Allan and the Holy Flower
H. Rider Haggard
Part 1 out of 7
ALLAN AND THE HOLY FLOWER
BY H. Rider Haggard
First Published 1915.
Etext prepared by John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
and Dagny, email@example.com
ALLAN AND THE HOLY FLOWER
H. RIDER HAGGARD
ALLAN AND THE HOLY FLOWER
I do not suppose that anyone who knows the name of Allan Quatermain
would be likely to associate it with flowers, and especially with
orchids. Yet as it happens it was once my lot to take part in an
orchid hunt of so remarkable a character that I think its details
should not be lost. At least I will set them down, and if in the after
days anyone cares to publish them, well--he is at liberty to do so.
It was in the year--oh! never mind the year, it was a long while ago
when I was much younger, that I went on a hunting expedition to the
north of the Limpopo River which borders the Transvaal. My companion
was a gentleman of the name of Scroope, Charles Scroope. He had come
out to Durban from England in search of sport. At least, that was one
of his reasons. The other was a lady whom I will call Miss Margaret
Manners, though that was not her name.
It seems that these two were engaged to be married, and really
attached to each other. Unfortunately, however, they quarrelled
violently about another gentlemen with whom Miss Manners danced four
consecutive dances, including two that were promised to her fiancé at
a Hunt ball in Essex, where they all lived. Explanations, or rather
argument, followed. Mr. Scroope said that he would not tolerate such
conduct. Miss Manners replied that she would not be dictated to; she
was her own mistress and meant to remain so. Mr. Scroope exclaimed
that she might so far as he was concerned. She answered that she never
wished to see his face again. He declared with emphasis that she never
should and that he was going to Africa to shoot elephants.
What is more, he went, starting from his Essex home the next day
without leaving any address. As it transpired afterwards, long
afterwards, had he waited till the post came in he would have received
a letter that might have changed his plans. But they were high-
spirited young people, both of them, and played the fool after the
fashion of those in love.
Well, Charles Scroope turned up in Durban, which was but a poor place
then, and there we met in the bar of the Royal Hotel.
"If you want to kill big game," I heard some one say, who it was I
really forget, "there's the man to show you how to do it--Hunter
Quatermain; the best shot in Africa and one of the finest fellows,
I sat still, smoking my pipe and pretending to hear nothing. It is
awkward to listen to oneself being praised, and I was always a shy
Then after a whispered colloquy Mr. Scroope was brought forward and
introduced to me. I bowed as nicely as I could and ran my eye over
him. He was a tall young man with dark eyes and a rather romantic
aspect (that was due to his love affair), but I came to the conclusion
that I liked the cut of his jib. When he spoke, that conclusion was
affirmed. I always think there is a great deal in a voice; personally,
I judge by it almost as much as by the face. This voice was
particularly pleasant and sympathetic, though there was nothing very
original or striking in the words by which it was, so to speak,
introduced to me. These were:
"How do you do, sir. Will you have a split?"
I answered that I never drank spirits in the daytime, or at least not
often, but that I should be pleased to take a small bottle of beer.
When the beer was consumed we walked up together to my little house on
which is now called the Berea, the same in which, amongst others, I
received my friends, Curtis and Good, in after days, and there we
dined. Indeed, Charlie Scroope never left that house until we started
on our shooting expedition.
Now I must cut all this story short, since it is only incidentally
that it has to do with the tale I am going to tell. Mr. Scroope was a
rich man and as he offered to pay all the expenses of the expedition
while I was to take all the profit in the shape of ivory or anything
else that might accrue, of course I did not decline his proposal.
Everything went well with us on that trip until its unfortunate end.
We only killed two elephants, but of other game we found plenty. It
was when we were near Delagoa Bay on our return that the accident
We were out one evening trying to shoot something for our dinner, when
between the trees I caught sight of a small buck. It vanished round a
little promontory of rock which projected from the side of the kloof,
walking quietly, not running in alarm. We followed after it. I was the
first, and had just wriggled round these rocks and perceived the buck
standing about ten paces away (it was a bush-bok), when I heard a
rustle among the bushes on the top of the rock not a dozen feet above
my head, and Charlie Scroope's voice calling:
"Look out, Quatermain! He's coming."
"Who's coming?" I answered in an irritated tone, for the noise had
made the buck run away.
Then it occurred to me, all in an instant of course, that a man would
not begin to shout like that for nothing; at any rate when his supper
was concerned. So I glanced up above and behind me. To this moment I
can remember exactly what I saw. There was the granite water-worn
boulder, or rather several boulders, with ferns growing in their
cracks of the maiden-hair tribe, most of them, but some had a silver
sheen on the under side of their leaves. On one of these leaves,
bending it down, sat a large beetle with red wings and a black body
engaged in rubbing its antennę with its front paws. And above, just
appearing over the top of the rock, was the head of an extremely fine
leopard. As I write to seem to perceive its square jowl outlined
against the arc of the quiet evening sky with the saliva dropping from
This was the last thing which I did perceive for a little while, since
at that moment the leopard--we call them tigers in South Africa--
dropped upon my back and knocked me flat as a pancake. I presume that
it also had been stalking the buck and was angry at my appearance on
the scene. Down I went, luckily for me, into a patch of mossy soil.
"All up!" I said to myself, for I felt the brute's weight upon my back
pressing me down among the moss, and what was worse, its hot breath
upon my neck as it dropped its jaws to bite me in the head. Then I
heard the report of Scroope's rifle, followed by furious snarling from
the leopard, which evidently had been hit. Also it seemed to think
that I had caused its injuries, for it seized me by the shoulder. I
felt its teeth slip along my skin, but happily they only fastened in
the shooting coat of tough corduroy that I was wearing. It began to
shake me, then let go to get a better grip. Now, remembering that
Scroope only carried a light, single-barrelled rifle, and therefore
could not fire again, I knew, or thought I knew, that my time had
come. I was not exactly afraid, but the sense of some great, impending
chance became very vivid. I remembered--not my whole life, but one or
two odd little things connected with my infancy. For instance, I
seemed to see myself seated on my mother's knee, playing with a little
jointed gold-fish which she wore upon her watch-chain.
After this I muttered a word or two of supplication, and, I think,
lost consciousness. If so, it can only have been for a few seconds.
Then my mind returned to me and I saw a strange sight. The leopard and
Scroope were fighting each other. The leopard, standing on one hind
leg, for the other was broken, seemed to be boxing Scroope, whilst
Scroope was driving his big hunting knife into the brute's carcase.
They went down, Scroope undermost, the leopard tearing at him. I gave
a wriggle and came out of that mossy bed--I recall the sucking sound
my body made as it left the ooze.
Close by was my rifle, uninjured and at full cock as it had fallen
from my hand. I seized it, and in another second had shot the leopard
through the head just as it was about to seize Scroope's throat.
It fell stone dead on the top of him. One quiver, one contraction of
the claws (in poor Scroope's leg) and all was over. There it lay as
though it were asleep, and underneath was Scroope.
The difficulty was to get it off him, for the beast was very heavy,
but I managed this at last with the help of a thorn bough I found
which some elephant had torn from a tree. This I used as a lever.
There beneath lay Scroope, literally covered with blood, though
whether his own or the leopard's I could not tell. At first I thought
that he was dead, but after I had poured some water over him from the
little stream that trickled down the rock, he sat up and asked
"What am I now?"
"A hero," I answered. (I have always been proud of that repartee.)
Then, discouraging further conversation, I set to work to get him back
to the camp, which fortunately was close at hand.
When we had proceeded a couple of hundred yards, he still making
inconsequent remarks, his right arm round my neck and my left arm
round his middle, suddenly he collapsed in a dead faint, and as his
weight was more than I could carry, I had to leave him and fetch help.
In the end I got him to the tents by aid of the Kaffirs and a blanket,
and there made an examination. He was scratched all over, but the only
serious wounds were a bite through the muscles of the left upper arm
and three deep cuts in the right thigh just where it joins the body,
caused by a stroke of the leopard's claws. I gave him a dose of
laudanum to send him to sleep and dressed these hurts as best I could.
For three days he went on quite well. Indeed, the wounds had begun to
heal healthily when suddenly some kind of fever took him, caused, I
suppose, by the poison of the leopard's fangs or claws.
Oh! what a terrible week was that which followed! He became delirious,
raving continually of all sorts of things, and especially of Miss
Margaret Manners. I kept up his strength as well as was possible with
soup made from the flesh of game, mixed with a little brandy which I
had. But he grew weaker and weaker. Also the wounds in the thigh began
The Kaffirs whom we had with us were of little use in such a case, so
that all the nursing fell on me. Luckily, beyond a shaking, the
leopard had done me no hurt, and I was very strong in those days.
Still the lack of rest told on me, since I dared not sleep for more
than half an hour or so at a time. At length came a morning when I was
quite worn out. There lay poor Scroope turning and muttering in the
little tent, and there I sat by his side, wondering whether he would
live to see another dawn, or if he did, for how long I should be able
to tend him. I called to a Kaffir to bring me my coffee, and just was
I was lifting the pannikin to my lips with a shaking hand, help came.
It arrived in a very strange shape. In front of our camp were two
thorn trees, and from between these trees, the rays from the rising
sun falling full on him, I saw a curious figure walking towards me in
a slow, purposeful fashion. It was that of a man of uncertain age, for
though the beard and long hair were white, the face was comparatively
youthful, save for the wrinkles round the mouth, and the dark eyes
were full of life and vigour. Tattered garments, surmounted by a torn
kaross or skin rug, hung awkwardly upon his tall, thin frame. On his
feet were veld-schoen of untanned hide, on his back a battered tin
case was strapped, and in his bony, nervous hand he clasped a long
staff made of the black and white wood the natives call /unzimbiti/,
on the top of which was fixed a butterfly net. Behind him were some
Kaffirs who carried cases on their heads.
