the
snake about my middle. If I were not the king, would these white men be
on my side, with all their magic? Tremble, chiefs, captains, soldiers,
and people! Is not the darkness they have brought upon the land to
confound Twala, and cover our flight, yet before your eyes?"
"It is," answered the soldiers.
"I am the king; I say to ye, I am the king," went on Ignosi, drawing
up his great stature to its full, and lifting his broad-bladed
battle-axe above his head. "If there be any man among ye who says that
it is not so, let him stand forth, and I will fight him now, and his
blood shall be a red token that I tell ye true. Let him stand forth, I
say;" and he shook the great axe till it flashed in the sunlight.
As nobody seemed inclined to respond to this heroic version of
"Dilly, Dilly, come and be killed," our late henchman proceeded with
"I am indeed the king, and if ye do stand by my side in the battle,
if I win the day ye shall go with me to victory and honour. I will give
ye oxen and wives, and ye shall take place of all the regiments; and if
ye fall I will fall with ye.
"And, behold, this promise do I give ye, that when I sit upon the
seat of my fathers, bloodshed shall cease in the land. No longer shall
ye cry for justice to find slaughter, no longer shall the witch-finder
hunt ye out so that ye be slain without a cause. No man shall die save
he who offendeth against the laws. The 'eating up' of your kraals shall
cease; each shall sleep secure in his own hut and fear not, and justice
shall walk blind throughout the land. Have ye chosen, chiefs, captains,
soldiers, and people?"
"We have chosen, O king," came back the answer.
"It is well. Turn your heads and see how Twala's messengers go forth
from the great town, east and west, and north and south, to gather a
mighty army to slay me and ye, and these my friends and my protectors.
Tomorrow, or perchance the next day, will he come with all who are
faithful to him. Then shall I see the man who is indeed my man, the man
who fears not to die for his cause; and I tell ye he shall not be
forgotten in the time of spoil. I have spoken, O chiefs, captains,
soldiers, and people. Now go to your huts and make you ready for war."
There was a pause, and then one of the chiefs lifted his hand, and
out rolled the royal salute, "Koom." It was a sign that the regiments
accepted Ignosi as their king. Then they marched off in battalions.
Half an hour afterwards we held a council of war, at which all the
commanders of regiments were present. It was evident to us that before
very long we should be attacked in overwhelming force. Indeed, from our
point of vantage on the hill we could see troops mustering, and
messengers going forth from Loo in every direction, doubtless to summon
regiments to the king's assistance. We had on our side about twenty
thousand men, composed of seven of the best regiments in the country.
Twala had, so Infadoos and the chiefs calculated, at least thirty to
thirty-five thousand on whom he could rely at present assembled in Loo,
and they thought that by midday on the morrow he would be able to
gather another five thousand or more to his aid. It was, of course,
possible that some of his troops would desert and come over to us, but
it was not a contingency that could be reckoned on. Meanwhile, it was
clear that active preparations were being made to subdue us. Already
strong bodies of armed men were patrolling round and round the foot of
the hill, and there were other signs of a coming attack.
Infadoos and the chiefs, however, were of opinion that no attack
would take place that night, which would be devoted to preparation and
to the removal by every possible means of the moral effect produced
upon the minds of the soldiery by the supposed magical darkening of
the sun. The attack would be on the morrow, they said, and they proved
to be right.
Meanwhile, we set to work to strengthen the position as much as
possible. Nearly the entire force was turned out, and in the two hours
which yet remained to sundown wonders were done. The paths up the hill,
which was rather a sanitarium than a fortress, being used generally as
the camping place of regiments suffering from recent service in
unhealthy portions of the country, were carefully blocked with masses
of stones, and every other possible approach was made as impregnable as
time would allow. Piles of boulders were collected at various spots to
be rolled down upon an advancing enemy, stations were appointed to the
different regiments, and every other preparation which our joint
ingenuity could suggest was taken.
Just before sundown we perceived a small company of men advancing
towards us from the direction of Loo, one of whom bore a palm leaf in
his hand as a sign that he came as a herald.
As he came, Ignosi, Infadoos, one or two chiefs, and ourselves, went
down to the foot of the mountain to meet him. He was a gallant-looking
fellow, with the regulation leopard-skin cloak.
"Greeting!" he cried, as he came near; "the king's greeting to those
who make unholy war against the king; the lion's greeting to the
jackals who snarl around his heels."
"Speak," I said.
"These are the king's words. Surrender to the king's mercy ere a
worse thing befall ye. Already the shoulder has been torn from the
black bull, and the king drives him bleeding about the camp."
"What are Twala's terms?" I asked for curiosity.
"His terms are merciful, worthy of a great king. These are the words
of Twala, the one-eyed, the mighty; the husband of a thousand wives,
lord of the Kukuanas, keeper of the great road (Solomon's Road),
beloved of the strange ones who sit in silence at the mountains yonder
(the three Witches), calf of the black cow, elephant whose tread shakes
the earth, terror of the evildoer, ostrich whose feet devour the
desert, huge one, black one, wise one, king from generation to
generation! these are the words of Twala: 'I will have mercy and be
satisfied with a little blood. One in every ten shall die, the rest
shall go free; but the white man Incubu, who slew Scragga, my son, and
the black man, his servant, who pretends to my throne, and Infadoos, my
brother, who brews rebellion against me, these shall die by torture as
an offering to the silent ones.' Such are the merciful words of Twala."
After consulting with the others a little, I answered him in a loud
voice, so that the soldiers might hear, thus—
"Go back, thou dog, to Twala, who sent thee, and say that we,
Ignosi, veritable king of the Kukuanas Incubu, Bougwan, and Macumazahn,
the wise white ones from the stars, who make dark the sun, Infadoos, of
the royal house, and the chiefs, captains, and people here gathered,
make answer and say, 'That we will not surrender; that before the sun
has twice gone down Twala's corpse shall stiffen at Twala's gate, and
Ignosi, whose father Twala slew, shall regin in his stead.' Now go, ere
we whip thee away, and beware how ye lift a hand against such as we."
The herald laughed loud. "Ye frighten not men with such swelling
words," he cried out. "Show yourselves as bold to-morrow, O ye who
darken the sun. Be bold, fight, and be merry, before the crows pick
your bones till they are whiter than your faces. Farewell; perhaps we
may meet in the fight; wait for me, I pray, white men." And with this
shaft of sarcasm he retired, and almost immediately the sun sank.
That night was a busy one for us, for as far as was possible by the
moonlight all preparations for the morrow's fight were continued.
Messengers were constantly coming and going from the place where we sat
in council. At last, about an hour after midnight, everything that
could be done was done, and the camp, save for the occasional challenge
of a sentry, sank into sleep. Sir Henry and I, accompanied by Ignosi
and one of the chiefs, descended the hill and made the round of the
vedettes. As we went, suddenly, from all sorts of unexpected places,
spears gleamed out in the moonlight, only to vanish again as we
uttered the password. It was clear to us that none were sleeping at
their posts. Then we returned, picking our way through thousands of
sleeping warriors, many of whom were taking their last earthly rest.
The moonlight flickered along their spears, and played upon their
features and made them ghastly; the chilly night wind tossed their tall
and hearse-like plumes. There they lay in wild confusion, with arms
outstretched and twisted limbs; their stern, stalwart forms looking
weird and unhuman in the moonlight.
"How many of these do you suppose will be alive at this time
to-morrow?" asked Sir Henry.
I shook my head and looked again at the sleeping men, and to my
tired and yet excited imagination it seemed as though death had already
touched them. My mind's eye singled out those who were sealed to
slaughter, and there rushed in upon my heart a great sense of the
mystery of human life, and an overwhelming sorrow at its futility and
sadness. To-night these thousands slept their healthy sleep, to-morrow
they, and many others with them, ourselves perhaps among them, would be
stiffening in the cold; their wives would be widows, their children
fatherless, and their place know them no more for ever. Only the old
moon would shine serenely on, the night wind would stir the grasses,
and the wide earth would take its happy rest, even as it did æons
before these were, and will do æons after they have been forgotten.
Yet man dies not whilst the world, at once his mother and his
monument, remains. His name is forgotten, indeed, but the breath he
breathed yet stirs the pine-tops on the mountains, the sound of the
words he spoke yet echoes on through space; the thoughts his brain gave
birth to we have inherited to-day; his passions are our cause of life;
the joys and sorrows that he felt are our familiar friends—the end
from which he fled aghast will surely overtake us also!
Truly the universe is full of ghosts, not sheeted churchyard
spectres, but the inextinguishable and immortal elements of life,
which, having once been, can never die, though they blend and change
and change again for ever.
All sorts of reflections of this sort passed through my mind—for
as I get older I regret to say that a detestable habit of thinking
seems to be getting a hold of me—while I stood and stared at those
grim yet fantastic lines of warriors sleeping, as their saying goes,
"upon their spears."
"Curtis," I said to Sir Henry, "I am in a condition of pitiable
Sir Henry stroked his yellow beard and laughed, as he answered—
"I've heard you make that sort of remark before, Quatermain."
"Well, I mean it now. Do you know, I very much doubt if one of us
will be alive to-morrow night. We shall be attacked in overwhelming
force, and it is exceedingly doubtful if we can hold this place."
"We'll give a good account of some of them, at any rate. Look here,
Quatermain, the business is a nasty one, and one with which, properly
speaking, we ought not to be mixed up, but we are in for it, so we must
make the best of it. Speaking personally, I had rather be killed
fighting than any other way, and now that there seems little chance of
my finding my poor brother, it makes the idea easier to me. But fortune
favours the brave, and we may succeed. Anyway, the slaughter will be
awful, and as we have a reputation to keep up, we shall have to be in
the thick of it."
Sir Henry made this last remark in a mournful voice, but there was a
gleam in his eye which belied it. I have a sort of idea that Sir Henry
Curtis actually likes fighting.
After this we went and slept for a couple of hours.
Just about dawn we were awakened by Infadoos, who came to say that
great activity was to be observed in Loo, and that parties of the
king's skirmishers were driving-in our vedettes.
We got up and dressed ourselves for the fray, each putting on our
chain-armour shirt, for which at the present juncture we felt
exceedingly thankful. Sir Henry went the whole hog about the matter,
and dressed himself like a native warrior. "When you are in
Kukuanaland, do as the Kukuanas do," he remarked, as he drew the
shining steel over his broad shoulders, which it fitted like a glove.
Nor did he stop there. At his request, Infadoos had provided him with a
complete set of war uniform. Round his throat he fastened the
leopard-skin cloak of a commanding officer, on his brows he bound the
plume of black ostrich feathers, worn only by generals of high rank,
and round his centre a magnificent moocha of white ox-tails. A pair of
sandals, a leglet of goats' hair, a heavy battle-axe, with a
rhinoceros-horn handle, a round iron shield, covered with white
ox-hide, and the regulation number of tollas, or throwing knives, made
up his equipment, to which, however, he added his revolver. The dress
was, no doubt, a savage one, but I am bound to say I never saw a finer
sight than Sir Henry Curtis presented in this guise. It showed off his
magnificent physique to the greatest advantage, and when Ignosi arrived
presently, arrayed in similar costume, I thought to myself that I never
before saw two such splendid men. As for Good and myself, the chain
armour did not suit us nearly so well. To begin with, Good insisted
upon keeping on his trousers, and a stout, short gentleman with an
eye-glass, and one half of his face shaved, arrayed in a mail shirt
carefully tucked into a very seedy pair of corduroys, looks more
striking than imposing. As for myself, my chain shirt being too big for
me, I put it on over all my clothes, which caused it to bulge out in a
somewhat ungainly fashion. I discarded my trousers, however, determined
to go into battle with bare legs, in order to be the lighter, in case
it became necessary to retire quickly, retaining only my veldtschoons.
This, a spear, a shield, which I did not know how to use, a couple of
tollas, a revolver, and a huge plume, which I pinned into the top of my
shooting hat, in order to give a bloodthirsty finish to my appearance,
completed my modest equipment. In addition to all these articles, of
course we had our rifles, but as ammunition was scarce, and they would
be useless in case of a charge, we had arranged to have them carried
behind us by bearers.
As soon as we had equipped ourselves, we hastily swallowed some
food, and then started out to see how things were progressing. At one
point in the table-land of the mountain there was a little koppie of
brown stone, which served for the double purpose of headquarters and a
conning tower. Here we found Infadoos surrounded by his own regiment,
the Greys, which was undoubtedly the finest in the Kukuana army, and
the same which we had first seen at the outlying kraal. This regiment,
now three thousand five hundred strong, was being held in reserve, and
the men were lying down on the grass in companies, and watching the
king's forces creep out of Loo in long ant-like columns. There seemed
to be no end to those columns—three in all, and each numbering at
least eleven or twelve thousand men.
As soon as they were clear of the town, they formed up. Then one
body marched off to the right, one to the left, and the third came
slowly on towards us.
"Ah," said Infadoos, "they are going to attack us on three sides at
This was rather serious news, for as our position on the top of the
mountain, which was at least a mile and a half in circumference, was an
extended one, it was important to us to concentrate our comparatively
small defending force as much as possible. But as it was impossible for
us to dictate in what way we should be attacked, we had to make the
best of it, and accordingly sent orders to the various regiments to
prepare to receive the separate onslaughts.
CHAPTER XIII. THE ATTACK.
Slowly, and without the slightest appearance of haste or excitement,
the three columns crept on. When within about five hundred yards of us,
the main or centre column halted at the root of a tongue of open plain
which ran up into the hill, to enable the other two to circumvent our
position, which was shaped more or less in the form of a horse-shoe,
the two points being towards the town of Loo, their object being, no
doubt, that the threefold assault should be delivered simultaneously.
"Oh, for a gatling!" groaned Good, as he contemplated the serried
phalanxes beneath us. "I would clear the plain in twenty minutes."
"We have not got one, so it is no use yearning for it; but suppose
you try a shot, Quatermain. See how near you can go to that tall fellow
who appears to be in command. Two to one you miss him, and an even
sovereign, to be honestly paid if ever we get out of this, that you
don't drop the ball within ten yards."
This piqued me, so, loading the express with solid ball, I waited
till my friend walked some ten yards out from his force, in order to
get a better view of our position, accompanied only by an orderly, and
then, lying down and resting the express upon a rock, I covered him.
The rifle, like all expresses, was only sighted to three hundred and
fifty yards, so to allow for the drop in trajectory I took him half-way
down the neck, which ought, I calculated, to find him in the chest. He
stood quite still and gave me every opportunity, but whether it was the
excitement or the wind, or the fact of the man being a long shot, I
don't know, but this was what happened. Getting dead on, as I thought,
a fine sight, I pressed, and when the puff of smoke had cleared away,
I, to my disgust, saw my man standing unharmed, whilst his orderly, who
was at least three paces to the left, was stretched upon the ground,
apparently dead. Turning swiftly, the officer I had aimed at began to
run towards his force, in evident alarm.
"Bravo, Quatermain!" sang out Good; "you've frightened him."
This made me very angry, for if possible to avoid it, I hate to miss
in public. When one can only do one thing well, one likes to keep up
one's reputation in that thing. Moved quite out of myself at my
failure, I did a rash thing. Rapidly covering the general as he ran, I
let drive with the second barrel. The poor man threw up his arms, and
fell forward on to his face. This time I had made no mistake; and—I
say it as a proof of how little we think of others when our own pride
or reputation are in question—I was brute enough to feel delighted at
The regiments who had seen the feat cheered wildly at this
exhibition of the white man's magic, which they took as an omen of
success, while the force to which the general had belonged—which,
indeed, as we afterwards ascertained, he had commanded—began to fall
back in confusion. Sir Henry and Good now took up their rifles, and
began to fire, the latter industriously "browning" the dense mass
before him with a Winchester repeater, and I also had another shot or
two, with the result that so far as we could judge we put some eight or
ten men hors de combat before they got out of range.
Just as we stopped firing there came an ominous roar from our far
right, then a similar roar from our left. The two other divisions were
At the sound, the mass of men before us opened out a little, and
came on towards the hill up the spit of bare grass land at a slow trot,
singing a deep-throated song as they advanced. We kept up a steady fire
from our rifles as they came, Ignosi joining in occasionally, and
accounted for several men, but of course produced no more effect upon
that mighty rush of armed humanity than he who throws pebbles does on
the advancing wave.
On they came, with a shout and the clashing of spears; now they were
driving in the outposts we had placed among the rocks at the foot of
the hill. After that the advance was a little slower, for though as yet
we had offered no serious opposition, the attacking force had to come
up hill, and came slowly to save their breath. Our first line of
defence was about half-way up the side, our second fifty yards further
back, while our third occupied the edge of the plain.
On they came, shouting their war-cry, "Twala! Twala! Chielé!
Chielé!" (Twala! Twala! Smite! Smite!). "Ignosi! Ignosi! Chielé!
Chielé!" answered our people. They were quite close now, and the
tollas, or throwing knives, began to flash backwards and forwards, and
now with an awful yell the battle closed in.
To and fro swayed the mass of struggling warriors, men falling thick
as leaves in an autumn wind; but before long the superior weight of the
attacking force began to tell, and our first line of defence was slowly
pressed back, till it merged into the second. Here the struggle was
very fierce, but again our people were driven back and up, till at
length, within twenty minutes of the commencement of the fight, our
third line came into action.
But by this time the assailants were much exhausted, and had besides
lost many men killed and wounded, and to break through that third
impenetrable hedge of spears proved beyond their powers. For awhile the
dense mass of struggling warriors swung backwards and forwards in the
fierce ebb and flow of battle, and the issue was doubtful. Sir Henry
watched the desperate struggle with a kindling eye, and then without a
word he rushed off, followed by Good, and flung himself into the
hottest of the fray. As for myself, I stopped where I was.
The soldiers caught sight of his tall form as he plunged into the
battle, and there rose a cry of—
"Nanzia Incubu!" (Here is the Elephant!) "Chielé! Chielé!"
From that moment the issue was no longer in doubt. Inch by inch,
fighting with desperate gallantry, the attacking force was pressed back
down the hillside, till at last it retreated upon its reserves in
something like confusion. At that moment, too, a messenger arrived to
say that the left attack had been repulsed; and I was just beginning to
congratulate myself that the affair was over for the present, when, to
our horror, we perceived our men who had been engaged in the right
defence being driven towards us across the plain, followed by swarms of
the enemy, who had evidently succeeded at this point.
