H. Rider Haggard
Part 1 out of 3
Etext prepared by John Bickers, firstname.lastname@example.org
and Emma Dudding, email@example.com
by H. Rider Haggard
My Dear Macumazahn,
It was your native name which I borrowed at the christening of
that Allen who has become as well known to me as any other friend
I have. It is therefore fitting that I should dedicate to you
this, his last tale--the story of his wife, and the history of
some further adventures which befell him. They will remind you of
many an African yarn--that with the baboons may recall an
experience of your own which I did not share. And perhaps they
will do more than this. Perhaps they will bring back to you some
of the long past romance of days that are lost to us. The country
of which Allan Quatermain tells his tale is now, for the most
part, as well known and explored as are the fields of Norfolk.
Where we shot and trekked and galloped, scarcely seeing the face
of civilized man, there the gold-seeker builds his cities. The
shadow of the flag of Britain has, for a while, ceased to fall on
the Transvaal plains; the game has gone; the misty charm of the
morning has become the glare of day. All is changed. The blue gums
that we planted in the garden of the "Palatial" must be large
trees by now, and the "Palatial" itself has passed from us. Jess
sat in it waiting for her love after we were gone. There she
nursed him back to life. But Jess is dead, and strangers own it,
or perhaps it is a ruin.
For us too, Macumazahn, as for the land we loved, the mystery and
promise of the morning are outworn; the mid-day sun burns
overhead, and at times the way is weary. Few of those we knew are
left. Some are victims to battle and murder, their bones strew the
veldt; death has taken some in a more gentle fashion; others are
hidden from us, we know not where. We might well fear to return to
that land lest we also should see ghosts. But though we walk apart
to-day, the past yet looks upon us with its unalterable eyes.
Still we can remember many a boyish enterprise and adventure,
lightly undertaken, which now would strike us as hazardous indeed.
Still we can recall the long familiar line of the Pretoria Horse,
the face of war and panic, the weariness of midnight patrols; aye,
and hear the roar of guns echoed from the Shameful Hill.
To you then, Macumazahn, in perpetual memory of those eventful
years of youth which we passed together in the African towns and
on the African veldt, I dedicate these pages, subscribing myself
now as always,
Your sincere friend,
To Arthur H. D. Cochrane, Esq.
It may be remembered that in the last pages of his diary, written just
before his death, Allan Quatermain makes allusion to his long dead
wife, stating that he has written of her fully elsewhere.
When his death was known, his papers were handed to myself as his
literary executor. Among them I found two manuscripts, of which the
following is one. The other is simply a record of events wherein Mr.
Quatermain was not personally concerned--a Zulu novel, the story of
which was told to him by the hero many years after the tragedy had
occurred. But with this we have nothing to do at present.
I have often thought (Mr. Quatermain's manuscript begins) that I would
set down on paper the events connected with my marriage, and the loss
of my most dear wife. Many years have now passed since that event, and
to some extent time has softened the old grief, though Heaven knows it
is still keen enough. On two or three occasions I have even begun the
record. Once I gave it up because the writing of it depressed me
beyond bearing, once because I was suddenly called away upon a
journey, and the third time because a Kaffir boy found my manuscript
convenient for lighting the kitchen fire.
But now that I am at leisure here in England, I will make a fourth
attempt. If I succeed, the story may serve to interest some one in
after years when I am dead and gone; before that I should not wish it
to be published. It is a wild tale enough, and suggests some curious
I am the son of a missionary. My father was originally curate in
charge of a small parish in Oxfordshire. He had already been some ten
years married to my dear mother when he went there, and he had four
children, of whom I was the youngest. I remember faintly the place
where we lived. It was an ancient long grey house, facing the road.
There was a very large tree of some sort in the garden. It was hollow,
and we children used to play about inside of it, and knock knots of
wood from the rough bark. We all slept in a kind of attic, and my
mother always came and kissed us when we were in bed. I used to wake
up and see her bending over me, a candle in her hand. There was a
curious kind of pole projecting from the wall over my bed. Once I was
dreadfully frightened because my eldest brother made me hang to it by
my hands. That is all I remember about our old home. It has been
pulled down long ago, or I would journey there to see it.
A little further down the road was a large house with big iron gates
to it, and on the top of the gate pillars sat two stone lions, which
were so hideous that I was afraid of them. Perhaps this sentiment was
prophetic. One could see the house by peeping through the bars of the
gates. It was a gloomy-looking place, with a tall yew hedge round it;
but in the summer-time some flowers grew about the sun-dial in the
grass plat. This house was called the Hall, and Squire Carson lived
there. One Christmas--it must have been the Christmas before my father
emigrated, or I should not remember it--we children went to a
Christmas-tree festivity at the Hall. There was a great party there,
and footmen wearing red waistcoats stood at the door. In the dining-
room, which was panelled with black oak, was the Christmas-tree.
Squire Carson stood in front of it. He was a tall, dark man, very
quiet in his manners, and he wore a bunch of seals on his waistcoat.
We used to think him old, but as a matter of fact he was then not more
than forty. He had been, as I afterwards learned, a great traveller in
his youth, and some six or seven years before this date he married a
lady who was half a Spaniard--a papist, my father called her. I can
remember her well. She was small and very pretty, with a rounded
figure, large black eyes, and glittering teeth. She spoke English with
a curious accent. I suppose that I must have been a funny child to
look at, and I know that my hair stood up on my head then as it does
now, for I still have a sketch of myself that my mother made of me, in
which this peculiarity is strongly marked. On this occasion of the
Christmas-tree I remember that Mrs. Carson turned to a tall, foreign-
looking gentleman who stood beside her, and, tapping him
affectionately on the shoulder with her gold eye-glasses, said--
"Look, cousin--look at that droll little boy with the big brown eyes;
his hair is like a--what you call him?--scrubbing-brush. Oh, what a
droll little boy!"
The tall gentleman pulled at his moustache, and, taking Mrs. Carson's
hand in his, began to smooth my hair down with it till I heard her
"Leave go my hand, cousin. Thomas is looking like--like the
Thomas was the name of Mr. Carson, her husband.
After that I hid myself as well as I could behind a chair, for I was
shy, and watched little Stella Carson, who was the squire's only
child, giving the children presents off the tree. She was dressed as
Father Christmas, with some soft white stuff round her lovely little
face, and she had large dark eyes, which I thought more beautiful than
anything I had ever seen. At last it came to my turn to receive a
present--oddly enough, considered in the light of future events, it
was a large monkey. Stella reached it down from one of the lower
boughs of the tree and handed it to me, saying--
"Dat is my Christmas present to you, little Allan Quatermain."
As she did so her sleeve, which was covered with cotton wool, spangled
over with something that shone, touched one of the tapers and caught
fire--how I do not know--and the flame ran up her arm towards her
throat. She stood quite still. I suppose that she was paralysed with
fear; and the ladies who were near screamed very loud, but did
nothing. Then some impulse seized me--perhaps instinct would be a
better word to use, considering my age. I threw myself upon the child,
and, beating at the fire with my hands, mercifully succeeded in
extinguishing it before it really got hold. My wrists were so badly
scorched that they had to be wrapped up in wool for a long time
afterwards, but with the exception of a single burn upon her throat,
little Stella Carson was not much hurt.
This is all that I remember about the Christmas-tree at the Hall. What
happened afterwards is lost to me, but to this day in my sleep I
sometimes see little Stella's sweet face and the stare of terror in
her dark eyes as the fire ran up her arm. This, however, is not
wonderful, for I had, humanly speaking, saved the life of her who was
destined to be my wife.
The next event which I can recall clearly is that my mother and three
brothers all fell ill of fever, owing, as I afterwards learned, to the
poisoning of our well by some evil-minded person, who threw a dead
sheep into it.
It must have been while they were ill that Squire Carson came one day
to the vicarage. The weather was still cold, for there was a fire in
the study, and I sat before the fire writing letters on a piece of
paper with a pencil, while my father walked up and down the room
talking to himself. Afterwards I knew that he was praying for the
lives of his wife and children. Presently a servant came to the door
and said that some one wanted to see him.
"It is the squire, sir," said the maid, "and he says he particularly
wishes to see you."
"Very well," answered my father, wearily, and presently Squire Carson
came in. His face was white and haggard, and his eyes shone so
fiercely that I was afraid of him.
"Forgive me for intruding on you at such a time, Quatermain," he said,
in a hoarse voice, "but to-morrow I leave this place for ever, and I
wish to speak to you before I go--indeed, I must speak to you."
"Shall I send Allan away?" said my father, pointing to me.
"No; let him bide. He will not understand." Nor, indeed, did I at the
time, but I remembered every word, and in after years their meaning
grew on me.
"First tell me," he went on, "how are they?" and he pointed upwards
with his thumb.
"My wife and two of the boys are beyond hope," my father answered,
with a groan. "I do not know how it will go with the third. The Lord's
will be done!"
"The Lord's will be done," the squire echoed, solemnly. "And now,
Quatermain, listen--my wife's gone."
"Gone!" my father answered. "Who with?"
"With that foreign cousin of hers. It seems from a letter she left me
that she always cared for him, not for me. She married me because she
thought me a rich English milord. Now she has run through my property,
or most of it, and gone. I don't know where. Luckily, she did not care
to encumber her new career with the child; Stella is left to me."
"That is what comes of marrying a papist, Carson," said my father.
That was his fault; he was as good and charitable a man as ever lived,
but he was bigoted. "What are you going to do--follow her?"
He laughed bitterly in answer.
"Follow her!" he said; "why should I follow her? If I met her I might
kill her or him, or both of them, because of the disgrace they have
brought upon my child's name. No, I never want to look upon her face
again. I trusted her, I tell you, and she has betrayed me. Let her go
and find her fate. But I am going too. I am weary of my life."
"Surely, Carson, surely," said my father, "you do not mean----"
"No, no; not that. Death comes soon enough. But I will leave this
civilized world which is a lie. We will go right away into the wilds,
I and my child, and hide our shame. Where? I don't know where.
Anywhere, so long as there are no white faces, no smooth educated
"You are mad, Carson," my father answered. "How will you live? How can
you educate Stella? Be a man and wear it down."
"I will be a man, and I will wear it down, but not here, Quatermain.
Education! Was not she--that woman who was my wife--was not she highly
educated?--the cleverest woman in the country forsooth. Too clever for
me, Quatermain--too clever by half! No, no, Stella shall be brought up
in a different school; if it be possible, she shall forget her very
name. Good-bye, old friend, good-bye for ever. Do not try to find me
out, henceforth I shall be like one dead to you, to you and all I
knew," and he was gone.
"Mad," said my father, with a heavy sigh. "His trouble has turned his
brain. But he will think better of it."
At that moment the nurse came hurrying in and whispered something in
his ear. My father's face turned deadly pale. He clutched at the table
to support himself, then staggered from the room. My mother was dying!
