The Ivory Child
H. Rider Haggard
Part 5 out of 6
consultation, Ragnall gave up the idea of adopting a Kendah disguise
which was certain to be discovered, also of starting at night when the
town was guarded.
That very afternoon they went, going out of the town quite openly on
the pretext of shooting partridges and small buck on the lower slopes
of the mountain, where both were numerous, as Harūt had informed us we
were quite at liberty to do. The farewell was somewhat sad, especially
with Savage, who gave me a letter he had written for his old mother in
England, requesting me to post it if ever again I came to a civilized
I did my best to put a better spirit in him but without avail. He only
wrung my hand warmly, said that it was a pleasure to have known such a
"real gentleman" as myself, and expressed a hope that I might get out
of this hell and live to a green old age amongst Christians. Then he
wiped away a tear with the cuff of his coat, touched his hat in the
orthodox fashion and departed. Their outfit, I should add, was very
simple: some food in bags, a flask of spirits, two double-barrelled
guns that would shoot either shot or ball, a bull's-eye lantern,
matches and their pistols.
Hans walked with them a little way and, leaving them outside the town,
"Why do you look so gloomy, Hans?" I asked.
"Because, Baas," he answered, twiddling his hat, "I had grown to be
fond of the white man, Bena, who was always very kind to me and did
not treat me like dirt as low-born whites are apt to do. Also he
cooked well, and now I shall have to do that work which I do not
"What do you mean, Hans? The man isn't dead, is he?"
"No, Baas, but soon he will be, for the shadow of death is in his
"Then how about Lord Ragnall?"
"I saw no shadow in his eyes; I think that he will live, Baas."
I tried to get some explanation of these dark sayings out of the
Hottentot, but he would add nothing to his words.
All the following night I lay awake filled with heavy fears which
deepened as the hours went on. Just before dawn we heard a knocking on
our door and Ragnall's voice whispering to us to open. Hans did so
while I lit a candle, of which we had a good supply. As it burned up
Ragnall entered, and from his face I saw at once that something
terrible had happened. He went to the jar where we kept our water and
drank three pannikin-fuls, one after the other. Then without waiting
to be asked, he said:
"Savage is dead," and paused a while as though some awful recollection
overcame him. "Listen," he went on presently. "We worked up the hill-
side without firing, although we saw plenty of partridges and one
buck, till just as twilight was closing in, we came to the cliff face.
Here we perceived a track that ran to the mouth of a narrow cave or
tunnel in the lava rock of the precipice, which looked quite
unclimbable. While we were wondering what to do, eight or ten white-
robed men appeared out of the shadows and seized us before we could
make any resistance. After talking together for a little they took
away our guns and pistols, with which some of them disappeared. Then
their leader, with many bows, indicated that we were at liberty to
proceed by pointing first to the mouth of the cave, and next to the
top of the precipice, saying something about '/ingane/,' which I
believe means a little child, does it not?"
I nodded, and he went on:
"After this they all departed down the hill, smiling in a fashion that
disturbed me. We stood for a while irresolute, until it became quite
dark. I asked Savage what he thought we had better do, expecting that
he would say 'Return to the town.' To my surprise, he answered:
"'Go on, of course, my lord. Don't let those brutes say that we white
men daren't walk a step without our guns. Indeed, in any case I mean
to go on, even if your lordship won't.'
"Whilst he spoke he took a bull's-eye lantern from his foodbag, which
had not been interfered with by the Kendah, and lit it. I stared at
him amazed, for the man seemed to be animated by some tremendous
purpose. Or rather it was as though a force from without had got hold
of his will and were pushing him on to an unknown end. Indeed his next
words showed that this was so, for he exclaimed:
"'There is something drawing me into that cave, my lord. It may be
death; I think it is death, but whatever it be, go I must. Perhaps you
would do well to stop outside till I have seen.'
"I stepped forward to catch hold of the man, who I thought had gone
mad, as perhaps was the case. Before I could lay my hands on him he
had run rapidly to the mouth of the cave. Of course I followed, but
when I reached its entrance the star of light thrown forward by the
bull's-eye lantern showed me that he was already about eight yards
down the tunnel. Then I heard a terrible hissing noise and Savage
exclaiming: 'Oh! my God!' twice over. As he spoke the lantern fell
from his hand, but did not go out, because, as you know, it is made to
burn in any position. I leapt forward and picked it from the ground,
and while I was doing so became aware that Savage was running still
farther into the depths of the cave. I lifted the lantern above my
head and looked.
"This was what I saw: About ten paces from me was Savage with his arms
outstretched and dancing--yes, dancing--first to the right and then to
the left, with a kind of horrible grace and to the tune of a hideous
hissing music. I held the lantern higher and perceived that beyond
him, lifted eight or nine feet into the air, nearly to the roof of the
tunnel in fact, was the head of the hugest snake of which I have ever
heard. It was as broad as the bottom of a wheelbarrow--were it cut off
I think it would fill a large wheelbarrow--while the neck upon which
it was supported was quite as thick as my middle, and the undulating
body behind it, which stretched far away into the darkness, was the
size of an eighteen-gallon cask and glittered green and grey, lined
and splashed with silver and with gold.
"It hissed and swayed its great head to the right, holding Savage with
cold eyes that yet seemed to be on fire, whereon he danced to the
right. It hissed again and swayed its head to the left, whereon he
danced to the left. Then suddenly it reared its head right to the top
of the cave and so remained for a few seconds, whereon Savage stood
still, bending a little forward, as though he were bowing to the
reptile. Next instant, like a flash it struck, for I saw its white
fangs bury themselves in the back of Savage, who with a kind of sigh
fell forward on to his face. Then there was a convulsion of those
shining folds, followed by a sound as of bones being ground up in a
"I staggered against the wall of the cave and shut my eyes for a
moment, for I felt faint. When I opened them again it was to see
something flat, misshapen, elongated like a reflection in a spoon,
something that had been Savage lying on the floor, and stretched out
over it the huge serpent studying me with its steely eyes. Then I ran;
I am not ashamed to say I ran out of that horrible hole and far into
"Small blame to you," I said, adding: "Hans, give me some square-face
neat." For I felt as queer as though I also had been in that cave with
"There is very little more to tell," went on Ragnall after I had drunk
the hollands. "I lost my way on the mountain-side and wandered for
many hours, till at last I blundered up against one of the outermost
houses of the town, after which things were easy. Perhaps I should add
that wherever I went on my way down the mountain it seemed to me that
I heard people laughing at me in an unnatural kind of voice. That's
After this we sat silent for a long while, till at length Hans said in
his unmoved tone:
"The light has come, Baas. Shall I blow out the candle, which it is a
pity to waste? Also, does the Baas wish me to cook the breakfast, now
that the snake devil is making his off Bena, as I hope to make mine
off him before all is done. Snakes are very good to eat, Baas, if you
know how to dress them in the Hottentot way."
HANS STEALS THE KEYS
A few hours later some of the White Kendah arrived at the house and
very politely delivered to us Ragnall's and poor Savage's guns and
pistols, which they said they had found lying in the grass on the
mountain-side, and with them the bull's-eye lantern that Ragnall had
thrown away in his flight; all of which articles I accepted without
comment. That evening also Harūt called and, after salutations, asked
where Bena was as he did not see him. Then my indignation broke out:
"Oh! white-bearded father of liars," I said, "you know well that he is
in the belly of the serpent which lives in the cave of the mountain."
"What, Lord!" exclaimed Harūt addressing Ragnall in his peculiar
English, "have you been for walk up to hole in hill? Suppose Bena want
see big snake. He always very fond of snake, you know, and they very
fond of him. You 'member how they come out of his pocket in your house
in England? Well, he know all about snake now."
"You villain!" exclaimed Ragnall, "you murderer! I have a mind to kill
you where you are."
"Why you choke me, Lord, because snake choke your man? Poor snake, he
only want dinner. If you go where lion live, lion kill you. If you go
where snake live, snake kill you. I tell you not to. You take no
notice. Now I tell you all--go if you wish, no one stop you. Perhaps
you kill snake, who knows? Only you no take gun there, please. That
not allowed. When you tired of this town, go see snake. Only, 'member
that not right way to House of Child. There another way which you
"Look here," said Ragnall, "what is the use of all this foolery? You
know very well why we are in your devilish country. It is because I
believe you have stolen my wife to make her the priestess of your evil
religion whatever it may be, and I want her back."
"All this great mistake," replied Harūt blandly. "We no steal
beautiful lady you marry because we find she not right priestess. Also
Macumazana here not to look for lady but to kill elephant Jana and get
pay in ivory like good business man. You, Lord, come with him as
friend though we no ask you, that all. Then you try find temple of our
god and snake which watch door kill your servant. Why we not kill
"Because you are afraid to," answered Ragnall boldly. "Kill me if you
can and take the consequences. I am ready."
Harūt studied him not without admiration.
"You very brave man," he said, "and we no wish kill you and p'raps
after all everything come right in end. Only Child know about that.
Also you help us fight Black Kendah by and by. So, Lord, you quite
safe unless you big fool and go call on snake in cave. He very hungry
snake and soon want more dinner. You hear, Light-in-Darkness, Lord-of-
the-Fire," he added suddenly turning on Hans who was squatted near by
twiddling his hat with a face that for absolute impassiveness
resembled a deal board. "You hear, he very hungry snake, and you make
nice tea for him."
Hans rolled his little yellow eyes without even turning his head until
they rested on the stately countenance of Harūt, and answered in
"I hear, Liar-with-the-White-Beard, but what have I to do with this
matter? Jana is my enemy who would have killed Macumazana, my master,
not your dirty snake. What is the good of this snake of yours? If it
were any good, why does it not kill Jana whom you hate? And if it is
no good, why do you not take a stick and knock it on the head? If you
are afraid I will do so for you if you pay me. That for your snake,"
and very energetically he spat upon the floor.
"All right," said Harūt, still speaking in English, "you go kill
snake. Go when you like, no one say no. Then we give you new name.
Then we call you Lord-of-the-Snake."
As Hans, who now was engaged in lighting his corn-cob pipe, did not
deign to answer these remarks, Harūt turned to me and said:
"Lord Macumazana, your leg still bad, eh? Well, I bring you some
ointment what make it quite well; it holy ointment come from the
Child. We want you get well quick."
Then suddenly he broke into Bantu. "My Lord, war draws near. The Black
Kendah are gathering all their strength to attack us and we must have
your aid. I go down to the River Tava to see to certain matters, as to
the reaping of the outlying crops and other things. Within a week I
will be back; then we must talk again, for by that time, if you will
use the ointment that I have given you, you will be as well as ever
you were in your life. Rub it on your leg, and mix a piece as large as
a mealie grain in water and swallow it at night. It is not poison,
see," and taking the cover off a little earthenware pot which he
produced he scooped from it with his finger some of the contents,
which looked like lard, put it on his tongue and swallowed it.
