Allan and the Holy Flower
by
H. Rider Haggard

Part 5 out of 7



Therefore, he added, there was no cause to fear that we should bring
about the fulfilment of the old prophecy that when a gun was fired
among the Pongo the gods would desert the land and the people cease to
be a people.

Having finished his speech, he sat down in a humble place behind us.
Then the Kalubi, after formally accepting us as ambassadors from
Bausi, King of the Mazitu, discoursed at length upon the advantages
which would result to both peoples from a lasting peace between them.
Finally he propounded the articles of such a peace. These, it was
clear, had been carefully prepared, but to set them out would be
useless, since they never came to anything, and I doubt whether it was
intended that they should. Suffice it to say that they provided for
intermarriage, free trade between the countries, blood-brotherhood,
and other things that I have forgotten, all of which was to be
ratified by Bausi taking a daughter of the Kalubi to wife, and the
Kalubi taking a daughter of Bausi.

We listened in silence, and when he had finished, after a pretended
consultation between us, I spoke as the Mouth of Brother John, who, I
explained, was too grand a person to talk himself, saying that the
proposals seemed fair and reasonable, and that we should be happy to
submit them to Bausi and his council on our return.

The Kalubi expressed great satisfaction at this statement, but
remarked incidentally that first of all the whole matter must be laid
before the Motombo for his opinion, without which no State transaction
had legal weight among the Pongo. He added that with our approval he
proposed that we should visit his Holiness on the morrow, starting
when the sun was three hours old, as he lived at a distance of a day's
journey from Rica. After further consultation we replied that although
we had little time to spare, as we understood that the Motombo was old
and could not visit us, we, the white lords, would stretch a point and
call on him. Meanwhile we were tired and wished to go to bed. Then we
presented our gifts, which were gracefully accepted, with an
intimation that return presents would be made to us before we left
Pongo-land.

After this the Kalubi took a little stick and broke it, to intimate
that the conference was at an end, and having bade him and his
councillors good night we retired to our huts.

I should add, because it has a bearing on subsequent events, that on
this occasion we were escorted, not by Komba, but by two of the
councillors. Komba, as I noted for the first time when we rose to say
good-bye, was no longer present at the council. When he left it I
cannot say, since it will be remembered that his seat was behind us in
the shadow, and none of us saw him go.



"What do you make of all that?" I asked the others when the door was
shut.

Brother John merely shook his head and said nothing, for in those days
he seemed to be living in a kind of dreamland.

Stephen answered. "Bosh! Tommy rot! All my eye and my elbow! Those
man-eating Johnnies have some game up their wide sleeves, and whatever
it may be, it isn't peace with the Mazitu."

"I agree," I said. "If the real object were peace they would have
haggled more, stood out for better terms, or hostages, or something.
Also they would have got the consent of this Motombo beforehand.
Clearly he is the master of the situation, not the Kalubi, who is only
his tool; if business were meant he should have spoken first, always
supposing that he exists and isn't a myth. However, if we live we
shall learn, and if we don't, it doesn't matter, though personally I
think we should be wise to leave Motombo alone and to clear out to
Mazitu-land by the first canoe to-morrow morning."

"I intend to visit this Motombo," broke in Brother John with decision.

"Ditto, ditto," exclaimed Stephen, "but it's no use arguing that all
over again."

"No," I replied with irritation. "It is, as you remark, of no use
arguing with lunatics. So let's go to bed, and as it will probably be
our last, have a good night's sleep."

"Hear, hear!" said Stephen, taking off his coat and placing it doubled
up on the bed to serve as a pillow. "I say," he added, "stand clear a
minute while I shake this blanket. It's covered with bits of
something," and he suited the action to the word.

"Bits of something?" I said suspiciously. "Why didn't you wait a
minute to let me see them. I didn't notice any bits before."

"Rats running about the roof, I expect," said Stephen carelessly.

Not being satisfied, I began to examine this roof and the clay walls,
which I forgot to mention were painted over in a kind of pattern with
whorls in it, by the feeble light of the primitive lamps. While I was
thus engaged there was a knock on the door. Forgetting all about the
dust, I opened it and Hans appeared.

"One of these man-eating devils wants to speak to you, Baas. Mavovo
keeps him without."

"Let him in," I said, since in this place fearlessness seemed our best
game, "but watch well while he is with us."

Hans whispered a word over his shoulder, and next moment a tall man
wrapped from head to foot in white cloth, so that he looked like a
ghost, came or rather shot into the hut and closed the door behind
him.

"Who are you?" I asked.

By way of answer he lifted or unwrapped the cloth from about his face,
and I saw that the Kalubi himself stood before us.

"I wish to speak alone with the white lord, Dogeetah," he said in a
hoarse voice, "and it must be now, since afterwards it will be
impossible."

Brother John rose and looked at him.

"How are you, Kalubi, my friend?" he asked. "I see that your wound has
healed well."

"Yes, yes, but I would speak with you alone."

"Not so," replied Brother John. "If you have anything to say, you must
say it to all of us, or leave it unsaid, since these lords and I are
one, and that which I hear, they hear."

"Can I trust them?" muttered the Kalubi.

"As you can trust me. Therefore speak, or go. Yet, first, can we be
overheard in this hut?"

"No, Dogeetah. The walls are thick. There is no one on the roof, for I
have looked all round, and if any strove to climb there, we should
hear. Also your men who watch the door would see him. None can hear us
save perhaps the gods."

"Then we will risk the gods, Kalubi. Go on; my brothers know your
story."

"My lords," he began, rolling his eyes about him like a hunted
creature, "I am in a terrible pass. Once, since I saw you, Dogeetah, I
should have visited the White God that dwells in the forest on the
mountain yonder, to scatter the sacred seed. But I feigned to be sick,
and Komba, the Kalubi-to-be, 'who has passed the god,' went in my
place and returned unharmed. Now to-morrow, the night of the full
moon, as Kalubi, I must visit the god again and once more scatter the
seed and--Dogeetah, he will kill me whom he has once bitten. He will
certainly kill me unless I can kill him. Then Komba will rule as
Kalubi in my stead, and he will kill you in a way you can guess, by
the 'Hot death,' as a sacrifice to the gods, that the women of the
Pongo may once more become the mothers of many children. Yes, yes,
unless we can kill the god who dwells in the forest, we all must die,"
and he paused, trembling, while the sweat dropped from him to the
floor.

"That's pleasant," said Brother John, "but supposing that we kill the
god how would that help us or you to escape from the Motombo and these
murdering people of yours? Surely they would slay us for the
sacrilege."

"Not so, Dogeetah. If the god dies, the Motombo dies. It is known from
of old, and therefore the Motombo watches over the god as a mother
over her child. Then, until a new god is found, the Mother of the Holy
Flower rules, she who is merciful and will harm none, and I rule under
her and will certainly put my enemies to death, especially that wizard
Komba."

Here I thought I heard a faint sound in the air like the hiss of a
snake, but as it was not repeated and I could see nothing, concluded
that I was mistaken.

"Moreover," he went on, "I will load you with gold dust and any gifts
you may desire, and set you safe across the water among your friends,
the Mazitu."

"Look here," I broke in, "let us understand matters clearly, and,
John, do you translate to Stephen. Now, friend Kalubi, first of all,
who and what is this god you talk of?"

"Lord Macumazana, he is a huge ape white with age, or born white, I
know not which. He is twice as big as any man, and stronger than
twenty men, whom he can break in his hands, as I break a reed, or
whose heads he can bite off in his mouth, as he bit off my finger for
a warning. For that is how he treats the Kalubis when he wearies of
them. First he bites off a finger and lets them go, and next he breaks
them like a reed, as also he breaks those who are doomed to sacrifice
before the fire."

"Ah!" I said, "a great ape! I thought as much. Well, and how long has
this brute been a god among you?"

"I do not know how long. From the beginning. He was always there, as
the Motombo was always there, for they are one."

"That's a lie any way," I said in English, then went on. "And who is
this Mother of the Holy Flower? Is she also always there, and does she
live in the same place as the ape god?"

"Not so, lord Macumazana. She dies like other mortals, and is
succeeded by one who takes her place. Thus the present Mother is a
white woman of your race, now of middle age. When she dies she will be
succeeded by her daughter, who also is a white woman and very
beautiful. After she dies another who is white will be found, perhaps
one who is of black parents but born white."

"How old is this daughter?" interrupted Brother John in a curiously
intent voice, "and who is her father?"

"The daughter was born over twenty years ago, Dogeetah, after the
Mother of the Flower was captured and brought here. She says that the
father was a white man to whom she was married, but who is dead."

Brother John's head dropped upon his chest, and his eyes shut as
though he had gone to sleep.

"As for where the Mother lives," went on the Kalubi, "it is on the
island in the lake at the top of the mountain that is surrounded by
water. She has nothing to do with the White God, but those women who
serve her go across the lake at times to tend the fields where grows
the seed that the Kalubi sows, of which the corn is the White God's
food."

"Good," I said, "now we understand--not much, but a little. Tell us
next what is your plan? How are we to come into the place where this
great ape lives? And if we come there, how are we to kill the beast,
seeing that your successor, Komba, was careful to prevent us from
bringing our firearms to your land?"

"Aye, lord Macumazana, may the teeth of the god meet in his brain for
that trick; yes, may he die as I know how to make him die. That
prophecy of which he told you is no prophecy from of old. It arose in
the land within the last moon only, though whether it came from Komba
or from the Motombo I know not. None save myself, or at least very few
here, had heard of the iron tubes that throw out death, so how should
there be a prophecy concerning them?"

"I am sure I don't know, Kalubi, but answer the rest of the question."

"As to your coming into the forest--for the White God lives in a
forest on the slopes of the mountain, lords--that will be easy since
the Motombo and the people will believe that I am trapping you there
to be a sacrifice, such as they desire for sundry reasons," and he
looked at the plump Stephen in a very suggestive way. "As to how you
are to kill the god without your tubes of iron, that I do not know.
But you are very brave and great magicians. Surely you can find a
way."

Here Brother John seemed to wake up again.

"Yes," he said, "we shall find a way. Have no fear of that, O Kalubi.
We are not afraid of the big ape whom you call a god. Yet it must be
at a price. We will not kill this beast and try to save your life,
save at a price."

"What price?" asked the Kalubi nervously. "There are wives and cattle
--no, you do not want the wives, and the cattle cannot be taken across
the lake. There are gold dust and ivory. I have already promised
these, and there is nothing more that I can give."

"The price is, O Kalubi, that you hand over to us to be taken away the
white woman who is called Mother of the Holy Flower, with her
daughter----"

"And," interrupted Stephen, to whom I had been interpreting, "the Holy
Flower itself, all of it dug up by the roots."

