Part 3 out of 5
When Jeekie saw this fearful-looking company, for the first time his
spirits seemed to fail him.
"Ogula!" he exclaimed with a groan and sat himself upon a flat rock,
pulling Alan down beside him. "Ogula! Know them by hair and spears,"
he repeated. "Up gum tree now, say good-night."
"Why? Who are they?" gasped Alan.
"Great cannibal, Major, eat man, eat us to-night, or perhaps to-morrow
morning when we nice and cool. Say prayers, Major, quick no time
"I think I will shoot an Ogula or two first," said Alan grimly, as he
stood up and lifted his gun.
"No, not shoot, no good. Pretend not be afraid, best chance. Let
Jeekie think, let Jeekie think," and he slapped his forehead with his
Apparently the action brought inspiration, for next instant he grabbed
his master by the arm and dragged him back behind the shelter of a big
boulder which they had just passed. Then with really marvellous
swiftness he cut the straps of the tin box that Alan wore upon his
back, and since there was no time to find the key and unlock it,
seized the little padlock with which it was fastened between his
finger and thumb, and putting out his great strength, with a single
wrench twisted it off.
"What are you----" began Alan.
"Hold tongue," he answered savagely, "make you god, I priest. Ogula
know Little Bonsa. Quick, quick!"
In a minute it was done, the golden mask was clapped on to Alan's
head, and the leather thongs were fastened. Moreover, Jeekie himself
was arrayed in the solar-tope to which all this while he had clung,
allowing streams of green mosquito netting to hang down over his white
"Come out now, Major," he said, "and play god. You whistle, I do
Then hand in hand they walked from behind the rock. By this time the
particular company of the cannibals that was opposite to them, which
happened to include their chief, had climbed the steep slope of the
hill and arrived within a distance of twenty yards. Having seen the
two men and guessed that they had taken refuge behind the rock, their
spears were lifted to kill them, since when he beholds anything
strange, the first impulse of a savage is to bring it to its death.
They looked; they saw. Of a sudden down went the raised spears.
Some of those who held them fell upon their faces, while others turned
to fly, appalled by the vision of this strangely clad man with the
head of gold. Only their chief, a great yellow-toothed fellow who wore
a necklace of baboon claws, remained erect, staring at them with open
Alan blew the whistle that was set between the lips of the mask, and
they shivered. Then Jeekie spoke to them in some tongue which they
"Do you, O Ogula, dare to offer violence to Little Bonsa and her
priests? Say now, why should we not strike you dead with the magic of
the god which she has borrowed from the white man?" and he tapped the
gun he held.
"This is witchcraft," answered the chief. "We saw two men running,
hunted by the dwarfs, not three minutes ago, and now we see--what we
see," and he put his hand before his eyes, then after a pause went on
--"As for Little Bonsa, she left this country in my father's day. He
gave her passage upon the head of a white man and the Asiki wizards
have mourned her ever since, or so I hear."
"Fool," answered Jeekie, "as she went, so she returns, on the head of
a white man. Yonder I see an elder with grey hair who doubtless knew
of Little Bonsa in his youth. Let him come up and look and say whether
or no this is the god."
"Yes, yes," exclaimed the chief, "go up, old man, go up," and he
jabbed at him with his spear until, unwillingly enough, he went.
The elder arrived, making obeisance, and when he was near, Alan blew
the whistle in his face, whereon he fell to his knees.
"It is Little Bonsa," he said in a trembling voice, "Little Bonsa
without a doubt. I should know, as my father and my elder brother were
sacrificed to her, and I only escaped because she rejected me. Down on
your face, Chief, and do honour to the Yellow God before she slay
Instantly every man within hearing prostrated himself and lay still.
Then Jeekie strode up and down among them shouting out:
"Little Bonsa has come back and brought to you, Man-eaters, a fat
offering, an offering of the dwarf-people whom you hate, of the
treacherous dwarf-people who when you walk the ancient forest path,
murder you with their poisoned arrows. Praise Little Bonsa who
delivers you from your foes, and hearken to her bidding. Send on
messengers to the Asiki saying that Little Bonsa comes home again from
across the Black Water bringing the White Preacher, whom she led away
in the day of their fathers. Say to them that the Asiki must send out
a company that Little Bonsa and the Magician with whom she ran away,
may be escorted back to her house with the state which has been hers
from the beginning of time. Say to them also that they must prepare a
great offering of pure gold out of their store, as much gold as fifty
strong men can carry, not one handful less, to be given to the White
Magician who brings back Small Swimming Head, for if they withhold
such an offering, he and Little Bonsa will vanish never to be seen
again, and curses and desolation will fall upon their land. Rise and
obey, Chief of the Ogula."
Then the man scrambled to his feet and answered:
"It shall be done, O Priest of the Yellow God. To-morrow at the dawn
swift messengers will start for the Gold House of the Asiki. To-night
they cannot leave, as we are all very hungry and must eat."
"What must you eat?" asked Jeekie suspiciously.
"O Priest," answered the chief with a deprecatory gesture, "when first
we saw you we hoped that it would be the white man and yourself, for
we have never tasted white man. But now we fear that you will not
consent to this, and as you are holy and the guardian of the god, we
cannot eat you without your own consent. Therefore fat dwarf must be
our food, of which, however, there will be plenty for you as well as
"You dog!" exclaimed Jeekie in a voice of furious indignation. "Do you
think that white men and their high-born companions, such as myself,
were made to fill your vile stomachs? I tell you that a meal of the
deadly Bean would agree better with you, for if you dare so much as to
look on us, or on any of the white race with hunger, agony shall seize
your vitals and you and all your tribe shall die as though by poison.
Moreover, we do not touch the flesh of men, nor will we see it eaten.
It is our '/orunda/,' it is consecrate to us, it must not pass our
lips, nor may our eyes behold it. Therefore we will camp apart from
you further up the stream and find our own food. But to-morrow at the
dawn the messengers must leave as we have commanded. Also you shall
provide strong men and a large canoe to bear Little Bonsa forward
towards her own home until she finds her people coming out to greet
"It shall be done," answered the chief humbly, "Everything shall be
done according to the will of Little Bonsa spoken by her priest, that
she may leave a blessing and not a curse upon the heads of the tribe
of the Ogula. Say where you wish to camp and men shall run to build a
house of reeds for the god to dwell in."
Jeekie looked up and down the river and saw that in the centre of it
about half a mile away, there was an island on which grew some trees.
"Little Bonsa will camp yonder," he said. "Go, make her house ready,
light fire and bring canoe to paddle us across. Now leave us, all of
you, for if you look too long upon the face of the Yellow God she will
ask a sacrifice, and it is not lawful that you should see where she
hides herself away."
At this saying the cannibals departed as one man, and at top speed,
some of the canoes and others to warn their fellows who were engaged
in the congenial work of hunting and killing the dwarfs, not to dare
to approach the white man and his companion. A third party ran to the
bank of the river that was opposite to the island to make ready as
they had been bidden, so that presently Alan and Jeekie were left
"Ah!" said Jeekie, with a gasp of satisfaction, "/that/ all right,
everything arranged quite comfortable. Thought Little Bonsa come out
top somehow and score off dirty dwarf monkeys. /They/ never get home
to tea anyway--stay and dine with Ogula."
"Stop chattering, Jeekie, and untie this infernal mask, I am almost
choked," broke in Alan in a hollow voice.
"Not say 'infernal mask,' Major, say 'face of angel.' Little Bonsa
woman and like it better, also true, if on this occasion only, for she
save our skins," said Jeekie as he unknotted the thongs and reverently
replaced the fetish in its tin box. "My!" he added, contemplating his
master's perspiring countenance, "you blush like garden carrot; well,
gold hot wear in afternoon sun beneath Tropic of Cancer. Now we walk
on quietly and I tell you all I arrange for night's lodging and future
progress of joint expedition."
So gathering together what remained of their few possessions, they
started leisurely down the slope towards the island, and as they went
Jeekie explained all that had happened, since Ogula was not one of the
African languages with which Alan was acquainted and he had only been
able to understand a word here and there.
"Look," said Jeekie when he had finished, and turning, he pointed to
the cannibals who were driving the few survivors of the dwarfs before
them to the spot where their canoes were beached. "Those dwarfs done
for; capital business, forest road quite safe to travel home by; Ogula
best friends in world; very remarkable escape from delicate
"Very remarkable indeed," said Alan; "I shall soon begin to believe in
the luck of Little Bonsa."
"Yes, Major, you see she anxious to get home and make path clear.
But," he added gloomily, "how she behave when she reach there, can't
"Nor can I, Jeekie, but meanwhile I hope she will provide us with some
dinner, for I am faint for want of food and all the tinned meat is
"Food," repeated Jeekie. "Yes, necessity for human stomach, which
unhappily built that way, so Ogula find out, and so dwarfs find out
presently." Then he looked about him and in a kind of aimless manner
lifted his gun and fired. "There we are," he said, "Little Bonsa
understand bodily needs," and he pointed to a fat buck of the sort
that in South Africa is called Duiker, which his keen eyes had
discovered in its form against a stone where it now lay shot through
the head and dying. "No further trouble on score of grub for next
three day," he added. "Come on to camp, Major. I send one savage skin
and bring that buck."
So on they went to the river bank, Alan so tired now that the
excitement was over, that he was not sorry to lean upon Jeekie's arm.
Reaching the stream they drank deep of its water, and finding that it
was shallow at this spot, waded through it to the island without
waiting for a canoe to ferry them over. Here they found a party of the
cannibals already at work clearing reeds with their large, curved
knives, in order to make a site for the hut. Another party under the
command of their chief himself had gone to the top end of the island,
to cut the stems of a willow-like shrub to serve as uprights. These
people stared at Alan, which was not strange, as they had never before
seen the face of a white man and were wondering, doubtless, what had
become of the ancient and terrible fetish that he had worn. Without
entering into explanations Jeekie in a great voice ordered two of them
to fetch the buck, which the white man, whom he described as "husband
of the goddess," had "slain by thunder." When these had departed upon
their errand, leaving Jeekie to superintend the building operations,
Alan sat down upon a fallen tree, watching one of the savages making
fire with a pointed stick and some tinder.
Just then from the head of the island where the willows were being
cut, rose the sound of loud roarings and of men crying out in
affright. Seizing his gun Alan ran towards the spot whence the noise
came. Forcing his way through a brake of reeds, he saw a curious
sight. The Ogula in cutting the willows which grew about some tumbled
rocks, had disturbed a lioness that had her lair there, and being
fearless savages, had tried to kill her with their spears. The brute,
rendered desperate by wounds, and the impossibility of escape, for
here the surrounding water was deep, had charged them boldly, and as
it chanced, felled to the ground their chief, that yellow-toothed man
to whom Jeekie gave his orders. Now she was standing over him looking
round her royally, her great paw upon his breast, which it seemed
almost to cover, while the Ogula ran round and round shouting, for
they feared that if they tried to attack her, she would kill the
chief. This indeed she seemed about to do, for just as Alan arrived
she dropped her head as though to tear out the man's throat. Instantly
he fired. It was a snap shot, but as it chanced a good one, for the
bullet struck the lioness in the back of the neck just forward of and
between the shoulders, severing the spine so that without a sound or
any further movement she sank stone dead upon the prostrate cannibal.
