Allan and the Holy Flower
H. Rider Haggard
Part 4 out of 7
fixed up, his head dropped forward on his breast. Evidently his
medicine was working, and almost I regretted that I had not taken some
while I had the chance.
When we were all fastened, Imbozwi came round to inspect. Moreover,
with a piece of white chalk he made a round mark on the breast of each
of us; a kind of bull's eye for the archers to aim at.
"Ah! white man," he said to me as he chalked away at my shooting coat,
"you will never burn anyone's hair again with your magic shield.
Never, never, for presently I shall be treading down the earth upon
you in that hole, and your goods will belong to me."
I did not answer, for what was the use of talking to this vile brute
when my time was so short. So he passed on to Stephen and began to
chalk him. Stephen, however, in whom the natural man still prevailed,
"Take your filthy hands off me," and lifting his leg, which was
unfettered, gave the painted witch-doctor such an awful kick in the
stomach, that he vanished backwards into the grave beneath him.
"/Ow!/ Well done, Wazela!" said the Zulus, "we hope that you have
"I hope so too," said Stephen, and the multitude of spectators gasped
to see the sacred person of the head witch-doctor, of whom they
evidently went in much fear, treated in such a way. Only Babemba
grinned, and even the king Bausi did not seem displeased.
But Imbozwi was not to be disposed of so easily, for presently, with
the help of sundry myrmidons, minor witch-doctors, he scrambled out of
the grave, cursing and covered with mud, for it was wet down there.
After that I took no more heed of him or of much else. Seeing that I
had only half an hour to live, as may be imagined, I was otherwise
THE COMING OF DOGEETAH
The sunset that day was like the sunrise, particularly fine, although
as in the case of the tea, I remembered little of it till afterwards.
In fact, thunder was about, which always produces grand cloud effects
The sun went down like a great red eye, over which there dropped
suddenly a black eyelid of cloud with a fringe of purple lashes.
There's the last I shall see of you, my old friend, thought I to
myself, unless I catch you up presently.
The gloom began to gather. The king looked about him, also at the sky
overhead, as though he feared rain, then whispered something to
Babemba, who nodded and strolled up to my post.
"White lord," he said, "the Elephant wishes to know if you are ready,
as presently the light will be very bad for shooting?"
"No," I answered with decision, "not till half an hour after sundown
as was agreed."
Babemba went to the king and returned to me.
"White lord, the king says that a bargain is a bargain, and he will
keep to his word. Only you must not then blame him if the shooting is
bad, since of course he did not know that the night would be so
cloudy, which is not usual at this time of year."
It grew darker and darker, till at length we might have been lost in a
London fog. The dense masses of the people looked like banks, and the
archers, flitting to and fro as they made ready, might have been
shadows in Hades. Once or twice lightning flashed and was followed
after a pause by the distant growling of thunder. The air, too, grew
very oppressive. Dense silence reigned. In all those multitudes no one
spoke or stirred; even Sammy ceased his howling, I suppose because he
had become exhausted and fainted away, as people often do just before
they are hanged. It was a most solemn time. Nature seemed to be
adapting herself to the mood of sacrifice and making ready for us a
At length I heard the sound of arrows being drawn from their quivers,
and then the squeaky voice of Imbozwi, saying:
"Wait a little, the cloud will lift. There is light behind it, and it
will be nicer if they can see the arrows coming."
The cloud did begin to lift, very slowly, and from beneath it flowed a
green light like that in a cat's eye.
"Shall we shoot, Imbozwi?" asked the voice of the captain of the
"Not yet, not yet. Not till the people can watch them die."
The edge of cloud lifted a little more; the green light turned to a
fiery red thrown by the sunk sun and reflected back upon the earth
from the dense black cloud above. It was as though all the landscape
had burst into flames, while the heaven over us remained of the hue of
ink. Again the lightning flashed, showing the faces and staring eyes
of the thousands who watched, and even the white teeth of a great bat
that flittered past. That flash seemed to burn off an edge of the
lowering cloud and the light grew stronger and stronger, and redder
Imbozwi uttered a hiss like a snake. I heard a bow-string twang, and
almost at the same moment the thud of an arrow striking my post just
above my head. Indeed, by lifting myself I could touch it. I shut my
eyes and began to see all sorts of queer things that I had forgotten
for years and years. My brain swam and seemed to melt into a kind of
confusion. Through the intense silence I thought I heard the sound of
some animal running heavily, much as a fat bull eland does when it is
suddenly disturbed. Someone uttered a startled exclamation, which
caused me to open my eyes again. The first thing I saw was the squad
of savage archers lifting their bows--evidently that first arrow had
been a kind of trial shot. The next, looking absolutely unearthly in
that terrible and ominous light, was a tall figure seated on a white
ox shambling rapidly towards us along the open roadway that ran from
the southern gate of the market-place.
Of course, I knew that I dreamed, for this figure exactly resembled
Brother John. There was his long, snowy beard. There in his hand was
his butterfly net, with the handle of which he seemed to be prodding
the ox. Only he was wound about with wreaths of flowers as were the
great horns of the ox, and on either side of him and before and behind
him ran girls, also wreathed with flowers. It was a vision, nothing
else, and I shut my eyes again awaiting the fatal arrow.
"Shoot!" screamed Imbozwi.
"Nay, shoot not!" shouted Babemba. "/Dogeetah is come!/"
A moment's pause, during which I heard arrows falling to the ground;
then from all those thousands of throats a roar that shaped itself to
"Dogeetah! Dogeetah is come to save the white lords."
I must confess that after this my nerve, which is generally pretty
good, gave out to such an extent that I think I fainted for a few
minutes. During that faint I seemed to be carrying on a conversation
with Mavovo, though whether it ever took place or I only imagined it I
am not sure, since I always forgot to ask him.
He said, or I thought he said, to me:
"And now, Macumazana, my father, what have you to say? Does my Snake
stand upon its tail or does it not? Answer, I am listening."
To which I replied, or seemed to reply:
"Mavovo, my child, certainly it appears as though your Snake /does/
stand upon its tail. Still, I hold that all this is a phantasy; that
we live in a land of dream in which nothing is real except those
things which we cannot see or touch or hear. That there is no me and
no you and no Snake at all, nothing but a Power in which we move, that
shows us pictures and laughs when we think them real."
Whereon Mavovo said, or seemed to say:
"Ah! at last you touch the truth, O Macumazana, my father. All things
are a shadow and we are shadows in a shadow. But what throws the
shadow, O Macumazana, my father? Why does Dogeetah appear to come
hither riding on a white ox and why do all these thousands think that
my Snake stands so very stiff upon its tail?"
"I'm hanged if I know," I replied and woke up.
There, without doubt, /was/ old Brother John with a wreath of flowers
--I noted in disgust that they were orchids--hanging in a bacchanalian
fashion from his dinted sun-helmet over his left eye. He was in a
furious rage and reviling Bausi, who literally crouched before him,
and I was in a furious rage and reviling him. What I said I do not
remember, but he said, his white beard bristling with indignation
while he threatened Bausi with the handle of the butterfly net:
"You dog! You savage, whom I saved from death and called Brother. What
were you doing to these white men who are in truth my brothers, and to
their followers? Were you about to kill them? Oh! if so, I will forget
my vow, I will forget the bond that binds us and----"
"Don't, pray don't," said Bausi. "It is all a horrible mistake; I am
not to be blamed at all. It is that witch-doctor, Imbozwi, whom by the
ancient law of the land I must obey in such matters. He consulted his
Spirit and declared that you were dead; also that these white lords
were the most wicked of men, slave-traders with spotted hearts, who
came hither to spy out the Mazitu people and to destroy them with
magic and bullets."
"Then he lied," thundered Brother John, "and he knew that he lied."
"Yes, yes, it is evident that he lied," answered Bausi. "Bring him
here, and with him those who serve him."
Now by the light of the moon which was shining brightly in the
heavens, for the thunder-clouds had departed with the last glow of
sunset, soldiers began an active search for Imbozwi and his
confederates. Of these they caught eight or ten, all wicked-looking
fellows hideously painted and adorned like their master, but Imbozwi
himself they could not find.
I began to think that in the confusion he had given us the slip, when
presently from the far end of the line, for we were still all tied to
our stakes, I heard the voice of Sammy, hoarse, it is true, but quite
cheerful now, saying:
"Mr. Quatermain, in the interests of justice, will you inform his
Majesty that the treacherous wizard for whom he is seeking, is now
peeping and muttering at the bottom of the grave which was dug to
receive my mortal remains."
I did inform his Majesty, and in double-quick time our friend Imbozwi
was once more fished out of a grave by the strong arms of Babemba and
his soldiers, and dragged into the presence of the irate Bausi.
"Loose the white lords and their followers," said Bausi, "and let them
So our bonds were undone and we walked to where the king and Brother
John stood, the miserable Imbozwi and his attendant doctors huddled in
a heap before them.
"Who is this?" said Bausi to him, pointing at Brother John. "Is it not
he whom you vowed was dead?"
Imbozwi did not seem to think that the question required an answer, so
"What was the song that you sang in our ears just now--that if
Dogeetah came you would be ready to be shot to death with arrows in
the place of these white lords whose lives you swore away, was it
Again Imbozwi made no answer, although Babemba called his attention to
the king's query with a vigorous kick. Then Bausi shouted:
"By your own mouth are you condemned, O liar, and that shall be done
to you which you have yourself decreed," adding almost in the words of
Elijah after he had triumphed over the priests of Baal, "Take away
these false prophets. Let none of them escape. Say you not so, O
"Aye," roared the multitude fiercely, "take them away."
"Not a popular character, Imbozwi," Stephen remarked to me in a
reflective voice. "Well, he is going to be served hot on his own toast
now, and serve the brute right."
"Who is the false doctor now?" mocked Mavovo in the silence that
followed. "Who is about to sup on arrow-heads, O Painter-of-white-
spots?" and he pointed to the mark that Imbozwi had so gleefully
chalked over his heart as a guide to the arrows of the archers.
Now, seeing that all was lost, the little humpbacked villain with a
sudden twist caught me by the legs and began to plead for mercy. So
piteously did he plead, that being already softened by the fact of our
wonderful escape from those black graves, my heart was melted in me. I
turned to ask the king to spare his life, though with little hope that
the prayer would be granted, for I saw that Bausi feared and hated the
man and was only too glad of the opportunity to be rid of him.
