Allan and the Holy Flower
H. Rider Haggard
Part 2 out of 7
"I vote we toss up," said Somers; "it gives Providence a chance. Now
then, heads for the Golden Cyp, and tails for the elephants."
He spun a half-crown into the air. It fell and rolled under a great,
yellow-wood chest full of curiosities that I had collected, which it
took all our united strength to move. We dragged it aside and not
without some excitement, for really a good deal hung upon the chance,
I lit a match and peered into the shadow. There in the dust lay the
"What is it?" I asked of Somers, who was stretched on his stomach on
"Orchid--I mean head," he answered. "Well, that's settled, so we
needn't bother any more."
The next fortnight was a busy time for me. As it happened there was a
schooner in the bay of about one hundred tons burden which belonged to
a Portuguese trader named Delgado, who dealt in goods that he carried
to the various East African ports and Madagascar. He was a villainous-
looking person whom I suspected of having dealings with the slave
traders, who were very numerous and a great power in those days, if
indeed he were not one himself. But as he was going to Kilwa whence we
proposed to start inland, I arranged to make use of him to carry our
party and the baggage. The bargain was not altogether easy to strike
for two reasons. First, he did not appear to be anxious that we should
hunt in the districts at the back of Kilwa, where he assured me there
was no game, and secondly, he said that he wanted to sail at once.
However, I overcame his objections with an argument he could not
resist--namely, money, and in the end he agreed to postpone his
departure for fourteen days.
Then I set about collecting our men, of whom I had made up my mind
there must not be less than twenty. Already I had sent messengers
summoning to Durban from Zululand and the upper districts of Natal
various hunters who had accompanied me on other expeditions. To the
number of a dozen or so they arrived in due course. I have always had
the good fortune to be on the best of terms with my Kaffirs, and where
I went they were ready to go without asking any questions. The man
whom I had selected to be their captain under me was a Zulu of the
name of Mavovo. He was a short fellow, past middle age, with an
enormous chest. His strength was proverbial; indeed, it was said that
he could throw an ox by the horns, and myself I have seen him hold
down the head of a wounded buffalo that had fallen, until I could come
up and shoot it.
When I first knew Mavovo he was a petty chief and witch doctor in
Zululand. Like myself, he had fought for the Prince Umbelazi in the
great battle of the Tugela, a crime which Cetewayo never forgave him.
About a year afterwards he got warning that he had been smelt out as a
wizard and was going to be killed. He fled with two of his wives and a
child. The slayers overtook them before he could reach the Natal
border, and stabbed the elder wife and the child of the second wife.
They were four men, but, made mad by the sight, Mavovo turned on them
and killed them all. Then, with the remaining wife, cut to pieces as
he was, he crept to the river and through it to Natal. Not long after
this wife died also; it was said from grief at the loss of her child.
Mavovo did not marry again, perhaps because he was now a man without
means, for Cetewayo had taken all his cattle; also he was made ugly by
an assegai wound which had cut off his right nostril. Shortly after
the death of his second wife he sought me out and told me he was a
chief without a kraal and wished to become my hunter. So I took him
on, a step which I never had any cause to regret, since although
morose and at times given to the practice of uncanny arts, he was a
most faithful servant and brave as a lion, or rather as a buffalo, for
a lion is not always brave.
Another man whom I did not send for, but who came, was an old
Hottentot named Hans, with whom I had been more or less mixed up all
my life. When I was a boy he was my father's servant in the Cape
Colony and my companion in some of those early wars. Also he shared
some very terrible adventures with me which I have detailed in the
history I have written of my first wife, Marie Marais. For instance,
he and I were the only persons who escaped from the massacre of Retief
and his companions by the Zulu king, Dingaan. In the subsequence
campaigns, including the Battle of the Blood River, he fought at my
side and ultimately received a good share of captured cattle. After
this he retired and set up a native store at a place called Pinetown,
about fifteen miles out of Durban. Here I am afraid he got into bad
ways and took to drink more or less; also to gambling. At any rate, he
lost most of his property, so much of it indeed that he scarcely knew
which way to turn. Thus it happened that one evening when I went out
of the house where I had been making up my accounts, I saw a yellow-
faced white-haired old fellow squatted on the verandah smoking a pipe
made out of a corn-cob.
"Good day, Baas," he said, "here am I, Hans."
"So I see," I answered, rather coldly. "And what are you doing here,
Hans? How can you spare time from your drinking and gambling at
Pinetown to visit me here, Hans, after I have not seen you for three
"Baas, the gambling is finished, because I have nothing more to stake,
and the drinking is done too, because but one bottle of Cape Smoke
makes me feel quite ill next morning. So now I only take water and as
little of that as I can, water and some tobacco to cover up its
"I am glad to hear it, Hans. If my father, the Predikant who baptised
you, were alive now, he would have much to say about your conduct as
indeed I have no doubt he will presently when you have gone into a
hole (i.e., a grave). For there in the hole he will be waiting for
"I know, I know, Baas. I have been thinking of that and it troubles
me. Your reverend father, the Predikant, will be very cross indeed
with me when I join him in the Place of Fires where he sits awaiting
me. So I wish to make my peace with him by dying well, and in your
service, Baas. I hear that the Baas is going on an expedition. I have
come to accompany the Baas."
"To accompany me! Why, you are old, you are not worth five shillings a
month and your /scoff/ (food). You are a shrunken old brandy cask that
will not even hold water."
Hans grinned right across his ugly face.
"Oh! Baas, I am old, but I am clever. All these years I have been
gathering wisdom. I am as full of it as a bee's nest is with honey
when the summer is done. And, Baas, I can stop those leaks in the
"Hans, it is no good, I don't want you. I am going into great danger.
I must have those about me whom I can trust."
"Well, Baas, and who can be better trusted than Hans? Who warned you
of the attack of the Quabies on Maraisfontein, and so saved the life
"Hush!" I said.
"I understand. I will not speak the name. It is holy not to be
mentioned. It is the name of one who stands with the white angels
before God; not to be mentioned by poor drunken Hans. Still, who stood
at your side in that great fight? Ah! it makes me young again to think
of it, when the roof burned; when the door was broken down; when we
met the Quabies on the spears; when you held the pistol to the head of
the Holy One whose name must not be mentioned, the Great One who knew
how to die. Oh! Baas, our lives are twisted up together like the
creeper and the tree, and where you go, there I must go also. Do not
turn me away. I ask no wages, only a bit of food and a handful of
tobacco, and the light of your face and a word now and again of the
memories that belong to both of us. I am still very strong. I can
shoot well--well, Baas, who was it that put it into your mind to aim
at the tails of the vultures on the Hill of Slaughter yonder in
Zululand, and so saved the lives of all the Boer people, and of her
whose holy name must not be mentioned? Baas, you will not turn me
"No," I answered, "you can come. But you will swear by the spirit of
my father, the Predikant, to touch no liquor on this journey."
"I swear by his spirit and by that of the Holy One," and he flung
himself forward on to his knees, took my hand and kissed it. Then he
rose and said in a matter-of-fact tone, "If the Baas can give me two
blankets, I shall thank him, also five shillings to buy some tobacco
and a new knife. Where are the Baas's guns? I must go to oil them. I
beg that the Baas will take with him that little rifle which is named
/Intombi/ (Maiden), the one with which he shot the vultures on the
Hill of Slaughter, the one that killed the geese in the Goose Kloof
when I loaded for him and he won the great match against the Boer whom
Dingaan called Two-faces."
"Good," I said. "Here are the five shillings. You shall have the
blankets and a new gun and all things needful. You will find the guns
in the little back room and with them those of the Baas, my companion,
who also is your master. Go see to them."
At length all was ready, the cases of guns, ammunition, medicines,
presents and food were on board the /Maria/. So were four donkeys that
I had bought in the hope that they would prove useful, either to ride
or as pack beasts. The donkey, be it remembered, and man are the only
animals which are said to be immune from the poisonous effects of the
bite of tsetse fly, except, of course, the wild game. It was our last
night at Durban, a very beautiful night of full moon at the end of
March, for the Portugee Delgado had announced his intention of sailing
on the following afternoon. Stephen Somers and I were seated on the
stoep smoking and talking things over.
"It is a strange thing," I said, "that Brother John should never have
turned up. I know that he was set upon making this expedition, not
only for the sake of the orchid, but also for some other reason of
which he would not speak. I think that the old fellow must be dead."
"Very likely," answered Stephen (we had become intimate and I called
him Stephen now), "a man alone among savages might easily come to
grief and never be heard of again. Hark! What's that?" and he pointed
to some gardenia bushes in the shadow of the house near by, whence
came a sound of something that moved.
"A dog, I expect, or perhaps it is Hans. He curls up in all sorts of
places near to where I may be. Hans, are you there?"
A figure arose from the gardenia bushes.
"/Ja/, I am here, Baas."
"What are you doing, Hans?"
"I am doing what the dog does, Baas--watching my master."
"Good," I answered. Then an idea struck me. "Hans, you have heard of
the white Baas with the long beard whom the Kaffirs call Dogeetah?"
"I have heard of him and once I saw him, a few moons ago passing
through Pinetown. A Kaffir with him told me that he was going over the
Drakensberg to hunt for things that crawl and fly, being quite mad,
"Well, where is he now, Hans? He should have been here to travel with
"Am I a spirit that I can tell the Baas whither a white man has
wandered. Yet, stay. Mavovo may be able to tell. He is a great doctor,
he can see through distance, and even now, this very night his Snake
of divination has entered into him and he is looking into the future,
yonder, behind the house. I saw him form the circle."
I translated what Hans said to Stephen, for he had been talking in
Dutch, then asked him if he would like to see some Kaffir magic.
"Of course," he answered, "but it's all bosh, isn't it?"
"Oh, yes, all bosh, or so most people say," I answered evasively.
"Still, sometimes these /Inyangas/ tell one strange things."
Then, led by Hans, we crept round the house to where there was a five-
foot stone wall at the back of the stable. Beyond this wall, within
the circle of some huts where my Kaffirs lived, was an open space with
an ant-heap floor where they did their cooking. Here, facing us, sat
Mavovo, while in a ring around him were all the hunters who were to
accompany us; also Jack, the lame Griqua, and the two house-boys. In
front of Mavovo burned a number of little wood fires. I counted them
and found that there were fourteen, which, I reflected, was the exact
number of our hunters, plus ourselves. One of the hunters was engaged
in feeding these fires with little bits of stick and handfuls of dried
grass so as to keep them burning brightly. The others sat round
perfectly silent and watched with rapt attention. Mavovo himself
looked like a man who is asleep. He was crouched on his haunches with
his big head resting almost upon his knees. About his middle was a
snake-skin, and round his neck an ornament that appeared to be made of
human teeth. On his right side lay a pile of feathers from the wings
of vultures, and on his left a little heap of silver money--I suppose
the fees paid by the hunters for whom he was divining.
