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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesAllan Quatermain - Chapter III - THE MISSION STATION
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Allan Quatermain - Chapter III - THE MISSION STATION Post by :betty17 Category :Long Stories Author :H. Rider Haggard Date :April 2011 Read :2920

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Allan Quatermain - Chapter III - THE MISSION STATION

We made the remains of our rope fast to the other canoe, and sat
waiting for the dawn and congratulating ourselves upon our
merciful escape, which really seemed to result more from the
special favour of Providence than from our own care or prowess.
At last it came, and I have not often been more grateful to see
the light, though so far as my canoe was concerned it revealed a
ghastly sight. There in the bottom of the little boat lay the
unfortunate Askari, the sime, or sword, in his bosom, and the
severed hand gripping the handle. I could not bear the sight, so
hauling up the stone which had served as an anchor to the other
canoe, we made it fast to the murdered man and dropped him
overboard, and down he went to the bottom, leaving nothing but a
train of bubbles behind him. Alas! when our time comes, most of
us like him leave nothing but bubbles behind, to show that we
have been, and the bubbles soon burst. The hand of his murderer
we threw into the stream, where it slowly sank. The sword, of
which the handle was ivory, inlaid with gold (evidently Arab
work), I kept and used as a hunting-knife, and very useful it
proved.

Then, a man having been transferred to my canoe, we once more
started on in very low spirits and not feeling at all comfortable
as to the future, but fondly hoping to arrive at the 'Highlands'
station by night. To make matters worse, within an hour of
sunrise it came on to rain in torrents, wetting us to the skin,
and even necessitating the occasional baling of the canoes, and
as the rain beat down the wind we could not use the sails, and
had to get along as best as we could with our paddles.

At eleven o'clock we halted on an open piece of ground on the
left bank of the river, and, the rain abating a little, managed
to make a fire and catch and broil some fish. We did not dare to
wander about to search for game. At two o'clock we got off
again, taking a supply of broiled fish with us, and shortly
afterwards the rain came on harder than ever. Also the river
began to get exceedingly difficult to navigate on account of the
numerous rocks, reaches of shallow water, and the increased force
of the current; so that it soon became clear to us that we should
not reach the Rev. Mackenzie's hospitable roof that night--a
prospect that did not tend to enliven us. Toil as we would, we
could not make more than an average of a mile an hour, and at
five o'clock in the afternoon (by which time we were all utterly
worn out) we reckoned that we were still quite ten miles below
the station. This being so, we set to work to make the best
arrangements we could for the night. After our recent
experience, we simply did not dare to land, more especially as
the banks of the Tana were clothed with dense bush that would
have given cover to five thousand Masai, and at first I thought
that we were going to have another night of it in the canoes.
Fortunately, however, we espied a little rocky islet, not more
than fifteen miles of so square, situated nearly in the middle of
the river. For this we paddled, and, making fast the canoes,
landed and made ourselves as comfortable as circumstances would
permit, which was very uncomfortable indeed. As for the weather,
it continued to be simply vile, the rain coming down in sheets
till we were chilled to the marrow, and utterly preventing us
from lighting a fire. There was, however, one consoling
circumstance about this rain; our Askari declared that nothing
would induce the Masai to make an attack in it, as they intensely
disliked moving about in the wet, perhaps, as Good suggested,
because they hate the idea of washing. We ate some insipid and
sodden cold fish--that is, with the exception of Umslopogaas,
who, like most Zulus, cannot bear fish--and took a pull of
brandy, of which we fortunately had a few bottles left, and then
began what, with one exception--when we same three white men
nearly perished of cold on the snow of Sheba's Breast in the
course of our journey to Kukuanaland--was, I think, the most
trying night I ever experienced. It seemed absolutely endless,
and once or twice I feared that two of the Askari would have died
of the wet, cold, and exposure. Indeed, had it not been for
timely doses of brandy I am sure that they would have died, for
no African people can stand much exposure, which first paralyses
and then kills them. I could see that even that iron old warrior
Umslopogaas felt it keenly; though, in strange contrast to the
Wakwafis, who groaned and bemoaned their fate unceasingly, he
never uttered a single complaint. To make matters worse, about
one in the morning we again heard the owl's ominous hooting, and
had at once to prepare ourselves for another attack; though, if
it had been attempted, I do not think that we could have offered
a very effective resistance. But either the owl was a real one
this time, or else the Masai were themselves too miserable to
think of offensive operations, which, indeed, they rarely, if
ever, undertake in bush veldt. At any rate, we saw nothing of
them.

