Allan and the Holy Flower
by
H. Rider Haggard

Part 6 out of 7



addition to all its history and the splendour of its language, it
contains the record of the hope of man, and therefore should be
sufficient for him. So at least it had proved to be in this case.

Oddly enough, as she told us, like her husband, Mrs. Eversley during
all those endless years had never lost some kind of belief that she
would one day be saved otherwise than by death.

"I always thought that you still lived and that we should meet again,
John," I heard her say to him.

Also her own and her daughter's spirits were mysteriously supported,
for after the first shock and disturbance of our arrival we found them
cheerful people; indeed, Miss Hope was quite a merry soul. But then
she had never known any other life, and human nature is very
adaptable. Further, if I may say so, she had grown up a lady in the
true sense of the word. After all, why should she not, seeing that her
mother, the Bible and Nature had been her only associates and sources
of information, if we except the poor slaves who waited on them, most
of whom were mutes.

When Mrs. Eversley's story was done, we told ours, in a compressed
form. It was strange to see the wonder with which these two ladies
listened to its outlines, but on that I need not dwell. When it was
finished I heard Miss Hope say:

"So it would seem, O Stephen Somers, that it is you who are saviour to
us."

"Certainly," answered Stephen, "but why?"

"Because you see the dry Holy Flower far away in England, and you say,
'I must be Holy Father to that Flower.' Then you pay down shekels
(here her Bible reading came in) for the cost of journey and hire
brave hunter to kill devil-god and bring my old white-head parent with
you. Oh yes, you are saviour," and she nodded her head at him very
prettily.

"Of course," replied Stephen with enthusiasm; "that is, not exactly,
but it is all the same thing, as I will explain later. But, Miss Hope,
meanwhile could you show us the Flower?"

"Oh! Holy Mother must do that. If you look thereon without her, you
die."

"Really!" said Stephen, without alluding to his little feat of wall
climbing.

Well, the end of it was that after a good deal of hesitation, the Holy
Mother obliged, saying that as the god was dead she supposed nothing
else mattered. First, however, she went to the back of the house and
clapped her hands, whereon an old woman, a mute and a very perfect
specimen of an albino native, appeared and stared at us wonderingly.
To her Mrs. Eversley talked upon her fingers, so rapidly that I could
scarcely follow her movements. The woman bowed till her forehead
nearly touched the ground, then rose and ran towards the water.

"I have sent her to fetch the paddles from the canoe," said Mrs.
Eversley, "and to put my mark upon it. Now none will dare to use it to
cross the lake."

"That is very wise," I replied, "as we don't want news of our
whereabouts to get to the Motombo."

Next we went to the enclosure, where Mrs. Eversley with a native knife
cut a string of palm fibres that was sealed with clay on to the door
and one of its uprights in such a fashion that none could enter
without breaking the string. The impression was made with a rude seal
that she wore round her neck as a badge of office. It was a very
curious object fashioned of gold and having deeply cut upon its face a
rough image of an ape holding a flower in its right paw. As it was
also ancient, this seemed to show that the monkey god and the orchid
had been from the beginning jointly worshipped by the Pongo.

When she had opened the door, there appeared, growing in the centre of
the enclosure, the most lovely plant, I should imagine, that man ever
saw. It measured some eight feet across, and the leaves were dark
green, long and narrow. From its various crowns rose the scapes of
bloom. And oh! those blooms, of which there were about twelve,
expanded now in the flowering season. The measurements made from the
dried specimen I have given already, so I need not repeat them. I may
say here, however, that the Pongo augured the fertility or otherwise
of each succeeding year from the number of the blooms on the Holy
Flower. If these were many the season would prove very fruitful; if
few, less so; while if, as sometimes happened, the plant failed to
flower, draught and famine were always said to follow. Truly those
were glorious blossoms, standing as high as a man, with their back
sheaths of vivid white barred with black, their great pouches of
burnished gold and their wide wings also of gold. Then in the centre
of each pouch appeared the ink-mark that did indeed exactly resemble
the head of a monkey. But if this orchid astonished me, its effect
upon Stephen, with whom this class of flower was a mania, may be
imagined. Really he went almost mad. For a long while he glared at the
plant, and finally flung himself upon his knees, causing Miss Hope to
exclaim:

"What, O Stephen Somers! do you also make sacrifice to the Holy
Flower?"

"Rather," he answered; "I'd--I'd--die for it!"

"You are likely to before all is done," I remarked with energy, for I
hate to see a grown man make a fool of himself. There's only one thing
in the world which justifies /that/, and it isn't a flower.

Mavovo and Hans had followed us into the enclosure, and I overheard a
conversation between them which amused me. The gist of it was that
Hans explained to Mavovo that the white people admired this weed--he
called it a weed--because it was like gold, which was the god they
really worshipped, although that god was known among them by many
names. Mavovo, who was not at all interested in the affair, replied
with a shrug that it might be so, though for his part he believed the
true reason to be that the plant produced some medicine which gave
courage or strength. Zulus, I may say, do not care for flowers unless
they bear a fruit that is good to eat.

When I had satisfied myself with the splendour of these magnificent
blooms, I asked Mrs. Eversley what certain little mounds might be that
were dotted about the enclosure, beyond the circle of cultivated peaty
soil which surrounded the orchid's roots.

"They are the graves of the Mothers of the Holy Flower," she answered.
"There are twelve of them, and here is the spot chosen for the
thirteenth, which was to have been mine."

To change the subject I asked another question, namely: If there were
more such orchids growing in the country?

"No," she replied, "or at least I never heard of any. Indeed, I have
always been told that this one was brought from far away generations
ago. Also, under an ancient law, it is never allowed to increase. Any
shoots it sends up beyond this ring must be cut off by me and
destroyed with certain ceremonies. You see that seed-pod which has
been left to grow on the stalk of one of last year's blooms. It is now
ripe, and on the night of the next new moon, when the Kalubi comes to
visit me, I must with much ritual burn it in his presence, unless it
has burst before he arrives, in which case I must burn any seedlings
that may spring up with almost the same ritual."

"I don't think the Kalubi will come any more; at least, not while you
are here. Indeed, I am sure of it," I said.

As we were leaving the place, acting on my general principle of making
sure of anything of value when I get the chance, I broke off that ripe
seed-pod, which was of the size of an orange. No one was looking at
the time, and as it went straight into my pocket, no one missed it.

Then, leaving Stephen and the young lady to admire this Cypripedium--
or each other--in the enclosure, we three elders returned to the house
to discuss matters.

"John and Mrs. Eversley," I said, "by Heaven's mercy you are reunited
after a terrible separation of over twenty years. But what is to be
done now? The god, it is true, is dead, and therefore the passage of
the forest will be easy. But beyond it is the water which we have no
means of crossing and beyond the water that old wizard, the Motombo,
sits in the mouth of his cave watching like a spider in its web. And
beyond the Motombo and his cave are Komba, the new Kalubi and his
tribe of cannibals----"

"Cannibals!" interrupted Mrs. Eversley, "I never knew that they were
cannibals. Indeed, I know little about the Pongo, whom I scarcely ever
see."

"Then, madam, you must take my word for it that they are; also, as I
believe, that they have every expectation of eating /us/. Now, as I
presume that you do not wish to spend the rest of your lives, which
would probably be short, upon this island, I want to ask how you
propose to escape safely out of the Pongo country?"

They shook their heads, which were evidently empty of ideas. Only John
stroked his white beard, and inquired mildly:

"What have you arranged, Allan? My dear wife and I are quite willing
to leave the matter to you, who are so resourceful."

"Arranged!" I stuttered. "Really, John, under any other
circumstances----" Then after a moment's reflection I called to Hans
and Mavovo, who came and squatted down upon the verandah.

"Now," I said, after I had put the case to them, "what have /you/
arranged?" Being devoid of any feasible suggestions, I wished to pass
on that intolerable responsibility.

"My father makes a mock of us," said Mavovo solemnly. "Can a rat in a
pit arrange how it is to get out with the dog that is waiting at the
top? So far we have come in safety, as the rat does into the pit. Now
I see nothing but death."

"That's cheerful," I said. "Your turn, Hans."

"Oh! Baas," replied the Hottentot, "for a while I grew clever again
when I thought of putting the gun /Intombi/ into the bamboo. But now
my head is like a rotten egg, and when I try to shake wisdom out of it
my brain melts and washes from side to side like the stuff in the
rotten egg. Yet, yet, I have a thought--let us ask the Missie. Her
brain is young and not tired, it may hit on something: to ask the Baas
Stephen is no good, for already he is lost in other things," and Hans
grinned feebly.

More to give myself time than for any other reason I called to Miss
Hope, who had just emerged from the sacred enclosure with Stephen, and
put the riddle to her, speaking very slowly and clearly, so that she
might understand me. To my surprise she answered at once.

"What is a god, O Mr. Allen? Is it not more than man? Can a god be
bound in a pit for a thousand years, like Satan in Bible? If a god
want to move, see new country and so on, who can say no?"

"I don't quite understand," I said, to draw her out further, although,
in fact, I had more than a glimmering of what she meant.

"O Allan, Holy Flower there a god, and my mother priestess. If Holy
Flower tired of this land, and want to grow somewhere else, why
priestess not carry it and go too?"

"Capital idea," I said, "but you see, Miss Hope, there are, or were,
two gods, one of which cannot travel."

"Oh! that very easy, too. Put skin of god of the woods on to this
man," and she pointed to Hans, "and who know difference? They like as
two brothers already, only he smaller."

"She's got it! By Jingo, she's got it!" exclaimed Stephen in
admiration.

"What Missie say?" asked Hans, suspiciously.

I told him.

"Oh! Baas," exclaimed Hans, "think of the smell inside of that god's
skin when the sun shines on it. Also the god was a very big god, and I
am small."

Then he turned and made a proposal to Mavovo, explaining that his
stature was much better suited to the job.

"First will I die," answered the great Zulu. "Am I, who have high
blood in my veins and who am a warrior, to defile myself by wrapping
the skin of a dead brute about me and appear as an ape before men?
Propose it to me again, Spotted Snake, and we shall quarrel."

"See here, Hans," I said. "Mavovo is right. He is a soldier and very
strong in battle. You also are very strong in your wits, and by doing
this you will make fools of all the Pongo. Also, Hans, it is better
that you should wear the skin of a gorilla for a few hours than that
I, your master, and all these should be killed."

"Yes, Baas, it is true, Baas; though for myself I almost think that,
like Mavovo, I would rather die. Yet it would be sweet to deceive
those Pongo once again, and, Baas, I won't see you killed just to save
myself another bad smell or two. So, if you wish it, I will become a
god."

Thus through the self-sacrifice of that good fellow, Hans, who is the
real hero of this history, that matter was settled, if anything could
be looked on as settled in our circumstances. Then we arranged that we
would start upon our desperate adventure at dawn on the following
morning.

