Prester John HTML version
Captain Arcoll Sends A Message
I once read - I think in some Latin writer - the story of a man who was crushed to
a jelly by the mere repeated touch of many thousand hands. His murderers were
not harsh, but an infinite repetition of the gentlest handling meant death. I do not
suppose that I was very brutally manhandled in the cave. I was trussed up tight
and carried out to the open, and left in the care of the guards. But when my
senses returned I felt as if I had been cruelly beaten in every part. The raw-hide
bonds chafed my wrists and ankle and shoulders, but they were the least part of
my aches. To be handled by a multitude of Kaffirs is like being shaken by some
wild animal. Their skins are insensible to pain, and I have seen a Zulu stand on a
piece of red-hot iron without noticing it till he was warned by the smell of burning
hide. Anyhow, after I had been bound by Kaffir hands and tossed on Kaffir
shoulders, I felt as if I had been in a scrimmage of mad bulls. I found myself lying
looking up at the moon. It was the edge of the bush, and all around was the stir
of the army getting ready for the road. You know how a native babbles and
chatters over any work he has to do. It says much for Laputa's iron hand that now
everything was done in silence. I heard the nickering of horses and the jolt of
carts as they turned from the bush into the path. There was the sound of hurried
whispering, and now and then a sharp command. And all the while I lay, staring
at the moon and wondering if I was going to keep my reason.
If he who reads this doubts the discomfort of bonds let him try them for himself.
Let him be bound foot and hand and left alone, and in half an hour he will be
screaming for release. The sense of impotence is stifling, and I felt as if I were
buried in some landslip instead of lying under the open sky, with the night wind
fanning my face. I was in the second stage of panic, which is next door to
collapse. I tried to cry, but could only raise a squeak like a bat. A wheel started to
run round in my head, and, when I looked at the moon, I saw that it was rotating
in time. Things were very bad with me. It was 'Mwanga who saved me from
lunacy. He had been appointed my keeper, and the first I knew of it was a violent
kick in the ribs. I rolled over on the grass down a short slope. The brute squatted
beside me, and prodded me with his gun- barrel.
'Ha, Baas,' he said in his queer English. 'Once you ordered me out of your store
and treated me like a dog. It is 'Mwanga's turn now. You are 'Mwanga's dog, and
he will skin you with a sjambok soon.'
My wandering wits were coming back to me. I looked into his bloodshot eyes and
saw what I had to expect. The cheerful savage went on to discuss just the kind of
beating I should get from him. My bones were to be uncovered till the lash curled
round my heart. Then the jackals would have the rest of me.
This was ordinary Kaffir brag, and it made me angry. But I thought it best to go
,if I am to be your slave,' I managed to say, 'it would be a pity to beat me so hard.
You would get no more work out of me.'