H. Rider Haggard
Part 3 out of 6
meanwhile cooked and ate some food.
Presently the sun rose, and I saw that beneath us was a great stretch of
plain covered with mist, and to the north, on our right, several denser
billows of mist that marked the course of the Crocodile River.
By degrees this mist lifted, tall tops of trees appearing above it, till
at length it thinned into vapour that vanished away as the sun rose. As
I watched it idly, the woman, Jeel, crept up to me in her furtive
fashion, touched me on the shoulder and pointed to a distant group of
Looking closely at these trees, I saw between them what at first I took
for some white rocks. Further examination, as the mist cleared,
suggested to my mind, however, that they might be wagon tilts. Just
then the Zulu who understood Jeel's talk came up. I asked him as well
as I could, for at that time my knowledge of his tongue was very
imperfect, what she wished to say. He questioned her, and answered that
she desired to tell me that those were the moving houses of the Amaboona
(the Boer people), just where she had seen them nearly two moons ago.
At this tidings my heart seemed to stand still, so that for more than a
minute I could not speak. There were the wagons at last, but--oh! who
and what should I find in them? I called Hans and bade him inspan as
quickly as possible, explaining to him that yonder was Marais's camp.
"Why not let the oxen fill themselves first, baas?" he answered. "There
is no hurry, for though the wagons are there, no doubt all the people
are dead long ago."
"Do what I bid you, you ill-omened beast," I said, "instead of croaking
of death like a crow. And listen: I am going to walk forward to that
camp; you must follow with the wagons as fast as they can travel."
"No, baas, it is not safe that you should go alone. Kaffirs or wild
beasts might take you."
"Safe or not, I am going; but if you think it wise, tell two of those
Zulus to come with me."
A few minutes later I was on the road, followed by the two Kaffirs armed
with spears. In my youth I was a good runner, being strong of leg and
light in body, but I do not think that I ever covered seven miles, for
that was about the distance to the camp, in quicker time than I did that
morning. Indeed, I left those active Kaffirs so far behind that when I
approached the trees they were not in sight. Here I dropped to a walk,
as I said to myself--to get my breath. Really it was because I felt so
terrified at what I might find that I delayed the discovery just for one
minute more. While I approached, hope, however faint, still remained;
when I arrived, hope might be replaced by everlasting despair.
Now I could see that there were some shanties built behind the wagons,
doubtless those "rude houses" of which Marie had written. But I could
not see anyone moving about them, or any cattle or any smoke, or other
sign of life. Nor could I hear a single sound.
Doubtless, thought I to myself, Hans is right. They are all long dead.
My agony of suspense was replaced by an icy calm. At length I knew the
worst. It was finished--I had striven in vain. I walked through the
outlying trees and between two of the wagons. One of these I noticed,
as we do notice things at such times, was the same in which Marais had
trekked with his daughter, his favourite wagon that once I had helped to
fit with a new dissel-boom.
Before me were the rough houses built of the branches of trees, daubed
over with mud, or rather the backs of them, for they faced west. I
stood still for a moment, and as I stood thought that I heard a faint
sound as of someone reciting slowly. I crept along the end of the
outermost house and, rubbing the cold sweat from my eyes, peeped round
the corner, for it occurred to me that savages might be in possession.
Then I saw what caused the sound. A tattered, blackened, bearded man
stood at the head of a long and shallow hole saying a prayer.
It was Henri Marais, although at the time I did not recognise him, so
changed was he. A number of little mounds to the right and left of him
told me, however, that the hole was a grave. As I watched two more men
appeared, dragging between them the body of a woman, which evidently
they had not strength to carry, as its legs trailed upon the ground.
From the shape of the corpse it seemed to be that of a tall young woman,
but the features I could not see, because it was being dragged face
downwards. Also the long hair hanging from the head hid them. It was
dark hair, like Marie's. They reached the grave, and tumbled their sad
burden into it; but I--I could not stir!
At length my limbs obeyed my will. I went forward to the men and said
in a hollow voice in Dutch:
"Whom do you bury?"
"Johanna Meyer," answered someone mechanically, for they did not seem to
have taken the trouble to look at me. As I listened to those words my
heart, which had stood still waiting for the answer, beat again with a
sudden bound that I could hear in the silence.
I looked up. There, advancing from the doorway of one of the houses,
very slowly, as though overpowered by weakness, and leading by the hand
a mere skeleton of a child, who was chewing some leaves, I saw--I saw
_Marie Marais!_ She was wasted to nothing, but I could not mistake her
eyes, those great soft eyes that had grown so unnaturally large in the
white, thin face.
She too saw me and stared for one moment. Then, loosing the child, she
cast up her hands, through which the sunlight shone as through
parchment, and slowly sank to the ground.
"She has gone, too," said one of the men in an indifferent voice. "I
thought she would not last another day."
Now for the first time the man at the head of the grave turned. Lifting
his hand, he pointed to me, whereon the other two men turned also.
"God above us!" he said in a choked voice, "at last I am quite mad.
Look! there stands the spook of young Allan, the son of the English
predicant who lived near Cradock."
As soon as I heard the voice I knew the speaker.
"Oh, Mynheer Marais!" I cried, "I am no ghost, I am Allan himself come
to save you."
Marais made no answer; he seemed bewildered. But one of the men cried
"How can you save us, youngster, unless you are ready to be eaten?
Don't you see, we starve, we starve!"
"I have wagons and food," I answered.
"Allemachte! Henri," exclaimed the man, with a wild laugh, "do you hear
what your English spook says? He says that he has wagons and _food,
Then Marais burst into tears and flung himself upon my breast, nearly
knocking me down. I wrenched myself free of him and ran to Marie, who
was lying face upwards on the ground. She seemed to hear my step, for
her eyes opened and she struggled to a sitting posture.
"Is it really you, Allan, or do I dream?" she murmured.
"It is I, it is I," I answered, lifting her to her feet, for she seemed
to weigh no more than a child. Her head fell upon my shoulder, and she
too began to weep.
Still holding her, I turned to the men and said:
"Why do you starve when there, is game all about?" and I pointed to two
fat elands strolling among the trees not more than a hundred and fifty
"Can we kill game with stones?" asked one of them, "we whose powder was
all burnt a month ago. Those buck," he added, with a wild laugh, "come
here to mock us every morning; but they will not walk into our pitfalls.
They know them too well, and we have no strength to dig others."
Now when I left my wagons I had brought with me that same Purdey rifle
with which I had shot the geese in the match against Pereira, choosing
it because it was so light to carry. I held up my hand for silence, set
Marie gently on the ground, and began to steal towards the elands.
Taking what shelter I could, I got within a hundred yards of them, when
suddenly they took alarm, being frightened, in fact, by my two Zulu
servants, who were now arriving.
Off they galloped, the big bull leading, and vanished behind some trees.
I saw their line, and that they would appear again between two clumps
of bush about two hundred and fifty yards away. Hastily I raised the
full sight on the rifle, which was marked for two hundred yards, lifted
it, and waited, praying to God as I did so that my skill might not fail
The bull appeared, its head held forward, its long horns lying flat upon
the back. The shot was very long, and the beast very large to bring
down with so small a bullet. I aimed right forward--clear of it,
indeed--high too, in a line with its backbone, and pressed the trigger.
The rifle exploded, the bullet clapped, and the buck sprang forward
faster than ever. I had failed! But what was this? Suddenly the great
bull swung round and began to gallop towards us. When it was not more
than fifty yards away, it fell in a heap, rolled twice over like a shot
rabbit, and lay still. That bullet was in its heart.
The two Kaffirs appeared breathless and streaming with perspiration.
"Cut meat from the eland's flank; don't stop to skin it," I said in my
broken Zulu, helping the words out with signs.
They understood, and a minute later were at work with their assegais.
Then I looked about me. Near by lay a store of dead branches placed
there for fuel.
"Have you fire?" I asked of the skeleton Boers, for they were nothing
"Nein, nein," they answered; "our fire is dead."
I produced the tinder-box which I carried with me, and struck the flint.
Ten minutes later we had a cheerful blaze, and within three-quarters of
an hour good soup, for iron pots were not wanting--only food to put into
them. I think that for the rest of that day those poor creatures did
little else but eat, sleeping between their meals. Oh! the joy I had in
feeding them, especially after the wagons arrived, bringing with them
salt--how they longed for that salt!--sugar and coffee.
Of the original thirty-five souls, not reckoning natives, who had
accompanied Henri Marais upon his ill-fated expedition, there now
remained but nine alive at the new Maraisfontein. These were himself,
his daughter, four Prinsloos--a family of extraordinary
constitution--and three Meyers, being the husband of the poor woman I
had seen committed to the grave and two of her six children. The rest,
Hernan Pereira excepted, had died of fever and actual starvation, for
when the fever lessened with the change of the seasons, the starvation
set in. It appeared that, with the exception of a very little, they had
stored their powder in a kind of outbuilding which they constructed,
placing it at a distance for safety's sake. When most of the surviving
men were away, however, a grass fire set light to this outbuilding and
all the powder blew up.
After this, for a while they supplied the camp with food by the help of
such ammunition as remained to them. When that failed they dug pits in
which to catch game. In time the buck came to know of these pits, so
that they snared no more.
Then, as the "biltong" or sun-dried meat they had made was all consumed,
they were driven to every desperate expedient that is known to the
starving, such as the digging up of bulbs, the boiling of grass, twigs
and leaves, the catching of lizards, and so forth. I believe that they
actually ate caterpillars and earthworms. But after their last fire
went out through the neglect of the wretched Kaffir who was left to
watch it, and having no tinder, they failed to relight it by friction,
of course even this food failed them. When I arrived they had
practically been three days without anything to eat except green leaves
and grass, such as I saw the child chewing. In another seventy hours
doubtless every one of them would have been dead.
Well, they recovered rapidly enough, for those who had survived its
ravages were evidently now impervious to fever. Who can tell the joy
that I experienced as I watched Marie returning from the very brink of
the grave to a state of full and lovely womanhood? After all, we were
not so far away from the primitive conditions of humanity, when the
first duty of man was to feed his women and his children, and I think
that something of that instinct remains with us. At least, I know I
never experienced a greater pleasure than I did, when the woman I loved,
the poor, starving woman, ate and ate of the food which _I_ was able to
give her--she who for weeks had existed upon locusts and herbs.
