Part 3 out of 6
up country with a mind absolutely free from self-reproach or any money
care, for thus you will be able to do me better service. Therefore I
beg that you will say no more of the episode. I have only one thing to
add, namely that I have myself bought up at par value a few of the
debentures. The price of them will pay the lawyers and the liquidation
fees; moreover they give me a status as a shareholder which will
enable me to sue Mr. Jacob for his fraud, to which business I have
already issued instructions. For please understand that I have not
paid off any shares still standing in his name or in those of his
Here I may add that nothing ever came of this action, for the lawyers
found themselves unable to serve any writ upon that elusive person,
Mr. Jacob, who by then had probably adopted the name of some other
"Please put it all down as a rich man's whim," he concluded.
"I can't call that a whim which has returned £1,500 odd to my pocket
that I had lost upon a gamble, Lord Ragnall."
"Do you remember, Quatermain, how you won £250 upon a gamble at my
place and what you did with it, which sum probably represented to you
twenty or fifty times what it would to me? Also if that argument does
not appeal to you, may I remark that I do not expect you to give me
your services as a professional hunter and guide for nothing."
"Ah!" I answered, fixing on this point and ignoring the rest, "now we
come to business. If I may look upon this amount as salary, a very
handsome salary by the way, paid in advance, you taking the risks of
my dying or becoming incapacitated before it is earned, I will say no
more of the matter. If not I must refuse to accept what is an unearned
"I confess, Quatermain, that I did not regard it in that light, though
I might have been willing to call it a retaining fee. However, do not
let us wrangle about money any more. We can always settle our accounts
when the bill is added up, if ever we reach so far. Now let us come to
more important details."
So we fell to discussing the scheme, route and details of our proposed
journey. Expenditure being practically no object, there were several
plans open to us. We might sail up the coast and go by Kilwa, as I had
done on the search for the Holy Flower, or we might retrace the line
of our retreat from the Mazitu country which ran through Zululand.
Again, we might advance by whatever road we selected with a small army
of drilled and disciplined retainers, trusting to force to break a way
through to the Kendah. Or we might go practically unaccompanied,
relying on our native wit and good fortune to attain our ends. Each of
these alternatives had so much to recommend it and yet presented so
many difficulties, that after long hours of discussion, for this talk
was renewed again and again, I found it quite impossible to decide
upon any one of them, especially as in the end Lord Ragnall always
left the choice with its heavy responsibilities to me.
At length in despair I opened the window and whistled twice on a
certain low note. A minute later Hans shuffled in, shaking the wet off
the new corduroy clothes which he had bought upon the strength of his
return to affluence, for it was raining outside, and squatted himself
down upon the floor at a little distance. In the shadow of the table
which cut off the light from the hanging lamp he looked, I remember,
exactly like an enormous and antique toad. I threw him a piece of
tobacco which he thrust into his corn-cob pipe and lit with a match.
"The Baas called me," he said when it was drawing to his satisfaction,
"what does Baas want of Hans?"
"Light in darkness!" I replied, playing on his native name, and
proceeded to set out the whole case to him.
He listened without a word, then asked for a small glass of gin, which
I gave him doubtfully. Having swallowed this at a gulp as though it
were water, he delivered himself briefly to this effect:
"I think the Baas will do well not to go to Kilwa, since it means
waiting for a ship, or hiring one; also there may be more slave-
traders there by now who will bear him no love because of a lesson he
taught them a while ago. On the other hand the road through Zululand
is open, though it be long, and there the name of Macumazana is one
well known. I think also that the Baas would do well not to take too
many men, who make marching slow, only a wagon or two and some drivers
which might be sent back when they can go no farther. From Zululand
messengers can be dispatched to the Mazitu, who love you, and Bausi or
whoever is king there to-day will order bearers to meet us on the
road, until which time we can hire other bearers in Zululand. The old
woman at Beza-Town told me, moreover, as you will remember, that the
Kendah are a very great people who live by themselves and will allow
none to enter their land, which is bordered by deserts. Therefore no
force that you could take with you and feed upon a road without water
would be strong enough to knock down their gates like an elephant, and
it seems better that you should try to creep through them like a wise
snake, although they appear to be shut in your face. Perhaps also they
will not be shut since did you not say that two of their great doctors
promised to meet you and guide you through them?"
"Yes," I interrupted, "I dare say it will be easier to get in than to
get out of Kendahland."
"Last of all, Baas, if you take many men armed with guns, the black
part of the Kendah people of whom I told you will perhaps think you
come to make war, whatever the white Kendah may say, and kill us all,
whereas if we be but a few perchance they will let us pass in peace. I
think that is all, Baas. Let the Baas and the Lord Igeza forgive me if
my words are foolish."
Here I should explain that "Igeza" was the name which the natives had
given to Lord Ragnall because of his appearance. The word means a
handsome person in the Zulu tongue. Savage they called "Bena," I don't
know why. "Bena" in Zulu means to push out the breast and it may be
that the name was a round-about allusion to the proud appearance of
the dignified Savage, or possibly it had some other recondite
signification. At any rate Lord Ragnall, Hans and myself knew the
splendid Savage thenceforward by the homely appellation of Beans. His
master said it suited him very well because he was so green.
"The advice seems wise, Hans. Go now. No, no more gin," I answered.
As a matter of fact careful consideration convinced us it was so wise
that we acted on it down to the last detail.
So it came about that one fine afternoon about a fortnight later, for
hurry as we would our preparations took a little time, we trekked for
Zululand over the sandy roads that ran from the outskirts of Durban.
Our baggage and stores were stowed in two half-tented wagons, very
good wagons since everything we had with us was the best that money
could buy, the after-part of which served us as sleeping-places at
night. Hans sat on the /voor-kisse/ or driving-seat of one of the
wagons; Lord Ragnall, Savage and I were mounted upon "salted" horses,
that is, horses which had recovered from and were therefore supposed
to be proof against the dreadful sickness, valuable and docile animals
which were trained to shooting.
At our start a little contretemps occurred. To my amazement I saw
Savage, who insisted upon continuing to wear his funereal upper
servant's cut-away coat, engaged with grim determination in mounting
his steed from the wrong side. He got into the saddle somehow, but
there was worse to follow. The horse, astonished at such treatment,
bolted a little way, Savage sawing at its mouth. Lord Ragnall and I
cantered after it past the wagons, fearing disaster. All of a sudden
it swerved violently and Savage flew into the air, landing heavily in
a sitting posture.
"Poor Beans!" ejaculated Lord Ragnall as we sped forward. "I expect
there is an end of his journeyings."
To our surprise, however, we saw him leap from the ground with the
most marvellous agility and begin to dance about slapping at his
posterior parts and shouting,
"Take it off! Kill it!"
A few seconds later we discovered the reason. The horse had shied at a
sleeping puff adder which was curled up in the sand of that little
frequented road, and on this puff adder Savage had descended with so
much force, for he weighed thirteen stone, that the creature was
squashed quite flat and never stirred again. This, however, he did not
notice in his agitation, being convinced indeed that it was hanging to
him behind like a bulldog.
"Snakes! my lord," he exclaimed, when at last after careful search we
demonstrated to him that the adder had died before it could come into
"I hate 'em, my lord, and they haunts" (he said 'aunts) "me. If ever I
get out of this I'll go and live in Ireland, my lord, where they say
there ain't none. But it isn't likely that I shall," he added
mournfully, "for the omen is horrid."
"On the contrary," I answered, "it is splendid, for you have killed
the snake and not the snake you. 'The dog it was that died,' Savage."
After this the Kafirs gave Savage a second very long name which meant
"He-who-sits-down-on-snakes-and-makes-them-flat." Having remounted him
on his horse, which was standing patiently a few yards away, at length
we got off. I lingered a minute behind the others to give some
directions to my old Griqua gardener, Jack, who snivelled at parting
with me, and to take a last look at my little home. Alack! I feared it
might be the last indeed, knowing as I did that this was a dangerous
enterprise upon which I found myself embarked, I who had vowed that I
would be done with danger.
With a lump in my throat I turned from the contemplation of that
peaceful dwelling and happy garden in which each tree and plant was
dear to me, and waving a good-bye to Jack, cantered on to where
Ragnall was waiting for me.
"I am afraid this is rather a sad hour for you, who are leaving your
little boy and your home," he said gently, "to face unknown perils."
"Not so sad as others I have passed," I answered, "and perils are my
daily bread in every sense of the word. Moreover, whatever it is for
me it is for you also."
"No, Quatermain. For me it is an hour of hope; a faint hope, I admit,
but the only one left, for the letters I got last night from Egypt and
England report that no clue whatsoever has been found, and indeed that
the search for any has been abandoned. Yes, I follow the last star
left in my sky and if it sets I hope that I may set also, at any rate
to this world. Therefore I am happier than I have been for months,
thanks to you," and he stretched out his hand, which I shook.
It was a token of friendship and mutual confidence which I am glad to
say nothing that happened afterwards ever disturbed for a moment.
THE MEETING IN THE DESERT
Now I do not propose to describe all our journey to Kendahland, or at
any rate the first part thereof. It was interesting enough in its way
and we met with a few hunting adventures, also some others. But there
is so much to tell of what happened to us after we reached the place
that I have not the time, even if I had the inclination to set all
these matters down. Let it be sufficient, then, to say that although
owing to political events the country happened to be rather disturbed
at the time, we trekked through Zululand without any great difficulty.
For here my name was a power in the land and all parties united to
help me. Thence, too, I managed to dispatch three messengers, half-
bred border men, lean fellows and swift of foot, forward to the king
of the Mazitu, as Hans had suggested that I should do, advising him
that his old friends, Macumazana, Watcher-by-Night, and the yellow man
who was named Light-in-Darkness and Lord-of-the-Fire, were about to
visit him again.
As I knew we could not take the wagons beyond a certain point where
there was a river called the Luba, unfordable by anything on wheels, I
requested him, moreover, to send a hundred bearers with whatever
escort might be necessary, to meet us on the banks of that river at a
spot which was known to both of us. These words the messengers
promised to deliver for a fee of five head of cattle apiece, to be
paid on their return, or to their families if they died on the road,
which cattle we purchased and left in charge of a chief, who was their
kinsman. As it happened two of the poor fellows did die, one of them
of cold in a swamp through which they took a short cut, and the other
at the teeth of a hungry lion. The third, however, won through and
delivered the message.
After resting for a fortnight in the northern parts of Zululand, to
give time to our wayworn oxen to get some flesh on their bones in the
warm bushveld where grass was plentiful even in the dry season, we
trekked forward by a route known to Hans and myself. Indeed it was the
same which we had followed on our journey from Mazituland after our
expedition in search for the Holy Flower.
