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Treasure and the occult are vividly blended in this stirring tale of Africa. Allan Quatermain finds a village in the middle of the Dark Continent ruled by a huge, pale man with a strange knowledge of future events. This is the last Quatermain book.
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Copyright © 2016 by H. Rider Haggard
Published by Ozymandias Press
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PREFACE BY ALLAN QUATERMAIN
I CANNOT REMEMBER THAT ANYWHERE in this book I have stated what it was that first gave me the idea of attempting to visit Mone, the Holy Lake, and the Dabanda who live upon, or, to be precise, at some distance from its shores. Therefore I will do so now.
There is a certain monastery in Natal where I have been made welcome from time to time, among whose brethren was a very learned monk, now “gone down”, as the Zulus say, who, although our faiths were different, honoured me with his confidence upon many matters, and I think I may add with his friendship. Brother Ambrose, as he was called in religion—what his real name may have been I do not know—a Swede by birth, would have been an archaeologist, also an anthropologist pure and simple, had he not chanced to be a saint. As it was he managed to combine much knowledge of these sciences with his noted and singular holiness. For example, he was the greatest authority upon Bushmen’s paintings that I have ever met, and knew more of the history, religions, customs, and habits of the inhabitants of Southern, Eastern, and South-central Africa—well, than I did myself. Thus it came about, our tastes being so similar on these and other subjects, that when we could not meet and talk, often we corresponded.
One of his learned letters, which I still preserve, was written to me many years ago from Mozambique, whither he had gone upon a journey connected with the missionary enterprises of his order. From it, for the sake of accuracy, I will quote some passages.
Brother Ambrose says:
In this island I have come into touch with a man, a rescued slave whom it was my privilege to baptize and to attend through his last illness, during which he made many confidences to me. Peter, as he was called because he was received into the Church upon the feast day of that saint, was a man of unusual appearance. His general cast of countenance and physique were Arab, and his native language was a somewhat archaic dialect of Arabic. His eyes, however, were large and round, almost owl-like, indeed—by the way, he had a singular faculty of seeing in the dark—and his handsome features were remarkable for a melancholy, which I think must have been inherited and not due to his experiences of life.
He told me that he belonged to a small tribe dwelling in the neighbourhood of mountains called Ruga, far beyond a great lake—I am not sure what lake—which mountains I gathered are not far distant from some branch of the Congo River in the remote interior. The home of his tribe, if I understood him aright, was a large hollow of land enclosed by cliffs. In the centre of this hollow lies a big sheet of water surrounded by forest which, he said, is considered holy. When I asked him why it was holy, he replied because on an island in this water dwelt a priestess who is a Shadow of God, or of the gods, a beautiful woman with many magical powers, who utters oracles and bestows blessings on her worshippers (which, being interpreted, means, I take it, a fetish or rather the head servant of a fetish credited with the power of making rain and of averting misfortunes). About this person he told me many legends too absurd to record, amongst others that she and her husband, who is the chief of the tribe—for she has a husband—are sacrificed at a certain age, when her place is taken by another ‘Shadow’, who is reputed to be her daughter.
One other thing he told me which I am sure will interest you very much; indeed, although I am very busy, I write this letter chiefly in order to pass on the superstition, or legend, or whatever it may be, before I forget exactly what he said. You and I have often discussed the mysteries of the African forms of taboo. Well, Peter described a variety of it that was quite new to me. He declared that to his tribe ALL wild game are taboo and may not be killed or eaten by any member of the tribe, who, it seems, are largely vegetarians, but supplement this diet with the flesh of goats and cattle, of which they possess many herds. Nor is this all, for he assured me further that his people exercised great power over these untamed beasts, living with them on the same terms of familiarity as we do with dogs and horses and other domestic animals. Thus he asserted positively that they can send them away to or call them back from any given spot, and make them do their bidding in various other fashions, even to the extent of being able to cause them to attack anyone they choose.
I tried to extract from him what he believed to be the reason for this alleged remarkable authority over the wild fauna of his country, but all I could make out was that the priests taught some form of the old Pythagorean doctrine of metempsychosis (as you know, not uncommon in Africa, especially when tyrannical chiefs are concerned); I mean that the souls of men, particularly of those who had led evil lives, are reborn in the bodies of beasts, which beasts are therefore, in a sense, their kin, and on this account feared and venerated.
It was extremely curious to hear these pre-Christian delusions from the mouth of a modern African native, and I wonder very much if his story has any faint foundation in fact. Probably not, but, my dear friend, if ever you get the chance in the course of your explorations, DO try to find out. You know that, like you, I hold that scattered here and there through the vast expanse of Africa are the remains of peoples who still preserve fragments of ancient systems and religions, such as the Babylonian star-worship or that of the gods of old Egypt.”
Then the letter goes on to tell of the decease of Peter, before Brother Ambrose could further pursue his inquiries about a carving that he had discovered somewhere on the East Coast, which he thought must have been executed by Bushmen in the remote past; although there is, or was, no other evidence that they ever lived so far north.
This incident of the strange story told to Father Ambrose by the dying native, Peter, remained fixed in my mind, and in the end was the real cause of the journey described in the following pages.
I should like to take this opportunity to say that on re- reading this record, which is an expanded version of a diary I kept at the time, I am not sure that I have succeeded in conveying an adequate sense of the eeriness that pervaded the Dabanda people and their country. No wonder that added to the various humiliations which I suffered in their land, this unearthly atmosphere, whereof dwellers in the fetish-ridden districts of Africa have often had experience, at last got upon my nerves to such an extent that if I had stopped there much longer I believe I should have gone crazy.
