Part 3 out of 5
__'Thou shalt bring down the noise of strangers, as the heat in
a dry place; the branch of the Terrible Ones shall be
__'And in this mountain shall the Lord of Hosts make unto all
people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat
things full of marrow.
__'And He will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering
cast over all people, and the vail that is brought over all
__'And the rebuke of His people shall He take away from off all
the earth; for the Lord hath spoken it.'_
I listened spellbound as he prayed. I heard the phrases
familiar to me in my schooldays at Kirkcaple. He had some of
the tones of my father's voice, and when I shut my eyes I
could have believed myself a child again. So much he had got
from his apprenticeship to the ministry. I wondered vaguely
what the good folks who had listened to him in churches and
halls at home would think of him now. But there was in the
prayer more than the supplications of the quondam preacher.
There was a tone of arrogant pride, the pride of the man to
whom the Almighty is only another and greater Lord of Hosts.
He prayed less as a suppliant than as an ally. A strange emotion
tingled in my blood, half awe, half sympathy. As I have said,
I understood that there are men born to kingship.
He ceased with a benediction. Then he put on his leopard-
skin cloak and kilt, and received from the kneeling chief a
spear and shield. Now he was more king than priest, more
barbarian than Christian. It was as a king that he now spoke.
I had heard him on board the liner, and had thought his
voice the most wonderful I had ever met with. But now in that
great resonant hall the magic of it was doubled. He played
upon the souls of his hearers as on a musical instrument. At
will he struck the chords of pride, fury, hate, and mad joy.
Now they would be hushed in breathless quiet, and now the
place would echo with savage assent. I remember noticing that
the face of my neighbour, 'Mwanga, was running with tears.
He spoke of the great days of Prester John, and a hundred
names I had never heard of. He pictured the heroic age of his
nation, when every man was a warrior and hunter, and rich
kraals stood in the spots now desecrated by the white man, and
cattle wandered on a thousand hills. Then he told tales of
white infamy, lands snatched from their rightful possessors,
unjust laws which forced the Ethiopian to the bondage of a
despised caste, the finger of scorn everywhere, and the mocking
word. If it be the part of an orator to rouse the passion of
his hearers, Laputa was the greatest on earth. 'What have ye
gained from the white man?' he cried. 'A bastard civilization
which has sapped your manhood; a false religion which would
rivet on you the chains of the slave. Ye, the old masters of the
land, are now the servants of the oppressor. And yet the
oppressors are few, and the fear of you is in their hearts. They
feast in their great cities, but they see the writing on the wall,
and their eyes are anxiously turning lest the enemy be at their
gates.' I cannot hope in my prosaic words to reproduce that
amazing discourse. Phrases which the hearers had heard at
mission schools now suddenly appeared, not as the white man's
learning, but as God's message to His own. Laputa fitted the
key to the cipher, and the meaning was clear. He concluded, I
remember, with a picture of the overthrow of the alien, and
the golden age which would dawn for the oppressed. Another
Ethiopian empire would arise, so majestic that the white man
everywhere would dread its name, so righteous that all men
under it would live in ease and peace.
By rights, I suppose, my blood should have been boiling at
this treason. I am ashamed to confess that it did nothing of the
sort. My mind was mesmerized by this amazing man. I could
not refrain from shouting with the rest. Indeed I was a convert,
if there can be conversion when the emotions are dominant
and there is no assent from the brain. I had a mad desire to be
of Laputa's party. Or rather, I longed for a leader who should
master me and make my soul his own, as this man mastered
his followers. I have already said that I might have made a
good subaltern soldier, and the proof is that I longed for such
As the voice ceased there was a deep silence. The hearers
were in a sort of trance, their eyes fixed glassily on Laputa's
face. It was the quiet of tense nerves and imagination at white-
heat. I had to struggle with a spell which gripped me equally
with the wildest savage. I forced myself to look round at the
strained faces, the wall of the cascade, the line of torches. It
was the sight of Henriques that broke the charm. Here was
one who had no part in the emotion. I caught his eye fixed on
the rubies, and in it I read only a devouring greed. It flashed
through my mind that Laputa had a foe in his own camp, and the
Prester's collar a votary whose passion was not that of worship.
The next thing I remember was a movement among the first
ranks. The chiefs were swearing fealty. Laputa took off the
collar and called God to witness that it should never again
encircle his neck till he had led his people to victory. Then one
by one the great chiefs and indunas advanced, and swore
allegiance with their foreheads on the ivory box. Such a
collection of races has never been seen. There were tall Zulus
and Swazis with ringkops and feather head-dresses. There
were men from the north with heavy brass collars and anklets;
men with quills in their ears, and earrings and nose-rings;
shaven heads, and heads with wonderfully twisted hair; bodies
naked or all but naked, and bodies adorned with skins and
necklets. Some were light in colour, and some were black as
coal; some had squat negro features, and some thin, high-
boned Arab faces. But in all there was the air of mad
enthusiasm. For a day they were forsworn from blood, but
their wild eyes and twitching hands told their future purpose.
For an hour or two I had been living in a dream-world.
Suddenly my absorption was shattered, for I saw that my time
to swear was coming. I sat in the extreme back row at the end
nearest the entrance, and therefore I should naturally be the
last to go forward. The crisis was near when I should be
discovered, for there was no question of my shirking the oath.
Then for the first time since I entered the cave I realized the
frightful danger in which I stood. My mind had been strung
so high by the ritual that I had forgotten all else. Now came
the rebound, and with shaky nerves I had to face discovery
and certain punishment. In that moment I suffered the worst
terror of my life. There was much to come later, but by that
time my senses were dulled. Now they had been sharpened by
what I had seen and heard, my nerves were already quivering
and my fancy on fire. I felt every limb shaking as 'Mwanga
went forward. The cave swam before my eyes, heads were
multiplied giddily, and I was only dimly conscious when he
rose to return.
Nothing would have made me advance, had I not feared
Laputa less than my neighbours. They might rend me to
pieces, but to him the oath was inviolable. I staggered crazily
to my feet, and shambled forwards. My eye was fixed on the
ivory box, and it seemed to dance before me and retreat.
Suddenly I heard a voice - the voice of Henriques - cry, 'By
God, a spy!' I felt my throat caught, but I was beyond resisting.
It was released, and I was pinned by the arms. I must have
stood vacantly, with a foolish smile, while unchained fury
raged round me. I seemed to hear Laputa's voice saying, 'It is
the storekeeper.' His face was all that I could see, and it was
unperturbed. There was a mocking ghost of a smile about his lips.
Myriad hands seemed to grip me and crush my breath, but
above the clamour I heard a fierce word of command.
After that I fainted.
CAPTAIN ARCOLL SENDS A MESSAGE
I once read - I think in some Latin writer - the story of a
man who was crushed to a jelly by the mere repeated touch of
many thousand hands. His murderers were not harsh, but an
infinite repetition of the gentlest handling meant death. I do
not suppose that I was very brutally manhandled in the cave.
I was trussed up tight and carried out to the open, and left in
the care of the guards. But when my senses returned I felt as
if I had been cruelly beaten in every part. The raw-hide bonds
chafed my wrists and ankle and shoulders, but they were the
least part of my aches. To be handled by a multitude of Kaffirs
is like being shaken by some wild animal. Their skins are
insensible to pain, and I have seen a Zulu stand on a piece of
red-hot iron without noticing it till he was warned by the smell
of burning hide. Anyhow, after I had been bound by Kaffir
hands and tossed on Kaffir shoulders, I felt as if I had been in
a scrimmage of mad bulls.
I found myself lying looking up at the moon. It was the edge
of the bush, and all around was the stir of the army getting
ready for the road. You know how a native babbles and
chatters over any work he has to do. It says much for Laputa's
iron hand that now everything was done in silence. I heard the
nickering of horses and the jolt of carts as they turned from the
bush into the path. There was the sound of hurried whispering,
and now and then a sharp command. And all the while I
lay, staring at the moon and wondering if I was going to keep
If he who reads this doubts the discomfort of bonds let him
try them for himself. Let him be bound foot and hand and left
alone, and in half an hour he will be screaming for release.
The sense of impotence is stifling, and I felt as if I were buried
in some landslip instead of lying under the open sky, with the
night wind fanning my face. I was in the second stage of panic,
which is next door to collapse. I tried to cry, but could only
raise a squeak like a bat. A wheel started to run round in my
head, and, when I looked at the moon, I saw that it was
rotating in time. Things were very bad with me.
It was 'Mwanga who saved me from lunacy. He had been
appointed my keeper, and the first I knew of it was a violent
kick in the ribs. I rolled over on the grass down a short slope.
The brute squatted beside me, and prodded me with his gun-
'Ha, Baas,' he said in his queer English. 'Once you ordered
me out of your store and treated me like a dog. It is 'Mwanga's
turn now. You are 'Mwanga's dog, and he will skin you with a
My wandering wits were coming back to me. I looked into
his bloodshot eyes and saw what I had to expect. The cheerful
savage went on to discuss just the kind of beating I should get
from him. My bones were to be uncovered till the lash curled
round my heart. Then the jackals would have the rest of me.
This was ordinary Kaffir brag, and it made me angry. But I
thought it best to go cannily.
,if I am to be your slave,' I managed to say, 'it would be a
pity to beat me so hard. You would get no more work out of me.'
'Mwanga grinned wickedly. 'You are my slave for a day and
a night. After that we kill you - slowly. You will burn till your
legs fall off and your knees are on the ground, and then you
will be chopped small with knives.'
Thank God, my courage and common sense were coming
back to me.
'What happens to me to-morrow,' I said, 'is the Inkulu's
business, not yours. I am his prisoner. But if you lift your
hand on me to-day so as to draw one drop of blood the Inkulu
will make short work of you. The vow is upon you, and if you
break it you know what happens.' And I repeated, in a fair
imitation of the priest's voice, the terrible curse he had
pronounced in the cave.
You should have seen the change in that cur's face. I had
guessed he was a coward, as he was most certainly a bully, and
now I knew it. He shivered, and drew his hand over his eyes.
'Nay, Baas,' he pleaded, 'it was but a joke. No harm shall
come on you to-day. But tomorrow -' and his ugly face grew
'To-morrow we shall see what we shall see,' I said stoically,
and a loud drum-beat sounded through the camp.
