Part 4 out of 6
"Yes," he said, nodding, "but at the worst death is easy to find."
"Do you think, Marūt, that we could manage to let Harūt and the others
know our plight? That smoke which I breathed in England, for instance,
seemed to show me far-off things--if we could get any of it."
"The smoke was nothing, Lord, but some harmless burning powder which
clouded your mind for a minute, and enabled you to see the thoughts
that were in /our/ minds. /We/ drew the pictures at which you looked.
Also here there is none."
"Oh!" I said, "the old trick of suggestion; just what I imagined. Then
there's an end of that, and as the others will think that we are dead
and we cannot communicate with them, we have no hope except in
"Or the Child," suggested Marūt gently.
"Look here!" I said with irritation. "After you have just told me that
your smoke vision was a mere conjurer's trick, how do you expect me to
believe in your blessed Child? Who is the Child? What is the Child,
and--this is more important--what can it do? As your throat is going
to be cut shortly you may as well tell me the truth."
"Lord Macumazana, I will. Who and what the Child is I cannot say
because I do not know. But it has been our god for thousands of years,
and we believe that our remote forefathers brought it with them when
they were driven out of Egypt at some time unknown. We have writings
concerning it done up in little rolls, but as we cannot read them they
are of no use to us. It has an hereditary priesthood, of which Harūt
my uncle, for he is my uncle, is the head. We believe that the Child
is God, or rather a symbol in which God dwells, and that it can save
us in this world and the next, for we hold that man is an immortal
spirit. We believe also that through its Oracle--a priestess who is
called Guardian of the Child--it can declare the future and bring
blessings or curses upon men, especially upon our enemies. When the
Oracle dies we are helpless since the Child has no 'mouth' and our
enemies prevail against us. This happened a long while ago, and the
last Oracle having declared before her death that her successor was to
be found in England, my uncle and I travelled thither disguised as
conjurers and made search for many years. We thought that we had found
the new Oracle in the lady who married the Lord Igeza, because of that
mark of the new moon upon her neck. After our return to Africa,
however, for as I have spoken of this matter I may as well tell you
all," here he stared me full in the eyes and spoke in a clear metallic
voice which somehow no longer convinced me, "we found that we had made
a mistake, for the real Oracle, a mere girl, was discovered among our
own people, and has now been for two years installed in her office.
Without doubt the last Guardian of the Child was wandering in her mind
when she told us that story before her death as to a woman in England,
a country of which she had heard through Arabs. That is all."
"Thank you," I replied, feeling that it would be useless to show any
suspicion of his story. "Now will you be so good as to tell me who and
what is the god, or the elephant Jana, whom you have brought me here
to kill? Is the elephant a god, or is the god an elephant? In either
case what has it to do with the Child?"
"Lord, Jana among us Kendah represents the evil in the world, as the
Child represents the good. Jana is he whom the Mohammedans call
Shaitan and the Christians call Satan, and our forefathers, the old
Egyptians, called Set."
"Ah!" thought I to myself, "now we have got it. Horus the Divine
Child, and Set the evil monster, with whom it strives everlastingly."
"Always," went on Marūt, "there has been war between the Child and
Jana, that is, between Good and Evil, and we know that in the end one
of them must conquer the other."
"The whole world has known that from the beginning," I interrupted.
"But who and what is this Jana?"
"Among the Black Kendah, Lord, Jana is an elephant, or at any rate his
symbol is an elephant, a very terrible beast to which sacrifices are
made, that kills all who do not worship him if he chances to meet
them. He lives farther on in the forest yonder, and the Black Kendah
make use of him in war, for the devil in him obeys their priests."
"Indeed, and is this elephant always the same?"
"I cannot tell you, but for many generations it has been the same, for
it is known by its size and by the fact that one of its tusks is
"Well," I remarked, "all this proves nothing, since elephants
certainly live for at least two hundred years, and perhaps much
longer. Also, after they become 'rogues' they acquire every kind of
wicked and unnatural habit, as to which I could tell you lots of
stories. Have you seen this elephant?"
"No, Macumazana," he answered with a shiver. "If I had seen it should
I have been alive to-day? Yet I fear I am fated to see it ere long,
not alone," and again he shivered, looking at me in a very suggestive
At this moment our conversation was interrupted by the arrival of two
Black Kendahs who brought us our breakfast of porridge and a boiled
fowl, and stood there while we ate it. For my part I was not sorry, as
I had learned all I wanted to know of the theological opinions and
practice of the land, and had come to the conclusion that the terrible
devil-god of the Black Kendah was merely a rogue elephant of unusual
size and ferocity, which under other circumstances it would have given
me the greatest pleasure to try to shoot.
When we had finished eating, that is soon, for neither of our
appetites was good that morning, we walked out of the house into the
surrounding compound and visited the camelmen in their hut. Here we
found them squatted on the ground looking very depressed indeed. When
I asked them what was the matter they replied, "Nothing," except that
they were men about to die and life was pleasant. Also they had wives
and children whom they would never see again.
Having tried to cheer them up to the best of my ability, which I fear
I did without conviction, for in my heart I agreed with their view of
the case, we returned to the guest-house and mounted the stair which
led to the flat roof. Hence we saw that some curious ceremony was in
progress in the centre of the market-place. At that distance we could
not make out the details, for I forgot to say that my glasses had been
stolen with the pistol and knife, probably because they were supposed
to be lethal weapons or instruments of magic.
A rough altar had been erected, on which a fire burned. Behind it the
king, Simba, was seated on a stool with various councillors about him.
In front of the altar was a stout wooden table, on which lay what
looked like the body of a goat or a sheep. A fantastically dressed
man, assisted by other men, appeared to be engaged in inspecting the
inside of this animal with, we gathered, unsatisfactory results, for
presently he raised his arms and uttered a loud wail. Then the
creature's viscera were removed from it and thrown upon the fire,
while the rest of the carcass was carried off.
I asked Marūt what he thought they were doing. He replied dejectedly:
"Consulting their Oracle; perhaps as to whether we should live or die,
Just then the priest in the strange, feathered attire approached the
king, carrying some small object in his hand. I wondered what it could
be, till the sound of a report reached my ears and I saw the man begin
to jump round upon one leg, holding the other with both his hands at
the knee and howling loudly.
"Ah!" I said, "that pistol was full cocked, and the bullet got him in
Simba shouted out something, whereon a man picked up the pistol and
threw it into the fire, round which the others gathered to watch it
"You wait," I said to Marūt, and as I spoke the words the inevitable
Off went the other barrel of the pistol, which hopped out of the fire
with the recoil like a living thing. But as it happened one of the
assistant priests was standing in front of the mouth of that barrel,
and he also hopped once, but never again, for the heavy bullet struck
him somewhere in the body and killed him. Now there was consternation.
Everyone ran away, leaving the dead man lying on the ground. Simba led
the rout and the head-priest brought up the rear, skipping along upon
Having observed these events, which filled me with an unholy joy, we
descended into the house again as there was nothing more to see, also
because it occurred to me that our presence on the roof, watching
their discomfiture, might irritate these savages. About ten minutes
later the gate of the fence round the guest-house was thrown open, and
through it came four men carrying on a stretcher the body of the
priest whom the bullet had killed, which they laid down in front of
our door. Then followed the king with an armed guard, and after him
the befeathered diviner with his foot bound up, who supported himself
upon the shoulders of two of his colleagues. This man, I now
perceived, wore a hideous mask, from which projected two tusks in
imitation of those of an elephant. Also there were others, as many as
the space would hold.
The king called to us to come out of the house, which, having no
choice, we did. One glance at him showed me that the man was frantic
with fear, or rage, or both.
"Look upon your work, magicians!" he said in a terrible voice,
pointing first to the dead priest, then to the diviner's wounded foot.
"It is no work of ours, King Simba," answered Marūt. "It is your own
work. You stole the magic weapon of the white lord and made it angry,
so that it has revenged itself upon you."
"It is true," said Simba, "that the tube has killed one of those who
took it away from you and wounded the other" (here was luck indeed).
"But it was you who ordered it to do so, magicians. Now, hark!
Yesterday I promised you safety, that no spear should pierce your
hearts and no knife come near your throats, and drank the cup of peace
with you. But you have broken the pact, working us more harm, and
therefore it no longer holds, since there are many other ways in which
men can die. Listen again! This is my decree. By your magic you have
taken away the life of one of my servants and hurt another of my
servants, destroying the middle toe of his left foot. If within three
days you do not give back the life to him who seems to be dead, and
give back the toe to him who seems to be hurt, as you well can do,
then you shall join those whom you have slain in the land of death,
how I will not tell you."
Now when I heard this amazing sentence I gasped within myself, but
thinking it better to keep up my rōle of understanding nothing of
their talk, I preserved an immovable countenance and left Marūt to
answer. This, to his credit be it recorded, he did with his customary
"O King," he said, "who can bring the dead back to life? Not even the
Child itself, at any rate in this world, for there is no way."
"Then, Prophet of the Child, you had better find a way, or, I repeat,
I send you to join them," he shouted, rolling his eyes.
"What did my brother, the great Prophet, promise to you but yesterday,
O King, if you harmed us?" asked Marūt. "Was it not that the three
great curses should fall upon your people? Learn now that if so much
as one of us is murdered by you, these things shall swiftly come to
pass. I, Marūt, who am also a Prophet of the Child, have said it."
Now Simba seemed to go quite mad, so mad that I thought all was over.
He waved his spear and danced about in front of us, till the silver
chains clanked upon his breast. He vituperated the Child and its
worshippers, who, he declared, had worked evil on the Black Kendah for
generations. He appealed to his god Jana to avenge these evils, "to
pierce the Child with his tusks, to tear it with his trunk, and to
trample it with his feet," all of which the wounded diviner ably
seconded through his horrid mask.
There we stood before him, I leaning against the wall of the house
with an air of studied nonchalance mingled with mild interest, at
least that is what I meant to do, and Marūt smiling sweetly and
staring at the heavens. Whilst I was wondering what exact portion of
my frame was destined to become acquainted with that spear, of a
sudden Simba gave it up. Turning to his followers, he bade them dig a
hole in the corner of our little enclosure and set the dead man in it,
"with his head out so that he may breathe," an order which they
Then he issued a command that we should be well fed and tended, and
remarking that if the departed was not alive and healthy on the third
morning from that day, we should hear from him again, he and his
company stalked off, except those men who were occupied with the
Soon this was finished also. There sat the deceased buried to the neck
with his face looking towards the house, a most disagreeable sight.
Presently, however, matters were improved in this respect by one of
the sextons fetching a large earthenware pot and several smaller pots
full of food and water. The latter they set round the head, I suppose
for the sustenance of the body beneath, and then placed the big vessel
inverted over all, "to keep the sun off our sleeping brother," as I
heard one say to the other.