After we had watched him for some while from our shelter behind the
wall he appeared to wake out of his sleep. First he muttered; then he
looked up to the moon and seemed to say a prayer of which I could not
catch the words. Next he shuddered three times convulsively and
exclaimed in a clear voice:
"My Snake has come. It is within me. Now I can hear, now I can see."
Three of the little fires, those immediately in front of him, were
larger than the others. He took up his bundle of vultures' feathers,
selected one with care, held it towards the sky, then passed it
through the flame of the centre one of the three fires, uttering as he
did so, my native name, Macumazana. Withdrawing it from the flame he
examined the charred edges of the feather very carefully, a proceeding
that caused a cold shiver to go down my back, for I knew well that he
was inquiring of his "Spirit" what would be my fate upon this
expedition. How it answered, I cannot tell, for he laid the feather
down and took another, with which he went through the same process.
This time, however, the name he called out was Mwamwazela, which in
its shortened form of Wazela, was the Kaffir appellation that the
natives had given to Stephen Somers. It means a Smile, and no doubt
was selected for him because of his pleasant, smiling countenance.
Having passed it through the right-hand fire of the three, he examined
it and laid it down.
So it went on. One after another he called out the names of the
hunters, beginning with his own as captain; passed the feather which
represented each of them through the particular fire of his destiny,
examined and laid it down. After this he seemed to go to sleep again
for a few minutes, then woke up as a man does from a natural slumber,
yawned and stretched himself.
"Speak," said his audience, with great anxiety. "Have you seen? Have
you heard? What does your Snake tell you of me? Of me? Of me? Of me?"
"I have seen, I have heard," he answered. "My Snake tells me that this
will be a very dangerous journey. Of those who go on it six will die
by the bullet, by the spear or by sickness, and others will be hurt."
"/Ow?/" said one of them, "but which will die and which will come out
safe? Does not your Snake tell you that, O Doctor?"
"Yes, of course my Snake tells me that. But my Snake tells me also to
hold my tongue on the matter, lest some of us should be turned to
cowards. It tells me further that the first who should ask me more,
will be one of those who must die. Now do you ask? Or you? Or you? Or
you? Ask if you will."
Strange to say no one accepted the invitation. Never have I seen a
body of men so indifferent to the future, at least to every
appearance. One and all they seemed to come to the conclusion that so
far as they were concerned it might be left to look after itself.
"My Snake told me something else," went on Mavovo. "It is that if
among this company there is any jackal of a man who, thinking that he
might be one of the six to die, dreams to avoid his fate by deserting,
it will be of no use. For then my Snake will point him out and show me
how to deal with him."
Now with one voice each man present there declared that desertion from
the lord Macumazana was the last thing that could possibly occur to
him. Indeed, I believe that those brave fellows spoke truth. No doubt
they put faith in Mavovo's magic after the fashion of their race.
Still the death he promised was some way off, and each hoped he would
be one of the six to escape. Moreover, the Zulu of those days was too
accustomed to death to fear its terrors over much.
One of them did, however, venture to advance the argument, which
Mavovo treated with proper contempt, that the shillings paid for this
divination should be returned by him to the next heirs of such of them
as happened to decease. Why, he asked, should these pay a shilling in
order to be told that they must die? It seemed unreasonable.
Certainly the Zulu Kaffirs have a queer way of looking at things.
"Hans," I whispered, "is your fire among those that burn yonder?"
"Not so, Baas," he wheezed back into my ear. "Does the Baas think me a
fool? If I must die, I must die; if I am to live, I shall live. Why
then should I pay a shilling to learn what time will declare?
Moreover, yonder Mavovo takes the shillings and frightens everybody,
but tells nobody anything. /I/ call it cheating. But, Baas, do you and
the Baas Wazela have no fear. You did not pay shillings, and therefore
Mavovo, though without doubt he is a great /Inyanga/, cannot really
prophesy concerning you, since his Snake will not work without a fee."
The argument seems remarkably absurd. Yet it must be common, for now
that I come to think of it, no gipsy will tell a "true fortune" unless
her hand is crossed with silver.
"I say, Quatermain," said Stephen idly, "since our friend Mavovo seems
to know so much, ask him what has become of Brother John, as Hans
suggested. Tell me what he says afterwards, for I want to see
So I went through the little gate in the wall in a natural kind of
way, as though I had seen nothing, and appeared to be struck by the
sight of the little fires.
"Well, Mavovo," I said, "are you doing doctor's work? I thought that
it had brought you into enough trouble in Zululand."
"That is so, /Baba/," replied Mavovo, who had a habit of calling me
"father," though he was older than I. "It cost me my chieftainship and
my cattle and my two wives and my son. It made of me a wanderer who is
glad to accompany a certain Macumazana to strange lands where many
things may befall me, yes," he added with meaning, "even the last of
all things. And yet a gift is a gift and must be used. You, /Baba/,
have a gift of shooting and do you cease to shoot? You have a gift of
wandering and can you cease to wander?"
He picked up one of the burnt feathers from the little pile by his
side and looked at it attentively. "Perhaps, /Baba/, you have been
told--my ears are very sharp, and I thought I heard some such words
floating through the air just now--that we poor Kaffir /Inyangas/ can
prophesy nothing true unless we are paid, and perhaps that is a fact
so far as something of the moment is concerned. And yet the Snake in
the /Inyanga/, jumping over the little rock which hides the present
from it, may see the path that winds far and far away through the
valleys, across the streams, up the mountains, till it is lost in the
'heaven above.' Thus on this feather, burnt in my magic fire, I seem
to see something of your future, O my father Macumazana. Far and far
your road runs," and he drew his finger along the feather. "Here is a
journey," and he flicked away a carbonised flake, "here is another,
and another, and another," and he flicked off flake after flake. "Here
is one that is very successful, it leaves you rich; and here is yet
one more, a wonderful journey this in which you see strange things and
meet strange people. Then"--and he blew on the feather in such a
fashion that all the charred filaments (Brother John says that
/laminae/ is the right word for them) fell away from it--"then, there
is nothing left save such a pole as some of my people stick upright on
a grave, the Shaft of Memory they call it. O, my father, you will die
in a distant land, but you will leave a great memory behind you that
will live for hundreds of years, for see how strong is this quill over
which the fire has had no power. With some of these others it is quite
different," he added.
"I daresay," I broke in, "but, Mavovo, be so good as to leave me out
of your magic, for I don't at all want to know what is going to happen
to me. To-day is enough for me without studying next month and next
year. There is a saying in our holy book which runs: 'Sufficient to
the day is its evil.'"
"Quite so, O Macumazana. Also that is a very good saying as some of
those hunters of yours are thinking now. Yet an hour ago they were
forcing their shillings on me that I might tell them of the future.
And /you/, too, want to know something. You did not come through that
gate to quote to me the wisdom of your holy book. What is it, /Baba/?
Be quick, for my Snake is getting very tired. He wishes to go back to
his hole in the world beneath."
"Well, then," I answered in rather a shamefaced fashion, for Mavovo
had an uncanny way of seeing into one's secret motives, "I should like
to know, if you can tell me, which you can't, what has become of the
white man with the long beard whom you black people call Dogeetah? He
should have been here to go on this journey with us; indeed, he was to
be our guide and we cannot find him. Where is he and why is he not
"Have you anything about you that belonged to Dogeetah, Macumazana?"
"No," I answered; "that is, yes," and from my pocket I produced the
stump of pencil that Brother John had given me, which, being
economical, I had saved up ever since. Mavovo took it, and after
considering it carefully as he had done in the case of the feathers,
swept up a pile of ashes with his horny hand from the edge of the
largest of the little fires, that indeed which had represented myself.
These ashes he patted flat. Then he drew on them with the point of the
pencil, tracing what seemed to me to be the rough image of a man, such
as children scratch upon whitewashed walls. When he had finished he
sat up and contemplated his handiwork with all the satisfaction of an
artist. A breeze had risen from the sea and was blowing in little
gusts, so that the fine ashes were disturbed, some of the lines of the
picture being filled in and others altered or enlarged.
For a while Mavovo sat with his eyes shut. Then he opened them,
studied the ashes and what remained of the picture, and taking a
blanket that lay near by, threw it over his own head and over the
ashes. Withdrawing it again presently he cast it aside and pointed to
the picture which was now quite changed. Indeed, in the moonlight, it
looked more like a landscape than anything else.
"All is clear, my father," he said in a matter-of-fact voice. "The
white wanderer, Dogeetah, is not dead. He lives, but he is sick.
Something is the matter with one of his legs so that he cannot walk.
Perhaps a bone is broken or some beast has bitten him. He lies in a
hut such as Kaffirs make, only this hut has a verandah round it like
your stoep, and there are drawings on the wall. The hut is a long way
off, I don't know where."
"Is that all?" I asked, for he paused.
"No, not all. Dogeetah is recovering. He will join us in that country
whither we journey, at a time of trouble. That is all, and the fee is
"You mean one shilling," I suggested.
"No, my father Macumazana. One shilling for simple magic such as
foretelling the fate of common black people. Half-a-crown for very
difficult magic that has to do with white people, magic of which only
great doctors, like me, Mavovo, are the masters."
I gave him the half-crown and said:
"Look here, friend Mavovo, I believe in you as a fighter and a hunter,
but as a magician I think you are a humbug. Indeed, I am so sure of it
that if ever Dogeetah turns up at a time of trouble in that land
whither we are journeying, I will make you a present of that double-
barrelled rifle of mine which you admired so much."
One of his rare smiles appeared upon Mavovo's ugly face.
"Then give it to me now, /Baba/," he said, "for it is already earned.
My Snake cannot lie--especially when the fee is half-a-crown."
I shook my head and declined, politely but with firmness.
"Ah!" said Mavovo, "you white men are very clever and think that you
know everything. But it is not so, for in learning so much that is
new, you have forgotten more that is old. When the Snake that is in
you, Macumazana, dwelt in a black savage like me a thousand thousand
years ago, you could have done and did what I do. But now you can only
mock and say, 'Mavovo the brave in battle, the great hunter, the loyal
man, becomes a liar when he blows the burnt feather, or reads what the
wind writes upon the charmed ashes.'"
"I do not say that you are a liar, Mavovo, I say that you are deceived
by your own imaginings. It is not possible that man can know what is
hidden from man."