We took with us a small army of Zulu bearers. This, although they were
difficult to feed in a country where no corn could be bought, proved
fortunate in the end, since so many of our cattle died from tsetse
bite that we were obliged to abandon one of the wagons, which meant
that the goods it contained must be carried by men. At length we
reached the banks of the river, and camped there one night by three
tall peaks of rock which the natives called "The Three Doctors," where
I had instructed the messengers to tell the Mazitu to meet us. For
four days we remained here, since rains in the interior had made the
river quite impassable. Every morning I climbed the tallest of the
"Doctors" and with my glasses looked over its broad yellow flood,
searching the wide, bush-clad land beyond in the hope of discovering
the Mazitu advancing to meet us. Not a man was to be seen, however,
and on the fourth evening, as the river had now become fordable, we
determined that we would cross on the morrow, leaving the remaining
wagon, which it was impossible to drag over its rocky bottom, to be
taken back to Natal by our drivers.
Here a difficulty arose. No promise of reward would induce any of our
Zulu bearers even to wet their feet in the waters of this River Luba,
which for some reason that I could not extract from them they declared
to be /tagati/, that is, bewitched, to people of their blood. When I
pointed out that three Zulus had already undertaken to cross it, they
answered that those men were half-breeds, so that for them it was only
half bewitched, but they thought that even so one or more of them
would pay the penalty of death for this rash crime.
It chanced that this happened, for, as I have said, two of the poor
fellows did die, though not, I think, owing to the magical properties
of the waters of the Luba. This is how African superstitions are kept
alive. Sooner or later some saying of the sort fulfils itself and then
the instance is remembered and handed down for generations, while
other instances in which nothing out of the common has occurred are
not heeded, or are forgotten.
This decision on the part of those stupid Zulus put us in an awkward
fix, since it was impossible for us to carry over all our baggage and
ammunition without help. Therefore glad was I when before dawn on the
fifth morning the nocturnal Hans crept into the wagon, in the after
part of which Ragnall and I were sleeping, and informed us that he
heard men's voices on the farther side of the river, though how he
could hear anything above that roar of water passed my comprehension.
At the first break of dawn again we climbed the tallest of the
"Doctor" rocks and stared into the mist. At length it rolled away and
there on the farther side of the river I saw quite a hundred men who
by their dress and spears I knew to be Mazitu. They saw me also and
raising a cheer, dashed into the water, groups of them holding each
other round the middle to prevent their being swept away. Thereupon
our silly Zulus seized their spears and formed up upon the bank. I
slid down the steep side of the "Great Doctor" and ran forward,
calling out that these were friends who came.
"Friends or foes," answered their captain sullenly, "it is a pity that
we should walk so far and not have a fight with those Mazitu dogs."
Well, I drove them off to a distance, not knowing what might happen if
the two peoples met, and then went down to the bank. By now the Mazitu
were near, and to my delight at the head of them I perceived no other
than my old friend, their chief general, Babemba, a one-eyed man with
whom Hans and I had shared many adventures. Through the water he
plunged with great bounds and reaching the shore, greeted me literally
"O Macumazana," he said, "little did I hope that ever again I should
look upon your face. Welcome to you, a thousand welcomes, and to you
too, Light-in-Darkness, Lord-of-the-Fire, Cunning-one whose wit saved
us in the battle of the Gate. But where is Dogeetah, where is Wazeela,
and where are the Mother and the Child of the Flower?"
"Far away across the Black Water, Babemba," I answered. "But here are
two others in place of them," and I introduced him to Ragnall and
Savage by their native names of Igeza and Bena.
He contemplated them for a moment, then said:
"This," pointing to Ragnall, "is a great lord, but this," pointing to
Savage, who was much the better dressed of the two, "is a cock of the
ashpit arrayed in an eagle's feathers," a remark I did not translate,
but one which caused Hans to snigger vacuously.
While we breakfasted on food prepared by the "Cock of the Ashpit," who
amongst many other merits had that of being an excellent cook, I heard
all the news. Bausi the king was dead but had been succeeded by one of
his sons, also named Bausi, whom I remembered. Beza-Town had been
rebuilt after the great fire that destroyed the slavers, and much more
strongly fortified than before. Of the slavers themselves nothing more
had been seen, or of the Pongo either, though the Mazitu declared that
their ghosts, or those of their victims, still haunted the island in
the lake. That was all, except the ill tidings as to two of our
messengers which the third, who had returned with the Mazitu, reported
After breakfast I addressed and sent away our Zulus, each with a
handsome present from the trade goods, giving into their charge the
remaining wagon and our servants, none of whom, somewhat to my relief,
wished to accompany us farther. They sang their song of good-bye,
saluted and departed over the rise, still looking hungrily behind them
at the Mazitu, and we were very pleased to see the last of them
without bloodshed or trouble.
When we had watched the white tilt of the wagon vanish, we set to work
to get ourselves and our goods across the river. This we accomplished
safely, for the Mazitu worked for us like friends and not as do hired
men. On the farther bank, however, it took us two full days so to
divide up the loads that the bearers could carry them without being
At length all was arranged and we started. Of the month's trek that
followed there is nothing to tell, except that we completed it without
notable accidents and at last reached the new Beza-Town, which much
resembled the old, where we were accorded a great public reception.
Bausi II himself headed the procession which met us outside the south
gate on that very mound which we had occupied in the great fight,
where the bones of the gallant Mavovo and my other hunters lay buried.
Almost did it seem to me as though I could hear their deep voices
joining in the shouts of welcome.
That night, while the Mazitu feasted in our honour, we held an
/indaba/ in the big new guest house with Bausi II, a pleasant-faced
young man, and old Babemba. The king asked us how long we meant to
stay at Beza-Town, intimating his hope that the visit would be
prolonged. I replied, but a few days, as we were travelling far to the
north to find a people called the Kendah whom we wished to see, and
hoped that he would give us bearers to carry our goods as far as the
confines of their country. At the name of Kendah a look of
astonishment appeared upon their faces and Babemba said:
"Has madness seized you, Macumazana, that you would attempt this
thing? Oh surely you must be mad."
"You thought us mad, Babemba, when we crossed the lake to Rica Town,
yet we came back safely."
"True, Macumazana, but compared to the Kendah the Pongo were but as
the smallest star before the face of the sun."
"What do you know of them then?" I asked. "But stay--before you
answer, I will speak what I know," and I repeated what I had learned
from Hans, who confirmed my words, and from Harūt and Marūt, leaving
out, however, any mention of their dealings with Lady Ragnall.
"It is all true," said Babemba when I had finished, "for that old
woman of whom Light-in-the-Darkness speaks, was one of the wives of my
uncle and I knew her well. Hearken! These Kendah are a terrible nation
and countless in number and of all the people the fiercest. Their king
is called Simba, which means Lion. He who rules is always called
Simba, and has been so called for hundreds of years. He is of the
Black Kendah whose god is the elephant Jana, but as Light-in-Darkness
has said, there are also the White Kendah who are Arab men, the
priests and traders of the people. The Kendah will allow no stranger
within their doors; if one comes they kill him by torment, or blind
him and turn him out into the desert which surrounds their country,
there to die. These things the old woman who married my uncle told me,
as she told them to Light-in-Darkness, also I have heard them from
others, and what she did not tell me, that the White Kendah are great
breeders of the beasts called camels which they sell to the Arabs of
the north. Go not near them, for if you pass the desert the Black
Kendah will kill you; and if you escape these, then their king, Simba,
will kill you; and if you escape him, then their god Jana will kill
you; and if you escape him, then their white priests will kill you
with their magic. Oh! long before you look upon the faces of those
priests you will be dead many times over."
"Then why did they ask me to visit them, Babemba?"
"I know not, Macumazana, but perhaps because they wished to make an
offering of you to the god Jana, whom no spear can harm; no, nor even
your bullets that pierce a tree."
"I am willing to make trial of that matter," I answered confidently,
"and any way we must go to see these things for ourselves."
"Yes," echoed Ragnall, "we must certainly go," while even Savage, for
I had been translating to them all this while, nodded his head
although he looked as though he would much rather stay behind.
"Ask him if there are any snakes there, sir," he said, and foolishly
enough I put the question to give me time to think of other things.
"Yes, O Bena. Yes, O Cock of the Ashpit," replied Babemba. "My uncle's
Kendar wife told me that one of the guardians of the shrine of the
White Kendah is such a snake as was never seen elsewhere in the
"Then say to him, sir," said Savage, when I had translated almost
automatically, "that shrine ain't a church where /I/ shall go to say
Alas! poor Savage little knew the future and its gifts.
Then we came to the question of bearers. The end of it was that after
some hesitation Bausi II, because of his great affection for us,
promised to provide us with these upon our solemnly undertaking to
dismiss them at the borders of the desert, "so that they might escape
our doom," as he remarked cheerfully.
Four days later we started, accompanied by about one hundred and
twenty picked men under the command of old Babemba himself, who, he
explained, wished to be the last to see us alive in the world. This
was depressing, but other circumstances connected with our start were
calculated to weigh even more upon my spirit. Thus the night before we
left Hans arrived and asked me to "write a paper" for him. I inquired
what he wanted me to put in the paper. He replied that as he was going
to his death and had property, namely the £650 that had been left in a
bank to his credit, he desired to make a "white man's will" to be left
in the charge of Babemba. The only provision of the said will was that
I was to inherit his property, if I lived. If I died, which, he added,
"of course you must, Baas, like the rest of us," it was to be devoted
to furnishing poor black people in hospital with something comforting
to drink instead of the "cow's water" that was given to them there.
Needless to say I turned him out at once, and that testamentary
deposition remained unrecorded. Indeed it was unnecessary, since, as I
reminded him, on my advice he had already made a will before we left
Durban, a circumstance that he had quite forgotten.
The second event, which occurred about an hour before our departure,
was, that hearing a mighty wailing in the market-place where once Hans
and I had been tied to stakes to be shot to death with arrows, I went
out to see what was the matter. At the gateway I was greeted by the
sight of about a hundred old women plastered all over with ashes,
engaged in howling their loudest in a melancholy unison. Behind these
stood the entire population of Beza-Town, who chanted a kind of
"What the devil are they doing?" I asked of Hans.
"Singing our death-song, Baas," he replied stolidly, "as they say that
where we are going no one will take the trouble to do so, and it is
not right that great lords should die and the heavens above remain
uninformed that they are coming."
"That's cheerful," I remarked, and wheeling round, asked Ragnall
straight out if he wished to persevere in this business, for to tell
the truth my nerve was shaken.
"I must," he answered simply, "but there is no reason why you and Hans
should, or Savage either for the matter of that."
"Oh! I'm going where you go," I said, "and where I go Hans will go.
Savage must speak for himself."
This he did and to the same effect, being a very honest and faithful
man. It was the more to his credit since, as he informed me in
private, he did not enjoy African adventure and often dreamed at
nights of his comfortable room at Ragnall whence he superintended the
social activities of that great establishment.
