Part 3 out of 5
"Blood is good, the red blood is bright; there is no smell like the
smell of new-shed blood. The lions shall lap it and roar, the vultures
shall wash their wings in it and shriek with joy.
"I am old! I am old! I have seen much blood; /ha, ha!/ but I shall see
more ere I die, and be merry. How old am I, think ye? Your fathers
knew me, and /their/ fathers knew me, and /their/ fathers' fathers'
fathers. I have seen the white man and know his desires. I am old, but
the mountains are older than I. Who made the great road, tell me? Who
wrote the pictures on the rocks, tell me? Who reared up the three
Silent Ones yonder, that gaze across the pit, tell me?" and she
pointed towards the three precipitous mountains which we had noticed
on the previous night.
"Ye know not, but I know. It was a white people who were before ye
are, who shall be when ye are not, who shall eat you up and destroy
you. /Yea! yea! yea!
"And what came they for, the White Ones, the Terrible Ones, the
skilled in magic and all learning, the strong, the unswerving? What is
that bright stone upon thy forehead, O king? Whose hands made the iron
garments upon thy breast, O king? Ye know not, but I know. I the Old
One, I the Wise One, I the /Isanusi/, the witch doctress!"
Then she turned her bald vulture-head towards us.
"What seek ye, white men of the Stars--ah, yes, of the Stars? Do ye
seek a lost one? Ye shall not find him here. He is not here. Never for
ages upon ages has a white foot pressed this land; never except once,
and I remember that he left it but to die. Ye come for bright stones;
I know it--I know it; ye shall find them when the blood is dry; but
shall ye return whence ye came, or shall ye stop with me? /Ha! ha!
"And thou, thou with the dark skin and the proud bearing," and she
pointed her skinny finger at Umbopa, "who art /thou/, and what seekest
/thou/? Not stones that shine, not yellow metal that gleams, these
thou leavest to 'white men from the Stars.' Methinks I know thee;
methinks I can smell the smell of the blood in thy heart. Strip off
Here the features of this extraordinary creature became convulsed, and
she fell to the ground foaming in an epileptic fit, and was carried
into the hut.
The king rose up trembling, and waved his hand. Instantly the
regiments began to file off, and in ten minutes, save for ourselves,
the king, and a few attendants, the great space was left empty.
"White people," he said, "it passes in my mind to kill you. Gagool has
spoken strange words. What say ye?"
I laughed. "Be careful, O king, we are not easy to slay. Thou hast
seen the fate of the ox; wouldst thou be as the ox is?"
The king frowned. "It is not well to threaten a king."
"We threaten not, we speak what is true. Try to kill us, O king, and
The great savage put his hand to his forehead and thought.
"Go in peace," he said at length. "To-night is the great dance. Ye
shall see it. Fear not that I shall set a snare for you. To-morrow I
"It is well, O king," I answered unconcernedly, and then, accompanied
by Infadoos, we rose and went back to our kraal.
On reaching our hut I motioned to Infadoos to enter with us.
"Now, Infadoos," I said, "we would speak with thee."
"Let my lords say on."
"It seems to us, Infadoos, that Twala the king is a cruel man."
"It is so, my lords. Alas! the land cries out because of his
cruelties. To-night ye shall see. It is the great witch-hunt, and many
will be smelt out as wizards and slain. No man's life is safe. If the
king covets a man's cattle, or a man's wife, or if he fears a man that
he should excite a rebellion against him, then Gagool, whom ye saw, or
some of the witch-finding women whom she has taught, will smell that
man out as a wizard, and he will be killed. Many must die before the
moon grows pale to-night. It is ever so. Perhaps I too shall be
killed. As yet I have been spared because I am skilled in war, and am
beloved by the soldiers; but I know not how long I have to live. The
land groans at the cruelties of Twala the king; it is wearied of him
and his red ways."
"Then why is it, Infadoos, that the people do not cast him down?"
"Nay, my lords, he is the king, and if he were killed Scragga would
reign in his place, and the heart of Scragga is blacker than the heart
of Twala his father. If Scragga were king his yoke upon our neck would
be heavier than the yoke of Twala. If Imotu had never been slain, or
if Ignosi his son had lived, it might have been otherwise; but they
are both dead."
"How knowest thou that Ignosi is dead?" said a voice behind us. We
looked round astonished to see who spoke. It was Umbopa.
"What meanest thou, boy?" asked Infadoos; "who told thee to speak?"
"Listen, Infadoos," was the answer, "and I will tell thee a story.
Years ago the king Imotu was killed in this country and his wife fled
with the boy Ignosi. Is it not so?"
"It is so."
"It was said that the woman and her son died upon the mountains. Is it
"It is even so."
"Well, it came to pass that the mother and the boy Ignosi did not die.
They crossed the mountains and were led by a tribe of wandering desert
men across the sands beyond, till at last they came to water and grass
and trees again."
"How knowest thou this?"
"Listen. They travelled on and on, many months' journey, till they
reached a land where a people called the Amazulu, who also are of the
Kukuana stock, live by war, and with them they tarried many years,
till at length the mother died. Then the son Ignosi became a wanderer
again, and journeyed into a land of wonders, where white people live,
and for many more years he learned the wisdom of the white people."
"It is a pretty story," said Infadoos incredulously.
"For years he lived there working as a servant and a soldier, but
holding in his heart all that his mother had told him of his own
place, and casting about in his mind to find how he might journey
thither to see his people and his father's house before he died. For
long years he lived and waited, and at last the time came, as it ever
comes to him who can wait for it, and he met some white men who would
seek this unknown land, and joined himself to them. The white men
started and travelled on and on, seeking for one who is lost. They
crossed the burning desert, they crossed the snow-clad mountains, and
at last reached the land of the Kukuanas, and there they found /thee/,
"Surely thou art mad to talk thus," said the astonished old soldier.
"Thou thinkest so; see, I will show thee, O my uncle.
"/I am Ignosi, rightful king of the Kukuanas!/"
Then with a single movement Umbopa slipped off his "moocha" or girdle,
and stood naked before us.
"Look," he said; "what is this?" and he pointed to the picture of a
great snake tattooed in blue round his middle, its tail disappearing
into its open mouth just above where the thighs are set into the body.
Infadoos looked, his eyes starting nearly out of his head. Then he
fell upon his knees.
"/Koom! Koom!/" he ejaculated; "it is my brother's son; it is the
"Did I not tell thee so, my uncle? Rise; I am not yet the king, but
with thy help, and with the help of these brave white men, who are my
friends, I shall be. Yet the old witch Gagool was right, the land
shall run with blood first, and hers shall run with it, if she has any
and can die, for she killed my father with her words, and drove my
mother forth. And now, Infadoos, choose thou. Wilt thou put thy hands
between my hands and be my man? Wilt thou share the dangers that lie
before me, and help me to overthrow this tyrant and murderer, or wilt
thou not? Choose thou."
The old man put his hand to his head and thought. Then he rose, and
advancing to where Umbopa, or rather Ignosi, stood, he knelt before
him, and took his hand.
"Ignosi, rightful king of the Kukuanas, I put my hand between thy
hands, and am thy man till death. When thou wast a babe I dandled thee
upon my knees, now shall my old arm strike for thee and freedom."
"It is well, Infadoos; if I conquer, thou shalt be the greatest man in
the kingdom after its king. If I fail, thou canst only die, and death
is not far off from thee. Rise, my uncle."
"And ye, white men, will ye help me? What have I to offer you! The
white stones! If I conquer and can find them, ye shall have as many as
ye can carry hence. Will that suffice you?"
I translated this remark.
"Tell him," answered Sir Henry, "that he mistakes an Englishman.
Wealth is good, and if it comes in our way we will take it; but a
gentleman does not sell himself for wealth. Still, speaking for
myself, I say this. I have always liked Umbopa, and so far as lies in
me I will stand by him in this business. It will be very pleasant to
me to try to square matters with that cruel devil Twala. What do you
say, Good, and you, Quatermain?"
"Well," said Good, "to adopt the language of hyperbole, in which all
these people seem to indulge, you can tell him that a row is surely
good, and warms the cockles of the heart, and that so far as I am
concerned I'm his boy. My only stipulation is that he allows me to
I translated the substance of these answers.
"It is well, my friends," said Ignosi, late Umbopa; "and what sayest
thou, Macumazahn, art thou also with me, old hunter, cleverer than a
I thought awhile and scratched my head.
"Umbopa, or Ignosi," I said, "I don't like revolutions. I am a man of
peace and a bit of a coward"--here Umbopa smiled--"but, on the other
hand, I stick up for my friends, Ignosi. You have stuck to us and
played the part of a man, and I will stick by you. But mind you, I am
a trader, and have to make my living, so I accept your offer about
those diamonds in case we should ever be in a position to avail
ourselves of it. Another thing: we came, as you know, to look for
Incubu's (Sir Henry's) lost brother. You must help us to find him."
"That I will do," answered Ignosi. "Stay, Infadoos, by the sign of the
snake about my middle, tell me the truth. Has any white man to thy
knowledge set his foot within the land?"
"None, O Ignosi."
"If any white man had been seen or heard of, wouldst thou have known?"
"I should certainly have known."
"Thou hearest, Incubu," said Ignosi to Sir Henry; "he has not been
"Well, well," said Sir Henry, with a sigh; "there it is; I suppose
that he never got so far. Poor fellow, poor fellow! So it has all been
for nothing. God's will be done."
"Now for business," I put in, anxious to escape from a painful
subject. "It is very well to be a king by right divine, Ignosi, but
how dost thou propose to become a king indeed?"
"Nay, I know not. Infadoos, hast thou a plan?"
"Ignosi, Son of the Lightning," answered his uncle, "to-night is the
great dance and witch-hunt. Many shall be smelt out and perish, and in
the hearts of many others there will be grief and anguish and fury
against the king Twala. When the dance is over, then I will speak to
some of the great chiefs, who in turn, if I can win them over, will
speak to their regiments. I shall speak to the chiefs softly at first,
and bring them to see that thou art indeed the king, and I think that
by to-morrow's light thou shalt have twenty thousand spears at thy
command. And now I must go and think, and hear, and make ready. After
the dance is done, if I am yet alive, and we are all alive, I will
meet thee here, and we can talk. At the best there must be war."
At this moment our conference was interrupted by the cry that
messengers had come from the king. Advancing to the door of the hut we
ordered that they should be admitted, and presently three men entered,
each bearing a shining shirt of chain armour, and a magnificent
"The gifts of my lord the king to the white men from the Stars!" said
a herald who came with them.
