KING SOLOMON'S MINES
I MEET SIR HENRY CURTIS
It is a curious thing that at my age--fifty-five last birthday--Ishould find myself taking up a pen to try to write a history. I wonderwhat sort of a history it will be when I have finished it, if ever Icome to the end of the trip! I have done a good many things in my life,which seems a long one to me, owing to my having begun work so young,perhaps. At an age when other boys are at school I was earning myliving as a trader in the old Colony. I have been trading, hunting,fighting, or mining ever since. And yet it is only eight months agothat I made my pile. It is a big pile now that I have got it--I don'tyet know how big--but I do not think I would go through the lastfifteen or sixteen months again for it; no, not if I knew that I shouldcome out safe at the end, pile and all. But then I am a timid man, anddislike violence; moreover, I am almost sick of adventure. I wonder whyI am going to write this book: it is not in my line. I am not aliterary man, though very devoted to the Old Testament and also to the"Ingoldsby Legends." Let me try to set down my reasons, just to see ifI have any.
First reason: Because Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good asked me.
Second reason: Because I am laid up here at Durban with the pain in myleft leg. Ever since that confounded lion got hold of me I have beenliable to this trouble, and being rather bad just now, it makes me limpmore than ever. There must be some poison in a lion's teeth, otherwisehow is it that when your wounds are healed they break out again,generally, mark you, at the same time of year that you got yourmauling? It is a hard thing when one has shot sixty-five lions or more,as I have in the course of my life, that the sixty-sixth should chewyour leg like a quid of tobacco. It breaks the routine of the thing,and putting other considerations aside, I am an orderly man and don'tlike that. This is by the way.
Third reason: Because I want my boy Harry, who is over there at thehospital in London studying to become a doctor, to have something toamuse him and keep him out of mischief for a week or so. Hospital workmust sometimes pall and grow rather dull, for even of cutting up deadbodies there may come satiety, and as this history will not be dull,whatever else it may be, it will put a little life into things for aday or two while Harry is reading of our adventures.
Fourth reason and last: Because I am going to tell the strangest storythat I remember. It may seem a queer thing to say, especiallyconsidering that there is no woman in it--except Foulata. Stop, though!there is Gagaoola, if she was a woman, and not a fiend. But she was ahundred at least, and therefore not marriageable, so I don't count her.At any rate, I can safely say that there is not a _petticoat_ in thewhole history.
Well, I had better come to the yoke. It is a stiff place, and I feel asthough I were bogged up to the axle. But, "_sutjes, sutjes_," as theBoers say--I am sure I don't know how they spell it--softly does it. Astrong team will come through at last, that is, if they are not toopoor. You can never do anything with poor oxen. Now to make a start.
I, Allan Quatermain, of Durban, Natal, Gentleman, make oath andsay--That's how I headed my deposition before the magistrate about poorKhiva's and Ventvoegel's sad deaths; but somehow it doesn't seem quitethe right way to begin a book. And, besides, am I a gentleman? What isa gentleman? I don't quite know, and yet I have had to do withniggers--no, I will scratch out that word "niggers," for I do not likeit. I've known natives who _are_, and so you will say, Harry, my boy,before you have done with this tale, and I have known mean whites withlots of money and fresh out from home, too, who _are not_.
At any rate, I was born a gentleman, though I have been nothing but apoor travelling trader and hunter all my life. Whether I have remainedso I known not, you must judge of that. Heaven knows I've tried. I havekilled many men in my time, yet I have never slain wantonly or stainedmy hand in innocent blood, but only in self-defence. The Almighty gaveus our lives, and I suppose He meant us to defend them, at least I havealways acted on that, and I hope it will not be brought up against mewhen my clock strikes. There, there, it is a cruel and a wicked world,and for a timid man I have been mixed up in a great deal of fighting. Icannot tell the rights of it, but at any rate I have never stolen,though once I cheated a Kafir out of a herd of cattle. But then he haddone me a dirty turn, and it has troubled me ever since into thebargain.
