- fathom after fathom we could trace its course till at last
a long line of bright air-bubbles, swiftly chasing each other
to the surface, alone remained where it had passed. At length
these, too, were gone, and that was an end of our poor servant.
Umslopogaas thoughtfully watched the body vanish.
'What did he follow us for?' he asked. ''Tis an ill omen for
thee and me, Macumazahn.' And he laughed.
I turned on him angrily, for I dislike these unpleasant suggestions.
If people have such ideas, they ought in common decency to keep
them to themselves. I detest individuals who make on the subject
of their disagreeable presentiments, or who, when they dream
that they saw one hanged as a common felon, or some such horror,
will insist upon telling one all about it at breakfast, even
if they have to get up early to do it.
Just then, however, the others woke up and began to rejoice exceedingly
at finding that we were out of that dreadful river and once more
beneath the blue sky. Then followed a babel of talk and suggestions
as to what we were to do next, the upshot of all of which was
that, as we were excessively hungry, and had nothing whatsoever
left to eat except a few scraps of biltong (dried game-flesh),
having abandoned all that remained of our provisions to those
horrible freshwater crabs, we determined to make for the shore.
But a new difficulty arose. We did not know where the shore
was, and, with the exception of the cliffs through which the
subterranean river made its entry, could see nothing but a wide
expanse of sparkling blue water. Observing, however, that the
long flights of aquatic birds kept flying from our left, we concluded
that they were advancing from their feeding-grounds on shore
to pass the day in the lake, and accordingly headed the boat
towards the quarter whence they came, and began to paddle. Before
long, however, a stiffish breeze sprang up, blowing directly
in the direction we wanted, so we improvized a sail with a blanket
and the pole, which took us along merrily. This done, we devoured
the remnants of our biltong, washed down with the sweet lake
water, and then lit our pipes and awaited whatever might turn up.
When we had been sailing for an hour, Good, who was searching
the horizon with the spy-glass, suddenly announced joyfully that
he saw land, and pointed out that, from the change in the colour
of the water, he thought we must be approaching the mouth of
a river. In another minute we perceived a great golden dome,
not unlike that of St Paul's, piercing the morning mists, and
while we were wondering what in the world it could be, Good reported
another and still more important discovery, namely, that a small
sailing-boat was advancing towards us. This bit of news, which
we were very shortly able to verify with our own eyes, threw
us into a considerable flutter. That the natives of this unknown
lake should understand the art of sailing seemed to suggest that
they possessed some degree of civilization. In a few more minutes
it became evident that the occupant or occupants of the advancing
boat had made us out. For a moment or two she hung in the wind
as though in doubt, and then came tacking towards us with great
swiftness. In ten more minutes she was within a hundred yards,
and we saw that she was a neat little boat - not a canoe 'dug
out', but built more or less in the European fashion with planks,
and carrying a singularly large sail for her size. But our attention
was soon diverted from the boat to her crew, which consisted
of a man and a woman, _nearly as white as ourselves_.
We stared at each other in amazement, thinking that we must be
mistaken; but no, there was no doubt about it. They were not
fair, but the two people in the boat were decidedly of a white
as distinguished from a black race, as white, for instance, as
Spaniards or Italians. It was a patent fact. So it was true,
after all; and, mysteriously led by a Power beyond our own, we
had discovered this wonderful people. I could have shouted for
joy when I thought of the glory and the wonder of the thing;
and as it was, we all shook hands and congratulated each other
on the unexpected success of our wild search. All my life had
I heard rumours of a white race that existed in the highlands
of this vast continent, and longed to put them to the proof,
and now here I saw it with my own eyes, and was dumbfounded.
Truly, as Sir Henry said, the old Roman was right when he wrote
'Ex Africa semper aliquid novi', which he tells me means that
out of Africa there always comes some new thing.
The man in the boat was of a good but not particularly fine physique,
and possessed straight black hair, regular aquiline features,
and an intelligent face. He was dressed in a brown cloth garment,
something like a flannel shirt without the sleeves, and in an
unmistakable kilt of the same material. The legs and feet were
bare. Round the right arm and left leg he wore thick rings of
yellow metal that I judged to be gold. The woman had a sweet
face, wild and shy, with large eyes and curling brown hair.
