The Yellow God An Idol of Africa
H. Rider Haggard
Part 4 out of 5
much I love her; say her dear little Jeekie turn up again just to see
her sweet face. Only don't know if she swallow that or if they let her
out prison unless I pay for all she prig."
THE FEAST OF LITTLE BONSA
It was the night of full moon and of the great feast of the return of
Little Bonsa. Alan sat in his chamber waiting to be summoned to take
part in this ceremony and listening the while to that /Wow! Wow! Wow!/
of the death drums, whereof Jeekie had once spoken in England, which
could be clearly heard even above the perpetual boom of the cataract
tumbling down its cliff behind the town. By now he had recovered from
the fatigue of his journey and his health was good, but the same could
not be said of his spirits, for never in his life had he felt more
downhearted, not even when he was sickening for blackwater fever, or
lay in bondage in the City, expecting every morning to wake up and
find his reputation blasted. He was a prisoner in this dreadful,
gloomy place where he must live like a second Man in the Iron Mask,
without recreation or exercise other than he could find in the walled
garden where grew the black cedar trees, and, so far as he could see,
a prisoner without hope of escape.
Moreover, he could no longer disguise from himself the truth; Jeekie
was right. The Asika had fallen in love with him, or at any rate made
up her mind that he should be her next husband. He hated the sight of
the woman and her sinuous, evil beauty, but to be free of her was
impossible, and to offend her, death. All day long she kept him about
her, and from his sleep he would wake up and as on the night of his
arrival, distinguish her leaning over him studying his face by the
light of the faintly-burning lamps, as a snake studies the bird it is
about to strike. He dared not stir or give the slightest sign that he
saw her. Nor indeed did he always see her, for he kept his eyes
closely shut. But even in his heaviest slumber some warning sense told
him of her presence, and then above Jeekie's snores (for on these
occasions Jeekie always snored his loudest) he would hear a soft
footfall, as cat-like, she crept towards him, or the sweep of her
spangled robe, or the tinkling of the scales of her golden
breastplate. For a long while she would stand there, examining him
greedily and even the few little belongings that remained to him, and
then with a hungry sigh glide away and vanish in the shadows. How she
came or how she vanished Alan could not discover. Clearly she did not
use the door, and he could find no other entrance to the room. indeed
at times he thought he must be suffering from delusion, but Jeekie
shook his great head and did not agree with him.
"She there right enough," he said. "She walk over me as though I log
and I smell stuff she put on hair, but I think she come and go by
magic. Asika do that if she please."
"Then I wish she would teach me the secret, Jeekie. I should soon be
out of Asiki-land, I can tell you."
All that day Alan had been in her company, answering her endless
questions about his past, the lands that he had visited, and
especially the women that he had known. He had the tact to tell her
that none of these were half so beautiful as she was, which was true
in a sense and pleased her very much, for in whatever respects she
differed from them, in common with the rest of her sex she loved a
compliment. Emboldened by her good humour, he had ventured to suggest
that being rested and having restored Little Bonsa, he would be glad
to return with her gifts to his own country. Next instant he was
sorry, for as soon as she understood his meaning she grew almost white
"What!" she said; "you desire to leave me? Know, Vernoon, that I will
see you dead first and myself also, for then we shall be born again
together and can never more be separated."
Nor was this all, for she burst into weeping, threw her arms about
him, drew him to her, kissed him on the forehead, and then thrust him
"Curses on the priests' law that makes us wait so long, and curses on
that Mungana who will not die and may not be killed. Well, he shall
pay for it and within two months, Vernoon, oh! within two months----"
and she stretched out her arms with a gesture of infinite passion,
then turned and left him.
"My!" said Jeekie afterwards, for he had watched all this scene open-
mouthed, "my! but she mean business. Mrs. Jeekie never kiss me like
that, nor any other female either. She dead nuts on you, Major. Very
great compliment! 'Spect when you Mungana, she keep you alive a long
time, four or five years perhaps, if no other white man come this way.
Pity you can't take it on a bit, Major," he added insidiously,
"because then she grow careless and make you chief and we get chance
scoop out that gold house and bolt with bally lot. Miss Barbara
sensible woman, when she see all that cash she not mind, she say
'Bravo, old boy, quite right spoil Lady Potiphar in land of bondage,
but Jeekie must have ten per cent. because he show you how do it.'"
Alan was so depressed, and indeed terrified by this demonstration on
the part of his fearful hostess, that he could neither laugh at
Jeekie, nor swear at him. He only sat still and groaned, feeling that
bad as things were they were bound to become worse.
Above the perpetual booming of the death drums rose a sound of wild
music. The door burst open, and through it came a number of priests,
their nearly naked bodies hideously painted and on their heads the
most devilish-looking masks. Some of them clashed cymbals, some blew
horns and some beat little drums all to time which was given to them
by a bandmaster with a golden rod. In front of them with painted face
and decked in his gorgeous apparel, walked the Mungana himself.
"They come to take us to Bonsa worship," explained Jeekie. "Cheer up,
Major, very exciting business, no go to sleep there, as in English
church. See the god all time and no sermon."
Alan, who wore a linen robe over the remains of his European garments,
and whose mask was already on his head, rose listlessly and bowed to
the gorgeous Mungana who, poor man, answered him with a stare of hate,
knowing that this wanderer was destined to fill his place. Then they
started, Jeekie accompanying them, and walked a long way through
various halls and passages, bearing first to the left and then to the
right again, till suddenly through some side door they emerged upon a
marvellous scene. The first impressions that reached Alan's mind were
those of a long stretch of water, very black and still and not more
than eighty feet in width. On the hither edge of this canal, seated
upon a raised dais in the midst of a great open space of polished
rock, was the Asika, or so he gathered from her gold breastplate and
sparkling garments, for her fierce and beautiful features were hid
beneath an object familiar enough to him, the yellow, crystal-eyed
mask of Little Bonsa. Arranged in companies about and behind her were
hundreds of people, male and female, clad in hideous costumes to
resemble demons, with masks to match. Some of these masks were semi-
human and some of them bore a likeness to the heads of animals and had
horns on them, while their wearers were adorned with skins and tails.
To describe them in their infinite variety would be impossible; indeed
the recollection that Alan carried away was one of a mediĉval hell as
it is occasionally to be found portrayed upon "Doom pictures" in old
On the further side of the water the entire Asiki people seemed to be
gathered, at least there were thousands of them seated upon a rising
rocky slope as in an amphitheatre, clad only in the ordinary costume
of the Western African native, and in some instances in linen cloaks.
This great amphitheatre was surrounded by a high wall with gates, but
in the moonlight he found it difficult to discern its exact limits.
Jeekie nudged Alan and pointed to the centre of the canal or pool. He
looked and saw floating there a huge and hideous golden head, twenty
times as large as life perhaps, with great prominent eyes that glared
up to the sky. Its appearance was quite unlike anything else in the
world, more loathsome, more horrible, man, fish and animal, all seemed
to have their part in it, human mouth and teeth, fish-like eyes and
snout, bestial expression.
"Big Bonsa," whispered Jeekie. "Just the same as when I sweet little
boy.--He live here for thousand of years."
Preceded by the Mungana and followed by Jeekie and the priests, the
band bringing up the rear, Alan was marched down a lane left open for
him till he came to some steps leading to the dais, upon which in
addition to that occupied by the Asika, stood two empty chairs. These
steps the Mungana motioned him to mount, but when Jeekie tried to
follow him he turned and struck him contemptuously in the face. At
once the Asika, who was watching Vernon's approach through the eye-
holes in the Little Bonsa mask, said fiercely:
"Who bade you strike the servant of my guest, O Mungana? Let him come
also that he may stand behind us and interpret."
Her wretched husband, who knew that this public slight was put upon
him purposely, but did not dare to protest against it, bowed his head.
Then all three of them climbed to the dais, the priests and the
musicians remaining below.
"Welcome, Vernoon," said the Asika through the lips of the mask, which
to Alan, notwithstanding the dreadful cruelty of its expression,
looked less hateful than the lovely, tigerish face it hid. "Welcome
and be seated here on my left hand, since on my right you may not sit
He bowed and took the chair to which she pointed, while her husband
placed himself in the other chair upon her right, and Jeekie stood
behind, his great shape towering above them all.
"This is a festival of my people, Vernoon," she went on, "such a
festival as has not been seen for years, celebrated because Little
Bonsa has come back to them."
"What is to happen?" he asked uneasily. "I have told you, Lady, that
blood is /orunda/ to me. I must not witness it."
"I know, be not afraid," she answered. "Sacrifice there must be, since
it is the custom and we may not defraud the gods, but you shall not
see the deed. Judge from this, Vernoon, how greatly I desire to please
Now Alan, looking about him, saw that immediately beneath the dais and
between them and the edge of the water, were gathered his cannibal
friends, the Ogula, and Fahni their chief who had rowed him to Asiki-
land, and with them the messengers whom they had sent on ahead. Also
he saw that their arms were tied behind them and that they were
guarded by men dressed like devils and armed with spears.
"Ask Fahni why he and his people are bound, Jeekie," said Alan, "and
why have they not returned to their own country."
Jeekie obeyed, putting the question in the Ogula language, whereon the
poor men turned and began to implore Alan to save their lives, Fahni
adding that he had been told they were to be killed that night.
"Why are these men to be slain?" asked Alan of the Asika.
"Because I have learned that they attacked you in their own country,
Vernoon," she answered, "and would have killed you had it not been for
Little Bonsa. It is therefore right that they should die as an
offering to you."
"I refuse the offering since afterwards they dealt well with me. Set
them free and let them return to their own land, Asika."
"That cannot be," she replied coldly. "Here they are and here they
remain. Still, their lives are yours to take or to spare, so keep them
as your servants if you will," and bending down she issued a command
which was instantly obeyed, for the men dressed like devils cut the
bonds of the Ogula and brought them round to the back of the dais,
where they stood blessing Alan loudly in their own tongue.
Then the ceremonies began with a kind of infernal ballet. On the
smooth space between them and the water's edge appeared male and
female bands of dancers who emerged from the shadows. For the most
part they were dressed up like animals and imitated the cries of the
beasts that they represented, although some of them wore little or no
clothing. To the sound of wild music of horns and drums these
creatures danced a kind of insane quadrille which seemed to suggest
everything that is cruel and vile upon the earth. They danced and
danced in the moonlight till the madness spread from them to the
thousands who were gathered upon the farther side of the water, for
presently all of these began to dance also. Nor did it stop there,
since at length the Asika rose from her chair upon the dais and joined
in the performance with the Mungana her husband. Even Jeekie began to
prance and shout behind, so that at last Alan and the Ogula alone
remained still and silent in the midst of a scene and a noise which
might have been that of hell let loose.