Imbozwi, however, interpreted my movement differently, since among
savages the turning of the back always means that a petition is
refused. Then, in his rage and despair, the venom of his wicked heart
boiled over. He leapt to his feet, and drawing a big, carved knife
from among his witch-doctor's trappings, sprang at me like a wild cat,
"At least you shall come too, white dog!"
Most mercifully Mavovo was watching him, for that is a good Zulu
saying which declares that "Wizard is Wizard's fate." With one bound
he was on him. Just as the knife touched me--it actually pricked my
skin though without drawing blood, which was fortunate as probably it
was poisoned--he gripped Imbozwi's arm in his grasp of iron and hurled
him to the ground as though he were but a child.
After this of course all was over.
"Come away," I said to Stephen and Brother John; "this is no place for
So we went and gained our huts without molestation and indeed quite
unobserved, for the attention of everyone in Beza Town was fully
occupied elsewhere. From the market-place behind us rose so hideous a
clamour that we rushed into my hut and shut the door to escape or
lessen the sound. It was dark in the hut, for which I was really
thankful, for the darkness seemed to soothe my nerves. Especially was
this so when Brother John said:
"Friend, Allan Quatermain, and you, young gentleman, whose name I
don't know, I will tell you what I think I never mentioned to you
before, that, in addition to being a doctor, I am a clergyman of the
American Episcopalian Church. Well, as a clergyman, I will ask your
leave to return thanks for your very remarkable deliverance from a
"By all means," I muttered for both of us, and he did so in a most
earnest and beautiful prayer. Brother John may or may not have been a
little touched in the head at this time of his life, but he was
certainly an able and a good man.
Afterwards, as the shrieks and shouting had now died down to a
confused murmur of many voices, we went and sat outside under the
projecting eaves of the hut, where I introduced Stephen Somers to
"And now," I said, "in the name of goodness, where do you come from
tied up in flowers like a Roman priest at sacrifice, and riding on a
bull like the lady called Europa? And what on earth do you mean by
playing us such a scurvy trick down there in Durban, leaving us
without a word after you had agreed to guide us to this hellish hole?"
Brother John stroked his long beard and looked at me reproachfully.
"I guess, Allan," he said in his American fashion, "there is a mistake
somewhere. To answer the last part of your question first, I did not
leave you without a word; I gave a letter to that lame old Griqua
gardener of yours, Jack, to be handed to you when you arrived."
"Then the idiot either lost it and lied to me, as Griquas will, or he
forgot all about it."
"That is likely. I ought to have thought of that, Allan, but I didn't.
Well, in that letter I said that I would meet you here, where I should
have been six weeks ago awaiting you. Also I sent a message to Bausi
to warn him of your coming in case I should be delayed, but I suppose
that something happened to it on the road."
"Why did you not wait and come with us like a sensible man?"
"Allan, as you ask me straight out, I will tell you, although the
subject is one of which I do not care to speak. I knew that you were
going to journey by Kilwa; indeed it was your only route with a lot of
people and so much baggage, and I did not wish to visit Kilwa." He
paused, then went on: "A long while ago, nearly twenty-three years to
be accurate, I went to live at Kilwa as a missionary with my young
wife. I built a mission station and a church there, and we were happy
and fairly successful in our work. Then on one evil day the Swahili
and other Arabs came in dhows to establish a slave-dealing station. I
resisted them, and the end of it was that they attacked us, killed
most of my people and enslaved the rest. In that attack I received a
cut from a sword on the head--look, here is the mark of it," and
drawing his white hair apart he showed us a long scar that was plainly
visible in the moonlight.
"The blow knocked me senseless just about sunset one evening. When I
came to myself again it was broad daylight and everybody was gone,
except one old woman who was tending me. She was half-crazed with
grief because her husband and two sons had been killed, and another
son, a boy, and a daughter had been taken away. I asked her where my
young wife was. She answered that she, too, had been taken away eight
or ten hours before, because the Arabs had seen the lights of a ship
out at sea, and thought they might be those of a British man-of-war
that was known to be cruising on the coast. On seeing these they had
fled inland in a hurry, leaving me for dead, but killing the wounded
before they went. The old woman herself had escaped by hiding among
some rocks on the seashore, and after the Arabs had gone had crept
back to the house and found me still alive.
"I asked her where my wife had been taken. She said she did not know,
but some others of our people told her that they had heard the Arabs
say they were going to some place a hundred miles inland, to join
their leader, a half-bred villain named Hassan-ben-Mohammed, to whom
they were carrying my wife as a present.
"Now we knew this wretch, for after the Arabs landed at Kilwa, but
before actual hostilities broke out between us, he had fallen sick of
smallpox and my wife had helped to nurse him. Had it not been for her,
indeed, he would have died. However, although the leader of the band,
he was not present at the attack, being engaged in some slave-raiding
business in the interior.
"When I learned this terrible news, the shock of it, or the loss of
blood, brought on a return of insensibility, from which I only awoke
two days later to find myself on board a Dutch trading vessel that was
sailing for Zanzibar. It was the lights of this ship that the Arabs
had seen and mistaken for those of an English man-of-war. She had put
into Kilwa for water, and the sailors, finding me on the verandah of
the house and still living, in the goodness of their hearts carried me
on board. Of the old woman they had seen nothing; I suppose that at
their approach she ran away.
"At Zanzibar, in an almost dying condition, I was handed over to a
clergyman of our mission, in whose house I lay desperately ill for a
long while. Indeed six months went by before I fully recovered my
right mind. Some people say that I have never recovered it; perhaps
you are one of them, Allan.
"At last the wound in my skull healed, after a clever English naval
surgeon had removed some bits of splintered bone, and my strength came
back to me. I was and still am an American subject, and in those days
we had no consul at Zanzibar, if there is one there now, of which I am
not sure, and of course no warship. The English made what inquiries
they could for me, but could find out little or nothing, since all the
country about Kilwa was in possession of Arab slave-traders who were
supported by a ruffian who called himself the Sultan of Zanzibar."
Again he paused, as though overcome by the sadness of his
"Did you never hear any more of your wife?" asked Stephen.
"Yes, Mr. Somers; I heard at Zanzibar from a slave whom our mission
bought and freed, that he had seen a white woman who answered to her
description alive and apparently well, at some place I was unable to
identify. He could only tell me that it was fifteen days' journey from
the coast. She was then in charge of some black people, he did not
know of what tribe, who, he believed, had found her wandering in the
bush. He noted that the black people seemed to treat her with the
greatest reverence, although they could not understand what she said.
On the following day, whilst searching for six lost goats, he was
captured by Arabs who, he heard afterwards, were out looking for this
white woman. The day after the man had told me this, he was seized
with inflammation of the lungs, of which, being in a weak state from
his sufferings in the slave gang, he quickly died. Now you will
understand why I was not particularly anxious to revisit Kilwa."
"Yes," I said, "we understand that, and a good deal more of which we
will talk later. But, to change the subject, where do you come from
now, and how did you happen to turn up just in the nick of time?"
"I was journeying here across country by a route I will show you on my
map," he answered, "when I met with an accident to my leg" (here
Stephen and I looked at each other) "which kept me laid up in a Kaffir
hut for six weeks. When I got better, as I could not walk very well I
rode upon oxen that I had trained. That white beast you saw is the
last of them; the others died of the bite of the tsetse fly. A fear
which I could not define caused me to press forward as fast as
possible; for the last twenty-four hours I have scarcely stopped to
eat or sleep. When I got into the Mazitu country this morning I found
the kraals empty, except for some women and girls, who knew me again,
and threw these flowers over me. They told me that all the men had
gone to Beza Town for a great feast, but what the feast was they
either did not know or would not reveal. So I hurried on and arrived
in time--thank God in time! It is a long story; I will tell you the
details afterwards. Now we are all too tired. What's that noise?"
I listened and recognised the triumphant song of the Zulu hunters, who
were returning from the savage scene in the market-place. Presently
they arrived, headed by Sammy, a very different Sammy from the wailing
creature who had gone out to execution an hour or two before. Now he
was the gayest of the gay, and about his neck were strung certain
weird ornaments which I identified as the personal property of
"Virtue is victorious and justice has been done, Mr. Quatermain. These
are the spoils of war," he said, pointing to the trappings of the late
"Oh! get out, you little cur! We want to know nothing more," I said.
"Go, cook us some supper," and he went, not in the least abashed.
The hunters were carrying between them what appeared to be the body of
Hans. At first I was frightened, thinking that he must be dead, but
examination showed that he was only in a state of insensibility such
as might be induced by laudanum. Brother John ordered him to be
wrapped up in a blanket and laid by the fire, and this was done.
Presently Mavovo approached and squatted down in front of us.
"Macumazana, my father," he said quietly, "what words have you for
"Words of thanks, Mavovo. If you had not been so quick, Imbozwi would
have finished me. As it is, the knife only touched my skin without
breaking it, for Dogeetah has looked to see."
Mavovo waved his hand as though to sweep this little matter aside, and
asked, looking me straight in the eyes:
"And what other words, Macumazana? As to my Snake I mean."
"Only that you were right and I was wrong," I answered shamefacedly.
"Things have happened as you foretold, how or why I do not
"No, my father, because you white men are so vain" ("blown out was his
word), "that you think you have all wisdom. Now you have learned that
this is not so. I am content. The false doctors are all dead, my
father, and I think that Imbozwi----"
I held up my hand, not wishing to hear details. Mavovo rose, and with
a little smile, went about his business.
"What does he mean about his Snake?" inquired Brother John curiously.
I told him as briefly as I could, and asked him if he could explain
the matter. He shook his head.
"The strangest example of native vision that I have ever heard of," he
answered, "and the most useful. Explain! There is no explanation,
except the old one that there are more things in heaven and earth,
etc., and that God gives different gifts to different men."
Then we ate our supper; I think one of the most joyful meals of which
I have ever partaken. It is wonderful how good food tastes when one
never expected to swallow another mouthful. After it was finished the
others went to bed but, with the still unconscious Hans for my only
companion, I sat for a while smoking by the fire, for on this high
tableland the air was chilly. I felt that as yet I could not sleep; if
for no other reason because of the noise that the Mazitu were making
in the town, I suppose in celebration of the execution of the terrible
witch-doctors and the return of Dogeetah.
Suddenly Hans awoke, and sitting up, stared at me through the bright
flame which I had recently fed with dry wood.
