to back with me.
'It is,' I said at last, 'absolutely necessary that an effort
of some sort should be made before the morning.'
'Then let us attack them with what force we can muster, and take
our chance,' said Sir Henry.
'Ay, ay,' growled Umslopogaas, in Zulu; 'spoken like a man, Incubu.
What is there to be afraid of? Two hundred and fifty Masai,
forsooth! How many are we? The chief there [Mr Mackenzie] has
twenty men, and thou, Macumazahn, hast five men, and there are
also five white men - that is, thirty men in all - enough,
enough. Listen now, Macumazahn, thou who art very clever and
old in war. What says the maid? These men eat and make merry;
let it be their funeral feast. What said the dog whom I hope
to hew down at daybreak? That he feared no attack because we
were so few. Knowest thou the old kraal where the men have camped?
I saw it this morning; it is thus:' and he drew an oval on the
floor; 'here is the big entrance, filled up with thorn bushes,
and opening on to a steep rise. Why, Incubu, thou and I with
axes will hold it against an hundred men striving to break out!
Look, now; thus shall the battle go. Just as the light begins
to glint upon the oxen's horns - not before, or it will be too
dark, and not later, or they will be awakening and perceive us
- let Bougwan creep round with ten men to the top end of the
kraal, where the narrow entrance is. Let them silently slay
the sentry there so that he makes no sound, and stand ready.
Then, Incubu, let thee and me and one of the Askari - the one
with the broad chest - he is a brave man - creep to the wide
entrance that is filled with thorn bushes, and there also slay
the sentry, and armed with battleaxes take our stand also one
on each side of the pathway, and one a few paces beyond to deal
with such as pass the twain at the gate. It is there that the
rush will come. That will leave sixteen men. Let these men
be divided into two parties, with one of which shalt thou go,
Macumazahn, and with one the "praying man" [Mr Mackenzie], and,
all armed with rifles, let them make their way one to the right
side of the kraal and one to the left; and when thou, Macumazahn,
lowest like an ox, all shall open fire with the guns upon the
sleeping men, being very careful not to hit the little maid.
Then shall Bougwan at the far end and his ten men raise the
war-cry, and, springing over the wall, put the Masai there to
the sword. And it shall happen that, being yet heavy with food
and sleep, and bewildered by the firing of the guns, the falling
of men, and the spears of Bougwan, the soldiers shall rise and
rush like wild game towards the thorn-stopped entrance, and there
the bullets from either side shall plough through them, and there
shall Incubu and the Askari and I wait for those who break across.
Such is my plan, Macumazahn; if thou hast a better, name it.'
When he had done, I explained to the others such portions of
his scheme as they had failed to understand, and they all joined
with me in expressing the greatest admiration of the acute and
skilful programme devised by the old Zulu, who was indeed, in
his own savage fashion, the finest general I ever knew. After
some discussion we determined to accept the scheme, as it stood,
it being the only one possible under the circumstances, and giving
the best chance of success that such a forlorn hope would admit
of - which, however, considering the enormous odds and the character
of our foe, was not very great.
'Ah, old lion!' I said to Umslopogaas, 'thou knowest how to lie
in wait as well as how to bite, where to seize as well as where
to hang on.'
'Ay, ay, Macumazahn,' he answered. 'For thirty years have I
been a warrior, and have seen many things. It will be a good fight.
I smell blood - I tell thee, I smell blood.'
THE NIGHT WEARS ON
As may be imagined, at the very first sign of a Masai the entire
population of the Mission Station had sought refuge inside the
stout stone wall, and were now to be seen - men, women, and
countless children - huddled up together in little groups, and
all talking at once in awed tones of the awfulness of Masai manners
and customs, and of the fate that they had to expect if those
bloodthirsty savages succeeded in getting over the stone wall.
Immediately after we had settled upon the outline of our plan
of action as suggested by Umslopogaas, Mr Mackenzie sent for
four sharp boys of from twelve to fifteen years of age, and despatched
them to various points where they could keep an outlook upon
the Masai camp, with others to report from time to time what
was going on. Other lads and even women were stationed at intervals
along the wall in order to guard against the possibility of surprise.