This pot looked innocent enough when all was done, like one of those
that gardeners in England put over forced rhubarb, no more. And yet,
such is the strength of the imagination, I think that on the whole I
should have preferred the object underneath naked and unadorned. For
instance, I have forgotten to say that the heads of those of the White
Kendah who had fallen in the fight had been set up on poles in front
of Simba's house. They were unpleasant to contemplate, but to my mind
not so unpleasant as that pot.
As a matter of fact, this precaution against injury from the sun to
the late diviner proved unnecessary, since by some strange chance from
that moment the sun ceased to shine. Quite suddenly clouds arose which
gradually covered the whole sky and the weather began to turn very
cold, unprecedentedly so, Marūt informed me, for the time of year,
which, it will be remembered, in this country was the season just
before harvest. Obviously the Black Kendah thought so also, since from
our seats on the roof, whither we had retreated to be as far as
possible from the pot, we saw them gathered in the market-place,
staring at the sky and talking to each other.
The day passed without any further event, except the arrival of our
meals, for which we had no great appetite. The night came, earlier
than usual because of the clouds, and we fell asleep, or rather into a
series of dozes. Once I thought that I heard someone stirring in the
huts behind us, but as it was followed by silence I took no more
notice. At length the light broke very slowly, for now the clouds were
denser than ever. Shivering with the cold, Marūt and I made a visit to
the camel-drivers, who were not allowed to enter our house. On going
into their hut we saw to our horror that only two of them remained,
seated stonily upon the floor. We asked where the third was. They
replied they did not know. In the middle of the night, they said, men
had crept in, who seized, bound and gagged him, then dragged him away.
As there was nothing to be said or done, we returned to breakfast
filled with horrid fears.
Nothing happened that day except that some priests arrived, lifted the
earthenware pot, examined their departed colleague, who by now had
become an unencouraging spectacle, removed old dishes of food,
arranged more about him, and went off. Also the clouds grew thicker
and thicker, and the air more and more chilly, till, had we been in
any northern latitude, I should have said that snow was pending. From
our perch on the roof-top I observed the population of Simba Town
discussing the weather with ever-increasing eagerness; also that the
people who were going out to work in the fields wore mats over their
Once more darkness came, and this night, notwithstanding the cold, we
spent wrapped in rugs, on the roof of the house. It had occurred to us
that kidnapping would be less easy there, as we could make some sort
of a fight at the head of the stairway, or, if the worst came to the
worst, dive from the parapet and break our necks. We kept watch turn
and turn about. During my watch about midnight I heard a noise going
on in the hut behind us; scuffling and a stifled cry which turned my
blood cold. About an hour later a fire was lighted in the centre of
the market-place where the sheep had been sacrificed, and by the flare
of it I could see people moving. But what they did I could not see,
which was perhaps as well.
Next morning only one of the camelmen was left. This remaining man was
now almost crazy with fear, and could give no clear account of what
had happened to his companion.
The poor fellow implored us to take him away to our house, as he
feared to be left alone with "the black devils." We tried to do so,
but armed guards appeared mysteriously and thrust him back into his
This day was an exact repetition of the others. The same inspection of
the deceased and renewal of his food; the same cold, clouded sky, the
same agitated conferences in the market-place.
For the third time darkness fell upon us in that horrible place. Once
more we took refuge on the roof, but this night neither of us slept.
We were too cold, too physically miserable, and too filled with mental
apprehensions. All nature seemed to be big with impending disaster.
The sky appeared to be sinking down upon the earth. The moon was
hidden, yet a faint and lurid light shone now in one quarter of the
horizon, now in another. There was no wind, but the air moaned
audibly. It was as though the end of the world were near as, I
reflected, probably might be the case so far as we were concerned.
Never, perhaps, have I felt so spiritually terrified as I was during
the dreadful inaction of that night. Even if I had known that I was
going to be executed at dawn, I think that by comparison I should have
been light-hearted. But the worst part of the business was that I knew
nothing. I was like a man forced to walk through dense darkness among
precipices, quite unable to guess when my journey would end in space,
but enduring all the agonies of death at every step.
About midnight again we heard that scuffle and stifled cry in the hut
"He's gone," I whispered to Marūt, wiping the cold sweat from my brow.
"Yes," answered Marūt, "and very soon we shall follow him,
I wished that his face were visible so that I could see if he still
smiled when he uttered those words.
An hour or so later the usual fire appeared in the marketplace, round
which the usual figures flitted dimly. The sight of them fascinated
me, although I did not want to look, fearing what I might see.
Luckily, however, we were too far off to discern anything at night.
While these unholy ceremonies were in progress the climax came, that
is so far as the weather was concerned. Of a sudden a great gale
sprang up, a gale of icy wind such as in Southern Africa sometimes
precedes a thunderstorm. It blew for half an hour or more, then
lulled. Now lightning flashed across the heavens, and by the glare of
it we perceived that all the population of Simba Town seemed to be
gathered in the market-place. At least there were some thousands of
them, talking, gesticulating, pointing at the sky.
A few minutes later there came a great crash of thunder, of which it
was impossible to locate the sound, for it rolled from everywhere.
Then suddenly something hard struck the roof by my side and rebounded,
to be followed next moment by a blow upon my shoulder which nearly
knocked me flat, although I was well protected by the skin rugs.
"Down the stair!" I called. "They are stoning us," and suited the
action to the word.
Ten seconds later we were both in the room, crouched in its farther
corner, for the stones or whatever they were seemed to be following
us. I struck a match, of which fortunately I had some, together with
my pipe and a good pocketful of tobacco--my only solace in those
days--and, as it burned up, saw first that blood was running down
Marūt's face, and secondly, that these stones were great lumps of ice,
some of them weighing several ounces, which hopped about the floor
like live things.
"Hailstorm!" remarked Marūt with his accustomed smile.
"Hell storm!" I replied, "for whoever saw hail like that before?"
Then the match burnt out and conversation came to an end for the
reason that we could no longer hear each other speak. The hail came
down with a perpetual, rattling roar, that in its sum was one of the
most terrible sounds to which I ever listened. And yet above it I
thought that I could catch another, still more terrible, the wail of
hundreds of people in agony. After the first few minutes I began to be
afraid that the roof would be battered in, or that the walls would
crumble beneath this perpetual fire of the musketry of heaven. But the
cement was good and the place well built.
So it came about that the house stood the tempest, which had it been
roofed with tiles or galvanized iron I am sure it would never have
done, since the lumps of ice must have shattered one and pierced the
other like paper. Indeed I have seen this happen in a bad hailstorm in
Natal which killed my best horse. But even that hail was as snowflakes
compared to this.
I suppose that this natural phenomenon continued for about twenty
minutes, not more, during ten of which it was at its worst. Then by
degrees it ceased, the sky cleared and the moon shone out beautifully.
We climbed to the roof again and looked. It was several inches deep in
jagged ice, while the market-place and all the country round appeared
in the bright moonlight to be buried beneath a veil of snow.
Very rapidly, as the normal temperature of that warm land reasserted
itself, this snow or rather hail melted, causing a flood of water
which, where there was any fall, began to rush away with a gurgling
sound. Also we heard other sounds, such as that from the galloping
hoofs of many of the horses which had broken loose from their wrecked
stables at the north end of the market-place, where in great number
they had been killed by the falling roofs or had kicked each other to
death, and a wild universal wail that rose from every quarter of the
big town, in which quantities of the worst-built houses had collapsed.
Further, lying here and there about the market-place we could see
scores of dark shapes that we knew to be those of men, women and
children, whom those sharp missiles hurled from heaven had caught
before they could escape and slain or wounded almost to death. For it
will be remembered that perhaps not fewer than two thousand people
were gathered on this market-place, attending the horrid midnight
sacrifice and discussing the unnatural weather when the storm burst
upon them suddenly as an avalanche.
"The Child is small, yet its strength is great. Behold the first
curse!" said Marūt solemnly.
I stared at him, but as he chose to believe that a very unusual
hailstorm was a visitation from heaven I did not think it worth while
arguing the point. Only I wondered if he really did believe this. Then
I remembered that such an event was said to have afflicted the old
Egyptians in the hour of their pride because they would not "let the
people go." Well, these blackguardedly Black Kendah were certainly
worse than the Egyptians can ever have been; also they would not let
/us/ go. It was not wonderful therefore that Marūt should be the
victim of phantasies on the matter.
Not until the following morning did we come to understand the full
extent of the calamity which had overtaken the Black Kendah. I think I
have said that their crops this year were magnificent and just
ripening to harvest. From our roof on previous days we could see a
great area of them stretching to the edge of the forest. When the sun
rose that morning this area had vanished, and the ground was covered
with a carpet of green pulp. Also the forest itself appeared suddenly
to have experienced the full effects of a northern winter. Not a leaf
was left upon the trees, which stood their pointing their naked boughs
No one who had not seen it could imagine the devastating fury of that
storm. For example, the head of the diviner who was buried in the
court-yard awaiting resurrection through our magic was, it may be
recalled, covered with a stout earthenware pot. Now that pot had
shattered into sherds and the head beneath was nothing but bits of
broken bone which it would have been impossible for the very best
magic to reconstruct to the likeness of a human being.
Calamity indeed stalked naked through the land.
No breakfast was brought to us that morning, probably for the reason
that there was none to bring. This did not matter, however, seeing
that plenty of food accumulated from supper and other meals stood in a
corner of the house practically untouched. So we ate what we could and
then paid our usual visit to the hut in which the camelmen had been
confined. I say had been, for now it was quite empty, the last poor
fellow having vanished away like his companions.
The sight of this vacuum filled me with a kind of fury.
"They have all been murdered!" I said to Marūt.
"No," he replied with gentle accuracy. "They have been sacrificed to
Jana. What we have seen on the market-place at night was the rite of
their sacrifice. Now it will be our turn, Lord Macumazana."
"Well," I exclaimed, "I hope these devils are satisfied with Jana's
answer to their accursed offerings, and if they try their fiendish
pranks on us----"
"Doubtless there will be another answer. But, Lord, the question is,
will that help us?"
Dumb with impotent rage I returned to the house, where presently the
remains of the reed gate opened. Through it appeared Simba the King,
the diviner with the injured foot walking upon crutches, and others of
whom the most were more or less wounded, presumably by the hailstones.
Then it was that in my wrath I put off the pretence of not
understanding their language and went for them before they could utter
a single word.
"Where are our servants, you murderers?" I asked, shaking my fist at
them. "Have you sacrificed them to your devil-god? If so, behold the
fruits of sacrifice!" and I swept my arm towards the country beyond.
"Where are your crops?" I went on. "Tell me on what you will live this
winter?" (At these words they quailed. In their imagination already
they saw famine stalking towards them.) "Why do you keep us here? Is
it that you wait for a worse thing to befall you? Why do you visit us
here now?" and I paused, gasping with indignation.
