Although in my old age I, Allan Quatermain, have taken to
writing—after a fashion—never yet have I set down a single word of
the tale of my first love and of the adventures that are grouped
around her beautiful and tragic history. I suppose this is because
it has always seemed to me too holy and far-off a matter—as holy
and far-off as is that heaven which holds the splendid spirit of
Marie Marais. But now, in my age, that which was far-off draws near
again; and at night, in the depths between the stars, sometimes I
seem to see the opening doors through which I must pass, and
leaning earthwards across their threshold, with outstretched arms
and dark and dewy eyes, a shadow long forgotten by all save me—the
shadow of Marie Marais.
An old man's dream, doubtless, no more. Still, I will try to set
down that history which ended in so great a sacrifice, and one so
worthy of record, though I hope that no human eye will read it
until I also am forgotten, or, at any rate, have grown dim in the
gathering mists of oblivion. And I am glad that I have waited to
make this attempt, for it seems to me that only of late have I come
to understand and appreciate at its true value the character of her
of whom I tell, and the passionate affection which was her
bounteous offering to one so utterly unworthy as myself. What have
I done, I wonder, that to me should have been decreed the love of
two such women as Marie and that of Stella, also now long dead, to
whom alone in the world I told all her tale? I remember I feared
lest she should take it ill, but this was not so. Indeed, during
our brief married days, she thought and talked much of Marie, and
some of her last words to me were that she was going to seek her,
and that they would wait for me together in the land of love, pure
So with Stella's death all that side of life came to an end for
me, since during the long years which stretch between then and now
I have never said another tender word to woman. I admit, however,
that once, long afterwards, a certain little witch of a Zulu did
say tender words to me, and for an hour or so almost turned my
head, an art in which she had great skill. This I say because I
wish to be quite honest, although it—I mean my head, for there was
no heart involved in the matter—came straight again at once. Her
name was Mameena, and I have set down her remarkable story
To return. As I have already written in another book, I passed
my youth with my old father, a Church of England clergyman, in what
is now the Cradock district of the Cape Colony.
Then it was a wild place enough, with a very small white
population. Among our few neighbours was a Boer farmer of the name
of Henri Marais, who lived about fifteen miles from our station, on
a fine farm called Maraisfontein. I say he was a Boer, but, as may
be guessed from both his Christian and surname, his origin was
Huguenot, his forefather, who was also named Henri Marais—though I
think the Marais was spelt rather differently then—having been one
of the first of that faith who emigrated to South Africa to escape
the cruelties of Louis XIV. at the time of the revocation of the
Edict of Nantes.
Unlike most Boers of similar descent, these particular
Marais—for, of course, there are many other families so
called—never forgot their origin. Indeed, from father to son, they
kept up some knowledge of the French tongue, and among themselves
often spoke it after a fashion. At any rate, it was the habit of
Henri Marais, who was excessively religious, to read his chapter of
the Bible (which it is, or was, the custom of the Boers to spell
out every morning, should their learning allow them to do so), not
in the "taal" or patois Dutch, but in good old French. I have the
very book from which he used to read now, for, curiously enough, in
after years, when all these events had long been gathered to the
past, I chanced to buy it among a parcel of other works at the
weekly auction of odds and ends on the market square of Maritzburg.
I remember that when I opened the great tome, bound over the
original leather boards in buckskin, and discovered to whom it had
belonged, I burst into tears. There was no doubt about it, for, as
was customary in old days, this Bible had sundry fly-leaves sewn up
with it for the purpose of the recording of events important to its
The first entries were made by the original Henri Marais, and
record how he and his compatriots were driven from France, his
father having lost his life in the religious persecutions. After
this comes a long list of births, marriages and deaths continued
from generation to generation, and amongst them a few notes telling
of such matters as the change of the dwelling-places of the family,
always in French. Towards the end of the list appears the entry of
the birth of the Henri Marais whom I knew, alas! too well, and of
his only sister. Then is written his marriage to Marie Labuschagne,
also, be it noted, of the Huguenot stock. In the next year follows
the birth of Marie Marais, my Marie, and, after a long interval,
for no other children were born, the death of her mother.
Immediately below appears the following curious passage:
"Le 3 Janvier, 1836. Je quitte ce pays voulant me sauver du
maudit gouvernement Britannique comme mes ancetres se sont sauves
de ce diable—Louis XIV.
"A bas les rois et les ministres tyrannique! Vive la
Which indicates very clearly the character and the opinions of
Henri Marais, and the feeling among the trek-Boers at that
Thus the record closes and the story of the Marais ends—that is,
so far as the writings in the Bible go, for that branch of the
family is now extinct.
Their last chapter I will tell in due course.
