Allan and the Holy Flower
H. Rider Haggard
Part 3 out of 7
The clamour grew louder and louder till it seemed to fill the skies
with a concentrated noise of curses and shrieking. Distinct from it,
as it were, I heard shouts of alarm and rage, and then came the sounds
of gunshots, yells of agony and the thud of many running feet. By now
the light was growing fast, as it does when once it comes in these
latitudes. Three more minutes, and through the grey mist of the dawn
we saw dozens of black figures struggling up the slope towards us.
Some seemed to have logs of wood tied behind them, others crawled
along on all fours, others dragged children by the hand, and all
yelled at the top of their voices.
"The slaves are attacking us," said Stephen, lifting his rifle.
"Don't shoot," I cried. "I think they have broken loose and are taking
refuge with us."
I was right. These unfortunates had used the two knives which our men
smuggled to them to good purpose. Having cut their bonds during the
night they were running to seek the protection of the Englishmen and
their flag. On they surged, a hideous mob, the slave-sticks still fast
to the necks of many of them, for they had not found time or
opportunity to loose them all, while behind came the Arabs firing. The
position was clearly very serious, for if they burst into our camp, we
should be overwhelmed by their rush and fall victims to the bullets of
"Hans," I cried, "take the men who were with you last night and try to
lead those slaves round behind us. Quick! Quick now before we are
Hans darted away, and presently I saw him and the two other men
running towards the approaching crowd, Hans waving a shirt or some
other white object to attract their attention. At the time the
foremost of them had halted and were screaming, "Mercy, English! Save
us, English!" having caught sight of the muzzles of our guns.
This was a fortunate occurrence indeed, for otherwise Hans and his
companions could never have stopped them. The next thing I saw was the
white shirt bearing away to the left on a line which led past the
fence of our /boma/ into the scrub and high grass behind the camp.
After it struggled and scrambled the crowd of slaves like a flock of
sheep after the bell-wether. To them Hans's shirt was a kind of "white
helmet of Navarre."
So that danger passed by. Some of the slaves had been struck by the
Arab bullets or trodden down in the rush or collapsed from weakness,
and at those of them who still lived the pursuers were firing. One
woman, who had fallen under the weight of the great slave-stick which
was fastened about her throat, was crawling forward on her hands and
knees. An Arab fired at her and the bullet struck the ground under her
stomach but without hurting her, for she wriggled forward more
quickly. I was sure that he would shoot again, and watched. Presently,
for by now the light was good, I saw him, a tall fellow in a white
robe, step from behind the shelter of a banana-tree about a hundred
and fifty yards away, and take a careful aim at the woman. But I too
took aim and--well, I am not bad at this kind of snap-shooting when I
try. That Arab's gun never went off. Only he went up two feet or more
into the air and fell backwards, shot through the head which was the
part of his person that I had covered.
The hunters uttered a low "/Ow!/" of approval, while Stephen, in a
sort of ecstasy, exclaimed:
"Oh! what a heavenly shot!"
"Not bad, but I shouldn't have fired it," I answered, "for they
haven't attacked us yet. It is a kind of declaration of war, and," I
added, as Stephen's sun-helmet leapt from his head, "there's the
answer. Down, all of you, and fire through the loopholes."
Then the fight began. Except for its grand finale it wasn't really
much of a fight when compared with one or two we had afterwards on
this expedition. But, on the other hand, its character was extremely
awkward for us. The Arabs made one rush at the beginning, shouting on
Allah as they came. But though they were plucky villains they did not
repeat that experiment. Either by good luck or good management Stephen
knocked over two of them with his double-barrelled rifle, and I also
emptied my large-bore breech-loader--the first I ever owned--among
them, not without results, while the hunters made a hit or two.
After this the Arabs took cover, getting behind trees and, as I had
feared, hiding in the reeds on the banks of the stream. Thence they
harassed us a great deal, for amongst them were some very decent
shots. Indeed, had we not taken the precaution of lining the thorn
fence with a thick bank of earth and sods, we should have fared badly.
As it was, one of the hunters was killed, the bullet passing through
the loophole and striking him in the throat as he was about to fire,
while the unfortunate bearers who were on rather higher ground,
suffered a good deal, two of them being dispatched outright and four
wounded. After this I made the rest of them lie flat on the ground
close against the fence, in such a fashion that we could fire over
Soon it became evident that there were more of these Arabs than we had
thought, for quite fifty of them were firing from different places.
Moreover, by slow degrees they were advancing with the evident object
of outflanking us and gaining the high ground behind. Some of them, of
course, we stopped as they rushed from cover to cover, but this kind
of shooting was as difficult as that at bolting rabbits across a
woodland ride, and to be honest, I must say that I alone was much good
at the game, for here my quick eye and long practice told.
Within an hour the position had grown very serious indeed, so much so
that we found it necessary to consider what should be done. I pointed
out that with our small number a charge against the scattered
riflemen, who were gradually surrounding us, would be worse than
useless, while it was almost hopeless to expect to hold the /boma/
till nightfall. Once the Arabs got behind us, they could rake us from
the higher ground. Indeed, for the last half-hour we had directed all
our efforts to preventing them from passing this /boma/, which,
fortunately, the stream on the one side and a stretch of quite open
land on the other made it very difficult for them to do without more
loss than they cared to face.
"I fear there is only one thing for it," I said at length, during a
pause in the attack while the Arabs were either taking counsel or
waiting for more ammunition, "to abandon the camp and everything and
bolt up the hill. As those fellows must be tired and we are all good
runners, we may save our lives in that way."
"How about the wounded," asked Stephen, "and the slave-woman and
"I don't know," I answered, looking down.
Of course I did know very well, but here, in an acute form, arose the
ancient question: Were we to perish for the sake of certain
individuals in whom we had no great interest and whom we could not
save by remaining with them? If we stayed where we were our end seemed
fairly certain, whereas if we ran for it, we had a good chance of
escape. But this involved the desertion of several injured bearers and
a woman and child whom we had picked up starving, all of whom would
certainly be massacred, save perhaps the woman and child.
As these reflections flitted through my brain I remembered that a
drunken Frenchman named Leblanc, whom I had known in my youth and who
had been a friend of Napoleon, or so he said, told me that the great
emperor when he was besieging Acre in the Holy Land, was forced to
retreat. Being unable to carry off his wounded men, he left them in a
monastery on Mount Carmel, each with a dose of poison by his side.
Apparently they did not take the poison, for according to Leblanc, who
said he was present there (not as a wounded man), the Turks came and
butchered them. So Napoleon chose to save his own life and that of his
army at the expense of his wounded. But, after all, I reflected, he
was no shining example to Christian men and I hadn't time to find any
poison. In a few words I explained the situation to Mavovo, leaving
out the story of Napoleon, and asked his advice.
"We must run," he answered. "Although I do not like running, life is
more than stores, and he who lives may one day pay his debts."
"But the wounded, Mavovo; we cannot carry them."
"I will see to them, Macumazana; it is the fortune of war. Or if they
prefer it, we can leave them--to be nursed by the Arabs," which of
course was just Napoleon and his poison over again.
I confess that I was about to assent, not wishing that I and Stephen,
especially Stephen, should be potted in an obscure engagement with
some miserable slave-traders, when something happened.
It will be remembered that shortly after dawn Hans, using a shirt for
a flag, had led the fugitive slaves past the camp up to the hill
behind. There he and they had vanished, and from that moment to this
we had seen nothing of him or them. Now of a sudden he reappeared
still waving the shirt. After him rushed a great mob of naked men, two
hundred of them perhaps, brandishing slave-sticks, stones and the
boughs of trees. When they had almost reached the /boma/ whence we
watched them amazed, they split into two bodies, half of them passing
to our left, apparently under the command of the Mazitu who had
accompanied Hans to the slave-camp, and the other half to the right
following the old Hottentot himself. I stared at Mavovo, for I was too
thunderstruck to speak.
"Ah!" said Mavovo, "that Spotted Snake of yours" (he referred to
Hans), "is great in his own way, for he has even been able to put
courage into the hearts of slaves. Do you not understand, my father,
that they are about to attack those Arabs, yes, and to pull them down,
as wild dogs do a buffalo calf?"
It was true: this was the Hottentot's superb design. Moreover, it
succeeded. Up on the hillside he had watched the progress of the fight
and seen how it must end. Then, through the interpreter who was with
him, he harangued those slaves, pointing out to them that we, their
white friends, were about to be overwhelmed, and that they must either
strike for themselves, or return to the yoke. Among them were some who
had been warriors in their own tribes, and through these he stirred
the others. They seized the slave-sticks from which they had been
freed, pieces of rock, anything that came to their hands, and at a
given signal charged, leaving only the women and children behind them.
Seeing them come the scattered Arabs began to fire at them, killing
some, but thereby revealing their own hiding-places. At these the
slaves rushed. They hurled themselves upon the Arabs; they tore them,
they dashed out their brains in such fashion that within another five
minutes quite two-thirds of them were dead; and the rest, of whom we
took some toll with our rifles as they bolted from cover, were in full
It was a terrible vengeance. Never did I witness a more savage scene
than that of these outraged men wreaking their wrongs upon their
tormentors. I remember that when most of the Arabs had been killed and
a few were escaped, the slaves found one, I think it was the captain
of the gang, who had hidden himself in a little patch of dead reeds
washed up by the stream. Somehow they managed to fire these; I expect
that Hans, who had remained discreetly in the background after the
fighting began, emerged when it was over and gave them a match. In due
course out came the wretched Arab. Then they flung themselves on him
as marching ants do upon a caterpillar, and despite his cries for
mercy, tore him to fragments, literally to fragments. Being what they
were, it was hard to blame them. If we had seen our parents shot, our
infants pitilessly butchered, our homes destroyed and our women and
children marched off in the slave-sticks to be sold into bondage,
should we not have done the same? I think so, although we are not
Thus our lives were saved by those whom we had tried to save, and for
once justice was done even in those dark parts of Africa, for in that
time they were dark indeed. Had it not been for Hans and the courage
which he managed to inspire into the hearts of these crushed blacks, I
have little doubt but that before nightfall we should have been dead,
for I do not think that any attempt at retreat would have proved
successful. And if it had, what would have happened to us in that wild
country surrounded by enemies and with only the few rounds of
ammunition that we could have carried in our flight?
