H. Rider Haggard
Part 5 out of 6
"Get thee behind me, Satan," I muttered to myself, and was about to give
Hans a piece of my mind when I recollected that the poor fellow had his
own way of looking at things and could not be blamed. Also, as he said,
he loved me, and only suggested what he thought would tend to my joy and
safety. How could I suppose that he would be interested in the success
of a diplomatic mission to Dingaan, or think anything about it except
that it was a risky business? So I only said:
"Hans, if you are afraid, you had better stop behind. I can easily find
"Is the baas angry with me that he should speak so?" asked the
Hottentot. "Have I not always been true to him; and if I should be
killed, what does it matter? Have I not said that I do not think about
to-morrow, and we must all go to sleep sometime? No; unless the baas
beats me back, I shall come with him. But, baas"--this in a wheedling
tone--"you might give me some brandy to drink your health in to-night.
It is very good to get drunk when one has to be sober, and perhaps dead,
for a long time afterwards. It would be nice to remember when one is a
spook, or an angel with white wings, such as the old baas, your father,
used to tell us about in school on the Sabbath."
At this point, finding Hans hopeless, I got up and walked away, leaving
him to finish our preparations.
That evening there was a prayer-meeting in the camp, for although no
pastor was present, one of the Boer elders took his place and offered up
supplications which, if simple and even absurd in their wording, at
least were hearty enough. Amongst other requests, I remember that he
petitioned for the safety of those who were to go on the mission to
Dingaan and of those who were to remain behind. Alas! those prayers
were not heard, for it pleased the Power to Whom they were addressed to
After this meeting, in which I took an earnest share, Retief who just
before it began had ridden in from Doornkop, whither he had been to
visit his wife, held a kind of council, whereat the names of those who
had volunteered or been ordered to accompany him, were finally taken
down. At this council there was a good deal of discussion, since many
of the Boers did not think the expedition wise--at any rate, if it was
to be carried out on so large a scale. One of them, I forget which, an
old man, pointed out that it might look like a war party, and that it
would be wiser if only five or six went, as they had done before, since
then there could be no mistake as to the peaceful nature of their
Retief himself combated this view, and at last turned suddenly to me,
who was listening near by, and said:
"Allan Quatermain, you are young, but you have a good judgment; also,
you are one of the very few who know Dingaan and can speak his language.
Tell us now, what do you think?"
Thus adjured, I answered, perhaps moved thereto more than I thought by
Hans's talk, that I, too, considered the thing dangerous, and that
someone whose life was less valuable than the commandant's should go in
"Why do you say so, nephew," he said irritably, "seeing that all white
men's lives are of equal value, and I can smell no danger in the
"Because, commandant, I do smell danger, though what danger I cannot
say, any more than a dog or a buck can when it sniffs something in the
air and barks or runs. Dingaan is a tamed tiger just now, but tigers
are not house cats that one can play with them, as I know, who have felt
his claws and just, only just, come out from between them."
"What do you mean, nephew?" asked Retief in his direct fashion. "Do you
believe that this swartzel" (that is, black creature) "means to kill
"I believe that it is quite possible," I answered.
"Then, nephew, being a reasonable man as you are, you must have some
ground for your belief. Come now, out with it."
"I have none, commandant, except that one who can set the lives of a
dozen folk against a man's skill in shooting at birds on the wing, and
who can kill people to be a bait for those birds, is capable of
anything. Moreover, he told me that he did not love you Boers, and why
Now, all those who were standing about seemed to be impressed with this
argument. At any rate, they turned towards Retief, anxiously waiting
for his reply.
"Doubtless," answered the commandant, who, as I have said, was irritable
that night, "doubtless those English missionaries have poisoned the
king's mind against us Boers. Also," he added suspiciously, "I think
you told me, Allan, that the king said he liked you and meant to spare
you, even if he killed your companions, just because you also are
English. Are you sure that you do not know more than you choose to tell
us? Has Dingaan perhaps confided something to you--just because you are
Then noting that these words moved the assembled Boers, in whom race
prejudice and recent events had created a deep distrust of any born of
British blood, I grew very angry and answered:
"Commandant, Dingaan confided nothing to me, except that some Kaffir
witch-doctor, who is named Zikali, a man I never saw, had told him that
he must not kill an Englishman, and therefore he wished to spare me,
although one of your people, Hernan Pereira, had whispered to him that I
ought to be killed. Yet I say outright that I think you are foolish to
visit this king with so large a force. Still, I am ready to do so
myself with one or two others. Let me go, then, and try to persuade him
to sign this treaty as to the land. If I am killed or fail, you can
follow after me and do better."
"Allemachte!" exclaimed Retief; "that is a fair offer. But how do I
know, nephew, that when we came to read the treaty we should not find
that it granted all the land to you English and not to us Boers? No,
no, don't look angry. That was not a right thing to say, for you are
honest whatever most of your blood may be. Nephew Allan, you who are a
brave man, are afraid of this journey. Now, why is that, I wonder? Ah!
I have it. I had forgotten. You are to be married to-morrow morning to
a very pretty girl, and it is not natural that you should wish to spend
the next fortnight in Zululand. Don't you see, brothers, he wants to
get out of it because he is going to be married, as it is natural that
he should, and therefore he tries to frighten us all? When we were
going to be married, should we have wished to ride away at once to visit
some stinking savage? Ach! I am glad I thought of that just as I was
beginning to turn his gloomy colour, like a chameleon on a black hat,
for it explains everything," and he struck his thigh with his big hand
and burst into a roar of laughter.
All the company of Boers who stood around began to laugh also,
uproariously, for this primitive joke appealed to them. Moreover, their
nerves were strained; they also dreaded this expedition, and therefore
they were glad to relieve themselves in bucolic merriment. Everything
was clear to them now. Feeling myself in honour bound to go on the
embassy, as I was their only interpreter, I, artful dog, was trying to
play upon their fears in order to prevent it from starting, so that I
might have a week or two of the company of my new-wed wife. They saw
and appreciated the joke.
"He's slim, this little Englishman," shouted one.
"Don't be angry with him. We should have done as much ourselves,"
"Leave him behind," said a third. "Even the Zulus do not send a
new-married man on service." Then they smacked me on the back, and
hustled me in their rude, kindly manner, till at length I fell into a
rage and hit one of them on the nose, at which he only laughed the
louder, although I made it bleed.
"See here, friends," I said, as soon as silence was restored; "married
or no, whoever does not ride to Dingaan, I ride to him, although it is
against my judgment. Let those laugh loudest who laugh last."
"Good!" cried one; "if you set the pace we shall soon be home again,
Allan Quatermain. Who would not with Marie Marais at the end of the
Then, followed by their rough and mocking laughter, I broke away from
them, and took refuge in my wagon, little guessing that all this talk
would be brought up against me on a day to come.
In a certain class of uneducated mind foresight is often interpreted as
I was awakened on my wedding morning by the crash and bellowing of a
great thunderstorm. The lightning flashed fearfully all about us,
killing two oxen quite near to my wagon, and the thunder rolled and
echoed till the very earth seemed to shake. Then came a wail of cold
wind, and after that the swish of torrential rain. Although I was well
accustomed to such natural manifestations, especially at this season of
the year, I confess that these sights and sounds did not tend to raise
my spirits, which were already lower than they should have been on that
eventful day. Hans, however, who arrived to help me put on my best
clothes for the ceremony, was for once consoling.
"Don't look sick, baas," he said, "for if there is storm in the morning,
there is shine at night."
"Yes," I answered, speaking more to myself than to him, "but what will
happen between the storm of the morning and the peace of the night?"
It was arranged that the commission, which, counting the native
after-riders, consisted of over a hundred people, among them several
boys, who were little more than children, was to ride at one hour before
noon. Nobody could get about to make the necessary preparations until
the heavy rain had passed away, which it did a little after eight
o'clock. Therefore when I left the wagon to eat, or try to eat some
breakfast, I found the whole camp in a state of bustle.
Boers were shouting to their servants, horses were being examined, women
were packing the saddle-bags of their husbands and fathers with spare
clothes, the pack-beasts were being laden with biltong and other
provisions, and so forth.
In the midst of all this tumult I began to wonder whether my private
business would not be forgotten, since it seemed unlikely that time
could be found for marriages. However, about ten o'clock when, having
done everything that I had to do, I was sitting disconsolately upon my
wagon box, being too shy to mix with that crowd of busy mockers or to go
to the Prinsloos' camp to make inquiries, the vrouw herself appeared.
"Come on, Allan," she said, "the commandant is waiting and swearing
because you are not there. Also, there is another waiting, and oh! she
looks lovely. When they see her, every man in the camp will want her
for himself, whether he has got a wife or not, for in that matter,
although you mayn't think so just now, they are all the same as the
Kaffirs. Oh! I know them, I know them, a white skin makes no
While she held forth thus in her usual outspoken fashion, the vrouw was
dragging me along by the hand, just as though I were a naughty little
boy. Nor could I get free from that mighty grip, or, when once her
great bulk was in motion, match my weight against it. Of course, some
of the younger Boers, who, knowing her errand, had followed her, set up
a shout of cheers and laughter, which attracted everybody to the
"It is too late to hang back now, Englishman." "You must make the best
of a bad business." "If you wanted to change your mind, you should have
done it before," men and women roared and screamed with many other such
bantering words, till at length I felt myself turn the colour of a red
So we came at last to where Marie stood, the centre of an admiring
circle. She was clothed in a soft white gown made of some simple but
becoming stuff, and she wore upon her dark hair a wreath woven by the
other maidens in the camp, a bevy of whom stood behind her.
Now we were face to face. Our eyes met, and oh! hers were full of love
and trust. They dazzled and bewildered me. Feeling that I ought to
speak, and not knowing what to say, I merely stammered "Good morning,"
whereon everyone broke into a roar of laughter, except Vrouw Prinsloo,
"Did any one ever see such a fool?" and even Marie smiled.
