Part 2 out of 6
The dhow had gone down with them, they were tossing about among the
rocks and seaweed, so much human drift on the great ocean of Death!
And we four were saved. But one day a sunrise will come when we shall
be among those who are lost, and then others will watch those glorious
rays, and grow sad in the midst of beauty, and dream of Death in the
full glow of arising Life!
For this is the lot of man.
THE HEAD OF THE ETHIOPIAN
At length the heralds and forerunners of the royal sun had done their
work, and, searching out the shadows, had caused them to flee away.
Then up he came in glory from his ocean-bed, and flooded the earth
with warmth and light. I sat there in the boat listening to the gentle
lapping of the water and watched him rise, till presently the slight
drift of the boat brought the odd-shaped rock, or peak, at the end of
the promontory which we had weathered with so much peril, between me
and the majestic sight, and blotted it from my view. I still
continued, however, to stare at the rock, absently enough, till
presently it became edged with the fire of the growing light behind
it, and then I started, as well I might, for I perceived that the top
of the peak, which was about eighty feet high by one hundred and fifty
feet thick at its base, was shaped like a negro's head and face,
whereon was stamped a most fiendish and terrifying expression. There
was no doubt about it; there were the thick lips, the fat cheeks, and
the squat nose standing out with startling clearness against the
flaming background. There, too, was the round skull, washed into shape
perhaps by thousands of years of wind and weather, and, to complete
the resemblance, there was a scrubby growth of weeds or lichen upon
it, which against the sun looked for all the world like the wool on a
colossal negro's head. It certainly was very odd; so odd that now I
believe it is not a mere freak of nature but a gigantic monument
fashioned, like the well-known Egyptian Sphinx, by a forgotten people
out of a pile of rock that lent itself to their design, perhaps as an
emblem of warning and defiance to any enemies who approached the
harbour. Unfortunately we were never able to ascertain whether or not
this was the case, inasmuch as the rock was difficult of access both
from the land and the waterside, and we had other things to attend to.
Myself, considering the matter by the light of what we afterwards saw,
I believe that it was fashioned by man, but whether or not this is so,
there it stands, and sullenly stares from age to age out across the
changing sea--there it stood two thousand years and more ago, when
Amenartas, the Egyptian princess, and the wife of Leo's remote
ancestor Kallikrates, gazed upon its devilish face--and there I have
no doubt it will still stand when as many centuries as are numbered
between her day and our own are added to the year that bore us to
"What do you think of that, Job?" I asked of our retainer, who was
sitting on the edge of the boat, trying to get as much sunshine as
possible, and generally looking uncommonly wretched, and I pointed to
the fiery and demonical head.
"Oh Lord, sir," answered Job, who now perceived the object for the
first time, "I think that the old geneleman must have been sitting for
his portrait on them rocks."
I laughed, and the laugh woke up Leo.
"Hullo," he said, "what's the matter with me? I am all stiff--where is
the dhow? Give me some brandy, please."
"You may be thankful that you are not stiffer, my boy," I answered.
"The dhow is sunk, everybody on board her is drowned with the
exception of us four, and your own life was only saved by a miracle";
and whilst Job, now that it was light enough, searched about in a
locker for the brandy for which Leo asked, I told him the history of
our night's adventure.
"Great Heavens!" he said faintly; "and to think that we should have
been chosen to live through it!"
By this time the brandy was forthcoming, and we all had a good pull at
it, and thankful enough we were for it. Also the sun was beginning to
get strength, and warm our chilled bones, for we had been wet through
for five hours or more.
"Why," said Leo, with a gasp as he put down the brandy bottle, "there
is the head the writing talks of, the 'rock carven like the head of an
"Yes," I said, "there it is."
"Well, then," he answered, "the whole thing is true."
"I don't see at all that that follows," I answered. "We knew this head
was here: your father saw it. Very likely it is not the same head that
the writing talks of; or if it is, it proves nothing."
Leo smiled at me in a superior way. "You are an unbelieving Jew, Uncle
Horace," he said. "Those who live will see."
"Exactly so," I answered, "and now perhaps you will observe that we
are drifting across a sandbank into the mouth of the river. Get hold
of your oar, Job, and we will row in and see if we can find a place to
The river mouth which we were entering did not appear to be a very
wide one, though as yet the long banks of steaming mist that clung
about its shores had not lifted sufficiently to enable us to see its
exact measure. There was, as is the case with nearly every East
African river, a considerable bar at the mouth, which, no doubt, when
the wind was on shore and the tide running out, was absolutely
impassable even for a boat drawing only a few inches. But as things
were it was manageable enough, and we did not ship a cupful of water.
In twenty minutes we were well across it, with but slight assistance
from ourselves, and being carried by a strong though somewhat variable
breeze well up the harbour. By this time the mist was being sucked up
by the sun, which was getting uncomfortably hot, and we saw that the
mouth of the little estuary was here about half a mile across, and
that the banks were very marshy, and crowded with crocodiles lying
about on the mud like logs. About a mile ahead of us, however, was
what appeared to be a strip of firm land, and for this we steered. In
another quarter of an hour we were there, and making the boat fast to
a beautiful tree with broad shining leaves, and flowers of the
magnolia species, only they were rose-coloured and not white,[*] which
hung over the water, we disembarked. This done we undressed, washed
ourselves, and spread our clothes, together with the contents of the
boat, in the sun to dry, which they very quickly did. Then, taking
shelter from the sun under some trees, we made a hearty breakfast off
a "Paysandu" potted tongue, of which we had brought a good quantity
with us, congratulating ourselves loudly on our good fortune in having
loaded and provisioned the boat on the previous day before the
hurricane destroyed the dhow. By the time that we had finished our
meal our clothes were quite dry, and we hastened to get into them,
feeling not a little refreshed. Indeed, with the exception of
weariness and a few bruises, none of us were the worse for the
terrifying adventure which had been fatal to all our companions. Leo,
it is true, had been half-drowned, but that is no great matter to a
vigorous young athlete of five-and-twenty.
[*] There is a known species of magnolia with pink flowers. It is
indigenous in Sikkim, and known as /Magnolia Campbellii/.--Editor.
After breakfast we started to look about us. We were on a strip of dry
land about two hundred yards broad by five hundred long, bordered on
one side by the river, and on the other three by endless desolate
swamps, that stretched as far as the eye could reach. This strip of
land was raised about twenty-five feet above the plain of the
surrounding swamps and the river level: indeed it had every appearance
of having been made by the hand of man.
"This place has been a wharf," said Leo, dogmatically.
"Nonsense," I answered. "Who would be stupid enough to build a wharf
in the middle of these dreadful marshes in a country inhabited by
savages--that is, if it is inhabited at all?"
"Perhaps it was not always marsh, and perhaps the people were not
always savage," he said drily, looking down the steep bank, for we
were standing by the river. "Look there," he went on, pointing to a
spot where the hurricane of the previous night had torn up one of the
magnolia trees by the roots, which had grown on the extreme edge of
the bank just where it sloped down to the water, and lifted a large
cake of earth with them. "Is not that stonework? If not, it is very
"Nonsense," I said again, but we clambered down to the spot, and got
between the upturned roots and the bank.
"Well?" he said.
But I did not answer this time. I only whistled. For there, laid bare
by the removal of the earth, was an undoubted facing of solid stone
laid in large blocks and bound together with brown cement, so hard
that I could make no impression on it with the file in my shooting-
knife. Nor was this all; seeing something projecting through the soil
at the bottom of the bared patch of walling, I removed the loose earth
with my hands, and revealed a huge stone ring, a foot or more in
diameter, and about three inches thick. This fairly staggered me.
"Looks rather like a wharf where good-sized vessels have been moored,
does it not, Uncle Horace?" said Leo, with an excited grin.
I tried to say "Nonsense" again, but the word stuck in my throat--the
ring spoke for itself. In some past age vessels /had/ been moored
there, and this stone wall was undoubtedly the remnant of a solidly
constructed wharf. Probably the city to which it had belonged lay
buried beneath the swamp behind it.
"Begins to look as though there were something in the story after all,
Uncle Horace," said the exultant Leo; and reflecting on the mysterious
negro's head and the equally mysterious stonework, I made no direct
"A country like Africa," I said, "is sure to be full of the relics of
long dead and forgotten civilisations. Nobody knows the age of the
Egyptian civilisation, and very likely it had offshoots. Then there
were the Babylonians and the Phœnicians, and the Persians, and all
manner of people, all more or less civilised, to say nothing of the
Jews whom everybody 'wants' nowadays. It is possible that they, or any
one of them, may have had colonies or trading stations about here.
Remember those buried Persian cities that the consul showed us at
[*] Near Kilwa, on the East Coast of Africa, about 400 miles south of
Zanzibar, is a cliff which has been recently washed by the waves.
On the top of this cliff are Persian tombs known to be at least
seven centuries old by the dates still legible upon them. Beneath
these tombs is a layer of /débris/ representing a city. Farther
down the cliff is a second layer representing an older city, and
farther down still a third layer, the remains of yet another city
of vast and unknown antiquity. Beneath the bottom city were
recently found some specimens of glazed earthenware, such as are
occasionally to be met with on that coast to this day. I believe
that they are now in the possession of Sir John Kirk.--Editor.
"Quite so," said Leo, "but that is not what you said before."
"Well, what is to be done now?" I asked, turning the conversation.
As no answer was forthcoming we walked to the edge of the swamp, and
looked over it. It was apparently boundless, and vast flocks of every
sort of waterfowl flew from its recesses, till it was sometimes
difficult to see the sky. Now that the sun was getting high it drew
thin sickly looking clouds of poisonous vapour from the surface of the
marsh and from the scummy pools of stagnant water.
"Two things are clear to me," I said, addressing my three companions,
who stared at this spectacle in dismay: "first, that we can't go
across there" (I pointed to the swamp), "and, secondly, that if we
stop here we shall certainly die of fever."
"That's as clear as a haystack, sir," said Job.
"Very well, then; there are two alternatives before us. One is to
'bout ship, and try and run for some port in the whale-boat, which
would be a sufficiently risky proceeding, and the other to sail or row
on up the river, and see where we come to."
"I don't know what you are going to do," said Leo, setting his mouth,
"but I am going up that river."
Job turned up the whites of his eyes and groaned, and the Arab
murmured "Allah," and groaned also. As for me, I remarked sweetly that
as we seemed to be between the devil and the deep sea, it did not much
matter where we went. But in reality I was as anxious to proceed as
Leo. The colossal negro's head and the stone wharf had excited my
curiosity to an extent of which I was secretly ashamed, and I was
prepared to gratify it at any cost. Accordingly, having carefully
fitted the mast, restowed the boat, and got out our rifles, we
embarked. Fortunately the wind was blowing on shore from the ocean, so
we were able to hoist the sail. Indeed, we afterwards found out that
as a general rule the wind set on shore from daybreak for some hours,
and off shore again at sunset, and the explanation that I offer of
this is, that when the earth is cooled by the dew and the night the
hot air rises, and the draught rushes in from the sea till the sun has
once more heated it through. At least that appeared to be the rule
Taking advantage of this favouring wind, we sailed merrily up the
river for three or four hours. Once we came across a school of
hippopotami, which rose, and bellowed dreadfully at us within ten or a
dozen fathoms of the boat, much to Job's alarm, and, I will confess,
to my own. These were the first hippopotami that we had ever seen,
and, to judge by their insatiable curiosity, I should judge that we
were the first white men that they had ever seen. Upon my word, I once
or twice thought that they were coming into the boat to gratify it.