Leaving go of her husband, the Asika bounded up to Alan and tried to
drag him from his chair, thrusting her gold mask against his mask. He
refused to move and after a while she left him and returned to
Mungana. Louder and louder brayed the music and beat the drums, wilder
and wilder grew the shrieks. Individuals fell exhausted and were
thrown into the water where they sank or floated away on the slow
moving stream, as part of some inexplicable play that was being
Then suddenly the Asika stood still and threw up her arms and they
fell upon their faces and lay as though they were dead. A third time
she threw up her arms and they rose and remained so silent that the
only sound to be heard was that of their thick breathing. Then she
spoke, or rather screamed, saying:
"Little Bonsa has come back again, bringing with her the white man
whom she led away," and all the audience answered, "Little Bonsa has
come back again. Once more we see her on the head of the Asika as our
fathers did. Give her a sacrifice. Give her the white man."
"Nay," she screamed back, "the white man is mine. I name him as the
"Oho!" roared the audience, "Oho! she names him as the next Mungana.
Good-bye, old Mungana! Greeting, new Mungana! When will be the
"Tell us, Mungana, tell us," cried the Asika, patting her wretched
husband on the cheek. "Tell us when you mean to die, as you are bound
"On the night of the second full moon from now," he answered with a
terrible groan that seemed to be wrung out of his heavy heart; "on
that night my soul will be eaten up and my day done. But till then I
am lord of the Asika, and if she forgets it, death shall be her
portion, according to the ancient law."
"Yes, yes," shouted the multitude, "death shall be her portion, and
her lover we will sacrifice. Die in honour, Mungana, as all those died
that went before you."
"Thank Heaven!" muttered Alan to himself, "I am safe from that witch
for the next two months," and through the eye-holes of his mask he
contemplated her with loathing and alarm.
At the moment, indeed, she was not a pleasing spectacle, for in the
heat and excitement of her mad dance she had cast off her gold breast-
plate or stomacher, leaving herself naked except for her kirtle and
the thin, gold-spangled robe upon her shoulders over which streamed
her black, disordered hair. Contrasting strangely in the silver
moonlight with her glistening, copper-coloured body, the mask of
Little Bonsa on her head glared round with its fixed crystal eyes and
fiendish smile as she turned her long neck from side to side. Seen
thus she scarcely looked human, and Alan's heart was filled with pity
for the poor bedizened wretch she named her husband, who had just been
forced to announce the date of his own suicide.
Soon, however, he forgot it, for a new act in the drama had begun. Two
priests clad in horns and tails leapt on to the dais and at a signal
unlaced the mask of Little Bonsa. Now the Asika lifted it from her
streaming face and held it on high, then she lowered it to the level
of her breast, and holding it in both hands, walked to the edge of the
dais, whereon priests, disguised as fiends, began to leap at it,
striving to reach it with their fingers and snatch it from her grasp.
One by one they leapt with the most desperate energy, each man being
allowed to make three attempts, and Alan noted that this novel jumping
competition was watched with the deepest interest by all the audience,
at the time he knew not why.
The first two were evidently elderly men who failed to come anywhere
near the mark. Their failure was received with shouts of derision.
They sank exhausted to the ground and from the motion of his body Alan
could see that one of them was weeping, while the other remained
sullenly silent. Then a younger man advanced and at the third try
almost grasped the fetish. Indeed he would have grasped it had he not
met with foul play, for the Asika, seeing that he was about to
succeed, lifted it an inch or two, so that he also missed and with a
groan joined the band of the defeated. Next appeared a fourth priest,
even more horribly arrayed than those before him, but Alan noticed
that his mask was of the lightest, and that his garments consisted
chiefly of paint, the main idea of his make-up being that of a
skeleton. He was a thin active fellow, and all the watching thousands
greeted him with a shout. For a few seconds he stood back gazing at
the mask as a wolf might at an unapproachable bone. Then suddenly he
ran forward and sprang into the air. Such an amazing jump Alan had
never seen before. So high was it indeed that his head came level with
that of the fetish, which he snatched with both hands tearing it from
Asika's grasp. Coming to the ground again with a thud, he began to
caper to and fro, kissing the mask, while the audience shouted:
"Little Bonsa has chosen. What fate for the fallen? Ask her, priest?"
The man stopped his capering and held the mouth of Little Bonsa to his
ear, nodding from time to time as though she were speaking to him and
he heard what she said. Then he passed round the dais where Alan could
not see him, and presently reappeared holding Little Bonsa in his
right hand and in his left a great gold cup. A silence fell upon the
place. He advanced to the first man who had jumped and offered him the
cup. He turned his head away, but a thousand voices thundered "Drink!"
Then he took it and drank, passing it to a companion in misfortune,
who in turn drank also and gave it to the third priest, he who would
have snatched the mask had not the Asika lifted it out of his reach.
This man drained it to the dregs, and with an exclamation of rage
dashed the empty vessel into the face of the chosen priest with such
fury that the man rolled upon the ground and for a while lay there
stunned. Now he who had drunk first began to spring about in a
ludicrous fashion, and presently was joined in his dance by the other
two. So absurd were their motions and tumblings and clownlike
grimaces, for they had dragged off their masks, that roars of brutal
laughter rose from the audience, in which the Asika joined.
At first Alan thought that the thing was a joke, and that the men had
merely been made mad drunk, till catching sight of their eyes in the
moonlight, he perceived that they were in great pain and turned
indignantly to remonstrate with the Asika.
"Be silent, Vernoon," she said savagely, "blood is your /orunda/ and I
respect it. Therefore by decree of the god these die of poison," and
again she fell to laughing at the contortions of the victims.
Alan shut his eyes, and when at length, drawn by some fearful
fascination, he opened them once more, it was to see that the three
poor creatures had thrown themselves into the water, where they rolled
over and over like wounded porpoises, till presently they sank and
This farce, for so they considered it, being ended and the stage, so
to speak, cleared, the audience having laughed itself hoarse, set
itself to watch the proceedings of the newly chosen high-priest of
Little Bonsa, who by now had recovered from the blow dealt to him by
one of the murdered men. With the help of some other priests he was
engaged in binding the fetish on to a little raft of reeds. This done
he laid himself flat upon a broad plank which had been made ready for
him at the edge of the water, placing the mask in front of him and
with a few strokes of his feet that hung over the sides of the plank,
paddled himself out to the centre of the canal where the god called
Big Bonsa floated, or was anchored. Having reached it he pushed the
little raft off the plank into the water, and in some way that Alan
could not see, made it fast to Big Bonsa, so that now the two of them
floated one behind the other. Then while the people cheered, shouting
out that husband and wife had come together again at last, he paddled
his plank back to the water's edge, sat down and waited.
Meanwhile, at a sign from the Asika, all the scores of priests and
priestesses who were dressed as devils had filed off to right and
left, and vanished, presumably to cross the water by bridges or boats
that were out of sight. At any rate now they began to appear upon its
further side and to wind their way singly among the thousands of the
Asiki people who were gathered upon the rocky slope beyond in order to
witness this fearsome entertainment. Alan observed that the spectators
did not appear to appreciate the arrival amongst them of these
priests, from whom they seemed to edge away. Indeed many of them rose
and tried to depart altogether, only to be driven back to their places
by a double line of soldiers armed with spears, who now for the first
time became visible, ringing in the audience. Also other soldiers and
with them bodies of men who looked like executioners, showed
themselves upon the further brink of the water and then marched off,
disappearing to left and right.
"What's the matter now?" Alan asked of Jeekie over his shoulder.
"All in blue funk," whispered Jeekie back, "joke done. Get to business
now. Silly fools forget that when they laugh so much. Both Bonsas very
hungry and Asika want wipe out old scores. Presently you see."
Presently Alan did see, for at some preconcerted signal the devil
priests, each of them, jumped with a yell at a person near to them,
gripping him or her by the hair, whereon assistants rushed in and
dragged them down to the bank of the canal. Here to the number of a
hundred or more, a wailing, struggling mass, they were confined in a
pen like sheep. Then a bar was lifted and one of them allowed to
escape, only to find himself in a kind of gangway which ran down into
shallow water. Being forced along this he came to an open space of
water exactly opposite to the floating fetishes, and there was kept a
while by men armed with spears. As nothing happened they lifted their
spears and the man bolted up an incline and was lost among the
thousands of spectators.
The next one, evidently a person of rank, was not so fortunate.
Jumping into the pool off the gangway, he stood there like a sheep
about to be washed, the water reaching up to his middle. Then Alan saw
a terrifying thing, for suddenly the horrid, golden head of Big Bonsa,
towing Little Bonsa behind it, began to swim with a deliberate motion
across the stream until, reaching the man, it seemed to rear itself up
and poke him with its snout in the chest as a turtle might do. Then it
sank again into the water and slowly floated back to its station,
directed by some agency or power that Alan could not discover.
At the touch of the fetish the man screamed like a horse in pain or
terror, and soldiers leaping on him with a savage shout, dragged him
up another gangway opposite to that by which he had descended,
whereon, to all appearances more dead than alive, he departed into the
shadows. The horns and drums set up a bray of triumph, the Asika
clapped her hands approvingly, the spectators cheered, and another
victim was bundled down the gangway and submitted to the judgment of
the Bonsas, which came at him like a hungry pike at a frog. Then
followed more and more, some being chosen and some let go, till at
last, growing weary, the priests directed the soldiers to drive the
prisoners down in batches until the pen in the water was full as
though with huddled sheep. If the horrible golden masks swam at them
and touched one of their number, they were all dragged away; if these
remained quiescent they were let go.
So the thing went on until at length Alan could bear no more of it.
"Lady," he said to the Asika when she paused for a moment from her
hand-clapping, "I am weary, I would sleep."
"What!" she exclaimed, "do you wish to sleep on such a glorious night
when so many evil doers are coming to their just doom? Well, well, go
if you will, for then my promise is off me and I can hasten this
business and deal with the wicked before the people according to our
custom. Good-night to you, Vernoon, to-morrow we will meet," and she
called to some priests to lead him away, and with him the Ogula
cannibals whom she had given to him as servants.
Alan went thankfully enough. As he plunged into one of the passages
the sound of frightful yelling reached his ears, followed by loud,
"Now you gone they kill those who Bonsa smell out," said Jeekie. "Why
you no wait and see? Very interesting sight."
"Hold your tongue," answered Alan savagely. "Did you think so years
ago when you were put into that pen to be butchered?"
"No, Major," replied the unabashed Jeekie, "not think at all then, too
far gone. But see other people in there and know it not /you/, quite
They reached their room. At the door of it Fahni and his followers
were led off to some quarters near by, blessing Alan as they went
because he had saved their lives.