"We thank the king," I answered; "withdraw."
The men went, and we examined the armour with great interest. It was
the most wonderful chain work that either of us had ever seen. A whole
coat fell together so closely that it formed a mass of links scarcely
too big to be covered with both hands.
"Do you make these things in this country, Infadoos?" I asked; "they
are very beautiful."
"Nay, my lord, they came down to us from our forefathers. We know not
who made them, and there are but few left.[*] None but those of royal
blood may be clad in them. They are magic coats through which no spear
can pass, and those who wear them are well-nigh safe in the battle.
The king is well pleased or much afraid, or he would not have sent
these garments of steel. Clothe yourselves in them to-night, my
[*] In the Soudan swords and coats of mail are still worn by Arabs,
whose ancestors must have stripped them from the bodies of
The remainder of that day we spent quietly, resting and talking over
the situation, which was sufficiently exciting. At last the sun went
down, the thousand watch fires glowed out, and through the darkness we
heard the tramp of many feet and the clashing of hundreds of spears,
as the regiments passed to their appointed places to be ready for the
great dance. Then the full moon shone out in splendour, and as we
stood watching her rays, Infadoos arrived, clad in his war dress, and
accompanied by a guard of twenty men to escort us to the dance. As he
recommended, we had already donned the shirts of chain armour which
the king had sent us, putting them on under our ordinary clothing, and
finding to our surprise that they were neither very heavy nor
uncomfortable. These steel shirts, which evidently had been made for
men of a very large stature, hung somewhat loosely upon Good and
myself, but Sir Henry's fitted his magnificent frame like a glove.
Then strapping our revolvers round our waists, and taking in our hands
the battle-axes which the king had sent with the armour, we started.
On arriving at the great kraal, where we had that morning been
received by the king, we found that it was closely packed with some
twenty thousand men arranged round it in regiments. These regiments
were in turn divided into companies, and between each company ran a
little path to allow space for the witch-finders to pass up and down.
Anything more imposing than the sight that was presented by this vast
and orderly concourse of armed men it is impossible to conceive. There
they stood perfectly silent, and the moon poured her light upon the
forest of their raised spears, upon their majestic forms, waving
plumes, and the harmonious shading of their various-coloured shields.
Wherever we looked were line upon line of dim faces surmounted by
range upon range of shimmering spears.
"Surely," I said to Infadoos, "the whole army is here?"
"Nay, Macumazahn," he answered, "but a third of it. One third is
present at this dance each year, another third is mustered outside in
case there should be trouble when the killing begins, ten thousand
more garrison the outposts round Loo, and the rest watch at the kraals
in the country. Thou seest it is a great people."
"They are very silent," said Good; and indeed the intense stillness
among such a vast concourse of living men was almost overpowering.
"What says Bougwan?" asked Infadoos.
"Those over whom the shadow of Death is hovering are silent," he
"Will many be killed?"
"It seems," I said to the others, "that we are going to assist at a
gladiatorial show arranged regardless of expense."
Sir Henry shivered, and Good said he wished that we could get out of
"Tell me," I asked Infadoos, "are we in danger?"
"I know not, my lords, I trust not; but do not seem afraid. If ye live
through the night all may go well with you. The soldiers murmur
against the king."
All this while we had been advancing steadily towards the centre of
the open space, in the midst of which were placed some stools. As we
proceeded we perceived another small party coming from the direction
of the royal hut.
"It is the king Twala, Scragga his son, and Gagool the old; and see,
with them are those who slay," said Infadoos, pointing to a little
group of about a dozen gigantic and savage-looking men, armed with
spears in one hand and heavy kerries in the other.
The king seated himself upon the centre stool, Gagool crouched at his
feet, and the others stood behind him.
"Greeting, white lords," Twala cried, as we came up; "be seated, waste
not precious time--the night is all too short for the deeds that must
be done. Ye come in a good hour, and shall see a glorious show. Look
round, white lords; look round," and he rolled his one wicked eye from
regiment to regiment. "Can the Stars show you such a sight as this?
See how they shake in their wickedness, all those who have evil in
their hearts and fear the judgment of 'Heaven above.'"
"/Begin! begin!/" piped Gagool, in her thin piercing voice; "the
hyŠnas are hungry, they howl for food. /Begin! begin!/"
Then for a moment there was intense stillness, made horrible by a
presage of what was to come.
The king lifted his spear, and suddenly twenty thousand feet were
raised, as though they belonged to one man, and brought down with a
stamp upon the earth. This was repeated three times, causing the solid
ground to shake and tremble. Then from a far point of the circle a
solitary voice began a wailing song, of which the refrain ran
something as follows:--
"/What is the lot of man born of woman?/"
Back came the answer rolling out from every throat in that vast
Gradually, however, the song was taken up by company after company,
till the whole armed multitude were singing it, and I could no longer
follow the words, except in so far as they appeared to represent
various phases of human passions, fears, and joys. Now it seemed to be
a love song, now a majestic swelling war chant, and last of all a
death dirge ending suddenly in one heart-breaking wail that went
echoing and rolling away in a volume of blood-curdling sound.
Again silence fell upon the place, and again it was broken by the king
lifting his hand. Instantly we heard a pattering of feet, and from out
of the masses of warriors strange and awful figures appeared running
towards us. As they drew near we saw that these were women, most of
them aged, for their white hair, ornamented with small bladders taken
from fish, streamed out behind them. Their faces were painted in
stripes of white and yellow; down their backs hung snake-skins, and
round their waists rattled circlets of human bones, while each held a
small forked wand in her shrivelled hand. In all there were ten of
them. When they arrived in front of us they halted, and one of them,
pointing with her wand towards the crouching figure of Gagool, cried
"Mother, old mother, we are here."
"/Good! good! good!/" answered that aged Iniquity. "Are your eyes
keen, /Isanusis/ [witch doctresses], ye seers in dark places?"
"Mother, they are keen."
"/Good! good! good!/ Are your ears open, /Isanusis/, ye who hear words
that come not from the tongue?"
"Mother, they are open."
"/Good! good! good!/ Are your senses awake, /Isanusis/--can ye smell
blood, can ye purge the land of the wicked ones who compass evil
against the king and against their neighbours? Are ye ready to do the
justice of 'Heaven above,' ye whom I have taught, who have eaten of
the bread of my wisdom, and drunk of the water of my magic?"
"Mother, we can."
"Then go! Tarry not, ye vultures; see, the slayers"--pointing to the
ominous group of executioners behind--"make sharp their spears; the
white men from afar are hungry to see. /Go!/"
With a wild yell Gagool's horrid ministers broke away in every
direction, like fragments from a shell, the dry bones round their
waists rattling as they ran, and headed for various points of the
dense human circle. We could not watch them all, so we fixed our eyes
upon the /Isanusi/ nearest to us. When she came to within a few paces
of the warriors she halted and began to dance wildly, turning round
and round with an almost incredible rapidity, and shrieking out
sentences such as "I smell him, the evil-doer!" "He is near, he who
poisoned his mother!" "I hear the thoughts of him who thought evil of
Quicker and quicker she danced, till she lashed herself into such a
frenzy of excitement that the foam flew in specks from her gnashing
jaws, till her eyes seemed to start from her head, and her flesh to
quiver visibly. Suddenly she stopped dead and stiffened all over, like
a pointer dog when he scents game, and then with outstretched wand she
began to creep stealthily towards the soldiers before her. It seemed
to us that as she came their stoicism gave way, and that they shrank
from her. As for ourselves, we followed her movements with a horrible
fascination. Presently, still creeping and crouching like a dog, the
/Isanusi/ was before them. Then she halted and pointed, and again
crept on a pace or two.
Suddenly the end came. With a shriek she sprang in and touched a tall
warrior with her forked wand. Instantly two of his comrades, those
standing immediately next to him, seized the doomed man, each by one
arm, and advanced with him towards the king.
He did not resist, but we saw that he dragged his limbs as though they
were paralysed, and that his fingers, from which the spear had fallen,
were limp like those of a man newly dead.
As he came, two of the villainous executioners stepped forward to meet
him. Presently they met, and the executioners turned round, looking
towards the king as though for orders.
"/Kill!/" said the king.
"/Kill!/" squeaked Gagool.
"/Kill!/" re-echoed Scragga, with a hollow chuckle.
Almost before the words were uttered the horrible dead was done. One
man had driven his spear into the victim's heart, and to make
assurance double sure, the other had dashed out his brains with a
"/One/," counted Twala the king, just like a black Madame Defarge, as
Good said, and the body was dragged a few paces away and stretched
Hardly was the thing done before another poor wretch was brought up,
like an ox to the slaughter. This time we could see, from the leopard-
skin cloak which he wore, that the man was a person of rank. Again the
awful syllables were spoken, and the victim fell dead.
"/Two/," counted the king.
And so the deadly game went on, till about a hundred bodies were
stretched in rows behind us. I have heard of the gladiatorial shows of
the CŠsars, and of the Spanish bull-fights, but I take the liberty of
doubting if either of them could be half so horrible as this Kukuana
witch-hunt. Gladiatorial shows and Spanish bull-fights at any rate
contributed to the public amusement, which certainly was not the case
here. The most confirmed sensation-monger would fight shy of sensation
if he knew that it was well on the cards that he would, in his own
proper person, be the subject of the next "event."
Once we rose and tried to remonstrate, but were sternly repressed by
"Let the law take its course, white men. These dogs are magicians and
evil-doers; it is well that they should die," was the only answer
vouchsafed to us.
About half-past ten there was a pause. The witch-finders gathered
themselves together, apparently exhausted with their bloody work, and
we thought that the performance was done with. But it was not so, for
presently, to our surprise, the ancient woman, Gagool, rose from her
crouching position, and supporting herself with a stick, staggered off
into the open space. It was an extraordinary sight to see this
frightful vulture-headed old creature, bent nearly double with extreme
age, gather strength by degrees, until at last she rushed about almost
as actively as her ill-omened pupils. To and fro she ran, chanting to
herself, till suddenly she made a dash at a tall man standing in front
of one of the regiments, and touched him. As she did this a sort of
groan went up from the regiment which evidently he commanded. But two
of its officers seized him all the same, and brought him up for
execution. We learned afterwards that he was a man of great wealth and
importance, being indeed a cousin of the king.
