Part 2 out of 4
him whenever it pleased him to come. He answered that he would be with
him before noon, for already he had learned that among natives one
loses little by delay. A great man, they think, is rich in time, and
hurries only to wait upon his superiors.
At the appointed hour a guard came to lead him to the royal house, and
thither Owen went, followed by John bearing a Bible. Umsuka was seated
beneath a reed roof supported by poles and open on all sides; behind
him stood councillors and attendants, and by him were Nodwengo the
prince, and Hokosa, his mouth and prophet. Although the day was hot,
he wore a kaross or rug of wild catskins, and his face showed that the
effects of the poisoned draught were still upon him. At the approach
of Owen he rose with something of an effort, and, shaking him by the
hand, thanked him for his life, calling him "doctor of doctors."
"Tell me, Messenger," he added, "how it was that you were able to cure
me, and who were in the plot to kill me? There must have been more
than one," and he rolled his eyes round with angry suspicion.
"King," answered Owen, "if I knew anything of this matter, the Power
that wrote it on my mind has wiped it out again, or, at the least, has
forbidden me to speak of its secret. I saved you, it is enough; for
the rest, the past is the past, and I come to deal with the present
and the future."
"This white man keeps his word," thought Hokosa to himself, and he
looked at him thanking him with his eyes.
"So be it," answered the king; "after all, it is wise not to stir a
dung-heap, for there we find little beside evil odours and the nests
of snakes. Now, what is your business with me, and why do you come
from the white man's countries to visit me? I have heard of those
countries, they are great and far away. I have heard of the white men
also--wonderful men who have all knowledge; but I do not desire to
have anything to do with them, for whenever they meet black people
they eat them up, taking their lands and making them slaves. Once,
some years ago, two of you white people visited us here, but perhaps
you know that story."
"I know it," answered Owen; "one of those men you murdered, and the
other you sent back with a message which he delivered into my ears
across the waters; thousands of miles away."
"Nay," answered the king, "we did not murder him; he came to us with
the story of a new God who could raise the dead and work other
miracles, and gave such powers to His servants. So a man was slain and
we begged of him to bring him back to life; and since he could not, we
killed him also because he was a liar."
"He was no liar," said Owen; "since he never told you that he had
power to open the mouth of the grave. Still, Heaven is merciful, and
although you murdered him that was sent to you, his Master has chosen
me to follow in his footsteps. Me also you may murder if you will, and
then another and another; but still the messengers shall come, till at
last your ears are opened and you listen. Only, for such deeds your
punishment must be heavy."
"What is the message, White Man?"
"A message of peace, of forgiveness, and of life beyond the grave, of
life everlasting. Listen, King. Yesterday you were near to death; say
now, had you stepped over the edge of it, where would you be this
Umsuka shrugged his shoulders. "With my fathers, White Man."
"And where are your fathers?"
"Nay, I know not--nowhere, everywhere: the night is full of them; in
the night we hear the echo of their voices. When they are angry they
haunt the thunder-cloud, and when they are pleased they smile in the
sunshine. Sometimes also they appear in the shape of snakes, or visit
us in dreams, and then we offer them sacrifice. Yonder on the hillside
is a haunted wood; it is full of their spirits, White Man, but they
cannot talk, they only mutter, and their footfalls sound like the
dropping of heavy rain, for they are strengthless and unhappy, and in
the end they fade away."
"So you say," answered Owen, "who are not altogether without
understanding, yet know little, never having been taught. Now listen
to me," and very earnestly he preached to him and those about him of
peace, of forgiveness, and of life everlasting.
"Why should a God die miserably upon a cross?" asked the king at
"That through His sacrifice men might become as gods," answered Owen.
"Believe in Him and He will save you."
"How can we do that," asked the king again, "when already we have a
god? Can we desert one god and set up another?"
"What god, King?"
"I will show him to you, White Man. Let my litter be brought."
The litter was brought and the king entered it with labouring breath.
Passing through the north gate of the Great Place, the party ascended
a slope of the hill that lay beyond it till they reached a flat plain
some hundreds of yards in width. On this plain vegetation grew
scantily, for here the bed rock of ironstone, denuded with frequent
and heavy rains, was scarcely hidden by a thin crust of earth. On the
further side of the plain, however, and separated from it by a little
stream, was a green bank of deep soft soil, beyond which lay a gloomy
valley full of great trees, that for many generations had been the
burying-place of the kings of the Amasuka.
"This is the house of the god," said the king.
"A strange house," answered Owen, "and where is he that dwells in it?"
"Follow me and I will show you, Messenger; but be swift, for already
the sky grows dark with coming tempest."
Now at the king's command the bearers bore him across the sere plateau
towards a stone that lay almost in its centre. Presently they halted,
and, pointing to this mass, the king said:--
"Behold the god!"
Owen advanced and examined the object. A glance told him that this god
of the Amasuka was a meteoric stone of unusual size. Most of such
stones are mere shapeless lumps, but this one bore a peculiar
resemblance to a seated human being holding up one arm towards the
sky. So strange was this likeness that, other reasons apart, it seemed
not wonderful that savages should regard the thing with awe and
veneration. Rather would it have been wonderful had they not done so.
"Say now," said Owen to the king when he had inspected the stone,
"what is the history of this dumb god of yours, and why do you worship
"Follow me across the stream and I will tell you, Messenger," answered
the king, again glancing at the sky. "The storm gathers, and when it
breaks none are safe upon this plain except the heaven doctors such as
Hokosa and his companions who can bind the lightning."
So they went and when they reached the further side of the stream
Umsuka descended from his litter.
"Messenger," he said, "this is the story of the god as it has come
down to us. From the beginning our land has been scourged with
lightning above all other lands, and with the floods of rain that
accompany the lightning. In the old days the Great Place of the king
was out yonder among the mountains, but every year fire from heaven
fell upon it, destroying much people: and at length in a great tempest
the house of the king of that day was smitten and burned, and his
wives and children were turned to ashes. Then that king held a council
of his wizards and fire-doctors, and these having consulted the
spirits of their forefathers, retired into a place apart to fast and
pray; yes, it was in yonder valley, the burying ground of kings, that
they hid themselves. Now on the third night the God of Fire appeared
to the chief of the doctors in his sleep, and he was shaped like a
burning brand and smoke went up from him. Out of the smoke he spoke to
the doctor, saying: 'For this reason it is that I torment your people,
that they hate me and curse at me and pay me little honour.'
"In his dream the doctor answered: 'How can the people honour a god
that they do not see?' Then the god said: 'Rise up now in the night,
all the company of you, and go take your stand upon the banks of
yonder stream, and I will fall down in fire from heaven, and there on
the plain you shall find my image. Then let your king move his Great
Place into the valley beneath the plain, and henceforth my bolts shall
spare it and him. Only, month by month you shall make prayers and
offerings to me; moreover, the name of the people shall be changed,
for it shall be called the People of Fire.'
"Now the doctor rose, and having awakened his companions, he told them
of his vision. Then they all of them went down to the banks of this
stream where we now stand. And as they waited there a great tempest
burst over them, and in the midst of that tempest they saw the flaming
figure of a man descend from heaven, and when he touched the earth it
shook. The morning came and there upon the plain before them, where
there had been nothing, sat the likeness of the god as it sits to-day
and shall sit for ever. So the name of this people was changed, and
the king's Great Place was built where it now is.
"Since that day, Messenger, no hut has been burned and no man killed
in or about the Great Place by fire from heaven, which falls only here
where the god is, though away among the mountains and elsewhere men
are sometimes killed. But wait a while and you shall see with your
eyes. Hokosa, do you, whom the lightning will not touch, take that
pole of dead wood and set it up yonder in the crevice of the rock not
far from the figure of the god."
"I obey," said Hokosa, "although I have brought no medicines with me.
Perhaps," he added with a faint sneer, "the white man, who is so great
a wizard, will not be afraid to accompany me."
Now Owen saw that all those present were looking at him curiously. It
was evident they believed that he would not dare to accept the
challenge. Therefore he answered at once and without hesitation:--
"Certainly I will come; the pole is heavy for one man to carry, and
where Hokosa goes, there I can go also."
"Nay, nay, Messenger," said the king, "the lightning knows Hokosa and
will turn from him, but you are a stranger to it and it will eat you
"King," answered Owen, "I do not believe that Hokosa has any power
over the lightning. It may strike him or it may strike me; but unless
my God so commands, it will strike neither of us."
"On your head be it, White Man," said Hokosa, with cold anger. "Come,
aid me with the pole."
Then they lifted the dead tree, and between them carried it into the
middle of the plain, where they set it up in a crevice of the rock. By
this time the storm was almost over them, and watching it Owen
perceived that the lightnings struck always along the bank of the
stream, doubtless following a hidden line of the bed of ironstone.
"It is but a very little storm," said Hokosa contemptuously, "such as
visit us almost every afternoon at this period of the year. Ah! White
Man, I would that you could see one of our great tempests, for these
are worth beholding. This I fear, however, that you will never do,
seeing it is likely that within some few minutes you will have passed
back to that King who sent you here, with a hole in your head and a
black mark down your spine."
"That we shall learn presently, Hokosa," answered Owen; "for my part,
I pray that no such fate may overtake you."
Now Hokosa moved himself away, muttering and pointing with his
fingers, but Owen remained standing within about thirty yards of the
pole. Suddenly there came a glare of light, and the pole was split
into fragments; but although the shock was perceptible, they remained
unhurt. Almost immediately a second flash leaped from the cloud, and
Owen saw Hokosa stagger and fall to his knees. "The man is struck," he
thought to himself, but it was not so, for recovering his balance, the
wizard walked back to the stream.
Owen never stirred. From boyhood courage had been one of his good
qualities, but it was a courage of the spirit rather than of the
flesh. For instance, at this very moment, so far as his body was
concerned, he was much afraid, and did not in the least enjoy standing
upon an ironstone plateau at the imminent risk of being destroyed by
lightning. But even if he had not had an end to gain, he would have
scorned to give way to his human frailties; also, now as always, his
faith supported him. As it happened the storm, which was slight,
passed by, and no more flashes fell. When it was over he walked back
to where the king and his court were standing.
