by John Buchan
Time, they say, must the best of us capture,
And travel and battle and gems and gold
No more can kindle the ancient rapture,
For even the youngest of hearts grows old.
But in you, I think, the boy is not over;
So take this medley of ways and wars
As the gift of a friend and a fellow-lover
Of the fairest country under the stars.
CHAPTER I. THE MAN ON THE KIRKCAPLE SHORE
I mind as if it were yesterday my first sight of the man. Little
I knew at the time how big the moment was with destiny, or
how often that face seen in the fitful moonlight would haunt
my sleep and disturb my waking hours. But I mind yet the
cold grue of terror I got from it, a terror which was surely
more than the due of a few truant lads breaking the Sabbath
with their play.
The town of Kirkcaple, of which and its adjacent parish of
Portincross my father was the minister, lies on a hillside above
the little bay of Caple, and looks squarely out on the North
Sea. Round the horns of land which enclose the bay the coast
shows on either side a battlement of stark red cliffs through
which a burn or two makes a pass to the water's edge. The bay
itself is ringed with fine clean sands, where we lads of the
burgh school loved to bathe in the warm weather. But on
long holidays the sport was to go farther afield among the
cliffs; for there there were many deep caves and pools, where
podleys might be caught with the line, and hid treasures
sought for at the expense of the skin of the knees and the
buttons of the trousers. Many a long Saturday I have passed
in a crinkle of the cliffs, having lit a fire of driftwood, and
made believe that I was a smuggler or a Jacobite new landed
from France. There was a band of us in Kirkcaple, lads of my
own age, including Archie Leslie, the son of my father's
session-clerk, and Tam Dyke, the provost's nephew. We
were sealed to silence by the blood oath, and we bore each the
name of some historic pirate or sailorman. I was Paul Jones,
Tam was Captain Kidd, and Archie, need I say it, was Morgan
himself. Our tryst was a cave where a little water called the
Dyve Burn had cut its way through the cliffs to the sea. There
we forgathered in the summer evenings and of a Saturday
afternoon in winter, and told mighty tales of our prowess and
flattered our silly hearts. But the sober truth is that our deeds
were of the humblest, and a dozen of fish or a handful of
apples was all our booty, and our greatest exploit a fight with
the roughs at the Dyve tan-work.
My father's spring Communion fell on the last Sabbath of
April, and on the particular Sabbath of which I speak the
weather was mild and bright for the time of year. I had been
surfeited with the Thursday's and Saturday's services, and the
two long diets of worship on the Sabbath were hard for a lad
of twelve to bear with the spring in his bones and the sun
slanting through the gallery window. There still remained the
service on the Sabbath evening - a doleful prospect, for the
Rev. Mr Murdoch of Kilchristie, noted for the length of his
discourses, had exchanged pulpits with my father. So my mind
was ripe for the proposal of Archie Leslie, on our way home to
tea, that by a little skill we might give the kirk the slip. At our
Communion the pews were emptied of their regular occupants
and the congregation seated itself as it pleased. The manse seat
was full of the Kirkcaple relations of Mr Murdoch, who had
been invited there by my mother to hear him, and it was not
hard to obtain permission to sit with Archie and Tam Dyke in
the cock-loft in the gallery. Word was sent to Tam, and so it
happened that three abandoned lads duly passed the plate
and took their seats in the cock-loft. But when the bell had
done jowing, and we heard by the sounds of their feet that
the elders had gone in to the kirk, we slipped down the stairs
and out of the side door. We were through the churchyard in a
twinkling, and hot-foot on the road to the Dyve Burn.
It was the fashion of the genteel in Kirkcaple to put their
boys into what were known as Eton suits - long trousers, cut-
away jackets, and chimney-pot hats. I had been one of the
earliest victims, and well I remember how I fled home from
the Sabbath school with the snowballs of the town roughs
rattling off my chimney-pot. Archie had followed, his family
being in all things imitators of mine. We were now clothed in
this wearisome garb, so our first care was to secrete safely our
hats in a marked spot under some whin bushes on the links.
Tam was free from the bondage of fashion, and wore his
ordinary best knickerbockers. From inside his jacket he
unfolded his special treasure, which was to light us on our
expedition - an evil-smelling old tin lantern with a shutter.
Tam was of the Free Kirk persuasion, and as his Communion
fell on a different day from ours, he was spared the
bondage of church attendance from which Archie and I had
revolted. But notable events had happened that day in his
church. A black man, the Rev. John Something-or-other, had
been preaching. Tam was full of the portent. 'A nagger,' he
said, 'a great black chap as big as your father, Archie.' He
seemed to have banged the bookboard with some effect, and
had kept Tam, for once in his life, awake. He had preached
about the heathen in Africa, and how a black man was as good
as a white man in the sight of God, and he had forecast a day
when the negroes would have something to teach the British in
the way of civilization. So at any rate ran the account of Tam
Dyke, who did not share the preacher's views. 'It's all
nonsense, Davie. The Bible says that the children of Ham were
to be our servants. If I were the minister I wouldn't let a
nigger into the pulpit. I wouldn't let him farther than the
Night fell as we came to the broomy spaces of the links, and
ere we had breasted the slope of the neck which separates
Kirkcaple Bay from the cliffs it was as dark as an April evening
with a full moon can be. Tam would have had it darker. He
got out his lantern, and after a prodigious waste of matches
kindled the candle-end inside, turned the dark shutter, and
trotted happily on. We had no need of his lighting till the Dyve
Burn was reached and the path began to descend steeply
through the rift in the crags.
It was here we found that some one had gone before us.
Archie was great in those days at tracking, his ambition
running in Indian paths. He would walk always with his head
bent and his eyes on the ground, whereby he several times
found lost coins and once a trinket dropped by the provost's
wife. At the edge of the burn, where the path turns downward,
there is a patch of shingle washed up by some spate. Archie
was on his knees in a second. 'Lads,' he cried, 'there's spoor
here;' and then after some nosing, 'it's a man's track, going
downward, a big man with flat feet. It's fresh, too, for it
crosses the damp bit of gravel, and the water has scarcely filled
the holes yet.'
We did not dare to question Archie's woodcraft, but it
puzzled us who the stranger could be. In summer weather you
might find a party of picnickers here, attracted by the fine hard
sands at the burn mouth. But at this time of night and season
of the year there was no call for any one to be trespassing on
our preserves. No fishermen came this way, the lobster-pots
being all to the east, and the stark headland of the Red Neb
made the road to them by the water's edge difficult. The tan-
work lads used to come now and then for a swim, but you
would not find a tan-work lad bathing on a chill April night.
Yet there was no question where our precursor had gone. He
was making for the shore. Tam unshuttered his lantern, and
the steps went clearly down the corkscrew path. 'Maybe he is
after our cave. We'd better go cannily.'
The glim was dowsed - the words were Archie's - and in
the best contraband manner we stole down the gully. The
business had suddenly taken an eerie turn, and I think in our
hearts we were all a little afraid. But Tam had a lantern, and it
would never do to turn back from an adventure which had all
the appearance of being the true sort. Half way down there is
a scrog of wood, dwarf alders and hawthorn, which makes an
arch over the path. I, for one, was glad when we got through
this with no worse mishap than a stumble from Tam which
caused the lantern door to fly open and the candle to go out.
We did not stop to relight it, but scrambled down the screes
till we came to the long slabs of reddish rock which abutted on
the beach. We could not see the track, so we gave up the
business of scouts, and dropped quietly over the big boulder
and into the crinkle of cliff which we called our cave.
There was nobody there, so we relit the lantern and examined
our properties. Two or three fishing-rods for the burn,
much damaged by weather; some sea-lines on a dry shelf of
rock; a couple of wooden boxes; a pile of driftwood for fires,
and a heap of quartz in which we thought we had found veins
of gold - such was the modest furnishing of our den. To this I
must add some broken clay pipes, with which we made believe
to imitate our elders, smoking a foul mixture of coltsfoot leaves
and brown paper. The band was in session, so following our
ritual we sent out a picket. Tam was deputed to go round the
edge of the cliff from which the shore was visible, and report
if the coast was clear.
He returned in three minutes, his eyes round with amazement
in the lantern light. 'There's a fire on the sands,' he
repeated, 'and a man beside it.'
Here was news indeed. Without a word we made for the
open, Archie first, and Tam, who had seized and shuttered his
lantern, coming last. We crawled to the edge of the cliff and
peered round, and there sure enough, on the hard bit of sand
which the tide had left by the burn mouth, was a twinkle of
light and a dark figure.
The moon was rising, and besides there was that curious
sheen from the sea which you will often notice in spring. The
glow was maybe a hundred yards distant, a little spark of fire I
could have put in my cap, and, from its crackling and smoke,
composed of dry seaweed and half-green branches from the
burnside thickets. A man's figure stood near it, and as we
looked it moved round and round the fire in circles which first
of all widened and then contracted.
The sight was so unexpected, so beyond the beat of our
experience, that we were all a little scared. What could this
strange being want with a fire at half-past eight of an April
Sabbath night on the Dyve Burn sands? We discussed the
thing in whispers behind a boulder, but none of us had any
solution. 'Belike he's come ashore in a boat,' said Archie. 'He's
maybe a foreigner.' But I pointed out that, from the tracks
which Archie himself had found, the man must have come
overland down the cliffs. Tam was clear he was a madman,
and was for withdrawing promptly from the whole business.
But some spell kept our feet tied there in that silent world of
sand and moon and sea. I remember looking back and seeing
the solemn, frowning faces of the cliffs, and feeling somehow
shut in with this unknown being in a strange union. What kind
of errand had brought this interloper into our territory? For a
wonder I was less afraid than curious. I wanted to get to the
heart of the matter, and to discover what the man was up to
with his fire and his circles.
The same thought must have been in Archie's head, for he
dropped on his belly and began to crawl softly seawards. I
followed, and Tam, with sundry complaints, crept after my
heels. Between the cliffs and the fire lay some sixty yards of
debris and boulders above the level of all but the high spring
tides. Beyond lay a string of seaweedy pools and then the hard
sands of the burnfoot. There was excellent cover among the
big stones, and apart from the distance and the dim light, the
man by the fire was too preoccupied in his task to keep much
look-out towards the land. I remember thinking he had chosen
his place well, for save from the sea he could not be seen. The
cliffs are so undercut that unless a watcher on the coast were
on their extreme edge he would not see the burnfoot sands.
Archie, the skilled tracker, was the one who all but betrayed
us. His knee slipped on the seaweed, and he rolled off a
boulder, bringing down with him a clatter of small stones. We
lay as still as mice, in terror lest the man should have heard the
noise and have come to look for the cause. By-and-by when I
ventured to raise my head above a flat-topped stone I saw that
he was undisturbed. The fire still burned, and he was pacing
On the edge of the pools was an outcrop of red sandstone
much fissured by the sea. Here was an excellent vantage-
ground, and all three of us curled behind it, with our eyes just
over the edge. The man was not twenty yards off, and I could
see clearly what manner of fellow he was. For one thing he was
huge of size, or so he seemed to me in the half-light. He wore
nothing but a shirt and trousers, and I could hear by the flap
of his feet on the sand that he was barefoot.
Suddenly Tam Dyke gave a gasp of astonishment. 'Gosh,
it's the black minister!' he said.
It was indeed a black man, as we saw when the moon came
out of a cloud. His head was on his breast, and he walked
round the fire with measured, regular steps. At intervals he
would stop and raise both hands to the sky, and bend his
body in the direction of the moon. But he never uttered a word.
'It's magic,' said Archie. 'He's going to raise Satan. We must
bide here and see what happens, for he'll grip us if we try to
go back. The moon's ower high.'
The procession continued as if to some slow music. I had
been in no fear of the adventure back there by our cave; but
now that I saw the thing from close at hand, my courage began
to ebb. There was something desperately uncanny about this
great negro, who had shed his clerical garments, and was now
practising some strange magic alone by the sea. I had no doubt
it was the black art, for there was that in the air and the scene
which spelled the unlawful. As we watched, the circles
stopped, and the man threw something on the fire. A thick
smoke rose of which we could feel the aromatic scent, and
when it was gone the flame burned with a silvery blueness like
moonlight. Still no sound came from the minister, but he took
something from his belt, and began to make odd markings in
the sand between the inner circle and the fire. As he turned, the
moon gleamed on the implement, and we saw it was a great knife.
We were now scared in real earnest. Here were we, three boys,
at night in a lonely place a few yards from a savage with a knife.
The adventure was far past my liking, and even the intrepid
Archie was having qualms, if I could judge from his set face.
As for Tam, his teeth were chattering like a threshing-mill.
Suddenly I felt something soft and warm on the rock at my
right hand. I felt again, and, lo! it was the man's clothes.
There were his boots and socks, his minister's coat and his
This made the predicament worse, for if we waited till he
finished his rites we should for certain be found by him. At
the same time, to return over the boulders in the bright
moonlight seemed an equally sure way to discovery. I whispered
to Archie, who was for waiting a little longer. 'Something
may turn up,' he said. It was always his way.
I do not know what would have turned up, for we had no
chance of testing it. The situation had proved too much for
the nerves of Tam Dyke. As the man turned towards us in his
bowings and bendings, Tam suddenly sprang to his feet and
shouted at him a piece of schoolboy rudeness then fashionable
'Wha called ye partan-face, my bonny man?' Then, clutching
his lantern, he ran for dear life, while Archie and I raced
at his heels. As I turned I had a glimpse of a huge figure, knife
in hand, bounding towards us.
Though I only saw it in the turn of a head, the face stamped
itself indelibly upon my mind. It was black, black as ebony,
but it was different from the ordinary negro. There were no
thick lips and flat nostrils; rather, if I could trust my eyes, the
nose was high-bridged, and the lines of the mouth sharp and
firm. But it was distorted into an expression of such a devilish
fury and amazement that my heart became like water.
We had a start, as I have said, of some twenty or thirty
yards. Among the boulders we were not at a great disadvantage,
for a boy can flit quickly over them, while a grown man
must pick his way. Archie, as ever, kept his wits the best of us.
'Make straight for the burn,' he shouted in a hoarse whisper;
we'll beat him on the slope.'
We passed the boulders and slithered over the outcrop of
red rock and the patches of sea-pink till we reached the
channel of the Dyve water, which flows gently among pebbles
after leaving the gully. Here for the first time I looked back
and saw nothing. I stopped involuntarily, and that halt was
nearly my undoing. For our pursuer had reached the burn
before us, but lower down, and was coming up its bank to cut
At most times I am a notable coward, and in these days I
was still more of one, owing to a quick and easily-heated
imagination. But now I think I did a brave thing, though more
by instinct than resolution. Archie was running first, and had
already splashed through the burn; Tam came next, just about
to cross, and the black man was almost at his elbow. Another
second and Tam would have been in his clutches had I not
yelled out a warning and made straight up the bank of the
burn. Tam fell into the pool - I could hear his spluttering
cry - but he got across; for I heard Archie call to him, and the
two vanished into the thicket which clothes all the left bank of
the gully. The pursuer, seeing me on his own side of the water,
followed straight on; and before I knew it had become a race
between the two of us.
I was hideously frightened, but not without hope, for the
screes and shelves of this right side of the gully were known to
me from many a day's exploring. I was light on my feet and
uncommonly sound in wind, being by far the best long-
distance runner in Kirkcaple. If I could only keep my lead till
I reached a certain corner I knew of, I could outwit my enemy;
for it was possible from that place to make a detour behind a
waterfall and get into a secret path of ours among the bushes.
I flew up the steep screes, not daring to look round; but at the
top, where the rocks begin, I had a glimpse of my pursuer.
The man could run. Heavy in build though he was he was not
six yards behind me, and I could see the white of his eyes and
the red of his gums. I saw something else - a glint of white
metal in his hand. He still had his knife.
Fear sent me up the rocks like a seagull, and I scrambled
and leaped, making for the corner I knew of. Something told
me that the pursuit was slackening, and for a moment I halted
to look round. A second time a halt was nearly the end of me.
A great stone flew through the air, and took the cliff an inch
from my head, half-blinding me with splinters. And now I
began to get angry. I pulled myself into cover, skirted a rock
till I came to my corner, and looked back for the enemy. There
he was scrambling by the way I had come, and making a
prodigious clatter among the stones. I picked up a loose bit of
rock and hurled it with all my force in his direction. It broke
before it reached him, but a considerable lump, to my joy,
took him full in the face. Then my terrors revived. I slipped
behind the waterfall and was soon in the thicket, and toiling
towards the top.
I think this last bit was the worst in the race, for my strength
was failing, and I seemed to hear those horrid steps at my
heels. My heart was in my mouth as, careless of my best
clothes, I tore through the hawthorn bushes. Then I struck
the path and, to my relief, came on Archie and Tam, who
were running slowly in desperate anxiety about my fate. We
then took hands and soon reached the top of the gully.
For a second we looked back. The pursuit had ceased, and
far down the burn we could hear the sounds as of some one
going back to the sands.
'Your face is bleeding, Davie. Did he get near enough to hit
you?' Archie asked.
'He hit me with a stone. But I gave him better. He's got a
bleeding nose to remember this night by.'
We did not dare take the road by the links, but made for
the nearest human habitation. This was a farm about half a
mile inland, and when we reached it we lay down by the stack-
yard gate and panted.
'I've lost my lantern,' said Tam. 'The big black brute! See if
I don't tell my father.'
'Ye'll do nothing of the kind,' said Archie fiercely. 'He knows
nothing about us and can't do us any harm. But if the story
got out and he found out who we were, he'd murder the lot of US.'
He made us swear secrecy, which we were willing enough to
do, seeing very clearly the sense in his argument. Then we
struck the highroad and trotted back at our best pace to
Kirkcaple, fear of our families gradually ousting fear of pursuit.
In our excitement Archie and I forgot about our Sabbath
hats, reposing quietly below a whin bush on the links.
We were not destined to escape without detection. As ill
luck would have it, Mr Murdoch had been taken ill with the
stomach-ache after the second psalm, and the congregation
had been abruptly dispersed. My mother had waited for me at
the church door, and, seeing no signs of her son, had searched
the gallery. Then the truth came out, and, had I been only for
a mild walk on the links, retribution would have overtaken my
truantry. But to add to this I arrived home with a scratched
face, no hat, and several rents in my best trousers. I was well
cuffed and sent to bed, with the promise of full-dress chastisement
when my father should come home in the morning.
My father arrived before breakfast next day, and I was duly
and soundly whipped. I set out for school with aching bones
to add to the usual depression of Monday morning. At the
corner of the Nethergate I fell in with Archie, who was staring
at a trap carrying two men which was coming down the street.
It was the Free Church minister - he had married a rich wife
and kept a horse - driving the preacher of yesterday to the
railway station. Archie and I were in behind a doorpost in a
twinkling, so that we could see in safety the last of our enemy.
He was dressed in minister's clothes, with a heavy fur-coat and
a brand new yellow-leather Gladstone bag. He was talking
loudly as he passed, and the Free Church minister seemed to
be listening attentively. I heard his deep voice saying something
about the 'work of God in this place.' But what I noticed
specially - and the sight made me forget my aching hinder
parts - was that he had a swollen eye, and two strips of
sticking-plaster on his cheek.
CHAPTER II. FURTH! FORTUNE!
In this plain story of mine there will be so many wild doings
ere the end is reached, that I beg my reader's assent to a
prosaic digression. I will tell briefly the things which happened
between my sight of the man on the Kirkcaple sands and my
voyage to Africa.
I continued for three years at the burgh school, where my
progress was less notable in my studies than in my sports. One
by one I saw my companions pass out of idle boyhood and be
set to professions. Tam Dyke on two occasions ran off to sea
in the Dutch schooners which used to load with coal in our
port; and finally his father gave him his will, and he was
apprenticed to the merchant service. Archie Leslie, who was a
year my elder, was destined for the law, so he left Kirkcaple
for an Edinburgh office, where he was also to take out classes
at the college. I remained on at school till I sat alone by myself
in the highest class - a position of little dignity and deep
loneliness. I had grown a tall, square-set lad, and my prowess
at Rugby football was renowned beyond the parishes of
Kirkcaple and Portincross. To my father I fear I was a
disappointment. He had hoped for something in his son more
bookish and sedentary, more like his gentle, studious self.
On one thing I was determined: I should follow a learned
profession. The fear of being sent to an office, like so many of
my schoolfellows, inspired me to the little progress I ever
made in my studies. I chose the ministry, not, I fear, out of
any reverence for the sacred calling, but because my father had
followed it before me. Accordingly I was sent at the age of
sixteen for a year's finishing at the High School of Edinburgh,
and the following winter began my Arts course at the
If Fate had been kinder to me, I think I might have become
a scholar. At any rate I was just acquiring a taste for
philosophy and the dead languages when my father died suddenly
of a paralytic shock, and I had to set about earning a living.
My mother was left badly off, for my poor father had never
been able to save much from his modest stipend. When all
things were settled, it turned out that she might reckon on an
income of about fifty pounds a year. This was not enough to
live on, however modest the household, and certainly not
enough to pay for the colleging of a son. At this point an uncle
of hers stepped forward with a proposal. He was a well-to-do
bachelor, alone in the world, and he invited my mother to live
with him and take care of his house. For myself he proposed a
post in some mercantile concern, for he had much influence in
the circles of commerce. There was nothing for it but to accept
gratefully. We sold our few household goods, and moved to his
gloomy house in Dundas Street. A few days later he announced
at dinner that he had found for me a chance which might lead
to better things.
'You see, Davie,' he explained, 'you don't know the rudiments
of business life. There's no house in the country that
would take you in except as a common clerk, and you would
never earn much more than a hundred pounds a year all your
days. If you want to better your future you must go abroad,
where white men are at a premium. By the mercy of Providence
I met yesterday an old friend, Thomas Mackenzie, who
was seeing his lawyer about an estate he is bidding for. He is
the head of one of the biggest trading and shipping concerns
in the world - Mackenzie, Mure, and Oldmeadows - you may
have heard the name. Among other things he has half the
stores in South Africa, where they sell everything from Bibles
to fish-hooks. Apparently they like men from home to manage
the stores, and to make a long story short, when I put your
case to him, he promised you a place. I had a wire from him
this morning confirming the offer. You are to be assistant
storekeeper at -' (my uncle fumbled in his pocket, and then
read from the yellow slip) 'at Blaauwildebeestefontein. There's
a mouthful for you.'
In this homely way I first heard of a place which was to be
the theatre of so many strange doings.
'It's a fine chance for you,' my uncle continued. 'You'll only
be assistant at first, but when you have learned your job you'll
have a store of your own. Mackenzie's people will pay you
three hundred pounds a year, and when you get a store you'll
get a percentage on sales. It lies with you to open up new trade
among the natives. I hear that Blaauw - something or other, is
in the far north of the Transvaal, and I see from the map that
it is in a wild, hilly country. You may find gold or diamonds
up there, and come back and buy Portincross House.' My
uncle rubbed his hands and smiled cheerily.
Truth to tell I was both pleased and sad. If a learned
profession was denied me I vastly preferred a veld store to an
Edinburgh office stool. Had I not been still under the shadow
of my father's death I might have welcomed the chance of new
lands and new folk. As it was, I felt the loneliness of an exile.
That afternoon I walked on the Braid Hills, and when I saw in
the clear spring sunlight the coast of Fife, and remembered
Kirkcaple and my boyish days, I could have found it in me to
sit down and cry.
A fortnight later I sailed. My mother bade me a tearful
farewell, and my uncle, besides buying me an outfit and paying
my passage money, gave me a present of twenty sovereigns.
'You'll not be your mother's son, Davie,' were his last words,
'if you don't come home with it multiplied by a thousand.' I
thought at the time that I would give more than twenty
thousand pounds to be allowed to bide on the windy shores of Forth.
I sailed from Southampton by an intermediate steamer, and
went steerage to save expense. Happily my acute homesickness
was soon forgotten in another kind of malady. It blew half a
gale before we were out of the Channel, and by the time we
had rounded Ushant it was as dirty weather as ever I hope to
see. I lay mortal sick in my bunk, unable to bear the thought
of food, and too feeble to lift my head. I wished I had never
left home, but so acute was my sickness that if some one had
there and then offered me a passage back or an immediate
landing on shore I should have chosen the latter.
It was not till we got into the fair-weather seas around
Madeira that I recovered enough to sit on deck and observe
my fellow-passengers. There were some fifty of us in the
steerage, mostly wives and children going to join relations,
with a few emigrant artisans and farmers. I early found a
friend in a little man with a yellow beard and spectacles, who
sat down beside me and remarked on the weather in a strong
Scotch accent. He turned out to be a Mr Wardlaw from
Aberdeen, who was going out to be a schoolmaster. He was a
man of good education, who had taken a university degree,
and had taught for some years as an under-master in a school
in his native town. But the east winds had damaged his lungs,
and he had been glad to take the chance of a poorly paid
country school in the veld. When I asked him where he was
going I was amazed to be told, 'Blaauwildebeestefontein.'
Mr Wardlaw was a pleasant little man, with a sharp tongue
but a cheerful temper. He laboured all day at primers of the
Dutch and Kaffir languages, but in the evening after supper
he would walk with me on the after-deck and discuss the
future. Like me, he knew nothing of the land he was going to,
but he was insatiably curious, and he affected me with his
interest. 'This place, Blaauwildebeestefontein,' he used to say,
'is among the Zoutpansberg mountains, and as far as I can
see, not above ninety miles from the railroad. It looks from the
map a well-watered country, and the Agent-General in London
told me it was healthy or I wouldn't have taken the job. It
seems we'll be in the heart of native reserves up there, for
here's a list of chiefs - 'Mpefu, Sikitola, Majinje, Magata; and
there are no white men living to the east of us because of the
fever. The name means the "spring of the blue wildebeeste,"
whatever fearsome animal that may be. It sounds like a place
for adventure, Mr Crawfurd. You'll exploit the pockets of the
black men and I'll see what I can do with their minds.'
There was another steerage passenger whom I could not
help observing because of my dislike of his appearance. He,
too, was a little man, by name Henriques, and in looks the
most atrocious villain I have ever clapped eyes on. He had a
face the colour of French mustard - a sort of dirty green - and
bloodshot, beady eyes with the whites all yellowed with fever.
He had waxed moustaches, and a curious, furtive way of
walking and looking about him. We of the steerage were
careless in our dress, but he was always clad in immaculate
white linen, with pointed, yellow shoes to match his
complexion. He spoke to no one, but smoked long cheroots all day
in the stern of the ship, and studied a greasy pocket-book.
Once I tripped over him in the dark, and he turned on me
with a snarl and an oath. I was short enough with him in
return, and he looked as if he could knife me.
'I'll wager that fellow has been a slave-driver in his time,' I
told Mr Wardlaw, who said, 'God pity his slaves, then.'
And now I come to the incident which made the rest of the
voyage pass all too soon for me, and foreshadowed the strange
events which were to come. It was the day after we crossed the
Line, and the first-class passengers were having deck sports. A
tug-of-war had been arranged between the three classes, and a
half-dozen of the heaviest fellows in the steerage, myself
included, were invited to join. It was a blazing hot afternoon,
but on the saloon deck there were awnings and a cool wind
blowing from the bows. The first-class beat the second easily, and
after a tremendous struggle beat the steerage also. Then they
regaled us with iced-drinks and cigars to celebrate the victory.
I was standing at the edge of the crowd of spectators, when
my eye caught a figure which seemed to have little interest in
our games. A large man in clerical clothes was sitting on a
deck-chair reading a book. There was nothing novel about the
stranger, and I cannot explain the impulse which made me
wish to see his face. I moved a few steps up the deck, and then
I saw that his skin was black. I went a little farther, and
suddenly he raised his eyes from his book and looked round.
It was the face of the man who had terrified me years ago on
the Kirkcaple shore.
I spent the rest of the day in a brown study. It was clear to
me that some destiny had prearranged this meeting. Here was
this man travelling prosperously as a first-class passenger with
all the appurtenances of respectability. I alone had seen him
invoking strange gods in the moonlight, I alone knew of the
devilry in his heart, and I could not but believe that some day
or other there might be virtue in that knowledge.
The second engineer and I had made friends, so I got him
to consult the purser's list for the name of my acquaintance.
He was down as the Rev. John Laputa, and his destination
The next day being Sunday, who should appear to address
us steerage passengers but the black minister. He was introduced
by the captain himself, a notably pious man, who spoke
of the labours of his brother in the dark places of heathendom.
Some of us were hurt in our pride in being made the target of
a black man's oratory. Especially Mr Henriques, whose skin
spoke of the tar-brush, protested with oaths against the insult.
Finally he sat down on a coil of rope, and spat scornfully in
the vicinity of the preacher.
For myself I was intensely curious, and not a little
impressed. The man's face was as commanding as his figure,
and his voice was the most wonderful thing that ever came out
of human mouth. It was full and rich, and gentle, with the
tones of a great organ. He had none of the squat and
preposterous negro lineaments, but a hawk nose like an Arab,
dark flashing eyes, and a cruel and resolute mouth. He was
black as my hat, but for the rest he might have sat for a figure
of a Crusader. I do not know what the sermon was about,
though others told me that it was excellent. All the time I
watched him, and kept saying to myself, 'You hunted me up
the Dyve Burn, but I bashed your face for you.' Indeed, I
thought I could see faint scars on his cheek.
The following night I had toothache, and could not sleep. It
was too hot to breathe under cover, so I got up, lit a pipe, and
walked on the after-deck to ease the pain. The air was very
still, save for the whish of water from the screws and the steady
beat of the engines. Above, a great yellow moon looked down
on me, and a host of pale stars.
The moonlight set me remembering the old affair of the
Dyve Burn, and my mind began to run on the Rev. John
Laputa. It pleased me to think that I was on the track of some
mystery of which I alone had the clue. I promised myself to
search out the antecedents of the minister when I got to
Durban, for I had a married cousin there, who might know
something of his doings. Then, as I passed by the companion-
way to the lower deck, I heard voices, and peeping over the
rail, I saw two men sitting in the shadow just beyond the hatch
of the hold.
I thought they might be two of the sailors seeking coolness
on the open deck, when something in the figure of one of them
made me look again. The next second I had slipped back and stolen
across the after-deck to a point just above them. For the two were
the black minister and that ugly yellow villain, Henriques.
I had no scruples about eavesdropping, but I could make
nothing of their talk. They spoke low, and in some tongue
which may have been Kaffir or Portuguese, but was in any
case unknown to me. I lay, cramped and eager, for many
minutes, and was just getting sick of it when a familiar name
caught my ear. Henriques said something in which I caught
the word 'Blaauwildebeestefontein.' I listened intently, and
there could be no mistake. The minister repeated the name,
and for the next few minutes it recurred often in their talk. I
went back stealthily to bed, having something to make me
forget my aching tooth. First of all, Laputa and Henriques
were allies. Second, the place I was bound for had something
to do with their schemes.
I said nothing to Mr Wardlaw, but spent the next week in
the assiduous toil of the amateur detective. I procured some
maps and books from my friend, the second engineer, and read
all I could about Blaauwildebeestefontein. Not that there was
much to learn; but I remember I had quite a thrill when I
discovered from the chart of the ship's run one day that we
were in the same latitude as that uncouthly-named spot. I
found out nothing, however, about Henriques or the Rev.
John Laputa. The Portuguese still smoked in the stern, and
thumbed his greasy notebook; the minister sat in his deck-
chair, and read heavy volumes from the ship's library. Though
I watched every night, I never found them again together.
At Cape Town Henriques went ashore and did not return.
The minister did not budge from the ship the three days we
lay in port, and, indeed, it seemed to me that he kept his
cabin. At any rate I did not see his great figure on deck till we
were tossing in the choppy seas round Cape Agulhas. Sea-
sickness again attacked me, and with short lulls during our
stoppages at Port Elizabeth and East London, I lay wretchedly
in my bunk till we sighted the bluffs of Durban harbour.
Here it was necessary for me to change my ship, for in the
interests of economy I was going by sea to Delagoa Bay, and
thence by the cheap railway journey into the Transvaal. I
sought out my cousin, who lived in a fine house on the Berea,
and found a comfortable lodging for the three days of my stay
there. I made inquiries about Mr Laputa, but could hear
nothing. There was no native minister of that name, said my
cousin, who was a great authority on all native questions. I
described the man, but got no further light. No one had seen
or heard of such a being, 'unless,' said my cousin, 'he is one of
those American Ethiopian rascals.'
My second task was to see the Durban manager of the firm
which I had undertaken to serve. He was a certain Mr Colles,
a big fat man, who welcomed me in his shirt-sleeves, with a
cigar in his mouth. He received me pleasantly, and took me
home to dinner with him.
'Mr Mackenzie has written about you,' he said. 'I'll be quite frank
with you, Mr Crawfurd. The firm is not exactly satisfied about the
way business has been going lately at Blaauwildebeestefontein.
There's a grand country up there, and a grand opportunity for
the man who can take it. Japp, who is in charge, is an old man
now and past his best, but he has been long with the firm, and
we don't want to hurt his feelings. When he goes, which must be
pretty soon, you'll have a good chance of the place, if you show
yourself an active young fellow.'
He told me a great deal more about Blaauwildebeestefontein,
principally trading details. Incidentally he let drop that Mr
Japp had had several assistants in the last few years. I asked
him why they had left, and he hesitated.
'It's a lonely place, and they didn't like the life. You see,
there are few white men near, and young fellows want society.
They complained, and were moved on. But the firm didn't
think the more of them.'
I told him I had come out with the new schoolmaster.
'Yes,' he said reflectively, 'the school. That's been vacant
pretty often lately. What sort of fellow is this Wardlaw? Will
he stay, I wonder?'
'From all accounts,' I said, 'Blaauwildebeestefontein does
not seem popular.'
'It isn't. That's why we've got you out from home. The
colonial-born doesn't find it fit in with his idea of comfort. He
wants society, and he doesn't like too many natives. There's
nothing up there but natives and a few back-veld Dutchmen
with native blood in them. You fellows from home are less set
on an easy life, or you wouldn't be here.'
There was something in Mr Colles's tone which made me
risk another question.
'What's the matter with the place? There must be more
wrong with it than loneliness to make everybody clear out. I
have taken on this job, and I mean to stick to it, so you needn't
be afraid to tell me.'
The manager looked at me sharply. 'That's the way to talk,
my lad. You look as if you had a stiff back, so I'll be frank with
you. There is something about the place. It gives the ordinary
man the jumps. What it is, I don't know, and the men who
come back don't know themselves. I want you to find out for
me. You'll be doing the firm an enormous service if you can
get on the track of it. It may be the natives, or it may be the
takhaars, or it may be something else. Only old Japp can
stick it out, and he's too old and doddering to care about
moving. I want you to keep your eyes skinned, and write
privately to me if you want any help. You're not out here for
your health, I can see, and here's a chance for you to get your
foot on the ladder.
'Remember, I'm your friend,' he said to me again at the
garden gate. 'Take my advice and lie very low. Don't talk,
don't meddle with drink, learn all you can of the native jabber,
but don't let on you understand a word. You're sure to get on
the track of something. Good-bye, my boy,' and he waved a
fat hand to me.
That night I embarked on a cargo-boat which was going
round the coast to Delagoa Bay. It is a small world - at least
for us far-wandering Scots. For who should I find when I got
on board but my old friend Tam Dyke, who was second mate
on the vessel? We wrung each other's hands, and I answered,
as best I could, his questions about Kirkcaple. I had supper
with him in the cabin, and went on deck to see the moorings cast.
Suddenly there was a bustle on the quay, and a big man
with a handbag forced his way up the gangway. The men who
were getting ready to cast off tried to stop him, but he elbowed
his way forward, declaring he must see the captain. Tam went
up to him and asked civilly if he had a passage taken. He
admitted he had not, but said he would make it right in two
minutes with the captain himself. The Rev. John Laputa, for
some reason of his own, was leaving Durban with more haste
than he had entered it.
I do not know what passed with the captain, but the minister
got his passage right enough, and Tam was even turned out of his
cabin to make room for him. This annoyed my friend intensely.
'That black brute must be made of money, for he paid
through the nose for this, or I'm a Dutchman. My old man
doesn't take to his black brethren any more than I do. Hang it
all, what are we coming to, when we're turning into a blooming
cargo boat for niggers?'
I had all too little of Tam's good company, for on the
afternoon of the second day we reached the little town of
Lourenco Marques. This was my final landing in Africa, and I
mind how eagerly I looked at the low, green shores and the
bush-covered slopes of the mainland. We were landed from
boats while the ship lay out in the bay, and Tam came ashore
with me to spend the evening. By this time I had lost every
remnant of homesickness. I had got a job before me which
promised better things than colleging at Edinburgh, and I was
as keen to get up country now as I had been loth to leave
England. My mind being full of mysteries, I scanned every
Portuguese loafer on the quay as if he had been a spy, and
when Tam and I had had a bottle of Collates in a cafe I felt
that at last I had got to foreign parts and a new world.
Tam took me to supper with a friend of his, a Scot by the
name of Aitken, who was landing-agent for some big mining
house on the Rand. He hailed from Fife and gave me a hearty
welcome, for he had heard my father preach in his young days.
Aitken was a strong, broad-shouldered fellow who had been a
sergeant in the Gordons, and during the war he had done
secret-service work in Delagoa. He had hunted, too, and traded
up and down Mozambique, and knew every dialect of the
Kaffirs. He asked me where I was bound for, and when I told
him there was the same look in his eyes as I had seen with the
'You're going to a rum place, Mr Crawfurd,' he said.
'So I'm told. Do you know anything about it? You're not
the first who has looked queer when I've spoken the name.'
'I've never been there,' he said, 'though I've been pretty
near it from the Portuguese side. That's the funny thing about
Blaauwildebeestefontein. Everybody has heard of it, and
nobody knows it.'
'I wish you would tell me what you have heard.'
'Well, the natives are queer up thereaways. There's some
kind of a holy place which every Kaffir from Algoa Bay to the
Zambesi and away beyond knows about. When I've been
hunting in the bush-veld I've often met strings of Kaffirs from
hundreds of miles distant, and they've all been going or coming
from Blaauwildebeestefontein. It's like Mecca to the Mohammedans,
a place they go to on pilgrimage. I've heard of an old
man up there who is believed to be two hundred years old.
Anyway, there's some sort of great witch or wizard living in
Aitken smoked in silence for a time; then he said, 'I'll tell
you another thing. I believe there's a diamond mine. I've often
meant to go up and look for it.'
Tam and I pressed him to explain, which he did slowly after
'Did you ever hear of I.D.B. - illicit diamond broking?' he
asked me. 'Well, it's notorious that the Kaffirs on the diamond
fields get away with a fair number of stones, and they are
bought by Jew and Portuguese traders. It's against the law to
deal in them, and when I was in the intelligence here we used
to have a lot of trouble with the vermin. But I discovered that
most of the stones came from natives in one part of the
country - more or less round Blaauwildebeestefontein - and I
see no reason to think that they had all been stolen from
Kimberley or the Premier. Indeed some of the stones I got
hold of were quite different from any I had seen in South
Africa before. I shouldn't wonder if the Kaffirs in the
Zoutpansberg had struck some rich pipe, and had the sense to keep
quiet about it. Maybe some day I'll take a run up to see you
and look into the matter.'
After this the talk turned on other topics till Tam, still
nursing his grievance, asked a question on his own account.
'Did you ever come across a great big native parson called
Laputa? He came on board as we were leaving Durban, and I
had to turn out of my cabin for him.' Tam described him
accurately but vindictively, and added that 'he was sure he was
up to no good.'
Aitken shook his head. 'No, I don't know the man. You say
he landed here? Well, I'll keep a look-out for him. Big native
parsons are not so common.'
Then I asked about Henriques, of whom Tam knew nothing.
I described his face, his clothes, and his habits. Aitken
'Tut, my man, most of the subjects of his Majesty the King
of Portugal would answer to that description. If he's a rascal,
as you think, you may be certain he's in the I.D.B. business,
and if I'm right about Blaauwildebeestefontein you'll likely
have news of him there some time or other. Drop me a line if
he comes, and I'll get on to his record.'
I saw Tam off in the boat with a fairly satisfied mind. I was
going to a place with a secret, and I meant to find it out. The
natives round Blaauwildebeestefontein were queer, and
diamonds were suspected somewhere in the neighbourhood.
Henriques had something to do with the place, and so had the
Rev. John Laputa, about whom I knew one strange thing. So
did Tam by the way, but he had not identified his former
pursuer, and I had told him nothing. I was leaving two men
behind me, Colles at Durban and Aitken at Lourenco Marques,
who would help me if trouble came. Things were shaping
well for some kind of adventure.
The talk with Aitken had given Tam an inkling of my
thoughts. His last words to me were an appeal to let him know
if there was any fun going.
'I can see you're in for a queer job. Promise to let me hear
from you if there's going to be a row, and I'll come up country,
though I should have to desert the service. Send us a letter to
the agents at Durban in case we should be in port. You haven't
forgotten the Dyve Burn, Davie?'