When he heard these modest requests the poor Kalubi became like one
upon the verge of madness.

"Do you understand," he gasped, "do you understand that you are asking
for the gods of my country?"

"Quite," replied Brother John with calmness; "for the gods of your
country--nothing more nor less."

The Kalubi made as though he would fly from the hut, but I caught him
by the arm and said:

"See, friend, things are thus. You ask us, at great danger to
ourselves, to kill one of the gods of your country, the highest of
them, in order to save your life. Well, in payment we ask you to make
a present of the remaining gods of your country, and to see us and
them safe across the lake. Do you accept or refuse?"

"I refuse," answered the Kalubi sullenly. "To accept would mean the
last curse upon my spirit; that is too horrible to tell."

"And to refuse means the first curse upon your body; namely, that in a
few hours it must be broken and chewed by a great monkey which you
call a god. Yes, broken and chewed, and afterwards, I think, cooked
and eaten as a sacrifice. Is it not so?"

The Kalubi nodded his head and groaned.

"Yet," I went on, "for our part we are glad that you have refused,
since now we shall be rid of a troublesome and dangerous business and
return in safety to Mazitu land."

"How will you return in safety, O lord Macumazana, you who are doomed
to the 'Hot Death' if you escape the fangs of the god?"

"Very easily, O Kalubi, by telling Komba, the Kalubi-to-be, of your
plots against this god of yours, and how we have refused to listen to
your wickedness. In fact, I think this may be done at once while you
are here with us, O Kalubi, where perhaps you do not expect to be
found. I will go strike upon the pot without the door; doubtless
though it is late, some will hear. Nay, man, stand you still; we have
knives and our servants have spears," and I made as though to pass
him.

"Lord," he said, "I will give you the Mother of the Holy Flower and
her daughter; aye, and the Holy Flower itself dug up by the roots, and
I swear that if I can, I will set you and them safe across the lake,
only asking that I may come with you, since here I dare not stay. Yet
the curse will come too, but if so, it is better to die of a curse in
a day to be, than to-morrow at the fangs of the god. Oh! why was I
born! Why was I born!" and he began to weep.

"That is a question many have asked and none have been able to answer,
O friend Kalubi, though mayhap there is an answer somewhere," I
replied in a kind voice.

For my heart was stirred with pity of this poor wretch mazed and lost
in his hell of superstition; this potentate who could not escape from
the trappings of a hateful power, save by the door of a death too
horrible to contemplate; this priest whose doom it was to be slain by
the very hands of his god, as those who went before him had been
slain, and as those who came after him would be slain.

"Yet," I went on, "I think you have chosen wisely, and we hold you to
your word. While you are faithful to us, we will say nothing. But of
this be sure--that if you attempt to betray us, we who are not so
helpless as we seem, will betray you, and it shall be you who die, not
us. Is it a bargain?"

"It is a bargain, white lord, although blame me not if things go
wrong, since the gods know all, and they are devils who delight in
human woe and mock at bargains and torment those who would injure
them. Yet, come what will, I swear to keep faith with you thus, by the
oath that may not be broken," and drawing a knife from his girdle, he
thrust out the tip of his tongue and pricked it. From the puncture a
drop of blood fell to the floor.

"If I break my oath," he said, "may my flesh grow cold as that blood
grows cold, and may it rot as that blood rots! Aye, and may my spirit
waste and be lost in the world of ghosts as that blood wastes into the
air and is lost in the dust of the world!"

It was a horrible scene and one that impressed me very much,
especially as even then there fell upon me a conviction that this
unfortunate man was doomed, that a fate which he could not escape was
upon him.

We said nothing, and in another moment he had thrown his white
wrappings over his face and slipped through the door.

"I am afraid we are playing it rather low down on that jumpy old boy,"
said Stephen remorsefully.

"The white woman, the white woman and her daughter," muttered Brother
John.

"Yes," reflected Stephen aloud. "One is justified in doing anything to
get two white women out of this hell, if they exist. So one may as
well have the orchid also, for they'd be lonely without it, poor
things, wouldn't they? Glad I thought of that, it's soothing to the
conscience."

"I hope you'll find it so when we are all on that iron grid which I
noticed is wide enough for three," I remarked sarcastically. "Now be
quiet, I want to go to sleep."

I am sorry to have to add that for the most of that night Want
remained my master. But if I couldn't sleep, I could, or rather was
obliged to, think, and I thought very hard indeed.

First I reflected on the Pongo and their gods. What were these and why
did they worship them? Soon I gave it up, remembering that the problem
was one which applied equally to dozens of the dark religions of this
vast African continent, to which none could give an answer, and least
of all their votaries. That answer indeed must be sought in the
horrible fears of the unenlightened human heart, which sees death and
terror and evil around it everywhere and, in this grotesque form or in
that, personifies them in gods, or rather in devils who must be
propitiated. For always the fetish or the beast, or whatever it may
be, is not the real object of worship. It is only the thing or
creature which is inhabited by the spirit of the god or devil, the
temple, as it were, that furnishes it with a home, which temple is
therefore holy. And these spirits are diverse, representing sundry
attributes or qualities.

Thus the great ape might be Satan, a prince of evil and blood. The
Holy Flower might symbolise fertility and the growth of the food of
man from the bosom of the earth. The Mother of the Flower might
represent mercy and goodness, for which reason it was necessary that
she should be white in colour, and dwell, not in the shadowed forest,
but on a soaring mountain, a figure of light, in short, as opposed to
darkness. Or she might be a kind of African Ceres, a goddess of the
corn and harvest which were symbolised in the beauteous bloom she
tended. Who could tell? Not I, either then or afterwards, for I never
found out.

As for the Pongo themselves, their case was obvious. They were a dying
tribe, the last descendants of some higher race, grown barren from
intermarriage. Probably, too, they were at first only cannibals
occasionally and from religious reasons. Then in some time of dearth
they became very religious in that respect, and the habit overpowered
them. Among cannibals, at any rate in Africa, as I knew, this dreadful
food is much preferred to any other meat. I had not the slightest
doubt that although the Kalubi himself had brought us here in the wild
hope that we might save him from a terrible death at the hands of the
Beelzebub he served, Komba and the councillors, inspired thereto by
the prophet called Motombo, designed that we should be murdered and
eaten as an offering to the gods. How we were to escape this fate,
being unarmed, I could not imagine, unless some special protection
were vouchsafed to us. Meanwhile, we must go on to the end, whatever
it might be.

Brother John, or to give him his right name, the Reverend John
Eversley, was convinced that the white woman imprisoned in the
mountain was none other than the lost wife for whom he had searched
for twenty weary years, and that the second white woman of whom we had
heard that night was, strange as it might seem, her daughter and his
own. Perhaps he was right and perhaps he was wrong. But even in the
latter case, if two white persons were really languishing in this
dreadful land, our path was clear. We must go on in faith until we
saved them or until we died.

"Our life is granted, not in Pleasure's round,
Or even Love's sweet dream, to lapse, content;
Duty and Faith are words of solemn sound,
And to their echoes must the soul be bent,"

as some one or other once wrote, very nobly I think. Well, there was
but little of "Pleasure's round" about the present entertainment, and
any hope of "Love's sweet dream" seemed to be limited to Brother John
(here I was quite mistaken, as I so often am). Probably the "echoes"
would be my share; indeed, already I seemed to hear their ominous
thunder.

At last I did go to sleep and dreamed a very curious dream. It seemed
to me that I was disembodied, although I retained all my powers of
thought and observation; in fact, dead and yet alive. In this state I
hovered over the people of the Pongo who were gathered together on a
great plain under an inky sky. They were going about their business as
usual, and very unpleasant business it often was. Some of them were
worshipping a dim form that I knew was the devil; some were committing
murders; some were feasting--at that on which they feasted I would not
look; some were labouring or engaged in barter; some were thinking.
But I, who had the power of looking into them, saw within the breast
of each a tiny likeness of the man or woman or child as it might be,
humbly bent upon its knees with hands together in an attitude of
prayer, and with imploring, tear-stained face looking upwards to the
black heaven.

Then in that heaven there appeared a single star of light, and from
this star flowed lines of gentle fire that spread and widened till all
the immense arc was one flame of glory. And now from the pulsing heart
of the Glory, which somehow reminded me of moving lips, fell countless
flakes of snow, each of which followed an appointed path till it lit
upon the forehead of one of the tiny, imploring figures hidden within
those savage breasts, and made it white and clean.

Then the Glory shrank and faded till there remained of it only the
similitude of two transparent hands stretched out as though in
blessing--and I woke up wondering how on earth I found the fancy to
invent such a vision, and whether it meant anything or nothing.

Afterwards I repeated it to Brother John, who was a very spiritually
minded as well as a good man--the two things are often quite different
--and asked him to be kind enough to explain. At the time he shook his
head, but some days later he said to me:

"I think I have read your riddle, Allan; the answer came to me quite
of a sudden. In all those sin-stained hearts there is a seed of good
and an aspiration towards the right. For every one of them also there
is at last mercy and forgiveness, since how could they learn who never
had a teacher? Your dream, Allan, was one of the ultimate redemption
of even the most evil of mankind, by gift of the Grace that shall one
day glow through the blackness of the night in which they wander."

That is what he said, and I only hope that he was right, since at
present there is something very wrong with the world, especially in
Africa.

Also we blame the blind savage for many things, but on the balance are
we so much better, considering our lights and opportunities? Oh! the
truth is that the devil--a very convenient word that--is a good
fisherman. He has a large book full of flies of different sizes and
colours, and well he knows how to suit them to each particular fish.
But white or black, every fish takes one fly or the other, and then
comes the question--is the fish that has swallowed the big gaudy lure
so much worse or more foolish than that which has fallen to the
delicate white moth with the same sharp barb in its tail?

In short, are we not all miserable sinners as the Prayer Book says,
and in the eye of any judge who can average up the elemental
differences of those waters wherein we were bred and are called upon
to swim, is there so much to choose between us? Do we not all need
those outstretched Hands of Mercy which I saw in my dream?

But there, there! What right has a poor old hunter to discuss things
that are too high for him?



CHAPTER XV

THE MOTOMBO

After my dream I went to sleep again, till I was finally aroused by a
strong ray of light hitting me straight in the eye.

Where the dickens does that come from? thought I to myself, for these
huts had no windows.

Then I followed the ray to its source, which I perceived was a small
hole in the mud wall some five feet above the floor. I rose and
examined the said hole, and noted that it appeared to have been
freshly made, for the clay at the sides of it was in no way
discoloured. I reflected that if anyone wanted to eavesdrop, such an
aperture would be convenient, and went outside the hut to pursue my
investigations. Its wall, I found, was situated about four feet from
the eastern part of the encircling reed fence, which showed no signs
of disturbance, although there, in the outer face of the wall, was the
hole, and beneath it on the lime flooring lay some broken fragments of
plaster. I called Hans and asked him if he had kept watch round the
hut when the wrapped-up man visited us during the night. He answered
yes, and that he could swear that no one had come near it, since
several times he had walked to the back and looked.