For the first few days we did not talk much except of the immediate
necessities of the hour, which occupied all our thoughts. Afterwards,
when Marais and his daughter were strong enough to bear it, we had some
conversation. He began by asking how I came to find them.
I replied, through Marie's letter, which, it appeared, he knew nothing
of, for he had forbidden her to write to me.
"It seems fortunate that you were disobeyed, mynheer," I said, to which
he answered nothing.
Then I told the tale of the arrival of that letter at the Mission
Station in the Cape Colony by the hand of a wandering smous, and of my
desperate ride upon the swift mare to Port Elizabeth, where I just
succeeded in catching the brig Seven Stars before she sailed. Also I
told them of the lucky chances that enabled me to buy the wagons and
find a guide to their camp, reaching it but a few hours before it was
"It was a great deed," said Henri Marais, taking the pipe from his
mouth, for I had brought tobacco among my stores. "But tell me, Allan,
why did you do it for the sake of one who has not treated you kindly?"
"I did it," I answered, "for the sake of one who has always treated me
kindly," and I nodded towards Marie, who was engaged in washing up the
cooking pots at a distance.
"I suppose so, Allan; but you know she is affianced to another."
"I know that she is affianced to me, and to no other," I answered
warmly, adding, "And pray where is this other? If he lives I do not see
"No," replied Marais in a curious voice. "The truth is, Allan, that
Hernan Pereira left us about a fortnight before you came. One horse
remained, which was his, and with two Hottentots, who were also his
servants, he rode back upon the track by which we came, to try to find
help. Since then we have heard nothing of him."
"Indeed; and how did he propose to get food on the way?"
"He had a rifle, or rather they all three had rifles, and about a
hundred charges between them, which escaped the fire."
"With a hundred charges of powder carefully used your camp would have
been fed for a month, or perhaps two months," I remarked. "Yet he went
away with all of them--to find help?"
"That is so, Allan. We begged him to stay, but he would not; and, after
all, the charges were his own property. No doubt he thought he acted
for the best, especially as Marie would have none of him," Marais added
"Well," I replied, "it seems that it is I who have brought you the help,
and not Pereira. Also, by the way, mynheer, I have brought you the
money my father collected on your account, and some #500 of my own, or
what is left of it, in goods and gold. Moreover, Marie does not refuse
me. Say, therefore, to which of us does she belong?"
"It would seem that it should be to you," he answered slowly, "since you
have shown yourself so faithful, and were it not for you she would now
be lying yonder," and he pointed to the little heaps that covered the
bones of most of the expedition. "Yes, yes, it would seem that it
should be to you, who twice have saved her life and once have saved mine
Now I suppose that he saw on my face the joy which I could not conceal,
for he added hastily: "Yet, Allan, years ago I swore on the Book before
God that never with my will should my daughter marry an Englishman, even
if be were a good Englishman. Also, just before we left the Colony, I
swore again, in her presence and that of Hernan Pereira, that I would
not give her to you, so I cannot break my oath, can I? If I did, the
good God would be avenged upon me."
"Some might think that when I came here the good God was in the way of
being avenged upon you for the keeping of that evil oath," I answered
bitterly, glancing, in my turn, at the graves.
"Yes, they might, Allan," he replied without anger, for all his troubles
had induced a reasonable frame of mind in him--for a while. "Yet, His
ways are past finding out, are they not?"
Now my anger broke out, and, rising, I said:
"Do you mean, Mynheer Marais, that notwithstanding the love between us,
which you know is true and deep, and notwithstanding that I alone have
been able to drag both of you and the others out of the claws of death,
I am never to marry Marie? Do you mean that she is to be given to a
braggart who deserted her in her need?"
"And what if I do mean that, Allan?"
"This: although I am still young, as you know well I am a man who can
think and act for himself. Also, I am your master here--I have cattle
and guns and servants. Well, I will take Marie, and if any should try
to stop me, I know how to protect myself and her."
This bold speech did not seem to surprise him in the least or to make
him think the worse of me. He looked at me for a while, pulling his
long beard in a meditative fashion, then answered:
"I dare say that at your age I should have played the same game, and it
is true that you have things in your fist. But, much as she may love
you, Marie would not go away with you and leave her father to starve."
"Then you can come with us as my father-in-law, Mynheer Marais. At any
rate, it is certain that I will not go away and leave her here to
Now I think that something which he saw in my eye showed him that I was
in earnest. At least, he changed his tone and began to argue, almost to
"Be reasonable, Allan," he said. "How can you marry Marie when there is
no predicant to marry you? Surely, if you love her so much, you would
not pour mud upon her name, even in this wilderness?"
"She might not think it mud," I replied. "Men and women have been
married without the help of priests before now, by open declaration and
public report, for instance, and their children held to be born in
wedlock. I know that, for I have read of the law of marriage."
"It may be, Allan, though I hold no marriage good unless the holy words
are said. But why do you not let me come to the end of my story?"
"Because I thought it was ended, Mynheer Marais."
"Not so, Allan. I told you that I had sworn that she should never marry
you with my will. But when she is of age, which will be in some six
months' time, my will counts no longer, seeing that then she is a free
woman who can dispose of herself. Also I shall be clear of my oath, for
no harm will come to my soul if that happens which I cannot help. Now
are you satisfied?"
"I don't know," I answered doubtfully, for somehow all Marais's
casuistry, which I thought contemptible, did not convince me that he was
sincere. "I don't know," I repeated. "Much may chance in six months."
"Of course, Allan. For instance, Marie might change her mind and marry
"Or I might not be there to marry, mynheer. Accidents sometimes happen
to men who are not wanted, especially in wild countries or, for the
matter of that, to those who are."
"Allemachte! Allan, you do not mean that I--"
"No, mynheer," I interrupted; "but there are other people in the world
besides yourself--Hernan Pereira, for example, if he lives. Still, I am
not the only one concerned in this matter. There is Marie yonder.
Shall I call her?"
He nodded, preferring probably that I should speak to her in his
presence rather than alone.
So I called Marie, who was watching our talk somewhat anxiously while
she went about her tasks. She came at once, a very different Marie to
the starving girl of a while before, for although she was still thin and
drawn, her youth and beauty were returning to her fast under the
influences of good food and happiness.
"What is it, Allan?" she asked gently. I told her all, repeating our
conversation and the arguments which had been used on either side word
for word, as nearly as I could remember them.
"Is that right?" I asked of Marais when I had finished.
"It is right; you have a good memory," he answered.
"Very well. And now what have you to say, Marie?"
"I, dear Allan? Why, this: My life belongs to you, who have twice saved
this body of mine from death, as my love and spirit belong to you.
Therefore, I should have thought it no shame if I had been given to you
here and now before the people, and afterwards married by a clergyman
when we found one. But my father has sworn an oath which weighs upon
his mind, and he has shown you that within six months--a short six
months--that oath dies of itself, since, by the law, he can no longer
control me. So, Allan, as I would not grieve him, or perhaps lead him
to say and do what is foolish, I think it would be well that we should
wait for those six months, if, on his part, he promises that he will
then do nothing to prevent our marriage."
"Ja, ja, I promise that then I will do nothing to prevent your
marriage," answered Marais eagerly, like one who has suddenly seen some
loophole of escape from an impossible position, adding, as though to
himself, "But God may do something to prevent it, for all that."
"We are every one of us in the hand of God," she replied in her sweet
voice. "Allan, you hear, my father has promised?"
"Yes, Marie, he has promised--after a fashion," I replied gloomily, for
somehow his words struck a chill through me.
"I have promised, Allan, and I will keep my promise to you, as I have
kept my oath to God, attempting to work you no harm, and leaving all in
His hands. But you, on your part, must promise also that, till she is
of age, you will not take Marie as a wife--no, not if you were left
alone together in the veld. You must be as people who are affianced to
each other, no more."
So, having no choice, I promised, though with a heavy heart. Then, I
suppose in order to make this solemn contract public, Marais called the
surviving Boers, who were loitering near, and repeated to them the terms
of the contract that we had made.
The men laughed and shrugged their shoulders. But Vrouw Prinsloo, I
remember, said outright that she thought the business foolish, since if
anyone had a right to Marie, I had, wherever I chose to take her. She
added that, as for Hernan Pereira, he was a "sneak and a stinkcat," who
had gone off to save his own life, and left them all to die. If _she_
were Marie, should they meet again, she would greet him with a pailful
of dirty water in the face, as she herself meant to do if she got the
Vrouw Prinsloo, it will be observed, was a very outspoken woman and, I
may add, an honest one.
So this contract was settled. I have set it out at length because of
its importance in our story. But now I wish--ah! how I wish that I had
insisted upon being married to Marie then and there. If I had done so,
I think I should have carried my point, for I was the "master of many
legions" in the shape of cattle, food and ammunition, and rather than
risk a quarrel with me, the other Boers would have forced Marais to give
way. But we were young and inexperienced; also it was fated otherwise.
Who can question the decrees of Fate written immutably, perhaps long
before we were born, in the everlasting book of human destinies?
Yet, when I had shaken off my first fears and doubts, my lot and Marie's
were very happy, a perfect paradise, indeed, compared with what we had
gone through during that bitter time of silence and separation. At any
rate, we were acknowledged to be affianced by the little society in
which we lived, including her father, and allowed to be as much alone
together as we liked. This meant that we met at dawn only to separate
at nightfall, for, having little or no artificial light, we went to rest
with the sun, or shortly after it. Sweet, indeed, was that
companionship of perfect trust and love; so sweet, that even after all
these years I do not care to dwell upon the holy memory of those blessed
So soon as the surviving Boers began to recover by the help of my stores
and medicines and the meat which I shot in plenty, of course great
discussions arose as to our future plans. First it was suggested that
we should trek to Lorenzo Marquez, and wait for a ship there to take us
down to Natal, for none of them would hear of returning beggared to the
Cape to tell the story of their failure and dreadful bereavements. I
pointed out, however, that no ship might come for a long while, perhaps
for one or two years, and that Lorenzo Marquez and its neighborhood
seemed to be a poisonous place to live in!