He was slain, and Twala counted one hundred and three. Then Gagool
again sprang to and fro, gradually drawing nearer and nearer to
"Hang me if I don't believe she is going to try her games on us,"
ejaculated Good in horror.
"Nonsense!" said Sir Henry.
As for myself, when I saw that old fiend dancing nearer and nearer, my
heart positively sank into my boots. I glanced behind us at the long
rows of corpses, and shivered.
Nearer and nearer waltzed Gagool, looking for all the world like an
animated crooked stick or comma, her horrid eyes gleaming and glowing
with a most unholy lustre.
Nearer she came, and yet nearer, every creature in that vast
assemblage watching her movements with intense anxiety. At last she
stood still and pointed.
"Which is it to be?" asked Sir Henry to himself.
In a moment all doubts were at rest, for the old hag had rushed in and
touched Umbopa, alias Ignosi, on the shoulder.
"I smell him out," she shrieked. "Kill him, kill him, he is full of
evil; kill him, the stranger, before blood flows from him. Slay him, O
There was a pause, of which I instantly took advantage.
"O king," I called out, rising from my seat, "this man is the servant
of thy guests, he is their dog; whosoever sheds the blood of our dog
sheds our blood. By the sacred law of hospitality I claim protection
"Gagool, mother of the witch-finders, has smelt him out; he must die,
white men," was the sullen answer.
"Nay, he shall not die," I replied; "he who tries to touch him shall
"Seize him!" roared Twala to the executioners; who stood round red to
the eyes with the blood of their victims.
They advanced towards us, and then hesitated. As for Ignosi, he
clutched his spear, and raised it as though determined to sell his
"Stand back, ye dogs!" I shouted, "if ye would see to-morrow's light.
Touch one hair of his head and your king dies," and I covered Twala
with my revolver. Sir Henry and Good also drew their pistols, Sir
Henry pointing his at the leading executioner, who was advancing to
carry out the sentence, and Good taking a deliberate aim at Gagool.
Twala winced perceptibly as my barrel came in a line with his broad
"Well," I said, "what is it to be, Twala?"
Then he spoke.
"Put away your magic tubes," he said; "ye have adjured me in the name
of hospitality, and for that reason, but not from fear of what ye can
do, I spare him. Go in peace."
"It is well," I answered unconcernedly; "we are weary of slaughter,
and would sleep. Is the dance ended?"
"It is ended," Twala answered sulkily. "Let these dead dogs," pointing
to the long rows of corpses, "be flung out to the hyŠnas and the
vultures," and he lifted his spear.
Instantly the regiments began to defile through the kraal gateway in
perfect silence, a fatigue party only remaining behind to drag away
the corpses of those who had been sacrificed.
Then we rose also, and making our salaam to his majesty, which he
hardly deigned to acknowledge, we departed to our huts.
"Well," said Sir Henry, as we sat down, having first lit a lamp of the
sort used by the Kukuanas, of which the wick is made from the fibre of
a species of palm leaf, and the oil from clarified hippopotamus fat,
"well, I feel uncommonly inclined to be sick."
"If I had any doubts about helping Umbopa to rebel against that
infernal blackguard," put in Good, "they are gone now. It was as much
as I could do to sit still while that slaughter was going on. I tried
to keep my eyes shut, but they would open just at the wrong time. I
wonder where Infadoos is. Umbopa, my friend, you ought to be grateful
to us; your skin came near to having an air-hole made in it."
"I am grateful, Bougwan," was Umbopa's answer, when I had translated,
"and I shall not forget. As for Infadoos, he will be here by-and-by.
We must wait."
So we lit out pipes and waited.
WE GIVE A SIGN
For a long while--two hours, I should think--we sat there in silence,
being too much overwhelmed by the recollection of the horrors we had
seen to talk. At last, just as we were thinking of turning in--for the
night drew nigh to dawn--we heard a sound of steps. Then came the
challenge of a sentry posted at the kraal gate, which apparently was
answered, though not in an audible tone, for the steps still advanced;
and in another second Infadoos had entered the hut, followed by some
half-dozen stately-looking chiefs.
"My lords," he said, "I have come according to my word. My lords and
Ignosi, rightful king of the Kukuanas, I have brought with me these
men," pointing to the row of chiefs, "who are great men among us,
having each one of them the command of three thousand soldiers, that
live but to do their bidding, under the king's. I have told them of
what I have seen, and what my ears have heard. Now let them also
behold the sacred snake around thee, and hear thy story, Ignosi, that
they may say whether or no they will make cause with thee against
Twala the king."
By way of answer Ignosi again stripped off his girdle, and exhibited
the snake tattooed about him. Each chief in turn drew near and
examined the sign by the dim light of the lamp, and without saying a
word passed on to the other side.
Then Ignosi resumed his moocha, and addressing them, repeated the
history he had detailed in the morning.
"Now ye have heard, chiefs," said Infadoos, when he had done, "what
say ye: will ye stand by this man and help him to his father's throne,
or will ye not? The land cries out against Twala, and the blood of the
people flows like the waters in spring. Ye have seen to-night. Two
other chiefs there were with whom I had it in my mind to speak, and
where are they now? The hyŠnas howl over their corpses. Soon shall ye
be as they are if ye strike not. Choose then, my brothers."
The eldest of the six men, a short, thick-set warrior, with white
hair, stepped forward a pace and answered--
"Thy words are true, Infadoos; the land cries out. My own brother is
among those who died to-night; but this is a great matter, and the
thing is hard to believe. How know we that if we lift our spears it
may not be for a thief and a liar? It is a great matter, I say, of
which none can see the end. For of this be sure, blood will flow in
rivers before the deed is done; many will still cleave to the king,
for men worship the sun that still shines bright in the heavens,
rather than that which has not risen. These white men from the Stars,
their magic is great, and Ignosi is under the cover of their wing. If
he be indeed the rightful king, let them give us a sign, and let the
people have a sign, that all may see. So shall men cleave to us,
knowing of a truth that the white man's magic is with them."
"Ye have the sign of the snake," I answered.
"My lord, it is not enough. The snake may have been placed there since
the man's childhood. Show us a sign, and it will suffice. But we will
not move without a sign."
The others gave a decided assent, and I turned in perplexity to Sir
Henry and Good, and explained the situation.
"I think that I have it," said Good exultingly; "ask them to give us a
moment to think."
I did so, and the chiefs withdrew. So soon as they had gone Good went
to the little box where he kept his medicines, unlocked it, and took
out a note-book, in the fly-leaves of which was an almanack. "Now look
here, you fellows, isn't to-morrow the 4th of June?" he said.
We had kept a careful note of the days, so were able to answer that it
"Very good; then here we have it--'4 June, total eclipse of the moon
commences at 8.15 Greenwich time, visible in Teneriffe--/South
Africa/, &c.' There's a sign for you. Tell them we will darken the
moon to-morrow night."
The idea was a splendid one; indeed, the only weak spot about it was a
fear lest Good's almanack might be incorrect. If we made a false
prophecy on such a subject, our prestige would be gone for ever, and
so would Ignosi's chance of the throne of the Kukuanas.
"Suppose that the almanack is wrong," suggested Sir Henry to Good, who
was busily employed in working out something on a blank page of the
"I see no reason to suppose anything of the sort," was his answer.
"Eclipses always come up to time; at least that is my experience of
them, and it especially states that this one will be visible in South
Africa. I have worked out the reckonings as well as I can, without
knowing our exact position; and I make out that the eclipse should
begin here about ten o'clock tomorrow night, and last till half-past
twelve. For an hour and a half or so there should be almost total
"Well," said Sir Henry, "I suppose we had better risk it."
I acquiesced, though doubtfully, for eclipses are queer cattle to deal
with--it might be a cloudy night, for instance, or our dates might be
wrong--and sent Umbopa to summon the chiefs back. Presently they came,
and I addressed them thus--
"Great men of the Kukuanas, and thou, Infadoos, listen. We love not to
show our powers, for to do so is to interfere with the course of
nature, and to plunge the world into fear and confusion. But since
this matter is a great one, and as we are angered against the king
because of the slaughter we have seen, and because of the act of the
/Isanusi/ Gagool, who would have put our friend Ignosi to death, we
have determined to break a rule, and to give such a sign as all men
may see. Come hither"; and I led them to the door of the hut and
pointed to the red ball of the moon. "What see ye there?"
"We see the sinking moon," answered the spokesman of the party.
"It is so. Now tell me, can any mortal man put out that moon before
her hour of setting, and bring the curtain of black night down upon
The chief laughed a little at the question. "No, my lord, that no man
can do. The moon is stronger than man who looks on her, nor can she
vary in her courses."
"Ye say so. Yet I tell you that to-morrow night, about two hours
before midnight, we will cause the moon to be eaten up for a space of
an hour and half an hour. Yes, deep darkness shall cover the earth,
and it shall be for a sign that Ignosi is indeed king of the Kukuanas.
If we do this thing, will ye be satisfied?"
"Yea, my lords," answered the old chief with a smile, which was
reflected on the faces of his companions; "/if/ ye do this thing, we
will be satisfied indeed."
"It shall be done; we three, Incubu, Bougwan, and Macumazahn, have
said it, and it shall be done. Dost thou hear, Infadoos?"
"I hear, my lord, but it is a wonderful thing that ye promise, to put
out the moon, the mother of the world, when she is at her full."
"Yet shall we do it, Infadoos."
"It is well, my lords. To-day, two hours after sunset, Twala will send
for my lords to witness the girls dance, and one hour after the dance
begins the girl whom Twala thinks the fairest shall be killed by
Scragga, the king's son, as a sacrifice to the Silent Ones, who sit
and keep watch by the mountains yonder," and he pointed towards the
three strange-looking peaks where Solomon's road was supposed to end.
"Then let my lords darken the moon, and save the maiden's life, and
the people will believe indeed."
"Ay," said the old chief, still smiling a little, "the people will
"Two miles from Loo," went on Infadoos, "there is a hill curved like a
new moon, a stronghold, where my regiment, and three other regiments
which these chiefs command, are stationed. This morning we will make a
plan whereby two or three other regiments may be moved there also.
Then, if in truth my lords can darken the moon, in the darkness I will
take my lords by the hand and lead them out of Loo to this place,
where they shall be safe, and thence we can make war upon Twala the
"It is good," said I. "Let leave us to sleep awhile and to make ready
Infadoos rose, and, having saluted us, departed with the chiefs.