So we departed and marched for the matter of a month or more through
every kind of country. After we had passed the head of the great lake
wherein lay the island, if it really was an island, where the Pongo
used to dwell (one clear morning through my glasses I discerned the
mountain top that marked the former residence of the Mother of the
Flower, and by contrast it made me feel quite homesick), we struck up
north, following a route known to Babemba and our guides. After this
we steered by the stars through a land with very few inhabitants,
timid and nondescript folk who dwelt in scattered villages and
scarcely understood the art of cultivating the soil, even in its most
A hundred miles or so farther on these villages ceased and
thenceforward we only encountered some nomads, little bushmen who
lived on game which they shot with poisoned arrows. Once they attacked
us and killed two of the Mazitu with those horrid arrows, against the
venom of which no remedy that we had in our medicine chest proved of
any avail. On this occasion Savage exhibited his courage if not his
discretion, for rushing out of our thorn fence, after missing a
bushmen with both barrels at a distance of five yards--he was, I
think, the worst shot I ever saw--he seized the little viper with his
hands and dragged him back to camp. How Savage escaped with his life I
do not know, for one poisoned arrow went through his hat and stuck in
his hair and another just grazed his leg without drawing blood.
This valorous deed was of great service to us, since we were able
through Hans, who knew something of the bushmen's language, to explain
to our prisoner that if we were shot at again he would be hung. This
information he contrived to shout, or rather to squeak and grunt, to
his amiable tribe, of which it appeared he was a kind of chief, with
the result that we were no more molested. Later, when we were clear of
the bushmen country, we let him depart, which he did with great
By degrees the land grew more and more barren and utterly devoid of
inhabitants, till at last it merged into desert. At the edge of this
desert which rolled away without apparent limit we came, however, to a
kind of oasis where there was a strong and beautiful spring of water
that formed a stream which soon lost itself in the surrounding sand.
As we could go no farther, for even if we had wished to do so, and
were able to find water there, the Mazitu refused to accompany us into
the desert, not knowing what else to do, we camped in the oasis and
As it happened, the place was a kind of hunter's paradise, since every
kind of game, large and small, came to the water to drink at night,
and in the daytime browsed upon the saltish grass that at this season
of the year grew plentifully upon the edge of the wilderness.
Amongst other creatures there were elephants in plenty that travelled
hither out of the bushlands we had passed, or sometimes emerged from
the desert itself, suggesting that beyond this waste there lay fertile
country. So numerous were these great beasts indeed that for my part I
hoped earnestly that it would prove impossible for us to continue our
journey, since I saw that in a few months I could collect an enormous
amount of ivory, enough to make me comparatively rich, if only I were
able to get it away. As it was we only killed a few of them, ten in
all to be accurate, that we might send back the tusks as presents to
Bausi II. To slaughter the poor animals uselessly was cruel,
especially as being unaccustomed to the sight of man, they were as
easy to approach as cows. Even Savage slew one--by carefully aiming at
another five paces to its left.
For the rest we lived on the fat of the land and, as meat was
necessary to us, had as much sport as we could desire among the
For fourteen days or so this went on, till at length we grew
thoroughly tired of the business, as did the Mazitu, who were so
gorged with flesh that they began to desire vegetable food. Twice we
rode as far into the desert as we dared, for our horses remained to us
and had grown fresh again after the rest, but only to return without
information. The place was just a vast wilderness strewn with brown
stones beautifully polished by the wind-driven sand of ages, and quite
devoid of water.
After our second trip, on which we suffered severely from thirst, we
held a consultation. Old Babemba said that he could keep his men no
longer, even for us, as they insisted upon returning home, and
inquired what we meant to do and why we sat here "like a stone." I
answered that we were waiting for some of the Kendah who had bid me to
shoot game hereabouts until they arrived to be our guides. He remarked
that the Kendah to the best of his belief lived in a country that was
still hundreds of miles away and that, as they did not know of our
presence, any communication across the desert being impossible, our
proceedings seemed to be foolish.
I retorted that I was not quite so sure of this, since the Kendah
seemed to have remarkable ways of acquiring information.
"Then, Macumazana, I fear that you will have to wait by yourselves
until you discover which of us is right," he said stolidly.
Turning to Ragnall, I asked him what he would do, pointing out that to
journey into the desert meant death, especially as we did not know
whither we were going, and that to return alone, without the stores
which we must abandon, through the country of the bushmen to
Mazituland, would also be a risky proceeding. However, it was for him
Now he grew much perturbed. Taking me apart again he dwelt earnestly
upon his secret reasons for wishing to visit these Kendah, with which
of course I was already acquainted, as indeed was Savage.
"I desire to stay here," he ended.
"Which means that we must all stay, Ragnall, since Savage will not
desert you. Nor will Hans desert me although he thinks us mad. He
points out that I came to seek ivory and here about is ivory in plenty
for the trouble of taking."
"I might remain alone, Quatermain----" he began, but I looked at him
in such a way that he never finished the sentence.
Ultimately we came to a compromise. Babemba, on behalf of the Mazitu,
agreed to wait three more days. If nothing happened during that period
we on our part agreed to return with them to a stretch of well-watered
bush about fifty miles behind us, which we knew swarmed with
elephants, that by now were growing shy of approaching our oasis where
there was so much noise and shooting. There we would kill as much
ivory as we could carry, an operation in which they were willing to
assist for the fun of it, and then go back with them to Mazituland.
The three days went by and with every hour that passed my spirits
rose, as did those of Savage and Hans, while Lord Ragnall became more
and more depressed. The third afternoon was devoted to a jubilant
packing of loads, for in accordance with the terms of our bargain we
were to start backwards on our spoor at dawn upon the morrow. Most
happily did I lay myself down to sleep in my little bough shelter that
night, feeling that at last I was rid of an uncommonly awkward
adventure. If I thought that we could do any good by staying on, it
would have been another matter. But as I was certain that there was no
earthly chance of our finding among the Kendah--if ever we reached
them--the lady who had tumbled in the Nile in Egypt, well, I was glad
that Providence had been so good as to make it impossible for us to
commit suicide by thirst in a desert, or otherwise. For,
notwithstanding my former reasonings to the contrary, I was now
convinced that this was what had happened to poor Ragnall's wife.
That, however, was just what Providence had not done. In the middle of
the night, to be precise, at exactly two in the morning, I was
awakened by Hans, who slept at the back of my shanty, into which he
had crept through a hole in the faggots, exclaiming in a frightened
"Open your eyes and look, Baas. There are two /spooks/ waiting to see
you outside, Baas."
Very cautiously I lifted myself a little and stared out into the
moonlight. There, seated about five paces from the open end of the hut
were the "spooks" sure enough, two white-robed figures squatting
silent and immovable on the ground. At first I was frightened. Then I
bethought me of thieves and felt for my Colt pistol under the rug that
served me as a pillow. As I got hold of the handle, however, a deep
"Is it your custom, O Macumazana, Watcher-by-Night, to receive guests
Now thought I to myself, who is there in the world who could see a man
catch hold of the handle of a pistol in the recesses of a dark place
and under a blanket at night, except the owner of that voice which I
seemed to remember hearing in a certain drawing-room in England?
"Yes, Harūt," I answered with an unconcerned yawn, "when the guests
come in such a doubtful fashion and in the middle of the night. But as
you are here at last, will you be so good as to tell us why you have
kept us waiting all this time? Is that your way of fulfilling an
"O Lord Macumazana," answered Harūt, for of course it was he, in quite
a perturbed tone, "I offer to you our humble apologies. The truth is
that when we heard of your arrival at Beza-Town we started, or tried
to start, from hundreds of miles away to keep our tryst with you here
as we promised we would do. But we are mortal, Macumazana, and
accidents intervened. Thus, when we had ascertained the weight of your
baggage, camels had to be collected to carry it, which were grazing at
a distance. Also it was necessary to send forward to dig out a certain
well in the desert where they must drink. Hence the delay. Still, you
will admit that we have arrived in time, five, or at any rate four
hours before the rising of that sun which was to light you on your
"Yes, you have, O Prophets, or O Liars, whichever you may be," I
exclaimed with pardonable exasperation, for really their knowledge of
my private affairs, however obtained, was enough to anger a saint. "So
as you are here at last, come in and have a drink, for whether you are
men or devils, you must be cold out there in the damp."
In they came accordingly, and, not being Mohammedans, partook of a tot
of square-face from a bottle which I kept locked in a box to put Hans
beyond the reach of temptation.
"To your health, Harūt and Marūt," I said, drinking a little out of
the pannikin and giving the rest to Hans, who gulped the fiery liquor
down with a smack of his lips. For I will admit that I joined in this
unholy midnight potation to gain time for thought and to steady my
"To your health, O Lord Macumazana," the pair answered as they
swallowed their tots, which I had made pretty stiff, and set down
their pannikins in front of them with as much reverence as though
these had been holy vessels.
"Now," I said, throwing a blanket over my shoulders, for the air was
chilly, "now let us talk," and taking the lantern which Hans had
thoughtfully lighted, I held it up and contemplated them.
There they were, Harūt and Marūt without doubt, to all appearance
totally unchanged since some years before I had seen them at Ragnall
in England. "What are you doing here?" I asked in a kind of fiery
indignation inspired by my intense curiosity. "How did you get out of
England after you had tried to steal away the lady to whom you sent
the necklace? What did you do with that lady after you had beguiled
her from the boat at Abu-Simbel? In the name of your Holy Child, or of
Shaitan of the Mohammedans, or of Set of the Egyptians, answer me,
lest I should make an end of both of you, which I can do here without
any questions being asked," and I whipped out my pistol.
"Pardon us," said Harūt with a grave smile, "but if you were to do as
you say, Lord Macumazana, many questions would be asked which /you/
might find it hard to answer. So be pleased to put that death-dealer
back into its place, and to tell us before we reply to you, what you
know of Set of the Egyptians."
"As much or as little as you do," I replied.
Both bowed as though this information were of the most satisfactory
order. Then Harūt went on: "In reply to your requests, O Macumazana,
we left England by a steamboat and in due course after long
journeyings we reached our own country. We do not understand your
allusions to a place called Abu-Simbel on the Nile, whence, never
having been there, we have taken no lady. Indeed, we never meant to
take that lady to whom we sent a necklace in England. We only meant to
ask certain questions of her, as she had the gift of vision, when you
appeared and interrupted us. What should we want with white ladies,
who have already far too many of our own?"
"I don't know," I replied, "but I do know that you are the biggest
liars I ever met."
