It is a curious thing that at my age — fifty-five last birthday
— I should find myself taking up a pen to try to write a history. I
wonder what sort of a history it will be when I have finished it,
if ever I come to the end of the trip! I have done a good many
things in my life, which seems a long one to me, owing to my having
begun work so young, perhaps. At an age when other boys are at
school I was earning my living as a trader in the old Colony. I
have been trading, hunting, fighting, or mining ever since. And yet
it is only eight months ago that I made my pile. It is a big pile
now that I have got it — I don't yet know how big — but I do not
think I would go through the last fifteen or sixteen months again
for it; no, not if I knew that I should come out safe at the end,
pile and all. But then I am a timid man, and dislike violence;
moreover, I am almost sick of adventure. I wonder why I am going to
write this book: it is not in my line. I am not a literary man,
though very devoted to the Old Testament and also to the "Ingoldsby
Legends." Let me try to set down my reasons, just to see if I have
First reason: Because Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good
Second reason: Because I am laid up here at Durban with the pain
in my left leg. Ever since that confounded lion got hold of me I
have been liable to this trouble, and being rather bad just now, it
makes me limp more than ever. There must be some poison in a lion's
teeth, otherwise how is it that when your wounds are healed they
break out again, generally, mark you, at the same time of year that
you got your mauling? It is a hard thing when one has shot
sixty-five lions or more, as I have in the course of my life, that
the sixty-sixth should chew your leg like a quid of tobacco. It
breaks the routine of the thing, and putting other considerations
aside, I am an orderly man and don't like that. This is by the
Third reason: Because I want my boy Harry, who is over there at
the hospital in London studying to become a doctor, to have
something to amuse him and keep him out of mischief for a week or
so. Hospital work must sometimes pall and grow rather dull, for
even of cutting up dead bodies there may come satiety, and as this
history will not be dull, whatever else it may be, it will put a
little life into things for a day or two while Harry is reading of
Fourth reason and last: Because I am going to tell the strangest
story that I remember. It may seem a queer thing to say, especially
considering that there is no woman in it — except Foulata. Stop,
though! there is Gagaoola, if she was a woman, and not a fiend. But
she was a hundred at least, and therefore not marriageable, so I
don't count her. At any rate, I can safely say that there is not a
petticoat in the whole history.
Well, I had better come to the yoke. It is a stiff place, and I
feel as though I were bogged up to the axle. But, "sutjes, sutjes,"
as the Boers say — I am sure I don't know how they spell it —
softly does it. A strong team will come through at last, that is,
if they are not too poor. You can never do anything with poor oxen.
Now to make a start.
I, Allan Quatermain, of Durban, Natal, Gentleman, make oath and
say — That's how I headed my deposition before the magistrate about
poor Khiva's and Ventvoegel's sad deaths; but somehow it doesn't
seem quite the right way to begin a book. And, besides, am I a
gentleman? What is a gentleman? I don't quite know, and yet I have
had to do with niggers — no, I will scratch out that word
"niggers," for I do not like it. I've known natives who are, and so
you will say, Harry, my boy, before you have done with this tale,
and I have known mean whites with lots of money and fresh out from
home, too, who are not.
At any rate, I was born a gentleman, though I have been nothing
but a poor travelling trader and hunter all my life. Whether I have
remained so I known not, you must judge of that. Heaven knows I've
tried. I have killed many men in my time, yet I have never slain
wantonly or stained my hand in innocent blood, but only in
self-defence. The Almighty gave us our lives, and I suppose He
meant us to defend them, at least I have always acted on that, and
I hope it will not be brought up against me when my clock strikes.
There, there, it is a cruel and a wicked world, and for a timid man
I have been mixed up in a great deal of fighting. I cannot tell the
rights of it, but at any rate I have never stolen, though once I
cheated a Kafir out of a herd of cattle. But then he had done me a
dirty turn, and it has troubled me ever since into the bargain.
