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
'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
After he had told his tale Umslopogaas went off
unconcernedly to get his morning meal, and Sir Henry and I fell to
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
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
'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
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
'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
'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
'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 said.'
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
'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 to swallow.
'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 'Sorais! Sorais!'
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 hath half our kingdom?'
'Thou canst tell me a true word -- me and the people of
Zu-Vendis. Art thou, or art thou not, about to take this foreign wolf,' and
she pointed to Sir Henry with her toy spear, 'to be a husband to thee, and
share thy bed and throne?'
Curtis winced at this, and turning towards Sorais, said
to her in a low voice, 'Methinks that yesterday thou hadst other names than
wolf to call me by, oh Queen!' and I saw her bite her lips as, like a
danger flag, the blood flamed red upon her face. As for Nyleptha, who is
nothing if not original, she, seeing that the thing was out, and that there
was nothing further to be gained by concealment, answered the question in a
novel and effectual manner, inspired thereto, as I firmly believe, by
coquetry and a desire to triumph over her rival.
Up she rose and, descending from the throne, swept in
all the glory of her royal grace on to where her lover stood. There she
stopped and untwined the golden snake that was wound around her arm. Then
she bade him kneel, and he dropped on one knee on the marble before her,
and next, taking the golden snake with both her hands, she bent the pure
soft metal round his neck, and when it was fast, deliberately kissed him on
the brow and called him her 'dear lord'.
'Thou seest,' she said, when the excited murmur of the
spectators had died away, addressing her sister as Sir Henry rose to his
feet, 'I have put my collar round the "wolf's" neck, and behold! he shall
be my watchdog, and that is my answer to thee, Queen Sorais, my sister, and
to those with thee. Fear not,' she went on, smiling sweetly on her lover,
and pointing to the golden snake she had twined round his massive throat,
'if my yoke be heavy, yet is it of pure gold, and it shall not gall
Then, turning to the audience, she continued in a clear
proud tone, 'Ay, Lady of the Night, Lords, Priests, and People here
gathered together, by this sign do I take the foreigner to husband, even
here in the face of you all. What, am I a Queen, and yet not free to
choose the man whom I will love? Then should I be lower than the meanest
girl in all my provinces. Nay, he hath won my heart, and with it goes my
hand, and throne, and all I have -- ay, had he been a beggar instead of a
great lord fairer and stronger than any here, and having more wisdom and
knowledge of strange things, I had given him all, how much more so being
what he is!' And she took his hand and gazed proudly on him, and holding
it, stood there boldly facing the people. And such was her sweetness and
the power and dignity of her person, and so beautiful she looked standing
hand in hand there at her lover's side, so sure of him and of herself, and
so ready to risk all things and endure all things for him, that most of
those who saw the sight, which I am sure no one of them will ever forget,
caught the fire from her eyes and the happy colour from her blushing face,
and cheered her like wild things. It was a bold stroke for her to make,
and it appealed to the imagination; but human nature in Zu-Vendis, as
elsewhere, loves that which is bold and not afraid to break a rule, and is
moreover peculiarly susceptible to appeals to its poetical side.
And so the people cheered till the roof rang; but Sorais
of the Night stood there with downcast eyes, for she could not bear to see
her sister's triumph, which robbed her of the man whom she had hoped to
win, and in the awfulness of her jealous anger she trembled and turned
white like an aspen in the wind. I think I have said somewhere of her that
she reminded me of the sea on a calm day, having the same aspect of
sleeping power about her. Well, it was all awake now, and like the face of
the furious ocean it awed and yet fascinated me. A really handsome woman
in a royal rage is always a beautiful sight, but such beauty and such a
rage I never saw combined before, and I can only say that the effect
produced was well worthy of the two.
She lifted her white face, the teeth set, and there were
purple rings beneath her glowing eyes. Thrice she tried to speak and
thrice she failed, but at last her voice came. Raising her silver spear,
she shook it, and the light gleamed from it and from the golden scales of
'And thinkest thou, Nyleptha,' she said in notes which
pealed through the great hall like a clarion, 'thinkest thou that I,
Sorais, a Queen of the Zu-Vendi, will brook that this base outlander shall
sit upon my father's throne and rear up half-breeds to fill the place of
the great House of the Stairway? Never! never! while there is life in my
bosom and a man to follow me and a spear to strike with. Who is on my
'Now hand thou over this foreign wolf and those who came
hither to prey with him to the doom of fire, for have they not committed
the deadly sin against the sun? or, Nyleptha, I give thee War -- red War!