At these words, which some might have thought insulting, Harūt and
Marūt bowed again as though to acknowledge a great compliment. Then
"Let us leave the question of ladies and come to matters that have to
do with men. You are here as we told you that you would be at a time
when you did not believe us, and we here to meet /you/, as we told you
that we would be. How we knew that you were coming and how we came do
not matter at all. Believe what you will. Are you ready to start with
us, O Lord Macumazana, that you may bring to its death the wicked
elephant Jana which ravages our land, and receive the great reward of
ivory? If so, your camel waits."
"One camel cannot carry four men," I answered, avoiding the question.
"In courage and skill you are more than many men, O Macumazana, yet in
body you are but one and not four."
"If you think that I am going with you alone, you are much mistaken,
Harūt and Marūt," I exclaimed. "Here with me is my servant without
whom I do not stir," and I pointed to Hans, whom they contemplated
gravely. "Also there is the Lord Ragnall, who in this land is named
Igeza, and his servant who here is named Bena, the man out of whom you
drew snakes in the room in England. They also must accompany us."
At this news the impassive countenances of Harūt and Marūt showed, I
thought, some signs of disturbance. They muttered together in an
unknown tongue. Then Harūt said:
"Our secret land is open to you alone, O Macumazana, for one purpose
only--to kill the elephant Jana, for which deed we promise you a great
reward. We do not wish to see the others there."
"Then you can kill your own elephant, Harūt and Marūt, for not one
step do I go with you. Why should I when there is as much ivory here
as I want, to be had for the shooting?"
"How if we take you, O Macumazana?"
"How if I kill you both, O Harūt and Marūt? Fools, here are many brave
men at my command, and if you or any with you want fighting it shall
be given you in plenty. Hans, bid the Mazitu stand to their arms and
summon Igeza and Bena."
"Stay, Lord," said Harūt, "and put down that weapon," for once more I
had produced the pistol. "We would not begin our fellowship by
shedding blood, though we are safer from you than you think. Your
companions shall accompany you to the land of the Kendah, but let them
know that they do so at their own risk. Learn that it is revealed to
us that if they go in there some of them will pass out again as
spirits but not as men."
"Do you mean that you will murder them?"
"No. We mean that yonder are some stronger than us or any men, who
will take their lives in sacrifice. Not yours, Macumazana, for that,
it is decreed, is safe, but those of two of the others, which two we
do not know."
"Indeed, Harūt and Marūt, and how am I to be sure that any of us are
safe, or that you do not but trick us to your country, there to kill
us with treachery and steal our goods?"
"Because we swear it by the oath that may not be broken; we swear it
by the Heavenly Child," both of them exclaimed solemnly, speaking with
one voice and bowing till their foreheads almost touched the ground.
I shrugged my shoulders and laughed a little.
"You do not believe us," went on Harūt, "who have not heard what
happens to those who break this oath. Come now and see something.
Within five paces of your hut is a tall ant-heap upon which doubtless
you have been accustomed to stand and overlook the desert." (This was
true, but how did they guess it, I wondered.) "Go climb that ant-heap
Perhaps it was rash, but my curiosity led me to accept this
invitation. Out I went, followed by Hans with a loaded double-
barrelled rifle, and scrambled up the ant-heap which, as it was twenty
feet high and there were no trees just here, commanded a very fine
view of the desert beyond.
"Look to the north," said Harūt from its foot.
I looked, and there in the bright moonlight five or six hundred yards
away, ranged rank by rank upon a slope of sand and along the crest of
the ridge beyond, I saw quite two hundred kneeling camels, and by each
camel a tall, white-robed figure who held in his hand a long lance to
the shaft of which, not far beneath the blade, was attached a little
flag. For a while I stared to make sure that I was not the victim of
an illusion or a mirage. Then when I had satisfied myself that these
were indeed men and camels I descended from the ant-heap.
"You will admit, Macumazana," said Harūt politely, "that if we had
meant you any ill, with such a force it would have been easy for us to
take a sleeping camp at night. But these men come here to be your
escort, not to kill or enslave you or yours. And, Macumazana, we have
sworn to you the oath that may not be broken. Now we go to our people.
In the morning, after you have eaten, we will return again unarmed and
Then like shadows they slipped away.
Ten minutes later the truth was known and every man in the camp was up
and armed. At first there were some signs of panic, but these with the
help of Babemba we managed to control, setting the men to make the
best preparations for defence that circumstances would allow, and thus
occupying their minds. For from the first we saw that, except for the
three of us who had horses, escape was impossible. That great camel
corps could catch us within a mile.
Leaving old Babemba in charge of his soldiers, we three white men and
Hans held a council at which I repeated every word that had passed
between Harūt and Marūt and myself, including their absolute denial of
their having had anything to do with the disappearance of Lady Ragnall
on the Nile.
"Now," I asked, "what is to be done? My fate is sealed, since for
purposes of their own, of which probably we know nothing, these people
intend to take me with them to their country, as indeed they are
justified in doing, since I have been fool enough to keep a kind of
assignation with them here. But they don't want anybody else.
Therefore there is nothing to prevent you Ragnall, and you Savage, and
you Hans, from returning with the Mazitu."
"Oh! Baas," said Hans, who could understand English well enough
although he seldom spoke it, "why are you always bothering me with
such /praatjes/?"--(that is, chatter). "Whatever you do I will do, and
I don't care what you do, except for your own sake, Baas. If I am
going to die, let me die; it doesn't at all matter how, since I must
go soon and make report to your reverend father, the Predikant. And
now, Baas, I have been awake all night, for I heard those camels
coming a long while before the two spook men appeared, and as I have
never heard camels before, could not make out what they were, for they
don't walk like giraffes. So I am going to sleep, Baas, there in the
sun. When you have settled things, you can wake me up and give me your
orders," and he suited the action to the word, for when I glanced at
him again he was, or appeared to be, slumbering, just like a dog at
its master's feet.
I looked at Ragnall in interrogation.
"I am going on," he said briefly.
"Despite the denial of these men of any complicity in your wife's
fate?" I asked. "If their words are true, what have you to gain by
this journey, Ragnall?"
"An interesting experience while it lasts; that is all. Like Hans
there, if what they say /is/ true, my future is a matter of complete
indifference to me. But I do not believe a word of what they say.
Something tells me that they know a great deal which they do not
choose to repeat--about my wife I mean. That is why they are so
anxious that I should not accompany you."
"You must judge for yourself," I answered doubtfully, "and I hope to
Heaven that you are judging right. Now, Savage, what have you decided?
Remember before you reply that these uncanny fellows declare that if
we four go, two of us will never return. It seems impossible that they
can read the future, still, without doubt, they /are/ most uncanny."
"Sir," said Savage, "I will take my chance. Before I left England his
lordship made a provision for my old mother and my widowed sister and
her children, and I have none other dependent upon me. Moreover, I
won't return alone with those Mazitu to become a barbarian, for how
could I find my way back to the coast without anyone to guide me? So
I'll go on and leave the rest to God."
"Which is just what we have all got to do," I remarked. "Well, as that
is settled, let us send for Babemba and tell him."
This we did accordingly. The old fellow received the news with more
resignation than I had anticipated. Fixing his one eye upon me, he
"Macumazana, these words are what I expected from you. Had any other
man spoken them I should have declared that he was quite mad. But I
remember that I said this when you determined to visit the Pongo, and
that you came back from their country safe and sound, having done
wonderful things there, and that it was the Pongo who suffered, not
you. So I believe it will be again, so far as you are concerned,
Macumazana, for I think that some devil goes with you who looks after
his own. For the others I do not know. They must settle the matter
with their own devils, or with those of the Kendah people. Now
farewell, Macumazana, for it comes to me that we shall meet no more.
Well, that happens to all at last, and it is good to have known you
who are so great in your own way. Often I shall think of you as you
will think of me, and hope that in a country beyond that of the Kendah
I may hear from your lips all that has befallen you on this and other
journeys. Now I go to withdraw my men before these white-robed Arabs
come on their strange beasts to seize you, lest they should take us
also and there should be a fight in which we, being the fewer, must
die. The loads are all in order ready to be laden on their strange
beasts. If they declare that the horses cannot cross the desert, leave
them loose and we will catch them and take them home with us, and
since they are male and female, breed young ones from them which shall
be yours when you send for them, or Bausi the king's if you never
send. Nay, I want no more presents who have the gun and the powder and
the bullets you gave me, and the tusks of ivory for Bausi the king,
and what is best of all, the memory of you and of your courage and
wisdom. May these and the gods you worship befriend you. From yonder
hill we will watch till we see that you have gone. Farewell," and
waiting for no answer, he departed with the tears running from his
Ten minutes later the Mazitu bearers had also saluted us and gone,
leaving us seated in that deserted camp surrounded by our baggage, and
so far as I was concerned, feeling most lonely. Another ten minutes
went by which we occupied in packing our personal belongings. Then
Hans, who was now washing out the coffee kettle at a little distance,
looked up and said:
"Here come the spook-men, Baas, the whole regiment of them." We ran
and looked. It was true. Marshalled in orderly squadrons, the camels
with their riders were sweeping towards us, and a fine sight the
beasts made with their swaying necks and long, lurching gait. About
fifty yards away they halted just where the stream from our spring
entered the desert, and there proceeded to water the camels, twenty of
them at a time. Two men, however, in whom I recognized Harūt and
Marūt, walked forward and presently were standing before us, bowing
"Good morning, Lord," said Harūt to Ragnall in his broken English. "So
you come with Macumazana to call at our poor house, as we call at your
fine one in England. You think we got the beautiful lady you marry,
she we give old necklace. That is not so. No white lady ever in
Kendahland. We hear story from Macumazana and believe that lady
drowned in Nile, for you 'member she walk much in her sleep. We very
sorry for you, but gods know their business. They leave when they will
leave, and take when they will take. You find her again some day more
beautiful still and with her soul come back."
Here I looked at him sharply. I had told him nothing about Lady
Ragnall having lost her wits. How then did he know of the matter?
Still I thought it best to hold my peace. I think that Harūt saw he
had made some mistake, for leaving the subject of Lady Ragnall, he
"You very welcome, O Lord, but it right tell you this most dangerous
journey, since elephant Jana not like strangers, and," he continued
slowly, "think no elephant like your blood, and all elephants
brothers. What one hate rest hate everywhere in world. See it in your
face that you already suffer great hurt from elephant, you or someone
near you. Also some of Kendah very fierce people and love fighting,
and p'raps there war in the land while you there, and in war people
"Very good, my friend," said Ragnall, "I am prepared to take my chance
of these things. Either we all go to your country together, as
Macumazana has explained to you, or none of us go."
"We understand. That is our bargain and we no break word," replied
Then he turned his benevolent gaze upon Savage, and said: "So you come
too, Mr. Bena. That your name here, eh? Well, you learn lot things in
Kendahland, about snakes and all rest."
Here the jovial-looking Marūt whispered something into the ear of his
companion, smiling all over his face and showing his white teeth as he
did so. "Oh!" went on Harūt, "my brother tells me you meet one snake
already, down in country called Natal, but sit on him so hard, that he
grow quite flat and no bite."