Then he rose and departed with his usual bows.
Here I may state that I used Harūt's prescription with the most
excellent results. That night I took a dose in water, very nasty it
was, and rubbed my leg with the stuff, to find that next morning all
pain had left me and that, except for some local weakness, I was
practically quite well. I kept the rest of the salve for years, and it
proved a perfect specific in cases of sciatica and rheumatism. Now,
alas! it is all used and no recipe is available from which it can be
made up again.
The next few days passed uneventfully. As soon as I could walk I began
to go about the town, which was nothing but a scattered village much
resembling those to be seen on the eastern coasts of Africa. Nearly
all the men seemed to be away, making preparations for the harvest, I
suppose, and as the women shut themselves up in their houses after the
Oriental fashion, though the few that I saw about were unveiled and
rather good-looking, I did not gather any intelligence worth noting.
To tell the truth I cannot remember being in a more uninteresting
place than this little town with its extremely uncommunicative
population which, it seemed to me, lived under a shadow of fear that
prevented all gaiety. Even the children, of whom there were not many,
crept about in a depressed fashion and talked in a low voice. I never
saw any of them playing games or heard them shouting and laughing, as
young people do in most parts of the world. For the rest we were very
well looked after. Plenty of food was provided for us and every
thought taken for our comfort. Thus a strong and quiet pony was
brought for me to ride because of my lameness. I had only to go out of
the house and call and it arrived from somewhere, all ready saddled
and bridled, in charge of a lad who appeared to be dumb. At any rate
when I spoke to him he would not answer.
Mounted on this pony I took one or two rides along the southern slopes
of the mountain on the old pretext of shooting for the pot. Hans
accompanied me on these occasions, but was, I noted, very silent and
thoughtful, as though he were hunting something up and down his
tortuous intelligence. Once we got quite near to the mouth of the cave
or tunnel where poor Savage had met his horrid end. As we stood
studying it a white-robed man whose head was shaved, which made me
think he must be a priest, came up and asked me mockingly why we did
not go through the tunnel and see what lay beyond, adding, almost in
the words of Harūt himself, that none would attempt to interfere with
us as the road was open to any who could travel it. By way of answer I
only smiled and put him a few questions about a very beautiful breed
of goats with long silky hair, some of which he seemed to be engaged
in herding. He replied that these goats were sacred, being the food of
"one who dwelt in the Mountain who only ate when the moon changed."
When I inquired who this person was he said with his unpleasant smile
that I had better go through the tunnel and see for myself, an
invitation which I did not accept.
That evening Harūt appeared unexpectedly, looking very grave and
troubled. He was in a great hurry and only stayed long enough to
congratulate me upon the excellent effects of his ointment, since "no
man could fight Jana on one leg."
I asked him when the fight with Jana was to come off. He replied:
"Lord, I go up to the Mountain to attend the Feast of the First-
fruits, which is held at sunrise on the day of the new moon. After the
offering the Oracle will speak and we shall learn when there will be
war with Jana, and perchance other things."
"May we not attend this feast, Harūt, who are weary of doing nothing
"Certainly," he answered with his grave bow. "That is, if you come
unarmed; for to appear before the Child with arms is death. You know
the road; it runs through yonder cave and the forest beyond the cave.
Take it when you will, Lord."
"Then if we can pass the cave we shall be welcome at the feast?"
"You will be very welcome. None shall hurt you there, going or
returning. I swear it by the Child. Oh! Macumazana," he added, smiling
a little, "why do you talk folly, who know well that one lives in
yonder cave whom none may look upon and love, as Bena learned not long
ago? You are thinking that perhaps you might kill this Dweller in the
cave with your weapons. Put away that dream, seeing that henceforth
those who watch you have orders to see that none of you leave this
house carrying so much as a knife. Indeed, unless you promise me that
this shall be so you will not be suffered to set foot outside its
garden until I return again. Now do you promise?"
I thought a while and, drawing the two others aside out of hearing,
asked them their opinion.
Ragnall was at first unwilling to give any such promise, but Hans
"Baas, it is better to go free and unhurt without guns and knives than
to become a prisoner once, as you were among the Black Kendah. Often
there is but a short step between the prison and the grave."
Both Ragnall and I acknowledged the force of this argument and in the
end we gave the promise, speaking one by one.
"It is enough," said Harūt; "moreover, know, Lord, that among us White
Kendah he who breaks an oath is put across the River Tava unarmed to
make report thereof to Jana, Father of Lies. Now farewell. If we do
not meet at the Feast of the First-fruits on the day of the new moon,
whither once more I invite you, we can talk together here after I have
heard the voice of the Oracle."
Then he mounted a camel which awaited him outside the gate and
departed with an escort of twelve men, also riding camels.
"There is some other road up that mountain, Quatermain," said Ragnall.
"A camel could sooner pass through the eye of a needle than through
that dreadful cave, even if it were empty."
"Probably," I answered, "but as we don't know where it is and I dare
say it lies miles from here, we need not trouble our heads on the
matter. The cave is /our/ only road, which means that there is /no/
That evening at supper we discovered that Hans was missing; also that
he had got possession of my keys and broken into a box containing
liquor, for there it stood open in the cooking-hut with the keys in
"He has gone on the drink," I said to Ragnall, "and upon my soul I
don't wonder at it; for sixpence I would follow his example."
Then we went to bed. Next morning we breakfasted rather late, since
when one has nothing to do there is no object in getting up early. As
I was preparing to go to the cook-house to boil some eggs, to our
astonishment Hans appeared with a kettle of coffee.
"Hans," I said, "you are a thief."
"Yes, Baas," answered Hans.
"You have been at the gin box and taking that poison."
"Yes, Baas, I have been taking poison. Also I took a walk and all is
right now. The Baas must not be angry, for it is very dull doing
nothing here. Will the Baases eat porridge as well as eggs?"
As it was no use scolding him I said that we would. Moreover, there
was something about his manner which made me suspicious, for really he
did not look like a person who has just been very drunk.
After we had finished breakfast he came and squatted down before me.
Having lit his pipe he asked suddenly:
"Would the Baases like to walk through that cave to-night? If so,
there will be no trouble."
"What do you mean?" I asked, suspecting that he was still drunk.
"I mean, Baas, that the Dweller-in-the-cave is fast asleep."
"How do you know that, Hans?"
"Because I am the nurse who put him to sleep, Baas, though he kicked
and cried a great deal. He is asleep; he will wake no more. Baas, I
have killed the Father of Serpents."
"Hans," I said, "now I am sure that you are still drunk, although you
do not show it outside."
"Hans," added Ragnall, to whom I had translated as much of this as he
did not understand, "it is too early in the day to tell good stories.
How could you possibly have killed that serpent without a gun--for you
took none with you--or with it either for that matter?"
"Will the Baases come and take a walk through the cave?" asked Hans
with a snigger.
"Not till I am quite sure that you are sober," I replied; then,
remembering certain other events in this worthy's career, added;
"Hans, if you do not tell us the story at once I will beat you."
"There isn't much story, Baas," replied Hans between long sucks at his
pipe, which had nearly gone out, "because the thing was so easy. The
Baas is very clever and so is the Lord Baas, why then can they never
see the stones that lie under their noses? It is because their eyes
are always fixed upon the mountains between this world and the next.
But the poor Hottentot, who looks at the ground to be sure that he
does not stumble, ah! he sees the stones. Now, Baas, did you not hear
that man in a night shirt with his head shaved say that those goats
were food for One who dwelt in the mountain?"
"I did. What of it, Hans?"
"Who would be the One who dwelt in the mountain except the Father of
Snakes in the cave, Baas? Ah, now for the first time you see the stone
that lay at your feet all the while. And, Baas, did not the bald man
add that this One in the mountain was only fed at new and full moon,
and is not to-morrow the day of new moon, and therefore would he not
be very hungry on the day before new moon, that is, last night?"
"No doubt, Hans; but how can you kill a snake by feeding it?"
"Oh! Baas, you may eat things that make you ill, and so can a snake.
Now you will guess the rest, so I had better go to wash the dishes."
"Whether I guess or do not guess," I replied sagely, the latter being
the right hypothesis, "the dishes can wait, Hans, since the Lord there
has not guessed; so continue."
"Very well, Baas. In one of those boxes are some pounds of stuff
which, when mixed with water, is used for preserving skins and
"You mean the arsenic crystals," I said with a flash of inspiration.
"I don't know what you call them, Baas. At first I thought they were
hard sugar and stole some once, when the real sugar was left behind,
to put into the coffee--without telling the Baas, because it was my
fault that the sugar was left behind."
"Great Heavens!" I ejaculated, "then why aren't we all dead?"
"Because at the last moment, Baas, I thought I would make sure, so I
put some of the hard sugar into hot milk and, when it had melted, I
gave it to that yellow dog which once bit me in the leg, the one that
came from Beza-Town, Baas, that I told you had run away. He was a very
greedy dog, Baas, and drank up the milk at once. Then he gave a howl,
twisted about, foamed at the mouth and died and I buried him at once.
After that I threw some more of the large sugar mixed with mealies to
the fowls that we brought with us for cooking. Two cocks and a hen
swallowed them by mistake for the corn. Presently they fell on their
backs, kicked a little and died. Some of the Mazitu, who were great
thieves, stole those dead fowls, Baas. After this, Baas, I thought it
best not to use that sugar in the coffee, and later on Bena told me
that it was deadly poison. Well, Baas, it came into my mind that if I
could make that great snake swallow enough of this poison, he, too,
"So I stole your keys, as I often do, Baas, when I want anything,
because you leave them lying about everywhere, and to deceive you
first opened one of the boxes that are full of square-face and brandy
and left it open, for I wished you to think that I had just gone to
get drunk like anybody else. Then I opened another box and got out two
one-pound tins of the sugar which kills dogs and fowls. Half a pound
of it I melted in boiling water with some real sugar to make the stuff
sweet, and put it into a bottle. The rest I tied with string in twelve
little packets in the soft paper which is in one of the boxes, and put
them in my pocket. Then I went up the hill, Baas, to the place where I
saw those goats are kraaled at night behind a reed fence. As I had
hoped, no one was watching them because there are no tigers so near
this town, and man does not steal the goats that are sacred. I went
into the kraal and found a fat young ewe which had a kid. I dragged it
out and, taking it behind some stones, I made its leg fast with a bit
of cord and poured this stuff out of the bottle all over its skin,
rubbing it in well. Then I tied the twelve packets of hard poison-
sugar everywhere about its body, making them very fast deep in the
long hair so that they could not tumble or rub off.
"After this I untied the goat, led it near to the mouth of the cave
and held it there for a time while it kept on bleating for its kid.