Then Piet Retief appeared from somewhere dressed in tall boots and rough
riding clothes, such as the Boers wore in those days. Handing the roer
he was carrying to one of his sons, after much fumbling he produced a
book from his pocket, in which the place was marked with a piece of
"Now then," he said, "be silent, all, and show respect, for remember I
am not a man just now. I am a parson, which is quite a different thing,
and, being a commandant and a veld cornet and other officers all rolled
into one, by virtue of the law I am about to marry these young people,
so help me God. Don't any of you witnesses ever say afterwards that
they are not rightly and soundly married, because I tell you that they
are, or will be." He paused for breath, and someone said, "Hear, hear,"
or its Dutch equivalent, whereon, having glared the offender into
silence, Retief proceeded:
"Young man and young woman, what are your names?"
"Don't ask silly questions, commandant," broke in Vrouw Prinsloo; "you
know their names well enough."
"Of course I do, aunt," he answered; "but for this purpose I must
pretend not to know them. Are you better acquainted with the law than I
am? But stay, where is the father, Henri Marais?"
Someone thrust Marais forward, and there he stood quite silent, staring
at us with a queer look upon his face and his gun in his hand, for he,
too, was ready to ride.
"Take away that gun," said Retief; "it might go off and cause
disturbance or perhaps accidents," and somebody obeyed. "Now, Henri
Marais, do you give your daughter to be married to this man?"
"No," said Marais softly.
"Very well, that is just like you, but it doesn't matter, for she is of
age and can give herself. Is she not of age, Henri Marais? Don't stand
there like a horse with the staggers, but tell me; is she not of age?"
"I believe so," he answered in the same soft voice.
"Then take notice, people all, that this woman is of age, and gives
herself to be married to this man, don't you, my dear?"
"Yes," answered Marie.
"All right, now for it," and, opening the book, he held it up to the
light, and began to read, or, rather, to stumble, through the marriage
Presently he stuck fast, being, like most Boers of his time, no great
scholar, and exclaimed:
"Here, one of you help me with these hard words."
As nobody volunteered, Retief handed the book to me, for he knew that
Marais would not assist him, saying:
"You are a scholar, Allan, being a clergyman's son. Read on till we
come to the important bits, and I will say the words after you, which
will do just as well and be quite according to law."
So I read, Heaven knows how, for the situation was trying enough, until
I came to the crucial questions, when I gave the book back.
"Ah!" said Retief; "this is quite easy. Now then, Allan, do you take
this woman to be your wife? Answer, putting in your name, which is left
blank in the book."
I replied that I did, and the question was repeated to Marie, who did
"Well then, there you are," said Retief, "for I won't trouble you with
all the prayers, which I don't feel myself parson enough to say. Oh!
no, I forgot. Have you a ring?"
I drew one off my finger that had been my mother's--I believe it had
served this same purpose at the wedding of her grandmother--and set the
thin little hoop of gold upon the third finger of Marie's left hand. I
still wear that ring to-day.
"It should have been a new one," muttered Vrouw Prinsloo.
"Be silent, aunt," said Retief; "are there any jewellers' shops here in
the veld? A ring is a ring, even if it came off a horse's bit. There,
I think that is all. No, wait a minute, I am going to say a prayer of
my own over you, not one out of this book, which is so badly printed
that I cannot read it. Kneel down, both of you; the rest may stand, as
the grass is so wet."
Now, bethinking herself of Marie's new dress, the vrouw produced her
vatdoek from a capacious pocket, and doubled up that dingy article for
Marie to kneel on, which she did. Then Pieter Retief, flinging down the
book, clasped his hands and uttered this simple, earnest prayer,
whereof, strangely enough, every word remains fast in my mind. Coming
as it did, not from a printed page, but from his honest and believing
heart, it was very impressive and solemn.
"O God above us, Who sees all and is with us when we are born, when we
are married, when we die, and if we do our duty for all time afterwards
in Heaven, hear our prayer. I pray Thee bless this man and this woman
who appear here before Thee to be wed. Make them love each other truly
all their lives, be these long or short, be they sick or well, be they
happy or in sorrow, be they rich or poor. Give them children to be
reared up in Thy Word, give them an honest name and the respect of all
who know them, and at last give them Thy Salvation through the Blood of
Jesus the Saviour. If they are together, let them rejoice in each
other. If they are apart, let them not forget each other. If one of
them dies and the other lives, let that one who lives look forward to
the day of reunion and bow the head to Thy Will, and keep that one who
dies in Thy holy Hand. O Thou Who knowest all things, guide the lives
of these two according to Thy eternal purpose, and teach them to be sure
that whatever Thou doest, is done for the best. For Thou art a faithful
Creator, Who wishes good to His children and not evil, and at the last
Thou wilt give them that good if they do but trust in Thee through
daylight and through darkness. Now let no man dare to put asunder those
whom Thou hast joined together, O Lord God Almighty, Father of us all.
So he prayed, and all the company echoed that Amen from their hearts.
That is all except one, for Henri Marais turned his back on us and
"So," said Retief, wiping his brow with the sleeve of his coat, "you are
the last couple that ever I mean to marry. The work is too hard for a
layman who has bad sight for print. Now kiss each other; it is the
right thing to do."
So we kissed, and the congregation cheered.
"Allan," went on the commandant, pulling out a silver watch like a
turnip, "you have just half an hour before we ride, and the Vrouw
Prinsloo says that she has made you a wedding meal in that tent there,
so you had best go eat it."
To the tent we went accordingly, to find a simple but bounteous feast
prepared, of which we partook, helping each other to food, as is, or
was, the custom with new-wedded folk. Also, many Boers came in and
drank our healths, although the Vrouw Prinsloo told them that it would
have been more decent to leave us alone. But Henri Marais did not come
or drink our healths.
Thus the half-hour went all too swiftly, and not a word did we get
alone. At last in despair, seeing that Hans was already waiting with
the horses, I drew Marie aside, motioning to everyone to stand back.
"Dearest wife," I said in broken words, "this is a strange beginning to
our married life, but you see it can't be helped."
"No, Allan," she answered, "it can't be helped; but oh! I wish my heart
were happier about your journey. I fear Dingaan, and if anything should
chance to you I shall die of grief."
"Why should anything chance, Marie? We are a strong and well-armed
party, and Dingaan looks on us peacefully."
"I don't know, husband, but they say Hernan Pereira is with the Zulus,
and he hates you."
"Then he had better mind his manners, or he will not be here long to
hate anybody," I answered grimly, for my gorge rose at the thought of
this man and his treacheries.
"Vrouw Prinsloo," I called to the old lady, who was near, "be pleased to
come hither and listen. And, Marie, do you listen also. If by chance I
should hear anything affecting your safety, and send you a message by
someone you can trust, such as that you should remove yourselves
elsewhere or hide, promise me that you will obey it without question."
"Of course I will obey you, husband. Have I not just sworn to do so?"
Marie said with a sad smile.
"And so will I, Allan," said the vrouw; "not because I have sworn
anything, but because I know you have a good head on your shoulders, and
so will my man and the others of our party. Though why you should think
you will have any message to send, I can't guess, unless you know
something that is hidden from us," she added shrewdly. "You say you
don't; well, it is not likely you would tell us if you did. Look! They
are calling, you must go. Come on, Marie, let us see them off."
So we went to where the commission was gathered on horseback, just in
time to hear Retief addressing the people, or, rather, the last of his
"Friends," he said, "we go upon an important business, from which I hope
we shall return happily within a very little time. Still, this is a
rough country, and we have to deal with rough people. Therefore my
advice to all you who stay behind is that you should not scatter, but
keep together, so that in case of any trouble the men who are left may
be at hand to defend this camp. For if they are here you have nothing
to fear from all the savages in Africa. And now God be with you, and
good-bye. Come, trek, brothers, trek!"
Then followed a few moments of confusion while men kissed their wives,
children and sisters in farewell, or shook each other by the hand. I,
too, kissed Marie, and, tumbling on to my horse somehow, rode away, my
eyes blind with tears, for this parting was bitter. When I could see
clearly again I pulled up and looked back at the camp, which was now at
some distance. It seemed a peaceful place indeed, for although the
storm of the morning was returning and a pall of dark cloud hung over
it, the sun still shone upon the white wagon caps and the people who
went to and fro among them.
Who could have thought that within a little time it would be but a field
of blood, that those wagons would be riddled with assegais, and that the
women and children who were moving there must most of them lie upon the
veld mutilated corpses dreadful to behold? Alas! the Boers, always
impatient of authority and confident that their own individual judgment
was the best, did not obey their commandant's order to keep together.
They went off this way and that, to shoot the game which was then so
plentiful, leaving their families almost without protection. Thus the
Zulus found and slew them.
Presently as I rode forward a little apart from the others someone
overtook me, and I saw that it was Henri Marais.
"Well, Allan," he said, "so God has given you to me for a son-in-law.
Who would have thought it? You do not look to me like a new-married
man, for that marriage is not natural when the bridegroom rides off and
leaves the bride of an hour. Perhaps you will never be really married
after all, for God, Who gives sons-in-law, can also take them away,
especially when He was not asked for them. Ah!" he went on, lapsing
into French, as was his wont when moved, "qui vivra verra! qui vivra
verra!" Then, shouting this excellent but obvious proverb at the top of
his voice, he struck his horse with the butt of his gun, and galloped
away before I could answer him.
At that moment I hated Henri Marais as I had never hated anyone before,
not even his nephew Hernan. Almost did I ride to the commandant to
complain of him, but reflecting to myself, first that he was undoubtedly
half mad, and therefore not responsible for his actions, and secondly
that he was better here with us than in the same camp with my wife, I
gave up the idea. Yet alas! it is the half-mad who are the most
dangerous of lunatics.
Hans, who had observed this scene and overheard all Marais's talk, and
who also knew the state of the case well enough, sidled his horse
alongside of me, and whispered in a wheedling voice:
"Baas, I think the old baas is kransick and not safe. He looks like one
who is going to harm someone. Now, baas, suppose I let my gun off by
accident; you know we coloured people are very careless with guns! The
Heer Marais would never be troubled with any more fancies, and you and
the Missie Marie and all of us would be safer. Also, _you_ could not be
blamed, nor could I, for who can help an accident? Guns will go off
sometimes, baas, when you don't want them to."
"Get out," I answered. Yet if Hans's gun had chanced to "go off," I
believe it might have saved a multitude of lives!