"Ah! Baas," said the Hottentot a little while later, squinting at me
with his bead-like eyes, "after all you did well to listen to my
prayer and bring me with you. Old Hans is a drunkard, yes, or at least
he used to be, and old Hans gambles, yes, and perhaps old Hans will go
to hell. But meanwhile old Hans can think, as he thought one day
before the attack on Maraisfontein, as he thought one day on the Hill
of Slaughter by Dingaan's kraal, and as he thought this morning up
there among the bushes. Oh! he knew how it must end. He saw that those
dogs of Arabs were cutting down a tree to make a bridge across that
deep stream and get round to the high ground at the back of you,
whence they would have shot you all in five minutes. And now, Baas, my
stomach feels very queer. There was no breakfast on the hillside and
the sun was very hot. I think that just one tot of brandy--oh! I know,
I promised not to drink, but if /you/ give it me the sin is yours, not
Well, I gave him the tot, a stiff one, which he drank quite neat,
although it was against my principles, and locked up the bottle
afterwards. Also I shook the old fellow's hand and thanked him, which
seemed to please him very much, for he muttered something to the
effect that it was nothing, since if I had died he would have died
too, and therefore he was thinking of himself, not of me. Also two big
tears trickled down his snub nose, but these may have been produced by
Well, we were the victors and elated as may be imagined, for we knew
that the few slavers who had escaped would not attack us again. Our
first thought was for food, for it was now past midday and we were
starving. But dinner presupposed a cook, which reminded us of Sammy.
Stephen, who was in such a state of jubilation that he danced rather
than walked, the helmet with a bullet-hole through it stuck
ludicrously upon the back of his head, started to look for him, and
presently called to me in an alarmed voice. I went to the back of the
camp and, staring into a hole like a small grave, that had been
hollowed behind a solitary thorn tree, at the bottom of which lay a
huddled heap, I found him. It was Sammy to all appearance. We got hold
of him, and up he came, limp, senseless, but still holding in his hand
a large, thick Bible, bound in boards. Moreover, in the exact centre
of this Bible was a bullet-hole, or rather a bullet which had passed
through the stout cover and buried itself in the paper behind. I
remember that the point of it reached to the First Book of Samuel.
As for Sammy himself, he seemed to be quite uninjured, and indeed
after we had poured some water on him--he was never fond of water--he
revived quickly enough. Then we found out what had happened.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I was seated in my place of refuge, being as I
have told you a man of peace, enjoying the consolation of religion"--
he was very pious in times of trouble. "At length the firing
slackened, and I ventured to peep out, thinking that perhaps the foe
had fled, holding the Book in front of my face in case of accidents.
After that I remember no more."
"No," said Stephen, "for the bullet hit the Bible and the Bible hit
your head and knocked you silly."
"Ah!" said Sammy, "how true is what I was taught that the Book shall
be a shield of defence to the righteous. Now I understand why I was
moved to bring the thick old Bible that belonged to my mother in
heaven, and not the little thin one given to me by the Sunday school
teacher, through which the ball of the enemy would have passed."
Then he went off to cook the dinner.
Certainly it was a wonderful escape, though whether this was a direct
reward of his piety, as he thought, is another matter.
As soon as we had eaten, we set to work to consider our position, of
which the crux was what to do with the slaves. There they sat in
groups outside the fence, many of them showing traces of the recent
conflict, and stared at us stupidly. Then of a sudden, as though with
one voice, they began to clamour for food.
"How are we to feed several hundred people?" asked Stephen.
"The slavers must have done it somehow," I answered. "Let's go and
search their camp."
So we went, followed by our hungry clients, and, in addition to many
more things, to our delight found a great store of rice, mealies and
other grain, some of which was ground into meal. Of this we served out
an ample supply together with salt, and soon the cooking pots were
full of porridge. My word! how those poor creatures did eat, nor,
although it was necessary to be careful, could we find it in our
hearts to stint them of the first full meal that had passed their lips
after weeks of starvation. When at length they were satisfied we
addressed them, thanking them for their bravery, telling them that
they were free and asking what they meant to do.
Upon this point they seemed to have but one idea. They said that they
would come with us who were their protectors. Then followed a great
/indaba/, or consultation, which really I have not time to set out.
The end of it was that we agreed that so many of them as wished should
accompany us till they reached country that they knew, when they would
be at liberty to depart to their own homes. Meanwhile we divided up
the blankets and other stores of the Arabs, such as trade goods and
beads, among them, and then left them to their own devices, after
placing a guard over the foodstuffs. For my part I hoped devoutly that
in the morning we should find them gone.
After this we returned to our /boma/ just in time to assist at a sad
ceremony, that of the burial of my hunter who had been shot through
the head. His companions had dug a deep hole outside the fence and
within a few yards of where he fell. In this they placed him in a
sitting position with his face turned towards Zululand, setting by his
side two gourds that belonged to him, one filled with water and the
other with grain. Also they gave him a blanket and his two assegais,
tearing the blanket and breaking the handles of the spears, to "kill"
them as they said. Then quietly enough they threw in the earth about
him and filled the top of the hole with large stones to prevent the
hyenas from digging him up. This done, one by one, they walked past
the grave, each man stopping to bid him farewell by name. Mavovo, who
came last, made a little speech, telling the deceased to /namba
kachle/, that is, go comfortably to the land of ghosts, as, he added,
no doubt he would do who had died as a man should. He requested him,
moreover, if he returned as a spirit, to bring good and not ill-
fortune on us, since otherwise when he, Mavovo, became a spirit in his
turn, he would have words to say to him on the matter. In conclusion,
he remarked that as his, Mavovo's Snake, had foretold this event at
Durban, a fact with which the deceased would now be acquainted he, the
said deceased, could never complain of not having received value for
the shilling he had paid as a divining fee.
"Yes," exclaimed one of the hunters with a note of anxiety in his
voice, "but your Snake mentioned six of us to you, O doctor!"
"It did," replied Mavovo, drawing a pinch of snuff up his uninjured
nostril, "and our brother there was the first of the six. Be not
afraid, the other five will certainly join him in due course, for my
Snake must speak the truth. Still, if anyone is in a hurry," and he
glared round the little circle, "let him stop and talk with me alone.
Perhaps I could arrange that his turn----" here he stopped, for they
were all gone.
"Glad /I/ didn't pay a shilling to have my fortune told by Mavovo,"
said Stephen, when we were back in the /boma/, "but why did they bury
his pots and spears with him?"
"To be used by the spirit on its journey," I answered. "Although they
do not quite know it, these Zulus believe, like all the rest of the
world, that man lives on elsewhere."
THE MAGIC MIRROR
I did not sleep very well that night, for now that the danger was over
I found that the long strain of it had told upon my nerves. Also there
were many noises. Thus, the bearers who were shot had been handed over
to their companions, who disposed of them in a simple fashion, namely
by throwing them into the bush where they attracted the notice of
hyenas. Then the four wounded men who lay near to me groaned a good
deal, or when they were not groaning uttered loud prayers to their
local gods. We had done the best we could for these unlucky fellows.
Indeed, that kind-hearted little coward, Sammy, who at some time in
his career served as a dresser in a hospital, had tended their wounds,
none of which were mortal, very well indeed, and from time to time
rose to minister to them.
But what disturbed me most was the fearful hubbub which came from the
camp below. Many of the tropical African tribes are really semi-
nocturnal in their habits, I suppose because there the night is cooler
than the day, and on any great occasion this tendency asserts itself.
Thus every one of these freed slaves seemed to be howling his loudest
to an accompaniment of clashing iron pots or stones, which, lacking
their native drums, they beat with sticks.
Moreover, they had lit large fires, about which they flitted in an
ominous and unpleasant fashion, that reminded me of some mediaeval
pictures of hell, which I had seen in an old book.
At last I could stand it no longer, and kicking Hans who, curled up
like a dog, slept at my feet, asked him what was going on. His answer
caused me to regret the question.
"Plenty of those slaves cannibal men, Baas. Think they eat the Arabs
and like them very much," he said with a yawn, then went to sleep
I did not continue the conversation.
When at length we made a start on the following morning the sun was
high over us. Indeed, there was a great deal to do. The guns and
ammunition of the dead Arabs had to be collected; the ivory, of which
they carried a good store, must be buried, for to take it with us was
impossible, and the loads apportioned.[*] Also it was necessary to
make litters for the wounded, and to stir up the slaves from their
debauch, into the nature of which I made no further inquiries, was no
easy task. On mustering them I found that a good number had vanished
during the night, where to I do not know. Still a mob of well over two
hundred people, a considerable portion of whom were women and
children, remained, whose one idea seemed to be to accompany us
wherever we might wander. So with this miscellaneous following at
length we started.
[*] To my sorrow we never saw this ivory again.--A.Q.
To describe our adventures during the next month would be too long if
not impossible, for to tell the truth, after the lapse of so many
years, these have become somewhat entangled in my mind. Our great
difficulty was to feed such a multitude, for the store of rice and
grain, upon which we were quite unable to keep a strict supervision,
they soon devoured. Fortunately the country through which we passed,
at this time of the year (the end of the wet season) was full of game,
of which, travelling as we did very slowly, we were able to shoot a
great deal. But this game killing, delightful as it may be to the
sportsman, soon palled on us as a business. To say nothing of the
expenditure of ammunition, it meant incessant work.
Against this the Zulu hunters soon began to murmur, for, as Stephen
and I could rarely leave the camp, the burden of it fell on them.
Ultimately I hit upon this scheme. Picking out thirty or forty of the
likeliest men among the slaves, I served out to each of them
ammunition and one of the Arab guns, in the use of which we drilled
them as best we could. Then I told them that they must provide
themselves and their companions with meat. Of course accidents
happened. One man was accidentally shot and three others were killed
by a cow elephant and a wounded buffalo. But in the end they learned
to handle their rifles sufficiently well to supply the camp. Moreover,
day by day little parties of the slaves disappeared, I presume to seek
their own homes, so that when at last we entered the borders of the
Mazitu country there were not more than fifty of them left, including
seventeen of those whom we had taught to shoot.
Then it was that our real adventures began.
One evening, after three days' march through some difficult bush in
which lions carried off a slave woman, killed one of the donkeys and
mauled another so badly that it had to be shot, we found ourselves
upon the edge of a great grassy plateau that, according to my aneroid,
was 1,640 feet above sea level.
"What place is this?" I asked of the two Mazitu guides, those same men
whom we had borrowed from Hassan.
"The land of our people, Chief," they answered, "which is bordered on
one side by the bush and on the other by the great lake where live the
I looked about me at the bare uplands that already were beginning to
turn brown, on which nothing was visible save vast herds of buck such
as were common further south. A dreary prospect it was, for a slight
rain was falling, accompanied by mist and a cold wind.
"I do not see your people or their kraals," I said; "I only see grass
and wild game."
"Our people will come," they replied, rather nervously. "No doubt even
now their spies watch us from among the tall grass or out of some
"The deuce they do," I said, or something like it, and thought no more
of the matter. When one is in conditions in which anything /may/
happen, such as, so far as I am concerned, have prevailed through most
of my life, one grows a little careless as to what /will/ happen. For
my part I have long been a fatalist, to a certain extent. I mean I
believe that the individual, or rather the identity which animates
him, came out from the Source of all life a long while, perhaps
hundreds of thousands or millions of years ago, and when his career is
finished, perhaps hundreds of thousands or millions of years hence, or
perhaps to-morrow, will return perfected, but still as an individual,
to dwell in or with that Source of Life. I believe also that his
various existences, here or elsewhere, are fore-known and fore-
ordained, although in a sense he may shape them by the action of his
free will, and that nothing which he can do will lengthen or shorten
one of them by a single hour. Therefore, so far as I am concerned, I
have always acted up to the great injunction of our Master and taken
no thought for the morrow.
