Part 4 out of 5
There was never a more brutal gagging. The rope crushed
my nose and drove my lips down on my teeth, besides gripping
my throat so that I could scarcely breathe. The pain was so
great that I became sick, and would have fallen but for Laputa.
Happily I managed to get my teeth apart, so that one coil
slipped between, and eased the pain of the jaws. But the rest
was bad enough to make me bite frantically on the tow, and I
think in a little my sharp front teeth would have severed it. All
this discomfort prevented me seeing what happened. The
wood, as I have said, was thin, and through the screen of
leaves I had a confused impression of men and horses passing
interminably. There can only have been a score at the most;
but the moments drag if a cord is gripping your throat. When
Laputa at length untied me, I had another fit of nausea, and
leaned helplessly against a tree.
Laputa listened till the sound of the horses had died away;
then silently we stole to the edge of the road, across, and into
the thicker evergreen bush on the far side. At a pace which
forced me to run hard, we climbed a steepish slope, till ahead
of us we saw the bald green crown of the meadowlands. I
noticed that his face had grown dark and sullen again. He was
in an enemy's country, and had the air of the hunted instead
of the hunter. When I stopped he glowered at me, and once, when
I was all but overcome with fatigue, he lifted his hand in a
threat. Had he carried a sjambok, it would have fallen on my back.
If he was nervous, so was I. The fact that I was out of the
Kaffir country and in the land of my own folk was a kind of
qualified liberty. At any moment, I felt, Providence might
intervene to set me free. It was in the bond that Laputa should
shoot me if we were attacked; but a pistol might miss. As far
as my shaken wits would let me, I began to forecast the future.
Once he got the jewels my side of the bargain was complete.
He had promised me my life, but there had been nothing said
about my liberty; and I felt assured that Laputa would never
allow one who had seen so much to get off to Arcoll with his
tidings. But back to that unhallowed kraal I was resolved I
would not go. He was armed, and I was helpless; he was
strong, and I was dizzy with weakness; he was mounted, and
I was on foot: it seemed a poor hope that I should get away.
There was little chance from a wandering patrol, for I knew if
we were followed I should have a bullet in my head, while
Laputa got off on the Schimmel. I must wait and bide events.
At the worst, a clean shot on the hillside in a race for life was
better than the unknown mysteries of the kraal. I prayed
earnestly to God to show me His mercy, for if ever man was
sore bested by the heathen it was I.
To my surprise, Laputa chose to show himself on the green
hill-shoulder. He looked towards the Wolkberg and raised his
hands. It must have been some signal. I cast my eyes back on
the road we had come, and I thought I saw some figures a mile
back, on the edge of the Letaba gorge. He was making sure of
By this time it was about four in the afternoon, and as
heavenly weather as the heart of man could wish. The
meadows were full of aromatic herbs, which, as we crushed
them, sent up a delicate odour. The little pools and shallows
of the burns were as clear as a Lothian trout-stream. We were
now going at a good pace, and I found that my earlier weariness
was growing less. I was being keyed up for some great crisis,
for in my case the spirit acts direct on the body, and fatigue
grows and ebbs with hope. I knew that my strength was not
far from breaking-point; but I knew also that so long as a
chance was left me I should have enough for a stroke.
Before I realized where we were we had rounded the hill,
and were looking down on the green cup of the upper
Machudi's glen. Far down, I remember, where the trees began,
there was a cloud of smoke. Some Kaffir - or maybe Arcoll -
had fired the forest. The smoke was drifting away under a
light west wind over the far plains, so that they were seen
through a haze of opal.
Laputa bade me take the lead. I saw quite clear the red kloof
on the far side, where the collar was hid. To get there we
might have ridden straight into the cup, but a providential
instinct made me circle round the top till we were on the lip of
the ravine. This was the road some of Machudi's men had
taken, and unthinkingly I followed them. Twenty minutes'
riding brought us to the place, and all the while I had no kind
of plan of escape. I was in the hands of my Maker, watching,
like the Jews of old, for a sign.
Laputa dismounted and looked down into the gorge.
'There is no road there,' I said. 'We must go down to the
foot and come up the stream-side. It would be better to leave
your horse here.'
He started down the cliff, which from above looks a sheer
precipice. Then he seemed to agree with me, took the rope
from the schimmel's neck, and knee-haltered his beast. And at
that moment I had an inspiration.
With my wrist-rope in his hand, he preceded me down the
hill till we got to the red screes at the foot of the kloof. Then,
under my guidance, we turned up into the darkness of the
gorge. As we entered I looked back, and saw figures coming
over the edge of the green cup - Laputa's men, I guessed.
What I had to do must be done quickly.
We climbed up the burn, over the succession of little
cataracts, till we came to the flat space of shingle and the long
pool where I had been taken that morning. The ashes of the
fire which Machudi's men had made were plain on the rock.
After that I had to climb a waterfall to get to the rocky pool
where I had bestowed the rubies.
'You must take off this thong,' I said. 'I must climb to get
the collar. Cover me with a pistol if you like. I won't be out
Laputa undid the thong and set me free. From his belt he
took a pistol, cocked it, and held it over his left hand. I had
seen this way of shooting adopted by indifferent shots, and it
gave me a wild hope that he might not be much of a marksman.
It did not take me long to find the pool, close against the
blackened stump of a tree-fern. I thrust in my hand and
gathered up the jewels from the cool sand. They came out
glowing like living fires, and for a moment I thrilled with a
sense of reverence. Surely these were no common stones which
held in them the very heart of hell. Clutching them tightly, I
climbed down to Laputa.
At the sight of the great Snake he gave a cry of rapture.
Tearing it from me, he held it at arm's length, his face lit with
a passionate joy. He kissed it, he raised it to the sky; nay, he
was on his knees before it. Once more he was the savage
transported in the presence of his fetich. He turned to me with
'Down on your knees,' he cried, 'and reverence the Ndhlondhlo.
Down, you impious dog, and seek pardon for your sacrilege.'
'I won't,' I said. 'I won't bow to any heathen idol.'
He pointed his pistol at me.
'In a second I shoot where your head is now. Down, you
fool, or perish.'
'You promised me my life,' I said stubbornly, though
Heaven knows why I chose to act thus.
He dropped the pistol and flung himself on me. I was
helpless as a baby in his hands. He forced me to the ground
and rolled my face in the sand; then he pulled me to my feet
and tossed me backward, till I almost staggered into the pool.
I saved myself, and staggered instead into the shallow at the
foot of it, close under the ledge of the precipice.
That morning, when Machudi's men were cooking breakfast,
I had figured out a route up the cliff. This route was
now my hope of escape. Laputa had dropped his pistol, and
the collar had plunged him in an ecstasy of worship. Now, if
ever, was my time. I must get on the shelf which ran sideways
up the cliff, and then scramble for dear life.
I pretended to be dazed and terrified.
'You promised me my life,' I whimpered.
'Your life,' he cried. 'Yes, you shall have your life; and
before long you will pray for death.'
'But I saved the Collar,' I pleaded. 'Henriques would have
stolen it. I brought it safe here, and now you have got it.'
Meantime I was pulling myself up on the shelf, and loosening
with one hand a boulder which overhung the pool.
'You have been repaid,' he said savagely. 'You will not die.'
'But my life is no use without liberty,' I said, working at the
boulder till it lay loose in its niche.
He did not answer, being intent on examining the Collar to
see if it had suffered any harm.
'I hope it isn't scratched,' I said. 'Henriques trod on it when
I hit him.'
Laputa peered at the gems like a mother at a child who has
had a fall. I saw my chance and took it. With a great heave I
pulled the boulder down into the pool. It made a prodigious
splash, sending a shower of spray over Laputa and the Collar.
In cover of it I raced up the shelf, straining for the shelter of
the juniper tree.
A shot rang out and struck the rock above me. A second
later I had reached the tree and was scrambling up the crack
Laputa did not fire again. He may have distrusted his
shooting, or seen a better way of it. He dashed through the
stream and ran up the shelf like a klipspringer after me. I felt
rather than saw what was happening, and with my heart in my
mouth I gathered my dregs of energy for the last struggle.
You know the nightmare when you are pursued by some
awful terror, and, though sick with fear, your legs have a
strange numbness, and you cannot drag them in obedience to
the will. Such was my feeling in the crack above the juniper
tree. In truth, I had passed the bounds of my endurance. Last
night I had walked fifty miles, and all day I had borne the
torments of a dreadful suspense. I had been bound and gagged
and beaten till the force was out of my limbs. Also, and above
all, I had had little food, and I was dizzy with want of sleep.
My feet seemed leaden, my hands had no more grip than
putty. I do not know how I escaped falling into the pool, for
my head was singing and my heart thumping in my throat. I
seemed to feel Laputa's great hand every second clawing at
I had reason for my fears. He had entered the crack long
before I had reached the top, and his progress was twice as fast
as mine. When I emerged on the topmost shelf he was scarcely
a yard behind me. But an overhang checked his bulky figure
and gave me a few seconds' grace. I needed it all, for these last
steps on the shelf were the totterings of an old man. Only a
desperate resolution and an extreme terror made me drag one
foot after the other. Blindly I staggered on to the top of the
ravine, and saw before me the Schimmel grazing in the light of
the westering sun.
I forced myself into a sort of drunken run, and crawled into
the saddle. Behind me, as I turned, I could see Laputa's
shoulders rising over the edge. I had no knife to cut the knee-
halter, and the horse could not stir.
Then the miracle happened. When the rope had gagged me,
my teeth must have nearly severed it at one place, and this
Laputa had not noticed when he used it as a knee-halter. The
shock of my entering the saddle made the Schimmel fling up
his head violently, and the rope snapped. I could not find the
stirrups, but I dug my heels into his sides, and he leaped forward.
At the same moment Laputa began to shoot. It was a foolish
move, for he might have caught me by running, since I had
neither spurs nor whip, and the horse was hampered by the
loose end of rope at his knee. In any case, being an indifferent
shot, he should have aimed at the Schimmel, not at me; but I
suppose he wished to save his charger. One bullet sang past
my head; a second did my business for me. It passed over my
shoulder, as I lay low in the saddle, and grazed the beast's
right ear. The pain maddened him, and, rope-end and all, he
plunged into a wild gallop. Other shots came, but they fell far
short. I saw dimly a native or two - the men who had followed
us - rush to intercept me, and I think a spear was flung. But
in a flash we were past them, and their cries faded behind me.
I found the bridle, reached for the stirrups, and galloped
straight for the sunset and for freedom.