Leo wanted to fire at them, but I dissuaded him, fearing the
consequences. Also, we saw hundreds of crocodiles basking on the muddy
banks, and thousands upon thousands of water-fowl. Some of these we
shot, and among them was a wild goose, which, in addition to the
sharp-curved spurs on its wings, had a spur about three-quarters of an
inch long growing from the skull just between the eyes. We never shot
another like it, so I do not know if it was a "sport" or a distinct
species. In the latter case this incident may interest naturalists.
Job named it the Unicorn Goose.
About midday the sun grew intensely hot, and the stench drawn up by it
from the marshes which the river drains was something too awful, and
caused us instantly to swallow precautionary doses of quinine. Shortly
afterwards the breeze died away altogether, and as rowing our heavy
boat against stream in the heat was out of the question, we were
thankful enough to get under the shade of a group of trees--a species
of willow--that grew by the edge of the river, and lie there and gasp
till at length the approach of sunset put a period to our miseries.
Seeing what appeared to be an open space of water straight ahead of
us, we determined to row there before settling what to do for the
night. Just as we were about to loosen the boat, however, a beautiful
waterbuck, with great horns curving forward, and a white stripe across
the rump, came down to the river to drink, without perceiving us
hidden away within fifty yards under the willows. Leo was the first to
catch sight of it, and, being an ardent sportsman, thirsting for the
blood of big game, about which he had been dreaming for months, he
instantly stiffened all over, and pointed like a setter dog. Seeing
what was the matter, I handed him his express rifle, at the same time
taking my own.
"Now then," I whispered, "mind you don't miss."
"Miss!" he whispered back contemptuously; "I could not miss it if I
He lifted the rifle, and the roan-coloured buck, having drunk his
fill, raised his head and looked out across the river. He was standing
right against the sunset sky on a little eminence, or ridge of ground,
which ran across the swamp, evidently a favourite path for game, and
there was something very beautiful about him. Indeed, I do not think
that if I live to a hundred I shall ever forget that desolate and yet
most fascinating scene; it is stamped upon my memory. To the right and
left were wide stretches of lonely death-breeding swamp, unbroken and
unrelieved so far as the eye could reach, except here and there by
ponds of black and peaty water that, mirror-like, flashed up the red
rays of the setting sun. Behind us and before stretched the vista of
the sluggish river, ending in glimpses of a reed-fringed lagoon, on
the surface of which the long lights of the evening played as the
faint breeze stirred the shadows. To the west loomed the huge red ball
of the sinking sun, now vanishing down the vapoury horizon, and
filling the great heaven, high across whose arch the cranes and
wildfowl streamed in line, square, and triangle, with flashes of
flying gold and the lurid stain of blood. And then ourselves--three
modern Englishmen in a modern English boat--seeming to jar upon and
look out of tone with that measureless desolation; and in front of us
the noble buck limned out upon a background of ruddy sky.
/Bang!/ Away he goes with a mighty bound. Leo has missed him. /Bang!/
right under him again. Now for a shot. I must have one, though he is
going like an arrow, and a hundred yards away and more. By Jove! over
and over and over! "Well, I think I've wiped your eye there, Master
Leo," I say, struggling against the ungenerous exultation that in such
a supreme moment of one's existence will rise in the best-mannered
"Confound you, yes," growled Leo; and then, with that quick smile that
is one of his charms lighting up his handsome face like a ray of
light, "I beg your pardon, old fellow. I congratulate you; it was a
lovely shot, and mine were vile."
We got out of the boat and ran to the buck, which was shot through the
spine and stone dead. It took us a quarter of an hour or more to clean
it and cut off as much of the best meat as we could carry, and, having
packed this away, we had barely light enough to row up into the
lagoon-like space, into which, there being a hollow in the swamp, the
river here expanded. Just as the light vanished we cast anchor about
thirty fathoms from the edge of the lake. We did not dare to go
ashore, not knowing if we should find dry ground to camp on, and
greatly fearing the poisonous exhalations from the marsh, from which
we thought we should be freer on the water. So we lighted a lantern,
and made our evening meal off another potted tongue in the best
fashion that we could, and then prepared to go to sleep, only,
however, to find that sleep was impossible. For, whether they were
attracted by the lantern, or by the unaccustomed smell of a white man
for which they had been waiting for the last thousand years or so, I
know not; but certainly we were presently attacked by tens of
thousands of the most blood-thirsty, pertinacious, and huge mosquitoes
that I ever saw or read of. In clouds they came, and pinged and buzzed
and bit till we were nearly mad. Tobacco smoke only seemed to stir
them into a merrier and more active life, till at length we were
driven to covering ourselves with blankets, head and all, and sitting
to slowly stew and continually scratch and swear beneath them. And as
we sat, suddenly rolling out like thunder through the silence came the
deep roar of a lion, and then of a second lion, moving among the reeds
within sixty yards of us.
"I say," said Leo, sticking his head out from under his blanket,
"lucky we ain't on the bank, eh, Avuncular?" (Leo sometimes addressed
me in this disrespectful way.) "Curse it! a mosquito has bitten me on
the nose," and the head vanished again.
Shortly after this the moon came up, and notwithstanding every variety
of roar that echoed over the water to us from the lions on the banks,
we began, thinking ourselves perfectly secure, to gradually doze off.
I do not quite know what it was that made me poke my head out of the
friendly shelter of the blanket, perhaps because I found that the
mosquitoes were biting right through it. Anyhow, as I did so I heard
Job whisper, in a frightened voice--
"Oh, my stars, look there!"
Instantly we all of us looked, and this was what we saw in the
moonlight. Near the shore were two wide and ever-widening circles of
concentric rings rippling away across the surface of the water, and in
the heart and centre of the circles were two dark moving objects.
"What is it?" asked I.
"It is those damned lions, sir," answered Job, in a tone which was an
odd mixture of a sense of personal injury, habitual respect, and
acknowledged fear, "and they are swimming here to /heat/ us," he
added, nervously picking up an "h" in his agitation.
I looked again: there was no doubt about it; I could catch the glare
of their ferocious eyes. Attracted either by the smell of the newly
killed waterbuck meat or of ourselves, the hungry beasts were actually
storming our position.
Leo already had his rifle in his hand. I called to him to wait till
they were nearer, and meanwhile grabbed my own. Some fifteen feet from
us the water shallowed on a bank to the depth of about fifteen inches,
and presently the first of them--it was the lioness--got on to it,
shook herself, and roared. At that moment Leo fired, the bullet went
right down her open mouth and out at the back of her neck, and down
she dropped, with a splash, dead. The other lion--a full-grown male--
was some two paces behind her. At this second he got his forepaws on
to the bank, when a strange thing happened. There was a rush and
disturbance of the water, such as one sees in a pond in England when a
pike takes a little fish, only a thousand times fiercer and larger,
and suddenly the lion gave a most terrific snarling roar and sprang
forward on to the bank, dragging something black with him.
"Allah!" shouted Mahomed, "a crocodile has got him by the leg!" and
sure enough he had. We could see the long snout with its gleaming
lines of teeth and the reptile body behind it.
And then followed an extraordinary scene indeed. The lion managed to
get well on to the bank, the crocodile half standing and half
swimming, still nipping his hind leg. He roared till the air quivered
with the sound, and then, with a savage, shrieking snarl, turned round
and clawed hold of the crocodile's head. The crocodile shifted his
grip, having, as we afterwards discovered, had one of his eyes torn
out, and slightly turned over; instantly the lion got him by the
throat and held on, and then over and over they rolled upon the bank
struggling hideously. It was impossible to follow their movements, but
when next we got a clear view the tables had turned, for the
crocodile, whose head seemed to be a mass of gore, had got the lion's
body in his iron jaws just above the hips, and was squeezing him and
shaking him to and fro. For his part, the tortured brute, roaring in
agony, was clawing and biting madly at his enemy's scaly head, and
fixing his great hind claws in the crocodile's, comparatively
speaking, soft throat, ripping it open as one would rip a glove.
Then, all of a sudden, the end came. The lion's head fell forward on
the crocodile's back, and with an awful groan he died, and the
crocodile, after standing for a minute motionless, slowly rolled over
on to his side, his jaws still fixed across the carcase of the lion,
which, we afterwards found, he had bitten almost in halves.
This duel to the death was a wonderful and a shocking sight, and one
that I suppose few men have seen--and thus it ended.
When it was all over, leaving Mahomed to keep a look out, we managed
to spend the rest of the night as quietly as the mosquitoes would
AN EARLY CHRISTIAN CEREMONY
Next morning, at the earliest light of dawn, we rose, performed such
ablutions as circumstances would allow, and generally made ready to
start. I am bound to say that when there was sufficient light to
enable us to see each other's faces I, for one, burst out into a roar
of laughter. Job's fat and comfortable countenance was swollen out to
nearly twice its natural size from mosquito bites, and Leo's condition
was not much better. Indeed, of the three I had come off much the
best, probably owing to the toughness of my dark skin, and to the fact
that a good deal of it was covered by hair, for since we had started
from England I had allowed my naturally luxuriant beard to grow at its
own sweet will. But the other two were, comparatively speaking, clean
shaved, which of course gave the enemy a larger extent of open country
to operate on, though in Mahomed's case the mosquitoes, recognising
the taste of a true believer, would not touch him at any price. How
often, I wonder, during the next week or so did we wish that we were
flavoured like an Arab!
By the time that we had done laughing as heartily as our swollen lips
would allow, it was daylight, and the morning breeze was coming up
from the sea, cutting lanes through the dense marsh mists, and here
and there rolling them before it in great balls of fleecy vapour. So
we set our sail, and having first taken a look at the two dead lions
and the alligator, which we were of course unable to skin, being
destitute of means of curing the pelts, we started, and, sailing
through the lagoon, followed the course of the river on the farther
side. At midday, when the breeze dropped, we were fortunate enough to
find a convenient piece of dry land on which to camp and light a fire,
and here we cooked two wild-ducks and some of the waterbuck's flesh--
not in a very appetising way, it is true, but still sufficiently. The
rest of the buck's flesh we cut into strips and hung in the sun to dry
into "biltong," as, I believe, the South African Dutch call flesh thus
prepared. On this welcome patch of dry land we stopped till the
following dawn, and, as before, spent the night in warfare with the
mosquitoes, but without other troubles. The next day or two passed in
similar fashion, and without noticeable adventures, except that we
shot a specimen of a peculiarly graceful hornless buck, and saw many
varieties of water-lily in full bloom, some of them blue and of
exquisite beauty, though few of the flowers were perfect, owing to the
prevalence of a white water-maggot with a green head that fed upon
It was on the fifth day of our journey, when we had travelled, so far
as we could reckon, about one hundred and thirty-five to a hundred and
forty miles westwards from the coast, that the first event of any real
importance occurred. On that morning the usual wind failed us about
eleven o'clock, and after pulling a little way we were forced to halt,
more or less exhausted, at what appeared to be the junction of our
stream with another of a uniform width of about fifty feet. Some trees
grew near at hand--the only trees in all this country were along the
banks of the river, and under these we rested, and then, the land
being fairly dry just here, walked a little way along the edge of the
river to prospect, and shoot a few waterfowl for food. Before we had
gone fifty yards we perceived that all hopes of getting further up the
stream in the whale-boat were at an end, for not two hundred yards
above where we had stopped were a succession of shallows and mudbanks,
with not six inches of water over them. It was a watery /cul de sac/.