It was the signal for moving, for in the east a thin pale line
of gold was beginning to show over the trees. The bonds at my
knees and ankles were cut, and I was bundled on to the back
of a horse. Then my feet were strapped firmly below its belly.
The bridle of my beast was tied to 'Mwanga's, so that there
was little chance of escape even if I had been unshackled.
My thoughts were very gloomy. So far all had happened as
I planned, but I seemed to have lost my nerve, and I could not
believe in my rescue at the Letaba, while I thought of Inanda's
Kraal with sheer horror. Last night I had looked into the heart
of darkness, and the sight had terrified me. What part should
I play in the great purification? Most likely that of the Biblical
scapegoat. But the dolour of my mind was surpassed by the
discomfort of my body. I was broken with pains and weariness,
and I had a desperate headache. Also, before we had gone a
mile, I began to think that I should split in two. The paces of
my beast were uneven, to say the best of it, and the bump-
bump was like being on the rack. I remembered that the saints
of the Covenant used to journey to prison this way, especially
the great Mr Peden, and I wondered how they liked it. When
I hear of a man doing a brave deed, I always want to discover
whether at the time he was well and comfortable in body.
That, I am certain, is the biggest ingredient in courage, and
those who plan and execute great deeds in bodily weakness
have my homage as truly heroic. For myself, I had not the
spirit of a chicken as I jogged along at 'Mwanga's side. I
wished he would begin to insult me, if only to distract my
mind, but he kept obstinately silent. He was sulky, and I think
rather afraid of me.
As the sun got up I could see something of the host around
me. I am no hand at guessing numbers, but I should put the
fighting men I saw at not less than twenty thousand. Every
man of them was on this side his prime, and all were armed
with good rifles and bandoliers. There were none of your old
roers* and decrepit Enfields, which I had seen signs of in Kaffir
kraals. These guns were new, serviceable Mausers, and the
men who bore them looked as if they knew how to handle
them. There must have been long months of training behind
this show, and I marvelled at the man who had organized it. I
saw no field-guns, and the little transport they had was
evidently for food only. We did not travel in ranks like an
orthodox column. About a third of the force was mounted,
and this formed the centre. On each wing the infantry straggled
far afield, but there was method in their disorder, for in the
bush close ranks would have been impossible. At any rate we
kept wonderfully well together, and when we mounted a knoll
the whole army seemed to move in one piece. I was well in the
rear of the centre column, but from the crest of a slope I
sometimes got a view in front. I could see nothing of Laputa,
who was probably with the van, but in the very heart of the
force I saw the old priest of the Snake, with his treasure
carried in the kind of litter which the Portuguese call a
machila, between rows of guards. A white man rode beside
him, whom I judged to be Henriques. Laputa trusted this
fellow, and I wondered why. I had not forgotten the look on
his face while he had stared at the rubies in the cave. I had a
notion that the Portugoose might be an unsuspected ally of
mine, though for blackguard reasons.
*Boer elephant guns.*
About ten o'clock, as far as I could judge by the sun, we
passed Umvelos', and took the right bank of the Labongo.
There was nothing in the store to loot, but it was overrun by
Kaffirs, who carried off the benches for firewood. It gave me
an odd feeling to see the remains of the meal at which I had
entertained Laputa in the hands of a dozen warriors. I thought
of the long sunny days when I had sat by my nachtmaal while
the Dutch farmers rode in to trade. Now these men were all
dead, and I was on my way to the same bourne.
Soon the blue line of the Berg rose in the west, and through
the corner of my eye, as I rode, I could see the gap of the
Klein Labongo. I wondered if Arcoll and his men were up
there watching us. About this time I began to be so wretched
in body that I ceased to think of the future. I had had no food
for seventeen hours, and I was dropping from lack of sleep.
The ache of my bones was so great that I found myself crying
like a baby. What between pain and weakness and nervous
exhaustion, I was almost at the end of my tether, and should
have fainted dead away if a halt had not been called. But about
midday, after we had crossed the track from Blaauwildebeestefontein
to the Portuguese frontier, we came to the broad,
shallow drift of the Klein Labongo. It is the way of the Kaffirs
to rest at noon, and on the other side of the drift we encamped.
I remember the smell of hot earth and clean water as my horse
scrambled up the bank. Then came the smell of wood-smoke
as fires were lit. It seemed an age after we stopped before my
feet were loosed and I was allowed to fall over on the ground.
I lay like a log where I fell, and was asleep in ten seconds.
I awoke two hours later much refreshed, and with a raging
hunger. My ankles and knees had been tied again, but the
sleep had taken the worst stiffness out of my joints. The
natives were squatting in groups round their fires, but no one
came near me. I satisfied myself by straining at my bonds that
this solitude gave no chance of escape. I wanted food, and I
shouted on 'Mwanga, but he never came. Then I rolled over
into the shadow of a wacht-en-beetje bush to get out of the glare.
I saw a Kaffir on the other side of the bush who seemed to
be grinning at me. Slowly he moved round to my side, and
stood regarding me with interest.
'For God's sake get me some food,' I said.
'ja, Baas,' was the answer; and he disappeared for a minute,
and returned with a wooden bowl of hot mealie-meal porridge,
and a calabash full of water.
I could not use my hands, so he fed me with the blade of his
knife. Such porridge without salt or cream is beastly food, but
my hunger was so great that I could have eaten a vat of it.
Suddenly it appeared that the Kaffir had something to say
to me. As he fed me he began to speak in a low voice in
'Baas,' he said, 'I come from Ratitswan, and I have a message
I guessed that Ratitswan was the native name for Arcoll.
There was no one else likely to send a message.
'Ratitswan says,' he went on, "'Look out for Dupree's Drift."
I will be near you and cut your bonds; then you must swim
across when Ratitswan begins to shoot.'
The news took all the weight of care from my mind. Colin
had got home, and my friends were out for rescue. So volatile
is the mood of 19 that I veered round from black despair to an
unwarranted optimism. I saw myself already safe, and Laputa's
rising scattered. I saw my hands on the treasure, and
Henriques' ugly neck below my heel.
'I don't know your name,' I said to the Kaffir, 'but you are a
good fellow. When I get out of this business I won't forget you.'
'There is another message, Baas,' he said. 'It is written on
paper in a strange tongue. Turn your head to the bush, and
see, I will hold it inside the bowl, that you may read it.'
I did as I was told, and found myself looking at a dirty half-
sheet of notepaper, marked by the Kaffir's thumbs. Some
words were written on it in Wardlaw's hand; and,
characteristically, in Latin, which was not a bad cipher. I read -
'Henricus de Letaba transeunda apud Duprei vada jam nos
*'Henriques has already told us about the crossing at Dupree's Drift.'
I had guessed rightly. Henriques was a traitor to the cause
he had espoused. Arcoll's message had given me new heart,
but Wardlaw's gave me information of tremendous value. I
repented that I had ever underrated the schoolmaster's sense.
He did not come out of Aberdeen for nothing.
I asked the Kaffir how far it was to Dupree's Drift, and was
told three hours' march. We should get there after the darkening.
It seemed he had permission to ride with me instead of
'Mwanga, who had no love for the job. How he managed this
I do not know; but Arcoll's men had their own ways of doing
things. He undertook to set me free when the first shot was fired
at the ford. Meantime I bade him leave me, to avert suspicion.
There is a story of one of King Arthur's knights - Sir
Percival, I think - that once, riding through a forest, he
found a lion fighting with a serpent. He drew his sword and
helped the lion, for he thought it was the more natural beast of
the two. To me Laputa was the lion, and Henriques the
serpent; and though I had no good will to either, I was
determined to spoil the serpent's game. He was after the
rubies, as I had fancied; he had never been after anything else.
He had found out about Arcoll's preparations, and had sent
him a warning, hoping, no doubt, that, if Laputa's force was
scattered on the Letaba, he would have a chance of getting off
with the necklace in the confusion. If he succeeded, he would
go over the Lebombo to Mozambique, and whatever happened
afterwards in the rising would be no concern of Mr Henriques.
I determined that he should fail; but how to manage it I could
not see. Had I had a pistol, I think I would have shot him; but
I had no weapon of any kind. I could not warn Laputa, for
that would seal my own fate, even if I were believed. It was
clear that Laputa must go to Dupree's Drift, for otherwise I
could not escape; and it was equally clear that I must find the
means of spoiling the Portugoose's game.
A shadow fell across the sunlight, and I looked up to see the
man I was thinking of standing before me. He had a cigarette
in his mouth, and his hands in the pockets of his riding-
breeches. He stood eyeing me with a curious smile on his face.
'Well, Mr Storekeeper,' he said, 'you and I have met before
under pleasanter circumstances.'
I said nothing, my mind being busy with what to do at the drift.
'We were shipmates, if I am not mistaken,' he said. 'I dare
say you found it nicer work smoking on the after-deck than
lying here in the sun.'
Still I said nothing. If the man had come to mock me, he
would get no change out of David Crawfurd.
'Tut, tut, don't be sulky. You have no quarrel with me.
Between ourselves,' and he dropped his voice, 'I tried to save
you; but you had seen rather too much to be safe. What devil
prompted you to steal a horse and go to the cave? I don't blame
you for overhearing us; but if you had had the sense of a louse
you would have gone off to the Berg with your news. By the
way, how did you manage it? A cellar, I suppose. Our friend
Laputa was a fool not to take better precautions; but I must
say you acted the drunkard pretty well.'
The vanity of 19 is an incalculable thing. I rose to the fly.
'I know the kind of precaution you wanted to take,'
'You heard that too? Well, I confess I am in favour of doing
a job thoroughly when I take it up.'
'In the Koodoo Flats, for example,' I said.
He sat down beside me, and laughed softly. 'You heard my
little story? You are clever, Mr Storekeeper, but not quite
clever enough. What if I can act a part as well as yourself?'
And he thrust his yellow face close to mine.
I saw his meaning, and did not for a second believe him;
but I had the sense to temporize.
'Do you mean to say that you did not kill the Dutchmen,
and did not mean to knife me?'
'I mean to say that I am not a fool,' he said, lighting
'I am a white man, Mr Storekeeper, and I play the white
man's game. Why do you think I am here? Simply because I
was the only man in Africa who had the pluck to get to the
heart of this business. I am here to dish Laputa, and by God I
am going to do it.'