CHAPTER III. BLAAUWILDEBEESTEFONTEIN
The Pilgrim's Progress had been the Sabbath reading of my
boyhood, and as I came in sight of Blaauwildebeestefontein a
passage ran in my head. It was that which tells how Christian
and Hopeful, after many perils of the way, came to the
Delectable Mountains, from which they had a prospect of
Canaan. After many dusty miles by rail, and a weariful
journey in a Cape-cart through arid plains and dry and stony
gorges, I had come suddenly into a haven of green. The Spring
of the Blue Wildebeeste was a clear rushing mountain torrent,
which swirled over blue rocks into deep fern-fringed pools. All
around was a tableland of lush grass with marigolds and arum
lilies instead of daisies and buttercups. Thickets of tall trees
dotted the hill slopes and patched the meadows as if some
landscape-gardener had been at work on them. Beyond, the glen
fell steeply to the plains, which ran out in a faint haze to the
horizon. To north and south I marked the sweep of the Berg, now
rising high to a rocky peak and now stretching in a level rampart
of blue. On the very edge of the plateau where the road dipped
for the descent stood the shanties of Blaauwildebeestefontein.
The fresh hill air had exhilarated my mind,
and the aromatic scent of the evening gave the last touch of
intoxication. Whatever serpent might lurk in it, it was a
veritable Eden I had come to.
Blaauwildebeestefontein had no more than two buildings of
civilized shape; the store, which stood on the left side of the
river, and the schoolhouse opposite. For the rest, there were
some twenty native huts, higher up the slope, of the type
which the Dutch call rondavels. The schoolhouse had a pretty
garden, but the store stood bare in a patch of dust with a few
outhouses and sheds beside it. Round the door lay a few old
ploughs and empty barrels, and beneath a solitary blue gum
was a wooden bench with a rough table. Native children played
in the dust, and an old Kaffir squatted by the wall.
My few belongings were soon lifted from the Cape-cart, and
I entered the shop. It was the ordinary pattern of up-country
store - a bar in one corner with an array of bottles, and all
round the walls tins of canned food and the odds and ends of
trade. The place was empty, and a cloud of flies buzzed over
the sugar cask.
Two doors opened at the back, and I chose the one to the
right. I found myself in a kind of kitchen with a bed in one
corner, and a litter of dirty plates on the table. On the bed lay
a man, snoring heavily. I went close to him, and found an old
fellow with a bald head, clothed only in a shirt and trousers.
His face was red and swollen, and his breath came in heavy
grunts. A smell of bad whisky hung over everything. I had no
doubt that this was Mr Peter Japp, my senior in the store. One
reason for the indifferent trade at Blaauwildebeestefontein was
very clear to me: the storekeeper was a sot.
I went back to the shop and tried the other door. It was a
bedroom too, but clean and pleasant. A little native girl -
Zeeta, I found they called her - was busy tidying it up, and
when I entered she dropped me a curtsy. 'This is your room,
Baas,' she said in very good English in reply to my question.
The child had been well trained somewhere, for there was a
cracked dish full of oleander blossom on the drawers'-head,
and the pillow-slips on the bed were as clean as I could wish.
She brought me water to wash, and a cup of strong tea, while
I carried my baggage indoors and paid the driver of the cart.
Then, having cleaned myself and lit a pipe, I walked across
the road to see Mr Wardlaw.
I found the schoolmaster sitting under his own fig-tree
reading one of his Kaffir primers. Having come direct by rail
from Cape Town, he had been a week in the place, and ranked
as the second oldest white resident.
'Yon's a bonny chief you've got, Davie,' were his first words.
'For three days he's been as fou as the Baltic.'
I cannot pretend that the misdeeds of Mr Japp greatly
annoyed me. I had the reversion of his job, and if he chose to
play the fool it was all in my interest. But the schoolmaster
was depressed at the prospect of such company. 'Besides you
and me, he's the only white man in the place. It's a poor look-
out on the social side.'
The school, it appeared, was the merest farce. There were
only five white children, belonging to Dutch farmers in the
mountains. The native side was more flourishing, but the
mission schools at the locations got most of the native children
in the neighbourhood. Mr Wardlaw's educational zeal ran
high. He talked of establishing a workshop and teaching
carpentry and blacksmith's work, of which he knew nothing.
He rhapsodized over the intelligence of his pupils and
bemoaned his inadequate gift of tongues. 'You and I, Davie,'
he said, 'must sit down and grind at the business. It is to the
interest of both of us. The Dutch is easy enough. It's a sort of
kitchen dialect you can learn in a fortnight. But these native
languages are a stiff job. Sesuto is the chief hereabouts, and
I'm told once you've got that it's easy to get the Zulu. Then
there's the thing the Shangaans speak - Baronga, I think they
call it. I've got a Christian Kaffir living up in one of the huts
who comes every morning to talk to me for an hour. You'd
better join me.'
I promised, and in the sweet-smelling dust crossed the road
to the store. Japp was still sleeping, so I got a bowl of mealie
porridge from Zeeta and went to bed.
Japp was sober next morning and made me some kind of
apology. He had chronic lumbago, he said, and 'to go on the bust'
now and then was the best cure for it. Then he proceeded to
initiate me into my duties in a tone of exaggerated friendliness.
'I took a fancy to you the first time I clapped eyes on
you,' he said. 'You and me will be good friends, Crawfurd, I
can see that. You're a spirited young fellow, and you'll stand
no nonsense. The Dutch about here are a slim lot, and the
Kaffirs are slimmer. Trust no man, that's my motto. The firm
know that, and I've had their confidence for forty years.'
The first day or two things went well enough. There was no
doubt that, properly handled, a fine trade could be done in
Blaauwildebeestefontein. The countryside was crawling with
natives, and great strings used to come through from Shangaan
territory on the way to the Rand mines. Besides, there was
business to be done with the Dutch farmers, especially with
the tobacco, which I foresaw could be worked up into a
profitable export. There was no lack of money either, and we
had to give very little credit, though it was often asked for. I
flung myself into the work, and in a few weeks had been all
round the farms and locations. At first Japp praised my energy,
for it left him plenty of leisure to sit indoors and drink. But
soon he grew suspicious, for he must have seen that I was in a
fair way to oust him altogether. He was very anxious to know
if I had seen Colles in Durban, and what the manager had
said. 'I have letters,' he told me a hundred times, 'from Mr
Mackenzie himself praising me up to the skies. The firm
couldn't get along without old Peter Japp, I can tell you.' I
had no wish to quarrel with the old man, so I listened politely
to all he said. But this did not propitiate him, and I soon found
him so jealous as to be a nuisance. He was Colonial-born and
was always airing the fact. He rejoiced in my rawness, and
when I made a blunder would crow over it for hours. 'It's no
good, Mr Crawfurd; you new chums from England may think
yourselves mighty clever, but we men from the Old Colony
can get ahead of you every time. In fifty years you'll maybe
learn a little about the country, but we know all about it before
we start.' He roared with laughter at my way of tying a
voorslag, and he made merry (no doubt with reason) on my
management of a horse. I kept my temper pretty well, but I
own there were moments when I came near to kicking Mr Japp.
The truth is he was a disgusting old ruffian. His character
was shown by his treatment of Zeeta. The poor child slaved all
day and did two men's work in keeping the household going.
She was an orphan from a mission station, and in Japp's
opinion a creature without rights. Hence he never spoke to her
except with a curse, and used to cuff her thin shoulders till my
blood boiled. One day things became too much for my temper.
Zeeta had spilled half a glass of Japp's whisky while tidying up
the room. He picked up a sjambok, and proceeded to beat her
unmercifully till her cries brought me on the scene. I tore the
whip from his hands, seized him by the scruff and flung him
on a heap of potato sacks, where he lay pouring out abuse and
shaking with rage. Then I spoke my mind. I told him that if
anything of the sort happened again I would report it at once
to Mr Colles at Durban. I added that before making my report
I would beat him within an inch of his degraded life. After a
time he apologized, but I could see that thenceforth he
regarded me with deadly hatred.
There was another thing I noticed about Mr Japp. He might
brag about his knowledge of how to deal with natives, but to
my mind his methods were a disgrace to a white man. Zeeta
came in for oaths and blows, but there were other Kaffirs
whom he treated with a sort of cringing friendliness. A big
black fellow would swagger into the shop, and be received by
Japp as if he were his long-lost brother. The two would
collogue for hours; and though at first I did not understand
the tongue, I could see that it was the white man who fawned
and the black man who bullied. Once when japp was away one
of these fellows came into the store as if it belonged to him,
but he went out quicker than he entered. Japp complained
afterwards of my behaviour. ''Mwanga is a good friend of
mine,' he said, 'and brings us a lot of business. I'll thank you
to be civil to him the next time.' I replied very shortly that
'Mwanga or anybody else who did not mend his manners
would feel the weight of my boot.
The thing went on, and I am not sure that he did not give
the Kaffirs drink on the sly. At any rate, I have seen some very
drunk natives on the road between the locations and
Blaauwildebeestefontein, and some of them I recognized as Japp's
friends. I discussed the matter with Mr Wardlaw, who said, 'I
believe the old villain has got some sort of black secret, and the
natives know it, and have got a pull on him.' And I was
inclined to think he was right.
By-and-by I began to feel the lack of company, for Wardlaw
was so full of his books that he was of little use as a companion.
So I resolved to acquire a dog, and bought one from a
prospector, who was stony-broke and would have sold his soul
for a drink. It was an enormous Boer hunting-dog, a mongrel
in whose blood ran mastiff and bulldog and foxhound, and
Heaven knows what beside. In colour it was a kind of brindled
red, and the hair on its back grew against the lie of the rest of
its coat. Some one had told me, or I may have read it, that a
back like this meant that a dog would face anything mortal,
even to a charging lion, and it was this feature which first
caught my fancy. The price I paid was ten shillings and a pair
of boots, which I got at cost price from stock, and the owner
departed with injunctions to me to beware of the brute's
temper. Colin - for so I named him - began his career with
me by taking the seat out of my breeches and frightening Mr
Wardlaw into a tree. It took me a stubborn battle of a fortnight
to break his vice, and my left arm to-day bears witness to the
struggle. After that he became a second shadow, and woe
betide the man who had dared to raise his hand to Colin's
master. Japp declared that the dog was a devil, and Colin
repaid the compliment with a hearty dislike.
With Colin, I now took to spending some of my ample
leisure in exploring the fastnesses of the Berg. I had brought
out a shot-gun of my own, and I borrowed a cheap Mauser
sporting rifle from the store. I had been born with a good eye
and a steady hand, and very soon I became a fair shot with a
gun and, I believe, a really fine shot with the rifle. The sides
of the Berg were full of quail and partridge and bush pheasant,
and on the grassy plateau there was abundance of a bird not
unlike our own blackcock, which the Dutch called korhaan.
But the great sport was to stalk bush-buck in the thickets,
which is a game in which the hunter is at small advantage. I
have been knocked down by a wounded bush-buck ram, and
but for Colin might have been badly damaged. Once, in a kloof
not far from the Letaba, I killed a fine leopard, bringing him
down with a single shot from a rocky shelf almost on the top
of Colin. His skin lies by my fireside as I write this tale. But it
was during the days I could spare for an expedition into the
plains that I proved the great qualities of my dog. There we
had nobler game to follow - wildebeest and hartebeest, impala,
and now and then a koodoo. At first I was a complete duffer,
and shamed myself in Colin's eyes. But by-and-by I learned
something of veld-craft: I learned how to follow spoor, how to
allow for the wind, and stalk under cover. Then, when a shot
had crippled the beast, Colin was on its track like a flash to
pull it down. The dog had the nose of a retriever, the speed of
a greyhound, and the strength of a bull-terrier. I blessed the
day when the wandering prospector had passed the store.
Colin slept at night at the foot of my bed, and it was he who
led me to make an important discovery. For I now became
aware that I was being subjected to constant espionage. It may
have been going on from the start, but it was not till my third
month at Blaauwildebeestefontein that I found it out. One
night I was going to bed, when suddenly the bristles rose on
the dog's back and he barked uneasily at the window. I had
been standing in the shadow, and as I stepped to the window
to look out I saw a black face disappear below the palisade of
the backyard. The incident was trifling, but it put me on my
guard. The next night I looked, but saw nothing. The third
night I looked, and caught a glimpse of a face almost pressed
to the pane. Thereafter I put up the shutters after dark, and
shifted my bed to a part of the room out of line with the window.
It was the same out of doors. I would suddenly be conscious,
as I walked on the road, that I was being watched. If I made
as if to walk into the roadside bush there would be a faint
rustling, which told that the watcher had retired. The stalking
was brilliantly done, for I never caught a glimpse of one of the
stalkers. Wherever I went - on the road, on the meadows of
the plateau, or on the rugged sides of the Berg - it was the
same. I had silent followers, who betrayed themselves now and
then by the crackling of a branch, and eyes were always looking
at me which I could not see. Only when I went down to the
plains did the espionage cease. This thing annoyed Colin
desperately, and his walks abroad were one continuous growl.
Once, in spite of my efforts, he dashed into the thicket, and a
squeal of pain followed. He had got somebody by the leg, and
there was blood on the grass.
Since I came to Blaauwildebeestefontein I had forgotten the
mystery I had set out to track in the excitement of a new life
and my sordid contest with Japp. But now this espionage
brought back my old preoccupation. I was being watched
because some person or persons thought that I was dangerous.
My suspicions fastened on Japp, but I soon gave up that clue.
It was my presence in the store that was a danger to him, not
my wanderings about the countryside. It might be that he had
engineered the espionage so as to drive me out of the place in
sheer annoyance; but I flattered myself that Mr Japp knew me
too well to imagine that such a game was likely to succeed.
The mischief was that I could not make out who the trackers
were. I had visited all the surrounding locations, and was on
good enough terms with all the chiefs. There was 'Mpefu, a
dingy old fellow who had spent a good deal of his life in a Boer
gaol before the war. There was a mission station at his place,
and his people seemed to me to be well behaved and prosperous.
Majinje was a chieftainess, a little girl whom nobody was
allowed to see. Her location was a miserable affair, and her
tribe was yearly shrinking in numbers. Then there was Magata
farther north among the mountains. He had no quarrel with
me, for he used to give me a meal when I went out hunting in
that direction; and once he turned out a hundred of his young
men, and I had a great battue of wild dogs. Sikitola, the
biggest of all, lived some distance out in the flats. I knew less
about him; but if his men were the trackers, they must have
spent most of their days a weary way from their kraal. The
Kaffirs in the huts at Blaauwildebeestefontein were mostly
Christians, and quiet, decent fellows, who farmed their little
gardens, and certainly preferred me to Japp. I thought at one
time of riding into Pietersdorp to consult the Native
Commissioner. But I discovered that the old man, who knew the
country, was gone, and that his successor was a young fellow
from Rhodesia, who knew nothing about anything. Besides,
the natives round Blaauwildebeestefontein were well conducted,
and received few official visitations. Now and then a
couple of Zulu policemen passed in pursuit of some minor
malefactor, and the collector came for the hut-tax; but we gave
the Government little work, and they did not trouble their
heads about us.
As I have said, the clues I had brought out with me to
Blaauwildebeestefontein began to occupy my mind again; and
the more I thought of the business the keener I grew. I used
to amuse myself with setting out my various bits of knowledge.
There was first of all the Rev. John Laputa, his doings on the
Kirkcaple shore, his talk with Henriques about
Blaauwildebeestefontein, and his strange behaviour at Durban.
Then there was what Colles had told me about the place being
queer, how nobody would stay long either in the store or the
schoolhouse. Then there was my talk with Aitken at Lourenco
Marques, and his story of a great wizard in the neighbourhood
to whom all Kaffirs made pilgrimages, and the suspicion of a
diamond pipe. Last and most important, there was this
perpetual spying on myself. It was as clear as daylight that the
place held some secret, and I wondered if old Japp knew. I
was fool enough one day to ask him about diamonds. He met
me with contemptuous laughter. 'There's your ignorant Britisher,'
he cried. 'If you had ever been to Kimberley you would
know the look of a diamond country. You're as likely to find
diamonds here as ocean pearls. But go out and scrape in the
spruit if you like; you'll maybe find some garnets.'
I made cautious inquiries, too, chiefly through Mr Wardlaw,
who was becoming a great expert at Kaffir, about the existence
of Aitken's wizard, but he could get no news. The most he
found out was that there was a good cure for fever among
Sikitola's men, and that Majinje, if she pleased, could
The upshot of it all was that, after much brooding, I wrote
a letter to Mr Colles, and, to make sure of its going, gave it to
a missionary to post in Pietersdorp. I told him frankly what
Aitken had said, and I also told him about the espionage. I
said nothing about old Japp, for, beast as he was, I did not
want him at his age to be without a livelihood.
CHAPTER IV. MY JOURNEY TO THE WINTER-VELD
A reply came from Colles, addressed not to me but to Japp.
It seemed that the old fellow had once suggested the establishment
of a branch store at a place out in the plains called
Umvelos', and the firm was now prepared to take up the
scheme. Japp was in high good humour, and showed me the
letter. Not a word was said of what I had written about, only
the bare details about starting the branch. I was to get a couple
of masons, load up two wagons with bricks and timber, and go
down to Umvelos' and see the store built. The stocking of it
and the appointment of a storekeeper would be matter for
further correspondence. Japp was delighted, for, besides getting
rid of me for several weeks, it showed that his advice was
respected by his superiors. He went about bragging that the
firm could not get on without him, and was inclined to be
more insolent to me than usual in his new self-esteem. He also
got royally drunk over the head of it.
I confess I was hurt by the manager's silence on what
seemed to me more vital matters. But I soon reflected that if
he wrote at all he would write direct to me, and I eagerly
watched for the post-runner. No letter came, however, and I
was soon too busy with preparations to look for one. I got the
bricks and timber from Pietersdorp, and hired two Dutch
masons to run the job. The place was not very far from
Sikitola's kraal, so there would be no difficulty about native
helpers. Having my eyes open for trade, I resolved to kill two
birds with one stone. It was the fashion among the old-
fashioned farmers on the high-veld to drive the cattle down
into the bush-veld - which they call the winter-veld - for
winter pasture. There is no fear of red-water about that
season, and the grass of the plains is rich and thick compared
with the uplands. I discovered that some big droves were
passing on a certain day, and that the owners and their families
were travelling with them in wagons. Accordingly I had a light
naachtmaal fitted up as a sort of travelling store, and with
my two wagons full of building material joined the caravan. I
hoped to do good trade in selling little luxuries to the farmers
on the road and at Umvelos'.
It was a clear cold morning when we started down the Berg.
At first my hands were full with the job of getting my heavy
wagons down the awesome precipice which did duty as a
highway. We locked the wheels with chains, and tied great logs
of wood behind to act as brakes. Happily my drivers knew
their business, but one of the Boer wagons got a wheel over
the edge, and it was all that ten men could do to get it
After that the road was easier, winding down the side of a
slowly opening glen. I rode beside the wagons, and so heavenly
was the weather that I was content with my own thoughts.
The sky was clear blue, the air warm, yet with a wintry tonic
in it, and a thousand aromatic scents came out of the thickets.
The pied birds called 'Kaffir queens' fluttered across the path.
Below, the Klein Labongo churned and foamed in a hundred
cascades. Its waters were no more the clear grey of the 'Blue
Wildebeeste's Spring,' but growing muddy with its approach
to the richer soil of the plains.
Oxen travel slow, and we outspanned that night half a day's
march short of Umvelos'. I spent the hour before sunset
lounging and smoking with the Dutch farmers. At first they
had been silent and suspicious of a newcomer, but by this time
I talked their taal fluently, and we were soon on good terms.
I recall a discussion arising about a black thing in a tree about
five hundred yards away. I thought it was an aasvogel, but
another thought it was a baboon. Whereupon the oldest of the
party, a farmer called Coetzee, whipped up his rifle and,
apparently without sighting, fired. A dark object fell out of the
branch, and when we reached it we found it a baviaan* sure
enough, shot through the head. 'Which side are you on in the
next war?' the old man asked me, and, laughing, I told
After supper, the ingredients of which came largely from my
naachtmaal, we sat smoking and talking round the fire, the
women and children being snug in the covered wagons. The
Boers were honest companionable fellows, and when I had
made a bowl of toddy in the Scotch fashion to keep out the
evening chill, we all became excellent friends. They asked me
how I got on with Japp. Old Coetzee saved me the trouble of
answering, for he broke in with Skellum! Skellum!* I asked
him his objection to the storekeeper, but he would say nothing
beyond that he was too thick with the natives. I fancy at some
time Mr Japp had sold him a bad plough.
We spoke of hunting, and I heard long tales of exploits -
away on the Limpopo, in Mashonaland, on the Sabi and in the
Lebombo. Then we verged on politics, and I listened to
violent denunciations of the new land tax. These were old
residenters, I reflected, and I might learn perhaps something
of value. So very carefully I repeated a tale I said I had heard
at Durban of a great wizard somewhere in the Berg, and asked
if any one knew of it. They shook their heads. The natives had
given up witchcraft and big medicine, they said, and were
more afraid of a parson or a policeman than any witch-doctor.
Then they were starting on reminiscences, when old Coetzee,
who was deaf, broke in and asked to have my question repeated.
'Yes,' he said, 'I know. It is in the Rooirand. There is a
devil dwells there.'
I could get no more out of him beyond the fact that there
was certainly a great devil there. His grandfather and father
had seen it, and he himself had heard it roaring when he had
gone there as a boy to hunt. He would explain no further, and
went to bed.
Next morning, close to Sikitola's kraal, I bade the farmers
good-bye, after telling them that there would be a store in my
wagon for three weeks at Umvelos' if they wanted supplies.
We then struck more to the north towards our destination. As
soon as they had gone I had out my map and searched it for
the name old Coetzee had mentioned. It was a very bad map,
for there had been no surveying east of the Berg, and most of
the names were mere guesses. But I found the word 'Rooirand'
marking an eastern continuation of the northern wall, and
probably set down from some hunter's report. I had better
explain here the chief features of the country, for they bulk
largely in my story. The Berg runs north and south, and from
it run the chief streams which water the plain. They are,
beginning from the south, the Olifants, the Groot Letaba, the
Letsitela, the Klein Letaba, and the Klein Labongo, on which
stands Blaauwildebeestefontein. But the greatest river of the
plain, into which the others ultimately flow, is the Groot
Labongo, which appears full-born from some subterranean
source close to the place called Umvelos'. North from
Blaauwildebeestefontein the Berg runs for some twenty miles, and
then makes a sharp turn eastward, becoming, according to my
map, the Rooirand.
I pored over these details, and was particularly curious about
the Great Labongo. It seemed to me unlikely that a spring in
the bush could produce so great a river, and I decided that its
source must lie in the mountains to the north. As well as I
could guess, the Rooirand, the nearest part of the Berg, was
about thirty miles distant. Old Coetzee had said that there was
a devil in the place, but I thought that if it were explored the
first thing found would be a fine stream of water.
We got to Umvelos' after midday, and outspanned for our
three weeks' work. I set the Dutchmen to unload and clear the
ground for foundations, while I went off to Sikitola to ask for
labourers. I got a dozen lusty blacks, and soon we had a
business-like encampment, and the work went on merrily. It
was rough architecture and rougher masonry. All we aimed at
was a two-roomed shop with a kind of outhouse for stores. I
was architect, and watched the marking out of the foundations
and the first few feet of the walls. Sikitola's people proved
themselves good helpers, and most of the building was left to
them, while the Dutchmen worked at the carpentry. Bricks
ran short before we got very far, and we had to set to brick-
making on the bank of the Labongo, and finish off the walls
with green bricks, which gave the place a queer piebald look.
I was not much of a carpenter, and there were plenty of
builders without me, so I found a considerable amount of time
on my hands. At first I acted as shopkeeper in the naachtmaal,
but I soon cleared out my stores to the Dutch farmers and the
natives. I had thought of going back for more, and then it
occurred to me that I might profitably give some of my leisure
to the Rooirand. I could see the wall of the mountains quite
clear to the north, within an easy day's ride. So one morning I
packed enough food for a day or two, tied my sleeping-bag on
my saddle, and set off to explore, after appointing the elder of
the Dutchmen foreman of the job in my absence.
It was very hot jogging along the native path with the eternal
olive-green bush around me. Happily there was no fear of
losing the way, for the Rooirand stood very clear in front, and
slowly, as I advanced, I began to make out the details of the
cliffs. At luncheon-time, when I was about half-way, I sat
down with my Zeiss glass - my mother's farewell gift - to look
for the valley. But valley I saw none. The wall - reddish
purple it looked, and, I thought, of porphyry - was continuous
and unbroken. There were chimneys and fissures, but none
great enough to hold a river. The top was sheer cliff; then
came loose kranzes in tiers, like the seats in a gallery, and,
below, a dense thicket of trees. I raked the whole line for a
break, but there seemed none. 'It's a bad job for me,' I
thought, 'if there is no water, for I must pass the night there.'
The night was spent in a sheltered nook at the foot of the
rocks, but my horse and I went to bed without a drink. My
supper was some raisins and biscuits, for I did not dare to run
the risk of increasing my thirst. I had found a great bank of
debris sloping up to the kranzes, and thick wood clothing all
the slope. The grass seemed wonderfully fresh, but of water
there was no sign. There was not even the sandy channel of a
stream to dig in.
In the morning I had a difficult problem to face. Water I
must find at all costs, or I must go home. There was time
enough for me to get back without suffering much, but if so I
must give up my explorations. This I was determined not to
do. The more I looked at these red cliffs the more eager I was
to find out their secret. There must be water somewhere;
otherwise how account for the lushness of the vegetation?
My horse was a veld pony, so I set him loose to see what he
would do. He strayed back on the path to Umvelos'. This
looked bad, for it meant that he did not smell water along the
cliff front. If I was to find a stream it must be on the top, and
I must try a little mountaineering.
Then, taking my courage in both my hands, I decided. I
gave my pony a cut, and set him off on the homeward road. I
knew he was safe to get back in four or five hours, and in broad
day there was little fear of wild beasts attacking him. I had tied
my sleeping bag on to the saddle, and had with me but two
pocketfuls of food. I had also fastened on the saddle a letter to
my Dutch foreman, bidding him send a native with a spare
horse to fetch me by the evening. Then I started off to look
for a chimney.
A boyhood spent on the cliffs at Kirkcaple had made me a
bold cragsman, and the porphyry of the Rooirand clearly gave
excellent holds. But I walked many weary miles along the cliff-
foot before I found a feasible road. To begin with, it was no
light task to fight one's way through the dense undergrowth of
the lower slopes. Every kind of thorn-bush lay in wait for my
skin, creepers tripped me up, high trees shut out the light, and
I was in constant fear lest a black mamba might appear out of
the tangle. It grew very hot, and the screes above the thicket
were blistering to the touch. My tongue, too, stuck to the roof
of my mouth with thirst.
The first chimney I tried ran out on the face into
nothingness, and I had to make a dangerous descent. The second
was a deep gully, but so choked with rubble that after nearly
braining myself I desisted. Still going eastwards, I found a
sloping ledge which took me to a platform from which ran a
crack with a little tree growing in it. My glass showed me that
beyond this tree the crack broadened into a clearly defined
chimney which led to the top. If I can once reach that tree, I
thought, the battle is won.
The crack was only a few inches wide, large enough to let in
an arm and a foot, and it ran slantwise up a perpendicular
rock. I do not think I realized how bad it was till I had gone
too far to return. Then my foot jammed, and I paused for
breath with my legs and arms cramping rapidly. I remember
that I looked to the west, and saw through the sweat which
kept dropping into my eyes that about half a mile off a piece of
cliff which looked unbroken from the foot had a fold in it to
the right. The darkness of the fold showed me that it was a
deep, narrow gully. However, I had no time to think of this,
for I was fast in the middle of my confounded crack. With
immense labour I found a chockstone above my head, and
managed to force my foot free. The next few yards were not so
difficult, and then I stuck once more.
For the crack suddenly grew shallow as the cliff bulged out
above me. I had almost given up hope, when I saw that about
three feet above my head grew the tree. If I could reach it and
swing out I might hope to pull myself up to the ledge on which
it grew. I confess it needed all my courage, for I did not know
but that the tree might be loose, and that it and I might go
rattling down four hundred feet. It was my only hope,
however, so I set my teeth, and wriggling up a few inches,
made a grab at it. Thank God it held, and with a great effort I
pulled my shoulder over the ledge, and breathed freely.
My difficulties were not ended, but the worst was past. The
rest of the gully gave me good and safe climbing, and presently
a very limp and weary figure lay on the cliff-top. It took me
many minutes to get back my breath and to conquer the
faintness which seized me as soon as the need for exertion
When I scrambled to my feet and looked round, I saw a
wonderful prospect. It was a plateau like the high-veld, only
covered with bracken and little bushes like hazels. Three or
four miles off the ground rose, and a shallow vale opened. But
in the foreground, half a mile or so distant, a lake lay gleaming
in the sun.
I could scarcely believe my eyes as I ran towards it, and
doubts of a mirage haunted me. But it was no mirage, but a
real lake, perhaps three miles in circumference, with bracken-
fringed banks, a shore of white pebbles, and clear deep blue
water. I drank my fill, and then stripped and swam in the
blessed coolness. After that I ate some luncheon, and sunned
myself on a flat rock. 'I have discovered the source of the
Labongo,' I said to myself. 'I will write to the Royal
Geographical Society, and they will give me a medal.'
I walked round the lake to look for an outlet. A fine
mountain stream came in at the north end, and at the south
end, sure enough, a considerable river debauched. My exploring
zeal redoubled, and I followed its course in a delirium of
expectation. It was a noble stream, clear as crystal, and very
unlike the muddy tropical Labongo at Umvelos'. Suddenly,
about a quarter of a mile from the lake, the land seemed to
grow over it, and with a swirl and a hollow roar, it disappeared
into a mighty pot-hole. I walked a few steps on, and from
below my feet came the most uncanny rumbling and groaning.
Then I knew what old Coetzee's devil was that howled in
Had I continued my walk to the edge of the cliff, I might
have learned a secret which would have stood me in good stead
later. But the descent began to make me anxious, and I
retraced my steps to the top of the chimney whence I had
come. I was resolved that nothing would make me descend by
that awesome crack, so I kept on eastward along the top to
look for a better way. I found one about a mile farther on,
which, though far from easy, had no special risks save from
the appalling looseness of the debris. When I got down at
length, I found that it was near sunset. I went to the place I
had bidden my native look for me at, but, as I had feared,
there was no sign of him. So, making the best of a bad job, I
had supper and a pipe, and spent a very chilly night in a hole
among the boulders.
I got up at dawn stiff and cold, and ate a few raisins for
breakfast. There was no sign of horses, so I resolved to fill up
the time in looking for the fold of the cliff which, as I had seen
from the horrible crack of yesterday, contained a gully. It was
a difficult job, for to get the sidelong view of the cliff I had to
scramble through the undergrowth of the slopes again, and
even a certain way up the kranzes. At length I got my bearings,
and fixed the place by some tall trees in the bush. Then I
descended and walked westwards.
Suddenly, as I neared the place, I heard the strangest sound
coming from the rocks. It was a deep muffled groaning, so
eerie and unearthly that for the moment I stood and shivered.
Then I remembered my river of yesterday. It must be above
this place that it descended into the earth, and in the hush of
dawn the sound was naturally louder. No wonder old Coetzee had
been afraid of devils. It reminded me of the lines in Marmion -
'Diving as if condemned to lave
Some demon's subterranean cave,
Who, prisoned by enchanter's spell,
Shakes the dark rock with groan and yell.'
While I was standing awestruck at the sound, I observed a
figure moving towards the cliffs. I was well in cover, so I could
not have been noticed. It was a very old man, very tall, but
bowed in the shoulders, who was walking slowly with bent
head. He could not have been thirty yards from me, so I had a
clear view of his face. He was a native, but of a type I had
never seen before. A long white beard fell on his breast, and a
magnificent kaross of leopard skin covered his shoulders. His
face was seamed and lined and shrunken, so that he seemed as
old as Time itself.
Very carefully I crept after him, and found myself opposite
the fold where the gully was. There was a clear path through
the jungle, a path worn smooth by many feet. I followed it
through the undergrowth and over the screes till it turned
inside the fold of the gully. And then it stopped short. I was
in a deep cleft, but in front was a slab of sheer rock. Above,
the gully looked darker and deeper, but there was this great
slab to pass. I examined the sides, but they were sheer rock
with no openings.
Had I had my wits about me, I would have gone back and
followed the spoor, noting where it stopped. But the whole
thing looked black magic to me; my stomach was empty and
my enterprise small. Besides, there was the terrible moaning
of the imprisoned river in my ears. I am ashamed to confess it,
but I ran from that gully as if the devil and all his angels had
been following me. Indeed, I did not slacken till I had put a
good mile between me and those uncanny cliffs. After that I
set out to foot it back. If the horses would not come to me I
must go to them.
I walked twenty-five miles in a vile temper, enraged at my
Dutchmen, my natives, and everybody. The truth is, I had
been frightened, and my pride was sore about it. It grew very
hot, the sand rose and choked me, the mopani trees with their
dull green wearied me, the 'Kaffir queens' and jays and rollers
which flew about the path seemed to be there to mock me.
About half-way home I found a boy and two horses, and
roundly I cursed him. It seemed that my pony had returned
right enough, and the boy had been sent to fetch me. He had
got half-way before sunset the night before, and there he had
stayed. I discovered from him that he was scared to death, and
did not dare go any nearer the Rooirand. It was accursed, he
said, for it was an abode of devils, and only wizards went near
it. I was bound to admit to myself that I could not blame him.
At last I had got on the track of something certain about this
mysterious country, and all the way back I wondered if I
should have the courage to follow it up.
CHAPTER V. MR WARDLAW HAS A PREMONITION
A week later the building job was finished, I locked the door
of the new store, pocketed the key, and we set out for home.
Sikitola was entrusted with the general care of it, and I knew
him well enough to be sure that he would keep his people from
doing mischief. I left my empty wagons to follow at their
leisure and rode on, with the result that I arrived at
Blaauwildebeestefontein two days before I was looked for.
I stabled my horse, and went round to the back to see Colin.
(I had left him at home in case of fights with native dogs, for
he was an ill beast in a crowd.) I found him well and hearty,
for Zeeta had been looking after him. Then some whim seized
me to enter the store through my bedroom window. It was
open, and I crawled softly in to find the room fresh and clean
from Zeeta's care. The door was ajar, and, hearing voices, I
peeped into the shop.
Japp was sitting on the counter talking in a low voice to a big
native - the same 'Mwanga whom I had bundled out
unceremoniously. I noticed that the outer door giving on the
road was shut, a most unusual thing in the afternoon. Japp had
some small objects in his hand, and the two were evidently arguing
about a price. I had no intention at first of eavesdropping,
and was just about to push the door open, when
something in Japp's face arrested me. He was up to no good,
and I thought it my business to wait.
The low tones went on for a little, both men talking in
Kaffir, and then Japp lifted up one of the little objects between
finger and thumb. It was a small roundish stone about the size of
a bean, but even in that half light there was a dull lustre in it.
At that I shoved the door open and went in. Both men
started as if they had been shot. Japp went as white as his
mottled face permitted. 'What the -' he gasped, and he
dropped the thing he was holding.
I picked it up, and laid it on the counter. 'So,' I said,
'diamonds, Mr Japp. You have found the pipe I was looking
for. I congratulate you.'
My words gave the old ruffian his cue. 'Yes, yes,' he said, 'I
have, or rather my friend 'Mwanga has. He has just been
telling me about it.'
The Kaffir looked miserably uncomfortable. He shifted from
one leg to the other, casting longing glances at the closed door.
'I tink I go,' he said. 'Afterwards we will speak more.'
I told him I thought he had better go, and opened the door
for him. Then I bolted it again, and turned to Mr Japp.
'So that's your game,' I said. 'I thought there was something
funny about you, but I didn't know it was I.D.B. you were up to.'
He looked as if he could kill me. For five minutes he cursed
me with a perfection of phrase which I had thought beyond
him. It was no I.D.B., he declared, but a pipe which 'Mwanga
'In this kind of country?' I said, quoting his own words.
'Why, you might as well expect to find ocean pearls as
diamonds. But scrape in the spruit if you like; you'll maybe
find some garnets.'
He choked down his wrath, and tried a new tack. 'What will
you take to hold your tongue? I'll make you a rich man if you'll
come in with me.' And then he started with offers which
showed that he had been making a good thing out of the traffic.
I stalked over to him, and took him by the shoulder. 'You
old reprobate,' I roared, 'if you breathe such a proposal to me
again, I'll tie you up like a sack and carry you to Pietersdorp.'
At this he broke down and wept maudlin tears, disgusting
to witness. He said he was an old man who had always lived
honestly, and it would break his heart if his grey hairs were to
be disgraced. As he sat rocking himself with his hands over his
face, I saw his wicked little eyes peering through the slits of
his fingers to see what my next move would be.
'See here, Mr Japp,' I said, 'I'm not a police spy, and it's no
business of mine to inform against you. I'm willing to keep
you out of gaol, but it must be on my own conditions. The
first is that you resign this job and clear out. You will write to
Mr Colles a letter at my dictation, saying that you find the
work too much for you. The second is that for the time you
remain here the diamond business must utterly cease. If
'Mwanga or anybody like him comes inside the store, and if I
get the slightest hint that you're back at the trade, in you go to
Pietersdorp. I'm not going to have my name disgraced by
being associated with you. The third condition is that when
you leave this place you go clear away. If you come within
twenty miles of Blaauwildebeestefontein and I find you, I will
give you up.'
He groaned and writhed at my terms, but in the end
accepted them. He wrote the letter, and I posted it. I had no
pity for the old scamp, who had feathered his nest well. Small
wonder that the firm's business was not as good as it might be,
when Japp was giving most of his time to buying diamonds
from native thieves. The secret put him in the power of any
Kaffir who traded him a stone. No wonder he cringed to
ruffians like 'Mwanga.
The second thing I did was to shift my quarters. Mr
Wardlaw had a spare room which he had offered me before,
and now I accepted it. I wanted to be no more mixed up with
Japp than I could help, for I did not know what villainy he
might let me in for. Moreover, I carried Zeeta with me, being
ashamed to leave her at the mercy of the old bully. Japp went
up to the huts and hired a slattern to mind his house, and then
drank heavily for three days to console himself.
That night I sat smoking with Mr Wardlaw in his sitting-
room, where a welcome fire burned, for the nights on the Berg
were chilly. I remember the occasion well for the queer turn
the conversation took. Wardlaw, as I have said, had been
working like a slave at the Kaffir tongues. I talked a kind of
Zulu well enough to make myself understood, and I could
follow it when spoken; but he had real scholarship in the thing,
and knew all about the grammar and the different dialects.
Further, he had read a lot about native history, and was full of
the doings of Tchaka and Mosilikatse and Moshesh, and the
kings of old. Having little to do in the way of teaching, he had
made up for it by reading omnivorously. He used to borrow
books from the missionaries, and he must have spent half his
salary in buying new ones.
To-night as he sat and puffed in his armchair, he was full of
stories about a fellow called Monomotapa. It seems he was a
great black emperor whom the Portuguese discovered about
the sixteenth century. He lived to the north in Mashonaland,
and had a mountain full of gold. The Portuguese did not make
much of him, but they got his son and turned him into a priest.
I told Wardlaw that he was most likely only a petty chief,
whose exploits were magnified by distance, the same as the
caciques in Mexico. But the schoolmaster would not accept this.
'He must have been a big man, Davie. You know that the
old ruins in Rhodesia, called Zimbabwe, were long believed
to be Phoenician in origin. I have a book here which tells all
about them. But now it is believed that they were built by
natives. I maintain that the men who could erect piles like
that' - and he showed me a picture - 'were something more
than petty chiefs.'
Presently the object of this conversation appeared. Mr
Wardlaw thought that we were underrating the capacity of the
native. This opinion was natural enough in a schoolmaster,
but not in the precise form Wardlaw put it. It was not
his intelligence which he thought we underrated, but his
dangerousness. His reasons, shortly, were these: There were five
or six of them to every white man; they were all, roughly
speaking, of the same stock, with the same tribal beliefs; they
had only just ceased being a warrior race, with a powerful
military discipline; and, most important, they lived round the
rim of the high-veld plateau, and if they combined could cut
off the white man from the sea. I pointed out to him that it
would only be a matter of time before we opened the road
again. 'Ay,' he said, 'but think of what would happen before
then. Think of the lonely farms and the little dorps wiped out
of the map. It would be a second and bloodier Indian mutiny.
'I'm not saying it's likely,' he went on, 'but I maintain it's
possible. Supposing a second Tchaka turned up, who could
get the different tribes to work together. It wouldn't be so very
hard to smuggle in arms. Think of the long, unwatched coast
in Gazaland and Tongaland. If they got a leader with prestige
enough to organize a crusade against the white man, I don't
see what could prevent a rising.'
'We should get wind of it in time to crush it at the start,'
'I'm not so sure. They are cunning fellows, and have arts
that we know nothing about. You have heard of native
telepathy. They can send news over a thousand miles as quick
as the telegraph, and we have no means of tapping the wires.
If they ever combined they could keep it as secret as the grave.
My houseboy might be in the rising, and I would never suspect
it till one fine morning he cut my throat.'
'But they would never find a leader. If there was some exiled
prince of Tchaka's blood, who came back like Prince Charlie
to free his people, there might be danger; but their royalties
are fat men with top hats and old frock-coats, who live in
Wardlaw admitted this, but said that there might be other
kinds of leaders. He had been reading a lot about Ethiopianism,
which educated American negroes had been trying to
preach in South Africa. He did not see why a kind of bastard
Christianity should not be the motive of a rising. 'The Kaffir
finds it an easy job to mix up Christian emotion and pagan
practice. Look at Hayti and some of the performances in the
Then he shook the ashes out of his pipe and leaned forward
with a solemn face. 'I'll admit the truth to you, Davie. I'm
He looked so earnest and serious sitting there with his short-
sighted eyes peering at me that I could not help being impressed.