"Jeekie," he said when they were alone, "tell me, what makes that
hellish idol swim about in the water picking out some people and
leaving others alone?"
"Major, I not know, no one know except top priest and Asika. Perhaps
there man underneath, perhaps they pull string, or perhaps fetish
alive and he do what he like. Please don't call him names, Major, or
he remember and come after us one time, and that bad job," and Jeekie
"Bosh!" answered Alan, but all the same he shivered also. "Jeekie," he
asked again, "what happens to those people whom the Bonsas smell out?"
"Case of good-bye, Major. Sometimes they chop off nut, sometimes they
spiflicate in gold tub, sometimes priest-man make hole in what white
doctor call /diagram/--and shake hands with heart.--All matter of
taste, Major, just as Asika please. If she like victim or they old
friends, chop off head; if she not like him--do worse things."
More than satisfied with his information Alan went to bed. For hour
after hour that night he lay tossing and turning, haunted by the
recollections of the dreadful sights that he had seen and of the
horrible Asika, horrible and half-naked, glaring at him amorously
through the crystal eyes of Little Bonsa. When at last he fell asleep
it was to dream that he was alone in the water with the god which
pursued him as a shark pursues a shipwrecked sailor. Never did he
experience a nightmare that was half so awful. Only one thing could be
more awful, the reality itself.
THE MOTHER OF JEEKIE
"Jeekie," said Alan next morning, "I tell you again that I have had
enough of this place, I want to get out."
"Yes, Major, that just what mouse say when he finish cheese in trap,
but missus come along, call him 'Pretty, pretty,' and drown him all
the same," and he nodded in the direction of the Asika's house.
"Jeekie, it has got to be done--do you hear me? I had rather die
trying to get away than stop here till the next two months are up. If
I am here on the night of the next full moon but one, I shall shoot
that Asika and then shoot myself, and you must take your chance. Do
"Understand that foolish game and poor lookout for Jeekie, Major, but
can't think of any plan." Then he rubbed his big nose reflectively and
added, "Fahni and his people your slaves now, 'spose we have talk with
him. I tell priests to bring him along when they come with breakfast.
Leave it to me, Major."
Alan did leave it to him, with the result that after long argument the
priests consented or obtained permission to produce Fahni and his
followers, and a little while after the great men arrived looking very
dejected, and saluted Alan humbly. Bidding the rest of them be seated,
he called Fahni to the end of the room and asked him through Jeekie if
he and his men did not wish to return home.
"Indeed we do, white lord," answered the old chief, "but how can we?
The Asika has a grudge against our tribe and but for you would have
killed every one of us last night. We are snared and must stop here
till we die."
"Would not your people help you if they knew, Fahni?"
"Yes, lord, I think so. But how can I tell them who doubtless believe
us dead? Nor can I send a messenger, for this place is guarded and he
would be killed at once. We came here for your sake because you had
Little Bonsa, a god that is known in the east and the west, in the
north and the south, and because you saved me from the lion, and here,
alas! we must perish."
"Jeekie," said Alan, "can you not find a messenger? Have you, who were
born of this people, no friend among them at all?"
Jeekie shook his white head and rolled his eyes. Then suddenly an idea
"Yes," he said, "I think one, p'raps. I mean my ma."
"Your ma!" said Alan. "Oh! I remember. Have you heard anything more
"Yes, Major. Very old girl now, but strong on leg, so they say.
Believe she glad go anywhere, because she public nuisance; they tired
of her in prison and there no workhouse here, so they want turn her
out starve, which of course break my heart. Perhaps she take message.
Some use that way. Only think she afraid go Ogula-land because they
nasty cannibal and eat old woman."
When all this was translated to Fahni he assured Jeekie with
earnestness that nothing would induce the Ogula people to eat his
mother; moreover, that for her sake they would never look
carnivorously on another old woman, fat or thin.
"Well," said Jeekie, "I try again to get hold of old lady and we see.
I pray priests, whom you save other day, let her out of chokey as I
sick to fall upon bosom, which quite true, only so much to think of
that no time to attend to domestic relation till now."
That very afternoon, on returning to his room from walking in the
dismal cedar garden, Alan's ears were greeted by a sound of shrill
quarrelling. Looking up he saw an extraordinary sight. A tall, gaunt,
withered female who might have been of any age between sixty and a
hundred, had got Jeekie's ear in one hand, and with the other was
slapping him in the face while she exclaimed:
"O thief, whom by the curse of Bonsa I brought into the world, what
have you done with my blanket? Was it not enough that you, my only
son, should leave me to earn my own living? Must you also take my best
blanket with you, for which reason I have been cold ever since. Where
is it, thief, where is it?"
"Worn out, my mother, worn out," he answered, trying to free himself.
"You forget, honourable mother, that I grow old and you should have
been dead years ago. How can you expect a blanket to last so long?
Leave go of my ear, beloved mother, and I will give you another. I
have travelled across the world to find you and I want to hear news of
"My husband, thief, which husband? Do you mean your father, the one
with the broken nose, who was sacrificed because you ran away with the
white man whom Bonsa loved? Well, you look out for him when you get
into the world of ghosts, for he said that he was going to wait for
you there with the biggest stick that he could find. Why I haven't
thought of him for years, but then I have had three other husbands
since his time, bad enough, but better than he was, so who would? And
now Bonsa has got the lot, and I have no children alive, and they say
I am to be driven out of the prison to starve next week as they won't
feed me any longer, I who can still work against any one of them, and
--you've got my blanket, you ugly old rascal," and collapsing beneath
the weight of her recited woes, the hag burst into a melancholy howl.
"Peace, my mother," said Jeekie, patting her on the head. "Do what I
tell you and you shall have more blankets than you can wear and, as
you are still so handsome, another husband too if you like, and a
garden and slaves to work for you and plenty to eat."
"How shall I get all these things, my son?" asked the old woman,
looking up. "Will you take me to your home and support me, or will
that white lord marry me? They told me that the Asika had named him as
the Mungana, and she is very jealous, the most jealous Asika that I
have ever known."
"No, mother, he would like to, but he dare not, and I cannot support
you as I should wish, as here I have no house or property. You will
get all this by taking a walk and holding your tongue. You see this
man here, he is Fahni, king of a great tribe, the Ogula. He wants you
to carry a message for him, and by and by he will marry you, won't
"Oh! yes, yes," said Fahni; "I will do anything she likes. No one
shall be so rich and honoured in my country, and for her sake we will
never eat another old woman, whereas if she stays here she will be
driven to the mountains to starve in a week."
"Set out the matter," said the mother of Jeekie, who was by no means
so foolish as she seemed.
So they told her what she must do, namely, travel down to the Ogula
and tell them of the plight of their chief, bidding them muster all
their fighting men and when the swamps were dry enough, advance as
near as they dared to the Asiki country and, if they could not attack
it, wait till they had further news.
The end of it was that the mother of Jeekie, who knew her case to be
desperate at home, where she was in no good repute, promised to
attempt the journey in consideration of advantages to be received.
Since she was to be turned adrift to meet her fate with as much food
as she could carry, this she could do without exciting any suspicion,
for who would trouble about the movements of a useless old thief?
Meanwhile Jeekie gave her one of the robes which the Asika had
provided for Alan, also various articles which she desired and, having
learned Fahni's message by heart and announced that she considered
herself his affianced bride, the gaunt old creature departed happy
enough after exchanging embraces with her long lost son.
"She will tell somebody all about it and we shall only get our throats
cut," said Alan wearily, for the whole thing seemed to him a foolish
"No, no, Major. I make her swear not split on ghosts of all her
husbands and by Big Bonsa hisself. She sit tight as wax, because she
think they haunt her if she don't and I too by and by when I dead.
P'raps she get to Ogula country and p'raps not. If she don't, can't
help it and no harm done. Break my heart, but only one old woman less.
Anyhow she hold tongue, that main point, and I really very glad find
my ma, who never hoped to see again. Heaven very kind to Jeekie, give
him back to family bosom," he added, unctuously.
That day there were no excitements, and to Alan's intense relief he
saw nothing of the Asika. After its orgy of witchcraft and bloodshed
on the previous night, weariness and silence seemed to have fallen
upon the town. At any rate no sound came from it that could be heard
above the low, constant thunder of the great waterfall rushing down
its precipice, and in the cedar-shadowed garden where Alan walked till
he was weary, attended by Jeekie and the Ogula savages, not a soul was
to be seen.
On the following morning, when he was sitting moodily in his room, two
priests came to conduct him to the Asika. Having no choice, followed
by Jeekie, he accompanied them to her house, masked as usual, for
without this hateful disguise he was not allowed to stir. He found her
lying upon a pile of cushions in a small room that he had never seen
before, which was better lighted than most in that melancholy abode,
and seemed to serve as her private chamber. In front of her lay the
skin of the lion that he had sent as a present, and about her throat
hung a necklace made of its claws, heavily set in gold, with which she
was playing idly.
At the opening of the door she looked up with a swift smile that
turned to a frown when she saw that he was followed by Jeekie.
"Say, Vernoon," she asked in her languorous voice, "can you not stir a
yard without that ugly black dog at your heels? Do you bring him to
protect your back? If so, what is the need? Have I not sworn that you
are safe in my land?"
Alan made Jeekie interpret this speech, then answered that the reason
was that he knew but little of her tongue.
"Can I not teach it to you alone, then, without this low fellow
hearing all my words? Well, it will not be for long," and she looked
at Jeekie in a way that made him feel very uncomfortable. "Get behind
us, dog, and you, Vernoon, come sit on these cushions at my side. Nay,
not there, I said upon the cushions--so. Now I will take off that ugly
mask of yours, for I would look into your eyes. I find them pleasant,
Vernoon," and without waiting for his permission, she sat up and did
so. "Ah!" she went on, "we shall be happy when we are married, shall
we not? Do not be afraid, Vernoon, I will not eat out your heart as I
have those of the men that went before you. We will live together
until we are old, and die together at last, and together be born
again, and so on and on till the end which even I cannot foresee. Why
do you not smile, Vernoon, and say that you are pleased, and that you
will be happy with me who loved you from the moment that my eyes fell
upon you in sleep? Speak, Vernoon, lest I should grow angry with you."
"I don't know what to say," answered Alan despairingly through Jeekie,
"the honour is too great for me, who am but a wandering trader who
came here to barter Little Bonsa against the gold I need"--to support
my wife and family, he was about to add, then remembering that this
statement might not be well received, substituted, "to support my old
parents and eight brothers and sisters who are dependent upon me, and
remain hungry until I return to them."