However, in this instance, as in many others of my experience, the
morrow took plenty of thought for itself. Indeed, before the dawn,
Hans, who never seemed really to sleep any more than a dog does, woke
me up with the ominous information that he heard a sound which he
thought was caused by the tramp of hundreds of marching men.
"Where?" I asked, after listening without avail--to look was useless,
for the night was dark as pitch.
He put his ear to the ground and said:
I put /my/ ear to the ground, but although my senses are fairly acute,
could hear nothing.
Then I sent for the sentries, but these, too, could hear nothing.
After this I gave the business up and went to sleep again.
However, as it proved, Hans was quite right; in such matters he
generally was right, for his senses were as keen as those of any wild
beast. At dawn I was once more awakened, this time by Mavovo, who
reported that we were being surrounded by a regiment, or regiments. I
rose and looked out through the mist. There, sure enough, in dim and
solemn outline, though still far off, I perceived rank upon rank of
men, armed men, for the light glimmered faintly upon their spears.
"What is to be done, Macumazana?" asked Mavovo.
"Have breakfast, I think," I answered. "If we are going to be killed
it may as well be after breakfast as before," and calling the
trembling Sammy, I instructed him to make the coffee. Also I awoke
Stephen and explained the situation to him.
"Capital!" he answered. "No doubt these are the Mazitu, and we have
found them much more easily than we expected. People generally take
such a lot of hunting for in this confounded great country."
"That's not such a bad way of looking at things," I answered, "but
would you be good enough to go round the camp and make it clear that
not on any account is anyone to fire without orders. Stay, collect all
the guns from those slaves, for heaven knows what they will do with
them if they are frightened!"
Stephen nodded and sauntered off with three or four of the hunters.
While he was gone, in consultation with Mavovo, I made certain little
arrangements of my own, which need not be detailed. They were designed
to enable us to sell our lives as dearly as possible, should things
come to the worst. One should always try to make an impression upon
the enemy in Africa, for the sake of future travellers if for no other
In due course Stephen and the hunters returned with the guns, or most
of them, and reported that the slave people were in great state of
terror, and showed a disposition to bolt.
"Let them bolt," I answered. "They would be of no use to us in a row
and might even complicate matters. Call in the Zulus who are watching
He nodded, and a few minutes later I heard--for the mist which hung
about the bush to the east of the camp was still too dense to allow of
my seeing anything--a clamour of voices, followed by the sound of
scuttling feet. The slave people, including our bearers, had gone,
every one of them. They even carried away the wounded. Just as the
soldiers who surrounded us were completing their circle they bolted
between the two ends of it and vanished into the bush out of which we
had marched on the previous evening. Often since then I have wondered
what became of them. Doubtless some perished, and the rest worked
their way back to their homes or found new ones among other tribes.
The experiences of those who escaped must be interesting to them if
they still live. I can well imagine the legends in which these will be
embodied two or three generations hence.
Deducting the slave people and the bearers whom we had wrung out of
Hassan, we were now a party of seventeen, namely eleven Zulu hunters
including Mavovo, two white men, Hans and Sammy, and the two Mazitus
who had elected to remain with us, while round us was a great circle
of savages which closed in slowly.
As the light grew--it was long in coming on that dull morning--and the
mist lifted, I examined these people, without seeming to take any
particular notice of them. They were tall, much taller than the
average Zulu, and slighter in their build, also lighter in colour.
Like the Zulus they carried large hide shields and one very broad-
bladed spear. Throwing assegais seemed to be wanting, but in place of
them I saw that they were armed with short bows, which, together with
a quiver of arrows, were slung upon their backs. The officers wore a
short skin cloak or kaross, and the men also had cloaks, which I found
out afterwards were made from the inner bark of trees.
They advanced in the most perfect silence and very slowly. Nobody said
anything, and if orders were given this must have been done by signs.
I could not see that any of them had firearms.
"Now," I said to Stephen, "perhaps if we shot and killed some of those
fellows, they might be frightened and run away. Or they might not; or
if they did they might return."
"Whatever happened," he remarked sagely, "we should scarcely be
welcome in their country afterwards, so I think we had better do
nothing unless we are obliged."
I nodded, for it was obvious that we could not fight hundreds of men,
and told Sammy, who was perfectly livid with fear, to bring the
breakfast. No wonder he was afraid, poor fellow, for we were in great
danger. These Mazitu had a bad name, and if they chose to attack us we
should all be dead in a few minutes.
The coffee and some cold buck's flesh were put upon our little camp-
table in front of the tent which we had pitched because of the rain,
and we began to eat. The Zulu hunters also ate from a bowl of mealie
porridge which they had cooked on the previous night, each of them
with his loaded rifle upon his knees. Our proceedings appeared to
puzzle the Mazitu very much indeed. They drew quite near to us, to
within about forty yards, and halted there in a dead circle, staring
at us with their great round eyes. It was like a scene in a dream; I
shall never forget it.
Everything about us appeared to astonish them, our indifference, the
colour of Stephen and myself (as a matter of fact at that date Brother
John was the only white man they had ever seen), our tent and our two
remaining donkeys. Indeed, when one of these beasts broke into a bray,
they showed signs of fright, looking at each other and even retreating
a few paces.
At length the position got upon my nerves, especially as I saw that
some of them were beginning to fiddle with their bows, and that their
General, a tall, one-eyed old fellow, was making up his mind to do
something. I called to one of the two Mazitus, whom I forgot to say we
had named Tom and Jerry, and gave him a pannikin of coffee.
"Take that to the captain there with my good wishes, Jerry, and ask
him if he will drink with us," I said.
Jerry, who was a plucky fellow, obeyed. Advancing with the steaming
coffee, he held it under the Captain's nose. Evidently he knew the
man's name, for I heard him say:
"O Babemba, the white lords, Macumazana and Wazela, ask if you will
share their holy drink with them?"
I could perfectly understand the words, for these people spoke a
dialect so akin to Zulu that by now it had no difficulty for me.
"Their holy drink!" exclaimed the old fellow, starting back. "Man, it
is hot red-water. Would these white wizards poison me with /mwavi/?"
Here I should explain that /mwavi/ or /mkasa/, as it is sometimes
called, is the liquor distilled from the inner bark of a sort of
mimosa tree or sometimes from a root of the strychnos tribe, which is
administered by the witch-doctors to persons accused of crime. If it
makes them sick they are declared innocent. If they are thrown into
convulsions or stupor they are clearly guilty and die, either from the
effects of the poison or afterwards by other means.
"This is no /mwavi/, O Babemba," said Jerry. "It is the divine liquor
that makes the white lords shoot straight with their wonderful guns
which kill at a thousand paces. See, I will swallow some of it," and
he did, though it must have burnt his tongue.
Thus encouraged, old Babemba sniffed at the coffee and found it
fragrant. Then he called a man, who from his peculiar dress I took to
be a doctor, made him drink some, and watched the results, which were
that the doctor tried to finish the pannikin. Snatching it away
indignantly Babemba drank himself, and as I had half-filled the cup
with sugar, found the mixture good.
"It is indeed a holy drink," he said, smacking his lips. "Have you any
more of it?"
"The white lords have more," said Jerry. "They invite you to eat with
Babemba stuck his finger into the tin, and covering it with the
sediment of sugar, sucked and reflected.
"It's all right," I whispered to Stephen. "I don't think he'll kill us
after drinking our coffee, and what's more, I believe he is coming to
"This may be a snare," said Babemba, who now began to lick the sugar
out of the pannikin.
"No," answered Jerry with creditable resource; "though they could
easily kill you all, the white lords do not hurt those who have
partaken of their holy drink, that is unless anyone tries to harm
"Cannot you bring some more of the holy drink here?" he asked, giving
a final polish to the pannikin with his tongue.
"No," said Jerry, "if you want it you must go there. Fear nothing.
Would I, one of your own people, betray you?"
"True!" exclaimed Babemba. "By your talk and your face you are a
Mazitu. How came you--well, we will speak of that afterwards. I am
very thirsty. I will come. Soldiers, sit down and watch, and if any
harm happens to me, avenge it and report to the king."
Now, while all this was going on, I had made Hans and Sammy open one
of the boxes and extract therefrom a good-sized mirror in a wooden
frame with a support at the back so that it could be stood anywhere.
Fortunately it was unbroken; indeed, our packing had been so careful
that none of the looking-glasses or other fragile things were injured.
To this mirror I gave a hasty polish, then set it upright upon the
Old Babemba came along rather suspiciously, his one eye rolling over
us and everything that belonged to us. When he was quite close it fell
upon the mirror. He stopped, he stared, he retreated, then drawn by
his overmastering curiosity, came on again and again stood still.
"What is the matter?" called his second in command from the ranks.
"The matter is," he answered, "that here is great magic. Here I see
myself walking towards myself. There can be no mistake, for one eye is
gone in my other self."
"Advance, O Babemba," cried the doctor who had tried to drink all the
coffee, "and see what happens. Keep your spear ready, and if your
witch-self attempts to harm you, kill it."
Thus encouraged, Babemba lifted his spear and dropped it again in a
"That won't do, fool of a doctor," he shouted back. "My other self
lifts a spear also, and what is more all of you who should be behind
are in front of me. The holy drink has made me drunk; I am bewitched.
Now I saw that the joke had gone too far, for the soldiers were
beginning to string their bows in confusion. Luckily at this moment,
the sun at length came out almost opposite to us.
"O Babemba," I said in a solemn voice, "it is true that this magic
shield, which we have brought as a gift to you, gives you another
self. Henceforth your labours will be halved, and your pleasures
doubled, for when you look into this shield you will be not one but
two. Also it has other properties--see," and lifting the mirror I used
it as a heliograph, flashing the reflected sunlight into the eyes of
the long half-circle of men in front of us. My word! didn't they run.
"Wonderful!" exclaimed old Babemba, "and can I learn to do that also,
"Certainly," I answered, "come and try. Now, hold it so while I say
the spell," and I muttered some hocus-pocus, then directed it towards
certain of the Mazitu who were gathering again. "There! Look! Look!
You have hit them in the eye. You are a master of magic. They run,
they run!" and run they did indeed. "Is there anyone yonder whom you
"Yes, plenty," answered Babemba with emphasis, "especially that witch-
doctor who drank nearly all the holy drink."