Our journey to Umgungundhlovu was prosperous and without incident. When
we were within half a day's march from the Great Kraal we overtook the
herd of cattle that we had recaptured from Sikonyela, for these beasts
had been driven very slowly and well rested that they might arrive in
good condition. Also the commandant was anxious that we should present
them ourselves to the king.
Driving this multitude of animals before us--there were over five
thousand head of them--we reached the Great Place on Saturday the 3rd of
February about midday, and forced them through its gates into the cattle
kraals. Then we off-saddled and ate our dinner under those two milk
trees near the gate of the kraal where I had bid good-bye to Dingaan.
After dinner messengers came to ask us to visit the king, and with them
the youth, Thomas Halstead, who told the commandant that all weapons
must be left behind, since it was the Zulu law that no man might appear
before the king armed. To this Retief demurred, whereon the messengers
appealed to me, whom they had recognised, asking if that were not the
custom of their country.
I answered that I had not been in it long enough to know. Then there
was a pause while they sent for someone to bear evidence; at the time I
did not know whom, as I was not near enough to Thomas Halstead to make
inquiries. Presently this someone appeared, and turned out to be none
other than Hernan Pereira.
He advanced towards us attended by Zulus, as though he were a chief,
looking fat and well and handsomer than ever. Seeing Retief, he lifted
his hat with a flourish and held out his hand, which, I noted, the
commandant did not take.
"So you are still here, Mynheer Pereira!" he said coldly. "Now be good
enough to tell me, what is this matter about the abandoning of our
"The king charges me to say--" began Hernan.
"Charges you to say, Mynheer Pereira! Are you then this black man's
servant? But continue."
"That none must come into his private enclosure armed."
"Well, then, mynheer, be pleased to go tell this king that we do not
wish to come to his private enclosure. I have brought the cattle that
he desired me to fetch, and I am willing to deliver them to him wherever
he wishes, but we will not unarm in order to do so."
Now there was talk, and messengers were despatched, who returned at full
speed presently to say that Dingaan would receive the Boers in the great
dancing place in the midst of the kraal, and that they might bring their
guns, as he wished to see how they fired them.
So we rode in, making as fine a show as we could, to find that the
dancing place, which measured a good many acres in extent, was lined
round with thousands of plumed but unarmed warriors arranged in
"You see," I heard Pereira say to Retief, "these have no spears."
"No," answered the commandant, "but they have sticks, which when they
are a hundred to one would serve as well."
Meanwhile the vast mob of cattle were being driven in a double stream
past a knot of men at the head of the space, and then away through gates
behind. When the beasts had all gone we approached these men, among
whom I recognised the fat form of Dingaan draped in a bead mantle. We
ranged ourselves in a semicircle before him, and stood while he searched
us with his sharp eyes. Presently he saw me, and sent a councillor to
say that I must come and interpret for him.
So, dismounting, I went with Retief, Thomas Halstead, and a few of the
"Sakubona [Good day], Macumazahn," said Dingaan. "I am glad that you
have come, as I know that you will speak my words truly, being one of
the People of George whom I love, for Tho-maas here I do not trust,
although he is also a Son of George."
I told Retief what he said.
"Oh!" he exclaimed with a grunt, "it seems that you English are a step
in front of us Boers, even here."
Then he went forward and shook hands with the king, whom, it will be
remembered, he had visited before.
After that the "indaba" or talk began, which I do not propose to set out
at length, for it is a matter of history. It is enough to say that
Dingaan, after thanking Retief for recovering the cattle, asked where
was Sikonyela, the chief who had stolen them, as he wished to kill him.
When he learned that Sikonyela remained in his own country, he became,
or affected to become, angry. Then he asked where were the sixty horses
which he heard we had captured from Sikonyela, as they must be given up
Retief, by way of reply, touched his grey hairs, and inquired whether
Dingaan thought that he was a child that he, Dingaan, should demand
horses which did not belong to him. He added that these horses had been
restored to the Boers, from whom Sikonyela had stolen them.
When Dingaan had expressed himself satisfied with this answer, Retief
opened the question of the treaty. The king replied however, that the
white men had but just arrived, and he wished to see them dance after
their own fashion. As for the business, it might "sit still" till
So in the end the Boers "danced" for his amusement. That is, they
divided into two parties, and charged each other at full gallop, firing
their guns into the air, an exhibition which seemed to fill all present
with admiration and awe. When they paused, the king wished them to go
on firing "a hundred shots apiece," but the commandant declined, saying
he had no more powder to waste.
"What do you want powder for in a peaceful country?" asked Dingaan
Retief answered through me:
"To kill food for ourselves, or to protect ourselves if any evil-minded
men should attack us."
"Then it will not be wanted here," said Dingaan, "since I will give you
food, and as I, the king, am your friend, no man in Zululand dare be
Retief said he was glad to hear it, and asked leave to retire with the
Boers to his camp outside the gate, as they were all tired with riding.
This Dingaan granted, and we said good-bye and went away. Before I
reached the gate, however, a messenger, I remember it was my old friend
Kambula, overtook me, and said that the king wished to speak with me
alone. I answered him that I could not speak with the king alone
without the permission of the commandant. Thereon Kambula said:
"Come with me, I pray you, O Macumazahn, since otherwise you will be
taken by force."
Now, I told Hans to gallop on to Retief, and tell him of my predicament,
for already I saw that at some sign from Kambula I was being surrounded
by Zulus. He did so, and presently Retief came back himself accompanied
only by one man, and asked me what was the matter now. I informed him,
translating Kambula's words, which he repeated in his presence.
"Does the fellow mean that you will be seized if you do not go, or I
refuse to allow you to do so?"
To this question Kambula's answer was:
"That is so, Inkoos, since the king has private words for the ear of
Macumazahn. Therefore we must obey orders, and take him before the
king, living or dead."
"Allemachte!" exclaimed Retief, "this is serious," and, as though to
summon them to my help, he looked behind him towards the main body of
the Boers, who by this time were nearly all of them through the gate,
which was guarded by a great number of Zulus. "Allan," he went on, "if
you are not afraid, I think that you must go. Perhaps it is only that
Dingaan has some message about the treaty to send to me through you."
"I am not afraid," I answered. "What is the use of being afraid in a
place like this?"
"Ask that Kaffir if the king gives you safe conduct," said Retief.
I did so, and Kambula answered:
"Yes, for this visit. Who am I that I can speak the king's unspoken
words?" [which meant, guarantee his will in the future.]
"A dark saying," commented Retief. "But go, Allan, since you must, and
God bring you back safe again. It is clear that Dingaan did not ask
that you should come with me for nothing. Now I wish I had left you at
home with that pretty wife of yours."
So we parted, I going to the king's private enclosure on foot and
without my rifle, since I was not allowed to appear before him armed,
and the commandant towards the gate of the kraal accompanied by Hans,
who led my horse. Ten minutes later I stood before Dingaan, who greeted
me kindly enough, and began to ask a number of questions about the
Boers, especially if they were not people who had rebelled against their
own king and run away from him.
I answered, Yes, they had run away, as they wanted more room to live;
but I had told him all about that when I saw him before. He said he
knew I had, but he wished to hear "whether the same words came out of
the same mouth, or different words," so that he might know if I were a
true man or not. Then, after pausing a while, he looked at me in his
piercing fashion and asked:
"Have you brought me a present of that tall white girl with eyes like
two stars, Macumazahn? I mean the girl whom you refused to me, and whom
I could not take because you had won your bet, which gave all the white
people to you; she for whose sake you make brothers of these Boers, who
are traitors to their king?"
"No, O Dingaan," I answered; "there are no women among us. Moreover,
this maid is now my wife."
"Your wife!" he exclaimed angrily. "By the Head of the Black One, have
you dared to make a wife of her whom I desired? Now say, boy, you
clever Watcher by Night; you little white ant, who work in the dark and
only peep out at the end of your tunnel when it is finished; you wizard,
who by your magic can snatch his prey out of the hand of the greatest
king in all the world--for it was magic that killed those vultures on
Hloma Amabutu, not your bullets, Macumazahn--say, why should I not make
an end of you at once for this trick?"
I folded my arms and looked at him. A strange contrast we must have
made, this huge, black tyrant with the royal air, for to do him justice
he had that, at whose nod hundreds went the way of death, and I, a mere
insignificant white boy, for in appearance, at any rate, I was nothing
"O Dingaan," I said coolly, knowing that coolness was my only chance, "I
answer you in the words of the Commandant Retief, the great chief. Do
you take me for a child that I should give up my own wife to you who
already have so many? Moreover, you cannot kill me because I have the
word of your captain, Kambula, that I am safe with you."
This reply seemed to amuse him. At any rate, with one of those almost
infantile changes of mood which are common to savages of every degree,
he passed from wrath to laughter.
"You are quick as a lizard," he said. "Why should I, who have so many
wives, want one more, who would certainly hate me? Just because she is
white, and would make the others, who are black, jealous, I suppose.
Indeed, they would poison her, or pinch her to death in a month, and
then come to tell me she had died of fretting. Also, you are right; you
have my safe conduct, and must go hence unharmed this time. But look
you, little lizard, although you escape me between the stones, I will
pull off your tail. I have said that I want to pluck this tall white
flower of yours, and I will pluck her. I know where she dwells. Yes,
just where the wagon she sleeps in stands in the line, for my spies have
told me, and I will give orders that whoever is killed, she is to be
spared and brought to me living. So perhaps you will meet this wife of
yours here, Macumazahn."
Now, at these ominous words, that might mean so much or so little, the
sweat started to my brow, and a shiver went down my back.
"Perhaps I shall and perhaps I shall not, O king," I answered. "The
world is as full of chances to-day as it was not long ago when I shot at
the sacred vultures on Hloma Amabutu. Still, I think that my wife will
never be yours, O king."
"Ow!" said Dingaan; "this little white ant is making another tunnel,
thinking that he will come up at my back. But what if I put down my
heel and crush you, little white ant? Do you know," he added
confidentially, "that the Boer who mends my guns and whom here we call
'Two-faces,' because he looks towards you Whites with one eye and
towards us Blacks with the other, is still very anxious that I should
kill you? Indeed, when I told him that my spies said that you were to
ride with the Boers, as I had requested that you should be their Tongue,
he answered that unless I promised to give you to the vultures, he would
warn them against coming. So, since I wanted them to come as I had
arranged with him, I promised."