Meanwhile, much remained to be done. First, Mrs. Eversley summoned her
attendants, who, to the number of twelve, soon appeared in front of
the verandah. It was very sad to see these poor women, all of whom
were albinos and unpleasant to look on, while quite half appeared to
be deaf and dumb. To these, speaking as a priestess, she explained
that the god who dwelt in the woods was dead, and that therefore she
must take the Holy Flower, which was called "Wife of the god" and make
report to the Motombo of this dreadful catastrophe. Meanwhile, they
must remain on the island and continue to cultivate the fields.

This order threw the poor creatures, who were evidently much attached
to their mistress and her daughter, into a great state of
consternation. The eldest of them all, a tall, thin old lady with
white wool and pink eyes who looked, as Stephen said, like an Angora
rabbit, prostrated herself and kissing the Mother's foot, asked when
she would return, since she and the "Daughter of the Flower" were all
they had to love, and without them they would die of grief.

Suppressing her evident emotion as best she could, the Mother replied
that she did not know; it depended on the will of Heaven and the
Motombo. Then to prevent further argument she bade them bring their
picks with which they worked the land; also poles, mats, and
palmstring, and help to dig up the Holy Flower. This was done under
the superintendence of Stephen, who here was thoroughly in his
element, although the job proved far from easy. Also it was sad, for
all these women wept as they worked, while some of them who were not
dumb, wailed aloud.

Even Miss Hope cried, and I could see that her mother was affected
with a kind of awe. For twenty years she had been guardian of this
plant, which I think she had at last not unnaturally come to look upon
with some of the same veneration that was felt for it by the whole
Pongo people.

"I fear," she said, "lest this sacrilege should bring misfortune upon
us."

But Brother John, who held very definite views upon African
superstitions, quoted the second commandment to her, and she became
silent.

We got the thing up at last, or most of it, with a sufficiency of
earth to keep it alive, injuring the roots as little as possible in
the process. Underneath it, at a depth of about three feet, we found
several things. One of these was an ancient stone fetish that was
rudely shaped to the likeness of a monkey and wore a gold crown. This
object, which was small, I still have. Another was a bed of charcoal,
and amongst the charcoal were some partially burnt bones, including a
skull that was very little injured. This may have belonged to a woman
of a low type, perhaps the first Mother of the Flower, but its general
appearance reminded me of that of a gorilla. I regret that there was
neither time nor light to enable me to make a proper examination of
these remains, which we found it impossible to bring away.

Mrs. Eversley told me afterwards, however, that the Kalubis had a
tradition that the god once possessed a wife which died before the
Pongo migrated to their present home. If so, these may have been the
bones of that wife. When it was finally clear of the ground on which
it had grown for so many generations, the great plant was lifted on to
a large mat, and after it had been packed with wet moss by Stephen in
a most skilful way, for he was a perfect artist at this kind of work,
the mat was bound round the roots in such a fashion that none of the
contents could escape. Also each flower scape was lashed to a thin
bamboo so as to prevent it from breaking on the journey. Then the
whole bundle was lifted on to a kind of bamboo stretcher that we made
and firmly secured to it with palm-fibre ropes.

By this time it was growing dark and all of us were tired.

"Baas," said Hans to me, as we were returning to the house, "would it
not be well that Mavovo and I should take some food and go sleep in
the canoe? These women will not hurt us there, but if we do not, I,
who have been watching them, fear lest in the night they should make
paddles of sticks and row across the lake to warn the Pongo."

Although I did not like separating our small party, I thought the idea
so good that I consented to it, and presently Hans and Mavovo, armed
with spears and carrying an ample supply of food, departed to the lake
side.

One more incident has impressed itself upon my memory in connection
with that night. It was the formal baptism of Hope by her father. I
never saw a more touching ceremony, but it is one that I need not
describe.

Stephen and I slept in the enclosure by the packed flower, which he
would not leave out of his sight. It was as well that we did so, since
about twelve o'clock by the light of the moon I saw the door in the
wall open gently and the heads of some of the albino women appear
through the aperture. Doubtless, they had come to steal away the holy
plant they worshipped. I sat up, coughed, and lifted the rifle,
whereon they fled and returned no more.

Long before dawn Brother John, his wife and daughter were up and
making preparations for the march, packing a supply of food and so
forth. Indeed, we breakfasted by moonlight, and at the first break of
day, after Brother John had first offered up a prayer for protection,
departed on our journey.

It was a strange out-setting, and I noted that both Mrs. Eversley and
her daughter seemed sad at bidding good-bye to the spot where they had
dwelt in utter solitude and peace for so many years; where one of
them, indeed, had been born and grown up to womanhood. However, I kept
on talking to distract their thoughts, and at last we were off.

I arranged that, although it was heavy for them, the two ladies, whose
white robes were covered with curious cloaks made of soft prepared
bark, should carry the plant as far as the canoe, thinking it was
better that the Holy Flower should appear to depart in charge of its
consecrated guardians. I went ahead with the rifle, then came the
stretcher and the flower, while Brother John and Stephen, carrying the
paddles, brought up the rear. We reached the canoe without accident,
and to our great relief found Mavovo and Hans awaiting us. I learned,
however, that it was fortunate they had slept in the boat, since
during the night the albino women arrived with the evident object of
possessing themselves of it, and only ran away when they saw that it
was guarded. As we were making ready the canoe those unhappy slaves
appeared in a body and throwing themselves upon their faces with
piteous words, or those of them who could not speak, by signs,
implored the Mother not to desert them, till both she and Hope began
to cry. But there was no help for it, so we pushed off as quickly as
we could, leaving the albinos weeping and wailing upon the bank.

I confess that I, too, felt compunction at abandoning them thus, but
what could we do? I only trust that no harm came to them, but of
course we never heard anything as to their fate.

On the further side of the lake we hid away the canoe in the bushes
where we had found it, and began our march. Stephen and Mavovo, being
the two strongest among us, now carried the plant, and although
Stephen never murmured at its weight, how the Zulu did swear after the
first few hours! I could fill a page with his objurgations at what he
considered an act of insanity, and if I had space, should like to do
so, for really some of them were most amusing. Had it not been for his
friendship for Stephen I think that he would have thrown it down.

We crossed the Garden of the god, where Mrs. Eversley told me the
Kalubi must scatter the sacred seed twice a year, thus confirming the
story that we had heard. It seems that it was then, as he made his
long journey through the forest, that the treacherous and horrid brute
which we had killed, would attack the priest of whom it had grown
weary. But, and this shows the animal's cunning, the onslaught always
took place /after/ he had sown the seed which would in due season
produce the food it ate. Our Kalubi, it is true, was killed before we
had reached the Garden, which seems an exception to the rule. Perhaps,
however, the gorilla knew that his object in visiting it was not to
provide for its needs. Or perhaps our presence excited it to immediate
action.

Who can analyse the motives of a gorilla?

These attacks were generally spread over a year and a half. On the
first occasion the god which always accompanied the priest to the
garden and back again, would show animosity by roaring at him. On the
second he would seize his hand and bite off one of the fingers, as
happened to our Kalubi, a wound that generally caused death from blood
poisoning. If, however, the priest survived, on the third visit it
killed him, for the most part by crushing his head in its mighty jaws.
When making these visits the Kalubi was accompanied by certain
dedicated youths, some of whom the god always put to death. Those who
had made the journey six times without molestation were selected for
further special trials, until at last only two remained who were
declared to have "passed" or "been accepted by" the god. These youths
were treated with great honour, as in the instance of Komba and on the
destruction of the Kalubi, one of them took his office, which he
generally filled without much accident, for a minimum of ten years,
and perhaps much longer.

Mrs. Eversley knew nothing of the sacramental eating of the remains of
the Kalubi, or of the final burial of his bones in the wooden coffins
that we had seen, for such things, although they undoubtedly happened,
were kept from her. She added, that each of the three Kalubis whom she
had known, ultimately went almost mad through terror at his
approaching end, especially after the preliminary roarings and the
biting off of the finger. In truth uneasy lay the head that wore a
crown in Pongo-land, a crown that, mind you, might not be refused upon
pain of death by torture. Personally, I can imagine nothing more
terrible than the haunted existence of these poor kings whose pomp and
power must terminate in such a fashion.

I asked her whether the Motombo ever visited the god. She answered,
Yes, once in every five years. Then after many mystic ceremonies he
spent a week in the forest at a time of full moon. One of the Kalubis
had told her that on this occasion he had seen the Motombo and the god
sitting together under a tree, each with his arm round the other's
neck and apparently talking "like brothers." With the exception of
certain tales of its almost supernatural cunning, this was all that I
could learn about the god of the Pongos which I have sometimes been
tempted to believe was really a devil hid in the body of a huge and
ancient ape.

No, there was one more thing which I quote because it bears out
Babemba's story. It seems that captives from other tribes were
sometimes turned into the forest that the god might amuse itself by
killing them. This, indeed, was the fate to which we ourselves had
been doomed in accordance with the hateful Pongo custom.

Certainly, thought I to myself when she had done, I did a good deed in
sending that monster to whatever dim region it was destined to
inhabit, where I sincerely trust it found all the dead Kalubis and its
other victims ready to give it an appropriate welcome.



After crossing the god's garden, we came to the clearing of the Fallen
Tree, and found the brute's skin pegged out as we had left it, though
shrunken in size. Only it had evidently been visited by a horde of the
forest ants which, fortunately for Hans, had eaten away every particle
of flesh, while leaving the hide itself absolutely untouched, I
suppose because it was too tough for them. I never saw a neater job.
Moreover, these industrious little creatures had devoured the beast
itself. Nothing remained of it except the clean, white bones lying in
the exact position in which we had left the carcase. Atom by atom that
marching myriad army had eaten all and departed on its way into the
depths of the forest, leaving this sign of their passage.

How I wished that we could carry off the huge skeleton to add to my
collection of trophies, but this was impossible. As Brother John said,
any museum would have been glad to purchase it for hundreds of pounds,
for I do not suppose that its like exists in the world. But it was too
heavy; all I could do was to impress its peculiarities upon my mind by
a close study of the mighty bones. Also I picked out of the upper
right arm, and kept the bullet I had fired when it carried off the
Kalubi. This I found had sunk into and shattered the bone, but without
absolutely breaking it.

On we went again bearing with us the god's skin, having first stuffed
the head, hands and feet (these, I mean the hands and feet, had been
cleaned out by the ants) with wet moss in order to preserve their
shape. It was no light burden, at least so declared Brother John and
Hans, who bore it between them upon a dead bough from the fallen tree.

Of the rest of our journey to the water's edge there is nothing to
tell, except that notwithstanding our loads, we found it easier to
walk down that steep mountain side than it had been to ascend the
same. Still our progress was but slow, and when at length we reached
the burying-place only about an hour remained to sunset. There we sat
down to rest and eat, also to discuss the situation.

What was to be done? The arm of stagnant water lay near to us, but we
had no boat with which to cross to the further shore. And what was
that shore? A cave where a creature who seemed to be but half-human,
sat watching like a spider in its web. Do not let it be supposed that
this question of escape had been absent from our minds. On the
contrary, we had even thought of trying to drag the canoe in which we
crossed to and from the island of the Flower through the forest. The
idea was abandoned, however, because we found that being hollowed from
a single log with a bottom four or five inches thick, it was
impossible for us to carry it so much as fifty yards. What then could
we do without a boat? Swimming seemed to be out of the question
because of the crocodiles. Also on inquiry I discovered that of the
whole party Stephen and I alone could swim. Further there was no wood
of which to make a raft.