Another thing that I wish to state is that on weighing the evidence, whatever reasons old Kumpana and others may have given, I am now convinced that Hans was right and that the real cause which led them to procure the return of Kaneke to Mone-land, was that they might execute him in punishment for his crime of sacrilege in earlier life. On this I believe they were determined both from vindictiveness and because, under their iron law, while he lived it was impossible for the mysterious “Treasure of the Lake” to take another man to husband, as for their own secret reasons they desired that she should do.
Lastly, it might be asked why I do not more accurately indicate the exact geographic position of Mone-land and its holy hidden lake. I will face ridicule—especially as I shall never live to feel its shafts —and make a confession. Before I left his country, as Arkle had done in his letter, Kumpana assured me with much quiet emphasis that if I revealed its exact locality and explained how it could be reached by any other white man, the results to them, also to myself and Hans in this or later lives, would be most unpleasant. I did not and do not believe him; still, in view of my experience of the uncanny powers of the Dabanda priests, I thought it wise —well, to keep on the safe side and on this point to remain a little indefinite.
Now when I grow old it becomes every day more clear to me, Allan Quatermain, that each of us is a mystery living in the midst of mysteries, bringing these with us when we are born and taking them away with us when we die; doubtless into a land of other and yet deeper mysteries. At first, while we are quite young, everything seems very clear and simple. There is a male individual called Father and a female called Mother who, between them, have made us a present to the world, or of the world to us, whichever way you like to put it, apparently by arrangement with the kingdom of heaven; at least that is what we are taught. There are the sun, the moon, and the stars above us and the solid earth beneath, there are lessons and dinner and a time to get up and a time to go to bed—in short there are a multitude of things, all quite obvious and commonplace, which may be summed up in three words, the established order, in which, by the decree of Papa and Mamma and the heavens above, we live and move and have our being.
Then the years go by, the terrible, remorseless years that bear us as steadily from the cradle to the grave as a creeping glacier bears a stone. With every one of them, after the first fifteen or so when we become adult, or in some instances earlier if we chance to be what is called “rather unusual”, a little piece of the curtain is rolled up or a little hole is widened in the veil, and beneath that curtain, or through that enlarging hole, we see the mysteries moving in the dusk beyond. So swiftly do they come and go, and so dark is the background, that we never discern them clearly. There, if time is given to us to fix them in our minds, they appear; for a moment they are seen, then they are gone, to be succeeded by others even yet more wondrous, or perhaps more awful.
But why go on talking of what is endless and unfathomable? Amidst this wondrous multitude of enigmas we poor, purblind, slow-witted creatures must make our choice of those we wish to study. Long ago I made mine, one local and terrestrial, namely the land with which I have been connected all my life —Africa—and the other universal and spiritual, namely human nature. What! some may ask, do you call human nature spiritual? The very words belie you. What is there spiritual about that which is human?
My friend, I answer, in my opinion, my most humble and fallible opinion, almost everything. More and more do I become convinced that we are nearly all spirit, notwithstanding our gross apparent bodies with their deeds and longings. You have seen those coloured globes that pedlars sell—I mean the floating things tinted to this hue or that, that are the delight of children. The children buy these balls and toss them into the air, where they travel one way or the other, blown by winds we cannot see, till in the end they burst and of each there remains nothing but a little shrivelled skin, a shred of substance, which they are told is made from the gum of a tree. Well, to my fancy that expanded skin or shred is a good symbol of the human body, so large and obvious to the sight, yet driven here and there by the breath of circumstance and in the end destroyed. But what was within it which escapes at last and is no more seen? To my mind the gas with which the globe was filled represents the spirit of man, imprisoned for a while; then to all appearance lost.
I dare say that the example is faulty; still, I use it because it conveys something of my idea. So, good or bad, I let it stand and pass on to an easier theme, or at any rate one easier to handle, namely that of the mysteries of the great continent of Africa.
Now all the world is wonderful, but surely among its countries there is none more so than Africa; no, not even China the unchanging, or India the ancient. For this reason, I think: those great lands have always been more or less known to their own inhabitants, whereas Africa, as a whole, from the beginning was and still remains unknown.
To this day great sections of its denizens are quite ignorant of other sections, as much so as was mighty Egypt of the millions of the neighbouring peoples in the time when a voyage to the Land of Punt, which I take to have been the country that we now know as Uganda, was looked upon as a marvellous adventure. Again, there is the instance of Solomon, or rather Hiram and his gold traffic with Ophir, the dim and undefined, that doubtless was the district lying at the back of Sofala. But why multiply such examples, of which there are many? And if this is true of Africa, the Libya of the early world, as a country, is it not still more true of its inhabitants, divided as these are into countless races, peoples, and tribes, each of them with its own gods or ancestral spirits, language, customs, traditions, and mental outlook established in the passage of innumerable ages?
So far as my small experience goes, for though many might think it large it is still small, these are my opinions which I venture to state as an opening to what I have always considered a very curious history, in which it was my fortune to play some small and humble part. For let it be understood at once that I was by no means the chief actor in this business. Indeed, I was never more than an agent, a kind of connecting wire between the parties concerned, an insignificant bridge over which their feet travelled to certain ends that I presume to have been appointed by Fate. Still, I saw much of the play and now, when the curtain has been long rung down, by help of the diary I kept at the time and have preserved, I will try to record such memories of it as remain to me—well, because rightly or wrongly I think that they are worth recording.