Ignosi, who was standing by me, took in the situation at a glance,
and issued a rapid order. Instantly the reserve regiment round us (the
Greys) extended itself.
Again Ignosi gave a word of command, which was taken up and repeated
by the captains, and in another second, to my intense disgust, I found
myself involved in a furious onslaught upon the advancing foe. Getting
as much as I could behind Ignosi's huge frame, I made the best of a bad
job, and toddled along to be killed, as though I liked it. In a minute
or two—the time seemed all too short to me—we were plunging through
the flying groups of our men, who at once began to re-form behind us,
and then I am sure I do not know what happened. All I can remember is a
dreadful rolling noise of the meeting of shields, and the sudden
apparition of a huge ruffian, whose eyes seemed literally to be
starting out of his head, making straight at me with a bloody spear.
But—I say it with pride—I rose to the occasion. It was an occasion
before which most people would have collapsed once and for all. Seeing
that if I stood where I was I must be done for, I, as the horrid
apparition came, flung myself down in front of him so cleverly, that,
being unable to stop himself, he took a header right over my prostrate
form. Before he could rise again, I had risen and settled the matter
from behind with my revolver.
Shortly after this, somebody knocked me down, and I remember no more
of the charge.
When I came to, I found myself back at the koppie, with Good bending
over me with some water in a gourd.
"How do you feel, old fellow?" he asked, anxiously.
I got up and shook myself before answering.
"Pretty well, thank you," I answered.
"Thank Heaven! when I saw them carry you in I felt quite sick; I
thought you were done for."
"Not this time, my boy. I fancy I only got a rap on the head, which
knocked me out of time. How has it ended?"
"They are repulsed at every point for the time. The loss is
dreadfully heavy; we have lost quite two thousand killed and wounded,
and they must have lost three. Look, there's a sight!" and he pointed
to long lines of men advancing by fours. In the centre of, and being
borne by each group of four, was a kind of hide tray, of which a
Kukuana force always carried a quantity, with a loop for a handle at
each corner. On these trays—and their number seemed endless—lay
wounded men, who as they arrived were hastily examined by the medicine
men, of whom ten were attached to each regiment. If the wound was not
of a fatal character, the sufferer was taken away and attended to as
carefully as circumstances would allow. But if, on the other hand, the
wounded man's condition was hopeless, what followed was very dreadful,
though doubtless it was the truest mercy. One of the doctors, under
pretence of carrying out an examination, swiftly opened an artery with
a sharp knife, and in a minute or two the sufferer expired painlessly.
There were many cases that day in which this was done. In fact, it was
done in most cases when the wound was in the body, for the gash made by
the entry of the enormously broad spears used by the Kukuanas generally
rendered recovery hopeless. In most cases the poor sufferers were
already unconscious, and in others the fatal "nick" of the artery was
done so swiftly and painlessly that they did not seem to notice it.
Still it was a ghastly sight, and one from which we were glad to
escape; indeed, I never remember one which affected me more than seeing
those gallant soldiers thus put out of pain by the red-handed medicine
men, except, indeed, on an occasion when, after an attack, I saw a
force of Swazis burying their hopelessly wounded alive.
Hurrying from this dreadful scene to the further side of the koppie,
we found Sir Henry (who still held a bloody battle-axe in his hand),
Ignosi, Infadoos, and one or two of the chiefs in deep consultation.
"Thank heavens, here you are, Quatermain! I can't quite make out
what Ignosi wants to do. It seems that, though we have beaten off the
attack, Twala is now receiving large reinforcements, and is showing a
disposition to invest us, with a view of starving us out."
"Yes; especially as Infadoos says that the water supply has given
"My lord, that is so," said Infadoos; "the spring cannot supply the
wants of so great a multitude, and is failing rapidly. Before night we
shall all be thirsty. Listen, Macumazahn. Thou art wise, and hast
doubtless seen many wars in the lands from whence thou camest—that is
if, indeed, they make wars in the stars. Now tell us, what shall we do?
Twala has brought up many fresh men to take the place of those who have
fallen. But Twala has learnt a lesson; the hawk did not think to find
the heron ready; but our beak has pierced his breast; he will not
strike at us again. We too are wounded, and he will wait for us to
die; he will wind himself round us like a snake round a buck, and fight
the fight of 'sit down.'"
"I hear you," I said.
"So, Macumazahn, thou seest we have no water here, and but a little
food, and we must choose between these three things—to languish like
a starving lion in his den, or to strive to break away towards the
north, or" —and here he rose and pointed towards the dense mass of
our foes—"to launch ourselves straight at Twala's throat. Incubu, the
great warrior—for to-day he fought like a buffalo in a net, and
Twala's soldiers went down before his axe like corn before the hail;
with these eyes I saw it—Incubu says 'Charge;' but the Elephant
(Incubu) is ever prone to charge. Now what says Macumazahn, the wily
old fox, who has seen much, and loves to bite his enemy from behind?
The last word is in Ignosi the king, for it is a king's right to speak
of war; but let us hear thy voice, O Macumazahn, who watchest by night,
and the voice too of him of the transparent eye."
"What sayest thou, Ignosi?" I asked.
"Nay, my father," answered our quondam servant, who now, clad as he
was in the full panoply of savage war, looked every inch a warrior
king, "do thou speak, and let me, who am but a child in wisdom beside
thee, hearken to thy words."
Thus abjured, I, after taking hasty counsel with Good and Sir Henry,
delivered my opinion briefly to the effect that, being trapped, our
best chance, especially in view of the failure of our water supply,
was to initiate an attack upon Twala's forces, and then I recommended
that the attack should be delivered at once, "before our wounds grew
stiff," and also before the sight of Twala's overpowering force caused
the hearts of our soldiers "to wax small like fat before a fire."
Otherwise, I pointed out, some of the captains might change their
minds, and, making peace with Twala, desert to him, or even betray us
into his hands.
This expression of opinion seemed, on the whole, to be favourably
received; indeed, among the Kukuanas my utterances met with a respect
which has never been accorded to them before or since. But the real
decision as to our course lay with Ignosi, who, since he had been
recognised as rightful king, could exercise the almost unbounded rights
of sovereignty, including, of course, the final decision on matters of
generalship, and it was to him that all eyes were now turned.
At length, after a pause, during which he appeared to be thinking
deeply, he spoke:—
"Incubu, Macumazahn, and Bougwan, brave white men, and my friends;
Infadoos, my uncle, and chiefs; my heart is fixed. I will strike at
Twala this day, and set my fortunes on the blow, ay, and my life; my
life and your lives also. Listen: thus will I strike. Ye see how the
hill curves round like the half-moon, and how the plain runs like a
green tongue towards us within the curve?"
"We see," I answered.
"Good; it is now mid-day, and the men eat and rest after the toil of
battle. When the sun has turned and travelled a little way towards the
dark, let thy regiment, my uncle, advance with one other down to the
green tongue. And it shall be that when Twala sees it he shall hurl his
force at it to crush it. But the spot is narrow, and the regiments can
come against thee one at a time only; so shall they be destroyed one by
one, and the eyes of all Twala's army shall be fixed upon a struggle
the like of which has not been seen by living man. And with thee my
uncle shall go Incubu my friend, that when Twala sees his battle-axe
flashing in the first rank of the 'Greys' his heart may grow faint. And
I will come with the second regiment, that which follows thee, so that
if ye are destroyed, as it may happen, there may yet be a king left to
fight for; and with me shall come Macumazahn the wise."
"It is well, O king," said Infadoos, apparently contemplating the
certainty of the complete annihilation of his regiment with perfect
calmness. Truly these Kukuanas are a wonderful people. Death has no
terrors for them when it is incurred in the course of duty.
"And whilst the eyes of the multitude of Twala's regiments are thus
fixed upon the fight," went on Ignosi, "behold, one-third of the men
who are left alive to us (i.e., about 6,000) shall creep along the
right horn of the hill and fall upon the left flank of Twala's force,
and one-third shall creep along the left horn and fall upon Twala's
right flank. And when I see that the horns are ready to toss Twala,
then will I, with the men who are left to me, charge home in Twala's
face, and if fortune goes with us the day will be ours, and before
Night drives her horses from the mountains to the mountains we shall
sit in peace at Loo. And now let us eat and make ready; and, Infadoos,
do thou prepare, that the plan be carried out; and stay, let my white
father Bougwan go with the right horn, that his shining eye may give
courage to the men."
The arrangements for attack thus briefly indicated were set in
motion with a rapidity that spoke well for the perfection of the
Kukuana military system. Within little more than an hour rations had
been served out to the men and devoured, the three divisions were
formed, the plan of attack explained to the leaders, and the whole
force, with the exception of a guard left with the wounded, now
numbering about 18,000 men in all, was ready to be put in motion.
Presently Good came up and shook hands with Sir Henry and myself.
"Good-bye, you fellows," he said, "I am off with the right wing
according to orders; and so I have come to shake hands in case we
should not meet again, you know," he added, significantly.
We shook hands in silence, and not without the exhibition of as much
emotion as Englishmen are wont to show.
"It is a queer business," said Sir Henry, his deep voice shaking a
little, "and I confess I never expect to see to-morrow's sun. As far as
I can make out, the Greys, with whom I am to go, are to fight until
they are wiped out in order to enable the wings to slip round unawares
and outflank Twala. Well, so be it; at any rate, it will be a man's
death! Good-bye, old fellow. God bless you! I hope you will pull
through and live to collar the diamonds; but if you do, take my advice
and don't have anything more to do with pretenders!"
In another second Good had wrung us both by the hand and gone; and
then Infadoos came up and led off Sir Henry to his place in the
forefront of the Greys, whilst, with many misgivings, I departed with
Ignosi to my station in the second attacking regiment.
CHAPTER XIV. THE LAST STAND OF THE
In a few more minutes the regiments destined to carry out the
flanking movements had tramped off in silence, keeping carefully under
the lee of the rising ground in order to conceal the movement from the
keen eyes of Twala's scouts.
Half an hour or more was allowed to elapse between the setting out
of the horns or wings of the army before any movement was made by the
Greys and the supporting regiment, known as the Buffaloes, which formed
its chest, and which were destined to bear the brunt of the battle.
Both of these regiments were almost perfectly fresh, and of full
strength, the Greys having been in reserve in the morning, and having
lost but a small number of men in sweeping back that part of the attack
which had proved successful in breaking the line of defence, on the
occasion when I charged with them and got knocked silly for my pains.
As for the Buffaloes, they had formed the third line of defence on the
left, and as the attacking force at that point had not succeeded in
breaking through the second, had scarcely come into action at all.
Infadoos, who was a wary old general, and knew the absolute
importance of keeping up the spirits of his men on the eve of such a
desperate encounter, employed the pause in addressing his own regiment,
the Greys, in poetical language: in explaining to them the honour that
they were receiving in being put thus in the forefront of the battle,
and in having the great white warrior from the stars to fight with them
in their ranks, and in promising large rewards of cattle and promotion
to all who survived in the event of Ignosi's arms being successful.
I looked down the long lines of waving black plumes and stern faces
beneath them, and sighed to think that within one short hour most, if
not all, of those magnificent veteran warriors, not a man of whom was
under forty years of age, would be laid dead or dying in the dust. It
could not be otherwise; they were being condemned, with that wise
recklessness of human life that marks the great general, and often
saves his forces and attains his ends, to certain slaughter, in order
to give the cause and the remainder of the army a chance of success.
They were foredoomed to die, and they knew it. It was to be their task
to engage regiment after regiment of Twala's army on the narrow strip
of green beneath us, till they were exterminated, or till the wings
found a favourable opportunity for their onslaught. And yet they never
hesitated, nor could I detect a sign of fear upon the face of a single
warrior. There they were—going to certain death, about to quit the
blessed light of day for ever, and yet able to contemplate their doom
without a tremor. I could not even at that moment help contrasting
their state of mind with my own, which was far from comfortable, and
breathing a sigh of envy and admiration. Never before had I seen such
an absolute devotion to the idea of duty, and such a complete
indifference to its bitter fruits.
"Behold your king!" ended old Infadoos, pointing to Ignosi; "go
fight and fall for him, as is the duty of brave men, and cursed and
shameful for ever be the name of him who shrinks from death for his
king, or who turns his back to his enemy. Behold your king! chiefs,
captains, and soldiers; now do your homage to the sacred snake, and
then follow on, that Incubu and I may show ye the road to the heart of
There was a moment's pause, then suddenly there rose from the
serried phalanxes before us a murmur, like the distant whisper of the
sea, caused by the gentle tapping of the handles of six thousand spears
against their holders' shields. Slowly it swelled, till its growing
volume deepened and widened into a roar of rolling noise, that echoed
like thunder against the mountains, and filled the air with heavy waves
of sound. Then it decreased and slowly died away into nothing, and
suddenly out crashed the royal salute.
Ignosi, I thought to myself, might well be a proud man that day, for
no Roman emperor ever had such a salutation from gladiators "about to
Ignosi acknowledged this magnificent act of homage by lifting his
battle-axe, and then the Greys filed off in a triple-line formation,
each line containing about one thousand fighting men, exclusive of
officers. When the last line had gone some five hundred yards, Ignosi
put himself at the head of the Buffaloes, which regiment was drawn up
in a similar three-line formation, and gave the word to march, and off
we went, I, needless to say, uttering the most heartfelt prayers that I
might come out of that job with a whole skin. Many a queer position
have I found myself in, but never before in one quite so unpleasant as
the present, or one in which my chance of coming off safe was so small.
By the time that we reached the edge of the plateau the Greys were
already half-way down the slope ending in the tongue of grass land that
ran up into the bend of the mountain, something as the frog of a
horse's foot runs up into the shoe. The excitement in Twala's camp on
the plain beyond was very great, and regiment after regiment were
starting forward at a long swinging trot in order to reach the root of
the tongue of land before the attacking force could emerge into the
plain of Loo.
This tongue of land, which was some three hundred yards in depth,
was even at its root or widest part not more than one hundred and fifty
paces across, while at its tip it scarcely measured sixty. The Greys,
who, in passing down the side of the hill and on to the tip of the
tongue, had formed in column, on reaching the spot where it broadened
out again reassumed their triple-line formation, and halted dead.
Then we—that is, the Buffaloes—moved down the tip of the tongue
and took our stand in reserve, about one hundred yards behind the last
line of the Greys, and on slightly higher ground. Meanwhile we had
leisure to observe Twala's entire force, which had evidently been
reinforced since the morning attack, and could not now, notwithstanding
their losses, number less than forty thousand, moving swiftly up
towards us. But as they drew near the root of the tongue they
hesitated, having discovered that only one regiment could advance into
the gorge at a time, and that there, some seventy yards from the mouth
of it, unassailable except in front, on account of the high walls of
boulder-strewn ground on either side, stood the famous regiment of
Greys, the pride and glory of the Kukuana army, ready to hold the way
against their forces as the three Romans once held the bridge against
thousands. They hesitated, and finally stopped their advance; there was
no eagerness to cross spears with those three lines of grim warriors
who stood so firm and ready. Presently, however, a tall general, with
the customary head-dress of nodding ostrich plumes, came running up,
attended by a group of chiefs and orderlies, being, I thought, none
other than Twala himself, and gave an order, and the first regiment
raised a shout, and charged up towards the Greys, who remained
perfectly still and silent till the attacking troops were within forty
yards, and a volley of tollas, or throwing knives, came rattling among
Then suddenly, with a bound and a roar, they sprang forward with
uplifted spears, and the two regiments met in deadly strife. Next
second, the roll of the meeting shields came to our ears like the sound
of thunder, and the whole plain seemed to be alive with flashes of
light reflected from the stabbing spears. To and fro swung the heaving
mass of struggling, stabbing humanity, but not for long. Suddenly the
attacking lines seemed to grow thinner, and then with a slow, long
heave the Greys passed over them, just as a great wave heaves up and
passes over a sunken ridge. It was done; that regiment was completely
destroyed, but the Greys had but two lines left now; a third of their
number were dead.
Closing up shoulder to shoulder once more, they halted in silence
and awaited attack; and I was rejoiced to catch sight of Sir Henry's
yellow beard as he moved to and fro, arranging the ranks. So he was yet
Meanwhile we moved up on to the ground of the encounter, which was
cumbered by about four thousand prostrate human beings, dead, dying,
and wounded, and literally stained red with blood. Ignosi issued an
order, which was rapidly passed down the ranks, to the effect that none
of the enemies' wounded were to be killed, and so far as we could see
this order was scrupulously carried out. It would have been a shocking
sight, if we had time to think of it.
But now a second regiment, distinguished by white plumes, kilts, and
shields, was moving up to the attack of the two thousand remaining
Greys, who stood waiting in the same ominous silence as before, till
the foe was within forty yards or so, when they hurled themselves with
irresistible force upon them. Again there came the awful roll of the
meeting shields, and as we watched the grim tragedy repeated itself.
But this time the issue was left longer in doubt; indeed, it seemed for
awhile almost impossible that the Greys should again prevail. The
attacking regiment, which was one formed of young men, fought with the
utmost fury, and at first seemed by sheer weight to be driving the
veterans back. The slaughter was something awful, hundreds falling
every minute; and from among the shouts of the warriors and the groans
of the dying, set to the clashing music of meeting spears, came a
continuous hissing undertone of "S'gee,s'gee," the note of triumph of
each victor as he passed his spear through and through the body of his
But perfect discipline and steady and unchanging valour can do
wonders, and one veteran soldier is worth two young ones, as soon
became apparent in the present case. For just as we thought that it was
all up with the Greys, and were preparing to take their place so soon
as they made room by being destroyed, I heard Sir Henry's deep voice
ringing out above the din, and caught a glimpse of his circling
battle-axe as he waved it high above his plumes. Then came a change;
the Greys ceased to give; they stood still as a rock, against which the
furious waves of spearmen broke again and again, only to recoil.
Presently they began to move again—forward this time; as they had no
firearms, there was no smoke, so we could see it all. Another minute
and the onslaught grew fainter.
