I MEET SIR HENRY CURTIS
It is a curious
thing that at my age-fifty-five last birthday-I should find myself taking up a pen to try to write a history. I wonder
what sort of a history it will be when I have finished it, if ever I come to the end of the trip! I have done a good many things in my life, which seems a long one to me, owing to my having begun work so young, perhaps. At an age when other boys are at school I was earning my living as a trader in the old Colony. I have been trading, hunting, fighting, or mining ever since. And yet it is only eight months ago that I made my pile
. It is a big pile
now that I have got it-I don't yet know how big-but I do not think I would go through
the last fifteen or sixteen months again for it; no, not if I knew that I should come out safe at the end, pile
and all. But then I am a timid
man, and dislike violence
; moreover, I am almost sick of adventure
. I wonder
why I am going to write this book: it is not in my line. I am not a literary
man, though very devoted
to the Old Testament and also to the "Ingoldsby Legends." Let me try to set down my reasons, just to see if I have any.
: Because Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good asked me.
: Because I am laid up here at Durban with the pain in my left leg. Ever since that confounded
lion got hold of me I have been liable
to this trouble, and being rather bad just now, it makes me limp
more than ever. There must be some poison
in a lion's teeth, otherwise how is it that when your wounds are healed they break out again, generally, mark you, at the same time of year that you got your mauling? It is a hard thing when one has shot sixty-five lions or more, as I have in the course of my life, that the sixty-sixth should chew your leg like a quid of tobacco
. It breaks the routine
of the thing, and putting other considerations aside
, I am an orderly
man and don't like that. This is by the way.
: Because I want my boy Harry, who is over there at the hospital in London studying to become a doctor, to have something to amuse
him and keep him out of mischief
for a week or so. Hospital work must sometimes pall
and grow rather dull
, for even of cutting up dead bodies there may come satiety
, and as this history will not be dull
, whatever else it may be, it will put a little life into things for a day or two while Harry is reading of our adventures.
and last: Because I am going to tell the strangest story that I remember
. It may seem a queer thing to say, especially considering that there is no woman in it-except Foulata. Stop, though! there is Gagaoola, if she was a woman, and not a fiend
. But she was a hundred at least, and therefore not marriageable, so I don't count her. At any rate, I can safely
say that there is not a petticoat in the whole history.
Well, I had better come to the yoke
. It is a stiff
place, and I feel as though I were bogged up to the axle
. But, "sutjes, sutjes," as the Boers say-I am sure I don't know how they spell it-softly does it. A strong team will come through
at last, that is, if they are not too poor. You can never do anything with poor oxen. Now to make a start.
I, Allan Quatermain, of Durban, Natal, Gentleman, make oath
and say-That's how I headed my deposition
before the magistrate
about poor Khiva's and Ventvögel's sad deaths; but somehow it doesn't seem quite the right
way to begin a book. And, besides, am I a gentleman? What is a gentleman? I don't quite know, and yet I have had to do with niggers-no, I will scratch
out that word "niggers," for I do not like it. I've known natives who are, and so you will say, Harry, my boy, before you have done with this tale
, and I have known mean
whites with lots of money and fresh
out from home, too, who are not.
At any rate, I was born a gentleman, though I have been nothing but a poor travelling trader and hunter
all my life. Whether I have remained so I known not, you must judge of that. Heaven knows I've tried. I have killed many men in my time, yet I have never slain wantonly or stained my hand in innocent
blood, but only in self-defence. The Almighty gave us our lives, and I suppose
He meant us to defend
them, at least I have always acted on that, and I hope it will not be brought up against me when my clock strikes. There, there, it is a cruel
and a wicked
world, and for a timid
man I have been mixed up in a great deal of fighting. I cannot tell the rights of it, but at any rate I have never stolen, though once I cheated a Kafir out of a herd
. But then he had done me a dirty turn, and it has troubled me ever since into the bargain
Well, it is eighteen months or so ago since first I met Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good. It was in this way. I had been up elephant hunting beyond Bamangwato, and had met with bad luck. Everything went wrong that trip, and to top up with I got the fever
badly. So soon as I was well enough I trekked down to the Diamond Fields, sold such ivory
as I had, together with my wagon
and oxen, discharged my hunters, and took the post-cart to the Cape. After spending a week in Cape Town, finding that they overcharged me at the hotel, and having seen everything there was to see, including the botanical
gardens, which seem to me likely
a great benefit
on the country, and the new Houses of Parliament, which I expect will do nothing of the sort, I determined
to go back to Natal by the Dunkeld, then lying at the docks waiting for the Edinburgh Castle due in from England. I took my berth
and went aboard
, and that afternoon the Natal passengers from the Edinburgh Castle transhipped, and we weighed and put to sea.
