Part 3 out of 4
substance, and filling the second with the powder, he shook its
contents into it and withdrew the tube. This process he repeated four
times on each of the fruits, replacing them one by one in the basket.
So deftly did he work upon them, that however closely they were
scanned none could guess that they had been tampered with.
"Will it kill at once?" asked Noma.
"No, indeed; but he who eats these fruits will be seized on the third
day with dysentery and fever, and these will cling to him till within
seven weeks--or if he is very strong, three months--he dies. This is
the best of poisons, for it works through nature and can be traced by
"Except, perchance, by that Spirit Whom the white man worships, and
Who also works through nature, as you learned, Hokosa, when He rolled
the lightning back upon your head, shattering your god and beating
down your company."
Then of a sudden terror seized the wizard, and springing to his feet,
he cursed his wife till she trembled before him.
"Vile woman, and double-faced!" he said, "why do you push me forward
with one hand and with the other drag me back? Why do you whisper evil
counsel into one ear and into the other prophesy of misfortunes to
come? Had it not been for you, I should have let this business lie; I
should have taken my fate and been content. But day by day you have
taunted me with my fall and grieved over the greatness that you have
lost, till at length you have driven me to this. Why cannot you be all
good or all wicked, or at the least, through righteousness and sin,
faithful to my interest and your own?"
"Because I hate you, Hokosa, and yet can strike you only through my
tongue and your mad love for me. I am fast in your power, but thus at
least I can make you feel something of my own pain. Hark! I hear that
woman at the gate. Will you give her back the basket, or will you not?
Whatever you may choose to do, do not say in after days that I urged
you to the deed."
"Truly you are great-hearted!" he answered, with cold contempt; "one
for whom I did well to enter into treachery and sin! So be it: having
gone so far upon it, come what may, I will not turn back from this
journey. Let in that fool!"
Presently the woman stood before them, bearing with her another basket
"These are what you seek, Master," she said, "though I was forced to
win them by theft. Now give me my own and the medicine and let me go."
He gave her the basket, and with it, wrapped in a piece of kidskin,
some of the same powder with which he had doctored the fruits.
"What shall I do with this?" she asked.
"You must find means to sprinkle it upon your sister's food, and
thereafter your husband shall come to hate even the sight of her."
"But will he come to love me again?"
Hokosa shrugged his shoulders.
"I know not," he answered; "that is for you to see to. Yet this is
sure, that if a tree grows up before the house of a man, shutting it
off from the sunlight, when that tree is cut down the sun shines upon
his house again."
"It is nothing to the sun on what he shines," said the woman.
"If the saying does not please you, then forget it. I promise you this
and no more, that very soon the man shall cease to turn to your
"The medicine will not harm her?" asked the woman doubtfully. "She has
worked me bitter wrong indeed, yet she is my sister, whom I nursed
when she was little, and I do not wish to do her hurt. If only he will
welcome me back and treat me kindly, I am willing even that she should
dwell on beneath my husband's roof, bearing his children, for will
they not be of my own blood?"
"Woman," answered Hokosa impatiently, "you weary me with your talk.
Did I say that the charm would hurt her? I said that it would cause
your husband to hate the sight of her. Now begone, taking or leaving
it, and let me rest. If your mind is troubled, throw aside that
medicine, and go soothe it with such sights as you saw last night."
On hearing this the woman sprang up, hid away the poison in her hair,
and taking her basket of fruit, passed from the kraal as secretly as
she had entered it.
"Why did you give her death-medicine?" asked Noma of Hokosa, as he
stood staring after her. "Have you a hate to satisfy against the
husband or the girl who is her rival?"
"None," he answered, "for they have never crossed my path. Oh, foolish
woman! cannot you read my plan?"
"Not altogether, Husband."
"Listen then: this woman will give to her sister a medicine of which
in the end she must die. She may be discovered or she may not, but it
is certain that she will be suspected, seeing that the bitterness of
the quarrel between them is known. Also she will give to the Messenger
certain fruits, after eating of which he will be taken sick and in due
time die, of just such a disease as that which carries off the woman's
rival. Now, if any think that he is poisoned, which I trust none will,
whom will they suppose to have poisoned him, though indeed they can
never prove the crime?"
"The plan is clever," said Noma with admiration, "but in it I see a
flaw. The woman will say that she had the drug from you, or, at the
least, will babble of her visit to you."
"Not so," answered Hokosa, "for on this matter the greatest talker in
the world would keep silence. Firstly, she, being a Christian, dare
not own that she has visited a witch-doctor. Secondly, the fruit she
brought in payment was stolen, therefore she will say nothing of it.
Thirdly, to admit that she had medicine from me would be to admit her
guilt, and that she will scarcely do even under torture, which by the
new law it is not lawful to apply. Moreover, none saw her come here,
and I should deny her visit."
"The plan is very clever," said Noma again.
"It is very clever," he repeated complacently; "never have I made a
better one. Now throw those fruits to the she goats that are in the
kraal, and burn the basket, while I go and talk to some in the Great
Place, telling them that I have returned from counting my cattle on
the mountain, whither I went after I had bowed the knee in the house
of the king."
Two hours later, Hokosa, having made a wide detour and talked to
sundry of his acquaintances about the condition of his cattle, might
have been seen walking slowly along the north side of the Great Place
towards his own kraal. His path lay past the chapel and the little
house that Owen had built to dwell in. This house was furnished with a
broad verandah, and upon it sat the Messenger himself, eating his
evening meal. Hokosa saw him, and a great desire entered his heart to
learn whether or no he had partaken of the poisoned fruit. Also it
occurred to him that it would be wise if, before the end came, he
could contrive to divert all possible suspicion from himself, by
giving the impression that he was now upon friendly terms with the
great white teacher and not disinclined even to become a convert to
For a moment he hesitated, seeking an excuse. One soon suggested
itself to his ready mind. That very morning the king had told him not
obscurely that Owen had pleaded for his safety and saved him from
being put upon his trial on charges of witchcraft and murder. He would
go to him, now at once, playing the part of a grateful penitent, and
the White Man's magic must be keen indeed if it availed to pierce the
armour of his practised craft.
So Hokosa went up and squatted himself down native fashion among a
little group of converts who were waiting to see their teacher upon
one business or another. He was not more than ten paces from the
verandah, and sitting thus he saw a sight that interested him
strangely. Having eaten a little of a dish of roasted meat, Owen put
out his hand and took a fruit from a basket that the wizard knew well.
At this moment he looked up and recognised Hokosa.
"Do you desire speech with me, Hokosa?" he asked in his gentle voice.
"If so, be pleased to come hither."
"Nay, Messenger," answered Hokosa, "I desire speech with you indeed,
but it is ill to stand between a hungry man and his food."
"I care little for my food," answered Owen; "at the least it can
wait," and he put down the fruit.
Then suddenly a feeling to which the wizard had been for many years a
stranger took possession of him--a feeling of compunction. That man
was about to partake of what would cause his death--of what he,
Hokosa, had prepared in order that it should cause his death. He was
good, he was kindly, none could allege a wrong deed against him; and,
foolishness though it might be, so was the doctrine that he taught.
Why should he kill him? It was true that never till that moment had he
hesitated, by fair means or foul, to remove an enemy or rival from his
path. He had been brought up in this teaching; it was part of the
education of wizards to be merciless, for they reigned by terror and
evil craft. Their magic lay chiefly in clairvoyance and powers of
observation developed to a pitch that was almost superhuman, and the
best of their weapons was poison in infinite variety, whereof the
guild alone understood the properties and preparation. Therefore there
was nothing strange, nothing unusual in this deed of devilish and
cunning murder that the sight of its doing should stir him thus, and
yet it did stir him. He was minded to stop the plot, to let things
take their course.
Some sense of the futility of all such strivings came home to him, and
as in a glass, for Hokosa was a man of imagination, he foresaw their
end. A little success, a little failure, it scarcely mattered which,
and then--that end. Within twenty years, or ten, or mayhap even one,
what would this present victory or defeat mean to him? Nothing so far
as he was concerned; that is, nothing so far as his life of to-day was
concerned. Yet, if he had another life, it might mean everything.
There was another life; he knew it, who had dragged back from its
borders the spirits of the dead, though what might be the state and
occupations of those dead he did not know. Yet he believed--why he
could not tell--that they were affected vitally by their acts and
behaviour here; and his intelligence warned him that good must always
flow from good, and evil from evil. To kill this man was evil, and of
it only evil could come.
What did he care whether Hafela ruled the nation or Nodwengo, and
whether it worshipped the God of the Christians or the god of Fire--
who, by the way, had proved himself so singularly inefficient in the
hour of trial. Now that he thought of it, he much preferred Nodwengo
to Hafela, for the one was a just man and the other a tyrant; and he
himself was more comfortable as a wealthy private person than he had
been as a head medicine-man and a chief of wizards. He would let
things stand; he would prevent the Messenger from eating of that
fruit. A word could do it; he had but to suggest that it was unripe or
not wholesome at this season of the year, and it would be cast aside.
All these reflections, or their substance, passed through Hokosa's
mind in a few instants of time, and already he was rising to go to the
verandah and translate their moral into acts, when another thought
occurred to him--How should he face Noma with this tale? He could give
up his own ambitions, but could he bear her mockery, as day by day she
taunted him with his faint-heartedness and reproached him with his
failure to regain greatness and to make her great? He forgot that he
might conceal the truth from her; or rather, he did not contemplate
such concealment, of which their relations were too peculiar and too
intimate to permit. She hated him, and he worshipped her with a half-
inhuman passion--a passion so unnatural, indeed, that it suggested the
horrid and insatiable longings of the damned--and yet their souls were
naked to each other. It was their fate that they could hide nothing
each from each--they were cursed with the awful necessity of candour.
It would be impossible that he should keep from Noma anything that he
did or did not do; it would be still more impossible that she should
conceal from him even such imaginings and things as it is common for
women to hold secret. Her very bitterness, which it had been policy
for her to cloak or soften, would gush from her lips at the sight of
him; nor, in the depth of his rage and torment, could he, on the other
hand, control the ill-timed utterance of his continual and
overmastering passion. It came to this, then: he must go forward, and
against his better judgment, because he was afraid to go back, for the
whip of a woman's tongue drove him on remorselessly. It was better
that the Messenger should die, and the land run red with blood, than
that he should be forced to endure this scourge.