"Ah, they are men indeed; they will conquer again," called out
Ignosi, who was grinding his teeth with excitement at my side. "See, it
Suddenly, like puffs of smoke from the mouth of a cannon, the
attacking regiment broke away in flying groups, their white
head-dresses streaming behind them in the wind, and left their
opponents victors, indeed, but, alas! no more a regiment. Of the
gallant triple line, which, forty minutes before, had gone into action
three thousand strong, there remained at most some six hundred
blood-bespattered men; the rest were under foot. And yet they cheered
and waved their spears in triumph, and then, instead of falling back
upon us as we expected, they ran forward, for a hundred yards or so,
after the flying groups of foemen, took possession of a gently rising
knoll of ground, and, resuming the old triple formation, formed a
threefold ring around it. And then, thanks be to God, standing on the
top of the mound for a minute, I saw Sir Henry, apparently unharmed,
and with him our old friend Infadoos. Then Twala's regiments rolled
down upon the doomed band, and once more the battle closed in.
As those who read this history will probably long ago have gathered,
I am, to be honest, a bit of a coward, and certainly in no way given to
fighting, though, somehow, it has often been my lot to get into
unpleasant positions, and to be obliged to shed man's blood. But I have
always hated it, and kept my own blood as undiminished in quantity as
possible, sometimes by a judicious use of my heels. At this moment,
however, for the first time in my life, I felt my bosom burn with
martial ardour. Warlike fragments from the "Ingoldsby Legends,"
together with numbers of sanguinary verses from the Old Testament,
sprang up in my brain like mushrooms in the dark; my blood, which
hitherto had been half-frozen with horror, went beating through my
veins, and there came upon me a savage desire to kill and spare not. I
glanced round at the serried ranks of warriors behind us, and somehow,
all in an instant, began to wonder if my face looked like theirs. There
they stood, their heads craned forward over their shields, the hands
twitching, the lips apart, the fierce features instinct with the hungry
lust of battle, and in the eyes a look like the glare of a bloodhound
when he sights his quarry.
Only Ignosi's heart seemed, to judge from his comparative
self-possession, to all appearance, to beat as calmly as ever beneath
his leopard-skin cloak, though even he still kept on grinding his
teeth. I could stand it no longer.
"Are we to stand here till we put out roots, Umbopa—Ignosi, I
mean—while Twala swallows our brothers yonder?" I asked.
"Nay, Macumazahn," was the answer; "see, now is the ripe moment: let
us pluck it."
As he spoke, a fresh regiment rushed past the ring upon the little
mound, and wheeling round, attacked it from the hither side.
Then, lifting his battle-axe, Ignosi gave the signal to advance,
and, raising the Kukuana battle-cry, the Buffaloes charged home.
What followed immediately on this it is out of my power to tell. All
I can remember is a wild yet ordered rush, that seemed to shake the
ground; a sudden change of front and forming up on the part of the
regiment against which the charge was directed; then an awful shock, a
dull roar of voices, and a continuous flashing of spears, seen through
a red mist of blood.
When my mind cleared I found myself standing inside the remnant of
the Greys near the top of the mound, and just behind no less a person
than Sir Henry himself. How I got there I had, at the moment, no idea,
but Sir Henry afterwards told me that I was borne up by the first
furious charge of the Buffaloes almost to his feet, and then left, as
they in turn were pressed back. Thereon he dashed out of the circle and
dragged me into it.
As for the fight that followed, who can describe it? Again and again
the multitudes surged up against our momentarily lessening circle, and
again and again we beat them back. "The stubborn spearmen still made
The dark impenetrable wood;
Each stepping where his comrade stood
The instant that he fell," as the "Ingoldsby Legends" beautifully
It was a splendid thing to see those brave battalions come on time
after time over the barriers of their dead, sometimes holding corpses
before them to receive our spear thrusts, only to leave their own
corpses to swell the rising piles. It was a gallant sight to see that
sturdy old warrior, Infadoos, as cool as though he were on parade,
shouting out orders, taunts, and even jests, to keep up the spirit of
his few remaining men, and then, as each charge rolled up, stepping
forward to wherever the fighting was thickest, to bear his share in
repelling it. And yet more gallant was the vision of Sir Henry, whose
ostrich plumes had been shorn off by a spear stroke, so that his long
yellow hair streamed out in the breeze behind him. There he stood, the
great Dane, for he was nothing else, his hands, his axe, and his
armour, all red with blood, and none could live before his stroke. Time
after time I saw it come sweeping down, as some great warrior ventured
to give him battle, and as he struck he shouted, "O-hoy! O-hoy!" like
his Bersekir forefathers, and the blow went crashing through shield and
spear, through head-dress, hair, and skull, till at last none would of
their own will come near the great white "tagati" (wizard), who killed
and failed not.
But suddenly there rose a cry of "Twala, y' Twala," and out of the
press sprang forward none other than the gigantic one-eyed king
himself, also armed with battle-axe and shield, and clad in chain
"Where art thou, Incubu, thou white man, who slew Scragga, my
son—see if thou canst kill me!" he shouted, and at the same time
hurled a tolla straight at Sir Henry, who, fortunately, saw it coming,
and caught it on his shield, which it transfixed, remaining wedged in
the iron plate behind the hide.
Then, with a cry, Twala sprang forward straight at him, and with his
battle-axe struck him such a blow upon the shield, that the mere force
and shock of it brought Sir Henry, strong man as he was, down upon his
But at the time the matter went no further, for at that instant
there rose from the regiments pressing round us something like a shout
of dismay, and on looking up I saw the cause.
To the right and to the left the plain was alive with the plumes of
charging warriors. The outflanking squadrons had come to our relief.
The time could not have been better chosen. All Twala's army had, as
Ignosi had predicted would be the case, fixed their attention on the
bloody struggle which was raging round the remnant of the Greys and the
Buffaloes, who were now carrying on a battle of their own at a little
distance, which two regiments had formed the chest of our army. It was
not until the horns were about to gall them that they had dreamed of
their approach. And now, before they could even assume a proper
formation for defence, these had leapt, like greyhounds, on their
In five minutes the fate of the battle was decided. Taken on both
flanks, and dismayed by the awful slaughter inflicted upon them by the
Greys and Buffaloes, Twala's regiments broke into flight, and soon the
whole plain between us and Loo was scattered with groups of flying
soldiers, making good their retreat. As for the forces that had so
recently surrounded us and the Buffaloes, they melted away as though by
magic, and presently we were left standing there like a rock from which
the sea has retreated. But what a sight it was! Around us the dead and
dying lay in heaped-up masses, and of the gallant Greys there remained
alive but ninety-five men. More than 2,900 had fallen in this one
regiment, most of them never to rise again.
"Men," said Infadoos, calmly, as between the intervals of binding up
a wound in his arm he surveyed what remained to him of his corps, "ye
have kept up the reputation of your regiment, and this day's fighting
will be spoken of by your children's children." Then he turned round
and shook Sir Henry Curtis by the hand. "Thou art a great man, Incubu,"
he said, simply; "I have lived a long life among warriors, and known
many a brave one, yet have I never seen a man like thee."
At this moment the Buffaloes began to march past our position on the
road to Loo, and as they did so a message was brought to us from Ignosi
requesting Infadoos, Sir Henry, and myself to join him. Accordingly,
orders having been issued to the remaining ninety men of the Greys to
employ themselves in collecting the wounded, we joined Ignosi, who
informed us that he was pressing on to Loo to complete the victory by
capturing Twala, if that should be possible. Before we had gone far we
suddenly discovered the figure of Good sitting on an ant-heap about one
hundred paces from us. Close beside him was the body of a Kukuana.
"He must be wounded," said Sir Henry, anxiously. As he made the
remark, an untoward thing happened. The dead body of the Kukuana
soldier, or rather what had appeared to be his dead body, suddenly
sprang up, knocked Good head over heels off the ant-heap, and began to
spear him. We rushed forward in terror, and as we drew near we saw the
brawny warrior making dig after dig at the prostrate Good, who at each
prod jerked all his limbs into the air. Seeing us coming, the Kukuana
gave one final most vicious dig, and with a shout of "Take that,
wizard," bolted off. Good did not move, and we concluded that our poor
comrade was done for. Sadly we came towards him, and were indeed
astonished to find him pale and faint indeed, but with a serene smile
upon his face, and his eye-glass still fixed in his eye.
"Capital armour this," he murmured, on catching sight of our faces
bending over him. "How sold he must have been," and then he fainted. On
examination we discovered that he had been seriously wounded in the leg
by a tolla in the course of the pursuit, but that the chain armour had
prevented his last assailant's spear from doing anything more than
bruise him badly. It was a merciful escape. As nothing could be done
for him at the moment, he was placed on one of the wicker shields used
for the wounded, and carried along with us.
On arriving before one of the gates of Loo, we found one of our
regiments watching it in obedience to orders received from Ignosi. The
remaining regiments were in the same way watching the other exists to
the town. The officer in command of this regiment coming up, saluted
Ignosi as king, and informed him that Twala's army had taken refuge in
the town, whither Twala himself had also escaped, but that he thought
that they were thoroughly demoralised, and would surrender. Thereupon
Ignosi, after taking counsel with us, sent forward heralds to each gate
ordering the defenders to open, and promising on his royal word life
and forgiveness to every soldier who lay down his arms. The message was
not without its effect. Presently, amid the shouts and cheers of the
Buffaloes, the bridge was dropped across the fosse, and the gates upon
the further side flung open.
Taking due precautions against treachery, we marched on into the
town. All along the roadways stood dejected warriors, their heads
drooping, and their shields and spears at their feet, who, as Ignosi
passed, saluted him as king. On we marched, straight to Twala's kraal.
When we reached the great space, where a day or two previously we had
seen the review and the witch hunt, we found it deserted. No, not quite
deserted, for there, on the further side, in front of his hut, sat
Twala himself, with but one attendant— Gagool.
It was a melancholy sight to see him seated there, his battle-axe
and shield by his side, his chin upon his mailed breast, with but one
old crone for companion, and notwithstanding his cruelties and
misdeeds, a pang of compassion shot through me as I saw him thus
"fallen from his high estate." Not a soldier of all his armies, not a
courtier out of the hundreds who had cringed round him, not even a
solitary wife, remained to share his fate or halve the bitterness of
his fall. Poor savage! he was learning the lesson that Fate teaches to
most who live long enough, that the eyes of mankind are blind to the
discredited, and that he who is defenceless and fallen finds few
friends and little mercy. Nor, indeed, in this case did he deserve any.
Filing through the kraal gate, we marched straight across the open
space to where the ex-king sat. When within about fifty yards the
regiment was halted, and accompanied only by a small guard we advanced
towards him, Gagool reviling us bitterly as we came. As we drew near,
Twala, for the first time, lifted up his plumed head, and fixed his one
eye, which seemed to flash with suppressed fury almost as brightly as
the great diadem bound round his forehead, upon his successful
"Hail, O king!" he said, with bitter mockery; "thou who hast eaten
of my bread, and now by the aid of the white man's magic hast seduced
my regiments and defeated mine army, hail! what fate hast thou for me,
"The fate thou gavest to my father, whose throne thou hast sat on
these many years!" was the stern answer.
"It is well. I will show thee how to die, that thou mayest remember
it against thine own time. See, the sun sinks in blood," and he pointed
with his red battle-axe towards the fiery orb now going down; "it is
well that my sun should sink with it. And now, O king! I am ready to
die, but I crave the boon of the Kukuana royal house to die fighting.
Thou canst not refuse it, or even those cowards who fled to-day will
hold thee shamed."
"It is granted. Choose—with whom wilt thou fight? Myself I cannot
fight with thee, for the king fights not except in war."
Twala's sombre eye ran up and down our ranks, and I felt, as for a
moment it rested on myself, that the position had developed a new
horror. What if he chose to begin by fighting me? What chance should I
have against a desperate savage six feet five high, and broad in
proportion? I might as well commit suicide at once. Hastily I made up
my mind to decline the combat, even if I were hooted out of
Kukuanaland as a consequence. It is, I think, better to be hooted than
to be quartered with a battle-axe.
Presently he spoke.
"Incubu, what sayest thou, shall we end what we began to-day, or
shall I call thee coward, white—even to the liver?"
"Nay," interposed Ignosi, hastily; "thou shalt not fight with
"Not if he is afraid," said Twala.
Unfortunately Sir Henry understood this remark, and the blood flamed
up into his cheeks.
"I will fight him," he said; "he shall see if I am afraid."
"For God's sake," I entreated, "don't risk your life against that of
a desperate man. Anybody who saw you to-day will know that you are not
"I will fight him," was the sullen answer. "No living man shall call
me a coward. I am ready now!" and he stepped forward and lifted his
I wrung my hands over this absurd piece of Quixotism; but if he was
determined on fighting, of course I could not stop him.
"Fight not, my white brother," said Ignosi, laying his hand
affectionately on Sir Henry's arm; "thou hast fought enough, and if
aught befell thee at his hands it would cut my heart in twain."
"I will fight, Ignosi," was Sir Henry's answer.
"It is well, Incubu; thou art a brave man. It will be a good fight.
Behold, Twala, the elephant is ready for thee."
The ex-king laughed savagely, and stepped forward and faced Curtis.
For a moment they stood thus, and the setting sun caught their stalwart
frames and clothed them both in fire. They were a well-matched pair.
Then they began to circle round each other, their battle-axes raised.
Suddenly Sir Henry sprang forward and struck a fearful blow at
Twala, who stepped to one side. So heavy was the stroke that the
striker half overbalanced himself, a circumstance of which his
antagonist took a prompt advantage. Circling his heavy battle-axe round
his head, he brought it down with tremendous force. My heart jumped
into my mouth; I thought that the affair was already finished. But no;
with a quick upward movement of the left arm Sir Henry interposed his
shield between himself and the axe, with the result that its outer edge
was shorn clean off, the axe falling on his left shoulder, but not
heavily enough to do any serious damage. In another second Sir Henry
got in another blow, which was also received by Twala upon his shield.
Then followed blow upon blow, which were, in turn, either received upon
the shield or avoided. The excitement grew intense; the regiment which
was watching the encounter forgot its discipline, and, drawing near,
shouted and groaned at every stroke. Just at this time, too, Good, who
had been laid upon the ground by me, recovered from his faint, and,
sitting up, perceived what was going on. In an instant he was up, and,
catching hold of my arm, hopped about from place to place on one leg,
dragging me after him, yelling out encouragements to Sir Henry—
"Go it, old fellow!" he halloed. "That was a good one! Give it him
amidships," and so on.
Presently Sir Henry, having caught a fresh stroke upon his shield,
hit out with all his force. The stroke cut through Twala's shield and
through the tough chain armour behind it, gashing him in the shoulder.
With a yell of pain and fury Twala returned the stroke with interest,
and, such was his strength, shore right through the rhinoceros' horn
handle of his antagonist's battle-axe, strengthened as it was with
bands of steel, wounding Curtis in the face.
A cry of dismay rose from the Buffaloes as our hero's broad axe-head
fell to the ground; and Twala, again raising his weapon, flew at him
with a shout. I shut my eyes. When I opened them again, it was to see
Sir Henry's shield lying on the ground, and Sir Henry himself with his
great arms twined round Twala's middle. To and fro they swung, hugging
each other like bears, straining with all their mighty muscles for dear
life, and dearer honour. With a supreme effort Twala swung the
Englishman clean off his feet, and down they came together, rolling
over and over on the lime paving, Twala striking out at Curtis' head
with the battle-axe, and Sir Henry trying to drive the tolla he had
drawn from his belt through Twala's armour.
It was a mighty struggle, and an awful thing to see.
"Get his axe!" yelled Good; and perhaps our champion heard him.
At any rate, dropping the tolla, he made a grab at the axe, which
was fastened to Twala's wrist by a strip of buffalo hide, and still
rolling over and over, they fought for it like wild cats, drawing their
breath in heavy gasps. Suddenly the hide string burst, and then, with a
great effort, Sir Henry freed himself, the weapon remaining in his
grasp. Another second and he was up upon his feet, the red blood
streaming from the wound in his face, and so was Twala. Drawing the
heavy tolla from his belt, he staggered straight at Curtis and struck
him upon the breast. The blow came home true and strong, but whoever it
was made that chain armour understood his art, for it withstood the
steel. Again Twala struck out with a savage yell, and again the heavy
knife rebounded, and Sir Henry went staggering back. Once more Twala
came on, and as he came our great Englishman gathered himself together,
and, swinging the heavy axe round his head, hit at him with all his
force. There was a shriek of excitement from a thousand throats, and,
behold! Twala's head seemed to spring from his shoulders, and then fell
and came rolling and bounding along the ground towards Ignosi, stopping
just at his feet. For a second the corpse stood upright, the blood
spouting in fountains from the severed arteries; then with a dull crash
it fell to the earth, and the gold torque from the neck went rolling
away across the pavement. As it did so Sir Henry, overpowered by
faintness and loss of blood, fell heavily across it.
In a second he was lifted up, and eager hands were pouring water on
his face. Another minute, and the great grey eyes opened wide.
He was not dead.
Then I, just as the sun sank, stepping to where Twala's head lay in
the dust, unloosed the diamond from the dead brows, and handed it to
"Take it," I said, "lawful King of the Kukuanas."
Ignosi bound the diadem upon his brows, and then advancing placed
his foot upon the broad chest of his headless foe and broke out into a
chant, or rather a pæan of victory, so beautiful, and yet so utterly
savage, that I despair of being able to give an adequate idea of it. I
once heard a scholar with a fine voice read aloud from a Greek poet
called Homer, and I remember that the sound of the rolling lines seemed
to make my blood stand still. Ignosi's chant, uttered as it was in a
language as beautiful and sonorous as the old Greek, produced exactly
the same effect on me, although I was exhausted with toil and various
"Now," he began, "now is our rebellion swallowed up in victory, and
our evil-doing justified by strength.
"In the morning the oppressors rose up and shook themselves; they
bound on their plumes and made them ready for war.
"They rose up and grasped their spears: the soldiers called to the
captains, 'Come, lead us'—and the captains cried to the king, 'Direct
thou the battle.'
"They rose up in their pride, twenty thousand men, and yet a twenty
"Their plumes covered the earth as the plumes of a bird cover her
nest; they shook their spears and shouted, yea, they hurled their
spears into the sunlight; they lusted for the battle and were glad.
"They came up against me; their strong ones came running swiftly to
crush me; they cried, 'Ha! ha! he is as one already dead.'
"Then breathed I on them, and my breath was as the breath of a
storm, and lo! they were not.
"My lightnings pierced them; I licked up their strength with the
lightning of my spears; I shook them to the earth with the thunder of
"They broke—they scattered—they were gone as the mists of the
"They are food for the crows and the foxes, and the place of battle
is fat with their blood.