HOW A MAN MAY SOMETIMES PUT HIS TRUST IN A HORSE
I had long passed the limit of my strength. Only constant
fear and wild alternations of hope had kept me going so long,
and now that I was safe I became light-headed in earnest. The
wonder is that I did not fall off. Happily the horse was good
and the ground easy, for I was powerless to do any guiding. I
simply sat on his back in a silly glow of comfort, keeping a line
for the dying sun, which I saw in a nick of the Iron Crown
Mountain. A sort of childish happiness possessed me. After
three days of imminent peril, to be free was to be in fairyland.
To be swishing through the long bracken or plunging among
the breast-high flowers of the meadowlands in a world of
essential lights and fragrances, seemed scarcely part of mortal
experience. Remember that I was little more than a lad, and
that I had faced death so often of late that my mind was all
adrift. To be able to hope once more, nay, to be allowed to
cease both from hope and fear, was like a deep and happy
opiate to my senses. Spent and frail as I was, my soul swam in
blessed waters of ease.
The mood did not last long. I came back to earth with a
shock, as the schimmel stumbled at the crossing of a stream. I
saw that the darkness was fast falling, and with the sight panic
returned to me. Behind me I seemed to hear the sound of
pursuit. The noise was in my ears, but when I turned it
ceased, and I saw only the dusky shoulders of hills.
I tried to remember what Arcoll had told me about his
headquarters, but my memory was wiped clean. I thought they
were on or near the highway, but I could not remember where
the highway was. Besides, he was close to the enemy, and I
wanted to get back into the towns, far away from the battle-
line. If I rode west I must come in time to villages, where I
could hide myself. These were unworthy thoughts, but my
excuse must be my tattered nerves. When a man comes out
of great danger, he is apt to be a little deaf to the call of duty.
Suddenly I became ashamed. God had preserved me from
deadly perils, but not that I might cower in some shelter. I
had a mission as clear as Laputa's. For the first time I became
conscious to what a little thing I owed my salvation. That
matter of the broken halter was like the finger of Divine
Providence. I had been saved for a purpose, and unless I
fulfilled that purpose I should again be lost. I was always a
fatalist, and in that hour of strained body and soul I became
something of a mystic. My panic ceased, my lethargy departed,
and a more manly resolution took their place. I gripped the
Schimmel by the head and turned him due left. Now I
remembered where the highroad ran, and I remembered
For it was borne in on me that Laputa had fallen into my
hands. Without any subtle purpose I had played a master
game. He was cut off from his people, without a horse, on the
wrong side of the highroad which Arcoll's men patrolled.
Without him the rising would crumble. There might be war,
even desperate war, but we should fight against a leaderless
foe. If he could only be shepherded to the north, his game was
over, and at our leisure we could mop up the scattered
I was now as eager to get back into danger as I had been to
get into safety. Arcoll must be found and warned, and that
at once, or Laputa would slip over to Inanda's Kraal under
cover of dark. It was a matter of minutes, and on these minutes
depended the lives of thousands. It was also a matter of ebbing
strength, for with my return to common sense I saw very
clearly how near my capital was spent. If I could reach the
highroad, find Arcoll or Arcoll's men, and give them my
news, I would do my countrymen a service such as no man in
Africa could render. But I felt my head swimming, I was
swaying crazily in the saddle, and my hands had scarcely the
force of a child's. I could only lie limply on the horse's back,
clutching at his mane with trembling fingers. I remember
that my head was full of a text from the Psalms about not
putting one's trust in horses. I prayed that this one horse might
be an exception, for he carried more than Caesar and his
My mind is a blank about those last minutes. In less than an
hour after my escape I struck the highway, but it was an hour
which in the retrospect unrolls itself into unquiet years. I was
dimly conscious of scrambling through a ditch and coming to
a ghostly white road. The schimmel swung to the right, and
the next I knew some one had taken my bridle and was
speaking to me.
At first I thought it was Laputa and screamed. Then I must
have tottered in the saddle, for I felt an arm slip round my
middle. The rider uncorked a bottle with his teeth and forced
some brandy down my throat. I choked and coughed, and then
looked up to see a white policeman staring at me. I knew the
police by the green shoulder-straps.
'Arcoll,' I managed to croak. 'For God's sake take me to Arcoll.'
The man whistled shrilly on his fingers, and a second rider
came cantering down the road. As he came up I recognized his
face, but could not put a name to it.
'Losh, it's the lad Crawfurd,' I heard a voice say. 'Crawfurd,
man, d'ye no mind me at Lourenco Marques? Aitken?'
The Scotch tongue worked a spell with me. It cleared my
wits and opened the gates of my past life. At last I knew I was
among my own folk.
'I must see Arcoll. I have news for him - tremendous news.
O man, take me to Arcoll and ask me no questions. Where is
he? Where is he?'
'As it happens, he's about two hundred yards off,' Aitken
said. 'That light ye see at the top of the brae is his camp.'
They helped me up the road, a man on each side of me, for
I could never have kept in the saddle without their support.
My message to Arcoll kept humming in my head as I tried to
put it into words, for I had a horrid fear that my wits would
fail me and I should be dumb when the time came. Also I was
in a fever of haste. Every minute I wasted increased Laputa's
chance of getting back to the kraal. He had men with him
every bit as skilful as Arcoll's trackers. Unless Arcoll had a big
force and the best horses there was no hope. Often in looking
back at this hour I have marvelled at the strangeness of my
behaviour. Here was I just set free from the certainty of a
hideous death, and yet I had lost all joy in my security. I was
more fevered at the thought of Laputa's escape than I had
been at the prospect of David Crawfurd's end.
The next thing I knew I was being lifted off the Schimmel
by what seemed to me a thousand hands. Then came a glow of
light, a great moon, in the centre of which I stood blinking. I
was forced to sit down on a bed, while I was given a cup of hot
tea, far more reviving than any spirits. I became conscious that
some one was holding my hands, and speaking very slowly and gently.
'Davie,' the voice said, 'you're back among friends, my lad.
Tell me, where have you been?'
'I want Arcoll,' I moaned. 'Where is Ratitswan?' There were
tears of weakness running down my cheeks.
'Arcoll is here,' said the voice; 'he is holding your hands,
Davie. Quiet, lad, quiet. Your troubles are all over now.'
I made a great effort, found the eyes to which the voice
belonged, and spoke to them.
'Listen. I stole the collar of Prester John at Dupree's Drift.
I was caught in the Berg and taken to the kraal - I forget its
name - but I had hid the rubies.'
'Yes,' the voice said, 'you hid the rubies, - and then?'
'Inkulu wanted them back, so I made a deal with him. I
took him to Machudi's and gave him the collar, and then he
fired at me and I climbed and climbed ... I climbed on a
horse,' I concluded childishly.
I heard the voice say 'Yes?' again inquiringly, but my mind
ran off at a tangent.
'Beyers took guns up into the Wolkberg,' I cried shrilly.
'Why the devil don't you do the same? You have the whole
Kaffir army in a trap.'
I saw a smiling face before me.
'Good lad. Colles told me you weren't wanting in intelligence.
What if we have done that very thing, Davie?'
But I was not listening. I was trying to remember the thing
I most wanted to say, and that was not about Beyers and his
guns. Those were nightmare minutes. A speaker who has lost
the thread of his discourse, a soldier who with a bayonet at his
throat has forgotten the password - I felt like them, and worse.
And to crown all I felt my faintness coming back, and my head
dropping with heaviness. I was in a torment of impotence.
Arcoll, still holding my hands, brought his face close to
mine, so that his clear eyes mastered and constrained me.
'Look at me, Davie,' I heard him say. 'You have something
to tell me, and it is very important. It is about Laputa, isn't it?
Think, man. You took him to Machudi's and gave him the
collar. He has gone back with it to Inanda's Kraal. Very well,
my guns will hold him there.'
I shook my head. 'You can't. You may split the army, but
you can't hold Laputa. He will be over the Olifants before you
fire a shot.'
'We will hunt him down before he crosses. And if not, we
will catch him at the railway.'
'For God's sake, hurry then,' I cried. 'In an hour he will be
over it and back in the kraal.'
'But the river is a long way.'
'River?' I repeated hazily. 'What river? The Letaba is not
the place. It is the road I mean.'
Arcoll's hands closed firmly on my wrists.
'You left Laputa at Machudi's and rode here without stopping.
That would take you an hour. Had Laputa a horse?'
'Yes; but I took it,' I stammered. 'You can see it behind me.'
Arcoll dropped my hands and stood up straight.
'By God, we've got him!' he said, and he spoke to his
companions. A man turned and ran out of the tent.
Then I remembered what I wanted to say. I struggled from
the bed and put my hands on his shoulders.
'Laputa is our side of the highroad. Cut him off from his
men, and drive him north - north - away up to the Rooirand.
Never mind the Wolkberg and the guns, for they can wait. I
tell you Laputa is the Rising, and he has the collar. Without
him you can mop up the Kaffirs at your leisure. Line the high-
road with every man you have, for he must cross it or perish.
Oh, hurry, man, hurry; never mind me. We're saved if we can
chivy Laputa till morning. Quick, or I'll have to go myself.'
The tent emptied, and I lay back on the bed with a dim
feeling that my duty was done and I could rest. Henceforth
the affair was in stronger hands than mine. I was so weak that
I could not lift my legs up to the bed, but sprawled half on
and half off.
Utter exhaustion defeats sleep. I was in a fever, and my eyes
would not close. I lay and drowsed while it seemed to me that
the outside world was full of men and horses. I heard voices
and the sound of hoofs and the jingle of bridles, but above all
I heard the solid tramp of an army. The whole earth seemed
to be full of war. Before my mind was spread the ribbon of the
great highway. I saw it run white through the meadows of the
plateau, then in a dark corkscrew down the glen of the Letaba,
then white again through the vast moonlit bush of the plains,
till the shanties of Wesselsburg rose at the end of it. It seemed
to me to be less a road than a rampart, built of shining
marble, the Great Wall of Africa. I saw Laputa come out of
the shadows and try to climb it, and always there was the
sound of a rifle-breech clicking, a summons, and a flight. I
began to take a keen interest in the game. Down in the bush
were the dark figures of the hunted, and on the white wall
were my own people - horse, foot, and artillery, the squadrons
of our defence. What a general Arcoll was, and how great a
matter had David Crawfurd kindled!
