by H. Rider Haggard
It may be remembered that in
the last pages of his diary, written just before his death, Allan Quatermain
makes allusion to his long dead wife, stating that he has written of her fully
When his death was known, his
papers were handed to myself as his literary executor. Among them I found two
manuscripts, of which the following is one. The other is simply a record of
events wherein Mr. Quatermain was not personally concerned--a Zulu novel, the
story of which was told to him by the hero many years after the tragedy had
occurred. But with this we have nothing to do at present.
I have often thought (Mr.
Quatermain's manuscript begins) that I would set down on paper the events
connected with my marriage, and the loss of my most dear wife. Many years have
now passed since that event, and to some extent time has softened the old grief,
though Heaven knows it is still keen enough. On two or three occasions I have
even begun the record. Once I gave it up because the writing of it depressed me
beyond bearing, once because I was suddenly called away upon a journey, and the
third time because a Kaffir boy found my manuscript convenient for lighting the
But now that I am at leisure
here in England, I will make a fourth attempt. If I succeed, the story may serve
to interest some one in after years when I am dead and gone; before that I
should not wish it to be published. It is a wild tale enough, and suggests some
I am the son of a missionary.
My father was originally curate in charge of a small parish in Oxfordshire. He
had already been some ten years married to my dear mother when he went there,
and he had four children, of whom I was the youngest. I remember faintly the
place where we lived. It was an ancient long grey house, facing the road. There
was a very large tree of some sort in the garden. It was hollow, and we children
used to play about inside of it, and knock knots of wood from the rough bark. We
all slept in a kind of attic, and my mother always came and kissed us when we
were in bed. I used to wake up and see her bending over me, a candle in her hand.
There was a curious kind of pole projecting from the wall over my bed. Once I
was dreadfully frightened because my eldest brother made me hang to it by my
hands. That is all I remember about our old home. It has been pulled down long
ago, or I would journey there to see it.
A little further down the road
was a large house with big iron gates to it, and on the top of the gate pillars
sat two stone lions, which were so hideous that I was afraid of them. Perhaps
this sentiment was prophetic. One could see the house by peeping through the
bars of the gates. It was a gloomy-looking place, with a tall yew hedge round it;
but in the summer-time some flowers grew about the sun-dial in the grass plat.
This house was called the Hall, and Squire Carson lived there. One Christmas--it
must have been the Christmas before my father emigrated, or I should not
remember it--we children went to a Christmas-tree festivity at the Hall. There
was a great party there, and footmen wearing red waistcoats stood at the door.
In the dining-room, which was panelled with black oak, was the Christmas-tree.
Squire Carson stood in front of it. He was a tall, dark man, very quiet in his
manners, and he wore a bunch of seals on his waistcoat. We used to think him old,
but as a matter of fact he was then not more than forty. He had been, as I
afterwards learned, a great traveller in his youth, and some six or seven years
before this date he married a lady who was half a Spaniard--a papist, my father
called her. I can remember her well. She was small and very pretty, with a
rounded figure, large black eyes, and glittering teeth. She spoke English with a
curious accent. I suppose that I must have been a funny child to look at, and I
know that my hair stood up on my head then as it does now, for I still have a
sketch of myself that my mother made of me, in which this peculiarity is
strongly marked. On this occasion of the Christmas-tree I remember that Mrs.
Carson turned to a tall, foreign-looking gentleman who stood beside her, and,
tapping him affectionately on the shoulder with her gold eye-glasses, said--
"Look, cousin--look at
that droll little boy with the big brown eyes; his hair is like a--what you call
him?--scrubbing-brush. Oh, what a droll little boy!"
The tall gentleman pulled at
his moustache, and, taking Mrs. Carson's hand in his, began to smooth my hair
down with it till I heard her whisper--
"Leave go my hand, cousin.
Thomas is looking like--like the thunderstorm."
Thomas was the name of Mr.
Carson, her husband.
After that I hid myself as well
as I could behind a chair, for I was shy, and watched little Stella Carson, who
was the squire's only child, giving the children presents off the tree. She was
dressed as Father Christmas, with some soft white stuff round her lovely little
face, and she had large dark eyes, which I thought more beautiful than anything
I had ever seen. At last it came to my turn to receive a present--oddly enough,
considered in the light of future events, it was a large monkey. Stella reached
it down from one of the lower boughs of the tree and handed it to me, saying--
"Dat is my Christmas
present to you, little Allan Quatermain."