"Very well; by-and-by I will show you how you can burn a hole in him
with this magic. No, not now, not now. For a while this mocker of the
sun is dead. Look," and dipping the glass beneath the table I produced
it back first. "You cannot see anything, can you?"
"Nothing except wood," replied Babemba, staring at the deal slip with
which it was lined.
Then I threw a dish-cloth over it and, to change the subject, offered
him another pannikin of the "holy drink" and a stool to sit on.
The old fellow perched himself very gingerly upon the stool, which was
of the folding variety, stuck the iron-tipped end of his great spear
in the ground between his knees and took hold of the pannikin. Or
rather he took hold of a pannikin and not the right one. So ridiculous
was his appearance that the light-minded Stephen, who, forgetting the
perils of the situation, had for the last minute or two been
struggling with inward laughter, clapped down his coffee on the table
and retired into the tent, where I heard him gurgling in unseemly
merriment. It was this coffee that in the confusion of the moment
Sammy gave to old Babemba. Presently Stephen reappeared, and to cover
his confusion seized the pannikin meant for Babemba and drank it, or
most of it. Then Sammy, seeing his mistake, said:
"Mr. Somers, I regret that there is an error. You are drinking from
the cup which that stinking savage has just licked clean."
The effect was dreadful and instantaneous, for then and there Stephen
was violently sick.
"Why does the white lord do that?" asked Babemba. "Now I see that you
are truly deceiving me, and that what you are giving me to swallow is
nothing but hot /mwavi/, which in the innocent causes vomiting, but
that in those who mean evil, death."
"Stop that foolery, you idiot," I muttered to Stephen, kicking him on
the shins, "or you'll get our throats cut." Then, collecting myself
with an effort, I said:
"Oh! not at all, General. This white lord is the priest of the holy
drink and--what you see is a religious rite."
"Is it so," said Babemba. "Then I hope that the rite is not catching."
"Never," I replied, proffering him a biscuit. "And now, General
Babemba, tell me, why do you come against us with about five hundred
"To kill you, white lords--oh! how hot is this holy drink, yet
pleasant. You said that it was not catching, did you not? For I
"Eat the cake," I answered. "And why do you wish to kill us? Be so
good as to tell me the truth now, or I shall read it in the magic
shield which portrays the inside as well as the out," and lifting the
cloth I stared at the glass.
"If you can read my thoughts, white lord, why trouble me to tell
them?" asked Babemba sensibly enough, his mouth full of biscuit.
"Still, as that bright thing may lie, I will set them out. Bausi, king
of our people, has sent me to kill you, because news has reached him
that you are great slave dealers who come hither with guns to capture
the Mazitus and take them away to the Black Water to be sold and sent
across it in big canoes that move of themselves. Of this he has been
warned by messengers from the Arab men. Moreover, we know that it is
true, for last night you had with you many slaves who, seeing our
spears, ran away not an hour ago."
Now I stared hard at the looking-glass and answered coolly:
"This magic shield tells a somewhat different story. It says that your
king, Bausi, for whom by the way we have many things as presents, told
you to lead us to him with honour, that we might talk over matters
The shot was a good one. Babemba grew confused.
"It is true," he stammered, "that--I mean, the king left it to my
judgment. I will consult the witch-doctor."
"If he left it to your judgment, the matter is settled," I said,
"since certainly, being so great a noble, you would never try to
murder those of whose holy drink you have just partaken. Indeed if you
did so," I added in a cold voice, "you would not live long yourself.
One secret word and that drink will turn to /mwavi/ of the worst sort
inside of you."
"Oh! yes, white lord, it is settled," exclaimed Babemba, "it is
settled. Do not trouble the secret word. I will lead you to the king
and you shall talk with him. By my head and my father's spirit you are
safe from me. Still, with your leave, I will call the great doctor,
Imbozwi, and ratify the agreement in his presence, and also show him
the magic shield."
So Imbozwi was sent for, Jerry taking the message. Presently he
arrived. He was a villainous-looking person of uncertain age,
humpbacked like the picture of Punch, wizened and squint-eyed. His
costume was of the ordinary witch-doctor type being set off with snake
skins, fish bladders, baboon's teeth and little bags of medicine. To
add to his charms a broad strip of pigment, red ochre probably, ran
down his forehead and the nose beneath, across the lips and chin,
ending in a red mark the size of a penny where the throat joins the
chest. His woolly hair also, in which was twisted a small ring of
black gum, was soaked with grease and powdered blue. It was arranged
in a kind of horn, coming to a sharp point about five inches above the
top of the skull. Altogether he looked extremely like the devil. What
was more, he was a devil in a bad temper, for the first words he said
embodied a reproach to us for not having asked him to partake of our
"holy drink" with Babemba.
We offered to make him some more, but he refused, saying that we
should poison him.
Then Babemba set the matter out, rather nervously I thought, for
evidently he was afraid of this old wizard, who listened in complete
silence. When Babemba explained that without the king's direct order
it would be foolish and unjustifiable to put to death such magicians
as we were, Imbozwi spoke for the first time, asking why he called us
Babemba instanced the wonders of the shining shield that showed
"Pooh!" said Imbozwi, "does not calm water or polished iron show
"But this shield will make fire," said Babemba. "The white lords say
it can burn a man up."
"Then let it burn me up," replied Imbozwi with ineffable contempt,
"and I will believe that these white men are magicians worthy to be
kept alive, and not common slave-traders such as we have often heard
"Burn him, white lords, and show him that I am right," exclaimed the
exasperated Babemba, after which they fell to wrangling. Evidently
they were rivals, and by this time both of them had lost their
The sun was now very hot, quite sufficiently so to enable us to give
Mr. Imbozwi a taste of our magic, which I determined he should have.
Not being certain whether an ordinary mirror would really reflect
enough heat to scorch, I drew from my pocket a very powerful burning-
glass which I sometimes used for the lighting of fires in order to
save matches, and holding the mirror in one hand and the burning-glass
in the other, I worked myself into a suitable position for the
experiment. Babemba and the witch-doctor were arguing so fiercely that
neither of them seemed to notice what I was doing. Getting the focus
right, I directed the concentrated spark straight on to Imbozwi's
greased top-knot, where I knew he would feel nothing, my plan being to
char a hole in it. But as it happened this top-knot was built up round
something of a highly inflammable nature, reed or camphor-wood, I
expect. At any rate, about thirty seconds later the top-knot was
burning like a beautiful torch.
"/Ow!/" said the Kaffirs who were watching. "My Aunt!" exclaimed
Stephen. "Look, look!" shouted Babemba in tones of delight. "Now will
you believe, O blown-out bladder of a man, that there are greater
magicians than yourself in the world?"
"What is the matter, son of a dog, that you make a mock of me?"
screeched the unfuriated Imbozwi, who alone was unaware of anything
As he spoke some suspicion rose in his mind which caused him to put
his hand to his top-knot, and withdraw it with a howl. Then he sprang
up and began to dance about, which of course only fanned the fire that
had now got hold of the grease and gum. The Zulus applauded; Babemba
clapped his hands; Stephen burst into one of his idiotic fits of
laughter. For my part I grew frightened. Near at hand stood a large
wooden pot such as the Kaffirs make, from which the coffee kettle had
been filled, that fortunately was still half-full of water. I seized
it and ran to him.
"Save me, white lord!" he howled. "You are the greatest of magicians
and I am your slave."
Here I cut him short by clapping the pot bottom upwards on his burning
head, into which it vanished as a candle does into an extinguisher.
Smoke and a bad smell issued from beneath the pot, the water from
which ran all over Imbozwi, who stood quite still. When I was sure the
fire was out, I lifted the pot and revealed the discomfited wizard,
but without his elaborate head-dress. Beyond a little scorching he was
not in the least hurt, for I had acted in time; only he was bald, for
when touched the charred hair fell off at the roots.
"It is gone," he said in an amazed voice after feeling at his scalp.
"Yes," I answered, "quite. The magic shield worked very well, did it
"Can you put it back again, white lord?" he asked.
"That will depend upon how you behave," I replied.
Then without another word he turned and walked back to the soldiers,
who received him with shouts of laughter. Evidently Imbozwi was not a
popular character, and his discomfiture delighted them.
Babemba also was delighted. Indeed, he could not praise our magic
enough, and at once began to make arrangements to escort us to the
king at his head town, which was called Beza, vowing that we need fear
no harm at his hands or those of his soldiers. In fact, the only
person who did not appreciate our black arts was Imbozwi himself. I
caught a look in his eye as he marched off which told me that he hated
us bitterly, and reflected to myself that perhaps I had been foolish
to use that burning-glass, although in truth I had not intended to set
his head on fire.
"My father," said Mavovo to me afterwards, "it would have been better
to let that snake burn to death, for then you would have killed his
poison. I am something of a doctor myself, and I tell you there is
nothing our brotherhood hates so much as being laughed at. You have
made a fool of him before all his people and he will not forget it,
BAUSI THE KING
About midday we made a start for Beza Town where King Bausi lived,
which we understood we ought to reach on the following evening. For
some hours the regiment marched in front, or rather round us, but as
we complained to Babemba of the noise and dust, with a confidence that
was quite touching, he sent it on ahead. First, however, he asked us
to pass our word "by our mothers," which was the most sacred of oaths
among many African peoples, that we would not attempt to escape. I
confess that I hesitated before giving an answer, not being entirely
enamoured of the Mazitu and of our prospects among them, especially as
I had discovered through Jerry that the discomfited Imbozwi had
departed from the soldiers on some business of his own. Had the matter
been left to me, indeed, I should have tried to slip back into the
bush over the border, and there put in a few months shooting during
the dry season, while working my way southwards. This, too, was the
wish of the Zulu hunters, of Hans, and I need not add of Sammy. But
when I mentioned the matter to Stephen, he implored me to abandon the
"Look here, Quatermain," he said, "I have come to this God-forsaken
country to get that great Cypripedium, and get it I will or die in the
attempt. Still," he added after surveying our rather blank faces, "I
have no right to play with your lives, so if you think the thing too
dangerous I will go on alone with this old boy, Babemba. Putting
everything else aside, I think that one of us ought to visit Bausi's
kraal in case the gentleman who you call Brother John should turn up
there. In short, I have made up my mind, so it is no use talking."
I lit my pipe, and for quite a time contemplated this obstinate young
man while considering the matter from every point of view. Finally, I
came to the conclusion that he was right and I was wrong. It was true
that by bribing Babemba, or otherwise, there was still an excellent
prospect of effecting a masterly retreat and of avoiding many perils.
On the other hand, we had not come to this wild place in order to
retreat. Further, at whose expense had we come here? At that of
Stephen Somers who wished to proceed. Lastly, to say nothing of the
chance of meeting Brother John, to whom I felt no obligation since he
had given us the slip at Durban, I did not like the idea of being
beaten. We had started out to visit some mysterious savages who
worshipped a monkey and a flower, and we might as well go on till
circumstances were too much for us. After all, dangers are everywhere;
those who turn back because of dangers will never succeed in any life
that we can imagine.
