were sent off before nightfall with instructions to ride early
and late till they reached the distant chiefs to whom their letters
were addressed: also many spies were set to work. All the afternoon
and evening we laboured, assisted by some confidential scribes,
Nyleptha showing an energy and resource of mind that astonished
me, and it was eight o'clock before we got back to our quarters.
Here we heard from Alphonse, who was deeply aggrieved because
our non-return had spoilt his dinner (for he had turned cook
again now), that Good had come back from his hawking and gone
on duty. As instructions had already been given to the officer
of the outer guard to double the sentries at the gate, and as
we had no reason to fear any immediate danger, we did not think
it worth while to hunt him up and tell him anything of what had
passed, which at best was, under the peculiar circumstances of
the case, one of those tasks that one prefers to postpone, so
after swallowing our food we turned in to get some much-needed
rest. Before we did so, however, it occurred to Curtis to tell
old Umslopogaas to keep a look-out in the neighbourhood of Nyleptha's
private apartments. Umslopogaas was now well known about the
place, and by the Queen's order allowed to pass whither he would
by the guards, a permission of which he often availed himself
by roaming about the palace during the still hours in a nocturnal
fashion that he favoured, and which is by no means uncommon amongst
black men generally. His presence in the corridors would not,
therefore, be likely to excite remark. Without any comment the
Zulu took up his axe and departed, and we also departed to bed.
I seemed to have been asleep but a few minutes when I was awakened
by a peculiar sensation of uneasiness. I felt that somebody
was in the room and looking at me, and instantly sat up, to see
to my surprise that it was already dawn, and that there, standing
at the foot of my couch and looking peculiarly grim and gaunt
in the grey light, was Umslopogaas himself.
'How long hast thou been there?' I asked testily, for it is not
pleasant to be aroused in such a fashion.
'Mayhap the half of an hour, Macumazahn. I have a word for thee.'
'Speak on,' I said, now wide enough awake.
'As I was bid I went last night to the place of the White Queen
and hid myself behind a pillar in the second anteroom, beyond
which is the sleeping-place of the Queen. Bougwan (Good) was
in the first anteroom alone, and outside the curtain of that
room was a sentry, but I had a mind to see if I could pass in
unseen, and I did, gliding behind them both. There I waited
for many hours, when suddenly I perceived a dark figure coming
secretly towards me. It was the figure of a woman, and in her
hand she held a dagger. Behind that figure crept another unseen
by the woman. It was Bougwan following in her tracks. His shoes
were off, and for so fat a man he followed very well. The woman
passed me, and the starlight shone upon her face.'
'Who was it?' I asked impatiently.
'The face was the face of the "Lady of the Night", and of a truth
she is well named.
'I waited, and Bougwan passed me also. Then I followed.
So we went slowly and without a sound up the long chamber.
First the woman, then Bougwan, and then I; and the woman saw
not Bougwan, and Bougwan saw not me. At last the "Lady of the
Night" came to the curtains that shut off the sleeping place
of the White Queen, and put out her left hand to part them.
She passed through, and so did Bougwan, and so did I. At the
far end of the room is the bed of the Queen, and on it she lay
very fast asleep. I could hear her breathe, and see one white
arm lying on the coverlid like a streak of snow on the dry grass.
The "Lady of the Night" doubled herself thus, and with the long
knife lifted crept towards the bed. So straight did she gaze
thereat that she never thought to look behind her. When she
was quite close Bougwan touched her on the arm, and she caught
her breath and turned, and I saw the knife flash, and heard it
strike. Well was it for Bougwan that he had the skin of iron
on him, or he had been pierced. Then for the first time he saw
who the woman was, and without a word he fell back astonished,
and unable to speak. She, too, was astonished, and spoke not,
but suddenly she laid her finger on her lip, thus, and walked
towards and through the curtain, and with her went Bougwan.
So close did she pass to me that her dress touched me, and I
was nigh to slaying her as she went. In the first outer room
she spoke to Bougwan in a whisper and, clasping her hands thus,
she pleaded with him, but what she said I know not. And so they
passed on to the second outer room, she pleading and he shaking
his head, and saying, "Nay, nay, nay". And it seemed to me that
he was about to call the guard, when she stopped talking and
looked at him with great eyes, and I saw that he was bewitched
by her beauty. Then she stretched out her hand and he kissed
it, whereon I gathered myself together to advance and take her,
seeing that now had Bougwan become a woman, and no longer knew
the good from the evil, when behold! she was gone.'