The next idea was that we should stop where we were, one which I rather
welcomed, as I should have been glad to abide in peace with Marie until
the six months of probation had gone by.
However, in the end this was rejected for many good reasons. Thus half
a score of white people, of whom four were members of a single family,
were certainly not strong enough to form a settlement, especially as the
surrounding natives might become actively hostile at any moment. Again,
the worst fever season was approaching, in which we should very possibly
all be carried off. Further, we had no breeding cattle or horses, which
would not live in this veld, and only the ammunition and goods that I
had brought with me.
So it was clear that but one thing remained to be done, namely, to trek
back to what is now the Transvaal territory, or, better still, to Natal,
for this route would enable us to avoid the worst of the mountains.
There we might join some other party of the emigrant Boers--for choice,
that of Retief, of whose arrival over the Drakensberg I was able to tell
That point settled, we made our preparations. To begin with, I had only
enough oxen for two wagons, whereas, even if we abandoned the rest of
them, we must take at least four. Therefore, through my Kaffirs, I
opened negotiations with the surrounding natives, who, when they heard
that I was not a Boer and was prepared to pay for what I bought, soon
expressed a willingness to trade. Indeed, very shortly we had quite a
market established, to which cattle were brought that I bargained for
and purchased, giving cloth, knives, hoes, and the usual Kaffir goods in
payment for the same.
Also, they brought mealies and other corn; and oh! the delight with
which those poor people, who for months and months had existed upon
nothing but flesh-meat, ate of this farinaceous food. Never shall I
forget seeing Marie and the surviving children partake of their first
meal of porridge, and washing the sticky stuff down with draughts of
fresh, sugared milk, for with the oxen I had succeeded in obtaining two
good cows. It is enough to say that this change of diet soon completely
re-established their health, and made Marie more beautiful than she had
ever been before.
Having got the oxen, the next thing was to break them to the yoke; for,
although docile creatures enough, they had never even seen a wagon.
This proved a long and difficult process, involving many trial trips;
moreover, the selected wagons, one of which had belonged to Pereira,
must be mended with very insufficient tools and without the help of a
forge. Indeed, had it not chanced that Hans, the Hottentot, had worked
for a wagon-maker at some indefinite period of his career, I do not
think that we could have managed the job at all.
It was while we were busy with these tasks that some news arrived which
was unpleasing enough to everyone, except perhaps to Henri Marais. I
was engaged on a certain evening in trying to make sixteen of the Kaffir
cattle pull together in the yoke, instead of tying themselves into a
double knot and over-setting the wagon, when Hans, who was helping me,
suddenly called out:
"Look! baas, here comes one of my brothers," or, in other words, a
Following the line of his hand, I saw a thin and wretched creature, clad
only in some rags and the remains of a big hat with the crown out,
staggering towards us between the trees.
"Why!" exclaimed Marie in a startled voice, for, as usual, she was at my
side, "it is Klaus, one of my cousin Hernan's after-riders."
"So long as it is not your cousin Hernan himself, I do not care," I
Presently the poor, starved "Totty" arrived, and throwing himself down,
begged for food. A cold shoulder of buck was given to him, which he
devoured, holding it in both hands and tearing off great lumps of flesh
with his teeth like a wild beast.
When at last he was satisfied, Marais, who had come up with the other
Boers, asked him whence he came and what was his news of his master.
"Out of the bush," he answered, "and my news of the baas is that he is
dead. At least, I left him so ill that I suppose he must be dead by
"Why did you leave him if he was ill?" asked Marais.
"Because he told me to, baas, that I might find help, for we were
starving, having fired our last bullet."
"Is he alone, then?"
"Yes, yes, except for the wild beasts and the vultures. A lion ate the
other man, his servant, a long while ago."
"How far is he off?" asked Marais again.
"Oh, baas, about five hours' journey on horseback on a good road." (This
would be some thirty-five miles.)
Then he told this story: Pereira with his two Hottentot servants, he
mounted and they on foot, had traversed about a hundred miles of rough
country in safety, when at night a lion killed and carried off one of
the Hottentots, and frightened away the horse, which was never seen
again. Pereira and Klaus proceeded on foot till they came to a great
river, on the banks of which they met some Kaffirs, who appear to have
been Zulus on outpost duty. These men demanded their guns and
ammunition to take to their king, and, on Pereira refusing to give them
up, said that they would kill them both in the morning after they had
made him instruct them in the use of the guns by beating him with
In the night a storm came on, under cover of which Pereira and Klaus
escaped. As they dared not go forward for fear lest they should fall
into the hands of the Zulus, they fled back northwards, running all
night, only to find in the morning that they had lost their way in the
bush. This had happened nearly a month before--or, at any rate, Klaus
thought so, for no doubt the days went very slowly--during which time
they had wandered about, trying to shape some sort of course by the sun
with the object of returning to the camp. They met no man, black or
white, and supported themselves upon game, which they shot and ate raw
or sun-dried, till at length all their powder was done and they threw
away their heavy roers, which they could no longer carry.
It was at this juncture that from the top of a tall tree Klaus saw a
certain koppie a long way off, which he recognised as being within
fifteen miles or so of Marais's camp. By now they were starving, only
Klaus was the stronger of the two, for he found and devoured some
carrion, a dead hyena I think it was. Pereira also tried to eat this
horrible food, but, not having the stomach of a Hottentot, the first
mouthful of it made him dreadfully ill. They sought shelter in a cave
on the bank of a stream, where grew water-cresses and other herbs, such
as wild asparagus. Here it was that Pereira told Klaus to try to make
his way back to the camp, and, should he find anyone alive there, to
bring him succour.
So Klaus went, taking the remaining leg of the hyena with him, and on
the afternoon of the second day arrived as has been told.
VROUW PRINSLOO SPEAKS HER MIND
Now, when the Hottentot's story was finished a discussion arose. Marais
said that someone must go to see whether his nephew still lived, to
which the other Boers replied "Ja" in an indifferent voice. Then the
Vrouw Prinsloo took up her parable.
She remarked, as she had done before, that in her judgment Hernan
Pereira was "a stinkcat and a sneak," who had tried to desert them in
their trouble, and by the judgment of a just God had got into trouble
himself. Personally, she wished that the lion had taken him instead of
the worthy Hottentot, although it gave her a higher opinion of lions to
conclude that it had not done so, because if it did it thought it would
have been poisoned. Well, her view was that it would be just as well to
let that traitor lie upon the bed which he had made. Moreover,
doubtless by now he was dead, so what was the good of bothering about
These sentiments appeared to appeal to the Boers, for they remarked:
"Ja, what is the good?"
"Is it right," asked Marais, "to abandon a comrade in misfortune, one of
our own blood?"
"Mein Gott!" replied Vrouw Prinsloo; "he is no blood of mine, the
evil-odoured Portuguee. But I admit he is of yours, Heer Marais, being
your sister's son, so it is evident that you should be the one to go to
seek after him."
"That seems to be so, Vrouw Prinsloo," said Marais in his meditative
manner; "yet I must remember that I have Marie to look after."
"Ach! and so had he, too, until he remembered his own skin, and went off
with the only horse and all the powder, leaving her and the rest of us
to starve. Well, you won't go, and Prinsloo won't go, nor my boy
either, for I'll see to that; so Meyer must go."
"Nein, nein, good vrouw," answered Meyer, "I have those children that
are left to me to consider."
"Then," exclaimed Vrouw Prinsloo triumphantly, "nobody will go, so let
us forget this stinkcat, as he forgot us."
"Does it seem right," asked Marais again, "that a Christian man should
be left to starve in the wilderness?" and he looked at me.
"Tell me, Heer Marais," I remarked, answering the look, "why should I of
all people go to look for the Heer Pereira, one who has not dealt too
well with me?"
"I do not know, Allan. Yet the Book tells us to turn the other cheek
and to forget injuries. Still, it is for you to judge, remembering that
we must answer for all things at the last day, and not for me. I only
know that were I your age and not burdened with a daughter to watch
over, _I_ should go."
"Why should you talk to me thus?" I asked with indignation. "Why do you
not go yourself, seeing that I am quite ready to look after Marie?"
(Here the Vrouw Prinsloo and the other Boers tittered.) "And why do you
not address your remarks to these other heeren instead of to me, seeing
that they are the friends and trek-companions of your nephew?"
At this point the male Prinsloos and Meyer found that they had business
"It is for you to judge, yet remember, Allan, that it is an awful thing
to appear before our Maker with the blood of a fellow creature upon our
hands. But if you and these other hard-hearted men will not go, I at my
age, and weak as I am with all that I have suffered, will go myself."
"Good," said Vrouw Prinsloo; "that is the best way out of it. You will
soon get sick of the journey, Heer Marais, and we shall see no more of
Marais rose in a resigned fashion, for he never deigned to argue with
Vrouw Prinsloo, who was too many for him, and said:
"Farewell, Marie. If I do not return, you will remember my wishes, and
my will may be found between the first leaves of our Holy Book. Get up,
Klaus, and guide me to your master," and he administered a somewhat
vicious kick to the gorged and prostrate Hottentot.
Now Marie, who all this while had stood silent, touched me on the
shoulder and said:
"Allan, is it well that my father should go alone? Will you not
"Of course," I answered cheerfully; "on such a business there should be
two, and some Kaffirs also to carry the man, if he still lives."
Now for the end of the story. As the Hottentot Klaus was too exhausted
to move that night, it was arranged that we should start at dawn.
Accordingly, I rose before the light, and was just finishing my
breakfast when Marie appeared at the wagon in which I slept. I got up
to greet her, and, there being no one in sight, we kissed each other
"Have done, my heart," she said, pushing me away. "I come to you from
my father, who is sick in his stomach and would see you."
"Which means that I shall have to go after your cousin alone," I replied
with indignant emphasis.
She shook her head, and led me to the little shanty in which she slept.
Here by the growing light, that entered through the doorway for it had
no window, I perceived Marais seated upon a wooden stool with his hands
pressed on his middle and groaning.
"Good morning, Allan," he said in a melancholy voice; "I am ill, very
ill, something that I have eaten perhaps, or a chill in the stomach,
such as often precedes fever or dysentery."
"Perhaps you will get better as you walk, mynheer," I suggested, for, to
tell the truth, I misdoubted me of this chill, and knew that he had
eaten nothing but what was quite wholesome.