"Mavovo," I said presently, pointing to Stephen with my pipe, "the
/inkoosi/ Wazela does not wish to try to escape. He wishes to go on to
the country of the Pongo people if we can get there. And, Mavovo,
remember that he has paid for everything; we are his hired servants.
Also that he says that if we run back he will walk forward alone with
these Mazitus. Still, if any of you hunters desire to slip off, he
will not look your way, nor shall I. What say you?"
"I say, Macumazana, that, though young, Wazela is a chief with a great
heart, and that where you and he go, I shall go also, as I think will
the rest of us. I do not like these Mazitu, for if their fathers were
Zulus their mothers were low people. They are bastards, and of the
Pongo I hear nothing but what is evil. Still, no good ox ever turns in
the yoke because of a mud-hole. Let us go on, for if we sink in the
swamp what does it matter? Moreover, my Snake tells me that we shall
not sink, at least not all of us."
So it was arranged that no effort should be made to return. Sammy, it
is true, wished to do so, but when it came to the point and he was
offered one of the remaining donkeys and as much food and ammunition
as he could carry, he changed his mind.
"I think it better, Mr. Quatermain," he said, "to meet my end in the
company of high-born, lofty souls than to pursue a lonely career
towards the inevitable in unknown circumstances."
"Very well put, Sammy," I answered; "so while waiting for the
inevitable, please go and cook the dinner."
Having laid aside our doubts, we proceeded on the journey comfortably
enough, being well provided with bearers to take the place of those
who had run away. Babemba, accompanied by a single orderly, travelled
with us, and from him we collected much information. It seemed that
the Mazitu were a large people who could muster from five to seven
thousand spears. Their tradition was that they came from the south and
were of the same stock as the Zulus, of whom they had heard vaguely.
Indeed, many of their customs, to say nothing of their language,
resembled those of that country. Their military organisation, however,
was not so thorough, and in other ways they struck me as a lower race.
In one particular, it is true, that of their houses, they were more
advanced, for these, as we saw in the many kraals that we passed, were
better built, with doorways through which one could walk upright,
instead of the Kaffir bee-holes.
We slept in one of these houses on our march, and should have found it
very comfortable had it not been for the innumerable fleas which at
length drove us out into the courtyard. For the rest, these Mazitu
much resembled the Zulus. They had kraals and were breeders of cattle;
they were ruled by headmen under the command of a supreme chief or
king; they believed in witchcraft and offered sacrifice to the spirits
of their ancestors, also in some kind of a vague and mighty god who
dominated the affairs of the world and declared his will through the
doctors. Lastly, they were, and I dare say still are, a race of
fighting men who loved war and raided the neighbouring peoples upon
any and every pretext, killing their men and stealing their women and
cattle. They had their virtues, too, being kindly and hospitable by
nature, though cruel enough to their enemies. Moreover, they detested
dealing in slaves and those who practised it, saying that it was
better to kill a man than to deprive him of his freedom. Also they had
a horror of the cannibalism which is so common in the dark regions of
Africa, and for this reason, more than any other, loathed the Pongo
folk who were supposed to be eaters of men.
On the evening of the second day of our march, during which we had
passed through a beautiful and fertile upland country, very well
watered, and except in the valleys, free from bush, we arrived at
Beza. This town was situated on a wide plain surrounded by low hills
and encircled by a belt of cultivated land made beautiful by the crops
of maize and other cereals which were then ripe to harvest. It was
fortified in a way. That is, a tall, unclimbable palisade of timber
surrounded the entire town, which fence was strengthened by prickly
pears and cacti planted on its either side.
Within this palisade the town was divided into quarters more or less
devoted to various trades. Thus one part of it was called the
Ironsmiths' Quarter; another the Soldiers' Quarter; another the
Quarter of the Land-tillers; another that of the Skin-dressers, and so
on. The king's dwelling and those of his women and dependents were
near the North gate, and in front of these, surrounded by semi-circles
of huts, was a wide space into which cattle could be driven if
necessary. This, however, at the time of our visit, was used as a
market and a drilling ground.
We entered the town, that must in all have contained a great number of
inhabitants, by the South gate, a strong log structure facing a wooded
slope through which ran a road. Just as the sun was setting we marched
to the guest-huts up a central street lined with the population of the
place who had gathered to stare at us. These huts were situated in the
Soldiers' Quarter, not far from the king's house and surrounded by an
inner fence to keep them private.
None of the people spoke as we passed them, for the Mazitu are polite
by nature; also it seemed to me that they regarded us with awe
tempered by curiosity. They only stared, and occasionally those of
them who were soldiers saluted us by lifting their spears. The huts
into which we were introduced by Babemba, with whom we had grown very
friendly, were good and clean.
Here all our belongings, including the guns which we had collected
just before the slaves ran away, were placed in one of the huts over
which a Mazitu mounted guard, the donkeys being tied to the fence at a
little distance. Outside this fence stood another armed Mazitu, also
"Are we prisoners here?" I asked of Babemba.
"The king watches over his guests," he answered enigmatically. "Have
the white lords any message for the king whom I am summoned to see
"Yes," I answered. "Tell the king that we are the brethren of him who
more than a year ago cut a swelling from his body, whom we have
arranged to meet here. I mean the white lord with a long beard who
among you black people is called Dogeetah."
Babemba started. "You are the brethren of Dogeetah! How comes it then
that you never mentioned his name before, and when is he going to meet
you here? Know that Dogeetah is a great man among us, for with him
alone of all men the king has made blood-brotherhood. As the king is,
so is Dogeetah among the Mazitu."
"We never mentioned him because we do not talk about everything at
once, Babemba. As to when Dogeetah will meet us I am not sure; I am
only sure that he is coming."
"Yes, lord Macumazana, but when, when? That is what the king will want
to know and that is what you must tell him. Lord," he added, dropping
his voice, "you are in danger here where you have many enemies, since
it is not lawful for white men to enter this land. If you would save
your lives, be advised by me and be ready to tell the king to-morrow
when Dogeetah, whom he loves, will appear here to vouch for you, and
see that he does appear very soon and by the day you name. Since
otherwise when he comes, if come he does, he may not find you able to
talk to him. Now I, your friend, have spoken and the rest is with
Then without another word he rose, slipped through the door of the hut
and out by the gateway of the fence from which the sentry moved aside
to let him pass. I, too, rose from the stool on which I sat and danced
about the hut in a perfect fury.
"Do you understand what that infernal (I am afraid I used a stronger
word) old fool told me?" I exclaimed to Stephen. "He says that we must
be prepared to state exactly when that other infernal old fool,
Brother John, will turn up at Beza Town, and that if we don't we shall
have our throats cut as indeed has already been arranged."
"Rather awkward," replied Stephen. "There are no express trains to
Beza, and if there were we couldn't be sure that Brother John would
take one of them. I suppose there /is/ a Brother John?" he added
reflectively. "To me he seems to be--intimately connected with Mrs.
"Oh! there is, or there was," I explained. "Why couldn't the
confounded ass wait quietly for us at Durban instead of fooling off
butterfly hunting to the north of Zululand and breaking his leg or his
neck there if he has done anything of the sort?"
"Don't know, I am sure. It's hard enough to understand one's own
motives, let alone Brother John's."
Then we sat down on our stools again and stared at each other. At this
moment Hans crept into the hut and squatted down in front of us. He
might have walked in as there was a doorway, but he preferred to creep
on his hands and knees, I don't know why.
"What is it, you ugly little toad?" I asked viciously, for that was
just what he looked like; even the skin under his jaw moved like a
"The Baas is in trouble?" remarked Hans.
"I should think he was," I answered, "and so will you be presently
when you are wriggling on the point of a Mazitu spear."
"They are broad spears that would make a big hole," remarked Hans
again, whereupon I rose to kick him out, for his ideas were, as usual,
"Baas," he went on, "I have been listening--there is a very good hole
in this hut for listening if one lies against the wall and pretends to
be asleep. I have heard all and understood most of your talk with that
one-eyed savage and the Baas Stephen."
"Well, you little sneak, what of it?"
"Only, Baas, that if we do not want to be killed in this place from
which there is no escape, it is necessary that you should find out
exactly on what day and at what hour Dogeetah is going to arrive."
"Look here, you yellow idiot," I exclaimed, "if you are beginning that
game too, I'll----" then I stopped, reflecting that my temper was
getting the better of me and that I had better hear what Hans had to
say before I vented it on him.
"Baas, Mavovo is a great doctor; it is said that his Snake is the
straightest and the strongest in all Zululand save that of his master,
Zikali, the old slave. He told you that Dogeetah was laid up somewhere
with a hurt leg and that he was coming to meet you here; no doubt
therefore he can tell you also /when/ he is coming. I would ask him,
but he won't set his Snake to work for me. So you must ask him, Baas,
and perhaps he will forget that you laughed at his magic and that he
swore you would never see it again."
"Oh! blind one," I answered, "how do I know that Mavovo's story about
Dogeetah was not all nonsense?"
Hans stared at me amazed.
"Mavovo's story nonsense! Mavovo's Snake a liar! Oh! Baas, that is
what comes of being too much a Christian. Now, thanks to your father
the Predikant, I am a Christian too, but not so much that I have
forgotten how to know good magic from bad. Mavovo's Snake a liar, and
after he whom we buried yonder was the first of the hunters whom the
feathers named to him at Durban!" and he began to chuckle in intense
amusement, then added, "Well, Baas, there it is. You must either ask
Mavovo, and very nicely, or we shall all be killed. /I/ don't mind
much, for I should rather like to begin again a little younger
somewhere else, but just think what a noise Sammy will make!" and
turning he crept out as he had crept in.
"Here's a nice position," I groaned to Stephen when he had gone. "I, a
white man, who, in spite of some coincidences with which I am
acquainted, know that all this Kaffir magic is bosh am to beg a savage
to tell me something of which he /must/ be ignorant. That is, unless
we educated people have got hold of the wrong end of the stick
altogether. It is humiliating; it isn't Christian, and I'm hanged if
I'll do it!"
"I dare say you will be--hanged I mean--whether you do it or whether
you don't," replied Stephen with his sweet smile. "But I say, old
fellow, how do you know it is all bosh? We are told about lots of
miracles which weren't bosh, and if miracles ever existed, why can't
they exist now? But there, I know what you mean and it is no use
arguing. Still, if you're proud, I ain't. I'll try to soften the stony
heart of Mavovo--we are rather pals, you know--and get him to unroll
the book of his occult wisdom," and he went.
A few minutes later I was called out to receive a sheep which, with
milk, native beer, some corn, and other things, including green forage
for the donkeys, Bausi had sent for us to eat. Here I may remark that
while we were among the Mazitu we lived like fighting cocks. There was
none of that starvation which is, or was, so common in East Africa
where the traveller often cannot get food for love or money--generally
because there is none.
