H. Rider Haggard
Part 4 out of 7
they greeted me by name and saluted by raising their broad
spears. I dismounted and waited while Anscombe, whose foot was
now quite well again, helped Heda from the cart which was led
away by the servants. Anscombe, who seemed a little oppressed,
remarked that this was a strange place.
"Yes," said Heda, "but it is magnificent. I like it."
Then her eye fell upon Zikali seated before the hut and she
"Oh! what a terrible-looking man," she murmured, "if he is a
The maid Kaatje saw him also and uttered a little cry.
"Don't be frightened, dear," said Anscombe, "he is only an old
"I suppose so," she exclaimed doubtfully, "but to me he is like
Nombe slid past us. She threw off the kaross she wore and for
the first time appeared naked except for the mucha about her
middle and her ornaments. Down she went on her hands and knees
and in this humble posture crept towards Zikali. Arriving in
front of him she touched the ground with her forehead, then
lifting her right arm, gave the salute of Makosi, to which as a
great wizard he was entitled, being supposed to be the home of
many spirits. So far as I could see he took no notice of her.
Presently she moved and squatted herself down on his right hand,
while two of his attendants appeared from behind the hut and took
their stand between him and its doorway, holding their spears
raised. About a minute later Nombe beckoned to us to approach,
and we went forward across the courtyard, I a little ahead of the
others. As we drew near Zikali opened his mouth and uttered a
loud and terrifying laugh. How well I remembered that laugh
which I had first heard at Dingaan's kraal as a boy after the
murder of Retief and the Boers.*
[See the book called _Marie,_ by H. Rider Haggard.]
"I begin to think that you are right and that this old gentleman
must be the devil," said Anscombe to Heda, then lapsed into
As I was determined not to speak first I took the opportunity to
fill my pipe. Zikali, who was watching me, although all the
while he seemed to be staring at the setting sun, made a sign.
One of the servants dashed away and immediately returned, bearing
a flaming brand which proffered to me as a pipe-lighter. Then he
departed again to bring three carved stools of red wood which he
placed for us. I looked at mine and knew it again by the
carvings. It was the same on which I had sat when first I met
Zikali. At length he spoke in his deep, slow voice.
"Many years have gone by, Macumazahn, since you made use of that
stool. They are cut in notches upon the leg you hold and you may
count them if you will."
I examined the leg. There were the notches, twenty-two or three
of them. On the other legs were more notches too numerous to
"Do not look at those, Macumazahn, for they have nothing to do
with you. They tell the years since the first of the House of
Senzangacona sat upon that stool, since Chaka sat upon it, since
Dingaan and others sat upon it, one Mameena among them. Well,
much has happened since it served you for a rest. You have
wandered far and seen strange things and lived where others would
have died because it was your lot to live, of all of which we
will talk afterwards. And now when you are grey you have come
back here, as the Opener of Roads told you you would do, bringing
with you new companions, you who have the art of making friends
even when you are old, which is one given to few men. Where are
those with whom you used to company, Macumazahn? Where are
Saduko and Mameena and the rest? All gone except the
Thing-who-should-never-have-been-born," and again he laughed
"And who it seems has never learned when to die," I remarked,
speaking for the first time.
"Just so, Macumazahn, because I cannot die until my work is
finished. But thanks be to the spirits of my fathers and to my
own that I live on to glut with vengeance, the end draws near at
last, and as I promised you in the dead days, you shall have your
share in it, Macumazahn."
He paused, then continued, still staring at the sinking sun,
which made his remarks about us, whom he did not seem to see,
"That white man with you is brave and well-born, one who loves
fighting, I think, and the maiden is fair and sweet, with a high
spirit. She is thinking to herself that I am an old wizard whom,
if she were not afraid of me, she would ask to tell her her
fortune. See, she understands and starts. Well, perhaps I will
one day. Meanwhile, here is a little bit of it. She will have
five children, of whom two will die and one will give her so much
trouble that she will wish it had died also. But who their
father will be I do not say. Nombe my child, lead away this
White One and her woman to the hut that has been made ready for
her, for she is weary and would rest. See, too, that she lacks
for nothing which we can give her who is our guest. Let the
white lord, Mauriti, accompany her to the hut and be shown that
next to it in which he and Macumazahn will sleep, so that he may
be sure that she is safe, and attend to the horses if he wills.
There is a place to tether them behind the huts, and the men who
travelled with you will help him. Afterwards, when I have spoken
with him, Macumazahn can join them that they may eat before they
These directions I translated to Anscombe, who went gladly enough
with Heda, for I think they were both afraid of the terrible old
dwarf and did not desire his company in the gathering gloom.
"The sun sinks once more, Macumazahn," he said when they were
gone, "and the air grows chill. Come with me now into my hut
where the fire burns, for I am aged and the cold strikes through
me. Also there we can be alone."
So speaking he turned and crawled into the hut, looking like a
gigantic white-headed beetle as he did so, a creature, I
remembered, to which I had once compared him in the past. I
followed, carrying the historic stool, and when he had seated
himself on his kaross on the further side of the fire, took up my
position opposite to him. This fire was fed with some kind of
root or wood that gave a thin clear flame with little or no
smoke. Over it he crouched, so closely that his great head
seemed to be almost in the flame at which he stared with
unblinking eyes as he had done at the sun, circumstances which
added to his terrifying appearance and made me think of a certain
region and its inhabitants.
"Why do you come here, Macumazahn?" he asked after studying me
for a while through that window of fire.
"Because you brought me, Zikali, partly through your messenger,
Nombe, and partly by means of a dream which she says you sent."
"Did I, Macumazahn? If so, I have forgotten it. Dreams are as
many as gnats by the water; they bite us while we sleep, but when
we wake up we forget them. Also it is foolishness to say that
one man can send a dream to another."
"Then your messenger lied, Zikali, especially as she added that
she brought it."
"Of course she lied, Macumazahn. Is she not my pupil whom I have
trained from a child? Moreover, she lied well, it would seem,
who guessed what sort of a dream you would have when you thought
of turning your steps to Zululand."
"Why do you play at sticks (i.e. fence) with me, Zikali, seeing
that neither of us are children?"
"O Macumazahn, that is where you are mistaken, seeing that both
of us, old though we be and cunning though we think ourselves,
are nothing but babes in the arms of Fate. Well, well, I will
tell you the truth, since it would be foolish to try to throw
dust into such eyes as yours. I knew that you were down in
Sekukuni's country and I was watching you--through my spies. You
have been nowhere during all these years that I was not watching
you--through my spies. For instance, that Arab-looking man named
Harut, whom first you met at a big kraal in a far country, was a
spy of mine. He has visited me lately and told me much of your
doings. No, don't ask me of him now who would talk to you of
"Does Harut still live then, and has he found a new god in place
of the Ivory Child?" I interrupted.
"Macumazahn, if he did not live, how could he visit and speak
with me? Well, I watched you there by the Oliphant's River where
you fought Sekukuni's people, and afterwards in the marble hut
where you found the old white man dead in his chair and got the
writings that you have in your pocket which concern the maiden
Heddana; also afterwards when the white man, your friend, killed
the doctor who fell into a mud hole and the Basutos stole his
cattle and wagon."
"How do you know all these things, Zikali?"
"Have I not told you--through my spies. Was there not a
half-breed driver called Footsack, and do not the Basutos come
and go between the Black Kloof and Sekukuni's town, bearing me
"Yes, Zikali, and so does the wind and so do the birds."
"True! O Macumazahn, I see that you are one who has watched
Nature and its ways as closely as my spies watch you. So I
learned these matters and knew that you were in trouble over the
death of these white men, and your friends likewise, and as you
were always dear to me, I sent that child Nombe to bring you to
me, thinking from what I knew of you that you would be more
likely to follow a woman who is both wise and good to look at,
than a man who might be neither. I told her to say to you that
you and the others would be safer here than in Natal at present.
It seems that you hearkened and came. That is all."
"Yes, I hearkened and came. But, Zikali, that is not all, for
you know well that you sent for me for your own sake, not for
"O Macumazahn, who can prevent a needle from piercing cloth when
it is pushed by a finger like yours? Your wits are too sharp for
me, Macumazahn; your eyes read through the blanket of cunning
with which I would hide my thought. You speak truly. I did send
for you for my own sake as well as for yours. I sent for you
because I wanted your counsel, Macumazahn, and because Cetewayo
the king also wants your counsel, and I wished to see you before
you saw Cetewayo. Now you have the whole truth."
"What do you want my counsel about, Zikali?"
He leaned forward till his white locks almost seemed to mingle
with the thin flame, through which he glared at me with eyes that
were fiercer than the fire.
"Macumazahn, you remember the story that I told you long ago, do
"Very well, Zikali. It was that you hate the House of
Senzangacona which has given all its kings to Zululand. First,
because you are one of the Dwandwe tribe whom the Zulus crushed
and mocked at. Secondly, because Chaka the Lion named you the
"Thing-that-should-never-have-been-born" and killed your wives,
for which crime you brought about the death of Chaka. Thirdly,
because you have matched your single wit for many years against
all the power of the royal House and yet kept your life in you,
notably when Panda threatened you in my presence at the trial of
one who has 'gone down,' and you told him to kill you if he
dared. Now you would prove that you were right by causing your
cunning to triumph over the royal House."
"True, quite true, O Macumazahn. You have a good memory,
Macumazahn, especially for anything that has to do with that
woman who has 'gone down.' I sent her down, but how was she
named, Macumazahn? I forget, I forget, whose mind being old,
falls suddenly into black pits of darkness--like her who went
He paused and we stared at each other through the veil of fire.
Then as I made no answer, he went on--
"Oh! I remember now, she was called Mameena, was she not, a name
taken from the wailing of the wind? Hark! It is wailing now."
I listened; it was, and I shivered to hear it, since but a minute
before the night had been quite still. Yes, the wind moaned and
wailed about the rocks of the Black Kloof.