A man came in - I suppose a doctor. He took off my leggings
and boots, cutting them from my bleeding feet, but I knew no
pain. He felt my pulse and listened to my heart. Then he
washed my face and gave me a bowl of hot milk. There must
have been a drug in the milk, for I had scarcely drunk it before
a tide of sleep seemed to flow over my brain. The white
rampart faded from my eyes and I slept.
While I lay in a drugged slumber great things were happening.
What I have to tell is no experience of my own, but the
story as I pieced it together afterwards from talks with Arcoll
and Aitken. The history of the Rising has been compiled. As I
write I see before me on the shelves two neat blue volumes in
which Mr Alexander Upton, sometime correspondent of the
Times, has told for the edification of posterity the tale of the
war between the Plains and the Plateau. To him the Kaffir
hero is Umbooni, a half-witted ruffian, whom we afterwards
caught and hanged. He mentions Laputa only in a footnote as
a renegade Christian who had something to do with fomenting
discontent. He considers that the word 'Inkulu,' which he
often heard, was a Zulu name for God. Mr Upton is a
picturesque historian, but he knew nothing of the most romantic
incident of all. This is the tale of the midnight shepherding
of the 'heir of John' by Arcoll and his irregulars.
At Bruderstroom, where I was lying unconscious, there were
two hundred men of the police; sixty-three Basuto scouts
under a man called Stephen, who was half native in blood and
wholly native in habits; and three commandoes of the farmers,
each about forty strong. The commandoes were really companies
of the North Transvaal Volunteers, but the old name had
been kept and something of the old loose organization. There
were also two four-gun batteries of volunteer artillery, but
these were out on the western skirts of the Wolkberg following
Beyers's historic precedent. Several companies of regulars were
on their way from Pietersdorp, but they did not arrive till the
next day. When they came they went to the Wolkberg to join
the artillery. Along the Berg at strategic points were pickets of
police with native trackers, and at Blaauwildebeestefontein
there was a strong force with two field guns, for there was
some fear of a second Kaffir army marching by that place to
Inanda's Kraal. At Wesselsburg out on the plain there was a
biggish police patrol, and a system of small patrols along the
road, with a fair number of Basuto scouts. But the road was
picketed, not held; for Arcoll's patrols were only a branch of
his Intelligence Department. It was perfectly easy, as I had
found myself, to slip across in a gap of the pickets.
Laputa would be in a hurry, and therefore he would try to
cross at the nearest point. Hence it was Arcoll's first business
to hold the line between the defile of the Letaba and the camp
at Bruderstroom. A detachment of the police who were well
mounted galloped at racing speed for the defile, and behind
them the rest lined out along the road. The farmers took a line
at right angles to the road, so as to prevent an escape on the
western flank. The Basutos were sent into the woods as a sort
of advanced post to bring tidings of any movement there.
Finally a body of police with native runners at their stirrups
rode on to the drift where the road crosses the Letaba. The
place is called Main Drift, and you will find it on the map.
The natives were first of all to locate Laputa, and prevent him
getting out on the south side of the triangle of hill and wood
between Machudi's, the road, and the Letaba. If he failed
there, he must try to ford the Letaba below the drift, and cross
the road between the drift and Wesselsburg. Now Arcoll had
not men enough to watch the whole line, and therefore if
Laputa were once driven below the drift, he must shift his
men farther down the road. Consequently it was of the first
importance to locate Laputa's whereabouts, and for this purpose
the native trackers were sent forward. There was just a
chance of capturing him, but Arcoll knew too well his amazing
veld-craft and great strength of body to build much hope on that.
We were none too soon. The advance men of the police rode
into one of the Kaffirs from Inanda's Kraal, whom Laputa had
sent forward to see if the way was clear. In two minutes more
he would have been across and out of our power, for we had
no chance of overtaking him in the woody ravines of the
Letaba. The Kaffir, when he saw us, dived back into the grass
on the north side of the road, which made it clear that Laputa
was still there.
After that nothing happened for a little. The police reached
their drift, and all the road west of that point was strongly
held. The flanking commandoes joined hands with one of the
police posts farther north, and moved slowly to the scarp of
the Berg. They saw nobody; from which Arcoll could deduce
that his man had gone down the Berg into the forests.
Had the Basutos been any good at woodcraft we should have
had better intelligence. But living in a bare mountain country
they are apt to find themselves puzzled in a forest. The best
men among the trackers were some renegades of 'Mpefu, who
sent back word by a device known only to Arcoll that five
Kaffirs were in the woods a mile north of Main Drift. By this
time it was after ten o'clock, and the moon was rising. The five
men separated soon after, and the reports became confused.
Then Laputa, as the biggest of the five, was located on the
banks of the Great Letaba about two miles below Main Drift.
The question was as to his crossing. Arcoll had assumed
that he would swim the river and try to get over the road
between Main Drift and Wesselsburg. But in this assumption
he underrated the shrewdness of his opponent. Laputa knew
perfectly well that we had not enough men to patrol the whole
countryside, but that the river enabled us to divide the land
into two sections and concentrate strongly on one or the other.
Accordingly he left the Great Letaba unforded and resolved to
make a long circuit back to the Berg. One of his Kaffirs swam
the river, and when word of this was brought Arcoll began to
withdraw his posts farther down the road. But as the men were
changing 'Mpefu's fellows got wind of Laputa's turn to the
left, and in great haste Arcoll countermanded the move and
waited in deep perplexity at Main Drift.
The salvation of his scheme was the farmers on the scarp of
the Berg. They lit fires and gave Laputa the notion of a great
army. Instead of going up the glen of Machudi or the Letsitela
he bore away to the north for the valley of the Klein Letaba.
The pace at which he moved must have been amazing. He had
a great physique, hard as nails from long travelling, and in his
own eyes he had an empire at stake. When I look at the map
and see the journey which with vast fatigue I completed from
Dupree's Drift to Machudi's, and then look at the huge spaces
of country over which Laputa's legs took him on that night, I
am lost in admiration of the man.
About midnight he must have crossed the Letsitela. Here he
made a grave blunder. If he had tried the Berg by one of the
faces he might have got on to the plateau and been at Inanda's
Kraal by the dawning. But he over-estimated the size of the
commandoes, and held on to the north, where he thought
there would be no defence. About one o'clock Arcoll, tired of
inaction and conscious that he had misread Laputa's tactics,
resolved on a bold stroke. He sent half his police to the Berg
to reinforce the commandoes, bidding them get into touch
with the post at Blaauwildebeestefontein.
A little after two o'clock a diversion occurred. Henriques
succeeded in crossing the road three miles east of Main Drift.
He had probably left the kraal early in the night and had tried
to cross farther west, but had been deterred by the patrols.
East of Main Drift, where the police were fewer, he succeeded;
but he had not gone far till he was discovered by the Basuto
scouts. The find was reported to Arcoll, who guessed at once
who this traveller was. He dared not send out any of his white
men, but he bade a party of the scouts follow the Portugoose's
trail. They shadowed him to Dupree's Drift, where he crossed
the Letaba. There he lay down by the roadside to sleep, while
they kept him company. A hard fellow Henriques was, for he
could slumber peacefully on the very scene of his murder.
Dawn found Laputa at the head of the Klein Letaba glen,
not far from 'Mpefu's kraal. He got food at a hut, and set off
at once up the wooded hill above it, which is a promontory of
the plateau. By this time he must have been weary, or he
would not have blundered as he did right into a post of the
farmers. He was within an ace of capture, and to save himself
was forced back from the scarp. He seems, to judge from
reports, to have gone a little way south in the thicker timber,
and then to have turned north again in the direction of
Blaauwildebeestefontein. After that his movements are
obscure. He was seen on the Klein Labongo, but the sight of
the post at Blaauwildebeestefontein must have convinced him
that a korhaan could not escape that way. The next we heard
of him was that he had joined Henriques.
After daybreak Arcoll, having got his reports from the
plateau, and knowing roughly the direction in which Laputa
was shaping, decided to advance his lines. The farmers,
reinforced by three more commandoes from the Pietersdorp
district, still held the plateau, but the police were now on the
line of the Great Letaba. It was Arcoll's plan to hold that river
and the long neck of land between it and the Labongo. His
force was hourly increasing, and his mounted men would be
able to prevent any escape on the flank to the east of
So it happened that while Laputa was being driven east
from the Berg, Henriques was travelling north, and their lines
intersected. I should like to have seen the meeting. It must
have told Laputa what had always been in the Portugoose's
heart. Henriques, I fancy, was making for the cave in the
Rooirand. Laputa, so far as I can guess at his mind, had a plan
for getting over the Portuguese border, fetching a wide circuit,
and joining his men at any of the concentrations between there
The two were seen at midday going down the road which
leads from Blaauwildebeestefontein to the Lebombo. Then
they struck Arcoll's new front, which stretched from the
Letaba to the Labongo. This drove them north again, and
forced them to swim the latter stream. From there to the
eastern extremity of the Rooirand, which is the Portuguese
frontier, the country is open and rolling, with a thin light
scrub in the hollows. It was bad cover for the fugitives, as they
found to their cost. For Arcoll had purposely turned his police
into a flying column. They no longer held a line; they scoured
a country. Only Laputa's incomparable veld-craft and great
bodily strength prevented the two from being caught in half an
hour. They doubled back, swam the Labongo again, and got
into the thick bush on the north side of the Blaauwildebeestefontein
road. The Basuto scouts were magnificent in the open,
but in the cover they were again at fault. Laputa and Henriques
fairly baffled them, so that the pursuit turned to the west in
the belief that the fugitives had made for Majinje's kraal. In
reality they had recrossed the Labongo and were making for
All this I heard afterwards, but in the meantime I lay in
Arcoll's tent in deep unconsciousness. While my enemies were
being chased like partridges, I was reaping the fruits of four
days' toil and terror. The hunters had become the hunted, the
wheel had come full circle, and the woes of David Crawfurd
were being abundantly avenged.
I slept till midday of the next day. When I awoke the hot
noontide sun had made the tent like an oven. I felt better, but
very stiff and sore, and I had a most ungovernable thirst.
There was a pail of water with a tin pannikin beside the tent
pole, and out of this I drank repeated draughts. Then I lay
down again, for I was still very weary.
But my second sleep was not like my first. It was haunted
by wild nightmares. No sooner had I closed my eyes than I
began to live and move in a fantastic world. The whole bush
of the plains lay before me, and I watched it as if from some
view-point in the clouds. It was midday, and the sandy patches
shimmered under a haze of heat. I saw odd little movements
in the bush - a buck's head raised, a paauw stalking solemnly
in the long grass, a big crocodile rolling off a mudbank in the
river. And then I saw quite clearly Laputa's figure going east.