"Baas," he said in a hollow voice, "there you are, here I am, and
there is the fire which never goes out, a very good fire. But, Baas,
why are we not inside of it as your father the Predikant promised,
instead of outside here in the cold?"
"Because you are still in the world, you old fool, and not where you
deserve to be," I answered. "Because Mavovo's Snake was a snake with a
true tongue after all, and Dogeetah came as it foretold. Because we
are all alive and well, and it is Imbozwi with his spawn who are dead
upon the posts. That is why, Hans, as you would have seen for yourself
if you had kept awake, instead of swallowing filthy medicine like a
frightened woman, just because you were afraid of death, which at your
age you ought to have welcomed."
"Oh! Baas," broke in Hans, "don't tell me that things are so and that
we are really alive in what your honoured father used to call this
gourd full of tears. Don't tell me, Baas, that I made a coward of
myself and swallowed that beastliness--if you knew what it was made of
you would understand, Baas--for nothing but a bad headache. Don't tell
me that Dogeetah came when my eyes were not open to see him, and worst
of all, that Imbozwi and his children were tied to those poles when I
was not able to help them out of the bottle of tears into the fire
that burns for ever and ever. Oh! it is too much, and I swear, Baas,
that however often I have to die, henceforward it shall always be with
my eyes open," and holding his aching head between his hands he rocked
himself to and fro in bitter grief.
Well might Hans be sad, seeing that he never heard the last of the
incident. The hunters invented a new and gigantic name for him, which
meant "The little-yellow-mouse-who-feeds-on-sleep-while-the-black-
rats-eat-up-their-enemies." Even Sammy made a mock of him, showing him
the spoils which he declared he had wrenched unaided from the mighty
master of magic, Imbozwi. As indeed he had--after the said Imbozwi was
stone dead at the stake.
It was very amusing until things grew so bad that I feared Hans would
kill Sammy, and had to put a stop to the joke.
BROTHER JOHN'S STORY
Although I went to bed late I was up before sunrise. Chiefly because I
wished to have some private conversation with Brother John, whom I
knew to be a very early riser. Indeed, he slept less than any man I
As I expected, I found him astir in his hut; he was engaged in
pressing flowers by candlelight.
"John," I said, "I have brought you some property which I think you
have lost," and I handed him the morocco-bound /Christian Year/ and
the water-colour drawing which we had found in the sacked mission
house at Kilwa.
He looked first at the picture and then at the book; at least, I
suppose he did, for I went outside the hut for a while--to observe the
sunrise. In a few minutes he called me, and when the door was shut,
said in an unsteady voice:
"How did you come by these relics, Allan?"
I told him the story from beginning to end. He listened without a
word, and when I had finished said:
"I may as well tell what perhaps you have guessed, that the picture is
that of my wife, and the book is her book."
"Is!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, Allan. I say /is/ because I do not believe that she is dead. I
cannot explain why, any more than I could explain last night how that
great Zulu savage was able to prophesy my coming. But sometimes we can
wring secrets from the Unknown, and I believe that I have won this
truth in answer to my prayers, that my wife still lives."
"After twenty years, John?"
"Yes, after twenty years. Why do you suppose," he asked almost
fiercely, "that for two-thirds of a generation I have wandered about
among African savages, pretending to be crazy because these wild
people revere the mad and always let them pass unharmed?"
"I thought it was to collect butterflies and botanical specimens."
"Butterflies and botanical specimens! These were the pretext. I have
been and am searching for my wife. You may think it a folly,
especially considering what was her condition when we separated--she
was expecting a child, Allan--but I do not. I believe that she is
hidden away among some of these wild peoples."
"Then perhaps it would be as well not to find her," I answered,
bethinking me of the fate which had overtaken sundry white women in
the old days, who had escaped from shipwrecks on the coast and become
the wives of Kaffirs.
"Not so, Allan. On that point I fear nothing. If God has preserved my
wife, He has also protected her from every harm. And now," he went on,
"you will understand why I wish to visit these Pongo--the Pongo who
worship a white goddess!"
"I understand," I said and left him, for having learned all there was
to know, I thought it best not to prolong a painful conversation. To
me it seemed incredible that this lady should still live, and I feared
the effect upon him of the discovery that she was no more. How full of
romance is this poor little world of ours! Think of Brother John
(Eversley was his real name as I discovered afterwards), and what his
life had been. A high-minded educated man trying to serve his Faith in
the dark places of the earth, and taking his young wife with him,
which for my part I have never considered a right thing to do. Neither
tradition nor Holy Writ record that the Apostles dragged their wives
and families into the heathen lands where they went to preach,
although I believe that some of them were married. But this is by the
Then falls the blow; the mission house is sacked, the husband escapes
by a miracle and the poor young lady is torn away to be the prey of a
vile slave-trader. Lastly, according to the quite unreliable evidence
of some savage already in the shadow of death, she is seen in the
charge of other unknown savages. On the strength of this the husband,
playing the part of a mad botanist, hunts for her for a score of
years, enduring incredible hardships and yet buoyed up by a high and
holy trust. To my mind it was a beautiful and pathetic story. Still,
for reasons which I have suggested, I confess that I hoped that long
ago she had returned into the hands of the Power which made her, for
what would be the state of a young white lady who for two decades had
been at the mercy of these black brutes?
And yet, and yet, after my experience of Mavovo and his Snake, I did
not feel inclined to dogmatise about anything. Who and what was I,
that I should venture not only to form opinions, but to thrust them
down the throats of others? After all, how narrow are the limits of
the knowledge upon which we base our judgments. Perhaps the great sea
of intuition that surrounds us is safer to float on than are these
little islets of individual experience, whereon we are so wont to take
Meanwhile my duty was not to speculate on the dreams and mental
attitudes of others, but like a practical hunter and trader, to carry
to a successful issue an expedition that I was well paid to manage,
and to dig up a certain rare flower root, if I could find it, in the
marketable value of which I had an interest. I have always prided
myself upon my entire lack of imagination and all such mental
phantasies, and upon an aptitude for hard business and an appreciation
of the facts of life, that after all are the things with which we have
to do. This is the truth; at least, I hope it is. For if I were to be
/quite/ honest, which no one ever has been, except a gentleman named
Mr. Pepys, who, I think, lived in the reign of Charles II, and who, to
judge from his memoirs, which I have read lately, did not write for
publication, I should have to admit that there is another side to my
nature. I sternly suppress it, however, at any rate for the present.
While we were at breakfast Hans who, still suffering from headache and
remorse, was lurking outside the gateway far from the madding crowd of
critics, crept in like a beaten dog and announced that Babemba was
approaching followed by a number of laden soldiers. I was about to
advance to receive him. Then I remembered that, owing to a queer
native custom, such as that which caused Sir Theophilus Shepstone,
whom I used to know very well, to be recognised as the holder of the
spirit of the great Chaka and therefore as the equal of the Zulu
monarchs, Brother John was the really important man in our company. So
I gave way and asked him to be good enough to take my place and to
live up to that station in savage life to which it had pleased God to
I am bound to say he rose to the occasion very well, being by nature
and appearance a dignified old man. Swallowing his coffee in a hurry,
he took his place at a little distance from us, and stood there in a
statuesque pose. To him entered Babemba crawling on his hands and
knees, and other native gentlemen likewise crawling, also the burdened
soldiers in as obsequious an attitude as their loads would allow.
"O King Dogeetah," said Babemba, "your brother king, Bausi, returns
the guns and fire-goods of the white men, your children, and sends
"Glad to hear it, General Babemba," said Brother John, "although it
would be better if he had never taken them away. Put them down and get
on to your feet. I do not like to see men wriggling on their stomachs
The order was obeyed, and we checked the guns and ammunition; also our
revolvers and the other articles that had been taken away from us.
Nothing was missing or damaged; and in addition there were four fine
elephant's tusks, an offering to Stephen and myself, which, as a
business man, I promptly accepted; some karosses and Mazitu weapons,
presents to Mavovo and the hunters, a beautiful native bedstead with
ivory legs and mats of finely-woven grass, a gift to Hans in testimony
to his powers of sleep under trying circumstances (the Zulus roared
when they heard this, and Hans vanished cursing behind the huts), and
for Sammy a weird musical instrument with a request that in future he
would use it in public instead of his voice.
Sammy, I may add, did not see the joke any more than Hans had done,
but the rest of us appreciated the Mazitu sense of humour very much.
"It is very well, Mr. Quatermain," he said, "for these black babes and
sucklings to sit in the seat of the scornful. On such an occasion
silent prayers would have been of little use, but I am certain that my
loud crying to Heaven delivered you all from the bites of the heathen
"O Dogeetah and white lords," said Babemba, "the king invites your
presence that he may ask your forgiveness for what has happened, and
this time there will be no need for you to bring arms, since
henceforward no hurt can come to you from the Mazitu people."
So presently we set out once more, taking with us the gifts that had
been refused. Our march to the royal quarters was a veritable
triumphal progress. The people prostrated themselves and clapped their
hands slowly in salutation as we passed, while the girls and children
pelted us with flowers as though we were brides going to be married.
Our road ran by the place of execution where the stakes, at which I
confess I looked with a shiver, were still standing, though the graves
had been filled in.
On our arrival Bausi and his councillors rose and bowed to us. Indeed,
the king did more, for coming forward he seized Brother John by the
hand, and insisted upon rubbing his ugly black nose against that of
this revered guest. This, it appeared, was the Mazitu method of
embracing, an honour which Brother John did not seem at all to
appreciate. Then followed long speeches, washed down with draughts of
thick native beer. Bausi explained that his evil proceedings were
entirely due to the wickedness of the deceased Imbozwi and his
disciples, under whose tyranny the land had groaned for long, since
the people believed them to speak "with the voice of 'Heaven Above.'"
Brother John, on our behalf, accepted the apology, and then read a
lecture, or rather preached a sermon, that took exactly twenty-five
minutes to deliver (he is rather long in the wind), in which he
demonstrated the evils of superstition and pointed to a higher and a
better path. Bausi replied that he would like to hear more of that
path another time which, as he presumed that we were going to spend
the rest of our lives in his company, could easily be found--say
during the next spring when the crops had been sown and the people had
leisure on their hands.
After this we presented our gifts, which now were eagerly accepted.
Then I took up my parable and explained to Bausi that so far from
stopping in Beza Town for the rest of our lives, we were anxious to
press forward at once to Pongo-land. The king's face fell, as did
those of his councillors.
