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Allan Quatermain by H. Rider Haggard

Part 3 out of 6

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rock several feet above it, it was generally entirely submerged;
but there had been a dry season, and the cold had prevented the
snow from melting as freely as usual; so the lake was low and
the arch showed. Towards this arch our poor servant was being
sucked with frightful rapidity. He was not more than ten fathoms
from it, and we were about twenty when I saw it, and with little
help from us the canoe flew along after him. He struggled bravely,
and I thought that we should have saved him, when suddenly I
perceived an expression of despair come upon his face, and there
before our eyes he was sucked down into the cruel swirling blue
depths, and vanished. At the same moment I felt our canoe seized
as with a mighty hand, and propelled with resistless force towards
the rock.

We realized our danger now and rowed, or rather paddled, furiously
in our attempt to get out of the vortex. In vain; in another
second we were flying straight for the arch like an arrow, and
I thought that we were lost. Luckily I retained sufficient presence
of mind to shout out, instantly setting the example by throwing
myself into the bottom of the canoe, 'Down on your faces -- down!'
and the others had the sense to take the hint. In another instant
there was a grinding noise, and the boat was pushed down till
the water began to trickle over the sides, and I thought that
we were gone. But no, suddenly the grinding ceased, and we could
again feel the canoe flying along. I turned my head a little
-- I dared not lift it -- and looked up. By the feeble light
that yet reached the canoe, I could make out that a dense arch
of rock hung just over our heads, and that was all. In another
minute I could not even see as much as that, for the faint light
had merged into shadow, and the shadows had been swallowed up
in darkness, utter and complete.

For an hour or so we lay there, not daring to lift our heads
for fear lest the brains should be dashed out of them, and scarcely
able to speak even, on account of the noise of the rushing water
which drowned our voices. Not, indeed, that we had much inclination
to speak, seeing that we were overwhelmed by the awfulness of
our position and the imminent fear of instant death, either by
being dashed against the sides of the cavern, or on a rock, or
being sucked down in the raging waters, or perhaps asphyxiated
by want of air. All of these and many other modes of death presented
themselves to my imagination as I lay at the bottom of the canoe,
listening to the swirl of the hurrying waters which ran whither
we knew not. One only other sound could I hear, and that was
Alphonse's intermittent howl of terror coming from the centre
of the canoe, and even that seemed faint and unnatural. Indeed,
the whole thing overpowered my brain, and I began to believe
that I was the victim of some ghastly spirit-shaking nightmare.

CHAPTER X
THE ROSE OF FIRE

On we flew, drawn by the mighty current, till at last I noticed
that the sound of the water was not half so deafening as it had
been, and concluded that this must be because there was more
room for the echoes to disperse in. I could now hear Alphonse's
howls much more distinctly; they were made up of the oddest mixture
of invocations to the Supreme Power and the name of his beloved
Annette that it is possible to conceive; and, in short, though
their evident earnestness saved them from profanity, were, to
say the least, very remarkable. Taking up a paddle I managed
to drive it into his ribs, whereon he, thinking that the end
had come, howled louder than ever. Then I slowly and cautiously
raised myself on my knees and stretched my hand upwards, but
could touch no roof. Next I took the paddle and lifted it above
my head as high as I could, but with the same result. I also
thrust it out laterally to the right and left, but could touch
nothing except water. Then I bethought me that there was in
the boat, amongst our other remaining possessions, a bull's-eye
lantern and a tin of oil. I groped about and found it, and having
a match on me carefully lit it, and as soon as the flame had
got a hold of the wick I turned it on down the boat. As it happened,
the first thing the light lit on was the white and scared face
of Alphonse, who, thinking that it was all over at last, and
that he was witnessing a preliminary celestial phenomenon, gave
a terrific yell and was with difficulty reassured with the paddle.
As for the other three, Good was lying on the flat of his back,
his eyeglass still fixed in his eye, and gazing blankly into
the upper darkness. Sir Henry had his head resting on the thwarts
of the canoe, and with his hand was trying to test the speed
of the water. But when the beam of light fell upon old Umslopogaas
I could really have laughed. I think I have said that we had
put a roast quarter of water-buck into the canoe. Well, it so
happened that when we all prostrated ourselves to avoid being
swept out of the boat and into the water by the rock roof, Umslopogaas's
head had come down uncommonly near this roast buck, and so soon
as he had recovered a little from the first shock of our position
it occurred to him that he was hungry. Thereupon he coolly cut
off a chop with Inkosi-kaas, and was now employed in eating it
with every appearance of satisfaction. As he afterwards explained,
he thought that he was going 'on a long journey', and preferred
to start on a full stomach. It reminded me of the people who
are going to be hanged, and who are generally reported in the
English daily papers to have made 'an excellent breakfast'.

As soon as the others saw that I had managed to light the lamp,
we bundled Alphonse into the farther end of the canoe with a
threat which calmed him down wonderfully, that if he would insist
upon making the darkness hideous with his cries we would put
him out of suspense by sending him to join the Wakwafi and wait
for Annette in another sphere, and began to discuss the situation
as well as we could. First, however, at Good's suggestion, we
bound two paddles mast-fashion in the bows so that they might
give us warning against any sudden lowering of the roof of the
cave or waterway. It was clear to us that we were in an underground
river or, as Alphonse defined it, 'main drain', which carried
off the superfluous waters of the lake. Such rivers are well
known to exist in many parts of the world, but it has not often
been the evil fortune of explorers to travel by them. That the
river was wide we could clearly see, for the light from the bull's-eye
lantern failed to reach from shore to shore, although occasionally,
when the current swept us either to one side or the other, we
could distinguish the rock wall of the tunnel, which, as far
as we could make out, appeared to arch about twenty-five feet
above our heads. As for the current itself, it ran, Good estimated,
at least eight knots, and, fortunately for us, was, as is usual,
fiercest in the middle of the stream. Still, our first act was
to arrange that one of us, with the lantern and a pole there
was in the canoe, should always be in the bows ready, if possible,
to prevent us from being stove in against the side of the cave
or any projecting rock. Umslopogaas, having already dined, took
the first turn. This was absolutely, with one exception, all
that we could do towards preserving our safety. The exception
was that another of us took up a position in the stern with a
paddle by means of which it was possible to steer the canoe more
or less and to keep her from the sides of the cave. These matters
attended to, we made a somewhat sparing meal off the cold buck's
meat (for we did not know how long it might have to last us),
and then feeling in rather better spirits I gave my opinion that,
serious as it undoubtedly was, I did not consider our position
altogether without hope, unless, indeed, the natives were right,
and the river plunged straight down into the bowels of the earth.
If not, it was clear that it must emerge somewhere, probably
on the other side of the mountains, and in that case all we had
to think of was to keep ourselves alive till we got there, wherever
'there' might be. But, of course, as Good lugubriously pointed
out, on the other hand we might fall victims to a hundred unsuspected
horrors -- or the river might go on winding away inside the earth
till it dried up, in which case our fate would indeed be an
awful one.

'Well, let us hope for the best and prepare ourselves for the
worst,' said Sir Henry, who is always cheerful and even spirited
-- a very tower of strength in the time of trouble. 'We have
come out of so many queer scrapes together, that somehow I almost
fancy we shall come out of this,' he added.

This was excellent advice, and we proceeded to take it each in
our separate way -- that is, except Alphonse, who had by now
sunk into a sort of terrified stupor. Good was at the helm and
Umslopogaas in the bows, so there was nothing left for Sir Henry
and myself to do except to lie down in the canoe and think.
It certainly was a curious, and indeed almost a weird, position
to be placed in -- rushing along, as we were, through the bowels
of the earth, borne on the bosom of a Stygian river, something
after the fashion of souls being ferried by Charon, as Curtis
said. And how dark it was! The feeble ray from our little lamp
did but serve to show the darkness. There in the bows sat old
Umslopogaas, like Pleasure in the poem, {Endnote 9} watchful
and untiring, the pole ready to his hand, and behind in the shadow
I could just make out the form of Good peering forward at the
ray of light in order to make out how to steer with the paddle
that he held and now and again dipped into the water.

'Well, well,' thought I, 'you have come in search of adventures,
Allan my boy, and you have certainly got them. At your time
of life, too! You ought to be ashamed of yourself; but somehow
you are not, and, awful as it all is, perhaps you will pull through
after all; and if you don't, why, you cannot help it, you see!
And when all's said and done an underground river will make
a very appropriate burying-place.'

At first, however, I am bound to say that the strain upon the
nerves was very great. It is trying to the coolest and most
experienced person not to know from one hour to another if he
has five minutes more to live, but there is nothing in this world
that one cannot get accustomed to, and in time we began to get
accustomed even to that. And, after all, our anxiety, though
no doubt natural, was, strictly speaking, illogical, seeing that
we never know what is going to happen to us the next minute,
even when we sit in a well-drained house with two policemen patrolling
under the window --nor how long we have to live. It is all arranged
for us, my sons, so what is the use of bothering?

It was nearly midday when we made our dive into darkness, and
we had set our watch (Good and Umslopogaas) at two, having agreed
that it should be of a duration of five hours. At seven o'clock,
accordingly, Sir Henry and I went on, Sir Henry at the bow and
I at the stern, and the other two lay down and went to sleep.
For three hours all went well, Sir Henry only finding it necessary
once to push us off from the side; and I that but little steering
was required to keep us straight, as the violent current did
all that was needed, though occasionally the canoe showed a tendency
which had to be guarded against to veer and travel broadside
on. What struck me as the most curious thing about this wonderful
river was: how did the air keep fresh? It was muggy and thick,
no doubt, but still not sufficiently so to render it bad or even
remarkably unpleasant. The only explanation that I can suggest
is that the water of the lake had sufficient air in it to keep
the atmosphere of the tunnel from absolute stagnation, this air
being given out as it proceeded on its headlong way. Of course
I only give the solution of the mystery for what it is worth,
which perhaps is not much.

When I had been for three hours or so at the helm, I began to
notice a decided change in the temperature, which was getting
warmer. At first I took no notice of it, but when, at the expiration
of another half-hour, I found that it was getting hotter and
hotter, I called to Sir Henry and asked him if he noticed it,
or if it was only my imagination. 'Noticed it!' he answered;
'I should think so. I am in a sort of Turkish bath.' Just about
then the others woke up gasping, and were obliged to begin to
discard their clothes. Here Umslopogaas had the advantage, for
he did not wear any to speak of, except a moocha.

Hotter it grew, and hotter yet, till at last we could scarcely
breathe, and the perspiration poured out of us. Half an hour
more, and though we were all now stark naked, we could hardly
bear it. The place was like an antechamber of the infernal regions
proper. I dipped my hand into the water and drew it out almost
with a cry; it was nearly boiling. We consulted a little thermometer
we had -- the mercury stood at 123 degrees. From the surface
of the water rose a dense cloud of steam. Alphonse groaned out
that we were already in purgatory, which indeed we were, though
not in the sense that he meant it. Sir Henry suggested that
we must be passing near the seat of some underground volcanic
fire, and I am inclined to think, especially in the light of
what subsequently occurred, that he was right. Our sufferings
for some time after this really pass my powers of description.
We no longer perspired, for all the perspiration had been sweated
out of us. We simply lay in the bottom of the boat, which we
were now physically incapable of directing, feeling like hot
embers, and I fancy undergoing very much the same sensations
that the poor fish do when they are dying on land -- namely,
that of slow suffocation. Our skins began to crack, and the
blood to throb in our heads like the beating of a steam-engine.