"Walk! God alone knows how I can walk with something gripping my inside
like a wagon-maker's vice. Yet I will try, for it is impossible to
leave that poor Hernan to die alone; and if I do not go to seek him, it
seems that no one else will."
"Why should not some of my Kaffirs go with Klaus?" I asked.
"Allan," he replied solemnly, "if you were dying in a cave far from
help, would you think well of those who sent raw Kaffirs to succour you
when they might have come themselves, Kaffirs who certainly would let
you die and return with some false story?"
"I don't know what I should think, Heer Marais. But I do know that if
_I_ were in that cave and Pereira were in this camp, neither would he
come himself, nor so much as send a savage to save _me_."
"It may be so, Allan. But even if another's heart is black, should
yours be black also? Oh! I will come, though it be to my death," and,
rising from the stool with the most dreadful groan, he began to divest
himself of the tattered blanket in which he was wrapped up.
"Oh! Allan, my father must not go; it will kill him," exclaimed Marie,
who took a more serious view of his case than I did.
"Very well, if you think so," I answered. "And now, as it is time for
me to be starting, good-bye."
"You have a good heart, Allan," said Marais, sinking back upon his stool
and resuming his blanket, while Marie looked despairingly first at one
and then at the other of us.
Half an hour later I was on the road in the very worst of tempers.
"Mind what you are about," called Vrouw Prinsloo after me. "It is not
lucky to save an enemy, and if I know anything of that stinkcat, he will
bite your finger badly by way of gratitude. Bah! lad, if I were you I
should just camp for a few days in the bush, and then come back and say
that I could find nothing of Pereira except the dead hyenas that had
been poisoned by eating him. Good luck to you all the same, Allan; may
I find such a friend in need. It seems to me that you were born to help
Beside the Hottentot Klaus, my companions on this unwelcome journey were
three of the Zulu Kaffirs, for Hans I was obliged to leave in charge of
my cattle and goods with the other men. Also, I took a pack-ox, an
active beast that I had been training to carry loads and, if necessary a
man, although as yet it was not very well broken.
All that day we marched over extremely rough country, till at last
darkness found us in a mountainous kloof, where we slept, surrounded by
watch-fires because of the lions. Next morning at the first light we
moved on again, and about ten o'clock waded through a stream to a little
natural cave, where Klaus said he had left his master. This cave seemed
extremely silent, and, as I hesitated for a moment at its mouth, the
thought crossed my mind that if Pereira were still there, he must be
dead. Indeed, do what I would to suppress it, with that reflection came
a certain feeling of relief and even of pleasure. For well I knew that
Pereira alive was more dangerous to me than all the wild men and beasts
in Africa put together. Thrusting back this unworthy sentiment as best
I could, I entered the cave alone, for the natives, who dread the
defilement of the touch of a corpse, lingered outside.
It was but a shallow cavity washed out of the overhanging rock by the
action of water; and as soon as my eyes grew accustomed to its gloom, I
saw that at the end of it lay a man. So still did he lie, that now I
was almost certain that his troubles were over. I went up to him and
touched his face, which was cold and clammy, and then, quite convinced,
turned to leave the place, which, I thought, if a few rocks were piled
in the mouth of it, would make an excellent sepulchre.
Just as I stepped out into the sunlight, and was about to call to the
men to collect the rocks, however, I thought that I heard a very faint
groan behind me, which at the moment I set down to imagination. Still,
I returned, though I did not much like the job, knelt down by the
figure, and waited with my hand over its heart. For five minutes or
more I stayed here, and then, quite convinced, was about to leave again
when, for the second time, I heard that faint groan. Pereira was not
dead, but only on the extreme brink of death!
I ran to the entrance of the cave, calling the Kaffirs, and together we
carried him out into the sunlight. He was an awful spectacle, mere bone
with yellow skin stretched over it, and covered with filth and clotted
blood from some hurt. I had brandy with me, of which I poured a little
down his throat, whereon his heart began to beat feebly. Then we made
some soup, and poured that down his throat with more brandy, and the end
of it was he came to life again.
For three days did I doctor that man, and really I believe that if at
any time during those days I had relaxed my attentions even for a couple
of hours, he would have slipped through my fingers, for at this business
Klaus and the Kaffirs were no good at all. But I pulled him round, and
on the third morning he came to his senses. For a long while he stared
at me, for I had laid him in the mouth of the cave, where the light was
good, although the overhanging rocks protected him from the sun. Then
"Allemachte! you remind me of someone, young man. I know. It is of
that damned English boy who beat me at the goose shooting, and made me
quarrel with Oom [uncle] Retief, the jackanapes that Marie was so fond
of. Well, whoever you are, you can't be he, thank God."
"You are mistaken, Heer Pereira," I answered. "I am that same damned
young English jackanapes, Allan Quatermain by name, who beat you at
shooting. But if you take my advice, you will thank God for something
else, namely, that your life has been saved."
"Who saved it?" he asked.
"If you want to know, I did; I have been nursing you these three days."
"You, Allan Quatermain! Now, that is strange, for certainly I would not
have saved yours," and he laughed a little, then turned over and went to
From that time forward his recovery was rapid, and two days later we
began our journey back to Marais's camp, the convalescent Pereira being
carried in a litter by the four natives. It was a task at which they
grumbled a good deal, for the load was heavy over rough ground, and
whenever they stumbled or shook him he cursed at them. So much did he
curse, indeed, that at length one of the Zulus, a man with a rough
temper, said that if it were not for the Inkoos, meaning myself, he
would put his assegai through him, and let the vultures carry him.
After this Pereira grew much more polite. When the bearers became
exhausted we set him on the pack-ox, which two of us led, while the
other two supported him on either side. It was in this fashion that at
last we arrived at the camp one evening.
Here the Vrouw Prinsloo was the first to greet us. We found her
standing in the game path which we were following, quite a quarter of a
mile from the wagons, with her hands set upon her broad hips and her
feet apart. Her attitude was so defiant, and had about it such an air
of premeditation, that I cannot help thinking she had got wind of our
return, perhaps from having seen the smoke of our last fires, and was
watching for us. Also, her greeting was warm.
"Ah! here you come, Hernan Pereira," she cried, "riding on an ox, while
better men walk. Well, now, I want a chat with you. How came it that
you went off in the night, taking the only horse and all the powder?"
"I went to get help for you," he replied sulkily.
"Did you, did you, indeed! Well, it seems that it was you who wanted
the help, after all. What do you mean to pay the Heer Allan Quatermain
for saving your life, for I am sure he has done so? You have got no
goods left, although you were always boasting about your riches; they
are now at the bottom of a river, so it will have to be in love and
He muttered something about my wanting no payment for a Christian act.
"No, he wants no payment, Hernan Pereira, he is one of the true sort,
but you'll pay him all the same and in bad coin if you get the chance.
Oh! I have come out to tell you what I think of you. You are a
stinkcat; do you hear that? A thing that no dog would bite if he could
help it! You are a traitor also. You brought us to this cursed
country, where you said your relatives would give us wealth and land,
and then, after famine and fever attacked us, you rode away, and left us
to die to save your own dirty skin. And now you come back here for
help, saved by him whom you cheated in the Goose Kloof, by him whose
true love you have tried to steal. Oh, mein Gott! why does the Almighty
leave such fellows alive, while so many that are good and honest and
innocent lie beneath the soil because of stinkcats like you?"
So she went on, striding at the side of the pack-ox, and reviling
Pereira in a ceaseless stream of language, until at length he thrust his
thumbs into his ears and glared at her in speechless wrath.
Thus it was that at last we arrived in the camp, where, having seen us
coming, all the Boers were gathered. They are not a particularly
humorous people, but this spectacle of the advance of Pereira seated on
the pack-ox, a steed that is becoming to few riders, with the furious
and portly Vrouw Prinsloo striding at his side and shrieking abuse at
him, caused them to burst into laughter. Then Pereira's temper gave
out, and he became even more abusive than Vrouw Prinsloo.
"Is this the way you receive me, you veld-hogs, you common Boers, who
are not fit to mix with a man of position and learning like myself?" he
"Then in God's name why do you mix with us, Hernan Pereira?" asked the
saturnine Meyer, thrusting his face forward till the Newgate fringe he
wore by way of a beard literally seemed to curl with wrath. "When we
were hungry you did not wish it, for you slunk away and left us, taking
all the powder. But now that we are full again, thanks to the little
Englishman, and you are hungry, you come back. Well, if I had my way I
would give you a gun and six days' rations, and turn you out to shift
"Don't be afraid, Jan Meyer," shouted Pereira from the back of the
pack-ox. "As soon as I am strong enough I will leave you in charge of
your English captain here"--and he pointed to me--"and go to tell our
people what sort of folk you are."
"That is good news," interrupted Prinsloo, a stolid old Boer, who stood
by puffing at his pipe. "Get well, get well as soon as you can, Hernan
It was at this juncture that Marais arrived, accompanied by Marie.
Where he came from I do not know, but I think he must have been keeping
in the background on purpose to see what kind of a reception Pereira
would meet with.
"Silence, brothers," he said. "Is this the way you greet my nephew, who
has returned from the gate of death, when you should be on your knees
thanking God for his deliverance?"
"Then go on your knees and thank Him yourself, Henri Marais," screamed
the irrepressible Vrouw Prinsloo. "I give thanks for the safe return of
Allan here, though it is true they would be warmer if he had left this
stinkcat behind him. Allemachte! Henri Marais, why do you make so much
of this Portuguese fellow? Has he bewitched you? Or is it because he
is your sister's son, or because you want to force Marie there to marry
him? Or is it, perhaps, that he knows of something bad in your past
life, and you have to bribe him to keep his mouth shut?"
Now, whether this last unpleasant suggestion was a mere random arrow
drawn from Vrouw Prinsloo's well-stored quiver, or whether the vrouw had
got hold of the tail-end of some long-buried truth, I do not know. Of
course, however, the latter explanation is possible. Many men have done
things in their youth which they do not wish to see dug up in their age;
and Pereira may have learned a family secret of the kind from his
At any rate, the effect of the old lady's words upon Marais was quite
remarkable. Suddenly he went into one of his violent and constitutional
rages. He cursed Vrouw Prinsloo. He cursed everybody else, assuring
them severally and collectively that Heaven would come even with them.