"Messenger," said Umsuka, "you are not only a great doctor, you are
also a brave man, and such I honour. There is no one among us here,
not being a lord of the lightning, who would have dared to stand upon
that place with Hokosa while the flashes fell about him. Yet you have
done it; it was Hokosa who was driven away. You have passed the trial
by fire, and henceforth, whether we refuse your message or accept it,
you are great in this land."
"There is no need to praise me, King," answered Owen. "The risk is
something; but I knew that I was protected from it, seeing that I
shall not die until my hour comes, and it is not yet. Listen now: your
god yonder is nothing but a stone such as I have often seen before,
for sometimes in great tempests they come to earth from the clouds.
You are not the first people that have worshipped such a stone, but
now we know better. Also this plain before you is full of iron, and
iron draws the lightning. That is why it never strikes your town
below. The iron attracts it more strongly than earth and huts of
straw. Again, while the pole stood I was in little danger, for the
lightning strikes the highest thing; but after the pole was shattered
and Hokosa wisely went away, then I was in some danger, only no
flashes fell. I am not a magician, King, but I know some things that
you do not know, and I trust in One whom I shall lead you to trust
"We will talk of this more hereafter," said the king hurriedly, "for
one day, I have heard and seen enough. Also I do not believe your
words, for I have noted ever that those who are the greatest wizards
of all say continually that they have no magic power. Hokosa, you have
been famous in your day, but it seems that henceforth you who have led
"The battle is not yet fought, King," answered Hokosa. "To-day I met
the lightnings without my medicines, and it was a little storm; when I
am prepared with my medicines and the tempest is great, then I will
challenge this white man to face me yonder, and then in that hour /my/
god shall show his strength and /his/ God shall not be able to save
"That we shall see when the time comes," answered Owen, with a smile.
That night as Owen sat in his hut working at the translation of St.
John, the door was opened and Hokosa entered.
"White Man," said the wizard, "you are too strong for me, though
whence you have your power I know not. Let us make a bargain. Show me
your magic and I will show you mine, and we will rule the land between
us. You and I are much akin--we are great; we have the spirit sight;
we know that there are things beyond the things we see and hear and
feel; whereas, for the rest, they are fools, following the flesh
alone. I have spoken."
"Very gladly will I show you my magic, Hokosa," answered Owen
cheerfully, "since, to speak truth, though I know you to be wicked,
and guess that you would be glad to be rid of me by fair means or
foul; yet I have taken a liking for you, seeing in you one who from a
sinner may grow into a saint.
"This then is my magic: To love God and serve man; to eschew wizardry,
wealth, and power; to seek after holiness, poverty and humility; to
deny your flesh, and to make yourself small in the sight of men, that
so perchance you may grow great in the sight of Heaven and save your
"I have no stomach for that lesson," said Hokosa.
"Yet you shall live to hunger for it," answered Owen. And the wizard
went away angered but wondering.
Now, day by day for something over a month Owen preached the Gospel
before the king, his councillors, and hundreds of the head men of the
nation. They listened to him attentively, debating the new doctrine
point by point; for although they might be savages, these people were
very keen-witted and subtle. Very patiently did Owen sow, and at
length to his infinite joy he also gathered in his first-fruit. One
night as he sat in his hut labouring as usual at the work of
translation, wherein he was assisted by John whom he had taught to
read and write, the Prince Nodwengo entered and greeted him. For a
while he sat silent watching the white man at his task, then he
"Messenger, I have a boon to ask of you. Can you teach me to
understand those signs which you set upon the paper, and to make them
also as does John your servant?"
"Certainly," answered Owen; "if you will come to me at noon to-morrow,
we will begin."
The prince thanked him, but he did not go away. Indeed, from his
manner Owen guessed that he had something more upon his mind. At
length it came out.
"Messenger," he said, "you have told us of baptism whereby we are
admitted into the army of your King; say, have you the power of this
"And is your servant here baptised?"
"Then if he who is a common man can be baptised, why may not I who am
"In baptism," answered Owen, "there is no distinction between the
highest and the lowest; but if you believe, then the door is open and
through it you can join the company of Heaven."
"Messenger, I do believe," answered the prince humbly.
Then Owen was very joyful, and that same night, with John for a
witness, he baptised the prince, giving him the new name of
Constantine, after the first Christian emperor.
On the following day Nodwengo, in the presence of Owen, who on this
point would suffer no concealment, announced to the king that he had
become a Christian. Umsuka heard, and for a while sat silent. Then he
said in a troubled voice:--
"Truly, Messenger, in the words of that Book from which you read to
us, I fear that you have come hither to bring, 'not peace but a
sword.' Now when the witch-doctors and the priests of fire learn this,
that he whom I have chosen to succeed me has become the servant of
another faith, they will stir up the soldiers and there will be civil
war. I pray you, therefore, keep the matter secret, at any rate for a
while, seeing that the lives of many are at stake."
"In this, my father," answered the prince, "I must do as the Messenger
bids me; but if you desire it, take from me the right of succession
and call back my brother from the northern mountains."
"That by poison or the spear he may put all of us to death, Nodwengo!
Be not afraid; ere long when he learns all that is happening here,
your brother Hafela will come from the northern mountains, and the
spears of his /impis/ shall be countless as the stars of the sky.
Messenger, you desire to draw us to the arms of your God--and myself,
I am at times minded to follow the path of my son Nodwengo and seek a
refuge there--but say, will they be strong enough to protect us from
Hafela and the warriors of the north? Already he gathers his clans,
and already my captains desert to him. By-and-by, in the spring-time--
may I be dead before the day--he will roll down upon us like a flood
"To fall back like waters from a wall of rock," answered Owen. "'Let
not your heart be troubled,' for my Master can protect His servants,
and He will protect you. But first you must confess Him openly, as
your son has done."
"Nay, I am too old to hurry," said the king with a sigh. "Your tale
seems full of promise to one who is near the grave; but how can I know
that it is more than a dream? And shall I abandon the worship of my
fathers and change, or strive to change, the customs of my people to
follow after dreams? Nodwengo has chosen his part, and I do not blame
him; yet, for the present I beseech you both to keep silence on this
matter, lest to save bloodshed I should be driven to side against
"So be it, King," said Owen; "but I warn you that Truth has a loud
voice, and that it is hard to hide the shining of a light in a dark
place, nor does it please my Lord to be denied by those who confess
"I am weary," replied the old king, and they saluted him and went.
In obedience to the wish of Umsuka his father, the conversion of
Nodwengo was kept secret, and yet--none knew how--the thing leaked
out. Soon the women in their huts, and the soldiers by their watch-
fires, whispered it in each other's ears that he who was appointed to
be their future ruler had become a servant of the unknown God. That he
had forsworn war and all the delights of men; that he would take but
one wife and appear before the army, not in the uniform of a general,
but clad in a white robe, and carry, not the broad spear, but a cross
of wood. Swiftly the strange story flew from mouth to mouth, yet it
was not altogether believed till it chanced that one day when he was
reviewing a regiment, a soldier who was drunk with beer openly
insulted the prince, calling him "a coward who worshipped a coward."
Now men held their breaths, waiting to see this fool led away to die
by torture of the ant-heap or some other dreadful doom. But the prince
"Soldier, you are drunk, therefore I forgive you your words. Whether
He Whom you blaspheme will forgive you, I know not. Get you gone!"
The warriors stared and murmured, for by those words, wittingly or
unwittingly, their general had confessed his faith, and that day they
made ribald songs about him in the camp. But on the morrow when they
learned how that the man whom the prince spared had been seized by a
lion and taken away as he sat at night with his companions in the
bivouac, his mouth full of boasting of his own courage in offering
insult to the prince and the new faith, then they looked at each other
askance and said little more of the matter. Doubtless it was chance,
and yet this Spirit Whom the Messenger preached was one of Whom it
seemed wisest not to speak lightly.
But still the trouble grew, for by now the witch-doctors, with Hokosa
at the head of them, were frightened for their place and power, and
fomented it both openly and in secret. Of the women they asked what
would become of them when men were allowed to take but one wife? Of
the heads of kraals, how they would grow wealthy when their daughters
ceased to be worth cattle? Of the councillors and generals, how the
land could be protected from its foes when they were commanded to lay
down the spear? Of the soldiers, whose only trade was war, how it
would please them to till the fields like girls? Dismay took hold of
the nation, and although they were much loved, there was open talk of
killing or driving away the king and Nodwengo who favoured the white
man, and of setting up Hafela in their place.
At length the crisis came, and in this fashion. The Amasuka, like many
other African tribes, had a strange veneration for certain varieties
of snakes which they declared to be possessed by the spirits of their
ancestors. It was a law among them that if one of these snakes entered
a kraal it must not be killed, or even driven away, under pain of
death, but must be allowed to share with the human occupants any hut
that it might select. As a result of this enforced hospitality deaths
from snake-bite were numerous among the people; but when they happened
in a kraal its owners met with little sympathy, for the doctors
explained that the real cause of them was the anger of some ancestral
spirit towards his descendants. Now, before John was despatched to
instruct Owen in the language of the Amasuka a certain girl was sealed
to him as his future wife, and this girl, who during his absence had
been orphaned, he had married recently with the approval of Owen, who
at this time was preparing her for baptism. On the third morning after
his marriage John appeared before his master in the last extremity of
grief and terror.
"Help me, Messenger!" he cried, "for my ancestral spirit has entered
our hut and bitten my wife as she lay asleep."
"Are you mad?" asked Owen. "What is an ancestral spirit, and how can
it have bitten your wife?"
"A snake," gasped John, "a green snake of the worst sort."
Then Owen remembered the superstition, and snatching blue-stone and
spirits of wine from his medicine chest, he rushed to John's hut. As
it happened, he was fortunately in time with his remedies and
succeeded in saving the woman's life, whereby his reputation as a
doctor and a magician, already great, was considerably enlarged.
"Where is the snake?" he asked when at length she was out of danger.
"Yonder, under the kaross," answered John, pointing to a skin rug
which lay in the corner.
"Have you killed it?"
"No, Messenger," answered the man, "I dare not. Alas! we must live
with the thing here in the hut till it chooses to go away."
"Truly," said Owen, "I am ashamed to think that you who are a
Christian should still believe so horrible a superstition. Does your
faith teach you that the souls of men enter into snakes?"