"My friends," said Ignosi, so soon as they were gone, "can ye do this
wonderful thing, or were ye speaking empty words to the captains?"
"We believe that we can do it, Umbopa--Ignosi, I mean."
"It is strange," he answered, "and had ye not been Englishmen I would
not have believed it; but I have learned that English 'gentlemen' tell
no lies. If we live through the matter, be sure that I will repay
"Ignosi," said Sir Henry, "promise me one thing."
"I will promise, Incubu, my friend, even before I hear it," answered
the big man with a smile. "What is it?"
"This: that if ever you come to be king of this people you will do
away with the smelling out of wizards such as we saw last night; and
that the killing of men without trial shall no longer take place in
Ignosi thought for a moment after I had translated this request, and
"The ways of black people are not as the ways of white men, Incubu,
nor do we value life so highly. Yet I will promise. If it be in my
power to hold them back, the witch-finders shall hunt no more, nor
shall any man die the death without trial or judgment."
"That's a bargain, then," said Sir Henry; "and now let us get a little
Thoroughly wearied out, we were soon sound asleep, and slept till
Ignosi woke us about eleven o'clock. Then we rose, washed, and ate a
hearty breakfast. After that we went outside the hut and walked about,
amusing ourselves with examining the structure of the Kukuana huts and
observing the customs of the women.
"I hope that eclipse will come off," said Sir Henry presently.
"If it does not it will soon be all up with us," I answered
mournfully; "for so sure as we are living men some of those chiefs
will tell the whole story to the king, and then there will be another
sort of eclipse, and one that we shall certainly not like."
Returning to the hut we ate some dinner, and passed the rest of the
day in receiving visits of ceremony and curiosity. At length the sun
set, and we enjoyed a couple of hours of such quiet as our melancholy
forebodings would allow to us. Finally, about half-past eight, a
messenger came from Twala to bid us to the great annual "dance of
girls" which was about to be celebrated.
Hastily we put on the chain shirts that the king had sent us, and
taking our rifles and ammunition with us, so as to have them handy in
case we had to fly, as suggested by Infadoos, we started boldly
enough, though with inward fear and trembling. The great space in
front of the king's kraal bore a very different appearance from that
which it had presented on the previous evening. In place of the grim
ranks of serried warriors were company after company of Kukuana girls,
not over-dressed, so far as clothing went, but each crowned with a
wreath of flowers, and holding a palm leaf in one hand and a white
arum lily in the other. In the centre of the open moonlit space sat
Twala the king, with old Gagool at his feet, attended by Infadoos, the
boy Scragga, and twelve guards. There were also present about a score
of chiefs, amongst whom I recognised most of our friends of the night
Twala greeted us with much apparent cordiality, though I saw him fix
his one eye viciously on Umbopa.
"Welcome, white men from the Stars," he said; "this is another sight
from that which your eyes gazed on by the light of last night's moon,
but it is not so good a sight. Girls are pleasant, and were it not for
such as these," and he pointed round him, "we should none of us be
here this day; but men are better. Kisses and the tender words of
women are sweet, but the sound of the clashing of the spears of
warriors, and the smell of men's blood, are sweeter far! Would ye have
wives from among our people, white men? If so, choose the fairest
here, and ye shall have them, as many as ye will," and he paused for
As the prospect did not seem to be without attractions for Good, who,
like most sailors, is of a susceptible nature,--being elderly and
wise, foreseeing the endless complications that anything of the sort
would involve, for women bring trouble so surely as the night follows
the day, I put in a hasty answer--
"Thanks to thee, O king, but we white men wed only with white women
like ourselves. Your maidens are fair, but they are not for us!"
The king laughed. "It is well. In our land there is a proverb which
runs, 'Women's eyes are always bright, whatever the colour,' and
another that says, 'Love her who is present, for be sure she who is
absent is false to thee;' but perhaps these things are not so in the
Stars. In a land where men are white all things are possible. So be
it, white men; the girls will not go begging! Welcome again; and
welcome, too, thou black one; if Gagool here had won her way, thou
wouldst have been stiff and cold by now. It is lucky for thee that
thou too camest from the Stars; ha! ha!"
"I can kill thee before thou killest me, O king," was Ignosi's calm
answer, "and thou shalt be stiff before my limbs cease to bend."
Twala started. "Thou speakest boldly, boy," he replied angrily;
"presume not too far."
"He may well be bold in whose lips are truth. The truth is a sharp
spear which flies home and misses not. It is a message from 'the
Stars,' O king."
Twala scowled, and his one eye gleamed fiercely, but he said nothing
"Let the dance begin," he cried, and then the flower-crowned girls
sprang forward in companies, singing a sweet song and waving the
delicate palms and white lilies. On they danced, looking faint and
spiritual in the soft, sad light of the risen moon; now whirling round
and round, now meeting in mimic warfare, swaying, eddying here and
there, coming forward, falling back in an ordered confusion delightful
to witness. At last they paused, and a beautiful young woman sprang
out of the ranks and began to pirouette in front of us with a grace
and vigour which would have put most ballet girls to shame. At length
she retired exhausted, and another took her place, then another and
another, but none of them, either in grace, skill, or personal
attractions, came up to the first.
When the chosen girls had all danced, the king lifted his hand.
"Which deem ye the fairest, white men?" he asked.
"The first," said I unthinkingly. Next second I regretted it, for I
remembered that Infadoos had told us that the fairest woman must be
offered up as a sacrifice.
"Then is my mind as your minds, and my eyes as your eyes. She is the
fairest! and a sorry thing it is for her, for she must die!"
"/Ay, must die!/" piped out Gagool, casting a glance of her quick eyes
in the direction of the poor girl, who, as yet ignorant of the awful
fate in store for her, was standing some ten yards off in front of a
company of maidens, engaged in nervously picking a flower from her
wreath to pieces, petal by petal.
"Why, O king?" said I, restraining my indignation with difficulty;
"the girl has danced well, and pleased us; she is fair too; it would
be hard to reward her with death."
Twala laughed as he answered--
"It is our custom, and the figures who sit in stone yonder," and he
pointed towards the three distant peaks, "must have their due. Did I
fail to put the fairest girl to death to-day, misfortune would fall
upon me and my house. Thus runs the prophecy of my people: 'If the
king offer not a sacrifice of a fair girl, on the day of the dance of
maidens, to the Old Ones who sit and watch on the mountains, then
shall he fall, and his house.' Look ye, white men, my brother who
reigned before me offered not the sacrifice, because of the tears of
the woman, and he fell, and his house, and I reign in his stead. It is
finished; she must die!" Then turning to the guards--"Bring her
hither; Scragga, make sharp thy spear."
Two of the men stepped forward, and as they advanced, the girl, for
the first time realising her impending fate, screamed aloud and turned
to fly. But the strong hands caught her fast, and brought her,
struggling and weeping, before us.
"What is thy name, girl?" piped Gagool. "What! wilt thou not answer?
Shall the king's son do his work at once?"
At this hint, Scragga, looking more evil than ever, advanced a step
and lifted his great spear, and at that moment I saw Good's hand creep
to his revolver. The poor girl caught the faint glint of steel through
her tears, and it sobered her anguish. She ceased struggling, and
clasping her hands convulsively, stood shuddering from head to foot.
"See," cried Scragga in high glee, "she shrinks from the sight of my
little plaything even before she has tasted it," and he tapped the
broad blade of his spear.
"If ever I get the chance you shall pay for that, you young hound!" I
heard Good mutter beneath his breath.
"Now that thou art quiet, give us thy name, my dear. Come, speak out,
and fear not," said Gagool in mockery.
"Oh, mother," answered the girl, in trembling accents, "my name is
Foulata, of the house of Suko. Oh, mother, why must I die? I have done
"Be comforted," went on the old woman in her hateful tone of mockery.
"Thou must die, indeed, as a sacrifice to the Old Ones who sit
yonder," and she pointed to the peaks; "but it is better to sleep in
the night than to toil in the daytime; it is better to die than to
live, and thou shalt die by the royal hand of the king's own son."
The girl Foulata wrung her hands in anguish, and cried out aloud, "Oh,
cruel! and I so young! What have I done that I should never again see
the sun rise out of the night, or the stars come following on his
track in the evening, that I may no more gather the flowers when the
dew is heavy, or listen to the laughing of the waters? Woe is me, that
I shall never see my father's hut again, nor feel my mother's kiss,
nor tend the lamb that is sick! Woe is me, that no lover shall put his
arm around me and look into my eyes, nor shall men children be born of
me! Oh, cruel, cruel!"
And again she wrung her hands and turned her tear-stained flower-
crowned face to Heaven, looking so lovely in her despair--for she was
indeed a beautiful woman--that assuredly the sight of her would have
melted the hearts of any less cruel than were the three fiends before
us. Prince Arthur's appeal to the ruffians who came to blind him was
not more touching than that of this savage girl.
But it did not move Gagool or Gagool's master, though I saw signs of
pity among the guards behind, and on the faces of the chiefs; and as
for Good, he gave a fierce snort of indignation, and made a motion as
though to go to her assistance. With all a woman's quickness, the
doomed girl interpreted what was passing in his mind, and by a sudden
movement flung herself before him, and clasped his "beautiful white
legs" with her hands.
"Oh, white father from the Stars!" she cried, "throw over me the
mantle of thy protection; let me creep into the shadow of thy
strength, that I may be saved. Oh, keep me from these cruel men and
from the mercies of Gagool!"
"All right, my hearty, I'll look after you," sang out Good in nervous
Saxon. "Come, get up, there's a good girl," and he stooped and caught
Twala turned and motioned to his son, who advanced with his spear
"Now's your time," whispered Sir Henry to me; "what are you waiting
"I am waiting for that eclipse," I answered; "I have had my eye on the
moon for the last half-hour, and I never saw it look healthier."
"Well, you must risk it now, or the girl will be killed. Twala is
Recognising the force of the argument, and having cast one more
despairing look at the bright face of the moon, for never did the most
ardent astronomer with a theory to prove await a celestial event with
such anxiety, I stepped with all the dignity that I could command
between the prostrate girl and the advancing spear of Scragga.
"King," I said, "it shall not be; we will not endure this thing; let
the girl go in safety."
Twala rose from his seat in wrath and astonishment, and from the
chiefs and serried ranks of maidens who had closed in slowly upon us
in anticipation of the tragedy came a murmur of amazement.