Turning back, we walked some way along the banks of the other river,
and soon came to the conclusion, from various indications, that it was
not a river at all, but an ancient canal, like the one which is to be
seen above Mombasa, on the Zanzibar coast, connecting the Tana River
with the Ozy, in such a way as to enable the shipping coming down the
Tana to cross to the Ozy, and reach the sea by it, and thus avoid the
very dangerous bar that blocks the mouth of the Tana. The canal before
us had evidently been dug out by man at some remote period of the
world's history, and the results of his digging still remained in the
shape of the raised banks that had no doubt once formed towing-paths.
Except here and there, where they had been hollowed out by the water
or fallen in, these banks of stiff binding clay were at a uniform
distance from each other, and the depth of the stream also appeared to
be uniform. Current there was little or none, and, as a consequence,
the surface of the canal was choked with vegetable growth, intersected
by little paths of clear water, made, I suppose, by the constant
passage of waterfowl, iguanas, and other vermin. Now, as it was
evident that we could not proceed up the river, it became equally
evident that we must either try the canal or else return to the sea.
We could not stop where we were, to be baked by the sun and eaten up
by the mosquitoes, till we died of fever in that dreary marsh.
"Well, I suppose that we must try it," I said; and the others assented
in their various ways--Leo, as though it were the best joke in the
world; Job, in respectful disgust; and Mahomed, with an invocation to
the Prophet, and a comprehensive curse upon all unbelievers and their
ways of thought and travel.
Accordingly, as soon as the sun got low, having little or nothing more
to hope for from our friendly wind, we started. For the first hour or
so we managed to row the boat, though with great labour; but after
that the weeds got too thick to allow of it, and we were obliged to
resort to the primitive and most exhausting resource of towing her.
For two hours we laboured, Mahomed, Job, and I, who was supposed to be
strong enough to pull against the two of them, on the bank, while Leo
sat in the bow of the boat, and brushed away the weeds which collected
round the cutwater with Mahomed's sword. At dark we halted for some
hours to rest and enjoy the mosquitoes, but about midnight we went on
again, taking advantage of the comparative cool of the night. At dawn
we rested for three hours, and then started once more, and laboured on
till about ten o'clock, when a thunderstorm, accompanied by a deluge
of rain, overtook us, and we spent the next six hours practically
I do not know that there is any necessity for me to describe the next
four days of our voyage in detail, further than to say that they were,
on the whole, the most miserable that I ever spent in my life, forming
one monotonous record of heavy labour, heat, misery, and mosquitoes.
All that dreary way we passed through a region of almost endless
swamp, and I can only attribute our escape from fever and death to the
constant doses of quinine and purgatives which we took, and the
unceasing toil which we were forced to undergo. On the third day of
our journey up the canal we had sighted a round hill that loomed dimly
through the vapours of the marsh, and on the evening of the fourth
night, when we camped, this hill seemed to be within five-and-twenty
or thirty miles of us. We were by now utterly exhausted, and felt as
though our blistered hands could not pull the boat a yard farther, and
that the best thing that we could do would be to lie down and die in
that dreadful wilderness of swamp. It was an awful position, and one
in which I trust no other white man will ever be placed; and as I
threw myself down in the boat to sleep the sleep of utter exhaustion,
I bitterly cursed my folly in ever having been a party to such a mad
undertaking, which could, I saw, only end in our death in this ghastly
land. I thought, I remember, as I slowly sank into a doze, of what the
appearance of the boat and her unhappy crew would be in two or three
months' time from that night. There she would lie, with gaping seams
and half filled with fœtid water, which, when the mist-laden wind
stirred her, would wash backwards and forwards through our mouldering
bones, and that would be the end of her, and of those in her who would
follow after myths and seek out the secrets of Nature.
Already I seemed to hear the water rippling against the desiccated
bones and rattling them together, rolling my skull against Mahomed's,
and his against mine, till at last Mahomed's stood straight up upon
its vertebræ, and glared at me through its empty eyeholes, and cursed
me with its grinning jaws, because I, a dog of a Christian, disturbed
the last sleep of a true believer. I opened my eyes, and shuddered at
the horrid dream, and then shuddered again at something that was not a
dream, for two great eyes were gleaming down at me through the misty
darkness. I struggled up, and in my terror and confusion shrieked, and
shrieked again, so that the others sprang up too, reeling, and drunken
with sleep and fear. And then all of a sudden there was a flash of
cold steel, and a great spear was held against my throat, and behind
it other spears gleamed cruelly.
"Peace," said a voice, speaking in Arabic, or rather in some dialect
into which Arabic entered very largely; "who are ye who come hither
swimming on the water? Speak or ye die," and the steel pressed sharply
against my throat, sending a cold chill through me.
"We are travellers, and have come hither by chance," I answered in my
best Arabic, which appeared to be understood, for the man turned his
head, and, addressing a tall form that towered up in the background,
said, "Father, shall we slay?"
"What is the colour of the men?" said a deep voice in answer.
"White is their colour."
"Slay not," was the reply. "Four suns since was the word brought to me
from '/She-who-must-be-obeyed/,' 'White men come; if white men come,
slay them not.' Let them be brought to the house of '/She-who-must-be-
obeyed/.' Bring forth the men, and let that which they have with them
be brought forth also."
"Come," said the man, half leading and half dragging me from the boat,
and as he did so I perceived other men doing the same kind office to
On the bank were gathered a company of some fifty men. In that light
all I could make out was that they were armed with huge spears, were
very tall, and strongly built, comparatively light in colour, and
nude, save for a leopard skin tied round the middle.
Presently Leo and Job were bundled out and placed beside me.
"What on earth is up?" said Leo, rubbing his eyes.
"Oh, Lord! sir, here's a rum go," ejaculated Job; and just at that
moment a disturbance ensued, and Mahomed came tumbling between us,
followed by a shadowy form with an uplifted spear.
"Allah! Allah!" howled Mahomed, feeling that he had little to hope
from man, "protect me! protect me!"
"Father, it is a black one," said a voice. "What said '/She-who-must-
be-obeyed/' about the black one?"
"She said naught; but slay him not. Come hither, my son."
The man advanced, and the tall shadowy form bent forward and whispered
"Yes, yes," said the other, and chuckled in a rather blood-curdling
"Are the three white men there?" asked the form.
"Yes, they are there."
"Then bring up that which is made ready for them, and let the men take
all that can be brought from the thing which floats."
Hardly had he spoken when men came running up, carrying on their
shoulders neither more nor less than palanquins--four bearers and two
spare men to a palanquin--and in these it was promptly indicated we
were expected to stow ourselves.
"Well!" said Leo, "it is a blessing to find anybody to carry us after
having to carry ourselves so long."
Leo always takes a cheerful view of things.
There being no help for it, after seeing the others into theirs I
tumbled into my own litter, and very comfortable I found it. It
appeared to be manufactured of cloth woven from grass-fibre, which
stretched and yielded to every motion of the body, and, being bound
top and bottom to the bearing pole, gave a grateful support to the
head and neck.
Scarcely had I settled myself when, accompanying their steps with a
monotonous song, the bearers started at a swinging trot. For half an
hour or so I lay still, reflecting on the very remarkable experiences
that we were going through, and wondering if any of my eminently
respectable fossil friends down at Cambridge would believe me if I
were to be miraculously set at the familiar dinner-table for the
purpose of relating them. I do not want to convey any disrespectful
notion or slight when I call those good and learned men fossils, but
my experience is that people are apt to fossilise even at a University
if they follow the same paths too persistently. I was getting
fossilised myself, but of late my stock of ideas has been very much
enlarged. Well, I lay and reflected, and wondered what on earth would
be the end of it all, till at last I ceased to wonder, and went to
I suppose I must have slept for seven or eight hours, getting the
first real rest that I had had since the night before the loss of the
dhow, for when I woke the sun was high in the heavens. We were still
journeying on at a pace of about four miles an hour. Peeping out
through the mist-like curtains of the litter, which were ingeniously
fixed to the bearing pole, I perceived to my infinite relief that we
had passed out of the region of eternal swamp, and were now travelling
over swelling grassy plains towards a cup-shaped hill. Whether or not
it was the same hill that we had seen from the canal I do not know,
and have never since been able to discover, for, as we afterwards
found out, these people will give little information upon such points.
Next I glanced at the men who were bearing me. They were of a
magnificent build, few of them being under six feet in height, and
yellowish in colour. Generally their appearance had a good deal in
common with that of the East African Somali, only their hair was not
frizzed up, but hung in thick black locks upon their shoulders. Their
features were aquiline, and in many cases exceedingly handsome, the
teeth being especially regular and beautiful. But notwithstanding
their beauty, it struck me that, on the whole, I had never seen a more
evil-looking set of faces. There was an aspect of cold and sullen
cruelty stamped upon them that revolted me, and which in some cases
was almost uncanny in its intensity.
Another thing that struck me about them was that they never seemed to
smile. Sometimes they sang the monotonous song of which I have spoken,
but when they were not singing they remained almost perfectly silent,
and the light of a laugh never came to brighten their sombre and evil
countenances. Of what race could these people be? Their language was a
bastard Arabic, and yet they were not Arabs; I was quite sure of that.
For one thing they were too dark, or rather yellow. I could not say
why, but I know that their appearance filled me with a sick fear of
which I felt ashamed. While I was still wondering another litter came
up alongside of mine. In it--for the curtains were drawn--sat an old
man, clothed in a whitish robe, made apparently from coarse linen,
that hung loosely about him, who, I at once jumped to the conclusion,
was the shadowy figure that had stood on the bank and been addressed
as "Father." He was a wonderful-looking old man, with a snowy beard,
so long that the ends of it hung over the sides of the litter, and he
had a hooked nose, above which flashed out a pair of eyes as keen as a
snake's, while his whole countenance was instinct with a look of wise
and sardonic humour impossible to describe on paper.
"Art thou awake, stranger?" he said in a deep and low voice.
"Surely, my father," I answered courteously, feeling certain that I
should do well to conciliate this ancient Mammon of Unrighteousness.
He stroked his beautiful white beard, and smiled faintly.
"From whatever country thou camest," he said, "and by the way it must
be from one where somewhat of our language is known, they teach their
children courtesy there, my stranger son. And now wherefore comest
thou unto this land, which scarce an alien foot has pressed from the
time that man knoweth? Art thou and those with thee weary of life?"
"We came to find new things," I answered boldly. "We are tired of the
old things; we have come up out of the sea to know that which is
unknown. We are of a brave race who fear not death, my very much
respected father--that is, if we can get a little information before
"Humph!" said the old gentleman, "that may be true; it is rash to
contradict, otherwise I should say that thou wast lying, my son.
However, I dare to say that '/She-who-must-be-obeyed/' will meet thy
wishes in the matter."
"Who is '/She-who-must-be-obeyed/'?" I asked, curiously.
The old man glanced at the bearers, and then answered, with a little
smile that somehow sent my blood to my heart--
"Surely, my stranger son, thou wilt learn soon enough, if it be her
pleasure to see thee at all in the flesh."
"In the flesh?" I answered. "What may my father wish to convey?"
But the old man only laughed a dreadful laugh, and made no reply.