He said there was a plot against him and his nephew, and that I was at
the bottom of it, I who had made his daughter fond of my ugly little
face. So furious were his words, whereof there were many more which I
have forgotten, that at length Marie began to cry and ran away.
Presently, too, the Boers strolled off, shrugging their shoulders, one
of them saying audibly that Marais had gone quite mad at last, as he
always thought he would.
Then Marais followed them, throwing up his arms and still cursing as he
went, and, slipping over the tail of the pack-ox, Pereira followed him.
So the Vrouw Prinsloo and I were left alone, for the coloured men had
departed, as they always do when white people begin to quarrel.
"There, Allan, my boy," said the vrouw in triumph, "I have found the
sore place on the mule's back, and didn't I make him squeal and kick,
although on most days of the week he seems to be such a good and quiet
mule--at any rate, of late."
"I dare say you did, vrouw," I said wrathfully, "but I wish you would
leave Mynheer Marais's sore places alone, seeing that if the squeals are
for you, the kicks are for me."
"What does that matter, Allan?" she asked. "He always was your enemy,
so that it is just as well you should see his heels when you are out of
reach of them. My poor boy, I think you will have a bad time of it
between the stinkcat and the mule, although you have done so much for
both of them. Well, there is one thing--Marie has a true heart. She
will never marry any man except yourself, Allan--even if you are not
here to marry," she added by an afterthought.
The old lady paused a little, staring at the ground. Then she looked up
"Allan, my dear" (for she was really fond of me, and called me thus at
times), "you didn't take the advice I gave you, namely, to look for
Pereira and not to find him. Well, I will give you some more, which you
_will_ take if you are wise."
"What is it?" I asked doubtfully; for, although she was upright enough
in her own way, the Vrouw Prinsloo could bring herself to look at things
in strange lights. Like many other women, she judged of moral codes by
the impulses of her heart, and was quite prepared to stretch them to
suit circumstances or to gain an end which she considered good in
"Just this, lad. Do you make a two days' march with Marie into the
bush. I want a little change, so I will come, too, and marry you there;
for I have got a prayer-book, and can spell out the service if we go
through it once or twice first."
Now, the vision of Marie and myself being married by the Vrouw Prinsloo
in the vast and untrodden veld, although attractive, was so absurd that
"Why do you laugh, Allan? Anyone can marry people if there is no one
else there; indeed, I believe that they can marry themselves."
"I dare say," I answered, not wishing to enter into a legal argument
with the vrouw. "But you see, Tante, I solemnly promised her father
that I would not marry her until she was of age, and if I broke my word
I should not be an honest man."
"An honest man!" she exclaimed with the utmost contempt; "an honest man!
Well, are Marais and Hernan Pereira honest men? Why do you not cut
your stick the same length as theirs, Allan Quatermain? I tell you that
your verdomde honesty will be your ruin. You remember my words later
on," and she marched off in high dudgeon.
When she had gone I went to my wagons, where Hans was waiting for me
with a detailed and interminable report of everything that had happened
in my absence. Glad was I to find that, except for the death of one
sickly ox, nothing had gone wrong. When at length he had ended his long
story, I ate some food which Marie sent over for me ready cooked, for I
was too tired to join any of the Boers that night. Just as I had
finished my meal and was thinking of turning in, Marie herself appeared
within the circle of the camp-fire's light. I sprang up and ran to her,
saying that I had not expected to see her that evening, and did not like
to come to the house.
"No," she answered, drawing me back into the shadows, "I understand. My
father seems very much upset, almost mad, indeed. If the Vrouw
Prinsloo's tongue had been a snake's fang, it could not have stung him
"And where is Pereira?" I asked.
"Oh! my cousin sleeps in the other room. He is weak and worn out. All
the same, Allan, he wanted to kiss me. So I told him at once how
matters stood between you and me, and that we were to be married in six
"What did he say to that?" I asked.
"He turned to my father and said: 'Is this true, my uncle?' And my
father answered: 'Yes, that is the best bargain I could make with the
Englishman, seeing that you were not here to make a better.'"
"And what happened then, Marie?"
"Oh, then Hernan thought a while. At last he looked up and said: 'I
understand. Things have gone badly. I acted for the best, who went
away to try to find help for all of you. I failed. Meanwhile the
Englishman came and saved you. Afterwards he saved me also. Uncle, in
all this I see God's hand; had it not been for this Allan none of us
would be alive. Yes, God used him that we might be kept alive. Well,
he has promised that he will not marry Marie for six months. And you
know, my uncle, that some of these English are great fools; they keep
their promises even to their own loss. Now, in six months much may
happen; who knows what will happen?'"
"Were you present when you heard all this, Marie?" I asked.
"No, Allan; I was the other side of the reed partition. But at those
words I entered and said: 'My father and Cousin Hernan, please
understand that there is one thing which will never happen.'
"'What is that?' asked my cousin.
"'It will never happen that I shall marry you, Hernan,' I replied.
"'Who knows, Marie, who knows?' he said.
"'I do, Hernan,' I answered. 'Even if Allan were to die to-morrow, I
would not marry you, either then or twenty years hence. I am glad that
he has saved your life, but henceforth we are cousins, nothing more.'
"'You hear what the girl tells us,' said my father; 'why do you not give
up the business? What is the use of kicking against the pricks?'
"'If one wears stout boots and kicks hard enough, the pricks give way,'
said Hernan. 'Six months is a long time, my uncle.'
"'It may be so, cousin,' I said; 'but remember that neither six months
nor six years, nor six thousand years, are long enough to make me marry
any man except Allan Quatermain, who has just rescued you from death.
Do you understand?'
"'Yes,' he replied, 'I understand that you will not marry me. Only then
I promise that you shall not marry either Allan Quatermain or any other
"'God will decide that,' I answered, and came away, leaving him and my
father together. And now, Allan, tell me all that has happened since we
So I told her everything, including the Vrouw Prinsloo's advice.
"Of course, Allan, you were quite right," she remarked when I had
finished; "but I am not sure that the Vrouw Prinsloo was not also right
in her own fashion. I am afraid of my cousin Hernan, who holds my
father in his hand--fast, fast. Still, we have promised, and must keep
THE SHOT IN THE KLOOF
I think it was about three weeks after these events that we began our
southward trek. On the morning subsequent to our arrival at Marais's
camp, Pereira came up to me when several people were present, and,
taking my hand, thanked me in a loud voice for having saved his life.
Thenceforward, he declared, I should be dearer to him than a brother,
for was there not a blood bond between us?
I answered I did not think any such bond existed; indeed, I was not sure
what it meant. I had done my duty by him, neither less nor more, and
there was nothing further to be said.
It turned out, however, that there was a great deal further to be said,
since Pereira desired to borrow money, or, rather, goods, from me. He
explained that owing to the prejudices of the vulgar Boers who remained
alive in that camp, and especially of the scandalous-tongued Vrouw
Prinsloo, both he and his uncle had come to the conclusion that it would
be wise for him to remove himself as soon as possible. Therefore he
proposed to trek away alone.
I answered that I should have thought he had done enough solitary
travelling in this veld, seeing how his last expedition had ended. He
replied that he had, indeed, but everyone here was so bitter against him
that no choice was left. Then he added with an outburst of truth:
"Allemachte! Mynheer Quatermain, do you suppose that it is pleasant for
me to see you making love all day to the maid who was my betrothed, and
to see her paying back the love with her eyes? Yes, and doubtless with
her lips, too, from all I hear."
"You could leave her whom you called your betrothed, but who never was
betrothed to anyone but me with her own will, to starve in the veld,
mynheer. Why, then, should you be angry because I picked up that which
you threw away, that, too, which was always my own and not yours? Had
it not been for me, there would now be no maid left for us to quarrel
over, as, had it not been for me, there would be no man left for me to
quarrel with about the maid."
"Are you God, then, Englishman, that you dispose of the lives of men and
women at your will? It was He Who saved us, not you."
"He may have saved you, but it was through me. I carried out the rescue
of these poor people whom you deserted, and I nursed you back to life."
"I did not desert them; I went to get help for them."
"Taking all the powder and the only horse with you! Well, that is done
with, and now you want to borrow goods to pay for cattle--from me, whom
you hate. You are not proud, Mynheer Pereira, when you have an end to
serve, whatever that end may be," and I looked at him. My instinct
warned me against this false and treacherous man, who, I felt, was even
then plotting in his heart to bring some evil upon me.
"No, I am not proud. Why should I be, seeing that I mean to repay you
twice over for anything which you may lend me now?"
I reflected a while. Certainly our journey to Natal would be pleasanter
if Pereira were not of the company. Also, if he went with us, I was
sure that before we came to the end of that trek, one or other of us
would leave his bones on the road. In short, not to put too fine a
point on it, I feared lest in this way or in that he would bring me to
my death in order that he might possess himself of Marie. We were in a
wild country, with few witnesses and no law courts, where such deeds
might be done again and again and the doer never called to account for
lack of evidence and judges.
So I made up my mind to fall in with his wishes, and we began to
bargain. The end of it was that I advanced him enough of my remaining
goods to buy the cattle he required from the surrounding natives. It
was no great quantity, after all, seeing that in this uncivilised place
an ox could be purchased for a few strings of beads or a cheap knife.
Further, I sold him a few of the beasts that I had broken, a gun, some
ammunition and certain other necessaries, for all of which things he
gave me a note of hand written in my pocket-book. Indeed, I did more;
for as none of the Boers would help him I assisted Pereira to break in
the cattle he bought, and even consented when he asked me to give him
the services of two of the Zulus whom I had hired.
All these preparations took a long while. If I remember right, twelve
more days had gone by before Pereira finally trekked off from Marais's
camp, by which time he was quite well and strong again.
We all assembled to see the start, and Marais offered up a prayer for
his nephew's safe journey and our happy meeting again in Natal at the
laager of Retief, which was to be our rendezvous, if that leader were
still in Natal. No one else joined in the prayer. Only Vrouw Prinsloo
audibly added another of her own. It was to the effect that he might
not come back a second time, and that she might never see his face
again, either at Retief's laager or anywhere else, if it would please
the good Lord so to arrange matters.