Now John hung his head; then snatching a kerry, he threw aside the
kaross, revealing a great green serpent seven or eight feet long. With
fury he fell upon the reptile, killed it by repeated blows, and hurled
it into the courtyard outside the house.
"Behold, father," he said, "and judge whether I am still
superstitious." Then his countenance fell and he added: "Yet my life
must pay for this deed, for it is an ancient law among us that to harm
one of these snakes is death."
"Have no fear," said Owen, "a way will be found out of this trouble."
That afternoon Owen heard a great hubbub outside his kraal, and going
to see what was the matter, he found a party of the witch-doctors
dragging John towards the place of judgment, which was by the king's
house. Thither he followed to discover that the case was already in
course of being opened before the king, his council, and a vast
audience of the people. Hokosa was the accuser. In brief and pregnant
sentences, producing the dead snake in proof of his argument, he
pointed out the enormity of the offence against the laws of the
Amasuka wherewith the prisoner was charged, demanding that the man who
had killed the house of his ancestral spirit should instantly be put
"What have you to say?" asked the king of John.
"This, O King," replied John, "that I am a Christian, and to me that
snake is nothing but a noxious reptile. It bit my wife, and had it not
been for the medicine of the Messenger, she would have perished of the
poison. Therefore I killed it before it could harm others."
"It is a fair answer," said the king. "Hokosa, I think that this man
should go free."
"The king's will is the law," replied Hokosa bitterly; "but if the law
were the king's will, the decision would be otherwise. This man has
slain, not a snake, but that which held the spirit of an ancestor, and
for the deed he deserves to die. Hearken, O King, for the business is
larger than it seems. How are we to be governed henceforth? Are we to
follow our ancient rules and customs, or must we submit ourselves to a
new rule and a new custom? I tell you, O King, that the people murmur;
they are without light, they wander in the darkness, they cannot
understand. Play with us no more, but let us hear the truth that we
may judge of this matter."
Umsuka looked at Owen, but made no reply.
"I will answer you, Hokosa," said Owen, "for I am the spring of all
this trouble, and at my command that man, my disciple, killed yonder
snake. What is it? It is nothing but a reptile; no human spirit ever
dwelt within it as you imagine in your superstition. You ask to hear
the truth; day by day I have preached it in your ears and you have not
listened, though many among you have listened and understood. What is
it that you seek?"
"We seek, Messenger, to be rid of you, your fantasies and your
religion; and we demand that our king should expel you and restore the
ancient laws, or failing this, that you should prove your power openly
before us all. Your word, O King!"
Umsuka thought for a while and answered:--
"This is my word, Hokosa: I will not drive the Messenger from the
land, for he is a good man; he saved my life, and there is virtue in
his teaching, towards which I myself incline. Yet it is just that he
should be asked to prove his power, so that an end may be put to doubt
and all of us may learn what god we are to worship."
"How can I prove my power," asked Owen, "further than I have proved it
already? Does Hokosa desire to set up his god against my God--the
false against the true?"
"I do," answered the wizard with passion, "and according to the issue
let the judgment be. Let us halt no longer between two opinions, let
us become wholly Christian or rest wholly heathen, for to be divided
is to be destroyed. The magic of the Messenger is great; once and for
all let us learn if it is more than our magic. Let us put him and his
doctrines to the trial by fire."
"What is the trial by fire?" asked Owen.
"You have seen something of it, White Man, but not much. This is the
trial by fire: to stand yonder before the face of the god of thunder
when a great tempest rages--not such a storm as you saw, but a storm
that splits the heavens--and to come thence unscathed. Listen: I who
am a 'heaven-herd,' I who know the signs of the weather, tell you that
within two days such a tempest as this will break upon us. Then White
Man, I and my companions will be ready to meet you on the plain. Take
the cross by which you swear and set it up yonder and stand by it, and
with you your converts, Nodwengo the prince, and this man whom you
have named John, if they dare to go. Over against you, around the
symbol of the god by which we swear, will stand I and my company, and
we will pray our god and you shall pray your God. Then the storm will
break upon us, and when it is ended we shall learn which of us remain
alive. If you and your cross are shattered, to us will be the victory;
if we are laid low, take it for your own. Your judgment, King!"
Again Umsuka thought and answered:--
"So be it. Messenger, hear me. There is no need for you to accept this
challenge; but if you will not accept it, then go from my country in
peace, taking with you those who cleave to you. If on the other hand
you do accept it, these shall be the stakes: that if you pass the
trial unharmed, and the fire-doctors are swept away, your creed shall
be my creed and the creed of the land; but if the fire-doctors prevail
against you, then it shall be death or banishment to any who profess
that creed. Now choose!"
"I have chosen," said Owen. "I will meet Hokosa and his company on the
Place of fire whenever he may appoint, but for the others I cannot
"We will come with you," said Nodwengo and John, with one voice;
"where you go, Messenger, we will surely follow."
THE SECOND TRIAL BY FIRE
When this momentous discussion was finished, as usual Owen preached
before the king, expounding the Scriptures and taking for his subject
the duty of faith. As he went back to his hut he saw that the snake
which John had killed had been set upon a pole in that part of the
Great Place which served as a market, and that hundreds of natives
were gathered beneath it gesticulating and talking excitedly.
"See the work of Hokosa," he thought to himself. "Moses set up a
serpent to save the people; yonder wizard sets up one to destroy
That evening Owen had no heart for his labours, for his mind was heavy
at the prospect of the trial which lay before him. Not that he cared
for his own life, for of this he scarcely thought; it was the
prospects of his cause which troubled him. It seemed much to expect
that Heaven again should throw over him the mantle of its especial
protection, and yet if it did not do so there was an end of his
mission among the People of Fire. Well, he did not seek this trial--he
would have avoided it if he could, but it had been thrust upon him,
and he was forced to choose between it and the abandonment of the work
which he had undertaken with such high hopes and pushed so far toward
success. He did not choose the path, it had been pointed out to him to
walk upon; and if it ended in a precipice, at least he would have done
As he thought thus John entered the hut, panting.
"What is the matter?" Owen asked.
"Father, the people saw and pursued me because of the death of that
accursed snake. Had I not run fast and escaped them, I think they
would have killed me."
"At least you have escaped, John; so be comforted and return thanks."
"Father," said the man presently, "I know that you are great, and can
do many wonderful things, but have you in truth power over lightning?"
"Why do you ask?"
"Because a great tempest is brewing, and if you have not we shall
certainly be killed when we stand yonder on the Place of Fire."
"John," he said, "I cannot speak to the lightning in a voice which it
can hear. I cannot say to it 'go yonder,' or 'come hither,' but He Who
made it can do so. Why do you tempt me with your doubts? Have I not
told you the story of Elijah the prophet and the priests of Baal? Did
Elijah's Master forsake him, and shall He forsake us? Also this is
certain, that all the medicine of Hokosa and his wizards will not turn
a lightning flash by the breadth of a single hair. God alone can turn
it, and for the sake of His cause among these people I believe that He
will do so."
Thus Owen spoke on till, in reproving the weakness of another, he felt
his own faith come back to him and, remembering the past and how he
had been preserved in it, the doubt and trouble went out of his mind
to return no more.
The third day--the day of trial--came. For sixty hours or more the
heat of the weather had been intense; indeed, during all that time the
thermometer in Owen's hut, notwithstanding the protection of a thick
hatch, had shown the temperature to vary between a maximum of 113 and
a minimum of 101 degrees. Now, in the early morning, it stood at 108.
"Will the storm break to-day?" asked Owen of Nodwengo, who came to
"They say so, Messenger, and I think it by the feel of the air. If so,
it will be a very great storm, for the heaven is full of fire. Already
Hokosa and the doctors are at their rites upon the plain yonder, but
there will be no need to join them till two hours after midday."
"Is the cross ready?" asked Owen.
"Yes, and set up. It is a heavy cross; six men could scarcely carry
it. Oh! Messenger, I am not afraid--and yet, have you no medicine? If
not, I fear that the lightning will fall upon the cross as it fell
upon the pole and then----"
"Listen, Nodwengo," said Owen, "I know a medicine, but I will not use
it. You see that waggon chain? Were one end of it buried in the ground
and the other with a spear blade made fast to it hung to the top of
the cross, we could live out the fiercest storm in safety. But I say
that I will not use it. Are we witch doctors that we should take
refuge in tricks? No, let faith be our shield, and if it fail us, then
let us die. Pray now with me that it may not fail us."
It was afternoon. All round the Field of Fire were gathered thousands
upon thousands of the people of the Amasuka. The news of this duel
between the God of the white man and their god had travelled far and
wide, and even the very aged who could scarcely crawl and the little
ones who must be carried were collected there to see the issue. Nor
had they need to fear disappointment, for already the sky was half
hidden by dense thunder-clouds piled ridge on ridge, and the hush of
the coming tempest lay upon the earth. Round about the meteor stone
which they called a god, each of them stirring a little gourd of
medicine that was placed upon the ground before him, but uttering no
word, were gathered Hokosa and his followers to the number of twenty.
They were all of them arrayed in their snakeskin dresses and other
wizard finery. Also each man held in his hand a wand fashioned from a
human thigh-bone. In front of the stone burned a little fire, which
now and again Hokosa fed with aromatic leaves, at the same time
pouring medicine from his bowl upon the holy stone. Opposite the
symbol of the god, but at a good distance from it, a great cross of
white wood was set up in the rock by a spot which the witch-doctors
themselves had chosen. Upon the banks of the stream, in the place
apart, were the king, his councillors and the regiment on guard, and
with them Owen, the Prince Nodwengo and John.
"The storm will be fierce," said the king uneasily, glancing at the
western sky, upon whose bosom the blue lightnings played with an
incessant flicker. Then he bade those about him stand back, and
calling Owen and the prince to him, said: "Messenger, my son tells me
that your wisdom knows a plan whereby you may be preserved from the
fury of the tempest. Use it, I pray of you, Messenger, that your life
may be saved, and with it the life of the only son who is left to me."
"I cannot," answered Owen, "for thus by doubting Him I should tempt my
Master. Still, it is not laid upon the prince to accompany through
this trial. Let him stay here, and I alone will stand beneath the
"Stay, Nodwengo," implored the old man.