"Who told him that?" gasped Savage.
"Oh! forget. Think Macumazana. No? Then p'raps you tell him in sleep,
for people talk much in sleep, you know, and some other people got
good ears and hear long way. Or p'raps little joke Harūt. You 'member,
he first-rate conjurer. P'raps he send that snake. No trouble if know
how. Well, we show you much better snake Kendahland. But you no sit on
/him/, Mr. Bena."
To me, I know not why, there was something horrible in all this
jocosity, something that gave me the creeps as always does the sight
of a cat playing with a mouse. I felt even then that it foreshadowed
terrible things. How /could/ these men know the details of occurrences
at which they were not present and of which no one had told them? Did
that strange "tobacco" of theirs really give them some clairvoyant
power, I wondered, or had they other secret methods of obtaining news?
I glanced at poor Savage and perceived that he too felt as I did, for
he had turned quite pale beneath his tan. Even Hans was affected, for
he whispered to me in Dutch: "These are not men; these are devils,
Baas, and this journey of ours is one into hell."
Only Ragnall sat stern, silent, and apparently quite unmoved. Indeed
there was something almost sphinx-like about the set and expression of
his handsome face. Moreover, I felt sure that Harūt and Marūt
recognized the man's strength and determination and that he was one
with whom they must reckon seriously. Beneath all their smiles and
courtesies I could read this knowledge in their eyes; also that it was
causing them grave anxiety. It was as though they knew that here was
one against whom their power had no avail, whose fate was the master
of their fate. In a sense Harūt admitted this to me, for suddenly he
looked up and said in a changed voice and in Bantu:
"You are a good reader of hearts, O Macumazana, almost as good as I
am. But remember that there is One Who writes upon the book of the
heart, Who is the Lord of us who do but read, and that what He writes,
that will befall, strive as we may, for in His hands is the future."
"Quite so," I replied coolly, "and that is why I am going with you to
Kendahland and fear you not at all."
"So it is and so let it be," he answered. "And now, Lords, are you
ready to start? For long is the road and who knows what awaits us ere
we see its end?"
"Yes," I replied, "long is the road of life and who knows what awaits
us ere we see its end--and after?"
Three hours later I halted the splendid white riding-camel upon which
I was mounted, and looked back from the crest of a wave of the desert.
There far behind us on the horizon, by the help of my glasses, I could
make out the site of the camp we had left and even the tall ant-hill
whence I had gazed in the moonlight at our mysterious escort which
seemed to have sprung from the desert as though by magic.
This was the manner of our march: A mile or so ahead of us went a
picket of eight or ten men mounted on the swiftest beasts, doubtless
to give warning of any danger. Next, three or four hundred yards away,
followed a body of about fifty Kendah, travelling in a double line,
and behind these the baggage men, mounted like everyone else, and
leading behind them strings of camels laden with water, provisions,
tents of skin and all our goods, including the fifty rifles and the
ammunition that Ragnall had brought from England. Then came we three
white men and Hans, each of us riding as swift and fine a camel as
Africa can breed. On our right at a distance of about half a mile, and
also on our left, travelled other bodies of the Kendah of the same
numerical strength as that ahead, while the rear was brought up by the
remainder of the company who drove a number of spare camels.
Thus we journeyed in the centre of a square whence any escape would
have been impossible, for I forgot to say that our keepers Harūt and
Marūt rode exactly behind us, at such a distance that we could call to
them if we wished.
At first I found this method of travelling very tiring, as does
everyone who is quite unaccustomed to camel-back. Indeed the swing and
the jolt of the swift creature beneath me seemed to wrench my bones
asunder to such an extent that at the beginning I had once or twice to
be lifted from the saddle when, after hours of torture, at length we
camped for the night. Poor Savage suffered even more than I did, for
the motion reduced him to a kind of jelly. Ragnall, however, who I
think had ridden camels before, felt little inconvenience, and the
same may be said of Hans, who rode in all sorts of positions,
sometimes sideways like a lady, and at others kneeling on the saddle
like a monkey on a barrel-organ. Also, being very light and tough as
rimpis, the swaying motion did not seem to affect him.
By degrees all these troubles left us to such an extent that I could
cover my fifty miles a day, more or less, without even feeling tired.
Indeed I grew to like the life in that pure and sparkling desert air,
perhaps because it was so restful. Day after day we journeyed on
across the endless, sandy plain, watching the sun rise, watching it
grow high, watching it sink again. Night after night we ate our simple
food with appetite and slept beneath the glittering stars till the new
dawn broke in glory from the bosom of the immeasurable East.
We spoke but little during all this time. It was as though the silence
of the wilderness had got hold of us and sealed our lips. Or perhaps
each of us was occupied with his own thoughts. At any rate I know that
for my part I seemed to live in a kind of dreamland, thinking of the
past, reflecting much upon the innumerable problems of this passing
show called life, but not paying much heed to the future. What did the
future matter to me, who did not know whether I should have a share of
it even for another month, or week, or day, surrounded as I was by the
shadow of death? No, I troubled little as to any earthly future,
although I admit that in this oasis of calm I reflected upon that
state where past, present and future will all be one; also that those
reflections, which were in their essence a kind of unshaped prayer,
brought much calm to my spirit.
With the regiment of escort we had practically no communication; I
think that they had been forbidden to talk to us. They were a very
silent set of men, finely-made, capable persons, of an Arab type,
light rather than dark in colour, who seemed for the most part to
communicate with each other by signs or in low-muttered words.
Evidently they looked upon Harūt and Marūt with great veneration, for
any order which either of these brethren gave, if they were brethren,
was obeyed without dispute or delay. Thus, when I happened to mention
that I had lost a pocket-knife at one of our camping-places two days'
journey back, three of them, much against my wish, were ordered to
return to look for it, and did so, making no question. Eight days
later they rejoined us much exhausted and having lost a camel, but
with the knife, which they handed to me with a low bow; and I confess
that I felt ashamed to take the thing.
Nor did we exchange many further confidences with Harūt and Marūt. Up
to the time of our arrival at the boundaries of the Kendah country,
our only talk with them was of the incidents of travel, of where we
should camp, of how far it might be to the next water, for water-holes
or old wells existed in this desert, of such birds as we saw, and so
forth. As to other and more important matters a kind of truce seemed
to prevail. Still, I observed that they were always studying us, and
especially Lord Ragnall, who rode on day after day, self-absorbed and
staring straight in front of him as though he looked at something we
could not see.
Thus we covered hundreds of miles, not less than five hundred at the
least, reckoning our progress at only thirty miles a day, including
stoppages. For occasionally we stopped at the water-holes or small
oases, where the camels drank and rested. Indeed, these were so
conveniently arranged that I came to the conclusion that once there
must have been some established route running across these wastelands
to the south, of which the traditional knowledge remained with the
Kendah people. If so, it had not been used for generations, for save
those of one or two that had died on the outward march, we saw no
skeletons of camels or other beasts, or indeed any sign of man. The
place was an absolute wilderness where nothing lived except a few
small mammals at the oases and the birds that passed over it in the
air on their way to more fertile regions. Of these, by the way, I saw
many that are known both to Europe and Africa, especially ducks and
cranes; also storks that, for aught I can say, may have come from far-
off, homely Holland.
At last the character of the country began to change. Grass appeared
on its lower-lying stretches, then bushes, then occasional trees and
among the trees a few buck. Halting the caravan I crept out and shot
two of these buck with a right and left, a feat that caused our grave
escort to stare in a fashion which showed me that they had never seen
anything of the sort done before.
That night, while we were eating the venison with relish, since it was
the first fresh meat that we had tasted for many a day, I observed
that the disposition of our camp was different from its common form.
Thus it was smaller and placed on an eminence. Also the camels were
not allowed to graze where they would as usual, but were kept within a
limited area while their riders were arranged in groups outside of
them. Further, the stores were piled near our tents, in the centre,
with guards set over them. I asked Harūt and Marūt, who were sharing
our meal, the reason of these alterations.
"It is because we are on the borders of the Kendah country," answered
old Harūt. "Four days' more march will bring us there, Macumazana."
"Then why should you take precautions against your own people? Surely
they will welcome you."
"With spears perhaps. Macumazana, learn that the Kendah are not one
but two people. As you may have heard before, we are the White Kendah,
but there are also Black Kendah who outnumber us many times over,
though in the beginning we from the north conquered them, or so says
our history. The White Kendah have their own territory; but as there
is no other road, to reach it we must pass through that of the Black
Kendah, where it is always possible that we may be attacked,
especially as we bring strangers into the land."
"How is it then that the Black Kendah allow you to live at all, Harūt,
if they are so much the more numerous?"
"Because of fear, Macumazana. They fear our wisdom and the decrees of
the Heavenly Child spoken through the mouth of its oracle, which, if
it is offended, can bring a curse upon them. Still, if they find us
outside our borders they may kill us, if they can, as we may kill them
if we find them within our borders."
"Indeed, Harūt. Then it looks to me as though there were a war
breeding between you."
"A war is breeding, Macumazana, the last great war in which either the
White Kendah or the Black Kendah must perish. Or perhaps both will die
together. Maybe that is the real reason why we have asked you to be
our guest, Macumazana," and with their usual courteous bows, both of
them rose and departed before I could reply.
"You see how it stands," I said to Ragnall. "We have been brought here
to fight for our friends, Harūt, Marūt and Co., against their
rebellious subjects, or rather the king who reigns jointly with them."
"It looks like it," he replied quietly, "but doubtless we shall find
out the truth in time and meanwhile speculation is no good. Do you go
to bed, Quatermain, I will watch till midnight and then wake you."
That night passed in safety. Next day we marched before the dawn,
passing through country that grew continually better watered and more
fertile, though it was still open plain but sloping upwards ever more
steeply. On this plain I saw herds of antelopes and what in the
distance looked like cattle, but no human being. Before evening we
camped where there was good water and plenty of food for the camels.
While the camp was being set Harūt came and invited us to follow him
to the outposts, whence he said we should see a view. We walked with
him, a matter of not more than a quarter of a mile to the head of that
rise up which we had been travelling all day, and thence perceived one
of the most glorious prospects on which my eyes have fallen in all
great Africa. From where we stood the land sloped steeply for a matter
of ten or fifteen miles, till finally the fall ended in a vast plain
like to the bottom of a gigantic saucer, that I presume in some far
time of the world's history was once an enormous lake. A river ran
east and west across this plain and into it fell tributaries. Far
beyond this river the contours of the country rose again till, many,
many miles away, there appeared a solitary hill, tumulus-shaped, which
seemed to be covered with bush.