I was scarcely prepared for such incredible bluff. I knew
every word was a lie, but I wanted to hear more, for the man
'I suppose you know what will happen to you,' he said,
flicking the ashes from his cigarette. 'To-morrow at Inanda's
Kraal, when the vow is over, they will give you a taste of Kaffir
habits. Not death, my friend - that would be simple enough -
but a slow death with every refinement of horror. You have
broken into their sacred places, and you will be sacrificed to
Laputa's god. I have seen native torture before, and his own
mother would run away shrieking from a man who had
I said nothing, but the thought made my flesh creep.
'Well,' he went on, 'you're in an awkward plight, but I think
I can help you. What if I can save your life, Mr Storekeeper?
You are trussed up like a fowl, and can do nothing. I am the
only man alive who can help you. I am willing to do it, too -
on my own terms.'
I did not wait to hear those terms, for I had a shrewd guess
what they would be. My hatred of Henriques rose and choked
me. I saw murder and trickery in his mean eyes and cruel
mouth. I could not, to be saved from the uttermost horror,
have made myself his ally.
'Now listen, Mr Portugoose,' I cried. 'You tell me you are a
spy. What if I shout that through the camp? There will be
short shrift for you if Laputa hears it.'
He laughed loudly. 'You are a bigger fool than I took you
for. Who would believe you, my friend. Not Laputa. Not any
man in this army. It would only mean tighter bonds for these
long legs of yours.'
By this time I had given up all thought of diplomacy. 'Very
well, you yellow-faced devil, you will hear my answer. I would
not take my freedom from you, though I were to be boiled
alive. I know you for a traitor to the white man's cause, a dirty
I.D.B. swindler, whose name is a byword among honest men.
By your own confession you are a traitor to this idiot rising.
You murdered the Dutchmen and God knows how many more, and you
would fain have murdered me. I pray to Heaven that the men whose
cause you have betrayed and the men whose cause you would betray
may join to stamp the life out of you and send your soul to hell.
I know the game you would have me join in, and I fling your offer
in your face. But I tell you one thing - you are damned yourself.
The white men are out, and you will never get over the Lebombo.
From black or white you will get justice before many hours, and
your carcass will be left to rot in the bush. Get out of my
sight, you swine.'
In that moment I was so borne up in my passion that I
forgot my bonds and my grave danger. I was inspired like a
prophet with a sense of approaching retribution. Henriques
heard me out; but his smile changed to a scowl, and a flush
rose on his sallow cheek.
'Stew in your own juice,' he said, and spat in my face. Then
he shouted in Kaffir that I had insulted him, and demanded
that I should be bound tighter and gagged.
It was Arcoll's messenger who answered his summons. That
admirable fellow rushed at me with a great appearance of
savagery. He made a pretence of swathing me up in fresh rawhide
ropes, but his knots were loose and the thing was a farce.
He gagged me with what looked like a piece of wood, but was
in reality a chunk of dry banana. And all the while, till
Henriques was out of hearing, he cursed me with a noble gift
The drums beat for the advance, and once more I was
hoisted on my horse, while Arcoll's Kaffir tied my bridle to his
own. A Kaffir cannot wink, but he has a way of slanting his
eyes which does as well, and as we moved on he would turn
his head to me with this strange grimace.
Henriques wanted me to help him to get the rubies - that I
presumed was the offer he had meant to make. Well, thought
I, I will perish before the jewel reaches the Portuguese's hands.
He hoped for a stampede when Arcoll opposed the crossing of
the river, and in the confusion intended to steal the casket. My
plan must be to get as near the old priest as possible before we
reached the ford. I spoke to my warder and told him what I
wanted. He nodded, and in the first mile we managed to edge
a good way forward. Several things came to aid us. As I have
said, we of the centre were not marching in close ranks, but in
a loose column, and often it was possible by taking a short cut
on rough ground to join the column some distance ahead.
There was a vlei, too, which many circumvented, but we
swam, and this helped our lead. In a couple of hours we were
so near the priest's litter that I could have easily tossed a
cricket ball on the head of Henriques who rode beside it.
Very soon the twilight of the winter day began to fall. The
far hills grew pink and mulberry in the sunset, and strange
shadows stole over the bush. Still creeping forward, we found
ourselves not twenty yards behind the litter, while far ahead I
saw a broad, glimmering space of water with a high woody
'Dupree's Drift;' whispered my warder. 'Courage, Inkoos;*
in an hour's time you will be free.'
THE DRIFT OF THE LETABA
The dusk was gathering fast as we neared the stream. From
the stagnant reaches above and below a fine white mist was
rising, but the long shallows of the ford were clear. My heart
was beginning to flutter wildly, but I kept a tight grip on
myself and prayed for patience. As I stared into the evening
my hopes sank. I had expected, foolishly enough, to see on the
far bank some sign of my friends, but the tall bush was dead
The drift slants across the river at an acute angle, roughly
S.S.W. I did not know this at the time, and was amazed to see
the van of the march turn apparently up stream. Laputa's great
voice rang out in some order which was repeated down the
column, and the wide flanks of the force converged on the
narrow cart-track which entered the water. We had come to a
standstill while the front ranks began the passage.
I sat shaking with excitement, my eyes straining into the
gloom. Water holds the evening light for long, and I could
make out pretty clearly what was happening. The leading
horsemen rode into the stream with Laputa in front. The ford
is not the best going, so they had to pick their way, but in five
or ten minutes they were over. Then came some of the infantry
of the flanks, who crossed with the water to their waists, and
their guns held high above their heads. They made a portentous
splashing, but not a sound came from their throats. I shall
never know how Laputa imposed silence on the most noisy
race on earth. Several thousand footmen must have followed
the riders, and disappeared into the far bush. But not a shot
came from the bluffs in front.
I watched with a sinking heart. Arcoll had failed, and there
was to be no check at the drift. There remained for me only
the horrors at Inanda's Kraal. I resolved to make a dash for
freedom, at all costs, and was in the act of telling Arcoll's man
to cut my bonds, when a thought occurred to me.
Henriques was after the rubies, and it was his interest to get
Laputa across the river before the attack began. It was Arcoll's
business to split the force, and above all to hold up the leader.
Henriques would tell him, and for that matter he must have
assumed himself, that Laputa would ride in the centre of the
force. Therefore there would be no check till the time came
for the priest's litter to cross.
It was well that I had not had my bonds cut. Henriques
came riding towards me, his face sharp and bright as a ferret's.
He pulled up and asked if I were safe. My Kaffir showed my
strapped elbows and feet, and tugged at the cords to prove
'Keep him well,' said Henriques, 'or you will answer to
Inkulu. Forward with him now and get him through the
water.' Then he turned and rode back.
My warder, apparently obeying orders, led me out of the
column and into the bush on the right hand. Soon we were
abreast of the litter and some twenty yards to the west of it.
The water gleamed through the trees a few paces in front. I
could see the masses of infantry converging on the drift, and
the churning like a cascade which they made in the passage.
Suddenly from the far bank came an order. It was Laputa's
voice, thin and high-pitched, as the Kaffir cries when he
wishes his words to carry a great distance. Henriques repeated
it, and the infantry halted. The riders of the column in front
of the litter began to move into the stream.
We should have gone with them, but instead we pulled our
horses back into the darkness of the bush. It seemed to me
that odd things were happening around the priest's litter.
Henriques had left it, and dashed past me so close that I could
have touched him. From somewhere among the trees a pistol-
shot cracked into the air.
As if in answer to a signal the high bluff across the stream
burst into a sheet of fire. 'A sheet of fire' sounds odd enough
for scientific warfare. I saw that my friends were using shot-
guns and firing with black powder into the mob in the water.
It was humane and it was good tactics, for the flame in the
grey dusk had the appearance of a heavy battery of ordnance.
Once again I heard Henriques' voice. He was turning the
column to the right. He shouted to them to get into cover, and
take the water higher up. I thought, too, that from far away I
These were maddening seconds. We had left the business of
cutting my bonds almost too late. In the darkness of the bush
the strips of hide could only be felt for, and my Kaffir had a
woefully blunt knife. Reims are always tough to sever, and
mine had to be sawn through. Soon my arms were free, and I
was plucking at my other bonds. The worst were those on my
ankles below the horse's belly. The Kaffir fumbled away in the
dark, and pricked my beast so that he reared and struck out.
And all the while I was choking with impatience, and gabbling
prayers to myself.
The men on the other side had begun to use ball-cartridge.
I could see through a gap the centre of the river, and it was
filled with a mass of struggling men and horses'. I remember
that it amazed me that no shot was fired in return. Then I
remembered the vow, and was still more amazed at the power
of a ritual on that savage horde.
The column was moving past me to the right. It was a
disorderly rabble which obeyed Henriques' orders. Bullets
began to sing through the trees, and one rider was hit in the
shoulder and came down with a crash. This increased the
confusion, for most of them dismounted and tried to lead their
horses in the cover. The infantry coming in from the wings
collided with them, and there was a struggle of excited beasts
and men in the thickets of thorn and mopani. And still my
Kaffir was trying to get my ankles loose as fast as a plunging
horse would let him.
At last I was free, and dropped stiffly to the ground. I fell
prone on my face with cramp, and when I got up I rolled like
a drunk man. Here I made a great blunder. I should have left
my horse with my Kaffir, and bidden him follow me. But I
was too eager to be cautious, so I let it go, and crying to the
Kaffir to await me, I ran towards the litter.
Henriques had laid his plans well. The column had abandoned
the priest, and by the litter were only the two bearers.
As I caught sight of them one fell with a bullet in his chest.
The other, wild with fright, kept turning his head to every
quarter of the compass. Another bullet passed close to his
head. This was too much for him, and with a yell he ran away.
As I broke through the thicket I looked to the quarter
whence the bullets had come. These, I could have taken my
oath, were not fired by my friends on the farther bank. It was
close-quarter shooting, and I knew who had done it. But I saw
nobody. The last few yards of the road were clear, and only
out in the water was the struggling shouting mass of humanity.
I saw a tall man on a big horse plunge into the river on his way
back. It must be Laputa returning to command the panic.
My business was not with Laputa but with Henriques. The
old priest in the litter, who had been sleeping, had roused
himself, and was looking vacantly round him. He did not look
long. A third bullet, fired from a dozen yards away, drilled a
hole in his forehead. He fell back dead, and the ivory box,
which lay on his lap, tilted forward on the ground.