"We came to look whether you had brought back to life that doctor whom
you killed with your magic, white man," answered the king heavily.
I stepped to the corner of the court-yard and, drawing aside a mat
that I had thrown there, showed them what lay beneath.
"Look then," I said, "and be sure that if you do not let us go, as
yonder thing is, so shall all of you be before another moon has been
born and died. Such is the life we shall give to evil men like you."
Now they grew positively terrified.
"Lord," said Simba, for the first time addressing me by a title of
respect, "your magic is too strong for us. Great misfortune has fallen
upon our land. Hundreds of people are dead, killed by the ice-stones
that you have called down. Our harvest is ruined, and there is but
little corn left in the storepits now when we looked to gather the new
grain. Messengers come in from the outlying land telling us that
nearly all the sheep and goats and very many of the cattle are slain.
Soon we shall starve."
"As you deserve to starve," I answered. "Now--will you let us go?"
Simba stared at me doubtfully, then began to whisper into the ear of
the lamed diviner. I could not catch what they said, so I watched
their faces. That of the diviner whose head I was glad to see had been
cut by a hailstone so that both ends of him were now injured, told me
a good deal. His mask had been ugly, but now that it was off the
countenance beneath was far uglier. Of a negroid type, pendulous-
lipped, sensuous and loose-eyed, he was indeed a hideous fellow, yet
very cunning and cruel-looking, as men of his class are apt to be.
Humbled as he was for the moment, I felt sure that he was still
plotting evil against us, somewhat against the will of his master. The
issue showed that I was right. At length Simba spoke, saying:
"We had intended, Lord, to keep you and the priest of the Child here
as hostages against mischief that might be worked on us by the
followers of the Child, who have always been our bitter enemies and
done us much undeserved wrong, although on our part we have faithfully
kept the pact concluded in the days of our grandfathers. It seems,
however, that fate, or your magic, is too strong for us, and therefore
I have determined to let you go. To-night at sundown we will set you
on the road which leads to the ford of the River Tava, which divides
our territory from that of the White Kendah, and you may depart where
you will, since our wish is that never again may we see your ill-
At this intelligence my heart leapt in joy that was altogether
premature. But, preserving my indignant air, I exclaimed:
"To-night! Why to-night? Why not at once? It is hard for us to cross
unknown rivers in the dark."
"The water is low, Lord, and the ford easy. Moreover, if you started
now you would reach it in the dark; whereas if you start at sundown,
you will reach it in the morning. Lastly, we cannot conduct you hence
until we have buried our dead."
Then, without giving me time to answer, he turned and left the place,
followed by the others. Only at the gateway the diviner wheeled round
on his crutches and glared at us both, muttering something with his
thick lips; probably it was curses.
"At any rate they are going to set us free," I said to Marūt, not
without exultation, when they had all vanished.
"Yes, Lord," he replied, "but /where/ are they going to set us free?
The demon Jana lives in the forests and the swamps by the banks of the
Tava River, and it is said that he ravages at night."
I did not pursue the subject, but reflected to myself cheerfully that
this mystic rogue-elephant was a long way off and might be
circumvented, whereas that altar of sacrifice was extremely near and
very difficult to avoid.
Never did a thief with a rich booty in view, or a wooer having an
assignation with his lady, wait for sundown more eagerly than I did
that day. Hour after hour I sat upon the house-top, watching the Black
Kendah carrying off the dead killed by the hailstones and generally
trying to repair the damage done by the terrific tempest. Watching the
sun also as it climbed down the cloudless sky, and literally counting
the minutes till it should reach the horizon, although I knew well
that it would have been wiser after such a night to prepare for our
journey by lying down to sleep.
At length the great orb began to sink in majesty behind the tattered
western forest, and, punctual to the minute, Simba, with a mounted
escort of some twenty men and two led horses, appeared at our gate. As
our preparations, which consisted only of Marūt stuffing such food as
was available into the breast of his robe, were already made, we
walked out of that accursed guest-house and, at a sign from the king,
mounted the horses. Riding across the empty market-place and past the
spot where the rough stone altar still stood with charred bones
protruding from the ashes of its extinguished fire--were they those of
our friends the camel-drivers? I wondered--we entered the north street
of the town.
Here, standing at the doors of their houses, were many of the
inhabitants who had gathered to watch us pass. Never did I see hate
more savage than was written on those faces as they shook their fists
at us and muttered curses not loud but deep.
No wonder! for they were all ruined, poor folk, with nothing to look
forward to but starvation until long months hence the harvest came
again for those who would live to gather it. Also they were convinced
that we, the white magician and the prophet of their enemy the Child,
had brought this disaster on them. Had it not been for the escort I
believe they would have fallen on us and torn us to pieces.
Considering them I understood for the first time how disagreeable real
unpopularity /can be/. But when I saw the actual condition of the
fruitful gardens without in the waning daylight, I confess that I was
moved to some sympathy with their owners. It was appalling. Not a
handful of grain was there left to gather, for the corn had been not
only "laid" but literally cut to ribbons by the hail.
After running for some miles through the cultivated land the road
entered the forest. Here it was dark as pitch, so dark that I wondered
how our guides found their way. In that blackness dreadful
apprehensions seized me, for I became convinced that we had been
brought here to be murdered. Every minute I expected to feel a knife-
thrust in my back. I thought of digging my heels into the horse's
sides and trying to gallop off anywhere, but abandoned the idea, first
because I could not desert Marūt, of whom I had lost touch in the
gloom, and secondly because I was hemmed in by the escort. For the
same reason I did not try to slip from the horse and glide away into
the forest. There was nothing to be done save to go on and await the
It came at last some hours later. We were out of the forest now, and
there was the moon rising, past her full but still very bright. Her
light showed me that we were on a wild moorland, swampy, with
scattered trees growing here and there, across which what seemed to be
a game track ran down hill. That was all I could make out. Here the
escort halted, and Simba the King said in a sullen voice:
"Dismount and go your ways, evil spirits, for we travel no farther
across this place which is haunted. Follow the track and it will lead
you to a lake. Pass the lake and by morning you will come to the river
beyond which lies the country of your friends. May its waters swallow
you if you reach them. For learn, there is one who watches on this
road whom few care to meet."
As he finished speaking men sprang at us and, pulling us from the
horses, thrust us out of their company. Then they turned and in
another minute were lost in the darkness, leaving us alone.
"What now, friend Marūt?" I asked.
"Now, Lord, all we can do is to go forward, for if we stay here Simba
and his people will return and kill us at the daylight. One of them
said so to me."
"Then, 'come on, Macduff,'" I exclaimed, stepping out briskly, and
though he had never read Shakespeare, Marūt understood and followed.
"What did Simba mean about 'one on the road whom few care to meet'?" I
asked over my shoulder when we had done half a mile or so.
"I think he meant the elephant Jana," replied Marūt with a groan.
"Then I hope Jana isn't at home. Cheer up, Marūt. The chances are that
we shall never meet a single elephant in this big place."
"Yet many elephants have been here, Lord," and he pointed to the
ground. "It is said that they come to die by the waters of the lake
and this is one of the roads they follow on their death journey, a
road that no other living thing dare travel."
"Oh!" I exclaimed. "Then after all that was a true dream I had in the
house in England."
"Yes, Lord, because my brother Harūt once lost his way out hunting
when he was young and saw what his mind showed you in the dream, and
what we shall see presently, if we live to come so far."
I made no reply, both because what he said was either true or false,
which I should ascertain presently, and because I was engaged in
searching the ground with my eyes. He was right; many elephants had
travelled this path--one quite recently. I, a hunter of those brutes,
could not be deceived on this point. Once or twice also I thought that
I caught sight of the outline of some tall creature moving silently
through the scattered thorns a couple of hundred yards or so to our
right. It might have been an elephant or a giraffe, or perhaps nothing
but a shadow, so I said nothing. As I heard no noise I was inclined to
believe the latter explanation. In any case, what was the good of
speaking? Unarmed and solitary amidst unknown dangers, our position
was desperate, and as Marūt's nerve was already giving out, to
emphasize its horrors to him would be mere foolishness.
On we trudged for another two hours, during which time the only living
thing that I saw was a large owl which sailed round our heads as
though to look at us, and then flew away ahead.
This owl, Marūt informed me, was one of "Jana's spies" that kept him
advised of all that was passing in his territory. I muttered "Bosh"
and tramped on. Still I was glad that we saw no more of the owl, for
in certain circumstances such dark fears are catching.
We reached the top of a rise, and there beneath us lay the most
desolate scene that ever I have seen. At least it would have been the
most desolate if I did not chance to have looked on it before, in the
drawing-room of Ragnall Castle! There was no doubt about it. Below was
the black, melancholy lake, a large sheet of water surrounded by
reeds. Around, but at a considerable distance, appeared the tropical
forest. To the east of the lake stretched a stony plain. At the time I
could make out no more because of the uncertain light and the
distance, for we had still over a mile to go before we reached the
edge of the lake.
The aspect of the place filled me with tremblings, both because of its
utter uncanniness and because of the inexplicable truth that I had
seen it before. Most people will have experienced this kind of moral
shock when on going to some new land they recognize a locality as
being quite familiar to them in all its details. Or it may be the
rooms of a house hitherto unvisited by them. Or it may be a
conversation of which, when it begins, they already foreknow the
sequence and the end, because in some dim state, when or how who can
say, they have taken part in that talk with those same speakers. If
this be so even in cheerful surroundings and among our friends or
acquaintances, it is easy to imagine how much greater was the shock to
me, a traveller on such a journey and in such a night.
I shrank from approaching the shores of this lake, remembering that as
yet all the vision was not unrolled. I looked about me. If we went to
the left we should either strike the water, or if we followed its
edge, still bearing to the left, must ultimately reach the forest,
where probably we should be lost. I looked to the right. The ground
was strewn with boulders, among which grew thorns and rank grass,
impracticable for men on foot at night. I looked behind me, meditating
retreat, and there, some hundreds of yards away behind low, scrubby
mimosas mixed with aloe-like plants, I saw something brown toss up and
disappear again that might very well have been the trunk of an
elephant. Then, animated by the courage of despair and a desire to
know the worst, I began to descend the elephant track towards the lake
almost at a run.
Ten minutes or so more brought us to the eastern head of the lake,
where the reeds whispered in the breath of the night wind like things
alive. As I expected, it proved to be a bare, open space where nothing
seemed to grow. Yes, and all about me were the decaying remains of
elephants, hundreds of them, some with their bones covered in moss,
that may have lain here for generations, and others more newly dead.