Among these passengers who came on board
were two who excited my curiosity
. One, a gentleman of about thirty, was perhaps the biggest-chested and longest-armed man I ever saw. He had yellow hair, a thick yellow beard, clear-cut features, and large grey eyes set deep in his head. I never saw a finer-looking man, and somehow he reminded me of an ancient
Dane. Not that I know much of ancient
Danes, though I knew a modern
Dane who did me out of ten pounds; but I remember
once seeing a picture of some of those gentry
, who, I take it, were a kind of white Zulus. They were drinking out of big horns, and their long hair hung down their backs. As I looked at my friend standing there by the companion-ladder, I thought
that if he only let his grow a little, put one of those chain shirts on to his great shoulders, and took hold of a battle-axe and a horn mug, he might
have sat as a model
for that picture. And by the way it is a curious
thing, and just shows how the blood will out, I discovered afterwards that Sir Henry Curtis, for that was the big man's name, is of Danish blood. He also reminded me strongly of somebody else, but at the time I could not remember
who it was.
The other man, who stood talking to Sir Henry, was stout
and dark, and of quite a different
cut. I suspected at once that he was a naval officer; I don't know why, but it is difficult
a navy man. I have gone shooting trips with several
of them in the course of my life, and they have always proved themselves the best and bravest and nicest fellows I ever met, though sadly given, some of them, to the use of profane language
. I asked a page or two back, what is a gentleman? I'll answer the question now: A Royal Naval officer is, in a general
sort of way, though of course there may be a black sheep among them here and there. I fancy
it is just the wide seas and the breath of God's winds that wash their hearts and blow the bitterness out of their minds and make them what men ought to be.
Well, to return, I proved right
again; I ascertained that the dark man was a naval officer, a lieutenant
of thirty-one, who, after seventeen years' service
, had been turned out of her Majesty's employ
with the barren
honour of a commander
, because it was impossible
that he should be promoted. This is what people who serve
the Queen have to expect: to be shot out into the cold world to find a living just when they are beginning really to understand
their work, and to reach the prime
of life. I suppose
they don't mind
it, but for my own part I had rather earn
my bread as a hunter
. One's halfpence are as scarce
perhaps, but you do not get so many kicks.
The officer's name I found out-by referring to the passengers' lists-was Good-Captain John Good. He was broad
, of medium height
, dark, stout
, and rather a curious
man to look at. He was so very neat and so very clean-shaved, and he always wore an eye-glass in his right
eye. It seemed to grow there, for it had no string, and he never took it out except to wipe it. At first I thought
he used to sleep in it, but afterwards I found that this was a mistake
. He put it in his trousers pocket when he went to bed, together with his false teeth, of which he had two beautiful sets that, my own being none of the best, have often caused me to break the tenth commandment. But I am anticipating.
Soon after we had got under way evening closed in, and brought with it very dirty weather
. A keen breeze
sprung up off land, and a kind of aggravated
Scotch mist soon drove everybody from the deck. As for the Dunkeld, she is a flat-bottomed punt
, and going up light as she was, she rolled very heavily
. It almost seemed as though she would go right
over, but she never did. It was quite impossible
to walk about, so I stood near the engines where it was warm, and amused
myself with watching the pendulum
, which was fixed opposite
to me, swinging slowly backwards and forwards as the vessel
rolled, and marking the angle
she touched at each lurch
's wrong; it is not properly weighted," suddenly
said a somewhat testy
voice at my shoulder. Looking round I saw the naval officer whom I had noticed when the passengers came aboard
"Indeed, now what makes you think so?" I asked.
"Think so. I don't think at all. Why there"-as she righted herself after a roll-"if the ship had really rolled to the degree
that thing pointed to, then she would never have rolled again, that's all. But it is just like these merchant
skippers, they are always so confoundedly careless
Just then the dinner-bell rang, and I was not sorry, for it is a dreadful
thing to have to listen to an officer of the Royal Navy when he gets on to that subject
. I only know one worse thing, and that is to hear a merchant
his candid opinion
of officers of the Royal Navy.
Captain Good and I went down to dinner together, and there we found Sir Henry Curtis already seated. He and Captain Good were placed together, and I sat opposite
to them. The captain and I soon fell into talk about shooting and what not; he asking me many questions, for he is very inquisitive
about all sorts of things, and I answering them as well as I could. Presently he got on to elephants.
"Ah, sir," called out somebody who was sitting near me, "you've reached the right
man for that; Hunter Quatermain should be able
to tell you about elephants if anybody can."
Sir Henry, who had been sitting quite quiet listening to our talk, started visibly.
"Excuse me, sir," he said, leaning forward
across the table
, and speaking in a low deep voice, a very suitable
voice, it seemed to me, to come out of those great lungs. "Excuse me, sir, but is your name Allan Quatermain?"
I said that it was.
The big man made no further , but I heard him mutter
" into his beard.
Presently dinner came to an end, and as we were leaving the saloon
Sir Henry strolled up and asked me if I would come into his cabin to smoke a pipe. I accepted, and he led the way to the Dunkeld deck cabin, and a very good cabin it is. It had been two cabins, but when Sir Garnet Wolseley or one of those big swells went down the coast
in the Dunkeld, they knocked away the partition
and have never put it up again. There was a sofa in the cabin, and a little table
in front of it. Sir Henry sent the steward
for a bottle of whisky, and the three of us sat down and lit our pipes.