In my sleep I did not think about Arcoll's manoeuvres. My
mind was wholly set upon Laputa. He was walking wearily,
yet at a good pace, and his head was always turning, like a wild
creature snuffing the wind. There was something with him, a
shapeless shadow, which I could not see clearly. His neck was
bare, but I knew well that the collar was in his pouch.
He stopped, turned west, and I lost him. The bush world
for a space was quite silent, and I watched it eagerly as an
aeronaut would watch the ground for a descent. For a long
time I could see nothing. Then in a wood near a river there
seemed to be a rustling. Some guinea-fowl flew up as if
startled, and a stembok scurried out. I knew that Laputa
must be there.
Then, as I looked at the river, I saw a head swimming. Nay,
I saw two, one some distance behind the other. The first man
landed on the far bank, and I recognized Laputa. The second
was a slight short figure, and I knew it was Henriques.
I remember feeling very glad that these two had come
together. It was certain now that Henriques would not escape.
Either Laputa would find out the truth and kill him, or I
would come up with him and have my revenge. In any case he
was outside the Kaffir pale, adventuring on his own.
I watched the two till they halted near a ruined building.
Surely this was the store I had built at Umvelos'. The thought
gave me a horrid surprise. Laputa and Henriques were on
their way to the Rooirand!
I woke with a start to find my forehead damp with sweat.
There was some fever on me, I think, for my teeth were
chattering. Very clear in my mind was the disquieting thought
that Laputa and Henriques would soon be in the cave.
One of two things must happen - either Henriques would
kill Laputa, get the collar of rubies, and be in the wilds of
Mozambique before I could come up with his trail; or Laputa
would outwit him, and have the handling himself of the
treasure of gold and diamonds which had been laid up for the
rising. If he thought there was a risk of defeat, I knew he
would send my gems to the bottom of the Labongo, and all my
weary work would go for nothing. I had forgotten all about
patriotism. In that hour the fate of the country was nothing to
me, and I got no satisfaction from the thought that Laputa was
severed from his army. My one idea was that the treasure
would be lost, the treasure for which I had risked my life.
There is a kind of courage which springs from bitter anger
and disappointment. I had thought that I had bankrupted my
spirit, but I found that there was a new passion in me to which
my past sufferings taught no lesson. My uneasiness would not
let me rest a moment longer. I rose to my feet, holding on by
the bed, and staggered to the tent pole. I was weak, but not so
very weak that I could not make one last effort. It maddened
me that I should have done so much and yet fail at the end.
From a nail on the tent pole hung a fragment of looking-
glass which Arcoll used for shaving. I caught a glimpse of my
face in it, white and haggard and lined, with blue bags below
the eyes. The doctor the night before had sponged it, but he
had not got rid of all the stains of travel. In particular there
was a faint splash of blood on the left temple. I remembered
that this was what I had got from the basin of goat's blood that
night in the cave.
I think that the sight of that splash determined me. Whether
I willed it or not, I was sealed of Laputa's men. I must play
the game to the finish, or never again know peace of mind on
earth. These last four days had made me very old.
I found a pair of Arcoll's boots, roomy with much wearing,
into which I thrust my bruised feet. Then I crawled to the
door, and shouted for a boy to bring my horse. A Basuto
appeared, and, awed by my appearance, went off in a hurry to
see to the schimmel. It was late afternoon, about the same time
of day as had yesterday seen me escaping from Machudi's. The
Bruderstroom camp was empty, though sentinels were posted
at the approaches. I beckoned the only white man I saw, and
asked where Arcoll was. He told me that he had no news, but
added that the patrols were still on the road as far as Wesselsburg.
From this I gathered that Arcoll must have gone far out
into the bush in his chase. I did not want to see him; above
all, I did not want him to find Laputa. It was my private
business that I rode on, and I asked for no allies.
Somebody brought me a cup of thick coffee, which I could
not drink, and helped me into the saddle. The Schimmel was
fresh, and kicked freely as I cantered off the grass into the dust
of the highroad. The whole world, I remember, was still and
golden in the sunset.
MY LAST SIGHT OF THE REVEREND JOHN LAPUTA
It was dark before I got into the gorge of the Letaba. I passed
many patrols, but few spoke to me, and none tried to stop me.
Some may have known me, but I think it was my face and
figure which tied their tongues. I must have been pale as
death, with tangled hair and fever burning in my eyes. Also on
my left temple was the splash of blood.
At Main Drift I found a big body of police holding the ford.
I splashed through and stumbled into one of their camp-fires.
A man questioned me, and told me that Arcoll had got his
quarry. 'He's dead, they say. They shot him out on the hills
when he was making for the Limpopo.' But I knew that this
was not true. It was burned on my mind that Laputa was alive,
nay, was waiting for me, and that it was God's will that we
should meet in the cave.
A little later I struck the track of the Kaffirs' march. There
was a broad, trampled way through the bush, and I followed
it, for it led to Dupree's Drift. All this time I was urging the
Schimmel with all the vigour I had left in me. I had quite lost
any remnant of fear. There were no terrors left for me either
from Nature or man. At Dupree's Drift I rode the ford without
a thought of crocodiles. I looked placidly at the spot where
Henriques had slain the Keeper and I had stolen the rubies.
There was no interest or imagination lingering in my dull
brain. My nerves had suddenly become things of stolid,
untempered iron. Each landmark I passed was noted down as
one step nearer to my object. At Umvelos' I had not the leisure
to do more than glance at the shell which I had built. I think I
had forgotten all about that night when I lay in the cellar and
heard Laputa's plans. Indeed, my doings of the past days were
all hazy and trivial in my mind. I only saw one sight clearly -
two men, one tall and black, the other little and sallow, slowly
creeping nearer to the Rooirand, and myself, a midget on a
horse, spurring far behind through the bush on their trail. I
saw the picture as continuously and clearly as if I had been
looking at a scene on the stage. There was only one change in
the setting; the three figures seemed to be gradually closing
I had no exhilaration in my quest. I do not think I had even
much hope, for something had gone numb and cold in me and
killed my youth. I told myself that treasure-hunting was an
enterprise accursed of God, and that I should most likely die.
That Laputa and Henriques would die I was fully certain.
The three of us would leave our bones to bleach among the
diamonds, and in a little the Prester's collar would glow
amid a little heap of human dust. I was quite convinced of all
this, and quite apathetic. It really did not matter so long as I
came up with Laputa and Henriques, and settled scores with
them. That mattered everything in the world, for it was my destiny.
I had no means of knowing how long I took, but it was after
midnight before I passed Umvelos', and ere I got to the
Rooirand there was a fluttering of dawn in the east. I must
have passed east of Arcoll's men, who were driving the bush
towards Majinje's. I had ridden the night down and did not
feel so very tired. My horse was stumbling, but my own limbs
scarcely pained me. To be sure I was stiff and nerveless as if
hewn out of wood, but I had been as bad when I left
Bruderstroom. I felt as if I could go on riding to the end of
At the brink of the bush I dismounted and turned the
Schimmel loose. I had brought no halter, and I left him to
graze and roll. The light was sufficient to let me see the great
rock face rising in a tower of dim purple. The sky was still
picked out with stars, but the moon had long gone down, and
the east was flushing. I marched up the path to the cave, very
different from the timid being who had walked the same road
three nights before. Then my terrors were all to come: now I
had conquered terror and seen the other side of fear. I was
But beside the path lay something which made me pause. It
was a dead body, and the head was turned away from me. I
did not need to see the face to know who it was. There had
been only two men in my vision, and one of them was immortal.
I stopped and turned the body over. There was no joy in
my heart, none of the lust of satisfied vengeance or slaked hate.
I had forgotten about the killing of my dog and all the rest of
Henriques' doings. It was only with curiosity that I looked
down on the dead face, swollen and livid in the first light
The man had been strangled. His neck, as we say in
Scotland, was 'thrawn', and that was why he had lain on his
back yet with his face turned away from me. He had been dead
probably since before midnight. I looked closer, and saw that
there was blood on his shirt and hands, but no wound. It was
not his blood, but some other's. Then a few feet off on the
path I found a pistol with two chambers empty.
What had happened was very plain. Henriques had tried to
shoot Laputa at the entrance of the cave for the sake of the
collar and the treasure within. He had wounded him - gravely,
I thought, to judge from the amount of blood - but the
quickness and marksmanship of the Portuguese had not availed
to save his life from those terrible hands. After two shots
Laputa had got hold of him and choked his life out as easily as
a man twists a partridge's neck. Then he had gone into the cave.
I saw the marks of blood on the road, and hastened on.
Laputa had been hours in the cave, enough to work havoc with
the treasure. He was wounded, too, and desperate. Probably
he had come to the Rooirand looking for sanctuary and rest for
a day or two, but if Henriques had shot straight he might find
a safer sanctuary and a longer rest. For the third time in my
life I pushed up the gully between the straight high walls of
rock, and heard from the heart of the hills the thunder of the
There was only the faintest gleam of light in the cleft, but it
sufficed to show me that the way to the cave was open. The
hidden turnstile in the right wall stood ajar; I entered, and
carelessly swung it behind me. The gates clashed into place
with a finality which told me that they were firmly shut. I did
not know the secret of them, so how should I get out again?
These things troubled me less than the fact that I had no
light at all now. I had to go on my knees to ascend the stair,
and I could feel that the steps were wet. It must be Laputa's blood.
Next I was out on the gallery which skirted the chasm. The
sky above me was growing pale with dawn, and far below the
tossing waters were fretted with light. A light fragrant wind
was blowing on the hills, and a breath of it came down the
funnel. I saw that my hands were all bloody with the stains on
the steps, and I rubbed them on the rock to clean them.
Without a tremor I crossed the stone slab over the gorge, and
plunged into the dark alley which led to the inner chamber.
As before, there was a light in front of me, but this time it
was a pin-point and not the glare of many torches. I felt my
way carefully by the walls of the passage, though I did not
really fear anything. It was by the stopping of these lateral
walls that I knew I was in the cave, for the place had only one
single speck of light. The falling wall of water stood out grey
green and ghostly on the left, and I noticed that higher up it
was lit as if from the open air. There must be a great funnel in
the hillside in that direction. I walked a few paces, and then I
made out that the spark in front was a lantern.
My eyes were getting used to the half-light, and I saw what
was beside the lantern. Laputa knelt on the ashes of the fire
which the Keeper had kindled three days before. He knelt
before, and half leaned on, a rude altar of stone. The lantern
stood by him on the floor, and its faint circle lit something
which I was not unprepared for. Blood was welling from his
side, and spreading in a dark pool over the ashes.