Somewhat comforted, though not satisfied, I went in to wake up the
others, to whom I said nothing of this matter since it seemed foolish
to alarm them for no good purpose. A few minutes later the tall,
silent women arrived with our hot water. It seemed curious to have hot
water brought to us in such a place by these very queer kind of
housemaids, but so it was. The Pongo, I may add, were, like the Zulus,
very clean in their persons, though whether they all used hot water, I
cannot say. At any rate, it was provided for us.

Half an hour later they returned with breakfast, consisting chiefly of
a roasted kid, of which, as it was whole, and therefore unmistakable,
we partook thankfully. A little later the Majestic Komba appeared.
After many compliments and inquiries as to our general health, he
asked whether we were ready to start on our visit to the Motombo who,
he added, was expecting us with much eagerness. I inquired how he knew
that, since we had only arranged to call on him late on the previous
night, and I understood that he lived a day's journey away. But Komba
put the matter by with a smile and a wave of his hand.

So in due course off we went, taking with us all our baggage, which
now that it had been lightened by the delivery of the presents, was of
no great weight.

Five minutes' walk along the wide, main street led us to the northern
gate of Rica Town. Here we found the Kalubi himself with an escort of
thirty men armed with spears; I noted that unlike the Mazitu they had
no bows and arrows. He announced in a loud voice that he proposed to
do us the special honour of conducting us to the sanctuary of the Holy
One, by which we understood him to mean the Motombo. When we politely
begged him not to trouble, being in an irritable mood, or assuming it,
he told us rudely to mind our own business. Indeed, I think this
irritability was real enough, which, in the circumstances known to the
reader, was not strange. At any rate, an hour or so later it declared
itself in an act of great cruelty which showed us how absolute was
this man's power in all temporal matters.

Passing through a little clump of bush we came to some gardens
surrounded by a light fence through which a number of cattle of a
small and delicate breed--they were not unlike Jerseys in appearance--
had broken to enjoy themselves by devouring the crops. This garden, it
appeared, belonged to the Kalubi for the time being, who was furious
at the destruction of its produce by the cattle which also belonged to
him.

"Where is the herd?" he shouted.

A hunt began--and presently the poor fellow--he was no more than a
lad, was discovered asleep behind a bush. When he was dragged before
him the Kalubi pointed, first to the cattle, then to the broken fence
and the devastated garden. The lad began to mutter excuses and pray
for mercy.

"Kill him!" said the Kalubi, whereon the herd flung himself to the
ground, and clutching him by the ankles, began to kiss his feet,
crying out that he was afraid to die. The Kalubi tried to kick himself
free, and failing in this, lifted his big spear and made an end of the
poor boy's prayers and life at a single stroke.

The escort clapped their hands in salute or approval, after which four
of them, at a sign, took up the body and started with it at a trot for
Rica Town, where probably that night it appeared upon the grid.
Brother John saw, and his big white beard bristled with indignation
like the hair on the back of an angry cat, while Stephen spluttered
something beginning with "You brute," and lifted his fist as though to
knock the Kalubi down. This, had I not caught hold of him, I have no
doubt he would have done.

"O Kalubi!" gasped Brother John, "do you not know that blood calls for
blood? In the hour of your own death remember this death."

"Would you bewitch me, white man?" said the Kalubi, glaring at him
angrily. "If so----" and once more he lifted the spear, but as John
never stirred, held it poised irresolutely. Komba thrust himself
between them, crying:

"Back, Dogeetah, who dare to meddle with our customs! Is not the
Kalubi Lord of life and death?"

Brother John was about to answer, but I called to him in English:

"For Heaven's sake be silent, unless you want to follow the boy. We
are in these men's power."

Then he remembered and walked away, and presently we marched forward
as though nothing had happened. Only from that moment I do not think
that any of us worried ourselves about the Kalubi and what might
befall him. Still, looking back on the thing, I think that there was
this excuse to be made for the man. He was mad with the fear of death
and knew not what he did.

All that day we travelled on through a rich, flat country that, as we
could tell from various indications, had once been widely cultivated.
Now the fields were few and far between, and bush, for the most part a
kind of bamboo scrub, was reoccupying the land. About midday we halted
by a water-pool to eat and rest, for the sun was hot, and here the
four men who had carried off the boy's body rejoined us and made some
report. Then we went forward once more towards what seemed to be a
curious and precipitous wall of black cliff, beyond which the
volcanic-looking mountain towered in stately grandeur. By three
o'clock we were near enough to this cliff, which ran east and west as
far as the eye could reach, to see a hole in it, apparently where the
road terminated, that appeared to be the mouth of a cave.

The Kalubi came up to us, and in a shy kind of way tried to make
conversation. I think that the sight of this mountain, drawing ever
nearer, vividly recalled his terrors and caused him to desire to
efface the bad impression he knew he had made on us, to whom he looked
for safety. Among other things he told us that the hole we saw was the
door of the House of the Motombo.

I nodded my head, but did not answer, for the presence of this
murderous king made me feel sick. So he went away again, looking at us
in a humble and deprecatory manner.

Nothing further happened until we reached the remarkable wall of rock
that I have mentioned, which I suppose is composed of some very hard
stone that remained when the softer rock in which it lay was
disintegrated by millions of years of weather or washings by the water
of the lake. Or perhaps its substance was thrown out of the bowels of
the volcano when this was active. I am no geologist, and cannot say,
especially as I lacked time to examine the place. At any rate there it
was, and there in it appeared the mouth of a great cave that I presume
was natural, having once formed a kind of drain through which the lake
overflowed when Pongo-land was under water.

We halted, staring dubiously at this darksome hole, which no doubt was
the same that Babemba had explored in his youth. Then the Kalubi gave
an order, and some of the soldiers went to huts that were built near
the mouth of the cave, where I suppose guardians or attendants lived,
though of these we saw nothing. Presently they returned with a number
of lighted torches that were distributed among us. This done, we
plunged, shivering (at least, I shivered), into the gloomy recesses of
that great cavern, the Kalubi going before us with half of our escort,
and Komba following behind us with the remainder.

The floor of the place was made quite smooth, doubtless by the action
of water, as were the walls and roof, so far as we could see them, for
it was very wide and lofty. It did not run straight, but curved about
in the thickness of the cliff. At the first turn the Pongo soldiers
set up a low and eerie chant which they continued during its whole
length, that according to my pacings was something over three hundred
yards. On we wound, the torches making stars of light in the intense
blackness, till at length we rounded a last corner where a great
curtain of woven grass, now drawn, was stretched across the cave. Here
we saw a very strange sight.

On either side of it, near to the walls, burned a large wood fire that
gave light to the place. Also more light flowed into it from its
further mouth that was not more than twenty paces from the fires.
Beyond the mouth was water which seemed to be about two hundred yards
wide, and beyond the water rose the slopes of the mountain that was
covered with huge trees. Moreover, a little bay penetrated into the
cavern, the point of which bay ended between the two fires. Here the
water, which was not more than six or eight feet wide, and shallow,
formed the berthing place of a good-sized canoe that lay there. The
walls of the cavern, from the turn to the point of the tongue of
water, were pierced with four doorways, two on either side, which led,
I presume, to chambers hewn in the rock. At each of these doorways
stood a tall woman clothed in white, who held in her hand a burning
torch. I concluded that these were attendants set there to guide and
welcome us, for after we had passed, they vanished into the chambers.

But this was not all. Set across the little bay of water just above
the canoe that floated there was a wooden platform, eight feet or so
square, on either side of which stood an enormous elephant's tusk,
bigger indeed than any I have seen in all my experience, which tusks
seemed to be black with age. Between the tusks, squatted upon rugs of
some kind of rich fur, was what from its shape and attitude I at first
took to be a huge toad. In truth, it had all the appearance of a very
bloated toad. There was the rough corrugated skin, there the prominent
backbone (for its back was towards us), and there were the thin,
splayed-out legs.

We stared at this strange object for quite a long while, unable to
make it out in that uncertain light, for so long indeed, that I grew
nervous and was about to ask the Kalubi what it might be. As my lips
opened, however, it stirred, and with a slow, groping, circular
movement turned itself towards us very slowly. At length it was round,
and as the head came in view all the Pongo from the Kalubi down ceased
their low, weird chant and flung themselves upon their faces, those
who had torches still holding them up in their right hands.

Oh! what a thing appeared! It was not a toad, but a man that moved
upon all fours. The large, bald head was sunk deep between the
shoulders, either through deformity or from age, for this creature was
undoubtedly very old. Looking at it, I wondered how old, but could
form no answer in my mind. The great, broad face was sunken and
withered, like to leather dried in the sun; the lower lip hung
pendulously upon the prominent and bony jaw. Two yellow, tusk-like
teeth projected one at each corner of the great mouth; all the rest
were gone, and from time to time it licked the white gums with a red-
pointed tongue as a snake might do. But the chief wonder of the Thing
lay in its eyes that were large and round, perhaps because the flesh
had shrunk away from them, which gave them the appearance of being set
in the hollow orbits of a skull. These eyes literally shone like fire;
indeed, at times they seemed positively to blaze, as I have seen a
lion's eyes do in the dark. I confess that the aspect of the creature
terrified and for a while paralysed me; to think that it was human was
awful.

I glanced at the others and saw that they, too, were frightened.
Stephen turned very white. I thought that he was going to be sick
again, as he was after he drank the coffee out of the wrong bowl on
the day we entered Mazitu-land. Brother John stroked his white beard
and muttered some invocation to Heaven to protect him. Hans exclaimed
in his abominable Dutch:

"/Oh! keek, Baas, da is je lelicher oud deel!/" ("Oh! look, Baas,
there is the ugly old devil himself!")

Jerry went flat on his face among the Pongo, muttering that he saw
Death before him. Only Mavovo stood firm; perhaps because as a witch-
doctor of repute he felt that it did not become him to show the white
feather in the presence of an evil spirit.

The toad-like creature on the platform swayed its great head slowly as
a tortoise does, and contemplated us with its flaming eyes. At length
it spoke in a thick, guttural voice, using the tongue that seemed to
be common to this part of Africa and indeed to that branch of the
Bantu people to which the Zulus belong, but, as I thought, with a
foreign accent.