'Gone!' I ejaculated.
'Ay, gone, and there stood Bougwan staring at the wall like one
asleep, and presently he went too, and I waited a while and came
'Art thou sure, Umslopogaas,' said I, 'that thou hast not been
a dreamer this night?'
In reply he opened his left hand, and produced about three inches
of a blade of a dagger of the finest steel. 'If I be, Macumazahn,
behold what the dream left with me. The knife broke upon Bougwan's
bosom and as I passed I picked this up in the sleeping-place
of the White Queen.'
WAR! RED WAR!
Telling Umslopogaas to wait, I tumbled into my clothes and went
off with him to Sir Henry's room, where the Zulu repeated his
story word for word. It was a sight to watch Curtis' face as
he heard it.
'Great Heavens!' he said: 'here have I been sleeping away while
Nyleptha was nearly murdered - and all through me, too. What
a fiend that Sorais must be! It would have served her well if
Umslopogaas had cut her down in the act.'
'Ay,' said the Zulu. 'Fear not; I should have slain her ere
she struck. I was but waiting the moment.'
I said nothing, but I could not help thinking that many a thousand
doomed lives would have been saved if he had meted out to Sorais
the fate she meant for her sister. And, as the issue proved,
I was right.
After he had told his tale Umslopogaas went off unconcernedly
to get his morning meal, and Sir Henry and I fell to talking.
At first he was very bitter against Good, who, he said, was no
longer to be trusted, having designedly allowed Sorais to escape
by some secret stair when it was his duty to have handed her
over to justice. Indeed, he spoke in the most unmeasured terms
on the matter. I let him run on awhile, reflecting to myself
how easy we find it to be hard on the weaknesses of others, and
how tender we are to our own.
'Really, my dear fellow,' I said at length, 'one would never
think, to hear you talk, that you were the man who had an interview
with this same lady yesterday, and found it rather difficult
to resist her fascinations, notwithstanding your ties to one
of the loveliest and most loving women in the world. Now suppose
it was Nyleptha who had tried to murder Sorais, and _you_ had
caught her, and she had pleaded with you, would you have been
so very eager to hand her over to an open shame, and to death
by fire? Just look at the matter through Good's eyeglass for
a minute before you denounce an old friend as a scoundrel.'
He listened to this jobation submissively, and then frankly
acknowledged that he had spoken hardly. It is one of the
best points in Sir Henry's character that he is always ready
to admit it when he is in the wrong.
But, though I spoke up thus for Good, I was not blind to the
fact that, however natural his behaviour might be, it was obvious
that he was being involved in a very awkward and disgraceful
complication. A foul and wicked murder had been attempted, and
he had let the murderess escape, and thereby, among other things,
allowed her to gain a complete ascendency over himself. In fact,
he was in a fair way to become her tool - and no more dreadful
fate can befall a man than to become the tool of an unscrupulous
woman, or indeed of any woman. There is but one end to it: when
he is broken, or has served her purpose, he is thrown away -
turned out on the world to hunt for his lost self-respect. Whilst
I was pondering thus, and wondering what was to be done - for
the whole subject was a thorny one - I suddenly heard a great
clamour in the courtyard outside, and distinguished the voice
of Umslopogaas and Alphonse, the former cursing furiously, and
the latter yelling in terror.
Hurrying out to see what was the matter, I was met by a ludicrous
sight. The little Frenchman was running up the courtyard at
an extraordinary speed, and after him sped Umslopogaas like a
great greyhound. Just as I came out he caught him, and, lifting
him right off his legs, carried him some paces to a beautiful
but very dense flowering shrub which bore a flower not unlike
the gardenia, but was covered with short thorns. Next, despite
his howls and struggles, he with one mighty thrust plunged poor
Alphonse head first into the bush, so that nothing but the calves
of his legs and heels remained in evidence. Then, satisfied
with what he had done, the Zulu folded his arms and stood grimly
contemplating the Frenchman's kicks, and listening to his yells,
which were awful.
'What art thou doing?' I said, running up. 'Wouldst thou kill
the man? Pull him out of the bush!'