Years ago, accompanied by my servant Hans, the old and faithful Hottentot with whom I have experienced so many adventures, I made a great journey to what I may almost call Central Africa, starting in from the East Coast. It was a hazardous adventure into which I had been led by tales that had reached me of the enormous herds of elephants to be found in what I suppose must now be the north of the Belgian Congo. Or perhaps it is still No Man’s Land as it was in those days—really, I do not know. Nor is this wonderful, seeing that with a single exception I believe that I was the first white man to set foot in that particular district which lies beyond the Lado mountains north of Jissa and of the Denbo River.
To be truthful, however, it was not only the elephants that took me to these parts, guessing, as I did, that if I found them it might be of little avail, since probably ivory in bulk would prove impossible to carry. No, it was rather the desire to look upon new things, to discover the Unknown which is so strong a part of my nature, that at times it half reconciles me to the prospect of death which I, who believe that we do not go out, believe also must be a land or a state full of all that is strange and wonderful.
I had heard from natives in the neighbourhood of the great lake Victoria Nyanza that there was a marvellous country between two rivers known as M’bomu and Balo, where dwelt strange tribes who were said to dress like Arabs and to talk a sort of Arabic; also that somewhere in this country was a holy lake, a big sheet of water that none was allowed to approach. Further, that in this lake, which was called Mone (pronounced like groan), a word of unknown meaning, was an island “where dwelt the gods”, or the spirits, for the term used was capable of either interpretation.
Now, when I heard of this Holy Lake called Mone, “where dwelt the gods”, at once my mind went back to the letter of which I have spoken in the preface of this book, that long years before I had received from my late friend, Brother Ambrose, telling me what he had learned from a slave whom he had christened.
Could it be the same, I wondered, as that of which the slave had told Brother Ambrose? Instantly, and with much suppressed excitement, I set to work to make further inquiries, and was informed that a certain Kaneke, a stranger who had been a slave and was now the chief or captain of an Arab settlement some fifty miles away from where I met these natives, could give me information about the lake, inasmuch as he was reported to be born of the people who dwelt upon its borders.
Then and there I changed my plans, as indeed was convenient to me because of the suddenly developed hostility of a chief through whose territory I had intended to pass, and in order to seek out this Kaneke, took a road running in another direction to that which I had designed to travel. Little did I guess at the time that Kaneke was seeking ME out and that the natives who told me the legend of the lake were, in fact, his emissaries sent to tempt me to visit him, or that it was he who had incited the chief against me in order to block my path.
Well, in due course I reached Kaneke-town, as it was called, without accident, for although between me and it dwelt a very dangerous tribe whom at first I had purposed to avoid, all at once their chief and headman became friendly and helped me in every way upon my journey. Kaneke, a remarkable person whom I will describe later, received me well, giving me a place to camp outside his village and all the food that we required. Also he proved extraordinarily communicative, telling me directly that he belonged to a tribe called Dabanda, which had its home in the wild parts whereof I have spoken. He added that he was the “high-born” son of a great doctor or medicine-man, a calling which all his family had followed for generations. In some curious way, of which I did not at first learn the details, while undergoing his novitiate as a doctor or magician, this man had been seized by a rival tribe, the Abanda, and ultimately sold as a slave to an Arab trader, one Hassan, who brought him down to the neighbourhood of the great lake.
Here also, according to his own story, it seemed that one night this Kaneke succeeded in murdering Hassan.
“I crept on him in the night. I got him by the throat. I choked the life out of him,” he said, twitching his big hands, “and as he died I whispered in his ear of all the cruel things he had done to me. He made signs to me, praying for mercy, but I went on till I had killed him, whispering to him all the while. When he was dead I took his body and threw it out into the bush, having first stripped him. There a lion found it and bore it away, for in the morning it was gone. Then, Macumazahn” (that is the native name by which I, Allan Quatermain, am known in Africa, and which had come with me to these parts), “I played a great game, such as you might have done, O Watcher-by-Night. I returned to the tent of Hassan and sat there thinking.
“I heard the lion, or lions come, for I think there was more than one of them, as I was sure that they would come who had called them by a charm, and guessed that they had eaten or carried away Hassan the evil. When all was quiet I dressed myself in the robes of Hassan. I found his gun, which on the journey he had taught me to use, that I might shoot the slaves who could travel no farther for him; his pistol also, and saw that they were loaded. Then I sat myself upon his stool and waited for the light.
“At the dawn one of his women crept into the tent to visit him. I seized her. She stared at me, saying:
“‘You are not my master. You are not Hassan.’
“I answered, ‘I am your master. I am Hassan, whose face the spirits have changed in the night.’
“She opened her mouth to cry out. I said:
“‘Woman, if you try to scream, I will kill you. If you are quiet I will take you. Look on me. I am young. Hassan was old. I am a finer man, you will be happier with me. Choose now. Will you die, or live?’
“‘I will live,’ she said, she who was no fool.
“‘Then I am Hassan, am I not?’ I asked.
“‘Yes,’ she said, ‘you are Hassan and my lord. I am sure of it now.’
“For I tell you, that woman had wit, Macumazahn, and I was sorry when, two years afterwards, she died.
“‘Good,’ I said. ‘Now, when the servants of Hassan come you will swear that I am he and no other, remembering that if you do not swear you die.’
“‘I will swear,’ she answered.
“Presently the headman of Hassan came, a big fat fellow who was half an Arab, to bring him his morning drink. I took it and drank. The light of the rising sun struck into the tent. He saw and started back.