"/Shall not be!/ thou white dog, that yappest at the lion in his cave;
/shall not be!/ art thou mad? Be careful, lest this chicken's fate
overtake thee, and those with thee. How canst thou save her or
thyself? Who art thou that thou settest thyself between me and my
will? Back, I say. Scragga, kill her! Ho, guards! seize these men."
At his cry armed men ran swiftly from behind the hut, where they had
evidently been placed beforehand.
Sir Henry, Good, and Umbopa ranged themselves alongside of me, and
lifted their rifles.
"Stop!" I shouted boldly, though at the moment my heart was in my
boots. "Stop! we, the white men from the Stars, say that it shall not
be. Come but one pace nearer, and we will put out the moon like a
wind-blown lamp, as we who dwell in her House can do, and plunge the
land in darkness. Dare to disobey, and ye shall taste of our magic."
My threat produced an effect; the men halted, and Scragga stood still
before us, his spear lifted.
"Hear him! hear him!" piped Gagool; "hear the liar who says that he
will put out the moon like a lamp. Let him do it, and the girl shall
be speared. Yes, let him do it, or die by the girl, he and those with
I glanced up at the moon despairingly, and now to my intense joy and
relief saw that we--or rather the almanack--had made no mistake. On
the edge of the great orb lay a faint rim of shadow, while a smoky hue
grew and gathered upon its bright surface. Never shall I forget that
supreme, that superb moment of relief.
Then I lifted my hand solemnly towards the sky, an example which Sir
Henry and Good followed, and quoted a line or two from the "Ingoldsby
Legends" at it in the most impressive tones that I could command. Sir
Henry followed suit with a verse out of the Old Testament, and
something about Balbus building a wall, in Latin, whilst Good
addressed the Queen of Night in a volume of the most classical bad
language which he could think of.
Slowly the penumbra, the shadow of a shadow, crept on over the bright
surface, and as it crept I heard deep gasps of fear rising from the
"Look, O king!" I cried; "look, Gagool! Look, chiefs and people and
women, and see if the white men from the Stars keep their word, or if
they be but empty liars!
"The moon grows black before your eyes; soon there will be darkness--
ay, darkness in the hour of the full moon. Ye have asked for a sign;
it is given to you. Grow dark, O Moon! withdraw thy light, thou pure
and holy One; bring the proud heart of usurping murderers to the dust,
and eat up the world with shadows."
A groan of terror burst from the onlookers. Some stood petrified with
dread, others threw themselves upon their knees and cried aloud. As
for the king, he sat still and turned pale beneath his dusky skin.
Only Gagool kept her courage.
"It will pass," she cried; "I have often seen the like before; no man
can put out the moon; lose not heart; sit still--the shadow will
"Wait, and ye shall see," I replied, hopping with excitement. "O Moon!
Moon! Moon! wherefore art thou so cold and fickle?" This appropriate
quotation was from the pages of a popular romance that I chanced to
have read recently, though now I come to think of it, it was
ungrateful of me to abuse the Lady of the Heavens, who was showing
herself to be the truest of friends to us, however she may have
behaved to the impassioned lover in the novel. Then I added: "Keep it
up, Good, I can't remember any more poetry. Curse away, there's a good
Good responded nobly to this tax upon his inventive faculties. Never
before had I the faintest conception of the breadth and depth and
height of a naval officer's objurgatory powers. For ten minutes he
went on in several languages without stopping, and he scarcely ever
Meanwhile the dark ring crept on, while all that great assembly fixed
their eyes upon the sky and stared and stared in fascinated silence.
Strange and unholy shadows encroached upon the moonlight, an ominous
quiet filled the place. Everything grew still as death. Slowly and in
the midst of this most solemn silence the minutes sped away, and while
they sped the full moon passed deeper and deeper into the shadow of
the earth, as the inky segment of its circle slid in awful majesty
across the lunar craters. The great pale orb seemed to draw near and
to grow in size. She turned a coppery hue, then that portion of her
surface which was unobscured as yet grew grey and ashen, and at
length, as totality approached, her mountains and her plains were to
be seen glowing luridly through a crimson gloom.
On, yet on, crept the ring of darkness; it was now more than half
across the blood-red orb. The air grew thick, and still more deeply
tinged with dusky crimson. On, yet on, till we could scarcely see the
fierce faces of the group before us. No sound rose now from the
spectators, and at last Good stopped swearing.
"The moon is dying--the white wizards have killed the moon," yelled
the prince Scragga at last. "We shall all perish in the dark," and
animated by fear or fury, or by both, he lifted his spear and drove it
with all his force at Sir Henry's breast. But he forgot the mail
shirts that the king had given us, and which we wore beneath our
clothing. The steel rebounded harmless, and before he could repeat the
blow Curtis had snatched the spear from his hand and sent it straight
Scragga dropped dead.
At the sight, and driven mad with fear of the gathering darkness, and
of the unholy shadow which, as they believed, was swallowing the moon,
the companies of girls broke up in wild confusion, and ran screeching
for the gateways. Nor did the panic stop there. The king himself,
followed by his guards, some of the chiefs, and Gagool, who hobbled
away after them with marvellous alacrity, fled for the huts, so that
in another minute we ourselves, the would-be victim Foulata, Infadoos,
and most of the chiefs who had interviewed us on the previous night,
were left alone upon the scene, together with the dead body of
Scragga, Twala's son.
"Chiefs," I said, "we have given you the sign. If ye are satisfied,
let us fly swiftly to the place of which ye spoke. The charm cannot
now be stopped. It will work for an hour and the half of an hour. Let
us cover ourselves in the darkness."
"Come," said Infadoos, turning to go, an example which was followed by
the awed captains, ourselves, and the girl Foulata, whom Good took by
Before we reached the gate of the kraal the moon went out utterly, and
from every quarter of the firmament the stars rushed forth into the
Holding each other by the hand we stumbled on through the darkness.
BEFORE THE BATTLE
Luckily for us, Infadoos and the chiefs knew all the paths of the
great town perfectly, so that we passed by side-ways unmolested, and
notwithstanding the gloom we made fair progress.
For an hour or more we journeyed on, till at length the eclipse began
to pass, and that edge of the moon which had disappeared the first
became again visible. Suddenly, as we watched, there burst from it a
silver streak of light, accompanied by a wondrous ruddy glow, which
hung upon the blackness of the sky like a celestial lamp, and a wild
and lovely sight it was. In another five minutes the stars began to
fade, and there was sufficient light to see our whereabouts. We then
discovered that we were clear of the town of Loo, and approaching a
large flat-topped hill, measuring some two miles in circumference.
This hill, which is of a formation common in South Africa, is not very
high; indeed, its greatest elevation is scarcely more than 200 feet,
but it is shaped like a horseshoe, and its sides are rather
precipitous and strewn with boulders. On the grass table-land at its
summit is ample camping-ground, which had been utilised as a military
cantonment of no mean strength. Its ordinary garrison was one regiment
of three thousand men, but as we toiled up the steep side of the
mountain in the returning moonlight we perceived that there were
several of such regiments encamped there.
Reaching the table-land at last, we found crowds of men roused from
their sleep, shivering with fear and huddled up together in the utmost
consternation at the natural phenomenon which they were witnessing.
Passing through these without a word, we gained a hut in the centre of
the ground, where we were astonished to find two men waiting, laden
with our few goods and chattels, which of course we had been obliged
to leave behind in our hasty flight.
"I sent for them," explained Infadoos; "and also for these," and he
lifted up Good's long-lost trousers.
With an exclamation of rapturous delight Good sprang at them, and
instantly proceeded to put them on.
"Surely my lord will not hide his beautiful white legs!" exclaimed
But Good persisted, and once only did the Kukuana people get the
chance of seeing his beautiful legs again. Good is a very modest man.
Henceforward they had to satisfy their Šsthetic longings with his one
whisker, his transparent eye, and his movable teeth.
Still gazing with fond remembrance at Good's trousers, Infadoos next
informed us that he had commanded the regiments to muster so soon as
the day broke, in order to explain to them fully the origin and
circumstances of the rebellion which was decided on by the chiefs, and
to introduce to them the rightful heir to the throne, Ignosi.
Accordingly, when the sun was up, the troops--in all some twenty
thousand men, and the flower of the Kukuana army--were mustered on a
large open space, to which we went. The men were drawn up in three
sides of a dense square, and presented a magnificent spectacle. We
took our station on the open side of the square, and were speedily
surrounded by all the principal chiefs and officers.
These, after silence had been proclaimed, Infadoos proceeded to
address. He narrated to them in vigorous and graceful language--for,
like most Kukuanas of high rank, he was a born orator--the history of
Ignosi's father, and of how he had been basely murdered by Twala the
king, and his wife and child driven out to starve. Then he pointed out
that the people suffered and groaned under Twala's cruel rule,
instancing the proceedings of the previous night, when, under pretence
of their being evil-doers, many of the noblest in the land had been
dragged forth and wickedly done to death. Next he went on to say that
the white lords from the Stars, looking down upon their country, had
perceived its trouble, and determined, at great personal
inconvenience, to alleviate its lot: That they had accordingly taken
the real king of the Kukuanas, Ignosi, who was languishing in exile,
by the hand, and led him over the mountains: That they had seen the
wickedness of Twala's doings, and for a sign to the wavering, and to
save the life of the girl Foulata, actually, by the exercise of their
high magic, had put out the moon and slain the young fiend Scragga;
and that they were prepared to stand by them, and assist them to
overthrow Twala, and set up the rightful king, Ignosi, in his place.
He finished his discourse amidst a murmur of approbation. Then Ignosi
stepped forward and began to speak. Having reiterated all that
Infadoos his uncle had said, he concluded a powerful speech in these
"O chiefs, captains, soldiers, and people, ye have heard my words. Now
must ye make choice between me and him who sits upon my throne, the
uncle who killed his brother, and hunted his brother's child forth to
die in the cold and the night. That I am indeed the king these"--
pointing to the chiefs--"can tell you, for they have seen the snake
about my middle. If I were not the king, would these white men be on
my side with all their magic? Tremble, chiefs, captains, soldiers, and
people! Is not the darkness they have brought upon the land to
confound Twala and cover our flight, darkness even in the hour of the
full moon, yet before your eyes?"
"It is," answered the soldiers.
"I am the king; I say to you, I am the king," went on Ignosi, drawing
up his great stature to its full, and lifting his broad-bladed battle-
axe above his head. "If there be any man among you who says that it is
not so, let him stand forth and I will fight him now, and his blood
shall be a red token that I tell you true. Let him stand forth, I
say;" and he shook the great axe till it flashed in the sunlight.