I had no weapon of any kind, and I did not want the fourth
bullet for myself. Henriques was too pretty a shot to trifle
with. I waited quietly on the edge of the shade till the
Portugoose came out of the thicket. I saw him running forward
with a rifle in his hand. A whinny from a horse told me that
somewhere near his beast was tied up. It was all but dark, but
it seemed to me that I could see the lust of greed in his eyes as
he rushed to the litter.
Very softly I stole behind him. He tore off the lid of the
box, and pulled out the great necklace. For a second it hung in
his hands, but only for a second. So absorbed was he that he
did not notice me standing full before him. Nay, he lifted his
head, and gave me the finest chance of my life. I was something
of a boxer, and all my accumulated fury went into the blow. It
caught him on the point of the chin, and his neck cricked like
the bolt of a rifle. He fell limply on the ground and the jewels
dropped from his hand.
I picked them up and stuffed them into my breeches pocket.
Then I pulled the pistol out of his belt. It was six-
chambered, and I knew that only three had been emptied. I
remembered feeling extraordinarily cool and composed, and
yet my wits must have been wandering or I would have never
taken the course I did.
The right thing to do - on Arcoll's instructions - was to
make for the river and swim across to my friends. But Laputa
was coming back, and I dreaded meeting him. Laputa seemed
to my heated fancy omnipresent. I thought of him as covering
the whole bank of the river, whereas I might easily have
crossed a little farther down, and made my way up the other
bank to my friends. It was plain that Laputa intended to evade
the patrol, not to capture it, and there, consequently, I should
be safe. The next best thing was to find Arcoll's Kaffir, who
was not twenty yards away, get some sort of horse, and break
for the bush. Long before morning we should have been over
the Berg and in safety. Nay, if I wanted a mount, there was
Henriques' whinnying a few paces off.
Instead I did the craziest thing of all. With the jewels in one
pocket, and the Portugoose's pistol in the other, I started
running back the road we had come.
I CARRY THE COLLAR OF PRESTER JOHN
I ran till my breath grew short, for some kind of swift motion
I had to have or choke. The events of the last few minutes had
inflamed my brain. For the first time in my life I had seen men
die by violence - nay, by brutal murder. I had put my soul
into the blow which laid out Henriques, and I was still hot
with the pride of it. Also I had in my pocket the fetich of the
whole black world; I had taken their Ark of the Covenant,
and soon Laputa would be on my trail. Fear, pride, and a
blind exultation all throbbed in my veins. I must have run
three miles before I came to my sober senses.
I put my ear to the ground, but heard no sound of pursuit.
Laputa, I argued, would have enough to do for a little,
shepherding his flock over the water. He might surround and
capture the patrol, or he might evade it; the vow prevented
him from fighting it. On the whole I was clear that he would
ignore it and push on for the rendezvous. All this would take
time, and the business of the priest would have to wait. When
Henriques came to he would no doubt have a story to tell, and
the scouts would be on my trail. I wished I had shot the
Portugoose while I was at the business. It would have been no
murder, but a righteous execution.
Meanwhile I must get off the road. The sand had been
disturbed by an army, so there was little fear of my steps being
traced. Still it was only wise to leave the track which I would
be assumed to have taken, for Laputa would guess I had fled
back the way to Blaauwildebeestefontein. I turned into the
bush, which here was thin and sparse like whins on a common.
The Berg must be my goal. Once on the plateau I would be
inside the white man's lines. Down here in the plains I was in
the country of my enemies. Arcoll meant to fight on the
uplands when it came to fighting. The black man might rage
as he pleased in his own flats, but we stood to defend the gates
of the hills. Therefore over the Berg I must be before morning,
or there would be a dead man with no tales to tell.
I think that even at the start of that night's work I realized
the exceeding precariousness of my chances. Some twenty
miles of bush and swamp separated me from the foot of the
mountains. After that there was the climbing of them, for at
the point opposite where I now stood the Berg does not
descend sharply on the plain, but is broken into foot-hills
around the glens of the Klein Letaba and the Letsitela. From
the spot where these rivers emerge on the flats to the crown of
the plateau is ten miles at the shortest. I had a start of an hour
or so, but before dawn I had to traverse thirty miles of
unknown and difficult country. Behind me would follow the
best trackers in Africa, who knew every foot of the wilderness.
It was a wild hazard, but it was my only hope. At this time I
was feeling pretty courageous. For one thing I had Henriques'
pistol close to my leg, and for another I still thrilled with the
satisfaction of having smitten his face.
I took the rubies, and stowed them below my shirt and next
my skin. I remember taking stock of my equipment and
laughing at the humour of it. One of the heels was almost
twisted off my boots, and my shirt and breeches were old at
the best and ragged from hard usage. The whole outfit would
have been dear at five shillings, or seven-and-six with the belt
thrown in. Then there was the Portugoose's pistol, costing,
say, a guinea; and last, the Prester's collar, worth
What was more important than my clothing was my bodily
strength. I was still very sore from the bonds and the jog of
that accursed horse, but exercise was rapidly suppling my
joints. About five hours ago I had eaten a filling, though not
very sustaining, meal, and I thought I could go on very well
till morning. But I was still badly in arrears with my sleep,
and there was no chance of my snatching a minute till I was
over the Berg. It was going to be a race against time, and I
swore that I would drive my body to the last ounce of strength.
Moonrise was still an hour or two away, and the sky was
bright with myriad stars. I knew now what starlight meant, for
there was ample light to pick my way by. I steered by the
Southern Cross, for I was aware that the Berg ran north and
south, and with that constellation on my left hand I was bound
to reach it sooner or later. The bush closed around me with its
mysterious dull green shades, and trees, which in the daytime
were thin scrub, now loomed like tall timber. It was very eerie
moving, a tiny fragment of mortality, in that great wide silent
wilderness, with the starry vault, like an impassive celestial
audience, watching with many eyes. They cheered me, those
stars. In my hurry and fear and passion they spoke of the old
calm dignities of man. I felt less alone when I turned my face
to the lights which were slanting alike on this uncanny bush
and on the homely streets of Kirkcaple.
The silence did not last long. First came the howl of a wolf,
to be answered by others from every quarter of the compass.
This serenade went on for a bit, till the jackals chimed in with
their harsh bark. I had been caught by darkness before this
when hunting on the Berg, but I was not afraid of wild beasts.
That is one terror of the bush which travellers' tales have put
too high. It was true that I might meet a hungry lion, but the
chance was remote, and I had my pistol. Once indeed a huge
animal bounded across the road a little in front of me. For a
moment I took him for a lion, but on reflection I was inclined
to think him a very large bush-pig.
By this time I was out of the thickest bush and into a piece
of parkland with long, waving tambuki grass, which the
Kaffirs would burn later. The moon was coming up, and her
faint rays silvered the flat tops of the mimosa trees. I could
hear and feel around me the rustling of animals. Once or twice
a big buck - an eland or a koodoo - broke cover, and at the
sight of me went off snorting down the slope. Also there were
droves of smaller game - rhebok and springbok and duikers -
which brushed past at full gallop without even noticing me.
The sight was so novel that it set me thinking. That shy
wild things should stampede like this could only mean that
they had been thoroughly scared. Now obviously the thing
that scared them must be on this side of the Letaba. This must
mean that Laputa's army, or a large part of it, had not crossed
at Dupree's Drift, but had gone up the stream to some higher
ford. If that was so, I must alter my course; so I bore away to
the right for a mile or two, making a line due north-west.
In about an hour's time the ground descended steeply, and
I saw before me the shining reaches of a river. I had the chief
features of the countryside clear in my mind, both from old
porings over maps, and from Arcoll's instructions. This stream
must be the Little Letaba, and I must cross it if I would get to
the mountains. I remembered that Majinje's kraal stood on its
left bank, and higher up in its valley in the Berg 'Mpefu lived.
At all costs the kraals must be avoided. Once across it I must
make for the Letsitela, another tributary of the Great Letaba,
and by keeping the far bank of that stream I should cross the
mountains to the place on the plateau of the Wood Bush which
Arcoll had told me would be his headquarters.
It is easy to talk about crossing a river, and looking to-day at
the slender streak on the map I am amazed that so small a
thing should have given me such ugly tremors. Yet I have
rarely faced a job I liked so little. The stream ran yellow and
sluggish under the clear moon. On the near side a thick growth
of bush clothed the bank, but on the far side I made out a
swamp with tall bulrushes. The distance across was no more
than fifty yards, but I would have swum a mile more readily in
deep water. The place stank of crocodiles. There was no ripple
to break the oily flow except where a derelict branch swayed
with the current. Something in the stillness, the eerie light on
the water, and the rotting smell of the swamp made that stream
seem unhallowed and deadly.
I sat down and considered the matter. Crocodiles had always
terrified me more than any created thing, and to be dragged by
iron jaws to death in that hideous stream seemed to me the
most awful of endings. Yet cross it I must if I were to get rid
of my human enemies. I remembered a story of an escaped
prisoner during the war who had only the Komati River
between him and safety. But he dared not enter it, and was
recaptured by a Boer commando. I was determined that
such cowardice should not be laid to my charge. If I was to
die, I would at least have given myself every chance of life.
So I braced myself as best I could, and looked for a place
The veld-craft I had mastered had taught me a few things.
One was that wild animals drink at night, and that they have
regular drinking places. I thought that the likeliest place for
crocodiles was at or around such spots, and, therefore, I
resolved to take the water away from a drinking place. I went
up the bank, noting where the narrow bush-paths emerged on
the water-side. I scared away several little buck, and once the
violent commotion in the bush showed that I had frightened
some bigger animal, perhaps a hartebeest. Still following the
bank I came to a reach where the undergrowth was unbroken
and the water looked deeper.
Suddenly - I fear I must use this adverb often, for all the
happenings on that night were sudden - I saw a biggish animal
break through the reeds on the far side. It entered the water
and, whether wading or swimming I could not see, came out a
little distance. Then some sense must have told it of my
presence, for it turned and with a grunt made its way back.
I saw that it was a big wart-hog, and began to think. Pig,
unlike other beasts, drink not at night, but in the daytime.
The hog had, therefore, not come to drink, but to swim across.
Now, I argued, he would choose a safe place, for the wart-hog,
hideous though he is, is a wise beast. What was safe for him
would, therefore, in all likelihood be safe for me.