"Is it indeed so, O Macumazana, Watcher by Night? Am I, Mavovo, the
pupil of Zikali, the Opener of Roads, the greatest of wizards, indeed
deceived by my own imaginings? And has man no other eyes but those in
his head, that he cannot see what is hidden from man? Well, you say so
and all we black people know that you are very clever, and why should
I, a poor Zulu, be able to see what you cannot see? Yet when to-morrow
one sends you a message from the ship in which we are to sail, begging
you to come fast because there is trouble on the ship, then bethink
you of your words and my words, and whether or no man can see what is
hidden from man in the blackness of the future. Oh! that rifle of
yours is mine already, though you will not give it to me now, you who
think that I am a cheat. Well, my father Macumazana, because you think
I am a cheat, never again will I blow the feather or read what the
wind writes upon the ashes for you or any who eat your food."
Then he rose, saluted me with uplifted right hand, collected his
little pile of money and bag of medicines and marched off to the
On our way round the house we met my old lame caretaker, Jack.
"/Inkoosi/," he said, "the white chief Wazela bade me say that he and
the cook, Sam, have gone to sleep on board the ship to look after the
goods. Sam came up just now and fetched him away; he says he will show
you why to-morrow."
I nodded and passed on, wondering to myself why Stephen had suddenly
determined to stay the night on the /Maria/.
I suppose it must have been two hours after dawn on the following
morning that I was awakened by knocks upon the door and the voice of
Jack saying that Sam, the cook, wanted to speak to me.
Wondering what he could be doing there, as I understood he was
sleeping on the ship, I called out that he was to come in. Now this
Sam, I should say, hailed from the Cape, and was a person of mixed
blood. The original stock, I imagine, was Malay which had been crossed
with Indian coolie. Also, somewhere or other, there was a dash of
white and possibly, but of this I am not sure, a little Hottentot. The
result was a person of few vices and many virtues. Sammy, I may say at
once, was perhaps the biggest coward I ever met. He could not help it,
it was congenital, though, curiously enough, this cowardice of his
never prevented him from rushing into fresh danger. Thus he knew that
the expedition upon which I was engaged would be most hazardous;
remembering his weakness I explained this to him very clearly. Yet
that knowledge did not deter him from imploring that he might be
allowed to accompany me. Perhaps this was because there was some
mutual attachment between us, as in the case of Hans. Once, a good
many years before, I had rescued Sammy from a somewhat serious scrape
by declining to give evidence against him. I need not enter into the
details, but a certain sum of money over which he had control had
disappeared. I will merely say, therefore, that at the time he was
engaged to a coloured lady of very expensive tastes, whom in the end
he never married.
After this, as it chanced, he nursed me through an illness. Hence the
attachment of which I have spoken.
Sammy was the son of a native Christian preacher, and brought up upon
what he called "The Word." He had received an excellent education for
a person of his class, and in addition to many native dialects with
which a varied career had made him acquainted, spoke English
perfectly, though in the most bombastic style. Never would he use a
short word if a long one came to his hand, or rather to his tongue.
For several years of his life he was, I believe, a teacher in a school
at Capetown where coloured persons received their education; his
"department," as he called it, being "English Language and
Wearying of or being dismissed from his employment for some reason
that he never specified, he had drifted up the coast to Zanzibar,
where he turned his linguistic abilities to the study of Arabic and
became the manager or head cook of an hotel. After a few years he lost
this billet, I know not how or why, and appeared at Durban in what he
called a "reversed position." Here it was that we met again, just
before my expedition to Pongo-land.
In manners he was most polite, in disposition most religious; I
believe he was a Baptist by faith, and in appearance a small, brown
dandy of a man of uncertain age, who wore his hair parted in the
middle and, whatever the circumstances, was always tidy in his
I took him on because he was in great distress, an excellent cook, the
best of nurses, and above all for the reason that, as I have said, we
were in a way attached to each other. Also, he always amused me
intensely, which goes for something on a long journey of the sort that
Such in brief was Sammy.
As he entered the room I saw that his clothes were very wet and asked
him at once if it were raining, or whether he had got drunk and been
sleeping in the damp grass.
"No, Mr. Quatermain," he answered, "the morning is extremely fine, and
like the poor Hottentot, Hans, I have abjured the use of intoxicants.
Though we differ on much else, in this matter we agree."
"Then what the deuce is up?" I interrupted, to cut short his flow of
"Sir, there is trouble on the ship" (remembering Mavovo I started at
these words) "where I passed the night in the company of Mr. Somers at
his special request." (It was the other way about really.) "This
morning before the dawn, when he thought that everybody was asleep,
the Portuguese captain and some of his Arabs began to weigh the anchor
quite quietly; also to hoist the sails. But Mr. Somers and I, being
very much awake, came out of the cabin and he sat upon the capstan
with a revolver in his hand, saying--well, sir, I will not repeat what
"No, don't. What happened then?"
"Then, sir, there followed much noise and confusion. The Portugee and
the Arabs threatened Mr. Somers, but he, sir, continued to sit upon
the capstan with the stern courage of a rock in a rushing stream, and
remarked that he would see them all somewhere before they touched it.
After this, sir, I do not know what occurred, since while I watched
from the bulwarks someone knocked me head over heels into the sea and
being fortunately, a good swimmer, I gained the shore and hurried here
to advise you."
"And did you advise anyone else, you idiot?" I asked.
"Yes, sir. As I sped along I communicated to an officer of the port
that there was the devil of a mess upon the /Maria/ which he would do
well to investigate."
By this time I was in my shirt and trousers and shouting to Mavovo and
the others. Soon they arrived, for as the costume of Mavovo and his
company consisted only of a moocha and a blanket, it did not take them
long to dress.
"Mavovo," I began, "there is trouble on the ship----"
"O /Baba/," he interrupted with something resembling a grin, "it is
very strange, but last night I dreamed that I told you----"
"Curse your dreams," I said. "Gather the men and go down--no, that
won't work, there would be murder done. Either it is all over now or
it is all right. Get the hunters ready; I come with them. The luggage
can be fetched afterwards."
Within less than an hour we were at that wharf off which the /Maria/
lay in what one day will be the splendid port of Durban, though in
those times its shipping arrangements were exceedingly primitive. A
strange-looking band we must have been. I, who was completely dressed,
and I trust tidy, marched ahead. Next came Hans in the filthy wide-
awake hat which he usually wore and greasy corduroys and after him the
oleaginous Sammy arrayed in European reach-me-downs, a billy-cock and
a bright blue tie striped with red, garments that would have looked
very smart had it not been for his recent immersion. After him
followed the fierce-looking Mavovo and his squad of hunters, all of
whom wore the "ring" or /isicoco/, as the Zulus call it; that is, a
circle of polished black wax sewn into their short hair. They were a
grim set of fellows, but as, according to a recent law it was not
allowable for them to appear armed in the town, their guns had already
been shipped, while their broad stabbing spears were rolled up in
their sleeping mats, the blades wrapped round with dried grass.
Each of them, however, bore in his hand a large knobkerry of red-wood,
and they marched four by four in martial fashion. It is true that when
we embarked on the big boat to go to the ship much of their warlike
ardour evaporated, since these men, who feared nothing on the land,
were terribly afraid of that unfamiliar element, the water.
We reached the /Maria/, an unimposing kind of tub, and climbed aboard.
On looking aft the first thing that I saw was Stephen seated on the
capstan with a pistol in his hand, as Sammy had said. Near by, leaning
on the bulwark was the villainous-looking Portugee, Delgado,
apparently in the worst of tempers and surrounded by a number of
equally villainous-looking Arab sailors clad in dirty white. In front
was the Captain of the port, a well-known and esteemed gentleman of
the name of Cato, like myself a small man who had gone through many
adventures. Accompanied by some attendants, he was seated on the
after-skylight, smoking, with his eyes fixed upon Stephen and the
"Glad to see you, Quatermain," he said. "There's some row on here, but
I have only just arrived and don't understand Portuguese, and the
gentleman on the capstan won't leave it to explain."
"What's up, Stephen?" I asked, after shaking Mr. Cato by the hand.
"What's up?" replied Somers. "This man," and he pointed to Delgado,
"wanted to sneak out to sea with all our goods, that's all, to say
nothing of me and Sammy, whom, no doubt, he'd have chucked overboard,
as soon as he was out of sight of land. However, Sammy, who knows
Portuguese, overheard his little plans and, as you see, I objected."
Well, Delgado was asked for his version of the affair, and, as I
expected, explained that he only intended to get a little nearer to
the bar and there wait till we arrived. Of course he lied and knew
that we were aware of the fact and that his intention had been to slip
out to sea with all our valuable property, which he would sell after
having murdered or marooned Stephen and the poor cook. But as nothing
could be proved, and we were now in strong enough force to look after
ourselves and our belongings, I did not see the use of pursuing the
argument. So I accepted the explanation with a smile, and asked
everybody to join in a morning nip.
Afterwards Stephen told me that while I was engaged with Mavovo on the
previous night, a message had reached him from Sammy who was on board
the ship in charge of our belongings, saying that he would be glad of
some company. Knowing the cook's nervous nature, fortunately enough he
made up his mind at once to go and sleep upon the /Maria/. In the
morning trouble arose as Sammy had told me. What he did not tell me
was that he was not knocked overboard, as he said, but took to the
water of his own accord, when complications with Delgado appeared
"I understand the position," I said, "and all's well that ends well.
But it's lucky you thought of coming on board to sleep."
After this everything went right. I sent some of the men back in the
charge of Stephen for our remaining effects, which they brought safely
aboard, and in the evening we sailed. Our voyage up to Kilwa was
beautiful, a gentle breeze driving us forward over a sea so calm that
not even Hans, who I think was one of the worst sailors in the world,
or the Zulu hunters were really sick, though as Sammy put it, they
"declined their food."
I think it was on the fifth night of our voyage, or it may have been
the seventh, that we anchored one afternoon off the island of Kilwa,
not very far from the old Portuguese fort. Delgado, with whom we had
little to do during the passage, hoisted some queer sort of signal.
In response a boat came off containing what he called the Port
officials, a band of cut-throat, desperate-looking, black fellows in
charge of a pock-marked, elderly half-breed who was introduced to us
as the Bey Hassan-ben-Mohammed. That Mr. Hassan-ben-Mohammed entirely
disapproved of our presence on the ship, and especially of our
proposed landing at Kilwa, was evident to me from the moment that I
set eyes upon his ill-favoured countenance. After a hurried conference
with Delgado, he came forward and addressed me in Arabic, of which I
could not understand a word. Luckily, however, Sam the cook, who, as I
think I said, was a great linguist, had a fair acquaintance with this
tongue, acquired, it appears, while at the Zanzibar hotel; so, not
trusting Delgado, I called on him to interpret.
"What is he saying, Sammy?" I asked.
He began to talk to Hassan and replied presently:
"Sir, he makes you many compliments. He says that he has heard what a
great man who are from his friend, Delgado, also that you and Mr.