"So /you/ are the white men come back," it said slowly. "Let me
count!" and lifting one skinny hand from the ground, it pointed with
the forefinger and counted. "One. Tall, with a white beard. Yes, that
is right. Two. Short, nimble like a monkey, with hair that wants no
comb; clever, too, like a father of monkeys. Yes, that is right.
Three. Smooth-faced, young and stupid, like a fat baby that laughs at
the sky because he is full of milk, and thinks that the sky is
laughing at him. Yes, that is right. All three of you are just the
same as you used to be. Do you remember, White Beard, how, while we
killed you, you said prayers to One Who sits above the world, and held
up a cross of bone to which a man was tied who wore a cap of thorns?
Do you remember how you kissed the man with the cap of thorns as the
spear went into you? You shake your head--oh! you are a clever liar,
but I will show you that you are a liar, for I have the thing yet,"
and snatching up a horn which lay on the kaross beneath him, he blew.

As the peculiar, wailing note that the horn made died away, a woman
dashed out of one of the doorways that I have described and flung
herself on her knees before him. He muttered something to her and she
dashed back again to re-appear in an instant holding in her hand a
yellow ivory crucifix.

"Here it is, here it is," he said. "Take it, White Beard, and kiss it
once more, perhaps for the last time," and he threw the crucifix to
Brother John, who caught it and stared at it amazed. "And do you
remember, Fat Baby, how we caught you? You fought well, very well, but
we killed you at last, and you were good, very good; we got much
strength from you.

"And do you remember, Father of Monkeys, how you escaped from us by
your cleverness? I wonder where you went to and how you died. I shall
not forget you, for you gave me this," and he pointed to a big white
scar upon his shoulder. "You would have killed me, but the stuff in
that iron tube of yours burned slowly when you held the fire to it, so
that I had time to jump aside and the iron ball did not strike me in
the heart as you meant that it should. Yet, it is still here; oh! yes,
I carry it with me to this day, and now that I have grown thin I can
feel it with my finger."

I listened astonished to this harangue, which if it meant anything,
meant that we had all met before, in Africa at some time when men used
matchlocks that were fired with a fuse--that is to say, about the year
1700, or earlier. Reflection, however, showed me the interpretation of
this nonsense. Obviously this old priest's forefather, or, if one put
him at a hundred and twenty years of age, and I am sure that he was
not a day less, perhaps his father, as a young man, was mixed up with
some of the first Europeans who penetrated to the interior of Africa.
Probably these were Portuguese, of whom one may have been a priest and
the other two an elderly man and his son, or young brother, or
companion. The manner of the deaths of these people and of what
happened to them generally would of course be remembered by the
descendants of the chief or head medicine-man of the tribe.

"Where did we meet, and when, O Motombo?" I asked.

"Not in this land, not in this land, Father of Monkeys," he replied in
his low rumbling voice, "but far, far away towards the west where the
sun sinks in the water; and not in this day, but long, long ago.
Twenty Kalubis have ruled the Pongo since that day; some have ruled
for many years and some have ruled for a few years--that depends upon
the will of my brother, the god yonder," and he chuckled horribly and
jerked his thumb backwards over his shoulder towards the forest on the
mountain. "Yes, twenty have ruled, some for thirty years and none for
less than four."

"Well, you /are/ a large old liar," I thought to myself, for, taking
the average rule of the Kalubis at ten years, this would mean that we
met him two centuries ago at least.

"You were clothed otherwise then," he went on, "and two of you wore
hats of iron on the head, but that of White Beard was shaven. I caused
a picture of you to be beaten by the master-smith upon a plate of
copper. I have it yet."

Again he blew upon his horn; again a woman darted out, to whom he
whispered; again she went to one of the chambers and returned bearing
an object which he cast to us.

We looked at it. It was a copper or bronze plaque, black, apparently
with age, which once had been nailed on something for there were the
holes. It represented a tall man with a long beard and a tonsured head
who held a cross in his hand; and two other men, both short, who wore
round metal caps and were dressed in queer-looking garments and boots
with square toes. These man carried big and heavy matchlocks, and in
the hand of one of them was a smoking fuse. That was all we could make
out of the thing.

"Why did you leave the far country and come to this land, O Motombo?"
I asked.

"Because we were afraid that other white men would follow on your
steps and avenge you. The Kalubi of that day ordered it, though I said
No, who knew that none can escape by flight from what must come when
it must come. So we travelled and travelled till we found this place,
and here we have dwelt from generation to generation. The gods came
with us also; my brother that dwells in the forest came, though we
never saw him on the journey, yet he was here before us. The Holy
Flower came too, and the white Mother of the Flower--she was the wife
of one of you, I know not which."

"Your brother the god?" I said. "If the god is an ape as we have
heard, how can he be the brother of a man?"

"Oh! you white men do not understand, but we black people understand.
In the beginning the ape killed my brother who was Kalubi, and his
spirit entered into the ape, making him as a god, and so he kills
every other Kalubi and their spirits enter also into him. Is it not
so, O Kalubi of to-day, you without a finger?" and he laughed
mockingly.

The Kalubi, who was lying on his stomach, groaned and trembled, but
made no other answer.

"So all has come about as I foresaw," went on the toad-like creature.
"You have returned, as I knew you would, and now we shall learn
whether White Beard yonder spoke true words when he said that his god
would be avenged upon our god. You shall go to be avenged on him if
you can, and then we shall learn. But this time you have none of your
iron tubes which alone we fear. For did not the god declare to us
through me that when the white men came back with an iron tube, then
he, the god, would die, and I, the Motombo, the god's Mouth, would
die, and the Holy Flower would be torn up, and the Mother of the
Flower would pass away, and the people of the Pongo would be dispersed
and become wanderers and slaves? And did he not declare that if the
white men came again without their iron tubes, then certain secret
things would happen--oh! ask them not, in time they shall be known to
you, and the people of the Pongo who were dwindling would again become
fruitful and very great? And that is why we welcome you, white men,
who arise again from the land of ghosts, because through you we, the
Pongo, shall become fruitful and very great."

Of a sudden he ceased his rumbling talk, his head sank back between
his shoulders and he sat silent for a long while, his fierce,
sparkling eyes playing on us as though he would read our very
thoughts. If he succeeded, I hope that mine pleased him. To tell the
truth, I was filled with mixed fear, fury and loathing. Although, of
course, I did not believe a word of all the rubbish he had been
saying, which was akin to much that is evolved by these black-hearted
African wizards, I hated the creature whom I felt to be only half-
human. My whole nature sickened at his aspect and talk. And yet I was
dreadfully afraid of him. I felt as a man might who wakes up to find
himself alone with some peculiarly disgusting Christmas-story kind of
ghost. Moreover I was quite sure that he meant us ill, fearful and
imminent ill. Suddenly he spoke again:

"Who is that little yellow one," he said, "that old one with a face
like a skull," and he pointed to Hans, who had kept as much out of
sight as possible behind Mavovo, "that wizened, snub-nosed one who
might be a child of my brother the god, if ever he had a child? And
why, being so small, does he need so large a staff?" Here he pointed
again to Hans's big bamboo stick. "I think he is as full of guile as a
new-filled gourd with water. The big black one," and he looked at
Mavovo, "I do not fear, for his magic is less than my magic," (he
seemed to recognise a brother doctor in Mavovo) "but the little yellow
one with the big stick and the pack upon his back, I fear him. I think
he should be killed."

He paused and we trembled, for if he chose to kill the poor Hottentot,
how could we prevent him? But Hans, who saw the great danger, called
his cunning to his aid.

"O Motombo," he squeaked, "you must not kill me for I am the servant
of an ambassador. You know well that all the gods of every land hate
and will be revenged upon those who touch ambassadors or their
servants, whom they, the gods, alone may harm. If you kill me I shall
haunt you. Yes, I shall sit on your shoulder at night and jibber into
your ear so that you cannot sleep, until you die. For though you are
old you must die at last, Motombo."

"It is true," said the Motombo. "Did I not tell you that he was full
of cunning? All the gods will be avenged upon those who kill
ambassadors or their servants. That"--here he laughed again in his
dreadful way--"is the rights of the gods alone. Let the gods of the
Pongo settle it."

I uttered a sigh of relief, and he went on in a new voice, a dull,
business-like voice if I may so describe it:

"Say, O Kalubi, on what matter have you brought these white men to
speak with me, the Mouth of the god? Did I dream that it was a matter
of a treaty with the King of the Mazitu? Rise and speak."

So the Kalubi rose and with a humble air set out briefly and clearly
the reason of our visit to Pongo-land as the envoys of Bausi and the
heads of the treaty that had been arranged subject to the approval of
the Motombo and Bausi. We noted that the affair did not seem to
interest the Motombo at all. Indeed, he appeared to go to sleep while
the speech was being delivered, perhaps because he was exhausted with
the invention of his outrageous falsehoods, or perhaps for other
reasons. When it was finished he opened his eyes and pointed to Komba,
saying:

"Arise, Kalubi-that-is-to-be."

So Komba rose, and in his cold, precise voice narrated his share in
the transaction, telling how he had visited Bausi, and all that had
happened in connection with the embassy. Again the Motombo appeared to
go to sleep, only opening his eyes once as Komba described how we had
been searched for firearms, whereon he nodded his great head in
approval and licked his lips with his thin red tongue. When Komba had
done, he said:

"The gods tell me that the plan is wise and good, since without new
blood the people of the Pongo will die, but of the end of the matter
the god knows alone, if even he can read the future."

He paused, then asked sharply:

"Have you anything more to say, O Kalubi-that-is-to-be? Now of a
sudden the god puts it into my mouth to ask if you have anything more
to say?"

"Something, O Motombo. Many moons ago the god bit /off/ the finger of
our High Lord, the Kalubi. The Kalubi, having heard that a white man
skilled in medicine who could cut off limbs with knives, was in the
country of the Mazitu and camped on the borders of the great lake,
took a canoe and rowed to where the white man was camped, he with the
beard, who is named Dogeetah, and who stands before you. I followed
him in another canoe, because I wished to know what he was doing, also
to see a white man. I hid my canoe and those who went with me in the
reeds far from the Kalubi's canoe. I waded through the shallow water
and concealed myself in some thick reeds quite near to the white man's
linen house. I saw the white man cut off the Kalubi's finger and I
heard the Kalubi pray the white man to come to our country with the
iron tubes that smoke, and to kill the god of whom he was afraid."

Now from all the company went up a great gasp, and the Kalubi fell
down upon his face again, and lay still. Only the Motombo seemed to
show no surprise, perhaps because he already knew the story.

"Is that all?" he asked.

"No, O Mouth of the god. Last night, after the council of which you
have heard, the Kalubi wrapped himself up like a corpse and visited
the white men in their hut. I thought that he would do so, and had
made ready. With a sharp spear I bored a hole in the wall of the hut,
working from outside the fence. Then I thrust a reed through from the
fence across the passage between the fence and the wall, and through
the hole in the hut, and setting my ear to the end of the reed, I
listened."