Her dress was made of the same material as the man's, and consisted,
as we afterwards discovered, first of a linen under-garment that
hung down to her knee, and then of a single long strip of cloth,
about four feet wide by fifteen long, which was wound round the
body in graceful folds and finally flung over the left shoulder
so that the end, which was dyed blue or purple or some other
colour, according to the social standing of the wearer, hung
down in front, the right arm and breast being, however, left
quite bare. A more becoming dress, especially when, as in the
present case, the wearer was young and pretty, it is quite impossible
to conceive. Good (who has an eye for such things) was greatly
struck with it, and so indeed was I. It was so simple and yet
Meanwhile, if we had been astonished at the appearance of the
man and woman, it was clear that they were far more astonished
at us. As for the man, he appeared to be overcome with fear
and wonder, and for a while hovered round our canoe, but would
not approach. At last, however, he came within hailing distance,
and called to us in a language that sounded soft and pleasing
enough, but of which we could not understand one word. So we
hailed back in English, French, Latin, Greek, German, Zulu, Dutch,
Sisutu, Kukuana, and a few other native dialects that I am acquainted
with, but our visitor did not understand any of these tongues;
indeed, they appeared to bewilder him. As for the lady, she was
busily employed in taking stock of us, and Good was returning
the compliment by staring at her hard through his eyeglass,
a proceeding that she seemed rather to enjoy than otherwise.
At length, the man, being unable to make anything of us, suddenly
turned his boat round and began to head off for the shore,
his little boat skimming away before the wind like a swallow.
As she passed across our bows the man turned to attend to the
large sail, and Good promptly took the opportunity to kiss his hand
to the young lady. I was horrified at this proceeding, both on
general grounds and because I feared that she might take offence,
but to my delight she did not, for, first glancing round and
seeing that her husband, or brother, or whoever he was, was engaged,
she promptly kissed hers back.
'Ah!' said I. 'It seems that we have at last found a language
that the people of this country understand.'
'In which case,' said Sir Henry, 'Good will prove an invaluable
I frowned, for I do not approve of Good's frivolities, and he
knows it, and I turned the conversation to more serious subjects.
'It is very clear to me,' I said, 'that the man will be back
before long with a host of his fellows, so we had best make up
our minds as to how we are going to receive them.'
'The question is how will they receive us?' said Sir Henry.
As for Good he made no remark, but began to extract a small square
tin case that had accompanied us in all our wanderings from under
a pile of baggage. Now we had often remonstrated with Good about
this tin case, inasmuch as it had been an awkward thing to carry,
and he had never given any very explicit account as to its contents;
but he had insisted on keeping it, saying mysteriously that it
might come in very useful one day.
'What on earth are you going to do, Good?' asked Sir Henry.
'Do - why dress, of course! You don't expect me to appear in
a new country in these things, do you?' and he pointed to his
soiled and worn garments, which were however, like all Good's
things, very tidy, and with every tear neatly mended.
We said no more, but watched his proceedings with breathless
interest. His first step was to get Alphonse, who was thoroughly
competent in such matters, to trim his hair and beard in the
most approved fashion. I think that if he had had some hot water
and a cake of soap at hand he would have shaved off the latter;
but he had not. This done, he suggested that we should lower
the sail of the canoe and all take a bath, which we did, greatly
to the horror and astonishment of Alphonse, who lifted his hands
and ejaculated that these English were indeed a wonderful people.
Umslopogaas, who, though he was, like most high-bred Zulus,
scrupulously cleanly in his person, did not see the fun of swimming
about in a lake, also regarded the proceeding with mild amusement.
We got back into the canoe much refreshed by the cold water,
and sat to dry in the sun, whilst Good undid his tin box, and
produced first a beautiful clean white shirt, just as it had
left a London steam laundry, and then some garments wrapped first
in brown, then in white, and finally in silver paper. We watched
this undoing with the tenderest interest and much speculation.