"What is the name of my father's people?" I asked.
"The name of my people is Amahagger" (the People of the Rocks).
"And if a son might ask, what is the name of my father?"
"My name is Billali."
"And whither go we, my father?"
"That shalt thou see," and at a sign from him his bearers started
forward at a run till they reached the litter in which Job was
reposing (with one leg hanging over the side). Apparently, however, he
could not make much out of Job, for presently I saw his bearers trot
forward to Leo's litter.
And after that, as nothing fresh occurred, I yielded to the pleasant
swaying motion of the litter, and went to sleep again. I was
dreadfully tired. When I woke I found that we were passing through a
rocky defile of a lava formation with precipitous sides, in which grew
many beautiful trees and flowering shrubs.
Presently this defile took a turn, and a lovely sight unfolded itself
to my eyes. Before us was a vast cup of green from four to six miles
in extent, in the shape of a Roman amphitheatre. The sides of this
great cup were rocky, and clothed with bush, but the centre was of the
richest meadow land, studded with single trees of magnificent growth,
and watered by meandering brooks. On this rich plain grazed herds of
goats and cattle, but I saw no sheep. At first I could not imagine
what this strange spot could be, but presently it flashed upon me that
it must represent the crater of some long-extinct volcano which had
afterwards been a lake, and was ultimately drained in some unexplained
way. And here I may state that from my subsequent experience of this
and a much larger, but otherwise similar spot, which I shall have
occasion to describe by-and-by, I have every reason to believe that
this conclusion was correct. What puzzled me, however, was, that
although there were people moving about herding the goats and cattle,
I saw no signs of any human habitation. Where did they all live? I
wondered. My curiosity was soon destined to be gratified. Turning to
the left the string of litters followed the cliffy sides of the crater
for a distance of about half a mile, or perhaps a little less, and
then halted. Seeing the old gentleman, my adopted "father," Billali,
emerge from his litter, I did the same, and so did Leo and Job. The
first thing I saw was our wretched Arab companion, Mahomed, lying
exhausted on the ground. It appeared that he had not been provided
with a litter, but had been forced to run the entire distance, and, as
he was already quite worn out when we started, his condition now was
one of great prostration.
On looking round we discovered that the place where we had halted was
a platform in front of the mouth of a great cave, and piled upon this
platform were the entire contents of the whale-boat, even down to the
oars and sail. Round the cave stood groups of the men who had escorted
us, and other men of a similar stamp. They were all tall and all
handsome, though they varied in their degree of darkness of skin, some
being as dark as Mahomed, and some as yellow as a Chinese. They were
naked, except for the leopard-skin round the waist, and each of them
carried a huge spear.
There were also some women among them, who, instead of the leopard-
skin, wore a tanned hide of a small red buck, something like that of
the oribé, only rather darker in colour. These women were, as a class,
exceedingly good-looking, with large, dark eyes, well-cut features,
and a thick bush of curling hair--not crisped like a negro's--ranging
from black to chestnut in hue, with all shades of intermediate colour.
Some, but very few of them, wore a yellowish linen garment, such as I
have described as worn by Billali, but this, as we afterwards
discovered, was a mark of rank, rather than an attempt at clothing.
For the rest, their appearance was not quite so terrifying as that of
the men, and they sometimes, though rarely, smiled. As soon as we had
alighted they gathered round us and examined us with curiosity, but
without excitement. Leo's tall, athletic form and clear-cut Grecian
face, however, evidently excited their attention, and when he politely
lifted his hat to them, and showed his curling yellow hair, there was
a slight murmur of admiration. Nor did it stop there; for, after
regarding him critically from head to foot, the handsomest of the
young women--one wearing a robe, and with hair of a shade between
brown and chestnut--deliberately advanced to him, and, in a way that
would have been winning had it not been so determined, quietly put her
arm round his neck, bent forward, and kissed him on the lips.
I gave a gasp, expecting to see Leo instantly speared; and Job
ejaculated, "The hussy--well, I never!" As for Leo, he looked slightly
astonished; and then, remarking that we had clearly got into a country
where they followed the customs of the early Christians, deliberately
returned the embrace.
Again I gasped, thinking that something would happen; but, to my
surprise, though some of the young women showed traces of vexation,
the older ones and the men only smiled slightly. When we came to
understand the customs of this extraordinary people the mystery was
explained. It then appeared that, in direct opposition to the habits
of almost every other savage race in the world, women among the
Amahagger are not only upon terms of perfect equality with the men,
but are not held to them by any binding ties. Descent is traced only
through the line of the mother, and while individuals are as proud of
a long and superior female ancestry as we are of our families in
Europe, they never pay attention to, or even acknowledge, any man as
their father, even when their male parentage is perfectly well known.
There is but one titular male parent of each tribe, or, as they call
it, "Household," and he is its elected and immediate ruler, with the
title of "Father." For instance, the man Billali was the father of
this "household," which consisted of about seven thousand individuals
all told, and no other man was ever called by that name. When a woman
took a fancy to a man she signified her preference by advancing and
embracing him publicly, in the same way that this handsome and
exceedingly prompt young lady, who was called Ustane, had embraced
Leo. If he kissed her back it was a token that he accepted her, and
the arrangement continued until one of them wearied of it. I am bound,
however, to say that the change of husbands was not nearly so
frequently as might have been expected. Nor did quarrels arise out of
it, at least among the men, who, when their wives deserted them in
favour of a rival, accepted the whole thing much as we accept the
income-tax or our marriage laws, as something not to be disputed, and
as tending to the good of the community, however disagreeable they may
in particular instances prove to the individual.
It is very curious to observe how the customs of mankind on this
matter vary in different countries, making morality an affair of
latitude, and what is right and proper in one place wrong and improper
in another. It must, however, be understood that, since all civilised
nations appear to accept it as an axiom that ceremony is the
touchstone of morality, there is, even according to our canons,
nothing immoral about this Amahagger custom, seeing that the
interchange of the embrace answers to our ceremony of marriage, which,
as we know, justifies most things.
When the kissing operation was finished--by the way, none of the young
ladies offered to pet me in this fashion, though I saw one hovering
round Job, to that respectable individual's evident alarm--the old man
Billali advanced, and graciously waved us into the cave, whither we
went, followed by Ustane, who did not seem inclined to take the hints
I gave her that we liked privacy.
Before we had gone five paces it struck me that the cave that we were
entering was none of Nature's handiwork, but, on the contrary, had
been hollowed by the hand of man. So far as we could judge it appeared
to be about one hundred feet in length by fifty wide, and very lofty,
resembling a cathedral aisle more than anything else. From this main
aisle opened passages at a distance of every twelve or fifteen feet,
leading, I supposed, to smaller chambers. About fifty feet from the
entrance of the cave, just where the light began to get dim, a fire
was burning, which threw huge shadows upon the gloomy walls around.
Here Billali halted, and asked us to be seated, saying that the people
would bring us food, and accordingly we squatted ourselves down upon
the rugs of skins which were spread for us, and waited. Presently the
food, consisting of goat's flesh boiled, fresh milk in an earthenware
pot, and boiled cobs of Indian corn, was brought by young girls. We
were almost starving, and I do not think that I ever in my life before
ate with such satisfaction. Indeed, before we had finished we
literally ate up everything that was set before us.
When we had done, our somewhat saturnine host, Billali, who had been
watching us in perfect silence, rose and addressed us. He said that it
was a wonderful thing that had happened. No man had ever known or
heard of white strangers arriving in the country of the People of the
Rocks. Sometimes, though rarely, black men had come here, and from
them they had heard of the existence of men much whiter than
themselves, who sailed on the sea in ships, but for the arrival of
such there was no precedent. We had, however, been seen dragging the
boat up the canal, and he told us frankly that he had at once given
orders for our destruction, seeing that it was unlawful for any
stranger to enter here, when a message had come from "/She-who-must-
be-obeyed/," saying that our lives were to be spared, and that we were
to be brought hither.
"Pardon me, my father," I interrupted at this point; "but if, as I
understand, '/She-who-must-be-obeyed/' lives yet farther off, how
could she have known of our approach?"
Billali turned, and seeing that we were alone--for the young lady,
Ustane, had withdrawn when he had begun to speak--said, with a curious
"Are there none in your land who can see without eyes and hear without
ears? Ask no questions; /She/ knew."
I shrugged my shoulders at this, and he proceeded to say that no
further instructions had been received on the subject of our disposal,
and this being so he was about to start to interview "/She-who-must-
be-obeyed/," generally spoken of, for the sake of brevity, as "Hiya"
or /She/ simply, who he gave us to understand was the Queen of the
Amahagger, and learn her wishes.
I asked him how long he proposed to be away, and he said that by
travelling hard he might be back on the fifth day, but there were many
miles of marsh to cross before he came to where /She/ was. He then
said that every arrangement would be made for our comfort during his
absence, and that, as he personally had taken a fancy to us, he
sincerely trusted that the answer he should bring from /She/ would be
one favourable to the continuation of our existence, but at the same
time he did not wish to conceal from us that he thought this doubtful,
as every stranger who had ever come into the country during his
grandmother's life, his mother's life, and his own life, had been put
to death without mercy, and in a way he would not harrow our feelings
by describing; and this had been done by the order of /She/ herself,
at least he supposed that it was by her order. At any rate, she never
interfered to save them.
"Why," I said, "but how can that be? You are an old man, and the time
you talk of must reach back three men's lives. How therefore could
/She/ have ordered the death of anybody at the beginning of the life
of your grandmother, seeing that herself she would not have been
Again he smiled--that same faint, peculiar smile, and with a deep bow
departed, without making any answer; nor did we see him again for five
When we had gone we discussed the situation, which filled me with
alarm. I did not at all like the accounts of this mysterious Queen,
"/She-who-must-be-obeyed/," or more shortly /She/, who apparently
ordered the execution of any unfortunate stranger in a fashion so
unmerciful. Leo, too, was depressed about it, but consoled himself by
triumphantly pointing out that this /She/ was undoubtedly the person
referred to in the writing on the potsherd and in his father's letter,
in proof of which he advanced Billali's allusions to her age and
power. I was by this time too overwhelmed with the whole course of
events that I had not even the heart left to dispute a proposition so
absurd, so I suggested that we should try to go out and get a bath, of
which we all stood sadly in need.
Accordingly, having indicated our wish to a middle-aged individual of
an unusually saturnine cast of countenance, even among this saturnine
people, who appeared to be deputed to look after us now that the
Father of the hamlet had departed, we started in a body--having first
lit our pipes. Outside the cave we found quite a crowd of people
evidently watching for our appearance, but when they saw us come out
smoking they vanished this way and that, calling out that we were
great magicians. Indeed, nothing about us created so great a sensation
as our tobacco smoke--not even our firearms.[*] After this we
succeeded in reaching a stream that had its source in a strong ground
spring, and taking our bath in peace, though some of the women, not
excepting Ustane, showed a decided inclination to follow us even
[*] We found tobacco growing in this country as it does in every other
part of Africa, and, although they were so absolutely ignorant of
its other blessed qualities, the Amahagger use it habitually in
the form of snuff and also for medicinal purposes.--L. H. H.
By the time that we had finished this most refreshing bath the sun was
setting; indeed, when we got back to the big cave it had already set.