"Well, enough of her. Why trouble about the dead when there are
so many to be sent to join them? Macumazahn, the hour is at
hand. The fool Cetewayo has quarrelled with your people, the
English, and on my counsel. He has sent and killed women, or
allowed others to do so, across the river in Natal. His
messengers came to me asking what he should do. I answered,
'Shall a king of the blood of Chaka fear to allow his own wicked
ones to be slain because they have stepped across a strip of
water, and still call himself king of the Zulus?' So those women
were dragged back across the water and killed; and now the
Queen's man from the Cape asks many things, great fines of
cattle, the giving up of the slayers, and that an end should be
made of the Zulu army, which is to lay down its spears and set to
hoeing like the old women in the kraals."
"And if the king refuses, what then, Zikali?"
"Then, Macumazahn, the Queen's man will declare war on the Zulus;
already he gathers his soldiers for the war."
"Will Cetewayo refuse, Zikali?"
"I do not know. His mind swings this way and that, like a pole
balanced on a rock. The ends of the pole are weighted with much
counsel, and it hangs so even that if a grasshopper lit on one
end or the other, it would turn the scale."
"And do you wish me to be that grasshopper, Zikali?"
"Who else? That is why I brought you to Zululand."
"So you wish me to counsel Cetewayo to lie down in the bed that
the English have made for him. If he seeks my advice I will do
so gladly, for so I am sure he will sleep well."
"Why do you mock me, Macumazahn? I wish you to counsel Cetewayo
to throw back his word into the teeth of the Queen's man and to
fight the English."
"And thus bring destruction on the Zulus and death to thousands
of them and of my own people, and in return gain nothing but
remorse. Do you think me mad or wicked, or both, that I should
do this thing?"
"Nay, Macumazahn, you would gain much. I could show you where
the king's cattle are hidden. The English will never find them,
and after the war you might take as many as you chose. But it
would be useless, for knowing you well, I am sure that you would
only hand them over to the British Government, as once you handed
over the cattle of Bangu, being fashioned that way by the
"Perhaps I might, but then what should I gain, Zikali?"
"This: you would so bring things about that, being broken by war,
the Zulu power could never again menace the white men, which
would be a great and good deed, Macumazahn."
"Mayhap--I am not sure. But of this I am sure, that I will nor
thrust my face into your nest of wasps, that the English hornets
may steal the honey when they are disturbed. I leave such
matters to the Queen and those who rule under her. So have done
with such talk, for you do but waste your breath, Zikali."
"It is as I guessed it would be," he answered, shaking his great
head. "You are too honest to prosper in the world, Macumazahn.
Well, I must find other means to bring the House of Cetewayo to
the end that he deserves, who has been an evil and a cruel king."
All this he said, showing neither surprise nor resentment, which
convinced me of what I had suspected throughout, that never for
an instant did he believe that I should fall in with his
suggestions and try to influence the Zulus to declare war. No,
this talk of his was but a blind; there was some deeper scheme at
work in his cunning old brain which he was hiding from me. Why
exactly had he beguiled me to Zululand? I could not divine, and
to ask him would be worse than useless, but then and there I made
up my mind that I would get away from the Black Kloof early on
the following morning, if that were possible.
He began to speak of other matters in a low, droning voice, like
a man who converses with himself. Sad, all of them, such as the
haunted death of Saduko who had betrayed his lord, the Prince
Umbelazi, because of a woman, every circumstance of which seemed
to be familiar to him.
I made no answer, who was waiting for an opportunity to leave the
hut, and did not care to dwell on these events. He ceased and
brooded for a while, then said suddenly--
"You are hungry and would eat, Macumazahn, and I who eat little
would sleep, for in sleep the multitudes of Spirits visit me,
bringing tidings from afar. Well, we have spoken together and of
that I am glad, for who knows when the chance will come again,
though I think that soon we shall meet at Ulundi, Ulundi where
Fate spreads its net. What was it I had to say to you? Ah! I
remember. There is one who is always in your thoughts and whom
you wish to see, one too who wishes to see you. You shall, you
shall in payment for the trouble you have taken in coming so far
to visit a poor old Zulu doctor whom, as you told me long ago,
you know to be nothing but a cheat."
He paused and, why I could not tell, I grew weak with fear of I
knew not what, and bethought me of flight.
"It is cold in this hut, is it not?" he went on. "Burn up, fire,
burn up!" and plunging his hand into a catskin bag of medicines
which he wore, he drew out some powder which he threw upon the
embers that instantly burst into bright flame.
"Look now, Macumazahn," he said, "look to your right."
I looked and oh Heaven! there before me with outstretched arms
and infinite yearning on her face, stood Mameena, Mameena as I
had last seen her after I gave her the promised kiss that she
used to cover her taking of the poison. For five seconds,
mayhap, she stood thus, living, wonderful, but still as death,
the fierce light showing all. Then the flame died down again and
she was gone.
I turned and next instant was out of the hut, pursued by the
terrible laughter of Zikali.
Outside in the cool night air I recovered myself, sufficiently at
any rate to be able to think, and saw at once that the thing was
an illusion for which Zikali had prepared my mind very carefully
by means of the young witch-doctoress, Nombe. He knew well
enough that this remarkable woman, Mameena, had made a deep
impression on me nearly a quarter of a century before, as she had
done upon other men with whom she had been associated. Therefore
it was probable that she would always be present to my thought,
since whatever a man forgets, he remembers the women who have
shown him favour, true or false, for Nature has decreed it thus.
Moreover, this was one to be remembered for herself, since she
was beautiful and most attractive in her wild way. Also she had
brought about a great war, causing the death of thousands, and
lastly her end might fairly be called majestic. All these
impressions Zikali had instructed Nombe to revivify by her
continual allusions to Mameena, and lastly by her pretence that
she saw her walking in front of me. Then when I was tired and
hungry, in that place which for me was so closely connected with
this woman, and in his own uncanny company, either by mesmerism
or through the action of the drug he threw upon the fire, he had
succeeded in calling up the illusion of her presence to my
charmed sight. All this was clear enough, what remained obscure
was his object.
Possibly he had none beyond an impish desire to frighten me,
which is common enough among practitioners of magic in all lands.
Well, for a little while he had succeeded, although to speak
truth I remained uncertain whether in a sense I was not more
thrilled and rejoiced than frightened. Mameena had never been so
ill to look upon, and I knew that dead or living I had nothing to
fear from her who would have walked through hell fire for my
sake, would have done anything, except perhaps sacrifice her
ambition. No, even if this were her ghost I should have been
glad to see her again.
But it was not a ghost; it was only a fancy reproduced exactly as
my mind had photographed her, almost as my eyes last saw her,
when her kiss was still warm upon my lips.
Such were my thoughts as I stood outside that hut with the cold
perspiration running down my face, for to tell the truth my
nerves were upset, although without reason. So upset were they
that when suddenly a silent-footed man appeared out of the
darkness I jumped as high as though I had set my foot on a
puff-adder, and until I recognized him by his voice as one of
Nombe's servants who had accompanied us from Swazi-Land, felt
quite alarmed. As a matter of fact he had only come to tell me
that our meal was ready and that the other "high White Ones" were
waiting for me.
He led me round the fence that encircled Zikali's dwelling-place,
to two huts that stood nearly behind it, almost against the face
of the rock which, overhanging in a curve, formed a kind of
natural roof above them. I thought they must have been built
since I visited the place, as I, who have a good memory for such
things, did not remember them. Indeed, on subsequent examination
I found that they were quite new, for the poles that formed their
uprights were still green and the grass of the thatch was
scarcely dry. It looked to me as if they had been specially
constructed for our accommodation.
In one of these huts, that to the right which was allotted to
Anscombe and myself, I found the others waiting for me, also the
food. It was good of its sort and well cooked, and we ate it by
the light of some candles that we had with us, Kaatje serving us.
Yet, although a little while before I had been desperately
hungry, now my appetite seemed to have left me and I made but a
poor meal. Heda and Anscombe also seemed oppressed and ate
sparingly. We did not talk much until Kaatje had taken away the
tin plates and gone to eat her own supper by a fire that burned
outside the hut. Then Heda broke out, saying that she was
terrified of this place and especially of its master, the old
dwarf, and felt sure that something terrible was going to happen
to her. Anscombe did his best to calm her, and I also told her
she had nothing to fear.
"If there is nothing to fear, Mr. Quatermain," she answered,
turning on me, "why do you look so frightened yourself? By your
face you might have seen a ghost."
This sudden and singularly accurate thrust, for after all I had
seen something that looked very like a ghost, startled me, and
before I could invent any soothing and appropriate fib, Nombe
appeared, saying that she had come to lead Heda to her
sleeping-place. After this further conversation was impossible
since, although Nombe knew but few words of English, she was a
great thought-reader and I feared to speak of anything secret in
her presence. So we all went out of the hut, Nombe and I drawing
back a little to the fire while the lovers said good-night to
"Nombe," I said, "the Inkosikazi Heddana is afraid. The rocks of
this kloof lie heavy on her heart; the face of the Opener of
Roads is fearful to her and his laughter grates upon her ears.
Do you understand?"
"I understand, Macumazahn, and it is as I expected. When you
yourself are frightened it is natural that she, an untried
maiden, should be frightened also in this home of spirits."
"It is men we fear, not spirits, now when all Zululand is boiling
like a pot," I replied angrily.
"Have it as you will, Macumazahn," she said, and at that moment
her quiet, searching eyes and fixed smile were hateful to me.
"At least you admit that you do fear. Well, for the lady Heddana
fear nothing. I sleep across the door of her hut, and while I
who have learned to love her, live, I say--for her fear nothing,
whatever may chance or whatever you may see or hear."
"I believe you, but, Nombe, you might die."
"Yes, I may die, but be sure of this, that when I die she will be
safe, and he who loves her also. Sleep well, Macumazahn, and do
not dream too much of what you heard and saw in Zikali's house."
Then before I could speak she turned and left me.