For a while his followers stood astonished. They might have heard of
guns from the coast people, but living as they did in the interior
where white folk did not dare to travel, they had never seen their
"Magic!" they cried. "Magic!"
"Of course," exclaimed Jeekie, who by now had arrived upon the scene.
"What else did you expect from the husband of Little Bonsa? Magic, the
greatest of magic. Go, roll that beast away before your chief is
crushed to death."
They obeyed, and the man sat up, a fearful spectacle, for he was
smothered with the blood of the lion and somewhat cut by her claws,
though otherwise unhurt. Then feeling that the life was still whole in
him, he crept on his hands and knees to where Alan stood, and kissed
"Aha!" said Jeekie, "Little Bonsa score again. Cannibal tribe our
slave henceforth for evermore. Yes, till kingdom come. Come on, Major,
and cook supper in perfect peace."
The supper was cooked and eaten with gratitude, for seldom had two men
needed a square meal more, and never did venison taste better. By the
time that it was finished darkness had fallen, and before they turned
in to sleep in the neat reed hut that the Ogula had built, Alan and
Jeekie walked up the island to see if the lioness had been skinned, as
they directed. This they found was done; even the carcase itself had
been removed to serve as meat for these foul-feeding people. They
climbed on to the pile of rocks in which the beast had made her lair,
and looked down the river to where, two hundred yards away, the Ogula
were encamped. From this camp there rose a sound of revelry, and by
the light of the great fires that burned there, they perceived that
the hungry savages were busy feasting, for some of them sat in
circles, whilst others, their naked forms looking at that distance
like those of imps in the infernal regions, flitted to and fro against
the glowing background of the fires, bearing strange-looking joints on
prongs of wood.
"I suppose they are eating the lioness," said Alan doubtfully.
"No, no, Major, not lioness; eat dwarf by dozen--just like oysters at
seaside. But for Little Bonsa /we/ sit on those forks now and look
"Beasts!" said Alan in disgust; "they make me feel uncommon sick. Let
us go to bed. I suppose they won't murder us in our sleep, will they?"
"Not they, Major, too much afraid. Also we their blood-brothers now,
because we bring them first-class dinner and save chief from lion's
fury. No blame them too much, Major, good fellows really with gentle
heart, but grub like that from generation to generation. Every
mother's son of them have many men inside, that why they so big and
strong. Ogula people cover great multitude like Charity in Book. No
doubt sent by Providence to keep down extra pop'lation. Not right to
think too hard of poor fellows who, as I say, very kind and gentle at
heart and most loving in family relation, except to old women whom
they eat also, so that they no get bored with too long life."
Weary and disgusted by this abominable sight though he was, Alan burst
out laughing at his retainer's apology for the sweet-natured Ogula,
who struck him as the most repulsive blackguards that he had ever met
or heard of in all his experience of African savages. Then wishing to
see and hear no more of them that night, he retreated rapidly to the
hut and was soon fast asleep with his head pillowed on the box that
hid the charms of Little Bonsa. When he awoke it was broad daylight.
Rising he went down to the river to wash, and never had a bath been
more welcome, for during all their journey through the forest no such
thing was obtainable. On his return he found his garments well brushed
with dry reeds and set upon a rock in the hot sun to air, while Jeekie
in a cheerful mood, was engaged cooking breakfast in the frying-pan,
to which he had clung through all the vicissitudes of their flight.
"No coffee, Major," he said regretfully, "that stop in forest. But
never mind, hot water better for nerve. Ogula messengers gone in
little canoe to Asiki at break of day. Travel slow till they work off
dwarf, but afterwards go quick. I send lion skin with them as present
from you to great high-priestess Asika, also claws for necklace. No
lions there and she think much of that. Also it make her love mighty
man who can kill fierce lion like Samson in Book. Love of head woman
very valuable ally among beastly savage peoples."
"I am sure I hope it won't," said Alan with earnestness, "but no doubt
it is as well to keep on the soft side of the good lady if we can.
What time do we start?"
"In one hour, Major. I been to camp already, chosen best canoe and
finest men for rowers. Chief--he called Fanny--so grateful that he
come with them himself."
"Indeed. That is very kind of him, but I say, Jeekie, what are these
fellows going to live on? I can't stand what you call their 'favourite
"No, no, Major, that all right. I tell them that when they travel with
Little Bonsa, they must keep Lent like pious Roman Catholic family
that live near Yarleys. They catch plenty fish in river, and perhaps
we shoot game, or rich 'potamus, which they like 'cause he fat."
Evidently the Ogula chief, Fahni by name, not Fanny, as Jeekie called
him, was a man of his word, for before the hour was up he appeared at
the island in command of a large canoe manned by twelve splendid-
looking savages. Springing to land, he prostrated himself before Alan,
kissing his feet as he had done on the previous night, and making a
"That very good spirit," exclaimed Jeekie. "Like to see heathen in his
darkness lick white gentleman's boot. He say you his lord and great
magician who save his life, and know all Little Bonsa's secrets, which
many and unrepeatable. He say he die for you twice a day if need be,
and go on dying to-morrow and all next year. He say he take you safe
till you meet Asiki and for your sake, though he hungry, eat no man
for one whole month, or perhaps longer. Now we start at once."
So they started up the river that was called Katsena, Alan and Jeekie
seated in a lordly fashion near the stern of the canoe beneath an
awning made out of some sticks and a grass mat. In truth after their
severe toil and adventures in the forest, this method of journeying
proved quite luxurious. Except for a rapid here and there over or
round which the canoe must be dragged, the river was broad and the
scenery on its banks park-like and beautiful. Moreover the country,
perhaps owing to the appetites of the Ogula, appeared to be
practically uninhabited except by vast herds of every sort of game.
All day they sat in the canoe which the stalwart rowers propelled, in
silence for the most part, since they were terribly afraid of the
white man, and still more so of the renowned fetish which they knew he
carried with him. Then when evening came they moored their craft to
the bank and camped till the following morning. Nor did they lack for
food, since game being so plentiful, it was only necessary for Alan to
walk a few hundred yards and shoot a fat eland, or hartebeest, or
other buck which in its ignorance of guns would allow him to approach
quite close. Elephants, rhinoceros, and buffalo were also common,
while great herds of giraffe might be seen wandering between the
scattered trees, but as they were not upon a hunting trip and their
ammunition was very limited, with these they did not interfere.
Having their daily fill of meat which their souls loved, the Ogula
oarsmen remained in an excellent mood, indeed the chief, Fahni,
informed Alan that if only they had such magic tubes wherewith to
slaughter game, he and his tribe would gladly give up cannibalism--
except on feast days. He added sadly that soon they would be obliged
to do so, or die, since in those parts there were now few people left
to eat, and they hated vegetables. Moreover, they kept no cattle, it
was not the custom of that tribe, except a very few for milk. Alan
advised them to increase their herds, since, as he pointed out to
them, "dog should not eat dog" or the human being his own kind.
The chief answered that there was a great deal in what he said, which
on his return he would lay before his head men. Indeed Alan, to his
astonishment, discovered that Jeekie had been quite right when he
alleged that these people, so terrible in their mode of life, were yet
"kind and gentle at heart." They preyed upon mankind because for
centuries it had been their custom so to do, but if anyone had been
there to show them a better way, he grew sure that they would follow
it gladly. At least they were brave and loyal and even after their
first fear of the white man had worn off, fulfilled their promises
without a murmur. Once, indeed, when he chanced to have gone for a
walk unarmed and to be charged by a bull elephant, these Ogula ran at
the brute with their spears and drove it away, a rescue in which one
of them lost his life, for the "rogue" caught and killed him.
So the days went on while they paddled leisurely up the river, Alan
employing the time by taking lessons in the Asiki tongue from Jeekie,
a language which he had been studying ever since he left England. The
task was not easy, as he had no books and Jeekie himself after some
thirty years of absence, was doubtful as to many of its details. Still
being a linguist by nature and education and finding in the tongue
similarities to other African dialects which he knew, he was now able
to speak it a little, in a halting fashion.
On the fifth day of their ascent of the river, they came to a
tributary that flowed into it from the north, up which the Ogula said
they must proceed to reach Asiki-land. The stream was narrow and
sluggish, widening out here and there into great swamps through which
it was not easy to find a channel. Also the district was so unhealthy
that even several of the Ogula contracted fever, of which Alan cured
them by heavy doses of quinine, for fortunately his travelling
medicine chest remained to him. These cures were effected after their
chief suggested that they should be thrown overboard, or left to die
in the swamp as useless, with the result that the white man's magical
powers were thenceforth established beyond doubt or cavil. Indeed the
poor Ogula now looked on him as a god superior even to Little Bonsa,
whose familiar he was supposed to be.
The journey through that swamp was very trying, since in this wet
season often they could find no place on which to sleep at night, but
must stay in the canoe tormented by mosquitoes, and in constant danger
of being upset by the hippopotami that lived there. Moreover, as no
game was now available, they were obliged to live on these beasts,
fish when they could catch them, and wildfowl, which sometimes they
were unable to cook for lack of fuel. This did not trouble the Ogula,
who ate them raw, as did Jeekie when he was hungry. But Alan was
obliged to starve until they could make a fire. This it was only
possible to do when they found drift or other wood, since at that
season the rank vegetation was in full growth. Also the fearful
thunderstorms which broke continually and in a few minutes half filled
their canoe with water, made the reeds and the soil on which they
grew, sodden with wet. As Jeekie said:
"This time of year only fit for duck and crocodile. Human should
remember uncontrollable forces of nature and wait till winter come in
due course, when quagmire bear sole of his foot."
This elaborate remark he made to Alan during the progress of a
particularly fearful tempest. The lightning blazed in the black sky
and seemed to strike all about them like stabbing swords of fire, the
thunder crashed and bellowed as it may be supposed that it will do on
that day when the great earth, worn out at last, shall reel and
stagger to its doom. The rain fell in a straight and solid sheet; the
tall reeds waved confusedly like millions of dim arms and while they
waved, uttered a vast and groaning noise; the scared wildfowl in their
terror, with screams and the sough of wings, rushed past them in
flocks a thousand strong, now seen and now lost in the vapours. To
keep their canoe afloat the poor, naked Ogula oarsmen, shivering with
cold and fear, baled furiously with their hands, or bowls of hollowed
wood, and called back to Alan to save them as though he were the
master of the elements. Even Jeekie was depressed and appeared to be
offering up petitions, though whether these were directed to Little
Bonsa or elsewhere it was impossible to know.