Somers are English, a nation which he adores."
"Does he?" I exclaimed. "I should never have thought it from his
looks. Thank him for his kind remarks and tell him that we are going
to land here and march up country to shoot."
Sammy obeyed, and the conversation went on somewhat as follows:
"With all humility I (i.e. Hassan) request you not to land. This
country is not a fit place for such noble gentlemen. There is nothing
to eat and no head of game has been seen for years. The people in the
interior are savages of the worst sort, whom hunger has driven to take
to cannibalism. I would not have your blood upon my head. I beg of
you, therefore, to go on in this ship to Delagoa Bay, where you will
find a good hotel, or to any other place you may select."
A.Q.: "Might I ask you, noble sir, what is your position at Kilwa,
that you consider yourself responsible for our safety?"
H.: "Honoured English lord, I am a trader here of Portuguese
nationality, but born of an Arab mother of high birth and brought up
among that people. I have gardens on the mainland, tended by my native
servants who are as children to me, where I grow palms and cassava and
ground nuts and plantains and many other kinds of produce. All the
tribes in this district look upon me as their chief and venerated
A.Q.: "Then, noble Hassan, you will be able to pass us through them,
seeing that we are peaceful hunters who wish to harm no one."
(A long consultation between Hassan and Delgado, during which I
ordered Mavovo to bring his Zulus on deck with their guns.)
H.: "Honoured English lord, I cannot allow you to land."
A.Q.: "Noble son of the Prophet, I intend to land with my friend, my
followers, my donkeys and my goods early to-morrow morning. If I can
do so with your leave I shall be glad. If not----" and I glanced at
the fierce group of hunters behind me.
H.: "Honoured English lord, I shall be grieved to use force, but let
me tell you that in my peaceful village ashore I have at least a
hundred men armed with rifles, whereas here I see under twenty."
A.Q., after reflection and a few words with Stephen Somers: "Can you
tell me, noble sir, if from your peaceful village you have yet sighted
the English man-of-war, /Crocodile/; I mean the steamer that is
engaged in watching for the dhows of wicked slavers? A letter from her
captain informed me that he would be in these waters by yesterday.
Perhaps, however, he has been delayed for a day or two."
If I had exploded a bomb at the feet of the excellent Hassan its
effect could scarcely have been more remarkable than that of this
question. He turned--not pale, but a horrible yellow, and exclaimed:
"English man-of-war! /Crocodile/! I thought she had gone to Aden to
refit and would not be back at Zanzibar for four months."
A.Q.: "You have been misinformed, noble Hassan. She will not refit
till October. Shall I read you the letter?" and I produced a piece of
paper from my pocket. "It may be interesting since my friend, the
captain, whom you remember is named Flowers, mentions you in it. He
Hassan waved his hand. "It is enough. I see, honoured lord, that you
are a man of mettle not easily to be turned from your purpose. In the
name of God the Compassionate, land and go wheresoever you like."
A.Q.: "I think that I had almost rather wait until the /Crocodile/
H.: "Land! Land! Captain Delgado, get up the cargo and man your boat.
Mine too is at the service of these lords. You, Captain, will like to
get away by this night's tide. There is still light, Lord Quatermain,
and such hospitality as I can offer is at your service."
A.Q.: "Ah! I knew Bey Hassan, that you were only joking with me when
you said that you wished us to go elsewhere. An excellent jest, truly,
from one whose hospitality is so famous. Well, to fall in with your
wishes, we will come ashore this evening, and if the Captain Delgado
chances to sight the Queen's ship /Crocodile/ before he sails, perhaps
he will be so good as to signal to us with a rocket."
"Certainly, certainly," interrupted Delgado, who up to this time had
pretended that he understood no English, the tongue in which I was
speaking to the interpreter, Sammy.
Then he turned and gave orders to his Arab crew to bring up our
belongings from the hold and to lower the /Maria's/ boat.
Never did I see goods transferred in quicker time. Within half an hour
every one of our packages was off that ship, for Stephen Somers kept a
count of them. Our personal baggage went into the /Maria's/ boat, and
the goods together with the four donkeys which were lowered on to the
top of them, were rumbled pell-mell into the barge-like punt belonging
to Hassan. Here also I was accommodated, with about half of our
people, the rest taking their seats in the smaller boat under the
charge of Stephen.
At length all was ready and we cast off.
"Farewell, Captain," I cried to Delgado. "If you should sight the
At this point Delgado broke into such a torrent of bad language in
Portuguese, Arabic and English that I fear the rest of my remarks
never reached him.
As we rowed shorewards I observed that Hans, who was seated near to me
under the stomach of a jackass, was engaged in sniffing at the sides
and bottom of the barge, as a dog might do, and asked him what he was
"Very odd smell in this boat," he whispered back in Dutch. "It stinks
of Kaffir man, just like the hold of the /Maria/. I think this boat is
used to carry slaves."
"Be quiet," I whispered back, "and stop nosing at those planks." But
to myself I thought, Hans is right, we are in a nest of slave-traders,
and this Hassan is their leader.
We rowed past the island, on which I observed the ruins of an old
Portuguese fort and some long grass-roofed huts, where, I reflected,
the slaves were probably kept until they could be shipped away.
Observing my glance fixed upon these, Hassan hastened to explain,
through Sammy, that they were storehouses in which he dried fish and
hides, and kept goods.
"How interesting!" I answered. "Further south we dry hides in the
Crossing a narrow channel we arrived at a rough jetty where we
disembarked, whence we were led by Hassan not to the village which I
now saw upon our left, but to a pleasant-looking, though dilapidated
house that stood a hundred yards from the shore. Something about the
appearance of this house impressed me with the idea that it was never
built by slavers; the whole look of the place with its verandah and
garden suggested taste and civilisation. Evidently educated people had
designed it and resided here. I glanced about me and saw, amidst a
grove of neglected orange trees that were surrounded with palms of
some age, the ruins of a church. About this there was no doubt, for
there, surmounted by a stone cross, was a little pent-house in which
still hung the bell that once summoned the worshippers to prayer.
"Tell the English lord," said Hassan to Sammy, "that these buildings
were a mission station of the Christians, who abandoned them more than
twenty years ago. When I came here I found them empty."
"Indeed," I answered, "and what were the names of those who dwelt in
"I never heard," said Hassan; "they had been gone a long while when I
Then we went up to the house, and for the next hour and more were
engaged with our baggage which was piled in a heap in what had been
the garden and in unpacking and pitching two tents for the hunters
which I caused to be placed immediately in front of the rooms that
were assigned to us. Those rooms were remarkable in their way. Mine
had evidently been a sitting chamber, as I judged from some such
broken articles of furniture, that appeared to be of American make.
That which Stephen occupied had once served as a sleeping-place, for
the bedstead of iron still remained there. Also there were a hanging
bookcase, now fallen, and some tattered remnants of books. One of
these, that oddly enough was well-preserved, perhaps because the white
ants or other creatures did not like the taste of its morocco binding,
was a Keble's /Christian Year/, on the title-page of which was
written, "To my dearest Elizabeth on her birthday, from her husband."
I took the liberty to put it in my pocket. On the wall, moreover,
still hung the small watercolour picture of a very pretty young woman
with fair hair and blue eyes, in the corner of which picture was
written in the same handwriting as that in the book, "Elizabeth, aged
twenty." This also I annexed, thinking that it might come in useful as
a piece of evidence.
"Looks as if the owners of this place had left it in a hurry,
Quatermain," said Stephen.
"That's it, my boy. Or perhaps they didn't leave; perhaps they stopped
I nodded and said, "I dare say friend Hassan could tell us something
about the matter. Meanwhile as supper isn't ready yet, let us have a
look at that church while it is light."
We walked through the palm and orange grove to where the building
stood finely placed upon a mound. It was well-constructed of a kind of
coral rock, and a glance showed us that it had been gutted by fire;
the discoloured walls told their own tale. The interior was now full
of shrubs and creepers, and an ugly, yellowish snake glided from what
had been the stone altar. Without, the graveyard was enclosed by a
broken wall, only we could see no trace of graves. Near the gateway,
however, was a rough mound.
"If we could dig into that," I said, "I expect we should find the
bones of the people who inhabited this place. Does that suggest
anything to you, Stephen?"
"Nothing, except that they were probably killed."
"You should learn to draw inferences. It is a useful art, especially
in Africa. It suggests to me that, if you are right, the deed was not
done by natives, who would never take the trouble to bury the dead.
Arabs, on the contrary, might do so, especially if there were any
bastard Portuguese among them who called themselves Christians. But
whatever happened must have been a long while ago," and I pointed to a
self-sown hardwood tree growing from the mound which could scarcely
have been less than twenty years old.
We returned to the house to find that our meal was ready. Hassan had
asked us to dine with him, but for obvious reasons I preferred that
Sammy should cook our food and that he should dine with us. He
appeared full of compliments, though I could see hate and suspicion in
his eye, and we fell to on the kid that we had bought from him, for I
did not wish to accept any gifts from this fellow. Our drink was
square-face gin, mixed with water that I sent Hans to fetch with his
own hands from the stream that ran by the house, lest otherwise it
should be drugged.
At first Hassan, like a good Mohammedan, refused to touch any spirits,
but as the meal went on he politely relented upon this point, and I
poured him out a liberal tot. The appetite comes in eating, as the
Frenchman said, and the same thing applies to drinking. So at least it
was in Hassan's case, who probably thought that the quantity swallowed
made no difference to his sin. After the third dose of square-face he
grew quite amiable and talkative. Thinking the opportunity a good one,
I sent for Sammy, and through him told our host that we were anxious
to hire twenty porters to carry our packages. He declared that there
was not such a thing as a porter within a hundred miles, whereon I
gave him some more gin. The end of it was that we struck a bargain, I
forget for how much, he promising to find us twenty good men who were
to stay with us for as long as we wanted them.
Then I asked him about the destruction of the mission station, but
although he was half-drunk, on this point he remained very close. All
he would say was that he had heard that twenty years ago the people
called the Mazitu, who were very fierce, had raided right down to the
coast and killed those who dwelt there, except a white man and his
wife who had fled inland and never been seen again.
"How many of them were buried in that mound by the church?" I asked
"Who told you they were buried there?" he replied, with a start, but
seeing his mistake, went on, "I do not know what you mean. I never
heard of anyone being buried. Sleep well, honoured lords, I must go
and see to the loading of my goods upon the /Maria/." Then rising, he
salaamed and walked, or rather rolled, away.
"So the /Maria/ hasn't sailed after all," I said, and whistled in a
certain fashion. Instantly Hans crept into the room out of the
darkness, for this was my signal to him.