I did _not_ sleep well; I slept very badly. To begin with,
Maurice Anscombe, generally the most cheerful and nonchalant of
mortals with a jest for every woe, was in a most depressed
condition, and informed me of it several times, while I was
getting ready to turn in. He said he thought the place hateful
and felt as if people he could not see were looking at him (I had
the same sensation but did not mention the fact to him). When I
told him he was talking stuff, he only replied that he could not
help it, and pointed out that it was not his general habit to be
downcast in any danger, which was quite true. Now, he added, he
was enjoying much the same sensations as he did when first he saw
the Yellow-wood Swamp and got the idea into his head that he
would kill some one there, which happened in due course.
"Do you mean that you think you are going to kill somebody else?"
I asked anxiously.
"No," he answered, "I think I am going to be killed, or something
like it, probably by that accursed old villain of a witch-doctor,
who I don't believe is altogether human."
"Others have thought that before now, Anscombe, and to be plain,
I don't know that he is. He lives too much with the dead to be
like other people."
"And with Satan, to whom I expect he makes sacrifices. The truth
is I'm afraid of his playing some of his tricks with Heda. It is
for her I fear, not for myself, Allan. Oh! why on earth did you
"Because you wished it and it seemed the safest thing to do.
Look here, my boy, as usual the trouble comes through a woman.
When a man's single--you know the rest. You used to be able to
laugh at anything, but now that you are practically double you
can't laugh any more. Well, that's the common lot of man and
you've got to put up with it. Adam was pretty jolly in his
garden until Eve was started, but you know what happened
afterwards. The rest of his life was a compound of temptation,
anxiety, family troubles, remorse, hard labour with primitive
instruments, and a flaming sword behind him. If you had left
your Eve alone you would have escaped all this. But you see you
didn't, and as a matter of fact, nobody ever does who is worth
his salt, for Nature has arranged it so."
"You appear to talk with experience, Allan," he retorted blandly.
"By the way, that girl Nombe, when she isn't star-gazing or
muttering incantations, is always trying to explain to Heda some
tale about you and a lady called Mameena. I gather that you were
introduced to her in this neighbourhood where, Nombe says, you
were in the habit of kissing her in public, which sounds an odd
kind of a thing to do; all of which happened before she, Nombe,
was born. She adds, according to Kaatje's interpretation, that
you met her again this afternoon, which, as I understand the
young woman has been long dead, seems so incomprehensible that I
wish you would explain."
"With reference to Heda," I said, ignoring the rest as unworthy
of notice, "I think you may make your mind easy. Zikali knows
that she is in my charge and I don't believe that he wants to
quarrel with me. Still, as you are uncomfortable here, the best
thing to do will be to get away as early as possible to-morrow
morning, where to we can decide afterwards. And now I am going
to sleep, so please stop arguing."
As I have already hinted, my attempts in the sleep line proved a
failure, for whenever I did drop off I was pursued by bad dreams,
which resulted from lying down so soon after supper. I heard the
cries of desperate men in their mortal agony. I saw a
rain-swollen river; its waters were red with blood. I beheld a
vision of one who I knew by his dress to be a Zulu king, although
I could not see his face. He was flying and staggering with
weariness as he fled. A great hound followed him. It lifted its
head from the spoor; it was that of Zikali set upon the hound's
body, Zikali who laughed instead of baying. Then one whose
copper ornaments tinkled as she walked, entered beside me,
whispering into my ear. "A quarter of a hundred years have gone
by since we talked together in this haunted kloof," she seemed to
whisper, "and before we talk again face to face there remain to
pass of years"--
Here she ceased, though naturally I should have liked to hear the
number. But that is just where dreams break down. They tell us
only of what we know, or can evolve therefrom. Of what it is
impossible for us to know they tell us nothing--at least as a
I woke up with a start, and feeling stifled in that hot place and
aggravated by the sound of Anscombe's peaceful breathing, threw a
coat about me and, removing the door-board, crept into the air.
The night was still, the stars shone, and at a little distance
the embers of the fire still glowed. By it was seated a figure
wrapped in a kaross. The end of a piece of wood that the fire
had eaten through fell on to the red ashes and flamed up
brightly. By its light I saw that the figure was Nombe's. The
eternal smile was still upon her face, the smile which suggested
a knowledge of hidden things that from moment to moment amused
her soul. Her lips moved as though she were talking to an
invisible companion, and from time to time, like one who acts
upon directions, she took a pinch of ashes and blew them, either
towards Heda's hut or ours. Yes, she did this when all decent
young women should have been asleep, like one who keeps some
unholy, midnight assignation.
Talking with her master, Zikali, or trying to cast spells upon
us, confound her, I thought I to myself, and very silently crept
back into the hut. Afterwards it occurred to me that she might
have had another motive, namely of watching to see that none of
us left the huts.
The rest of the night went by somehow. Once, listening with all
my ears, I thought that I caught the sound of a number of men
tramping and of some low word of command, but as I heard no more,
concluded that fancy had deceived me. There I lay, puzzling over
the situation till my head ached, and wondering how we were to
get clear of the Black Kloof and Zikali, and out of Zululand
which I gathered was no place for white people at the moment
It seemed to me that the only thing was to make start for Dundee
on the Natal border, and for the rest to trust to fortune. If we
got into trouble over the death of Rodd, unpleasant as this would
be, the matter must be faced out, that was all. For even if any
witness appeared against us, the man had been killed in
self-defence whilst trying to bring about our deaths at the hands
of Basutos. I could see now that I was foolish not to have taken
this line from the first, but as I think I have already
explained, what weighed with me was the terror of involving these
young people in a scandal which might shadow all their future
lives. Also some fate inch by inch had dragged me into Zululand.
Fortunately in life there are few mistakes, and even worse than
mistakes that cannot be repaired, if the wish towards reparation
is real and earnest. Were it otherwise not many of us would
escape destruction in one form or another.
Thus I reflected until at length light flowing faintly through
the smoke-hole of the hut told me that dawn was at hand. Seeing
it I rose quietly, for I did not wish to wake Anscombe, dressed
and left the hut. My object was to find Nombe, who I hoped would
be still sitting by the fire, and send her to Zikali with a
message that I wished to speak with him at once. Glancing round
me in the grey dawn I saw that she was gone and that as yet no
one seemed to be stirring. Hearing a horse snort at a little
distance, I made my way towards the sound and in a little bay of
the overhanging cliff discovered the cart and near by our beasts
tied up with a plentiful supply of forage. Since so far as I
could judge in that uncertain light, nothing seemed to be wrong
with them except weariness, for three of them were still lying
down, I walked on to the gate of the fence which surrounded
Zikali's big hut, proposing to wait there until some one appeared
by whom I could send my message.
I reached the gate which I tried and found to be fastened on its
inner side. Then I sat down, lit my pipe and waited. It was
extraordinarily lonesome in that place; at least this was the
feeling that came over me. No doubt the sun was up behind the
Ceza Stronghold that I have mentioned, which towered high behind
me, for the sky above grew light with the red rays of its rising.
But all the vast Black Kloof with its huge fantastic rocks was
still plunged in gloom, whereof the shadows seemed to oppress my
heart, weary as I was with my wakeful night and many anxieties.
I was horribly nervous also and, as it proved, not without
reason. Presently I heard rustlings on the further side of the
fence as of people creeping about cautiously, and the sound of
whispering. Then of a sudden the gate was thrown open and
through it emerged about a dozen Zulu warriors, all of them
ringed men, who instantly surrounded me, seated there upon the
I looked at them and they looked at me for quite a long while,
since following my usual rule, I determined not to be the first
to speak. Moreover, if they meant to kill me there was no use in
speaking. At length their leader, an elderly man with thin legs,
a large stomach and a rather pleasant countenance, saluted
"Good morning, O Macumazahn."
"Good morning, O Captain, whose name and business I do not know,"
The winds know the mountain on which they blow, but the mountain
does not know the winds which it cannot see," he remarked with
poetical courtesy; a Zulu way of saying that more people are
acquainted with Tom Fool than Tom Fool is aware of.
"Perhaps, Captain; yet the mountain can feel the winds," and I
might have added, smell them, for the Kloof was close and these
Kaffirs had not recently bathed.
"I am named Goza and come on an errand from the king, O
"Indeed, Goza, and is your errand to cut my throat?"
"Not at present, Macumazahn, that is, unless you refuse to do
what the king wishes."
"And what does the king wish, Goza?"
"He wishes, Macumazahn, that you, his friend, should visit him."
"Which is just what I was on my way to do, Goza." (This was not
true, but it didn't matter, for, if a lie, in the words of the
schoolgirl's definition, is an abomination to the Lord, it is a
very present help in time of trouble.) "After we have eaten I
and my friends will accompany you to the king's kraal at Ulundi."
"Not so, Macumazahn. The king said nothing about your friends,
of whom I do not think he has ever heard any more than we have.
Moreover, if your friends are white, you will do well not to
mention them, since the order is that all white people in
Zululand who have not come here by the king's desire, are to be
killed at once, except yourself, Macumazahn."
"Is it so, Goza? Well, as you will have understood, I am quite
alone here and have no friends. Only I did not wish to travel so
"Of course we understand that you are quite alone and have no
friends, is it not so, my brothers?"
"Yes, yes, we understand," they exclaimed in chorus, one of them
adding, "and shall so report to the King."
"What kind of blankets do you like; the plain grey ones or the
white ones with the blue stripes?" I asked, desiring to confirm
them in this determination.
"The grey ones are warmer, Macumazahn, and do not show dirt so
much," answered Goza thoughtfully.
"Good, I will remember when I have the chance."
"The promise of Macumazahn is known from of old to be as a tree
that elephants cannot pull down and white ants will not eat,"
said the sententious Goza, thereby intimating his belief that
some time or other they would receive those blankets. As a
matter of fact the survivors of the party and the families of the
others did receive them after the war, for in dealing with
natives I have always made a point of trying to fulfil any
promise or engagement made for value received.
"And now," went on Goza, "will the Inkosi be pleased to start, as
we have to travel far to-day?"
"Impossible," I replied. "Before I leave I must eat, for who can
journey upon yesterday's food? Also I must saddle my horse,
collect what belongs to me, and bid farewell to my host, Zikali."