“‘You are not Hassan,’ he said. ‘You are the slave Kaneke, whom we bought.’
“‘I am Hassan,’ I answered. ‘Ask my wife here, whom you know, if I am not Hassan. Also, if I am not, where is Hassan?’
“‘Yes, he is Hassan, my husband,’ broke in the woman.
“‘This is witchcraft!’ he cried, and ran away.
“‘Now he is gone to fetch the others,’ I said to the woman. ‘Fasten back the sides of the tent that I may see, and give me the guns.’
“She obeyed, though then she sat exposed, and I took the double-barrelled gun and held it ready.
“Presently, they all came, five or six Arabs, or half Arabs, and a score or so of black soldiers. Even the slaves came, dragging their yokes, fifty or more of them of whom perhaps thirty were men, all known to me, for had we not shared the yoke? There they stood huddled together behind the Arabs, staring.
“‘Take a knife,’ I whispered to the woman; ‘slip out, get among the slaves and cut the thongs of the yokes.’
“She nodded—have I not told you that girl had wits, Macumazahn? —and slipped away.
“Cried the fat one, the captain:
“‘This fellow, whom we all know for Kaneke, the slave whom we bought, says that he is Hassan our lord. Yes, there he sits in Hassan’s robes and says that he is Hassan. Dog, where is Hassan?’
“‘Inside this garment,’ I answered. ‘Listen. I made a bargain with Hassan, I who am a wizard. I forgave him his sins against me, and in return he gave me his soul while his body flew away to Paradise.’
“‘The liar!’ shouted the captain. ‘Kill him!’ and he brandished a spear.
“‘Admit that I am Hassan or I will send you to where you will learn that I am no liar,’ I said quietly.
“In answer he lifted the spear to stab me. Then I shot him dead.
“‘Now am I Hassan?’ I asked, while the rest stared at him.
“One or two who were frightened said ‘Yes’. Others stood silent, and a big fellow began to put a cap upon his gun. I shot him with the other barrel, then, rising, roared in a great voice:
“‘On to them, slaves, if you would be free!’ for by now I saw that the woman had cut many of the thongs.
“Those men were brave, they came of good stock. They heard, and leapt on to the Arabs with a shout, knocking them down with the yokes and throttling them with their hands. Soon it was over. Most of them were killed, but two or three crawled before me crying that I was certainly Hassan.
“‘Very well,’ I said. ‘Take away these’—here I pointed to the dead men—’and throw them into yonder ravine, and bid the women prepare food while I make prayer according to my custom.’
“Then I took Hassan’s beautiful prayer-rug, spread it and made obeisance in the proper fashion, muttering with my lips as I had often watched him do; after which everything went smoothly. That is all the story, Macumazahn.”
When he had finished this tale, which, true or false, of its sort was remarkable even in equatorial Africa, where such things happen, or happened, by the score without anybody hearing of them, I sat awhile considering Kaneke.
To tell the truth he was worth study. A giant of a man in size, he was not a negro by any means, for his features had a somewhat Semitic cast and he was yellow-hued rather than black. Moreover, he had hair, not wool, wavy hair that he wore rather long. His eyes were so prominent, round, and lustrous that they gave an owl-like cast to his countenance, his features well cut, although the lips were somewhat coarse and the nose was hooked like a hawk’s beak, while his hands and feet were thin and shapely, and in curious contrast to his great athletic frame and swelling muscles. His age might have been anything between thirty-five and forty, and he carried his years well, moving with the swing and vigour of youth.
It was his face, however, that commanded my attention as a student of character. It was extraordinarily strong and yet dreamy, almost mystical, indeed, when in repose, the face of a thinker, or even of a priest. Contemplating him I could almost believe the strange tale he had told me, which in the case of most natives I should have set down as an outrageous lie. For here, without doubt, was a man who could conceive a plot of the sort and execute it without hesitation. Yet he was one to whom I took a dislike from the moment I set eyes upon him. Instinctively, however attractive he might be in some ways, I felt that at bottom he was dangerous and not to be trusted. Still, he interested me very much, as did his story, especially that part of it in which he said that he called the lions “by a charm”.
“What happened afterwards, Kaneke?” I asked at last.
“Oh, very little, Macumazahn. I became Hassan, though they called me ‘the Changeling’; that is all. I did not travel on towards the coast because I thought it safer to stop where I was, not daring to go either forward or back. So I gathered people about me and founded the town in which you are. Once some Arabs came to kill me, but I killed them, and after that I was no more molested, because, you see, I was looked upon as a ghost-man, one who had a great ju-ju, one not to be touched; and all were afraid of me.”
“You mean you became a witch-doctor again, Kaneke.”
“Yes, Macumazahn. Or, rather, I was that already, a diviner and a master of spells, like my fathers before me. So here I set up as a sort of wise man as well as a warrior, and soon gained a great repute, which caused all the people round about to send to me to give them medicines and charms, or to make rain. Thus, and with the help of trade, I became rich and powerful as I am today.”
“Then you are a happy man, Kaneke.”
He rolled his big round eyes and looked at me earnestly, asking:
“Is any man happy, Macumazahn, or at least any man who thinks? The beasts are happy; can man be happy like the beasts who never look to tomorrow or to the hour of death?”
“Now that you mention it, Kaneke, I do not suppose that any man is happy, except sometimes for an hour when he forgets himself in drink, or love, or war.”