The cave itself was full of people gathered round fires--for several
more had now been lighted--and eating their evening meal by their
lurid light, and by that of various lamps which were set about or hung
upon the walls. These lamps were of a rude manufacture of baked
earthenware, and of all shapes, some of them graceful enough. The
larger ones were formed of big red earthenware pots, filled with
clarified melted fat, and having a reed wick stuck through a wooden
disk which filled the top of the pot. This sort of lamp required the
most constant attention to prevent its going out whenever the wick
burnt down, as there were no means of turning it up. The smaller hand
lamps, however, which were also made of baked clay, were fitted with
wicks manufactured from the pith of a palm-tree, or sometimes from the
stem of a very handsome variety of fern. This kind of wick was passed
through a round hole at the end of the lamp, to which a sharp piece of
hard wood was attached wherewith to pierce and draw it up whenever it
showed signs of burning low.
For a while we sat down and watched this grim people eating their
evening meal in silence as grim as themselves, till at length, getting
tired of contemplating them and the huge moving shadows on the rocky
walls, I suggested to our new keeper that we should like to go to bed.
Without a word he rose, and, taking me politely by the hand, advanced
with a lamp to one of the small passages that I had noticed opening
out of the central cave. This we followed for about five paces, when
it suddenly widened out into a small chamber, about eight feet square,
and hewn out of the living rock. On one side of this chamber was a
stone slab, about three feet from the ground, and running its entire
length like a bunk in a cabin, and on this slab he intimated that I
was to sleep. There was no window or air-hole to the chamber, and no
furniture; and, on looking at it more closely, I came to the
disturbing conclusion (in which, as I afterwards discovered, I was
quite right) that it had originally served for a sepulchre for the
dead rather than a sleeping-place for the living, the slab being
designed to receive the corpse of the departed. The thought made me
shudder in spite of myself; but, seeing that I must sleep somewhere, I
got over the feeling as best I might, and returned to the cavern to
get my blanket, which had been brought up from the boat with the other
things. There I met Job, who, having been inducted to a similar
apartment, had flatly declined to stop in it, saying that the look of
the place gave him the horrors, and that he might as well be dead and
buried in his grandfather's brick grave at once, and expressed his
determination of sleeping with me if I would allow him. This, of
course, I was only too glad to do.
The night passed very comfortably on the whole. I say on the whole,
for personally I went through a most horrible nightmare of being
buried alive, induced, no doubt, by the sepulchral nature of my
surroundings. At dawn we were aroused by a loud trumpeting sound,
produced, as we afterwards discovered, by a young Amahagger blowing
through a hole bored in its side into a hollowed elephant tusk, which
was kept for the purpose.
Taking the hint, we got up and went down to the stream to wash, after
which the morning meal was served. At breakfast one of the women, no
longer quite young, advanced and publicly kissed Job. I think it was
in its way the most delightful thing (putting its impropriety aside
for a moment) that I ever saw. Never shall I forget the respectable
Job's abject terror and disgust. Job, like myself, is a bit of a
misogynist--I fancy chiefly owing to the fact of his having been one
of a family of seventeen--and the feelings expressed upon his
countenance when he realised that he was not only being embraced
publicly, and without authorisation on his own part, but also in the
presence of his masters, were too mixed and painful to admit of
accurate description. He sprang to his feet, and pushed the woman, a
buxom person of about thirty, from him.
"Well, I never!" he gasped, whereupon probably thinking that he was
only coy, she embraced him again.
"Be off with you! Get away, you minx!" he shouted, waving the wooden
spoon, with which he was eating his breakfast, up and down before the
lady's face. "Beg your pardon, gentlemen, I am sure I haven't
encouraged her. Oh, Lord! she's coming for me again. Hold her, Mr.
Holly! please hold her! I can't stand it; I can't, indeed. This has
never happened to me before, gentlemen, never. There's nothing against
my character," and here he broke off, and ran as hard as he could go
down the cave, and for once I saw the Amahagger laugh. As for the
woman, however, she did not laugh. On the contrary, she seemed to
bristle with fury, which the mockery of the other women about only
served to intensify. She stood there literally snarling and shaking
with indignation, and, seeing her, I wished Job's scruples had been at
Jericho, forming a shrewd guess that his admirable behaviour had
endangered our throats. Nor, as the sequel shows, was I wrong.
The lady having retreated, Job returned in a great state of
nervousness, and keeping his weather eye fixed upon every woman who
came near him. I took an opportunity to explain to our hosts that Job
was a married man, and had had very unhappy experiences in his
domestic relations, which accounted for his presence here and his
terror at the sight of women, but my remarks were received in grim
silence, it being evident that our retainer's behaviour was considered
as a slight to the "household" at large, although the women, after the
manner of some of their most civilised sisters, made merry at the
rebuff of their companion.
After breakfast we took a walk and inspected the Amahagger herds, and
also their cultivated lands. They have two breeds of cattle, one large
and angular, with no horns, but yielding beautiful milk; and the
other, a red breed, very small and fat, excellent for meat, but of no
value for milking purposes. This last breed closely resembles the
Norfolk red-pole strain, only it has horns which generally curve
forward over the head, sometimes to such an extent that they have to
be cut to prevent them from growing into the bones of the skull. The
goats are long-haired, and are used for eating only, at least I never
saw them milked. As for the Amahagger cultivation, it is primitive in
the extreme, being all done by means of a spade made of iron, for
these people smelt and work iron. This spade is shaped more like a big
spear-head than anything else, and has no shoulder to it on which the
foot can be set. As a consequence, the labour of digging is very
great. It is, however, all done by the men, the women, contrary to the
habits of most savage races, being entirely exempt from manual toil.
But then, as I think I have said elsewhere, among the Amahagger the
weaker sex has established its rights.
At first we were much puzzled as to the origin and constitution of
this extraordinary race, points upon which they were singularly
uncommunicative. As the time went on--for the next four days passed
without any striking event--we learnt something from Leo's lady friend
Ustane, who, by the way, stuck to that young gentleman like his own
shadow. As to origin, they had none, at least, so far as she was
aware. There were, however, she informed us, mounds of masonry and
many pillars, near the place where /She/ lived, which was called Kôr,
and which the wise said had once been houses wherein men lived, and it
was suggested that they were descended from these men. No one,
however, dared go near these great ruins, because they were haunted:
they only looked on them from a distance. Other similar ruins were to
be seen, she had heard, in various parts of the country, that is,
wherever one of the mountains rose above the level of the swamp. Also
the caves in which they lived had been hollowed out of the rocks by
men, perhaps the same who built the cities. They themselves had no
written laws, only custom, which was, however, quite as binding as
law. If any man offended against the custom, he was put to death by
order of the Father of the "Household." I asked how he was put to
death, and she only smiled and said that I might see one day soon.
They had a Queen, however. /She/ was their Queen, but she was very
rarely seen, perhaps once in two or three years, when she came forth
to pass sentence on some offenders, and when seen was muffled up in a
big cloak, so that nobody could look upon her face. Those who waited
upon her were deaf and dumb, and therefore could tell no tales, but it
was reported that she was lovely as no other woman was lovely, or ever
had been. It was rumoured also that she was immortal, and had power
over all things, but she, Ustane, could say nothing of all that. What
she believed was that the Queen chose a husband from time to time, and
as soon as a female child was born, this husband, who was never again
seen, was put to death. Then the female child grew up and took the
place of the Queen when its mother died, and had been buried in the
great caves. But of these matters none could speak with certainty.
Only /She/ was obeyed throughout the length and breadth of the land,
and to question her command was instant death. She kept a guard, but
had no regular army, and to disobey her was to die.
I asked what size the land was, and how many people lived in it. She
answered that there were ten "Households," like this that she knew of,
including the big "Household," where the Queen was, that all the
"Households" lived in caves, in places resembling this stretch of
raised country, dotted about in a vast extent of swamp, which was only
to be threaded by secret paths. Often the "Households" made war on
each other until /She/ sent word that it was to stop, and then they
instantly ceased. That and the fever which they caught in crossing the
swamps prevented their numbers from increasing too much. They had no
connection with any other race, indeed none lived near them, or were
able to thread the vast swamps. Once an army from the direction of the
great river (presumably the Zambesi) had attempted to attack them, but
they got lost in the marshes, and at night, seeing the great balls of
fire that move about there, tried to come to them, thinking that they
marked the enemy camp, and half of them were drowned. As for the rest,
they soon died of fever and starvation, not a blow being struck at
them. The marshes, she told us, were absolutely impassable except to
those who knew the paths, adding, what I could well believe, that we
should never have reached this place where we then were had we not
been brought thither.
These and many other things we learnt from Ustane during the four
days' pause before our real adventures began, and, as may be imagined,
they gave us considerable cause for thought. The whole thing was
exceedingly remarkable, almost incredibly so, indeed, and the oddest
part of it was that so far it did more or less correspond to the
ancient writing on the sherd. And now it appeared that there was a
mysterious Queen clothed by rumour with dread and wonderful
attributes, and commonly known by the impersonal, but, to my mind,
rather awesome title of /She/. Altogether, I could not make it out,
nor could Leo, though of course he was exceedingly triumphant over me
because I had persistently mocked at the whole thing. As for Job, he
had long since abandoned any attempt to call his reason his own, and
left it to drift upon the sea of circumstance. Mahomed, the Arab, who
was, by the way, treated civilly indeed, but with chilling contempt,
by the Amahagger, was, I discovered, in a great fright, though I could
not quite make out what he was frightened about. He would sit crouched
up in a corner of the cave all day long, calling upon Allah and the
Prophet to protect him. When I pressed him about it, he said that he
was afraid because these people were not men or women at all, but
devils, and that this was an enchanted land; and, upon my word, once
or twice since then I have been inclined to agree with him. And so the
time went on, till the night of the fourth day after Billali had left,
when something happened.
We three and Ustane were sitting round a fire in the cave just before
bedtime, when suddenly the woman, who had been brooding in silence,
rose, and laid her hand upon Leo's golden curls, and addressed him.
Even now, when I shut my eyes, I can see her proud, imperial form,
clothed alternately in dense shadow and the red flickering of the
fire, as she stood, the wild centre of as weird a scene as I ever
witnessed, and delivered herself of the burden of her thoughts and
forebodings in a kind of rhythmical speech that ran something as
Thou art my chosen--I have waited for thee from the beginning!
Thou art very beautiful. Who hath hair like unto thee, or skin so
Who hath so strong an arm, who is so much a man?
Thine eyes are the sky, and the light in them is the stars.
Thou art perfect and of a happy face, and my heart turned itself
Ay, when mine eyes fell upon thee I did desire thee,--
Then did I take thee to me--oh, thou Beloved,
And hold thee fast, lest harm should come unto thee.
Ay, I did cover thine head with mine hair, lest the sun should
And altogether was I thine, and thou wast altogether mine.
And so it went for a little space, till Time was in labour with
an evil Day;
And then what befell on that day? Alas! my Beloved, I know not!
But I, I saw thee no more--I, I was lost in the blackness.
And she who is stronger did take thee; ay, she who is fairer than
Yet didst thou turn and call upon me, and let thine eyes wander in
But, nevertheless, she prevailed by Beauty, and led thee down
And then, ah! then my Beloved----
Here this extraordinary woman broke off her speech, or chant, which
was so much musical gibberish to us, for all that we understood of
what she was talking about, and seemed to fix her flashing eyes upon
the deep shadow before her. Then in a moment they acquired a vacant,
terrified stare, as though they were striving to realise some half-
seen horror. She lifted her hand from Leo's head, and pointed into the
darkness. We all looked, and could see nothing; but she saw something,
or thought she did, and something evidently that affected even her
iron nerves, for, without another sound, down she fell senseless
Leo, who was growing really attached to this remarkable young person,
was in a great state of alarm and distress, and I, to be perfectly
candid, was in a condition not far removed from superstitious fear.