"Where are the mighty ones who rose up in the morning? where are the
proud ones who tossed their plumes and cried, 'He is as one already
"They bow their heads, but not in sleep; they are stretched out, but
not in sleep.
"They are forgotten; they have gone into the blackness, and shall
not return; yea, others shall lead away their wives, and their children
shall remember them no more.
"And I—I! the king—like an eagle have I found my eyrie.
"Behold! far have I wandered in the night time, yet have I returned
to my little ones at the daybreak.
"Creep ye under the shadow of my wings, O people, and I will comfort
ye, and ye shall not be dismayed.
"Now is the good time, the time of spoil.
"Mine are the cattle in the valleys, the virgins in the kraals are
"The winter is overpast, the summer is at hand.
"Now shall Evil cover up her face, and prosperity shall bloom in the
land like a lily.
"Rejoice, rejoice, my people! let all the land rejoice in that the
tyranny is trodden down, in that I am the king."
He paused, and out of the gathering gloom there came back the deep
"Thou art the king."
Thus it was that my prophecy to the herald came true, and within the
forty-eight hours Twala's headless corpse was stiffening at Twala's
CHAPTER XV. GOOD FALLS SICK.
After the fight was ended, Sir Henry and Good were carried into
Twala's hut, where I joined them. They were both utterly exhausted by
exertion and loss of blood, and, indeed, my own condition was little
better. I am very wiry, and can stand more fatigue than most men,
probably on account of my light weight and long training; but that
night I was fairly done up, and, as is always the case with me when
exhausted, that old wound the lion gave me began to pain me. Also my
head was aching violently from the blow I had received in the morning,
when I was knocked senseless. Altogether, a more miserable trio than we
were that evening it would have been difficult to discover; and our
only comfort lay in the reflection that we were exceedingly fortunate
to be there to feel miserable, instead of being stretched dead upon the
plain, as so many thousands of brave men were that night, who had risen
well and strong in the morning. Somehow, with the assistance of the
beautiful Foulata, who, since we had been the means of saving her life,
had constituted herself our handmaiden, and especially Good's, we
managed to get off the chain shirts, which had certainly saved the
lives of two of us that day, when we found that the flesh underneath
was terribly bruised, for though the steel links had prevented the
weapons from entering, they had not prevented them from bruising. Both
Sir Henry and Good were a mass of bruises, and I was by no means free.
As a remedy Foulata brought us some pounded green leaves, with an
aromatic odour, which, when applied as a plaster, gave us considerable
relief. But though the bruises were painful, they did not give us such
anxiety as Sir Henry's and Good's wounds. Good had a hole right through
the fleshy part of his "beautiful white leg," from which he had lost a
great deal of blood; and Sir Henry had a deep cut over the jaw,
inflicted by Twala's battle-axe. Luckily Good was a very decent
surgeon, and as soon as his small box of medicines was forthcoming, he,
having thoroughly cleansed the wounds, managed to stitch up first Sir
Henry's and then his own pretty satisfactorily, considering the
imperfect light given by the primitive Kukuana lamp in the hut.
Afterwards he plentifully smeared the wounds with some antiseptic
ointment, of which there was a pot in the little box, and we covered
them with the remains of a pocket handkerchief which we possessed.
Meanwhile Foulata had prepared us some strong broth, for we were too
weary to eat. This we swallowed, and then threw ourselves down on the
piles of magnificent karosses, or fur rugs, which were scattered about
the dead king's great hut. By a very strange instance of the irony of
fate, it was on Twala's own couch, and wrapped in Twala's own
particular kaross, that Sir Henry, the man who had slain him, slept
I say slept; but after that day's work sleep was indeed difficult.
To begin with, in very truth the air was full "Of farewells to the
And mournings for the dead."
From every direction came the sound of the wailing of women whose
husbands, sons, and brothers had perished in the fight. No wonder that
they wailed, for over twenty thousand men, or nearly a third of the
Kukuana army, had been destroyed in that awful struggle. It was
heart-rending to lie and listen to their cries for those who would
never return; and it made one realise the full horror of the work done
that day to further man's ambition. Towards midnight, however, the
ceaseless crying of the women grew less frequent, till at length the
silence was only broken at inervals of a few minutes by a long,
piercing howl that came from a hut in our immediate rear, and which I
afterwards discovered proceeded from Gagool wailing for the dead king
After that I got a little fitful sleep, only to wake from time to
time with a start, thinking that I was once more an actor in the
terrible events of the last twenty-four hours. Now I seemed to see that
warrior, whom my hand had sent to his last account, charging at me on
the mountain-top; now I was once more in that glorious ring of Greys,
which made its immortal stand against all Twala's regiments, upon the
little mound; and now again I saw Twala's plumed and gory head roll
past my feet with gnashing teeth and glaring eye. At last, somehow or
other, the night passed away; but when dawn broke I found that my
companions had slept no better than myself. Good, indeed, was in a high
fever, and very soon afterwards began to grow light-headed, and also,
to my alarm, to spit blood, the result, no doubt, of some internal
injury inflicted by the desperate efforts made by the Kukuana warrior
on the previous day to get his big spear through the chain armour. Sir
Henry, however, seemed pretty fresh, notwithstanding his wound on the
face, which made eating difficult and laughter an impossibility, though
he was so sore and stiff that he could scarcely stir.
About eight o'clock we had a visit from Infadoos, who seemed but
little the worse—tough old warrior that he was—for his exertions on
the previous day, though he informed us he had been up all night. He
was delighted to see us, though much grieved at Good's condition, and
shook hands cordially; but I noticed that he addressed Sir Henry with a
kind of reverence, as though he were something more than man; and
indeed, as we afterwards found out, the great Englishman was looked on
throughout Kukuanaland as a supernatural being. No man, the soldiers
said, could have fought as he fought, or could, at the end of a day of
such toil and bloodshed, have slain Twala, who, in addition to being
the king, was supposed to be the strongest warrior in Kukuanaland, in
single combat, sheering through his bull-neck at a stroke. Indeed, that
stroke became proverbial in Kukuanaland, and any extraordinary blow or
feat of strength was thenceforth known as "Incubu's blow."
Infadoos told us also that all Twala's regiments had submitted to
Ignosi, and that like submissions were beginning to arrive from chiefs
in the country. Twala's death at the hands of Sir Henry had put an end
to all further chance of disturbance; for Scragga had been his only
son, and there was no rival claimant left alive.
I remarked that Ignosi had swum to the throne through blood. The old
chief shrugged his shoulders. "Yes," he answered; "but the Kukuana
people can only be kept cool by letting the blood flow sometimes. Many
were killed indeed, but the women were left, and others would soon grow
up to take the places of the fallen. After this the land would be quiet
Afterwards, in the course of the morning, we had a short visit from
Ignosi, on whose brows the royal diadem was now bound. As I
contemplated him advancing with kingly dignity, an obsequious guard
following his steps, I could not help recalling to my mind the tall
Zulu who had presented himself to us at Durban some few months back,
asking to be taken into our service, and reflecting on the strange
revolutions of the wheel of fortune.
"Hail, oh king!" I said, rising.
"Yes, Macumazahn. King at last, by the grace of your three right
hands," was the ready answer.
All was, he said, going on well; and he hoped to arrange a great
feast in two weeks' time in order to show himself to the people.
I asked him what he had settled to do with Gagool.
"She is the evil genius of the land," he answered, "and I shall kill
her, and all the witch doctors with her! She has lived so long that
none can remember when she was not old, and always she it is who has
trained the witch-hunters, and made the land evil in the sight of the
"Yet she knows much," I replied; "it is easier to destroy knowledge,
Ignosi, than to gather it."
"It is so," he said, thoughtfully. "She, and she only, knows the
secret of the 'Three Witches' yonder, whither the great road runs,
where the kings are buried, and the silent ones sit."
"Yes, and the diamonds are. Don't forget your promise, Ignosi; you
must lead us to the mines, even if you have to spare Gagool's life to
show the way."
"I will not forget, Macumazahn, and I will think on what thou
After Ignosi's visit I went to see Good, and found him quite
delirious. The fever from his wound seemed to have taken a firm hold of
his system, and to be complicated by an internal injury. For four or
five days his condition was most critical; indeed, I firmly believe
that had it not been for Foulata's indefatigable nursing he must have
Women are women, all the world over, whatever their colour. Yet
somehow it seemed curious to watch this dusky beauty bending night and
day over the fevered man's couch, and performing all the merciful
errands of the sick-room as swiftly, gently, and with as fine an
instinct as a trained hospital nurse. For the first night or two I
tried to help her, and so did Sir Henry so soon as his stiffness
allowed him to move, but she bore our interference with impatience, and
finally insisted upon our leaving him to her, saying that our movements
made him restless, which I think was true. Day and night she watched
and tended him, giving him his only medicine, a native cooling drink
made of milk, in which was infused the juice of the bulb of a species
of tulip, and keeping the flies from settling on him. I can see the
whole picture now as it appeared night after night by the light of our
primitive lamp, Good tossing to and fro, his features emaciated, his
eyes shining large and luminous, and jabbering nonsense by the yard;
and seated on the ground by his side, her back resting against the wall
of the hut, the soft-eyed, shapely Kukuana beauty, her whole face,
weary as it was, animated by a look of infinite compassion—or was it
something more than compassion?
For two days we thought that he must die, and crept about with heavy
hearts. Only Foulata would not believe it.
"He will live," she said.
For three hundred yards or more around Twala's chief hut, where the
sufferer lay, there was silence; for by the king's order all who lived
in the habitations behind it had, except Sir Henry and myself, been
removed, lest any noise should come to the sick man's ears. One night,
it was the fifth night of his illness, as was my habit, I went across
to see how he was getting on before turning in for a few hours.
I entered the hut carefully. The lamp placed upon the floor showed
the figure of Good, tossing no more, but lying quite still.
So it had come at last! and in the bitterness of my heart I gave
something like a sob.
"Hush—h—h!" came from the patch of dark shadow behind Good's
Then, creeping closer, I saw that he was not dead, but sleeping
soundly, with Foulata's taper fingers clasped tightly in his poor white
hand. The crisis had passed, and he would live. He slept like that for
eighteen hours; and I scarcely like to say it, for fear I should not be
believed, but during that entire period did that devoted girl sit by
him, fearing that if she moved and drew away her hand it would wake
him. What she must have suffered from cramp, stiffness, and weariness,
to say nothing of want of food, nobody will ever know; but it is a
fact that, when at last he woke, she had to be carried away—her limbs
were so stiff that she could not move them.
After the turn had once been taken, Good's recovery was rapid and
complete. It was not till he was nearly well that Sir Henry told him of
all he owed to Foulata; and when he came to the story of how she sat
by his side for eighteen hours, fearing lest by moving she should wake
him, the honest sailor's eyes filled with tears. He turned and went
straight to the hut where Foulata was preparing the mid-day meal (we
were back in our old quarters now), taking me with him to interpret in
case he could not make his meaning clear to her, though I am bound to
say she understood him marvellously as a rule, considering how
extremely limited was his foreign vocabulary.
"Tell her," said Good, "that I owe her my life, and that I will
never forget her kindness."
I interpreted, and under her dark skin she actually seemed to blush.
Turning to him with one of those swift and graceful motions that in
her always reminded me of the flight of a wild bird, she answered
softly, glancing at him with her large brown eyes—
"Nay, my lord; my lord forgets! Did he not save my life, and am I
not my lord's handmaiden?"
It will be observed that the young lady appeared to have entirely
forgotten the share which Sir Henry and myself had had in her
preservation from Twala's clutches. But that is the way of women! I
remember my dear wife was just the same. I retired from that little
interview sad at heart. I did not like Miss Foulata's soft glances,
for I knew the fatal amorous propensities of sailors in general, and
Good in particular.
There are two things in the world, as I have found it, which cannot
be prevented: you cannot keep a Zulu from fighting, or a sailor from
falling in love upon the slightest provocation!
It was a few days after this last occurrence that Ignosi held his
great "indaba" (council), and was formally recognised as king by the
"indunas" (head men) of Kukuanaland. The spectacle was a most imposing
one, including, as it did, a great review of troops. On this day the
remaining fragment of the Greys were formally paraded, and in the face
of the army thanked for their splendid conduct in the great battle. To
each man the king made a large present of cattle, promoting them one
and all to the rank of officers in the new corps of Greys which was in
process of formation. An order was also promulgated throughout the
length and breadth of Kukuanaland that, whilst we honoured the country
with our presence, we three were to be greeted with the royal salute,
to be treated with the same ceremony and respect that was by custom
accorded to the king, and the power of life and death was publicly
conferred upon us. Ignosi, too, in the presence of his people,
reaffirmed the promises that he had made, to the effect that no man's
blood should be shed without trial, and that witch-hunting should cease
in the land.
When the ceremony was over, we waited upon Ignosi, and informed him
that we were now anxious to investigate the mystery of the mines to
which Solomon's Road ran, asking him if he had discovered anything
"My friends," he answered, "this have I discovered. It is there that
the three great figures sit, who here are called the 'Silent Ones,' and
to whom Twala would have offered the girl, Foulata, as a sacrifice. It
is there, too, in a great cave deep in the mountain, that the kings of
the land are buried; there shall ye find Twala's body, sitting with
those who went before him. There, too, is a great pit, which, at some
time, long-dead men dug out, mayhap for the stones ye speak of, such as
I have heard men in Natal speak of at Kimberley. There, too, in the
Place of Death is a secret chamber, known to none but the king and
Gagool. But Twala, who knew it, is dead, and I know it not, nor know I
what is in it. But there is a legend in the land that once, many
generations gone, a white man crossed the mountains, and was led by a
woman to the secret chamber and shown the wealth, but before he could
take it she betrayed him, and he was driven by the king of the day back
to the mountains, and since then no man has entered the chamber."
"The story is surely true, Ignosi, for on the mountains we found the
white man," I said.
"Yes, we found him. And now I have promised ye that if ye can find
that chamber, and the stones are there—"
"The stone upon thy forehead proves that they are there," I put in,
pointing to the great diamond I had taken from Twala's dead brows.
"Mayhap; if they are there," he said, "ye shall have as many as ye
can take hence—if, indeed, ye would leave me, my brothers."
"First we must find the chamber," said I.
"There is but one who can show it to thee—Gagool."
"And if she will not?"
"Then shall she die," said Ignosi, sternly. "I have saved her alive
but for this. Stay, she shall choose," and calling to a messenger he
ordered Gagool to be brought.
In a few minutes she came, hurried along by two guards, whom she was
cursing as she walked.
"Leave her," said the king to the guards.
As soon as their support was withdrawn, the withered old bundle, for
she looked more like a bundle than anything else, sank into a heap on
to the floor, out of which her two bright wicked eyes gleamed like a
"What will ye with me, Ignosi?" she piped. "Ye dare not touch me. If
ye touch me I will blast ye as ye sit. Beware of my magic."
"Thy magic could not save Twala, old she-wolf, and it cannot hurt
me," was the answer. "Listen: I will this of thee, that thou reveal
where is the chamber where are the shining stones."
"Ha! ha!" she piped, "none know but I, and I will never tell thee.
The white devils shall go hence empty-handed."
"Thou wilt tell me. I will make thee tell me."
"How, oh king? Thou art great, but can thy power wring the truth
from a woman?"
"It is difficult, yet will I do it."
"How, oh king?"
"Nay, thus; if thou tellest not thou shalt die."
"Die!" she shrieked, in terror and fury; "ye dare not touch
me—man, ye know not who I am. How old think ye am I? I knew your
fathers, and your fathers' fathers' fathers. When the country was young
I was here, when the country grows old I shall still be here. I cannot
die unless I be killed by chance, for none dare slay me."
"Yet will I slay thee. See, Gagool, mother of evil, thou art so old
thou canst no longer love life. What can life be to such a hag as thee,
who hast no shape, nor form, nor hair, nor teeth—hast naught, save
wickedness and evil eyes? It will be mercy to slay thee, Gagool."
"Thou fool," shrieked the old fiend, "thou accursed fool, thinkest
thou that life is sweet only to the young? It is not so, and naught
thou knowest of the heart of man to think it. To the young, indeed,
death is sometimes welcome, for the young can feel. They love and
suffer, and it wrings them to see their beloved pass to the land of
shadows. But the old feel not, they love not, and, ha! ha! they laugh
to see another go out into the dark; ha! ha! they laugh to see the evil
that is done under the sun. All they love is life, the warm, warm sun,
and the sweet, sweet air. They are afraid of the cold, afraid of the
cold and the dark, ha! ha! ha!" and the old hag writhed in ghastly
merriment on the ground.
"Cease thine evil talk and answer me," said Ignosi, angrily. "Wilt
thou show the place where the stones are, or wilt thou not? If thou
wilt not thou diest, even now," and he seized a spear and held it over
"I will not show it; thou darest not kill me, darest not. He who
slays me will be accursed for ever."
Slowly Ignosi brought down the spear till it pricked the prostrate
heap of rags.
With a wild yell she sprang to her feet, and then again fell and
rolled upon the floor.
"Nay, I will show it. Only let me live, let me sit in the sun and
have a bit of meat to suck, and I will show thee."
"It is well. I thought I should find a way to reason with thee.
To-morrow shalt thou go with Infadoos and my white brothers to the
place, and beware how thou failest, for if thou showest it not, then
shalt thou die. I have spoken."
"I will not fail, Ignosi. I always keep my word: ha! ha! ha! Once a
woman showed the place to a white man before, and behold evil befell
him," and here her wicked eyes glinted. "Her name was Gagool too.
Perchance I was that woman."
"Thou liest," I said, "that was ten generations gone."
"Mayhap, mayhap; when one lives long one forgets. Perhaps it was my
mother's mother who told me, surely her name was Gagool also. But
mark, ye will find in the place where the bright playthings are, a bag
of hide full of stones. The man filled that bag, but he never took it
away. Evil befell him, I say, evil befell him! Perhaps it was my
mother's mother who told me. It will be a merry journey—we can see
the bodies of those who died in the battle as we go. Their eyes will be
gone by now, and their ribs will be hollow. Ha! ha! ha!"
CHAPTER XVI. THE PLACE OF DEATH.