This had been going on for some time, when suddenly the river
turned a little, and I heard Sir Henry call out from the bows
in a hoarse, startled voice, and, looking up, saw a most wonderful
and awful thing. About half a mile ahead of us, and a little
to the left of the centre of the stream -- which we could now
see was about ninety feet broad -- a huge pillar-like jet of
almost white flame rose from the surface of the water and sprang
fifty feet into the air, when it struck the roof and spread out
some forty feet in diameter, falling back in curved sheets of
fire shaped like the petals of a full-blown rose. Indeed this
awful gas jet resembled nothing so much as a great flaming flower
rising out of the black water. Below was the straight stalk,
a foot or more thick, and above the dreadful bloom. And as for
the fearfulness of it and its fierce and awesome beauty, who
can describe it? Certainly I cannot. Although we were now some
five hundred yards away, it, notwithstanding the steam, lit up
the whole cavern as clear as day, and we could see that the roof
was here about forty feet above us, and washed perfectly smooth
with water. The rock was black, and here and there I could make
out long shining lines of ore running through it like great veins,
but of what metal they were I know not.

On we rushed towards this pillar of fire, which gleamed fiercer
than any furnace ever lit by man.

'Keep the boat to the right, Quatermain -- to the right,' shouted
Sir Henry, and a minute afterwards I saw him fall forward senseless.
Alphonse had already gone. Good was the next to go. There
they lay as though dead; only Umslopogaas and I kept our senses.
We were within fifty yards of it now, and I saw the Zulu's head
fall forward on his hands. He had gone too, and I was alone.
I could not breathe; the fierce heat dried me up. For yards
and yards round the great rose of fire the rock-roof was red-hot.
The wood of the boat was almost burning. I saw the feathers
on one of the dead swans begin to twist and shrivel up; but I
would not give in. I knew that if I did we should pass within
three or four yards of the gas jet and perish miserably. I set
the paddle so as to turn the canoe as far from it as possible,
and held on grimly.

My eyes seemed to be bursting from my head, and through my closed
lids I could see the fierce light. We were nearly opposite now;
it roared like all the fires of hell, and the water boiled furiously
around it. Five seconds more. We were past; I heard the roar
behind me.

Then I too fell senseless. The next thing that I recollect is
feeling a breath of air upon my face. My eyes opened with great
difficulty. I looked up. Far, far above me there was light,
though around me was great gloom. Then I remembered and looked.
The canoe still floated down the river, and in the bottom of
it lay the naked forms of my companions. 'Were they dead?' I
wondered. 'Was I left alone in this awful place?' I knew not.
Next I became conscious of a burning thirst. I put my hand
over the edge of the boat into the water and drew it up again
with a cry. No wonder: nearly all the skin was burnt off the
back of it. The water, however, was cold, or nearly so, and
I drank pints and splashed myself all over. My body seemed to
suck up the fluid as one may see a brick wall suck up rain after
a drought; but where I was burnt the touch of it caused intense
pain. Then I bethought myself of the others, and, dragging myself
towards them with difficulty, I sprinkled them with water, and
to my joy they began to recover -- Umslopogaas first, then the
others. Next they drank, absorbing water like so many sponges.
Then, feeling chilly -- a queer contrast to our recent sensations
-- we began as best we could to get into our clothes. As we
did so Good pointed to the port side of the canoe: it was all
blistered with heat, and in places actually charred. Had it
been built like our civilized boats, Good said that the planks
would certainly have warped and let in enough water to sink us;
but fortunately it was dug out of the soft, willowy wood of a
single great tree, and had sides nearly three inches and a bottom
four inches thick. What that awful flame was we never discovered,
but I suppose that there was at this spot a crack or hole in
the bed of the river through which a vast volume of gas forced
its way from its volcanic home in the bowels of the earth towards
the upper air. How it first became ignited is, of course, impossible
to say -- probably, I should think, from some spontaneous explosion
of mephitic gases.

As soon as we had got some things together and shaken ourselves
together a little, we set to work to make out where we were now.
I have said that there was light above, and on examination we
found that it came from the sky. Our rive that was, Sir Henry
said, a literal realization of the wild vision of the poet
{Endnote 10}, was no longer underground, but was running on its
darksome way, not now through 'caverns measureless to man', but
between two frightful cliffs which cannot have been less than
two thousand feet high. So high were they, indeed, that though
the sky was above us, where we were was dense gloom -- not darkness
indeed, but the gloom of a room closely shuttered in the daytime.
Up on either side rose the great straight cliffs, grim and forbidding,
till the eye grew dizzy with trying to measure their sheer height.
The little space of sky that marked where they ended lay like
a thread of blue upon their soaring blackness, which was unrelieved
by any tree or creeper. Here and there, however, grew ghostly
patches of a long grey lichen, hanging motionless to the rock
as the white beard to the chin of a dead man. It seemed as though
only the dregs or heavier part of the light had sunk to the bottom
of this awful place. No bright-winged sunbeam could fall so low:
they died far, far above our heads.

By the river's edge was a little shore formed of round fragments
of rock washed into this shape by the constant action of water,
and giving the place the appearance of being strewn with thousands
of fossil cannon balls. Evidently when the water of the underground
river is high there is no beach at all, or very little, between
the border of the stream and the precipitous cliffs; but now
there was a space of seven or eight yards. And here, on this
beach, we determined to land, in order to rest ourselves a little
after all that we had gone through and to stretch our limbs.
It was a dreadful place, but it would give an hour's respite
from the terrors of the river, and also allow of our repacking
and arranging the canoe. Accordingly we selected what looked
like a favourable spot, and with some little difficulty managed
to beach the canoe and scramble out on to the round, inhospitable
pebbles.

'My word,' called out Good, who was on shore the first, 'what
an awful place! It's enough to give one a fit.' And he laughed.

Instantly a thundering voice took up his words, magnifying them
a hundred times. '_Give one a fit -- Ho! ho! ho!' -- 'A fit,
Ho! ho! ho!_' answered another voice in wild accents from far
up the cliff -- _a fit! a fit! a fit!_ chimed in voice after voice
-- each flinging the words to and fro with shouts of awful laughter
to the invisible lips of the other till the whole place echoed
with the words and with shrieks of fiendish merriment, which
at last ceased as suddenly as they had begun.

'Oh, mon Dieu!' yelled Alphonse, startled quite out of such
self-command as he possessed.

'_Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!_' the Titanic echoes thundered,
shrieked, and wailed in every conceivable tone.

'Ah,' said Umslopogaas calmly, 'I clearly perceive that devils
live here. Well, the place looks like it.'

I tried to explain to him that the cause of all the hubbub was
a very remarkable and interesting echo, but he would not believe it.

'Ah,' he said, 'I know an echo when I hear one. There was one lived
opposite my kraal in Zululand, and the Intombis [maidens] used
to talk with it. But if what we hear is a full-grown echo, mine
at home can only have been a baby. No, no -- they are devils
up there. But I don't think much of them, though,' he added,
taking a pinch of snuff. 'They can copy what one says, but they
don't seem to be able to talk on their own account, and they
dare not show their faces,' and he relapsed into silence, and
apparently paid no further attention to such contemptible fiends.

After this we found it necessary to keep our conversation down
to a whisper -- for it was really unbearable to have every word
one uttered tossed to and fro like a tennis-ball, as precipice
called to precipice.

But even our whispers ran up the rocks in mysterious murmurs
till at last they died away in long-drawn sighs of sound. Echoes
are delightful and romantic things, but we had more than enough
of them in that dreadful gulf.

As soon as we had settled ourselves a little on the round stones,
we went on to wash and dress our burns as well as we could.
As we had but a little oil for the lantern, we could not spare
any for this purpose, so we skinned one of the swans, and used
the fat off its breast, which proved an excellent substitute.
Then we repacked the canoe, and finally began to take some food,
of which I need scarcely say we were in need, for our insensibility
had endured for many hours, and it was, as our watches showed,
midday. Accordingly we seated ourselves in a circle, and were
soon engaged in discussing our cold meat with such appetite as
we could muster, which, in my case at any rate, was not much,
as I felt sick and faint after my sufferings of the previous
night, and had besides a racking headache. It was a curious
meal. The gloom was so intense that we could scarcely see the
way to cut our food and convey it to our mouths. Still we got
on pretty well, till I happened to look behind me -- my attention
being attracted by a noise of something crawling over the stones,
and perceived sitting upon a rock in my immediate rear a huge
species of black freshwater crab, only it was five times the
size of any crab I ever saw. This hideous and loathsome-looking
animal had projecting eyes that seemed to glare at one, very
long and flexible antennae or feelers, and gigantic claws.
Nor was I especially favoured with its company. From every quarter
dozens of these horrid brutes were creeping up, drawn, I suppose,
by the smell of the food, from between the round stones and out
of holes in the precipice. Some were already quite close to
us. I stared quite fascinated by the unusual sight, and as I
did so I saw one of the beasts stretch out its huge claw and
give the unsuspecting Good such a nip behind that he jumped up
with a howl, and set the 'wild echoes flying' in sober earnest.
Just then, too, another, a very large one, got hold of Alphonse's
leg, and declined to part with it, and, as may be imagined, a
considerable scene ensued. Umslopogaas took his axe and cracked
the shell of one with the flat of it, whereon it set up a horrid
screaming which the echoes multiplied a thousandfold, and began
to foam at the mouth, a proceeding that drew hundreds more of
its friends out of unsuspected holes and corners. Those on the
spot perceiving that the animal was hurt fell upon it like creditors
on a bankrupt, and literally rent it limb from limb with their
huge pincers and devoured it, using their claws to convey the
fragments to their mouths. Seizing whatever weapons were handy,
such as stones or paddles, we commenced a war upon the monsters
-- whose numbers were increasing by leaps and bounds, and whose
stench was overpowering. So fast as we cracked their armour
others seized the injured ones and devoured them, foaming at
the mouth, and screaming as they did so. Nor did the brutes
stop at that. When they could they nipped hold of us -- and
awful nips they were -- or tried to steal the meat. One enormous
fellow got hold of the swan we had skinned and began to drag
it off. Instantly a score of others flung themselves upon the
prey, and then began a ghastly and disgusting scene. How the
monsters foamed and screamed, and rent the flesh, and each other!
It was a sickening and unnatural sight, and one that will haunt
all who saw it till their dying day -- enacted as it was in the
deep, oppressive gloom, and set to the unceasing music of the
many-toned nerve-shaking echoes. Strange as it may seem to say
so, there was something so shockingly human about these fiendish
creatures -- it was as though all the most evil passions and
desires of man had got into the shell of a magnified crab and
gone mad. They were so dreadfully courageous and intelligent,
and they looked as if they _understood_. The whole scene might
have furnished material for another canto of Dante's 'Inferno',
as Curtis said.

'I say, you fellows, let's get out of this or we shall all go
off our heads,' sung out Good; and we were not slow to take the
hint. Pushing the canoe, around which the animals were now crawling
by hundreds and making vain attempts to climb, off the rocks,
we bundled into it and got out into mid-stream, leaving behind
us the fragments of our meal and the screaming, foaming, stinking
mass of monsters in full possession of the ground.

'Those are the devils of the place,' said Umslopogaas with the
air of one who has solved a problem, and upon my word I felt
almost inclined to agree with him.

Umslopogaas' remarks were like his axe -- very much to the point.

'What's to be done next?' said Sir Henry blankly.