"Hans," I said, "I hear sounds upon that island. Slip down to the
shore and spy out what is happening. No one will see you if you are
"No, Baas," he answered with a grin, "I do not think that anyone will
see Hans if he is careful, especially at night," and he slid away as
quietly as he had come.
Now I went out and spoke to Mavovo, telling him to keep a good watch
and to be sure that every man had his gun ready, as I thought that
these people were slave-traders and might attack us in the night.
In that event, I said, they were to fall back upon the stoep, but not
to fire until I gave the word.
"Good, my father," he answered. "This is a lucky journey; I never
thought there would be hope of war so soon. My Snake forgot to mention
it the other night. Sleep safe, Macumazana. Nothing that walks shall
reach you while we live."
"Don't be so sure," I answered, and we lay down in the bedroom with
our clothes on and our rifles by our sides.
The next thing I remember was someone shaking me by the shoulder. I
thought it was Stephen, who had agreed to keep awake for the first
part of the night and to call me at one in the morning. Indeed, he was
awake, for I could see the glow from the pipe he smoked.
"Baas," whispered the voice of Hans, "I have found out everything.
They are loading the /Maria/ with slaves, taking them in big boats
from the island."
"So," I answered. "But how did you get here? Are the hunters asleep
He chuckled. "No, they are not asleep; they look with all their eyes
and listen with all their ears, yet old Hans passed through them; even
the Baas Somers did not hear him."
"That I didn't," said Stephen; "thought a rat was moving, no more."
I stepped through the place where the door had been on to the stoep.
By the light of the fire which the hunters had lit without I could see
Mavovo sitting wide awake, his gun upon his knees, and beyond him two
sentries. I called him and pointed to Hans.
"See," I said, "what good watchmen you are when one can step over your
heads and enter my room without your knowing it!"
Mavovo looked at the Hottentot and felt his clothes and boots to see
whether they were wet with the night dew.
"/Ow!/" he exclaimed in a surly voice, "I said that nothing which
walks could reach you, Macumazana, but this yellow snake has crawled
between us on his belly. Look at the new mud that stains his
"Yet snakes can bite and kill," answered Hans with a snigger. "Oh! you
Zulus think that you are very brave, and shout and flourish spears and
battleaxes. One poor Hottentot dog is worth a whole impi of you after
all. No, don't try to strike me, Mavovo the warrior, since we both
serve the same master in our separate ways. When it comes to fighting
I will leave the matter to you, but when it is a case of watching or
spying, do you leave it to Hans. Look here, Mavovo," and he opened his
hand in which was a horn snuff-box such as Zulus sometimes carry in
their ears. "To whom does this belong?"
"It is mine," said Mavovo, "and you have stolen it."
"Yes," jeered Hans, "it is yours. Also I stole it from your ear as I
passed you in the dark. Don't you remember that you thought a gnat had
tickled you and hit up at your face?"
"It is true," growled Mavovo, "and you, snake of a Hottentot, are
great in your own low way. Yet next time anything tickles me, I shall
strike, not with my hand, but with a spear."
Then I turned them both out, remarking to Stephen that this was a good
example of the eternal fight between courage and cunning. After this,
as I was sure that Hassan and his friends were too busy to interfere
with us that night, we went to bed and slept the sleep of the just.
When I got up the next morning I found that Stephen Somers had already
risen and gone out, nor did he appear until I was half through my
"Where on earth have you been?" I asked, noting that his clothes were
torn and covered with wet moss.
"Up the tallest of those palm trees, Quatermain. Saw an Arab climbing
one of them with a rope and got another Arab to teach me the trick. It
isn't really difficult, though it looks alarming."
"What in the name of goodness----" I began.
"Oh!" he interrupted, "my ruling passion. Looking through the glasses
I thought I caught sight of an orchid growing near the crown, so went
up. It wasn't an orchid after all, only a mass of yellow pollen. But I
learned something for my pains. Sitting in the top of that palm I saw
the /Maria/ working out from under the lee of the island. Also, far
away, I noted a streak of smoke, and watching it through the glasses,
made out what looked to me uncommonly like a man-of-war steaming
slowly along the coast. In fact, I am sure it was, and English too.
Then the mist came up and I lost sight of them."
"My word!" I said, "that will be the /Crocodile/. What I told our
host, Hassan, was not altogether bunkum. Mr. Cato, the port officer at
Durban, mentioned to me that the /Crocodile/ was expected to call
there within the next fortnight to take in stores after a slave-
hunting cruise down the coast. Now it would be odd if she chanced to
meet the /Maria/ and asked to have a look at her cargo, wouldn't it?"
"Not at all, Quatermain, for unless one or the other of them changes
her course that is just what she must do within the next hour or so,
and I jolly well hope she will. I haven't forgiven that beast,
Delgado, the trick he tried to play on us by slipping away with our
goods, to say nothing of those poor devils of slaves. Pass the coffee,
For the next ten minutes we ate in silence, for Stephen had an
excellent appetite and was hungry after his morning climb.
Just as we finished our meal Hassan appeared, looking even more
villainous than he had done the previous day. I saw also that he was
in a truculent mood, induced perhaps by the headache from which he was
evidently suffering as a result of his potations. Or perhaps the fact
that the /Maria/ had got safe away with the slaves, as he imagined
unobserved by us, was the cause of the change of his demeanour. A
third alternative may have been that he intended to murder us during
the previous night and found no safe opportunity of carrying out his
We saluted him courteously, but without salaaming in reply he asked me
bluntly through Sammy when we intended to be gone, as such "Christian
dogs defiled his house," which he wanted for himself.
I answered, as soon as the twenty bearers whom he had promised us
appeared, but not before.
"You lie," he said. "I never promised you bearers; I have none here."
"Do you mean that you shipped them all away in the /Maria/ with the
slaves last night?" I asked, sweetly.
My reader, have you ever taken note of the appearance and proceedings
of a tom-cat of established age and morose disposition when a little
dog suddenly disturbs it on the prowl? Have you observed how it
contorts itself into arched but unnatural shapes, how it swells
visibly to almost twice its normal size, how its hair stands up and
its eyes flash, and the stream of unmentionable language that proceeds
from its open mouth? If so, you will have a very good idea of the
effect produced upon Hassan by this remark of mine. The fellow looked
as though he were going to burst with rage. He rolled about, his
bloodshot eyes seemed to protrude, he cursed us horribly, he put his
hand upon the hilt of the great knife he wore, and finally he did what
the tom-cat does, he spat.
Now, Stephen was standing with me, looking as cool as a cucumber and
very much amused, and being, as it chanced, a little nearer to Hassan
than I was, received the full benefit of this rude proceeding. My
word! didn't it wake him up. He said something strong, and the next
second flew at the half-breed like a tiger, landing him a beauty
straight upon the nose. Back staggered Hassan, drawing his knife as he
did so, but Stephen's left in the eye caused him to drop it, as he
dropped himself. I pounced upon the knife, and since it was too late
to interfere, for the mischief had been done, let things take their
course and held back the Zulus who had rushed up at the noise.
Hassan rose and, to do him credit, came on like a man, head down. His
great skull caught Stephen, who was the lighter of the two, in the
chest and knocked him over, but before the Arab could follow up the
advantage, he was on his feet again. Then ensued a really glorious
mill. Hassan fought with head and fists and feet, Stephen with fists
alone. Dodging his opponent's rushes, he gave it to him as he passed,
and soon his coolness and silence began to tell. Once he was knocked
over by a hooked one under the jaw, but in the next round he sent the
Arab literally flying head over heels. Oh! how those Zulus cheered,
and I, too, danced with delight. Up Hassan came again, spitting out
several teeth and, adopting new tactics, grabbed Stephen round the
middle. To and fro they swung, the Arab trying to kick the Englishman
with his knees and to bite him also, till the pain reminded him of the
absence of his front teeth. Once he nearly got him down--nearly, but
not quite, for the collar by which he had gripped him (his object was
to strangle) burst and, at that juncture, Hassan's turban fell over
his face, blinding him for a moment.
Then Stephen gripped him round the middle with his left arm and with
his right pommelled him unmercifully till he sank in a sitting
position to the ground and held up his hand in token of surrender.
"The noble English lord has beaten me," he gasped.
"Apologise!" yelled Stephen, picking up a handful of mud, "or I shove
this down your dirty throat."
He seemed to understand. At any rate, he bowed till his forehead
touched the ground, and apologised very thoroughly.
"Now that is over," I said cheerfully to him, "so how about those
"I have no bearers," he answered.
"You dirty liar," I exclaimed; "one of my people has been down to your
village there and says it is full of men."
"Then go and take them for yourself," he replied, viciously, for he
knew that the place was stockaded.
Now I was in a fix. It was all very well to give a slave-dealer the
thrashing he deserved, but if he chose to attack us with his Arabs we
should be in a poor way. Watching me with the eye that was not bunged
up, Hassan guessed my perplexity.
"I have been beaten like a dog," he said, his rage returning to him
with his breath, "but God is compassionate and just, He will avenge in
The words had not left his lips for one second when from somewhere out
at sea there floated the sullen boom of a great gun. At this moment,
too, an Arab rushed up from the shore, crying:
"Where is the Bey Hassan?"
"Here," I said, pointing at him.
The Arab stared until I thought his eyes would drop out, for the Bey
Hassan was indeed a sight to see. Then he gabbled in a frightened
"Captain, an English man-of-war is chasing the /Maria/."
Boom went the great gun for the second time. Hassan said nothing, but
his jaw dropped, and I saw that he had lost exactly three teeth.
"That is the /Crocodile/," I remarked slowly, causing Sammy to
translate, and as I spoke, produced from my inner pocket a Union Jack
which I had placed there after I heard that the ship was sighted.
"Stephen," I went on as I shook it out, "if you have got your wind,
would you mind climbing up that palm tree again and signalling with
this to the /Crocodile/ out at sea?"
"By George! that's a good idea," said Stephen, whose jovial face,
although swollen, was now again wreathed in smiles. "Hans, bring me a
long stick and a bit of string."
But Hassan did not think it at all a good idea.
"English lord," he gasped, "you shall have the bearers. I will go to
"No, you won't," I said, "you will stop here as a hostage. Send that
Hassan uttered some rapid orders and the messenger sped away, this
time towards the stockaded village on the right.
As he went another messenger arrived, who also stared amazedly at the
condition of his chief.
"Bey--if you are the Bey," he said, in a doubtful voice, for by now
the amiable face of Hassan had begun to swell and colour, "with the
telescope we have seen that the English man-of-war has sent a boat and
boarded the /Maria/."
"God is great!" muttered the discomfited Hassan, "and Delgado, who is
a thief and a traitor from his mother's breast, will tell the truth.
The English sons of Satan will land here. All is finished; nothing is
left but flight. Bid the people fly into the bush and take the slaves
--I mean their servants. I will join them."
