The Ivory Child
Chapter IV: Harût and Marût
After Lord Ragnall had seen his guests to the door in the old-fashioned manner, he returned and asked me if I played cards, or whether I preferred music. I was assuring him that I hated the sight of a card when Mr. Savage appeared in his silent way and respectfully inquired of his lordship whether any gentleman was staying in the house whose Christian name was Here-come-a-zany. Lord Ragnall looked at him with a searching eye as though he suspected him of being drunk, and then asked what he meant by such a ridiculous question.
“I mean, my lord,” replied Mr. Savage with a touch of offence in his tone, “that two foreign individuals in white clothes have arrived at the castle, stating that they wish to speak at once with a Mr. Here-come-a-zany who is staying here. I told them to go away as the butler said he could make nothing of their talk, but they only sat down in the snow and said they would wait for Here-come-a-zany.”
“Then you had better put them in the old guardroom, lock them up with something to eat, and send the stable-boy for the policeman, who is a zany if ever anybody was. I expect they are after the pheasants.”
“Stop a bit,” I said, for an idea had occurred to me. “The message may be meant for me, though I can’t conceive who sent it. My native name is Macumazana, which possibly Mr. Savage has not caught quite correctly. Shall I go to see these men?”
“I wouldn’t do that in this cold, Quatermain,” Lord Ragnall answered. “Did they say what they are, Savage?”
“I made out that they were conjurers, my lord. At least when I told them to go away one of them said, ‘You will go first, gentleman.’ Then, my lord, I heard a hissing sound in my coat-tail pocket and, putting my hand into it, I found a large snake which dropped on the ground and vanished. It quite paralysed me, my lord, and while I stood there wondering whether I was bitten, a mouse jumped out of the kitchenmaid’s hair. She had been laughing at their dress, my lord, but now she’s screaming in hysterics.”
The solemn aspect of Mr. Savage as he narrated these unholy marvels was such that, like the kitchenmaid, we both burst into ill-timed merriment. Attracted by our laughter, Miss Holmes, Miss Manners, with whom she was talking, and some of the other guests, approached and asked what was the matter.
“Savage here declares that there are two conjurers in the kitchen premises, who have been producing snakes out of his pocket and mice from the hair of one of the maids, and who want to see Mr. Quatermain,” Lord Ragnall answered.
“Conjurers! Oh, do have them in, George,” exclaimed Miss Holmes; while Miss Manners and the others, who were getting a little tired of promiscuous conversation, echoed her request.
“By all means,” he answered, “though we have enough mice here without their bringing any more. Savage, go and tell your two friends that Mr. Here-come-a-zany is waiting for them in the drawing-room, and that the company would like to see some of their tricks.”
Savage bowed and departed, like a hero to execution, for by his pallor I could see that he was in a great fright. When he had gone we set to work and cleared a space in the middle of the room, in front of which we arranged chairs for the company to sit on.
“No doubt they are Indian jugglers,” said Lord Ragnall, “and will want a place to grow their mango-tree, as I remember seeing them do in Kashmir.”
As he spoke the door opened and Mr. Savage appeared through it, walking much faster than was his wont. I noted also that he gripped the pockets of his swallow-tail coat firmly in his hand.
“Mr. Hare-root and Mr. Mare-root,” he announced.
“Hare-root and Mare-root!” repeated Lord Ragnall.
“Harût and Marût, I expect,” I said. “I think I have read somewhere that they were great magicians, whose names these conjurers have taken.” (Since then I have discovered that they are mentioned in the Koran as masters of the Black Art.)
A moment later two men followed him through the doorway. The first was a tall, Eastern-looking person with a grave countenance, a long, white beard, a hooked nose, and flashing, hawk-like eyes. The second was shorter and rather stout, also much younger. He had a genial, smiling face, small, beady-black eyes, and was clean-shaven. They were very light in colour; indeed I have seen Italians who are much darker; and there was about their whole aspect a certain air of power.
Instantly I remembered the story that Miss Holmes had told me at dinner and looked at her covertly, to see that she had turned quite pale and was trembling a little. I do not think that anyone else noticed this, however, as all were staring at the strangers. Moreover she recovered herself in a moment, and, catching my eye, laid her finger on her lips in token of silence.
The men were clothed in thick, fur-lined cloaks, which they took off and, folding them neatly, laid upon the floor, standing revealed in robes of a beautiful whiteness and in large plain turbans, also white.