'Drift, I suppose,' I answered, and we drifted accordingly.
All the afternoon and well into the evening we floated on in
the gloom beneath the far-off line of blue sky, scarcely knowing
when day ended and night began, for down in that vast gulf the
difference was not marked, till at length Good pointed out a
star hanging right above us, which, having nothing better to
do, we observed with great interest. Suddenly it vanished, the
darkness became intense, and a familiar murmuring sound filled
the air. 'Underground again,' I said with a groan, holding up
the lamp. Yes, there was no doubt about it. I could just make
out the roof. The chasm had come to an end and the tunnel had
recommenced. And then there began another long, long night of
danger and horror. To describe all its incidents would be too
wearisome, so I will simply say that about midnight we struck
on a flat projecting rock in mid-stream and were as nearly as
possible overturned and drowned. However, at last we got off,
and went upon the uneven tenor of our way. And so the hours
passed till it was nearly three o'clock. Sir Henry, Good, and
Alphonse were asleep, utterly worn out; Umslopogaas was at the
bow with the pole, and I was steering, when I perceived that
the rate at which we were travelling had perceptibly increased.
Then, suddenly, I heard Umslopogaas make an exclamation, and
next second came a sound as of parting branches, and I became
aware that the canoe was being forced through hanging bushes
or creepers. Another minute, and the breath of sweet open air
fanned my face, and I felt that we had emerged from the tunnel
and were floating upon clear water. I say felt, for I could
see nothing, the darkness being absolutely pitchy, as it often
is just before the dawn. But even this could scarcely damp my
joy. We were out of that dreadful river, and wherever we might
have got to this at least was something to be thankful for.
And so I sat down and inhaled the sweet night air and waited
for the dawn with such patience as I could command.

CHAPTER XI
THE FROWNING CITY

For an hour or more I sat waiting (Umslopogaas having meanwhile
gone to sleep also) till at length the east turned grey, and
huge misty shapes moved over the surface of the water like ghosts
of long-forgotten dawns. They were the vapours rising from their
watery bed to greet the sun. Then the grey turned to primrose,
and the primrose grew to red. Next, glorious bars of light sprang
up across the eastern sky, and through them the radiant messengers
of the dawn came speeding upon their arrowy way, scattering the
ghostly vapours and awaking the mountains with a kiss, as they
flew from range to range and longitude to longitude. Another
moment, and the golden gates were open and the sun himself came
forth as a bridegroom from his chamber, with pomp and glory and
a flashing as of ten million spears, and embraced the night and
covered her with brightness, and it was day.

But as yet I could see nothing save the beautiful blue sky above,
for over the water was a thick layer of mist exactly as though
the whole surface had been covered with billows of cotton wool.
By degrees, however, the sun sucked up the mists, and then I
saw that we were afloat upon a glorious sheet of blue water of
which I could not make out the shore. Some eight or ten miles
behind us, however, there stretched as far as the eye could reach
a range of precipitous hills that formed a retaining wall of
the lake, and I have no doubt but that it was through some entrance
in these hills that the subterranean river found its way into
the open water. Indeed, I afterwards ascertained this to be
the fact, and it will be some indication of the extraordinary
strength and directness of the current of the mysterious river
that the canoe, even at this distance, was still answering to
it. Presently, too, I, or rather Umslopogaas, who woke up just
then, discovered another indication, and a very unpleasant one
it was. Perceiving some whitish object upon the water, Umslopogaas
called my attention to it, and with a few strokes of the paddle
brought the canoe to the spot, whereupon we discovered that the
object was the body of a man floating face downwards. This was
bad enough, but imagine my horror when Umslopogaas having turned
him on to his back with the paddle, we recognized in the sunken
features the lineaments of -- whom do you suppose? None other
than our poor servant who had been sucked down two days before
in the waters of the subterranean river. It quite frightened
me. I thought that we had left him behind for ever, and behold!
borne by the current, he had made the awful journey with us,
and with us had reached the end. His appearance also was dreadful,
for he bore traces of having touched the pillar of fire -- one
arm being completely shrivelled up and all his hair being burnt
off. The features were, as I have said, sunken, and yet they
preserved upon them that awful look of despair that I had seen
upon his living face as the poor fellow was sucked down. Really
the sight unnerved me, weary and shaken as I felt with all that
we had gone through, and I was heartily glad when suddenly and
without any warning the body began to sink just as though it
had had a mission, which having been accomplished, it retired;
the real reason no doubt being that turning it on its back allowed
a free passage to the gas. Down it went to the transparent depths
-- fathom after fathom we could trace its course till at last
a long line of bright air-bubbles, swiftly chasing each other
to the surface, alone remained where it had passed. At length
these, too, were gone, and that was an end of our poor servant.
Umslopogaas thoughtfully watched the body vanish.

'What did he follow us for?' he asked. ''Tis an ill omen for
thee and me, Macumazahn.' And he laughed.

I turned on him angrily, for I dislike these unpleasant suggestions.
If people have such ideas, they ought in common decency to keep
them to themselves. I detest individuals who make on the subject
of their disagreeable presentiments, or who, when they dream
that they saw one hanged as a common felon, or some such horror,
will insist upon telling one all about it at breakfast, even
if they have to get up early to do it.

Just then, however, the others woke up and began to rejoice exceedingly
at finding that we were out of that dreadful river and once more
beneath the blue sky. Then followed a babel of talk and suggestions
as to what we were to do next, the upshot of all of which was
that, as we were excessively hungry, and had nothing whatsoever
left to eat except a few scraps of biltong (dried game-flesh),
having abandoned all that remained of our provisions to those
horrible freshwater crabs, we determined to make for the shore.
But a new difficulty arose. We did not know where the shore
was, and, with the exception of the cliffs through which the
subterranean river made its entry, could see nothing but a wide
expanse of sparkling blue water. Observing, however, that the
long flights of aquatic birds kept flying from our left, we concluded
that they were advancing from their feeding-grounds on shore
to pass the day in the lake, and accordingly headed the boat
towards the quarter whence they came, and began to paddle. Before
long, however, a stiffish breeze sprang up, blowing directly
in the direction we wanted, so we improvized a sail with a blanket
and the pole, which took us along merrily. This done, we devoured
the remnants of our biltong, washed down with the sweet lake
water, and then lit our pipes and awaited whatever might turn up.

When we had been sailing for an hour, Good, who was searching
the horizon with the spy-glass, suddenly announced joyfully that
he saw land, and pointed out that, from the change in the colour
of the water, he thought we must be approaching the mouth of
a river. In another minute we perceived a great golden dome,
not unlike that of St Paul's, piercing the morning mists, and
while we were wondering what in the world it could be, Good reported
another and still more important discovery, namely, that a small
sailing-boat was advancing towards us. This bit of news, which
we were very shortly able to verify with our own eyes, threw
us into a considerable flutter. That the natives of this unknown
lake should understand the art of sailing seemed to suggest that
they possessed some degree of civilization. In a few more minutes
it became evident that the occupant or occupants of the advancing
boat had made us out. For a moment or two she hung in the wind
as though in doubt, and then came tacking towards us with great
swiftness. In ten more minutes she was within a hundred yards,
and we saw that she was a neat little boat -- not a canoe 'dug
out', but built more or less in the European fashion with planks,
and carrying a singularly large sail for her size. But our attention
was soon diverted from the boat to her crew, which consisted
of a man and a woman, _nearly as white as ourselves_.

We stared at each other in amazement, thinking that we must be
mistaken; but no, there was no doubt about it. They were not
fair, but the two people in the boat were decidedly of a white
as distinguished from a black race, as white, for instance, as
Spaniards or Italians. It was a patent fact. So it was true,
after all; and, mysteriously led by a Power beyond our own, we
had discovered this wonderful people. I could have shouted for
joy when I thought of the glory and the wonder of the thing;
and as it was, we all shook hands and congratulated each other
on the unexpected success of our wild search. All my life had
I heard rumours of a white race that existed in the highlands
of this vast continent, and longed to put them to the proof,
and now here I saw it with my own eyes, and was dumbfounded.
Truly, as Sir Henry said, the old Roman was right when he wrote
'Ex Africa semper aliquid novi', which he tells me means that
out of Africa there always comes some new thing.

The man in the boat was of a good but not particularly fine physique,
and possessed straight black hair, regular aquiline features,
and an intelligent face. He was dressed in a brown cloth garment,
something like a flannel shirt without the sleeves, and in an
unmistakable kilt of the same material. The legs and feet were
bare. Round the right arm and left leg he wore thick rings of
yellow metal that I judged to be gold. The woman had a sweet
face, wild and shy, with large eyes and curling brown hair.
Her dress was made of the same material as the man's, and consisted,
as we afterwards discovered, first of a linen under-garment that
hung down to her knee, and then of a single long strip of cloth,
about four feet wide by fifteen long, which was wound round the
body in graceful folds and finally flung over the left shoulder
so that the end, which was dyed blue or purple or some other
colour, according to the social standing of the wearer, hung
down in front, the right arm and breast being, however, left
quite bare. A more becoming dress, especially when, as in the
present case, the wearer was young and pretty, it is quite impossible
to conceive. Good (who has an eye for such things) was greatly
struck with it, and so indeed was I. It was so simple and yet
so effective.

Meanwhile, if we had been astonished at the appearance of the
man and woman, it was clear that they were far more astonished
at us. As for the man, he appeared to be overcome with fear
and wonder, and for a while hovered round our canoe, but would
not approach. At last, however, he came within hailing distance,
and called to us in a language that sounded soft and pleasing
enough, but of which we could not understand one word. So we
hailed back in English, French, Latin, Greek, German, Zulu, Dutch,
Sisutu, Kukuana, and a few other native dialects that I am acquainted
with, but our visitor did not understand any of these tongues;
indeed, they appeared to bewilder him. As for the lady, she was
busily employed in taking stock of us, and Good was returning
the compliment by staring at her hard through his eyeglass,
a proceeding that she seemed rather to enjoy than otherwise.
At length, the man, being unable to make anything of us, suddenly
turned his boat round and began to head off for the shore,
his little boat skimming away before the wind like a swallow.
As she passed across our bows the man turned to attend to the
large sail, and Good promptly took the opportunity to kiss his hand
to the young lady. I was horrified at this proceeding, both on
general grounds and because I feared that she might take offence,
but to my delight she did not, for, first glancing round and
seeing that her husband, or brother, or whoever he was, was engaged,
she promptly kissed hers back.

'Ah!' said I. 'It seems that we have at last found a language
that the people of this country understand.'

'In which case,' said Sir Henry, 'Good will prove an invaluable
interpreter.'

I frowned, for I do not approve of Good's frivolities, and he
knows it, and I turned the conversation to more serious subjects.
'It is very clear to me,' I said, 'that the man will be back
before long with a host of his fellows, so we had best make up
our minds as to how we are going to receive them.'

'The question is how will they receive us?' said Sir Henry.

As for Good he made no remark, but began to extract a small square
tin case that had accompanied us in all our wanderings from under
a pile of baggage. Now we had often remonstrated with Good about
this tin case, inasmuch as it had been an awkward thing to carry,
and he had never given any very explicit account as to its contents;
but he had insisted on keeping it, saying mysteriously that it
might come in very useful one day.

'What on earth are you going to do, Good?' asked Sir Henry.

'Do -- why dress, of course! You don't expect me to appear in
a new country in these things, do you?' and he pointed to his
soiled and worn garments, which were however, like all Good's
things, very tidy, and with every tear neatly mended.