Well, it is eighteen months or so ago since first I met Sir
Henry Curtis and Captain Good. It was in this way. I had been up
elephant hunting beyond Bamangwato, and had met with bad luck.
Everything went wrong that trip, and to top up with I got the fever
badly. So soon as I was well enough I trekked down to the Diamond
Fields, sold such ivory as I had, together with my wagon and oxen,
discharged my hunters, and took the post-cart to the Cape. After
spending a week in Cape Town, finding that they overcharged me at
the hotel, and having seen everything there was to see, including
the botanical gardens, which seem to me likely to confer a great
benefit on the country, and the new Houses of Parliament, which I
expect will do nothing of the sort, I determined to go back to
Natal by the Dunkeld, then lying at the docks waiting for the
Edinburgh Castle due in from England. I took my berth and went
aboard, and that afternoon the Natal passengers from the Edinburgh
Castle transhipped, and we weighed and put to sea.
Among these passengers who came on board were two who excited my
curiosity. One, a gentleman of about thirty, was perhaps the
biggest- chested and longest-armed man I ever saw. He had yellow
hair, a thick yellow beard, clear-cut features, and large grey eyes
set deep in his head. I never saw a finer-looking man, and somehow
he reminded me of an ancient Dane. Not that I know much of ancient
Danes, though I knew a modern Dane who did me out of ten pounds;
but I remember once seeing a picture of some of those gentry, who,
I take it, were a kind of white Zulus. They were drinking out of
big horns, and their long hair hung down their backs. As I looked
at my friend standing there by the companion-ladder, I thought that
if he only let his grow a little, put one of those chain shirts on
to his great shoulders, and took hold of a battle-axe and a horn
mug, he might have sat as a model for that picture. And by the way
it is a curious thing, and just shows how the blood will out, I
discovered afterwards that Sir Henry Curtis, for that was the big
man's name, is of Danish blood.[*] He also reminded me strongly of
somebody else, but at the time I could not remember who it was.
[*] Mr. Quatermain's ideas about ancient Danes seem to be rather
confused; we have always understood that they were dark-haired
people. Probably he was thinking of Saxons. — Editor.
The other man, who stood talking to Sir Henry, was stout and
dark, and of quite a different cut. I suspected at once that he was
a naval officer; I don't know why, but it is difficult to mistake a
navy man. I have gone shooting trips with several of them in the
course of my life, and they have always proved themselves the best
and bravest and nicest fellows I ever met, though sadly given, some
of them, to the use of profane language. I asked a page or two
back, what is a gentleman? I'll answer the question now: A Royal
Naval officer is, in a general sort of way, though of course there
may be a black sheep among them here and there. I fancy it is just
the wide seas and the breath of God's winds that wash their hearts
and blow the bitterness out of their minds and make them what men
ought to be.
Well, to return, I proved right again; I ascertained that the
dark man was a naval officer, a lieutenant of thirty-one, who,
after seventeen years' service, had been turned out of her
Majesty's employ with the barren honour of a commander's rank,
because it was impossible that he should be promoted. This is what
people who serve the Queen have to expect: to be shot out into the
cold world to find a living just when they are beginning really to
understand their work, and to reach the prime of life. I suppose
they don't mind it, but for my own part I had rather earn my bread
as a hunter. One's halfpence are as scarce perhaps, but you do not
get so many kicks.
The officer's name I found out — by referring to the passengers'
lists — was Good — Captain John Good. He was broad, of medium
height, dark, stout, and rather a curious man to look at. He was so
very neat and so very clean-shaved, and he always wore an eye-glass
in his right eye. It seemed to grow there, for it had no string,
and he never took it out except to wipe it. At first I thought he
used to sleep in it, but afterwards I found that this was a
mistake. He put it in his trousers pocket when he went to bed,
together with his false teeth, of which he had two beautiful sets
that, my own being none of the best, have often caused me to break
the tenth commandment. But I am anticipating.
Soon after we had got under way evening closed in, and brought
with it very dirty weather. A keen breeze sprung up off land, and a
kind of aggravated Scotch mist soon drove everybody from the deck.