The Boers tittered; even the Meyer children tittered, for by this time
the hatred of the Vrouw Prinsloo for Hernan Pereira was the joke of the
place. But Pereira himself pretended not to hear, said good-bye to us
all affectionately, adding a special petition for the Vrouw Prinsloo,
and off we went.
I say "we went" because with my usual luck, to help him with the
half-broken oxen, I was commandeered to accompany this man to his first
outspan, a place with good water about twelve miles from the camp, where
he proposed to remain for the night.
Now, as we started about ten o'clock in the morning and the veld was
fairly level, I expected that we should reach this outspan by three or
four in the afternoon, which would give me time to walk back before
sunset. In fact, however, so many accidents happened of one sort or
another, both to the wagon itself, of which the woodwork had shrunk with
long standing in the sun, and to the cattle, which, being unused to the
yoke, tied themselves in a double knot upon every opportunity, that we
only arrived there at the approach of night.
The last mile of that trek was through a narrow gorge cut out by water
in the native rock. Here trees grew sparsely, also great ferns, but the
bottom of the gorge, along which game were accustomed to travel, was
smooth enough for wagons, save for a few fallen boulders, which it was
necessary to avoid.
When at length we reached the outspan I asked the Hottentot, Klaus, who
was assisting me to drive the team, where his master was, for I could
not see him anywhere. He answered that he had gone back down the kloof
to look for something that had fallen from the wagon, a bolt I think he
"Very good," I replied. "Then tell him, if we do not meet, that I have
returned to the camp."
As I set out the sun was sinking below the horizon, but this did not
trouble me overmuch, as I had a rifle with me, that same light rifle
with which I had shot the geese in the great match. Also I knew that
the moon, being full, would be up presently.
The sun sank, and the kloof was plunged in gloom. The place seemed
eerie and lonesome, and suddenly I grew afraid. I began to wonder where
Pereira was, and what he might be doing. I even thought of turning back
and finding some way round, only having explored all this district
pretty thoroughly in my various shooting expeditions from the camp, I
knew there was no practicable path across those hills. So I went on
with my rifle at full cock, whistling to keep up my courage, which, of
course, in the circumstances was a foolish thing to do. It occurred to
me at the time that it was foolish, but, in truth, I would not give way
to the dark suspicions which crossed my mind. Doubtless by now Pereira
had passed me and reached the outspan.
The moon began to shine--that wonderful African moon, which turns night
to day--throwing a network of long, black shadows of trees and rocks
across the game track I was following. Right ahead of me was a
particularly dark patch of this shadow, caused by a projecting wall of
cliff, and beyond it an equally bright patch of moonlight. Somehow I
misdoubted me of that stretch of gloom, for although, of course, I could
see nothing there, my quick ear caught the sound of movements.
I halted for a moment. Then, reflecting that these were doubtless
caused by some night-walking creature, which, even should it chance to
be dangerous, would flee at the approach of man, I plunged into it
boldly. As I emerged at the other end--the shadow was eighteen or
twenty paces long--it occurred to me that if any enemy were lurking
there, I should be an easy target as I entered the line of clear light.
So, almost instinctively, for I do not remember that I reasoned the
thing out, after my first two steps forward in the light I gave a little
spring to the left, where there was still shadow, although it was not
deep. Well was it for me that I did so, for at that moment I felt
something touch my cheek and heard the loud report of a gun immediately
Now, the wisest course would have been for me to run before whoever had
fired found time to reload. But a kind of fury seized me, and run I
would not. On the contrary, I turned with a shout, and charged back
into the shadow. Something heard me coming, something fled in front of
me. In a few seconds we were out into the moonlight beyond, and, as I
expected, I saw that this something was a man--Pereira!
He halted and wheeled round, lifting the stock of his gun, club fashion.
"Thank God! it is you, Heer Allan," he said; "I thought you were a
"Then it is your last thought, murderer," I answered, raising my rifle.
"Don't shoot," he said. "Would you have my blood upon you? Why do you
want to kill me?"
"Why did you try to kill me?" I answered, covering him.
"I try to kill you! Are you mad? Listen, for your own sake. I sat
down on the bank yonder waiting for the moon, and, being tired, fell
asleep. Then I woke up with a start, and, thinking from the sounds that
a tiger was after me, fired to scare it. Allemachte! man, if I had
aimed at you, could I have missed at that distance?"
"You did not quite miss, and had I not stepped to the left, you would
have blown my head off. Say your prayers, you dog!"
"Allan Quatermain," he exclaimed with desperate energy," you think I
lie, who speak the truth. Kill me if you will, only then remember that
you will hang for it. We court one woman, that is known, and who will
believe this story of yours that I tried to shoot you? Soon the Kaffirs
will come to look for me, probably they are starting already, and will
find my body with your bullet in my heart. Then they will take it back
to Marais's camp, and I say--who will believe your story?"
"Some, I think, murderer," but as I spoke the words a chill of fear
struck me. It was true, I could prove nothing, having no witnesses, and
henceforward I should be a Cain among the Boers, one who had slain a man
for jealousy. His gun was empty; yes, but it might be said that I had
fired it after his death. And as for the graze upon my cheek--why, a
twig might have caused it. What should I do, then? Drive him before me
to the camp, and tell this tale? Even then it would be but my word
against his. No, he had me in a forked stick. I must let him go, and
trust that Heaven would avenge his crime, since I could not. Moreover,
by now my first rage was cooling, and to execute a man thus--
"Hernan Pereira," I said, "you are a liar and a coward. You tried to
butcher me because Marie loves me and hates you, and you want to force
her to marry you. Yet I cannot shoot you down in cold blood as you
deserve. I leave it to God to punish you, as, soon or late, He will,
here or hereafter; you who thought to slaughter me and trust to the
hyenas to hide your crime, as they would have done before morning. Get
you gone before I change my mind, and be swift."
Without another word he turned and ran swiftly as a buck, leaping from
side to side as he ran, to disturb my aim in case I should shoot.
When he was a hundred yards away or more I, too, turned and ran, never
feeling safe till I knew there was a mile of ground between us.
It was past ten o'clock that night when I got back to the camp, where I
found Hans the Hottentot about to start to look for me, with two of the
Zulus, and told him that I had been detained by accidents to the wagon.
The Vrouw Prinsloo was still up also, waiting to hear of my arrival.
"What was the accident, Allan?" she asked. "It looks as though there
had been a bullet in it," and she pointed to the bloody smear upon my
"Pereira's?" she asked again.
I nodded a second time.
"Did you kill him?"
"No; I let him go. It would have been said that I murdered him," and I
told her what had happened.
"Ja, Allan," she remarked when I had finished. "I think you were wise,
for you could have proved nothing. But oh! for what fate, I wonder, is
God Almighty saving up that stinkcat. Well, I will go and tell Marie
that you are back safe, for her father won't let her out of the hut so
late; but nothing more unless you wish it."
"No, Tante; I think nothing more, at any rate at present."
Here I may state, however, that within a few days Marie and everyone
else in the camp knew the story in detail, except perhaps Marais, to
whom no one spoke of his nephew. Evidently Vrouw Prinsloo had found
herself unable to keep secret such an example of the villainy of her
aversion, Pereira. So she told her daughter, who told the others
quickly enough, though I gathered that some of them set down what had
happened to accident. Bad as they knew Pereira to be, they could not
believe that he was guilty of so black a crime.
About a week later the rest of us started from Marais's camp, a place
that, notwithstanding the sadness of many of its associations, I confess
I left with some regret. The trek before us, although not so very long,
was of an extremely perilous nature. We had to pass through about two
hundred miles of country of which all we knew was that its inhabitants
were the Amatonga and other savage tribes. Here I should explain that
after much discussion we had abandoned the idea of retracing the route
followed by Marais on his ill-fated journey towards Delagoa.
Had we taken this it would have involved our crossing the terrible
Lobombo Mountains, over which it was doubtful whether our light cattle
could drag the wagons. Moreover, the country beyond the mountains was
said to be very bare of game and also of Kaffirs, so that food might be
lacking. On the other hand, if we kept to the east of the mountains the
veld through which we must pass was thickly populated, which meant that
in all probability we could buy grain.
What finally decided us to adopt this route, however, was that here in
these warm, low-lying lands there would be grass for the oxen. Indeed,
now, at the beginning of spring, in this part of Africa it was already
pushing. Even if it were not, the beasts could live upon what herbage
remained over from last summer and on the leaves of trees, neither of
which in this winter veld ever become quite lifeless, whereas on the
sere and fire-swept plains beyond the mountains they might find nothing
at all. So we determined to risk the savages and the lions which
followed the game into these hot districts, especially as it was not yet
the fever season or that of the heavy rains, so that the rivers would be
I do not propose to set out our adventures in detail, for these would be
too long. Until the great one of which I shall have to tell presently,
they were of an annoying rather than of a serious nature. Travelling as
we did, between the mountains and the sea, we could not well lose our
way, especially as my Zulus had passed through that country; and when
their knowledge failed us, we generally managed to secure the services
of local guides. The roads, however, or rather the game tracks and
Kaffir paths which we followed, were terrible, for with the single
exception of that of Pereira for part of the distance, no wagon had ever
gone over them before. Indeed, a little later in the year they could
not have been travelled at all. Sometimes we stuck in bogs out of which
we had to dig the wheels, and sometimes in the rocky bottoms of streams,
while once we were obliged literally to cut our way through a belt of
dense bush from which it took us eight days to escape.
Our other chief trouble came from the lions, whereof there were great
numbers in this veld. The prevalence of these hungry beasts forced us
to watch our cattle very closely while they grazed, and at night,
wherever it was possible, to protect them and ourselves in "bombast," or
fences of thorns, within which we lit fires to scare away wild beasts.
Notwithstanding these precautions, we lost several of the oxen, and
ourselves had some narrow escapes.
Thus, one night, just as Marie was about to enter the wagon where the
women slept, a great lion, desperate with hunger, sprang over the fence.
She leapt away from the beast, and in so doing caught her foot and fell
down, whereon the lion came for her. In another few seconds she would
have been dead, or carried off living.