We said no more, but watched his proceedings with breathless
interest. His first step was to get Alphonse, who was thoroughly
competent in such matters, to trim his hair and beard in the
most approved fashion. I think that if he had had some hot water
and a cake of soap at hand he would have shaved off the latter;
but he had not. This done, he suggested that we should lower
the sail of the canoe and all take a bath, which we did, greatly
to the horror and astonishment of Alphonse, who lifted his hands
and ejaculated that these English were indeed a wonderful people.
Umslopogaas, who, though he was, like most high-bred Zulus,
scrupulously cleanly in his person, did not see the fun of swimming
about in a lake, also regarded the proceeding with mild amusement.
We got back into the canoe much refreshed by the cold water,
and sat to dry in the sun, whilst Good undid his tin box, and
produced first a beautiful clean white shirt, just as it had
left a London steam laundry, and then some garments wrapped first
in brown, then in white, and finally in silver paper. We watched
this undoing with the tenderest interest and much speculation.
One by one Good removed the dull husks that hid their splendours,
carefully folding and replacing each piece of paper as he did
so; and there at last lay, in all the majesty of its golden epaulettes,
lace, and buttons, a Commander of the Royal Navy's full-dress
uniform -- dress sword, cocked hat, shiny patent leather boots
and all. We literally gasped.

'_What!_' we said, '_what!_ Are you going to put those things on?'

'Certainly,' he answered composedly; 'you see so much depends
upon a first impression, especially,' he added, 'as I observe
that there are ladies about. One at least of us ought to be
decently dressed.'

We said no more; we were simply dumbfounded, especially when
we considered the artful way in which Good had concealed the
contents of that box for all these months. Only one suggestion
did we make -- namely, that he should wear his mail shirt next
his skin. He replied that he feared it would spoil the set of
his coat, now carefully spread in the sun to take the creases
out, but finally consented to this precautionary measure. The
most amusing part of the affair, however, was to see old Umslopogaas's
astonishment and Alphonse's delight at Good's transformation.
When at last he stood up in all his glory, even down to the
medals on his breast, and contemplated himself in the still waters
of the lake, after the fashion of the young gentleman in ancient
history, whose name I cannot remember, but who fell in love with
his own shadow, the old Zulu could no longer restrain his feelings.

'Oh, Bougwan!' he said. 'Oh, Bougwan! I always thought thee
an ugly little man, and fat -- fat as the cows at calving time;
and now thou art like a blue jay when he spreads his tail out.
Surely, Bougwan, it hurts my eyes to look at thee.'

Good did not much like this allusion to his fat, which, to tell
the truth, was not very well deserved, for hard exercise had
brought him down three inches; but on the whole he was pleased
at Umslopogaas's admiration. As for Alphonse, he was quite delighted.

'Ah! but Monsieur has the beautiful air -- the air of the warrior.
It is the ladies who will say so when we come to get ashore.
Monsieur is complete; he puts me in mind of my heroic grand --'

Here we stopped Alphonse.

As we gazed upon the beauties thus revealed by Good, a spirit
of emulation filled our breasts, and we set to work to get ourselves
up as well as we could. The most, however, that we were able
to do was to array ourselves in our spare suits of shooting clothes,
of which we each had several, all the fine clothes in the world
could never make it otherwise than scrubby and insignificant;
but Sir Henry looked what he is, a magnificent man in his nearly
new tweed suit, gaiters, and boots. Alphonse also got himself
up to kill, giving an extra turn to his enormous moustaches.
Even old Umslopogaas, who was not in a general way given to
the vain adorning of his body, took some oil out of the lantern
and a bit of tow, and polished up his head-ring with it till
it shone like Good's patent leather boots. Then he put on the
mail shirt Sir Henry had given him and his 'moocha', and, having
cleaned up Inkosi-kaas a little, stood forth complete.

All this while, having hoisted the sail again as soon as we had
finished bathing, we had been progressing steadily for the land,
or, rather, for the mouth of a great river. Presently -- in
all about an hour and a half after the little boat had left us
-- we saw emerging from the river or harbour a large number of
boats, ranging up to ten or twelve tons burden. One of these
was propelled by twenty-four oars, and most of the rest sailed.
Looking through the glass we soon made out that the row-boat
was an official vessel, her crew being all dressed in a sort
of uniform, whilst on the half-deck forward stood an old man
of venerable appearance, and with a flowing white beard, and
a sword strapped to his side, who was evidently the commander
of the craft. The other boats were apparently occupied by people
brought out by curiosity, and were rowing or sailing towards
us as quickly as they could.

'Now for it,' said I. 'What is the betting? Are they going
to be friendly or to put an end to us?'

Nobody could answer this question, and, not liking the warlike
appearance of the old gentleman and his sword, we felt a
little anxious.

Just then Good spied a school of hippopotami on the water about
two hundred yards off us, and suggested that it would not be
a bad plan to impress the natives with a sense of our power by
shooting some of them if possible. This, unluckily enough, struck
us as a good idea, and accordingly we at once got out our eight-bore
rifles, for which we still had a few cartridges left, and prepared
for action. There were four of the animals, a big bull, a cow,
and two young ones, one three parts grown. We got up to them
without difficulty, the great animals contenting themselves with
sinking down into the water and rising again a few yards farther
on; indeed, their excessive tameness struck me as being peculiar.
When the advancing boats were about five hundred yards away,
Sir Henry opened the ball by firing at the three parts grown
young one. The heavy bullet struck it fair between the eyes,
and, crashing through the skull, killed it, and it sank, leaving
a long train of blood behind it. At the same moment I fired
at the cow, and Good at the old bull. My shot took effect, but
not fatally, and down went the hippopotamus with a prodigious
splashing, only to rise again presently blowing and grunting
furiously, dyeing all the water round her crimson, when I killed
her with the left barrel. Good, who is an execrable shot, missed
the head of the bull altogether, the bullet merely cutting the
side of his face as it passed. On glancing up, after I had fired
my second shot, I perceived that the people we had fallen among
were evidently ignorant of the nature of firearms, for the consternation
caused by our shots and their effect upon the animals was prodigious.
Some of the parties in the boats began to cry out in fear; others
turned and made off as hard as they could; and even the old gentleman
with the sword looked greatly puzzled and alarmed, and halted
his big row-boat. We had, however, but little time for observation,
for just then the old bull, rendered furious by the wound he
had received, rose fair within forty yards of us, glaring savagely.
We all fired, and hit him in various places, and down he went.
We all fired, and hit him in various places, and down he went,
badly wounded. Curiosity now began to overcome the fear of the
onlookers, and some of them sailed on up close to us, amongst
these being the man and woman whom we had first seen a couple
of hours or so before, who drew up almost alongside. Just then
the great brute rose again within ten yards of their base, and
instantly with a roar of fury made at it open-mouthed. The woman
shrieked, and the man tried to give the boat way, but without
success. In another second I saw the huge red jaws and gleaming
ivories close with a crunch on the frail craft, taking an enormous
mouthful out of its side and capsizing it. Down went the boat,
leaving its occupants struggling in the water. Next moment,
before we could do anything towards saving them, the huge and
furious creature was up again and making open-mouthed at the
poor girl, who was struggling in the water. Lifting my rifle
just as the grinding jaws were about to close on her, I fired
over her head right down the hippopotamus's throat. Over he
went, and commenced turning round and round, snorting, and blowing
red streams of blood through his nostrils. Before he could recover
himself, however, I let him have the other barrel in the side
of the throat, and that finished him. He never moved or struggled
again, but instantly sank. Our next effort was directed towards
saving the girl, the man having swum off towards another boat;
and in this we were fortunately successful, pulling her into
the canoe (amidst the shouts of the spectators) considerably
exhausted and frightened, but otherwise unhurt.

Meanwhile the boats had gathered together at a distance, and
we could see that the occupants, who were evidently much frightened,
were consulting what to do. Without giving them time for further
consideration, which we thought might result unfavourably to
ourselves, we instantly took our paddles and advanced towards
them, Good standing in the bow and taking off his cocked hat
politely in ever direction, his amiable features suffused by
a bland but intelligent smile. Most of the craft retreated as
we advanced, but a few held their ground, while the big row-boat
came on to meet us. Presently we were alongside, and I could
see that our appearance -- and especially Good's and Umslopogaas's
-- filled the venerable-looking commander with astonishment,
not unmixed with awe. He was dressed after the same fashion
as the man we first met, except that his shirt was not made of
brown cloth, but of pure white linen hemmed with purple. The
kilt, however, was identical, and so were the thick rings of
gold around the arm and beneath the left knee. The rowers wore
only a kilt, their bodies being naked to the waist. Good took
off his hat to the old gentleman with an extra flourish, and
inquired after his health in the purest English, to which he
replied by laying the first two fingers of his right hand horizontally
across his lips and holding them there for a moment, which we
took as his method of salutation. Then he also addressed some
remarks to us in the same soft accents that had distinguished
our first interviewer, which we were forced to indicate we did
not understand by shaking our heads and shrugging our shoulders.
This last Alphonse, being to the manner born, did to perfection,
and in so polite a way that nobody could take any offence. Then
we came a standstill, till I, being exceedingly hungry, thought
I might as well call attention to the fact, and did so first
by opening my mouth and pointing down it, and then rubbing my
stomach. These signals the old gentleman clearly understood,
for he nodded his head vigorously, and pointed towards the harbour;
and at the same time one of the men on his boat threw us a line
and motioned to us to make it fast, which we did. The row-boat
then took us in tow, and went with great rapidity towards the
mouth of the river, accompanied by all the other boats. In about
twenty minutes more we reached the entrance to the harbour, which
was crowded with boats full of people who had come out to see
us. We observed that all the occupants were more or less of
the same type, though some were fairer than others. Indeed,
we noticed certain ladies whose skin was of a most dazzling whiteness;
and the darkest shade of colour which we saw was about that of
a rather swarthy Spaniard. Presently the wide river gave a sweep,
and when it did so an exclamation of astonishment and delight
burst from our lips as we caught our first view of the place
that we afterwards knew as Milosis, or the Frowning City (from
mi, which means city, and losis, a frown).

At a distance of some five hundred yards from the river's bank
rose a sheer precipice of granite, two hundred feet or so in
height, which had no doubt once formed the bank itself -- the
intermediate space of land now utilized as docks and roadways
having been gained by draining, and deepening and embanking
the stream.

On the brow of this precipice stood a great building of the same
granite that formed the cliff, built on three sides of a square,
the fourth side being open, save for a kind of battlement pierced
at its base by a little door. This imposing place we afterwards
discovered was the palace of the queen, or rather of the queens.
At the back of the palace the town sloped gently upwards to
a flashing building of white marble, crowned by the golden dome
which we had already observed. The city was, with the exception
of this one building, entirely built of red granite, and laid
out in regular blocks with splendid roadways between. So far
as we could see also the houses were all one-storied and detached,
with gardens round them, which gave some relief to the eye wearied
with the vista of red granite. At the back of the palace a road
of extraordinary width stretched away up the hill for a distance
of a mile and a half or so, and appeared to terminate at an open
space surrounding the gleaming building that crowned the hill.
But right in front of us was the wonder and glory of Milosis
-- the great staircase of the palace, the magnificence of which
took our breath away. Let the reader imagine, if he can, a splendid
stairway, sixty-five feet from balustrade to balustrade, consisting
of two vast flights, each of one hundred and twenty-five steps
of eight inches in height by three feet broad, connected by a
flat resting-place sixty feet in length, and running from the
palace wall on the edge of the precipice down to meet a waterway
or canal cut to its foot from the river. This marvellous staircase
was supported upon a single enormous granite arch, of which the
resting-place between the two flights formed the crown; that
is, the connecting open space lay upon it. From this archway
sprang a subsidiary flying arch, or rather something that resembled
a flying arch in shape, such as none of us had seen in any other
country, and of which the beauty and wonder surpassed all that
we had ever imagined. Three hundred feet from point to point,
and no less than five hundred and fifty round the curve, that
half-arc soared touching the bridge it supported for a space
of fifty feet only, one end resting on and built into the parent
archway, and the other embedded in the solid granite of the side
of the precipice.