"Listen, O lord Macumazana, and all of you," he said. "These Pongo are
horrible wizards, a great and powerful people who live by themselves
amidst the swamps and mix with none. If the Pongo catch Mazitu or folk
of any other tribe, either they kill them or take them as prisoners to
their own land where they enslave them, or sometimes sacrifice them to
the devils they worship."
"That is so," broke in Babemba, "for when I was a lad I was a slave to
the Pongo and doomed to be sacrificed to the White Devil. It was in
escaping from them that I lost this eye."
Needless to say, I made a note of this remark, though I did not think
the moment opportune to follow the matter up. If Babemba has once been
to Pongo-land, I reflected to myself, Babemba can go again or show us
the way there.
"And if we catch any of the Pongo," went on Bausi, "as sometimes we do
when they come to hunt for slaves, we kill them. Ever since the Mazitu
have been in this place there has been hate and war between them and
the Pongo, and if I could wipe out those evil ones, then I should die
"That you will never do, O King, while the White Devil lives," said
Babemba. "Have you not heard the Pongo prophecy, that while the White
Devil lives and the Holy Flower blooms, they will live. But when the
White Devil dies and the Holy Flower ceases to bloom, then their women
will become barren and their end will be upon them."
"Well, I suppose that this White Devil will die some day," I said.
"Not so, Macumazana. It will never die of itself. Like its wicked
Priest, it has been there from the beginning and will always be there
unless it is killed. But who is there that can kill the White Devil?"
I thought to myself that I would not mind trying, but again I did not
pursue the point.
"My brother Dogeetah and lords," exclaimed Bausi, "it is not possible
that you should visit these wizards except at the head of an army. But
how can I send an army with you, seeing that the Mazitu are a land
people and have no canoes in which to cross the great lake, and no
trees whereof to make them?"
We answered that we did not know but would think the matter over, as
we had come from our own place for this purpose and meant to carry it
Then the audience came to an end, and we returned to our huts, leaving
Dogeetah to converse with his "brother Bausi" on matters connected
with the latter's health. As I passed Babemba I told him that I should
like to see him alone, and he said that he would visit me that evening
after supper. The rest of the day passed quietly, for we had asked
that people might be kept away from our encampment.
We found Hans, who had not accompanied us, being a little shy of
appearing in public just then, engaged in cleaning the rifles, and
this reminded me of something. Taking the double-barrelled gun of
which I have spoken, I called Mavovo and handed it to him, saying:
"It is yours, O true prophet."
"Yes, my father," he answered, "it is mine for a little while, then
perhaps it will be yours again."
The words struck me, but I did not care to ask their meaning. Somehow
I wanted to hear no more of Mavovo's prophecies.
Then we dined, and for the rest of that afternoon slept, for all of
us, including Brother John, needed rest badly. In the evening Babemba
came, and we three white men saw him alone.
"Tell us about the Pongo and this white devil they worship," I said.
"Macumazana," he answered, "fifty years have gone by since I was in
that land and I see things that happened to me there as through a
mist. I went to fish amongst the reeds when I was a boy of twelve, and
tall men robed in white came in a canoe and seized me. They led me to
a town where there were many other such men, and treated me very well,
giving me sweet things to eat till I grew fat and my skin shone. Then
in the evening I was taken away, and we marched all night to the mouth
of a great cave. In this cave sat a horrible old man about whom danced
robed people, performing the rites of the White Devil.
"The old man told me that on the following morning I was to be cooked
and eaten, for which reason I had been made so fat. There was a canoe
at the mouth of the cave, beyond which lay water. While all were
asleep I crept to the canoe. As I loosed the rope one of the priests
woke up and ran at me. But I hit him on the head with the paddle, for
though only a boy I was bold and strong, and he fell into the water.
He came up again and gripped the edge of the canoe, but I struck his
fingers with the paddle till he let go. A great wind was blowing that
night, tearing off boughs from the trees which grew upon the other
shore of the water. It whirled the canoe round and round and one of
the boughs struck me in the eye. I scarcely felt it at the time, but
afterwards the eye withered. Or perhaps it was a spear or a knife that
struck me in the eye, I do not know. I paddled till I lost my senses
and always that wind blew. The last thing that I remember was the
sound of the canoe being driven by the gale through reeds. When I woke
up again I found myself near a shore, to which I waded through the
mud, scaring great crocodiles. But this must have been some days
later, for now I was quite thin. I fell down upon the shore, and there
some of our people found me and nursed me till I recovered. That is
"And quite enough too," I said. "Now answer me. How far was the town
from the place where you were captured in Mazitu-land?"
"A whole day's journey in the canoe, Macumazana. I was captured in the
morning early and we reached the harbour in the evening at a place
where many canoes were tied up, perhaps fifty of them, some of which
would hold forty men."
"And how far was the town from this harbour?"
"Quite close, Macumazana."
Now Brother John asked a question.
"Did you hear anything about the land beyond the water by the cave?"
"Yes, Dogeetah. I heard then, or afterwards--for from time to time
rumours reach us concerning these Pongo--that it is an island where
grows the Holy Flower, of which you know, for when last you were here
you had one of its blooms. I heard, too, that this Holy Flower was
tended by a priestess named Mother of the Flower, and her servants,
all of whom were virgins."
"Who was the priestess?"
"I do not know, but I heave heard that she was one of those people
who, although their parents are black, are born white, and that if any
females among the Pongo are born white, or with pink eyes, or deaf and
dumb, they are set apart to be the servants of the priestess. But this
priestess must now be dead, seeing that when I was a boy she was
already old, very, very old, and the Pongo were much concerned because
there was no one of white skin who could be appointed to succeed her.
Indeed she /is/ dead, since many years ago there was a great feast in
Pongo-land and numbers of slaves were eaten, because the priests had
found a beautiful new princess who was white with yellow hair and had
finger-nails of the right shape."
Now I bethought me that this finding of the priestess named "Mother of
the Flower," who must be distinguished by certain personal
peculiarities, resembled not a little that of the finding of the Apis
bull-god, which also must have certain prescribed and holy markings,
by the old Egyptians, as narrated by Herodotus. However, I said
nothing about it at the time, because Brother John asked sharply:
"And is this priestess also dead?"
"I do not know, Dogeetah, but I think not. If she were dead I think
that we should have heard some rumour of the Feast of the eating of
the dead Mother."
"Eating the dead mother!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, Macumazana. It is the law among the Pongo that, for a certain
sacred reason, the body of the Mother of the Flower, when she dies,
must be partaken of by those who are privileged to the holy food."
"But the White Devil neither dies nor is eaten?" I said.
"No, as I have told you, he never dies. It is he who causes others to
die, as if you go to Pongo-land doubtless you will find out," Babemba
Upon my word, thought I to myself, as the meeting broke up because
Babemba had nothing more to say, if I had my way I would leave Pongo-
land and its white devil alone. Then I remembered how Brother John
stood in reference to this matter, and with a sigh resigned myself to
fate. As it proved it, I mean Fate, was quite equal to the occasion.
The very next morning, early, Babemba turned up again.
"Lords, lords," he said, "a wonderful thing has happened! Last night
we spoke of the Pongo and now behold! an embassy from the Pongo is
here; it arrived at sunrise."
"What for?" I asked.
"To propose peace between their people and the Mazitu. Yes, they ask
that Bausi should send envoys to their town to arrange a lasting
peace. As if anyone would go!" he added.
"Perhaps some might dare to," I answered, for an idea occurred to me,
"but let us go to see Bausi."
Half an hour later we were seated in the king's enclosure, that is,
Stephen and I were, for Brother John was already in the royal hut,
talking to Bausi. As we went a few words had passed between us.
"Has it occurred to you, John," I asked, "that if you really wish to
visit Pongo-land here is perhaps what you would call a providential
opportunity. Certainly none of these Mazitu will go, since they fear
lest they should find a permanent peace--inside of the Pongo. Well,
you are a blood-brother to Bausi and can offer to play the part of
Envoy Extraordinary, with us as the members of your staff."
"I have already thought of it, Allan," he replied, stroking his long
We sat down among a few of the leading councillors, and presently
Bausi came out of his hut accompanied by Brother John, and having
greeted us, ordered the Pongo envoys to be admitted. They were led in
at once, tall, light-coloured men with regular and Semitic features,
who were clothed in white linen like Arabs, and wore circles of gold
or copper upon their necks and wrists.
In short, they were imposing persons, quite different from ordinary
Central African natives, though there was something about their
appearance which chilled and repelled me. I should add that their
spears had been left outside, and that they saluted the king by
folding their arms upon their breasts and bowing in a dignified
"Who are you?" asked Bausi, "and what do you want?"
"I am Komba," answered their spokesman, quite a young man with
flashing eyes, "the Accepted-of-the-Gods, who, in a day to come that
perhaps is near, will be the Kalubi of the Pongo people, and these are
my servants. I have come here bearing gifts of friendship which are
without, by the desire of the holy Motombo, the High Priest of the
"I thought that the Kalubi was the priest of your gods," interrupted
"Not so. The Kalubi is the King of the Pongo as you are the King of
the Mazitu. The Motombo, who is seldom seen, is King of the spirits
and the Mouth of the gods."
Bausi nodded in the African fashion, that is by raising the chin, not
depressing it, and Komba went on:
"I have placed myself in your power, trusting to your honour. You can
kill me if you wish, though that will avail nothing, since there are
others waiting to become Kalubi in my place."
"Am I a Pongo that I should wish to kill messengers and eat them?"
asked Bausi, with sarcasm, a speech at which I noticed the Pongo
envoys winced a little.
"King, you are mistaken. The Pongo only eat those whom the White God
has chosen. It is a religious rite. Why should they who have cattle in
plenty desire to devour men?"
"I don't know," grunted Bausi, "but there is one here who can tell a
different story," and he looked at Babemba, who wriggled
Komba also looked at him with his fierce eyes.
"It is not conceivable," he said, "that anybody should wish to eat one
so old and bony, but let that pass. I thank you, King, for your
promise of safety. I have come here to ask that you should send envoys
to confer with the Kalubi and the Motombo, that a lasting peace may be
arranged between our peoples."
"Why do not the Kalubi and the Motombo come here to confer?" asked
"Because it is not lawful that they should leave their land, O King.
Therefore they have sent me who am the Kalubi-to-come. Hearken. There
has been war between us for generations. It began so long ago that
only the Motombo knows of its beginning which he has from the gods.