One by one Good removed the dull husks that hid their splendours,
carefully folding and replacing each piece of paper as he did
so; and there at last lay, in all the majesty of its golden epaulettes,
lace, and buttons, a Commander of the Royal Navy's full-dress
uniform - dress sword, cocked hat, shiny patent leather boots
and all. We literally gasped.
'_What!_' we said, '_what!_ Are you going to put those things on?'
'Certainly,' he answered composedly; 'you see so much depends
upon a first impression, especially,' he added, 'as I observe
that there are ladies about. One at least of us ought to be
We said no more; we were simply dumbfounded, especially when
we considered the artful way in which Good had concealed the
contents of that box for all these months. Only one suggestion
did we make - namely, that he should wear his mail shirt next
his skin. He replied that he feared it would spoil the set of
his coat, now carefully spread in the sun to take the creases
out, but finally consented to this precautionary measure. The
most amusing part of the affair, however, was to see old Umslopogaas's
astonishment and Alphonse's delight at Good's transformation.
When at last he stood up in all his glory, even down to the
medals on his breast, and contemplated himself in the still waters
of the lake, after the fashion of the young gentleman in ancient
history, whose name I cannot remember, but who fell in love with
his own shadow, the old Zulu could no longer restrain his feelings.
'Oh, Bougwan!' he said. 'Oh, Bougwan! I always thought thee
an ugly little man, and fat - fat as the cows at calving time;
and now thou art like a blue jay when he spreads his tail out.
Surely, Bougwan, it hurts my eyes to look at thee.'
Good did not much like this allusion to his fat, which, to tell
the truth, was not very well deserved, for hard exercise had
brought him down three inches; but on the whole he was pleased
at Umslopogaas's admiration. As for Alphonse, he was quite delighted.
'Ah! but Monsieur has the beautiful air - the air of the warrior.
It is the ladies who will say so when we come to get ashore.
Monsieur is complete; he puts me in mind of my heroic grand - '
Here we stopped Alphonse.
As we gazed upon the beauties thus revealed by Good, a spirit
of emulation filled our breasts, and we set to work to get ourselves
up as well as we could. The most, however, that we were able
to do was to array ourselves in our spare suits of shooting clothes,
of which we each had several, all the fine clothes in the world
could never make it otherwise than scrubby and insignificant;
but Sir Henry looked what he is, a magnificent man in his nearly
new tweed suit, gaiters, and boots. Alphonse also got himself
up to kill, giving an extra turn to his enormous moustaches.
Even old Umslopogaas, who was not in a general way given to
the vain adorning of his body, took some oil out of the lantern
and a bit of tow, and polished up his head-ring with it till
it shone like Good's patent leather boots. Then he put on the
mail shirt Sir Henry had given him and his 'moocha', and, having
cleaned up Inkosi-kaas a little, stood forth complete.
All this while, having hoisted the sail again as soon as we had
finished bathing, we had been progressing steadily for the land,
or, rather, for the mouth of a great river. Presently - in
all about an hour and a half after the little boat had left us
- we saw emerging from the river or harbour a large number of
boats, ranging up to ten or twelve tons burden. One of these
was propelled by twenty-four oars, and most of the rest sailed.
Looking through the glass we soon made out that the row-boat
was an official vessel, her crew being all dressed in a sort
of uniform, whilst on the half-deck forward stood an old man
of venerable appearance, and with a flowing white beard, and
a sword strapped to his side, who was evidently the commander
of the craft. The other boats were apparently occupied by people
brought out by curiosity, and were rowing or sailing towards
us as quickly as they could.
'Now for it,' said I. 'What is the betting? Are they going
to be friendly or to put an end to us?'
Nobody could answer this question, and, not liking the warlike
appearance of the old gentleman and his sword, we felt a
Just then Good spied a school of hippopotami on the water about
two hundred yards off us, and suggested that it would not be
a bad plan to impress the natives with a sense of our power by
shooting some of them if possible. This, unluckily enough, struck
us as a good idea, and accordingly we at once got out our eight-bore
rifles, for which we still had a few cartridges left, and prepared
for action. There were four of the animals, a big bull, a cow,
and two young ones, one three parts grown. We got up to them
without difficulty, the great animals contenting themselves with
sinking down into the water and rising again a few yards farther
on; indeed, their excessive tameness struck me as being peculiar.
