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Foreword
Chapter One
Chapter Two
Chapter Three

Allan's Wife

by H. Rider Haggard

Chapter Three

NORTHWARDS

I make no apology to myself, or to anybody who may happen to read this
narrative in future, for having set out the manner of my meeting with
Indaba-zimbi: first, because it was curious, and secondly, because he
takes some hand in the subsequent events. If that old man was a
humbug, he was a very clever one. What amount of truth there was in
his pretensions to supernatural powers it is not for me to determine,
though I may have my own opinion on the subject. But there was no
mistake as to the extraordinary influence he exercised over his
fellow-natives. Also he quite got round my poor father. At first the
old gentleman declined to have him at the station, for he had a great
horror of these Kaffir wizards or witch-finders. But Indaba-zimbi
persuaded him that he was anxious to investigate the truths of
Christianity, and challenged him to a discussion. The argument lasted
two years--to the time of my father's death, indeed. At the conclusion
of each stage Indaba-zimbi would remark, in the words of the Roman
Governor, "Almost, praying white man, thou persuadest me to become a
Christian," but he never quite became one--indeed, I do not think he
ever meant to. It was to him that my father addressed his "Letters to
a Native Doubter." This work, which, unfortunately, remains in
manuscript, is full of wise saws and learned instances. It ought to be
published together with a /précis/ of the doubter's answers, which
were verbal.

So the talk went on. If my father had lived I believe it would be
going on now, for both the disputants were quite inexhaustible.
Meanwhile Indaba-zimbi was allowed to live on the station on condition
that he practised no witchcraft, which my father firmly believed to be
a wile of the devil. He said that he would not, but for all that there
was never an ox lost, or a sudden death, but he was consulted by those
interested.

When he had been with us a year, a deputation came to him from the
tribe he had left, asking him to return. Things had not gone well with
them since he went away, they said, and now the chief, his enemy, was
dead. Old Indaba-zimbi listened to them till they had done, and, as he
listened, raked sand into a little heap with his toes. Then he spoke,
pointing to the little heap, "There is your tribe to-day," he said.
Then he lifted his heel and stamped the heap flat. "There is your
tribe before three moons are gone. Nothing is left of it. You drove me
away: I will have no more to do with you; but when you are being
killed think of my words."

The messengers went. Three months afterwards I heard that the whole
community had been wiped out by an Impi of raiding Pondos.

When I was at length ready to start upon my expedition, I went to old
Indaba-zimbi to say good-bye to him, and was rather surprised to find
him engaged in rolling up medicine, assegais, and other sundries in
his blankets.

"Good-bye, Indaba-zimbi," I said, "I am going to trek north."

"Yes, Macumazahn," he answered, with his head on one side; "and so am
I--I want to see that country. We will go together."

"Will we!" I said; "wait till you are asked, you old humbug."

"You had better ask me, then, Macumazahn, for if you don't you will
never come back alive. Now that the old chief (my father) is gone to
where the storms come from," and he nodded to the sky, "I feel myself
getting into bad habits again. So last night I just threw up the bones
and worked out about your journey, and I can tell you this, that if
you don't take me you will die, and, what is more, you will lose one
who is dearer to you than life in a strange fashion. So just because
you gave me that hint a couple of years ago, I made up my mind to come
with you."

"Don't talk stuff to me," I said.

"Ah, very well, Macumazahn, very well; but what happened to my own
people six months ago, and what did I tell the messengers would
happen? They drove me away, and they are gone. If you drive me away
you will soon be gone too," and he nodded his white lock at me and
smiled. Now I was not more superstitious than other people, but
somehow old Indaba-zimbi impressed me. Also I knew his extraordinary
influence over every class of native, and bethought me that he might
be useful in that way.

"All right," I said: "I appoint you witch-finder to the expedition
without pay."

"First serve, then ask for wages," he answered. "I am glad to see that
you have enough imagination not to be altogether a fool, like most
white men, Macumazahn. Yes, yes, it is want of imagination that makes
people fools; they won't believe what they can't understand. You can't
understand my prophecies any more than the fool at the kraal could
understand that I was his master with the lightning. Well, it is time
to trek, but if I were you, Macumazahn, I should take one waggon, not
two."

"Why?" I said.

"Because you will lose your waggons, and it is better to lose one than
two."

"Oh, nonsense!" I said.

"All right, Macumazahn, live and learn." And without another word he
walked to the foremost waggon, put his bundle into it, and climbed on
to the front seat.

So having bid an affectionate adieu to my white friends, including the
old Scotchman who got drunk in honour of the event, and quoted Burns
till the tears ran down his face, at length I started, and travelled
slowly northwards. For the first three weeks nothing very particular
befell me. Such Kaffirs as we came in contact with were friendly, and
game literally swarmed. Nobody living in those parts of South Africa
nowadays can have the remotest idea of what the veldt was like even
thirty years ago.