So with a sigh Hokosa sank back to the ground and watched while Owen
ate three of the poisoned fruits. After a pause, he took a fourth and
bit into it, but not seeming to find it to his taste, he threw it to a
child that was waiting by the verandah for any scraps which might be
left over from his meal. The child caught it, and devoured it eagerly.
Then, smiling at the little boy's delight, the Messenger called to
Hokosa to come up and speak with him.
NOMA COMES TO HAFELA
Hokosa advanced to the verandah and bowed to the white man with grave
"Be seated," said Owen. "Will you not eat? though I have nothing to
offer you but these," and he pushed the basket of fruits towards him,
adding, "The best of them, I fear, are already gone."
"I thank you, no, Messenger; such fruits are not always wholesome at
this season of the year. I have known them to breed dysentery."
"Indeed," said Owen. "If so, I trust that I may escape. I have
suffered from that sickness, and I think that another bout of it would
kill me. In future I will avoid them. But what do you seek with me,
Hokosa? Enter and tell me," and he led the way into a little sitting-
"Messenger," said the wizard, with deep humility, "I am a proud man; I
have been a great man, and it is no light thing to me to humble myself
before the face of my conqueror. Yet I am come to this. To-day when I
was in audience with the king, craving a small boon of his
graciousness, he spoke to me sharp and bitter words. He told me that
he had been minded to put me on trial for my life because of various
misdoings which are alleged against me in the past, but that you had
pleaded for me and that for this cause he spared me. I come to thank
you for your gentleness, Messenger, for I think that had I been in
your place I should have whispered otherwise in the ear of the king."
"Say no more of it, friend," said Owen kindly, "We are all of us
sinners, and it is my place to push back your ancient sins, not to
drag them into the light of day and clamour for their punishment. It
is true I know that you plotted with the Prince Hafela to poison
Umsuka the King, for it was revealed to me. It chanced, however, that
I was able to recover Umsuka from his sickness, and Hafela is fled, so
why should I bring up the deed against you? It is true that you still
practise witchcraft, and that you hate and strive against the holy
Faith which I preach; but you were brought up to wizardry and have
been the priest of another creed, and these things plead for you.
"Also, Hokosa, I can see the good and evil struggling in your soul,
and I pray and I believe that in the end the good will master the
evil; that you who have been pre-eminent in sin will come to be pre-
eminent in righteousness. Oh! be not stubborn, but listen with your
ear, and let your heart be softened. The gate stands open, and I am
the guide appointed to show you the way without reward or fee. Follow
them ere it be too late, that in time to come when my voice is stilled
you also may be able to direct the feet of wanderers into the paths of
peace. It is the hour of prayer; come with me, I beg of you, and
listen to some few words of the message of my lips, and let your
spirit be nurtured with them, and the Sun of Truth arise upon its
Hokosa heard, and before this simple eloquence his wisdom sank
confounded. More, his intelligence was stirred, and a desire came upon
him to investigate and examine the canons of a creed that could
produce such men as this. He made no answer, but waiting while Owen
robed himself, he followed him to the chapel. It was full of new-made
Christians who crowded even the doorways, but they gave place to him,
wondering. Then the service began--a short and simple service. First
Owen offered up some prayer for the welfare of the infant Church, for
the conversion of the unbelieving, for the safety of the king and the
happiness of the people. Then John, the Messenger's first disciple,
read aloud from a manuscript a portion of the Scripture which his
master had translated. It was St. Paul's exposition of the
resurrection from the dead, and the grandeur of its thoughts and
language were by no means lost upon Hokosa, who, savage and heathen
though he might be, was also a man of intellect.
The reading over, Owen addressed the congregation, taking for his
text, "Thy sin shall find thee out." Being now a master of the
language, he preached very well and earnestly, and indeed the subject
was not difficult to deal with in the presence of an audience many of
whose pasts had been stepped in iniquities of no common kind. As he
talked of judgment to come for the unrepentant, some of his hearers
groaned and even wept; and when, changing his note, he dwelt upon the
blessed future state of those who earned forgiveness, their faces were
lighted up with joy.
But perhaps among all those gathered before him there were none more
deeply interested than Hokosa and one other, that woman to whom he had
sold the poison, and who, as it chanced, sat next to him. Hokosa,
watching her face as he was skilled to do, saw the thrusts of the
preacher go home, and grew sure that already in her jealous haste she
had found opportunity to sprinkle the medicine upon her rival's food.
She believed it to be but a charm indeed, yet knowing that in using
such charms she had done wickedly, she trembled beneath the words of
denunciation, and rising at length, crept from the chapel.
"Truly, her sin will find her out," thought Hokosa to himself, and
then in a strange half-impersonal fashion he turned his thoughts to
the consideration of his own case. Would /his/ sin find him out? he
wondered. Before he could answer that question, it was necessary first
to determine whether or no he had committed a sin. The man before him
--that gentle and yet impassioned man--bore in his vitals the seed of
death which he, Hokosa, had planted there. Was it wrong to have done
this? It depended by which standard the deed was judged. According to
his own code, the code on which he had been educated and which
hitherto he had followed with exactness, it was not wrong. That code
taught the necessity of self-aggrandisement, or at least and at all
costs the necessity of self-preservation. This white preacher stood in
his path; he had humiliated him, Hokosa, and in the end, either of
himself or through his influences, it was probable that he would
destroy him. Therefore he must strike before in his own person he
received a mortal blow, and having no other means at his command, he
struck through treachery and poison.
That was his law which for many generations had been followed and
respected by his class with the tacit assent of the nation. According
to this law, then, he had done no wrong. But now the victim by the
altar, who did not know that already he was bound upon the altar,
preached a new and a very different doctrine under which, were it to
be believed, he, Hokosa, was one of the worst of sinners. The matter,
then, resolved itself to this: which of these two rules of life was
the right rule? Which of them should a man follow to satisfy his
conscience and to secure his abiding welfare? Apart from the motives
that swayed him, as a mere matter of ethics, this problem interested
Hokosa not a little, and he went homewards determined to solve it if
he might. That could be done in one way only--by a close examination
of both systems. The first he knew well; he had practised it for
nearly forty years. Of the second he had but an inkling. Also, if he
would learn more of it he must make haste, seeing that its exponent in
some short while would cease to be in a position to set it out.
"I trust that you will come again," said Owen to Hokosa as they left
"Yes, indeed, Messenger," answered the wizard; "I will come every day,
and if you permit it, I will attend your private teachings also, for I
accept nothing without examination, and I greatly desire to study this
new doctrine of yours, root and flower and fruit."
On the morrow Noma started upon her journey. As the matrons who
accompanied her gave out with a somewhat suspicious persistency, its
ostensible object was to visit the Mount of Purification, and there by
fastings and solitude to purge herself of the sin of having given
birth to a stillborn child. For amongst savage peoples such an
accident is apt to be looked upon as little short of a crime, or, at
the least, as indicating that the woman concerned is the object of the
indignation of spirits who need to be appeased. To this Mount, Noma
went, and there performed the customary rites.
"Little wonder," she thought to herself, "that the spirits were angry
with her, seeing that yonder in the burying-ground of kings she had
dared to break in upon their rest."
From the Place of Purification she travelled on ten days' journey with
her companions till they reached the mountain fastness where Hafela
had established himself. The town and its surroundings were of
extraordinary strength, and so well guarded that it was only after
considerable difficulty and delay that the women were admitted.
Hearing of her arrival and that she had words for him, Hafela sent for
Noma at once, receiving her by night and alone in his principal hut.
She came and stood before him, and he looked at her beauty with
admiring eyes, for he could not forget the woman whom the cunning of
Hokosa had forced him to put away.
"Whence come you, pretty one?" he asked, "and wherefore come you? Are
you weary of your husband, that you fly back to me? If so, you are
welcome indeed; for know, Noma, that I still love you."
"Ay, Prince, I am weary of my husband sure enough; but I do not fly to
you, for he holds me fast to him with bonds that you cannot
understand, and fast to him while he lives I must remain."
"What hinders, Noma, that having got you here I should keep you here?
The cunning and magic of Hokosa may be great, but they will need to be
still greater to win you from my arms."
"This hinders, Prince, that you are playing for a higher stake than
that of a woman's love, and if you deal thus by me and my husband,
then of a surety you will lose the game."
"What stake, Noma?"
"The stake of the crown of the People of Fire."
"And why should I lose if I take you as a wife?"
"Because Hokosa, seeing that I do not return and learning from his
spies why I do not return, will warn the king, and by many means bring
all your plans to nothing. Listen now to the words of Hokosa that he
has set between my lips to deliver to you"--and she repeated to him
all the message without fault or fail.
"Say it again," he said, and she obeyed.
Then he answered:--
"Truly the skill of Hokosa is great, and well he knows how to set a
snare; but I think that if by his counsel I should springe the bird,
he will be too clever a man to keep upon the threshold of my throne.
He who sets one snare may set twain, and he who sits by the threshold
may desire to enter the house of kings wherein there is no space for
two to dwell."
"Is this the answer that I am to take back to Hokosa?" asked Noma. "It
will scarcely bind him to your cause, Prince, and I wonder that you
dare to speak it to me who am his wife."
"I dare to speak it to you, Noma, because, although you be his wife,
all wives do not love their lords; and I think that, perchance in days
to come, you would choose rather to hold the hand of a young king than
that of a witch-doctor sinking into eld. Thus shall you answer Hokosa:
You shall say to him that I have heard his words and that I find them
very good, and will walk along the path which he has made. Here before
you I swear by the oath that may not be broken--the sacred oath,
calling down ruin upon my head should I break one word of it--that if
by his aid I succeed in this great venture, I will pay him the price
he asks. After myself, the king, he shall be the greatest man among
the people; he shall be general of the armies; he shall be captain of
the council and head of the doctors, and to him shall be given half
the cattle of Nodwengo. Also, into his hand I will deliver all those
who cling to this faith of the Christians, and, if it pleases him, he
shall offer them as a sacrifice to his god. This I swear, and you,
Noma, are witness to the oath. Yet it may chance that after he,
Hokosa, has gathered up all this pomp and greatness, he himself shall
be gathered up by Death, that harvest-man whom soon or late will
garner every ear;" and he looked at her meaningly.
"It may be so, Prince," she answered.
"It may be so," he repeated, "and when----"
"When it is so, then, Prince, we will talk together, but not till
then. Nay, touch me not, for were he to command me, Hokosa has this
power over me that I must show him all that you have done, keeping
nothing back. Let me go now to the place that is made ready for me,
and afterwards you shall tell me again and more fully the words that I
must say to Hokosa my husband."