"I did not think to live to hear my father bid me, one of the royal
blood of the Amasuka, to desert my captain in the hour of battle and
hide myself in the grass like a woman," answered the prince with a
bitter smile. "Nay, it may be that death awaits me yonder, but nothing
except death shall keep me back from the venture."
"It is well spoken," said the king; "be it as you will."
Now the company of wizards, leaving their medicine-pots upon the
ground, formed themselves in a treble line, and marching to where the
king stood, they saluted him. Then they sang the praises of their god,
and in a song that had been prepared, heaped insult upon the God of
the white man and upon the messenger who preached Him. To all of this
Owen listened in silence.
"He is a coward!" cried their spokesman; "he has not a word to say. He
skulks there in his white robes behind the majesty of the king. Let
him go forth and stand by his piece of wood. He dare not go! He thinks
the hillside safer. Come out, little White Man, and we will show you
how we manage the lightnings. Ah! they shall fly about you like spears
in battle. You shall throw yourself upon the ground and shriek in
terror, and then they will lick you up and you shall be no more, and
there will be an end of you and the symbol of your God."
"Cease your boastings," said the king shortly, "and get you back to
your place, knowing that if it should chance that the white man
conquers you will be called upon to answer for these words."
"We shall be ready, O King," they cried; and amidst the cheers of the
vast audience they marched back to their station, still singing the
blasphemous mocking song.
Now to the west all the heavens were black as night, though the
eastern sky still showed blue and cloudless. Nature lay oppressed with
silence--silence intense and unnatural; and so great was the heat that
the air danced visibly above the ironstone as it dances about a
glowing stove. Suddenly the quietude was broken by a moaning sound of
wind; the grass stirred, the leaves of the trees began to shiver, and
an icy breath beat upon Owen's brow.
"Let us be going," he said, and lifting the ivory crucifix above his
head, he passed the stream and walked towards the wooden cross. After
him came the Prince Nodwengo, wearing his royal dress of leopard skin,
and after him, John, arrayed in a linen robe.
As the little procession appeared to their view some of the soldiers
began to mock, but almost instantly the laughter died away. Rude as
they were, these savages understood that here was no occasion for
their mirth, that the three men indeed seemed clothed with a curious
dignity. Perhaps it was their slow and quiet gait, perhaps a sense of
the errand upon which they were bound; or it may have been the strange
unearthly light that fell upon them from over the edge of the storm
cloud; at the least, as the multitude became aware, their appearance
was impressive. They reached the cross and took up their stations
there, Owen in front of it, Nodwengo to the right, and John to the
Now a sharp squall of strong wind swept across the space, and with it
came a flaw of rain. It passed by, and the storm that had been
muttering and growling in the distance began to burst. The great
clouds seemed to grow and swell, and from the breast of them swift
lightnings leapt, to be met by other lightnings rushing upwards from
the earth. The air was filled with a tumult of uncertain wind and a
hiss as of distant rain. Then the batteries of thunder were opened,
and the world shook with their volume. Down from on high the flashes
fell blinding and incessant, and by the light of them the fire-doctors
could be seen running to and fro, pointing now here and now there with
their wands of human bones, and pouring the medicines from their
gourds upon the ground and upon each other. Owen and his two
companions could be seen also, standing quietly with clasped hands,
while above them towered the tall white cross.
At length the storm was straight over head. Slowly it advanced in its
awe-inspiring might as flash after flash, each more fantastic and
horrible than the last, smote upon the floor of ironstone. It played
about the shapes of the doctors, who in the midst of it looked like
devils in an inferno. It crept onwards towards the station of the
cross, but--/it never reached the cross/.
One flash struck indeed within fifty paces of where Owen stood. Then
of a sudden a marvel happened, or something which to this day the
People of Fire talk of as a marvel, for in an instant the rain began
to pour like a wall of water stretching from earth to heaven, and the
wind changed. It had been blowing from the west, now it blew from the
east with the force of a gale.
It blew and rolled the tempest back upon itself, causing it to return
to the regions whence it had gathered. At the very foot of the cross
its march was stayed; there was the water-line, as straight as if it
had been drawn with a rule. The thunder-clouds that were pressed
forward met the clouds that were pressed back, and together they
seemed to come to earth, filling the air with a gloom so dense that
the eye could not pierce it. To the west was a wall of blackness
towering to the heavens; to the east, light, blue and unholy, gleamed
upon the white cross and the figures of its watchers.
For some seconds--twenty or more--there was a lull, and then it seemed
as though all hell had broken loose upon the world. The wall of
blackness became a wall of flame, in which strange and ardent shapes
appeared ascending and descending; the thunder bellowed till the
mountains rocked, and in one last blaze, awful and indescribable, the
skies melted into a deluge of fire. In the flare of it Owen thought
that he saw the figures of men falling this way and that, then he
staggered against the cross for support and his senses failed him.
When they returned again, he perceived the storm being drawn back from
the face of the pale earth like a pall from the face of the dead, and
he heard a murmur of fear and wonder rising from ten thousand throats.
Well might they fear and wonder, for of the twenty and one wizards
eleven were dead, four were paralysed by shock, five were flying in
their terror, and one, Hokosa himself, stood staring at the fallen, a
very picture of despair. Nor was this all, for the meteor stone with a
human shape which for generations the People of Fire had worshipped as
a god, lay upon the plain in fused and shattered fragments.
The people saw, and a sound as of a hollow groan of terror went up
from them. Then they were silent. For a while Owen and his companions
were silent also, since their hearts were too full for speech. Then he
"As the snake fell harmless from the hand of Paul, so has the
lightning turned back from me, who strive to follow in his footsteps,
working death and dismay among those who would have harmed us. May
forgiveness be theirs who were without understanding. Brethren, let us
return and make report to the king."
Now, as they had come, so they went back; first Owen with the
crucifix, next to him Nodwengo, and last of the three John. They drew
near to the king, when suddenly, moved by a common impulse, the
thousands of the people upon the banks of the stream with one accord
threw themselves upon their knees before Owen, calling him God and
offering him worship. Infected by the contagion, Umsuka, his guard and
his councillors followed their example, so that of all the multitude
Hokosa alone remained upon his feet, standing by his dishonoured and
"Rise!" cried Owen aghast. "Would you do sacrilege, and offer worship
to a man? Rise, I command you!"
Then the king rose, saying:--
"You are no man, Messenger, you are a spirit."
"He is a spirit," repeated the multitude after him.
"I am /not/ a spirit, I am yet a man," cried Owen again, "but the
Spirit Whom I serve has made His power manifest in me His servant, and
your idols are smitten with the sword of His power, O ye Sons of Fire!
Hokosa still lives, let him be brought hither."
They fetched Hokosa, and he stood before them.
"You have seen, Wizard," said the king. "What have you to say?"
"Nothing," answered Hokosa, "save that victory is to the Cross, and to
the white man who preaches it, for his magic is greater than our
magic. By his command the tempest was stayed, and the boasts we hurled
fell back upon our heads and the head of our god to destroy us."
"Yes," said the king, "victory is to the Cross, and henceforth the
Cross shall be worshipped in this land, or at least no other god shall
be worshipped. Let us be going. Come with me, Messenger, Lord of the
THE WISDOM OF THE DEAD
On the morrow Owen baptised the king, many of his councillors, and
some twenty others whom he considered fit to receive the rite. Also he
despatched his first convert John, with other messengers, on a three
months' journey to the coast, giving them letters acquainting the
bishop and others with his marvellous success, and praying that
missionaries might be sent to assist him in his labours.
Now day by day the Church grew till it numbered hundreds of souls, and
thousands more hovered on its threshold. From dawn to dark Owen
toiled, preaching, exhorting, confessing, gathering in his harvest;
and from dark to midnight he pored over his translation of the
Scriptures, teaching Nodwengo and a few others how to read and write
them. But although his efforts were crowned with so signal and
extraordinary a triumph, he was well aware of the dangers that
threatened the life of the infant Church. Many accepted it indeed, and
still more tolerated it; but there remained multitudes who regarded
the new religion with suspicion and veiled hatred. Nor was this
strange, seeing that the hearts of men are not changed in an hour or
their ancient customs easily overset.
On one point, indeed, Owen had to give way. The Amasuka were a
polygamous people; all their law and traditions were interwoven with
polygamy, and to abolish that institution suddenly and with violence
would have brought their social fabric to the ground. Now, as he knew
well, the missionary Church declares in effect that no man can be both
a Christian and a polygamist; therefore among the followers of that
custom the missionary Church makes but little progress. Not without
many qualms and hesitations, Owen, having only the Scriptures to
consult, came to a compromise with his converts. If a man already
married to more than one wife wished to become a Christian, he
permitted him to do so upon the condition that he took no more wives;
while a man unmarried at the time of his conversion might take one
wife only. This decree, liberal as it was, caused great
dissatisfaction among both men and women. But it was as nothing
compared to the feeling that was evoked by Owen's preaching against
all war not undertaken in self-defence, and against the strict laws
which he prevailed upon the king to pass, suppressing the practice of
wizardry, and declaring the chief or doctor who caused a man to be
"smelt out" and killed upon charges of witchcraft to be guilty of
At first whenever Owen went abroad he was surrounded by thousands of
people who followed him in the expectation that he would work
miracles, which, after his exploits with the lightning, they were well
persuaded that he could do if he chose. But he worked no more
miracles; he only preached to them a doctrine adverse to their customs
and foreign to their thoughts.
So it came about that in time, when the novelty was gone off and the
story of his victory over the Fire-god had grown stale, although the
work of conversion went on steadily, many of the people grew weary of
the white man and his doctrines. Soon this weariness found expression
in various ways, and in none more markedly than by the constant
desertions from the ranks of the king's regiments. At first, by Owen's
advice, the king tolerated these desertions; but at length, having
obtained information that an entire regiment purposed absconding at
dawn, he caused it to be surrounded and seized by night. Next morning
he addressed that regiment, saying:--
"Soldiers, you think that because I have become a Christian and will
not permit unnecessary bloodshed, I am also become a fool. I will
teach you otherwise. One man in every twenty of you shall be killed,
and henceforth any soldier who attempts to desert will be killed
The order was carried out, for Owen could not find a word to say
against it, with the result that desertions almost ceased, though not
before the king had lost some eight or nine thousand of his best
soldiers. Worst of all, these soldiers had gone to join Hafela in his
mountain fastnesses; and the rumour grew that ere long they would
appear again, to claim the crown for him or to take it by force of
Now too a fresh complication arose. The old king sickened of his last
illness, and soon it became known that he must die. A month later die
he did, passing away peacefully in Owen's arms, and with his last
breath exhorting his people to cling to the Christian religion; to
take Nodwengo for their king and to be faithful to him.