"Mr. Quatermain," said Sir Henry Curtis, when the man had brought the whisky and lit the lamp, "the year before last about this time, you were, I believe, at a place called Bamangwato, to the north of the Transvaal."
"I was," I answered, rather surprised that this gentleman should be so well acquainted with my movements, which were not, so far as I was aware
of general interest
"You were trading there, were you not?" put in Captain Good, in his quick way.
"I was. I took up a wagon
-load of goods, made a camp
outside the settlement
, and stopped till
I had sold them."
Sir Henry was sitting opposite
to me in a Madeira chair, his arms leaning on the table
. He now looked up, fixing his large grey eyes full upon my face. There was a curious anxiety
in them, I thought
"Did you happen to meet a man called Neville there?"
"Oh, yes; he outspanned alongside of me for a fortnight
to rest his oxen before going on to the interior
. I had a letter from a lawyer
a few months back, asking me if I knew what had become of him, which I answered to the best of my ability
at the time."
"Yes," said Sir Henry, "your letter was forwarded to me. You said in it that the gentleman called Neville left Bamangwato at the beginning of May in a wagon
with a driver, a voorlooper, and a Kafir hunter
called Jim, announcing his intention
of trekking if possible
as far as Inyati, the extreme
trading post in the Matabele country, where he would sell his wagon
on foot. You also said that he did sell his wagon
, for six months afterwards you saw the wagon
in the possession
of a Portuguese trader, who told you that he had bought it at Inyati from a white man whose name he had forgotten, and that he believed the white man with the native servant
had started off for the interior
on a shooting trip."
Then came a pause
"Mr. Quatermain," said Sir Henry suddenly
, "I suppose
you know or can guess nothing more of the reasons of my-of Mr. Neville's journey
to the northward, or as to what point that journey
"I heard something," I answered, and stopped. The subject
was one which I did not care to discuss
Sir Henry and Captain Good looked at each other, and Captain Good nodded.
"Mr. Neville was my brother."
"Oh," I said, starting, for now I knew of whom Sir Henry had reminded me when first I saw him. His brother was a much smaller man and had a dark beard, but now that I thought
of it, he possessed eyes of the same shade of grey and with the same keen
look in them: the features too were not unlike.
"He was," went on Sir Henry, "my only and younger brother, and till
five years ago I do not suppose
that we were ever a month away from each other. But just about five years ago a misfortune
befell us, as sometimes does happen in families. We quarrelled bitterly, and I behaved unjustly to my brother in my anger."
Here Captain Good nodded his head vigorously
to himself. The ship gave a big roll just then, so that the looking-glass, which was fixed opposite
us to starboard
, was for a moment
nearly over our heads, and as I was sitting with my hands in my pockets and staring upwards, I could see him nodding like anything.
"As I daresay you know," went on Sir Henry, "if a man dies intestate
, and has no property
but land, real property
it is called in England, it all descends to his eldest son. It so happened that just at the time when we quarrelled our father died intestate
. He had put off making his will until it was too late. The result
was that my brother, who had not been brought up to any profession
, was left without a penny. Of course it would have been my duty
for him, but at the time the quarrel
between us was so bitter
that I did not-to my shame
I say it (and he sighed deeply)-offer to do anything. It was not that I grudged him justice
, but I waited for him to make advances, and he made none. I am sorry to trouble you with all this, Mr. Quatermain, but I must to make things clear, eh, Good?"
"Quite so, quite so," said the captain. "Mr. Quatermain will, I am sure, keep this history to himself."
"Of course," said I, for I rather pride
myself on my discretion
, for which, as Sir Henry had heard, I have some repute
"Well," went on Sir Henry, "my brother had a few hundred pounds to his account
at the time. Without saying anything to me he drew out this paltry sum
, and, having adopted the name of Neville, started off for South Africa in the wild hope of making a fortune
. This I learned
afterwards. Some three years passed, and I heard nothing of my brother, though I wrote several
times. Doubtless the letters never reached him. But as time went on I grew more and more troubled about him. I found out, Mr. Quatermain, that blood is thicker than water."
"That's true," said I, thinking of my boy Harry.
"I found out, Mr. Quatermain, that I would have given half my fortune
to know that my brother George, the only relation
, was safe and well, and that I should see him again."
"But you never did, Curtis," jerked out Captain Good, glancing at the big man's face.
"Well, Mr. Quatermain, as time went on I became more and more anxious
to find out if my brother was alive or dead, and if alive to get him home again. I set enquiries on foot, and your letter was one of the results. So far as it went it was satisfactory
, for it showed that till
lately George was alive, but it did not go far enough. So, to cut a long story short, I made up my mind
to come out and look for him myself, and Captain Good was so kind as to come with me."
"Yes," said the captain; "nothing else to do, you see. Turned out by my Lords of the Admiralty to starve
on half pay. And now perhaps, sir, you will tell us what you know or have heard of the gentleman called Neville."
 Mr. Quatermain's ideas about ancient
Danes seem to be rather confused
; we have always understood that they were dark-haired people. Probably he was thinking of Saxons.-Editor.