Next I took it almost up to the cave, wondering how I should drive it
in, for I did not wish to enter there myself, Baas. As it happened I
need not have troubled about that. When the goat was within five yards
of the cave, it stopped bleating, stood still and shivered. Then it
began to go forward with little jumps, as though it did not want to
go, yet must do so. Also, Baas, I felt as though /I/ wished to go with
it. So I lay down and put my heels against a rock, leaving go of the
"For now, Baas, I did not care where that goat went so long as I could
keep out of the hole where dwelt the Father of Serpents that had eaten
Bena. But it was all right, Baas; the goat knew what it had to do and
did it, jumping straight into the cave. As it entered it turned its
head and looked at me. I could see its eyes in the starlight, and,
Baas, they were dreadful. I think it knew what was coming and did not
like it at all. And yet it had to walk on because it could not help
it. Just like a man going to the devil, Baas!
"Holding on to the stone I peered after it, for I had heard something
stirring in the cave making a soft noise like a white lady's dress
upon the floor. There in the blackness I saw two little sparks of
fire, which were the eyes of the serpent, Baas. Then I heard a sound
of hissing like four big kettles boiling all at once, and a little
bleat from the goat. After this there was a noise as of men wrestling,
followed by another noise as of bones breaking, and lastly, yet
another sucking noise as of a pump that won't draw up the water. Then
everything grew nice and quiet and I went some way off, sat down a
little to one side of the cave, and waited to see if anything
"It must have been nearly an hour later that something did begin to
happen, Baas. It was as though sacks filled with chaff were being
beaten against stone walls there in the cave. Ah! thought I to myself,
your stomach is beginning to ache, Eater-up-of-Bena, and, as that goat
had little horns on its head--to which I tied two of the bags of the
poison, Baas--and, like all snakes, no doubt you have spikes in your
throat pointing downwards, you won't be able to get it up again. Then
--I expect this was after the poison-sugar had begun to melt nicely in
the serpent's stomach, Baas--there was a noise as though a whole
company of girls were dancing a war-dance in the cave to a music of
"And then--oh! then, Baas, of a sudden that Father of Serpents came
out. I tell you, Baas, that when I saw him in the bright starlight my
hair stood up upon my head, for never has there been such another
snake in the whole world. Those that live in trees and eat bucks in
Zululand, of whose skins men make waistcoats and slippers, are but
babies compared to this one. He came out, yard after yard of him. He
wriggled about, he stood upon his tail with his head where the top of
a tree might be, he made himself into a ring, he bit at stones and at
his own stomach, while I hid behind my rock praying to your reverend
father that he might not see me. Then at last he rushed away down the
hill, faster than any horse could gallop.
"Now I hoped that he had gone for good and thought of going myself.
Still I feared to do so lest I should meet him somewhere, so I made up
my mind to wait till daylight. It was as well, Baas, for about half an
hour later he came back again. Only now he could not jump, he could
only crawl. Never in my life did I see a snake look so sick, Baas.
Into the cave he went and lay there hissing. By degrees the hissing
grew very faint, till at length they died away altogether. I waited
another half-hour, Baas, and then I grew so curious that I thought
that I would go to look in the cave.
"I lit the little lantern I had with me and, holding it in one hand
and my stick in the other, I crept into the hole. Before I had crawled
ten paces I saw something white stretched along the ground. It was the
belly of the great snake, Baas, which lay upon its back quite dead.
"I know that it was dead, for I lit three wax matches, setting them to
burn upon its tail and it never stirred, as any live snake will do
when it feels fire. Then I came home, Baas, feeling very proud because
I had outwitted that great-grandfather of all snakes who killed Bena
my friend, and had made the way clear for us to walk through the cave.
"That is all the story, Baas. Now I must go to wash those dishes," and
without waiting for any comment off he went, leaving us marvelling at
his wit, resource and courage.
"What next?" I asked presently.
"Nothing till to-night," answered Ragnall with determination, "when I
am going to look at the snake which the noble Hans has killed and
whatever lies beyond the cave, as you will remember Harūt invited us
to do unmolested, if we could."
"Do you think Harūt will keep his word, Ragnall?"
"On the whole, yes, and if he doesn't I don't care. Anything is better
than sitting here in this suspense."
"I agree as to Harūt, because we are too valuable to be killed just
now, if for no other reason; also as to the suspense, which is
unendurable. Therefore I will walk with you to look at that snake,
Ragnall, and so no doubt will Hans. The exercise will do my leg good."
"Do you think it wise?" he asked doubtfully; "in your case, I mean."
"I think it most unwise that we should separate any more. We had
better stand or fall altogether; further, we do not seem to have any
THE SANCTUARY AND THE OATH
That evening shortly after sundown the three of us started boldly from
our house wearing over our clothes the Kendah dresses which Ragnall
had bought, and carrying nothing save sticks in our hands, some food
and the lantern in our pockets. On the outskirts of the town we were
met by certain Kendah, one of whom I knew, for I had often ridden by
his side on our march across the desert.
"Have any of you arms upon you, Lord Macumazana?" he asked, looking
curiously at us and our white robes.
"None," I answered. "Search us if you will."
"Your word is sufficient," he replied with the grave courtesy of his
people. "If you are unarmed we have orders to let you go where you
wish however you may be dressed. Yet, Lord," he whispered to me, "I
pray you do not enter the cave, since One lives there who strikes and
does not miss, One whose kiss is death. I pray it for your own sakes,
also for ours who need you."
"We shall not wake him who sleeps in the cave," I answered
enigmatically, as we departed rejoicing, for now we had learned that
the Kendah did not yet know of the death of the serpent.
An hour's walk up the hill, guided by Hans, brought us to the mouth of
the tunnel. To tell the truth I could have wished it had been longer,
for as we drew near all sorts of doubts assailed me. What if Hans
really had been drinking and invented this story to account for his
absence? What if the snake had recovered from a merely temporary
indisposition? What if it had a wife and family living in that cave,
every one of them thirsting for vengeance?
Well, it was too late to hesitate now, but secretly I hoped that one
of the others would prefer to lead the way. We reached the place and
listened. It was silent as a tomb. Then that brave fellow Hans lit the
lantern and said:
"Do you stop here, Baases, while I go to look. If you hear anything
happen to me, you will have time to run away," words that made me feel
somewhat ashamed of myself.
However, knowing that he was quick as a weasel and silent as a cat, we
let him go. A minute or two later suddenly he reappeared out of the
darkness, for he had turned the metal shield over the bull's-eye of
the lantern, and even in that light I could see that he was grinning.
"It is all right, Baas," he said. "The Father of Serpents has really
gone to that land whither he sent Bena, where no doubt he is now
roasting in the fires of hell, and I don't see any others. Come and
look at him."
So in we went and there, true enough, upon the floor of the cave lay
the huge reptile stone dead and already much swollen. I don't know how
long it was, for part of its body was twisted into coils, so I will
only say that it was by far the most enormous snake that I have ever
seen. It is true that I have heard of such reptiles in different parts
of Africa, but hitherto I had always put them down as fabulous
creatures transformed into and worshipped as local gods. Also this
particular specimen was, I presume, of a new variety, since, according
to Ragnall, it both struck like the cobra or the adder, and crushed
like the boa-constrictor. It is possible, however, that he was
mistaken on this point; I do not know, since I had no time, or indeed
inclination, to examine its head for the poison fangs, and when next I
passed that way it was gone.
I shall never forget the stench of that cave. It was horrible, which
is not to be wondered at seeing that probably this creature had dwelt
there for centuries, since these large snakes are said to be as long
lived as tortoises, and, being sacred, of course it had never lacked
for food. Everywhere lay piles of cast bones, amongst one of which I
noticed fragments of a human skull, perhaps that of poor Savage. Also
the projecting rocks in the place were covered with great pieces of
snake skin, doubtless rubbed off by the reptile when once a year it
changed its coat.
For a while we gazed at the loathsome and still glittering creature,
then pushed on fearful lest we should stumble upon more of its kind. I
suppose that it must have been solitary, a kind of serpent rogue, as
Jana was an elephant rogue, for we met none and, if the information
which I obtained afterwards may be believed, there was no species at
all resembling it in the country. What its origin may have been I
never learned. All the Kendah could or would say about it was that it
had lived in this hole from the beginning and that Black Kendah
prisoners, or malefactors, were sometimes given to it to kill, as
White Kendah prisoners were given to Jana.
The cave itself proved to be not very long, perhaps one hundred and
fifty feet, no more. It was not an artificial but a natural hollow in
the lava rock, which I suppose had once been blown through it by an
outburst of steam. Towards the farther end it narrowed so much that I
began to fear there might be no exit. In this I was mistaken, however,
for at its termination we found a hole just large enough for a man to
walk in upright and so difficult to climb through that it became clear
to us that certainly this was not the path by which the White Kendah
approached their sanctuary.
Scrambling out of this aperture with thankfulness, we found ourselves
upon the slope of a kind of huge ditch of lava which ran first
downwards for about eighty paces, then up again to the base of the
great cone of the inner mountain which was covered with dense forest.
I presume that the whole formation of this peculiar hill was the
result of a violent volcanic action in the early ages of the earth.
But as I do not understand such matters I will not dilate upon them
further than to say that, although comparatively small, it bore a
certain resemblance to other extinct volcanoes which I had met with in
different parts of Africa.
We climbed down to the bottom of the ditch that from its general
appearance might have been dug out by some giant race as a protection
to their stronghold, and up its farther side to where the forest began
on deep and fertile soil. Why there should have been rich earth here
and none in the ditch is more than we could guess, but perhaps the
presence of springs of water in this part of the mount may have been a
cause. At any rate it was so.
The trees in this forest were huge and of a variety of cedar, but did
not grow closely together; also there was practically no undergrowth,
perhaps for the reason that their dense, spreading tops shut out the
light. As I saw afterwards both trunks and boughs were clothed with
long grey moss, which even at midday gave the place a very ghostly
appearance. The darkness beneath those trees was intense, literally we
could not see an inch before our faces. Yet rather than stand still we
struggled on, Hans leading the way, for his instincts were quicker
than ours. The steep rise of the ground beneath our feet told us that
we were going uphill, as we wished to do, and from time to time I
consulted a pocket compass I carried by the light of a match, knowing
from previous observations that the top of the Holy Mount lay due
Thus for hour after hour we crept up and on, occasionally butting into
the trunk of a tree or stumbling over a fallen bough, but meeting with
no other adventures or obstacles of a physical kind. Of moral, or
rather mental, obstacles there were many, since to all of us the
atmosphere of this forest was as that of a haunted house. It may have
been the embracing darkness, or the sough of the night wind amongst
the boughs and mosses, or the sense of the imminent dangers that we
had passed and that still awaited us. Or it may have been unknown
horrors connected with this place of which some spiritual essence
still survived, for without doubt localities preserve such influences,
which can be felt by the sensitive among living things, especially in
favouring conditions of fear and gloom. At any rate I never
experienced more subtle and yet more penetrating terrors than I did
upon that night, and afterwards Ragnall confessed to me that my case
was his own. Black as it was I thought that I saw apparitions, among
them glaring eyes and that of the elephant Jana standing in front of
me with his trunk raised against the bole of a cedar. I could have
sworn that I saw him, nor was I reassured when Hans whispered to me
below his breath, for here we did not seem to dare to raise our
"Look, Baas. Is it Jana glowing like hot iron who stands yonder?"