As for the Dunkeld, she is a flat-bottomed punt, and going up light
as she was, she rolled very heavily. It almost seemed as though she
would go right over, but she never did. It was quite impossible to
walk about, so I stood near the engines where it was warm, and
amused myself with watching the pendulum, which was fixed opposite
to me, swinging slowly backwards and forwards as the vessel rolled,
and marking the angle she touched at each lurch.
"That pendulum's wrong; it is not properly weighted," suddenly
said a somewhat testy voice at my shoulder. Looking round I saw the
naval officer whom I had noticed when the passengers came
"Indeed, now what makes you think so?" I asked.
"Think so. I don't think at all. Why there" — as she righted
herself after a roll — "if the ship had really rolled to the degree
that thing pointed to, then she would never have rolled again,
that's all. But it is just like these merchant skippers, they are
always so confoundedly careless."
Just then the dinner-bell rang, and I was not sorry, for it is a
dreadful thing to have to listen to an officer of the Royal Navy
when he gets on to that subject. I only know one worse thing, and
that is to hear a merchant skipper express his candid opinion of
officers of the Royal Navy.
Captain Good and I went down to dinner together, and there we
found Sir Henry Curtis already seated. He and Captain Good were
placed together, and I sat opposite to them. The captain and I soon
fell into talk about shooting and what not; he asking me many
questions, for he is very inquisitive about all sorts of things,
and I answering them as well as I could. Presently he got on to
"Ah, sir," called out somebody who was sitting near me, "you've
reached the right man for that; Hunter Quatermain should be able to
tell you about elephants if anybody can."
Sir Henry, who had been sitting quite quiet listening to our
talk, started visibly.
"Excuse me, sir," he said, leaning forward across the table, and
speaking in a low deep voice, a very suitable voice, it seemed to
me, to come out of those great lungs. "Excuse me, sir, but is your
name Allan Quatermain?"
I said that it was.
The big man made no further remark, but I heard him mutter
"fortunate" into his beard.
Presently dinner came to an end, and as we were leaving the
saloon Sir Henry strolled up and asked me if I would come into his
cabin to smoke a pipe. I accepted, and he led the way to the
Dunkeld deck cabin, and a very good cabin it is. It had been two
cabins, but when Sir Garnet Wolseley or one of those big swells
went down the coast in the Dunkeld, they knocked away the partition
and have never put it up again. There was a sofa in the cabin, and
a little table in front of it. Sir Henry sent the steward for a
bottle of whisky, and the three of us sat down and lit our
"Mr. Quatermain," said Sir Henry Curtis, when the man had
brought the whisky and lit the lamp, "the year before last about
this time, you were, I believe, at a place called Bamangwato, to
the north of the Transvaal."
"I was," I answered, rather surprised that this gentleman should
be so well acquainted with my movements, which were not, so far as
I was aware, considered of general interest.
"You were trading there, were you not?" put in Captain Good, in
his quick way.
"I was. I took up a wagon-load of goods, made a camp outside the
settlement, and stopped till I had sold them."
Sir Henry was sitting opposite to me in a Madeira chair, his
arms leaning on the table. He now looked up, fixing his large grey
eyes full upon my face. There was a curious anxiety in them, I
"Did you happen to meet a man called Neville there?"
"Oh, yes; he outspanned alongside of me for a fortnight to rest
his oxen before going on to the interior. I had a letter from a
lawyer a few months back, asking me if I knew what had become of
him, which I answered to the best of my ability at the time."
"Yes," said Sir Henry, "your letter was forwarded to me. You
said in it that the gentleman called Neville left Bamangwato at the
beginning of May in a wagon with a driver, a voorlooper, and a
Kafir hunter called Jim, announcing his intention of trekking if
possible as far as Inyati, the extreme trading post in the Matabele
country, where he would sell his wagon and proceed on foot. You
also said that he did sell his wagon, for six months afterwards you
saw the wagon in the possession of a Portuguese trader, who told
you that he had bought it at Inyati from a white man whose name he
had forgotten, and that he believed the white man with the native
servant had started off for the interior on a shooting trip."