"Oh! clever, clever!" muttered Hans in involuntary admiration, "and to
think that I looked and looked too low, beneath the reed. Oh! Hans,
though you are old, you have much to learn."

"Among much else I heard this," went on Komba in sentences so clear
and cold that they reminded me of the tinkle of falling ice, "which I
think is enough, though I can tell you the rest if you wish, O Mouth.
I heard," he said, in the midst of a silence that was positively
awful, "our lord, the Kalubi, whose name is Child of the god, agree
with the white men that they should kill the god--how I do not know,
for it was not said--and that in return they should receive the
persons of the Mother of the Holy Flower and of her daughter, the
Mother-that-is-to-be, and should dig up the Holy Flower itself by the
roots and take it away across the water, together with the Mother and
the Mother-that-is-to-be. That is all, O Motombo."

Still in the midst of an intense silence, the Motombo glared at the
prostrate figure of the Kalubi. For a long while he glared. Then the
silence was broken, for the wretched Kalubi sprang from the floor,
seized a spear and tried to kill himself. Before the blade touched him
it was snatched from his hand, so that he remained standing, but
weaponless.

Again there was silence and again it was broken, this time by the
Motombo, who rose from his seat before which he stood, a huge, bloated
object, and roared aloud in his rage. Yes, he roared like a wounded
buffalo. Never would I have believed that such a vast volume of sound
could have proceeded from the lungs of a single aged man. For fully a
minute his furious bellowings echoed down that great cave, while all
the Pongo soldiers, rising from their recumbent position, pointed
their hands, in some of which torches still burned, at the miserable
Kalubi on whom their wrath seemed to be concentrated, rather than on
us, and hissed like snakes.

Really it might have been a scene in hell with the Motombo playing the
part of Satan. Indeed, his swollen, diabolical figure supported on the
thin, toad-like legs, the great fires burning on either side, the
lurid lights of evening reflected from the still water beyond and
glowering among the tree tops of the mountain, the white-robed forms
of the tall Pongo, bending, every one of them, towards the wretched
culprit and hissing like so many fierce serpents, all suggested some
uttermost deep in the infernal regions as one might conceive them in a
nightmare.

It went on for some time, I don't know how long, till at length the
Motombo picked up his fantastically shaped horn and blew. Thereon the
women darted from the various doorways, but seeing that they were not
wanted, checked themselves in their stride and remained standing so,
in the very attitude of runners about to start upon a race. As the
blast of the horn died away the turmoil was suddenly succeeded by an
utter stillness, broken only by the crackling of the fires whose
flames, of all the living things in that place, alone seemed heedless
of the tragedy which was being played.

"All up now, old fellow!" whispered Stephen to me in a shaky voice.

"Yes," I answered, "all up high as heaven, where I hope we are going.
Now back to back, and let's make the best fight we can. We've got the
spears."

While we were closing in the Motombo began to speak.

"So you plotted to kill the god, Kalubi-who-/was/," he screamed, "with
these white ones whom you would pay with the Holy Flower and her who
guards it. Good! You shall go, all of you, and talk with the god. And
I, watching here, will learn who dies--you or the god. Away with
them!"



CHAPTER XVI

THE GODS

With a roar the Pongo soldiers leapt on us. I think that Mavovo
managed to get his spear up and kill a man, for I saw one of them fall
backwards and lie still. But they were too quick for the rest of us.
In half a minute we were seized, the spears were wrenched from our
hands and we were thrown headlong into the canoe, all six of us, or
rather seven including the Kalubi. A number of the soldiers, including
Komba, who acted as steersman, also sprang into the canoe that was
instantly pushed out from beneath the bridge or platform on which the
Motombo sat and down the little creek into the still water of the
canal or estuary, or whatever it may be, that separates the wall of
rock which the cave pierces from the base of the mountain.

As we floated out of the mouth of the cave the toad-like Motombo, who
had wheeled round upon his stool, shouted an order to Komba.

"O Kalubi," he said, "set the Kalubi-who-/was/ and the three white men
and their three servants on the borders of the forest that is named
House-of-the-god and leave them there. Then return and depart, for
here I would watch alone. When all is finished I will summon you."

Komba bowed his handsome head and at a sign two of the men got out
paddles, for more were not needed, and with slow and gentle strokes
rowed us across the water. The first thing I noted about this water at
the time was that its blackness was inky, owing, I suppose, to its
depth and the shadows of the towering cliff on one side and of the
tall trees on the other. Also I observed--for in this emergency, or
perhaps because of it, I managed to keep my wits about me--that its
banks on either side were the home of great numbers of crocodiles
which lay there like logs. I saw, further, that a little lower down
where the water seemed to narrow, jagged boughs projected from its
surface as though great trees had fallen, or been thrown into it. I
recalled in a numb sort of way that old Babemba had told us that when
he was a boy he had escaped in a canoe down this estuary, and
reflected that it would not be possible for him to do so now because
of those snags. Unless, indeed, he had floated over them in a time of
great flood.

A couple of minutes or so of paddling brought us to the further shore
which, as I think I have said, was only about two hundred yards from
the mouth of the cave. The bow of the canoe grated on the bank,
disturbing a huge crocodile that vanished into the depths with an
angry plunge.

"Land, white lords, land," said Komba with the utmost politeness, "and
go, visit the god who doubtless is waiting for you. And now, as we
shall meet no more--farewell. You are wise and I am foolish, yet
hearken to my counsel. If ever you should return to the Earth again,
be advised by me. Cling to your own god if you have one, and do not
meddle with those of other peoples. Again farewell."

The advice was excellent, but at that moment I felt a hate for Komba
which was really superhuman. To me even the Motombo seemed an angel of
light as compared with him. If wishes could have killed, our farewell
would indeed have been complete.

Then, admonished by the spear points of the Pongo, we landed in the
slimy mud. Brother John went first with a smile upon his handsome
countenance that I thought idiotic under the circumstances, though
doubtless he knew best when he ought to smile, and the wretched Kalubi
came last. Indeed, so great was his shrinking from that ominous shore,
that I believe he was ultimately propelled from the boat by his
successor in power, Komba. Once he had trodden it, however, a spark of
spirit returned to him, for he wheeled round and said to Komba,

"Remember, O Kalubi, that my fate to-day will be yours also in a day
to come. The god wearies of his priests. This year, next year, or the
year after; he always wearies of his priests."

"Then, O Kalubi-that-was," answered Komba in a mocking voice as the
canoe was pushed off, "pray to the god for me, that it may be the year
after; pray it as your bones break in his embrace."

While we watched that craft depart there came into my mind the memory
of a picture in an old Latin book of my father's, which represented
the souls of the dead being paddled by a person named Charon across a
river called the Styx. The scene before us bore a great resemblance to
that picture. There was Charon's boat floating on the dreadful Styx.
Yonder glowed the lights of the world, here was the gloomy, unknown
shore. And we, we were the souls of the dead awaiting the last
destruction at the teeth and claws of some unknown monster, such as
that which haunts the recesses of the Egyptian hell. Oh! the parallel
was painfully exact. And yet, what do you think was the remark of that
irrepressible young man Stephen?

"Here we are at last, Allan, my boy," he said, "and after all without
any trouble on our own part. I call it downright providential. Oh!
isn't it jolly! Hip, hip, hooray!"

Yes, he danced about in that filthy mud, threw up his cap and cheered!

I withered, or rather tried to wither him with a look, muttering the
single word: "Lunatic."

Providential! Jolly! Well, it's fortunate that some people's madness
takes a cheerful turn. Then I asked the Kalubi where the god was.

"Everywhere," he replied, waving his trembling hand at the illimitable
forest. "Perhaps behind this tree, perhaps behind that, perhaps a long
way off. Before morning we shall know."

"What are you going to do?" I inquired savagely.

"Die," he answered.

"Look here, fool," I exclaimed, shaking him, "you can die if you like,
but we don't mean to. Take us to some place where we shall be safe
from this god."

"One is never safe from the god, lord, especially in his own House,"
and he shook his silly head and went on, "How can we be safe when
there is nowhere to go and even the trees are too big to climb?"

I looked at them, it was true. They were huge and ran up for fifty or
sixty feet without a bough. Moreover, it was probable that the god
climbed better than we could. The Kalubi began to move inland in an
indeterminate fashion, and I asked him where he was going.

"To the burying-place," he answered. "There are spears yonder with the
bones."

I pricked up my ears at this--for when one has nothing but some clasp
knives, spears are not to be despised--and ordered him to lead on. In
another minute we were walking uphill through the awful wood where the
gloom at this hour of approaching night was that of an English fog.

Three or four hundred paces brought us to a kind of clearing, where I
suppose some of the monster trees had fallen down in past years and
never been allowed to grow up again. Here, placed upon the ground,
were a number of boxes made of imperishable ironwood, and on the top
of each box sat, or rather lay, a mouldering and broken skull.

"Kalubi-that-were!" murmured our guide in explanation. "Look, Komba
has made my box ready," and he pointed to a new case with the lid off.

"How thoughtful of him!" I said. "But show us the spears before it
gets quite dark." He went to one of the newer coffins and intimated
that we should lift off the lid as he was afraid to do so.

I shoved it aside. There within lay the bones, each of them separate
and wrapped up in something, except of course the skull. With these
were some pots filled apparently with gold dust, and alongside of the
pots two good spears that, being made of copper, had not rusted much.
We went on to other coffins and extracted from them more of these
weapons that were laid there for the dead man to use upon his journey
through the Shades, until we had enough. The shafts of most of them
were somewhat rotten from the damp, but luckily they were furnished
with copper sockets from two and a half to three feet long, into which
the wood of the shaft fitted, so that they were still serviceable.

"Poor things these to fight a devil with," I said.

"Yes, Baas," said Hans in a cheerful voice, "very poor. It is lucky
that I have got a better."

I stared at him; we all stared at him.

"What do you mean, Spotted Snake?" asked Mavovo.

"What do you mean, child of a hundred idiots? Is this a time to jest?
Is not one joker enough among us?" I asked, and looked at Stephen.

"Mean, Baas? Don't you know that I have the little rifle with me, that
which is called /Intombi/, that with which you shot the vultures at
Dingaan's kraal? I never told you because I was sure you knew; also
because if you didn't know it was better that you should not know, for
if /you/ had known, those Pongo /skellums/ (that is, vicious ones)
might have come to know also. And if /they/ had known----"

"Mad!" interrupted Brother John, tapping his forehead, "quite mad,
poor fellow! Well, in these depressing circumstances it is not
wonderful."

I inspected Hans again, for I agreed with John. Yet he did not look
mad, only rather more cunning than usual.