It was some days afterwards, I do not know exactly how long, that my
father took me by the hand and led me upstairs into the big room which
had been my mother's bedroom. There she lay, dead in her coffin, with
flowers in her hand. Along the wall of the room were arranged three
little white beds, and on each of the beds lay one of my brothers.
They all looked as though they were asleep, and they all had flowers
in their hands. My father told me to kiss them, because I should not
see them any more, and I did so, though I was very frightened. I did
not know why. Then he took me in his arms and kissed me.
"The Lord hath given," he said, "and the Lord hath taken away; blessed
be the name of the Lord."
I cried very much, and he took me downstairs, and after that I have
only a confused memory of men dressed in black carrying heavy burdens
towards the grey churchyard!
Next comes a vision of a great ship and wide tossing waters. My father
could no longer bear to live in England after the loss that had fallen
on him, and made up his mind to emigrate to South Africa. We must have
been poor at the time--indeed, I believe that a large portion of our
income went from my father on my mother's death. At any rate we
travelled with the steerage passengers, and the intense discomfort of
the journey with the rough ways of our fellow emigrants still remain
upon my mind. At last it came to an end, and we reached Africa, which
I was not to leave again for many, many years.
In those days civilization had not made any great progress in Southern
Africa. My father went up the country and became a missionary among
the Kaffirs, near to where the town of Cradock now stands, and here I
grew to manhood. There were a few Boer farmers in the neighbourhood,
and gradually a little settlement of whites gathered round our mission
station--a drunken Scotch blacksmith and wheelwright was about the
most interesting character, who, when he was sober, could quote the
Scottish poet Burns and the Ingoldsby Legends, then recently
published, literally by the page. It was from that I contracted a
fondness for the latter amusing writings, which has never left me.
Burns I never cared for so much, probably because of the Scottish
dialect which repelled me. What little education I got was from my
father, but I never had much leaning towards books, nor he much time
to teach them to me. On the other hand, I was always a keen observer
of the ways of men and nature. By the time that I was twenty I could
speak Dutch and three or four Kaffir dialects perfectly, and I doubt
if there was anybody in South Africa who understood native ways of
thought and action more completely than I did. Also I was really a
very good shot and horseman, and I think--as, indeed, my subsequent
career proves to have been the case--a great deal tougher than the
majority of men. Though I was then, as now, light and small, nothing
seemed to tire me. I could bear any amount of exposure and privation,
and I never met the native who was my master in feats of endurance. Of
course, all that is different now, I am speaking of my early manhood.
It may be wondered that I did not run absolutely wild in such
surroundings, but I was held back from this by my father's society. He
was one of the gentlest and most refined men that I ever met; even the
most savage Kaffir loved him, and his influence was a very good one
for me. He used to call himself one of the world's failures. Would
that there were more such failures. Every morning when his work was
done he would take his prayer-book and, sitting on the little stoep or
verandah of our station, would read the evening psalms to himself.
Sometimes there was not light enough for this, but it made no
difference, he knew them all by heart. When he had finished he would
look out across the cultivated lands where the mission Kaffirs had
But I knew it was not these he saw, but rather the grey English
church, and the graves ranged side by side before the yew near the
It was there on the stoep that he died. He had not been well, and one
evening I was talking to him, and his mind went back to Oxfordshire
and my mother. He spoke of her a good deal, saying that she had never
been out of his mind for a single day during all these years, and that
he rejoiced to think he was drawing near that land wither she had
gone. Then he asked me if I remembered the night when Squire Carson
came into the study at the vicarage, and told him that his wife had
run away, and that he was going to change his name and bury himself in
some remote land.
I answered that I remembered it perfectly.
"I wonder where he went to," said my father, "and if he and his
daughter Stella are still alive. Well, well! I shall never meet them
again. But life is a strange thing, Allan, and you may. If you ever
do, give them my kind love."
After that I left him. We had been suffering more than usual from the
depredations of the Kaffir thieves, who stole our sheep at night, and,
as I had done before, and not without success, I determined to watch
the kraal and see if I could catch them. Indeed, it was from this
habit of mine of watching at night that I first got my native name of
Macumazahn, which may be roughly translated as "he who sleeps with one
eye open." So I took my rifle and rose to go. But he called me to him
and kissed me on the forehead, saying, "God bless you, Allan! I hope
that you will think of your old father sometimes, and that you will
lead a good and happy life."
I remember that I did not much like his tone at the time, but set it
down to an attack of low spirits, to which he grew very subject as the
years went on. I went down to the kraal and watched till within an
hour of sunrise; then, as no thieves appeared, returned to the
station. As I came near I was astonished to see a figure sitting in my
father's chair. At first I thought it must be a drunken Kaffir, then
that my father had fallen asleep there.
And so he had,--for he was dead!
When I had buried my father, and seen a successor installed in his
place--for the station was the property of the Society--I set to work
to carry out a plan which I had long cherished, but been unable to
execute because it would have involved separation from my father. Put
shortly, it was to undertake a trading journey of exploration right
through the countries now known as the Free State and the Transvaal,
and as much further North as I could go. It was an adventurous scheme,
for though the emigrant Boers had begun to occupy positions in these
territories, they were still to all practical purposes unexplored. But
I was now alone in the world, and it mattered little what became of
me; so, driven on by the overmastering love of adventure, which, old
as I am, will perhaps still be the cause of my death, I determined to
undertake the journey.
Accordingly I sold such stock and goods as we had upon the station,
reserving only the two best waggons and two spans of oxen. The
proceeds I invested in such goods as were then in fashion, for trading
purposes, and in guns and ammunition. The guns would have moved any
modern explorer to merriment; but such as they were I managed to do a
good deal of execution with them. One of them was a single-barrelled,
smooth bore, fitted for percussion caps--a roer we called it--which
threw a three-ounce ball, and was charged with a handful of coarse
black powder. Many is the elephant that I killed with that roer,
although it generally knocked me backwards when I fired it, which I
only did under compulsion. The best of the lot, perhaps, was a double-
barrelled No. 12 shot-gun, but it had flint locks. Also there were
some old tower muskets, which might or might not throw straight at
seventy yards. I took six Kaffirs with me, and three good horses,
which were supposed to be salted--that is, proof against the sickness.
Among the Kaffirs was an old fellow named Indaba-zimbi, which, being
translated, means "tongue of iron." I suppose he got this name from
his strident voice and exhaustless eloquence. This man was a great
character in his way. He had been a noted witch-doctor among a
neighbouring tribe, and came to the station under the following
circumstances, which, as he plays a considerable part in this history,
are perhaps worth recording.
Two years before my father's death I had occasion to search the
country round for some lost oxen. After a long and useless quest it
occurred to me that I had better go to the place where the oxen were
bred by a Kaffir chief, whose name I forget, but whose kraal was about
fifty miles from our station. There I journeyed, and found the oxen
safe at home. The chief entertained me handsomely, and on the
following morning I went to pay my respects to him before leaving, and
was somewhat surprised to find a collection of some hundreds of men
and women sitting round him anxiously watching the sky in which the
thunder-clouds were banking up in a very ominous way.
"You had better wait, white man," said the chief, "and see the rain-
doctors fight the lightning."
I inquired what he meant, and learned that this man, Indaba-zimbi, had
for some years occupied the position of wizard-in-chief to the tribe,
although he was not a member of it, having been born in the country
now known as Zululand. But a son of the chief's, a man of about
thirty, had lately set up as a rival in supernatural powers. This
irritated Indaba-zimbi beyond measure, and a quarrel ensued between
the two witch-doctors that resulted in a challenge to trial by
lightning being given and accepted. These were the conditions. The
rivals must await the coming of a serious thunderstorm, no ordinary
tempest would serve their turn. Then, carrying assegais in their
hands, they must take their stand within fifty paces of each other
upon a certain patch of ground where the big thunderbolts were
observed to strike continually, and by the exercise of their occult
powers and invocations to the lightning, must strive to avert death
from themselves and bring it on their rival. The terms of this
singular match had been arranged a month previously, but no storm
worthy of the occasion had arisen. Now the local weather-prophets
believed it to be brewing.
I inquired what would happen if neither of the men were struck, and
was told that they must then wait for another storm. If they escaped
the second time, however, they would be held to be equal in power, and
be jointly consulted by the tribe upon occasions of importance.
The prospect of being a spectator of so unusual a sight overcame my
desire to be gone, and I accepted the chief's invitation to see it
out. Before mid-day I regretted it, for though the western heavens
grew darker and darker, and the still air heralded the coming of the
storm, yet it did not come. By four o'clock, however, it became
obvious that it must burst soon--at sunset, the old chief said, and in
the company of the whole assembly I moved down to the place of combat.
The kraal was built on the top of a hill, and below it the land sloped
gently to the banks of a river about half a mile away. On the hither
side of the bank was the piece of land that was, the natives said,
"loved of the lightning." Here the magicians took up their stand,
while the spectators grouped themselves on the hillside about two
hundred yards away--which was, I thought, rather too near to be
pleasant. When we had sat there for a while my curiosity overcame me,
and I asked leave of the chief to go down and inspect the arena. He
said I might do so at my own risk. I told him that the fire from above
would not hurt white men, and went to find that the spot was a bed of
iron ore, thinly covered with grass, which of course accounted for its
attracting the lightning from the storms as they travelled along the
line of the river. At each end of this iron-stone area were placed the
combatants, Indaba-zimbi facing the east, and his rival the west, and
before each there burned a little fire made of some scented root.
Moreover they were dressed in all the paraphernalia of their craft,
snakeskins, fish-bladders, and I know not what beside, while round
their necks hung circlets of baboons' teeth and bones from human
hands. First I went to the western end where the chief's son stood. He
was pointing with his assegai towards the advancing storm, and
invoking it in a voice of great excitement.
"Come, fire, and lick up Indaba-zimbi!
"Hear me, Storm Devil, and lick Indaba-zimbi with your red tongue!
"Spit on him with your rain!
"Whirl him away in your breath!
"Make him as nothing--melt the marrow in his bones!
"Run into his heart and burn away the lies!
"Show all the people who is the true Witch Finder!
"Let me not be put to shame in the eyes of this white man!"
Thus he spoke, or rather chanted, and all the while rubbed his broad
chest--for he was a very fine man--with some filthy compound of
medicine or /mouti/.
After a while, getting tired of his song, I walked across the iron-
stone, to where Indaba-zimbi sat by his fire. He was not chanting at
all, but his performance was much more impressive. It consisted in
staring at the eastern sky, which was perfectly clear of cloud, and
every now and again beckoning at it with his finger, then turning
round to point with the assegai towards his rival. For a while I
looked at him in silence. He was a curious wizened man, apparently
over fifty years of age, with thin hands that looked as tough as wire.
