Ten days from that eventful morning found us once more in our old quarters a_oo; and, strange to say, but little the worse for our terrible experience, except that my stubbly hair came out of the treasure cave about three shade_reyer than it went in, and that Good never was quite the same after Foulata'_eath, which seemed to move him very greatly. I am bound to say, looking a_he thing from the point of view of an oldish man of the world, that _onsider her removal was a fortunate occurrence, since, otherwise, complications would have been sure to ensue. The poor creature was no ordinar_ative girl, but a person of great, I had almost said stately, beauty, and o_onsiderable refinement of mind. But no amount of beauty or refinement coul_ave made an entanglement between Good and herself a desirable occurrence; for, as she herself put it, "Can the sun mate with the darkness, or the whit_ith the black?"
I need hardly state that we never again penetrated into Solomon's treasur_hamber. After we had recovered from our fatigues, a process which took u_orty-eight hours, we descended into the great pit in the hope of finding th_ole by which we had crept out of the mountain, but with no success. To begi_ith, rain had fallen, and obliterated our spoor; and what is more, the side_f the vast pit were full of ant-bear and other holes. It was impossible t_ay to which of these we owed our salvation. Also, on the day before w_tarted back to Loo, we made a further examination of the wonders of th_talactite cave, and, drawn by a kind of restless feeling, even penetrate_nce more into the Chamber of the Dead. Passing beneath the spear of the Whit_eath we gazed, with sensations which it would be quite impossible for me t_escribe, at the mass of rock that had shut us off from escape, thinking th_hile of priceless treasures beyond, of the mysterious old hag whose flattene_ragments lay crushed beneath it, and of the fair girl of whose tomb it wa_he portal. I say gazed at the "rock," for, examine as we could, we could fin_o traces of the join of the sliding door; nor, indeed, could we hit upon th_ecret, now utterly lost, that worked it, though we tried for an hour or more.
It is certainly a marvellous bit of mechanism, characteristic, in its massiv_nd yet inscrutable simplicity, of the age which produced it; and I doubt i_he world has such another to show.
At last we gave it up in disgust; though, if the mass had suddenly rise_efore our eyes, I doubt if we should have screwed up courage to step ove_agool's mangled remains, and once more enter the treasure chamber, even i_he sure and certain hope of unlimited diamonds. And yet I could have cried a_he idea of leaving all that treasure, the biggest treasure probably that i_he world's history has ever been accumulated in one spot. But there was n_elp for it. Only dynamite could force its way through five feet of soli_ock.
So we left it. Perhaps, in some remote unborn century, a more fortunat_xplorer may hit upon the "Open Sesame," and flood the world with gems. But, myself, I doubt it. Somehow, I seem to feel that the tens of millions o_ounds' worth of jewels which lie in the three stone coffers will never shin_ound the neck of an earthly beauty. They and Foulata's bones will keep col_ompany till the end of all things.
With a sigh of disappointment we made our way back, and next day started fo_oo. And yet it was really very ungrateful of us to be disappointed; for, a_he reader will remember, by a lucky thought, I had taken the precaution t_ill the wide pockets of my old shooting coat and trousers with gems before w_eft our prison-house, also Foulata's basket, which held twice as many more, notwithstanding that the water bottle had occupied some of its space. A goo_any of these fell out in the course of our roll down the side of the pit, including several of the big ones, which I had crammed in on the top in m_oat pockets. But, comparatively speaking, an enormous quantity stil_emained, including ninety-three large stones ranging from over two hundred t_eventy carats in weight. My old shooting coat and the basket still hel_ufficient treasure to make us all, if not millionaires as the term i_nderstood in America, at least exceedingly wealthy men, and yet to kee_nough stones each to make the three finest sets of gems in Europe. So we ha_ot done so badly.
On arriving at Loo we were most cordially received by Ignosi, whom we foun_ell, and busily engaged in consolidating his power, and reorganising th_egiments which had suffered most in the great struggle with Twala.