The king died, and that same day was buried by Owen in the gloomy
resting-place of the blood-royal of the People of Fire, where a
Christian priest now set foot for the first time.
On the morrow Nodwengo was proclaimed king with much ceremony in face
of the people and of all the army that remained to him. One captain
raised a cry for Hafela his brother. Nodwengo caused him to be seized
and brought before him.
"Man," he said, "on this my coronation day I will not stain my hand
with blood. Listen. You cry upon Hafela, and to Hafela you shall go,
taking him this message. Tell him that I, Nodwengo, have succeeded to
the crown of Umsuka, my father, by his will and the will of the
people. Tell him it is true that I have become a Christian, and that
Christians follow not after war but peace. Tell him, however, that
though I am a Christian I have not forgotten how to fight or how to
rule. It has reached my ears that it is his purpose to attack me with
a great force which he is gathering, and to possess himself of my
throne. If he should choose to come, I shall be ready to meet him; but
I counsel him against coming, for it will be to find his death. Let
him stay where he is in peace, and be my subject; or let him go afar
with those that cleave to him, and set up a kingdom of his own, for
then I shall not follow him; but let him not dare to lift a spear
against me, his sovereign, since if he does so he shall be treated as
a rebel and find the doom of a rebel. Begone, and show your face here
The man crept away crestfallen; but all who heard that speech broke
into cheering, which, as its purport was repeated from rank to rank,
spread far and wide; for now the army learned that in becoming a
Christian, Nodwengo had not become a woman. Of this indeed he soon
gave them ample proof. The old king's grip upon things had been lax,
that of Nodwengo was like iron. He practised no cruelties, and did
injustice to none; but his discipline was severe, and soon the
regiments were brought to a greater pitch of proficiency than they had
ever reached before, although they were now allowed to marry when they
pleased, a boon that hitherto had been denied to them. Moreover, by
Owen's help, he designed an entirely new system of fortification of
the kraal and surrounding hills, which would, it was thought, make the
place impregnable. These and many other acts, equally vigorous and
far-seeing, put new heart into the nation. Also the report of them put
fear into Hafela, who, it was rumoured, had now given up all idea of
Some there were, however, who looked upon these changes with little
love, and Hokosa was one of them. After his defeat in the duel by
fire, for a while his spirit was crushed. Hitherto he had more or less
been a believer in the protecting influence of his own god or fetish,
who would, as he thought, hold his priests scatheless from the
lightning. Often and often had he stood in past days upon that plain
while the great tempests broke around his head, and returned thence
unharmed, attributing to sorcery a safety that was really due to
chance. From time to time indeed a priest was killed; but, so his
companions held, the misfortune resulted invariably from the man's
neglect of some rite, or was a mark of the anger of the heavens.
Now Hokosa had lived to see all these convictions shattered: he had
seen the lightning, which he pretended to be able to control, roll
back upon him from the foot of the Christian cross, reducing his god
to nothingness and his companions to corpses.
At first Hokosa was dismayed, but as time went on hope came back to
him. Stripped of his offices and power, and from the greatest in the
nation, after the king, become one of small account, still no harm or
violence was attempted towards him. He was left wealthy and in peace,
and living thus he watched and listened with open eyes and ears,
waiting till the tide should turn. It seemed that he would not have
long to wait, for reasons that have been told.
"Why do you sit here like a vulture on a rock," asked the girl Noma,
whom he had taken to wife, "when you might be yonder with Hafela,
preparing him by your wisdom for the coming war?"
"Because I am a king-vulture, and I wait for the sick bull to die," he
answered, pointing to the Great Place beneath him. "Say, why should I
bring Hafela to prey upon a carcase I have marked down for my own?"
"Now you speak well," said Noma; "the bull suffers from a strange
disease, and when he is dead another must lead the herd."
"That is so," answered her husband, "and, therefore, I am patient."
It was shortly after this conversation that the old king died, with
results very different from those which Hokosa had anticipated.
Although he was a Christian, to his surprise Nodwengo showed that he
was also a strong ruler, and that there was little chance of the
sceptre slipping from his hand--none indeed while the white teacher
was there to guide him.
"What will you do now, Hokosa?" asked Noma his wife upon a certain
day. "Will you turn to Hafela after all?"
"No," answered Hokosa; "I will consult my ancient lore. Listen.
Whatever else is false, this is true: that magic exists, and I am its
master. For a while it seemed to me that the white man was greater at
the art than I am; but of late I have watched him and listened to his
doctrines, and I believe that this is not so. It is true that in the
beginning he read my plans in a dream, or otherwise; it is true that
he hurled the lightning back upon my head; but I hold that these
things were accidents. Again and again he has told us that he is not a
wizard; and if this be so, he can be overcome."
"How? By wizardry. This very night, Noma, with your help I will
consult the dead, as I have done in bygone time, and learn the future
from their lips which cannot lie."
"So be it; though the task is hateful to me, and I hate you who force
me to it."
Noma answered thus with passion, but her eyes shone as she spoke: for
those who have once tasted the cup of magic are ever drawn to drink of
it again, even when they fear the draught.
It was midnight, and Hokosa with his wife stood in the burying-ground
of the kings of the Amasuka. Before Owen came upon his mission it was
death to visit this spot except upon the occasion of the laying to
rest of one of the royal blood, or to offer the annual sacrifice to
the spirits of the dead. Even beneath the bright moon that shone upon
it the place seemed terrible. Here in the bosom of the hills was an
amphitheatre, surrounded by walls of rock varying from five hundred to
a thousand feet in height. In this amphitheatre grew great mimosa
thorns, and above them towered pillars of granite, set there not by
the hand of man but by nature. It would seem that the Amasuka, led by
some fine instinct, had chosen these columns as fitting memorials of
their kings, at the least a departed monarch lay at the foot of each
The smallest of these unhewn obelisks--it was about fifty feet high--
marked the resting-place of Umsuka; and deep into its granite Owen
with his own hand had cut the dead king's name and date of death,
surmounting his inscription with a symbol of the cross.
Towards this pillar Hokosa made his way through the wet grass,
followed by Noma his wife. Presently they were there, standing one
upon each side of a little mound of earth more like an ant-heap than a
grave; for, after the custom of his people, Umsuka had been buried
sitting. At the foot of each of the pillars rose a heap of similar
shape, but many times as large. The kings who slept there were
accompanied to their resting-places by numbers of their wives and
servants, who had been slain in solemn sacrifice that they might
attend their Lord whithersoever he should wander.
"What is that you desire and would do?" asked Noma, in a hushed voice.
Bold as she was, the place and the occasion awed her.
"I desire wisdom from the dead!" he answered. "Have I not already told
you, and can I not win it with your help?"
"What dead, husband?"
"Umsuka the king. Ah! I served him living, and at the last he drove me
away from his side. Now he shall serve me, and out of the nowhere I
will call him back to mine."
"Will not this symbol defeat you?" and Noma pointed at the cross hewn
in the granite.
At her words a sudden gust of rage seemed to shake the wizard. His
still eyes flashed, his lips turned livid, and with them he spat upon
"It has no power," he said. "May it be accursed, and may he who
believes therein hang thereon! It has no power; but even if it had,
according to the tale of that white liar, such things as I would do
have been done beneath its shadow. By it the dead have been raised--
ay! dead kings have been dragged from death and forced to tell the
secrets of the grave. Come, come, let us to the work."
"What must I do, husband?"
"You shall sit you there, even as a corpse sits, and there for a
little while you shall die--yes, your spirit shall leave you--and I
will fill your body with the soul of him who sleeps beneath;; and
through your lips I will learn his wisdom, to whom all things are
"It is terrible! I am afraid!" she said. "Cannot this be done
"It cannot," he answered. "The spirits of the dead have no shape or
form; they are invisible, and can speak only in dreams or through the
lips of one in whose pulses life still lingers, though soul and body
be already parted. Have no fear. Ere his ghost leaves you it shall
recall your own, which till the corpse is cold stays ever close at
hand. I did not think to find a coward in you, Noma."
"I am not a coward, as you know well," she answered passionately, "for
many a deed of magic have we dared together in past days. But this is
fearsome, to die that my body may become the home of the ghost of a
dead man, who perchance, having entered it, will abide there, leaving
my spirit houseless, or perchance will shut up the doors of my heart
in such fashion that they never can be opened. Can it not be done by
trance as aforetime? Tell me, Hokosa, how often have you thus talked
with the dead?"
"And what chanced to them through whom you talked?"
"Two lived and took no harm; the third died, because the awakening
medicine lacked power. Yet fear nothing; that which I have with me is
of the best. Noma, you know my plight: I must win wisdom or fall for
ever, and you alone can help me; for under this new rule, I can no
longer buy a youth or maid for purposes of witchcraft, even if one
could be found fitted to the work. Choose then: shall we go back or
forward? Here trance will not help us; for those entranced cannot read
the future, nor can they hold communion with the dead, being but
asleep. Choose, Noma."
"I have chosen," she answered. "Never yet have I turned my back upon a
venture, nor will I do so now. Come life, come death, I will submit me
to your wish, though there are few women who would dare as much for
any man. Nor in truth do I do this for you, Hokosa; I do it because I
seek power, and thus only can we win it who are fallen. Also I love
all things strange, and desire to commune with the dead and to know
that, if for some few minutes only, at least my woman's breast has
held the spirit of a king. Yet, I warn you, make no fault in your
magic; for should I die beneath it, then I, who desire to live on and
to be great, will haunt you and be avenged upon you!"
"Oh! Noma," he said, "if I believed that there was any danger for you,
should I ask you to suffer this thing?--I, who love you more even than
you love power, more than my life, more than anything that is or ever
"I know it, and it is to that I trust," the woman answered. "Now
begin, before my courage leaves me."
"Good," he said. "Seat yourself there upon the mound, resting your
head against the stone."