When the advancing boats were about five hundred yards away,
Sir Henry opened the ball by firing at the three parts grown
young one. The heavy bullet struck it fair between the eyes,
and, crashing through the skull, killed it, and it sank, leaving
a long train of blood behind it. At the same moment I fired
at the cow, and Good at the old bull. My shot took effect, but
not fatally, and down went the hippopotamus with a prodigious
splashing, only to rise again presently blowing and grunting
furiously, dyeing all the water round her crimson, when I killed
her with the left barrel. Good, who is an execrable shot, missed
the head of the bull altogether, the bullet merely cutting the
side of his face as it passed. On glancing up, after I had fired
my second shot, I perceived that the people we had fallen among
were evidently ignorant of the nature of firearms, for the consternation
caused by our shots and their effect upon the animals was prodigious.
Some of the parties in the boats began to cry out in fear; others
turned and made off as hard as they could; and even the old gentleman
with the sword looked greatly puzzled and alarmed, and halted
his big row-boat. We had, however, but little time for observation,
for just then the old bull, rendered furious by the wound he
had received, rose fair within forty yards of us, glaring savagely.
We all fired, and hit him in various places, and down he went,
badly wounded. Curiosity now began to overcome the fear of the
onlookers, and some of them sailed on up close to us, amongst
these being the man and woman whom we had first seen a couple
of hours or so before, who drew up almost alongside. Just then
the great brute rose again within ten yards of their base, and
instantly with a roar of fury made at it open-mouthed. The woman
shrieked, and the man tried to give the boat way, but without
success. In another second I saw the huge red jaws and gleaming
ivories close with a crunch on the frail craft, taking an enormous
mouthful out of its side and capsizing it. Down went the boat,
leaving its occupants struggling in the water. Next moment,
before we could do anything towards saving them, the huge and
furious creature was up again and making open-mouthed at the
poor girl, who was struggling in the water. Lifting my rifle
just as the grinding jaws were about to close on her, I fired
over her head right down the hippopotamus's throat. Over he
went, and commenced turning round and round, snorting, and blowing
red streams of blood through his nostrils. Before he could recover
himself, however, I let him have the other barrel in the side
of the throat, and that finished him. He never moved or struggled
again, but instantly sank. Our next effort was directed towards
saving the girl, the man having swum off towards another boat;
and in this we were fortunately successful, pulling her into
the canoe (amidst the shouts of the spectators) considerably
exhausted and frightened, but otherwise unhurt.
Meanwhile the boats had gathered together at a distance, and
we could see that the occupants, who were evidently much frightened,
were consulting what to do. Without giving them time for further
consideration, which we thought might result unfavourably to
ourselves, we instantly took our paddles and advanced towards
them, Good standing in the bow and taking off his cocked hat
politely in every direction, his amiable features suffused by
a bland but intelligent smile. Most of the craft retreated as
we advanced, but a few held their ground, while the big row-boat
came on to meet us. Presently we were alongside, and I could
see that our appearance - and especially Good's and Umslopogaas's
- filled the venerable-looking commander with astonishment,
not unmixed with awe. He was dressed after the same fashion
as the man we first met, except that his shirt was not made of
brown cloth, but of pure white linen hemmed with purple. The
kilt, however, was identical, and so were the thick rings of
gold around the arm and beneath the left knee. The rowers wore
only a kilt, their bodies being naked to the waist. Good took
off his hat to the old gentleman with an extra flourish, and
inquired after his health in the purest English, to which he
replied by laying the first two fingers of his right hand horizontally
across his lips and holding them there for a moment, which we
took as his method of salutation. Then he also addressed some
remarks to us in the same soft accents that had distinguished
our first interviewer, which we were forced to indicate we did
not understand by shaking our heads and shrugging our shoulders.