Well, it is eighteen months or so ago since first I met Sir HenryCurtis and Captain Good. It was in this way. I had been up elephanthunting beyond Bamangwato, and had met with bad luck. Everything wentwrong that trip, and to top up with I got the fever badly. So soon as Iwas well enough I trekked down to the Diamond Fields, sold such ivoryas I had, together with my wagon and oxen, discharged my hunters, andtook the post-cart to the Cape. After spending a week in Cape Town,finding that they overcharged me at the hotel, and having seeneverything there was to see, including the botanical gardens, whichseem to me likely to confer a great benefit on the country, and the newHouses of Parliament, which I expect will do nothing of the sort, Idetermined to go back to Natal by the _Dunkeld_, then lying at thedocks waiting for the _Edinburgh Castle_ due in from England. I took myberth and went aboard, and that afternoon the Natal passengers from the_Edinburgh Castle_ transhipped, and we weighed and put to sea.
Among these passengers who came on board were two who excited mycuriosity. One, a gentleman of about thirty, was perhaps thebiggest-chested and longest-armed man I ever saw. He had yellow hair, athick yellow beard, clear-cut features, and large grey eyes set deep inhis head. I never saw a finer-looking man, and somehow he reminded meof an ancient Dane. Not that I know much of ancient Danes, though Iknew a modern Dane who did me out of ten pounds; but I remember onceseeing a picture of some of those gentry, who, I take it, were a kindof white Zulus. They were drinking out of big horns, and their longhair hung down their backs. As I looked at my friend standing there bythe companion-ladder, I thought that if he only let his grow a little,put one of those chain shirts on to his great shoulders, and took holdof a battle-axe and a horn mug, he might have sat as a model for thatpicture. And by the way it is a curious thing, and just shows how theblood will out, I discovered afterwards that Sir Henry Curtis, for thatwas the big man's name, is of Danish blood. He also reminded mestrongly of somebody else, but at the time I could not remember who itwas.
The other man, who stood talking to Sir Henry, was stout and dark, andof quite a different cut. I suspected at once that he was a navalofficer; I don't know why, but it is difficult to mistake a navy man. Ihave gone shooting trips with several of them in the course of my life,and they have always proved themselves the best and bravest and nicestfellows I ever met, though sadly given, some of them, to the use ofprofane language. I asked a page or two back, what is a gentleman? I'llanswer the question now: A Royal Naval officer is, in a general sort ofway, though of course there may be a black sheep among them here andthere. I fancy it is just the wide seas and the breath of God's windsthat wash their hearts and blow the bitterness out of their minds andmake them what men ought to be.
Well, to return, I proved right again; I ascertained that the dark man_was_ a naval officer, a lieutenant of thirty-one, who, after seventeenyears' service, had been turned out of her Majesty's employ with thebarren honour of a commander's rank, because it was impossible that heshould be promoted. This is what people who serve the Queen have toexpect: to be shot out into the cold world to find a living just whenthey are beginning really to understand their work, and to reach theprime of life. I suppose they don't mind it, but for my own part I hadrather earn my bread as a hunter. One's halfpence are as scarceperhaps, but you do not get so many kicks.
a mistake. He put it in histrousers pocket when he went to bed, together with his false teeth, ofwhich he had two beautiful sets that, my own being none of the best,have often caused me to break the tenth commandment. But I amanticipating.
Soon after we had got under way evening closed in, and brought with itvery dirty weather. A keen breeze sprung up off land, and a kind ofaggravated Scotch mist soon drove everybody from the deck. As for the_Dunkeld_, she is a flat-bottomed punt, and going up light as she was,she rolled very heavily. It almost seemed as though she would go rightover, but she never did. It was quite impossible to walk about, so Istood near the engines where it was warm, and amused myself withwatching the pendulum, which was fixed opposite to me, swinging slowlybackwards and forwards as the vessel rolled, and marking the angle shetouched at each lurch.