'Whatever is the matter?' I asked. 'Has anything happened?'
He shook his head. 'Nothing I can put a name to. But I have
a presentiment that some mischief is afoot in these hills. I feel
it in my bones.'
I confess I was startled by these words. You must remember
that I had never given a hint of my suspicions to Mr Wardlaw
beyond asking him if a wizard lived in the neighbourhood - a
question anybody might have put. But here was the schoolmaster
discovering for himself some mystery in Blaauwildebeestefontein.
I tried to get at his evidence, but it was very little. He
thought there were an awful lot of blacks about. 'The woods
are full of them,' he said. I gathered he did not imagine he was
being spied on, but merely felt that there were more natives
about than could be explained.
'There's another thing,' he said. 'The native bairns have all
left the school. I've only three scholars left, and they are from
Dutch farms. I went to Majinje to find out what was up, and
an old crone told me the place was full of bad men. I tell you,
Davie, there's something brewing, and that something is not
good for us.'
There was nothing new to me in what Wardlaw had to tell,
and yet that talk late at night by a dying fire made me feel
afraid for the second time since I had come to
Blaauwildebeestefontein. I had a clue and had been on the look-out
for mysteries, but that another should feel the strangeness for
himself made it seem desperately real to me. Of course I
scoffed at Mr Wardlaw's fears. I could not have him spoiling
all my plans by crying up a native rising for which he had not
a scrap of evidence.
'Have you been writing to anybody?' I asked him.
He said that he had told no one, but he meant to, unless
things got better. 'I haven't the nerve for this job, Davie,' he
said; 'I'll have to resign. And it's a pity, for the place suits my
health fine. You see I know too much, and I haven't your
whinstone nerve and total lack of imagination.'
I told him that it was simply fancy, and came from reading
too many books and taking too little exercise. But I made him
promise to say nothing to anybody either by word of mouth or
letter, without telling me first. Then I made him a rummer
of toddy and sent him to bed a trifle comforted.
The first thing I did in my new room was to shift the bed
into the corner out of line with the window. There were no
shutters, so I put up an old table-top and jammed it between
the window frames. Also, I loaded my shot-gun and kept it by
my bedside. Had Wardlaw seen these preparations he might
have thought more of my imagination and less of my nerve. It
was a real comfort to me to put out a hand in the darkness and
feel Colin's shaggy coat.
CHAPTER VI. THE DRUMS BEAT AT SUNSET
japp was drunk for the next day or two, and I had the business
of the store to myself. I was glad of this, for it gave me leisure
to reflect upon the various perplexities of my situation. As I
have said, I was really scared, more out of a sense of impotence
than from dread of actual danger. I was in a fog of uncertainty.
Things were happening around me which I could only dimly
guess at, and I had no power to take one step in defence. That
Wardlaw should have felt the same without any hint from me
was the final proof that the mystery was no figment of my
nerves. I had written to Colles and got no answer. Now the
letter with Japp's resignation in it had gone to Durban. Surely
some notice would be taken of that. If I was given the post,
Colles was bound to consider what I had said in my earlier
letter and give me some directions. Meanwhile it was my
business to stick to my job till I was relieved.
A change had come over the place during my absence. The
natives had almost disappeared from sight. Except the few
families living round Blaauwildebeestefontein one never saw a
native on the roads, and none came into the store. They were
sticking close to their locations, or else they had gone after
some distant business. Except a batch of three Shangaans
returning from the Rand, I had nobody in the store for the
whole of one day. So about four o'clock I shut it up, whistled
on Colin, and went for a walk along the Berg.
If there were no natives on the road, there were plenty in
the bush. I had the impression, of which Wardlaw had spoken,
that the native population of the countryside had suddenly
been hugely increased. The woods were simply hotching with
them. I was being spied on as before, but now there were so
many at the business that they could not all conceal their
tracks. Every now and then I had a glimpse of a black shoulder
or leg, and Colin, whom I kept on the leash, was half-mad
with excitement. I had seen all I wanted, and went home with
a preoccupied mind. I sat long on Wardlaw's garden-seat,
trying to puzzle out the truth of this spying.
What perplexed me was that I had been left unmolested
when I had gone to Umvelos'. Now, as I conjectured, the
secret of the neighbourhood, whatever it was, was probably
connected with the Rooirand. But when I had ridden in that
direction and had spent two days in exploring, no one had
troubled to watch me. I was quite certain about this, for my
eye had grown quick to note espionage, and it is harder for a
spy to hide in the spare bush of the flats than in the dense
thickets on these uplands.
The watchers, then, did not mind my fossicking round
their sacred place. Why, then, was I so closely watched in the
harmless neighbourhood of the store? I thought for a long time
before an answer occurred to me. The reason must be that
going to the plains I was going into native country and away
from civilization. But Blaauwildebeestefontein was near the
frontier. There must be some dark business brewing of which
they may have feared that I had an inkling. They wanted to
see if I proposed to go to Pietersdorp or Wesselsburg and tell
what I knew, and they clearly were resolved that I should not.
I laughed, I remember, thinking that they had forgotten the
post-bag. But then I reflected that I knew nothing of what
might be happening daily to the post-bag.
When I had reached this conclusion, my first impulse was to
test it by riding straight west on the main road. If I was right,
I should certainly be stopped. On second thoughts, however,
this seemed to me to be flinging up the game prematurely, and
I resolved to wait a day or two before acting.
Next day nothing happened, save that my sense of loneliness
increased. I felt that I was being hemmed in by barbarism,
and cut off in a ghoulish land from the succour of my own
kind. I only kept my courage up by the necessity of presenting
a brave face to Mr Wardlaw, who was by this time in a very
broken condition of nerves. I had often thought that it was my
duty to advise him to leave, and to see him safely off, but I
shrank from severing myself from my only friend. I thought,
too, of the few Dutch farmers within riding distance, and had
half a mind to visit them, but they were far off over the plateau
and could know little of my anxieties.
The third day events moved faster. Japp was sober and
wonderfully quiet. He gave me good-morning quite in a
friendly tone, and set to posting up the books as if he had
never misbehaved in his days. I was so busy with my thoughts
that I, too, must have been gentler than usual, and the morning
passed like a honeymoon, till I went across to dinner.
I was just sitting down when I remembered that I had left
my watch in my waistcoat behind the counter, and started to
go back for it. But at the door I stopped short. For two
horsemen had drawn up before the store.
One was a native with what I took to be saddle-bags; the
other was a small slim man with a sun helmet, who was slowly
dismounting. Something in the cut of his jib struck me as
familiar. I slipped into the empty schoolroom and stared hard.
Then, as he half-turned in handing his bridle to the Kaffir, I
got a sight of his face. It was my former shipmate, Henriques.
He said something to his companion, and entered the store.
You may imagine that my curiosity ran to fever-heat. My
first impulse was to march over for my waistcoat, and make a
third with Japp at the interview. Happily I reflected in time
that Henriques knew my face, for I had grown no beard,
having a great dislike to needless hair. If he was one of the
villains in the drama, he would mark me down for his
vengeance once he knew I was here, whereas at present he had
probably forgotten all about me. Besides, if I walked in boldly
I would get no news. If japp and he had a secret, they would
not blab it in my presence.
My next idea was to slip in by the back to the room I had
once lived in. But how was I to cross the road? It ran white
and dry some distance each way in full view of the Kaffir with
the horses. Further, the store stood on a bare patch, and it
would be a hard job to get in by the back, assuming, as I
believed, that the neighbourhood was thick with spies.
The upshot was that I got my glasses and turned them on
the store. The door was open, and so was the window. In the
gloom of the interior I made out Henriques' legs. He was
standing by the counter, and apparently talking to Japp. He
moved to shut the door, and came back inside my focus
opposite the window. There he stayed for maybe ten minutes,
while I hugged my impatience. I would have given a hundred
pounds to be snug in my old room with japp thinking me out
of the store.
Suddenly the legs twitched up, and his boots appeared
above the counter. Japp had invited him to his bedroom, and
the game was now to be played beyond my ken. This was more
than I could stand, so I stole out at the back door and took to
the thickest bush on the hillside. My notion was to cross the
road half a mile down, when it had dropped into the defile of
the stream, and then to come swiftly up the edge of the water
so as to effect a back entrance into the store.
As fast as I dared I tore through the bush, and in about a
quarter of an hour had reached the point I was making for.
Then I bore down to the road, and was in the scrub about ten
yards off it, when the clatter of horses pulled me up again.
Peeping out I saw that it was my friend and his Kaffir follower,
who were riding at a very good pace for the plains. Toilfully
and crossly I returned on my tracks to my long-delayed dinner.
Whatever the purport of their talk, Japp and the Portuguese
had not taken long over it.
In the store that afternoon I said casually to Japp that I had
noticed visitors at the door during my dinner hour. The old
man looked me frankly enough in the face. 'Yes, it was Mr
Hendricks,' he said, and explained that the man was a Portuguese
trader from Delagoa way, who had a lot of Kaffir stores
east of the Lebombo Hills. I asked his business, and was told
that he always gave Japp a call in when he was passing.
'Do you take every man that calls into your bedroom, and
shut the door?' I asked.
Japp lost colour and his lip trembled. 'I swear to God, Mr
Crawfurd, I've been doing nothing wrong. I've kept the
promise I gave you like an oath to my mother. I see you
suspect me, and maybe you've cause, but I'll be quite honest
with you. I have dealt in diamonds before this with Hendricks.
But to-day, when he asked me, I told him that that business
was off. I only took him to my room to give him a drink. He
likes brandy, and there's no supply in the shop.'
I distrusted Japp wholeheartedly enough, but I was convinced
that in this case he spoke the truth.
'Had the man any news?' I asked.
'He had and he hadn't,' said Japp. 'He was always a sullen
beggar, and never spoke much. But he said one queer thing.
He asked me if I was going to retire, and when I told him
"yes," he said I had put it off rather long. I told him I was as
healthy as I ever was, and he laughed in his dirty Portugoose
way. "Yes, Mr Japp," he says, "but the country is not so
healthy." I wonder what the chap meant. He'll be dead of
blackwater before many months, to judge by his eyes.'
This talk satisfied me about Japp, who was clearly in
desperate fear of offending me, and disinclined to return for
the present to his old ways. But I think the rest of the afternoon
was the most wretched time in my existence. It was as plain as
daylight that we were in for some grave trouble, trouble to
which I believed that I alone held any kind of clue. I had a
pile of evidence - the visit of Henriques was the last bit -
which pointed to some great secret approaching its disclosure.
I thought that that disclosure meant blood and ruin. But I
knew nothing definite. If the commander of a British army had
come to me then and there and offered help, I could have done
nothing, only asked him to wait like me. The peril, whatever
it was, did not threaten me only, though I and Wardlaw and
Japp might be the first to suffer; but I had a terrible feeling
that I alone could do something to ward it off, and just what
that something was I could not tell. I was horribly afraid, not
only of unknown death, but of my impotence to play any
manly part. I was alone, knowing too much and yet too little,
and there was no chance of help under the broad sky. I cursed
myself for not writing to Aitken at Lourenco Marques weeks
before. He had promised to come up, and he was the kind of
man who kept his word.
In the late afternoon I dragged Wardlaw out for a walk. In
his presence I had to keep up a forced cheerfulness, and I
believe the pretence did me good. We took a path up the Berg
among groves of stinkwood and essenwood, where a failing
stream made an easy route. It may have been fancy, but it
seemed to me that the wood was emptier and that we were
followed less closely. I remember it was a lovely evening, and
in the clear fragrant gloaming every foreland of the Berg stood
out like a great ship above the dark green sea of the bush.
When we reached the edge of the plateau we saw the sun
sinking between two far blue peaks in Makapan's country, and
away to the south the great roll of the high veld. I longed
miserably for the places where white men were thronged
together in dorps and cities.
As we gazed a curious sound struck our ears. It seemed to
begin far up in the north - a low roll like the combing of
breakers on the sand. Then it grew louder and travelled
nearer - a roll, with sudden spasms of harsher sound in it;
reminding me of the churning in one of the pot-holes of
Kirkcaple cliffs. Presently it grew softer again as the sound
passed south, but new notes were always emerging. The echo
came sometimes, as it were, from stark rock, and sometimes
from the deep gloom of the forests. I have never heard an
eerier sound. Neither natural nor human it seemed, but the
voice of that world between which is hid from man's sight
Mr Wardlaw clutched my arm, and in that moment I
guessed the explanation. The native drums were beating,
passing some message from the far north down the line of the
Berg, where the locations were thickest, to the great black
population of the south.
'But that means war,' Mr Wardlaw cried.
'It means nothing of the kind,' I said shortly. 'It's their way
of sending news. It's as likely to be some change in the weather
or an outbreak of cattle disease.'
When we got home I found Japp with a face like grey paper.
'Did you hear the drums?'he asked.
'Yes,' I said shortly. 'What about them?'
'God forgive you for an ignorant Britisher,' he almost
shouted. 'You may hear drums any night, but a drumming like
that I only once heard before. It was in '79 in the 'Zeti valley.
Do you know what happened next day? Cetewayo's impis
came over the hills, and in an hour there wasn't a living white
soul in the glen. Two men escaped, and one of them was called
'We are in God's hands then, and must wait on His will,' I
There was no more sleep for Wardlaw and myself that night.
We made the best barricade we could of the windows, loaded
all our weapons, and trusted to Colin to give us early news.
Before supper I went over to get Japp to join us, but found
that that worthy had sought help from his old protector, the
bottle, and was already sound asleep with both door and
I had made up my mind that death was certain, and yet my
heart belied my conviction, and I could not feel the appropriate
mood. If anything I was more cheerful since I had heard the
drums. It was clearly now beyond the power of me or any man
to stop the march of events. My thoughts ran on a native
rising, and I kept telling myself how little that was probable.
Where were the arms, the leader, the discipline? At any rate
such arguments put me to sleep before dawn, and I wakened
at eight to find that nothing had happened. The clear morning
sunlight, as of old, made Blaauwildebeestefontein the place of
a dream. Zeeta brought in my cup of coffee as if this day were
just like all others, my pipe tasted as sweet, the fresh air from
the Berg blew as fragrantly on my brow. I went over to the
store in reasonably good spirits, leaving Wardlaw busy on the
The post-runner had brought the mail as usual, and there
was one private letter for me. I opened it with great excitement,
for the envelope bore the stamp of the firm. At last
Colles had deigned to answer.
Inside was a sheet of the firm's notepaper, with the signature
of Colles across the top. Below some one had pencilled these
'The Blesbok* are changing ground.'
*A species of buck.
I looked to see that Japp had not suffocated himself, then
shut up the store, and went back to my room to think out this
The thing had come from Colles, for it was the private
notepaper of the Durban office, and there was Colles' signature.
But the pencilling was in a different hand. My deduction
from this was that some one wished to send me a message, and
that Colles had given that some one a sheet of signed paper to
serve as a kind of introduction. I might take it, therefore, that
the scribble was Colles' reply to my letter.
Now, my argument continued, if the unknown person saw
fit to send me a message, it could not be merely one of warning.
Colles must have told him that I was awake to some danger,
and as I was in Blaauwildebeestefontein, I must be nearer the
heart of things than any one else. The message must therefore
be in the nature of some password, which I was to remember
when I heard it again.
I reasoned the whole thing out very clearly, and I saw no
gap in my logic. I cannot describe how that scribble had
heartened me. I felt no more the crushing isolation of yesterday.
There were others beside me in the secret. Help must be
on the way, and the letter was the first tidings.
But how near? - that was the question; and it occurred to
me for the first time to look at the postmark. I went back to
the store and got the envelope out of the waste-paper basket.
The postmark was certainly not Durban. The stamp was a
Cape Colony one, and of the mark I could only read three
letters, T. R. S. This was no sort of clue, and I turned the thing
over, completely baffled. Then I noticed that there was no
mark of the post town of delivery. Our letters to
Blaauwildebeestefontein came through Pietersdorp and bore that
mark. I compared the envelope with others. They all had a circle,
and 'Pietersdorp' in broad black letters. But this envelope had
nothing except the stamp.
I was still slow at detective work, and it was some minutes
before the explanation flashed on me. The letter had never
been posted at all. The stamp was a fake, and had been
borrowed from an old envelope. There was only one way in
which it could have come. It must have been put in the letter-
bag while the postman was on his way from Pietersdorp. My
unknown friend must therefore be somewhere within eighty
miles of me. I hurried off to look for the post-runner, but he
had started back an hour before. There was nothing for it but
to wait on the coming of the unknown.
That afternoon I again took Mr Wardlaw for a walk. It is an
ingrained habit of mine that I never tell anyone more of a
business than is practically necessary. For months I had kept
all my knowledge to myself, and breathed not a word to a soul.
But I thought it my duty to tell Wardlaw about the letter, to
let him see that we were not forgotten. I am afraid it did not
encourage his mind. Occult messages seemed to him only the
last proof of a deadly danger encompassing us, and I could not
shake his opinion.
We took the same road to the crown of the Berg, and I was
confirmed in my suspicion that the woods were empty and the
watchers gone. The place was as deserted as the bush at
Umvelos'. When we reached the summit about sunset we
waited anxiously for the sound of drums. It came, as we
expected, louder and more menacing than before. Wardlaw
stood pinching my arm as the great tattoo swept down the
escarpment, and died away in the far mountains beyond the
Olifants, Yet it no longer seemed to be a wall of sound,
shutting us out from our kindred in the West. A message had
pierced the wall. If the blesbok were changing ground, I
believed that the hunters were calling out their hounds and
getting ready for the chase.
CHAPTER VII. CAPTAIN ARCOLL TELLS A TALE
It froze in the night, harder than was common on the Berg
even in winter, and as I crossed the road next morning it was
covered with rime. All my fears had gone, and my mind was
strung high with expectation. Five pencilled words may seem
a small thing to build hope on, but it was enough for me, and
I went about my work in the store with a reasonably light
heart. One of the first things I did was to take stock of our
armoury. There were five sporting Mausers of a cheap make,
one Mauser pistol, a Lee-Speed carbine, and a little nickel-
plated revolver. There was also Japp's shot-gun, an old hammered
breech-loader, as well as the gun I had brought out with
me. There was a good supply of cartridges, including a stock
for a .400 express which could not be found. I pocketed the
revolver, and searched till I discovered a good sheath-knife. If
fighting was in prospect I might as well look to my arms.
All the morning I sat among flour and sugar possessing my
soul in as much patience as I could command. Nothing came
down the white road from the west. The sun melted the rime;
the flies came out and buzzed in the window; Japp got himself
out of bed, brewed strong coffee, and went back to his
slumbers. Presently it was dinner-time, and I went over to a
silent meal with Wardlaw. When I returned I must have fallen
asleep over a pipe, for the next thing I knew I was blinking
drowsily at the patch of sun in the door, and listening for
footsteps. In the dead stillness of the afternoon I thought I
could discern a shuffling in the dust. I got up and looked out,
and there, sure enough, was some one coming down the road.
But it was only a Kaffir, and a miserable-looking object at
that. I had never seen such an anatomy. It was a very old man,
bent almost double, and clad in a ragged shirt and a pair of
foul khaki trousers. He carried an iron pot, and a few belongings
were tied up in a dirty handkerchief. He must have been
a dacha* smoker, for he coughed hideously, twisting his body
with the paroxysms. I had seen the type before - the old
broken-down native who had no kin to support him, and no
tribe to shelter him. They wander about the roads, cooking
their wretched meals by their little fires, till one morning they
are found stiff under a bush.
The native gave me a good-day in Kaffir, then begged for
tobacco or a handful of mealie-meal.
I asked him where he came from.
'From the west, Inkoos,' he said, 'and before that from the
south. It is a sore road for old bones.'
I went into the store to fetch some meal, and when I came
out he had shuffled close to the door. He had kept his eyes on
the ground, but now he looked up at me, and I thought he had
very bright eyes for such an old wreck.
'The nights are cold, Inkoos,' he wailed, 'and my folk are
scattered, and I have no kraal. The aasvogels follow me, and
I can hear the blesbok.'
'What about the blesbok?' I asked with a start.
'The blesbok are changing ground,' he said, and looked me
straight in the face.
'And where are the hunters?' I asked.
'They are here and behind me,' he said in English, holding
out his pot for my meal, while he began to edge into the middle
of the road.
I followed, and, speaking English, asked him if he knew of
a man named Colles.
'I come from him, young Baas. Where is your house? Ah,
the school. There will be a way in by the back window? See
that it is open, for I'll be there shortly.' Then lifting up his
voice he called down in Sesuto all manner of blessings on me
for my kindness, and went shuffling down the sunlit road,
coughing like a volcano.
In high excitement I locked up the store and went over to
Mr Wardlaw. No children had come to school that day, and he
was sitting idle, playing patience. 'Lock the door,' I said, 'and
come into my room. We're on the brink of explanations.'
In about twenty minutes the bush below the back-window
parted and the Kaffir slipped out. He grinned at me, and after
a glance round, hopped very nimbly over the sill. Then he
examined the window and pulled the curtains.
'Is the outer door shut?' he asked in excellent English. 'Well,
get me some hot water, and any spare clothes you may possess,
Mr Crawfurd. I must get comfortable before we begin our
indaba.* We've the night before us, so there's plenty of time.
But get the house clear, and see that nobody disturbs me at
my toilet. I am a modest man, and sensitive about my looks.'
I brought him what he wanted, and looked on at an amazing
transformation. Taking a phial from his bundle, he rubbed
some liquid on his face and neck and hands, and got rid of the
black colouring. His body and legs he left untouched, save that
he covered them with shirt and trousers from my wardrobe.
Then he pulled off a scaly wig, and showed beneath it a head
of close-cropped grizzled hair. In ten minutes the old Kaffir
had been transformed into an active soldierly-looking man of
maybe fifty years. Mr Wardlaw stared as if he had seen a
'I had better introduce myself,' he said, when he had taken
the edge off his thirst and hunger. 'My name is Arcoll, Captain
James Arcoll. I am speaking to Mr Crawfurd, the storekeeper,
and Mr Wardlaw, the schoolmaster, of Blaauwildebeestefontein.
Where, by the way, is Mr Peter Japp? Drunk? Ah, yes, it
was always his failing. The quorum, however, is complete
By this time it was about sunset, and I remember I cocked
my ear to hear the drums beat. Captain Arcoll noticed the
movement as he noticed all else.
'You're listening for the drums, but you won't hear them.
That business is over here. To-night they beat in Swaziland
and down into the Tonga border. Three days more, unless you
and I, Mr Crawfurd, are extra smart, and they'll be hearing
them in Durban.'
It was not till the lamp was lit, the fire burning well, and the
house locked and shuttered, that Captain Arcoll began his tale.
'First,' he said, 'let me hear what you know. Colles told me
that you were a keen fellow, and had wind of some mystery
here. You wrote him about the way you were spied on, but I
told him to take no notice. Your affair, Mr Crawfurd, had to
wait on more urgent matters. Now, what do you think is
I spoke very shortly, weighing my words, for I felt I was on
trial before these bright eyes. 'I think that some kind of native
rising is about to commence.'
'Ay,' he said dryly, 'you would, and your evidence would be
the spying and drumming. Anything more?'
'I have come on the tracks of a lot of I.D.B. work in the
neighbourhood. The natives have some supply of diamonds,
which they sell bit by bit, and I don't doubt but they have
been getting guns with the proceeds.'
He nodded, 'Have you any notion who has been engaged in
I had it on my tongue to mention Japp, but forbore,
remembering my promise. 'I can name one,' I said, 'a little
yellow Portugoose, who calls himself Henriques or Hendricks.
He passed by here the day before yesterday.'
Captain Arcoll suddenly was consumed with quiet laughter.
'Did you notice the Kaffir who rode with him and carried his
saddlebags? Well, he's one of my men. Henriques would have
a fit if he knew what was in those saddlebags. They contain
my change of clothes, and other odds and ends. Henriques'
own stuff is in a hole in the spruit. A handy way of getting
one's luggage sent on, eh? The bags are waiting for me at a
place I appointed.' And again Captain Arcoll indulged his
sense of humour. Then he became grave, and returned to
'A rising, with diamonds as the sinews of war, and Henriques
as the chief agent. Well and good! But who is to lead,
and what are the natives going to rise about?'
'I know nothing further, but I have made some guesses.'
'Let's hear your guesses,' he said, blowing smoke rings from
'I think the main mover is a great black minister who calls
himself John Laputa.'
Captain Arcoll nearly sprang out of his chair. 'Now, how on
earth did you find that out? Quick, Mr Crawfurd, tell me all
you know, for this is desperately important.'
I began at the beginning, and told him the story of what
happened on the Kirkcaple shore. Then I spoke of my sight of
him on board ship, his talk with Henriques about
Blaauwildebeestefontein, and his hurried departure from Durban.
Captain Arcoll listened intently, and at the mention of
Durban he laughed. 'You and I seem to have been running on
lines which nearly touched. I thought I had grabbed my friend
Laputa that night in Durban, but I was too cocksure and he
slipped off. Do you know, Mr Crawfurd, you have been on
the right trail long before me? When did you say you saw him
at his devil-worship? Seven years ago? Then you were the first
man alive to know the Reverend John in his true colours. You
knew seven years ago what I only found out last year.'
'Well, that's my story,' I said. 'I don't know what the rising
is about, but there's one other thing I can tell you. There's
some kind of sacred place for the Kaffirs, and I've found out
where it is.' I gave him a short account of my adventures in
He smoked silently for a bit after I had finished. 'You've got
the skeleton of the whole thing right, and you only want the
filling up. And you found out everything for yourself? Colles
was right; you're not wanting in intelligence, Mr Crawfurd.'
It was not much of a compliment, but I have never been
more pleased in my life. This slim, grizzled man, with his
wrinkled face and bright eyes, was clearly not lavish in his
praise. I felt it was no small thing to have earned a word
'And now I will tell you my story,' said Captain Arcoll. 'It is
a long story, and I must begin far back. It has taken me years
to decipher it, and, remember, I've been all my life at this
native business. I can talk every dialect, and I have the customs
of every tribe by heart. I've travelled over every mile of South
Africa, and Central and East Africa too. I was in both the
Matabele wars, and I've seen a heap of other fighting which
never got into the papers. So what I tell you you can take as
gospel, for it is knowledge that was not learned in a day.'
He puffed away, and then asked suddenly, 'Did you ever
hear of Prester John?'
'The man that lived in Central Asia?' I asked, with a
reminiscence of a story-book I had as a boy.
'No, no,' said Mr Wardlaw, 'he means the King of Abyssinia
in the fifteenth century. I've been reading all about him. He
was a Christian, and the Portuguese sent expedition after
expedition to find him, but they never got there. Albuquerque
wanted to make an alliance with him and capture the Holy
Arcoll nodded. 'That's the one I mean. There's not very
much known about him, except Portuguese legends. He was a
sort of Christian, but I expect that his practices were as pagan
as his neighbours'. There is no doubt that he was a great
conqueror. Under him and his successors, the empire of
Ethiopia extended far south of Abyssinia away down to the
'How long did this power last?' I asked wondering to what
tale this was prologue.
'That's a mystery no scholar has ever been able to fathom.
Anyhow, the centre of authority began to shift southward, and
the warrior tribes moved in that direction. At the end of the
sixteenth century the chief native power was round about the
Zambesi. The Mazimba and the Makaranga had come down
from the Lake Nyassa quarter, and there was a strong kingdom
in Manicaland. That was the Monomotapa that the Portuguese
thought so much of.'
Wardlaw nodded eagerly. The story was getting into ground
that he knew about.
'The thing to remember is that all these little empires
thought themselves the successors of Prester John. It took me
a long time to find this out, and I have spent days in the best
libraries in Europe over it. They all looked back to a great king
in the north, whom they called by about twenty different
names. They had forgotten about his Christianity, but they
remembered that he was a conqueror.
'Well, to make a long story short, Monomotapa disappeared
in time, and fresh tribes came down from the north, and
pushed right down to Natal and the Cape. That is how the
Zulus first appeared. They brought with them the story of
Prester John, but by this time it had ceased to be a historical
memory, and had become a religious cult. They worshipped a
great Power who had been their ancestor, and the favourite
Zulu word for him was Umkulunkulu. The belief was perverted
into fifty different forms, but this was the central
creed - that Umkulunkulu had been the father of the tribe,
and was alive as a spirit to watch over them.
'They brought more than a creed with them. Somehow or
other, some fetich had descended from Prester John by way of
the Mazimba and Angoni and Makaranga. What it is I do not
know, but it was always in the hands of the tribe which for the
moment held the leadership. The great native wars of the
sixteenth century, which you can read about in the Portuguese
historians, were not for territory but for leadership, and mainly
for the possession of this fetich. Anyhow, we know that the
Zulus brought it down with them. They called it Ndhlondhlo,
which means the Great Snake, but I don't suppose that it was
any kind of snake. The snake was their totem, and they would
naturally call their most sacred possession after it.
'Now I will tell you a thing that few know. You have heard
of Tchaka. He was a sort of black Napoleon early in the last
century, and he made the Zulus the paramount power in South
Africa, slaughtering about two million souls to accomplish it.
Well, he had the fetich, whatever it was, and it was believed
that he owed his conquests to it. Mosilikatse tried to steal it,
and that was why he had to fly to Matabeleland. But with
Tchaka it disappeared. Dingaan did not have it, nor Panda,
and Cetewayo never got it, though he searched the length and
breadth of the country for it. It had gone out of existence, and
with it the chance of a Kaffir empire.'
Captain Arcoll got up to light his pipe, and I noticed that
his face was grave. He was not telling us this yarn for
'So much for Prester John and his charm,' he said. 'Now I
have to take up the history at a different point. In spite of
risings here and there, and occasional rows, the Kaffirs have
been quiet for the better part of half a century. It is no credit
to us. They have had plenty of grievances, and we are no
nearer understanding them than our fathers were. But they are
scattered and divided. We have driven great wedges of white
settlement into their territory, and we have taken away their
arms. Still, they are six times as many as we are, and they have
long memories, and a thoughtful man may wonder how long
the peace will last. I have often asked myself that question,
and till lately I used to reply, "For ever because they cannot
find a leader with the proper authority, and they have no
common cause to fight for." But a year or two ago I began to
change my mind.
'It is my business to act as chief Intelligence officer among
the natives. Well, one day, I came on the tracks of a curious
person. He was a Christian minister called Laputa, and he was
going among the tribes from Durban to the Zambesi as a
roving evangelist. I found that he made an enormous impression,
and yet the people I spoke to were chary of saying much
about him. Presently I found that he preached more than the
gospel. His word was "Africa for the Africans," and his chief
point was that the natives had had a great empire in the past,
and might have a great empire again. He used to tell the story
of Prester John, with all kinds of embroidery of his own. You
see, Prester John was a good argument for him, for he had
been a Christian as well as a great potentate.
'For years there has been plenty of this talk in South Africa,
chiefly among Christian Kaffirs. It is what they call
"Ethiopianism," and American negroes are the chief apostles. For
myself, I always thought the thing perfectly harmless. I don't
care a fig whether the native missions break away from the
parent churches in England and call themselves by fancy
names. The more freedom they have in their religious life, the
less they are likely to think about politics. But I soon found
out that Laputa was none of your flabby educated negroes
from America, and I began to watch him.
'I first came across him at a revival meeting in London,
where he was a great success. He came and spoke to me about
my soul, but he gave up when I dropped into Zulu. The next
time I met him was on the lower Limpopo, when I had the
pleasure of trying to shoot him from a boat.'
Captain Arcoll took his pipe from his mouth and laughed at
'I had got on to an I.D.B. gang, and to my amazement
found the evangelist among them. But the Reverend John was
too much for me. He went overboard in spite of the crocodiles,
and managed to swim below water to the reed bed at the side.
However, that was a valuable experience for me, for it gave me
'I next saw him at a Missionary Conference in Cape Town,
and after that at a meeting of the Geographical Society in
London, where I had a long talk with him. My reputation does
not follow me home, and he thought I was an English publisher
with an interest in missions. You see I had no evidence to
connect him with I.D.B., and besides I fancied that his real
game was something bigger than that; so I just bided my time
'I did my best to get on to his dossier, but it was no easy
job. However, I found out a few things. He had been educated
in the States, and well educated too, for the man is a good
scholar and a great reader, besides the finest natural orator I
have ever heard. There was no doubt that he was of Zulu
blood, but I could get no traces of his family. He must come
of high stock, for he is a fine figure of a man.
'Very soon I found it was no good following him in his
excursions into civilization. There he was merely the educated
Kaffir; a great pet of missionary societies, and a favourite
speaker at Church meetings. You will find evidence given by
him in Blue-Books on native affairs, and he counted many
members of Parliament at home among his correspondents. I
let that side go, and resolved to dog him when on his
evangelizing tours in the back-veld.
'For six months I stuck to him like a leech. I am pretty good
at disguises, and he never knew who was the broken-down old
Kaffir who squatted in the dirt at the edge of the crowd when
he spoke, or the half-caste who called him "Sir" and drove his
Cape-cart. I had some queer adventures, but these can wait.
The gist of the thing is, that after six months which turned my
hair grey I got a glimmering of what he was after. He talked
Christianity to the mobs in the kraals, but to the indunas* he
told a different story.'
Captain Arcoll helped himself to a drink. 'You can guess
what that story was, Mr Crawfurd. At full moon when the
black cock was blooded, the Reverend John forgot his Christianity.
He was back four centuries among the Mazimba sweeping
down on the Zambesi. He told them, and they believed
him, that he was the Umkulunkulu, the incarnated spirit of
Prester John. He told them that he was there to lead the
African race to conquest and empire. Ay, and he told them
more: for he has, or says he has, the Great Snake itself, the
necklet of Prester John.'
Neither of us spoke; we were too occupied with fitting this
news into our chain of knowledge.
Captain Arcoll went on. 'Now that I knew his purpose, I set
myself to find out his preparations. It was not long before I
found a mighty organization at work from the Zambesi to the
Cape. The great tribes were up to their necks in the conspiracy,
and all manner of little sects had been taken in. I have sat at
tribal councils and been sworn a blood brother, and I have
used the secret password to get knowledge in odd places. It
was a dangerous game, and, as I have said, I had my
adventures, but I came safe out of it - with my knowledge.
'The first thing I found out was that there was a great deal
of wealth somewhere among the tribes. Much of it was in
diamonds, which the labourers stole from the mines and the
chiefs impounded. Nearly every tribe had its secret chest, and
our friend Laputa had the use of them all. Of course the
difficulty was changing the diamonds into coin, and he had to
start I.D.B. on a big scale. Your pal, Henriques, was the chief
agent for this, but he had others at Mozambique and Johannesburg,
ay, and in London, whom I have on my list. With the
money, guns and ammunition were bought, and it seems that
a pretty flourishing trade has been going on for some time.
They came in mostly overland through Portuguese territory,
though there have been cases of consignments to Johannesburg
houses, the contents of which did not correspond with the
invoice. You ask what the Governments were doing to let this
go on. Yes, and you may well ask. They were all asleep. They
never dreamed of danger from the natives, and in any case it
was difficult to police the Portuguese side. Laputa knew our
weakness, and he staked everything on it.
'my first scheme was to lay Laputa by the heels; but no
Government would act on my information. The man was
strongly buttressed by public support at home, and South
Africa has burned her fingers before this with arbitrary arrests.
Then I tried to fasten I.D.B. on him, but I could not get my
proofs till too late. I nearly had him in Durban, but he got
away; and he never gave me a second chance. For five months
he and Henriques have been lying low, because their scheme
was getting very ripe. I have been following them through
Zululand and Gazaland, and I have discovered that the train is
ready, and only wants the match. For a month I have never
been more than five hours behind him on the trail; and if he
has laid his train, I have laid mine also.'
Arcoll's whimsical, humorous face had hardened into grimness,
and in his eyes there was the light of a fierce purpose.
The sight of him comforted me, in spite of his tale.
'But what can he hope to do?' I asked. 'Though he roused
every Kaffir in South Africa he would be beaten. You say he is
an educated man. He must know he has no chance in the long run.'
'I said he was an educated man, but he is also a Kaffir. He
can see the first stage of a thing, and maybe the second, but no
more. That is the native mind. If it was not like that our
chance would be the worse.'
'You say the scheme is ripe,' I said; 'how ripe?'
Arcoll looked at the clock. 'In half an hour's time Laputa
will be with 'Mpefu. There he will stay the night. To-morrow
morning he goes to Umvelos' to meet Henriques. To-morrow
evening the gathering begins.'
'One question,' I said. 'How big a man is Laputa?'
'The biggest thing that the Kaffirs have ever produced. I
tell you, in my opinion he is a great genius. If he had been
white he might have been a second Napoleon. He is a born
leader of men, and as brave as a lion. There is no villainy he
would not do if necessary, and yet I should hesitate to call him
a blackguard. Ay, you may look surprised at me, you two
pragmatical Scotsmen; but I have, so to speak, lived with the
man for months, and there's fineness and nobility in him. He
would be a terrible enemy, but a just one. He has the heart of
a poet and a king, and it is God's curse that he has been born
among the children of Ham. I hope to shoot him like a dog in
a day or two, but I am glad to bear testimony to his greatness.'
'If the rising starts to-morrow,' I asked, 'have you any of
He picked up a map from the table and opened it. 'The first
rendezvous is somewhere near Sikitola's. Then they move
south, picking up contingents; and the final concentration is to
be on the high veld near Amsterdam, which is convenient for
the Swazis and the Zulus. After that I know nothing, but of
course there are local concentrations along the whole line of
the Berg from Mashonaland to Basutoland. Now, look here.
To get to Amsterdam they must cross the Delagoa Bay
Railway. Well, they won't be allowed to. If they get as far,
they will be scattered there. As I told you, I too have laid my
train. We have the police ready all along the scarp of the Berg.
Every exit from native territory is watched, and the frontier
farmers are out on commando. We have regulars on the
Delagoa Bay and Natal lines, and a system of field telegraphs
laid which can summon further troops to any point. It has all
been kept secret, because we are still in the dark ourselves.
The newspaper public knows nothing about any rising, but in
two days every white household in South Africa will be in a
panic. Make no mistake, Mr Crawfurd; this is a grim business.
We shall smash Laputa and his men, but it will be a fierce
fight, and there will be much good blood shed. Besides, it will
throw the country back another half-century. Would to God I
had been man enough to put a bullet through his head in cold
blood. But I could not do it - it was too like murder; and
maybe I shall never have the chance now.'
'There's one thing puzzles me,' I said. 'What makes Laputa
come up here to start with? Why doesn't he begin with
'God knows! There's sure to be sense in it, for he does
nothing without reason. We may know to-morrow.'
But as Captain Arcoll spoke, the real reason suddenly flashed
into my mind: Laputa had to get the Great Snake, the necklet
of Prester John, to give his leadership prestige. Apparently he
had not yet got it, or Arcoll would have known. He started
from this neighbourhood because the fetich was somewhere
hereabouts. I was convinced that my guess was right, but I
kept my own counsel.
'To-morrow Laputa and Henriques meet at Umvelos', probably
at your new store, Mr Crawfurd. And so the ball commences.'
My resolution was suddenly taken.
'I think,' I said, 'I had better be present at the meeting, as
representing the firm.'
Captain Arcoll stared at me and laughed. 'I had thought of
going myself,' he said.
'Then you go to certain death, disguise yourself as you
please. You cannot meet them in the store as I can. I'm there
on my ordinary business, and they will never suspect. If you're
to get any news, I'm the man to go.'
He looked at me steadily for a minute or so. 'I'm not sure
that's such a bad idea of yours. I would be better employed
myself on the Berg, and, as you say, I would have little chance
of hearing anything. You're a plucky fellow, Mr Crawfurd. I
suppose you understand that the risk is pretty considerable.'
'I suppose I do; but since I'm in this thing, I may as well
see it out. Besides, I've an old quarrel with our friend Laputa.'
'Good and well,' said Captain Arcoll. 'Draw in your chair to
the table, then, and I'll explain to you the disposition of my
men. I should tell you that I have loyal natives in my pay in
most tribes, and can count on early intelligence. We can't
match their telepathy; but the new type of field telegraph is
not so bad, and may be a trifle more reliable.'
Till midnight we pored over maps, and certain details were
burned in on my memory. Then we went to bed and slept
soundly, even Mr Wardlaw. It was strange how fear had gone
from the establishment, now that we knew the worst and had
a fighting man by our side.
CHAPTER VIII. I FALL IN AGAIN WITH THE REVEREND JOHN LAPUTA
Once, as a boy, I had earnestly desired to go into the army,
and had hopes of rising to be a great general. Now that I know
myself better, I do not think I would have been much good at
a general's work. I would have shirked the loneliness of it, the
isolation of responsibility. But I think I would have done well
in a subaltern command, for I had a great notion of carrying
out orders, and a certain zest in the mere act of obedience.
Three days before I had been as nervous as a kitten because I
was alone and it was 'up to me,' as Americans say, to decide on
the next step. But now that I was only one wheel in a great
machine of defence my nervousness seemed to have fled. I was
well aware that the mission I was bound on was full of risk;
but, to my surprise, I felt no fear. Indeed, I had much the
same feeling as a boy on a Saturday's holiday who has planned
a big expedition. One thing only I regretted - that Tam Dyke
was not with me to see the fun. The thought of that faithful
soul, now beating somewhere on the seas, made me long for
his comradeship. As I shaved, I remember wondering if I
would ever shave again, and the thought gave me no tremors.