"Is it so, O king?" I asked. "And pray why does this Two-faces, whom we
name Pereira, desire that I should be killed?"
"Ow!" chuckled the obese old ruffian; "cannot you with all your
cleverness guess that, O Macumazahn? Perhaps it is he who needs the
tall white maiden, and not I. Perhaps if he does certain things for me,
I have promised her to him in payment. And perhaps," he added, laughing
quite loud, "I shall trick him after all, keeping her for myself, and
paying him in another way, for can a cheat grumble if he is
I answered that I was an honest man, and knew nothing about cheats, or
at what they could or could not grumble.
"Yes, Macumazahn," replied Dingaan quite genially. "That is where you
and I are alike. We are both honest, quite honest, and therefore
friends, which I can never be with these Amaboona, who, as you and
others have told me, are traitors. We play our game in the light, like
men, and who wins, wins, and who loses, loses. Now hear me, Macumazahn,
and remember what I say. Whatever happens to others, whatever you may
see, you are safe while I live. Dingaan has spoken. Whether I get the
tall white girl, or do not get her, still _you_ are safe; it is on my
head," and he touched the gum-ring in his hair.
"And why should I be safe if others are unsafe, O king?" I asked.
"Oh! if you would know that, ask a certain ancient prophet named Zikali,
who was in this land in the days of Senzangacona, my father, and before
then--that is, if you can find him. Also, I like you, who are not a
flat-faced fool like these Amaboona, but have a brain that turns in and
out through difficulties, as a snake does through reeds; and it would be
a pity to kill one who can shoot birds wheeling high above him in the
air, which no one else can do. So whatever you see and whatever you
hear, remember that you are safe, and shall go safely from this land, or
stay safely in it if you will, to be my voice to speak with the Sons of
"Now return to the commandant, and say to him that my heart is his
heart, and that I am very pleased to see him here. To-morrow, and
perhaps the next day, I will show him some of the dances of my people,
and after that I will sign the writing, giving him all the land he asks
and everything else he may desire, more than he can wish, indeed. Hamba
gachle, Macumazahn," and, rising with surprising quickness from his
chair, which was cut out of a single block of wood, he turned and
vanished through the little opening in the reed fence behind him that
led to his private huts.
As I was being conducted back to the Boer camp by Kambula, who was
waiting for me outside the gate of the labyrinth which is called
isiklohlo, I met Thomas Halstead, who was lounging about, I think in
order to speak with me. Halting, I asked him straight out what the
king's intentions were towards the Boers.
"Don't know," he answered, shrugging his shoulders, "but he seems so
sweet on them that I think he must be up to mischief. He is wonderfully
fond of you, too, for I heard him give orders that the word was to be
passed through all the regiments that if anyone so much as hurt you, he
should be killed at once. Also, you were pointed out to the soldiers
when you rode in with the rest, that they might all of them know you."
"That's good for me as far as it goes," I replied. "But I don't know
why I should need special protection above others, unless there is
someone who wants to harm me."
"There is that, Allan Quatermain. The indunas tell me that the
good-looking Portugee, whom they call 'Two-faces,' asks the king to kill
you every time he sees him. Indeed, I've heard him myself."
"That's kind of him," I answered, "but, then, Hernan Pereira and I never
got on. Tell me what is he talking about to the king when he isn't
asking him to kill me."
"Don't know," he said again. "Something dirty, I'll be bound. One may
be sure of that by the native name they have given him. I think,
however," he added in a whisper, "that he has had a lot to do with the
Boers being allowed to come here at all in order to get their treaty
signed. At least, one day when I was interpreting and Dingaan swore
that he would not give them more land than was enough to bury them in,
Pereira told him that it didn't matter what he signed, as 'what was
written with the pen could be scratched out with the spear.'"
"Indeed! And what did the king say to that?"
"Oh! he laughed and said it was true, and that he would give the Boer
commission all their people wanted and something over for themselves.
But don't you repeat that, Quatermain, for if you do, and it gets to the
ear of Dingaan, I shall certainly be killed. And, I say, you're a good
fellow, and I won a big bet on you over that vulture shooting, so I will
give you a bit of advice, which you will be wise to take. You get out
of this country as soon as you can, and go to look after that pretty
Miss Marais, whom you are sweet on. Dingaan wants her, and what Dingaan
wants he gets in this part of the world."
Then, without waiting to be thanked, he turned and disappeared among a
crowd of Zulus, who were following us from curiosity, leaving me
wondering whether or no Dingaan was right when he called this young man
a liar. His story seemed to tally so well with that told by the king
himself, that on the whole I thought he was not.
Just after I had passed the main gateway of the great town, where, his
office done, Kambula saluted and left me, I saw two white men engaged in
earnest conversation beneath one of the milk trees which, as I think I
have already mentioned, grow, or grew, there. They were Henri Marais
and his nephew. Catching sight of me, Marais walked off, but Pereira
advanced and spoke to me, although, warned perhaps by what had happened
to him in the case of Retief, I am glad to say he did not offer me his
"Good day to you, Allan," he said effusively. "I have just heard from
my uncle that I have to congratulate you, about Marie I mean, and,
believe me, I do so with all my heart."
Now, as he spoke these words, remembering what I had just heard, my
blood boiled in me, but I thought it wise to control myself, and
therefore only answered:
"Of course," he went on, "we have both striven for this prize, but as it
has pleased God that you should win it, why, I am not one to bear
"I am glad to hear it," I replied. "I thought that perhaps you might
be. Now tell me, to change the subject, how long will Dingaan keep us
"Oh! two or three days at most. You see, Allan, luckily I have been
able to persuade him to sign the treaty about the land without further
trouble. So as soon as that is done, you can all go home."
"The commandant will be very grateful to you," I said. "But what are
you going to do?"
"I do not know, Allan. You see, I am not a lucky fellow like yourself
with a wife waiting for me. I think that perhaps I shall stop here a
while. I see a way of making a great deal of money out of these Zulus;
and having lost everything upon that Delagoa Bay trek, I want money."
"We all do," I answered, "especially if we are starting in life. So
when it is convenient to you to settle your debts I shall be glad."
"Oh! have no fear," he exclaimed with a sudden lighting up of his dark
face, "I will pay you what I owe you, every farthing, with good interest
"The king has just told me that is you intention," I remarked quietly,
looking him full in the eyes. Then I walked on, leaving him staring
after me, apparently without a word to say.
I went straight to the hut that was allotted to Retief in the little
outlying guard-kraal, which had been given to us for a camp. Here I
found the commandant seated on a Kaffir stool engaged in painfully
writing a letter, using a bit of board placed on his knees as a desk.
He looked up, and asked me how I had got on with Dingaan, not being
sorry, as I think, of an excuse to pause in his clerical labours.
"Listen, commandant," I said, and, speaking in a low voice, so as not to
be overheard, I told him every word that had passed in the interviews I
had just had with Dingaan, with Thomas Halstead, and with Pereira.
He heard me out in silence, then said:
"This is a strange and ugly story, Allan, and if it is true, Pereira
must be an even bigger scoundrel than I thought him. But I can't
believe that it is true. I think that Dingaan has been lying to you for
his own purposes; I mean about the plot to kill you."
"Perhaps, commandant. I don't know, and I don't much care. But I am
sure that he was not lying when he said he meant to steal away my wife
either for himself or for Pereira."
"What, then, do you intend to do, Allan?"
"I intend, commandant, with your permission to send Hans, my
after-rider, back to the camp with a letter for Marie, telling her to
remove herself quietly to the farm I have chosen down on the river, of
which I told you, and there to lie hid till I come back."
"I think it needless, Allan. Still, if it will ease your mind, do so,
since I cannot spare you to go yourself. Only you must not send this
Hottentot, who would talk and frighten the people. I am despatching a
messenger to the camp to tell them of our safe arrival and good
reception by Dingaan. He can take your letter, in which I order you to
say to your wife that if she and the Prinsloos and the Meyers go to this
farm of yours, they are to go without talking, just as though they
wanted a change, that is all. Have the letter ready by dawn to-morrow
morning, as I trust mine may be," he added with a groan.
"It shall be ready, commandant; but what about Hernan Pereira and his
"This about the accursed Hernan Pereira," exclaimed Retief, striking the
writing-board with his fist. "On the first opportunity I will myself
take the evidence of Dingaan and of the English lad, Halstead. If I
find they tell me the same story they have told you, I will put Pereira
on his trial, as I threatened to do before; and should he be found
guilty, by God! I will have him shot. But for the present it is best to
do nothing, except keep an eye on him, lest we should cause fear and
scandal in the camp, and, after all, not prove the case. Now go and
write your letter, and leave me to write mine."
So I went and wrote, telling Marie something, but by no means all of
that I have set down. I bade her, and the Prinsloos and the Meyers, if
they would accompany her, as I was sure they would, move themselves off
at once to the farm I had beaconed out thirty miles away from the
Bushman's River, under pretence of seeing how the houses that were being
built there were getting on. Or if they would not go, I bade her go
alone with a few Hottentot servants, or any other companions she could
This letter I took to Retief, and read it to him. At my request, also,
he scrawled at the foot of it:
"I have seen the above and approve it, knowing all the story, which may
be true or false. Do as your husband bids you, but do not talk of it in
the camp except to those whom he mentions.--PIETER RETIEF."
So the messenger departed at dawn, and in due course delivered my letter
The next day was Sunday. In the morning I went to call upon the
Reverend Mr. Owen, the missionary, who was very glad to see me. He
informed me that Dingaan was in good mind towards us, and had been
asking him if he would write the treaty ceding the land which the Boers
wanted. I stopped for service at the huts of Mr. Owen, and then
returned to the camp. In the afternoon Dingaan celebrated a great war
dance for us to witness, in which about twelve thousand soldiers took
It was a wonderful and awe-inspiring spectacle, and I remember that each
of the regiments employed had a number of trained oxen which manoeuvred
with them, apparently at given words of command. We did not see Dingaan
that day, except at a distance, and after the dance was over returned to
our camp to eat the beef which he had provided for us in plenty.