"Hans," I said, "tell us where this rifle is, or I will knock you down
and Mavovo shall flog you."

"Where, Baas! Why, cannot you see it when it is before your eyes?"

"You are right, John," I said, "he's off it"; but Stephen sprang at
Hans and began to shake him.

"Leave go, Baas," he said, "or you may hurt the rifle."

Stephen obeyed in sheer astonishment. Then, oh! then Hans did
something to the end of his great bamboo stick, turned it gently
upside down and out of it slid the barrel of a rifle neatly tied round
with greased cloth and stoppered at the muzzle with a piece of tow!

I could have kissed him. Yes, such was my joy that I could have kissed
that hideous, smelly old Hottentot.

"The stock?" I panted. "The barrel isn't any use without the stock,
Hans."

"Oh! Baas," he answered, grinning, "do you think that I have shot with
you all these years without knowing that a rifle must have a stock to
hold it by?"

Then he slipped off the bundle from his back, undid the lashings of
the blanket, revealing the great yellow head of tobacco that had
excited my own and Komba's interest on the shores of the lake. This
head he tore apart and produced the stock of the rifle nicely cleaned,
a cap set ready on the nipple, on to which the hammer was let down,
with a little piece of wad between to prevent the cap from being fired
by any sudden jar.

"Hans," I exclaimed, "Hans, you are a hero and worth your weight in
gold!"

"Yes, Baas, though you never told me so before. Oh! I made up my mind
that I wouldn't go to sleep in the face of the Old Man (death). Oh!
which of you ought to sleep now upon that bed that Bausi sent me?" he
asked as he put the gun together. "/You/, I think, you great stupid
Mavovo. /You/ never brought a gun. If you were a wizard worth the name
you would have sent the rifles on and had them ready to meet us here.
Oh! will you laugh at me any more, you thick-head of a Zulu?"

"No," answered Mavovo candidly. "I will give you /sibonga/. Yes, I
will make for you Titles of Praise, O clever Spotted Snake."

"And yet," went on Hans, "I am not all a hero; I am worth but half my
weight in gold. For, Baas, although I have plenty of powder and
bullets in my pocket, I lost the caps out of a hole in my waistcoat.
You remember, Baas, I told you it was charms I lost. But three remain;
no, four, for there is one on the nipple. There, Baas, there is
/Intombi/ all ready and loaded. And now when the white devil comes you
can shoot him in the eye, as you how to do up to a hundred yards, and
send him to the other devils down in hell. Oh! won't your holy father
the Predikant be glad to see him there."

Then with a self-satisfied smirk he half-cocked the rifle and handed
it to me ready for action.

"I thank God!" said Brother John solemnly, "who has taught this poor
Hottentot how to save us."

"No, Baas John, God never taught me, I taught myself. But, see, it
grows dark. Had we not better light a fire," and forgetting the rifle
he began to look about for wood.

"Hans," called Stephen after him, "if ever we get out of this, I will
give you 500, or at least my father will, which is the same thing."

"Thank you, Baas, thank you, though just now I'd rather have a drop of
brandy and--I don't see any wood."

He was right. Outside of the graveyard clearing lay, it is true, some
huge fallen boughs. But these were too big for us to move or cut.
Moreover, they were so soaked with damp, like everything in this
forest, that it would be impossible to fire them.

The darkness closed in. It was not absolute blackness, because
presently the moon rose, but the sky was rainy and obscured it;
moreover, the huge trees all about seemed to suck up whatever light
there was. We crouched ourselves upon the ground back to back as near
as possible to the centre of the place, unrolled such blankets as we
had to protect us from the damp and cold, and ate some biltong or
dried game flesh and parched corn, of which fortunately the boy Jerry
carried a bagful that had remained upon his shoulders when he was
thrown into the canoe. Luckily I had thought of bringing this food
with us; also a flask of spirits.

Then it was that the first thing happened. Far away in the forest
resounded a most awful roar, followed by a drumming noise, such a roar
as none of us had ever heard before, for it was quite unlike that of a
lion or any other beast.

"What is that?" I asked.

"The god," groaned the Kalubi, "the god praying to the moon with which
he always rises."

I said nothing, for I was reflecting that four shots, which was all we
had, was not many, and that nothing should tempt me to waste one of
them. Oh! why had Hans put on that rotten old waistcoat instead of the
new one I gave him in Durban?

Since we heard no more roars Brother John began to question the Kalubi
as to where the Mother of the Flower lived.

"Lord," answered the man in a distracted way, "there, towards the
East. You walk for a quarter of the sun's journey up the hill,
following a path that is marked by notches cut upon the trees, till
beyond the garden of the god at the top of the mountain more water is
found surrounding an island. There on the banks of the water a canoe
is hidden in the bushes, by which the water may be crossed to the
island, where dwells the Mother of the Holy Flower."

Brother John did not seem to be quite satisfied with the information,
and remarked that he, the Kalubi, would be able to show us the road on
the morrow.

"I do not think that I shall ever show you the road," groaned the
shivering wretch.

At that moment the god roared again much nearer. Now the Kalubi's
nerve gave out altogether, and quickened by some presentiment, he
began to question Brother John, whom he had learned was a priest of an
unknown sort, as to the possibility of another life after death.

Brother John, who, be it remembered, was a very earnest missionary by
calling, proceeded to administer some compressed religious
consolations, when, quite near to us, the god began to beat upon some
kind of very large and deep drum. He didn't roar this time, he only
worked away at a massed-band military drum. At least that is what it
sounded like, and very unpleasant it was to hear in that awful forest
with skulls arranged on boxes all round us, I can assure you, my
reader.

The drumming ceased, and pulling himself together, Brother John
continued his pious demonstrations. Also just at that time a thick
rain-cloud quite obscured the moon, so that the darkness grew dense. I
heard John explaining to the Kalubi that he was not really a Kalubi,
but an immortal soul (I wonder whether he understood him). Then I
became aware of a horrible shadow--I cannot describe it in any other
way--that was blacker than the blackness, which advanced towards us at
extraordinary speed from the edge of the clearing.

Next second there was a kind of scuffle a few feet from me, followed
by a stifled yell, and I saw the shadow retreating in the direction
from which it had come.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Strike a match," answered Brother John; "I think something has
happened."

I struck a match, which burnt up very well, for the air was quite
still. In the light of it I saw first the anxious faces of our party--
how ghastly they looked!--and next the Kalubi who had risen and was
waving his right arm in the air, a right arm that was bloody and
/lacked the hand/.

"The god has visited me and taken away my hand!" he moaned in a
wailing voice.

I don't think anybody spoke; the thing was beyond words, but we tried
to bind the poor fellow's arm up by the light of matches. Then we sat
down again and watched.

The darkness grew still denser as the thick of the cloud passed over
the moon, and for a while the silence, that utter silence of the
tropical forest at night, was broken only by the sound of our
breathing, the buzz of a few mosquitoes, the distant splash of a
plunging crocodile and the stifled groans of the mutilated man.

Again I saw, or thought I saw--this may have been half an hour later--
that black shadow dart towards us, as a pike darts at a fish in a
pond. There was another scuffle, just to my left--Hans sat between me
and the Kalubi--followed by a single prolonged wail.

"The king-man has gone," whispered Hans. "I felt him go as though a
wind had blown him away. Where he was there is nothing but a hole."

Of a sudden the moon shone out from behind the clouds. In its sickly
light about half-way between us and the edge of the clearing, say
thirty yards off, I saw--oh! what did I see! The devil destroying a
lost soul. At least, that is what it looked like. A huge, grey-black
creature, grotesquely human in its shape, had the thin Kalubi in its
grip. The Kalubi's head had vanished in its maw and its vast black
arms seemed to be employed in breaking him to pieces.

Apparently he was already dead, though his feet, that were lifted off
the ground, still moved feebly.

I sprang up and covered the beast with the rifle which was cocked,
getting full on to its head which showed the clearest, though this was
rather guesswork, since I could not see distinctly the fore-sight. I
pulled, but either the cap or the powder had got a little damp on the
journey and hung fire for the fraction of a second. In that
infinitesimal time the devil--it is the best name I can give the thing
--saw me, or perhaps it only saw the light gleaming on the barrel. At
any rate it dropped the Kalubi, and as though some intelligence warned
it what to expect, threw up its massive right arm--I remember how
extraordinarily long the limb seemed and that it looked thick as a
man's thigh--in such a fashion as to cover its head.

Then the rifle exploded and I heard the bullet strike. By the light of
the flash I saw the great arm tumble down in a dead, helpless kind of
way, and next instant the whole forest began to echo with peal upon
peal of those awful roarings that I have described, each of which
ended with a dog-like /yowp/ of pain.

"You have hit him, Baas," said Hans, "and he isn't a ghost, for he
doesn't like it. But he's still very lively."

"Close up," I answered, "and hold out the spears while I reload."

My fear was that the brute would rush on us. But it did not. For all
that dreadful night we saw or heard it no more. Indeed, I began to
hope that after all the bullet had reached some mortal part and that
the great ape was dead.

At length, it seemed to be weeks afterwards, the dawn broke and
revealed us sitting white and shivering in the grey mist; that is, all
except Stephen, who had gone comfortably to sleep with his head
resting on Mavovo's shoulder. He is a man so equably minded and so
devoid of nerves, that I feel sure he will be one of the last to be
disturbed by the trump of the archangel. At least, so I told him
indignantly when at length we roused him from his indecent slumbers.

"You should judge things by results, Allan," he said with a yawn. "I'm
as fresh as a pippin while you all look as though you had been to a
ball with twelve extras. Have you retrieved the Kalubi yet?"

Shortly afterwards, when the mist lifted a little, we went out in a
line to "retrieve the Kalubi," and found--well, I won't describe what
we found. He was a cruel wretch, as the incident of the herd-boy had
told us, but I felt sorry for him. Still, his terrors were over, or at
least I hope so.

We deposited him in the box that Komba had kindly provided in
preparation for this inevitable event, and Brother John said a prayer
over his miscellaneous remains. Then, after consultation and in the
very worst of spirits, we set out to seek the way to the home of the
Mother of the Flower. The start was easy enough, for a distinct,
though very faint path led from the clearing up the slope of the hill.
Afterwards it became more difficult for the denser forest began.
Fortunately very few creepers grew in this forest, but the flat tops
of the huge trees meeting high above entirely shut out the sky, so
that the gloom was great, in places almost that of night.

Oh! it was a melancholy journey as, filled with fears, we stole, a
pallid throng, from trunk to trunk, searching them for the notches
that indicated our road, and speaking only in whispers, lest the sound
of our voices should attract the notice of the dreadful god. After a
mile or two of this we became aware that its notice was attracted
despite our precautions, for at times we caught glimpses of some huge
grey thing slipping along parallel to us between the boles of the
trees. Hans wanted me to try a shot, but I would not, knowing that the
chances of hitting it were small indeed. With only three charges, or
rather three caps left, it was necessary to be saving.