There was nothing remarkable about my introduction to Marie
Marais. I did not rescue her from any attack of a wild beast or
pull her out of a raging river in a fashion suited to romance.
Indeed, we interchanged our young ideas across a small and
extremely massive table, which, in fact, had once done duty as a
block for the chopping up of meat. To this hour I can see the
hundreds of lines running criss-cross upon its surface, especially
those opposite to where I used to sit.
One day, several years after my father had emigrated to the
Cape, the Heer Marais arrived at our house in search, I think, of
some lost oxen. He was a thin, bearded man with rather wild, dark
eyes set close together, and a quick nervous manner, not in the
least like that of a Dutch Boer—or so I recall him. My father
received him courteously and asked him to stop to dine, which he
They talked together in French, a tongue that my father knew
well, although he had not used it for years; Dutch he could not,
or, rather, would not, speak if he could help it, and Mr. Marais
preferred not to talk English. To meet someone who could converse
in French delighted him, and although his version of the language
was that of two centuries before and my father's was largely
derived from reading, they got on very well together, if not too
At length, after a pause, Mr. Marais, pointing to myself, a
small and stubbly-haired youth with a sharp nose, asked my father
whether he would like me to be instructed in the French tongue. The
answer was that nothing would please him better.
"Although," he added severely, "to judge by my own experience
where Latin and Greek are concerned, I doubt his capacity to learn
So an arrangement was made that I should go over for two days in
each week to Maraisfontein, sleeping there on the intervening
night, and acquire a knowledge of the French tongue from a tutor
whom Mr. Marais had hired to instruct his daughter in that language
and other subjects. I remember that my father agreed to pay a
certain proportion of this tutor's salary, a plan which suited the
thrifty Boer very well indeed.
Thither, accordingly, I went in due course, nothing loth, for on
the veld between our station and Maraisfontein many pauw and
koran—that is, big and small bustards—were to be found, to say
nothing of occasional buck, and I was allowed to carry a gun, which
even in those days I could use fairly well. So to Maraisfontein I
rode on the appointed day, attended by a Hottentot after-rider, a
certain Hans, of whom I shall have a good deal to tell. I enjoyed
very goof sport on the road, arriving at the stead laden with one
pauw, two koran, and a little klipspringer buck which I had been
lucky enough to shoot as it bounded out of some rocks in front of
There was a peach orchard planted round Maraisfontein, which
just then was a mass of lovely pink blossom, and as I rode through
it slowly, not being sure of my way to the house, a lanky child
appeared in front of me, clad in a frock which exactly matched the
colour of the peach bloom. I can see her now, her dark hair hanging
down her back, and her big, shy eyes staring at me from the shadow
of the Dutch "kappie" which she wore. Indeed, she seemed to be all
eyes, like a "dikkop" or thick-headed plover; at any rate, I noted
little else about her.
I pulled up my pony and stared at her, feeling very shy and not
knowing what to say. For a while she stared back at me, being
afflicted, presumably, with the same complaint, then spoke with an
effort, in a voice that was very soft and pleasant.
"Are you the little Allan Quatermain who is coming to learn
French with me?" she asked in Dutch.
"Of course," I answered in the same tongue, which I knew well;
"but why do you call me little, missie? I am taller than you," I
added indignantly, for when I was young my lack of height was
always a sore point with me.
"I think not," she replied. "But get off that horse, and we will
measure here against this wall."
So I dismounted, and, having assured herself that I had no heels
to my boots (I was wearing the kind of raw-hide slippers that the
Boers call "veld-shoon"), she took the writing slate which she was
carrying—it had no frame, I remember, being, in fact, but a piece
of the material used for roofing—and, pressing it down tight on my
stubbly hair, which stuck up then as now, made a deep mark in the
soft sandstone of the wall with the hard pointed pencil.
"There," she said, "that is justly done. Now, little Allan, it
is your turn to measure me."
So I measured her, and, behold! she was the taller by a whole
"You are standing on tiptoe," I said in my vexation.
"Little Allan," she replied, "to stand on tiptoe would be to lie
before the good Lord, and when you come to know me better you will
learn that, though I have a dreadful temper and many other sins, I
do not lie."
I suppose that I looked snubbed and mortified, for she went on
in her grave, grown-up way: "Why are you angry because God made me
taller than you? especially as I am whole months older, for my
father told me so. Come, let us write our names against these
marks, so that in a year or two you may see how you outgrow me."
Then with the slate pencil she scratched "Marie" against her mark
very deeply, so that it might last, she said; after which I wrote
"Allan" against mine.