“High-class Somali Arabs,” thought I to myself, noting the while that as they arranged the robes they were taking in every one of us with their quick eyes. One of them shut the door, leaving Savage on this side of it as though they meant him to be present. Then they walked towards us, each of them carrying an ornamental basket made apparently of split reeds, that contained doubtless their conjuring outfit and probably the snake which Savage had found in his pocket. To my surprise they came straight to me, and, having set down the baskets, lifted their hands above their heads, as a person about to dive might do, and bowed till the points of their fingers touched the floor. Next they spoke, not in Arabic as I had expected that they would, but in Bantu, which of course I understood perfectly well.
“I, Harût, head priest and doctor of the White Kendah People, greet you, O Macumazana,” said the elder man.
“I, Marût, a priest and doctor of the People of the White Kendah, greet you, O Watcher-by-night, whom we have travelled far to find,” said the younger man. Then together,
“We both greet you, O Lord, who seem small but are great, O Chief with a troubled past and with a mighty future, O Beloved of Mameena who has ‘gone down’ but still speaks from beneath, Mameena who was and is of our company.”
At this point it was my turn to shiver and become pale, as any may guess who may have chanced to read the history of Mameena, and the turn of Miss Holmes to watch me with animated interest.
“O Slayer of evil men and beasts!” they went on, in their rich-voiced, monotonous chant, “who, as our magic tells us, are destined to deliver our land from the terrible scourge, we greet you, we bow before you, we acknowledge you as our lord and brother, to whom we vow safety among us and in the desert, to whom we promise a great reward.”
Again they bowed, once, twice, thrice; then stood silent before me with folded arms.
“What on earth are they saying?” asked Scroope. “I could catch a few words”--he knew a little kitchen Zulu--”but not much.”
I told him briefly while the others listened.
“What does Mameena mean?” asked Miss Holmes, with a horrible acuteness. “Is it a woman’s name?”
Hearing her, Harût and Marût bowed as though doing reverence to that name. I am sorry to say that at this point I grew confused, though really there was no reason why I should, and muttered something about a native girl who had made trouble in her day.
Miss Holmes and the other ladies looked at me with amused disbelief, and to my dismay the venerable Harût turned to Miss Holmes, and with his inevitable bow, said in broken English:
“Mameena very beautiful woman, perhaps more beautiful than you, lady. Mameena love the white lord Macumazana. She love him while she live, she love him now she dead. She tell me so again just now. You ask white lord tell you pretty story of how he kiss her before she kill herself.”
Needless to say all this very misleading information was received by the audience with an attention that I can but call rapt, and in a kind of holy silence which was broken only by a sudden burst of sniggering on the part of Scroope. I favoured him with my fiercest frown. Then I fell upon that venerable villain Harût, and belaboured him in Bantu, while the audience listened as intently as though they understood.
I asked him what he meant by coming here to asperse my character. I asked him who the deuce he was. I asked him how he came to know anything about Mameena, and finally I told him that soon or late I would be even with him, and paused exhausted.
He stood there looking for all the world like a statue of the patriarch Job as I imagine him, and when I had done, replied without moving a muscle and in English:
“O Lord, Zikali, Zulu wizard, friend of mine! All great wizard friend just like all elephant and all snake. Zikali make me know Mameena, and she tell me story and send you much love, and say she wait for you always.” (More sniggers from Scroope, and still intenser interest evinced by Miss Holmes and others.) “If you like, I show you Mameena ‘fore I go.” (Murmurs from Miss Holmes and Miss Manners of “Oh, please do!”) “But that very little business, for what one long-ago lady out of so many?”
Then suddenly he broke into Bantu, and added: “A jest is a jest, Macumazana, though often there is meaning in a jest, and you shall see Mameena if you will. I come here to ask you to do my people a service for which you shall not lack reward. We, the White Kendah, the People of the Child, are at war with the Black Kendah, our subjects who outnumber us. The Black Kendah have an evil spirit for a god, which spirit from the beginning has dwelt in the largest elephant in all the world, a beast that none can kill, but which kills many and bewitches more. While that elephant, which is named Jana, lives we, the People of the Child, go in terror, for day by day it destroys us. We have learned--how it does not matter--that you alone can kill that elephant. If you will come and kill it, we will show you the place where all the elephants go to die, and you shall take their ivory, many wagon-loads, and grow rich. Soon you are going on a journey that has to do with a flower, and you will visit peoples named the Mazitu and the Pongo who live on an island in a lake. Far beyond the Pongo and across the desert dwell my people, the Kendah, in a secret land. When you wish to visit us, as you will do, journey to the north of that lake where the Pongo dwell, and stay there on the edge of the desert shooting till we come. Now mock me if you will, but do not forget, for these things shall befall in their season, though that time be far. If we meet no more for a while, still do not forget. When you have need of gold or of the ivory that is gold, then journey to the north of the lake where the Pongo dwell, and call on the names of Harût and Marût.”