Often and often I have crept shivering on to my waggon-box just as the
sun rose and looked out. At first one would see nothing but a vast
field of white mist suffused towards the east by a tremulous golden
glow, through which the tops of stony koppies stood up like gigantic
beacons. From the dense mist would come strange sounds--snorts,
gruntings, bellows, and the thunder of countless hoofs. Presently this
great curtain would grow thinner, then it would melt, as the smoke
from a pipe melts into the air, and for miles on miles the wide
rolling country interspersed with bush opened to the view. But it was
not tenantless as it is now, for as far as the eye could reach it
would be literally black with game. Here to the right might be a herd
of vilderbeeste that could not number less than two thousand. Some
were grazing, some gambolled, whisking their white tails into the air,
while all round the old bulls stood upon hillocks sniffing
suspiciously at the breeze. There, in front, a hundred yards away,
though to the unpractised eye they looked much closer, because of the
dazzling clearness of the atmosphere, was a great herd of springbok
trekking along in single file. Ah, they have come to the waggon-track
and do not like the look of it. What will they do?--go back? Not a bit
of it. It is nearly thirty feet wide, but that is nothing to a
springbok. See, the first of them bounds into the air like a ball. How
beautifully the sunshine gleams upon his golden hide! He has cleared
it, and the others come after him in numberless succession, all except
the fawns, who cannot jump so far, and have to scamper over the
doubtful path with a terrified /bah/. What is that yonder, moving
above the tops of the mimosa, in the little dell at the foot of the
koppie? Giraffes, by George! three of them; there will be marrow-bones
for supper to-night. Hark! the ground shakes behind us, and over the
brow of the rise rush a vast herd of blesbock. On they come at full
gallop, their long heads held low, they look like so many bearded
goats. I thought so--behind them is a pack of wild dogs, their fur
draggled, their tongues lolling. They are in full cry; the giraffes
hear them and are away, rolling round the koppie like a ship in a
heavy sea. No marrow-bones after all. See! the foremost dogs are close
on a buck. He has galloped far and is outworn. One springs at his
flank and misses him. The buck gives a kind of groan, looks wildly
round and sees the waggon. He seems to hesitate a moment, then in his
despair rushes up to it, and falls exhausted among the oxen. The dogs
pull up some thirty paces away, panting and snarling. Now, boy, the
gun--no, not the rifle, the shot-gun loaded with loopers.

Bang! bang! there, my friends, two of you will never hunt buck again.
No, don't touch the buck, for he has come to us for shelter, and he
shall have it.

Ah, how beautiful is nature before man comes to spoil it!

Such a sight as this have I seen many a hundred times, and I hope to
see it again before I die.

The first real adventure that befell me on this particular journey was
with elephants, which I will relate because of its curious
termination. Just before we crossed the Orange River we came to a
stretch of forest-land some twenty miles broad. The night we entered
this forest we camped in a lovely open glade. A few yards ahead
tambouki grass was growing to the height of a man, or rather it had
been; now, with the exception of a few stalks here and there, it was
crushed quite flat. It was already dusk when we camped; but after the
moon got up I walked from the fire to see how this had happened. One
glance was enough for me; a great herd of elephants had evidently
passed over the tall grass not many hours before. The sight of their
spoor rejoiced me exceedingly, for though I had seen wild elephants,
at that time I had never shot one. Moreover, the sight of elephant
spoor to the African hunter is what "colour in the pan" is to the
prospector of gold. It is by the ivory that he lives, and to shoot it
or trade it is his chief aim in life. My resolution was soon taken. I
would camp the waggons for a while in the forest, and start on
horseback after the elephants.

I communicated my decision to Indaba-zimbi and the other Kaffirs. The
latter were not loth, for your Kaffir loves hunting, which means
plenty of meat and congenial occupation, but Indaba-zimbi would
express no opinion. I saw him retire to a little fire that he had lit
for himself, and go through some mysterious performances with bones
and clay mixed with ashes, which were watched with the greatest
interest by the other Kaffirs. At length he rose, and, coming forward,
informed me that it was all right, and that I did well to go and hunt
the elephants, as I should get plenty of ivory; but he advised me to
go on foot. I said I should do nothing of the sort, but meant to ride.
I am wiser now; this was the first and last time that I ever attempted
to hunt elephants on horseback.

Accordingly we started at dawn, I, Indaba-zimbi, and three men; the
rest I left with the waggons. I was on horseback, and so was my
driver, a good rider and a skilful shot for a Kaffir, but Indaba-zimbi
and the others walked. From dawn till mid-day we followed the trail of
the herd, which was as plain as a high road. Then we off-saddled to
let the horses rest and feed, and about three o'clock started on
again. Another hour or so passed, and still there was no sign of
elephants. Evidently the herd had travelled fast and far, and I began
to think that we should have to give it up, when suddenly I caught
sight of a brown mass moving through the thorn-trees on the side of a
slope about a quarter of a mile away. My heart seemed to jump into my
mouth. Where is the hunter who has not felt like this at the sight of
his first elephant?