Alas! Within the last dozen years chance took me past
Maraisfontein once more. The house had long been rebuilt, but this
particular wall yet stood. I rode to it and looked, and there
faintly could still be seen the name Marie, against the little
line, and by it the mark that I had made. My own name and with it
subsequent measurements were gone, for in the intervening forty
years or so the sandstone had flaked away in places. Only her
autograph remained, and when I saw it I think that I felt even
worse than I did on finding whose was the old Bible that I had
bought upon the market square at Maritzburg.
I know that I rode away hurriedly without even stopping to
inquire into whose hands the farm had passed. Through the peach
orchard I rode, where the trees—perhaps the same, perhaps
others—were once more in bloom, for the season of the year was that
when Marie and I first met, nor did I draw rein for half a score of
But here I may state that Marie always stayed just half an inch
the taller in body, and how much taller in mind and spirit I cannot
When we had finished our measuring match Marie turned to lead me
to the house, and, pretending to observe for the first time the
beautiful bustard and the two koran hanging from my saddle, also
the klipspringer buck that Hans the Hottentot carried behind him on
his horse, asked:
"Did you shoot all these, Allan Quatermain?"
"Yes," I answered proudly; "I killed them in four shots, and the
pauw and koran were flying, not sitting, which is more than you
could have done, although you are taller, Miss Marie."
"I do not know," she answered reflectively. "I can shoot very
well with a rifle, for my father has taught me, but I never would
shoot at living things unless I must because I was hungry, for I
think that to kill is cruel. But, of course, it is different with
men," she added hastily, "and no doubt you will be a great hunter
one day, Allan Quatermain, since you can already aim so well."
"I hope so," I answered, blushing at the compliment, "for I love
hunting, and when there are so many wild things it does not matter
if we kill a few. I shot these for you and your father to eat."
"Come, then, and give them to him. He will thank you," and she
led the way through the gate in the sandstone wall into the yard,
where the outbuildings stood in which the riding horses and the
best of the breeding cattle were kept at night, and so past the end
of the long, one-storied house, that was stone-built and
whitewashed, to the stoep or veranda in front of it.
On the broad stoep, which commanded a pleasant view over
rolling, park-like country, where mimosa and other trees grew in
clumps, two men were seated, drinking strong coffee, although it
was not yet ten o'clock in the morning.
Hearing the sound of the horses, one of these, Mynheer Marais,
whom I already knew, rose from his hide-strung chair. He was, as I
think I have said, not in the least like one of the phlegmatic
Boers, either in person or in temperament, but, rather, a typical
Frenchman, although no member of his race had set foot in France
for a hundred and fifty years. At least so I discovered afterwards,
for, of course, in those days I knew nothing of Frenchmen.
His companion was also French, Leblanc by name, but of a very
different stamp. In person he was short and stout. His large head
was bald except for a fringe of curling, iron-grey hair which grew
round it just above the ears and fell upon his shoulders, giving
him the appearance of a tonsured but dishevelled priest. His eyes
were blue and watery, his mouth was rather weak, and his cheeks
were pale, full and flabby. When the Heer Marais rose, I, being an
observant youth, noted that Monsieur Leblanc took the opportunity
to stretch out a rather shaky hand and fill up his coffee cup out
of a black bottle, which from the smell I judged to contain peach
In fact, it may as well be said at once that the poor man was a
drunkard, which explains how he, with all his high education and
great ability, came to hold the humble post of tutor on a remote
Boer farm. Years before, when under the influence of drink, he had
committed some crime in France—I don't know what it was, and never
inquired—and fled to the Cape to avoid prosecution. Here he
obtained a professorship at one of the colleges, but after a while
appeared in the lecture-room quite drunk and lost his employment.
The same thing happened in other towns, till at last he drifted to
distant Maraisfontein, where his employer tolerated his weakness
for the sake of the intellectual companionship for which something
in his own nature seemed to crave. Also, he looked upon him as a
compatriot in distress, and a great bond of union between them was
their mutual and virulent hatred of England and the English, which
in the case of Monsieur Leblanc, who in his youth had fought at
Waterloo and been acquainted with the great Emperor, was not
Henri Marais's case was different, but of that I shall have more
to say later.
"Ah, Marie," said her father, speaking in Dutch, "so you have
found him at last," and he nodded towards me, adding: "You should
be flattered, little man. Look you, this missie has been sitting
for two hours in the sun waiting for you, although I told her you
would not arrive much before ten o'clock, as your father the
predicant said you would breakfast before you started. Well, it is
natural, for she is lonely here, and you are of an age, although of
a different race"; and his face darkened as he spoke the words.