She obeyed; and taking thongs of hide which he had made ready, Hokosa
bound her wrists and ankles, as these people bind the wrists and
ankles of corpses. Then he knelt before her, staring into her face
with his solemn eyes and muttering: "Obey and sleep."
Presently her limbs relaxed, and her head fell forward.
"Do you sleep?" he asked.
"I sleep. Whither shall I go? It is the true sleep--test me."
"Pass to the house of the white man, my rival. Are you with him?"
"I am with him."
"What does he?"
"He lies in slumber on his bed, and in his slumber he mutters the name
of a woman, and tells her that he loves her, but that duty is more
than love. Oh! call me back I cannot stay; a Presence guards him, and
thrusts me thence."
"Return," said Hokosa starting. "Pass through the earth beneath you
and tell me what you see."
"I see the body of the king; but were it not for his royal ornaments
none would know him now."
"Return," said Hokosa, "and let the eyes of your spirit be open. Look
around you and tell me what you see."
"I see the shadows of the dead," she answered; "they stand about you,
gazing at you with angry eyes; but when they come near you, something
drives them back, and I cannot understand what it is they say."
"Is the ghost of Umsuka among them?"
"It is among them."
"Bid him prophesy the future to me."
"I have bidden him, but he does not answer. If you would hear him
speak, it must be through the lips of my body; and first my body must
be emptied of my ghost, that his may find a place therein."
"Say, can his spirit be compelled?"
"It can be compelled, or that part of it which still hover near this
spot, if you dare to speak the words you know. But first its house
must be made ready. Then the words must be spoken, and all must be
done before a man can count three hundred; for should the blood begin
to clot about my heart, it will be still for ever."
"Hearken," said Hokosa. "When the medicine that I shall give does its
work, and the spirit is loosened from your body, let it not go afar,
no, whatever tempts or threatens it, and suffer not that the death-
cord be severed, lest flesh and ghost be parted for ever."
"I hear, and I obey. Be swift, for I grow weary."
Then Hokosa took from his pouch two medicines: one a paste in a box,
the other a fluid in a gourd. Taking of the paste he knelt upon the
grave before the entranced woman and swiftly smeared it upon the
mucous membrane of the mouth and throat. Also he thrust pellets of it
into the ears, the nostrils, and the corners of the eyes.
The effect was almost instantaneous. A change came over the girl's
lovely face, the last awful change of death. Her cheeks fell in, her
chin dropped, her eyes opened, and her flesh quivered convulsively.
The wizard saw it all by the bright moonlight. Then he took up his
part in this unholy drama.
All that he did cannot be described, because it is indescribable. The
Witch of Endor repeated no formula, but she raised the dead; and so
did Hokosa the wizard. But he buried his face in the grey dust of the
grave, he blew with his lips into the dust, he clutched at the dust
with his hands, and when he raised his face again, lo! it was grey
like the dust. Now began the marvel; for, though the woman before him
remained a corpse, from the lips of that corpse a voice issued, and
its sound was horrible, for the accent and tone of it were masculine,
and the instrument through which it spoke--Noma's throat--was
feminine. Yet it could be recognised as the voice of Umsuka the dead
"Why have you summoned me from my rest, Hokosa?" muttered the voice
from the lips of the huddled corpse.
"Because I would learn the future, Spirit of the king," answered the
wizard boldly, but saluting as he spoke. "You are dead, and to your
sight all the Gates are opened. By the power that I have, I command
you to show me what you see therein concerning myself, and to point
out to me the path that I should follow to attain my ends and the ends
of her in whose breast you dwell."
At once the answer came, always in the same horrible voice:--
"Hearken to your fate for this world, Hokosa the wizard. You shall
triumph over your rival, the white man, the messenger; and by your
hand he shall perish, passing to his appointed place where you must
meet again. By that to which you cling you shall be betrayed, ah! you
shall lose that which you love and follow after that which you do not
desire. In the grave of error you shall find truth, from the deeps of
sin you shall pluck righteousness. When these words fall upon your
ears again, then, Wizard, take them for a sign and let your heart be
turned. That which you deem accursed shall lift you up on high. High
shall you be set above the nation and its king, and from age to age
the voice of the people shall praise you. Yet in the end comes
judgment; and there shall the sin and the atonement strive together,
and in that hour, Wizard, you shall----"
Thus the voice spoke, strongly at first, but growing ever more feeble
as the sparks of life departed from the body of the woman, till at
length it ceased altogether.
"What shall chance to me in that hour?" Hokosa asked eagerly, placing
his ears against Noma's lips.
No answer came; and the wizard knew that if he would drag his wife
back from the door of death he must delay no longer. Dashing the sweat
from his eyes with one hand, with the other he seized the gourd of
fluid that he had placed ready, and thrusting back her head, he poured
of its contents down her throat and waited a while. She did not move.
In an extremity of terror he snatched a knife, and with a single cut
severed a vein in her arm, then taking some of the fluid that remained
in the gourd in his hand, he rubbed it roughly upon her brow and
throat and heart. Now Noma's fingers stirred, and now, with horrible
contortions and every symptom of agony, life returned to her. The
blood flowed from her wounded arm, slowly at first, then more fast,
and lifting her head she spoke.
"Take me hence," she cried, "or I shall go mad; for I have seen and
heard things too terrible to be spoken!"
"What have you seen and heard?" he asked, while he cut the thongs
which bound her wrists and feet.
"I do not know," Noma answered weeping; "the vision of them passes
from me; but all the distances of death were open to my sight; yes, I
travelled through the distances of death. In them I met him who was
the king, and he lay cold within me, speaking to my heart; and as he
passed from me he looked upon the child which I shall bear and cursed
it, and surely accursed it shall be. Take me hence, O you most evil
man, for of your magic I have had enough, and from this day forth I am
"Have no fear," answered Hokosa; "you have made the journey whence but
few return; and yet, as I promised you, you have returned to wear the
greatness you desire and that I sent you forth to win; for henceforth
we shall be great. Look, the dawn is breaking--the dawn of life and
the dawn of power--and the mists of death and of disgrace roll back
before us. Now the path is clear, the dead have shown it to me, and of
wizardry I shall need no more."
"Ay!" answered Noma, "but night follows dawn as the dawn follows
night; and through the darkness and the daylight, I tell you, Wizard,
henceforth I am haunted! Also, be not so sure, for though I know not
what the dead have spoken to you, yet it lingers on my mind that their
words have many meanings. Nay, speak to me no more, but let us fly
from this dread home of ghosts, this habitation of the spirit-folk
which we have violated."
So the wizard and his wife crept from that solemn place, and as they
went they saw the dawn-beams lighting upon the white cross that was
reared in the Plain of Fire.
THE MESSAGE OF HOKOSA
The weeks passed by, and Hokosa sat in his kraal weaving a great plot.
None suspected him any more, for though he did not belong to it, he
was heard to speak well of the new faith, and to acknowledge that the
god of fire which he had worshipped was a false god. He was humble
also towards the king, but he craved to withdraw himself from all
matters of the State, saying that now he had but one desire--to tend
his herds and garden, and to grow old in peace with the new wife whom
he had chosen and whom he loved. Owen, too, he greeted courteously
when he met him, sending him gifts of corn and cattle for the service
of his church. Moreover, when a messenger came from Hafela, making
proposals to him, he drove him away and laid the matter before the
council of the king. Yet that messenger, who was hunted from the
kraal, took back a secret word for Hafela's ear.
"It is not always winter," was the word, "and it may chance that in
the springtime you shall hear from me." And again, "Say to the Prince
Hafela, that though my face towards him is like a storm, yet behind
the clouds the sun shines ever."
At length there came a day when Noma, his wife, was brought to bed.
Hokosa, her husband, tended her alone, and when the child was born he
groaned aloud and would not suffer her to look upon its face. Yet,
lifting herself, she saw.
"Did I not tell you it was accursed?" she wailed. "Take it away!" and
she sank back in a swoon. So he took the child, and buried it deep in
the cattle-yard by night.
After this it came about that Noma, who, though her mind owned the
sway of his, had never loved him over much, hated her husband Hokosa.
Yet he had this power over her that she could not leave him. But he
loved her more and more, and she had this power over him that she
could always draw him to her. Great as her beauty had ever been, after
the birth of the child it grew greater day by day, but it was an evil
beauty, the beauty of a witch; and this fate fell upon her, that she
feared the dark and would never be alone after the sun had set.
When she was recovered from her illness, Noma sat one night in her
hut, and Hokosa sat there also watching her. The evening was warm, but
a bright fire burned in the hut, and she crouched upon a stool by the
fire, glancing continually over her shoulder.
"Why do you bide by the fire, seeing that it is so hot, Noma?" he
"Because I fear to be away from the light," she answered; adding, "Oh,
accursed man! for your own ends you have caused me to be bewitched,
ah! and that which was born of me also, and bewitched I am by those
shadows that you bade me seek, which now will never leave me. Nor, is
this all. You swore to me that if I would do your will I should become
great, ay! and you took me from one who would have made me great and
whom I should have pushed on to victory. But now it seems that for
nothing I made that awful voyage into the deeps of death; and for
nothing, yet living, am I become the sport of those that dwell there.
How am I greater than I was--I who am but the second wife of a fallen
witch-doctor, who sits in the sun, day by day, while age gathers on
his head like frost upon a bush? Where are all your high schemes now?
Where is the fruit of wisdom that I gathered for you? Answer, Wizard,
whom I have learned to hate, but from whom I cannot escape!"
"Truly," said Hokosa in a bitter voice, "for all my sins against them
the heavens have laid a heavy fate upon my head, that thus with flesh
and spirit I should worship a woman who loathes me. One comfort only
is left to me, that you dare not take my life lest another should be
added to those shadows who companion you, and what I bid you, that you
must still do. Ay, you fear the dark, Noma; yet did I command you to
rise and go stand alone through the long night yonder in the burying-
place of kings, why, you must obey. Come, I command you--go!"
"Nay, nay!" she wailed in an extremity of terror. Yet she rose and
went towards the door sideways, for her hands were outstretched in
supplication to him.
"Come back," he said, "and listen: If a hunter has nurtured up a
fierce dog, wherewith alone he can gain his livelihood, he tries to
tame that dog by love, does he not? And if it will not become gentle,
then, the brute being necessary to him, he tames it by fear. I am the
hunter and, Noma, you are the hound; and since this curse is on me
that I cannot live without you, why I must master you as best I may.