"Then I think they will remain hungry a long time, Vernoon, for while
I live you shall never return. Much as I love you I would kill you
first," and her eyes glittered as she said the words. "Still," she
added, noting the fall in his face, "if it is gold that they need, you
shall send it them. Yes, my people shall take all that I gave you down
to the coast, and there it can be put in a big canoe and carried
across the water. See to the packing of the stuff, you black dog," she
said to Jeekie over her shoulder, "and when it is ready I will send it
Alan began to thank her, though he thought it more than probable that
even if she kept her word, this bullion would never get to Old
Calabar, and much less to England. But she waived the matter aside as
one in which she was not interested.
"Tell me," she asked; "would you have me other than I am? First, do
you think me beautiful?"
"Yes," answered Alan honestly, "very beautiful when you are quiet as
now, not when you are dancing as you did the other night without your
When she understood what he meant the Asika actually blushed a little.
"I am sorry," she answered in a voice that for her was quite humble.
"I forget that it might seem strange in your eyes. It has always been
the custom for the Asika to do as I did at feasts and sacrifices, but
perhaps that is not the fashion among your women; perhaps they always
remain veiled, as I have heard the worshippers of the Prophet do, and
therefore you thought me immodest. I am very, very sorry, Vernoon. I
pray you to forgive me who am ignorant and only do what I have been
"Yes, they always remain veiled," stammered Alan, though he was not
referring to their faces, and as the words passed his lips he wondered
what the Asika would think if she could see a ballet at a London
"Is there anything else wrong?" she went on gently. "If so, tell me
that I may set it right."
"I do not like cruelty or sacrifices, O Asika. I have told you that
bloodshed is /orunda/ to me, and at the feast those men were poisoned
and you mocked them in their pain; also many others were taken away to
be killed for no crime."
She opened her beautiful eyes and stared at him, answering:
"But, Vernoon, all this is not my fault; they were sacrifices to the
gods, and if I did not sacrifice, I should be sacrificed by the
priests and wizards who live to sacrifice. Yes, myself I should be
made to drink the poison and be mocked at while I died like a snake
with a broken back. Or even if I escaped the vengeance of the people,
the gods themselves would kill me and raise up another in my place. Do
they not sacrifice in your country, Vernoon?"
"No, Asika, they fight if necessary and kill those who commit murder.
But they have no fetish that asks for blood, and the law they have
from heaven is a law of mercy."
She stared at him again.
"All this is strange to me," she said. "I was taught otherwise. Gods
are devils and must be appeased, lest they bring misfortune on us; men
must be ruled by terror, or they would rebel and pull down the great
House; doctors must learn magic, or how could they avert spells?
wizards must be killed, or the people would perish in their net. May
not we who live in a hell, strive to beat back its flame with the
wisdom our forefathers have handed on to us? Tell me, Vernoon, for I
"You make your own hell," answered Alan when with the help of Jeekie
he understood her talk.
She pondered over his words for a while, then said:
"I must think. The thing is big. I wander in blackness; I will speak
with you again. Say now, what else is wrong with me?"
Now Alan thought that he saw opportunity for a word in season and made
a great mistake.
"I think that you treat your husband, that man whom you call Mungana,
very badly. Why should you drive him to his death?"
At these words the Asika leapt up in a rage, and seeking something to
vent her temper on, violently boxed Jeekie's ears and kicked him with
her sandalled foot.
"The Mungana!" she exclaimed, "that beast! What have I to do with him?
I hate him, as I hated the others. The priests thrust him on me. He
has had his day, let him go. In your country do they make women live
with men whom they loathe? I love /you/, Bonsa himself knows why?
Perhaps because you have a white skin and white thoughts. But I hate
that man. What is the use of being Asika if I cannot take what I love
and reject what I hate? Go away, Vernoon, go away, you have angered
me, and if it were not for what you have said about that new law of
mercy, I think that I would cut your throat," and again she boxed
Jeekie's ears and kicked him in the shins.
Alan rose and bowed himself towards the door while she stood with her
back towards him, sobbing. As he was about to pass it she wheeled
round, wiping the tears from her eyes with her hand, and said:
"I forgot, I sent for you to thank you for your presents; that," and
she pointed to the lion skin, "which they tell me you killed with some
kind of thunder to save the life of that old cannibal, and this," and
she pulled off the necklace of claws, then added, "as I am too bad to
wear it, you had better take it back again," and she threw it with all
her strength straight into Jeekie's face.
Fearing worse things, the much maltreated Jeekie uttered a howl and
bolted through the door, while Alan, picking up the necklace, returned
it to her with a bow. She took it.
"Stop," she said. "You are leaving the room without your mask and my
women are outside. Come here," and she tied the thing upon his head,
setting it all awry, then pushed him from the place.
"Very poor joke, Major, very poor indeed," said Jeekie when they had
reached their own apartment. "Lady make love to /you/; /you/ play prig
and lecture lady about holy customs of her country and she box /my/
ear till head sing, also kick me all over and throw sharp claws in
face. Please you do it no more. The next time, who knows? she stick
knife in /my/ gizzard, then kiss /you/ afterward and say she so sorry
and hope she no hurt /you/. But how that help poor departed Jeekie who
get all kicks, while you have ha'pence?"
"Oh! be quiet," said Alan; "you are welcome to the halfpence if you
would only leave me the kicks. The question is, how am I to get out of
this mess? While she was a beautiful savage devil, one could deal with
the thing, but if she is going to become human it is another matter."
Jeekie looked at him with pity in his eyes.
"Always thought white man mad at bottom," he said, shaking his big
head. "To benighted black nigger thing so very simple. All you got to
do, make love and cut when you get chance. Then she pleased as Punch,
everything go smooth and Jeekie get no more kicks. Christian religion
business very good, but won't wash in Asiki-land. Your reverend uncle
find out that."
Not wishing to pursue the argument, Alan changed the subject by asking
his indignant retainer if he thought that the Asika had meant what she
said when she offered to send the gold down to the coast.
"Why not, Major? That good lady always mean what she say, and what she
do too," and he dabbed wrathfully at the scratches made by the lion's
claws on his face, then added, "She know her own mind, not like
shilly-shally, see-saw white woman, who get up one thing and go to bed
another. If she love she love, if she hate she hate. If she say she
send gold, she send it, though pity to part with all that cash,
because 'spect someone bag it."
Alan reflected a while.
"Don't you see, Jeekie, that here is a chance, if a very small one, of
getting a message to the coast. Also it is quite clear that if we are
ever able to escape, it will be impossible for us to carry this heavy
stuff, whereas if we send it on ahead, perhaps some of it might get
through. We will pack it up, Jeekie, at any rate it will be something
to do. Go now and send a message to the Asika, and ask her to let us
have some carpenters, and a lot of well-seasoned wood."
The message was sent and an hour later a dozen of the native craftsmen
arrived with their rude tools and a supply of planks cut from a kind
of iron-wood or ebony tree. They prostrated themselves to Alan, then
the master of them rising, instantly began to measure Jeekie with a
marked reed. That worthy sprang back and asked what in the name of
Bonsa, Big and Little, they were doing, whereon the man explained with
humility that the Asika had said that she thought the white lord
wanted the wood to make a box to bury his servant in, as he, the said
servant, had offended her that morning, and doubtless the white lord
wished to kill him on that account, or perhaps to put him away under
"Oh, my golly!" said Jeekie, shaking till his great knees knocked
together, "oh! my golly! here pretty go. She think you want bury me
all alive. That mean she want to be rid of Jeekie, because he got sit
there and play gooseberry when she wish talk alone with you. Oh, yes!
I see her little game."
"Well, Jeekie," said Alan, bursting into such a roar of laughter that
he nearly shook off his mask, "you had better be careful, for you just
told me that the Asika is not like a see-saw white woman and never
changes her mind. Say to this man that he must tell the Asika there is
a mistake, and that however much I should like to oblige her, I can't
bury you because it has been prophesied to me that on the day you are
buried, I shall be buried also, and that therefore you must be kept
"Capital notion that, Major," said Jeekie, much relieved. "She not
want bury you just at present; next year perhaps, but not now. I tell
him." And he did with much vigour.
This slight misconception having been disposed of, they explained to
the carpenters what was wanted. First, all the gold was emptied out of
the sacks in which it remained as the priests had brought it, and
divided into heaps, each of which weighed about forty pounds, a weight
that with its box Alan considered would be a good load for a porter.
Of these heaps there proved to be fifty-three, their total value, Alan
reckoned, amounting to about £100,000 sterling. Then the carpenters
were set to work to make a model box, which they did quickly enough
and with great ingenuity, cutting the wood with their native saws,
dovetailing it as a civilized craftsman would do, and finally securing
it everywhere with ebony pegs, driven into holes which they bored with
a hot iron. The result was a box that would stand any amount of rough
usage and when finally pegged down, one that could only be opened with
a hammer and a cold chisel.
This box-making went on for two whole days. As each of them was filled
and pegged down, the gold within being packed in sawdust to keep it
from rattling, Alan amused himself in adding an address with a feather
brush and a supply of red paint such as the Asiki priests used to
decorate their bodies. At first he was puzzled to know what address to
put, but finally decided upon the following:
/Major A. Vernon, care of Miss Champers, The Court, near Kingswell,
England./ Adding in the corner, /From A. V., Asiki Land, Africa./
It was all childish enough, he knew, yet when it was done he regarded
his handiwork with a sort of satisfaction. For, reflected Alan, if but
one of those boxes should chance to get through to England, it would
tell Barbara a great deal, and if it were addressed to himself, her
uncle could scarcely dare to take possession of it.
Then he bethought him of sending a letter, but was obliged to abandon
the idea, as he had neither pen, pencil, ink, nor paper left to him.
Whatever arts remained to them, that of any form of writing was now
totally unknown to the Asiki, although marks that might be writing, it
will be remembered, did appear on the inner side of the Little Bonsa
mask, an evidence of its great antiquity. Even in the days when they
had wrapped up the Egyptian, the Roman, and other early Munganas in
sheets of gold and set them in their treasure-house, apparently they
had no knowledge of it, for not even an hieroglyph or a rune appeared
upon the imperishable metal shrouds. Since that time they had
evidently decreased, not advanced, in learning till at the present
day, except for these relics and some dim and meaningless survival of
rites that once had been religious and were still offered to the same
ancient idols, there was little to distinguish them from other tribes
of Central African savages. Still Alan did something, for obtaining a
piece of white wood, which he smoothed as well as he was able with a
knife, he painted on it this message:
"Messrs. Aston, Old Calabar. Please forward accompanying fifty-three
packages, or as many as arrive, and cable as follows (all costs will
be remitted): Miss Champers, Kingswell, England. Prisoner among Asiki.
No present prospect of escape, but hope for best. Jeekie and I well.
Allowed send this, but perhaps no future message possible. Good-bye.