"No, you won't," I interrupted, through Sammy; "at any rate, not at
present. You will come with us."
The miserable Hassan reflected, then he asked:
"Lord Quatermain" (I remember the title, because it is the nearest I
ever got, or am likely to get, to the peerage), "if I furnish you with
the twenty bearers and accompany you for some days on your journey
inland, will you promise not to signal to your countrymen on the ship
and bring them ashore?"
"What do you think?" I asked of Stephen.
"Oh!" he answered, "I think I'd agree. This scoundrel has had a pretty
good dusting, and if once the /Crocodile/ people land, there'll be an
end of our expedition. As sure as eggs are eggs they will carry us off
to Zanzibar or somewhere to give evidence before a slave court. Also
nothing will be gained, for by the time the sailors get here, all
these rascals will have bolted, except our friend, Hassan. You see it
isn't as though we were sure he would be hung. He'd probably escape
after all. International law, subject of a foreign Power, no direct
proof--that kind of thing, you know."
"Give me a minute or two," I said, and began to reflect very deeply.
Whilst I was thus engaged several things happened. I saw twenty
natives being escorted towards us, doubtless the bearers who had been
promised; also I saw many others, accompanied by other natives, flying
from the village into the bush. Lastly, a third messenger arrived, who
announced that the /Maria/ was sailing away, apparently in charge of a
prize-crew, and that the man-of-war was putting about as though to
accompany her. Evidently she had no intention of effecting a landing
upon what was, nominally at any rate, Portuguese territory. Therefore,
if anything was to be done, we must act at once.
Well, the end of it was that, like a fool, I accepted Stephen's advice
and did nothing, always the easiest course and generally that which
leads to most trouble. Ten minutes afterwards I changed my mind, but
then it was too late; the /Crocodile/ was out of signalling distance.
This was subsequent to a conversation with Hans.
"Baas," said that worthy, in his leery fashion, "I think you have made
a mistake. You forget that these yellow devils in white robes who have
run away will come back again, and that when you return from up
country, they may be waiting for you. Now if the English man-of-war
had destroyed their town, and their slave-sheds, they might have gone
somewhere else. However," he added, as an afterthought, glancing at
the disfigured Hassan, "we have their captain, and of course you mean
to hang him, Baas. Or if you don't like to, leave it to me. I can hang
men very well. Once, when I was young, I helped the executioner at
"Get out," I said, but, nevertheless, I knew that Hans was right.
THE SLAVE ROAD
The twenty bearers having arrived, in charge of five or six Arabs
armed with guns, we went to inspect them, taking Hassan with us, also
the hunters. They were a likely lot of men, though rather thin and
scared-looking, and evidently, as I could see from their physical
appearance and varying methods of dressing the hair, members of
different tribes. Having delivered them, the Arabs, or rather one of
them, entered into excited conversation with Hassan. As Sammy was not
at hand I do not know what was said, although I gathered that they
were contemplating his rescue. If so, they gave up the idea and began
to run away as their companions had done. One of them, however, a
bolder fellow than the rest, turned and fired at me. He missed by some
yards, as I could tell from the sing of the bullet, for these Arabs
are execrable shots. Still his attempt at murder irritated me so much
that I determined he should not go scot-free. I was carrying the
little rifle called "Intombi," that with which, as Hans had reminded
me, I shot the vultures at Dingaan's kraal many years before. Of
course, I could have killed the man, but this I did not wish to do. Or
I could have shot him through the leg, but then we should have had to
nurse him or leave him to die! So I selected his right arm, which was
outstretched as he fled, and at about fifty paces put a bullet through
it just above the elbow.
"There," I said to the Zulus as I saw it double up, "that low fellow
will never shoot at anyone again."
"Pretty, Macumazana, very pretty!" said Mavovo, "but as you can aim so
well, why not have chosen his head? That bullet is half-wasted."
Next I set to work to get into communication with the bearers, who
thought, poor devils, that they had been but sold to a new master.
Here I may explain that they were slaves not meant for exportation,
but men kept to cultivate Hassan's gardens. Fortunately I found that
two of them belonged to the Mazitu people, who it may be remembered
are of the same blood as the Zulus, although they separated from the
parent stock generations ago. These men talked a dialect that I could
understand, though at first not very easily. The foundation of it was
Zulu, but it had become much mixed with the languages of other tribes
whose women the Mazitu had taken to wife.
Also there was a man who could speak some bastard Arabic, sufficiently
well for Sammy to converse with him.
I asked the Mazitus if they knew the way back to their country. They
answered yes, but it was far off, a full month's journey. I told them
that if they would guide us thither, they should receive their freedom
and good pay, adding that if the other men served us well, they also
should be set free when we had done with them. On receiving this
information the poor wretches smiled in a sickly fashion and looked at
Hassan-ben-Mohammed, who glowered at them and us from the box on which
he was seated in charge of Mavovo.
How can we be free while that man lives, their look seemed to say. As
though to confirm their doubts Hassan, who understood or guessed what
was passing, asked by what right we were promising freedom to his
"By right of that," I answered, pointing to the Union Jack which
Stephen still had in his hand. "Also we will pay you for them when we
return, according as they have served us."
"Yes," he muttered, "you will pay me for them when you return, or
perhaps before that, Englishman."
It was three o'clock in the afternoon before we were able to make a
start. There was so much to be arranged that it might have been wiser
to wait till the morrow, had we not determined that if we could help
it nothing would induce us to spend another night in that place.
Blankets were served out to each of the bearers who, poor naked
creatures, seemed quite touched at the gift of them; the loads were
apportioned, having already been packed at Durban in cases such as one
man could carry. The pack saddles were put upon the four donkeys which
proved to be none the worse for their journey, and burdens to a weight
of about 100 lbs. each fixed on them in waterproof hide bags, besides
cooking calabashes and sleeping mats which Hans produced from
somewhere. Probably he stole them out of the deserted village, but as
they were necessary to us I confess I asked no questions. Lastly, six
or eight goats which were wandering about were captured to take with
us for food till we could find game. For these I offered to pay
Hassan, but when I handed him the money he threw it down in a rage, so
I picked it up and put it in my pocket again with a clear conscience.
At length everything was more or less ready, and the question arose as
to what was to be done with Hassan. The Zulus, like Hans, wished to
kill him, as Sammy explained to him in his best Arabic. Then this
murderous fellow showed what a coward he was at heart. He flung
himself upon his knees, he wept, he invoked us in the name of the
Compassionate Allah who, he explained, was after all the same God that
we worshipped, till Mavovo, growing impatient of the noise, threatened
him with his kerry, whereon he became silent. The easy-natured Stephen
was for letting him go, a plan that seemed to have advantages, for
then at least we should be rid of his abominable company. After
reflection, however, I decided that we had better take him along with
us, at any rate for a day or so, to hold as a hostage in case the
Arabs should follow and attack us. At first he refused to stir, but
the assegai of one of the Zulu hunters pressed gently against what
remained of his robe, furnished an argument that he could not resist.
At length we were off. I with the two guides went ahead. Then came the
bearers, then half of the hunters, then the four donkeys in charge of
Hans and Sammy, then Hassan and the rest of the hunters, except
Mavovo, who brought up the rear with Stephen. Needless to say, all our
rifles were loaded, and generally we were prepared for any emergency.
The only path, that which the guides said we must follow, ran by the
seashore for a few hundred yards and then turned inland through
Hassan's village where he lived, for it seemed that the old mission
house was not used by him. As we marched along a little rocky cliff--
it was not more than ten feet high--where a deep-water channel perhaps
fifty yards in breadth separated the mainland from the island whence
the slaves had been loaded on to the /Maria/, some difficulty arose
about the donkeys. One of these slipped its load and another began to
buck and evinced an inclination to leap into the sea with its precious
burden. The rearguard of hunters ran to get hold of it, when suddenly
there was a splash.
The brute's in! I thought to myself, till a shout told me that not the
ass, but Hassan had departed over the cliff's edge. Watching his
opportunity and being, it was clear, a first-rate swimmer, he had
flung himself backwards in the midst of the confusion and falling into
deep water, promptly dived. About twenty yards from the shore he came
up for a moment, then dived again heading for the island. I dare say I
could have potted him through the head with a snap shot, but somehow I
did not like to kill a man swimming for his life as though he were a
hippopotamus or a crocodile. Moreover, the boldness of the manúuvre
appealed to me. So I refrained from firing and called to the others to
As our late host approached the shore of the island I saw Arabs
running down the rocks to help him out of the water. Either they had
not left the place, or had re-occupied it as soon as H.M.S.
/Crocodile/ had vanished with her prize. As it was clear that to
recapture Hassan would involve an attack upon the garrison of the
island which we were in no position to carry out, I gave orders for
the march to be resumed. These, the difficulty with the donkey having
been overcome, were obeyed at once.
It was fortunate that we did not delay, for scarcely had the caravan
got into motion when the Arabs on the island began to fire at us.
Luckily no one was hit, and we were soon round a point and under
cover; also their shooting was as bad as usual. One missile, however,
it was a pot-leg, struck a donkey-load and smashed a bottle of good
brandy and a tin of preserved butter. This made me angry, so motioning
to the others to proceed I took shelter behind a tree and waited till
a torn and dirty turban, which I recognised as that of Hassan, poked
up above a rock. Well, I put a bullet through that turban, for I saw
the thing fly, but unfortunately, not through the head beneath it.
Having left this P.P.C. card on our host, I bolted from the rock and
caught up the others.
Presently we passed round the village; through it I would not go for
fear of an ambuscade. It was quite a big place, enclosed with a strong
fence, but hidden from the sea by a rise in the intervening land. In
the centre was a large eastern-looking house, where doubtless Hassan
dwelt with his harem. After we had gone a little way further, to my
astonishment I saw flames breaking out from the palm-leaf roof of this
house. At the time I could not imagine how this happened, but when, a
day or two later, I observed Hans wearing a pair of large and very
handsome gold pendants in his ears and a gold bracelet on his wrist,
and found that he and one of the hunters were extremely well set up in
the matter of British sovereigns--well, I had my doubts. In due course
the truth came out. He and the hunter, an adventurous spirit, slipped
through a gate in the fence without being observed, ran across the
deserted village to the house, stole the ornaments and money from the
women's apartments and as they departed, fired the place "in exchange
for the bottle of good brandy," as Hans explained.
I was inclined to be angry, but after all, as we had been fired on,
Hans's exploit became an act of war rather than a theft. So I made him
and his companion divide the gold equally with the rest of the
hunters, who no doubt had kept their eyes conveniently shut, not
forgetting Sammy, and said no more. They netted £8 apiece, which
pleased them very much. In addition to this I gave £1 each, or rather
goods to that value, to the bearers as their share of the loot.