I called to Hans and leaving the rest in the graveyard where we knew
that they were safe, we went down to the edge of the water to study
the situation, being careful to keep ourselves hidden behind the reeds
and bushes of the mangrove tribe with which it was fringed. Not that
there was much fear of our being seen, for the day, which had been
very hot, was closing in and a great storm, heralded by black and
bellying clouds, was gathering fast, conditions which must render us
practically invisible at a distance.

We looked at the dark, slimy water--also at the crocodiles which sat
upon its edge in dozens waiting, eternally waiting, for what, I
wondered. We looked at the sheer opposing cliff, but save where a
black hole marked the cave mouth, far as the eye could see, the water
came up against it, as that of a moat does against the wall of a
castle. Obviously, therefore, the only line of escape ran through this
cave, for, as I have explained, the channel by which I presume Babemba
reached the open lake, was now impracticable. Lastly, we searched to
see if there was any fallen log upon which we could possibly propel
ourselves to the other side, and found--nothing that could be made to
serve, no, nor, as I have said, any dry reeds or brushwood out of
which we might fashion a raft.

"Unless we can get a boat, here we must stay," I remarked to Hans, who
was seated with me behind a screen of rushes at the water's edge.

He made no answer, and as I thought, in a sort of subconscious way, I
engaged myself in watching a certain tragedy of the insect world.
Between two stout reeds a forest spider of the very largest sort had
spun a web as big as a lady's open parasol. There in the midst of this
web of which the bottom strands almost touched the water, sat the
spider waiting for its prey, as the crocodiles were waiting on the
banks, as the great ape had waited for the Kalubis, as Death waits for
Life, as the Motombo was waiting for God knows what.

It rather resembled the Motombo in his cave, did that huge, black
spider with just a little patch of white upon its head, or so I
thought fancifully enough. Then came the tragedy. A great, white moth
of the Hawk species began to dart to and fro between the reeds, and
presently struck the web on its lower side some three inches above the
water. Like a flash that spider was upon it. It embraced the victim
with its long legs to still its tremendous battlings. Next, descending
below, it began to make the body fast, when something happened. From
the still surface of the water beneath poked up the mouth of a very
large fish which quite quietly closed upon the spider and sank again
into the depths, taking with it a portion of the web and thereby
setting the big moth free. With a struggle it loosed itself, fell on
to a piece of wood and floated away, apparently little the worse for
the encounter.

"Did you see that, Baas?" said Hans, pointing to the broken and empty
web. "While you were thinking, I was praying to your reverend father
the Predikant, who taught me how to do it, and he has sent us a sign
from the Place of Fire."

Even then I could not help laughing to myself as I pictured what my
dear father's face would be like if he were able to hear his convert's
remarks. An analysis of Hans's religious views would be really
interesting, and I only regret that I never made one. But sticking to
business I merely asked:

"What sign?"

"Baas, this sign: That web is the Motombo's cave. The big spider is
the Motombo. The white moth is us, Baas, who are caught in the web and
going to be eaten."

"Very pretty, Hans," I said, "but what is the fish that came up and
swallowed the spider so that the moth fell on the wood and floated
away?"

"Baas, /you/ are the fish, who come up softly, softly out of the water
in the dark, and shoot the Motombo with the little rifle, and then the
rest of us, who are the moth, fall into the canoe and float away.
There is a storm about to break, Baas, and who will see you swim the
stream in the storm and the night?"

"The crocodiles," I suggested.

"Baas, I didn't see a crocodile eat the fish. I think the fish is
laughing down there with the fat spider in its stomach. Also when
there is a storm crocodiles go to bed because they are afraid lest the
lightning should kill them for their sins."

Now I remembered that I had often heard, and indeed to some extent
noted, that these great reptiles do vanish in disturbed weather,
probably because their food hides away. However that might be, in an
instant I made up my mind.

As soon as it was quite dark I would swim the water, holding the
little rifle, /Intombi/, above my head, and try to steal the canoe. If
the old wizard was watching, which I hoped might not be the case,
well, I must deal with him as best I could. I knew the desperate
nature of the expedient, but there was no other way. If we could not
get a boat we must remain in that foodless forest until we starved. Or
if we returned to the island of the Flower, there ere long we should
certainly be attacked and destroyed by Komba and the Pongos when they
came to look for our bodies.

"I'll try it, Hans," I said.

"Yes, Baas, I thought you would. I'd come, too, only I can't swim and
when I was drowning I might make a noise, because one forgets oneself
then, Baas. But it will be all right, for if it were otherwise I am
sure that your reverend father would have shown us so in the sign. The
moth floated off quite comfortably on the wood, and just now I saw it
spread its wings and fly away. And the fish, ah! how he laughs with
that fat old spider in his stomach!"



CHAPTER XVIII

FATE STABS

We went back to the others whom we found crouched on the ground among
the coffins, looking distinctly depressed. No wonder; night was
closing in, the thunder was beginning to growl and echo through the
forest and rain to fall in big drops. In short, although Stephen
remarked that every cloud has a silver lining, a proverb which, as I
told him, I seemed to have heard before, in no sense could the outlook
be considered bright.

"Well, Allan, what have you arranged?" asked Brother John, with a
faint attempt at cheerfulness as he let go of his wife's hand. In
those days he always seemed to be holding his wife's hand.

"Oh!" I answered, "I am going to get the canoe so that we can all row
over comfortably."

They stared at me, and Miss Hope, who was seated by Stephen, asked in
her usual Biblical language:

"Have you the wings of a dove that you can fly, O Mr. Allan?"

"No," I answered, "but I have the fins of a fish, or something like
them, and I can swim."

Now there arose a chorus of expostulation.

"You shan't risk it," said Stephen, "I can swim as well as you and I'm
younger. I'll go, I want a bath."

"That you will have, O Stephen," interrupted Miss Hope, as I thought
in some alarm. "The latter rain from heaven will make you clean." (By
now it was pouring.)

"Yes, Stephen, you can swim," I said, "but you will forgive me for
saying that you are not particularly deadly with a rifle, and clean
shooting may be the essence of this business. Now listen to me, all of
you. I am going. I hope that I shall succeed, but if I fail it does
not so very much matter, for you will be no worse off than you were
before. There are three pairs of you. John and his wife; Stephen and
Miss Hope; Mavovo and Hans. If the odd man of the party comes to
grief, you will have to choose a new captain, that is all, but while I
lead I mean to be obeyed."

Then Mavovo, to whom Hans had been talking, spoke.

"My father Macumazana is a brave man. If he lives he will have done
his duty. If he dies he will have done his duty still better, and, on
the earth or in the under-world among the spirits of our fathers, his
name shall be great for ever; yes, his name shall be a song."

When Brother John had translated these words, which I thought fine,
there was silence.

"Now," I said, "come with me to the water's edge, all of you. You will
be in less danger from the lightning there, where are no tall trees.
And while I am gone, do you ladies dress up Hans in that gorilla-skin
as best you can, lacing it on to him with some of that palm-fibre
string which we brought with us, and filling out the hollows and the
head with leaves or reeds. I want him to be ready when I come back
with the canoe.

Hans groaned audibly, but made no objection and we started with our
impedimenta down to the edge of the estuary where we hid behind a
clump of mangrove bushes and tall, feathery reeds. Then I took off
some of my clothes, stripping in fact to my flannel shirt and the
cotton pants I wore, both of which were grey in colour and therefore
almost invisible at night.

Now I was ready and Hans handed me the little rifle.

"It is at full cock, Baas, with the catch on," he said, "and carefully
loaded. Also I have wrapped the lining of my hat, which is very full
of grease, for the hair makes grease especially in hot weather, Baas,
round the lock to keep away the wet from the cap and powder. It is not
tied, Baas, only twisted. Give the rifle a shake and it will fall
off."

"I understand," I said, and gripped the gun with my left hand by the
tongue just forward of the hammer, in such a fashion that the horrid
greased rag from Hans's hat was held tight over the lock and cap. Then
I shook hands with the others and when I came to Miss Hope I am proud
to add that she spontaneously and of her own accord imprinted a kiss
upon my mediaeval brow. I felt inclined to return it, but did not.

"It is the kiss of peace, O Allan," she said. "May you go and return
in peace."

"Thank you," I said, "but get on with dressing Hans in his new
clothes."

Stephen muttered something about feeling ashamed of himself. Brother
John put up a vigorous and well-directed prayer. Mavovo saluted with
the copper assegai and began to give me /sibonga/ or Zulu titles of
praise beneath his breath, and Mrs. Eversley said:

"Oh! I thank God that I have lived to see a brave English gentleman
again," which I thought a great compliment to my nation and myself,
though when I afterwards discovered that she herself was English by
birth, it took off some of the polish.

Next, just after a vivid flash of lightning, for the storm had broken
in earnest now, I ran swiftly to the water's edge, accompanied by
Hans, who was determined to see the last of me.

"Get back, Hans, before the lightning shows you," I said, as I slid
gently from a mangrove-root into that filthy stream, "and tell them to
keep my coat and trousers dry if they can."

"Good-bye, Baas," he murmured, and I heard that he was sobbing. "Keep
a good heart, O Baas of Baases. After all, this is nothing to the
vultures of the Hill of Slaughter. /Intombi/ pulled us through then,
and so she will again, for she knows who can hold her straight!"

That was the last I heard of Hans, for if he said any more, the hiss
of the torrential rain smothered his words.

Oh! I had tried to "keep a good heart" before the others, but it is
beyond my powers to describe the deadly fright I felt, perhaps the
worst of all my life, which is saying a great deal. Here I was
starting on one of the maddest ventures that was ever undertaken by
man. I needn't put its points again, but that which appealed to me
most at the moment was the crocodiles. I have always hated crocodiles
since--well, never mind--and the place was as full of them as the
ponds at Ascension are of turtles.

Still I swam on. The estuary was perhaps two hundred yards wide, not
more, no great distance for a good swimmer as I was in those days. But
then I had to hold the rifle above the water with my left hand at all
cost, for if once it went beneath it would be useless. Also I was
desperately afraid of being seen in the lightning flashes, although to
minimise this risk I had kept my dark-coloured cloth hat upon my head.
Lastly there was the lightning itself to fear, for it was fearful and
continuous and seemed to be striking along the water. It was a fact
that a fire-ball or something of the sort hit the surface within a few
yards of me, as though it had aimed at the rifle-barrel and just
missed. Or so I thought, though it may have been a crocodile rising at
the moment.

