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Sir Henry held the lamp over the open box. It was almost full of uncut diamonds. We stood and gazed at them.
'Hee! heel heel' laughed old Gagool behind us. 'There are the bright stones that you love. Take them in your fingers. Eat them, hee! hee! Drink them, ha! ha I'
Africa, the early 1880s. Allan Quatermain, Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good have travelled a long way over difficult country to the strange, hidden land of the Kukuanas. They have escaped death in many different ways. Now, deep inside a mountain, they are looking at King Solomon's treasure. There are enough diamonds there to make them the richest men in the world.
But Gagool laughs. Gagool, the witch, is older than anybody's living memory and she laughs because she has a plan. The men have the diamonds, but they will not leave the treasure room. Or will they ?
Allan Quatermain has lived in Africa for years, as a hunter, not a writer. But he tells us this story because he thinks that others should know about this terrible adventure.
Quatermain has many qualities that British people of the late nineteenth century admired, but the real hero of the book is Sir Henry Curtis. He has come to South Africa, with his friend Captain John Good, to find his lost brother. Sir Henry is a true gentleman, and a better fighting man than Quatermain. Haggard, the real writer of this book, admired these qualities; strangely, he did not really admire writers. When Sir Henry asks Quatermain to help him, Quatermain does the job for money. He cannot afford to be a true gentleman.
While the real men of that time were outside, killing and dying, weaker men spent their time in the company of women. Rider Haggard did marry, but he was always rather shy with women. This may explain why there are only two female characters in the book — and one of them is Gagool, a horrible old witch. The other, an African woman called Foulata, falls in love with Captain Good. Good is less of a hero than Curtis or even Quatermain, and he also falls in love with her. A mixed-race relationship would, though, be shocking to the outside world.
Haggard's view of African characters and society can be difficult for modern readers. He was a man of his time and so Africans were not equal to Europeans, but one experience did change his ideas a little. In January 1879 Haggard was in Pretoria when news arrived that the Zulus had destroyed a British army of 1600 men at Isandhlwana. This was a great shock, and although the British won the war, they admired the fighting qualities of the Zulus. Haggard's good opinion of these people is shown in the character of Umbopa, the Zulu who joins the three white men on their search.
It is still a fact, though, that the people of the lost country of Kukuanaland in this book seem rather childlike. They are greatly affected by simple things like Captain Good's false teeth and eyeglass, and they have not seen an eclipse before. But in defence of Rider Haggard, he knew his subject better than most men, and his ideas are more modern than many.
When Haggard was in Africa, the old city of Zimbabwe had recently been discovered. He did not visit the area but he certainly read about it. Many people did not believe that Zimbabwe, with its high stone walls, had been built by Africans. They believed that it was part of the old land of Sheba, home of the Queen of Sheba, who brought presents of gold and valuable stones to King Solomon in Jerusalem. Today we think that Sheba was in Yemen, and that Zimbabwe was built by local people between the years 1250 and 1450, a very long time after the death of Solomon.
It is difficult to believe that there could be any contact between southern Africa and Jerusalem. Haggard makes this easier by reducing the distance. He places Kukuanaland a long way to the north of Zimbabwe, in today's southern Zaire. When Quatermain and his friends arrive there, they have travelled a third of the way to Cairo. They are also only three months' walk from the old port areas of Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, along routes that were old before Solomon was born. Gold has crossed from Ghana to the Middle East as far back into history as we know. Nobody can be sure that diamonds did not travel from southern Africa.
At the time when ^ was written, most Europeans in Africa lived quite near the coast and nobody knew much about the rest of the continent. Rider Haggard's readers could accept that his story was real. This was his greatest skill, but it is still very exciting now.
Henry Rider Haggard returned to England in 1881 after five years in South Africa. He began to study law, and he wrote when he had time. King Solomon's Mines (1885) was his third work of fiction but his first adventure story. It was a huge success and it was followed in 1887 by She, another African adventure. Later that same year Allan Quatermain appeared. This continues the story of the central character of King Solomon's Mines, and it is named after him.