They were all old beasts as I could tell by the tusks, whether male or
female. Indeed about me within a radius of a quarter of a mile lay
enough ivory to make a man very rich for life, since although
discoloured, much of it seemed to have kept quite sound, like human
teeth in a mummy case. The sight gave me a new zest for life. If only
I could manage to survive and carry off that ivory! I would. In this
way or in that I swore that I would! Who could possibly die with so
much ivory to be had for the taking? Not that old hunter, Allan
Then I forgot about the ivory, for there in front of me, just where it
should be, just as I had seen it in the dream-picture, was the bull
elephant dying, a thin and ancient brute that had lived its long life
to the last hour. It searched about as though to find a convenient
resting-place, and when this was discovered, stood over it, swaying to
and fro for a full minute. Then it lifted its trunk and trumpeted
shrilly thrice, singing its swan-song, after which it sank slowly to
its knees, its trunk outstretched and the points of its worn tusks
resting on the ground. Evidently it was dead.
I let my eyes travel on, and behold! about fifty yards beyond the dead
bull was a mound of hard rock. I watched it with gasping expectation
and--yes, on the top of the mound something slowly materialized.
Although I knew what it must be well enough, for a while I could not
see quite clearly because there were certain little clouds about and
one of them had floated over the face of the moon. It passed, and
before me, perhaps a hundred and forty paces away, outlined clearly
against the sky, I perceived the devilish elephant of my vision.
Oh! what a brute was that! In bulk and height it appeared to be half
as big again as any of its tribe which I had known in all my life's
experience. It was enormous, unearthly; a survivor perhaps of some
ancient species that lived before the Flood, or at least a very giant
of its kind. Its grey-black sides were scarred as though with
fighting. One of its huge tusks, much worn at the end, for evidently
it was very old, gleamed white in the moonlight. The other was broken
off about halfway down its length. When perfect it had been malformed,
for it curved downwards and not upwards, also rather out to the right.
There stood this mammoth, this leviathan, this /monstrum horrendum,
informe, ingens/, as I remember my old father used to call a certain
gigantic and misshapen bull that we had on the Station, flapping a
pair of ears that looked like the sides of a Kafir hut, and waving a
trunk as big as a weaver's beam--whatever a weaver's beam may be--an
appalling and a petrifying sight.
I squatted behind the skeleton of an elephant which happened to be
handy and well covered with moss and ferns and watched the beast,
fascinated, wishing that I had a large-bore rifle in my hand. What
became of Marūt I do not exactly know, but I think that he lay down on
During the minute or so that followed I reflected a good deal, as we
do in times of emergency, often after a useless sort of a fashion. For
instance, I wondered why the brute appeared thus upon yonder mound,
and the thought suggested itself to me that it was summoned thither
from some neighbouring lair by the trumpet call of the dying elephant.
It occurred to me even that it was a kind of king of the elephants, to
which they felt bound to report themselves, as it were, in the hour of
their decease. Certainly what followed gave some credence to my
fantastical notion which, if there were anything in it, might account
for this great graveyard at that particular spot.
After standing for a while in the attitude that I have described,
testing the air with its trunk, Jana, for I will call him so, lumbered
down the mound and advanced straight to where the elephant that I had
thought to be dead was kneeling. As a matter of fact it was not quite
dead, for when Jana arrived it lifted its trunk and curled it round
that of Jana as though in affectionate greeting, then let it fall to
the ground again. Thereon Jana did what I had seen it do in my dream
or vision at Ragnall, namely, attacked it, knocking it over on to its
side, where it lay motionless; quite dead this time.
Now I remembered that the vision was not accurate after all, since in
it I had seen Jana destroy a woman and a child, who on the present
occasion were wanting. Since then I have thought that this was because
Harūt, clairvoyantly or telepathically, had conveyed to me, as indeed
Marūt declared, a scene which he had witnessed similar to that which I
was witnessing, but not identical in its incidents. Thus it happened,
perhaps, that while the act of the woman and the child was omitted, in
our case there was another act of the play to follow of which I had
received no inkling in my Ragnall experience. Indeed, if I had
received it, I should not have been there that night, for no
inducement on earth would have brought me to Kendahland.
This was the act. Jana, having prodded his dead brother to his
satisfaction, whether from viciousness or to put it out of pain, I
cannot say, stood over the carcass in an attitude of grief or pious
meditation. At this time, I should mention, the wind, which had been
rustling the hail-stripped reeds at the lake border, had died away
almost, but not completely; that is to say, only a very faint gust
blew now and again, which, with a hunter's instinct, I observed with
satisfaction drew /from/ the direction of Jana towards ourselves. This
I knew, because it struck on my forehead, which was wet with
perspiration, and cooled the skin.
Presently, however, by a cursed spite of fate, one of these gusts--a
very little one--came from some quarter behind us, for I felt it in my
back hair, that was as damp as the rest of me. Just then I was
glancing to my right, where it seemed to me that out of the corner of
my eye I had caught sight of something passing among the stones at a
distance of a hundred yards or so, possibly the shadow of a cloud or
another elephant. At the time I did not ascertain which it was, since
a faint rattle from Jana's trunk reconcentrated all my faculties on
him in a painfully vivid fashion.
I looked to see that all the contemplation had departed from his
attitude, now as alert as that of a fox-terrier which imagines he has
seen a rat. His vast ears were cocked, his huge bulk trembled, his
enormous trunk sniffed the air.
"Great Heavens!" thought I to myself, "he has winded us!" Then I took
such consolation as I could from the fact that the next gust once more
struck upon my forehead, for I hoped he would conclude that he had
made a mistake.
Not a bit of it! Jana as far too old a bird--or beast--to make any
mistake. He grunted, got himself going like a luggage train, and with
great deliberation walked towards us, smelling at the ground, smelling
at the air, smelling to the right, to the left, and even towards
heaven above, as though he expected that thence might fall upon him
vengeance for his many sins. A dozen times as he came did I cover him
with an imaginary rifle, marking the exact spots where I might have
hoped to send a bullet to his vitals, in a kind of automatic fashion,
for all my real brain was contemplating my own approaching end.
I wondered how it would happen. Would he drive that great tusk through
me, would he throw me into the air, or would he kneel upon my poor
little body, and avenge the deaths of his kin that had fallen at my
hands? Marūt was speaking in a rattling whisper:
"His priests have told Jana to kill us; we are about to die," he said.
"Before I die I want to say that the lady, the wife of the lord----"
"Silence!" I hissed. "He will hear you," for at that instant I took
not the slightest interest in any lady on the earth. Fiercely I glared
at Marūt and noted even then how pitiful was his countenance. There
was no smile there now. All its jovial roundness had vanished. It had
sunk in; it was blue and ghastly with large, protruding eyes, like to
that of a man who had been three days dead.
I was right--Jana /had/ heard. Low as the whisper was, through that
intense silence it had penetrated to his almost preternatural senses.
Forward he came at a run for twenty paces or more with his trunk held
straight out in front of him. Then he halted again, perhaps the length
of a cricket pitch away, and smelt as before.
The sight was too much for Marūt. He sprang up and ran for his life
towards the lake, purposing, I suppose, to take refuge in the water.
Oh! how he ran. After him went Jana like a railway engine--express
this time--trumpeting as he charged. Marūt reached the lake, which was
quite close, about ten yards ahead, and plunging into it with a bound,
began to swim.
Now, I thought, he may get away if the crocodiles don't have him, for
that devil will scarcely take to the water. But this was just where I
made a mistake, for with a mighty splash in went Jana too. Also he was
the better swimmer. Marūt soon saw this and swung round to the shore,
by which manuvre he gained a little as he could turn quicker than
Back they came, Jana just behind Marūt, striking at him with his great
trunk. They landed, Marūt flew a few yards ahead doubling in and out
among the rocks like a hare and, to my horror, making for where I lay,
whether by accident or in a mad hope of obtaining protection, I do not
It may be asked why I had not taken the opportunity to run also in the
opposite direction. There are several answers. The first was that
there seemed to be nowhere to run; the second, that I felt sure, if I
did run, I should trip up over the skeletons of those elephants or the
stones; the third, that I did not think of it at once; the fourth,
that Jana had not yet seen me, and I had no craving to introduce
myself to him personally; and the fifth and greatest, that I was so
paralysed with fear that I did not feel as though I could lift myself
from the ground. Everything about me seemed to be dead, except my
powers of observation, which were painfully alive.
Of a sudden Marūt gave up. Less than a stone's throw from me he
wheeled round and, facing Jana, hurled at him some fearful and
concentrated curse, of which all that I could distinguish were the
words: "The Child!"
Oddly enough it seemed to have an effect upon the furious rogue, which
halted in its rush and, putting its four feet together, slid a few
paces nearer and stood still. It was just as though the beast had
understood the words and were considering them. If so, their effect
was to rouse him to perfect madness. He screamed terribly; he lashed
his sides with his trunk; his red and wicked eyes rolled; foam flew
from the cavern of his open mouth; he danced upon his great feet, a
sort of hideous Scottish reel. Then he charged!
I shut my eyes for a moment. When I opened them again it was to see
poor Marūt higher in the air than ever he flew before. I thought that
he would never come down, but he did at last with an awesome thud.
Jana went to him and very gently, now that he was dead, picked him up
in his trunk. I prayed that he might carry him away to some hiding-
place and leave me in peace. But not so. With slow and stately
strides, rocking the deceased Marūt up and down in his trunk, as a
nurse might rock a baby, he marched on to the very stone where I lay,
behind which I suppose he had seen or smelt me all the time.
For quite a long while, it seemed more than a century, he stood over
me, studying me as though I interested him very much, the water of the
lake trickling in a refreshing stream from his great ears on to my
back. Had it not been for that water I think I should have fainted,
but as it was I did the next best thing--pretended to be dead. Perhaps
this monster would scorn to touch a dead man. Watching out of the
corner of my eye, I saw him lift one vast paw that was the size of an
arm-chair and hold it over me.
Now good-bye to the world, thought I. Then the foot descended as a
steam-hammer does, but also as a steam-hammer sometimes does when used
to crack nuts, stopped as it touched my back, and presently came to
earth again alongside of me, perhaps because Jana thought the foothold
dangerous. At any rate, he took another and better way. Depositing the
remains of Marūt with the most tender care beside me, as though the
nurse were putting the child to bed, he unwound his yards of trunk and
began to feel me all over with its tip, commencing at the back of my
neck. Oh! the sensation of that clammy, wriggling tip upon my spinal
Down it went till it reached the seat of my trousers. There it
pinched, presumably to ascertain whether or no I were malingering, a
most agonizing pinch like to that of a pair of blacksmith's tongs. So
sharp was it that, although I did not stir, who was aware that the
slightest movement meant death, it tore a piece out of the stout cloth
of my breeches, to say nothing of a portion of the skin beneath. This
seemed to astonish the beast, for it lifted the tip of its trunk and
shifted its head, as though to examine the fragment by the light of
Now indeed all was over, for when it saw blood upon that cloth----! I
put up one short, piteous prayer to Heaven to save me from this
terrible end, and lo, it was answered!