It was already dark on the third day after the scene described in
the previous chapter, when we camped in some huts at the foot of the
"Three Witches," as the triangle of mountains were called to which
Solomon's great road ran. Our party consisted of our three selves and
Foulata, who waited on us—especially on Good—Infadoos, Gagool, who
was borne along in a litter, inside which she could be heard muttering
and cursing all day long, and a party of guards and attendants. The
mountains, or rather the three peaks of the mountains, for the whole
mass evidently consisted of a solitary up-heaval, were, as I have said,
in the form of a triangle, of which the base was towards us, one peak
being on our right, one on our left, and one straight in front of us.
Never shall I forget the sight afforded by those three towering peaks
in the early sunlight of the following morning. High, high above us, up
into the blue air, soared their twisted snow-wreaths. Beneath the snow
the peaks were purple with heaths, and so were the wild moors that ran
up the slopes towards them. Straight before us the white ribbon of
Solomon's great road stretched away uphill to the foot of the centre
peak, about five miles from us, and there stopped. It was its terminus.
I had better leave the feelings of intense excitement with which we
set out on our march that morning to the imagination of those who read
this history. At last we were drawing near to the wonderful mines that
had been the cause of the miserable death of the old Portuguese Don,
three centuries ago, of my poor friend, his ill-starred descendant, and
also, as we feared, of George Curtis, Sir Henry's brother. Were we
destined, after all that we had gone through, to fare any better? Evil
befell them, as that old fiend Gagool said, would it also befall us?
Somehow, as we were marching up that last stretch of beautiful road, I
could not help feeling a little superstitious about the matter, and so
I think did Good and Sir Henry.
For an hour and a half or more we tramped on up the heather-fringed
road, going so fast in our excitement that the bearers with Gagool's
hammock could scarcely keep pace with us, and its occupant piped out to
us to stop.
"Go more slowly, white men," she said, projecting her hideous
shrivelled countenance between the curtains, and fixing her gleaming
eyes upon us; "why will ye run to meet the evil that shall befall ye,
ye seekers after treasure?" and she laughed that horrible laugh which
always sent a cold shiver down my back, and which for awhile quite took
the enthusiasm out of us.
However, on we went, till we saw before us, and between ourselves
and the peak, a vast circular hole with sloping sides, three hundred
feet or more in depth, and quite half a mile round.
"Can't you guess what this is?" I said to Sir Henry and Good, who
were staring in astonishment down into the awful pit before us.
They shook their heads.
"Then it is clear that you have never seen the diamond mines at
Kimberley. You may depend on it that this is Solomon's Diamond Mine;
look there," I said, pointing to the stiff blue clay which was yet to
be seen among the grass and bushes which clothed the sides of the pit,
"the formation is the same. I'll be bound that if we went down there we
should find 'pipes' of soapy breeciated rock. Look, too," and I pointed
to a series of worn flat slabs of rock which were placed on a gentle
slope below the level of a watercourse which had in some past age been
cut out of the solid rock; "if those are not tables once used to wash
the 'stuff,' I'm a Dutchman."
At the edge of this vast hole, which was the pit marked on the old
Don's map, the great road branched into two and circumvented it. In
many places this circumventing road was built entirely of vast blocks
of stone, apparently with the object of supporting the edges of the pit
and preventing falls of reef. Along this road we pressed, driven by
curiosity to see what the three towering objects were which we could
discern from the hither side of the great hole. As we got nearer we
perceived that they were colossi of some sort or another, and rightly
conjectured that these were the three "Silent Ones" that were held in
such awe by the Kukuana people. But it was not until we got quite close
that we recognised the full majesty of these "Silent Ones."
There upon huge pedestals of dark rock, sculptured in unknown
characters, twenty paces between each, and looking down the road which
crossed some sixty miles of plain to Loo, were three colossal seated
forms—two males and one female—each measuring about twenty feet
from the crown of the head to the pedestal.
The female form, which was nude, was of great though severe beauty,
but unfortunately the features were injured by centuries of exposure to
the weather. Rising from each side of her head were the points of a
crescent. The two male colossi were, on the contrary, draped, and
presented a terrifying cast of features, especially the one to our
right, which had the face of a devil. That to our left was serene in
countenance, but the calm upon it was dreadful. It was the calm of
inhuman cruelty, the cruelty, Sir Henry remarked, that the ancients
attributed to beings potent for good, who could yet watch the
sufferings of humanity, if not with rejoicing, at least without
suffering themselves. The three formed a most awe-inspiring trinity, as
they sat there in their solitude and gazed out across the plain for
ever. Contemplating these "Silent Ones," as the Kukuanas called them,
an intense curiosity again seized us to know whose were the hands that
had shaped them, who was it that had dug the pit and made the road.
Whilst I was gazing and wondering, it suddenly occurred to me (being
familiar with the Old Testament) that Solomon went astray after strange
gods, the names of three of whom I remembered—"Ashtoreth the goddess
of the Zidonians, Chemosh the god of the Moabites, and Milcom the god
of the children of Ammon"—and I suggested to my companions that the
three figures before us might represent these false divinities.
"Hum," said Sir Henry, who was a scholar, having taken a high degree
in classics at college, "there may be something in that; Ashtoreth of
the Hebrews was the Astarte of the Phoenicians, who were the great
traders of Solomon's time. Astarte, who afterwards was the Aphrodite of
the Greeks, was represented with horns like the half-moon, and there on
the brow of the female figure are distinct horns. Perhaps these colossi
were designed by some Phoenician official who managed the mines. Who
Before we had finished examining these extraordinary relics of
remote antiquity, Infadoos came up, and, having saluted the "Silent
Ones" by lifting his spear, asked us if we intended entering the "Place
of Death" at once,or if we would wait till after we had taken food at
mid-day. If we were ready to go at once, Gagool had announced her
willingness to guide us. As it was not more than eleven o'clock,
we—driven to it by a burning curiosity—announced our intention of
proceeding at once, and I suggested that, in case we should be
detained in the cave, we should take some food with us. Accordingly
Gagool's litter was brought up, and that lady herself assisted out of
it; and meanwhile Foulata, at my request, stored some "biltong," or
dried game-flesh, together with a couple of gourds of water in a reed
basket. Straight in front of us, at a distance of some fifty paces from
the backs of the colossi, rose a sheer wall of rock, eighty feet or
more in height, that gradually sloped up till it formed the base of the
lofty snow-wreathed peak, which soared up into the air three thousand
feet above us. As soon as she was clear of her hammock, Gagool cast one
evil grin upon us, and then, leaning on a stick, hobbled off towards
the sheer face of the rock. We followed her till we came to a narrow
portal solidly arched, that looked like the opening of a gallery of a
Here Gagool was waiting for us, still with that evil grin upon her
"Now, white men from the stars," she piped; "great warriors, Incubu,
Bougwan, and Macumazahn the wise, are ye ready? Behold, I am here to do
the bidding of my lord the king, and to show ye the store of bright
"We are ready," I said.
"Good! good! Make strong your heats to bear what ye shall see.
Comest thou too, Infadoos, who betrayed thy master?"
Infadoos frowned as he answered—
"Nay, I come not, it is not for me to enter there. But thou, Gagool,
curb thy tongue, and beware how thou dealest with my lords. At thy
hands will I require them, and if a hair of them be hurt, Gagool, be
thou fifty times a witch, thou shalt die. Hearest thou?"
"I hear, Infadoos; I know thee, thou didst ever love big words; when
thou wast a babe I remember thou didst threaten thine own mother. That
was but the other day. But fear not, fear not, I live but to do the
bidding of the king. I have done the bidding of many kings, Infadoos,
till in the end they did mine. Ha! ha! I go to look upon their faces
once more, and Twala's too! Come on, come on, here is the lamp," and
she drew a great gourd full of oil, and fitted with a rush wick, from
under her fur cloak.
"Art thou coming, Foulata?" asked Good in his villainous kitchen
Kukuana, in which he had been improving himself under that young lady's
"I fear, my lord," the girl answered, timidly.
"Then give me the basket."
"Nay, my lord, whither thou goest, there will I go also."
"The deuce you will!" thought I to myself; "that will be rather
awkward if ever we get out of this."
Without further ado Gagool plunged into the passage, which was wide
enough to admit of two walking abreast, and quite dark, we following
her voice as she piped to us to come on, in some fear and trembling,
which was not allayed by the sound of a sudden rush of wings.
"Hullo! what's that?" halloed Good; "somebody hit me in the face."
"Bats," said I; "on you go."
When we had, so far as we could judge, gone some fifty paces, we
perceived that the passage was growing faintly light. Another minute,
and we stood in the most wonderful place that the eyes of living man
ever lit on.
Let the reader picture to himself the hall of the vastest cathedral
he ever stood in, windowless indeed, but dimly lighted from above
(presumably by shafts connected with the outer air and driven in the
roof, which arched away a hundred feet above our head), and he will get
some idea of the size of the enormous cave in which we stood, with the
difference that this cathedral designed of nature was loftier and wider
than any built by man. But its stupendous size was the least of the
wonders of the place, for running in rows adown its length were
gigantic pillars of what looked like ice, but were, in reality, huge
stalactites. It is impossible for me to convey any idea of the
overpowering beauty and grandeur of these pillars of white spar, some
of which were not less than twenty feet in diameter at the base, and
sprang up in lofty and yet delicate beauty sheer to the distant roof.
Others again were in process of formation. On the rock floor there was
in these cases what looked, Sir Henry said, exactly like a broken
column in an old Grecian temple, whilst high above, depending from the
roof, the point of a huge icicle could be dimly seen. And even as we
gazed we could hear the process going on, for presently with a tiny
splash a drop of water would fall from the far-off icicle on to the
column below. On some columns the drops only fell once in two or three
minutes, and in these cases it would form an interesting calculation to
discover how long, at that rate of dripping, it would take to form a
pillar, say eighty feet high by ten in diameter. That the process was,
in at least one instance, incalculably slow, the following instance
will suffice to show. Cut on one of these pillars we discovered a rude
likeness of a mummy, by the head of which sat what appeared to be one
of the Egyptian gods, doubtless the handiwork of some old-world
labourer in the mine. This work of art was executed at about the
natural height at which an idle fellow, be he Phoenician workman or
British cad, is in the habit of trying to immortalise himself at the
expense of nature's masterpieces, namely, about five feet from the
ground; yet at the time that we saw it, which must have been nearly
three thousand years after the date of the execution of the drawing,
the column was only eight feet high, and was still in process of
formation, which gives a rate of growth of a foot to a thousand years,
or an inch and a fraction to a century. This we knew because, as we
were standing by it, we heard a drop of water fall.
Sometimes the stalactites took strange forms, presumably where the
dropping of the water had not always been on the same spot. Thus, one
huge mass, which must have weighed a hundred tons or so, was in the
form of a pulpit, beautifully fretted over outside with what looked
like lace. Others resembled strange beasts, and on the sides of the
cave were fan-like ivory tracings, such as the frost leaves upon a pane.
Out of the vast main aisle, there opened here and there smaller
caves, exactly, Sir Henry said, as chapels open out of great
cathedrals. Some were large, but one or two—and this is a wonderful
instance of how nature carries out her handiwork by the same unvarying
laws, utterly irrespective of size—were tiny. One little nook, for
instance, was no larger than an unusually big doll's house, and yet it
might have been the model of the whole place, for the water dropped,
the tiny icicles hung, and the spar columns were forming in just the
We had not, however, as much time to examine this beautiful place as
thoroughly as we should have liked to do, for unfortunately Gagool
seemed to be indifferent to stalactites, and only anxious to get her
business over. This annoyed me the more, as I was particularly anxious
to discover, if possible, by what system the light was admitted into
the place, and whether it was by the hand of man or of nature that this
was done, also if it had been used in any way in ancient times, as
seemed probable. However, we consoled ourselves with the idea that we
would examine it thoroughly on our return, and followed on after our
On she led us, straight to the top of the vast and silent cave,
where we found another doorway, not arched as the first was, but square
at the top, something like the doorways of Egyptian temples.
"Are ye prepared to enter the Place of Death?" asked Gagool,
evidently with a view to making us feel uncomfortable.
"Lead on, Macduff," said Good, solemnly, trying to look as though he
was not at all alarmed, as indeed did we all except Foulata, who caught
Good by the arm for protection.
"This is getting rather ghastly," said Sir Henry, peeping into the
dark doorway. "Come on, Quatermain —seniores priores. Don't keep the
old lady waiting!" and he politely made way for me to lead the van, for
which I inwardly did not bless him.
Tap, tap, went old Gagool's stick down the passage, as she trotted
along, chuckling hideously; and still overcome by some unaccountable
presentiment of evil, I hung back.
"Come, get on, old fellow," said Good,"or we shall lose our fair
Thus adjured, I started down the passage, and after about twenty
paces found myself in a gloomy apartment some forty feet long, by
thirty broad, and thirty high, which in some past age had evidently
been hollowed, by hand-labour, out of the mountain. This apartment was
not nearly so well lighted as the vast stalactite ante-cave, and at the
first glance all I could make out was a massive stone table running its
length, with a colossal white figure at its head, and life-sized white
figures all round it. Next I made out a brown thing, seated on the
table in the centre, and in another moment my eyes grew accustomed to
the light, and I saw what all these things were, and I was tailing out
of it as hard as my legs would carry me. I am not a nervous man, in a
general way, and very little troubled with superstitions, of which I
have lived to see the folly; but I am free to own that sight quite
upset me, and had it not been that Sir Henry caught me by the collar
and held me, I do honestly believe that in another five minutes I
should have been outside that stalactite cave, and that the promise of
all the diamonds in Kimberley would not have induced me to enter it
again. But he held me tight, so I stopped because I could not help
myself. But next second his eyes got accustomed to the light, too, and
he let go of me, and began to mop the perspiration off his forehead. As
for Good he swore feebly, and Foulata threw her arms round his neck and
Only Gagool chuckled loud and long.
It was a ghastly sight. There at the end of the long stone table,
holding in his skeleton fingers a great white spear, sat Death himself,
shaped in the form of a colossal human skeleton, fifteen feet or more
in height. High above his head he held the spear, as though in the act
to strike; one bony hand rested on the stone table before him, in the
position a man assumes on rising from his seat, whilst his frame was
bent forward so that the vertebræ of the neck and the grinning,
gleaming skull projected towards us, and fixed its hollow eye-places
upon us, the jaws a little open, as though it were about to speak.
"Great heavens!" said I, faintly, at last, "what can it be?"
"And what are those things?" said Good, pointing to the white
company round the table.
"And what on earth is that thing?" said Sir Henry, pointing to the
brown creature seated on the table.
"Hee! hee! hee!" laughed Gagool. "To those who enter the Hall of the
Dead, evil comes. Hee! hee! hee! ha! ha!
"Come, Incubu, brave in battle, come and see him thou slewest;" and
the old creature caught his coat in her skinny fingers, and led him
away towards the table. We followed.
Presently she stopped and pointed at the brown object seated on the
table. Sir Henry looked, and started back with an exclamation; and no
wonder, for there seated, quite naked, on the table, the head which Sir
Henry's battle-axe had shorn from the body resting on its knees, was
the gaunt corpse of Twala, last king of the Kukuanas. Yes, there, the
head perched upon the knees, it sat in all its ugliness, the vertebræ
projecting a full inch above the level of the shrunken flesh of the
neck, for all the world like a black double of Hamilton Tighe. Over
the whole surface of the corpse there was gathered a thin, glassy film,
which made its appearance yet more appalling, and for which we were, at
the moment, quite unable to account, till we presently observed that
from the roof of the chamber the water fell steadily, drip! drop! drip!
on to the neck of the corpse, from whence it ran down over the entire
surface, and finally escaped into the rock through a tiny hole in the
table. Then I guessed what it was— Twala's body was being
transformed into a stalactite.
A look at the white forms seated on the stone bench that ran around
that ghastly board confirmed this view. They were human forms indeed,
or rather had been human forms; now they were stalactites. This was the
way in which the Kukuana people had from time immemorial preserved
their royal dead. They petrified them. What the exact system was, if
there was any, beyond placing them for a long period of years under the
drip, I never discovered, but there they sat, iced over and preserved
for ever by the silicious fluid. Anything more awe-inspiring than the
spectacle of this long line of departed royalties, wrapped in a shroud
of ice-like spar, through which the features could be dimly made out
(there were twenty-seven of them, the last being Ignosi's father), and
seated round that inhospitable board, with Death himself for a host, it
is impossible to imagine. That the practice of thus preserving their
kings must have been an ancient one is evident from the number, which,
allowing for an average reign of fifteen years, would, supposing that
every king who reigned was placed here—an improbable thing, as some
are sure to have perished in battle far from home —fix the date of
its commencement at four and a quarter centuries back. But the colossal
Death, who sits at the head of the board, is far older than that, and
unless I am much mistaken, owes his origin to the same artist who
designed the three colossi. He was hewn out of a single stalactite,
and, looked at as a work of art, was most admirably conceived and
executed. Good, who understood anatomy, declared that so far as he
could see the anatomical design of the skeleton was perfect down to the
My own idea is, that this terrific object was a freak of fancy on
the part of some old-world sculptor, and that its presence had
suggested to the Kukuanas the idea of placing their royal dead under
its awful presidency. Or perhaps it was placed there to frighten away
any marauders who might have designs upon the treasure chamber beyond.
I cannot say. All I can do is to describe it as it is, and the reader
must form his own conclusion.
CHAPTER XVII. SOLOMON'S TREASURE
While we had been engaged in getting over our fright, and in
examining the grisly wonders of the place, Gagool had been differently
occupied. Somehow or other—for she was marvellously active when she
chose— she had scrambled on to the great table, and made her way to
where our departed friend Twala was placed, under the drip, to see,
suggested Good, how he was "pickling," or for some dark purpose of her
own. Then she came hobbling back, stopping now and again to address a
remark (the tenor of which I could not catch) to one or other of the
shrouded forms, just as you or I might greet an old acquaintance.
Having gone through this mysterious and horrible ceremony, she squatted
herself down on the table immediately under the white Death, and began,
so far as I could make out, to offer up prayers to it. The spectacle of
this wicked old creature pouring out supplications (evil ones, no
doubt) to the arch enemy of mankind, was so uncanny that it caused us
to hasten our inspection.
"Now, Gagool," said I, in a low voice—somehow one did not dare to
speak above a whisper in that place —"lead us to the chamber."
The old creature promptly scrambled down off the table.
"My lords are not afraid?" she said, leering up into my face.