The whole scene was an uncanny one.
Presently, however, she recovered, and sat up with an extraordinary
"What didst thou mean, Ustane?" asked Leo, who, thanks to years of
tuition, spoke Arabic very prettily.
"Nay, my chosen," she answered, with a little forced laugh. "I did but
sing unto thee after the fashion of my people. Surely, I meant
nothing. Now could I speak of that which is not yet?"
"And what didst thou see, Ustane?" I asked, looking her sharply in the
"Nay," she answered again, "I saw naught. Ask me not what I saw. Why
should I fright ye?" And then, turning to Leo with a look of the most
utter tenderness that I ever saw upon the face of a woman, civilised
or savage, she took his head between her hands, and kissed him on the
forehead as a mother might.
"When I am gone from thee, my chosen," she said; "when at night thou
stretchest out thine hand and canst not find me, then shouldst thou
think at times of me, for of a truth I love thee well, though I be not
fit to wash thy feet. And now let us love and take that which is given
us, and be happy; for in the grave there is no love and no warmth, nor
any touching of the lips. Nothing perchance, or perchance but bitter
memories of what might have been. To-night the hours are our own, how
know we to whom they shall belong to-morrow?"
THE FEAST, AND AFTER!
On the day following this remarkable scene--a scene calculated to make
a deep impression upon anybody who beheld it, more because of what it
suggested and seemed to foreshadow than of what it revealed--it was
announced to us that a feast would be held that evening in our honour.
I did my best to get out of it, saying that we were modest people, and
cared little for feasts, but my remarks being received with the
silence of displeasure, I thought it wisest to hold my tongue.
Accordingly, just before sundown, I was informed that everything was
ready, and, accompanied by Job, went into the cave, where I met Leo,
who was, as usual, followed by Ustane. These two had been out walking
somewhere, and knew nothing of the projected festivity till that
moment. When Ustane heard of it I saw an expression of horror spring
up upon her handsome features. Turning she caught a man who was
passing up the cave by the arm, and asked him something in an
imperious tone. His answer seemed to reassure her a little, for she
looked relieved, though far from satisfied. Next she appeared to
attempt some remonstrance with the man, who was a person in authority,
but he spoke angrily to her, and shook her off, and then, changing his
mind, led her by the arm, and sat her down between himself and another
man in the circle round the fire, and I perceived that for some reason
of her own she thought it best to submit.
The fire in the cave was an unusually big one that night, and in a
large circle round it were gathered about thirty-five men and two
women, Ustane and the woman to avoid whom Job had played the /rôle/ of
another Scriptural character. The men were sitting in perfect silence,
as was their custom, each with his great spear stuck upright behind
him, in a socket cut in the rock for that purpose. Only one or two
wore the yellowish linen garment of which I have spoken, the rest had
nothing on except the leopard's skin about the middle.
"What's up now, sir," said Job, doubtfully. "Bless us and save us,
there's that woman again. Now, surely, she can't be after me, seeing
that I have given her no encouragement. They give me the creeps, the
whole lot of them, and that's a fact. Why look, they have asked
Mahomed to dine, too. There, that lady of mine is talking to him in as
nice and civil a way as possible. Well, I'm glad it isn't me, that's
We looked up, and sure enough the woman in question had risen, and was
escorting the wretched Mahomed from his corner, where, overcome by
some acute prescience of horror, he had been seated, shivering, and
calling on Allah. He appeared unwilling enough to come, if for no
other reason perhaps because it was an unaccustomed honour, for
hitherto his food had been given to him apart. Anyway I could see that
he was in a state of great terror, for his tottering legs would
scarcely support his stout, bulky form, and I think it was rather
owing to the resources of barbarism behind him, in the shape of a huge
Amahagger with a proportionately huge spear, than to the seductions of
the lady who led him by the hand, that he consented to come at all.
"Well," I said to the others, "I don't at all like the look of things,
but I suppose we must face it out. Have you fellows got your revolvers
on? because, if so, you had better see that they are loaded."
"I have, sir," said Job, tapping his Colt, "but Mr. Leo has only got
his hunting knife, though that is big enough, surely."
Feeling that it would not do to wait while the missing weapon was
fetched, we advanced boldly, and seated ourselves in a line, with our
backs against the side of the cave.
As soon as we were seated, an earthenware jar was passed round
containing a fermented fluid, of by no means unpleasant taste, though
apt to turn upon the stomach, made from crushed grain--not Indian
corn, but a small brown grain that grows upon its stem in clusters,
not unlike that which in the southern part of Africa is known by the
name of Kafir corn. The vase which contained this liquor was very
curious, and as it more or less resembled many hundreds of others in
use among the Amahagger I may as well describe it. These vases are of
a very ancient manufacture, and of all sizes. None such can have been
made in the country for hundreds, or rather thousands, of years. They
are found in the rock tombs, of which I shall give a description in
their proper place, and my own belief is that, after the fashion of
the Egyptians, with whom the former inhabitants of this country may
have had some connection, they were used to receive the viscera of the
dead. Leo, however, is of opinion that, as in the case of Etruscan
amphoræ, they were placed there for the spiritual use of the deceased.
They are mostly two-handled, and of all sizes, some being nearly three
feet in height, and running from that down to as many inches. In shape
they vary, but all are exceedingly beautiful and graceful, being made
of a very fine black ware, not lustrous, but slightly rough. On this
groundwork are inlaid figures much more graceful and lifelike than any
others that I have seen on antique vases. Some of these inlaid
pictures represent love-scenes with a childlike simplicity and freedom
of manner which would not commend itself to the taste of the present
day. Others again give pictures of maidens dancing, and yet others of
hunting-scenes. For instance, the very vase from which we were then
drinking had on one side a most spirited drawing of men, apparently
white in colour, attacking a bull-elephant with spears, while on the
reverse was a picture, not quite so well done, of a hunter shooting an
arrow at a running antelope, I should say from the look of it either
an eland or a koodoo.
This is a digression at a critical moment, but it is not too long for
the occasion, for the occasion itself was very long. With the
exception of the periodical passing of the vase, and the movement
necessary to throw fuel on to the fire, nothing happened for the best
part of a whole hour. Nobody spoke a word. There we all sat in perfect
silence, staring at the glare and glow of the large fire, and at the
shadows thrown by the flickering earthenware lamps (which, by the way,
were not ancient). On the open space between us and the fire lay a
large wooden tray, with four short handles to it, exactly like a
butcher's tray, only not hollowed out. By the side of the tray was a
great pair of long-handled iron pincers, and on the other side of the
fire was a similar pair. Somehow I did not at all like the appearance
of this tray and the accompanying pincers. There I sat and stared at
them and at the silent circle of the fierce moody faces of the men,
and reflected that it was all very awful, and that we were absolutely
in the power of this alarming people, who, to me at any rate, were all
the more formidable because their true character was still very much
of a mystery to us. They might be better than I thought them, or they
might be worse. I feared that they were worse, and I was not wrong. It
was a curious sort of a feast, I reflected, in appearance indeed, an
entertainment of the Barmecide stamp, for there was absolutely nothing
At last, just as I was beginning to feel as though I were being
mesmerised, a move was made. Without the slightest warning, a man from
the other side of the circle called out in a loud voice--
"Where is the flesh that we shall eat?"
Thereon everybody in the circle answered in a deep measured tone, and
stretching out the right arm towards the fire as he spoke--
"/The flesh will come./"
"Is it a goat?" said the same man.
"/It is a goat without horns, and more than a goat, and we shall slay
it,/" they answered with one voice, and turning half round they one
and all grasped the handles of their spears with the right hand, and
then simultaneously let them go.
"Is it an ox?" said the man again.
"/It is an ox without horns, and more than an ox, and we shall slay
it,/" was the answer, and again the spears were grasped, and again let
Then came a pause, and I noticed, with horror and a rising of the
hair, that the woman next to Mahomed began to fondle him, patting his
cheeks and calling him by names of endearment while her fierce eyes
played up and down his trembling form. I do not know why the sight
frightened me so, but it did frighten us all dreadfully, especially
Leo. The caressing was so snake-like, and so evidently a part of some
ghastly formula that had to be gone through.[*] I saw Mahomed turn
white under his brown skin, sickly white with fear.
[*] We afterwards learnt that its object was to pretend to the victim
that he was the object of love and admiration, and so to sooth his
injured feelings, and cause him to expire in a happy and contented
frame of mind.--L. H. H.
"Is the meat ready to be cooked?" asked the voice, more rapidly.
"/It is ready; it is ready./"
"Is the pot hot to cook it?" it continued, in a sort of scream that
echoed painfully down the great recesses of the cave.
"/It is hot; it is hot./"
"Great heavens!" roared Leo, "remember the writing, '/The people who
place pots upon the heads of strangers./'"
As he said the words, before we could stir, or even take the matter
in, two great ruffians jumped up, and, seizing the long pincers,
thrust them into the heart of the fire, and the woman who had been
caressing Mahomed suddenly produced a fibre noose from under her
girdle or moocha, and, slipping it over his shoulders, ran it tight,
while the men next to him seized him by the legs. The two men with the
pincers gave a heave, and, scattering the fire this way and that upon
the rocky floor, lifted from it a large earthenware pot, heated to a
white heat. In an instant, almost with a single movement, they had
reached the spot where Mahomed was struggling. He fought like a fiend,
shrieking in the abandonment of his despair, and notwithstanding the
noose round him, and the efforts of the men who held his legs, the
advancing wretches were for the moment unable to accomplish their
purpose, which, horrible and incredible as it seems, was /to put the
red-hot pot upon his head/.
I sprang to my feet with a yell of horror, and drawing my revolver
fired it by a sort of instinct straight at the diabolical woman who
had been caressing Mahomed, and was now gripping him in her arms. The
bullet struck her in the back and killed her, and to this day I am
glad that it did, for, as it afterwards transpired, she had availed
herself of the anthropophagous customs of the Amahagger to organise
the whole thing in revenge of the slight put upon her by Job. She sank
down dead, and as she did so, to my terror and dismay, Mahomed, by a
superhuman effort, burst from his tormenters, and, springing high into
the air, fell dying upon her corpse. The heavy bullet from my pistol
had driven through the bodies of both, at once striking down the
murderess, and saving her victim from a death a hundred times more
horrible. It was an awful and yet a most merciful accident.
For a moment there was a silence of astonishment. The Amahagger had
never heard the report of a firearm before, and its effects dismayed
them. But the next a man close to us recovered himself, and seized his
spear preparatory to making a lunge with it at Leo, who was the
nearest to him.
"Run for it!" I shouted, setting the example by starting up the cave
as hard as my legs would carry me. I would have made for the open air
if it had been possible, but there were men in the way, and, besides,
I had caught sight of the forms of a crowd of people standing out
clear against the skyline beyond the entrance to the cave. Up the cave
I went, and after me came the others, and after them thundered the
whole crowd of cannibals, mad with fury at the death of the woman.