I knew him at once, since we had met before, especially on a certain
occasion in Zululand, when he calmly appeared out of the ranks of a
hostile native /impi/. He was one of the strangest characters in all
South Africa. Evidently a gentleman in the true sense of the word,
none knew his history (although I know it now, and a strange story it
is), except that he was an American by birth, for in this matter at
times his speech betrayed him. Also he was a doctor by profession, and
to judge from his extraordinary skill, one who must have seen much
practice both in medicine and in surgery. For the rest he had means,
though where they came from was a mystery, and for many years past had
wandered about South and Eastern Africa, collecting butterflies and
By the natives, and I might add by white people also, he was
universally supposed to be mad. This reputation, coupled with his
medical skill, enabled him to travel wherever he would without the
slightest fear of molestation, since the Kaffirs look upon the mad as
inspired by God. Their name for him was "Dogeetah," a ludicrous
corruption of the English word "doctor," whereas white folk called him
indifferently "Brother John," "Uncle Jonathan," or "Saint John." The
second appellation he got from his extraordinary likeness (when
cleaned up and nicely dressed) to the figure by which the great
American nation is typified in comic papers, as England is typified by
John Bull. The first and third arose in the well-known goodness of his
character and a taste he was supposed to possess for living on locusts
and wild honey, or their local equivalents. Personally, however, he
preferred to be addressed as "Brother John."
Oh! who can tell the relief with which I saw him; an angel from heaven
could scarcely have been more welcome. As he came I poured out a
second jorum of coffee, and remembering that he liked it sweet, put in
plenty of sugar.
"How do you do, Brother John?" I said, proffering him the coffee.
"Greeting, Brother Allan," he answered--in those days he affected a
kind of old Roman way of speaking, as I imagine it. Then he took the
coffee, put his long finger into it to test the temperature and stir
up the sugar, drank it off as though it were a dose of medicine, and
handed back the tin to be refilled.
"Bug-hunting?" I queried.
He nodded. "That and flowers and observing human nature and the
wonderful works of God. Wandering around generally."
"Where from last?" I asked.
"Those hills nearly twenty miles away. Left them at eight in the
evening; walked all night."
"Why?" I said, looking at him.
"Because it seemed as though someone were calling me. To be plain,
"Oh! you heard about my being here and the trouble?"
"No, heard nothing. Meant to strike out for the coast this morning.
Just as I was turning in, at 8.5 exactly, got your message and
started. That's all."
"My message----" I began, then stopped, and asking to see his watch,
compared it with mine. Oddly enough, they showed the same time to
within two minutes.
"It is a strange thing," I said slowly, "but at 8.5 last night I did
try to send a message for some help because I thought my mate was
dying," and I jerked my thumb towards the tent. "Only it wasn't to you
or any other man, Brother John. Understand?"
"Quite. Message was expressed on, that's all. Expressed and I guess
registered as well."
I looked at Brother John and Brother John looked at me, but at the
time we made no further remark. The thing was too curious, that is,
unless he lied. But nobody had ever known him to lie. He was a
truthful person, painfully truthful at times. And yet there are people
who do not believe in prayer.
"What is it?" he asked.
"Mauled by leopard. Wounds won't heal, and fever. I don't think he can
"What do you know about it? Let me see him."
Well, he saw him and did wonderful things. That tin box of his was
full of medicines and surgical instruments, which latter he boiled
before he used them. Also he washed his hands till I thought the skin
would come off them, using up more soap than I could spare. First he
gave poor Charlie a dose of something that seemed to kill him; he said
he had that drug from the Kaffirs. Then he opened up those wounds upon
his thigh and cleaned them out and bandaged them with boiled herbs.
Afterwards, when Scroope came to again, he gave him a drink that threw
him into a sweat and took away the fever. The end of it was that in
two days' time his patient sat up and asked for a square meal, and in
a week we were able to begin to carry him to the coast.
"Guess that message of yours saved Brother Scroope's life," said old
John, as he watched him start.
I made no answer. Here I may state, however, that through my own men I
inquired a little as to Brother John's movements at the time of what
he called the message. It seemed that he /had/ arranged to march
towards the coast on the next morning, but that about two hours after
sunset suddenly he ordered them to pack up everything and follow him.
This they did and to their intense disgust those Kaffirs were forced
to trudge all night at the heels of Dogeetah, as they called him.
Indeed, so weary did they become, that had they not been afraid of
being left alone in an unknown country in the darkness, they said they
would have thrown down their loads and refused to go any further.
That is as far as I was able to take the matter, which may be
explained by telepathy, inspiration, instinct, or coincidence. It is
one as to which the reader must form his own opinion.
During our week together in camp and our subsequent journey to Delagoa
Bay and thence by ship to Durban, Brother John and I grew very
intimate, with limitations. Of his past, as I have said, he never
talked, or of the real object of his wanderings which I learned
afterwards, but of his natural history and ethnological (I believe
that is the word) studies he spoke a good deal. As, in my humble way,
I also am an observer of such matters and know something about African
natives and their habits from practical experience, these subjects
Amongst other things, he showed me many of the specimens that he had
collected during his recent journey; insects and beautiful butterflies
neatly pinned into boxes, also a quantity of dried flowers pressed
between sheets of blotting paper, amongst them some which he told me
were orchids. Observing that these attracted me, he asked me if I
would like to see the most wonderful orchid in the whole world. Of
course I said yes, whereon he produced out of one of his cases a flat
package about two feet six square. He undid the grass mats in which it
was wrapped, striped, delicately woven mats such as they make in the
neighbourhood of Zanzibar. Within these was the lid of a packing-case.
Then came more mats and some copies of /The Cape Journal/ spread out
flat. Then sheets of blotting paper, and last of all between two
pieces of cardboard, a flower and one leaf of the plant on which it
Even in its dried state it was a wondrous thing, measuring twenty-four
inches from the tip of one wing or petal to the tip of the other, by
twenty inches from the top of the back sheath to the bottom of the
pouch. The measurement of the back sheath itself I forget, but it must
have been quite a foot across. In colour it was, or had been, bright
golden, but the back sheath was white, barred with lines of black, and
in the exact centre of the pouch was a single black spot shaped like
the head of a great ape. There were the overhanging brows, the deep
recessed eyes, the surly mouth, the massive jaws--everything.
Although at that time I had never seen a gorilla in the flesh, I had
seen a coloured picture of the brute, and if that picture had been
photographed on the flower the likeness could not have been more
"What is it?" I asked, amazed.
"Sir," said Brother John, sometimes he used this formal term when
excited, "it is the most marvellous Cypripedium in the whole earth,
and, sir, I have discovered it. A healthy root of that plant will be
"That's better than gold mining," I said. "Well, have you got the
Brother John shook his head sadly as he answered:
"No such luck."
"How's that as you have the flower?"
"I'll tell you, Allan. For a year past and more I have been collecting
in the district back of Kilwa and found some wonderful things, yes,
wonderful. At last, about three hundred miles inland, I came to a
tribe, or rather, a people, that no white man had ever visited. They
are called the Mazitu, a numerous and warlike people of bastard Zulu
"I have heard of them," I interrupted. "They broke north before the
days of Senzangakona, two hundred years or more ago."
"Well, I could make myself understood among them because they still
talk a corrupt Zulu, as do all the tribes in those parts. At first
they wanted to kill me, but let me go because they thought that I was
mad. Everyone thinks that I am mad, Allan; it is a kind of public
delusion, whereas I think that I am sane and that most other people
"A private delusion," I suggested hurriedly, as I did not wish to
discuss Brother John's sanity. "Well, go on about the Mazitu."
"Later they discovered that I had skill in medicine, and their king,
Bausi, came to me to be treated for a great external tumour. I risked
an operation and cured him. It was anxious work, for if he had died I
should have died too, though that would not have troubled me very
much," and he sighed. "Of course, from that moment I was supposed to
be a great magician. Also Bausi made a blood brotherhood with me,
transfusing some of his blood into my veins and some of mine into his.
I only hope he has not inoculated me with his tumours, which are
congenital. So I became Bausi and Bausi became me. In other words, I
was as much chief of the Mazitu as he was, and shall remain so all my
"That might be useful," I said, reflectively, "but go on."
"I learned that on the western boundary of the Mazitu territory were
great swamps; that beyond these swamps was a lake called Kirua, and
beyond that a large and fertile land supposed to be an island, with a
mountain in its centre. This land is known as Pongo, and so are the
people who live there."
"That is a native name for the gorilla, isn't it?" I asked. "At least
so a fellow who had been on the West Coast told me."
"Indeed, then that's strange, as you will see. Now these Pongo are
supposed to be great magicians, and the god they worship is said to be
a gorilla, which, if you are right, accounts for their name. Or
rather," he went on, "they have two gods. The other is that flower you
see there. Whether the flower with the monkey's head on it was the
first god and suggested the worship of the beast itself, or /vice
versa/, I don't know. Indeed I know very little, just what I was told
by the Mazitu and a man who called himself a Pongo chief, no more."
"What did they say?"
"The Mazitu said that the Pongo people are devils who came by the
secret channels through the reeds in canoes and stole their children
and women, whom they sacrificed to their gods. Sometimes, too, they
made raids upon them at night, 'howling like hyenas.' The men they
killed and the women and children they took away. The Mazitu want to
attack them but cannot do so, because they are not water people and
have no canoes, and therefore are unable to reach the island, if it is
an island. Also they told me about the wonderful flower which grows in
the place where the ape-god lives, and is worshipped like the god.
They had the story of it from some of their people who had been
enslaved and escaped."
"Did you try to get to the island?" I asked.
"Yes, Allan. That is, I went to the edge of the reeds which lie at the
end of a long slope of plain, where the lake begins. Here I stopped
for some time catching butterflies and collecting plants. One night
when I was camped there by myself, for none of my men would remain so
near the Pongo country after sunset, I woke up with a sense that I was
no longer alone. I crept out of my tent and by the light of the moon,
which was setting, for dawn drew near, I saw a man who leant upon the
handle of a very wide-bladed spear which was taller than himself, a
big man over six feet two high, I should say, and broad in proportion.
He wore a long, white cloak reaching from his shoulders almost to the
ground. On his head was a tight-fitting cap with lappets, also white.
In his ears were rings of copper or gold, and on his wrists bracelets
of the same metal. His skin was intensely black, but the features were
not at all negroid. They were prominent and finely-cut, the nose being
sharp and the lips quite thin; indeed of an Arab type. His left hand
was bandaged, and on his face was an expression of great anxiety.