Once the Pongo people owned all this land and only had their sacred
places beyond the water. Then your forefathers came and fell on them,
killing many, enslaving many and taking their women to wife. Now, say
the Motombo and the Kalubi, in the place of war let there be peace;
where there is but barren sand, there let corn and flowers grow; let
the darkness, wherein men lose their way and die, be changed to
pleasant light in which they can sit in the sun holding each other's
"Hear, hear!" I muttered, quite moved by this eloquence. But Bausi was
not at all moved; indeed, he seemed to view these poetic proposals
with the darkest suspicion.
"Give up killing our people or capturing them to be sacrificed to your
White Devil, and then in a year or two we may listen to your words
that are smeared with honey," he said. "As it is, we think that they
are but a trap to catch flies. Still, if there are any of our
councillors willing to visit your Motombo and your Kalubi and hear
what they have to propose, taking the risk of whatever may happen to
them there, I do not forbid it. Now, O my Councillors, speak, not
altogether, but one by one, and be swift, since to the first that
speaks shall be given this honour."
I think I never heard a denser silence than that which followed this
invitation. Each of the /indunas/ looked at his neighbour, but not one
of them uttered a single word.
"What!" exclaimed Bausi, in affected surprise. "Do none speak? Well,
well, you are lawyers and men of peace. What says the great general,
"I say, O King, that I went once to Pongo-land when I was young, taken
by the hair of my head, to leave an eye there and that I do not wish
to visit it again walking on the soles of my feet."
"It seems, O Komba, that since none of my people are willing to act as
envoys, if there is to be talk of peace between us, the Motombo and
the Kalubi must come here under safe conduct."
"I have said that cannot be, O King."
"If so, all is finished, O Komba. Rest, eat of our food and return to
your own land."
Then Brother John rose and said:
"We are blood-brethren, Bausi, and therefore I can speak for you. If
you and your councillors are willing, and these Pongos are willing, I
and my friends do not fear to visit the Motombo and the Kalubi, to
talk with them of peace on behalf of your people, since we love to see
new lands and new races of mankind. Say, Komba, if the king allows,
will you accept us as ambassadors?"
"It is for the king to name his own ambassadors," answered Komba. "Yet
the Kalubi has heard of the presence of you white lords in Mazitu-land
and bade me say that if it should be your pleasure to accompany the
embassy and visit him, he would give you welcome. Only when the matter
was laid before the Motombo, the oracle spoke thus:
"'Let the white men come if come they will, or let them stay away. But
if they come, let them bring with them none of those iron tubes, great
or small, whereof the land has heard, that vomit smoke with a noise
and cause death from afar. They will not need them to kill meat, for
meat shall be given to them in plenty; moreover, among the Pongo they
will be safe, unless they offer insult to the god.'"
These words Komba spoke very slowly and with much emphasis, his
piercing eyes fixed upon my face as though to read the thoughts it
hid. As I heard them my courage sank into my boots. Well, I knew that
the Kalubi was asking us to Pongo-land that we might kill this Great
White Devil that threatened his life, which, I took it, was a
monstrous ape. And how could we face that or some other frightful
brute without firearms? My mind was made up in a minute.
"O Komba," I said, "my gun is my father, my mother, my wife and all my
other relatives. I do not stir from here without it."
"Then, white lord," answered Komba, "you will do well to stop in this
place in the midst of your family, since, if you try to bring it with
you to Pongo-land, you will be killed as you set foot upon the shore."
Before I could find an answer Brother John spoke, saying:
"It is natural that the great hunter, Macumazana, should not wish to
be parted from what which to him is as a stick to a lame man. But with
me it is different. For years I have used no gun, who kill nothing
that God made, except a few bright-winged insects. I am ready to visit
your country with naught save this in my hand," and he pointed to the
butterfly net that leaned against the fence behind him.
"Good, you are welcome," said Komba, and I thought that I saw his eyes
gleam with unholy joy. There followed a pause, during which I
explained everything to Stephen, showing that the thing was madness.
But here, to my horror, that young man's mulish obstinacy came in.
"I say, you know, Quatermain," he said, "we can't let the old boy go
alone, or at least I can't. It's another matter for you who have a son
dependent on you. But putting aside the fact that I mean to get----"
he was about to add, "the orchid," when I nudged him. Of course, it
was ridiculous, but an uneasy fear took me lest this Komba should in
some mysterious way understand what he was saying. "What's up? Oh! I
see, but the beggar can't understand English. Well, putting aside
everything else, it isn't the game, and there you are, you know. If
Mr. Brother John goes, I'll go too, and indeed if he doesn't go, I'll
"You unutterable young ass," I muttered in a stage aside.
"What is it the young white lord says he wishes in our country?" asked
the cold Komba, who with diabolical acuteness had read some of
Stephen's meaning in his face.
"He says that he is a harmless traveller who would like to study the
scenery and to find out if you have any gold there," I answered.
"Indeed. Well, he shall study the scenery and we have gold," and he
touched the bracelets on his arm, "of which he shall be given as much
as he can carry away. But perchance, white lords, you would wish to
talk this matter over alone. Have we your leave to withdraw a while, O
Five minutes later we were seated in the king's "great house" with
Bausi himself and Babemba. Here there was a mighty argument. Bausi
implored Brother John not to go, and so did I. Babemba said that to go
would be madness, as he smelt witchcraft and murder in the air, he who
knew the Pongo.
Brother John replied sweetly that he certainly intended to avail
himself of this heaven-sent opportunity to visit one of the few
remaining districts in this part of Africa through which he had not
yet wandered. Stephen yawned and fanned himself with a pocket-
handkerchief, for the hut was hot, and remarked that having come so
far after a certain rare flower he did not mean to return empty-
"I perceive, Dogeetah," said Bausi at last, "that you have some reason
for this journey which you are hiding from me. Still, I am minded to
hold you here by force."
"If you do, it will break our brotherhood," answered Brother John.
"Seek not to know what I would hide, Bausi, but wait till the future
shall declare it."
Bausi groaned and gave in. Babemba said that Dogeetah and Wazela were
bewitched, and that I, Macumazana, alone retained my senses.
"Then that's settled," exclaimed Stephen. "John and I are to go as
envoys to the Pongo, and you, Quatermain, will stop here to look after
the hunters and the stores."
"Young man," I replied, "do you wish to insult me? After your father
put you in my charge, too! If you two are going, I shall come also, if
I have to do so mother-naked. But let me tell you once and for all in
the most emphatic language I can command, that I consider you a brace
of confounded lunatics, and that if the Pongo don't eat you, it will
be more than you deserve. To think that at my age I should be dragged
among a lot of cannibal savages without even a pistol, to fight some
unknown brute with my bare hands! Well, we can only die once--that is,
so far as we know at present."
"How true," remarked Stephen; "how strangely and profoundly true!"
Oh! I could have boxed his ears.
We went into the courtyard again, whither Komba was summoned with his
attendants. This time they came bearing gifts, or having them borne
for them. These consisted, I remember, of two fine tusks of ivory
which suggested to me that their country could not be entirely
surrounded by water, since elephants would scarcely live upon an
island; gold dust in a gourd and copper bracelets, which showed that
it was mineralized; white native linen, very well woven, and some
really beautiful decorated pots, indicating that the people had
artistic tastes. Where did they get them from, I wonder, and what was
the origin of their race? I cannot answer the question, for I never
found out with any certainty. Nor do I think they knew themselves.
The /indaba/ was resumed. Bausi announced that we three white men with
a servant apiece (I stipulated for this) would visit Pongo-land as his
envoys, taking no firearms with us, there to discuss terms of peace
between the two peoples, and especially the questions of trade and
intermarriage. Komba was very insistent that this should be included;
at the time I wondered why. He, Komba, on behalf of the Motombo and
the Kalubi, the spiritual and temporal rulers of his land, guaranteed
us safe conduct on the understanding that we attempted no insult or
violence to the gods, a stipulation from which there was no escape,
though I liked it little. He swore also that we should be delivered
safe and sound in the Mazitu country within six days of our having
left its shores.
Bausi said that it was good, adding that he would send five hundred
armed men to escort us to the place where we were to embark, and to
receive us on our return; also that if any hurt came to us he would
wage war upon the Pongo people for ever until he found means to
So we parted, it being agreed that we were to start upon our journey
on the following morning.
As a matter of fact we did not leave Beza Town till twenty-four hours
later than had been arranged, since it took some time for old Babemba,
who was to be in charge of it, to collect and provision our escort of
five hundred men.
Here, I may mention, that when we got back to our huts we found the
two Mazitu bearers, Tom and Jerry, eating a hearty meal, but looking
rather tired. It appeared that in order to get rid of their favourable
evidence, the ceased witch-doctor, Imbozwi, who for some reason or
other had feared to kill them, caused them to be marched off to a
distant part of the land where they were imprisoned. On the arrival of
the news of the fall and death of Imbozwi and his subordinates, they
were set at liberty, and at once returned to us at Beza Town.
Of course it became necessary to explain to our servants what we were
about to do. When they understood the nature of our proposed
expedition they shook their heads, and when they learned that we had
promised to leave our guns behind us, they were speechless with
"/Kransick! Kransick!/" which means "ill in the skull," or "mad,"
exclaimed Hans to the others as he tapped his forehead significantly.
"They have caught it from Dogeetah, one who lives on insects which he
entangles in a net, and carries no gun to kill game. Well, I knew they
The hunters nodded in assent, and Sammy lifted his arms to Heaven as
though in prayer. Only Mavovo seemed indifferent. Then came the
question of which of them was to accompany us.
"So far as I am concerned that is soon settled," said Mavovo. "I go
with my father, Macumazana, seeing that even without a gun I am still
strong and can fight as my male ancestors fought with a spear."
"And I, too, go with the Baas Quatermain," grunted Hans, "seeing that
even without a gun I am cunning, as /my/ female ancestors were before
"Except when you take medicine, Spotted Snake, and lose yourself in
the mist of sleep," mocked one of the Zulus. "Does that fine bedstead
which the king sent you go with you?"
"No, son of a fool!" answered Hans. "I'll lend it to you who do not
understand that there is more wisdom within me when I am asleep than
there is in you when you are awake."
It remained to be decided who the third man should be. As neither of
Brother John's two servants, who had accompanied him on his cross-
country journey, was suitable, one being ill and the other afraid,
Stephen suggested Sammy as the man, chiefly because he could cook.