Yet, believe me, I would not cause you fear or pain, and it saddens me
that you should be haunted by these sick fancies, for they are nothing
more. I have seen such cases before to-day, and I have noted that they
can be cured by mixing with fresh faces and travelling in new
countries. Noma, I think it would be well that, after your late
sickness, according to the custom of the women of our people, you
should part from me a while, and go upon a journey of purification."
"Whither shall I go and who will go with me?" she asked sullenly.
"I will find you companions, women discreet and skilled. And as to
where you shall go, I will tell you. You shall go upon an embassy to
the Prince Hafela."
"Are you not afraid that I should stop there?" she asked again, with a
flash of her eyes. "It is true that I never learned all the story, yet
I thought that the prince was not so glad to hand me back to you as
you would have had me to believe. The price you paid for me must have
been good, Hokosa, and mayhap it had to do with the death of a king."
"I am not afraid," he answered, setting his teeth, "because I know
that whatever your heart may desire, my will follows you, and while I
live that is a cord you cannot break unless I choose to loose it,
Noma. I command you to be faithful to me and to return to me, and
these commands you must obey. Hearken: you taunted me just now, saying
that I sat like a dotard in the sun and advanced you nothing. Well, I
will advance you, for both our sakes, but mostly for your own, since
you desire it, and it must be done through the Prince Hafela. I cannot
leave this kraal, for day and night I am watched, and before I had
gone an hour's journey I should be seized; also here I have work to
do. But the Place of Purification is secret, and when you reach it you
need not bide there, you can travel on into the mountains till you
come to the town of the Prince Hafela. He will receive you gladly, and
you shall whisper this message in his ear:--
"'These are the words of Hokosa, my husband, which he has set in my
mouth to deliver to you, O Prince. Be guided by them and grow great;
reject them and die a wanderer, a little man of no account. But first,
this is the price that you shall swear by the sacred oath to pay to
Hokosa, if his wisdom finds favour in your sight and through it you
come to victory: That after you, the king, he, Hokosa, shall be the
first man in our land, the general of the armies, the captain of the
council, the head of the doctors, and that to him shall be given half
the cattle of Nodwengo, who now is king. Also to him shall be given
power to stamp out the new faith which overruns the land like a
foreign weed, and to deal as he thinks fit with those who cling
"Now, Noma, when he has sworn this oath in your ear, calling down ruin
upon his own head, should he break one word of it, and not before, you
shall continue the message thus: 'These are the other words that
Hokosa set in my mouth: "Know, O Prince, that the king, your brother,
grows very strong, for he is a great soldier, who learned his art in
bygone wars; also the white man that is named Messenger has taught him
many things as to the building of forts and walls and the drilling and
discipline of men. So strong is he that you can scarcely hope to
conquer him in open war--yet snakes may crawl where men cannot walk.
Therefore, Prince, let your part be that of a snake. Do you send an
embassy to the king, your brother and say to him:--
"'My brother, you have been preferred before me and set up to be king
in my place, and because of this my heart is bitter, so bitter that I
have gathered my strength to make war upon you. Yet, at the last, I
have taken another council, bethinking me that, if we fight, in the
end it may chance that neither of us will be left alive to rule, and
that the people also will be brought to nothing. To the north there
lies a good country and a wide, where but few men live, and thither I
would go, setting the mountains and the river between us; for there,
far beyond your borders, I also can be a king. Now, to reach this
country, I must travel by the pass that is not far from your Great
Place, and I pray you that you will not attack my /impis/ or the women
and children that I shall send, and a guard before them, to await me
in the plain beyond the mountains, seeing that these can only journey
slowly. Let us pass by in peace, my brother, for so shall our quarrel
be ended; but if you do so much as lift a single spear against me,
then I will give you battle, setting my fortune against your fortune
and my god against your God!'
"Such are the words that the embassy shall deliver into the ears of
the king, Nodwengo, and it shall come about that when he hears them,
Nodwengo, whose heart is gentle and who seeks not war, shall answer
"'Go in peace, my brother, and live in peace in that land which you
"Then shall you, Hafela, send on the most of your cattle and the women
and the children through that pass in the mountains, bidding them to
await you in the plain, and after a while you shall follow them with
your /impis/. But these shall not travel in war array, for carriers
must bear their fighting shields in bundles and their stabbing spears
shall be rolled up in mats. Now, on the sixth day of your journey you
shall camp at the mouth of the pass which the cattle and the women
have already travelled, and his outposts and spies will bring it to
the ears of the king that your force is sleeping there, purposing to
climb the pass on the morrow.
"But on that night, so soon as the darkness falls, you must rise up
with your captains and your regiments, leaving your fires burning and
men about your fires, and shall travel very swiftly across the valley,
so that an hour before the dawn you reach the second range of
mountains, and pass it by the gorge which is the burying-place of
kings. Here you shall light a fire, which those who watch will believe
to be but the fire of a herdsman who is acold. But I, Hokosa, also
shall be watching, and when I see that fire I will creep, with some
whom I can trust, to the little northern gate of the outer wall, and
we will spear those that guard it and open the gate, that your army
may pass through. Then, before the regiments can stand to their arms
or those within it are awakened, you must storm the inner walls and by
the light of the burning huts, put the dwellers in the Great Place to
the spear, and the rays of the rising sun shall crown you king.
"Follow this counsel of mine, O Prince Hafela, and all will go well
with you. Neglect it and be lost. There is but one thing which you
need fear--it is the magic of the Messenger, to whom it is given to
read the secret thoughts of men. But of him take no account, for he is
my charge, and before ever you set a foot within the Great Place he
shall have taken his answer back to Him Who sent him."
Hokosa finished speaking.
"Have you heard?" he said to Noma.
"I have heard."
"Then speak the message."
She repeated it word for word, making no fault. "Have no fear," she
added, "I shall forget nothing when I stand before the prince."
"You are a woman, but your counsel is good. What think you of the
"It is deep and well laid," she answered, "and surely it would succeed
were it not for one thing. The white man, Messenger, will be too
clever for you, for as you say, he is a reader of the thoughts of
"Can the dead read men's thoughts, or if they can, do they cry them on
the market-place or into the ears of kings?" asked Hokosa. "Have I not
told you that, before I see the signal-fire yonder, the Messenger
shall sleep sound? I have a medicine, Noma, a slow medicine that none
"The Messenger may sleep sound, Hokosa, and yet perchance he may pass
on his message to another and, with it, his magic. Who can say? Still,
husband, strike on for power and greatness and revenge, letting the
blow fall where it will."
THE BASKET OF FRUIT
Three days later it was announced that according to the custom of the
women of the People of Fire, Noma having given birth to a still-born
child, was about to start upon a journey to the Mount of Purification.
Here she would abide awhile and make sacrifice to the spirits of her
ancestors, that they might cease to be angry with her and in future
protect her from such misfortunes. This not unusual domestic incident
excited little comment, although it was remarked that the four matrons
by whom she was to be accompanied, in accordance with the tribal
etiquette, were all of them the wives of soldiers who had deserted to
Hafela. Indeed, the king himself noticed as much when Hokosa made the
customary formal application to him to sanction the expedition.
"So be it," he said, "though myself I have lost faith in such rites.
Also, Hokosa, I think it likely that although your wife goes out with
company, she will return alone."
"Why, King?" asked Hokosa.
"For this reason--that those who travel with her have husbands yonder
at the town of the Prince Hafela, and the Mount of Purification is on
the road thither. Having gone so far, they may go farther. Well, let
them go, for I desire to have none among my people whose hearts turn
otherwhere, and it would not be wonderful if they should choose to
seek their lords. But perchance, Hokosa, there are some in this town
who may use them as messengers to the prince"--and he looked at him
"I think not, King," said Hokosa. "None but a fool would make use of
women to carry secret words or tidings. Their tongues are too long and
their memories too bad, or too uncertain."
"Yet I have heard, Hokosa, that you have made use of women in many a
strange work. Say now, what were you doing upon a night a while ago
with that fair witch-wife if yours yonder in the burying-place of
kings, where it is not lawful that you should set your foot? Nay, deny
it not. You were seen to enter the valley after midnight and to return
thence at the dawn, and it was seen also that as she came homewards
your wife walked as one who is drunken, and she, whom it is not easy
to frighten, wore a face of fear. Man, I do not trust you, and were I
wise I should hunt you hence, or keep you so close that you could
scarcely move without my knowledge.
"Why should I trust you?" Nodwengo went on vehemently. "Can a wizard
cease from wizardry, or a plotter from his plots? No, not until the
waters run upward and the sun shines at night; not until repentance
touches you and your heart is changed, which I should hold as much a
marvel. You were my father's friend and he made you great; yet you
could plan with my brother to poison him, your king. Nay, be silent; I
know it, though I have said nothing of it because one that is dear to
me has interceded for you. You were the priest of the false god, and
with that god are fallen from your place, yet you have not renounced
him. You sit still in your kraal and pretend to be asleep, but your
slumber is that of the serpent which watches his time to strike. How
do I know that you will not poison me as you would have poisoned my
father, or stir up rebellion against me, or bring my brother's /impis/
on my head?"
"If the King thinks any of these things of his servant," answered
Hokosa in a humble voice, but with dignity, "his path is plain: let
him put me to death and sleep in peace. Who am I that I should full
the ears of a king with my defence against these charges, or dare to
wrangle with him?"
"Long ago I should have put you to death, Hokosa," answered Nodwengo
sternly, "had it not been that one has pleaded for you, declaring that
in you there is good which will overcome the evil, and that you who
now are an axe to cut down my throne, in time to come shall be a roof-
tree for its support. Also, the law that I obey does not allow me to
take the blood of men save upon full proof, and against you as yet I
have no proof. Still, Hokosa, be warned in time and let your heart be
turned before the grave claims your body and the Wicked One your
"I thank you, King, for your gentle words and your tender care for my
well-being both on earth and after I shall leave it. But I tell you,
King, that I had rather die as your father would have killed me in the
old days, or your brother would kill me now, did either of them hate
or fear me, than live on in safety, owing my life to a new law and a
new mercy that do not befit the great ones of the world. King, I am
your servant," and giving him the royal salute, Hokosa rose and left
"At the least there goes a man," said Nodwengo, as he watched him
"Of whom do you speak, King?" asked Owen, who at that moment entered
the royal house.