Lastly, he appeared to be about fifty years of age. So still did he
stand that I began to wonder whether he were one of those ghosts which
the Mazitu swore the Pongo wizards send out to haunt their country.
"For a long while we stared at each other, for I was determined that I
would not speak first or show any concern. At last he spoke in a low,
deep voice and in Mazitu, or a language so similar that I found it
easy to understand.
"'Is not your name Dogeetah, O White Lord, and are you not a master of
"'Yes,' I answered, 'but who are you who dare to wake me from my
"'Lord, I am the Kalubi, the Chief of the Pongo, a great man in my own
"'Then why do you come here alone at night, Kalubi, Chief of the
"'Why do /you/ come here alone, White Lord?' he answered evasively.
"'What do you want, anyway?' I asked.
"'O! Dogeetah, I have been hurt, I want you to cure me,' and he looked
at his bandaged hand.
"'Lay down that spear and open your robe that I may see you have no
"He obeyed, throwing the spear to some distance.
"'Now unwrap the hand.'
"He did so. I lit a match, the sight of which seemed to frighten him
greatly, although he asked no questions about it, and by its light
examined the hand. The first joint of the second finger was gone. From
the appearance of the stump which had been cauterized and was tied
tightly with a piece of flexible grass, I judged that it had been
"'What did this?' I asked.
"'Monkey,' he answered, 'poisonous monkey. Cut off the finger, O
Dogeetah, or tomorrow I die.'
"'Why do you not tell your own doctors to cut off the finger, you who
are Kalubi, Chief of the Pongo?'
"'No, no,' he replied, shaking his head. 'They cannot do it. It is not
lawful. And I, I cannot do it, for if the flesh is black the hand must
come off too, and if the flesh is black at the wrist, then the arm
must be cut off.'
"I sat down on my camp stool and reflected. Really I was waiting for
the sun to rise, since it was useless to attempt an operation in that
light. The man, Kalubi, thought that I had refused his petition and
became terribly agitated.
"'Be merciful, White Lord,' he prayed, 'do not let me die. I am afraid
to die. Life is bad, but death is worse. O! If you refuse me, I will
kill myself here before you and then my ghost will haunt you till you
die also of fear and come to join me. What fee do you ask? Gold or
ivory or slaves? Say and I will give it.'
"'Be silent,' I said, for I saw that if he went on thus he would throw
himself into a fever, which might cause the operation to prove fatal.
For the same reason I did not question him about many things I should
have liked to learn. I lit my fire and boiled the instruments--he
thought I was making magic. By the time that everything was ready the
sun was up.
"'Now,' I said, 'let me see how brave you are.'
"Well, Allan, I performed that operation, removing the finger at the
base where it joins the hand, as I thought there might be something in
his story of the poison. Indeed, as I found afterwards on dissection,
and can show you, for I have the thing in spirits, there was, for the
blackness of which he spoke, a kind of mortification, I presume, had
crept almost to the joint, though the flesh beyond was healthy enough.
Certainly that Kalubi was a plucky fellow. He sat like a rock and
never even winced. Indeed, when he saw that the flesh was sound he
uttered a great sigh of relief. After it was all over he turned a
little faint, so I gave him some spirits of wine mixed with water
which revived him.
"'O Lord Dogeetah,' he said, as I was bandaging his hand, 'while I
live I am your slave. Yet, do me one more service. In my land there is
a terrible wild beast, that which bit off my finger. It is a devil; it
kills us and we fear it. I have heard that you white men have magic
weapons which slay with a noise. Come to my land and kill me that wild
beast with your magic weapon. I say, Come, Come, for I am terribly
afraid,' and indeed he looked it.
"'No,' I answered, 'I shed no blood; I kill nothing except
butterflies, and of these only a few. But if you fear this brute why
do you not poison it? You black people have many drugs.'
"'No use, no use,' he replied in a kind of wail. 'The beast knows
poisons, some it swallows and they do not harm it. Others it will not
touch. Moreover, no black man can do it hurt. It is white, and it has
been known from of old that if it dies at all, it must be by the hand
of one who is white.'
"'A very strange animal,' I began, suspiciously, for I felt sure that
he was lying to me. But just at that moment I heard the sound of my
men's voices. They were advancing towards me through the giant grass,
singing as they came, but as yet a long way off. The Kalubi heard it
also and sprang up.
"'I must be gone,' he said. 'None must see me here. What fee, O Lord
of medicine, what fee?'
"'I take no payment for my medicine,' I said. 'Yet--stay. A wonderful
flower grows in your country, does it not? A flower with wings and a
cup beneath. I would have that flower.'
"'Who told you of the Flower?' he asked. 'The Flower is holy. Still, O
White Lord, still for you it shall be risked. Oh, return and bring
with you one who can kill the beast and I will make you rich. Return
and call to the reeds for the Kalubi, and the Kalubi will hear and
come to you.'
"Then he ran to his spear, snatched it from the ground and vanished
among the reeds. That was the last I saw, or am ever likely to see, of
"But, Brother John, you got the flower somehow."
"Yes, Allan. About a week later when I came out of my tent one
morning, there it was standing in a narrow-mouthed, earthenware pot
filled with water. Of course I meant that he was to send me the plant,
roots and all, but I suppose he understood that I wanted a bloom. Or
perhaps he dared not send the plant. Anyhow, it is better than
"Why did you not go into the country and get it for yourself?"
"For several reasons, Allan, of which the best is that it was
impossible. The Mazitu swear that if anyone sees that flower he is put
to death. Indeed, when they found that I had a bloom of it, they
forced me to move to the other side of the country seventy miles away.
So I thought that I would wait till I met with some companions who
would accompany me. Indeed, to be frank, Allan, it occurred to me that
you were the sort of man who would like to interview this wonderful
beast that bites off people's fingers and frightens them to death,"
and Brother John stroked his long, white beard and smiled, adding,
"Odd that we should have met so soon afterwards, isn't it?"
"Did you?" I replied, "now did you indeed? Brother John, people say
all sorts of things about you, but I have come to the conclusion that
there's nothing the matter with your wits."
Again he smiled and stroked his long, white beard.
THE AUCTION ROOM
I do not think that this conversion about the Pongo savages who were
said to worship a Gorilla and a Golden Flower was renewed until we
reached my house at Durban. Thither of course I took Mr. Charles
Scroope, and thither also came Brother John who, as bedroom
accommodation was lacking, pitched his tent in the garden.
One night we sat on the step smoking; Brother John's only concession
to human weakness was that he smoked. He drank no wine or spirits; he
never ate meat unless he was obliged, but I rejoice to say that he
smoked cigars, like most Americans, when he could get them.
"John," said I, "I have been thinking over that yarn of yours and have
come to one or two conclusions."
"What may they be, Allan?"
"The first is that you were a great donkey not to get more out of the
Kalubi when you had the chance."
"Agreed, Allan, but, amongst other things, I am a doctor and the
operation was uppermost in my mind."
"The second is that I believe this Kalubi had charge of the gorilla-
god, as no doubt you've guessed; also that it was the gorilla which
bit off his finger."
"Because I have heard of great monkeys called /sokos/ that live in
Central East Africa which are said to bite off men's toes and fingers.
I have heard too that they are very like gorillas."
"Now you mention it, so have I, Allan. Indeed, once I saw a /soko/,
though some way off, a huge, brown ape which stood on its hind legs
and drummed upon its chest with its fists. I didn't see it for long
because I ran away."
"The third is that this yellow orchid would be worth a great deal of
money if one could dig it up and take it to England."
"I think I told you, Allan, that I valued it at £20,000, so that
conclusion of yours is not original."
"The fourth is that I should like to dig up that orchid and get a
share of the £20,000."
Brother John became intensely interested.
"Ah!" he said, "now we are getting to the point. I have been wondering
how long it would take you to see it, Allan, but if you are slow, you
"The fifth is," I went on, "that such an expedition to succeed would
need a great deal of money, more than you or I could find. Partners
would be wanted, active or sleeping, but partners with cash."
Brother John looked towards the window of the room in which Charlie
Scroope was in bed, for being still weak he went to rest early.
"No," I said, "he's had enough of Africa, and you told me yourself
that it will be two years before he is really strong again. Also
there's a lady in this case. Now listen. I have taken it on myself to
write to that lady, whose address I found out while he didn't know
what he was saying. I have said that he was dying, but that I hoped he
might live. Meanwhile, I added, I thought she would like to know that
he did nothing but rave of her; also that he was a hero, with a big H
twice underlined. My word! I did lay it on about the hero business
with a spoon, a real hotel gravy spoon. If Charlie Scroope knows
himself again when he sees my description of him, well, I'm a
Dutchman, that's all. The letter caught the last mail and will, I
hope, reach the lady in due course. Now listen again. Scroope wants me
to go to England with him to look after him on the voyage--that's what
he says. What he means is that he hopes I might put in a word for him
with the lady, if I should chance to be introduced to her. He offers
to pay all my expenses and to give me something for my loss of time.
So, as I haven't seen England since I was three years old, I think
I'll take the chance."
Brother John's face fell. "Then how about the expedition, Allan?" he
"This is the first of November," I answered, "and the wet season in
those parts begins about now and lasts till April. So it would be no
use trying to visit your Pongo friends till then, which gives me
plenty of time to go to England and come out again. If you'll trust
that flower to me I'll take it with me. Perhaps I might be able to
find someone who would be willing to put down money on the chance of
getting the plant on which it grew. Meanwhile, you are welcome to this
house if you care to stay here."
"Thank you, Allan, but I can't sit still for so many months. I'll go
somewhere and come back." He paused and a dreamy look came into his
dark eyes, then went on, "You see, Brother, it is laid on me to wander
and wander through all this great land until--I know."
"Until you know what?" I asked, sharply.
He pulled himself together with a jerk, as it were, and answered with
a kind of forced carelessness.
"Until I know every inch of it, of course. There are lots of tribes I
have not yet visited."