"Father," answered Marie, whose blushes I could see even in the
shadow of her cap, "I was not sitting in the sun, but under the
shade of a peach tree. Also, I was working out the sums that
Monsieur Leblanc set me on my slate. See, here they are," and she
held up the slate, which was covered with figures, somewhat
smudged, it is true, by the rubbing of my stiff hair and of her
Then Monsieur Leblanc broke in, speaking in French, of which, as
it chanced I understood the sense, for my father had grounded me in
that tongue, and I am naturally quick at modern languages. At any
rate, I made out that he was asking if I was the little "cochon
d'anglais," or English pig, whom for his sins he had to teach. He
added that he judged I must be, as my hair stuck up on my head—I
had taken off my hat out of politeness—as it naturally would do on
a pig's back.
This was too much for me, so, before either of the others could
speak, I answered in Dutch, for rage made me eloquent and bold:
"Yes, I am he; but, mynheer, if you are to be my master, I hope
you will not call the English pigs any more to me."
"Indeed, gamin" (that is, little scamp), "and pray, what will
happen if I am so bold as to repeat that truth?"
"I think, mynheer," I replied, growing white with rage at this
new insult, "the same that has happened to yonder buck," and I
pointed to the klipspringer behind Hans's saddle. "I mean that I
shall shoot you."
"Peste! Au moins il a du courage, cet enfant" (At least the
child is plucky), exclaimed Monsieur Leblanc, astonished. From that
moment, I may add, he respected me, and never again insulted my
country to my face.
Then Marais broke out, speaking in Dutch that I might
"It is you who should be called pig, Leblanc, not this boy, for,
early as it is, you have been drinking. Look! the brandy bottle is
half empty. Is that the example you set to the young? Speak so
again and I turn you out to starve on the veld. Allan Quatermain,
although, as you may have heard, I do not like the English, I beg
your pardon. I hope you will forgive the words this sot spoke,
thinking that you did not understand," and he took off his hat and
bowed to me quite in a grand manner, as his ancestors might have
done to a king of France.
Leblanc's face fell. Then he rose and walked away rather
unsteadily; as I learned afterwards, to plunge his head in a tub of
cold water and swallow a pint of new milk, which were his favourite
antidotes after too much strong drink. At any rate, when he
appeared again, half an hour later, to begin out lesson, he was
quite sober, and extremely polite.
When he had gone, my childish anger being appeased, I presented
the Heer Marais with my father's compliments, also with the buck
and the birds, whereof the latter seemed to please him more than
the former. Then my saddle-bags were taken to my room, a little
cupboard of a place next to that occupied by Monsieur Leblanc, and
Hans was sent to turn the horses out with the others belonging to
the farm, having first knee-haltered them tightly, so that they
should not run away home.
This done, the Heer Marais showed me the room in which we were
to have our lessons, one of the "sitkammer", or sitting chambers,
whereof, unlike most Boer stead, this house boasted two. I remember
that the floor was made of "daga", that is, ant-heap earth mixed
with cow-dung, into which thousands of peach-stones had been thrown
while it was still soft, in order to resist footwear—a rude but
fairly efficient expedient, and one not unpleasing to the eye. For
the rest, there was one window opening on to the veranda, which, in
that bright climate, admitted a shaded but sufficient light,
especially as it always stood open; the ceiling was of unplastered
reeds; a large bookcase stood in the corner containing many French
works, most of them the property of Monsieur Leblanc, and in the
centre of the room was the strong, rough table made of native
yellow-wood, that once had served as a butcher's block. I recollect
also a coloured print of the great Napoleon commanding at some
battle in which he was victorious, seated upon a white horse and
waving a field-marshal's baton over piles of dead and wounded; and
near the window, hanging to the reeds of the ceiling, the nest of a
pair of red-tailed swallows, pretty creatures that, notwithstanding
the mess they made, afforded to Marie and me endless amusement in
the intervals of our work.
When, on that day, I shuffled shyly into this homely place, and,
thinking myself alone there, fell to examining it, suddenly I was
brought to a standstill by a curious choking sound which seemed to
proceed from the shadows behind the bookcase. Wondering as to its
cause, I advanced cautiously to discover a pink-clad shape standing
in the corner like a naughty child, with her head resting against
the wall, and sobbing slowly.
"Marie Marais, why do you cry?" I asked.
She turned, tossing back the locks of long, black hair which
hung about her face, and answered:
"Allan Quatermain, I cry because of the shame which has been put
upon you and upon our house by that drunken Frenchman."
"What of that?" I asked. "He only called me a pig, but I think I
have shown him that even a pig has tusks."
"Yes," she replied, "but it was not you he meant; it was all the
English, whom he hates; and the worst of it is that my father is of
his mind. He, too, hates the English, and, oh! I am sure that
trouble will come of his hatred, trouble and death to many."
"Well, if so, we have nothing to do with it, have we?" I replied
with the cheerfulness of extreme youth.
"What makes you so sure?" she said solemnly. "Hush! here comes