King Solomon's Mines eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 243 pages of information about King Solomon's Mines.
light-coloured for a Zulu, entered, and lifting his knob-stick by way of salute, squatted himself down in the corner on his haunches, and sat silent.  I did not take any notice of him for a while, for it is a great mistake to do so.  If you rush into conversation at once, a Zulu is apt to think you a person of little dignity or consequence.  I observed, however, that he was a “Keshla” or ringed man; that is, he wore on his head the black ring, made of a species of gum polished with fat and worked up in the hair, which is usually assumed by Zulus on attaining a certain age or dignity.  Also it struck me that his face was familiar to me.

“Well,” I said at last, “What is your name?”

“Umbopa,” answered the man in a slow, deep voice.

“I have seen your face before.”

“Yes; the Inkoosi, the chief, my father, saw my face at the place of the Little Hand”—­that is, Isandhlwana—­“on the day before the battle.”

Then I remembered.  I was one of Lord Chelmsford’s guides in that unlucky Zulu War, and had the good fortune to leave the camp in charge of some wagons on the day before the battle.  While I was waiting for the cattle to be inspanned I fell into conversation with this man, who held some small command among the native auxiliaries, and he had expressed to me his doubts as to the safety of the camp.  At the time I told him to hold his tongue, and leave such matters to wiser heads; but afterwards I thought of his words.

“I remember,” I said; “what is it you want?”

“It is this, ‘Macumazahn.’” That is my Kafir name, and means the man who gets up in the middle of the night, or, in vulgar English, he who keeps his eyes open.  “I hear that you go on a great expedition far into the North with the white chiefs from over the water.  Is it a true word?”

“It is.”

“I hear that you go even to the Lukanga River, a moon’s journey beyond the Manica country.  Is this so also, ‘Macumazahn?’”

“Why do you ask whither we go?  What is it to you?” I answered suspiciously, for the objects of our journey had been kept a dead secret.

“It is this, O white men, that if indeed you travel so far I would travel with you.”

There was a certain assumption of dignity in the man’s mode of speech, and especially in his use of the words “O white men,” instead of “O Inkosis,” or chiefs, which struck me.

“You forget yourself a little,” I said.  “Your words run out unawares.  That is not the way to speak.  What is your name, and where is your kraal?  Tell us, that we may know with whom we have to deal.”

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King Solomon's Mines from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.