"That pendulum's wrong; it is not properly weighted," suddenly said asomewhat testy voice at my shoulder. Looking round I saw the navalofficer whom I had noticed when the passengers came aboard.
"Indeed, now what makes you think so?" I asked.
"Think so. I don't think at all. Why there"--as she righted herselfafter a roll--"if the ship had really rolled to the degree that thingpointed to, then she would never have rolled again, that's all. But itis just like these merchant skippers, they are always so confoundedlycareless."
Just then the dinner-bell rang, and I was not sorry, for it is adreadful thing to have to listen to an officer of the Royal Navy whenhe gets on to that subject. I only know one worse thing, and that is tohear a merchant skipper express his candid opinion of officers of theRoyal Navy.
Captain Good and I went down to dinner together, and there we found SirHenry Curtis already seated. He and Captain Good were placed together,and I sat opposite to them. The captain and I soon fell into talk aboutshooting and what not; he asking me many questions, for he is veryinquisitive about all sorts of things, and I answering them as well asI could. Presently he got on to elephants.
"Ah, sir," called out somebody who was sitting near me, "you've reachedthe right man for that; Hunter Quatermain should be able to tell youabout elephants if anybody can."
Sir Henry, who had been sitting quite quiet listening to our talk,started visibly.
"Excuse me, sir," he said, leaning forward across the table, andspeaking in a low deep voice, a very suitable voice, it seemed to me,to come out of those great lungs. "Excuse me, sir, but is your nameAllan Quatermain?"
I said that it was.
The big man made no further remark, but I heard him mutter "fortunate"into his beard.
Presently dinner came to an end, and as we were leaving the saloon SirHenry strolled up and asked me if I would come into his cabin to smokea pipe. I accepted, and he led the way to the _Dunkeld_ deck cabin, anda very good cabin it is. It had been two cabins, but when Sir GarnetWolseley or one of those big swells went down the coast in the_Dunkeld_, they knocked away the partition and have never put it upagain. There was a sofa in the cabin, and a little table in front ofit. Sir Henry sent the steward for a bottle of whisky, and the three ofus sat down and lit our pipes.
"Mr. Quatermain," said Sir Henry Curtis, when the man had brought thewhisky and lit the lamp, "the year before last about this time, youwere, I believe, at a place called Bamangwato, to the north of theTransvaal."
"I was," I answered, rather surprised that this gentleman should be sowell acquainted with my movements, which were not, so far as I wasaware, considered of general interest.
"You were trading there, were you not?" put in Captain Good, in hisquick way.
"I was. I took up a wagon-load of goods, made a camp outside thesettlement, and stopped till I had sold them."
Sir Henry was sitting opposite to me in a Madeira chair, his armsleaning on the table. He now looked up, fixing his large grey eyes fullupon my face. There was a curious anxiety in them, I thought.
"Did you happen to meet a man called Neville there?"
"Oh, yes; he outspanned alongside of me for a fortnight to rest hisoxen before going on to the interior. I had a letter from a lawyer afew months back, asking me if I knew what had become of him, which Ianswered to the best of my ability at the time."
"Yes," said Sir Henry, "your letter was forwarded to me. You said in itthat the gentleman called Neville left Bamangwato at the beginning ofMay in a wagon with a driver, a voorlooper, and a Kafir hunter calledJim, announcing his intention of trekking if possible as far as Inyati,the extreme trading post in the Matabele country, where he would sellhis wagon and proceed on foot. You also said that he did sell hiswagon, for six months afterwards you saw the wagon in the possession ofa Portuguese trader, who told you that he had bought it at Inyati froma white man whose name he had forgotten, and that he believed the whiteman with the native servant had started off for the interior on ashooting trip."
Then came a pause.