Beyond and surrounding this hill was more plain which with the aid of
my powerful glasses was, we could see, bordered at last by a range of
great mountains, looking like a blue line pencilled across the
northern distance. To the east and west the plain seemed to be
illimitable. Obviously its soil was of a most fertile character and
supported numbers of inhabitants, for everywhere we could see their
kraals or villages. Much of it to the west, however, was covered with
dense forest with, to all appearance, a clearing in its midst.
"Behold the land of the Kendah," said Harūt. "On this side of the
River Tava live the Black Kendah, on the farther side, the White
"And what is that hill?"
"That is the Holy Mount, the Home of the Heavenly Child, where no man
may set foot"--here he looked at us meaningly--"save the priests of
"What happens to him if he does?" I asked.
"He dies, my Lord Macumazana."
"Then it is guarded, Harūt?"
"It is guarded, not with mortal weapons, Macumazana, but by the
spirits that watch over the Child."
As he would say no more on this interesting matter, I asked him as to
the numbers of the Kendah people, to which he replied that the Black
Kendah might number twenty thousand men of arm-bearing age, but the
White Kendah not more than two thousand.
"Then no wonder you want spirits to guard your Heavenly Child," I
remarked, "since the Black Kendah are your foes and with you warriors
At this moment our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a
picket on a camel, who reported something to Harūt which appeared to
disturb him. I asked him what was the matter.
"That is the matter," he said, pointing to a man mounted on a rough
pony who just then appeared from behind some bushes about half a mile
away, galloping down the slope towards the plain. "He is one of the
scouts of Simba, King of the Black Kendah, and he goes to Simba's town
in yonder forest to make report of our arrival. Return to camp,
Macumazana, and eat, for we must march with the rising of the moon."
As soon as the moon rose we marched accordingly, although the camels,
many of which were much worn with the long journey, scarcely had been
given time to fill themselves and none to rest. All night we marched
down the long slope, only halting for half an hour before daylight to
eat something and rearrange the loads on the baggage beasts, which
now, I noticed, were guarded with extra care. When we were starting
again Marūt came to us and remarked with his usual smile, on behalf of
his brother Harūt, who was otherwise engaged, that it might be well if
we had our guns ready, since we were entering the land of the elephant
Jana and "who knew but that we might meet him?"
"Or his worshippers on two legs," I suggested, to which his only reply
was a nod.
So we got our repeating rifles, some of the first that were ever made,
serviceable but rather complicated weapons that fired five cartridges.
Hans, however, with my permission, armed himself with the little
Purdey piece that was named "Intombi," the singe-barrelled, muzzle-
loading gun which had done me so much service in earlier days, and
even on my last journey to Pongoland. He said that he was accustomed
to it and did not understand these new-fangled breechloaders, also
that it was "lucky." I consented as I did not think that it made much
difference with what kind of rifle Hans was provided. As a marksman he
had this peculiarity: up to a hundred yards or so he was an excellent
shot, but beyond that distance no good at all.
A quarter of an hour later, as the dawn was breaking, we passed
through a kind of /nek/ of rough stones bordering the flat land, and
emerged into a compact body on to the edge of the grassy plain. Here
the word was given to halt for a reason that became clear to me so
soon as I was out of the rocks. For there, marching rapidly, not half
a mile away, were some five hundred white-robed men. A large
proportion of these were mounted, the best being foot-soldiers, of
whom more were running up every minute, appearing out of bush that
grew upon the hill-side, apparently to dispute our passage. These
people, who were black-faced with fuzzy hair upon which they wore no
head-dress, all seemed to be armed with spears.
Presently from out of the mass of them two horsemen dashed forward,
one of whom bore a white flag in token that they came to parley. Our
advance guard allowed them to pass and they galloped on, dodging in
and out between the camels with wonderful skill till at length they
came to where we were with Harūt and Marūt, and pulling up their
horses so sharply that the animals almost sat down on their haunches,
saluted by raising their spears. They were very fine-looking fellows,
perfectly black in colour with a negroid cast of countenance and long
frizzled hair which hung down on to their shoulders. Their clothing
was light, consisting of hide riding breeches that resembled bathing
drawers, sandals, and an arrangement of triple chains which seemed to
be made of some silvery metal that hung from their necks across the
breast and back. Their arms consisted of a long lance similar to that
carried by the White Kendah, and a straight, cross-handled sword
suspended from a belt. This, as I ascertained afterwards, was the
regulation cavalry equipment among these people. The footmen carried a
shorter spear, a round leather shield, two throwing javelins or
assegais, and a curved knife with a horn handle.
"Greeting, Prophets of the Child!" cried one of them. "We are
messengers from the god Jana who speaks through the mouth of Simba the
"Say on, worshippers of the devil Jana. What word has Simba the King
for us?" answered Harūt.
"The word of war, Prophet. What do you beyond your southern boundary
of the Tava river in the territory of the Black Kendah, that was
sealed to them by pact after the battle of a hundred years ago? Is not
all the land to the north as far as the mountains and beyond the
mountains enough for you? Simba the King let you go out, hoping that
the desert would swallow you, but return you shall not."
"That we shall know presently," replied Harūt in a suave voice. "It
depends upon whether the Heavenly Child or the devil Jana is the more
powerful in the land. Still, as we would avoid bloodshed if we may, we
desire to explain to you, messengers of King Simba, that we are here
upon a peaceful errand. It was necessary that we should convey the
white lords to make an offering to the Child, and this was the only
road by which we could lead them to the Holy Mount, since they come
from the south. Through the forests and the swamps that lie to the
east and west camels cannot travel."
"And what is the offering that the white men would make to the Child,
Prophet? Oh! we know well, for like you we have our magic. The
offering that they must make is the blood of Jana our god, which you
have brought them here to kill with their strange weapons, as though
any weapon could prevail against Jana the god. Now, give to us these
white men that we may offer them to the god, and perchance Simba the
King will let you go through."
"Why?" asked Harūt, "seeing that you declare that the white men cannot
harm Jana, to whom indeed they wish no harm. To surrender them to you
that they may be torn to pieces by the devil Jana would be to break
the law of hospitality, for they are our guests. Now return to Simba
the King, and say to Simba that if he lifts a spear against us the
threefold curse of the Child shall fall upon him and upon you his
people: The curse of Heaven by storm or by drought. The curse of
famine. The curse of war. I the prophet have spoken. Depart."
Watching, I could see that this ultimatum delivered by Harūt in a most
impressive voice, and seconded as it was by the sudden and
simultaneous lifting of the spears of all our escort that were within
hearing, produced a considerable effect upon the messengers. Their
faces grew afraid and they shrank a little. Evidently the "threefold
curse of the Child" suggested calamities which they dreaded. Making no
answer, they wheeled their horses about and galloped back to the force
that was gathering below as swiftly as they had come.
"We must fight, my Lord Macumazana," said Harūt, "and if we would
live, conquer, as I know that we shall do."
Then he issued some orders, of which the result was that the caravan
adopted a wedge-shaped formation like to that of a great flock of
wildfowl on the wing. Harūt stationed himself almost at the apex of
the triangle. I with Hans and Marūt were about the centre of the line,
while Ragnall and Savage were placed opposite to us in the right line,
the whole width of the wedge being between us. The baggage camels and
their leaders occupied the middle space between the lines and were
followed by a small rear-guard.
At first we white men were inclined to protest at this separation, but
when Marūt explained to us that its object was to give confidence to
the two divisions of the force and also to minimize the risk of
destruction or capture of all three of us, of course we had nothing
more to say. So we just shook hands, and with as much assurance as we
could command wished each other well through the job.
Then we parted, poor Savage looking very limp indeed, for this was his
first experience of war. Ragnall, however, who came of an old fighting
stock, seemed to be happy as a king. I who had known so many battles,
was the reverse of happy, for inconveniently enough there flashed into
my mind at this juncture the dying words of the Zulu captain and seer,
Mavovo, which foretold that I too should fall far away in war; and I
wondered whether this were the occasion that had been present to his
Only Hans seemed quite unconcerned. Indeed I noted that he took the
opportunity of the halt to fill and light his large corn-cob pipe, a
bit of bravado in the face of Providence for which I could have kicked
him had he not been perched in his usual monkey fashion on the top of
a very tall camel. The act, however, excited the admiration of the
Kendah, for I heard one of them call to the others:
"Look! He is not a monkey after all, but a man--more of a man than his
The arrangements were soon made. Within a quarter of an hour of the
departure of the messengers Harūt, after bowing thrice towards the
Holy Mountain, rose in his stirrups and shaking a long spear above his
head, shouted a single word:
ALLAN IS CAPTURED
The ride that followed was really quite exhilarating. The camels,
notwithstanding their long journey, seemed to have caught some of the
enthusiasm of the war-horse as described in the Book of Job; indeed I
had no idea that they could travel at such a rate. On we swung down
the slope, keeping excellent order, the forest of tall spears shining
and the little lancer-like pennons fluttering on the breeze in a very
gallant way. In silence we went save for the thudding of the hoofs of
the camels and an occasional squeal of anger as some rider drove his
lance handle into their ribs. Not until we actually joined battle did
a single man open his lips. Then, it is true, there went up one
simultaneous and mighty roar of:
"The Child! Death to Jana! The Child! The Child!"
But this happened a few minutes later.
As we drew near the enemy I saw that they had massed their footmen in
a dense body, six or eight lines thick. There they stood to receive
the impact of our charge, or rather they did not all stand, for the
first two ranks were kneeling with long spears stretched out in front
of them. I imagine that their appearance must have greatly resembled
that of the Greek phalanx, or that of the Swiss prepared to receive
cavalry in the Middle Ages. On either side of this formidable body,
which by now must have numbered four or five hundred men, and at a
distance perhaps of a quarter of a mile from them, were gathered the
horsemen of the Black Kendah, divided into two bodies of nearly equal
strength, say about a hundred horse in each body.
As we approached, our triangle curved a little, no doubt under the
direction of Harūt. A minute or so later I saw the reason. It was that
we might strike the foot-soldiers not full in front but at an angle.
It was an admirable manuvre, for when presently we did strike, we
caught them swiftly on the flank and crumpled them up. My word! we
went through those fellows like a knife through butter; they had as
much chance against the rush of our camels as a brown-paper screen has
against a typhoon. Over they rolled in heaps while the White Kendah
spitted them with their lances.