Hassan, I remarked, was evidently a great agriculturist, for the
gardens which he worked by slave labour were beautiful, and must have
brought him in a large revenue.
Passing through these gardens we came to sloping land covered with
bush. Here the track was not too good, for the creepers hampered our
progress. Indeed, I was very glad when towards sunset we reached the
crest of a hill and emerged upon a tableland which was almost clear of
trees and rose gradually till it met the horizon. In that bush we
might easily have been attacked, but in this open country I was not so
much afraid, since the loss to the Arabs would have been great before
we were overpowered. As a matter of fact, although spies dogged us for
days no assault was ever attempted.
Finding a convenient place by a stream we camped for the night, but as
it was so fine, did not pitch the tents. Afterwards I was sorry that
we had not gone further from the water, since the mosquitoes bred by
millions in the marshes bordering the stream gave us a dreadful time.
On poor Stephen, fresh from England, they fell with peculiar ferocity,
with the result that in the morning what between the bruises left by
Hassan and their bites, he was a spectacle for men and angels. Another
thing that broke our rest was the necessity of keeping a strict watch
in case the slave-traders should elect to attack us in the hours of
darkness; also to guard against the possibility of our bearers running
away and perhaps stealing the goods. It is true that before they went
to sleep I explained to them very clearly that any of them who
attempted to give us the slip would certainly be seen and shot,
whereas if they remained with us they would be treated with every
kindness. They answered through the two Mazitu that they had nowhere
to go, and did not wish to fall again into the power of Hassan, of
whom they spoke literally with shudders, pointing the while to their
scarred backs and the marks of the slave yokes upon their necks. Their
protestations seemed and indeed proved to be sincere, but of this of
course we could not then be sure.
As I was engaged at sunrise in making certain that the donkeys had not
strayed and generally that all was well, I noted through the thin mist
a little white object, which at first I thought was a small bird
sitting on an upright stick about fifty yards from the camp. I went
towards it and discovered that it was not a bird but a folded piece of
paper stuck in a cleft wand, such as natives often use for the
carrying of letters. I opened the paper and with great difficulty, for
the writing within was bad Portuguese, read as follows:
"English Devils.--Do not think that you have escaped me. I know
where you are going, and if you live through the journey it will
be but to die at my hands after all. I tell you that I have at my
command three hundred brave men armed with guns who worship Allah
and thirst for the blood of Christian dogs. With these I will
follow, and if you fall into my hands alive, you shall learn what
it is to die by fire or pinned over ant-heaps in the sun. Let us
see if your English man-of-war will help you then, or your false
God either. Misfortune go with you, white-skinned robbers of
This pleasing epistle was unsigned, but its anonymous author was not
hard to identify. I showed it to Stephen who was so infuriated at its
contents that he managed to dab some ammonia with which he was
treating his mosquito bites into his eye. When at length the pain was
soothed by bathing, we concocted this answer:
"Murderer, known among men as Hassan-ben-Mohammed--Truly we sinned
in not hanging you when you were in our power. Oh! wolf who grows
fat upon the blood of the innocent, this is a fault that we shall
not commit again. Your death is near to you and we believe at our
hands. Come with all your villains whenever you will. The more
there are of them the better we shall be pleased, who would rather
rid the world of many fiends than of a few,
"Till we meet again, Allan Quatermain,
"Neat, if not Christian," I said when I had read the letter over.
"Yes," replied Stephen, "but perhaps just a little bombastic in tone.
If that gentleman did arrive with three hundred armed men--eh?"
"Then, my boy," I answered, "in this way or in that we shall thrash
him. I don't often have an inspiration, but I've got one now, and it
is to the effect that Mr. Hassan has not very long to live and that we
shall be intimately connected with his end. Wait till you have seen a
slave caravan and you will understand my feelings. Also I know these
gentry. That little prophecy of ours will get upon his nerves and give
him a foretaste of things. Hans, go and set this letter in that cleft
stick. The postman will call for it before long."
As it happened, within a few days we did see a slave caravan, some of
the merchandise of the estimable Hassan.
We had been making good progress through a beautiful and healthy
country, steering almost due west, or rather a little to the north of
west. The land was undulating and rich, well-watered and only bush-
clad in the neighbourhood of the streams, the higher ground being
open, of a park-like character, and dotted here and there with trees.
It was evident that once, and not very long ago, the population had
been dense, for we came to the remains of many villages, or rather
towns with large market-places. Now, however, these were burned with
fire, or deserted, or occupied only by a few old bodies who got a
living from the overgrown gardens. These poor people, who sat desolate
and crooning in the sun, or perhaps worked feebly at the once fertile
fields, would fly screaming at our approach, for to them men armed
with guns must of necessity be slave-traders.
Still from time to time we contrived to catch some of them, and
through one member of our party or the other to get at their stories.
Really it was all one story. The slaving Arabs, on this pretext or on
that, had set tribe against tribe. Then they sided with the stronger
and conquered the weaker by aid of their terrible guns, killing out
the old folk and taking the young men, women and children (except the
infants whom they butchered) to be sold as slaves. It seemed that the
business had begun about twenty years before, when Hassan-ben-Mohammed
and his companions arrived at Kilwa and drove away the missionary who
had built a station there.
At first this trade was extremely easy and profitable, since the raw
material lay near at hand in plenty. By degrees, however, the
neighbouring communities had been worked out. Countless numbers of
them were killed, while the pick of the population passed under the
slave yoke, and those of them who survived, vanished in ships to
unknown lands. Thus it came about that the slavers were obliged to go
further afield and even to conduct their raids upon the borders of the
territory of the great Mazitu people, the inland race of Zulu origin
of whom I have spoken. According to our informants, it was even
rumoured that they proposed shortly to attack these Mazitus in force,
relying on their guns to give them the victory and open to them a new
and almost inexhaustible store of splendid human merchandise.
Meanwhile they were cleaning out certain small tribes which hitherto
had escaped them, owing to the fact that they had their residence in
bush or among difficult hills.
The track we followed was the recognised slave road. Of this we soon
became aware by the numbers of skeletons which we found lying in the
tall grass at its side, some of them with heavy slave-sticks still
upon their wrists. These, I suppose, had died from exhaustion, but
others, as their split skulls showed had been disposed of by their
On the eighth day of our march we struck the track of a slave caravan.
It had been travelling towards the coast, but for some reason or other
had turned back. This may have been because its leaders had been
warned of the approach of our party. Or perhaps they had heard that
another caravan, which was at work in a different district, was
drawing near, bringing its slaves with it, and wished to wait for its
arrival in order that they might join forces.
The spoor of these people was easy to follow. First we found the body
of a boy of about ten. Then vultures revealed to us the remains of two
young men, one of whom had been shot and the other killed by a blow
from an axe. Their corpses were roughly hidden beneath some grass, I
know not why. A mile or two further on we heard a child wailing and
found it by following its cries. It was a little girl of about four
who had been pretty, though now she was but a living skeleton. When
she saw us she scrambled away on all fours like a monkey. Stephen
followed her, while I, sick at heart, went to get a tin of preserved
milk from our stores. Presently I heard him call to me in a horrified
voice. Rather reluctantly, for I knew that he must have found
something dreadful, I pushed my way through the bush to where he was.
There, bound to the trunk of a tree, sat a young woman, evidently the
mother of the child, for it clung to her leg.
Thank God she was still living, though she must have died before
another day dawned. We cut her loose, and the Zulu hunters, who are
kind folk enough when they are not at war, carried her to camp. In the
end with much trouble we saved the lives of that mother and child. I
sent for the two Mazitus, with whom I could by now talk fairly well,
and asked them why the slavers did these things.
They shrugged their shoulders and one of them answered with a rather
"Because, Chief, these Arabs, being black-hearted, kill those who can
walk no more, or tie them up to die. If they let them go they might
recover and escape, and it makes the Arabs sad that those who have
been their slaves should live to be free and happy."
"Does it? Does it indeed?" exclaimed Stephen with a snort of rage that
reminded me of his father. "Well, if ever I get a chance I'll make
them sad with a vengeance."
Stephen was a tender-hearted young man, and for all his soft and
indolent ways, an awkward customer when roused.
Within forty-eight hours he got his chance, thus: That day we camped
early for two reasons. The first was that the woman and child we had
rescued wee so weak they could not walk without rest, and we had no
men to spare to carry them; the second that we came to an ideal spot
to pass the night. It was, as usual, a deserted village through which
ran a beautiful stream of water. Here we took possession of some
outlying huts with a fence round them, and as Mavovo had managed to
shoot a fat eland cow and her half-grown calf, we prepared to have a
regular feast. Whilst Sammy was making some broth for the rescued
woman, and Stephen and I smoked our pipes and watched him, Hans
slipped through the broken gate of the thorn fence, or /boma/, and
announced that Arabs were coming, two lots of them with many slaves.
We ran out to look and saw that, as he had said, two caravans were
approaching, or rather had reached the village, but at some distance
from us, and were now camping on what had once been the market-place.
One of these was that whose track we had followed, although during the
last few hours of our march we had struck away from it, chiefly
because we could not bear such sights as I have described. It seemed
to comprise about two hundred and fifty slaves and over forty guards,
all black men carrying guns, and most of them by their dress Arabs, or
bastard Arabs. In the second caravan, which approached from another
direction, were not more than one hundred slaves and about twenty or
"Now," I said, "let us eat our dinner and then, if you like, we will
go to call upon those gentlemen, just to show that we are not afraid
of them. Hans, get the flag and tie it to the top of that tree; it
will show them to what country we belong."
Up went the Union Jack duly, and presently through our glasses we saw
the slavers running about in a state of excitement; also we saw the
poor slaves turn and stare at the bit of flapping bunting and then
begin to talk to each other. It struck me as possible that someone
among their number had seen a Union Jack in the hands of an English
traveller, or had heard of it as flying upon ships or at points on the
coast, and what it meant to slaves. Or they may have understood some
of the remarks of the Arabs, which no doubt were pointed and
explanatory. At any rate, they turned and stared till the Arabs ran
among them with sjambocks, that is, whips of hippopotamus hide, and
suppressed their animated conversation with many blows.
At first I thought that they would break camp and march away; indeed,
they began to make preparations to do this, then abandoned the idea,
probably because the slaves were exhausted and there was no other
water they could reach before nightfall. In the end they settled down
and lit cooking fires. Also, as I observed, they took precautions
against attack by stationing sentries and forcing the slaves to
construct a /boma/ of thorns about their camp.
"Well," said Stephen, when we had finished our dinner, "are you ready
for that call?"
"No!" I answered, "I do not think that I am. I have been considering
things, and concluded that we had better leave well alone. By this
time those Arabs will know all the story of our dealings with their
worthy master, Hassan, for no doubt he has sent messengers to them.