“And call on the names of Harût and Marût,” repeated the younger man, who hitherto appeared to take no interest in our talk.
Next, before I could answer, before I could think the thing out indeed, for all this breath from savage and mystical Africa blowing on me suddenly here in an Essex drawing-room, seemed to overwhelm me, the ineffable Harût proceeded in his English conjurer’s patter:
“Rich ladies and gentlemen want see trick by poor old wizard from centre Africa. Well, we show them, but please ‘member no magic, all quite simple trick. Teach it you if you pay. Please not look too hard, no want you learn how it done. What you like see? Tree grow out of nothing, eh? Good! Please lend me that plate--what you call him--china.”
Then the performance began. The tree grew admirably upon the china plate under the cover of an antimacassar. A number of bits of stick danced together on the said plate, apparently without being touched. At a whistle from Marût a second snake crawled out of the pocket of the horrified Mr. Savage, who stood observing these proceedings at a respectful distance, erected itself on its tail upon the plate and took fire till it was consumed to ashes, and so forth.
The show was very good, but to tell the truth I did not take much notice of it, for I had seen similar things before and was engaged in thoughts much excited by what Harût had said to me. At length the pair paused amidst the clapping of the audience, and Marût began to pack up the properties as though all were done. Then Harût observed casually:
“The Lord Macumazana think this poor business and he right. Very poor business, any conjurer do better. All common trick”--here his eye fell upon Mr. Savage who was wriggling uneasily in the background. “What matter with that gentleman? Brother Marût, go see.”
Brother Marût went and freed Mr. Savage from two more snakes which seemed to have taken possession of various parts of his garments. Also, amidst shouts of laughter, from a large dead rat which he appeared to draw from his well-oiled hair.
“Ah!” said Harût, as his confederate returned with these prizes, leaving Savage collapsed in a chair, “snake love that gentleman much. He earn great money in Africa. Well, he keep rat in hair; hungry snake always want rat. But as I say, this poor business. Now you like to see some better, eh? Mameena, eh?”
“No,” I replied firmly, whereat everyone laughed.
“Elephant Jana we want you kill, eh? Just as he look this minute.”
“Yes,” I said, “very much indeed, only how will you show it me?”
“That quite easy, Macumazana. You just smoke little Kendah ‘bacco and see many things, if you have gift, as I think you got, and as I almost sure that lady got,” and he pointed to Miss Holmes. “Sometimes they things people want see, and sometimes they things people not want see.”
“Dakka,” I said contemptuously, alluding to the Indian hemp on which natives make themselves drunk throughout great districts of Africa.
“Oh! no, not dakka, that common stuff; this ‘bacco much better than dakka, only grow in Kendah-land. You think all nonsense? Well, you see. Give me match please.”
Then while we watched he placed some tobacco, at least it looked like tobacco, in a little wooden bowl that he also produced from his basket. Next he said something to his companion, Marût, who drew a flute from his robe made out of a thick reed, and began to play on it a wild and melancholy music, the sound of which seemed to affect my backbone as standing on a great height often does. Presently too Harût broke into a low song whereof I could not understand a word, that rose and fell with the music of the flute. Now he struck a match, which seemed incongruous in the midst of this semi-magical ceremony, and taking a pinch of the tobacco, lit it and dropped it among the rest. A pale, blue smoke arose from the bowl and with it a very sweet odour not unlike that of the tuberoses gardeners grow in hot-houses, but more searching.
“Now you breath smoke, Macumazana,” he said, “and tell us what you see. Oh! no fear, that not hurt you. Just like cigarette. Look,” and he inhaled some of the vapour and blew it out through his nostrils, after which his face seemed to change to me, though what the change was I could not define.
I hesitated till Scroope said:
“Come, Allan, don’t shirk this Central African adventure. I’ll try if you like.”
“No,” said Harût brusquely, “you no good.”
Then curiosity and perhaps the fear of being laughed at overcame me. I took the bowl and held it under my nose, while Harût threw over my head the antimacassar which he had used in the mango trick, to keep in the fumes I suppose.