As for Alan, the heart was out of him. It is true that so far he had
escaped fever or other sickness, which in itself was wonderful, but he
was chilled through and through and practically had eaten nothing for
two days, and very little for a week, since his stomach turned from
half-cooked hippopotamus fat and wildfowl. Moreover, they had lost the
channel and seemed to be wandering aimlessly through a wilderness of
reeds broken here and there by lines of deeper water.
According the Ogula they should have reached the confines of the great
lake several days before and landed on healthful rising ground that
was part of the Asiki territory. But this had not happened, and now he
doubted whether it ever would happen. It was more likely that they
would come to their deaths, there in the marsh, especially as the few
ball and shot cartridges which they had saved in their flight were now
exhausted. Not one was left; nothing was left except their revolvers
with some charges, which of course were quite useless for the killing
of game. Therefore they were in a fair way to die of hunger, for here
if fish existed, they refused to be caught and nought remained for
them to fill themselves with except water slugs, and snails which the
boatmen were already gathering and crunching up in their great teeth.
Or, perhaps the Ogula, forgetting friendship under the pressure of
necessity, would murder them as they slept and--revert to their usual
Jeekie was right, he should have remembered the "uncontrollable forces
of Nature." Only a madman would have undertaken such an expedition in
the rains. No wonder that the Asiki remained a secret and hidden
people when their frontier was protected by such a marsh as this upon
the one side and, as he understood, by impassable mountains upon the
There came a lull in the tempest and the boatmen began to get the
better of the water, which now was up to their knees. Alan asked
Jeekie if he thought it was over, but that worthy shook his white head
mournfully, causing the spray to fly as from a twirling mop, and
"Can't say, cats and dogs not tumble so many for present, only pups
and kitties left, so to speak, but think there plenty more up there,"
and he nodded at the portentous fire-laced cloud which seemed to be
spreading over them, its black edges visible even through the gloom.
"Bad business, I am afraid, Jeekie. Shouldn't have brought you here,
or those poor beggars either," and he looked at the scared, frozen
Ogula. "I begin to wonder----"
"Never wonder, Major," broke in Jeekie in alarm. "If wonder, not live,
if wonder, not be born, too much wonder about everywhere. Can't
understand nothing, so give it up. Say, 'Right-O and devil
hindermost!' Very good motto for biped in tight place. Better drown
here than in City bucket shop. But no drown. Should be dead long ago,
but Little Bonsa play the game, she not want to sink in stinking swamp
when so near her happy home. Come out all right somehow, as from
dwarf. Every cloud have silver lining, Major, even that black chap up
there. Oh! my golly!"
This last exclamation was wrung from Jeekie's lips by a sudden
development of "forces of Nature" which astonished even him. Instead
of a silver lining the "black chap" exhibited one of gold. In an
instant it seemed to turn to acres of flame; it was as though the
heavens had taken fire. A flash or a thunderbolt struck the water
within ten yards of their canoe, causing the boatmen to throw
themselves upon their faces through shock or terror. Then came the
hurricane, which fortunately was so strong that it permitted no more
rain to fall. The tall reeds were beaten flat beneath its breath; the
canoe was seized in its grip and whirled round and round, then driven
forward like an arrow. Only the weight of the men and the water in it
prevented it from oversetting. Dense darkness fell upon them and
although they could see no star, they knew that it must be night. On
they rushed, driven by that shrieking gale, and all about and around
them this wall of darkness. No one spoke, for hope was abandoned, and
if they had, their voices could not have been heard. The last thing
that Alan remembered was feeling Jeekie dragging a grass mat over him
to protect him a little if he could. Then his senses wavered, as does
a dying lamp. He thought that he was back in what Jeekie had rudely
called "City bucket shop," bargaining across the telephone wire, upon
which came all the sounds of the infernal regions, with a financial
paper for an article on a Little Bonsa Syndicate that he proposed to
float. He thought he was in The Court woods with Barbara, only the
birds in the trees sang so unnaturally loud that he could not hear her
voice, and she wore Little Bonsa on her head as a bonnet. Then she
departed in flame, leaving him and Death alone.
Alan awoke. Above the sun shone hotly, warming him back to life, but
in front was a thick wall of mist and rising beyond it in the distance
he saw the rugged swelling forms of mountains. Doubtless these had
been visible before, but the tall reeds through which they travelled
had hid the sight of them. He looked behind him and there in a heap
lay the Ogula around their chief, insensible or sleeping. He counted
them and found that two were gone, lost in the tempest, how or where
no man ever learned. He looked forward and saw a peculiar sight, for
in the prow of the drifting canoe stood Jeekie clad in the remains of
his white robe and wearing on his head the battered helmet and about
his shoulders the torn fragments of green mosquito net. While Alan was
wondering strangely why he had adopted this ceremonial garb, from out
of the mist there came a sound of singing, of wild and solemn singing.
Jeekie seemed to listen to it; then he lifted up his great musical
voice and sang as though in answer. What he sang Alan could not
understand, but he recognized that the language which he used was that
of the Asiki people.
A pause and a confused murmuring, and now again the wild song rose and
again Jeekie answered.
"What the deuce are you doing? Where are we?" asked Alan faintly.
Jeekie turned and beamed upon him; although his teeth were chattering
and his face was hollow, still he beamed.
"You awake, Major?" he said. "Thought good old sun do trick. Feel your
heart now and find it beat. Pulse, too, strong, though temp'rature not
normal. Well, good news this morning. Little Bonsa come out top as
usual. Asiki priests on bank there. Can't see them, but know their
song and answer. Same old game as thirty years ago. Asiki never
change, which good business when you been away long while."
"Hang the Asiki," said Alan feebly, "I think all these poor beggars
are dead, and he pointed to the rowers.
"Look like it, Major, but what that matter now since you and I alive?
Plenty more where they come from. Not dead though, think only sleep,
no like cold, like dormouse. But never mind cannibal pig. They serve
our turn, if they live, live; if they die, die and God have mercy on
souls, if cannibal have soul. Ah! here we are," and from beneath six
inches of water he dragged up the tin box containing Little Bonsa,
from which he extracted the fetish, wet but uninjured.
"Put her on now, Major. Put her on at once and come sit in prow of
canoe. Must reach Asiki-land in proper style. Priests think it your
reverend uncle come back again, just as he leave. Make very good
"I can't," said Alan feebly. "I am played out, Jeekie."
"Oh! buck up, Major, buck up!" he replied imploringly. "One kick more
and you win race, mustn't spoil ship for ha'porth of tar. You just
wear fetish, whistle once on land, and then go to sleep for whole week
if you like. I do rest, say it all magic, and so forth--that you been
dead and just come out of grave, or anything you like. No matter if
you turn up as announced on bill and God bless hurricane that blow us
here when we expect die. Come, Major, quick, quick! mist melt and soon
they see you." Then without waiting for an answer Jeekie clapped the
wet mask on his master's head, tied the thongs and led Alan to the
prow of the canoe, where he set him down on a little cross bench,
stood behind supporting him and again began to sing in a great
The mist cleared away, rolling up like a curtain and revealing on the
shore a number of men and women clad in white robes, who were
martialled in ranks there, chanting and staring out at the dim waters
of the lagoon. Yonder upon the waters, driven forward by the gentle
breeze, floated a canoe and lo! in the prow of that canoe sat a white
man and on his head the god which they had lost a whole generation
gone. On the head of a white man it had departed; on the head of a
white man it returned. They saw and fell upon their knees.
"Blow, Major, blow!" whispered Jeekie, and Alan blew a feeble note
through the whistle in the mouth of the mask. It was enough, they knew
it. They sprang into the water and dragged the canoe to land. They set
Alan on the shore and worshipped him. They haled up a lad as though
for sacrifice, for a priest flourished a great knife above his head,
but Jeekie said something that caused them to let him go. Alan thought
it was to the effect that Little Bonsa had changed her habits across
the Black Water, and wanted no blood, only food. Then he remembered no
more; again the darkness fell upon him.
When consciousness returned to Alan, the first thing of which he
became dimly aware was the slow, swaying motion of a litter. He raised
himself, for he was lying at full length, and in so doing felt that
there was something over his face.
"That confounded Little Bonsa," he thought. "Am I expected to spend
the rest of my life with it on my head like the man in the iron mask?"
Then he put up his hand and felt the thing, to find that it was not
Little Bonsa, but something made apparently of thin, fine linen,
fitted to the shape of his face, for there was a nose on it, and
eyeholes through which he could see, yes, and a mouth whereof the lips
by some ingenious contrivance could be moved up and down.
"Little Bonsa's undress uniform, I expect," he muttered, and tried to
drag it off. This, however, proved to be impossible, for it was fitted
tightly to his head and laced or fastened at the back of his neck so
securely that he could not undo it. Being still weak, soon he gave up
the attempt and began to look about him.
He was in a litter, a very fine litter hung round with beautifully
woven and coloured grass mats, inside of which were a kind of couch
and cushions of soft wool or hair, so arranged that he could either
sit up or lie down. He peeped between two of these mats and saw that
they were travelling in a mountainous country over a well-beaten road
or trail, and that his litter was borne upon the shoulders of a double
line of white-robed men, while all around him marched numbers of other
men. They seemed to be soldiers, for they were arranged in companies
and carried large spears and shields. Also some of them wore torques
and bracelets of yellow metal that might be either brass or gold.
Turning himself about he found an eyehole in the back of the litter so
contrived that its occupant could see without being seen, and
perceived that his escort amounted to a veritable army of splendid-
looking, but sombre-faced savages of a somewhat Semitic cast of
countenance. Indeed many of them had aquiline features and hair that,
although crisped, was long and carefully arranged in something like
the old Egyptian fashion. Also he saw that about thirty yards behind
and separated from him by a bodyguard, was borne a second litter. By
means of a similar aperture in front he discovered yet more soldiers,
and beyond them, at the head of the procession, was what appeared to
be a body of white-robed men and women bearing strange emblems and
banners. These he took to be priests and priestesses.
Having examined everything that was within reach of his eye, Alan sank
back upon his cushions and began to realize that he was very faint and
hungry. It was just then that the sound of a familiar voice reached
his ears. It was the voice of Jeekie, and he did not speak, he chanted
in English to a melody which Alan at once recognized as a Gregorian
tone, apparently from the second litter.
"Oh, Major," he sang, "have you yet awoke from refre-e-eshing sleep?
If so, please answer me in same tone of voice, for remember that you
de-e-evil of a swell, Lord of the Little Bonsa, and must not speak
like co-o-ommon cad."
Feeble as he was Alan nearly burst out laughing, then remembering that
probably he was expected not to laugh, chanted his answer as directed,
which having a good tenor voice, he did with some effect, to the
evident awe and delight of all the escort within hearing.