“Or when he talks with the heavens,” added Kaneke, which I thought a strange remark. “Yes, then and in sleep he is sometimes happy till he wakes to the sorrow of the day.”
He paused a little and went on:
“If this be so with all men, how much more is it so with those who have known the yoke and who must grow old far from their homes, as I do? For such there is no joy, for even their dreams are haunted. In these they see the village where they were born and the distant mountains and the face of their mother, and hear the voices of their playmates and of those they loved, that now are still.”
I sighed as the truth of his words came home to me.
“If you feel thus,” I answered presently, “why do you not return to your home?”
“I will tell you, Macumazahn. There are many reasons, among them these. Here I rule over people who would not wish to go with me and who, if I forced them, would run away, or perhaps poison me. Indeed, they would not let me go because I am necessary to them, protecting them from their enemies and from wild beasts, and giving them rain, as I can do. Again, the road is long and dangerous, and maybe I should not live to come to its end. Also, if I did, what should I find? I was my father’s eldest son, born of his chief wife, and to me he told the secrets of his wisdom that have come down to us through the generations. But I have been absent for years and mayhap another has taken my place. My people would not welcome me, Macumazahn. They might kill me, especially if they who know all, have learned that I have betrayed my own goddess by bending the knee to the Prophet, even though I never bent my heart. Still, it is true that I wish to risk all and return, even if it be to die.”
Now I grew deeply interested, for always I have loved to discover the mysteries of these strange African faiths.
“Your own goddess?” I asked. “What goddess?”
All this time we were seated in the shade of a flat-topped, thick-leaved tree of the banyan species, the Tree of Council it was called, that grew upon a little knoll at a distance from Kaneke’s town. He rose and walked all round this place, as though to make sure that no one was near us. Then he stared up into its branches, where he discovered a monkey sitting. I knew that it was there, but he did not seem to have noticed it. At this monkey he began to shout out something, as though he were giving it orders, till at last the little beast ran along the boughs of the tree, dropped to the ground and bolted for the bush in the distance.
“Why do you hunt it away?” I asked.
“A monkey can hear and is very like a man. Perhaps a monkey can tell tales, Macumazahn.”
I laughed, for of course I understood that this was an African way of indicating that the matter to be discussed was most solemn and private. By driving away that monkey Kaneke was swearing me to the strictest secrecy —or so I thought.
He came back and moved his stool, I noted, into such a position that the light of the westering sun striking through the lower boughs of the tree flickered on my face and left his in shadow. I lit my pipe leisurely, so that for some time there was silence between us. The fact is I was determined that he should be the first to speak. It is a good rule with any native when a subject of importance is concerned.
“You asked me of my goddess, Macumazahn.”
“Did I, Kaneke?” I replied, puffing at my pipe to make it burn. “Oh yes, I remember. Well, who is she and where does she live? On earth or in heaven —which is the home of goddesses?”
“Yesterday, Macumazahn, you—or perhaps it was that little yellow man, your servant Hans—asked me if I had ever heard of a lake called Mone which lies in the hidden land where dwell my people, the Dabanda, beyond the Ruga-Ruga Mountains.”
“I dare say. I remember having heard of this lake, which interested me because of legends connected with it, though I forget what they were. What about it?”
“Only that it is there my goddess dwells, Macumazahn.”
“Indeed. Then I suppose that she is a water-spirit.”
“I cannot say, Macumazahn. I only know that she dwells with her women on the island in the lake, and at night, when it is very dark, sometimes she and her companions are heard upon the water, or passing through the forests, singing and laughing.”
“Did you ever see her, Kaneke?”
He hesitated like one who seeks time to make up a plausible story, or so I thought, then answered:
“Yes. Once when I was young. I had been sent to look for some goats of ours that had strayed, and following them into the forest which slopes down to the lake, I lost myself there. Night came on and I lay down to sleep under a tree, or rather to watch for the dawn, so that with the light I might escape from that darksome, haunted place, of which I was afraid.”
“Well, and what happened?”
“So much that I cannot remember all, Macumazahn. Spirits went by me; I heard them in the tree-tops and above; I heard them pass through the forest, laughing; I felt them gather about me and knew that they were mocking me. At length all those Wood-Dwellers went away, leaving me as terrified as though a lion had come and eaten out of my bowl. The moon rose and her light pierced down through the boughs, a shaft of it here, a shaft of it there, with breadths of blackness between. I shut my eyes, trying to sleep, then hearing sounds, I opened them again. I looked up. There in the heart of one of the pools of light stood a woman, a fair-skinned woman like to one of your people, Macumazahn. She seemed to be young and slender, also beautiful, as I perceived when she turned her head and the moon shone upon her face and showed her soft, dark eyes, which were like those of a buck. For the rest she was clad in grey garments that glimmered like a spider’s web filled with dew at dawn. There was a cap upon her head and from beneath it her black hair flowed down upon her shoulders. Oh, she was beautiful—so beautiful...” and he paused.
“That what, Kaneke?” I asked curiously.
“Lord, that I committed a great crime, the greatest in the whole world, the crime of sacrilege against her who is called the Shadow.”
“Shadow! Whose shadow?”
“The Shadow of the Engoi, the goddess who dwells in heaven and is shone upon by the star we worship above all other stars.” (This, I found afterwards, was the planet Venus.) “Or perhaps she dwells in the star and is shone upon by the moon—I do not know. At least, she who lives upon the island in the lake is the shadow of the Engoi upon earth, and that is why she is called Engoi and Shadow.”