With this hope to comfort me I prepared to enter. My first
care was the jewels, so, feeling them precarious in my shirt, I
twined the collar round my neck and clasped it. The snake-
clasp was no flimsy device of modern jewellery, and I had no
fear but that it would hold. I held the pistol between my teeth,
and with a prayer to God slipped into the muddy waters.
I swam in the wild way of a beginner who fears cramp. The
current was light and the water moderately warm, but I seemed
to go very slowly, and I was cold with apprehension. In the
middle it suddenly shallowed, and my breast came against a
mudshoal. I thought it was a crocodile, and in my confusion
the pistol dropped from my mouth and disappeared.
I waded a few steps and then plunged into deep water again.
Almost before I knew, I was among the bulrushes, with my
feet in the slime of the bank. With feverish haste I scrambled
through the reeds and up through roots and undergrowth to
the hard soil. I was across, but, alas, I had lost my only weapon.
The swim and the anxiety had tired me considerably, and
though it meant delay, I did not dare to continue with the
weight of water-logged clothes to impede me. I found a dry
sheltered place in the bush and stripped to the skin. I emptied
my boots and wrung out my shirt and breeches, while the
Prester's jewels were blazing on my neck. Here was a queer
counterpart to Laputa in the cave!
The change revived me, and I continued my way in better
form. So far there had been no sign of pursuit. Before me the
Letsitela was the only other stream, and from what I remembered
of its character near the Berg I thought I should have
little trouble. It was smaller than the Klein Letaba, and a
rushing torrent where shallows must be common.
I kept running till I felt my shirt getting dry on my back.
Then I restored the jewels to their old home, and found their
cool touch on my breast very comforting. The country was
getting more broken as I advanced. Little kopjes with thickets
of wild bananas took the place of the dead levels. Long before
I reached the Letsitela, I saw that I was right in my guess. It
ran, a brawling mountain stream, in a narrow rift in the bush.
I crossed it almost dry-shod on the boulders above a little fall,
stopping for a moment to drink and lave my brow.
After that the country changed again. The wood was now
getting like that which clothed the sides of the Berg. There
were tall timber-trees - yellowwood, sneezewood, essenwood,
stinkwood - and the ground was carpeted with thick grass
and ferns. The sight gave me my first earnest of safety. I was
approaching my own country. Behind me was heathendom
and the black fever flats. In front were the cool mountains and
bright streams, and the guns of my own folk.
As I struggled on - for I was getting very footsore and
weary - I became aware of an odd sound in my rear. It was as
if something were following me. I stopped and listened with a
sudden dread. Could Laputa's trackers have got up with me
already? But the sound was not of human feet. It was as if
some heavy animal were plunging through the undergrowth.
At intervals came the soft pad of its feet on the grass.
It must be the hungry lion of my nightmare, and Henriques'
pistol was in the mud of the Klein Letaba! The only thing was a
tree, and I had sprung for one and scrambled wearily into the
first branches when a great yellow animal came into the moonlight.
Providence had done kindly in robbing me of my pistol. The
next minute I was on the ground with Colin leaping on me and
baying with joy. I hugged that blessed hound and buried my
head in his shaggy neck, sobbing like a child. How he had
traced me I can never tell. The secret belongs only to the
Maker of good and faithful dogs.
With him by my side I was a new man. The awesome
loneliness had gone. I felt as if he were a message from my
own people to take me safely home. He clearly knew the
business afoot, for he padded beside me with never a glance to
right or left. Another time he would have been snowking in
every thicket; but now he was on duty, a serious, conscientious
dog with no eye but for business.
The moon went down, and the starry sky was our only light.
The thick gloom which brooded over the landscape pointed to
the night being far gone. I thought I saw a deeper blackness
ahead which might be the line of the Berg. Then came that
period of utter stillness when every bush sound is hushed and
the world seems to swoon. I felt almost impious hurrying
through that profound silence, when not even the leaves stirred
or a frog croaked.
Suddenly as we came over a rise a little wind blew on the
back of my head, and a bitter chill came into the air. I knew
from nights spent in the open that it was the precursor of
dawn. Sure enough, as I glanced back, far over the plain a pale
glow was stealing upwards into the sky. In a few minutes the
pall melted into an airy haze, and above me I saw the heavens
shot with tremors of blue light. Then the foreground began to
clear, and there before me, with their heads still muffled in
vapour, were the mountains.
Xenophon's Ten Thousand did not hail the sea more gladly
than I welcomed those frowning ramparts of the Berg.
Once again my weariness was eased. I cried to Colin, and
together we ran down into the wide, shallow trough which lies
at the foot of the hills. As the sun rose above the horizon, the
black masses changed to emerald and rich umber, and the
fleecy mists of the summits opened and revealed beyond shining
spaces of green. Some lines of Shakespeare ran in my head,
which I have always thought the most beautiful of all poetry:
'Night's candles are burned out, and jocund day
Walks tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.'
Up there among the clouds was my salvation. Like the
Psalmist, I lifted my eyes to the hills from whence came my
Hope is a wonderful restorative. To be near the hills, to
smell their odours, to see at the head of the glens the lines of
the plateau where were white men and civilization - all gave
me new life and courage. Colin saw my mood, and spared a
moment now and then to inspect a hole or a covert. Down in
the shallow trough I saw the links of a burn, the Machudi,
which flowed down the glen it was my purpose to ascend.
Away to the north in the direction of Majinje's were patches of
Kaffir tillage, and I thought I discerned the smoke from fires.
Majinje's womankind would be cooking their morning meal.
To the south ran a thick patch of forest, but I saw beyond it
the spur of the mountain over which runs the highroad to
Wesselsburg. The clear air of dawn was like wine in my blood.
I was not free, but I was on the threshold of freedom. If I
could only reach my friends with the Prester's collar in my
shirt, I would have performed a feat which would never be
forgotten. I would have made history by my glorious folly.
Breakfastless and footsore, I was yet a proud man as I crossed
the hollow to the mouth of Machudi's glen.
My chickens had been counted too soon, and there was to
be no hatching. Colin grew uneasy, and began to sniff up
wind. I was maybe a quarter of a mile from the glen foot,
plodding through the long grass of the hollow, when the
behaviour of the dog made me stop and listen. In that still air
sounds carry far, and I seemed to hear the noise of feet
brushing through cover. The noise came both from north and
south, from the forest and from the lower course of the Machudi.
I dropped into shelter, and running with bent back got to
the summit of a little bush-clad knoll. It was Colin who first
caught sight of my pursuers. He was staring at a rift in the
trees, and suddenly gave a short bark. I looked and saw two
men, running hard, cross the grass and dip into the bed of the
stream. A moment later I had a glimpse of figures on the edge
of the forest, moving fast to the mouth of the glen. The pursuit
had not followed me; it had waited to cut me off. Fool that I
was, I had forgotten the wonders of Kaffir telegraphy. It had
been easy for Laputa to send word thirty miles ahead to stop
any white man who tried to cross the Berg.
And then I knew that I was very weary.
MORNING IN THE BERG
I was perhaps half a mile the nearer to the glen, and was
likely to get there first. And after that? I could see the track
winding by the waterside and then crossing a hill-shoulder
which diverted the stream. It was a road a man could scarcely
ride, and a tired man would have a hard job to climb. I do not
think that I had any hope. My exhilaration had died as
suddenly as it had been born. I saw myself caught and carried
off to Laputa, who must now be close on the rendezvous at
Inanda's Kraal. I had no weapon to make a fight for it. My
foemen were many and untired. It must be only a matter of
minutes till I was in their hands.
More in a dogged fury of disappointment than with any
hope of escape I forced my sore legs up the glen. Ten minutes
ago I had been exulting in the glories of the morning, and now
the sun was not less bright or the colours less fair, but the
heart had gone out of the spectator. At first I managed to get
some pace out of myself, partly from fear and partly from
anger. But I soon found that my body had been tried too far.
I could plod along, but to save my life I could not have
hurried. Any healthy savage could have caught me in a
The track, I remember, was overhung with creepers, and
often I had to squeeze through thickets of tree-ferns. Countless
little brooks ran down from the hillside, threads of silver
among the green pastures. Soon I left the stream and climbed
up on the shoulder, where the road was not much better than
a precipice. Every step was a weariness. I could hardly drag
one foot after the other, and my heart was beating like the
fanners of a mill, I had spasms of acute sickness, and it took
all my resolution to keep me from lying down by the roadside.
At last I was at the top of the shoulder and could look back.
There was no sign of anybody on the road so far as I could
see. Could I have escaped them? I had been in the shadow of
the trees for the first part, and they might have lost sight of me
and concluded that I had avoided the glen or tried one of the
faces. Before me, I remember, there stretched the upper glen,
a green cup-shaped hollow with the sides scarred by ravines.
There was a high waterfall in one of them which was white as
snow against the red rocks. My wits must have been shaky, for
I took the fall for a snowdrift, and wondered sillily why the
Berg had grown so Alpine.
A faint spasm of hope took me into that green cup. The
bracken was as thick as on the Pentlands, and there was a
multitude of small lovely flowers in the grass. It was like a
water-meadow at home, such a place as I had often in boyhood
searched for moss-cheepers' and corncrakes' eggs. Birds were
crying round me as I broke this solitude, and one small buck -
a klipspringer - rose from my feet and dashed up one of the
gullies. Before me was a steep green wall with the sky blue
above it. Beyond it was safety, but as my sweat-dimmed eyes
looked at it I knew that I could never reach it.
Then I saw my pursuers. High up on the left side, and
rounding the rim of the cup, were little black figures. They
had not followed my trail, but, certain of my purpose, had
gone forward to intercept me. I remember feeling a puny
weakling compared with those lusty natives who could make
such good going on steep mountains. They were certainly no
men of the plains, but hillmen, probably some remnants of old
Machudi's tribe who still squatted in the glen. Machudi was
a blackguard chief whom the Boers long ago smashed in one of
their native wars. He was a fierce old warrior and had put up a
good fight to the last, till a hired impi of Swazis had
surrounded his hiding-place in the forest and destroyed him. A
Boer farmer on the plateau had his skull, and used to drink
whisky out of it when he was merry.
The sight of the pursuit was the last straw. I gave up hope,
and my intentions were narrowed to one frantic desire - to
hide the jewels. Patriotism, which I had almost forgotten,
flickered up in that crisis. At any rate Laputa should not have
the Snake. If he drove out the white man, he should not clasp
the Prester's rubies on his great neck.