"Of him whom you must have touched in the door-way, Messenger, Hokosa
the wizard," answered the king, and he told him of what had passed
between them. "I said," he added, "that he was a man, and so he is;
yet I hold that I have done wrong to listen to your pleading and to
spare him, for I am certain that he will bring bloodshed upon me and
trouble on the Faith. Think now, Messenger, how full must be that
man's heart of secret rage and hatred, he who was so great and is now
so little! Will he not certainly strive to grow great again? Will he
not strive to be avenged upon those who humbled him and the religion
they have chosen?"
"It may be," answered Owen, "but if so, he will not conquer. I tell
you, King, that like water hidden in a rock there is good in this
man's heart, and that I shall yet find a rod wherewith to cause it to
gush out and refresh the desert."
"It is more likely that he will find a spear wherewith to cause your
blood to gush out and refresh the jackals," answered the king grimly;
"but be it as you will. And now, what of your business?"
"This, King: John, my servant, has returned from the coast countries,
and he brings me a letter saying that before long three white teachers
will follow him to take up the work which I have begun. I pray that
when they come, for my sake and for the sake of the truth that I have
taught you, you will treat them kindly and protect them, remembering
that at first they can know little of your language or your customs."
"I will indeed," said the king, with much concern. "But tell me,
Messenger, why do you speak of yourself as of one who soon will be but
a memory? Do you purpose to leave us?"
"No, King, but I believe that ere long I shall be recalled. I have
given my message, my task is well-nigh ended and I must be turning
home. Save for your sakes I do not sorrow at this, for to speak truth
I grow very weary," and he smiled sadly.
Hokosa went home alarmed and full of bitterness, for he had never
guessed that the "servant of the Messenger," as he called Nodwengo the
King, knew so much about him and his plans. His fall was hard to him,
but to be thus measured up, weighed, and contemptuously forgiven was
almost more than he could bear. It was the white prophet who had done
this thing; he had told Nodwengo of his, Hokosa's, share in the plot
to murder the late King Umsuka, though how he came to know of that
matter was beyond guessing. He had watched him, or caused him to be
watched, when he went forth to consult spirits in the place of the
dead; he had warned Nodwengo against him. Worst of all, he had dared
to treat him with contempt; had pleaded for his life and safety, so
that he was spared as men spare a snake from which the charmer has
drawn the fangs. When they met in the gate of the king's house yonder
this white thief, who had stolen his place and power, had even smiled
upon him and greeted him kindly, and doubtless while he smiled, by aid
of the magic he possessed, had read him through and gone on to tell
the story to the king. Well, of this there should be an end; he would
kill the Messenger, or himself be killed.
When Hokosa reached his kraal he found Noma sitting beneath a fruit
tree that grew in it, idly employed in stringing beads, for the work
of the household she left to his other wife, Zinti, an old and homely
woman who thought more of the brewing of the beer and the boiling of
the porridge than of religions or politics or of the will of kings. Of
late Noma had haunted the shadow of this tree, for beneath it lay that
child which had been born to her.
"Does it please the king to grant leave for my journey?" she asked,
"Yes, it pleases him."
"I am thankful," she answered, "for I think that if I bide here much
longer, with ghosts and memories for company, I shall go mad," and she
glanced at a spot near by, where the earth showed signs of recent
"He gives leave," Hokosa went on, taking no notice of her speech, "but
he suspects us. Listen----" and he told her of the talk that had
passed between himself and the king.
"The white man has read you as he reads in his written books," she
answered, with a little laugh. "Well, I said that he would be too
clever for you, did I not? It does not matter to me, for to-morrow I
go upon my journey, and you can settle it as you will."
"Ay!" answered Hokosa, grinding his teeth, "it is true that he has
read me; but this I promise you, that all books shall soon be closed
to him. Yet how is it to be done without suspicion or discovery? I
know many poisons, but all of them must be administered, and let him
work never so cunningly, he who gives a poison can be traced."
"Then cause some other to give it and let him bear the blame,"
suggested Noma languidly.
Hokosa made no answer, but walking to the gate of the kraal, which was
open, he leaned against it lost in thought. As he stood thus he saw a
woman advancing towards him, who carried on her head a small basket of
fruit, and knew her for one of those whose business it was to wait
upon the Messenger in his huts, or rather in his house, for by now he
had built himself a small house, and near it a chapel. This woman saw
Hokosa also and looked at him sideways, as though she would like to
stop and speak to him, but feared to do so.
"Good morrow to you, friend," he said. "How goes it with your husband
and your house?"
Now Hokosa knew well that this woman's husband had taken a dislike to
her and driven her from his home, filling her place with one younger
and more attractive. At the question the woman's lips began to
tremble, and her eyes swam with tears.
"Ah! great doctor," she said, "why do you ask me of my husband? Have
you not heard that he has driven me away and that another takes my
"Do I hear all the gossip of this town?" asked Hokosa, with a smile.
"But come in and tell me the story; perchance I may be able to help
you, for I have charms to compel the fancy of such faithless ones."
The woman looked round, and seeing that there was no one in sight, she
slipped swiftly through the gate of the kraal, which he closed behind
"Noma," said Hokosa, "here is one who tells me that her husband has
deserted her, and who comes to seek my counsel. Bring her milk to
"There are some wives who would not find that so great an evil,"
replied Noma mockingly, as she rose to do his bidding.
Hokosa winced at the sarcasm, and turning to his visitor, said:--
"Now tell me your tale; but say first, why are you so frightened?"
"I am frightened, master," she answered, "lest any should have seen me
enter here, for I have become a Christian, and the Christians are
forbidden to consult the witch-doctors, as we were wont to do. For my
case, it is----"
"No need to set it out," broke in Hokosa, waving his hand. "I see it
written on your face; your husband has put you away and loves another
woman, your own half-sister whom you brought up from a child."
"Ah! master, you have heard aright."
"I have not heard, I look upon you and I see. Fool, am I not a wizard?
Tell me----" and taking dust into his hand, he blew the grains this
way and that, regarding them curiously. "Yes, it is so. Last night you
crept to your husband's hut--do you remember, a dog growled at you as
you passed the gate?--and there in front of the hut he sat with his
new wife. She saw you coming, but pretending not to see, she threw her
arms about his neck, kissing and fondling him before your eyes, till
you could bear it no longer, and revealed yourself, upbraiding them.
Then your rival taunted you and stirred up the man with bitter words,
till at length he took a stick and beat you from the door, and there
is a mark of it upon your shoulder."
"It is true, it is too true!" she groaned.
"Yes, it is true. And now, what do you wish from me?"
"Master, I wish a medicine to make my husband hate my rival and to
draw his heart back to me."
"That must be a strong medicine," said Hokosa, "which will turn a man
from one who is young and beautiful to one who is past her youth and
"I am as I am," answered the poor woman, with a touch of natural
dignity, "but at least I have loved him and worked for him for fifteen
"And that is why he would now be rid of you, for who cumbers his kraal
with old cattle?"
"And yet at times they are the best, Master. Wrinkles and smooth skin
seem strange upon one pillow," she added, glancing at Noma, who came
from the hut carrying a bowl of milk in her hand.
"If you seek counsel," said Hokosa quickly, "why do you not go to the
white man, that Messenger in whom you believe, and ask him for a
potion to turn your husband's heart?"
"Master, I have been to him, and he is very good to me, for when I was
driven out he gave me work to do and food. But he told me that he had
no medicine for such cases, and that the Great Man in the sky alone
could soften the breast of my husband and cause my sister to cease
from her wickedness. Last night I went to see whether He would do it,
and you know what befell me there."
"That befell you which befalls all fools who put their trust in words
alone. What will you pay me, woman, if I give you the medicine which
"Alas, master, I am poor. I have nothing to offer you, for when I
would not stay in my husband's kraal to be a servant to his new wife,
he took the cow and the five goats that belonged to me, as, I being
childless, according to our ancient law he had the right to do."
"You are bold who come to ask a doctor to minister to you, bearing no
fee in your hand," said Hokosa. "Yet, because I have pity on you, I
will be content with very little. Give me that basket of fruit, for my
wife has been sick and loves its taste."
"I cannot do that, Master," answered the woman, "for it is sent by my
hand as a present to the Messenger, and he knows this and will eat of
it after he has made prayer to-day. Did I not give it to him, it would
be discovered that I had left it here with you."
"Then begone without your medicine," said Hokosa, "for I need such
The woman rose and said, looking at him wistfully:--
"Master, if you will be satisfied with other fruits of this same sort,
I know where I can get them for you."
"When will you get them?"
"Now, within an hour. And till I return I will leave these in pledge
with you; but these and no other I must give to the Messenger, for he
has already seen them and might discover the difference; also I have
promised so to do."
"As you will," said Hokosa. "If you are with the fruit within an hour,
the medicine will be ready for you, a medicine that shall not fail."
THE EATING OF THE FRUIT
The woman slipped away secretly. When she had gone Hokosa bade his
wife bring the basket of fruit into the hut.
"It is best that the butcher should kill the ox himself," she answered
He carried in the basket and set it on the floor.
"Why do you speak thus, Noma?" he asked.
"Because I will have no hand in the matter, Hokosa. I have been the
tool of a wizard, and won little joy therefrom. The tool of a murderer
I will not be!"
"If I kill, it is for the sake of both of us," he said passionately.
"It may be so, Hokosa, or for the sake of the people, or for the sake
of Heaven above--I do not know and do not care; but I say, do your own
killing, for I am sure that even less luck will hang to it than hangs
to your witchcraft."
"Of all women you are the most perverse!" he said, stamping his foot
upon the ground.
"Thus you may say again before everything is done, husband; but if it
be so, why do you love me and tie me to you with your wizardry? Cut
the knot, and let me go my way while you go yours."
"Woman, I cannot; but still I bid you beware, for, strive as you will,
my path must be your path. Moreover, till I free you, you cannot lift
voice or hand against me."
Then, while she watched him curiously, Hokosa fetched his medicines
and took from them some powder fine as dust and two tiny crowquills.
Placing a fruit before him, he inserted one of these quills into its