At last the dawn came gliding across the water, wrapped in
wreaths of ghostly mist, and, with the daylight, the rain ceased;
and then, out came the glorious sun, sucking up the mists and
warming the chill air. Benumbed, and utterly exhausted, we
dragged ourselves to our feet, and went and stood in the bright
rays, and were thankful for them. I can quite understand how it
is that primitive people become sun worshippers, especially if
their conditions of life render them liable to exposure.

In half an hour more we were once again making fair progress with
the help of a good wind. Our spirits had returned with the
sunshine, and we were ready to laugh at difficulties and dangers
that had been almost crushing on the previous day.

And so we went on cheerily till about eleven o'clock. Just as we
were thinking of halting as usual, to rest and try to shoot
something to eat, a sudden bend in the river brought us in sight
of a substantial-looking European house with a veranda round it,
splendidly situated upon a hill, and surrounded by a high stone
wall with a ditch on the outer side. Right against and
overshadowing the house was an enormous pine, the tope of which
we had seen through a glass for the last two days, but of course
without knowing that it marked the site of the mission station.
I was the first to see the house, and could not restrain myself
from giving a hearty cheer, in which the others, including the
natives, joined lustily. There was no thought of halting now.
On we laboured, for, unfortunately, though the house seemed quite
near, it was still a long way off by river, until at last, by one
o'clock, we found ourselves at the bottom of the slope on which
the building stood. Running the canoes to the bank, we
disembarked, and were just hauling them up on to the shore, when
we perceived three figures, dressed in ordinary English-looking
clothes, hurrying down through a grove of trees to meet us.

'A gentleman, a lady, and a little girl,' ejaculated Good, after
surveying the trio through his eyeglass, 'walking in a civilized
fashion, through a civilized garden, to meet us in this place.
Hang me, if this isn't the most curious thing we have seen yet!'

Good was right: it certainly did seem odd and out of place--more
like a scene out of a dream or an Italian opera than a real
tangible fact; and the sense of unreality was not lessened when
we heard ourselves addressed in good broad Scotch, which,
however, I cannot reproduce.

'How do you do, sirs,' said Mr Mackenzie, a grey-haired, angular
man, with a kindly face and red cheeks; 'I hope I see you very
well. My natives told me an hour ago they spied two canoes with
white men in them coming up the river; so we have just come down
to meet you.'

'And it is very glad that we are to see a white face again, let
me tell you,' put in the lady--a charming and refined-looking
person.

We took off our hats in acknowledgment, and proceeded to
introduce ourselves.

'And now,' said Mr Mackenzie, 'you must all be hungry and weary;
so come on, gentlemen, come on, and right glad we are to see you.
The last white who visited us was Alphonse--you will see Alphonse
presently--and that was a year ago.'

Meanwhile we had been walking up the slope of the hill, the lower
portion of which was fenced off, sometimes with quince fences and
sometimes with rough stone walls, into Kaffir gardens, just now
full of crops of mealies, pumpkins, potatoes, etc. In the
corners of these gardens were groups of neat mushroom-shaped
huts, occupied by Mr Mackenzie's mission natives, whose women and
children came pouring out to meet us as we walked. Through the
centre of the gardens ran the roadway up which we were walking.
It was bordered on each side by a line of orange trees, which,
although they had only been planted ten years, had in the lovely
climate of the uplands below Mt Kenia, the base of which is about
5,000 feet above the coastline level, already grown to imposing
proportions, and were positively laden with golden fruit. After
a stiffish climb of a quarter of a mile or so--for the hillside
was steep--we came to a splendid quince fence, also covered with
fruit, which enclosed, Mr Mackenzie told us, a space of about
four acres of ground that contained his private garden, house,
church, and outbuildings, and, indeed, the whole hilltop. And
what a garden it was! I have always loved a good garden, and I
could have thrown up my hands for joy when I saw Mr Mackenzie's.
First there were rows upon rows of standard European fruit-trees,
all grafted; for on top of this hill the climate was so temperate
that nearly all the English vegetables, trees, and flowers
flourished luxuriantly, even including several varieties of the
apple, which, generally, runs to wood in a warm climate and
obstinately refuses to fruit. Then there were strawberries and
tomatoes (such tomatoes!), and melons and cucumbers, and, indeed,
every sort of vegetable and fruit.