As nobody seemed inclined to respond to this heroic version of "Dilly,
Dilly, come and be killed," our late henchman proceeded with his
"I am indeed the king, and should ye stand by my side in the battle,
if I win the day ye shall go with me to victory and honour. I will
give you oxen and wives, and ye shall take place of all the regiments;
and if ye fall, I will fall with you.
"And behold, I give you this promise, that when I sit upon the seat of
my fathers, bloodshed shall cease in the land. No longer shall ye cry
for justice to find slaughter, no longer shall the witch-finder hunt
you out so that ye may be slain without a cause. No man shall die save
he who offends against the laws. The 'eating up' of your kraals shall
cease; each one of you shall sleep secure in his own hut and fear
naught, and justice shall walk blindfold throughout the land. Have ye
chosen, chiefs, captains, soldiers, and people?"
"We have chosen, O king," came back the answer.
"It is well. Turn your heads and see how Twala's messengers go forth
from the great town, east and west, and north and south, to gather a
mighty army to slay me and you, and these my friends and protectors.
To-morrow, or perchance the next day, he will come against us with all
who are faithful to him. Then I shall see the man who is indeed my
man, the man who fears not to die for his cause; and I tell you that
he shall not be forgotten in the time of spoil. I have spoken, O
chiefs, captains, soldiers, and people. Now go to your huts and make
you ready for war."
There was a pause, till presently one of the chiefs lifted his hand,
and out rolled the royal salute, "/Koom./" It was a sign that the
soldiers accepted Ignosi as their king. Then they marched off in
Half an hour afterwards we held a council of war, at which all the
commanders of regiments were present. It was evident to us that before
very long we should be attacked in overwhelming force. Indeed, from
our point of vantage on the hill we could see troops mustering, and
runners going forth from Loo in every direction, doubtless to summon
soldiers to the king's assistance. We had on our side about twenty
thousand men, composed of seven of the best regiments in the country.
Twala, so Infadoos and the chiefs calculated, had at least thirty to
thirty-five thousand on whom he could rely at present assembled in
Loo, and they thought that by midday on the morrow he would be able to
gather another five thousand or more to his aid. It was, of course,
possible that some of his troops would desert and come over to us, but
it was not a contingency which could be reckoned on. Meanwhile, it was
clear that active preparations were being made by Twala to subdue us.
Already strong bodies of armed men were patrolling round and round the
foot of the hill, and there were other signs also of coming assault.
Infadoos and the chiefs, however, were of opinion that no attack would
take place that day, which would be devoted to preparation and to the
removal of every available means of the moral effect produced upon the
minds of the soldiery by the supposed magical darkening of the moon.
The onslaught would be on the morrow, they said, and they proved to be
Meanwhile, we set to work to strengthen the position in all ways
possible. Almost every man was turned out, and in the course of the
day, which seemed far too short, much was done. The paths up the hill
--that was rather a sanatorium than a fortress, being used generally
as the camping place of regiments suffering from recent service in
unhealthy portions of the country--were carefully blocked with masses
of stones, and every other approach was made as impregnable as time
would allow. Piles of boulders were collected at various spots to be
rolled down upon an advancing enemy, stations were appointed to the
different regiments, and all preparation was made which our joint
ingenuity could suggest.
Just before sundown, as we rested after our toil, we perceived a small
company of men advancing towards us from the direction of Loo, one of
whom bore a palm leaf in his hand for a sign that he came as a herald.
As he drew near, Ignosi, Infadoos, one or two chiefs and ourselves,
went down to the foot of the mountain to meet him. He was a gallant-
looking fellow, wearing the regulation leopard-skin cloak.
"Greeting!" he cried, as he came; "the king's greeting to those who
make unholy war against the king; the lion's greeting to the jackals
that snarl around his heels."
"Speak," I said.
"These are the king's words. Surrender to the king's mercy ere a worse
thing befall you. Already the shoulder has been torn from the black
bull, and the king drives him bleeding about the camp."[*]
[*] This cruel custom is not confined to the Kukuanas, but is by no
means uncommon amongst African tribes on the occasion of the
outbreak of war or any other important public event.--A.Q.
"What are Twala's terms?" I asked from curiosity.
"His terms are merciful, worthy of a great king. These are the words
of Twala, the one-eyed, the mighty, the husband of a thousand wives,
lord of the Kukuanas, keeper of the Great Road (Solomon's Road),
beloved of the Strange Ones who sit in silence at the mountains yonder
(the Three Witches), Calf of the Black Cow, Elephant whose tread
shakes the earth, Terror of the evil-doer, Ostrich whose feet devour
the desert, huge One, black One, wise One, king from generation to
generation! these are the words of Twala: 'I will have mercy and be
satisfied with a little blood. One in every ten shall die, the rest
shall go free; but the white man Incubu, who slew Scragga my son, and
the black man his servant, who pretends to my throne, and Infadoos my
brother, who brews rebellion against me, these shall die by torture as
an offering to the Silent Ones.' Such are the merciful words of
After consulting with the others a little, I answered him in a loud
voice, so that the soldiers might hear, thus--
"Go back, thou dog, to Twala, who sent thee, and say that we, Ignosi,
veritable king of the Kukuanas, Incubu, Bougwan, and Macumazahn, the
wise ones from the Stars, who make dark the moon, Infadoos, of the
royal house, and the chiefs, captains, and people here gathered, make
answer and say, 'That we will not surrender; that before the sun has
gone down twice, Twala's corpse shall stiffen at Twala's gate, and
Ignosi, whose father Twala slew, shall reign in his stead.' Now go,
ere we whip thee away, and beware how thou dost lift a hand against
such as we are."
The herald laughed loudly. "Ye frighten not men with such swelling
words," he cried out. "Show yourselves as bold to-morrow, O ye who
darken the moon. Be bold, fight, and be merry, before the crows pick
your bones till they are whiter than your faces. Farewell; perhaps we
may meet in the fight; fly not to the Stars, but wait for me, I pray,
white men." With this shaft of sarcasm he retired, and almost
immediately the sun sank.
That night was a busy one, for weary as we were, so far as was
possible by the moonlight all preparations for the morrow's fight were
continued, and messengers were constantly coming and going from the
place where we sat in council. At last, about an hour after midnight,
everything that could be done was done, and the camp, save for the
occasional challenge of a sentry, sank into silence. Sir Henry and I,
accompanied by Ignosi and one of the chiefs, descended the hill and
made a round of the pickets. As we went, suddenly, from all sorts of
unexpected places, spears gleamed out in the moonlight, only to vanish
again when we uttered the password. It was clear to us that none were
sleeping at their posts. Then we returned, picking our way warily
through thousands of sleeping warriors, many of whom were taking their
last earthly rest.
The moonlight flickering along their spears, played upon their
features and made them ghastly; the chilly night wind tossed their
tall and hearse-like plumes. There they lay in wild confusion, with
arms outstretched and twisted limbs; their stern, stalwart forms
looking weird and unhuman in the moonlight.
"How many of these do you suppose will be alive at this time
to-morrow?" asked Sir Henry.
I shook my head and looked again at the sleeping men, and to my tired
and yet excited imagination it seemed as though Death had already
touched them. My mind's eye singled out those who were sealed to
slaughter, and there rushed in upon my heart a great sense of the
mystery of human life, and an overwhelming sorrow at its futility and
sadness. To-night these thousand slept their healthy sleep, to-morrow
they, and many others with them, ourselves perhaps among them, would
be stiffening in the cold; their wives would be widows, their children
fatherless, and their place know them no more for ever. Only the old
moon would shine on serenely, the night wind would stir the grasses,
and the wide earth would take its rest, even as it did Šons before we
were, and will do Šons after we have been forgotten.
Yet man dies not whilst the world, at once his mother and his
monument, remains. His name is lost, indeed, but the breath he
breathed still stirs the pine-tops on the mountains, the sound of the
words he spoke yet echoes on through space; the thoughts his brain
gave birth to we have inherited to-day; his passions are our cause of
life; the joys and sorrows that he knew are our familiar friends--the
end from which he fled aghast will surely overtake us also!
Truly the universe is full of ghosts, not sheeted churchyard spectres,
but the inextinguishable elements of individual life, which having
once been, can never /die/, though they blend and change, and change
again for ever.
All sorts of reflections of this nature passed through my mind--for as
I grow older I regret to say that a detestable habit of thinking seems
to be getting a hold of me--while I stood and stared at those grim yet
fantastic lines of warriors, sleeping, as their saying goes, "upon
"Curtis," I said, "I am in a condition of pitiable fear."
Sir Henry stroked his yellow beard and laughed, as he answered--
"I have heard you make that sort of remark before, Quatermain."
"Well, I mean it now. Do you know, I very much doubt if one of us will
be alive to-morrow night. We shall be attacked in overwhelming force,
and it is quite a chance if we can hold this place."
"We'll give a good account of some of them, at any rate. Look here,
Quatermain, this business is nasty, and one with which, properly
speaking, we ought not to be mixed up, but we are in for it, so we
must make the best of our job. Speaking personally, I had rather be
killed fighting than any other way, and now that there seems little
chance of our finding my poor brother, it makes the idea easier to me.
But fortune favours the brave, and we may succeed. Anyway, the battle
will be awful, and having a reputation to keep up, we shall need to be
in the thick of the thing."
He made this last remark in a mournful voice, but there was a gleam in
his eye which belied its melancholy. I have an idea Sir Henry Curtis
actually likes fighting.
After this we went to sleep for a couple of hours or so.
Just about dawn we were awakened by Infadoos, who came to say that
great activity was to be observed in Loo, and that parties of the
king's skirmishers were driving in our outposts.
We rose and dressed ourselves for the fray, each putting on his chain
armour shirt, for which garments at the present juncture we felt
exceedingly thankful. Sir Henry went the whole length about the
matter, and dressed himself like a native warrior. "When you are in
Kukuanaland, do as the Kukuanas do," he remarked, as he drew the
shining steel over his broad breast, which it fitted like a glove. Nor
did he stop there. At his request Infadoos had provided him with a
complete set of native war uniform. Round his throat he fastened the
leopard-skin cloak of a commanding officer, on his brows he bound the
plume of black ostrich feathers worn only by generals of high rank,
and about his middle a magnificent moocha of white ox-tails. A pair of
sandals, a leglet of goat's hair, a heavy battle-axe with a
rhinoceros-horn handle, a round iron shield covered with white ox-
hide, and the regulation number of /tollas/, or throwing-knives, made
up his equipment, to which, however, he added his revolver. The dress
was, no doubt, a savage one, but I am bound to say that I seldom saw a
finer sight than Sir Henry Curtis presented in this guise. It showed
off his magnificent physique to the greatest advantage, and when
Ignosi arrived presently, arrayed in a similar costume, I thought to
myself that I had never before seen two such splendid men.