His nose was much sharper than is usual among these races, and he had
a queer habit of holding his head sideways like a bird when he spoke,
which, in addition to the humour that lurked in his eye, gave him a
most comical appearance. Another strange thing about him was that he
had a single white lock of hair among his black wool. At last I spoke
"Indaba-zimbi, my friend," I said, "you may be a good witch-doctor,
but you are certainly a fool. It is no good beckoning at the blue sky
while your enemy is getting a start with the storm."
"You may be clever, but don't think you know everything, white man,"
the old fellow answered, in a high, cracked voice, and with something
like a grin.
"They call you Iron-tongue," I went on; "you had better use it, or the
Storm Devil won't hear you."
"The fire from above runs down iron," he answered, "so I keep my
tongue quiet. Oh, yes, let him curse away, I'll put him out presently.
Look now, white man."
I looked, and in the eastern sky there grew a cloud. At first it was
small, though very black, but it gathered with extraordinary rapidity.
This was odd enough, but as I had seen the same thing happen before it
did not particularly astonish me. It is by no means unusual in Africa
for two thunderstorms to come up at the same time from different
points of the compass.
"You had better get on, Indaba-zimbi," I said, "the big storm is
coming along fast, and will soon eat up that baby of yours," and I
pointed to the west.
"Babies sometimes grow to giants, white man," said Indaba-zimbi,
beckoning away vigorously. "Look now at my cloud-child."
I looked; the eastern storm was spreading itself from earth to sky,
and in shape resembled an enormous man. There was its head, its
shoulders, and its legs; yes, it was like a huge giant travelling
across the heavens. The light of the setting sun escaping from beneath
the lower edge of the western storm shot across the intervening space
in a sheet of splendour, and, lighting upon the advancing figure of
cloud, wrapped its middle in hues of glory too wonderful to be
described; but beneath and above this glowing belt his feet and head
were black as jet. Presently, as I watched, an awful flash of light
shot from the head of the cloud, circled it about as though with a
crown of living fire, and vanished.
"Aha," chuckled old Indaba-zimbi, "my little boy is putting on his
man's ring," and he tapped the gum ring on his own head, which natives
assume when they reach a certain age and dignity. "Now, white man,
unless you are a bigger wizard than either of us you had better clear
off, for the fire-fight is about to begin."
I thought this sound advice.
"Good luck go with you, my black uncle," I said. "I hope you don't
feel the iniquities of a mis-spent life weighing on you at the last."
"You look after yourself, and think of your own sins, young man," he
answered, with a grim smile, and taking a pinch of snuff, while at
that very moment a flash of lightning, I don't know from which storm,
struck the ground within thirty paces of me. That was enough for me, I
took to my heels, and as I went I heard old Indaba-zimbi's dry chuckle
I climbed the hill till I came to where the chief was sitting with his
indunas, or headmen, and sat down near to him. I looked at the man's
face and saw that he was intensely anxious for his son's safety, and
by no means confident of the young man's powers to resist the magic of
Indaba-zimbi. He was talking in a low voice to the induna next to him.
I affected to take no notice and to be concentrating my attention on
the novel scene before me; but in those days I had very quick ears,
and caught the drift of the conversation.
"Hearken!" the chief was saying, "if the magic of Indaba-zimbi
prevails against my son I will endure him no more. Of this I am sure,
that when he has slain my son he will slay me, me also, and make
himself chief in my place. I fear Indaba-zimbi. /Ou!/"
"Black One," answered the induna, "wizards die as dogs die, and, once
dead, dogs bark no more."
"And once dead," said the chiefs, "wizards work no more spells," and
he bent and whispered in the induna's ear, looking at the assegai in
his hand as he whispered.
"Good, my father, good!" said the induna, presently. "It shall be done
to-night, if the lightning does not do it first."
"A bad look-out for old Indaba-zimbi," I said to myself. "They mean to
kill him." Then I thought no more of the matter for a while, the scene
before me was too tremendous.
The two storms were rapidly rushing together. Between them was a gulf
of blue sky, and from time to time flashes of blinding light passed
across this gulf, leaping from cloud to cloud. I remember that they
reminded me of the story of the heathen god Jove and his thunderbolts.
The storm that was shaped like a giant and ringed with the glory of
the sinking sun made an excellent Jove, and I am sure that the bolts
which leapt from it could not have been surpassed even in mythological
times. Oddly enough, as yet the flashes were not followed by thunder.
A deadly stillness lay upon the place, the cattle stood silently on
the hillside, even the natives were awed to silence. Dark shadows
crept along the bosom of the hills, the river to the right and left
was hidden in wreaths of cloud, but before us and beyond the
combatants it shone like a line of silver beneath the narrowing space
of open sky. Now the western tempest was scrawled all over with lines
of intolerable light, while the inky head of the cloud-giant to the
east was continually suffused with a white and deadly glow that came
and went in pulses, as though a blood of flame was being pumped into
it from the heart of the storm.
The silence deepened and deepened, the shadows grew blacker and
blacker, then suddenly all nature began to moan beneath the breath of
an icy wind. On sped the wind; the smooth surface of the river was
ruffled by it into little waves, the tall grass bowed low before it,
and in its wake came the hissing sound of furious rain.
Ah! the storms had met. From each there burst an awful blaze of
dazzling flame, and now the hill on which we sat rocked at the noise
of the following thunder. The light went out of the sky, darkness fell
suddenly on the land, but not for long. Presently the whole landscape
grew vivid in the flashes, it appeared and disappeared, now everything
was visible for miles, now even the men at my side vanished in the
blackness. The thunder rolled and cracked and pealed like the trump of
doom, whirlwinds tore round, lifting dust and even stones high into
the air, and in a low, continuous undertone rose the hiss of the
I put my hand before my eyes to shield them from the terrible glare,
and looked beneath it towards the lists of iron-stone. As flash
followed flash, from time to time I caught sight of the two wizards.
They were slowly advancing towards one another, each pointing at his
foe with the assegai in his hand. I could see their every movement,
and it seemed to me that the chain lightning was striking the iron-
stone all round them.
Suddenly the thunder and lightning ceased for a minute, everything
grew black, and, except for the rain, silent.
"It is over one way or the other, chief," I called out into the
"Wait, white man, wait!" answered the chief, in a voice thick with
anxiety and fear.
Hardly were the words out of his mouth when the heavens were lit up
again till they literally seemed to flame. There were the men, not ten
paces apart. A great flash fell between them, I saw them stagger
beneath the shock. Indaba-zimbi recovered himself first--at any rate
when the next flash came he was standing bolt upright, pointing with
his assegai towards his enemy. The chief's son was still on his legs,
but he was staggering like a drunken man, and the assegai had fallen
from his hand.
Darkness! then again a flash, more fearful, if possible, than any that
had gone before. To me it seemed to come from the east, right over the
head of Indaba-zimbi. At that instant I saw the chief's son wrapped,
as it were, in the heart of it. Then the thunder pealed, the rain
burst over us like a torrent, and I saw no more.
The worst of the storm was done, but for a while the darkness was so
dense that we could not move, nor, indeed, was I inclined to leave the
safety of the hillside where the lightning was never known to strike,
and venture down to the iron-stone. Occasionally there still came
flashes, but, search as we would, we could see no trace of either of
the wizards. For my part, I believed that they were both dead. Now the
clouds slowly rolled away down the course of the river, and with them
went the rain; and now the stars shone in their wake.
"Let us go and see," said the old chief, rising and shaking the water
from his hair. "The fire-fight is ended, let us go and see who has
I rose and followed him, dripping as though I had swum a hundred yards
with my clothes on, and after me came all the people of the kraal.
We reached the spot; even in that light I could see where the iron-
stone had been split and fused by the thunderbolts. While I was
staring about me, I suddenly heard the chief, who was on my right,
give a low moan, and saw the people cluster round him. I went up and
looked. There, on the ground, lay the body of his son. It was a
dreadful sight. The hair was burnt off his head, the copper rings upon
his arms were fused, the assegai handle which lay near was literally
shivered into threads, and, when I took hold of his arm, it seemed to
me that every bone of it was broken.
The men with the chief stood gazing silently, while the women wailed.
"Great is the magic of Indaba-zimbi!" said a man, at length. The chief
turned and struck him a heavy blow with the kerrie in his hand.
"Great or not, thou dog, he shall die," he cried, "and so shalt thou
if thou singest his praises so loudly."
I said nothing, but thinking it probable that Indaba-zimbi had shared
the fate of his enemy, I went to look. But I could see nothing of him,
and at length, being thoroughly chilled with the wet, started back to
my waggon to change my clothes. On reaching it, I was rather surprised
to see a strange Kaffir seated on the driving-box wrapped up in a
"Hullo! come out of that," I said.
The figure on the box slowly unrolled the blanket, and with great
deliberation took a pinch of snuff.
"It was a good fire-fight, white man, was it not?" said Indaba-zimbi,
in his high, cracked voice. "But he never had a chance against me,
poor boy. He knew nothing about it. See, white man, what becomes of
presumption in the young. It is sad, very sad, but I made the flashes
fly, didn't I?"
"You old humbug," I said, "unless you are careful you will soon learn
what comes of presumption in the old, for your chief is after you with
an assegai, and it will take all your magic to dodge that."
"Now you don't say so," said Indaba-zimbi, clambering off the waggon
with rapidity; "and all because of this wretched upstart. There's
gratitude for you, white man. I expose him, and they want to kill me.
Well, thank you for the hint. We shall meet again before long," and he
was gone like a shot, and not too soon, for just then some of the
chief's men came up to the waggon.
On the following morning I started homewards. The first face I saw on
arriving at the station was that of Indaba-zimbi.
"How do you do, Macumazahn?" he said, holding his head on one side and
nodding his white lock. "I hear you are Christians here, and I want to
try a new religion. Mine must be a bad one seeing that my people
wanted to kill me for exposing an impostor."
I make no apology to myself, or to anybody who may happen to read this
narrative in future, for having set out the manner of my meeting with
Indaba-zimbi: first, because it was curious, and secondly, because he
takes some hand in the subsequent events. If that old man was a
humbug, he was a very clever one. What amount of truth there was in
his pretensions to supernatural powers it is not for me to determine,
though I may have my own opinion on the subject. But there was no
mistake as to the extraordinary influence he exercised over his
fellow-natives. Also he quite got round my poor father. At first the
old gentleman declined to have him at the station, for he had a great
horror of these Kaffir wizards or witch-finders. But Indaba-zimbi
persuaded him that he was anxious to investigate the truths of
Christianity, and challenged him to a discussion. The argument lasted
two years--to the time of my father's death, indeed. At the conclusion
of each stage Indaba-zimbi would remark, in the words of the Roman
Governor, "Almost, praying white man, thou persuadest me to become a
Christian," but he never quite became one--indeed, I do not think he
ever meant to. It was to him that my father addressed his "Letters to
a Native Doubter." This work, which, unfortunately, remains in
manuscript, is full of wise saws and learned instances. It ought to be
published together with a /précis/ of the doubter's answers, which
So the talk went on. If my father had lived I believe it would be
going on now, for both the disputants were quite inexhaustible.