'Well, you have something like a garden!' I said, overpowered
with admiration not untouched by envy.

'Yes,' answered the missionary, 'it is a very good garden, and
has well repaid my labour; but it is the climate that I have to
thank. If you stick a peach-stone into the ground it will bear
fruit the fourth year, and a rose-cutting with bloom in a year.
It is a lovely clime.'

Just then we came to a ditch about ten feet wide, and full of
water, on the other side of which was a loopholed stone wall
eight feet high, and with sharp flints plentifully set in mortar
on the coping.

'There,' said Mr Mackenzie, pointing to the ditch and wall, 'this
is my magnum opus; at least, this and the church, which is the
other side of the house. It took me and twenty natives two years
to dig the ditch and build the wall, but I never felt safe till
it was done; and now I can defy all the savages in Africa, for
the spring that fills the ditch is inside the wall, and bubbles
out at the top of the hill winter and summer alike, and I always
keep a store of four months' provision in the house.'

Crossing over a plank and through a very narrow opening in the
wall, we entered into what Mrs Mackenzie called HER
domain--namely, the flower garden, the beauty of which is really
beyond my power to describe. I do not think I ever saw such
roses, gardenias, or camellias (all reared from seeds or cuttings
sent from England); and there was also a patch given up to a
collection of bulbous roots mostly collected by Miss Flossie, Mr
Mackenzie's little daughter, from the surrounding country, some
of which were surpassingly beautiful. In the middle of this
garden, and exactly opposite the veranda, a beautiful fountain of
clear water bubbled up from the ground, and fell into a
stone-work basin which had been carefully built to receive it,
whence the overflow found its way by means of a drain to the moat
round the outer wall, this moat in its turn serving as a
reservoir, whence an unfailing supply of water was available to
irrigate all the gardens below. The house itself, a massively
built single-storied building, was roofed with slabs of stone,
and had a handsome veranda in front. It was built on three sides
of a square, the fourth side being taken up by the kitchens,
which stood separate from the house--a very good plan in a hot
country. In the centre of this square thus formed was, perhaps,
the most remarkable object that we had yet seen in this charming
place, and that was a single tree of the conifer tribe, varieties
of which grow freely on the highlands of this part of Africa.
This splendid tree, which Mr Mackenzie informed us was a landmark
for fifty miles round, and which we had ourselves seen for the
last forty miles of our journey, must have been nearly three
hundred feet in height, the trunk measuring about sixteen feet in
diameter at a yard from the ground. For some seventy feet it
rose a beautiful tapering brown pillar without a single branch,
but at that height splendid dark green boughs, which, looked at
from below, had the appearance of gigantic fern-leaves, sprang
out horizontally from the trunk, projecting right over the house
and flower-garden, to both of which they furnished a grateful
proportion of shade, without--being so high up--offering any
impediment to the passage of light and air.

'What a beautiful tree!' exclaimed Sir Henry.

'Yes, you are right; it is a beautiful tree. There is not
another like it in all the country round, that I know of,'
answered Mr Mackenzie. 'I call it my watch tower. As you see, I
have a rope ladder fixed to the lowest bough; and if I want to
see anything that is going on within fifteen miles or so, all I
have to do is to run up it with a spyglass. But you must be
hungry, and I am sure the dinner is cooked. Come in, my friends;
it is but a rough place, but well enough for these savage parts;
and I can tell you what, we have got--a French cook.' And he led
the way on to the veranda.