"Including the Pongo," I said. "By the way, if I can get the money
together for a trip up there, I suppose you mean to come too, don't
you? If not, the thing's off so far as I am concerned. You see, I am
reckoning on you to get us through the Mazitu and into Pongo-land by
the help of your friends."
"Certainly I mean to come. In fact, if you don't go, I shall start
alone. I intend to explore Pongo-land even if I never come out of it
Once more I looked at him as I answered:
"You are ready to risk a great deal for a flower, John. Or are you
looking for more than a flower? If so, I hope you will tell me the
This I said as I was aware that Brother John had a foolish objection
to uttering, or even acting lies.
"Well, Allan, as you put it like that, the truth is that I heard
something more about the Pongo than I told you up country. It was
after I had operated on that Kalubi, or I would have tried to get in
alone. But this I could not do then as I have said."
"And what did you hear?"
"I heard that they had a white goddess as well as a white god."
"Well, what of it? A female gorilla, I suppose."
"Nothing, except that goddesses have always interested me. Good
"You are an odd old fish," I remarked after him, "and what is more you
have got something up your sleeve. Well, I'll have it down one day.
Meanwhile, I wonder whether the whole thing is a lie, no; not a lie,
an hallucination. It can't be--because of that orchid. No one can
explain away the orchid. A queer people, these Pongo, with their white
god and goddess and their Holy Flower. But after all Africa is a land
of queer people, and of queer gods too."
And now the story shifts away to England. (Don't be afraid, my
adventurous reader, if ever I have one, it is coming back to Africa
again in a very few pages.)
Mr. Charles Scroope and I left Durban a day or two after my last
conversation with Brother John. At Cape Town we caught the mail, a
wretched little boat you would think it now, which after a long and
wearisome journey at length landed us safe at Plymouth. Our companions
on that voyage were very dull. I have forgotten most of them, but one
lady I do remember. I imagine that she must have commenced life as a
barmaid, for she had the orthodox tow hair and blowsy appearance. At
any rate, she was the wife of a wine-merchant who had made a fortune
at the Cape. Unhappily, however, she had contracted too great a liking
for her husband's wares, and after dinner was apt to become talkative.
For some reason or other she took a particular aversion to me. Oh! I
can see her now, seated in that saloon with the oil lamp swinging over
her head (she always chose the position under the oil lamp because it
showed off her diamonds). And I can hear her too. "Don't bring any of
your elephant-hunting manners here, Mr. Allan" (with an emphasis on
the Allan) "Quatermain, they are not fit for polite society. You
should go and brush your hair, Mr. Quatermain." (I may explain that my
hair sticks up naturally.)
Then would come her little husband's horrified "Hush! hush! you are
quite insulting, my dear."
Oh! why do I remember it all after so many years when I have even
forgotten the people's names? One of those little things that stick in
the mind, I suppose. The Island of Ascension, where we called, sticks
also with its long swinging rollers breaking in white foam, its bare
mountain peak capped with green, and the turtles in the ponds. Those
poor turtles. We brought two of them home, and I used to look at them
lying on their backs in the forecastle flapping their fins feebly. One
of them died, and I got the butcher to save me the shell. Afterwards I
gave it as a wedding present to Mr. and Mrs. Scroope, nicely polished
and lined. I meant it for a work-basket, and was overwhelmed with
confusion when some silly lady said at the marriage, and in the
hearing of the bride and bridegroom, that it was the most beautiful
cradle she had ever seen. Of course, like a fool, I tried to explain,
whereon everybody tittered.
But why do I write of such trifles that have nothing to do with my
I mentioned that I had ventured to send a letter to Miss Margaret
Manners about Mr. Charles Scroope, in which I said incidentally that
if the hero should happen to live I should probably bring him home by
the next mail. Well, we got into Plymouth about eight o'clock in the
morning, on a mild, November day, and shortly afterwards a tug arrived
to take off the passengers and mails; also some cargo. I, being an
early riser, watched it come and saw upon the deck a stout lady
wrapped in furs, and by her side a very pretty, fair-haired young
woman clad in a neat serge dress and a pork-pie hat. Presently a
steward told me that someone wished to speak to me in the saloon. I
went and found these two standing side by side.
"I believe you are Mr. Allan Quatermain," said the stout lady. "Where
is Mr. Scroope whom I understand you have brought home? Tell me at
Something about her appearance and fierce manner of address alarmed me
so much that I could only answer feebly:
"Below, madam, below."
"There, my dear," said the stout lady to her companion, "I warned you
to be prepared for the worst. Bear up; do not make a scene before all
these people. The ways of Providence are just and inscrutable. It is
your own temper that was to blame. You should never have sent the poor
man off to these heathen countries."
Then, turning to me, she added sharply: "I suppose he is embalmed; we
should like to bury him in Essex."
"Embalmed!" I gasped. "Embalmed! Why, the man is in his bath, or was a
few minutes ago."
In another second that pretty young lady who had been addressed was
weeping with her head upon my shoulder.
"Margaret!" exclaimed her companion (she was a kind of heavy aunt), "I
told you not to make a scene in public. Mr. Quatermain, as Mr. Scroope
is alive, would you ask him to be so good as to come here."
Well, I fetched him, half-shaved, and the rest of the business may be
imagined. It is a very fine thing to be a hero with a big H.
Henceforth (thanks to me) that was Charlie Scroope's lot in life. He
has grandchildren now, and they all think him a hero. What is more, he
does not contradict them. I went down to the lady's place in Essex, a
fine property with a beautiful old house. On the night I arrived there
was a dinner-party of twenty-four people. I had to make a speech about
Charlie Scroope and the leopard. I think it was a good speech. At any
rate everybody cheered, including the servants, who had gathered at
the back of the big hall.
I remember that to complete the story I introduced several other
leopards, a mother and two three-part-grown cubs, also a wounded
buffalo, and told how Mr. Scroope finished them off one after the
other with a hunting knife. The thing was to watch his face as the
history proceeded. Luckily he was sitting next to me and I could kick
him under the table. It was all very amusing, and very happy also, for
these two really loved each other. Thank God that I, or rather Brother
John, was able to bring them together again.
It was during that stay of mine in Essex, by the way, that I first met
Lord Ragnall and the beautiful Miss Holmes with whom I was destined to
experience some very strange adventures in the after years.
After this interlude I got to work. Someone told me that there was a
firm in the City that made a business of selling orchids by auction,
flowers which at this time were beginning to be very fashionable among
rich horticulturists. This, thought I, would be the place for me to
show my treasure. Doubtless Messrs. May and Primrose--that was their
world-famed style--would be able to put me in touch with opulent
orchidists who would not mind venturing a couple of thousands on the
chance of receiving a share in a flower that, according to Brother
John, should be worth untold gold. At any rate, I would try.
So on a certain Friday, about half-past twelve, I sought out the place
of business of Messrs. May and Primrose, bearing with me the golden
Cypripedium, which was now enclosed in a flat tin case.
As it happened I chose an unlucky day and hour, for on arriving at the
office and asking for Mr. May, I was informed that he was away in the
"Then I would like to see Mr. Primrose," I said.
"Mr. Primrose is round at the Rooms selling," replied the clerk, who
appeared to be very busy.
"Where are the Rooms?" I asked.
"Out of the door, turn to the left, turn to the left again and under
the clock," said the clerk, and closed the shutter.
So disgusted was I with his rudeness that I nearly gave up the
enterprise. Thinking better of it, however, I followed the directions
given, and in a minute or two found myself in a narrow passage that
led to a large room. To one who had never seen anything of the sort
before, this room offered a curious sight. The first thing I observed
was a notice on the wall to the effect that customers were not allowed
to smoke pipes. I thought to myself that orchids must be curious
flowers if they could distinguish between the smoke of a cigar and a
pipe, and stepped into the room. To my left was a long table covered
with pots of the most beautiful flowers that I had ever seen; all of
them orchids. Along the wall and opposite were other tables closely
packed with withered roots which I concluded were also those of
orchids. To my inexperienced eye the whole lot did not look worth five
shillings, for they seemed to be dead.
At the head of the room stood the rostrum, where sat a gentleman with
an extremely charming face. He was engaged in selling by auction so
rapidly that the clerk at his side must have had difficulty in keeping
a record of the lots and their purchasers. In front of him was a
horseshoe table, round which sat buyers. The end of this table was
left unoccupied so that the porters might exhibit each lot before it
was put up for sale. Standing under the rostrum was yet another table,
a small one, upon which were about twenty pots of flowers, even more
wonderful than those on the large table. A notice stated that these
would be sold at one-thirty precisely. All about the room stood knots
of men (such ladies as were present sat at the table), many of whom
had lovely orchids in their buttonholes. These, I found out
afterwards, were dealers and amateurs. They were a kindly-faced set of
people, and I took a liking to them.
The whole place was quaint and pleasant, especially by contrast with
the horrible London fog outside. Squeezing my small person into a
corner where I was in nobody's way, I watched the proceedings for a
while. Suddenly an agreeable voice at my side asked me if I would like
a look at the catalogue. I glanced at the speaker, and in a sense fell
in love with him at once--as I have explained before, I am one of
those to whom a first impression means a great deal. He was not very
tall, though strong-looking and well-made enough. He was not very
handsome, though none so ill-favoured. He was just an ordinary fair
young Englishman, four or five-and-twenty years of age, with merry
blue eyes and one of the pleasantest expressions that I ever saw. At
once I felt that he was a sympathetic soul and full of the milk of
human kindness. He was dressed in a rough tweed suit rather worn, with
the orchid that seemed to be the badge of all this tribe in his
buttonhole. Somehow the costume suited his rather pink and white
complexion and rumpled fair hair, which I could see as he was sitting
on his cloth hat.
"Thank you, no," I answered, "I did not come here to buy. I know
nothing about orchids," I added by way of explanation, "except a few I
have seen growing in Africa, and this one," and I tapped the tin case
which I held under my arm.
"Indeed," he said. "I should like to hear about the African orchids.
What is it you have in the case, a plant or flowers?"
"One flower only. It is not mine. A friend in Africa asked me to--
well, that is a long story which might not interest you."
"I'm not sure. I suppose it must be a Cymbidium scape from the size."
I shook my head. "That's not the name my friend mentioned. He called
it a Cypripedium."