There was no cover in the green cup, so I turned up the
ravine on the right side. The enemy, so far as I could judge,
were on the left and in front, and in the gully I might find a
pot-hole to bury the necklet in. Only a desperate resolution
took me through the tangle of juniper bushes into the red
screes of the gully. At first I could not find what I sought. The
stream in the ravine slid down a long slope like a mill-race, and
the sides were bare and stony. Still I plodded on, helping
myself with a hand on Colin's back, for my legs were numb
with fatigue. By-and-by the gully narrowed, and I came to a
flat place with a long pool. Beyond was a little fall, and up this
I climbed into a network of tiny cascades. Over one pool hung
a dead tree-fern, and a bay from it ran into a hole of the rock.
I slipped the jewels far into the hole, where they lay on the
firm sand, showing odd lights through the dim blue water.
Then I scrambled down again to the flat space and the pool,
and looked round to see if any one had reached the edge of the
ravine. There was no sign as yet of the pursuit, so I dropped
limply on the shingle and waited. For I had suddenly
conceived a plan.
As my breath came back to me my wits came back from
their wandering. These men were not there to kill me, but to
capture me. They could know nothing of the jewels, for Laputa
would never have dared to make the loss of the sacred Snake
public. Therefore they would not suspect what I had done,
and would simply lead me to Laputa at Inanda's Kraal. I
began to see the glimmerings of a plan for saving my life, and
by God's grace, for saving my country from the horrors of
rebellion. The more I thought the better I liked it. It
demanded a bold front, and it might well miscarry, but I had
taken such desperate hazards during the past days that I was
less afraid of fortune. Anyhow, the choice lay between certain
death and a slender chance of life, and it was easy to decide.
Playing football, I used to notice how towards the end of a
game I might be sore and weary, without a kick in my body;
but when I had a straight job of tackling a man my strength
miraculously returned. It was even so now. I lay on my side,
luxuriating in being still, and slowly a sort of vigour crept back
into my limbs. Perhaps a half-hour of rest was given me before,
on the lip of the gully, I saw figures appear. Looking down I
saw several men who had come across from the opposite side
of the valley, scrambling up the stream. I got to my feet, with
Colin bristling beside me, and awaited them with the stiffest
face I could muster.
As I expected, they were Machudi's men. I recognized them
by the red ochre in their hair and their copper-wire necklets.
Big fellows they were, long-legged and deep in the chest, the
true breed of mountaineers. I admired their light tread on the
slippery rock. It was hopeless to think of evading such men in
their own hills.
The men from the side joined the men in front, and they
stood looking at me from about twelve yards off. They were
armed only with knobkerries, and very clearly were no part
of Laputa's army. This made their errand plain to me.
'Halt!' I said in Kaffir, as one of them made a hesitating step
to advance. 'Who are you and what do you seek?'
There was no answer, but they looked at me curiously.
Then one made a motion with his stick. Colin gave a growl, and
would have been on him if I had not kept a hand on his collar.
The rash man drew back, and all stood stiff and perplexed.
'Keep your hands by your side,' I said, 'or the dog, who has
a devil, will devour you. One of you speak for the rest and tell
me your purpose.'
For a moment I had a wild notion that they might be
friends, some of Arcoll's scouts, and out to help me. But the
first words shattered the fancy.
'We are sent by Inkulu,' the biggest of them said. 'He bade
us bring you to him.'
'And what if I refuse to go?'
'Then, Baas, we must take you to him. We are under the
vow of the Snake.'
'Vow of fiddlestick!' I cried. 'Who do you think is the bigger
chief, the Inkulu or Ratitswan? I tell you Ratitswan is now
driving Inkulu before him as a wind drives rotten leaves. It
will be well for you, men of Machudi, to make peace with
Ratitswan and take me to him on the Berg. If you bring me to
him, I and he will reward you; but if you do Inkulu's bidding
you will soon be hunted like buck out of your hills.'
They grinned at one another, but I could see that my words
had no effect. Laputa had done his business too well.
The spokesman shrugged his shoulders in the way the
'We wish you no ill, Baas, but we have been bidden to take
you to Inkulu. We cannot disobey the command of the Snake.'
My weakness was coming on me again, and I could talk no
more. I sat down plump on the ground, almost falling into the
pool. 'Take me to Inkulu,' I stammered with a dry throat, 'I
do not fear him;' and I rolled half-fainting on my back.
These clansmen of Machudi were decent fellows. One of
them had some Kaffir beer in a calabash, which he gave me to
drink. The stuff was thin and sickly, but the fermentation in it
did me good. I had the sense to remember my need of sleep.
'The day is young,' I said, 'and I have come far. I ask to be
allowed to sleep for an hour.'
The men made no difficulty, and with my head between
Colin's paws I slipped into dreamless slumber.
When they wakened me the sun was beginning to climb the
sky, I judged it to be about eight o'clock. They had made a
little fire and roasted mealies. Some of the food they gave me,
and I ate it thankfully. I was feeling better, and I think a pipe
would have almost completed my cure.
But when I stood up I found that I was worse than I had
thought. The truth is, I was leg-weary, which you often see in
horses, but rarely in men. What the proper explanation is I do
not know, but the muscles simply refuse to answer the
direction of the will. I found my legs sprawling like a child's
who is learning to walk.
'If you want me to go to the Inkulu, you must carry me,' I
said, as I dropped once more on the ground.
The men nodded, and set to work to make a kind of litter
out of their knobkerries and some old ropes they carried. As
they worked and chattered I looked idly at the left bank of the
ravine - that is, the left as you ascend it. Some of Machudi's
men had come down there, and, though the place looked sheer
and perilous, I saw how they had managed it. I followed out
bit by bit the track upwards, not with any thought of escape,
but merely to keep my mind under control. The right road
was from the foot of the pool up a long shelf to a clump of
juniper. Then there was an easy chimney; then a piece of good
hand-and-foot climbing; and last, another ledge which led by
an easy gradient to the top. I figured all this out as I have
heard a condemned man will count the windows of the houses
on his way to the scaffold.
Presently the litter was ready, and the men made signs to
me to get into it. They carried me down the ravine and up the
Machudi burn to the green walls at its head. I admired their
bodily fitness, for they bore me up those steep slopes with
never a halt, zigzagging in the proper style of mountain
transport. In less than an hour we had topped the ridge, and
the plateau was before me.
It looked very homelike and gracious, rolling in gentle
undulations to the western horizon, with clumps of wood in its
hollows. Far away I saw smoke rising from what should be the
village of the Iron Kranz. It was the country of my own
people, and my captors behoved to go cautiously. They were
old hands at veld-craft, and it was wonderful the way in which
they kept out of sight even on the bare ridges. Arcoll could
have taught them nothing in the art of scouting. At an
incredible pace they hurried me along, now in a meadow by a
stream side, now through a patch of forest, and now skirting a
green shoulder of hill.
Once they clapped down suddenly, and crawled into the lee
of some thick bracken. Then very quietly they tied my hands
and feet, and, not urgently, wound a dirty length of cotton
over my mouth. Colin was meantime held tight and muzzled
with a kind of bag strapped over his head. To get this over his
snapping jaws took the whole strength of the party. I guessed
that we were nearing the highroad which runs from the plateau
down the Great Letaba valley to the mining township of
Wesselsburg, away out on the plain. The police patrols must
be on this road, and there was risk in crossing. Sure enough I
seemed to catch a jingle of bridles as if from some company of
men riding in haste.
We lay still for a little till the scouts came back and reported
the coast clear. Then we made a dart for the road, crossed it,
and got into cover on the other side, where the ground sloped
down to the Letaba glen. I noticed in crossing that the dust of
the highway was thick with the marks of shod horses. I was
very near and yet very far from my own people.
Once in the rocky gorge of the Letaba we advanced with less
care. We scrambled up a steep side gorge and came on to the
small plateau from which the Cloud Mountains rise. After that
I was so tired that I drowsed away, heedless of the bumping of
the litter. We went up and up, and when I next opened my
eyes we had gone through a pass into a hollow of the hills.
There was a flat space a mile or two square, and all round it
stern black ramparts of rock. This must be Inanda's Kraal, a
strong place if ever one existed, for a few men could defend all
the approaches. Considering that I had warned Arcoll of this
rendezvous, I marvelled that no attempt had been made to
hold the entrance. The place was impregnable unless guns
were brought up to the heights. I remember thinking of a story
I had heard - how in the war Beyers took his guns into the
Wolkberg, and thereby saved them from our troops. Could
Arcoll be meditating the same exploit?
Suddenly I heard the sound of loud voices, and my litter
was dropped roughly on the ground. I woke to clear consciousness
in the midst of pandemonium.
The vow was at an end. In place of the silent army of
yesterday a mob of maddened savages surged around me. They
were chanting a wild song, and brandishing spears and rifles to
its accompaniment. From their bloodshot eyes stared the lust
of blood, the fury of conquest, and all the aboriginal passions
on which Laputa had laid his spell. In my mind ran a fragment
from Laputa's prayer in the cave about the 'Terrible Ones.'
Machudi's men - stout fellows, they held their ground as long
as they could - were swept out of the way, and the wave of
black savagery seemed to close over my head.
I thought my last moment had come. Certainly it had but
for Colin. The bag had been taken from his head, and the
fellow of Machudi's had dropped the rope round his collar. In
a red fury of wrath the dog leaped at my enemies. Though
every man of them was fully armed, they fell back, for I have
noticed always that Kaffirs are mortally afraid of a white man's
dog. Colin had the sense to keep beside me. Growling like a
thunderstorm he held the ring around my litter.
The breathing space would not have lasted long, but it gave
me time to get to my feet. My wrists and feet had been
unbound long before, and the rest had cured my leg-weariness.
I stood up in that fierce circle with the clear knowledge that
my life hung by a hair.
'Take me to Inkulu,' I cried. 'Dogs and fools, would you
despise his orders? If one hair of my head is hurt, he will flay
you alive. Show me the way to him, and clear out of it.'
I dare say there was a break in my voice, for I was dismally
frightened, but there must have been sufficient authority to
get me a hearing. Machudi's men closed up behind me, and
repeated my words with flourishes and gestures. But still the
circle held. No man came nearer me, but none moved so as to
give me passage.