"Don't be a fool," I answered. "How can Jana be here and, if he were
here, how could we see him in the night?" But as I said the words I
remembered Harūt had told us that Jana had been met with on the Holy
Mount "in the spirit or in the flesh." However this may be, next
instant he was gone and we beheld him or his shadow no more. Also we
thought that from time to time we heard voices speaking all around us,
now here, now there and now in the tree tops above our heads, though
what they said we could not catch or understand.
Thus the long night wore away. Our progress was very slow, but guided
by occasional glimpses at the compass we never stopped but twice, once
when we found ourselves apparently surrounded by tree boles and fallen
boughs, and once when we got into swampy ground. Then we took the risk
of lighting the lantern, and by its aid picked our way through these
difficult places. By degrees the trees grew fewer so that we could see
the stars between their tops. This was a help to us as I knew that one
of them, which I had carefully noted, shone at this season of the year
directly over the cone of the mountain, and we were enabled to steer
It must have been not more than half an hour before the dawn that
Hans, who was leading--we were pushing our way through thick bushes at
the time--halted hurriedly, saying:
"Stop, Baas, we are on the edge of a cliff. When I thrust my stick
forward it stands on nothing."
Needless to say we pulled up dead and so remained without stirring an
inch, for who could say what might be beyond us? Ragnall wished to
examine the ground with the lantern. I was about to consent, though
doubtfully, when suddenly I heard voices murmuring and through the
screen of bushes saw lights moving at a little distance, forty feet or
more below us. Then we gave up all idea of making further use of the
lantern and crouched still as mice in our bushes, waiting for the
It came at last. In the east appeared a faint pearly flush that by
degrees spread itself over the whole arch of the sky and was welcomed
by the barking of monkeys and the call of birds in the depths of the
dew-steeped forest. Next a ray from the unrisen sun, a single spear of
light shot suddenly across the sky, and as it appeared, from the
darkness below us arose a sound of chanting, very low and sweet to
hear. It died away and for a little while there was silence broken
only by a rustling sound like to that of people taking their seats in
a dark theatre. Then a woman began to sing in a beautiful, contralto
voice, but in what language I do not know, for I could not catch the
words, if these were words and not only musical notes.
I felt Ragnall trembling beside me and in a whisper asked him what was
the matter. He answered, also in a whisper:
"I believe that is my wife's voice."
"If so, I beg you to control yourself," I replied.
Now the skies began to flame and the light to pour itself into a misty
hollow beneath us like streams of many-coloured gems into a bowl,
driving away the shadows. By degrees these vanished; by degrees we saw
everything. Beneath us was an amphitheatre, on the southern wall of
which we were seated, though it was not a wall but a lava cliff
between forty and fifty feet high which served as a wall. The
amphitheatre itself, however, almost exactly resembled those of the
ancients which I had seen in pictures and Ragnall had visited in
Italy, Greece, and Southern France. It was oval in shape and not very
large, perhaps the flat space at the bottom may have covered something
over an acre, but all round this oval ran tiers of seats cut in the
lava of the crater. For without doubt this was the crater of an
Moreover, in what I will call the arena, stood a temple that in its
main outlines, although small, exactly resembled those still to be
seen in Egypt. There was the gateway or pylon; there the open outer
court with columns round it supporting roofed cloisters, which, as we
ascertained afterwards, were used as dwelling-places by the priests.
There beyond and connected with the first by a short passage was a
second rather smaller court, also open to the sky, and beyond this
again, built like all the rest of the temple of lava blocks, a roofed
erection measuring about twelve feet square, which I guessed at once
must be the sanctuary.
This temple was, as I have said, small, but extremely well
proportioned, every detail of it being in the most excellent taste
though unornamented by sculpture or painting. I have to add that in
front of the sanctuary door stood a large block of lava, which I
concluded was an altar, and in front of this a stone seat and a basin,
also of stone, supported upon a very low tripod. Further, behind the
sanctuary was a square house with window-places.
At the moment of our first sight of this place the courts were empty,
but on the benches of the amphitheatre were seated about three hundred
persons, male and female, the men to the north and the women to the
south. They were all clad in pure white robes, the heads of the men
being shaved and those of the women veiled, but leaving the face
exposed. Lastly, there were two roadways into the amphitheatre, one
running east and one west through tunnels hollowed in the encircling
rock of the crater, both of which roads were closed at the mouths of
the tunnels by massive wooden double doors, seventeen or eighteen feet
in height. From these roadways and their doors we learned two things.
First, that the cave where had lived the Father of Serpents was, as I
had suspected, not the real approach to the shrine of the Child, but
only a blind; and, secondly, that the ceremony we were about to
witness was secret and might only be attended by the priestly class or
families of this strange tribe.
Scarcely was it full daylight when from the cells of the cloisters
round the outer court issued twelve priests headed by Harūt himself,
who looked very dignified in his white garment, each of whom carried
on a wooden platter ears of different kinds of corn. Then from the
cells of the southern cloister issued twelve women, or rather girls,
for all were young and very comely, who ranged themselves alongside of
the men. These also carried wooden platters, and on them blooming
At a sign they struck up a religious chant and began to walk forward
through the passage that led from the first court to the second.
Arriving in front of the altar they halted and one by one, first a
priest and then a priestess, set down the platters of offerings,
piling them above each other into a cone. Next the priests and the
priestesses ranged themselves in lines on either side of the altar,
and Harūt took a platter of corn and a platter of flowers in his
hands. These he held first towards that quarter of the sky in which
swam the invisible new moon, secondly towards the rising sun, and
thirdly towards the doors of the sanctuary, making genuflexions and
uttering some chanted prayer, the words of which we could not hear.
A pause followed, that was succeeded by a sudden outburst of song
wherein all the audience took part. It was a very sonorous and
beautiful song or hymn in some language which I did not understand,
divided into four verses, the end of each verse being marked by the
bowing of every one of those many singers towards the east, towards
the west, and finally towards the altar.
Another pause till suddenly the doors of the sanctuary were thrown
wide and from between them issued--the goddess Isis of the Egyptians
as I have seen her in pictures! She was wrapped in closely clinging
draperies of material so thin that the whiteness of her body could be
seen beneath. Her hair was outspread before her, and she wore a head-
dress or bonnet of glittering feathers from the front of which rose a
little golden snake. In her arms she bore what at that distance seemed
to be a naked child. With her came two women, walking a little behind
her and supporting her arms, who also wore feather bonnets but without
the golden snake, and were clad in tight-fitting, transparent
"My God!" whispered Ragnall, "it is my wife!"
"Then be silent and thank Him that she is alive and well," I answered.
The goddess Isis, or the English lady--in that excitement I did not
reck which--stood still while the priests and priestesses and all the
audience, who, gathered on the upper benches of the amphitheatre,
could see her above the wall of the inner court, raised a thrice-
repeated and triumphant cry of welcome. Then Harūt and the first
priestess lifted respectively an ear of corn and a flower from the two
topmost platters and held these first to the lips of the child in her
arms and secondly to her lips.
This ceremony concluded, the two attendant women led her round the
altar to the stone chair, upon which she seated herself. Next fire was
kindled in the bowl on the tripod in front of the chair, how I could
not see; but perhaps it was already smouldering there. At any rate it
burnt up in a thin blue flame, on to which Harūt and the head
priestess threw something that caused the flame to turn to smoke. Then
Isis, for I prefer to call her so while describing this ceremony, was
caused to bend her head forward, so that it was enveloped in the smoke
exactly as she and I had done some years before in the drawing-room at
Ragnall Castle. Presently the smoke died away and the two attendants
with the feathered head-dresses straightened her in the chair where
she sat still holding the babe against her breast as she might have
done to nurse it, but with her head bent forward like that of a person
in a swoon.
Now Harūt stepped forward and appeared to speak to the goddess at some
length, then fell back again and waited, till in the midst of an
intense silence she rose from her seat and, fixing her wide eyes on
the heavens, spoke in her turn, for although we heard nothing of what
she said, in that clear, morning light we could see her lips moving.
For some minutes she spoke, then sat down again upon the chair and
remained motionless, staring straight in front of her. Harūt advanced
again, this time to the front of the altar, and, taking his stand upon
a kind of stone step, addressed the priests and priestesses and all
the encircling audience in a voice so loud and clear that I could
distinguish and understand every word he said.
"The Guardian of the heavenly Child, the Nurse decreed, the appointed
Nurturer, She who is the shadow of her that bore the Child, She who in
her day bears the symbol of the Child and is consecrated to its
service from of old, She whose heart is filled with the wisdom of the
Child and who utters the decrees of Heaven, has spoken. Hearken now to
the voice of the Oracle uttered in answer to the questions of me,
Harūt, the head priest of the Eternal Child during my life-days. Thus
says the Oracle, the Guardian, the Nurturer, marked like all who went
before her with the holy mark of the new moon. She on whom the spirit,
flitting from generation to generation, has alighted for a while. 'O
people of the White Kendah, worshippers of the Child in this land and
descendants of those who for thousands of years worshipped the Child
in a more ancient land until the barbarians drove it thence with the
remnant that remained. War is upon you, O people of the White Kendah.
Jana the evil one; he whose other name is Set, he whose other name is
Satan, he who for this while lives in the shape of an elephant, he who
is worshipped by the thousands whom once you conquered, and whom still
you bridle by my might, comes up against you. The Darkness wars
against the Daylight, the Evil wars against the Good. My curse has
fallen upon the people of Jana, my hail has smitten them, their corn
and their cattle; they have no food to eat. But they are still strong
for war and there is food in your land. They come to take your corn;
Jana comes to trample your god. The Evil comes to destroy the Good,
the Night to Devour the Day. It is the last of many battles. How shall
you conquer, O People of the Child? Not by your own strength, for you
are few in number and Jana is very strong. Not by the strength of the
Child, for the Child grows weak and old, the days of its dominion are
almost done, and its worship is almost outworn. Here alone that
worship lingers, but new gods, who are still the old gods, press on to
take its place and to lead it to its rest.'
"How then shall you conquer that, when the Child has departed to its
own place, a remnant of you may still remain? In one way only--so says
the Guardian, the Nurturer of the Child speaking with the voice of the
Child; by the help of those whom you have summoned to your aid from
far. There were four of them, but one you have suffered to be slain in
the maw of the Watcher in the cave. It was an evil deed, O sons and
daughters of the Child, for as the Watcher is now dead, so ere long
many of you who planned this deed must die who, had it not been for
that man's blood, would have lived on a while. Why did you do this
thing? That you might keep a secret, the secret of the theft of a
woman, that you might continue to act a lie which falls upon your head
like a stone from heaven.