The young man began to grow curious. "One Cypripedium in all that
large case? It must be a big flower."
"Yes, my friend said it is the biggest ever found. It measures twenty-
four inches across the wings, petals I think he called them, and about
a foot across the back part."
"Twenty-four inches across the petals and a foot across the dorsal
sepal!" said the young man in a kind of gasp, "and a Cypripedium! Sir,
surely you are joking?"
"Sir," I answered indignantly, "I am doing nothing of the sort. Your
remark is tantamount to telling me that I am speaking a falsehood.
But, of course, for all I know, the thing may be some other kind of
"Let me see it. In the name of the goddess Flora let me see it!"
I began to undo the case. Indeed it was already half-open when two
other gentlemen, who had either overheard some of our conversation or
noted my companion's excited look, edged up to us. I observed that
they also wore orchids in their buttonholes.
"Hullo! Somers," said one of them in a tone of false geniality, "what
have you got there?"
"What has your friend got there?" asked the other.
"Nothing," replied the young man who had been addressed as Somers,
"nothing at all; that is--only a case of tropical butterflies."
"Oh! butterflies," said No. 1 and sauntered away. But No. 2, a keen-
looking person with the eye of a hawk, was not so easily satisfied.
"Let us see these butterflies," he said to me.
"You can't," ejaculated the young man. "My friend is afraid lest the
damp should injure their colours. Ain't you, Brown?"
"Yes, I am, Somers," I replied, taking his cue and shutting the tin
case with a snap.
Then the hawk-eyed person departed, also grumbling, for that story
about the damp stuck in his throat.
"Orchidist!" whispered the young man. "Dreadful people, orchidists, so
jealous. Very rich, too, both of them. Mr. Brown--I hope that is your
name, though I admit the chances are against it."
"They are," I replied, "my name is Allan Quatermain."
"Ah! much better than Brown. Well, Mr. Allan Quatermain, there's a
private room in this place to which I have admittance. Would you mind
coming with that----" here the hawk-eyed gentleman strolled past
again, "that case of butterflies?"
"With pleasure," I answered, and followed him out of the auction
chamber down some steps through the door to the left, and ultimately
into a little cupboard-like room lined with shelves full of books and
He closed the door and locked it.
"Now," he said in a tone of the villain in a novel who at last has
come face to face with the virtuous heroine, "now we are alone. Mr.
Quatermain, let me see--those butterflies."
I placed the case on a deal table which stood under a skylight in the
room. I opened it; I removed the cover of wadding, and there, pressed
between two sheets of glass and quite uninjured after all its
journeyings, appeared the golden flower, glorious even in death, and
by its side the broad green leaf.
The young gentleman called Somers looked at it till I thought his eyes
would really start out of his head. He turned away muttering something
and looked again.
"Oh! Heavens," he said at last, "oh! Heavens, is it possible that such
a thing can exist in this imperfect world? You haven't faked it, Mr.
Half--I mean Quatermain, have you?"
"Sir," I said, "for the second time you are making insinuations. Good
morning," and I began to shut up the case.
"Don't be offhanded," he exclaimed. "Pity the weaknesses of a poor
sinner. You don't understand. If only you understood, you would
"No," I said, "I am bothered if I do."
"Well, you will when you begin to collect orchids. I'm not mad,
really, except perhaps on this point, Mr. Quatermain,"--this in a low
and thrilling voice--"that marvellous Cypripedium--your friend is
right, it is a Cypripedium--is worth a gold mine."
"From my experience of gold mines I can well believe that," I said
tartly, and, I may add, prophetically.
"Oh! I mean a gold mine in the figurative and colloquial sense, not as
the investor knows it," he answered. "That is, the plant on which it
grew is priceless. Where is the plant, Mr. Quatermain?"
"In a rather indefinite locality in Africa east by south," I replied.
"I can't place it to within three hundred miles."
"That's vague, Mr. Quatermain. I have no right to ask it, seeing that
you know nothing of me, but I assure you I am respectable, and in
short, would you mind telling me the story of this flower?"
"I don't think I should," I replied, a little doubtfully. Then, after
another good look at him, suppressing all names and exact localities,
I gave him the outline of the tale, explaining that I wanted to find
someone who would finance an expedition to the remote and romantic
spot where this particular Cypripedium was believed to grow.
Just as I finished my narrative, and before he had time to comment on
it, there came a violent knocking at the door.
"Mr. Stephen," said a voice, "are you there, Mr. Stephen?"
"By Jove! that's Briggs," exclaimed the young man. "Briggs is my
father's manager. Shut up the case, Mr. Quatermain. Come in, Briggs,"
he went on, unlocking the door slowly. "What is it?"
"It is a good deal," replied a thin and agitated person who thrust
himself through the opening door. "Your father, I mean Sir Alexander,
has come to the office unexpectedly and is in a nice taking because he
didn't find you there, sir. When he discovered that you had gone to
the orchid sale he grew furious, sir, furious, and sent me to fetch
"Did he?" replied Mr. Somers in an easy and unruffled tone. "Well,
tell Sir Alexander I am coming at once. Now please go, Briggs, and
tell him I am coming at once."
Briggs departed not too willingly.
"I must leave you, Mr. Quatermain," said Mr. Somers as he shut the
door behind him. "But will you promise me not to show that flower to
anyone until I return? I'll be back within half an hour."
"Yes, Mr. Somers. I'll wait half an hour for you in the sale room, and
I promise that no one shall see that flower till you return."
"Thank you. You are a good fellow, and I promise you shall lose
nothing by your kindness if I can help it."
We went together into the sale room, where some thought suddenly
struck Mr. Somers.
"By Jove!" he said, "I nearly forgot about that Odontoglossum. Where's
Woodden? Oh! come here, Woodden, I want to speak to you."
The person called Woodden obeyed. He was a man of about fifty,
indefinite in colouring, for his eyes were very light-blue or grey and
his hair was sandy, tough-looking and strongly made, with big hands
that showed signs of work, for the palms were horny and the nails worn
down. He was clad in a suit of shiny black, such as folk of the
labouring class wear at a funeral. I made up my mind at once that he
was a gardener.
"Woodden," said Mr. Somers, "this gentleman here has got the most
wonderful orchid in the whole world. Keep your eye on him and see that
he isn't robbed. There are people in this room, Mr. Quatermain, who
would murder you and throw your body into the Thames for that flower,"
he added, darkly.
On receipt of this information Woodden rocked a little on his feet as
though he felt the premonitory movements of an earthquake. It was a
habit of his whenever anything astonished him. Then, fixing his pale
eye upon me in a way which showed that my appearance surprised him, he
pulled a lock of his sandy hair with his thumb and finger and said:
"'Servant, sir, and where might this horchid be?"
I pointed to the tin case.
"Yes, it's there," went on Mr. Somers, "and that's what you've got to
watch. Mr. Quatermain, if anyone attempts to rob you, call for Woodden
and he will knock them down. He's my gardener, you know, and entirely
to be trusted, especially if it is a matter of knocking anyone down."
"Aye, I'll knock him down surely," said Woodden, doubling his great
fist and looking round him with a suspicious eye.
"Now listen, Woodden. Have you looked at that Odontoglossum Pavo, and
if so, what do you think of it?" and he nodded towards a plant which
stood in the centre of the little group that was placed on the small
table beneath the auctioneer's desk. It bore a spray of the most
lovely white flowers. On the top petal (if it is a petal), and also on
the lip of each of these rounded flowers was a blotch or spot of which
the general effect was similar to the iridescent eye on the tail
feathers of a peacock, whence, I suppose, the flower was named "Pavo,"
"Yes, master, and I think it the beautifullest thing that ever I saw.
There isn't a 'glossum in England like that there 'glossum Paving," he
added with conviction, and rocked again as he said the word. "But
there's plenty after it. I say they're a-smelling round that blossom
like, like--dawgs round a rat hole. And" (this triumphantly) "they
don't do that for nothing."
"Quite so, Woodden, you have got a logical mind. But, look here, we
must have that 'Pavo' whatever it costs. Now the Governor has sent for
me. I'll be back presently, but I might be detained. If so, you've got
to bid on my behalf, for I daren't trust any of these agents. Here's
your authority," and he scribbled on a card, "Woodden, my gardener,
has directions to bid for me.--S.S." "Now, Woodden," he went on, when
he had given the card to an attendant who passed it up to the
auctioneer, "don't you make a fool of yourself and let that 'Pavo'
slip through your fingers."
In another instant he was gone.
"What did the master say, sir?" asked Woodden of me. "That I was to
get that there 'Paving' whatever it cost?"
"Yes," I said, "that's what he said. I suppose it will fetch a good
"Maybe, sir, can't tell. All I know is that I've got to buy it as you
can bear me witness. Master, he ain't one to be crossed for money.
What he wants, he'll have, that is if it be in the orchid line."
"I suppose you are fond of orchids, too, Mr. Woodden?"
"Fond of them, sir? Why, I loves 'em!" (Here he rocked.) "Don't feel
for nothing else in the same way; not even for my old woman" (then
with a burst of enthusiasm) "no, not even for the master himself, and
I'm fond enough of him, God knows! But, begging your pardon, sir"
(with a pull at his forelock), "would you mind holding that tin of
yours a little tighter? I've got to keep an eye on that as well as on
'O. Paving,' and I just see'd that chap with the tall hat alooking at
After this we separated. I retired into my corner, while Woodden took
his stand by the table, with one eye fixed on what he called the "O.
Paving" and the other on me and my tin case.