“Very interesting,” I said, though I understood little of what he said, except that it was a piece of African occultism to which as yet I had not the key. “But what crime did you commit?”
“Lord, I was young and my blood was hot and the beauty of this wanderer in the forest made me mad. Lord, I threw my arms about her and embraced her. Or, rather, I tried to embrace her, but before my lips touched hers all my strength left me, my arms fell down and I became as a man of stone, though I could still see and hear...”
“What did you see and hear, Kaneke?” I asked, for again he paused in his story.
“I saw her lovely face grow terrible and I heard her say, ‘Do you know who I am, O man Kaneke, who are not afraid to do me violence in my holy, secret grove where none may set his foot?’ Lord, I tried to lie, but I could not who must answer, ‘I know that you are the Engoi; I know that your name is Shadow. I pray you to pardon me, O Shadow.’
“‘For what you have done there is no pardon. Still, your life is spared, if only for a while. Get you gone and let the Council of the Engoi deal with you as it will.’”
“And what happened then?”
“Then, Lord, she departed, vanishing away, and I too departed, flying through the forest terribly afraid and pursued by voices that proclaimed my crime and threatened vengeance. Next day the Council seized me and passed judgment on me, driving me from the land so that I fell into the hands of our enemies, the Abanda, who dwell upon the slopes of the mountains, and in the end was sold as a slave.”
“And how did this Council know what you had done, Kaneke?”
“What is known to the Shadow is known to her Council, and what is known to her Council is known to the Shadow, Lord.”
Now I considered Kaneke and his story, and came to the conclusion, a perfectly correct one, as I think, that he was lying to me. What his exact offence against this priestess may have been I don’t know and never learned in detail, though I believe that it was much worse than what he described. All that was certain is that he had committed some sacrilegious crime of such a character that, notwithstanding his rank, he was forced to fly out of his country in order to save his life, and to become an exile, which he remained.
Leaving that subject without further comment, I asked him who were these Abanda who delivered him into slavery.
“Lord,” he replied, “they are a branch of a people from whom we separated ages ago and who live on the plains beyond the mountains. They hate us and are jealous of us because the Engoi gives us rain and fruitful season, whereas often they suffer from drought and scarcity. Therefore they wish to take the land and Lake Mone, so that the Engoi may once more be their goddess also. More, they are a mighty people, whereas we are very few, for from generation to generation our numbers dwindle.”
“Then why do they not invade and defeat you, Kaneke?”
“Because they dare not, Lord; because if they set foot within the land of Mone a curse will fall upon them, seeing that it and we who dwell there are protected by the Stars of Heaven. Yet always they hope that the day will come when they can defy the curse and conquer us, who hold them back by wisdom and not by spears. And now, Macumazahn, I must go to make my prayer before the people to that prophet in whom I do not believe. Yet come to me again when the evening star has risen, for I have more to say to you, Macumazahn.”
I got up, then said:
“One more question before I go, Kaneke. Is this Engoi of whom you speak, who lives in a lake, a woman or—something more?”
“Lord, how can I answer? Certainly she is a woman, for she is born and dies, leaving behind her a daughter to take her place. Also she is something more, or so we are taught.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that the same flesh or Shadow dwells in every Engoi, although the flesh which holds it changes from generation to generation. There is a legend that she is an angel who sinned and fell from heaven.”
“What is the legend and how did she sin?”
A cunning look came over the face of Kaneke as he answered:
“The priests’ tale runs, Lord, that an Engoi of long ago loved a white man and that when he was forbidden to her, she killed him to take him to heaven with her. Therefore she must return to the world again and again till she finds that white man” (here he glanced at me) “and makes amends to him for her crime. She is looking for him now, and the Stars declare that the time is at hand when she will find him again.”
“Do they really?” I remarked. “Well, I hope she won’t be disappointed,” I added, reflecting to myself that Kaneke was a first-class imaginative liar, for though the idea of the sinful spirit returning to inhabit mortal flesh is as old as the world, his adaptation of it was ingenious.
What, I wondered, as I walked away, did that specious but false-hearted ruffian Kaneke want to get out of me? Whatever his object, certainly the man could not be trusted. According to his own account he was a fugitive outcast who had committed murder, one also who for his personal advantage pretended to profess a faith in which he admitted that he had no belief, showing thereby that he was of a traitorous and contemptible character. So sure was I of this, that but for one thing I would have put an end to my acquaintance with him then and there. He knew the way to Lake Mone and declared that it was his country. And I—well, I burned to find out the truth about this holy lake and the mysterious priestess who dwelt in the midst of its waters, she, without doubt, of whom Brother Ambrose had written to me so many years ago.
ALLAN’S BUSINESS INSTINCTS
I went to my camp, which was situated upon the outskirts of Kaneke’s village in a deserted garden where bananas, oranges, papaws, and other semi- tropical products fought for existence in a neglected confusion, working out the problem of the survival of the fittest. Here I found Hans the Hottentot, who had been my servant and in his own way friend from my youth up, as he was that of my father before me. He was seated in front of the palm-leaf shelter watching a pot upon the fire made of mealie-cobs from which the corn had been stripped, looking very hot and cross.
“So you have come at last, Baas,” he said volubly. “An hour ago that coast cook-boy, Aru, went off, leaving me to watch this stew which he said must be kept upon the simmer, neither boiling nor going cold, or it would be spoiled. He swore that he was going to pray to Allah, for he is a Prophet- worshipper, Baas. But I know what his prophet is like, for I found him kissing her last night; great fat girl with a mouth as wide as that plate and a bold eye that frightens me, Baas, who have always been timid of women.”