We halted and held a consultation, as a result of which we decided
that there was no more danger in going on than in standing still or
attempting to return. So we went on, keeping close together. To me, as
I was the only one with a rifle, was accorded what I did not at all
appreciate, the honour of heading the procession.

Another half-mile and again we heard that strange rolling sound which
was produced, I believe, by the great brute beating upon its breast,
but noted that it was not so continuous as on the previous night.

"Ha!" said Hans, "he can only strike his drum with one stick now. Your
bullet broke the other, Baas."

A little farther and the god roared quite close, so loudly that the
air seemed to tremble.

"The drum is all right, whatever may have happened to the sticks," I
said.

A hundred yards or so more and the catastrophe occurred. We had
reached a spot in the forest where one of the great trees had fallen
down, letting in a little light. I can see it to this hour. There lay
the enormous tree, its bark covered with grey mosses and clumps of a
giant species of maidenhair fern. On our side of it was the open space
which may have measured forty feet across, where the light fell in a
perpendicular ray, as it does through the smoke-hole of a hut. Looking
at this prostrate trunk, I saw first two lurid and fiery eyes that
glowed red in the shadow; and then, almost in the same instant, made
out what looked like the head of a fiend enclosed in a wreath of the
delicate green ferns. I can't describe it, I can only repeat that it
looked like the head of a very large fiend with a pallid face, huge
overhanging eyebrows and great yellow tushes on either side of the
mouth.

Before I had even time to get the rifle up, with one terrific roar the
brute was on us. I saw its enormous grey shape on the top of the
trunk, I saw it pass me like a flash, running upright as a man does,
but with the head held forward, and noted that the arm nearest to me
was swinging as though broken. Then as I turned I heard a scream of
terror and perceived that it had gripped the poor Mazitu, Jerry, who
walked last but one of our line which was ended by Mavovo. Yes, it had
gripped him and was carrying him off, clasped to its breast with its
sound arm. When I say that Jerry, although a full-grown man and rather
inclined to stoutness, looked like a child in that fell embrace, it
will give some idea of the creature's size.

Mavovo, who had the courage of a buffalo, charged at it and drove the
copper spear he carried into its side. They all charged like
berserkers, except myself, for even then, thank Heaven! I knew a trick
worth two of that. In three seconds there was a struggling mass in the
centre of the clearing. Brother John, Stephen, Mavovo and Hans were
all stabbing at the enormous gorilla, for it was a gorilla, although
their blows seemed to do it no more harm than pinpricks. Fortunately
for them, for its part, the beast would not let go of Jerry, and
having only one sound arm, could but snap at its assailants, for if it
had lifted a foot to rend them, its top-heavy bulk would have caused
it to tumble over.

At length it seemed to realise this, and hurled Jerry away, knocking
down Brother John and Hans with his body. Then it leapt on Mavovo,
who, seeing it come, placed the copper socket of the spear against his
own breast, with the result that when the gorilla tried to crush him,
the point of the spear was driven into its carcase. Feeling the pain,
it unwound its arm from about Mavovo, knocking Stephen over with the
backward sweep. Then it raised its great hand to crush Mavovo with a
blow, as I believe gorillas are wont to do.

This was the chance for which I was waiting. Up till that moment I had
not dared to fire, fearing lest I should kill one of my companions.
Now for an instant it was clear of them all, and steadying myself, I
aimed at the huge head and let drive. The smoke thinned, and through
it I saw the gigantic ape standing quite still, like a creature lost
in meditation.

Then it threw up its sound arm, turned its fierce eyes to the sky, and
uttering one pitiful and hideous howl, sank down dead. The bullet had
entered just behind the ear and buried itself in the brain.

The great silence of the forest flowed in over us, as it were; for
quite a while no one did or said anything. Then from somewhere down
amidst the mosses I heard a thin voice, the sound of which reminded me
of air being squeezed out of an indiarubber cushion.

"Very good shot, Baas," it piped up, "as good as that which killed the
king-vulture at Dingaan's kraal, and more difficult. But if the Baas
could pull the god off me I should say--Thank you."

The "thank you" was almost inaudible, and no wonder, for poor Hans had
fainted. There he lay under the huge bulk of the gorilla, just his
nose and mouth appearing between the brute's body and its arm. Had it
not been for the soft cushion of wet moss in which he reclined, I
think that he would have been crushed flat.

We rolled the creature off him somehow and poured a little brandy down
his throat, which had a wonderful effect, for in less than a minute he
sat up, grasping like a dying fish, and asked for more.

Leaving Brother John to examine Hans to see if he was really injured,
I bethought me of poor Jerry and went to look at him. One glance was
enough. He was quite dead. Indeed, he seemed to be crushed out of
shape like a buck that has been enveloped in the coils of a boa-
constrictor. Brother John told me afterwards that both his arms and
nearly all his ribs had been broken in that terrible embrace. Even his
spine was dislocated.

I have often wondered why the gorilla ran down the line without
touching me or the others, to vent his rage upon Jerry. I can only
suggest that it was because the unlucky Mazitu had sat next to the
Kalubi on the previous night, which may have caused the brute to
identify him by smell with the priest whom he had learned to hate and
killed. It is true that Hans had sat on the other side of the Kalubi,
but perhaps the odour of the Pongo had not clung to him so much, or
perhaps it meant to deal with him after it had done with Jerry.

When we knew that the Mazitu was past human help and had discovered to
our joy that, save for a few bruises, no one else was really hurt,
although Stephen's clothes were half-torn off him, we made an
examination of the dead god. Truly it was a fearful creature.

What its exact weight or size may have been we had no means of
ascertaining, but I never saw or heard of such an enormous ape, if a
gorilla is really an ape. It needed the united strength of the five of
us to lift the carcase with a great effort off the fainting Hans and
even to roll it from side to side when subsequently we removed the
skin. I would never have believed that so ancient an animal of its
stature, which could not have been more than seven feet when it stood
erect, could have been so heavy. For ancient undoubtedly it was. The
long, yellow, canine tusks were worn half-away with use; the eyes were
sunken far into the skull; the hair of the head, which I am told is
generally red or brown, was quite white, and even the bare breast,
which should be black, was grey in hue. Of course, it was impossible
to say, but one might easily have imagined that this creature was two
hundred years or more old, as the Motombo had declared it to be.

Stephen suggested that it should be skinned, and although I saw little
prospect of our being able to carry away the hide, I assented and
helped in the operation on the mere chance of saving so great a
curiosity. Also, although Brother John was restless and murmured
something about wasting time, I thought it necessary that we should
have a rest after our fearful anxieties and still more fearful
encounter with this consecrated monster. So we set to work, and as a
result of more than an hour's toil, dragged off the hide, which was so
tough and thick that, as we found, the copper spears had scarcely
penetrated to the flesh. The bullet that I had put into it on the
previous night struck, we discovered, upon the bone of the upper arm,
which it shattered sufficiently to render that limb useless, if it did
not break it altogether. This, indeed, was fortunate for us, for had
the creature retained both its arms uninjured, it would certainly have
killed more of us in its attack. We were saved only by the fact that
when it was hugging Jerry it had no limb left with which it could
strike, and luckily did not succeed in its attempts to get hold with
its tremendous jaws that had nipped off the Kalubi's hand as easily as
a pair of scissors severs the stalk of a flower.

When the skin was removed, except that of the hands, which we did not
attempt to touch, we pegged it out, raw side uppermost, to dry in the
centre of the open place where the sun struck. Then, having buried
poor Jerry in the hollow trunk of the great fallen tree, we washed
ourselves with the wet mosses and ate some of the food that remained
to us.

After this we started forward again in much better spirits. Jerry, it
was true, was dead, but so was the god, leaving us happily still alive
and practically untouched. Never more would the Kalubis of Pongo-land
shiver out their lives at the feet of this dreadful divinity who soon
or late must become their executioner, for I believe, with the
exception of two who committed suicide through fear, that no Kalubi
was ever known to have died except by the hand--or teeth--of the god.

What would I not give to know that brute's history? Could it possibly,
as the Motombo said, have accompanied the Pongo people from their home
in Western or Central Africa, or perhaps have been brought here by
them in a state of captivity? I am unable to answer the question, but
it should be noted that none of the Mazitu or other natives had ever
heard of the existence of more true gorillas in this part of Africa.
The creature, if it had its origin in the locality, must either have
been solitary in its habits or driven away from its fellows, as
sometimes happens to old elephants, which then, like this gorilla,
become fearfully ferocious.

That is all I can say about the brute, though of course the Pongo had
their own story. According to them it was an evil spirit in the shape
of an ape, which evil spirit had once inhabited the body of an early
Kalubi, and had been annexed by the ape when it killed the said
Kalubi. Also they declared that the reason the creature put all the
Kalubis to death, as well as a number of other people who were offered
up to it, was that it needed "to refresh itself with the spirits of
men," by which means it was enabled to avoid the effects of age. It
will be remembered that the Motombo referred to this belief, of which
afterwards I heard in more detail from Babemba. But if this god had
anything supernatural about it, at least its magic was no shield
against a bullet from a Purdey rifle.

Only a little way from the fallen tree we came suddenly upon a large
clearing, which we guessed at once must be that "Garden of the god"
where twice a year the unfortunate Kalubis were doomed to scatter the
"sacred seed." It was a large garden, several acres of it, lying on a
shelf, as it were, of the mountain and watered by a stream. Maize grew
in it, also other sorts of corn, while all round was a thick belt of
plantain trees. Of course these crops had formed the food of the god
who, whenever it was hungry, came to this place and helped itself, as
we could see by many signs. The garden was well kept and comparatively
free from weeds. At first we wondered how this could be, till I
remembered that the Kalubi, or someone, had told me that it was tended
by the servants of the Mother of the Flower, who were generally
albinos or mutes.

We crossed it and pushed on rapidly up the mountain, once more
following an easy and well-beaten path, for now we saw that we were
approaching what we thought must be the edge of a crater. Indeed, our
excitement was so extreme that we did not speak, only scrambled
forward, Brother John, notwithstanding his lame leg, leading at a
greater pace than we could equal. He was the first to reach our goal,
closely followed by Stephen. Watching, I saw him sink down as though
in a swoon. Stephen also appeared astonished, for he threw up his
hands.