This staircase with its supports was, indeed, a work of which
any living man might have been proud, both on account of its
magnitude and its surpassing beauty. Four times, as we afterwards
learnt, did the work, which was commenced in remote antiquity,
fail, and was then abandoned for three centuries when half-finished,
till at last there rose a youthful engineer named Rademas, who
said that he would complete it successfully, and staked his life
upon it. If he failed he was to be hurled from the precipice
he had undertaken to scale; if he succeeded, he was to be rewarded
by the hand of the king's daughter. Five years was given to
him to complete the work, and an unlimited supply of labour and
material. Three times did his arch fall, till at last, seeing
failure to be inevitable, he determined to commit suicide on
the morrow of the third collapse. That night, however, a beautiful
woman came to him in a dream and touched his forehead, and of
a sudden he saw a vision of the completed work, and saw too through
the masonry and how the difficulties connected with the flying
arch that had hitherto baffled his genius were to be overcome.
Then he awoke and once more commenced the work, but on a different
plan, and behold! he achieved it, and on the last day of the
five years he led the princess his bride up the stair and into
the palace. And in due course he became king by right of his
wife, and founded the present Zu-Vendi dynasty, which is to this
day called the 'House of the Stairway', thus proving once more
how energy and talent are the natural stepping-stones to grandeur.
And to commemorate his triumph he fashioned a statue of himself
dreaming, and of the fair woman who touched him on the forehead,
and placed it in the great hall of the palace, and there it stands
to this day.

Such was the great stair of Milosis, and such the city beyond.
No wonder they named it the 'Frowning City', for certainly those
mighty works in solid granite did seem to frown down upon our
littleness in their sombre splendour. This was so even in the
sunshine, but when the storm-clouds gathered on her imperial
brow Milosis looked more like a supernatural dwelling-place,
or some imagining of a poet's brain, than what she is --
a mortal city, carven by the patient genius of generations out
of the red silence of the mountain side.

CHAPTER XII
THE SISTER QUEENS

The big rowing-boat glided on up the cutting that ran almost
to the foot of the vast stairway, and then halted at a flight
of steps leading to the landing-place. Here the old gentleman
disembarked, and invited us to do so likewise, which, having
no alternative, and being nearly starved, we did without hesitation
-- taking our rifles with us, however. As each of us landed,
our guide again laid his fingers on his lips and bowed deeply,
at the same time ordering back the crowds which had assembled
to gaze on us. The last to leave the canoe was the girl we had
picked out of the water, for whom her companion was waiting.
Before she went away she kissed my hand, I suppose as a token
of gratitude for having saved her from the fury of the hippopotamus;
and it seemed to me that she had by this time quite got over
any fear she might have had of us, and was by no means anxious
to return in such a hurry to her lawful owners. At any rate,
she was going to kiss Good's hand as well as mine, when the young
man interfered and led her off. As soon as we were on shore,
a number of the men who had rowed the big boat took possession
of our few goods and chattels, and started with them up the splendid
staircase, our guide indicating to us by means of motions that
the things were perfectly safe. This done, he turned to the
right and led the way to a small house, which was, as I afterwards
discovered, an inn. Entering into a good-sized room, we saw
that a wooden table was already furnished with food, presumably
in preparation for us. Here our guide motioned us to be seated
on a bench that ran the length of the table. We did not require
a second invitation, but at once fell to ravenously on the viands
before us, which were served on wooden platters, and consisted
of cold goat's-flesh, wrapped up in some kind of leaf that gave
it a delicious flavour, green vegetables resembling lettuces,
brown bread, and red wine poured from a skin into horn mugs.
This wine was peculiarly soft and good, having something of
the flavour of Burgundy. Twenty minutes after we sat down at
that hospitable board we rose from it, feeling like new men.
After all that we had gone through we needed two things, food
and rest, and the food of itself was a great blessing to us.
Two girls of the same charming cast of face as the first whom
we had seen waited on us while we ate, and very nicely they did
it. They were also dressed in the same fashion namely, in a
white linen petticoat coming to the knee, and with the toga-like
garment of brown cloth, leaving bare the right arm and breast.
I afterwards found out that this was the national dress, and
regulated by an iron custom, though of course subject to variations.
Thus, if the petticoat was pure white, it signified that the
wearer was unmarried; if white, with a straight purple stripe
round the edge, that she was married and a first or legal wife;
if with a black stripe, that she was a widow. In the same way
the toga, or 'kaf', as they call it, was of different shades
of colour, from pure white to the deepest brown, according to
the rank of the wearer, and embroidered at the end in various
ways. This also applies to the 'shirts' or tunics worn by the
men, which varied in material and colour; but the kilts were
always the same except as regards quality. One thing, however,
every man and woman in the country wore as the national insignia,
and that was the thick band of gold round the right arm above
the elbow, and the left leg beneath the knee. People of high
rank also wore a torque of gold round the neck, and I observed
that our guide had one on.

So soon as we had finished our meal our venerable conductor,
who had been standing all the while, regarding us with inquiring
eyes, and our guns with something as like fear as his pride would
allow him to show, bowed towards Good, whom he evidently took
for the leader of the party on account of the splendour of his
apparel, and once more led the way through the door and to the
foot of the great staircase. Here we paused for a moment to
admire two colossal lions, each hewn from a single block of pure
black marble, and standing rampant on the terminations of the
wide balustrades of the staircase. These lions are magnificently
executed, and it is said were sculptured by Rademas, the great
prince who designed the staircase, and who was without doubt,
to judge from the many beautiful examples of his art that we
saw afterwards, one of the finest sculptors who ever lived, either
in this or any other country. Then we climbed almost with a
feeling of awe up that splendid stair, a work executed for all
time and that will, I do not doubt, be admired thousands of years
hence by generations unborn unless an earthquake should throw
it down. Even Umslopogaas, who as a general rule made it a point
of honour not to show astonishment, which he considered undignified,
was fairly startled out of himself, and asked it the 'bridge
had been built by men or devils', which was his vague way of
alluding to any supernatural power. But Alphonse did not care
about it. Its solid grandeur jarred upon the frivolous little
Frenchman, who said that it was all 'tres magnifique, mais triste
-- ah, triste!' and went on to suggest that it would be improved
if the balustrades were _gilt_.

On we went up the first flight of one hundred and twenty steps,
across the broad platform joining it to the second flight, where
we paused to admire the glorious view of one of the most beautiful
stretches of country that the world can show, edged by the blue
waters of the lake. Then we passed on up the stair till at last
we reached the top, where we found a large standing space to
which there were three entrances, all of small size. Two of
these opened on to rather narrow galleries or roadways cut in
the face of the precipice that ran round the palace walls and
led to the principal thoroughfares of the city, and were used
by the inhabitants passing up and down from the docks. These
were defended by gates of bronze, and also, as we afterwards
learnt, it was possible to let down a portion of the roadways
themselves by withdrawing certain bolts, and thus render it quite
impracticable for an enemy to pass. The third entrance consisted
of a flight of ten curved black marble steps leading to a doorway
cut in the palace wall. This wall was in itself a work of art,
being built of huge blocks of granite to the height of forty
feet, and so fashioned that its face was concave, whereby it
was rendered practically impossible for it to be scaled. To
this doorway our guide led us. The door, which was massive,
and made of wood protected by an outer gate of bronze, was closed;
but on our approach it was thrown wide, and we were met by the
challenge of a sentry, who was armed with a heavy triangular-bladed
spear, not unlike a bayonet in shape, and a cutting sword, and
protected by breast and back plates of skilfully prepared hippopotamus
hide, and a small round shield fashioned of the same tough material.
The sword instantly attracted our attention; it was practically
identical with the one in the possession of Mr Mackenzie which
he had obtained from the ill-starred wanderer. There was no
mistaking the gold-lined fretwork cut in the thickness of the
blade. So the man had told the truth after all. Our guide instantly
gave a password, which the soldier acknowledged by letting the
iron shaft of his spear fall with a ringing sound upon the pavement,
and we passed on through the massive wall into the courtyard
of the palace. This was about forty yards square, and laid out
in flower-beds full of lovely shrubs and plants, many of which
were quite new to me. Through the centre of this garden ran
a broad walk formed of powdered shells brought from the lake
in the place of gravel. Following this we came to another doorway
with a round heavy arch, which is hung with thick curtains, for
there are no doors in the palace itself. Then came another short
passage, and we were in the great hall of the palace, and once
more stood astonished at the simple and yet overpowering grandeur
of the place.

The hall is, as we afterwards learnt, one hundred and fifty feet
long by eighty wide, and has a magnificent arched roof of carved
wood. Down the entire length of the building there are on either
side, and at a distance of twenty feet from the wall, slender
shafts of black marble springing sheer to the roof, beautifully
fluted, and with carved capitals. At one end of this great place
which these pillars support is the group of which I have already
spoken as executed by the King Rademas to commemorate his building
of the staircase; and really, when we had time to admire it,
its loveliness almost struck us dumb. The group, of which the
figures are in white, and the rest is black marble, is about
half as large again as life, and represents a young man of noble
countenance and form sleeping heavily upon a couch. One arm
is carelessly thrown over the side of this couch, and his head
reposes upon the other, its curling locks partially hiding it.
Bending over him, her hand resting on his forehead, is a draped
female form of such white loveliness as to make the beholder's
breath stand still. And as for the calm glory that shines upon
her perfect face -- well, I can never hope to describe it. But
there it rests like the shadow of an angel's smile; and power,
love, and divinity all have their part in it. Her eyes are fixed
upon the sleeping youth, and perhaps the most extraordinary thing
about this beautiful work is the success with which the artist
has succeeded in depicting on the sleeper's worn and weary face
the sudden rising of a new and spiritual thought as the spell
begins to work within his mind. You can see that an inspiration
is breaking in upon the darkness of the man's soul as the dawn
breaks in upon the darkness of night. It is a glorious piece
of statuary, and none but a genius could have conceived it.
Between each of the black marble columns is some such group of
figures, some allegorical, and some representing the persons
and wives of deceased monarchs or great men; but none of them,
in our opinion, comes up the one I have described, although several
are from the hand of the sculptor and engineer, King Rademas.

In the exact centre of the hall was a solid mass of black marble
about the size of a baby's arm-chair, which it rather resembled
in appearance. This, as we afterwards learnt, was the sacred
stone of this remarkable people, and on it their monarchs laid
their hand after the ceremony of coronation, and swore by the
sun to safeguard the interests of the empire, and to maintain
its customs, traditions, and laws. This stone was evidently
exceedingly ancient (as indeed all stones are), and was scored
down its sides with long marks or lines, which Sir Henry said
proved it to have been a fragment that at some remote period
in its history had been ground in the iron jaws of glaciers.
There was a curious prophecy about this block of marble, which
was reported among the people to have fallen from the sun, to
the effect that when it was shattered into fragments a king of
alien race should rule over the land. As the stone, however,
looked remarkably solid, the native princes seemed to have a
fair chance of keeping their own for many a long year.

At the end of the hall is a dais spread with rich carpets, on
which two thrones are set side by side. These thrones are shaped
like great chairs, and made of solid gold. The seats are richly
cushioned, but the backs are left bare, and on each is carved
the emblem of the sun, shooting out his fiery rays in all directions.
The footstools are golden lions couchant, with yellow topazes
set in them for eyes. There are no other gems about them.

The place is lighted by numerous but narrow windows, placed high
up, cut on the principle of the loopholes to be seen in ancient
castles, but innocent of glass, which was evidently unknown here.