I called a halt, and then the wind being right, we set to work to
stalk the bull. Very quietly I rode down the hither side of the slope
till we came to the bottom, which was densely covered with bush. Here
I saw the elephants had been feeding, for broken branches and upturned
trees lay all about. I did not take much notice, however, for all my
thoughts were fixed upon the bull I was stalking, when suddenly my
horse gave a violent start that nearly threw me from the saddle, and
there came a mighty rush and upheaval of something in front of me. I
looked: there was the hinder part of a second bull elephant not four
yards off. I could just catch sight of its outstretched ears
projecting on either side. I had disturbed it sleeping, and it was
running away.

Obviously the best thing to do would have been to let it run, but I
was young in those days and foolish, and in the excitement of the
moment I lifted my "roer" or elephant gun and fired at the great brute
over my horse's head. The recoil of the heavy gun nearly knocked me
off the horse. I recovered myself, however, and, as I did so, saw the
bull lurch forward, for the impact of a three-ounce bullet in the
flank will quicken the movement even of an elephant. By this time I
had realized the folly of the shot, and devoutly hoped that the bull
would take no further notice of it. But he took a different view of
the matter. Pulling himself up in a series of plunges, he spun round
and came for me with outstretched ears and uplifted trunk, screaming
terribly. I was quite defenceless, for my gun was empty, and my first
thought was of escape. I dug my heels into the sides of my horse, but
he would not move an inch. The poor animal was paralyzed with terror,
and he simply stood still, his fore-legs outstretched, and quivering
all over like a leaf.

On rushed the elephant, awful to see; I made one more vain effort to
stir the horse. Now the trunk of the great bull swung aloft above my
head. A thought flashed through my brain. Quick as light I rolled from
the saddle. By the side of the horse lay a fallen tree, as thick
through as a man's body. The tree was lifted a little off the ground
by the broken boughs which took its weight, and with a single
movement, so active is one in such necessities, I flung myself beneath
it. As I did so, I heard the trunk of the elephant descend with a
mighty thud on the back of my poor horse, and the next instant I was
almost in darkness, for the horse, whose back was broken, fell over
across the tree under which I lay ensconced. But he did not stop there
long. In ten seconds more the bull had wound his trunk about my dead
nag's neck, and, with a mighty effort, hurled him clear of the tree. I
wriggled backwards as far as I could towards the roots of the tree,
for I knew what he was after. Presently I saw the red tip of the
bull's trunk stretching itself towards me. If he could manage to hook
it round any part of me I was lost. But in the position I occupied,
that was just what he could not do, although he knelt down to
facilitate his operations. On came the snapping tip like a great open-
mouthed snake; it closed upon my hat, which vanished. Again it was
thrust down, and a scream of rage was bellowed through it within four
inches of my head. Now it seemed to elongate itself. Oh, heavens! now
it had me by the hair, which, luckily for myself, was not very long.
Then it was my turn to scream, for next instant half a square inch of
hair was dragged from my scalp by the roots. I was being plucked
alive, as I have seen cruel Kaffir kitchen boys pluck a fowl.

The elephant, however, disappointed with these moderate results,
changed his tactics. He wound his trunk round the fallen tree and
lifted. The tree stirred, but fortunately the broken branches embedded
in the spongy soil, and some roots, which still held, prevented it
from being turned over, though he lifted it so much that, had it
occurred to him, he could now easily have drawn me out with his trunk.
Again he hoisted with all his mighty strength, and I saw that the tree
was coming, and roared aloud for help. Some shots were fired close by
in answer, but if they hit the bull, their only effect was to stir his
energies to more active life. In another few seconds my shelter would
be torn away, and I should be done for. A cold perspiration burst out
over me as I realized that I was lost. Then of a sudden I remembered
that I had a pistol in my belt, which I often used for despatching
wounded game. It was loaded and capped. By this time the tree was
lifted so much that I could easily get my hand down to my middle and
draw the pistol from its case. I drew and cocked it. Now the tree was
coming over, and there, within three feet of my head, was the great
brown trunk of the elephant. I placed the muzzle of the pistol within
an inch of it and fired. The result was instantaneous. Down sunk the
tree again, giving one of my legs a considerable squeeze, and next
instant I heard a crashing sound. The elephant had bolted.