For once in my sober life I was strung up to the gambler's
pitch of adventure.
My job was to go to Umvelos' as if on my ordinary business,
and if possible find out something of the evening's plan of
march. The question was how to send back a message to
Arcoll, assuming I had any difficulty in getting away. At first
this puzzled us both, and then I thought of Colin. I had
trained the dog to go home at my bidding, for often when I
used to go hunting I would have occasion to visit a kraal where
he would have been a nuisance. Accordingly, I resolved to take
Colin with me, and, if I got into trouble, to send word by him.
I asked about Laputa's knowledge of our preparations.
Arcoll was inclined to think that he suspected little. The police
and the commandos had been kept very secret, and, besides,
they were moving on the high veld and out of the ken of the
tribes. Natives, he told me, were not good scouts so far as
white man's work was concerned, for they did not understand
the meaning of what we did. On the other hand, his own
native scouts brought him pretty accurate tidings of any Kaffir
movements. He thought that all the bush country of the plain
would be closely watched, and that no one would get through
without some kind of pass. But he thought also that the
storekeeper might be an exception, for his presence would give
rise to no suspicions. Almost his last words to me were to come
back hell-for-leather if I saw the game was hopeless, and in
any case to leave as soon as I got any news. 'If you're there
when the march begins,' he said, 'they'll cut your throat for a
certainty.' I had all the various police posts on the Berg clear
in my mind, so that I would know where to make for if the
road to Blaauwildebeestefontein should be closed.
I said good-bye to Arcoll and Wardlaw with a light heart,
though the schoolmaster broke down and implored me to think
better of it. As I turned down into the gorge I heard the sound
of horses' feet far behind, and, turning back, saw white riders
dismounting at the dorp. At any rate I was leaving the country
well guarded in my rear.
It was a fine morning in mid-winter, and I was in very good
spirits as I jogged on my pony down the steep hill-road, with
Colin running beside me. A month before I had taken the
same journey, with no suspicion in my head of what the future
was to bring. I thought about my Dutch companions, now
with their cattle far out on the plains. Did they know of the
great danger, I wondered. All the way down the glen I saw no
sign of human presence. The game-birds mocked me from the
thicket; a brace of white berghaan circled far up in the blue;
and I had for pleasant comrade the brawling river. I dismounted
once to drink, and in that green haven of flowers and ferns I was
struck sharply with a sense of folly. Here were we wretched
creatures of men making for each other's throats, and outraging
the good earth which God had made so fair a habitation.
I had resolved on a short cut to Umvelos', avoiding the
neighbourhood of Sikitola's kraal, so when the river emerged
from the glen I crossed it and struck into the bush. I had not
gone far before I realized that something strange was going on.
It was like the woods on the Berg a week before. I had the
impression of many people moving in the bush, and now and
then I caught a glimpse of them. My first thought was that I
should be stopped, but soon it appeared that these folk had
business of their own which did not concern me. I was
conscious of being watched, yet it was clear that the bush folk
were not there for the purpose of watching me.
For a little I kept my spirits, but as the hours passed with
the same uncanny hurrying to and fro all about me my nerves
began to suffer. Weeks of espionage at Blaauwildebeestefontein
had made me jumpy. These people apparently meant me no
ill, and had no time to spare on me, But the sensation of
moving through them was like walking on a black-dark night
with precipices all around. I felt odd quiverings between my
shoulder blades where a spear might be expected to lodge.
Overhead was a great blue sky and a blazing sun, and I could
see the path running clear before me between the walls of
scrub. But it was like midnight to me, a midnight of suspicion
and unknown perils. I began to wish heartily I had never come.
I stopped for my midday meal at a place called Taqui, a
grassy glade in the bush where a tiny spring of water crept out
from below a big stone, only to disappear in the sand. Here I
sat and smoked for half an hour, wondering what was going to
become of me. The air was very still, but I could hear the
rustle of movement somewhere within a hundred yards. The
hidden folk were busy about their own ends, and I regretted
that I had not taken the road by Sikitola's and seen how the
kraals looked. They must be empty now, for the young men
were already out on some mission. So nervous I got that I took
my pocket-book and wrote down certain messages to my
mother, which I implored whoever should find my body to
transmit. Then, a little ashamed of my childishness, I pulled
myself together, and remounted.
About three in the afternoon I came over a low ridge of bush
and saw the corrugated iron roof of the store and the gleam of
water from the Labongo. The sight encouraged me, for at any
rate it meant the end of this disquieting ride. Here the bush
changed to trees of some size, and after leaving the ridge the
road plunged for a little into a thick shade. I had forgotten for
a moment the folk in the bush, and when a man stepped out of
the thicket I pulled up my horse with a start.
It was a tall native, who carried himself proudly, and after a
glance at me, stalked along at my side. He wore curious
clothes, for he had a kind of linen tunic, and around his waist
hung a kilt of leopard-skin. In such a man one would have
looked for a ting-kop,* but instead he had a mass of hair, not
like a Kaffir's wool, but long and curled like some popular
musician's. I should have been prepared for the face, but the
sight of it sent a sudden chill of fright through my veins. For
there was the curved nose, the deep flashing eyes, and the
cruel lips of my enemy of the Kirkcaple shore.
*The circlet into which, with the aid of gum, Zulu warriors weave their
Colin was deeply suspicious and followed his heels growling,
but he never turned his head.
'The day is warm, father,' I said in Kaffir. 'Do you go far?'
He slackened his pace till he was at my elbow. 'But a short
way, Baas,' he replied in English; 'I go to the store yonder.'
'Well met, then,' said I, 'for I am the storekeeper. You will
find little in it, for it is newly built and not yet stocked. I have
ridden over to see to it.'
He turned his face to me. 'That is bad news. I had hoped
for food and drink yonder. I have travelled far, and in the chill
nights I desire a cover for my head. Will the Baas allow me to
sleep the night in an outhouse?'
By this time I had recovered my nerve, and was ready to
play the part I had determined on. 'Willingly,' I said. 'You
may sleep in the storeroom if you care. You will find sacks for
bedding, and the place is snug enough on a cold night.'
He thanked me with a grave dignity which I had never seen
in any Kaffir. As my eye fell on his splendid proportions I
forgot all else in my admiration of the man. In his minister's
clothes he had looked only a heavily built native, but now in
his savage dress I saw how noble a figure he made. He must
have been at least six feet and a half, but his chest was so deep
and his shoulders so massive that one did not remark his
height. He put a hand on my saddle, and I remember noting
how slim and fine it was, more like a high-bred woman's than
a man's. Curiously enough he filled me with a certain confidence.
'I do not think you will cut my throat,' I said to myself.
'Your game is too big for common murder.'
The store at Umvelos' stood as I had left it. There was the
sjambok I had forgotten still lying on the window sill. I
unlocked the door, and a stifling smell of new paint came out
to meet me. Inside there was nothing but the chairs and
benches, and in a corner the pots and pans I had left against
my next visit. I unlocked the cupboard and got out a few
stores, opened the windows of the bedroom next door, and
flung my kaross on the cartel which did duty as bed. Then I
went out to find Laputa standing patiently in the sunshine.
I showed him the outhouse where I had said he might sleep.
It was the largest room in the store, but wholly unfurnished.
A pile of barrels and packing-cases stood in the corner, and
there was enough sacking to make a sort of bed.
'I am going to make tea,' I said. 'If you have come far you
would maybe like a cup?'
He thanked me, and I made a fire in the grate and put on
the kettle to boil. Then I set on the table biscuits, and sardines,
and a pot of jam. It was my business now to play the fool, and
I believe I succeeded to admiration in the part. I blush to-day
to think of the stuff I talked. First I made him sit on a chair
opposite me, a thing no white man in the country would have
done. Then I told him affectionately that I liked natives, that
they were fine fellows and better men than the dirty whites
round about. I explained that I was fresh from England, and
believed in equal rights for all men, white or coloured. God
forgive me, but I think I said I hoped to see the day when
Africa would belong once more to its rightful masters.
He heard me with an impassive face, his grave eyes studying
every line of me. I am bound to add that he made a hearty
meal, and drank three cups of strong tea of my brewing. I gave
him a cigar, one of a lot I had got from a Dutch farmer who
was experimenting with their manufacture - and all the while
I babbled of myself and my opinions. He must have thought
me half-witted, and indeed before long I began to be of the
same opinion myself. I told him that I meant to sleep the night
here, and go back in the morning to Blaauwildebeestefontein,
and then to Pietersdorp for stores. By-and-by I could see that
he had ceased to pay any attention to what I said. I was clearly
set down in his mind as a fool. Instead he kept looking at
Colin, who was lying blinking in the doorway, one wary eye
cocked on the stranger.
'You have a fine dog,' he observed.
'Yes,' I agreed, with one final effort of mendacity, 'he's fine
to look at, but he has no grit in him. Any mongrel from a kraal
can make him turn tail. Besides, he is a born fool and can't
find his way home. I'm thinking of getting rid of him.'
Laputa rose and his eye fell on the dog's back. I could see
that he saw the lie of his coat, and that he did not agree
'The food was welcome, Baas,' he said. 'If you will listen to
me I can repay hospitality with advice. You are a stranger
here. Trouble comes, and if you are wise you will go back to
'I don't know what you mean,' I said, with an air of cheerful
idiocy. 'But back to the Berg I go the first thing in the
morning. I hate these stinking plains.'
'It were wise to go to-night,' he said, with a touch of menace
in his tone.
'I can't,' I said, and began to sing the chorus of a ridiculous
'There's no place like home - but
I'm afraid to go home in the dark.'
Laputa shrugged his shoulders, stepped over the bristling
Colin, and went out. When I looked after him two minutes
later he had disappeared.
CHAPTER IX. THE STORE AT UMVELOS'
I sat down on a chair and laboured to collect my thoughts.
Laputa had gone, and would return sooner or later with
Henriques. If I was to remain alive till morning, both of them
must be convinced that I was harmless. Laputa was probably
of that opinion, but Henriques would recognize me, and I had
no wish to have that yellow miscreant investigating my character.
There was only one way out of it - I must be incapably
drunk. There was not a drop of liquor in the store, but I found
an old whisky bottle half full of methylated spirits. With this I
thought I might raise an atmosphere of bad whisky, and for
the rest I must trust to my meagre gifts as an actor.
Supposing I escaped suspicion, Laputa and Henriques
would meet in the outhouse, and I must find some means of
overhearing them. Here I was fairly baffled. There was no
window in the outhouse save in the roof, and they were sure to
shut and bolt the door. I might conceal myself among the
barrels inside; but apart from the fact that they were likely to
search them before beginning their conference, it was quite
certain that they would satisfy themselves that I was safe in
the other end of the building before going to the outhouse.
Suddenly I thought of the cellar which we had built below
the store. There was an entrance by a trap-door behind the
counter, and another in the outhouse. I had forgotten the
details, but my hope was that the second was among the
barrels. I shut the outer door, prised up the trap, and dropped
into the vault, which had been floored roughly with green
bricks. Lighting match after match, I crawled to the other end
and tried to lift the door. It would not stir, so I guessed that
the barrels were on the top of it. Back to the outhouse I went,
and found that sure enough a heavy packing-case was standing
on a corner. I fixed it slightly open, so as to let me hear, and
so arranged the odds and ends round about it that no one
looking from the floor of the outhouse would guess at its
existence. It occurred to me that the conspirators would want
seats, so I placed two cases at the edge of the heap, that they
might not be tempted to forage in the interior.
This done, I went back to the store and proceeded to rig
myself out for my part. The cellar had made me pretty dirty,
and I added some new daubs to my face. My hair had grown
longish, and I ran my hands through it till it stood up like a
cockatoo's crest. Then I cunningly disposed the methylated
spirits in the places most likely to smell. I burned a little on
the floor, I spilt some on the counter and on my hands, and I
let it dribble over my coat. In five minutes I had made the
room stink like a shebeen. I loosened the collar of my shirt,
and when I looked at myself in the cover of my watch I saw a
specimen of debauchery which would have done credit to a
Saturday night's police cell.
By this time the sun had gone down, but I thought it better
to kindle no light. It was the night of the full moon - for which
reason, I supposed, Laputa had selected it - and in an hour or
two the world would be lit with that ghostly radiance. I sat on
the counter while the minutes passed, and I confess I found
the time of waiting very trying for my courage. I had got over
my worst nervousness by having something to do, but whenever
I was idle my fears returned. Laputa had a big night's
work before him, and must begin soon. My vigil, I told myself,
could not be long.
My pony was stalled in a rough shed we had built opposite
the store. I could hear him shaking his head and stamping the
ground above the croaking of the frogs by the Labongo.
Presently it seemed to me that another sound came from
behind the store - the sound of horses' feet and the rattle of
bridles. It was hushed for a moment, and then I heard human
voices. The riders had tied up their horses to a tree and were
I sprawled gracefully on the counter, the empty bottle in my
hand, and my eyes fixed anxiously on the square of the door,
which was filled with the blue glimmer of the late twilight.
The square darkened, and two men peered in. Colin growled
from below the counter, but with one hand I held the scruff of
'Hullo,' I said, 'ish that my black friend? Awfly shorry, old
man, but I've f'nish'd th' whisky. The bo-o-ottle shempty,'
and I waved it upside down with an imbecile giggle.
Laputa said something which I did not catch. Henriques
laughed an ugly laugh.
'We had better make certain of him,' he said.
The two argued for a minute, and then Laputa seemed to
prevail. The door was shut and the key, which I had left in the
lock, turned on me.
I gave them five minutes to get to the outhouse and settle to
business. Then I opened the trap, got into the cellar, and
crawled to the other end. A ray of light was coming through
the partially raised door. By a blessed chance some old bricks
had been left behind, and of these I made a footstool, which
enabled me to get my back level with the door and look out.
My laager of barrels was intact, but through a gap I had left
I could see the two men sitting on the two cases I had provided
for them. A lantern was set between them, and Henriques was
drinking out of a metal flask.
He took something - I could not see what - out of his
pocket, and held it before his companion.
'Spoils of war,' he said. 'I let Sikitola's men draw first blood.
They needed it to screw up their courage. Now they are as
wild as Umbooni's.
Laputa asked a question.
'It was the Dutchmen, who were out on the Koodoo Flats
with their cattle. Man, it's no good being squeamish. Do you
think you can talk over these surly back-veld fools? If we had
not done it, the best of their horses would now be over the
Berg to give warning. Besides, I tell you, Sikitola's men wanted
blooding. I did for the old swine, Coetzee, with my own
hands. Once he set his dogs on me, and I don't forget an injury.'
Laputa must have disapproved, for Henriques' voice grew high.
'Run the show the way you please,' he cried; 'but don't
blame me if you make a hash of it. God, man, do you think
you are going to work a revolution on skim milk? If I had my
will, I would go in and stick a knife in the drunken hog
'He is safe enough,' Laputa replied. 'I gave him the chance
of life, and he laughed at me. He won't get far on his road home.'
This was pleasant hearing for me, but I scarcely thought of
myself. I was consumed with a passion of fury against the
murdering yellow devil. With Laputa I was not angry; he was
an open enemy, playing a fair game. But my fingers itched to
get at the Portugoose - that double-dyed traitor to his race. As
I thought of my kindly old friends, lying butchered with their
kinsfolk out in the bush, hot tears of rage came to my eyes.
Perfect love casteth out fear, the Bible says; but, to speak it
reverently, so does perfect hate. Not for safety and a king's
ransom would I have drawn back from the game. I prayed for
one thing only, that God in His mercy would give me the
chance of settling with Henriques.
I fancy I missed some of the conversation, being occupied
with my own passion. At any rate, when I next listened the
two were deep in plans. Maps were spread beside them, and
Laputa's delicate forefinger was tracing a route. I strained my
ears, but could catch only a few names. Apparently they were
to keep in the plains till they had crossed the Klein Labongo
and the Letaba. I thought I caught the name of the ford of the
latter; it sounded like Dupree's Drift. After that the talk
became plainer, for Laputa was explaining in his clear voice.
The force would leave the bush, ascend the Berg by the glen
of the Groot Letaba, and the first halt would be called at a
place called Inanda's Kraal, where a promontory of the high-
veld juts out behind the peaks called the Wolkberg or Cloud
Mountains. All this was very much to the point, and the names
sunk into my memory like a die into wax.
'Meanwhile,' said Laputa, 'there is the gathering at
Ntabakaikonjwa.* It will take us three hours' hard riding to
**Literally, 'The Hill which is not to be pointed at'.
Where on earth was Ntabakaikonjwa? It must be the native
name for the Rooirand, for after all Laputa was not likely to
use the Dutch word for his own sacred place.
'Nothing has been forgotten. The men are massed below the
cliffs, and the chiefs and the great indunas will enter the Place
of the Snake. The door will be guarded, and only the password
will get a man through. That word is "Immanuel," which
means, "God with us."'
'Well, when we get there, what happens?' Henriques asked
with a laugh. 'What kind of magic will you spring on us?'
There was a strong contrast between the flippant tone of the
Portugoose and the grave voice which answered him.
'The Keeper of the Snake will open the holy place, and
bring forth the Isetembiso sami.* As the leader of my people,
I will assume the collar of Umkulunkulu in the name of our
God and the spirits of the great dead.'
*Literally, 'Very sacred thing'.
'But you don't propose to lead the march in a necklace of
rubies,' said Henriques, with a sudden eagerness in his voice.
Again Laputa spoke gravely, and, as it were, abstractedly. I
heard the voice of one whose mind was fixed on a far horizon.
'When I am acclaimed king, I restore the Snake to its
Keeper, and swear never to clasp it on my neck till I have led
my people to victory.'
'I see,' said Henriques. 'What about the purification you
I had missed this before and listened earnestly.
'The vows we take in the holy place bind us till we are
purged of them at Inanda's Kraal. Till then no blood must be
shed and no flesh eaten. It was the fashion of our forefathers.'
'Well, I think you've taken on a pretty risky job,' Henriques
said. 'You propose to travel a hundred miles, binding yourself
not to strike a blow. It is simply putting yourself at the mercy
of any police patrol.'
'There will be no patrol,' Laputa replied. 'Our march will
be as secret and as swift as death. I have made my
'But suppose you met with opposition,' the Portugoose
persisted, 'would the rule hold?'
'If any try to stop us, we shall tie them hand and foot, and
carry them with us. Their fate will be worse than if they had
been slain in battle.'
'I see,' said Henriques, whistling through his teeth. 'Well,
before we start this vow business, I think I'll go back and settle
Laputa shook his head. 'Will you be serious and hear me?
We have no time to knife harmless fools. Before we start for
Ntabakaikonjwa I must have from you the figures of the
arming in the south. That is the one thing which remains to
I am certain these figures would have been most interesting,
but I never heard them. My feet were getting cramped with
standing on the bricks, and I inadvertently moved them. The
bricks came down with a rattle, and unfortunately in slipping
I clutched at the trap. This was too much for my frail prop,
and the door slammed down with a great noise.
Here was a nice business for the eavesdropper! I scurried
along the passage as stealthily as I could and clambered back
into the store, while I heard the sound of Laputa and Henriques
ferreting among the barrels. I managed to throttle Colin
and prevent him barking, but I could not get the confounded
trap to close behind me. Something had jammed in it, and it
remained half a foot open.
I heard the two approaching the door, and I did the best
thing that occurred to me. I pulled Colin over the trap, rolled
on the top of him, and began to snore heavily as if in a
The key was turned, and the gleam of a lantern was thrown
on the wall. It flew up and down as its bearer cast the light
into the corners.
'By God, he's gone,' I heard Henriques say. 'The swine was
listening, and he has bolted now.'
'He won't bolt far,' Laputa said. 'He is here. He is snoring
behind the counter.'
These were anxious moments for me. I had a firm grip on
Colin's throat, but now and then a growl escaped, which was
fortunately blended with my snores. I felt that a lantern was
flashed on me, and that the two men were peering down at the
heap on the half-opened trap. I think that was the worst
minute I ever spent, for, as I have said, my courage was not so
bad in action, but in a passive game it oozed out of my fingers.
'He is safe enough,' Laputa said, after what seemed to me
an eternity. 'The noise was only the rats among the barrels.'
I thanked my Maker that they had not noticed the other
'All the same I think I'll make him safer,' said Henriques.
Laputa seemed to have caught him by the arm.
'Come back and get to business,' he said. 'I've told you I'll
have no more murder. You will do as I tell you, Mr Henriques.'
I did not catch the answer, but the two went out and locked
the door. I patted the outraged Colin, and got to my feet with
an aching side where the confounded lid of the trap had been
pressing. There was no time to lose for the two in the outhouse
would soon be setting out, and I must be before them.
With no better light than a ray of the moon through the
window, I wrote a message on a leaf from my pocket-book. I
told of the plans I had overheard, and especially I mentioned
Dupree's Drift on the Letaba. I added that I was going to the
Rooirand to find the secret of the cave, and in one final
sentence implored Arcoll to do justice on the Portugoose. That
was all, for I had no time for more. I carefully tied the paper
with a string below the collar of the dog.
Then very quietly I went into the bedroom next door - the
side of the store farthest from the outhouse. The place was
flooded with moonlight, and the window stood open, as I had
left it in the afternoon. As softly as I could I swung Colin over
the sill and clambered after him. In my haste I left my coat
behind me with my pistol in the pocket.
Now came a check. My horse was stabled in the shed, and
that was close to the outhouse. The sound of leading him out
would most certainly bring Laputa and Henriques to the door.
In that moment I all but changed my plans. I thought of
slipping back to the outhouse and trying to shoot the two men
as they came forth. But I reflected that, before I could get
them both, one or other would probably shoot me. Besides, I
had a queer sort of compunction about killing Laputa. I
understood now why Arcoll had stayed his hand from murder,
and I was beginning to be of his opinion on our arch-enemy.
Then I remembered the horses tied up in the bush. One of
them I could get with perfect safety. I ran round the end of
the store and into the thicket, keeping on soft grass to dull my
tread. There, tied up to a merula tree, were two of the finest
beasts I had seen in Africa. I selected the better, an Africander
stallion of the blaauw-schimmel, or blue-roan type, which is
famous for speed and endurance. Slipping his bridle from the
branch, I led him a little way into the bush in the direction of
Then I spoke to Colin. 'Home with you,' I said. 'Home, old
man, as if you were running down a tsessebe.'*
*A species of buck, famous for its speed.
The dog seemed puzzled. 'Home,' I said again, pointing
west in the direction of the Berg. 'Home, you brute.'
And then he understood. He gave one low whine, and cast a
reproachful eye on me and the blue roan. Then he turned, and
with his head down set off with great lopes on the track of the
road I had ridden in the morning.
A second later and I was in the saddle, riding hell-for-leather
for the north.
CHAPTER X. I GO TREASURE-HUNTING
For a mile or so I kept the bush, which was open and easy to
ride through, and then turned into the path. The moon was
high, and the world was all a dim dark green, with the track a
golden ivory band before me. I had looked at my watch before
I started, and seen that it was just after eight o'clock. I had a
great horse under me, and less than thirty miles to cover.
Midnight should see me at the cave. With the password I
would gain admittance, and there would wait for Laputa and
Henriques. Then, if my luck held, I should see the inner
workings of the mystery which had puzzled me ever since the
Kirkcaple shore. No doubt I should be roughly treated, tied
up prisoner, and carried with the army when the march began.
But till Inanda's Kraal my life was safe, and before that came
the ford of the Letaba. Colin would carry my message to
Arcoll, and at the Drift the tables would be turned on
Looking back in cold blood, it seems the craziest chain of
accidents to count on for preservation. A dozen possibilities
might have shattered any link of it. The password might be
wrong, or I might never get the length of those who knew it.
The men in the cave might butcher me out of hand, or Laputa
might think my behaviour a sufficient warrant for the breach
of the solemnest vow. Colin might never get to
Blaauwildebeestefontein, Laputa might change his route of march,
or Arcoll's men might fail to hold the Drift. Indeed, the other
day at Portincross I was so overcome by the recollection of the
perils I had dared and God's goodness towards me that I built
a new hall for the parish kirk as a token of gratitude.
Fortunately for mankind the brain in a life of action turns
more to the matter in hand than to conjuring up the chances
of the future. Certainly it was in no discomfort of mind that I
swung along the moonlit path to the north. Truth to tell, I was
almost happy. The first honours in the game had fallen to me.
I knew more about Laputa than any man living save Henriques;
I had my finger on the central pulse of the rebellion.
There was hid treasure ahead of me - a great necklace of
rubies, Henriques had said. Nay, there must be more, I
argued. This cave of the Rooirand was the headquarters of the
rising, and there must be stored their funds - diamonds, and
the gold they had been bartered for. I believe that every man
has deep in his soul a passion for treasure-hunting, which will
often drive a coward into prodigies of valour. I lusted for that
treasure of jewels and gold. Once I had been high-minded,
and thought of my duty to my country, but in that night ride
I fear that what I thought of was my duty to enrich David
Crawfurd. One other purpose simmered in my head. I was
devoured with wrath against Henriques. Indeed, I think that
was the strongest motive for my escapade, for even before I
heard Laputa tell of the vows and the purification, I had it in
my mind to go at all costs to the cave. I am a peaceable man at
most times, but I think I would rather have had the Portugoose's
throat in my hands than the collar of Prester John.
But behind my thoughts was one master-feeling, that Providence
had given me my chance and I must make the most of it.
Perhaps the Calvinism of my father's preaching had unconsciously
taken grip of my soul. At any rate I was a fatalist in
creed, believing that what was willed would happen, and that
man was but a puppet in the hands of his Maker. I looked on
the last months as a clear course which had been mapped out
for me. Not for nothing had I been given a clue to the strange
events which were coming. It was foreordained that I should
go alone to Umvelos', and in the promptings of my own fallible
heart I believed I saw the workings of Omnipotence. Such is
our moral arrogance, and yet without such a belief I think that
mankind would have ever been content to bide sluggishly at home.
I passed the spot where on my former journey I had met the
horses, and knew that I had covered more than half the road.
My ear had been alert for the sound of pursuit, but the bush
was quiet as the grave. The man who rode my pony would
find him a slow traveller, and I pitied the poor beast bucketed
along by an angry rider. Gradually a hazy wall of purple began
to shimmer before me, apparently very far off. I knew the
ramparts of the Rooirand, and let my Schimmel feel my knees
in his ribs. Within an hour I should be at the cliff's foot.
I had trusted for safety to the password, but as it turned out
I owed my life mainly to my horse. For, a mile or so from the
cliffs, I came to the fringes of a great army. The bush was
teeming with men, and I saw horses picketed in bunches, and
a multitude of Cape-carts and light wagons. It was like a
colossal gathering for naachtmaal*1 at a Dutch dorp, but every
man was black. I saw through a corner of my eye that they
were armed with guns, though many carried in addition their
spears and shields. Their first impulse was to stop me. I saw
guns fly to shoulders, and a rush towards the path. The boldest
game was the safest, so I dug my heels into the schimmel and
shouted for a passage. 'Make way!' I cried in Kaffir. 'I bear a
message from the Inkulu.*2 Clear out, you dogs!'
*1 The Communion Sabbath.
*2 A title applied only to the greatest chiefs.
They recognized the horse, and fell back with a salute. Had
I but known it, the beast was famed from the Zambesi to the
Cape. It was their king's own charger I rode, and who dared
question such a warrant? I heard the word pass through the
bush, and all down the road I got the salute. In that moment I
fervently thanked my stars that I had got away first, for there
would have been no coming second for me.
At the cliff-foot I found a double line of warriors who had
the appearance of a royal guard, for all were tall men with
leopard-skin cloaks. Their rifle-barrels glinted in the moon-
light, and the sight sent a cold shiver down my back. Above
them, among the scrub and along the lower slopes of the
kranzes, I could see further lines with the same gleaming
weapons. The Place of the Snake was in strong hands that night.
I dismounted and called for a man to take my horse. Two of
the guards stepped forward in silence and took the bridle. This
left the track to the cave open, and with as stiff a back as I
could command, but a sadly fluttering heart, I marched
through the ranks.
The path was lined with guards, all silent and rigid as graven
images. As I stumbled over the stones I felt that my appearance
scarcely fitted the dignity of a royal messenger. Among those
splendid men-at-arms I shambled along in old breeches and
leggings, hatless, with a dirty face, dishevelled hair, and a torn
flannel shirt. My mind was no better than my body, for now
that I had arrived I found my courage gone. Had it been
possible I would have turned tail and fled, but the boats were
burned behind me, and I had no choice. I cursed my rash
folly, and wondered at my exhilaration of an hour ago. I was
going into the black mysterious darkness, peopled by ten
thousand cruel foes. My knees rubbed against each other, and
I thought that no man had ever been in more deadly danger.
At the entrance to the gorge the guards ceased and I went
on alone. Here there was no moonlight, and I had to feel my
way by the sides. I moved very slowly, wondering how soon I
should find the end my folly demanded. The heat of the ride
had gone, and I remember feeling my shirt hang clammily on
Suddenly a hand was laid on my breast, and a voice
demanded, 'The word?'
'Immanuel,' I said hoarsely.
Then unseen hands took both my arms, and I was led
farther into the darkness. My hopes revived for a second. The
password had proved true, and at any rate I should enter the cave.
In the darkness I could see nothing, but I judged that we
stopped before the stone slab which, as I remembered, filled
the extreme end of the gorge. My guide did something with
the right-hand wall, and I felt myself being drawn into a kind
of passage. It was so narrow that two could not go abreast, and
so low that the creepers above scraped my hair. Something
clicked behind me like the turnstile at the gate of a show.
Then we began to ascend steps, still in utter darkness, and a
great booming fell on my ear. It was the falling river which
had scared me on my former visit, and I marvelled that I had
not heard it sooner. Presently we came out into a gleam of
moonlight, and I saw that we were inside the gorge and far
above the slab. We followed a narrow shelf on its left side (or
'true right', as mountaineers would call it) until we could go
no farther. Then we did a terrible thing. Across the gorge,
which here was at its narrowest, stretched a slab of stone. Far,
far below I caught the moonlight on a mass of hurrying waters.
This was our bridge, and though I have a good head for crags,
I confess I grew dizzy as we turned to cross it. Perhaps it was
broader than it looked; at any rate my guides seemed to have
no fear, and strode across it as if it was a highway, while I
followed in a sweat of fright. Once on the other side, I was
handed over to a second pair of guides, who led me down a
high passage running into the heart of the mountain.
The boom of the river sank and rose as the passage twined.
Soon I saw a gleam of light ahead which was not the moon. It
grew larger, until suddenly the roof rose and I found myself in
a gigantic chamber. So high it was that I could not make out
anything of the roof, though the place was brightly lit with
torches stuck round the wall, and a great fire which burned at
the farther end. But the wonder was on the left side, where the
floor ceased in a chasm. The left wall was one sheet of water,
where the river fell from the heights into the infinite depth,
below. The torches and the fire made the sheer stream glow
and sparkle like the battlements of the Heavenly City. I have
never seen any sight so beautiful or so strange, and for a
second my breath stopped in admiration.
There were two hundred men or more in the chamber, but
so huge was the place that they seemed only a little company.
They sat on the ground in a circle, with their eyes fixed on the
fire and on a figure which stood before it. The glow revealed
the old man I had seen on that morning a month before moving
towards the cave. He stood as if in a trance, straight as a tree,
with his arms crossed on his breast. A robe of some shining
white stuff fell from his shoulders, and was clasped round his
middle by a broad circle of gold. His head was shaven, and on
his forehead was bound a disc of carved gold. I saw from his
gaze that his old eyes were blind.
'Who comes?'he asked as I entered.
'A messenger from the Inkulu,' I spoke up boldly. 'He
follows soon with the white man, Henriques.'
Then I sat down in the back row of the circle to await
events. I noticed that my neighbour was the fellow 'Mwanga
whom I had kicked out of the store. Happily I was so dusty
that he could scarcely recognize me, but I kept my face turned
away from him. What with the light and the warmth, the drone
of the water, the silence of the folk, and my mental and
physical stress, I grew drowsy and all but slept.
CHAPTER XI. THE CAVE OF THE ROOIRAND
I was roused by a sudden movement. The whole assembly
stood up, and each man clapped his right hand to his brow and
then raised it high. A low murmur of 'Inkulu' rose above the
din of the water. Laputa strode down the hall, with Henriques
limping behind him. They certainly did not suspect my
presence in the cave, nor did Laputa show any ruffling of his
calm. Only Henriques looked weary and cross. I guessed he
had had to ride my pony.
The old man whom I took to be the priest advanced towards
Laputa with his hands raised over his head. A pace before they
met he halted, and Laputa went on his knees before him. He
placed his hands on his head, and spoke some words which I
could not understand. It reminded me, so queer are the tricks of
memory, of an old Sabbath-school book I used to have which
had a picture of Samuel ordaining Saul as king of Israel. I think
I had forgotten my own peril and was enthralled by the majesty
of the place - the wavering torches, the dropping wall of green
water, above all, the figures of Laputa and the Keeper of the
Snake, who seemed to have stepped out of an antique world.
Laputa stripped off his leopard skin till he stood stark, a
noble form of a man. Then the priest sprinkled some herbs on
the fire, and a thin smoke rose to the roof. The smell was that
I had smelled on the Kirkcaple shore, sweet, sharp, and
strange enough to chill the marrow. And round the fire went
the priest in widening and contracting circles, just as on that
Sabbath evening in spring.
Once more we were sitting on the ground, all except Laputa
and the Keeper. Henriques was squatting in the front row, a
tiny creature among so many burly savages. Laputa stood with
bent head in the centre.
Then a song began, a wild incantation in which all joined.
The old priest would speak some words, and the reply came in
barbaric music. The words meant nothing to me; they must
have been in some tongue long since dead. But the music told
its own tale. It spoke of old kings and great battles, of splendid
palaces and strong battlements, of queens white as ivory, of
death and life, love and hate, joy and sorrow. It spoke, too, of
desperate things, mysteries of horror long shut to the world.
No Kaffir ever forged that ritual. It must have come straight
from Prester John or Sheba's queen, or whoever ruled in
Africa when time was young.
I was horribly impressed. Devouring curiosity and a lurking
nameless fear filled my mind. My old dread had gone. I was
not afraid now of Kaffir guns, but of the black magic of which
Laputa had the key.
The incantation died away, but still herbs were flung on the
fire, till the smoke rose in a great cloud, through which the
priest loomed misty and huge. Out of the smoke-wreaths his
voice came high and strange. It was as if some treble stop had
been opened in a great organ, as against the bass drone of
He was asking Laputa questions, to which came answers in
that rich voice which on board the liner had preached the
gospel of Christ. The tongue I did not know, and I doubt if
my neighbours were in better case. It must have been some
old sacred language - Phoenician, Sabaean, I know not what -
which had survived in the rite of the Snake.
Then came silence while the fire died down and the smoke
eddied away in wreaths towards the river. The priest's lips
moved as if in prayer: of Laputa I saw only the back, and his
head was bowed.
Suddenly a rapt cry broke from the Keeper. 'God has
spoken,' he cried. 'The path is clear. The Snake returns to the
House of its Birth.'
An attendant led forward a black goat, which bleated feebly.
With a huge antique knife the old man slit its throat, catching
the blood in a stone ewer. Some was flung on the fire, which
had burned small and low.
'Even so,' cried the priest, 'will the king quench in blood the
hearth-fires of his foes.'
Then on Laputa's forehead and bare breast he drew a bloody cross.
'I seal thee,' said the voice, 'priest and king of God's people.'
The ewer was carried round the assembly, and each dipped
his finger in it and marked his forehead. I got a dab to add to
the other marks on my face.
'Priest and king of God's people,' said the voice again, 'I call
thee to the inheritance of John. Priest and king was he, king of
kings, lord of hosts, master of the earth. When he ascended on
high he left to his son the sacred Snake, the ark of his valour,
to be God's dower and pledge to the people whom He has chosen.'
I could not make out what followed. It seemed to be a long
roll of the kings who had borne the Snake. None of them I
knew, but at the end I thought I caught the name of Tchaka
the Terrible, and I remembered Arcoll's tale.
The Keeper held in his arms a box of curiously wrought ivory,
about two feet long and one broad. He was standing beyond
the ashes, from which, in spite of the blood, thin streams of
smoke still ascended. He opened it, and drew out something
which swung from his hand like a cascade of red fire.
'Behold the Snake,' cried the Keeper, and every man in the
assembly, excepting Laputa and including me, bowed his head
to the ground and cried 'Ow.'
'Ye who have seen the Snake,' came the voice, on you is the
vow of silence and peace. No blood shall ye shed of man or
beast, no flesh shall ye eat till the vow is taken from you. From
the hour of midnight till sunrise on the second day ye are
bound to God. Whoever shall break the vow, on him shall the
curse fall. His blood shall dry in his veins, and his flesh shrink
on his bones. He shall be an outlaw and accursed, and there
shall follow him through life and death the Avengers of the
Snake. Choose ye, my people; upon you is the vow.'
By this time we were all flat on our faces, and a great cry of
assent went up. I lifted my head as much as I dared to see
what would happen next.
The priest raised the necklace till it shone above his head
like a halo of blood. I have never seen such a jewel, and I think
there has never been another such on earth. Later I was to
have the handling of it, and could examine it closely, though
now I had only a glimpse. There were fifty-five rubies in it,
the largest as big as a pigeon's egg, and the least not smaller
than my thumbnail. In shape they were oval, cut on both sides
en cabochon, and on each certain characters were engraved.
No doubt this detracted from their value as gems, yet the
characters might have been removed and the stones cut in
facets, and these rubies would still have been the noblest in
the world. I was no jewel merchant to guess their value, but I
knew enough to see that here was wealth beyond human
computation. At each end of the string was a great pearl and a
golden clasp. The sight absorbed me to the exclusion of all
fear. I, David Crawfurd, nineteen years of age, an assistant-
storekeeper in a back-veld dorp, was privileged to see a sight
to which no Portuguese adventurer had ever attained. There,
floating on the smoke-wreaths, was the jewel which may once
have burned in Sheba's hair.
As the priest held the collar aloft, the assembly rocked with
a strange passion. Foreheads were rubbed in the dust, and
then adoring eyes would be raised, while a kind of sobbing
shook the worshippers. In that moment I learned something
of the secret of Africa, of Prester John's empire and Tchaka's
, In the name of God,' came the voice, 'I deliver to the heir
of John the Snake of John.'
Laputa took the necklet and twined it in two loops round his
neck till the clasp hung down over his breast. The position
changed. The priest knelt before him, and received his hands
on his head. Then I knew that, to the confusion of all talk
about equality, God has ordained some men to be kings and
others to serve. Laputa stood naked as when he was born, The
rubies were dulled against the background of his skin, but they
still shone with a dusky fire. Above the blood-red collar his
face had the passive pride of a Roman emperor. Only his great
eyes gloomed and burned as he looked on his followers.
'Heir of John,' he said, 'I stand before you as priest and
king. My kingship is for the morrow. Now I am the priest to
make intercession for my people.'
He prayed - prayed as I never heard man pray before -
and to the God of Israel! It was no heathen fetich he was
invoking, but the God of whom he had often preached in
Christian kirks. I recognized texts from Isaiah and the Psalms
and the Gospels, and very especially from the two last chapters
of Revelation. He pled with God to forget the sins of his people,
to recall the bondage of Zion. It was amazing to hear these
bloodthirsty savages consecrated by their leader to the meek
service of Christ. An enthusiast may deceive himself, and I did
not question his sincerity. I knew his heart, black with all the
lusts of paganism. I knew that his purpose was to deluge the
land with blood. But I knew also that in his eyes his mission
was divine, and that he felt behind him all the armies of Heaven.
__'Thou hast been a strength to the poor,' said the voice, 'a
refuge from the storm, a shadow from the heat, when the blast
of the Terrible Ones is as a storm against a wall.
__'Thou shalt bring down the noise of strangers, as the heat in
a dry place; the branch of the Terrible Ones shall be
__'And in this mountain shall the Lord of Hosts make unto all
people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat
things full of marrow.
__'And He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering
cast over all people, and the vail that is brought over all
__'And the rebuke of His people shall He take away from off all
the earth; for the Lord hath spoken it.'_
I listened spellbound as he prayed. I heard the phrases
familiar to me in my schooldays at Kirkcaple. He had some of
the tones of my father's voice, and when I shut my eyes I
could have believed myself a child again. So much he had got
from his apprenticeship to the ministry. I wondered vaguely
what the good folks who had listened to him in churches and
halls at home would think of him now. But there was in the
prayer more than the supplications of the quondam preacher.
There was a tone of arrogant pride, the pride of the man to
whom the Almighty is only another and greater Lord of Hosts.
He prayed less as a suppliant than as an ally. A strange emotion
tingled in my blood, half awe, half sympathy. As I have said,
I understood that there are men born to kingship.
He ceased with a benediction. Then he put on his leopard-
skin cloak and kilt, and received from the kneeling chief a
spear and shield. Now he was more king than priest, more
barbarian than Christian. It was as a king that he now spoke.
I had heard him on board the liner, and had thought his
voice the most wonderful I had ever met with. But now in that
great resonant hall the magic of it was doubled. He played
upon the souls of his hearers as on a musical instrument. At
will he struck the chords of pride, fury, hate, and mad joy.
Now they would be hushed in breathless quiet, and now the
place would echo with savage assent. I remember noticing that
the face of my neighbour, 'Mwanga, was running with tears.