"No, Mr. Somers, no," said Sammy, with earnestness. "At this proposal
I draw the thick rope. To ask one who can cook to visit a land where
he will be cooked, is to seethe the offspring in its parent's milk."
So we gave him up, and after some discussion fixed upon Jerry, a smart
and plucky fellow, who was quite willing to accompany us. The rest of
that day we spent in making our preparations which, if simple,
required a good deal of thought. To my annoyance, at the time I wanted
to find Hans to help me, he was not forthcoming. When at length he
appeared I asked him where he had been. He answered, to cut himself a
stick in the forest, as he understood we should have to walk a long
way. Also he showed me the stick, a long, thick staff of a hard and
beautiful kind of bamboo which grows in Mazitu-land.
"What do you want that clumsy thing for," I said, "when there are
plenty of sticks about?"
"New journey, new stick! Baas. Also this kind of wood is full of air
and might help me to float if we are upset into the water."
"What an idea!" I exclaimed, and dismissed the matter from my mind.
At dawn, on the following day, we started, Stephen and I riding on the
two donkeys, which were now fat and lusty, and Brother John upon his
white ox, a most docile beast that was quite attached to him. All the
hunters, fully armed, came with us to the borders of the Mazitu
country, where they were to await our return in company with the
Mazitu regiment. The king himself went with us to the west gate of the
town, where he bade us all, and especially Brother John, an
affectionate farewell. Moreover, he sent for Komba and his attendants,
and again swore to him that if any harm happened to us, he would not
rest till he had found a way to destroy the Pongo, root and branch.
"Have no fear," answered the cold Komba, "in our holy town of Rica we
do not tie innocent guests to stakes to be shot to death with arrows."
The repartee, which was undoubtedly neat, irritated Bausi, who was not
fond of allusions to this subject.
"If the white men are so safe, why do you not let them take their guns
with them?" he asked, somewhat illogically.
"If we meant evil, King, would their guns help them, they being but
few among so many. For instance, could we not steal them, as you did
when you plotted the murder of these white lords. It is a law among
the Pongo that no such magic weapon shall be allowed to enter their
"Why?" I asked, to change the conversation, for I saw that Bausi was
growing very wrath and feared complications.
"Because, my lord Macumazana, there is a prophecy among us that when a
gun is fired in Pongo-land, its gods will desert us, and the Motombo,
who is their priest, will die. That saying is very old, but until a
little while ago none knew what it meant, since it spoke of 'a hollow
spear that smoked,' and such a weapon was not known to us."
"Indeed," I said, mourning within myself that we should not be in a
position to bring about the fulfilment of that prophecy, which, as
Hans said, shaking his head sadly, "was a great pity, a very great
Three days' march over country that gradually sloped downwards from
the high tableland on which stood Beza Town, brought us to the lake
called Kirua, a word which, I believe, means The Place of the Island.
Of the lake itself we could see nothing, because of the dense brake of
tall reeds which grew out into the shallow water for quite a mile from
the shore and was only pierced here and there with paths made by the
hippopotami when they came to the mainland at night to feed. From a
high mound which looked exactly like a tumulus and, for aught I know,
may have been one, however, the blue waters beyond were visible, and
in the far distance what, looked at through glasses, appeared to be a
tree-clad mountain top. I asked Komba what it might be, and he
answered that it was the Home of the gods in Pongo-land.
"What gods?" I asked again, whereon he replied like a black Herodotus,
that of these it was not lawful to speak.
I have rarely met anyone more difficult to pump than that frigid and
On the top of this mound we planted the Union Jack, fixed to the
tallest pole that we could find. Komba asked suspiciously why we did
so, and as I was determined to show this unsympathetic person that
there were others as unpumpable as himself, I replied that it was the
god of our tribe, which we set up there to be worshipped, and that
anyone who tried to insult or injure it, would certainly die, as the
witch-doctor, Imbozwi, and his children had found out. For once Komba
seemed a little impressed, and even bowed to the bunting as he passed
What I did not inform him was that we had set the flag there to be a
sign and a beacon to us in case we should ever be forced to find our
way back to this place unguided and in a hurry. As a matter of fact,
this piece of forethought, which oddly enough originated with the most
reckless of our party, Stephen, proved our salvation, as I shall tell
later on. At the foot of the mound we set our camp for the night, the
Mazitu soldiers under Babemba, who did not mind mosquitoes, making
theirs nearer to the lake, just opposite to where a wide hippopotamus
lane pierced the reeds, leaving a little canal of clear water.
I asked Komba when and how we were to cross the lake. He said that we
must start at dawn on the following morning when, at this time of the
year, the wind generally blew off shore, and that if the weather were
favourable, we should reach the Pongo town of Rica by nightfall. As to
how we were to do this, he would show me if I cared to follow him. I
nodded, and he led me four or five hundred yards along the edge of the
reeds in a southerly direction.
As we went, two things happened. The first of these was that a very
large, black rhinoceros, which was sleeping in some bushes, suddenly
got our wind and, after the fashion of these beasts, charged down on
us from about fifty yards away. Now I was carrying a heavy, single-
barrelled rifle, for as yet we and our weapons were not parted. On
came the rhinoceros, and Komba, small blame to him for he only had a
spear, started to run. I cocked the rifle and waited my chance.
When it was not more than fifteen paces away the rhinoceros threw up
its head, at which, of course, it was useless to fire because of the
horn, and I let drive at the throat. The bullet hit it fair, and I
suppose penetrated to the heart. At any rate, it rolled over and over
like a shot rabbit, and with a single stretch of its limbs, expired
almost at my feet.
Komba was much impressed. He returned; he stared at the dead
rhinoceros and at the hole in its throat; he stared at me; he stared
at the still smoking rifle.
"The great beast of the plains killed with a noise!" he muttered.
"Killed in an instant by this little monkey of a white man" (I thanked
him for that and made a note of it) "and his magic. Oh! the Motombo
was wise when he commanded----" and with an effort he stopped.
"Well, friend, what is the matter?" I asked. "You see there was no
need for you to run. If you had stepped behind me you would have been
as safe as you are now--after running."
"It is so, lord Macumazana, but the thing is strange to me. Forgive me
if I do not understand."
"Oh! I forgive you, my lord Kalubi--that is--to be. It is clear that
you have a good deal to learn in Pongo-land."
"Yes, my lord Macumazana, and so perhaps have you," he replied dryly,
having by this time recovered his nerve and sarcastic powers.
Then after telling Mavovo, who appeared mysteriously at the sound of
the shot--I think he was stalking us in case of accidents--to fetch
men to cut up the rhinoceros, Komba and I proceeded on our walk.
A little further on, just by the edge of the reeds, I caught sight of
a narrow, oblong trench dug in a patch of stony soil, and of a rusted
mustard tin half-hidden by some scanty vegetation.
"What is that?" I asked, in seeming astonishment, though I knew well
what it must be.
"Oh!" replied Komba, who evidently was not yet quite himself, "that is
where the white lord Dogeetah, Bausi's blood-brother, set his little
canvas house when he was here over twelve moons ago."
"Really!" I exclaimed, "he never told me he was here." (This was a
lie, but somehow I was not afraid of lying to Komba.) "How do you know
that he was here?"
"One of our people who was fishing in the reeds saw him."
"Oh! that explains it, Komba. But what an odd place for him to fish
in; so far from home; and I wonder what he was fishing for. When you
have time, Komba, you must explain to me what it is that you catch
amidst the roots of thick reeds in such shallow water."
Komba replied that he would do so with pleasure--when he had time.
Then, as though to avoid further conversation he ran forward, and
thrusting the reeds apart, showed me a great canoe, big enough to hold
thirty or forty men, which with infinite labour had been hollowed out
of the trunk of a single, huge tree. This canoe differed from the
majority of those that personally I have seen used on African lakes
and rivers, in that it was fitted for a mast, now unshipped. I looked
at it and said it was a fine boat, whereon Komba replied that there
were a hundred such at Rica Town, though not all of them were so
Ah! thought I to myself as we walked back to the camp. Then, allowing
an average of twenty to a canoe, the Pongo tribe number about two
thousand males old enough to paddle, an estimate which turned out to
be singularly correct.
Next morning at dawn we started, with some difficulty. To begin with,
in the middle of the night old Babemba came to the canvas shelter
under which I was sleeping, woke me up and in a long speech implored
me not to go. He said he was convinced that the Pongo intended foul
play of some sort and that all this talk of peace was a mere trick to
entrap us white men into the country, probably in order to sacrifice
us to its gods for a religious reason.
I answered that I quite agreed with him, but that as my companions
insisted upon making this journey, I could not desert them. All that I
could do was to beg him to keep a sharp look-out so that he might be
able to help us in case we got into trouble.
"Here I will stay and watch for you, lord Macumazana," he answered,
"but if you fall into a snare, am I able to swim through the water
like a fish, or to fly through the air like a bird to free you?"
After he had gone one of the Zulu hunters arrived, a man named Ganza,
a sort of lieutenant to Mavovo, and sang the same song. He said that
it was not right that I should go without guns to die among devils and
leave him and his companions wandering alone in a strange land.
I answered that I was much of the same opinion, but that Dogeetah
insisted upon going and that I had no choice.
"Then let us kill Dogeetah, or at any rate tie him up, so that he can
do no more mischief in his madness," Ganza suggested blandly, whereon
I turned him out.
Lastly Sammy arrived and said:
"Mr. Quatermain, before you plunge into this deep well of foolishness,
I beg that you will consider your responsibilities to God and man, and
especially to us, your household, who are now but lost sheep far from
home, and further, that you will remember that if anything
disagreeable should overtake you, you are indebted to me to the extent
of two months' wages which will probably prove unrecoverable."
I produced a little leather bag from a tin box and counted out to
Sammy the wages due to him, also those for three months in advance.
To my astonishment he began to weep. "Sir," he said, "I do not seek
filthy lucre. What I mean is that I am afraid you will be killed by
these Pongo, and, alas! although I love you, sir, I am too great a
coward to come and be killed with you, for God made me like that. I
pray you not to go, Mr. Quatermain, because I repeat, I love you,
"I believe you do, my good fellow," I answered, "and I also am afraid
of being killed, who only seem to be brave because I must. However, I
hope we shall come through all right. Meanwhile, I am going to give
this box and all the gold in it, of which there is a great deal, into
your charge, Sammy, trusting to you, if anything happens to us, to get
it safe back to Durban if you can."