In one way, or rather, in two, however, I was lucky. The first was the
complete absence of wind which must have raised waves that might have
swamped me and would at any rate have wetted the rifle. The second was
that there was no fear of my losing my path for in the mouth of the
cave I could see the glow of the fires which burned on either side of
the Motombo's seat. They served the same purpose to me as did the lamp
of the lady called Hero to her lover Leander when he swam the
Hellespont to pay her clandestine visits at night. But he had
something pleasant to look forward to, whereas I----! Still, there was
another point in common between us. Hero, if I remember right, was a
priestess of the Greek goddess of love, whereas the party who waited
me was also in a religious line of business. Only, as I firmly
believe, he was a priest of the devil.

I suppose that swim took me about a quarter-of-an-hour, for I went
slowly to save my strength, although the crocodiles suggested haste.
But thank Heaven they never appeared to complicate matters. Now I was
quite near the cave, and now I was beneath the overhanging roof and in
the shallow water of the little bay that formed a harbour for the
canoe. I stood upon my feet on the rock bottom, the water coming up to
my breast, and peered about me, while I rested and worked my left arm,
stiff with the up-holding of the gun, to and fro. The fires had burnt
somewhat low and until my eyes were freed from the raindrops and grew
accustomed to the light of the place I could not see clearly.

I took the rag from round the lock of the rifle, wiped the wet off the
barrel with it and let it fall. Then I loosed the catch and by
touching a certain mechanism, made the rifle hair-triggered. Now I
looked again and began to make out things. There was the platform and
there, alas! on it sat the toad-like Motombo. But his back was to me;
he was gazing not towards the water, but down the cave. I hesitated
for one fateful moment. Perhaps the priest was asleep, perhaps I could
get the canoe away without shooting. I did not like the job; moreover,
his head was held forward and invisible, and how was I to make certain
of killing him with a shot in the back? Lastly, if possible, I wished
to avoid firing because of the report.

At that instant the Motombo wheeled round. Some instinct must have
warned him of my presence, for the silence was gravelike save for the
soft splash of the rain without. As he turned the lightning blazed and
he saw me.

"It is the white man," he muttered to himself in his hissing whisper,
while I waited through the following darkness with the rifle at my
shoulder, "the white man who shot me long, long ago, and again he has
a gun! Oh! Fate stabs, doubtless the god is dead and I too must die!"

Then as if some doubt struck him he lifted the horn to summon help.

Again the lightning flashed and was accompanied by a fearful crack of
thunder. With a prayer for skill, I covered his head and fired by the
glare of it just as the trumpet touched his lips. It fell from his
hand. He seemed to shrink together, and moved no more.

Oh! thank God, thank God! in this supreme moment of trial the art of
which I am a master had not failed me. If my hand had shaken ever so
little, if my nerves, strained to breaking point, had played me false
in the least degree, if the rag from Hans's hat had not sufficed to
keep away the damp from the cap and powder! Well, this history would
never have been written and there would have been some more bones in
the graveyard of the Kalubis, that is all!

For a moment I waited, expecting to see the women attendants dart from
the doorways in the sides of the cave, and to hear them sound a shrill
alarm. None appeared, and I guessed that the rattle of the thunder had
swallowed up the crack of the rifle, a noise, be it remembered, that
none of them had ever heard. For an unknown number of years this
ancient creature, I suppose, had squatted day and night upon that
platform, whence, I daresay, it was difficult for him to move. So
after they had wrapped his furs round him at sunset and made up the
fires to keep him warm, why should his women come to disturb him
unless he called them with his horn? Probably it was not even lawful
that they should do so.

Somewhat reassured I waded forward a few paces and loosed the canoe
which was tied by the prow. Then I scrambled into it, and laying down
the rifle, took one of the paddles and began to push out of the creek.
Just then the lightning flared once more, and by it I caught sight of
the Motombo's face that was now within a few feet of my own. It seemed
to be resting almost on his knees, and its appearance was dreadful. In
the centre of the forehead was a blue mark where the bullet had
entered, for I had made no mistake in that matter. The deep-set round
eyes were open and, all their fire gone, seemed to stare at me from
beneath the overhanging brows. The massive jaw had fallen and the red
tongue hung out upon the pendulous lip. The leather-like skin of the
bloated cheeks had assumed an ashen hue still streaked and mottled
with brown.

Oh! the thing was horrible, and sometimes when I am out of sorts, it
haunts me to this day. Yet that creature's blood does not lie heavy on
my mind, of it my conscience is not afraid. His end was necessary to
save the innocent and I am sure that it was well deserved. For he was
a devil, akin to the great god ape I had slain in the forest, to whom,
by the way, he bore a most remarkable resemblance in death. Indeed if
their heads had been laid side by side at a little distance, it would
not have been too easy to tell them apart with their projecting brows,
beardless, retreating chins and yellow tushes at the corners of the
mouth.

Presently I was clear of the cave. Still for a while I lay to at one
side of it against the towering cliff, both to listen in case what I
had done should be discovered, and for fear lest the lightning which
was still bright, although the storm centre was rapidly passing away,
should reveal me to any watchers.

For quite ten minutes I hid thus, and then, determining to risk it,
paddled softly towards the opposite bank keeping, however, a little to
the west of the cave and taking my line by a certain very tall tree
which, as I had noted, towered up against the sky at the back of the
graveyard.

As it happened my calculations were accurate and in the end I directed
the bow of the canoe into the rushes behind which I had left my
companions. Just then the moon began to struggle out through the
thinning rain-clouds, and by its light they saw me, and I saw what for
a moment I took to be the gorilla-god himself waddling forward to
seize the boat. There was the dreadful brute exactly as he had
appeared in the forest, except that it seemed a little smaller.

Then I remembered and laughed and that laugh did me a world of good.

"Is that you, Baas?" said a muffled voice, speaking apparently from
the middle of the gorilla. "Are you safe, Baas?"

"Of course," I answered, "or how should I be here?" adding cheerfully,
"Are you comfortable in that nice warm skin on this wet night, Hans?"

"Oh! Baas," answered the voice, "tell me what happened. Even in this
stink I burn to know."

"Death happened to the Motombo, Hans. Here, Stephen, give me your hand
and my clothes, and, Mavovo, hold the rifle and the canoe while I put
them on."

Then I landed and stepping into the reeds, pulled off my wet shirt and
pants, which I stuffed away into the big pockets of my shooting coat,
for I did not want to lose them, and put on the dry things that,
although scratchy, were quite good enough clothing in that warm
climate. After this I treated myself to a good sup of brandy from the
flask, and ate some food which I seemed to require. Then I told them
the story, and cutting short their demonstrations of wonder and
admiration, bade them place the Holy Flower in the canoe and get in
themselves. Next with the help of Hans who poked out his fingers
through the skin of the gorilla's arms, I carefully re-loaded the
rifle, setting the last cap on the nipple. This done, I joined them in
the canoe, taking my seat in the prow and bidding Brother John and
Stephen paddle.

Making a circuit to avoid observation as before, in a very short time
we reached the mouth of the cave. I leant forward and peeped round the
western wall of rock. Nobody seemed to be stirring. There the fires
burned dimly, there the huddled shape of the Motombo still crouched
upon the platform. Silently, silently we disembarked, and I formed our
procession while the others looked askance at the horrible face of the
dead Motombo.

I headed it, then came the Mother of the Flower, followed by Hans,
playing his part of the god of the forest; then Brother John and
Stephen carrying the Holy Flower. After it walked Hope, while Mavovo
brought up the rear. Near to one of the fires, as I had noted on our
first passage of the cave, lay a pile of the torches which I have
already mentioned. We lit some of them, and at a sign from me, Mavovo
dragged the canoe back into its little dock and tied the cord to its
post. Its appearance there, apparently undisturbed, might, I thought,
make our crossing of the water seem even more mysterious. All this
while I watched the doors in the sides of the cave, expecting every
moment to see the women rush out. But none came. Perhaps they slept,
or perhaps they were absent; I do not know to this day.

We started, and in solemn silence threaded our way down the windings
of the cave, extinguishing our torches as soon as we saw light at its
inland outlet. At a few paces from its mouth stood a sentry. His back
was towards the cave, and in the uncertain gleams of the moon,
struggling with the clouds, for a thin rain still fell, he never noted
us till we were right on to him. Then he turned and saw, and at the
awful sight of this procession of the gods of his land, threw up his
arms, and without a word fell senseless. Although I never asked, I
think that Mavovo took measures to prevent his awakening. At any rate
when I looked back later on, I observed that he was carrying a big
Pongo spear with a long shaft, instead of the copper weapon which he
had taken from one of the coffins.

On we marched towards Rica Town, following the easy path by which we
had come. As I have said, the country was very deserted and the
inhabitants of such huts as we passed were evidently fast asleep. Also
there were no dogs in this land to awake them with their barking.
Between the cave and Rica we were not, I think, seen by a single soul.

Through that long night we pushed on as fast was we could travel, only
stopping now and again for a few minutes to rest the bearers of the
Holy Flower. Indeed at times Mrs. Eversley relieved her husband at
this task, but Stephen, being very strong, carried his end of the
stretcher throughout the whole journey.

Hans, of course, was much oppressed by the great weight of the gorilla
skin, which, although it had shrunk a good deal, remained as heavy as
ever. But he was a tough old fellow, and on the whole got on better
than might have been expected, though by the time we reached the town
he was sometimes obliged to follow the example of the god itself and
help himself forward with his hands, going on all fours, as a gorilla
generally does.

We reached the broad, long street of Rica about half an hour before
dawn, and proceeded down it till we were past the Feast-house still
quite unobserved, for as yet none were stirring on that wet morning.
Indeed it was not until we were within a hundred yards of the harbour
that a woman possessed of the virtue, or vice, of early rising, who
had come from a hut to work in her garden, saw us and raised an awful,
piercing scream.

"The gods!" she screamed. "The gods are leaving the land and taking
the white men with them."

Instantly there arose a hubbub in the houses. Heads were thrust out of
the doors and people ran into the gardens, every one of whom began to
yell till one might have thought that a massacre was in progress. But
as yet no one came near us, for they were afraid.

"Push on," I cried, "or all is lost."

They answered nobly. Hans struggled forward on all fours, for he was
nearly done and his hideous garment was choking him, while Stephen and
Brother John, exhausted though they were with the weight of the great
plant, actually broke into a feeble trot. We came to the harbour and
there, tied to the wharf, was the same canoe in which we had crossed
to Pongo-land. We sprang into it and cut the fastenings with my knife,
having no time to untie them, and pushed off from the wharf.

By now hundreds of people, among them many soldiers were hard upon and
indeed around us, but still they seemed too frightened to do anything.
So far the inspiration of Hans' disguise had saved us. In the midst of
them, by the light of the rising sun, I recognised Komba, who ran up,
a great spear in his hand, and for a moment halted amazed.

Then it was that the catastrophe happened which nearly cost us all our
lives.

Hans, who was in the stern of the canoe, began to faint from
exhaustion, and in his efforts to obtain air, for the heat and stench
of the skin were overpowering him, thrust his head out through the
lacings of the hide beneath the reed-stuffed mask of the gorilla,
which fell over languidly upon his shoulder. Komba saw his ugly little
face and knew it again.

"It is a trick!" he roared. "These white devils have killed the god
and stolen the Holy Flower and its priestess. The yellow man is
wrapped in the skin of the god. To the boats! To the boats!"