"Thus saith the Child: 'Lift no hand against the three who remain, and
what they shall ask, that give, for thus alone shall some of you be
saved from Jana and those who serve him, even though the Guardian and
the Child be taken away and the Child itself returned to its own
place.' These are the words of the Oracle uttered at the Feast of the
First-fruits, the words that cannot be changed and mayhap its last."
Harūt ceased, and there was silence while this portentous message sank
into the minds of his audience. At length they seemed to understand
its ominous nature and from them all there arose a universal,
simultaneous groan. As it died away the two attendants dressed as
goddesses assisted the personification of the Lady Isis to rise from
her seat and, opening the robes upon her breast, pointed to something
beneath her throat, doubtless that birthmark shaped like the new moon
which made her so sacred in their eyes since she who bore it and she
alone could fill her holy office.
All the audience and with them the priests and priestesses bowed
before her. She lifted the symbol of the Child, holding it high above
her head, whereon once more they bowed with the deepest veneration.
Then still holding the effigy aloft, she turned and with her two
attendants passed into the sanctuary and doubtless thence by a covered
way into the house beyond. At any rate we saw her no more.
As soon as she was gone the congregation, if I may call it so, leaving
their seats, swarmed down into the outer court of the temple through
its eastern gate, which was now opened. Here the priests proceeded to
distribute among them the offerings taken from the altar, giving a
grain of corn to each of the men to eat and a flower to each of the
women, which flower she kissed and hid in the bosom of her robe.
Evidently it was a kind of sacrament.
Ragnall lifted himself a little upon his hands and knees, and I saw
that his eyes glowed and his face was very pale.
"What are you going to do?" I asked.
"Demand that those people give me back my wife, whom they have stolen.
Don't try to stop me, Quatermain, I mean what I say."
"But, but," I stammered, "they never will and we are but three unarmed
Hans lifted up his little yellow face between us.
"Baas," he hissed, "I have a thought. The Lord Baas wishes to get the
lady dressed like a bird as to her head and like one for burial as to
her body, who is, he says, his wife. But for us to take her from among
so many is impossible. Now what did that old witch-doctor Harūt
declare just now? He declared, speaking for his fetish, that by our
help alone the White Kendah can resist the hosts of the Black Kendah
and that no harm must be done to us if the White Kendah would continue
to live. So it seems, Baas, that we have something to sell which the
White Kendah must buy, namely our help against the Black Kendah, for
if we will not fight for them, they believe that they cannot conquer
their enemies and kill the devil Jana. Well now, supposing that the
Baas says that our price is the white woman dressed like a bird, to be
delivered over to us when we have defeated the Black Kendah and killed
Jana--after which they will have no more use for her. And supposing
that the Baas says that if they refuse to pay that price we will burn
all our powder and cartridges so that the rifles are no use? Is there
not a path to walk on here?"
"Perhaps," I answered. "Something of the sort was working in my mind
but I had no time to think it out."
Turning, I explained the idea to Ragnall, adding:
"I pray you not to be rash. If you are, not only may we be killed,
which does not so much matter, but it is very probable that even if
they spare us they will put an end to your wife rather than suffer one
whom they look upon as holy and who is necessary to their faith in its
last struggle to be separated from her charge of the Child."
This was a fortunate argument of mine and one which went home.
"To lose her now would be more than I could bear," he muttered.
"Then will you promise to let me try to manage this affair and not to
interfere with me and show violence?"
He hesitated a moment and answered:
"Yes, I promise, for you two are cleverer than I am and--I cannot
trust my judgment."
"Good," I said, assuming an air of confidence which I did not feel.
"Now we will go down to call upon Harūt and his friends. I want to
have a closer look at that temple."
So behind our screen of bushes we wriggled back a little distance till
we knew that the slope of the ground would hide us when we stood up.
Then as quickly as we could we made our way eastwards for something
over a quarter of a mile and after this turned to the north. As I
expected, beyond the ring of the crater we found ourselves on the
rising, tree-clad bosom of the mountain and, threading our path
through the cedars, came presently to that track or roadway which led
to the eastern gate of the amphitheatre. This road we followed unseen
until presently the gateway appeared before us. We walked through it
without attracting any attention, perhaps because all the people were
either talking together, or praying, or perhaps because like
themselves we were wrapped in white robes. At the mouth of the tunnel
we stopped and I called out in a loud voice:
"The white lords and their servant have come to visit Harūt, as he
invited them to do. Bring us, we pray you, into the presence of
Everyone wheeled round and stared at us standing there in the shadow
of the gateway tunnel, for the sun behind us was still low. My word,
how they did stare! A voice cried:
"Kill them! Kill these strangers who desecrate our temple."
"What!" I answered. "Would you kill those to whom your high-priest has
given safe-conduct; those moreover by whose help alone, as your Oracle
has just declared, you can hope to slay Jana and destroy his hosts?"
"How do they know that?" shouted another voice. "They are magicians!"
"Yes," I remarked, "all magic does not dwell in the hearts of the
White Kendah. If you doubt it, go to look at the Watcher in the Cave
whom your Oracle told you is dead. You will find that it did not lie."
As I spoke a man rushed through the gates, his white rob streaming on
the wind, shouting as he emerged from the tunnel:
"O Priests and Priestesses of the Child, the ancient serpent is dead.
I whose office it is to feed the serpent on the day of the new moon
have found him dead in his house."
"You hear," I interpolated calmly. "The Father of Snakes is dead. If
you want to know how, I will tell you. We looked on it and it died."
They might have answered that poor Savage also looked on it with the
result that /he/ died, but luckily it did not occur to them to do so.
On the contrary, they just stood still and stared at us like a flock
of startled sheep.
Presently the sheep parted and the shepherd in the shape of Harūt
appeared looking, I reflected, the very picture of Abraham softened by
a touch of the melancholia of Job, that is, as I have always imagined
those patriarchs. He bowed to us with his usual Oriental courtesy, and
we bowed back to him. Hans' bow, I may explain, was of the most
peculiar nature, more like a /skulpat/, as the Boers call a land-
tortoise, drawing its wrinkled head into its shell and putting it out
again than anything else. Then Harūt remarked in his peculiar English,
which I suppose the White Kendah took for some tongue known only to
"So you get here, eh? Why you get here, how the devil you get here,
"We got here because you asked us to do so if we could," I answered,
"and we thought it rude not to accept your invitation. For the rest,
we came through a cave where you kept a tame snake, an ugly-looking
reptile but very harmless to those who know how to deal with snakes
and are not afraid of them as poor Bena was. If you can spare the skin
I should like to have it to make myself a robe."
Harūt looked at me with evident respect, muttering:
"Oh, Macumazana, you what you English call cool, quite cool! Is that
"No," I answered. "Although you did not happen to notice us, we have
been present at your church service, and heard and seen everything.
For instance, we saw the wife of the lord here whom you stole away in
Egypt, her that, being a liar, Harūt, you swore you never stole. Also
we heard her words after you had made her drunk with your tobacco
Now for once in his life Harūt was, in sporting parlance, knocked out.
He looked at us, then turning quite pale, lifted his eyes to heaven
and rocked upon his feet as though he were about to fall.
"How you do it? How you do it, eh?" he queried in a weak voice.
"Never you mind how we did it, my friend," I answered loftily. "What
we want to know is when you are going to hand over that lady to her
"Not possible," he answered, recovering some of his tone. "First we
kill you, first we kill her, she Nurse of the Child. While Child
there, she stop there till she die."
"See here," broke in Ragnall. "Either you give me my wife or someone
else will die. You will die, Harūt. I am a stronger man than you are
and unless you promise to give me my wife I will kill you now with
this stick and my hands. Do not move or call out if you want to live."
"Lord," answered the old man with some dignity, "I know you can kill
me, and if you kill me, I think I say thank you who no wish to live in
so much trouble. But what good that, since in one minute then you die
too, all of you, and lady she stop here till Black Kendah king take
her to wife or she too die?"
"Let us talk," I broke in, treading warningly upon Ragnall's foot. "We
have heard your Oracle and we know that you believe its words. It is
said that we alone can help you to conquer the Black Kendah. If you
will not promise what we ask, we will not help you. We will burn our
powder and melt our lead, so that the guns we have cannot speak with
Jana and with Simba, and after that we will do other things that I
need not tell you. But if you promise what we ask, then we will fight
for you against Jana and Simba and teach your men to use the fifty
rifles which we have here with us, and by our help you shall conquer.
Do you understand?"
He nodded and stroking his long beard, asked:
"What you want us promise, eh?"
"We want you to promise that after Jana is dead and the Black Kendah
are driven away, you will give up to us unharmed that lady whom you
have stolen. Also that you will bring her and us safely out of your
country by the roads you know, and meanwhile that you will let this
lord see his wife."
"Not last, no," replied Harūt, "that not possible. That bring us all
to grave. Also no good, 'cause her mind empty. For rest, you come to
other place, sit down and eat while I talk with priests. Be afraid
nothing; you quite safe."
"Why should we be afraid? It is you who should be afraid, you who
stole the lady and brought Bena to his death. Do you not remember the
words of your own Oracle, Harūt?"
"Yes, I know words, but how /you/ know them /that/ I not know," he
Then he issued some orders, as a result of which a guard formed itself
about us and conducted us through the crowd and along the passage to
the second court of the temple, which was now empty. Here the guard
left us but remained at the mouth of the passage, keeping watch.
Presently women brought us food and drink, of which Hans and I partook
heartily though Ragnall, who was so near to his lost wife and yet so
far away, could eat but little. Mingled joy because after these months
of arduous search he found her yet alive, and fear lest she should
again be taken from him for ever, deprived him of all appetite.
While we ate, priests to the number of about a dozen, who I suppose
had been summoned by Harūt, were admitted by the guard and, gathering
out of earshot of us between the altar and the sanctuary, entered on
an earnest discussion with him. Watching their faces I could see that
there was a strong difference of opinion between them, about half
taking one view on the matter of which they disputed, and half
another. At length Harūt made some proposition to which they all
agreed. Then the door of the sanctuary was opened with a strange sort
of key which one of the priests produced, showing a dark interior in
which gleamed a white object, I suppose the statue of the Child. Harūt
and two others entered, the door being closed behind them. About five
minutes later they appeared again and others, who listened earnestly
and after renewed consultation signified assent by holding up the
right hand. Now one of the priests walked to where we were and,
bowing, begged us to advance to the altar. This we did, and were stood
in a line in front of it, Hans being set in the middle place, while
the priests ranged themselves on either side. Next Harūt, having once
more opened the door of the sanctuary, took his stand a little to the
right of it and addressed us, not in English but in his own language,
pausing at the end of each sentence that I might translate to Ragnall.