By this time, what between fright and struggling, I was pretty well
tired. I cannot remember how I got from under the fallen tree, or
indeed anything, until I found myself sitting on the ground drinking
some peach brandy from a flask, and old Indaba-zimbi opposite to me
nodding his white lock sagely, while he fired off moral reflections on
the narrowness of my escape, and my unwisdom in not having taken his
advice to go on foot. That reminded me of my horse--I got up and went
to look at it. It was quite dead, the blow of the elephant's trunk had
fallen on the saddle, breaking the framework, and rendering it
useless. I reflected that in another two seconds it would have fallen
on /me/. Then I called to Indaba-zimbi and asked which way the
elephants had gone.

"There!" he said, pointing down the gully, "and we had better go after
them, Macumazahn. We have had the bad luck, now for the good."

There was philosophy in this, though, to tell the truth, I did not
feel particularly sharp set on elephants at the moment. I seemed to
have had enough of them. However, it would never do to show the white
feather before the boys, so I assented with much outward readiness,
and we started, I on the second horse, and the others on foot. When we
had travelled for the best part of an hour down the valley, all of a
sudden we came upon the whole herd, which numbered a little more than
eighty. Just in front of them the bush was so thick that they seemed
to hesitate about entering it, and the sides of the valley were so
rocky and steep at this point that they could not climb them.

They saw us at the same moment as we saw them, and inwardly I was
filled with fears lest they should take it into their heads to charge
back up the gully. But they did not; trumpeting aloud, they rushed at
the thick bush which went down before them like corn before a sickle.
I do not think that in all my experiences I ever heard anything to
equal the sound they made as they crashed through and over the shrubs
and trees. Before them was a dense forest belt from a hundred to a
hundred and fifty feet in width. As they rushed on, it fell, so that
behind them was nothing but a level roadway strewed with fallen
trunks, crushed branches, and here and there a tree, too strong even
for them, left stranded amid the wreck. On they went, and,
notwithstanding the nature of the ground over which they had to
travel, they kept their distance ahead of us. This sort of thing
continued for a mile or more, and then I saw that in front of the
elephants the valley opened into a space covered with reeds and grass
--it might have been five or six acres in extent--beyond which the
valley ran on again.

The herd reached the edge of this expanse, and for a moment pulled up,
hesitating--evidently they mistrusted it. My men yelled aloud, as only
Kaffirs can, and that settled them. Headed by the wounded bull, whose
martial ardour, like my own, was somewhat cooled, they spread out and
dashed into the treacherous swamp--for such it was, though just then
there was no water to be seen. For a few yards all went well with
them, though they clearly found it heavy going; then suddenly the
great bull sank up to his belly in the stiff peaty soil, and remained
fixed. The others, mad with fear, took no heed of his struggles and
trumpetings, but plunged on to meet the same fate. In five minutes the
whole herd of them were hopelessly bogged, and the more they struggled
to escape, the deeper they sunk. There was one exception, indeed, a
cow managed to win back to firm shore, and, lifting her trunk,
prepared to charge us as we came up. But at that moment she heard the
scream of her calf, and rushed back to its assistance, only to be
bogged with the others.

Such a scene I never saw before or since. The swamp was spotted all
over with the large forms of the elephants, and the air rang with
their screams of rage and terror as they waved their trunks wildly to
and fro. Now and then a monster would make a great effort and drag his
mass from its peaty bed, only to stick fast again at the next step. It
was a most pitiable sight, though one that gladdened the hearts of my
men. Even the best natives have little compassion for the sufferings
of animals.

Well, the rest was easy. The marsh that would not bear the elephants
carried our weight well enough. Before midnight all were dead, for we
shot them by moonlight. I would gladly have spared the young ones and
some of the cows, but to do so would only have meant leaving them to
perish of hunger; it was kinder to kill them at once. The wounded bull
I slew with my own hand, and I cannot say that I felt much compunction
in so doing. He knew me again, and made a desperate effort to get at
me, but I am glad to say that the peat held him fast.

The pan presented a curious sight when the sun rose next morning.
Owing to the support given by the soil, few of the dead elephants had
fallen: there they stood as though they were asleep.

I sent back for the waggons, and when they arrived on the morrow,
formed a camp, about a mile away from the pan. Then began the work of
cutting out the elephants' tusks; it took over a week, and for obvious
reasons was a disgusting task. Indeed, had it not been for the help of
some wandering bushmen, who took their pay in elephant meat, I do not
think we could ever have managed it.

At last it was done. The ivory was far too cumbersome for us to carry,
so we buried it, having first got rid of our bushmen allies. My boys
wanted me to go back to the Cape with it and sell it, but I was too
much bent on my journey to do this. The tusks lay buried for five
years. Then I came and dug them up; they were but little harmed.
Ultimately I sold the ivory for something over twelve hundred pounds--
not bad pay for one day's shooting.

This was how I began my career as an elephant hunter. I have shot many
hundreds of them since, but have never again attempted to do so on
horseback.

 

 

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