"Paddle," I shouted to Brother John and Stephen, "paddle for your
lives! Mavovo, help me get up the sail."

As it chanced on that stormy morning the wind was blowing strongly
towards the mainland.

We laboured at the mast, shipped it and hauled up the mat sail, but
slowly for we were awkward at the business. By the time that it began
to draw the paddles had propelled us about four hundred yards from the
wharf, whence many canoes, with their sails already set, were starting
in pursuit. Standing in the prow of the first of these, and roaring
curses and vengeance at us, was Komba, the new Kalubi, who shook a
great spear above his head.

An idea occurred to me, who knew that unless something were done we
must be overtaken and killed by these skilled boatmen. Leaving Mavovo
to attend to the sail, I scrambled aft, and thrusting aside the
fainting Hans, knelt down in the stern of the canoe. There was still
one charge, or rather one cap, left, and I meant to use it. I put up
the largest flapsight, lifted the little rifle and covered Komba,
aiming at the point of his chin. /Intombi/ was not sighted for or
meant to use at this great distance, and only by this means of
allowing for the drop of the bullet, could I hope to hit the man in
the body.

The sail was drawing well now and steadied the boat, also, being still
under the shelter of the land, the water was smooth as that of a pond,
so really I had a very good firing platform. Moreover, weary though I
was, my vital forces rose to the emergency and I felt myself grow
rigid as a statue. Lastly, the light was good, for the sun rose behind
me, its level rays shining full on to my mark. I held my breath and
touched the trigger. The charge exploded sweetly and almost at the
instant; as the smoke drifted to one side, I saw Komba throw up his
arms and fall backwards into the canoe. Then, quite a long while
afterwards, or so it seemed, the breeze brought the faint sound of the
thud of that fateful bullet to our ears.

Though perhaps I ought not to say so, it was really a wonderful shot
in all the circumstances, for, as I learned afterwards, the ball
struck just where I hoped that it might, in the centre of the breast,
piercing the heart. Indeed, taking everything into consideration, I
think that those four shots which I fired in Pongo-land are the real
record of my career as a marksman. The first at night broke the arm of
the gorilla god and would have killed him had not the charge hung fire
and given him time to protect his head. The second did kill him in the
midst of a great scrimmage when everything was moving. The third,
fired by the glare of lightning after a long swim, slew the Motombo,
and the fourth, loosed at this great distance from a moving boat, was
the bane of that cold-blooded and treacherous man, Komba, who thought
that he had trapped us to Pongo-land to be murdered and eaten as a
sacrifice. Lastly there was always the consciousness that no mistake
must be made, since with but four percussion caps it could not be
retrieved.

I am sure that I could not have done so well with any other rifle,
however modern and accurate it might be. But to this little Purdey
weapon I had been accustomed from my youth, and that, as any marksman
will know, means a great deal. I seemed to know it and it seemed to
know me. It hangs on my wall to this day, although of course I never
use it now in our breech-loading era. Unfortunately, however, a local
gunsmith to whom I sent it to have the lock cleaned, re-browned it and
scraped and varnished the stock, etc., without authority, making it
look almost new again. I preferred it in its worn and scratched
condition.

To return: the sound of the shot, like that of John Peel's horn,
aroused Hans from his sleep. He thrust his head between my legs and
saw Komba fall.

"Oh! beautiful, Baas, beautiful!" he said faintly. "I am sure that the
ghost of your reverend father cannot kill his enemies more nicely down
there among the Fires. Beautiful!" and the silly old fellow fell to
kissing my boots, or what remained of them, after which I gave him the
last of the brandy.

This quite brought him to himself again, especially when he was free
from that filthy skin and had washed his head and hands.

The effect of the death of Komba upon the Pongos was very strange. All
the other canoes clustered round that in which he lay. Then, after a
hurried consultation, they hauled down their sails and paddled back to
the wharf. Why they did this I cannot tell. Perhaps they thought that
he was bewitched, or only wounded and required the attentions of a
medicine-man. Perhaps it was not lawful for them to proceed except
under the guidance of some reserve Kalubi who had "passed the god" and
who was on shore. Perhaps it was necessary, according to their rites,
that the body of their chief should be landed with certain ceremonies.
I do not know. It is impossible to be sure as to the mysterious
motives that actuate many of these remote African tribes.

At any rate the result was that it gave us a great start and a chance
of life, who must otherwise have died upon the spot. Outside the bay
the breeze blew merrily, taking us across the lake at a spanking pace,
until about midday when it began to fall. Fortunately, however, it did
not altogether drop till three o'clock by which time the coast of
Mazitu-land was comparatively near; we could even distinguish a speck
against the skyline which we knew was the Union Jack that Stephen had
set upon the crest of a little hill.

During those hours of peace we ate the food that remained to us,
washed ourselves as thoroughly as we could and rested. Well was it, in
view of what followed, that we had this time of repose. For just as
the breeze was failing I looked aft and there, coming up behind us,
still holding the wind, was the whole fleet of Pongo canoes, thirty or
forty of them perhaps, each carrying an average of about twenty men.
We sailed on for as long as we could, for though our progress was but
slow, it was quicker than what we could have made by paddling. Also it
was necessary that we should save our strength for the last trial.

I remember that hour very well, for in the nervous excitement of it
every little thing impressed itself upon my mind. I remember even the
shape of the clouds that floated over us, remnants of the storm of the
previous night. One was like a castle with a broken-down turret
showing a staircase within; another had a fantastic resemblance to a
wrecked ship with a hole in her starboard bow, two of her masts broken
and one standing with some fragments of sails flapping from it, and so
forth.

Then there was the general aspect of the great lake, especially at a
spot where two currents met, causing little waves which seemed to
fight with each other and fall backwards in curious curves. Also there
were shoals of small fish, something like chub in shape, with round
mouths and very white stomachs, which suddenly appeared upon the
surface, jumping at invisible flies. These attracted a number of birds
that resembled gulls of a light build. They had coal-black heads,
white backs, greyish wings, and slightly webbed feet, pink as coral,
with which they seized the small fish, uttering as they did so, a
peculiar and plaintive cry that ended in a long-drawn /e-e-/. The
father of the flock, whose head seemed to be white like his back,
perhaps from age, hung above them, not troubling to fish himself, but
from time to time forcing one of the company to drop what he had
caught, which he retrieved before it reached the water. Such are some
of the small things that come back to me, though there were others too
numerous and trivial to mention.

When the breeze failed us at last we were perhaps something over three
miles from the shore, or rather from the great bed of reeds which at
this spot grow in the shallows off the Mazitu coast to a breadth of
seven or eight hundred yards, where the water becomes too deep for
them. The Pongos were then about a mile and a half behind. But as the
wind favoured them for a few minutes more and, having plenty of hands,
they could help themselves on by paddling, when at last it died to a
complete calm, the distance between us was not more than one mile.
This meant that they must cover four miles of water, while we covered
three.

Letting down our now useless sail and throwing it and the mast
overboard to lighten the canoe, since the sky showed us that there was
no more hope of wind, we began to paddle as hard as we could.
Fortunately the two ladies were able to take their share in this
exercise, since they had learned it upon the Lake of the Flower, where
it seemed they kept a private canoe upon the other side of the island
which was used for fishing. Hans, who was still weak, we set to steer
with a paddle aft, which he did in a somewhat erratic fashion.

A stern chase is proverbially a long chase, but still the enemy with
their skilled rowers came up fast. When we were a mile from the reeds
they were within half a mile of us, and as we tired the proportion of
distance lessened. When we were two hundred yards from the reeds they
were not more than fifty or sixty yards behind, and then the real
struggle began.

It was short but terrible. We threw everything we could overboard,
including the ballast stones at the bottom of the canoe and the heavy
hide of the gorilla. This, as it proved, was fortunate, since the
thing sank but slowly and the foremost Pongo boats halted a minute to
recover so precious a relic, checking the others behind them, a
circumstance that helped us by twenty or thirty yards.

"Over with the plant!" I said.

But Stephen, looking quite old from exhaustion and with the sweat
streaming from him as he laboured at his unaccustomed paddle, gasped:

"For Heaven's sake, no, after all we have gone through to get it."

So I didn't insist; indeed there was neither time nor breath for
argument.

Now we were in the reeds, for thanks to the flag which guided us, we
had struck the big hippopotamus lane exactly, and the Pongos, paddling
like demons, were about thirty yards behind. Thankful was I that those
interesting people had never learned the use of bows and arrows, and
that their spears were too heavy to throw. By now, or rather some time
before, old Babemba and the Mazitu had seen us, as had our Zulu
hunters. Crowds of them were wading through the shallows towards us,
yelling encouragements as they came. The Zulus, too, opened a rather
wild fire, with the result that one of the bullets struck our canoe
and another touched the brim of my hat. A third, however, killed a
Pongo, which caused some confusion in the ranks of Tusculum.

But we were done and they came on remorselessly. When their leading
boat was not more than ten yards from us and we were perhaps two
hundred from the shore, I drove my paddle downwards and finding that
the water was less than four feet deep, shouted:

"Overboard, all, and wade. It's our last chance!"

We scrambled out of that canoe the prow of which, as I left it the
last, I pushed round across the water-lane to obstruct those of the
Pongo. Now I think all would have gone well had it not been for
Stephen, who after he had floundered forward a few paces in the mud,
bethought him of his beloved orchid. Not only did he return to try to
rescue it, he also actually persuaded his friend Mavovo to accompany
him. They got back to the boat and began to lift the plant out when
the Pongo fell upon them, striking at them with their spears over the
width of our canoe. Mavovo struck back with the weapon he had taken
from the Pongo sentry at the cave mouth, and killed or wounded one of
them. Then some one hurled a ballast stone at him which caught him on
the side of the head and knocked him down into the water, whence he
rose and reeled back, almost senseless, till some of our people got
hold of him and dragged him to the shore.

So Stephen was left alone, dragging at the great orchid, till a Pongo
reaching over the canoe drove a spear through his shoulder. He let go
of the orchid because he must and tried to retreat. Too late! Half a
dozen or more of the Pongo pushed themselves between the stern or bow
of our canoe and the reeds, and waded forward to kill him. I could not
help, for to tell the truth at the moment I was stuck in a mud-hole
made by the hoof of a hippopotamus, while the Zulu hunters and the
Mazitu were as yet too far off. Surely he must have died had it not
been for the courage of the girl Hope, who, while wading shorewards a
little in front of me, had turned and seen his plight. Back she came,
literally bounding through the water like a leopard whose cubs are in
danger.

Reaching Stephen before the Pongo she thrust herself between him and
them and proceeded to address them with the utmost vigour in their own
language, which of course she had learned from those of the albinos
who were not mutes.