Then I screwed up my courage, and did the only thing
possible. I walked straight into the circle, knowing well that I
was running no light risk. My courage, as I have already
explained, is of little use unless I am doing something. I could
not endure another minute of sitting still with those fierce eyes
The circle gave way. Sullenly they made a road for me,
closing up behind on my guards, so that Machudi's men were
swallowed in the mob, Alone I stalked forward with all that
huge yelling crowd behind me.
I had not far to go. Inanda's Kraal was a cluster of kyas
and rondavels, shaped in a half-moon, with a flat space
between the houses, where grew a big merula tree. All around
was a medley of little fires, with men squatted beside them.
Here and there a party had finished their meal, and were
swaggering about with a great shouting. The mob into which
I had fallen was of this sort, and I saw others within the
confines of the camp. But around the merula tree there was a
gathering of chiefs, if I could judge by the comparative quiet
and dignity of the men, who sat in rows on the ground. A few
were standing, and among them I caught sight of Laputa's tall
figure. I strode towards it, wondering if the chiefs would let
The hubbub of my volunteer attendants brought the eyes of
the company round to me. In a second it seemed every man
was on his feet. I could only pray that Laputa would get to me
before his friends had time to spear me. I remember I fixed
my eyes on a spur of hill beyond the kraal, and walked on with
the best resolution I could find. Already I felt in my breast
some of the long thin assegais of Umbooni's men.
But Laputa did not intend that I should be butchered. A
word from him brought his company into order, and the next
thing I knew I was facing him, where he stood in front of the
biggest kya, with Henriques beside him, and some of the
northern indunas. Henriques looked ghastly in the clear morning
light, and he had a linen rag bound round his head and
jaw, as if he suffered from toothache. His face was more livid,
his eyes more bloodshot, and at the sight of me his hand went
to his belt, and his teeth snapped. But he held his peace, and
it was Laputa who spoke. He looked straight through me, and
addressed Machudi's men.
'You have brought back the prisoner. That is well, and your
service will be remembered. Go to 'Mpefu's camp on the hill
there, and you will be given food.'
The men departed, and with them fell away the crowd
which had followed me. I was left, very giddy and dazed, to
confront Laputa and his chiefs. The whole scene was swimming
before my eyes. I remember there was a clucking of hens
from somewhere behind the kraal, which called up ridiculous
memories. I was trying to remember the plan I had made in
Machudi's glen. I kept saying to myself like a parrot: 'The
army cannot know about the jewels. Laputa must keep his loss
secret. I can get my life from him if I offer to give them back.'
It had sounded a good scheme three hours before, but with
the man's hard face before me, it seemed a frail peg to hang
my fate on.
Laputa's eye fell on me, a clear searching eye with a question
There was something he was trying to say to me which he
dared not put into words. I guessed what the something was,
for I saw his glance run over my shirt and my empty pockets.
'You have made little of your treachery,' he said. 'Fool, did
you think to escape me? I could bring you back from the ends
of the earth.'
'There was no treachery,' I replied. 'Do you blame a prisoner
for trying to escape? When shooting began I found myself free,
and I took the road for home. Ask Machudi's men and they
will tell you that I came quietly with them, when I saw that
the game was up.'
He shrugged his shoulders. 'It matters very little what you
did. You are here now. - Tie him up and put him in my kya,'
he said to the bodyguard. 'I have something to say to him
before he dies.'
As the men laid hands on me, I saw the exultant grin on
Henriques' face. It was more than I could endure.
'Stop,' I said. 'You talk of traitors, Mr Laputa. There is the
biggest and blackest at your elbow. That man sent word to
Arcoll about your crossing at Dupree's Drift. At our outspan
at noon yesterday he came to me and offered me my liberty if
I would help him. He told me he was a spy, and I flung his
offer in his face. It was he who shot the Keeper by the river
side, and would have stolen the Snake if I had not broken his
head. You call me a traitor, and you let that thing live, though
he has killed your priest and betrayed your plans. Kill me if
you like, but by God let him die first.'
I do not know how the others took the revelation, for my
eyes were only for the Portugoose. He made a step towards
me, his hands twitching by his sides.
'You lie,' he screamed in that queer broken voice which
much fever gives. 'It was this English hound that killed the
Keeper, and felled me when I tried to save him. The man who
insults my honour is dead.' And he plucked from his belt a pistol.
A good shot does not miss at two yards. I was never nearer
my end than in that fraction of time while the weapon came up
to the aim. It was scarcely a second, but it was enough for
Colin. The dog had kept my side, and had stood docilely by
me while Laputa spoke. The truth is, he must have been as
tired as I was. As the Kaffirs approached to lay hands on me
he had growled menacingly, but when I spoke again he had
stopped. Henriques' voice had convinced him of a more urgent
danger, and so soon as the trigger hand of the Portugoose rose,
the dog sprang. The bullet went wide, and the next moment
dog and man were struggling on the ground.
A dozen hands held me from going to Colin's aid, but oddly
enough no one stepped forward to help Henriques. The ruffian
kept his head, and though the dog's teeth were in his shoulder,
he managed to get his right hand free. I saw what would
happen, and yelled madly in my apprehension. The yellow
wrist curved, and the pistol barrel was pressed below the dog's
shoulder. Thrice he fired, the grip relaxed, and Colin rolled
over limply, fragments of shirt still hanging from his jaw. The
Portugoose rose slowly with his hand to his head, and a thin
stream of blood dripping from his shoulder.
As I saw the faithful eyes glazing in death, and knew that I
had lost the best of all comrades, I went clean berserk mad.
The cluster of men round me, who had been staring open-eyed
at the fight, were swept aside like reeds. I went straight for the
Portugoose, determined that, pistol or no pistol, I would serve
him as he had served my dog.
For my years I was a well-set-up lad, long in the arms and
deep in the chest. But I had not yet come to my full strength,
and in any case I could not hope to fight the whole of Laputa's
army. I was flung back and forwards like a shuttlecock. They
played some kind of game with me, and I could hear the idiotic
Kaffir laughter. It was blind man's buff, so far as I was
concerned, for I was blind with fury. I struck out wildly left
and right, beating the air often, but sometimes getting in a
solid blow on hard black flesh. I was soundly beaten myself,
pricked with spears, and made to caper for savage sport.
Suddenly I saw Laputa before me, and hurled myself madly at
his chest. Some one gave me a clout on the head, and my
When I came to myself, I was lying on a heap of mealie-stalks in
a dark room. I had a desperate headache, and a horrid nausea,
which made me fall back as soon as I tried to raise myself.
A voice came out of the darkness as I stirred - a voice
'Are you awake, Mr Storekeeper?'
The voice was Laputa's, but I could not see him. The room
was pitch dark, except for a long ray of sunlight on the floor.
'I'm awake,' I said. 'What do you want with me?'
Some one stepped out of the gloom and sat down near me.
A naked black foot broke the belt of light on the floor.
'For God's sake get me a drink,' I murmured.
The figure rose and fetched a pannikin of water from a pail.
I could hear the cool trickle of the drops on the metal. A hand
put the dish to my mouth, and I drank water with a strong
dash of spirits. This brought back my nausea, and I collapsed
on the mealie-stalks till the fit passed.
Again the voice spoke, this time from close at hand.
'You are paying the penalty of being a fool, Mr Storekeeper.
You are young to die, but folly is common in youth. In an
hour you will regret that you did not listen to my advice at
I clawed at my wits and strove to realize what he was saying.
He spoke of death within an hour. If it only came sharp and
sudden, I did not mind greatly. The plan I had made had
slipped utterly out of my mind. My body was so wretched,
that I asked only for rest. I was very lighthearted and foolish at
'Kill me if you like,' I whispered. 'Some day you will pay
dearly for it all. But for God's sake go away and leave
Laputa laughed. It was a horrid sound in the darkness.
'You are brave, Mr Storekeeper, but I have seen a brave
man's courage ebb very fast when he saw the death which I
have arranged for you. Would you like to hear something of it
by way of preparation?'
In a low gentle voice he began to tell me mysteries of awful
cruelty. At first I scarcely heard him, but as he went on my
brain seemed to wake from its lethargy. I listened with freezing
blood. Not in my wildest nightmares had I imagined such a
fate. Then in despite of myself a cry broke from me.
'It interests you?' Laputa asked. 'I could tell you more, but
something must be left to the fancy. Yours should be an active
one,' and his hand gripped my shaking wrist and felt my pulse.
'Henriques will see that the truth does not fall short of my
forecast,' he went on. 'For I have appointed Henriques
The name brought my senses back to me.
'Kill me,' I said, 'but for God's sake kill Henriques too. If
you did justice you would let me go and roast the Portugoose
alive. But for me the Snake would be over the Lebombo by
this time in Henriques' pocket.'
'But it is not, my friend. It was stolen by a storekeeper, who
will shortly be wishing he had died in his mother's womb.'
My plan was slowly coming back to me.
'If you value Prester John's collar, you will save my life.
What will your rising be without the Snake? Would they follow
you a yard if they suspected you had lost it?'
'So you would threaten me,' Laputa said very gently. Then
in a burst of wrath he shouted, 'They will follow me to hell for
my own sake. Imbecile, do you think my power is built on a
trinket? When you are in your grave, I will be ruling a hundred
millions from the proudest throne on earth.'
He sprang to his feet, and pulled back a shutter of the
window, letting a flood of light into the hut. In that light I saw
that he had in his hands the ivory box which had contained
'I will carry the casket through the wars,' he cried, 'and if I
choose never to open it, who will gainsay me? You besotted
fool, to think that any theft of yours could hinder my destiny!'
He was the blustering savage again, and I preferred him in
the part. All that he said might be true, but I thought I could
detect in his voice a keen regret, and in his air a touch of
disquiet. The man was a fanatic, and like all fanatics had his
'Yes,' I said, 'but when you mount the throne you speak of,
it would be a pity not to have the rubies on your neck after all
your talk in the cave.'
I thought he would have throttled me. He glowered down at
me with murder in his eyes. Then he dashed the casket on the
floor with such violence that it broke into fragments.
'Give me back the Ndhlondhlo,' he cried, like a petted child.
'Give me back the collar of John.'
This was the moment I had been waiting for.
'Now see here, Mr Laputa,' I said. 'I am going to talk
business. Before you started this rising, you were a civilized
man with a good education. Well, just remember that education
for a minute, and look at the matter in a sensible light.
I'm not like the Portugoose. I don't want to steal your rubies.