"Oh! Mr. Quatermain," he exclaimed, "I am indeed honoured, especially
as you know that once I was in jail for--embezzlement--with
extenuating circumstances, Mr. Quatermain. I tell you that although I
am a coward, I will die before anyone gets his fingers into that box."
"I am sure that you will, Sammy my boy," I said. "But I hope, although
things look queer, that none of us will be called upon to die just
The morning came at last, and the six of us marched down to the canoe
which had been brought round to the open waterway. Here we had to
undergo a kind of customs-house examination at the hands of Komba and
his companions, who seemed terrified lest we should be smuggling
"You know what rifles are like," I said indignantly. "Can you see any
in our hands? Moreover, I give you my word that we have none."
Komba bowed politely, but suggested that perhaps some "little guns,"
by which he meant pistols, remained in our baggage--by accident. Komba
was a most suspicious person.
"Undo all the loads," I said to Hans, who obeyed with an enthusiasm
which I confess struck me as suspicious.
Knowing his secretive and tortuous nature, this sudden zeal for
openness seemed almost unnatural. He began by unrolling his own
blanket, inside of which appeared a miscellaneous collection of
articles. I remember among them a spare pair of very dirty trousers, a
battered tin cup, a wooden spoon such as Kaffirs use to eat their
/scoff/ with, a bottle full of some doubtful compound, sundry roots
and other native medicines, an old pipe I had given him, and last but
not least, a huge head of yellow tobacco in the leaf, of a kind that
the Mazitu, like the Pongos, cultivate to some extent.
"What on earth do you want so much tobacco for, Hans?" I asked.
"For us three black people to smoke, Baas, or to take as snuff, or to
chew. Perhaps where we are going we may find little to eat, and then
tobacco is a food on which one can live for days. Also it brings sleep
"Oh! that will do," I said, fearing lest Hans, like a second Walter
Raleigh, was about to deliver a long lecture upon the virtue of
"There is no need for the yellow man to take this weed to our land,"
interrupted Komba, "for there we have plenty. Why does he cumber
himself with the stuff?" and he stretched out his hand idly as though
to take hold of and examine it closely.
At this moment, however, Mavovo called attention to his bundle which
he had undone, whether on purpose or by accident, I do not know, and
forgetting the tobacco, Komba turned to attend to him. With a
marvellous celerity Hans rolled up his blanket again. In less than a
minute the lashings were fast and it was hanging on his back. Again
suspicion took me, but an argument which had sprung up between Brother
John and Komba about the former's butterfly net, which Komba suspected
of being a new kind of gun or at least a magical instrument of a
dangerous sort, attracted my notice. After this dispute, another arose
over a common garden trowel that Stephen had thought fit to bring with
him. Komba asked what it was for. Stephen replied through Brother John
that it was to dig up flowers.
"Flowers!" said Komba. "One of our gods is a flower. Does the white
lord wish to dig up our god?"
Of course this was exactly what Stephen did desire to do, but not
unnaturally he kept the fact to himself. The squabble grew so hot that
finally I announced that if our little belongings were treated with so
much suspicion, it might be better that we should give up the journey
"We have passed our word that we have no firearms," I said in the most
dignified manner that I could command, "and that should be enough for
you, O Komba."
Then Komba, after consultation with his companions, gave way.
Evidently he was anxious that we should visit Pongo-land.
So at last we started. We three white men and our servants seated
ourselves in the stern of the canoe on grass cushions that had been
provided. Komba went to the bows and his people, taking the broad
paddles, rowed and pushed the boat along the water-way made by the
hippopotami through the tall and matted reeds, from which ducks and
other fowl rose in multitudes with a sound like thunder. A quarter of
an hour or so of paddling through these weed-encumbered shallows
brought us to the deep and open lake. Here, on the edge of the reeds a
tall pole that served as a mast was shipped, and a square sail, made
of closely-woven mats, run up. It filled with the morning off-land
breeze and presently we were bowling along at a rate of quite eight
miles the hour. The shore grew dim behind us, but for a long while
above the clinging mists I could see the flag that we had planted on
the mound. By degrees it dwindled till it became a mere speck and
vanished. As it grew smaller my spirits sank, and when it was quite
gone, I felt very low indeed.
Another of your fool's errands, Allan my boy, I said to myself. I
wonder how many more you are destined to survive.
The others, too, did not seem in the best of spirits. Brother John
stared at the horizon, his lips moving as though he were engaged in
prayer, and even Stephen was temporarily depressed. Jerry had fallen
asleep, as a native generally does when it is warm and he has nothing
to do. Mavovo looked very thoughtful. I wondered whether he had been
consulting his Snake again, but did not ask him. Since the episode of
our escape from execution by bow and arrow I had grown somewhat afraid
of that unholy reptile. Next time it might foretell our immediate
doom, and if it did I knew that I should believe.
As for Hans, he looked much disturbed, and was engaged in wildly
hunting for something in the flap pockets of an antique corduroy
waistcoat which, from its general appearance, must, I imagine, years
ago have adorned the person of a British game-keeper.
"Three," I heard him mutter. "By my great grandfather's spirit! only
"Three what?" I asked in Dutch.
"Three charms, Baas, and there ought to have been quite twenty-four.
The rest have fallen out through a hole that the devil himself made in
this rotten stuff. Now we shall not die of hunger, and we shall not be
shot, and we shall not be drowned, at least none of those things will
happen to me. But there are twenty-one other things that may finish
us, as I have lost the charms to ward them off. Thus----"
"Oh! stop your rubbish," I said, and fell again into the depths of my
uncomfortable reflections. After this I, too, went to sleep. When I
woke it was past midday and the wind was falling. However, it held
while we ate some food we had brought with us, after which it died
away altogether, and the Pongo people took to their paddles. At my
suggestion we offered to help them, for it occurred to me that we
might just as well learn how to manage these paddles. So six were
given to us, and Komba, who now I noted was beginning to speak in a
somewhat imperious tone, instructed us in their use. At first we made
but a poor hand at the business, but three or four hours' steady
practice taught us a good deal. Indeed, before our journey's end, I
felt that we should be quite capable of managing a canoe, if ever it
became necessary for us to do so.
By three in the afternoon the shores of the island we were approaching
--if it really was an island, a point that I never cleared up--were
well in sight, the mountain top that stood some miles inland having
been visible for hours. In fact, through my glasses, I had been able
to make out its configuration almost from the beginning of the voyage.
About five we entered the mouth of a deep bay fringed on either side
with forests, in which were cultivated clearings with small villages
of the ordinary African stamp. I observed from the smaller size of the
trees adjacent to these clearings, that much more land had once been
under cultivation here, probably within the last century, and asked
Komba why this was so.
He answered in an enigmatic sentence which impressed me so much that I
find I entered it verbatim in my notebook.
"When man dies, corn dies. Man is corn, and corn is man."
Under this entry I see that I wrote "Compare the saying, 'Bread is the
staff of life.'"
I could not get any more out of him. Evidently he referred, however,
to a condition of shrinking in the population, a circumstance which he
did not care to discuss.
After the first few miles the bay narrowed sharply, and at its end
came to a point where a stream of no great breadth fell into it. On
either side of this stream that was roughly bridged in many places
stood the town of Rica. It consisted of a great number of large huts
roofed with palm leaves and constructed apparently of whitewashed
clay, or rather, as we discovered afterwards, of lake mud mixed with
chopped straw or grass.
Reaching a kind of wharf which was protected from erosion by piles
formed of small trees driven into the mud, to which were tied a fleet
of canoes, we landed just as the sun was beginning to sink. Our
approach had doubtless been observed, for as we drew near the wharf a
horn was blown by someone on the shore, whereon a considerable number
of men appeared. I suppose out of the huts, and assisted to make the
canoe fast. I noted that these all resembled Komba and his companions
in build and features; they were so like each other that, except for
the difference of their ages, it was difficult to tell them apart.
They might all have been members of one family; indeed, this was
practically the case, owing to constant intermarriage carried on for
There was something in the appearance of these tall, cold, sharp-
featured, white-robed men that chilled my blood, something unnatural
and almost inhuman. Here was nothing of the usual African jollity. No
one shouted, no one laughed or chattered. No one crowded on us, trying
to handle our persons or clothes. No one appeared afraid or even
astonished. Except for a word or two they were silent, merely
contemplating us in a chilling and distant fashion, as though the
arrival of three white men in a country where before no white man had
ever set foot were an everyday occurrence.
Moreover, our personal appearance did not seem to impress them, for
they smiled faintly at Brother John's long beard and at my stubbly
hair, pointing these out to each other with their slender fingers or
with the handles of their big spears. I remarked that they never used
the blade of the spear for this purpose, perhaps because they thought
that we might take this for a hostile or even a warlike demonstration.
It is humiliating to have to add that the only one of our company who
seemed to move them to wonder or interest was Hans. His extremely ugly
and wrinkled countenance, it was clear, did appeal to them to some
extent, perhaps because they had never seen anything in the least like
it before, or perhaps for another reason which the reader may guess in
At any rate, I heard one of them, pointing to Hans, ask Komba whether
the ape-man was our god or only our captain. The compliment seemed to
please Hans, who hitherto had never been looked on either as a god or
a captain. But the rest of us were not flattered; indeed, Mavovo was
indignant, and told Hans outright that if he heard any more such talk
he would beat him before these people, to show them that he was
neither a captain nor a god.
"Wait till I claim to be either, O butcher of a Zulu, before you
threaten to treat me thus!" ejaculated Hans, indignantly. Then he
added, with his peculiar Hottentot snigger, "Still, it is true that
before all the meat is eaten (i.e. before all is done) you may think
me both," a dark saying which at the time we did not understand.
When we had landed and collected our belongings, Komba told us to
follow him, and led us up a wide street that was very tidily kept and
bordered on either side by the large huts whereof I have spoken. Each
of these huts stood in a fenced garden of its own, a thing I have
rarely seen elsewhere in Africa. The result of this arrangement was
that although as a matter of fact it had but a comparatively small
population, the area covered by Rica was very great. The town, by the
way, was not surrounded with any wall or other fortification, which
showed that the inhabitants feared no attack. The waters of the lake
were their defence.