"The Child is top dog! My money on the Child," reflected I in
irreverent ecstasy. But that exultation was premature, for those Black
Kendah were by no means all dead. Presently I saw that scores of them
had appeared among the camels, which they were engaged in stabbing, or
trying to stab, in the stomach with their spears. Also I had forgotten
the horsemen. As our charge slackened owing to the complication in
front, these arrived on our flanks like two thunderbolts. We faced
about and did our best to meet the onslaught, of which the net result
was that both our left and right lines were pierced through about
fifty yards behind the baggage camels. Luckily for us the very
impetuosity of the Black Kendah rush deprived it of most of the fruits
of victory, since the two squadrons, being unable to check their
horses, ended by charging into each other and becoming mixed in
inextricable confusion. Then, I do not know who gave the order, we
wheeled our camels in and fell upon them, a struggling, stationary
mass, with the result that many of them were speared, or overthrown
"I have said we, but that is not quite correct, at any rate so far as
Marūt, Hans, I and about fifteen camelmen were concerned. How it
happened I could not tell in that dust and confusion, but we were cut
off from the main body and presently found ourselves fighting
desperately in a group at which Black Kendah horsemen were charging
again and again. We made the best stand we could. By degrees the
bewildered camels sank under the repeated spear-thrusts of the enemy,
all except one, oddly enough that ridden by Hans, which by some
strange chance was never touched. The rest of us were thrown or
tumbled off the camels and continued the fight from behind their
That is where I came in. Up to this time I had not fired a single
shot, partly because I do not like missing, which it is so easy to do
from the back of a swaying camel, and still more for the reason that I
had not the slightest desire to kill any of these savage men unless I
was obliged to do so in self-defence. Now, however, the thing was
different, as I was fighting for my life. Leaning against my camel,
which was dying and beating its head upon the ground, groaning
horribly the while, I emptied the five cartridges of the repeater into
those Black Kendah, pausing between each shot to take aim, with the
result that presently five riderless horses were galloping loose about
The effect was electrical, since our attackers had never seen anything
of the kind before. For a while they all drew off, which gave me time
to reload. Then they came on again and I repeated the process. For a
second time they retreated and after consultation which lasted for a
minute or more, made a third attack. Once more I saluted them to the
best of my ability, though on this occasion only three men and a horse
fell. The fifth shot was a clean miss because they came on in such a
scattered formation that I had to turn from side to side to fire.
Now at last the game was up, for the simple reason that I had no more
cartridges save two in my double-barrelled pistol. It may be asked
why. The answer is, want of foresight. Too many cartridges in one's
pocket are apt to chafe on camel-back and so is a belt full of them.
In those days also the engagements were few in which a man fired over
fifteen. I had forty or fifty more in a bag, which bag Savage with his
usual politeness had taken and hung upon his saddle without saying a
word to me. At the beginning of the action I found this out, but could
not then get them from him as he was separated from me. Hans, always
careless in small matters, was really to blame as he ought to have
seen that I had the cartridges, or at any rate to have carried them
himself. In short, it was one of those accidents that will happen.
There is nothing more to be said.
After a still longer consultation our enemies advanced on us for the
fourth time, but very slowly. Meanwhile I had been taking stock of the
position. The camel corps, or what was left of it, oblivious of our
plight which the dust of conflict had hidden from them, was travelling
on to the north, more or less victorious. That is to say, it had cut
its way through the Black Kendah and was escaping unpursued, huddled
up in a mob with the baggage animals safe in its centre. The Black
Kendah themselves were engaged in killing our wounded and succouring
their own; also in collecting the bodies of the dead. In short, quite
unintentionally, we were deserted. Probably, if anybody thought about
us at all in the turmoil of desperate battle, they concluded that we
were among the slain.
Marūt came up to me, unhurt, still smiling and waving a bloody spear.
"Lord Macumazana," he said, "the end is at hand. The Child has saved
the others, or most of them, but us it has abandoned. Now what will
you do? Kill yourself, or if that does not please you, suffer me to
kill you? Or shoot on until you must surrender?"
"I have nothing to shoot with any more," I answered. "But if we
surrender, what will happen to us?"
"We shall be taken to Simba's town and there sacrificed to the devil
Jana--I have not time to tell you how. Therefore I propose to kill
"Then I think you are foolish, Marūt, since once we are dead, we are
dead; but while we are alive it is always possible that we may escape
from Jana. If the worst comes to the worst I have a pistol with two
bullets in it, one for you and one for me."
"The wisdom of the Child is in you," he replied. "I shall surrender
with you, Macumazana, and take my chance."
Then he turned and explained things to his followers, who spoke
together for a moment. In the end these took a strange and, to my
mind, a very heroic decision. Waiting till the attacking Kendah were
quite close to us, with the exception of three men, who either because
they lacked courage or for some other reason, stayed with us, they
advanced humbly as though to make submission. A number of the Black
Kendah dismounted and ran up, I suppose to take them prisoners. The
men waited till these were all round them. Then with a yell of "The
Child!" they sprang forward, taking the enemy unawares and fighting
like demons, inflicted great loss upon them before they fell
themselves covered with wounds.
"Brave men indeed!" said Marūt approvingly. "Well, now they are all at
peace with the Child, where doubtless we shall find them ere long."
I nodded but answered nothing. To tell the truth, I was too much
engaged in nursing the remains of my own courage to enter into
conversation about that of other people.
This fierce and cunning stratagem of desperate men which had cost
their enemies so dear, seemed to infuriate the Black Kendah.
At us came the whole mob of them--we were but six now--roaring "Jana!
Jana!" and led by a grey-beard who, to judge from the number of silver
chains upon his breast and his other trappings, seemed to be a great
man among them. When they were about fifty yards away and I was
preparing for the worst, a shot rang out from above and behind me. At
the same instant Greybeard threw his arms wide and letting fall the
spear he held, pitched from his horse, evidently stone dead. I glanced
back and saw Hans, the corn-cob pipe still in his mouth and the little
rifle, "Intombi," still at his shoulder. He had fired from the back of
the camel, I think for the first time that day, and whether by chance
or through good marksmanship, I do not know, had killed this man.
His sudden and unexpected end seemed to fill the Black Kendah with
grief and dismay. Halting in their charge they gathered round him,
while a fierce-looking middle-aged man, also adorned with much
barbaric finery, dismounted to examine him.
"That is Simba the King," said Marūt, "and the slain one is his uncle,
Goru, the great general who brought him up from a babe."
"Then I wish I had another cartridge left for the nephew," I began and
stopped, for Hans was speaking to me.
"Good-bye, Baas," he said, "I must go, for I cannot load 'Intombi' on
the back of this beast. If you meet your reverend father the Predikant
before I do, tell him to make a nice place ready for me among the
Then before I could get out an answer, Hans dragged his camel round;
as I have said, it was quite uninjured. Urging it to a shambling
gallop with blows of the rifle stock, he departed at a great rate, not
towards the home of the Child but up the hill into a brake of giant
grass mingled with thorn trees that grew quite close at hand. Here
with startling suddenness both he and the camel vanished away.
If the Black Kendah saw him go, of which I am doubtful, for they all
seemed to be lost in consultation round their king and the dead
general, Goru, they made no attempt to follow him. Another possibility
is that they thought he was trying to lead them into some snare or
I do not know what they thought because I never heard them mention
Hans or the matter of his disappearance, if indeed they ever realized
that there was such a person. Curiously enough in the case of men who
had just shown themselves so brave, this last accident of the decease
of Goru coming on the top of all their other casualties, seemed to
take the courage out of them. It was as though they had come to the
conclusion that we with our guns were something more than mortal.
For several minutes they debated in evident hesitation. At last
from out of their array rode a single man, in whom I recognized one of
the envoys who had met us in the morning, carrying in his hand a white
flag as he had done before. Thereon I laid down my rifle in token that
I would not fire at him, which indeed I could not do having nothing to
fire. Seeing this he came to within a few yards and halting, addressed
"O second Prophet of the Child," he said, "these are the words of
Simba the King: Your god has been too strong for us to-day, though in
a day to come it may be otherwise. I thought I had you in a pit; that
you were the bucks and I the hunter. But, though with loss, you have
escaped out of the pit," and the speaker glanced towards our
retreating force which was now but a cloud of dust in the far
distance, "while I the hunter have been gored by your horns," and
again he glanced at the dead that were scattered about the plain. "The
noblest of the buck, the white bull of the herd," and he looked at me,
who in any other circumstances would have felt complimented, "and you,
O Prophet Marūt, and one or two others, besides those that I have
slain, are however still in the pit and your horn is a magic horn,"
here he pointed to my rifle, "which pierces from afar and kills dead
all by whom it is touched."
"So I caught those gentry well in the middle," thought I to myself,
"and with soft-nosed bullets!"
"Therefore I, Simba the King, make you an offer. Yield yourselves and
I swear that no spear shall be driven through your hearts and no knife
come near your throats. You shall only be taken to my town and there
be fed on the best and kept as prisoners, till once more there is
peace between the Black Kendah and the White. If you refuse, then I
will ring you round and perhaps in the dark rush on you and kill you
all. Or perhaps I will watch you from day to day till you, who have no
water, die of thirst in the heat of the sun. These are my words to
which nothing may be added and from which nothing shall be taken
Having finished this speech he rode back a few yards out of earshot,
"What will you answer, Lord Macumazana?" asked Marūt.
I replied by another question. "Is there any chance of our being
rescued by your people?"
He shook his head. "None. What we have seen to-day is but a small part
of the army of the Black Kendah, one regiment of foot and one of
horse, that are always ready. By to-morrow thousands will be gathered,
many more than we can hope to deal with in the open and still less in
their strongholds, also Harūt will believe that we are dead. Unless
the Child saves us we shall be left to our fate."
"Then it seems that we are indeed in a pit, as that black brute of a
king puts it, Marūt, and if he does what he says and rushes us at
sundown, everyone of us will be killed. Also I am thirsty already and
there is nothing to drink. But will this king keep his word? There are
other ways of dying besides by steel."
"I think that he will keep his word, but as that messenger said, he
will not add to his word. Choose now, for see, they are beginning to
hedge us round."
"What do you say, men?" I asked of the three who had remained with us.
"We say, Lord, that we are in the hands of the Child, though we wish
now that we had died with our brothers," answered their spokesman
So after Marūt and I had consulted together for a little as to the
form of his reply, he beckoned to the messenger and said:
"We accept the offer of Simba, although it would be easy for this lord
to kill him now where he stands, namely, to yield ourselves as
prisoners on his oath that no harm shall come to us. For know that if
harm does come, the vengeance will be terrible. Now in proof of his
good faith, let Simba draw near and drink the cup of peace with us,
for we thirst."
"Not so," said the messenger, "for then that white lord might kill him
with his tube. Give me the tube and Simba shall come."
"Take it," I said magnanimously, handing him the rifle, which he
received in a very gingerly fashion. After all, I reflected, there is
nothing much more useless than a rifle without ammunition.
Off he went holding the weapon at arm's length, and presently Simba
himself, accompanied by some of his men, one of whom carried a skin of
water and another a large cup hollowed from an elephant's tusk, rode
up to us. This Simba was a fine and rather terrifying person with a
large moustache and a chin shaved except for a little tuft of hair
which he wore at its point like an Italian. His eyes were big and
dark, frank-looking, yet now and again with sinister expression in the
corners of them. He was not nearly so black as most of his followers;
probably in bygone generations his blood had been crossed with that of
the White Kendah. He wore his hair long without any head-dress, held
in place by a band of gold which I suppose represented a crown. On his
forehead was a large white scar, probably received in some battle.