He listened with intense interest to our wonderful story; but when we told hi_f old Gagool's frightful end he grew thoughtful.
"Come hither," he called, to a very old Induna or councillor, who was sittin_ith others in a circle round the king, but out of ear-shot. The ancient ma_ose, approached, saluted, and seated himself.
"Thou art aged," said Ignosi.
"Ay, my lord the king! Thy father's father and I were born on the same day."
"Tell me, when thou wast little, didst thou know Gagaoola the witch doctress?"
"Ay, my lord the king!"
"How was she then — young, like thee?"
"Not so, my lord the king! She was even as she is now and as she was in th_ays of my great grandfather before me; old and dried, very ugly, and full o_ickedness."
"She is no more; she is dead."
"So, O king! then is an ancient curse taken from the land."
"Koom! I go, Black Puppy, who tore out the old dog's throat. Koom!"
"Ye see, my brothers," said Ignosi, "this was a strange woman, and I rejoic_hat she is dead. She would have let you die in the dark place, and mayha_fterwards she had found a way to slay me, as she found a way to slay m_ather, and set up Twala, whom her black heart loved, in his place. Now go o_ith the tale; surely there never was its like!"
After I had narrated all the story of our escape, as we had agreed betwee_urselves that I should, I took the opportunity to address Ignosi as to ou_eparture from Kukuanaland.
"And now, Ignosi," I said, "the time has come for us to bid thee farewell, an_tart to see our own land once more. Behold, Ignosi, thou camest with us _ervant, and now we leave thee a mighty king. If thou art grateful to us, remember to do even as thou didst promise: to rule justly, to respect the law, and to put none to death without a cause. So shalt thou prosper. To-morrow, a_reak of day, Ignosi, thou wilt give us an escort who shall lead us across th_ountains. Is it not so, O king?"
Ignosi covered his face with his hands for a while before answering.
"My heart is sore," he said at last; "your words split my heart in twain. Wha_ave I done to you, Incubu, Macumazahn, and Bougwan, that ye should leave m_esolate? Ye who stood by me in rebellion and in battle, will ye leave me i_he day of peace and victory? What will ye — wives? Choose from among th_aidens! A place to live in? Behold, the land is yours as far as ye can see.
The white man's houses? Ye shall teach my people how to build them. Cattle fo_eef and milk? Every married man shall bring you an ox or a cow. Wild game t_unt? Does not the elephant walk through my forests, and the river-horse slee_n the reeds? Would ye make war? My Impis wait your word. If there is anythin_ore which I can give, that will I give you."
"Nay, Ignosi, we want none of these things," I answered; "we would seek ou_wn place."
"Now do I learn," said Ignosi bitterly, and with flashing eyes, "that ye lov_he bright stones more than me, your friend. Ye have the stones; now ye woul_o to Natal and across the moving black water and sell them, and be rich, a_t is the desire of a white man's heart to be. Cursed for your sake be th_hite stones, and cursed he who seeks them. Death shall it be to him who set_oot in the place of Death to find them. I have spoken. White men, ye can go."
I laid my hand upon his arm. "Ignosi," I said, "tell us, when thou dids_ander in Zululand, and among the white people of Natal, did not thine hear_urn to the land thy mother told thee of, thy native place, where thou dids_ee the light, and play when thou wast little, the land where thy place was?"
"It was even so, Macumazahn."
"In like manner, Ignosi, do our hearts turn to our land and to our own place."
Then came a silence. When Ignosi broke it, it was in a different voice.
"I do perceive that now as ever thy words are wise and full of reason, Macumazahn; that which flies in the air loves not to run along the ground; th_hite man loves not to live on the level of the black or to house among hi_raals. Well, ye must go, and leave my heart sore, because ye will be as dea_o me, since from where ye are no tidings can come to me.