For the rest, the chief characteristic of this place was the silence
that brooded there. Apparently they kept no dogs, for none barked, and
no poultry, for I never heard a cock crow in Pongo-land. Cattle and
native sheep they had in abundance, but as they did not fear any
enemy, these were pastured outside the town, their milk and meat being
brought in as required. A considerable number of people were gathered
to observe us, not in a crowd, but in little family groups which
collected separately at the gates of the gardens.
For the most part these consisted of a man and one or more wives,
finely formed and handsome women. Sometimes they had children with
them, but these were very few; the most I saw with any one family was
three, and many seemed to possess none at all. Both the women and the
children, like the men, were decently clothed in long, white garments,
another peculiarity which showed that these natives were no ordinary
Oh! I can see Rica Town now after all these many years: the wide
street swept and garnished, the brown-roofed, white-walled huts in
their fertile, irrigated gardens, the tall, silent folk, the smoke
from the cooking fires rising straight as a line in the still air, the
graceful palms and other tropical trees, and at the head of the
street, far away to the north, the rounded, towering shape of the
forest-clad mountain that was called House of the Gods. Often that
vision comes back to me in my sleep, or at times in my waking hours
when some heavy odour reminds me of the overpowering scent of the
great trumpet-like blooms which hung in profusion upon broad-leaved
bushes that were planted in almost every garden.
On we marched till at last we reached a tall, live fence that was
covered with brilliant scarlet flowers, arriving at its gate just as
the last red glow of day faded from the sky and night began to fall.
Komba pushed open the gate, revealing a scene that none of us are
likely to forget. The fence enclosed about an acre of ground of which
the back part was occupied by two large huts standing in the usual
In front of these, not more than fifteen paces from the gate, stood
another building of a totally different character. It was about fifty
feet in length by thirty broad and consisted only of a roof supported
upon carved pillars of wood, the spaces between the pillars being
filled with grass mats or blinds. Most of these blinds were pulled
down, but four exactly opposite the gate were open. Inside the shed
forty or fifty men, who wore white robes and peculiar caps and who
were engaged in chanting a dreadful, melancholy song, were gathered on
three sides of a huge fire that burned in a pit in the ground. On the
fourth side, that facing the gate, a man stood alone with his arms
outstretched and his back towards us.
Of a sudden he heard our footsteps and turned round, springing to the
left, so that the light might fall on us. Now we saw by the glow of
the great fire, that over it was an iron grid not unlike a small
bedstead, and that on this grid lay some fearful object. Stephen, who
was a little ahead, stared, then exclaimed in a horrified voice:
"My God! it is a woman!"
In another second the blinds fell down, hiding everything, and the
THE KALUBI'S OATH
"Be silent!" I whispered, and all understood my tone if they did not
catch the words. Then steadying myself with an effort, for this
hideous vision, which might have been a picture from hell, made me
feel faint, I glanced at Komba, who was a pace or two in front of us.
Evidently he was much disturbed--the motions of his back told me this
--by the sense of some terrible mistake that he had made. For a moment
he stood still, then wheeled round and asked me if we had seen
"Yes," I answered indifferently, "we saw a number of men gathered
round a fire, nothing more."
He tried to search our faces, but luckily the great moon, now almost
at her full, was hidden behind a thick cloud, so that he could not
read them well. I heard him sigh in relief as he said:
"The Kalubi and the head men are cooking a sheep; it is their custom
to feast together on those nights when the moon is about to change.
Follow me, white lords."
Then he led us round the end of the long shed at which we did not even
look, and through the garden on its farther side to the two fine huts
I have mentioned. Here he clapped his hands and a woman appeared, I
know not whence. To her he whispered something. She went away and
presently returned with four or five other women who carried clay
lamps filled with oil in which floated a wick of palm fibre. These
lamps were set down in the huts that proved to be very clean and
comfortable places, furnished after a fashion with wooden stools and a
kind of low table of which the legs were carved to the shape of
antelope's feet. Also there was a wooden platform at the end of the
hut whereon lay beds covered with mats and stuffed with some soft
"Here you may rest safe," he said, "for, white lords, are you not the
honoured guests of the Pongo people? Presently food" (I shuddered at
the word) "will be brought to you, and after you have eaten well, if
it is your pleasure, the Kalubi and his councillors will receive you
in yonder feast-house and you can talk with them before you sleep. If
you need aught, strike upon that jar with a stick," and he pointed to
what looked like a copper cauldron that stood in the garden of the hut
near the place where the women were already lighting a fire, "and some
will wait on you. Look, here are your goods; none are missing, and
here comes water in which you may wash. Now I must go to make report
to the Kalubi," and with a courteous bow he departed.
So after a while did the silent, handsome women--to fetch our meal, I
understood one of them to say, and at length we were alone.
"My aunt!" said Stephen, fanning himself with his pocket-handkerchief,
"did you see that lady toasting? I have often heard of cannibals,
those slaves, for instance, but the actual business! Oh! my aunt!"
"It is no use addressing your absent aunt--if you have got one. What
did you expect if you would insist on coming to a hell like this?" I
"Can't say, old fellow. Don't trouble myself much with expectations as
a rule. That's why I and my poor old father never could get on. I
always quoted the text 'Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof' to
him, until at length he sent for the family Bible and ruled it out
with red ink in a rage. But I say, do you think that we shall be
called upon to understudy St. Lawrence on that grid?"
"Certainly, I do," I replied, "and, as old Babemba warned you, you
"Oh! but I will and I can. And so will you, won't you, Brother John?"
Brother John woke up from a reverie and stroked his long beard.
"Since you ask me, Mr. Somers," he said, reflectively, "if it were a
case of martyrdom for the Faith, like that of the saint to whom you
have alluded, I should not object--at any rate in theory. But I
confess that, speaking from a secular point of view, I have the
strongest dislike to being cooked and eaten by these very disagreeable
savages. Still, I see no reason to suppose that we shall fall victims
to their domestic customs."
I, being in a depressed mood, was about to argue to the contrary, when
Hans poked his head into the hut and said:
"Dinner coming, Baas, very fine dinner!"
So we went out into the garden where the tall, impassive ladies were
arranging many wooden dishes on the ground. Now the moon was clear of
clouds, and by its brilliant light we examined their contents. Some
were cooked meat covered with a kind of sauce that made its nature
indistinguishable. As a matter of fact, I believe it was mutton, but--
who could say? Others were evidently of a vegetable nature. For
instance, there was a whole platter full of roasted mealie cobs and a
great boiled pumpkin, to say nothing of some bowls of curdled milk.
Regarding this feast I became aware of a sudden and complete
conversion to those principles of vegetarianism which Brother John was
always preaching to me.
"I am sure you are quite right," I said to him, nervously, "in holding
that vegetables are the best diet in a hot climate. At any rate I have
made up my mind to try the experiment for a few days," and throwing
manners to the winds, I grabbed four of the upper mealie cobs and the
top of the pumpkin which I cut off with a knife. Somehow I did not
seem to fancy that portion of it which touched the platter, for who
knew what those dishes might have contained and how often they were
Stephen also appeared to have found salvation on this point, for he,
too, patronized the mealie cobs and the pumpkin; so did Mavovo, and so
did even that inveterate meat-eater, Hans. Only the simple Jerry
tackled the fleshpots of Egypt, or rather of Pongo-land, with
appetite, and declared that they were good. I think that he, being the
last of us through the gateway, had not realized what it was which lay
upon the grid.
At length we finished our simple meal--when you are very hungry it
takes a long time to fill oneself with squashy pumpkin, which is why I
suppose ruminants and other grazing animals always seem to be eating--
and washed it down with water in preference to the sticky-looking milk
which we left to the natives.
"Allan," said Brother John to me in a low voice as we lit our pipes,
"that man who stood with his back to us in front of the gridiron was
the Kalubi. Against the firelight I saw the gap in his hand where I
cut away the finger."
"Well, if we want to get any further, you must cultivate him," I
answered. "But the question is, shall we get further than--that grid?
I believe we have been trapped here to be eaten."
Before Brother John could reply, Komba arrived, and after inquiring
whether our appetites had been good, intimated that the Kalubi and
head men were ready to receive us. So off we went with the exception
of Jerry, whom we left to watch our things, taking with us the
presents we had prepared.
Komba led us to the feast-house, where the fire in the pit was out, or
had been covered over, and the grid and its horrible burden had
disappeared. Also now all the mats were rolled up, so that the clear
moonlight flowed into and illuminated the place. Seated in a
semicircle on wooden stools with their faces towards the gateway were
the Kalubi, who occupied the centre, and eight councillors, all of
them grey-haired men. This Kalubi was a tall, thin individual of
middle age with, I think, the most nervous countenance that I ever
saw. His features twitched continually and his hands were never still.
The eyes, too, as far as I could see them in that light, were full of
He rose and bowed, but the councillors remained seated, greeting us
with a long-continued and soft clapping of the hands, which, it
seemed, was the Pongo method of salute.
We bowed in answer, then seated ourselves on three stools that had
been placed for us, Brother John occupying the middle stool. Mavovo
and Hans stood behind us, the latter supporting himself with his large
bamboo stick. As soon as these preliminaries were over the Kalubi
called upon Komba, whom he addressed in formal language as "You-who-
have-passed-the-god," and "You-the-Kalubi-to-be" (I thought I saw him
wince as he said these words), to give an account of his mission and
of how it came about that they had the honour of seeing the white
Komba obeyed. After addressing the Kalubi with every possible title of
honour, such as "Absolute Monarch," "Master whose feet I kiss," "He
whose eyes are fire and whose tongue is a sword," "He at whose nod
people die," "Lord of the Sacrifice, first Taster of the Sacred meat,"
"Beloved of the gods" (here the Kalubi shrank as though he had been
pricked with a spear), "Second to none on earth save the Motombo the
most holy, the most ancient, who comes from heaven and speaks with the
voice of heaven," etc., etc., he gave a clear but brief account of all
that had happened in the course of his mission to Beza Town.
Especially did he narrate how, in obedience to a message which he had
received from the Motombo, he had invited the white lords to Pongo-
land, and even accepted them as envoys from the Mazitu when none would
respond to King Bausi's invitation to fill that office. Only he had
stipulated that they should bring with them none of their magic
weapons which vomited out smoke and death, as the Motombo had
commanded. At this information the expressive countenance of the
Kalubi once more betrayed mental disturbance that I think Komba noted
as much as we did. However, he said nothing, and after a pause, Komba
went on to explain that no such weapons had been brought, since, not
satisfied with our word that this was so, he and his companions had
searched our baggage before we left Mazitu-land.
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