Although Haggard wrote many more books, most people remember him for these three.
It is a strange thing that at the age of fifty-five I am trying to write a history. I wonder what sort of history it will be! I have done many things in my life, which seems a long one because I started so young. At an age when other boys are at school, I was working here in Africa. I have been buying and selling, hunting, fighting or mining since then, but I only started making real money eight months ago. It is a lot of money, but I do not think I would experience the last fifteen or sixteen months again for it. I am not a brave man, I do not like violence, and I am tired of adventure.
I am not a writer either. I am only writing this for two good reasons: Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good asked me to do it; and it may entertain my son Harry, who is studying to be a doctor over there in Liverpool.
It is now about eighteen months since I first met Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good. Before that I was elephant hunting beyond Bamangwato, and I had had bad luck. Everything went wrong on that trip, and then I got a bad fever too. When I was well enough, I travelled down to the Diamond Fields, sold everything, paid my hunters and moved on to the Cape. After a week there, I decided to go back to Durban by ship. So I joined the Dunkeld, which was waiting for passengers from England on another ship. When they arrived, we went to sea.
Two of the new passengers, who seemed to be friends, interested me. One was a man of about thirty, and was one of the largest and strongest-looking men I ever saw. He had yellow hair, a big yellow beard and large grey eyes. I never saw a finer looking man. His face was also familiar, but I could not think why. I learned later that his name was Sir Henry Curtis.
The other man, Sir Henry's friend, was short, rather fat, and dark. He was very tidy, and he always wore an eyeglass in his right eye. It seemed to grow there; it had no string, and he never took it out in daylight except to clean it. At first I thought he used to sleep in it, but I was wrong. He put it in his pocket, with his very fine false teeth, when he went to bed. His name, I discovered from the passenger list, was Good — Captain John Good.
On the first evening there was a high wind. It became very cold and I stood near the engines where it was warm. Captain Good was already there, perhaps for the same reason. We started a conversation and then we joined Sir Henry Curtis at his table for dinner. The captain and I soon started talking about shooting, and I think we discussed most of the animals in Africa. Some time after coffee had been served, he began to ask about elephants.
' Ah, sir,' called somebody behind me,' you are sitting with the right man. Hunter Quatermain will be able to tell you about elephants if any man can.'
Sir Henry Curtis, who had sat quietly listening to our talk, looked surprised. He bent forward and said in a deep voice, ' Excuse me, sir, but is your name Allan Quatermain ?'
I said it was.
Sir Henry smiled suddenly, and Good also looked pleased. 'This is very fortunate,' said Sir Henry, then continued: 'Mr Quatermain, the year before last, I believe you were at a place called Bamangwato, to the north of the Transvaal.'
' I was,' I agreed.
' Did you meet a man called Neville there ?'
'Oh, yes. He stopped for a few weeks to rest his cattle. I received a letter about him a few months ago. I answered it as well as I could at the time.'
'Yes,' said Sir Henry, 'I saw your letter. In it you said that Neville left Bamangwato at the beginning of May. He was in a wagon with a driver, and a hunter called Jim, and planned to go to Inyati.There he hoped to sell his wagon and continue on foot. You also said that he did sell his wagon, because six months later you saw another man with it. He told you that he had bought the wagon at Inyati from a white man, and that the white man, with one servant, had gone on a shooting trip.'
There was a pause.' Mr Quatermain,' Sir Henry said suddenly, 'do you know anything else about the reason for my — for Neville's journey ?'
' I have heard something,' I answered, and stopped.
Sir Henry and Captain Good looked at each other, and Captain Good said,' Tell him.'
' Mr Quatermain,' said Sir Henry, ' I am going to tell you a story, and to ask for your advice, and perhaps for your help. After I got your letter, I asked people about you. They said that you were a good man, and could keep a secret.'
I did not know what to say, so I drank some more coffee.
' Mr Neville was my brother,' Sir Henry continued.