On the morrow Hafela held a secret council of his great men, and the
next day an embassy departed to Nodwengo the king, taking to him that
message which Hokosa, through Noma his wife, had put into the lips of
the prince. Twenty days later the embassy returned saying that it
pleased the king to grant the prayer of his brother Hafela, and
bringing with it the tidings that the white man, Messenger, had fallen
sick, and it was thought that he would die.
So in due course the women and children of the people of Hafela
started upon their journey towards the new land where it was given out
that they should live, and with them went Noma, purposing to leave
them as they drew near the gates of the Great Place of the king. A
while after, Hafela and his /impis/ followed with carriers bearing
their fighting shields in bundles, and having their stabbing spears
rolled up in mats.
THE REPENTANCE OF HOKOSA
Hokosa kept his promise. On the morrow of his first attendance there
he was again to be seen in the chapel, and after the service was over
he waited on Owen at his house and listened to his private teaching.
Day by day he appeared thus, till at length he became master of the
whole doctrine of Christianity, and discovered that that which at
first had struck him as childish and even monstrous, now presented
itself to him in a new and very different light. The conversion of
Hokosa came upon him through the gate of reason, not as is usual among
savages--and some who are not savage--by that of the emotions. Given
the position of a universe torn and groaning beneath the dual rule of
Good and Evil, two powers of well-nigh equal potency, he found no
great difficulty in accepting this tale of the self-sacrifice of the
God of Good that He might wring the race He loved out of the
conquering grasp of the god of Ill. There was a simple majesty about
this scheme of redemption which appealed to one side of his nature.
Indeed, Hokosa felt that under certain conditions and in a more
limited fashion he would have been capable of attempting as much
Once his reason was satisfied, the rest followed in a natural
sequence. Within three weeks from the hour of his first attendance at
the chapel Hokosa was at heart a Christian.
He was a Christian, although as yet he did not confess it; but he was
also the most miserable man among the nation of the Sons of Fire. The
iniquities of his past life had become abominable to him; but he had
committed them in ignorance, and he understood that they were not
beyond forgiveness. Yet high above them all towered one colossal crime
which, as he believed, could never be pardoned to him in this world or
the next. He was the treacherous murderer of the Messenger of God; he
was in the very act of silencing the Voice that had proclaimed truth
in the dark places of his soul and the dull ears of his countrymen.
The deed was done; no power on earth could save his victim. Within a
week from the day of eating that fatal fruit Owen began to sicken,
then the dysentery had seized him which slowly but surely was wasting
out his life. Yet he, the murderer, was helpless, for with this form
of the disease no medicine could cope. With agony in his heart, an
agony that was shared by thousands of the people, Hokosa watched the
decrease of the white man's strength, and reckoned the days that would
elapse before the end. Having such sin as thus upon his soul, though
Owen entreated him earnestly, he would not permit himself to be
baptised. Twice he went near to consenting, but on each occasion an
ominous and terrible incident drove him from the door of mercy.
Once, when the words "I will" were almost on his lips, a woman broke
in upon their conference bearing a dying boy in her arms.
"Save him," she implored, "save him, Messenger, for he is my only
Owen looked at him and shook his head.
"How came he like this?" he asked.
"I know not, Messenger, but he has been sick ever since he ate of a
certain fruit which you gave to him;" and she recalled to his mind the
incident of the throwing of a fruit to the child, which she had
"I remember," said Owen. "It is strange, but I also have been sick
from the day that I ate of those fruits; yes, and you, Hokosa, warned
me against them."
Then he blessed the boy and prayed over him till he died; but when
afterwards he looked round for Hokosa, it was to find that he had
Some eight days later, having to a certain extent recovered from this
shock, Hokosa went one morning to Owen's house and talked to him.
"Messenger," he said, "is it necessary to baptism that I should
confess all my sins to you? If so, I can never be baptised, for there
is wickedness upon my hands which I am unable to tell into the ear of
Owen thought and answered:--
"It is necessary that you should repent all of your sins, and that you
should confess them to heaven; it is not necessary that you should
confess them to me, who am but a man like yourself."
"Then I will be baptised," said Hokosa with a sigh of relief.
At this moment, as it chanced, their interview was again interrupted,
for runners came from the king requesting the immediate presence of
the Messenger, if he were well enough to attend, upon a matter
connected with the trial of a woman for murder. Thinking that he might
be of service, Owen, leaning on the shoulder of Hokosa, for already he
was too weak to walk far, crept to the litter which was waiting for
him, and was borne to the place of judgment that was before the house
of the king. Hokosa followed, more from curiosity than for any other
reason, for he had heard of no murder being committed, and his old
desire to be acquainted with everything that passed was still strong
on him. The people made way for him, and he seated himself in the
first line of spectators immediately opposite to the king and three
other captains who were judges in the case. So soon as Owen had joined
the judges, the prisoner was brought before them, and to his secret
horror Hokosa recognised in her that woman to whom he had given the
poison in exchange for the basket of fruit.
Now it seemed to Hokosa that his doom was on him, for she would
certainly confess that she had the drug from him. He thought of flight
only to reject the thought, for to fly would be to acknowledge himself
an accessory. No, he would brazen it out, for after all his word was
as good as hers. With the prisoner came an accuser, her husband, who
seemed sick, and he it was who opened the case against her.
"This woman," he said, "was my wife. I divorced her for barrenness, as
I have a right to do according to our ancient law, and I took another
woman to wife, her half-sister. This woman was jealous; she plagued me
continually, and insulted her sister, so that I was forced to drive
her away. After that she came to my house, and though they said
nothing of it at the time, she was seen by two servants of mine to
sprinkle something in the bowl wherein our food was cooking.
Subsequently my wife, this woman's half-sister, was taken ill with
dysentery. I also was taken ill with dysentery, but I still live to
tell this story before you, O King, and your judges, though I know not
for how long I live. My wife died yesterday, and I buried her this
morning. I accuse the woman of having murdered her, either by
witchcraft or by means of a medicine which she sprinkled on the food,
or by both. I have spoken."
"Have you anything to say?" asked the king of the prisoner. "Are you
guilty of the crime whereof this man who was your husband charges you,
or does he lie?"
Then the woman answered in a low and broken voice:--
"I am guilty, King. Listen to my story:" and she told it all as she
told it to Hokosa. "I am guilty," she added, "and may the Great Man in
the sky, of Whom the Messenger has taught us, forgive me. My sister's
blood is upon my hands, and for aught I know the blood of my husband
yonder will also be on my hands. I seek no mercy; indeed, it is better
that I should die; but I would say this in self-defence, that I did
not think to kill my sister. I believed that I was giving to her a
potion which would cause her husband to hate her and no more."
Here she looked round and her eyes met those of Hokosa.
"Who told you that this was so?" asked one of the judges.
"A witch-doctor," she answered, "from whom I bought the medicine in
the old days, long ago, when Umsuka was king."
Hokosa gasped. Why should this woman have spared him?
No further question was asked of her, and the judges consulted
together. At length the king spoke.
"Woman," he said, "you are condemned to die. You will be taken to the
Doom Tree, and there be hanged. Out of those who are assembled to try
you, two, the Messenger and myself, have given their vote in favour of
mercy, but the majority think otherwise. They say that a law has been
passed against murder by means of witchcraft and secret medicine, and
that should we let you go free, the people will make a mock of that
law. So be it. Go in peace. To-morrow you must die, and may
forgiveness await you elsewhere."
"I ask nothing else," said the woman. "It is best that I should die."
Then they led her away. As she passed Hokosa she turned and looked him
full in the eyes, till he dropped his head abashed. Next morning she
was executed, and he learned that her last words were: "Let it come to
the ears of him who sold me the poison, telling me that it was but a
harmless drug, that as I hope to be forgiven, so I forgive him,
believing that my silence may win for him time for repentance, before
he follows on the road I tread."
Now, when Hokosa heard these words he shut himself up in his house for
three days, giving out that he was sick. Nor would he go near to Owen,
being altogether without hope, and not believing that baptism or any
other rite could avail to purge such crimes as his. Truly his sin had
found him out, and the burden of it was intolerable. So intolerable
did it become, that at length he determined to be done with it. He
could live no more. He would die, and by his own hand, before he was
called upon to witness the death of the man whom he had murdered. To
this end he made his preparations. For Noma he left no message; for
though his heart still hungered after her, he knew well that she hated
him and would rejoice at his death.
When all was ready he sat down to think a while, and as he thought, a
man entered his hut saying that the Messenger desired to see him. At
first he was minded not to go, then it occurred to him that it would
be well if he could die with a clean heart. Why should he not tell all
to the white man, and before he could be delivered up to justice take
that poison which he had prepared? It was impossible that he should be
forgiven, yet he desired that his victim should learn how deep was his
sorrow and repentance, before he proved it by preceding him to death.
So he rose and went.
He found Owen in his house, lying in a rude chair and propped up by
pillows of bark. Now he was wasted almost to a shadow, and in the pale
pinched face his dark eyes, always large and spiritual, shone with
unnatural lustre, while his delicate hands were so thin that when he
held them up in blessing the light showed through them.
"Welcome, friend," he said. "Tell me, why have you deserted me of
late? Have you been ill?"
"No, Messenger," answered Hokosa, "that is, not in my body. I have
been sick at heart, and therefore I have not come."
"What, Hokosa, do your doubts still torment you? I thought that my
prayers had been heard, and that power had been given me to set them
at rest for ever. Man, let me hear the trouble, and swiftly, for
cannot you who are a doctor see that I shall not be here for long to
talk with you? My days are numbered, Hokosa, and my work is almost
"I know it," answered Hokosa. "And, Messenger, /my/ days are also
"How is this?" asked Owen, "seeing that you are well and strong. Does
an enemy put you in danger of your life?"