As I was following him, and wondering what on earth he could mean
by this, there suddenly appeared, through the door that opened on
to the veranda from the house, a dapper little man, dressed in a
neat blue cotton suit, with shoes made of tanned hide, and
remarkable for a bustling air and most enormous black mustachios,
shaped into an upward curve, and coming to a point for all the
world like a pair of buffalo-horns.

'Madame bids me for to say that dinnar is sarved. Messieurs, my
compliments;' then suddenly perceiving Umslopogaas, who was
loitering along after us and playing with his battleaxe, he threw
up his hands in astonishment. 'Ah, mais quel homme!' he
ejaculated in French, 'quel sauvage affreux! Take but note of
his huge choppare and the great pit in his head.'

'Ay,' said Mr Mackenzie; 'what are you talking about, Alphonse?'

'Talking about!' replied the little Frenchman, his eyes still
fixed upon Umslopogaas, whose general appearance seemed to
fascinate him; 'why I talk of him'--and he rudely pointed--'of ce
monsieur noir.'

At this everybody began to laugh, and Umslopogaas, perceiving
that he was the object of remark, frowned ferociously, for he had
a most lordly dislike of anything like a personal liberty.

'Parbleu!' said Alphonse, 'he is angered--he makes the grimace.
I like not his air. I vanish.' And he did with considerable
rapidity.

Mr Mackenzie joined heartily in the shout of laughter which we
indulged in. 'He is a queer character--Alphonse,' he said. 'By
and by I will tell you his history; in the meanwhile let us try
his cooking.'

'Might I ask,' said Sir Henry, after we had eaten a most
excellent dinner, 'how you came to have a French cook in these
wilds?'

'Oh,' answered Mrs Mackenzie, 'he arrived here of his own accord
about a year ago, and asked to be taken into our service. He had
got into some trouble in France, and fled to Zanzibar, where he
found an application had been made by the French Government for
his extradition. Whereupon he rushed off up-country, and fell
in, when nearly starved, with our caravan of men, who were
bringing us our annual supply of goods, and was brought on here.
You should get him to tell you the story.'

When dinner was over we lit our pipes, and Sir Henry proceeded to
give our host a description of our journey up here, over which he
looked very grave.

'It is evident to me,' he said, 'that those rascally Masai are
following you, and I am very thankful that you have reached this
house in safety. I do not think that they will dare to attack
you here. It is unfortunate, though, that nearly all my men have
gone down to the coast with ivory and goods. There are two
hundred of them in the caravan, and the consequence is that I
have not more than twenty men available for defensive purposes in
case they should attack us. But, still, I will just give a few
orders;' and, calling a black man who was loitering about outside
in the garden, he went to the window, and addressed him in a
Swahili dialect. The man listened, and then saluted and
departed.

'I am sure I devoutly hope that we shall bring no such calamity
upon you,' said I, anxiously, when he had taken his seat again.
'Rather than bring those bloodthirsty villains about your ears,
we will move on and take our chance.'

'You will do nothing of the sort. If the Masai come, they come,
and there is an end on it; and I think we can give them a pretty
warm greeting. I would not show any man the door for all the
Masai in the world.'

'That reminds me,' I said, 'the Consul at Lamu told me that he
had had a letter from you, in which you said that a man had
arrived here who reported that he had come across a white people
in the interior. Do you think that there was any truth in his
story? I ask, because I have once or twice in my life heard
rumours from natives who have come down from the far north of the
existence of such a race.'