"I am awake, most excellent Jee-e-ekie, and feel the need of food, if
you have such a thing abou-ou-out you and it is lawful for the Lord of
Little Bonsa to take nu-tri-ment."
Instantly Jeekie's deep voice rose in reply.
"That good tidings upon the mountain tops, Ma-ajor. Can't come out to
bring you chop because too i-i-infra dig, for now I also biggish bug,
the little bird what sit upon the rose, as poet sa-a-ays. I tell these
Johnnies bring you grub, which you eat without qualm, for Asiki Al
Then followed loud orders issued by Jeekie to his immediate
/entourage/, and some confusion.
As a result presently Alan's litter was halted, the curtains were
opened and kneeling women thrust through them platters of wood upon
which, wrapped up in leaves, were the dismembered limbs of a bird
which he took to be chicken or guinea-fowl, and a gold cup containing
water pleasantly flavoured with some essence. This cup interested him
very much both on account of its shape and workmanship, which if rude,
was striking in design, resembling those drinking vessels that have
been found in Mycenian graves. Also it proved to him that Jeekie's
stories of the abundance of the precious metal among the Asiki had not
been exaggerated. If it were not very plentiful, they would scarcely,
he thought, make their travelling cups of gold. Evidently there was
wealth in the land.
After the food had been handed to him the litter went on again, and
seated upon his cushions, he ate and drank heartily enough, for now
that the worst of his fatigue had passed away, his hunger was great.
In some absurd fashion this meal reminded him of that which a
traveller makes out of a luncheon basket upon a railway line in Europe
or America. Only there the cups are not of gold and among the Asiki
were no paper napkins, no salt and mustard, and no three and sixpence
or dollar to pay. Further, until he got used to it, luncheon in a
linen mask with a moveable mouth was not easy. This difficulty he
overcame at last by propping the imitation lips apart with a piece of
bone, after which things were easier.
When he had finished he threw the platter and the remains out of the
litter, retaining the cup for further examination, and recommenced his
intoned and poetical converse with Jeekie.
To set it out at length would be wearisome, but in the course of an
hour or so he collected a good deal of information. Thus he learned
that they were due to arrive at the Asiki city, which was called Bonsa
Town, by nightfall, or a little after. Also he was informed that the
mask he wore was, as he had guessed, a kind of undress uniform without
which he must never appear, since for anyone except the Asika herself
to look upon the naked countenance of an individual so mysteriously
mixed up with Little Bonsa, was sacrilege of the worst sort. Indeed
Jeekie assured him that the priests who had put on the headdress when
he was insensible were first blindfolded.
This news depressed Alan very much, since the prospect of living in a
linen mask for an indefinite period was not cheerful. Recovering, he
chanted a query as to the fate of the Ogula crew and their chief
"Not de-ad," intoned Jeekie in reply, "and not gone back. A-all alive-
O, somewhere behind there. Fanny very sick about it, for he think
Asiki bring them along for sacrifice, poo-or beg-gars."
Finally he inquired where Little Bonsa was and was answered that he
himself as its lawful guardian, was sitting on the fetish in its tin
box, tidings that he was able to verify by groping beneath the
After this his voice gave out, though Jeekie continued to sing items
of interesting news from time to time. Indeed there were other things
that absorbed Alan's attention. Looking through the peepholes and
cracks in the curtains, he saw that at last they had reached the crest
of a ridge up which they had been climbing for hours. Before them lay
a vast and fertile valley, much of which seemed to be under
cultivation, and down it flowed a broad and placid river. Opposite to
him and facing west a great tongue of land ran up to a wall of
mountains with stark precipices of black rock that seemed to be
hundreds, or even thousands, of feet high, and at the tip of this
tongue a mighty waterfall rushed over the precipice, looking at that
distance like a cascade of smoke. This torrent, which he remembered
was called Raaba, fell into a great pool and there divided itself into
two rushing branches that enclosed an ellipse of ground, surrounded on
all sides by water, for on its westernmost extremity the branches met
again and after flowing a while as one river, divided once more and
wound away quietly to north and south further than the eye could
reach. On the island thus formed, which may have been three miles long
by two in breadth, stood thousands of straw-roofed, square-built huts
with verandas, neatly arranged in blocks and lines and having between
them streets that were edged with palms.
On the hither side of the pool was what looked like a park, for here
grew great, black trees, which from their flat shape Alan took to be
some variety of cedar, and standing alone in the midst of this park
where no other habitations could be discovered, was a large, low
building with dark-coloured walls and gabled roofs that flashed like
"The Gold House!" said Alan to himself with a gasp. "So it is not a
dream or a lie."
The details at that distance he could not discover, nor did he try to
do so, for the general glory of the scene held him in its grip. At
this evening hour, for a little while, the level rays of the setting
sun poured straight up the huge, water-hollowed kloof. They struck
upon the face of the fall, staining it and the clouds of mist that
hung above, to a hundred glorious hues; indeed the substance of the
foaming water seemed to be interlaced with rainbows whereof the arch
reached their crest and the feet were lost in the sullen blackness of
the pool beneath. Beautiful too was the valley, glowing in the quiet
light of evening, and even the native town thus gilded and glorified,
looked like some happy home of peace.
The sun was sinking rapidly, and before the litter reached the foot of
the hill and began to cross the rich valley, all the glory had
departed and only the cataract showed white and ghost-like through the
gloom. But still the light, which seemed to gather to itself, gleamed
upon that golden roof amid the cedar trees; then the moon rose and the
gold was turned to silver. Alan lay back upon his cushions full of
wonder, almost of awe. It was a marvellous thing that he should have
lived to reach this secret place hidden in the heart of Africa and
defended by swamps, mountains and savages to which, so far as he knew,
only one white man had ever penetrated. And to think of it! That white
man, his own uncle, had never even held it worth while to make public
any account of its wonders, which apparently had seemed to him of no
importance. Or perhaps he thought that if he did he would not be
believed. Well, there they were before and about him, and now the
question was, what would be his fate in this Gold House where the
great fetish dwelt with its priestess?
Ah! that priestess! Somehow he shivered a little when he thought of
her; it was as though her influence were over him already. Next moment
he forgot her for a while, for they had come to the river brink and
the litter was being carried on to a barge or ferry, about which were
gathered many armed men. Evidently the Gold House was well defended
both by Nature and otherwise. The ferry was pulled or rowed across the
river, he could not see which, and they passed through a gateway into
the town and up a broad street where hundreds of people watched his
advent. They did not seem to speak, or if they spoke their voices were
lost in the sound of the thunder of the great cataract which dominated
the place with its sullen, continuous roar. It took Alan days to
become accustomed to that roar, but by the inhabitants of Asiki-land
apparently it was not noticed; their ears and voices were attuned to
overcome its volume which their fathers had known from the beginning.
Presently they were through the town and a wooden gate in an inner
wall which surrounded the park where the cedars grew. At this spot
Alan noted that everybody left them except the bearers and a few men
whom he took to be priests. On they stole like ghosts beneath the
mighty trees, from whose limbs hung long festoons of moss. It was very
dark there, only in places where a bough was broken the moonlight lay
in white gules upon the ground. Another wall and another gate, and
suddenly the litter was set down. Its curtains opened, torches
flashed, women appeared clad in white robes, veiled and mysterious,
who bowed before him, then half led and half lifted him from his
litter. He could feel their eyes on him through their veils, but he
could not see their faces. He could see nothing except their naked,
copper-coloured arms and long thin hands stretched out to assist him.
Alan descended from the litter as slowly as he could, for somehow he
shrank from the quaint, carved portal which he saw before him. He did
not wish to pass it; its aspect filled him with reluctance. The women
drew him on, their hands pulled at his arms, their shoulders pressed
him from behind. Still he hung back, looking about him, till to his
delight he saw the other litter arrive and out of it emerge Jeekie,
still wearing his sun-helmet with its fringe of tattered mosquito
"Here we are, Major," he said in his cheerful voice, "turned up all
right like a bad ha'penny, but in odd situation."
"Very odd," echoed Alan. "Could you persuade these ladies to let go of
"Don't know," answered Jeekie. "'Spect they doubtfully your wives;
'spect you have lots of wives here; don't get white man every day, so
make most of him. Best thing you do, kick out and teach them place.
Rub nose in dirt at once and make them good, that first-class plan
with female. I no like interfere in such delicate matter."
Terrified by this information, Alan put out his strength and shook the
women off him, whereon without seeming to take any offence they drew
back to a little distance and began to bow, like automata. Then Jeekie
addressed them in their own language, asking them what they meant by
defiling this mighty lord, born of the Heavens, with the touch of
their hands, whereat they went on bowing more humbly than before. Next
he threw aside the cushions of the litter and finding the tin box
containing Little Bonsa, held it before him in both hands and bade the
women lead on.
The march began, a bewildering march. It was like a nightmare. Veiled
women with torches before and behind, Jeekie stalking ahead carrying
the battered tin box, long passages lined with gold, a vision of black
water edged with a wide promenade, and finally a large lamp-lit room
whereof the roof was supported by gilded columns, and in the room
couches of cushions, wooden stools inlaid with ivory, vessels of
water, great basins made of some black, hard wood, and in the centre a
block of stone that looked like an altar.
Jeekie set down the tin box upon the altar-like stone, then he turned
to the crowd of women and said, "Bring food." Instantly they departed,
closing the door of the room behind them.
"Now for a wash," said Alan, "unlace this confounded mask, Jeekie."
"Mustn't, Major, mustn't. Priests tell me that. If those girls see you
without mask, perhaps they kill them. Wait till they gone after
supper, then take it off. No one allowed see you without mask except
Alan stepped to one of the wooden bowls full of water which stood
under a lamp, and gazed at his own reflection. The mask was gilded;
the sham lips were painted red and round the eye-holes were black
"Why, it is horrible," he exclaimed, starting back. "I look like a
devil crossed with Guy Fawkes. Do you mean to tell me that I have got
to live in this thing?"
"Afraid so, Major, upon all public occasion. At least they say that.
You holy, not lawful see your sacred face."
"Who do the Asiki think I am, then, Jeekie?"
"They think you your reverend uncle come back after many, many year.
You see, Major, they not believe uncle run away with Little Bonsa;
they believe Little Bonsa run away with uncle just for change of air
and so on, and that now, when she tired of strange land, she bring him
back again. That why you so holy, favourite of Little Bonsa who live
with you all this time and keep you just same age, bloom of youth."
"In Heaven's name," asked Alan, exasperated, "what is Little Bonsa,
beyond an ancient and ugly gold fetish?"
"Hush," said Jeekie, "mustn't call her names here in her own house.
Little Bonsa much more than fetish, Little Bonsa alive, or so," he
added doubtfully, "these silly niggers say. She wife of Big Bonsa, you
see, to-morrow p'raps. But their story this, that she get dead sick of
Big Bonsa and bolt with white Medicine man, who dare preach she
nothing but heathen idol. She want show him whether or no she only
idol. That the yarn, priests tell it me to-day. They always watch for
her there by the edge of the lake. They always sure Little Bonsa come
back. Not at all surprised, but as she love you once, you stop holy;
and I holy also, thank goodness, because she take me too as servant.