When this business was settled by my sending a message of thanks to
the king with an intimation that we hoped to wait upon him on the
morrow with a few presents, I went to seek Sammy in order to tell him
to kill and cook the sheep. After some search I found, or rather heard
him beyond a reed fence which divided two of the huts. He was acting
as interpreter between Stephen Somers and Mavovo.
"This Zulu man declares, Mr. Somers," he said, "that he quite
understands everything you have been explaining, and that it is
probable that we shall all be butchered by this savage Bausi, if we
cannot tell him when the white man, Dogeetah, whom he loves, will
arrive here. He says also that he thinks that by his magic he could
learn when this will happen--if it is to happen at all--(which of
course, Mr. Somers, for your private information only, is a mighty lie
of the ignorant heathen). He adds, however, that he does not care one
brass farthing--his actual expression, Mr. Somers, is 'one grain of
corn on a mealie-cob'--about his or anybody else's life, which from
all I have heard of his proceedings I can well believe to be true. He
says in his vulgar language that there is no difference between the
belly of a Mazitu-land hyena and that of any other hyena, and that the
earth of Mazitu-land is as welcome to his bones as any other earth,
since the earth is the wickedest of all hyenas, in that he has
observed that soon or late it devours everlastingly everything which
once it bore. You must forgive me for reproducing his empty and
childish talk, Mr. Somers, but you bade me to render the words of this
savage with exactitude. In fact, Mr. Somers, this reckless person
intimates, in short that some power with which he is not acquainted--
he calls it the 'Strength that makes the Sun to shine and broiders the
blanket of the night with stars' (forgive me for repeating his silly
words), caused him 'to be born into this world, and, at an hour
already appointed, will draw him from this world back into its dark,
eternal bosom, there to be rocked in sleep, or nursed to life again,
according to its unknown will'--I translate exactly, Mr. Somers,
although I do not know what it all means--and that he does not care a
curse when this happens. Still, he says that whereas he is growing old
and has known many sorrows--he alludes here, I gather, to some nigger
wives of his whom another savage knocked on the head; also to a child
to whom he appears to have been attached--you are young with all your
days and, he hopes, joys, before you. Therefore he would gladly do
anything in his power to save your life, because although you are
white and he is black he has conceived an affection for you and looks
on you as his child. Yes, Mr. Somers, although I blush to repeat it,
this black fellow says he looks upon you as his child. He adds,
indeed, that if the opportunity arises, he will gladly give his life
to save your life, and that it cuts his heart in two to refuse you
anything. Still he must refuse this request of yours, that he will ask
the creature he calls his Snake--what he means by that, I don't know,
Mr. Somers--to declare when the white man, named Dogeetah, will arrive
in this place. For this reason, that he told Mr. Quatermain when he
laughed at him about his divinations that he would make no more magic
for him or any of you, and that he will die rather than break his
word. That's all, Mr. Somers, and I dare say you will think--quite
"I understand," replied Stephen. "Tell the chief, Mavovo" (I observed
he laid an emphasis on the word, /chief/) "that I /quite/ understand,
and that I thank him very much for explaining things to me so fully.
Then ask him whether, as the matter is so important, there is no way
out of this trouble?"
Sammy translated into Zulu, which he spoke perfectly, as I noted
without interpolations or additions.
"Only one way," answered Mavovo in the intervals of taking snuff. "It
is that Macumazana himself shall ask me to do this thing, Macumazana
is my old chief and friend, and for his sake I will forget what in the
case of others I should always remember. If he will come and ask me,
without mockery, to exercise my skill on behalf of all of us, I will
try to exercise it, although I know very well that he believes it to
be but as an idle little whirlwind that stirs the dust, that raises
the dust and lets it fall again without purpose or meaning,
forgetting, as the wise white men forget, that even the wind which
blows the dust is the same that breathes in our nostrils, and that to
it, we also are as is the dust."
Now I, the listener, thought for a moment or two. The words of this
fighting savage, Mavovo, even those of them of which I had heard only
the translation, garbled and beslavered by the mean comments of the
unutterable Sammy, stirred my imagination. Who was I that I should
dare to judge of him and his wild, unknown gifts? Who was I that I
should mock at him and by my mockery intimate that I believed him to
be a fraud?
Stepping through the gateway of the fence, I confronted him.
"Mavovo," I said, "I have overheard your talk. I am sorry if I laughed
at you in Durban. I do not understand what you call your magic. It is
beyond me and may be true or may be false. Still, I shall be grateful
to you if you will use your power to discover, if you can, whether
Dogeetah is coming here, and if so, when. Now, do as it may please
you; I have spoken."
"And I have heard, Macumazana, my father. To-night I will call upon my
Snake. Whether it will answer or what it will answer, I cannot say."
Well, he did call upon his Snake with due and portentous ceremony and,
according to Stephen, who was present, which I declined to be, that
mystic reptile declared that Dogeetah, alias Brother John, would
arrive in Beza Town precisely at sunset on the third day from that
night. Now as he had divined on Friday, according to our almanac, this
meant that we might hope to see him--hope exactly described my state
of mind on the matter--on the Monday evening in time for supper.
"All right," I said briefly. "Please do not talk to me any more about
this impious rubbish, for I want to go to sleep."
Next morning early we unpacked our boxes and made a handsome selection
of gifts for the king, Bausi, hoping thus to soften his royal heart.
It included a bale of calico, several knives, a musical box, a cheap
American revolver, and a bundle of tooth-picks; also several pounds of
the best and most fashionable beads for his wives. This truly noble
present we sent to the king by our two Mazitu servants, Tom and Jerry,
who were marched off in the charge of several sentries, for I hoped
that these men would talk to their compatriots and tell them what good
fellows we were. Indeed I instructed them to do so.
Imagine our horror, therefore, when about an hour later, just as we
were tidying ourselves up after breakfast, there appeared through the
gate, not Tom and Jerry, for they had vanished, but a long line of
Mazitu soldiers each of whom carried one of the articles that we had
sent. Indeed the last of them held the bundle of toothpicks on his
fuzzy head as though it were a huge faggot of wood. One by one they
set them down upon the lime flooring of the verandah of the largest
hut. Then their captain said solemnly:
"Bausi, the Great Black One, has no need of the white men's gifts."
"Indeed," I replied, for my dander was up. "Then he won't get another
chance at them."
The men turned away without more words, and presently Babemba turned
up with a company of about fifty soldiers.
"The king is waiting to see you, white lords," he said in a voice of
very forced jollity, "and I have come to conduct you to him."
"Why would he not accept our presents?" I asked, pointing to the row
"Oh! that is because of Imbozwi's story of the magic shield. He said
he wanted no gifts to burn his hair off. But, come, come. He will
explain for himself. If the Elephant is kept waiting he grows angry
"Does he?" I said. "And how many of us are to come?"
"All, all, white lord. He wishes to see every one of you."
"Not me, I suppose?" said Sammy, who was standing close by. "I must
stop to make ready the food."
"Yes, you too," replied Babemba. "The king would look on the mixer of
the holy drink."
Well, there was no way out of it, so off we marched, all well armed as
I need not say, and were instantly surrounded by the soldiers. To give
an unusual note to the proceedings I made Hans walk first, carrying on
his head the rejected musical box from which flowed the touching
melody of "Home, Sweet Home." Then came Stephen bearing the Union Jack
on a pole, then I in the midst of the hunters and accompanied by
Babemba, then the reluctant Sammy, and last of all the two donkeys led
by Mazitus, for it seemed that the king had especially ordered that
these should be brought also.
It was a truly striking cavalcade, the sight of which under any other
circumstances would have made me laugh. Nor did it fail in its effect,
for even the silent Mazitu people through whom we wended our way, were
moved to something like enthusiasm. "Home, Sweet Home" they evidently
thought heavenly, though perhaps the two donkeys attracted them most,
especially when these brayed.
"Where are Tom and Jerry?" I asked of Babemba.
"I don't know," he answered; "I think they have been given leave to go
to see their friends."
Imbozwi is suppressing evidence in our favour, I thought to myself,
and said no more.
Presently we reached the gate of the royal enclosure. Here to my
dismay the soldiers insisted on disarming us, taking away our rifles,
our revolvers, and even our sheath knives. In vain did I remonstrate,
saying that we were not accustomed to part with these weapons. The
answer was that it was not lawful for any man to appear before the
king armed even with so much as a dancing-stick. Mavovo and the Zulus
showed signs of resisting and for a minute I thought there was going
to be a row, which of course would have ended in our massacre, for
although the Mazitus feared guns very much, what could we have done
against hundreds of them? I ordered him to give way, but for once he
was on the point of disobeying me. Then by a happy thought I reminded
him that, according to his Snake, Dogeetah was coming, and that
therefore all would be well. So he submitted with an ill grace, and we
saw our precious guns borne off we knew not where.
Then the Mazitu soldiers piled their spears and bows at the gate of
the kraal and we proceeded with only the Union Jack and the musical
box, which was now discoursing "Britannia rules the waves."
Across the open space we marched to where several broad-leaved trees
grew in front of a large native house. Not far from the door of this
house a fat, middle-aged and angry-looking man was seated on a stool,
naked except for a moocha of catskins about his loins and a string of
large blue beads round his neck.
"Bausi, the King," whispered Babemba.
At his side squatted a little hunchbacked figure, in whom I had no
difficulty in recognising Imbozwi, although he had painted his
scorched scalp white with vermillion spots and adorned his snub nose
with a purple tip, his dress of ceremony I presume. Round and behind
there were a number of silent councillors. At some signal or on
reaching a given spot, all the soldiers, including old Babemba, fell
upon their hands and knees and began to crawl. They wanted us to do
the same, but here I drew the line, feeling that if once we crawled we
must always crawl.
So at my word we advanced upright, but with slow steps, in the midst
of all this wriggling humanity and at length found ourselves in the
august presence of Bausi, "the Beautiful Black One," King of the
We stared at Bausi and Bausi stared at us.
"I am the Black Elephant Bausi," he exclaimed at last, worn out by our
solid silence, "and I trumpet! I trumpet! I trumpet!" (It appeared
that this was the ancient and hallowed formula with which a Mazitu
king was wont to open a conversation with strangers.)
After a suitable pause I replied in a cold voice:
"We are the white lions, Macumazana and Wazela, and we roar! we roar!
"I can trample," said Bausi.
"And we can bite," I said haughtily, though how we were to bite or do
anything else effectual with nothing but a Union Jack, I did not in
the least know.
"What is that thing?" asked Bausi, pointing to the flag.
"That which shadows the whole earth," I answered proudly, a remark
that seemed to impress him, although he did not at all understand it,
for he ordered a soldier to hold a palm leaf umbrella over him to
prevent it from shadowing /him/.