Mr Mackenzie, by way of answer, went out of the room and
returned, bringing with him a most curious sword. It was long,
and all the blade, which was very thick and heavy, was to within
a quarter of an inch of the cutting edge worked into an
ornamental pattern exactly as we work soft wood with a fret-saw,
the steel, however, being invariably pierced in such a way as not
to interfere with the strength of the sword. This in itself was
sufficiently curious, but what was still more so was that all the
edges of the hollow spaces cut through the substance of the blade
were most beautifully inlaid with gold, which was in some way
that I cannot understand welded on to the steel. *{Since I saw
the above I have examined hundreds of these swords, but have
never been able to discover how the gold plates were inlaid in
the fretwork. The armourers who make them in Zu-vendis bind
themselves by oath not to reveal the secret. --A. Q.}

'There,' said Mr Mackenzie, 'did you ever see a sword like that?'

We all examined it and shook our heads.

'Well, I have got it to show you, because this is what the man
who said he had seen the white people brought with him, and
because it does more or less give an air of truth to what I
should otherwise have set down as a lie. Look here; I will tell
you all that I know about the matter, which is not much. One
afternoon, just before sunset, I was sitting on the veranda, when
a poor, miserable, starved-looking man came limping up and
squatted down before me. I asked him where he came from and what
he wanted, and thereon he plunged into a long rambling narrative
about how he belonged to a tribe far in the north, and how his
tribe was destroyed by another tribe, and he with a few other
survivors driven still further north past a lake named Laga.
Thence, it appears, he made his way to another lake that lay up
in the mountains, "a lake without a bottom" he called it, and
here his wife and brother died of an infectious
sickness--probably smallpox--whereon the people drove him out of
their villages into the wilderness, where he wandered miserably
over mountains for ten days, after which he got into dense thorn
forest, and was one day found there by some WHITE MEN who were
hunting, and who took him to a place where all the people were
white and lived in stone houses. Here he remained a week shut up
in a house, till one night a man with a white beard, whom he
understood to be a "medicine-man", came and inspected him, after
which he was led off and taken through the thorn forest to the
confines of the wilderness, and given food and this sword (at
least so he said), and turned loose.'

'Well,' said Sir Henry, who had been listening with breathless
interest, 'and what did he do then?'

'Oh! he seems, according to his account, to have gone through
sufferings and hardships innumerable, and to have lived for weeks
on roots and berries, and such things as he could catch and kill.
But somehow he did live, and at last by slow degrees made his way
south and reached this place. What the details of his journey
were I never learnt, for I told him to return on the morrow,
bidding one of my headmen look after him for the night. The
headman took him away, but the poor man had the itch so badly
that the headman's wife would not have him in the hut for fear of
catching it, so he was given a blanket and told to sleep outside.
As it happened, we had a lion hanging about here just then, and
most unhappily he winded this unfortunate wanderer, and,
springing on him, bit his head almost off without the people in
the hut knowing anything about it, and there was an end of him
and his story about the white people; and whether or no there is
any truth in it is more than I can tell you. What do you think,
Mr Quatermain?'

I shook my head, and answered, 'I don't know. There are so many
queer things hidden away in the heart of this great continent
that I should be sorry to assert that there was no truth in it.
Anyhow, we mean to try and find out. We intend to journey to
Lekakisera, and thence, if we live to get so far, to this Lake
Laga; and, if there are any white people beyond, we will do our
best to find them.'

'You are very venturesome people,' said Mr Mackenzie, with a
smile, and the subject dropped.

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After dinner we thoroughly inspected all the outbuildings andgrounds of the station, which I consider the most successful aswell as the most beautiful place of the sort that I have seen inAfrica. We then returned to the veranda we foundUmslopogaas taking advantage of this favourable opportunity toclean all the rifles thoroughly. This was the only WORK that heever did or was asked to do, for as a Zulu chief it was beneathhis dignity to work with his hands; but such as it was he did itvery well. It was a curious sight to see the great Zulu
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In due course we left Lamu, and ten days afterwards we foundourselves at a spot called Charra, on the Tana River, having gonethrough many adventures which need not be recorded here. Amongstother things we visited a ruined city, of which there are many onthis coast, and which must once, to judge from their extent andthe numerous remains of mosques and stone houses, have been verypopulous places. These ruined cities are immeasurably ancient,having, I believe, been places of wealth and importance as farback as the Old Testament times, when they were centres of tradewith India and elsewhere. But their
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