"Of meat we have plenty with us, Macumazahn, and therefore you
will not hunger on the way. Your horse and everything that is
yours shall be brought after you; since were you mounted on that
swift beast and minded to escape, how could we catch you with our
feet, and did you please to shoot us with your rifle, how could
we who have only spears, save ourselves from dying? As for the
Opener of Roads, his servants have told us that he means to sleep
all to-day that he may talk with spirits in his dreams, and
therefore it is useless for you to wait to bid him farewell.
Moreover, the orders of the king are that we should bring you to
him at once."
After this for a time there was silence, while I sat immovable
revolving the situation, and the Zulus regarded me with a
benignant interest. Goza took his snuff-box from his ear, shook
out some into the palm of his hand and, after offering it to me
in vain, inhaled it himself.
"The orders of the king are (sneeze) that we should bring you to
him alive if possible, and if not (sneeze) dead. Choose which
you will, Macumazahn. Perhaps you may prefer to go to Ulundi
dead, which would--ah! how strong is this snuff, it makes me weep
like a woman--save you the trouble of walking. But if you prefer
that we should carry you, be so good, Macumazahn, first to write
the words which will cause the grey blankets to be delivered to
us, for we know well that even your bones would desire to keep
your promise. Is it not a proverb in the land from the time of
the slaying of Bangu when you gave the cattle you had earned to
I listened and an idea occurred to me, as perhaps it had to Goza.
"I hear you, Goza," I said, "and I will start for Ulundi on my
feet--to save _you_ the trouble of carrying me. But as the times
are rough and accidents may always happen; as, too, I wish to
make sure that you should get those blankets, and it may chance
that I shall arrive there on my back, first I will write words
which, if they are delivered to the witch-doctoress Nombe, will,
sooner or later, turn into blankets."
"Write the words quickly, Macumazahn, and they will be
delivered," said Goza.
So I drew out my pocket-book and wrote--
"There is treachery afoot and I think that Zikali is at the
bottom of it. I am being carried off to Cetewayo at Ulundi, by a
party of armed Zulus who will not allow me to communicate with
you, probably by Zikali's orders. You must do the best you can
for Heda and yourself. Escape to Natal if you are able. Of
course I will help if I get the chance, but if war is about to
break out Cetewayo may kill me. I think that you can trust
Nombe; also that Zikali does not wish to work you any ill unless
he is obliged, though I have no doubt that he has trapped us here
for some dark purpose of his own. Tell him through Nombe that if
harm comes to you I will kill him if I live, and that if I die, I
will settle the score with him afterwards. God save and bless
you both. Keep up your courage and use your wits.
I tore out the sheet, folded, addressed it and presented it to
Goza, remarking that although it seemed to be but paper, it
really was fourteen blankets--if given at once to Nombe.
He nodded and handed it to one of his men, who departed in the
direction of our huts. So, thought I to myself, Nombe knows all
about this business, which means that it is being worked by
Zikali. That is why she spoke to me as she did last night.
"It is time to start, Macumazahn, and I think you told us that
you would prefer to do so on your feet," said Goza, looking
suggestively at his spear.
"I am ready," I said, rising because I must. For a moment I
contemplated the door in the kraal fence, wondering whether it
would be safe to bolt through it and take refuge with Zikali.
No, it was not safe, since Zikali sat there in his hut pulling
the strings and probably might refuse to see me. Moreover, it
was likely enough that before I could find him one of those broad
spears would find my heart. There was nothing to be done except
submit. Still I did call out in a loud voice--
"Farewell, Zikali. I leave you without a present against my will
who am being taken by soldiers to visit the king at Ulundi. When
we meet again I will talk all this matter over with you."
There was no answer, and as Goza took the opportunity to say that
he disliked the noise of shouting extremely, which sometimes made
him do things that he afterwards regretted, I became silent.
Then we departed, I in the exact centre of that guard of Zulus,
heavy-hearted and filled with fears both for myself and those I
left behind me.
Down the Black Kloof we tramped, emerging on the sunlit plain
beyond without meeting any one. A couple of miles further on we
came to a small stream where Goza announced we would halt to eat.
So we ate of cold toasted meat which one of the men produced from
a basket he carried, unpalatable food but better than nothing.
Just as we had finished I looked up and saw the soldier to whom
my note had been given. He was leading my mare that had been
saddled. On it were my large saddle-bags packed with my
belongings, also my thick overcoat, mackintosh, waterbottle, and
other articles down to a bag of tobacco, a spare pipe and a box
of wax matches. Moreover, the man carried my double-barrelled
Express rifle and a shot-gun that could be used for ball,
together with two bags of cartridges. Practically nothing
belonging to me had been forgotten.
I asked him who had collected the things. He replied the
doctress Nombe had done so and had brought him the horse saddled
to carry them. He did not know who saddled the horse as he had
seen no one but Nombe to whom he had given the writing which she
hid away. In answer to further questions, he said that Nombe had
sent me a message. It was--
"I bid farewell to Macumazahn for a little while and wish him
good fortune till we meet again. Let him not be afraid in the
battle, for even if he is hurt it will not be to death, since
those go with him whom he cannot see, and protect him with their
shields. Say to Macumazahn that I, Nombe, remember in the
morning what I said in the night and that what seems to be quite
lost is ofttimes found again. Wish him good fortune and tell him
I am sorry that I had not time to cause his spare garments to be
cleansed with water, but that I have been careful to find his
little box with the white man's medicines."
I could extract nothing more from this soldier, who was either
very stupid, or chose to appear so; nor indeed did I dare to put
direct questions about the cart and those who travelled in it.
Soon we marched again, for Goza would not allow me to ride the
horse, fearing that I should escape on it. Nor would he let me
carry either of the guns lest I should make use of them. All day
we travelled, reaching the Nongoma heights in the late afternoon.
On this beautiful spot we found a kraal situated where afterwards
a magistracy was built when we conquered the country, whence
there is one of the finest views in Zululand. There was no one
in the kraal except two old women who appeared to be deaf and
dumb for all I could get out of them. These aged dames, however,
or others who were hidden, had made ready for our arrival, since
a calf lay skinned and prepared for cooking, and by it big gourds
filled with Kaffir beer and "maas" or curdled milk.
In due course we ate of these provisions, and after we had
finished I gave Goza a stiff tot of brandy, of which Nombe, or
perhaps Anscombe, had thoughtfully sent a bottle with my other
baggage. The strong liquor made the old fellow talkative and
enabled me to get a good deal of information out of him. Thus I
learned that certain demands, as to which he was rather vague,
had been made upon Cetewayo by the English Government, and that
the King was now considering whether he should accede to them or
fight. The Great Council of the nation was summoned to attend at
Ulundi within a few days, when the matter would be decided.
Meanwhile all the regiments were being gathered, or, as we should
say, mobilized; an army, said Goza, greater than any that Chaka
had ever led.
I asked him what I had to do with this business, that I, a
peaceful traveller and an old friend of the Zulus, should be made
prisoner and dragged off to Ulundi. He replied he did not know
who was not in the council of the High Ones, but he thought that
Cetewayo the king wished to see me because I was their friend,
perhaps that he might send me as a messenger to the white people.
I asked him how the king knew that I was in the country, to which
he replied that Zikali had told him I was coming, he did not know
how, whereon he, Goza, was sent at once to fetch me. I could get
no more out of him.
I wondered if it would be worth while to make him quite drunk and
then attempt to escape on the horse, but gave up the idea. To
begin with, his men were at hand and there was not enough brandy
to make them all drunk. Also even if I succeeded in winning away
here in the heart of Zululand, it would not help Anscombe or Heda
and I should probably be cut off and killed before I could get
out of the country. So I abandoned the plan and went to sleep
Next morning we left Nongoma early in the hope of reaching Ulundi
that evening if the Ivuna and Black Umfolozi Rivers proved
fordable. As it chanced, although they were high, we were able
to cross them, I seated on the horse which two of the Zulus led.
Next we tramped for miles through the terrible Bekameezi Valley,
a hot and desolate place which the Zulus swear is haunted. So
unhealthy is this valley, which is the home of large game, that
whole kraals full of people who have tried to cultivate the rich
land, have died in it of fever, or fled away leaving their crops
unreaped. Now no man dwells there. After this we climbed a
terrible mount to the high land of Mahlabatini, and having eaten,
pushed on once more.
At length we sighted the great hill-encircled plain of Ulundi
which may be called the cradle of the Zulu race as, politically
speaking, it was destined to be its coffin. On the ridge to the
west once stood the Nobamba kraal where dwelt Senzangacona, the
father of Chaka the Lion. Nearer to the White Umfolozi was
Panda's dwelling-place, Nodwengu, which once I knew so well,
while on the slope of the hills of the north-east stood the town
of Ulundi in which Cetewayo dwelt, bathed in the lights of
Indeed it and all the vast plain were red as though with blood,
red as they were destined to be on the coming day of the last
battle of the Zulus.
It was dark when at last we reached the Ulundi kraal, for the
growing moon was obscured by clouds. Therefore I could see
nothing and was only aware, by the sound of voices and the
continual challenging, that we were passing through great numbers
of men. At length we were admitted at the eastern gate and I was
taken to a hut where I at once flung myself down to sleep, being
so weary that I could not attempt to eat. Next morning as I was
finishing my breakfast in the little fenced courtyard of this
guest-hut, Goza appeared and said that the king commanded me to
be brought to him at once, adding that I must "speak softly" to
him, as he was "very angry."
So off we went across the great cattle kraal where a regiment of
young men, two thousand strong or so, were drilling with a fierce
intensity which showed they knew that they were out for more than
exercise. About the sides of the kraal also stood hundreds of
soldiers, all of them talking and, it seemed to me, excited, for
they stamped upon the ground and even jumped into the air to give
point to their arguments. Suddenly some of them caught sight of
me, whereon a tall, truculent fellow called out--
"What does a white man at Ulundi at such a time, when even John
Dunn dare not come? Let us kill him and send his head as a
present to the English general across the Tugela. That will
settle this long talk about peace or war."
Others of a like mind echoed this kind proposal, with the result
that presently a score or so of them made a rush at me,
brandishing their sticks, since they might not carry arms in the
royal kraal. Goza did his best to keep them off, but was swept
aside like a feather, or rather knocked over, for I saw him on
his back with his thin legs in the air.