Therefore we sleep in peace, for they not cut out throats, at any rate
at present, though I think," he added mournfully, "they not let us go
Alan sat down on a stool and groaned at the appalling prospect
suggested by this information.
"Cheer up, Major," said Jeekie sympathetically. "Perhaps manage hook
it somehow, and meanwhile make best of bad business and have high old
time. You see you want to come Asiki-land, though I tell you it rum
place, and," he added with certitude and a circular sweep of his hand,
"by Jingo! you here now and I daresay they give you all the gold you
"What's the good of gold unless one can get away with it? What's the
good of anything if we are prisoners among these devils?"
"Perhaps time show, Major. Hush! here come dinner. You sit still on
stool and look holy."
The door opened and through it appeared four of the women bearing
dishes and cups full of drink, fashioned of gold like that which had
been given to Alan in the litter. He noticed at once that they had
removed their veils and outer garments, if indeed they were the same
women, and now, like many other Africans, were but lightly clad in
linen capes open in front that hung over their shoulders, short
petticoats or skirts about their middles, and sandals. Such was their
attire which, scanty as it might be, was yet becoming enough and
extremely rich. Thus the cape was fastened with a brooch of worked
gold, so were the sandal straps, while the petticoat was adorned with
beads of gold that jingled as they walked, and amongst them strings of
other beads of various and beautiful colours, that might be glass or
might be precious stones. Moreover, these women were young and
handsome, having splendid figures and well-cut features, soft, dark
eyes and rather long hair worn in the formal and attractive fashion
that has been described.
Advancing to Alan two of them knelt before him, holding out the trays
upon which was the food. So they remained while he ate, like bronze
statues, nor would they consent to change their posture even when he
told them in their language to be pleased to go away. On hearing
themselves addressed in the Asiki language, they seemed surprised, for
their faces changed a little, but go they would not. The result was
that Alan grew extremely nervous and ate and drank so rapidly that he
scarcely noted what he was putting into his mouth. Then before Jeekie,
to whom the women did not kneel, had half finished his dinner, Alan
rose and walked away, whereon two of the women gathered up everything,
including the dishes that had been given to Jeekie, and in spite of
his remonstrances carried them out of the room.
"I say, Major," said Jeekie, "if you gobble chop so fast you go ill
inside. Poor nigger like me can't keep up with you and sleep hungry
"I am sorry, Jeekie," said Alan with a little laugh, "but I can't eat
off living tables, especially when they stare at one like that. You
tell them that to-morrow we will breakfast alone."
"Oh, yes, I tell them, Major, but I don't know if they listen. They
mean it great compliment and only think you not like those girls and
"Look here, Jeekie," exclaimed Alan, turning his masked face towards
the two who remained, "let us come to an understanding at once. Clear
them out. Tell them I am so holy that Little Bonsa is enough for me.
Say I can't bear the sight of females, and that if they stop here I
will sacrifice them. Say anything you like, only get rid of them and
lock the door."
Thus adjured, Jeekie began to reason with the women, and as they
treated his remarks with lofty disdain, at last seized first one and
then the other by the elbows and literally ran them out of the room.
"There," he said, "baggage gone since you make such fuss about it,
though I 'spect they try to give me Bean for this job" (here he spoke
not in figurative English slang, but of the Calabar bean, which is a
favourite native poison). "Well, dinner gone and girls gone, and we
tired, so best go to bed. Think we all private here now, though in
Gold House never can be sure," and he looked round him suspiciously,
adding, "rummy place, Gold House, full of all sort of holes made by
old fellows thousand year ago, which no one know but Bonsa priests.
Still, best risk it and take off your face so that you have decent
wash," and he began to unlace the mask on his master's head.
Never has a City clerk dressed up for a fancy ball in the armour of a
Norman knight, been more glad to get rid of his costume than was Alan
of that hateful head-dress. At length it was gone with his other
garments and the much-needed wash accomplished, after which he clothed
himself in a kind of linen gown which apparently had been provided for
him, and lay down on one of the couches, placing his revolver by his
"Will those lamps burn all night, Jeekie?" he asked.
"Hope so, Major, as we haven't got no match. Not fond of dark in Gold
House," answered Jeekie sleepily. Then he began to snore.
Alan fell asleep, but was too excited and tired to rest very soundly.
All sorts of dreams came to him, one of which he remembered on
awakening, perhaps because it was the last. He dreamed that he heard
some noise and opened his eyes, to see that they were no longer alone
in the room. The oil lamps had burned quite low, indeed some of them
were out, but by the light of those that remained he saw a tall figure
which seemed to appear at the edge of the surrounding blackness, a
woman's figure. It walked forward to the altar-like stone upon which
lay the tin box containing Little Bonsa, and after several rather
awkward attempts, succeeded in opening it, thereby making a noise
which, in his dream, finally awoke Alan. For a while the figure gazed
at the fetish. Then it shut the box, glided to his bed and bent down
as though to study him. Out of the corners of his eyes he peered up at
it, pretending all the while to be fast asleep.
It was that of a woman wonderfully clad in gold-spangled, veil-like
garments with round bosses shaped to the breast, covered with thin
plates of gold fashioned like the scales of a fish which showed off
the extraordinary elegance of her lithe form. The low lamp-light shone
upon her face and the coronet of gold set upon her dark hair. What a
face it was! Never in all his days had he seen its like for evil
loveliness. The great, languid, oblong eyes, the rich red lips bent
like a bow, the cruel smile of the mouth, the broad forehead on which
the hair grew low, the delicately arched eyebrows and the long curving
lashes of the heavy lids beneath them, the rounded cheeks, smooth as a
ripe fruit, the firm, shapely chin, the snake-like poise of the head,
the long bending neck, and the feline smile; all of these combined
made such a dream-vision as he had never seen before, and to tell the
truth, notwithstanding its beauty, for that could not be doubted,
never wished to see again. Somehow he felt that if Satan should happen
to have a copper-coloured wife, the exact picture of that lady had
projected itself upon his sleeping senses.
She seemed to study him very earnestly, with a kind of passionate
eagerness, indeed, moving a little now and again to let the light fall
upon some part that was in shadow. Once even she stretched out her
rounded arm and just lifted the edge of the blanket so as to expose
his hand, the left. As it chanced on the little finger of this hand
Alan wore a plain gold ring which Barbara had given him; once it had
been her grandfather's signet. This ring, which had a coat of arms cut
upon its bezel seemed to interest her very much as she examined it for
a long while. Then she drew off from her own finger another ring of
gold fashioned of two snakes curiously intertwined, and gently, so
gently that in his sleep he scarcely felt it, slipped it on to his
finger above Barbara's ring.
After this she seemed to vanish away, and Alan slept soundly until the
morning, when he awoke to find the light of the sun pouring into the
room through the high-set latticed window places.
THE HALL OF THE DEAD
Alan rose and stretched himself, and hearing him, Jeekie, who had a
dog's faculty of instantly awaking from what seemed to be the deepest
sleep, sat up also.
"You rest well, Major? No dream, eh?" he asked curiously.
"Not very," answered Alan, "and I had a dream, of a woman who stood
over me and vanished away, as dreams do."
"Ah!" said Jeekie. "But where you find that new ring on finger,
Alan stared at his hand and started, for there set on it above that of
Barbara, was the little circlet formed of twisted snakes which he had
seen in his sleep.
"Then it must have been true," he said in a low and rather frightened
voice. "But how did she come and go?"
"Funny place, Gold House. I tell you that yesterday, Major. People
come up through hole, like rat. Never quite sure you alone in Gold
House. But what this lady like?"
Alan described his visitor to the best of his ability.
"Ah!" said Jeekie, "pretty girl. Big eyes, gold crown, gold stays
which fit tight in front, very nice and decent; sort of night-shirt
with little gold stars all over--by Jingo! I think that Asika herself.
If so--great compliment."
"Confound the compliment, I think it great cheek," answered Alan
angrily. "What does she mean by poking about here at night and putting
rings on my finger?"
"Don't know, Major, but p'raps she wish make you understand that she
like cut of your jib. Find out by and by. Meanwhile you wear ring, for
while that on finger no one do you any harm."
"You told me that this Asika is a married woman, did you not?"
remarked Alan gloomily.
"Oh, yes, Major, always married; one down, other come on, you see. But
she not always like her husband, and then she make him sit up, poor
devil, and he die double quick. Great honour to be Asika's husband,
but soon all finished. P'raps----"
Then he checked himself and suggested that Alan should have a bath
while he cleaned his clothes, an attention that they needed.
Scarcely had Alan finished his toilet, donned the Arab-looking linen
robe over his own fragmentary flannels, and above it the hateful mask
which Jeekie insisted he must wear, when there came a knocking on the
door. Motioning to Alan to take his seat upon a stool, Jeekie undid
the bars, and as before women appeared with food and waited while they
ate, which this time, having overcome his nervousness, Alan did more
leisurely. Their meal done, one of the women asked Jeekie, for to his
master they did not seem to dare to speak, whether the white lord did
not wish to walk in the garden. Without waiting for an answer she led
him to the end of the large room and, unbarring another door that they
had not noticed, revealed a passage, beyond which appeared trees and
flowers. Then she and her companions went away with the fragments of
"Come on," said Alan, taking up the box containing Little Bonsa, which
he did not dare to leave behind, "and let us get into the air."
So they went down the passage and at the end of it through gates of
copper or gold, they knew not which, that had evidently been left open
for them, into the garden. It was a large place, a good many acres in
extent indeed, and kept with some care, for there were paths in it and
flowers that seemed to have been planted. Also here grew certain of
the mighty cedar trees that they had seen from far off, beneath those
spreading boughs twilight reigned, while beyond, not more than half a
mile away, the splendid river-fall thundered down the precipice. For
the rest they could find no exit to that garden which on one side was
enclosed by a sheer cliff of living rock, and on the others with steep
stone walls beyond which ran a torrent, and by the buildings of the
Gold House itself.
For a while they walked up and down the rough paths, till at last
Jeekie, wearying of this occupation, remarked:
"Melancholy hole this, Major. Remind me of Westminster Abbey in London
fog, where your uncle of blessed mem'ry often take me pray and look at
fusty tomb of king. S'pose we go back Gold House and see what happen.
Anything better than stand about under cursed old cedar tree."
"All right," said Alan, who through the eyeholes of his mask had been
studying the walls to seek a spot in them that could be climbed if
necessary, and found none.
So they returned to the room, which had been swept and garnished in
their absence. No sooner had they entered it than the door opened and
through it came long lines of Asiki priests, each of whom staggered
beneath the weight of a hide bag that he bore upon his shoulder, which
bags they piled up about the stone altar. Then, as though at some
signal, each priest opened the mouth of his bag and Alan saw that they
wee filled with gold, gold in dust, gold in nuggets, gold in vessels
perfect or broken; more gold than Alan had ever seen before.