Therefore, if we go to their camp, they may shoot us at sight. Or, if
they receive us well, they may offer hospitality and poison us, or cut
our throats suddenly. Our position might be better, still it is one
that I believe they would find difficult to take. So, in my opinion,
we had better stop still and await developments."
Stephen grumbled something about my being over-cautious, but I took no
heed of him. One thing I did do, however. Sending for Hans, I told him
to take one of the Mazitu--I dared not risk them both for they were
our guides--and another of the natives whom we had borrowed from
Hassan, a bold fellow who knew all the local languages, and creep down
to the slavers' camp as soon as it was quite dark. There I ordered him
to find out what he could, and if possible to mix with the slaves and
explain that we were their friends. Hans nodded, for this was exactly
the kind of task that appealed to him, and went off to make his
Stephen and I also made some preparations in the way of strengthening
our defences, building large watch-fires and setting sentries.
The night fell, and Hans with his companions departed stealthily as
snakes. The silence was intense, save for the occasional wailings of
the slaves, which now and again broke out in bursts of melancholy
sound, "/La-lu-La-lua!/" and then died away, to be followed by horrid
screams as the Arabs laid their lashes upon some poor wretch. Once
too, a shot was fired.
"They have seen Hans," said Stephen.
"I think not," I answered, "for if so there would have been more than
one shot. Either it was an accident or they were murdering a slave."
After this nothing more happened for a long while, till at length Hans
seemed to rise out of the ground in front of me, and behind him I saw
the figures of the Mazitu and the other man.
"Tell your story," I said.
"Baas, it is this. Between us we have learned everything. The Arabs
know all about you and what men you have. Hassan has sent them orders
to kill you. It is well that you did not go to visit them, for
certainly you would have been murdered. We crept near and overheard
their talk. They purpose to attack us at dawn to-morrow morning unless
we leave this place before, which they will know of as we are being
"And if so, what then?" I asked.
"Then, Baas, they will attack as we are making up the caravan, or
immediately afterwards as we begin to march."
"Indeed. Anything more, Hans?"
"Yes, Baas. These two men crept among the slaves and spoke with them.
They are very sad, those slaves, and many of them have died of heart-
pain because they have been taken from their homes and do not know
where they are going. I saw one die just now; a young woman. She was
talking to another woman and seemed quite well, only tired, till
suddenly she said in a loud voice, 'I am going to die, that I may come
back as a spirit and bewitch these devils till they are spirits too.'
Then she called upon the fetish of her tribe, put her hands to her
breast and fell down dead. At least," added Hans, spitting
reflectively, "she did not fall quite down because the slave-stick
held her head off the ground. The Arabs were very angry, both because
she had cursed them and was dead. One of them came and kicked her body
and afterwards shot her little boy who was sick, because the mother
had cursed them. But fortunately he did not see us, because we were in
the dark far from the fire."
"Anything more, Hans?"
"One thing, Baas. These two men lent the knives you gave them to two
of the boldest among the slaves that they might cut the cords of the
slave-sticks and the other cords with which they were tied, and then
pass them down the lines, that their brothers might do the same. But
perhaps the Arabs will find it out, and then the Mazitu and the other
must lose their knives. That is all. Has the Baas a little tobacco?"
"Now, Stephen," I said when Hans had gone and I had explained
everything, "there are two courses open to us. Either we can try to
give these gentlemen the slip at once, in which case we must leave the
woman and child to their fate, or we can stop where we are and wait to
"I won't run," said Stephen sullenly; "it would be cowardly to desert
that poor creature. Also we should have a worse chance marching.
Remember Hans said that they are watching us."
"Then you would wait to be attacked?"
"Isn't there a third alternative, Quatermain? To attack them?"
"That's the idea," I said. "Let us send for Mavovo."
Presently he came and sat down in front of us, while I set out the
case to him.
"It is the fashion of my people to attack rather than to be attacked,
and yet, my father, in this case my heart is against it. Hans" (he
called him /Inblatu/, a Zulu word which means Spotted Snake, that was
the Hottentot's Kaffir name) "says that there are quite sixty of the
yellow dogs, all armed with guns, whereas we have not more than
fifteen, for we cannot trust the slave men. Also he says that they are
within a strong fence and awake, with spies out, so that it will be
difficult to surprise them. But here, father, we are in a strong fence
and cannot be surprised. Also men who torture and kill women and
children, except in war must, I think, be cowards, and will come on
faintly against good shooting, if indeed they come at all. Therefore,
I say, 'Wait till the buffalo shall either charge or run.' But the
word is with you, Macumazana, wise Watcher-by-Night, not with me, your
hunter. Speak, you who are old in war, and I will obey."
"You argue well," I answered; "also another reason comes to my mind.
Those Arab brutes may get behind the slaves, of whom we should butcher
a lot without hurting them. Stephen, I think we had better see the
thing through here."
"All right, Quatermain. Only I hope that Mavovo is wrong in thinking
that those blackguards may change their minds and run away."
"Really, young man, you are becoming very blood-thirsty--for an orchid
grower," I remarked, looking at him. "Now, for my part, I devoutly
hope that Mavovo is right, for let me tell you, if he isn't it may be
a nasty job."
"I've always been peaceful enough up to the present," replied Stephen.
"But the sight of those unhappy wretches of slaves with their heads
cut open, and of the woman tied to a tree to starve----"
"Make you wish to usurp the functions of God Almighty," I said. "Well,
it is a natural impulse and perhaps, in the circumstances, one that
will not displease Him. And now, as we have made up our minds what we
are going to do, let's get to business so that these Arab gentlemen
may find their breakfast ready when they come to call."
THE RUSH OF THE SLAVES
Well, we did all that we could in the way of making ready. After we
had strengthened the thorn fence of our /boma/ as much as possible and
lit several large fires outside of it to give us light, I allotted his
place to each of the hunters and saw that their rifles were in order
and that they had plenty of ammunition. Then I made Stephen lie down
to sleep, telling him that I would wake him to watch later on. This,
however, I had no intention of doing as I wanted him to rise fresh and
with a steady nerve on the occasion of his first fight.
As soon as I saw that his eyes were shut I sat down on a box to think.
To tell the truth, I was not altogether happy in my mind. To begin
with I did not know how the twenty bearers would behave under fire.
They might be seized with panic and rush about, in which case I
determined to let them out of the /boma/ to take their chance, for
panic is a catching thing.
A worse matter was our rather awkward position. There were a good many
trees round the camp among which an attacking force could take cover.
But what I feared much more than this, or even than the reedy banks of
the stream along which they could creep out of reach of our bullets,
was a sloping stretch of land behind us, covered with thick grass and
scrub and rising to a crest about two hundred yards away. Now if the
Arabs got round to this crest they would fire straight into our /boma/
and make it untenable. Also if the wind were in their favour, they
might burn us out or attack under the clouds of smoke. As a matter of
fact, by the special mercy of Providence, none of these things
happened, for a reason which I will explain presently.
In the case of a night, or rather a dawn attack, I have always found
that hour before the sky begins to lighten very trying indeed. As a
rule everything that can be done is done, so that one must sit idle.
Also it is then that both the physical and the moral qualities are at
their lowest ebb, as is the mercury in the thermometer. The night is
dying, the day is not yet born. All nature feels the influence of that
hour. Then bad dreams come, then infants wake and call, then memories
of those who are lost to us arise, then the hesitating soul often
takes its plunge into the depths of the Unknown. It is not wonderful,
therefore, that on this occasion the wheels of Time drave heavily for
me. I knew that the morning was at hand by many signs. The sleeping
bearers turned and muttered in their sleep, a distant lion ceased its
roaring and departed to its own place, an alert-minded cock crew
somewhere, and our donkeys rose and began to pull at their tether-
ropes. As yet, however, it was quite dark. Hans crept up to me; I saw
his wrinkled, yellow face in the light of the watch-fire.
"I smell the dawn," he said and vanished again.
Mavovo appeared, his massive frame silhouetted against the blackness.
"Watcher-by-Night, the night is done," he said. "If they come at all,
the enemy should soon be here."
Saluting, he too passed away into the dark, and presently I heard the
sounds of spear-blades striking together and of rifles being cocked.
I went to Stephen and woke him. He sat up yawning, muttered something
about greenhouses; then remembering, said:
"Are those Arabs coming? We are in for a fight at last. Jolly, old
fellow, isn't it?"
"You are a jolly old fool!" I answered inconsequently; and marched off
in a rage.
My mind was uneasy about this inexperienced young man. If anything
should happen to him, what should I say to his father? Well, in that
event, it was probable that something would happen to me too. Very
possibly we should both be dead in an hour. Certainly I had no
intention of allowing myself to be taken alive by those slaving
devils. Hassan's remarks about fires and ant-heaps and the sun were
too vividly impressed upon my memory.
In another five minutes everybody was up, though it required kicks to
rouse most of the bearers from their slumbers. They, poor men, were
accustomed to the presence of Death and did not suffer him to disturb
their sleep. Still I noted that they muttered together and seemed
"If they show signs of treachery, you must kill them," I said to
Mavovo, who nodded in his grave, silent fashion.
Only we left the rescued slave-woman and her child plunged in the
stupor of exhaustion in a corner of the camp. What was the use of
Sammy, who seemed far from comfortable, brought two pannikins of
coffee to Stephen and myself.
"This is a momentous occasion, Messrs. Quatermain and Somers," he said
as he gave us the coffee, and I noted that his hand shook and his
teeth chattered. "The cold is extreme," he went on in his copybook
English by way of explaining these physical symptoms which he saw I
had observed. "Mr. Quatermain, it is all very well for you to paw the
ground and smell the battle from afar, as is written in the Book of
Job. But I was not brought up to the trade and take it otherwise.
Indeed I wish I was back at the Cape, yes, even within the whitewashed
walls of the Place of Detention."
"So do I," I muttered, keeping my right foot on the ground with
But Stephen laughed outright and asked:
"What will you do, Sammy, when the fighting begins?"
"Mr. Somers," he answered, "I have employed some wakeful hours in
making a hole behind that tree-trunk, through which I hope bullets
will not pass. There, being a man of peace, I shall pray for our
"And if the Arabs get in, Sammy?"
"Then, sir, under Heaven, I shall trust to the fleetness of my legs."
I could stand it no longer, my right foot flew up and caught Sammy in
the place at which I had aimed. He vanished, casting a reproachful
look behind him.
Just then a terrible clamour arose in the slavers' camp which hitherto
had been very silent, and just then also the first light of dawn
glinted on the barrels of our guns.
"Look out!" I cried, as I gulped down the last of my coffee, "there's
something going on there."
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