Then came a pause.
"Mr. Quatermain," said Sir Henry suddenly, "I suppose you know
or can guess nothing more of the reasons of my — of Mr. Neville's
journey to the northward, or as to what point that journey was
"I heard something," I answered, and stopped. The subject was
one which I did not care to discuss.
Sir Henry and Captain Good looked at each other, and Captain
"Mr. Quatermain," went on the former, "I am going to tell you a
story, and ask your advice, and perhaps your assistance. The agent
who forwarded me your letter told me that I might rely on it
implicitly, as you were," he said, "well known and universally
respected in Natal, and especially noted for your discretion."
I bowed and drank some whisky and water to hide my confusion,
for I am a modest man — and Sir Henry went on.
"Mr. Neville was my brother."
"Oh," I said, starting, for now I knew of whom Sir Henry had
reminded me when first I saw him. His brother was a much smaller
man and had a dark beard, but now that I thought of it, he
possessed eyes of the same shade of grey and with the same keen
look in them: the features too were not unlike.
"He was," went on Sir Henry, "my only and younger brother, and
till five years ago I do not suppose that we were ever a month away
from each other. But just about five years ago a misfortune befell
us, as sometimes does happen in families. We quarrelled bitterly,
and I behaved unjustly to my brother in my anger."
Here Captain Good nodded his head vigorously to himself. The
ship gave a big roll just then, so that the looking-glass, which
was fixed opposite us to starboard, was for a moment nearly over
our heads, and as I was sitting with my hands in my pockets and
staring upwards, I could see him nodding like anything.
"As I daresay you know," went on Sir Henry, "if a man dies
intestate, and has no property but land, real property it is called
in England, it all descends to his eldest son. It so happened that
just at the time when we quarrelled our father died intestate. He
had put off making his will until it was too late. The result was
that my brother, who had not been brought up to any profession, was
left without a penny. Of course it would have been my duty to
provide for him, but at the time the quarrel between us was so
bitter that I did not — to my shame I say it (and he sighed deeply)
— offer to do anything. It was not that I grudged him justice, but
I waited for him to make advances, and he made none. I am sorry to
trouble you with all this, Mr. Quatermain, but I must to make
things clear, eh, Good?"
"Quite so, quite so," said the captain. "Mr. Quatermain will, I
am sure, keep this history to himself."
"Of course," said I, for I rather pride myself on my discretion,
for which, as Sir Henry had heard, I have some repute.
"Well," went on Sir Henry, "my brother had a few hundred pounds
to his account at the time. Without saying anything to me he drew
out this paltry sum, and, having adopted the name of Neville,
started off for South Africa in the wild hope of making a fortune.
This I learned afterwards. Some three years passed, and I heard
nothing of my brother, though I wrote several times. Doubtless the
letters never reached him. But as time went on I grew more and more
troubled about him. I found out, Mr. Quatermain, that blood is
thicker than water."
"That's true," said I, thinking of my boy Harry.
"I found out, Mr. Quatermain, that I would have given half my
fortune to know that my brother George, the only relation I
possess, was safe and well, and that I should see him again."
"But you never did, Curtis," jerked out Captain Good, glancing
at the big man's face.
"Well, Mr. Quatermain, as time went on I became more and more
anxious to find out if my brother was alive or dead, and if alive
to get him home again. I set enquiries on foot, and your letter was
one of the results. So far as it went it was satisfactory, for it
showed that till lately George was alive, but it did not go far
enough. So, to cut a long story short, I made up my mind to come
out and look for him myself, and Captain Good was so kind as to
come with me."
"Yes," said the captain; "nothing else to do, you see. Turned
out by my Lords of the Admiralty to starve on half pay. And now
perhaps, sir, you will tell us what you know or have heard of the
gentleman called Neville."