Meanwhile Indaba-zimbi was allowed to live on the station on condition
that he practised no witchcraft, which my father firmly believed to be
a wile of the devil. He said that he would not, but for all that there
was never an ox lost, or a sudden death, but he was consulted by those
When he had been with us a year, a deputation came to him from the
tribe he had left, asking him to return. Things had not gone well with
them since he went away, they said, and now the chief, his enemy, was
dead. Old Indaba-zimbi listened to them till they had done, and, as he
listened, raked sand into a little heap with his toes. Then he spoke,
pointing to the little heap, "There is your tribe to-day," he said.
Then he lifted his heel and stamped the heap flat. "There is your
tribe before three moons are gone. Nothing is left of it. You drove me
away: I will have no more to do with you; but when you are being
killed think of my words."
The messengers went. Three months afterwards I heard that the whole
community had been wiped out by an Impi of raiding Pondos.
When I was at length ready to start upon my expedition, I went to old
Indaba-zimbi to say good-bye to him, and was rather surprised to find
him engaged in rolling up medicine, assegais, and other sundries in
"Good-bye, Indaba-zimbi," I said, "I am going to trek north."
"Yes, Macumazahn," he answered, with his head on one side; "and so am
I--I want to see that country. We will go together."
"Will we!" I said; "wait till you are asked, you old humbug."
"You had better ask me, then, Macumazahn, for if you don't you will
never come back alive. Now that the old chief (my father) is gone to
where the storms come from," and he nodded to the sky, "I feel myself
getting into bad habits again. So last night I just threw up the bones
and worked out about your journey, and I can tell you this, that if
you don't take me you will die, and, what is more, you will lose one
who is dearer to you than life in a strange fashion. So just because
you gave me that hint a couple of years ago, I made up my mind to come
"Don't talk stuff to me," I said.
"Ah, very well, Macumazahn, very well; but what happened to my own
people six months ago, and what did I tell the messengers would
happen? They drove me away, and they are gone. If you drive me away
you will soon be gone too," and he nodded his white lock at me and
smiled. Now I was not more superstitious than other people, but
somehow old Indaba-zimbi impressed me. Also I knew his extraordinary
influence over every class of native, and bethought me that he might
be useful in that way.
"All right," I said: "I appoint you witch-finder to the expedition
"First serve, then ask for wages," he answered. "I am glad to see that
you have enough imagination not to be altogether a fool, like most
white men, Macumazahn. Yes, yes, it is want of imagination that makes
people fools; they won't believe what they can't understand. You can't
understand my prophecies any more than the fool at the kraal could
understand that I was his master with the lightning. Well, it is time
to trek, but if I were you, Macumazahn, I should take one waggon, not
"Why?" I said.
"Because you will lose your waggons, and it is better to lose one than
"Oh, nonsense!" I said.
"All right, Macumazahn, live and learn." And without another word he
walked to the foremost waggon, put his bundle into it, and climbed on
to the front seat.
So having bid an affectionate adieu to my white friends, including the
old Scotchman who got drunk in honour of the event, and quoted Burns
till the tears ran down his face, at length I started, and travelled
slowly northwards. For the first three weeks nothing very particular
befell me. Such Kaffirs as we came in contact with were friendly, and
game literally swarmed. Nobody living in those parts of South Africa
nowadays can have the remotest idea of what the veldt was like even
thirty years ago.
Often and often I have crept shivering on to my waggon-box just as the
sun rose and looked out. At first one would see nothing but a vast
field of white mist suffused towards the east by a tremulous golden
glow, through which the tops of stony koppies stood up like gigantic
beacons. From the dense mist would come strange sounds--snorts,
gruntings, bellows, and the thunder of countless hoofs. Presently this
great curtain would grow thinner, then it would melt, as the smoke
from a pipe melts into the air, and for miles on miles the wide
rolling country interspersed with bush opened to the view. But it was
not tenantless as it is now, for as far as the eye could reach it
would be literally black with game. Here to the right might be a herd
of vilderbeeste that could not number less than two thousand. Some
were grazing, some gambolled, whisking their white tails into the air,
while all round the old bulls stood upon hillocks sniffing
suspiciously at the breeze. There, in front, a hundred yards away,
though to the unpractised eye they looked much closer, because of the
dazzling clearness of the atmosphere, was a great herd of springbok
trekking along in single file. Ah, they have come to the waggon-track
and do not like the look of it. What will they do?--go back? Not a bit
of it. It is nearly thirty feet wide, but that is nothing to a
springbok. See, the first of them bounds into the air like a ball. How
beautifully the sunshine gleams upon his golden hide! He has cleared
it, and the others come after him in numberless succession, all except
the fawns, who cannot jump so far, and have to scamper over the
doubtful path with a terrified /bah/. What is that yonder, moving
above the tops of the mimosa, in the little dell at the foot of the
koppie? Giraffes, by George! three of them; there will be marrow-bones
for supper to-night. Hark! the ground shakes behind us, and over the
brow of the rise rush a vast herd of blesbock. On they come at full
gallop, their long heads held low, they look like so many bearded
goats. I thought so--behind them is a pack of wild dogs, their fur
draggled, their tongues lolling. They are in full cry; the giraffes
hear them and are away, rolling round the koppie like a ship in a
heavy sea. No marrow-bones after all. See! the foremost dogs are close
on a buck. He has galloped far and is outworn. One springs at his
flank and misses him. The buck gives a kind of groan, looks wildly
round and sees the waggon. He seems to hesitate a moment, then in his
despair rushes up to it, and falls exhausted among the oxen. The dogs
pull up some thirty paces away, panting and snarling. Now, boy, the
gun--no, not the rifle, the shot-gun loaded with loopers.
Bang! bang! there, my friends, two of you will never hunt buck again.
No, don't touch the buck, for he has come to us for shelter, and he
shall have it.
Ah, how beautiful is nature before man comes to spoil it!
Such a sight as this have I seen many a hundred times, and I hope to
see it again before I die.
The first real adventure that befell me on this particular journey was
with elephants, which I will relate because of its curious
termination. Just before we crossed the Orange River we came to a
stretch of forest-land some twenty miles broad. The night we entered
this forest we camped in a lovely open glade. A few yards ahead
tambouki grass was growing to the height of a man, or rather it had
been; now, with the exception of a few stalks here and there, it was
crushed quite flat. It was already dusk when we camped; but after the
moon got up I walked from the fire to see how this had happened. One
glance was enough for me; a great herd of elephants had evidently
passed over the tall grass not many hours before. The sight of their
spoor rejoiced me exceedingly, for though I had seen wild elephants,
at that time I had never shot one. Moreover, the sight of elephant
spoor to the African hunter is what "colour in the pan" is to the
prospector of gold. It is by the ivory that he lives, and to shoot it
or trade it is his chief aim in life. My resolution was soon taken. I
would camp the waggons for a while in the forest, and start on
horseback after the elephants.
I communicated my decision to Indaba-zimbi and the other Kaffirs. The
latter were not loth, for your Kaffir loves hunting, which means
plenty of meat and congenial occupation, but Indaba-zimbi would
express no opinion. I saw him retire to a little fire that he had lit
for himself, and go through some mysterious performances with bones
and clay mixed with ashes, which were watched with the greatest
interest by the other Kaffirs. At length he rose, and, coming forward,
informed me that it was all right, and that I did well to go and hunt
the elephants, as I should get plenty of ivory; but he advised me to
go on foot. I said I should do nothing of the sort, but meant to ride.
I am wiser now; this was the first and last time that I ever attempted
to hunt elephants on horseback.
Accordingly we started at dawn, I, Indaba-zimbi, and three men; the
rest I left with the waggons. I was on horseback, and so was my
driver, a good rider and a skilful shot for a Kaffir, but Indaba-zimbi
and the others walked. From dawn till mid-day we followed the trail of
the herd, which was as plain as a high road. Then we off-saddled to
let the horses rest and feed, and about three o'clock started on
again. Another hour or so passed, and still there was no sign of
elephants. Evidently the herd had travelled fast and far, and I began
to think that we should have to give it up, when suddenly I caught
sight of a brown mass moving through the thorn-trees on the side of a
slope about a quarter of a mile away. My heart seemed to jump into my
mouth. Where is the hunter who has not felt like this at the sight of
his first elephant?
I called a halt, and then the wind being right, we set to work to
stalk the bull. Very quietly I rode down the hither side of the slope
till we came to the bottom, which was densely covered with bush. Here
I saw the elephants had been feeding, for broken branches and upturned
trees lay all about. I did not take much notice, however, for all my
thoughts were fixed upon the bull I was stalking, when suddenly my
horse gave a violent start that nearly threw me from the saddle, and
there came a mighty rush and upheaval of something in front of me. I
looked: there was the hinder part of a second bull elephant not four
yards off. I could just catch sight of its outstretched ears
projecting on either side. I had disturbed it sleeping, and it was
Obviously the best thing to do would have been to let it run, but I
was young in those days and foolish, and in the excitement of the
moment I lifted my "roer" or elephant gun and fired at the great brute
over my horse's head. The recoil of the heavy gun nearly knocked me
off the horse. I recovered myself, however, and, as I did so, saw the
bull lurch forward, for the impact of a three-ounce bullet in the
flank will quicken the movement even of an elephant. By this time I
had realized the folly of the shot, and devoutly hoped that the bull
would take no further notice of it. But he took a different view of
the matter. Pulling himself up in a series of plunges, he spun round
and came for me with outstretched ears and uplifted trunk, screaming
terribly. I was quite defenceless, for my gun was empty, and my first
thought was of escape. I dug my heels into the sides of my horse, but
he would not move an inch. The poor animal was paralyzed with terror,
and he simply stood still, his fore-legs outstretched, and quivering
all over like a leaf.
On rushed the elephant, awful to see; I made one more vain effort to
stir the horse. Now the trunk of the great bull swung aloft above my
head. A thought flashed through my brain. Quick as light I rolled from
the saddle. By the side of the horse lay a fallen tree, as thick
through as a man's body. The tree was lifted a little off the ground
by the broken boughs which took its weight, and with a single
movement, so active is one in such necessities, I flung myself beneath
it. As I did so, I heard the trunk of the elephant descend with a
mighty thud on the back of my poor horse, and the next instant I was
almost in darkness, for the horse, whose back was broken, fell over
across the tree under which I lay ensconced. But he did not stop there
long. In ten seconds more the bull had wound his trunk about my dead
nag's neck, and, with a mighty effort, hurled him clear of the tree. I
wriggled backwards as far as I could towards the roots of the tree,
for I knew what he was after. Presently I saw the red tip of the
bull's trunk stretching itself towards me. If he could manage to hook
it round any part of me I was lost. But in the position I occupied,
that was just what he could not do, although he knelt down to
facilitate his operations. On came the snapping tip like a great open-
mouthed snake; it closed upon my hat, which vanished. Again it was
thrust down, and a scream of rage was bellowed through it within four
inches of my head. Now it seemed to elongate itself. Oh, heavens! now
it had me by the hair, which, luckily for myself, was not very long.