"Yes, Messenger, and I myself am that enemy; for to-day I, who am no
longer fit to live, must die by my own hand. Nay, listen and you will
say that I do well, for before I go I would tell you all. Messenger,
you are doomed, are you not? Well, it was I who doomed you. That fruit
which you ate a while ago was poisoned, and by my hand, for I am a
master of such arts. From the beginning I hated you, as well I might,
for had you not worsted me and torn power from my grasp, and placed
the people and the king under the rule of another God? Therefore, when
all else failed, I determined to murder you, and I did the deed by
means of that woman who not long ago was hung for the killing of her
sister, though in truth she was innocent." And he told him what had
passed between himself and the woman, and told him also of the plot
which he had hatched to kill Nodwengo and the Christians, and to set
Hafela on the throne
"She was innocent," he went on, "but I am guilty. How guilty you and I
know alone. Do you remember that day when you ate the fruit, how after
it I accompanied you to the church yonder and listened to your
preaching? 'Your sin shall find you out,' you said, and of a surety
mine has found me out. For, Messenger, it came about that in listening
to you then and afterwards, I grew to love you and to believe the
words you taught, and therefore am I of all men the most miserable,
and therefore must I, who have been great and the councillor of kings,
perish miserably by the death of a dog.
"Now curse me, and let me go."
THE LOOSING OF NOMA
When Owen heard that it was Hokosa who had poisoned him, he groaned
and hid his face in his hands, and thus he remained till the evil tale
was finished. Now he lifted his head and spoke, but not to Hokosa.
"O God," he said, "I thank Thee that at the cost of my poor life Thou
hast been pleased to lead this sinner towards the Gate of
Righteousness, and to save alive those whom Thou hast sent me to
gather to Thy Fold."
Then he looked at Hokosa and said:--
"Unhappy man, is not your cup full enough of crime, and have you not
sufficiently tempted the mercy of Heaven, that you would add to all
your evil deeds that of self-murder?"
"It is better to die to-day by my own hand," answered Hokosa, "than
to-morrow among the mockery of the people to fall a victim to your
"Vengeance! Did I speak to you of vengeance? Who am I that I should
take vengeance upon one who has repented? Hokosa, freely do I forgive
you all, even as in some few days I hope to be forgiven. Freely and
fully from my heart do I forgive you, nor shall my lips tell one word
of the sin that you have worked against me."
Now, when Hokosa heard those words, for a moment he stared stupefied;
then he fell upon his knees before Owen, and bowing his head till it
touched the teacher's feet, he burst into bitter weeping.
"Rise and hearken," said Owen gently. "Weep not because I have shown
kindness to you, for that is my duty and no more, but for your sins in
your own heart weep now and ever. Yet for your comfort I tell you that
if you do this, of a surety they shall be forgiven to you. /Hokosa,
you have indeed lost that which you loved, and henceforth you must
follow after that which you did not desire. In the very grave of error
you have found truth, and from the depths of sin you shall pluck
righteousness. Ay, that Cross which you deemed accursed shall lift you
up on high, for by it you shall be saved./"
Hokosa heard and shivered.
"Who set those words between your lips, Messenger?" he whispered.
"Who set them, Hokosa? Nay, I know not--or rather, I know well. He set
them Who teaches us to speak all things that are good."
"It must be so, indeed," replied Hokosa. "Yet I have heard them
before; I have heard them from the lips of the dead, and with them
went this command: that when they fell upon my ears again I should
'take them for a sign, and let my heart be turned.'"
"Tell me that tale," said Owen.
So he told him, and this time it was the white man who trembled.
"Horrible has been your witchcraft, O Son of Darkness!" said Owen,
when he had finished; "yet it would seem that it was permitted to you
to find truth in the pit of sorcery. Obey, obey, and let your heart be
turned. The dead told you that you should be set high above the nation
and its king, and that saying I cannot read, though it may be
fulfilled in some fashion of which to-day you do not think. At the
least, the other saying is true, that in the end comes judgment, and
that there shall the sin and the atonement strive together; therefore
for judgment prepare yourself. And now depart, for I must talk with
the king as to this matter of the onslaught of Hafela."
"Then, that will be the signal for my death, for what king can forgive
one who has plotted such treachery against him?" said Hokosa.
"Fear not," answered Owen, "I will soften his heart. Go you into the
church and pray, for there you shall be less tempted; but before you
go, swear to me that you will work no evil on yourself."
"I swear it, Messenger, since now I desire to live, if only for
awhile, seeing that death shuts every door."
Then he went to the church and waited there. An hour later he was
summoned, and found the king seated with Owen.
"Man," said Nodwengo, "I am told by the Messenger here that you have
knowledge of a plot which my brother the Prince Hafela has made to
fall treacherously upon me and put me and my people to the spear. How
you come to be acquainted with the plot, and what part you have played
in it, I will not now inquire, for so much have I promised to the
Messenger. Yet I warn you it will be well that you should tell me all
you know, and that should you lie to me or attempt to deceive me, then
you shall surely die."
"King, hear all the truth," answered Hokosa in a voice of desperate
calm. "I have knowledge of the plot, for it was I who wove it; but
whether or not Hafela will carry it out altogether I cannot say, for
as yet no word has reached me from him. King, this was the plan that I
made." And he told him everything.
"It is fortunate for you, Hokosa," said Nodwengo grimly when he had
finished, "that I gave my word to the Messenger that no harm should
come to you, seeing that you have repented and confessed. This is
certain, that Hafela has listened to your evil counsels, for I gave my
consent to his flight from this land with all his people, and already
his women and children have crossed the mountain path in thousands.
Well, this I swear, that their feet shall tread it no more, for where
they are thither he shall go to join them, should he chance to live to
do so. Hokosa, begone, and know that day and night you will be
watched. Should you so much as dare to approach one of the gates of
the Great Place, that moment you shall die."
"Have no fear, O King," said Hokosa humbly, "for I have emptied all my
heart before you. The past is the past, and cannot be recalled. For
the future, while it pleases you to spare me, I am the most loyal of
"Can a man empty a spring with a pitcher?" asked the king
contemptuously. "By to-morrow this heart of yours may be full again
with the blackest treachery, O master of sin and lies. Many months ago
I spared you at the prayer of the Messenger; and now at his prayer I
spare you again, yet in doing so I think that I am foolish."
"Nay, I will answer for him," broke in Owen. "Let him stay here with
me, and set your guard without my gates."
"How do I know that he will not murder you, friend?" asked the king.
"This man is a snake whom few can nurse with safety."
"He will not murder me," said Owen smiling, "because his heart is
turned from evil to good; also, there is little need to murder a dying
"Nay, speak not so," said the king hastily; "and as for this man, be
it as you will. Come, I must take counsel with my captains, for our
danger is near and great."
So it came about that Hokosa stayed in the house of Owen.
On the morrow the Great Place was full of the bustle of preparation,
and by dawn of the following day an /impi/ of some seventeen thousand
spears had started to ambush Hafela and his force in a certain wooded
defile through which he must pass on his way to the mountain pass
where his women and children were gathered. The army was not large, at
least in the eyes of the People of Fire who, before the death of
Umsuka and the break up of the nation, counted their warriors by tens
of thousands. But after those events the most of the regiments had
deserted to Hafela, leaving to Nodwengo not more than two-and-twenty
thousand spears upon which he could rely. Of these he kept less than a
third to defend the Great Place against possible attacks, and all the
rest he sent to fall upon Hafela far away, hoping there to make an end
of him once and for all. This counsel the king took against the better
judgment of many of his captains, and as the issue proved, it was
When Owen told Hokosa of it, that old general shrugged his shoulders.
"The king would have done better to keep his regiments at home," he
said, "and fight it out with Hafela here, where he is well prepared.
Yonder the country is very wide, and broken, and it may well chance
that the /impi/ will miss that of Hafela, and then how can the king
defend this place with a handful, should the prince burst upon him at
the head of forty thousand men? But who am I that I should give
counsel for which none seek?"
"As God wills, so shall it befall," answered Owen wearily; "but oh!
the thought of all this bloodshed breaks my heart. I trust that its
beatings may be stilled before my eyes behold the evil hour."
On the evening of that day Hokosa was baptised. The ceremony took
place, not in the church, for Owen was too weak to go there, but in
the largest room of his house and before some few witnesses chosen
from the congregation. Even as he was being signed with the sign of
the cross, a strange and familiar attraction caused the convert to
look up, and behold, before him, watching all with mocking eyes, stood
Noma his wife. At length the rite was finished, and the little
audience melted away, all save Noma, who stood silent and beautiful as
a statue, the light of mockery still gleaming in her eyes. Then she
"I greet you, Husband. I have returned from doing your business afar,
and if this foolishness is finished, and the white man can spare you,
I would talk with you alone."
"I greet you, Wife," answered Hokosa. "Say out your say, for none are
present save us three, and from the Messenger here I have no secrets."
"What, Husband, none? Do you ever talk to him of certain fruit that
you ripened in a garden yonder?"
"From the Messenger I have no secrets," repeated Hokosa in a heavy
"Then his heart must be full of them indeed, and it is little wonder
that he seems sick," replied Noma, gibing. "Tell me, Hokosa, is it
true that you have become a Christian, or would you but fool the white
man and his following?"
"It is true."
At the words her graceful shape was shaken with a little gust of
"The wizard has turned saint," she said. "Well, then, what of the
"You were my wife before I became Christian; if the Messenger permits
it, you can still abide with me."
"If the Messenger permits it! So you have come to this, Hokosa, that
you must ask the leave of another man as to whether or no you should
keep your own wife! There is no other thing that I could not have
thought of you, but this I would never have believed had I not heard
it from your lips. Say now, do you still love me, Hokosa?"
"You know well that I love you, now and always," he answered, in a
voice that sounded like a groan; "as you know that for love of you I
have done many sins from which otherwise I should have turned aside."
"Grieve not over them, Hokosa; after all, in such a count as yours
they will make but little show. Well, if you love me, I hate you,
though through your witchcraft your will yet has the mastery of mine.
I demand of you now that you should loose that bond, for I do not
desire to become a Christian; and surely, O most good and holy man,
having one wife already, it will not please you henceforth to live in
sin with a heathen woman."
Now Hokosa turned to Owen:--
"In the old days," he said, "I could have answered her; but now I am
fallen; or raised up--at the least I am changed and cannot. O prophet
of Heaven, tell me what I shall do."
"Sever the bond that you have upon her and let her go," answered Owen.
"This love of yours is unnatural, unholy and born of witchcraft; have
done with it, or if you cannot, at the least deny it, for such a
woman, a woman who hates you, can work you no good. Moreover, since
she is a second wife, you being a Christian, are bound to free her
should she so desire."
"She can work me no good, Messenger, that I know; but I know also that
while she struggles in the net of my will she can work me no evil. If
I loose the net and the fish swims free, it may be otherwise."
"Loose it," answered Owen, "and leave the rest to Providence.