I had no fear, only a great pity - pity for lost romance, for
vain endeavour, for fruitless courage. 'Greeting, Inkulu!' I
said in Kaffir, as if I had been one of his indunas.
He turned his head and slowly and painfully rose to his feet.
The place, it was clear, was lit from without, and the daylight
was growing. The wall of the river had become a sheet of
jewels, passing from pellucid diamond above to translucent
emerald below. A dusky twilight sought out the extreme
corners of the cave. Laputa's tall figure stood swaying above
the white ashes, his hand pressed to his side.
'Who is it?' he said, looking at me with blind eyes.
'It is the storekeeper from Umvelos',' I answered.
'The storekeeper of Umvelos',' he repeated. 'God has used
the weak things of the world to confound the strong. A king
dies because a pedlar is troublesome. What do they call you,
man? You deserve to be remembered.'
I told him 'David Crawfurd.'
'Crawfurd,' he repeated, 'you have been the little reef on
which a great vessel has foundered. You stole the collar and
cut me off from my people, and then when I was weary the
Portuguese killed me.'
'No,' I cried, 'it was not me. You trusted Henriques, and
you got your fingers on his neck too late. Don't say I didn't
'You warned me, and I will repay you. I will make you rich,
Crawfurd. You are a trader, and want money. I am a king,
and want a throne. But I am dying, and there will be no more
kings in Africa.'
The mention of riches did not thrill me as I had expected,
but the last words awakened a wild regret. I was hypnotized
by the man. To see him going out was like seeing the fall of a
He stretched himself, gasping, and in the growing light I
could see how broken he was. His cheeks were falling in, and
his sombre eyes had shrunk back in their sockets. He seemed
an old worn man standing there among the ashes, while the
blood, which he made no effort to staunch, trickled down his
side till it dripped on the floor. He had ceased to be the Kaffir
king, or the Christian minister, or indeed any one of his former
parts. Death was stripping him to his elements, and the man
Laputa stood out beyond and above the characters he had
played, something strange, and great, and moving, and terrible.
'We met for the first time three days ago,' he said, 'and now
you will be the last to see the Inkulu.'
'Umvelos' was not our first meeting,' said I. 'Do you mind
the Sabbath eight years since when you preached in the Free
Kirk at Kirkcaple? I was the boy you chased from the shore,
and I flung the stone that blacked your eye. Besides, I came
out from England with you and Henriques, and I was in the
boat which took you from Durban to Delagoa Bay. You and I
have been long acquaint, Mr Laputa.'
'It is the hand of God,' he said solemnly. 'Your fate has been
twisted with mine, and now you will die with me.'
I did not understand this talk about dying. I was not
mortally wounded like him, and I did not think Laputa had
the strength to kill me even if he wished. But my mind was so
impassive that I scarcely regarded his words.
'I will make you rich,' he cried. 'Crawfurd, the storekeeper,
will be the richest man in Africa. We are scattered, and our
wealth is another's. He shall have the gold and the diamonds -
all but the Collar, which goes with me.'
He staggered into a dark recess, one of many in the cave,
and I followed him. There were boxes there, tea chests,
cartridge cases, and old brass-ribbed Portuguese coffers.
Laputa had keys at his belt, and unlocked them, his fingers
fumbling with weakness. I peered in and saw gold coin and
little bags of stones.
'Money and diamonds,' he cried. 'Once it was the war chest
of a king, and now it will be the hoard of a trader. No, by the
Lord! The trader's place is with the Terrible Ones.' An arm
shot out, and my shoulder was fiercely gripped.
'You stole my horse. That is why I am dying. But for you I
and my army would be over the Olifants. I am going to kill
you, Crawfurd,' and his fingers closed in to my shoulder blades.
Still I was unperturbed. 'No, you are not. You cannot. You
have tried to and failed. So did Henriques, and he is lying
dead outside. I am in God's keeping, and cannot die before
I do not know if he heard me, but at any rate the murderous
fit passed. His hand fell to his side and his great figure tottered
out into the cave. He seemed to be making for the river, but
he turned and went through the door I had entered by. I heard
him slipping in the passage, and then there was a minute of
Suddenly there came a grinding sound, followed by the kind
of muffled splash which a stone makes when it falls into a deep
well. I thought Laputa had fallen into the chasm, but when I
reached the door his swaying figure was coming out of the
corridor. Then I knew what he had done. He had used the
remnant of his giant strength to break down the bridge of stone
across the gorge, and so cut off my retreat.
I really did not care. Even if I had got over the bridge I
should probably have been foiled by the shut turnstile. I had
quite forgotten the meaning of fear of death.
I found myself giving my arm to the man who had tried to
'I have laid up for you treasure in heaven,' he said. 'Your
earthly treasure is in the boxes, but soon you will be seeking
incorruptible jewels in the deep deep water. It is cool and quiet
down there, and you forget the hunger and pain.'
The man was getting very near his end. The madness of
despair came back to him, and he flung himself among the ashes.
'We are going to die together, Crawfurd,' he said. 'God has
twined our threads, and there will be only one cutting. Tell
me what has become of my army.'
'Arcoll has guns on the Wolkberg,' I said. 'They must
submit or perish.'
'I have other armies ... No, no, they are nothing. They
will all wander and blunder and fight and be beaten. There is
no leader anywhere ... And I am dying.'
There was no gainsaying the signs of death. I asked him if
he would like water, but he made no answer. His eyes were
fixed on vacancy, and I thought I could realize something of
the bitterness of that great regret. For myself I was as cold as
a stone. I had no exultation of triumph, still less any fear of
my own fate. I stood silent, the half-remorseful spectator of a
fall like the fall of Lucifer.
'I would have taught the world wisdom.' Laputa was speaking
English in a strange, thin, abstracted voice. 'There would
have been no king like me since Charlemagne,' and he strayed
into Latin which I have been told since was an adaptation of the
Epitaph of Charles the Great. 'Sub hoc conditorio,' he crooned,
'situm est corpus Joannis, magni et orthodoxi Imperatoris, qui
imperium Africanum nobiliter ampliavit, et multos
per annos mundum feliciter rexit.'* He must have chosen this
epitaph long ago.
*'Under this stone is laid the body of John, the
great and orthodox Emperor, who nobly enlarged the
African realm, and for many years happily ruled
He lay for a few seconds with his head on his arms, his
breast heaving with agony.
'No one will come after me. My race is doomed, and in a
little they will have forgotten my name. I alone could have
saved them. Now they go the way of the rest, and the warriors
of John become drudges and slaves.'
Something clicked in his throat, he gasped and fell forward,
and I thought he was dead. Then he struggled as if to rise. I
ran to him, and with all my strength aided him to his feet.
'Unarm, Eros,' he cried. 'The long day's task is done.' With
the strange power of a dying man he tore off his leopard-skin
and belt till he stood stark as on the night when he had been
crowned. From his pouch he took the Prester's Collar. Then
he staggered to the brink of the chasm where the wall of green
water dropped into the dark depth below.
I watched, fascinated, as with the weak hands of a child he
twined the rubies round his neck and joined the clasp. Then
with a last effort he stood straight up on the brink, his eyes
raised to the belt of daylight from which the water fell. The
light caught the great gems and called fires from them, the
flames of the funeral pyre of a king.
Once more his voice, restored for a moment to its old vigour,
rang out through the cave above the din of the cascade. His
words were those which the Keeper had used three nights
before. With his hands held high and the Collar burning on
his neck he cried, 'The Snake returns to the House of its Birth.'
'Come,' he cried to me. 'The Heir of John is going home.'
Then he leapt into the gulf. There was no sound of falling,
so great was the rush of water. He must have been whirled
into the open below where the bridge used to be, and then
swept into the underground deeps, where the Labongo
drowses for thirty miles. Far from human quest he sleeps his
last sleep, and perhaps on a fragment of bone washed into a
crevice of rock there may hang the jewels that once gleamed in
I CLIMB THE CRAGS A SECOND TIME
I remember that I looked over the brink into the yeasty
abyss with a mind hovering between perplexity and tears. I
wanted to sit down and cry - why, I did not know, except that
some great thing had happened. My brain was quite clear as to
my own position. I was shut in this place, with no chance of
escape and with no food. In a little I must die of starvation, or
go mad and throw myself after Laputa. And yet I did not care
a rush. My nerves had been tried too greatly in the past week.
Now I was comatose, and beyond hoping or fearing.
I sat for a long time watching the light play on the fretted
sheet of water and wondering where Laputa's body had gone.
I shivered and wished he had not left me alone, for the
darkness would come in time and I had no matches. After a
little I got tired of doing nothing, and went groping among the
treasure chests. One or two were full of coin - British sovereigns,
Kruger sovereigns, Napoleons, Spanish and Portuguese
gold pieces, and many older coins ranging back to the Middle
Ages and even to the ancients. In one handful there was a
splendid gold stater, and in another a piece of Antoninus
Pius. The treasure had been collected for many years in many
places, contributions of chiefs from ancient hoards as well as
the cash received from I.D.B. I untied one or two of the little
bags of stones and poured the contents into my hands. Most of
the diamonds were small, such as a labourer might secrete on
his person. The larger ones - and some were very large - were
as a rule discoloured, looking more like big cairngorms. But
one or two bags had big stones which even my inexperienced
eye told me were of the purest water. There must be some new
pipe, I thought, for these could not have been stolen from any
After that I sat on the floor again and looked at the water. It
exercised a mesmeric influence on me, soothing all care. I was
quite happy to wait for death, for death had no meaning to
me. My hate and fury were both lulled into a trance, since the
passive is the next stage to the overwrought.
It must have been full day outside now, for the funnel was
bright with sunshine, and even the dim cave caught a reflected
radiance. As I watched the river I saw a bird flash downward,
skimming the water. It turned into the cave and fluttered
among its dark recesses. I heard its wings beating the roof as it
sought wildly for an outlet. It dashed into the spray of the
cataract and escaped again into the cave. For maybe twenty
minutes it fluttered, till at last it found the way it had entered
by. With a dart it sped up the funnel of rock into light and
I had begun to watch the bird in idle lassitude, I ended in
keen excitement. The sight of it seemed to take a film from my
eyes. I realized the zest of liberty, the passion of life again. I
felt that beyond this dim underworld there was the great
joyous earth, and I longed for it. I wanted to live now. My
memory cleared, and I remembered all that had befallen me
during the last few days. I had played the chief part in the
whole business, and I had won. Laputa was dead and the
treasure was mine, while Arcoll was crushing the Rising at his
ease. I had only to be free again to be famous and rich. My
hopes had returned, but with them came my fears. What if I
could not escape? I must perish miserably by degrees, shut in
the heart of a hill, though my friends were out for rescue. In
place of my former lethargy I was now in a fever of unrest.