He spoke of the great days of Prester John, and a hundred
names I had never heard of. He pictured the heroic age of his
nation, when every man was a warrior and hunter, and rich
kraals stood in the spots now desecrated by the white man, and
cattle wandered on a thousand hills. Then he told tales of
white infamy, lands snatched from their rightful possessors,
unjust laws which forced the Ethiopian to the bondage of a
despised caste, the finger of scorn everywhere, and the mocking
word. If it be the part of an orator to rouse the passion of
his hearers, Laputa was the greatest on earth. 'What have ye
gained from the white man?' he cried. 'A bastard civilization
which has sapped your manhood; a false religion which would
rivet on you the chains of the slave. Ye, the old masters of the
land, are now the servants of the oppressor. And yet the
oppressors are few, and the fear of you is in their hearts. They
feast in their great cities, but they see the writing on the wall,
and their eyes are anxiously turning lest the enemy be at their
gates.' I cannot hope in my prosaic words to reproduce that
amazing discourse. Phrases which the hearers had heard at
mission schools now suddenly appeared, not as the white man's
learning, but as God's message to His own. Laputa fitted the
key to the cipher, and the meaning was clear. He concluded, I
remember, with a picture of the overthrow of the alien, and
the golden age which would dawn for the oppressed. Another
Ethiopian empire would arise, so majestic that the white man
everywhere would dread its name, so righteous that all men
under it would live in ease and peace.
By rights, I suppose, my blood should have been boiling at
this treason. I am ashamed to confess that it did nothing of the
sort. My mind was mesmerized by this amazing man. I could
not refrain from shouting with the rest. Indeed I was a convert,
if there can be conversion when the emotions are dominant
and there is no assent from the brain. I had a mad desire to be
of Laputa's party. Or rather, I longed for a leader who should
master me and make my soul his own, as this man mastered
his followers. I have already said that I might have made a
good subaltern soldier, and the proof is that I longed for such
As the voice ceased there was a deep silence. The hearers
were in a sort of trance, their eyes fixed glassily on Laputa's
face. It was the quiet of tense nerves and imagination at white-
heat. I had to struggle with a spell which gripped me equally
with the wildest savage. I forced myself to look round at the
strained faces, the wall of the cascade, the line of torches. It
was the sight of Henriques that broke the charm. Here was
one who had no part in the emotion. I caught his eye fixed on
the rubies, and in it I read only a devouring greed. It flashed
through my mind that Laputa had a foe in his own camp, and the
Prester's collar a votary whose passion was not that of worship.
The next thing I remember was a movement among the first
ranks. The chiefs were swearing fealty. Laputa took off the
collar and called God to witness that it should never again
encircle his neck till he had led his people to victory. Then one
by one the great chiefs and indunas advanced, and swore
allegiance with their foreheads on the ivory box. Such a
collection of races has never been seen. There were tall Zulus
and Swazis with ringkops and feather head-dresses. There
were men from the north with heavy brass collars and anklets;
men with quills in their ears, and earrings and nose-rings;
shaven heads, and heads with wonderfully twisted hair; bodies
naked or all but naked, and bodies adorned with skins and
necklets. Some were light in colour, and some were black as
coal; some had squat negro features, and some thin, high-
boned Arab faces. But in all there was the air of mad
enthusiasm. For a day they were forsworn from blood, but
their wild eyes and twitching hands told their future purpose.
For an hour or two I had been living in a dream-world.
Suddenly my absorption was shattered, for I saw that my time
to swear was coming. I sat in the extreme back row at the end
nearest the entrance, and therefore I should naturally be the
last to go forward. The crisis was near when I should be
discovered, for there was no question of my shirking the oath.
Then for the first time since I entered the cave I realized the
frightful danger in which I stood. My mind had been strung
so high by the ritual that I had forgotten all else. Now came
the rebound, and with shaky nerves I had to face discovery
and certain punishment. In that moment I suffered the worst
terror of my life. There was much to come later, but by that
time my senses were dulled. Now they had been sharpened by
what I had seen and heard, my nerves were already quivering
and my fancy on fire. I felt every limb shaking as 'Mwanga
went forward. The cave swam before my eyes, heads were
multiplied giddily, and I was only dimly conscious when he
rose to return.
Nothing would have made me advance, had I not feared
Laputa less than my neighbours. They might rend me to
pieces, but to him the oath was inviolable. I staggered crazily
to my feet, and shambled forwards. My eye was fixed on the
ivory box, and it seemed to dance before me and retreat.
Suddenly I heard a voice - the voice of Henriques - cry, 'By
God, a spy!' I felt my throat caught, but I was beyond resisting.
It was released, and I was pinned by the arms. I must have
stood vacantly, with a foolish smile, while unchained fury
raged round me. I seemed to hear Laputa's voice saying, 'It is
the storekeeper.' His face was all that I could see, and it was
unperturbed. There was a mocking ghost of a smile about his lips.
Myriad hands seemed to grip me and crush my breath, but
above the clamour I heard a fierce word of command.
After that I fainted.
CHAPTER XII. CAPTAIN ARCOLL SENDS A MESSAGE
I once read - I think in some Latin writer - the story of a
man who was crushed to a jelly by the mere repeated touch of
many thousand hands. His murderers were not harsh, but an
infinite repetition of the gentlest handling meant death. I do
not suppose that I was very brutally manhandled in the cave.
I was trussed up tight and carried out to the open, and left in
the care of the guards. But when my senses returned I felt as
if I had been cruelly beaten in every part. The raw-hide bonds
chafed my wrists and ankle and shoulders, but they were the
least part of my aches. To be handled by a multitude of Kaffirs
is like being shaken by some wild animal. Their skins are
insensible to pain, and I have seen a Zulu stand on a piece of
red-hot iron without noticing it till he was warned by the smell
of burning hide. Anyhow, after I had been bound by Kaffir
hands and tossed on Kaffir shoulders, I felt as if I had been in
a scrimmage of mad bulls.
I found myself lying looking up at the moon. It was the edge
of the bush, and all around was the stir of the army getting
ready for the road. You know how a native babbles and
chatters over any work he has to do. It says much for Laputa's
iron hand that now everything was done in silence. I heard the
nickering of horses and the jolt of carts as they turned from the
bush into the path. There was the sound of hurried whispering,
and now and then a sharp command. And all the while I
lay, staring at the moon and wondering if I was going to keep
If he who reads this doubts the discomfort of bonds let him
try them for himself. Let him be bound foot and hand and left
alone, and in half an hour he will be screaming for release.
The sense of impotence is stifling, and I felt as if I were buried
in some landslip instead of lying under the open sky, with the
night wind fanning my face. I was in the second stage of panic,
which is next door to collapse. I tried to cry, but could only
raise a squeak like a bat. A wheel started to run round in my
head, and, when I looked at the moon, I saw that it was
rotating in time. Things were very bad with me.
It was 'Mwanga who saved me from lunacy. He had been
appointed my keeper, and the first I knew of it was a violent
kick in the ribs. I rolled over on the grass down a short slope.
The brute squatted beside me, and prodded me with his gun-
'Ha, Baas,' he said in his queer English. 'Once you ordered
me out of your store and treated me like a dog. It is 'Mwanga's
turn now. You are 'Mwanga's dog, and he will skin you with a
My wandering wits were coming back to me. I looked into
his bloodshot eyes and saw what I had to expect. The cheerful
savage went on to discuss just the kind of beating I should get
from him. My bones were to be uncovered till the lash curled
round my heart. Then the jackals would have the rest of me.
This was ordinary Kaffir brag, and it made me angry. But I
thought it best to go cannily.
,if I am to be your slave,' I managed to say, 'it would be a
pity to beat me so hard. You would get no more work out of me.'
'Mwanga grinned wickedly. 'You are my slave for a day and
a night. After that we kill you - slowly. You will burn till your
legs fall off and your knees are on the ground, and then you
will be chopped small with knives.'
Thank God, my courage and common sense were coming
back to me.
'What happens to me to-morrow,' I said, 'is the Inkulu's
business, not yours. I am his prisoner. But if you lift your
hand on me to-day so as to draw one drop of blood the Inkulu
will make short work of you. The vow is upon you, and if you
break it you know what happens.' And I repeated, in a fair
imitation of the priest's voice, the terrible curse he had
pronounced in the cave.
You should have seen the change in that cur's face. I had
guessed he was a coward, as he was most certainly a bully, and
now I knew it. He shivered, and drew his hand over his eyes.
'Nay, Baas,' he pleaded, 'it was but a joke. No harm shall
come on you to-day. But tomorrow -' and his ugly face grew
'To-morrow we shall see what we shall see,' I said stoically,
and a loud drum-beat sounded through the camp.
It was the signal for moving, for in the east a thin pale line
of gold was beginning to show over the trees. The bonds at my
knees and ankles were cut, and I was bundled on to the back
of a horse. Then my feet were strapped firmly below its belly.
The bridle of my beast was tied to 'Mwanga's, so that there
was little chance of escape even if I had been unshackled.
My thoughts were very gloomy. So far all had happened as
I planned, but I seemed to have lost my nerve, and I could not
believe in my rescue at the Letaba, while I thought of Inanda's
Kraal with sheer horror. Last night I had looked into the heart
of darkness, and the sight had terrified me. What part should
I play in the great purification? Most likely that of the Biblical
scapegoat. But the dolour of my mind was surpassed by the
discomfort of my body. I was broken with pains and weariness,
and I had a desperate headache. Also, before we had gone a
mile, I began to think that I should split in two. The paces of
my beast were uneven, to say the best of it, and the bump-
bump was like being on the rack. I remembered that the saints
of the Covenant used to journey to prison this way, especially
the great Mr Peden, and I wondered how they liked it. When
I hear of a man doing a brave deed, I always want to discover
whether at the time he was well and comfortable in body.
That, I am certain, is the biggest ingredient in courage, and
those who plan and execute great deeds in bodily weakness
have my homage as truly heroic. For myself, I had not the
spirit of a chicken as I jogged along at 'Mwanga's side. I
wished he would begin to insult me, if only to distract my
mind, but he kept obstinately silent. He was sulky, and I think
rather afraid of me.
As the sun got up I could see something of the host around
me. I am no hand at guessing numbers, but I should put the
fighting men I saw at not less than twenty thousand. Every
man of them was on this side his prime, and all were armed
with good rifles and bandoliers. There were none of your old
roers* and decrepit Enfields, which I had seen signs of in Kaffir
kraals. These guns were new, serviceable Mausers, and the
men who bore them looked as if they knew how to handle
them. There must have been long months of training behind
this show, and I marvelled at the man who had organized it. I
saw no field-guns, and the little transport they had was
evidently for food only. We did not travel in ranks like an
orthodox column. About a third of the force was mounted,
and this formed the centre. On each wing the infantry straggled
far afield, but there was method in their disorder, for in the
bush close ranks would have been impossible. At any rate we
kept wonderfully well together, and when we mounted a knoll
the whole army seemed to move in one piece. I was well in the
rear of the centre column, but from the crest of a slope I
sometimes got a view in front. I could see nothing of Laputa,
who was probably with the van, but in the very heart of the
force I saw the old priest of the Snake, with his treasure
carried in the kind of litter which the Portuguese call a
machila, between rows of guards. A white man rode beside
him, whom I judged to be Henriques. Laputa trusted this
fellow, and I wondered why. I had not forgotten the look on
his face while he had stared at the rubies in the cave. I had a
notion that the Portugoose might be an unsuspected ally of
mine, though for blackguard reasons.
*Boer elephant guns.*
About ten o'clock, as far as I could judge by the sun, we
passed Umvelos', and took the right bank of the Labongo.
There was nothing in the store to loot, but it was overrun by
Kaffirs, who carried off the benches for firewood. It gave me
an odd feeling to see the remains of the meal at which I had
entertained Laputa in the hands of a dozen warriors. I thought
of the long sunny days when I had sat by my nachtmaal while
the Dutch farmers rode in to trade. Now these men were all
dead, and I was on my way to the same bourne.
Soon the blue line of the Berg rose in the west, and through
the corner of my eye, as I rode, I could see the gap of the
Klein Labongo. I wondered if Arcoll and his men were up
there watching us. About this time I began to be so wretched
in body that I ceased to think of the future. I had had no food
for seventeen hours, and I was dropping from lack of sleep.
The ache of my bones was so great that I found myself crying
like a baby. What between pain and weakness and nervous
exhaustion, I was almost at the end of my tether, and should
have fainted dead away if a halt had not been called. But about
midday, after we had crossed the track from Blaauwildebeestefontein
to the Portuguese frontier, we came to the broad,
shallow drift of the Klein Labongo. It is the way of the Kaffirs
to rest at noon, and on the other side of the drift we encamped.
I remember the smell of hot earth and clean water as my horse
scrambled up the bank. Then came the smell of wood-smoke
as fires were lit. It seemed an age after we stopped before my
feet were loosed and I was allowed to fall over on the ground.
I lay like a log where I fell, and was asleep in ten seconds.
I awoke two hours later much refreshed, and with a raging
hunger. My ankles and knees had been tied again, but the
sleep had taken the worst stiffness out of my joints. The
natives were squatting in groups round their fires, but no one
came near me. I satisfied myself by straining at my bonds that
this solitude gave no chance of escape. I wanted food, and I
shouted on 'Mwanga, but he never came. Then I rolled over
into the shadow of a wacht-en-beetje bush to get out of the glare.
I saw a Kaffir on the other side of the bush who seemed to
be grinning at me. Slowly he moved round to my side, and
stood regarding me with interest.
'For God's sake get me some food,' I said.
'ja, Baas,' was the answer; and he disappeared for a minute,
and returned with a wooden bowl of hot mealie-meal porridge,
and a calabash full of water.
I could not use my hands, so he fed me with the blade of his
knife. Such porridge without salt or cream is beastly food, but
my hunger was so great that I could have eaten a vat of it.
Suddenly it appeared that the Kaffir had something to say
to me. As he fed me he began to speak in a low voice in
'Baas,' he said, 'I come from Ratitswan, and I have a message
I guessed that Ratitswan was the native name for Arcoll.
There was no one else likely to send a message.
'Ratitswan says,' he went on, "'Look out for Dupree's Drift."
I will be near you and cut your bonds; then you must swim
across when Ratitswan begins to shoot.'
The news took all the weight of care from my mind. Colin
had got home, and my friends were out for rescue. So volatile
is the mood of 19 that I veered round from black despair to an
unwarranted optimism. I saw myself already safe, and Laputa's
rising scattered. I saw my hands on the treasure, and
Henriques' ugly neck below my heel.
'I don't know your name,' I said to the Kaffir, 'but you are a
good fellow. When I get out of this business I won't forget you.'
'There is another message, Baas,' he said. 'It is written on
paper in a strange tongue. Turn your head to the bush, and
see, I will hold it inside the bowl, that you may read it.'
I did as I was told, and found myself looking at a dirty half-
sheet of notepaper, marked by the Kaffir's thumbs. Some
words were written on it in Wardlaw's hand; and,
characteristically, in Latin, which was not a bad cipher. I read -
'Henricus de Letaba transeunda apud Duprei vada jam nos
*'Henriques has already told us about the crossing at Dupree's Drift.'
I had guessed rightly. Henriques was a traitor to the cause
he had espoused. Arcoll's message had given me new heart,
but Wardlaw's gave me information of tremendous value. I
repented that I had ever underrated the schoolmaster's sense.
He did not come out of Aberdeen for nothing.
I asked the Kaffir how far it was to Dupree's Drift, and was
told three hours' march. We should get there after the darkening.
It seemed he had permission to ride with me instead of
'Mwanga, who had no love for the job. How he managed this
I do not know; but Arcoll's men had their own ways of doing
things. He undertook to set me free when the first shot was fired
at the ford. Meantime I bade him leave me, to avert suspicion.
There is a story of one of King Arthur's knights - Sir
Percival, I think - that once, riding through a forest, he
found a lion fighting with a serpent. He drew his sword and
helped the lion, for he thought it was the more natural beast of
the two. To me Laputa was the lion, and Henriques the
serpent; and though I had no good will to either, I was
determined to spoil the serpent's game. He was after the
rubies, as I had fancied; he had never been after anything else.
He had found out about Arcoll's preparations, and had sent
him a warning, hoping, no doubt, that, if Laputa's force was
scattered on the Letaba, he would have a chance of getting off
with the necklace in the confusion. If he succeeded, he would
go over the Lebombo to Mozambique, and whatever happened
afterwards in the rising would be no concern of Mr Henriques.
I determined that he should fail; but how to manage it I could
not see. Had I had a pistol, I think I would have shot him; but
I had no weapon of any kind. I could not warn Laputa, for
that would seal my own fate, even if I were believed. It was
clear that Laputa must go to Dupree's Drift, for otherwise I
could not escape; and it was equally clear that I must find the
means of spoiling the Portugoose's game.
A shadow fell across the sunlight, and I looked up to see the
man I was thinking of standing before me. He had a cigarette
in his mouth, and his hands in the pockets of his riding-
breeches. He stood eyeing me with a curious smile on his face.
'Well, Mr Storekeeper,' he said, 'you and I have met before
under pleasanter circumstances.'
I said nothing, my mind being busy with what to do at the drift.
'We were shipmates, if I am not mistaken,' he said. 'I dare
say you found it nicer work smoking on the after-deck than
lying here in the sun.'
Still I said nothing. If the man had come to mock me, he
would get no change out of David Crawfurd.
'Tut, tut, don't be sulky. You have no quarrel with me.
Between ourselves,' and he dropped his voice, 'I tried to save
you; but you had seen rather too much to be safe. What devil
prompted you to steal a horse and go to the cave? I don't blame
you for overhearing us; but if you had had the sense of a louse
you would have gone off to the Berg with your news. By the
way, how did you manage it? A cellar, I suppose. Our friend
Laputa was a fool not to take better precautions; but I must
say you acted the drunkard pretty well.'
The vanity of 19 is an incalculable thing. I rose to the fly.
'I know the kind of precaution you wanted to take,'
'You heard that too? Well, I confess I am in favour of doing
a job thoroughly when I take it up.'
'In the Koodoo Flats, for example,' I said.
He sat down beside me, and laughed softly. 'You heard my
little story? You are clever, Mr Storekeeper, but not quite
clever enough. What if I can act a part as well as yourself?'
And he thrust his yellow face close to mine.
I saw his meaning, and did not for a second believe him;
but I had the sense to temporize.
'Do you mean to say that you did not kill the Dutchmen,
and did not mean to knife me?'
'I mean to say that I am not a fool,' he said, lighting
'I am a white man, Mr Storekeeper, and I play the white
man's game. Why do you think I am here? Simply because I
was the only man in Africa who had the pluck to get to the
heart of this business. I am here to dish Laputa, and by God I
am going to do it.'
I was scarcely prepared for such incredible bluff. I knew
every word was a lie, but I wanted to hear more, for the man
'I suppose you know what will happen to you,' he said,
flicking the ashes from his cigarette. 'To-morrow at Inanda's
Kraal, when the vow is over, they will give you a taste of Kaffir
habits. Not death, my friend - that would be simple enough -
but a slow death with every refinement of horror. You have
broken into their sacred places, and you will be sacrificed to
Laputa's god. I have seen native torture before, and his own
mother would run away shrieking from a man who had
I said nothing, but the thought made my flesh creep.
'Well,' he went on, 'you're in an awkward plight, but I think
I can help you. What if I can save your life, Mr Storekeeper?
You are trussed up like a fowl, and can do nothing. I am the
only man alive who can help you. I am willing to do it, too -
on my own terms.'
I did not wait to hear those terms, for I had a shrewd guess
what they would be. My hatred of Henriques rose and choked
me. I saw murder and trickery in his mean eyes and cruel
mouth. I could not, to be saved from the uttermost horror,
have made myself his ally.
'Now listen, Mr Portugoose,' I cried. 'You tell me you are a
spy. What if I shout that through the camp? There will be
short shrift for you if Laputa hears it.'
He laughed loudly. 'You are a bigger fool than I took you
for. Who would believe you, my friend. Not Laputa. Not any
man in this army. It would only mean tighter bonds for these
long legs of yours.'
By this time I had given up all thought of diplomacy. 'Very
well, you yellow-faced devil, you will hear my answer. I would
not take my freedom from you, though I were to be boiled
alive. I know you for a traitor to the white man's cause, a dirty
I.D.B. swindler, whose name is a byword among honest men.
By your own confession you are a traitor to this idiot rising.
You murdered the Dutchmen and God knows how many more, and you
would fain have murdered me. I pray to Heaven that the men whose
cause you have betrayed and the men whose cause you would betray
may join to stamp the life out of you and send your soul to hell.
I know the game you would have me join in, and I fling your offer
in your face. But I tell you one thing - you are damned yourself.
The white men are out, and you will never get over the Lebombo.
From black or white you will get justice before many hours, and
your carcass will be left to rot in the bush. Get out of my
sight, you swine.'
In that moment I was so borne up in my passion that I
forgot my bonds and my grave danger. I was inspired like a
prophet with a sense of approaching retribution. Henriques
heard me out; but his smile changed to a scowl, and a flush
rose on his sallow cheek.
'Stew in your own juice,' he said, and spat in my face. Then
he shouted in Kaffir that I had insulted him, and demanded
that I should be bound tighter and gagged.
It was Arcoll's messenger who answered his summons. That
admirable fellow rushed at me with a great appearance of
savagery. He made a pretence of swathing me up in fresh rawhide
ropes, but his knots were loose and the thing was a farce.
He gagged me with what looked like a piece of wood, but was
in reality a chunk of dry banana. And all the while, till
Henriques was out of hearing, he cursed me with a noble gift
The drums beat for the advance, and once more I was
hoisted on my horse, while Arcoll's Kaffir tied my bridle to his
own. A Kaffir cannot wink, but he has a way of slanting his
eyes which does as well, and as we moved on he would turn
his head to me with this strange grimace.
Henriques wanted me to help him to get the rubies - that I
presumed was the offer he had meant to make. Well, thought
I, I will perish before the jewel reaches the Portuguese's hands.
He hoped for a stampede when Arcoll opposed the crossing of
the river, and in the confusion intended to steal the casket. My
plan must be to get as near the old priest as possible before we
reached the ford. I spoke to my warder and told him what I
wanted. He nodded, and in the first mile we managed to edge
a good way forward. Several things came to aid us. As I have
said, we of the centre were not marching in close ranks, but in
a loose column, and often it was possible by taking a short cut
on rough ground to join the column some distance ahead.
There was a vlei, too, which many circumvented, but we
swam, and this helped our lead. In a couple of hours we were
so near the priest's litter that I could have easily tossed a
cricket ball on the head of Henriques who rode beside it.
Very soon the twilight of the winter day began to fall. The
far hills grew pink and mulberry in the sunset, and strange
shadows stole over the bush. Still creeping forward, we found
ourselves not twenty yards behind the litter, while far ahead I
saw a broad, glimmering space of water with a high woody
'Dupree's Drift;' whispered my warder. 'Courage, Inkoos;*
in an hour's time you will be free.'
CHAPTER XIII. THE DRIFT OF THE LETABA
The dusk was gathering fast as we neared the stream. From
the stagnant reaches above and below a fine white mist was
rising, but the long shallows of the ford were clear. My heart
was beginning to flutter wildly, but I kept a tight grip on
myself and prayed for patience. As I stared into the evening
my hopes sank. I had expected, foolishly enough, to see on the
far bank some sign of my friends, but the tall bush was dead
The drift slants across the river at an acute angle, roughly
S.S.W. I did not know this at the time, and was amazed to see
the van of the march turn apparently up stream. Laputa's great
voice rang out in some order which was repeated down the
column, and the wide flanks of the force converged on the
narrow cart-track which entered the water. We had come to a
standstill while the front ranks began the passage.
I sat shaking with excitement, my eyes straining into the
gloom. Water holds the evening light for long, and I could
make out pretty clearly what was happening. The leading
horsemen rode into the stream with Laputa in front. The ford
is not the best going, so they had to pick their way, but in five
or ten minutes they were over. Then came some of the infantry
of the flanks, who crossed with the water to their waists, and
their guns held high above their heads. They made a portentous
splashing, but not a sound came from their throats. I shall
never know how Laputa imposed silence on the most noisy
race on earth. Several thousand footmen must have followed
the riders, and disappeared into the far bush. But not a shot
came from the bluffs in front.
I watched with a sinking heart. Arcoll had failed, and there
was to be no check at the drift. There remained for me only
the horrors at Inanda's Kraal. I resolved to make a dash for
freedom, at all costs, and was in the act of telling Arcoll's man
to cut my bonds, when a thought occurred to me.
Henriques was after the rubies, and it was his interest to get
Laputa across the river before the attack began. It was Arcoll's
business to split the force, and above all to hold up the leader.
Henriques would tell him, and for that matter he must have
assumed himself, that Laputa would ride in the centre of the
force. Therefore there would be no check till the time came
for the priest's litter to cross.
It was well that I had not had my bonds cut. Henriques
came riding towards me, his face sharp and bright as a ferret's.
He pulled up and asked if I were safe. My Kaffir showed my
strapped elbows and feet, and tugged at the cords to prove
'Keep him well,' said Henriques, 'or you will answer to
Inkulu. Forward with him now and get him through the
water.' Then he turned and rode back.
My warder, apparently obeying orders, led me out of the
column and into the bush on the right hand. Soon we were
abreast of the litter and some twenty yards to the west of it.
The water gleamed through the trees a few paces in front. I
could see the masses of infantry converging on the drift, and
the churning like a cascade which they made in the passage.
Suddenly from the far bank came an order. It was Laputa's
voice, thin and high-pitched, as the Kaffir cries when he
wishes his words to carry a great distance. Henriques repeated
it, and the infantry halted. The riders of the column in front
of the litter began to move into the stream.
We should have gone with them, but instead we pulled our
horses back into the darkness of the bush. It seemed to me
that odd things were happening around the priest's litter.
Henriques had left it, and dashed past me so close that I could
have touched him. From somewhere among the trees a pistol-
shot cracked into the air.
As if in answer to a signal the high bluff across the stream
burst into a sheet of fire. 'A sheet of fire' sounds odd enough
for scientific warfare. I saw that my friends were using shot-
guns and firing with black powder into the mob in the water.
It was humane and it was good tactics, for the flame in the
grey dusk had the appearance of a heavy battery of ordnance.
Once again I heard Henriques' voice. He was turning the
column to the right. He shouted to them to get into cover, and
take the water higher up. I thought, too, that from far away I
These were maddening seconds. We had left the business of
cutting my bonds almost too late. In the darkness of the bush
the strips of hide could only be felt for, and my Kaffir had a
woefully blunt knife. Reims are always tough to sever, and
mine had to be sawn through. Soon my arms were free, and I
was plucking at my other bonds. The worst were those on my
ankles below the horse's belly. The Kaffir fumbled away in the
dark, and pricked my beast so that he reared and struck out.
And all the while I was choking with impatience, and gabbling
prayers to myself.
The men on the other side had begun to use ball-cartridge.
I could see through a gap the centre of the river, and it was
filled with a mass of struggling men and horses'. I remember
that it amazed me that no shot was fired in return. Then I
remembered the vow, and was still more amazed at the power
of a ritual on that savage horde.
The column was moving past me to the right. It was a
disorderly rabble which obeyed Henriques' orders. Bullets
began to sing through the trees, and one rider was hit in the
shoulder and came down with a crash. This increased the
confusion, for most of them dismounted and tried to lead their
horses in the cover. The infantry coming in from the wings
collided with them, and there was a struggle of excited beasts
and men in the thickets of thorn and mopani. And still my
Kaffir was trying to get my ankles loose as fast as a plunging
horse would let him.
At last I was free, and dropped stiffly to the ground. I fell
prone on my face with cramp, and when I got up I rolled like
a drunk man. Here I made a great blunder. I should have left
my horse with my Kaffir, and bidden him follow me. But I
was too eager to be cautious, so I let it go, and crying to the
Kaffir to await me, I ran towards the litter.
Henriques had laid his plans well. The column had abandoned
the priest, and by the litter were only the two bearers.
As I caught sight of them one fell with a bullet in his chest.
The other, wild with fright, kept turning his head to every
quarter of the compass. Another bullet passed close to his
head. This was too much for him, and with a yell he ran away.
As I broke through the thicket I looked to the quarter
whence the bullets had come. These, I could have taken my
oath, were not fired by my friends on the farther bank. It was
close-quarter shooting, and I knew who had done it. But I saw
nobody. The last few yards of the road were clear, and only
out in the water was the struggling shouting mass of humanity.
I saw a tall man on a big horse plunge into the river on his way
back. It must be Laputa returning to command the panic.
My business was not with Laputa but with Henriques. The
old priest in the litter, who had been sleeping, had roused
himself, and was looking vacantly round him. He did not look
long. A third bullet, fired from a dozen yards away, drilled a
hole in his forehead. He fell back dead, and the ivory box,
which lay on his lap, tilted forward on the ground.
I had no weapon of any kind, and I did not want the fourth
bullet for myself. Henriques was too pretty a shot to trifle
with. I waited quietly on the edge of the shade till the
Portugoose came out of the thicket. I saw him running forward
with a rifle in his hand. A whinny from a horse told me that
somewhere near his beast was tied up. It was all but dark, but
it seemed to me that I could see the lust of greed in his eyes as
he rushed to the litter.
Very softly I stole behind him. He tore off the lid of the
box, and pulled out the great necklace. For a second it hung in
his hands, but only for a second. So absorbed was he that he
did not notice me standing full before him. Nay, he lifted his
head, and gave me the finest chance of my life. I was something
of a boxer, and all my accumulated fury went into the blow. It
caught him on the point of the chin, and his neck cricked like
the bolt of a rifle. He fell limply on the ground and the jewels
dropped from his hand.
I picked them up and stuffed them into my breeches pocket.
Then I pulled the pistol out of his belt. It was six-
chambered, and I knew that only three had been emptied. I
remembered feeling extraordinarily cool and composed, and
yet my wits must have been wandering or I would have never
taken the course I did.
The right thing to do - on Arcoll's instructions - was to
make for the river and swim across to my friends. But Laputa
was coming back, and I dreaded meeting him. Laputa seemed
to my heated fancy omnipresent. I thought of him as covering
the whole bank of the river, whereas I might easily have
crossed a little farther down, and made my way up the other
bank to my friends. It was plain that Laputa intended to evade
the patrol, not to capture it, and there, consequently, I should
be safe. The next best thing was to find Arcoll's Kaffir, who
was not twenty yards away, get some sort of horse, and break
for the bush. Long before morning we should have been over
the Berg and in safety. Nay, if I wanted a mount, there was
Henriques' whinnying a few paces off.
Instead I did the craziest thing of all. With the jewels in one
pocket, and the Portugoose's pistol in the other, I started
running back the road we had come.
CHAPTER XIV. I CARRY THE COLLAR OF PRESTER JOHN
I ran till my breath grew short, for some kind of swift motion
I had to have or choke. The events of the last few minutes had
inflamed my brain. For the first time in my life I had seen men
die by violence - nay, by brutal murder. I had put my soul
into the blow which laid out Henriques, and I was still hot
with the pride of it. Also I had in my pocket the fetich of the
whole black world; I had taken their Ark of the Covenant,
and soon Laputa would be on my trail. Fear, pride, and a
blind exultation all throbbed in my veins. I must have run
three miles before I came to my sober senses.
I put my ear to the ground, but heard no sound of pursuit.
Laputa, I argued, would have enough to do for a little,
shepherding his flock over the water. He might surround and
capture the patrol, or he might evade it; the vow prevented
him from fighting it. On the whole I was clear that he would
ignore it and push on for the rendezvous. All this would take
time, and the business of the priest would have to wait. When
Henriques came to he would no doubt have a story to tell, and
the scouts would be on my trail. I wished I had shot the
Portugoose while I was at the business. It would have been no
murder, but a righteous execution.
Meanwhile I must get off the road. The sand had been
disturbed by an army, so there was little fear of my steps being
traced. Still it was only wise to leave the track which I would
be assumed to have taken, for Laputa would guess I had fled
back the way to Blaauwildebeestefontein. I turned into the
bush, which here was thin and sparse like whins on a common.
The Berg must be my goal. Once on the plateau I would be
inside the white man's lines. Down here in the plains I was in
the country of my enemies. Arcoll meant to fight on the
uplands when it came to fighting. The black man might rage
as he pleased in his own flats, but we stood to defend the gates
of the hills. Therefore over the Berg I must be before morning,
or there would be a dead man with no tales to tell.
I think that even at the start of that night's work I realized
the exceeding precariousness of my chances. Some twenty
miles of bush and swamp separated me from the foot of the
mountains. After that there was the climbing of them, for at
the point opposite where I now stood the Berg does not
descend sharply on the plain, but is broken into foot-hills
around the glens of the Klein Letaba and the Letsitela. From
the spot where these rivers emerge on the flats to the crown of
the plateau is ten miles at the shortest. I had a start of an hour
or so, but before dawn I had to traverse thirty miles of
unknown and difficult country. Behind me would follow the
best trackers in Africa, who knew every foot of the wilderness.
It was a wild hazard, but it was my only hope. At this time I
was feeling pretty courageous. For one thing I had Henriques'
pistol close to my leg, and for another I still thrilled with the
satisfaction of having smitten his face.
I took the rubies, and stowed them below my shirt and next
my skin. I remember taking stock of my equipment and
laughing at the humour of it. One of the heels was almost
twisted off my boots, and my shirt and breeches were old at
the best and ragged from hard usage. The whole outfit would
have been dear at five shillings, or seven-and-six with the belt
thrown in. Then there was the Portugoose's pistol, costing,
say, a guinea; and last, the Prester's collar, worth
What was more important than my clothing was my bodily
strength. I was still very sore from the bonds and the jog of
that accursed horse, but exercise was rapidly suppling my
joints. About five hours ago I had eaten a filling, though not
very sustaining, meal, and I thought I could go on very well
till morning. But I was still badly in arrears with my sleep,
and there was no chance of my snatching a minute till I was
over the Berg. It was going to be a race against time, and I
swore that I would drive my body to the last ounce of strength.
Moonrise was still an hour or two away, and the sky was
bright with myriad stars. I knew now what starlight meant, for
there was ample light to pick my way by. I steered by the
Southern Cross, for I was aware that the Berg ran north and
south, and with that constellation on my left hand I was bound
to reach it sooner or later. The bush closed around me with its
mysterious dull green shades, and trees, which in the daytime
were thin scrub, now loomed like tall timber. It was very eerie
moving, a tiny fragment of mortality, in that great wide silent
wilderness, with the starry vault, like an impassive celestial
audience, watching with many eyes. They cheered me, those
stars. In my hurry and fear and passion they spoke of the old
calm dignities of man. I felt less alone when I turned my face
to the lights which were slanting alike on this uncanny bush
and on the homely streets of Kirkcaple.
The silence did not last long. First came the howl of a wolf,
to be answered by others from every quarter of the compass.
This serenade went on for a bit, till the jackals chimed in with
their harsh bark. I had been caught by darkness before this
when hunting on the Berg, but I was not afraid of wild beasts.
That is one terror of the bush which travellers' tales have put
too high. It was true that I might meet a hungry lion, but the
chance was remote, and I had my pistol. Once indeed a huge
animal bounded across the road a little in front of me. For a
moment I took him for a lion, but on reflection I was inclined
to think him a very large bush-pig.
By this time I was out of the thickest bush and into a piece
of parkland with long, waving tambuki grass, which the
Kaffirs would burn later. The moon was coming up, and her
faint rays silvered the flat tops of the mimosa trees. I could
hear and feel around me the rustling of animals. Once or twice
a big buck - an eland or a koodoo - broke cover, and at the
sight of me went off snorting down the slope. Also there were
droves of smaller game - rhebok and springbok and duikers -
which brushed past at full gallop without even noticing me.
The sight was so novel that it set me thinking. That shy
wild things should stampede like this could only mean that
they had been thoroughly scared. Now obviously the thing
that scared them must be on this side of the Letaba. This must
mean that Laputa's army, or a large part of it, had not crossed
at Dupree's Drift, but had gone up the stream to some higher
ford. If that was so, I must alter my course; so I bore away to
the right for a mile or two, making a line due north-west.
In about an hour's time the ground descended steeply, and
I saw before me the shining reaches of a river. I had the chief
features of the countryside clear in my mind, both from old
porings over maps, and from Arcoll's instructions. This stream
must be the Little Letaba, and I must cross it if I would get to
the mountains. I remembered that Majinje's kraal stood on its
left bank, and higher up in its valley in the Berg 'Mpefu lived.
At all costs the kraals must be avoided. Once across it I must
make for the Letsitela, another tributary of the Great Letaba,
and by keeping the far bank of that stream I should cross the
mountains to the place on the plateau of the Wood Bush which
Arcoll had told me would be his headquarters.
It is easy to talk about crossing a river, and looking to-day at
the slender streak on the map I am amazed that so small a
thing should have given me such ugly tremors. Yet I have
rarely faced a job I liked so little. The stream ran yellow and
sluggish under the clear moon. On the near side a thick growth
of bush clothed the bank, but on the far side I made out a
swamp with tall bulrushes. The distance across was no more
than fifty yards, but I would have swum a mile more readily in
deep water. The place stank of crocodiles. There was no ripple
to break the oily flow except where a derelict branch swayed
with the current. Something in the stillness, the eerie light on
the water, and the rotting smell of the swamp made that stream
seem unhallowed and deadly.
I sat down and considered the matter. Crocodiles had always
terrified me more than any created thing, and to be dragged by
iron jaws to death in that hideous stream seemed to me the
most awful of endings. Yet cross it I must if I were to get rid
of my human enemies. I remembered a story of an escaped
prisoner during the war who had only the Komati River
between him and safety. But he dared not enter it, and was
recaptured by a Boer commando. I was determined that
such cowardice should not be laid to my charge. If I was to
die, I would at least have given myself every chance of life.
So I braced myself as best I could, and looked for a place
The veld-craft I had mastered had taught me a few things.
One was that wild animals drink at night, and that they have
regular drinking places. I thought that the likeliest place for
crocodiles was at or around such spots, and, therefore, I
resolved to take the water away from a drinking place. I went
up the bank, noting where the narrow bush-paths emerged on
the water-side. I scared away several little buck, and once the
violent commotion in the bush showed that I had frightened
some bigger animal, perhaps a hartebeest. Still following the
bank I came to a reach where the undergrowth was unbroken
and the water looked deeper.
Suddenly - I fear I must use this adverb often, for all the
happenings on that night were sudden - I saw a biggish animal
break through the reeds on the far side. It entered the water
and, whether wading or swimming I could not see, came out a
little distance. Then some sense must have told it of my
presence, for it turned and with a grunt made its way back.
I saw that it was a big wart-hog, and began to think. Pig,
unlike other beasts, drink not at night, but in the daytime.
The hog had, therefore, not come to drink, but to swim across.
Now, I argued, he would choose a safe place, for the wart-hog,
hideous though he is, is a wise beast. What was safe for him
would, therefore, in all likelihood be safe for me.
With this hope to comfort me I prepared to enter. My first
care was the jewels, so, feeling them precarious in my shirt, I
twined the collar round my neck and clasped it. The snake-
clasp was no flimsy device of modern jewellery, and I had no
fear but that it would hold. I held the pistol between my teeth,
and with a prayer to God slipped into the muddy waters.
I swam in the wild way of a beginner who fears cramp. The
current was light and the water moderately warm, but I seemed
to go very slowly, and I was cold with apprehension. In the
middle it suddenly shallowed, and my breast came against a
mudshoal. I thought it was a crocodile, and in my confusion
the pistol dropped from my mouth and disappeared.
I waded a few steps and then plunged into deep water again.
Almost before I knew, I was among the bulrushes, with my
feet in the slime of the bank. With feverish haste I scrambled
through the reeds and up through roots and undergrowth to
the hard soil. I was across, but, alas, I had lost my only weapon.
The swim and the anxiety had tired me considerably, and
though it meant delay, I did not dare to continue with the
weight of water-logged clothes to impede me. I found a dry
sheltered place in the bush and stripped to the skin. I emptied
my boots and wrung out my shirt and breeches, while the
Prester's jewels were blazing on my neck. Here was a queer
counterpart to Laputa in the cave!
The change revived me, and I continued my way in better
form. So far there had been no sign of pursuit. Before me the
Letsitela was the only other stream, and from what I remembered
of its character near the Berg I thought I should have
little trouble. It was smaller than the Klein Letaba, and a
rushing torrent where shallows must be common.
I kept running till I felt my shirt getting dry on my back.
Then I restored the jewels to their old home, and found their
cool touch on my breast very comforting. The country was
getting more broken as I advanced. Little kopjes with thickets
of wild bananas took the place of the dead levels. Long before
I reached the Letsitela, I saw that I was right in my guess. It
ran, a brawling mountain stream, in a narrow rift in the bush.
I crossed it almost dry-shod on the boulders above a little fall,
stopping for a moment to drink and lave my brow.
After that the country changed again. The wood was now
getting like that which clothed the sides of the Berg. There
were tall timber-trees - yellowwood, sneezewood, essenwood,
stinkwood - and the ground was carpeted with thick grass
and ferns. The sight gave me my first earnest of safety. I was
approaching my own country. Behind me was heathendom
and the black fever flats. In front were the cool mountains and
bright streams, and the guns of my own folk.
As I struggled on - for I was getting very footsore and
weary - I became aware of an odd sound in my rear. It was as
if something were following me. I stopped and listened with a
sudden dread. Could Laputa's trackers have got up with me
already? But the sound was not of human feet. It was as if
some heavy animal were plunging through the undergrowth.