For just as Jana, the results of the inspection being unsatisfactory,
was cocking his ears and making ready to slay me, there rang out the
short, sharp report of a rifle fired within a few yards. Glancing up
at the instant, I saw blood spurt from the monster's left eye, where
evidently the bullet had found a home.
He felt at his eye with his trunk; then, uttering a scream of pain,
wheeled round and rushed away.
I suppose that I swooned for a minute or two. At any rate I remember a
long and very curious dream, such a dream as is evolved by a patient
under laughing gas, that is very clear and vivid at the time but
immediately afterwards slips from the mind's grasp as water does from
the clenched hand. It was something to the effect that all those
hundreds of skeleton elephants rose and marshalled themselves before
me, making obeisance to me by bending their bony knees, because, as I
quite understood, I was the only human being that had ever escaped
from Jana. Moreover, on the foremost elephant's skull Hans was perched
like a mahout, giving words of command, to their serried ranks and
explaining to them that it would be very convenient if they would
carry their tusks, for which they had no further use, and pile them in
a certain place--I forget where--that must be near a good road to
facilitate their subsequent transport to a land where they would be
made into billiard balls and the backs of ladies' hair-brushes. Next,
through the figments of that retreating dream, I heard the undoubted
voice of Hans himself, which of course I knew to be absurd as Hans was
lost and doubtless dead, saying:
"If you are alive, Baas, please wake up soon, as I have finished
reloading Intombi, and it is time to be going. I think I hit Jana in
the eye, but so big a beast will soon get over so little a thing as
that and look for us, and the bullet from Intombi is too small to kill
him, Baas, especially as it is not likely that either of us could hit
him in the other eye."
Now I sat up and stared. Yes, there was Hans himself looking just the
same as usual, only perhaps rather dirtier, engaged in setting a cap
on to the nipple of the little rifle Intombi.
"Hans," I said in a hollow voice, "why the devil are you here?"
"To save you from the devil, of course, Baas," he replied aptly. Then,
resting the gun against the stone, the old fellow knelt down by my
side and, throwing his arms around me, began to blubber over me,
"Just in time, Baas! Only just in time, for as usual Hans made a mess
of things and judged badly--I'll tell you afterwards. Still, just in
time, thanks be to your reverend father, the Predikant. Oh! if he had
delayed me for one more minute you would have been as flat as my nose,
Baas. Now come quickly. I've got the camel tied up there, and he can
carry two, being fat and strong after four days' rest with plenty to
eat. This place is haunted, Baas, and that king of the devils, Jana,
will be back after us presently, as soon as he has wiped the blood out
of his eye."
I didn't make any remark, having no taste for conversation just then,
but only looked at poor Marūt, who lay by me as though he was
"Oh, Baas," said Hans, "there is no need to trouble about him, for his
neck is broken and he's quite dead. Also it is as well," he added
cheerfully. "For, as your reverend father doubtless remembered, the
camel could never carry three. Moreover, if he stops here, perhaps
Jana will come back to play with him instead of following us."
Poor Marūt! This was his requiem as sung by Hans.
With a last glance at the unhappy man to whom I had grown attached in
a way during our time of joint captivity and trial, I took the arm of
the old Hottentot, or rather leant upon his shoulder, for at first I
felt too weak to walk by myself, and picked my path with him through
the stones and skeletons of elephants across the plateau eastwards,
that is, away from the lake. About two hundred yards from the scene of
our tragedy was a mound of rock similar to that on which Jana had
appeared, but much smaller, behind which we found the camel, kneeling
as a well-trained beast of the sort should do and tethered to a stone.
As we went, in brief but sufficient language Hans told me his story.
It seemed that after he had shot the Kendah general it came into his
cunning, foreseeing mind that he might be of more use to me free than
as a companion in captivity, or that if I were killed he might in that
case live to bring vengeance on my slayers. So he broke away, as has
been described, and hid till nightfall on the hill-side. Then by the
light of the moon he tracked us, avoiding the villages, and ultimately
found a place of shelter in a kind of cave in the forest near to Simba
Town, where no people lived. Here he fed the camel at night,
concealing it at dawn in the cave. The days he spent up a tall tree,
whence he could watch all that went on in the town beneath, living
meanwhile on some food which he carried in a bag tied to the saddle,
helped out by green mealies which he stole from a neighbouring field.
Thus he saw most of what passed in the town, including the desolation
wrought by the fearful tempest of hail, which, being in their cave,
both he and the camel escaped without harm. On the next evening from
his post of outlook up the tree, where he had now some difficulty in
hiding himself because the hail had stripped off all its leaves, he
saw Marūt and myself brought from the guest-house and taken away by
the escort. Descending and running to the cave, he saddled the camel
and started in pursuit, plunging into the forest and hiding there when
he perceived that the escort were leaving us.
Here he waited until they had gone by on their return journey. So
close did they pass to him that he could overhear their talk, which
told him they expected, or rather were sure, that we should be
destroyed by the elephant Jana, their devil god, to whom the camelmen
had been already sacrificed. After they had departed he remounted and
followed us. Here I asked him why he had not overtaken us before we
came to the cemetery of elephants, as I presumed he might have done,
since he stated that he was close in our rear. This indeed was the
case, for it was the head of the camel I saw behind the thorn trees
when I looked back, and not the trunk of an elephant as I had
At the time he would give me no direct answer, except that he grew
muddled as he had already suggested, and thought it best to keep in
the background and see what happened. Long afterwards, however, he
admitted to me that he acted on a presentiment.
"It seemed to me, Baas," he said, "that your reverend father was
telling me that I should do best to let you two go on and not show
myself, since if I did so we should all three be killed, as one of us
must walk whom the other two could not desert. Whereas if I left you
as you were, one of you would be killed and the other escape, and that
the one to be killed would not be /you/, Baas. All of which came about
as the Spirit spoke in my head, for Marūt was killed, who did not
matter, and--you know the rest, Baas."
To return to Hans' story. He saw us march down to the borders of the
lake, and, keeping to our right, took cover behind the knoll of rock,
whence he watched also all that followed. When Jana advanced to attack
us Hans crept forward in the hope, a very wild one, of crippling him
with the little Purdey rifle. Indeed, he was about to fire at the hind
leg when Marūt made his run for life and plunged into the lake. Then
he crawled on to lead me away to the camel, but when he was within a
few yards the chase returned our way and Marūt was killed.
From that moment he waited for an opportunity to shoot Jana in the
only spot where so soft a bullet would, as he knew, have the faintest
chance of injuring him vitally--namely, in the eye--for he was sure
that its penetration would not be sufficient to reach the vitals
through that thick hide and the mass of flesh behind. With an infinite
and wonderful patience he waited, knowing that my life or death hung
in the balance. While Jana held his foot over me, while he felt me
with his trunk, still Hans waited, balancing the arguments for and
against firing upon the scales of experience in his clever old mind,
and in the end coming to a right and wise conclusion.
At length his chance came, the brute exposed his eye, and by the light
of the clear moon Hans, always a very good shot at a distance when it
was not necessary to allow for trajectory and wind, let drive and
/hit/. The bullet did not get to the brain as he had hoped; it had not
strength for that, but it destroyed this left eye and gave Jana such
pain that for a while he forgot all about me and everything else
Such was the Hottentot's tale as I picked it up from his laconic,
colourless, Dutch /patois/ sentences, then and afterwards; a very
wonderful tale I thought. But for him, his fidelity and his bushman's
cunning, where should I have found myself before that moon set?
We mounted the camel after I had paused a minute to take a pull from a
flask of brandy which remained in the saddlebags. Although he loved
strong drink so well Hans had saved it untouched on the mere chance
that it might some time be of service to me, his master. The monkey-
like Hottentot sat in front and directed the camel, while I
accommodated myself as best I could on the sheepskins behind. Luckily
they were thick and soft, for Jana's pinch was not exactly that of a
Off we went, picking our way carefully till we reached the elephant
track beyond the mound where Jana had appeared, which, in the light of
faith, we hoped would lead us to the River Tava. Here we made better
progress, but still could not go very fast because of the holes made
by the feet of Jana and his company. Soon we had left the cemetery
behind us, and lost sight of the lake which I devoutly trusted I might
never see again.
Now the track ran upwards from the hollow to a ridge two or three
miles away. We reached the crest of this ridge without accident,
except that on our road we met another aged elephant, a cow with very
poor tusks, travelling to its last resting place, or so I suppose. I
don't know which was the more frightened, the sick cow or the camel,
for camels hate elephants as horses hate camels until they get used to
them. The cow bolted to the right as quickly as it could, which was
not very fast, and the camel bolted to the left with such convulsive
bounds that we were nearly thrown off its back. However, being an
equable brute, it soon recovered its balance, and we got back to the
track beyond the cow.
From the top of the rise we saw that before us lay a sandy plain
lightly clothed in grass, and, to our joy, about ten miles away at the
foot of a very gentle slope, the moonlight gleamed upon the waters of
a broad river. It was not easy to make out, but it was there, we were
both sure it was there; we could not mistake the wavering, silver
flash. On we went for another quarter of a mile, when something caused
me to turn round on the sheepskin and look back.
Oh Heavens! At the very top of the rise, clearly outlined against the
sky, stood Jana himself with his trunk lifted. Next instant he
trumpeted, a furious, rattling challenge of rage and defiance.
"Allemagte! Baas," said Hans, "the old devil is coming to look for his
lost eye, and has seen us with that which remains. He has been
travelling on our spoor."
"Forward!" I answered, bringing my heels into the camel's ribs.
Then the race began. The camel was a very good camel, one of the real
running breed; also, as Hans said, it was comparatively fresh, and
may, moreover, have been aware that it was near to the plains where it
had been bred. Lastly, the going was now excellent, soft to its spongy
feet but not too deep in sand, nor were there any rocks over which it
could fall. It went off like the wind, making nothing of our united
weights which did not come to more than two hundred pounds, or a half
of what it could carry with ease, being perhaps urged to its top speed
by the knowledge that the elephant was behind. For mile after mile we
rushed down the plain. But we did not go alone, for Jana came after us
like a cruiser after a gunboat. Moreover, swiftly as we travelled, he
travelled just a little swifter, gaining say a few yards in every
hundred. For the last mile before we came to the river bank, half an
hour later perhaps, though it seemed to be a week, he was not more
than fifty paces to our rear. I glanced back at him, and in the light
of the moon, which was growing low, he bore a strange resemblance to a
mud cottage with broken chimneys (which were his ears flapping on each
side of him), and the yard pump projecting from the upper window.
