Prester John HTML version
The vow was at an end. In place of the silent army of yesterday a mob of
maddened savages surged around me. They were chanting a wild song, and
brandishing spears and rifles to its accompaniment. From their bloodshot eyes
stared the lust of blood, the fury of conquest, and all the aboriginal passions on
which Laputa had laid his spell. In my mind ran a fragment from Laputa's prayer
in the cave about the 'Terrible Ones.' Machudi's men - stout fellows, they held
their ground as long as they could - were swept out of the way, and the wave of
black savagery seemed to close over my head.
I thought my last moment had come. Certainly it had but for Colin. The bag had
been taken from his head, and the fellow of Machudi's had dropped the rope
round his collar. In a red fury of wrath the dog leaped at my enemies. Though
every man of them was fully armed, they fell back, for I have noticed always that
Kaffirs are mortally afraid of a white man's dog. Colin had the sense to keep
beside me. Growling like a thunderstorm he held the ring around my litter.
The breathing space would not have lasted long, but it gave me time to get to my
feet. My wrists and feet had been unbound long before, and the rest had cured
my leg-weariness. I stood up in that fierce circle with the clear knowledge that my
life hung by a hair.
'Take me to Inkulu,' I cried. 'Dogs and fools, would you despise his orders? If one
hair of my head is hurt, he will flay you alive. Show me the way to him, and clear
out of it.'
I dare say there was a break in my voice, for I was dismally frightened, but there
must have been sufficient authority to get me a hearing. Machudi's men closed
up behind me, and repeated my words with flourishes and gestures. But still the
circle held. No man came nearer me, but none moved so as to give me passage.
Then I screwed up my courage, and did the only thing possible. I walked straight
into the circle, knowing well that I was running no light risk. My courage, as I
have already explained, is of little use unless I am doing something. I could not
endure another minute of sitting still with those fierce eyes on me.
The circle gave way. Sullenly they made a road for me, closing up behind on my
guards, so that Machudi's men were swallowed in the mob, Alone I stalked
forward with all that huge yelling crowd behind me.
I had not far to go. Inanda's Kraal was a cluster of kyas and rondavels, shaped in
a half-moon, with a flat space between the houses, where grew a big merula
tree. All around was a medley of little fires, with men squatted beside them. Here
and there a party had finished their meal, and were swaggering about with a
great shouting. The mob into which I had fallen was of this sort, and I saw others
within the confines of the camp. But around the merula tree there was a
gathering of chiefs, if I could judge by the comparative quiet and dignity of the
men, who sat in rows on the ground. A few were standing, and among them I
caught sight of Laputa's tall figure. I strode towards it, wondering if the chiefs
would let me pass.