At intervals came the soft pad of its feet on the grass.
It must be the hungry lion of my nightmare, and Henriques'
pistol was in the mud of the Klein Letaba! The only thing was a
tree, and I had sprung for one and scrambled wearily into the
first branches when a great yellow animal came into the moonlight.
Providence had done kindly in robbing me of my pistol. The
next minute I was on the ground with Colin leaping on me and
baying with joy. I hugged that blessed hound and buried my
head in his shaggy neck, sobbing like a child. How he had
traced me I can never tell. The secret belongs only to the
Maker of good and faithful dogs.
With him by my side I was a new man. The awesome
loneliness had gone. I felt as if he were a message from my
own people to take me safely home. He clearly knew the
business afoot, for he padded beside me with never a glance to
right or left. Another time he would have been snowking in
every thicket; but now he was on duty, a serious, conscientious
dog with no eye but for business.
The moon went down, and the starry sky was our only light.
The thick gloom which brooded over the landscape pointed to
the night being far gone. I thought I saw a deeper blackness
ahead which might be the line of the Berg. Then came that
period of utter stillness when every bush sound is hushed and
the world seems to swoon. I felt almost impious hurrying
through that profound silence, when not even the leaves stirred
or a frog croaked.
Suddenly as we came over a rise a little wind blew on the
back of my head, and a bitter chill came into the air. I knew
from nights spent in the open that it was the precursor of
dawn. Sure enough, as I glanced back, far over the plain a pale
glow was stealing upwards into the sky. In a few minutes the
pall melted into an airy haze, and above me I saw the heavens
shot with tremors of blue light. Then the foreground began to
clear, and there before me, with their heads still muffled in
vapour, were the mountains.
Xenophon's Ten Thousand did not hail the sea more gladly
than I welcomed those frowning ramparts of the Berg.
Once again my weariness was eased. I cried to Colin, and
together we ran down into the wide, shallow trough which lies
at the foot of the hills. As the sun rose above the horizon, the
black masses changed to emerald and rich umber, and the
fleecy mists of the summits opened and revealed beyond shining
spaces of green. Some lines of Shakespeare ran in my head,
which I have always thought the most beautiful of all poetry:
'Night's candles are burned out, and jocund day
Walks tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.'
Up there among the clouds was my salvation. Like the
Psalmist, I lifted my eyes to the hills from whence came my
Hope is a wonderful restorative. To be near the hills, to
smell their odours, to see at the head of the glens the lines of
the plateau where were white men and civilization - all gave
me new life and courage. Colin saw my mood, and spared a
moment now and then to inspect a hole or a covert. Down in
the shallow trough I saw the links of a burn, the Machudi,
which flowed down the glen it was my purpose to ascend.
Away to the north in the direction of Majinje's were patches of
Kaffir tillage, and I thought I discerned the smoke from fires.
Majinje's womankind would be cooking their morning meal.
To the south ran a thick patch of forest, but I saw beyond it
the spur of the mountain over which runs the highroad to
Wesselsburg. The clear air of dawn was like wine in my blood.
I was not free, but I was on the threshold of freedom. If I
could only reach my friends with the Prester's collar in my
shirt, I would have performed a feat which would never be
forgotten. I would have made history by my glorious folly.
Breakfastless and footsore, I was yet a proud man as I crossed
the hollow to the mouth of Machudi's glen.
My chickens had been counted too soon, and there was to
be no hatching. Colin grew uneasy, and began to sniff up
wind. I was maybe a quarter of a mile from the glen foot,
plodding through the long grass of the hollow, when the
behaviour of the dog made me stop and listen. In that still air
sounds carry far, and I seemed to hear the noise of feet
brushing through cover. The noise came both from north and
south, from the forest and from the lower course of the Machudi.
I dropped into shelter, and running with bent back got to
the summit of a little bush-clad knoll. It was Colin who first
caught sight of my pursuers. He was staring at a rift in the
trees, and suddenly gave a short bark. I looked and saw two
men, running hard, cross the grass and dip into the bed of the
stream. A moment later I had a glimpse of figures on the edge
of the forest, moving fast to the mouth of the glen. The pursuit
had not followed me; it had waited to cut me off. Fool that I
was, I had forgotten the wonders of Kaffir telegraphy. It had
been easy for Laputa to send word thirty miles ahead to stop
any white man who tried to cross the Berg.
And then I knew that I was very weary.
CHAPTER XV. MORNING IN THE BERG
I was perhaps half a mile the nearer to the glen, and was
likely to get there first. And after that? I could see the track
winding by the waterside and then crossing a hill-shoulder
which diverted the stream. It was a road a man could scarcely
ride, and a tired man would have a hard job to climb. I do not
think that I had any hope. My exhilaration had died as
suddenly as it had been born. I saw myself caught and carried
off to Laputa, who must now be close on the rendezvous at
Inanda's Kraal. I had no weapon to make a fight for it. My
foemen were many and untired. It must be only a matter of
minutes till I was in their hands.
More in a dogged fury of disappointment than with any
hope of escape I forced my sore legs up the glen. Ten minutes
ago I had been exulting in the glories of the morning, and now
the sun was not less bright or the colours less fair, but the
heart had gone out of the spectator. At first I managed to get
some pace out of myself, partly from fear and partly from
anger. But I soon found that my body had been tried too far.
I could plod along, but to save my life I could not have
hurried. Any healthy savage could have caught me in a
The track, I remember, was overhung with creepers, and
often I had to squeeze through thickets of tree-ferns. Countless
little brooks ran down from the hillside, threads of silver
among the green pastures. Soon I left the stream and climbed
up on the shoulder, where the road was not much better than
a precipice. Every step was a weariness. I could hardly drag
one foot after the other, and my heart was beating like the
fanners of a mill, I had spasms of acute sickness, and it took
all my resolution to keep me from lying down by the roadside.
At last I was at the top of the shoulder and could look back.
There was no sign of anybody on the road so far as I could
see. Could I have escaped them? I had been in the shadow of
the trees for the first part, and they might have lost sight of me
and concluded that I had avoided the glen or tried one of the
faces. Before me, I remember, there stretched the upper glen,
a green cup-shaped hollow with the sides scarred by ravines.
There was a high waterfall in one of them which was white as
snow against the red rocks. My wits must have been shaky, for
I took the fall for a snowdrift, and wondered sillily why the
Berg had grown so Alpine.
A faint spasm of hope took me into that green cup. The
bracken was as thick as on the Pentlands, and there was a
multitude of small lovely flowers in the grass. It was like a
water-meadow at home, such a place as I had often in boyhood
searched for moss-cheepers' and corncrakes' eggs. Birds were
crying round me as I broke this solitude, and one small buck -
a klipspringer - rose from my feet and dashed up one of the
gullies. Before me was a steep green wall with the sky blue
above it. Beyond it was safety, but as my sweat-dimmed eyes
looked at it I knew that I could never reach it.
Then I saw my pursuers. High up on the left side, and
rounding the rim of the cup, were little black figures. They
had not followed my trail, but, certain of my purpose, had
gone forward to intercept me. I remember feeling a puny
weakling compared with those lusty natives who could make
such good going on steep mountains. They were certainly no
men of the plains, but hillmen, probably some remnants of old
Machudi's tribe who still squatted in the glen. Machudi was
a blackguard chief whom the Boers long ago smashed in one of
their native wars. He was a fierce old warrior and had put up a
good fight to the last, till a hired impi of Swazis had
surrounded his hiding-place in the forest and destroyed him. A
Boer farmer on the plateau had his skull, and used to drink
whisky out of it when he was merry.
The sight of the pursuit was the last straw. I gave up hope,
and my intentions were narrowed to one frantic desire - to
hide the jewels. Patriotism, which I had almost forgotten,
flickered up in that crisis. At any rate Laputa should not have
the Snake. If he drove out the white man, he should not clasp
the Prester's rubies on his great neck.
There was no cover in the green cup, so I turned up the
ravine on the right side. The enemy, so far as I could judge,
were on the left and in front, and in the gully I might find a
pot-hole to bury the necklet in. Only a desperate resolution
took me through the tangle of juniper bushes into the red
screes of the gully. At first I could not find what I sought. The
stream in the ravine slid down a long slope like a mill-race, and
the sides were bare and stony. Still I plodded on, helping
myself with a hand on Colin's back, for my legs were numb
with fatigue. By-and-by the gully narrowed, and I came to a
flat place with a long pool. Beyond was a little fall, and up this
I climbed into a network of tiny cascades. Over one pool hung
a dead tree-fern, and a bay from it ran into a hole of the rock.
I slipped the jewels far into the hole, where they lay on the
firm sand, showing odd lights through the dim blue water.
Then I scrambled down again to the flat space and the pool,
and looked round to see if any one had reached the edge of the
ravine. There was no sign as yet of the pursuit, so I dropped
limply on the shingle and waited. For I had suddenly
conceived a plan.
As my breath came back to me my wits came back from
their wandering. These men were not there to kill me, but to
capture me. They could know nothing of the jewels, for Laputa
would never have dared to make the loss of the sacred Snake
public. Therefore they would not suspect what I had done,
and would simply lead me to Laputa at Inanda's Kraal. I
began to see the glimmerings of a plan for saving my life, and
by God's grace, for saving my country from the horrors of
rebellion. The more I thought the better I liked it. It
demanded a bold front, and it might well miscarry, but I had
taken such desperate hazards during the past days that I was
less afraid of fortune. Anyhow, the choice lay between certain
death and a slender chance of life, and it was easy to decide.
Playing football, I used to notice how towards the end of a
game I might be sore and weary, without a kick in my body;
but when I had a straight job of tackling a man my strength
miraculously returned. It was even so now. I lay on my side,
luxuriating in being still, and slowly a sort of vigour crept back
into my limbs. Perhaps a half-hour of rest was given me before,
on the lip of the gully, I saw figures appear. Looking down I
saw several men who had come across from the opposite side
of the valley, scrambling up the stream. I got to my feet, with
Colin bristling beside me, and awaited them with the stiffest
face I could muster.
As I expected, they were Machudi's men. I recognized them
by the red ochre in their hair and their copper-wire necklets.
Big fellows they were, long-legged and deep in the chest, the
true breed of mountaineers. I admired their light tread on the
slippery rock. It was hopeless to think of evading such men in
their own hills.
The men from the side joined the men in front, and they
stood looking at me from about twelve yards off. They were
armed only with knobkerries, and very clearly were no part
of Laputa's army. This made their errand plain to me.
'Halt!' I said in Kaffir, as one of them made a hesitating step
to advance. 'Who are you and what do you seek?'
There was no answer, but they looked at me curiously.
Then one made a motion with his stick. Colin gave a growl, and
would have been on him if I had not kept a hand on his collar.
The rash man drew back, and all stood stiff and perplexed.
'Keep your hands by your side,' I said, 'or the dog, who has
a devil, will devour you. One of you speak for the rest and tell
me your purpose.'
For a moment I had a wild notion that they might be
friends, some of Arcoll's scouts, and out to help me. But the
first words shattered the fancy.
'We are sent by Inkulu,' the biggest of them said. 'He bade
us bring you to him.'
'And what if I refuse to go?'
'Then, Baas, we must take you to him. We are under the
vow of the Snake.'
'Vow of fiddlestick!' I cried. 'Who do you think is the bigger
chief, the Inkulu or Ratitswan? I tell you Ratitswan is now
driving Inkulu before him as a wind drives rotten leaves. It
will be well for you, men of Machudi, to make peace with
Ratitswan and take me to him on the Berg. If you bring me to
him, I and he will reward you; but if you do Inkulu's bidding
you will soon be hunted like buck out of your hills.'
They grinned at one another, but I could see that my words
had no effect. Laputa had done his business too well.
The spokesman shrugged his shoulders in the way the
'We wish you no ill, Baas, but we have been bidden to take
you to Inkulu. We cannot disobey the command of the Snake.'
My weakness was coming on me again, and I could talk no
more. I sat down plump on the ground, almost falling into the
pool. 'Take me to Inkulu,' I stammered with a dry throat, 'I
do not fear him;' and I rolled half-fainting on my back.
These clansmen of Machudi were decent fellows. One of
them had some Kaffir beer in a calabash, which he gave me to
drink. The stuff was thin and sickly, but the fermentation in it
did me good. I had the sense to remember my need of sleep.
'The day is young,' I said, 'and I have come far. I ask to be
allowed to sleep for an hour.'
The men made no difficulty, and with my head between
Colin's paws I slipped into dreamless slumber.
When they wakened me the sun was beginning to climb the
sky, I judged it to be about eight o'clock. They had made a
little fire and roasted mealies. Some of the food they gave me,
and I ate it thankfully. I was feeling better, and I think a pipe
would have almost completed my cure.
But when I stood up I found that I was worse than I had
thought. The truth is, I was leg-weary, which you often see in
horses, but rarely in men. What the proper explanation is I do
not know, but the muscles simply refuse to answer the
direction of the will. I found my legs sprawling like a child's
who is learning to walk.
'If you want me to go to the Inkulu, you must carry me,' I
said, as I dropped once more on the ground.
The men nodded, and set to work to make a kind of litter
out of their knobkerries and some old ropes they carried. As
they worked and chattered I looked idly at the left bank of the
ravine - that is, the left as you ascend it. Some of Machudi's
men had come down there, and, though the place looked sheer
and perilous, I saw how they had managed it. I followed out
bit by bit the track upwards, not with any thought of escape,
but merely to keep my mind under control. The right road
was from the foot of the pool up a long shelf to a clump of
juniper. Then there was an easy chimney; then a piece of good
hand-and-foot climbing; and last, another ledge which led by
an easy gradient to the top. I figured all this out as I have
heard a condemned man will count the windows of the houses
on his way to the scaffold.
Presently the litter was ready, and the men made signs to
me to get into it. They carried me down the ravine and up the
Machudi burn to the green walls at its head. I admired their
bodily fitness, for they bore me up those steep slopes with
never a halt, zigzagging in the proper style of mountain
transport. In less than an hour we had topped the ridge, and
the plateau was before me.
It looked very homelike and gracious, rolling in gentle
undulations to the western horizon, with clumps of wood in its
hollows. Far away I saw smoke rising from what should be the
village of the Iron Kranz. It was the country of my own
people, and my captors behoved to go cautiously. They were
old hands at veld-craft, and it was wonderful the way in which
they kept out of sight even on the bare ridges. Arcoll could
have taught them nothing in the art of scouting. At an
incredible pace they hurried me along, now in a meadow by a
stream side, now through a patch of forest, and now skirting a
green shoulder of hill.
Once they clapped down suddenly, and crawled into the lee
of some thick bracken. Then very quietly they tied my hands
and feet, and, not urgently, wound a dirty length of cotton
over my mouth. Colin was meantime held tight and muzzled
with a kind of bag strapped over his head. To get this over his
snapping jaws took the whole strength of the party. I guessed
that we were nearing the highroad which runs from the plateau
down the Great Letaba valley to the mining township of
Wesselsburg, away out on the plain. The police patrols must
be on this road, and there was risk in crossing. Sure enough I
seemed to catch a jingle of bridles as if from some company of
men riding in haste.
We lay still for a little till the scouts came back and reported
the coast clear. Then we made a dart for the road, crossed it,
and got into cover on the other side, where the ground sloped
down to the Letaba glen. I noticed in crossing that the dust of
the highway was thick with the marks of shod horses. I was
very near and yet very far from my own people.
Once in the rocky gorge of the Letaba we advanced with less
care. We scrambled up a steep side gorge and came on to the
small plateau from which the Cloud Mountains rise. After that
I was so tired that I drowsed away, heedless of the bumping of
the litter. We went up and up, and when I next opened my
eyes we had gone through a pass into a hollow of the hills.
There was a flat space a mile or two square, and all round it
stern black ramparts of rock. This must be Inanda's Kraal, a
strong place if ever one existed, for a few men could defend all
the approaches. Considering that I had warned Arcoll of this
rendezvous, I marvelled that no attempt had been made to
hold the entrance. The place was impregnable unless guns
were brought up to the heights. I remember thinking of a story
I had heard - how in the war Beyers took his guns into the
Wolkberg, and thereby saved them from our troops. Could
Arcoll be meditating the same exploit?
Suddenly I heard the sound of loud voices, and my litter
was dropped roughly on the ground. I woke to clear consciousness
in the midst of pandemonium.
CHAPTER XVI. INANDA'S KRAAL
The vow was at an end. In place of the silent army of
yesterday a mob of maddened savages surged around me. They
were chanting a wild song, and brandishing spears and rifles to
its accompaniment. From their bloodshot eyes stared the lust
of blood, the fury of conquest, and all the aboriginal passions
on which Laputa had laid his spell. In my mind ran a fragment
from Laputa's prayer in the cave about the 'Terrible Ones.'
Machudi's men - stout fellows, they held their ground as long
as they could - were swept out of the way, and the wave of
black savagery seemed to close over my head.
I thought my last moment had come. Certainly it had but
for Colin. The bag had been taken from his head, and the
fellow of Machudi's had dropped the rope round his collar. In
a red fury of wrath the dog leaped at my enemies. Though
every man of them was fully armed, they fell back, for I have
noticed always that Kaffirs are mortally afraid of a white man's
dog. Colin had the sense to keep beside me. Growling like a
thunderstorm he held the ring around my litter.
The breathing space would not have lasted long, but it gave
me time to get to my feet. My wrists and feet had been
unbound long before, and the rest had cured my leg-weariness.
I stood up in that fierce circle with the clear knowledge that
my life hung by a hair.
'Take me to Inkulu,' I cried. 'Dogs and fools, would you
despise his orders? If one hair of my head is hurt, he will flay
you alive. Show me the way to him, and clear out of it.'
I dare say there was a break in my voice, for I was dismally
frightened, but there must have been sufficient authority to
get me a hearing. Machudi's men closed up behind me, and
repeated my words with flourishes and gestures. But still the
circle held. No man came nearer me, but none moved so as to
give me passage.
Then I screwed up my courage, and did the only thing
possible. I walked straight into the circle, knowing well that I
was running no light risk. My courage, as I have already
explained, is of little use unless I am doing something. I could
not endure another minute of sitting still with those fierce eyes
The circle gave way. Sullenly they made a road for me,
closing up behind on my guards, so that Machudi's men were
swallowed in the mob, Alone I stalked forward with all that
huge yelling crowd behind me.
I had not far to go. Inanda's Kraal was a cluster of kyas
and rondavels, shaped in a half-moon, with a flat space
between the houses, where grew a big merula tree. All around
was a medley of little fires, with men squatted beside them.
Here and there a party had finished their meal, and were
swaggering about with a great shouting. The mob into which
I had fallen was of this sort, and I saw others within the
confines of the camp. But around the merula tree there was a
gathering of chiefs, if I could judge by the comparative quiet
and dignity of the men, who sat in rows on the ground. A few
were standing, and among them I caught sight of Laputa's tall
figure. I strode towards it, wondering if the chiefs would let
The hubbub of my volunteer attendants brought the eyes of
the company round to me. In a second it seemed every man
was on his feet. I could only pray that Laputa would get to me
before his friends had time to spear me. I remember I fixed
my eyes on a spur of hill beyond the kraal, and walked on with
the best resolution I could find. Already I felt in my breast
some of the long thin assegais of Umbooni's men.
But Laputa did not intend that I should be butchered. A
word from him brought his company into order, and the next
thing I knew I was facing him, where he stood in front of the
biggest kya, with Henriques beside him, and some of the
northern indunas. Henriques looked ghastly in the clear morning
light, and he had a linen rag bound round his head and
jaw, as if he suffered from toothache. His face was more livid,
his eyes more bloodshot, and at the sight of me his hand went
to his belt, and his teeth snapped. But he held his peace, and
it was Laputa who spoke. He looked straight through me, and
addressed Machudi's men.
'You have brought back the prisoner. That is well, and your
service will be remembered. Go to 'Mpefu's camp on the hill
there, and you will be given food.'
The men departed, and with them fell away the crowd
which had followed me. I was left, very giddy and dazed, to
confront Laputa and his chiefs. The whole scene was swimming
before my eyes. I remember there was a clucking of hens
from somewhere behind the kraal, which called up ridiculous
memories. I was trying to remember the plan I had made in
Machudi's glen. I kept saying to myself like a parrot: 'The
army cannot know about the jewels. Laputa must keep his loss
secret. I can get my life from him if I offer to give them back.'
It had sounded a good scheme three hours before, but with
the man's hard face before me, it seemed a frail peg to hang
my fate on.
Laputa's eye fell on me, a clear searching eye with a question
There was something he was trying to say to me which he
dared not put into words. I guessed what the something was,
for I saw his glance run over my shirt and my empty pockets.
'You have made little of your treachery,' he said. 'Fool, did
you think to escape me? I could bring you back from the ends
of the earth.'
'There was no treachery,' I replied. 'Do you blame a prisoner
for trying to escape? When shooting began I found myself free,
and I took the road for home. Ask Machudi's men and they
will tell you that I came quietly with them, when I saw that
the game was up.'
He shrugged his shoulders. 'It matters very little what you
did. You are here now. - Tie him up and put him in my kya,'
he said to the bodyguard. 'I have something to say to him
before he dies.'
As the men laid hands on me, I saw the exultant grin on
Henriques' face. It was more than I could endure.
'Stop,' I said. 'You talk of traitors, Mr Laputa. There is the
biggest and blackest at your elbow. That man sent word to
Arcoll about your crossing at Dupree's Drift. At our outspan
at noon yesterday he came to me and offered me my liberty if
I would help him. He told me he was a spy, and I flung his
offer in his face. It was he who shot the Keeper by the river
side, and would have stolen the Snake if I had not broken his
head. You call me a traitor, and you let that thing live, though
he has killed your priest and betrayed your plans. Kill me if
you like, but by God let him die first.'
I do not know how the others took the revelation, for my
eyes were only for the Portugoose. He made a step towards
me, his hands twitching by his sides.
'You lie,' he screamed in that queer broken voice which
much fever gives. 'It was this English hound that killed the
Keeper, and felled me when I tried to save him. The man who
insults my honour is dead.' And he plucked from his belt a pistol.
A good shot does not miss at two yards. I was never nearer
my end than in that fraction of time while the weapon came up
to the aim. It was scarcely a second, but it was enough for
Colin. The dog had kept my side, and had stood docilely by
me while Laputa spoke. The truth is, he must have been as
tired as I was. As the Kaffirs approached to lay hands on me
he had growled menacingly, but when I spoke again he had
stopped. Henriques' voice had convinced him of a more urgent
danger, and so soon as the trigger hand of the Portugoose rose,
the dog sprang. The bullet went wide, and the next moment
dog and man were struggling on the ground.
A dozen hands held me from going to Colin's aid, but oddly
enough no one stepped forward to help Henriques. The ruffian
kept his head, and though the dog's teeth were in his shoulder,
he managed to get his right hand free. I saw what would
happen, and yelled madly in my apprehension. The yellow
wrist curved, and the pistol barrel was pressed below the dog's
shoulder. Thrice he fired, the grip relaxed, and Colin rolled
over limply, fragments of shirt still hanging from his jaw. The
Portugoose rose slowly with his hand to his head, and a thin
stream of blood dripping from his shoulder.
As I saw the faithful eyes glazing in death, and knew that I
had lost the best of all comrades, I went clean berserk mad.
The cluster of men round me, who had been staring open-eyed
at the fight, were swept aside like reeds. I went straight for the
Portugoose, determined that, pistol or no pistol, I would serve
him as he had served my dog.
For my years I was a well-set-up lad, long in the arms and
deep in the chest. But I had not yet come to my full strength,
and in any case I could not hope to fight the whole of Laputa's
army. I was flung back and forwards like a shuttlecock. They
played some kind of game with me, and I could hear the idiotic
Kaffir laughter. It was blind man's buff, so far as I was
concerned, for I was blind with fury. I struck out wildly left
and right, beating the air often, but sometimes getting in a
solid blow on hard black flesh. I was soundly beaten myself,
pricked with spears, and made to caper for savage sport.
Suddenly I saw Laputa before me, and hurled myself madly at
his chest. Some one gave me a clout on the head, and my
When I came to myself, I was lying on a heap of mealie-stalks in
a dark room. I had a desperate headache, and a horrid nausea,
which made me fall back as soon as I tried to raise myself.
A voice came out of the darkness as I stirred - a voice
'Are you awake, Mr Storekeeper?'
The voice was Laputa's, but I could not see him. The room
was pitch dark, except for a long ray of sunlight on the floor.
'I'm awake,' I said. 'What do you want with me?'
Some one stepped out of the gloom and sat down near me.
A naked black foot broke the belt of light on the floor.
'For God's sake get me a drink,' I murmured.
The figure rose and fetched a pannikin of water from a pail.
I could hear the cool trickle of the drops on the metal. A hand
put the dish to my mouth, and I drank water with a strong
dash of spirits. This brought back my nausea, and I collapsed
on the mealie-stalks till the fit passed.
Again the voice spoke, this time from close at hand.
'You are paying the penalty of being a fool, Mr Storekeeper.
You are young to die, but folly is common in youth. In an
hour you will regret that you did not listen to my advice at
I clawed at my wits and strove to realize what he was saying.
He spoke of death within an hour. If it only came sharp and
sudden, I did not mind greatly. The plan I had made had
slipped utterly out of my mind. My body was so wretched,
that I asked only for rest. I was very lighthearted and foolish at
'Kill me if you like,' I whispered. 'Some day you will pay
dearly for it all. But for God's sake go away and leave
Laputa laughed. It was a horrid sound in the darkness.
'You are brave, Mr Storekeeper, but I have seen a brave
man's courage ebb very fast when he saw the death which I
have arranged for you. Would you like to hear something of it
by way of preparation?'
In a low gentle voice he began to tell me mysteries of awful
cruelty. At first I scarcely heard him, but as he went on my
brain seemed to wake from its lethargy. I listened with freezing
blood. Not in my wildest nightmares had I imagined such a
fate. Then in despite of myself a cry broke from me.
'It interests you?' Laputa asked. 'I could tell you more, but
something must be left to the fancy. Yours should be an active
one,' and his hand gripped my shaking wrist and felt my pulse.
'Henriques will see that the truth does not fall short of my
forecast,' he went on. 'For I have appointed Henriques
The name brought my senses back to me.
'Kill me,' I said, 'but for God's sake kill Henriques too. If
you did justice you would let me go and roast the Portugoose
alive. But for me the Snake would be over the Lebombo by
this time in Henriques' pocket.'
'But it is not, my friend. It was stolen by a storekeeper, who
will shortly be wishing he had died in his mother's womb.'
My plan was slowly coming back to me.
'If you value Prester John's collar, you will save my life.
What will your rising be without the Snake? Would they follow
you a yard if they suspected you had lost it?'
'So you would threaten me,' Laputa said very gently. Then
in a burst of wrath he shouted, 'They will follow me to hell for
my own sake. Imbecile, do you think my power is built on a
trinket? When you are in your grave, I will be ruling a hundred
millions from the proudest throne on earth.'
He sprang to his feet, and pulled back a shutter of the
window, letting a flood of light into the hut. In that light I saw
that he had in his hands the ivory box which had contained
'I will carry the casket through the wars,' he cried, 'and if I
choose never to open it, who will gainsay me? You besotted
fool, to think that any theft of yours could hinder my destiny!'
He was the blustering savage again, and I preferred him in
the part. All that he said might be true, but I thought I could
detect in his voice a keen regret, and in his air a touch of
disquiet. The man was a fanatic, and like all fanatics had his
'Yes,' I said, 'but when you mount the throne you speak of,
it would be a pity not to have the rubies on your neck after all
your talk in the cave.'
I thought he would have throttled me. He glowered down at
me with murder in his eyes. Then he dashed the casket on the
floor with such violence that it broke into fragments.
'Give me back the Ndhlondhlo,' he cried, like a petted child.
'Give me back the collar of John.'
This was the moment I had been waiting for.
'Now see here, Mr Laputa,' I said. 'I am going to talk
business. Before you started this rising, you were a civilized
man with a good education. Well, just remember that education
for a minute, and look at the matter in a sensible light.
I'm not like the Portugoose. I don't want to steal your rubies.
I swear to God that what I have told you is true. Henriques
killed the priest, and would have bagged the jewels if I had not
laid him out. I ran away because I was going to be killed to-day,
and I took the collar to keep it out of Henriques' hands. I
tell you I would never have shot the old man myself. Very
well, what happened? Your men overtook me, and I had no
choice but to surrender. Before they reached me, I hid the
collar in a place I know of. Now, I am going to make you a fair
and square business proposition. You may be able to get on
without the Snake, but I can see you want it back. I am in a
tight place and want nothing so much as my life. I offer to
trade with you. Give me my life, and I will take you to the
place and put the jewels in your hand. Otherwise you may kill
me, but you will never see the collar of John again.'
I still think that was a pretty bold speech for a man to make
in a predicament like mine. But it had its effect. Laputa ceased
to be the barbarian king, and talked like a civilized man.
'That is, as you call it, a business proposition. But supposing
I refuse it? Supposing I take measures here - in this kraal - to
make you speak, and then send for the jewels.'
'There are several objections,' I said, quite cheerfully, for I
felt that I was gaining ground. 'One is that I could not explain
to any mortal soul how to find the collar. I know where it is,
but I could not impart the knowledge. Another is that the
country between here and Machudi's is not very healthy for
your people. Arcoll's men are all over it, and you cannot have
a collection of search parties rummaging about in the glen for
long. Last and most important, if you send any one for the
jewels, you confess their loss. No, Mr Laputa, if you want
them back, you must go yourself and take me with you.'
He stood silent for a little, with his brows knit in thought.
Then he opened the door and went out. I guessed that he had
gone to discover from his scouts the state of the country
between Inanda's Kraal and Machudi's glen. Hope had come
back to me, and I sat among the mealie-stalks trying to plan
the future. If he made a bargain I believed he would keep it.
Once set free at the head of Machudi's, I should be within an
hour or two of Arcoll's posts. So far, I had done nothing for
the cause. My message had been made useless by Henriques'
treachery, and I had stolen the Snake only to restore it. But if
I got off with my life, there would be work for me to do in the
Armageddon which I saw approaching. Should I escape, I
wondered. What would hinder Laputa from setting his men to
follow me, and seize me before I could get into safety? My
only chance was that Arcoll might have been busy this day,
and the countryside too full of his men to let Laputa's Kaffirs
through. But if this was so, Laputa and I should be stopped,
and then Laputa would certainly kill me. I wished - and yet I
did not wish - that Arcoll should hold all approaches. As I
reflected, my first exhilaration died away. The scales were still
heavily weighted against me.
Laputa returned, closing the door behind him.
'I will bargain with you on my own terms. You shall have
your life, and in return you will take me to the place where you
hid the collar, and put it into my hands. I will ride there, and
you will run beside me, tied to my saddle. If we are in danger
from the white men, I will shoot you dead. Do you accept?'
'Yes,' I said, scrambling to my feet, and ruefully testing my
shaky legs. 'But if you want me to get to Machudi's you must
go slowly, for I am nearly foundered.'
Then he brought out a Bible, and made me swear on it that
I would do as I promised.
'Swear to me in turn,' I said, 'that you will give me my life
if I restore the jewels.'
He swore, kissing the book like a witness in a police-court. I
had forgotten that the man called himself a Christian.
'One thing more I ask,' I said. 'I want my dog decently buried.'
'That has been already done,' was the reply. 'He was a brave
animal, and my people honour bravery.'
CHAPTER XVII. A DEAL AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
My eyes were bandaged tight, and a thong was run round my
right wrist and tied to Laputa's saddle-bow. I felt the glare of
the afternoon sun on my head, and my shins were continually
barked by stones and trees; but these were my only tidings of
the outer world. By the sound of his paces Laputa was riding
the Schimmel, and if any one thinks it easy to go blindfold by a
horse's side I hope he will soon have the experience. In the
darkness I could not tell the speed of the beast. When I ran I
overshot it and was tugged back; when I walked my wrist was
dislocated with the tugs forward.
For an hour or more I suffered this breakneck treatment.
We were descending. Often I could hear the noise of falling
streams, and once we splashed through a mountain ford.
Laputa was taking no risks, for he clearly had in mind the
possibility of some accident which would set me free, and he
had no desire to have me guiding Arcoll to his camp.
But as I stumbled and sprawled down these rocky tracks I
was not thinking of Laputa's plans. My whole soul was filled
with regret for Colin, and rage against his murderer. After my
first mad rush I had not thought about my dog. He was dead,
but so would I be in an hour or two, and there was no cause to
lament him. But at the first revival of hope my grief had
returned. As they bandaged my eyes I was wishing that they
would let me see his grave. As I followed beside Laputa I told
myself that if ever I got free, when the war was over I would
go to Inanda's Kraal, find the grave, and put a tombstone over
it in memory of the dog that saved my life. I would also write
that the man who shot him was killed on such and such a day
at such and such a place by Colin's master. I wondered why
Laputa had not the wits to see the Portugoose's treachery and
to let me fight him. I did not care what were the weapons -
knives or guns, or naked fists - I would certainly kill him, and
afterwards the Kaffirs could do as they pleased with me. Hot
tears of rage and weakness wet the bandage on my eyes, and
the sobs which came from me were not only those of weariness.
At last we halted. Laputa got down and took off the bandage,
and I found myself in one of the hill-meadows which lie among
the foothills of the Wolkberg. The glare blinded me, and for a
little I could only see the marigolds growing at my feet. Then
I had a glimpse of the deep gorge of the Great Letaba below
me, and far to the east the flats running out to the hazy blue
line of the Lebombo hills. Laputa let me sit on the ground for
a minute or two to get my breath and rest my feet. 'That was a
rough road,' he said. 'You can take it easier now, for I have no
wish to carry you.' He patted the Schimmel, and the beautiful
creature turned his mild eyes on the pair of us. I wondered if
he recognized his rider of two nights ago.
I had seen Laputa as the Christian minister, as the priest
and king in the cave, as the leader of an army at Dupree's
Drift, and at the kraal we had left as the savage with all self-
control flung to the winds. I was to see this amazing man in a
further part. For he now became a friendly and rational
companion. He kept his horse at an easy walk, and talked to
me as if we were two friends out for a trip together. Perhaps
he had talked thus to Arcoll, the half-caste who drove his
The wooded bluff above Machudi's glen showed far in
front. He told me the story of the Machudi war, which I
knew already, but he told it as a saga. There had been a
stratagem by which one of the Boer leaders - a Grobelaar, I
think - got some of his men into the enemy's camp by hiding
them in a captured forage wagon.
'Like the Trojan horse,' I said involuntarily.
'Yes,' said my companion, 'the same old device,' and to my
amazement he quoted some lines of Virgil.
'Do you understand Latin?' he asked.
I told him that I had some slight knowledge of the tongue,
acquired at the university of Edinburgh. Laputa nodded. He
mentioned the name of a professor there, and commented on
'O man!' I cried, 'what in God's name are you doing in this
business? You that are educated and have seen the world, what
makes you try to put the clock back? You want to wipe out the
civilization of a thousand years, and turn us all into savages.
It's the more shame to you when you know better.'
'You misunderstand me,' he said quietly. 'It is because I
have sucked civilization dry that I know the bitterness of the
fruit. I want a simpler and better world, and I want that world
for my own people. I am a Christian, and will you tell me that
your civilization pays much attention to Christ? You call
yourself a patriot? Will you not give me leave to be a patriot
'If you are a Christian, what sort of Christianity is it to
deluge the land with blood?'
'The best,' he said. 'The house must be swept and garnished
before the man of the house can dwell in it. You have
read history, Such a purging has descended on the Church at
many times, and the world has awakened to a new hope. It is
the same in all religions. The temples grow tawdry and foul
and must be cleansed, and, let me remind you, the cleanser
has always come out of the desert.'
I had no answer, being too weak and forlorn to think. But I
fastened on his patriotic plea.
'Where are the patriots in your following? They are all red
Kaffirs crying for blood and plunder. Supposing you were
Oliver Cromwell you could make nothing out of such a crew.'
'They are my people,' he said simply.
By this time we had forded the Great Letaba, and were
making our way through the clumps of forest to the crown of
the plateau. I noticed that Laputa kept well in cover, preferring
the tangle of wooded undergrowth to the open spaces of the
water-meadows. As he talked, his wary eyes were keeping a
sharp look-out over the landscape. I thrilled with the thought
that my own folk were near at hand.
Once Laputa checked me with his hand as I was going to
speak, and in silence we crossed the kloof of a little stream.
After that we struck a long strip of forest and he slackened
'if you fight for a great cause,' I said, 'why do you let a
miscreant like Henriques have a hand in it? You must know
that the man's only interest in you is the chance of loot. I am
for you against Henriques, and I tell you plain that if you don't
break the snake's back it will sting you.'
Laputa looked at me with an odd, meditative look.
'You misunderstand again, Mr Storekeeper. The Portuguese
is what you call a "mean white." His only safety is among us. I
am campaigner enough to know that an enemy, who has a
burning grievance against my other enemies, is a good ally.
You are too hard on Henriques. You and your friends have
treated him as a Kaffir, and a Kaffir he is in everything but
Kaffir virtues. What makes you so anxious that Henriques
should not betray me?'
'I'm not a mean white,' I said, 'and I will speak the truth. I
hope, in God's name, to see you smashed; but I want it done
by honest men, and not by a yellow devil who has murdered
my dog and my friends. Sooner or later you will find him out;
and if he escapes you, and there's any justice in heaven, he
won't escape me.'
'Brave words,' said Laputa, with a laugh, and then in one
second he became rigid in the saddle. We had crossed a patch
of meadow and entered a wood, beyond which ran the highway.
I fancy he was out in his reckoning, and did not think the
road so near. At any rate, after a moment he caught the sound
of horses, and I caught it too. The wood was thin, and there
was no room for retreat, while to recross the meadow would
bring us clean into the open. He jumped from his horse, untied
with amazing quickness the rope halter from its neck, and
started to gag me by winding the thing round my jaw.
I had no time to protest that I would keep faith, and my
right hand was tethered to his pommel. In the grip of these
great arms I was helpless, and in a trice was standing dumb as
a lamp-post; while Laputa, his left arm round both of mine,
and his right hand over the schimmel's eyes, strained his ears
like a sable antelope who has scented danger.
There was never a more brutal gagging. The rope crushed
my nose and drove my lips down on my teeth, besides gripping
my throat so that I could scarcely breathe. The pain was so
great that I became sick, and would have fallen but for Laputa.
Happily I managed to get my teeth apart, so that one coil
slipped between, and eased the pain of the jaws. But the rest
was bad enough to make me bite frantically on the tow, and I
think in a little my sharp front teeth would have severed it. All
this discomfort prevented me seeing what happened. The
wood, as I have said, was thin, and through the screen of
leaves I had a confused impression of men and horses passing
interminably. There can only have been a score at the most;
but the moments drag if a cord is gripping your throat. When
Laputa at length untied me, I had another fit of nausea, and
leaned helplessly against a tree.
Laputa listened till the sound of the horses had died away;
then silently we stole to the edge of the road, across, and into
the thicker evergreen bush on the far side. At a pace which
forced me to run hard, we climbed a steepish slope, till ahead
of us we saw the bald green crown of the meadowlands. I
noticed that his face had grown dark and sullen again. He was
in an enemy's country, and had the air of the hunted instead
of the hunter. When I stopped he glowered at me, and once, when
I was all but overcome with fatigue, he lifted his hand in a
threat. Had he carried a sjambok, it would have fallen on my back.
If he was nervous, so was I. The fact that I was out of the
Kaffir country and in the land of my own folk was a kind of
qualified liberty. At any moment, I felt, Providence might
intervene to set me free. It was in the bond that Laputa should
shoot me if we were attacked; but a pistol might miss. As far
as my shaken wits would let me, I began to forecast the future.
Once he got the jewels my side of the bargain was complete.
He had promised me my life, but there had been nothing said
about my liberty; and I felt assured that Laputa would never
allow one who had seen so much to get off to Arcoll with his
tidings. But back to that unhallowed kraal I was resolved I
would not go. He was armed, and I was helpless; he was
strong, and I was dizzy with weakness; he was mounted, and
I was on foot: it seemed a poor hope that I should get away.
There was little chance from a wandering patrol, for I knew if
we were followed I should have a bullet in my head, while
Laputa got off on the Schimmel. I must wait and bide events.
At the worst, a clean shot on the hillside in a race for life was
better than the unknown mysteries of the kraal. I prayed
earnestly to God to show me His mercy, for if ever man was
sore bested by the heathen it was I.
To my surprise, Laputa chose to show himself on the green
hill-shoulder. He looked towards the Wolkberg and raised his
hands. It must have been some signal. I cast my eyes back on
the road we had come, and I thought I saw some figures a mile
back, on the edge of the Letaba gorge. He was making sure of
By this time it was about four in the afternoon, and as
heavenly weather as the heart of man could wish. The
meadows were full of aromatic herbs, which, as we crushed
them, sent up a delicate odour. The little pools and shallows
of the burns were as clear as a Lothian trout-stream. We were
now going at a good pace, and I found that my earlier weariness
was growing less. I was being keyed up for some great crisis,
for in my case the spirit acts direct on the body, and fatigue
grows and ebbs with hope. I knew that my strength was not
far from breaking-point; but I knew also that so long as a
chance was left me I should have enough for a stroke.
Before I realized where we were we had rounded the hill,
and were looking down on the green cup of the upper
Machudi's glen. Far down, I remember, where the trees began,
there was a cloud of smoke. Some Kaffir - or maybe Arcoll -
had fired the forest. The smoke was drifting away under a
light west wind over the far plains, so that they were seen
through a haze of opal.