' Oh,' I said. That was why Sir Henry's face looked familiar to me. His brother was a much smaller man and had a dark beard, but his eyes were the same grey colour and his face was in many ways the same.
'He was,' Sir Henry told me, 'my only brother, and we were very close — until something happened about five years ago, and we argued. I was angry, and I behaved badly'
Captain Good showed that he agreed.
' At about the same time,' Sir Henry continued, ' our father died. He had not written anything down, so all his property and money came to me, the eldest son. My brother did not get a penny, and I offered him nothing. I waited for him to come to me, but he did not come. I am sorry to have to tell you all of this, Mr Quatermain, but I must make things clear.'
' I am sure,' said Captain Good,' that Mr Quatermain will keep your story to himself.'
' Of course,' I said.
' Well,' Sir Henry said,' my brother had some money in the bank. He took it out, changed his name to Neville, and came to South Africa. He hoped to make money here. Three years passed and I heard nothing of him, though I wrote several times. I became more and more anxious about him and tried to discover where he was. That is why the letter came to you, and I got your reply. In the end, I decided to come out here and look for him myself, and Captain Good kindly came with me.'
'Yes,' said the captain.' I have nothing else to do, you see. They say I am too old for the sea. And now perhaps, Mr Quatermain, you will tell us what you know about the gentleman called Neville.'
' I have never told this to another person until today,' I answered. ' I heard that he was looking for Solomon's mines.'
' Solomon's mines!' cried both my hearers.' Where are they ?'
' I do not know,' I said.' I know where people say they are. Once I saw the mountains that defend them. But there were 125 miles of desert between me and them, and I only know one white man who ever got across it. Perhaps I should tell you the story of Solomon's mines as I know it. But you must promise not to say anything to anybody without my permission. Do you agree to that?'
Both of them agreed.
'It was about thirty years ago,' I said. 'I was on my first elephant hunt in the Matabele country. I met a man called Evans — and the poor fellow was killed the next year by an elephant. But one night we were talking about the history of the country, and Evans said, "Did you ever hear of the Suliman Mountains, to the north-west of the Mashukulumbwe country?" I told him I never had." Ah, well," he said," that is where King Solomon had his diamond mines. An old witch-doctor up in the Manica country told me all about it. She said that the people on the other side of those mountains were related to the Zulus, and spoke a language like the Zulu language. She said that powerful witches lived among them, and these witches had the secret of a wonderful mine of bright stones'."
'I laughed at the story at the time. But twenty years later, I learned something more about the Suliman Mountains and the country beyond them. I was at a place called Sitanda's Kraal when a Portuguese man arrived. He told me that his name was Jose Silvestre. I was able to help him in a few ways. When he left, he said, " Goodbye. If we ever meet again, I will be the richest man in the world."
'Two weeks later, he came back from the desert. He was carried into my camp by two of my hunters. His lips were dry, and his tongue was black. I did everything I could, but he was dying. When he was able to speak, he said, in a very faint voice, " Listen, friend. I am dying, I know.You have been good to me, so I will give you the writing. Perhaps you will get there if you can cross the desert."
' He felt inside his shirt and brought out a piece of yellow cloth. Something was written on it in red-brown letters.With the cloth were a piece of paper and a map.
' His voice was growing weaker as he said," The paper shows what is written on the cloth. It took me years to read it. My relative, Jose da Silvestra, wrote it 300 years ago when he was dying on those mountains. His servant brought the writing back. It has been in the family since then."
'Jose Silvestre died soon after that. I have had the writing translated into English. Here is a copy' I am Jose da Silvestra. I am dying of hunger in a little cave on the north side of one of the mountains which I have called Sheba's Breasts. The cave is in the south of the two mountains. I am writing this in the year 1590 with my own blood. My pen is a piece of bone, my paper is a piece of cloth from my shirt. If my servant finds this when he comes, he will bring it to Delagoa, to my friend ... [The name is not clear.] My friend should tell the king my story, and the king should send an army. If the army can cross the desert, fight against the Kukuana people and win, he will become the richest king on earth. I have seen with my own eyes millions of diamonds. They are kept in Solomon's Treasure Room behind the White Death. But Gagool, the witch, cheated me, and I brought nothing away. I was lucky to escape with my life. Whoever comes must follow the map and climb the snow of Sheba's left breast until he reaches the top. On the far side is the great road that Solomon made. From there it is three days' journey to the king's palace. He must kill Gagool.