As it happened just as Alan was finishing this scrawl with a sad
heart, he heard a movement and glancing up, perceived standing at his
side the Asika, of whom he had seen nothing since the interview when
she had beaten Jeekie:
"What are those marks that you make upon the board, Vernoon?" she
With the assistance of Jeekie, who kept at a respectful distance, he
informed her that they were a message in writing to tell the white men
at the coast to forward the gold to his starving family.
"Oh!" she said, "I never heard of writing. You shall teach it me. It
will serve to pass the time till we are married, though it will not be
of much use afterwards, as we shall never be separated any more and
words are better than marks upon a board. But," she added cheerfully,
"I can send away this black dog of yours," and she looked at Jeekie,
"and he can write to us. No, I cannot, for an accident might happen to
him, and they tell me you say that if he dies, you die also, so he
must stop here always. What have you in those little boxes?"
"The gold you gave me, Asika, packed in loads."
"A small gift enough," she answered contemptuously; "would you not
like more, since you value that stuff? Well, another time you shall
send all you want. Meanwhile the porters are waiting, fifty men and
three, as you sent me word, and ten spare ones to take the place of
any who die. But how they will find their way, I know not, since none
of them have ever been to the coast."
An idea occurred to Alan, who had small faith in Jeekie's "ma" as a
"The Ogula prisoners could show them," he said; "at any rate as far as
the forest, and after that they could find out. May they not go,
"If you will," she answered carelessly. "Let them be ready to start
to-morrow at the dawn, all except their chief, Fahni, who must stop
here as a hostage. I do not trust those Ogula, who more than once have
threatened to make war upon us," she added, then turned and bade the
priests bring in the bearers to receive their instructions.
Presently they came, picked men all of them, under the command of an
Asiki captain, and with them the Ogula, whom she summoned also.
"Go where the white lord sends you," she said in an indifferent voice,
"carrying with you these packages. I do not know where it is, but
these man-eaters will show you some of the way, and if you fail in the
business but live to come back again, you shall be sacrificed to Bonsa
at the next feast; if you run away then your wives and children will
be sacrificed. Food shall be given you for your journey, and gold to
buy more when it is gone. Now, Vernoon, tell them what they have to
So Alan, or rather Jeekie, told them, and these directions were so
long and minute, that before they were finished the Asika grew tired
of listening and went away, saying as she passed the captain of the
"Remember my words, man, succeed or die, but of your land and its
secrets say nothing."
"I hear," answered the captain, prostrating himself.
That night Alan summoned the Ogula and spoke to them through Jeekie in
their own language. At first they declared that they would not leave
their chief, preferring to stay and die with him.
"Not so," said Fahni; "go, my children, that I may live. Go and gather
the tribe, all the thousands of them who are men and can fight, and
bring them up to attack Asiki-land, to rescue me if I still live, or
to avenge me if I am dead. As for these bearers, do them no harm, but
send them on to the coast with the white man's goods."
So in the end the Ogula said that they would go, and when Alan woke up
on the following morning, he was informed that they and the Asiki
porters had already departed upon their journey. Then he dismissed the
matter from his mind, for to tell the truth he never expected to hear
of them any more.
ALAN FALLS ILL
After the departure of the messengers a deep melancholy fell upon
Alan, who was sure that he had now no further hope of communicating
with the outside world. Bitterly did he reproach himself for his folly
in having ever journeyed to this hateful place in order to secure--
what? About £100,000 worth of gold which of course he never could
secure, as it would certainly vanish or be stolen on its way to the
coast. For this gold he had become involved in a dreadful complication
which must cost him much misery, and sooner or later life itself,
since he could not marry that beautiful savage Asika, and if he
refused her she would certainly kill him in her outraged pride and
Day by day she sent for him, and when he came, assumed a new
character, that of a woman humbled by a sense of her own ignorance,
which she was anxious to amend. So he must play the role of tutor to
her, telling her of civilized peoples, their laws, customs and
religions, and instructing her how to write and read. She listened and
learned submissively enough, but all the while Alan felt as one might
who is called upon to teach tricks to a drugged panther. The drug in
this case was her passion for him, which appeared to be very genuine.
But when it passed off, or when he was obliged to refuse her, what, he
wondered, would happen then?
Anxiety and confinement told on him far more than all the hardships of
his journey. His health ran down, he began to fall ill. Then as bad
luck would have it, walking in that damp, unwholesome cedar garden,
out of which he might not stray, he contracted the germ of some kind
of fever which in autumn was very common in this poisonous climate.
Three days later he became delirious, and for a week after that hung
between life and death. Well was it for him that his medicine-chest
still remained intact, and that recognizing his own symptoms before
his head gave way, he was able to instruct Jeekie what drugs to give
him at the different stages of the disease.
For the rest his memories of that dreadful illness always remained
very vague. He had visions of Jeekie and of a robed woman whom he knew
to be the Asika, bending over him continually. Also it seemed to him
that from time to time he was talking with Barbara, which even then he
knew must be absurd, for how could they talk across thousands of miles
of land and sea.
At length his mind cleared suddenly, and he awoke as from a nightmare
to find himself lying in the hall or room where he had always been,
feeling quite cool and without pain, but so weak that it was an effort
to him to lift his hand. He stared about him and was astonished to see
the white head of Jeekie rolling uneasily to and fro upon the cushions
of another bed near by.
"Jeekie," he said, "are you ill too, Jeekie?"
At the sound of that voice his retainer started up violently.
"What, Major, you awake?" he said. "Thanks be to all gods, white and
black, yes, and yellow too, for I thought your goose cooked. No, no,
Major, I not ill, only Asika say so. You go to bed, so she make me go
to bed. You get worse, she treat me cruel; you seem better, she stuff
me with food till I burst. All because you tell her that you and I die
same day. Oh, Lord! poor Jeekie think his end very near just now, for
he know quite well that she not let him breathe ten minutes after you
peg out. Jeekie never pray so hard for anyone before as he pray this
week for you, and by Jingo! I think he do the trick, he and that
medicine stuff which make him feel very bad in stomach," and he
groaned under the weight of his many miseries.
Weak as he was Alan began to laugh, and that laugh seemed to do him
more good than anything that he could remember, for after it he was
sure that he would recover.
Just then an agonized whisper reached him from Jeekie.
"Look out!" it said, "here come Asika. Go sleep and seem better,
Major, please, or I catch it hot."
So Alan almost shut his eyes and lay still. In another moment she was
standing over him and he noticed that her hair was dishevelled and her
eyes were red as though with weeping. She scanned him intently for a
little while, then passed round to where Jeekie lay and appeared to
pinch his ear so hard that he wriggled and uttered a stifled groan.
"How is your lord, dog?" she whispered.
"Better, O Asika, I think that last medicine do us good, though it
make me very sick inside. Just now he spoke to me and said that he
hoped that your heart was not sad because of him and that all this
time in his dreams he had seen and thought of nobody but you, O
"Did he?" asked that lady, becoming intensely interested. "Then tell
me, dog, why is he ever calling upon one Bar-bar-a? Surely that is a
"Yes, O Asika, that is the name of his mother, also of one of his
sisters, whom, after you, he loves best of anyone in the whole world.
When you are here he talks of them, but when you are not here he talks
of no one but you. Although he is so sick he remembers white man's
custom, which tells him that it is very wrong to say sweet things to
lady's face till he is quite married to her. After that they say them
She looked at him suspiciously and muttering, "Here it is otherwise.
For your own sake, man, I trust that you do not lie," left him, and
drawing a stool up beside Alan's bed, sat herself down and examined
him carefully, touching his face and hands with her long thin fingers.
Then noting how white and wasted he was, of a sudden she began to
weep, saying between her sobs:
"Oh! if you should die, Vernoon, I will die also and be born again not
as Asika, as I have been for so many generations, but as a white woman
that I may be with you. Only first," she added, setting her teeth, "I
will sacrifice every wizard in this land, for they have brought the
sickness on you by their magic, and I will burn Bonsa-town and cast
its gods to melt in the flames, and the Mungana with them. And then
amid their ashes I will let out my life," and again she began to weep
very piteously and to call him by endearing names and pray him that he
would not die.
Now Alan thought it time to wake up. He opened his eyes, stared at her
vacantly, and asked if it were raining, which indeed it might have
been, for her big tears were falling on his face. She uttered a gasp
"No, no," she answered, "the weather is very fine. It is I--I who have
rained because I thought you die." She wiped his forehead with the
soft linen of her robe, then went on, "But you will not die; say that
you will live, say that you will live for me, Vernoon."
He looked at her, and feeble though he was, the awfulness of the
situation sank into his soul.
"I hope that I shall live," he answered. "I am hungry, please give me
Next instant there was a tumult near by, and when Alan looked up again
it was to see Jeekie, very lightly clad, flying through the door.
"It will be here presently," she said. "Oh! if you knew what I have
suffered, if you only knew. Now you will recover whom I thought dead,
for this fever passes quickly and there shall be such a sacrifice--no,
I forgot, you hate sacrifices--there shall be no sacrifice, there
shall be a thanksgiving, and every woman in the land shall break her
bonds to husband or to lover and take him whom she desires without
reproach or loss. I will do as I would be done by, that is the law you
taught me, is it not?"
This novel interpretation of a sacred doctrine, worthy of Jeekie
himself, so paralyzed Alan's enfeebled brain that he could make no
answer, nor do anything except wonder what would happen in Asiki-land
when the decree of its priestess took effect. Then Jeekie arrived with
something to drink which he swallowed with the eagerness of the
convalescent and almost immediately went to sleep in good earnest.
Alan's recovery was rapid, since as the Asika had told him, if a
patient lives through it, the kind of fever that he had taken did not
last long enough to exhaust his vital forces. When she asked him if he
needed anything to make him well, he answered:
"Yes, air and exercise."
She replied that he should have both, and next morning his hated mask
was put upon his face and he was supported by priests to a door where
a litter, or rather litters were waiting, one for himself and another
for Jeekie who, although in robust health, was still supposed to be
officially ill and not allowed to walk upon his own legs. They entered
these litters and were borne off till presently they met a third
litter of particularly gorgeous design carried by masked bearers,
wherein was the Asika herself, wearing her coronet and a splendid
Into this litter, which was fitted with a second seat, Alan was
transferred, the Mungana, for whom it was designed, being placed in
that vacated by Alan, which either by accident or otherwise, was no
more seen that day. They went up the mountain side and to the edge of
the great fall and watched the waters thunder down, though the crest
of them they could not reach. Next they wandered off into the huge
forests that clothed the slopes of the hills and there halted and ate.