Laputa bade me take the lead. I saw quite clear the red kloof
on the far side, where the collar was hid. To get there we
might have ridden straight into the cup, but a providential
instinct made me circle round the top till we were on the lip of
the ravine. This was the road some of Machudi's men had
taken, and unthinkingly I followed them. Twenty minutes'
riding brought us to the place, and all the while I had no kind
of plan of escape. I was in the hands of my Maker, watching,
like the Jews of old, for a sign.
Laputa dismounted and looked down into the gorge.
'There is no road there,' I said. 'We must go down to the
foot and come up the stream-side. It would be better to leave
your horse here.'
He started down the cliff, which from above looks a sheer
precipice. Then he seemed to agree with me, took the rope
from the schimmel's neck, and knee-haltered his beast. And at
that moment I had an inspiration.
With my wrist-rope in his hand, he preceded me down the
hill till we got to the red screes at the foot of the kloof. Then,
under my guidance, we turned up into the darkness of the
gorge. As we entered I looked back, and saw figures coming
over the edge of the green cup - Laputa's men, I guessed.
What I had to do must be done quickly.
We climbed up the burn, over the succession of little
cataracts, till we came to the flat space of shingle and the long
pool where I had been taken that morning. The ashes of the
fire which Machudi's men had made were plain on the rock.
After that I had to climb a waterfall to get to the rocky pool
where I had bestowed the rubies.
'You must take off this thong,' I said. 'I must climb to get
the collar. Cover me with a pistol if you like. I won't be out
Laputa undid the thong and set me free. From his belt he
took a pistol, cocked it, and held it over his left hand. I had
seen this way of shooting adopted by indifferent shots, and it
gave me a wild hope that he might not be much of a marksman.
It did not take me long to find the pool, close against the
blackened stump of a tree-fern. I thrust in my hand and
gathered up the jewels from the cool sand. They came out
glowing like living fires, and for a moment I thrilled with a
sense of reverence. Surely these were no common stones which
held in them the very heart of hell. Clutching them tightly, I
climbed down to Laputa.
At the sight of the great Snake he gave a cry of rapture.
Tearing it from me, he held it at arm's length, his face lit with
a passionate joy. He kissed it, he raised it to the sky; nay, he
was on his knees before it. Once more he was the savage
transported in the presence of his fetich. He turned to me with
'Down on your knees,' he cried, 'and reverence the Ndhlondhlo.
Down, you impious dog, and seek pardon for your sacrilege.'
'I won't,' I said. 'I won't bow to any heathen idol.'
He pointed his pistol at me.
'In a second I shoot where your head is now. Down, you
fool, or perish.'
'You promised me my life,' I said stubbornly, though
Heaven knows why I chose to act thus.
He dropped the pistol and flung himself on me. I was
helpless as a baby in his hands. He forced me to the ground
and rolled my face in the sand; then he pulled me to my feet
and tossed me backward, till I almost staggered into the pool.
I saved myself, and staggered instead into the shallow at the
foot of it, close under the ledge of the precipice.
That morning, when Machudi's men were cooking breakfast,
I had figured out a route up the cliff. This route was
now my hope of escape. Laputa had dropped his pistol, and
the collar had plunged him in an ecstasy of worship. Now, if
ever, was my time. I must get on the shelf which ran sideways
up the cliff, and then scramble for dear life.
I pretended to be dazed and terrified.
'You promised me my life,' I whimpered.
'Your life,' he cried. 'Yes, you shall have your life; and
before long you will pray for death.'
'But I saved the Collar,' I pleaded. 'Henriques would have
stolen it. I brought it safe here, and now you have got it.'
Meantime I was pulling myself up on the shelf, and loosening
with one hand a boulder which overhung the pool.
'You have been repaid,' he said savagely. 'You will not die.'
'But my life is no use without liberty,' I said, working at the
boulder till it lay loose in its niche.
He did not answer, being intent on examining the Collar to
see if it had suffered any harm.
'I hope it isn't scratched,' I said. 'Henriques trod on it when
I hit him.'
Laputa peered at the gems like a mother at a child who has
had a fall. I saw my chance and took it. With a great heave I
pulled the boulder down into the pool. It made a prodigious
splash, sending a shower of spray over Laputa and the Collar.
In cover of it I raced up the shelf, straining for the shelter of
the juniper tree.
A shot rang out and struck the rock above me. A second
later I had reached the tree and was scrambling up the crack
Laputa did not fire again. He may have distrusted his
shooting, or seen a better way of it. He dashed through the
stream and ran up the shelf like a klipspringer after me. I felt
rather than saw what was happening, and with my heart in my
mouth I gathered my dregs of energy for the last struggle.
You know the nightmare when you are pursued by some
awful terror, and, though sick with fear, your legs have a
strange numbness, and you cannot drag them in obedience to
the will. Such was my feeling in the crack above the juniper
tree. In truth, I had passed the bounds of my endurance. Last
night I had walked fifty miles, and all day I had borne the
torments of a dreadful suspense. I had been bound and gagged
and beaten till the force was out of my limbs. Also, and above
all, I had had little food, and I was dizzy with want of sleep.
My feet seemed leaden, my hands had no more grip than
putty. I do not know how I escaped falling into the pool, for
my head was singing and my heart thumping in my throat. I
seemed to feel Laputa's great hand every second clawing at
I had reason for my fears. He had entered the crack long
before I had reached the top, and his progress was twice as fast
as mine. When I emerged on the topmost shelf he was scarcely
a yard behind me. But an overhang checked his bulky figure
and gave me a few seconds' grace. I needed it all, for these last
steps on the shelf were the totterings of an old man. Only a
desperate resolution and an extreme terror made me drag one
foot after the other. Blindly I staggered on to the top of the
ravine, and saw before me the Schimmel grazing in the light of
the westering sun.
I forced myself into a sort of drunken run, and crawled into
the saddle. Behind me, as I turned, I could see Laputa's
shoulders rising over the edge. I had no knife to cut the knee-
halter, and the horse could not stir.
Then the miracle happened. When the rope had gagged me,
my teeth must have nearly severed it at one place, and this
Laputa had not noticed when he used it as a knee-halter. The
shock of my entering the saddle made the Schimmel fling up
his head violently, and the rope snapped. I could not find the
stirrups, but I dug my heels into his sides, and he leaped forward.
At the same moment Laputa began to shoot. It was a foolish
move, for he might have caught me by running, since I had
neither spurs nor whip, and the horse was hampered by the
loose end of rope at his knee. In any case, being an indifferent
shot, he should have aimed at the Schimmel, not at me; but I
suppose he wished to save his charger. One bullet sang past
my head; a second did my business for me. It passed over my
shoulder, as I lay low in the saddle, and grazed the beast's
right ear. The pain maddened him, and, rope-end and all, he
plunged into a wild gallop. Other shots came, but they fell far
short. I saw dimly a native or two - the men who had followed
us - rush to intercept me, and I think a spear was flung. But
in a flash we were past them, and their cries faded behind me.
I found the bridle, reached for the stirrups, and galloped
straight for the sunset and for freedom.
CHAPTER XVIII. HOW A MAN MAY SOMETIMES PUT HIS TRUST IN A HORSE
I had long passed the limit of my strength. Only constant
fear and wild alternations of hope had kept me going so long,
and now that I was safe I became light-headed in earnest. The
wonder is that I did not fall off. Happily the horse was good
and the ground easy, for I was powerless to do any guiding. I
simply sat on his back in a silly glow of comfort, keeping a line
for the dying sun, which I saw in a nick of the Iron Crown
Mountain. A sort of childish happiness possessed me. After
three days of imminent peril, to be free was to be in fairyland.
To be swishing through the long bracken or plunging among
the breast-high flowers of the meadowlands in a world of
essential lights and fragrances, seemed scarcely part of mortal
experience. Remember that I was little more than a lad, and
that I had faced death so often of late that my mind was all
adrift. To be able to hope once more, nay, to be allowed to
cease both from hope and fear, was like a deep and happy
opiate to my senses. Spent and frail as I was, my soul swam in
blessed waters of ease.
The mood did not last long. I came back to earth with a
shock, as the schimmel stumbled at the crossing of a stream. I
saw that the darkness was fast falling, and with the sight panic
returned to me. Behind me I seemed to hear the sound of
pursuit. The noise was in my ears, but when I turned it
ceased, and I saw only the dusky shoulders of hills.
I tried to remember what Arcoll had told me about his
headquarters, but my memory was wiped clean. I thought they
were on or near the highway, but I could not remember where
the highway was. Besides, he was close to the enemy, and I
wanted to get back into the towns, far away from the battle-
line. If I rode west I must come in time to villages, where I
could hide myself. These were unworthy thoughts, but my
excuse must be my tattered nerves. When a man comes out
of great danger, he is apt to be a little deaf to the call of duty.
Suddenly I became ashamed. God had preserved me from
deadly perils, but not that I might cower in some shelter. I
had a mission as clear as Laputa's. For the first time I became
conscious to what a little thing I owed my salvation. That
matter of the broken halter was like the finger of Divine
Providence. I had been saved for a purpose, and unless I
fulfilled that purpose I should again be lost. I was always a
fatalist, and in that hour of strained body and soul I became
something of a mystic. My panic ceased, my lethargy departed,
and a more manly resolution took their place. I gripped the
Schimmel by the head and turned him due left. Now I
remembered where the highroad ran, and I remembered
For it was borne in on me that Laputa had fallen into my
hands. Without any subtle purpose I had played a master
game. He was cut off from his people, without a horse, on the
wrong side of the highroad which Arcoll's men patrolled.
Without him the rising would crumble. There might be war,
even desperate war, but we should fight against a leaderless
foe. If he could only be shepherded to the north, his game was
over, and at our leisure we could mop up the scattered
I was now as eager to get back into danger as I had been to
get into safety. Arcoll must be found and warned, and that
at once, or Laputa would slip over to Inanda's Kraal under
cover of dark. It was a matter of minutes, and on these minutes
depended the lives of thousands. It was also a matter of ebbing
strength, for with my return to common sense I saw very
clearly how near my capital was spent. If I could reach the
highroad, find Arcoll or Arcoll's men, and give them my
news, I would do my countrymen a service such as no man in
Africa could render. But I felt my head swimming, I was
swaying crazily in the saddle, and my hands had scarcely the
force of a child's. I could only lie limply on the horse's back,
clutching at his mane with trembling fingers. I remember
that my head was full of a text from the Psalms about not
putting one's trust in horses. I prayed that this one horse might
be an exception, for he carried more than Caesar and his
My mind is a blank about those last minutes. In less than an
hour after my escape I struck the highway, but it was an hour
which in the retrospect unrolls itself into unquiet years. I was
dimly conscious of scrambling through a ditch and coming to
a ghostly white road. The schimmel swung to the right, and
the next I knew some one had taken my bridle and was
speaking to me.
At first I thought it was Laputa and screamed. Then I must
have tottered in the saddle, for I felt an arm slip round my
middle. The rider uncorked a bottle with his teeth and forced
some brandy down my throat. I choked and coughed, and then
looked up to see a white policeman staring at me. I knew the
police by the green shoulder-straps.
'Arcoll,' I managed to croak. 'For God's sake take me to Arcoll.'
The man whistled shrilly on his fingers, and a second rider
came cantering down the road. As he came up I recognized his
face, but could not put a name to it.
'Losh, it's the lad Crawfurd,' I heard a voice say. 'Crawfurd,
man, d'ye no mind me at Lourenco Marques? Aitken?'
The Scotch tongue worked a spell with me. It cleared my
wits and opened the gates of my past life. At last I knew I was
among my own folk.
'I must see Arcoll. I have news for him - tremendous news.
O man, take me to Arcoll and ask me no questions. Where is
he? Where is he?'
'As it happens, he's about two hundred yards off,' Aitken
said. 'That light ye see at the top of the brae is his camp.'
They helped me up the road, a man on each side of me, for
I could never have kept in the saddle without their support.
My message to Arcoll kept humming in my head as I tried to
put it into words, for I had a horrid fear that my wits would
fail me and I should be dumb when the time came. Also I was
in a fever of haste. Every minute I wasted increased Laputa's
chance of getting back to the kraal. He had men with him
every bit as skilful as Arcoll's trackers. Unless Arcoll had a big
force and the best horses there was no hope. Often in looking
back at this hour I have marvelled at the strangeness of my
behaviour. Here was I just set free from the certainty of a
hideous death, and yet I had lost all joy in my security. I was
more fevered at the thought of Laputa's escape than I had
been at the prospect of David Crawfurd's end.
The next thing I knew I was being lifted off the Schimmel
by what seemed to me a thousand hands. Then came a glow of
light, a great moon, in the centre of which I stood blinking. I
was forced to sit down on a bed, while I was given a cup of hot
tea, far more reviving than any spirits. I became conscious that
some one was holding my hands, and speaking very slowly and gently.
'Davie,' the voice said, 'you're back among friends, my lad.
Tell me, where have you been?'
'I want Arcoll,' I moaned. 'Where is Ratitswan?' There were
tears of weakness running down my cheeks.
'Arcoll is here,' said the voice; 'he is holding your hands,
Davie. Quiet, lad, quiet. Your troubles are all over now.'
I made a great effort, found the eyes to which the voice
belonged, and spoke to them.
'Listen. I stole the collar of Prester John at Dupree's Drift.
I was caught in the Berg and taken to the kraal - I forget its
name - but I had hid the rubies.'
'Yes,' the voice said, 'you hid the rubies, - and then?'
'Inkulu wanted them back, so I made a deal with him. I
took him to Machudi's and gave him the collar, and then he
fired at me and I climbed and climbed ... I climbed on a
horse,' I concluded childishly.
I heard the voice say 'Yes?' again inquiringly, but my mind
ran off at a tangent.
'Beyers took guns up into the Wolkberg,' I cried shrilly.
'Why the devil don't you do the same? You have the whole
Kaffir army in a trap.'
I saw a smiling face before me.
'Good lad. Colles told me you weren't wanting in intelligence.
What if we have done that very thing, Davie?'
But I was not listening. I was trying to remember the thing
I most wanted to say, and that was not about Beyers and his
guns. Those were nightmare minutes. A speaker who has lost
the thread of his discourse, a soldier who with a bayonet at his
throat has forgotten the password - I felt like them, and worse.
And to crown all I felt my faintness coming back, and my head
dropping with heaviness. I was in a torment of impotence.
Arcoll, still holding my hands, brought his face close to
mine, so that his clear eyes mastered and constrained me.
'Look at me, Davie,' I heard him say. 'You have something
to tell me, and it is very important. It is about Laputa, isn't it?
Think, man. You took him to Machudi's and gave him the
collar. He has gone back with it to Inanda's Kraal. Very well,
my guns will hold him there.'
I shook my head. 'You can't. You may split the army, but
you can't hold Laputa. He will be over the Olifants before you
fire a shot.'
'We will hunt him down before he crosses. And if not, we
will catch him at the railway.'
'For God's sake, hurry then,' I cried. 'In an hour he will be
over it and back in the kraal.'
'But the river is a long way.'
'River?' I repeated hazily. 'What river? The Letaba is not
the place. It is the road I mean.'
Arcoll's hands closed firmly on my wrists.
'You left Laputa at Machudi's and rode here without stopping.
That would take you an hour. Had Laputa a horse?'
'Yes; but I took it,' I stammered. 'You can see it behind me.'
Arcoll dropped my hands and stood up straight.
'By God, we've got him!' he said, and he spoke to his
companions. A man turned and ran out of the tent.
Then I remembered what I wanted to say. I struggled from
the bed and put my hands on his shoulders.
'Laputa is our side of the highroad. Cut him off from his
men, and drive him north - north - away up to the Rooirand.
Never mind the Wolkberg and the guns, for they can wait. I
tell you Laputa is the Rising, and he has the collar. Without
him you can mop up the Kaffirs at your leisure. Line the high-
road with every man you have, for he must cross it or perish.
Oh, hurry, man, hurry; never mind me. We're saved if we can
chivy Laputa till morning. Quick, or I'll have to go myself.'
The tent emptied, and I lay back on the bed with a dim
feeling that my duty was done and I could rest. Henceforth
the affair was in stronger hands than mine. I was so weak that
I could not lift my legs up to the bed, but sprawled half on
and half off.
Utter exhaustion defeats sleep. I was in a fever, and my eyes
would not close. I lay and drowsed while it seemed to me that
the outside world was full of men and horses. I heard voices
and the sound of hoofs and the jingle of bridles, but above all
I heard the solid tramp of an army. The whole earth seemed
to be full of war. Before my mind was spread the ribbon of the
great highway. I saw it run white through the meadows of the
plateau, then in a dark corkscrew down the glen of the Letaba,
then white again through the vast moonlit bush of the plains,
till the shanties of Wesselsburg rose at the end of it. It seemed
to me to be less a road than a rampart, built of shining
marble, the Great Wall of Africa. I saw Laputa come out of
the shadows and try to climb it, and always there was the
sound of a rifle-breech clicking, a summons, and a flight. I
began to take a keen interest in the game. Down in the bush
were the dark figures of the hunted, and on the white wall
were my own people - horse, foot, and artillery, the squadrons
of our defence. What a general Arcoll was, and how great a
matter had David Crawfurd kindled!
A man came in - I suppose a doctor. He took off my leggings
and boots, cutting them from my bleeding feet, but I knew no
pain. He felt my pulse and listened to my heart. Then he
washed my face and gave me a bowl of hot milk. There must
have been a drug in the milk, for I had scarcely drunk it before
a tide of sleep seemed to flow over my brain. The white
rampart faded from my eyes and I slept.
CHAPTER XIX. ARCOLL'S SHEPHERDING
While I lay in a drugged slumber great things were happening.
What I have to tell is no experience of my own, but the
story as I pieced it together afterwards from talks with Arcoll
and Aitken. The history of the Rising has been compiled. As I
write I see before me on the shelves two neat blue volumes in
which Mr Alexander Upton, sometime correspondent of the
Times, has told for the edification of posterity the tale of the
war between the Plains and the Plateau. To him the Kaffir
hero is Umbooni, a half-witted ruffian, whom we afterwards
caught and hanged. He mentions Laputa only in a footnote as
a renegade Christian who had something to do with fomenting
discontent. He considers that the word 'Inkulu,' which he
often heard, was a Zulu name for God. Mr Upton is a
picturesque historian, but he knew nothing of the most romantic
incident of all. This is the tale of the midnight shepherding
of the 'heir of John' by Arcoll and his irregulars.
At Bruderstroom, where I was lying unconscious, there were
two hundred men of the police; sixty-three Basuto scouts
under a man called Stephen, who was half native in blood and
wholly native in habits; and three commandoes of the farmers,
each about forty strong. The commandoes were really companies
of the North Transvaal Volunteers, but the old name had
been kept and something of the old loose organization. There
were also two four-gun batteries of volunteer artillery, but
these were out on the western skirts of the Wolkberg following
Beyers's historic precedent. Several companies of regulars were
on their way from Pietersdorp, but they did not arrive till the
next day. When they came they went to the Wolkberg to join
the artillery. Along the Berg at strategic points were pickets of
police with native trackers, and at Blaauwildebeestefontein
there was a strong force with two field guns, for there was
some fear of a second Kaffir army marching by that place to
Inanda's Kraal. At Wesselsburg out on the plain there was a
biggish police patrol, and a system of small patrols along the
road, with a fair number of Basuto scouts. But the road was
picketed, not held; for Arcoll's patrols were only a branch of
his Intelligence Department. It was perfectly easy, as I had
found myself, to slip across in a gap of the pickets.
Laputa would be in a hurry, and therefore he would try to
cross at the nearest point. Hence it was Arcoll's first business
to hold the line between the defile of the Letaba and the camp
at Bruderstroom. A detachment of the police who were well
mounted galloped at racing speed for the defile, and behind
them the rest lined out along the road. The farmers took a line
at right angles to the road, so as to prevent an escape on the
western flank. The Basutos were sent into the woods as a sort
of advanced post to bring tidings of any movement there.
Finally a body of police with native runners at their stirrups
rode on to the drift where the road crosses the Letaba. The
place is called Main Drift, and you will find it on the map.
The natives were first of all to locate Laputa, and prevent him
getting out on the south side of the triangle of hill and wood
between Machudi's, the road, and the Letaba. If he failed
there, he must try to ford the Letaba below the drift, and cross
the road between the drift and Wesselsburg. Now Arcoll had
not men enough to watch the whole line, and therefore if
Laputa were once driven below the drift, he must shift his
men farther down the road. Consequently it was of the first
importance to locate Laputa's whereabouts, and for this purpose
the native trackers were sent forward. There was just a
chance of capturing him, but Arcoll knew too well his amazing
veld-craft and great strength of body to build much hope on that.
We were none too soon. The advance men of the police rode
into one of the Kaffirs from Inanda's Kraal, whom Laputa had
sent forward to see if the way was clear. In two minutes more
he would have been across and out of our power, for we had
no chance of overtaking him in the woody ravines of the
Letaba. The Kaffir, when he saw us, dived back into the grass
on the north side of the road, which made it clear that Laputa
was still there.
After that nothing happened for a little. The police reached
their drift, and all the road west of that point was strongly
held. The flanking commandoes joined hands with one of the
police posts farther north, and moved slowly to the scarp of
the Berg. They saw nobody; from which Arcoll could deduce
that his man had gone down the Berg into the forests.
Had the Basutos been any good at woodcraft we should have
had better intelligence. But living in a bare mountain country
they are apt to find themselves puzzled in a forest. The best
men among the trackers were some renegades of 'Mpefu, who
sent back word by a device known only to Arcoll that five
Kaffirs were in the woods a mile north of Main Drift. By this
time it was after ten o'clock, and the moon was rising. The five
men separated soon after, and the reports became confused.
Then Laputa, as the biggest of the five, was located on the
banks of the Great Letaba about two miles below Main Drift.
The question was as to his crossing. Arcoll had assumed
that he would swim the river and try to get over the road
between Main Drift and Wesselsburg. But in this assumption
he underrated the shrewdness of his opponent. Laputa knew
perfectly well that we had not enough men to patrol the whole
countryside, but that the river enabled us to divide the land
into two sections and concentrate strongly on one or the other.
Accordingly he left the Great Letaba unforded and resolved to
make a long circuit back to the Berg. One of his Kaffirs swam
the river, and when word of this was brought Arcoll began to
withdraw his posts farther down the road. But as the men were
changing 'Mpefu's fellows got wind of Laputa's turn to the
left, and in great haste Arcoll countermanded the move and
waited in deep perplexity at Main Drift.
The salvation of his scheme was the farmers on the scarp of
the Berg. They lit fires and gave Laputa the notion of a great
army. Instead of going up the glen of Machudi or the Letsitela
he bore away to the north for the valley of the Klein Letaba.
The pace at which he moved must have been amazing. He had
a great physique, hard as nails from long travelling, and in his
own eyes he had an empire at stake. When I look at the map
and see the journey which with vast fatigue I completed from
Dupree's Drift to Machudi's, and then look at the huge spaces
of country over which Laputa's legs took him on that night, I
am lost in admiration of the man.
About midnight he must have crossed the Letsitela. Here he
made a grave blunder. If he had tried the Berg by one of the
faces he might have got on to the plateau and been at Inanda's
Kraal by the dawning. But he over-estimated the size of the
commandoes, and held on to the north, where he thought
there would be no defence. About one o'clock Arcoll, tired of
inaction and conscious that he had misread Laputa's tactics,
resolved on a bold stroke. He sent half his police to the Berg
to reinforce the commandoes, bidding them get into touch
with the post at Blaauwildebeestefontein.
A little after two o'clock a diversion occurred. Henriques
succeeded in crossing the road three miles east of Main Drift.
He had probably left the kraal early in the night and had tried
to cross farther west, but had been deterred by the patrols.
East of Main Drift, where the police were fewer, he succeeded;
but he had not gone far till he was discovered by the Basuto
scouts. The find was reported to Arcoll, who guessed at once
who this traveller was. He dared not send out any of his white
men, but he bade a party of the scouts follow the Portugoose's
trail. They shadowed him to Dupree's Drift, where he crossed
the Letaba. There he lay down by the roadside to sleep, while
they kept him company. A hard fellow Henriques was, for he
could slumber peacefully on the very scene of his murder.
Dawn found Laputa at the head of the Klein Letaba glen,
not far from 'Mpefu's kraal. He got food at a hut, and set off
at once up the wooded hill above it, which is a promontory of
the plateau. By this time he must have been weary, or he
would not have blundered as he did right into a post of the
farmers. He was within an ace of capture, and to save himself
was forced back from the scarp. He seems, to judge from
reports, to have gone a little way south in the thicker timber,
and then to have turned north again in the direction of
Blaauwildebeestefontein. After that his movements are
obscure. He was seen on the Klein Labongo, but the sight of
the post at Blaauwildebeestefontein must have convinced him
that a korhaan could not escape that way. The next we heard
of him was that he had joined Henriques.
After daybreak Arcoll, having got his reports from the
plateau, and knowing roughly the direction in which Laputa
was shaping, decided to advance his lines. The farmers,
reinforced by three more commandoes from the Pietersdorp
district, still held the plateau, but the police were now on the
line of the Great Letaba. It was Arcoll's plan to hold that river
and the long neck of land between it and the Labongo. His
force was hourly increasing, and his mounted men would be
able to prevent any escape on the flank to the east of
So it happened that while Laputa was being driven east
from the Berg, Henriques was travelling north, and their lines
intersected. I should like to have seen the meeting. It must
have told Laputa what had always been in the Portugoose's
heart. Henriques, I fancy, was making for the cave in the
Rooirand. Laputa, so far as I can guess at his mind, had a plan
for getting over the Portuguese border, fetching a wide circuit,
and joining his men at any of the concentrations between there
The two were seen at midday going down the road which
leads from Blaauwildebeestefontein to the Lebombo. Then
they struck Arcoll's new front, which stretched from the
Letaba to the Labongo. This drove them north again, and
forced them to swim the latter stream. From there to the
eastern extremity of the Rooirand, which is the Portuguese
frontier, the country is open and rolling, with a thin light
scrub in the hollows. It was bad cover for the fugitives, as they
found to their cost. For Arcoll had purposely turned his police
into a flying column. They no longer held a line; they scoured
a country. Only Laputa's incomparable veld-craft and great
bodily strength prevented the two from being caught in half an
hour. They doubled back, swam the Labongo again, and got
into the thick bush on the north side of the Blaauwildebeestefontein
road. The Basuto scouts were magnificent in the open,
but in the cover they were again at fault. Laputa and Henriques
fairly baffled them, so that the pursuit turned to the west in
the belief that the fugitives had made for Majinje's kraal. In
reality they had recrossed the Labongo and were making for
All this I heard afterwards, but in the meantime I lay in
Arcoll's tent in deep unconsciousness. While my enemies were
being chased like partridges, I was reaping the fruits of four
days' toil and terror. The hunters had become the hunted, the
wheel had come full circle, and the woes of David Crawfurd
were being abundantly avenged.
I slept till midday of the next day. When I awoke the hot
noontide sun had made the tent like an oven. I felt better, but
very stiff and sore, and I had a most ungovernable thirst.
There was a pail of water with a tin pannikin beside the tent
pole, and out of this I drank repeated draughts. Then I lay
down again, for I was still very weary.
But my second sleep was not like my first. It was haunted
by wild nightmares. No sooner had I closed my eyes than I
began to live and move in a fantastic world. The whole bush
of the plains lay before me, and I watched it as if from some
view-point in the clouds. It was midday, and the sandy patches
shimmered under a haze of heat. I saw odd little movements
in the bush - a buck's head raised, a paauw stalking solemnly
in the long grass, a big crocodile rolling off a mudbank in the
river. And then I saw quite clearly Laputa's figure going east.
In my sleep I did not think about Arcoll's manoeuvres. My
mind was wholly set upon Laputa. He was walking wearily,
yet at a good pace, and his head was always turning, like a wild
creature snuffing the wind. There was something with him, a
shapeless shadow, which I could not see clearly. His neck was
bare, but I knew well that the collar was in his pouch.
He stopped, turned west, and I lost him. The bush world
for a space was quite silent, and I watched it eagerly as an
aeronaut would watch the ground for a descent. For a long
time I could see nothing. Then in a wood near a river there
seemed to be a rustling. Some guinea-fowl flew up as if
startled, and a stembok scurried out. I knew that Laputa
must be there.
Then, as I looked at the river, I saw a head swimming. Nay,
I saw two, one some distance behind the other. The first man
landed on the far bank, and I recognized Laputa. The second
was a slight short figure, and I knew it was Henriques.
I remember feeling very glad that these two had come
together. It was certain now that Henriques would not escape.
Either Laputa would find out the truth and kill him, or I
would come up with him and have my revenge. In any case he
was outside the Kaffir pale, adventuring on his own.
I watched the two till they halted near a ruined building.
Surely this was the store I had built at Umvelos'. The thought
gave me a horrid surprise. Laputa and Henriques were on
their way to the Rooirand!
I woke with a start to find my forehead damp with sweat.
There was some fever on me, I think, for my teeth were
chattering. Very clear in my mind was the disquieting thought
that Laputa and Henriques would soon be in the cave.
One of two things must happen - either Henriques would
kill Laputa, get the collar of rubies, and be in the wilds of
Mozambique before I could come up with his trail; or Laputa
would outwit him, and have the handling himself of the
treasure of gold and diamonds which had been laid up for the
rising. If he thought there was a risk of defeat, I knew he
would send my gems to the bottom of the Labongo, and all my
weary work would go for nothing. I had forgotten all about
patriotism. In that hour the fate of the country was nothing to
me, and I got no satisfaction from the thought that Laputa was
severed from his army. My one idea was that the treasure
would be lost, the treasure for which I had risked my life.
There is a kind of courage which springs from bitter anger
and disappointment. I had thought that I had bankrupted my
spirit, but I found that there was a new passion in me to which
my past sufferings taught no lesson. My uneasiness would not
let me rest a moment longer. I rose to my feet, holding on by
the bed, and staggered to the tent pole. I was weak, but not so
very weak that I could not make one last effort. It maddened
me that I should have done so much and yet fail at the end.
From a nail on the tent pole hung a fragment of looking-
glass which Arcoll used for shaving. I caught a glimpse of my
face in it, white and haggard and lined, with blue bags below
the eyes. The doctor the night before had sponged it, but he
had not got rid of all the stains of travel. In particular there
was a faint splash of blood on the left temple. I remembered
that this was what I had got from the basin of goat's blood that
night in the cave.
I think that the sight of that splash determined me. Whether
I willed it or not, I was sealed of Laputa's men. I must play
the game to the finish, or never again know peace of mind on
earth. These last four days had made me very old.
I found a pair of Arcoll's boots, roomy with much wearing,
into which I thrust my bruised feet. Then I crawled to the
door, and shouted for a boy to bring my horse. A Basuto
appeared, and, awed by my appearance, went off in a hurry to
see to the schimmel. It was late afternoon, about the same time
of day as had yesterday seen me escaping from Machudi's. The
Bruderstroom camp was empty, though sentinels were posted
at the approaches. I beckoned the only white man I saw, and
asked where Arcoll was. He told me that he had no news, but
added that the patrols were still on the road as far as Wesselsburg.
From this I gathered that Arcoll must have gone far out
into the bush in his chase. I did not want to see him; above
all, I did not want him to find Laputa. It was my private
business that I rode on, and I asked for no allies.
Somebody brought me a cup of thick coffee, which I could
not drink, and helped me into the saddle. The Schimmel was
fresh, and kicked freely as I cantered off the grass into the dust
of the highroad. The whole world, I remember, was still and
golden in the sunset.
CHAPTER XX. MY LAST SIGHT OF THE REVEREND JOHN LAPUTA
It was dark before I got into the gorge of the Letaba. I passed
many patrols, but few spoke to me, and none tried to stop me.
Some may have known me, but I think it was my face and
figure which tied their tongues. I must have been pale as
death, with tangled hair and fever burning in my eyes. Also on
my left temple was the splash of blood.
At Main Drift I found a big body of police holding the ford.
I splashed through and stumbled into one of their camp-fires.
A man questioned me, and told me that Arcoll had got his
quarry. 'He's dead, they say. They shot him out on the hills
when he was making for the Limpopo.' But I knew that this
was not true. It was burned on my mind that Laputa was alive,
nay, was waiting for me, and that it was God's will that we
should meet in the cave.
A little later I struck the track of the Kaffirs' march. There
was a broad, trampled way through the bush, and I followed
it, for it led to Dupree's Drift. All this time I was urging the
Schimmel with all the vigour I had left in me. I had quite lost
any remnant of fear. There were no terrors left for me either
from Nature or man. At Dupree's Drift I rode the ford without
a thought of crocodiles. I looked placidly at the spot where
Henriques had slain the Keeper and I had stolen the rubies.
There was no interest or imagination lingering in my dull
brain. My nerves had suddenly become things of stolid,
untempered iron. Each landmark I passed was noted down as
one step nearer to my object. At Umvelos' I had not the leisure
to do more than glance at the shell which I had built. I think I
had forgotten all about that night when I lay in the cellar and
heard Laputa's plans. Indeed, my doings of the past days were
all hazy and trivial in my mind. I only saw one sight clearly -
two men, one tall and black, the other little and sallow, slowly
creeping nearer to the Rooirand, and myself, a midget on a
horse, spurring far behind through the bush on their trail. I
saw the picture as continuously and clearly as if I had been
looking at a scene on the stage. There was only one change in
the setting; the three figures seemed to be gradually closing
I had no exhilaration in my quest. I do not think I had even
much hope, for something had gone numb and cold in me and
killed my youth. I told myself that treasure-hunting was an
enterprise accursed of God, and that I should most likely die.
That Laputa and Henriques would die I was fully certain.
The three of us would leave our bones to bleach among the
diamonds, and in a little the Prester's collar would glow
amid a little heap of human dust. I was quite convinced of all
this, and quite apathetic. It really did not matter so long as I
came up with Laputa and Henriques, and settled scores with
them. That mattered everything in the world, for it was my destiny.
I had no means of knowing how long I took, but it was after
midnight before I passed Umvelos', and ere I got to the
Rooirand there was a fluttering of dawn in the east. I must
have passed east of Arcoll's men, who were driving the bush
towards Majinje's. I had ridden the night down and did not
feel so very tired. My horse was stumbling, but my own limbs
scarcely pained me. To be sure I was stiff and nerveless as if
hewn out of wood, but I had been as bad when I left
Bruderstroom. I felt as if I could go on riding to the end of
At the brink of the bush I dismounted and turned the
Schimmel loose. I had brought no halter, and I left him to
graze and roll. The light was sufficient to let me see the great
rock face rising in a tower of dim purple. The sky was still
picked out with stars, but the moon had long gone down, and
the east was flushing. I marched up the path to the cave, very
different from the timid being who had walked the same road
three nights before. Then my terrors were all to come: now I
had conquered terror and seen the other side of fear. I was
But beside the path lay something which made me pause. It
was a dead body, and the head was turned away from me. I
did not need to see the face to know who it was. There had
been only two men in my vision, and one of them was immortal.
I stopped and turned the body over. There was no joy in
my heart, none of the lust of satisfied vengeance or slaked hate.
I had forgotten about the killing of my dog and all the rest of
Henriques' doings. It was only with curiosity that I looked
down on the dead face, swollen and livid in the first light
The man had been strangled. His neck, as we say in
Scotland, was 'thrawn', and that was why he had lain on his
back yet with his face turned away from me. He had been dead
probably since before midnight. I looked closer, and saw that
there was blood on his shirt and hands, but no wound. It was
not his blood, but some other's. Then a few feet off on the
path I found a pistol with two chambers empty.
What had happened was very plain. Henriques had tried to
shoot Laputa at the entrance of the cave for the sake of the
collar and the treasure within. He had wounded him - gravely,
I thought, to judge from the amount of blood - but the
quickness and marksmanship of the Portuguese had not availed
to save his life from those terrible hands. After two shots
Laputa had got hold of him and choked his life out as easily as
a man twists a partridge's neck. Then he had gone into the cave.
I saw the marks of blood on the road, and hastened on.
Laputa had been hours in the cave, enough to work havoc with
the treasure. He was wounded, too, and desperate. Probably
he had come to the Rooirand looking for sanctuary and rest for
a day or two, but if Henriques had shot straight he might find
a safer sanctuary and a longer rest. For the third time in my
life I pushed up the gully between the straight high walls of
rock, and heard from the heart of the hills the thunder of the
There was only the faintest gleam of light in the cleft, but it
sufficed to show me that the way to the cave was open. The
hidden turnstile in the right wall stood ajar; I entered, and
carelessly swung it behind me. The gates clashed into place
with a finality which told me that they were firmly shut. I did
not know the secret of them, so how should I get out again?
These things troubled me less than the fact that I had no
light at all now. I had to go on my knees to ascend the stair,
and I could feel that the steps were wet. It must be Laputa's blood.
Next I was out on the gallery which skirted the chasm. The
sky above me was growing pale with dawn, and far below the
tossing waters were fretted with light. A light fragrant wind
was blowing on the hills, and a breath of it came down the
funnel. I saw that my hands were all bloody with the stains on
the steps, and I rubbed them on the rock to clean them.
Without a tremor I crossed the stone slab over the gorge, and
plunged into the dark alley which led to the inner chamber.
As before, there was a light in front of me, but this time it
was a pin-point and not the glare of many torches. I felt my
way carefully by the walls of the passage, though I did not
really fear anything. It was by the stopping of these lateral
walls that I knew I was in the cave, for the place had only one
single speck of light. The falling wall of water stood out grey
green and ghostly on the left, and I noticed that higher up it
was lit as if from the open air. There must be a great funnel in
the hillside in that direction. I walked a few paces, and then I
made out that the spark in front was a lantern.
My eyes were getting used to the half-light, and I saw what
was beside the lantern. Laputa knelt on the ashes of the fire
which the Keeper had kindled three days before. He knelt
before, and half leaned on, a rude altar of stone. The lantern
stood by him on the floor, and its faint circle lit something
which I was not unprepared for. Blood was welling from his
side, and spreading in a dark pool over the ashes.
I had no fear, only a great pity - pity for lost romance, for
vain endeavour, for fruitless courage. 'Greeting, Inkulu!' I
said in Kaffir, as if I had been one of his indunas.
He turned his head and slowly and painfully rose to his feet.
The place, it was clear, was lit from without, and the daylight
was growing. The wall of the river had become a sheet of
jewels, passing from pellucid diamond above to translucent
emerald below. A dusky twilight sought out the extreme
corners of the cave. Laputa's tall figure stood swaying above
the white ashes, his hand pressed to his side.
'Who is it?' he said, looking at me with blind eyes.
'It is the storekeeper from Umvelos',' I answered.
'The storekeeper of Umvelos',' he repeated. 'God has used
the weak things of the world to confound the strong. A king
dies because a pedlar is troublesome. What do they call you,
man? You deserve to be remembered.'
I told him 'David Crawfurd.'
'Crawfurd,' he repeated, 'you have been the little reef on
which a great vessel has foundered. You stole the collar and
cut me off from my people, and then when I was weary the
Portuguese killed me.'
'No,' I cried, 'it was not me. You trusted Henriques, and
you got your fingers on his neck too late. Don't say I didn't
'You warned me, and I will repay you. I will make you rich,
Crawfurd. You are a trader, and want money. I am a king,
and want a throne. But I am dying, and there will be no more
kings in Africa.'
The mention of riches did not thrill me as I had expected,
but the last words awakened a wild regret. I was hypnotized
by the man. To see him going out was like seeing the fall of a
He stretched himself, gasping, and in the growing light I
could see how broken he was. His cheeks were falling in, and
his sombre eyes had shrunk back in their sockets. He seemed
an old worn man standing there among the ashes, while the
blood, which he made no effort to staunch, trickled down his
side till it dripped on the floor. He had ceased to be the Kaffir
king, or the Christian minister, or indeed any one of his former
parts. Death was stripping him to his elements, and the man
Laputa stood out beyond and above the characters he had
played, something strange, and great, and moving, and terrible.
'We met for the first time three days ago,' he said, 'and now
you will be the last to see the Inkulu.'
'Umvelos' was not our first meeting,' said I. 'Do you mind
the Sabbath eight years since when you preached in the Free
Kirk at Kirkcaple? I was the boy you chased from the shore,
and I flung the stone that blacked your eye. Besides, I came
out from England with you and Henriques, and I was in the
boat which took you from Durban to Delagoa Bay. You and I
have been long acquaint, Mr Laputa.'
'It is the hand of God,' he said solemnly. 'Your fate has been
twisted with mine, and now you will die with me.'
I did not understand this talk about dying. I was not
mortally wounded like him, and I did not think Laputa had
the strength to kill me even if he wished. But my mind was so
impassive that I scarcely regarded his words.
'I will make you rich,' he cried. 'Crawfurd, the storekeeper,
will be the richest man in Africa. We are scattered, and our
wealth is another's. He shall have the gold and the diamonds -
all but the Collar, which goes with me.'
He staggered into a dark recess, one of many in the cave,
and I followed him. There were boxes there, tea chests,
cartridge cases, and old brass-ribbed Portuguese coffers.
Laputa had keys at his belt, and unlocked them, his fingers
fumbling with weakness. I peered in and saw gold coin and
little bags of stones.