I swear to God that what I have told you is true. Henriques
killed the priest, and would have bagged the jewels if I had not
laid him out. I ran away because I was going to be killed to-day,
and I took the collar to keep it out of Henriques' hands. I
tell you I would never have shot the old man myself. Very
well, what happened? Your men overtook me, and I had no
choice but to surrender. Before they reached me, I hid the
collar in a place I know of. Now, I am going to make you a fair
and square business proposition. You may be able to get on
without the Snake, but I can see you want it back. I am in a
tight place and want nothing so much as my life. I offer to
trade with you. Give me my life, and I will take you to the
place and put the jewels in your hand. Otherwise you may kill
me, but you will never see the collar of John again.'
I still think that was a pretty bold speech for a man to make
in a predicament like mine. But it had its effect. Laputa ceased
to be the barbarian king, and talked like a civilized man.
'That is, as you call it, a business proposition. But supposing
I refuse it? Supposing I take measures here - in this kraal - to
make you speak, and then send for the jewels.'
'There are several objections,' I said, quite cheerfully, for I
felt that I was gaining ground. 'One is that I could not explain
to any mortal soul how to find the collar. I know where it is,
but I could not impart the knowledge. Another is that the
country between here and Machudi's is not very healthy for
your people. Arcoll's men are all over it, and you cannot have
a collection of search parties rummaging about in the glen for
long. Last and most important, if you send any one for the
jewels, you confess their loss. No, Mr Laputa, if you want
them back, you must go yourself and take me with you.'
He stood silent for a little, with his brows knit in thought.
Then he opened the door and went out. I guessed that he had
gone to discover from his scouts the state of the country
between Inanda's Kraal and Machudi's glen. Hope had come
back to me, and I sat among the mealie-stalks trying to plan
the future. If he made a bargain I believed he would keep it.
Once set free at the head of Machudi's, I should be within an
hour or two of Arcoll's posts. So far, I had done nothing for
the cause. My message had been made useless by Henriques'
treachery, and I had stolen the Snake only to restore it. But if
I got off with my life, there would be work for me to do in the
Armageddon which I saw approaching. Should I escape, I
wondered. What would hinder Laputa from setting his men to
follow me, and seize me before I could get into safety? My
only chance was that Arcoll might have been busy this day,
and the countryside too full of his men to let Laputa's Kaffirs
through. But if this was so, Laputa and I should be stopped,
and then Laputa would certainly kill me. I wished - and yet I
did not wish - that Arcoll should hold all approaches. As I
reflected, my first exhilaration died away. The scales were still
heavily weighted against me.
Laputa returned, closing the door behind him.
'I will bargain with you on my own terms. You shall have
your life, and in return you will take me to the place where you
hid the collar, and put it into my hands. I will ride there, and
you will run beside me, tied to my saddle. If we are in danger
from the white men, I will shoot you dead. Do you accept?'
'Yes,' I said, scrambling to my feet, and ruefully testing my
shaky legs. 'But if you want me to get to Machudi's you must
go slowly, for I am nearly foundered.'
Then he brought out a Bible, and made me swear on it that
I would do as I promised.
'Swear to me in turn,' I said, 'that you will give me my life
if I restore the jewels.'
He swore, kissing the book like a witness in a police-court. I
had forgotten that the man called himself a Christian.
'One thing more I ask,' I said. 'I want my dog decently buried.'
'That has been already done,' was the reply. 'He was a brave
animal, and my people honour bravery.'
A DEAL AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
My eyes were bandaged tight, and a thong was run round my
right wrist and tied to Laputa's saddle-bow. I felt the glare of
the afternoon sun on my head, and my shins were continually
barked by stones and trees; but these were my only tidings of
the outer world. By the sound of his paces Laputa was riding
the Schimmel, and if any one thinks it easy to go blindfold by a
horse's side I hope he will soon have the experience. In the
darkness I could not tell the speed of the beast. When I ran I
overshot it and was tugged back; when I walked my wrist was
dislocated with the tugs forward.
For an hour or more I suffered this breakneck treatment.
We were descending. Often I could hear the noise of falling
streams, and once we splashed through a mountain ford.
Laputa was taking no risks, for he clearly had in mind the
possibility of some accident which would set me free, and he
had no desire to have me guiding Arcoll to his camp.
But as I stumbled and sprawled down these rocky tracks I
was not thinking of Laputa's plans. My whole soul was filled
with regret for Colin, and rage against his murderer. After my
first mad rush I had not thought about my dog. He was dead,
but so would I be in an hour or two, and there was no cause to
lament him. But at the first revival of hope my grief had
returned. As they bandaged my eyes I was wishing that they
would let me see his grave. As I followed beside Laputa I told
myself that if ever I got free, when the war was over I would
go to Inanda's Kraal, find the grave, and put a tombstone over
it in memory of the dog that saved my life. I would also write
that the man who shot him was killed on such and such a day
at such and such a place by Colin's master. I wondered why
Laputa had not the wits to see the Portugoose's treachery and
to let me fight him. I did not care what were the weapons -
knives or guns, or naked fists - I would certainly kill him, and
afterwards the Kaffirs could do as they pleased with me. Hot
tears of rage and weakness wet the bandage on my eyes, and
the sobs which came from me were not only those of weariness.
At last we halted. Laputa got down and took off the bandage,
and I found myself in one of the hill-meadows which lie among
the foothills of the Wolkberg. The glare blinded me, and for a
little I could only see the marigolds growing at my feet. Then
I had a glimpse of the deep gorge of the Great Letaba below
me, and far to the east the flats running out to the hazy blue
line of the Lebombo hills. Laputa let me sit on the ground for
a minute or two to get my breath and rest my feet. 'That was a
rough road,' he said. 'You can take it easier now, for I have no
wish to carry you.' He patted the Schimmel, and the beautiful
creature turned his mild eyes on the pair of us. I wondered if
he recognized his rider of two nights ago.
I had seen Laputa as the Christian minister, as the priest
and king in the cave, as the leader of an army at Dupree's
Drift, and at the kraal we had left as the savage with all self-
control flung to the winds. I was to see this amazing man in a
further part. For he now became a friendly and rational
companion. He kept his horse at an easy walk, and talked to
me as if we were two friends out for a trip together. Perhaps
he had talked thus to Arcoll, the half-caste who drove his
The wooded bluff above Machudi's glen showed far in
front. He told me the story of the Machudi war, which I
knew already, but he told it as a saga. There had been a
stratagem by which one of the Boer leaders - a Grobelaar, I
think - got some of his men into the enemy's camp by hiding
them in a captured forage wagon.
'Like the Trojan horse,' I said involuntarily.
'Yes,' said my companion, 'the same old device,' and to my
amazement he quoted some lines of Virgil.
'Do you understand Latin?' he asked.
I told him that I had some slight knowledge of the tongue,
acquired at the university of Edinburgh. Laputa nodded. He
mentioned the name of a professor there, and commented on
'O man!' I cried, 'what in God's name are you doing in this
business? You that are educated and have seen the world, what
makes you try to put the clock back? You want to wipe out the
civilization of a thousand years, and turn us all into savages.
It's the more shame to you when you know better.'
'You misunderstand me,' he said quietly. 'It is because I
have sucked civilization dry that I know the bitterness of the
fruit. I want a simpler and better world, and I want that world
for my own people. I am a Christian, and will you tell me that
your civilization pays much attention to Christ? You call
yourself a patriot? Will you not give me leave to be a patriot
'If you are a Christian, what sort of Christianity is it to
deluge the land with blood?'
'The best,' he said. 'The house must be swept and garnished
before the man of the house can dwell in it. You have
read history, Such a purging has descended on the Church at
many times, and the world has awakened to a new hope. It is
the same in all religions. The temples grow tawdry and foul
and must be cleansed, and, let me remind you, the cleanser
has always come out of the desert.'
I had no answer, being too weak and forlorn to think. But I
fastened on his patriotic plea.
'Where are the patriots in your following? They are all red
Kaffirs crying for blood and plunder. Supposing you were
Oliver Cromwell you could make nothing out of such a crew.'
'They are my people,' he said simply.
By this time we had forded the Great Letaba, and were
making our way through the clumps of forest to the crown of
the plateau. I noticed that Laputa kept well in cover, preferring
the tangle of wooded undergrowth to the open spaces of the
water-meadows. As he talked, his wary eyes were keeping a
sharp look-out over the landscape. I thrilled with the thought
that my own folk were near at hand.
Once Laputa checked me with his hand as I was going to
speak, and in silence we crossed the kloof of a little stream.
After that we struck a long strip of forest and he slackened
'if you fight for a great cause,' I said, 'why do you let a
miscreant like Henriques have a hand in it? You must know
that the man's only interest in you is the chance of loot. I am
for you against Henriques, and I tell you plain that if you don't
break the snake's back it will sting you.'
Laputa looked at me with an odd, meditative look.
'You misunderstand again, Mr Storekeeper. The Portuguese
is what you call a "mean white." His only safety is among us. I
am campaigner enough to know that an enemy, who has a
burning grievance against my other enemies, is a good ally.
You are too hard on Henriques. You and your friends have
treated him as a Kaffir, and a Kaffir he is in everything but
Kaffir virtues. What makes you so anxious that Henriques
should not betray me?'
'I'm not a mean white,' I said, 'and I will speak the truth. I
hope, in God's name, to see you smashed; but I want it done
by honest men, and not by a yellow devil who has murdered
my dog and my friends. Sooner or later you will find him out;
and if he escapes you, and there's any justice in heaven, he
won't escape me.'
'Brave words,' said Laputa, with a laugh, and then in one
second he became rigid in the saddle. We had crossed a patch
of meadow and entered a wood, beyond which ran the highway.
I fancy he was out in his reckoning, and did not think the
road so near. At any rate, after a moment he caught the sound
of horses, and I caught it too. The wood was thin, and there
was no room for retreat, while to recross the meadow would
bring us clean into the open. He jumped from his horse, untied
with amazing quickness the rope halter from its neck, and
started to gag me by winding the thing round my jaw.
I had no time to protest that I would keep faith, and my
right hand was tethered to his pommel. In the grip of these
great arms I was helpless, and in a trice was standing dumb as
a lamp-post; while Laputa, his left arm round both of mine,
and his right hand over the schimmel's eyes, strained his ears
like a sable antelope who has scented danger.
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