Henceforth, Hokosa, do right, and take no thought for the morrow, for
the morrow is with God, and what He decrees, that shall befall."
"I hear you," said Hokosa, "and I obey." For a while he rocked himself
to and fro, staring at the ground, then he lifted his head and
"Woman," he said, "the knot is untied and the spell is broken. Begone,
for I release you and I divorce you. Flesh of my flesh have you been,
and soul of my soul, for in the web of sorceries are we knit together.
Yet be warned and presume not too far, for remember that which I have
laid down I can take up, and that should I choose to command, you must
still obey. Farewell, you are free."
Noma heard, and with a sigh of ecstasy she sprang into the air as a
slave might do from whom the fetters have been struck off.
"Ay," she cried, "I am free! I feel it in my blood, I who have lain in
bondage, and the voice of freedom speaks in my heart and the breath of
freedom blows in my nostrils. I am free from you, O dark and accursed
man; but herein lies my triumph and revenge--/you/ are not free from
me. In obedience to that white fool whom you have murdered, you have
loosed me; but you I will not loose and could not if I would. Listen
now, Hokosa: you love me, do you not?--next to this new creed of
yours, I am most of all to you. Well, since you have divorced me, I
will tell you, I go straight to another man. Now, look your last on
me; for you love me, do you not?" and she slipped the mantle from her
shoulders and except for her girdle stood before him naked, and
"Well," she went on, resuming her robe, "the last words of those we
love are always dear to us; therefore, Hokosa, you who were my
husband, I leave mine with you. You are a coward and a traitor, and
your doom shall be that of a coward and a traitor. For my sake you
betrayed Umsuka, your king and benefactor; for your own sake you
betrayed Nodwengo, who spared you; and now, for the sake of your
miserable soul, you have betrayed Hafela to Nodwengo. Nay, I know the
tale, do not answer me, but the end of it--ah! that is yet to learn.
Lie there, snake, and lick the hand that you have bitten, but I, the
bird whom you have loosed, I fly afar--taking your heart with me!" and
suddenly she turned and was gone.
Presently Hokosa spoke in a thick voice:--
"Messenger," he said, "this cross that you have given me to bear is
"Yes, Hokosa," answered Owen, "for to it your sins are nailed."
THE PASSING OF OWEN
Once she was outside of Owen's house, Noma did not tarry. First she
returned to Hokosa's kraal, where she had already learnt from his head
wife, Zinti, and others the news of his betrayal of the plot of
Hafela, of his conversion to the faith of the Christians, and of the
march of the /impi/ to ambush the prince. Here she took a little
spear, and rolling up in a skin blanket as much dried meat as she
could carry, she slipped unnoticed from the kraal. Her object was to
escape from the Great Place, but this she did not try to do by any of
the gates, knowing them to be guarded. Some months ago, before she
started on her embassy, she had noted a weak spot in the fence, where
dogs had torn a hole through which they passed out to hunt at night.
To this spot she made her way under cover of the darkness--for though
she still greatly feared to be alone at night, her pressing need
conquered her fears--and found that the hole was yet there, for a tall
weed growing in its mouth had caused it to be overlooked by those
whose duty it was to mend the fence. With her assegai she widened it a
little, then drew her lithe shape through it, and lying hidden till
the guard had passed, climbed the two stone walls beyond. Once she was
free of the town, she set her course by the stars and started forward
at a steady run.
"If my strength holds I shall yet be in time to warn him," she
muttered to herself. "Ah! friend Hokosa, this new madness of yours has
blunted your wits that once were sharp enough. You have set me free,
and now you shall learn how I can use my freedom. Not for nothing have
I been your pupil, Hokosa the fox."
Before the dawn broke Noma was thirty miles from the Great Place, and
before the next dawn she was a hundred. At sunset on that second day
she stood among mountains. To her right stretched a great defile, a
rugged place of rocks and bush, wherein she knew that the regiments of
the king were hid in ambush. Perchance she was too late, perchance the
/impi/ of Hafela had already passed to its doom in yonder gorge.
Swiftly she ran forward on to the trail which led to the gorge, to
find that it had been trodden by many feet and recently. Moving to and
fro she searched the spoor with her eyes, then rose with a sigh of
joy. It was old, and marked the passage of the great company of women
and children and their thousands of cattle which, in execution of the
plot, had travelled this path some days before. Either the /impi/ had
not yet arrived, or it had gone by some other road. Weary as she was,
Noma followed the old spoor backwards. A mile or more away it crossed
the crest of a hog-backed mountain, from whose summit she searched the
plain beyond, and not in vain, for there far beneath her twinkled the
watch-fires of the army of Hafela.
Three hours later a woman, footsore and utterly exhausted, staggered
into the camp, and waving aside the spears that were lifted to stab
her, demanded to be led to the prince. Presently she was there.
"Who is this woman?" asked the great warrior; for, haggard as she was
with travel, exhaustion, and the terror of her haunted loneliness, he
did not know her in the uncertain firelight.
"Hafela," she said, "I am Noma who was the wife of Hokosa, and for
whole nights and days I have journeyed as no woman ever journeyed
before, to tell you of the treachery of Hokosa and to save you from
"What treachery and what doom?" asked the prince.
"Before I answer you that question, Hafela, you must pay me the price
of my news."
"Let me hear the price, Noma."
"It is this, Prince: First, the head of Hokosa, who has divorced me,
when you have caught him."
"That I promise readily. What more?"
"Secondly, the place of your chief wife to-day; and a week hence, when
I shall have made you king, the name and state of Queen of the People
of Fire with all that hangs thereto."
"You are ambitious, woman, and know well how to drive a bargain. Well,
if you can ask, I can give, for I have ever loved you, and your mind
is great as your body is beautiful. If through your help I should
become King of the People of Fire, you shall be their Queen, I swear
it by the spirits of my fathers and by my own head. And now--your
"These are they, Hafela. Hokosa has turned Christian and betrayed the
plot to Nodwengo; and the great gorge yonder but three hours march
away is ambushed. To-morrow you and your people would have been cut
off there had I not run so fast and far to warn you, after which the
/impis/ of Nodwengo were commanded to follow your women and cattle
over the mountain pass and capture them."
"This is news indeed," said the prince. "Say now, how many regiments
are hidden in the gorge?"
"Well, I have fourteen; so, being warned, there is little to fear. I
will catch these rats in their own hole."
"I have a better plan," said Noma; "it is this: leave six regiments
posted upon the brow of yonder hill and let them stay there. Then when
the generals of Nodwengo see that they do not enter the gorge, they
will believe that the ambush is discovered, and, after waiting one day
or perhaps two, will move out to give battle, thinking that before
them is all your strength. But command your regiments to run and not
to fight, drawing the army of Nodwengo after them. Meanwhile, yes,
this very night, you yourself with all the men that are left to you
must march upon the Great Place, which, though it be strong, can be
stormed, for it is defended by less than five thousand soldiers.
There, having taken it, you shall slay Nodwengo, proclaiming yourself
king, and afterwards, by the help of the /impi/ that you leave here
which will march onward to your succour, you can deal with yonder
"A great scheme truly," said Hafela in admiration; "but how do I know
whether all this tale is true, or whether you do but set a snare for
"Bid scouts go out and creep into yonder gully," answered Noma, "and
you will see whether or no I have spoken falsely. For the rest, I am
in your hands, and if I lie you can take my life in payment."
"If I march upon the Great Place, it must be at midnight when none see
me go," said Hafela, "and what will you do then, Noma, who are too
weary to travel again so soon?"
"I will be borne in a litter till my strength comes back to me," she
answered. "And now give me to eat and let me rest while I may."
Five hours later, Hafela with the most of his army, a force of
something over twenty thousand men, was journeying swiftly but by a
circuitous route towards the Great Place of the king. On the crest of
the hill facing the gorge, as Noma had suggested, he left six
regiments with instructions to fly before Nodwengo's generals, and
when they had led them far enough, to follow him as swiftly as they
were able. These orders, or rather the first part of them, they
carried out, for as it chanced after two days' flight, the king's
soldiers got behind them by a night march, and falling on them at
dawn, killed half of them and dispersed the rest. Then it was that
Nodwengo's generals learned for the first time that they were
following one wing of Hafela's army only, while the main body was
striking at the heart of the kingdom, and turned their faces homewards
in fear and haste.
On the morning after the flight of Noma, Owen passed into the last
stage of his sickness, and it became evident, both to himself and to
those who watched him, that at the most he could not live for more
than a few days. For his part, he accepted his doom joyfully, spending
the time which was left to him in writing letters that were to be
forwarded to England whenever an opportunity should arise. Also he set
down on paper a statement of the principal events of his strange
mission, and other information for the guidance of his white
successors, who by now should be drawing near to the land of the
Amasuka. In the intervals of these last labours, from time to time he
summoned the king and the wisest and trustiest of them whom he had
baptised to his bedside, teaching them what they should do when he was
gone, and exhorting them to cling to the Faith.
On the afternoon of the fourth day from that of the baptism of Hokosa
he fell into a quiet sleep, from which he did not wake till sundown.
"Am I still here?" he asked wondering, of John and Hokosa who watched
at his bedside. "From my dreams I thought that it was otherwise. John,
send a messenger to the king and ask of him to assemble the people,
all who care to come, in the open place before my house. I am about to
die, and first I would speak with them."
John went weeping upon his errand, leaving Owen and Hokosa alone.
"Tell me know what shall I do?" said Hokosa in a voice of despair,
"seeing that it is I and no other who have brought this death upon
"Fret not, my brother," answered Owen, "for this and other things you
did in the days of your blindness, and it was permitted that you
should do them to an end. Kneel down now, that I may absolve you from
your sins before I pass away; for I tell you, Hokosa, I believe that
ere many days are over you must walk on the same path which I travel
"Is it so?" Hokosa answered. "Well, I am glad, for I have no longer
any lust of life."
Then he knelt down and received the absolution.
Now John returned and Nodwengo with him, who told him that the people
were gathering in hundreds according to his wish.
"Then clothe me in my robes and let us go forth," he said, "for I
would speak my last words in the ears of men."
So they put the surplice and hood upon his wasted form and went out,
John preceding him holding on high the ivory crucifix, while the king
and Hokosa supported him, one on either side.