"And that," he asked again, pointing to the music box, "which is not
alive and yet makes a noise?"
"That sings the war-song of our people," I said. "We sent it to you as
a present and you returned it. Why do you return our presents, O
Then of a sudden this potentate grew furious.
"Why do you come here, white men," he asked, "uninvited and against
the law of my land, where only one white man is welcome, my brother
Dogeetah, who cured me of sickness with a knife? I know who you are.
You are dealers in men. You come here to steal my people and sell them
into slavery. You had many slaves with you on the borders of my
country, but you sent them away. You shall die, you shall die, you who
call yourselves lions, and the painted rag which you say shadows the
world, shall rot with your bones. As for that box which sings a war-
song, I will smash it; it shall not bewitch me as your magic shield
bewitched my great doctor, Imbozwi, burning off his hair."
Then springing up with wonderful agility for one so fat, he knocked
the musical box from Hans' head, so that it fell to the ground and
after a little whirring grew silent.
"That is right," squeaked Imbozwi. "Trample on their magic, O
Elephant. Kill them, O Black One; burn them as they burned my hair."
Now things were, I felt, very serious, for already Bausi was looking
about him as though to order his soldiers to make an end of us. So I
said in desperation:
"O King, you mentioned a certain white man, Dogeetah, a doctor of
doctors, who cured you of sickness with a knife, and called him your
brother. Well, he is our brother also, and it was by his invitation
that we have come to visit you here, where he will meet us presently."
"If Dogeetah is your friend, then you are my friends," answered Bausi,
"for in this land he rules as I rule, he whose blood flows in my
veins, as my blood flows in his veins. But you lie. Dogeetah is no
brother of slave-dealers, his heart is good and yours are evil. You
say that he will meet you here. When will he meet you? Tell me, and if
it is soon, I will hold my hand and wait to hear his report of you
before I put you to death, for if he speaks well of you, you shall not
Now I hesitated, as well I might, for I felt that looking at our case
from his point of view, Bausi, believing us to be slave-traders, was
not angry without cause. While I was racking my brains for a reply
that might be acceptable to him and would not commit us too deeply, to
my astonishment Mavovo stepped forward and confronted the king.
"Who are you, fellow?" shouted Bausi.
"I am a warrior, O King, as my scars show," and he pointed to the
assegai wounds upon his breast and to his cut nostril. "I am a chief
of a people from whom your people sprang and my name is Mavovo, Mavovo
who is ready to fight you or any man whom you may name, and to kill
him or you if you will. Is there one here who wishes to be killed?"
No one answered, for the mighty-chested Zulu looked very formidable.
"I am a doctor also," went on Mavovo, "one of the greatest of doctors
who can open the 'Gates of Distance' and read that which is hid in the
womb of the Future. Therefore I will answer your questions which you
put to the lord Macumazana, the great and wise white man whom I serve,
because we have fought together in many battles. Yes, I will be his
Mouth, I will answer. The white man Dogeetah, who is your blood-
brother and whose word is your word among the Mazitu, will arrive here
at sunset on the second day from now. I have spoken."
Bausi looked at me in question.
"Yes," I exclaimed, feeling that I must say something and that it did
not much matter what I said, "Dogeetah will arrive here on the second
day from now within half an hour after sunset."
Something, I know not what, prompted me to allow that extra half-hour,
which in the event, saved all our lives. Now Bausi consulted a while
with the execrable Imbozwi and also with the old one-eyed General
Babemba while we watched, knowing that our fate hung upon the issue.
At length he spoke.
"White men," he said, "Imbozwi, the head of the witch-finders here,
whose hair you burnt off by your evil magic, says that it would be
better to kill you at once as your hearts are bad and you are planning
mischief against my people. So I think also. But Babemba my General,
with whom I am angry because he did not obey my orders and put you to
death on the borders of my country when he met you there with your
caravan of slaves, thinks otherwise. He prays me to hold my hand,
first because you have bewitched him into liking you and secondly
because if you should happen to be speaking the truth--which we do not
believe--and to have come here at the invitation of my brother
Dogeetah, he, Dogeetah, would be pained if he arrived and found you
dead, nor could even he bring you to life again. This being so, since
it matters little whether you die now or later, my command is that you
be kept prisoners till sunset of the second day from this, and that
then you will be led out and tied to stakes in the market-place, there
to wait till the approach of darkness, by when you say Dogeetah will
be here. If he arrives and owns you as his brethren, well and good; if
he does not arrive, or disowns you--better still, for then you shall
be shot to death with arrows as a warning to all other stealers of men
not to cross the borders of the Mazitu."
I listened to this atrocious sentence with horror, then gasped out:
"We are not stealers of men, O King, we are freers of men, as Tom and
Jerry of your own people could tell you."
"Who are Tom and Jerry?" he asked, indifferently. "Well, it does not
matter, for doubtless they are liars like the rest of you. I have
spoken. Take them away, feed them well and keep them safe till within
an hour of sunset on the second day from this."
Then, without giving us any further opportunity of speaking, Bausi
rose, and followed by Imbozwi and his councillors, marched off into
his big hut. We too, were marched off, this time under a double guard
commanded by someone whom I had not seen before. At the gate of the
kraal we halted and asked for the arms that had been taken from us. No
answer was given; only the soldiers put their hands upon our shoulders
and thrust us along.
"This is a nice business," I whispered to Stephen.
"Oh! it doesn't matter," he answered. "There are lots more guns in the
huts. I am told that these Mazitus are dreadfully afraid of bullets.
So all we have to do is just to break out and shoot our way through
them, for of course they will run when we begin to fire."
I looked at him but did not answer, for to tell the truth I felt in no
mood for argument.
Presently we arrived at our quarters, where the soldiers left us, to
camp outside. Full of his warlike plan, Stephen went at once to the
hut in which the slavers' guns had been stored with our own spare
rifles and all the ammunition. I saw him emerge looking very blank
indeed and asked him what was the matter.
"Matter!" he answered in a voice that for once really was full of
dismay. "The matter is that those Mazitu have stolen all the guns and
all the ammunition. There's not enough powder left to make a blue
"Well," I replied, with the kind of joke one perpetrates under such
circumstances, "we shall have plenty of blue devils without making any
Truly ours was a dreadful situation. Let the reader imagine it. Within
a little more than forty-eight hours we were to be shot to death with
arrows if an erratic old gentleman who, for aught I knew might be
dead, did not turn up at what was then one of the remotest and most
inaccessible spots in Central Africa. Moreover, our only hope that
such a thing would happen, if hope it could be called, was the
prophecy of a Kaffir witch-doctor.
To rely on this in any way was so absurd that I gave up thinking of it
and set my mind to considering if there were any possible means of
escape. After hours of reflection I could find none. Even Hans, with
all his experience and nearly superhuman cunning, could suggest none.
We were unarmed and surrounded by thousands of savages, all of whom
save perhaps Babemba, believed us to be slave-traders, a race that
very properly they held in abhorrence, who had visited the country
with the object of stealing their women and children. The king, Bausi,
a very prejudiced fellow, was dead against us. Also by a piece of
foolishness which I now bitterly regretted, as indeed I regretted the
whole expedition, or at any rate entering on it in the absence of
Brother John, we had made an implacable enemy of the head medicine-
man, who to these folk was a sort of Archbishop of Canterbury. Short
of a miracle, there was no hope for us. All that we could do was to
say our prayers and prepare for the end.
Mavovo, it is true, remained cheerful. His faith in his "Snake" was
really touching. He offered to go through that divination process
again in our presence and demonstrate that there was no mistake. I
declined because I had no faith in divinations, and Stephen also
declined, for another reason, namely that the result might prove to be
different, which, he held, would be depressing. The other Zulus
oscillated between belief and scepticism, as do the unstable who set
to work to study the evidences of Christianity. But Sammy did not
oscillate, he literally howled, and prepared the food which poured in
upon us so badly that I had to turn on Hans to do the cooking, for
however little appetite we might have, it was necessary that we should
keep up our strength by eating.
"What, Mr. Quatermain," asked Sammy between his tears, "is the use of
dressing viands that our systems will never have time to thoroughly
The first night passed somehow, and so did the next day and the next
night which heralded our last morning. I got up quite early and
watched the sunrise. Never, I think, had I realised before what a
beautiful thing the sunrise is, at least not to the extent I did now
when I was saying good-bye to it for ever. Unless indeed there should
prove to be still lovelier sunrises beyond the dark of death! Then I
went into our hut, and as Stephen, who had the nerves of a rhinoceros,
was still sleeping like a tortoise in winter, I said my prayers
earnestly enough, mourned over my sins which proved to be so many that
at last I gave up the job in despair, and then tried to occupy myself
by reading the Old Testament, a book to which I have always been
As a passage that I lit on described how the prophet Samuel for whom I
could not help reading "Imbozwi," hewed Agag in pieces after Bausi--I
mean Saul--had relented and spared his life, I cannot say that it
consoled me very much. Doubtless, I reflected, these people believe
that I, like Agag, had "made women childless" by my sword, so there
remained nothing save to follow the example of that unhappy king and
walk "delicately" to doom.
Then, as Stephen was still sleeping--how /could/ he do it, I wondered
--I set to work to make up the accounts of the expedition to date. It
had already cost £1,423. Just fancy expending £1,423 in order to be
tied to a post and shot to death with arrows. And all to get a rare
orchid! Oh! I reflected to myself, if by some marvel I should escape,
or if I should live again in any land where these particular flowers
flourish, I would never even look at them. And as a matter of fact I
At length Stephen did wake up and, as criminals are reported to do in
the papers before execution, made an excellent breakfast.
"What's the good of worrying?" he said presently. "I shouldn't if it
weren't for my poor old father. It must have come to this one day, and
the sooner it is over the sooner to sleep, as the song says. When one
comes to think of it there are enormous advantages in sleep, for
that's the only time one is quite happy. Still, I should have liked to
see that Cypripedium first."
"Oh! drat the Cypripedium!" I exclaimed, and blundered from the hut to
tell Sammy that if he didn't stop his groaning I would punch his head.
"Jumps! Regular jumps! Who'd have thought it of Quatermain?" I heard
Stephen mutter in the intervals of lighting his pipe.
The morning went "like lightning that is greased," as Sammy remarked.
Three o'clock came and Mavovo and his following sacrificed a kid to
the spirits of their ancestors, which, as Sammy remarked again, was "a
horrible, heathen ceremony much calculated to prejudice our cause with
When it was over, to my delight, Babemba appeared. He looked so
pleasant that I jumped to the conclusion that he brought the best of
news with him. Perhaps that the king had pardoned us, or perhaps--
blessed thought--that Brother John had really arrived before his time.
