Stories by English Authors in Africa HTML version

Long Odds
The story which is narrated in the following pages came to me from the lips of my
old friend Allan Quatermain, or Hunter Quatermain, as we used to call him in
South Africa. He told it to me one evening when I was stopping with him at the
place he bought in Yorkshire. Shortly after that, the death of his only son so
unsettled him that he immediately left England, accompanied by two
companions, his old fellow-voyagers, Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good, and
has now utterly vanished into the dark heart of Africa. He is persuaded that a
white people, of which he has heard rumours all his life, exists somewhere on the
highlands in the vast, still unexplored interior, and his great ambition is to find
them before he dies. This is the wild quest upon which he and his companions
have departed, and from which I shrewdly suspect they never will return. One
letter only have I received from the old gentleman, dated from a mission station
high up the Tana, a river on the east coast, about three hundred miles north of
Zanzibar; in it he says that they have gone through many hardships and
adventures, but are alive and well, and have found traces which go far toward
making him hope that the results of their wild quest may be a "magnificent and
unexampled discovery." I greatly fear, however, that all he has discovered is
death; for this letter came a long while ago, and nobody has heard a single word
of the party since. They have totally vanished.
It was on the last evening of my stay at his house that he told the ensuing story
to me and Captain Good, who was dining with him. He had eaten his dinner and
drunk two or three glasses of old port, just to help Good and myself to the end of
the second bottle. It was an unusual thing for him to do, for he was a most
abstemious man, having conceived, as he used to say, a great horror of drink
from observing its effects upon the class of colonists--hunters, transport-riders
and others--amongst whom he had passed so many years of his life.
Consequently the good wine took more effect on him than it would have done on
most men, sending a little flush into his wrinkled cheeks, and making him talk
more freely than usual.
Dear old man! I can see him now, as he went limping up and down the vestibule,
with his gray hair sticking up in scrubbing-brush fashion, his shrivelled yellow
face, and his large dark eyes, that were as keen as any hawk's, and yet soft as a
buck's. The whole room was hung with trophies of his numerous hunting
expeditions, and he had some story about every one of them, if only he could be
got to tell it. Generally he would not, for he was not very fond of narrating his own
adventures, but to-night the port wine made him more communicative.
"Ah, you brute!" he said, stopping beneath an unusually large skull of a lion,
which was fixed just over the mantelpiece, beneath a long row of guns, its jaws