As she did so her sleeve, which
was covered with cotton wool, spangled over with something that shone, touched
one of the tapers and caught fire--how I do not know--and the flame ran up her
arm towards her throat. She stood quite still. I suppose that she was paralysed
with fear; and the ladies who were near screamed very loud, but did nothing.
Then some impulse seized me--perhaps instinct would be a better word to use,
considering my age. I threw myself upon the child, and, beating at the fire with
my hands, mercifully succeeded in extinguishing it before it really got hold. My
wrists were so badly scorched that they had to be wrapped up in wool for a long
time afterwards, but with the exception of a single burn upon her throat, little
Stella Carson was not much hurt.
This is all that I remember
about the Christmas-tree at the Hall. What happened afterwards is lost to me,
but to this day in my sleep I sometimes see little Stella's sweet face and the
stare of terror in her dark eyes as the fire ran up her arm. This, however, is
not wonderful, for I had, humanly speaking, saved the life of her who was
destined to be my wife.
The next event which I can
recall clearly is that my mother and three brothers all fell ill of fever, owing,
as I afterwards learned, to the poisoning of our well by some evil-minded
person, who threw a dead sheep into it.
It must have been while they
were ill that Squire Carson came one day to the vicarage. The weather was still
cold, for there was a fire in the study, and I sat before the fire writing
letters on a piece of paper with a pencil, while my father walked up and down
the room talking to himself. Afterwards I knew that he was praying for the lives
of his wife and children. Presently a servant came to the door and said that
some one wanted to see him.
"It is the squire, sir,"
said the maid, "and he says he particularly wishes to see you."
"Very well," answered
my father, wearily, and presently Squire Carson came in. His face was white and
haggard, and his eyes shone so fiercely that I was afraid of him.
"Forgive me for intruding
on you at such a time, Quatermain," he said, in a hoarse voice, "but
to-morrow I leave this place for ever, and I wish to speak to you before I
go--indeed, I must speak to you."
"Shall I send Allan away?"
said my father, pointing to me.
"No; let him bide. He will
not understand." Nor, indeed, did I at the time, but I remembered every
word, and in after years their meaning grew on me.
"First tell me," he
went on, "how are they?" and he pointed upwards with his thumb.
"My wife and two of the
boys are beyond hope," my father answered, with a groan. "I do not
know how it will go with the third. The Lord's will be done!"
"The Lord's will be done,"
the squire echoed, solemnly. "And now, Quatermain, listen--my wife's gone."
"Gone!" my father
answered. "Who with?"
"With that foreign cousin
of hers. It seems from a letter she left me that she always cared for him, not
for me. She married me because she thought me a rich English milord. Now she has
run through my property, or most of it, and gone. I don't know where. Luckily,
she did not care to encumber her new career with the child; Stella is left to
"That is what comes of
marrying a papist, Carson," said my father. That was his fault; he was as
good and charitable a man as ever lived, but he was bigoted. "What are you
going to do--follow her?"
He laughed bitterly in answer.
"Follow her!" he said;
"why should I follow her? If I met her I might kill her or him, or both of
them, because of the disgrace they have brought upon my child's name. No, I
never want to look upon her face again. I trusted her, I tell you, and she has
betrayed me. Let her go and find her fate. But I am going too. I am weary of my
"Surely, Carson, surely,"
said my father, "you do not mean----"
"No, no; not that. Death
comes soon enough. But I will leave this civilized world which is a lie. We will
go right away into the wilds, I and my child, and hide our shame. Where? I don't
know where. Anywhere, so long as there are no white faces, no smooth educated
"You are mad, Carson,"
my father answered. "How will you live? How can you educate Stella? Be a
man and wear it down."
"I will be a man, and I
will wear it down, but not here, Quatermain. Education! Was not she--that woman
who was my wife--was not she highly educated?--the cleverest woman in the
country forsooth. Too clever for me, Quatermain--too clever by half! No, no,
Stella shall be brought up in a different school; if it be possible, she shall
forget her very name. Good-bye, old friend, good-bye for ever. Do not try to
find me out, henceforth I shall be like one dead to you, to you and all I knew,"
and he was gone.
"Mad," said my father,
with a heavy sigh. "His trouble has turned his brain. But he will think
better of it."
At that moment the nurse came
hurrying in and whispered something in his ear. My father's face turned deadly
pale. He clutched at the table to support himself, then staggered from the room.
My mother was dying!
It was some days afterwards, I
do not know exactly how long, that my father took me by the hand and led me
upstairs into the big room which had been my mother's bedroom. There she lay,
dead in her coffin, with flowers in her hand. Along the wall of the room were
arranged three little white beds, and on each of the beds lay one of my brothers.