"You must climb out of this pit by yourself," he began,
addressing me in his pompous and figurative way. Then somebody
stamped on his face, and fixing his teeth in his assailant's
heel, he grew silent for a while.
The truculent blackguard, who was about six feet three high and
had a mouth like a wolf's throat, arrived in front, of me and,
bending down, roared out--
"We are going to kill you, White Man."
I had a pistol in my pocket and could perfectly well have killed
him, as I was much tempted to do. A second's reflection showed
me, however, that this would be useless, and in a sense put me in
the wrong, though when the matter came on for argument it would
interest me no more. So I just folded my arms and, looking up at
"Why, Black Man?"
"Because your face is white," he roared.
"No," I answered, "because your heart is black and your eyes are
so full of blood that you do not know Macumazahn when you see
"Wow!" said one, "it is Watcher-by-Night whom our fathers knew
before us. Leave him alone."
"No," shouted the great fellow, "I will send him to watch where
it is always night, I who keep a club for white rats," and he
brandished his stick over me.
Now my temper rose. Watching my opportunity, I stretched out my
right foot and hooked him round the ankle, at the same time
striking up with all my force. My fist caught him beneath the
chin and over he went backwards sprawling on the ground.
"Son of a dog!" I said, "if a single stick touches me, at least
you shall go first," and whipping out my revolver, I pointed it
He lay quiet enough, but how the matter would have ended I do not
know, for passion was running high, had not Goza at this moment
risen with a bleeding nose and called out--
"O Fools, would you kill the king's guest to whom the king
himself has given safe-conduct. Surely you are pots full of
beer, not men."
"Why not?" answered one. "This is the Place of Soldiers. The
king's house is yonder. Give the old jackal a start of a length
of ten assegais. If he reaches it first, he can shake hands with
his friend, the king. If not we will make him into medicine."
"Yes, yes, run for it, Jackal," clamoured the others, knocking
their shields with their sticks, as men do who would frighten a
buck, and opening out to make a road for me.
Now while all this was going on, with some kind of sixth sense I
had noted a big man whose face was shrouded by a blanket thrown
over his head, who very quietly had joined these drunken rioters,
and vaguely wondered who he might be.
"I will not run," I said slowly, "that I may be saved by the
king. Nay, I will die here, though some of you shall die first.
Go to the king, Goza, and tell him how his servants have served
his guest," and I lifted my pistol, waiting till the first stick
touched me to put a bullet through the bully on the ground.
"There is no need," said a deep voice that proceeded from the
draped man of whom I have spoken, "for the king has come to see
Then the blanket was thrown back, revealing Cetewayo grown fat
and much aged since last I saw him, but undoubtedly Cetewayo.
"Bayete!" roared the mob in salute, while some of those who had
been most active in the tumult tried to slip away.
"Let no man stir," said Cetewayo, and they stood as though they
were rooted to the ground, while I slipped my pistol back into my
"Who are you, White Man?" he asked, looking at me, "and what do
"The King should know Macumazahn," I answered, lifting my hat,
"whom Dingaan knew, whom Panda knew well, and whom the King knew
before he was a king."
"Yes, I know you," he answered, "although since we spoke together
you have shrunk like an oxhide in the sun, and time has stained
your heard white."
"And the King has grown fat like the ox on summer grass. As for
what I do here, did not the King send for me by Goza, and was I
not brought like a baby in a blanket."
"The last time we met," he went on, taking no heed of my words,
"was yonder at Nodwengu when the witch Mameena was tried for
sorcery, she who made my brother mad and brought about the great
battle, in which you fought for him with the Amawombe regiment.
Do you not remember how she kissed you, Macumazahn, and took
poison between the kisses, and how before she grew silent she
spoke evil words to me, saying that I was doomed to pull down my
own House and to die as she died, words that have haunted me ever
since and now haunt me most of all? I wish to speak to you
concerning them, Macumazahn, for it is said in the land that this
beautiful witch loved you alone and that you only knew her mind."
I made no reply, who was heartily tired of this subject of
Mameena whom no one seemed able to forget.
"Well," he went on, "we will talk of that matter alone, since it
is not natural that you should wish to speak of your dead
darlings before the world," and with a wave of the hand he put
the matter aside. Then suddenly his attitude changed. His face,
that had been thoughtful and almost soft, became fierce, his form
seemed to swell and he grew terrible.
"What was that dog doing?" he asked of Goza, pointing to the
brute whom I had knocked down and who still lay prostrate on his
back, afraid to stir.
"O King," answered Goza, "he was trying to kill Macumazahn
because he is a white man, although I told him that he was your
guest, being brought to you by the royal command. He was trying
to kill him by giving him a start of ten spears' length and
making him run to the isigodhlo (the king's house) and beating
him to death with the sticks of these men if they caught him,
which, as he is old and they are young, they must have done.
Only the Watcher-by-Night would not run; no, although he is so
small he knocked him to the earth with his fist, and there he
lies. That is all, O King."
"Rise, dog," said Cetewayo, and the man rose trembling with fear,
and, being bidden, gave his name, which I forget.
"Listen, dog," went on the king in the same cold voice. "What
Goza says is true, for I saw and heard it all with my eyes and
ears. You would have made yourself as the king. You dared to
try to kill the king's guest to whom he had given safe-conduct,
and to stain the king's doorposts with his blood, thereby
defiling his house and showing him to the white people as a
murderer of one of them whom he had promised to protect.
Macumazahn, do _you_ say how he shall die, and I will have it
"I do not wish him to die," I answered, "I think that he and
those with him were drunk. Let him go, O King."
"Aye, Macumazahn, I will let him go. See now, we are in the
centre of the cattle-kraal, and to the eastern gate is as far as
to the isigodhlo. Let this man have a start of ten spears'
length and run to the eastern gate, as he would have made
Macumazahn run to the king's house, and let his companions, those
who would have hunted Macumazahn, hunt him.
"If he wins through to the gate he can go on to the Government in
Natal and tell them of the cruelty of the Zulus. Only then, let
those who hunted him be brought before me for trial and perhaps
we shall see how _they_ can run."
Now the poor wretch caught hold of my hand, begging me to
intercede for him, but soldiers who had come up dragged him away
and, having measured the distance allowed him, set him on a mark
made upon the ground. Presently at a word off he sped like an
arrow, and after him went his friends, ten or more of them. I
think they caught him just by the gate doubling like a hare, or
so the shouts of laughter from the watching regiment told me, for
myself I would not look.
"That dog ate his own stomach," said Cetewayo grimly, thereby
indicating in native fashion that the biter had been bit or the
engineer hoist with his petard. "It is long since there has been
a war in the land, and some of these young soldiers who have
never used an assegai save to skin an ox or cut the head from a
chicken, shout too loud and leap too high. Now they will be
quieter, and while you stay here you may walk where you will in
safety, Macumazahn," he added thoughtfully.
Then dismissing the matter from his mind, as we white people
dismiss any trivial incident in a morning stroll, he talked for a
few minutes to the commanding officer of the regiment that was
drilling, who ran up to make some report to him, and walked back
towards the isigodhlo, beckoning me to follow with Goza.
After waiting for a little while outside the gate in the
surrounding fence, a body-servant ordered us to enter, which we
did to find the king seated on the shady side of his big hut
quite alone. At a sign I also sat myself down upon a stool that
had been set for me, while Goza, whose nose was still bleeding,
squatted at my side.
"Your manners are not so good as they were once, Macumazahn,"
said Cetewayo presently, "or perhaps you have been so long away
from the royal kraal that you have forgotten its customs."
I stared at him, wondering what he could mean, whereon he added
with a laugh--
"What is that in your pocket? Is it not a loaded pistol, and do
you not remember that it is death to appear before the king
armed? Now I might kill you and have no blame, although you are
my guest, for who knows that you are not sent by the English
Queen to shoot me?"
"I ask the King's pardon," I said humbly enough. "I did not
think about the pistol. Let your servants take it away."
"Perhaps it is safer in your pocket, where I saw you place it in
the cattle-kraal, Macumazahn, than in their hands, which do not
know how to hold such things. Moreover, I know that you are not
one who stabs in the dark, even when our peoples growl round each
other like two dogs about to fight, and if you were, in this
place your life would have to pay for mine. There is beer by
your side; drink and fear nothing. Did you see the Opener of
Roads, Goza, and if so, what is his answer to my message?"
"O King, I saw him," answered Goza. "The Father of the doctors,
the friend and master of the Spirits, says he has heard the
King's word, yes, that he heard it as it passed the King's lips,
and that although he is very old, he will travel to Ulundi and be
present at the Great Council of the nation which is to be
summoned on the eighth day from this, that of the full moon. Yet
he makes a prayer of the King. It is that a place may be
prepared for him, for his people and for his servants who carry
him, away from this town of Ulundi, where he may sojourn quite
alone, a decree of death being pronounced against any who attempt
to break in upon his privacy, either where he dwells or upon his
journey. These are his very words, O King:
"'I, who am the most ancient man in Zululand, dwell with the
spirits of my fathers, who will not suffer strangers to come nigh
them and who, if they are offended, will bring great woes upon
the land. Moreover, I have sworn that while there is a king in
Zululand and I draw the breath of life, never again will I set
foot in a royal kraal, because when last I did so at the slaying
of the witch, Mameena, the king who is dead thought it well to
utter threats against me, and never more will I, the Opener of
Roads, be threatened by a mortal. Therefore if the King and his
Council seek to drink of the water of my wisdom, it must be in
the place and hour of my own choosing. If this cannot be, let me
abide here in my house and let the King seek light from other
doctors, since mine shall remain as a lamp to my own heart.'"
Now I saw that these words greatly disturbed Cetewayo who feared
Zikali, as indeed did all the land.
"What does the old wizard mean?" he asked angrily. "He lives
alone like a bat in a cave and for years has been seen of none.
Yet as a bat flies forth at night, ranging far and wide in search
of prey, so does his spirit seem to fly through Zululand.