With a bound I cleared the prostrate form of Mahomed. As I flew over
him I felt the heat from the red-hot pot, which was lying close by,
strike upon my legs, and by its glow saw his hands--for he was not
quite dead--still feebly moving. At the top of the cave was a little
platform of rock three feet or so high by about eight deep, on which
two large lamps were placed at night. Whether this platform had been
left as a seat, or as a raised point afterwards to be cut away when it
had served its purpose as a standing place from which to carry on the
excavations, I do not know--at least, I did not then. At any rate, we
all three reached it, and, jumping on it, prepared to sell our lives
as dearly as we could. For a few seconds the crowd that was pressing
on our heels hung back when they saw us face round upon them. Job was
on one side of the rock to the left, Leo in the centre, and I to the
right. Behind us were the lamps. Leo bent forward, and looked down the
long lane of shadows, terminating in the fire and lighted lamps,
through which the quiet forms of our would-be murderers flitted to and
fro with the faint light glinting on their spears, for even their fury
was silent as a bulldog's. The only other thing visible was the red-
hot pot still glowing angrily in the gloom. There was a curious light
in Leo's eyes, and his handsome face was set like a stone. In his
right hand was his heavy hunting-knife. He shifted its thong a little
up his wrist and then put his arm round me and gave me a good hug.
"Good-bye, old fellow," he said, "my dear friend--my more than father.
We have no chance against those scoundrels; they will finish us in a
few minutes, and eat us afterwards, I suppose. Good-bye. I led you
into this. I hope you will forgive me. Good-bye, Job."
"God's will be done," I said, setting my teeth, as I prepared for the
end. At that moment, with an exclamation, Job lifted his revolver and
fired, and hit a man--not the man he had aimed at, by the way:
anything that Job shot /at/ was perfectly safe.
On they came with a rush, and I fired too as fast as I could, and
checked them--between us, Job and I, besides the woman, killed or
mortally wounded five men with our pistols before they were emptied.
But we had no time to reload, and they still came on in a way that was
almost splendid in its recklessness, seeing that they did not know but
that we could go on firing for ever.
A great fellow bounded up upon the platform, and Leo struck him dead
with one blow of his powerful arm, sending the knife right through
him. I did the same by another, but Job missed his stroke, and I saw a
brawny Amahagger grip him by the middle and whirl him off the rock.
The knife not being secured by a thong fell from Job's hand as he did
so, and, by a most happy accident for him, lit upon its handle on the
rock, just as the body of the Amahagger, who was undermost, struck
upon its point and was transfixed upon it. What happened to Job after
that I am sure I do not know, but my own impression is that he lay
still upon the corpse of his deceased assailant, "playing 'possum" as
the Americans say. As for myself, I was soon involved in a desperate
encounter with two ruffians, who, luckily for me, had left their
spears behind them; and for the first time in my life the great
physical power with which Nature has endowed me stood me in good
stead. I had hacked at the head of one man with my hunting-knife,
which was almost as big and heavy as a short sword, with such vigour,
that the sharp steel had split his skull down to the eyes, and was
held so fast by it that as he suddenly fell sideways the knife was
twisted right out of my hand.
Then it was that the two others sprang upon me. I saw them coming, and
got an arm round the waist of each, and down we all fell upon the
floor of the cave together, rolling over and over. They were strong
men, but I was mad with rage, and that awful lust for slaughter which
will creep into the hearts of the most civilised of us when blows are
flying, and life and death tremble on the turn. My arms were round the
two swarthy demons, and I hugged them till I heard their ribs crack
and crunch up beneath my grip. They twisted and writhed like snakes,
and clawed and battered at me with their fists, but I held on. Lying
on my back there, so that their bodies might protect me from spear
thrusts from above, I slowly crushed the life out of them, and as I
did so, strange as it may seem, I thought of what the amiable Head of
my College at Cambridge (who is a member of the Peace Society) and my
brother Fellows would say if by clairvoyance they could see me, of all
men, playing such a bloody game. Soon my assailants grew faint, and
almost ceased to struggle, their breath had failed them, and they were
dying, but still I dared not leave them, for they died very slowly. I
knew that if I relaxed my grip they would revive. The other ruffians
probably thought--for we were all three lying in the shadow of the
ledge--that we were all dead together, at any rate they did not
interfere with our little tragedy.
I turned my head, and as I lay gasping in the throes of that awful
struggle I could see that Leo was off the rock now, for the lamplight
fell full upon him. He was still on his feet, but in the centre of a
surging mass of struggling men, who were striving to pull him down as
wolves pull down a stag. Up above them towered his beautiful pale face
crowned with its bright curls (for Leo is six feet two high), and I
saw that he was fighting with a desperate abandonment and energy that
was at once splendid and hideous to behold. He drove his knife through
one man--they were so close to and mixed up with him that they could
not get at him to kill him with their big spears, and they had no
knives or sticks. The man fell, and then somehow the knife was
wrenched from his hand, leaving him defenceless, and I thought the end
had come. But no; with a desperate effort he broke loose from them,
seized the body of the man he had just slain, and lifting it high in
the air hurled it right at the mob of his assailants, so that the
shock and weight of it swept some five or six of them to the earth.
But in a minute they were all up again, except one, whose skull was
smashed, and had once more fastened upon him. And then slowly, and
with infinite labour and struggling, the wolves bore the lion down.
Once even then he recovered himself, and felled an Amahagger with his
fist, but it was more than man could do to hold his own for long
against so many, and at last he came crashing down upon the rock
floor, falling as an oak falls, and bearing with him to the earth all
those who clung about him. They gripped him by his arms and legs, and
then cleared off his body.
"A spear," cried a voice--"a spear to cut his throat, and a vessel to
catch his blood."
I shut my eyes, for I saw the man coming with a spear, and myself, I
could not stir to Leo's help, for I was growing weak, and the two men
on me were not yet dead, and a deadly sickness overcame me.
Then suddenly there was a disturbance, and involuntarily I opened my
eyes again, and looked towards the scene of murder. The girl Ustane
had thrown herself on Leo's prostrate form, covering his body with her
body, and fastening her arms about his neck. They tried to drag her
from him, but she twisted her legs round his, and hung on like a
bulldog, or rather like a creeper to a tree, and they could not. Then
they tried to stab him in the side without hurting her, but somehow
she shielded him, and he was only wounded.
At last they lost patience.
"Drive the spear through the man and the woman together," said a
voice, the same voice that had asked the questions at that ghastly
feast, "so of a verity shall they be wed."
Then I saw the man with the weapon straighten himself for the effort.
I saw the cold steel gleam on high, and once more I shut my eyes.
As I did so I heard the voice of a man thunder out in tones that rang
and echoed down the rocky ways--
Then I fainted, and as I did so it flashed through my darkening mind
that I was passing down into the last oblivion of death.
A LITTLE FOOT
When I opened my eyes again I found myself lying on a skin mat not far
from the fire round which we had been gathered for that dreadful
feast. Near me lay Leo, still apparently in a swoon, and over him was
bending the tall form of the girl Ustane, who was washing a deep spear
wound in his side with cold water preparatory to binding it up with
linen. Leaning against the wall of the cave behind her was Job,
apparently uninjured, but bruised and trembling. On the other side of
the fire, tossed about this way and that, as though they had thrown
themselves down to sleep in some moment of absolute exhaustion, were
the bodies of those whom we had killed in our frightful struggle for
life. I counted them: there were twelve besides the woman, and the
corpse of poor Mahomed, who had died by my hand, which, the fire-
stained pot at its side, was placed at the end of the irregular line.
To the left a body of men were engaged in binding the arms of the
survivors of the cannibals behind them, and then fastening them two
and two. The villains were submitting with a look of sulky
indifference upon their faces which accorded ill with the baffled fury
that gleamed in their sombre eyes. In front of these men, directing
the operations, stood no other than our friend Billali, looking rather
tired, but particularly patriarchal with his flowing beard, and as
cool and unconcerned as though he were superintending the cutting up
of an ox.
Presently he turned, and perceiving that I was sitting up advanced to
me, and with the utmost courtesy said that he trusted that I felt
better. I answered that at present I scarcely knew how I felt, except
that I ached all over.
Then he bent down and examined Leo's wound.
"It is an evil cut," he said, "but the spear has not pierced the
entrails. He will recover."
"Thanks to thy arrival, my father," I answered. "In another minute we
should all have been beyond the reach of recovery, for those devils of
thine would have slain us as they would have slain our servant," and I
pointed towards Mahomed.
The old man ground his teeth, and I saw an extraordinary expression of
malignity light up his eyes.
"Fear not, my son," he answered. "Vengeance shall be taken on them
such as would make the flesh twist upon the bones merely to hear of
it. To /She/ shall they go, and her vengeance shall be worthy of her
greatness. That man," pointing to Mahomed, "I tell thee that man would
have died a merciful death to the death these hyæna-men shall die.
Tell me, I pray of thee, how it came about."
In a few words I sketched what had happened.
"Ah, so," he answered. "Thou seest, my son, here there is a custom
that if a stranger comes into this country he may be slain by 'the
pot,' and eaten."
"It is hospitality turned upside down," I answered feebly. "In our
country we entertain a stranger, and give him food to eat. Here ye eat
him, and are entertained."
"It is a custom," he answered, with a shrug. "Myself I think it an
evil one; but then," he added by an afterthought, "I do not like the
taste of strangers, especially after they have wandered through the
swamps and lived on wild-fowl. When /She-who-must-be-obeyed/ sent
orders that ye were to be saved alive she said naught of the black
man, therefore, being hyænas, these men lusted after his flesh, and
the woman it was, whom thou didst rightly slay, who put it into their
evil hearts to hot-pot him. Well, they will have their reward. Better
for them would it be if they had never seen the light than that they
should stand before /She/ in her terrible anger. Happy are those of
them who died by your hands."
"Ah," he went on, "it was a gallant fight that ye fought. Knowest thou
that, long-armed old baboon that thou art, thou hast crushed in the
ribs of those two who are laid out there as though they were but as
the shell on an egg? And the young one, the lion, it was a beautiful
stand that he made--one against so many--three did he slay outright,
and that one there"--and he pointed to a body that was still moving a
little--"will die anon, for his head is cracked across, and others of
those who are bound are hurt. It was a gallant fight, and thou and he
have made a friend of me by it, for I love to see a well-fought fray.
But tell me, my son, the baboon--and now I think of it thy face, too,
is hairy, and altogether like a baboon's--how was it that ye slew
those with a hole in them?--Ye made a noise, they say, and slew them--
they fell down on the faces at the noise?"
I explained to him as well as I could, but very shortly--for I was
terribly wearied, and only persuaded to talk at all through fear of
offending one so powerful if I refused to do so--what were the
properties of gunpowder, and he instantly suggested that I should
illustrate what I said by operating on the person of one of the
prisoners. One, he said, never would be counted, and it would not only
be very interesting to him, but would give me the opportunity of an
instalment of revenge. He was greatly astounded when I told him that
it was not our custom to avenge ourselves in cold blood, and that we
left vengeance to the law and a higher power, of which he knew
nothing. I added, however, that when I recovered I would take him out
shooting with us, and he should kill an animal for himself, and at
this he was as pleased as a child at the promise of a new toy.
Just then Leo opened his eyes beneath the stimulus of some brandy (of
which we still had a little) that Job had poured down his throat, and
our conversation came to an end.