"But listen, and let all your brothers know my words. No other white man shal_ross the mountains, even if any man live to come so far. I will see n_raders with their guns and gin. My people shall fight with the spear, an_rink water, like their forefathers before them. I will have no praying-men t_ut a fear of death into men's hearts, to stir them up against the law of th_ing, and make a path for the white folk who follow to run on. If a white ma_omes to my gates I will send him back; if a hundred come I will push the_ack; if armies come, I will make war on them with all my strength, and the_hall not prevail against me. None shall ever seek for the shining stones: no, not an army, for if they come I will send a regiment and fill up the pit, an_reak down the white columns in the caves and choke them with rocks, so tha_one can reach even to that door of which ye speak, and whereof the way t_ove it is lost. But for you three, Incubu, Macumazahn, and Bougwan, the pat_s always open; for, behold, ye are dearer to me than aught that breathes.
"And ye would go. Infadoos, my uncle, and my Induna, shall take you by th_and and guide you with a regiment. There is, as I have learned, another wa_cross the mountains that he shall show you. Farewell, my brothers, brav_hite men. See me no more, for I have no heart to bear it. Behold! I make _ecree, and it shall be published from the mountains to the mountains; you_ames, Incubu, Macumazahn, and Bougwan, shall be "hlonipa" even as the name_f dead kings, and he who speaks them shall die.[*] So shall your memory b_reserved in the land for ever.
[*] This extraordinary and negative way of showing intense respect is by n_eans unknown among African people, and the result is that if, as is usual, the name in question has a significance, the meaning must be expressed by a_diom or other word. In this way a memory is preserved for generations, o_ntil the new word utterly supplants the old.
"Go now, ere my eyes rain tears like a woman's. At times as ye look back dow_he path of life, or when ye are old and gather yourselves together to crouc_efore the fire, because for you the sun has no more heat, ye will think o_ow we stood shoulder to shoulder, in that great battle which thy wise word_lanned, Macumazahn; of how thou wast the point of the horn that galle_wala's flank, Bougwan; whilst thou stood in the ring of the Greys, Incubu, and men went down before thine axe like corn before a sickle; ay, and of ho_hou didst break that wild bull Twala's strength, and bring his pride to dust.
Fare ye well for ever, Incubu, Macumazahn, and Bougwan, my lords and m_riends."
Ignosi rose and looked earnestly at us for a few seconds. Then he threw th_orner of his karross over his head, so as to cover his face from us.
We went in silence.
Next day at dawn we left Loo, escorted by our old friend Infadoos, who wa_eart-broken at our departure, and by the regiment of Buffaloes. Early as wa_he hour, all the main street of the town was lined with multitudes of people, who gave us the royal salute as we passed at the head of the regiment, whil_he women blessed us for having rid the land of Twala, throwing flowers befor_s as we went. It was really very affecting, and not the sort of thing one i_ccustomed to meet with from natives.
One ludicrous incident occurred, however, which I rather welcomed, as it gav_s something to laugh at.
Just before we reached the confines of the town, a pretty young girl, wit_ome lovely lilies in her hand, ran forward and presented them to Good — somehow they all seemed to like Good; I think his eye-glass and solitar_hisker gave him a fictitious value — and then said that she had a boon t_sk.
"Speak on," he answered.
"Let my lord show his servant his beautiful white legs, that his servant ma_ook upon them, and remember them all her days, and tell of them to he_hildren; his servant has travelled four days' journey to see them, for th_ame of them has gone throughout the land."
"I'll be hanged if I do!" exclaimed Good excitedly.
"Come, come, my dear fellow," said Sir Henry, "you can't refuse to oblige _ady."
"I won't," replied Good obstinately; "it is positively indecent."
However, in the end he consented to draw up his trousers to the knee, amids_otes of rapturous admiration from all the women present, especially th_ratified young lady, and in this guise he had to walk till we got clear o_he town.
Good's legs, I fear, will never be so greatly admired again. Of his meltin_eeth, and even of his "transparent eye," the Kukuanas wearied more or less, but of his legs never.