I rushed to them, and this was what I saw. Beneath us was a steep
slope quite bare of forest, which ceased at its crest. This slope
stretched downwards for half a mile or more to the lip of a beautiful
lake, of which the area was perhaps two hundred acres. Set in the
centre of the deep blue water of this lake, which we discovered
afterwards to be unfathomable, was an island not more than five and
twenty or thirty acres in extent, that seemed to be cultivated, for on
it we could see fields, palms and other fruit-bearing trees. In the
middle of the island stood a small, near house thatched after the
fashion of the country, but civilized in its appearance, for it was
oblong, not round, and encircled by a verandah and a reed fence. At a
distance from this house were a number of native huts, and in front of
it a small enclosure surrounded by a high wall, on the top of which
mats were fixed on poles as though to screen something from wind or
sun.

"The Holy Flower lives there, you bet," gasped Stephen excitedly--he
could think of nothing but that confounded orchid. "Look, the mats are
up on the sunny side to prevent its scorching, and those palms are
planted round to give it shade."

"The Mother of the Flower lives there," whispered Brother John,
pointing to the house. "Who is she? Who is she? Suppose I should be
mistaken after all. God, let me not be mistaken, for it would be more
than I can bear."

"We had better try to find out," I remarked practically, though I am
sure I sympathised with his suspense, and started down the slope at a
run.

In five minutes or less we reached the foot of it, and, breathless and
perspiring though we were, began to search amongst the reeds and
bushes growing at the edge of the lake for the canoe of which we had
been told by the Kalubi. What if there were none? How could we cross
that wide stretch of deep water? Presently Hans, who, following
certain indications which caught his practised eye, had cast away to
the left, held up his hand and whistled. We ran to him.

"Here it is, Baas," he said, and pointed to something in a tiny bush-
fringed inlet, that at first sight looked like a heap of dead reeds.
We tore away at the reeds, and there, sure enough, was a canoe of
sufficient size to hold twelve or fourteen people, and in it a number
of paddles.

Another two minutes and we were rowing across that lake.

We came safely to the other side, where we found a little landing-
stage made of poles sunk into the lake. We tied up the canoe, or
rather I did, for nobody else remembered to take that precaution, and
presently were on a path which led through the cultivated fields to
the house. Here I insisted upon going first with the rifle, in case we
should be suddenly attacked. The silence and the absence of any human
beings suggested to me that this might very well happen, since it
would be strange if we had not been seen crossing the lake.

Afterwards I discovered why the place seemed so deserted. It was owing
to two reasons. First, it was now noontime, an hour at which these
poor slaves retired to their huts to eat and sleep through the heat of
the day. Secondly, although the "Watcher," as she was called, had seen
the canoe on the water, she concluded that the Kalubi was visiting the
Mother of the Flower and, according to practice on these occasions,
withdrew herself and everybody else, since the rare meetings of the
Kalubi and the Mother of the Flower partook of the nature of a
religious ceremony and must be held in private.

First we came to the little enclosure that was planted about with
palms and, as I have described, screened with mats. Stephen ran at it
and, scrambling up the wall, peeped over the top.

Next instant he was sitting on the ground, having descended from the
wall with the rapidity of one shot through the head.

"Oh! by Jingo!" he ejaculated, "oh! by Jingo!" and that was all I
could get out of him, though it is true I did not try very hard at the
time.

Not five paces from this enclosure stood a tall reed fence that
surrounded the house. It had a gate also of reeds, which was a little
ajar. Creeping up to it very cautiously, for I thought I heard a voice
within, I peeped through the half-opened gate. Four or five feet away
was the verandah from which a doorway led into one of the rooms of the
house where stood a table on which was food.

Kneeling on mats upon this verandah were--/two white women/--clothed
in garments of the purest white adorned with a purple fringe, and
wearing bracelets and other ornaments of red native gold. One of these
appeared to be about forty years of age. She was rather stout, fair in
colouring, with blue eyes and golden hair that hung down her back. The
other might have been about twenty. She also was fair, but her eyes
were grey and her long hair was of a chestnut hue. I saw at once that
she was tall and very beautiful. The elder woman was praying, while
the other, who knelt by her side, listened and looked up vacantly at
the sky.

"O God," prayed the woman, "for Christ's sake look in pity upon us two
poor captives, and if it be possible, send us deliverance from this
savage land. We thank Thee Who hast protected us unharmed and in
health for so many years, and we put our trust in Thy mercy, for Thou
alone canst help us. Grant, O God, that our dear husband and father
may still live, and that in Thy good time we may be reunited to him.
Or if he be dead and there is no hope for us upon the earth, grant
that we, too, may die and find him in Thy Heaven."

Thus she prayed in a clear, deliberate voice, and I noticed that as
she did so the tears ran down her cheeks. "Amen," she said at last,
and the girl by her side, speaking with a strange little accent,
echoed the "Amen."

I looked round at Brother John. He had heard something and was utterly
overcome. Fortunately enough he could not move or even speak.

"Hold him," I whispered to Stephen and Mavovo, "while I go in and talk
to these ladies."

Then, handing the rifle to Hans, I took off my hat, pushed the gate a
little wider open, slipped through it and called attention to my
presence by coughing.

The two women, who had risen from their knees, stared at me as though
they saw a ghost.

"Ladies," I said, bowing, "pray do not be alarmed. You see God
Almighty sometimes answers prayers. In short, I am one of--a party--of
white people who, with some trouble, have succeeded in getting to this
place and--and--would you allow us to call on you?"

Still they stared. At length the elder woman opened her lips.

"Here I am called the Mother of the Holy Flower, and for a stranger to
speak with the Mother is death. Also if you are a man, how did you
reach us alive?"

"That's a long story," I answered cheerfully. "May we come in? We will
take the risks, we are accustomed to them and hope to be able to do
you a service. I should explain that three of us are white men, two
English and one--American."

"American!" she gasped, "American! What is he like, and how is he
named?"

"Oh!" I replied, for my nerve was giving out and I grew confused, "he
is oldish, with a white beard, rather like Father Christmas in short,
and his Christian name (I didn't dare to give it all at once) is--er--
John, Brother John, we call him. Now I think of it," I added, "he has
some resemblance to your companion there."

I thought that the lady was going to die, and cursed myself for my
awkwardness. She flung her arm about the girl to save herself from
falling--a poor prop, for she, too, looked as though she were going to
die, having understood some, if not all, of my talk. It must be
remembered that this poor young thing had never even seen a white man
before.

"Madam, madam," I expostulated, "I pray you to bear up. After living
through so much sorrow it would be foolish to decease of--joy. May I
call in Brother John? He is a clergyman and might be able to say
something appropriate, which I, who am only a hunter, cannot do."

She gathered herself together, opened her eyes and whispered:

"Send him here."

I pushed open the gate behind which the others were clustered.
Catching Brother John, who by now had recovered somewhat, by the arm,
I dragged him forward. The two stood staring at each other, and the
young lady also looked with wide eyes and open mouth.

"Elizabeth!" said John.

She uttered a faint scream, then with a cry of "/Husband!/" flung
herself upon his breast.

I slipped through the gate and shut it fast.



"I say, Allan," said Stephen, when we had retreated to a little
distance, "did you see her?"

"Her? Who? Which?" I asked.

"The young lady in the white clothes. She is lovely."

"Hold your tongue, you donkey!" I answered. "Is this a time to talk of
female looks?"

Then I went away behind the wall and literally wept for joy. It was
one of the happiest moments of my life, for how seldom things happen
as they should!

Also I wanted to put up a little prayer of my own, a prayer of
thankfulness and for strength and wit to overcome the many dangers
that yet awaited us.



CHAPTER XVII

THE HOME OF THE HOLY FLOWER

Half an hour or so passed, during which I was engaged alternately in
thinking over our position and in listening to Stephen's rhapsodies.
First he dilated on the loveliness of the Holy Flower that he had
caught a glimpse of when he climbed the wall, and secondly, on the
beauty of the eyes of the young lady in white. Only by telling him
that he might offend her did I persuade him not to attempt to break
into the sacred enclosure where the orchid grew. As we were discussing
the point, the gate opened and she appeared.

"Sirs," she said, with a reverential bow, speaking slowly and in the
drollest halting English, "the mother and the father--yes, the father
--ask, will you feed?"

We intimated that we would "feed" with much pleasure, and she led the
way to the house, saying:

"Be not astonished at them, for they are very happy too, and please
forgive our unleavened bread."

Then in the politest way possible she took me by the hand, and
followed by Stephen, we entered the house, leaving Mavovo and Hans to
watch outside.

It consisted of but two rooms, one for living and one for sleeping. In
the former we found Brother John and his wife seated on a kind of
couch gazing at each other in a rapt way. I noted that they both
looked as though they had been crying--with happiness, I suppose.

"Elizabeth," said John as we entered, "this is Mr. Allan Quatermain,
through whose resource and courage we have come together again, and
this young gentleman is his companion, Mr. Stephen Somers."

She bowed, for she seemed unable to speak, and held out her hand,
which we shook.

"What be 'resource and courage'?" I heard her daughter whisper to
Stephen, "and why have you none, O Stephen Somers?"

"It would take a long time to explain," he said with his jolly laugh,
after which I listened to no more of their nonsense.

Then we sat down to the meal, which consisted of vegetables and a
large bowl of hard-boiled ducks' eggs, of which eatables an ample
supply was carried out to Hans and Mavovo by Stephen and Hope. This,
it seemed, was the name that her mother had given to the girl when she
was born in the hour of her black despair.

It was an extraordinary story that Mrs. Eversley had to tell, and yet
a short one.

She /had/ escaped from Hassan-ben-Mohammed and the slave-traders, as
the rescued slave told her husband at Zanzibar before he died, and,
after days of wandering, been captured by some of the Pongo who were
scouring the country upon dark business of their own, probably in
search of captives. They brought her across the lake to Pongo-land
and, the former Mother of the Flower, an albino, having died at a
great age, installed her in the office on this island, which from that
day she had never left. Hither she was led by the Kalubi of the time
and some others who had "passed the god." This brute, however, she had
never seen, although once she heard him roar, for it did not molest
them or even appear upon their journey.

Shortly after her arrival on the island her daughter was born, on
which occasion some of the women "servants of the Flower" nursed her.
From that moment both she and the child were treated with the utmost
care and veneration, since the Mother of the Flower and the Flower
itself being in some strange way looked upon as embodiments of the
natural forces of fertility, this birth was held to be the best of
omens for the dwindling Pongo race. Also it was hoped that in due
course the "Child of the Flower" would succeed the Mother in her
office. So here they dwelt absolutely helpless and alone, occupying
themselves with superintending the agriculture of the island. Most
fortunately also when she was captured, Mrs. Eversley had a small
Bible in her possession which she had never lost. From this she was
able to teach her child to read and all that is to be learned in the
pages of Holy Writ.

Often I have thought that if I were doomed to solitary confinement for
life and allowed but one book, I would choose the Bible, since, in


 


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