My first care was to explore the way I had come. I ran down
the passage to the chasm which the slab of stone had spanned.
I had been right in my guess, for the thing was gone. Laputa
was in truth a Titan, who in the article of death could break
down a bridge which would have taken any three men an hour
to shift. The gorge was about seven yards wide, too far to risk
a jump, and the cliff fell sheer and smooth to the imprisoned
waters two hundred feet below. There was no chance of
circuiting it, for the wall was as smooth as if it had been
chiselled. The hand of man had been at work to make the
It occurred to me that sooner or later Arcoll would track
Laputa to this place. He would find the bloodstains in the
gully, but the turnstile would be shut and he would never find
the trick of it. Nor could he have any kaffirs with him who
knew the secret of the Place of the Snake. Still if Arcoll knew
I was inside he would find some way to get to me even though
he had to dynamite the curtain of rock. I shouted, but my
voice seemed to be drowned in the roar of the water. It made
but a fresh chord in the wild orchestra, and I gave up hopes in
Very dolefully I returned to the cave. I was about to share
the experience of all treasure-hunters - to be left with jewels
galore and not a bite to sustain life. The thing was too
commonplace to be endured. I grew angry, and declined so
obvious a fate. 'Ek sal 'n plan maak,' I told myself in the old
Dutchman's words. I had come through worse dangers, and a
way I should find. To starve in the cave was no ending for
David Crawfurd. Far better to join Laputa in the depths in a
manly hazard for liberty.
My obstinacy and irritation cheered me. What had become
of the lack-lustre young fool who had mooned here a few
minutes back. Now I was as tense and strung for effort as the
day I had ridden from Blaauwildebeestefontein to Umvelos'. I
felt like a runner in the last lap of a race. For four days I had
lived in the midst of terror and darkness. Daylight was only a
few steps ahead, daylight and youth restored and a new world.
There were only two outlets from that cave - the way I had
come, and the way the river came. The first was closed, the
second a sheer staring impossibility. I had been into every
niche and cranny, and there was no sign of a passage. I sat
down on the floor and looked at the wall of water. It fell, as I
have already explained, in a solid sheet, which made up the
whole of the wall of the cave. Higher than the roof of the cave
I could not see what happened, except that it must be the open
air, for the sun was shining on it. The water was about three
yards distant from the edge of the cave's floor, but it seemed
to me that high up, level with the roof, this distance decreased
to little more than a foot.
I could not see what the walls of the cave were like, but they
looked smooth and difficult. Supposing I managed to climb up
to the level of the roof close to the water, how on earth was I
to get outside on to the wall of the ravine? I knew from my old
days of rock-climbing what a complete obstacle the overhang
of a cave is.
While I looked, however, I saw a thing which I had not
noticed before. On the left side of the fall the water sluiced
down in a sheet to the extreme edge of the cave, almost
sprinkling the floor with water. But on the right side the force
of water was obviously weaker, and a little short of the level of
the cave roof there was a spike of rock which slightly broke the
fall. The spike was covered, but the covering was shallow, for
the current flowed from it in a rose-shaped spray. If a man
could get to that spike and could get a foot on it without being
swept down, it might be possible - just possible - to do something
with the wall of the chasm above the cave. Of course I
knew nothing about the nature of that wall. It might be as
smooth as a polished pillar.
The result of these cogitations was that I decided to prospect
the right wall of the cave close to the waterfall. But first I went
rummaging in the back part to see if I could find anything to
assist me. In one corner there was a rude cupboard with some
stone and metal vessels. Here, too, were the few domestic
utensils of the dead Keeper. In another were several locked
coffers on which I could make no impression. There were the
treasure-chests too, but they held nothing save treasure, and
gold and diamonds were no manner of use to me. Other odds
and ends I found - spears, a few skins, and a broken and
notched axe. I took the axe in case there might be cutting to do.
Then at the back of a bin my hand struck something which
brought the blood to my face. It was a rope, an old one, but
still in fair condition and forty or fifty feet long. I dragged it
out into the light and straightened its kinks. With this something
could be done, assuming I could cut my way to the level
of the roof.
I began the climb in my bare feet, and at the beginning it
was very bad. Except on the very edge of the abyss there was
scarcely a handhold. Possibly in floods the waters may have
swept the wall in a curve, smoothing down the inner part and
leaving the outer to its natural roughness. There was one place
where I had to hang on by a very narrow crack while I scraped
with the axe a hollow for my right foot. And then about twelve
feet from the ground I struck the first of the iron pegs.
To this day I cannot think what these pegs were for. They
were old square-headed things which had seen the wear of
centuries. They cannot have been meant to assist a climber,
for the dwellers of the cave had clearly never contemplated this
means of egress. Perhaps they had been used for some kind of
ceremonial curtain in a dim past. They were rusty and frail,
and one of them came away in my hand, but for all that they
marvellously assisted my ascent.
I had been climbing slowly, doggedly and carefully, my
mind wholly occupied with the task; and almost before I knew
I found my head close under the roof of the cave. It was
necessary now to move towards the river, and the task seemed
impossible. I could see no footholds, save two frail pegs, and
in the corner between the wall and the roof was a rough arch
too wide for my body to jam itself in. Just below the level of
the roof - say two feet - I saw the submerged spike of rock.
The waters raged around it, and could not have been more
than an inch deep on the top. If I could only get my foot on
that I believed I could avoid being swept down, and stand up
and reach for the wall above the cave.
But how to get to it? It was no good delaying, for my frail
holds might give at any moment. In any case I would have the
moral security of the rope, so I passed it through a fairly
staunch pin close to the roof, which had an upward tilt that
almost made a ring of it. One end of the rope was round my
body, the other was loose in my hand, and I paid it out as I
moved. Moral support is something. Very gingerly I crawled
like a fly along the wall, my fingers now clutching at a tiny
knob, now clawing at a crack which did little more than hold
my nails. It was all hopeless insanity, and yet somehow I did
it. The rope and the nearness of the roof gave me confidence
Then the holds ceased altogether a couple of yards from the
water. I saw my spike of rock a trifle below me. There was nothing
for it but to risk all on a jump. I drew the rope out of the
hitch, twined the slack round my waist, and leaped for the spike.
It was like throwing oneself on a line of spears. The solid
wall of water hurled me back and down, but as I fell my arms
closed on the spike. There I hung while my feet were towed
outwards by the volume of the stream as if they had been dead
leaves. I was half-stunned by the shock of the drip on my
head, but I kept my wits, and presently got my face outside
the falling sheet and breathed.
To get to my feet and stand on the spike while all the fury
of water was plucking at me was the hardest physical effort I
have ever made. It had to be done very circumspectly, for a
slip would send me into the abyss. If I moved an arm or leg an
inch too near the terrible dropping wall I knew I should be
plucked from my hold. I got my knees on the outer face of the
spike, so that all my body was removed as far as possible from
the impact of the water. Then I began to pull myself slowly up.
I could not do it. If I got my feet on the rock the effort
would bring me too far into the water, and that meant
destruction. I saw this clearly in a second while my wrists were
cracking with the strain. But if I had a wall behind me I could
reach back with one hand and get what we call in Scotland a
'stelf.' I knew there was a wall, but how far I could not judge.
The perpetual hammering of the stream had confused my wits.
It was a horrible moment, but I had to risk it. I knew that if
the wall was too far back I should fall, for I had to let my
weight go till my hand fell on it. Delay would do no good, so
with a prayer I flung my right hand back, while my left hand
clutched the spike.
I found the wall - it was only a foot or two beyond my
reach. With a heave I had my foot on the spike, and turning,
had both hands on the opposite wall. There I stood, straddling
like a Colossus over a waste of white waters, with the cave
floor far below me in the gloom, and my discarded axe lying
close to a splash of Laputa's blood.
The spectacle made me giddy, and I had to move on or fall.
The wall was not quite perpendicular, but as far as I could see
a slope of about sixty degrees. It was ribbed and terraced
pretty fully, but I could see no ledge within reach which
offered standing room. Once more I tried the moral support of
the rope, and as well as I could dropped a noose on the spike
which might hold me if I fell. Then I boldly embarked on a
hand traverse, pulling myself along a little ledge till I was right
in the angle of the fall. Here, happily, the water was shallower
and less violent, and with my legs up to the knees in foam I
managed to scramble into a kind of corner. Now at last I was
on the wall of the gully, and above the cave. I had achieved by
amazing luck one of the most difficult of all mountaineering
operations. I had got out of a cave to the wall above.
My troubles were by no means over, for I found the cliff
most difficult to climb. The great rush of the stream dizzied
my brain, the spray made the rock damp, and the slope
steepened as I advanced. At one overhang my shoulder was
almost in the water again. All this time I was climbing
doggedly, with terror somewhere in my soul, and hope lighting
but a feeble lamp. I was very distrustful of my body, for I
knew that at any moment my weakness might return. The
fever of three days of peril and stress is not allayed by one
By this time I was high enough to see that the river came
out of the ground about fifty feet short of the lip of the gully,
and some ten feet beyond where I stood. Above the hole
whence the waters issued was a loose slope of slabs and screes.
It looked an ugly place, but there I must go, for the rock-wall
I was on was getting unclimbable.
I turned the corner a foot or two above the water, and stood
on a slope of about fifty degrees, running from the parapet of
stone to a line beyond which blue sky appeared. The first step
I took the place began to move. A boulder crashed into the
fall, and tore down into the abyss with a shattering thunder. I
lay flat and clutched desperately at every hold, but I had
loosened an avalanche of earth, and not till my feet were
sprayed by the water did I get a grip of firm rock and check
my descent. All this frightened me horribly, with the kind of
despairing angry fear which I had suffered at Bruderstroom,
when I dreamed that the treasure was lost. I could not bear
the notion of death when I had won so far.