On the third day--that was Monday, the 5th of February, there were more
dancings and sham fights, so many more, indeed, that we began to weary
of this savage show. Late in the afternoon, however, Dingaan sent for
the commandant and his men to come to see him, saying that he wished to
talk with him about the matter of the treaty. So we went; but only
three or four, of whom I was one, were admitted to Dingaan's presence,
the rest remaining at a little distance, where they could see us but
were out of earshot.
Dingaan then produced a paper which had been written by the Reverend Mr.
Owen. This document, which I believe still exists, for it was found
afterwards, was drawn up in legal or semi-legal form, beginning like a
proclamation, "Know all men."
It ceded "the place called Port Natal, together with all the land
annexed--that is to say, from Tugela to the Umzimvubu River westward,
and from the sea to the north"--to the Boers, "for their everlasting
property." At the king's request, as the deed was written in English by
Mr. Owen, I translated it to him, and afterwards the lad Halstead
translated it also, being called in to do so when I had finished.
This was done that my rendering might be checked, and the fact impressed
all the Boers very favourably. It showed them that the king desired to
understand exactly what he was to sign, which would not have been the
case had he intended any trick or proposed to cheat them afterwards.
From that moment forward Retief and his people had no further doubts as
to Dingaan's good faith in this matter, and foolishly relaxed all
precautions against treachery.
When the translating was finished, the commandant asked the king if he
would sign the paper then and there. He answered, "No; he would sign it
on the following morning, before the commission returned to Natal." It
was then that Retief inquired of Dingaan, through Thomas Halstead,
whether it was a true story which he had heard, that the Boer called
Pereira, who had been staying with him, and whom the Zulus knew by the
name of "Two-faces," had again asked him, Dingaan, to have me, Allan
Quatermain, whom they called Macumazahn, killed. Dingaan laughed and
"Yes, that is true enough, for he hates this Macumazahn. But let the
little white Son of George have no fear, since my heart is soft towards
him, and I swear by the head of the Black One that he shall come to no
harm in Zululand. Is he not my guest, as you are?"
He then went on to say that if the commandant wished it, he would have
"Two-faces" seized and killed because he had dared to ask for my life.
Retief answered that he would look into that matter himself, and after
Thomas Halstead had confirmed the king's story as to Pereira's conduct,
he rose and said good-bye to Dingaan.
Of this matter of Hernan Pereira, Retief said little as we went back to
the camp outside the Kraal, though the little that he did say showed his
deep anger. When we arrived at the camp, however, he sent for Pereira
and Marais and several of the older Boers. I remember that among these
were Gerrit Bothma, Senior, Hendrik Labuschagne and Matthys Pretorius,
Senior, all of them persons of standing and judgment. I also was
ordered to be present. When Pereira arrived, Retief charged him openly
with having plotted my murder, and asked him what he had to say. Of
course, his answer was a flat denial, and an accusation against me of
having invented the tale because we had been at enmity over a maiden
whom I had since married.
"Then, Mynheer Pereira," said Retief, "as Allan Quatermain here has won
the maiden who is now his wife, it would seem that his cause of enmity
must have ceased, whereas yours may well have remained. However, I have
no time to try cases of the sort now. But I warn you that this one will
be looked into later on when we get back to Natal, whither I shall take
you with me, and that meanwhile an eye is kept on you and what you do.
Also I warn you that I have evidence for all that I say. Now be so good
as to go, and to keep out of my sight as much as possible, for I do not
like a man whom these Kaffirs name 'Two-faces.' As for you, friend
Henri Marais, I tell you that you would do well to associate yourself
less with one whose name is under so dark a cloud, although he may be
your own nephew, whom all know you love blindly."
So far as I recollect neither of them made any answer to this direct
speech. They simply turned and went away. But on the next morning,
that of the fatal 6th of February, when I chanced to meet the Commandant
Retief as he was riding through the camp making arrangements for our
departure to Natal, he pulled up his horse and said:
"Allan, Hernan Pereira has gone, and Henri Marais with him, and for my
part I am not sorry, for doubtless we shall meet again, in this world or
the next, and find out all the truth. Here, read this, and give it back
to me afterwards"; and he threw me a paper and rode on.
I opened the folded sheet and read as follows:
"To the Commandant Retief, Governor of the Emigrant Boers,
"I will not stay here, where such foul accusations are laid on me by
black Kaffirs and the Englishman, Allan Quatermain, who, like all his
race, is an enemy of us Boers, and, although you do not know it, a
traitor who is plotting great harm against you with the Zulus.
Therefore I leave you, but am ready to meet every charge at the right
time before a proper Court. My uncle, Henri Marais, comes with me, as
he feels that his honour is also touched. Moreover, he has heard that
his daughter, Marie, is in danger from the Zulus, and returns to protect
her, which he who is called her husband neglects to do. Allan
Quatermain, the Englishman, who is the friend of Dingaan, can explain
what I mean, for he knows more about the Zulu plans than I do, as you
will find out before the end."
Then followed the signatures of Hernan Pereira and Henri Marais.
I put the letter in my pocket, wondering what might be its precise
meaning, and in particular that of the absurd and undefined charge of
treachery against myself. It seemed to me that Pereira had left us
because he was afraid of something--either that he might be placed upon
his trial or of some ultimate catastrophe in which he would be involved.
Marais probably had gone with him for the same reason that a bit of
iron follows a magnet, because he never could resist the attraction of
this evil man, his relative by birth. Or perhaps he had learned from
him the story of his daughter's danger, upon which I had already acted,
and really was anxious about her safety. For it must always be
remembered that Marais loved Marie passionately, however ill the reader
of this history may think that he behaved to her. She was his darling,
the apple of his eye, and her great offence in his sight was that she
cared for me more than she did for him. That is one of the reasons why
he hated me as much as he loved her.
Almost before I had finished reading this letter, the order came that we
were to go in a body to bid farewell to Dingaan, leaving our arms piled
beneath the two milk trees at the gate of the town. Most of our
after-riders were commanded to accompany us--I think because Retief
wished to make as big a show as possible to impress the Zulus. A few of
these Hottentots, however, were told to stay behind that they might
collect the horses, that were knee-haltered and grazing at a distance,
and saddle them up. Among these was Hans, for, as it chanced, I saw and
sent him with the others, so that I might be sure that my own horses
would be found and made ready for the journey.
Just as we were starting, I met the lad William Wood, who had come down
from the Mission huts, where he lived with Mr. Owen, and was wandering
about with an anxious face.
"How are you, William?" I asked.
"Not very well, Mr. Quatermain," he answered. "The fact is," he added
with a burst of confidence, "I feel queerly about you all. The Kaffirs
have told me that something is going to happen to you, and I think you
ought to know it. I daren't say any more," and he vanished into the
At that moment I caught sight of Retief riding to and fro and shouting
out orders. Going to him, I caught him by the sleeve, saying:
"Commandant, listen to me."
"Well, what is it now, nephew? " he asked absently.
I told him what Wood had said, adding that I also was uneasy; I did not
"Oh!" he answered with impatience, "this is all hailstones and burnt
grass" (meaning that the one would melt and the other blow away, or in
our English idiom, stuff and rubbish). "Why are you always trying to
scare me with your fancies, Allan? Dingaan is our friend, not our
enemy. So let us take the gifts that fortune gives us and be thankful.
This he said about eight o'clock in the morning.
We strolled through the gates of the Great Kraal, most of the Boers,
who, as usual, had piled their arms under the two milk trees, lounging
along in knots of four or five, laughing and chatting as they went. I
have often thought since, that although every one of them there, except
myself, was doomed within an hour to have taken the dreadful step from
time into eternity, it seems strange that advancing fate should have
thrown no shadow on their hearts. On the contrary, they were quite gay,
being extremely pleased at the successful issue of their mission and the
prospect of an immediate return to their wives and children. Even
Retief was gay, for I heard him joking with his companions about myself
and my "white-bread-week," or honeymoon, which, he said, was drawing
As we went, I noticed that most of the regiments who had performed the
great military dances before us on the previous day were gone. Two,
however, remained--the Ischlangu Inhlope, that is the "White Shields,"
who were a corps of veterans wearing the ring on their heads, and the
Ischlangu Umnyama, that is the "Black Shields," who were all of them
young men without rings. The "White Shields" were ranged along the
fence of the great open place to our left, and the "Black Shields" were
similarly placed to our right, each regiment numbering about fifteen
hundred men. Except for their kerries and dancing-sticks they were
Presently we reached the head of the dancing ground, and found Dingaan
seated in his chair with two of his great indunas, Umhlela and Tambusa,
squatting on either side of him. Behind him, standing in and about the
entrance to the labyrinth through which the king had come, were other
indunas and captains. On arriving in front of Dingaan we saluted him,
and he acknowledged the salutation with pleasant words and smiles. Then
Retief, two or three of the other Boers, Thomas Halstead and I went
forward, whereon the treaty was produced again and identified as the
same document that we had seen on the previous day.
At the foot of it someone--I forget who--wrote in Dutch, "De merk van
Koning Dingaan" [that is, The mark of King Dingaan.] In the space left
between the words "merk" and "van" Dingaan made a cross with a pen that
was given to him, Thomas Halstead holding his hand and showing him what
After this, three of his indunas, or great councillors, who were named
Nwara, Yuliwana and Manondo, testified as witnesses for the Zulus, and
M. Oosthuyzen, A. C. Greyling and B. J. Liebenberg, who were standing
nearest to Retief, as witnesses for the Boers.
This done, Dingaan ordered one of his isibongos, or praisers, to run to
and fro in front of the regiments and others there assembled, and
proclaim that he had granted Natal to the Boers to be their property for
ever, information which the Zulus received with shouts. Then Dingaan
asked Retief if he would not eat, and large trenchers of boiled beef
were brought out and handed round. This, however, the Boers refused,
saying they had already breakfasted. Thereon the king said that at
least they must drink, and pots of twala, or Kaffir beer, were handed
round, of which all the Boers partook.