Then it was my turn to scream, for next instant half a square inch of
hair was dragged from my scalp by the roots. I was being plucked
alive, as I have seen cruel Kaffir kitchen boys pluck a fowl.
The elephant, however, disappointed with these moderate results,
changed his tactics. He wound his trunk round the fallen tree and
lifted. The tree stirred, but fortunately the broken branches embedded
in the spongy soil, and some roots, which still held, prevented it
from being turned over, though he lifted it so much that, had it
occurred to him, he could now easily have drawn me out with his trunk.
Again he hoisted with all his mighty strength, and I saw that the tree
was coming, and roared aloud for help. Some shots were fired close by
in answer, but if they hit the bull, their only effect was to stir his
energies to more active life. In another few seconds my shelter would
be torn away, and I should be done for. A cold perspiration burst out
over me as I realized that I was lost. Then of a sudden I remembered
that I had a pistol in my belt, which I often used for despatching
wounded game. It was loaded and capped. By this time the tree was
lifted so much that I could easily get my hand down to my middle and
draw the pistol from its case. I drew and cocked it. Now the tree was
coming over, and there, within three feet of my head, was the great
brown trunk of the elephant. I placed the muzzle of the pistol within
an inch of it and fired. The result was instantaneous. Down sunk the
tree again, giving one of my legs a considerable squeeze, and next
instant I heard a crashing sound. The elephant had bolted.
By this time, what between fright and struggling, I was pretty well
tired. I cannot remember how I got from under the fallen tree, or
indeed anything, until I found myself sitting on the ground drinking
some peach brandy from a flask, and old Indaba-zimbi opposite to me
nodding his white lock sagely, while he fired off moral reflections on
the narrowness of my escape, and my unwisdom in not having taken his
advice to go on foot. That reminded me of my horse--I got up and went
to look at it. It was quite dead, the blow of the elephant's trunk had
fallen on the saddle, breaking the framework, and rendering it
useless. I reflected that in another two seconds it would have fallen
on /me/. Then I called to Indaba-zimbi and asked which way the
elephants had gone.
"There!" he said, pointing down the gully, "and we had better go after
them, Macumazahn. We have had the bad luck, now for the good."
There was philosophy in this, though, to tell the truth, I did not
feel particularly sharp set on elephants at the moment. I seemed to
have had enough of them. However, it would never do to show the white
feather before the boys, so I assented with much outward readiness,
and we started, I on the second horse, and the others on foot. When we
had travelled for the best part of an hour down the valley, all of a
sudden we came upon the whole herd, which numbered a little more than
eighty. Just in front of them the bush was so thick that they seemed
to hesitate about entering it, and the sides of the valley were so
rocky and steep at this point that they could not climb them.
They saw us at the same moment as we saw them, and inwardly I was
filled with fears lest they should take it into their heads to charge
back up the gully. But they did not; trumpeting aloud, they rushed at
the thick bush which went down before them like corn before a sickle.
I do not think that in all my experiences I ever heard anything to
equal the sound they made as they crashed through and over the shrubs
and trees. Before them was a dense forest belt from a hundred to a
hundred and fifty feet in width. As they rushed on, it fell, so that
behind them was nothing but a level roadway strewed with fallen
trunks, crushed branches, and here and there a tree, too strong even
for them, left stranded amid the wreck. On they went, and,
notwithstanding the nature of the ground over which they had to
travel, they kept their distance ahead of us. This sort of thing
continued for a mile or more, and then I saw that in front of the
elephants the valley opened into a space covered with reeds and grass
--it might have been five or six acres in extent--beyond which the
valley ran on again.
The herd reached the edge of this expanse, and for a moment pulled up,
hesitating--evidently they mistrusted it. My men yelled aloud, as only
Kaffirs can, and that settled them. Headed by the wounded bull, whose
martial ardour, like my own, was somewhat cooled, they spread out and
dashed into the treacherous swamp--for such it was, though just then
there was no water to be seen. For a few yards all went well with
them, though they clearly found it heavy going; then suddenly the
great bull sank up to his belly in the stiff peaty soil, and remained
fixed. The others, mad with fear, took no heed of his struggles and
trumpetings, but plunged on to meet the same fate. In five minutes the
whole herd of them were hopelessly bogged, and the more they struggled
to escape, the deeper they sunk. There was one exception, indeed, a
cow managed to win back to firm shore, and, lifting her trunk,
prepared to charge us as we came up. But at that moment she heard the
scream of her calf, and rushed back to its assistance, only to be
bogged with the others.
Such a scene I never saw before or since. The swamp was spotted all
over with the large forms of the elephants, and the air rang with
their screams of rage and terror as they waved their trunks wildly to
and fro. Now and then a monster would make a great effort and drag his
mass from its peaty bed, only to stick fast again at the next step. It
was a most pitiable sight, though one that gladdened the hearts of my
men. Even the best natives have little compassion for the sufferings
Well, the rest was easy. The marsh that would not bear the elephants
carried our weight well enough. Before midnight all were dead, for we
shot them by moonlight. I would gladly have spared the young ones and
some of the cows, but to do so would only have meant leaving them to
perish of hunger; it was kinder to kill them at once. The wounded bull
I slew with my own hand, and I cannot say that I felt much compunction
in so doing. He knew me again, and made a desperate effort to get at
me, but I am glad to say that the peat held him fast.
The pan presented a curious sight when the sun rose next morning.
Owing to the support given by the soil, few of the dead elephants had
fallen: there they stood as though they were asleep.
I sent back for the waggons, and when they arrived on the morrow,
formed a camp, about a mile away from the pan. Then began the work of
cutting out the elephants' tusks; it took over a week, and for obvious
reasons was a disgusting task. Indeed, had it not been for the help of
some wandering bushmen, who took their pay in elephant meat, I do not
think we could ever have managed it.
At last it was done. The ivory was far too cumbersome for us to carry,
so we buried it, having first got rid of our bushmen allies. My boys
wanted me to go back to the Cape with it and sell it, but I was too
much bent on my journey to do this. The tusks lay buried for five
years. Then I came and dug them up; they were but little harmed.
Ultimately I sold the ivory for something over twelve hundred pounds--
not bad pay for one day's shooting.
This was how I began my career as an elephant hunter. I have shot many
hundreds of them since, but have never again attempted to do so on
THE ZULU IMPI
After burying the elephant tusks, and having taken careful notes of
the bearings and peculiarities of the country so that I might be able
to find the spot again, we proceeded on our journey. For a month or
more I trekked along the line which now divides the Orange Free State
from Griqualand West, and the Transvaal from Bechuanaland. The only
difficulties met with were such as are still common to African
travellers--occasional want of water and troubles about crossing
sluits and rivers. I remember that I outspanned on the spot where
Kimberley now stands, and had to press on again in a hurry because
there was no water. I little dreamed then that I should live to see
Kimberley a great city producing millions of pounds worth of diamonds
annually, and old Indaba-zimbi's magic cannot have been worth so much
after all, or he would have told me.
I found the country almost entirely depopulated. Not very long before
Mosilikatze the Lion, Chaka's General had swept across it in his
progress towards what is now Matabeleland. His footsteps were evident
enough. Time upon time I trekked up to what had evidently been the
sites of Kaffir kraals. Now the kraals were ashes and piles of tumbled
stones, and strewn about among the rank grass were the bones of
hundreds of men, women, and children, all of whom had kissed the Zulu
assegai. I remember that in one of these desolate places I found the
skull of a child in which a ground-lark had built its nest. It was the
twittering of the young birds inside that first called my attention to
it. Shortly after this we met with our second great adventure, a much
more serious and tragic one than the first.
We were trekking parallel with the Kolong river when a herd of
blesbock crossed the track. I fired at one of them and hit it behind.
It galloped about a hundred yards with the rest of the herd, then lay
down. As we were in want of meat, not having met with any game for a
few days past, I jumped on to my horse, and, telling Indaba-zimbi that
I would overtake the waggons or meet them on the further side of a
rise about an hour's trek away, I started after the wounded buck. As
soon as I came within a hundred yards of it, however, it jumped up and
ran away as fast as though it were untouched, only to lie down again
at a distance. I followed, thinking that strength would soon fail it.
This happened three times. On the third occasion it vanished behind a
ridge, and, though by now I was out of both temper and patience, I
thought I might as well ride to the crest and see if I could get a
shot at it on the further side.
I reached the ridge, which was strewn with stones, looked over it, and
saw--a Zulu Impi!
I rubbed my eyes and looked again. Yes, there was no doubt of it. They
were halted about a thousand yards away, by the water; some were lying
down, some were cooking at fires, others were stalking about with
spears and shields in their hands; there might have been two thousand
or more of them in all. While I was wondering--and that with no little
uneasiness--what on earth they could be doing there, suddenly I heard
a wild cry to the right and left of me. I glanced first one way, then
the other. From either side a great Zulu was bearing down on me, their
broad stabbing assegais aloft, and black shields in their left hands.
The man to the right was about fifteen yards away, he to the left was
not more than ten. On they came, their fierce eyes almost starting out
of their heads, and I felt, with a cold thrill of fear, that in
another three seconds those broad "bangwans" might be buried in my
vitals. On such occasions we act, I suppose, more from instinct than
from anything else--there is no time for thought. At any rate, I
dropped the reins and, raising my gun, fired point blank at the left-
hand man. The bullet struck him in the middle of his shield, pierced
it, and passed through him, and over he rolled upon the veldt. I swung
round in the saddle; most happily my horse was accustomed to standing
still when I fired from his back, also he was so surprised that he did
not know which way to shy. The other savage was almost on me; his
outstretched shield reached the muzzle of my gun as I pulled the
trigger of the left barrel. It exploded, the warrior sprung high into
the air, and fell against my horse dead, his spear passing just in
front of my face.
Without waiting to reload, or even to look if the main body of the
Zulus had seen the death of their two scouts, I turned my horse and
drove my heels into his sides. As soon as I was down the slope of the
rise I pulled a little to the right in order to intercept the waggons
before the Zulus saw them. I had not gone three hundred yards in this
new direction when, to my utter astonishment, I struck a trail marked
with waggon-wheels and the hoofs of oxen. Of waggons there must have
been at least eight, and several hundred cattle. Moreover, they had
passed within twelve hours; I could tell that by the spoor. Then I
understood; the Impi was following the track of the waggons, which, in
all probability, belonged to a party of emigrant Boers.