An odd fish truly, I thought to myself. Positive, the old woman;
Comparative, his master; Superlative, the orchid tribe. Those were his
degrees of affection. Honest and brave and a good fellow though, I
The sale languished. There were so many lots of one particular sort of
dried orchid that buyers could not be found for them at a reasonable
price, and many had to be bought in. At length the genial Mr. Primrose
in the rostrum addressed the audience.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I quite understand that you didn't come here
to-day to buy a rather poor lot of Cattleya Mossię. You came to buy,
or to bid for, or to see sold the most wonderful Odontoglossum that
has ever been flowered in this country, the property of a famous firm
of importers whom I congratulate upon their good fortune in having
obtained such a gem. Gentlemen, this miraculous flower ought to adorn
a royal greenhouse. But there it is, to be taken away by whoever will
pay the most for it, for I am directed to see that it will be sold
without reserve. Now, I think," he added, running his eye over the
company, "that most of our great collectors are represented in this
room to-day. It is true that I do not see that spirited and liberal
young orchidist, Mr. Somers, but he has left his worthy head-gardener,
Mr. Woodden, than whom there is no finer judge of an orchid in
England" (here Woodden rocked violently) "to bid for him, as I hope,
for the glorious flower of which I have been speaking. Now, as it is
exactly half-past one, we will proceed to business. Smith, hand the
'Odontoglossum Pavo' round, that everyone may inspect its beauties,
and be careful you don't let it fall. Gentlemen, I must ask you not to
touch it or to defile its purity with tobacco smoke. Eight perfect
flowers in bloom, gentlemen, and four--no, five more to open. A strong
plant in perfect health, six pseudo-bulbs with leaves, and three
without. Two black leads which I am advised can be separated off at
the proper time. Now, what bids for the 'Odontoglossum Pavo.' Ah! I
wonder who will have the honour of becoming the owner of this perfect,
this unmatched production of Nature. Thank you, sir--three hundred.
Four. Five. Six. Seven in three places. Eight. Nine. Ten. Oh!
gentlemen, let us get on a little faster. Thank you, sir--fifteen.
Sixteen. It is against you, Mr Woodden. Ah! thank you, seventeen."
There came a pause in the fierce race for "O. Pavo," which I occupied
in reducing seventeen hundred shillings to pounds sterling.
My word! I thought to myself, £85 is a goodish price to pay for one
plant, however rare. Woodden is acting up to his instructions with a
The pleading voice of Mr. Primrose broke in upon my meditations.
"Gentlemen, gentlemen!" he said, "surely you are not going to allow
the most wondrous production of the floral world, on which I repeat
there is no reserve, to be knocked down at this miserable figure.
Come, come. Well, if I must, I must, though after such a disgrace I
shall get no sleep to-night. One," and his hammer fell for the first
time. "Think, gentlemen, upon my position, think what the eminent
owners, who with their usual delicacy have stayed away, will say to me
when I am obliged to tell them the disgraceful truth. Two," and his
hammer fell a second time. "Smith, hold up that flower. Let the
company see it. Let them know what they are losing."
Smith held up the flower at which everybody glared. The little ivory
hammer circled round Mr. Primrose's head. It was about to fall, when a
quiet man with a long beard who hitherto had not joined in the
bidding, lifted his head and said softly:
"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Primrose, "I thought so. I thought that the owner
of the greatest collection in England would not see this treasure slip
from his grasp without a struggle. Against you, Mr. Woodden."
"Nineteen, sir," said Woodden in a stony voice.
"Two thousand," echoed the gentleman with the long beard.
"Twenty-one hundred," said Woodden.
"That's right, Mr. Woodden," cried Mr. Primrose, "you are indeed
representing your principal worthily. I feel sure that you do not mean
to stop for a few miserable pounds."
"Not if I knows it," ejaculated Woodden. "I has my orders and I acts
up to them."
"Twenty-two hundred," said Long-beard.
"Twenty-three," echoed Woodden.
"Oh, damn!" shouted Long-beard and rushed from the room.
"'Odontoglossum Pavo' is going for twenty-three hundred, only twenty-
tree hundred," cried the auctioneer. "Any advance on twenty-three
hundred? What? None? Then I must do my duty. One. Two. For the last
time--no advance? Three. Gone to Mr. Woodden, bidding for his
principal, Mr. Somers."
The hammer fell with a sharp tap, and at this moment my young friend
sauntered into the room.
"Well, Woodden," he said, "have they put the 'Pavo' up yet?"
"It's up and it's down, sir. I've bought him right enough."
"The deuce you have! What did it fetch?"
Woodden scratched his head.
"I don't rightly know, sir, never was good at figures, not having much
book learning, but it's twenty-three something."
"£23? No, it would have brought more than that. By Jingo! it must be
£230. That's pretty stiff, but still, it may be worth it."
At this moment Mr. Primrose, who, leaning over his desk, was engaged
in animated conversation with an excited knot of orchid fanciers,
"Oh! there you are, Mr. Somers," he said. "In the name of all this
company let me congratulate you on having become the owner of the
matchless 'Odontoglossum Pavo' for what, under all the circumstances,
I consider the quite moderate price of £2,300."
Really that young man took it very well. He shivered slightly and
turned a little pale, that is all. Woodden rocked to and fro like a
tree about to fall. I and my tin box collapsed together in the corner.
Yes, I was so surprised that my legs seemed to give way under me.
People began to talk, but above the hum of the conversation I heard
young Somers say in a low voice:
"Woodden, you're a born fool." Also the answer: "That's what my mother
always told me, master, and she ought to know if anyone did. But
what's wrong now? I obeyed orders and bought 'O. Paving.'"
"Yes. Don't bother, my good fellow, it's my fault, not yours. I'm the
born fool. But heavens above! how am I to face this?" Then, recovering
himself, he strolled up to the rostrum and said a few words to the
auctioneer. Mr. Primrose nodded, and I heard him answer:
"Oh, that will be all right, sir, don't bother. We can't expect an
account like this to be settled in a minute. A month hence will do."
Then he went on with the sale.
SIR ALEXANDER AND STEPHEN
It was just at this moment that I saw standing by me a fine-looking,
stout man with a square, grey beard and a handsome, but not very good-
tempered face. He was looking about him as one does who finds himself
in a place to which he is not accustomed.
"Perhaps you could tell me, sir," he said to me, "whether a gentleman
called Mr. Somers is in this room. I am rather short-sighted and there
are a great many people."
"Yes," I answered, "he has just bought the wonderful orchid called
'Odontoglossum Pavo.' That is what they are all talking about."
"Oh, has he? Has he indeed? And pray what did he pay for the article?"
"A huge sum," I answered. "I thought it was two thousand three hundred
shillings, but it appears it was £2,300."
The handsome, elderly gentleman grew very red in the face, so red that
I thought he was going to have a fit. For a few moments he breathed
"A rival collector," I thought to myself, and went on with the story
which, it occurred to me, might interest him.
"You see, the young gentleman was called away to an interview with his
father. I heard him instruct his gardener, a man named Woodden, to buy
the plant at any price."
"At any price! Indeed. Very interesting; continue, sir."
"Well, the gardener bought it, that's all, after tremendous
competition. Look, there he is packing it up. Whether his master meant
him to go as far as he did I rather doubt. But here he comes. If you
The youthful Mr. Somers, looking a little pale and /distrait/,
strolled up apparently to speak to me; his hands were in his pockets
and an unlighted cigar was in his mouth. His eyes fell upon the
elderly gentleman, a sight that caused him to shape his lips as though
to whistle and drop the cigar.
"Hullo, father," he said in his pleasant voice. "I got your message
and have been looking for you, but never thought that I should find
you here. Orchids aren't much in your line, are they?"
"Didn't you, indeed!" replied his parent in a choked voice. "No, I
haven't much use for--this stinking rubbish," and he waved his
umbrella at the beautiful flowers. "But it seems that you have,
Stephen. This little gentlemen here tells me you have just bought a
very fine specimen."
"I must apologize," I broke in, addressing Mr. Somers. "I had not the
slightest idea that this--big gentleman," here the son smiled faintly,
"was your intimate relation."
"Oh! pray don't, Mr. Quatermain. Why should you not speak of what will
be in all the papers. Yes, father, I have bought a very fine specimen,
the finest known, or at least Woodden has on my behalf, while I was
hunting for you, which comes to the same thing."
"Indeed, Stephen, and what did you pay for this flower? I have heard a
figure, but think that there must be some mistake."
"I don't know what you heard, father, but it seems to have been
knocked down to me at £2,300. It's a lot more than I can find, indeed,
and I was going to ask you to lend me the money for the sake of the
family credit, if not for my own. But we can talk about that
"Yes, Stephen, we can talk of that afterwards. In fact, as there is no
time like the present, we will talk of it now. Come to my office. And,
sir" (this was to me) "as you seem to know something of the
circumstances, I will ask you to come also; and you too, Blockhead"
(this was to Woodden, who just then approached with the plant).
Now, of course, I might have refused an invitation conveyed in such a
manner. But, as a matter of fact, I didn't. I wanted to see the thing
out; also to put in a word for young Somers, if I got the chance. So
we all departed from that room, followed by a titter of amusement from
those of the company who had overheard the conversation. In the street
stood a splendid carriage and pair; a powdered footman opened its
door. With a ferocious bow Sir Alexander motioned to me to enter,
which I did, taking one of the back seats as it gave more room for my
tin case. Then came Mr. Stephen, then Woodden bundled in holding the
precious plant in front of him like a wand of office, and last of all,
Sir Alexander, having seen us safe, entered also.
"Where to, sir?" asked the footman.
"Office," he snapped, and we started.
Four disappointed relatives in a funeral coach could not have been
more silent. Our feelings seemed to be too deep for words. Sir
Alexander, however, did make one remark and to me. It was:
"If you will remove the corner of that infernal tin box of yours from
my ribs I shall be obliged to you, sir."
"Your pardon," I exclaimed, and in my efforts to be accommodating,
dropped it on his toe. I will not repeat the remark he made, but I may
explain that he was gouty. His son suddenly became afflicted with a
sense of the absurdity of the situation. He kicked me on the shin, he
even dared to wink, and then began to swell visibly with suppressed
laughter. I was in agony, for if he had exploded I do not know what
would have happened. Fortunately, at this moment the carriage stopped
at the door of a fine office. Without waiting for the footman Mr.
Stephen bundled out and vanished into the building--I suppose to laugh
in safety. Then I descended with the tin case; then, by command,
followed Woodden with the flower, and lastly came Sir Alexander.
"Stop here," he said to the coachman; "I shan't be long. Be so good as
to follow me, Mr. What's-your-name, and you, too, Gardener."