Then as the sun sank they returned to the gloomy Bonsa-Town beneath
For Alan, notwithstanding his weakness and anxieties, it was a
heavenly day. The Asika was passive, some new mood being on her, and
scarcely troubled him at all except to call his attention to a tree, a
flower, or a prospect of the scenery. Here on the mountain side, too,
the air was sweet, and for the rest--well, he who had been so near to
death, was escaped for an hour from that gloomy home of bloodshed and
superstition, and saw God's sky again.
This journey was the first of many. Every day the litters were waiting
and they visited some new place, although into the town itself they
never went. Moreover, if they passed through outlying villages, though
Alan was forced to wear his mask, their inhabitants had been warned to
absent themselves, so that they saw no one. The crops were left
untended and the cattle and sheep lowed hungrily in their kraals. On
certain days, at Alan's request, they were taken to the spots where
the gold was found in the gravel bed of an almost dry stream that
during the rains was a torrent.
He descended from the litter and with the help of the Asika and
Jeekie, dug a little in this gravel, not without reward, for in it
they found several nuggets. Above, too, where they went afterwards,
was a huge quartz reef denuded by water, which evidently had been
worked in past ages and was still so rich that in it they saw plenty
of visible gold. Looking at it Alan bethought him of his City days and
of the hundreds of thousands of pounds capital with which this unique
proposition might have been floated. Afterwards they were carried to
the places where the gems were found, stuck about in the clay, like
plums in a pudding, though none ever sought them now. But all these
things interested the Asika not at all.
"What is the good of gold," she asked of Alan, "except to make things
of, or the bright stones except to play with? What is the good of
anything except food to eat and power and wisdom that can open the
secret doors of knowledge, of things seen and things unseen, and love
that brings the lover joy and forgetfulness of self and takes away the
awful loneliness of the soul, if only for a little while?"
Not wishing to drift into discussion on the matter of love, Alan asked
the priestess to define her "soul," whence it came and whither she
believed it to be going.
"My soul is I, Vernoon," she answered, "and already very, very old.
Thus it has ruled amongst this people for thousands of years."
"How is that?" he asked, "seeing that the Asika dies?"
"Oh! no, Vernoon, she does not die; she only changes. The old body
dies, the spirit enters into another body which is waiting. Thus until
I was fourteen I was but a common girl, the daughter of a headman of
that village yonder, at least so they tell me, for of this time I have
no memory. Then the Asika died and as I had the secret marks and the
beauty that is hers the priests burnt her body before Big Bonsa and
suffocated me, the child, in the smoke of the burning. But I awoke
again and when I awoke the past was gone and the soul of the Asika
filled me, bringing with it its awful memories, its gathered wisdom,
its passion of love and hate, and its power to look backward and
"Do you ever do these things?" asked Alan.
"Backward, yes, before very little; since you came, not at all,
because my heart is a coward and I fear what I might see. Oh! Vernoon,
Vernoon, I know you and your thoughts. You think me a beautiful beast
who loves like a beast, who loves you because you are white and
different from our men. Well, what there is of the beast in me the
gods of my people gave, for they are devils and I am their servant.
But there is more than that, there is good also which I have won for
myself. I knew you would come even before I had seen your face, I knew
you would come," she went on passionately, "and that is why I was
yours already. But what would befall after you came, that I neither
knew, nor know, because I will not seek, who could learn it all."
He looked at her and she saw the doubt in his eyes.
"You do not believe me, Vernoon. Very well, this night you shall see,
you and that black dog of yours, that you may know I do not trick you,
and he shall tell me what you see, for he being but a low-born pig
will speak the truth, not minding if it hurts me, whereas you are
gentle and might spare, and myself I have sworn not to search the
future by an oath that I may not break."
"What of the past?" asked Alan.
"We will not waste time on it, for I know it all. Vernoon, have you no
memories of Asiki-land? Do you think you never visited it before?"
"Never," said Alan; "it was my uncle who came and ran away with Little
Bonsa on his head."
"That is news indeed," she replied mockingly. "Did you then think that
I believed it to be you, though it is true that she who went before,
or my spirit that was in her, fell into error for an hour, and thought
that fool-uncle of yours was /the Man/. When she found her mistake she
let him go, and bade the god go with him that it might bring back the
appointed Man, as it has done; yes, that Little Bonsa, who knew him of
old, might search him out from among all the millions of men, born or
unborn, and bring him back to me. Therefore also she chose a young
black dog who would live for many years, and bade the god to take him
with her, and told him of the wealth of our people that it might be a
bait upon the hook. Do you see, Vernoon, that yellow dirt was the
bait, that I--I am the hook? Well, you have felt it before, so it
should not gall you overmuch."
Now Alan was more frightened than he had been since he set foot in
Asiki-land, for of a sudden this woman became terrible to him. He felt
that she knew things which were hidden from him. For the first time he
believed in her, believed, that she was more than a mere passionate
savage set by chance to rule over a bloodthirsty tribe; that she was
one who had a part in his destiny.
"Felt the hook?" he muttered. "I do not understand."
"You are very forgetful," she answered. "Vernoon, we have lived and
loved before, who were twin souls from the first. That man now, whom I
told you lived once on the great river called the Nile, have you no
memory of him? Well, well, let it be, I will tell you afterwards. Here
we are at the Gold House again, to-night when I am ready I will send
for you, and this I promise, you shall leave me wiser than you were."
When they were alone in their room Alan told Jeekie of the expected
entertainment of crystal gazing, or whatever it might be, and the part
that he was to play in it.
"You say that again, Major," said Jeekie.
Alan repeated the information, giving every detail that he could
"Oh!" said Jeekie, "I see Asika show us things, 'cause she afraid to
look at them herself, or take oath, or can't, or something. She no ask
you tell her what she see, because you too kind hurt her feeling, if
happen to be something beastly. But Jeekie just tell her because he so
truthful and not care curse about her feeling. Well, that all right,
Jeekie tell her sure enough. Only, Major, don't you interrupt. Quite
possible these magic things, I see one show, you see another. So don't
you go say, 'Jeekie, that a lie,' and give me away to Asika just
because you think you see different, 'cause if so you put me into
dirty hole, and of course I catch it afterwards. You promise, Major?"
"Oh! yes, I promise. But, Jeekie, do you really think we are going to
"Can't say, Major," and he shook his head gloomily. "P'raps all put up
job. But lots of rum things in world, Major, specially among beastly
African savage who very curious and always ready pay blood to bad
Spirit. Hope Asika not get this into her head, because no one know
what happen. P'raps we see too much and scared all our lives; but
p'raps all tommy rot."
"That's it--tommy rot," answered Alan, who was not superstitious.
"Well, I suppose that we must go through with it. But oh! Jeekie, I
wish you would tell me how to get out of this."
"Don't know, Major, p'raps never get out; p'raps learn how to-night.
Have to do something soon if want to go. Mungana's time nearly up, and
then--oh my eye!"
It was night, about ten o'clock indeed, the hour at which Alan
generally went to bed. No message had come and he began to hope that
the Asika had forgotten, or changed her mind, and was just going to
say so to Jeekie when a light coming from behind him attracted his
attention and he turned to see her standing in a corner of the great
room, holding a lamp in her hand and looking towards him. Her gold
breastplate and crown were gone, with every other ornament, and she
was clad, or rather muffled in robes of pure white fitted with a kind
of nun's hood which lay back upon her shoulders. Also on her arm she
carried a shawl or veil. Standing thus, all undecked, with her long
hair fastened in a simple knot, she still looked very beautiful, more
so than she had ever been, thought Alan, for the cruelty of her face
had faded and was replaced by a mystery very strange to see. She did
not seem quite like a natural woman, and that was the reason, perhaps,
that Alan for the first time felt attracted by her. Hitherto she had
always repelled him, but this night it was otherwise.
"How did you come here?" he asked in a more gentle voice than he
generally used towards her.
Noting the change in his tone, she smiled shyly and even coloured a
little, then answered:
"This house has many secrets, Vernoon. When you are lord of it you
shall learn them all, till then I may not tell them to you. But, come,
there are other secrets which I hope you shall see to-night, and,
Jeekie, come you also, for you shall be the mouth of your lord, so
that you may tell me what perhaps he would hide."
"I will tell you everything, everything, O Asika," answered Jeekie,
stretching out his hands and bowing almost to the ground.
Then they started and following many long passages as before, although
whether they were the same or others Alan could not tell, came at last
to a door which he recognized, that of the Treasure House. As they
approached this door it opened and through it, like a hunted thing,
ran the bedizened Mungana, husband of the Asika, terror, or madness,
shining in his eyes. Catching sight of his wife, who bore the lamp, he
threw himself upon his knees and snatching at her robe, addressed some
petition to her, speaking so rapidly that Alan could not follow his
For a moment she listened, then dragged her dress from his hand and
spurned him with her foot. There was something so cruel in the gesture
and the action, so full of deadly hate and loathing, that Alan, who
witnessed it, experienced a new revulsion of feeling towards the
Asika. What kind of a woman must she be, he wondered, who could treat
a discarded lover thus in the presence of his successor?
With a groan or a sob, it was difficult to say which, the poor man
rose and perceived Alan, whose face he now beheld for the first time,
since the Asika had told him not to mask himself as they would meet no
one. The sight of it seemed to fill him with jealous fury; at any rate
he leapt at his rival, intending, apparently, to catch him by the
throat. Alan, who was watching him, stepped aside, so that he came
into violet contact with the wall of the passage and, half-stunned by
the shock, reeled onwards into the darkness.
"The hog!" said the Asika, or rather she hissed it, "the hog, who
dared to touch me and to strike at you. Well, his time is short--would
that I could make it shorter! Did you hear what he sought of me?"
Alan, who wished for no confidences, replied by asking what the
Mungana was doing in the Treasure House, to which she answered that
the spirits who dwelt there were eating up his soul, and when they had
devoured it all he would go quite mad and kill himself.
"Does this happen to all Munganas?" inquired Alan.
"Yes, Vernoon, if the Asika hates them, but if she loves them it is
otherwise. Come, let us forget the wretch, who would kill you if he
could," and she led the way into the hall and up it, passing between
the heaps of gold.
On the table where lay the necklaces of gems she set down her lamp,
whereof the light, all there was in that great place, flickered feebly
upon the mask of Little Bonsa, which had been moved here apparently
for some ceremonial purpose, and still more feebly upon the hideous,
golden countenances and winding sheets of the ancient, yellow dead who
stood around in scores placed one above the other, each in his
appointed niche. It was an awesome scene and one that oppressed Jeekie
very much, for he murmured to Alan:
"Oh my! Major, family vault child's play to this hole, just like----"
here his comparison came to an end, for the Asika cut it short with a
"Sit here in front of me," she said to Alan, "and you, Jeekie, sit at
your lord's side, and be silent till I bid you speak."