'Money and diamonds,' he cried. 'Once it was the war chest
of a king, and now it will be the hoard of a trader. No, by the
Lord! The trader's place is with the Terrible Ones.' An arm
shot out, and my shoulder was fiercely gripped.
'You stole my horse. That is why I am dying. But for you I
and my army would be over the Olifants. I am going to kill
you, Crawfurd,' and his fingers closed in to my shoulder blades.
Still I was unperturbed. 'No, you are not. You cannot. You
have tried to and failed. So did Henriques, and he is lying
dead outside. I am in God's keeping, and cannot die before
I do not know if he heard me, but at any rate the murderous
fit passed. His hand fell to his side and his great figure tottered
out into the cave. He seemed to be making for the river, but
he turned and went through the door I had entered by. I heard
him slipping in the passage, and then there was a minute of
Suddenly there came a grinding sound, followed by the kind
of muffled splash which a stone makes when it falls into a deep
well. I thought Laputa had fallen into the chasm, but when I
reached the door his swaying figure was coming out of the
corridor. Then I knew what he had done. He had used the
remnant of his giant strength to break down the bridge of stone
across the gorge, and so cut off my retreat.
I really did not care. Even if I had got over the bridge I
should probably have been foiled by the shut turnstile. I had
quite forgotten the meaning of fear of death.
I found myself giving my arm to the man who had tried to
'I have laid up for you treasure in heaven,' he said. 'Your
earthly treasure is in the boxes, but soon you will be seeking
incorruptible jewels in the deep deep water. It is cool and quiet
down there, and you forget the hunger and pain.'
The man was getting very near his end. The madness of
despair came back to him, and he flung himself among the ashes.
'We are going to die together, Crawfurd,' he said. 'God has
twined our threads, and there will be only one cutting. Tell
me what has become of my army.'
'Arcoll has guns on the Wolkberg,' I said. 'They must
submit or perish.'
'I have other armies ... No, no, they are nothing. They
will all wander and blunder and fight and be beaten. There is
no leader anywhere ... And I am dying.'
There was no gainsaying the signs of death. I asked him if
he would like water, but he made no answer. His eyes were
fixed on vacancy, and I thought I could realize something of
the bitterness of that great regret. For myself I was as cold as
a stone. I had no exultation of triumph, still less any fear of
my own fate. I stood silent, the half-remorseful spectator of a
fall like the fall of Lucifer.
'I would have taught the world wisdom.' Laputa was speaking
English in a strange, thin, abstracted voice. 'There would
have been no king like me since Charlemagne,' and he strayed
into Latin which I have been told since was an adaptation of the
Epitaph of Charles the Great. 'Sub hoc conditorio,' he crooned,
'situm est corpus Joannis, magni et orthodoxi Imperatoris, qui
imperium Africanum nobiliter ampliavit, et multos
per annos mundum feliciter rexit.'* He must have chosen this
epitaph long ago.
*'Under this stone is laid the body of John, the
great and orthodox Emperor, who nobly enlarged the
African realm, and for many years happily ruled
He lay for a few seconds with his head on his arms, his
breast heaving with agony.
'No one will come after me. My race is doomed, and in a
little they will have forgotten my name. I alone could have
saved them. Now they go the way of the rest, and the warriors
of John become drudges and slaves.'
Something clicked in his throat, he gasped and fell forward,
and I thought he was dead. Then he struggled as if to rise. I
ran to him, and with all my strength aided him to his feet.
'Unarm, Eros,' he cried. 'The long day's task is done.' With
the strange power of a dying man he tore off his leopard-skin
and belt till he stood stark as on the night when he had been
crowned. From his pouch he took the Prester's Collar. Then
he staggered to the brink of the chasm where the wall of green
water dropped into the dark depth below.
I watched, fascinated, as with the weak hands of a child he
twined the rubies round his neck and joined the clasp. Then
with a last effort he stood straight up on the brink, his eyes
raised to the belt of daylight from which the water fell. The
light caught the great gems and called fires from them, the
flames of the funeral pyre of a king.
Once more his voice, restored for a moment to its old vigour,
rang out through the cave above the din of the cascade. His
words were those which the Keeper had used three nights
before. With his hands held high and the Collar burning on
his neck he cried, 'The Snake returns to the House of its Birth.'
'Come,' he cried to me. 'The Heir of John is going home.'
Then he leapt into the gulf. There was no sound of falling,
so great was the rush of water. He must have been whirled
into the open below where the bridge used to be, and then
swept into the underground deeps, where the Labongo
drowses for thirty miles. Far from human quest he sleeps his
last sleep, and perhaps on a fragment of bone washed into a
crevice of rock there may hang the jewels that once gleamed in
CHAPTER XXI. I CLIMB THE CRAGS A SECOND TIME
I remember that I looked over the brink into the yeasty
abyss with a mind hovering between perplexity and tears. I
wanted to sit down and cry - why, I did not know, except that
some great thing had happened. My brain was quite clear as to
my own position. I was shut in this place, with no chance of
escape and with no food. In a little I must die of starvation, or
go mad and throw myself after Laputa. And yet I did not care
a rush. My nerves had been tried too greatly in the past week.
Now I was comatose, and beyond hoping or fearing.
I sat for a long time watching the light play on the fretted
sheet of water and wondering where Laputa's body had gone.
I shivered and wished he had not left me alone, for the
darkness would come in time and I had no matches. After a
little I got tired of doing nothing, and went groping among the
treasure chests. One or two were full of coin - British sovereigns,
Kruger sovereigns, Napoleons, Spanish and Portuguese
gold pieces, and many older coins ranging back to the Middle
Ages and even to the ancients. In one handful there was a
splendid gold stater, and in another a piece of Antoninus
Pius. The treasure had been collected for many years in many
places, contributions of chiefs from ancient hoards as well as
the cash received from I.D.B. I untied one or two of the little
bags of stones and poured the contents into my hands. Most of
the diamonds were small, such as a labourer might secrete on
his person. The larger ones - and some were very large - were
as a rule discoloured, looking more like big cairngorms. But
one or two bags had big stones which even my inexperienced
eye told me were of the purest water. There must be some new
pipe, I thought, for these could not have been stolen from any
After that I sat on the floor again and looked at the water. It
exercised a mesmeric influence on me, soothing all care. I was
quite happy to wait for death, for death had no meaning to
me. My hate and fury were both lulled into a trance, since the
passive is the next stage to the overwrought.
It must have been full day outside now, for the funnel was
bright with sunshine, and even the dim cave caught a reflected
radiance. As I watched the river I saw a bird flash downward,
skimming the water. It turned into the cave and fluttered
among its dark recesses. I heard its wings beating the roof as it
sought wildly for an outlet. It dashed into the spray of the
cataract and escaped again into the cave. For maybe twenty
minutes it fluttered, till at last it found the way it had entered
by. With a dart it sped up the funnel of rock into light and
I had begun to watch the bird in idle lassitude, I ended in
keen excitement. The sight of it seemed to take a film from my
eyes. I realized the zest of liberty, the passion of life again. I
felt that beyond this dim underworld there was the great
joyous earth, and I longed for it. I wanted to live now. My
memory cleared, and I remembered all that had befallen me
during the last few days. I had played the chief part in the
whole business, and I had won. Laputa was dead and the
treasure was mine, while Arcoll was crushing the Rising at his
ease. I had only to be free again to be famous and rich. My
hopes had returned, but with them came my fears. What if I
could not escape? I must perish miserably by degrees, shut in
the heart of a hill, though my friends were out for rescue. In
place of my former lethargy I was now in a fever of unrest.
My first care was to explore the way I had come. I ran down
the passage to the chasm which the slab of stone had spanned.
I had been right in my guess, for the thing was gone. Laputa
was in truth a Titan, who in the article of death could break
down a bridge which would have taken any three men an hour
to shift. The gorge was about seven yards wide, too far to risk
a jump, and the cliff fell sheer and smooth to the imprisoned
waters two hundred feet below. There was no chance of
circuiting it, for the wall was as smooth as if it had been
chiselled. The hand of man had been at work to make the
It occurred to me that sooner or later Arcoll would track
Laputa to this place. He would find the bloodstains in the
gully, but the turnstile would be shut and he would never find
the trick of it. Nor could he have any kaffirs with him who
knew the secret of the Place of the Snake. Still if Arcoll knew
I was inside he would find some way to get to me even though
he had to dynamite the curtain of rock. I shouted, but my
voice seemed to be drowned in the roar of the water. It made
but a fresh chord in the wild orchestra, and I gave up hopes in
Very dolefully I returned to the cave. I was about to share
the experience of all treasure-hunters - to be left with jewels
galore and not a bite to sustain life. The thing was too
commonplace to be endured. I grew angry, and declined so
obvious a fate. 'Ek sal 'n plan maak,' I told myself in the old
Dutchman's words. I had come through worse dangers, and a
way I should find. To starve in the cave was no ending for
David Crawfurd. Far better to join Laputa in the depths in a
manly hazard for liberty.
My obstinacy and irritation cheered me. What had become
of the lack-lustre young fool who had mooned here a few
minutes back. Now I was as tense and strung for effort as the
day I had ridden from Blaauwildebeestefontein to Umvelos'. I
felt like a runner in the last lap of a race. For four days I had
lived in the midst of terror and darkness. Daylight was only a
few steps ahead, daylight and youth restored and a new world.
There were only two outlets from that cave - the way I had
come, and the way the river came. The first was closed, the
second a sheer staring impossibility. I had been into every
niche and cranny, and there was no sign of a passage. I sat
down on the floor and looked at the wall of water. It fell, as I
have already explained, in a solid sheet, which made up the
whole of the wall of the cave. Higher than the roof of the cave
I could not see what happened, except that it must be the open
air, for the sun was shining on it. The water was about three
yards distant from the edge of the cave's floor, but it seemed
to me that high up, level with the roof, this distance decreased
to little more than a foot.
I could not see what the walls of the cave were like, but they
looked smooth and difficult. Supposing I managed to climb up
to the level of the roof close to the water, how on earth was I
to get outside on to the wall of the ravine? I knew from my old
days of rock-climbing what a complete obstacle the overhang
of a cave is.
While I looked, however, I saw a thing which I had not
noticed before. On the left side of the fall the water sluiced
down in a sheet to the extreme edge of the cave, almost
sprinkling the floor with water. But on the right side the force
of water was obviously weaker, and a little short of the level of
the cave roof there was a spike of rock which slightly broke the
fall. The spike was covered, but the covering was shallow, for
the current flowed from it in a rose-shaped spray. If a man
could get to that spike and could get a foot on it without being
swept down, it might be possible - just possible - to do something
with the wall of the chasm above the cave. Of course I
knew nothing about the nature of that wall. It might be as
smooth as a polished pillar.
The result of these cogitations was that I decided to prospect
the right wall of the cave close to the waterfall. But first I went
rummaging in the back part to see if I could find anything to
assist me. In one corner there was a rude cupboard with some
stone and metal vessels. Here, too, were the few domestic
utensils of the dead Keeper. In another were several locked
coffers on which I could make no impression. There were the
treasure-chests too, but they held nothing save treasure, and
gold and diamonds were no manner of use to me. Other odds
and ends I found - spears, a few skins, and a broken and
notched axe. I took the axe in case there might be cutting to do.
Then at the back of a bin my hand struck something which
brought the blood to my face. It was a rope, an old one, but
still in fair condition and forty or fifty feet long. I dragged it
out into the light and straightened its kinks. With this something
could be done, assuming I could cut my way to the level
of the roof.
I began the climb in my bare feet, and at the beginning it
was very bad. Except on the very edge of the abyss there was
scarcely a handhold. Possibly in floods the waters may have
swept the wall in a curve, smoothing down the inner part and
leaving the outer to its natural roughness. There was one place
where I had to hang on by a very narrow crack while I scraped
with the axe a hollow for my right foot. And then about twelve
feet from the ground I struck the first of the iron pegs.
To this day I cannot think what these pegs were for. They
were old square-headed things which had seen the wear of
centuries. They cannot have been meant to assist a climber,
for the dwellers of the cave had clearly never contemplated this
means of egress. Perhaps they had been used for some kind of
ceremonial curtain in a dim past. They were rusty and frail,
and one of them came away in my hand, but for all that they
marvellously assisted my ascent.
I had been climbing slowly, doggedly and carefully, my
mind wholly occupied with the task; and almost before I knew
I found my head close under the roof of the cave. It was
necessary now to move towards the river, and the task seemed
impossible. I could see no footholds, save two frail pegs, and
in the corner between the wall and the roof was a rough arch
too wide for my body to jam itself in. Just below the level of
the roof - say two feet - I saw the submerged spike of rock.
The waters raged around it, and could not have been more
than an inch deep on the top. If I could only get my foot on
that I believed I could avoid being swept down, and stand up
and reach for the wall above the cave.
But how to get to it? It was no good delaying, for my frail
holds might give at any moment. In any case I would have the
moral security of the rope, so I passed it through a fairly
staunch pin close to the roof, which had an upward tilt that
almost made a ring of it. One end of the rope was round my
body, the other was loose in my hand, and I paid it out as I
moved. Moral support is something. Very gingerly I crawled
like a fly along the wall, my fingers now clutching at a tiny
knob, now clawing at a crack which did little more than hold
my nails. It was all hopeless insanity, and yet somehow I did
it. The rope and the nearness of the roof gave me confidence
Then the holds ceased altogether a couple of yards from the
water. I saw my spike of rock a trifle below me. There was nothing
for it but to risk all on a jump. I drew the rope out of the
hitch, twined the slack round my waist, and leaped for the spike.
It was like throwing oneself on a line of spears. The solid
wall of water hurled me back and down, but as I fell my arms
closed on the spike. There I hung while my feet were towed
outwards by the volume of the stream as if they had been dead
leaves. I was half-stunned by the shock of the drip on my
head, but I kept my wits, and presently got my face outside
the falling sheet and breathed.
To get to my feet and stand on the spike while all the fury
of water was plucking at me was the hardest physical effort I
have ever made. It had to be done very circumspectly, for a
slip would send me into the abyss. If I moved an arm or leg an
inch too near the terrible dropping wall I knew I should be
plucked from my hold. I got my knees on the outer face of the
spike, so that all my body was removed as far as possible from
the impact of the water. Then I began to pull myself slowly up.
I could not do it. If I got my feet on the rock the effort
would bring me too far into the water, and that meant
destruction. I saw this clearly in a second while my wrists were
cracking with the strain. But if I had a wall behind me I could
reach back with one hand and get what we call in Scotland a
'stelf.' I knew there was a wall, but how far I could not judge.
The perpetual hammering of the stream had confused my wits.
It was a horrible moment, but I had to risk it. I knew that if
the wall was too far back I should fall, for I had to let my
weight go till my hand fell on it. Delay would do no good, so
with a prayer I flung my right hand back, while my left hand
clutched the spike.
I found the wall - it was only a foot or two beyond my
reach. With a heave I had my foot on the spike, and turning,
had both hands on the opposite wall. There I stood, straddling
like a Colossus over a waste of white waters, with the cave
floor far below me in the gloom, and my discarded axe lying
close to a splash of Laputa's blood.
The spectacle made me giddy, and I had to move on or fall.
The wall was not quite perpendicular, but as far as I could see
a slope of about sixty degrees. It was ribbed and terraced
pretty fully, but I could see no ledge within reach which
offered standing room. Once more I tried the moral support of
the rope, and as well as I could dropped a noose on the spike
which might hold me if I fell. Then I boldly embarked on a
hand traverse, pulling myself along a little ledge till I was right
in the angle of the fall. Here, happily, the water was shallower
and less violent, and with my legs up to the knees in foam I
managed to scramble into a kind of corner. Now at last I was
on the wall of the gully, and above the cave. I had achieved by
amazing luck one of the most difficult of all mountaineering
operations. I had got out of a cave to the wall above.
My troubles were by no means over, for I found the cliff
most difficult to climb. The great rush of the stream dizzied
my brain, the spray made the rock damp, and the slope
steepened as I advanced. At one overhang my shoulder was
almost in the water again. All this time I was climbing
doggedly, with terror somewhere in my soul, and hope lighting
but a feeble lamp. I was very distrustful of my body, for I
knew that at any moment my weakness might return. The
fever of three days of peril and stress is not allayed by one
By this time I was high enough to see that the river came
out of the ground about fifty feet short of the lip of the gully,
and some ten feet beyond where I stood. Above the hole
whence the waters issued was a loose slope of slabs and screes.
It looked an ugly place, but there I must go, for the rock-wall
I was on was getting unclimbable.
I turned the corner a foot or two above the water, and stood
on a slope of about fifty degrees, running from the parapet of
stone to a line beyond which blue sky appeared. The first step
I took the place began to move. A boulder crashed into the
fall, and tore down into the abyss with a shattering thunder. I
lay flat and clutched desperately at every hold, but I had
loosened an avalanche of earth, and not till my feet were
sprayed by the water did I get a grip of firm rock and check
my descent. All this frightened me horribly, with the kind of
despairing angry fear which I had suffered at Bruderstroom,
when I dreamed that the treasure was lost. I could not bear
the notion of death when I had won so far.
After that I advanced, not by steps, but by inches. I felt
more poised and pinnacled in the void than when I had stood
on the spike of rock, for I had a substantial hold neither for
foot nor hand. It seemed weeks before I made any progress
away from the lip of the waterhole. I dared not look down, but
kept my eyes on the slope before me, searching for any patch
of ground which promised stability. Once I found a scrog of
juniper with firm roots, and this gave me a great lift. A little
further, however, I lit on a bank of screes which slipped with
me to the right, and I lost most of the ground the bush had
gained me. My whole being, I remember, was filled with a
devouring passion to be quit of this gully and all that was in it.
Then, not suddenly as in romances, but after hard striving
and hope long deferred, I found myself on a firm outcrop of
weathered stone. In three strides I was on the edge of the
plateau. Then I began to run, and at the same time to lose the
power of running. I cast one look behind me, and saw a deep
cleft of darkness out of which I had climbed. Down in the cave
it had seemed light enough, but in the clear sunshine of the
top the gorge looked a very pit of shade. For the first and last
time in my life I had vertigo. Fear of falling back, and a mad
craze to do it, made me acutely sick. I managed to stumble a
few steps forward on the mountain turf, and then flung myself
on my face.
When I raised my head I was amazed to find it still early
morning. The dew was yet on the grass, and the sun was not
far up the sky. I had thought that my entry into the cave, my
time in it, and my escape had taken many hours, whereas at
the most they had occupied two. It was little more than dawn,
such a dawn as walks only on the hilltops. Before me was the
shallow vale with its bracken and sweet grass, and farther on
the shining links of the stream, and the loch still grey in the
shadow of the beleaguering hills. Here was a fresh, clean land,
a land for homesteads and orchards and children. All of a
sudden I realized that at last I had come out of savagery.
The burden of the past days slipped from my shoulders. I
felt young again, and cheerful and brave. Behind me was the
black night, and the horrid secrets of darkness. Before me was
my own country, for that loch and that bracken might have
been on a Scotch moor. The fresh scent of the air and the
whole morning mystery put song into my blood. I remembered
that I was not yet twenty.
My first care was to kneel there among the bracken and give
thanks to my Maker, who in very truth had shown me 'His
goodness in the land of the living.'
After a little I went back to the edge of the cliff. There
where the road came out of the bush was the body of
Henriques, lying sprawled on the sand, with two dismounted
riders looking hard at it. I gave a great shout, for in the men I
recognized Aitken and the schoolmaster Wardlaw.
CHAPTER XXII. A GREAT PERIL AND A GREAT SALVATION
I must now take up some of the ragged ends which I have
left behind me. It is not my task, as I have said, to write the
history of the great Rising. That has been done by abler men,
who were at the centre of the business, and had some knowledge
of strategy and tactics; whereas I was only a raw lad who
was privileged by fate to see the start. If I could, I would fain
make an epic of it, and show how the Plains found at all points
the Plateau guarded, how wits overcame numbers, and at every
pass which the natives tried the great guns spoke and the tide
rolled back. Yet I fear it would be an epic without a hero.
There was no leader left when Laputa had gone. There were
months of guerrilla fighting, and then months of reprisals,
when chief after chief was hunted down and brought to trial.
Then the amnesty came and a clean sheet, and white Africa
drew breath again with certain grave reflections left in her
head. On the whole I am not sorry that the history is no
business of mine. Romance died with 'the heir of John,' and
the crusade became a sorry mutiny. I can fancy how differently
Laputa would have managed it all had he lived; how swift and
sudden his plans would have been; how under him the fighting
would not have been in the mountain glens, but far in the
high-veld among the dorps and townships. With the Inkulu
alive we warred against odds; with the Inkulu dead the balance
sank heavily in our favour. I leave to others the marches and
strategy of the thing, and hasten to clear up the obscure parts
in my own fortunes.
Arcoll received my message from Umvelos' by Colin, or
rather Wardlaw received it and sent it on to the post on the
Berg where the leader had gone. Close on its heels came the
message from Henriques by a Shangaan in his pay. It must
have been sent off before the Portugoose got to the Rooirand,
from which it would appear that he had his own men in the
bush near the store, and that I was lucky to get off as I did.
Arcoll might have disregarded Henriques' news as a trap if it
had come alone, but my corroboration impressed and perplexed
him. He began to credit the Portugoose with treachery,
but he had no inclination to act on his message, since it
conflicted with his plans. He knew that Laputa must come into
the Berg sooner or later, and he had resolved that his strategy
must be to await him there. But there was the question of my
life. He had every reason to believe that I was in the greatest
danger, and he felt a certain responsibility for my fate. With
the few men at his disposal he could not hope to hold up the
great Kaffir army, but there was a chance that he might by a
bold stand effect my rescue. Henriques had told him of the
vow, and had told him that Laputa would ride in the centre of
the force. A body of men well posted at Dupree's Drift might
split the army at the crossing, and under cover of the fire I
might swim the river and join my friends. Still relying on the
vow, it might be possible for well-mounted men to evade
capture. Accordingly he called for volunteers, and sent off one
of his Kaffirs to warn me of his design. He led his men in
person, and of his doings the reader already knows the tale.
But though the crossing was flung into confusion, and the rear
of the army was compelled to follow the northerly bank of the
Letaba, there was no sign of me anywhere. Arcoll searched the
river-banks, and crossed the drift to where the old Keeper was
lying dead. He then concluded that I had been murdered early
in the march, and his Kaffir, who might have given him news
of me, was carried up the stream in the tide of the disorderly
army. Therefore, he and his men rode back with all haste to
the Berg by way of Main Drift, and reached Bruderstroom
before Laputa had crossed the highway.
My information about Inanda's Kraal decided Arcoll's next
move. Like me he remembered Beyers's performance, and
resolved to repeat it. He had no hope of catching Laputa, but
he thought that he might hold up the bulk of his force if he got
guns on the ridge above the kraal. A message had already been
sent for guns, and the first to arrive got to Bruderstroom about
the hour when I was being taken by Machudi's men in the
kloof. The ceremony of the purification prevented Laputa
from keeping a good look-out, and the result was that a way
was made for the guns on the north-western corner of the
rampart of rock. It was the way which Beyers had taken, and
indeed the enterprise was directed by one of Beyers's old
commandants. All that day the work continued, while Laputa
and I were travelling to Machudi's. Then came the evening
when I staggered into camp and told my news. Arcoll, who
alone knew how vital Laputa was to the success of the
insurrection, immediately decided to suspend all other operations
and devote himself to shepherding the leader away from
his army. How the scheme succeeded and what befell Laputa
the reader has already been told.
Aitken and Wardlaw, when I descended from the cliffs, took
me straight to Blaauwildebeestefontein. I was like a man who
is recovering from bad fever, cured, but weak and foolish, and
it was a slow journey which I made to Umvelos', riding on
Aitken's pony. At Umvelos' we found a picket who had
captured the Schimmel by the roadside. That wise beast, when
I turned him loose at the entrance to the cave, had trotted
quietly back the way he had come. At Umvelos' Aitken left
me, and next day, with Wardlaw as companion, I rode up the
glen of the Klein Labongo, and came in the afternoon to my
old home. The store was empty, for japp some days before
had gone off post-haste to Pietersdorp; but there was Zeeta
cleaning up the place as if war had never been heard of. I slept
the night there, and in the morning found myself so much
recovered that I was eager to get away. I wanted to see Arcoll
about many things, but mainly about the treasure in the cave.
It was an easy journey to Bruderstroom through the
meadows of the plateau. The farmers' commandoes had been
recalled, but the ashes of their camp fires were still grey among
the bracken. I fell in with a police patrol and was taken by
them to a spot on the Upper Letaba, some miles west of the
camp, where we found Arcoll at late breakfast. I had resolved
to take him into my confidence, so I told him the full tale of
my night's adventure. He was very severe with me, I remember,
for my daft-like ride, but his severity relaxed before I had
done with my story.
The telling brought back the scene to me, and I shivered at
the picture of the cave with the morning breaking through the
veil of water and Laputa in his death throes. Arcoll did not
speak for some time.
'So he is dead,' he said at last, half-whispering to himself.
'Well, he was a king, and died like a king. Our job now is
simple, for there is none of his breed left in Africa.'
Then I told him of the treasure.
'It belongs to you, Davie,' he said, 'and we must see that
you get it. This is going to be a long war, but if we survive to
the end you will be a rich man.'
'But in the meantime?' I asked. 'Supposing other Kaffirs
hear of it, and come back and make a bridge over the gorge?
They may be doing it now.'
'I'll put a guard on it,' he said, jumping up briskly. 'It's
maybe not a soldier's job, but you've saved this country,
Davie, and I'm going to make sure that you have your reward.'
After that I went with Arcoll to Inanda's Kraal. I am not going
to tell the story of that performance, for it occupies no less
than two chapters in Mr Upton's book. He makes one or two
blunders, for he spells my name with an 'o,' and he says we
walked out of the camp on our perilous mission 'with faces
white and set as a Crusader's.' That is certainly not true, for in
the first place nobody saw us go who could judge how we
looked, and in the second place we were both smoking and
feeling quite cheerful. At home they made a great fuss about
it, and started a newspaper cry about the Victoria Cross, but
the danger was not so terrible after all, and in any case it was
nothing to what I had been through in the past week.
I take credit to myself for suggesting the idea. By this time
we had the army in the kraal at our mercy. Laputa not having
returned, they had no plans. It had been the original intention
to start for the Olifants on the following day, so there was a
scanty supply of food. Besides, there were the makings of a
pretty quarrel between Umbooni and some of the north-
country chiefs, and I verily believe that if we had held them
tight there for a week they would have destroyed each other in
faction fights. In any case, in a little they would have grown
desperate and tried to rush the approaches on the north and
south. Then we must either have used the guns on them,
which would have meant a great slaughter, or let them go to
do mischief elsewhere. Arcoll was a merciful man who had no
love for butchery; besides, he was a statesman with an eye to
the future of the country after the war. But it was his duty to
isolate Laputa's army, and at all costs, it must be prevented
from joining any of the concentrations in the south.
Then I proposed to him to do as Rhodes did in the
Matoppos, and go and talk to them. By this time, I argued,
the influence of Laputa must have sunk, and the fervour of the
purification be half-forgotten. The army had little food and no
leader. The rank and file had never been fanatical, and the
chiefs and indunas must now be inclined to sober reflections.
But once blood was shed the lust of blood would possess them.
Our only chance was to strike when their minds were perplexed
Arcoll did all the arranging. He had a message sent to the
chiefs inviting them to an indaba, and presently word was
brought back that an indaba was called for the next day at
noon. That same night we heard that Umbooni and about
twenty of his men had managed to evade our ring of scouts
and got clear away to the south. This was all to our advantage,
as it removed from the coming indaba the most irreconcilable
of the chiefs.
That indaba was a queer business. Arcoll and I left our
escort at the foot of a ravine, and entered the kraal by the same
road as I had left it. It was a very bright, hot winter's day, and
try as I might, I could not bring myself to think of any danger.
I believed that in this way most temerarious deeds are done;
the doer has become insensible to danger, and his imagination
is clouded with some engrossing purpose. The first sentries
received us gloomily enough, and closed behind us as they had
done when Machudi's men haled me thither. Then the job
became eerie, for we had to walk across a green flat with
thousands of eyes watching us. By-and-by we came to the
merula tree opposite the kyas, and there we found a ring of
chiefs, sitting with cocked rifles on their knees.
We were armed with pistols, and the first thing Arcoll did
was to hand them to one of the chiefs.
'We come in peace,' he said. 'We give you our lives.'
Then the indaba began, Arcoll leading off. It was a fine
speech he made, one of the finest I have ever listened to. He
asked them what their grievances were; he told them how
mighty was the power of the white man; he promised that
what was unjust should be remedied, if only they would speak
honestly and peacefully; he harped on their old legends and
songs, claiming for the king of England the right of their old
monarchs. It was a fine speech, and yet I saw that it did not
convince them. They listened moodily, if attentively, and at
the end there was a blank silence.
Arcoll turned to me. 'For God's sake, Davie,' he said, 'talk
to them about Laputa. It's our only chance.'
I had never tried speaking before, and though I talked their
tongue I had not Arcoll's gift of it. But I felt that a great cause
was at stake, and I spoke up as best I could.
I began by saying that Inkulu had been my friend, and that
at Umvelos' before the rising he had tried to save my life. At
the mention of the name I saw eyes brighten. At last the
audience was hanging on my words.
I told them of Henriques and his treachery. I told them
frankly and fairly of the doings at Dupree's Drift. I made no
secret of the part I played. 'I was fighting for my life,' I said.
'Any man of you who is a man would have done the like.'
Then I told them of my last ride, and the sight I saw at the
foot of the Rooirand. I drew a picture of Henriques lying dead
with a broken neck, and the Inkulu, wounded to death,
creeping into the cave.
In moments of extremity I suppose every man becomes an
orator. In that hour and place I discovered gifts I had never
dreamed of. Arcoll told me afterwards that I had spoken like a
man inspired, and by a fortunate chance had hit upon the only
way to move my hearers. I told of that last scene in the cave,
when Laputa had broken down the bridge, and had spoken his
dying words - that he was the last king in Africa, and that
without him the rising was at an end. Then I told of his leap
into the river, and a great sigh went up from the ranks about Me.
'You see me here,' I said, 'by the grace of God. I found a
way up the fall and the cliffs which no man has ever travelled
before or will travel again. Your king is dead. He was a great
king, as I who stand here bear witness, and you will never
more see his like. His last words were that the Rising was over.
Respect that word, my brothers. We come to you not in war
but in peace, to offer a free pardon, and the redress of your
wrongs. If you fight you fight with the certainty of failure, and
against the wish of the heir of John. I have come here at the
risk of my life to tell you his commands. His spirit approves
my mission. Think well before you defy the mandate of the
Snake, and risk the vengeance of the Terrible Ones.'
After that I knew that we had won. The chiefs talked among
themselves in low whispers, casting strange looks at me. Then
the greatest of them advanced and laid his rifle at my feet.
'We believe the word of a brave man,' he said. 'We accept
the mandate of the Snake.'
Arcoll now took command. He arranged for the disarmament
bit by bit, companies of men being marched off from
Inanda's Kraal to stations on the plateau where their arms
were collected by our troops, and food provided for them. For
the full history I refer the reader to Mr Upton's work. It took
many days, and taxed all our resources, but by the end of a
week we had the whole of Laputa's army in separate stations,
under guard, disarmed, and awaiting repatriation.
Then Arcoll went south to the war which was to rage around
the Swaziland and Zululand borders for many months, while
to Aitken and myself was entrusted the work of settlement. We
had inadequate troops at our command, and but for our
prestige and the weight of Laputa's dead hand there might any
moment have been a tragedy. The task took months, for many
of the levies came from the far north, and the job of feeding
troops on a long journey was difficult enough in the winter
season when the energies of the country were occupied with
the fighting in the south. Yet it was an experience for which I
shall ever be grateful, for it turned me from a rash boy into a
serious man. I knew then the meaning of the white man's
duty. He has to take all risks, recking nothing of his life or
his fortunes, and well content to find his reward in the
fulfilment of his task. That is the difference between white and
black, the gift of responsibility, the power of being in a little
way a king; and so long as we know this and practise it, we
will rule not in Africa alone but wherever there are dark men
who live only for the day and their own bellies. Moreover, the
work made me pitiful and kindly. I learned much of the untold
grievances of the natives, and saw something of their strange,
twisted reasoning. Before we had got Laputa's army back to
their kraals, with food enough to tide them over the spring
sowing, Aitken and I had got sounder policy in our heads than
you will find in the towns, where men sit in offices and see the
world through a mist of papers.
By this time peace was at hand, and I went back to Inanda's
Kraal to look for Colin's grave. It was not a difficult quest, for
on the sward in front of the merula tree they had buried him.
I found a mason in the Iron Kranz village, and from the
excellent red stone of the neighbourhood was hewn a square
slab with an inscription. It ran thus: 'Here lies buried the dog
Colin, who was killed in defending D. Crawfurd, his master.
To him it was mainly due that the Kaffir Rising failed.' I leave
those who have read my tale to see the justice of the words.
CHAPTER XXIII. MY UNCLE'S GIFT IS MANY TIMES MULTIPLIED
We got at the treasure by blowing open the turnstile. It was
easy enough to trace the spot in the rock where it stood, but
the most patient search did not reveal its secret. Accordingly
we had recourse to dynamite, and soon laid bare the stone
steps, and ascended to the gallery. The chasm was bridged
with planks, and Arcoll and I crossed alone. The cave was as I
had left it. The bloodstains on the floor had grown dark with
time, but the ashes of the sacramental fire were still there to
remind me of the drama I had borne a part in. When I looked
at the way I had escaped my brain grew dizzy at the thought
of it. I do not think that all the gold on earth would have
driven me a second time to that awful escalade. As for Arcoll,
he could not see its possibility at all.
'Only a madman could have done it,' he said, blinking his
eyes at the green linn. 'Indeed, Davie, I think for about four
days you were as mad as they make. It was a fortunate thing,
for your madness saved the country.'
With some labour we got the treasure down to the path, and
took it under a strong guard to Pietersdorp. The Government
were busy with the settling up after the war, and it took many
weeks to have our business disposed of. At first things looked
badly for me. The Attorney-General set up a claim to the
whole as spoils of war, since, he argued, it was the war-chest
of the enemy we had conquered. I do not know how the matter
would have gone on legal grounds, though I was advised by
my lawyers that the claim was a bad one. But the part I had
played in the whole business, more especially in the visit to
Inanda's Kraal, had made me a kind of popular hero, and the
Government thought better of their first attitude. Besides,
Arcoll had great influence, and the whole story of my doings,
which was told privately by him to some of the members of the
Government, disposed them to be generous. Accordingly they
agreed to treat the contents of the cave as ordinary treasure
trove, of which, by the law, one half went to the discoverer
and one half to the Crown.
This was well enough so far as the gold was concerned, but
another difficulty arose about the diamonds; for a large part of
these had obviously been stolen by labourers from the mines,
and the mining people laid claim to them as stolen goods. I
was advised not to dispute this claim, and consequently we
had a great sorting-out of the stones in the presence of the
experts of the different mines. In the end it turned out that
identification was not an easy matter, for the experts quarrelled
furiously among themselves. A compromise was at last come
to, and a division made; and then the diamond companies
behaved very handsomely, voting me a substantial sum in
recognition of my services in recovering their property. What
with this and with my half share of the gold and my share of
the unclaimed stones, I found that I had a very considerable
fortune. The whole of my stones I sold to De Beers, for if I
had placed them on the open market I should have upset the
delicate equipoise of diamond values. When I came finally to
cast up my accounts, I found that I had secured a fortune of a
trifle over a quarter of a million pounds.
The wealth did not dazzle so much as it solemnized me. I
had no impulse to spend any part of it in a riot of folly. It had
come to me like fairy gold out of the void; it had been bought
with men's blood, almost with my own. I wanted to get away
to a quiet place and think, for of late my life had been too
crowded with drama, and there comes a satiety of action as
well as of idleness. Above all things I wanted to get home.
They gave me a great send-off, and sang songs, and good
fellows shook my hand till it ached. The papers were full of
me, and there was a banquet and speeches. But I could not
relish this glory as I ought, for I was like a boy thrown
violently out of his bearings.
Not till I was in the train nearing Cape Town did I recover
my equanimity. The burden of the past seemed to slip from
me suddenly as on the morning when I had climbed the linn.
I saw my life all lying before me; and already I had won
success. I thought of my return to my own country, my first
sight of the grey shores of Fife, my visit to Kirkcaple, my
meeting with my mother. I was a rich man now who could
choose his career, and my mother need never again want for
comfort. My money seemed pleasant to me, for if men won
theirs by brains or industry, I had won mine by sterner
methods, for I had staked against it my life. I sat alone in the
railway carriage and cried with pure thankfulness. These were
comforting tears, for they brought me back to my old common-
My last memory of Africa is my meeting with Tam Dyke. I
caught sight of him in the streets of Cape Town, and running
after him, clapped him on the shoulder. He stared at me as if
he had seen a ghost.
'Is it yourself, Davie?' he cried. 'I never looked to see you
again in this world. I do nothing but read about you in the
papers. What for did ye not send for me? Here have I been
knocking about inside a ship and you have been getting
famous. They tell me you're a millionaire, too.'
I had Tam to dinner at my hotel, and later, sitting smoking
on the terrace and watching the flying-ants among the aloes, I
told him the better part of the story I have here written down.
'Man, Davie,' he said at the end, 'you've had a tremendous
time. Here are you not eighteen months away from home, and
you're going back with a fortune. What will you do with it?'
I told him that I proposed, to begin with, to finish my
education at Edinburgh College. At this he roared with
'That's a dull ending, anyway. It's me that should have the
money, for I'm full of imagination. You were aye a prosaic
'Maybe I am,' I said; 'but I am very sure of one thing. If I
hadn't been a prosaic body, I wouldn't be sitting here to-night.'
Two years later Aitken found the diamond pipe, which he had
always believed lay in the mountains. Some of the stones in
the cave, being unlike any ordinary African diamonds, confirmed
his suspicions and set him on the track. A Kaffir tribe
to the north-east of the Rooirand had known of it, but they
had never worked it, but only collected the overspill. The
closing down of one of the chief existing mines had created a
shortage of diamonds in the world's markets, and once again
the position was the same as when Kimberley began. Accordingly
he made a great fortune, and to-day the Aitken Proprietary Mine is
one of the most famous in the country. But Aitken did more than
mine diamonds, for he had not forgotten the lesson we had learned
together in the work of resettlement. He laid down a big fund for
the education and amelioration of the native races, and the first
fruit of it was the establishment at Blaauwildebeestefontein
itself of a great native training college. It was no factory for
making missionaries and black teachers, but an institution for
giving the Kaffirs the kind of training which fits them to be
good citizens of the state. There you will find every kind of
technical workshop, and the finest experimental farms, where the
blacks are taught modern agriculture. They have proved themselves
apt pupils, and to-day you will see in the glens of the Berg and
in the plains Kaffir tillage which is as scientific as any in
Africa. They have created a huge export trade in tobacco and
fruit; the cotton promises well; and there is talk of a new fibre
which will do wonders. Also along the river bottoms the
india-rubber business is prospering.
There are playing-fields and baths and reading-rooms and
libraries just as in a school at home. In front of the great hall
of the college a statue stands, the figure of a black man shading
his eyes with his hands and looking far over the plains to the
Rooirand. On the pedestal it is lettered 'Prester John,' but the
face is the face of Laputa. So the last of the kings of Africa
does not lack his monument.
Of this institution Mr Wardlaw is the head. He writes to me
weekly, for I am one of the governors, as well as an old friend,
and from a recent letter I take this passage: -
'I often cast my mind back to the afternoon when you and I
sat on the stoep of the schoolhouse, and talked of the Kaffirs
and our future. I had about a dozen pupils then, and now I
have nearly three thousand; and in place of a tin-roofed shanty
and a yard, I have a whole countryside. You laughed at me for
my keenness, Davie, but I've seen it justified. I was never a
man of war like you, and so I had to bide at home while you
and your like were straightening out the troubles. But when it
was all over my job began, for I could do what you couldn't
do - I was the physician to heal wounds. You mind how
nervous I was when I heard the drums beat. I hear them every
evening now, for we have made a rule that all the Kaffir farms
on the Berg sound a kind of curfew. It reminds me of old
times, and tells me that though it is peace nowadays we mean
to keep all the manhood in them that they used to exercise in
war. It would do your eyes good to see the garden we have
made out of the Klein Labongo glen. The place is one big
orchard with every kind of tropical fruit in it, and the irrigation
dam is as full of fish as it will hold. Out at Umvelos' there is a
tobacco-factory, and all round Sikitola's we have square miles
of mealie and cotton fields. The loch on the Rooirand is
stocked with Lochleven trout, and we have made a bridle-path
up to it in a gully east of the one you climbed. You ask about
Machudi's. The last time I was there the place was white with
sheep, for we have got the edge of the plateau grazed down,
and sheep can get the short bite there. We have cleaned up all
the kraals, and the chiefs are members of our county council,
and are as fond of hearing their own voices as an Aberdeen
bailie. It's a queer transformation we have wrought, and when
I sit and smoke my pipe in the evening, and look over the
plains and then at the big black statue you and Aitken set up,
I thank the Providence that has guided me so far. I hope and
trust that, in the Bible words, "the wilderness and the solitary
place are glad for us." At any rate it will not be my fault if they
don't "blossom as the rose". Come out and visit us soon, man,
and see the work you had a hand in starting. ...'
I am thinking seriously of taking Wardlaw's advice.