As for Good and myself, the armour did not suit us nearly so well. To
begin with, Good insisted upon keeping on his new-found trousers, and
a stout, short gentleman with an eye-glass, and one half of his face
shaved, arrayed in a mail shirt, carefully tucked into a very seedy
pair of corduroys, looks more remarkable than imposing. In my case,
the chain shirt being too big for me, I put it on over all my clothes,
which caused it to bulge in a somewhat ungainly fashion. I discarded
my trousers, however, retaining only my veldtschoons, having
determined to go into battle with bare legs, in order to be the
lighter for running, in case it became necessary to retire quickly.
The mail coat, a spear, a shield, that I did not know how to use, a
couple of /tollas/, a revolver, and a huge plume, which I pinned into
the top of my shooting hat, in order to give a bloodthirsty finish to
my appearance, completed my modest equipment. In addition to all these
articles, of course we had our rifles, but as ammunition was scarce,
and as they would be useless in case of a charge, we arranged that
they should be carried behind us by bearers.
When at length we had equipped ourselves, we swallowed some food
hastily, and then started out to see how things were going on. At one
point in the table-land of the mountain, there was a little koppie of
brown stone, which served the double purpose of head-quarters and of a
conning tower. Here we found Infadoos surrounded by his own regiment,
the Greys, which was undoubtedly the finest in the Kukuana army, and
the same that we had first seen at the outlying kraal. This regiment,
now three thousand five hundred strong, was being held in reserve, and
the men were lying down on the grass in companies, and watching the
king's forces creep out of Loo in long ant-like columns. There seemed
to be no end to the length of these columns--three in all, and each of
them numbering, as we judged, at least eleven or twelve thousand men.
As soon as they were clear of the town the regiments formed up. Then
one body marched off to the right, one to the left, and the third came
on slowly towards us.
"Ah," said Infadoos, "they are going to attack us on three sides at
This seemed rather serious news, for our position on the top of the
mountain, which measured a mile and a half in circumference, being an
extended one, it was important to us to concentrate our comparatively
small defending force as much as possible. But since it was impossible
for us to dictate in what way we should be assailed, we had to make
the best of it, and accordingly sent orders to the various regiments
to prepare to receive the separate onslaughts.
Slowly, and without the slightest appearance of haste or excitement,
the three columns crept on. When within about five hundred yards of
us, the main or centre column halted at the root of a tongue of open
plain which ran up into the hill, to give time to the other divisions
to circumvent our position, which was shaped more or less in the form
of a horse-shoe, with its two points facing towards the town of Loo.
The object of this manťuvre was that the threefold assault should be
"Oh, for a gatling!" groaned Good, as he contemplated the serried
phalanxes beneath us. "I would clear that plain in twenty minutes."
"We have not got one, so it is no use yearning for it; but suppose you
try a shot, Quatermain," said Sir Henry. "See how near you can go to
that tall fellow who appears to be in command. Two to one you miss
him, and an even sovereign, to be honestly paid if ever we get out of
this, that you don't drop the bullet within five yards."
This piqued me, so, loading the express with solid ball, I waited till
my friend walked some ten yards out from his force, in order to get a
better view of our position, accompanied only by an orderly; then,
lying down and resting the express on a rock, I covered him. The
rifle, like all expresses, was only sighted to three hundred and fifty
yards, so to allow for the drop in trajectory I took him half-way down
the neck, which ought, I calculated, to find him in the chest. He
stood quite still and gave me every opportunity, but whether it was
the excitement or the wind, or the fact of the man being a long shot,
I don't know, but this was what happened. Getting dead on, as I
thought, a fine sight, I pressed, and when the puff of smoke had
cleared away, to my disgust, I saw my man standing there unharmed,
whilst his orderly, who was at least three paces to the left, was
stretched upon the ground apparently dead. Turning swiftly, the
officer I had aimed at began to run towards his men in evident alarm.
"Bravo, Quatermain!" sang out Good; "you've frightened him."
This made me very angry, for, if possible to avoid it, I hate to miss
in public. When a man is master of only one art he likes to keep up
his reputation in that art. Moved quite out of myself at my failure, I
did a rash thing. Rapidly covering the general as he ran, I let drive
with the second barrel. Instantly the poor man threw up his arms, and
fell forward on to his face. This time I had made no mistake; and--I
say it as a proof of how little we think of others when our own
safety, pride, or reputation is in question--I was brute enough to
feel delighted at the sight.
The regiments who had seen the feat cheered wildly at this exhibition
of the white man's magic, which they took as an omen of success, while
the force the general had belonged to--which, indeed, as we
ascertained afterwards, he had commanded--fell back in confusion. Sir
Henry and Good now took up their rifles and began to fire, the latter
industriously "browning" the dense mass before him with another
Winchester repeater, and I also had another shot or two, with the
result, so far as we could judge, that we put some six or eight men
/hors de combat/ before they were out of range.
Just as we stopped firing there came an ominous roar from our far
right, then a similar roar rose on our left. The two other divisions
were engaging us.
At the sound, the mass of men before us opened out a little, and
advanced towards the hill and up the spit of bare grass land at a slow
trot, singing a deep-throated song as they ran. We kept up a steady
fire from our rifles as they came, Ignosi joining in occasionally, and
accounted for several men, but of course we produced no more effect
upon that mighty rush of armed humanity than he who throws pebbles
does on the breaking wave.
On they came, with a shout and the clashing of spears; now they were
driving in the pickets we had placed among the rocks at the foot of
the hill. After that the advance was a little slower, for though as
yet we had offered no serious opposition, the attacking forces must
climb up hill, and they came slowly to save their breath. Our first
line of defence was about half-way down the side of the slope, our
second fifty yards further back, while our third occupied the edge of
On they stormed, shouting their war-cry, "/Twala! Twala! Chiele!
Chiele!/" (Twala! Twala! Smite! Smite!) "/Ignosi! Ignosi! Chiele!
Chiele!/" answered our people. They were quite close now, and the
/tollas/, or throwing-knives, began to flash backwards and forwards,
and now with an awful yell the battle closed in.
To and fro swayed the mass of struggling warriors, men falling fast as
leaves in an autumn wind; but before long the superior weight of the
attacking force began to tell, and our first line of defence was
slowly pressed back till it merged into the second. Here the struggle
was very fierce, but again our people were driven back and up, till at
length, within twenty minutes of the commencement of the fight, our
third line came into action.
But by this time the assailants were much exhausted, and besides had
lost many men killed and wounded, and to break through that third
impenetrable hedge of spears proved beyond their powers. For a while
the seething lines of savages swung backwards and forwards, in the
fierce ebb and flow of battle, and the issue was doubtful. Sir Henry
watched the desperate struggle with a kindling eye, and then without a
word he rushed off, followed by Good, and flung himself into the
hottest of the fray. As for myself, I stopped where I was.
The soldiers caught sight of his tall form as he plunged into battle,
and there rose a cry of--
"/Nanzia Incubu! Nanzia Unkungunklovo!/" (Here is the Elephant!)
From that moment the end was no longer in doubt. Inch by inch,
fighting with splendid gallantry, the attacking force was pressed back
down the hillside, till at last it retreated upon its reserves in
something like confusion. At that instant, too, a messenger arrived to
say that the left attack had been repulsed; and I was just beginning
to congratulate myself, believing that the affair was over for the
present, when, to our horror, we perceived our men who had been
engaged in the right defence being driven towards us across the plain,
followed by swarms of the enemy, who had evidently succeeded at this
Ignosi, who was standing by me, took in the situation at a glance, and
issued a rapid order. Instantly the reserve regiment around us, the
Greys, extended itself.
Again Ignosi gave a word of command, which was taken up and repeated
by the captains, and in another second, to my intense disgust, I found
myself involved in a furious onslaught upon the advancing foe. Getting
as much as I could behind Ignosi's huge frame, I made the best of a
bad job, and toddled along to be killed as though I liked it. In a
minute or two--we were plunging through the flying groups of our men,
who at once began to re-form behind us, and then I am sure I do not
know what happened. All I can remember is a dreadful rolling noise of
the meeting of shields, and the sudden apparition of a huge ruffian,
whose eyes seemed literally to be starting out of his head, making
straight at me with a bloody spear. But--I say it with pride--I rose--
or rather sank--to the occasion. It was one before which most people
would have collapsed once and for all. Seeing that if I stood where I
was I must be killed, as the horrid apparition came I flung myself
down in front of him so cleverly that, being unable to stop himself,
he took a header right over my prostrate form. Before he could rise
again, /I/ had risen and settled the matter from behind with my
Shortly after this somebody knocked me down, and I remember no more of
When I came to I found myself back at the koppie, with Good bending
over me holding some water in a gourd.
"How do you feel, old fellow?" he asked anxiously.
I got up and shook myself before replying.
"Pretty well, thank you," I answered.
"Thank Heaven! When I saw them carry you in, I felt quite sick; I
thought you were done for."
"Not this time, my boy. I fancy I only got a rap on the head, which
knocked me stupid. How has it ended?"
"They are repulsed at every point for a while. The loss is dreadfully
heavy; we have quite two thousand killed and wounded, and they must
have lost three. Looks, there's a sight!" and he pointed to long lines
of men advancing by fours.
In the centre of every group of four, and being borne by it, was a
kind of hide tray, of which a Kukuana force always carries a quantity,
with a loop for a handle at each corner. On these trays--and their
number seemed endless--lay wounded men, who as they arrived were
hastily examined by the medicine men, of whom ten were attached to a
regiment. If the wound was not of a fatal character the sufferer was
taken away and attended to as carefully as circumstances would allow.