“Have you?” I said. “Then I wish you would be timid of other things too, gin-bottles, for instance.”
“Ah, Baas, a gin-bottle, I mean one that is full, is better than a woman, for of a gin-bottle you know the worst. You swallow the gin, you get drunk and it is very sad, and next morning your head aches and you think of all the sins you ever did. Yes, Baas, and if the gin was at all bad, their number is endless, and their colour so black that you feel that they can never be forgiven, however hard your reverend father, the Predikant, may pray for you up there. But, Baas, as the morning goes on, especially if you have the sense to drink a pint of milk and the luck to get it, and the sun shines, you grow better. Your sins roll away, you feel, or at least I do, that the prayers of your reverend father may have prevailed there in the Place of Fires, and that the slip is overlooked because Life’s road is so full of greasy mud, Baas, that few can travel it without sometimes sitting down to think. Now with women, as the Baas knows better perhaps than anyone, the matter is not so simple. You can’t wash HER away with a pint of milk and a little sunshine, Baas. She is always waiting round the corner; yes, even if she is dead—in your mind you know, Baas.”
“Be silent, Hans,” I said, “and give me my supper.”
“Yes, Baas; that is what I am trying to do, Baas, but something has gone wrong after all, for the stuff is sticking to the pot and I can’t get it out even with this iron spoon. I think that if the Baas would not mind taking the pot and helping himself, it would be much easier,” and he thrust that blackened article towards me.
“Hans,” I said, “if this place were not Mahommedan where there is no liquor, I should think that you had been drinking.”
“Baas, if you believe that Prophet-worshippers do not drink, your head is even softer than I imagined. It is true that they have no gin here, at least at present, because they have finished the last lot and cannot get any more till the traders come. But they make a kind of wine of their own out of palm trees which answers quite well if you can swallow enough of it without being sick, which I am sorry to say I can’t, Baas, and therefore this afternoon I have only had two pannikins full. If the Baas would like to try some—”
Here I lifted the first thing that came to hand—it was a three- legged stool—and hurled it at Hans, who slipped cleverly round the corner of the hut, probably because he was expecting its advent.
A while later, after I had tackled the stew—which had stuck to the pot—with unsatisfactory results, and lit my pipe, he returned to clear up, in such a chastened frame of mind that I gathered the palm-wine —well, let that be.
“What has the Baas been doing all the afternoon in this dull place?” he asked humbly, watching me with a furtive eye, for there was another stool within reach, also the pot. “Talking to that giant rain-maker, who looks like an owl in sunlight—I mean Kaneke—or perhaps to one of his wives; she who is so pretty,” he added, by an after-thought.
“Yes,” I said, “I have—to Kaneke, I mean, not to the wife, whom I do not know; indeed, I never heard that he had any wives.”
Then I added suddenly, for now that he had recovered from the palm-wine I wished to surprise the truth out of his keen mind:
“What do you think of Kaneke, Hans?”
Hans twiddled his dirty hat and fixed his little yellow eyes upon the evening sky, then he took the pot and, finding a remaining leg of fowl, ate it reflectively, after which he produced his corn-cob pipe and asked me for some tobacco. This, by the way, I was glad to see, for when Hans could smoke I knew that he was quite sober.
These preliminaries finished, he remarked.
“As to what was it that the Baas wished me to instruct him? Oh, I remember. About that big village headman, Kaneke. Well, Baas, I have made inquiries concerning him from his wife, who says she is jealous of him and therefore in a mood to speak the truth. First of all he is a great liar, Baas, though that is nothing for all these people are liars—not like me and you, Baas, who often speak the truth, or at least I do.”
“Stop fooling, and answer my question,” I said.
“Yes, Baas. Well, I said that he was a liar, did I not? For instance, I dare say he has told the Baas a fine tale about how he came to settle here, by killing the head of the slave-gang, after which all the other slavers acknowledged him as their chief. The truth is that he and the other slaves murdered the lot of them because he said he was a good Mahommedan and could not bear to see them drinking gin against the law, which for my part I think was clever of him. They surprised them in their sleep, Baas, and dragged them to the top of that cliff over the stream, where they threw them one by one into the water, except two who had beaten Kaneke. These he flogged to death, which I dare say they deserved. After this the people here, who hated the slavers because they robbed them, made Kaneke their chief because he was such a holy man who could not bear to see followers of the Prophet drink gin, also because they were afraid lest he should throw them over the cliff too. That is why he must be so strict about his prayers, because, you see, he must keep his fame for holiness and show that he is as good as he wishes others to be.”
Hans stopped to re-light his pipe with an ember, and I asked him impatiently if he had any more to say.
“Yes, Baas, lots. This Kaneke is not one man, he is two. The first Kaneke is a tyrant, one full of plots who would like to rule the world, a lover of liquor too, which he drinks in secret; fierce, cunning, cruel. The second Kaneke is one who dreams, who hears voices and sees things in the sky, who follows after visions, a true witch-doctor, a man who would seek what is afar, but who, living in this soft place, is like a lion in a cage. His mother must have made a mistake, and instead of bearing twins, got two spirits into one body where they must fight together till he dies.”
“I dare say. Many men have two spirits in one body. Is that all, Hans?”
“Yes—that is, no, Baas. You know this Kaneke brought you here, don’t you, Baas, and that all those troubles which we met with, so that we could not go the road we wanted because that tribe sent to say they would kill us if we did, were made by him so that you might come to his village.”