"Why do they bring all this stuff here?" he asked, and Jeekie
translated his question.
"It is an offering to the lord of Little Bonsa," answered the head
priest, bowing, "a gift from the Asika. The heaven-born white man sent
word by his Ogula messengers that he desired gold. Here is the gold
that he desired."
Alan stared at the treasure, which after all was what he had come to
seek. If only he had it safe in England, he would be a rich man and
his troubles ended. But how could he get it to England? Here it was
worthless as mud.
"I thank the Asika," he said. "I ask for porters to bear her gift back
to my own country, since it is too heavy for me and my servant to
At these words the priest smiled a little, then said that the Asika
desired to see the white lord and to receive from him Little Bonsa in
return for the gold, and that he could proffer his request to her.
"Good," replied Alan, "lead me to the Asika."
Then they started, Alan bearing the box containing Little Bonsa, and
Jeekie following after him. They went down passages and through sundry
doors till at length they came to a long and narrow hall that seemed
to be lined with plates of gold. At the end of this hall was a large
chair of black wood and ivory placed upon a dais, and sitting in this
chair with the light pouring on her from some opening above, was the
woman of Alan's dream, beautiful to look on in her crown and
glittering garments. Upon a stool at the foot of the dais sat a man, a
handsome and melancholy man. His hair was tied behind his head in a
pigtail and gilded, his face was painted red, white and yellow; he
wore ropes of bright-coloured stones about his neck, middle, arms and
ankles, and held a kind of sceptre in his hand.
"Who is that creature?" asked Alan over his shoulder to Jeekie. "The
"That husband of Asika, Major. He not fool, very big gun, but look a
little low now because his time soon up. Come on, Major, Asika beckon
us. Get on stomach and crawl; that custom here," he added, going down
on to his hands and knees, as did all the priests who followed them.
"I'll see her hanged first," answered Alan in English.
Then accompanied by the creeping Jeekie and the train of prostrate
priests, he marched up the long hall to the edge of the dais and there
stood still and bowed to the woman in the chair.
"Greeting, white man," she said in a low voice when she had studied
him for a while. "Do you understand my tongue?"
"A little," he answered in Asiki, "moreover, my servant here knows it
well and can translate."
"I am glad," she said. "Tell me then, in your country do not people go
on to their knees before their queen, and if not, how do they greet
"No," answered Alan with the help of Jeekie. "They greet her by
raising their head-dress or kissing her hand."
"Ah!" she said. "Well, you have no head-dress, so kiss /my/ hand," and
she stretched it out towards him, at the same time prodding the man
whom Jackie had said was her husband, in the back with her foot,
apparently to make him get out of the way.
Not knowing what to do, Alan stepped on to the dais, the painted man
scowling at him as he passed. Then he halted and said:
"How can I kiss your hand through this mask, Asika?"
"True," she answered, then considered a little and added, "White man,
you have brought back Little Bonsa, have you not, Little Bonsa who ran
away with you a great many years ago?"
"I have," he said, ignoring the rest of the question.
"Your messengers said that you required a present of gold in return
for Little Bonsa. I have sent you one, is it sufficient? If not, you
can have more."
"I cannot say, O Asika, I have not examined it. But I thank you for
the present and desire porters to enable me to carry it away."
"You desire porters," she repeated meditatively. "We will talk of that
when you have rested here a moon or two. Meanwhile, give me Little
Bonsa that she may be restored to her own place."
Alan opened the tin box and lifting out the fetish, gave it to the
priestess, who took it and with a serpentine movement of extraordinary
grace glided from her chair on to her knees, holding the mask above
her head in both hands, then thrice covered her face with it. This
done, she called to the priests, bidding them take Little Bonsa to her
own place and give notice throughout the land that she was back again.
She added that the ancient Feast of Little Bonsa would be held on the
night of the full moon within three days, and that all preparations
must be made for it as she had commanded.
Then the head medicine-man, raising himself upon his knees, crept on
to the dais, took the fetish from her hands, and breaking into a wild
song of triumph, he and his companions crawled down the hall and
vanished through the door, leaving them alone save for the Asika's
When they had gone the Asika looked at this man in a reflective way,
and Alan looked at him also through the eyeholes of his mask, finding
him well worth studying. As has been said, notwithstanding his paint
and grotesque decorations, he was very good-looking for a native, with
well-cut features of an Arab type. Also he was tall and muscular and
not more than thirty years of age. What struck Alan most, however, was
none of these things, nor his jewelled chains, nor even his gilded
pigtail, but his eyes, which were full of terrors. Seeing them, Alan
remembered Jeekie's story, which he had told to Mr. Haswell's guests
at The Court, of how the husband of the Asika was driven mad by
Just then she spoke to the man, addressing him by name and saying:
"Leave us alone, Mungana, I wish to speak with this white lord."
He did not seem to hear her words, but continued to stare at Alan.
"Hearken!" she exclaimed in a voice of ice. "Do my bidding and begone,
or you shall sleep alone to-night in a certain chamber that you know
Then Mungana rose, looked at her as a dog sometimes does at a cruel
master who is about to beat it, yes, with just that same expression,
put his hands before his eyes for a little while, and turning, left
the hall by a side door which closed behind him. The Asika watched him
go, laughed musically and said:
"It is a very dull thing to be married,--but how are you named, white
"Vernon," he answered.
"Vernoon, Vernoon," she repeated, for she could not pronounce the O
was we do. "Are you married, Vernoon?"
He shook his head.
"Have you been married?"
"No," he answered, "never, but I am going to be."
"Yes," she repeated, "you are going to be. You remember that you were
near to it many years ago, when Little Bonsa got jealous and ran away
with you. Well, she won't do that again, for doubtless she is tired of
you now, and besides," she added with a flash of ferocity, "I'd melt
her with fire first and set her spirit free."
While Jeekie was trying to explain this mysterious speech to Alan, the
Asika broke in, asking:
"Do you always want to wear that mask?"
He answered, "Certainly not," whereon she bade Jeekie take it off,
which he did.
"Understand me," she said, fixing her great languid eyes upon his in a
fashion that made him exceedingly uncomfortable, "understand, Vernoon,
that if you go out anywhere, it must be in your mask, which you can
only put off when you are alone with me?"
"Because, Vernoon, I do not choose that any other woman should see
your face. If a woman looks upon your uncovered face, remember that
she dies--not nicely."
Alan stared at her blankly, being unable to find appropriate Asiki
words in which to reply to this threat. But the Asika only leaned back
in her chair and laughed at his evident confusion and dismay, till a
new thought struck her.
"Your lips are free now," she said; "kiss my hand after the fashion of
your own country," and she stretched it out to Alan, leaving him no
choice but to obey her.
"Why," she went on mischievously, taking his hand and in turn touching
it with her red lips, "why, are you a thief, Vernoon? That ring was
mine and you have stolen it. How did you steal that ring?"
"I don't know," he answered, through Jeekie, "I found it on my finger.
I cannot understand how it came there. I understand nothing of all
"Well, well, keep it, Vernoon, only give me that other ring of yours
"I cannot," he replied, colouring. "I promised to wear it always."
"Whom did you promise?" she asked with a flash of rage. "Was it a
woman? Nay, I see, it is a man's ring, and that is well, for otherwise
I would bring a curse on her, however far off she may be dwelling. Say
no more and forgive my anger. A vow is a vow--keep your ring. But
where is that one you used to wear in bygone days? I recall that it
had a cross upon it, not this star and figure of an eagle."
Now Alan remembered that his uncle owned such a ring with a cross upon
it, and was frightened, for how did this woman know these things?
"Jeekie," he said, "ask the Asika if I am mad, or if she is. How can
she know what I used to wear, seeing that I was never in this place
till yesterday, and certainly I have not met her anywhere else."
"She mean when you your reverend uncle," said Jeekie, wagging his
great head, "she think you identical man."
"What troubles you, Vernoon," the Asika asked softly, then added
anything but softly to Jeekie, "Translate, you dog, and be swift."
So Jeekie translated in a great hurry, telling her what Alan had said,
and adding on his own account that he, silly white man that he was,
could not understand how, as she was quite a young woman, she could
have seen him before she was born. If that were so, she would be old
and ugly now, not beautiful as she was.
"I never saw you before, and you never saw me, Lady, yet you talk as
though we had been friends," broke in Alan in his halting Asiki.
"So we were in the spirit, Vernoon. It was she who went before me who
loved that white man whose face was as your face is, but her ghost
lives on in me and tells me the tale. There have been many Asikas, for
thousands of years they have ruled in this land, yet but one spirit
belongs to them all; it is the string upon which the beads of their
lives are threaded. White man, I, whom you think young, know
everything back to the beginning of the world, back to the time when I
was a monkey woman sitting in those cedar trees, and if you wish, I
can tell it you."
"I should like to hear it very much indeed," answered Alan, when he
had mastered her meaning, "though it is strange that none of the rest
of us remember such things. Meanwhile, O Asika, I will tell you that I
desire to return to my own land, taking with me that gift of gold that
you have given me. When will it please you to allow me to return?"
"Not yet a while, I think," she said, smiling at him weirdly, for no
other word will describe that smile. "My spirit remembers that it was
always thus. Those wanderers who came hither always wished to return
again to their own country, like the birds in spring. Once there was a
white man among them, that was more than twenty hundred years ago; he
was a native of a country called Roma, and wore a helmet. He wished to
return, but my mother of that day, she kept him and by and by I will
show him to you if you like. Before that there was a brown man who
came from a land where a great river overflows its banks every year.
He was a prince of his own country, who had fled from his king and the
desert folk made a slave of him, and so he drifted hither. He wished
to return also, for my mother of that day, or my spirit that dwelt in
her, showed to him that if he could but be there they would make him
king in his own land. But my mother of that day, she would not let him
go, and by and by I will show him to you, if you wish."
Bewildered, amazed, Alan listened to her. Evidently the woman was mad,
or else she played some mystical part for reasons of her own.
"When will you let me go, O Asika?" he repeated.
"Not yet a while, I think," she said again. "You are too comely and I
like you," and she smiled at him. There was nothing coarse in the
smile, indeed it had a certain spiritual quality which thrilled him.
"I like you," she went on in her dreamy voice, "I would keep you with
me until your spirit is drawn up into my spirit, making it strong and
rich as all the spirits that went before have done, those spirits that
my mothers loved from the beginning, which dwell in me to-day."
Now Alan grew alarmed, desperate even.
"Queen," he said, "but just now your husband sat here, is it right
then that you should talk to me thus?"