Everywhere I hear the same word. It is--'What says the Opener of
Roads?' It is--'How can aught be done unless the Opener of Roads
has declared that it shall be done, he who was here before the
Black One (Chaka) was born, he who it is said was the friend of
Inkosi Umkulu, the father of the Zulus who died before our
great-grandfathers could remember; he who has all knowledge and
is almost a spirit, if indeed he be not a spirit?' I ask you,
Macumazahn, who are his friend, what does he mean, and why should
I not kill him and be done?"
"O King," I answered, "in the days of your uncle Dingaan, when
Dingaan slew the Boers who were his guests, and thus began the
war between the White and the Black, I, who was a lad, heard the
laughter of Zikali for the first time yonder at the kraal
Ungungundhlovu, I who rode with Retief and escaped the slaughter,
but his face I did not see. Many years later, in the days of
Panda your father, I saw his face and therefore you name me his
friend. Yet this friend who drew me to visit him, perhaps by
your will, O King, has now caused me to be brought here to Ulundi
doubtless by your will, O King, but against my own, for who
wishes to come to a town where he is well-nigh slain by the first
brawler he meets in the cattle kraal?"
"Yet you were not slain, Macumazahn, and perhaps you do not know
all the story of that brawler," replied Cetewayo almost humbly,
like one who begs pardon, though the rest of what l had said he
ignored. "But still you are Zikali's friend, for between you and
him there is a rope which enabled him to draw you to Zululand,
which rope I have heard called by a woman's name. Therefore by
the spirit of that woman, which still can draw you like a rope, I
charge you, tell me--what does this old wizard mean, and why
should I not kill him and be rid of one who haunts my heart like
an evil vision of the night and, as I sometimes think, is an,
umtakati, an evil-doer, who would work ill to me and all my
House, yes, and to all my people?"
"How should I know what he means, O King?" I answered with
indignation, though in fact I could guess well enough. "As for
killing him, cannot the King kill whom he will? Yet I remember
that once I heard you father ask much the same question and of
Zikali himself, saying that he was minded to find out whether or
no he were mortal like other men. I remember also Zikali
answered that there was a saying that when the Opener of Roads
came to the end of his road, there would be no more a king of
Zululand, as there was none when first he set foot upon his road.
Now I have spoken, who am a white man and do not understand your
"I remember it also, Macumazahn, who was present at the time," he
replied heavily. "My father feared this Zikali and his father
feared him, and I have heard that the Black One himself, who
feared nothing, feared him also. And I, too, fear him, so much
that I dare not make up my mind upon a great matter without Ws
counsel, lest he should bewitch me and the nation and bring us to
He paused, then turning to Goza, asked, "Did the Opener of Roads
tell you where he wished to dwell when he comes to visit me here
"O King," answered Goza, "yonder in the hills, not further away
than an aged man can walk in the half of an hour, is a place
called the Valley of Bones, because there in the days of those
who went before the King, and even in the King's day, many
evildoers have been led to die. Zikali would dwell in this
Valley of Bones, and there and nowhere else would meet the King
and the Great Council, not in the daylight but after sunset when
the moon has risen."
"Why," said Cetewayo, starting, "the place is ill-omened and,
they say, haunted, one that no man dares to approach after the
fall of darkness for fear lest the ghosts of the dead should leap
upon him gibbering."
"Such were the words of the Opener of Roads, O King," replied
Goza. "There and nowhere else will he meet the King, and there
he demands that three huts should be built to shelter him and his
folk and stored with all things needful. If this be not granted
to him, then he refuses to visit the King or to give counsel to
"So be it then," said Cetewayo. "Send messengers to the Opener
of Roads, Goza, saying that what he desires shall be done. Let
my command go out that under pain of death none spy upon him
while he journeys hither or returns. Let the huts be built
forthwith, and when it is known that he is coming, let food in
plenty be placed in them and afterwards morning by morning taken
to the mouth of the valley. Bid him announce his arrival and the
hour he chooses for our meeting by messenger. Begone."
Goza leapt up, gave the royal salute, and retreated backwards
from the presence of the king, leaving us alone. I also rose to
depart, but Cetewayo motioned to me to be seated.
"Macumazahn," he said, "the Great Queen's man who has come to
Natal (Sir Bartle Frere) threatens me with war because two
evil-doing women were taken on the Natal side of the Tugela and
brought back to Zululand and killed by Mehlokazulu, being the
wives of his father, Sirayo, which was done without my knowledge.
Also two white men were driven away from an island in the Tugela
River by some of my soldiers."
"Is that all, O King?" I asked.
"No. The Queen's man says I kill my people without trial, which
is a lie told him by the missionaries, and that girls have been
killed also who refused to marry those to whom they were given
and ran away with other men. Also that wizards are smelt out and
slain, which happens but rarely now; all of this contrary to the
promises I made to Sompseu when he came to recognize me as king
upon my father's death, and some other such small matters."
"What is demanded if you would avoid war, O King?"
"Nothing less than this, Macumazahn: That the Zulu army should be
abolished and the soldiers allowed to marry whom and when they
please, because, says the Queen's man, he fears lest it should be
used to attack the English, as though I who love the English, as
those have done who went before me, desire to lay a finger on
them. Also that another Queen's man should be sent to dwell here
in my country, to be the eyes and ears of the English Government
and have power with me in the land; yes, and more demands which
would destroy the Zulus as a people and make me, their king, but
a petty kraal-head."
"And what will the King answer?" I asked.
"I know not what to answer. The fine of two thousand cattle I
will pay for the killing of the women. If it may be, I wish no
quarrel with the English, though gladly I would have fought the
Dutch had not Sompseu stretched out his arm over their land. But
how can I disband the army and make an end of the regiments that
have conquered in so many wars? Macumazahn, I tell you that if I
did this, in a moon I should be dead. Oh! you white people think
there is but one will in Zululand, that of the king. But it is
not so, for he is but a single man among ten thousand thousand,
who lives to work the people's wish. If he beats them with too
thick a stick, or if he brings them to shame or does what the
most of them do not wish, then where is the king? Then, I say,
he goes a road that was trodden by Chaka and Dingaan who were
before me, yes, the red road of the assegai. Therefore today, I
stand like a man between two falling cliffs. If I run towards
the English the Zulu cliff falls upon me. If I run towards my
own people, the English cliff falls upon me, and in either case I
am crushed and no more seen. Tell me then, Macumazahn, you whose
heart is honest, what must I do?"
So he spoke, wringing his hands, with tears starting to his eyes,
and upon my word, although I never liked Cetewayo as I had liked
his father, Panda, perhaps because I loved his brother, Umbelazi,
whom he killed, and had known him do many cruel deeds, my heart
bled for him.
"I cannot tell you, King," I answered, thinking that I must say
something, "but I pray you do not make war against the queen, for
she is the most mighty One in the whole earth, and though her
foot, of which you see but the little toe here in Africa, seems
small to you, yet if she is angered, it will stamp the Zulus
flat, so that they cease to be."
"Many have told me this, Macumazahn. Yes, even Uhamu, the son of
my uncle Unzibe, or, as some say, the son of his spirit, to which
his mother was married after Unzibe was dead, and others
throughout the land, and in truth I think it myself. But who can
hold the army which shouts for war? Ow! the Council must decide,
which, means perhaps that Zikali will decide, for now all hang
upon his lips.
"Then I am sorry," I exclaimed.
He looked at me shrewdly.
"Are you? So am I. Yet his counsel must be asked, and better
that it should be here in my presence than yonder secretly at the
Black Kloof. I would kill him if I dared, but I dare not, who am
sure--why I may not say--that the same sun will see his death and
He waved his hand to show that the talk on this matter was ended,
"Macumazahn, you are my prisoner for a while, but give me your
word that you will not try to escape and you may go where you
will within an hour's ride of Ulundi. I would pay you well to
stop here with me, but this I know you would never do should
there be trouble between us and your people. Therefore I promise
you that if war breaks out I will send you safely to Natal, or
perhaps sooner, as my messenger, whence doubtless you will return
to fight against me. Know that I have given orders that every
other white man or woman who is found in Zululand shall be killed
as a spy. Even John Dunn has fled or is flying, or so I hear,
John Dunn who has fed out of my hand and grown rich on my gifts.
You yourself would have been killed as you came from Swazi-Land
in your cart, had not command been sent to those chiefs through
whose lands you passed that neither they nor their people were so
much as to look at you."
Now for one intense moment I thought, as hard as ever I had done
in my life. It was evident--unless he dealing very cunningly
with me, which I did not believe--that Cetewayo knew nothing of
Anscombe and Heda, but thought that I had come into Zululand
alone. Should I or should I not tell him and beg his protection
for them? If I did so he might refuse or be unable to give it to
them far away in the midst of a savage population aflame with the
lust of war. As the incident of the morning showed, it war as
much as he could do to protect myself, although the Zulus knew me
for their friend. On the other hand no one who dwelt under
Zikali's blanket, to use the Kaffir idiom, would be touched,
because he was looked on as half divine and therefore everything
under it down to the rat in his thatch was sacred. Now Zikali by
implication and Nombe with emphasis, had promised to safeguard
these two. Surely, therefore, they would run less risk in the
Black Kloof than here at Ulundi, if ever they got so far.
All this went through my brain in an instant, with the result
that I made up my mind to say nothing. As the issue proved, this
was a terrible mistake, but who can always judge rightly? Had I
spoken out it seems to me probable that Cetewayo would have
granted my prayer and ordered that these two should be escorted
out of Zululand before hostilities began, although of course they
might have been murdered on the way. Also, for a reason that
will become evident later, it is possible that there would never
have been any hostilities. All I can plead is, that I acted for
the best and Fate would have it so. Another moment and the
chance was gone.