Jose da Silvestra
When I had finished reading, and shown them a copy of the map, there was a long silence.
'Well,' said Captain Good, 'I have been round the world twice, and visited most ports, and I have never heard such a strange story'.
' It is very strange, Mr Quatermain,' said Sir Henry.' You are not having a joke with us, strangers in this country?'
' If you think that, Sir Henry' I said, putting the paper and the map back in my pocket,' then that is the end of it.' I stood to go.
Sir Henry also stood up and put a large hand on my shoulder.' Please sit down, Mr Quatermain,' he said.' I am sorry I doubted you.'
'You can see the real map and writing when we reach Durban,' I said, feeling a little better. 'But I have not told you about your brother. I knew the man Jim, who was with him. He was a Bechuana, a good hunter and a very clever man. He told me that they were going to look for diamonds in the Suliman Mountains. I said that they would die if they did, and now I am afraid ...'
' Mr Quatermain,' said Sir Henry,' I am going to look for my brother. I am going to follow him to Suliman's Mountains, and over them if necessary. I will find him, or discover that he is dead. Will you come with me ?'
I am not, as I have said, a brave man, and I did not like the idea. The journey meant certain death. Also, I had a son and I needed to continue sending him money. I could not afford to die.
'No, thank you, Sir Henry, I do not think so,' I answered. 'I am too old for this sort of thing, and we would only finish like my poor friend Silvestre. I have a son, and I have to stay alive for him.'
' Mr Quatermain,' said Sir Henry, ' I am a rich man, and I want to go on this journey. I will pay you a generous amount of money before we start. If anything happens to you, your son will receive enough money to finish his studies. And if we reach this place, and find diamonds, they will belong to you and Good. I do not want them. And, of course, I shall pay all the costs of the journey.'
' Sir Henry,' I said,' this is the best offer that I have ever had. But the job is the biggest that I have ever heard of. I will give you my answer when we get to Durban.'
'Very good,' answered Sir Henry, and then I said good night and went to bed. I dreamed about poor Silvestre and the diamonds.
I thought about Sir Henry Curtis's offer for a day or two. We did not discuss it, although we talked a lot about hunting. We met again on the night we arrived in Durban. They asked me what I had decided.
'Yes, gentlemen,' I said, 'I will go with you. I have worked here in Africa for many years, and I have never made much money. Most elephant hunters do not live for more than four or five years. I have already lived much longer, but sooner or later I will be killed. Then there will be very little for my son. So I will go with you — but
' Tell me,' said Sir Henry
' You will pay all my costs,' I said,' and Captain Good and I will share the diamonds if we find them. You will pay me £500 for my work on this trip, before we start. You will agree, in writing, that if I die or am badly hurt, you will pay my boy Harry £200 a year for five years.'
' I am very happy to agree,' said Sir Henry.
When we left the ship, Sir Henry and Captain Good stayed at my house. I then bought a wagon and some Zulu cattle to pull it. We packed enough food for the journey, and other things that we would need. Good, who had some medical knowledge, added a box of medicine. We also took three heavy elephant guns, six rifles and three revolvers. Sir Henry had brought some of these from England and some were mine.
We decided that we would need a driver, a leader, and three other men. They had to be good workers and brave men. I found the driver and the leader, and at last we agreed on two others -Ventvogel, an excellent hunter, and Khiva, a young Zulu with some knowledge of English. I looked for a fifth man, but without success.