After this the twenty men who formed his whole available fighting
force were summoned by our host into the square formed by the
house, and there, standing by the bole of the great conifer,
he earnestly addressed them and our four Askari. Indeed, it
formed a very impressive scene - one not likely to be forgotten
by anybody who witnessed it. Immediately by the tree stood the
angular form of Mr Mackenzie, one arm outstretched as he talked,
and the other resting against the giant bole, his hat off, and
his plain but kindly face clearly betraying the anguish of his
mind. Next to him was his poor wife, who, seated on a chair,
had her face hidden in her hand. On the other side of her was
Alphonse, looking exceedingly uncomfortable, and behind him stood
the three of us, with Umslopogaas' grim and towering form in
the background, resting, as usual, on his axe. In front stood
and squatted the group of armed men - some with rifles in their
hands, and others with spears and shields - following with eager
attention every word that fell from the speaker's lips. The
white light of the moon peering in beneath the lofty boughs threw
a strange wild glamour over the scene, whilst the melancholy
soughing of the night wind passing through the millions of pine
needles overhead added a sadness of its own to what was already
a sufficiently tragic occasion.
'Men,' said Mr Mackenzie, after he had put all the circumstances
of the case fully and clearly before them, and explained to them
the proposed plan of our forlorn hope - 'men, for years I have
been a good friend to you, protecting you, teaching you, guarding
you and yours from harm, and ye have prospered with me. Ye have
seen my child - the Water-lily, as ye call her - grow year
by year, from tenderest infancy to tender childhood, and from
childhood on towards maidenhood. She has been your children's
playmate, she has helped to tend you when sick, and ye have loved
'We have,' said a deep voice, 'and we will die to save her.'
'I thank you from my heart - I thank you. Sure am I that now,
in this hour of darkest trouble; now that her young life is like
to be cut off by cruel and savage men - who of a truth "know
not what they do" - ye will strive your best to save her, and
to save me and her mother from broken hearts. Think, too, of
your own wives and children. If she dies, her death will be
followed by an attack upon us here, and at the best, even if
we hold our own, your houses and gardens will be destroyed, and
your goods and cattle swept away. I am, as ye well know, a man
of peace. Never in all these years have I lifted my hand to
shed man's blood; but now I say strike, strike, in the name of
God, Who bade us protect our lives and homes. Swear to me,'
he went on with added fervour - 'swear to me that whilst a man
of you remains alive ye will strive your uttermost with me and
with these brave white men to save the child from a bloody and
'Say no more, my father,' said the same deep voice, that belonged
to a stalwart elder of the Mission; 'we swear it. May we and
ours die the death of dogs, and our bones be thrown to the jackals
and the kites, if we break the oath! It is a fearful thing to
do, my father, so few to strike at so many, yet will we do it
or die in the doing. We swear!'
'Ay, thus say we all,' chimed in the others.
'Thus say we all,' said I.
'It is well,' went on Mr Mackenzie. 'Ye are true men and not
broken reeds to lean on. And now, friends - white and black
together - let us kneel and offer up our humble supplication
to the Throne of Power, praying that He in the hollow of Whose
hand lie all our lives, Who giveth life and giveth death, may
be pleased to make strong our arms that we may prevail in what
awaits us at the morning's light.'
And he knelt down, an example that we all followed except Umslopogaas,
who still stood in the background, grimly leaning on Inkosi-kaas.
The fierce old Zulu had no gods and worshipped nought, unless
it were his battleaxe.
'Oh God of gods!' began the clergyman, his deep voice, tremulous
with emotion, echoing up in the silence even to the leafy roof;
'Protector of the oppressed, Refuge of those in danger, Guardian
of the helpless, hear Thou our prayer! Almighty Father, to Thee
we come in supplication. Hear Thou our prayer! Behold, one
child hast Thou given us - an innocent child, nurtured in Thy
knowledge - and now she lies beneath the shadow of the sword,
in danger of a fearful death at the hands of savage men. Be
with her now, oh God, and comfort her! Save her, oh Heavenly
Father! Oh God of battle, Who teacheth our hands to war and
our fingers to fight, in Whose strength are hid the destinies
of men, be Thou with us in the hour of strife. When we go forth
into the shadow of death, make Thou us strong to conquer. Breathe
Thou upon our foes and scatter them; turn Thou their strength
to water, and bring their high-blown pride to nought; compass
us about with Thy protection; throw over us the shield of Thy
power; forget us not now in the hour of our sore distress; help
us now that the cruel man would dash our little ones against
the stones! Hear Thou our prayer! And for those of us who,
kneeling now on earth in health before Thee, shall at the sunrise
adore Thy Presence on the Throne, hear our prayer! Make them
clean, oh God; wash away their offences in the blood of the Lamb;
and when their spirits pass, oh receive Thou them into the haven
of the just. Go forth, oh Father, go forth with us into the
battle, as with the Israelites of old. Oh God of battle, hear
Thou our prayer!'