Without his gate stood a low wooden platform, whence at times Owen had
been accustomed to address any congregation larger than the church
would contain. On this platform he took his seat. The moon was bright
above him, and by it he could see that already his audience numbered
some thousands of men, women and children. The news had spread that
the wonderful white man, Messenger, wished to take his farewell of the
nation, though even now many did not understand that he was dying, but
imagined that he was about to leave the country, or, for aught they
knew, to vanish from their sight into Heaven. For a moment Owen looked
at the sea of dusky faces, then in the midst of an intense stillness,
he spoke in a voice low indeed but clear and steady:--
"My children," he said, "hear my last words to you. More than three
years ago, in a far, far land and upon such a night as this, a Voice
spoke to me from above commanding me to seek you out, to turn you from
your idolatry and to lighten your darkness. I listened to the Voice,
and hither I journeyed across sea and land, though how this thing
might be done I could not guess. But to Him Who sent me all things are
possible, and while yet I lingered upon the threshold of your country,
in a dream were revealed to me events that were to come. So I appeared
before you boldly, and knowing that he had been poisoned and that I
could cure him, I drew back your king from the mouth of death, and you
said to yourselves: 'Behold a wizard indeed! Let us hear him.' Then I
gave battle to your sorcerers yonder upon the plain, and from the foot
of the Cross I teach, the lightnings were rolled back upon them and
they were not. Look now, their chief stands at my side, among my
disciples one of the foremost and most faithful. Afterwards troubles
arose: your king died a Christian, and many of the people fell away;
but still a remnant remained, and he who became king was converted to
the truth. Now I have sown the seed, and the corn is ripe before my
eyes, but it is not permitted that I should reap the harvest. My work
is ended, my task is done, and I, the Messenger, return to make report
to Him Who sent the message.
"Hear me yet a little while, for soon shall my voice be silent. 'I
come not to bring peace, but a sword,'--so said the Master Whom I
preach, and so say I, the most unworthy of His servants. Salvation
cannot be bought at a little price; it must be paid for by the blood
and griefs of men, and in blood and griefs must you pay, O my
children. Through much tribulation must you also enter the kingdom of
God. Even now the heathen is at your gates, and many of you shall
perish on his spears, but I tell you that he shall not conquer. Be
faithful, cling to the Cross, and do not dare to doubt your Lord, for
He will be your Captain and you shall be His people. Cleave to your
king, for he is good; and in the day of trial listen to the counsel of
this Hokosa who once was the first of evil-doers, for with him goes my
spirit, and he is my son in the spirit.
"My children, fare you well! Forget me not, for I have loved you; or
if you will, forget me, but remember my teaching and hearken to those
who shall tread upon the path I made. The peace of God be with you,
the blessing of God be upon you, and the salvation of God await you,
as it awaits me to-night! Friends, lead me hence to die."
They turned to him, but before their hands touched him Thomas Owen
fell forward upon the breast of Hokosa and lay there a while. Then
suddenly, for the last time, he lifted himself and cried aloud:--
"I have fought a good fight! I have finished my course! I have kept
the faith! Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness
. . . and not to me only, but to all those who love His appearing."
Then his head fell back, his dark eyes closed, and the Messenger was
Hokosa, the man who had murdered him, having lifted him up to show him
to the people, amidst a sound of mighty weeping, took the body in his
arms and bore it thence to make it ready for burial.
THE FALL OF THE GREAT PLACE
On the morrow at sundown all that remained of Thomas Owen was laid to
rest before the altar of the little church, Nodwengo the king and
Hokosa lowering him into the grave, while John, his first disciple,
read over him the burial service of the Christians, which it had been
one of the dead man's last labours to translate into the language of
Before the ceremony was finished, a soldier, carrying a spear in his
hand, pushed his way through the dense and weeping crowd, and having
saluted, whispered something into the ear of the king. Nodwengo
started, and, with a last look of farewell at the face of his friend,
left the chapel, accompanied by some of his generals who were present,
muttering to Hokosa that he was to follow when all was done.
Accordingly, some few minutes later, he went and was admitted into the
Council Hut, where captains and messengers were to be seen arriving
and departing continuously.
"Hokosa," said the king, "you have dealt treacherously with me in the
past, but I believe now that your heart is true; at the least I follow
the commands of our dead master and trust you. Listen: the outposts
have sighted an /impi/ of many regiments advancing towards the Great
Place, though whether or no it be my own /impi/ returning victorious
from the war with my brother, I cannot say. There is this against it,
however, that a messenger has but just arrived reporting that the
generals have perceived the host of Hafela encamped upon a ridge over
against the gorge where they awaited him. If that be so, they can
scarcely have given him battle, for the messenger is swift of foot and
has travelled night and day. Yet how can this be the /impi/ of Hafela,
who, say the generals, is encamped upon the ridge?"
"He may have left the ridge, King, having been warned of the ambush."
"It cannot be, for when the runner started his fires burned there and
his soldiers were gathered round them."
"Then perhaps his captains sit upon the ridge with some portion of his
strength to deceive those who await him in the gorge; while, knowing
that here men are few, he himself swoops down on you with the main
body of his /impi/."
"At least we shall learn presently," answered the king; "but if it be
as I fear and we are outwitted, what is there that we can do against
Now one of the captains proposed that they should stay where they were
and hold the place.
"It is too large," answered the king, "they will burst the fences and
break our line."
Another suggested that they should fly and, avoiding the regiments of
Hafela in the darkness of the night, should travel swiftly in search
of the main army that had been sent to lie in ambush.
"What," said Nodwengo, "leaving the aged and the women and children to
perish, for how can we take such a multitude? No, I will have none of
Then Hokosa spoke. "King," he said, "listen to my counsel: Command now
that all the women and the old men, taking with them such cattle and
food as are in the town, depart at once into the Valley of Death and
collect in the open space that lies beyond the Tree of Doom, near the
spring of water that is there. The valley is narrow and the cliffs are
steep, and it may chance that by the help of Heaven we shall be able
to hold it till the army returns to relieve us, to seek which
messengers must be sent at once with these tidings."
"The plan is good," said the king, though none had thought of it; "but
so we shall lose the town."
"Towns can be rebuilt," answered Hokosa, "but who may restore the
lives of men?"
As the words left his lips, a runner burst into the council, crying:
"King, the /impi/ is that of Hafela, and the prince heads it in
person. Already his outposts rest upon the Plain of Fire."
Then Nodwengo rose and issued his orders, commanding that all the
ineffective population of the town, together with such food and cattle
as could be gathered, should retreat at once into the Valley of Death.
By this time the four or five thousand soldiers who were left in the
Great Place had been paraded on the open ground in front of the king's
house, where they stood, still and silent, in the moonlight. Nodwengo
and the captains went out to them, and as they saw him come they
lifted their spears like one man, giving him the royal salute of
"King!" He held up his hand and addressed them.
"Soldiers," he said, "we have been outwitted. My /impi/ is afar, and
that of Hafela is at our gates. Yonder in the valley, though we be
few, we can defend ourselves till succour reaches us, which already
messengers have gone out to seek. But first we must give time for the
women and children, the sick and the aged, to withdraw with food and
cattle; and this we can do in one way only, by keeping Hafela at bay
till they have passed the archway, all of them. Now, soldiers, for the
sake of your own lives, of your honour and of those you love, swear to
me, in the holy Name which we have been taught to worship, that you
will fight out this great fight without fear or faltering."
"We swear it in the holy Name, and by your head, King," roared the
"Then victory is already ours," answered Nodwengo. "Follow me,
Children of Fire!" and shaking his great spear, he led the way towards
that portion of the outer fence upon which Hafela was advancing.
By now the town behind them was a scene of almost indescribable tumult
and confusion, for the companies detailed to the task were clearing
the numberless huts of their occupants, and collecting women, children
and oxen in thousands, preparatory to driving them into the defile.
Panic had seized many of these poor creatures, who, in imagination,
already saw themselves impaled upon the cruel spears of Hafela's
troops, and indeed in not a few instances believed those who were
urging them forward to be the enemy. Women shrieked and wrung their
hands, children wailed piteously, oxen lowed, and the infirm and aged
vented their grief in groans and cries to Heaven, or their ancient
god, for mercy. In truth, so difficult was the task of marshalling
this motley array at night, numbering as it did ten or twelve thousand
souls, that a full hour went by before the mob even began to move,
slowly and uncertainly, towards the place of refuge, whereof the
opening was so narrow that but few of them could pass it at a time.
Meanwhile Hafela was developing the attack. Forming his great army
into the shape of a wedge he raised his battle-cry and rushed down on
the first line of fortifications, which he stormed without difficulty,
for they were defended by a few skirmishers only. Next he attacked the
second line, and carried it after heavy fighting, then hurled himself
upon the weakest point of the main fence of the vast kraal. Here it
was that the fray began in earnest, for here Nodwengo was waiting for
him. Thrice the thousands rolled on in the face of a storm of spears,
and thrice they fell back from the wide fence of thorns and the wall
of stone behind it. By now the battle had raged for about an hour and
a half, and it was reported to the king that the first of the women
and children had passed the archway into the valley, and that nearly
all of them were clear of the eastern gate of the town.
"Then it is time that we follow them," said the king, "for if we wait
here until the warriors of Hafela are among us, our retreat will
become a rout and soon there will be none left to follow. Let one
company," and he named it, "hold the fence for a while to give us time
to withdraw, taking the wounded with us."
"We hear you, king," said one of that company, "but our captain is
"Who among you will take over the command of these men and hold the
breach?" asked Nodwengo of the group of officers about him.
"I, King," answered old Hokosa, lifting his spear, "for I care not
whether I live or die."
"Go to, boaster!" cried another. "Who among us cares whether he lives
or dies when the king commands?"
"That we shall know to-morrow," said Hokosa quietly, and the soldiers
laughed at the retort.
"So be it," said the king, and while silently and swiftly he led off
the regiments, keeping in the shadow of the huts, Hokosa and his
hundred men posted themselves behind the weakened fence and wall. Now,
for the fourth time the attacking regiment came forward grimly, on
this occasion led by the prince himself. As they drew near, Hokosa
leapt upon the wall, and standing there in the bright moonlight where
all could see him, he called to them to halt. Instinctively they
"Is it Hafela whom I see yonder?" he asked.
"Ah! it is I," answered the prince. "What would you with me, wizard
"This only, Hafela: I would ask you what you seek here?"
"That which you promised me, Hokosa, the crown of my father and
certain other things."