"My husband," she answered, laughing. "Why, that man is but a slave
who plays the part of husband to satisfy an ancient law. Never has he
so much as kissed my finger tips; my women--those who waited on you
last night--are his wives, not I,--or may be, if he will. Soon he will
die of love for me, and then when he is dead, though not before, I may
take another husband, any husband that I choose, and I think that no
black man shall be my lord, who have other, purer blood in me.
Vernoon, five centuries have gone by since an Asika was really wed to
a foreign man who wore a green turban and called himself a son of the
Prophet, a man with a hooked nose and flashing eyes, who reviled our
gods until they slew him, even though he was the beloved of their
priestess. She who went before me also would have married that white
man whose face was like your face, but he fled with Little Bonsa, or
rather Little Bonsa fled with him. So she passed away unwed, and in
her place I came."
"How did you come, if she whom you call your mother was not your
mother?" asked Alan.
"What is that to you, white man?" she replied haughtily. "I am here,
as my spirit has been here from the first. Oh! I see you think I lie
to you, come then, come, and I will show you those who from the
beginning have been the husbands of the Asika," and rising from her
chair she took him by the hand.
They went through doors and by long, half-lit passages till they came
to great gates guarded by old priests armed with spears. As they drew
near to these priests the Asika loosed a scarf that she wore over her
breast-plate of gold fish scales, and threw the star-spangled thing
over Alan's head, that even these priests should not see his face.
Then she spoke a word to them and they opened the gates. Here Jeekie
evinced a disposition to remain, remarking to his master that he
thought that place, into which he had never entered, "much too holy
for poor nigger like him."
The Asika asked him what he had said and he explained his sense of
unworthiness in her own tongue.
"Come, fellow," she exclaimed, "to translate my words and to bear
witness that no trick is played upon your lord."
Still Jeekie lingered bashfully, whereon at a sign from her one of the
priests pricked him behind with his great spear, and uttering a low
howl he sprang forward.
The Asika led the way down a passage, which they saw ended in a big
hall lit with lamps. Now they were in it and Alan became aware that
they had entered the treasure house of the Asiki, since here were
piled up great heaps of gold, gold in ingots, gold in nuggets, in
stone jars filled with dust, in vessels plain or embossed with
monstrous shapes in fetishes and in little squares and discs that
looked as though they had served as coins. Never had he seen so much
"You are rich here, Lady," he said, gazing at the piles astonished.
She shrugged her shoulders. "Yes, as I have heard that some people
count wealth. These are the offerings brought to our gods from the
beginning; also all the gold found in the mountains belongs to the
gods, and there is much of it there. The gift I sent to you was taken
from this heap, but in truth it is but a poor gift, seeing that
although this stuff is bright and serves for cups and other things, it
has no use at all and is only offered to the gods because it is harder
to come by than other metals. Look, these are prettier than the gold,"
and from a stone table she picked up at hazard a long necklace of
large, uncut stones, red and white in colour and set alternatively,
that Alan judged to be crystals and spinels.
"Take it," she said, "and examine it at your leisure. It is very old.
For hundreds of years no more of these necklaces have been made," and
with a careless movement she threw the chain over his head so that it
hung upon his shoulders.
Alan thanked her, then remembered that the man called Mungana, who was
the husband, real or official, of this priestess, had been somewhat
similarly adorned, and shivered a little as though at a presage of
advancing fate. Still he did not return the thing, fearing lest he
should give offence.
At this moment his attention was taken from the treasure by the sound
of a groan behind him. Turning round he perceived Jeekie, his great
eyes rolling as though in an extremity of fear.
"Oh my golly! Major," he ejaculated, pointing to the wall, "look
Alan looked, but at first in that dim light could only discover long
rows of gleaming objects which reached from the floor to the roof.
"Come and see," said the Asika, and taking a lamp from that table on
which lay the gems, she led him past the piles of gold to one side of
the vault or hall. Then he saw, and although he did not show it, like
Jeekie he was afraid.
For there, each in his own niche and standing one above the other,
were what looked like hundreds of golden men with gleaming eyes. At
first until the utter stillness undeceived him, he thought that they
/must/ be men. Then he understood that this was what they had been;
now they were corpses wrapped in sheets of thin gold and wearing
golden masks with eyes of crystal, each mask being beaten out to a
hideous representation of the man in life.
"All these are the husbands of my spirit," said the priestess, waving
the lamp in front of the lowest row of them, "Munganas who were
married to the Asikas in the past. Look, here is he who said that he
ought to be king of that rich land where year after year the river
overflows its banks," and going to one of the first of the figures in
the bottom row, she drew out a fastening and suffered the gold mask to
fall forward on a hinge, exposing the face within.
Although it had evidently been treated with some preservative, this
head now was little more than a skull still covered with dark hair,
but set upon its brow appeared an object that Alan recognized at once,
a simple band of plain gold, and rising from it the head of an asp.
Without doubt it was the /uraeus/, that symbol which only the
royalties of Old Egypt dared to wear. Without doubt also either this
man had brought it with him from the Nile, or in memory of his rank
and home he had fashioned it of the gold that was so plentiful in the
place of his captivity. So this woman's story was true, an ancient
Egyptian had once been husband to the Asika of his day.
Meanwhile his guide had passed a long way down the line and halting in
front of another gold-wrapped figure, opened its mask.
"This is that man," she said, "who told us he came from a land called
Roma. Look, the helmet still rests upon his head, though time has
eaten into it, and that ring upon your hand was taken from his finger.
I have a head-dress made upon the model of that helmet which I wear
sometimes in memory of this man who, my soul remembers, was brave and
pleasant and a gallant lover."
"Indeed," answered Alan, looking at the sunken face above which a rim
of curls appeared beneath the rusting helmet. "Well, he doesn't look
very gallant now, does he?" Then he peered down between the body and
its gold casing and saw that in his body hand the man still held a
short Roman sword, lifted as though in salute. So she had not lied in
this matter either.
Meanwhile the Asika had glided on to the end of the hall behind the
heaps of treasure.
"There is one more white man," she said, "though we know little of
him, for he was fierce and barbarous and died without learning our
tongue, after killing a great number of the priests of that day
because they would not let him go; yes, died cutting them down with a
battle-axe and singing some wild song of his own country. Come hither,
slave, and bend yourself so, resting your hands upon the ground."
Jeekie obeyed, and actively as a cat the priestess leaped on to his
back, and reaching up opened the mask of a corpse in the second row
and held her lamp before its face.
It was better preserved than the others, so that its features remained
comparatively perfect, and about them hung a tangle of golden hair.
Moreover, a broad battle-axe appeared resting on the shoulder.
"A viking," thought Alan. "I wonder how /he/ came here."
When he had looked the Asika leaped from Jeekie's back to the ground
and waving her arm around her, began to talk so rapidly that Alan
could understand nothing of her words, and asked Jeekie to translate
"She say," explained Jeekie between his chattering teeth, "that all
rest these Johnnies very poor crew, natives and that lot except one
who worship false Prophet and cut throat of Asika of that time,
because she infidel and he teach her better; also eat his dinner out
of Little Bonsa and chuck her into water. Very wild man, that Arab,
but priests catch him at last and fill him with hot gold before Little
Bonsa because he no care a damn for ghosts. So he die saying Hip, hip,
hurrah! for houri and green field of Prophet and to hell with Asika
and Bonsa, Big and Little! Now he sit up there and at night time worst
ghost of all the crowd, always come to finish off Mungana. That all
she say, and quite enough too. Come on quick, she want you and no like
By now the Asika had passed almost round the hall, and was standing
opposite to an empty niche beyond and above which there were perhaps a
score of bodies gold-plated in the usual fashion.
"That is your place, Vernoon," she said gently, contemplating him with
her soft and heavy eyes, "for it was prepared for the white man with
whom Little Bonsa fled away, and since then, as you see, there have
been many Munganas, some of whom belong to me; indeed, that one," and
she touched a corpse on which the gold looked very fresh, "only left
me last year. But we always knew that Little Bonsa would bring you
back again, and so you see, we have kept your place empty."
"Indeed," remarked Alan, "that is very kind of you," and feeling that
he would faint if he stayed longer in this horrible and haunted vault,
he pushed past her with little ceremony and walked out through the
gates into the passage beyond.
THE GOLD HOUSE
"How you like Asiki-land, Major?" asked Jeekie, who had followed him
and was now leaning against a wall fanning himself feebly with his
great hand. "Funny place, isn't it, Major? I tell you so before you
come, but you no believe me."
"Very funny," answered Alan, "so funny that I want to get out."
"Ah! Major, that what eel say in trap where he go after lob-worm, but
he only get out into frying pan after cook skin him alive-o. Ah! here
come cook--I mean Asika. She only stop shut up those stiff 'uns, who
all love lob-worm one day. Very pretty woman, Asika, but thank God she
not set cap at me, who like to be buried in open like Christian man."
"If you don't stop it, Jeekie," replied Alan in a concentrated rage,
"I'll see that you are buried just where you are."
"No offence, Major, no offence, my heart full and bubble up. I wonder
what Miss Barbara say if she see you mooing and cooing with dark-eyed
girl in gold snake skin?"
Just then the Asika arrived and by way of excuse for his flight, Alan
remarked to her that the treasure-hall was hot.
"I did not notice it," she answered, "but he who is called my husband,
Mungana, says the same. The Mungana is guardian of the dead," she
explained, "and when he is required so to do, he sleeps in the Place
of the Treasure and gathers wisdom from the spirits of those Munganas
who were before him."
"Indeed. And does he like that bed-chamber?"
"The Mungana likes what I like, not what he likes," she replied
haughtily. "Where I send him to sleep, there he sleeps. But come,
Vernoon, and I will show you the Holy Water where Big Bonsa dwells;
also the house in which I have my home, where you shall visit me when
"Who built this place?" asked Alan as she led him through more dark
and tortuous passages. "It is very great."
"My spirit does not remember when it was built, Vernoon, so old is it,
but I think that the Asiki were once a big and famous people who
traded to the water upon the west, and even to the water on the east,
and that was how those white men became their slaves and the Munganas
of their queens. Now they are small and live only by the might and
fame of Big and Little Bonsa, not half filling the rich land which is
theirs. But," she added reflectively and looking at him, "I think also
that this is because in the past fools have been thrust upon my spirit
as Munganas. What it needs is the wisdom of the white man, such wisdom
as yours, Vernoon. If that were added to my magic, then the Asiki
would grow great again, seeing that they have in such plenty the gold
which you have shown me the white man loves. Yes, they would grow
great and from coast to coast the people should bow at the name of
Bonsa and send him their sons for sacrifice. Perhaps you will live to
see that day, Vernoon. Slave," she added, addressing Jeekie, "set the
mask upon your lord's head, for we come where women are."
Alan objected, but she stamped her foot and said it must be so, having
once worn Little Bonsa, as her people told her he had done, his naked
face might not be seen. So Alan submitted to the hideous head-dress
and they entered the Asika's house by some back entrance.