But as it chanced, Vrouw Prinsloo was close at hand. Seizing a flaming
bough from the fire, that intrepid woman ran at the lion and, as it
opened its huge mouth to roar or bite, thrust the burning end of the
bough into its throat. The lion closed its jaws upon it, then finding
the mouthful not to its taste, departed even more quickly than it had
come, uttering the most dreadful noises, and leaving Marie quite unhurt.
Needless to say, after this I really worshipped the Vrouw Prinsloo,
though she, good soul, thought nothing of the business, which in those
days was but a common incident of travel.
I think it was on the day after this lion episode that we came upon
Pereira's wagon, or rather its remains. Evidently he had tried to trek
along a steep, rocky bank which overhung a stream, with the result that
the wagon had fallen into the stream-bed, then almost dry, and been
smashed beyond repair.
The Tonga natives of the neighbourhood, who had burned most of the
woodwork in order to secure the precious iron bolts and fittings,
informed us that the white man and his servants who were with the wagon
had gone forward on foot some ten days before, driving their cattle with
them. Whether this story were true or not we had no means of finding
out. It was quite possible that Pereira and his companions had been
murdered, though as we found the Tongas very quiet folk if well treated
and given the usual complimentary presents for wayleaves, this did not
seem probable. Indeed, a week later our doubts upon this point were
cleared up thus.
We had reached a big kraal called Fokoti, on the Umkusi River, which
appeared to be almost deserted. We asked an old woman whom we met where
its people had gone. She answered that they had fled towards the
borders of Swaziland, fearing an attack from the Zulus, whose
territories began beyond this Umkusi River. It seemed that a few days
before a Zulu impi or regiment had appeared upon the banks of the river,
and although there was no war at the time between the Zulus and the
Tongas, the latter had thought it wise to put themselves out of reach of
those terrible spears.
On hearing this news we debated whether it would not be well for us to
follow their example and, trekking westwards, try to find a pass in the
mountains. Upon this point there was a division of opinion among us.
Marais, who was a fatalist, wished to go on, saying that the good Lord
would protect us, as He had done in the past.
"Allemachte!" answered the Vrouw Prinsloo. "Did He protect all those
who lie dead at Marais's camp, whither your folly led us, mynheer? The
good Lord expects us to look after our own skins, and I know that these
Zulus are of the same blood as Umsilikazi's Kaffirs, who have killed so
many of our people. Let us try the mountains, say I."
Of course her husband and son agreed with her, for to them the vrouw's
word was law; but Marais, being, as usual, obstinate, would not give
way. All that afternoon they wrangled, while I held my tongue,
declaring that I was willing to abide by the decision of the majority.
In the end, as I foresaw they would, they appealed to me to act as
umpire between them.
"Friends," I answered, "if you had asked me my opinion before, I should
have voted for trying the mountains, beyond which, perhaps, we might
find some Boers. I do not like this story of the Zulu impi. I think
that someone has told them of our coming, and that it is us they mean to
attack and not the Tongas, with whom they are at peace. My men say that
it is not usual for impis to visit this part of the country."
"Who could have told them?" asked Marais.
"I don't know, mynheer. Perhaps the natives have sent on word, or
"I knew that you would suspect my nephew, Allan," he exclaimed angrily.
"I suspect no one; I only weigh what is probable. However, it is too
late for us to move to-night either south or westwards, so I think I
will sleep over the business and see what I can find out from my Zulus."
That night, or rather the following morning, the question was settled
for us, for when I woke up at dawn, it was to see the faint light
glimmering on what I knew must be spears. We were surrounded by a great
company of Zulus, as I discovered afterwards, over two hundred strong.
Thinking that after their fashion they were preparing to attack us at
dawn, I called the news to the others, whereon Marais rushed forward,
just as he had left his bed, cocking his roer as he came.
"For the love of God, do not shoot!" I said. "How can we resist so
many? Soft words are our only chance."
Still he attempted to fire, and would have done so had I not thrown
myself upon him and literally torn the gun from his hand. By this time
the Vrouw Prinsloo had come up, a very weird spectacle, I recollect, in
what she called her "sleep-garments," that included a night-cap made of
a worn jackal skin and a kind of otter-pelt stomacher.
"Accursed fool!" she said to Marais, "would you cause all our throats to
be cut? Go forward, you, Allan, and talk to those 'swartzels'" (that
is, black creatures), "gently, as you would to a savage dog. You have a
tongue steeped in oil, and they may listen to you."
"Yes," I answered; "that seems the best thing to do. If I should not
return, give my love to Marie."
So I beckoned to the headman of my Zulus whom I had hired at Delagoa, to
accompany me, and marched forward boldly quite unarmed. We were
encamped upon a rise of ground a quarter of a mile from the river, and
the impi, or those of them whom we could see, were at the foot of this
rise about a hundred and sixty yards away. The light was growing now,
and when I was within fifty paces of them they saw me. At some word of
command a number of men rushed toward me, their fighting shields held
over their bodies and their spears up.
"We are dead!" exclaimed my Kaffir in a resigned voice. I shared his
opinion, but thought I might as well die standing as running away.
Now I should explain that though as yet I had never mixed with these
Zulus, I could talk several native dialects kindred to that which they
used very well indeed. Moreover, ever since I had hired men of their
race at Delagoa, I had spent all my spare time in conversing with them
and acquiring a knowledge of their language, history and customs. So by
this time I knew their tongue fairly, although occasionally I may have
used terms which were unfamiliar to them.
Thus it came about that I was able to shout to them, asking what was
their business with us. Hearing themselves addressed in words which
they understood, the men halted, and seeing that I was unarmed, three of
them approached me.
"We come to take you prisoners, white people, or to kill you if you
resist," said their captain.
"By whose order?" I asked.
"By the order of Dingaan our king."
"Is it so? And who told Dingaan that we were here?"
"The Boer who came in front of you."
"Is it so?" I said again. "And now what do you need of us?"
"That you should accompany us to the kraal of Dingaan."
"I understand. We are quite willing, since it lies upon our road. But
then why do you come against us, who are peaceful travellers, with your
"For this reason. The Boer told us that there is among you a 'child of
George'" (an Englishman), "a terrible man who would kill us unless we
killed or bound him first. Show us this child of George that we may
make him fast, or slay him, and we will not hurt the rest of you."
"I am the child of George," I answered, "and if you think it necessary
to make me fast, do so."
Now the Zulus burst out laughing.
"You! Why, you are but a boy who weighs no more than a fat girl,"
exclaimed their captain, a great, bony fellow who was named Kambula.
"That may be so," I answered; "but sometimes the wisdom of their fathers
dwells in the young. I am the son of George who saved these Boers from
death far away, and I am taking them back to their own people. We
desire to see Dingaan, your king. Be pleased therefore to lead us to
him as he has commanded you to do. If you do not believe what I tell
you, ask this man who is with me, and his companions who are of your own
race. They will tell you everything."
Then the captain Kambula called my servant apart and talked with him for
a long while.
When the interview was finished he advanced to me and said:
"Now I have heard all about you. I have heard that although young you
are very clever, so clever that you do not sleep, but watch by night as
well as by day. Therefore, that I, Kambula, name you Macumazahn,
Watcher-by-night, and by that name you shall henceforth be known among
us. Now, Macumazahn, son of George, bring out these Boers whom you are
guiding that I may lead them in their moving huts to the Great Place,
Umgungundhlovu, where dwells Dingaan the king. See, we lay down our
spears and will come to meet them unarmed, trusting to you to protect
us, O Macumazahn, Son of George," and he cast his assegai to the ground.
"Come," I said, and led them to the wagons.
As I advanced to the wagons accompanied by Kambula and his two
companions, I saw that Marais, in a state of great excitement, was
engaged in haranguing the two Prinsloo men and Meyer, while the Vrouw
Prinsloo and Marie appeared to be attempting to calm him.
"They are unarmed," I heard him shout. "Let us seize the black devils
and hold them as hostages."
Thereon, led by Marais, the three Boer men came towards us doubtfully,
their guns in their hands.
"Be careful what you are doing," I called to them. "These are envoys,"
and they hung back a little while Marais went on with his haranguing.
The Zulus looked at them and at me, then Kambula said:
"Are you leading us into a trap, Son of George?"
"Not so," I answered; "but the Boers are afraid of you and think to take
"Tell them," said Kambula quietly, "that if they kill us or lay a hand
on us, as no doubt they can do, very soon every one of them will be dead
and their women with them."
I repeated this ultimatum energetically enough, but Marais shouted:
"The Englishman is betraying us to the Zulus! Do not trust him; seize
them as I tell you."
What would have happened I am sure I do not know; but just then the
Vrouw Prinsloo came up and caught her husband by the arm, exclaiming:
"You shall have no part in this fool's business. If Marais wishes to
seize the Zulus, let him do so himself. Are you mad or drunk that you
should think that Allan would wish to betray Marie to the Kaffirs, to
say nothing of the rest of us?" and she began to wave an extremely dirty
"vatdoek", or dishcloth, which she always carried about with her and
used for every purpose, towards Kambula as a sign of peace.
Now the Boers gave way, and Marais, seeing himself in a minority,
glowered at me in silence.
"Ask these white people, O Macumazahn," said Kambula, "who is their
captain, for to the captain I would speak."
I translated the question, and Marais answered:
"No," broke in Vrouw Prinsloo, "_I_ am. Tell them, Allan, that these
men are all fools and have given the rule to me, a woman."
So I told them. Evidently this information surprised them a little, for
they discussed together. Then Kambula said:
"So be it. We have heard that the people of George are now ruled by a
woman, and as you, Macumazahn, are one of that people, doubtless it is
the same among your party."
Here I may add that thenceforward the Zulus always accepted the Vrouw
Prinsloo as the "Inkosikaas" or chieftainess of our little band, and
with the single exception of myself, whom they looked upon as her
"mouth," or induna, would only transact business with or give directions
to her. The other Boers they ignored completely.
This point of etiquette settled, Kambula bade me repeat what he had
already told me, that we were prisoners whom he was instructed by
Dingaan to convey to his Great Place, and that if we made no attempt to
escape we should not be hurt upon the journey.
I did so, whereon the vrouw asked as I had done, who had informed
Dingaan that we were coming.