"We shall beat him now, Hans," I said looking at the broad river which
was now close at hand.
"Yes, Baas," answered Hans doubtfully and in jerks. "This is very good
camel, Baas. He runs so fast that I have no inside left, I suppose
because he smells his wife over that river, to say nothing of death
behind him. But, Baas, I am not sure; that devil Jana is still faster
than the camel, and he wants to settle for his lost eye, which makes
him lively. Also I see stones ahead, which are bad for camels. Then
there is the river, and I don't know if camels can swim, but Jana can
as Marūt learned. Do you think, Baas, that you could manage to sting
him up with a bullet in his knee or that great trunk of his, just to
give him something to think about besides ourselves?"
Thus he prattled on, I believe to occupy my mind and his own, till at
length, growing impatient, I replied:
"Be silent, donkey. Can I shoot an elephant backwards over my shoulder
with a rifle meant for springbuck? Hit the camel! Hit it hard!"
Alas! Hans was right! There /were/ stones at the verge of the river,
which doubtless it had washed out in periods of past flood, and
presently we were among them. Now a camel, so good on sand that is its
native heath, is a worthless brute among stones, over which it slips
and flounders. But to Jana these appeared to offer little or no
obstacle. At any rate he came over them almost if not quite as fast as
before. By the time that we reached the brink of the water he was not
more than ten yards behind. I could even see the blood running down
from the socket of his ruined eye.
Moreover, at the sight of the foaming but shallow torrent, the camel,
a creature unaccustomed to water, pulled up in a mulish kind of way
and for a moment refused to stir. Luckily at this instant Jana let off
one of his archangel kind of trumpetings which started our beast
again, since it was more afraid of elephants than it was of water.
In we went and were presently floundering among the loose stones at
the bottom of the river, which was nowhere over four feet deep, with
Jana splashing after us not more than five yards behind. I twisted
myself round and fired at him with the rifle. Whether I hit him or no
I could not say, but he stopped for a few seconds, perhaps because he
remembered the effect of a similar explosion upon his eye, which gave
us a trifling start. Then he came on again in his steam-engine
When we were about in the middle of the river the inevitable happened.
The camel fell, pitching us over its head into the stream. Still
clinging to the rifle I picked myself up and began half to swim half
to wade towards the farther shore, catching hold of Hans with my free
hand. In a moment Jana was on to that camel. He gored it with his
tusks, he trampled it with his feet, he got it round the neck with his
trunk, dragging nearly the whole bulk of it out of the water. Then he
set to work to pound it down into the mud and stones at the bottom of
the river with such a persistent thoroughness, that he gave us time to
reach the other bank and climb up a stout tree which grew there, a
sloping, flat-topped kind of tree that was fortunately easy to ascend,
at least for a man. Here we sat gasping, perhaps about thirty feet
above the ground level, and waited.
Presently Jana, having finished with the camel, followed us, and
without any difficulty located us in that tree. He walked all round it
considering the situation. Then he wound his huge trunk about the bole
of the tree and, putting out his strength, tried to pull it over. It
was an anxious moment, but this particular child of the forest had not
grown there for some hundreds of years, withstanding all the shocks of
wind, weather and water, in order to be laid low by an elephant,
however enormous. It shook a little--no more. Abandoning this attempt
as futile, Jana next began to try to dig it up by driving his tusk
under its roots. Here, too, he failed because they grew among stones
which evidently jarred him.
Ceasing from these agricultural efforts with a deep rumble of rage, he
adopted yet a third expedient. Rearing his huge bulk into the air he
brought down his forefeet with all the tremendous weight of his great
body behind them on to the sloping trunk of the tree just below where
the branches sprang, perhaps twelve or thirteen feet above the ground.
The shock was so heavy that for a moment I thought the tree would be
uprooted or snapped in two. Thank Heaven! it held, but the vibration
was such that Hans and I were nearly shaken out of the upper branches,
like autumn apples from a bough. Indeed, I think I should have gone
had not the monkey-like Hans, who had toes to cling with as well as
fingers, gripped me by the collar.
Thrice did Jana repeat this manuvre, and at the third onslaught I saw
to my horror that the roots were loosening. I heard some of them snap,
and a crack appeared in the ground not far from the bole. Fortunately
Jana never noted these symptoms, for abandoning a plan which he
considered unavailing, he stood for a while swaying his trunk and lost
in gentle thought.
"Hans," I whispered, "load the rifle quick! I can get him in the spine
or the other eye."
"Wet powder won't go off, Baas," groaned Hans. "The water got to it in
"No," I answered, "and it is all your fault for making me shoot at him
when I could take no aim."
"It would have been just the same, Baas, for the rifle went under
water also when we fell from the camel, and the cap would have been
damp, and perhaps the powder too. Also the shot made Jana stop for a
This was true, but it was maddening to be obliged to sit there with an
empty gun, when if I had but one charge, or even my pistol, I was sure
that I could have blinded or crippled this satanic pachyderm.
A few minutes later Jana played his last card. Coming quite close to
the trunk of the tree he reared himself up as before, but this time
stretched out his forelegs so that these and his body were supported
on the broad bole. Then he elongated his trunk and with it began to
break off boughs which grew between us and him.
"I don't think he can reach us," I said doubtfully to Hans, "that is,
unless he brings a stone to stand on."
"Oh! Baas, pray be silent," answered Hans, "or he will understand and
Although the idea seemed absurd, on the whole I thought it well to
take the hint, for who knew how much this experienced beast did or did
not understand? Then, as we could go no higher, we wriggled as far as
we dared along our boughs and waited.
Presently Jana, having finished his clearing operations, began to
lengthen his trunk to its full measure. Literally, it seemed to expand
like a telescope or an indiarubber ring. Out it came, foot after foot,
till its snapping tip was waving within a few inches of us, just short
of my foot and Han's head, or rather felt hat. One final stretch and
he reached the hat, which he removed with a flourish and thrust into
the red cavern of his mouth. As it appeared no more I suppose he ate
it. This loss of his hat moved Hans to fury. Hurling horrible curses
at Jana he drew his butcher's knife and made ready.
Once more the sinuous brown trunk elongated itself. Evidently Jana had
got a better hold with his hind legs this time, or perhaps had
actually wriggled himself a few inches up the tree. At any rate I saw
to my dismay that there was every prospect of my making a second
acquaintance with that snapping tip. The end of the trunk was lying
along my bough like a huge brown snake and creeping up, up, up.
"He'll get us," I muttered.
Hans said nothing but leaned forward a little, holding on with his
left hand. Next instant in the light of the rising sun I saw a knife
flash, saw also that the point of it had been driven through the lower
lip of Jana's trunk, pinning it to the bough like a butterfly to a
My word! what a commotion ensued! Up the trunk came a scream which
nearly blew me away. Then Jana, with a wriggling motion, tried to
unnail himself as gently as possible, for it was clear that the knife
point hurt him, but could not do so because Hans still held the handle
and had driven the blade deep into the wood. Lastly he dragged himself
downwards with such energy that something had to go, that something
being the skin and muscle of the lower lip, which was cut clean
through, leaving the knife erect in the bough.
Over he went backwards, a most imperial cropper. Then he picked
himself up, thrust the tip of his trunk into his mouth, sucked it as
one does a cut finger, and finally, roaring in defeated rage, fled
into the river, which he waded, and back upon his tracks towards his
own home. Yes, off he went, Hans screaming curses and demands that he
should restore his hat to him, and very seldom in all my life have I
seen a sight that I thought more beautiful than that of his whisking
"Now, Baas," chuckled Hans, "the old devil has got a sore nose as well
as a sore eye by which to remember us. And, Baas, I think we had
better be going before he has time to think and comes back with a long
stick to knock us out of this tree."
So we went, in double-quick time I can assure you, or at any rate as
fast as my stiff limbs and general condition would allow. Fortunately
we had now no doubt as to our direction, since standing up through the
mists of dawn with the sunbeams resting on its forest-clad crest, we
could clearly see the strange, tumulus-shaped hill which the White
Kendah called the Holy Mount, the Home of the Child. It appeared to be
about twenty miles away, but in reality was a good deal farther, for
when we had walked for several hours it seemed almost as distant as
In truth that was a dreadful trudge. Not only was I exhausted with all
the terrors I had passed and our long midnight flight, but the wound
where Jana had pinched out a portion of my frame, inflamed by the
riding, had now grown stiff and intolerably sore, so that every step
gave me pain which sometimes culminated in agony. Moreover, it was no
use giving in, foodless as we were, for Marūt had carried the
provisions, and with the chance of Jana returning to look us up. So I
stuck to it and said nothing.
For the first ten miles the country seemed uninhabited; doubtless it
was too near the borders of the Black Kendah to be popular as a place
of residence. After this we saw herds of cattle and a few camels,
apparently untended; perhaps their guards were hidden away in the long
grass. Then we came to some fields of mealies that were, I noticed,
quite untouched by the hailstorm, which, it would seem, had confined
its attentions to the land of the Black Kendah. Of these we ate
thankfully enough. A little farther on we perceived huts perched on an
inaccessible place in a kloof. Also their inhabitants perceived us,
for they ran away as though in a great fright.
Still we did not try to approach the huts, not knowing how we should
be received. After my sojourn in Simba Town I had become possessed of
a love of life in the open.
For another two hours I limped forward with pain and grief--by now I
was leaning on Hans' shoulder--up an endless, uncultivated rise
clothed with euphorbias and fern-like cycads. At length we reached its
top and found ourselves within a rifle shot of a fenced native
village. I suppose that its inhabitants had been warned of our coming
by runners from the huts I have mentioned. At any rate the moment we
appeared the men, to the number of thirty or more, poured out of the
south gate armed with spears and other weapons and proceeded to ring
us round and behave in a very threatening manner. I noticed at once
that, although most of them were comparatively light in colour, some
of these men partook of the negro characteristics of the Black Kendah
from whom we had escaped, to such an extent indeed that this blood was
clearly predominant in them. Still, it was also clear that they were
deadly foes of this people, for when I shouted out to them that we
were the friends of Harūt and those who worshipped the Child, they
yelled back that we were liars. No friends of the Child, they said,
came from the country of the Black Kendah, who worshipped the devil
Jana. I tried to explain that least of all men in the world did we
worship Jana, who had been hunting us for hours, but they would not
"You are spies of Simba's, the smell of Jana is upon you" (this may
have been true enough), they yelled, adding: "We will kill you, white-
faced goat. We will kill you, little yellow monkey, for none who are
not enemies come here from the land of the Black Kendah."
"Kill us then," I answered, "and bring the curse of the Child upon
you. Bring famine, bring hail, bring war!"
These words were, I think, well chosen; at any rate they induced a
pause in their murderous intentions. For a while they hesitated, all
talking together at once. At last the advocates of violence appeared
to get the upper hand, and once more a number of the men began to
dance about us, waving their spears and crying out that we must die
who came from the Black Kendah.