Then she crouched down in a heap behind them, threw the cloth or veil
she carried over her head, and in some way that they did not see,
suddenly extinguished the lamp.
Now they were in deep darkness, the darkness of death, and in utter
silence, the silence of the dead. No glimmer of light, and yet to Alan
it seemed as though he could feel the flash of the crystal eyes of
Little Bonsa, and of all the other eyes set in the masks of those
departed men who once had been the husbands of the bloodstained
priestess of the Asiki, till one by one, as she wearied of them, they
were bewitched to madness and to doom. In that utter quiet he thought
even that he could hear them stir within their winding sheets, or it
may have been that the Asika had risen and moved among them on some
errand of her own. Far away something fell to the floor, a very light
object, such as flake of rock or a scale of gold. Yet the noise of it
struck his nerves loud as a clap of thunder, and those of Jeekie also,
for he felt him start at his side and heard the sudden hammerlike beat
of his heart.
What was the woman doing in this dreadful place, he wondered. Well, it
was easy to guess. Doubtless she had brought them here to scare and
impress them. Presently a voice, that of some hidden priest, would
speak to them, and they would be asked to believe it a message from
the spirit world, or a spirit itself might be arranged--what could be
easier in their mood and these surroundings?
Now the Asika was speaking behind them in a muffled voice. From the
tone of it she appeared to be engaged in argument or supplication in
some strange tongue. At any rate Alan could not understand a word of
what she said. The argument, or prayer, went on for a long while, with
pauses as though for answers. Then suddenly it ceased and once more
they were plunged into that unfathomable silence.
WHAT THE ASIKA SHOWED ALAN
It seemed to Alan that he went to sleep and dreamed.
He dreamed that it was late autumn in England. Leaves drifted down
from the trees beneath the breath of a strong, damp wind, and ran or
floated along the road till they vanished into a ditch, or caught
against a pile of stones that had been laid ready for its repair. He
knew the road well enough; he even knew the elm tree beneath which he
seemed to stand on the crest of a hill. It was that which ran from Mr.
Champers-Haswell's splendid house, The Court, to the church; he could
see them both, the house to the right, the church to the left, and his
eyesight seemed to have improved, since he was able to observe that at
either place there was bustle and preparation as though for some big
Now the big gates of The Court opened and through them came a funeral.
It advanced toward him with unnatural swiftness, as though it floated
upon air, the whole melancholy procession of it. In a few seconds it
had come and gone and yet during those seconds he suffered agony, for
there arose in his mind a horrible terror that this was Barbara's
burying. He could not have endured it for another moment; he would
have cried out or died, only now the mourners passed him following the
coffin, and in the first carriage he saw Barbara seated, looking sad
and somewhat troubled, but well. A little further down the line came
another carriage, and in it was Sir Robert Aylward, staring before him
with cold, impassive face.
In his dream Alan thought to himself that he must have borrowed this
carriage, which would not be strange, as he generally used motors, for
there was a peer's coronet upon the panels and the silver-mounted
The funeral passed and suddenly vanished into the churchyard gates,
leaving Alan wondering why his cousin Haswell was not seated at
Barbara's side. Then it occurred to him that it might be because he
was in the coffin, and at that moment in his dream he heard the Asika
asking Jeekie what he saw; heard Jeekie answering also, "A burying in
the country called England."
"Of whom, Jeekie?" Then after some hesitation, the answer:
"Of a lady whom my lord loves very much. They bury her."
"What was her name, Jeekie?"
"Her name was Barbara."
"Bar-bara, why that you told me was the name of his mother and his
sister. Which of them is buried?"
"Neither, O Asika. It was another lady who loved him very much and
wanted to marry him, and that was why he ran away to Africa. But now
she is dead and buried."
"Are all women in England called Barbara, Jeekie?"
"Yes, O Asika, Barbara means woman."
"If your lord loved this Barbara, why then did he run away from her?
Well, it matters not since she is dead and buried, for whatever their
spirits may feel, no man cares for a woman that is dead until she
clothes herself in flesh again. That was a good vision and I will
reward you for it."
"I have earned nothing, O Asika," answered Jeekie modestly, "who only
tell you what I see as I must. Yet, O Asika," he added with a note of
anxiety in his voice, "why do you not read these magic writings for
"Because I dare not, or rather because I can not," she answered
fiercely. "Be silent, slave, for now the power of the good broods upon
The dream went on. A great forest appeared, such a forest as they had
passed before they met the cannibals, and set beneath one of the
trees, a tent and in that tent Barbara, Barbara weeping. Someone began
to lift the flap of the tent. She sprang up, snatching at a pistol
that lay beside her, turning its muzzle towards her breast. A man
entered the tent. Alan saw his face, it was his own. Barbara let fall
the pistol and fell backwards as though a bullet from it had pierced
her heart. He leapt towards her, but before he came to where she lay
everything had vanished and he heard Jeekie droning out his lies to
the Asika, telling her that the vision he had seen was one of her and
his master seated with their arms about each other in a chamber of the
A third time the dream descended on Alan like a cloud. It seemed to
him that he was borne beyond the flaming borders of the world.
Everything around was new and unfamiliar, vast, changing, lovely,
terrible. He stood alone upon a pearly plain and the sky above him was
lit with red moons, many and many of them that hung there like lamps.
Spirits began to pass him. He could catch something of their splendour
as they sped by with incredible swiftness; he could hear the music of
their laughter. One rose up at his side. It was the Asika, only a
thousand times more splendid; clothed in all the glory of hell.
Majestically she bent towards him, her glowing eyes held his, the
deadly perfume of her breath beat upon his brow and made him drunken.
She spoke to him and her voice sounded like distant bells.
"Through many a life, through many a life," she said, "bought with
much blood, paid for with a million tears, but mine at last, the soul
that I have won to comfort my soul in the eternal day. Come to the
place I have made ready for you, the hell that shall turn to heaven at
your step, come, you by whom I am redeemed, and drive away those gods
that torture me because I was their servant that I might win you."
So she spoke, and though all his soul revolted, yet the fearful
strength that was in her seemed to draw him onward whither she would
go. Then a light shone and that light was the face of Barbara and with
a suddenness that was almost awful, the wild dream came to an end.
Alan was in his own room again, though how he got there he did not
"Jeekie," he said, "what has happened? I seem to have had a very
curious dream, there in the Treasure-place, and to have heard you
telling the Asika a string of incredible falsehoods."
"Oh! no, Major, Jeekie can't lie, too good Christian; he tell her what
/he/ see, or what he think she see if she look, 'cause though p'raps
he see nothing, she never believe that. And," he added with a burst of
confidence, "what the dickens it matter what he tell her, so long as
she swallow same and keep quiet? Nasty things always make women like
Asika quite outrageous. Give them sweet to suck, say Jeekie, and if
they ill afterwards, that no fault of his. They had sweet."
"Quite so, Jeekie, quite so, only I should advise you not to play too
many tricks upon the Asika, lest she should happen to find you out.
How did I get back here?"
"Like man that walk in his sleep, Major. She go first, you follow,
just as little lamb after Mary in hymn."
"Jeekie, did you really see anything at all?"
"No, Major, nothing partic'lar, except ghost of Mrs. Jeekie and of
your reverend uncle, both of them very angry. That magic all stuff,
Major. Asika put something in your grub make you drunk, so that you
think her very wise. Don't think of it no more, Major, or you go off
your chump. If Jeekie see nothing, depend on it there nothing to see."
"Perhaps so, Jeekie, but I wish I could be sure you had seen nothing.
Listen to me; we must get out of this place somehow, or as you say, I
shall go off my chump. It's haunted, Jeekie, its haunted, and I think
that Asika is a devil, not a woman."
"That what priests say, Major, very old devil--part of Bonsa," he
answered, looking at his master anxiously. "Well, don't you fret,
Jeekie not afraid of devils, Jeekie get you out in good time. Go to
bed and leave it all to Jeekie."
Fifteen more days had gone by, and it was the eve of the night of the
second full moon when Alan was destined to become the husband of the
Asika. She had sent for him that morning and he found her radiant with
happiness. Whether or no she believed Jeekie's interpretation of the
visions she had called up, it seemed quite certain that her mind was
void of fears and doubts. She was sure that Alan was about to become
her husband, and had summoned all the people of the Asiki to be
present at the ceremony of their marriage, and incidentally of the
death of the Mungana who, poor wretch, was to be forced to kill
himself upon that occasion.
Before they parted she had spoken to Alan sweetly enough.
"Vernoon," she said, "I know that you do not love me as I love you,
but the love will come, since for your sake I will change myself. I
will grow gentle; I will shed no more blood; that of the Mungana shall
be the last, and even him I would spare if I could, only while he
lives I may not marry you; it is the one law that is stronger than I
am, and if I broke it I and you would die at once. You shall even
teach me your faith, if you will, for what is good to you is
henceforth good to me. Ask what you wish of me, and as an earnest I
will do it if I can."
Now Alan looked at her. There was one thing that he wished above all
others--that she would let him go. But this he did not dare to ask;
moreover, it would have been utterly useless. After all, if the
Asika's love was terrible, what would be the appearance of her
outraged hate? What could he ask? More gold? He hated the very name of
the stuff, for it had brought him here. He remembered the old cannibal
chief, Fahni, who, like himself, languished a prisoner, daily
expecting death. Only that morning he had implored him to obtain his
"I thank you, Asika," he said. "Now, if your words are true, set Fahni
free and let him return to his own country, for if he stays here he
"Surely, Vernoon, that is a small thing," she answered, smiling,
"though it is true that when he gets there he will probably make war
upon us. Well, let him, let him." Then she clapped her hands and
summoned priests, whom she bade go at once and conduct Fahni out of
Bonsa-Town. Also she bade them loose certain slaves who were of the
Ogula tribe, that they might accompany him laden with provisions, and
send on orders to the outposts that Fahni and his party should pass
unmolested from the land.
This done, she began to talk to Alan about many matters, however
little he might answer her. Indeed it seemed almost as though she
feared to let him leave her side; as though some presentiment of loss
At length, to Alan's great relief, the time came when they must part,
since it was necessary for her to attend a secret ceremony of
preparation or purification that was called "Putting-off-the-Past."
Although she had been thrice summoned, still she would not let him go.
"They call you, Asika," said Alan.
"Yes, yes, they call me," she replied, springing up. "Leave me,
Vernoon, till we meet to-morrow to part no more. Oh! why is my heart
so heavy in me? That black dog of yours read the visions that I
summoned but might not look on, and they were good visions. They
showed that the woman who loved you is dead; they showed us wedded,
and other deeper things. Surely he would not dare to lie to me,
knowing that if he did I would flay him living and throw him to the
vultures. Why, then, is my heart so heavy in me? Would you escape me,
Vernoon? Nay, you are not so cruel, nor could you do it except by
death. Moreover, man, know that even in death you cannot escape me,
for there be sure I shall follow you and claim you, to whose side my
spirit has toiled for ages, and what is there so strong that it can
snatch you from my hand?"