"Then get you back, Hafela, for you shall never win them.. Have I
prophesied falsely to you at any time? Not so--neither do I prophesy
falsely now. Get you back whence you came, and your wolves with you,
else shall you bide here for ever."
"Do you dare to call down evil on me, Wizard?" shouted the prince
furiously. "Your wife is mine, and now I take your life also," and
with all his strength he hurled at him the great spear he held.
It hissed past Hokosa's head, touching his ear, but he never flinched
from the steel.
"A poor cast, Prince," he said laughing; "but so it must have been,
for I am guarded by that which you cannot see. My wife you have, and
she shall be your ruin; my life you may take, but ere it leaves me,
Hafela, I shall see you dead and your army scattered. The Messenger is
passed away, but his power has fallen upon me and I speak the truth to
you, O Prince and warriors, who are--already dead."
Now a shriek of dismay and fury rose from the hundreds who heard this
prophesy of ill, for of Hokosa and his magic they were terribly
"Kill him! Kill the wizard!" they shouted, and a rain of spears rushed
towards him on the wall.
They rushed towards him, they passed above, below, around; but, of
them all, not one touched him.
"Did I not tell you that I was guarded by That which you cannot see?"
Hokosa asked contemptuously. Then slowly he descended from the wall
amidst a great silence.
"When men are scarce the tongue must play a part," he explained to his
companions, who stared at him wondering. "By now the king and those
with him should have reached the eastern gate; whereas, had we fought
at once, Hafela would be hard upon his heels, for we are few, and who
can hold a buffalo with a rope of grass? Yet I think that I spoke
truth when I told him that the garment of the Messenger has fallen
upon my shoulders, and that death awaits him and his companions, as it
awaits me also and many of us. Now, friends, be ready, for the bull
charges and soon we must feel his horns. This at least is left to you,
to die gloriously."
While he was still speaking the first files of the regiment rushed
upon the fence, tearing aside the thorns with their hands till a
passage was made through them. Then they sprang upon the wall, there
to be met by the spears of Hokosa and his men thrusting upward from
beneath its shelter. Time after time they sprang, and time after time
they fell back dead or wounded, till at last, dashing forward in one
dense column, they poured over the stones as the rising tide pours
over the rocks on the sea-shore, driving the defenders before them by
the sheer weight of numbers.
"This game is played!" cried Hokosa. "Fly now to the eastern gate, for
here we can do nothing more."
So they fled, those who survived of them, and after them came the
thousands of the foe, sacking and firing the deserted town as they
Hokosa and his men, or rather the half of them, reached the gate and
passed it in safety, barring it after them, and thereby delaying the
attackers till they could burst their way through. Now hundreds of
huts were afire, and the flames spread swiftly, lighting up the
country far and wide. In the glare of them, Hokosa could see that
already a full two-thirds of the crowd of fugitives had passed the
narrow arch; while Nodwengo and the soldiers were drawn up in
companies upon the steep and rocky slope that led to it, protecting
He advanced to the king and reported himself.
"So you have lived through it," said Nodwengo.
"I shall die when my hour comes, and not before," Hokosa answered. "We
did well yonder, and yet the most of us are alive to tell the tale,
for I knew when and how to go. Be ready, king, for the foe press us
close, and that mob behind us crawls onward like a snail."
As he spoke the pursuers broke through the fence and gate of the
burning town, and once more the fight began. They had the advantage of
numbers; but Nodwengo and his troops stood in a wide road upon higher
ground protected on either side by walls, and were, moreover, rested,
not breathless and weary with travel like the men of Hafela. Slowly,
fighting, every inch of the way, Nodwengo was pushed back, and slowly
the long ant-like line of women and sick and cattle crept through the
opening in the rock, till at length all of them were gone.
"It is time," said Nodwengo, glancing behind him, "for our arms grow
Then he gave orders, and company by company the defending force
followed on the path of the fugitives, till at length amidst a roar of
rage and disappointment, the last of them vanished through the arch,
Hokosa among them, and the place was blocked with stones, above which
shone a hedge of spears.
NOMA SETS A SNARE
Thus ended the first night's battle, since for this time the enemy had
fought enough. Nodwengo and his men had also had enough, for out of
the five thousand of them some eleven hundred were killed or wounded.
Yet they might not rest, for all that night, assisted by the women,
they laboured, building stone walls across the narrowest parts of the
valley. Also the cattle, women and children were moved along the
gorge, which in shape may be compared to a bottle with two necks, one
at either end, and encamped in the opening of the second neck, where
was the spring of water. This spot was chosen both because here alone
water could be obtained, without which they could not hold out more
than a single day, and because the koppie whereon grew the strange-
looking euphorbia known as the Tree of Doom afforded a natural rampart
Shortly after dawn, while the soldiers were resting and eating of such
food as could be procured--for the most part strips of raw or half-
cooked meat cut from hastily killed cattle--the onslaught was renewed
with vigour, Hafela directing his efforts to the forcing of the
natural archway. But, strive as he would, this he could not do, for it
was choked with stones and thorns and guarded by brave men.
"You do but waste your labour, Hafela," said Noma, who stood by him
watching the assault.
"What then is to be done?" he asked, "for unless we come at them we
cannot kill them. It was clever of them to take refuge in this hole. I
thought surely that they would fight it out yonder, beneath the fences
of the Great Place."
"Ah!" she answered, "you forgot that they had Hokosa on their side.
Did you then think to catch him sleeping? This retreat was Hokosa's
counsel. I learned it from the lips of that wounded captain before
they killed him. Now, it seems that there are but two paths to follow,
and you can choose between them. The one is to send a regiment a day
and a half's journey across the cliff top to guard the further mouth
of the valley and to wait till these jackals starve in their hole, for
certainly they can never come out."
"It has started six hours since," said Hafela, "and though the
precipices are steep, having the moon to travel by, it should reach
the river mouth of the valley before dawn to-morrow, cutting Nodwengo
off from the plains, if indeed he should dare to venture out upon
them, which, with so small a force, he will not do. Yet this first
plan of yours must fail, Noma, seeing that before they starve within,
the generals of Nodwengo will be back upon us from the mountains,
catching us between the hammer and the anvil, and I know not how that
fight would go."
"Yet, soon or late, it must be fought."
"Nay," he answered, "for my hope is that should the /impi/ return to
find Nodwengo dead, they will surrender and acknowledge me as king,
who am the first of the blood royal. But what is your second plan?"
By way of answer, she pointed to the cliff above them. On the right-
hand side, facing the archway, was a flat ledge overhanging the
valley, at a height of about a hundred feet.
"If you can come yonder," she said, "it will be easy to storm this
gate, for there lie rocks in plenty, and men cannot fight when stones
are dropping on their heads."
"But how can we come to that home of vultures, where never man has set
a foot? Look, the cliff above is sheer; no rock-rabbit could stand
With her eye Noma measured the distance from the brink of the
precipice to the broad ledge commanding the valley.
"Sixty paces, not more," she said. "Well, yonder are oxen in plenty,
and out of their hides ropes can be made, and out of ropes a ladder,
down which men may pass; ten, or even five, would be enough."
"Well thought of Noma," said Hafela. "Hokosa told us last night that
to him had passed the wisdom of the Messenger; but if this be so, I
think that to you has passed the guile of Hokosa."
"It seems to me that some of it abides with him," answered Noma
Then the prince gave orders, and, with many workers of hides toiling
at it, within two hours the ladder was ready, its staves, set twenty
inches apart, being formed of knob-kerries, or the broken shafts of
stabbing spears. Now they lowered it from the top of the precipice so
that its end rested upon the ledge, and down it came several men, who
swung upon its giddy length like spiders on a web. Reaching this great
shelf in safety and advancing to the edge of it, these men started a
boulder, which, although as it chanced it hurt no one, fell in the
midst of a group of the defenders and bounded away through them.
"Now we must be going," said Hokosa, looking up, "for no man can fight
against rocks, and our spears cannot reach those birds. Had the army
been taught the use of the bow, as I counselled in the past days, we
might still have held the archway; but they called it a woman's
weapon, and would have none of it."
As he spoke another stone fell, crushing the life out of a man who
stood next to him. Then they retreated to the first wall, which had
been piled up during the night, where it was not possible to roll
rocks upon them from the cliffs above. This wall, and others reared at
intervals behind it, they set to work to strengthen as much as they
could, making the most of the time that was left to them before the
enemy could clear the way and march on to attack.
Presently Hafela's men were through and sweeping down upon them with a
roar, thinking to carry the wall at a single rush. But in this they
failed; indeed, it as only after an hour's hard fighting and by the
expedient of continually attacking the work with fresh companies that
at length they stormed the wall.
When Hokosa saw that he could no longer hold the place, but before the
foe was upon him, he drew off his soldiers to the second wall, a
quarter of a mile or more away, and here the fight began again. And so
it went on for hour after hour, as one by one the fortifications were
carried by the weight of numbers, for the attackers fought desperately
under the eye of their prince, caring nothing for the terrible loss
they suffered in men. Twice the force of the defenders was changed by
order of Nodwengo, fresh men being sent from the companies held in
reserve to take the places of those who had borne the brunt of the
battle. This indeed it was necessary to do, seeing that it was
impossible to carry water to so many, and in that burning valley men
could not fight for long athirst. Only Hokosa stayed on, for they
brought him drink in a gourd, and wherever the fray was fiercest there
he was always; nor although spears were rained upon him by hundreds,
was he touched by one of them.
At length as the night fell the king's men were driven back from their
last scherm in the western half of the valley, across the open space
back upon the koppie where stood the Tree of Doom. Here they stayed a
while till, overmatched and outworn, they were pushed from its rocks
across the narrow stretch of broken ground into the shelter of the
great stone scherm or wall that ran from side to side of the further
neck of the valley, whereon thousands of women and such men as could
be spared had been working incessantly during the past night and day.
It was as he retreated among the last upon this wall that Hokosa
caught sight of Noma for the first time since they parted in the house
of the Messenger. In the forefront of his troops, directing the
attack, was Hafela the prince, and at his side stood Noma, carrying in
her hand a little shield and a spear. At this moment also she saw him
and called aloud to him:--
"You have fought well, Wizard, but to-morrow all your magic shall
avail you nothing, for it will be your last day upon this earth."
"Ay, Noma," he answered, "and yours also."