I sat down upon the ground, for I was so exhausted that at the time I
did not greatly care whether I died or lived, while Hans drew his
knife and stood over me, cursing them as he had cursed at Jana. By
slow degrees they drew nearer and nearer. I watched them with a kind
of idle curiosity, believing that the moment when they came within
actual spear-thrust would be our last, but, as I have said, not
greatly caring because of my mental and physical exhaustion.
I had already closed my eyes that I might not see the flash of the
falling steel, when an exclamation from Hans caused me to open them
again. Following the line of the knife with which he pointed, I
perceived a troop of men on camels emerging from the gates of the
village at full speed. In front of these, his white garments
fluttering on the wind, rode a bearded and dignified person in whom I
recognized Harūt, Harūt himself, waving a spear and shouting as he
came. Our assailants heard and saw him also, then flung down their
weapons as though in dismay either at his appearance or his words,
which I could not catch. Harūt guided his rushing camel straight at
the man who I presume was their leader, and struck at him with his
spear, as though in fury, wounding him in the shoulder and causing him
to fall to the ground. As he struck he called out:
"Dog! Would you harm the guests of the Child?"
Then I heard no more because I fainted away.
THE DWELLER IN THE CAVE
After this it seemed to me that I dreamed a long and very troubled
dream concerning all sorts of curious things which I cannot remember.
At last I opened my eyes and observed that I lay on a low bed raised
about three inches above the floor, in an Eastern-looking room, large
and cool. It had window-places in it but no windows, only grass mats
hung upon a rod which, I noted inconsequently, worked on a rough,
wooden hinge, or rather pin, that enabled the curtain to be turned
back against the wall.
Through one of these window-places I saw at a little distance the
slope of the forest-covered hill, which reminded me of something to do
with a child--for the life of me I could not remember what. As I lay
wondering over the matter I heard a shuffling step which I recognized,
and, turning, saw Hans twiddling a new hat made of straw in his
"Hans," I said, "where did you get that new hat?"
"They gave it me here, Baas," he answered. "The Baas will remember
that the devil Jana ate the other."
Then I did remember more or less, while Hans continued to twiddle the
hat. I begged him to put it on his head because it fidgeted me, and
then inquired where we were.
"In the Town of the Child, Baas, where they carried you after you had
seemed to die down yonder. A very nice town, where there is plenty to
eat, though, having been asleep for three days, you have had nothing
except a little milk and soup, which was poured down your throat with
a spoon whenever you seemed to half wake up for a while."
"I was tired and wanted a long rest, Hans, and now I feel hungry. Tell
me, are the lord and Bena here also, or were they killed after all?"
"Yes, Baas, they are safe enough, and so are all our goods. They were
both with Harūt when he saved us down by the village yonder, but you
went to sleep and did not see them. They have been nursing you ever
Just then Savage himself entered, carrying some soup upon a wooden
tray and looking almost as smart as he used to do at Ragnall Castle.
"Good day, sir," he said in his best professional manner. "Very glad
to see you back with us, sir, and getting well, I trust, especially
after we had given you and Mr. Hans up as dead."
I thanked him and drank the soup, asking him to cook me something more
substantial as I was starving, which he departed to do. Then I sent
Hans to find Lord Ragnall, who it appeared was out walking in the
town. No sooner had they gone than Harūt entered looking more
dignified than ever and, bowing gravely, seated himself upon the mat
in the Eastern fashion.
"Some strong spirit must go with you, Lord Macumazana," he said, "that
you should live today, after we were sure that you had been slain."
"That's where you made a mistake. Your magic was not of much service
to you there, friend Harūt."
"Yet my magic, as you call it, though I have none, was of some service
after all, Macumazana. As it chanced I had no opportunity of breathing
in the wisdom of the Child for two days from the hour of our arrival
here, because I was hurt on the knee in the fight and so weary that I
could not travel up the mountain and seek light from the eyes of the
Child. On the third day, however, I went and the Oracle told me all.
Then I descended swiftly, gathered men and reached those fools in time
to keep you from harm. They have paid for what they did, Lord."
"I am sorry, Harūt, for they knew no better; and, Harūt, although I
saved myself, or rather Hans saved me, we have left your brother
behind, and with him the others."
"I know. Jana was too strong for them; you and your servant alone
could prevail against him."
"Not so, Harūt. He prevailed against us; all we could do was to injure
his eye and the tip of his trunk and escape from him."
"Which is more than any others have done for many generations, Lord.
But doubtless as the beginning was, so shall the end be. Jana, I
think, is near his death and through you."
"I don't know," I repeated. "Who and what is Jana?"
"Have I not told you that he is an evil spirit who inhabits the body
of a huge elephant?"
"Yes, and so did Marūt; but I think that he is just a huge elephant
with a very bad temper of his own. Still, whatever he is, he will take
some killing, and I don't want to meet him again by that horrible
"Then you will meet him elsewhere, Lord. For if you do not go to look
for Jana, Jana will come to look for you who have hurt him so sorely.
Remember that henceforth, wherever you go in all this land, it may
happen that you will meet Jana."
"Do you mean to say that the brute comes into the territory of the
"Yes, Macumazana, at times he comes, or a spirit wearing his shape
comes; I know not which. What I do know is that twice in my life I
myself have seen him upon the Holy Mount, though how he came or how he
went none can tell."
"Why was he wandering there, Harūt?"
"Who can say, Lord? Tell me why evil wanders through the world and I
will answer your question. Only I repeat--let those who have harmed
Jana beware of Jana."
"And let Jana beware of me if I can meet him with a decent gun in my
hand, for I have a score to settle with the beast. Now, Harūt, there
is another matter. Just before he was killed Marūt, your brother,
began to tell me something about the wife of the Lord Ragnall. I had
no time to listen to the end of his words, though I thought he said
that she was upon yonder Holy Mount. Did I hear aright?"
Instantly Harūt's face became like that of a stone idol, impenetrable,
"Either you misunderstood, Lord," he answered, "or my brother raved in
his fear. Wherever she may be, that beautiful lady is not upon the
Holy Mount, unless there is another Holy Mount in the Land of Death.
Moreover, Lord, as we are speaking of this matter, let me tell you the
forest upon that Mount must be trodden by none save the priest of the
Child. If others set foot there they die, for it is watched by a
guardian more terrible even than Jana, nor is he the only one. Ask me
nothing of that guardian, for I will not answer, and, above all, if
you or your comrades value life, let them not seek to look upon him."
Understanding that it was quite useless to pursue this subject farther
at the moment, I turned to another, remarking that the hailstorm which
had smitten the country of the Black Kendah was the worst that I had
"Yes," answered Harūt, "so I have learned. That was the first of the
curses which the Child, through my mouth, promised to Simba and his
people if they molested us upon our road. The second, you will
remember, was famine, which for them is near at hand, seeing that they
have little corn in store and none left to gather, and that most of
their cattle are dead of the hail."
"If they have no corn while, as I noted, you have plenty which the
storm spared, will not they, who are many in number but near to
starving, attack you and take your corn, Harūt?"
"Certainly they will do so, Lord, and then will fall the third curse,
the curse of war. All this was foreseen long ago, Macumazana, and you
are here to help us in that war. Among your goods you have many guns
and much powder and lead. You shall teach our people how to use those
guns, that with them we may destroy the Black Kendah."
"I think not," I replied quietly. "I came here to kill a certain
elephant, and to receive payment for my service in ivory, not to fight
the Black Kendah, of whom I have already seen enough. Moreover, the
guns are not my property but that of the Lord Ragnall, who perhaps
will ask his own price for the use of them."
"And the Lord Ragnall, who came here against our will, is, as it
chances, our property and we may ask your own price for his life. Now,
farewell for a while, since you, who are still sick and weak, have
talked enough. Only before I go, as your friend and that of those with
you, I will add one word. If you would continue to look upon the sun,
let none of you try to set foot in the forest upon the Holy Mount.
Wander where you will upon its southern slopes, but strive not to pass
the wall of rock which rings the forest round."
Then he rose, bowed gravely and departed, leaving me full of
Shortly afterwards Savage and Hans returned, bringing me some meat
which the former had cooked in an admirable fashion. I ate of it
heartily, and just as they were carrying off the remains of the meal
Ragnall himself arrived. Our greeting was very warm, as might be
expected in the case of two comrades who never thought to speak to
each other again on this side of the grave. As I had supposed, he was
certain that Hans and I had been cut off and killed by the Black
Kendah, as, after we were missed, some of the camelmen asserted that
they had actually seen us fall. So he went on, or rather was carried
on by the rush of the camels, grieving, since, it being impossible to
attempt to recover our bodies or even to return, that was the only
thing to do, and in due course reached the Town of the Child without
further accident. Here they rested and mourned for us, till some days
later Harūt suddenly announced that we still lived, though how he knew
this they could not ascertain. Then they sallied out and found us, as
has been told, in great danger from the ignorant villagers who, until
we appeared, had not even heard of our existence.
I asked what they had done and what information they had obtained
since their arrival at this place. His answer was: Nothing and none
worth mentioning. The town appeared to be a small one of not much over
two thousand inhabitants, all of whom were engaged in agricultural
pursuits and in camel-breeding. The herds of camels, however, they
gathered, for the most part were kept at outlying settlements on the
farther side of the cone-shaped mountain. As they were unable to talk
the language the only person from whom they could gain knowledge was
Harūt, who spoke to them in his broken English and told them much what
he had told me, namely that the upper mountain was a sacred place that
might only be visited by the priests, since any uninitiated person who
set foot there came to a bad end. They had not seen any of these
priests in the town, where no form of worship appeared to be
practised, but they had observed men driving small numbers of sheep or
goats up the flanks of the mountain towards the forest.
Of what went on upon this mountain and who lived there they remained
in complete ignorance. It was a case of stalemate. Harūt would not
tell them anything nor could they learn anything for themselves. He
added in a depressed way that the whole business seemed very hopeless,
and that he had begun to doubt whether there was any tidings of his
lost wife to be gained among the Kendah, White or Black.
Now I repeated to him Marūt's dying words, of which most unhappily I
had never heard the end. These seemed to give him new life since they
showed that tidings there was of some sort, if only it could be
extracted. But how might this be done? How, how?
For a whole week things went on thus. During this time I recovered my
strength completely, except in one particular which reduced me to
helplessness. The place on my thigh where Jana had pinched out a bit
of the skin healed up well enough, but the inflammation struck inwards
to the nerve of my left leg, where once I had been injured by a lion,
with the result that whenever I tried to move I was tortured by pains
of a sciatic nature. So I was obliged to lie still and to content
myself with being carried on the bed into a little garden which
surrounded the mud-built and white-washed house that had been allotted
to us as a dwelling-place.