What she said I could not exactly catch because of the shouts of the
advancing Mazitu. I gathered, however, that she was anathematizing
them in the words of some old and potent curse that was only used by
the guardians of the Holy Flower, which consigned them, body and
spirit, to a dreadful doom. The effect of this malediction, which by
the way neither the young lady nor her mother would repeat to me
afterwards, was certainly remarkable. Those men who heard it, among
them the would-be slayers of Stephen, stayed their hands and even
inclined their heads towards the young priestess, as though in
reverence or deprecation, and thus remained for sufficient time for
her to lead the wounded Stephen out of danger. This she did wading
backwards by his side and keeping her eyes fixed full upon the Pongo.
It was perhaps the most curious rescue that I ever saw.

The Holy Flower, I should add, they recaptured and carried off, for I
saw it departing in one of their canoes. That was the end of my orchid
hunt and of the money which I hoped to make by the sale of this floral
treasure. I wonder what became of it. I have good reason to believe
that it was never replanted on the Island of the Flower, so perhaps it
was borne back to the dim and unknown land in the depths of Africa
whence the Pongo are supposed to have brought it when they migrated.

After this incident of the wounding and the rescue of Stephen by the
intrepid Miss Hope, whose interest in him was already strong enough to
induce her to risk her life upon his behalf, all we fugitives were
dragged ashore somehow by our friends. Here, Hans, I and the ladies
collapsed exhausted, though Brother John still found sufficient
strength to do what he could for the injured Stephen and Mavovo.

Then the Battle of the Reeds began, and a fierce fray it was. The
Pongos who were about equal in numbers to our people, came on
furiously, for they were mad at the death of their god with his
priest, the Motombo, of which I think news had reached them and at the
carrying off of the Mother of the Flower. Springing from their canoes
because the waterway was too narrow for more than one of these to
travel at a time, they plunged into the reeds with the intention of
wading ashore. Here their hereditary enemies, the Mazitu, attacked
them under the command of old Babemba. The struggle that ensued
partook more of the nature of a series of hand-to-hand fights than of
a set battle. It was extraordinary to see the heads of the combatants
moving among the reeds as they stabbed at each other with the great
spears, till one went down. There were few wounded in that fray, for
those who fell sank in the mud and water and were drowned.

On the whole the Pongo, who were operating in what was almost their
native element, were getting the best of it, and driving the Mazitu
back. But what decided the day against them were the guns of our Zulu
hunters. Although I could not lift a rifle myself I managed to collect
these men round me and to direct their fire, which proved so
terrifying to the Pongos that after ten or a dozen of them had been
knocked over, they began to give back sullenly and were helped into
their canoes by those men who were left in charge of them.

Then at length at a signal they got out their paddles, and, still
shouting curses and defiance at us, rowed away till they became but
specks upon the bosom of the great lake and vanished.

Two of the canoes we captured, however, and with them six or seven
Pongos. These the Mazitu wished to put to death, but at the bidding of
Brother John, whose orders, it will be remembered, had the same
authority in Mazitu-land as those of the king, they bound their arms
and made them prisoners instead.

In about half an hour it was all over, but of the rest of that day I
cannot write, as I think I fainted from utter exhaustion, which was
not, perhaps, wonderful, considering all that we had undergone in the
four and a half days that had elapsed since we first embarked upon the
Great Lake. For constant strain, physical and mental, I recall no such
four days during the whole of my adventurous life. It was indeed
wonderful that we came through them alive.

The last thing I remember was the appearance of Sammy, looking very
smart, in his blue cotton smock, who, now that the fighting was over,
emerged like a butterfly when the sun shines after rain.

"Oh! Mr. Quatermain," he said, "I welcome you home again after arduous
exertions and looking into the eyes of bloody war. All the days of
absence, and a good part of the nights, too, while the mosquitoes
hunted slumber, I prayed for your safety like one o'clock, and
perhaps, Mr. Quatermain, that helped to do the trick, for what says
poet? Those who serve and wait are almost as good as those who cook
dinner."

Such were the words which reached and, oddly enough, impressed
themselves upon my darkening brain. Or rather they were part of the
words, excerpts from a long speech that there is no doubt Sammy had
carefully prepared during our absence.



CHAPTER XIX

THE TRUE HOLY FLOWER

When I came to myself again it was to find that I had slept fifteen or
sixteen hours, for the sun of a new day was high in the heavens. I was
lying in a little shelter of boughs at the foot of that mound on which
we flew the flag that guided us back over the waters of the Lake
Kirua. Near by was Hans consuming a gigantic meal of meat which he had
cooked over a neighbouring fire. With him, to my delight, I saw
Mavovo, his head bound up, though otherwise but little the worse. The
stone, which probably would have killed a thin-skulled white man, had
done no more than knock him stupid and break the skin of his scalp,
perhaps because the force of it was lessened by the gum man's-ring
which, like most Zulus of a certain age or dignity, he wore woven in
his hair.

The two tents we had brought with us to the lake were pitched not far
away and looked quite pretty and peaceful there in the sunlight.

Hans, who was watching me out of the corner of his eye, ran to me with
a large pannikin of hot coffee which Sammy had made ready against my
awakening; for they knew that my sleep was, or had become of a natural
order. I drank it to the last drop, and in all my life never did I
enjoy anything more. Then while I began upon some pieces of the
toasted meat, I asked him what had happened.

"Not much, Baas," he answered, "except that we are alive, who should
be dead. The Maam and the Missie are still asleep in that tent, or at
least the Maam is, for the Missie is helping Dogeetah, her father, to
nurse Baas Stephen, who has an ugly wound. The Pongos have gone and I
think will not return, for they have had enough of the white man's
guns. The Mazitu have buried those of their dead whom they could
recover, and have sent their wounded, of whom there were only six,
back to Beza Town on litters. That is all, Baas."

Then while I washed, and never did I need a bath more, and put on my
underclothes, in which I had swum on the night of the killing of the
Motombo, that Hans had wrung out and dried in the sun, I asked that
worthy how he was after his adventures.

"Oh! well enough, Baas," he answered, "now that my stomach is full,
except that my hands and wrists are sore with crawling along the
ground like a babyan (baboon), and that I cannot get the stink of that
god's skin out of my nose. Oh! you don't know what it was: if I had
been a white man it would have killed me. But, Baas, perhaps you did
well to take drunken old Hans with you on this journey after all, for
I was clever about the little gun, wasn't I? Also about your swimming
of the Crocodile Water, though it is true that the sign of the spider
and the moth which your reverend father sent, taught me that. And now
we have got back safe, except for the Mazitu, Jerry, who doesn't
matter, for there are plenty more like him, and the wound in Baas
Stephen's shoulder, and that heavy flower which he thought better than
brandy."

"Yes, Hans," I said, "I did well to take you and you are clever, for
had it not been for you, we should now be cooked and eaten in Pongo-
land. I thank you for your help, old friend. But, Hans, another time
please sew up the holes in your waistcoat pocket. Four caps wasn't
much, Hans."

"No, Baas, but it was enough; as they were all good ones. If there had
been forty you could not have done much more. Oh! your reverend father
knew all that" (my departed parent had become a kind of patron saint
to Hans) "and did not wish this poor old Hottentot to have more to
carry than was needed. He knew you wouldn't miss, Baas, and that there
were only one god, one devil, and one man waiting to be killed."

I laughed, for Hans's way of putting things was certainly original,
and having got on my coat, went to see Stephen. At the door of the
tent I met Brother John, whose shoulder was dreadfully sore from the
rubbing of the orchid stretcher, as were his hands with paddling, but
who otherwise was well enough and of course supremely happy.

He told me that he had cleansed and sewn up Stephen's wound, which
appeared to be doing well, although the spear had pierced right
through the shoulder, luckily without cutting any artery. So I went in
to see the patient and found him cheerful enough, though weak from
weariness and loss of blood, with Miss Hope feeding him with broth
from a wooden native spoon. I didn't stop very long, especially after
he got on to the subject of the lost orchid, about which he began to
show signs of excitement. This I allayed as well as I could by telling
him that I had preserved a pod of the seed, news at which he was
delighted.

"There!" he said. "To think that you, Allan, should have remembered to
take that precaution when I, an orchidist, forgot all about it!"

"Ah! my boy," I answered, "I have lived long enough to learn never to
leave anything behind that I can possibly carry away. Also, although
not an orchidist, it occurred to me that there are more ways of
propagating a plant than from the original root, which generally won't
go into one's pocket."

Then he began to give me elaborate instructions as to the preservation
of the seed-pod in a perfectly dry and air-tight tin box, etc., at
which point Miss Hope unceremoniously bundled me out of the tent.

That afternoon we held a conference at which it was agreed that we
should begin our return journey to Beza Town at once, as the place
where we were camped was very malarious and there was always a risk of
the Pongo paying us another visit.

So a litter was made with a mat stretched over it in which Stephen
could be carried, since fortunately there were plenty of bearers, and
our other simple preparations were quickly completed. Mrs. Eversley
and Hope were mounted on the two donkeys; Brother John, whose hurt leg
showed signs of renewed weakness, rode his white ox, which was now
quite fat again; the wounded hero, Stephen, as I have said, was
carried; and I walked, comparing notes with old Babemba on the Pongo,
their manners, which I am bound to say were good, and their customs,
that, as the saying goes, were "simply beastly."

How delighted that ancient warrior was to hear again about the sacred
cave, the Crocodile Water, the Mountain Forest and its terrible god,
of the death of which and of the Motombo he made me tell him the story
three times over. At the conclusion of the third recital he said
quietly:

"My lord Macumazana, you are a great man, and I am glad to have lived
if only to know you. No one else could have done these deeds."

Of course I was complimented, but felt bound to point out Hans's share
in our joint achievement.

"Yes, yes," he answered, "the Spotted Snake, Inhlatu, has the cunning
to scheme, but you have the power to do, and what is the use of a
brain to plot without the arm to strike? The two do not go together
because the plotter is not a striker. His mind is different. If the
snake had the strength and brain of the elephant, and the fierce
courage of the buffalo, soon there would be but one creature left in
the world. But the Maker of all things knew this and kept them
separate, my lord Macumazana."

I thought, and still think, that there was a great deal of wisdom in
this remark, simple as it seems. Oh! surely many of these savages whom
we white men despise, are no fools.

After about an hour's march we camped till the moon rose which it did
at ten o'clock, when we went on again till near dawn, as it was
thought better that Stephen should travel in the cool of the night. I
remember that our cavalcade, escorted before, behind and on either
flank by the Mazitu troops with their tall spears, looked picturesque
and even imposing as it wound over those wide downs in the lovely and
peaceful light of the moon.

There is no need for me to set out the details of the rest of our
journey, which was not marked by any incident of importance.

Stephen bore it very well, and Brother John, who was one of the best
doctors I ever met, gave good reports of him, but I noted that he did
not seem to get any stronger, although he ate plenty of food. Also,
Miss Hope, who nursed him, for her mother seemed to have no taste that
way, informed me that he slept but little, as indeed I found out for
myself.

"O Allan," she said, just before we reached Beza Town, "Stephen, your
son" (she used to call him my son, I don't know why) "is sick. The
father says it is only the spear-hurt, but I tell you it is more than
the spear-hurt. He is sick in himself," and the tears that filled her
grey eyes showed me that she spoke what she believed. As a matter of
fact she was right, for on the night after we reached the town,
Stephen was seized with an attack of some bad form of African fever,
which in his weak state nearly cost him his life, contracted, no
doubt, at that unhealthy Crocodile Water.