"Good, my lords;" and she hobbled round to the back of the great
Death. "Here is the chamber; let my lords light the lamp, and enter,"
and she placed the gourd full of oil upon the floor, and leaned herself
against the side of the cave. I took out a match, of which we still had
a few in a box, and lit the rush wick, and then looked for the doorway,
but there was nothing before us but the solid rock. Gagool grinned.
"The way is there, my lords."
"Do not jest with us," I said, sternly.
"I jest not, my lords. See!" and she pointed at the rock.
As she did so, on holding up the lamp we perceived that a mass of
stone was slowly rising from the floor and vanishing into the rock
above, where doubtless there was a cavity prepared to receive it. The
mass was of the width of a good-sized door, about ten feet high and not
less than five feet thick. It must have weighed at least twenty or
thirty tons, and was clearly moved upon some simple balance principle,
probably the same as that upon which the opening and shutting of an
ordinary modern window is arranged. How the principle was set in
motion, of course none of us saw; Gagool was careful to avoid that; but
I have little doubt that there was some very simple lever, which was
moved ever so little by pressure on a secret spot, thereby throwing
additional weight on to the hidden counterbalances, and causing the
whole huge mass to be lifted from the ground. Very slowly and gently
the great stone raised itself, till at last it had vanished altogether,
and a dark hole presented itself to us in the place which it had filled.
Our excitement was so intense, as we saw the way to Solomon's
treasure chamber at last thrown open, that I for one began to tremble
and shake. Would it prove a hoax after all, I wondered, or was old Da
Silvestra right? and were there vast hoards of wealth stored in that
dark place, hoards which would make us the richest men in the whole
world? We should know in a minute or two.
"Enter, white men from the stars," said Gagool, advancing into the
doorway; "but first hear your servant, Gagaoola the old. The bright
stones that ye will see were dug out of the pit over which the Silent
Ones are set, and stored here, I know not by whom. But once has this
place been entered since the time that those who stored the stones
departed in haste, leaving them behind. The report of the treasure went
down among the people who lived in the country from age to age, but
none knew where the chamber was, nor the secret of the door. But it
happened that a white man reached this country from over the mountains,
perchance he too came from the stars, and was well received of the
king of the day. He it is who sits yonder," and she pointed to the
fifth king at the table of the dead. "And it came to pass that he and a
woman of the country who was with him came to this place, and that by
chance the woman learnt the secret of the door— a thousand years
might ye search, but ye should never find it. Then the white man
entered with the woman, and found the stones, and filled with stones
the skin of a small goat, which the woman had with her to hold food.
And as he was going from the chamber he took up one more stone, a large
one, and held it in his hand." Here she paused.
"Well," I asked, breathless with interest as we all were,"what
happened to Da Silvestra?"
The old hag started at the mention of the name.
"How knowest thou the dead man's name?" she asked, sharply; and
then, without waiting for an answer, went on—
"None know what happened; but it came about that the white man was
frightened, for he flung down the goat-skin, with the stones, and fled
out with only the one stone in his hand, and that the king took, and it
is the stone that thou, Macumazahn, didst take from Twala's brows."
"Have none entered here since?" I asked, peering again down the dark
"None, my lords. Only the secret of the door hath been kept, and
every king hath opened it, though he hath not entered. There is a
saying, that those who enter there will die within a moon, even as the
white man died in the cave upon the mountain, where ye found him,
Macumazahn. Ha! ha! mine are true words."
Our eyes met as she said it, and I turned sick and cold. How did the
old hag know all these things?
"Enter, my lords. If I speak truth the goat-skin with the stones
will lie upon the floor; and if there is truth as to whether it is
death to enter here, that will ye learn afterwards. Ha! ha! ha!" And
she hobbled through the doorway, bearing the light with her; but I
confess that once more I hesitated about following.
"Oh, confound it all!" said Good,"here goes. I am not going to be
frightened by that old devil;" and followed by Foulata, who, however,
evidently did not at all like the job, for she was shivering with fear,
he plunged into the passage after Gagool—an example which we quickly
A few yards down the passage, in the narrow way hewn out of the
living rock, Gagool had paused, and was waiting for us.
"See, my lords," she said, holding the light before her,"those who
stored the treasure here fled in haste, and bethought them to guard
against any who should find the secret of the door, but had not the
time," and she pointed to large square blocks of stone, which had, to
the height of two courses (about two feet three), been placed across
the passage with a view to walling it up. Along the side of the passage
were similar blocks ready for use, and, most curious of all, a heap of
mortar and a couple of trowels, which, so far as we had time to
examine them, appeared to be of a similar shape and make to those used
by workmen to this day.
Here Foulata, who had throughout been in a state of great fear and
agitation, said that she felt faint and could go no further, but would
wait there. Accordingly we set her down on the unfinished wall, placing
the basket of provisions by her side, and left her to recover.
Following the passage for about fifteen paces further, we suddenly
came to an elaborately painted wooden door. It was standing wide open.
Whoever was last there had either not had the time, or had forgotten,
to shut it.
Across the threshold lay a skin bag, formed of a goat-skin, that
appeared to be full of pebbles.
"Hee! hee! white men," sniggered Gagool, as the light from the lamp
fell upon it. "What did I tell ye, that the white man who came here
fled in haste, and dropped the woman's bag—behold it!"
Good stooped down and lifted it. It was heavy and jingled.
"By Jove! I believe it's full of diamonds," he said, in an awed
whisper; and, indeed, the idea of a small goat-skin full of diamonds is
enough to awe anybody.
"Go on," said Sir Henry, impatiently. "Here, old lady, give me the
lamp," and taking it from Gagool's hand, he stepped through the doorway
and held it high above his head.
We pressed in after him, forgetful, for the moment, of the bag of
diamonds, and found ourselves in Solomon's treasure chamber.
At first, all that the somewhat faint light given by the lamp
revealed was a room hewn out of the living rock, and apparently not
more than ten feet square. Next there came into sight, stored one on
the other as high as the roof, a splendid collection of elephant-tusks.
How many of them there were we did not know, for of course we could not
see how far they went back, but there could not have been less than the
ends of four or five hundred tusks of the first quality visible to our
eyes. There, alone, was enough ivory before us to make a man wealthy
for life. Perhaps, I thought, it was from this very store that Solomon
drew his material for his "great throne of ivory," of which there was
not the like made in any kingdom.
On the opposite side of the chamber were about a score of wooden
boxes, something like Martini-Henry ammunition boxes, only rather
larger, and painted red.
"There are the diamonds," cried I; "bring the light."
Sir Henry did so, holding it close to the top box, of which the lid,
rendered rotten by time even in that dry place, appeared to have been
smashed in, probably by Da Silvestra himself. Pushing my hand through
the hole in the lid I drew it out full, not of diamonds, but of gold
pieces, of a shape that none of us had seen before, and with what
looked like Hebrew characters stamped upon them.
"Ah!" I said, replacing the coin, "we shan't go back empty-handed,
anyhow. There must be a couple of thousand pieces in each box, and
there are eighteen boxes. I suppose it was the money to pay the workmen
"Well," put in Good, "I think that is the lot; I don't see any
diamonds, unless the old Portuguese put them all into this bag."
"Let my lords look yonder where it is darkest, if they would find
the stones," said Gagool, interpreting our looks. "There my lords will
find a nook, and three stone chests in the nook, two sealed and one
Before interpreting this to Sir Henry, who had the light, I could
not resist asking how she knew these things, if no one had entered the
place since the white man, generations ago.
"Ah, Macumazahn, who watchest by night," was the mocking answer,"ye
who live in the stars, do ye not know that some have eyes that can see
"Look in that corner, Curtis," I said, indicating the spot Gagool
had pointed out.
"Hullo, you fellows," he said, "here's a recess. Great heavens! look
We hurried up to where he was standing in a nook, something like a
small bow window. Against the wall of this recess were placed three
stone chests, each about two feet square. Two were fitted with stone
lids, the lid of the third rested against the side of the chest, which
"Look!" he repeated, hoarsely, holding the lamp over the open chest.
We looked, and for a moment could make nothing out, on account of a
silvery sheen that dazzled us. When our eyes got used to it, we saw
that the chest was three-parts full of uncut diamonds, most of them of
considerable size. Stooping, I picked some up. Yes, there was no
mistake about it, there was the unmistakable soapy feel about them.
I fairly gasped as I dropped them.
"We are the richest men in the whole world," I said. "Monte Christo
is a fool to us."
"We shall flood the market with diamonds," said Good.
"Got to get them there first," suggested Sir Henry.
And we stood with pale faces and stared at each other, with the
lantern in the middle, and the glimmering gems below, as though we were
conspirators about to commit a crime, instead of being, as we thought,
the three most fortunate men on earth.
"Hee! hee! hee!" went old Gagool behind us, as she flitted about
like a vampire bat. "There are the bright stones that ye love, white
men, as many as ye will; take them, run them through your fingers, eat
them, hee! hee! drink them, ha! ha!"
There was something so ridiculous at that moment to my mind in the
idea of eating and drinking diamonds, that I began to laugh
outrageously, an example which the others followed, without knowing
why. There we stood and shrieked with laughter over the gems which were
ours, which had been found for us thousands of years ago by the patient
delvers in the great hole yonder, and stored for us by Solomon's
long-dead overseer, whose name, perchance, was written in the
characters stamped on the faded wax that yet adhered to the lids of the
chest. Solomon never got them, nor David, nor Da Silvestra, nor anybody
else. We had got them; there before us were millions of pounds worth of
diamonds, and thousands of pounds worth of gold and ivory, only waiting
to be taken away.
Suddenly the fit passed off, and we stopped laughing.
"Open the other chests, white men," croaked Gagool, "there are
surely more therein. Take your fill, white lords!"
Thus adjured, we set to work to pull up the stone lids on the other
too, first—not without a feeling of sacrilege—breaking the seals
that fastened them.
Hoorah! they were full too, full to the brim; at least, the second
one was; no wretched Da Silvestra had been filling goat-skins out of
that. As for the third chest, it was only about a fourth full, but the
stones were all picked ones; none less than twenty carats, and some of
them as large as pigeon-eggs. Some of these biggest ones, however, we
could see by holding them up to the light, were a little yellow, "off
coloured," as they call it at Kimberley.
What we did not see, however, was the look of fearful malevolence
that old Gagool favoured us with as she crept, crept like a snake, out
of the treasure chamber and down the passage towards the massive door
of solid rock.
Hark! Cry upon cry comes ringing up the vaulted path. It is
"Oh, Bougwan! help! help! the rock falls!"
"Leave go, girl! Then—"
"Help! help! she has stabbed me!"
By now we are running down the passage, and this is what the light
from the lamp falls on. The door of rock is slowly closing down; it is
not three feet from the floor. Near it struggle Foulata and Gagool. The
red blood of the former runs to her knee, but still the brave girl
holds the old witch, who fights like a wild cat. Ah! she is free!
Foulata falls, and Gagool throws herself on the ground, to twist
herself like a snake through the crack of the closing stone. She is
under—ah, God! too late! too late! The stone nips her, and she yells
in agony. Down, down, it comes, all the thirty tons of it, slowly
pressing her old body against the rock below. Shriek upon shriek, such
as we never heard, then a long sickening crunch, and the door was shut
just as we, rushing down the passage, hurled ourselves against it.
It was all done in four seconds.
Then we turned to Foulata. The poor girl was stabbed in the body,
and could not, I saw, live long.
"Ah! Bougwan, I die!" gasped the beautiful creature. "She crept
out—Gagool; I did not see her, I was faint—and the door began to
fall; then she came back, and was looking up the path—and I saw her
come in through the slowly falling door, and caught her and held her,
and she stabbed me, and I die, Bougwan."
"Poor girl! poor girl!" Good cried; and then, as he could do nothing
else, he fell to kissing her.
"Bougwan," she said, after a pause,"is Macumazahn there? it grows so
dark, I cannot see."
"Here I am, Foulata."
"Macumazahn, be my tongue for a moment, I pray thee, for Bougwan
cannot understand me, and before I go into the darkness—I would speak
"Say on, Foulata, I will render it."
"Say to my lord, Bougwan, that—I love him, and that I am glad to
die because I know that he cannot cumber his life with such as me, for
the sun cannot mate with the darkness, nor the white with the black.
"Say that at times I have felt as though there were a bird in my
bosom, which would one day fly hence and sing elsewhere; even now,
though I cannot lift my hand, and my brain grows cold, I do not feel as
though my heart were dying; it is so full of love that could live a
thousand years, and yet be young. Say that if I live again, mayhap I
shall see him in the stars, and that—I will search them all, though
perchance I should there still be black and he would—still be white.
Say— nay, Macumazahn, say no more, save that I love— Oh, hold me
closer, Bougwan, I cannot feel thine arms —oh! oh!"
"She is dead—she is dead!" said Good, rising in grief, the tears
running down his honest face.
"You need not let that trouble you, old fellow," said Sir Henry.
"Eh!" said Good; "what do you mean?"
"I mean that you will soon be in a position to join her. Man, don't
you see that we are buried alive?"
Until Sir Henry uttered these words, I do not think that full horror
of what had happened had come home to us, preoccupied as we were with
the sight of poor Foulata's end. But now we understood The ponderous
mass of rock had closed, probably for ever, for the only brain which
knew its secret was crushed to powder beneath it. This was a door that
none could hope to force with anything short of dynamite in large
quantities. And we were the wrong side of it!
For a few minutes we stood horrified there over the corpse of
Foulata. All the manhood seemed to have gone out of us. The first shock
of this idea of the slow and miserable end that awaited us was
overpowering. We saw it all now; that fiend Gagool had planned this
snare for us from the first. It would have been just the jest that her
evil mind would have rejoiced in, the idea of the three white men,
whom, for some reason of her own, she had always hated, slowly
perishing of thirst and hunger in the company of the treasure they had
coveted. I saw the point of that sneer of hers about eating and
drinking the diamonds now. Perhaps somebody had tried to serve the poor
old Don in the same way, when he abandoned the skin full of jewels.
"This will never do," said Sir Henry, hoarsely; "the lamp will soon
go out. Let us see if we can't find the spring that works the rock."
We sprang forward with desperate energy, and standing in a bloody
ooze, began to feel up and down the door and the side of the passage.
But no knob or spring could we discover.
"Depend on it," I said, "it does not work from the inside; if it did
Gagool would not have risked trying to crawl underneath the stone. It
was the knowledge of this that made her try to escape at all hazards,
"At all events," said Sir Henry, with a hard little laugh,
"retribution was swift; hers was almost as awful an end as ours is
likely to be. We can do nothing with the door; let us go back to the
treasure room." We turned and went, and as we did so I perceived by
the unfinished wall across the passage the basket of food which poor
Foulata had carried. I took it up, and brought it with me back to that
accursed treasure chamber that was to be our grave. Then we went back
and reverently bore in Foulata's corpse, laying it on the floor by the
boxes of coin.
Next we seated ourselves, leaning our backs against the three stone
chests of priceless treasures.
"Let us divide the food," said Sir Henry, "so as to make it last as
long as possible." Accordingly we did so. It would, we reckoned, make
four infinitesimally small meals for each of us, enough, say, to
support life for a couple of days. Besides the "biltong," or dried
game- flesh, there were two gourds of water, each holding about a
"Now," said Sir Henry, "let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."
We each ate a small portion of the "biltong," and drank a sip of
water. We had, needless to say, but little appetite, though we were
sadly in need of food, and felt better after swallowing it. Then we got
up and made a systematic examination of the walls of our prison-house,
in the faint hope of finding some means of exit, sounding them and the
There was none. It was not probably that there would be one to a
The lamp began to burn dim. The fat was nearly exhausted.
"Quatermain," said Sir Henry, "what is the time— your watch goes?"
I drew it out, and looked at it. It was six o'clock; we had entered
the cave at eleven.
"Infadoos will miss us," I suggested. "If we do not return to-night,
he will search for us in the morning, Curtis."
"He may search in vain. He does not know the secret of the door, not
even where it is. No living person knew it yesterday, except Gagool.
To-day no one knows it. Even if he found the door he could not break it
down. All the Kukuana army could not break through five feet of living
rock. My friends, I see nothing for it but to bow ourselves to the will
of the Almighty. The search for treasure has brought many to a bad and;
we shall go to swell their number."
The lamp grew dimmer yet.
Presently it flared up and showed the whole scene in strong relief,
the great mass of white tusks, the boxes full of gold, the corpse of
poor Foulata stretched before them, the goat-skin full of treasure, the
dim glimmer of the diamonds, and the wild, wan forces of us three white
men seated there awaiting death by starvation.
Suddenly it sank, and expired.
CHAPTER XVIII. WE ABANDON HOPE.
I can give no adequate description of the horrors of the night which
followed. Mercifully they were to some extent mitigated by sleep, for
even in such a position as ours, wearied nature will sometimes assert
itself. But I, at any rate, found it impossible to sleep much. Putting
aside the terrifying thought of our impending doom—for the bravest
man on earth might well quail from such a fate as awaited us, and I
never had any great pretensions to be brave—the silence itself was
too great to allow of it. Reader, you may have lain awake at night and
thought the silence oppressive, but I say with confidence that you can
have no idea what a vivid tangible thing perfect silence really is. On
the surface of the earth there is always some sound or motion, and
though it may in itself be imperceptible, yet does it deaden the sharp
edge of absolute silence. But here there was none. We were buried in
the bowels of a huge snow-clad peak. Thousands of feet above us the
fresh air rushed over the white, snow, but no sound of it reached us.
We were separated by a long tunnel and five feet of rock even from the
awful chamber of the dead; and the dead make no noise. The crashing of
all the artillery of earth and heaven could not have come to our ears
in our living tomb. We were cut off from all echoes of the world—we
were as already dead.
And then the irony of the situation forced itself upon me. There
around us lay treasures enough to pay off a moderate national debt, or
to build a fleet of ironclads, and yet we would gladly have bartered
them all for the faintest chance of escape. Soon, doubtless, we should
be glad to exchange them for a bit of food or a cup of water, and,
after that, even for the privilege of a speedy close to our sufferings.
Truly wealth, which men spend all their lives in acquiring, is a
valueless thing at the last.
And so the night wore on.
"Good," said Sir Henry's voice at last, and it sounded awful in the
intense stillness, "how many matches have you in the box?"
"Strike one, and let us see the time."