While they were drinking, Dingaan gave Retief a message to the Dutch
farmers, to the effect that he hoped they would soon come and occupy
Natal, which henceforth was their country. Also, black-hearted villain
that he was, that they would have a pleasant journey home. Next he
ordered the two regiments to dance and sing war songs, in order to amuse
This they began to do, drawing nearer as they danced.
It was at this moment that a Zulu appeared, pushing his way through the
captains who were gathered at the gate of the labyrinth, and delivered
some message to one of the indunas, who in turn passed it on to the
"Ow! is it so?" said the king with a troubled look. Then his glance
fell on me as though by accident, and he added: "Macumazahn, one of my
wives is taken very ill suddenly, and says she must have some of the
medicine of the white men before they go away. Now, you tell me that
you are a new-married man, so I can trust you with my wives. I pray you
to go and find out what medicine it is that she needs, for you can speak
I hesitated, then translated what he had said to Retief.
"You had best go, nephew," said the commandant; "but come back quickly,
for we ride at once."
Still I hesitated, not liking this business; whereon the king began to
"What!" he said, "do you white men refuse me this little favour, when I
have just given you so much--you who have wonderful medicines that can
cure the sick?"
"Go, Allan, go," said Retief, when he understood his words, "or he will
grow cross and everything may be undone."
So, having no choice, I went through the gateway into the labyrinth.
Next moment men pounced on me, and before I could utter a word a cloth
was thrown over my mouth and tied tight behind my head.
I was a prisoner and gagged.
DEPART IN PEACE
A tall Kaffir, one of the king's household guards, who carried an
assegai, came up to me and whispered:
"Hearken, little Son of George. The king would save you, if he can,
because you are not Dutch, but English. Yet, know that if you try to
cry out, if you even struggle, you die," and he lifted the assegai so as
to be ready to plunge it through my heart.
Now I understood, and a cold sweat broke out all over me. My companions
were to be murdered, every one! Oh! gladly would I have given my life
to warn them. But alas! I could not, for the cloth upon my mouth was so
thick that no sound could pass it.
One of the Zulus inserted a stick between the reeds of the fence.
Working it to and fro sideways, he made an opening just in a line with
my eyes--out of cruelty, I suppose, for now I must see everything.
For some time--ten minutes, I dare say--the dancing and beer-drinking
went on. Then Dingaan rose from his chair and shook the hand of Retief
warmly, bidding him "Hamba gachle," that is, Depart gently, or in peace.
He retreated towards the gate of the labyrinth, and as he went the
Boers took off their hats, waving them in the air and cheering him. He
was almost through it, and I began to breathe again.
Doubtless I was mistaken. After all, no treachery was intended.
In the very opening of the gate Dingaan turned, however, and said two
words in Zulu which mean:
Instantly the warriors, who had now danced quite close and were waiting
for these words, rushed upon the Boers. I heard Thomas Halstead call
out in English:
"We are done for," and then add in Zulu, "Let me speak to the king!"
Dingaan heard also, and waved his hand to show that he refused to
listen, and as he did so shouted thrice :
"Bulala abatagati!" that is, Slay the wizards!
I saw poor Halstead draw his knife and plunge it into a Zulu who was
near him. The man fell, and again he struck at another soldier, cutting
his throat. The Boers also drew their knives--those of them who had
time--and tried to defend themselves against these black devils, who
rushed on them in swarms. I heard afterwards that they succeeded in
killing six or eight of them and wounding perhaps a score. But it was
soon over, for what could men armed only with pocket-knives do against
such a multitude?
Presently, amidst a hideous tumult of shouts, groans, curses, prayers
for mercy, and Zulu battle cries, the Boers were all struck down--yes,
even the two little lads and the Hottentot servants. Then they were
dragged away, still living, by the soldiers, their heels trailing on the
ground, just as wounded worms or insects are dragged by the black ants.
Dingaan was standing by me now, laughing, his fat face working
"Come, Son of George," he said, "and let us see the end of these
traitors to your sovereign."
Then I was pulled along to an eminence within the labyrinth, whence
there was a view of the surrounding country. Here we waited a little
while, listening to the tumult that grew more distant, till presently
the dreadful procession of death reappeared, coming round the fence of
the Great Kraal and heading straight for the Hill of Slaughter, Hloma
Amabutu. Soon its slopes were climbed, and there among the dark-leaved
bushes and the rocks the black soldiers butchered them, every one.
I saw and swooned away.
I believe that I remained senseless for many hours, though towards the
end of that time my swoon grew thin, as it were, and I heard a hollow
voice speaking over me in Zulu.
"I am glad that the little Son of George has been saved," said the
echoing voice, which I did not know, "for he has a great destiny and
will be useful to the black people in time to come." Then the voice
"O House of Senzangacona! now you have mixed your milk with blood, with
white blood. Of that bowl you shall drink to the dregs, and afterwards
must the bowl be shattered"; and the speaker laughed--a deep, dreadful
laugh that I was not to hear again for years.
I heard him go away, shuffling along like some great reptile, and then,
with an effort, opened my eyes. I was in a large hut, and the only
light in the hut came from a fire that burned in its centre, for it was
night time. A Zulu woman, young and good-looking, was bending over a
gourd near the fire, doing something to its contents. I spoke to her
"O woman," I said, "is that a man who laughed over me?"
"Not altogether, Macumazahn," she answered in a pleasant voice. "That
was Zikali, the Mighty Magician, the Counsellor of Kings, the Opener of
Roads; he whose birth our grandfathers do not remember; he whose breath
causes the trees to be torn out by the roots; he whom Dingaan fears and
"Did he cause the Boers to be killed?" I asked.
"Mayhap," she answered. "Who am I that I should know of such matters?"
"Are you the woman who was sick whom I was sent to visit?" I asked
"Yes, Macumazahn, I was sick, but now I am well and you are sick, for so
things go round. Drink this," and she handed me a gourd of milk.
"How are you named?" I inquired as I took it.
"Naya is my name," she replied, "and I am your jailer. Don't think that
you can escape me, though, Macumazahn, for there are other jailers
without who carry spears. Drink."
So I drank and bethought me that the draught might be poisoned. Yet so
thirsty was I that I finished it, every drop.
"Now am I a dead man?" I asked, as I put down the gourd.
"No, no, Macumazahn," she who called herself Naya replied in a soft
voice; "not a dead man, only one who will sleep and forget."
Then I lost count of everything and slept--for how long I know not.
When I awoke again it was broad daylight; in fact, the sun stood high in
the heavens. Perhaps Naya had put some drug into my milk, or perhaps I
had simply slept. I do not know. At any rate, I was grateful for that
sleep, for without it I think that I should have gone mad. As it was,
when I remembered, which it took me some time to do, for a while I went
near to insanity.
I recollect lying there in that hut and wondering how the Almighty could
have permitted such a deed as I had seen done. How could it be
reconciled with any theory of a loving and merciful Father? Those poor
Boers, whatever their faults, and they had many, like the rest of us,
were in the main good and honest men according to their lights. Yet
they had been doomed to be thus brutally butchered at the nod of a
savage despot, their wives widowed, their children left fatherless, or,
as it proved in the end, in most cases murdered or orphaned!
The mystery was too great--great enough to throw off its balance the
mind of a young man who had witnessed such a fearsome scene as I have
For some days really I think that my reason hung just upon the edge of
that mental precipice. In the end, however, reflection and education,
of which I had a certain amount, thanks to my father, came to my aid. I
recalled that such massacres, often on an infinitely larger scale, had
happened a thousand times in history, and that still through them,
often, indeed, by means of them, civilisation has marched forward, and
mercy and peace have kissed each other over the bloody graves of the
Therefore even in my youth and inexperience I concluded that some
ineffable purpose was at work through this horror, and that the lives of
those poor men which had been thus sacrificed were necessary to that
purpose. This may appear a dreadful and fatalistic doctrine, but it is
one that is corroborated in Nature every day, and doubtless the
sufferers meet with their compensations in some other state. Indeed, if
it be not so, faith and all the religions are vain.
Or, of course, it may chance that such monstrous calamities happen, not
through the will of the merciful Power of which I have spoken, but in
its despite. Perhaps the devil of Scripture, at whom we are inclined to
smile, is still very real and active in this world of ours. Perhaps
from time to time some evil principle breaks into eruption, like the
prisoned forces of a volcano, bearing death and misery on its wings,
until in the end it must depart strengthless and overcome. Who can say?
The question is one that should be referred to the Archbishop of
Canterbury and the Pope of Rome in conclave, with the Lama of Thibet for
umpire in case they disagreed. I only try to put down the thoughts that
struck me so long ago as my mind renders them to-day. But very likely
they are not quite the same thoughts, for a full generation has gone by
me since then, and in that time the intelligence ripens as wine does in
Besides these general matters, I had questions of my own to consider
during those days of imprisonment--for instance, that of my own safety,
though of this, to be honest, I thought little. If I were going to be
killed, I was going to be killed, and there was an end. But my
knowledge of Dingaan told me that he had not massacred Retief and his
companions for nothing. This would be but the prelude to a larger
slaughter, for I had not forgotten what he said as to the sparing of
Marie and the other hints he gave me.
From all this I concluded, quite rightly as it proved, that some general
onslaught was being made upon the Boers, who probably would be swept out
to the last man. And to think that here I was, a prisoner in a Kaffir
kraal, with only a young woman as a jailer, and yet utterly unable to
escape to warn them. For round my hut lay a courtyard, and round it
again ran a reed fence about five feet six inches high. Whenever I
looked over this fence, by night or by day, I saw soldiers stationed at
intervals of about fifteen yards. There they stood like statues, their
broad spears in their hands, all looking inwards towards the fence.
There they stood--only at night their number was doubled. Clearly it
was not meant that I should escape.
A week went by thus--believe me, a very terrible week. During that time
my sole companion was the pretty young woman, Naya. We became friends
in a way and talked on a variety of subjects. Only, at the end of our
conversations I always found that I had gained no information whatsoever
about any matter of immediate interest. On such points as the history
of the Zulu and kindred tribes, or the character of Chaka, the great
king, or anything else that was remote she would discourse by the hour.