After that I advanced, not by steps, but by inches. I felt
more poised and pinnacled in the void than when I had stood
on the spike of rock, for I had a substantial hold neither for
foot nor hand. It seemed weeks before I made any progress
away from the lip of the waterhole. I dared not look down, but
kept my eyes on the slope before me, searching for any patch
of ground which promised stability. Once I found a scrog of
juniper with firm roots, and this gave me a great lift. A little
further, however, I lit on a bank of screes which slipped with
me to the right, and I lost most of the ground the bush had
gained me. My whole being, I remember, was filled with a
devouring passion to be quit of this gully and all that was in it.
Then, not suddenly as in romances, but after hard striving
and hope long deferred, I found myself on a firm outcrop of
weathered stone. In three strides I was on the edge of the
plateau. Then I began to run, and at the same time to lose the
power of running. I cast one look behind me, and saw a deep
cleft of darkness out of which I had climbed. Down in the cave
it had seemed light enough, but in the clear sunshine of the
top the gorge looked a very pit of shade. For the first and last
time in my life I had vertigo. Fear of falling back, and a mad
craze to do it, made me acutely sick. I managed to stumble a
few steps forward on the mountain turf, and then flung myself
on my face.
When I raised my head I was amazed to find it still early
morning. The dew was yet on the grass, and the sun was not
far up the sky. I had thought that my entry into the cave, my
time in it, and my escape had taken many hours, whereas at
the most they had occupied two. It was little more than dawn,
such a dawn as walks only on the hilltops. Before me was the
shallow vale with its bracken and sweet grass, and farther on
the shining links of the stream, and the loch still grey in the
shadow of the beleaguering hills. Here was a fresh, clean land,
a land for homesteads and orchards and children. All of a
sudden I realized that at last I had come out of savagery.
The burden of the past days slipped from my shoulders. I
felt young again, and cheerful and brave. Behind me was the
black night, and the horrid secrets of darkness. Before me was
my own country, for that loch and that bracken might have
been on a Scotch moor. The fresh scent of the air and the
whole morning mystery put song into my blood. I remembered
that I was not yet twenty.
My first care was to kneel there among the bracken and give
thanks to my Maker, who in very truth had shown me 'His
goodness in the land of the living.'
After a little I went back to the edge of the cliff. There
where the road came out of the bush was the body of
Henriques, lying sprawled on the sand, with two dismounted
riders looking hard at it. I gave a great shout, for in the men I
recognized Aitken and the schoolmaster Wardlaw.
A GREAT PERIL AND A GREAT SALVATION
I must now take up some of the ragged ends which I have
left behind me. It is not my task, as I have said, to write the
history of the great Rising. That has been done by abler men,
who were at the centre of the business, and had some knowledge
of strategy and tactics; whereas I was only a raw lad who
was privileged by fate to see the start. If I could, I would fain
make an epic of it, and show how the Plains found at all points
the Plateau guarded, how wits overcame numbers, and at every
pass which the natives tried the great guns spoke and the tide
rolled back. Yet I fear it would be an epic without a hero.
There was no leader left when Laputa had gone. There were
months of guerrilla fighting, and then months of reprisals,
when chief after chief was hunted down and brought to trial.
Then the amnesty came and a clean sheet, and white Africa
drew breath again with certain grave reflections left in her
head. On the whole I am not sorry that the history is no
business of mine. Romance died with 'the heir of John,' and
the crusade became a sorry mutiny. I can fancy how differently
Laputa would have managed it all had he lived; how swift and
sudden his plans would have been; how under him the fighting
would not have been in the mountain glens, but far in the
high-veld among the dorps and townships. With the Inkulu
alive we warred against odds; with the Inkulu dead the balance
sank heavily in our favour. I leave to others the marches and
strategy of the thing, and hasten to clear up the obscure parts
in my own fortunes.
Arcoll received my message from Umvelos' by Colin, or
rather Wardlaw received it and sent it on to the post on the
Berg where the leader had gone. Close on its heels came the
message from Henriques by a Shangaan in his pay. It must
have been sent off before the Portugoose got to the Rooirand,
from which it would appear that he had his own men in the
bush near the store, and that I was lucky to get off as I did.
Arcoll might have disregarded Henriques' news as a trap if it
had come alone, but my corroboration impressed and perplexed
him. He began to credit the Portugoose with treachery,
but he had no inclination to act on his message, since it
conflicted with his plans. He knew that Laputa must come into
the Berg sooner or later, and he had resolved that his strategy
must be to await him there. But there was the question of my
life. He had every reason to believe that I was in the greatest
danger, and he felt a certain responsibility for my fate. With
the few men at his disposal he could not hope to hold up the
great Kaffir army, but there was a chance that he might by a
bold stand effect my rescue. Henriques had told him of the
vow, and had told him that Laputa would ride in the centre of
the force. A body of men well posted at Dupree's Drift might
split the army at the crossing, and under cover of the fire I
might swim the river and join my friends. Still relying on the
vow, it might be possible for well-mounted men to evade
capture. Accordingly he called for volunteers, and sent off one
of his Kaffirs to warn me of his design. He led his men in
person, and of his doings the reader already knows the tale.
But though the crossing was flung into confusion, and the rear
of the army was compelled to follow the northerly bank of the
Letaba, there was no sign of me anywhere. Arcoll searched the
river-banks, and crossed the drift to where the old Keeper was
lying dead. He then concluded that I had been murdered early
in the march, and his Kaffir, who might have given him news
of me, was carried up the stream in the tide of the disorderly
army. Therefore, he and his men rode back with all haste to
the Berg by way of Main Drift, and reached Bruderstroom
before Laputa had crossed the highway.
My information about Inanda's Kraal decided Arcoll's next
move. Like me he remembered Beyers's performance, and
resolved to repeat it. He had no hope of catching Laputa, but
he thought that he might hold up the bulk of his force if he got
guns on the ridge above the kraal. A message had already been
sent for guns, and the first to arrive got to Bruderstroom about
the hour when I was being taken by Machudi's men in the
kloof. The ceremony of the purification prevented Laputa
from keeping a good look-out, and the result was that a way
was made for the guns on the north-western corner of the
rampart of rock. It was the way which Beyers had taken, and
indeed the enterprise was directed by one of Beyers's old
commandants. All that day the work continued, while Laputa
and I were travelling to Machudi's. Then came the evening
when I staggered into camp and told my news. Arcoll, who
alone knew how vital Laputa was to the success of the
insurrection, immediately decided to suspend all other operations
and devote himself to shepherding the leader away from
his army. How the scheme succeeded and what befell Laputa
the reader has already been told.
Aitken and Wardlaw, when I descended from the cliffs, took
me straight to Blaauwildebeestefontein. I was like a man who
is recovering from bad fever, cured, but weak and foolish, and
it was a slow journey which I made to Umvelos', riding on
Aitken's pony. At Umvelos' we found a picket who had
captured the Schimmel by the roadside. That wise beast, when
I turned him loose at the entrance to the cave, had trotted
quietly back the way he had come. At Umvelos' Aitken left
me, and next day, with Wardlaw as companion, I rode up the
glen of the Klein Labongo, and came in the afternoon to my
old home. The store was empty, for japp some days before
had gone off post-haste to Pietersdorp; but there was Zeeta
cleaning up the place as if war had never been heard of. I slept
the night there, and in the morning found myself so much
recovered that I was eager to get away. I wanted to see Arcoll
about many things, but mainly about the treasure in the cave.
It was an easy journey to Bruderstroom through the
meadows of the plateau. The farmers' commandoes had been
recalled, but the ashes of their camp fires were still grey among
the bracken. I fell in with a police patrol and was taken by
them to a spot on the Upper Letaba, some miles west of the
camp, where we found Arcoll at late breakfast. I had resolved
to take him into my confidence, so I told him the full tale of
my night's adventure. He was very severe with me, I remember,
for my daft-like ride, but his severity relaxed before I had
done with my story.
The telling brought back the scene to me, and I shivered at
the picture of the cave with the morning breaking through the
veil of water and Laputa in his death throes. Arcoll did not
speak for some time.
'So he is dead,' he said at last, half-whispering to himself.
'Well, he was a king, and died like a king. Our job now is
simple, for there is none of his breed left in Africa.'
Then I told him of the treasure.
'It belongs to you, Davie,' he said, 'and we must see that
you get it. This is going to be a long war, but if we survive to
the end you will be a rich man.'
'But in the meantime?' I asked. 'Supposing other Kaffirs
hear of it, and come back and make a bridge over the gorge?
They may be doing it now.'
'I'll put a guard on it,' he said, jumping up briskly. 'It's
maybe not a soldier's job, but you've saved this country,
Davie, and I'm going to make sure that you have your reward.'
After that I went with Arcoll to Inanda's Kraal. I am not going
to tell the story of that performance, for it occupies no less
than two chapters in Mr Upton's book. He makes one or two
blunders, for he spells my name with an 'o,' and he says we
walked out of the camp on our perilous mission 'with faces
white and set as a Crusader's.' That is certainly not true, for in
the first place nobody saw us go who could judge how we
looked, and in the second place we were both smoking and
feeling quite cheerful. At home they made a great fuss about
it, and started a newspaper cry about the Victoria Cross, but
the danger was not so terrible after all, and in any case it was
nothing to what I had been through in the past week.
I take credit to myself for suggesting the idea. By this time
we had the army in the kraal at our mercy. Laputa not having
returned, they had no plans. It had been the original intention
to start for the Olifants on the following day, so there was a
scanty supply of food. Besides, there were the makings of a
pretty quarrel between Umbooni and some of the north-
country chiefs, and I verily believe that if we had held them
tight there for a week they would have destroyed each other in
faction fights. In any case, in a little they would have grown
desperate and tried to rush the approaches on the north and
south. Then we must either have used the guns on them,
which would have meant a great slaughter, or let them go to
do mischief elsewhere. Arcoll was a merciful man who had no
love for butchery; besides, he was a statesman with an eye to
the future of the country after the war. But it was his duty to
isolate Laputa's army, and at all costs, it must be prevented
from joining any of the concentrations in the south.
Then I proposed to him to do as Rhodes did in the
Matoppos, and go and talk to them. By this time, I argued,
the influence of Laputa must have sunk, and the fervour of the
purification be half-forgotten. The army had little food and no
leader. The rank and file had never been fanatical, and the
chiefs and indunas must now be inclined to sober reflections.
But once blood was shed the lust of blood would possess them.
Our only chance was to strike when their minds were perplexed
Arcoll did all the arranging. He had a message sent to the
chiefs inviting them to an indaba, and presently word was
brought back that an indaba was called for the next day at
noon. That same night we heard that Umbooni and about
twenty of his men had managed to evade our ring of scouts
and got clear away to the south. This was all to our advantage,
as it removed from the coming indaba the most irreconcilable
of the chiefs.