Then of a sudden a company of the king's men rushed from the shelter
of the wall upon the attackers driving them back to the koppie and
killing several, so that in the confusion and gathering darkness
Hokosa lost sight of her, though a man at his side declared that he
saw her fall beneath the thrust of an assegai. Thus ended the second
Now when the watch had been set the king and his captains took counsel
together, for their hearts were heavy.
"Listen," said Nodwengo: "out of five thousand soldiers a thousand
have been killed and a thousand lie among us wounded. Hark to the
groaning of them! Also we have with us women and children and sick to
the number of twelve thousand, and between us and those who would
butcher them every one there stands but a single wall. Nor is this the
worst of it: the spring cannot supply the wants of so great a
multitude in this hot place, and it is feared that presently the water
will be done. What way shall we turn? If we surrender to Hafela,
perhaps he will spare the lives of the women and children; but
whatever he may promise, the most of us he will surely slay. If we
fight and are defeated, then once his regiments are among us, all will
be slain according to the ancient custom of our people. I have
bethought me that we might retreat through the valley, but the river
beyond is in flood; also it is certain that before this multitude
could reach it, the prince will have sent a force to cut us off while
he himself harasses our rear. Now let him who has counsel speak."
"King, I have counsel," said Hokosa. "What were the words that the
Messenger spoke to us before he died? Did he not say: 'Even now the
heathen is at your gates, and many of you shall perish on his spears;
but I tell you that he shall not conquer'? Did he not say: 'Be
faithful, cling to the Cross, and do not dare to doubt your Lord, for
He will protect you, and your children after you, and He will be your
Captain and you shall be His people'? Did he not bid you also to
listen to my counsel? Then listen to it, for it is his: Your case
seems desperate, but have no fear, and take no thought for the morrow,
for all shall yet be well. Let us now pray to Him that the Messenger
has revealed to us, and Whom now he implores on our behalf in that
place where he is to guide us and to save us, for then surely He will
hearken to our prayer."
"So be it," said Nodwengo, and going out he stood upon a pillar of
stone in the moonlight and offered up his supplication in the hearing
of the multitude.
Meanwhile, those of the camp of Hafela were also taking counsel. They
had fought bravely indeed, and carried the schanses; but at great
cost, since for every man that Nodwengo had lost, three of theirs had
fallen. Moreover, they were in evil case with weariness and the want
of water, as each drop they drank must be carried to them from the
Great Place in bags made of raw hide, which caused it to stink, for
they had but few gourds with them.
"Now it is strange," said Hafela, "that these men should fight so
bravely, seeing that they are but a handful. There can be scarce three
thousand of them left, and yet I doubt not that before we carry those
last walls of theirs as many of us or more will be done. Ay! and after
they are done with, we must meet their great /impi/ when it returns,
and of what will befall us then I scarcely like to think."
"Ill-fortune will befall you while Hokosa lives," broke in Noma. "Had
it not been for him, this trouble would have been done with by now;
but he is a wizard, and by his wizardries he defeats us and puts heart
into Nodwengo and the warriors. You, yourself, have seen him this day
defying us, not once but many times, for upon his flesh steel has no
power. Ay! and this is but the beginning of evil, for I am sure that
he leads you into some deep trap where you shall perish everlastingly.
Did he not himself declare that the power of that dead white worker of
miracles has fallen upon him, and who can fight against magic?"
"Who, indeed?" said Hafela humbly; for like all savages he was very
superstitious, and, moreover, a sincere believer in Hokosa's
supernatural capacities. "This wizard is too strong for us; he is
invulnerable, and as I know well he can read the secret thoughts of
men and can suck wisdom from the dead, while to his eyes the darkness
is no blind."
"Nay, Hafela," answered Noma, "there is one crack in his shield. Hear
me: if we can but catch him and hold him fast we shall have no need to
fear him more, and I think that I know how to bait the trap."
"How will you bait it?" asked Hafela.
"Thus. Midway between the koppie and the wall behind which lie the men
of the king stands a flat rock, and all about that rock are stretched
the bodies of dead soldiers. Now, this is my plan: that when next one
of those dark storm-clouds passes over the face of the moon six of the
strongest of our warriors should creep upon their bellies down this
way and that, as though they were also numbered with the slain. This
done, you shall despatch a herald to call in the ears of the king that
you desire to treat with him of peace. Then he will answer that if
this be so you can come beneath the walls of his camp, and your herald
shall refuse, saying that you fear treachery. But he must add that if
Nodwengo will bid Hokosa to advance alone to the flat rock, you will
bid me, Noma, whom none can fear, to do likewise, and that there we
can talk in sight of both armies, and returning thence, make report to
you and to Nodwengo. Afterwards, so soon as Hokosa has set his foot
upon the rock, those men who seem to be dead shall spring upon him and
drag him to our camp, where we can deal with him; for once the wizard
is taken, the cause of Nodwengo is lost."
"A good pitfall," said the prince; "but will Hokosa walk into the
"I think so, Hafela, for three reasons. He is altogether without fear;
he will desire, if may be, to make peace on behalf of the king; and he
has this strange weakness, that he still loves me, and will scarcely
suffer an occasion of speaking with me to go past, although he has
"So be it," said the prince; "the game can be tried, and if it fails,
why we lose nothing, whereas if it succeeds we gain Hokosa, which is
much; for with you I think that our arms will never prosper while that
accursed wizard sits yonder weaving his spells against us, and
bringing our men to death by hundreds and by thousands."
Then he gave his orders, and presently, when a cloud passed over the
face of the moon, six chosen men crept forward under the lee of the
flat rock and threw themselves down here and there amongst the dead.
Soon the cloud passed, and the herald advanced across the open space
blowing a horn, and waving a branch in his hand to show that he came
upon a mission of peace.
HOKOSA IS LIFTED UP
"What would you?" asked Hokosa of the herald as he halted a short
spear-cast from the wall.
"My master, the Prince Hafela, desires to treat with your master,
Nodwengo. Many men have fallen on either side, and if this war goes
on, though victory must be his at last, many more will fall.
Therefore, if any plan can be found, he desires to spare their lives."
Now Hokosa spoke with the king, and answered:--
"Then let Hafela come beneath the wall and we will talk with him."
"Not so," answered the herald. "Does a buck walk into an open pit?
Were the prince to come here it might chance that your spears would
talk with him. Let Nodwengo follow me to the camp yonder, where we
promise him safe conduct."
"Not so," answered Hokosa. "'Does a buck walk into an open pit?' Set
out your message, and we will consider it."
"Nay, I am but a common man without authority; but I am charged to
make you another offer, and if you will not hear it then there is an
end. Let Hokosa advance alone to that flat rock you see yonder, and
there he shall be met, also alone, by one having power to talk with
him, namely, by the Lady Noma, who was once his wife. Thus they can
confer together midway between the camps and in full sight of both of
them, nor, no man being near, can he find cause to be afraid of an
unarmed girl. What say you?"
Hokosa turned and talked with the king.
"I think it well that you should not go," said Nodwengo. "The offer
seems fair, and the stone is out of reach of their spears; still,
behind it may lurk a scheme to kill or capture you, for Hafela is very
"It may be so, King," answered Hokosa; "still, my heart tells me it is
wisest that I should do this thing, for our case is desperate, and if
I do it not, that may be the cause of the death of all of us
to-morrow. At the worst, I am but one man, and it matters little what
may chance to me; nor shall I come to any harm unless it is the will
of Heaven that it should be so; and be sure of this, that out of the
harm will arise good, for where I go there the spirit of the Messenger
goes with me. Remember that he bade you listen to my counsel while I
remain with you, seeing that I do not speak of my own wisdom.
Therefore let me go, and if it should chance that I am taken, trouble
not about the matter, for thus it will be fated to some great end.
Above all, though often enough I have been a traitor in the past, do
not dream that I betray you, keeping in mind that so to do would be to
betray my own soul, which very soon must render its account on high."
"As you will, Hokosa," answered the king. "And now tell those rebel
dogs that on these terms only will I make peace with them--that they
withdraw across the mountains by the path which their women and
children have taken, leaving this land for ever without lifting
another spear against us. If they will do this, notwithstanding all
the wickedness and slaughter that they have worked, I will send
command to my /impi/ to let them go unharmed. If they will not do
this, I put my trust in the God I worship and will fight this fray out
to the end, knowing that if I and my people perish, they shall perish
Now Nodwengo himself spoke to the herald who was waiting beyond the
"Go back to him you serve," he said, "and say that Hokosa will meet
her who was his wife upon the flat stone and talk with her in the
sight of both armies, bearing my word with him. At the sound of the
blowing of a horn shall each of them advance unarmed and alone from
either camp. Say to my brother also that it will indeed be ill for him
if he attempts treachery upon Hokosa, for the man who causes his blood
to flow will surely die, and after death shall be accursed for ever."
The herald went, and presently a horn was blown.
"Now it comes into my mind that we part for the last time," said
Nodwengo in a troubled voice as he took the hand of Hokosa.
"It may be so, King; in my heart I think that it is so; yet I do not
altogether grieve thereat, for the burden of my past sins crushes me,
and I am weary and seek for rest. Yet we do not part for the last
time, because whatever chances, in the end I shall make my report to
you yonder"--and he pointed upwards. "Reign on for long years, King--
reign well and wisely, clinging to the Faith, for thus at the last
shall you reap your reward. Farewell!"
Now again the horn blew, and in the bright moonlight the slight figure
of Noma could be seen advancing towards the stone.
Then Hokosa sprang from the wall and advanced also, till at the same
moment they climbed upon the stone.
"Greeting, Hokosa," said Noma, and she stretched out her hand to him.
By way of answer he placed his own behind his back, saying: "To your
business, woman." Yet his eyes searched her face--the face which in
his folly he still loved; and thus it came about that he never saw
sundry of the dead bodies, which lay in the shadow of the stone, begin
to quicken into life, and inch by inch to arise, first to their knees
and next to their feet. He never saw or heard them, yet, as the words
left his lips, they sprang upon him from every side, holding him so
that he could not move.
"Away with him!" cried Noma with a laugh of triumph; and at her
command he was half-dragged and half-carried across the open space and
thrust violently over a stone wall into the camp of Hafela.
Now Nodwengo and his soldiers saw what had happened, and with a shout
of "Treachery!" some hundreds of them leapt into the plain and began
to run towards the koppie to rescue their envoy.
Hokosa heard the shout, and wrenching himself round, beheld them.
"Back!" he cried in a clear, shrill voice. "Back! children of
Nodwengo, and leave me to my fate, for the foe waits for you by