We followed, and found ourselves in a big room luxuriously furnished
in a heavy kind of way. Sir Alexander Somers, I should explain, was an
enormously opulent bullion-broker, whatever a bullion-broker may be.
In this room Mr. Stephen was already established; indeed, he was
seated on the window-sill swinging his leg.
"Now we are alone and comfortable," growled Sir Alexander with
"As the boa-constrictor said to the rabbit in the cage," I remarked.
I did not mean to say it, but I had grown nervous, and the thought
leapt from my lips in words. Again Mr. Stephen began to swell. He
turned his face to the window as though to contemplate the wall
beyond, but I could see his shoulders shaking. A dim light of
intelligence shone in Woodden's pale eyes. About three minutes later
the joke got home. He gurgled something about boa-constrictors and
rabbits and gave a short, loud laugh. As for Sir Alexander, he merely
"I did not catch your remark, sir, would you be so good as to repeat
As I appeared unwilling to accept the invitation, he went on:
"Perhaps, then, you would repeat what you told me in that sale-room?"
"Why should I?" I asked. "I spoke quite clearly and you seemed to
"You are right," replied Sir Alexander; "to waste time is useless." He
wheeled round on Woodden, who was standing near the door still holding
the paper-wrapped plant in front of him. "Now, Blockhead," he shouted,
"tell me why you brought that thing."
Woodden made no answer, only rocked a little. Sir Alexander reiterated
his command. This time Woodden set the plant upon a table and replied:
"If you're aspeaking to me, sir, that baint my name, and what's more,
if you calls me so again, I'll punch your head, whoever you be," and
very deliberately he rolled up the sleeves on his brawny arms, a sight
at which I too began to swell with inward merriment.
"Look here, father," said Mr. Stephen, stepping forward. "What's the
use of all this? The thing's perfectly plain. I did tell Woodden to
buy the plant at any price. What is more I gave him a written
authority which was passed up to the auctioneer. There's no getting
out of it. It is true it never occurred to me that it would go for
anything like £2,300--the odd £300 was more my idea, but Woodden only
obeyed his orders, and ought not to be abused for doing so."
"There's what I call a master worth serving," remarked Woodden.
"Very well, young man," said Sir Alexander, "you have purchased this
article. Will you be so good as to tell me how you propose it should
be paid for."
"I propose, father, that you should pay for it," replied Mr. Stephen
sweetly. "Two thousand three hundred pounds, or ten times that amount,
would not make you appreciably poorer. But if, as is probable, you
take a different view, then I propose to pay for it myself. As you
know a certain sum of money came to me under my mother's will in which
you have only a life interest. I shall raise the amount upon that
If Sir Alexander had been angry before, now he became like a mad bull
in a china shop. He pranced round the room; he used language that
should not pass the lips of any respectable merchant of bullion; in
short, he did everything that a person in his position ought not to
do. When he was tired he rushed to a desk, tore a cheque from a book
and filled it in for a sum of £2,300 to bearer, which cheque he
blotted, crumpled up and literally threw at the head of his son.
"You worthless, idle young scoundrel," he bellowed. "I put you in this
office here that you may learn respectable and orderly habits and in
due course succeed to a very comfortable business. What happens? You
don't take a ha'porth of interest in bullion-broking, a subject of
which I believe you to remain profoundly ignorant. You don't even
spend your money, or rather my money, upon any gentleman-like vice,
such as horse-racing, or cards, or even--well, never mind. No, you
take to flowers, miserable, beastly flowers, things that a cow eats
and clerks grow in back gardens."
"An ancient and Arcadian taste. Adam is supposed to have lived in a
garden," I ventured to interpolate.
"Perhaps you would ask your friend with the stubbly hair to remain
quiet," snorted Sir Alexander. "I was about to add, although for the
sake of my name I meet your debts, that I have had enough of this kind
of thing. I disinherit you, or will do if I live till 4 p.m. when the
lawyer's office shuts, for thank God! there are no entailed estates,
and I dismiss you from the firm. You can go and earn your living in
any way you please, by orchid-hunting if you like." He paused, gasping
"Is that all, father?" asked Mr. Stephen, producing a cigar from his
"No, it isn't, you cold-blooded young beggar. That house you occupy at
Twickenham is mine. You will be good enough to clear out of it; I wish
to take possession."
"I suppose, father, I am entitled to a week's notice like any other
tenant," said Mr. Stephen, lighting the cigar. "In fact," he added,
"if you answer no, I think I shall ask you to apply for an ejection
order. You will understand that I have arrangements to make before
taking a fresh start in life."
"Oh! curse your cheek, you--you--cucumber!" raged the infuriated
merchant prince. Then an inspiration came to him. "You think more of
an ugly flower than of your father, do you? Well, at least I'll put an
end to that," and he made a dash at the plant on the table with the
evident intention of destroying the same.
But the watching Woodden saw. With a kind of lurch he interposed his
big frame between Sir Alexander and the object of his wrath.
"Touch 'O. Paving' and I knocks yer down," he drawled out.
Sir Alexander looked at "O. Paving," then he looked at Woodden's leg-
of-mutton fist, and--changed his mind.
"Curse 'O. Paving,'" he said, "and everyone who has to do with it,"
and swung out of the room, banging the door behind him.
"Well, that's over," said Mr. Stephen gently, as he fanned himself
with a pocket-handkerchief. "Quite exciting while it lasted, wasn't
it, Mr. Quatermain--but I have been there before, so to speak. And now
what do you say to some luncheon? Pym's is close by, and they have
very good oysters. Only I think we'll drive round by the bank and hand
in this cheque. When he's angry my parent is capable of anything. He
might even stop it. Woodden, get off down to Twickenham with 'O.
Pavo.' Keep it warm, for it feels rather like frost. Put it in the
stove for to-night and give it a little, just a little tepid water,
but be careful not to touch the flower. Take a four-wheeled cab, it's
slow but safe, and mind you keep the windows up and don't smoke. I
shall be home for dinner."
Woodden pulled his forelock, seized the pot in his left hand, and
departed with his right fist raised--I suppose in case Sir Alexander
should be waiting for him round the corner.
Then we departed also and, after stopping for a minute at the bank to
pay in the cheque, which I noted, notwithstanding its amount, was
accepted without comment, ate oysters in a place too crowded to allow
"Mr. Quatermain," said my host, "it is obvious that we cannot talk
here, and much less look at that orchid of yours, which I want to
study at leisure. Now, for a week or so at any rate I have a roof over
my head, and in short, will you be my guest for a night or two? I know
nothing about you, and of me you only know that I am the disinherited
son of a father, to whom I have failed to give satisfaction. Still it
is possible that we might pass a few pleasant hours together talking
of flowers and other things; that is, if you have no previous
"I have none," I answered. "I am only a stranger from South Africa
lodging at an hotel. If you will give me time to call for my bag, I
will pass the night at your house with pleasure."
By the aid of Mr. Somers' smart dog-cart, which was waiting at a city
mews, we reached Twickenham while there was still half an hour of
daylight. The house, which was called Verbena Lodge, was small, a
square, red-brick building of the early Georgian period, but the
gardens covered quite an acre of ground and were very beautiful, or
must have been so in summer. Into the greenhouse we did not enter,
because it was too late to see the flowers. Also, just when we came to
them, Woodden arrived in his four-wheeled cab and departed with his
master to see to the housing of "O. Pavo."
Then came dinner, a very pleasant meal. My host had that day been
turned out upon the world, but he did not allow this circumstance to
interfere with his spirits in the least. Also he was evidently
determined to enjoy its good things while they lasted, for his
champagne and port were excellent.
"You see, Mr. Quatermain," he said, "it's just as well we had the row
which has been boiling up for a long while. My respected father has
made so much money that he thinks I should go and do likewise. Now I
don't see it. I like flowers, especially orchids, and I hate bullion-
broking. To me the only decent places in London are that sale-room
where we met and the Horticultural Gardens."
"Yes," I answered rather doubtfully, "but the matter seems a little
serious. Your parent was very emphatic as to his intentions, and after
this kind of thing," and I pointed to the beautiful silver and the
port, "how will you like roughing it in a hard world?"
"Don't think I shall mind a bit; it would be rather a pleasant change.
Also, even if my father doesn't alter his mind, as he may, for he
likes me at bottom because I resemble my dear mother, things ain't so
very bad. I have got some money that she left me, £6,000 or £7,000,
and I'll sell that 'Odontoglossum Pavo' for what it will fetch to Sir
Joshua Tredgold--he was the man with the long beard who you tell me
ran up Woodden to over £2,000--or failing him to someone else. I'll
write about it to-night. I don't think I have any debts to speak of,
for the Governor has been allowing me £3,000 a year, at least that is
my share of the profits paid to me in return for my bullion-broking
labours, and except flowers, I have no expensive tastes. So the devil
take the past, here's to the future and whatever it may bring," and he
polished off the glass of port he held and laughed in his jolly
Really he was a most attractive young man, a little reckless, it is
true, but then recklessness and youth mix well, like brandy and soda.
I echoed the toast and drank off my port, for I like a good glass of
wine when I can get it, as would anyone who has had to live for months
on rotten water, although I admit that agrees with me better than the
"Now, Mr. Quatermain," he went on, "if you have done, light your pipe
and let's go into the other room and study that Cypripedium of yours.
I shan't sleep to-night unless I see it again first. Stop a bit,
though, we'll get hold of that old ass, Woodden, before he turns in."
"Woodden," said his master, when the gardener had arrived, "this
gentleman, Mr. Quatermain, is going to show you an orchid that is ten
times finer than 'O. Pavo!'"
"Beg pardon, sir," answered Woodden, "but if Mr. Quatermain says that,
he lies. It ain't in Nature; it don't bloom nowhere."
I opened the case and revealed the golden Cypripedium. Woodden stared
at it and rocked. Then he stared again and felt his head as though to
make sure it was on his shoulders. Then he gasped.
"Well, if that there flower baint made up, it's a MASTER ONE! If I
could see that there flower ablowing on the plant I'd die happy."
"Woodden, stop talking, and sit down," exclaimed his master. "Yes,
there, where you can look at the flower. Now, Mr. Quatermain, will you
tell us the story of that orchid from beginning to end. Of course
omitting its habitat if you like, for it isn't fair to ask that
secret. Woodden can be trusted to hold his tongue, and so can I."