With a savage grunt he obeyed, seizing the wretched Alphonse
by the ankle, and with a jerk that must have nearly dislocated
it, tearing him out of the heart of the shrub. Never did I see
such a sight as he presented, his clothes half torn off his back,
and bleeding as he was in every direction from the sharp thorns.
There he lay and yelled and rolled, and there was no getting
anything out of him.
At last, however, he got up and, ensconcing himself behind me,
cursed old Umslopogaas by every saint in the calendar, vowing
by the blood of his heroic grandfather that he would poison him,
and 'have his revenge'.
At last I got to the truth of the matter. It appeared that Alphonse
habitually cooked Umslopogaas's porridge, which the latter ate
for breakfast in the corner of the courtyard, just as he would
have done at home in Zululand, from a gourd, and with a wooden
spoon. Now Umslopogaas had, like many Zulus, a great horror
of fish, which he considered a species of water-snake; so Alphonse,
who was as fond of playing tricks as a monkey, and who was also
a consummate cook, determined to make him eat some. Accordingly
he grated up a quantity of white fish very finely, and mixed
it with the Zulu's porridge, who swallowed it nearly all down
in ignorance of what he was eating. But, unfortunately for Alphonse,
he could not restrain his joy at this sight, and came capering
and peering round, till at last Umslopogaas, who was very clever
in his way, suspected something, and, after a careful examination
of the remains of his porridge, discovered 'the buffalo heifer's
trick', and, in revenge, served him as I have said. Indeed,
the little man was fortunate not to get a broken neck for his
pains; for, as one would have thought, he might have learnt from
the episode of his display of axemanship that 'le Monsieur noir'
was an ill person to play practical jokes upon.
This incident was unimportant enough in itself, but I narrate
it because it led to serious consequences. As soon as he had
stanched the bleeding from his scratches and washed himself,
Alphonse went off still cursing, to recover his temper, a process
which I knew from experience would take a very long time. When
he had gone I gave Umslopogaas a jobation and told him that I
was ashamed of his behaviour.
'Ah, well, Macumazahn,' he said, 'you must be gentle with me,
for here is not my place. I am weary of it, weary to death of
eating and drinking, of sleeping and giving in marriage. I love
not this soft life in stone houses that takes the heart out of
a man, and turns his strength to water and his flesh to fat.
I love not the white robes and the delicate women, the blowing
of trumpets and the flying of hawks. When we fought the Masai
at the kraal yonder, ah, then life was worth the living, but
here is never a blow struck in anger, and I begin to think I
shall go the way of my fathers and lift Inkosi-kaas no more,'
and he held up the axe and gazed at it in sorrow.
'Ah,' I said, 'that is thy complaint, is it? Thou hast the
blood-sickness, hast thou? And the Woodpecker wants a tree.
And at thy age, too. Shame on thee! Umslopogaas.'
'Ay, Macumazahn, mine is a red trade, yet is it better and more
honest than some. Better is it to slay a man in fair fight than
to suck out his heart's blood in buying and selling and usury
after your white fashion. Many a man have I slain, yet is there
never a one that I should fear to look in the face again, ay,
many are there who once were friends, and whom I should be right
glad to snuff with. But there! there! thou hast thy ways, and
I mine: each to his own people and his own place. The high-veldt
ox will die in the fat bush country, and so is it with me, Macumazahn.
I am rough, I know it, and when my blood is warm I know not
what to do, but yet wilt thou be sorry when the night swallows
me and I am utterly lost in blackness, for in thy heart thou
lovest me, my father, Macumazahn the fox, though I be nought
but a broken-down Zulu war-dog - a chief for whom there is no
room in his own kraal, an outcast and a wanderer in strange places:
ay, I love thee, Macumazahn, for we have grown grey together,
and there is that between us that cannot be seen, and yet is
too strong for breaking;' and he took his snuff-box, which was
made of an old brass cartridge, from the slit in his ear where
he always carried it, and handed it to me for me to help myself.
I took the pinch of snuff with some emotion. It was quite true,
I was much attached to the bloodthirsty old ruffian. I do not
know what was the charm of his character, but it had a charm;
perhaps it was its fierce honesty and directness; perhaps one
admired his almost superhuman skill and strength, or it may have
been simply that he was so absolutely unique. Frankly, with
all my experience of savages, I never knew a man quite like him,
he was so wise and yet such a child with it all; and though it
seems laughable to say so, like the hero of the Yankee parody,
he 'had a tender heart'. Anyway, I was very fond of him, though
I should never have thought of telling him so.