"Lords Macumazana and Igeza, and yellow man who is named Light-in-
Darkness," he said, "we, the head priests of the Child, speaking on
behalf of the White Kendah people with full authority so to do, have
taken counsel together and of the wisdom of the Child as to the
demands which you make of us. Those demands are: First, that after you
have killed Jana and defeated the Black Kendah we should give over to
you the white lady who was born in a far land to fill the office of
Guardian of the Child, as is shown by the mark of the new moon upon
her breast, but who, because for the second time we could not take
her, became the wife of you, the Lord Igeza. Secondly, that we should
conduct you and her safely out of our land to some place whence you
can return to your own country. Both of these things we will do,
because we know from of old that if once Jana is dead we shall have no
cause to fear the Black Kendah any more, since we believe that then
they will leave their home and go elsewhere, and therefore that we
shall no longer need an Oracle to declare to us in what way Heaven
will protect us from Jana and from them. Or if another Oracle should
become necessary to us, doubtless in due season she will be found.
Also we admit that we stole away this lady because we must, although
she was the wife of one of you. But if we swear this, you on your part
must also swear that you will stay with us till the end of the war,
making our cause your cause and, if need be, giving your lives for us
in battle. You must swear further that none of you will attempt to see
or to take hence that lady who is named Guardian of the Child until we
hand her over to you unharmed. If you will not swear these things,
then since no blood may be shed in this holy place, here we will ring
you round until you die of hunger and of thirst, or if you escape from
this temple, then we will fall upon you and put you to death and fight
our own battle with Jana as best we may."
"And if we make these promises how are we to know that you will keep
yours?" I interrupted.
"Because the oath that we shall give you will be the oath of the Child
that may not be broken."
"Then give it," I said, for although I did not altogether like the
security, obviously it was the best to be had.
So very solemnly they laid their right hands upon the altar and "in
the presence of the Child and the name of the Child and of all the
White Kendah people," repeated after Harūt a most solemn oath of which
I have already given the substance. It called down on their heads a
very dreadful doom in this world and the next, should it be broken
either in the spirit or the letter; the said oath, however, to be only
binding if we, on our part, swore to observe their terms and kept our
engagement also in the spirit and the letter.
Then they asked us to fulfil our share of the pact and very
considerately drew out of hearing while we discussed the matter;
Harūt, the only one of them who understood a word of English, retiring
behind the sanctuary. At first I had difficulties with Ragnall, who
was most unwilling to bind himself in any way. In the end, on my
pointing out that nothing less than our lives were involved and
probably that of his wife as well, also that no other course was open
to us, he gave way, to my great relief.
Hans announced himself ready to swear anything, adding blandly that
words mattered nothing, as afterwards we could do whatever seemed best
in our own interests, whereon I read him a short moral lecture on the
heinousness of perjury, which did not seem to impress him very much.
This matter settled, we called back the priests and informed them of
our decision. Harūt demanded that we should affirm it "by the Child,"
which we declined to do, saying that it was our custom to swear only
in the name of our own God. Being a liberal-minded man who had
travelled, Harūt gave way on the point. So I swore first to the effect
that I would fight for the White Kendah to the finish in consideration
of the promises that they had made to us. I added that I would not
attempt either to see or to interfere with the lady here known as the
Guardian of the Child until the war was over or even to bring our
existence to her knowledge, ending up, "so help me God," as I had done
several times when giving evidence in a court of law.
Next Ragnall with a great effort repeated my oath in English, Harūt
listening carefully to every word and once or twice asking me to
explain the exact meaning of some of them.
Lastly Hans, who seemed very bored with the whole affair, swore, also
repeating the words after me and finishing on his own account with "so
help me the reverend Predikant, the Baas's father," a form that he
utterly declined to vary although it involved more explanations. When
pressed, indeed, he showed considerable ingenuity by pointing out to
the priests that to his mind my poor father stood in exactly the same
relation to the Power above us as their Oracle did to the Child. He
offered generously, however, to throw in the spirits of his
grandfather and grandmother and some extraordinary divinity they
worshipped, I think it was a hare, as an additional guarantee of good
faith. This proposal the priests accepted gravely, whereon Hans
whispered into my ear in Dutch:
"Those fools do not remember that when pressed by dogs the hare often
doubles on its own spoor, and that your reverend father will be very
pleased if I can play them the same trick with the white lady that
they played with the Lord Igeza."
I only looked at him in reply, since the morality of Hans was past
argument. It might perhaps be summed up in one sentence: To get the
better of his neighbour in his master's service, honestly if possible;
if not, by any means that came to his hand down to that of murder. At
the bottom of his dark and mysterious heart Hans worshipped only one
god, named Love, not of woman or child, but of my humble self. His
principles were those of a rather sly but very high-class and
exclusive dog, neither better nor worse. Still, when all is said and
done, there are lower creatures in the world than high-class dogs. At
least so the masters whom they adore are apt to think, especially if
their watchfulness and courage have often saved them from death or
The ceremonies were over and the priests, with the exception of Harūt
and two who remained to attend upon him, vanished, probably to inform
the male and female hierophants of their result, and through these the
whole people of the White Kendah. Old Harūt stared at us for a little
while, then said in English, which he always liked to talk when
Ragnall was present, perhaps for the sake of practice:
"What you like do now, eh? P'r'aps wish fly back to Town of Child, for
suppose this how you come. If so, please take me with you, because
that save long ride."
"Oh! no," I answered. "We walked here through that hole where lived
the Father of Snakes who died of fear when he saw us, and just mixed
with the rest of you in the court of the temple."
"Good lie," said Harūt admiringly, "very first-class lie! Wonder how
you kill great snake, which we all think never die, for he live there
hundred, hundred years; our people find him there when first they come
to this country, and make him kind of god. Well, he nasty beast and
best dead. I say, you like see Child? If so, come, for you our
brothers now, only please take off hat and not speak.
I intimated that we should "like see Child," and led by Harūt we
entered the little sanctuary which was barely large enough to hold all
of us. In a niche of the end wall stood the sacred effigy which
Ragnall and I examined with a kind of reverent interest. It proved to
be the statue of an infant about two feet high, cut, I imagine, from
the base of a single but very large elephant's tusk, so ancient that
the yellowish ivory had become rotten and was covered with a multitude
of tiny fissures. Indeed, for its appearance I made up my mind that
several thousands of years must have passed since the beast died from
which this ivory was taken, especially as it had, I presume, always
been carefully preserved under cover.
The workmanship of the object was excellent, that of a fine artist
who, I should think, had taken some living infant for his model,
perhaps a child of the Pharaoh of the day. Here I may say at once that
there could be no doubt of its Egyptian origin, since on one side of
the head was a single lock of hair, while the fourth finger of the
right hand was held before the lips as though to enjoin silence. Both
of these peculiarities, it will be remembered, are characteristic of
the infant Horus, the child of Osiris and Isis, as portrayed in
bronzes and temple carvings. So at least Ragnall, who recently had
studied many such effigies in Egypt, informed me later. There was
nothing else in the place except an ancient, string-seated chair of
ebony, adorned with inlaid ivory patterns; an effigy of a snake in
porcelain, showing that serpent worship was in some way mixed up with
their religion; and two rolls of papyrus, at least that is what they
looked like, which were laid in the niche with the statue. These
rolls, to my disappointment, Harūt refused to allow us to examine or
even to touch.
After we had left the sanctuary I asked Harūt when this figure was
brought to their land. He replied that it came when they came, at what
date he could not tell us as it was so long ago, and that with it came
the worship and the ceremonies of their religion.
In answer to further questions he added that this figure, which seemed
to be of ivory, contained the spirits which ruled the sun and the
moon, and through them the world. This, said Ragnall, was just a piece
of Egyptian theology, preserved down to our own times in a remote
corner of Africa, doubtless by descendants of dwellers on the Nile who
had been driven thence in some national catastrophe, and brought away
with them their faith and one of the effigies of their gods. Perhaps
they fled at the time of the Persian invasion by Cambyses.
After we had emerged from this deeply interesting shrine, which was
locked behind us, Harūt led us, not through the passage connecting it
with the stone house that we knew was occupied by Ragnall's wife in
her capacity as Guardian of the Child, or a latter-day personification
of Isis, Lady of the Moon, at which house he cast many longing
glances, but back through the two courts and the pylon to the gateway
of the temple. Here on the road by which we had entered the place, a
fact which we did not mention to him, he paused and addressed us.
"Lords," he said, "now you and the People of the White Kendah are one;
your ends are their ends, your fate is their fate, their secrets are
your secrets. You, Lord Igeza, work for a reward, namely the person of
that lady whom we took from you on the Nile."
"How did you do that?" interrupted Ragnall when I had interpreted.
"Lord, we watched you. We knew when you came to Egypt; we followed you
in Egypt, whither we had journeyed on our road to England once more to
seek our Oracles, till the day of our opportunity dawned. Then at
night we called her and she obeyed the call, as she must do whose mind
we have taken away--ask me not how--and brought her to dwell with us,
she who is marked from her birth with the holy sign and wears upon her
breast certain charmed stones and a symbol that for thousands of years
have adorned the body of the Child and those of its Oracles. Do you
remember a company of Arabs whom you saw riding on the banks of the
Great River on the day before the night when she was lost to you? We
were with that company and on our camels we bore her thence, happy and
unharmed to this our land, as I trust, when all is done, we shall bear
her back again and you with her."
"I trust so also, for you have wrought me a great wrong," said Ragnall
briefly, "perhaps a greater wrong than I know at present, for how came
it that my boy was killed by an elephant?"
"Ask that question of Jana and not of me," Harūt answered darkly. Then
he went on: "You also, Lord Macumazana, work for a reward, the
countless store of ivory which your eyes have beheld lying in the
burial place of elephants beyond the Tava River. When you have slain
Jana who watches the store, and defeated the Black Kendah who serve
him, it is yours and we will give you camels to bear it, or some of
it, for all cannot be carried, to the sea where it can be taken away
in ships. As for the yellow man, I think that he seeks no reward who
soon will inherit all things."
"The old witch-doctor means that I am going to die," remarked Hans
expectorating reflectively. "Well, Baas, I am quite ready, if only
Jana and certain others die first. Indeed I grow too old to fight and
travel as I used to do, and therefore shall be glad to pass to some
land where I become young again."
"Stuff and rubbish!" I exclaimed, then turned and listened to Harūt
who, not understanding our Dutch conversation, was speaking once more.
"Lords," he said, "these paths which run east and west are the real
approach to the mountain top and the temple, not that which, as I
suppose, led you through the cave of the old serpent. The road to the
west, which wanders round the base of the hill to a pass in those
distant mountains and thence across the deserts to the north, is so
easy to stop that by it we need fear no attack. With this eastern road
the case is, however, different, as I shall now show you, if you will
ride with me."