It was a place with many rooms in it, but they were all remarkable for
extreme simplicity. With a single exception no gilding or gold was to
be seen, although the food vessels were made of this material here as
everywhere. The chambers, including those in which the Asika lived and
slept, were panelled, or rather boarded with cedar wood that was
almost black with age, and their scanty furniture was mostly made of
ebony. They were very insufficiently lighted, like his own room, by
means of barred openings set high in the wall. Indeed gloom and
mystery were the keynotes of this place, amongst the shadows of which
handsome, half-naked servants or priestesses flitted to and fro at
their tasks, or peered at them out of dark corners. The atmosphere
seemed heavy with secret sin; Alan felt that in those rooms unnameable
crimes and cruelties had been committed for hundreds or perhaps
thousands of years, and that the place was yet haunted by the ghosts
of them. At any rate it struck a chill to his healthy blood, more even
than had that Hall of the Dead and of heaped-up golden treasure.
"Does my house please you?" the Asika asked of him.
"Not altogether," he answered, "I think it is dark."
"From the beginning my spirit has ever loved the dark, Vernoon. I
think that it was shaped in some black midnight."
They passed through the chief entrance of the house which had pillars
of woodwork grotesquely carved, down some steps into a walled and
roofed-in yard where the shadows were even more dense than in the
house they had left. Only at one spot was there light flowing down
through a hole in the roof, as it did apparently in that hall where
Alan had found the Asika sitting in state. The light fell on to a
pedestal or column made of gold which was placed behind an object like
a large Saxon font, also made of gold. The shape of this column
reminded Alan of something, namely of a very similar column, although
fashioned of a different material which stood in the granite-built
office of Messrs. Aylward & Haswell in the City of London. Nor did
this seem wonderful to him, since on top of it, squatting on its dwarf
legs, stood a horrid but familiar thing, namely Little Bonsa herself
come home at last. There she sat smiling cruelly, as she had smiled
from the beginning, forgetful doubtless of her wanderings in strange
lands, while round her stood a band of priests armed with spears.
Followed by the Asika and Jeekie, Alan walked up and looked her in the
face and to his excited imagination she appeared to grin at him in
answer. Then while the priests prostrated themselves, he examined the
golden basin or laver, and saw that at the further side of it was a
little platform approached by steps. On the top of these golden steps
were two depressions such as might have been worn out in the course of
ages by persons kneeling there. Also the flat edge of the basin which
stood about thirty inches above the level of the topmost step, was
scored as though by hundreds of sword cuts which had made deep lines
in the pure metal. The basin itself was empty.
Seeing that these things interested him, the Asika volunteered the
information through Jeekie, that this was a divining-bowl, and that if
those who went before her had wished to learn the future, they caused
Little Bonsa to float in it and found out all they wanted to know by
her movements. She, however, she added, had other and better methods
of learning things that were predestined.
"Where does the water come from?" asked Alan thoughtlessly searching
the bowl for some tap or inlet.
"Out of the hearts of men," she answered with a low and dreadful
laugh. "These marks are those of swords and every one of them means a
life." Then seeing that he looked incredulous she added, "Stay, I will
show you. Little Bonsa must be thirsty who has fasted so long, also
there are matters that I desire to know. Come hither--you, and you,"
and she pointed at hazard to the two priests who knelt nearest to her,
"and do you bid the executioner bring his axe," she went on to a
The dark faces of the men turned ashen, but they made no effort to
escape their doom. One of them crept up the steps and laid his neck
upon the edge of gold, while the other, uttering no word, threw
himself on his face at the foot of them, waiting his turn. Then a door
opened and there appeared a great and brutal-looking fellow, naked
except for a loin cloth, who bore in his hand a huge weapon, half
knife and half axe.
First he looked at the Asika, who nodded almost imperceptibly, then
sprang on to a prolongation of the golden steps, bowed to Little Bonsa
on her column behind and heaved up his knife.
Now for the first time Alan really understood what was about to
happen, and that what he had imagined a stage rehearsal, was to become
a hideous murder.
"Stop!" he shouted in English, being unable to remember the native
The executioner paused with his axe poised in mid-air; the victim
turned his head and looked, as though surprised; the second victim and
the priests their companions looked also. Jeekie fell on to his knees
and burst into fervent prayer addressed apparently to Little Bonsa.
The Asika smiled and did nothing.
Again the weapon was lifted and as he felt that words were no longer
of any use, even if he could find them, Alan took refuge in action.
Springing on to the other side of the little platform, he hit out with
all his strength across the kneeling man. Catching the executioner on
the point of the chin, he knocked him straight backwards in such
fashion that his head struck upon the floor before any other portion
of his body, so that he lay there either dead or stunned. Alan never
learned which, since the matter was not thought of sufficient
importance to be mentioned.
At this sight the Asika burst into a low laugh, then asked Alan why he
had felled the executioner. He answered because he would not stand by
and see two innocent men butchered.
"Why not," she said in an astonished voice; "if Little Bonsa, whose
priests they are, needs them, and I, who am the Mouth of the gods
declare that they should die? Still, she has been in your keeping for
a long while and you may know her will, so if you wish it, let them
live. Or perhaps you require other victims," and she fixed her eyes
upon Jeekie with a glance of suggestive hope.
"Oh my golly!" gasped Jeekie in English, "tell her not for Joe, Major,
tell her most improper. Say Yellow God my dearest friend and go mad as
hatter if my throat cut----"
Alan stopped his protestations with a secret kick.
"I choose no victims," he broke in, "nor will I see man's blood shed--
to me it is /orunda/--unholy; I may not look on human blood, and if
you cause me to do so, Asika, I shall hate you because you make me
break my oath."
The Asika reflected for a moment, while Jeekie behind muttered between
his chattering teeth:
"Good missionary talk that, Major. Keep up word in season, Major. If
she make Christian martyr of Jeekie, who get you out of this
Then the Asika spoke.
"Be it as you will, for I desire neither that you should hate me, nor
that you should look on that which is unlawful for your eyes to see.
The feasts and ceremonies you must attend, but if I can help it, no
victim shall be slain in your presence, not even that whimpering
hound, your servant," she added with a contemptuous glance at Jeekie,
"who it seems, fears to give his life for the glory of the god, but
who because he is yours, is safe now and always."
"That /very/ satisfactory," said Jeekie, rising from his knees, his
face wreathed in smiles, for he knew well that a decree of the Asika
could not be broken. Then he began to explain to the priestess that it
was not fear of losing his own life that had moved him, but the
certainty that this occurrence would disagree morally with Little
Bonsa, whose entire confidence he possessed.
Taking no notice of his words, with a slight reverence to the fetish,
she passed on, beckoning to Alan. As he went by the two prostrate
priests whose lives he had saved, lifted their heads a little and
looked at him with heartfelt gratitude in their eyes; indeed one of
them kissed the place where his foot had trodden. Jeekie, following,
gave him a kick to intimate that he was taking a liberty, but at the
same time stooped down and asked the man his name. It occurred to him
that these rescued priests might some day be useful.
Alan followed her through a kind of swing door which opened into
another of the endless halls, but when he looked for her there she was
nowhere to be seen. A priest who was waiting beyond the door bowed and
informed him that the Asika had gone to her own place, and would see
him that evening. Then bowing again he led them back by various
passages to the room where they had slept.
"Jeekie," said Alan after their food had been brought to them, this
time, he observed, by men, for it was now past midday, "you were born
in Asiki-land; tell me the truth of this business. What does that
woman mean when she talks about her spirit having been here from the
"She mean, Major, that every time she die her soul go into someone
else, whom priests find out by marks. Also Asika always die young,
they never let her become old woman, but how she die and where they
bury her, no one know 'cept priests. Sometimes she have girl child who
become Asika after her, but if they have boy child, they kill him. I
think this Asika daughter of her who make love to your reverend uncle.
All that story 'bout her mother not being married, lies, and all her
story lies too, she often marry."
"But how about the spirit coming back, Jeekie?"
"'Spect that lie too, Major, though she think it solemn fact. Priests
teach her all those old things. Still," he added doubtfully, "Asika
great medicine-woman and know a lot we don't know, can't say how. Very
awkward customer, Major."
"Quite so, Jeekie, I agree with you. But to come to the point, what is
her game with me?"
"Oh! Major," he answered with a grin, "/that/ simple enough. She tired
of black man, want change, mean to marry you according to law, that is
when Mungana dies, and he die jolly quick now. She mustn't kill him,
but polish him off all the same, stick him to sleep with those dead
uns, till he go like drunk man and see things and drown himself. Then
she marry you. But till he dead, you all right, she only talk and make
eyes, 'cause of Asiki law, not 'cause she want to stop there."
"Indeed, Jeekie, and how long do you think that Mungana will last?"
"Perhaps three months, Major, and perhaps two. Think not more than
two. Strong man, but he look devilish dicky this morning. Think he
begin see snakes."
"Very well, Jeekie. Now listen to me--you've got to get us out of
Asiki-land by this day two months. If you don't, that lady will do
anything to oblige me and no doubt there are more executioners left."
"Oh! Major, don't talk like silly fool. Jeekie always hate fools and
suffer them badly--like holy first missionary bishop. You know very
well this no place for ultra-Christian man like Jeekie, who only come
here to please you. Both in same bag, Major, if I die, you die and
leave Miss Barbara up gum tree. I get you out if I can. But this stuff
the trouble," and he pointed to the bags of gold. "Not want to leave
all that behind after such arduous walk. No, no, I try get you out,
meanwhile you play game."
"The game! What game, Jeekie?"
"What game? Why, Asika-game of course. If she sigh, you sigh; if she
look at you, you look at her; if she squeeze hand, you squeeze hand;
if she kiss, you kiss."
"I am hanged if I do, Jeekie."
"Must, Major; must or never get out of Asiki-land. What all that
matter?" he added confidentially. "Miss Barbara never know. Jeekie
doesn't split, also quite necessary in situation, and you can't be
married till that Mungana dead. All matter business, Major; make time
pass pleasant as well. Asika jolly enough if you stroke her fur right
way, but if you put her back up--oh Lor! No trouble, sit and smile and
say, 'Oh, ducky, how beautiful you are!' that not hurt anybody."
In spite of himself Alan burst out laughing.
"But how about the Mungana?" he asked.
"Mungana, he got take that with rest. Also I try make friends with
that poor devil. Tell him it all my eye. Perhaps he believe me--not
sure. If he me, I no believe /him/. Mungana," he added oracularly,
"Mungana take his chance. What matter? In two months' time he nothing
but gold figure, No. 2403; just like one mummy in museum. Now I try
catch my ma. I hear she alive somewhere. They tell me she used keep
lodging house for Bonsa pilgrim, but steal grub, say it cat, all that
sort of thing, and get run in as thief. Afraid my ma come down very
much in world, not society lady now, shut up long way off in suburb.
Still p'raps she useful so best send her message by p'liceman, say how