"Mr. Quatermain," said Sir Henry suddenly, "I suppose you know or canguess nothing more of the reasons of my--of Mr. Neville's journey tothe northward, or as to what point that journey was directed?"
"I heard something," I answered, and stopped. The subject was one whichI did not care to discuss.
Sir Henry and Captain Good looked at each other, and Captain Goodnodded.
"Mr. Quatermain," went on the former, "I am going to tell you a story,and ask your advice, and perhaps your assistance. The agent whoforwarded me your letter told me that I might rely on it implicitly, asyou were," he said, "well known and universally respected in Natal, andespecially noted for your discretion."
I bowed and drank some whisky and water to hide my confusion, for I ama modest man--and Sir Henry went on.
"Mr. Neville was my brother."
"Oh," I said, starting, for now I knew of whom Sir Henry had remindedme when first I saw him. His brother was a much smaller man and had adark beard, but now that I thought of it, he possessed eyes of the sameshade of grey and with the same keen look in them: the features toowere not unlike.
"He was," went on Sir Henry, "my only and younger brother, and tillfive years ago I do not suppose that we were ever a month away fromeach other. But just about five years ago a misfortune befell us, assometimes does happen in families. We quarrelled bitterly, and Ibehaved unjustly to my brother in my anger."
Here Captain Good nodded his head vigorously to himself. The ship gavea big roll just then, so that the looking-glass, which was fixedopposite us to starboard, was for a moment nearly over our heads, andas I was sitting with my hands in my pockets and staring upwards, Icould see him nodding like anything.
"As I daresay you know," went on Sir Henry, "if a man dies intestate,and has no property but land, real property it is called in England, itall descends to his eldest son. It so happened that just at the timewhen we quarrelled our father died intestate. He had put off making hiswill until it was too late. The result was that my brother, who had notbeen brought up to any profession, was left without a penny. Of courseit would have been my duty to provide for him, but at the time thequarrel between us was so bitter that I did not--to my shame I say it(and he sighed deeply)--offer to do anything. It was not that I grudgedhim justice, but I waited for him to make advances, and he made none. Iam sorry to trouble you with all this, Mr. Quatermain, but I must tomake things clear, eh, Good?"
"Quite so, quite so," said the captain. "Mr. Quatermain will, I amsure, keep this history to himself."
"Of course," said I, for I rather pride myself on my discretion, forwhich, as Sir Henry had heard, I have some repute.
"Well," went on Sir Henry, "my brother had a few hundred pounds to hisaccount at the time. Without saying anything to me he drew out thispaltry sum, and, having adopted the name of Neville, started off forSouth Africa in the wild hope of making a fortune. This I learnedafterwards. Some three years passed, and I heard nothing of my brother,though I wrote several times. Doubtless the letters never reached him.But as time went on I grew more and more troubled about him. I foundout, Mr. Quatermain, that blood is thicker than
"That's true," said I, thinking of my boy Harry.
"I found out, Mr. Quatermain, that I would have given half my fortuneto know that my brother George, the only relation I possess, was safeand well, and that I should see him again."
"But you never did, Curtis," jerked out Captain Good, glancing at thebig man's face.
"Well, Mr. Quatermain, as time went on I became more and more anxiousto find out if my brother was alive or dead, and if alive to get himhome again. I set enquiries on foot, and your letter was one of theresults. So far as it went it was satisfactory, for it showed that tilllately George was alive, but it did not go far enough. So, to cut along story short, I made up my mind to come out and look for himmyself, and Captain Good was so kind as to come with me."
"Yes," said the captain; "nothing else to do, you see. Turned out by myLords of the Admiralty to starve on half pay. And now perhaps, sir, youwill tell us what you know or have heard of the gentleman calledNeville."
 Mr. Quatermain's ideas about ancient Danes seem to be ratherconfused; we have always understood that they were dark-haired people.Probably he was thinking of Saxons.--Editor.