Our reception at Beza was most imposing, for the whole population,
headed by old Bausi himself, came out to meet us with loud shouts of
welcome, from which we had to ask them to desist for Stephen's sake.

So in the end we got back to our huts with gratitude of heart. Indeed,
we should have been very happy there for a while, had it not been for
our anxiety about Stephen. But it is always thus in the world; who was
ever allowed to eat his pot of honey without finding a fly or perhaps
a cockroach in his mouth?

In all, Stephen was really ill for about a month. On the tenth day
after our arrival at Beza, according to my diary, which, having little
else to do, I entered up fully at this time, we thought that he would
surely die. Even Brother John, who attended him with the most constant
skill, and who had ample quinine and other drugs at his command, for
these we had brought with us from Durban in plenty, gave up the case.
Day and night the poor fellow raved and always about that confounded
orchid, the loss of which seemed to weigh upon his mind as though it
were a whole sackful of unrepented crimes.

I really think that he owed his life to a subterfuge, or rather to a
bold invention of Hope's. One evening, when he was at his very worst
and going on like a mad creature about the lost plant--I was present
in the hut at the time alone with him and her--she took his hand and
pointing to a perfectly open space on the floor, said:

"Look, O Stephen, the flower has been brought back."

He stared and stared, and then to my amazement answered:

"By Jove, so it has! But those beggars have broken off all the blooms
except one."

"Yes," she echoed, "but one remains and it is the finest of them all."

After this he went quietly to sleep and slept for twelve hours, then
took some food and slept again and, what is more, his temperature went
down to, or a little below, normal. When he finally woke up, as it
chanced, I was again present in the hut with Hope, who was standing on
the spot which she had persuaded him was occupied by the orchid. He
stared at this spot and he stared at her--me he could not see, for I
was behind him--then said in a weak voice:

"Didn't you tell me, Miss Hope, that the plant was where you are and
that the most beautiful of the flowers was left?"

I wondered what on earth her answer would be. However, she rose to the
occasion.

"O Stephen," she replied, in her soft voice and speaking in a way so
natural that it freed her words from any boldness, "it is here, for am
I not its child"--her native appellation, it will be remembered, was
"Child of the Flower." "And the fairest of the flowers is here, too,
for I am that Flower which you found in the island of the lake. O
Stephen, I pray you to trouble no more about a lost plant of which you
have seed in plenty, but make thanks that you still live and that
through you my mother and I still live, who, if you had died, would
weep our eyes away."

"Through me," he answered. "You mean through Allan and Hans. Also it
was you who saved my life there in the water. Oh! I remember it all
now. You are right, Hope; although I didn't know it, you are the true
Holy Flower that I saw."

She ran to him and kneeling by his side, gave him her hand, which he
pressed to his pale lips.

Then I sneaked out of that hut and left them to discuss the lost
flower that was found again. It was a pretty scene, and one that to my
mind gave a sort of spiritual meaning to the whole of an otherwise
rather insane quest. He sought an ideal flower, he found--the love of
his life.

After this, Stephen recovered rapidly, for such love is the best of
medicines--if it be returned.

I don't know what passed between the pair and Brother John and his
wife, for I never asked. But I noted that from this day forward they
began to treat him as a son. The new relationship between Stephen and
Hope seemed to be tacitly accepted without discussion. Even the
natives accepted it, for old Mavovo asked me when they were going to
be married and how many cows Stephen had promised to pay Brother John
for such a beautiful wife. "It ought to be a large herd," he said,
"and of a big breed of cattle."

Sammy, too, alluded to the young lady in conversation with me, as "Mr.
Somers's affianced spouse." Only Hans said nothing. Such a trivial
matter as marrying and giving in marriage did not interest him. Or,
perhaps, he looked upon the affair as a foregone conclusion and
therefore unworthy of comment.

We stayed at Bausi's kraal for a full month longer whilst Stephen
recovered his strength. I grew thoroughly bored with the place and so
did Mavovo and the Zulus, but Brother John and his wife did not seem
to mind. Mrs. Eversley was a passive creature, quite content to take
things as they came and after so long an absence from civilization, to
bide a little longer among savages. Also she had her beloved John, at
whom she would sit and gaze by the hour like a cat sometimes does at a
person to whom it is attached. Indeed, when she spoke to him, her
voice seemed to me to resemble a kind of blissful purr. I think it
made the old boy rather fidgety sometimes, for after an hour or two of
it he would rise and go to hunt for butterflies.

To tell the truth, the situation got a little on my nerves at last,
for wherever I looked I seemed to see there Stephen and Hope making
love to each other, or Brother John and his wife admiring each other,
which didn't leave me much spare conversation. Evidently they thought
that Mavovo, Hans, Sammy, Bausi, Babemba and Co. were enough for me--
that is, if they reflected on the matter at all. So they were, in a
sense, for the Zulu hunters began to get out of hand in the midst of
this idleness and plenty, eating too much, drinking too much native
beer, smoking too much of the intoxicating /dakka/, a mischievous kind
of help, and making too much love to the Mazitu women, which of course
resulted in the usual rows that I had to settle.

At last I struck and said that we must move on as Stephen was now fit
to travel.

"Quite so," said Brother John, mildly. "What have you arranged,
Allan?"

With some irritation, for I hated that sentence of Brother John's, I
replied that I had arranged nothing, but that as none of them seemed
to have any suggestions to make, I would go out and talk the matter
over with Hans and Mavovo, which I did.

I need not chronicle the results of our conference since other
arrangements were being made for us at which I little guessed.

It all came very suddenly, as great things in the lives of men and
nations sometimes do. Although the Mazitu were of the Zulu family,
their military organization had none of the Zulu thoroughness. For
instance, when I remonstrated with Bausi and old Babemba as to their
not keeping up a proper system of outposts and intelligence, they
laughed at me and answered that they never had been attacked and now
that the Pongo had learnt a lesson, were never likely to be.

By the way, I see that I have not yet mentioned that at Brother John's
request those Pongos who had been taken prisoners at the Battle of the
Reeds were conducted to the shores of the lake, given one of the
captured canoes and told that they might return to their own happy
land. To our astonishment about three weeks later they reappeared at
Beza Town with this story.

They said that they had crossed the lake and found Rica still
standing, but utterly deserted. They then wandered through the country
and even explored the Motombo's cave. There they discovered the
remains of the Motombo, still crouched upon his platform, but nothing
more. In one hut of a distant village, however, they came across an
old and dying woman who informed them with her last breath that the
Pongos, frightened by the iron tubes that vomited death and in
obedience to some prophecy, "had all gone back whence they came in the
beginning," taking with them the recaptured "Holy Flower." She had
been left with a supply of food because she was too weak to travel.
So, perhaps, that flower grows again in some unknown place in Africa,
but its worshippers will have to provide themselves with another god
of the forest, another Mother of the Flower, and another high-priest
to fill the office of the late Motombo.

These Pongo prisoners, having now no home, and not knowing where their
people had gone except that it was "towards the north," asked for
leave to settle among the Mazitu, which was granted them. Their story
confirmed me in my opinion that Pongo-land is not really an island,
but is connected on the further side with the continent by some ridge
or swamp. If we had been obliged to stop much longer among the Mazitu,
I would have satisfied myself as to this matter by going to look. But
that chance never came to me until some years later when, under
curious circumstances, I was again destined to visit this part of
Africa.

To return to my story. On the day following this discussion as to our
departure we all breakfasted very early as there was a great deal to
be done. There was a dense mist that morning such as in these Mazitu
uplands often precedes high, hot wind from the north at this season of
the year, so dense indeed that it was impossible to see for more than
a few yards. I suppose that this mist comes up from the great lake in
certain conditions of the weather. We had just finished our breakfast
and rather languidly, for the thick, sultry air left me unenergetic, I
told one of the Zulus to see that the two donkeys and the white ox
which I had caused to be brought into the town in view of our near
departure and tied up by our huts, were properly fed. Then I went to
inspect all the rifles and ammunition, which Hans had got out to be
checked and overhauled. It was at this moment that I heard a far-away
and unaccustomed sound, and asked Hans what he thought it was.

"A gun, Baas," he answered anxiously.

Well might he be anxious, for as we both knew, no one in the
neighbourhood had guns except ourselves, and all ours were accounted
for. It is true that we had promised to give the majority of those we
had taken from the slavers to Bausi when we went away, and that I had
been instructing some of his best soldiers in the use of them, but not
one of these had as yet been left in their possession.

I stepped to a gate in the fence and ordered the sentry there to run
to Bausi and Babemba and make report and inquiries, also to pray them
to summon all the soldiers, of whom, as it happened, there were at the
time not more than three hundred in the town. As perfect peace
prevailed, the rest, according to their custom, had been allowed to go
to their villages and attend to their crops. Then, possessed by a
rather undefined nervousness, at which the others were inclined to
laugh, I caused the Zulus to arm and generally make a few arrangements
to meet any unforeseen crisis. This done I sat down to reflect what
would be the best course to take if we should happen to be attacked by
a large force in that straggling native town, of which I had often
studied all the strategic possibilities. When I had come to my own
conclusion I asked Hans and Mavovo what they thought, and found that
they agreed with me that the only defensible place was outside the
town where the road to the south gate ran down to a rocky wooded ridge
with somewhat steep flanks. It may be remembered that it was by this
road and over this ridge that Brother John had appeared on his white
ox when we were about to be shot to death with arrows at the posts in
the market-place.

Whilst we were still talking two of the Mazitu captains appeared,
running hard and dragging between them a wounded herdsman, who had
evidently been hit in the arm by a bullet.

This was his story. That he and two other boys were out herding the
king's cattle about half a mile to the north of the town, when
suddenly there appeared a great number of men dressed in white robes,
all of whom were armed with guns. These men, of whom he thought there
must be three or four hundred, began to take the cattle and seeing the
three herds, fired on them, wounding him and killing his two
companions. He then ran for his life and brought the news. He added
that one of the men had called after him to tell the white people that
they had come to kill them and the Mazitu who were their friends and
to take away the white women.

"Hassan-ben-Mohammed and his slavers!" I said, as Babemba appeared at
the head of a number of soldiers, crying out:

"The slave-dealing Arabs are here, lord Macumazana. They have crept on
us through the mist. A herald of theirs has come to the north gate
demanding that we should give up you white people and your servants,
and with you a hundred young men and a hundred young women to be sold
as slaves. If we do not do this they say that they will kill all of us
save the unmarried boys and girls, and that you white people they will
take and put to death by burning, keeping only the two women alive.
One Hassan sends this message."

"Indeed," I answered quietly, for in this fix I grew quite cool as was
usual with me. "And does Bausi mean to give us up?"

"How can Bausi give up Dogeetah who is his blood brother, and you, his
friend?" exclaimed the old general, indignantly. "Bausi sends me to
his brother Dogeetah that he may receive the orders of the white man's
wisdom, spoken through your mouth, lord Macumazana."