Then he gave some orders to two attendant priests who departed at a
run and presently reappeared at the head of a small train of camels
which had been hidden, I know not where. We mounted and, following the
road across a flat piece of ground, found that not more than half a
mile away was another precipitous ridge of rock which had presumably
once formed the lip of an outer crater. This ridge, however, was
broken away for a width of two or three hundred yards, perhaps by some
outrush of lava, the road running through the centre of the gap on
which schanzes had been built here and there for purposes of defence.
Looking at these I saw that they were very old and inefficient and
asked when they had been erected. Harūt replied about a century before
when the last war took place with the Black Kendah, who had been
finally driven off at this spot, for then the White Kendah were more
numerous than at present.
"So Simba knows this road?" I said.
"Yes, Lord, and Jana knows it also, for he fought in that war and
still at times visits us here and kills any whom he may meet. Only to
the temple he has never dared to come."
Now I wondered whether we had really seen Jana in the forest on the
previous night, but coming to the conclusion that it was useless to
investigate the matter, made no inquiries, especially as these would
have revealed to Harūt the route by which we approached the temple.
Only I pointed out to him that proper defences should be put up here
without delay, that is if they meant to make a stronghold of the
"We do, Lord," he answered, "since we are not strong enough to attack
the Black Kendah in their own country or to meet them in pitched
battle on the plain. Here and in no other place must be fought the
last fight between Jana and the Child. Therefore it will be your task
to build walls cunningly, so that when they come we may defeat Jana
and the hosts of the Black Kendah."
"Do you mean that this elephant will accompany Simba and his soldiers,
"Without doubt, Lord, since he has always done so from the beginning.
Jana is tame to the king and certain priests of the Black Kendah,
whose forefathers have fed him for generations, and will obey their
orders. Also he can think for himself, being an evil spirit and
"His left eye and the tip of his trunk are not invulnerable," I
remarked, "though from what I saw of him I should say there is no
doubt about his being able to think for himself. Well, I am glad the
brute is coming as I have an account to settle with him."
"As he, Lord, who does not forget, has an account to settle with you
and your servant, Light-in-Darkness," commented Harūt in an unpleasant
and suggestive tone.
Then after we had taken a few measurements and Ragnall, who
understands such matters, had drawn a rough sketch of the place in his
pocket-book to serve as data for our proposed scheme of
fortifications, we pursued our journey back to the town, where we had
left all our stores and there were many things to be arranged. It
proved to be quite a long ride, down the eastern slope of the mountain
which was easy to negotiate, although like the rest of this strange
hill it was covered with dense cedar forests that also seemed to me to
have defensive possibilities. Reaching its foot at length we were
obliged to make a detour by certain winding paths to avoid ground that
was too rough for the camels, so that in the end we did not come to
our own house in the Town of the Child till about midday.
Glad enough were we to reach it, since all three of us were tired out
with our terrible night journey and the anxious emotions that we had
undergone. Indeed, after we had eaten we lay down and I rejoiced to
see that, notwithstanding the state of mental excitement into which
the discovery of his wife had plunged him, Ragnall was the first of us
to fall asleep.
About five o'clock we were awakened by a messenger from Harūt, who
requested our attendance on important business at a kind of meeting-
house which stood at a little distance on an open place where the
White Kendah bartered produce. Here we found Harūt and about twenty of
the headmen seated in the shade of a thatched roof, while behind them,
at a respectful distance, stood quite a hundred of the White Kendah.
Most of these, however, were women and children, for as I have said
the greater part of the male population was absent from the town
because of the commencement of the harvest.
We were conducted to chairs, or rather stools of honour, and when we
two had seated ourselves, Hans taking his stand behind us, Harūt rose
and informed us that an embassy had arrived from the Black Kendah
which was about to be admitted.
Presently they came, five of them, great, truculent-looking fellows of
a surprising blackness, unarmed, for they had not been allowed to
bring their weapons in to the town, but adorned with the usual silver
chains across their breasts to show their rank, and other savage
finery. In the man who was their leader I recognized one of those
messengers who had accosted us when first we entered their territory
on our way from the south, before that fight in which I was taken
prisoner. Stepping forward and addressing himself to Harūt, he said:
"A while ago, O Prophet of the Child, I, the messenger of the god
Jana, speaking through the mouth of Simba the King, gave to you and
your brother Marūt a certain warning to which you did not listen. Now
Jana has Marūt, and again I come to warn you, Harūt."
"If I remember right," interrupted Harūt blandly, "I think that on
that occasion two of you delivered the message and that the Child
marked one of you upon the brow. If Jana has my brother, say, where is
"We warned you," went on the messenger, "and you cursed us in the name
of the Child."
"Yes," interrupted Harūt again, "we cursed you with three curses. The
first was the curse of Heaven by storm or drought, which has fallen
upon you. The second was the curse of famine, which is falling upon
you; and the third was the curse of war, which is yet to fall on you."
"It is of war that we come to speak," replied the messenger,
diplomatically avoiding the other two topics which perhaps he found it
awkward to discuss.
"That is foolish of you," replied the bland Harūt, "seeing that the
other day you matched yourselves against us with but small success.
Many of you were killed but only a very few of us, and the white lord
whom you took captive escaped out of your hands and from the tusks of
Jana who, I think, now lacks an eye. If he is a god, how comes it that
he lacks an eye and could not kill an unarmed white man?"
"Let Jana answer for himself, as he will do ere long, O Harūt.
Meanwhile, these are the words of Jana spoken through the mouth of
Simba the King: The Child has destroyed my harvest and therefore I
demand this of the people of the Child--that they give me three-
fourths of their harvest, reaping the same and delivering it on the
south bank of the River Tava. That they give me the two white lords to
be sacrificed to me. That they give the white lady who is Guardian of
the Child to be a wife of Simba the King, and with her a hundred
virgins of your people. That the image of the Child be brought to the
god Jana in the presence of his priests and Simba the King. These are
the demands of Jana spoken through the mouth of Simba the King."
Watching, I saw a thrill of horror shake the forms of Harūt and of all
those with him as the full meaning of these, to them, most impious
requests sank into their minds. But he only asked very quietly:
"And if we refuse the demands, what then?"
"Then," shouted the messenger insolently, "then Jana declares war upon
you, the last war of all, war till every one of your men be dead and
the Child you worship is burnt to grey ashes with fire. War till your
women are taken as slaves and the corn which you refuse is stored in
our grain pits and your land is a waste and your name forgotten.
Already the hosts of Jana are gathered and the trumpet of Jana calls
them to the fight. To-morrow or the next day they advance upon you,
and ere the moon is full not one of you will be left to look upon
Harūt rose, and walking from under the shed, turned his back upon the
envoys and stared at the distant line of great mountains which stood
out far away against the sky. Out of curiosity I followed him and
observed that these mountains were no longer visible. Where they had
been was nothing but a line of black and heavy cloud. After looking
for a while he returned and addressing the envoys, said quite
"If you will be advised by me, friends, you will ride hard for the
river. There is such rain upon the mountains as I have never seen
before, and you will be fortunate if you cross it before the flood
comes down, the greatest flood that has happened in our day."
This intelligence seemed to disturb the messengers, for they too
stepped out of the shed and stared at the mountains, muttering to each
other something that I could not understand. Then they returned and
with a fine appearance of indifference demanded an immediate answer to
"Can you not guess it?" answered Harūt. Then changing his tone he drew
himself to his full height and thundered out at them: "Get you back to
your evil spirit of a god that hides in the shape of a beast of the
forest and to his slave who calls himself a king, and say to them:
'Thus speaks the Child to his rebellious servants, the Black Kendah
dogs: Swim my river when you can, which will not be yet, and come up
against me when you will; for whenever you come I shall be ready for
you. You are already dead, O Jana. You are already dead, O Simba the
slave. You are scattered and lost, O dogs of the Black Kendah, and the
home of such of you as remain shall be far away in a barren land,
where you must dig deep for water and live upon the wild game because
there little corn will grow.' Now begone, and swiftly, lest you stop
here for ever."
So they turned and went, leaving me full of admiration for the
histrionic powers of Harūt.
I must add, however, that being without doubt a keen observer of the
weather conditions of the neighbourhood, he was quite right about the
rain upon the mountains, which by the way never extended to the
territory of the People of the Child. As we heard afterwards, the
flood came down just as the envoys reached the river; indeed, one of
them was drowned in attempting its crossing, and for fourteen days
after this it remained impassable to an army.
That very evening we began our preparations to meet an attack which
was now inevitable. Putting aside the supposed rival powers of the
tribal divinities worshipped under the names of the Child and Jana,
which, while they added a kind of Homeric interest to the contest,
could, we felt, scarcely affect an issue that must be decided with
cold steel and other mortal weapons, the position of the White Kendah
was serious indeed. As I think I have said, in all they did not number
more than about two thousand men between the ages of twenty and fifty-
five, or, including lads between fourteen and twenty and old men still
able-bodied between fifty-five and seventy, say two thousand seven
hundred capable of some sort of martial service. To these might be
added something under two thousand women, since among this dwindling
folk, oddly enough, from causes that I never ascertained, the males
out-numbered the females, which accounted for their marriage customs
that were, by comparison with those of most African peoples,
monogamous. At any rate only the rich among them had more than one
wife, while the poor or otherwise ineligible often had none at all,
since inter-marriage with other races and above all with the Black
Kendah dwelling beyond the river was so strictly taboo that it was
punishable with death or expulsion.
Against this little band the Black Kendah could bring up twenty
thousand men, besides boys and aged persons who with the women would
probably be left to defend their own country, that is, not less than
ten to one. Moreover, all of these enemies would be fighting with the
courage of despair, since quite three-fourths of their crops with many
of their cattle and sheep had been destroyed by the terrific hail-
burst that I have described. Therefore, since no other corn was
available in the surrounding land, where they dwelt alone encircled by
deserts, either they must capture that of the White Kendah, or suffer
terribly from starvation until a year later when another harvest
The only points I could see in favour of the People of the Child were
that they would fight on the vantage ground of their mountain
stronghold, a formidable position if properly defended. Also they
would have the benefit of the skill and knowledge of Ragnall and
myself. Lastly, the enemy must face our rifles. Neither the White nor
the Black Kendah, I should say, possessed any guns, except a few
antiquated flintlock weapons that the former had captured from some
nomadic tribe and kept as curiosities. Why this was the case I do not
know, since undoubtedly at times the White Kendah traded in camels and
corn with Arabs who wandered as far as the Sudan, or Egypt, nomadic
tribes to whom even then firearms were known, although perhaps rarely
used by them. But so it was, possibly because of some old law or
prejudice which forbade their introduction into the country, or mayhap
of the difficulty of procuring powder and lead, or for the reason that
they had none to teach them the use of such new-fangled weapons.