They all looked as though they were asleep, and they all had flowers in their
hands. My father told me to kiss them, because I should not see them any more,
and I did so, though I was very frightened. I did not know why. Then he took me
in his arms and kissed me.
"The Lord hath given,"
he said, "and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the
I cried very much, and he took
me downstairs, and after that I have only a confused memory of men dressed in
black carrying heavy burdens towards the grey churchyard!
Next comes a vision of a great
ship and wide tossing waters. My father could no longer bear to live in England
after the loss that had fallen on him, and made up his mind to emigrate to South
Africa. We must have been poor at the time--indeed, I believe that a large
portion of our income went from my father on my mother's death. At any rate we
travelled with the steerage passengers, and the intense discomfort of the
journey with the rough ways of our fellow emigrants still remain upon my mind.
At last it came to an end, and we reached Africa, which I was not to leave again
for many, many years.
In those days civilization had
not made any great progress in Southern Africa. My father went up the country
and became a missionary among the Kaffirs, near to where the town of Cradock now
stands, and here I grew to manhood. There were a few Boer farmers in the
neighbourhood, and gradually a little settlement of whites gathered round our
mission station--a drunken Scotch blacksmith and wheelwright was about the most
interesting character, who, when he was sober, could quote the Scottish poet
Burns and the Ingoldsby Legends, then recently published, literally by the page.
It was from that I contracted a fondness for the latter amusing writings, which
has never left me. Burns I never cared for so much, probably because of the
Scottish dialect which repelled me. What little education I got was from my
father, but I never had much leaning towards books, nor he much time to teach
them to me. On the other hand, I was always a keen observer of the ways of men
and nature. By the time that I was twenty I could speak Dutch and three or four
Kaffir dialects perfectly, and I doubt if there was anybody in South Africa who
understood native ways of thought and action more completely than I did. Also I
was really a very good shot and horseman, and I think--as, indeed, my subsequent
career proves to have been the case--a great deal tougher than the majority of
men. Though I was then, as now, light and small, nothing seemed to tire me. I
could bear any amount of exposure and privation, and I never met the native who
was my master in feats of endurance. Of course, all that is different now, I am
speaking of my early manhood.
It may be wondered that I did
not run absolutely wild in such surroundings, but I was held back from this by
my father's society. He was one of the gentlest and most refined men that I ever
met; even the most savage Kaffir loved him, and his influence was a very good
one for me. He used to call himself one of the world's failures. Would that
there were more such failures. Every morning when his work was done he would
take his prayer-book and, sitting on the little stoep or verandah of our station,
would read the evening psalms to himself. Sometimes there was not light enough
for this, but it made no difference, he knew them all by heart. When he had
finished he would look out across the cultivated lands where the mission Kaffirs
had their huts.
But I knew it was not these he
saw, but rather the grey English church, and the graves ranged side by side
before the yew near the wicket gate.
It was there on the stoep that
he died. He had not been well, and one evening I was talking to him, and his
mind went back to Oxfordshire and my mother. He spoke of her a good deal, saying
that she had never been out of his mind for a single day during all these years,
and that he rejoiced to think he was drawing near that land wither she had gone.
Then he asked me if I remembered the night when Squire Carson came into the
study at the vicarage, and told him that his wife had run away, and that he was
going to change his name and bury himself in some remote land.
I answered that I remembered it
"I wonder where he went
to," said my father, "and if he and his daughter Stella are still
alive. Well, well! I shall never meet them again. But life is a strange thing,
Allan, and you may. If you ever do, give them my kind love."
After that I left him. We had
been suffering more than usual from the depredations of the Kaffir thieves, who
stole our sheep at night, and, as I had done before, and not without success, I
determined to watch the kraal and see if I could catch them. Indeed, it was from
this habit of mine of watching at night that I first got my native name of
Macumazahn, which may be roughly translated as "he who sleeps with one eye
open." So I took my rifle and rose to go. But he called me to him and
kissed me on the forehead, saying, "God bless you, Allan! I hope that you
will think of your old father sometimes, and that you will lead a good and happy
I remember that I did not much
like his tone at the time, but set it down to an attack of low spirits, to which
he grew very subject as the years went on. I went down to the kraal and watched
till within an hour of sunrise; then, as no thieves appeared, returned to the
station. As I came near I was astonished to see a figure sitting in my father's
chair. At first I thought it must be a drunken Kaffir, then that my father had
fallen asleep there.
And so he had,--for he was dead!