As we travelled, Infadoos told us that there was another pass over th_ountains to the north of the one followed by Solomon's Great Road, or rathe_hat there was a place where it was possible to climb down the wall of clif_hich separates Kukuanaland from the desert, and is broken by the towerin_hapes of Sheba's Breasts. It appeared, also, that rather more than two year_reviously a party of Kukuana hunters had descended this path into the deser_n search of ostriches, whose plumes are much prized among them for war head- dresses, and that in the course of their hunt they had been led far from th_ountains and were much troubled by thirst. Seeing trees on the horizon, however, they walked towards them, and discovered a large and fertile oasi_ome miles in extent, and plentifully watered. It was by way of this oasi_hat Infadoos suggested we should return, and the idea seemed to us a goo_ne, for it appeared that we should thus escape the rigours of the mountai_ass. Also some of the hunters were in attendance to guide us to the oasis, from which, they stated, they could perceive other fertile spots far away i_he desert.[*]
[*] It often puzzled all of us to understand how it was possible that Ignosi'_other, bearing the child with her, should have survived the dangers of he_ourney across the mountains and the desert, dangers which so nearly prove_atal to ourselves. It has since occurred to me, and I give the idea to th_eader for what it is worth, that she must have taken this second route, an_andered out like Hagar into the wilderness. If she did so, there is no longe_nything inexplicable about the story, since, as Ignosi himself related, sh_ay well have been picked up by some ostrich hunters before she or the chil_as exhausted, was led by them to the oasis, and thence by stages to th_ertile country, and so on by slow degrees southwards to Zululand. — A.Q.
Travelling easily, on the night of the fourth day's journey we found ourselve_nce more on the crest of the mountains that separate Kukuanaland from th_esert, which rolled away in sandy billows at our feet, and about twenty-fiv_iles to the north of Sheba's Breasts.
At dawn on the following day, we were led to the edge of a very precipitou_hasm, by which we were to descend the precipice, and gain the plain tw_housand and more feet below.
Here we bade farewell to that true friend and sturdy old warrior, Infadoos, who solemnly wished all good upon us, and nearly wept with grief. "Never, m_ords," he said, "shall mine old eyes see the like of you again. Ah! the wa_hat Incubu cut his men down in the battle! Ah! for the sight of that strok_ith which he swept off my brother Twala's head! It was beautiful — beautiful!
I may never hope to see such another, except perchance in happy dreams."
We were very sorry to part from him; indeed, Good was so moved that he gav_im as a souvenir — what do you think? — an eye-glass; afterwards w_iscovered that it was a spare one. Infadoos was delighted, foreseeing tha_he possession of such an article would increase his prestige enormously, an_fter several vain attempts he actually succeeded in screwing it into his ow_ye. Anything more incongruous than the old warrior looked with an eye-glass _ever saw. Eye-glasses do not go well with leopard-skin cloaks and blac_strich plumes.
Then, after seeing that our guides were well laden with water and provisions, and having received a thundering farewell salute from the Buffaloes, we wrun_nfadoos by the hand, and began our downward climb. A very arduous business i_roved to be, but somehow that evening we found ourselves at the botto_ithout accident.
"Do you know," said Sir Henry that night, as we sat by our fire and gazed u_t the beetling cliffs above us, "I think that there are worse places tha_ukuanaland in the world, and that I have known unhappier times than the las_onth or two, though I have never spent such queer ones. Eh! you fellows?"
"I almost wish I were back," said Good, with a sigh.
As for myself, I reflected that all's well that ends well; but in the cours_f a long life of shaves, I never had such shaves as those which I ha_ecently experienced. The thought of that battle makes me feel cold all over, and as for our experience in the treasure chamber — !
Next morning we started on a toilsome trudge across the desert, having with u_ good supply of water carried by our five guides, and camped that night i_he open, marching again at dawn on the morrow.
By noon of the third day's journey we could see the trees of the oasis o_hich the guides spoke, and within an hour of sundown we were walking onc_ore upon grass and listening to the sound of running water.