She looked at him a moment, and seizing his hand burst into a flood of
tears, and seizing his hand threw herself upon her knees and kissed it
again and again.
"Go now," she said, "go, and let my love go with you, through lives
and deaths, and all the dreams beyond, oh! let my love go with you, as
it shall, Vernoon."
So he went, leaving her weeping on her knees.
During the dark hours that followed Alan and madness were not far
apart. What could he do? Escape was utterly impossible. For weeks he
and Jeekie had considered it in vain. Even if they could win out of
the Gold House fortress, what hope had they of making their way
through the crowded, tortuous town where, after the African fashion,
peopled walked about all night, every one of whom would recognize the
white man, whether he were masked or no? Besides, beyond the town were
the river and the guarded walls and gates and beyond them open country
where they would be cut off or run down. No, to attempt escape was
suicide. Suicide! That gave him an idea, why should he not kill
himself? It would be easy enough, for he still had his revolver and a
few cartridges, and surely it was better than to enter on such a life
as awaited him as the plaything of a priestess of a tribe of fetish-
But if he killed himself, how about Barbara and how about poor old
Jeekie, who would certainly be killed also? Besides, it was not the
right thing to do, and while there is life there is always hope.
Alan paused in his walk up and down the room and looked at Jeekie, who
sat upon the floor with his back resting against the stone altar,
reflectively pulling down his thick under-lip and letting it fly back,
"Jeekie," he said, "time's up. What am I to do?"
"Do, Major?" he replied with affected cheerfulness. "Oh! that quite
simple. Jeekie arrange everything. You marry Asika and by and by, when
you master here and tired of her, you give her slip. Very interesting
experience; no white man ever have such luck before. Asika not half
bad, /if/ she fond of you; she like little girl in song, when she
good, she very, very good. At any rate, nothing else to do. Marry
Asika or spiflicate, which mean, Major, that Jeekie spiflicate too,
and," he added, shaking his white head sadly, "he no like /that/. One
or two little things on his mind that no get time to square up yet.
Daren't pray like Christian here, 'cause afraid of Bonsas, and Bonsas
come even with him by and by, 'cause he been Christian, so poor Jeekie
fall down bump between two stools. 'Postles kick him out of heaven and
Bonsas kick him out of hell, and where Jeekie go to then?"
"Don't know, I am sure," answered Alan, smiling a little in spite of
his sorrow, "but I think the Bonsas might find a corner for you
somewhere. Look here, Jeekie, you old scamp, I am sorry for you, for
you have been a good friend to me and we are fond of each other. But
just understand this, I am not going to marry that woman if I can help
it. It's against my principles. So I shall wait till to-morrow and
then I shall walk out of this place. If the guards try to stop me I
shall shoot them while I have any cartridges. Then I shall go on until
they kill me."
"Oh! But Major, they not kill you--never; they chuck blanket over your
head and take you back to Asika. It Jeekie they kill, skin him
alive-o, and all the rest of it."
"Hope not, Jeekie, because they think we shall die the same day. But
if so, I can't help it. To-morrow morning I shall walk out, and now
that's settled. I am tired and going to sleep," and he threw himself
down upon the bed and, being worn out with weariness and anxiety, soon
fell fast asleep.
But Jeekie did not sleep, although he too lay down upon his bed. On
the contrary, he remained wide awake and reflected, more deeply
perhaps than he had ever done before, being sure the superstition as
to the dependence of Alan's life upon his own was now worn very thin,
and that his hour was at hand. He thought of making Alan's wild
attempt to depart impossible by the simple method of warning the
Asika, but, notwithstanding his native selfishness, was too loyal to
let that idea take root in his mind. No, there was nothing to be done;
if the Major wished to start, the Major must start, and he, Jeekie,
must pay the price. Well, he deserved it, who had been fool enough to
listen to the secret promptings of Little Bonsa and conduct him to
Thus he passed several hours, for the most part in melancholy
speculations as to the exact fashion of his end, until at length
weariness overcame him also and, shutting his eyes, Jeekie began to
doze. Suddenly he grew aware of the presence of some other person in
the room, but thinking that it was only the Asika prowling about in
her uncanny fashion, or perhaps her spirit, for how her body entered
the place he could not guess, he did not stir, but lay breathing
heavily and watching out of the corner of his eye.
Presently a figure emerged from the shadows into the faint light
thrown by the single lamp that burned above, and though it was wrapped
in a dark cloak, Jeekie knew at once that it was not the Asika. Very
stealthily the figure crept towards him, as a leopard might creep, and
bent down to examine him. The movement caused the cloak to slip a
little, and for an instant Jeekie caught sight of the wasted, half-
crazed face of the Mungana, and of a long, curved knife that glittered
in his hand. Paralyzed with fear, he lay quite still, knowing that
should he show the slightest sign of consciousness that knife would
pierce his heart.
The Mungana watched him a while, then satisfied that he slept, turned
round and, bending himself almost double, glided with infinite
precautions towards Alan's bed, which stood some twelve or fourteen
feet away. Silently as a snake that uncoils itself, Jeekie slipped
from between his blankets and crept after him, his naked feet making
no noise upon the mat-strewn floor. So intent was the Mungana upon the
deed which he had come to do that he never looked back, and thus it
happened that the two of them reached the bed one immediately behind
Alan was lying on his back with his throat exposed, a very easy
victim. For a moment the Mungana stared. Then he erected himself like
a snake about to strike, and lifted the great curved knife, taking aim
at Alan's naked breast. Jeekie erected himself also, and even as the
knife began to fall, with one hand he caught the arm that drove it and
with the other the murderer's throat. The Mungana fought like a wild-
cat, but Jeekie was too strong for him. His fingers held the man's
windpipe like a vise. He choked and weakened; the knife fell from his
hand. He sank to the ground and lay there helpless, whereon Jeekie
knelt upon his chest and, possessing himself of the knife, held it
within an inch of his heart.
It was at this juncture that Alan woke up and asked sleepily what was
"Nothing, Major," answered Jeekie in low and cheerful tones. "Snake
just going to bite you and I catch him, that all," and he gave an
extra squeeze to the Mungana's throat, who turned black in the face
and rolled his eyes.
"Be careful, Jeekie, or you will kill the man," exclaimed Alan,
recognizing the Mungana and taking in the situation.
"Why not, Major? He want kill you, and me too afterwards. Good
riddance of bad rubbish, as Book say."
"I am not so sure, Jeekie. Give him air and let me think. Tell him
that if he makes any noise, he dies."
Jeekie obeyed, and the Mungana's darkening eyes grew bright again as
he drew his breath in great sobs.
"Now, friend," said Alan in Asiki, "why did you wish to stab me?"
"Because I hate you," answered the man, "who to-morrow will take my
place and the wife I love."
"As a year or two ago you took someone else's place, eh? Well, suppose
now that I don't want either your place or your wife."
"What would that matter even it if were true, white man, since she
"I am thinking, friend, that there is someone else she will want when
she hears of this. How do you suppose that you will die to-morrow? Not
so easily as you hope, perhaps."
The Mungana's eyes seemed to sink into his head, and his face to
sicken with terror. That shaft had gone home.
"Suppose I make a bargain with you," went on Alan slowly. "Supposing I
say: 'Mungana, show me the way out of this place, as you can, now at
once. Or if you prefer it, refuse and be given up to the Asika?' Come,
you are not too mad to understand. Answer--and quickly."
"Would you kill me afterwards?" he asked.
"Not I. Why should I wish to kill you? You can come with us and go
where you will. Or you can stay here and die as the Asika directs."
"I cannot believe you, white man. It is not possible that you should
wish to run away from so much love and glory, or to spare one who
would have slain you. Also it would be difficult to get you out of
"Jeekie," said Alan, "this fellow is mad after all, I think you had
better go to the door and shout for the priests."
"No, no, lord," begged the wretched creature, "I will trust you; I
will try, though it is you who must be mad."
"Very good. Stand over him, Jeekie, while I put on my things and, yes,
give me that mask. If he stirs, kill him at once."
So Alan made himself ready. Then he mounted guard over the Mungana, as
did Jeekie, although he shook his head over their prospect of escape.
"No go," he muttered, "no go! If we get past priests, Asika catch us
with her magic. When I bolt with your reverend uncle last time, Little
Bonsa arrange business because she go abroad fetch you. Now likely as
not she bowl you out, and then good-bye Jeekie."
Alan sternly bade him be quiet and stop behind if he did not wish to
"No, no, Major," he answered, "I come all right. Asika very prejudiced
beggar, and if she find me here alone--oh my! Better die double after
all, Two's company, Major. Now, all ready, /March!/" and he gave the
unfortunate Mungana a fearful kick as a hint to proceed.
So utterly crushed was the poor wretch that even this insult did not
stir him to resentment.
"Follow me, white man," he said, "and if you desire to live, be
silent. Throw your cloaks about your heads."
They did so, and holding their revolvers in their right hands, glided
after the Mungana. In the corner of the big room they came to a little
stair. How it opened in that place where no stair had been, they could
not see or even guess, for it was too dark, only now they knew the
means by which the Asika had been able to visit them at night.
The Mungana went first down the stair. Jeekie followed, grasping him
by the arm with one hand, while in the other he kept his own knife
ready to stab him at the first sign of treachery. Alan brought up the
rear, keeping hold of Jeekie's cloak. They passed down twelve steps of
stair, then turned to the right along a tunnel, then to the left, then
to the right again. In the pitch darkness it was an awful journey,
since they knew not whither they were being led, and expected that
every moment would be their last. At length, quite of a sudden, they
emerged into moonlight.
Alan looked about him and knew the place. It was where the feast had
been held two months before, when the priests were poisoned and the
Bonsas chose the victims for sacrifice. Already it was prepared for
the great festival of to-morrow, when the Mungana should drown himself
and Alan be married to the Asika. There on the dais were the gold
chairs in which they were to sit, and green branches of trees mixed
with curious flags decked the vast amphitheatre beyond. Moreover,
there was the broad canal, and floating in the midst of it the hideous
gold fetish, Big Bonsa. The moon shone on its glaring, deathly eyes,
its fish-like snout and its huge, pale teeth. Alan looked at it and
shivered, for the thing was horrid and uncanny, and the utter
loneliness in which it lay staring up at the moon, seemed to
accentuate the horror.
The Mungana noticed his fear and whispered:
"We must swim the water. If you have a god, white man, pray him to
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