Now it will be remembered that, on the chance of their proving useful,
Ragnall, in addition to our own sporting rifles, had brought with him
to Africa fifty Snider rifles with an ample supply of ammunition, the
same that I had trouble in passing through the Customs at Durban, all
of which had arrived safely at the Town of the Child. Clearly our
first duty was to make the best possible use of this invaluable store.
To that end I asked Harūt to select seventy-five of the boldest and
most intelligent young men among his people, and to hand them over to
me and Hans for instruction in musketry. We had only fifty rifles but
I drilled seventy-five men, or fifty per cent. more, that some might
be ready to replace any who fell.
From dawn to dark each day Hans and I worked at trying to convert
these Kendah into sharpshooters. It was no easy task with men, however
willing, who till then had never held a gun, especially as I must be
very sparing of the ammunition necessary to practice, of which of
course our supply was limited. Still we taught them how to take cover,
how to fire and to cease from firing at a word of command, also to
hold the rifles low and waste no shot. To make marksmen of them was
more than I could hope to do under the circumstances.
With the exception of these men nearly the entire male population were
working day and night to get in the harvest. This proved a very
difficult business, both because some of the crops were scarcely fit
and because all the grain had to be carried on camels to be stored in
and at the back of the second court of the temple, the only place
where it was likely to be safe. Indeed in the end a great deal was
left unreaped. Then the herds of cattle and breeding camels which
grazed on the farther sides of the Holy Mount must be brought into
places of safety, glens in the forest on its slope, and forage stacked
to feed them. Also it was necessary to provide scouts to keep watch
along the river.
Lastly, the fortifications in the mountain pass required unceasing
labour and attention. This was the task of Ragnall, who fortunately in
his youth, before he succeeded unexpectedly to the title, was for some
years an officer in the Royal Engineers and therefore thoroughly
understood that business. Indeed he understood it rather too well,
since the result of his somewhat complicated and scientific scheme of
defence was a little confusing to the simple native mind. However,
with the assistance of all the priests and of all the women and
children who were not engaged in provisioning the Mount, he built wall
after wall and redoubt after redoubt, if that is the right word, to
say nothing of the shelter trenches he dug and many pitfalls,
furnished at the bottom with sharp stakes, which he hollowed out
wherever the soil could be easily moved, to discomfit a charging
Indeed, when I saw the amount of work he had concluded in ten days,
which was not until I joined him on the mountain, I was quite
About this time a dispute arose as to whether we should attempt to
prevent the Black Kendah from crossing the river which was now running
down, a plan that some of the elders favoured. At last the controversy
was referred to me as head general and I decided against anything of
the sort. It seemed to me that our force was too small, and that if I
took the rifle-men a great deal of ammunition might be expended with
poor result. Also in the event of any reverse or when we were finally
driven back, which must happen, there might be difficulty about
remounting the camels, our only means of escape from the horsemen who
would possibly gallop us down. Moreover the Tava had several fords,
any one of which might be selected by the enemy. So it was arranged
that we should make our first and last stand upon the Holy Mount.
On the fourteenth night from new moon our swift camel-scouts who were
posted in relays between the Tava and the Mount reported that the
Black Kendah were gathered in thousands upon the farther side of the
river, where they were engaged in celebrating magical ceremonies. On
the fifteenth night the scouts reported that they were crossing the
river, about five thousand horsemen and fifteen thousand foot
soldiers, and that at the head of them marched the huge god-elephant
Jana, on which rode Simba the King and a lame priest (evidently my
friend whose foot had been injured by the pistol), who acted as a
mahout. This part of the story I confess I did not believe, since it
seemed to me impossible that anyone could ride upon that mad rogue,
Jana. Yet, as subsequent events showed, it was in fact true. I suppose
that in certain hands the beast became tame. Or perhaps it was
Two nights later, for the Black Kendah advanced but slowly, spreading
themselves over the country in order to collect such crops as had not
been gathered through lack of time or because they were still unripe,
we saw flames and smoke arising from the Town of the Child beneath us,
which they had fired. Now we knew that the time of trial had come and
until near midnight men, women and children worked feverishly
finishing or trying to finish the fortifications and making every
preparation in our power.
Our position was that we held a very strong post, that is, strong
against an enemy unprovided with big guns or even firearms, which, as
all other possible approaches had been blocked, was only assailable by
direct frontal attack from the east. In the pass we had three main
lines of defence, one arranged behind the other and separated by
distances of a few hundred yards. Our last refuge was furnished by the
walls of the temple itself, in the rear of which were camped the whole
White Kendah tribe, save a few hundred who were employed in watching
the herds of camels and stock in almost inaccessible positions on the
northern slopes of the Mount.
There were perhaps five thousand people of both sexes and every age
gathered in this camp, which was so well provided with food and water
that it could have stood a siege of several months. If, however, our
defences should be carried there was no possibility of escape, since
we learned from our scouts that the Black Kendah, who by tradition and
through spies were well acquainted with every feature of the country,
had detached a party of several thousand men to watch the western road
and the slopes of the mountain, in case we should try to break out by
that route. The only one remaining, that which ran through the cave of
the serpent, we had taken the precaution of blocking up with great
stones, lest through it our flank should be turned.
In short, we were rats in a trap and where we were there we must
either conquer or die--unless indeed we chose to surrender, which for
most of us would mean a fate worse than death.
ALLAN QUATERMAIN MISSES
I had made my last round of the little corps that I facetiously named
"The Sharpshooters," though to tell the truth at shooting they were
anything but sharp, and seen that each man was in his place behind a
wall with a reserve man squatted at the rear of every pair of them,
waiting to take his rifle if either of these should fall. Also I had
made sure that all of them had twenty rounds of ammunition in their
skin pouches. More I would not serve out, fearing lest in excitement
or in panic they might fire away to the last cartridge uselessly, as
before now even disciplined white troops have been known to do.
Therefore I had arranged that certain old men of standing who could be
trusted should wait in a place of comparative safety behind the line,
carrying all our reserve ammunition, which amounted, allowing for what
had been expended in practice, to nearly sixty rounds per rifle. This
they were instructed to deliver from their wallets to the firing line
in small lots when they saw that it was necessary and not before.
It was, I admit, an arrangement apt to miscarry in the heat of
desperate battle, but I could think of none better, since it was
absolutely necessary that no shot should be wasted.
After a few words of exhortation and caution to the natives who acted
as sergeants to the corps, I returned to a bough shelter that had been
built for us behind a rock to get a few hours' sleep, if that were
possible, before the fight began.
Here I found Ragnall, who had just come in from his inspection. This
was of a much more extensive nature than my own, since it involved
going round some furlongs of the rough walls and trenches that he had
prepared with so much thought and care, and seeing that the various
companies of the White Kendah were ready to play their part in the
defence of them.
He was tired and rather excited, too much so to sleep at once. So we
talked a little while, first about the prospects of the morrow's
battle, as to which we were, to say the least of it, dubious, and
afterwards of other things. I asked him if during his stay in this
place, while I was below at the town or later, he had heard or seen
anything of his wife.
"Nothing," he answered. "These priests never speak of her, and if they
did Harūt is the only one of them that I can really understand.
Moreover, I have kept my word strictly and, even when I had occasion
to see to the blocking of the western road, made a circuit on the
mountain-top in order to avoid the neighbourhood of that house where I
suppose she lives Oh! Quatermain, my friend, my case is a hard one, as
you would think if the woman you loved with your whole heart were shut
up within a few hundred yards of you and no communication with her
possible after all this time of separation and agony. What makes it
worse is, as I gathered from what Harūt said the other day, that she
is still out of her mind."
"That has some consolations," I replied, "since the mindless do not
suffer. But if such is the case, how do you account for what you and
poor Savage saw that night in the Town of the Child? It was not
altogether a phantasy, for the dress you described was the same we saw
her wearing at the Feast of the First-fruits."
"I don't know what to make of it, Quatermain, except that many strange
things happen in the world which we mock at as insults to our limited
intelligence because we cannot understand them." (Very soon I was to
have another proof of this remark.) "But what are you driving at? You
are keeping something back."
"Only this, Ragnall. If your wife were utterly mad I cannot conceive
how it came about that she searched you out and spoke to you even in a
vision--for the thing was not an individual dream since both you and
Savage saw her. Nor did she actually visit you in the flesh, as the
door never opened and the spider's web across it was not broken. So it
comes to this: either some part of her is not mad but can still
exercise sufficient will to project itself upon your senses, or she is
dead and her disembodied spirit did this thing. Now we know that she
is not dead, for we have seen her and Harūt has confessed as much.
Therefore I maintain that, whatever may be her temporary state, she
must still be fundamentally of a reasonable mind, as she is of a
natural body. For instance, she may only be hypnotized, in which case
the spell will break one day."
"Thank you for that thought, old fellow. It never occurred to me and
it gives me new hope. Now listen! If I should come to grief in this
business, which is very likely, and you should survive, you will do
your best to get her home; will you not? Here is a codicil to my will
which I drew up after that night of dream, duly witnessed by Savage
and Hans. It leaves to you whatever sums may be necessary in this
connexion and something over for yourself. Take it, it is best in your
keeping, especially as if you should be killed it has no value."
"Of course I will do my best," I answered as I put away the paper in
my pocket. "And now don't let us take any more thought of being
killed, which may prevent us from getting the sleep we want. I don't
mean to be killed if I can help it. I mean to give those beggars, the
Black Kendah, such a doing as they never had before, and then start
for the coast with you and Lady Ragnall, as, God willing, we shall do.
After this I slept like a top for some hours, as I believe Ragnall did
also. When I awoke, which happened suddenly and completely, the first
thing that I saw was Hans seated at the entrance to my little shelter
smoking his corn-cob pipe, and nursing the single-barrelled rifle,
Intombi, on his knee. I asked him what the time was, to which he
replied that it lacked two hours to dawn. Then I asked him why he had
not been sleeping. He replied that he had been asleep and dreamed a
dream. Idly enough I inquired what dream, to which he replied:
"Rather a strange one, Baas, for a man who is about to go into battle.
I dreamed that I was in a large place that was full of quiet. It was
light there, but I could not see any sun or moon, and the air was very
soft and tasted like food and drink, so much so, Baas, that if anyone
had offered me a cup quite full of the best 'Cape smoke' I should have
told him to take it away. Then, Baas, suddenly I saw your reverend
father, the Predikant, standing beside me and looking just as he used
to look, only younger and stronger and very happy, and so of course
knew at once that I was dead and in hell. Only I wondered where the
fire that does not go out might be, for I could not see it. Presently
your reverend father said to me: 'Good day, Hans. So you have come
here at last. Now tell me, how has it gone with my son, the Baas
Allan? Have you looked after him as I told you to do?'
"I answered: 'I have looked after him as well as I could, O reverend
sir. Little enough have I done; still, not once or twice or three
times only have I offered up my life for him as was my duty, and yet
we both have lived.' And that I might be sure he heard the best of me,
as was but natural, I told him the times, Baas, making a big story out
Back to Full Books