The spoor of the waggons ran in the direction I wished to go, so I
followed it. About a mile further on I came to the crest of a rise,
and there, about five furlongs away, I saw the waggons drawn up in a
rough laager upon the banks of the river. There, too, were my own
waggons trekking down the slope towards them.
In another five minutes I was there. The Boers--for Boers they were--
were standing about outside the little laager watching the approach of
my two waggons. I called to them, and they turned and saw me. The very
first man my eyes fell on was a Boer named Hans Botha, whom I had
known well years ago in the Cape. He was not a bad specimen of his
class, but a very restless person, with a great objection to
authority, or, as he expressed it, "a love of freedom." He had joined
a party of the emigrant Boers some years before, but, as I learned
presently, had quarrelled with its leader, and was now trekking away
into the wilderness to found a little colony of his own. Poor fellow!
It was his last trek.
"How do you do, Meinheer Botha?" I said to him in Dutch.
The man looked at me, looked again, then, startled out of his Dutch
stolidity, cried to his wife, who was seated on the box of the
"Come here, Frau, come. Here is Allan Quatermain, the Englishman, the
son of the 'Predicant.' How goes it, Heer Quatermain, and what is the
news down in the Cape yonder?"
"I don't know what the news is in the Cape, Hans," I answered,
solemnly; "but the news here is that there is a Zulu Impi upon your
spoor and within two miles of the waggons. That I know, for I have
just shot two of their sentries," and I showed him my empty gun.
For a moment there was a silence of astonishment, and I saw the
bronzed faces of the men turn pale beneath their tan, while one or two
of the women gave a little scream, and the children crept to their
"Almighty!" cried Hans, "that must be the Umtetwa Regiment that
Dingaan sent against the Basutus, but who could not come at them
because of the marshes, and so were afraid to return to Zululand, and
struck north to join Mosilikatze."
"Laager up, Carles! Laager up for your lives, and one of you jump on a
horse and drive in the cattle."
At this moment my own waggons came up. Indaba-zimbi was sitting on the
box of the first, wrapped in a blanket. I called him and told him the
"Ill tidings, Macumazahn," he said; "there will be dead Boers about
to-morrow morning, but they will not attack till dawn, then they will
wipe out the laager /so!/" and he passed his hand before his mouth.
"Stop that croaking, you white-headed crow," I said, though I knew his
words were true. What chance had a laager of ten waggons all told
against at least two thousand of the bravest savages in the world?
"Macumazahn, will you take my advice this time?" Indaba-zimbi said,
"What is it?" I asked.
"This. Leave your waggons here, jump on that horse, and let us two run
for it as hard as we can go. The Zulus won't follow us, they will be
looking after the Boers."
"I won't leave the other white men," I said; "it would be the act of a
coward. If I die, I die."
"Very well, Macumazahn, then stay and be killed," he answered, taking
a pinch of snuff. "Come, let us see about the waggons," and we walked
towards the laager.
Here everything was in confusion. However, I got hold of Hans Botha
and put it to him if it would not be best to desert the waggons and
make a run for it.
"How can we do it?" he answered; "two of the women are too fat to go a
mile, one is sick in childbed, and we have only six horses among us.
Besides, if we did we should starve in the desert. No, Heer Allan, we
must fight it out with the savages, and God help us!"
"God help us, indeed. Think of the children, Hans!"
"I can't bear to think," he answered, in a broken voice, looking at
his own little girl, a sweet, curly-haired, blue-eyed child of six,
named Tota, whom I had often nursed as a baby. "Oh, Heer Allan, your
father, the Predicant, always warned me against trekking north, and I
never would listen to him because I thought him a cursed Englishman;
now I see my folly. Heer Allan, if you can, try to save my child from
those black devils; if you live longer than I do, or if you can't save
her, kill her," and he clasped my hand.
"It hasn't come to that yet, Hans," I said.
Then we set to work on the laager. The waggons, of which, including my
two, there were ten, were drawn into the form of a square, and the
disselboom of each securely lashed with reims to the underworks of
that in front of it. The wheels also were locked, and the space
between the ground and the bed-planks of the waggons was stuffed with
branches of the "wait-a-bit" thorn that fortunately grew near in
considerable quantities. In this way a barrier was formed of no mean
strength as against a foe unprovided with firearms, places being left
for the men to fire from. In a little over an hour everything was done
that could be done, and a discussion arose as to the disposal of the
cattle, which had been driven up close to the camp. Some of the Boers
were anxious to get them into the laager, small as it was, or at least
as many of them as it would hold. I argued strongly against this,
pointing out that the brutes would probably be seized with panic as
soon as the firing began, and trample the defenders of the laager
under foot. As an alternative plan I suggested that some of the native
servants should drive the herd along the valley of the river till they
reached a friendly tribe or some other place of safety. Of course, if
the Zulus saw them they would be taken, but the nature of the ground
was favourable, and it was possible that they might escape if they
started at once. The proposition was promptly agreed to, and, what is
more, it was settled that one Dutchman and such of the women and
children as could travel should go with them. In half an hour's time
twelve of them started with the natives, the Boer in charge, and the
cattle. Three of my own men went with the latter, the three others and
Indaba-zimbi stopped with me in the laager.
The parting was a heart-breaking scene, upon which I do not care to
dwell. The women wept, the men groaned, and the children looked on
with scared white faces. At length they were gone, and I for one was
thankful of it. There remained in the laager seventeen white men, four
natives, the two Boer fraus who were too stout to travel, the woman in
childbed and her baby, and Hans Bother's little daughter Tota, whom he
could not make up his mind to part with. Happily her mother was
already dead. And here I may state that ten of the women and children,
together with about half of the cattle, escaped. The Zulu Impi never
saw them, and on the third day of travel they came to the fortified
place of a Griqua chief, who sheltered them on receiving half the
cattle in payment. Thence by slow degrees they journeyed down to the
Cape Colony, reaching a civilized region within a little more than a
year from the date of the attack on the laager.
The afternoon was now drawing towards evening, but still there were no
signs of the Impi. A wild hope struck us that they might have gone on
about their business. Ever since Indaba-zimbi had heard that the
regiment was supposed to belong to the Umtetwa tribe, he had, I
noticed, been plunged in deep thought. Presently he came to me and
volunteered to go out and spy upon their movements. At first Hans
Botha was against this idea, saying that he was a "verdomde swartzel"
--an accursed black creature--and would betray us. I pointed out that
there was nothing to betray. The Zulus must know where the waggons
were, but it was important for us to gain information of their
movements. So it was agreed that Indaba-zimbi should go. I told him
this. He nodded his white lock, said "All right, Macumazahn," and
started. I noticed with some surprise, however, that before he did so
he went to the waggon and fetched his "mouti," or medicine, which,
together with his other magical apparatus, he always carried in a skin
bag. I asked him why he did this. He answered that it was to make
himself invulnerable against the spears of the Zulus. I did not in the
least believe his explanation, for in my heart I was sure that he
meant to take the opportunity to make a bolt of it, leaving me to my
fate. I did not, however, interfere to prevent this, for I had an
affection for the old fellow, and sincerely hoped that he might escape
the doom which overshadowed us.
So Indaba-zimbi sauntered off, and as I looked at his retreating form
I thought I should never see it again. But I was mistaken, and little
knew that he was risking his life, not for the Boers whom he hated one
and all, but for me whom in his queer way he loved.
When he had gone we completed our preparations for defence,
strengthening the waggons and the thorns beneath with earth and
stones. Then at sunset we ate and drank as heartily as we could under
the circumstances, and when we had done, Hans Botha, as head of the
party, offered up prayer to God for our preservation. It was a
touching sight to see the burly Dutchman, his hat off, his broad face
lit up by the last rays of the setting sun, praying aloud in homely,
simple language to Him who alone could save us from the spears of a
cruel foe. I remember that the last sentence of his prayer was,
"Almighty, if we must be killed, save the women and children and my
little girl Tota from the accursed Zulus, and do not let us be
I echoed the request very earnestly in my own heart, that I know, for
in common with the others I was dreadfully afraid, and it must be
admitted not without reason.
Then the darkness came on, and we took up our appointed places each
with a rifle in his hands and peered out into the gloom in silence.
Occasionally one of the Boers would light his pipe with a brand from
the smouldering fire, and the glow of it would shine for a few moments
on his pale, anxious face.
Behind me one of the stout "fraus" lay upon the ground. Even the
terror of our position could not keep her heavy eyes from their
accustomed sleep, and she snored loudly. On the further side of her,
just by the fire, lay little Tota, wrapped in a kaross. She was asleep
also, her thumb in her mouth, and from time to time her father would
come to look at her.
So the hours wore on while we waited for the Zulus. But from my
intimate knowledge of the habits of natives I had little fear that
they would attack us at night, though, had they done so, they could
have compassed our destruction with but small loss to themselves. It
is not the habit of this people, they like to fight in the light of
day--at dawn for preference.
About eleven o'clock, just as I was nodding a little at my post, I
heard a low whistle outside the laager. Instantly I was wide awake,
and all along the line I heard the clicking of locks as the Boers
cocked their guns.
"Macumazahn," said a voice, the voice of Indaba-zimbi, "are you
"Yes," I answered.
"Then hold a light so that I can see how to climb into the laager," he
"Yah! yah! hold a light," put in one of the Boers. "I don't trust that
black schepsel of yours, Heer Quatermain; he may have some of his
countrymen with him." Accordingly a lantern was produced and held
towards the voice. There was Indaba-zimbi alone. We let him into the
laager and asked him the news.
"This is the news, white men," he said. "I waited till dark, and
creeping up to the place where the Zulus are encamped, hid myself
behind a stone and listened. They are a great regiment of Umtetwas as
Baas Botha yonder thought. They struck the spoor of the waggons three
days ago and followed it. To-night they sleep upon their spears,
to-morrow at daybreak they will attack the laager and kill everybody.
They are very bitter against the Boers, because of the battle at Blood
River and the other fights, and that is why they followed the waggons
instead of going straight north after Mosilikatze."
A kind of groan went up from the group of listening Dutchmen.
"I tell you what it is, Heeren," I said, "instead of waiting to be
butchered here like buck in a pitfall, let us go out now and fall upon
the Impi while it sleeps."
This proposition excited some discussion, but in the end only one man
could be found to vote for it. Boers as a rule lack that dash which
makes great soldiers; such forlorn hopes are not in their line, and
rather than embark upon them they prefer to take their chance in a
laager, however poor that chance may be. For my own part I firmly
believe that had my advice been taken we should have routed the Zulus.
Seventeen desperate white men, armed with guns, would have produced no
small effect upon a camp of sleeping savages. But it was not taken, so
it is no use talking about it.