Such is a brief description of this splendid hall in which we
now found ourselves, compiled of course from our subsequent knowledge
of it. On this occasion we had but little time for observation,
for when we entered we perceived that a large number of men were
gathered together in front of the two thrones, which were unoccupied.
The principal among them were seated on carved wooden chairs
ranged to the right and the left of the thrones, but not in front
of them, and were dressed in white tunics, with various embroideries
and different coloured edgings, and armed with the usual pierced
and gold-inlaid swords. To judge from the dignity of their appearance,
they seemed one and all to be individuals of very great importance.
Behind each of these great men stood a small knot of followers
and attendants.

Seated by themselves, in a little group to the left of the throne,
were six men of a different stamp. Instead of wearing the ordinary
kilt, they were clothed in long robes of pure white linen, with
the same symbol of the sun that is to be seen on the back of
the chairs, emblazoned in gold thread upon the breast. This
garment was girt up at the waist with a simple golden curb-like
chain, from which hung long elliptic plates of the same metal,
fashioned in shiny scales like those of a fish, that, as their
wearers moved, jingled and reflected the light. They were all
men of mature age and of a severe and impressive cast of features,
which was rendered still more imposing by the long beards they wore.

The personality of one individual among them, however, impressed
us at once. He seemed to stand out among his fellows and refuse
to be overlooked. He was very old -- eighty at least -- and
extremely tall, with a long snow-white beard that hung nearly
to his waist. His features were aquiline and deeply cut, and
his eyes were grey and cold-looking. The heads of the others
were bare, but this man wore a round cap entirely covered with
gold embroidery, from which we judged that he was a person of
great importance; and indeed we afterwards discovered that he
was Agon, the High Priest of the country. As we approached,
all these men, including the priests, rose and bowed to us with
the greatest courtesy, at the same time placing the two fingers
across the lips in salutation. Then soft-footed attendants advanced
from between the pillars, bearing seats, which were placed in
a line in front of the thrones. We three sat down, Alphonse
and Umslopogaas standing behind us. Scarcely had we done so
when there came a blare of trumpets from some passage to the
right, and a similar blare from the left. Next a man with a
long white wand of ivory appeared just in front of the right-hand
throne, and cried out something in a loud voice, ending with
the word _Nyleptha_, repeated three times; and another man, similarly
attired, called out a similar sentence before the other throne,
but ending with the word _Sorais_, also repeated thrice. Then
came the tramp of armed men from each side entrance, and in filed
about a score of picked and magnificently accoutred guards, who
formed up on each side of the thrones, and let their heavy iron-handled
spears fall simultaneously with a clash upon the black marble
flooring. Another double blare of trumpets, and in from either
side, each attended by six maidens, swept the two Queens of Zu-Vendis,
everybody in the hall rising to greet them as they came.

I have seen beautiful women in my day, and am no longer thrown
into transports at the sight of a pretty face; but language fails
me when I try to give some idea of the blaze of loveliness that
then broke upon us in the persons of these sister Queens. Both
were young -- perhaps five-and-twenty years of age -- both were
tall and exquisitely formed; but there the likeness stopped.
One, Nyleptha, was a woman of dazzling fairness; her right arm
and breast bare, after the custom of her people, showed like
snow even against her white and gold-embroidered 'kaf', or toga.
And as for her sweet face, all I can say is, that it was one
that few men could look on and forget. Her hair, a veritable
crown of gold, clustered in short ringlets over her shapely head,
half hiding the ivory brow, beneath which eyes of deep and glorious
grey flashed out in tender majesty. I cannot attempt to describe
her other features, only the mouth was most sweet, and curved
like Cupid's bow, and over the whole countenance there shone
an indescribable look of loving-kindness, lit up by a shadow
of delicate humour that lay upon her face like a touch of silver
on a rosy cloud.

She wore no jewels, but on her neck, arm, and knee were the usual
torques of gold, in this instance fashioned like a snake; and
her dress was of pure white linen of excessive fineness, plentifully
embroidered with gold and with the familiar symbols of the sun.

Her twin sister, Sorais, was of a different and darker type of
beauty. Her hair was wavy like Nyleptha's but coal-black, and
fell in masses on her shoulders; her complexion was olive, her
eyes large, dark, and lustrous; the lips were full, and I thought
rather cruel. Somehow her face, quiet and even cold as it is,
gave an idea of passion in repose, and caused one to wonder involuntarily
what its aspect would be if anything occurred to break the calm.
It reminded me of the deep sea, that even on the bluest days
never loses its visible stamp of power, and in its murmuring
sleep is yet instinct with the spirit of the storm. Her figure,
like her sister's, was almost perfect in its curves and outlines,
but a trifle more rounded, and her dress was absolutely the same.

As this lovely pair swept onwards to their respective thrones,
amid the deep attentive silence of the Court, I was bound to
confess to myself that they did indeed fulfil my idea of royalty.
Royal they were in every way -- in form, in grace, and queenly
dignity, and in the barbaric splendour of their attendant pomp.
But methought that they needed no guards or gold to proclaim
their power and bind the loyalty of wayward men. A glance from
those bright eyes or a smile from those sweet lips, and while
the red blood runs in the veins of youth women such as these
will never lack subjects ready to do their biddings to the death.

But after all they were women first and queens afterwards, and
therefore not devoid of curiosity. As they passed to their seats
I saw both of them glance swiftly in our direction. I saw, too,
that their eyes passed by me, seeing nothing to charm them in
the person of an insignificant and grizzled old man. Then they
looked with evident astonishment on the grim form of old Umslopogaas,
who raised his axe in salutation. Attracted next by the splendour
of Good's apparel, for a second their glance rested on him like
a humming moth upon a flower, then off it darted to where Sir
Henry Curtis stood, the sunlight from a window playing upon his
yellow hair and peaked beard, and marking the outlines of his
massive frame against the twilight of the somewhat gloomy hall.
He raised his eyes, and they met the fair Nyleptha's full, and
thus for the first time the goodliest man and woman that it has
ever been my lot to see looked one upon another. And why it
was I know not, but I saw the swift blood run up Nyleptha's skin
as the pink lights run up the morning sky. Red grew her fair
bosom and shapely arm, red the swanlike neck; the rounded cheeks
blushed red as the petals of a rose, and then the crimson flood
sank back to whence it came and left her pale and trembling.

I glanced at Sir Henry. He, too, had coloured up to the eyes.

'Oh, my word!' thought I to myself, 'the ladies have come on
the stage, and now we may look to the plot to develop itself.'
And I sighed and shook my head, knowing that the beauty of a
woman is like the beauty of the lightning -- a destructive thing
and a cause of desolation. By the time that I had finished my
reflections both the Queens were on the thrones, for all this
had happened in about six seconds. Once more the unseen trumpets
blared out, and then the Court seated itself, and Queen Sorais
motioned to us to do likewise.

Next from among the crowd whither he had withdrawn stepped forward
our guide, the old gentleman who had towed us ashore, holding
by the hand the girl whom we had seen first and afterwards rescued
from the hippopotamus. Having made obeisance he proceeded to
address the Queens, evidently describing to them the way and
place where we had been found. It was most amusing to watch
the astonishment, not unmixed with fear, reflected upon their
faces as they listened to his tale. Clearly they could not understand
how we had reached the lake and been found floating on it, and
were inclined to attribute our presence to supernatural causes.
Then the narrative proceeded, as I judged from the frequent
appeals that our guide made to the girl, to the point where we
had shot the hippopotami, and we at once perceived that there
was something very wrong about those hippopotami, for the history
was frequently interrupted by indignant exclamations from the
little group of white-robed priests and even from the courtiers,
while the two Queens listened with an amazed expression, especially
when our guide pointed to the rifles in our hands as being the
means of destruction. And here, to make matters clear, I may
as well explain at once that the inhabitants of Zu-Vendis are
sun-worshippers, and that for some reason or another the hippopotamus
is sacred among them. Not that they do not kill it, because
at a certain season of the year they slaughter thousands -- which
are specially preserved in large lakes up the country -- and
use their hides for armour for soldiers; but this does not prevent
them from considering these animals as sacred to the sun. {Endnote 11}
Now, as ill luck would have it, the particular hippopotami we
had shot were a family of tame animals that were kept in the
mouth of the port and daily fed by priests whose special duty
it was to attend to them. When we shot them I thought that the
brutes were suspiciously tame, and this was, as we afterwards
ascertained, the cause of it. Thus it came about that in attempting
to show off we had committed sacrilege of a most aggravated nature.

When our guide had finished his tale, the old man with the long
beard and round cap, whose appearance I have already described,
and who was, as I have said, the High Priest of the country,
and known by the name of Agon, rose and commenced an impassioned
harangue. I did not like the look of his cold grey eye as he
fixed it on us. I should have liked it still less had I known
that in the name of the outraged majesty of his god he was demanding
that the whole lot of us should be offered up as a sacrifice
by means of being burnt alive.

After he had finished speaking the Queen Sorais addressed him
in a soft and musical voice, and appeared, to judge from his
gestures of dissent, to be putting the other side of the question
before him. Then Nyleptha spoke in liquid accents. Little did
we know that she was pleading for our lives. Finally, she turned
and addressed a tall, soldierlike man of middle age with a black
beard and a long plain sword, whose name, as we afterwards learnt,
was Nasta, and who was the greatest lord in the country; apparently
appealing to him for support. Now when Sir Henry had caught
her eye and she had blushed so rosy red, I had seen that the
incident had not escaped this man's notice, and, what is more,
that it was eminently disagreeable to him, for he bit his lip
and his hand tightened on his sword-hilt. Afterwards we learnt
that he was an aspirant for the hand of this Queen in marriage,
which accounted for it. This being so, Nyleptha could not have
appealed to a worse person, for, speaking in slow, heavy tones,
he appeared to confirm all that the High Priest Agon had said.
As he spoke, Sorais put her elbow on her knee, and, resting
her chin on her hand, looked at him with a suppressed smile upon
her lips, as though she saw through the man, and was determined
to be his match; but Nyleptha grew very angry, her cheek flushed,
her eyes flashed, and she did indeed look lovely. Finally she
turned to Agon and seemed to give some sort of qualified assent,
for he bowed at her words; and as she spoke she moved her hands
as though to emphasize what she said; while all the time Sorais
kept her chin on her hand and smiled. Then suddenly Nyleptha
made a sign, the trumpets blew again, and everybody rose to leave
the hall save ourselves and the guards, whom she motioned to stay.

When they were all gone she bent forward and, smiling sweetly,
partially by signs and partially by exclamations made it clear
to us that she was very anxious to know where we came from.
The difficulty was how to explain, but at last an idea struck
me. I had my large pocket-book in my pocket and a pencil. Taking
it out, I made a little sketch of a lake, and then as best I
could I drew the underground river and the lake at the other
end. When I had done this I advanced to the steps of the throne
and gave it to her. She understood it at once and clapped her
hands with delight, and then descending from the throne took
it to her sister Sorais, who also evidently understood. Next
she took the pencil from me, and after examining it with curiosity
proceeded to make a series of delightful little sketches, the
first representing herself holding out both hands in welcome,
and a man uncommonly like Sir Henry taking them. Next she drew
a lovely little picture of a hippopotamus rolling about dying
in the water, and of an individual, in whom we had no difficulty
in recognizing Agon the High Priest, holding up his hands in
horror on the bank. Then followed a most alarming picture of
a dreadful fiery furnace and of the same figure, Agon, poking
us into it with a forked stick. This picture perfectly horrified
me, but I was a little reassured when she nodded sweetly and
proceeded to make a fourth drawing -- a man again uncommonly
like Sir Henry, and of two women, in whom I recognized Sorais
and herself, each with one arm around him, and holding a sword
in protection over him. To all of these Sorais, who I saw was
employed in carefully taking us all in -- especially Curtis --
signified her approval by nodding.