The gate opened and a body-servant appeared announcing that one
of the great captains with some of his officers waited to see the
king. Cetewayo made a sign, whereon the servant called out
something, and they entered, three or four of them, saluting
loudly. Seeing me they stopped and stared, whereon Cetewayo
shortly, but with much clearness, repeated to them and to an
induna who accompanied them, what he had already said to me,
namely that I was his guest, sent for by him that he might use me
as a messenger if he thought fit. He added that the man who
dared to speak a word against me, or even to look at me askance,
should pay the price with his life, however high his station, and
he commanded that the heralds should proclaim this his decree
throughout Ulundi and the neighbouring kraals. Then he held out
his hand to me in token of friendship, bidding me to "go softly"
and come to see him whenever I wished, and dismissed me in charge
of the induna, one of the captains and some soldiers.
Within five minutes of reaching my hut I heard a loud-voiced
crier proclaiming the order of the king and knew that I had no
more to fear.
THE VALLEY OF BONES
The week that followed my interview with Cetewayo was indeed a
miserable time for me. For myself, as I have said, I had no
fear, for the king's orders were strictly obeyed. Moreover, the
tale of what had happened to the brute who wished to hunt me down
in the cattle-kraal had travelled far and wide and none sought to
share his fate. My hut was inviolate and well supplied with
necessary food, as was my mare, and I could wander where I liked
and talk with whom I would. I could even ride to exercise the
horse, though this I did very sparingly and only in the immediate
neighbourhood of the town for fear of exciting suspicion or
meeting Zulus whom the king's word had not reached. Indeed on
these occasions I was always accompanied by a guard of
swift-footed and armed soldiers sent "to protect me," or more
probably to kill me if I did anything that seemed suspicious.
In the course of my rambles I met sundry natives whom I had known
in the old days, some of them a long while ago. They all seemed
glad to see me and were quite ready to talk of past times, but of
the present they would say little or nothing, except that they
were certain there would be war. Of Anscombe and Heda I could
hear nothing, and indeed did not dare to make any direct
inquiries concerning them, but several reliable men assured me
that the last missionaries and traders having departed, there was
not a white man, woman or child left in Zululand except myself.
It was "all black" they said, referring to the colour of their
people, as it had been before the time of Chaka. So I was forced
to eat out my heart with anxiety in silence, hoping and praying
that Zikali had played an honest part and sent them away safely.
Why should he not have done so, seeing that it was my presence he
had desired, not theirs? They were only taken, or rather snared,
because they were with me and could not be separated, or so I
believed at the time.
One ray of comfort I did get. About the fifth day after my
interview I saw Goza, who told me that the king's messengers were
back from the Black Kloof and had brought "a word" for me from
Zikali himself. The word was--
"Bid Goza say to Macumazahn that I was sorry not to see him to
say good-bye, because that morning I slept heavily. Bid him say
that I am glad he has seen the king, since for this purpose I
sought his presence in Zululand. Bid him say that he is to fear
nothing, and that if his heart is heavy about others whom he
loves, he should make it light again, since the Spirits have them
in their keeping as they have him, and never were they or he more
safe than they are to-day."
Now I looked at Goza and asked if I could see this messenger. He
replied, No, as he had already been despatched upon another
errand. Then I asked him if the messenger had said anything
else. He answered, Yes, one thing that he had forgotten, namely
that the writing about blankets should now be in Natal. Then
suddenly he changed the subject and asked me if I would like to
accompany him to the Valley of Bones where he was ordered to
inspect the huts which were being built for Zikali and his
people. Of course I said I should, hoping, quite without result,
that I might get something more out of him on the road.
Now this town of Cetewayo's stands, or rather stood, for it has
long been burnt, on the slope of the hills to the north-east of
the plains of Ulundi. Above it these hills grow steeper, and
deep in the recesses of one of them is the Valley of Bones.
There is nothing particularly imposing about the place; no
towering cliffs or pillars of piled granite, as at the Black
Kloof. It is just a vale cut out by water, bordered by steep
slopes on either side, and a still steeper slope strown with
large rocks at its end. Dotted here and there on these slopes
grew tall aloes that from a little distance looked like scattered
men, whereof the lower leaves were shrivelled and blackened by
veld fires. Also there were a few euphorbias, grey,
naked-looking things that end in points like fingers on a hand,
and among them some sparse thorn trees, struggling to live in an
The place has one peculiarity. Jutting into it from the hillside
is a ridge or spur, sixty or seventy yards in length by perhaps
twenty broad, that ends in a flat point of rock which stands
about forty feet above the level of the rest of the little
valley. On this ridge also grew tall aloes until near its
extremity the soil ceased, or had been washed away from the
water-worn core of rock.
It was, and no doubt still is, a desolate-looking spot, at any
rate for most of the day when owing to the shadow of the
surrounding hills, it receives but little sun. Everything about
it, especially when I was there in a time of rain, seemed dank
and miserable, although the flat floor of the kloof was clothed
with a growth of tall, coarse grass, and weeds that bore an
evil-smelling flower. Perhaps some sense of appropriateness had
caused the Zulu kings to choose this lonesome, deathly-looking
gorge as one of their execution grounds. At any rate many had
been slain here, for skulls and the larger human bones, some of
them black with age, lay all about among the grass, as they had
been scattered by hyenas and jackals. They were particularly
thick beneath and around the table-like rock that I have
Goza told me that this was because the King's Slayers made a
custom of dragging the victim along the projecting tongue to the
edge of this rock and hurling him, either dead or living, to the
ground beneath; or, in the case of witches; driving them over
after they had been blinded.
Such was the spot that Zikali had selected to abide in during his
visit to Ulundi. Certainly where privacy was an object it was
well chosen, for, as Cetewayo had said and as Goza emphasized to
me, it had the repute of being the most thoroughly haunted place
in all Zululand, with the sole exception, perhaps, of the ridge
opposite to Dingaan's old kraal where once I shot the vultures
for my life and those of my companions.* Even in the daytime
people gave it a wide berth, and at night nothing would induce
them to approach it, at any rate alone.
[*--See the book called _Marie,_ by H. Rider Haggard.]
Here to one side of and near the root of the tongue of land of
which I have spoken, the huts that Zikali had demanded for
himself and his company were being rapidly built, close to a
spring of water, by a large body of men who laboured as though
they wished to be done with their task. Also about half way up
the donga, for really it was nothing more, at a distance of
perhaps five and twenty paces from its flat point whence the
condemned were hurled, a circular space of ground had been
cleared and levelled which was large enough to accommodate fifty
or sixty men. On this space, Goza told me, the King and the
Council were to sit when they came to seek light from Zikali.
In my heart I reflected that the light they were likely to get
from him would be such as may be supposed to be thrown by hell
fire. For be it remembered I knew what these people never seemed
to understand, that Zikali was the most bitter of their enemies.
To begin with, he was of Undwandwe blood, one of the people whom
the great king Chaka had destroyed. Then this same Chaka had
robbed him of his wives and murdered his children, in revenge for
which he had plotted the slaying of Chaka, as he did that of his
brothers, Umhlangana and Dingaan, the latter of whom he involved
in a quarrel with the Boers. Subsequently he brought about the
war between the princes Cetewayo and Umbelazi, in which I played
Now I was certain that he intended to bring about another war
between the English and the Zulus, knowing well that in the end
the latter would be destroyed, and with them the royal House of
Senzangacona which he had sworn to level with the dust. Had he
not told me as much years ago, and was he one to go back upon his
word? Had he not used Mameena with her beauty and ambitions as
his tool, and when she was of no further service to him, given
her to death, as he had used scores of others and in due season
given them to death? Was I not myself perhaps one of those tools
destined to be thrown into the pit of doom when my turn came,
though in what way I could help his plots was more than I could
see, since he knew well that I should do my best to oppose him?
Oh! I had half a mind to go to Cetewayo and tell him all I knew
about Zikali, even if it involved the breaking of confidences.
But stay! Even if I were believed, this far-seeing wizard held
hostages for my good behaviour, and if I betrayed him what would
happen to those hostages? He sent me messages saying that they
were safe, suggesting that they had escaped to Natal. How was I
to know that these were true? I was utterly bewildered; I could
not guess why I had been beguiled into Zululand, and I dared not
step either this way or that for fear lest I should fall into
some pit dug by his cunning hands and, what was worse, drag down
others with me.
Moreover, was this man quite human, or perhaps an emissary of
Satan upon earth who had knowledge denied to other men and a
certain mastery over the Powers of Ill? Again I could not say.
His term of life seemed to be extraordinarily prolonged, though
none knew how old exactly he might be. Also he had a wonderful
knowledge of what was passing in the minds of others, and by his
arts, as I had experienced only the other day, could summon up
apparitions or illusions before their eyes. Further, he was
aware of events which had happened at a distance and could send
or read dreams, since otherwise how did Nombe know what I had
dreamt at Marnham's house? Lastly he could foretell the future,
as once he had done in my own case, prophecying that I should be
injured by a buffalo with a split horn.
Yet all of this might be nothing more than a mixture of keen
observation, clever spying, trickery and mesmerism. I could not
say which it was, nor can I with certainty to this hour.
Such were the thoughts that passed through my mind as I walked
back from the Vale of Bones by the side of the big-paunched Goza,
whom I caught eyeing me from time to time as a curious crow eyes
any object that has attracted his attention.
"Goza," I said at last, "do the Zulus really mean to fight the
He turned and pointed to a spot where the hills ran down into the
great plain. Here two regiments were manoeuvring. One of these
held the slopes of the hill and the other was attacking them from
the plain, so fiercely that at a distance their onslaught looked
like that of actual warfare.
"That looks like fighting, does it not, Macumazahn?" he replied.
"Yes, Goza, yet it may be but play."
"Quite so, Macumazahn. It may be fighting or it may be but play.
Am I a prophet that I should be able to say which it is? Of that
there is but one man in Zululand who knows the truth. It is he
for whom the new huts are being built up yonder."
"You think he really knows, Goza?"
"No, Macumazahn, I do not think, I am sure. He is the greatest
of all wizards, as he was when my father held on to his mother's
apron. He pulls the strings and the Great-ones of the country
dance. If he wishes war, there will be war. If he wishes peace,
there will be peace."
"And which does he wish, Goza?"
"I thought perhaps you could tell me that, Macumazahn, who, he
says, are such an old friend of his; also why he chooses to
sojourn in a dark hole among the dead instead of in the sunshine
among the living, here at Ulundi."