There I lay hour after hour, staring at the Holy Mount which began to
spring from the plain within a few hundred yards of the scattered
township. For a mile or so its slopes were bare except for grass on
which sheep and goats were grazed, and a few scattered trees. Studying
the place through glasses I observed that these slopes were crowned by
a vertical precipice of what looked like lava rock, which seemed to
surround the whole mountain and must have been quite a hundred feet
high. Beyond this precipice, which to all appearance was of an
unclimbable nature, began a dense forest of large trees, cedars I
thought, clothing it to the very top, that is so far as I could see.
One day when I was considering the place, Harūt entered the garden
suddenly and caught me in the act.
"The House of the god is beautiful," he said, "is it not?"
"Very," I answered, "and of a strange formation. But how do those who
dwell on it climb that precipice?"
"It cannot be climbed," he answered, "but there is a road which I am
about to travel who go to worship the Child. Yet I have told you,
Macumazana, that any strangers who seek to walk that road find death.
If they do not believe me, let them try," he added meaningly.
Then, after many inquiries about my health, he informed me that news
had reached him to the effect that the Black Kendah were mad at the
loss of their crops which the hail had destroyed and because of the
near prospect of starvation.
"Then soon they will be wishing to reap yours with spears," I said.
"That is so. Therefore, my Lord Macumazana, get well quickly that you
may be able to scare away these crows with guns, for in fourteen days
the harvest should begin upon our uplands. Farewell and have no fears,
for during my absence my people will feed and watch you and on the
third night I shall return again."
After Harūt's departure a deep depression fell upon all of us. Even
Hans was depressed, while Savage became like a man under sentence of
execution at a near but uncertain date. I tried to cheer him up and
asked him what was the matter.
"I don't know, Mr. Quatermain," he answered, "but the fact is this is
a 'ateful and un'oly 'ole" (in his agitation he quite lost grip of his
h's, which was always weak), "and I am sure that it is the last I
shall ever see, except one."
"Well, Savage," I said jokingly, "at any rate there don't seem to be
any snakes here."
"No, Mr. Quatermain. That is, I haven't met any, but they crawl about
me all night, and whenever I see that prophet man he talks of them to
me. Yes, he talks of them and nothing else with a sort of cold look in
his eyes that makes my back creep. I wish it was over, I do, who shall
never see old England again," and he went away, I think to hide his
very painful and evident emotion.
That evening Hans returned from an expedition on which I had sent him
with instructions to try to get round the mountain and report what was
on its other side. It had been a complete failure, as after he had
gone a few miles men appeared who ordered him back. They were so
threatening in their demeanour that had it not been for the little
rifle, Intombi, which he carried under pretence of shooting buck, a
weapon that they regarded with great awe, they would, he thought, have
killed him. He added that he had been quite unsuccessful in his
efforts to collect any news of value from man, woman or child, all of
whom, although very polite, appeared to have orders to tell him
nothing, concluding with the remark that he considered the White
Kendah bigger devils than the Black Kendah, inasmuch as they were more
Shortly after this abortive attempt we debated our position with
earnestness and came to a certain conclusion, of which I will speak in
If I remember right it was on this same night of our debate, after
Harūt's return from the mountain, that the first incident of interest
happened. There were two rooms in our house divided by a partition
which ran almost up to the roof. In the left-hand room slept Ragnall
and Savage, and in that to the right Hans and I. Just at the breaking
of dawn I was awakened by hearing some agitated conversation between
Savage and his master. A minute later they both entered my sleeping
place, and I saw in the faint light that Ragnall looked very disturbed
and Savage very frightened.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
"We have seen my wife," answered Ragnall.
I stared at him and he went on:
"Savage woke me by saying that there was someone in the room. I sat up
and looked and, as I live, Quatermain, standing gazing at me in such a
position that the light of dawn from the window-place fell upon her,
was my wife."
"How was she dressed?" I asked at once.
"In a kind of white robe cut rather low, with her hair loose hanging
to her waist, but carefully combed and held outspread by what appeared
to be a bent piece of ivory about a foot and a half long, to which it
was fastened by a thread of gold."
"Is that all?"
"No. Upon her breast was that necklace of red stones with the little
image hanging from its centre which those rascals gave her and she
"Yes. In her arms she carried what looked like a veiled child. It was
so still that I think it must have been dead."
"Well. What happened?"
"I was so overcome I could not speak, and she stood gazing at me with
wide-opened eyes, looking more beautiful than I can tell you. She
never stirred, and her lips never moved--that I will swear. And yet
both of us heard her say, very low but quite clearly: 'The mountain,
George! Don't desert me. Seek me on the mountain, my dear, my
"Well, what next?"
"I sprang up and she was gone. That's all."
"Now tell me what /you/ saw and heard, Savage."
"What his lordship saw and heard, Mr. Quatermain, neither more nor
less. Except that I was awake, having had one of my bad dreams about
snakes, and saw her come through the door."
"Through the door! Was it open then?"
"No, sir, it was shut and bolted. She just came through it as if it
wasn't there. Then I called to his lordship after she had been looking
at him for half a minute or so, for I couldn't speak at first. There's
one more thing, or rather two. On her head was a little cap that
looked as though it had been made from the skin of a bird, with a gold
snake rising up in front, which snake was the first thing I caught
sight of, as of course it would be, sir. Also the dress she wore was
so thin that through it I could see her shape and the sandals on her
feet, which were fastened at the instep with studs of gold."
"I saw no feather cap or snake," said Ragnall.
"Then that's the oddest part of the whole business," I remarked. "Go
back to your room, both of you, and if you see anything more, call me.
I want to think things over."
They went, in a bewildered sort of fashion, and I called Hans and
spoke with him in a whisper, repeating to him the little that he had
not understood of our talk, for as I have said, although he never
spoke it, Hans knew a great deal of English.
"Now, Hans," I said to him, "what is the use of you? You are no better
than a fraud. You pretend to be the best watchdog in Africa, and yet a
woman comes into this house under your nose and in the grey of the
morning, and you do not see her. Where is your reputation, Hans?"
The old fellow grew almost speechless with indignation, then he
spluttered his answer:
"It was not a woman, Baas, but a spook. Who am I that I should be
expected to catch spooks as though they were thieves or rats? As it
happens I was wide awake half an hour before the dawn and lay with my
eyes fixed upon that door, which I bolted myself last night. It never
opened, Baas; moreover, since this talk began I have been to look at
it. During the night a spider has made its web from door-post to door-
post, and that web is unbroken. If you do not believe me, come and see
for yourself. Yet they say the woman came through the doorway and
therefore through the spider's web. Oh! Baas, what is the use of
wasting thought upon the ways of spooks which, like the wind, come and
go as they will, especially in this haunted land from which, as we
have all agreed, we should do well to get away."
I went and examined the door for myself, for by now my sciatica, or
whatever it may have been, was so much better that I could walk a
little. What Hans said was true. There was the spider's web with the
spider sitting in the middle. Also some of the threads of the web were
fixed from post to post, so that it was impossible that the door could
have been opened or, if opened, that anyone could have passed through
the doorway without breaking them. Therefore, unless the woman came
through one of the little window-places, which was almost incredible
as they were high above the ground, or dropped from the smoke-hole in
the roof, or had been shut into the place when the door was closed on
the previous night, I could not see how she had arrived there. And if
any one of these incredible suppositions was correct, then how did she
get out again with two men watching her?
There were only two solutions to the problem--namely, that the whole
occurrence was hallucination, or that, in fact, Ragnall and Savage had
seen something unnatural and uncanny. If the latter were correct I
only wished that I had shared the experience, as I have always longed
to see a ghost. A real, indisputable ghost would be a great support to
our doubting minds, that is if we /knew/ its owner to be dead.
But--this was another thought--if by any chance Lady Ragnall were
still alive and a prisoner upon that mountain, what they had seen was
no ghost, but a shadow or /simulacrum/ of a living person projected
consciously or unconsciously by that person for some unknown purpose.
What could the purpose be? As it chanced the answer was not difficult,
and to it the words she was reported to have uttered gave a cue. Only
a few hours ago, just before we turned in indeed, as I have said, we
had been discussing matters. What I have not said is that in the end
we arrived at the conclusion that our quest here was wild and useless
and that we should do well to try to escape from the place before we
became involved in a war of extermination between two branches of an
obscure tribe, one of which was quite and the other semi-savage.
Indeed, although Ragnall still hung back a little, it had been
arranged that I should try to purchase camels in exchange for guns,
unless I could get them for nothing which might be less suspicious,
and that we should attempt such an escape under cover of an expedition
to kill the elephant Jana.
Supposing such a vision to be possible, then might it not have come,
or been sent to deter us from this plan? It would seem so.
Thus reflecting I went to sleep worn out with useless wonderment, and
did not wake again till breakfast time. That morning, when we were
alone together, Ragnall said to me:
"I have been thinking over what happened, or seemed to happen last
night. I am not at all a superstitious man, or one given to vain
imaginings, but I am sure that Savage and I really did see and hear
the spirit or the shadow of my wife. Her body it could not have been
as you will admit, though how she could utter, or seem to utter,
audible speech without one is more than I can tell. Also I am sure
that she is captive upon yonder mountain and came to call me to rescue
her. Under these circumstances I feel that it is my duty, as well as
my desire, to give up any idea of leaving the country and try to find
out the truth."
"And how will you do that," I asked, "seeing that no one will tell us
"By going to see for myself."
"It is impossible, Ragnall. I am too lame at present to walk half a
mile, much less to climb precipices."
"I know, and that is one of the reasons why I did not suggest that you
should accompany me. The other is that there is no object in all of us
risking our lives. I wished to face the thing alone, but that good
fellow Savage says that he will go where I go, leaving you and Hans
here to make further attempts if we do not return. Our plan is to slip
out of the town during the night, wearing white dresses like the
Kendah, of which I have bought some for tobacco, and make the best of
our way up the slope by starlight that is very bright now. When dawn
comes we will try to find the road through that precipice, or over it,
and for the rest trust to Providence."
Dismayed at this intelligence, I did all I could to dissuade him from
such a mad venture, but quite without avail, for never did I know a
more determined or more fearless man than Lord Ragnall. He had made up
his mind and there was an end of the matter. Afterwards I talked with
Savage, pointing out to him all the perils involved in the attempt,
but likewise without avail. He was more depressed than usual,
apparently on the ground that "having seen the ghost of her ladyship"
he was sure he had not long to live. Still, he declared that where his
master went he would go, as he preferred to die with him rather than
So I was obliged to give in and with a melancholy heart to do what I
could to help in the simple preparations for this crazy undertaking,
realizing all the while that the only real help must come from above,
since in such a case man was powerless. I should add that after