But when we came to current events, she dried up like water on a red-hot
brick. Still, Naya grew, or pretended to grow, quite attached to me.
She even suggested naively that I might do worse than marry her, which
she said Dingaan was quite ready to allow, as he was fond of me and
thought I should be useful in his country. When I told her that I was
already married, she shrugged her shining shoulders and asked with a
laugh that revealed her beautiful teeth:
"What does that matter? Cannot a man have more wives than one? And,
Macumazahn," she added, leaning forward and looking at me, "how do you
know that you have even one? You may be divorced or a widower by now."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"I? I mean nothing; do not look at me so fiercely, Macumazahn. Surely
such things happen in the world, do they not?"
"Naya," I said, "you are two bad things--a bait and a spy--and you know
"Perhaps I do, Macumazahn," she answered. "Am I to blame for that, if
my life is on it, especially when I really like you for yourself?"
"I don't know," I said. "Tell me, when am I going to get out of this
"How can I tell you, Macumazahn?" Naya replied, patting my hand in her
genial way, "but I think before long. When you are gone, Macumazahn,
remember me kindly sometimes, as I have really tried to make you as
comfortable as I could with a watcher staring through every straw in the
I said whatever seemed to be appropriate, and next morning my
deliverance came. While I was eating my breakfast in the courtyard at
the back of the hut, Naya thrust her handsome and pleasant face round
the corner and said that there was a messenger to see me from the king.
Leaving the rest of the meal unswallowed, I went to the doorway of the
yard and there found my old friend, Kambula.
"Greeting, Inkoos," he said to me; "I am come to take you back to Natal
with a guard. But I warn you to ask me no questions, for if you do I
must not answer them. Dingaan is ill, and you cannot see him, nor can
you see the white praying-man, or anyone; you must come with me at
"I do not want to see Dingaan," I replied, looking him in the eyes.
"I understand," answered Kambula; "Dingaan's thoughts are his thoughts
and your thoughts are your thoughts, and perhaps that is why he does not
want to see _you_. Still, remember, Inkoos, that Dingaan has saved your
life, snatching you unburned out of a very great fire, perhaps because
you are of a different sort of wood, which he thinks it a pity to burn.
Now, if you are ready, let us go."
"I am ready," I answered.
At the gate I met Naya, who said:
"You never thought to say good-bye to me, White Man, although I have
tended you well. Ah! what else could I expect? Still, I hope that if I
should have to fly from this land for _my_ life, as may chance, you will
do for me what I have done for you."
"That I will," I answered, shaking her by the hand; and, as it happened,
in after years I did.
Kambula led me, not through the kraal Umgungundhlovu, but round it. Our
road lay immediately past the death mount, Hloma Amabutu, where the
vultures were still gathered in great numbers. Indeed, it was actually
my lot to walk over the new-picked bones of some of my companions who
had been despatched at the foot of the hill. One of these skeletons I
recognised by his clothes to be that of Samuel Esterhuizen, a very good
fellow, at whose side I had slept during all our march. His empty
eye-sockets seemed to stare at me reproachfully, as though they asked me
why I remained alive when he and all his brethren were dead. I echoed
the question in my own mind. Why of that great company did I alone
An answer seemed to rise within me: That I might be one of the
instruments of vengeance upon that devilish murderer, Dingaan. Looking
upon those poor shattered and desecrated frames that had been men, I
swore in my heart that if I lived I would not fail in that mission. Nor
did I fail, although the history of that great repayment cannot be told
in these pages.
Turning my eyes from this dreadful sight, I saw that on the opposite
slope, where we had camped during our southern trek from Delagoa, still
stood the huts and wagons of the Reverend Mr. Owen. I asked Kambula
whether he and his people were also dead.
"No, Inkoos," he answered; "they are of the Children of George, as you
are, and therefore the king has spared them, although he is going to
send them out of the country."
This was good news, so far as it went, and I asked again if Thomas
Halstead had also been spared, since he, too, was an Englishman.
"No," said Kambula. "The king wished to save him, but he killed two of
our people and was dragged off with the rest. When the slayers got to
their work it was too late to stay their hands."
Again I asked whether I might not join Mr. Owen and trek with him, to
which Kambula answered briefly:
"No, Macumazahn; the king's orders are that you must go by yourself."
So I went; nor did I ever again meet Mr. Owen or any of his people. I
believe, however, that they reached Durban safely and sailed away in a
ship called the Comet.
In a little while we came to the two milk trees by the main gate of the
kraal, where much of our saddlery still lay scattered about, though the
guns had gone. Here Kambula asked me if I could recognise my own
"There it is," I answered, pointing to it; "but what is the use of a
saddle without a horse?"
"The horse you rode has been kept for you, Macumazahn," he replied.
Then he ordered one of the men with us to bring the saddle and bridle,
also some other articles which I selected, such as a couple of blankets,
a water-bottle, two tins containing coffee and sugar, a little case of
medicines, and so forth.
About a mile further on I found one of my horses tethered by an outlying
guard hut, and noted that it had been well fed and cared for. By
Kambula's leave I saddled it and mounted. As I did so, he warned me
that if I tried to ride away from the escort I should certainly be
killed, since even if I escaped them, orders had been given throughout
the land to put an end to me should I be seen alone.
I replied that, unarmed as I was, I had no idea of making any such
attempt. So we went forward, Kambula and his soldiers walking or
trotting at my side.
For four full days we journeyed thus, keeping, so far as I could judge,
about twenty or thirty miles to the east of that road by which I had
left Zululand before and re-entered it with Retief and his commission.
Evidently I was an object of great interest to the Zulus of the country
through which we passed, perhaps because they knew me to be the sole
survivor of all the white men who had gone up to visit the king. They
would come down in crowds from the kraals and stare at me almost with
awe, as though I were a spirit and not a man. Only, not one of them
would say anything to me, probably because they had been forbidden to do
so. Indeed, if I spoke to any of them, invariably they turned and
walked or ran out of hearing.
It was on the evening of the fourth day that Kambula and his soldiers
received some news which seemed to excite them a great deal. A
messenger in a state of exhaustion, who had an injury to the fleshy part
of his left arm, which looked to me as though it had been caused by a
bullet, appeared out of the bush and said something of which, by
straining my ears, I caught two words--"Great slaughter." Then Kambula
laid his fingers on his lips as a signal for silence and led the man
away, nor did I see or hear any more of him. Afterwards I asked Kambula
who had suffered this great slaughter, whereon he stared at me
innocently and replied that he did not know of what I was speaking.
"What is the use of lying to me, Kambula, seeing that I shall find out
the truth before long?"
"Then, Macumazahn, wait till you do find it out, And may it please you,"
he replied, and went off to speak with his people at a distance.
All that night I heard them talking off and on--I, who lay awake plunged
into new miseries. I was sure that some other dreadful thing had
happened. Probably Dingaan's armies had destroyed all the Boers, and,
if so, oh! what had become of Marie? Was she dead, or had she perhaps
been taken prisoner, as Dingaan had told me would be done for his own
vile purposes? For aught I knew she might now be travelling under
escort to Umgungundhlovu, as I was travelling to Natal.
The morning came at last, and that day, about noon, we reached a ford of
the Tugela which luckily was quite passable. Here Kambula bade me
farewell, saying that his mission was finished. Also he delivered to me
a message that I was to give from Dingaan to the English in Natal. It
was to this effect: That he, Dingaan, had killed the Boers who came to
visit him because he found out that they were traitors to their chief,
and therefore not worthy to live. But that he loved the Sons of George,
who were true-hearted people, and therefore had nothing to fear from
him. Indeed, he begged them to come and see him at his Great Place,
where he would talk matters over with them.
I said that I would deliver the message if I met any English people,
but, of course, I could not say whether they would accept Dingaan's
invitation to Umgungundhlovu. Indeed, I feared lest that town might
have acquired such a bad name that they would prefer not to come there
without an army.
Then, before Kambula had time to take any offence, I shook his
outstretched hand and urged my horse into the stream. I never met
Kambula again living, though after the battle of Blood River I saw him
Once over the Tugela I rode forward for half a mile or so till I was
clear of the bush and reeds that grew down to the water, fearing lest
the Zulus should follow and take me back to Dingaan to explain my rather
imprudent message. Seeing no signs of them, I halted, a desolate
creature in a desolate country which I did not know, wondering what I
should do and whither I should ride. Then it was that there happened
one of the strangest experiences of all my adventurous life.
As I sat dejectedly upon my horse, which was also dejected, amidst some
tumbled rocks that at a distant period in the world's history had formed
the bank of the great river, I heard a voice which seemed familiar to me
"Baas, is that _you_, baas?"
I looked round and could see no one, so, thinking that I had been
deceived by my imagination, I held my peace.
"Baas," said the voice again, "are you dead or are you alive? Because,
if you are dead, I don't want to have anything to do with spooks until I
Now I answered, "Who is it that speaks, and whence?" though, really, as
I could see no one, I thought that I must be demented.
The next moment my horse snorted and shied violently, and no wonder, for
out of a great ant-bear hole not five paces away appeared a yellow face
crowned with black wool, in which was set a broken feather. I looked at
the face and the face looked at me.
"Hans," I said, "is it you? I thought that _you_ were killed with the
"And I thought that _you_ were killed with the others, baas. Are you
sure that you are alive?"
"What are you doing there, you old fool?" I asked.
"Hiding from the Zulus, baas. I heard them on the other bank, and then
saw a man on a horse crossing the river, and went to ground like a
jackal. I have had enough of Zulus."
"Come out," I said, "and tell me your story."
He emerged, a thin and bedraggled creature, with nothing left on him but
the upper part of a pair of old trousers, but still Hans, undoubtedly
Hans. He ran to me, and seizing my foot, kissed it again and again,
weeping tears of joy and stuttering:
"Oh, baas, to think that I should find you who were dead, alive, and
find myself alive, too. Oh! baas, never again will I doubt about the
Big Man in the sky of whom your reverend father is so fond. For after I
had tried all our own spirits, and even those of my ancestors, and met
with nothing but trouble, I said the prayer that the reverend taught us,
asking for my daily bread because I am so very hungry. Then I looked
out of the hole and there you were. Have you anything to eat about you,
As it chanced, in my saddle-bags I had some biltong that I had saved
against emergencies. I gave it to him, and he devoured it as a famished
hyena might do, tearing off the tough meat in lumps and bolting them
whole. When it was all gone he licked his fingers and his lips and
stood still staring at me.