"Well, I cannot, Goza, since the Opener of Roads does not open
his heart to me but keeps his secrets to himself. For the rest,
those who talk with the dead may prefer to dwell among the dead."
"Now as always you speak truth, Macumazahn," said Goza, looking
at me in a way which suggested to me that he believed I spoke
anything but the truth.
Indeed I am convinced he thought that I was in the council of
Zikali and acquainted with his plans. Also I am sure he knew
that I had not come to Zululand alone, the incident of the
blankets, which I had promised to him a bribe to keep silence,
showed it, and suspected that my companions were parties to some
plot together with myself. And yet at the time I could not be
quite sure, and therefore dared not ask anything concerning them
lest thus I should reveal their existence and bring them to
As a matter of fact I need not have been anxious on this point,
since if Goza, who I may state, was a kind of secret service
officer as well as a head messenger, knew, as I think probable,
he had been commanded by Zikali to hold his tongue under penalty
of a curse. Perhaps the same was true of the soldiers who had
come with him to take me to Ulundi. The hint of Zikali was as
powerful as the word of the king, since they, like thousands of
others, believed that whereas Cetewayo could kill them, Zikali,
like Satan, could blast their spirits as well as their bodies.
But how was I to guess all these things at that time?
During the next two days nothing happened, though I heard that
there had been one if not two meetings of the Council at the
King's House during which the position of affairs was discussed.
Cetewayo I did not see, although twice he sent messengers to me
bringing gifts of food, who were charged to inquire whether I was
well and happy and if any had offered me hurt or insult. To
these I answered that I was well and unmolested but not happy,
who grew lonesome, being but a solitary white man among so many
thousands of the Zulus.
On the third morning, that of the day of the full moon, Goza came
and informed me that Zikali had arrived at the Valley of Bones
before dawn. I asked him how he, who was so old and feeble, had
walked so far. He answered that he had not walked, or so he
understood, but had been carried in a litter, or rather in two
litters, one for himself and one for his "spirit." This staggered
me even where Zikali was concerned, and I inquired what on earth
"Macumazahn, how can I tell you who only know what I myself am
told?" he exclaimed. "Such is the report that the Opener of
Roads has made himself by messengers to the king. None have seen
him, for he journeys only in the night. Moreover, when Zikali
passes all men are blind and even women's tongues grow dumb.
Perchance by 'his spirit' he means his medicine or the
witch-doctoress, Nombe, whom folks say he created, since none
have seen her father or her mother, or heard who begat her; or
perchance his snake is hid behind the mats of the second litter,
if in truth there was one."
"It may be so," I said, feeling that it was useless to pursue the
matter. "Now, Goza, I would see Zikali and at once."
"That cannot be, Macumazahn, since he has given out that he will
see no one, who rests after his journey, and the king has issued
orders that any who attempt to approach the Valley of Bones shall
die, even if they be of the royal blood. Yes, if so much as a
dog dares to draw near that place, it must die. The soldiers who
ring it round have killed one already, so strict are the orders,
also a boy who went towards it searching for a calf, which I
think a bad omen."
"Then I will send a message to him," I persisted.
"Do so," mocked Goza. "Look, yonder sails a vulture. Ask it to
take your message, for nothing else will. Be not foolish,
Macumazahn, but have patience, for to-night you shall see the
Opener of Roads when he attends the Council of the king in the
Valley of Bones. This is the order of the king--that at the
rising of the moon I lead you thither, so that you may be present
at the Council in case he wishes to ask you any questions about
the White People or to give you any message to the Government in
Natal. Therefore at sunset I will come for you. Till then,
farewell. I have business that cannot wait."
"Can I see the king?" I cried.
"Not so, Macumazahn. All to-day he makes sacrifice to the
spirits of his ancestors and must not be approached," Goza called
back as he departed.
Availing myself of the permission of the king to go where I
would, a little later in the day I walked out of the town towards
the Valley of Bones in order to ascertain for myself whether what
Goza had told me was true. So it proved, for about three hundred
yards from the mouth of the valley, which at that distance looked
like a black hole in the hills, I found soldiers stationed about
ten paces apart in a great circle which ran right up the hillside
and vanished over the crest. Strolling up to one of these, whose
face I thought I knew, I asked him if he would let me pass to see
my friend, the Opener of Roads.
The man, who was something of a humourist replied--
"Certainly if you wish, Macumazahn. That is to say, I will let
your spirit pass, but to do this, if you come one step nearer I
must first make a hole in you with my spear out of which it can
I thanked him for his information and gave him some snuff, which
he took gratefully, being bored by his long vigil. Then I asked
him how many people the great witch-doctor had with him. He said
he did not know, but he had seen a number of tall men come to the
mouth of the donga to fetch food that had been placed there.
Again I inquired if he had seen any women, whereon he replied
none, Zikali being, he understood, too old to trouble himself
about the other sex. Just then an officer, making his rounds,
came up and looked at me so sternly that I thought it well to
retreat. Evidently there was no chance of getting through that
On my way back I walked as near the fence of the King's House as
I dared, and saw witch-doctors passing in and out in their
hideous official panoply. This told me that here also Goza had
spoken the truth--the king was performing magical ceremonies,
which meant that it would be impossible to approach him. In
every direction I met with failure. The Fates were against me;
it lay over me like a spell. Indeed I grew superstitious and
began to think that Zikali had bewitched me, as he was said to
have the power to do. Well, perhaps he had, for the mere fact of
finding myself opposed by this persistent wall of difficulties
and silence convinced me that there was something behind it to be
I went back very dejected to my hut and talked to my mare which
whinnied and rubbed its nose against me, for although it was well
fed and looked after, the poor beast seemed as lonely as I was
myself. No wonder, since like myself it was separated from all
its kind and weary of inaction. After this I ate and smoked and
finally dozed, no more, for whenever I tried to go to sleep I
thought that I heard Zikali laughing at me, as mayhap he was
doing yonder in his hut.
At length that wearisome day drew towards its end. The sun began
to sink, a huge red ball of fire, now and again veiled by clouds,
for the sky was stormy. Its fierce rays, striking upon other
clouds, peopled the enormous heavens with fantastic shapes of
light which were thickest over the hills wherein was the Valley
of Bones. To my strained mind these clouds looked like battling
armies, figures of flame warring against figures of darkness.
The darkness won; no, the light broke out again and conquered it.
And see, there above them both squatted a strange black presence
crowned with fire. It might have been that of Zikali magnified
ten thousand times, and hark! it laughed with the low
reverberating voice of distant thunder.
Suddenly I felt that I was no longer alone and looking round, saw
Goza at my side.
"What do you see up there, Macumazahn, that you stare so hard?"
he asked, pointing at the sky with his stick.
"Impis fighting," I answered briefly.
"Then you must be a 'heaven-doctor,' Macumazahn, for I only see
black and red clouds. Well, it is time to go to learn whether or
no the impis will fight, for Zikali awaits us and the Council has
started already. By the way, the king says that you will do well
to put your pistol in your pocket in case any should seek to harm
you in the dark."
"It is there. But, Goza, I pray you to protect me, since in the
dark bullets fly wide, and if I began to shoot, one might hit
He smiled, making no answer, but I noticed that during the rest
of that night he was careful to keep behind me as much as
Our way led us through the town where everybody seemed to be
standing about doing nothing and speaking very little. There was
a curious air of expectancy upon their faces. They knew that the
crisis was at hand, that their nation's fate hung upon the
scales, and they watched my every look and movement as though in
them they expected to read an omen. I too watched them out of
the corners of my eyes, wondering whether I should escape from
their savage company alive. If once the blood lust broke out
among them, it seemed to me that I should have about as much
chance as a chopped fox among a pack of hungry hounds.
Once out of the town we saw no one until we came to the circle of
guards which I have already mentioned, who stood there like an
endless line of black statues. In answer to their challenge Goza
gave some complicated password in which my name occurred, whereon
they opened out and let us through. Then we marched on to the
mouth of the kloof. The place was very dark, for now the sun was
down in the west and the moon in the east was cut off from us by
the hills and would not be visible here for half an hour or more.
Presently I saw a spot of light. It was a small fire burning
near the tongue of rock which I have described.
At a distance, in front of the fire on the patch of prepared
ground, squatted a number of men, between twenty and thirty of
them, in a semicircle. They were wrapped up in karosses and
blankets, and in their centre sat a large figure on a chair of
"The King and the Great Council," whispered Goza.
One of them looked round and saw us. At some sign from the king
he rose, and against the fire I saw that he was the Prime
Minister, Umnyamana. He came to me and, with a nod of
recognition, conducted me some paces to the right where a
euphorbia tree grew among the rank herbage. Here I found a stool
placed ready on which I sat down, Goza, who of course was not of
the Council, squatting at my side in the grass.
Now I found that I was so situated that I could not well be seen
from the fire, or even from the rock above it, while I, by moving
my head a little, could see both quite clearly. After this as
the last reflection from the sunk sun faded, the darkness
increased until nothing remained visible except the fire and the
massive outline of the rock behind. The silence was complete,
for none of the Council spoke. They were so still that they
might have been dead, so still that a beetle suddenly booming
past me made me start as though it had been a bullet. The
general impression was almost mesmeric. I felt as though I were
going to sleep and yet my mind remained painfully awake, so that
I was able to think things out.
I understood clearly that the body of men to my left had come
together to decide whether there should be peace or war; that
there were divisions of opinion among them; that the king was
ready to follow the party which should prove itself the
strongest, but that the real voice of decision would speak from
behind that fire. It was the case of the Delphic Oracle over
again with a priest instead of a priestess, and what a priest!
It was evident to me also that Zikali, who knew human nature, and
especially savage human nature, had arranged all this with a view
to scenic and indeed supernatural effect. Moreover, he had done
it very well, since I knew myself that in this place and hour
words and occurrences would affect me deeply at which I should
have laughed in the sunlight and open plain. Already the Zulus
were affected, for I could hear the teeth of some of them
chattering, and Goza began to shiver at my side. He muttered
that it was cold, and lied for the donga was extremely hot and
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