He ceased, and after a moment's silence we all rose, and then
began our preparations in good earnest. As Umslopogaas said,
it was time to stop 'talking' and get to business. The men who
were to form each little party were carefully selected, and still
more carefully and minutely instructed as to what was to be done.
After much consideration it was agreed that the ten men led
by Good, whose duty it was to stampede the camp, were not to
carry firearms; that is, with the exception of Good himself,
who had a revolver as well as a short sword - the Masai 'sime'
which I had taken from the body of our poor servant who was murdered
in the canoe. We feared that if they had firearms the result
of three cross-fires carried on at once would be that some of
our own people would be shot; besides, it appeared to all of
us that the work they had to do would best be carried out with
cold steel - especially to Umslopogaas, who was, indeed, a great
advocate of cold steel. We had with us four Winchester repeating
rifles, besides half a dozen Martinis. I armed myself with one
of the repeaters - my own; an excellent weapon for this kind
of work, where great rapidity of fire is desirable, and fitted
with ordinary flap-sights instead of the cumbersome sliding mechanism
which they generally have. Mr Mackenzie took another, and the
two remaining ones were given to two of his men who understood
the use of them and were noted shots. The Martinis and some
rifles of Mr Mackenzie's were served out, together with a plentiful
supply of ammunition, to the other natives who were to form the
two parties whose duty it was to be to open fire from separate
sides of the kraal on the sleeping Masai, and who were fortunately
all more or less accustomed to the use of a gun.
As for Umslopogaas, we know how he was armed - with an axe.
It may be remembered that he, Sir Henry, and the strongest of
the Askari were to hold the thorn-stopped entrance to the kraal
against the anticipated rush of men striving to escape. Of course,
for such a purpose as this guns were useless. Therefore Sir
Henry and the Askari proceeded to arm themselves in like fashion.
It so happened that Mr Mackenzie had in his little store a selection
of the very best and English-made hammer-backed axe-heads. Sir
Henry selected one of these weighing about two and a half pounds
and very broad in the blade, and the Askari took another a size
smaller. After Umslopogaas had put an extra edge on these two
axe-heads, we fixed them to three feet six helves, of which Mr
Mackenzie fortunately had some in stock, made of a light but
exceedingly tough native wood, something like English ash, only
more springy. When two suitable helves had been selected with
great care and the ends of the hafts notched to prevent the hand
from slipping, the axe-heads were fixed on them as firmly as
possible, and the weapons immersed in a bucket of water for half
an hour. The result of this was to swell the wood in the socket
in such a fashion that nothing short of burning would get it
out again. When this important matter had been attended to by
Umslopogaas, I went into my room and proceeded to open a little
tin-lined deal case, which contained - what do you think? -
nothing more or less than four mail shirts.
It had happened to us three on a previous journey that we had
made in another part of Africa to owe our lives to iron shirts
of native make, and remembering this, I had suggested before
we started on our present hazardous expedition that we should
have some made to fit us. There was a little difficulty about
this, as armour-making is pretty well an extinct art, but they
can do most things in the way of steel work in Birmingham if
they are put to it and you will pay the price, and the end of
it was that they turned us out the loveliest steel shirts it
is possible to see. The workmanship was exceedingly fine, the
web being composed of thousands upon thousands of stout but tiny
rings of the best steel made. These shirts, or rather steel-sleeved
and high-necked jerseys, were lined with ventilated wash leather,
were not bright, but browned like the barrel of a gun; and mine
weighed exactly seven pounds and fitted me so well that I found
I could wear it for days next to my skin without being chafed.