After this we managed to get Leo, who was in a very poor way indeed,
and only half conscious, safely off to bed, supported by Job and that
brave girl Ustane, to whom, had I not been afraid that she might
resent it, I would certainly have given a kiss for her splendid
behaviour in saving my boy's life at the risk of her own. But Ustane
was not the sort of young person with whom one would care to take
liberties unless one were perfectly certain that they would not be
misunderstood, so I repressed my inclinations. Then, bruised and
battered, but with a sense of safety in my breast to which I had for
some days been a stranger, I crept off to my own little sepulchre, not
forgetting before I laid down in it to thank Providence from the
bottom of my heart that it was not a sepulchre indeed, as, save for a
merciful combination of events that I can only attribute to its
protection, it would certainly have been for me that night. Few men
have been nearer their end and yet escaped it than we were on that
I am a bad sleeper at the best of times, and my dreams that night when
at last I got to rest were not of the pleasantest. The awful vision of
poor Mahomed struggling to escape the red-hot pot would haunt them,
and then in the background, as it were, a veiled form was always
hovering, which, from time to time, seemed to draw the coverings from
its body, revealing now the perfect shape of a lovely blooming woman,
and now again the white bones of a grinning skeleton, and which, as it
veiled and unveiled, uttered the mysterious and apparently meaningless
"That which is alive and hath known death, and that which is dead
yet can never die, for in the Circle of the Spirit life is naught
and death is naught. Yea, all things live for ever, though at
times they sleep and are forgotten."
The morning came at last, but when it came I found that I was too
stiff and sore to rise. About seven Job arrived, limping terribly, and
with his face the colour of a rotten apple, and told me that Leo had
slept fairly, but was very weak. Two hours afterwards Billali (Job
called him "Billy-goat," to which, indeed, his white beard gave him
some resemblance, or more familiarly, "Billy") came too, bearing a
lamp in his hand, his towering form reaching nearly to the roof of the
little chamber. I pretended to be asleep, and through the cracks of my
eyelids watched his sardonic but handsome old face. He fixed his hawk-
like eyes upon me, and stroked his glorious white beard, which, by the
way, would have been worthy a hundred a year to any London barber as
"Ah!" I heard him mutter (Billali had a habit of muttering to
himself), "he is ugly--ugly as the other is beautiful--a very Baboon,
it was a good name. But I like the man. Strange now, at my age, that I
should like a man. What says the proverb--'Mistrust all men, and slay
him whom thou mistrustest overmuch; and as for women, flee from them,
for they are evil, and in the end will destroy thee.' It is a good
proverb, especially the last part of it: I think that it must have
come down from the ancients. Nevertheless I like this Baboon, and I
wonder where they taught him his tricks, and I trust that /She/ will
not bewitch him. Poor Baboon! he must be wearied after that fight. I
will go lest I should awake him."
I waited till he had turned and was nearly through the entrance,
walking softly on tiptoe, and then I called after him.
"My father," I said, "is it thou?"
"Yes, my son, it is I; but let me not disturb thee. I did but come to
see how thou didst fare, and to tell thee that those who would have
slain thee, my Baboon, are by now far on their road to /She/. /She/
said that ye also were to come at once, but I fear ye cannot yet."
"Nay," I said, "not till we have recovered a little; but have me borne
out into the daylight, I pray thee, my father. I love not this place."
"Ah, no," he answered, "it hath a sad air. I remember when I was a boy
I found the body of a fair woman lying where thou liest now, yes, on
that very bench. She was so beautiful that I was wont to creep in
hither with a lamp and gaze upon her. Had it not been for her cold
hands, almost could I think that she slept and would one day awake, so
fair and peaceful was she in her robes of white. White was she, too,
and her hair was yellow and lay down her almost to the feet. There are
many such still in the tombs at the place where /She/ is, for those
who set them there had a way I know naught of, whereby to keep their
beloved out of the crumbling hand of Decay, even when Death had slain
them. Ay, day by day I came hither, and gazed on her till at last--
laugh not at me, stranger, for I was but a silly lad--I learned to
love that dead form, that shell which once had held a life that no
more is. I would creep up to her and kiss her cold face, and wonder
how many men had lived and died since she was, and who had loved her
and embraced her in the days that long had passed away. And, my
Baboon, I think I learned wisdom from that dead one, for of a truth it
taught me of the littleness of life, and the length of Death, and how
all things that are under the sun go down one path, and are for ever
forgotten. And so I mused, and it seemed to me that wisdom flowed into
me from the dead, till one day my mother, a watchful woman, but hasty-
minded, seeing I was changed, followed me, and saw the beautiful white
one, and feared that I was bewitched, as, indeed, I was. So half in
dread, and half in anger, she took up the lamp, and standing the dead
woman up against the wall even there, set fire to her hair, and she
burnt fiercely, even down to the feet, for those who are thus kept
burn excellently well.
"See, my son, there on the roof is yet the smoke of her burning."
I looked up doubtfully, and there, sure enough, on the roof of the
sepulchre, was a peculiarly unctuous and sooty mark, three feet or
more across. Doubtless it had in the course of years been rubbed off
the sides of the little cave, but on the roof it remained, and there
was no mistaking its appearance.
"She burnt," he went on in a meditative way, "even to the feet, but
the feet I came back and saved, cutting the burnt bone from them, and
hid them under the stone bench there, wrapped up in a piece of linen.
Surely, I remember it as though it were but yesterday. Perchance they
are there, if none have found them, even to this hour. Of a truth I
have not entered this chamber from that time to this very day. Stay, I
will look," and, kneeling down, he groped about with his long arm in
the recess under the stone bench. Presently his face brightened, and
with an exclamation he pulled something forth which was caked in dust;
which he shook on to the floor. It was covered with the remains of a
rotting rag, which he undid, and revealed to my astonished gaze a
beautifully shaped and almost white woman's foot, looking as fresh and
firm as though it had but now been placed there.
"Thou seest, my son, the Baboon," he said, in a sad voice, "I spake
the truth to thee, for here is yet one foot remaining. Take it, my
son, and gaze upon it."
I took this cold fragment of mortality in my hand and looked at it in
the light of the lamp with feelings which I cannot describe, so mixed
up were they between astonishment, fear, and fascination. It was
light, much lighter I should say than it had been in the living state,
and the flesh to all appearance was still flesh, though about it there
clung a faintly aromatic odour. For the rest it was not shrunk or
shrivelled, or even black and unsightly, like the flesh of Egyptian
mummies, but plump and fair, and, except where it had been slightly
burnt, perfect as on the day of death--a very triumph of embalming.
Poor little foot! I set it down upon the stone bench where it had lain
for so many thousand years, and wondered whose was the beauty that it
had upborne through the pomp and pageantry of a forgotten civilisation
--first as a merry child's, then as a blushing maid's, and lastly as a
perfect woman's. Through what halls of Life had its soft step echoed,
and in the end, with what courage had it trodden down the dusty ways
of Death! To whose side had it stolen in the hush of night when the
black slave slept upon the marble floor, and who had listened for its
stealing? Shapely little foot! Well might it have been set upon the
proud neck of a conqueror bent at last to woman's beauty, and well
might the lips of nobles and of kings have been pressed upon its
I wrapped up this relic of the past in the remnants of the old linen
rag which had evidently formed a portion of its owner's grave-clothes,
for it was partially burnt, and put it away in my Gladstone bag--a
strange combination, I thought. Then with Billali's help I staggered
off to see Leo. I found him dreadfully bruised, worse even than
myself, perhaps owing to the excessive whiteness of his skin, and
faint and weak with the loss of blood from the flesh wound in his
side, but for all that cheerful as a cricket, and asking for some
breakfast. Job and Ustane got him on to the bottom, or rather the
sacking of a litter, which was removed from its pole for that purpose,
and with the aid of old Billali carried him out into the shade at the
mouth of the cave, from which, by the way, every trace of the
slaughter of the previous night had now been removed, and there we all
breakfasted, and indeed spent that day, and most of the two following
On the third morning Job and myself were practically recovered. Leo
also was so much better that I yielded to Billali's often expressed
entreaty, and agreed to start at once upon our journey to Kôr, which
we were told was the name of the place where the mysterious /She/
lived, though I still feared for its effect upon Leo, and especially
lest the motion should cause his wound, which was scarcely skinned
over, to break open again. Indeed, had it not been for Billali's
evident anxiety to get off, which led us to suspect that some
difficulty or danger might threaten us if we did not comply with it, I
would not have consented to go.
Within an hour of our finally deciding to start five litters were
brought up to the door of the cave, each accompanied by four regular
bearers and two spare hands, also a band of about fifty armed
Amahagger, who were to form the escort and carry the baggage. Three of
these litters, of course, were for us, and one for Billali, who, I was
immensely relieved to hear, was to be our companion, while the fifth I
presumed was for the use of Ustane.
"Does the lady go with us, my father?" I asked of Billali, as he stood
superintending things in general.
He shrugged his shoulders as he answered--
"If she wills. In this country the women do what they please. We
worship them, and give them their way, because without them the world
could not go on; they are the source of life."
"Ah," I said, the matter never having struck me quite in that light
""We worship them," he went on, "up to a point, till at last they get
unbearable, which," he added, "they do about every second generation."
"And then what do you do?" I asked, with curiosity.
"Then," he answered, with a faint smile, "we rise, and kill the old
ones as an example to the young ones, and to show them that we are the
strongest. My poor wife was killed in that way three years ago. It was
very sad, but to tell thee the truth, my son, life has been happier
since, for my age protects me from the young ones."
"In short," I replied, quoting the saying of a great man whose wisdom
has not yet lightened the darkness of the Amahagger, "thou hast found
thy position one of greater freedom and less responsibility."
This phrase puzzled him a little at first from its vagueness, though I
think my translation hit off its sense very well, but at last he saw
it, and appreciated it.
"Yes, yes, my Baboon," he said, "I see it now, but all the
'responsibilities' are killed, at least some of them are, and that is
why there are so few old women about just now. Well, they brought it
on themselves. As for this girl," he went on, in a graver tone, "I
know not what to say. She is a brave girl, and she loves the Lion
(Leo); thou sawest how she clung to him, and saved his life. Also, she
is, according to our custom, wed to him, and has a right to go where
he goes, unless," he added significantly, "/She/ would say her no, for
her word overrides all rights."
"And if /She/ bade her leave him, and the girl refused? What then?"
"If," he said, with a shrug, "the hurricane bids the tree to bend, and
it will not; what happens?"
And then, without waiting for an answer, he turned and walked to his
litter, and in ten minutes from that time we were all well under way.
It took us an hour and more to cross the cup of the volcanic plain,
and another half-hour or so to climb the edge on the farther side.
Once there, however, the view was a very fine one. Before us was a
long steep slope of grassy plain, broken here and there by clumps of
trees mostly of the thorn tribe. At the bottom of this gentle slope,
some nine or ten miles away, we could make out a dim sea of marsh,
over which the foul vapours hung like smoke about a city. It was easy
going for the bearers down the slopes, and by midday we had reached
the borders of the dismal swamp. Here we halted to eat our midday
meal, and then, following a winding and devious path, plunged into the
morass. Presently the path, at any rate to our unaccustomed eyes, grew
so faint as to be almost indistinguishable from those made by the
aquatic beasts and birds, and it is to this day a mystery to me how
our bearers found their way across the marshes. Ahead of the cavalcade
marched two men with long poles, which they now and again plunged into