Prester John HTML version

A Great Peril And A Great Salvation
I must now take up some of the ragged ends which I have left behind me. It is not
my task, as I have said, to write the history of the great Rising. That has been
done by abler men, who were at the centre of the business, and had some
knowledge of strategy and tactics; whereas I was only a raw lad who was
privileged by fate to see the start. If I could, I would fain make an epic of it, and
show how the Plains found at all points the Plateau guarded, how wits overcame
numbers, and at every pass which the natives tried the great guns spoke and the
tide rolled back. Yet I fear it would be an epic without a hero. There was no
leader left when Laputa had gone. There were months of guerrilla fighting, and
then months of reprisals, when chief after chief was hunted down and brought to
trial. Then the amnesty came and a clean sheet, and white Africa drew breath
again with certain grave reflections left in her head. On the whole I am not sorry
that the history is no business of mine. Romance died with 'the heir of John,' and
the crusade became a sorry mutiny. I can fancy how differently Laputa would
have managed it all had he lived; how swift and sudden his plans would have
been; how under him the fighting would not have been in the mountain glens, but
far in the high-veld among the dorps and townships. With the Inkulu alive we
warred against odds; with the Inkulu dead the balance sank heavily in our favour.
I leave to others the marches and strategy of the thing, and hasten to clear up
the obscure parts in my own fortunes.
Arcoll received my message from Umvelos' by Colin, or rather Wardlaw received
it and sent it on to the post on the Berg where the leader had gone. Close on its
heels came the message from Henriques by a Shangaan in his pay. It must have
been sent off before the Portugoose got to the Rooirand, from which it would
appear that he had his own men in the bush near the store, and that I was lucky
to get off as I did. Arcoll might have disregarded Henriques' news as a trap if it
had come alone, but my corroboration impressed and perplexed him. He began
to credit the Portugoose with treachery, but he had no inclination to act on his
message, since it conflicted with his plans. He knew that Laputa must come into
the Berg sooner or later, and he had resolved that his strategy must be to await
him there. But there was the question of my life. He had every reason to believe
that I was in the greatest danger, and he felt a certain responsibility for my fate.
With the few men at his disposal he could not hope to hold up the great Kaffir
army, but there was a chance that he might by a bold stand effect my rescue.
Henriques had told him of the vow, and had told him that Laputa would ride in the
centre of the force. A body of men well posted at Dupree's Drift might split the
army at the crossing, and under cover of the fire I might swim the river and join
my friends. Still relying on the vow, it might be possible for well-mounted men to
evade capture. Accordingly he called for volunteers, and sent off one of his
Kaffirs to warn me of his design. He led his men in person, and of his doings the
reader already knows the tale. But though the crossing was flung into confusion,
and the rear of the army was compelled to follow the northerly bank of the
Letaba, there was no sign of me anywhere. Arcoll searched the river-banks, and