'Ay, old wolf,' I said, 'thine is a strange love. Thou wouldst
split me to the chin if I stood in thy path tomorrow.'
'Thou speakest truth, Macumazahn, that would I if it came in
the way of duty, but I should love thee all the same when the
blow had gone fairly home. Is there any chance of some fighting
here, Macumazahn?' he went on in an insinuating voice. 'Methought
that what I saw last night did show that the two great Queens
were vexed one with another. Else had the "Lady of the Night"
not brought that dagger with her.'
I agreed with him that it showed that more or less pique and
irritation existed between the ladies, and told him how things
stood, and that they were quarrelling over Incubu.
'Ah, is it so?' he exclaimed, springing up in delight; 'then
will there be war as surely as the rivers rise in the rains -
war to the end. Women love the last blow as well as the last
word, and when they fight for love they are pitiless as a wounded
buffalo. See thou, Macumazahn, a woman will swim through blood
to her desire, and think nought of it. With these eyes have
I seen it once, and twice also. Ah, Macumazahn, we shall see
this fine place of houses burning yet, and hear the battle cries
come ringing up the street. After all, I have not wandered for
nothing. Can this folk fight, think ye?'
Just then Sir Henry joined us, and Good arrived, too, from another
direction, looking very pale and hollow-eyed. The moment Umslopogaas
saw the latter he stopped his bloodthirsty talk and greeted him.
'Ah, Bougwan,' he cried, 'greeting to thee, Inkoos! Thou art
surely weary. Didst thou hunt too much yesterday?' Then, without
waiting for an answer, he went on -
'Listen, Bougwan, and I will tell thee a story; it is about a
woman, therefore wilt thou hear it, is it not so?
'There was a man and he had a brother, and there was a woman
who loved the man's brother and was beloved of the man. But
the man's brother had a favourite wife and loved not the woman,
and he made a mock of her. Then the woman, being very cunning
and fierce-hearted for revenge, took counsel with herself and
said to the man, "I love thee, and if thou wilt make war upon
thy brother I will marry thee." And he knew it was a lie, yet
because of his great love of the woman, who was very fair, did
he listen to her words and made war. And when many people had
been killed his brother sent to him, saying, "Why slayest thou
me? What hurt have I done unto thee? From my youth up have
I not loved thee? When thou wast little did I not nurture thee,
and have we not gone down to war together and divided the cattle,
girl by girl, ox by ox, and cow by cow? Why slayest thou me,
my brother, son of my own mother?"
'Then the man's heart was heavy, and he knew that his path was
evil, and he put aside the tempting of the woman and ceased to
make war on his brother, and lived at peace in the same kraal
with him. And after a time the woman came to him and said, "I
have lost the past, I will be thy wife." And in his heart he
knew that it was a lie and that she thought the evil thing,
yet because of his love did he take her to wife.
'And the very night that they were wed, when the man was plunged
into a deep sleep, did the woman arise and take his axe from
his hand and creep into the hut of his brother and slay him in
his rest. Then did she slink back like a gorged lioness and
place the thong of the red axe back upon his wrist and go her ways.
'And at the dawning the people came shouting, "Lousta is slain
in the night," and they came unto the hut of the man, and there
he lay asleep and by him was the red axe. Then did they remember
the war and say, "Lo! he hath of a surety slain his brother,"
and they would have taken and killed him, but he rose and fled
swiftly, and as he fleeted by he slew the woman.
'But death could not wipe out the evil she had done, and on him
rested the weight of all her sin. Therefore is he an outcast
and his name a scorn among his own people; for on him, and him
only, resteth the burden of her who betrayed. And, therefore,
does he wander afar, without a kraal and without an ox or a wife,
and therefore will he die afar like a stricken buck and his name
be accursed from generation to generation, in that the people
say that he slew his brother, Lousta, by treachery in the night-time.'