At last Nyleptha drew a final sketch of a rising sun, indicating
that she must go, and that we should meet on the following morning;
whereat Sir Henry looked so disappointed that she saw it, and,
I suppose by way of consolation, extended her hand to him to
kiss, which he did with pious fervour. At the same time Sorais,
off whom Good had never taken his eyeglass during the whole indaba
[interview], rewarded him by giving him her hand to kiss, though,
while she did so, her eyes were fixed upon Sir Henry. I am glad
to say that I was not implicated in these proceedings; neither
of them gave _me_ her hand to kiss.

Then Nyleptha turned and addressed the man who appeared to be
in command of the bodyguard, apparently from her manner and his
frequent obeisances, giving him very stringent and careful orders;
after which, with a somewhat coquettish nod and smile, she left
the hall, followed by Sorais and most of the guards.

When the Queens had gone, the officer whom Nyleptha had addressed
came forward and with many tokens of deep respect led us from
the hall through various passages to a sumptuous set of apartments
opening out of a large central room lighted with brazen swinging
lamps (for it was now dusk) and richly carpeted and strewn with
couches. On a table in the centre of the room was set a profusion
of food and fruit, and, what is more, flowers. There was a delicious
wine also in ancient-looking sealed earthenware flagons, and
beautifully chased golden and ivory cups to drink it from. Servants,
male and female, also were there to minister to us, and whilst
we ate, from some recess outside the apartment

'The silver lute did speak between
The trumpet's lordly blowing;'

and altogether we found ourselves in a sort of earthly paradise
which was only disturbed by the vision of that disgusting High
Priest who intended to commit us to the flames. But so very
weary were we with our labours that we could scarcely keep ourselves
awake through the sumptuous meal, and as soon as it was over
we indicated that we desired to sleep. As a further precaution
against surprise we left Umslopogaas with his axe to sleep in
the main chamber near the curtained doorways leading to the apartments
which we occupied respectively, Good and I in the one, and Sir
Henry and Alphonse in the other. Then throwing off our clothes,
with the exception of the mail shirts, which we considered it
safer to keep on, we flung ourselves down upon the low and luxurious
couches, and drew the silk-embroidered coverlids over us.

In two minutes I was just dropping off when I was aroused by
Good's voice.

'I say, Quatermain,' he said, 'did you ever see such eyes?'

'Eyes!' I said, crossly; 'what eyes?'

'Why, the Queen's, of course! Sorais, I mean -- at least
I think that is her name.'

'Oh, I don't know,' I yawned; 'I didn't notice them much:
I suppose they are good eyes,' and again I dropped off.

Five minutes or so elapsed, and I was once more awakened.

'I say, Quatermain,' said the voice.

'Well,' I answered testily, 'what is it now?'

'Did you notice her ankle? The shape --'

This was more than I could stand. By my bed stood the veldtschoons
I had been wearing. Moved quite beyond myself, I took them up
and threw them straight at Good's head -- and hit it.

Afterwards I slept the sleep of the just, and a very heavy sleep
it must be. As for Good, I don't know if he went to sleep or
if he continued to pass Sorais' beauties in mental review, and,
what is more, I don't care.

CHAPTER XIII
ABOUT THE ZU-VENDI PEOPLE

And now the curtain is down for a few hours, and the actors in
this novel drama are plunged in dewy sleep. Perhaps we should
except Nyleptha, whom the reader may, if poetically inclined,
imagine lying in her bed of state encompassed by her maidens,
tiring women, guards, and all the other people and appurtenances
that surround a throne, and yet not able to slumber for thinking
of the strangers who had visited a country where no such strangers
had ever come before, and wondering, as she lay awake, who they
were and what their past has been, and if she was ugly compared
to the women of their native place. I, however, not being poetically
inclined, will take advantage of the lull to give some account
of the people among whom we found ourselves, compiled, needless
to state, from information which we subsequently collected.

The name of this country, to begin at the beginning, is Zu-Vendis,
from Zu, 'yellow', and Vendis, 'place or country'. Why it is
called the Yellow Country I have never been able to ascertain
accurately, nor do the inhabitants themselves know. Three reasons
are, however, given, each of which would suffice to account for
it. The first is that the name owes its origin to the great
quantity of gold that is found in the land. Indeed, in this
respect Zu-Vendis is a veritable Eldorado, the precious metal
being extraordinarily plentiful. At present it is collected
from purely alluvial diggings, which we subsequently inspected,
and which are situated within a day's journey from Milosis, being
mostly found in pockets and in nuggets weighing from an ounce
up to six or seven pounds in weight. But other diggings of a
similar nature are known to exist, and I have besides seen great
veins of gold-bearing quartz. In Zu-Vendis gold is a much commoner
metal than silver, and thus it has curiously enough come to pass
that silver is the legal tender of the country.

The second reason given is, that at certain times of the year
the native grasses of the country, which are very sweet and good,
turn as yellow as ripe corn; and the third arises from a tradition
that the people were originally yellow skinned, but grew white
after living for many generations upon these high lands. Zu-Vendis
is a country about the size of France, is, roughly speaking,
oval in shape; and on every side cut off from the surrounding
territory by illimitable forests of impenetrable thorn, beyond
which are said to be hundreds of miles of morasses, deserts,
and great mountains. It is, in short, a huge, high tableland
rising up in the centre of the dark continent, much as in southern
Africa flat-topped mountains rise from the level of the surrounding
veldt. Milosis itself lies, according to my aneroid, at a level
of about nine thousand feet above the sea, but most of the land
is even higher, the greatest elevation of the open country being,
I believe, about eleven thousand feet. As a consequence the
climate is, comparatively speaking, a cold one, being very similar
to that of southern England, only brighter and not so rainy.
The land is, however, exceedingly fertile, and grows all cereals
and temperate fruits and timber to perfection; and in the lower-lying
parts even produces a hardy variety of sugar-cane. Coal is found
in great abundance, and in many places crops out from the surface;
and so is pure marble, both black and white. The same may be
said of almost every metal except silver, which is scarce, and
only to be obtained from a range of mountains in the north.

Zu-Vendis comprises in her boundaries a great variety of scenery,
including two ranges of snow-clad mountains, one on the western
boundary beyond the impenetrable belt of thorn forest, and the
other piercing the country from north to south, and passing at
a distance of about eighty miles from Milosis, from which town
its higher peaks are distinctly visible. This range forms the
chief watershed of the land. There are also three large lakes
-- the biggest, namely that whereon we emerged, and which is
named Milosis after the city, covering some two hundred square
miles of country -- and numerous small ones, some of them salt.

The population of this favoured land is, comparatively speaking,
dense, numbering at a rough estimate from ten to twelve millions.
It is almost purely agricultural in its habits, and divided
into great classes as in civilized countries. There is a territorial
nobility, a considerable middle class, formed principally of
merchants, officers of the army, etc.; but the great bulk of
the people are well-to-do peasants who live upon the lands of
the lords, from whom they hold under a species of feudal tenure.
The best bred people in the country are, as I think I have said,
pure whites with a somewhat southern cast of countenance; but
the common herd are much darker, though they do not show any
negro or other African characteristics. As to their descent
I can give no certain information. Their written records, which
extend back for about a thousand years, give no hint of it.
One very ancient chronicler does indeed, in alluding to some
old tradition that existed in his day, talk of it as having probably
originally 'come down with the people from the coast', but that
may mean little or nothing. In short, the origin of the Zu-Vendi
is lost in the mists of time. Whence they came or of what race
they are no man knows. Their architecture and some of their
sculptures suggest an Egyptian or possibly an Assyrian origin;
but it is well known that their present remarkable style of building
has only sprung up within the last eight hundred years, and they
certainly retain no traces of Egyptian theology or customs.
Again, their appearance and some of their habits are rather Jewish;
but here again it seems hardly conceivable that they should have
utterly lost all traces of the Jewish religion. Still, for aught
I know, they may be one of the lost ten tribes whom people are
so fond of discovering all over the world, or they may not.
I do not know, and so can only describe them as I find them,
and leave wiser heads than mine to make what they can out of
it, if indeed this account should ever be read at all, which
is exceedingly doubtful.

And now after I have said all this, I am, after all, going to
hazard a theory of my own, though it is only a very little one,
as the young lady said in mitigation of her baby. This theory
is founded on a legend which I have heard among the Arabs on
the east coast, which is to the effect that 'more than two thousand
years ago' there were troubles in the country which was known
as Babylonia, and that thereon a vast horde of Persians came
down to Bushire, where they took ship and were driven by the
north-east monsoon to the east coast of Africa, where, according
to the legend, 'the sun and fire worshippers' fell into conflict
with the belt of Arab settlers who even then were settled on
the east coast, and finally broke their way through them, and,
vanishing into the interior, were no more seen. Now, I ask,
is it not at least possible that the Zu-Vendi people are the
descendants of these 'sun and fire worshippers' who broke through
the Arabs and vanished? As a matter of fact, there is a good
deal in their characters and customs that tallies with the somewhat
vague ideas that I have of Persians. Of course we have no books
of reference here, but Sir Henry says that if his memory does
not fail him, there was a tremendous revolt in Babylon about
500 BC, whereon a vast multitude were expelled from the city.
Anyhow, it is a well-established fact that there have been many
separate emigrations of Persians from the Persian Gulf to the
east coast of Africa up to as lately as seven hundred years ago.
There are Persian tombs at Kilwa, on the east coast, still in
good repair, which bear dates showing them to be just seven hundred
years old. {Endnote 12}

In addition to being an agricultural people, the Zu-Vendi are,
oddly enough, excessively warlike, and as they cannot from the
exigencies of their position make war upon other nations, they
fight among each other like the famed Kilkenny cats, with the
happy result that the population never outgrows the power of
the country to support it. This habit of theirs is largely fostered
by the political condition of the country. The monarchy is nominally
an absolute one, save in so far as it is tempered by the power
of the priests and the informal council of the great lords; but,
as in many other institutions, the king's writ does not run unquestioned
throughout the length and breadth of the land. In short, the
whole system is a purely feudal one (though absolute serfdom
or slavery is unknown), all the great lords holding nominally
from the throne, but a number of them being practically independent,
having the power of life and death, waging war against and making
peace with their neighbours as the whim or their interests lead
them, and even on occasion rising in open rebellion against their
royal master or mistress, and, safely shut up in their castles
and fenced cities, as far from the seat of government, successfully
defying them for years.

Zu-Vendis has had its king-makers as well as England, a fact
that will be well appreciated when I state that eight different
dynasties have sat upon the throne in the last one thousand years,
every one of which took its rise from some noble family that
succeeded in grasping the purple after a sanguinary struggle.
At the date of our arrival in the country things were a little
better than they had been for some centuries, the last king,
the father of Nyleptha and Sorais, having been an exceptionally
able and vigorous ruler, and, as a consequence, he kept down
the power of the priests and nobles. On his death, two years
before we reached Zu-Vendis, the twin sisters, his children,
were, following an ancient precedent, called to the throne, since
an attempt to exclude either would instantly have provoked a
sanguinary civil war; but it was generally felt in the country
that this measure was a most unsatisfactory one, and could hardly
be expected to be permanent. Indeed, as it was, the various
intrigues that were set on foot by ambitious nobles to obtain
the hand of one or other of the queens in marriage had disquieted
the country, and the general opinion was that there would be
bloodshed before long.