Such was his appearance.
He looked at me with great curiosity, and I have often wondered since
what kind of an impression I produced upon him. My hat had fallen off,
or I had knocked it off when I fired my last cartridge into his
people, and forgotten to replace it, and my intractable hair, which
was longer than usual, had not been recently brushed. My worn Norfolk
jacket was dyed with blood from a wounded or dying man who had tumbled
against me in the scrimmage when the cavalry charged us, and my right
leg and boot were stained in a similar fashion from having rubbed
against my camel where a spear had entered it. Altogether I must have
appeared a most disreputable object.
Some indication of his opinion was given, however, in a remark, which
of course I pretended not to understand, that I overheard him make to
one of his officers:
"Truly," he said, "we must not always look to the strong for strength.
And yet this little white porcupine is strength itself, for see how
much damage he has wrought us. Also consider his eyes that appear to
pierce everything. Jana himself might fear those eyes. Well, time that
grinds the rocks will tell us all."
All of this I caught perfectly, my ears being very sharp, although he
thought that he spoke out of my hearing, for after spending a month in
their company I understood the Kendah dialect of Bantu very well.
Having delivered himself thus he rode nearer and said:
"You, Prophet Marūt, my enemy, have heard the terms of me, Simba the
King, and have accepted them. Therefore discuss them no more. What I
have promised I will keep. What I have given I give, neither greater
nor less by the weight of a hair."
"So be it, O King," answered Marūt with his usual smile, which nothing
ever seemed to disturb. "Only remember that if those terms are broken
either in the letter or in the spirit, especially the spirit" (that is
the best rendering I can give of his word), "the manifold curses of
the Child will fall upon you and yours. Yes, though you kill us all by
treachery, still those curses will fall."
"May Jana take the Child and all who worship it," exclaimed the king
with evident irritation.
"In the end, O King, Jana will take the Child and its followers--or
the Child will take Jana and his followers. Which of these things must
happen is known to the Child alone, and perchance to its prophets.
Meanwhile, for every one of those of the Child I think that three of
the followers of Jana, or more, lie dead upon this field. Also the
caravan is now out of your reach with two of the white lords and many
of such tubes which deal death, like that which we have surrendered to
you. Therefore because we are helpless, do not think that the Child is
helpless. Jana must have been asleep, O King, or you would have set
your trap better."
I thought that this coolly insolent speech would have produced some
outburst, but in fact it seemed to have an opposite effect. Making no
reply to it, Simba said almost humbly:
"I come to drink the cup of peace with you and the white lord, O
Prophet. Afterwards we can talk. Give me water, slave."
Then a man filled the great ivory cup with water from the skin he
carried. Simba took it and having sprinkled a little upon the ground,
I suppose as an offering, drank from the cup, doubtless to show that
it was not poisoned. Watching carefully, I made sure that he swallowed
what he drank by studying the motions of his throat. Then he handed
the cup with a bow to Marūt, who with a still deeper bow passed it to
me. Being absolutely parched I absorbed about a pint of it, and
feeling a new man, passed the horn to Marūt, who swallowed the rest.
Then it was filled again for our three White Kendah, the King first
tasting the water as before, after which Marūt and I had a second
When at length our thirst was satisfied, horses were brought to us,
serviceable and docile little beasts with sheepskins for saddles and
loops of hide for stirrups. On these we mounted and for the next three
hours rode across the plain, surrounded by a strong escort and with an
armed Black Kendah running on each side of our horses and holding in
his hand a thong attached to the ring of the bridle, no doubt to
prevent any attempt to escape.
Our road ran past but not through some villages whence we saw many
women and children staring at us, and through beautiful crops of
mealies and other sorts of grain that in this country were now just
ripening. The luxuriant appearance of these crops suggested that the
rains must have been plentiful and the season all that could be
desired. From some of the villages by the track arose a miserable
sound of wailing. Evidently their inhabitants had already heard that
certain of their menkind had fallen in that morning's fight.
At the end of the third hour we began to enter the great forest which
I had seen when first we looked down on Kendahland. It was filled with
splendid trees, most of them quite strange to me, but perhaps because
of the denseness of their overshadowing crowns there was comparatively
no undergrowth. The general effect of the place was very gloomy, since
little light could pass through the interlacing foliage of the tops of
those mighty trees.
Towards evening we came to a clearing in this forest, it may have been
four or five miles in diameter, but whether it was natural or
artificial I am not sure. I think, however, that it was probably the
former for two reasons: the hollow nature of the ground, which lay a
good many feet lower than the surrounding forest, and the wonderful
fertility of the soil, which suggested that it had once been deposited
upon an old lake bottom. Never did I see such crops as those that grew
upon that clearing; they were magnificent.
Wending our way along the road that ran through the tall corn, for
here every inch was cultivated, we came suddenly upon the capital of
the Black Kendah, which was known as Simba Town. It was a large place,
somewhat different from any other African settlement with which I am
acquainted, inasmuch as it was not only stockaded but completely
surrounded by a broad artificial moat filled with water from a stream
that ran through the centre of the town, over which moat there were
four timber bridges placed at the cardinal points of the compass.
These bridges were strong enough to bear horses or stock, but so made
that in the event of attack they could be destroyed in a few minutes.
Riding through the eastern gate, a stout timber structure on the
farther side of the corresponding bridge, where the king was received
with salutes by an armed guard, we entered one of the main streets of
the town which ran from north to south and from east to west. It was
broad and on either side of it were the dwellings of the inhabitants
set close together because the space within the stockade was limited.
These were not huts but square buildings of mud with flat roofs of
some kind of cement. Evidently they were built upon the model of
Oriental and North African houses of which some debased tradition
remained with these people. Thus a stairway or ladder ran from the
interior to the roof of each house, whereon its inhabitants were
accustomed, as I discovered afterwards, to sleep during a good part of
the year, also to eat in the cool of the day. Many of them were
gathered there now to watch us pass, men, women, and children, all
except the little ones decently clothed in long garments of various
colours, the women for the most part in white and the men in a kind of
I saw at once that they had already heard of the fight and of the
considerable losses which their people had sustained, for their
reception of us prisoners was most unfriendly. Indeed the men shook
their fists at us, the women screamed out curses, while the children
stuck out their tongues in token of derision or defiance. Most of
these demonstrations, however, were directed at Marūt and his
followers, who only smiled indifferently. At me they stared in wonder
not unmixed with fear.
A quarter of a mile or so from the gate we came to an inner enclosure,
that answered to the South African cattle kraal, surrounded by a dry
ditch and a timber palisade outside of which was planted a green fence
of some shrub with long white thorns. Here we passed through more
gates, to find ourselves in an oval space, perhaps five acres in
extent. Evidently this served as a market ground, but all around it
were open sheds where hundreds of horses were stabled. No cattle
seemed to be kept there, except a few that with sheep and goats were
driven in every day for slaughter purposes at a shambles at the north
end, from the great stock kraals built beyond the forest to the south,
where they were safe from possible raiding by the White Kendah.
A tall reed fence cut off the southern end of this marketplace,
outside of which we were ordered to dismount. Passing through yet
another gate we found within the fence a large hut or house built on
the same model as the others in the town, which Marūt whispered to me
was that of the king. Behind it were smaller houses in which lived his
queen and women, good-looking females, who advanced to meet him with
obsequious bows. To the right and left were two more buildings of
about equal size, one of which was occupied by the royal guard and the
other was the guest-house whither we were conducted.
It proved to be a comfortable dwelling about thirty feet square but
containing only one room, with various huts behind it that served for
cooking and other purposes. In one of these the three camelmen were
placed. Immediately on our arrival food was brought to us, a lamb or
kid roasted whole upon a wooden platter, and some green mealie-cobs
boiled upon another platter; also water to drink and wash with in
earthenware jars of sun-dried clay.
I ate heartily, for I was starving. Then, as it was useless to attempt
precautions against murder, without any talk to my fellow prisoner,
for which we were both too tired, I threw myself down on a mattress
stuffed with corn husks in a corner of the hut, drew a skin rug over
me and, having commended myself to the protection of the Power above,
fell fast asleep.
THE FIRST CURSE
The next thing I remember was feeling upon my face the sunlight that
poured through a window-place which was protected by immovable wooden
bars. For a while I lay still, reflecting as memory returned to me
upon all the events of the previous day and upon my present unhappy
position. Here I was a prisoner in the hands of a horde of fierce
savages who had every reason to hate me, for though this was done in
self-defence, had I not killed a number of their people against whom
personally I had no quarrel? It was true that their king had promised
me safety, but what reliance could be put upon the word of such a man?
Unless something occurred to save me, without doubt my days were
numbered. In this way or in that I should be murdered, which served me
right for ever entering upon such a business.
The only satisfactory point in the story was that, for the present at
any rate, Ragnall and Savage had escaped, though doubtless sooner or
later fate would overtake them also. I was sure that they had escaped,
since two of the camelmen with us had informed Marūt that they saw
them swept away surrounded by our people and quite unharmed. Now they
would be grieving over my death, since none survived who could tell
them of our capture, unless the Black Kendah chose to do so, which was
not likely. I wondered what course they would take when Ragnall found
that his quest was vain, as of course must happen. Try to get out of
the country, I suppose, as I prayed they might succeed in doing,
though this was most improbable.
Then there was Hans. He of course would attempt to retrace our road
across the desert, if he had got clear away. Having a good camel, a
rifle and some ammunition, it was just possible that he might win
through, as he never forgot a path which he had once travelled, though
probably in a week's time a few bones upon the desert would be all
that remained of him. Well, as he had suggested, perhaps we should
soon be talking the event over in some far sphere with my father--and
others. Poor old Hans!
I opened my eyes and looked about me. The first thing I noticed was
that my double-barrelled pistol, which I had placed at full cock
beside me before I went to sleep, was gone, also my large clasp-knife.
This discovery did not tend to raise my spirits, since I was now quite
weaponless. Then I observed Marūt seated on the floor of the hut
staring straight in front of him, and noted that at length even he had
ceased to smile, but that his lips were moving as though he were
engaged in prayer or meditation.
"Marūt," I said, "someone has been in this place while we were asleep
and stolen my pistol and knife."
"Yes, Lord," he answered, "and my knife also. I saw them come in the
middle of the night, two men who walked softly as cats, and searched
"Then why did you not wake me?"
"What would have been the use, Lord? If we had caught hold of the men,
they would have called out and we should have been murdered at once.
It was best to let them take the things, which after all are of no
good to us here."
"The pistol might have been of some good," I replied significantly.