The old Zulu paused, and I saw that he was deeply agitated by
his own story. Presently he lifted his head, which he had bowed
to his breast, and went on:
'I was the man, Bougwan. Ou! I was that man, and now hark
thou! Even as I am so wilt thou be - a tool, a plaything, an
ox of burden to carry the evil deeds of another. Listen! When
thou didst creep after the "Lady of the Night" I was hard upon
thy track. When she struck thee with the knife in the sleeping
place of the White Queen I was there also; when thou didst
let her slip away like a snake in the stones I saw thee, and
I knew that she had bewitched thee and that a true man had abandoned
the truth, and he who aforetime loved a straight path had taken
a crooked way. Forgive me, my father, if my words are sharp,
but out of a full heart are they spoken. See her no more, so
shalt thou go down with honour to the grave. Else because of
the beauty of a woman that weareth as a garment of fur shalt
thou be even as I am, and perchance with more cause. I have
Throughout this long and eloquent address Good had been perfectly
silent, but when the tale began to shape itself so aptly to his
own case, he coloured up, and when he learnt that what had passed
between him and Sorais had been overseen he was evidently much
distressed. And now, when at last he spoke, it was in a tone
of humility quite foreign to him.
'I must say,' he said, with a bitter little laugh, 'that I scarcely
thought that I should live to be taught my duty by a Zulu; but
it just shows what we can come to. I wonder if you fellows can
understand how humiliated I feel, and the bitterest part of it
is that I deserve it all. Of course I should have handed Sorais
over to the guard, but I could not, and that is a fact. I let
her go and I promised to say nothing, more is the shame to me.
She told me that if I would side with her she would marry me
and make me king of this country, but thank goodness I did find
the heart to say that even to marry her I could not desert my
friends. And now you can do what you like, I deserve it all.
All I have to say is that I hope that you may never love a woman
with all your heart and then be so sorely tempted of her,' and
he turned to go.
'Look here, old fellow,' said Sir Henry, 'just stop a minute.
I have a little tale to tell you too.' And he went on to narrate
what had taken place on the previous day between Sorais and himself.
This was a finishing stroke to poor Good. It is not pleasant
to any man to learn that he has been made a tool of, but when
the circumstances are as peculiarly atrocious as in the present
case, it is about as bitter a pill as anybody can be called on
'Do you know,' he said, 'I think that between you, you fellows
have about worked a cure,' and he turned and walked away, and
I for one felt very sorry for him. Ah, if the moths would always
carefully avoid the candle, how few burnt wings there would be!
That day was a Court day, when the Queens sat in the great hall
and received petitions, discussed laws, money grants, and so
forth, and thither we adjourned shortly afterwards. On our way
we were joined by Good, who was looking exceedingly depressed.
When we got into the hall Nyleptha was already on her throne
and proceeding with business as usual, surrounded by councillors,
courtiers, lawyers, priests, and an unusually strong guard.
It was, however, easy to see from the air of excitement and expectation
on the faces of everybody present that nobody was paying much
attention to ordinary affairs, the fact being that the knowledge
that civil war was imminent had now got abroad. We saluted Nyleptha
and took our accustomed places, and for a little while things
went on as usual, when suddenly the trumpets began to call outside
the palace, and from the great crowd that was gathered there
in anticipation of some unusual event there rose a roar of
Then came the roll of many chariot wheels, and presently the
great curtains at the end of the hall were drawn wide and through
them entered the 'Lady of the Night' herself. Nor did she come
alone. Preceding her was Agon, the High Priest, arrayed in his
most gorgeous vestments, and on either side were other priests.
The reason for their presence was obvious - coming with them
it would have been sacrilege to attempt to detain her. Behind
her were a number of the great lords, and behind them a small
body of picked guards. A glance at Sorais herself was enough
to show that her mission was of no peaceful kind, for in place
of her gold embroidered 'kaf' she wore a shining tunic formed
of golden scales, and on her head a little golden helmet. In
her hand, too, she bore a toy spear, beautifully made and fashioned
of solid silver. Up the hall she came, looking like a lioness
in her conscious pride and beauty, and as she came the spectators
fell back bowing and made a path for her. By the sacred stone
she halted, and laying her hand on it, she cried out with a loud
voice to Nyleptha on the throne, 'Hail, oh Queen!'
'All hail, my royal sister!' answered Nyleptha. 'Draw thou near.
Fear not, I give thee safe conduct.'
Sorais answered with a haughty look, and swept on up the hall
till she stood right before the thrones.
'A boon, oh Queen!' she cried again.
'Speak on, my sister; what is there that I can give thee who