I remarked that I was sure they could, and for the next half-hour
talked almost without interruption, keeping nothing back and
explaining that I was anxious to find someone who would finance an
expedition to search for this particular plant; as I believed, the
only one of its sort that existed in the world.
"How much will it cost?" asked Mr. Somers.
"I lay it at £2,000," I answered. "You see, we must have plenty of men
and guns and stores, also trade goods and presents."
"I call that cheap. But supposing, Mr. Quatermain, that the expedition
proves successful and the plant is secured, what then?"
"Then I propose that Brother John, who found it and of whom I have
told you, should take one-third of whatever it might sell for, that I
as captain of the expedition should take one-third, and that whoever
finds the necessary money should take the remaining third."
"Good! That's settled."
"What's settled?" I asked.
"Why, that we should divide in the proportions you named, only I
bargain to be allowed to take my whack in kind--I mean in plant, and
to have the first option of purchasing the rest of the plant at
whatever value may be agreed upon."
"But, Mr. Somers, do you mean that you wish to find £2,000 and make
this expedition in person?"
"Of course I do. I thought you understood that. That is, if you will
have me. Your old friend, the lunatic, you and I will together seek
for and find this golden flower. I say that's settled."
On the morrow accordingly, it was settled with the help of a document,
signed in duplicate by both of us.
Before these arrangements were finally concluded, however, I insisted
that Mr. Somers should meet my late companion, Charlie Scroope, when I
was not present, in order that the latter might give him a full and
particular report concerning myself. Apparently the interview was
satisfactory, at least so I judged from the very cordial and even
respectful manner in which young Somers met me after it was over. Also
I thought it my duty to explain to him with much clearness in the
presence of Scroope as a witness, the great dangers of such an
enterprise as that on which he proposed to embark. I told him straight
out that he must be prepared to find his death in it from starvation,
fever, wild beasts or at the hands of savages, while success was quite
problematical and very likely would not be attained.
"/You/ are taking these risks," he said.
"Yes," I answered, "but they are incident to the rough trade I follow,
which is that of a hunter and explorer. Moreover, my youth is past,
and I have gone through experiences and bereavements of which you know
nothing, that cause me to set a very slight value on life. I care
little whether I die or continue in the world for some few added
years. Lastly, the excitement of adventure has become a kind of
necessity for me. I do not think that I could live in England for very
long. Also I'm a fatalist. I believe that when my time comes I must
go, that this hour is foreordained and that nothing I can do will
either hasten or postpone it by one moment. Your circumstances are
different. You are quite young. If you stay here and approach your
father in a proper spirit, I have no doubt but that he will forget all
the rough words he said to you the other day, for which indeed you
know you gave him some provocation. Is it worth while throwing up such
prospects and undertaking such dangers for the chance of finding a
rare flower? I say this to my own disadvantage, since I might find it
hard to discover anyone else who would risk £2,000 upon such a
venture, but I do urge you to weigh my words."
Young Somers looked at me for a little while, then he broke into one
of his hearty laughs and exclaimed, "Whatever else you may be, Mr.
Allan Quatermain, you are a gentleman. No bullion-broker in the City
could have put the matter more fairly in the teeth of his own
"Thank you," I said.
"For the rest," he went on, "I too am tired of England and want to see
the world. It isn't the golden Cypripedium that I seek, although I
should like to win it well enough. That's only a symbol. What I seek
are adventure and romance. Also, like you I am a fatalist. God chose
His own time to send us here, and I presume that He will choose His
own time to take us away again. So I leave the matter of risks to
"Yes, Mr. Somers," I replied rather solemnly. "You may find adventure
and romance, there are plenty of both in Africa. Or you may find a
nameless grave in some fever-haunted swamp. Well, you have chosen, and
I like your spirit."
Still I was so little satisfied about this business, that a week or so
before we sailed, after much consideration, I took it upon myself to
write a letter to Sir Alexander Somers, in which I set forth the whole
matter as clearly as I could, not blinking the dangerous nature of our
undertaking. In conclusion, I asked him whether he thought it wise to
allow his only son to accompany such an expedition, mainly because of
a not very serious quarrel with himself.
As no answer came to this letter I went on with our preparations.
There was money in plenty, since the re-sale of "O. Pavo" to Sir
Joshua Tredgold, at some loss, had been satisfactorily carried out,
which enabled me to invest in all things needful with a cheerful
heart. Never before had I been provided with such an outfit as that
which preceded us to the ship.
At length the day of departure came. We stood on the platform at
Paddington waiting for the Dartmouth train to start, for in those days
the African mail sailed from that port. A minute or two before the
train left, as we were preparing to enter our carriage I caught sight
of a face that I seemed to recognise, the owner of which was evidently
searching for someone in the crowd. It was that of Briggs, Sir
Alexander's clerk, whom I had met in the sale-room.
"Mr. Briggs," I said as he passed me, "are you looking for Mr. Somers?
If so, he is in here."
The clerk jumped into the compartment and handed a letter to Mr.
Somers. Then he emerged again and waited. Somers read the letter and
tore off a blank sheet from the end of it, on which he hastily wrote
some words. He passed it to me to give to Briggs, and I could not help
seeing what was written. It was: "Too late now. God bless you, my dear
father. I hope we may meet again. If not, try to think kindly of your
troublesome and foolish son, Stephen."
In another minute the train had started.
"By the way," he said, as we steamed out of the station, "I have heard
from my father, who enclosed this for you."
I opened the envelope, which was addressed in a bold, round hand that
seemed to me typical of the writer, and read as follows:
"My Dear Sir,--I appreciate the motives which caused you to write
to me and I thank you very heartily for your letter, which shows
me that you are a man of discretion and strict honour. As you
surmise, the expedition on which my son has entered is not one
that commends itself to me as prudent. Of the differences between
him and myself you are aware, for they came to a climax in your
presence. Indeed, I feel that I owe you an apology for having
dragged you into an unpleasant family quarrel. Your letter only
reached me to-day having been forwarded to my place in the country
from my office. I should have at once come to town, but
unfortunately I am laid up with an attack of gout which makes it
impossible for me to stir. Therefore, the only thing I can do is
to write to my son hoping that the letter which I send by a
special messenger will reach him in time and avail to alter his
determination to undertake this journey. Here I may add that
although I have differed and do differ from him on various points,
I still have a deep affection for my son and earnestly desire his
welfare. The prospect of any harm coming to him is one upon which
I cannot bear to dwell.
"Now I am aware that any change of his plans at this eleventh hour
would involve you in serious loss and inconvenience. I beg to
inform you formally, therefore, that in this event I will make
good everything and will in addition write off the £2,000 which I
understand he has invested in your joint venture. It may be,
however, that my son, who has in him a vein of my own obstinacy,
will refuse to change his mind. In that event, under a Higher
Power I can only commend him to your care and beg that you will
look after him as though he were your own child. I can ask and you
can do no more. Tell him to write me as opportunity offers, as
perhaps you will too; also that, although I hate the sight of
them, I will look after the flowers which he has left at the house
"Your obliged servant, ALEXANDER SOMERS."
This letter touched me much, and indeed made me feel very
uncomfortable. Without a word I handed it to my companion, who read it
"Nice of him about the orchids," he said. "My dad has a good heart,
although he lets his temper get the better of him, having had his own
way all his life."
"Well, what will you do?" I asked.
"Go on, of course. I've put my hand to the plough and I am not going
to turn back. I should be a cur if I did, and what's more, whatever he
might say he'd think none the better of me. So please don't try to
persuade me, it would be no good."
For quite a while afterwards young Somers seemed to be comparatively
depressed, a state of mind that in his case was rare indeed. At last,
he studied the wintry landscape through the carriage window and said
nothing. By degrees, however, he recovered, and when we reached
Dartmouth was as cheerful as ever, a mood that I could not altogether
Before we sailed I wrote to Sir Alexander telling him exactly how
things stood, and so I think did his son, though he never showed me
At Durban, just as we were about to start up country, I received an
answer from him, sent by some boat that followed us very closely. In
it he said that he quite understood the position, and whatever
happened would attribute no blame to me, whom he should always regard
with friendly feelings. He told me that, in the event of any
difficulty or want of money, I was to draw on him for whatever might
be required, and that he had advised the African Bank to that effect.
Further, he added, that at least his son had shown grit in this
matter, for which he respected him.
And now for a long while I must bid good-bye to Sir Alexander Somers
and all that has to do with England.
MAVOVO AND HANS
We arrived safely at Durban at the beginning of March and took up our
quarters at my house on the Berea, where I expected that Brother John
would be awaiting us. But no Brother John was to be found. The old,
lame Griqua, Jack, who looked after the place for me and once had been
one of my hunters, said that shortly after I went away in the ship,
Dogeetah, as he called him, had taken his tin box and his net and
walked off inland, he knew not where, leaving, as he declared, no
message or letter behind him. The cases full of butterflies and dried
plants were also gone, but these, I found he had shipped to some port
in America, by a sailing vessel bound for the United States which
chanced to put in at Durban for food and water. As to what had become
of the man himself I could get no clue. He had been seen at Maritzburg
and, according to some Kaffirs whom I knew, afterwards on the borders
of Zululand, where, so far as I could learn, he vanished into space.
This, to say the least of it, was disconcerting, and a question arose
as to what was to be done. Brother John was to have been our guide. He
alone knew the Mazitu people; he alone had visited the borders of the
mysterious Pongo-land, I scarcely felt inclined to attempt to reach
that country without his aid.
When a fortnight had gone by and still there were no signs of him,
Stephen and I held a solemn conference. I pointed out the difficulties
and dangers of the situation to him and suggested that, under the
circumstances, it might be wise to give up this wild orchid-chase and
go elephant-hunting instead in a certain part of Zululand, where in
those days these animals were still abundant.
He was inclined to agree with me, since the prospect of killing
elephants had attractions for him.
"And yet," I said, after reflection, "it's curious, but I never
remember making a successful trip after altering plans at the last
moment, that is, unless one was driven to it."
Back to Full Books