I will now pass on to the question of the Zu-Vendi religion,
which is nothing more or less than sun-worship of a pronounced
and highly developed character. Around this sun-worship is grouped
the entire social system of the Zu-Vendi. It sends its roots
through every institution and custom of the land. From the cradle
to the grave the Zu-Vendi follows the sun in every sense of the
saying. As an infant he is solemnly held up in its light and
dedicated to 'the symbol of good, the expression of power, and
the hope of Eternity', the ceremony answering to our baptism.
Whilst still a tiny child, his parents point out the glorious
orb as the presence of a visible and beneficent god, and he worships
it at its up-rising and down-setting. Then when still quite
small, he goes, holding fast to the pendent end of his mother's
'kaf' (toga), up to the temple of the Sun of the nearest city,
and there, when at midday the bright beams strike down upon the
golden central altar and beat back the fire that burns thereon,
he hears the white-robed priests raise their solemn chant of
praise and sees the people fall down to adore, and then, amidst
the blowing of the golden trumpets, watched the sacrifice thrown
into the fiery furnace beneath the altar. Here he comes again
to be declared 'a man' by the priests, and consecrated to war
and to good works; here before the solemn altar he leads his
bride; and here too, if differences shall unhappily arise, he
divorces her.

And so on, down life's long pathway till the last mile is travelled,
and he comes again armed indeed, and with dignity, but no longer
a man. Here they bear him dead and lay his bier upon the falling
brazen doors before the eastern altar, and when the last ray
from the setting sun falls upon his white face the bolts are
drawn and he vanishes into the raging furnace beneath and is ended.

The priests of the Sun do not marry, but are recruited by young
men specially devoted to the work by their parents and supported
by the State. The nomination to the higher offices of the priesthood
lies with the Crown, but once appointed the nominees cannot be
dispossessed, and it is scarcely too much to say that they really
rule the land. To begin with, they are a united body sworn to
obedience and secrecy, so that an order issued by the High Priest
at Milosis will be instantly and unhesitatingly acted upon by
the resident priest of a little country town three or four hundred
miles off. They are the judges of the land, criminal and civil,
an appeal lying only to the lord paramount of the district, and
from him to the king; and they have, of course, practically unlimited
jurisdiction over religious and moral offences, together with
a right of excommunication, which, as in the faiths of more highly
civilized lands, is a very effective weapon. Indeed, their rights
and powers are almost unlimited, but I may as well state here
that the priests of the Sun are wise in their generation, and
do not push things too far. It is but very seldom that they
go to extremes against anybody, being more inclined to exercise
the prerogative of mercy than run the risk of exasperating the
powerful and vigorous-minded people on whose neck they have set
their yoke, lest it should rise and break it off altogether.

Another source of the power of the priests is their practical
monopoly of learning, and their very considerable astronomical
knowledge, which enables them to keep a hold on the popular mind
by predicting eclipses and even comets. In Zu-Vendis only a
few of the upper classes can read and write, but nearly all the
priests have this knowledge, and are therefore looked upon as
learned men.

The law of the country is, on the whole, mild and just, but differs
in several respects from our civilized law. For instance, the
law of England is much more severe upon offences against property
than against the person, as becomes a people whose ruling passion
is money. A man may half kick his wife to death or inflict horrible
sufferings upon his children at a much cheaper rate of punishment
than he can compound for the theft of a pair of old boots.
In Zu-Vendis this is not so, for there they rightly or wrongly look
upon the person as of more consequence than goods and chattels,
and not, as in England, as a sort of necessary appendage to the
latter. For murder the punishment is death, for treason death,
for defrauding the orphan and the widow, for sacrilege, and for
attempting to quit the country (which is looked on as a sacrilege)
death. In each case the method of execution is the same, and
a rather awful one. The culprit is thrown alive into the fiery
furnace beneath one of the altars to the Sun. For all other
offences, including the offence of idleness, the punishment is
forced labour upon the vast national buildings which are always
going on in some part of the country, with or without periodical
floggings, according to the crime.

The social system of the Zu-Vendi allows considerable liberty
to the individual, provided he does not offend against the laws
and customs of the country. They are polygamous in theory, though
most of them have only one wife on account of the expense. By
law a man is bound to provide a separate establishment for each
wife. The first wife also is the legal wife, and her children
are said to be 'of the house of the Father'. The children of
the other wives are of the houses of their respective mothers.
This does not, however, imply any slur upon either mother or
children. Again, a first wife can, on entering into the married
state, make a bargain that her husband shall marry no other wife.
This, however, is very rarely done, as the women are the great
upholders of polygamy, which not only provides for their surplus
numbers but gives greater importance to the first wife, who is
thus practically the head of several households. Marriage is
looked upon as primarily a civil contract, and, subject to certain
conditions and to a proper provision for children, is dissoluble
at the will of both contracting parties, the divorce, or 'unloosing',
being formally and ceremoniously accomplished by going through
certain portions of the marriage ceremony backwards.

The Zu-Vendi are on the whole a very kindly, pleasant, and light-hearted
people. They are not great traders and care little about money,
only working to earn enough to support themselves in that class
of life in which they were born. They are exceedingly conservative,
and look with disfavour upon changes. Their legal tender is
silver, cut into little squares of different weights; gold is
the baser coin, and is about of the same value as our silver.
It is, however, much prized for its beauty, and largely used
for ornaments and decorative purposes. Most of the trade, however,
is carried on by means of sale and barter, payment being made
in kind. Agriculture is the great business of the country, and
is really well understood and carried out, most of the available
acreage being under cultivation. Great attention is also given
to the breeding of cattle and horses, the latter being unsurpassed
by any I have ever seen either in Europe or Africa.

The land belongs theoretically to the Crown, and under the Crown
to the great lords, who again divide it among smaller lords,
and so on down to the little peasant farmer who works his forty
'reestu' (acres) on a system of half-profits with his immediate
lord. In fact the whole system is, as I have said, distinctly
feudal, and it interested us much to meet with such an old friend
far in the unknown heart of Africa.

The taxes are very heavy. The State takes a third of a man's
total earnings, and the priesthood about five per cent on the
remainder. But on the other hand, if a man through any cause
falls into bona fide misfortune the State supports him in the
position of life to which he belongs. If he is idle, however,
he is sent to work on the Government undertakings, and the State
looks after his wives and children. The State also makes all
the roads and builds all town houses, about which great care
is shown, letting them out to families at a small rent. It also
keeps up a standing army of about twenty thousand men, and provides
watchmen, etc. In return for their five per cent the priests
attend to the service of the temples, carry out all religious
ceremonies, and keep schools, where they teach whatever they
think desirable, which is not very much. Some of the temples
also possess private property, but priests as individuals cannot
hold property.

And now comes a question which I find some difficulty in answering.
Are the Zu-Vendi a civilized or barbarous people? Sometimes
I think the one, sometimes the other. In some branches of art
they have attained the very highest proficiency. Take for instance
their buildings and their statuary. I do not think that the
latter can be equalled either in beauty or imaginative power
anywhere in the world, and as for the former it may have been
rivalled in ancient Egypt, but I am sure that it has never been
since. But, on the other hand, they are totally ignorant of
many other arts. Till Sir Henry, who happened to know something
about it, showed them how to do it by mixing silica and lime,
they could not make a piece of glass, and their crockery is rather
primitive. A water-clock is their nearest approach to a watch;
indeed, ours delighted them exceedingly. They know nothing about
steam, electricity, or gunpowder, and mercifully for themselves
nothing about printing or the penny post. Thus they are spared
many evils, for of a truth our age has learnt the wisdom of the
old-world saying, 'He who increaseth knowledge, increaseth sorrow.'

As regards their religion, it is a natural one for imaginative
people who know no better, and might therefore be expected to
turn to the sun and worship him as the all-Father, but it cannot
justly be called elevating or spiritual. It is true that they
do sometimes speak of the sun as the 'garment of the Spirit',
but it is a vague term, and what they really adore is the fiery
orb himself. They also call him the 'hope of eternity', but
here again the meaning is vague, and I doubt if the phrase conveys
any very clear impression to their minds. Some of them do indeed
believe in a future life for the good -- I know Nyleptha does
firmly -- but it is a private faith arising from the promptings
of the spirit, not an essential of their creed. So on the whole
I cannot say that I consider this sun-worship as a religion indicative
of a civilized people, however magnificent and imposing its ritual,
or however moral and high-sounding the maxims of its priests,
many of whom, I am sure, have their own opinions on the whole
subject; though of course they have nothing but praise for a
system which provides them with so many of the good things of
this world.

There are now only two more matters to which I need allude --
namely, the language and the system of calligraphy. As for
the former, it is soft-sounding, and very rich and flexible.
Sir Henry says that it sounds something like modern Greek,
but of course it has no connection with it. It is easy to acquire,
being simple in its construction, and a peculiar quality about it
is its euphony, and the way in which the sound of the words
adapts itself to the meaning to be expressed. Long before
we mastered the language, we could frequently make out what
was meant by the ring of the sentence. It is on this account
that the language lends itself so well to poetical declamation,
of which these remarkable people are very fond. The Zu-Vendi
alphabet seems, Sir henry says, to be derived, like every other
known system of letters, from a Phoenician source, and therefore
more remotely still from the ancient Egyptian hieratic writing.
Whether this is a fact I cannot say, not being learned in such
matters. All I know about it is that their alphabet consists
of twenty-two characters, of which a few, notably B, E, and O,
are not very unlike our own. The whole affair is, however, clumsy
and puzzling. {Endnote 13} But as the people of Zu-Vendi are
not given to the writing of novels, or of anything except business
documents and records of the briefest character, it answers their
purpose well enough.

CHAPTER XIV
THE FLOWER TEMPLE

It was half-past eight by my watch when I woke on the morning
following our arrival at Milosis, having slept almost exactly
twelve hours, and I must say that I did indeed feel better.
Ah, what a blessed thing is sleep! and what a difference twelve
hours of it or so makes to us after days and nights of toil and
danger. It is like going to bed one man and getting up another.

I sat up upon my silken couch -- never had I slept upon such
a bed before -- and the first thing that I saw was Good's eyeglass
fixed on me from the recesses of his silken couch. There was
nothing else of him to be seen except his eyeglass, but I knew
from the look of it that he was awake, and waiting till I woke
up to begin.

'I say, Quatermain,' he commenced sure enough, 'did you observe
her skin? It is as smooth as the back of an ivory hairbrush.'

'Now look here, Good,' I remonstrated, when there came a sound
at the curtain, which, on being drawn, admitted a functionary,
who signified by signs that he was there to lead us to the bath.
We gladly consented, and were conducted to a delightful marble
chamber, with a pool of running crystal water in the centre of
it, into which we gaily plunged. When we had bathed, we returned
to our apartment and dressed, and then went into the central
room where we had supped on the previous evening, to find a morning
meal already prepared for us, and a capital meal it was, though
I should be puzzled to describe the dishes. After breakfast
we lounged round and admired the tapestries and carpets and some
pieces of statuary that were placed about, wondering the while
what was going to happen next. Indeed, by this time our minds
were in such a state of complete bewilderment that we were, as
a matter of fact, ready for anything that might arrive. As for
our sense of astonishment, it was pretty well obliterated. Whilst
we were still thus engaged, our friend the captain of the guard
presented himself, and with many obeisances signified that we
were to follow him, which we did, not without doubts and heart-searchings
-- for we guessed that the time had come when we should have
to settle the bill for those confounded hippopotami with our
cold-eyed friend Agon, the High Priest. However, there was no
help for it, and personally I took great comfort in the promise
of the protection of the sister Queens, knowing that if ladies
have a will they can generally find a way; so off we started
as though we liked it. A minute's walk through a passage and
an outer court brought us to the great double gates of the palace
that open on to the wide highway which runs uphill through the

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