But not a bit of it! All he had to say was that he had caused
inquiries to be made along the route that ran to the coast and that
certainly for a hundred miles there was at present no sign of
Dogeetah. So as the Black Elephant was growing more and more enraged
under the stirrings up of Imbozwi, it was obvious that that evening's
ceremony must be performed. Indeed, as it was part of his duty to
superintend the erection of the posts to which we were to be tied and
the digging of our graves at their bases, he had just come to count us
again to be sure that he had not made any mistake as to the number.
Also, if there were any articles that we would like buried with us,
would we be so kind as to point them out and he would be sure to see
to the matter. It would be soon over, and not painful, he added, as he
had selected the very best archers in Beza Town who rarely missed and
could, most of them, send an arrow up to the feather into a buffalo.
Then he chatted a little about other matters, as to where he should
find the magic shield I had given him, which he would always value as
a souvenir, etc., took a pinch of snuff with Mavovo and departed,
saying that he would be sure to return again at the proper time.
It was now four o'clock, and as Sammy was quite beyond it, Stephen
made himself some tea. It was very good tea, especially as we had milk
to put in it, although I did not remember what it tasted like till
Now, having abandoned hope, I went into a hut alone to compose myself
to meet my end like a gentleman, and seated there in silence and semi-
darkness my spirit grew much calmer. After all, I reflected, why
should I cling to life? In the country whither I travelled, as the
reader who has followed my adventures will know, were some whom I
clearly longed to see again, notably my father and my mother, and two
noble women who were even more to me. My boy, it is true, remained (he
was alive then), but I knew that he would find friends, and as I was
not so badly off at that time, I had been able to make a proper
provision for him. Perhaps it was better that I should go, seeing that
if I lived on it would only mean more troubles and more partings.
What was about to befall me of course I could not tell, but I knew
then as I know now, that it was not extinction or even that sleep of
which Stephen had spoken. Perhaps I was passing to some place where at
length the clouds would roll away and I should understand; whence,
too, I should see all the landscape of the past and future, as an
eagle does watching from the skies, and be no longer like one
struggling through dense bush, wild-beast and serpent haunted, beat
upon by the storms of heaven and terrified with its lightnings, nor
knowing whither I hewed my path. Perhaps in that place there would be
no longer what St. Paul describes as another law in my members warring
against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law
of sin. Perhaps there the past would be forgiven by the Power which
knows whereof we are made, and I should become what I have always
longed to be--good in every sense and even find open to me new and
better roads of service. I take these thoughts from a note that I made
in my pocket-book at the time.
Thus I reflected and then wrote a few lines of farewell in the fond
and foolish hope that somehow they might find those to whom they were
addressed (I have those letters still and very oddly they read
to-day). This done, I tried to throw out my mind towards Brother John
if he still lived, as indeed I had done for days past, so that I might
inform him of our plight and, I am afraid, reproach him for having
brought us to such an end by his insane carelessness or want of faith.
Whilst I was still engaged thus Babemba arrived with his soldiers to
lead us off to execution. It was Hans who came to tell me that he was
there. The poor old Hottentot shook me by the hand and wiped his eyes
with his ragged coat-sleeve.
"Oh! Baas, this is our last journey," he said, "and you are going to
be killed, Baas, and it is all my fault, Baas, because I ought to have
found a way out of the trouble which is what I was hired to do. But I
can't, my head grows so stupid. Oh! if only I could come even with
Imbozwi I shouldn't mind, and I will, I /will/, if I have to return as
a ghost to do it. Well, Baas, you know the Predikant, your father,
told us that we don't go out like a fire, but burn again for always
("I hope not," I thought to myself.)
"And that quite easily without anything to pay for the wood. So I hope
that we shall always burn together, Baas. And meanwhile, I have
brought you a little something," and he produced what looked like a
peculiarly obnoxious horseball. "You swallow this now and you will
never feel anything; it is a very good medicine that my grandfather's
grandfather got from the Spirit of his tribe. You will just go to
sleep as nicely as though you were very drunk, and wake up in the
beautiful fire which burns without any wood and never goes out for
ever and ever, Amen."
"No, Hans," I said, "I prefer to die with my eyes open."
"And so would I, Baas, if I thought there was any good in keeping them
open, but I don't, for I can't believe any more in the Snake of that
black fool, Mavovo. If it had been a good Snake, it would have told
him to keep clear of Beza Town, so I will swallow one of these pills
and give the other to the Baas Stephen," and he crammed the filthy
mess into his mouth and with an effort got it down, as a young turkey
does a ball of meal that is too big for its throat.
Then, as I heard Stephen calling me, I left him invoking a most
comprehensive and polyglot curse upon the head of Imbozwi, to whom he
rightly attributed all our woes.
"Our friend here says it is time to start," said Stephen, rather
shakily, for the situation seemed to have got a hold of him at last,
and nodding towards old Babemba, who stood there with a cheerful smile
looking as though he were going to conduct us to a wedding.
"Yes, white lord," said Babemba, "it is time, and I have hurried so as
not to keep you waiting. It will be a very fine show, for the 'Black
Elephant' himself is going to do you the honour to be present, as will
all the people of Beza Town and those for many miles round."
"Hold your tongue, you old idiot," I said, "and stop your grinning. If
you had been a man and not a false friend you would have got us out of
this trouble, knowing as you do very well that we are no sellers of
men, but rather the enemy of those who do such things."
"Oh! white lord," said Babemba, in a changed voice, "believe me I only
smile to make you happy up to the end. My lips smile, but I am crying
inside. I know that you are good and have told Bausi so, but he will
not believe me, who thinks that I have been bribed by you. What can I
do against that evil-hearted Imbozwi, the head of the witch-doctors,
who hates you because he thinks you have better magic than he has and
who whispers day and night into the king's ear, telling him that if he
does not kill you, all our people will be slain or sold for slaves, as
you are only the scouts or a big army that is coming. Only last night
Imbozwi held a great divination /indaba/, and read this and a great
deal more in the enchanted water, making the king think he saw it in
pictures, whereas I, looking over his shoulder, could see nothing at
all, except the ugly face of Imbozwi reflected in the water. Also he
swore that his spirit told me that Dogeetah, the king's blood-brother,
being dead, would never come to Beza Town again. I have done my best.
Keep your heart white towards me, O Macumazana, and do not haunt me,
for I tell you I have done my best, and if ever I should get a chance
against Imbozwi, which I am afraid I shan't, as he will poison me
first, I will pay him back. Oh! he shall not die quickly as you will."
"I wish I could get a chance at him," I muttered, for even in this
solemn moment I could cultivate no Christian spirit towards Imbozwi.
Feeling that he was honest after all, I shook old Babemba's hand and
gave him the letters I had written, asking him to try and get them to
the coast. Then we started on our last walk.
The Zulu hunters were already outside the fence, seated on the ground,
chatting and taking snuff. I wondered if this was because they really
believed in Mavovo's confounded Snake, or from bravado, inspired by
the innate courage of their race. When they saw me they sprang to
their feet and, lifting their right hands, gave me a loud and hearty
salute of "Inkoosi! Baba! Inkoosi! Macumazana!" Then, at a signal from
Mavovo, they broke into some Zulu war-chant, which they kept up till
we reached the stakes. Sammy, too, broke into a chant, but one of
quite a different nature.
"Be quiet!" I said to him. "Can't you die like a man?"
"No, indeed I cannot, Mr. Quatermain," he answered, and went on
howling for pity in about twenty different languages.
Stephen and I walked together, he still carrying the Union Jack, of
which no one tried to deprive him. I think the Mazitu believed it was
his fetish. We didn't talk much, though once he said:
"Well, the love of orchids has brought many a man to a bad end. I
wonder whether the Governor will keep my collection or sell it."
After this he relapsed into silence, and not knowing and indeed not
caring what would happen to his collection, I made no answer.
We had not far to go; personally I could have preferred a longer walk.
Passing with our guards down a kind of by-street, we emerged suddenly
at the head of the market-place, to find that it was packed with
thousands of people gathered there to see our execution. I noticed
that they were arranged in orderly companies and that a broad open
roadway was left between them, running to the southern gate of the
market, I suppose to facilitate the movements of so large a crowd.
All this multitude received us in respectful silence, though Sammy's
howls caused some of them to smile, while the Zulu war-chant appeared
to excite their wonder, or admiration. At the head of the market-
place, not far from the king's enclosure, fifteen stout posts had been
planted on as many mounds. These mounds were provided so that everyone
might see the show and, in part at any rate, were made of soil
hollowed from fifteen deep graves dug almost at the foot of the
mounds. Or rather there were seventeen posts, an extra large one being
set at each end of the line in order to accommodate the two donkeys,
which it appeared were also to be shot to death. A great number of
soldiers kept a space clear in front of the posts. On this space were
gathered Bausi, his councillors, some of his head wives, Imbozwi more
hideously painted than usual, and perhaps fifty or sixty picked
archers with strung bows and an ample supply of arrows, whose part in
the ceremony it was not difficult for us to guess.
"King Bausi," I said as I was led past that potentate, "you are a
murderer and Heaven Above will be avenged upon you for this crime. If
our blood is shed, soon you shall die and come to meet us where /we/
have power, and your people shall be destroyed."
My words seemed to frighten the man, for he answered:
"I am no murderer. I kill you because you are robbers of men.
Moreover, it is not I who have passed sentence on you. It is Imbozwi
here, the chief of the doctors, who has told me all about you, and
whose spirit says you must die unless my brother Dogeetah appears to
save you. If Dogeetah comes, which he cannot do because he is dead,
and vouches for you, then I shall know that Imbozwi is a wicked liar,
and as you were to die, so he shall die."
"Yes, yes," screeched Imbozwi. "If Dogeetah comes, as that false
wizard prophesies," and he pointed to Mavovo, "then I shall be ready
to die in your place, white slave-dealers. Yes, yes, then you may
shoot /me/ with arrows."
"King, take note of those words, and people, take note of those words,
that they may be fulfilled if Dogeetah comes," said Mavovo in a great,
"I take note of them," answered Bausi, "and I swear by my mother on
behalf of all the people, that they shall be fulfilled--if Dogeetah
"Good," exclaimed Mavovo, and stalked on to the stake which had been
pointed out to him.
As he went he whispered something into Imbozwi's ear that seemed to
frighten that limb of Satan, for I saw him start and shiver. However,
he soon recovered, for in another minute he was engaged in
superintending those whose business it was to lash us to the posts.
This was done simply and effectively by tying our wrists with a grass
rope behind these posts, each of which was fitted with two projecting
pieces of wood that passed under our arms and practically prevented us
from moving. Stephen and I were given the places of honour in the
middle, the Union Jack being fixed, by his own request, to the top of
Stephen's stake. Mavovo was on my right, and the other Zulus were
ranged on either side of us. Hans and Sammy occupied the end posts
respectively (except those to which the poor jackasses were bound). I
noted that Hans was already very sleepy and that shortly after he was
Back to Full Books