After that we went back to our posts, and slowly the weary night wore
on towards the dawn. Only those who have watched under similar
circumstances while they waited the advent of almost certain and cruel
death, can know the torturing suspense of those heavy hours. But they
went somehow, and at last in the far east the sky began to lighten,
while the cold breath of dawn stirred the tilts of the waggons and
chilled me to the bone. The fat Dutchwoman behind me woke with a yawn,
then, remembering all, moaned aloud, while her teeth chattered with
cold and fear. Hans Botha went to his waggon and got a bottle of peach
brandy, from which he poured into a tin pannikin, giving us each a
stiff dram, and making attempts to be cheerful as he did so. But his
affected jocularity only seemed to depress his comrades the more.
Certainly it depressed me.
Now the light was growing, and we could see some way into the mist
which still hung densely over the river, and now--ah! there it was.
From the other side of the hill, a thousand yards or more from the
laager, came a faint humming sound. It grew and grew till it gathered
to a chant--the awful war chant of the Zulus. Soon I could catch the
words. They were simple enough:
"We shall slay, we shall slay! Is it not so, my brothers?
Our spears shall blush blood-red. Is it not so, my brothers?
For we are the sucklings of Chaka, blood is our milk, my brothers.
Awake, children of the Umtetwa, awake!
The vulture wheels, the jackal sniffs the air;
Awake, children of the Umtetwa--cry aloud, ye ringed men:
There is the foe, we shall slay them. Is it not so, my brothers?
/S'gee! S'gee! S'gee!/"
Such is a rough translation of that hateful chant which to this very
day I often seem to hear. It does not look particularly imposing on
paper, but if, while he waited to be killed, the reader could have
heard it as it rolled through the still air from the throats of nearly
three thousand warriors singing all to time, he would have found it
Now the shields began to appear over the brow of the rise. They came
by companies, each company about ninety strong. Altogether there were
thirty-one companies. I counted them. When all were over they formed
themselves into a triple line, then trotted down the slope towards us.
At a distance of a hundred and fifty yards or just out of the shot of
such guns as we had in those days, they halted and began singing
"Yonder is the kraal of the white man--a little kraal, my brothers;
We shall eat it up, we shall trample it flat, my brothers.
But where are the white man's cattle--where are his oxen, my brothers?"
This question seemed to puzzle them a good deal, for they sang the
song again and again. At last a herald came forward, a great man with
ivory rings about his arm, and, putting his hands to his mouth, called
out to us asking where our cattle were.
Hans Botha climbed on to the top of a waggon and roared out that they
might answer that question themselves.
Then the herald called again, saying that he saw the cattle had been
"We shall go and find the cattle," he said, "then we shall come and
kill you, because without cattle you must stop where you are, but if
we wait to kill you before we get the cattle, they may have trekked
too far for us to follow. And if you try to run away we shall easily
catch you white men!"
This struck me as a very odd speech, for the Zulus generally attack an
enemy first and take his cattle afterwards; still, there was a certain
amount of plausibility about it. While I was still wondering what it
all might mean, the Zulus began to run past us in companies towards
the river. Suddenly a shout announced that they had found the spoor of
the cattle, and the whole Impi of them started down it at a run till
they vanished over a rise about a quarter of a mile away.
We waited for half an hour or more, but nothing could we see of them.
"Now I wonder if the devils have really gone," said Hans Botha to me.
"It is very strange."
"I will go and see," said Indaba-zimbi, "if you will come with me,
Macumazahn. We can creep to the top of the ridge and look over."
At first I hesitated, but curiosity overcame me. I was young in those
days and weary with suspense.
"Very well," I said, "we will go."
So we started. I had my elephant gun and ammunition. Indaba-zimbi had
his medicine bag and an assegai. We crept to the top of the rise like
sportsmen stalking a buck. The slope on the other side was strewn with
rocks, among which grew bushes and tall grass.
"They must have gone down the Donga," I said to Indaba-zimbi, "I can't
see one of them."
As I spoke there came a roar of men all round me. From every rock,
from every tuft of grass rose a Zulu warrior. Before I could turn,
before I could lift a gun, I was seized and thrown.
"Hold him! Hold the White Spirit fast!" cried a voice. "Hold him, or
he will slip away like a snake. Don't hurt him, but hold him fast. Let
Indaba-zimbi walk by his side."
I turned on Indaba-zimbi. "You black devil, you have betrayed me!" I
"Wait and see, Macumazahn," he answered, coolly. "Now the fight is
going to begin."
THE END OF THE LAAGER
I gasped with wonder and rage. What did that scoundrel Indaba-zimbi
mean? Why had I been drawn out of the laager and seized, and why,
being seized, was I not instantly killed? They called me the "White
Spirit." Could it be that they were keeping me to make me into
medicine? I had heard of such things being done by Zulus and kindred
tribes, and my blood ran cold at the thought. What an end! To be
pounded up, made medicine of, and eaten!
However, I had little time for further reflection, for now the whole
Impi was pouring back from the donga and river-banks where it had
hidden while their ruse was carried out, and once more formed up on
the side of the slope. I was taken to the crest of the slope and
placed in the centre of the reserve line in the especial charge of a
huge Zulu named Bombyane, the same man who had come forward as a
herald. This brute seemed to regard me with an affectionate curiosity.
Now and again he poked me in the ribs with the handle of his assegai,
as though to assure himself that I was solid, and several times he
asked me to be so good as to prophesy how many Zulus would be killed
before the "Amaboona," as they called the Boers, were "eaten up."
At first I took no notice of him beyond scowling, but presently,
goaded into anger, I prophesied that he would be dead in an hour!
He only laughed aloud. "Oh! White Spirit," he said, "is it so? Well,
I've walked a long way from Zululand, and shall be glad of a rest."
And he got it shortly, as will be seen.
Now the Zulus began to sing again--
"We have caught the White Spirit, my brother! my brother!
Iron-Tongue whispered of him, he smelt him out, my brother.
Now the Maboona are ours--they are already dead, my brother."
So that treacherous villain Indaba-zimbi had betrayed me. Suddenly the
chief of the Impi, a grey-haired man named Sususa, held up his
assegai, and instantly there was silence. Then he spoke to some
indunas who stood near him. Instantly they ran to the right and left
down the first line, saying a word to the captain of each company as
they passed him. Presently they were at the respective ends of the
line, and simultaneously held up their spears. As they did so, with an
awful roar of "Bulala Amaboona"--"Slay the Boers," the entire line,
numbering nearly a thousand men, bounded forward like a buck startled
from its form, and rushed down upon the little laager. It was a
splendid sight to see them, their assegais glittering in the sunlight
as they rose and fell above their black shields, their war-plumes
bending back upon the wind, and their fierce faces set intently on the
foe, while the solid earth shook beneath the thunder of their rushing
feet. I thought of my poor friends the Dutchmen, and trembled. What
chance had they against so many?
Now the Zulus, running in the shape of a bow so as to wrap the laager
round on three sides, were within seventy yards, and now from every
waggon broke tongues of fire. Over rolled a number of the Umtetwa, but
the rest cared little. Forward they sped straight to the laager,
striving to force a way in. But the Boers plied them with volley after
volley, and, packed as the Zulus were, the elephant guns loaded with
slugs and small shot did frightful execution. Only one man even got on
to a waggon, and as he did so I saw a Boer woman strike him on the
head with an axe. He fell down, and slowly, amid howls of derision
from the two lines on the hill-side, the Zulus drew back.
"Let us go, father!" shouted the soldiers on the slope, among whom I
was, to their chief, who had come up. "You have sent out the little
girls to fight, and they are frightened. Let us show them the way."
"No, no!" the chief Sususa answered, laughing. "Wait a minute and the
little girls will grow to women, and women are good enough to fight
The attacking Zulus heard the mockery of their fellows, and rushed
forward again with a roar. But the Boers in the laager had found time
to load, and they met with a warm reception. Reserving their fire till
the Zulus were packed like sheep in a kraal, they loosed into them
with the roers, and the warriors fell in little heaps. But I saw that
the blood of the Umtetwas was up; they did not mean to be beaten back
this time, and the end was near. See! six men had leapt on to a
waggon, slain the man behind it, and sprung into the laager. They were
killed there, but others followed, and then I turned my head. But I
could not shut my ears to the cries of rage and death, and the
terrible /S'gee! S'gee!/ of the savages as they did their work of
murder. Once only I looked up and saw poor Hans Botha standing on a
waggon smiting down men with the butt of his rifle. The assegais shot
up towards him like tongues of steel, and when I looked again he was
I turned sick with fear and rage. But alas! what could I do? They were
all dead now, and probably my own turn was coming, only my death with
not be so swift.
The fight was ended, and the two lines on the slope broke their order,
and moved down to the laager. Presently we were there, and a dreadful
sight it was. Many of the attacking Zulus were dead--quite fifty I
should say, and at least a hundred and fifty were wounded, some of
them mortally. The chief Sususa gave an order, the dead men were
picked up and piled in a heap, while those who were slightly hurt
walked off to find some one to tie up their wounds. But the more
serious cases met with a different treatment. The chief or one of his
indunas considered each case, and if it was in any way bad, the man
was taken up and thrown into the river which ran near. None of them
offered any objection, though one poor fellow swam to shore again. He
did not stop there long, however, for they pushed him back and drowned
him by force.
The strangest case of all was that of the chief's own brother. He had
been captain of the line, and his ankle was smashed by a bullet.
Sususa came up to him, and, having examined the wound, rated him
soundly for failing in the first onslaught.
The poor fellow made the excuse that it was not his fault, as the
Boers had hit him in the first rush. His brother admitted the truth of
this, and talked to him amicably.
"Well," he said at length, offering him a pinch of snuff, "you cannot
"No, chief," said the wounded man, looking at his ankle.
"And to-morrow we must walk far," went on Sususa.
"Say, then, will you sit here on the veldt, or----" and he nodded
towards the river.
The man dropped his head on his breast for a minute as though in
thought. Presently he lifted it and looked Sususa straight in the
"My ankle pains me, my brother," he said; "I think I will go back to
Zululand, for there is the only kraal I wish to see again, even if I
creep about it like a snake."[*]
[*] The Zulus believe that after death their spirits enter into the
bodies of large green snakes, which glide about the kraals. To
kill these snakes is sacrilege.
"It is well, my brother," said the chief. "Rest softly," and having
shaken hands with him, he gave an order to one of the indunas, and
Then men came, and, supporting the wounded man, led him down to the
banks of the stream. Here, at his request, they tied a heavy stone
round his neck, and then threw him into a deep pool. I saw the whole
sad scene, and the victim never even winced. It was impossible not to
admire the extraordinary courage of the man, or to avoid being struck
with the cold-blooded cruelty of his brother the chief. And yet the
act was necessary from his point of view. The man must either die
swiftly, or be left to perish of starvation, for no Zulu force will
encumber itself with wounded men. Years of merciless warfare had so
hardened these people that they looked on death as nothing, and were,
to do them justice, as willing to meet it themselves as to inflict it
on others. When this very Impi had been sent out by the Zulu King
Dingaan, it consisted of some nine thousand men. Now it numbered less
than three; all the rest were dead. They, too, would probably soon be
dead. What did it matter? They lived by war to die in blood. It was
their natural end. "Kill till you are killed." That is the motto of
the Zulu soldier. It has the merit of simplicity.