He did so, and in contrast to the dense darkness the flame nearly
blinded us. It was five o'clock by my watch. The beautiful dawn was now
blushing on the snow-wreaths far over our heads, and the breeze would
be stirring the night mists in the hollows.
"We had better eat something and keep up our strength," said I.
"What is the good of eating?" answered Good; "the sooner we die and
get it over the better."
"While there is life there is hope," said Sir Henry.
Accordingly we ate and sipped some water, and another period of time
passed, when somebody suggested that it might be as well to get as near
to the door as possible and halloa, on the faint chance of somebody
catching a sound outside. Accordingly Good, who, from long practice at
sea, has a fine piercing note, groped his way down the passage and
began, and I must say he made a most diabolical noise. I never heard
such yells; but it might have been a mosquito buzzing for all the
effect it produced.
After awhile he gave it up, and came back very thirsty, and had to
have some water. After that we gave up yelling. as it encroached on the
supply of water.
So we all sat down once more against our chests of useless diamonds
in that dreadful inaction, which was one of the hardest circumstances
of our fate; and I am bound to say that, for my part, I gave way in
despair. Laying my head against Sir Henry's broad shoulder I burst into
tears; and I think I heard Good gulping away on the other side, and
swearing hoarsely at himself for doing so.
Ah, how good and brave that great man was! Had we been two
frightened children, and he our nurse, he could not have treated us
more tenderly. Forgetting his own share of miseries, he did all he
could to soothe our broken nerves, telling stories of men who had been
in somewhat similar circumstances, and miraculously escaped; and when
these failed to cheer us, pointing out how, after all, it was only
anticipating an end that must come to us all, that it would soon be
over, and that death from exhaustion was a merciful one (which is not
true). Then, in a diffident sort of a way, as I had once before heard
him do, he suggested that we should throw ourselves on the mercy of
higher Power, which for my part I did with great vigour.
His is a beautiful character, very quiet, but very strong.
And so somehow the day went as the night had gone (if, indeed, one
can use the terms where all was densest night), and when I lit a match
to see the time it was seven o'clock.
Once more we ate and drank, and as we did so an idea occurred to me.
"How is it," said I, "that the air in this place keeps fresh? It is
thick and heavy, but it is perfectly fresh."
"Great heavens!" said Good, starting up, "I never thought of that.
It can't come through the stone door, for it is air-tight, if ever a
door was. It must come from somewhere. If there were no current of air
in the place we should have been stifled when we first came in. Let us
have a look."
It was wonderful what a change this mere spark of hope wrought in
us. In a moment we were all three groping about the place on our hands
and knees, feeling for the slightest indication of a draught. Presently
my ardour received a check. I put my hand on something cold. It was
poor Foulata's dead face.
For an hour or more we went on feeling about, till at last Sir Henry
and I gave it up in despair, having got considerably hurt by constantly
knocking our heads against tusks, chests, and the side of the chamber.
But Good still persevered, saying, with an approach to cheerfulness,
that it was better than doing nothing.
"I say, you fellows," he said, presently, in a constrained sort of
voice, "come here."
Needless to say we scrambled over towards him quick enough.
"Quatermain, put your hand here where mine is. Now, do you feel
"I think I feel air coming up."
"Now listen." He rose and stamped upon the place, and a flame of
hope shot up in our hearts. It rang hollow.
With trembling hands I lit a match. I had only three left, and we
saw that we were in the angle of the far corner of the chamber, a fact
that accounted for our not having noticed the hollow ring of the place
during our former exhaustive examination. As the match burnt we
scrutinised the spot. There was a join in the solid rock floor, and,
great heavens! there, let in level with the rock, was a stone ring. We
said no word, we were to excited, and our hearts beat too wildly with
hope to allow us to speak. Good had a knife, at the back of which was
one of those hooks that are made to extract stones from horses' hoofs.
He opened it, and scratched away at the ring with it. Finally he got it
under, and levered away gently for fear of breaking the hook. The ring
began to move. Being of stone, it had not got set fast in all the
centuries it had lain there, as would have been the case had it been of
iron. Presently it was upright. Then he got his hands into it and
tugged with all his force. but nothing budged.
"Let me try," I said, impatiently, for the situation of the stone,
right in the angle of the corner, was such that it was impossible for
two to pull at once. I got hold and strained away, but with no results.
Then Sir Henry tried and failed.
Taking the hook again, Good scratched all round the crack where we
felt the air coming up.
"Now, Curtis," he said, "tackle on, and put your back into it; you
are as strong as two. Stop," and he took off a stout black silk
handkerchief, which, true to his habits of neatness, he still wore, and
ran it through the ring. "Quatermain, get Curtis round the middle and
pull for dear life when I give the word. Now."
Sir Henry put out all his enormous strength, and Good and I did the
same, with such power as nature had given us.
"Heave! heave! it's giving," gasped Sir Henry; and I heard the
muscles of his great back cracking. Suddenly there came a parting
sound, then a rush of air, and we were all on our backs on the floor
with a great flag-stone on the top of us. Sir Henry's strength had done
it, and never did muscular power stand a man in better stead.
"Light a match, Quatermain," he said, as soon as we had picked
ourselves up and got one breath; "carefully, now."
I did so, and there before us was, God he praised! the first step of
a stone stair.
"Now what is to be done?" asked Good.
"Follow the stair, of course, and trust to Providence."
"Stop!" said Sir Henry; "Quatermain, get the bit of biltong and the
water that is left; we may want them."
I went creeping back to our place by the chests for that purpose,
and as I was coming away an idea struck me. We had not thought much of
the diamonds for the last twenty-four hours or so; indeed, the idea of
diamonds was nauseous, seeing what they had entailed upon us; but,
thought I, I may as well pocket a few in case we ever should get out of
this ghastly hole. So I just stuck my fist into the first chest and
filled all the available pockets of my old shooting coat, topping up—
this was a happy thought—with a couple of handfuls of big ones out
of the third chest.
"I say, you fellows," I sung out, "won't you take some diamonds with
you? I've filled my pockets."
"Oh! hang the diamonds!" said Sir Henry. "I hope that I may never
As for Good, he made no answer. He was, I think, taking a last
farewell of all that was left of the poor girl who loved him so well.
And, curious as it may seem to you, my reader, sitting at home at ease
and reflecting on the vast, indeed the immeasurable, wealth which we
were thus abandoning, I can assure you that if you had passed some
twenty-eight hours with next to nothing to eat and drink in that place,
you would not have cared to cumber yourself with diamonds whilst
plunging down into the unknown bowels of the earth, in the wild hope of
escape from an agonising death. If it had not, from the habits of a
lifetime, become a sort of second nature with me never to leave
anything worth having behind, if there was the slightest chance of my
being able to carry it away, I am sure I should not have bothered to
fill my pockets.
"Come on, Quatermain," said Sir Henry, who was already standing on
the first step of the stone stair. "Steady, I will go first."
"Mind where you put your feet; there may be some awful hole
underneath," said I.
"Much more likely to be another room," said Sir Henry, as he slowly
descended, counting the steps as he went.
When he got to "fifteen" he stopped. "Here's the bottom," he said.
"Thank goodness! I think it's a passage. Come on down."
Good descended next, and I followed last, and on reaching the bottom
lit one of the two remaining matches. By its light we could just see
that we were standing in a narrow tunnel, which ran right had felt at
right angles to the staircase we had descended. Before we could make
out any more, the match burnt my fingers and went out. Then arose the
delicate question of which way to turn. Of course, it was impossible
to know what the tunnel was or where it ran to, and yet to turn one way
might lead us to safety, and the other to destruction. We were utterly
perplexed, till suddenly it struck Good that when I had lit the match
the draught of the passage blew the flame to the left.
"Let us go against the draught," he said; "air draws inwards, not
We took this suggestion, and feeling along the wall with the hand,
whilst trying the ground before us at every step, we departed from that
accursed treasure chamber on our terrible quest. It ever it should be
entered again by living man, which I do not think it will be, he will
find to token of our presence in the open chests of jewels, the empty
lamp, and the white bones of poor Foulata.
When we had groped our way for about a quarter of an hour along the
passage, it suddenly took a sharp turn, or else was bisected by
another,m which we followed, only in course of time to be led into a
third. And so it went on for some hours. We seemed to be in a stone
labyrinth which led nowhere. What all these passages are, of course I
cannot say, but we thought that they must be the ancient workings of a
mine, of which the various shafts travelled hither and thither as the
ore led them. This is the only way in which we could account for such a
multitude of passages.
At length we halted, thoroughly worn out with fatigue, and with that
hope deferred which maketh the heart sick, and ate up our poor
remaining piece of biltong, and drank our last sup of water, for our
throats were like lime-kilns. It seemed to us that we had escaped Death
in the darkness of the chamber only to meet him in the darkness of the
As we stood, once more utterly depressed, I thought I caught a
sound, to which I called the attention of the others. It was very
faint, and very far off, but it was a sound, a faint, murmuring sound,
for the others heard it too, and no words can describe the blessedness
of it after all those hours of utter, awful stillness.
"By heaven! it's running water," said Good. "Come on."
Off we started again in the direction from which the faint murmur
seemed to come, groping our way as before along the rocky walls. As we
went it got more and more audible, till at last it seemed quite loud in
the quiet. On, yet on; now we could distinctly make out the
unmistakable swirl of rushing water. And yet how could there be running
water in the bowels of the earth? Now we were quite near to it, and
Good, who was leading, swore that he could smell it.
"Go gently, Good," said Sir Henry, "we must be close." Splash! and a
cry from Good.
He had fallen in.
"Good! Good! where are you?" we shouted, in terrified distress. To
intense relief, an answer came back in a choky voice.
"All right; I've got hold of a rock. Strike a light to show me where
Hastily I lit the last remaining match. Its faint gleam discovered
to us a dark mass of water running at our feet. How wide it was we
could not see, but there, some way out, was the dark form of our
companion hanging on to a projecting rock.
"Stand clear to catch me," sung out Good. "I must swim for it."
Then we heard a splash, and great struggle. Another minute and he
had grabbed at and caught Sir Henry's outstretched hand, and we had
pulled him up high and dry into the tunnel.
"My word!" he said, between his gasps, "that was touch and go. If I
hadn't caught that rock, and known how to swim, I should have been
done. It runs like a mill-race, and I could feel no bottom."
It was clear that this would not do; as after Good had rested a
little, and we had drunk our fill from the water of the subterranean
river, which was sweet and fresh, and washed our faces, which sadly
needed it, as well as we could, we started from the banks of this
African Styx, and began to retrace our steps along the tunnel, Good
dripping unpleasantly in front of us. At length we came to another
tunnel leading to our right.
"We may as well take it," said Sir Henry, wearily; "all roads are
alike here; we can only go on till we drop."
Slowly, for a long, long while, we stumbled, utterly weary, along
this new tunnel, Sir Henry leading now.
Suddenly he stopped, and we bumped up against him.
"Look!" he whispered, "is my brain going, or is that light?"
We stared with all our eyes, and there, yes, there, far ahead of us,
was a faint glimmering spot, no larger than a cottage window pane. It
was so faint that I doubt if any eyes, except those which, like ours,
had for days seen nothing but blackness, could have perceived it at all.
With a sort of gasp of hope we pushed on. In five minutes there was
no longer any doubt: it was a patch of faint light. A minute more and a
breath of real live air was fanning us. On we struggled. All at once
the tunnel narrowed. Sir Henry went on his knees. Smaller yet it grew,
till it was only the size of a large box's earth—it was earth now,
mind you; the rock had ceased.
A squeeze, a struggle, and Sir Henry was out, and so was Good, and
so was I, and there above us were the blessed stars, and in our
nostrils was the sweet air; then suddenly something gave, and we were
all rolling over and over and over through grass and bushes, and soft,
I caught at something and stopped. Sitting up I halloed lustily. An
answering shout came from just below, where Sir Henry's wild career had
been stopped by some level ground. I scrambled to him, and found him
unhurt, though breathless. Then we looked for Good. A little way off we
found him too, jammed in a forked root. He was a good deal knocked
about, but soon came to.
We sat down together there on the grass, and the revulsion of
feeling was so great, that I really think we cried for joy. We had
escaped from that awful dungeon, that was so near to becoming our
grave. Surely some merciful Power must have guided our footsteps to the
jackal hole at the termination of the tunnel, (for that is what it must
have been). And see, there on the mountains the dawn we had never
thought to look upon again was blushing rosy red.
Presently the grey light stole down the slopes, and we saw that we
were at the bottom, or rather, nearly at the bottom, of the vast pit in
front of the entrance to the cave. Now we could make out the dim forms
of the three colossi who sat upon its verge. Doubtless those awful
passages, along which we had wandered the livelong night, had
originally been, in some way, connected with the great diamond mine. As
for the subterranean river in the bowels of the mountain, Heaven only
knows what it was, or whence it flows, or whither it goes. I for one
have no anxiety to trace its course.
Lighter it grew, and lighter yet. We could see each other now, and
such a spectacle as we presented I have never set eyes on before or
since. Gaunt-cheeked, hollow-eyed wretches, smeared all over with dust
and mud, bruised, bleeding, the long fear of imminent death yet
written on our countenances, we were, indeed, a sight to frighten the
daylight. And yet it is a solemn fact that Good'd eye-glass was still
fixed in Good's eye. I doubt whether he had ever taken it out at all.
Neither the darkness, nor the plunge in the subterranean river, nor the
roll down the slope, had been able to separate Good and his eye-glass.
Presently we rose, fearing that our limbs would stiffen if we
stopped there longer, and commenced with slow and painful steps to
struggle up the sloping sides of the great pit. For an hour or more we
toiled steadfastly up the blue clay, dragging ourselves on by the help
of the roots and grasses with which it was clothed.
At last it was done, and we stood on the great road, on the side of
the pit opposite to the colossi.
By the side of the road, a hundred yards off, a fire was burning in
front of some huts, and round the fire were figures. We made towards
them, supporting one another, and halting every few paces. Presently,
one of the figures rose, saw us, and fell on to the ground, crying out
"Infadoos, Infadoos! it is us, thy friends."
We rose; he ran to us, staring wildly, and still shaking with fear.
"Oh, my lords, my lords, it is indeed you come back from the
dead!—come back from the dead!"
And the old warrior flung himself down before us, and clasped Sir
Henry's knees, and wept aloud for joy.
CHAPTER XIX. IGNOSI'S FAREWELL.
Ten days from that eventful morning found us once more in our old
quarters at Loo; and, strange to say, but little the worse for our
terrible experience, except that my stubbly hair came out of that cave
about three shades greyer than it went in, and that Good never was
quite the same after Foulata's death, which seemed to move him very
greatly. I am bound to say that, looking at the thing from the point of
view of an oldish man of the world, I consider her removal was a
fortunate occurrence, since, otherwise, complications would have been
sure to ensue. The poor creature was no ordinary native girl, but a
person of great, I had almost said stately, beauty, and of considerable
refinement of mind. But no amount of beauty or refinement could have
made an entanglement between Good and herself a desirable occurrence;
for, as she herself put it, "Can the sun mate with the darkness, or the
white with the black?"
I need hardly state that we never again penetrated into Solomon's
treasure chamber. After we had recovered from our fatigues, a process
which took us forty-eight hours, we descended into the great pit in the
hope of finding the hole by which we had crept out of the mountain,
but with no success. To begin with, rain had fallen, and obliterated
our spoor; and what is more, the sides of the vast pit were fully of
ant-bear and other holes. It was impossible to say to which of these we
owed our salvation. We also, on the day before we started back to Loo,
made a further examination of the wonders of the stalactite cave, and,
drawn by a kind of restless feeling, even penetrated once more into the
Chamber of the Dead; and, passing beneath the spear of the white Death,
gazed, with sensations which it would be quite impossible for me to
describe, at the mass of rock which had shut us off from escape,
thinking, the while, of the priceless treasures beyond, of the
mysterious old hag whose flattened fragments lay crushed beneath it,
and of the fair girl of whose tomb it was the portal. I say gazed at
the "rock," for examine as we would, we could find no traces of the
join of the sliding door; nor, indeed, could we hit upon the secret,
now utterly lost, that worked it, though we tried for an hour or more.
It was certainly a marvellous bit of mechanism, characteristic, in its
massive and yet inscrutable simplicity, of the age which produced it;
and I doubt if the world has such another to show.
As last we gave it up in disgust; though, it the mass had suddenly
risen before our eyes, I doubt if we should have screwed up courage to
step over Gagool's mangled remains, and once more enter the treasure
chamber, even in the sure and certain hope of unlimited diamonds. And
yet I could have cried at the idea of leaving all that treasure, the
biggest treasure probably that has ever in the world's history been
accumulated in one spot. But there was no help for it. Only dynamite
could force its way through five feet of solid rock. And so we left it.
Perhaps, in some remote unborn century, a more fortunate explorer may
hit upon the "Open Sesame," and flood the world with gems. But, myself,
I doubt it. Somehow, I seem to feel that the millions of pound's worth
of gems that lie in the three stone coffers will never shine round the
neck of an earthly beauty. They and Foulata's bones will keep cold
company till the end of all things.
With a sigh of disappointment we made our way back, and next day
started for Loo. And yet it was really very ungrateful of us to be
disappointed; for, as the reader will remember, I had, by a lucky
thought, taken the precaution to fill the pockets of my old shooting
coat with gems before we left our prison-house. A good many of these
fell our in the course of our roll down the side of the pit, including
most of the big ones, which I had crammed in on the top. But,
comparatively speaking, an enormous quantity still remained, including
eighteen large stones ranging from about one hundred to thirty carats
in weight. My old shooting coat still held enough treasure to make us
all, if not millionaires, at least exceedingly wealthy men, and yet to
keep enough stones each to make the three finest sets of gems in
Europe. So we had not done so badly.
On arriving at Loo, we were most cordially received by Ignosi, whom
we found well, and busily engaged in consolidating his power, and
reorganising the regiments which had suffered most in the great
struggle with Twala.
He listened with breathless interest to our wonderful story; but
when we told him of old Gagool's frightful end, he grew thoughtful.
"Come hither," he called, to a very old Induna (councillor), who was
sitting with others in a circle round the king, but out of ear-shot.
The old man rose, approached, saluted, and seated himself.
"Thou art old," said Ignosi.
"Ay, my lord the king!"
"Tell me, when thou wast little, didst thou know Gagaoola the witch
"Ay, my lord the king!"
"How was she then—young, like thee?"