But if, on the other hand, the injured man's condition proved
hopeless, what followed was very dreadful, though doubtless it may
have been the truest mercy. One of the doctors, under pretence of
carrying out an examination, swiftly opened an artery with a sharp
knife, and in a minute or two the sufferer expired painlessly. There
were many cases that day in which this was done. In fact, it was done
in the majority of cases when the wound was in the body, for the gash
made by the entry of the enormously broad spears used by the Kukuanas
generally rendered recovery impossible. In most instances the poor
sufferers were already unconscious, and in others the fatal "nick" of
the artery was inflicted so swiftly and painlessly that they did not
seem to notice it. Still it was a ghastly sight, and one from which we
were glad to escape; indeed, I never remember anything of the kind
that affected me more than seeing those gallant soldiers thus put out
of pain by the red-handed medicine men, except, indeed, on one
occasion when, after an attack, I saw a force of Swazis burying their
hopelessly wounded /alive/.
Hurrying from this dreadful scene to the further side of the koppie,
we found Sir Henry, who still held a battle-axe in his hand, Ignosi,
Infadoos, and one or two of the chiefs in deep consultation.
"Thank Heaven, here you are, Quatermain! I can't quite make out what
Ignosi wants to do. It seems that though we have beaten off the
attack, Twala is now receiving large reinforcements, and is showing a
disposition to invest us, with the view of starving us out."
"Yes; especially as Infadoos says that the water supply has given
"My lord, that is so," said Infadoos; "the spring cannot supply the
wants of so great a multitude, and it is failing rapidly. Before night
we shall all be thirsty. Listen, Macumazahn. Thou art wise, and hast
doubtless seen many wars in the lands from whence thou camest--that is
if indeed they make wars in the Stars. Now tell us, what shall we do?
Twala has brought up many fresh men to take the place of those who
have fallen. Yet Twala has learnt his lesson; the hawk did not think
to find the heron ready; but our beak has pierced his breast; he fears
to strike at us again. We too are wounded, and he will wait for us to
die; he will wind himself round us like a snake round a buck, and
fight the fight of 'sit down.'"
"I hear thee," I said.
"So, Macumazahn, thou seest we have no water here, and but a little
food, and we must choose between these three things--to languish like
a starving lion in his den, or to strive to break away towards the
north, or"--and here he rose and pointed towards the dense mass of our
foes--"to launch ourselves straight at Twala's throat. Incubu, the
great warrior--for to-day he fought like a buffalo in a net, and
Twala's soldiers went down before his axe like young corn before the
hail; with these eyes I saw it--Incubu says 'Charge'; but the Elephant
is ever prone to charge. Now what says Macumazahn, the wily old fox,
who has seen much, and loves to bite his enemy from behind? The last
word is in Ignosi the king, for it is a king's right to speak of war;
but let us hear thy voice, O Macumazahn, who watchest by night, and
the voice too of him of the transparent eye."
"What sayest thou, Ignosi," I asked.
"Nay, my father," answered our quondam servant, who now, clad as he
was in the full panoply of savage war, looked every inch a warrior
king, "do thou speak, and let me, who am but a child in wisdom beside
thee, hearken to thy words."
Thus adjured, after taking hasty counsel with Good and Sir Henry, I
delivered my opinion briefly to the effect that, being trapped, our
best chance, especially in view of the failure of our water supply,
was to initiate an attack upon Twala's forces. Then I recommended that
the attack should be delivered at once, "before our wounds grew
stiff," and also before the sight of Twala's overpowering force caused
the hearts of our soldiers "to wax small like fat before a fire."
Otherwise, I pointed out, some of the captains might change their
minds, and, making peace with Twala, desert to him, or even betray us
into his hands.
This expression of opinion seemed, on the whole, to be favourably
received; indeed, among the Kukuanas my utterances met with a respect
which has never been accorded to them before or since. But the real
decision as to our plans lay with Ignosi, who, since he had been
recognised as rightful king, could exercise the almost unbounded
rights of sovereignty, including, of course, the final decision on
matters of generalship, and it was to him that all eyes were now
At length, after a pause, during which he appeared to be thinking
deeply, he spoke.
"Incubu, Macumazahn, and Bougwan, brave white men, and my friends;
Infadoos, my uncle, and chiefs; my heart is fixed. I will strike at
Twala this day, and set my fortunes on the blow, ay, and my life--my
life and your lives also. Listen; thus will I strike. Ye see how the
hill curves round like the half-moon, and how the plain runs like a
green tongue towards us within the curve?"
"We see," I answered.
"Good; it is now mid-day, and the men eat and rest after the toil of
battle. When the sun has turned and travelled a little way towards the
darkness, let thy regiment, my uncle, advance with one other down to
the green tongue, and it shall be that when Twala sees it he will hurl
his force at it to crush it. But the spot is narrow, and the regiments
can come against thee one at a time only; so may they be destroyed one
by one, and the eyes of all Twala's army shall be fixed upon a
struggle the like of which has not been seen by living man. And with
thee, my uncle, shall go Incubu my friend, that when Twala sees his
battle-axe flashing in the first rank of the Greys his heart may grow
faint. And I will come with the second regiment, that which follows
thee, so that if ye are destroyed, as it might happen, there may yet
be a king left to fight for; and with me shall come Macumazahn the
"It is well, O king," said Infadoos, apparently contemplating the
certainty of the complete annihilation of his regiment with perfect
calmness. Truly, these Kukuanas are a wonderful people. Death has no
terrors for them when it is incurred in the course of duty.
"And whilst the eyes of the multitude of Twala's soldiers are thus
fixed upon the fight," went on Ignosi, "behold, one-third of the men
who are left alive to us (i.e. about 6,000) shall creep along the
right horn of the hill and fall upon the left flank of Twala's force,
and one-third shall creep along the left horn and fall upon Twala's
right flank. And when I see that the horns are ready to toss Twala,
then will I, with the men who remain to me, charge home in Twala's
face, and if fortune goes with us the day will be ours, and before
Night drives her black oxen from the mountains to the mountains we
shall sit in peace at Loo. And now let us eat and make ready; and,
Infadoos, do thou prepare, that the plan be carried out without fail;
and stay, let my white father Bougwan go with the right horn, that his
shining eye may give courage to the captains."
The arrangements for attack thus briefly indicated were set in motion
with a rapidity that spoke well for the perfection of the Kukuana
military system. Within little more than an hour rations had been
served out and devoured, the divisions were formed, the scheme of
onslaught was explained to the leaders, and the whole force, numbering
about 18,000 men, was ready to move, with the exception of a guard
left in charge of the wounded.
Presently Good came up to Sir Henry and myself.
"Good-bye, you fellows," he said; "I am off with the right wing
according to orders; and so I have come to shake hands, in case we
should not meet again, you know," he added significantly.
We shook hands in silence, and not without the exhibition of as much
emotion as Anglo-Saxons are wont to show.
"It is a queer business," said Sir Henry, his deep voice shaking a
little, "and I confess I never expect to see to-morrow's sun. So far
as I can make out, the Greys, with whom I am to go, are to fight until
they are wiped out in order to enable the wings to slip round unawares
and outflank Twala. Well, so be it; at any rate, it will be a man's
death. Good-bye, old fellow. God bless you! I hope you will pull
through and live to collar the diamonds; but if you do, take my advice
and don't have anything more to do with Pretenders!"
In another second Good had wrung us both by the hand and gone; and
then Infadoos came up and led off Sir Henry to his place in the
forefront of the Greys, whilst, with many misgivings, I departed with
Ignosi to my station in the second attacking regiment.
THE LAST STAND OF THE GREYS
In a few more minutes the regiments destined to carry out the flanking
movements had tramped off in silence, keeping carefully to the lee of
the rising ground in order to conceal their advance from the keen eyes
of Twala's scouts.
Half an hour or more was allowed to elapse between the setting out of
the horns or wings of the army before any stir was made by the Greys
and their supporting regiment, known as the Buffaloes, which formed
its chest, and were destined to bear the brunt of the battle.
Both of these regiments were almost perfectly fresh, and of full
strength, the Greys having been in reserve in the morning, and having
lost but a small number of men in sweeping back that part of the
attack which had proved successful in breaking the line of defence, on
the occasion when I charged with them and was stunned for my pains. As
for the Buffaloes, they had formed the third line of defence on the
left, and since the attacking force at that point had not succeeded in
breaking through the second, they had scarcely come into action at
Infadoos, who was a wary old general, and knew the absolute importance
of keeping up the spirits of his men on the eve of such a desperate
encounter, employed the pause in addressing his own regiment, the
Greys, in poetical language: explaining to them the honour that they
were receiving in being put thus in the forefront of the battle, and
in having the great white warrior from the Stars to fight with them in
their ranks; and promising large rewards of cattle and promotion to
all who survived in the event of Ignosi's arms being successful.
I looked down the long lines of waving black plumes and stern faces
beneath them, and sighed to think that within one short hour most, if
not all, of those magnificent veteran warriors, not a man of whom was
under forty years of age, would be laid dead or dying in the dust. It
could not be otherwise; they were being condemned, with that wise
recklessness of human life which marks the great general, and often
saves his forces and attains his ends, to certain slaughter, in order
to give their cause and the remainder of the army a chance of success.
They were foredoomed to die, and they knew the truth. It was to be
their task to engage regiment after regiment of Twala's army on the
narrow strip of green beneath us, till they were exterminated or till
the wings found a favourable opportunity for their onslaught. And yet
they never hesitated, nor could I detect a sign of fear upon the face
of a single warrior. There they were--going to certain death, about to
quit the blessed light of day for ever, and yet able to contemplate
their doom without a tremor. Even at that moment I could not help
contrasting their state of mind with my own, which was far from
comfortable, and breathing a sigh of envy and admiration. Never before
had I seen such an absolute devotion to the idea of duty, and such a
complete indifference to its bitter fruits.
"Behold your king!" ended old Infadoos, pointing to Ignosi; "go fight
and fall for him, as is the duty of brave men, and cursed and shameful
for ever be the name of him who shrinks from death for his king, or
who turns his back to the foe. Behold your king, chiefs, captains, and
soldiers! Now do your homage to the sacred Snake, and then follow on,
that Incubu and I may show you a road to the heart of Twala's host."
There was a moment's pause, then suddenly a murmur arose from the
serried phalanxes before us, a sound like the distant whisper of the
sea, caused by the gentle tapping of the handles of six thousand
spears against their holders' shields. Slowly it swelled, till its
growing volume deepened and widened into a roar of rolling noise, that
echoed like thunder against the mountains, and filled the air with
heavy waves of sound. Then it decreased, and by faint degrees died
away into nothing, and suddenly out crashed the royal salute.