Ay, I say to thee that the path of thy passion shall be marked out by the
blazing of thy towns and watered with the blood of those who cleave to
thee. On thy head rest the burden of the deed, and in thy ears ring the
groans of the dying and the cries of the widows and those who are left
fatherless for ever and for ever.
'I tell thee I will tear thee, Nyleptha, the White
Queen, from thy throne, and that thou shalt be hurled -- ay, hurled even
from the topmost stair of the great way to the foot thereof, in that thou
hast covered the name of the House of him who built it with black shame.
And I tell ye strangers -- all save Bougwan, whom because thou didst do me
a service I will save alive if thou wilt leave these men and follow me'
(here poor Good shook his head vigorously and ejaculated 'Can't be done' in
English) -- 'that I will wrap you in sheets of gold and hang you yet alive
in chains from the four golden trumpets of the four angels that fly east
and west and north and south from the giddiest pinnacles of the Temple, so
that ye may be a token and a warning to the land. And as for thee, Incubu,
thou shalt die in yet another fashion that I will not tell thee now.'
She ceased, panting for breath, for her passion shook
her like a storm, and a murmur, partly of horror and partly of admiration,
ran through the hall. Then Nyleptha answered calmly and with dignity:
'Ill would it become my place and dignity, oh sister, so
to speak as thou hast spoken and so to threat as thou hast threatened. Yet
if thou wilt make war, then will I strive to bear up against thee, for if
my hand seem soft, yet shalt thou find it of iron when it grips thine
armies by the throat. Sorais, I fear thee not. I weep for that which thou
wilt bring upon our people and on thyself, but for myself I say -- I fear
thee not. Yet thou, who but yesterday didst strive to win my lover and my
lord from me, whom today thou dost call a "foreign wolf", to be thy
lover and thy lord' (here there was an immense sensation in the
hall), 'thou who but last night, as I have learnt but since thou didst
enter here, didst creep like a snake into my sleeping-place -- ay, even by
a secret way, and wouldst have foully murdered me, thy sister, as I lay
'It is false, it is false!' rang out Agon's and a score
of other voices.
'It is not false,' said I, producing the broken
point of the dagger and holding it up. 'Where is the haft from which this
flew, oh Sorais?'
'It is not false,' cried Good, determined at last to act
like a loyal man. 'I took the Lady of the Night by the White Queen's bed,
and on my breast the dagger broke.'
'Who is on my side?' cried Sorais, shaking her silver
spear, for she saw that public sympathy was turning against her. 'What,
Bougwan, thou comest not?' she said, addressing Good, who was standing
close to her, in a low, concentrated voice. 'Thou pale-souled fool, for a
reward thou shalt eat out thy heart with love of me and not be satisfied,
and thou mightest have been my husband and a king! At least I hold
thee in chains that cannot be broken.
'War! War! War!' she cried. 'Here, with my
hand upon the sacred stone that shall endure, so runs the prophecy, till
the Zu-Vendi set their necks beneath an alien yoke, I declare war to the
end. Who follows Sorais of the Night to victory and honour?'
Instantly the whole concourse began to break up in
indescribable confusion. Many present hastened to throw in their lot with
the 'Lady of the Night', but some came from her following to us. Amongst
the former was an under officer of Nyleptha's own guard, who suddenly
turned and made a run for the doorway through which Sorais' people were
already passing. Umslopogaas, who was present and had taken the whole
scene in, seeing with admirable presence of mind that if this soldier got
away others would follow his example, seized the man, who drew his sword
and struck at him. Thereon the Zulu sprang back with a wild shout, and,
avoiding the sword cuts, began to peck at his foe with his terrible axe,
till in a few seconds the man's fate overtook him and he fell with a clash
heavily and quite dead upon the marble floor.
This was the first blood spilt in the war.
'Shut the gates,' I shouted, thinking that we might
perhaps catch Sorais so, and not being troubled with the idea of committing
sacrilege. But the order came too late, her guards were already passing
through them, and in another minute the streets echoed with the furious
galloping of horses and the rolling of her chariots.
So, drawing half the people after her, Sorais was soon
passing like a whirlwind through the Frowning City on her road to her
headquarters at M'Arstuna, a fortress situated a hundred and thirty miles
to the north of Milosis.
And after that the city was alive with the endless tramp
of regiments and preparations for the gathering war, and old Umslopogaas
once more began to sit in the sunshine and go through a show of sharpening
Inkosi-kaas's razor edge.