"Not so, my lord the king! She was even as now; old and dried, very
ugly, and full of wickedness."
"She is no more; she is dead."
"So, O king! then is a curse taken from the land."
"Koom! I go, black puppy, who tore out the old dog's throat. Koom!"
"Ye see, my brothers," said Ignosi, "this was a strange woman, and I
rejoice that she is dead. She would have let ye die in the dark place,
and mayhap afterwards she had found a way to slay me as she found a way
to slay my father, and set up Twala, whom her heart loved, in his
place. Now go on with the tale; surely there never was the like!"
After I had narrated all the story of our escape, I, as we had
agreed between ourselves that I should, took the opportunity to address
Ignosi as to our departure from Kukuanaland.
"And now, Ignosi, the time has come for us to bid thee farewell, and
start to seek once more our own land. Behold, Ignosi, with us thou
camest a servant, and now we leave thee a mighty king. If thou art
grateful to us, remember to do even as thou didst promise: to rule
justly, to respect the law, and to put none to death without a cause.
So shalt thou prosper. To-morrow, at break of day, Ignosi, wilt thou
give us an escort who shall lead us across the mountains? Is it not so,
Ignosi covered his face with his hands for awhile before answering.
"My heart is sore," he said at last; "your words split my heart in
twain. what have I done to ye, Incubu, Macumazahn, and Bougwan, that ye
should leave me desolate? Ye who stood by me in rebellion and in
battle, will ye leave me in the day of peace and victory? What will
ye—wives? Choose from out the land! A place to live in? Behold, the
land is yours as far as ye can see. The white man's houses? Ye shall
teach my people how to build them. Cattle for beef and milk? Every
married man shall bring ye an ox or a cow. Wild game to hunt? Does not
the elephant walk through my forests, and the river-horse sleep in the
reeds? Would ye make war? My Impis (regiments) wait your word. If there
is anything more that I can give, that will I give ye."
"Nay, Ignosi, we want not these things," I answered; "we would seek
our own place."
"Now do I perceive," said Ignosi, bitterly, and with flashing eyes,
"that it is the bright stones that ye love more than me, your friend.
Ye have the stones; now would ye go to Natal and across the moving
black water and sell them, and be rich, as it is the desire of a white
man's heart to be. Cursed for your sake be the stones, and cursed he
who seeks them. Death shall it be to him who sets foot in the place of
Death to seek them. I have spoken, white men; ye can go."
I laid my hand upon his arm. "Ignosi," I said, "tell us, when thou
didst wander in Zululand, and among the white men in Natal, did not
thine heart turn to the land thy mother told thee of, thy native land,
where thou didst see the light, and play when thou wast little, the
land where thy place was?"
"It was even so, Macumazahn."
"Then thus does our heart turn to our land and to our own place."
Then came a pause. When Ignosi broke it, it was in a different voice.
"I do perceive that thy words are, now as ever, wise and full of
reason, Macumazahn; that which flies in the air loves not to run along
the ground; the white man loves not to live on the level of the black.
Well, ye must go, and leave my heart sore, because ye will be as dead
to me, since from where ye will be no tidings can come to me."
"But listen, and let all the white men know my words. No other white
man shall cross the mountains, even if any may live to come so far. I
will see no traders with their guns and rum. My people shall fight with
the spear, and drink water, like their forefathers before them. I will
have no praying-men to put fear of death into men's hearts, to stir
them up against the king, and make a path for the white men who follow
to run on. If a white man comes to my gates I will send him back; if a
hundred come, I will push them back; if an army comes, I will make war
on them with all my strength, and they shall not prevail against me.
None shall ever come for the shining stones; no, not an army, for if
they come I will send a regiment and fill up the pit, and break down
the white columns in the caves and fill them with rocks, so that none
can come even to that door of which ye speak, and whereof the way to
move it is lost. But for ye three, Incubu, Macumazahn, and Bougwan, the
path is always open; for behold, ye are dearer to me than aught that
"And ye would go. Infadoos, my uncle, and my Induna, shall take thee
by the hand and guide thee, with a regiment. There is, as I have
learnt, another way across the mountains that he shall show ye.
Farewell, my brothers, brave white men. See me no more, for I have no
heart to bear it. Behold, I make a decree, and it shall be published
from the mountains to the mountains, your names, Incubu, Macumazahn,
and Bougwan, shall be as the names of dead kings, and he who speaks
them shall die. So shall your memory be preserved in the land for ever.
"Go now, ere my eyes rain tears like a woman's. At times when ye
look back down the path of life, or when ye are old and gather
yourselves together to crouch before the fire, because the sun has no'
more heat, ye will think of how we stood shoulder to shoulder in that
great battle that thy wise words planned, Macumazahn, of how thou wast
the point of that horn that galled Twala's flank, Bougwan; whilst thou
stoodst in the ring of the Greys, Incubu, and men went down before
thine axe like corn before a sickle; ay, and of how thou didst break
the wild bull's (Twala's) strength, and bring his pride to dust. Fare
ye well for ever, Incubu, Macumazahn, and Bougwan, my lords and my
He rose, looked earnestly at us for a few seconds, and then threw
the corner of his kaross over his head, so as to cover his face from us.
We went in silence.
Next day at dawn we left Loo, escorted by our old friend Infadoos,
who was heart-broken at our departure, and the regiment of Buffaloes.
Early as the hour was, all the main street of the town was lined with
multitudes of people, who gave us the royal salute as we passed at the
head of the regiment, while the women blessed us as having rid the land
of Twala, throwing flowers before us as we went. It really was very
affecting, and not the sort of thing one is accustomed to meet with
One very ludicrous incident occurred, however, which I rather
welcomed, as it gave us something to laugh at.
Just before we got to the confines of the town, a pretty young girl,
with some beautiful lilies in her hand, came running forward and
presented them to Good (somehow they all seemed to like Good; I think
his eyeglass and solitary whisker gave him a fictitious value), and
then said she had a boon to ask.
"Let my lord show his servant his beautiful white legs, that his
servant may look on them, and remember them all her days, and tell them
of her children; his servant has travelled four days' journey to see
them, for the fame of them has gone throughout the land."
"I'll be hanged if I do!" said Good, excitedly.
"Come, come, my dear fellow," said Sir Henry, "you can't refuse to
oblige a lady."
"I won't," said Good obstinately; "it is positively indecent."
However, in the end he consented to draw up his trousers to the
knee, amidst notes of rapturous admiration from all the women present,
especially the gratified young lady, and in this guise he had to walk
till we got clear of the town.
Good's lags will, I fear, never be so greatly admired again. Of his
melting teeth, and even of his "transparent eye," they wearied more or
less, but of his legs, never.
As we travelled, Infadoos told us that there was another pass over
the mountains to the north of the one followed by Solomon's great road,
or rather that there was a place where it was possible to climb down
the wall of cliff that separated Kukuanaland from the desert, and was
broken by the towering shapes of Sheba's Breasts. It appeared, too,
that rather more than two years previously a party of Kukuana hunters
had descended this path into the desert in search of ostriches, whose
plumes were much prized among them for war head-dresses, and that in
the course of their hunt they had been led far from the mountains, and
were much troubled by thirst. Seeing, however, trees on the horizon,
they made towards them, and discovered a large and fertile oasis of
some miles in extent, and plentifully watered. It was by way of this
oasis that he suggested that we should return, and the idea seemed to
us a good one, as it appeared that we should escape the rigours of the
mountain pass, and as some of the hunters were in attendance to guide
us to the oasis, from which, they stated, they could perceive more
fertile spots far away in the desert.
Travelling easily, on the night of the fourth day's journey we found
ourselves once more on the crest of the mountains that separate
Kukuanaland from the desert, which rolled away in sandy billows at our
feet, and about twenty-five miles to the north of Sheba's Breasts.
At dawn on the following day, we were led to the commencement of a
precipitous descent, by which we were to descend the precipice, and
gain the desert two thousand and more feet below.
Here we bade farewell to that true friend and sturdy old warrior,
Infadoos, who solemnly wished all good upon us, and nearly wept with
grief. "Never, my lords," he said, "shall mine old eyes see the like of
ye again. Ah! the way that Incubu cut his men down in the battle! Ah!
for the sight of the stroke with which he swept off my brother Twala's
head! It was beautiful—beautiful! I may never hope to see such
another, except perchance in happy dreams."
We were very sorry to part from him; indeed, Good was so moved that
he gave him as a souvenir—what do you think?—an eye-glass.
(Afterwards we discovered that it was a spare one.) Infadoos was
delighted, foreseeing that the possession of such an article would
enormously increase his prestige, and after several vain attempts
actually succeeded in screwing it into his own eye. Anything more
incongruous than the old warrior looked with an eye-glass I never saw.
Eye-glasses don't go well with leopard-skin cloaks and black ostrich
Then, having see that our guides were well laden with water and
provisions, and having received a thundering farewell salute from the
Buffaloes, we wrung the old warrior's hand, and began our downward
climb. A very arduous business it proved to be, but somehow that
evening we found ourselves at the bottom without accident.
"Do you know," said Sir Henry that night, as we sat by our fire and
gazed up at the beetling cliffs above us, "I thin that there are worse
places than Kukuanaland in the world, and that I have spent unhappier
times than the last month or two, though I have never spent such queer
ones. Eh! you fellows?"
"I almost with I were back," said Good, with a sigh.
As for myself, I reflected that all's well that ends Well; but in
the course of a long life of shaves, I never had such shaves as those I
had recently experienced. The thought of that battle still makes me
feel cold all over, and as for our experience in the treasure
Next morning we started on a toilsome march across the desert,
having with us a good supply of water carried by our five guides, and
camped that night in the open, starting again at dawn on the morrow.
By mid-day of the third day's journey we could see the trees of the
oasis of which the guides spoke, and by an hour before sundown we were
once more walking upon grass and listening to the sound of running
CHAPTER XX. FOUND.
And now I come to perhaps the strangest thing that happened to us in
all that strange business, and one which shows how wonderfully things
are brought about.
I was walking quietly along, some way in front of the other two,
down the banks of the stream, which ran from the oasis till it was
swallowed up in the hungry desert sands, when suddenly I stopped and
rubbed my eyes, as well I might. There, not twenty yards in front,
placed in a charming situation, under the shade of a species of fig
tree, and facing to the stream, was a cosy hut, built more or less on
the Kafir principle of grass and withes, only with a full-length door
instead of a bee-hole.
"What the dickens," said I to myself, "can a hut be doing here!"
Even as I said it, the door of the hut opened, and there limped out of
it a a white man clothed in skins, and with an enormous black beard. I
thought that I must have got a touch of the sun. It was impossible. No
hunter ever came to such a place as this. Certainly no hunter would
ever settle in it. I stared and stared, and so did the other man, and
just at that juncture Sir Henry and Good came up.
"Look here, you fellows," I said, "is that a white man, or am I mad?"
Sir Henry looked, and Good looked, and then all of a sudden the lame
white man with the black beard gave a great cry, and came hobbling
towards us. When he got close, he fell down in a sort of faint.
With a spring Sir Henry was by his side.
"Great Powers!" he cried, "it is my brother George!"
At the sound of the disturbance, another figure, also clad in skins,
emerged from the hut, with a gun in his hand, and came running towards
us. On seeing me he too gave a cry.
"Macumazahn," he halloed, "don't you know me, Baas? I'm Jim the
hunter. I lost the note you gave me to give to the Baas, and we have
been here nearly two years." And the fellow fell at my feet, and rolled
over and over, weeping for joy.
"You careless scoundrel!" I said; "you ought to be well hided."
Meanwhile the man with the black beard had recovered and got up, and
he and Sir Henry were pump- handling away at each other, apparently
without a word to say. But whatever they had quarrelled about in the
past (I suspect it was lady, though I never asked), it was evidently
"My dear old fellow," burst out Sir Henry at last, "I thought that
you were dead. I have been over Solomon's Mountains to find you, and
now I come across you perched in the desert, like an old Aasvögel
"I tried to go over Solomon's Mountains nearly two years ago," was
the answer, spoken in the hesitating voice of a man who has had little
recent opportunity of using his tongue, "but when I got here, a boulder
fell on my leg and crushed it, and I have been able to go neither
forward nor back."
Then I came up. "How do you do, Mr. Neville?" I said; "do you
"Why," he said, "isn't it Quatermain, eh, and Good too? Hold on a
minute, you fellows, I am getting dizzy again. It is all so very
strange, and, when man has ceased to hope, so very happy."
That evening, over the camp fire, George Curtis told us his story,
which, in its way, was almost as eventful as our own, and amounted
shortly to this. A little short of two years before, he had started
from Sitanda's Kraal, to try and reach the mountains. As for the note I
had sent him by Jim, that worthy had lost it, and he had never heard of
it till to-day. But, acting upon information he had received from the
natives, he made, not for Sheba's Breasts, but for the ladder-like
descent of the mountains down which we had just come, which was clearly
a better route than that marked out in old Don Silvestra's plan. In the
desert he and Jim suffered great hardship, but finally they reached
this oasis, where a terrible accident befell George Curtis. On the day
of their arrival, he was sitting by the stream, and Jim was extracting
the honey from the nest of a stingless bee, which is to be found in the
desert, on the top of the bank immediately above him. In so doing he
loosed a great boulder of rock, which fell upon George Curtis' right
leg, crushing it frightfully. From that day he had been so dreadfully
lame, that he had found it impossible to go either forward or back, and
had preferred to take the chances of dying on the oasis to the
certainty of perishing in the desert.
As for food, however, they had got on pretty well, for they had a
good supply of ammunition, and the oasis was frequented, especially at
night, by large quantities of game, which came thither for water. These
they shot, or trapped in pitfalls, using their flesh for food, and,
after their clothes wore out, their hides for covering.
"And so," he ended, "we have lived for nearly two years, like a
second Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday, hoping against hope that
some natives might come here and help us away, but none have come. Only
last night we settled that Jim should leave me, and try to reach
Sitanda's Kraal and get assistance. He was to go tomorrow, but I had
little hope of ever seeing him back again. And now you, of all people
in the world, you who I fancied had long ago forgotten all about me,
and were living comfortably in old England, turn up in a promiscuous
way and find me where you least expected. It is the most wonderful
thing I ever heard of, and the most merciful too."
Then Sir Henry set to work and told him the main facts of our
adventures, sitting till late into the night to do it.
"By Jove!" he said, when I showed him some of the diamonds; "well,
at least you have got something for your pains, besides my worthless
Sir Henry laughed. "They belong to Quatermain and Good. It was part
of the bargain that they should share any spoils there might be."
This remark set me thinking, and having spoken to Good I told Sir
Henry that it was our unanimous wish that he should take a third share
of the diamonds, or if he would not, that his share should be handed to
his brother, who had suffered even more than ourselves on the chance of
getting them. Finally, we prevailed upon him to consent to this
arrangement, but George Curtis did not know of it till some time
And here, at this point, I think I shall end this history. Our
journey across the desert back to Sitanda's Kraal was most arduous,
especially as we had to support George Curtis, whose right leg was very
weak indeed, and continually throwing out splinters of bone; but we did
accomplish it somehow, and to give its details would only be to
reproduce much of what happened to us on the former occasion.
Six months from the date of our re-arrival at Sitanda's, where we
found our guns and other goods quite safe, though the old scoundrel in
charge was much disgusted at our surviving to claim them, saw us all
once more safe and sound at my little place on the Berea, near Durban,
where I am now writing, and whence I bid farewell to all who have
accompained me throughout the strangest trip I ever made in the course
of a long and varied experience.
Just as I had written the last word, a Kafir came up my avenue of
orange trees, with a letter in a cleft stick, which he had brought from
the post. It turned out to be from Sir Henry, and as it speaks for
itself I give it in full.
"Brayley Hall, Yorkshire.
"My dear Quatermain,—
"I sent you a line a few mails back to say that the three of us,
George, Good, and myself, fetched up all right in England. We got off
the boat at Southampton, and went up to town. You should have seen what
a swell Good turned out the very next day, beautifully shaved, frock
coat fitting like a glove, brand new eye-glass, &c. &C. I went and
walked in the park with him, where I met some people I know, and at
once told them the story of his 'beautiful white legs.'
"He is furious, especially as some ill-natured person has printed it
in a society paper.
"To come to business, Good and I took the diamonds to Streeter's to
be valued, as we arranged, and I am really afraid to tell you what they
put them at, it seems so enormous. They say that of course it is more
or less guess-work, as such stones have never to their knowledge been
put on the market in anything like such quantities. It appears that
they are (with the exception of one or two of the largest) of the
finest water, and equal in every way to be best Brazilian stones. I
asked them if they would buy them, but they said that it was beyond
their power to do so, and recommended us to sell by degrees, for fear
we should ]flood the market. They offer, however, a hundred and eighty
thousand for a small portion of them.
"You must come home, Quatermain, and see about these things,
especially if you insist upon making the magnificent present of the
third share, which does not belong to me, to my brother George. As for
Good, he is no good. His time is too much occupied in shaving, and
other matters connected with the vain adorning of the body. But I think
he is still down on his luck about Foulata. He told me that since he
had been home he hadn't see a woman to touch her, either as regards her
figure or the sweetness of her expression.
"I want you to come home, my dear old comrade, and buy a place near
here. You have done your day's work, and have lots of money now, and
there is a place for sale quite close which would suite you admirably.
Do come; the sooner the better; you can finish writing the story of our
adventures on board ship. We have refused to tell the story till it is
written by you, for fear that' we shall not be believed. If you start
on receipt of this, you will reach here by Christmas, and I book you to
stay with me for that. Good is coming, and George, and so, by the way,
is your boy Harry (there's a bribe for you). I have had him down for a
week's shooting, and like him. He is a cool young hand; he shot me in
the leg, cut out the pellets, and then remarked upon the advantage of
having a medical student in every shooting party.
"Good-bye, old boy; I can't say any more, but I know that you will
come, if it is only to oblige
"Your sincere friend,
"P.S.—The tusks of the great bull that killed poor Khiva have now
been put up in the hall here, over the pair of buffalo horns you gave
me, and look magnificent; and the axe with which I chopped off Twala;s
head is stuck up over my writing table. I wish we could have managed to
bring away the coats of chain armour.
To-day is Tuesday. There is a steamer going on Friday, and I really
think I must take Curtis at his word, and sail by her for England, if
it is only to see my boy Harry and see about the printing of this
history, which is a task I do not like to trust to anybody else.