This last Alphonse, being to the manner born, did to perfection,
and in so polite a way that nobody could take any offence. Then
we came a standstill, till I, being exceedingly hungry, thought
I might as well call attention to the fact, and did so first
by opening my mouth and pointing down it, and then rubbing my
stomach. These signals the old gentleman clearly understood,
for he nodded his head vigorously, and pointed towards the harbour;
and at the same time one of the men on his boat threw us a line
and motioned to us to make it fast, which we did. The row-boat
then took us in tow, and went with great rapidity towards the
mouth of the river, accompanied by all the other boats. In about
twenty minutes more we reached the entrance to the harbour, which
was crowded with boats full of people who had come out to see
us. We observed that all the occupants were more or less of
the same type, though some were fairer than others. Indeed,
we noticed certain ladies whose skin was of a most dazzling whiteness;
and the darkest shade of colour which we saw was about that of
a rather swarthy Spaniard. Presently the wide river gave a sweep,
and when it did so an exclamation of astonishment and delight
burst from our lips as we caught our first view of the place
that we afterwards knew as Milosis, or the Frowning City (from
mi, which means city, and losis, a frown).
At a distance of some five hundred yards from the river's bank
rose a sheer precipice of granite, two hundred feet or so in
height, which had no doubt once formed the bank itself - the
intermediate space of land now utilized as docks and roadways
having been gained by draining, and deepening and embanking
On the brow of this precipice stood a great building of the same
granite that formed the cliff, built on three sides of a square,
the fourth side being open, save for a kind of battlement pierced
at its base by a little door. This imposing place we afterwards
discovered was the palace of the queen, or rather of the queens.
At the back of the palace the town sloped gently upwards to
a flashing building of white marble, crowned by the golden dome
which we had already observed. The city was, with the exception
of this one building, entirely built of red granite, and laid
out in regular blocks with splendid roadways between. So far
as we could see also the houses were all one-storied and detached,
with gardens round them, which gave some relief to the eye wearied
with the vista of red granite. At the back of the palace a road
of extraordinary width stretched away up the hill for a distance
of a mile and a half or so, and appeared to terminate at an open
space surrounding the gleaming building that crowned the hill.
But right in front of us was the wonder and glory of Milosis
- the great staircase of the palace, the magnificence of which
took our breath away. Let the reader imagine, if he can, a splendid
stairway, sixty-five feet from balustrade to balustrade, consisting
of two vast flights, each of one hundred and twenty-five steps
of eight inches in height by three feet broad, connected by a
flat resting-place sixty feet in length, and running from the
palace wall on the edge of the precipice down to meet a waterway
or canal cut to its foot from the river. This marvellous staircase
was supported upon a single enormous granite arch, of which the
resting-place between the two flights formed the crown; that
is, the connecting open space lay upon it. From this archway
sprang a subsidiary flying arch, or rather something that resembled
a flying arch in shape, such as none of us had seen in any other
country, and of which the beauty and wonder surpassed all that
we had ever imagined. Three hundred feet from point to point,
and no less than five hundred and fifty round the curve, that
half-arc soared touching the bridge it supported for a space
of fifty feet only, one end resting on and built into the parent
archway, and the other embedded in the solid granite of the side
of the precipice.
This staircase with its supports was, indeed, a work of which
any living man might have been proud, both on account of its
magnitude and its surpassing beauty. Four times, as we afterwards
learnt, did the work, which was commenced in remote antiquity,
fail, and was then abandoned for three centuries when half-finished,
till at last there rose a youthful engineer named Rademas, who
said that he would complete it successfully, and staked his life
upon it. If he failed he was to be hurled from the precipice
he had undertaken to scale; if he succeeded, he was to be rewarded
by the hand of the king's daughter. Five years was given to
him to complete the work, and an unlimited supply of labour and
material. Three times did his arch fall, till at last, seeing
failure to be inevitable, he determined to commit suicide on
the morrow of the third collapse. That night, however, a beautiful
woman came to him in a dream and touched his forehead, and of
a sudden he saw a vision of the completed work, and saw too through
the masonry and how the difficulties connected with the flying