"Then there's a good spirit in Bausi," I replied, "and these are
Dogeetah's orders spoken through my mouth. Go to Hassan's messengers
and ask him whether he remembers a certain letter which two white men
left for him outside their camp in a cleft stick. Tell him that the
time has now come for those white men to fulfil the promise they made
in that letter and that before to-morrow he will be hanging on a tree.
Then, Babemba, gather your soldiers and hold the north gate of the
town for as long as you can, defending it with bows and arrows.
Afterwards retreat through the town, joining us among the trees on the
rocky slope that is opposite the south gate. Bid some of your men
clear the town of all the aged and women and children and let them
pass though the south gate and take refuge in the wooded country
beyond the slope. Let them not tarry. Let them go at once. Do you
understand?"

"I understand everything, lord Macumazana. The words of Dogeetah shall
be obeyed. Oh! would that we had listened to you and kept a better
watch!"

He rushed off, running like a young man and shouting orders as he
went.

"Now," I said, "we must be moving."

We collected all the rifles and ammunition, with some other things, I
am sure I forget what they were, and with the help of a few guards
whom Babemba had left outside our gate started through the town,
leading with us the two donkeys and the white ox. I remember by an
afterthought, telling Sammy, who was looking very uncomfortable, to
return to the huts and fetch some blankets and a couple of iron
cooking-pots which might become necessities to us.

"Oh! Mr. Quatermain," he answered, "I will obey you, though with fear
and trembling."

He went and when a few hours afterwards I noted that he had never
reappeared, I came to the conclusion, with a sigh, for I was very fond
of Sammy in a way, that he had fallen into trouble and been killed.
Probably, I thought, "his fear and trembling" had overcome his reason
and caused him to run in the wrong direction with the cooking-pots.

The first part of our march through the town was easy enough, but
after we had crossed the market-place and emerged into the narrow way
that ran between many lines of huts to the south gate it became more
difficult, since this path was already crowded with hundreds of
terrified fugitives, old people, sick being carried, little boys,
girls, and women with infants at the breast. It was impossible to
control these poor folk; all we could do was to fight our way through
them. However, we got out at last and climbing the slope, took up the
best position we could on and just beneath its crest where the trees
and scattered boulders gave us very fair cover, which we improved upon
in every way feasible in the time at our disposal, by building little
breastworks of stone and so forth. The fugitives who had accompanied
us, and those who followed, a multitude in all, did not stop here, but
flowed on along the road and vanished into the wooded country behind.

I suggested to Brother John that he should take his wife and daughter
and the three beasts and go with them. He seemed inclined to accept
the idea, needless to say for their sakes, not for his own, for he was
a very fearless old fellow. But the two ladies utterly refused to
budge. Hope said that she would stop with Stephen, and her mother
declared that she had every confidence in me and preferred to remain
where she was. Then I suggested that Stephen should go too, but at
this he grew so angry that I dropped the subject.

So in the end we established them in a pleasant little hollow by a
spring just over the crest of the rise, where unless our flank were
turned or we were rushed, they would be out of the reach of bullets.
Moreover, without saying anything more we gave to each of them a
double-barrelled and loaded pistol.



CHAPTER XX

THE BATTLE OF THE GATE

By now heavy firing had begun at the north gate of the town,
accompanied by much shouting. The mist was still too thick to enable
us to see anything at first. But shortly after the commencement of the
firing a strong, hot wind, which always followed these mists, got up
and gradually gathered to a gale, blowing away the vapours. Then from
the top of the crest, Hans, who had climbed a tree there, reported
that the Arabs were advancing on the north gate, firing as they came,
and that the Mazitu were replying with their bows and arrows from
behind the palisade that surrounded the town. This palisade, I should
state, consisted of an earthen bank on the top of which tree trunks
were set close together. Many of these had struck in that fertile
soil, so that in general appearance this protective work resembled a
huge live fence, on the outer and inner side of which grew great
masses of prickly pear and tall, finger-like cacti. A while afterwards
Hans reported that the Mazitu were retreating and a few minutes later
they began to arrive through the south gate, bringing several wounded
with them. Their captain said that they could not stand against the
fire of the guns and had determined to abandon the town and make the
best fight they could upon the ridge.

A little later the rest of the Mazitu came, driving before them all
the non-combatants who remained in the town. With these was King
Bausi, in a terrible state of excitement.

"Was I not wise, Macumazana," he shouted, "to fear the slave-traders
and their guns? Now they have come to kill those who are old and to
take the young away in their gangs to sell them."

"Yes, King," I could not help answering, "you were wise. But if you
had done what I said and kept a better look-out Hassan could not have
crept on you like a leopard on a goat."

"It is true," he groaned; "but who knows the taste of a fruit till he
has bitten it?"

Then he went to see to the disposal of his soldiers along the ridge,
placing, by my advice, the most of them at each end of the line to
frustrate any attempt to out-flank us. We, for our part, busied
ourselves in serving out those guns which we had taken in the first
fight with the slavers to the thirty or forty picked men whom I had
been instructing in the use of firearms. If they did not do much
damage, at least, I thought, they could make a noise and impress the
enemy with the idea that we were well armed.

Ten minutes or so later Babemba arrived with about fifty men, all the
Mazitu soldiers who were left in the town. He reported that he had
held the north gate as long as he could in order to gain time, and
that the Arabs were breaking it in. I begged him to order the soldiers
to pile up stones as a defence against the bullets and to lie down
behind them. This he went to do.

Then, after a pause, we saw a large body of the Arabs who had effected
an entry, advancing down the central street towards us. Some of them
had spears as well as guns, on which they carried a dozen or so of
human heads cut from the Mazitus who had been killed, waving them
aloft and shouting in triumph. It was a sickening sight, and one that
made me grind my teeth with rage. Also I could not help reflecting
that ere long our heads might be upon those spears. Well, if the worst
came to the worst I was determined that I would not be taken alive to
be burned in a slow fire or pinned over an ant-heap, a point upon
which the others agreed with me, though poor Brother John had scruples
as to suicide, even in despair.

It was just then that I missed Hans and asked where he had gone.
Somebody said that he thought he had seen him running away, whereon
Mavovo, who was growing excited, called out:

"Ah! Spotted Snake has sought his hole. Snakes hiss, but they do not
charge."

"No, but sometimes they bite," I answered, for I could not believe
that Hans had showed the white feather. However, he was gone and
clearly we were in no state to send to look for him.

Now our hope was that the slavers, flushed with victory, would advance
across the open ground of the market-place, which we could sweep with
our fire from our position on the ridge. This, indeed, they began to
do, whereon, without orders, the Mazitu to whom we had given the guns,
to my fury and dismay, commenced to blaze away at a range of about
four hundred yards, and after a good deal of firing managed to kill or
wound two or three men. Then the Arabs, seeing their danger, retreated
and, after a pause, renewed their advance in two bodies. This time,
however, they followed the streets of huts that were built thickly
between the outer palisade of the town and the market-place, which, as
it had been designed to hold cattle in time of need, was also
surrounded with a wooden fence strong enough to resist the rush of
horned beasts. On that day, I should add, as the Mazitu never dreamed
of being attacked, all their stock were grazing on some distant veldt.
In this space between the two fences were many hundreds of huts,
wattle and grass built, but for the most part roofed with palm leaves,
for here, in their separate quarters, dwelt the great majority of the
inhabitants of Beza Town, of which the northern part was occupied by
the king, the nobles and the captains. This ring of huts, which
entirely surrounded the market-place except at the two gateways, may
have been about a hundred and twenty yards in width.

Down the paths between these huts, both on the eastern and the western
side, advanced the Arabs and half-breeds, of whom there appeared to be
about four hundred, all armed with guns and doubtless trained to
fighting. It was a terrible force for us to face, seeing that although
we may have had nearly as many men, our guns did not total more than
fifty, and most of those who held them were quite unused to the
management of firearms.

Soon the Arabs began to open fire on us from behind the huts, and a
very accurate fire it was, as our casualties quickly showed,
notwithstanding the stone /schanzes/ we had constructed. The worst
feature of the thing also was that we could not reply with any effect,
as our assailants, who gradually worked nearer, were effectively
screened by the huts, and we had not enough guns to attempt organised
volley firing. Although I tried to keep a cheerful countenance I
confess that I began to fear the worst and even to wonder if we could
possibly attempt to retreat. This idea was abandoned, however, since
the Arabs would certainly overtake and shoot us down.

One thing I did. I persuaded Babemba to send about fifty men to build
up the southern gate, which was made of trunks of trees and opened
outwards, with earth and the big stones that lay about in plenty.
While this was being done quickly, for the Mazitu soldiers worked at
the task like demons and, being sheltered by the palisade, could not
be shot, all of a sudden I caught sight of four or five wisps of smoke
that arose in quick succession at the north end of the town and were
instantly followed by as many bursts of flame which leapt towards us
in the strong wind.

Someone was firing Beza Town! In less than an hour the flames, driven
by the gale through hundreds of huts made dry as tinder by the heat,
would reduce Beza to a heap of ashes. It was inevitable, nothing could
save the place! For an instant I thought that the Arabs must have done
this thing. Then, seeing that new fires continually arose in different
places, I understood that no Arabs, but a friend or friends were at
work, who had conceived the idea of /destroying the Arabs with fire/.

My mind flew to Sammy. Without doubt Sammy had stayed behind to carry
out this terrible and masterly scheme, of which I am sure none of the
Mazitu would have thought, since it involved the absolute destruction
of their homes and property. Sammy, at whom we had always mocked, was,
after all, a great man, prepared to perish in the flames in order to
save his friends!

Babemba rushed up, pointing with a spear to the rising fire. Now my
inspiration came.

"Take all your men," I said, "except those who are armed with guns.
Divide them, encircle the town, guard the north gate, though I think
none can win back through the flames, and if any of the Arabs succeed
in breaking through the palisade, kill them."

"It shall be done," shouted Babemba, "but oh! for the town of Beza
where I was born! Oh! for the town of Beza!"

"Drat the town of Beza!" I holloaed after him, or rather its native
equivalent. "It is of all our lives that I'm thinking."

Three minutes later the Mazitu, divided into two bodies, were running
like hares to encircle the town, and though a few were shot as they
descended the slope, the most of them gained the shelter of the
palisade in safety, and there at intervals halted by sections, for
Babemba managed the matter very well.

Now only we white people, with the Zulu hunters under Mavovo, of whom
there were twelve in all, and the Mazitu armed with guns, numbering
about thirty, were left upon the slope.

For a little while the Arabs did not seem to realise what had
happened, but engaged themselves in peppering at the Mazitu, who, I
think, they concluded were in full flight. Presently, however, they
either heard or saw.

Oh! what a hubbub ensued. All the four hundred of them began to shout
at once. Some of them ran to the palisade and began to climb it, but
as they reached the top of the fence were pinned by the Mazitu arrows
and fell backwards, while a few who got over became entangled in the
prickly pears on the further side and were promptly speared. Giving up


 


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