“I know nothing of the sort.”
“Well, it was so, Baas. The jealous woman told me all about it.”
“Why? What for? There is no big game here that I can shoot, and I am not rich to give him presents. Indeed, he has asked for nothing and feeds us without payment.”
“I am not sure, Baas, but I think that he wishes you to go somewhere with him; that the lion wants to come out of the cage and to kill for himself, instead of living on dead meat of which he is tired. Has he spoken to you about that holy lake of which we have heard, Baas? If not, I think he will.”
“Yes, Hans. It seems that it is in his country where he was born and that he had an adventure there in his youth, because of which his people drove him away.”
“Just so, Baas, and presently you will find that he desires to go back to his country and have more adventures or to pay off old scores, or both. Do you wish to go with him, Baas?”
“Do you, Hans?”
“I think not, Baas. This Kaneke is a spook man, and I am afraid of spooks who always make me feel cold down the back.”
Here Hans stared at the sky again, then added:
“And yet, Baas, I’d rather go to the lake or anywhere than stop in this place where there is nothing to do and the palm-wine makes one sick, especially as after all, a good Christian like Hans has nothing to fear from spooks, whom he can tell to go to hell, as your reverend father did, Baas. Lastly, as your reverend father used to say, too, when he stood in the box in a nightshirt, it doesn’t matter what I wish to do, or what you wish to do, since we shall go where we must, yes, where it pleases the Great One in the sky to send us, Baas, even if He uses Kaneke to drag us there by the hair of the head. And now, Baas, I must wash up those things before it gets dark, after which I have to meet that jealous wife of Kaneke’s yonder in a quiet place, and learn a little more from her, for as you know, Baas, Hans is always a seeker after wisdom.”
“Mind that you don’t find folly,” I remarked sententiously. Then remembering my promise and noting that the evening star was showing brightly in the quiet sky, I rose and went through the gate of the town, for my camp was outside the fence of prickly pears which was planted round the palisade, thinking as I walked that in his ridiculous way Hans had spoken a great truth. It was useless to bother about plans, seeing that we should go where it was fated that we should go, and nowhere else. Doubtless man has free will, but the path of circumstance upon which he is called to exercise it is but narrow.
At the gate I found a white-robed man waiting to guide me to Kaneke’s abode, “to keep off the dogs and see that I did not step upon a thorn”, as he said.
So I was conducted through the village, a tidy place in its way, to the north end, where outside the fence was that cliff with a stream, now nearly dry, running at the bottom of it over which Hans said Kaneke had thrown the slave-traders.
Round Kaneke’s house, that was square, thatched, and built of whitewashed clay, was a strong palisade through which the only entrance was by a double gate, for evidently this chief was one who took no risks. At the inner gate my guide bowed and left me. As he departed it was opened by Kaneke himself, who, I noted, made it fast behind me with a bar and some kind of primitive lock. Then he bowed before me in almost reverential fashion, saying:
“Enter, my lord Macumazahn, White Lord whose fame has travelled far. Yes, whose fame has reached me even in this dead place where no news comes.”
Now I looked at him, thinking to myself for the second time, “I do wonder what it is you want to get out of me, my friend.” Then I said:
“Has it indeed? That is very strange, seeing that I am no great one, no Queen’s man who wears ribbons and bright stars, nor even rich, but only a humble hunter who shoots and trades for his living.”
“It is not at all strange, O Macumazahn. Do you not know that every man of account has two values?—one his public value in the market-place, which may be much or little; and the other his private value, which is written in all minds that have judgment. Nor is it strange that I should be acquainted with this second and higher value of yours that stands apart from wealth, or honours cried by heralds. Have I not told you that I am one of the fraternity of witch-doctors, and do you not know that throughout Africa such doctors communicate with one another by curious and secret ways? I say that before ever you set foot upon our shores I knew that you were coming in a ship, also much concerning you. Amongst others a certain Zikali who dwells in the land of the Zulus, a chief of our brotherhood, sent me a message.”
“Oh, did he?” I said. “Well, Zikali’s ways are dark and strange, so I can almost believe it. But, friend Kaneke, is it wise to talk thus openly here? Doubtless you have women in your house, and women’s ears are long.”
“Women,” he answered. “Do you suppose that I keep such trash about me in my private place? Not so. Here my servants are men who are sworn to me, and even these leave me at sundown, save for the guard without my gates.”
“So you are a hermit, Kaneke.”
“At night I am a hermit, for then I commune with heaven. In the day I am as other men are, better than some and worse than others.”
Now I bethought me of Hans’ definition of this strange fellow whom he described as having two natures and not for the first time marvelled at the little Hottentot’s acumen and deductive powers.
Kaneke led me across the courtyard of beaten polished earth to the stoep or verandah of his house, which was more or less square in shape, consisting apparently of two rooms that had doors and windows after the Arab fashion, or rather window-places closed with mats, for there was no glass. On this stoep were two chairs, large string-seated chairs of ebony with high backs, such as are sometimes still to be found upon the East Coast. The view from the place was fine, for beneath at the foot of a precipice lay the river bed, and beyond it stretched a great plain. When I was seated Kaneke went into the house where a lamp was burning, and returned with a bottle of brandy, two glasses, curious old glasses, by the way, and an earthen vessel of water. At his invitation I helped myself, moderately enough; then he did the same—not quite so moderately.
“I thought that you were a Mahommedan,” I said, with an affectation of mild surprise.
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