Sir Henry had two, one of the ordinary make, viz. a jersey with
little dependent flaps meant to afford some protection to the
upper part of the thighs, and another of his own design fashioned
on the pattern of the garments advertised as 'combinations' and
weighing twelve pounds. This combination shirt, of which the
seat was made of wash-leather, protected the whole body down
to the knees, but was rather more cumbersome, inasmuch as it
had to be laced up at the back and, of course, involved some
extra weight. With these shirts were what looked like four brown
cloth travelling caps with ear pieces. Each of these caps was,
however, quilted with steel links so as to afford a most valuable
protection for the head.
It seems almost laughable to talk of steel shirts in these days
of bullets, against which they are of course quite useless; but
where one has to do with savages, armed with cutting weapons
such as assegais or battleaxes, they afford the most valuable
protection, being, if well made, quite invulnerable to them.
I have often thought that if only the English Government had
in our savage wars, and more especially in the Zulu war, thought
fit to serve out light steel shirts, there would be many a man
alive today who, as it is, is dead and forgotten.
To return: on the present occasion we blessed our foresight in
bringing these shirts, and also our good luck, in that they had
not been stolen by our rascally bearers when they ran away with
our goods. As Curtis had two, and after considerable deliberation,
had made up his mind to wear his combination one himself - the
extra three or four pounds' weight being a matter of no account
to so strong a man, and the protection afforded to the thighs
being a very important matter to a fighting man not armed with
a shield of any kind - I suggested that he should lend the other
to Umslopogaas, who was to share the danger and the glory of
his post. He readily consented, and called the Zulu, who came
bearing Sir Henry's axe, which he had now fixed up to his satisfaction,
with him. When we showed him the steel shirt, and explained
to him that we wanted him to wear it, he at first declined, saying
that he had fought in his own skin for thirty years, and that
he was not going to begin now to fight in an iron one. Thereupon
I took a heavy spear, and, spreading the shirt upon the floor,
drove the spear down upon it with all my strength, the weapon
rebounding without leaving a mark upon the tempered steel. This
exhibition half converted him; and when I pointed out to him
how necessary it was that he should not let any old-fashioned
prejudices he might possess stand in the way of a precaution
which might preserve a valuable life at a time when men were
scarce, and also that if he wore this shirt he might dispense
with a shield, and so have both hands free, he yielded at once,
and proceeded to invest his frame with the 'iron skin'. And
indeed, although made for Sir Henry, it fitted the great Zulu
like a skin. The two men were almost of a height; and, though
Curtis looked the bigger man, I am inclined to think that the
difference was more imaginary than real, the fact being that,
although he was plumper and rounder, he was not really bigger,
except in the arm. Umslopogaas had, comparatively speaking,
thin arms, but they were as strong as wire ropes. At any rate,
when they both stood, axe in hand, invested in the brown mail,
which clung to their mighty forms like a web garment, showing
the swell of every muscle and the curve of every line, they formed
a pair that any ten men might shrink from meeting.
It was now nearly one o'clock in the morning, and the spies reported
that, after having drunk the blood of the oxen and eaten enormous
quantities of meat, the Masai were going to sleep round their
watchfires; but that sentries had been posted at each opening
of the kraal. Flossie, they added, was sitting not far from
the wall in the centre of the western side of the kraal, and
by her were the nurse and the white donkey, which was tethered
to a peg. Her feet were bound with a rope, and warriors were
lying about all round her.
As there was absolutely nothing further that could be done then
we all took some supper, and went to lie down for a couple of
hours. I could not help admiring the way in which old Umslopogaas
flung himself upon the floor, and, unmindful of what was hanging
over him, instantly sank into a deep sleep. I do not know how
it was with the others, but I could not do as much. Indeed,
as is usual with me on these occasions, I am sorry to say that
I felt rather frightened; and, now that some of the enthusiasm
had gone out of me, and I began to calmly contemplate what we
had undertaken to do, truth compels me to add that I did not
like it. We were but thirty men all told, a good many of whom
were no doubt quite unused to fighting, and we were going to
engage two hundred and fifty of the fiercest, bravest, and most
formidable savages in Africa, who, to make matters worse, were
protected by a stone wall. It was, indeed, a mad undertaking,
and what made it even madder was the exceeding improbability
of our being able to take up our positions without attracting
the notice of the sentries. Of course if we once did that -
and any slight accident, such as the chance discharge of a gun,
might do it - we were done for, for the whole camp would be
up in a second, and our only hope lay in surprise.