"Tell me your story," I repeated.
"Baas, I went to fetch the horses with the others, and ours had strayed.
I got up a tree to look for them. Then I heard a noise, and saw that
the Zulus were killing the Boers; so knowing that presently they would
kill us, too, I stopped in that tree, hiding myself as well as I could
in a stork's nest. Well, they came and assegaied all the other Totties,
and stood under my tree cleaning their spears and getting their breath,
for one of my brothers had given them a good run. But they never saw
me, although I was nearly sick from fear on the top of them. Indeed, I
was sick, but into the nest.
"Well, I sat in that nest all day, though the sun cooked me like beef on
a stick; and when night came I got down and ran, for I knew it was no
good to stop to look for you, and 'every man for himself when a black
devil is behind you,' as your reverend father says. All night I ran,
and in the morning hid up in a hole. Then when night came again I went
on running. Oh! they nearly caught me once or twice, but never quite,
for I know how to hide, and I kept where men do not go. Only I was
hungry, hungry; yes, I lived on snails and worms, and grass like an ox,
till my middle ached. Still, at last I got across the river and near to
"Then just before the day broke and I was saying, 'Now, Hans, although
your heart is sad, your stomach will rejoice and sing,' what did I see
but those Zulu devils, thousands of them, rush down on the camp and kill
all the poor Boers. Men and women and the little children, they killed
them by the hundred, till at last other Boers came and drove them away,
although they took all the cattle with them. Well, as I was sure that
they would come back, I did not stop there. I ran down to the side of
the river, and have been crawling about in the reeds for days, living on
the eggs of water-birds and a few small fish that I caught in the pools,
till this morning, when I heard the Zulus again and slipped up here into
this hole. Then you came and stood over the hole, and for a long while
I thought you were a ghost.
"But now we are together once more and all is right, just as what your
reverend father always said it would be with those who go to church on
Sunday, like me when there was nothing else to do." And again he fell
to kissing my foot.
"Hans," I said, "you saw the camp. Was the Missie Marie there?"
"Baas, how can I tell, who never went into it? But the wagon she slept
in was not there; no, nor that of the Vrouw Prinsloo or of the Heer
"Thank God!" I gasped, then added: "Where were you trying to get to,
Hans, when you ran away from the camp?"
"Baas, I thought perhaps that the Missie and the Prinsloos and the
Meyers had gone to that fine farm which you pegged out, and that I would
go and see if they were there. Because if so, I was sure that they
would be glad to know that you were really dead, and give me some food
in payment for my news. But I was afraid to walk across the open veld
for fear lest the Zulus should see me and kill me. Therefore I came
round through the thick bush along the river, where one can only travel
slowly, especially if hollow," and he patted his wasted stomach.
"But, Hans," I asked, "are we near my farm where I set the men to build
the houses on the hill above the river?"
"Of course, baas. Has your brain gone soft that you cannot find your
way about the veld? Four, or at most five, hours on horseback, riding
slow, and you are there."
"Come on, Hans," I said, "and be quick, for I think that the Zulus are
not far behind."
So we started, Hans hanging to my stirrup and guiding me, for I knew
well enough that although he had never travelled this road, his instinct
for locality would not betray a coloured man, who can find his way
across the pathless veld as surely as a buck or a bird of the air.
On we went over the rolling plain, and as we travelled I told him my
story, briefly enough, for my mind was too torn with fears to allow me
to talk much. He, too, told me more of his escape and adventures. Now
I understood what was that news which had so excited Kambula and his
soldiers. It was evident that the Zulu impis had destroyed a great
number of the Boers whom they found unprepared for attack, and then had
been driven off by reinforcements that arrived from other camps.
That was why I had been kept prisoner for all those days. Dingaan
feared lest I should reach Natal in time to warn his victims!
One hour, two hours, three hours, and then suddenly from the top of a
rise the sight of the beautiful Mooi River winding through the plain
like a vast snake of silver, and there, in a loop of it, the
flat-crested koppie on which I had hoped to make my home. Had
hoped!--why should I not still hope? For aught I knew everything might
yet be well. Marie might have escaped the slaughter as I had done, and
if so, after all our troubles perchance many years of life and happiness
awaited us. Only it seemed too good to be true.
I flogged my horse, but the poor beast was tired out and could only
break into short canters, that soon lapsed to a walk again. But whether
it cantered or whether it walked, its hoofs seemed to beat out the
words--"Too good to be true!" Sometimes they beat them fast, and
sometimes they beat them slow, but always their message seemed the same.
Hans, too, was outworn and weak from starvation. Also he had a cut upon
his foot which hampered him so much that at last he said I had better go
on alone; he would follow more slowly. Then I dismounted and set him on
the horse, walking by it myself.
Thus it came about that the gorgeous sunset was finished and the sky had
grown grey with night before we reached the foot of the koppie. Yet the
last rays of the sinking orb had shown me something as they died. There
on the slope of the hill stood some mud and wattle houses, such as I had
ordered to be built, and near to them several white-capped wagons. Only
I did not see any smoke rising from those houses as there should have
been at this hour of the day, when men cooked their evening food. The
moon would be up presently, I knew, but meanwhile it was dark and the
tired horse stumbled and floundered among the stones which lay about at
the foot of the hill.
I could bear it no longer.
"Hans," I said, "do you stay here with the horse. I will creep to the
houses and see if any dwell there."
"Be careful, baas," he answered, "lest you should find Zulus, for those
black devils are all about."
I nodded, for I could not speak, and then began the ascent. For several
hundred yards I crept from stone to stone, feeling my way, for the
Kaffir path that led to the little plateau where the spring was, above
which the shanties stood, ran at the other end of the hill. I struck
the spruit or rivulet that was fed by this spring, being guided to it by
the murmur of the water, and followed up its bank till I heard a sound
which caused me to crouch and listen.
I could not be sure because of the ceaseless babble of the brook, but
the sound seemed like that of sobs. While I waited the great moon
appeared suddenly above a bank of inky cloud, flooding the place with
light, and oh! by that light, looking more ethereal than woman I saw--I
She stood not five paces from me, by the side of the stream, whither she
had come to draw water, for she held a vessel in her hand. She was
clothed in some kind of a black garment, such as widows wear, but made
of rough stuff, and above it her face showed white in the white rays of
the moon. Gazing at her from the shadow, I could even see the tears
running down her cheeks, for it was she who wept in this lonely place,
wept for one who would return no more.
My voice choked in my throat; I could not utter a single word. Rising
from behind a rock I moved towards her. She saw me and started, then
said in a thrilling whisper:
"Oh! husband, has God sent you to call me? I am ready, husband, I am
ready!" and she stretched out her arms wildly, letting fall the vessel,
that clanked upon the ground.
"Marie!" I gasped at length; and at that word the blood rushed to her
face and brow, and I saw her draw in her breath as though to scream.
"Hush!" I whispered. "It is I, Allan, who have escaped alive."
The next thing I remember was that she lay in my arms.
"What has happened here?" I asked when I had told my tale, or some of
"Nothing, Allan," she answered. "I received your letter at the camp,
and we trekked away as you bade us, without telling the others why,
because you remember the Commandant Retief wrote to us not to do so. So
we were out of the great slaughter, for the Zulus did not know where we
had gone, and never followed us here, although I have heard that they
sought for me. My father and my cousin Hernan only arrived at the camp
two days after the attack, and discovering or guessing our
hiding-place--I know not which--rode on hither. They say they came to
warn the Boers to be careful, for they did not trust Dingaan, but were
too late. So they too were out of the slaughter, for, Allan, many, many
have been killed--they say five or six hundred, most of them women and
children. But thank God! many more escaped, since the men came in from
the other camps farther off and from their shooting parties, and drove
away the Zulus, killing them by scores."
"Are your father and Pereira here now?" I asked.
"No, Allan. They learned of the massacre and that the Zulus were all
gone yesterday morning. Also they got the bad news that Retief and
everyone with him had been killed at Dingaan's town, it is said through
the treachery of the English, who arranged with Dingaan that he should
"That is false," I said; "but go on."
"Then, Allan, they came and told me that I was a widow like many other
women--I who had never been a wife. Allan, Hernan said that I should
not grieve for you, as you deserved your fate, since you had been caught
in your own snare, being one of those who had betrayed the Boers. The
Vrouw Prinsloo answered to his face that he lied, and, Allan, I said
that I would never speak to him again until we met before the Judgment
Seat of God; nor will I do so."
"But I will speak to him," I muttered. "Well, where are they now?"
"They rode this morning back to the other Boers. I think they want to
bring a party of them here to settle, if they like this place, as it is
so easy to defend. They said they would return to-morrow, and that
meanwhile we were quite safe, as they had sure tidings that all the
Zulus were back over the Tugela, taking some of their wounded with them,
and also the Boer cattle as an offering to Dingaan. But come to the
house, Allan--our home that I had made ready for you as well as I could.
Oh! my God! our home on the threshold of which I believed you would
never set a foot. Yes, when the moon rose from that cloud I believed
it, and look, they are still quite close together. Hark, what is that?"
I listened, and caught the sound of a horse's hoofs stumbling among the
"Don't be frightened," I answered; "it is only Hans with my horse. He
escaped also; I will tell you how afterwards." And as I spoke he
appeared, a woebegone and exhausted object.
"Good day, missie," he said with an attempt at cheerfulness. "Now you
should give me a fine dinner, for you see I have brought the baas back
safe to you. Did I not tell you, baas, that everything would come
Then he grew silent from exhaustion. Nor were we sorry, who at that
moment did not wish to listen to the poor fellow's talk.
Something over two hours had gone by since the moon broke out from the
clouds. I had greeted the Vrouw Prinsloo and all my other friends, and
been received by them with rapture as one risen from the dead. If they
had loved me before, now a new gratitude was added to their love, since
had it not been for my warning they also must have made acquaintance
with the Zulu spears and perished. It was on their part of the camp
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