That indaba was a queer business. Arcoll and I left our
escort at the foot of a ravine, and entered the kraal by the same
road as I had left it. It was a very bright, hot winter's day, and
try as I might, I could not bring myself to think of any danger.
I believed that in this way most temerarious deeds are done;
the doer has become insensible to danger, and his imagination
is clouded with some engrossing purpose. The first sentries
received us gloomily enough, and closed behind us as they had
done when Machudi's men haled me thither. Then the job
became eerie, for we had to walk across a green flat with
thousands of eyes watching us. By-and-by we came to the
merula tree opposite the kyas, and there we found a ring of
chiefs, sitting with cocked rifles on their knees.
We were armed with pistols, and the first thing Arcoll did
was to hand them to one of the chiefs.
'We come in peace,' he said. 'We give you our lives.'
Then the indaba began, Arcoll leading off. It was a fine
speech he made, one of the finest I have ever listened to. He
asked them what their grievances were; he told them how
mighty was the power of the white man; he promised that
what was unjust should be remedied, if only they would speak
honestly and peacefully; he harped on their old legends and
songs, claiming for the king of England the right of their old
monarchs. It was a fine speech, and yet I saw that it did not
convince them. They listened moodily, if attentively, and at
the end there was a blank silence.
Arcoll turned to me. 'For God's sake, Davie,' he said, 'talk
to them about Laputa. It's our only chance.'
I had never tried speaking before, and though I talked their
tongue I had not Arcoll's gift of it. But I felt that a great cause
was at stake, and I spoke up as best I could.
I began by saying that Inkulu had been my friend, and that
at Umvelos' before the rising he had tried to save my life. At
the mention of the name I saw eyes brighten. At last the
audience was hanging on my words.
I told them of Henriques and his treachery. I told them
frankly and fairly of the doings at Dupree's Drift. I made no
secret of the part I played. 'I was fighting for my life,' I said.
'Any man of you who is a man would have done the like.'
Then I told them of my last ride, and the sight I saw at the
foot of the Rooirand. I drew a picture of Henriques lying dead
with a broken neck, and the Inkulu, wounded to death,
creeping into the cave.
In moments of extremity I suppose every man becomes an
orator. In that hour and place I discovered gifts I had never
dreamed of. Arcoll told me afterwards that I had spoken like a
man inspired, and by a fortunate chance had hit upon the only
way to move my hearers. I told of that last scene in the cave,
when Laputa had broken down the bridge, and had spoken his
dying words - that he was the last king in Africa, and that
without him the rising was at an end. Then I told of his leap
into the river, and a great sigh went up from the ranks about Me.
'You see me here,' I said, 'by the grace of God. I found a
way up the fall and the cliffs which no man has ever travelled
before or will travel again. Your king is dead. He was a great
king, as I who stand here bear witness, and you will never
more see his like. His last words were that the Rising was over.
Respect that word, my brothers. We come to you not in war
but in peace, to offer a free pardon, and the redress of your
wrongs. If you fight you fight with the certainty of failure, and
against the wish of the heir of John. I have come here at the
risk of my life to tell you his commands. His spirit approves
my mission. Think well before you defy the mandate of the
Snake, and risk the vengeance of the Terrible Ones.'
After that I knew that we had won. The chiefs talked among
themselves in low whispers, casting strange looks at me. Then
the greatest of them advanced and laid his rifle at my feet.
'We believe the word of a brave man,' he said. 'We accept
the mandate of the Snake.'
Arcoll now took command. He arranged for the disarmament
bit by bit, companies of men being marched off from
Inanda's Kraal to stations on the plateau where their arms
were collected by our troops, and food provided for them. For
the full history I refer the reader to Mr Upton's work. It took
many days, and taxed all our resources, but by the end of a
week we had the whole of Laputa's army in separate stations,
under guard, disarmed, and awaiting repatriation.
Then Arcoll went south to the war which was to rage around
the Swaziland and Zululand borders for many months, while
to Aitken and myself was entrusted the work of settlement. We
had inadequate troops at our command, and but for our
prestige and the weight of Laputa's dead hand there might any
moment have been a tragedy. The task took months, for many
of the levies came from the far north, and the job of feeding
troops on a long journey was difficult enough in the winter
season when the energies of the country were occupied with
the fighting in the south. Yet it was an experience for which I
shall ever be grateful, for it turned me from a rash boy into a
serious man. I knew then the meaning of the white man's
duty. He has to take all risks, recking nothing of his life or
his fortunes, and well content to find his reward in the
fulfilment of his task. That is the difference between white and
black, the gift of responsibility, the power of being in a little
way a king; and so long as we know this and practise it, we
will rule not in Africa alone but wherever there are dark men
who live only for the day and their own bellies. Moreover, the
work made me pitiful and kindly. I learned much of the untold
grievances of the natives, and saw something of their strange,
twisted reasoning. Before we had got Laputa's army back to
their kraals, with food enough to tide them over the spring
sowing, Aitken and I had got sounder policy in our heads than
you will find in the towns, where men sit in offices and see the
world through a mist of papers.
By this time peace was at hand, and I went back to Inanda's
Kraal to look for Colin's grave. It was not a difficult quest, for
on the sward in front of the merula tree they had buried him.
I found a mason in the Iron Kranz village, and from the
excellent red stone of the neighbourhood was hewn a square
slab with an inscription. It ran thus: 'Here lies buried the dog
Colin, who was killed in defending D. Crawfurd, his master.
To him it was mainly due that the Kaffir Rising failed.' I leave
those who have read my tale to see the justice of the words.
MY UNCLE'S GIFT IS MANY TIMES MULTIPLIED
We got at the treasure by blowing open the turnstile. It was
easy enough to trace the spot in the rock where it stood, but
the most patient search did not reveal its secret. Accordingly
we had recourse to dynamite, and soon laid bare the stone
steps, and ascended to the gallery. The chasm was bridged
with planks, and Arcoll and I crossed alone. The cave was as I
had left it. The bloodstains on the floor had grown dark with
time, but the ashes of the sacramental fire were still there to
remind me of the drama I had borne a part in. When I looked
at the way I had escaped my brain grew dizzy at the thought
of it. I do not think that all the gold on earth would have
driven me a second time to that awful escalade. As for Arcoll,
he could not see its possibility at all.
'Only a madman could have done it,' he said, blinking his
eyes at the green linn. 'Indeed, Davie, I think for about four
days you were as mad as they make. It was a fortunate thing,
for your madness saved the country.'
With some labour we got the treasure down to the path, and
took it under a strong guard to Pietersdorp. The Government
were busy with the settling up after the war, and it took many
weeks to have our business disposed of. At first things looked
badly for me. The Attorney-General set up a claim to the
whole as spoils of war, since, he argued, it was the war-chest
of the enemy we had conquered. I do not know how the matter
would have gone on legal grounds, though I was advised by
my lawyers that the claim was a bad one. But the part I had
played in the whole business, more especially in the visit to
Inanda's Kraal, had made me a kind of popular hero, and the
Government thought better of their first attitude. Besides,
Arcoll had great influence, and the whole story of my doings,
which was told privately by him to some of the members of the
Government, disposed them to be generous. Accordingly they
agreed to treat the contents of the cave as ordinary treasure
trove, of which, by the law, one half went to the discoverer
and one half to the Crown.
This was well enough so far as the gold was concerned, but
another difficulty arose about the diamonds; for a large part of
these had obviously been stolen by labourers from the mines,
and the mining people laid claim to them as stolen goods. I
was advised not to dispute this claim, and consequently we
had a great sorting-out of the stones in the presence of the
experts of the different mines. In the end it turned out that
identification was not an easy matter, for the experts quarrelled
furiously among themselves. A compromise was at last come
to, and a division made; and then the diamond companies
behaved very handsomely, voting me a substantial sum in
recognition of my services in recovering their property. What
with this and with my half share of the gold and my share of
the unclaimed stones, I found that I had a very considerable
fortune. The whole of my stones I sold to De Beers, for if I
had placed them on the open market I should have upset the
delicate equipoise of diamond values. When I came finally to
cast up my accounts, I found that I had secured a fortune of a
trifle over a quarter of a million pounds.
The wealth did not dazzle so much as it solemnized me. I
had no impulse to spend any part of it in a riot of folly. It had
come to me like fairy gold out of the void; it had been bought
with men's blood, almost with my own. I wanted to get away
to a quiet place and think, for of late my life had been too
crowded with drama, and there comes a satiety of action as
well as of idleness. Above all things I wanted to get home.
They gave me a great send-off, and sang songs, and good
fellows shook my hand till it ached. The papers were full of
me, and there was a banquet and speeches. But I could not
relish this glory as I ought, for I was like a boy thrown
violently out of his bearings.
Not till I was in the train nearing Cape Town did I recover
my equanimity. The burden of the past seemed to slip from
me suddenly as on the morning when I had climbed the linn.
I saw my life all lying before me; and already I had won
success. I thought of my return to my own country, my first
sight of the grey shores of Fife, my visit to Kirkcaple, my
meeting with my mother. I was a rich man now who could
choose his career, and my mother need never again want for
comfort. My money seemed pleasant to me, for if men won
theirs by brains or industry, I had won mine by sterner
methods, for I had staked against it my life. I sat alone in the
railway carriage and cried with pure thankfulness. These were
comforting tears, for they brought me back to my old common-
My last memory of Africa is my meeting with Tam Dyke. I
caught sight of him in the streets of Cape Town, and running
after him, clapped him on the shoulder. He stared at me as if
he had seen a ghost.
'Is it yourself, Davie?' he cried. 'I never looked to see you
again in this world. I do nothing but read about you in the
papers. What for did ye not send for me? Here have I been
knocking about inside a ship and you have been getting
famous. They tell me you're a millionaire, too.'
I had Tam to dinner at my hotel, and later, sitting smoking
on the terrace and watching the flying-ants among the aloes, I
told him the better part of the story I have here written down.
'Man, Davie,' he said at the end, 'you've had a tremendous
time. Here are you not eighteen months away from home, and
you're going back with a fortune. What will you do with it?'
I told him that I proposed, to begin with, to finish my
education at Edinburgh College. At this he roared with
'That's a dull ending, anyway. It's me that should have the
money, for I'm full of imagination. You were aye a prosaic
'Maybe I am,' I said; 'but I am very sure of one thing. If I
hadn't been a prosaic body, I wouldn't be sitting here to-night.'
Two years later Aitken found the diamond pipe, which he had
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