The bed whereon I lay indulging in these uncomfortable reflections
was near an open window that looked on to the veranda, through
which came an extraordinary sound of groaning and weeping. For
a time I could not make out what it was, but at last I got up
and, putting my head out of the window, stared about. Presently
I saw a dim figure kneeling on the end of the veranda and beating
his breast - in which I recognized Alphonse. Not being able
to understand his French talk or what on earth he was at, I called
to him and asked him what he was doing.
'Ah, monsieur,' he sighed, 'I do make prayer for the souls of
those whom I shall slay tonight.'
'Indeed,' I said, 'then I wish that you would do it a little
Alphonse retreated, and I heard no more of his groans. And so
the time passed, till at length Mr Mackenzie called me in a whisper
through the window, for of course everything had now to be done
in the most absolute silence. 'Three o'clock,' he said: 'we
must begin to move at half-past.'
I told him to come in, and presently he entered, and I am bound
to say that if it had not been that just then I had not got a
laugh anywhere about me, I should have exploded at the sight
he presented armed for battle. To begin with, he had on a clergyman's
black swallow-tail and a kind of broad-rimmed black felt hat,
both of which he had donned on account, he said, of their dark
colour. In his hand was the Winchester repeating rifle we had
lent him; and stuck in an elastic cricketing belt, like those
worn by English boys, were, first, a huge buckhorn-handled carving
knife with a guard to it, and next a long-barrelled Colt's revolver.
'Ah, my friend,' he said, seeing me staring at his belt, 'you
are looking at my "carver". I thought it might come in handy
if we came to close quarters; it is excellent steel, and many
is the pig I have killed with it.'
By this time everybody was up and dressing. I put on a light
Norfolk jacket over my mail shirt in order to have a pocket handy
to hold my cartridges, and buckled on my revolver. Good did
the same, but Sir Henry put on nothing except his mail shirt,
steel-lined cap, and a pair of 'veldt-schoons' or soft hide shoes,
his legs being bare from the knees down. His revolver he strapped
on round his middle outside the armoured shirt.
Meanwhile Umslopogaas was mustering the men in the square under
the big tree and going the rounds to see that each was properly
armed, etc. At the last moment we made one change. Finding
that two of the men who were to have gone with the firing parties
knew little or nothing of guns, but were good spearsmen, we took
away their rifles, supplied them with shields and long spears
of the Masai pattern, and took them off to join Curtis, Umslopogaas,
and the Askari in holding the wide opening; it having become
clear to us that three men, however brave and strong, were too
few for the work.
A SLAUGHTER GRIM AND GREAT
Then there was a pause, and we stood there in the chilly silent
darkness waiting till the moment came to start. It was, perhaps,
the most trying time of all - that slow, slow quarter of an
hour. The minutes seemed to drag along with leaden feet, and
the quiet, the solemn hush, that brooded over all - big, as
it were, with a coming fate, was most oppressive to the spirits.
I once remember having to get up before dawn to see a man hanged,
and I then went through a very similar set of sensations, only
in the present instance my feelings were animated by that more
vivid and personal element which naturally appertains rather
to the person to be operated on than to the most sympathetic
spectator. The solemn faces of the men, well aware that the
short passage of an hour would mean for some, and perhaps all
of them, the last great passage to the unknown or oblivion; the
bated whispers in which they spoke; even Sir Henry's continuous
and thoughtful examination of his woodcutter's axe and the fidgety
way in which Good kept polishing his eyeglass, all told the same
tale of nerves stretched pretty nigh to breaking-point. Only
Umslopogaas, leaning as usual upon Inkosi-kaas and taking an
occasional pinch of snuff, was to all appearance perfectly and
completely unmoved. Nothing could touch his iron nerves.
The moon went down. For a long while she had been getting nearer
and nearer to the horizon. Now she finally sank and left the
world in darkness save for a faint grey tinge in the eastern