The evening before we left, Khiva told me that a Zulu named Umbopa wanted to see me. A tall, fine-looking man entered, about thirty years old. He sat on the floor in the corner and stayed silent. His face looked familiar. Then I remembered. I had talked to this man, who commanded some of our African soldiers, on the day before the battle of the Little Hand in that unfortunate Zulu War. He told me, a guide, that he thought the camp was in danger. Afterwards I thought of his words.
' I remember you,' I said.' What do you want ?'
' I hear that you are going on a journey far into the north with the white chiefs from over the water. Is it true ?'
' I would like to travel with you. I want no money, but I am a brave man and I can earn my place and meat.'
This man seemed different from other Zulus. I was also not happy about his offer to come without pay. I asked Sir Henry and Good for their opinion.
At Sir Henry's request, Umbopa stood up. He was nearly six feet tall and strongly built. Sir Henry walked up to him and looked into his proud, fine face.
' They make a good pair, don't they ?' said Good.
'I like your looks, Mr Umbopa, and I will take you as my servant,' said Sir Henry in English.
Umbopa seemed to understand him, as he answered in Zulu, ' It is good.' And then he added, with a look at the white man's great height and strength,'We are men,you and I.'
I do not intend to describe our long journey up to Sitanda's Kraal, nearly a thousand miles from Durban. We started at the end of January and did not arrive until the second week of May. When we reached Inyati, a village in the Matabele country, we left the wagon and the cattle with our driver and leader. We left them because the bite of the tsetse fly is death to cattle and horses. Then, with Umbopa, Khiva,Ventvogel and six other men, we travelled the last 300 miles on foot.
One evening a number of deer ran past our camp and stopped in some trees about 300 feet away. Good went to look at them, followed by Khiva. We sat down and waited for them to return.
The sun was just going down, when suddenly we heard the scream of an elephant. The next moment we saw Good and Khiva running back to us.The huge elephant was coming after them.We picked up our guns but for a moment we could not shoot because they were in our way. Then a terrible thing happened. Good fell and went down on his face in front of the elephant.
We shouted and ran as fast as we could towards him. But Khiva had seen Good fall, and he stopped and turned. Then he threw his spear straight into the elephant's face.
With a scream of pain, the animal caught the poor Zulu and threw him to the earth. Then, placing his huge foot on his back, he pulled his body into two pieces. We fired our guns again and again, until the elephant fell down dead beside poor Khiva's body.
Good got up. For a long time he stood and looked at the man who had given his life for him. Umbopa also looked, then said, ' Ah well, he is dead, but he died like a man.'
We put the pieces of Khiva's body in a hole made by an animal, with a spear to protect him on his journey to a better world. The next day we continued marching, and at last we reached Sitanda's Kraal.
On the first evening, Good looked after the arrangements of our little camp, while Sir Henry and I walked to the top of a small hill and gazed across the desert. Far, far away I could see the faint blue form of the Suliman Mountains.
' There,' I said,' there is the wall round Solomon's mines. God knows if we will ever climb it.'
' My brother may be there, and if he is, I'll reach him,' said Sir Henry.
' I hope so,' I answered, and I turned to go back to the camp. Then I saw that we were not alone. Behind us, also gazing at the mountains, stood Umbopa.
'Is that the land where you want to go?' he said, pointing towards the mountains with his spear.
'Yes, Umbopa,' answered Sir Henry.
' The desert is wide and there is no water in it. The mountains are high and covered with snow. And man cannot say what lies behind them. It is a long journey.'
'Yes,' answered Sir Henry, 'it is. But I am going to find my brother. And a man can make any journey on this earth if his heart wants it enough.'
'Great words, my father,' answered Umbopa. 'Perhaps I too will find a brother over the mountains.'
I looked at him. ' What do you mean ? What do you know about those mountains ?'
' A little. There is a strange land over there, a land of witches and beautiful things, a land of brave people and of trees, and streams, and snow mountains, and a great white road. I have heard of it.'
|Introduction Sir Henry held the lamp over the open box. It was almost full of uncut diamonds. We stood and gazed at them. 'Hee! heel heel' laughed old Gagool behind us.||will
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