Caught between the red and the black—Quatermain at war!
In this, the fourth volume of Allan Quatermain's adventures in the turbulent world of nineteenth century Africa, our hero once again finds it impossible to lead the simple outdoor life of a hunter and trader that he always craves. Now it is the late 1870s and the imperial world powers are overtaking the remaining primitive corners of the globe. The British Empire now borders on Zululand and nothing will satisfy the British but the dissolution of the Zulu Impis themselves—in fact the destruction of the Zulu way of life. In 'Finished' Allan finds himself caught up in these momentous times. In 1879 the Zulu War breaks out and Allan finds himself at Isandlwhana within the doomed ranks of red soldiery.
In the 'Ivory Child', Quatermain’s adventures become more personal. A beautiful young woman has been abducted into Africa's dark heart to become an unholy priestess. She must be rescued but there are many perils and once again a war erupts between rival native factions which threatens to destroy Allan and his friends.
I suppose that I swooned for a minute or two. At any rate I remember a long and very curious dream, such a dream as is evolved by a patient under laughing gas, that is very clear and vivid at the time but immediately afterwards slips from the mind's grasp as water does from the clenched hand. It was something to the effect that all those hundreds of skeleton elephants rose and marshalled themselves before me, making obeisance to me by bending their bony knees, because, as I quite understood, I was the only human being that had ever escaped from Jana. Moreover, on the foremost elephant's skull Hans was perched like a mahout, giving words of command, to their serried ranks and explaining to them that it would be very convenient if they would carry their tusks, for which they had no further use, and pile them in a certain place—I forget where—that must be near a good road to facilitate their subsequent transport to a land where they would be made into billiard balls and the backs of ladies' hair-brushes. Next, through the figments of that retreating dream, I heard the undoubted voice of Hans himself, which of course I knew to be absurd as Hans was lost and doubtless dead, saying:<br>
"If you are alive, Baas, please wake up soon, as I have finished reloading Intombi, and it is time to be going. I think I hit Jana in the eye, but so big a beast will soon get over so little a thing as that and look for us, and the bullet from Intombi is too small to kill him, Baas, especially as it is not likely that either of us could hit him in the other eye."<br>
Now I sat up and stared. Yes, there was Hans himself looking just the same as usual, only perhaps rather dirtier, engaged in setting a cap on to the nipple of the little rifle Intombi.<br>
"Hans," I said in a hollow voice, "why the devil are you here?"<br>
"To save you from the devil, of course, Baas," he replied aptly. Then, resting the gun against the stone, the old fellow knelt down by my side and, throwing his arms around me, began to blubber over me, exclaiming:<br>
"Just in time, Baas! Only just in time, for as usual Hans made a mess of things and judged badly—I'll tell you afterwards. Still, just in time, thanks be to your reverend father, the Predikant. Oh! if he had delayed me for one more minute you would have been as flat as my nose, Baas. Now come quickly. I've got the camel tied up there, and he can carry two, being fat and strong after four days' rest with plenty to eat. This place is haunted, Baas, and that king of the devils, Jana, will be back after us presently, as soon as he has wiped the blood out of his eye."<br>
I didn't make any remark, having no taste for conversation just then, but only looked at poor Marût, who lay by me as though he was sleeping.<br>
"Oh, Baas," said Hans, "there is no need to trouble about him, for his neck is broken and he's quite dead. Also it is as well," he added cheerfully. "For, as your reverend father doubtless remembered, the camel could never carry three. Moreover, if he stops here, perhaps Jana will come back to play with him instead of following us."<br>
Poor Marût! This was his requiem as sung by Hans.<br>
With a last glance at the unhappy man to whom I had grown attached in a way during our time of joint captivity and trial, I took the arm of the old Hottentot, or rather leant upon his shoulder, for at first I felt too weak to walk by myself, and picked my path with him through the stones and skeletons of elephants across the plateau eastwards, that is, away from the lake. About two hundred yards from the scene of our tragedy was a mound of rock similar to that on which Jana had appeared, but much smaller, behind which we found the camel, kneeling as a well-trained beast of the sort should do and tethered to a stone.<br>
As we went, in brief but sufficient language Hans told me his story. It seemed that after he had shot the Kendah general it came into his cunning, foreseeing mind that he might be of more use to me free than as a companion in captivity, or that if I were killed he might in that case live to bring vengeance on my slayers. So he broke away, as has been described, and hid till nightfall on the hill-side. Then by the light of the moon he tracked us, avoiding the villages, and ultimately found a place of shelter in a kind of cave in the forest near to Simba Town, where no people lived. Here he fed the camel at night, concealing it at dawn in the cave. The days he spent up a tall tree, whence he could watch all that went on in the town beneath, living meanwhile on some food which he carried in a bag tied to the saddle, helped out by green mealies which he stole from a neighbouring field.<br>
Thus he saw most of what passed in the town, including the desolation wrought by the fearful tempest of hail, which, being in their cave, both he and the camel escaped without harm. On the next evening from his post of outlook up the tree, where he had now some difficulty in hiding himself because the hail had stripped off all its leaves, he saw Marût and myself brought from the guest-house and taken away by the escort. Descending and running to the cave, he saddled the camel and started in pursuit, plunging into the forest and hiding there when he perceived that the escort were leaving us.<br>
Here he waited until they had gone by on their return journey. So close did they pass to him that he could overhear their talk, which told him they expected, or rather were sure, that we should be destroyed by the elephant Jana, their devil god, to whom the camelmen had been already sacrificed. After they had departed he remounted and followed us. Here I asked him why he had not overtaken us before we came to the cemetery of elephants, as I presumed he might have done, since he stated that he was close in our rear. This indeed was the case, for it was the head of the camel I saw behind the thorn trees when I looked back, and not the trunk of an elephant as I had supposed.<br>
At the time he would give me no direct answer, except that he grew muddled as he had already suggested, and thought it best to keep in the background and see what happened. Long afterwards, however, he admitted to me that he acted on a presentiment.<br>
"It seemed to me, Baas," he said, "that your reverend father was telling me that I should do best to let you two go on and not show myself, since if I did so we should all three be killed, as one of us must walk whom the other two could not desert. Whereas if I left you as you were, one of you would be killed and the other escape, and that the one to be killed would not be you, Baas. All of which came about as the Spirit spoke in my head, for Marût was killed, who did not matter, and—you know the rest, Baas."<br>
To return to Hans' story. He saw us march down to the borders of the lake, and, keeping to our right, took cover behind the knoll of rock, whence he watched also all that followed. When Jana advanced to attack us Hans crept forward in the hope, a very wild one, of crippling him with the little Purdey rifle. <br>Indeed, he was about to fire at the hind leg when Marût made his run for life and plunged into the lake. Then he crawled on to lead me away to the camel, but when he was within a few yards the chase returned our way and Marût was killed.