I repeated to her word for word what the Zulus had told me, that it was
Pereira, whose object seems to have been to bring about my death or
Then the vrouw exploded.
"Do you hear that, Henri Marais?" she screamed. "It is your stinkcat of
a nephew again. Oh! I thought I smelt him! Your nephew has betrayed us
to these Zulus that he may bring Allan to his death. Ask them, Allan,
what this Dingaan has done with the stinkcat."
So I asked, and was informed they believed that the king had let Pereira
go on to his own people in payment of the information that he had given
"My God!" said the vrouw, "I hoped that he had knocked him on the head.
Well, what is to be done now?"
"I don't know," I answered. Then an idea occurred to me, and I said to
"It seems to be me, the son of George, that your king wants. Take me,
and let these people go on their road."
The three Zulus began to discuss this point, withdrawing themselves a
little way so that I could not overhear them. But when the Boers
understood the offer that I had made, Marie, who until now had been
silent, grew more angry than ever I had seen her before.
"It shall not be!" she said, stamping her foot. "Father, I have been
obedient to you for long, but if you consent to this I will be obedient
no more. Allan saved my cousin Hernan's life, as he saved all our
lives. In payment for that good deed Hernan tried to murder him in the
kloof--oh! be quiet, Allan; I know all the story. Now he has betrayed
him to the Zulus, telling them that he is a terrible and dangerous man
who must be killed. Well, if he is to be killed, I will be killed with
him, and if the Zulus take him and let us free, I go with him. Now make
up your mind."
Marais tugged at his beard, staring first at his daughter and then at
me. What he would have answered I do not know, for at that moment
Kambula stepped forward and gave his decision.
It was to the effect that although it was the Son of George whom Dingaan
wanted, his orders were that all with him were to be taken also. Those
orders could not be disobeyed. The king would settle the matter as to
whether some of us were to be killed and some let free, or if all were
to be killed or let free, when we reached his House. Therefore he
commanded that "we should tie the oxen to the moving huts and cross the
river at once."
This was the end of that scene. Having no choice we inspanned and
continued our journey, escorted by the company of two hundred savages.
I am bound to say that during the four or five days that it took us to
reach Dingaan's kraal they behaved very well to us. With Kambula and
his officers, all of them good fellows in their way, I had many
conversations, and from them learned much as to the state and customs of
the Zulus. Also the peoples of the districts through which we passed
flocked round us at every outspan, for most of them had never seen a
white man before, and in return for a few beads brought us all the food
that we required. Indeed, the beads, or their equivalents, were nothing
but a present, since, by the king's command, they must satisfy our
wants. This they did very thoroughly. For instance, when on the last
day's trek, some of our oxen gave out, numbers of Zulus were inspanned
in place of them, and by their help the wagons were dragged to the great
Here an outspan place was assigned to us near to the house, or rather
the huts, of a certain missionary of the name of Owen, who with great
courage had ventured into this country. We were received with the
utmost kindness by him and his wife and household, and it is impossible
for me to say what pleasure I found, after all my journeyings, in
meeting an educated man of my own race.
Near to our camp was a stone-covered koppie, where, on the morning after
our arrival, I saw six or eight men executed in a way that I will not
describe. Their crime, according to Mr. Owen, was that they had
bewitched some of the king's oxen.
While I was recovering from this dreadful spectacle, which, fortunately,
Marie did not witness, the captain Kambula arrived, saying that Dingaan
wished to see me. So taking with me the Hottentot Hans and two of the
Zulus whom I had hired at Delagoa Bay--for the royal orders were that
none of the other white people were to come, I was led through the fence
of the vast town in which stood two thousand huts--the "multitude of
houses" as the Zulus called it--and across a vast open space in the
On the farther side of this space, where, before long, I was fated to
witness a very tragic scene, I entered a kind of labyrinth. This was
called "siklohlo", and had high fences with numerous turns, so that it
was impossible to see where one was going or to find the way in or out.
Ultimately, however, I reached a great hut named "intunkulu", a word
that means the "house of houses," or the abode of the king, in front of
which I saw a fat man seated on a stool, naked except for the moocha
about his middle and necklaces and armlets of blue beads. Two warriors
held their broad shields over his head to protect him from the sun.
Otherwise he was alone, although I felt sure that the numerous passages
around him were filled with guards, for I could hear them moving.
On entering this place Kambula and his companions flung themselves upon
their faces and began to sing praises of which the king took no notice.
Presently he looked up, and appearing to observe me for the first time
"Who is that white boy?"
Then Kambula rose and said:
"O king, this is the Son of George, whom you commanded me to capture. I
have taken him and the Amaboona" (that is, the Boers), "his companions,
and brought them all to you, O king."
"I remember," said Dingaan. "The big Boer who was here, and whom
Tambusa"--he was one of Dingaan's captains--"let go against my will,
said that be was a terrible man who should be killed before he worked
great harm to my people. Why did you not kill him, Kambula, although it
is true he does not look very terrible?"
"Because the king's word was that I should bring him to the king
living," answered Kambula. Then he added cheerfully: "Still, if the
king wishes it, I can kill him at once."
"I don't know," said Dingaan doubtfully; "perhaps he can mend guns."
Next, after reflecting a while, he bade a shield-holder to fetch
someone, I could not hear whom.
"Doubtless," thought I to myself, "it is the executioner," and at that
thought a kind of mad rage seized me. Why should my life be ended thus
in youth to satisfy the whim of a savage? And if it must be so, why
should I go alone?
In the inside pocket of my ragged coat I had a small loaded pistol with
two barrels. One of those barrels would kill Dingaan--at five paces I
could not miss that bulk--and the other would blow out my brains, for I
was not minded to have my neck twisted or to be beaten to death with
sticks. Well, if it was to be done, I had better do it at once.
Already my hand was creeping towards the pocket when a new idea, or
rather two ideas, struck me.
The first was that if I shot Dingaan the Zulus would probably massacre
Marie and the others--Marie, whose sweet face I should never see again.
The second was that while there is life there is hope. Perhaps, after
all, he had not sent for an executioner, but for someone else. I would
wait. A few minutes more of existence were worth the having.
The shield-bearer returned, emerging from one of the narrow, reed-hedged
passages, and after him came no executioner, but a young white man, who,
as I knew from the look of him, was English. He saluted the king by
taking off his hat, which I remember was stuck round with black ostrich
feathers, then stared at me.
"O Tho-maas" (that is how he pronounced "Thomas"), said Dingaan, "tell
me if this boy is one of your brothers, or is he a Boer?"
"The king wants to know if you are Dutch or British," said the white
lad, speaking in English.
"As British as you are," I answered. "I was born in England, and come
from the Cape."
"That may be lucky for you," he said, "because the old witch-doctor,
Zikali, has told him that he must not kill any English. What is your
name? Mine is Thomas Halstead. I am interpreter here."
"Allan Quatermain. Tell Zikali, whoever he may be, that if he sticks to
his advice I will give him a good present."
"What are you talking about?" asked Dingaan suspiciously.
"He says he is English, no Boer, O king; that he was born across the
Black Water, and that he comes from the country out of which all the
Boers have trekked."
At this intelligence Dingaan pricked up his ears.
"Then he can tell me about these Boers," he said, "and what they are
after, or could if he were able to speak my tongue. I do not trust you
to interpret, you Tho-maas, whom I know to be a liar," and he glowered
"I can speak your tongue, though not very well, O king," I interrupted,
"and I can tell you all about the Boers, for I have lived among them."
"Ow!" said Dingaan, intensely interested. "But perhaps you are also a
liar. Or are you a praying man, like that fool yonder, who is named
Oweena?"--he meant the missionary Mr. Owen--" whom I spare because it is
not lucky to kill one who is mad, although he tries to frighten my
soldiers with tales of a fire into which they will go after they are
dead. As though it matters what happens to them after they are dead!"
he added reflectively, taking a pinch of snuff.
"I am no liar," I answered. "What have I to lie about?"
"You would lie to save your own life, for all white men are cowards; not
like the Zulus, who love to die for their king. But how are you named?"
"Your people call me Macumazahn."
"Well, Macumazahn, if you are no liar, tell me, is it true that these
Boers rebelled against their king who was named George, and fled from
him as the traitor Umsilikazi did from me?"
"Yes," I answered, "that is true."
"Now I am sure that you are a liar," said Dingaan triumphantly. "You
say that you are English and therefore serve your king, or the
Inkosikaas" (that is the Great Lady), "who they tell me now sits in his
place. How does it come about then that you are travelling with a party
of these very Amaboona who must be your enemies, since they are the
enemies of your king, or of her who follows after him?"
Now I knew that I was in a tight place, for on this matter of loyalty,
Zulu, and indeed all native ideas, are very primitive. If I said that I
had sympathy with the Boers, Dingaan would set me down as a traitor. If
I said that I hated the Boers, then still I should be a traitor because
I associated with them, and a traitor in his eyes would be one to be
killed. I do not like to talk religion, and anyone who has read what I
have written in various works will admit that I have done so rarely, if
ever. Yet at that moment I put up a prayer for guidance, feeling that
my young life hung upon the answer, and it came to me--whence I do not
know. The essence of that guidance was that I should tell the simple
truth to this fat savage. So I said to him:
"The answer is this, O king. Among those Boers is a maiden whom I love
and who betrothed herself to me since we were 'so high.' Her father
took her north. But she sent a message to me saying that her people
died of fever and she starved. So I went up in a ship to save her, and
have saved her, and those who remained alive of her people with her."
"Ow!" said Dingaan; "I understand that reason. It is a good reason.
However many wives he may have, there is no folly that a man will not
commit for the sake of some particular girl who is not yet his wife. I
have done as much myself, especially for one who was called Nada the
Lily, of whom a certain Umslopogaas robbed me, one of my own blood of
whom I am much afraid."*
[*--See the Author's book named "Nada the Lily."]
For a while he brooded heavily, then went on:
"Your reason is good, Macumazahn, and I accept it. More, I promise you
this. Perhaps I shall kill these Boers, or perhaps I shall not kill
them. But if I make up my mind to kill them, this girl of yours shall
be spared. Point her out to Kambula here--not to Tho-maas, for he is a
liar and would tell me the wrong one--and she shall be spared."
"I thank you, O king," I said; "but what is the use of that if I am to
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