Meanwhile the warriors were looting the waggons, including my own,
having first thrown all the dead Boers into a heap. I looked at the
heap; all of them were there, including the two stout fraus, poor
things. But I missed one body, that of Hans Botha's daughter, little
Tota. A wild hope came into my heart that she might have escaped; but
no, it was not possible. I could only pray that she was already at
Just then the great Zulu, Bombyane, who had left my side to indulge in
the congenial occupation of looting, came out of a waggon crying that
he had got the "little white one." I looked; he was carrying the child
Tota, gripping her frock in one of his huge black hands. He stalked up
to where we were, and held the child before the chief. "Is it dead,
father?" he said, with a laugh.
Now, as I could well see, the child was not dead, but had been hidden
away, and fainted with fear.
The chief glanced at it carelessly, and said--
"Find out with your kerrie."
Acting on this hint the black devil held up the child, and was about
to kill it with his knobstick. This was more than I could bear. I
sprang at him and struck him with all my force in the face, little
caring if I was speared or not. He dropped Tota on the ground.
"Ou!" he said, putting his hand to his nose, "the White Spirit has a
hard fist. Come, Spirit, I will fight you for the child."
The soldiers cheered and laughed. "Yes! yes!" they said, "let Bombyane
fight the White Spirit for the child. Let them fight with assegais."
For a moment I hesitated. What chance had I against this black giant?
But I had promised poor Hans to save the child if I could, and what
did it matter? As well die now as later. However, I had wit enough
left to make a favour of it, and intimated to the chief through
Indaba-zimbi that I was quite willing to condescend to kill Bombyane,
on condition that if I did so the child's life should be given to me.
Indaba-zimbi interpreted my words, but I noticed that he would not
look on me as he spoke, but covered his face with his hands and spoke
of me as "the ghost" or the "son of the spirit." For some reason that
I have never quite understood, the chief consented to the duel. I
fancy it was because he believed me to be more than mortal, and was
anxious to see the last of Bombyane.
"Let them fight," he said. "Give them assegais and no shields; the
child shall be to him who conquers."
"Yes! yes!" cried the soldiers. "Let them fight. Don't be afraid,
Bombyane; if he is a spirit, he's a very small one."
"I never was frightened of man or beast, and I am not going to run
away from a White Ghost," answered the redoubtable Bombyane, as he
examined the blade of his great bangwan or stabbing assegai.
Then they made a ring round us, gave me a similar assegai, and set us
some ten paces apart. I kept my face as calm as I could, and tried to
show no signs of fear, though in my heart I was terribly afraid.
Humanly speaking, my doom was on me. The giant warrior before me had
used the assegai from a child--I had no experience of the weapon.
Moreover, though I was quick and active, he must have been at least
twice as strong as I am. However, there was no help for it, so,
setting my teeth, I grasped the great spear, breathed a prayer, and
The giant stood awhile looking at me, and, as he stood, Indaba-zimbi
walked across the ring behind me, muttering as he passed, "Keep cool,
Macumazahn, and wait for him. I will make it all right."
As I had not the slightest intention of commencing the fray, I thought
this good advice, though how Indaba-zimbi could "make it all right" I
failed to see.
Heavens! how long that half-minute seemed! It happened many years ago,
but the whole scene rises up before my eyes as I write. There behind
us was the blood-stained laager, and near it lay the piles of dead;
round us was rank upon rank of plumed savages, standing in silence to
wait the issue of the duel, and in the centre stood the grey-haired
chief and general, Sususa, in all his war finery, a cloak of leopard
skin upon his shoulders. At his feet lay the senseless form of little
Tota, to my left squatted Indaba-zimbi, nodding his white lock and
muttering something--probably spells; while in front was my giant
antagonist, his spear aloft and his plumes wavering in the gentle
wind. Then over all, over grassy slope, river, and koppie, over the
waggons of the laager, the piles of dead, the dense masses of the
living, the swooning child, over all shone the bright impartial sun,
looking down like the indifferent eye of Heaven upon the loveliness of
nature and the cruelty of man. Down by the river grew thorn-trees, and
from them floated the sweet scent of the mimosa flower, and came the
sound of cooing turtle-doves. I never smell the one or hear the other
without the scene flashing into my mind again, complete in its every
Suddenly, without a sound, Bombyane shook his assegai and rushed
straight at me. I saw his huge form come; like a man in a dream, I saw
the broad spear flash on high; now he was on me! Then, prompted to it
by some providential impulse--or had the spells of Indaba-zimbi
anything to do with the matter?--I dropped to my knee, and quick as
light stretched out my spear. He drove at me: the blade passed over my
head. I felt a weight on my assegai; it was wrenched from my hand; his
great limbs knocked against me. I glanced round. Bombyane was
staggering along with head thrown back and outstretched arms from
which his spear had fallen. His spear had fallen, but the blade of
mine stood out between his shoulders--I had transfixed him. He
stopped, swung slowly round as though to look at me: then with a sigh
the giant sank down--/dead/.
For a moment there was silence; then a great cry rose--a cry of
"Bombyane is dead. The White Spirit has slain Bombyane. Kill the
wizard, kill the ghost who has slain Bombyane by witchcraft."
Instantly I was surrounded by fierce faces, and spears flashed before
my eyes. I folded my arms and stood calmly waiting the end. In a
moment it would have come, for the warriors were mad at seeing their
champion overthrown thus easily. But presently through the tumult I
heard the high, cracked voice of Indaba-zimbi.
"Stand back, you fools!" it cried; "can a spirit then be killed?"
"Spear him! spear him!" they roared in fury. "Let us see if he is a
spirit. How did a spirit slay Bombyane with an assegai? Spear him,
rain-maker, and we shall see."
"Stand back," cried Indaba-zimbi again, "and I will show you if he can
be killed. I will kill him myself, and call him back to life again
before your eyes."
"Macumazahn, trust me," he whispered in my ear in the Sisutu tongue,
which the Zulus did not understand. "Trust me; kneel on the grass
before me, and when I strike at you with the spear, roll over like one
dead; then, when you hear my voice again, get up. Trust me--it is your
Having no choice I nodded my head in assent, though I had not the
faintest idea of what he was about to do. The tumult lessened
somewhat, and once more the warriors drew back.
"Great White Spirit--Spirit of victory," said Indaba-zimbi, addressing
me aloud, and covering his eyes with his hand, "hear me and forgive
me. These children are blind with folly, and think thee mortal because
thou hast dealt death upon a mortal who dared to stand against thee.
Deign to kneel down before me and let me pierce thy heart with this
spear, then when I call upon thee, arise unhurt."
I knelt down, not because I wished to, but because I must. I had not
overmuch faith in Indaba-zimbi, and thought it probable that he was in
truth about to make an end of me. But really I was so worn out with
fears, and the horrors of the night and day had so shaken my nerves,
that I did not greatly care what befell me. When I had been kneeling
thus for about half a minute Indaba-zimbi spoke.
"People of the Umtetwa, children of T'Chaka," he said, "draw back a
little way, lest an evil fall on you, for now the air is thick with
They drew back a space, leaving us in a circle about twelve yards in
"Look on him who kneels before you," went on Indaba-zimbi, "and listen
to my words, to the words of the witch-finder, the words of the rain-
maker, Indaba-zimbi, whose fame is known to you. He seems to be a
young man, does he not? I tell you, children of the Umtetwa, he is no
man. He is the Spirit who gives victory to the white men, he it is who
gave them assegais that thunder and taught them how to slay. Why were
the Impis of Dingaan rolled back at the Blood River? Because /he/ was
there. Why did the Amaboona slay the people of Mosilikatze by the
thousand? Because /he/ was there. And so I say to you that, had I not
drawn him from the laager by my magic but three hours ago, you would
have been conquered--yes, you would have been blown away like the dust
before the wind; you would have been burnt up like the dry grass in
the winter when the fire is awake among it. Ay, because he had but
been there many of your bravest were slain in overcoming a few--a
pinch of men who could be counted on the fingers. But because I loved
you, because your chief Sususa is my half-brother--for had we not one
father?--I came to you, I warned you. Then you prayed me and I drew
the Spirit forth. But you were not satisfied when the victory was
yours, when the Spirit, of all you had taken asked but one little
thing--a white child to take away and sacrifice to himself, to make
the medicine of his magic of----"
Here I could hardly restrain myself from interrupting, but thought
better of it.
"You said him nay; you said, 'Let him fight with our bravest man, let
him fight with Bombyane the giant for the child.' And he deigned to
slay Bombyane as you have seen, and now you say, 'Slay him; he is no
spirit.' Now I will show you if he is a spirit, for I will slay him
before your eyes, and call him to life again. But you have brought
this upon yourselves. Had you believed, had you offered no insult to
the Spirit, he would have stayed with you, and you should have become
unconquerable. Now he will arise and leave you, and woe be on you if
you try to stay him.
"Now all men," he went on, "look for a space upon this assegai that I
hold up," and he lifted the bangwan of the deceased Bombyane high
above his head so that all the multitude could see it. Every eye was
fixed upon the broad bright spear. For a while he held it still, then
he moved it round and round in a circle, muttering as he did so, and
still their gaze followed it. For my part, I watched his movements
with the greatest anxiety. That assegai had already been nearer my
person than I found at all pleasant, and I had no desire to make a
further acquaintance with it. Nor, indeed, was I sure that Indaba-
zimbi was not really going to kill me. I could not understand his
proceedings at all, and at the best I did not relish playing the
/corpus vile/ to his magical experiments.
"/Look! look! look!/" he screamed.
Then suddenly the great spear flashed down towards my breast. I felt
nothing, but, to my sight, it seemed as though it had passed through
"See!" roared the Zulus. "Indaba-zimbi has speared him; the red
assegai stands out behind his back."
"Roll over, Macumazahn," Indaba-zimbi hissed in my ear, "roll over and
pretend to die--quick! quick!"
I lost no time in following these strange instructions, but falling on
to my side, threw my arms wide, kicked my legs about, and died as
artistically as I could. Presently I gave a stage shiver and lay
"See!" said the Zulus, "he is dead, the Spirit is dead. Look at the
blood upon the assegai!"
"Stand back! stand back!" cried Indaba-zimbi, "or the ghost will haunt
you. Yes, he is dead, and now I will call him back to life again.
Look!" and putting down his hand, he plucked the spear from wherever
it was fixed, and held it aloft. "The spear is red, is it not? Watch,
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